The Order of Parts

Writing has a lot of steps. People who don’t write don’t understand that. Sometimes people who do write still don’t understand that. So I thought maybe I’d break it down a bit.

1. Writing
2. Critiquing
3. Beta
4. Editing
5. ARCs
6. Release

That’s a simplification. In truth most of these stages loop.

You write, and you get your critique group to read your writing. Then you rewrite and get it critiqued again. You keep doing this until you feel like you’ve got something worth showing your beta readers.

Note the difference between critique partners and beta readers. Your CPs are going to be other writers and people who know about things like grammar and punctuation. Your betas are going to be people who just like to read. They may know when something is misspelled, but that’s not their chief function. Their job is to tell you whether your story is confusing at some point, if they notice a major plot hole, if a character is annoying—all the things you talk about if YOU read a book and have issues with it. That’s what they’re going to do to YOUR book. And it’s as fun as it sounds but also really necessary.

After your betas have ripped your baby to bits, you get to fix all the problems. Then you can do another round of critiquing and beta reading. Then, when you’ve finally crawled back from your beta round with minimal pain, it’s time to hire a professional editor. You may also at this point begin exploring cover artists if you don’t already have one.

Your editor may find more issues (a good editor almost always will). After you’ve edited and polished your manuscript yet again, and once you’re relatively sure it’s as good as it can possibly be, you can start looking for ARC readers and advance reviewers. These people are NOT meant to give you feedback so that you can fix the book. They’re meant to tell other people whether or not the book is any good. If they say it’s not, then something in the previous steps went horribly wrong. Or you’ve tapped the wrong audience to read your ARCs. That’s actually also possible.

Finally, you can release your book into the wild. Yes, let it go. Try not to hover. Don’t pin all your hopes on this one title, no matter how much time and effort you’ve put into it. You should be getting on with your next book at this point. Looking forward not back.

“What about marketing?” I hear you asking. And of course that is important, but that’s another post for another time.

2016

If you follow publishing news at all, you’ll have read that the Association of American Publishers announced revenue was down 5.1% in 2016 (from 2015). Adult fiction declined 0.9%. But children’s and YA grew 5.9%, and almost 90% of those sales were in print.

My current WIP is a YA novel, and I won’t give it to anyone who won’t do a print copy. In fact, I’ve decided I won’t give any book to anyone who won’t give it a print run. If that means I self-publish, so be it. I’ve had more success with my self-published books anyway.

Some of it is simply that I want my books to be, well, books. Sure it is. I think many authors want that. But some of my motivation stems from the fact that it’s much harder to market just an ebook. I can’t show it off at conferences or put it on author tables for people to peruse. No one browsing a bookstore or library is going to stumble across it if it’s only in electronic format. And I can’t do a Goodreads giveaway for something that isn’t a physical book.

Also, ebooks fell 16.9% in 2016 from 2015. Almost everyone I talk to who reads prefers actual books. Many will read ebooks if they have no other choice, but most still show a preference for the “real” deal.

Yes, yes, a book is a book no matter its format. I agree in theory. I also read both physical books and ebooks. More and more books are only in e-format, so . . .

But if I examine my own behavior, I will almost always reach for a real book over trying to find something to download. My Kindle is full of books I may never read because I’d rather have a physical book in my hands. This article talks about how we don’t take in information the same way from a screen as from a page, which explains why some of us have such a strong preference for the printed word.

I don’t think ebooks are going away, and I’ll continue to put my books out in e-format as well, but I do feel as though I’m cutting my potential market short if/when there isn’t a physical book on offer. So often at author events I’ll have a my printed books on the table and a sign posted presenting my other works (ebooks). And people will point at the sign and ask, “Do you have this one?” And I have to tell them it’s only online. Then one of two things happens: (a) they take my card and say they’ll look it up, which may or may not ever happen, or (b) they say, “Oh, I don’t have an e-reader.” Either way, I’m left with disappointment and so, in a sense, are they. And I don’t want people walking away from my table feeling disappointed.

“So don’t post about your other books,” you say. But I don’t think that’s fair to me, curbing my ability to showcase my work. I write a lot of different things, and don’t want readers to miss out on something they might enjoy, might even be looking for.

“Print books don’t sell.” I hear that a lot too. But they can and do if you find the right places to market them. I don’t sell as many print books in a year, possibly because I don’t attend as many author events as so many other authors I know. But I find my print books to be great for giveaways and to get my name under people’s noses in a way ebooks just don’t. Readers still prize a physical book above an electronic one. For as long as that’s true—for as long as my readers would rather have a “real” book—then as an author it must necessarily be true for me, too.

It’s Official: Meet Narcisse

I’d post a picture, but I’ve yet to find anything that quite fits my mental image. Narcisse is the leader of the Felidae Clan. Ze is Black Asian and gender fluid (hence the pronoun). I keep wanting to write “he,” but that would be impolite, and I think ze might bite my head off—literally.

The Felidae are a large Clan with many subgroups over various territories. Narcisse rules the branch settled in the South. Think Louisiana bayous or Florida Everglades and you’ll have the right idea. This group are pumas (you may say “cougar” or “mountain lion” but they do not).

Narcisse is both father and mother to zis people. Ze will act in whatever way is necessary to keep the Clan safe and content. If that means nurturing and mothering, ze’ll do it. If it means fighting and disciplining, ze’ll do that, too. The one thing all the Felidae know: Don’t cross Narcisse.

Becoming a Writer: Step One

Someone asked me the other day, “So what do I need to know about being a writer?”

For context, this person is working on his first novel. I’ve read enough of his work to know he has the basics down: grammar, spelling, punctuation. He reads a lot, too. I feel like you have to read if you want to write well.

So all the nuts and bolts aside, my answer was: “You need to know what success looks like for you.”

This is the first step.

As-yet-unpublished writers will find so much information online. A swell of it, a tide, a flood. They will read of new authors getting six-figure deals with big publishers, and they will read about self-published authors building empires in which they make six figures a year, too. Then these new, young writers will get dollar signs in their eyes and think about how rich they’re going to be, just as soon as they write this novel.

But let’s get real. Most authors are living middle-class lives at best. I’m not saying it’s impossible to land a big agent, a big publisher, or reel in the big money as a self-published author, I’m just saying it’s not something that happens quickly or often. And what you really need to know is: Are you in it for the money? Or are you doing it because you love to write?

Before you start yelling at me in the comments, I know the two are not mutually exclusive. You can love to write and make money doing it. But publishing is a business and kind of a machine, and we all lean a little more one way or the other. Some of us are business people with some creativity in us, and others are creative people with a smidge of biz.

Bottom line: if you’re more focused on your bottom line, you’re going to approach the work a little differently than if you’re more into the writing part. Neither way is right or wrong, just different. Because all of this drills down to how you personally are going to define success for yourself and your work. You need to know this to map the path you want to take.

IF you want an agent and a major publisher, that’s one path.
IF you’d be happy with a small publisher, that’s another path.
IF you’d be content to self-publish, that again is another path.

Decide how and when you’ll feel “successful.” Set that goal. Those goalposts will move later, once you’ve reached your first goal, but focus on one thing at a time.

“I’ll feel like I’ve made it when I have an agent.” <— Is this you?

“My goal is to see my book in stores and libraries, which means I need a publisher with good distribution.” <—What about this?

“I just want to get my book out there. I’m not as concerned about how, and I’m happy to market myself.” <—Maybe you want to self-publish?

Once you’ve picked a road, you can begin your journey. I recommend finding out as much as you can about every possible option. And remember that it’s okay to change direction later on. But don’t let others’ stories of success or failure be what determines your path. Remember that no one gets there exactly the same way, and your journey will be unique to you.

As for me, when faced with these options, I chose to focus on writing things I want and like to write. Many times I’ve been told how much more money I could make if I’d just pick a genre and stick to it, or if I wrote faster. I know it’s probably true. But when I try to write in just one genre, I begin to feel confined. I stop having fun with my work. And for me, it’s more important that I enjoy it. Yes, I’m so happy when others do, too. And I’m flattered when they want more. I can never count out the possibility that I’ll write more of something. But it will take me a while. Because I’m also not a fast writer. I’ve tried, but it only makes me anxious and unhappy. So I go at a pace that is comfortable for me.

tl;dr: To be a writer you must first be a reader. And you also need to figure out your goal: an agent? major publisher? to self-publish? Do you want to make x amount of dollars per month or year? Do you want to sell x amount of books per month or year? Set a definite, concrete goal for yourself, and don’t be sidetracked by all the news of other authors’ successes. Focus only on reaching the goal you’ve set.

Progress

So here is the countdown clock for Hamlette to be finished and submitted.

If I continue to write 1% per day, I will make the deadline. (See the sidebar on the right to track my writing progress.) Though really I should write more per day and be sure I have time for a thorough overhaul when I’m done. Right now I’m in the “get it all out and onto the page” phase. Once that’s done, I can tidy things up.

Anyway, if you’ve noticed that I don’t post quite as often lately, that’s why. Between getting my kids ready for the upcoming school year—just over two weeks away now—and trying to meet my writing goals, I’m swamped! But keep your eye on those progress bars. Soon we’ll have something to celebrate!

IWSG: Pet Peeves

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 your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Well, I used to work in publishing as an editor (and sometimes still do freelance work), so I have a healthy list of peeves. I think the thing to keep in mind is: there’s a difference between things that are correct and incorrect versus preferences. Certainly, anything incorrect is annoying, and when an author seems unschooled in basic grammar, that’s a problem for the reader. “Bad writing” can therefore be listed as a peeve. But many writers can at least put a sentence together. Some just have “tics”—little writing quirks. You see it in even the most established authors.

I know one writer who is what I call “comma happy.” I mean, I use commas pretty freely myself, and this guy outstrips me by a lot. Most of the commas are unnecessary, though not “wrong” per se, though I find reading his work halting because of all the pauses the commas create.

Tense problems are something that bother me, and they’re a common problem. Even I make those mistakes. Every peeve I have is one I’ve committed, probably more than once, at that’s what bothers me most.

As for peeves when I’m reading or writing or editing: noise and interruptions, of course!