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Tag: publishing

What is this “book” thing the hipsters keep tweeting about?

While I was procrastinating further on writing the pitch for Community Klepto tonight, I decided to go through my Twitter list of publishing people. It’s a list that I’ve been building ever since I joined Twitter, which Twitter tells me was 7 years ago, so most of the accounts I’ve followed on that list about about as old as I am, in Twitter years. As I opened profile after profile, URL after URL, I had waves of mixed emotions as I saw the following:

  • 404 Not Found
  • Domain for sale
  • We have ceased operations
  • We are no longer accepting new submissions

I admit that between switching careers and giving birth to two children on the same day, I haven’t kept up with all the happenings in the publishing industry like I maybe should have; but at the same time, I think I can outline the trajectory of the 7 year Kelly’s-Twitter-publisher-list timeline easily enough:

  1. E-books happen. Some publishers resist all changes. Others pop up looking to cash in early.
  2. E-books gain popularity. Some publishers still resist all changes. Others adapt and innovate. Shitty books get self-published.
  3. E-books soar. Some of the publishers who resisted all changes die. Some who adapted and innovated succeed, some don’t. More shitty books get self-published. Readers start to realize most of the free books they downloaded are shitty.
  4. E-books sales to fall off. The resistors shout that they were right, even as they continue to publish marketable turd sandwiches. Authors of shitty books stop making money on their shitty books. Some of the innovative co-op ventures find they are no longer viable.
  5. Hipsters make physical books cool again. Resistors decry TOLD YA SO. Everyone else is saying Now what?

Now what. Some publishers have died horrible deaths because they refused to innovate. Some died because they were counting on a fad to sustain its growth indefinitely. This is a sad but predictable reality. Some of weathered the storms, adapted where they needed to, and are doing really cool things now. This makes me happy and excited to see what’s next.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that e-books were a fad. I mean, I still read them so they must be cool, right? And I like the papercut and smell of an old book as much as the next hipster. But in a world where evolving technology is changing every industry, publishing is not immune. Their battles for market share aren’t over, even if the e-book is losing ground. The future may be uncertain, but I am certain that as more traditional publishers broaden their horizons (and re-open their wallets), it’s a good time for me to be diving back in.

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I got my contributor copy… 3.5 years later

I’ve blogged several times about the issue of Clackamas Literary Review that I was recently published in – a publication timeline that looked a lot like this:

October 2009: I submit 3 poems via snail mail with a good ole SASE.

February 2010: Clackamas accepts 2 of my poems for publication in their 2010 issue.

November 2011: I receive word the issue is going to drop publication any day.

February 2012: I once again receive word the issue is going to be published soon, and that I will receive 7 contributor copies instead of 2, and that I can purchase copies for $5.

March 2013: 2010 issue is published, with promise of shipment for 7 contributor copies, which I do not receive.

September 2013: Tired of waiting, I order my own copy for about $10. Thanks, Amazon Prime!

As publication timelines go, this is a crappy one. Despite the long bouts of miscommunication and having to buy my own copy for full price, there truly is n substitute for the feeling you get when you see your work printed on the pages of what has historically been a very highly acclaimed publication, even if the publication management leaves a thing or two to be desired.

Was it worth it? To be honest, had I known it would take more than 3 years to publish, I might have pulled my poems from consideration after the first unanswered email from the Editor in Chief. Sometimes, though, you just have to stick it out and hope that things eventually pay off. And, even though I had to buy my own copy, I can look on the bright side knowing that my money is going to a graduate writing program that is probably suffering the same kind of fate graduate writing programs are facing all over the country.

And if I do eventually receive my 7 contributors copies, you can bet I’ll be sending a copy to the guy who told me one of the poems in it was “desperate and whiny”.

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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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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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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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Why I Turned Down My First Book Deal

Loyal fanbase, you are, I’m sure, already aware of the fact that it took me seven years from the time I wrote my first word of The Redheaded Stepchild until I published it.  What was I doing in that time besides getting divorced and attending wine and cheese parties for one?  I was querying publishers and agents, building up an impressive collection of rejection letters, which I often used to line the litter box back when I could stand cats.  I had my copy of The Writer’s Market and I was going to go through every entry in the book until I found that rare Prince Charming gem all writers hope for: the right publisher for my book, and one who was willing to take a chance on me.

Five years from the time I wrote the first word, I finally got an email from an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, while playing pool and drinking beer in a dive bar on a visit to my hometown.  My book was in the batch they were going to accept during their next publication period.  I probably played my best lifetime game of pool that night, because I was over the moon, thinking I’d finally gotten the big break I deserved.  I won’t say who it was – because as you can tell from the title of this post, I turned them down anyway…

The happiness ended the minute I started digging deeper into the company and I got the contract.  For the most part, it was pretty standard for what I read in the reference book, except for the following teensy line items:

  • They weren’t going to let me have any input on the cover.  They were going to throw my book over a wall to their creative team and give the nod to whatever came back.  Still, the covers I saw looked pretty good, so I was willing to go with it.
  • They weren’t going to give me any marketing support.  Sorry, but my minor in advertising in promotion did not prepare me for how to successfully market my book.  When I asked about this, they gave me a stock response about how the author is the best person to do the marketing because they are closest to the project.  Okay, true, but don’t you guys do this like, professionally? I’m just a wordmonkey.
  • And here’s the kicker… they wanted me to pay them a “non-refundable deposit” as remuneration for taking a risk on my book.

Um, yeah… that was the red flag for this redhead.  When I told them I was uncomfortable with this, they sent me a list of their author references as a way of reassuring me that I would be happy, successful, and quickly earn back my “refundable deposit” if I took the deal.  I read all the references, but then I went and found the authors’ websites.  Most of them had long since given up on their books from this publisher or hadn’t published any more books, but there were a few still kicking around, so I contacted them.  They all told me the same thing… it was not the greatest decision they’d ever made in their lives.

But still, this was a book deal, a real one, the thing I had been waiting for for five years of my life.  Who was I to say it wasn’t good enough?  I’m a nobody, and they want to take a chance on me.  I did what any girl would do – I called someone smarter than me.  Specifically, my most-likely-to-succeed counterpart from high school (or would have been, if I’d been popular enough to even make that section of the yearbook’s radar), a lawyer pal with a lot of contracts experience.  No, he’d never seen a book deal contract, but a contract’s a contract, right?  And yeah, he said it sucked.  He wasn’t going to tell me what to do, but he didn’t mince words about the drawbacks of the contract.  He was even kind enough to draw up a list of suggested revisions, reminding me than any contract is just a starting off point for negotiations, and that if I really wanted a book deal, I should fight for one that worked for both me and the publisher.

Well, negotiation must’ve been Swahili to them.  I emailed my carefully crafted list of negotiable revisions to their people.  And waited a week.  And emailed them back, asking if they’d had a chance to view my revisions, to which they assured me their legal team was giving it “careful consideration.”  Then I waited another week.  And emailed again.  Finally, they came back and said they weren’t willing to make any concessions with their standard contract (gee thanks… you coulda just told me that 2 weeks ago).  I wanted a book deal.  I really did.  But this one smelled an awful lot like the rejection letters after the litter box got a hold of em, so I politely declined, determined that I had not yet found my Prince Charming of publishing. And had another wine and cheese party for one.

But… that’s not the end of the story… tune in next week, when I tell the story of “Why I Self-Published.”

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#SXSW Report: Days 2 and 3

I’ve been going pretty well nonstop so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down and write my summary of the past 2 days of interactivity at SXSW 2012. Hashtags for panel twitter discussions I participated in are in parentheses.

I began Saturday with a panel about copyrights (#sxcopytrolls) which was grossly underattended and somewhat informative about obtaining and protecting copyrights, which was something I knew next to nothing about so I’m glad I went. After that, I was able to pull up a spot on the floor in the hallway for the simulcast of a conversation with Joss Whedon (#sxjosswhedon) since the room was full. Naturally, I was all too happy to pick up on some insights from the master storyteller of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, and I could go on and on but I won’t. Plus he’s a very funny ginger, which I respect as a semi-funny ginger. Just a note, he wrote the screenplay for his new film Cabin InThe Woods in 3 days. That’s a hardcore writer for ya.

After that, I headed to The Rise of Analytics: Impacting the Editorial Process (#sxeditdata) which wasn’t as much about the impact of the need for data, keywords, links, etc. on the editorial process as much as I would’ve liked, but more about the data. Then it was off to the Hyatt for some 15-minute talks about books and content, including Books Win the Attention Economy (#sxbooks_win) and Delivering Content Experiences Across Platforms (#sxplatforms) which closed out Saturday for me.

Sunday was a good morning of panels, starting with Publishing Models Transforming the Book (#sxpubmodels), where panelists from the new publishing industries spoke about their models and the panelists from the traditional publishing industry defended theirs. Up to and including this panel, I have to admit that everything that I heard in most of these sessions was all stuff I have heard before, some even at previous Souths By. Luckily for me, I stumbled into a panel that proved to be worth the price of admission: Discoverability and the New World of Book PR, where I got some amazing ideas for how to keep getting The Redheaded Stepchild noticed and how I can start building a campaign for Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook. I furiously took about 3 pages’ worth of notes – the advice was just that good. I wish I had time to test out some of the stuff I heard about today, but I have more sessions, beer, and parties to head off to. And I might actually watch a film today since many of the bookish panels are more of the same stuff I have heard before over and over again.

Oh, and last night I got a photo with Steven Moffat – writer for Dr. Who, Sherlock, and Jekyll (again, I could go on, but I won’t). Worth the wait in line for sure. I also watched Rainn Wilson give a talk about his project Soul Pancake. It’s pretty rad. Go check it out.

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My life with Kindle: Part 1

Apparently the Santa in my life thought I was just nice enough to deserve a brand new Kindle for Christmas. Eventually, maybe, I would have gotten it for myself, but it really is a very thoughtful gift and so far, I love it. It’s also important because it will probably be the first format I publish my novel in, and as writers, we’ve got to get with the program.

My favorite feature on it so far is the ability to download a sample of a book before buying the whole thing. I decided to try this feature out on a writer I follow on Twitter who has done a shitload of self-promotion and whose persistence I figured warranted my no-cost 30-minute (40 if you count the part where I stopped to reheat my leftover Christmas ham) perusal. On Kindle, his book’s list price is $5.99, which is about 3 times what I typically pay for a book, and since I had the option to try it before buying, I leapt at the chance.

I was THIS close to buying the book after the sample, and it wasn’t even that good. Still, it had enough good moments to make buying the book a weighty decision in my mind. I know the sample will sucker me into cracking open the wallet for much better written books in the future.

It also gave me a little confidence boost. After all, this guy isn’t some schmo who self-published in his basement. He’s a guy that got picked up by an independent press that does their business mostly in ebooks. He was trying way, WAY too hard to imitate Tucker Max but did so badly. He overused metaphors and even did some shifts in tense in the same sentence – things even a lowly barely-published writer with a BA in Creative Writing from a state school could pull off. If this guy can get accepted by an independent book publisher and charge $5.99 for his work, then I probably can, too.

New Year’s Resolution to follow…

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The submission withdrawal process, round 3

I got my first short story accepted for publication, which is super fantastic, but always comes with the horrible chore of withdrawing the manuscript from everywhere else you sent it that hasn’t rejected it yet. The first time I found out a poem of mine was getting published, I was completely overwhelmed by how much work it was to complete this chore, and how rude some of the publications were. Last time around, I got some interesting responses, including the following:

  • “Umm… we don’t have your stuff.” Hmmm… that probably means I put it in an envelope and was too cheap to mail it off. My bad.
  • “How dare you! We don’t accept simultaneous submissions!”  Oops… I must not have read the fine print. But you really should if you want work from real writers.
  • “Mail daemon: undeliverable.” Update your mail server if you want submissions.

This time around, I was much more prepared. I made sure I read the fine print over again for everyone I sent to, to make sure I hadn’t been violating their rules in the first place. I also prepared an email template, so I wouldn’t have to think about what to write every time. So I was both mentally and resourcefully prepared. These are my findings from this round of submission withdrawal:

  1. It was far, far easier than last time. I had sent my poems to about 3 times as many people as I had this manuscript, which significantly lessened the chore.
  2. I had sent this manuscript to a total of 18 publications. Of those 18, 1 accepted it, 6 rejected it, and 11 still had it under consideration.
  3. The range of dates for submission were from March to September.
  4. Of the 11 who still had it under consideration, the longest period was 7 months.
  5. One of the publications who I had still recorded as pending had rejected me without notification.
  6. I was able to withdraw 4 submissions myself using an online manager.
  7. I had to email 6 of the publications I had submitted to.
  8. There was only one snail mail submission that I had forgotten to mail, and I knew it without having an embarrassing response email.

Lesson learned: keep good track of your submissions, and be prepared when you get lucky and one of them picks it up.

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Screw you, spell check! Oh wait, that IS how you spell Wednesday…

Tonight I was plugging away at some submissions/future rejections, and I noticed something both disturbing and embarrassing.  It has been over 3 months since I moved, and I got tired of manually typing my new address, and I figured it was probably time to give the query letter templates the once over anyway.

The query letter for The Redheaded Stepchild misspelled protagonist. The query letter for Two Steps Forward misspelled Forward. Twice. And it’s in the title. It also referenced The Other Dentenia Zickafoose when it should not have. It’s no wonder these magazines have dismissed without a second thought. That, and “I’m not what they’re looking for.”

There are few things I hate worse than writing query letters. I’m sure many of my fellow writers feel the same pain. We’re writers; we want our work to speak for itself. I have part of marketing degree, and I still hate marketing myself. So I spend some time trying to say what I want to say, and save it to a template so I don’t have to think about it every time. Apparently, I’ve been too lazy with this as of late, and as much as I hate, I know that a good query letter is important and a necessarily evil on the route to being a novelist. I encourage all you writers out there to spend 15 minutes to take a look at your query letters, just to make sure they are in tip-top shape. And that the title of your piece is not misspelled.

I am equally annoyed when I see outdated or incorrect information on a publisher’s website, or worse, a 404 or a bounced email.  Since most literary journals are run by colleges, I know they don’t accept submissions during the summer.  News flash – it’s back to school time, so you’re probably accepting submissions again. And if your submission banner reads “We are currently not accepting submissions. We will begin accepting submissions in July 2010” and it is now September 2010, there is something wrong with that.  If you say your next edition is coming April 2010, it should be posted by April 30, not still hanging around as a “coming soon” in November. You want me to not be lazy, do my due diligence, see what kind of work you typically publish and then craft my query letters accordingly? Do yours. Update your goddamn website.

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