Posts Tagged indie publishing

What Brazilian Jui-Jitsu Can Teach Us About Going Pro as AUTHORS

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Some of you may know that (for stress relief) I practice Brazilian Jui-Jitsu. Being a teacher and a writer, I see lessons in everything. Strangely, our dojo is not known for BJJ. It’s mainly Shito Ryu Karate and those classes are always packed. There’s a plethora of black belts and they earned it. Many are kids, and they’re a wonder to behold.

Our Jui-Jitsu class? Right now we are down to five people—two out with injuries, one went off to med school and two are on vacation. This can feel weird when the next class over is packed wall-to wall with students.

Last night we were talking about why our group was so small. Why are people not as attracted to BJJ? Why do so many sign up then quickly leave? I’m being careful here, because over my many years, I’ve studied four forms of martial arts and two styles of fighting—Tae Kwon Do (Korean), Karate (Japanese), Wing-Jitsu (a fusion one Wing Chun Kung Fu and Jui-Jitsu), Japanese Jui-Jitsu, regular boxing and kickboxing.

All have strengths and weaknesses.

I have my preferences. I liked Wing-Jitsu the best because I really love doing throws and I love the hand to hand combat. But is it better than any other? Depends on the fighter.

***Hmmm, like genre preferences?

So Why ARE We So Small?

First, in BJJ you are a white belt for a looooooooooong time. The minimum time is 18 months. When people in other classes are blowing through the belt-rainbow faster than a Skittle commercial and we’re still sporting a white belt? Can be tough on the ego.

There is no “outside badge” of what we know.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of GollyGForce

Also, since we’re mostly on the floor grappling, there’s a lot of nuance outsiders don’t see. We aren’t doing the fancy kicks and things that look “cool.” And, bluntly, BJJ is a tough, tough, tough sport. It’s hard on the body because we mostly fight. BJJ is also something that is pretty much impossible to do alone. We can’t hone our skills with a punching bag. We must have others to practice with. Since we’re doing a lot of throwing and joint locks and wear no pads, injuries are commonplace. In two months I’ve broken my nose and two toes.

Just goes with the sport *shrugs*.

***And, for the record, all of my MAJOR injuries were NEVER in a dojo. Soccer, icy pavement, and evil coffee tables hurt me worse than any martial arts.

Last week, I fought the guy who broke my nose. He made a comment about being easy on me and I chastised him. If I wanted to go through life with no pain I’d take up scrapbooking and I sure as hell wouldn’t be a writer.

What BJJ and Writing Can Teach Us

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kristina Zuidema

This brings me to my point. I see a LOT of parallels in BJJ and us choosing to go pro as writers. BJJ is easier if we go into it understanding the realities of the sport. We set our expectations correctly. Too many newbies don’t, which is why they quit. They think they will be the special case, the person who’s only a white belt for a month or that they can compete without pain.

Same in writing. I’ve been guilty. I didn’t need craft books or classes. Ptht. *rolls eyes* When I wrote my first “novel” my biggest concern was how to choose an agent when all of them said yes and were fighting over my book. Talk about an awkward cocktail party. I so wish I were kidding. Yes, I was an idiot. Laugh at me. I do. The query letters agents make jokes about? That was ME.

At first I was discouraged in my writing career. I wanted to give up daily. The more I wrote, the more I was rejected, the dumber I felt. I believe much of this could have been avoided had I understood the realities of what it meant to go pro. Then my expectations would have been more reasonable.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

What to Expect

We WILL Be Tempted to Judge Ourselves by Outside Opinions

Like BJJ, most of us will be white belts a LONG, LONG time. What most people fail to appreciate is there is a massive disparity within “white belt writers.” In BJJ, a white belt who’s been in class for a month is NOT the same as one who’s been fighting/training for over a year. But bluntly, outsiders will all see the same color belt and, since they haven’t been on the mats, they can’t possibly understand.

Same in writing. A writer who’s just stepped out to attempt writing a novel is often regarded the same as a writer who’s been working hard for a year or two. Just like outsiders don’t understand that the process for gaining belts in BJJ is slooooow, regular people believe the second we finish a book, it should be shelved at B&N the very next week and on the NYTBS list by the end of the month.

They have NO concept how slow the process is for writing a novel and getting that book to market (even if we were freakish savants who wrote the World’s Perfect Book our first try). Often when we’re new, even WE don’t understand this.

Regular People: So, can I get your books at a bookstore? No?

Subtext: You aren’t a “real” writer.

This is why humility is such a vital trait in life, martial arts and writing. We need to be open to not knowing “everything” and seek help from those stronger and more seasoned. We also should give ourselves permission to be new, to be learning. We get too focused on the “belt” (getting published/selling lots of books) and that’s when depression sets in and we’re tempted to give up. It has to be about LOVE of the sport (writing) and less about the recognition if we have any hope of sticking to it long enough to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Writing is ALL About Endurance, Tenacity, and SENSITIVITY

Grappling will test the limits of the human body. We spar 40-50 minutes straight with one-minute rest breaks for water. Then, the next round and the next….and the next. It’s why a lot of people quit. It’s hard work and nothing like TV or the movies ;) .

Same with writing. The Modern Author has A LOT of work ahead. Most people don’t “get” that we are going to write probably about a million words before we even know what we’re doing (then add in branding, business, social media and LIFE).

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***Btw, and if you happen to get a clue before the million words and are the exception, GO YOU. But if we go in knowing how hard this is, we’re less likely to be over-critical and give up. I know it took me at least a quarter million words to unstick my head out of my own butt.

Also, in BJJ, most people can’t see all we are balancing at the same time. Attacking, defending, calculating physics nonstop and at top speed; using hands feet, knees and mind all simultaneously. It’s a sport of strategy. It’s VITAL we learn to feel the body of the opponent, to anticipate the next move. It’s less about me and more about others.

Readers often don’t appreciate all the countless nuances of what we do, because if we’re any good, we MAKE it look easy. But we’re balancing character, plot, dialogue, subtext, symbol, description, etc. etc. Excellent writers focus on others. We feel the ebb and flow of the human condition and relax into the reality that what we do takes a lot of time in lonely places with no cheer squad.

The late David Eddings said it best and here is the extended quote:

“My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words–the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.

“When you are with people, listen; don’t talk. Writers are boring people. What are you going to talk about so brilliantly? Typewriters? The construction of paragraphs? Shut your mouth and listen. Listen to the cadences of speech. Engrave the sound of language on your mind. Language is our medium, and the spoken language is the sharp cutting edge of our art. Make your people sound human. The most tedious story will leap into life if the reader can hear the human voices in it. The most brilliant and profound of stories will sink unnoticed if the characters talk like sticks.

“Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth doing at all. If hard and unrewarding work bothers you, do something else. If rejection withers your soul, do something else. If the work itself is not reward enough, stop wasting paper. But if you absolutely have to write–if you’re compelled to do it even without hope of reward or recognition–then I welcome you to our sorry, exalted fraternity.” (David Eddings R.I.P, Christchurch City Libraries Blog)

Master the BASICS

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Never underestimate the power of the SIMPLE. Mastery is only attained by achieving a sound foundation of fundamentals. Make them second nature. Basics are CRITICAL. When people are injured in BJJ, it’s often because they forgot basics.

Stay on the balls of your feet so you can maneuver. Relax. Roll into an attack and use the opposition’s momentum against them. Don’t post a leg where your opponent can grab it.

When I studied Jui-Jitsu, you know what we did the first two months? FALL. Over and over and over. That was it. Nothing fancy. But if you don’t know how to fall? That’s when bones get broken.

Many writers run to self-publish and they get popped because the BASICS are botched or even missing—POV, proper grammar, punctuation, dialogue, etc. Instead of starting with foundational stuff and building ART from there, they hurry or try to be “fancy”. Don’t. Basics are cool.

To make this point, here is a GREAT, GREAT laugh from my hero, Weird Al Yankovic…

What are your thoughts? Do you compare your progress too much with your peers? Do you find yourself rushing? Is it discouraging when outsiders act like you are some poseur because they haven’t seen your book as a movie yet? Do you go back to edit and realize you forgot to stay simple and harness the basics? It’s okay. Did you start out writing as clueless as I was? Then beat yourself up because you “failed”? Do you have a tough time celebrating the small victories?

It’s OKAY. I am guilty of ALL of these. This stuff doesn’t go away, it’s why vigilance is important. It’s also why I blog more about my failures than successes. I want you guys to see the REALITY of what we do, not some Photoshopped unreality.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform (HINT: Start as EARY as possible) here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

THIS SATURDAY!!!!!

SATURDAY is my ANTAGONIST CLASS. NYC Time 12:00-2:00. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Have an idea for a book? Stuck and can’t move forward? Keep starting books you can’t finish? THIS class is the cure! You get two…okay usually more like three hours of instruction, the recording, detailed notes AND you can upgrade for personal consulting to help you repair or construct your masterpiece.

 

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The Burst of the Social Media Bubble, Rise of the Indie Author & Why Coffee is to Blame

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(Original image courtesy of Matthew Pearce via Flikr Creative Commons.)

Many of you are old enough to remember the dot.com boom (then bust) of the 1990s. The Internet was growing in popularity. More people were owning PCs and commerce was shifting on-line. The Old Guard yelled “WITCHCRAFT!”, threw holy water and shorted out their keyboards. The New Guard dived in with the enthusiasm of a kid at Chuck E. Cheese hopped up on sugar.

Creativity abounded. What products or services could be offered on-line? How could we improve the on-line experience? How could we make purchasing faster, safer, more appealing?

Early Adopters jumped all over this because that’s what Early Adopters do. Hey, someone had to be the first to eat an oyster, right?

The Early Adopter Instigator

Most revolutions begin with other revolutions that set the stage. Case in point. For centuries, water was unsafe—okay deadly—to drink. Most workers actually brought beer to work (or some other fermented drink). Then Western society took a fancy to this new beverage from Asia called TEA and then later COFFEE from South America. When tea and coffee (um CAFFEINE) replaced alcohol as the beverage of choice, workers were more productive.

Image courtesy of Ryu1chia Miwa via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Ryu1chia Miwa via Flickr Creative Commons

I was skeptical too, so I tested beer then coffee to make sure the empirical data was sound. When I began my workday with beer? Much more napping and looking up exes on-line. A double Starbucks espresso improved word count.

Joking aside, three major developments 1) the invention of the clock/watch 2) the standardization of time and 3) the shift from alcoholic beverages to caffeinated ones laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution.

The eight-hour workday was easier to implement once people understood what the heck “an hour” was. Also, laborers were able to focus better and be far more productive when sober.

Science :D .

Fast-Forward—How Coffee Transformed the Publishing Paradigm

Coffee not only fueled the Industrial Revolution, but apparently staying up all night unable to sleep led to the invention of the “computer,” “the Internet,” and later “iTunes.” The shift from “going to a physical store” commerce to more “e-commerce” set the stage for a number of unanticipated revolutions in the arts. If we think about it, when did the mega-bookstore enjoy its Golden Years?

Hint: Right about the time of the movie You’ve Got Mail, clearly marking the brief historical epoch when we actually enjoyed getting e-mails. 

In the 90s, the retailer was still king (and the Internet a novelty). Thus, the biggest store with the most bells and whistles and coffee shops won. Why? For centuries we’d been conditioned to going to a physical space to shop. Only the Early Adopters were thumping their legs at this notion of buying stuff without having to drive anywhere.

Granted, this was also the time when SUVs the size of a small semi were all the rage and gas was roughly $1.25 a gallon. Most of us were uncomfortable with the hoo-doo-voo-doo of electric lighting automobiles on-line shopping and still preferred to GO somewhere to buy what we wanted/needed.

Yet, despite initial skepticism, the tsunami of technological innovation decimated many types of businesses, some that had been asking to be smacked for a LONG time. Technology gave beating to the Old School phone companies (cell phones) and wiped out record stores (iTunes) and then later obliterated video stores.

Frankly, Blockbuster had it coming with those ridiculous late fees. Every time I see a Red Box I smile and think of the time Blockbuster refused to work with me on $128 in late fees. Apparently spending four days in the hospital was no excuse for not turning my movies in on time.

Jerks.

The Bursting of the Dot.Com Bubble

Of course, the problem was enthusiasm often has this way of trumping business sense. Once the dot.com fire caught light, everyone was a dot.com and many were nothing more than paper dragons with no business plan, no capital and frankly no idea what the heck they were doing.

We enjoyed a boom and then saw a BOOM. Dot.coms that had their act together became the vanguards for a new age of commerce and the digital wheat was separated from the virtual chaff.

In the wake of the Digital Tsunami, many industries crumbled. In my POV, the music industry is the only one that had a valid excuse not to reinvent. But, after Tower Records toppled, Kodak had time to rework their business model and yet didn’t—People will always want film!—which is why we now will talk of Kodak to our kids the way we talk about cassette tapes and Pet Rocks.

Viva la Revolution

We had to have the Alcoholic Beverage vs. Coffee Revolution to gain a viable and productive Industrial Revolution.

****Rumor has it that writers were equally divided Alcohol/Coffee Debate.

Then, we had to have affordable PCs and a viable Internet to have the On-Line Shopping vs. Retail Space Revolution in order to gain digital commerce. Once digital commerce shifted from Early Adopters to the Early then Late Majority, we witnessed yet even more revolutions spark to life, revolutions that had no way of happening until that particular time in history.

All started by coffee. See the cool stuff you learn here?

Many of these upheavals completely altered the business landscape, and the creative industries saw MAJOR shifts. Indie Bands, Indie Movies and yes, Indie Authors.

Word on the street is that Indie Authors are being supported by an underground resistance financed by Starbucks.

The Social Media Bubble

In roughly 2003-2004 I saw what a major game-changer social media would be for authors. Up until that point, only non-fiction authors had any practical way of building a platform before a book was finished. Novelists had to write a lot of books (and make it past NYC gatekeepers) to have a platform because books were the only way of having a platform/brand.

But with social media? Different story.

Of course when I pitched this idea of branding through social media to agents as late as 2008, they laughed in my face and called me a witch.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

Alcohol vs. Coffee —> Industrial Revolution —> Internet —> Commerce Revolution/ Dot. Com Boom —> Tower Records Collapses —> Kodak Collapses —> iPad and Nook released —> Amazon gains publishing influence —> Early Adopters defect to go Indie —> Social Media Boom —> Indie Authors start seeing success —> Borders closes and Barnes & Noble starts bleeding out—> Big Six becomes Nifty Five —> Author Boom

Three components were critical to the success of the Indie Publishing Revolution:

1) Creation of the Product

Ten years ago, this was a pipe dream. Five years ago, self-published books looked self-published. They were also far more expensive and complicated to produce. Technology and the market has transformed this. Authors can now create a book that looks as good as anything purchased from the last remaining B&N in your city (without going broke).

2) Distribution

So long as major retailers had the upper hand, authors were limited in sales. As e-readers shifted from the Early Adopters to the Early and Late Majority (my GRANDFATHER having a Kindle), retailers lost their monopoly.

3) Visibility

Social media helped authors build a brand and platform that could drive book sales even as traditional retailers began to vanish. Social media BOOMED.

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…

Social media experts came out of the woodwork to assist writers. It seemed that just about the time a social media site was AWESOME, it collapsed, so we did need guides to help.

Has the Social Media Bubble Burst? What Does This Mean for Authors?

My opinion is we’re seeing a bubble burst that looks a lot like what happened to the dot.coms. Social media has reached an asymptote (not many “drastically new” features to add). Unless Facebook does something EPICALLY STUPID, it will probably remain. Same with Twitter. Fad frenzy has normalized and this new way of interacting has integrated into our culture.

Yes, new sites will emerge, but the rules of the game will stay the same. Since it is social media, those who are authentic, offer value, and are good at creating community will do well. Algorithmic alchemy doesn’t work as well as it used to and never worked long-term.

The handful of writers who adopted social media early did reap rewards. Why? Most other authors didn’t want to go there. This limited competition and gave the Early Adopter Authors an advantage. Most people were on Facebook, yet many authors were NOT.

Then, authors saw the success of the Early Adopter Authors and many a social media guru promised get-rich-quick programs….thus flooding every social site with book spam and bad 20th century marketing retreads. Experts terrified and bedazzled authors with tech-speak and marketing plans.

Yet, in the end, technology is the means not the ends, and society has fundamentally shifted yet again. As I’ve said before, “If we wanted to buy more stuff, we’d be on the Home Shopping Network, not the social network.”

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Social media has become such a staple in modern culture we’re finally establishing concrete etiquette for using it. Kinda like, the “Don’t call people before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.” probably didn’t come about the instant the telephone was invented.

Yes, there were “rules” we knew intuitively, but it took a couple years of poor behavior for us to say, “ENOUGH. I’ve had four direct messages from you on Twitter thanking me for the follow and asking for me to buy a book….UNFOLLOW.”

Pop! Goes the Bubble

Is social media essential for author success? Of course it is. Just because a gazillion dot.coms went under doesn’t mean on-line shopping isn’t bigger than ever. As with any revolution, it takes a lot of people jumping in with new ideas to sort the stinkers from the stickers. Buying books on-line? YAY! Grocery shopping on-line? Eh.

We still want to squeeze the Charmin tomatoes.

What I love about the new paradigm is it will test our motivations. Those writing for the wrong reasons (getting RICH) will probably burn out and grumble away. But those of us writing because we LOVE writing will keep pressing, keep working, keep connecting, and trying new things. We will be the new generation of authors no matter the path we choose—traditional or non-traditional.

Social media training will be less about technology and more how to become expert connectors and community-builders, which is what my latest book Rise of the Machines-Human Authors in a Digital World teaches how to do. So long as people buy on-line, social media (and doing it WELL) will remain a key component to success.

But creating relationships has always been a solid business practice. Maybe buy them a coffee ;) .

I love hearing from you!

What are your thoughts? Did you underestimate the power of coffee to change the world? Do you think social media has normalized like on-line commerce? Do you think regular people are becoming more aware of an existing etiquette? Are you less permissive of “rude” behavior you might have forgiven three years ago?

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

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Writing—So Easy a Caveman Can Do It

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Recently a Facebook friend shared a post with me regarding Indie Musicians versus Indie Authors. It appears our culture has a fascination and reverence for the Indie Musician whereas Indie Authors face an immediate stigma. We authors have to continually prove ourselves, whereas musicians don’t (at least not in the same way). My friend seemed perplexed, but to me it’s very simple.

We’re not even going to address the flood of “bad” books. Many writers rush to publish before they’re ready, don’t secure proper editing, etc. But I feel the issue is deeper and it reflects one of the many challenges authors face and always will.

People give automatic respect to a musician because not everyone can play an instrument or sing. Simple. It’s clear that artist can do something many cannot.

As writers, we have an insidious enemy. People believe what we do is easy. If we are good writers, we make it look effortless. I recall being a kid watching the Olympics. The gymnasts made those handsprings look like nothing. Being four years old, I dove in…and broke my arm…twice (because I’m an overachiever that way).

The blunt truth is everyone has a story to tell. They do. Every life can be fascinating in the hands of a skilled author. Every idea can be masterful in the hands of a wordsmith. Ah, but the general public assumption is that the only thing standing between them and being J.K. Rowling is merely sitting down and finishing the story. Many believe that, because they’re literate and have command of their native language that they can do what we do.

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Of course, this isn’t the case (as we know all too well). A trained author draws the reader into a world of magic where the audience doesn’t notice the wires and mirrors, only the floating woman. We blend plot arc and character arc to drive tension.

We must develop layered, dimensional “people” and blend in setting and world-building where it’s so integrated it’s probably unnoticed. In fact, if people do notice, likely that section needs edit. Great dialogue is a skill. Subtext, theme, and on and on.

Readers generally don’t appreciate how we’ve done this, they only know we’ve created this magic when they get lost in the book, when they can find no “good” place for a bookmark. This is one of the reasons I strongly caution novelists starting “writing blogs.”

Readers don’t care about structure, POV, word echoes, verb issues, or formatting unless we screw them up. Only other writers care about how we use our tools. Readers care about the finished product.

Why Do I Mention This?

Most of us will face mass opposition when making the decision to write for a living. People see so much writing all around them, they take it for granted.

Many years ago, I got my start as a technical writer and copy writer/editor. I remember an acquaintance making a snarky comment about how there was no money in writing and essentially it was all foolishness (he was a stock broker). I’d finally grown enough of a spine that I stood up to him.

Me: You watch movies and television I assume.

Jerk: Of course.

Me: And when you’re learning a software program, I assume you use the Help tools.

Jerk: Yes *strange face*

Me: And magazines? Articles? The news? I assume you enjoy those too.

Jerk: *getting quiet*

Me: Then there are commercials, textbooks and the Internet. I’d wager you use Google.

Jerk: What are you saying?

Me: Last I checked, the Internet involved a lot of words. No writing, and the Internet is just a super expensive picture book. And, perhaps I’m out of line, but I’d imagine someone wrote the screenplays to the shows and movies you enjoy. I can’t see Hollywood paying a hundred million dollars for actors to just “riff.” Someone wrote the instructions to put together your computer desk and wrote those textbooks you used to train you for your career. And I’d even go so far as to say someone wrote those novels you enjoy and the magazine and news articles you consume regularly. 

Jerk: *silence*

Humans have been so spoiled with writing for so many centuries, they frequently dismiss it. Centuries ago there was far more reverence for the writer, but this was in the days when most people were illiterate. Only a handful of special people had the time, money, education to write (or read).

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

The wonderful side of public education and widespread literacy is this means more readers. Yes, those early authors were legends, but most of us would cry if we had the same book sales. There was no such thing as selling millions of books.

Of course the dark side is that humans have a tendency to take things for granted. We all do it. We assume if we paid our bill, we’ll have power. If we call 911, someone will answer. If the roads are a mess, someone will repair them. And writing? Everyone can do that.

It’s easy.

Stand Firm to the Truth

We know what we do is anything but easy, but we must be vigilant against this widespread perception or it will lead to self-doubt, giving up, being hypercritical of our own work, or seeking to please everyone with our story.

Those of you who’ve followed this blog know I have a thing for little “sayings.” Often I put them on Post-It Notes to remind me. One of my go-to phrases is, If you cannot defeat them, distract them. 

I’ve been in writing groups where the writer took every last comment/criticism as if it were gospel. When we are new, most of us lack confidence. This can lead to the Book-By-Committee. We keep changing the plot, the characters, the dialogue because one person frowned (and we didn’t realize they merely had gas).

I’m 20,000 words into Book Two of a trilogy. I sent the first book out to trusted beta readers. Every beta reader loved the book…save one. Characters all the other readers enjoyed, the one beta despised. The main group loved the description, the human flaws, the layers of complex plot. The critical beta recommended tearing down and starting over.

Now, in “The Old Days” I would have ignored what nine people said to please ONE. I’d have cried and indulged in gratuitous self-pity and believed I could never write a novel. Woe is me. I’d have trashed the book and started over.

Now? Pfft. I have rhino skin. I’m beyond the point where I need hand-holding and ego-stroking (blogging will beat that out of you).

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Are all this one beta’s comments bad or utterly misguided? Not at all. I took the detailed notes the beta gave and sent them to those who loved the book. I genuinely wanted the truth. “Hey, did you guys feel/see any of these things? Is a total rewrite something I should consider? I think many of the ‘problems’ can be fixed with a handful of sentences. But, if I need a complete tear-down, now is the time to tell me.”

I’ve written the Book-By-Committee and it is an ugly beast that pleases no one.

I recently picked up a piece of my early writing that was slayed by a well-meaning critique group. As a more mature writer and editor, I saw that they’d benevolently edited the life out of my work. They were injecting their genre, preferences, and voice onto my work. And I eagerly gobbled it down and rendered a solid piece of writing a soulless Frankenstein mess.

I used to be a pretty good novella.

I used to be a pretty good novella.

Critique and editing are critical, but we must handle with care. First, we need thick skin. Professionals should not have to be coddled and handheld. We can offer a thoughtful, articulated defense as to why we made certain decisions, but this is different from being defensive. One is the product of confidence and the other is the Goo of Doubt.

If all ten beta readers saw the same thing? Houston, we have a problem. One? I still should listen, but with care. If I don’t, I risk overworking a book trying to attain the unattainable—perfection.

I actually found it funny how this experience elucidated points I’ve been making lately. We can NEVER write a book everyone loves. We can’t. It was almost laughable looking at my edits. Lines of dialogue the others highlighted with “LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” were the same lines the critical beta advised I delete.

But, this is why we must stand firm and remain true. I could cry and go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and I will still have at least one person (likely more) who doesn’t like final product. This is why we must learn to keep pressing forward and ship.

Learn the Art of Discernment

Being a professional author cannot be a democracy where everyone has an equal vote (unless you just want to go crazy). In ways, we have to be more of a benevolent dictatorship. Learn to say, “I hear your concerns and I’ll take them under advisement.” Why? Because everyone has opinions and advice, but only we will live with the consequences.

Remember, If you cannot defeat them, distract them. Trying to write the book that all demographics will love is a fruitless endeavor. It’s a distraction which will lead to defeat. Keep writing. Failure isn’t bad, it’s the tuition we pay for success. Understand that the world can believe what we do is easy, but they have a right to be wrong. We know better. Choose which voices to listen to. Part of maturity is learning the art of discernment.

Be brave enough to hand your work to someone who might hate it. The one beta who didn’t like my book? Doesn’t read this genre, hates description and has vastly different preferences than I do for pleasure reading. I knew I’d get my literary @$$ handed to me when I passed it over. BUT, this beta picked up on things the others missed ;) .

Maybe I’m unwilling to completely burn the book to the ground and start over, but that doesn’t mean this beta didn’t point out areas that people who LOVE the genre missed. Areas that WILL make a far stronger book. Surrounding ourselves with yes-men doesn’t inspire growth. This is why rhino skin is SO valuable.

We can hand our work to someone we suspect will HATE it. But then we can sift through all the commentary and search for diamonds. If we’re too sensitive, we might miss that ONE comment that takes the book to a whole new level. Okay, this beta reader wanted to shoot 330 pages out of 331 in the face, BUT on Page 287? That’s a great point.

***And I am being hyperbolic. We should seek out those who will give our book the trial of fire, but we don’t have to hand it to people who will destroy our will to ever write again.***

Learn to select what applies and leave the rest on the table. Criticism, opinions and advice are like a giant buffet. We select what to put on our plate, then later we choose what we gobble down or throw away. This is true in writing and in life.

People might believe writers are all starving, broke deadbeats chain-smoking outside of coffee bars when they aren’t writing bad poetry. They have the right to be wrong. People can believe what we do is easy. Hey, it means we are doing our jobs well. Others will criticize, but we choose whether that drives us or distracts us.

And a BONUS FRIDAY FUNNY. Since we were talking about how humans naturally take so many things for granted, I hope you’ll take three minutes to reach out and help a person suffering with FWP:

What are your thoughts? Do you find that public perception that what we do is “easy” infects your attitude? Maybe it makes you insecure or overly self-critical? Have you struggled with critique, found yourself trying to please everyone? Did you make a mess out of your art? Have you learned discernment? Which voices to ignore? Are you brave enough to hand your book to someone you know will hate it in hope you can harvest that one good point? Or do you want to be a world-famous writer….so long as no one knows your real name and what you look like? :D

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World

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318 Comments

Why Now is the Best Time to be a Writer

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...

Johnny Cat as Evil Editor…

Those of you who follow my blog know that optimism IS my super-power. Yes, The Digital Age can be daunting. We are entering uncharted territories and often we have to learn by trial and error. One of my peeves is when “statistics” compare earnings or “success” of traditional authors with self-published and indie authors.

Traditional has had generations to shape and mold a business model, whereas the new forms of publishing are still in their infancies. But, I promise you those babies are gonna grow up FAST and boy will they have an appetite.

Just to throw my in two cents; one of the LARGEST blessings of social media is we have unprecedented access to experts. Need to know about guns, law enforcement procedures, geography, whatever? SOMEONE is happy to give the answer. I had a writer friend in Europe who wanted to set part of her book in Texas, and I directed her to my Facebook pictures for ideas about what the terrain really looked like. I was also available for any questions regarding culture, food, dress, and dialogue.

Recently, I finished a novel based off a real cartel, but for safety reasons, the cartel name HAD to be fictionalized. The former DEA agent I’ve been working with advised to change the name lest I end up with my head in a bucket.

Since NOT ending up with my head in a bucket is at the TOP of my daily priority list, I needed a cool-sounding cartel name. But *sigh* I was stymied. I went to Facebook and asked my community, and, not only did I get the coolest cartel name EVER, but I had lists of wonderful suggestions for future books. I was able to tap into outside creative reserves and WHAT a time-saver. My FB community came up with ideas WAY better than I ever could have.

Today, I have a generous guest post from Jessica Baverstock to give her reasons why this is the BEST time in history to be a writer.

Take it away, Jessica!

***

All industries go through periods of change. The writing industry is no different. When faced with changes, it’s common to wonder what’s going to happen to the familiar way of doing things. The writing life can be a hard slog some days. With the rise of self-publishing, getting our work into the world and noticed can seem even more daunting.

We’re told that publishers are not taking chances on new manuscripts, that people are reading less and that self-published authors are flooding the online shelves. The term ‘book-saturated market’ makes the situation sound dire. But the truth of the matter is that now is the best time to be a writer. I can think of at least 5 reasons why.

Community

Writing is no longer a solitary endeavor. The advent of technology has connected all our little writing desks from around the world into an incredible online support network. The MyWANA community is a sterling example of this, as we’ve seen just recently. It’s not uncommon for writers to provide emotional, and at times even financial, support to their fellow scribes from the other side of the globe. Just pause for a moment and consider how spoilt we all are.

Another upside to community is the generosity of knowledge. Rather than having to struggle through the haze of writing inexperience, we have fellow authors who freely share the blueprints of how they reached their level of success. Whatever our question, whatever our problem, there’s someone ready to lend a helping hand and encourage us to keep going.

WANAs at play at Huntington Beach...

WANAs at play at Huntington Beach…

Common Goals

More people than ever before are sending their writing out into the world. At times we may view this as a negative but the reality is our fellow writers’ successes are a boon for us all. Why? Because when a reader experiences a compelling read, a book they enjoyed and savoured, that reader is left wanting more books.

As a community, our job is to entice readers into the literary world and convince them that books are just as immersive as other forms of media. We’re not competing against each other, we’re competing against TV and other distractions. Therefore, the more writers we have working towards this common goal the better! Look around you and see all the wonderful books being released. Join the cause and make your book the best read possible.

New Methods to Get Our Writing Out There

New mediums are opening up for sharing our writing. E-books are making short stories and novellas more popular. We no longer need to worry about reaching a certain length for print. Instead, we’ve been given the freedom to choose the best length for our story.

Smartphones and tablets mean far more people are listening to audio recordings.  Audio books and podcasts are becoming easier to produce which increases the potential for new readers – or should we say ‘listeners’? Some writers are even turning their books into aps or experimenting in other ways. What a creative wonderland we live in today.

Meet the Readers of the Future. These kids EAT books, but not in paper ;)

Meet the Readers of the Future. These kids EAT books, but not in paper ;)

Online forums and webinars provide writers with the ability to connect with readers wherever they may be found on the globe. The opportunities are limited only by our imagination and determination.

Ergonomics

Thanks to the technology we have around us today, the actual act of writing couldn’t be easier. I personally would be permanently crippled with repetitive strain injury in my wrist were it not for my ergonomically friendly keyboard. Other writers may have great difficulty writing with pen, but through typing or even voice-recognition software their words have finally found the page.

And think how easy it is to edit a manuscript without having to write or type it out completely afresh each time we want to change a typo. Gone are the days when you could tell a writer by the ink stains on their hands. The next generation of writers might not even know what a ‘writer’s callus’ looks like.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Online Research

While the Internet is likely the single biggest writing distraction ever invented, it’s also the most incredible tool for research. Think of all the information that’s literally at our fingertips now. With a quick search we can pull up details and images that could have taken us months or even years to find in the past.

It puts us in contact with people who can answer our questions and provides us everything from recent weather to historical fashion and even ancient recipes. Photographs, videos, audio recordings and virtual maps give us almost instant access to just about every piece of sensory information needed to bring our characters and worlds to life. I don’t know about you, but I for one am ecstatic to be a writer right now! New opportunities are opening up all the time for us as a community to explore together.

Those are my five reasons as to why now is the best time to be a writer. What are yours? Do you have new technologies that make being a writer easier and more efficient? Are you excited about multimedia and all the creative ways to deliver stories? Do you enjoy audio books? Are you thrilled that forms of writing that were almost rendered extinct (poetry, short stories, novellas, etc.) are now making a big comeback?

***

Thanks, Jessica! I love the new paradigm and thanks for reminding us how richly blessed we really are.

We LOVE hearing from you! And comments for guests count DOUBLE!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 9.28.33 AMJessica Baverstock blogs at Creativity’s Workshop where her creativity writes in purple text. Her latest e-book Creativity on Demand covers how writers can access their creativity whenever and wherever they need inspiration.

Announcements:

WANACon is a virtual writing conference loaded with top-tier industry professionals—authors, agents, editors and best-selling authors. Right now we have an Early Bird Special. Sign Up Here.

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

Also, TOMORROW, I have a new class, Many Roads to Rome—Which Publishing Path is Best?Use WANA15 for 15% off.

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97 Comments

Author Beware—What to Look for in an Indie Publisher

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy

On Wednesday, we talked about all the types of publishing paths and how the new paradigm is becoming increasingly flexible and author-friendly. There is no “right path” only a path that is right for you, which we will talk about in a moment.

To keep up with all the changes in The Digital Age, we created WANACon, which is a virtual conference and as close to the real thing one can get without a holo-deck. No travel, no hotel, from home, and all recordings are included so you can fit a writing conference to your schedule no matter where in the world you happen to live. Also you can listen to anything you miss or might need to revisit. Talk to agents, editors and professionals without ever stepping outside.

Over 20 presentations on craft, social media, platform-building, web design, cover design, and agents…delivered straight to YOU. No matter which publishing path you choose, WANACon has you covered—Traditional, Indie and Self-Publishing. Our Early Bird Special lasts through January 31st. Use the code EarlyBird for $30 off the $149. Sign up here.

Since WANA embraces publishing as a whole, we have USA Today best-selling authors, best-selling Indies and Self-Pubs. As I mentioned, WANACon has even recruited literary agents and editors to present and take pitches. We want the perfect fit for you.

Today, one of our presenters, PDMI Publishing is here to talk about the advantages of Indie Publishing and what to look for before you sign any contract (whether it is with them or another Indie Press).

I know PDMI is committed to writers. They’ve been very good to me and extremely supportive even though I’m not one of their authors and they make no money being kind to me. Even WANACon is almost 100% volunteer. It’s how we can keep the price affordable. Yet, PDMI is sending in an entire team to educate authors.

Take it away, Victoria!

****

Most of us go to work to pay the bills; if we get to enjoy our job, that’s a plus. If we’re passionate about what we do, that’s both unusual and remarkable. But should it be?

Many Indie publishers are guided by the idea that, if we’re going to spend so much of our lives working, why shouldn’t it be a pleasant experience? Passion is paramount. From the owner to the newest trainee editor, a good Indie team loves what they do, and they’re committed to the authors in their care.

Indie houses are in the pioneer stages of development, and this sense of being in at the start of things gives their products a fresh edge and encourages imagination. This is what makes dealing with an independent publisher so special for an author.

The question is, how does an author find the right fit?  What can she hope for? What can she demand? At our press we look at three crucial areas of expertise, and we develop teams for each author based on her goals and the expertise required.

Step #1 Editing

This heart-wrenching but critical piece of any professional publication starts before the manuscript is submitted. First, an author needs to make sure – double sure – that her manuscript is in the best possible shape before it’s submitted. Check each press’s submission requirements and follow them closely. Indies are usually understaffed, so an author can lose a chance at getting an ideal fit simply because he/she failed to follow instructions.

Editing, a conversation between the author and her assigned editor, usually occurs at least twice.  Many times the editor is paid from royalties, so he has a vested interest in the book’s success. The author should find a mentor; a guide–someone that allows that special voice to shine but brings polish and professionalism to the text. The process can take 3-4 months to complete.

No editor will make a good team member if he’s continuously harassed about a manuscript.  On the other hand, the author should get an expected timeline for delivery and start checking if a deadline slips by. Find someone who can help you grow something other than gray hairs. 

Step #2 Artwork

Indies also give an author an opportunity to express her work in illustrations and cover art.  The author needs an illustrator that listens to her voice and happens to care what is actually in the book.  However, it’s also important to listen to the pro when it comes to marketability.  Remember, this is a team.

The Indie staff has a vested interest in the success of the book, so use their expertise. Indies might have several illustrators, and sometimes more than one will work on a book. The author should look for the partnership that makes her feel like part of the process, and not like a commodity.  But listen to the artist – you don’t want your book to get lost in the crowd, and a stan-out cover that pops can be critical for success.

Artwork doesn’t stop at the cover or with a few illustrations. Formatting style can be the difference between looking like the book came off a copy machine at the library or looking like a crafted work, designed by someone with a passion for detail. Not all Indies spend a lot of time here. While searching for a team, consider purchasing a published book from the potential press. Does the work look like it can compete in the commercial market, or does it look like it came off a mimeograph machine?

Step #3 Marketing

The last component that our team focuses on is marketing. Kristen is the ninja when it comes to author strategies for marketing author brands and their work. Yet, an author still needs a publisher that is willing to support all that hard work. Indies have very limited resources for adverting, and they tend to use them judiciously, but there are many things that an author should expect as a bare minimum. Again, in this world, it should be a team or the author needs to keep searching. Not all Indies are equal in this most critical step.

The author should expect help to secure several reviews in different venues. There should be an active program to submit manuscripts for awards.  At our press, the editorial department is responsible for selecting the book and the genre. Our authors can enter in more genres if they choose. We also help with special events, conventions, and signings.

Some Indies require their authors to have a webpage, some build them; still others offer training. In our case, we have a close-knit group that supports each other and shares ideas on how to get the book and the author in the public eye.  Sometimes our clubhouse looks like Romper Room, sometimes the War Room; but we have fun and support each other every step of the way.

Writing is a lonely occupation, but for those who connect with one of the growing number of small independent publishers, it can become a bit like joining a family. There is a true sense of coming home and knowing that for all the employees of the firm, your success will be felt as their success. It’s what they come to work for and what makes dealing with them so rewarding.

Who are we?

We are PDMI Publishing, LLC; a place where team is a way of life, not a cliché.  Our Marketing Team, Peter Wells and Daven Anderson, invite you to join the company at the Birmingham Public Library Authors Expo in Birmingham, AL on February 1, 2014.  The Expo runs from 9:00 AM to 3:00PM.  We’ll be taking Kristen with us!  Well, at least we’ll have her latest book, Rise of the Machines, on hand.  On February 2, some of our authors will be guests at 2nd & Charles in Hoover, AL for a book signing event from 1:00 to 3:00. You can also catch us at WANACon 2014!

Wherever you go, whatever you do with your career, stay true to yourself as your manuscript finds its way to market. Find a partner that helps you mold your thoughts into a professional and marketable piece of work. Here at PDMI, we’re happy to help you discover what path is best for you; this is where we “sculpt personal voices and visions into print.”

***

Thank you so much for your time. As a writer who was once Indie, I can attest these are all areas we must examine thoroughly before making any final decisions. It’s a lot of work writing books and building a platform. A publisher—ANY publisher—should make life easier. No press is perfect, but publishers can strive to always improve and innovate. My experience with Indie was very positive. I know there are many wonderful committed teams out there who love writers and love books.

What are your thoughts? The PDMI Team will be around to answer any questions and I look forward to seeing y’all at WANACon!

I LOVE hearing from you! Comments for guests get double points.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

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88 Comments

Three Tips for Finding the Perfect Publishing Path

Publishing can feel a little like THIS...

Publishing can feel a little like THIS…

We writers live in interesting times. The same digital tsunami that toppled Tower Records and collapsed Kodak has now consumed the world of publishing. The world we knew five years ago is gone. Traditional is reinventing, indie publishers are growing and self-publishing now can be a viable part of any author’s long-term career plan. This is one of the main reasons WANA has never taken sides and embraces publishing as a whole.

Granted, some authors may find a singular path that fits all their needs, but a majority of us will mix it up and venture on a hybrid path. Traditional houses are encouraging writers to self-publish prequels, short stories, or even stories involving supporting characters to keep the fan fires burning between books.

Indie houses are helping established authors breathe new life into backlists and new authors get a start under the care of professionals. Self-publishing is a fantastic way to begin and hone the skills required to be successful long-term (solid work ethic, business skills, social media, and thick skin). Sell enough books? Agents and editors will seek you out.

I began indie published, then switched to self-published because 1) I write about publishing so I wanted to experience the process of all paths and 2) my topic is time-sensitive 3) *hangs head* I’m a teensy tiny bit of a control freak. I LOVE being able to oversee artistic elements that, before, were out of my hands.

Yes, I wanted to be a cyborg. I have few goals in life, but being a cyborg was up there. I doubt NY would have permitted me to be a cyborg. They wouldn’t let me have a light saber either. Can we say deal-breaker?

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

HA! Mommy-Bot!

Finding the perfect fit is a process and we will outgrow some choices. But, hopefully these tips can serve as guideposts to keep you on track ;).

#1 There is NO Until Death Do Us Part

We are not married to any publishing path. We will grow, our content will evolve and we might even have to completely change direction (like me deciding to self-publish). Writing is an art, but it’s also a business. Blind loyalty is not required.

Just because we change direction doesn’t mean that is set in stone either. Certain works, personalities and even what’s going on in our personal lives can affect which publishing path is the best fit.

Life can change on a dime. So can dreams and goals. We might be rocking self-publishing and then life tosses us in a Vita-Mix and we no longer have the focus and energy to maintain doing everything. Or, maybe you’ll begin being traditionally published then discover you want to write faster than the publisher’s schedule permits.

For instance, I’ve been approached to co-author a successful thriller series (short works). But, my 100,000 word mystery-thriller? Either I will self-publish or see if an agent thinks a traditional deal is better. I already reached my goal of being a cyborg, so “lack of cover art control” is less of a deal-breaker these days. I also am (blessedly) a lot busier. Thus, a slow path that would have driven me bonkers four years ago is looking a lot more appealing.

We live in a wonderful time where the works we create can find the perfect partnership and so can we. For the first time in history, publishing can be tailored to our works, needs and lives.

The new paradigm can be frightening, but the cool news is it is far more flexible.

#2 Ignore Peer Pressure

I speak at conferences and meet all kinds of authors. Writers who’ve found a great path are often the best evangelists, but there is no One-Size-Fits-All in publishing. Our friends and colleagues can offer advice, connections and guidance, but we have to be strong enough to do what we believe is best for our careers.

It was hard for me to step away to self-publish. I had NY agent friends who assured me that I could get a NYC traditional deal and implored me to reconsider. But, I’d already spent over two years sitting on Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. I needed to move on.

Though everything in me wanted to be a Random-Penguin, I knew it wasn’t right for this book. It was terrifying stepping out alone. Others might mean well, but we have to make our own decisions because only we will face the consequences (or reap the rewards).

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

#3 Be A Realistic Dreamer

We all hear the stories of the “overnight successes,” but those are the outliers. I encourage all of you to dream. Dream BIG while you’re at it. Ignore the naysayers, because they’re mostly jealous chickens. It takes guts to do what we do. There is no magic marketing plan, no algorithmic alchemy guaranteed to catapult us to fame and fortune. This is a business. Writers (books) fill intellectual or emotional needs. 

Image with Twig the Fairy

Image with Twig the Fairy

There is no rhyme or reason to what sells or what might become popular because we live in an ever-shifting world filled with people who have free-will. We never know what genre/story will speak to an audience, which is why we should simply write what we are called to write. There are a lot of components we simply cannot control.

If society is in great political upheaval, the last thing they might want to read is a dystopian. But? Things settle down and it might be the next big thing. Demand is often influenced by societal factors, the economy, current events, or even flukes. This is why it’s critical to ignore all that noise and focus on the areas we can control: platform, craft, publishing, etc. Focus on the business of our business and keep writing.

I’m not particularly worried about competition. Books are not so cost-prohibitive readers can’t buy more than one. Yet, aside from this, most people will give up. Long-term success as a writer (or anything) is a formula:

Self-Discipline + Teachability + Tenacity + Talent= Success

Talent alone is useless without the other components. I’ve met many talented writers who will never succeed because they don’t finish anything. I’ve met tenacious authors who work their fingers to the bone, but aren’t teachable. They believe more advertising will increase sales, when the tough truth is they need to focus on craft. Or, perhaps the first book is fantastic, but many writers stop there and spend every bit of energy on marketing ONE book.

This new paradigm will weed out those who are writing for the wrong reasons. Whenever we decide to become writers, we need to inspect our motives. Are we writing because we LOVE to write? Would we still do it if we never made money? Do we have something to prove?

Agendas will affect the dream.

We are entrepreneurs. I’ve met small business owners who went bankrupt because they went into business so they could work when they wanted to. Problem was, they never worked. We need to always review why we are here, why we have THIS dream, and make sure it’s driven by motives that can withstand heat, pressure and time. Can we maintain discipline and enthusiasm during The Lean Years?

I want all of you to live the dream and love your work. We have to spend most of our lives working anyway, so why shouldn’t it be fun? Something we are passionate about? This is why we need to make certain we are educated enough to make sound career decisions. Few things can make us more miserable than being trapped on the wrong path (been there). This is why I am offering  new class Many Roads to Rome—Which Publishing Path is Best? January 25th (which is a Saturday). Use WANA15 for 15% off.

What are your thoughts? Have you been confused about all the options? Tempted by peer pressure? Have you found a wonderful fit? Why does it suit you? Have you had to change your path/plans? Why? What drove your decision?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

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67 Comments

Consolidation, Nooble & Agents Who CARE—What’s Ahead for 2014 in Publishing

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

I promised yesterday, I’d offer up some predictions for publishing in 2014. I don’t know if these are “predictions” or “suggestions” but I am, at heart, an eternal optimist. As I’ve said many, many times, this is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer. It’s a Golden Age of Publishing if we’re willing to embrace the new. Yes, there are challenges. I might be an optimist, but I’m not a moron (okay, that time I accidentally drove to Missouri doesn’t count).

There are new perils ahead, ones we won’t know about until we step both feet in them. In ways, writers are The Lewis and Clark Expedition Literary Edition unfolding in 0s and 1s. This part of why I implored yesterday for writers to be involved in their social media communities. This new paradigm is awesome, but predators abound.

Sadly, there will be more wanna-be publishers, more bad books, more phony reviews, more bullying, more competition, and discoverability will only get tougher…exponentially. But, the flip-side is that writers are making more money, novelists can finally make a living, moth-balled novels are seeing new life and creating new fans, and unique and creative genres are being born. Additionally, forms of writing nearly rendered extinct (poetry, novellas, etc.) have been given new life and authors have a lot more choices and control. We trade one set of problems for new advantages (and…yes…new troubles).

Like the dot-com burst of the 90s, this paradigm will eventually find its way. New gatekeepers will emerge and the market will stabilize…until the next revolution. But until that time…

First, Consolidation is King

Back in The Olden Olden Days, humans went to the butcher for meat, the baker for bread, the smithy for nails, and the tailor for clothes. Then Super Walmart was invented (okay grocery stores then supermarkets might have “paved the way” *rolls eyes*). As humans became more pressed for time, consolidation became vital for competitive edge. Now, we don’t have to trek to the liquor store for the New Year’s Eve champagne when we can simply pick it up at the supermarket with the very last fattening food we’re eating EVER….

….okay, until February.

Consolidation is everywhere. Gaming systems no longer just play games. Try ordering a movie on your 1986 Atari. Want to post on Facebook or peruse You Tube? A Nintendo 64 probably won’t do the trick. In 1990, if we said, “Wow, I need to take Christmas pictures. Let me get my phone!” Men in white coats would show up uninvited and take us away for a “vacation.”

Want to take pictures with your PHONE? Might we suggest one of these...

Want to take pictures with your PHONE? Might we suggest one of these…

Gaming consoles (XBox) now stream video, allow us to access movies, Amazon, social media, and even shop. Phones are no longer just phones. They play music, manage bank accounts, surf the web, take pictures and video, and entertain toddlers (um, Angry Birds?). We can even run a business remotely using various applications. Try that on THIS.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Robert Huffstutter.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Robert Huffstutter.

Aside from calling people and generating a seething hatred for those unfortunate souls with too many 0s in their phone numbers? THIS bad boy (above) was good for calling people and letting them call US…and maybe braining a burglar or dazing a Florida cockroach long enough to shoot it with a GUN.

These days, more and more people rely on smart phones and tablets for everything. 

Why do I mention this? Because the future of physical bookstores relies on partnering with other types of retailers. Um, consolidation?

The closest Barnes & Noble to me is in the heart of the BUSIEST FREAKING MALL in DFW, Texas. I am simply not that motivated. What if indie bookstores or Barnes & Noble took the path of Starbucks? Tuck that sucker (a mini-version) in a Target, supermarket or a Costco. I NEED food. Books? Eh, shop on-line. Stick them TOGETHER and lure me with the SHINY. I am SO THERE!

Much like I can buy wine at my local Krogers, why can’t I have a choice of more than a handful of books on one aisle? Make life easier. Gas is expensive and I don’t OWN CLONING TECHNOLOGY, BUT MY LAUNDRY DOES.

*left eye twitches*

This dovetails into my first prediction.

Prediction #1—Kiosks and Microstores Will Gain Traction

Blockbuster is dead. Alas, Red Box remains.

The trade paperback is fairly standard, so digital kiosks are a great alternative. Make the Espresso technology a lot like Red Box. A touch-screen panel to peruse recommended books then pay for either a) a download or b) a rental (limited e-book that expires—integrating the library into this business plan) or c) a printed book (with a coupon for 15% off a latte or grocery purchase over $50, of course).

A “rental”? Yup. Wouldn’t that be great for those books we were forced assigned to read in high school and college? And, if we “rent” the book, this can count towards the purchase of the book if we do want to actually keep and reread Moby Dick. Win-win.

If Best Buy will do this, why not B&N?

If Best Buy will do this, why not B&N?

Microstore? YES.

Think of the small stores in airports. I’d much rather have a small store with an educated and well-read staff to help guide what to read than to throw chance to the wind on-line. Microstores can still stock the most popular paperbacks/hardbacks/collections, but then they can guide consumers what to load on their new devices (and maybe even help) or print on the Espresso machine.

The largest consumer group is the Baby Boomers. An educated bookseller could not only guide what to read, but also demonstrate how to upload books to the new device. Maybe even load some freebies for great customer service? *wink, wink*

These booksellers can act as gatekeepers to help modern consumers avoid the digital slush pile. Indies, self-pub and traditional would be on a level playing field. Good books would be recommended by staff members who READ and who are PASSIONATE about BOOKS. Pay the book salespeople a flat commission. Who cares if they recommend James Patterson or Joe Schmoe Patterson? They sold a book and if they want customers to return and offer more commission? They’ll probably want to recommend good books.

Prediction #2—Booksellers Cultivate a Culture of Reviewers

Microstores can also encourage reviews in a way authors can’t. I’d love to offer sweet prizes for reviewing my book, but it’s just too…what’s the term? Creepy. Sure, I want reviews as much as the next author, but it’s a fine line that can get writers in ethical trouble. A microstore wouldn’t have this issue. They could actually cultivate a culture of reviewers.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Micro Indie Booksellers could offer incentives to the best reviewers who write ACTUAL reviews (no matter what book it happens to be, thus removing problem of favoritism). If people act like trolls or play sock puppet? Doesn’t count. The more the customers review, the better (educated) reviews they post? The more bonuses they receive. Booksellers can reward consumers for being active and ethical citizens of the reading culture.

This helps the microstore, the bigger retail outlet (who rents space and partners with discounts), the consumer struggling to save time and who needs guidance, and it helps authors get REAL reviews. Not this, pay us to read your stuff and say something nice nonsense. It’s a positive way to combat bullying and encourage thoughtful, genuine reviews.

Prediction #3—The Boutique Boom

We already touched on this when we discussed micro-trends, but part of why Big Publishing is hemorrhaging is because small is the new big (thanks, Seth Godin). Big Publishing makes most of its profits off the mega-trend, but mega-trends are dying. Amazon has grown exponentially because it harnesses the momentum of millions of micro-trends. Authors don’t have to reach millions of people to make a good profit/living (if one takes away the needless waste of the old paradigm). Publishers don’t either ;).

Prediction #4—Strong Indie Houses Will Replace Big Publishing

Granted, we live in a time when everyone can be an author and everyone can be a publisher, but this business is tough. It requires capital, business savvy, organization, innovation and raw tenacity. This means a lot of indie publishers won’t last, and the ones that do will add increasing value. Because these new publishers are innovative, lean, offer higher royalties, and aren’t married to massive Manhattan overhead and paper, they’ll eventually replace NY publishing (and we hope they’ll learn from The Big Six’s mistakes).

When one considers the current business trajectory? Bookstores, libraries and foreign markets are becoming increasingly friendly to indies. They have to in order to survive. Loyalty to NY only goes so far when one is facing extinction. What will NY do when indies can do everything they can and offer lower prices to consumers and higher pay for authors?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Robert Ellsworth Tyler

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Robert Ellsworth Tyler

Prediction #5—AP Reviewers Will Be Forced to Take ALL Authors Seriously or Perish

As is stands, it’s almost impossible for a self-published author to score an AP (Associated Press) review. Yet, when we’re now in a time when non-traditional authors are matching or outselling traditional authors? How long can the AP remain silent about the books people are reading? If they don’t dive in? Book bloggers will happily replace them, and maybe they should. The press was never meant to solely be a mouthpiece for conglomerates.

Prediction #6—Social Norms Will Trump Market Norms

Freebies, give-aways, contests, algorithms, coupons, are fine, but alone? Invisible. Writers must be engaged personally and create community or it’s Career Roulette. We (consumers) don’t want any more deluge of free stuff. We are drowning in FREE. We don’t want more newsletters crapping up our In-Box. We don’t want link spam.

We want connection.

The 18th-20th century world was actually a historical anomaly. The factory model, the TV-Industrial Complex, the World of Big Business and Bigger Gatekeepers is GONE. We’ve returned to our human roots. We want to laugh, talk, klatsche, and we gravitate to who we know and like. We humans are returning to our tribal roots.

Algorithms will be harder to manipulate, reviews tougher to fake, and promotions will grow increasingly invisible, especially as new emerging markets add even more competition to the din.

Prediction #7—Age of the Artist

Multimedia is the future. Books eventually have to be more than books (much like phones became more than phones). Consumers will gravitate to e-books with sound, music, images, quick reference, video, similar reading suggestions, etc. Artists working together will thrive. E-books can create communities where fans can become friends, talk, argue, and hang out.

Musicians? Make friends with writers and offer short music selections. Photographers and graphic artists? Writers need cover art and internal images. Videographers? Writers need book trailers that don’t suck. Also, short video clips can enhance the reading experience. Heck, team up and put together music videos for a book. Get creative!

We are ARTISTS. This means we cannot be automated or replaced by robots. ENJOY!

No, I am not saying paper will go away. It won’t. But when I bought an IPad for business, it was soon abducted by a two-and-a-half-year-old and I haven’t seen it since. The Spawn reads. A LOT. But he reads off the IPad, because he loves interacting.

Prediction #8—A New Breed of Reader

I mention the IPad, then quickly hear the cry of the, “But you’ll damage their BRAINS” crowd. Uh huh. Just like those record players paired with books damaged me when I was four. The interactive experience has always been there. In cave times, it was around a fire listening to a storyteller/bard. Later, book clubs, records, tapes, blah, blah, blah. Interactivity has always been there, only today, it’s been heightened to new levels.

And when I was that nerdy teen reading a paper book ALONE, what I would have given for a crowd of likeminded teens all over the world who shared my love for Dragonlance books and my passion for The Pawn of Prophesy. I love how detractors decry that technology makes people less able to socialize, because I was SO SOCIAL with my stack of paper books hiding in a corner of the lunchroom praying no one would notice me.

The new paradigm has finally accomplished what Big Publishing couldn’t. It’s made reading COOL and this trend will continue to grow.

Prediction #9—Barnes & Noble Needs a Sugar Daddy Bail-Out

Barnes & Noble has been on the downward spiral for a while. What I find funny is people feel sorry for them. Remember the 90s when they all-but-demolished the indie bookstore in Darwinian fashion? Seems like karma is coming back to bite, Blockbuster-Style. B&N is facing serious comeuppance now that the bully has met with someone capable of bloodying their nose. If they do survive, they’ll have to marry well. My bet is on two major suitors.

Suitor #1? Microsoft. And I am not alone in this assessment. Microsoft operating systems still dominate tablets, personal computers, and smart phones, so the Nook can be easily integrated into the operating systems of all Microsoft devices. Microsoft would take over the e-books and B&N would survive. Yes, Microsoft has dated dabbled, but never offered a ring.

Or perhaps, one day we will tell our grandchildren of grand two-story buildings with coffee shops inside and “business hours.”

In my day we had to get in a car and drive and find PARKING and look on actual SHELVES for a book *waves cane*.

Suitor #2? GOOGLE.

Apple’s relentless innovation has slowed since the death of Steve Jobs, and Android is taking them on. The Google-Android partnership has Apple on its toes in regards to automobile iOS systems. It’s the Siri-Google Smackdown! While Apple is fighting on that front, Microsoft could take a chunk out of iBooks with a B&N bailout (and give Amazon some competition at the same time).

Or, if we want to go for the most interesting Bailout-Marriage, why not Google Books? A SEARCH ENGINE marrying a BOOKSTORE? If Google can partner with Android, B&N isn’t exactly as wild of a partnership as it might sound. If Google-Android does win the Computerized Car Business, cars are now big into downloading entertainment. AUTOTAINMENT. Want to listen to an audio book on the commute? Want to synch your reading device while stuck in traffic or on a long road trip (not while driving, please)? Want to download a new book for the kids fighting in the back seat?

Nooble…

Um, Goo-Barnes…

Um…Boogle….

NOBLE GOOGLE is HERE!

Hmm, Noble Google. Kinda catchy :D. Though Nooble is cute.

Prediction #10—Agents Will Have to Innovate, Too

Agents. Yeah. I recall the days when conferences would pay big bucks for agents to attend…and then the agents refused to talk to authors. I can personally attest to enduring the brunt of daring to talk to those who’d come down from Mt. Olympus NYC to talk to me, a lowly mortal…writer. *shivers* They sneered that we made a typo in a query, yet couldn’t be bothered to even spell our names correctly in a rejection letter (been there). Agents tweeted lines out of queries as jokes. They laughed and mocked writers on-line worse than a den of high school Mean Girls, but now?

Wait.

Writers still have a job.

REVELATION! Agents need writers. Whouda’ thunk? Now, make no mistake, I think agents are awesome. We are wise to have a good agent. Many agents are tireless champions who should be paid better, but the old paradigm birthed a lot of prima donnas who forgot who paid their wages.

Some of the BEST people I know are agents. Laurie McLean (of Forward Literary) is not only a FABULOUS agent, but a marvelous human being and my friend. BUT, Laurie is there for WRITERS. She’s a warrior for good writers and great books, and there are many agents like her. In the new paradigm? Agents like these will thrive and they SHOULD.

Authors need allies and agents can help even the self-pubbed or indie author. Laurie is extremely forward-thinking and always has been. When I first taught social media in 2008? She was the only agent out of TEN who attended. She’s AMAZING at planning author careers. She can tell you when to self-pub (if it’s right for you/your work), then guide you to the best indie or traditional house (and deal) and then take your work as far as it can and should go.

She’s always on the lookout for the perfect path for each writer and every work (Red Sofa Literary, established by Dawn Frederick, is another fab choice). These folks do what agents should do! Agents like Laurie, Dawn and their teams will thrive and the others? Well, let’s hope they can learn and innovate ;).

What are your thoughts? Do my predictions make you happy or break out in hives? What do YOU see in the future? HOW do you do it? Because I had to drink three packs of Red Bull to see the future. What would you LIKE to see coming down the pipeline?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

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