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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why Go With A Traditional Publisher in the Age of Self-Publishing?

It’s a great question, and one that can turn the tension factor up a notch in a room that’s populated by both traditionally-published authors and self-published authors. Even internet chat rooms aren’t immune to the feeling of gee-I-hope-this-goes-okay when the topic comes up.

Inevitably there’s always someone who says that we all have to do what is “right for us as individuals,” or what “fits our own career paths and goals.” I think such phrases were probably bandied about at Hatfield and McCoy family picnics right before the six-shooters came out.

Does this mean I think that’s an incorrect statement? No.

I absolutely and totally think that every author does need to do what is best for them, but I would add that every author needs to be completely and totally aware of what each path holds before they go running down it.

A lot of people go the self-publishing route because it is faster, and they are in total control. In a sense, isn’t this an easier, better choice?

Easier in some senses, yes. There’s the gratification of getting your work “out there” much faster than in the trad-pub world. And – a major selling point for self-pubs – the revenue generated by your sales are yours. Not a publishing house’s. Not an agent’s. Yours. And hey, that’s great.

Yet it’s also harder in some senses. Cover design? Up to you. Copyediting? Pay somebody. And – the big one – Marketing? That’s on you, too. And that’s what trips me up, bigtime. Like I landed on my face and ended up with my two front teeth down in my lower intestine.

Marketing is HARD. I mean hard like learning how to ice skate on your nose-hairs is hard. I’ve been blogging over at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire for over two years. I do book reviews, author interviews, ARC giveaways, query critiques, agent features and offer oh-so-interesting-snippets of my real life. I blog at least five days a week. It’s work of the brain-squeezing type. And I have less than 600 followers (and I love all less-than-600 of you, don’t get me wrong).

tweet. I have a Facebook author page. I’m a volunteer moderator at AgentQuery Connect. I participate in the group blogs The Lucky 13sFriday the ThirteenersThe League of Extraordinary WritersFrom the Write Angle and Book Pregnant. I have a Pinterest board for NOT A DROP TO DRINK comprised of my own photography. I make vlogs. I do everything any socially-networking minded person can do and still have time to write.

And I’m not a household name by any stretch of the imagination. Granted – I don’t have a product to actually sell at the moment. DRINK won’t be releasing until September 24th.

But I did participate in a group anthology called SPRING FEVERS from the independent publisher The Elephant’s Bookshelf. I can come off as not flattering myself when I say that it’s pretty darn good, as I’m not the only author in the book. I used every avenue mentioned above to help promote SPRING FEVERS, as did my fellow authors in the collection. The e-book is even offered for free on Kindle.

I’m not going to tell you how many downloads we have, but I will say that it breaks my heart and leaves me in awe of people that succeed in self-publishing. Truly in awe.

This is why going the trad-pub route was right for me. I can’t think outside the box when it comes to promotion and marketing. The sheer number of blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and self-published books available makes me want to burrow into a hole and hope for the best as opposed to standing up and proving that I’m different from them in a really new and awesome way.

With the marketing department of a traditional publishing house behind me I don’t have to do that. And that’s good because I can’t do that. It’s not what I’m made for.

I don’t mind signing away the money (and yes, the rights too!) that I gave my house when we went into contract because they’re offering me something I don’t have – a massive built-in following, shelf space in major retailers, an art department to make my cover, and who knows what kind of marketing that I couldn’t finance in a million years of working as a high-school librarian.

And I’m offering them something they don’t have – my book. I look at is as win-win.

But other people cringe at exactly the same thing I welcome with open arms, and that’s why self-publishing exists, and why it’s very popular. It’s also lucrative… for some.

I can’t remember who, but awhile back an agent tweeted that self-publishing is not a guaranteed money-making success anymore than being trad-pubbed automatically means you’re going to be the next Stephen King. The vast majority of trad-pubbed authors also have a day job. I’m willing to bet the same is true for self-pubs.

We’re not all that different. And I really wish all of us could just go ahead and accept that. Some authors are willing to make certain sacrifices, while others would rather sacrifice something else.

And that’s totally cool. We don’t get to tell each other which sacrifices are the right ones.

I see a lot of polite head-butting, a lot of agreeing to disagree. What bothers me is that if we all insist that the grass is greener on our side of the fence, pretty soon the vast amount of bile that’s being spread on both sides is going to kill all the grass, everywhere.

How Much Research is Enough?

Research can drive a writer nuts if you let it… because it is just about impossible to get something (anything) 100% right. Facts, as the man once said, are stubborn things…

Years ago, while researching TALES OF THE EASTERN INDIANS (my book of Native-American stories), I’d come across  a recent scholarly article on the Vikings’ first voyages to the “New World” and their meetings with the North American tribes. We’re talking hot-off-the-presses world-recognized-expert stuff. I soon contacted another Viking expert for some accompanying info and during our communication, mentioned this article in passing entirely to prove to him how well I’d done my homework. His response: “Oh, THAT article! Yeah, Dr. So-N-So doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s off by 200 years.” Zoinks!

At the recent Thrillerfest, an author (Anne Rice? Michael Palmer?) recounted how she/he’d constructed a fictional city council based on a real city council known personally/thoroughly and has since received vehement and meticulous letters from a reader detailing how a city council would “NEVER” do this or that. Lots of city councils out there. Michael Connelly, who’d spent years as a reporter in courtrooms, is stopped often by folk with: “I can’t believe how well you nailed X. That’s exactly how we do it.” and “Can’t believe how much you screwed up X. That would never happen.”

There’s always another expert, reader, article, or discovery lying in wait with different info than what you found. I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out when Vikings first landed in North America, and at the end of that life would still have people arguing about and/or altering my findings.

In PROJECT CAIN and CAIN’S BLOOD, I got to research serial killers, cloning, military science, post-traumatic stress disorder, the genetics of violence, and crime. Interesting topics. Did I get everything right? Doubtful. Difficult to do when even something as basic as Ted Bundy’s eye color becomes arguable. “Blue” says one report, “Brown” claims another witness. “Green,” Bundy replies himself in the court transcript. “They change color depending on the light,” says a reporter following the case. They change color??!! <yanks hair> The FBI said blue, so I went with that. The FBI was a good-enough source for me. Might someone who knew Bundy have a better/different fact? Maybe. But I had two books to write and couldn’t spend the next four years of my life deciding what Bundy’s eye color was.

Every writer must come up with his/her own rules on this stuff. Mine are this:

  1. Research as comprehensively  and precisely as you can.
  2. Find consensus between several sources.
  3. Then tell/use the best truth you can find.

Simple, right? Does it guarantee I get everything right. Nope. Even “facts” and “statistics” can change source to source. But, unless I want to spend forty years on each book and still get something wrong, it’s a pretty good start.

Maybe YOUR rules will be different. James Frey (author of A Million Little Pieces) infamously got in hot water for the truth bending he’d used for his best-selling book… but his next book, fictional Bright Shiny Morning, he admitted proudly, “If I saw something , a statistic, I wanted to use but it wasn’t quite right for what I wanted, I just changed it.” (Mark Twain suggests, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”) It IS Fiction, after all.  And I found Frey’s stance quite freeing as a writer (still do), but it didn’t really fit me. So, all in, PROJECT CAIN and CAIN’S BLOOD are some 700 pages, and only once – in a total nod to this Frey interview — do I intentionally bend the “truth” of history to augment the fiction.  The rest, to the best of my two-years research, is “accurate.” Debatable? Of course. Few things aren’t. My father, a historian, recently gathered with other American-diplomacy scholars at Harvard to discuss the conditions leading to Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was not, 60 years later and several lifetimes spent studying the topics, consensus on that panel. How’s the adage go? Ask two <insert profession here> a question, and you’ll get three answers.

Best bet is to (a) establish your own ground rules early and (b) accept that you’ll still never be perfect regardless of your rules and (c) appreciate that the world is like your favorite in-law/sibling who has completely different “facts” from the ones you dug up… and just think of it as Thanksgiving dinner all year long. Now, pass the gravy, please…

How to support your favorite debut authors

Have you read some great debut YA or MG books this year and want to share the love with friends, family, followers and the authors themselves? Here are some ideas for how to do just that:

Buy their books. Okay, this one may seem like a no-brainer, but in this day of free ARCs and e-book sharing it’s important to remember that most authors need to be able to pay their bills in order to write.

Talk them up. Are you a social media maven, or even just starting to check out Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc? Why not share the love of your favorite new books by telling friends and followers how much you enjoyed that debut standalone or that first book in a series? Many people I know (myself included) file enthusiastic recommendations in the To-Be-Read section of our brains. Social media is a great way to have conversations about books we love.

Check them out. Are you a library patron? Check your local library database to be sure your favorite books can be found there. If not, suggest that the library order some copies. Librarians do listen to their patrons, and as well-read as most librarians are, they might not have heard of every new author out there.

Stock the shelves. The next time you’re in your favorite bookstore, check the shelves to make sure your favorite new authors’ books are there. If not, ask the store to order a few copies. Shelf space is often an issue, but stores listen to their customers, too – especially when positive recommendations are given.

What’s your favorite way to support the new authors and books you love?

Reading 45 POUNDS of Reviews

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The number one piece of advice that published authors have given me as I prepare for the release of 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS): Do not read your reviews. It’ll only make you crazy. It’s not that I didn’t believe them. It’s just so hard not to. Imagine someone is talking about you and you know it. How can you not eavesdrop, especially if you have anonymous access? And Google, Goodreads, and Amazon give us instant access.

OK, I admit it. The temptation has been too much for me. Just like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia yodeling from the freezer, Goodreads and Google Alerts call my name, too. I read them. And I eat the ice cream, too! I have no self-control. Here’s the thing: Just like ice cream, the first few reviews can be so sweet and soothing and wonderful. Five-star, glowing reviews feel good. They’re addictive. I keep telling myself I’ll stop. Tomorrow. Or after release. Or after one makes me cry. Or after I read just one more. Just one more.

Even though I haven’t listened, I have figured out why authors warn not to read them:

1. I cannot reply. Reviews are not conversations that include the author. They’re dialogue between readers. (Unless, of course, the author is invited.) My part of the conversation is writing the book. Now I need to shut up and let others read and react. (If you know me, you know shutting up is not my forte.) It’s hard not to chime in. In other words, at some point, authors need to exercise restraint—either by not reading the reviews or by not responding to them. Restraint is hard.

2. Not everyone is going to like the book. On a logical level, I’m fine with that. I don’t like all books either, sometimes even those that everyone loves. I know that I am not my book. I know that if someone doesn’t like my book, that doesn’t mean s/he doesn’t like me. S/he doesn’t know me. That is the logical level. The emotional reality is that if someone doesn’t like my book, it can feel like they told the world my newborn baby is butt-ugly. It’s as if s/he is proclaiming that I’m a hack who wasted years of my life writing a hack book and that I should not have quit my day job. Or learned to type.

3. Some people are going to love the book. How is this a problem, you ask? Well, overall, it’s not. But have you ever overindulged in Cherry Garcia and rode a roller coaster? (Oh, c’mon, hasn’t everyone?) Binging on good, bad, and mixed reviews is just a bumpy, nauseating emotional roller coaster. They love me! I rock! They hate me! I suck! They love me! I think I’m going to puke.

4. When I’m focused on reviews, I’m not focused where I need to be—on my next book. Look for it summer 2015, as long as I can pull myself together long enough to write it. (Just kidding, sort of.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I seriously appreciate every single person who takes the time to read my book and write a thoughtful review, even if it’s critical. Actually, while I’m here, I need to talk about the plus side to reading reviews. I’ve learned a lot from them about what readers like and dislike. Reviewers read A LOT and really understand what works and what doesn’t. Since the review “conversation” is between readers, they’re honest about it. On a logical day, that is very helpful. I’ve learned about phrases and words and ideas that are overdone and even offensive. I don’t want to repeat those things in my next book(s), so I’m grateful for that insight—info I’d miss if I hadn’t read the reviews.

I’ve also met a lot of wonderful reviewers. They’re smart and articulate, and they also really love books, just like I do. I want to be accessible to all readers—when invited, of course. For that reason, I will reply if someone Tweets directly to me or if a reader contacts me through my website. However, just so that I can keep the boundaries straight in my own head, I will not “like” a review, even a glowing one, or comment on them. Some authors do—and that’s great—but I’m afraid that if I allowed myself to, I’d be too tempted to comment where I shouldn’t. Or I’d “like” everything to be “fair” and end up looking like a creepy stalker.

Sometimes it’s important to know your limits—with reviews and with Cherry Garcia. Both are tempting and deliciously wonderful, but both are also best in moderation.

My book 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) releases today!!! I’m beyond thrilled and thankful to everyone who’s created buzz about it. Even though I haven’t commented, I’ve noticed. You are awesome! If I could, I’d take you all out for ice cream.

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Class of 2K13 at ALA

ALA was so amazing! We had over 150 librarians attend our panel and trivia game!

Here is Liesl finishing up putting swag in the swag bags! We got there early to set up…

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and there was already a line outside!

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Here we all are at the front table for our quick pitch…we each had 30 seconds to talk about our books. Also a special shout out to our moderator, the wonderful Veronica Roth.

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And then it was time for to play trivia! It was a close game but Stephanie’s team beat out all the rest to win it!

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Yay Class of 2K13!

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Top Row: Geoffrey, Tara, Kate, Kelly, Stephanie, Cristin, Caela, Tamera, Nicole

Bottom Row: Jennifer, Liesl, Demitria, Polly, Mindy, Debra, Lydia

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