Publishing as a Career for Writers

In a recent blog post, Donna Shear, director of University of Nebraska Press, advised aspiring writers not to work in publishing, but rather to seek their day jobs in other fields. She offered a list of reasons to back up her argument, all perfectly sensible.  Recently, though, I mentored a young writer in an MFA program who asked my advice on seeking a career in publishing, and my answer was the polar opposite.

“It’s a great way to go,” I told him. “Not right away: you have to live life before you can write about it. Have some adventures first. Find something that scares you and do it. Live someplace where you don’t speak the language; travel.

“But after that,” I said, “when the time comes to choose a career, publishing makes a lot of sense.”

It’s counterintuitive, I know. Publishing is an industry in flux, almost in crisis; and even in its heyday it never paid well. Still, for seriously aspiring writers, it’s a brilliant choice. Here are ten reasons why.

1. New York. Yeah, okay, there’s publishing in other places, too, but still: New York.

New York

2. Since aspiring writers usually start out as avid readers, publishing as a career has obvious appeal. Even among successful, well-published writers, only a tiny minority can live on what they make from writing, so the day job had better be satisfying in itself.

3. You will learn to speak Publishing, which has its own distinct lingo.

4. You’ll have the satisfaction of helping other writers along the path to publication. Publishing folk take great pride in the successes of “their” books. It’s good karma, too; what goes around comes around.

5. You’ll meet all sorts of people who can help you professionally: agents, editors, publicists and marketing mavens. None of them will take on a bad book as a favor; publishing is a bottom-line business, and professional courtesy only goes so far. But if you’ve got the chops as a writer, having friends in the industry can give you a big leg up.

The_philosopher6. Working in publishing will make you a better writer. Other people’s mistakes are always easier to see than one’s own. Editing sharpens the critical eye you need to apply to your own work.

7. It will make you a smarter writer, too. You’ll witness writers making every possible career mistake. When your turn comes, you’ll be savvier. There’s an old Jewish saying: It’s better to learn to shave on someone else’s beard.

8. punchIt will take you out of yourself. Many writers are natural observers, fly-on-the-wall types. The isolation inherent in writing can exacerbate this tendency. Working in publishing will teach you to speak up, lean in, even land a punch now and then (metaphorically speaking, for the most part.)

9. The people you’ll meet, the places you’ll go! I worked in publishing on two continents before starting my own literary agency. Apart from nearly starving the first year or two, I had an amazing career until I gave it up to write full time. I traveled widely, sold hundreds of books, and met writers, publishers and agents from all over the world, including people I’d admired all my life.

The pay’s a joke, especially in junior positions, but this profession has never attracted people whose primary motivation is money. The publishing people I know are smart, passionate, intellectually curious people who at some point in their lives were gobsmacked by a book and never got over it. You can’t find much better company than that.

10. Did I mention New York?

 

If you’re curious about my publishing career,  this post may be of interest.

 

Caveat Emptor

I’ve worn many hats, and with the exception of one ancient riding helmet, they all relate to publishing. I’ve been an editor (Fawcett Books), a literary agent, and a teacher of writing, in addition to writing my own books. Having sucked up that much experience, I am now an inveterate giver of advice.

I encourage my students and editing clients to stay in touch, and many do. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard some wonderful news from them, and also some worrisome news.

The good news first:

DSC_6046 Janie Chodosh’s first novel, DEATH SPIRAL, was published by Poisoned Pencil Press, a new YA imprint of Poisoned Pen. She tells how it happened in this guest post.

Jenny Elliott was a student in one of my Next Level workshops, so I got to see her novel, SAVE ME, in its infancy. It was a gutsy, controvJenny Elliottersial novel in which the central romance is between a student and teacher. This made some of the other writers in the workshop uncomfortable, but Jenny, though wide open to constructive critique, was determined that this was the heart of the story she wanted to tell. That passion, and a lot of hard work, won her a contract with Swoon Reads, a new imprint of McMillan Children’s Publishing Group. SAVE ME will be coming out in January 2015.

PreciousbonesMika Ashley-Hollinger’s wonderful novel PRECIOUS BONES, published by Delacorte, was featured by the Scholastic book club. Although it’s marketed toward younger readers, PRECIOUS BONES is a book for all ages to enjoy, and if you haven’t read it yet, you’re in for a serious treat.

The most recent bit of news I’ve heard is not yet for public consumption, but I will say that another talented, diligent former student has had some interesting offers lately. Can’t wait to share that one with you!

Of course, not all of my students go on to publish commercially. Some choose to self-publish, and recently I heard from several of them as well. Those were the worrisome messages.

Readers of this blog know my opinion that in most cases, publishing commercially is a better choice than self-publishing for emerging fiction writers. But not everyone has that choice, and some writers are unwilling to jump through the hoops required to gain an agent and a trade publishing deal. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing, so long as it really is self-publishing. By that I mean that while the writer may contract for specific services from various providers — editing, cover design, formatting, for example — the writer retains control of the book and is the publisher. Companies who will publish for you, for a fee, are known in the industry as vanity or subsidy publishers, although they will never call themselves that.

The trouble is, many writers cannot tell the difference between companies that offer services to self publishers, as opposed to vanity publishers. It’s not their fault; vanity publishers do all they can to obscure the distinction. Many of them call it a “new model” publishing. In the world of large commercial publishers, writers invest their time and talent to write a book, which either sells or does not sell. That’s the risk they take. If the book does sell, they get a nonrefundable advance on royalties and the services of top professional editors, designers, production, marketing and sales people. They don’t pay for those services. The publisher invests its own money, taking on some risk of its own and putting its money where its mouth is. The publisher has much to gain if the book sells well, and something to lose if it doesn’t.

In the world of vanity publishing, writers invest their time and talent in writing a book, then pay someone to publish it, doubling down on their investment. If the book sells, the publisher profits from each copy sold, but the publisher takes no risk and makes no investment in the book. All costs are covered by the writer, and the publisher builds in a hefty profit as well. Nice business model…for the vanity publisher. Not so nice for the writer.

Instead of publishing themselves, naïve writers often sign on with vanity publishers that offer a full package of services, supposedly akin to what a commercial publisher would provide its authors: editing, design, production and distribution. Marketing and PR are on the menu as well, for additional fees, naturally. Writers often sign on for minimal packages — production, distribution — that cost several hundred dollars; but once that deal is inked, the hard sell begins. What’s the point of publishing a book, writers are asked, if you don’t support it with marketing and PR? And the publisher just happens to have a handy dandy (and thoroughly useless) marketing package to offer for a few hundred or thousand dollars more.

Free Clipart Illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/

One of the largest vanity publishers revealed that its average customer spends $5000. Very few writers would sign on for that amount of money; the vanity publishers’ trick is to get them to commit to an inexpensive package and then upsell them.

This is exactly what happened to a former student of mine who chose to self-publish his book with iUniverse, a subsidiary of Author Solutions, which was purchased by Pearson and is now owned by the Penguin Publishing group. When his book was published and failed to sell, as most self-published books do, he was convinced by the company to buy a marketing package for over $1000. This produced no results at all. A short while later, the writer was contacted by another iUniverse salesman who offered him the opportunity to display his book at the Frankfurt Book Fair. He’d been told that his book was “specially selected” by the company’s editors for display because of its quality, and because of that he would be charged only $900 for the privilege.

meteorKnowing that I was a literary agent for many years, the writer contacted me to ask my opinion. Now, I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair every year for eight or nine years and I know it pretty well. The purpose of the book fair is for publishers and literary agents to sell translation rights of upcoming books. No one really looks at printed books—they’re far too busy interacting with colleagues and making deals for the upcoming books on next year’s lists. I doubt whether in the entire history of the book fair anyone has actually plucked a book off a shelf of a vanity press and said, “Hmmm, I think I’ll buy the rights to this one.” Writers have a better shot at being hit by a meteor than selling a book in that way, and of course the vanity publishers know that. They profit, not on book or rights sales, but on the hopes and dreams of writers who simply want to be read.

The salesman also told my writer that since the company now belonged to the Penguin group, their books were virtually indistinguishable to buyers. That would be news to esteemed imprints like Random House and Viking, who do not edit, sell, promote or market those books.

I told him what I thought. He’s not going ahead with the offer from iUniverse. I hope he spends that thousand dollars on a wonderful vacation instead.

Just a few days later I got a Facebook message from another former student. She’d had no luck querying agents and had decided on self-publishing. But the company she picked, Xlibris, is notorious for the same practices detailed above, and no wonder, since the two companies are both owned by Author Solutions. In this case the writer decided to go ahead anyway. I hope I have at least forearmed her against attempts, sure to follow, to sell her useless promotional and marketing services.

This month, the law firm Giskan, Solotaroff, Anderson & Stewart filed suit against Authors Solutions, their various imprints and their corporate owners for fraudulent practices, including “selling worthless services, or services that fail to accomplish what they promise.” They’re acting on behalf of three aggrieved writers but are seeking class action status and have asked other clients of Authors Solutions and their many imprints, which include iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Trafford, Palibrio and many others, to contact them. It will be interesting to see how that goes. Meanwhile, I hope that Authors Solutions corporate owners take a good hard look at some of their practices.

whack a moleBut really, trying to knock down these predatory companies is like playing whack a mole. No sooner do you knock one down then another Springs up in its place. As long as there is money to be made from writers’ fervent desire to publish their work, there will be unscrupulous people determined to profit from them. Writers have got to look out for themselves. Here are a few basic ways to do that:

RESEARCH

Learn everything you can about any company you consider before you contact them. That means going much deeper than just looking at their website and reading their promises. Look at their books as well: order at least one printed and one e-book from the company and see how professionally they are produced. Contact several of their writers and ask them about the experience. That’s easy to do; writers are very accessible these days. Go into detail. How did their publisher deal with problems that arise during the publishing process? Are they accessible and responsive? Do they pay royalties in a timely fashion? Ask about sales numbers, if the writers are willing to share that information. If they’re not, that’s an answer in itself.

Check the company’s distribution and sales record. What distributors carry their books? (Don’t ask the company; look for yourself.) How many (if any) books have they had on the Kindle bestseller list? If the answer is few or none, ask yourself what they are doing for you that you couldn’t do for yourself.

man reading contractCheck complaints about the company. There are industry watch people who keep a close eye on these sort of predatory companies; take advantage of their hard work. The Absolute Write forum, Predators & Editors, and Writers Beware  are good places to start.

GET IT IN WRITING

It sounds obvious, but the salespeople from these predatory companies are experts in creating a sense of urgency. Don’t ever pay anyone anything without a contract in hand, and make sure you vet that contract carefully, or pay a professional to do it.

REVERSION

Any contract you sign should be time-limited. Even if the company you’re working with is a perfectly legit small publisher and not a vanity press, small publishers often go out of business, and writers can have a hell of a time regaining the right to their work.

 

If you’ve ever worked with any of these imprints, or if you have useful experience to share or questions to ask, I invite you to comment and join in the discussion.

And please do subscribe to the blog via links to the right for all sorts of useful stuff about writing and publishing.

If you’re interested in more information about my online writing workshops, drop me a line at next[dot]level[dot]workshop[at]gmail[dot]com.

One final note: I wanted to share this wonderful blog post by Professor Emeritus Mary Sisney, in which she compares my work to that of…actually, I’m embarrassed to say. You’ll have to read it yourself to believe it.

What To Do Once You’ve “Finished” Your Novel

Jo BourneEvery once in a while, I come across a blog post so informative that I just need to share it. Jo Bourne, for those of you who don’t already know her, is a critically acclaimed writer of historical fiction, including THE BLACK HAWK and THE SPYMASTER’S LADY.  She’s also one of the smartest people about the craft of writing I’ve ever met. We are old friends from the Compuserve Book and Author forum, where we both serve as section leaders, and over the years I’ve found myself savoring (and quoting) much of her writing advice. This time, with her kind permission, I am reprinting an entire blog post. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and check out her blog for yourself. If you’re a writer, you’ll thank me.

Here, with no further ado, is Jo:

 

“Congratulations on finishing your manuscript.
Woot woot.
Go celebrate.

We’ll wait.

 

 

…  All through with dancing and whooping it up?
Now there are a few necessary steps to take to get from here to publication.

 I. Get Crits

What:  Turn some chapters of your manuscript over to harsh, knowledgeable critters.  Listen to what they say.  You need critters who haven’t been with you every step of the way as you wrote.  Critters who are not your family or friends.

This is not putting a saucer of milk out for the tabby.  This is wrapping yourself in raw meat and stepping into the lion’s cage.

How:  There’s a Writer’s Workshop in the Books and Writer’s Forum.   Here.  Absolute Write, here has a ‘Share Your Work’ section.  Writer’s Forum here has a Writers’ Workshop.
If you are writing genre, there are probably specialized sites for writers of your genre.

Why:  Intelligent criticism of your work will help you write better and will prepare you to edit your manuscript.

II.  Let the manuscript rest

What:  Put the work away for as long as you can.  Six weeks.  Three months.  Six months.
(You spend this time working on the next ms and critting other folks’ manuscripts, which is an excellent way to improve your own writing skills.)

How:  Print it out and put it in a locked drawer in the bottom of your desk.  Put all the work in a folder named “Open in January.

Why:  This lets you look at your own work with a critical editorial eye.  It gives you distance.

III.  Learn how publishing works

What:  Spend a solid 40 hours studying the publishing industry.

How:  Start out by Googling everything you can find on the subject.  Then drop into places full of knowledgeable folks and ask questions.

Why:  If you were going to (a) take a job in Thailand for a year or (b) go to State Aggie to study animal husbandry or (c) work for Avis Rent-a-car, you’d do that much research about (a) the country, (b) the university or (c) the business.
Why would you go into writing with less preparation?

III. Learn about agents

What:  Start making a spread sheet of agents who work in your field.  See who they represent.  See who they sell to.  See what kind of deals they’re making.  Find out what folks say about them.
If they have an on-line presence, get a feel for who they are.

How:  Google.  Look at the acks in the front of books similar to your own writing.  Publisher’s Lunch and Publisher’s Marketplace.

Why:  That’s the list you will query, when you query, if you decide you want an agent.  And after all, you have some time while your manuscript is resting.

IV.  Revise

What:  When the manuscript has aged like, y’know, fine wine … take it out of hiding and read it over.
Now you will revise.  Now you see what’s wrong.

How: Read and correct as if someone else had written it.

Why:  Because, unless you have indeed done this, the manuscript is not as good as you can make it.

V.  Find Beta Readers

What:  Beta readers take an entire manuscript that is ready for submission and crit it.  Beta readers, if possible, have never seen the manuscript before.

How:  Find them by doing beta reads for others.  Find them by making friends in writers forums.  Pay them in chocolate.

Why:  Because they will tell you if the whole thing works.  They’ll point out illogical story lines.  They’ll improve the manuscript.

 
VI.  Re-revise in light of the Beta read

’nuff said.

VII.  Get an agent … or not

Three months have passed since you declared your manuscript finished.

You will have read 10,000 words arguing Indie/Big Press/Small Press.
You’ll have the best manuscript you can write in one hand and a significant bit of WIP in the other.

Now you make this decision.

 

Many thanks to Jo for permission to reprint this post. If you appreciate her thoughts, you know the best way to thank a writer, don’t you?

Speaking of which, I’ve just learned that my new book, A DANGEROUS FICTION, has just made one of Amazon’s top 100 bestseller lists recently, the one for thrillers with female sleuths. So woot woot!, as Jo says!  Recently there was a wonderful review by Joan Baum in Dan’s Papers and a couple of fun interviews, one by My Bookish Ways and one by writer Sara Bowers, and there’s more to come.

The past few weeks since launch have been quite a whirl.  In fact, A DANGEROUS FICTION, worn out from the rigors of self-promotion, was recently spotted taking a bit of well-earned R&R.

20130821_130753_1

 

 

Have red pencil; will travel?

 

Should writers hire freelance editors? It’s a vexed question, much debated on the writers’ forums and blogs. My own opinion has evolved over time with the changes in the publishing industry, and it may surprise those of you who know that I myself have worked as a fiction editor. My default position is that they should not… or at least, not right away.

Whenever this question is discussed on other blogs and forums, invariably someone will say, “It’s the writer’s responsibility to edit his own work. It’s part of the job,” to which I say, Amen. First drafts are not finished novels, and shouldn’t be regarded or presented as such. They are the imagination’s playground: rough, and meant to be.  Revising is where the real art comes in. That’s where writers deepen their characters, vet the structure of the book, deal with unruly subplots, refine the language and imagery, and find ways to bring out the theme, which often presents itself to the writer only after the first draft is written.  “Every writer,” Jane Smiley wrote, “has to learn to…come at each piece of work again and again with as close as he can get to a new mind and a new sense of joy.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, and novels are not written in one pass. Most of the published writers I’ve known spend at least as much time revising as they to writing the original draft.  “I am an obsessive rewriter,” Gore Vidal once said, “doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say but a great deal to add.”

Nevertheless, writers need editors. As writers we can only see what we see; we don’t see what we can’t see. It sounds simplistic but it’s true. Every artist gains through smart, objective feedback. Beta readers can be helpful if the writer chooses well and gets lucky, but it’s not at all like feedback from a professional editor with professional standards. A good editor knows not only when something isn’t working, but also why and how to fix it. The result is a better book, and that, I believe, is what every true writer wants most for his work. The process is also educational, since learning from smart editing is one of the primary ways in which writers grow. What they absorb through the editing of one book, they will apply to the writing of the next one.

Why, then, if editors are so essential, do I advise writers against hiring their own? For purely financial reasons. If the book sells, it will be edited at the publisher’s expense. Edits are not forced down the throat of writers, by the way, contrary to propaganda put out by some self-publishing advocates. Edits usually come in the form of questions or suggestions. The final word is always with the writer, although in extremely rare cases, when communication between writer and editor totally breaks down, a publishing house does have the right to withdraw from a contract if the book is not, in their view, publishable. (The reason such occurrences are rare is because publishers don’t usually buy books that need tremendous amounts of work unless they’re by celebrities, and in those cases there is usually a professional ghostwriter attached.) Paying out of pocket for the same level of editing would be exorbitantly expensive. First-rate, experienced editors charge a lot; $10 and upwards per page is common, and that is just for the first edit. To duplicate the services provided by trade publishers, you’d also have to pay for an edit of the revision, as well as copy-editing and proofreading: maybe $18, $20 a page. (Let me anticipate objections by conceding that yes, you can hire editors for less; but as is usually the case, you get what you pay for.)  That’s a lot of money to invest in a book that may never sell. And the sad truth is that the vast majority of first novels, edited or not, do not sell.

That’s why I recommend that when writers have finished a novel (by which I mean they’ve edited it thoroughly, shared it with a trusted beta reader or two, and revised again to implement whatever useful feedback they receive), they send it out to test it in the market. Of course, to give the book a fair chance, writers have to bone up on submission protocol,  write a great query letter, and assemble a list of suitable literary agents. Having done all that, it’s time to let the book go forth and seek its fortune in the wide world. If it attracts an agent who then sells it to a publisher, the publisher will provide editing services at no cost to the writer. That’s a big part of what they do, along with production and marketing.

But such a scenario is the best of all possible worlds. Suppose it doesn’t go that way? What if you’ve written a novel, sent it out, and gotten nothing but form rejections from agents:  no encouragement, no criticism, no feedback at all. It happens. Agents stop reading the moment they determine that a book is not for them; they don’t finish the ms. and write thoughtful critiques. Writers can accumulate a stack of rejections without an inkling as to what went wrong and how to fix it. Or they might come close—requests for full mss. from agents, even an offer of representation followed by no sale. What do they do then?

Once, for lack of any other alternative, these unwanted works would have been shelved, mourned over, and eventually forgotten. These days, writers have choices. They fall into four categories:

Option 1. Writer decides that agents are bums and stink at their jobs; tells himself that no one gets published without knowing someone in publishing; concludes that the game is rigged; and, rather than deprive the world of his work and himself of the glory, decided to self-publish. None of these suppositions, by the way, is true. Celebrity authors aside, publishing is one of the few remaining meritocracies. In the past year alone I’ve had the pleasure of seeing four of my Next Level students sell their first novels, and none of them had any connections or “platform.” (If you want to learn how they did it, two of them, Tiffany Allee and Mika Ashley Hollinger, answer that question in interviews on this blog.)  Writers who choose to self-publish are well-advised to hire an editor, and not just any editor but the best one they can find and afford. Sending a book out into this market without editing is like dropping a toddler off to play in Times Square; it will be squashed flat in no time at all. It makes economic sense, too, to invest in editing. In a recent study of self-published books by the Taleist magazine, researchers found that edited fiction outsells unedited fiction by a wide margin.

The advent of inexpensive self-publishing and the rise of the ebook has given writers options they never had before. I do think self-publishing is a very difficult road, especially the marketing aspect. In the U.S., over 300,000 books were self-published in the last year, and they are all competing furiously for attention, reviews, sales. But that’s a whole other topic, and if you want to hear my take on it, you’ll find it in a post called “What If J.K. Rowing Had Self-Published?” My point here is that having choices is a beautiful thing. Over the years I have read some brilliant early novels by writers who didn’t have instant commercial success. Maybe they get to publish a second novel, maybe not; but an awful lot of wonderful writers disappear from the market because their sales figures killed them in the eyes of the increasingly monolithic (and well-informed) publishing industry. Who knows what they might have written had they been able to continue? Today such writers have other ways to find readers, and readers to find them.

Option 2. Writer concludes that the book is not good enough yet and goes back at it again. In this case, it makes sense for the writer to consider hiring an editor to provide skilled, objective feedback. It’s also possible to find professionals who will do detailed evaluations of the book or part of it, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the work in a very specific way without actually doing the edit for the writer. Evaluations are usually much less expensive and possibly more educational, because the writer has to do more of the actual work of revision, rather than having it done for him. It must be said that making this investment of time and money does not assure publication. It will result in a better book, but whether it’s publishable or not depends not just on the quality of editing but the quality of the original material. What the edit is bound to do, I think, is teach the writer a lot about the craft. I see it as an intense, detailed tutorial that focuses on the writer’s own work; and given the uncertainty of publication, this may be its greatest value.

Option 3. Writer gives up on that book and goes on to the next, building on what he learned from writing the first. Most published writers have an early unpublished work or two in their drawers. (For current and future generations of writers, that may become “an early self-published work or two.”)  One novelist I knew—Ted Whittemore, author of the brilliant Jerusalem Quartet—wrote seven books before selling his “first” novel.

Option 4. Writer gives up on writing and takes up another pursuit. It happens, and not necessarily for lack of talent. To succeed in this tough business, people need also need fanatical perseverance. (As Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”) They need another source of income, too, since only a small fraction of writers support themselves through books alone.  And let’s not forget the luck factor, lest it forget us.

Writers who choose Options 1 or 2 might also consider as an alternative to editing putting their books, and themselves, through a rigorous writing workshop that will allow them to work specifically on their novels. There are quite a few available, both in brick-and-mortar institutions and online. In my opinion, if a first round of submissions has not led to a sale, it’s worth delaying a second round, or self-publishing, in order to do your very best to improve the book in hand.

Whether you choose a course, an editor, or an evaluator, it’s essential to do your homework and find someone who’s both well-qualified and suited to your particular project. In my next post, I’ll set out a list of criteria for writers to consider before making that choice.

Top Ten Ways To Get Rejected By Your Dream Agent

 

Last week, West Coast literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg was in her car on the way to pick up her daughter at school when she was suddenly attacked by a man wielding a baseball bat. He started banging her head against the steering wheel and ran off only when her dog bit him in the arm. This was no carjacking or random attack. Just hours after the attack, police arrested a man who had written a threatening letter after his work was rejected by the agent.

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to say hats off to the dog, a Jack Russell terrier, I believe. Dogs should be standard issue for literary agents.

I was doubly shocked by this attack. First because I felt for and identified with the agent. I don’t know Pam, but I was a literary agent myself for many years and, like most agents, encountered the occasional unhinged writer. I was also shocked, with true writerly egotism, because the story so closely mirrored the plot of my upcoming novel, A Dangerous Fiction. In my version, a New York agent is stalked by a writer furious at being rejected, whose behavior escalates from harassment to sabotage to violence. The police were not as quick in my story to discover the culprit as they were in real life; but as often happens with fiction, my villain was smarter. The real–life attacker left his name and address in the agent’s files.

The day after the real attack, my e-mail box was full of messages from people who had read proofs of my book – – several fellow writers and people from Viking, my publisher – – exclaiming about the coincidence. The coincidence was indeed surprising, the attack wasn’t. Writers take rejection very personally, they get a lot of it, and it has a cumulative effect. Since agents are regarded as gatekeepers to the promised land of publication, they often bear the brunt of writers’ frustration. Their role is not unlike that of unfortunate Walmart employees tasked with keeping order outside the store on the morning of Black Friday. Not for nothing do agents barricade themselves behind assistants, answering machines, and form letters. Rejection is never fun for anyone, and a little distance can make it easier to bear. But for someone who’s unstable, that distance in itself can be a provocation.

I hope I don’t need to tell anyone reading this post that pounding the head of a potential agent into a steering wheel is not the best way to gain representation. It is in fact so counterproductive that one has to wonder whether the attacker actually hoped to succeed. Most writers, when they set out to gain representation, really do want someone to sell their book. There’s plenty of good advice available for these writers, including these articles and resources. But there must also be some writers who fear success and are determined to sabotage it. Perhaps being rejected plays into their self-image as misunderstood geniuses. So for those who are determined to fail, here is a list of the top 10 ways to get rejected by your dream agent:

1. Be crazy. If you harbor conspiracy theories, make sure to share them in your query letter. If you have the solution to the world’s problems, let the agent know. If your novel was dictated by any alien, occult or deceased beings, this is vital information for your literary representative.

2.  Be creative. There are plenty of ways of skinning a cat. If an agent won’t take your phone calls, find out where she lives and drop by. Send her gifts. Let her know she’s special.

3. Get cozy. Call the agent by her first name. Let her know you’ve done your research, not only into what genres and authors she represents, but also where her kids go to school, her mother’s nursing home, and her Social Security number. This will impress her with your research skills. Don’t hesitate to share your own personal story with her, as well. If you’ve been unjustly incarcerated or hospitalized, discuss it in the query letter and let her know you’re fine now.

4. Pattern Your Book on Current Bestseller. Why argue with success? Originality is for losers; you’ve worked out a formula that guarantees you a spot on the bestseller list.

5. Send your first draft, hot from the word processor. Don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff, either. Editors exist to clean up in the wake of geniuses. Let them earn their keep.

6. Rules are for suckers. Real writers are nonconformists. Check out the agent’s rules for submission, by all means, but do your own thing. If he asks for a query of one page, write six if you need them. If he asks for a chapter, send the whole manuscript. You know he won’t be able to stop reading once he’s begun. You’re just saving a step.

7. Explain how much money your book will make them. Agents are idiots and don’t know what sells. Show them they’re dealing with a savvy customer.

8. Carpet bomb the industry with generic query letters. Just because an agent asks for scholarly nonfiction is no reason not to give him a chance at your paranormal thriller. Plus, agents are idiots. They’ll never know.

9. Promote yourself. Query letters are sales pitches, after all. Tell them you’re the hottest thing since sliced bread and John Grisham. Compare your work to the top-selling books out there and explain why yours will leave them in the dust.

10. Insult the agent. They’re sick of toadies. Some clever sarcasm and home truths will win you their respect.

 

The good news for those seeking rejection is that the odds are in your favor. Incorporate a few of these methods into your pitch and success is guaranteed.

A DANGEROUS FICTION is out, published by Viking/Penguin! In addiiton, Barbara’s last three novels have just been reissued in e-book and paperback form: SUSPICION, ROWING IN EDEN, and HINDSIGHT.

The Third Way

 

It’s always nice for a writing teacher when her students go forth and publish. Tiffany Allee didn’t even wait for class to end. She was in the middle of one of my Next Level courses when she got her first offer of publication. The fact that she sold her work did not come as a surprise (I’d read it), but the speed of her success was startling. One year later, she has three novellas in print and, I believe, a full-length novel in the works.

 In this blog, we had several interesting discussions about the merits of trade publishing versus self-publishing. But there is a third way, one that takes advantage of the digital revolution but doesn’t place the whole burden of publishing on the writer, and that’s the way Tiffany Allee chose. I’ll let her tell you about it in today’s guest blog.


From the desk of Tiffany Allee:

 

During the last few years, writers have argued the merits of commercial versus self-publishing. There are strong lines of division, with (I think) most writers seeing the potential good aspects of both methods.

My road to publication has been a little different. I’m not published with a big New York publisher, although that is definitely something I will be pursuing in the future. But I’m also not self-published. I’ve gone another route, which is to publish with smaller publishers that concentrate on the digital market.

Keep in mind while reading this post that my experience is just that, my experience.

 

The Beginning

The first writing project I finished (beyond a short story here and there in college classes) was a novel I wrote mainly during NaNoWriMo in 2010. It wasn’t the best novel in the world, but it gave me confidence that I could finish a novel—a first draft of one, anyway. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it all sort of worked together into a fairly cohesive story.

But I knew that before I could fix that story—never mind writing something better—that I really needed to concentrate on important craft skills. Doing that while working on a 90k word novel was daunting. So I decided to write shorter—novellas.

The Problem

Novellas proved to be a wonderful way to learn (and they’re quite addictive). I was able to pick up critique partners to help me even more. I also took a fabulous online workshop with our host here today, Barbara Rogan, that really helped me to build a revision process.

But then, when I had a couple of shiny novellas on my hands, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Novellas don’t generally sell to traditional publishers, and I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities to self-publish. I needed someone in a professional capacity to agree with me that the works were good enough before I would be willing to put them out there.

After researching digital-focused publishers, and submitting to a few of them, I found homes for my novellas.

But…Do They Edit?

Something I’ve seen touted out there in reference to publishers, especially digital ones, is that they don’t edit. Well, I can say that’s not the experience that I’ve had with any of my publishers.

While the process varies from publisher to publisher, I can speak to what I have seen. I’ve published most of my work through Entangled Publishing, so I’ll focus on my experience with their process here. It is quite similar to what I’ve heard about and seen elsewhere.

Entangled uses what I’ve heard referred to as a three-step editing process, meaning that a book goes through at least three rounds of edits prior to copyediting. Each of these rounds may actually involve more than one exchange of the MS between editor and author, particularly the first round.

Starting with an edit letter detailing content or big picture edits, and ending with line edits, the editing process can be very involved. While an author can push back on some of these suggestions (and I have, on a couple of things here and there), these changes are what bring the story to the next level.

Whew.

And it’s still not done. Then the story goes to the copyeditor. Again back to the author for change approval. Then galleys come out and the author and editor both comb through the story to make sure nothing has slipped through the cracks.

Now that’s a process that would be very difficult to replicate for a self-publishing author. And I suspect that it’s on a level similar to the bigger publishers out there. I don’t know that all digital or small publishers processes are quite so thorough, but that’s one reason why researching the right place to submit to is so important.

At every step in the process, I have never been short of stunned at the level of professionalism I have seen, and the sheer editorial talent that my stories have benefited from.

The Good Stuff

There are definite advantages of going through a smaller publisher, especially one with a digital focus.

Length: Although accepted lengths vary by publisher, they are almost always more lenient than your average NYC house. I’ve seen acceptable ranges from 5k to 120k, and everything in between.

Royalty Rates: Royalty rates with digital publishers tend to be much higher than at NYC publishers, particularly for ebooks.

Timelines: It is feasible for an author to see his or her book published within a year of submission. This isn’t usually possible in the agent to big house route. I will say that wait times on submissions aren’t fast by the definition I would have had prior to learning about the publishing industry, but waiting only a few months on a submission is quick in this world.

Editing, Cover Art, and Marketing: I’m listing these as an advantage, not over a NYC house, but over attempting to self-publish. Cover art is expensive. Good editors are expensive. Marketing is…you guessed it, expensive. And cutting corners in any of these areas is a good way to make sure no one ever hears about your book, let alone reads it.

Promotion: The type of promotion you get varies by publisher, but most excel at guiding their authors on what to do themselves to promote (and it’s a far more complex process than one might think). I have been lucky with Entangled because they provide me with a publicist who helps get my name out there, and who schedules blog tours and promotions for me. I can’t tell you what a timesaver that is.

The Not-So Good Stuff

Advances: Few digital houses offer advances. Most who do offer advances that just aren’t comparable to big houses.

Cover Art and Marketing: Larger commercial publishers may have larger budgets for marketing and cover art.

Distribution: Larger publishers also have distribution networks that not all smaller or digital publishers can compete with. And the importance of shelving books where readers can see them cannot be minimized. It’s huge. (I should also add that some of the larger digital publishers do have excellent distribution in place, and their print lines can be found in bookstores.)

Self-publishing: Pubbing yourself will still offer higher royalties, faster timelines, and even more flexibility with length and genre than a digital publisher. Of course, this comes with a lot of additional cost and risk.

Things to Keep in Mind

 Research is your best friend when looking at any publisher or agent. Check online at reputable sites. My favorite site to start researching is the Absolute Write forum. Keep in mind what is important to you in a publisher, and what your expectations are. Talk to other writers. Look at things like sales, publisher reputation, and the backgrounds of the individuals behind the publishing company.

For example, if you want to see your book actually shelved at the Barnes & Noble by your house, you’ll probably want to look at the traditional agent to big publisher route, or to the print lines at Samhain, Entangled, or other smaller publishers whose distribution might make that possible.

While smaller and digital publishers may have higher acceptance rates than some bigger houses, they’re still not easy to break into. Most of the more established ones who sell well have acceptance rates well below five percent. So you still have to make sure to put your best foot forward when querying.

Some genres sell better through digital publishing. There is no question that romance and erotica sell better than other genres, likely in part because some of the pioneers of the digital industry were romance and erotica publishers. But other genres are becoming more common. Publishers like Carina put out all sorts of genres and do not require romantic elements in what they publish. Samhain now has a horror line. Digital publishers of non-romance genres may be more difficult to find, but they are out there.

In Closing…

Digital titles are becoming very popular. My own publisher has had wonderful success, as have others, with multiple titles hitting the New York Times and USA Today lists.

I can say that I am extremely happy. Not only have I learned so much more than I can communicate via a single blog post from my editors and my publicists, but I feel like my stories have only benefited from the brilliant people who I have worked with along the way.

 

Thanks, Tiffany! I think it’s important to remember that the Big Six are not the only game in town, nor is self-publishing the only alternative. Writers have more choices today than ever before.

Tiffany’s books are very fun reads in the paranormal genre, original and well-written. I hope you’ll give them a read.

              

Films About Writers: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

 

Sorry to be late with this post. I spent the last few days recuperating from a movie I saw over the weekend. The Words is about a writer who plagiarizes the work of another writer, gains fame and fortune, and is then confronted by the real author. It should have been a good story, if not a particularly cinematic one. Instead, it was a particularly egregious offender in a long line of terrible movies about writers.

 

Part of the problem is surely that it is so difficult to make anything dramatic of the writer’s process. If you were to set up a WebCam in front of my computer, here’s what you would see: Writer stares at screen for 20 min.; writer types a sentence; writer stares at screen. Repeat.  Not exactly the stuff of scintillating cinema. Moviemakers, and readers in general, tend to mistake the product for the process. The most exciting book in the world is written in the same sedentary fashion as the most tedious.

Naturally, filmmakers need to spice it up. Teeth are gnashed, hair is ripped out at the roots, grooves are worn in old wooden floors. Shakespeare In Love was one of those: an otherwise estimable film that couldn’t resist tarting up the writing process with histrionics, as if the plays were written not in ink but in blood. The Words featured an early montage of such melodramatic agonies of creation. I smirked, but with a sinking sensation. Next came the scene in which a publisher summons the writer, praises his book to the skies, and then declines to publish it. I nearly choked on my popcorn. As if!  Filmmakers go to immense pains to make every detail of their police and CIA procedurals as realistic as possible. Why, then, is it okay to write such a ludicrous scenes about the writer’s life? No publisher ever calls a writer in to reject his work in person. It is done through intermediaries: his agent, if he has one, or an e-mail, or simply through no reply. When I saw that scene, I knew I was in trouble. The film also had difficulty differentiating between the roles of publishers and literary agents, very basic stuff. And when it quoted from the miraculous purloined book in question, the prose was so flat and boring (think Hemingwayesque, if Hemingway had had a tin ear instead of perfect pitch) that the whole premise of the story was undermined.

According to the movies, lots of writers are psychotic. It seems to be a professional hazard. See Meryl Streep as the romance novelist from hell in She Devil. Johnny Depp develops a split personality in Secret Window, while in As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson suffers from multiple psychological problems. Writers are always being pursued by characters from their own books (especially if the book in question was written by Stephen King) or vengeful fans (ditto). You’d never see writers in films as they are in real life: working stiffs with kids in school and mortgages to pay.

Still, every once in a while, a film gets it gloriously right. I loved Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle,  the story of Dorothy Parker, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the Algonquin Round Table: the writers’ Camelot brought to life. Capote was a brilliant movie about a writer who falls in love with his subject but sacrifices him for a better ending to his book. I felt it says something true about writers. And who could forget the Coen brothers’ hallucinatory Barton Fink? John Goodman as Satan is perfect, and so is John Turturro as the aspiring screenwriter who vacillates in a very writerly way between hubris and terror.

How about you? What are the best and worst movies you’ve seen about writers?

The Best Part of Publishing

The problem with living in the golden age of anything is that you never know it at the time. It is what it is, that’s all. Only much later, when it’s over, do you realize in retrospect what an extraordinary period it was.

I thought about this the other day when I came across a piece in the New Yorker, “Editors and Publisher” by John McPhee: an affectionate appreciation of his two great New Yorker editors, William Shawn and Bob Gottlieb, and his publisher, Roger Straus Jr. It occurred to me that I had known and worked with two of these men, Bob Gottlieb when he was editor-in-chief of Knopf, and Roger Straus Jr. during his long tenure at the helm Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I was, at the time, a young literary agent based in Tel Aviv, representing Israeli writers abroad and American and European writers in Israel. I had moved from New York to Tel Aviv at the age of 22, worked for an Israeli publisher for a year, saw a niche into which I might fit, and at the ripe old age of 23 launched the Barbara Rogan Literary Agency.

The need was there, and within a year or two I was selling rights for publishers like Random House, Morrow, Knopf, Doubleday, Bantam, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which is how I met Bob Gottlieb and Roger Straus Jr. To them, I must have looked like a kid who ought to be working in the mailroom. But they treated me with the utmost respect and collegiality, considered my submissions seriously, and talked up the books on their current lists. Knopf shared quarters with Random House and its sister imprints in a handsome, modern building on Third Avenue in midtown, and I would spend whole days meeting various people in those offices. At some point I would be ushered in to Mr. Gottlieb’s office. He was an august presence to me, head of one of the best imprints in the US, and editor of a long list of writers I greatly revered, including John LeCarre, John Cheever, V. S. Naipaul, and Edna O’Brien.  He never took me to lunch – he saw publishing lunches as a complete waste of time, and usually ate in his office – but he was unfailingly gracious and would spend an unhurried hour or so talking about books and publishing with a young agent. He never bought any of my Israeli writers, but I sold a great many of his in Israel, in part because they tended to be very good writers, but also because he spoke of them so compellingly that I was infused with a missionary-like zeal to go forth and find them a home in the Promised Land.

I had something closer to a friendship with Roger Straus Jr., one of publishing’s great characters. I saw him every time I came to New York, and once a year at Frankfurt. He was wonderful to look at, still handsome in his 60s, with a great mane of white hair swept back from his aristocratic forehead; but he was even better to listen to. When he talked about the latest book that had captured him, it was with the passionate enthusiasm of a boy, informed by decades of reading and publishing the best of world literature. I particularly remember him proselytizing about Nobel prize winner Elias Canetti, whose Crowds and Power Roger had published: one of the most important books ever written, he told me, which for once was not the usual publishing hype.

His language was famously profane. “Fucking” was his favorite adjective, which amused me no end. I wasn’t offended; this was the vernacular of my 20-something contemporaries, but it seemed wonderfully Bohemian coming from a man my grandfather’s age. His accent was unusual and reminded me of screwball comedies starring Cary Grant and Lauren Bacall. “Darling” he called everyone, but he pronounced it dahling; every new book on his list was mahvelous. As McPhee wrote, “his words wore spats.” It wasn’t an affectation; he’d been raised that way. His mother was a Guggenheim; his father’s family owned Macy’s. Playing superego to Roger’s id was his longtime assistant, the always elegant, always kind Peggy Miller. I loved going to their offices on Union Square, a warren-like space they’d outgrown long ago, crowded and dusty, with stacks of books everywhere. Random House’s offices were elegant, and I was always on my best behavior there, but visiting FSG felt like going home.

Roger was particularly loyal to his writers, whose backlists he kept in print regardless of economics. He liked to say he published writers, not books, and he must’ve said it often, because I remember hearing it, and so, in his memoir, does John McPhee. Roger meant it by way of contrast to his corporate competitors, bean-counters, he called them, and ruder names. He sought out great literature to translate, befriended the great publishers of Europe, and saw himself, I believe, as a leading citizen of the wider world of ideas. Certainly I saw him that way.

I was also a great admirer of Barney Rosset, head of Grove Press and the American publisher of T. H. Lawrence, Samuel Beckett and Henry Miller.  The first time we met was for lunch, not in one of the usual upscale publishing hangouts, but in a funky, blue-collar eatery near his office. Knowing of his epic court battles against censorship, which in the case of Henry Miller went all the way to the Supreme Court, I expected a fire-breathing dragon of a man; but Barney was a warm, bookish man with no interest in rehashing old battles. We started out talking enthusiastically about the Israeli writer whose rights he’d just acquired from me, and ended up commiserating with each other on the scarcity of translated fiction in the US and the provincialism of American publishing compared to European and Israeli.

Today there is, to put it delicately, a different publishing climate. Back when I was an agent, some important publishers, including FSG and Grove, were privately owned, and even those with corporate owners operated more or less autonomously. Now, after a generation of mergers, buyouts, and consolidations, we have the Big Six. I was representing Bantam in the ’70’s  when a marketing man was elevated to the post of publisher, instead of someone from the editorial side. The publishing world was shocked. “It’s the beginning of the end,” editors whispered. “It’s the writing on the wall,” others said. That sort of dichotomy hardly exists anymore, and to the extent that it does, the balance of power has shifted completely. In the past, publishers and editors like Roger Straus, Barney Rosset, and Bob Gottlieb decided what they wanted to publish and tasked their marketing departments with selling those books. Now, acquisitions are made by publishing boards that look hard at every prospect’s commercial viability.  There is less scope, it seems, for individuality and eccentricity, less loyalty to one’s writers, less time allowed for writers to find themselves and their markets.

And yet some things haven’t changed. I realized this over lunch some weeks ago with Tara Singh, my editor at Viking Penguin, who’s not much older than I was when I started my agency. She told me that what she loves most about her profession are the amazing people she works with. I always felt the same way. Though never been a particularly lucrative profession, publishing  has always drawn smart, well-read, intellectually curious people who are passionate about books. You can’t find much better company than that.

Don’t Bury Publishing Yet: 8 Self-Publishing Canards

Last week, David Vinjamuri wrote a thought-provoking piece on the future of publishing, entitled “Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books—And That’s a Good Thing.” The article is nuanced and non-partisan, the comments less so, as respondents tend to line up behind one barricade or another…but even Vinjamuri’s article contained several canards about mainstream publishing that I see everywhere and feel compelled to address.

Let me start by saying that I’m as excited as any writer by the advent of self-publishing and the opening up of some distribution networks, as well as the ability of writers to reach readers more directly than ever before through social media. There are already several excellent applications for self-publishing, including:

1. Niche nonfiction. Books on very particular subjects with a defined readership that is too small to attract mainstream publishers can do very well as self-published books. I have worked in and been published by mainstream publishers throughout my career, but if I ever get around to writing that book on editing fiction I plan to write, I would definitely consider self-publishing.

2. Genre fiction series. Good writers who can write very quickly and keep churning out a consistent genre “product” can build a following, provided they are also smart entrepreneurs and social media pros—not a very common combination of talents, but there are some. Amanda Hocking is the poster child for this sort of writer.

3. Backlist. This is my favorite application, for purely selfish reasons. As a writer, I had two dreams: to be the answer to a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle, and to see all my books in print at once. The first of these remains, alas, unfulfilled; but the second is happening as we speak. Simon and Schuster just released my three last novels, and another publisher is preparing to release e-books and paperback editions of the earlier titles. If my publishers hadn’t, I would have. A privilege once reserved to the top 1% of writers is now accessible to all.

No doubt as this infant industry develops, additional applications will arise. In its current state, however, it’s a more problematic choice than its advocates admit. If a writer goes into self-publishing with his eyes wide open, then good luck and more power to him. What I don’t like is seeing writers lured into an enterprise that will cost them dearly, in time and/or money, on the basis of false claims and misleading arguments. When I look at self-publishing in its current incarnation, I have to conclude that for fiction writers in particular, mainstream publishing offers important advantages over self-publishing, for reasons that self-publishing advocates gloss over or occlude. Here, in no particular order, are some of the canards I see bruited about, followed by my own take.

1. By signing with a mainstream publisher, writers give up the rights to their work forever.  Not true if the writer has an agent, and most fiction writers who sell to mainstream publishers do. Their contracts include reversion clauses that return the rights to the writer if the publisher is not selling an agreed-upon quantity after an agreed-upon period of time.

2. Publishers dictate what writers can write. This claim is based on a misunderstanding of the author–publisher relationship. Publishers cannot dictate what a writer writes; they can only dictate what they will publish. That’s their right. It doesn’t stop writers from writing for other publishers and/or writing under different pen names.

3. Self-publishing is free, or almost free. Yes and no. It is free if you do it on the cheap: no design, no editing, no paid services at all. But such a book is unlikely to be worth reading and, according to a recent Taleist survey, unlikely to sell. Edited books, especially books that were previously edited and published by mainstream publishers, outsell unedited books by a wide margin. Of course, self-published writers can hire freelance editors, and many do. But good editors tend to be expensive, and a single editor cannot duplicate the multi-layered editing process of trade publishers. There is also the sad fact that many self-published novels are not really editable. One would have to basically rewrite the book to make it readable. So, while writers can always find editors willing to take their money and correct their grammar, they will never find one who can make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear.

4. Mainstream publishers don’t edit their books any more. The story I hear most often is that trade publishers, in order to cut costs, have stopped editing their books and now simply proofread them. This is certainly not the case with my current publisher, Viking/Penguin, which has put my upcoming novel through three rigorous stages of editing, both concept and line editing, to its great benefit. Nor is it the experience of the many writers I know who are publishing with mainstream publishers, large and small. The level of editing is the one thing that most (not all) published writers, an obstreperous lot, are satisfied with. Duplicating that kind of attention to detail by top experts would cost many thousands of dollars. At the price-point of most self-published e-books, the great majority of writers would never earn that money back.

5. Good writers will rise above the dross of the many inferior self-published books. How is this supposed to happen? How are readers supposed to find these needles in a haystack? This year 211,269 titles were self-published, according to Bowker. Last year it was 133,036. Next year it may be half a million, and remember, the older books do not go away, so these numbers are cumulative. Most of these books are dreadful, though you wouldn’t know it by the frenzied self-promotion and circle-jerk cross-reviewing of some misguided self-published writers. There is a reason that literary agents reject 95 to 99% of submitted work. Unless you have read through the slush pile of a literary agent, you would not believe how many people who cannot write a single grammatical or coherent sentence nevertheless undertake to write a book. Many of these people are now self-publishing. I don’t doubt for a moment that there are some excellent writers in the mix. But how, in the relentless barrage of self-promotion, and given the lack of creditable reviewing of self-published books, can readers hope to find the pearls among them? In his article, Vinjamuri acknowledges the problem but predicts that reliable indie reviewers will soon arise, replacing the “gatekeepers” of mainstream publishing and reviewing. Maybe so; at least, I agree that this is what needs to happen for the industry to advance instead of implode. But given the vast quantities of inferior books flooding the market, I wonder how any reviewer could possibly sift through them all.

6 . Distribution is now open to all. True for e-books only, not print. Self-published books are seldom carried in brick-and-mortar bookstores or the other chains that now sell books, including Target and Walmart. Libraries rarely buy self-published books, and that is a huge factor, because for many mid-list writers, library purchases make up the bulk of their hardcover sales.

7. Writers make more money self-publishing than by being published. This is a complicated question that will vary from writer to writer and case to case, but most self-published writers will never earn as much as a writer with one of the Big Six publishers makes as an advance; and self-published writers have to pay out of their own pockets for services, including editing, that published writers get as part of the deal. Of course, most published books don’t sell enough to cover their advances, but the writers still get to keep the money. It’s true that self-published writers earn a larger percent on e-book sales, typically 70% of retail price as opposed to 25% for published writers. But while royalty rates are higher, book prices are lower. Which is more: 25% of $10 or 70% of $3.00? And that leaves out print sales, which are still nonexistent for most self-published writers.

8. Writers grow by putting their books out there and testing the market. This might be true if the writers were getting detailed, informed feedback on their work– not the sort they get from Amazon readers’ reviews or the paid reviews that some self-published writers resort to. The only real feedback most self-published writers get is from sales, a very blunt instrument that doesn’t necessarily correlate with quality and does nothing to show them what went wrong or how they could make their work better. Good writers thrive on detailed critical feedback from editors and serious reviewers, and they grow by doing the hard work of writing and revising for as long as it takes. My greatest concern about the ease of self-publishing is that the temptation to shove a book out into the world in its first or second draft is enormous. Even good writers succumb. The result is many bad self-published books that might have been good, and, worse yet, a few good books that might have been great.

It’s hard to see into the future, but a few things are already clear. Self-publishing will continue to evolve. It will alter long-standing trade publishing practices. It will change the balance of power between writer and publisher by providing writers with more options. But self-publishing still has one inherent flaw that will not be easily overcome: the temptation it provides writers to rush prematurely into print.

It doesn’t take a weatherman to see change coming. There’s an old Jewish curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Me, I look forward to seeing what happens.

Coming soon: an interview with prominent literary agent and e-book pioneer Richard Curtis.

Digging Up Blurbs

I was looking for a book in an airport recently, just in case the three paperbacks and the hundred or so novels stored in my Kindle failed to suffice, when I came upon a novel by a writer I’d never heard of before: Witches on the Road Tonight, by Sheri Holman. The book looked interesting, and the first page passed the acid test, but what pushed me over the edge was a glowing blurb by Jane Smiley, whose work I love. I bought the book and was amply rewarded.

I remembered this incident when my editor at Viking asked if I had any suggestions for writers who might give us blurbs for my upcoming novel, A DANGEROUS FICTION. As it happened, I did know a few writers who I thought might be willing to read, which they graciously agreed to do.

But why stop there? I thought. I made a list of writers whose work I admired. Most of them I didn’t dare approach, knowing that famous and bestselling writers are besieged with such requests. The writers who remained on the list would, I knew, be difficult to reach. But with the help of my cousin the medium, I was able to make contact, and I’m pleased to report that they were all happy to oblige.

Their responses after reading went beyond anything I could have hoped for. I’m delighted to share their blurbs with you now.

 

 

“This is a brave book, with heart and guts and kidneys. This book charges straight up the hill, bayonetting all who stand in its path.” “Ernest Hemingway

“I wish I’d written this book.” Jane Austen

“A book is a book is a book, but not all books smell this sweet.” Gertrude Stein

“At last I have found my Dulcinea!” Cervantes

“Kid’s got a mouth on her. I like it.” Dashiell Hammett

 

“It is a far, far better book than I have read before, and nearly as good as any I have written.” Charles Dickens

 

 

“Such stuff as dreams are made of.” William Shakespeare

“I can’t wait for her next.” Homer
Many thanks to my esteemed colleagues, may they rest in peace.

 

A DANGEROUS FICTION is now available on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Books-A-Million, and other bookstores; also available as an audio book.