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Ageism in Writing and Publishing (a birthday post)

I was reading an online message board in which an author asked about whether anyone had experienced ageism when trying to find an agent or publisher. While I didn’t feel qualified to answer, it did make me stop and think.

I’ve noticed many writers—well, the ones announcing having landed agents and made deals—are younger than me. I guess that happens as you age; everyone seems young! But I do think that things have changed. It used to be that authors were relatively invisible aside from occasional book tours (if they were big enough names) or conference appearances. But with the advent of social media, being an author is now like being any other famous person. Suddenly it matters what you look like. And just like aging actresses get booted to make room for the young, pretty things, I do sometimes suspect the same about authors.

It probably varies by genre, though. I think it’s YA authors that skew young. Agents and publishers seem to think that younger readers want authors who “get it.” And of course us old fogeys can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a teenager these days. We can’t even imagine, despite our jobs being to do just that. However, romance writers can be older because *ahem* “experience”?

There are surely gender biases, too. Just as handsome older actors continue to get cast in big motion pictures, old white men get to keep writing and publishing books.

At the same time, this is impossible to prove. That’s the difficulty with ageism. Especially in a subjective business where it’s perfectly reasonable for agents or publishers to say, “This just isn’t for me.” Whether it’s the work or something about you—age or otherwise—you may never know.

To be clear, I’m not bitter. This is really just meant to be a reflection piece. The nice thing about modernity is that, even if agents reject you because you’re “too old to write YA,” that doesn’t have to stop you from being published because you can publish yourself. It’s hard work, to be sure, but at least then you can know for certain whether your writing is good enough (and your age never mattered), or if the agents/publishers were right all along. As the saying goes: You’ll never know until you try.

Solar Return!

Today is my solar return, which is the equivalent of an astrological birthday. It means the sun will return to the place in the sky where it was when I was born. I’ve heard that you should plan fun activities for your solar return because how you spend the day sort of projects into the coming year. I even read once how to break down the hours/minutes of your solar return day into which days and months of the coming year they correlate with so you could see when significant things might happen. I tried doing this once or twice, but it’s a heckuva lot of work, so I think today I’ll just mark down anything that happens that feels important or interesting.

Of course, anyone spends at least a chunk of the 24 hours of their solar return asleep. So I’m not sure how it works to project that onto your coming year. Are those just really dull months? Does nothing much happen during that time? Are you super sleepy for those months?

I guess what I’m saying is, as with everything in life, you can only invest so much into a solar return or astrology in general. Life is what you make it, not what the stars and planets do.

Today I intend to relax. We’re going out for a nice dinner. That’s pretty much the only plan. Maybe that means the next year of my life will be placid. Boring? Well, I’m sure I can find ways to liven things up in my own way.

Gay or Not Gay? A Handy Guide

It was really only a matter of time that someone would give Faebourne a low-star review because there is a gay romance subplot. I did try to be clear in the book description, and the novel is placed in a gay fiction category besides, but… Ah, well. Not everyone reads the fine print.

Here, then, is a breakdown of my writing in terms of gay/not gay:

My books that feature gay characters:

  • The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller (main character is gay)
  • Manifesting Destiny (one of the main characters is gay)
  • Faebourne (supporting characters are gay)

Gay-free books:

  • The World Ends at Five
  • The K-Pro
  • Brynnde

Where are the Sherlock Holmes stories? Well, while in my stories Holmes and Watson are not gay, there are hints that Mycroft is. So it straddles the fence, I suppose.

I’m considering publishing a short story of mine called “The Zodiac Clock,” and it has gay characters, too. So if that bothers you, don’t read it.

I hope that clears up any potential confusion. Happy reading!

Looking Forward to 2019

Yesterday I wrote about everything I did and didn’t accomplish in 2018. Sure, there are still three weeks left in the year. More may yet happen! But this is usually the time of year when things slow down as people focus on the holidays, so I’m not pinning any expectations on it.

Instead, I’m looking ahead to 2019. What projects do I plan to focus on and what goals would I like to reach? I firmly believe in concrete, quantifiable goals. To say, “I want to sell a lot of books” is not helpful. To say, “I want to sell 1,000 books” is.

Here, then, are my goals for 2019:

  • Finish and publish Ms. Fortune
  • Finish the Hamlette rewrite
  • Make at least as much money as I did this year (or more!)
  • Attend at least one conference or convention, either as a guest speaker or with an author table

These all feel do-able. As I’m not a particularly fast writer, finishing two manuscripts is something of a stretch for me, but I’m going to try.

I have other, non-writing goals as well, such as losing those 15 pounds (20 would be even better). And I have things to look forward to in 2019—a family vacation to Disney World, for example.

So what about you? What are your goals for the coming year? What, if anything, are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Looking Back at 2018

The year is almost over, and my birthday is coming, which means it’s time for me to get introspective or retrospective or something.

Here’s what I accomplished this year:

  • Put Brynnde out as an audiobook
  • Finished and published Faebourne (in ebook & paperback formats)
  • Put Brynnde out as a paperback
  • Presented at the public library
  • Had 20 August finish in the Top 20 in the Film Empire Fempire Screenwriting Contest 

Here is what I didn’t manage to do:

  • Find an agent or publisher for Hamlette
  • Get any of my screenwriting optioned or produced (not that I was actively looking)
  • Finish Changers 2 (which at this rate may never be completed)
  • Get accepted to any conferences or conventions

I’m sad about Hamlette, though I’ve since started a rewrite of it based on the overwhelming feedback I received. I don’t know what to do or think about Changers. Or my screenwriting for that matter. Maybe I’ll adapt all my screenplays to prose and publish them.

Aside from my writing life, I had a fairly good year that included trips to Paris and New York. I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was a treat. (It’s better on stage than reading it, and Scorpius steals the show.)

Later, in another post, I’ll look ahead to 2019 and what might be on the horizon. For now it’s enough to say that, while 2018 didn’t really set my world ablaze, it was steady and not terrible. Sales were decent, and I’m very excited about my paperbacks, which are beautiful!

How about you? How was your 2018?

IWSG: December 2018

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Question of the Month: What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?

I have a home office known as Little London due to its decor. Amidst the prodigious clutter on my desk you will find my laptop, a cold drink of some kind (Dr Pepper, iced chai, or water), Kero-chan (from Cardcaptor Sakura), Kylo Ren (in two forms: a POP! figurine and a tsum tsum), and a Dalek.

I actually made a video of Little London once:

I’m a NaNoWriMo Failure

To be fair, I hadn’t planned to even try to do NaNoWriMo this year, but… I had this idea, shiny and new, and found myself logging into my old NaNo account and signing up for duty.

Then the shiny idea fizzled. I couldn’t get any traction, nor did I feel motivated to push it.

In truth, I don’t normally participate in NaNoWriMo because I’m now a full-time writer anyway, so it doesn’t feel as important to me as it did when I worked a day job. However, I happen to be a very slow writer, so the idea of NaNo possibly forcing me to not overthink things and just get words out does have a kind of appeal. Part of me thinks that if I were truly disciplined—or even if I wanted to badly enough—I’d have managed to get my 50k words regardless of obstacles like appointments, chores, holidays, etc. That’s true any month of the year, I suppose. In fact, NaNo seems to be just another way for me to feel bad about myself and my lack of productivity.

Still, I know NaNoWriMo is a great tool for many writers, so kudos to all who achieved their goal this month. (Or will in the next 24 hours or so.) As for me, all is not lost. I went back to that old K-Pro sequel and am now working on that. Who’da thunk it? I don’t even know if there’s still any interest from readers in this book, but I sure am having fun writing it!

My November was not a complete failure after all. Though I didn’t write 50k or finish a manuscript, I did get my mojo back. NaNo or no NaNo, I’ll call that a win.

Vanity Publishing

There seems to be some confusion about vanity publishing, and I totally understand that. With more and more authors choosing to self-publish and use “author services” to help them with that, vanity publishers are finding it easier to slither in and grab the unsuspecting. So let’s be clear:

You should never pay a publisher to publish your book.

If you plan to self-publish, you can expect to pay a cover designer, an editor, a proofreader, an interior formatter… You can expect to pay for an ISBN, perhaps several, depending on how many formats you want to publish in. If you’re doing an audiobook, you can expect to pay the talent (that is, your voice actor/narrator). But—here it is again because it can’t be said too often:

You should never pay a publisher to publish your book.

Never, never, never should you pay someone to put their label/logo/imprint on your work. A successful publisher—and that’s the only kind you want—makes its money from selling its authors’ books. It does not make money from authors paying for editing, covers, etc. If that’s how it makes its money, IT IS A VANITY PRESS. Run far, far away and never look back.

They’ll try to make it sound reasonable. “Well, we’ll sell you copies of your book at a discount.” But then they’ll add something like, “You have to agree to buy at least 100 copies.” They’ll tell you that “this is how publishing works.” It isn’t. Publishing works by investing in books they think will sell and then selling those books to readers. Not back to the author.

Vanity publishers will say that it’s only fair that you pay them for all that work—the cover, the editing, etc. That may sound reasonable to you, but STOP. A publisher’s very job is to provide those things to its authors. Random House doesn’t charge its authors for any of that stuff. No good publisher does. A real, true publisher has a staff of editors, designers, marketers who do all that and are paid by the publisher who, again, makes its money by selling books to readers.

Make sense?

A genuine publisher finds manuscripts it believes it can sell. It invests in those manuscripts and authors. It publishes those books and makes its money from those books. (And the author makes money from those books, too.)

Money comes to the author. The author does not pay.

Self-publishing is a bit different because the author is investing in him- or herself by paying out of pocket for the things a publisher would normally provide. Ideally, the book will sell and the author will recoup that money and make even more over the lifetime of the book. This is the crack that vanity publisher try to exploit. They offer the author all those things—the cover design, the editing—but they charge for it AND they intend to make the author pay for his or her own work. Nor will vanity publishers work to sell your book. They’ve already made their money off you; they aren’t motivated to sell the actual book except right back to the author who already paid thousands of dollars for the “privilege” of having this vanity publisher’s logo slapped on his book.

If you can’t find a genuine publisher, self-publish. Not only will it cost far less than vanity, but you’ll keep your rights and have complete control of your work. If you aren’t comfortable self-publishing, put that manuscript aside and write the next one. Keep trying until you find an agent or proper publisher. But don’t fall into the desperate trap of vanity publishing.

Not sure about a publisher? Check with Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware.