I just completed my first full-sized novel draft and now I want to help you to do the same. It took quite a bit out of me, however, so I want to make sure that you don’t suffer the pain of almost failing at it.
Some back-story: after a few years of NaNoWriMo, I took on my first out-of-season novel challenge this year and came out at the other end with over 120,000 words before typing out “The End”. This accomplishment arrived despite – or perhaps because of – a full-time job and other project work filling up every day’s schedule. How did this inexperienced author accomplish this feat in the space of less than four months?
Upon review, a few necessary conditions stuck out at me. These broke down along the lines of training, environment, preparation, and inspiration. Today’s retrospective of that productive route, though, takes us off of that beaten path.
My experience with NaNoWriMo matters because it set the standard for my daily goals. Knocking out 2,000 words each day made the full-length novel’s daily goal of 1,000 words into a relative cake-walk. I had over-trained all of my writing muscles before the “main event”. What might have happened if I had started right away with four months of daily word-count goals? I fear that the burn-out from such a workload would have crushed me. Even with that practice, though, I only survived thanks to a few days spent off of the race track, which brings us to the point of this post.
Breaks make a huge difference. They might make all of the difference when paced well. Back in NaNoWriMo, I would schedule days where I contributed exactly zero to my word count. That practice slipped my mind during the full-sized novel project, somehow, when I managed to write for nearly every single one of those almost 120 days. The latter attempt at unceasing work nearly doomed the entire endeavor when it collided with other sources of exhaustion.
On one already quite-busy day (at a convention) half-way through the writing run, I found that not a single finger could find itself onto the keyboard. Mild terror ran through me upon the realization, tempered only by a body and mind too exhausted to appreciate it, and my mental protests failed to stir one creative word. I felt emptied of all literary content despite all of the geekery that surrounded me on that trip. What had happened? I took a deliberate, conscious break after that.
What resulted from that break? My laptop stayed back in the hotel room and saw nothing of me for over sixteen hours. Even the strongest marathon runner can only complete a finite number of laps, after all, and I had passed my threshold. By the time I returned to that computer, I wanted to tear it open.
The words came pouring out of the keyboard. The break had freed my mind up to take in new ideas instead of synthesizing them into fiction, like lungs tired of expelling carbon dioxide and desperate to inhale fresh air. That break did the trick and put me back on track to writing most every day after that. I made a point of taking a similar but longer break after finishing the entire novel, which came with its own break-related lessons.
Learning one lesson from the novel marathon, I switched my schedule up to focus on other projects. This included a dialing-down of the fiction work to just a new short story but it also excluded sancrosanct placeholders for breaks. I ended up trying to work through Saturdays (my preferred day of rest) and paid the price.
At first, working on Saturdays sounded like a great plan. How better to play catch-up on work that had external time tables, right? I felt more than ready to tackle the work, too, and gave it my best shot. Can you guess what happened next?
I skirted the precipice of burn-out. Other factors (including relationship ones) contributed, but the subjectivity of my perceived capacities re-asserted itself when I found myself with no other choice than to take another break day. After that, I re-learned and retained the lesson that I want to pass onto you below.
On a recent Saturday, I felt more than ready to catch up on a lot of work. My brain insisted on typing out stories like nobody’s business. By now, though, you can guess how much I worked that day. Yes, not a bit. I enjoyed the pre-arranged company of friends and family (an essential part of The Now Habit’s unschedule), relaxed with special treats, and generally lounged about. I felt anxious all that day, having seemed to “skip out” on work, but I felt just as ready to get back to it that next day, and the day after that, and on every non-break day since. At this point, I find myself putting a cap on my daily word-count just so I can leave time for other projects.
I hope you enjoyed this review of one of the most important elements of a sustainable, long-term writing regimen. If you practice at writing more than you think you can while taking breaks before you crash, then I believe that you, too, can write that full-length novel waiting inside of you.
If you feel ready to begin your training session, then you can participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this summer or test yourself against the original NaNoWriMo in November. Either way, you can download my NaNoWriMo Prep Worksheet in order to start the month off on the right foot. Good luck!
– Post written by James Holder
Now we move on to the what-do-editors-do-besides-reject stories part. Actually, rejecting stories is a major part of it, and possibly the most painful, so we’ll be including that too.
So you’ve managed to get a contract for an anthology from a publisher, or maybe you’ve decided to put an anthology together first and then work on getting it published. The latter used to be a really bad idea, but everything’s changing, so who knows? What I do know is that experienced writers are very unlikely to submit their work to an anthology with no publisher already lined up.
In any case, now you need to get submissions, and for that you need to circulate a call for submissions. If you wrote a knock-out proposal for the publisher, you can usually build on that for your CFS. The challenge is to make it very clear just what kind of story you want to see, and the overall effect you want your book to have, without being so didactically specific that you seem to want them to write to some exact formula. Getting stories that surprise you by being just what you didn’t know you wanted is one of the best rewards of the job. Keep it fairly short, and don’t lecture about “only your best work” or some variation thereof. No matter what you say you’ll have to wade through some less-than-stellar material. That’s part of the job. Do include your minimum and maximum desired word count, deadline for submissions, pay rate, contact information, publisher, and projected publication date if possible. If you omit any of these things you’ll get questions about them. Even if you don’t omit them you’ll get questions about them, but not as many.
Once you’ve composed your brilliant CFS (or guidelines, which is almost the same thing but implies more emphasis on the exact formatting you want, if you’re picky about that sort of thing) you need to get them out where writers can see them. You may want to send them only to a select group of writers you know, which would mean “invitation only,” but if you want to reach likely writers in general, send your CFS to the market listing web sites that specialize in the appropriate genre. For sf/f those would include ralan.com, duotrope, Cindy Ward’s and the Gila Queen’s lists, and others, which will probably pick them up from the first ones anyway. For erotica, Erotica Authors Resources is the main place to be seen, and others will spread the word.
Then you wait for the submissions to come in. And you wait. And worry. Bear in mind, though, that any stories that come in right away were probably already written beforehand, and quite possibly already sent out to other places quite a few times. Some of these might turn out to be the perfect fit for your anthology, but the chances of that are considerably better with work written especially for your theme, which takes time. In my experience much of the best work comes in very close to the deadline. So you still worry.
Some editors don’t read any of the submissions until they’re all in. Even so, they should acknowledge their receipt so the writers know they haven’t gone astray. I like to keep up with things more or less as they come in, give or take a week or so, but I still let people know that I’m not making decisions until later. Some editors say they do “rolling” acceptances as things come in, but I’m sure they leave some room for those of us whose creative juices flow best under the pressure of a deadline.
I tend to group things into “Yes,” “Maybe,” and “No” files, but once I know what I have to work with, I may well go into the “No” file to choose work that fills a gap in the range I want, even if it will require some rewriting. Sometimes I’ll choose one story over a similar piece that might by some standards be better written, because it covers more bases than the other one; sometimes the writing will just blow me away and I’ll use it even if it scarcely comes close to what I thought I wanted. It’s all subjective—and then again, it isn’t, because I need to provide the publisher with a book that lives up to my proposal, and I need to give readers who pick up a book with this theme at least some of what they think they want.
I like best to give them more than they thought they wanted, but that can be risky. I go for variety, in tone, setting, characters, ideas, style, whatever, but some editors stick closer to what they know their readers prefer, and that’s not a bad plan, either. Whatever your editorial style is, you’ll get the credit (or blame) for the way the book as a whole turns out, even though we all know that the most important part is getting good stories to work with. Without the writers, we’re nowhere.
Once you’ve decided which stories you’ll use, you really get down to work. Sending out acceptances is fun; sending out rejections is awful. With acceptances, I always say that they’re conditional, pending approval by the publisher. With rejections, when I can, I include a few specific points as to what was good or not so good, but really, it generally boils down to just not fitting into the anthology as a whole, for whatever reason, and if there are hundreds of submissions, it’s better to hurry up and let folks know that they can send their work elsewhere than to take a lot of time on each one.
At this point you need to send out contracts for the chosen writers to sign, with the understanding that the publisher may yet decide against them. You need the contracts now, so that you can guarantee to the publisher that all the stories are available. Usually you e-mail your version and ask the writers to print out two copies, sign them, and send both back to you. The usual practice is to send back one countersigned copy to them with their payment when the book comes out. Some publishers have a form contract they want you to use, and sometimes they leave it to you. Some want you to send them copies of the contracts, and some would rather have you keep them. The exact contents of contracts is a topic I’m not going to deal with here.
Then comes the real editing part. Some stories need next to nothing beyond copyediting for typos; some prompt you to do considerable fact-checking just in case; and some can be improved by a several sessions of back-and-forth revisions until writer and editor are both satisfied. Good publishers have good copyeditors, and no matter how careful you are they’ll probably find something you missed, but it’s nice to be told that the manuscripts you turn in are remarkably “clean.” (And sometimes you find things in the galley proofs that all of you missed before. That can be fun.)
When the stories are as good as they can be, it’s time to decide on their order in the book. Strong first and last stories—and middle ones; good variation, unless grouping similar ones fits your purpose better—or whatever feels right to you. Sometimes even a chronological order can apply. If the publisher doesn’t agree with the way you’ve done it, it can be changed. The thing now, as you’re facing your own deadline, is to write an introduction (if that’s customary with your publisher,) get the whole thing formatted as the publisher prefers (if you’ve been told,) and send it off on time.
Then you wait. Maybe not for long, but you never know. If you’re getting an advance, usually half of it will be paid when the manuscript is accepted, and half when the book comes out. When you do know which stories have been approved (and possibly gone to bat for a few, or chosen some yourself to cut because they say the book is too long,) it’s time to let the lucky writers know, and encourage them to publicize the fact on all their social networks. It’s never too early to start promoting.
Promotion these days is at least as important as any other part of the process. More important, in fact, since however good a book is, if it doesn’t sell and isn’t read, it’s wasted. I’m not going to get into that here, first because I’m still struggling with the concept myself, and second because it seems that everyone is struggling with it, and the whole idea of how books are published and distributed and read is in such flux that things could change at any time. Some people have a better grasp on promotion than others, though, so I hope to see an expert guest blog here on that very subject. I’ll certainly pay attention.
If any of you post your own Calls for Submission for anthologies, I’ll pay attention to those, too. Good luck!
Let’s think of this as a memoir, because we all know just how — shall we say, imprecise? — memoirs can be these days. I should also say upfront that my editing has been largely in the erotica genre, rather than speculative fiction, although I have written enough of the latter to be an active member of SFWA.
Some of the best editors in any genres don’t get there by writing fiction themselves, but in my experience having a substantial body of published work is a good way to get a publisher’s attention. Being a competent writer is no guarantee at all of being a good anthology editor, but it has one great benefit; when you’ve had work in enough books or magazines with writers you admire, those writers will have enough confidence in you to send you their work, and without good stories to publish, you’re nowhere. You’re more likely to attract submissions from new writers, too, if they’ve seen your work or at least can google your name and come up with some credentials.
Another plus would be having a really good idea and the specialized expertise to back it up, possibly including non-fiction articles published in that field. An example would be an expert in fire-fighting technology proposing an anthology of future fire-fighting stories. There was a time when the go-to man for sf/f anthologies was Marty Greenberg, legendary for the editors and publishers he put together (Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail series is one example out of many hundreds.) But Marty died just a week or so ago; I’ve been reading many fond anecdotes about him in the obituaries discussion group on webnews.sff.net. The days when a chat with Marty Greenberg in the bar at an sf convention would lead to a publishing contract within hours are gone forever, and in any case, the publishing world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, has changed greatly and is still floundering.
Some things haven’t changed so much. The very first consideration in pitching an anthology is to make sure the publisher you’re aiming at actually publishes anthologies, preferably those similar to what you have in mind, although offering something new and different just might work. You also need to decide whether you want to hold out for print, or will consider e-books. Look at the calls for submissions at ralan.com or duotrope or some similar market listings site, and see which publishers might fit with your ideas. Send a brief query letter (it’s best if you know the name of the publisher or an editor there) with a description of your idea and the reasons you’d be a good editor for it. They may tell you that their anthologies are all done in-house, but you just might hit them at the right time.
Which brings me to the memoir part, and the way I did it, with all the ups and considerable downs.
My first erotica anthology was pitched with a co-editor to a smallish, respected LGBT press. I’d had work published pretty widely by then, including a story in one book from that press and several where the owners themselves had shared the table of contents. My co-editor Rakelle Valencia had a few good publishing credits, and expertise in the theme we were pitching — Lesbian Cowboys (she’s a noted horse breeder and trainer.) It was a fine fit. Generally the press published work that was both literary and off-the-wall, very worthy books that were hard to place but deserved to be read. Something a bit lighter appealed to them just then. They were wonderful to work with, and loved our title: Rode Hard, Put Away Wet: Lesbian Cowboy Erotica. (Later publishers were more concerned with titles that were straightforward and likely to come up on Google and Amazon subject searches.) The book did well by small press standards, was a finalist for a Lambda Award, and did at least its share to support the publishing of more literary books, but soon, as distributors folded without paying and traditional publishing was in chaos, the press had to cut back and finally dwindle away. Our rights to the book, published in 2005 and out of print for several years, were just returned to us a few weeks ago. We never complained, or asked for what we were owed, and we still love those guys and honor what they tried to do.
When the first publisher began to retrench and limit new production, we pitched a lesbian motorcycle book to another publisher, where they happened to be considering trying some erotica. Hard Road, Easy Riding had barely hit the shelves when the company, always chiefly oriented toward academic books, merged with a bigger company and dropped all their fiction (including an alternate history anthology I’d just contracted for with them.) The biker book was eventually reissued by Lethe Press, a growing outfit concentrating mostly on LGBT speculative fiction, and Lethe also brought out my orphaned alternate history book, Time Well Bent (as well as a brand-new collection of my own work, A Ride to Remember. Meanwhile, we continued our rocky journey with another anthology for a very small company that couldn’t handle the shifting tides of distribution. Lipstick on Her Collar became another finalist for the Lambda Award, though, and that publisher recommended me to a somewhat larger, more stable company looking for a free-lance editor who could handle the administrative parts of the job, after having a bad experience with one who couldn’t. They contacted me with their own theme for an anthology, and I’ve done three more for them since, with another in progress. One of those, Lesbian Cowboys, also co-edited with Rakelle, did win the Lambda Award for lesbian erotica in 2010, and another, Lesbian Lust, won the GCLS award this year, but only the first one, Girl Crazy, has been selling well enough to provide much in the way of royalties beyond paying off the advance. The newest one, Lesbian Cops, hasn’t been out long enough to tell how it’s doing. If it were entirely up to bookstores with their consuming interest in how many print copies a writer/editor’s last book sold, I’d be death-spiraling out of the editing business, but e-book versions may keep me going.
From what I’ve heard and read, this kind of win/lose progression is pretty typical, in sf/f as well as erotica. As far as I can tell, so are the royalties and advances. For the first two anthologies, we got no advance but we did get funds to pay the contributors. For the third, we got a $2000 advance (to split) and paid the contributors out of that. My subsequent anthologies have been on the same terms, with royalties set at 7% of cover price, which is a better deal than a percentage of what the publisher takes in after distributors have their cut. Read your contracts closely! (And bear in mind that at that rate 2000 books have to be sold before I’ve earned out the advance.) Companies that are entirely or mainly e-presses have different arrangements, and it’s my impression that they mainly do their anthologies in-house, but it wouldn’t hurt to check them out.
A somewhat recent development in publishing (one that I’ve seen coming for quite a while) is an emphasis on writers/editors who have developed their own fan bases online, and have a celebrity sort of charisma. Name recognition sells books. Networking sells books. This is yet another reason to get your own writing out there. I’m a dinosaur in this respect, lacking in the charisma department, and all about the writing and editing. Even when I blog, which I do on Facebook and at sacchi-green.blogspot.com, it’s all about the writing. But that’s still important, too, and next time I’ll get into the details of what an anthology editor’s job is actually like. It’s not for sissies.
Connie Wilkins/Sacchi Green
Connie Wilkins’s first love was writing fantasy and science fiction, where she published work in such diverse venues as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, and two of Bruce Coville’s anthologies for children. Then her alter-ego Sacchi Green became seduced by the erotic side of the force, where she published scores of stories in books including seven volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica, four volumes of Best Women’s Erotica, and three volumes of Best Lesbian Romance. She has also edited or co-edited seven anthologies of lesbian erotica, including Girl Crazy: Coming Out Erotica, Lesbian Cowboys: Erotic Adventures (a Lambda Literary Award winner,) Lesbian Lust: Erotic Stories, and Lesbian Cops: Erotic Investigations, all for Cleis Press. Lately she’s returned to her speculative fiction roots as editor of Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative Histories from Lethe Press. Her own story from that anthology also appears in Best Erotic Fantasy & Science Fiction from Circlet Press.
The Dead Robots’ Society asked me what I think modern fiction writers need to know. It’s a big question, and of course modern fiction writers are constantly reminded of many things. It’s all important, but ultimately just pieces of a piece.
All fiction writers should understand the importance of developing a platform and establishing a personal brand. Sure, that’s a given. Also, everybody knows it’s not enough to “just write” these days. You’ve got to spend as much time face to face with people as you do with your butt in the chair. Another easy one. For most fiction writers, understanding they’ve got to have a website is a no-brainer. Don’t forget the need for a social media presence. A grasp of electronic publishing, self-publishing, copyright and licensing… and so on and so on.
If you’ve been listening to the Dead Robots’ Society, you know these things as well as anyone, or you should. Either way, it’s all common knowledge you’ll absorb soon enough.
There’s one more thing modern fiction writers need to know. One more essential item that might not exactly be conventional wisdom, but if you’re planning on being a successful modern writer, it’s something you need to embrace and accept.
You must stop thinking of yourself as a writer.
It’s not what you do, and if you declare yourself simply a writer you are selling short both your potential and your avocation. You’re declaring, “Yes, I’m capable of running, that’s absolutely obvious to anyone who looks… but I’m perfectly content to crawl.”
What you do is tell stories. What you do is craft simulations of human behavior that reflect and comment on how actual human beings behave. What you do is tell lies that model truths. What you do is nothing less than try to explain what it means to be human, and you do it, more often than not, by creating new expressions of the human condition out of nothing more and nothing less than your own experience, empathy and imagination.
Modern fiction writers, stop calling yourselves writers. You are storytellers. While you write to communicate your stories to others, don’t let that limit you to considering the apex of accomplishment seeing your name on the spine of a book.
As a storyteller, you can and should utilize whatever medium is most appropriate to tell your story You can and should utilize the medium in which your audience most wants to experience your story. Your goal should not be limited to “published author.” What does that even mean this week, anyway?
You must expose your story to the greatest possible number of people. Think beyond books. Think beyond short stories. Think beyond the cycle of submission, rejection, acceptance and outmoded gatekeepers. Your audience is waiting… but a big part of that audience might not want to read your story. Maybe they want to see it. Maybe they want to hear it. Maybe they want to be in it. Give them the chance. They’re hungry for the opportunity.
By the way, there’s one more thing modern storytellers need to understand and embrace.
You can be more than storytellers. You can be creators. What kind of opportunities will you discover if you share your creations with others and let them tell their own stories in that context? Let your brain soak in that one for a little while.
Modern writers, to truly succeed in what is rapidly becoming the most competitive creative environment in history, you must be more than a writer. You’re a storyteller unfettered by medium. And if you want to truly excel, you must be more than a storyteller. You must be a creator that shepherds storytellers in the wilds of your creations.
The ultimate secret to building a career and a creative legacy lies not in the words you write… it’s in the fertile, ever-expanding worlds you build and leave behind.
Matthew Wayne Selznick is a creator working with words, music, pictures and people. He lives in Long Beach, California. Find him and links to his creative endeavors on Facebook and on MattSelznick.com.
When Justin asked me if I might be interested in writing a guest blog for the Dead Robots’ Society, I was both excited and a little bit scared. What on earth would I talk about? Justin suggested maybe talking about my recent Kickstarter Campaign to raise funds for the cover art for my next novel, “Jack in the Green,” but when I sat down to start writing I realized there was so much more than just a simple Kickstarter Campaign to talk about.
If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s an online venue where artists, musicians, authors and creators can pitch projects to potential backers in order to raise the funds they need to see their project actualized. It sounds simple enough, but my own Kickstarter Campaign turned out to be so much more than just an effort to raise some funds for cover art.
The day I launched my campaign Hedra Helix, a fellow author who is also an artist, approached me with an idea for a new cover for my current novel, “The Goblin Market.” She had listened to the podcast and read the book, and after seeing the cover for the upcoming sequel, she wondered if I’d considered a new cover for the first book that more closely resembled “Jack in the Green.”
I had thought about it because when we moved to make print editions of “The Goblin Market,” the current cover was not the proper size for print and the original imagery I used to create it was no longer available. Hedra and I began talking about doing a trade off, my editing services for her artistic services, and within a week she began sending me mock ups for the cover she saw in her mind.
Launching the Kickstarter Campaign was a risky venture in the first place. When I first launched I had another independent author tell me it was foolish to spend a lot of money on an indie published book… Yikes! Why should I not provide the most amazing cover for my book simply because I’m not publishing traditionally?
When you take the reigns as an independent author, you become solely responsible for every aspect of publishing your book. You must work with your own editors and proofreaders, see that your formatting is all in line and guarantee that your book’s cover catches the eye of every potential reader who might be interested in your genre. A quality cover is a promotional tool, just as much as it is a window into the world you created inside your book.
Can you create a stunning cover on a budget? Absolutely! But one problem you tend to face with stock imagery is how widely it tends to get used, especially as more people start independently publishing their books. If your book has the same image as another book on the market, it could be beneficial, especially if the other book is fairly popular, but after awhile seeing so many books with the same cover is going to turn readers off. And this is where an original artist can really make a difference.
You also have the added benefit of working with amazing artists who understand your own vision in a way you couldn’t even begin to imagine. As writers, many of us tend to be incredibly visual people, but I won’t lie, artists are visual on a whole different level. When Hedra sent me the first blocking for the new cover for “The Goblin Market,” I was amazed. She managed to capture exactly what I saw in my head in a way I could never have done without words.
Needless to say, my Kickstarter Campaign to raise funds to cover “Jack in the Green” was a success on more levels than I ever expected. Not only did I gain a little more exposure for my work and the support of some really amazing people, but I came away with two astonishing pieces of artwork.
Jennifer Hudock is an author, editor and podcaster from Northern Central Pennsylvania. Her debut fantasy faerie tale, The Goblin Market is currently available in eBook format on Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords for just $.99! You can catch the free podcast sequel, Jack in the Green on her official website.
If you’ve heard my appearances on the DRS podcast, then you know I write horror. Or do I?
In looking at the books classified as horror these days, I have a more and more difficult time finding where I fit. This issue is rather pertinent at the moment since I recently put the e-book version of my debut hardcover, Fiends: Vol1, up for sale on Amazon.com and BN.com.
Doing research the past few days has proved that horror is a “niche” genre. What does this mean? Supposedly it means that the average reader doesn’t purchase horror books. But what the heck are we calling horror?
If one takes a look at the NYT Bestseller list, there are many books on the list that have horror elements to them. Stories about serial killers, vampires, murder, mayhem, mystery…all these could be considered horror depending on who’s doing the judging.
Every time Stephen King, “The Master Of Horror,” publishes a new book, it immediately crosses the NYT Best Seller list. Of course, that’s because he’s Stephen King and if he wiped his ass with a piece of paper and sold it, people would purchase it.
So what makes the horror genre “niche?” Is it only a niche genre if the author isn’t a well-known name?
If you are an author and you put your e-book up for sale on Amazon.com, you face the terrible burden of deciding the categories or genres for your book. Why is it a terrible burden? Because out of the dozens of categories available, you can only chose two. TWO. That’s it, that’s all.
Making such a choice is a bit like opening Pandora’s box. Fiends: Vol1 is technically psychological horror. I don’t have vampires, zombies, werewolves or any of the traditional tropes. My stories don’t immerse the reader in gore or violence. If one uses the tropes or gore scale to measure my stories, then they aren’t horror at all.
Yet I can’t in good conscience ignore the horror tag when I submit my books to a publisher or distributor. I consider any story that gives you the goosebumps to be in the horror category. After all, where does one place Poe, Richard Matheson, or even the writing duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child?
Barnes and Noble makes it much easier to choose–they give you five categories with which to tag your books.
But here’s the question: does tagging your book with a “niche” genre hurt or help you? I’m not really certain.
When you go searching for books, do you search for them by keywords, genres, etc? Or do you go straight for the author or publisher you like? Think about it.
If you still go to the brick and mortar bookstores, how do you find the books you want to purchase? Are you merely scouring the books placed at the front of the stores or in the “featured” section? Or do you browse, looking for a title and then pulling the book out to take a look and see if it interests you?
Authors, publishers, and readers need to share this information. Authors and their publishers need to understand how readers find what they want to read. Readers need to tell us this information so we’re not all guessing.
The only research I as an author can do now is tie my books to the categories I feel appropriate and then watch the sales. After a few weeks, I might change them and see if it affects sales in either a positive or negative fashion.
So, fellow readers, enlighten us. Tell us how you choose your reading material. What helps you determine if you’re going to try a new author? Blog posts? Reviews? Getting to know the author through social media?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Please post responses or send me email.
Paul is a crazed lunatic, possibly homicidal, with a penchant for killing his fans and exploring the furthest reaches of mental illness and delusions for fun. Even the ones he doesn’t have. When he’s not writing twisted tales of psychological torment, he writes enterprise software and applications for the internet and the iPhone.
Paul’s Parsec Award Nominated Fiends story collection are available for free at his website. You can find the latest information, stories, essays, rants, and reviews from his site. His new podiofiction series, Garaaga’s Children, begins on May 15th. He welcomes comments and interaction and especially enjoys speaking of himself in the third person.
Justin asked me to write about what a small press has to offer to writers out there considering their options. Should they find a small press/big press, or self-publish? It’s something I’ve been struggling with myself, lately. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about small presses, and about self-publishing, and about big New York publishers, since a bunch of my authors have been getting contracts with those big players.
People use phrases like “gatekeeper,” “barriers to publication” and others to justify the continued existence of publishers. And those are very valid points. Our slush pile is usually full of garbage, written by folks who could easily self-publish with today’s technology. The question is… should they? There are hundreds of publishers out there, thousands of self-publishing folks and almost a million new titles published every year. And the numbers are growing.
Publishing isn’t like any other industry. It’s kinda like the music business, but not really. It’s certainly not like any other manufacturing business. It’s something unique and it faces challenges all its own, today more than at any other time in history.
Publishing used to be a gentleman’s business. Books were published on a handshake. Nobody expected to make any money. Books were bought by people who could afford them. That philosophy has always been an underlying emotional response–getting a book published fulfilled writers’ life-long dreams. Writers made the transition to authors. Authors were revered. They were placed on a pedestal of awe. Bestselling authors reached the pinnacle of the dream. Publishers were viewed with a similar vision–publishing was something to aspire to. People worked (well, still work) for nearly nothing, all for the passion of putting words to paper.
Somewhere along the line that industry started to change.
Passion started to conflict with the almighty dollar. Big corporations started demanding that titles should show a profit (shudder). Of course, the legacy left behind from the “gentleman’s business” meant that it was an exceedingly difficult transition. It’s still happening. The industry has not changed enough to make publishing a profitable business–not for most small presses, and not for most BIG presses. Then technology really changed things up.
Today, writers can make the leap to author without any input from a publisher at all. Self-publishing, whether print or ebook, can be done for a reasonable price, and the stigma of self-publishing is diminishing. Some authors self-publish and make a remarkable success of it, raking in millions of dollars (oh, how I wish I had one of those titles!). But that’s not the norm. It isn’t the norm for a book published by ANYBODY—big publisher, small publisher or self-publisher. Most self-publishers are going to be lucky to sell the average 100 copies.
Most people seem to think that there are three options for publishing: self, small or New York. They also seem to think that these are mutually exclusive options.
I don’t agree. I think that every author who plans to make writing a life-long career should do all three. (There, I said it. It’ll probably put me in the bad books with everyone!)
The industry is changing. I think everyone has a role to play, and I think that authors should take advantage of the opportunities presented today and tomorrow.
As an author, once you are on the road to publication, you are a BUSINESS. You need to stop thinking of yourself as an artist and start thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur. You should have a long term plan that presents options and explores opportunities. You shouldn’t just be packaging up your great manuscript and considering your work done. Because really, the work is just beginning. It doesn’t matter what you write… fiction, non-fiction, you still need to have a plan.
In some cases, self-publishing is an ideal course of action. In particular, professional speakers should have books. Anyone who needs back room product to support their business should certainly maintain the control necessary to build a brand around a self-published body of work, since self-publishing offers a number of unique opportunities in the industry. You control the look, the design and the process. That means you get to pick the cover, what the interior layout looks like. You get to engage in the activities of a publisher, because, guess what… you are the publisher, whether you choose a service provider like Lulu or CreateSpace or Booklocker (get your own ISBN, don’t allow anyone else to control that!). It’s a valid publishing option. It’s a valid BUSINESS option. And it is just that. A business.
If you’re going to succeed, you’d better have a plan. You must get your book professionally edited (that’s not optional, folks). You need a professional cover and layout. While you can do all of that yourself, that just takes time away from doing the stuff that will finally earn you a dollar or two: the selling stuff. Anyone can make an account and upload a file, but only you can sell the book. And that’s hard. It’s a full time job if you want to sell a significant number of books. No matter what path you choose, this is going to be a full time job.
Selling the book requires that you market yourself as an author. Today’s readers care less about who published the book, they just want to connect with you as an author. That connects them to your body of work. They want to feel like they are part of your circle, because remember, a published author has reached that dreamed-of pinnacle of success. You’ll need to spend time networking, building marketing lists, Facebooking (whenever did that become a verb?) and attending face-to-face events. You’ll need to build a following that believes in you—one that extends beyond your friends and family. That all takes a lot of effort. You can hire people to do some of it, but you still have to put your face on it.
If you choose a small press, the pre-press stuff is taken care of by the publisher. You get to participate in the edits, and focus on marketing/selling. Small presses bring to the table something you’re lacking the first time you publish a book: EXPERIENCE. The small press knows how it work—the process and the pitfalls. They have the knowledge and experience to get a book to market. Where they are likely to lack is in marketing support and distribution. So you still get to do that kind of thing–and really, these days, it’s a necessity. As a small press, I can’t connect you with a reader as well as you can connect yourself with a reader. Small presses are also a great opportunity to educate yourself about the business side. Usually, with a small press, you’re in closer contact with the staff, who are willing to share the business side of things.
A small press may take a risk on something not quite the ordinary.
When I went to school, we were told that if you were considering releasing a book, you should check and see if something like it had been done before. If it hadn’t, then you shouldn’t publish it. Big publishers aren’t usually trailblazers. It’s too risky. Small presses have less overhead and will more often take a risk on something unusual. Small presses often are niche publishers with a loyal following. If they can make the ROI (Return on Investment) work based on that, then you can find a home.
If you choose a big publisher, then even more of the process is taken care of by the publisher. You’ll still need to do that marketing stuff, because if you don’t–well, it will be the last book you sell to a big publisher. Mid-list authors don’t get second chances when publishers are forced to try and get their bottom line in the black. But big publishers have the one thing the rest of the publishing options don’t: distribution, access to bookstores, co-op money. All those things that get the books in front of readers in physical and virtual bookstores all over the world.
In my opinion (and it’s a humble one!) I think authors should diversify and explore all of these routes and for some really basic reasons:
• MARKET SHARE. Each publisher has their own circle of influence. By exploring and participating in multiple avenues of influence, the author can expand their own sphere and thus increase their own bottom line.
• CONTROL. There are just some projects where you want to have control. Where you want to make the decisions.
• DIVERSITY. It provides you with options, opportunities and adventures that would be different if you only chose one route.
• MITIGATING RISK. Let’s do an if. If you were to self-publish everything, and your sphere of influence was 324 readers, then you would have a limited opportunity to sell a product to them. You may not even recoup costs, and that would put your business at risk. It goes back to you being a business. Sure, you’ll add readers over time, but it seems like a long slog. (And after more than 15 years of doing this, I can attest to the long slog!)
It probably puts me in the minority, but if I were an author, it’s what I would do. It’s what I’m starting to see my authors do, and I encourage that.
I think a publishing roadmap would look like this:
• Build a plan through education of the business, options and opportunities.
• Write a great book.
• Publish it with a reputable small press. (Or start with a big press if you can, but that doesn’t really happen often)
• Market the heck out of it, building a community of readers based on YOU (all you!)
• Continue to write. Pump out short fiction around your world, or helpful articles for non-fic writers, that you self-publish in ebook form. (Make sure you keep that option available in your small press contract, or work with your publisher to make it work)
• Work to make your relationship with your small press a good one, because you should continue to publish with them.
• Build your market to the extent that you can sell a book to a big publisher.
• Continue to build that community of readers (your sphere of influence) and write, write, write.
• Keep all options open, and place your work where it seems logical. Open doors, don’t close them.
I don’t think publishing is an either/or proposition. I think it’s a business, and you need to treat it as such, otherwise you’ll never sell more than that average 100 copies.
Short Story Anthologies: A Dying Breed?
I haven’t been much of a magazine reader as an adult and I wasn’t much more of one as a child. Most of the ‘zines I picked up over the years, whether is was focused on music or short stories or computers, contained too little of what I was actually interested in and too many ads and too much fluff. Apparently, and for reasons I’m pretty sure I’m beginning to understand, print ‘zines in general and anthologies in particular are on the way out. I don’t think that’s because people don’t like short stories or anthologies. I think they’re dying in print, in large part, because people are tired of paying for cologne inserts and pretty pictures. We, at Flying Island Press, have been congratulated for having the guts to fly in the face of that.
That’s the beautiful thing about the digital age. I think it’s possible that we’re in some sort of rebirth of this beautiful idea. I mean what could be better than someone sending you a file full of short story goodness every month or there about? Sure, not all of the short stories are going to be your cup of tea, but soon enough there will be more. And when you’re done reading them, you can either delete them off of your e-reader/mp3 player, or if they’re spectacular you can keep the ones you want and they don’t clutter up your bookshelf.
Don’t get me wrong. Just because I see new short fiction markets opening up all the time, doesn’t mean the rebirth will last. Just as many close up shop every week. It’s hard running one of these gigs, particularly if you want to pay your writers. There are piles of slush to go through (which can be a joy!), perhaps even more than our anthological ancestors had to deal with. Back in the day you had to submit via snail mail, but now anyone can email an RTF or drop it in the body of an email. You have to figure out a way to generate income to pay the wordherders that bless your ‘zine by sending you their babies. A way, I hope, that avoids an electronic version of the smelly sachets and non-sequiterial ads that populate our dead tree brethren. You then have to get the word out about your anthology, competing with all of the other content that’s floating around out there. It’s hard out there for a… publisher.
Perhaps that’s why we’ve been called brave (among other things) for launching Flagship. I’m not sure that brave is the right word, though. I’m gonna go with smitten. I’m in love. I love short stories. I think they’re an art and a craft all to themselves.To tell a complete tale in less than seven thousand words that pleases not just you and the editor, but that audience is a real challenge. There’s no room for info dumps or sloppy word choices. You don’t have time to find your character’s voice and tell them all about the challenges they had growing up. You have to get the reader in their head now and into the plot in paragraphs, not pages. It’s like making good whisky. You distill the story down to its essence. When that’s done right it’s magic. When it’s done wrong you might go blind.
I want to find the word magicians out there and I want to introduce you to them. Understand a few things about us, that is the crew of the Flying Island. We’re not pros. We all have day jobs. The same is true of our authors. We don’t have a single Nebula or Hugo award winner (not yet anyway) and in a number of cases we’ve been the author’s first credit, and we’re proud of that! So we’re, most of us, n00bs. I’m not making excuses. We’ve had some awesome stories. I’ve enjoyed every single one we’ve published and my hope is that you will too. I just want you to know that the reason we’re here and doing that voodoo we’re doing, isn’t because we think we’ll make a mint doing it. We’re not brave or crazy. (Contrary to the opinions expressed by any one of our crew on any given day on Twitter… Okay, maybe Jeff is.) We’re in love with telling stories and we want to share that love with you.
Now, I’m gonna be frank: love ain’t free. That’s as true when it comes to stories as it is with people. We started our publishing industry on the notion that a writer’s work is worth his salt. So, we set a price on our magazine. That’s because we want it to be ad free. We want to send you just the stories and editorials that we believe will catch your fancy. You won’t find paid ads either on our website or in our free podcasts. Maybe the day will come when we sell ad space, but I hope not. I want what we put out to be just as distilled as our stories.
So that’s it. Maybe we’re brave. Maybe we’re crazy. Perhaps we’re a bit of both. One thing I don’t think we are, is a dying breed. People will always want stories. Some of those are going to be short and someone will need to put them out there. Because people love stories as much as we do.
Scott Roche is an author, podcaster, and one of the founders of Flying Island Press, which is helping to carry the torch for short stories into the future. Currently they are also putting together a special magazine that will benefit Autism Speaks, and the submissions for that issue are open until the end of April.
I love the slush pile.
There. I’ve said it.
I know that we editors are supposed to hate looking at submissions, solicited or otherwise. That’s why we call them “slush” in the first place, right? We’re supposed to be bored and jaded. We’re supposed to lament that we’ve seen it all—twice; that nothing out there is new, or eye-catching, or even grammatically correct. It’s no great feat to save up our slush horror stories so that we can terrify you, writers, at conventions and at parties, because every manuscript is a horror story and a lesson in what not to do.
That’s what you’re expecting me to say. That’s the story writers tell each other ‘round the campfire (or, as it were, ‘round the hotel bar). Everyone knows that editors set out every morning to crush ten writers’ dreams before lunch. We have a quota, right?
But the truth is, I enjoy the submissions desk. Why? For the same reason I enjoy reading: I love to fall in love with books. I want each and every manuscript that crosses my desk to be something that hooks me, transports me, and excites me.
More editors, agents, and publishers share my perspective than writers realize. We wouldn’t be actively seeking submissions if we didn’t want to find those same fantastic stories that we love as readers—the ones that keep us up all night turning pages; the ones we want to make all our friends read. I enter each manuscript with that optimism, and with hope that I’m opening a gateway to something magical.
Your job when you send off a query, friend writer, is not to convince me to be optimistic. It’s to seize on that optimism I already have and reward it. You can do this by showing me that you respect me, that you respect the process, and that you respect yourself.
It takes very little effort, if you’ve found “Dragon Moon Press,” to determine that it’s a publisher, not an agency, so please tell us that you’re submitting your manuscript “for consideration,” not “for representation.” No one’s going to reject you for writing “Dear Editor,” but it takes very little effort, if you’ve found my name, to determine that I’m a Ms. and not a Mr. Getting these little things wrong shows a lack of seriousness. Getting them right shows professionalism and respect.
If you’ve gone to the trouble of finding the submissions address, you’ve probably also found the submissions guidelines. You can respect the process by reading and following them. These guidelines exist so that we can receive the manuscripts that are most likely to fit our needs, in the formats and with all the essential pieces needed to help us make our decisions. Many of the queries I reject have been for genres my boss doesn’t publish, or a manuscript that’s not finished yet, or a word count that’s off by a mile, or have been missing crucial elements, or otherwise haven’t followed directions. I ask for ten sample pages because I need to see the writing, not just the plot—if you don’t send along those pages, you’ve deprived me of a chance to be wowed by them. If I say “no attachments,” it’s because I won’t open them. Yours won’t be an exception. If an agent’s guidelines ask for a synopsis, it’s because they’ll have to turn around and pitch to editors with one. It’s what they need in order to make their decision.
Accept that the process takes time, and if by chance your manuscript isn’t quite a fit for a particular market, accept that with grace, too. If the internet is a small world, then publishing is about the size of that shoebox you called a freshman dorm room. The things you say will get back to the people you say them about.
But, you can use that to your advantage, because a reputation for being pleasant to work with will precede you, too. You’ll find that other people will usually assume you to be professional and easy to work with unless you show them otherwise. So take a deep breath, and let it out. Relax. Take a confident, friendly, professional tone. Don’t try too hard, or boast, or get defensive, or insult us, or try to dazzle us, or threaten us, or bribe us, or guilt us. Let your genuine pride in your work shine through, and let your writing speak for itself.
Find your voice, and have faith in it. Many of the queries that I reject—the ones that have followed directions—aren’t the stuff of editors’ nightmares. They’re just unremarkable. They’re a bullet-point list of “and then this happened” instead of an engaging, immersive story with a strong voice and a narrative flow. If you don’t give me a reason to get invested in the characters, none of the things that happen to them will matter to me. Remember, we editors want to be immersed, just like readers do. But it can’t happen if all you give us is a puddle.
If you want to show us that you are an amazing person with a fantastic story to tell, you have to believe it first! Strike a professional tone in your query, stick to the requested information, and proofread your entire submission (including your cover letter!). Doing these few little things will show that you’re taking this seriously. Everyone gets nervous and makes a little mistake or two, but showing inattentiveness in your query is like showing up to a job interview without ironing your shirt. Attention to polish can really show a long way to show that you care.
Oh, and always include your contact information (on your cover letter, in your attachment, in the body of your email), so that when we are wowed, we can get in touch with you!
Gabrielle is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association. She edits for authors like Philippa Ballantine (Geist, Ace Books 2010), publishers including Pyr Books, and is a staff proofreader for Lambda Literary. In addition to her independent editing work, she is also an Associate Publisher at Dragon Moon Press.