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Category: publishing

Shakespeare Got To Get Paid, Son

BuyMyBookI’m going to go ahead and make a bold statement: If you want to become an author because it’ll make you lots of money, you’re in it for the wrong reason. Yes, there are authors who have publishers back up to their front yards and dump truckloads of bundled cash every day, but they are very, very few and far between and there isn’t one of them who didn’t toil away in obscurity for a long time before getting the elusive “big break.” There are also a decent handful of non-A-list authors who do make a decent living selling their books, and yes, some of them do so completely by self-publishing, but pretty much all of them have the following in common:

  • They had books published traditionally before they began self-publishing
  • They spend a LOT of time marketing
  • They have editors who make sure they don’t put a load of crap on the shelves

And even then, all of them will tell you that they didn’t start writing because of the financial promise of publishing. I say this bold statement as the author of 13 published works, only one of which has earned me any money, and as someone who often comes across people who feel lured into writing a book simply because they see dollar signs behind the 75% royalties services like Amazon direct publishing provide.

I’m not taking a stance on traditional vs. self-publishing. They each have their share of advantages and their equal share of drawbacks, and I think all good authors should have a healthy mix of both in their portfolio. Case in point, if you are an author with a healthy backlist of published novels that are now out of print, you’re a moron if you don’t have them on Amazon. At the same time though, if you think hastily writing one book and self-publishing it on Amazon will yield you infinite riches, you are also a moron.

I understand as well as the next guy that writers need to get paid, but the labor of writing should never be driven by money. This is of course my opinion, and it’s why I have a full-time gig that keeps me housed and clothed and whatnot so that my writing can always be a labor of love, and the two-average book sales I make per month are just icing on the cake that buys me a pizza every now and then. Granted, I could probably make more sales if I spent more time advertising, but as I already mentioned, I have a full time job that monopolizes much of my time (which I am fine with), and I also recognize that my efforts are better spent not trying to market my first book, but to write a better book. Your first book is never your best book. If you think it is, you’re a moron. Not my opinion there, either; you’re objectively a moron. I once thought my first book was the best and I could never equal it. I was wrong, and also a moron.

So in long-awaited conclusion: if you’re writing and selling a book for the sole purpose of making money, don’t. Even if it manages to not be an inferior piece of work, you’ve got a hell of an upstream swim to keep sales rolling in if you haven’t already made a name for yourself or don’t know how to effectively promote (less-than-semi-pro tip: tweeting “Buy my book!” 80 times a day is not effective promotion). If you love writing and want nothing more than to see your name in print, do what Kevin Carroll calls “the lonely work of a champion.”

  1. Take the time to write a really great book. I mean super soldier serum great. Write it until you think it’s good enough, then rewrite it until it’s actually good. Then write it again until it’s great. Don’t put something on the shelf that you wouldn’t be proud to call yours.
  2. For the love of GOD, don’t skip the editing process. There is a reason editors have jobs, and it’s impossible to objectively judge your own work. Assume your readers have half a brain and vomit in their mouths a little when they read a typo in a published work. Don’t make your readers vomit.
  3. Do some serious evaluation before self-publishing. Maybe it’s right for you; maybe it isn’t. Calculate how much time you have to devote to marketing. Put some queries out there to publishers to get a feel for how the book might be received. No one’s going to force you to take their book deal (I promise you), and yeah, some of them are crappy.
  4. Build a brand for your author persona, regardless of how you publish. Yes, it is easier said than done and I am still figuring it out myself. When I figure out the magic sauce recipe, you’ll be the first to know.
  5. Write more books. It’s a lot easier to earn a year’s salary when you have more things to sell, regardless of the royalty percentage you get. And spend some of your royalty earnings on pizza. It’s my version of living the high life.
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Help me pick my back cover text (and digital equivalent)

As the publication date (though still concretely undetermined) draws closer and closer for Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook, I am playing around with the back cover text, or product description in the digital world. Any writer will tell you that this is one of the hardest things to do, since it is so hard to persuasively and objectively write about your own work. So much so that it’s often outsourced on elance to the tune of $6.00 an hour. While I could certainly afford this (even though I find it insulting), I try to not to make a habit of paying people to do things I am – or at least should be – perfectly capable of doing myself.

That said, I’m certainly not above asking y’all if it’s total crap. Or more kindly, which description piques your interest the most. So have a gander, let me know what you think, and grow your impetus for getting Portrait of Woman in Ink at the first possible moment. I’m not sure that impetus is the right word for this situation, but I digress…

Product Description 1

Whether you’re an avid body art collector or a Luddite who believes tattooed women have thrust themselves into the clutches of Satan himself, there’s no denying tattoos have become a mainstay for Gen-Xers and the Millennials. Thirty years ago, women with tattoos were viewed through eyes that saw them as freaks, while today young women proudly sport ink, even if they sometimes have to wear long sleeves to maintain propriety in less-enlightened professional or family company.

Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook is a series of literary vignettes about real, everyday women and their tattoos that, while they may seem insignificant at the time, are a symbol of the larger struggles and triumphs that make them who they are (and aren’t freaks because of it). The collection also explores the idea of tattoos bringing together women from different worlds, and teaching them how their worlds might not be as far apart as they originally thought. Portrait of Woman in Ink will touch your heart, make you snicker under your breath, and make you rethink the next time you see a woman sporting a tattoo.

Product Description 2

Twelve women, twelve tattoos, and a narrative thread that weaves them all together, Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook is a collection of stories that answers the question in the back of your mind when you see an inked woman: what does your tattoo mean? (or sometimes – what were you thinking?) From a parent’s suicide to the birth of an unlikely child, the stories behind why women tattoo themselves are literally worn on their sleeves, and retold on these pages with a literary twist.

Complete with artwork from the original tattoo artists and a foreword by women’s studies professor Dr. Marta Vicente, Portrait of Woman in Ink is a literary celebration of a woman’s defiance of traditional norms, transforming their skin in a way that was once acceptable only for criminals and sailors. These stories will touch your heart, make you snicker under your breath, and make you rethink the next time you see a woman proudly sporting a tattoo.

Product Description 3

Who says tattoos are unladylike? (Besides your mother, your pastor, and your boss…) Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook is a collection of tales from women who so wanted the world to know their stories that they put the words into a picture and etched it permanently on their bodies. These stories are tragic, hilarious, absurd, and touching all at the same time, with a narrative thread that connects each story to the one before it.

Complete with artwork from the original tattoo artists and a foreword by one of academia’s foremost voices in women’s studies, Portrait of Woman in Ink is a series of literary vignettes about real, everyday women and their tattoos that, while they may seem insignificant at the time, are a symbol of the larger struggles and triumphs that make them who they are. The collection explores the idea of tattoos bringing together women from different worlds, and teaching them how their worlds might not be as far apart as they originally thought.

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Those poems I had accepted 3 years ago? Finally in print!

215311_10200854804393258_414926138_nIn the before time, the long long ago (circa Feb 2010), Kelly I. Hitchcock had her first two poems accepted for publication by Clackamas Literary Review. These poems were Crayola Caste System and Skipping Stones. Many moons passed and Kelly began to wonder when the journal would be published and whether she should start sending some of her work to other journals. After all, this was one of those ancient texts which operate on mailed in submissions and federal grant funding. She at one point even used a telephone device to contact the Clackamas English department after several electronic mail pony expresses went unanswered; she just wanted to know if and when the fruits of her labor would appear on the page of this mysterious volume.

Well, just three short years later, that day is finally here. As of May 2013, the 2010 edition (I know, right?) of Clackamas Literary Review is finally published, along with the two poems that were accepted all those years ago. You can even purchase it on this newfangled thing called Amazon.

Okay, I poke fun a little bit. It’s certainly a poorly kept secret that the publishing industry is slow-ass-slow. Even so, a three year publication timeline for work that was already submitted by contributors and accepted by the editing staff is embarrassingly slow. I mean, in over three years, the following things have happened:

The work computer on which I wrote Crayola Caste System was two work computers ago.

The guy I was seeing (?) at the time I wrote Skipping Stones is now engaged to someone else, and I am married to someone else.

Obama was elected to a second term.

I had ten other poems and short stories get accepted and published by other literary journals.

I published one novel and wrote another.

Still, I never take a publication for granted. Any time I can have my work be accepted by a journal, it is a distinct honor, and having these two poems appear in Clackamas Literary Review is no exception. We all know it’s tough for print journals these days, but I can’t help but look at this situation with an adapt-or-die viewpoint. If it takes a publisher three years to go to print, eventually its reputation for slow-ass-slow publication timelines will supersede its reputation for quality contributions. Also, if you’re going to charge people to buy the print journal using online retailers such as Amazon, wouldn’t it be easy enough to offer it for electronic reading and open a new revenue stream?

But hey, that’s why I’m the writer and not the business person. And if you have $10 to spare, feel free to grab yourself a copy of the 2010 edition of Clackamas Literary Review. And maybe the 2011 issue in  2015, or the 2012 issue in 2025…

 

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It’s a deal! Portrait of Woman in Ink newest member of Bird Brain Publishing family

Yep; it’s the longest blog title ever, but I’m so happy about getting this deal done I can’t think of a better abbreviation. After a needlessly long contract process, I’ve signed a book deal with Bird Brain Publishing for my second novel, Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook. We don’t have a release date defined yet, but it’ll be coming on quickly since we’ve already finished our editing process.

Now we have to do all the artwork, which is quite a bit more involved than a standard book with it being about tattoos and all. But I think it’ll go pretty quickly since they’ve got some talented graphics people on their small team.

I first queried them way back in July. Believe it or not, they were actually the first ones I queried, and one of the first small presses I had on my short list who expressed interest in the project. As a few more publishers expressed interest, our negotiations process stretched out a bit, but anything worth doing is worth doing right and taking your time with, and I am very excited about working with these crazy nice and talented peeps!

Plus, you know, it’s my first book deal, so I’ve got to be pretty stoked, right?

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The passive-aggressive breakup, part 2

Some time ago I mentioned that I had two publishers who were interested in my forthcoming novel, Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook. I also mentioned that both of them mysteriously stopped answering emails or returning phone calls for a little while. Frustrated out of my mind (hey – I don’t take kindly to being ignored), I contacted them both to have the DTR talk (defining the relationship, for those of you who’ve never had one… I mean, heard this term :D). Essentially, “Hey, are you still interested in me, or did that new girl from Valley steal you away from me?”

Okay, so I didn’t say it like that, and I don’t have anything against new girls (though we didn’t have many of them where I grew up), but I did ask if they were still interested in a very straightforward manner. To my surprise, both of them came back into the fold, saying they were still interested, and would be sending along contracts shortly. “Shortly” is a relative term in the publishing industry, I’ve found, as one of them sent their book deal contract along within a couple months. The other one however…

I kept talking with them, making sure they were still interested. They assured me that I was still very much on their radar and that my hair still looked good (metaphorically speaking). They strung me along for a bit, and even when I played the “I have another offer” card, they assured me that no other publisher could do for me what they could do for me, and that they’d have a deal over to me by the end of the month. That month, for your reference, was January.

In case you don’t own a calendar, it’s April, and they just told me TUH-DAY that they’ve decided to go in a new direction. I could be a little miffed at them, but how can I be, really? After all, I’m the one who let them string me along for 4 months, and didn’t just flat out say “Where’s my book deal, already?!” But I also can’t be angry with myself too much because I knew better than to let the door close on the first publisher who was interested, the ones who actually *did* have the consideration to send me the book deal they said they would, because I signed with them.

… But more on that in a post to come!

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In which I appear in a print anthology

In case you missed it, I had a poem published in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine back in May, my poem “Culley’s Pub: An Elegy“.

This same publisher is putting out a print anthology soon, and they’ve accepted Culley’s Pub to be part of this anthology. Yay! As per traditional publishing standards, I get a free copy of the anthology as payment for my work. Not complaining, just stating a fact.

As a little background, Culley’s Pub was my bar in college. Not by choice – my ex-husband always wanted to go there so we always went. Their signature drink was Mickey’s malt liquor, if that tells you anything. I’m told even the building Culley’s isn’t there anymore, so I suppose this is my way of immortalizing this seedy-ass dive bar.

In other news, I am starting a new job today so wish me luck.

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2012 is gone… what did I do?

It’s that goal-reflection and goal-setting time of year. The time when the whole world reflects on its activities completed in the year as it comes to a close, and determines what activities will transpire in the year to come. And buys a gym membership they use a lot in January, sparingly in February, and completely give up on by March.

I, for the record, spent far more days of 2012 in the gym than skipping it. So, what writerly activities did I complete in the last year?

I read 60 books.

Not to be all braggy, but that’s more than a book a week. The secret wasn’t having more time, although quitting my shockingly low-paying freelance gig did free up a little bit more time, the secret was having more access. I started volunteering for the library, which meant I could bring something home every week, download audiobooks to my iPod Touch, and borrow Kindle books. I had never really gotten into audiobooks before, but I found it to be a great reading addition for certain activities like lifting weights, putting away laundry, and walking to the bank.

I finished writing my second novel

It was a collaborative effort between an academic, eleven women with tattoos, and a handful of tattoo artists. The writing part was great; in fact I think it’s one of the best things I have ever written in my lifetime. Getting a publisher was a bjillion times easier than what I experienced with my first book, but boy howdy going through the hoops of the book deal process is hard. I’m not sure if it’s actually hard, or if it just feels that way, but stay tuned because it’s going to be hitting the shelves before you know it… I hope.

My first novel celebrated its first birthday

And in its first year, it got over 5,000 promotional downloads, and had significantly far less paid copies sold. It got 14 reviews on Amazon, only one of which was a 1-star-er,  3 reviews on Barnes and Noble, and 18 ratings on Goodreads. It made it to the semi-final round of The Kindle Book Review best independent book of 2011 contest. It also pissed off my mom.

I started writing my third novel

Full disclosure – it’s barely one chapter at this point, but it’s going to rock. It’ll also be my first novel-length work that uses true chapters instead of a series of short stories. We’ll see how the long form story works out for me.

I wrote other stuff

A handful of poems, a couple flash fiction pieces, nothing too crazy, and not nearly as much as I should have written. I only got a couple of things featured or published, which I again should have hit harder.

Yep, that was 2012. So what’s 2013 going to bring, besides more steady gym time (I do, after all, have to fit into a wedding dress)? Here are my goals, in no particular order.

  • Publish novel #2. This one’s at the top, because it will with any luck happen first. Stay tuned.
  • Finish writing novel #3. If I can write, edit, and publish novel #2 in a little over a year, I should really try to do that every year. Even with a full-time job.
  • ABQ. Always be querying. I need to keep all my poems, short stories, and other crap in constant rotation.
  • Start expanding my freelance portfolio, because I might not want to work for the man all my life.
  • Write more stuff.
  • Keep my workshop group going.
  • Show nothing but love for other authors (but still make fun of ridiculous library finds).

Authors – always be looking to improve your writing, your platform, and your abdominals. My New Year’s Resolution, for the record, is to schedule my tweets each week so I am consistently building my platform. And to floss more.

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“Getting” is to “Book Deal” as “Jumping” is to “Hoops”

Like most introspective, creative people, my least favorite form of communication is the phone. Sure, I enjoyed it plenty when I was 15, but I’m now 15 x 2 so I would much rather just email you, thanks very much.

When I began writing Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook, it was fortuitous of me to do the project for National Novel Writing Month, because I was on a time crunch. It also meant I couldn’t procrastinate picking up the phone and calling people to talk about their tattoo stories, and ask them if they’d be willing to let me write about them for this project. That was nerve-wracking, since I basically felt like I was asking them to bear their souls to me just so I could write another book. Still, they were my friends, and I appreciated their candidness and willingness to let me write about it. I was on a 30-day time crunch, so I couldn’t let people equally un-phone-y as me dodge my calls for long.

After I finished the project and started sending it around to publishers, I got a bite. The publisher asked that we have a – you guessed it – phone call. It was a good phone call, I learned a lot about what they were willing to do for me, but in exchange, they wanted me to do something for them: get all the friends whose tattoos I wrote about to sign a legal release form saying that when the book makes it big they won’t sue me for royalties, and to get all the tattoo artists who drew their tattoos to give consent to use the images. Which meant… 23 phone calls.

I also now had to ask my friends to sign a legal document saying they wouldn’t sue me and yes, I felt like a total dick. Pretty much without exception, all of them were totally cool about it; after all, they are my friends and they were as excited as I was about the prospect of me getting a book deal. I also had to ask them who did their tattoos, and call up their shops, leave messages, call back the next day, leave another message, explain myself several times… lather, rinse, repeat.

But this is what you do when you want your book to see the light of day, so I’m gladly doing it. But you can bet your britches that my next book will not bear any likenesses or have overlapping copyright implications that make me chew my nails down! Also, I refuse to make any phone calls over this long holiday weekend, so if I am waiting on you for your signed release form or tattoo image consent, you get a whole 4 days of me not calling to remind you.

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The passive-aggressive breakup: It’s not you, it’s me.

When an acquisitions editor for a publishing house emails you saying he or she is interested in your book, it’s hard not to get your hopes up. When FOUR (yes, capital FOUR) editors email you saying they’re interested, it gets even harder.

Then comes the day one of them says they’re offering you a book deal, but the deal never mysteriously arrives in your inbox, they don’t return your calls, and you start obsessively checking your spam folders.

That’s not how it’s supposed to happen, but that’s how it’s happened for me. Late last summer, I started talking with a publisher who expressed interest in my book. They gave me a list of edits they wanted me to make; I made them. I emailed them, they responded. We talked format, marketing, tattoos (it’s what the books about), and they were incredibly responsive. Then they told me they’d have the contract to me on Tuesday. Tuesday came. Tuesday went. Another Tuesday came and went, and suddenly it felt like my emails were going straight to a fax machine that spit directly into a recycle bin (which we all know is what all fax machines really do, otherwise people would claim they actually receive the faxes I send).

Naturally, I didn’t want to be the pushy, needy author who demands to know where her contract is, lest they decide to pull the plug on the project, but still – I am a person, with needs! I politely sent some “followups”, but then something happened that made me back off a little…

Another editor emails me to say “they’d love to publish my book.” We start talking, over the phone (even though I abhor the phone due to the fact that I suck ass at it), over email (yay!). They begin putting up the hoops I need to jump through, I begin jumping like a good little author. They say they’re going to give me an advance and offer me a deal that’s quite a bit better than the one the aforementioned (but nameless)  publisher was offering, so I keep in constant contact with them with each hoop I jump through, until they say they’re ready to move forward.

Then… AGAIN! My emails start going into oblivion. My phone calls start going straight to voicemail. Weeks go by, I maintain polite follow-up protocol, and nothing. Now, I’m even politely crawling back to the first publisher who ignored me, hoping they’ll notice this cool new thing I did to my hair and take me back, or take me, to begin with.

I find myself wondering… is it me? I feel like Cher in Clueless (who, if you didn’t know, was based on Jane Austen’s Emma) after Christian shuts down her sexual advances. What did I do wrong? Did my hair go flat? Did I stumble into some bad lighting? What’s WRONG with me?
… and then I remind myself that if the book’s good enough to get the attention (despite losing it later) of four publishers, it’s probably good enough to get the attention of one that will follow through.

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Meanwhile, in the traditional publishing world…

Despite my literary fame and bestseller rankings exceeding 50 copies sold, I still make time to submit my shorter works to literary journals the old-fashioned way, including my poetry and short stories. Well, to a certain extent. There are still some journals that are SO old-fashioned with the way they do business I won’t even bother. This includes:

  • Ones that don’t accept simultaneous submissions. If you don’t want my work to ever be under consideration with another journal, but you won’t respond to me unless you accept my work, and it’ll be at least six months before that might happen, have fun.
  • Ones that don’t accept electronic submissions. You want me to print my work? On paper? Then send it… in the mailbox? Okay sure. But first, let me fly on back to 1989.

Last week I had a poem get accepted by a literary journal. I’m always excited and thankful when a journal accepts my work, despite the fact that none of them pay anymore, but I always lament having to withdraw my work from consideration from every other publication I sent it to. For this particular poem, I only had five other journals to inform, and this was how it all played out.

  • The publication that accepted my work received it back in May.
  • Two of the publications I submitted to required that withdrawing one of my poems meant withdrawing them all.
  • Three of the publications I submitted to just earlier this month.
  • One of the submissions I actually had to pay for, just like a contest with an entry fee.
  • The publication that accepted the poem has published my work before.

Compared to the last time I had to inform a bunch of journals that a work of mine was accepted elsewhere, this was much easier. Why? For one, I only submitted electronically, so there was a digital paper trail I could follow just by searching my email and logging in to my submission manager. For another, most of my submissions were done through an electronic submission manager (the costs of which some journals are defraying by passing the cost on to their submitters – see above) so withdrawing from submission was as easy as clicking a button.

Oh, and the number of times I submitted this poem to other journals before it was accepted? 19, as best as I can tell.

Keep your eyes peeled for my poem Culley’s Pub: An Elegy to appear in the next issue of Foliate Oak Literary Journal – whenever that may be.

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