Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On the Go

As you may or may not have heard, the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal chapter of the Romance Writers of America is hosting a brand-new conference this year in New Orleans. As you may also have heard, I'll be attending.

This, of course, means that this Friday and Monday I won't be around to blog. And in the rush to get things ready for the trip, I haven't pre-scheduled any posts yet to make up the difference. This means you won't be seeing much of me until I get back.
In the meantime, are you considering a writers' conference? Here's a couple of links:

Preparing for your first writers' conference
Writing conferences from an agent's POV

I wouldn't necessarily suggest following these like the Ten Commandments (I do recommend going to pitch sessions, myself), but the advice is something to think about.

Have a great weekend! I'll be back either next Wednesday or Friday (depending on how tired I am returning) with a review and details.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Winner of a free book!

Ten days ago, I interviewed author James Hutchings on self-publishing. Hutchings graciously offered a free copy for giveaway, and by an extremely technical random probability generator (aka, snippets of paper and a hat), we've got a winner. Congratulations to Andris Bear for winning a free copy of A New Death and Others!

Here's a snippet of what she's won:


In the beginning of the world the gods considered all those things which did not have their own gods, to decide who would have responsibility and rulership.

"I will rule all flowers that are sky-blue in colour," said the Sky-Father.

"I will listen to the prayers of migratory birds, and you all other birds," the goddess Travel said to him. And so it went.

At last all had been divided, save for one thing.

"Who," asked the Sky-Father, "shall have dominion over the poor?"

There was an awkward silence, until the Sky-Father said, "Come - someone must. Those with no gods will grow restless and cunning, and in time will cast us down, and we shall be gods no more."

"Not I," said blind Justice, and her stony face flashed a momentary smirk at the thought. "Why not Fame or Fortune?"

"Darling, I don't think so," said the sister goddesses together.

There was a long pause. The gods shuffled their feet and avoided one another's gaze. At last a voice broke the silence.

"I will," said Death.
--From The New Death and Others

Want to read more? You can find The New Death and Others, as well as Hutchings' other book Two-Fisted Tweets, on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Publishing News

This week's Publishing News, divided between "News" and "Industry Blogs."


Penguin ends its relationship with Overdrive, effectively ending its eLending program with libraries. This leaves Random House as the only one of the Big Six to offer unrestricted lending of its titles for libraries. There will, however, be a price increase.

Barnes & Noble is continuing its boycott against Amazon Publishing, and other publishers join the boycott.

International publishers shut down a site that hosted over 400K pirated eBooks.

The Authors' Guild throws in their official statement on Amazon, noting that Amazon's success isn't a result of positive capitalism and the natural success of a well-thought business strategy, but rather a predatory pricing strategem designed to eliminate fair competition.

QueryTracker posts its Publishing Pulse for 2/17 and 2/24.

Google drops some of its bookstore affiliates who sold Google eBooks. In pre-order sales, hardcover books still trump eBooks. In Canada, Random House takes over McClelland & Stewart, much to the dismay of small publishers. RH has promised to maintain the M&S traditions that have made the historical publishing company a Canadian icon. And Barnes & Noble sales rose in the third fiscal quarter, but the earnings fell due to heavy reinvestment into the digitial world. Seems like a sound investment to me - especially as the Nook is becoming its own source of immense profit and helping B&N stay in the game against Amazon's Kindle. Also contributing to the decline was the switch from only selling new & used textbooks to also providing cheaper rental ones - thank you, B&N!

A recent survy shows that teens are not embracing eBooks. Yet YA eBook sales are booming: "over the recent holiday season Barnes & Noble sold five times as many YA e-titles as print ones online." It's not hurting print sales: sales as a whole are growing, both digital and physical. It probably helps that publishers are aggressively marketing to teens, from offering the first book in a series for free to releasing exclusive short stories in e-format.

Industry Blogs

And one of QueryTracker's bloggers, now a published author, offers her perspective on the myths of the editorial process versus the reality she has now experienced. Also, querying an unlikeable character is difficult, but it can be done. Figure out what makes you like the character enough to write about him, and then include that. Carolyn Kaufman offers advice to Pantsers dealing with writers' block.

Agent Kristen at PubRants warns writers to look for publishers selling books in places they don't have the rights to. If you catch your book being sold internationally and you don't think international rights were part of the deal, tell your agent immediately, because you'll end up not getting money you should have. Why are books showing up in the UK in such a way? Because the UK market is one of the toughest to get into, and publishers are only signing best-sellers. So authors are being brought in through exports (which can get misreported or unreported in the royalty statements), or finding ways around the system.

Rachelle Gardner offers a 3-part series on what we in the publishing industry can learn from Kodak (part 1, part 2, part 3). First off? Don't get stuck in the past. If the market changes, change with it - clinging to the old sales tactics (like trying to make a profit off film in a digital camera economy) will kill us. Secondly, figure out who our customers are. They're not beholden to us - they can get their material elsewhere. So if we want them to come to us, then we have to provide them what they really want. And lastly, be prepared to change. The industry is changing. Start gathering information, research how it's changing, and change with it. Be innovative!

She also offers words of encouragement - don't give up; publishers are still buying new authors! And a list of 13 ways to impress an agent. Most of the basics you already know: research the agent, be professional, know what other books are in your market. But there was one surprise for me: Show videos of yourself talking. Since being able to market your book is important, showing you can speak in/to public is also important. Guest blogger Julie Cantrell follows up with a how-to-make-your-own-book-trailer guide.

Nathan Bransford suggests that we remember not to get too attached to our characters. If we like them too much, we end up losing a chance to make the story better, because we can't kill them off or make them do things we hate. Make your characters ugly; give them real flaws. It makes them better characters. And he reminds us that it's not enough to paint a vivid picture with your words - a book needs a plot, and it needs to move. Good mental pictures alone do not keep readers reading. He also posts This Week in Books for 2/17.

It seems like every book with a young adult protagonist is automatically categorized as YA. But sometimes, it isn't written to be a YA book. A reader asks Jessica Faust how she should choose the genre. Faust answers that if it isn't YA, then it's not YA - in this case, if it's a mystery written for adults, that's the genre, even if the protagonist is young. She answers another reader's questions on whether to include the prologue in a partial request, whether she should double space her selection, and whether or not she should include her age in her query. Simply: Yes, yes, and no. And if the story makes sense without the prologue, consider taking the prologue out entirely.

 Faust also talks about her ideal client: one who communicates! A monthly e-mail giving updates makes her very happy. She also updates her dictionary of publishing terms, and points out the difference between alerting and spamming on Twitter. It's okay to Tweet that your book has just been released; it's not okay to direct Tweet someone with "This book is awesome!" You might recommend a book to your friends this way, but not your own book - that's when it becomes spam.

Rachel Stark on TracChanges reminds us that those of us in the publishing industry are what media giants call "early adopters" - you know that eReader you've had for years and won't put down? Most people just got one. Even if everyone else you know already has one, trust me, the majority of readers are only starting to get them. Remember that the first-comers aren't your only audience.

What news in the publishing industry have you encountered in the past couple of weeks?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Dream Vacation

Imagine, for a minute, that you just won your dream vacation. Where would you go?

Okay, now imagine your character just won his or her dream vacation, appropriate to the world and time period. Where does he/she go? Do? With whom?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Inside My Mind (Plots vs Pants)

Today, I'm going to give you a terrifying glimpse of my logic, as related to writing. How do I write? How do I decide what will happen next?

I am, on any given writing day, halfway between a plotter and pantser. Let's start by dissecting these terms:

Plotter: A writer who outlines the entire story before writing, who knows what will happen before she writes it and follows a carefully constructed plan, often down to knowing what each scene is and what will happen within it. (vb: to plot)

Panster: Short for "by the seat of my pants," an idiomatic expression meaning "making it up as I go." This writer has no plan. She may have carefully constructed characters, and a basic idea of where they're going, but what happens depends on the characters and will develop as she writes. She is, in essence, as surprised by the outcome of the story as the characters are. (vb: to pants [it])

Most of the things I've written so far have been carefully constructed through the first half of the book, but then I'll run out of plan and pants it from there. I'll usually have some idea of where I'm going, but not how I'm going to get there. In cases where I do have an idea of what I want my plot to be, it often changes because of who the characters are. Simply put, "he wouldn't actually do that, come to think of it," can completely rewrite the entirety of a story.

In recent times, I've begun filling the intercession not by the most logical move, but by the most dramatic one that can be backed by some form of logic. I won't make my characters do something suicidally stupid, but if I can come up with a conceivable reason for them to think that the most dramatic action is the most reasonable one, then I'll have them do it. If the most dramatic is just plain silly, I go with the second most dramatic instead, or on down the line until dramatic borders on reasonable. This is working better than my first plan: that I should go with the most sensible choice. Because, at the end of the day, I want to be excited by my own story. And when I choose sensible, I find myself getting bored.

Sometimes this means breaking my characters away from reality. But that usually turns out better, anyway, because after what I put them through, they should be falling apart around the edges. I would be. So I sketch out a basic outline of what I think will happen based on most recent circumstances, follow these to the logical conclusion to get the next proposed scene, and make a more-or-less outline.

(This outline usually has to be rewritten every fifty pages or so. I try to keep the outlines short.)

So far, this system is working out well. But I have to admit, I'd like try plotting. There's a notecard method I think I'll pick up at some point, just to give it a spin and see if it works better.

Every day I write, every story I start, I learn something new about writing, about myself, about what makes me better. So if I find something that works, I'll keep using it - but I'll still try something new, too. I don't ever want to stop getting better. Not even if - especially not if - I ever become a bestseller.

(Although, if I switch entirely over to plotting, I don't think I'll be able to resist making the joke, "Has anyone seen my pants?")

How do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever tried switching?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Interview with James Hutchings, Self-Published Author

While I personally chose to attempt the traditional publishing route, many authors are going for the self-publishing route. I've interviewed James Hutchings, self-published author of two eBooks: The New Death and Others, a collection of short pieces, mostly dark fantasy, and Two-Fisted Tweets, a collection of 30 stories, each in 140 characters or less. Hutchings offers his perspectives on why he chose the path he did, his thoughts on self-publishing, from which kinds of promotion he's gotten the most success, and a free book giveaway.

 I saw that you have two books on Smashwords; have you published anything else?

Apart from The New Death and Others and Two-Fisted Tweets, I haven't put anything on Amazon or similar sites. I wrote a novel years ago, which I just put on my site for free (unwittingly making it 'previously published'), but I never did anything else with it.

Why did you choose self-publishing?

I've never tried to be traditionally published, whereas most authors who self-publish seem to do so after they give up on trying to get a book contract.

Firstly, I didn't want to waste paper by being traditionally printed. There are publishers who only publish electronically, but I was skeptical about what they'd do for me that I couldn't do for myself.

Secondly, it seems like traditional publishers expect most of their authors to do their own promotion anyway, so what are they giving in return? Also, of course, it's very difficult to get a contract, and bloggers like JA Konrath argue that it's going to get more and more difficult, because publishers will respond to loss of income by cuting their 'mid-list', or paying them less, to concentrate on a few authors who can make them a lot of money.

What have you gotten out of it that you wouldn't have gotten through traditional  publishing?

I doubt that I would have gotten traditionally published. First, hardly anyone does. Secondly, I write very short stories and poems that are mostly fantasy. The dominant form of fantasy is currently long sets of equally long novels. So I don't think I would have gotten anything through traditional publishing. The amount of money I've gotten so far is tiny, but the feedback and publicity have been very useful. I've 'built a platform' as some people say, meaning that I've found people who are likely to review or be interested in whatever I put out next.

What do you feel like you gave up in exchange?

I gave up on getting a traditional contract, which would, of course, have gotten me more of everything than I could get through self-publishing. But then I gave up on winning the lottery by not buying a lottery ticket.

How much promotion do you do, and what kinds of promotion have gotten you the best results?

I promote my work almost every day. The main method I use is contacting bloggers and asking them if they'd review my work (or do an interview, guest post, or giveaway) in return for a free copy. I have a giveaway going constantly on, and I post about every giveaway on goodreads, but contacting bloggers is my main method.

Is there anything in particular you've done, joined, or attended (like a conference or a writers' group) that has been especially helpful?

A couple of people have asked me how I've gotten so many reviews (I link to every review from my blog). But my 'secret' is just to contact an enormous number of people and ask.

What's that about a book giveaway? Yep, there's one here too! Hutchings has offered a free copy of The New Death and Others. Interested? Leave a comment and be entered to win! Either include a contact e-mail or check back Feb. 27 (that's right, in 10 days; that's a Monday!) to see if you've won. Contest ends Feb. 26th at 5pm.

Below is a clip of The New Death and Others, available on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Also check out Hutchings' blog.


In the beginning of the world the gods considered all those things which did not have their own gods, to decide who would have responsibility and rulership.

"I will rule all flowers that are sky-blue in colour," said the Sky-Father.

"I will listen to the prayers of migratory birds, and you all other birds," the goddess Travel said to him. And so it went.

At last all had been divided, save for one thing.

"Who," asked the Sky-Father, "shall have dominion over the poor?"

There was an awkward silence, until the Sky-Father said, "Come - someone must. Those with no gods will grow restless and cunning, and in time will cast us down, and we shall be gods no more."

"Not I," said blind Justice, and her stony face flashed a momentary smirk at the thought. "Why not Fame or Fortune?"

"Darling, I don't think so," said the sister goddesses together.

There was a long pause. The gods shuffled their feet and avoided one another's gaze. At last a voice broke the silence.

"I will," said Death.
--From The New Death and Others

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Reader Feedback

Think about the way the last book you read was written. Not the plot, but something the author did, such as spend too much time on the introduction or start off with a joke. What was thing that you didn't like about the way the book was written? What was one thing that you really did like? Don't name the title of the book or the author; just focus on the aspects of the writing!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Caring For Roses

February: The month in which the rose attempts to take over the world through mass mind control and a little bit of marketing. Alternatively, the month of love. Got roses? Here's how to care for them.

Roses are not the longest-lived of flowers, but proper care can help them reach their maximum life span. When first putting roses in a vase, make sure to fill the vase with cool water and add flower food. If your flowers did not come with flower food, ½ teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon bleach will do the trick for most standard-sized vases. This helps kill bacteria and feeds the roses.

With your roses, decide what length you desire them. Then strip off any leaves that will fall beneath the water line. This leaves fewer places for bacteria to grow. Bacteria can make the water harder for the flowers to absorb, infect the flowers, or clog the stems, all of which will shorten the lives of your flowers. As a general rule, the cleaner the water is, the longer the flowers will last. You can remove the thorns or not; these won’t make a large difference either way, so follow your choice of aesthetics.

Look for any greenery, filler flowers such as baby’s breath, or other flowers. Remove any foliage or flowers that would sit beneath the waterline. Cut the stems at an angle, removing at least ½ cm, and put them into the vase before you add your roses. This will help form a network to support the roses and make them more likely to stay in place.

Next, cut the roses under water at a 45-degree angle and put them immediately into your vase. If the cut stems dry out, the flowers' ability to drink is impaired. Air bubbles can also get into the stem, which will cause the stem to droop and result in a floppy rose. Trimming ½ cm off the ends of the roses when you first put them in water usually removes any air bubbles that have already formed.

Your roses will need fresh water and re-trimming every day to reach their maximum lifespan. One way to do this is to wrap your off-hand around the base of the entire arrangement and lift it out in a single piece. Your dominant hand is then free to dump the water, pour a new batch, and add new flower food. After the water is ready, re-trim the stems under water to refresh their drinking surfaces, and place them back in the water. This is a process that requires some planning, since you’ll be doing it all with exactly one hand as your other holds the flowers. I do recommend removing the thorns for this technique!

When your flowers begin to droop, it doesn’t have to be the end of them. You can remove the petals for any number of purposes. I’m a fan of a nice rose-petal bath, myself. Or spread the petals out on a flat surface and let them dry, then use the dried petals in potpourri or other decorating accents. Another option is to dry the whole bouquet. Tie a string around the stems and hang the bouquet upside down for two to three days, or until completely dry. For more humid areas, hang each flower separately. Watch out for signs of mold, and discard any moldy flowers immediately.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Publishing News

Barnes & Nobles has decided not to stock books published by Amazon in their physical stores. They will still sell them online.

NPR posts an article on how publishers and booksellers are afraid Amazon is going "devour their industry." The article points out Amazon's predatory tactics, such as the monopoly-like structure, predatory pricing, and its price-check app.

The UK paper The Guardian publishes an article comparing the current self-epublishing eBook bonanza to an economic bubble. In essence, thousands of amateur writers are rushing in, paying high costs for editing and covers and such, and finding that they make little to no money from what they expected to be easy money. The disillusionment turns them away from writing and from reading, and reduces the market. Worse, in order to stay competitive, they've marked down their prices to almost nothing (and in many cases, absolutely nothing), hoping to acquire paying readers through word of mouth for later works. Only all they've done is trained readers to expect free eBooks, which means nobody makes money in the future. The expected outcome, according to the Guardian, is a market crash.

For Romance writers, there's a new eBook-only imprint line with Grand Central Publishing.

An author is suing McGraw-Hill on claims that they have been cheating him on his royalties. The claim rides around third-party royalties for sales outside the US being misreported. The plaintiff is seeking class-certification for a class-action suit.

Do you write paranormal, futuristic, or fantasy romance? Want to go to the FF&P conference in New Orleans from March 2-4, but can't afford it? They're offering scholarships to authors with an economic need! And no, you don't have to be a member of the RWA's FF&P to attend. This conference is open to the general public, now has 25+ sessions, and offers pitch sessions with acquiring editors and agents... and since it's in its first year, that means you'll face much less competition than you would at any other professional conference. Keynote speaker Maggie Shayne, in case you're wondering.

Agent Kristen announces that her agency, Nelson Literary Agency, has developed a system to allow authors to self-publish reverted-rights works in a two-part post. Since AAR doesn't allow agents to be publishers, this means they've had to draw a fine line: none of the authors are required to join; authors may join without the agent doing any of their work; and authors may hire their agent to provide certain services to them at the standard agent cut. The authors maintain full ownership of their rights.

And why is it that only about 60% of agented manuscripts sell (compared to about 1% of unagent manuscripts)? Agent Kristen offers editor feedback from a manuscript she was really, really excited about - but almost couldn't sell. What were the editors thinking? Take a look.

Rachelle Gardner explains why agents don't always go for the largest advance possible. If a writer is looking for a long-term career, there are other aspects worth looking at, such as royalty rates and likelihood the book will buy out the advance. Editors will be more likely to continue publishing an author who makes them a profit (i.e., buys out their advance) than one who does not. Sometimes, this means taking a smaller advance. She also asks her readers about their expectations for book signings in the future, and if they will continue to purchase books to be signed, or if they'll use apps that allow virtual signature collection. And she adds the importance of giving your character real flaws, not just superficial ones. Is she too hard on herself? Then she's probably too hard on others, too. And that makes the character enduringly memorable.

Jessica Faust answers the question, "If I've revised my story, and forgot to change the character's name in the query when I changed it in the story, should I send an e-mail to the agent explaining this?" Her answer: Chances are, the agent won't even notice. She also talks about why agents edit. It's so that publishers will be more likely to buy the book, because the more editing the book needs, the less likely it is to sell. It costs publishers to edit, and the more editing, the higher the cost.

Thinking about being a co-author? Ellery Adams explains what it takes. And most of is honest, blunt communication. Can  your relationship stand bluntness? If so, you may be able to successfully coauthor.

Rebecca York reminds writers to draw their readers in right away, and avoid slow beginnings.

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 2/3 and 2/10.

And Nathan Bransford is back with his This Week! In Books! for a few more links. Yes, several of them are on publishing houses trembling in their boots over Amazon, and one is asking why publishing houses are necessary. There's also a link covering the response (things the houses do provide). He includes a link to the topic on e-book bundling, too, and a few topics in his forums.

Edit: Added Friday afternoon: Novelists, Inc., has created a free downloadable guide to The New World of Publishing. Includes a glossary of terms, a how-to on ebooks, advice from experts, and direct links to helpful resources.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Publishing for a Living, Part 3: Realistic Expectations

In December 2010, I decided to follow my dream of being a writer. I knew nothing about how to publish, or about the industry itself. All I had was the ability to write, a dream, and the feeling that I wasn’t happy with where my life currently was.

One year later, I now know how common publishing terms are defined, the general process of traditional publishing, and what expectations are reasonable. So, for anyone else who is trying to become an author, I decided to share. Consider this a short guide for beginners: If you've no idea what the traditional publishing process looks like, welcome to Publishing for a Living 101.

Part 3, Realistic Expectations:

On average, it takes between two and ten years for a manuscript going through traditional publishing to be published after being completed. Some authors get published before; some after.

In recent years, advances have been diminishing. Depending on the publisher and the genre, advances for a first novel may be 2-5K or less. The advance may not arrive all at once. It’s not uncommon for it to be broken up into three parts, such as upon receipt of manuscript, upon receipt of final manuscript after revisions, and upon actual release date.

The average total income for a traditionally published, stand-alone romance novel is usually around $17,000, from the time the book is first published to when it goes out of print. Romance is generally accepted to be one of the more profitable genres. Total income can be much higher or much lower. Here are some assorted articles, surveys, and blogs on what you can earn as an author, both through traditional and self-publishing.

I have not met many published authors whose first manuscript was published. In cases where it was, it typically went through a very large number of revisions first.

Rejection letters are part of the business. Form rejections are common. It is very, very rare for an agent to provide feedback on why a query or a manuscript was rejected.

Most agents get hundreds to thousands of queries a year, and can only represent a few. They probably won’t remember your name.

Submitting a manuscript to a contest can provide professional feedback. In many contests, the judges offer explanations for their scores. A wise writer will accept the feedback and use it to improve her manuscript. Most manuscripts do not win their first contests.

The most successful authors put significant effort into marketing and publicity. They write more than one book.

Most publishers don’t expect to make a profit on an author’s first book. Therefore, they rarely publish authors who do not intend to write more than a single book.

And last but not least:

Being a published author is a career, not a hobby. To be successful, treat it that way. But also keep your day job until after you’re making a living wage from writing.

Did you find any of these surprising? Are there any other publishing-life expectations you’ve found that you think writers ought to know?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Publishing for a Living, Part 2: The process

In December 2010, I decided to follow my dream of being a writer. I knew nothing about how to publish, or about the industry itself. All I had was the ability to write, a dream, and the feeling that I wasn’t happy with where my life currently was.

One year later, I now know how common publishing terms are defined, the general process of traditional publishing, and what expectations are reasonable. So, for anyone else who is trying to become an author, I decided to share. Consider this a short guide for beginners: If you've no idea what the traditional publishing process looks like, welcome to Publishing for a Living 101.

Part 2, The Publishing Process (for publishing fiction through a traditional publishing house):

Step 1, write a manuscript. Finish it.

Step 2, edit for plot, voice, pace, and other non-typographical problems.

Step 3, edit again.

Step 4, ask someone to help you edit again. Make the edits that were suggested. Or at least most of them.

Step 5, edit again.

Steps 6-13, repeat steps 3-5 as often as needed. Then go back, fix your math, and edit again.

Step 14, fix all grammar and typographical errors.

Step 15, start writing manuscript #2.

Step 16, research agents who represent your genre and who might be interested in your particular manuscript.

Step 17, submit queries to up to 5 agents at a time. Do not CC: or submit to multiple agents in one submission. Send each agent a personalized query. Wait to hear back. It may help to attend conferences and pitch to agent in person. (Pitching and querying resources)

Step 18, if none of the queries received a request, rewrite the query.

Step 19, (after receiving a request), send the requested material to the agent.

Step 20, wait. Maybe up to 6 months, depending on the agent.

Step 21, if the agent says she is interested in representing you, interview her and make sure she is a good fit with your career plans. If yes, then accept her offer.

Step 22, wait. The agent is shopping your manuscript. Do whatever else she suggests you do while she is shopping your manuscript. This may include further revisions.

Step 23, your manuscript has been accepted by a publisher. The publisher will suggest further revisions. Revise again.

Step 24, begin marketing your own novel to supplement the publisher’s marketing. Your novel has not yet been published. Build an author website, author webpage, and whatever else your agent suggests.

Step 25, after another 6 months-1 year, the manuscript is finally available in print and is being distributed. Continue marketing and building your audience. Start attending author signings. Follow your agent’s advice.

Congratulations, you’re published!

(Step 26, Hopefully manuscript #2 is now ready to begin the querying process. If you’re lucky, a publishing company may offer you a contract or a several-book deal. They also may not.)

Optional steps: Join writing groups, enter contests, take writing classes, attend conferences, write a career plan, bribe friends and family into putting up with your rants, decide self-publishing is easier and go that route, take up belly-dancing, form support groups, join a critique group, hire a professional editor

Suggested steps to not take: Get arrested for agent-stalking, be rude to anyone, take up streaking with the name of your manuscript painted over your body, sacrifice a goat on the alter of a made-up book god, condescend to agents, refuse to revise, lock yourself in a tower and make your family feed you by a system of complicated pulleys, tell self-publishers that they're all vanity publishing without know what vanity publishing really is, pretend there is a "one true way" to publish, expect to become a millionaire overnight

Questions? Inspirations? Noteworthy examples of steps not to take?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Publishing for a Living, Part 1: Terms

In December 2010, I decided to follow my dream of being a writer. I knew nothing about how to publish, or about the industry itself. All I had was the ability to write, a dream, and the feeling that I wasn’t happy with where my life currently was.

One year later, I now know how common publishing terms are defined, the general process for traditional publishing, and what expectations are reasonable. So, for anyone else who is trying to become an author, I decided to share. Consider this a short guide for beginners: If you've no idea what the traditional publishing process looks like, welcome to Publishing for a Living 101.

Part 1: Terms

If you're new to the field, here are some common terms that you've probably heard, and might just be wondering about. Some of these seem quite intuitive, but you might be surprised:

Traditional publishing means getting published through a royalty-paying publishing house. The publisher provides services such as thorough editing, the book cover, some marketing, and a larger distribution than either self- or vanity-publishing offer. Traditional publishing has the most prestige of the three types of publishing; because it requires going through the ‘gatekeepers’ of agents (usually) and editors, it is the most difficult to achieve. Because of the services provided, the author receives smaller royalties than in self-publishing, but because of the wider distribution and the opportunity to earn an advance, traditionally published writers on average earn more.

Self-publishing is when an author publishes the book herself; that is, she writes it, edits it herself or buys editing services, purchases the cover herself, and makes it available on a self-publishing site. These include both sites such Smashwords and Print-on-Demand publishers such as Lulu. The writer gets the majority of the earnings, but has to do her own marketing and has to purchase all her own publishing-related services. It is possible that the writer will earn more self-publishing than traditionally publishing because of the higher royalty rate, but it is infrequent that this happens. There are no advances offered, although the stigma once attached to self-publishing is diminishing due to the number of respected self-published authors.

Vanity publishing is when a writer pays a publisher to print her book for her. Again, she does her own writing, marketing, and editing, and often has to provide her own cover work. It is rare for a writer to make a profit off these books. There are no advances offered. Vanity publishing is typically categorized as a type of self-publishing and was once used interchangeably with any type of self-publishing, but ‘vanity publishers’ are specifically publishers who require the author to pay a fee for being printed. The interchangeability of ‘vanity publishing’ and ‘self publishing’ has diminished with the introduction of eReaders and millionaire self-published authors.

ePublishing: ePublishing is the publishing of eBooks or other electronic forms of books. Both self-publishers and traditional publishers take advantage of ePublishing; it should not be used synonymously with self-publishing.

Small publishers/regional publishers: Traditional publishing companies that are not the Big Six and typically print only small runs of books are considered to be small publishers. They may print up to 1-2 thousand copies, but often sell fewer, and they often sell primarily to a niche market. Regional publishers are a type of small publisher. They are likely to print nonfiction, poetry, or fiction dealing exclusively with the region in which they publish. Not all publishers that are not the Big Six count as small publishers.

The Big Six: The biggest publishing houses in America are called the “Big Six.” These include Random House, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Hachette Book Group, and HarperCollins. Most ‘imprints’ (Harlequin, Berkley, Gotham Books, Prentice Hall, Tor/Forge, etc) are owned by these companies.

Imprints: Looking on the spine or in the front cover of a book will reveal a publisher’s name. Usually, this is the ‘imprint’ publisher; that is, the brand name that reveals the genre and certain other features of the book. A book published by Tor/Forge, for example, will probably be science fiction or fantasy; a book published by Harlequin will be a romance. Sometimes there’s overlap between imprints within the same company, and sometimes there’s not.

Advance: An advance is an amount of money paid to an author before a manuscript begins earning royalties. Sometimes this is a lump sum; sometimes it is split into parts. The original idea of the advance was for the author to use the money for marketing. Most advances these days are not enough to live off of for long. The first royalties earned go towards ‘paying off’ the advance; like the name implies, the money is expected to be compensated to the publisher. Until the publisher has received the equivalent of the advance from the author’s royalties, the author gets no additional money for that manuscript. After the advance has been paid off, the author begins receiving royalty checks. Agents may encourage writers to accept a lower advance for a higher royalty percentage, which means the author would get paid less initial starting money but would pay the advance off quicker and possibly earn more money in the long term.

Royalties: For every book sold, the author gets a little bit of money. This money is a royalty. In cases wherein the author was paid an advance, first royalties are not actually received by the author. The money goes instead to pay off the advance.

Author: An author is someone who has published a manuscript. Self-published writers are generally considered authors for most publishing industry purposes, although there are some situations in which they are not, and they frequently have to deal with stereotypes against them. With the rise of the eBook and a number of established professional and even millionaire writers turning to self-publishing, this stigma seems to be diminishing.

Writer: Someone who has written or is writing. All authors are writers, but not all writers are authors.

Editing: Contrary to popular belief, editing does not mean fixing typos and grammar edits (although those fixes are usually included in an edit, writers are on the most part expected to have few to no grammar errors or typos in their manuscripts by the time it's being submitted.) Editing focuses on storyline changes and other holistic changes for the purpose of making the manuscript more interesting, more saleable, and/or easier to follow. It may include rewrites of entire scenes or characters. It may also include the insertion of subplots for the purpose of expanding a word count, or eliminating scenes for reducing a word count. Traditional publishing houses offer some editing as part of their services. Editors may also be hired individually by writers for the purposes of improving a manuscript.

Editor: Not just the person who reviews and suggests changes, an editor may also be the person in a publishing company who decides which manuscripts the company will publish. This latter job is called an ‘acquisitions editor,’ but the full term is rarely used. If a writer is writing to an editor at a publishing house, this is the editor to which they are referring.

Word count: The word count of a manuscript may be determined by either a computer count, or by performing a character count and dividing by 6 (for an average of 5 letters per word, plus one space.) The latter is what most agents desire when they ask for a word count, although some have begun asking for the former. Different genres have different expected word counts; while some manuscripts above or beneath that count are accepted, one that falls outside the range is less likely to be published than if it were within.

Page count: Because of font, margin, and spacing differences, the page count is determined by dividing the word count by 250. This is the ‘average’ number of words per page by standard publishing layout, even if it is not exact. When an agent asks for page count, this is what she is asking for.

Agent: An agent is a person whose job it is to try to sell manuscripts to publishing houses. (They do other stuff for writers, too, but let's keep it simple.) Agents typically have personal connections with many people within traditional publishing houses, and most manuscripts that are traditionally published through large publishing houses are agented. Only about 60% of manuscripts that are agented are published, however, so having an agent does not guarantee publication. It does, however, greatly improve the chances. Self-published authors do not necessarily need agents.

Query: A query is a short letter sent to an agent (or an editor) asking for representation (or publication). It is typically 250 words or fewer, but not always. A query includes enough of a description of the manuscript to catch the agent’s interest and get the agent asking for more. Many agents currently prefer to receive queries over e-mail, but some still prefer snail-mailed queries. Queries should be professional and contain no errors if at all possible.

Partial Request: An agent may ask for the first few chapters of a manuscript to see if they like the writer’s writing style. Any percentage of the manuscript that is not the entire manuscript is considered a partial request. This is often referred to simply as “a partial.”

Full Request: An agent may also ask to see the entire manuscript. This is called a full request (often just “a full”), and agents almost never agree to represent a fiction manuscript without seeing the full manuscript first.

Synopsis: Agents and editors will also sometimes ask for a synopsis. This is a summary of the entire manuscript, frequently written in 1-5 pages (depending on the agent.) It should include the most important plot of the manuscript, but might not include subplots or even all the characters. It should include the final resolution of the story, and it should be written in story form, not in bullet points. It is also considered an example of a writer’s writing, so it should exemplify the same voice as the manuscript and contain no errors. (links for "how to write a synopsis")

Note that, for every "most," "almost," and "usually," there are exceptions. These are general rules, and I'm sure you can find counterexamples for almost every single one of them. The idea, though, is to give you a general definition to go by, so don't think too hard about any of these. You can always do in-depth research later.
Questions? Additional definition requests? There are a lot of terms writers are expected to navigate, so don't be afraid to ask! Also, I suggest checking out Jessica Faust's expanded list of publishing definitions.