It’s my solar return today, so I’m out doing fun things like seeing Rogue One and having my annual tarot reading. While I’m out, however, please enjoy this compilation of some of my better posts from this past year, courtesy of DL Hammons’ Déjà Vu Blogfest.
From August 25, a post about the #tenqueries hashtag on Twitter:
An interesting conversation—if Twitter can be said to have conversations—has popped up around the hashtag “tenqueries.” This hashtag is used by agents to go through ten queries in their slush piles and give reasons for requesting material or passing. I used to read #tenqueries regularly, but I stopped when I realized I was getting rather facile information. “This concept has been done to death.” What concept? The one-line reasons for passing on something were not helpful to me without more information. I learn by example. Show me the bad writing so I can see why it’s bad.
Of course they can’t do that. I know they can’t. They can’t share someone’s work and then point out everything wrong with it. That would be like a teacher calling a student up to the front of the classroom and then mocking the way he’s dressed or something. Maybe not mocking. But even if the teacher only pointed out everything wrong with a student’s uniform—why it wasn’t up to the dress code—that student would certainly feel bad. Just as the writer who was made an example of would, even if an example could be made.
It’s a thin line.
In the end, I found #tenqueries to be voyeuristic and not terribly helpful. To sit and wonder if the agent is writing about your manuscript . . . What would be the point? You’ll know if and when you get the rejection (or request), and you’ll still never be sure whether that one tweet was aimed at you. And if you didn’t submit to that agent, what truly useful information are you getting from, “This needs more editing”? WHY does it need more editing? SHOW ME!
That’s my two cents anyway.
From November 4, a post about what I’d learned working with small publishers:
I’m a hybrid author in that I’ve self-published some stuff and had other works published by small publishers. Two different small publishers, to be exact. And now that I’ve had that little bit of experience, I feel I can share some of it with you.
What To Look For
Readers – You want a small publisher that has a [good!] reputation in its genre(s) and has readers who come back for more. That readership is your best chance of being discovered by new eyes.
Marketing – And I mean more than a Facebook post and a tweet. You can do that yourself. When a small publisher makes it a point to stipulate that you will be doing most of the marketing, ask what they plan to do for you. If they say, “Well, we’ll edit your book and give you a cover,” remember that YOU can get those things elsewhere. What you’re looking for is marketing and distribution. If they aren’t offering some kind of marketing, that’s one strike against them.
Distribution – Are any of their books in bookstores? Libraries? These are the next best places for readers to find you. If the publisher is digital/ebook only, will they still try to hold all your rights (print, audio, film, translation), even if they’re not planning to exercise them? I learned this the hard way, so be sure to ask. And get everything in writing.
Brand – This is similar to readership. Is the publisher a known name? Does it have an established brand? How long has it been around? You may be tempted to give a new, up-and-coming publisher a shot (and be grateful when they offer you a shot, too), but remember that many fledgling publishers fail. Which leads us to . . .
I’m no lawyer, but based on my experience be sure that the following things are clear in any contract:
Rights – And which of them the publisher plans to exercise. As mentioned above, if they only plan to do the ebook, they shouldn’t be asking for any other rights.
Quotas – Likewise, if your sales are required to reach a certain mark before your book will go into print or audio, that should be clearly stated in the contract.
Reversion – If you and the publisher want to break up, then what? Your contract should stipulate that process by giving you a way to get your rights back. (Note that having to pay a fee to buy back your rights is generally frowned upon by author advocacy groups.)
Timeframes – The publisher shouldn’t be asking to have the book forever. The contract should expire at some point, and the contract should give information on what to do if you want to extend or renew it.
Right of Refusal – This is tricky. A lot of publishers will have a clause about having “first right of refusal” on either your next book and/or any book related to the one you plan to publish with them. There’s a distinction here, and it’s important. I turned down a contract because the publisher wanted first crack at ANYTHING else I wrote. I knew the book I was working on wouldn’t be right for them, and I didn’t want to send it to them. They were unwilling to negotiate the contract, so I declined it. However, it’s pretty standard for a publisher to ask for first shot at any sequels, prequels, etc. to the book they’re offering for. Just remember this means you can’t play with those characters or that world elsewhere until/unless the publisher gives the nod. Or until you get your rights back.
You see that the key is, really, to be sure you have a way to get your book back if the relationship between you and the publisher fails. This is your intellectual property, and it has value! Be sure you have a way to hold on to it!
Social Media – Does the publisher truly engage with followers on social media, or does it just put out links to its books periodically? How many comments, likes, retweets, shares, etc. are they getting? This helps determine whether they have an engaged readership or not.
Too Many Releases – This is a sign the publisher believes the more they put out there, the more money they’ll make. They aren’t giving each book and author the attention it/they deserve. “Author mill” is a term sometimes used to describe this practice. Instead of laying the groundwork for each release, the publisher just tosses a book out into the wild to fend for itself and expects the author to do the work in finding readers. If that’s the case, you might as well publish the book yourself.
Cross-Promoting Authors – When you see a bunch of authors from one publisher cross promoting each others’ books, it’s usually because the publisher encourages them to do so. Problem is, if all these authors are new and don’t have many readers or followers yet, it’s doing no one any good. The idea of authors helping each other is grand, it’s lovely, but it’s not effective at a peer level. You need established authors to help those struggling to come up in the world, and then when you’re established, you return the favor to another newbie. If the publisher doesn’t have any established authors that can help you, you’ll need to go find one. A mentor. Or else try to make it on your own, which can be done, though it’s tough. Bottom line here, however: A bunch of newbie authors trying to help one another is sweet but somewhat useless and your time is better spent elsewise. If your publisher insists you promote one another, they’re giving you bad advice and/or are too cheap and lazy to do any real marketing.
This list is by no means comprehensive. It’s just a starting point based on my experiences. Have anything to add? Any questions? Feel free to share in the comments!
And from November 15, a post about how and why it’s so difficult to reach readers and sell books:
The biggest complaint I hear these days from fellow authors (and I’ve been known to make this complaint as well) is that it’s harder than ever to find readers and sell books. I combine these two seemingly separate moans into one because in order to sell books an author must first find readers. One follows the other and so it’s all really one big problem.
For a while there ads were a big deal. Discounting your book and then running ads on Facebook and via the sites that send out daily deal newsletters would get you a fair number of sales and maybe, on the flip side, some reviews. But as soon as every author cottoned on to that route, readers became numb to all that. They were inundated and learned to block out yet another avenue of marketing.
Look at it from a reader’s perspective. (And hey, as writers many of us are also readers, so this shouldn’t be difficult.) There are a lot of books out there. So many that’s it’s nigh impossible to figure out what you’re going to read. In order to narrow down your choices, you need guidance. Where do you go for that?
- You ask for recommendations from friends and family.
- You read reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, whichever book blogs you frequent.
- You look at Amazon’s “if you like this, then read that” thingy.
- You go to a bookstore or library and browse for something that looks interesting.
The above is why it’s so important for writers to build a readership AND also have distribution in bookstores and libraries. You need people talking about your book, and you need your book to be under readers’ noses so that they can stumble upon it in places where they’re looking for something to read.
But what if you’re brand spanking new at this and don’t have readers and maybe only have e-books and don’t know how to get in stores ohmygodwe’reallgonnadie. Take a deep breath. Stay with me now. And think about this like a reader.
You see a book online. It doesn’t have many (or any) reviews. You’re not sure you would like it. I mean, it kinda sounds like something you’d enjoy, but you’ve never heard of this author, so . . . You just don’t know. What would it take to “sell” you on the book?
What if it was only 99 cents? Better yet, what if it was free? Hey, nothing to lose there! You could give a free book a try, right?
I know. I know that giving away books means not making any money. BUT. I also know that you’re not going to convince a reader in a world of cheap and free books to shell out $4.99 for someone they’ve never heard of. Maybe they like the sample chapter, but still, they’re going to hesitate.
There are a lot of books out there. Yours are just a few in an ever-growing pile, and if they’re ever going to get selected, you’ve got to make it easy and relatively low-risk to get the reader to pick your books up. That means (1) putting your book under readers’ noses, and (2) pricing it in a way that makes the reader feel they won’t be out anything if they don’t love it.
Think about authors whose books you willingly pay full retail price for. Authors whose books you pre-order and can’t wait to read. Do you even have any? (I only have two or three myself.) You want to become one of those, but to get there, you first have to snag those readers. Give them a book or two at a relatively low price, or even make one permanently free, and once they’re in love with your style, your characters, your writing—then they’ll hopefully happily be willing to pay more for subsequent books.
But you gotta get them first.
And in my experience, this is how.
Or, at least, this is what works at the moment. But the industry is changing so quickly, who knows what will work next month, next week, or tomorrow?
Authors, tell me what works for you. Readers, tell me how you find new books and authors. I want to hear from you!
Honestly, though, I think one of my best posts of the year took place on another blog. Read that post on writing advice here. I also thought this q&a was pretty good.
Hope you enjoyed these, or at least found them informative. And be sure to visit the other blogfest participants!