Tag: networking

Ten Things to Know about Being an Author – Part One

Since shortly after I was old enough to read and imagine my own stories, I wanted to be an author. My first story was penned in a spiral notebook when I was in third grade. The past four years that I’ve been living the dream doing this author thing have been amazing.

And instructive. And painful at times. Filled with discouragement and despair at other times. Even wrought with excitement to the point I soared above the clouds.

The higher you go, the further you have to fall.

And falling from such heights hurts. It might even kill you(r dream).

Traditional publishing is the slow track to being published.

By slow I mean, it takes years if you pursue one of the large publishing houses (which means you have to find an agent first). After you spend months writing, revising, editing and polishing your manuscript, the journey of ten thousand miles begins.

It starts with research. Which agents are looking for your style and genre? Which publishers would contract it?

Then the rounds of submission begin. Most of this is done electronically. This speeds the process of notification to three months instead of six to twelve. Many agencies won’t respond unless they’re requesting pages.

Talk about disheartening. It feels like tossing my life’s work into a black hole.

I wanted this for myself. I needed the validation. I wanted a publishing professional to confirm that my work was of a quality to be read and circulated.

Publishing with a small press is the fast track to getting work in front of readers.

Even though it was a small publisher who gave me my first fiction contract (and all my subsequent contracts until I began writing for Kindle Worlds), it didn’t feel like traditional publishing to me.

First of all, the submission hoops are simpler to understand and jump through. The turnaround time for notifying you of acceptance is shorter.

I started with short stories in answer to specific submission calls. This is the only way I’ve managed to publish in my dream genre (young adult fantasy).

The contracts are long but straightforward, and most of the small houses don’t offer advances. They split the royalties half and half, though, which I understand is a substantial raise over big houses.

You still get the benefit of several editing passes (story development, line edits and proofing) and a professional cover. On my stand alone titles, I’ve been consulted about the title and my thoughts and opinions were considered and employed.

Traditional publishing success is ninety percent about who you know.

Slush pile. I’m not sure the few manuscripts I’ve sent, although requested, actually met up with the agent or editor. Getting a query past this point is something I’ve only managed with small houses.

Could be my queries are weak. Or the agent wasn’t looking for the kind of story I was telling.

All I know is that hearing nothing is more depressing than a rejection. It’s like all your effort is meaningless to the agent or editor. Sure, they have a ton of work, but does it really take so long to send a four line email saying you aren’t interested?

If you can get an author to recommend you, I understand the odds increase exponentially in favor of a contract.

Small press publishing is fifty percent finding the right publisher and fifty percent telling a good story.

It will still take effort to locate the right press for your story. More small houses appear every month. Many of them will disappear within a year or two. I don’t send anything to a publisher that’s been around for less than a year. And I always check out their current and past titles.

I’ve started reading some stories from a small press that weren’t all that great. Then I see that the author is also the editor-in-chief. This looks like a new form of vanity publishing to me.

They started up the press so they could publish their own books.

I’ve also read a few fantastic stories that come from the same situation. The difference? I didn’t take a poll, but I think it involves professional editing and more skilled writing.

I don’t want a bad story to be published. This is what kept me from subbing manuscripts for years. I wasn’t good enough. Even reading the first fiction short that Roane accepted makes me cringe a little.

Indie publishing requires both entrepreneurial finesse and cash reserves.

Independent publishing makes you the boss of it all. You’re the captain of the publishing ship.

If you want, you can churn out a story and upload it to Amazon with a thrown-together cover. Maybe you’ll sell a few copies.

But if you want to be a professional author, act like one. Make a business plan. Plan a production schedule. Give yourself deadlines and then meet them.

To succeed, you need to learn the business. Locate professional editors and hire them. Listen to their comments and improve your stories.

If you don’t know design, hire a cover designer. You can hire someone to format the interior of the book. You can even hire a publicity representative to plan your marketing campaign.

All of that costs money. Plan on investing anywhere from $500 to $1500 from your savings per book. Then do the math and find out how many copies you have to sell to break even and make a profit.

I still haven’t broke even on my indie novella Reflections from a Pondering Heart.

This is only FIVE things you need to know about being an author. I’m guessing 900 words is more than long enough for most of my blog readers.

Come back on Thursday to learn the other five things.

Which of these seems most obvious? Most important? Most discouraging?

Even in Writing it’s who you know

My youngest son, recent college graduate, swears he doesn’t have to apply for jobs. “It’s who you know, Mom.” In writing, I’ve discovered, this adage is also true.

Not that I agree my son should sit around waiting for someone from his “network” to offer him a job, but I see that in the world – made much smaller by technology – people tend to “know someone” who would be “perfect” for that position.

That doesn’t mean you can sit back idly. Someone searching for employment should pursue the online application process and follow up an interview with a thank you email. Or in the writing world – send out perfected queries and submit to contests and anthologies.

Along with all that, you should reach out to other people in the business. Here are the ways I’ve done this – AND the byproduct for my “career.”

Following Blogs

I started my own blog as a college assignment four years ago. Since then, it has left the “free” WordPress site and migrated to my author website. It still doesn’t generate as much traffic as I need for my “discoverability.”

However, networking isn’t about people following MY blog. It’s about me following them. And I don’t do it just so I can ask for favors later (ugh! Using people: still out of fashion in this new era).

I follow writer advice blogs: Kristen Lamb, Jami Gold and Writer’s Helping Writers. I follow blogs of other indie authors: J. Keller Ford and Jennifer M. Eaton. I read their posts, comment when I have something to add, and share their content when I find it unusually valuable.

How has this network helped me?

Kristen Lamb critiqued a piece of flash fiction for me – just because she understood a new writer’s struggle to find good advice. I won a partial developmental edit from Jami Gold that took a story I was proud of to a deeper level.

The truth is, I have found helpful advice on these blogs and connected with the women behind these blogs in ways I never expected.

Connecting on Social Media

I am a late bloomer. I came to Facebook when it was no longer the edgy, fashionable thing to do.

The only reason I even signed up for Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest was because I trusted Social Media Jedi Kristen Lamb. If you’re trying to build an author platform, I highly recommend her book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital Age.

It was on Facebook that I met J. Keller Ford (and began to follow her blog). She published a few short stories. I followed her publishers’ pages and shared interesting posts.

Thanks to my connection with J. Keller Ford, I found the submissions page to Roane Publishing, where my first short story was accepted to an anthology.

If I hadn’t been following her, I never would have discovered this small New York publishing company. Further, she is the one who shared her online critique group with me.

In fact, once I become a best-selling author, Jenny and I are taking a tour of castles in Germany. We’ve never met face-to-face, but I owe her a good deal in the scope of my confidence as a writer.

Joining a Critique Group

I’m leery of critique groups because I’ve been a member of a few. I wrote critiques like crazy. Read everyone’s stuff and offered advice about everything from word choice to character arc. In return?

“Too much telling. Show more.” No examples. Or they gave me a rewritten passage that was nearly identical and doesn’t feel any more like showing than what I wrote.

However, after I helped J. Keller Ford with an opening to her second novel in a three-book deal (I know! Crazy that a published author thought I had anything to offer her manuscript), she recommended me to a critique group in Scribophile.

It was here that I was offered some advice by Jennifer M. Eaton. When I rewrote my short story using her feedback, it was accepted to a short story anthology by a larger independent press.

Additionally, I meet monthly with a local group of writers. Several of them are independently published. We are regularly encouraged by a local published author (sci-fi novels and short stories).

We don’t do formal critiques. At first, I wasn’t sure about that. Everyone is welcome to read for five minutes and request specific feedback. Then we use various writing prompts to free write and share that writing for the second hour of the meeting.

This group helped me streamline the opening of the first short story I had published. One of the writing prompts helped me generate the opening for another short story I submitted. (It wasn’t accepted, but it turned into a marketable story.)

Paying it Forward

I’ve met with a local author a few times. Mostly, he has offered me advice about my next steps. I have hopes that he may help me with synopsis writing or perfecting queries in the future.

Other writers helped him, and he believes in paying that kindness forward. Without the encouragement (and introduction to an editor and agent) he received, he believes he would still be a moonlight writer. Rather than an award-winning short story author with a five book deal from Tor.

He’s the one who connected me with another local writer. She’s a humorist pursuing nonfiction writing. Now.

I invited her to Willamette Writer’s Conference last year because I didn’t want to go alone. Since then, she’s critiqued opening pages for me and offered me advice when I bounced ideas off her. She constructively criticized my website, helping me identify how to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.

Conversely, I’ve pointed her toward some of the writing resources that have helped me improve. I’ve asked her questions when she threw ideas toward me that set her on paths that have led her to paying work.

More importantly, I have another creative mind to jabber with about all the things no normal person wants to hear about. She celebrates my successes and kicks me out of my funk when things aren’t going well in my writing world.

In the end, networking isn’t just about WHO you know, it’s about how you reciprocate the good will with people you meet. In our ever-connected-to-the-Internet age, most of these people may live across the country – or across the world – but that just means your network can reach further than ever.

So, go ahead: network with other writers, editors, publishers and readers. Someday, they might drop your name in just the right place at the perfect moment.

What are so other ways writers network? Do you have recommendations for enlarging our circle of writing acquaintances?

Writer’s Conference Reflections

Willamette-Writers2A puff of chocolaty goodness wafts by me when I open the door into the conference area. My mouth waters. Stillness underlies the hum of excited voices.

This is my first writing conference. Professionals attend conferences to network and build skills in their area of expertise. I may be pre-published, but I am a professional writer. Time to break out of my writing solace and enter the business world.

Women outnumber men. The largest demographic seems to be the over 55 crowd. This statistic gives me pause. Did they wait to pursue their dream until life settled down?

Everyone is a stranger and yet, strangely, invisible camaraderie pulls us together. The thread of love for words or creating worlds or setting our imagination free knits the crowd into something amazing.

Gawking like a foreigner, I locate the priority one item on my list. It’s just to the right of the main entrance. Yes, the ladies’ restroom. Who can concentrate on anything when the bladder screams like a crowded rollercoaster?

Highlights from the weekend will be covered in this post. Over the next several weeks, I will embellish on certain points that impacted me the most.

Sessions

The planners organized things according to different segments of writing. On the “TV Guide” schedule of events, categories like “literature,” “genre fiction,” “nonfiction” and “business of writing” head the colorful columns. It’s not surprising that most of my choices come from the literature column.

StoryEnginewebConveniently, that will keep me in the same conference classroom for the entire morning. It’s the room where the amazing Larry Brooks expounded his structural genius. (I found out he grew up in Portland, OR, and went to high school with Sam Eliott – of the Dodge voice track.)

Most of the sessions ask us to participate, which gave them a workshop feel. Write the definition of a premise. List the words you know you overuse in your writing. Things that help attendees ingest the information and immediately apply it to their writing.

Presenters ranged from authors to agents, from editors to social media gurus. Each one shared their expertise and opened themselves to questions about their topic. Some of them even rubbed elbows with the masses after the session.

Panels

The first session I attended was a panel of three agents. For an entire hour, those in the audience could ask any question burning in their minds. To say it was an eye-opening introduction to the writing world might be understating things.

Agents might respond to my query in eight weeks. After I send them the full manuscript, it could be another two to three months before I get the phone call offering representation. Or the rejection letter.

Say I sign with Ms. Ideal Agent. I have a contract. But not a publishing contract. It might take as many as 18 months for my advocate to find the perfect publisher for my novel. 18 months? That’s crazy!

After I get a real contract from a publisher, it could be another 18 months before my book makes the shelves of the Barnes & Noble at the mall. Talk about a LONG process. No wonder so many people are independently or self-publishing.

I’m hardly a mathmetician but that looks like almost three and a half years from original query to holding a published novel in my hand. That’s the math if my first querying attempt nets a manuscript request which leads to agent love. So that whole five year timeline from finished to published makes more sense now.

No wonder people are self publishing books on Amazon like there’s no tomorrow. Five years is more tomorrows than some people have to invest in a writing dream.

Critiques

For an additional fee, writers could submit twenty pages of their manuscript and a short synopsis to an agent, editor or author of their choice. This had to be done six weeks before the conference for best results. Some people walked in with a manuscript to get a critique on the spot, but since the windows for meetings were ten to fifteen minutes, I doubt it could have been in-depth.

I surfed the conference webpage to find someone who wrote or represented my genre. The closest I could find was a writer of adult urban fantasy. I booked her and whipped out a synopsis (which I felt clueless about producing) and submitted the pages.

I was her last appointment for the afternoon because she was presenting a class on hour later. We spent more than 30 minutes discussing my manuscript weaknesses. It was well worth the money spent.

More on this process later.

Pitches

Isn’t being discovered the reason pre-published writers attend conferences? Based on the number of attendees presenting to three or more agents or editors, the answer must be yes.

Fortunately, I attended a session taught by the agent to whom I presented my work. My pitch seemed to already meet her guidelines. It pays off to spend hours researching.

Pitch sessions lasted ten minutes (which is a long time in the real world of pitching ideas). The group of authors entered the room and shuffled to the round table where their industry professional sat waiting.

A surreal process really. More specific details about my own pitching experience in a future post.

Attending this conference opened my eyes to many things about my chosen path:

  • It is packed with thousands of others hoping for the same outcome
  • It takes fortitude to stay the course in the face of rejections
  • I don’t know as much about the craft of writing as I thought
  • The business of writing? I know nothing, Jon Snow.

At this juncture, I intend to attend this conference (or another local one) next year. I hope to network more at that future event. I may need to take a class: “How introverts network with other introverts.”

Is there a specific aspect of the conference you would like me to share information about? Have you attended a conference? What advice do you have to help me build networking skills?