Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Started

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Thanks to bensound.com for the intro and outro music.

ASK THE AUTHOR: From Jacqueline Patterson: Indie or traditional publishing: which would route would you recommend for an unpublished writer?

AARON: That’s a tough one. I’m of the mind that one should always give traditional publishing a chance. You have to be patient with the industry, though, as it is SUPER slow. Give yourself a time table (maybe a year or so) for your agent (if you have one) to shop your project around. Collect a few rejection slips. Then, keep waiting. If, for whatever reason, your book isn’t catching on at any of the major houses, you can look at some more indie publishers to see what they can offer you. That being said, all of my novels are with LPC/Brimstone, which I assume you would classify as “Indie.” And I love them. But it doesn’t mean I don’t submit my books to more “traditional” advance-paying publishers. I think it’s really best to keep your options open. Just understand, smaller indie publishers usually have a faster turn around and acceptance time (at least LPC is pretty quick). Because of that, if you submit to Indie publishers and traditional publishers at the same time, expect to hear back from the indies sooner. You can use that as a bargaining chip if you want, but it likely doesn’t work. I had TOR on the line for Hand of Adonai at one point when Brimstone offered me the contract. TOR’s response, when I let them know, was, “Yes, we like it, but don’t wait for us.” I’m sure Pops has a much more thorough and insightful answer than I do. Pops?

AL: I think every serious writer wants to be picked up by a traditional publisher. First a few terms to get down. Traditional publisher (also known as legacy publishers) are established houses that offer the full range of services including an advance. An advance is any money paid against future royalties. You will receive no more money until the advance “earns out.” Indie publishing can refer to two things: 1) a small publishing firm that publishes a limited amount books, usually pays no or very little advance, and may work on a “shared risk” basis. Some of these offer much better royalty rates; 2) a person who publishes their own work. Don’t confuse this with vanity press. Some people chose to self-publish because their work doesn’t fit what standard publishers produce, or they have ways of selling books and therefore keep all the profits. Many established authors have added self-publishing work to their business.

Short answer: Try the traditional route first. If you don’t, you will always wonder what might have been. While you wait for an answer, write another book.

MOLLY: I published The Unemployment Cookbook myself. I actually formed my sole-proprietor company, New Inklings Press, to do so. I already had family and friends ready to buy, and I knew shopping it around would take a while. My brother is a marketing/ad exec and does his own printwork on the side. I came up with the format of how I wanted the Cookbook to be, and he developed the full layout, and found a printer capable of doing what we wanted. Because it was a small print shop, the fees were lower. I couldn’t fathom giving a publisher funds for all our hard work, so I self published. I also have several small publications available on Kindle, which I couldn’t do on my own if I had a traditional publisher. I love the freedom it offers for my “little” writing projects.

Having said all that, when NOLA is ready, I plan to shop it around, or find an agent to do so, because traditional/legacy publishing can open doors to a much bigger market.

Firsts in Fiction

WILDCARD: Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Started

So here we are, writers, with novels under our belts. Years of experience behind us. And yet, there are always things we wish we’d known at the outset of our journey. I think it’s fair to say that we wouldn’t change much of our journeys, just that we might have taken a slightly different route, or better prepared ourselves for what was to come. Here’s a quick list of things we’d wished we’d known before we started in this business.

The Work

There is a difference between the dream of writing and the real world of writing. In the real world:

  • Solitary confinement
    • Most writers enjoy this. Their office space is their spaceship, time machine, their factory of ideas. Novelists often spend more time with their characters than with real people.
  • Slow process; slow business
    • VERY slow. It’s like watching turtles race.
    • Publishing is a process not an event (Al’s axiom #26)
  • The problem of moving targets
    • Hard to know what’s going to sell in a few years. The book you’re writing now, while it may be culturally relevant, may seem “dated” when the next craze hits. It’s best to write what you love, not because it’s popular, but because you love it.
      • I think this will also give you a better opportunity for publication. If you care about what you write, it will show. If you care about getting published, your work may be rushed or sloppy.
    • Publishers are constantly adjusting to new trends (or supposed trends). I’ve seen publishers turn on a dime.
  • Competition is heavy
    • There are a lot of writers out there, and only so many contracts. Publishers’ calendars fill up quickly, and they only take the best of the best. It’s not enough to just love what you do. You have to practice, you have to work, you have to improve. It’s like any other discipline in that regard. Constant self-improvement is mandatory.
    • It’s important to remember that some of the most famous writers met with rejection after rejection. Tom Clancy, Stephen King, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, and many more.
  • Dealing with editors who are not writers
    • This can be a challenge. It’s best to extend them some grace while holding to your guns at the same time. If you’ve got a particularly challenging editor, maybe consider taking up your issues with the publisher. Remember, you’re under contract, so they have the final say.
    • In most cases, the editor is your friend and partner. I’ve had only a couple of problems over 20 years and it was usually from an editor who was new to the job.
    • Nonetheless, as solitary as the writer’s life is, it also includes a great deal of interaction with others. “Writing is a solitary pursuit; publishing is a team sport.” (Al’s Axiom #27)
    • I’ve heard Aaron say over and over, and as an editor I agree: You must have communication with your editor. It’s important to know editing is subjective and based on the author’s style. Aaron dislikes exclamation points, I love ellipses . . .
  • I and I alone am responsible for my business
    • You must manage your own work.
    • You must manage your agent.
    • You must, at times, manage your publisher.
    • They’re all people dealing with scores of other writers. As such, they overlook things and make mistakes–just like you do.
  • “Beware the naked man who offers you his shirt”
    • As a general rule, naked men are not to be trusted. Ever. 🙂
    • This line comes from one of Harvey Mackay’s nonfiction books (1996)
    • I sometimes change it to: “Beware the naked man who offers to sell you his shirt.” The principle here is this: A person can’t sell what they don’t have (although many a conman has tried). My point is, be careful where you get your advice.
      • Years ago, I noticed something surprising: the people who were penning “how to write” books usually had little or no experience. They may have had one book published and now want to teach the world how to do it. When I looked up what those how-to authors had published, I often came up with very little. So I started focusing on books by people who have been in the game for awhile.
      • The Internet is choked with unqualified teachers. It also has a great many qualified teachers. Learn to tell the difference.

The Publishers

  • Turnovers are more than pastries FOOD REFERENCE!
  • It’s no fun being an orphan
  • Profit driven (but so are authors) [compassion doesn’t sell illustration]
  • There is a lot of upside down thinking
  • Publishers go to great lengths to protect themselves (so should writers)

The Readers

  • More powerful than you think
    • Word of mouth still sells more books than any other means. Strike the right chords with readers and you can expect great sales; misjudge the readers and you book will do little but gather dust.
    • Too many returns can get a book taken from the shelves. Returns cost publishers money. Some pub contracts allow the publisher to withhold some of your royalty to pay for returns.
    • By the way, the stores don’t return the whole book, they rip the cover off and send it back. Why?
  • Amateur reviewers
    • We can thank online retailers like Amazon.com for this. On Amazon, a purchaser can pass judgment on anything they’ve purchased through site. Many have no idea what they’re doing. Trolls and haters abound.
    • Some bloggers like to review books. My experience has been pretty good with these but I’m always a little leary. But then again I’m (Al) a little paranoid. Al’s Axiom #10: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean no one is out to get you.”
  • Professional reviewers
    • This is a different breed of review but sometimes you’ll face the same problem as you do with amateur reviewers. (I once had a book reviewed in a major magazine. The author was critical of the book. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it had been my book she was talking about. She used my title but described an entirely different book.)

The Bookstores

  • Publishing is in a state of upheaval. Many things continue as they did, but it is not the same world.
    • On demand printing changed the way publishers fulfill orders.
    • E-books changed, well, everything.
    • Bookstores have almost gone the way of the Dodo.
    • Most bookselling takes place online.
    • Amazon has conquered much of publishing and changed the way we purchase books, share books, discover books, read books, and more.
    • This wasn’t true when I (Al) entered the biz a little over 20 years ago.

The Emotions

  • the great joy
    • Being a writer can bring you great joy. Seeing your book in print is thrilling. Back to the Future, 1985, McFly’s father opens a box containing author copies of his first sci-fi book. I remember thinking, “I want to get a box like that.” I did, 10 years later.
  • the price of creativity
    • Creativity often comes at a price. It can be an emotional rollercoaster.
      • Too many ideas
      • Lack of endurance
      • Doubt and confidence take turns.
  • living privately in a public place
    • The thing about art is that artist exposes himself/herself to the opinions of the public. That can be good and encouraging; it can also be painful.
    • Sometimes people try to take advantage of you.
      • Free advice
      • Endorse my book
      • Read my book
      • Edit my book
  • quitting every Monday
    • Those who pursue writing know that they often want to quit. I give you permission to quit. You just can’t stay quit. Give yourself a day off, a week off, but not much more. Quit frequently if you must but go back to the keyboard.

1 Comment on Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Started

  1. Great show. Thanks for sharing out of your experience, Al.
    Yeah, okay. I appreciate you too Aaron and Molly Jo. :-p

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