Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting the cover right

           One of my co-workers posted a review on Amazon for my latest romance, The Dragon Bard. (Bless her heart; it’s the only review the print book has.) She mentions in her review that she wasn’t thrilled with the “skinny, not sexy” guy on the cover. She has the print version, so the cover was staring her in the face every time she picked up the book, but it really got me thinking about the covers for my ebooks.

I knew the guy I chose for this cover wasn’t ideal. He’s not nearly handsome enough to be Bridei and he is too skinny. But after searching through stock photos for hours, he was the best I could do. My cover artist uses a stock photo website for her images and even though the site has thousands of photos, it’s a serious challenge to find one where the model looks somewhat like my character and yet doesn’t have modern clothing or something else that throws it out of the time period of my book. I’m sure with a book set in the contemporary era, it’s a little easier.

I considered putting the heroine on the cover instead, since I thought it might be easier to find an appropriate image of a beautiful woman with long auburn hair. But the book is called The Dragon Bard. Since it’s about the hero, I really thought he should be on the cover. I also considered not featuring either character. The cover background has a misty, forest-surrounded lake with a harp on one side and a cat at the bottom. It’s pretty and mystical looking, but has no real focal point. In a thumbnail online, it would just blur together. (BTW, even the cat model is wrong. There were no wildcats in Ireland. The cat that plays a small but important role in the book is just a larger-than-ordinary housecat. But finding such a cat the right color that was posed right was a struggle, so I gave up and used the bobcat-like image my cover artist came up with.)

  After reading the review, I got to worrying that maybe the “skinny guy” on The Dragon Bard was holding back my sales. But then I considered the cover of my poorest selling book, The Dragon Prince, is a studly looking model I’ve seen on several other book covers. Even though women readers obviously think he’s attractive, it doesn’t cause them to buy my book. And then there’s my ebooks that do sell well. This month my re-released Viking book is my best seller. Since I couldn’t find a decent Viking model, I used a close shot of a couple kissing, cropped so you can’t see their modern swimsuits. There’s a tiny Viking ship in the background, but the only thing obvious about the cover is that it’s a romance. My other best-selling books feature pretty, nude women shown from the back. They convey that the books are sexy romances, and that’s probably what attracts readers.

The lesson in all of this (other than the one it’s easier to find female models that are universally attractive than it is male ones), may be that all an ebook cover needs to do is convey genre and have one strong element that stands out in a tiny thumbnail. Still as an author/publisher, it’s hard not to agonize. I know on the ebook loop I’m on, several authors have put up four or five cover variations and asked the loop members which one they like best. In most cases, they are designing the covers themselves so doing several versions only costs them time. If I did this, I’m sure my cover artist would have to charge me for all the variations. Then I would be incurring more costs that I’d have to recoup before the book started making money.

I have to say I almost miss the old days, when my publisher designed the covers. I didn’t hate any of them (although one had an anachronistic element that made me crazy) and some I really liked. I didn’t have to find the photos and come up with the basic design, or pay for it either. And I had a sense that the art department knew what they were doing. They were putting out dozens of romance covers every year and could really gauge what sells.
With independence comes freedom, but also a lot of responsibility. Here I am, stressing about covers when I should just be writing the next book!   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Secret to E-Publishing Success

            It’s been almost a year since I published my first ebook, and I can say that I finally figured out the secret to success in e-publishing.  The secret is…  (insert drum roll) … you have to publish the right book.

I currently have ten ebooks available, not counting a box set of my series. Six of them are ebook versions of backlist titles and four are new. Many of them I sell only a handful a month, while two of them sell a couple hundred.  What’s the difference? Genre. My Regency romances are the ones that sell. My two Viking books do OK, while sales of my dark age romances and my Roman Britain historical fantasy are pretty pathetic.

If your ebook is in a less than popular genre, you may have trouble even giving them away. Indeed, I did three free promotions this last year. My dark age romance had over 500 downloads, my Viking book, 1100 and my Regency 11,000! 

Since I’ve been e-publishing, a lot of writers have been interested in my experiences. They’re wondering if they should take the leap. My advice would be, if you have a book in a genre that’s popular, then you could do very well. If the book has been rejected by editors of agents because it’s a tough sell, then you may not experience much success epublishing it. The gatekeeping process has changed, but it’s still functioning.

There are over half a million ebook fiction titles on Amazon. The only way readers are going to find your book is to search for it. And unless your name is Nora Roberts or Stephen King, they’re probably going to search for it by genre or sub-genre. But even that doesn’t help much. For example, there are almost 14,000 historical romance ebooks on Amazon. I still face pretty stiff competition. Next readers are going to search using key words.  I’ve tried to use keywords that might spark interest, but there’s a limit to how creative you can be and remain true to what the book is about.

Which brings me to a related reality:  Sex sells.

My Regencies are fairly sexy, and my next best-selling book is a Viking romance that opens with the heroine trying to seduce the hero. It sells much better than my Viking book where it takes a lot longer for the hero and heroine to get “down and dirty”.

Of course, if you’re writing mysteries or urban fantasy, or action adventure novels, sex might not be such a big factor. But the overall popularity of your genre or sub-genre is still going to be a huge predictor of how well your ebook does.

Independent e-publishing has been hailed by many frustrated writers as a wonderful, empowering opportunity. And it is. It’s a chance to get your “baby” to readers, get the story-of-your-heart out there. But you have to be realistic. Most e-published writers don’t sell thousands of ebooks. The ones that do are writing something that lots of people want to read.

But not every writer can or should write to the masses (at least not all the time). My Regency romances, while fun to write, were definitely not “books of the heart”. The books that mean the most to me, that I put my heart and soul into, are experiencing underwhelming sales. But that’s not to say I regret writing them. These are books I am very proud of, that I gave me great emotional and creative satisfaction.  They are my literary legacy. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s more important than money.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Top Ten Reasons I Suck At Promotion

In the last year and a half, I’ve e-published nine novels. I should feel gratified and excited, right? And I do, except for one nagging, discouraging thought: Now I have to promote them. The authors who’ve been really successful at selling ebooks are either already successful or are whizzes at promotion, while I, quite frankly, suck at it. When I was published in print, I wasn’t good at promotion either, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I’d known a number of authors who spent lots of money and time on promotion who weren’t cracking the bestseller lists either. My observation was that most people who made those lists mostly did so because they wrote the right book at the right time. (Or “God smiled,” as one editor I know explains it.)

But for ebook publishing, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The success stories are mostly authors who are as skilled at promotion as they are at writing. I decided to analyze exactly why I’m so bad at promotion. Not that this will help, but it will allow me to procrastinate a little longer rather than forcing myself to actually do some promotion. 

1.                      I don’t have time. With a 32-hour a week paid job and doing basic secretarial and bookkeeping for my husband’s business, I’m left with about twenty-five hours a week when I’m capable of intellectually demanding tasks.  If I spend that discretionary time writing, or doing self-publishing tasks, that leaves me no time for promotion.

2.                      I’m an introvert. It’s awkward for me to “put myself out there”. Really awkward. That’s partly why I’m a writer. I’m more comfortable and happy in my inner imaginary world than I will ever be in the real one.

3.                      I was raised in a culture (female, small-town) where it was considered bad form to boast, or even to admit to having any sort of special talents or accomplishments. Extreme self-deprecation was the norm. I can’t get over the feeling that in doing self-promotion I’m being arrogant, or even downright rude.

4.                      I’m a digital immigrant and I haven’t assimilated very well.  When I grew up, there were no computers, no internet, no Facebook or Twitter. I’ve kept up with technology, barely, because I’ve been forced to by my job. But it doesn’t come naturally. I just got my first “smart” phone. We’ve had a “stupid” phone for several years, but I’d never texted or taken pictures or used it as other than a phone. My new phone sat in the box on the counter for a week until my son came to visit and could help me learn to use it. Even though I use computers all day and already had an Ipad, I was scared of this tiny, fabulously complex entity, with its apps and glowing touch-screen and myriad mysterious buttons.

5.                      I’m basically shy, and when I socialize, I do best on a one-to-one basis, or at least in a small group. With electronic media, you’re putting yourself out there to the whole world.

6.                      I’m a word person, and electronic media is very graphically-oriented, with photos and YouTube clips, etc. When I’m reading news online and there’s a link to a video, I always scroll down to see if there’s an actual article below. I don’t want learn something from a 30-second video. I’d rather read a few paragraphs of text. But promotion nowadays is very oriented toward visuals.

7.                      I’m verbose. To me, electronic media seem to provide such superficial information. I want more. More than the 130-characters Twitter allows you.  All these little bits of information floating around just frustrate and overwhelm me, and I don’t know how to communicate that way. I write 100,000-plus word books. I’m really not good at writing short.

8.                      What makes me good at writing fiction doesn’t work for promotion. Fiction is about becoming your character, feeling what they feel, thinking what they think. In promotion, I’m stuck with myself. I have to be me, or at least an author version of myself. And I’m not really good at that.

9.                      Promoting books seems trivial. We’re destroying our planet and wiping out our fellow species. If I’m going to invest a lot of time and energy trying to affect something in the larger world, shouldn’t I be crusading for environmental causes rather than promoting some stupid book I wrote? Maybe if I really believed it would work and I would make tons of money that I could invest in environmental causes, I would be more motivated. I guess I should try to cultivate that mindset.

10.                   I hate having to plan and organize. The idea of setting up a business plan for something writing-related just makes me crazy. Writing is my sacred thing, where I get to be who I am. I don’t write from outlines. I don’t plot. I write “into the mist”.  I wish promotion was more like that.
I tried to think of some way that I could approach promotion on a free-form, intuitive level. I finally came up with the idea that I would tell myself I had to do one promotion-related activity a day. Maybe it would be researching a website that promotes ebooks, or putting a post on Facebook. Or writing a blog on promotion. I need to make myself do just that one thing that day.  Sounds manageable and doable, right?

 I’ll let you know how it worked in a few months.

Monday, August 27, 2012

It Takes A Village, or Prepare For A Lot of Namedropping

In my last post I shared my excitement at the prospect of having my much-revised and edited historical fantasy novel The Silver Wheel available for readers. As I was describing the book’s journey to publication, I thought about the many people who helped me reach this place.  A few of these people aren’t writers:  my patient formatters, A Thirsty Mind and Formatting4U, the brilliant cover artist Rae Monet, the agents and edited who gave me input and helped make it a better book (even as they rejected it).  But most of the people who contributed to making this book happen were writers—a whole passel, posse, brigade, army, or whatever term you want to use, of writers.   

I’d only been writing a year when I joined my first critique group (thanks Ed Turner and Ann Erdman) and they began to gently advise me of my bad writing habits while at the same time encouraging me to keep going. They also referred me to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and I ended up joining the historical romance critique group that met at the Village Inn on Colorado Blvd. For over a year, I drove the 100 miles once a month to have my chapters torn apart and picked over. That’s how I met my dear friends, Jessica Wulf, Denee Cody and Margaret Aunon. We ended up starting a new critique group together, where I learned even more about how to polish my writing.

When I began writing the first incarnation of The Silver Wheel, the first person to read the story was the talented Anne Holmberg. Soon after that, I started taking chapters to my new Cheyenne critique group, Liz Roadifer, Jeana Byrne and Michael Shay, as well as Elizabeth Durbin (R.I.P.) and they helped me get it that much closer to a solid book. For several years no one saw it except agents and editors as I revised and tweaked. When I decided it was time to self-publish the book and I needed fast, accurate proofreaders, I was blessed to have generous writer friends.  Thanks Amanda Cabot, Joanne Kennedy and once again, Jeana Byrne, for your critical eyes and fast proofreading. And finally, my cover flat design was the work of Karen Duvall, who is a graphic artist as well as a wonderful writer.

Along with these individuals, there are many writers who spoke at workshops and programs over the years who taught me the craft of writing and inspired me to keep going even when my career fell apart and things got grim. Many of the workshops were presented at Colorado Gold conferences. In addition to these workshops, the camaraderie and support I’ve found through Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has been absolutely invaluable. Writing can be a lonely occupation and having contact with other writers who understand and sympathize with your struggle is so important.
There are many other people I'd like to thank by name, but like Oscar acceptance speeches, blog posts are best kept short. So thank you to all those writer friends and acquaintances who shared the journey and helped me reach this place!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Realization of a Dream

Over ten years ago, I started a novel called When The Sky Falls.  It was about the Roman conquest of Britain and inspired by a book called The Life and Death of a Druid Prince: The Story of Lindow Man, an Archaeaological Sensation by Anne Ross and Don Robins. Reading about this young, obviously aristocratic man who had been strangled, stabbed and then pushed into a marsh to drown, my writer “wheels” immediately started turning.

I wrote the first version of the story in about nine months and sent it to my then-agent. She told me it didn’t work. It was too depressing, didn’t fit any genre and the perspective was too detached to grab the reader. Discouraged, I put it aside and went back to romance. Two years later I dug it out and started working on it again, trying to fix the things the agent had pointed out. I expanded it, tried to make the story more personal and compelling and came up with a more positive ending. But when I sent it to a good writer friend she tactfully told me I had the skeleton of a good story but it wasn’t there yet.

More rewriting. Eventually satisfied I’d fixed the problems with the book, I started sending it out. Based on responses, I tweaked the story and changed the title to The Silver Wheel.  More submissions. When editors and agents mentioned the length (almost 160,000 words) and the youth of the protagonists (the main characters are in their early teens when the book begins), I decided to break it up into several books and market it to YA. The first section became Lady of the Moon  

Off and on over the next five years I put it aside, got it out again, added and subtracted from the story, tried to make it have a more feminist slant, make the heroine stronger, etc., etc.  I got nowhere. When a year ago, I sent it to my current agent and he declined to represent it, I decided it was time to self-publish.

I put it aside while I e-published my backlist and some original romances that were more marketable, but dragged it out again this summer. I added back most of what I’d originally cut and went through the grueling process of proofing and editing. After going through the manuscript four or five times myself and having several friends proof it, I feel it’s as good as it can be. The first part, Lady of the Moon, is already out as an ebook and the full story will available soon in ebook and print.

Given that I'm terrible at promotion and this is a relatively obscure time period, the book may only sell a handful of copies a month. But still, it will be available to readers, and my vision that I have developed and honed for ten years (I must have written close to half a million words on this story) will finally have an audience. It's a great feeling!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Year of Not Writing

In two weeks, it will be a year since I wrote any new fiction. For the twenty years before that, I did some writing on a new “work in progress” nearly every day of my life. I wrote on holidays, on vacations, on my birthday, when I was sick. I wrote whenever I could.
But a year ago I decided to enter the world of self-publishing. I started with putting up some of my backlist as ebooks. I had them scanned, then had to proof them and edit them (I’m a better writer than I was twenty years ago!) I paid to have them formatted, but I still had to find the stock photos for the cover art, write blurbs, set up accounts at the ebook vendors, upload them and do a little bit of promotion to let people know they were available.
A few months into it I decided to release two of my unpublished novels that I hadn’t been able to sell. These required a lot more proofing, as well as covers and blurbs and all the rest. A couple of months later, I decided to release one of the new books in print. I needed real cover art, decisions about size, price and format. When that book became available, I did some local promotion, including booksignings and bookmarks.
Self-publishing became my full-time, part-time job. (I have two other jobs, working at the library and helping with my husband’s business.) Editing my older books, which required rewriting in some places, kept me sane. But in my heart I longed for the day when I could really write again. (And also worried that I wouldn’t remember how!)
By the end of next month I will have ten ebooks available (including a “boxed set” of my Dragon of the Island series). I will also have two books available in print.
Was my decision worth it?
Creatively? Yes. It’s very satisfying to have readers again reading my stories. I’m no longer writing in a vacuum. And all that editing honed my writing skills even if it wasn’t as satisfying as “real” writing.
Financially? Yes. It cost me about $250 to produce each ebook, and there were additional expenses for the print copies. I have been making about $200 a month in sales, but the two Regency romances I put up earlier this month have really taken off, and with them it may take me less than a year to pay for my expenses. (If you don’t count my other writing expenses like my new computer, which I figure I would have bought anyway.) After that, I’ll finally be making a profit.
For me, adding the job of “publisher” to my already busy life was the right decision. I had a backlist that was relatively easy to re-publish. I also had several finished manuscripts mostly ready to go. Counting the rest of my backlist and completed (if still rough) manuscripts, I still have another nine books I could potentially put out as ebooks, not to mention a dozen partial manuscripts I could theoretically finish and publish.  
But even though self-publishing was the right choice for me, I don’t think it’s the best path for every writer. If you’re someone who struggles to write regularly, who has a love-hate relationship with the process and isn’t very productive, then self-publishing might end up being an excuse not to write.
If you’ve only finished one or two books, or even three or four, I would suggest you to spend your time writing instead of caught up in the self-publishing process. Unless the books are all in a series, which gives you a better base to work from. The more books an author has available, the easier it is to develop a presence in the ebook market.
The fact is, if you’ve never been published traditionally, I would think long and hard about going the “indie” publisher route. There are dozens of copies of my early print books available on Amazon, and have been for years. If you’re just starting out and nobody’s ever heard of you, it’s going to be more difficult to get readers to find your books.
I’ve spent the last ten years trying to sell the three new titles I’ve published. They’ve all been shopped around extensively. Indeed, I still have two manuscripts out with a publisher. I could release these books myself, but I believe having them published by a big-name house would help boost the sales of my other ebooks. For the great majority of authors, being traditionally published is a much faster, surer route to success (and profit) than self-publishing.
Finally, you have to consider whether your stories are in a popular genre. If they are, then going the indie route might make sense. If they’re not, well… you really might be wasting your time and money to self-publish.
For years I tried to sell the fourth book in my dark age historical romance series.  A lot of editors wouldn’t even look at the manuscript because of the time period. And it turns out they were right to doubt the salability of the book.  It’s my slowest selling ebook. However, I just put up two Regency romances and they’re selling amazingly well. They’ve been available for two weeks and I’ve already sold more copies of each of them than I’ve sold of all my other books combined (for the month). I still believe there are readers who would love my dark age series. But in the crowded marketplace it’s going to take a long time for those readers to find me.  If you’re writing in a popular genre/sub-genre, readers will discover your books much more quickly.
And finally, a word of warning. Although it’s happened and sometimes ends up being a fabulous Cinderella story, don’t expect that self-publishing will lead to a traditional publishing house discovering you and offering you a contract. This is in the very rare category, and probably requires extraordinary good luck and/or divine intervention.
Now, for me, back to writing!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Downside of Indie Publishing

My last post on my venture in self-publishing ebooks reflected the exhilaration and sense of empowerment the process gave me. Since then I've come down to was a bit of a bumpy landing.
I uploaded my first books in late November and over the next two months, my sales built slowly but surely. In January, with five titles for sale, I sold over 100 books on Amazon. In March, with seven titles available, that figure went down to 80. At Barnes and Noble, the gradual increase was similar, but the decline even steeper. This month, unless things pick up, and despite my doing a free promo, (more on that later) I may sell fewer books than I did in December. Granted, I've done very little to promote my books, but still it's discouraging.
It cost me an average of $250 to put up each book (including scanning, cover art and formatting). In January, I made about $200, which meant I was on pace to earn back my investment and actually start making money in six to eight months. Now I wonder if it won't take a year. And since I intend to put up more books, and incur more costs, who knows when I'll actually turn a profit. Right now, the loss actually helps with our taxes, but that won't always be the case. And until I start making money, I feel like it's barely a step up from vanity publishing.
My sales at Amazon have far out-paced my sales at Barnes and Noble and Smashwords (Smashwords distributes to Itunes, Sony and other ebook outlets), so I decided to enroll one of my poorest selling books in Amazon's KDP Select program. By giving them exclusive distribution for three months, I have the chance to list my ebook as free for five days.
I used two of those free days this weekend, and the results were underwhelming. The book made it to #18 on the free historical romance list and had over 1000 downloads. I sold about 20 copies of my other titles this weekend, which almost doubled my sales for the month, but I'm still not on pace to do as well as I did in January.
It probably goes back to my abysmal promotion efforts/abilities. I hope to get better and do more, but there's a limit to the time I can commit to that and still have time to work on new projects. And since my passion for writing is what got me in to this, having the time to write is pretty important.
The other hard reality I've had to face with self-publishing is that there are some aspects of the process I really suck at (besides promotion).  I'm planning to release one of my self-published ebooks in print. This book is the fourth in a series, and since the other three came out in print (albeit a long time ago), I want this one to also be available in that format. Before I had the book formatted, I had two writer friends read it and look for errors and I proofed it myself several times. We're now in the second phase of proofing the pdf before sending to print and I'm still finding errors! Mostly missing words I somehow missed the first, second, third, etc. time around.
There were enough errors that I paid my formatter to redo the file so I could re-upload it. (More expense.) And this process has taught me that I'm going to have to pay someone for proofreading my original material before I release it, which will double (or more) my costs of releasing every book as an ebook.
I'm beginning to wonder if the thrill of having these books out is going to be worth it. Can I justify continuing with this process?
They say that with every book you put up, you increase your chances of readers finding you. And I'm definitely in this for the long haul. I have another ten books I could potentially e-publish. And that doesn't count the ones that are partially written or that I have in my head. Maybe one of them will grab readers in a way none of these early ones have, and my sales will take off.
I'm an optimist, so we'll go with that.

Sunday, February 19, 2012 aint what it used to be.

A little over six months ago, I entered the world of e-publishing. I decided to do so after a lot of soul-searching and agonizing. It wasn't the ebook part that worried me, so much as the self-publishing aspect. Self-publishing—yikes! That meant being responsible for every detail of my books on my own. No editor and copyeditor to catch my grammatical or logic errors, no art department to design my cover, no marketing department to get my books into stores, to promote and advertise them (in as much as my publisher ever did). Instead, as a self-published author, every sale would ultimately depend on me.
Over the years I've participated in several booksignings with self-published authors, and I was always in awe of their ambition and, to my mind, their daring. I could sit there at the signing table, watching the store customers ignore us, and while I might have been disappointed, I never really worried. My career wasn't going to survive or not based on how many books I sold that day. My writing income didn't depend on getting one of those busy, and often harried and disinterested, shoppers to buy my book. That's because while I was sitting there in some store in Wyoming or Colorado, my book was on the shelves of hundreds of bookstores and other retail outlets around the country. Since there was no way for me, personally, to effectively promote my book to all those anonymous potential customers, I was pretty much off-the-hook.
Self-publishing would mean that not only was my ego, my effort, my dream, at risk, but my money. I have to say that if my family was as "financially challenged" as we were back then, and if self-publishing an e-book cost as much as it did to publish a print book in the days before print-on-demand machines, I might still not have taken the leap. To invest hundreds of dollars in books that I had to sell all on my own while we struggling to pay the mortgage and feed and cloth two school-age children, would have simply been too risky.
But now our household is in a better place economically, and since publishing each ebook only costs me a little over $200 (and could be done for even less by someone who had the time and technological savvy to do the formatting and cover art on their own), self-publishing has become a reasonable investment. I'm still pretty daunted at the idea of marketing my ebooks, but even without doing any real promoting, in three months my sales have built from a few each week, to a few each day. Even if my sales do no more than stay at this level, at the end of the year I will have earned back my investment and even made a little money.
With ebooks, the economic logistics of self-publishing are no longer overwhelming. But there was still another aspect of self-publishing that I struggled with. That is the—I wish there was another word—shame of it.
In my mind it was one thing to self-publish a memoir, or a local history book, or a cookbook, or almost any kind of non-fiction. I figure if you had the expertise and the work ethic to write such a book, you probably have something worthwhile to say. But self-publishing fiction was another matter. I figured there was a reason the companies that specialized in such things were called "vanity presses". Twenty, or even ten years ago, self-publishing meant you hadn't made it through the harsh world of the "gatekeepers", the agents and editors who winnowed out the real talent from the garbage of the slush pile. The general consensus among the published authors I knew was that if you couldn't sell your book to a real publishing house and get paid for it, it probably wasn't a very good book.
That's a pretty arrogant outlook. But looking back, I think that for many authors, the process of suffering through rejection after rejection before getting published was so agonizing, that we felt a need to differentiate ourselves from the writers who hadn't had to endure such torture. And, to be realistic, there was more than a little bit of truth to back-up our disdain.
I acquire fiction for a public library and every month I get donations of self-published novels accompanied by hopeful letters asking me to add them to the collection. I add some of these books, the ones that are fairly professional-looking and that are written in a genre that's popular with our patrons, or that have local or regional appeal.
What's intriguing is that back when I first held this position, the quality of these donated self-published books was pretty awful. But in the last few years, I've started to get books from writers who have some real talent and who can really tell a story. I no longer cringe when I come to work and see a brand new gift book from an unknown author on my chair. The fact is, it might well be something our patrons would enjoy. It seems to me that the gatekeepers are no longer "weeding out the drek", but often rejecting perfectly publishable books that just don't fit the needs of their house's marketing plan.
The same is true of my own rejections. At one time I felt like editors were rejecting my story because it wasn't personally appealing to them. Now I often get the sense that even if they really liked the story, they couldn't buy it. These letters and email rejections say things like: "What we really want is urban fantasy." "I can't buy a book set in this time period." "Doesn't stand out enough in a crowded market." "We already have an author writing in that sub-genre and we can't justify taking on another one." "We're no longer acquiring historical fantasy."
At one time, the general consensus was that the gatekeepers were making decisions based on the quality of the writing and the appeal of the story. Now it often seems as if they make decisions based solely on marketing objectives. I know many authors, including myself, who were once successfully published, who sold thousands of books and seemed to have a writing career going, who can no longer get published, despite years of serious effort.
What are you going to do if you're one of these writers, who once had the validation and approval of the gatekeepers, who clearly is capable of writing polished, interesting stories that readers once eagerly purchased, but who has since seen their career go down the toilet? Well, if you're like many of us, you're going to brush aside the stigma of self-publishing and re-enter the fray. Maybe we're self-published, but that doesn't mean we don't have readers willing to buy our books, or that we can't make money writing. We've gone around the gatekeepers, with their short-sighted marketing schemes. (If you only buy what's already selling, how are you ever going to find the books that are going to be the bestsellers of the future?) We've gone out on our own in the scary, often overwhelming world of self-publishing, and we've survived and even thrived. It's unlikely we're ever go back to being at the mercy of the traditional publishing industry. Maybe it's their turn to agonize and worry.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

This Blog, Plotting and Muses

I have another blog I started about a year ago:   On it I share stories about my books:  what inspired me, cool things I've learned in my research, thoughts of interest to my readers. I decided I needed another blog to share some of my writing journey with other writers and with friends. So here it is.
I titled it "Into the Mist" because that's how I always explain how I write. Little plotting or planning, just an idea and a blank screen and I start writing. Over the years I've attended at least a dozen workshops on plotting and outlining but it never works for me. I sit down with the plotting template or grid or whatever tool the presenter utilizes and then my brain freezes. Nothing comes to me; my mind is blank. My muse runs and hides.
I think that's because my muse is the little girl I used to be. The little girl who used to tell herself stories for hours, riding her bike outdoors on the sidewalk or skateboarding in the basement. Around and around in circles, lost in imaginary adventures. That little girl was not a plotter. That would mean planning and organizing and she didn't do that. She was spontaneous, messy and emotional, and kind of a problem child.
Over the years, she learned to be more organized, to plan and follow schedules and rules. It was the way females were supposed to be. And when she had children, she had no choice. As a working mother, planning and organizing were essential to survival.
But when that woman—me—sits down to write, she has to go back to being that little girl. Because that little girl is the creative one, the one who can imagine she is a cat, or a boy or black panther. She can slip into the magical realm of fantasy and the real world around her vanishes.
The writing trance, I call it. When things are going really well, I'm definitely in another place, far beyond the stresses and problems of everyday life. That joyous escape has led to ten published books, seven finished manuscripts and another dozen partially-written story ideas. Now that e-publishing has come along, some of those unpublished works are finally going to be available to readers. But that's a story for another post, coming soon.