Away Again

Taking advantage of these last few weeks of summer before the kids go back to school. So I’ll be away from my computer again. I will be able to post on Twitter, my Facebook page, my Instagram, and I think Tumblr (which I’ve had for years but only just started making any use of). Probably won’t be posting any fic on Tumblr (which is what I’ve been doing, kind of), but might post some pictures. So if you hang out in any of those social media spaces, look me up. NYC, coming at you!

Bon Voyage!

Yes, that’s me wishing myself a good trip. I’m not taking my laptop, which I admit gives me a bit of anxiety. I can’t remember the last time I traveled without it . . . Probably never, at least not since first getting a laptop.

Anyway, this means I won’t be updating here for a week. However, thanks to the miracle of smartphones, I will be posting on Twitter, Facebook, and probably a bit of Instagram as well. So follow me on one or all of those sites to see, if not me, a bit of Paris. À toute à l’heure!

Pondering

Okay, I’m wondering if any other authors have noticed this. I follow a number of agents on Twitter. In particular, I add them to a private list when they’ve requested materials from me so I can sort of see what they’re thinking and get any updates on their slush piles. Lately, though, I’ve noticed a lot of agents and agencies running bootcamps and workshops. And every time I see it, I think, But aren’t they already too busy?

Agents have their clients to look after: sending out manuscripts, reading new ones, etc. And they have a bazillion queries coming at them, plus they need to wade through any materials they’ve requested. We all hear about how swamped they always are, and that’s why it takes them forever and a day to respond to queries. So when I see that they’re also helming bootcamps and workshops, I get a little frustrated. Because I know it means I’ll be even less of a priority, and I was already at the bottom of their lists.

Then I start to wonder why they’re doing this. Are they not making enough money for and from their clients, so they need to supplement the income? That’s a bad sign. Or are they simply looking to part hopeful authors from their money? That’s a really bad sign. And I don’t want to believe it. I want to believe agents are truly doing what they think is best for new authors. Trying to help them succeed. But with the hundreds of writing conferences and whatnot out there, these agents and agencies are not filling a need. There’s no hole in the industry as far as workshops go. So again I wonder: why?

Meanwhile (and not entirely unrelatedly), it looks more and more likely that I’ll be self-publishing Hamlette. But I’ve done pretty well with that route. Check out the feature in yesterday’s BookLife newsletter:

There’s Brynnde! And Faebourne is on the way! 7 August. Mark your calendar!

Luck & the Ladder

This morning, author Chuck Wendig posted a really nice Twitter thread about maximizing your luck as an author. Here’s the first tweet:

If you click on it, you can then read the entire thread.

Chuck (if I may be so informal) makes a lot of good points. Writing isn’t a meritocracy. You can work really hard and still not succeed. In a society that has shown us again and again in movies, television, and yes, books, that hard work always pays off, this can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Luck plays a pretty significant role in success . . . of any kind, really, but we’ll stick to writing for now. But as Chuck also notes, you can maximize your chances. Write a really good book, or better yet, write several.

Now, I’ll admit I always bristle just a little when an already successful person tries to pat me on the head and give me advice. I suppose they think it’s helpful, but it’s a little too diffuse to be truly useful. “Go write some more” isn’t some great kernel of knowledge. Still, I know Chuck and his ilk mean well when they hand down their opinions and musings like gods spitting peanut shells from their thrones in the clouds. So I try to take it in the spirit it’s intended.

One piece of advice he gives, however, is to write more. And besides the fact that pretty much everyone gives that advice, it only serves to kick people like me—slow, deliberate crafters of tales—in the gut. I write 1-2 books a year. I know I should write more and faster, but I simply cannot. It’s not for lack of trying, but you might as well tell a fish to climb a tree. It isn’t going to happen.

Does that make me a bad writer? It’s an honest question; I have no idea.

Chuck also points out that writing to market rather than writing what you want to write is probably not the best choice. And he talks about helping other writers by talking about them and their work, introducing them to agents and editors, building community . . . But I’ve written in the past about how a bunch of new writers can’t really help each other much. They need established authors, editors, agents to reach down the ladder and pull them up a bit. And yet it seems like once someone gets a few rungs up the ladder, their interest in helping those below wanes. There are a few reasons for this. Some people, once they’ve made it over the hurdle, feel like others should have to do it themselves. I did it and no one helped me, so why should I help anyone?

Others feel like it’s a zero-sum game. They think if they help anyone else, they’ll lose their chance at making it all the way to the top. They’re afraid helping others will pull them back down a rung. They’re afraid of losing the tenuous position they’ve worked so hard to establish. They begin defending their territory rather than opening the borders.

And some are just frightened and overwhelmed by the cries for help. I imagine it looks a bit like a scene from a zombie movie. Say there’s a mass of people trying to make it to the ladder that leads to safety. They’re swarming around the bottom of this ladder, desperate. And if you make it partway up, and you look down into this mass of humanity, it looks pretty scary. You wouldn’t even know where to begin to help any of them. If you reach down, they’ll hungrily grab at you, may even rip your arm off. As it is, they make break the ladder before you can get to the top. So maybe this feeds into the previous observation, that need to defend your space lest you be dragged back down.

Then again, maybe you build more ladders. Maybe you throw some ropes over that wall so lots of people can climb.

Actions, amIright? I know we’re writers, but sometimes we still have to do instead of relying on our words.

It’s one thing to post a long Twitter thread cheering people on. That’s nice and all, but even if the thread is true and reasonable and posted with the best possible intentions, it’s no ladder.

It’s fair of you to ask at this point, “Okay, so what do you do to help other authors?” Well, I’m not all that successful yet, but I still try to help those coming after me, or even my peers. I give workshops on the writing and publishing process. I let fellow authors know of opportunities I think they may be interested in. And I’m an editor, so I help my selected writing groups by giving feedback that I’d normally charge for. I do what I can, and hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to do more. If the zombies don’t get me, and so long as no one pulls up the ladder before I can get there.

False Hope

I think I’ve reached my breaking point.

On Twitter this morning I saw this tweet . . . I don’t want to name names here, so I’ll be somewhat vague, but the gist was that she had been close to giving up on being a writer but then her book or script or something was turned into a major motion picture! “Dreams really do come true!”

Gag.

I’m sorry, but I’m sort of done with all the false hope that successful people like to pedal. I’m a realist. Dreams come true—for some people. Not everyone. That would be amazing, but think about it: Are we all successful? Are we all getting movie deals and making big bucks as writers or artists or [insert personal passion here]? I can wish that for everyone, but I can’t promise that if I (or anyone) work really hard, I’ll reach my goals.

That’s the big lie.

Sometimes we try and still fail, no matter how good we are or how badly we want to succeed.

And it’s nice for someone who has “made it” to encourage the rest of us lowly wannabes. But it would be nicer and more helpful if she’d lend a hand.

That’s how the system works, if and when it works at all: People who’ve climbed up reach down and help someone after them, and then that person reaches down and helps someone, on and on in a chain.

But many times those who have reached the top, or even the penultimate level, are too worried about guarding their position. They’re worried about balancing themselves on that tiny pinnacle.

Words of encouragement are cheap, easy, and safe. They don’t cause the pendulum to swing.

ACTIONS, however, are the only thing that have impact. And this is true in every walk of life. Go ahead and post all your political anger on Facebook and Twitter, but if you don’t go DO SOMETHING, it won’t make a lick of difference.

So thanks, lady on Twitter, for the kind words. But until you prop that door open a little wider to allow more of us in, they mean very little.

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!

#tenqueries

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.

New Tricks

I’m not an early adopter. By which I mean, it takes me a while to warm to new technology and/or upgrades. If what I’m using works for me, I hesitate to throw my groove off by having to possibly learn all new modes of working.

Yet as an author I’m told I must engage in all the latest. A Facebook page, a Twitter account, Instagram, etc. And the more I use these and get comfortable with them, the more I enjoy them. (Also, they’re addictive. I’m pretty sure studies have shown that. We all want our dose of gratification served up as “Likes” and “Retweets” and whatnot. It’s just like the lab rat pushing the button to get its cheese.)

So here is an article on social media for authors (or, specifically, updates that might help authors), and now I’m wondering if I should add Snapchat to my roster. Sigh. Who has the time to write any more when there’s all this to keep up with?

Stories Are Important

I don’t think it can be done in a sentence.

Stories are important because we step into them and stand back at the same time. Stories are a liminal space, a threshold.

You know how we define ourselves by first defining others? That is the function of stories. The ancient myths taught people how to behave. You don’t, for example, cut a visitor’s legs off after offering him a bed to sleep in. We don’t do that, this myth told the Greeks. And we take retribution on those who don’t follow the rules of hospitality. This is fair and just.

Stories now do much the same, though on grander scales. We read and identify. This is the right thing to do, we say to ourselves. Yes, that’s a smart way to act. Or: No! Don’t do that! We are invested, but from a safe distance.

Liminal spaces are not meant to be inhabited indefinitely. We pass through them. They are fleeting. Stories are the same. We pass through them, sometimes many times because we really want to stay. But we cannot. That is part of their charm. A holiday is no longer a holiday if you stay. A story is no longer a story if you never come out of it. (Then it’s dementia or something, I suppose.)

Stories are important. There is no sentence to finish. One could list a lot of reasons, but there is no need. Stories are important. Period.