Aim High or Aim Low?

Present word count of WIP: 20,552

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much.

This is the kind of advice that is comforting to the writer who has received a lot of rejections, the writer who’s gotten kind of lazy, or the writer who is surrounded by other successful authors and unsure whether he/she should continue.

But is it good advice?

I suppose it depends on your goals as a writer, and this leads me to a lengthy posting by Kristine Kathryn Rusch on her blog here, in which she takes many authors to task for not being ambitious enough or not being realistic in our ambitions. Granted, she’s definitely in the self-publishing camp (which becomes obvious as you read her post), but I think her main points are well-taken and apply to any author–traditionally published or not.

It’s the rare writer who actually has ambitions—real ambitions—and stands up for them. It’s the rare writer who not only dreams of glory (bestseller lists, millions of dollars, fame, lasting acclaim, or whatever) but actually works toward those dreams.

She teaches a lot of published authors who have lost their way in their career and are trying to get back on track. Her observation:

I urge these writers to become individuals and go on their own path, and if they don’t agree with something I say, then they should do it their way and prove me wrong. Most of the students are startled that I want them to question. I want them to think.

But that’s the only way you can have a long-term career as the person in charge of any business. You have to think, and be creative, and you can’t let roadblocks stop you.

You have to find a way around them.

But most of all, you have to question accepted wisdom. Last week, a lot of people came on my blog in the comments section spouting myths that teachers, editors, agents, and other writers have pounded into them, mostly telling these poor folks how impossible it is to do well in this business.

The key, in her opinion, is thinking big.

If you look around and see a small world, filled with a few friends, professors, and local bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business. If you believe you have to chase sales with low price points or blog tours or book signings at area bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business.

If you strive to do the best you can, write a lot of books, and make sure your books are in as many bookstores as possible—ebookstores, audio bookstores, foreign bookstores, as well as US bookstores, in English as well as dozens if not hundreds of languages (over time)—then you will succeed in this international business. You’re looking at the big picture.

So, do we aim low, not expecting much, as Godin advised, in order to ensure our contentment and happiness…or do we aim high, shooting for the stars, as Rusch advises? Something tells me the answer lies in our own personal natures, for that is where ambition begins. Do we tend toward fear and self-doubt or faith and self-confidence?

Originally posted 2012-01-16 17:06:11.

Why Do Authors Always Do It Backwards?

Present word count of WIP:  23,516

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.

So, basically, he’s saying we need to think about selling long before we have a product to sell. Of course, most authors do it backwards. They build the product first and then think about how to sell it…when it’s probably too late to get the most for our efforts.

Then, again, we don’t pick up pen and paper (or type away at a keyboard) in the first place to make money. We do it for the love of writing and storytelling. But if you’re in this business to make a lot of sales, then it might be best to heed his advice.

With rare exceptions (like J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer), it takes most authors a good 5-6 books to begin to have a real following. Why? Because it simply takes that long. Not only is each novel generally improving in quality, but over time more readers are added to their fan base as word spreads from friend to friend.

You might argue that Godin writes nonfiction, and for the nonfiction writer, platform is everything. These days, however, I’d argue that platform is becoming just as important for the fiction writer.

That’s why I’m going to keep blogging away, friending on FB, tweeting (though I need to get a lot more consistent there), writing reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and other places online, and taking every possible opportunity to attend/present at conferences and retreats (as long as I can afford it, that is).

If Godin’s right, then I can expect to be published by 2015 (traditionally, that is…of course, I’m actually hoping for some time this year with Laps). And by then, I should have at least three more manuscripts ready and available for the audience I will have built.

But, then, by 2015 who knows what publishing will look like in America? And on that note, what do you think of the new iBooks Author?

Originally posted 2012-01-20 17:07:18.

Sharing Some Advice for Writers

Present word count of WIP:  19,405

I’m a bit miffed that, after such a good start, my son’s sudden end-of-semester homework requirements took me off-track. After four days in a row of knocking off 1,000+ words a day, I was only able to write 265 words on Wednesday. Thursday and today were even worse. I’m hoping that, after dinner tonight, I can knock out 1,000+ words and update my word count. The bad news is, he’s got another big assignment due next week. I’ll work around it somehow.

In the meantime, I promised to share some advice for writers received in an email from Seth Godin at the Domino Project.

He sent it in two batches. The first was written by him six years ago and basically consists of these five ideas about the state of publishing: (My comments follow in blue)

1) “Book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business.”

His point was that authors and publishers, alike, don’t get much for all their efforts…they’re doing it for love more than money. But there is a certain cachet attached to having written a book or being in the publishing industry. He also noted that writers have an opportunity to “spread an idea and a brand far and wide.” So, if you want to write a book, you need to think long and hard about your true motivations.

2) “The timeframe for the launch of books has gone from silly to unrealistic.”

I agree that a world that once moved slowly now changes from day to day, so I can see his point that we have to consider carefully the “shelf life” of our ideas or stories. (He writes nonfiction, so this is more pertinent to him than to me.) Still, it’s a bad idea to try and write what’s currently popular because, if you’re lucky and it gets published three years later, its popularity will most certainly have waned. Write what you feel like writing regardless!

3) “There is no such thing as effective book promotion by a book publisher.”

He immediately adds that, of course, this isn’t true. Look at Harry Potter or Freakonomics. His point, though, is that out of 75,000 titles published six or seven years ago, only about a hundred were effectively promoted. This, of course, is not news to authors. They expect to have to do the lion’s share of their own marketing these days…most of it online. He also points out that blurbs don’t sell books in and of themselves. What is most effective is to have a platform already–with thousands or tens of thousands of people who care about what you have to say. That platform can be a popular blog, celebrity status, lots of employees, or a personal relationship with someone who has a huge platform and believes in you.

4) “Books cost money and require the user to read them for the idea to spread.”

His point here is that people hate to part with their money and less and less people, apparently, enjoy reading. So we have two obstacles to overcome. I, personally, am not convinced of the latter. Back in November the president of Goodreads did an interview in which he said they then had grown to 6,000,000 members. That said, I think the REAL challenge is finding a way to get your book to stick out among the hundreds of thousands now being published and self-published each year. Now, that’s hard!

5) “Publishing is like venture capital, not like printing.”

It’s true. Anyone can print a book today. That’s why so many books are being self-published. The big traditional publishers, however, are taking a risk when they sign an author to a contract. They’re investing in that writer. As he puts it, “They invest cash in an advance. They invest time in creating the book itself and selling it…and they invest more cash in printing books.” So, you have to decide: Do you want their advance and expertise (I do)…or do you want total control of your printing?

After sharing these five ideas, Mr. Godin gives this advice:

“Build an asset. Large numbers of influential people who read your blog or read your emails or watch your TV show or love your restaurant or or or…

“Then, put your idea into a format where it will spread fast. That could be an ebook (a free one) or a pamphlet (a cheap one–the Joy of Jello sold millions and millions of copies at a collar or less).

“Then, if your idea catches on, you can sell the souvenir edition. The book. The thing people keep on their shelf or lend out or get from the library. Books are wonderful (I own too many!) but they’re not necessarily the best vessel for spreading your idea.

“And the punchline, of course, is that if you do all these things, you won’t need a publisher. And that’s exactly when a publisher will want you! That’s the sort of author publishers do the best with.”

He’s right, of course, but that’s not to say that publishers only publish authors with large platforms. That’s simply not true. Why? Because they love a good story as much as the writer does, and if it’s good enough, they’ll publish it. Oh, you’ll still have to do the lion’s share of the marketing, but I think it will be a good bit easier if you’re traditionally published.

That was only his first batch of advice and it was six years old! His second batch was from five years ago and consists of 19 different points. I think I’ll post about each in turn every Friday over the next several months.

 

 

Originally posted 2012-01-13 17:06:45.

Back in the Saddle

Present Word Count of WIP: 13,901

After two days and more than 3,500 words written, I can officially announce that I’m back to my writing. What a relief! I was beginning to suspect that the holidays had completely upended my routine.

It’s always difficult for me to write when my daughter comes home for a visit because she’s about ready to graduate from college and her visits home come so seldom these days. As much as I see myself as a writer, I’m a wife and mother first, so I’m still having to fight off the guilt for carving out periods of the day to shut myself off from those responsibilities. It’s easier with my son (who’s about to graduate from high school) because he still lives here and, like me, he tends to shut himself into his cave every day, not craving company. But Allison is very social. Obviously, I wasn’t very successful from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

It’s a good thing we have New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, that’s probably the only thing I like about New Year’s Eve as a holiday. This time, I’ve set myself 5 “SMART” goals, 4 of which involve writing. That’s “SMART,” as in Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-Specific (something I picked up from a recent QueryTracker Newsletter).

I’ll post the writing goals here so that you can all hold me accountable:

1) Write every day for at least two hours.

2) Finish first draft of SOG by February 20, 2012 (so it’s somewhat ready to pitch at the ANWA Conference). Finish final draft by April 30, 2012 (for pitching at the LDStorymakers Conference).

3) Find 20 agents who rep my kind of YA Fantasy and organize them from most to least appealing. Query top 7 by May 15, 2012.

4) Blog twice a week (usually Mondays and Fridays), once on each blog.

So, yes, I decided not to wait until Friday this week because I couldn’t stand seeing my website go unchanged another day. Tomorrow, I’ll probably post on my other blog here. As for the daily writing goal, I’ve completed ten chapters now of my WIP. I’ll try and keep a running count of words written each week here, to keep myself on task.

So, what are your goals for the new year? I have a feeling that, despite the dire predictions of the Mayans, 2012 is going to be a terrific year!

Originally posted 2012-01-05 12:17:17.

I didn’t win, but…

While I may not have won the “Can You Hook ‘Em” contest last month, I did get mentioned by one of the two judges as having hooked her, so I’m encouraged. I’ve written four chapters now and am steadily moving on. I’m also gearing up for a trip to England next summer (no, not for the Olympics) so that I can do a bit of research and treat my daughter to a well-deserved break!

By way of other news, my manuscript of “Laps” is currently under review by a publisher. I’ll keep you posted!

Originally posted 2011-10-14 10:01:16.

The Situation

It rained today. About an hour after we’d told our 17-year-old son it wouldn’t, and he walked out the door without a jacket. What’s the big deal? One of my son’s manifestations of his Asperger’s is the way he reacts to rain. He can’t stand it! If he feels one drop on his shirt, he needs to change the shirt. So, after fretting half of the morning, my husband finally drove down to the school to take him a jacket. Just in time, too, because by then it was beginning to pour.

As he got out of the car, he saw my son begin to emerge from one of the classroom buildings but the rain pulled him up short. For a second he looked panicked, until he caught sight of his father, running over to hand him the jacket.

His relieved response? “Thanks for appreciating the situation.” (Doesn’t that sound just like a kid with AS?) Then he put the hood up and ran off to his next class.

How often do I, as a writer, fail to appreciate the situation? By “situation,” I mean anything from misreading the weather patterns in my own querying process to ignoring the dreary rain of rejections or drought of fresh ideas a fellow writer might be experiencing.

Here’s my situation: I got yet another rejection from an agent. Yes, it was from the one I’d mentioned toward the end of my last post. As far as I can tell, I can do one of three things, besides getting on with my WIP, as well as the promised edit of a friend’s manuscript.

1) Send out more queries

2) Try a small publisher

3) Put it in a drawer (so-to-speak) since I refuse to self-publish this one

4) Do a combination of #1 and #2

I’m leaning toward the combination. Now, what’s your situation? I’m sure I’d better appreciate it (and be able to lend a figurative jacket) if I only knew about it.

Originally posted 2011-05-23 17:48:04.

What a Trip! What a Conference!

I’m ready for human cloning (on a temporary basis, that is). I think writers need to have clones so that their writer self can remain at the keyboard creating while their marketing and student selves go off to conferences to learn, network, and pitch to agents and editors. (If you’re a writer, I know you agree with this.) The only drawback to the 2011 LDStorymakers Conference was that I couldn’t be in several places at the same time.

But first, the trip. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Sure, I could have used a clone or two to help me drive for 9.5 hours straight (other than gas, food and potty stops). Still, it was great weather and at the end of the day I got to meet up with three old friends from my junior high days and compare notes over dinner. I hadn’t seen one of them since 10th grade. It was amazing to see how our lives had turned out thus far. Good fodder for a novel…but not right away or they’d get mad.

I roomed with the fabulous Liz Adair and Thursday morning was spent assembling folders and binders for the conference. Then, while everyone spent much of the day in Boot Camp, I got to drive down to Provo and have lunch with my beautiful daughter, Allison. Afterward, we lucked out and got into the Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU’s Museum of Art. He could tell an entire story with one painting or even one etching. I think my favorite altar pieces were those of Christ with the child and Christ at the Pool of Bethesda (particularly since it relates to my newest novel that I’m pitching). I arrived back in SLC that evening in time for a quick dinner and then a fun “Meet and Greet” with fellow Storymakers. The interviews conducted by Tristi Pinkston, Frank Cole, and Terri Ferran had me wiping tears from my eyes because I was laughing so much and I can’t wait to upload them to the new website. (I’ll keep you posted on that.) Stephanie Fowers and her sister were invaluable in taping the interviews. Warning: they’re in high def, so don’t be too judgmental on appearances. After all, some of these interviews were done at 10 pm after a full day of Boot Camp!

Friday and Saturday were a blur. This is when I really could have used a few clones. In between helping Liz with door prize giveaways several times each day and grabbing meals here and there, I attended great presentations by Becca Stumpf (on pitching), Marion Jensen (on Social Media…but I missed the last half because I was scheduled to pitch to Sara Megibow, a terrific agent–I don’t know how she did it, but I wasn’t nervous at all; I felt so at ease talking with her and she expressed interest in Laps), Sara Crowe (on synopsis writing, which turned out to be the pitch portion of your query letter rather than a full synopsis…not what I was expecting but still helpful), Josi Kilpack (on launching your book), Dave Wolverton twice (on habits of successful writers and on using resonance to make your writing sell), Bob Conder (on Screenwriting), and the energetic and funny Sara Megibow (on acquiring a literary agent). I also attended a speculative fiction panel featuring James Dashner, Rob Wells, Dave Wolverton, Julie Wright, and Howard Taylor. You might wonder why since my fiction thus far has been solidly grounded in reality, but about two weeks ago three fascinating ideas for novels hit me–all speculative (one YA semi-historical, and two dystopian). I know. I should have attended Rob’s on Dystopian Fiction, but hey–that would have required clones.

Anyway, the Whitney Awards Gala Dinner was terrific as always and some of my favorite people won, besides. I’d invited my daughter and a guy she’s dating, Bryan Beus, to join me since he’s an illustrator (he did the covers and illustrations for James Dashner’s first two installments in the 13th Reality series) and a soon-to-be-published author. He ended up knowing as many people there as I did!

My last comment on cloning: it might help de-stress your pet cats. Every time I go away for a short trip and then return, Peach and Anastasia have to get re-introduced to me. It’s as if they can’t believe it’s really me walking in the door. Of course, if they were to encounter more than one of me at a time, they’d probably go nuts, so that alternative won’t work…for them, anyway.

If we can’t have cloning at next year’s conference, maybe we can at least have an option to buy DVDs or CDs of the presentations we missed. What do you think?

Originally posted 2011-05-09 12:47:24.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – Effect on Agents

I had listed the possible effects on literary agents as follows:

•Some, like Scott Waxman, will become e-book publishers, as well

•They will need to become well-versed on self-publishing options as fewer manuscripts get picked up by traditional publishers

•They will need to be able to envision e-book possibilities for their authors

•As their 15% gets less and less for more and more work, they’re looking at alternatives to make ends meet

Scott Waxman saw an opportunity for growth and started up Diversion Books, a straight eBook publisher for quality projects that can’t seem to find a home with traditional publishers. It’s a totally separate company, with different personnel, and Waxman Agency is not a shareholder. While he’s a co-founder, he’s not running it. Waxman says,

“Any author who has a project they think would fit, we’re happy to talk about it, but we’re not soliciting it.”

To make ends meet, some of the other options agents are beginning to consider are:

•Shifting their compensation from a contingency basis to billable hours (like lawyers)

•Charging for services now offered free

•Raising their commissions to 20%

Think of all that an agent now does—reads and responds to queries and manuscripts (30-50 queries a day), edits, submits books that never sell, etc. In a highly competitive environment, with shrinking advances (at the midlist level, anyway) and cautious publishers, it’s getting harder and harder to make a living. Some may begin charging for services like editing, lecture and tour arrangements, marketing, promotional activities, website management, and social networking.

Could you really blame them?

Originally posted 2010-11-01 11:29:52.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – Effects on Publishers

Perhaps most anxious about all the brouhaha over e-books have been the publishers. Traditional publishers are worried, perhaps even afraid of all the change, while self-publishing companies (including POD, or print on demand companies) have visions of greater revenues. In any case, I see the main effects as follows:

  • The more adaptable traditional publishers will survive and even thrive after a few bumps in the road
  • There will be more specialized publishers aimed at niches
  • There will be more and more self-publishing
  • Cost of entry for future publishers will be minimal
  • Among the big publishing houses, there will be a devolution from complex, centralized management to semi-autonomous editorial units
  • 50% digital royalty rate may be inevitable
  • Despite all the change, the greatest value of traditional publishing will remain–the editorial process–ensuring their survival

In the latest self-publishing development, Barnes & Noble has now launched their own digital self-publishing platform called PubIt to compete with Amazon’s Create Space. (They’re also coming out with a color Nook to try and take down Amazon’s Kindle and compete more evenly with the iPad.)

As an example of the devolution that is beginning in traditional publishing, in early 2011 Simon & Schuster will reorganize into “small teams of editors, publicists, and marketing specialists.”

According to their new head, Jonathan Karp, each team, comprised of 2 editors, 2 publicists, and a marketing specialist, “will propose, develop, and execute their own publicity and marketing plans, from the moment of acquisition through paperback publication…”

“The chief objective is to create the publishing environment most conducive to focused concentration on our authors,” he continued. “Those who are present at the creation are more likely to bring a greater depth of understanding and experience to the publication of these books. Our authors will benefit from having a dedicated team working on their behalf early in the process.”

Such a development can only be good for writers, who, at times, have had to kowtow to unknowns in the large marketing or sales departments in order to get their books even approved, however lauded their work may be by the editors.

These were the main effects I could forecast from all I’ve read. If you foresee any others, please comment.

My next post will deal with the effects on agents.

Originally posted 2010-10-25 14:01:50.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – e-Books and e-Readers

Electronic readers, or eReaders, have been around for a while. I remember visiting a good friend six or seven years ago, whose husband was an avid fan. He pulled out two or three different kinds to show me. While I wasn’t that impressed at the time, he wisely predicted the day would soon come that the right platform and right device would eventually come along and tear down the wall that major publishing houses had built around themselves and all their readers.

Enter Amazon (the most popular platform of choice at present) and the Kindle. Soon after the Kindle, we got Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony eReader, and then Apple’s iPad. Here are some statistics I shared at the retreat:

  • There are currently 49 different E-reading devices, including:
  1. –Kindle (Amazon)
  2. –iPad (Apple)
  3. –Nook (Barnes & Noble)
  4. –Kobo (Kobo Books)
  5. –Sony Reader (Sony)
  6. –? (Google)
  • Retailers will sell 6.6 million e-readers this year (3 million iPads have already been sold)
  • By year’s end, 20% of households will have an e-reader.

I put a question mark at #6 above, because a lot of rumors are flying around about Google coming out soon with its own device to hook up with its platform, Google Editions. A recent LA Times article by Carolyn Kellogg played up this point:

“…Google announced it would move forward with its e-bookstore Google Editions, filling it with books whose rights were not under dispute…As if Google Editions weren’t enough, Google has another big question mark looming this season: Will it launch an e-reader? It is well positioned to rival Amazon.com and Apple as a major purveyor of e-books—and if it follows their leads, it will pair content with device and launch its own e-reader. The most recent rumors say that Google will launch a tablet manufactured either by HTC or Motorola, based on either Chrome or Android. Everyone seems to agree that Verizon is the likely wireless partner.” (Carolyn Kellogg, “Fall Preview: Publishing,” LA Times, Sept. 12, 2010)

My friend’s husband was right. Now that we’re coming out with the right platforms and devices, electronic books are here to stay.

At first, regular readers weren’t so sure. The Kindle was priced kind of high when it first came out, but as others joined in the competition, prices began to drop. Here are some more statistics I shared about eReaders:

  • 10 average priced e-books will offset $139 cost of Kindle
  • 12 average priced e-books will offset $149 cost of Nook
  • 39 average priced e-books will offset $499 cost of iPad (which is a good bit more than just an e-reader)
  • $99 can buy you the 5-inch Libre at Borders

Do you have an e-reader? I do, through my iPhone (which has a Kindle app). And we’re not alone. It’s estimated that, by the end of this year, 10.3 million U.S. homes will have an e-reader, according to Forrester Research. Not only that, but book sales are increasing because e-reader owners buy more books. E-reader owners buy an average of 15 e-books per year (and two thirds of e-readers already owned are Kindles). According to a recently released Harris poll, those who have e-Readers do, in fact, read more.

Here’s how it breaks down: Forty percent of Americans read 11+ books a year. Of those, only nineteen percent read 21+ books a year. But among those with e-Readers, 56% read 11-20 books a year with 26% reading over 21 books a year. E-reader users are also more likely to buy books (good news for us authors). And 53% of those with e-Readers say they read more now than they did six months ago. (I know I do.)

So, how are e-books doing over all?

Sales of e-books are up 200% from last year, but still only represent 3-5% of total sales for publishers (I think this statistic has probably changed over the last month). Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, estimates e-books could be 20% to 25% of total unit sales by the end of 2012. Carolyn Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said in an interview that e-books currently made up about 8% of the company’s book revenue. She predicted that it could be as high as 40% within three to five years. Others are predicting it could go even higher–50%–by 2013.

Are e-books a good thing for us, as authors? Definitely. I tend to agree with literary agent Alexandra Machinist:

“At the moment, anything that gets readers to buy more books is a good deal for writers. I’m of the opinion that e-books provide a vast landscape of impulse purchasing and middle-of-the-night, next-in-series buys that don’t exist with traditional paper books.”

Can we make money by making our books available electronically? Definitely, but the amount we make depends on how big our audience, or platform, is.

The late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson was the first writer to sell more than 1 million Kindle books. But his books kind of caught fire and he developed a huge fan base quickly.

Can your e-book outsell your traditionally published book? Yes, given the right buzz.

In its first five days, Laura Lippman’s thriller, “I’d Know You Anywhere,” sold 4,739 e-books and 4,000 physical hardcovers. “This is the first book of ours of any consequence that has sold more e-books than hardcovers in the first week,” said Frank Albanese, a senior vice president at HarperCollins. “What we’re seeing now is that if a book gets a good review, it gets a faster lift on the digital side than it does on the physical side because people who have e-readers can buy and read it immediately.”

Every serious writer today should definitely become familiar with digital publishing. We can’t afford not to.

In my next posting, I’ll be talking about the effects of this shift on Publishers.

Originally posted 2010-10-22 11:36:13.