Sunday, February 1, 2015

Foibles and Faux Pas on the rocky road to publishing


I wanted to be many things as a kid: doctor, lawyer, teacher, actress, and singer though I am tone deaf, scientist... you name it.  My ambition changed daily but the one consistent thing I wanted to be was an author.  Of course when I communicated it to my mother she simply told me of the poor homeless author who sat on the side of the streets peddling his books and begging for food. Her point: get a job and write as a hobby.

I kept writing anyway and eventually published.  Along that obstacle strewn path to being published I made many mistakes.  And not an author in this world can say they’ve never had foibles and faux pas on the rocky road to being published.  I’ll share with you a few lessons I have learned from my mistakes.


Lesson # 1- never submit your only copy
The summer between third form (9th grade) and 4th form (10th grade) I wrote what I thought was a wonderful full length teenage romance novel, similar to Sweet Dreams romances.  I wrote it in pen on loose leaf paper that had my mother complaining that I was wasting paper.  At that time my father had just died, my older siblings were transitioning to other countries and not a person in my house was working.

My second oldest sister migrated and left me with her electric Brother typewriter.  I was in heaven.   I typed that entire manuscript, about 200 plus pages, despite my mother’s objection.  Paper didn’t come cheap.  Then I looked up the address of the publisher of the Sweet Dreams, and I got every penny from my piggy bank and mailed it.  It was my only copy.  I hadn’t considered photocopying it, and even if I did, I could not afford it.

I waited.  I’m still waiting.  They neither responded nor return my manuscript!  To make matters worse, the original ink copy got wet and bled making everything illegible.  Now my first original novel is lost forever.

Lesson # 2—if something seems too good to be true, it is
“A Marriage of Convenience” is my first published novel, but it is not the first novel I wrote as an adult.  12 years ago I wrote a full length romance.  This time I submitted the query to multiple publishing houses.  Within two days, I got an email from a publishing company requesting the full manuscript.  I was elated.  The next day, they accepted it.  That gave me pause.  It couldn’t be that easy.  A day later they asked to send money for editing services etc.  Suspicious, I wrote a garbled piece of crap and submitted it to the same publisher through their online portal.  The same thing happened.  They requested the manuscript because the writing was so wonderful.  So I did an internet search for the publishing house and immediately it showed up as a scam.  That’s when I discovered Preditors and Editors with a big warning not to use that company which takes your money and never publishes your work.

Lesson # 3 – have a strong back, thick skin and don’t give up
Needless to say, that first manuscript was rejected by just about every legitimate agent and publishing house.  So I decided to write another one.  That’s where “A Marriage of Convenience” came in.  I first entered it into a competition and lost.  Then I sent it to every publishing house with positive ratings on Preditors and Editors.  And the rejections came in.  So I reworked it, submitted it again…rejection.  I put it aside and started working on another manuscript.  It was then that I got a snail mail from Dorchester publishing saying they were interested in my story.  I left the letter on my refrigerator for three days while I looked up Dorchester.  I didn’t even recall submitting the manuscript to them.  But as luck would have it, when I called, it was Monica Harris and I was in.  She had received the manuscript by snail mail over six months earlier. 

Lesson # 4 Negotiate your contract
I was so happy to have my book published that I signed a horrible contract giving me just 2% of net sales.  Can you imagine?  A coworker of mine worked it out to 15 cents per book.

Lesson #5 being a published author does not make it easier to get a second book published.
Dorchester published two of my stories back to back then when bankrupt.  I thought, I had two books published surely it would be easy to publish another.  How ignorant of me.  So I began writing and submitting again.  I even went to conferences and pitched.  Nothing. 

Then a ray of hope… Amazon bought out Dorchester and I resigned with them.  Wow.  Lots of great changes:  renegotiated contract that was much better than Dorchester and many of the other major publishing houses; actually being paid; royalty statements each month, a special portal for submission and better communication.  More importantly they actively promote the books.  In fact, A Marriage of Convenience has been included in Amazon’s February 50 for $2 in the US Kindle Store, starting 2/1/2015 and running through 2/28/2015.

I submitted my new manuscript with high hopes because Amazon had invited me to write for the launch of their Kindle Worlds.  Much to my surprise it was rejected.  I submitted another…rejected.  Their reason?  Only erotica and historical they were taking at that time.  Really?

Lesson #6 – never thumb your nose at alternative publishing.
When I first got published traditionally, I was walking on air.  I questioned the validity of self published authors.  That sentiment was echoed by many other traditionally published authors and in my mind supported by the flood of substandard material that made their way into eBooks.  But with the upheaval of the publishing industry brought about by the eBook revolution, and many traditionally published turning to Indie, my mind began to change.  Indie publishers gained validity in my eyes.  Since then I have explored many more options for publishing, including going with a very small publisher.  My children’s book was published by Caribbeanreads, a small publishing company owned by fellow Novelnaught Carol Mitchell.  It was such a wonderful experience that I’m going with Caribbeanreads again for my next full length romance novel, “Hurricane of the Heart” to be released this summer.

So the bottom line is, on the road to publishing there will be foibles and faux pas.  But treat them as lessons to be learned along the way and keep writing and publishing.  I look forward to hearing your anecdotes about writing and publishing, which is incidentally, the theme for this month.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Just Pick Three And Make ‘em Work

By Velda Brotherton


The first week of 2015 revealed many, many posts on Face Book and various groups declaring long lists of resolutions. Some even admitted they hadn’t kept the previous year’s. I’m always amazed at people setting goals so high they can’t possibly keep them. So why not try to be practical and not expect quite so much of yourselves?

Let’s face it, we all know deep down what we are capable of, so asking so much more of ourselves seems futile. Why not have a heart to heart with the inner you, the centered you, whatever you want to call that self who dwells in the core of you?

Here it is the end of January. Have you done anything this month toward the resolutions or goals you set when we left 2014 behind? If not I advise you first, to sit down with your list and take a really good look at it. Pick what you want to accomplish in your career more than anything else this year.

This will be number one. Be it write a book, learn a new craft, become an expert in your field. So tomorrow, first thing, sit down to that blank page and type Chapter One and start writing. Or go online and get instructions for that afghan you wanted to make. Or arrange for classes that will help you become that expert. No excuses, no ands, ifs, or buts. Arrange to change your career, advance in it, or retire and take up something new.

Second, pick one item on your list that relates to your personality, attitude or interactions with people. Throw the rest away and concentrate on that one resolution. If it’s be more kind, thoughtful and gracious to both friends and strangers or call someone with whom you’ve had problems recently and make up. That’s a good start and this is something you can do all year. Make new friends, treasure the old ones.

Third, choose a single crazy wish, call it from your bucket list if you want, and make sure you arrange to accomplish that desire. Make reservations, set a date, invite a friend or relative, hubby if you have one, to go with you.

Now, don’t you feel better having set in motion three major resolutions? What happens to the others? Throw them away, you weren’t going to keep them anyway.

A few years ago my career in writing took a plunge when the New York publishers went from thirty or more to six. Heads rolled, editors were fired, writers dropped. We fell hard and tail between my legs I whimpered for a while, then said to heck with this, and began writing for the regional, nonfiction market.

While doing that I wrote fiction, one novel after another. My goal? Get back into writing and being published in fiction. Finishing one nonfiction book, I went to work marketing it and wrote another western historical romance. After a few years of working toward my goal while selling nonfiction to small publishers, I managed to meet the acquisitions editor of a fast growing ebook publisher. By the time she’d bought my historical romance, the house was also releasing books in print. I now have four books with them, one with another small publisher, another with yet another small publisher and a four book contract with an up and coming new house. Those books I wrote over the past few years have all but one found a home, and it will soon. Because that’s on my list.

I’m telling you this for a reason. Tenacity and a love for writing allowed me to set goals I was able to keep. Each year I would turn out two or more novels, determined to meet that goal to continue to be a published author in the fiction field. I could have also added a lot of impossible resolutions for myself. But when I couldn’t keep them I would have felt like a failure.

So I don’t believe in long lists, whether at the beginning of the year or anytime we feel down and need a boost. Try three and don’t quit till you accomplish them. You’ll feel so good, so fulfilled, so content. It’s not too late to revise that resolution list. Slash it deep until all that’s left are the three items you most want to complete in 2015.

Let me know what three things you’ve picked for this year. It will be fun to watch you achieve your goals.

  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Guest author Amy M. Reade: Those Other Conferences

Amy M. Reade
Amy M. Reade is the author of two novels of romantic suspense: Secrets of Hallstead House (Kensington Publishing, July, 2014) and The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor (Kensington Publishing, April, 2015). She is currently working on her third novel. A resident of New Jersey, she hopes to attend several writers’ conferences this year. You can find her online at www.amymreade.com (website), www.amreade.wordpress.com (blog), www.facebook.com/amreadeauthor, and @readeandwrite on Twitter. 





We’ve all heard of Boucheron and Left Coast Crime and lots of other big-name writers’ conferences out there that attract writers, readers, agents, editors, and publishers.

And we’ve been told countless times that we need to attend such conferences. Going to conferences allows us to meet other authors, fans, readers who haven’t been introduced to our work, and entire networks of people who just might be interested in helping us further our careers.

But all this networking can be really expensive. There’s air fare, hotel fees, meals, the cost of attending the conference itself, and, possibly, the cost of membership in one or more of the groups that sponsor the conference. Then, if you’re an author, there are the added costs of author swag and books for purchase.

I can hear some of you now: “You’ve got to invest in yourself.” “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” “You can write it off.”

That’s true. You do have to invest in yourself, you do often have to spend money to make money, and you may be able to write it off. But sometimes the money just isn’t there.

That’s why I’ve written this blog post, to talk about just a few of the smaller regional conferences that are out there. Smaller conferences often have a smaller registration fee and take place in smaller towns and cities where it’s cheaper to stay and cheaper to eat. And since they’re not as cumbersome as the national conferences, they provide many more opportunities to meet and mingle with the stars of the show—the authors, editors, and agents who also attend.

There are lots of regional conferences, so in the interest of space I’m only going to highlight a few.

New England Crime Bake: an annual conference that focuses specifically on New England crime and nonfiction writers. It’s held just outside Boston. Note, membership in Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime is not necessary, but will allow you to pay a discounted registration fee. www.crimebake.org

Suffolk Mystery Writers Festival: the second annual festival will be held in August, 2015. Last year’s attendees included twelve well-known and best-selling mystery writers, an editor, and an agent, as well as several hundred avid readers. This is free and open to the public and located very near Colonial Williamsburg, VA. www.suffolk-fun.com/play/suffolk-mystery-authors-festival-2014/.

Sleuthfest: an annual conference to be held this year in Deerfield Beach, FL. Features fabulous speakers, social events, and several sessions on the crafts of writing, publishing, and marketing. Note, membership in Mystery Writers of America will allow you to pay a discounted registration fee. www.sleuthfest.com.

Midwest Writers Workshop: an annual event held in Muncie, IN, that features intensive sessions for specific genres and general sessions for writers of all genres. There are opportunities for meeting agents and social media tutoring. www.midwestwriters.org.

Kentucky Women Writers Conference: an annual event held in Lexington, KY, which celebrates women’s contributions to the arts. The conference features publishing advice, sessions on fiction, memoir, and poetry, among other topics, and manuscript consultations. www.womenwriters.as.uky.edu.

AWP Conference: an annual conference featuring the publishing industry, cutting-edge writing, and a list of other topics far too long to print here. Takes place in Minneapolis, MN.  www.awpwriter.org.

Historical Novel Society Conference: a bit pricier than most of the others I’ve listed here, this is an annual conference that focuses specifically on historical novels. It will be held in Denver, CO. There are sessions on trends in historical women’s fiction, self-publishing and cover art design, primary sources, and many more great topics. www.hns-conference.org.

Women Writing the West: the annual conference will be held in Redmond, OR, from October 8-October 11, 2015. Has featured sessions on writing the authentic West, Apache place names, Western writing for children, publishing, and writer communities. www.womenwritingthewest.org.

Write Now!: a conference specifically focusing on crime fiction, this one is held in Arizona, so it’s great for writers from the Southwest. www.desertsleuths.com.

Alaska Writers Guild Conference: a great regional conference featuring manuscript critiques, timely publishing topics, and sessions with editors, agents, and best-selling authors. www.alaskawritersguild.com.

One important note: many conferences provide scholarships for attendees who cannot afford the registration fee. By all means, if there’s a conference you’d love to attend and you simply cannot afford it, go to the conference website and find out whether there are scholarship opportunities. 
I’m sure you all know of lots of other small, regional conferences. Please share them in the comments!


Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Good Place


The first few years of being a published writer were a stressful, roller-coaster ride for me. On the upside there was getting my agent (my first fan!), holding that first book in my hands, seeing it in stores, reviews, emails from readers, meeting kind new friends in the writing and blogging community, the euphoria of doing something I was meant to do, a $100 Amazon gift card from another writer who said I had inspired her (I bought turquoise jewelry with it so I'll always remember)... I have a "Happy File" to remind me of those joyous parts when the going gets rough.

Then there were the downsides.
#1 The stress of no longer inhabiting a cave in my head but being "out there"--anathema for an acutely private person like me.
#2 Writing the dreaded second book in fear and trembling, only to see it mired for years in...
#3 The meltdown of my first publishing company amid the hysteria of hundreds of its writers bombarding the public Internet and private loops with "the sky is falling" messages. I could not watch. I could not look away. For two whole years.
#4 The first one-star review, on Goodreads, from a "friend".
#5 Looking on at the publishing industry's painful transformation as all the rules changed and kept changing.
#6 And worst of all: becoming so frozen by it all that I could not write for long stretches.

So what came next on the chaotic publishing front? Signing that first book with Amazon's Montlake imprint and actually getting the occasional royalty statement. Starting my own micropress (now at 15 titles, 10 of which are mine under various names) and getting small but increasingly regular royalty statements from there too. Going against the advice to stick to one genre and writing whatever I wish. Being published in respected journals and getting shortlisted for a lit prize.

Most important of all, I'm writing most days. I now understand viscerally (I took a while to really get this) that since the only variable I can control is the writing, I should make that my unrelenting focus. I get the occasional editing job, which I also enjoy. And from September, if all goes as planned, I'll be teaching again--part time, of course. Writing must come first, whatever the hell is happening on the publishing front.

After those tumultuous years, I finally feel like I'm in a good place. It's not about money, because that is still quite scarce. It's about doing the work, being thankful for my blessings every day, feeling some measure of control over my life, enjoying the present, and looking to the future with optimism instead of fear. *knocks on wood* Now if only I could get this exercise thing on track...

What has your writing journey been like? Do you feel that you're in a good place now?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Write more than one story at a time? That's crazy!

“I don’t have time to do just one thing at a time!”

Have you ever heard this expression? It’s okay if you haven’t, as a casual perusal of the internet tells me that this particular declaration doesn’t seem to exist in too many places beyond the confines of my own head. Can that be right, though? I’m not buying it, if for no other reason than I’m just not that innovative when it comes to coining new phraseology.

In our fast-paced, non-stop, cat-eat-dog-because-dog-is-too-slow world, being able to focus on one task at any given time more often than not is a luxury. Now, unless you’re like one of those performers on Venice Beach who juggles running chainsaws while hopping on one foot and reciting Miley Cyrus lyrics as Shakespearean soliloquies*, you’re probably not actually doing more than one thing at any one time.

However, chances are that you’ve got your attention divided among multiple demands on your time and energy. You almost certainly have some kind of “To Do List,” which never seems to let you mark any one thing as being “Done” without first requiring you to add two or more items to accomplish.

As you read this, I have two novels I’m working on (one a solo effort; the other a collaboration with my longtime writing partner). Thankfully, they represent completely different genres, so the risk of me conflating the two is minimal, though it does make for the occasional interesting dream. I’m also working to finish the proposal/outline for another novel, and the typeset pages for the novel that will be published later this spring are now awaiting my attention.

Elsewhere around my writing plate, I have two short stories to write between now and mid-April, an essay, and another book project which came about over the holiday season. Proposals for two more novels that I’ll write later this year are also in the queue, and another one is lurking in the shadows, trying to sneak into the line when it thinks I’m not looking.

And even as I sit here thinking I’ve got a lot going on and I’m getting things done, I know other writers who maintain an “operational tempo” that makes me look like a slacker.

This isn’t me complaining, by the way. I’m loving every minute of this. Well, almost every minute.

When I left my “regular” day job back in the fall, my intention was to become a full-time writer. As I pondered this notion last summer while preparing for the transition, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to secure enough work to replace the salary I’d be losing. As I sit here, halfway through the first month of 2015, I’ve stopped worrying about that potential problem, at least for the moment. After so many years of pulling all-nighters and weekends to keep up with everything while working at my other job, I finally have so much more time (and energy!) to devote to my writing.

I’m still learning how to manage my schedule so that I can keep all of these wonderful balls in the air, but I’ve found a routine or rhythm that’s comfortable for me. I work on one project in the morning, and another in the afternoon. To borrow from Captain Barbosa, that’s more of a guideline than an actual rule and subject to change, of course, particularly if I’m on a roll while writing a scene and don’t want to stop.

I’m still a bit of a night owl and don’t typically go to bed before midnight, so things like reviewing edits or notes or writing pieces such as this blog post usually take place after dinner and after the kids have gone off to bed. I keep track of where I am with respect to each project, but I don’t sweat things like missing a day’s work on a given story, as I know I can move things around and make up for any lost time as necessary.

Yeah, there are a lot of moving parts to track, but I knew the job would be dangerous when I took it. Besides, I’m having more fun with this whole writing thing than I’ve had in years.

Are you a writer who works on more than one thing at a time, or do you prefer to focus all of your intentions on a single story until it’s “done?” If you do work on multiple projects, what are your tips and tricks for keeping the various trains on their tracks?




* = Description of Venice Beach performer changed to protect his identity. He actually was reciting Kelly Clarkson lyrics, but don’t tell anyone.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dead Man Talking

Happy New Year! (Even though I feel like January is already almost over.)

I had an interesting experience with my WIP, perhaps not an unusual one, but definitely new to me. I had this one planned out. I knew where the story should go, what I wanted to say. For me, getting to know the characters is key to my writing so I did character sketches, lived with my characters, and tried to really get inside their heads--the protagonist, his two buddies, his nemesis, his dad, his buddies' parents--I had it all covered. But still it went nowhere. I could not get past certain points in the plot. Then I realised the issue.

There was one character that I had not considered, had not spent time with, had not got to know at all ... the dead guy. You see the story begins with the protagonist's brother already dead and the reality is that the story spins around him and why he died and to understand why he died I have to get to know him.

It seems like every novel comes with its own challenges and idiosyncrasies. What are some unusual challenges that you have faced in writing?




Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is Co-Authoring the New Norm?

By now most everyone has read this NY Times article .  But I'm not here to talk about our Evil Overlords at Amazon. The quote at the end of the article by H.M. Ward is what concerns me.

“I've started working with four co-authors,” she said. “If you’re not constantly putting out new material, people forget you’re there.”

I am actually about to embark at least one- perhaps two collaborations with other authors. I see it as a way to up my production, ( hopefully! I've never collaborated before so I'll let you know how it goes) which is vital for digital and small press authors. Without the visibility that new releases bring (and don't forget to market!) small press and indie books sink fast into the abyss of the self-publishing glut. 

My own (possible) collaborations began before I read this article, but the quote at the end reinforced my thoughts and other advice I have heard (second hand) from successful self published authors. Get a new book out every four to six months. The key is content, content, content.

So is this the new norm? In the name of faster production will we all be collaborating? Will it necessarily lead to better books? Is the need, or the perceived need for the faster production of books in the name of maintaining a presence on the web going to be the fate of authors? Will we simply race to the finish line, cranking out as many books a year as possible. How good can out books be if this becomes the only viable way for authors to make a living int he new digital age? Or is it panic?

I have no answers. But I'm wondering if anyone has thoughts and opinions on this. I'd love to hear from people.