Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts About Going Indie - Part I

More authors have asked me about going indie in the last two months than in all previous months combined. Does it have to do with Amanda Hocking's success? Or perhaps John Locke's?

Actually, I think it's because writers are finally realizing that they have a choice. And regardless of what you're doing, it's always smart to at least check out all your options. Educate yourself on everything available and make an informed decision that best works for you. So I'll share what I can, starting with my "predictions" and one of the reasons I chose this path to publication.

My personal opinion and forecast (which I had over a year ago when I first decided to go this way) is that in today’s industry and economy, there is too much luck involved in going the traditional route. Not just for authors, but for publishers, too. After all, it's really hard to predict what readers will love in 18 months or more down the road, especially when most of the Big 6 publishers don't even do focused studies of their markets.

The Big 6 publishers will soon be looking for their next deals by looking at the self-pubbed best-sellers. In other words, Amanda Hocking has set a precedence that I think will eventually become the norm, rather than the exception. Last year, I was saying within the next 5-7 years. Now I’m saying in the next 3-5 years. It makes too much sense for publishers to let the author build their own fan base before making an investment in them.

Agents won’t go away, though. In fact, really, they’ll be the ones out looking for the best-selling self-pubbed authors who they like and want to take to the publishers. Rather than writers having to do all the work of identifying potential agents, querying, jumping through hoops, etc., it will be the other way around. Agents will seek out authors they want to represent, which is a win-win for everyone. Authors will need them – an author who goes into a deal, especially a huge auction like Amanda did, without an agent or attorney needs a sanity check. We still need someone who knows what they’re doing to protect us.

My own opinion is that writers shouldn’t wait for this to be required of them. They can be proactive about it, which is why I did it. I started building my fan base in 2010 and now it’s grown exponentially. If I’d kept on querying, relying on luck more than anything, for the next few years, only to learn then that publishers prefer to find their next deals through Amazon and Nook best-seller lists, I’d lost all that time. All those fans. All of that opportunity. I’d be starting at zero in 2012 or 2013, instead of already having sold tens of thousands books.

That’s one way to look at going the self-pubbed route. Rather than it being a mark on your career or reputation, as it once was, it’s a jumpstart on where the industry will likely go anyway.

Next time, I'll talk about the "However" to this last statement.

Have a question about going indie? Please, do ask!

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Not for Me

Have you ever been told, "It's not for me"? If you've ever queried, you have. And most of the time you just don't understand how the agent could possibly say that, right? You did your homework. You followed all the rules and certainly you made sure you chose the agent that is looking for your genre, your type of story. Yet, you get that ambiguous rejection that just doesn't seem to make sense.

At first. But stop and think about it for a second.

Think about books in the genre you love to read. Think about one you DIDN'T love when you thought you would. The jacket copy sounded like other books you love, but not too similar. You'd heard how great it was from people with similar tastes as yours, but this one just didn't strike you. It wasn't bad, but you didn't fall in love with it. Now imagine trying to get someone to invest tens of thousands of dollars into it.

Now think of your favorite book in your favorite genre. The one you absolutely love, have read a million times and wish there were more stories for the characters. And imagine trying to convince someone to invest that same money in it.

Which one would be easier for you to get behind? Wouldn't you be more persuasive about something you love than one you didn't?

Writers - at least the smart ones - carefully research and make informed decisions on who they're going to query. They choose agents who specifically state they're looking for their genre and who rep books and authors similar to them. They do their homework. And they still get rejections that say, "Great writing and strong characters. I like the story, but it's just not for me." HUH?

I had a few of these when I was querying and, at first, I didn't get it. I, like most of you, thought, "But this is what you say you want! It's right on your website! You tweeted that you're looking for this exact book!"

Since my books have been out a while and have received plenty of reviews, I've been paying more attention to how people think about books, including myself. And I get it now. If you think about those first two examples above, you'll get it, too. Just because a book is in your favorite genre and the story is good and the characters interesting, doesn't mean that you, specifically, will fall in love with that book. Your friend might - maybe already has - but not you.

The funny thing is, if you read that same book while in a different mood or at a different time in your life or just under different circumstances, you may love it. Have you ever read something once and loved it and read it again a few months or a year or so later and wonder why you thought it was so great?

Agents and acquiring editors are no different. If a book is in their genre and their interest is piqued with the query letter and sample chapters or a partial, they'll read the book. They might like it. They may praise the writing and the plot twists and the character development. But that doesn't mean that they love it. At least, not enough to convince someone to invest tens of thousands of dollars into it. Which is what they're doing when they try to sell the title.

That's what they're saying when they say, "It's not for me." It's frustrating, but everyone has specific tastes and things they're looking for. And for agents and acquiring editors, it's not $9.99 or even $20 on the line if they don't love it, as it is with readers. It's their careers. It's lost time with another project that they do love. It's missed opportunity because they couldn't take on any new clients. They have a reason for rejecting something they like but don't love.

We don't always get it, but "It's not for me" is just how that agent feels at the particular time they are reading it. Don't take it personally. Don't get discouraged. They may have been interested in it at a different time, under different circumstances. "It's not for me" does not automatically mean "It sucks." So dust yourself off. Move on. One of these days you will find someone who says, "Yes! I love it! It's for me!"

And if you get too discouraged, you do have choices now. Taking the chance that your MS will never fall on the right person's desk at the right time is not your only option. Talk to me if you want to know more about your choices.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pretty Good, Really Good or Great?

I've been reading a lot of "meh" books lately. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if it's really the books or if I've just been in one of those moods. You know, kind of like those times when we don't feel pretty (I say pretty because I don't think guys go through those mood swings, at least not as much. Either they know they're good looking or they know they're not. None of that, "I don't feel handsome today." Right?) Anyway...ladies, you now what I mean. We just don't feel it. So maybe I just haven't been feeling the books.

But I know that's not entirely it. After all, a really great book would have pulled me out of this funk by now. So why are these books "meh"? They're by seasoned writers who've had great books before and have gone through the editing process with big-name publishers. I don't understand how they've been allowed - or have allowed themselves - to release these mediocre stories.

Or maybe I do. As discussed previously, I'm in the midst of revising Devotion (did you see that new title???). I read it through a couple weeks ago and thought, "Wow. This isn't bad. In's even kind of good." I mean, I knew it wasn't perfect. Not even close. Parts needed to come out. Characters needed more depth. Descriptions needed to be improved. And so did the writing. But, overall, I was happy with the plot.

See that "was"? the time since then, I keep coming up with more ideas to make it even better. New twists. Something about a character I missed before that changes things. Etc. Ideas that will require a lot more work than I thought when I first read the draft. A lot more time. A lot more blood, sweat and tears. When I first read the draft, I thought, "Looks like revisions will go quicker than expected." Now, I think (and tell my publisher), "Well, revisions are going to take longer than expected."

But, to me, it's worth it. I hate putting a book out there that I know I'll be thinking, "But it could have been so much better." I mean, I think we all feel that way about earlier writings, when time has passed and we've learned and grown in our craft. But when it first goes out, we want it to be our best work we could produce at the time. Right?

So how could all those "meh" books be on the shelves? I mean, the stories aren't bad. The characters are likeable and relatable. There's just not a lot of "great" or even "really good" about them. Even when the same author has produced really great before. All I can wonder - and maybe it is just because I am in that mood - is if the publisher or author rushed it. Didn't want to put the time and effort into making the book truly great or, at least, really good.

I don't ever want to be that author or publisher. The one that says, "It's pretty good. Good enough." I want to feel, at least in my own heart, that it's really good. Or, even, great. And, hopefully, others will feel the same.

What do you think makes books "meh"? Do you ever feel like taking the short cut or not taking the long way because it's easier (in your writing)? How do you motivate yourself to do what's best for the story, even if it means a lot more work? And what would/do you do when under deadline and you realize how the book can be even better but it would require significant (time-consuming) changes?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beyond Writing Fiction

Last week's horror in the South really hits home and my heart goes out to the victims. I know personally that they have a lot of clean up and rebuilding work ahead of them. I can't even watch the news or YouTube videos about it because they bring back memories that make my stomach fall to my knees.

No, my home has never been destroyed by tornado, thank God Almighty, but it's come way too close for comfort. My husband's aunt's house of 50 years was taken by tornado in 2008. But it's come even closer than that. As in about 3/4 mile from our house, back in 2003.

I was editor at the community newspaper then. I remember a beautiful May morning with lots of sun and a few wispy clouds dotting the sky. You'd never believe the previous night had been filled with terrifying storms. I'd crammed my kids with lots of blankets and pillows under the pool table while my husband stood at the basement doors watching the sky. A twister picked up not too far from us, so we saw the swirling clouds but didn't get hit ourselves. The next morning, I stopped at the office just long enough to pick up a reporter and we were off to visit the sites of destruction.

The owners of the first house we stopped at were lucky. Their barn was blown away. Their tractor and other equipment that weighed tons were on the neighbors' fields a mile down the road. But their house was left with a broken window. The second place we stopped was an old cemetery where two-hundred-year-old oaks and headstones were dragged across the cemetery, leaving deep gashes bleeding brown dirt. Records for some of those stones were lost and I'm not sure now if anyone ever figured out exactly where they belonged.

The last stop nearly brought me to my knees, though. Two stone houses that stood side-by-side, built over 100 years before by the then-owners' grandfather were totally demolished. As in completely gone. Their belongings were scattered for miles. A horse had lain twitching in the ditch and a little girl was left crying when the sheriff had to shoot it. Cows were already dead farther down the road.

Amazingly, the people had survived. Out in the middle of nowhere, you don't hear the sirens in town. You don't always know you're right in the path. They didn't. One woman dropped to the floor between her couch and coffee table just in time to see the roof torn off. Her husband had been standing in the kitchen and ended up outside with a few scratches. They had survived.

We drove up and they and their family and friends were picking through what was left. Well, some were. Others were just staring at the wreckage, trying to make sense of it. Their faces were dazed and their shoulders slumped with a feeling of defeat. It wasn't my house. It wasn't my life that had been literally blown apart. But I felt their despair. Their loss. Their feeling of being completely overwhelmed and lost.

And it was my job to ask them... "How are you doing? How are you coping? Tell me what happened."

They're in the middle of just trying to make sense of the situation, salvage the little bit they can and figure out what to do with the rest and I have to go in there and ask a barrage of questions. Some people are good at this. I was not.

And this was why I didn't like journalism. I'd wanted to be a writer since I was 8 years old, but I knew from nearly as young that I didn't want to be a journalist. I just don't enjoy the part of having to break into people's personal lives and get nosy.

I did meet a lot of great people and covered some interesting and heart-warming stories. I also learned a ton about everything from writing thousands of words on deadline to page layout and graphic design. And I worked with some fabulous people.

But journalism itself made me be someone I was not. Luckily, I found the kind of writing I do enjoy most. There are many ways to use our writing skills and talents - journalism, copy-writing, ghost writing, speeches, non-fiction, fiction, etc. - and it's a good idea to test different waters until you find the one you're most comfortable in. It may surprise you...or, if you're like me, it may not.

What writing jobs have you ever done? Did you like it? Are there any you'd like to try?