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Déjà Vu Blogfest

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 . . .

Contracts

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!

Red Flags

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!

#TBT: Treasure

I was digging around for something yesterday (didn’t find it, but there are more places yet to look) and unearthed some things I forgot even existed. Is it unusual for an author to forget having written something? These had completely slipped my mind:

Of course, they’re from when I was a teenager, and looking back I found them terribly overwritten. I hope I’ve gotten better since then.

I also came across this magazine from 2004, the first original short story I ever had published:

You can actually hear an audio version of this story here.

And then I discovered these from my manga and anime days:

This is only a sampling, not nearly all of what I had or still have . . . somewhere . . . My walls were plastered with these things. It’s probably why I could never get a date. But finding them reminded me of how much I love the story of Subaru and Seishirou—a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. I went back and re-read Tokyo Babylon and the pertinent parts of X and swooned a little once again.

All the excavating, however, means I’ve been lax in my actual writing work. Still, it was a bit inspiring to go back and re-read some of this stuff. As far as my old writing in concerned, it’s nice to see how far I’ve come. And reliving Subaru’s arc reminds me of what good writing and character development can be. It makes me want to do something just as amazing. Here’s hoping.

WIP Wednesday

Here’s just a little fun I was having with Simeon, Peter and Jules:

“Peter, Peter, wherefore art thou?”

The calling startled Simeon from the paperwork he’d been trying to decipher. He looked up just in time to see a man he did not recognize come dashing around the corner from the elevators. Average height, dark and springy hair, swarthy skin… Greek, maybe? Turkish? Italian? He had no accent, and God knew he was loud enough that Simeon would have heard if he did; if not for the fact they were the only ones on the floor, Simeon would have worried about the man drawing unwanted attention. As it stood, he wondered how the man had got into the building.

“Is he in there?” the man asked, pointing at the door behind Simeon, and without waiting for an answer, the man went for the door and tried the knob.

“It’s locked,” said the man. He looked over his shoulder at Simeon. “He’s in there, I know it. You have a key?”

Simeon reached for the phone instead. “If I can just tell him who—”

“He doesn’t have someone in with him, does he?” the man went on. He slammed a fist against the heavy wood of the door. “Peter! It’s Jules!”

With a sigh, Simeon dropped the phone. No point in it now.

Peter’s door flew open. “What in God’s name, Maier?” Peter snapped. “You’re not meant to be in the country at the moment, much less here.”

Jules Maier. The name rang a bell. Simeon was sure he’d heard of him, just couldn’t remember in what context.

“Trade the old one in for a new model?” Jules asked.

“Mr. Martin is only my assistant,” Peter said matter-of-factly and, feeling their appraisal, Simeon turned in his chair for a look at the two men. Peter was taller—but then, he was taller than just about anyone—and fairer, positively angelic next to all the dark elements that comprised Jules.

Nothing good, Simeon decided. He’d heard nothing good about Jules Maier.

I was considering writing something a little steamier than my usual, maybe as a short story companion to The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller? It remains to be seen if I’m even capable of that. Could be a fun exercise, though.

And if you haven’t read Peter yet, you should! Check my Books page or find various ebook retailers linked here.

2016 in Review

It was a bad year for a lot of people and for the world in general, or at least it seems that way. Compared to many, I think I came away relatively unscathed. I had my disappointments, to be sure. Peter did not launch the way I hoped (jury is still out on Manifesting Destiny). But the fact that I had 2 books published in 2016—nothing to sniff at. And I attended 2 writing conferences, at one of which I was a panelist and had an author table. These are the small highs of 2016 for me.

Other good things:

  • Adopted two kitty cats, Crowley and Minerva (named for Good Omens and Harry Potter respectively)
  • My family remains in relatively good health
  • I met amazing fellow writers and made many new friends
  • Won a little money in Vegas—in fact, the exact amount of the cost of one of the writing conferences I wanted to attend. How’s that for Providence?

We must be grateful for small blessings in the face of larger problems.

My birthday is coming. I’m thankful to have reached another one. In lieu of gifts, please donate to this cat sanctuary. I have enough. More than enough. I’d rather know these kitties can be spared the cold and snow. And note that I’m offering ebooks and/or writing critiques to donors. See the previous post on this site for details.

I don’t think many of us will be sorry to see the backside of 2016. Time is a false construct, though, so if you can’t wait, don’t. Start fresh now, today, as much as you can. And keep looking for all the little things, the good things. It’s the only way to make life bearable.

Free Books (kind of)

I’ve said it before, that I’m serious about my love for animals and my desire to help them. If you hang around my Facebook page at all, you’ve seen pictures and video of my cat Crowley (named for the character in Good Omens). I have a fellow writing friend who is now trying to save money to move because she’s in danger of having to evict her cats, and I’d really like to help her. I don’t have much to offer but my books, however*. So that’s what I’m doing.

Anyone who donates $10 or more to this Go Fund Me campaign can email me the receipt and let me know which of my ebooks they’d like. (You can find a list of my books on this site or on Amazon.) So the book is free, you just need to be willing to help kitties in order to get it. I hope you’ll take me up on the offer!

*I’d also be willing to look at/critique query letters and first chapters if anyone is interested in that instead.

IWSG: Not Good Enough

InsecureWritersSupportGroup It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Read and support writers by clicking here, and if you’re a writer you can also join!

Lately I’m having that bit of insecurity many of us have in life whether we’re writers or not: the fear of not being good enough. Sometimes it seems, no matter what I do or how hard I try, it just isn’t enough. That leads to wondering why I’m wasting all this time and energy on writing. It can be a terrible, depressing spiral.

When you’ve given something your all—and I’m talking about not just doing something but having done your very best, put blood and sweat and tears into it—the last thing you want to hear is that you still fell short of the mark. But the truth is, sometimes your best at that time won’t be quite enough. Sometimes a story (or other project) exceeds your abilities. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever be able to get it right. It just means you need to hone your craft a bit more first.

Think of it as reaching for something that’s just beyond your fingertips. Sometimes you just barely swipe it, but then it falls and crashes. What you need is a stepping stool. In this example, that stool is the hours you put into writing and getting better. You can reach farther and farther the more you write because writing = adding steps to your stool.

Not good enough is a fact of life. But it doesn’t ever mean you can’t get better. You just have to be willing to put in the work. And when you’ve put in a ton of work and it’s still not good enough? That’s hard. But know that the work you’ve put in is adding to your stepping stool—even if it’s not high enough yet, it will be eventually.

IWSG Question of the Month: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

Ahahahaha! What’s the saying? “Man makes plans and God laughs”?

I think it’s important to have goals, but it’s also important to remain flexible. In five years I expect to have put out at least five more books, and hopefully they will be selling steadily. I plan to continue attending conferences, ideally as a guest author and presenter, but sometimes just as an attendee. I’d also like to be doing more signings and events. I’m currently trying to figure out that side of things by making connections with independent bookstores and event planners. (Anyone want to split a table at BookCon with me?) And I’m planning to explore the possibility of audiobooks, too.

Being a writer these days also means being a small business. You have to invest in yourself and your career, which sometimes means spending money to make money. I struggle with that, and I think a lot of other writers do, too. We don’t have a lot of money, so we have to figure out how best to use our dollars. That’s where the planning comes in. Because you do need to plan. You can’t sit and hope to be stumbled upon by readers. You need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for them so they can find you—and with all these other writers leaving goodies, too, you’d better have the best bread in order to entice readers to your door. So I plan to get out there where people can see me, hopefully in places where readers can be found. It’s not easy. Not only because I’m shy but because I have to sell myself, and that doesn’t come naturally at all. But I’ve discovered a great community of writers at these events, people willing to help one another. If nothing else, at the end of the day I’ll have that much.

Aim high, but count every little blessing.

The PR Conundrum

So at recent writing conferences this year, I heard this a lot: “You need a publicist!”

Basically, with all the books being published and self-published, it’s becoming almost impossible to rise above the noise. So you hire a publicist to help you get noticed.

Makes sense. The only problem (for me, at least) is… It’s really expensive. And while I believe in investing in my career, and that you have to sometimes put money in to get more out, a [good] publicist is something I can’t afford. (I can’t afford a bad one, either, but for different reasons.)

So here is my chief issue with publicists: if you can afford one, you probably don’t need one, and if you can’t afford one, you probably do need one.

Sigh.

Any of my fellow authors use a publicist? If so, were you satisfied with the experience?