Ask the Author: Jenny Snow — Describe the moment you went from “trying the writing thing” to being a professional writer. What changed inward and outwardly? How did your outcomes change?
Aaron: I’ve always been a writer, but when I went to Blue Ridge for the first time, I took a few classes which encouraged us to think of ourselves as writers, not as those who like to write. That was pretty instrumental for me. That’s when it ceased to be a hobby for me and became a professional path. It encouraged me to pursue my MFA and to actively seek publication. The biggest change was the fact that I began writing consistently, rather than whenever the mood struck me. And because I became diligent and consistent in my writing, my craft improved to the point where I was writing publishable books and stories.
AL: It was a long process. I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but then again, I wanted to be many things. In junior high school I learned that I hated typing class and I didn’t much like English. Still, in early adulthood I messed around with articles and a few nonfiction ideas. I had a few small piece published and that cemented the idea. I wrote a novel when an idea began haunting me. I let it sit for five years. I rewrote it and managed to sell it. That began my novel writing career. When I turned 50 I decided that if I was going to write full time I had better give it a go sooner than later. I made the jump.
MJ: I’d hardly call myself a professional writer – yet, at least compared to current company. I’m getting there. I can say, one of the most important things you can do to advance your career, whatever it is, is take the word “aspiring” out of your vocabulary. When I first became serious about writing for a living about ten years ago, I’d say “I’m an aspiring writer.” It wasn’t until I started saying “I’m a writer” that it became more real to me. That was a turning point in how I see myself, and how I present myself to others. It’s given me a confidence, a purpose, respect, and a sense of professionalism. The turn-key moment came when Stephen J Cannell responded to an email I’d sent him in 2007, seeking advice for a writing career. Rather than just a private email, he used it in his video series and to this day it’s still the top video on his website. In that moment, I realized I didn’t want to be “aspiring”. I wanted to be a writer. And if Stephen J Cannell thought my dialogue was important enough to respond to and share, it must mean I had something worth sharing.
THE BIZ: The Changing World of Publication
Aaron: Pops, you’ve been at this “writing” thing for a long time. What are the most prominent changes you’ve seen in the industry since you started publishing?
My first novel was published in 1996. That means this is the 20th anniversary of my first book length work. I did short piece writing before that. So yes, I’ve been around for awhile.
- Mergers that have led to few “big” publishers. These are the New York houses. There used to be a dozen or so big “legacy” publishers, now there are a handful of big houses buying other houses or parts of other houses.
- General market publishers buying up Christian publishers or starting their own Christian line (BDD and Waterbrook–Random House bought BDD.)
- Christian houses have merged or bought other publishers.
- The gorilla in the room, however, is Amazon. Amazon changed everything.
- First, in how we buy books.
- Led to the closing of many independent stores then to the shuttering of larger chains. B&N remains but it has passed through the fires.
- Brick and mortar bookstores may become a quaint recollection.
Aaron: What do you think these changes mean for our listeners who are not published?
- For most authors, the need for a good agent becomes even more desirable. A good agent keeps up with all of this and the business side too.
- It’s no longer enough to just be the author and let others worry about the details. The twenty-first century writer needs to know more about the business than ever before.
- Competition for the publishers’ eyes and ears is more important than before.
- Today’s writer must be creative not only in story creation but in business. This requires open eyes and open minds.
Aaron: What advice would you give those who have published one or two titles, but hope to publish more?
- That writer has a foot in the door. Editors will return calls; agents are more likely to be interested. But, the writer must keep in mind that this is a business and that the publisher can back out anytime. I’ve seen the defy their own contract.
- Do everything to make the book a success. Writers (and I’m talking about me here) want to live the mirage: alone with a computer, a book to write, a nice cup of coffee, a few checks to deposit, and an Irish Setter sleeping at our feet. That would be nice but today–and I’ll go on record as saying this is publishing’s worst move–writers must be promoters. Easier to do with nonfiction.
- The sad truth is that the only the bestselling writers get great promo packages.
- Some famous authors got started selling books out of the trunk of their car.
- No matter how good you are as a writer strive to be better.
Aaron: Self-publishing is a thing now. What advice do you have for self-publishers? Should this be our first option? A last resort?
- We’re back to the tsunami created by Amazon.com Amazon not only changed how we buy books but how we publish them.
- I know many established writers with a dozen or more books under their belt who have chosen the self-publishing route.
- Kindle changed everything. And that came about in 2007 after four years of development. It sold for $400.
- Amazon was not the first (Sony, Kobo, etc) but they made it fast and easy.
- Then they introduced the Kindle App so you can read on almost any device.
- No one, not even Apple or Barnes & Noble can offer much competition.
- Amazon is not the only source for E-book: iBooks, Nook (BN), Smashwords, Kobo, others.
- 50% of adults in America have some form of e-reader.
- Createspace (now an Amazon company) made it possible to publish print book without the author spending a dime. Different from a vanity press that publishes a book for a fee and requires the author to buy a garage full of copies.
Aaron: Are there any risks with self-publishing?
- There are risks to everything. If you do all the work yourself, then you risk a large amount of time. If you hire someone to do it for you, then you run the risk of being cheated, losing your copyright, or having the business drop of the map. Many are mom and pop stores.
- There is a great deal of competition.
- When you self-publish you become the publisher as well as the writer and assume all the publisher risks.
Aaron: Okay, say I’ve self-published a novel already. Does that mean I won’t get a shot to land a traditional publisher?
- Andy Weir’s book THE MARTIAN was self-published in 2011 but picked up by Crown Publishing in 2014 and reissued.
- As we record this, a publisher is considering picking up the first three compilations of The Harbinger series . . .