Archive for November, 2011
Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
There are three main camps in publishing and they’re not doing a very good job of communicating with each other. As I learned on my Special Forces A-Team, the key to a great team is for the leaders to insure the specialists in their areas work with each other efficiently and positively so the team achieves its goal. It’s not to insure that each specialist is the absolute best at their job, but rather that the TEAM is the best it can be. There is a subtle, but huge difference in this leadership philosophy that I don’t see occurring in publishing. It was the key that made Special Operations Forces the elite and I teach in my Who Dares Wins consulting business.
My weapons man had to understand the demo plan on a mission where our goal was to blow something up. My intel sergeant had to understand how the commo sergeant was making communication in order to tailor his information into intelligence that the commo man could transmit to the right person. Beyond the boundaries of the team, we had to coordinate with those we worked with to make sure we were all on the same plan. On one mission, where were going to blow something up with a very big bang, our exfiltration helicopter pilots didn’t see much of a need to talk to my lowly Intelligence Sergeant. They were officers and he was an NCO (read publisher and author). Until he pointed out on their map that the route they were planning to fly to get us would take them right over something we’d just blown up where there would be a lot of angry people with guns itching to shoot at something.
In the publishing business we have three main camps (and that’s excluding readers, who are the body and soul of publishing):
The content providers. Called writers.
The business people: Called agents, editors, bookstores, etc.
The technical people: The people who transform what the writer produces into the new world of digital publishing. But here is where the lines start to blur. They’re also the people who are advising the other two camps on how to use the digital world to market and promote and sell eBooks. Often, though, with little idea of what it takes to produce the product or how the business runs or how readers buy books.
For example, I’ve seen several articles lately where the topic was how the book as we know it is dead, that Amazon will hire hundreds of monkeys to lock in warehouses to produce books and there’s no place for writers any more. After all, anyone can writer a novel, correct? Wrong.
I submit a huge misconception in publishing right now is a lack of understanding of what it really takes to produce a good book. After all, if you’ve never written one, how could you? Not only that, but writers, other than the big brand names, have always been treated as replaceable parts. Heck, just look at the slush pile. All those people desperate to be content providers. Except for two things: it’s called the slush pile for a reason; and two, not many content providers, ie authors, really understand what’s going on in the business and technical sides of publishing.
Interestingly, it’s the midlist authors who jumped off the Titanic quickly out of the steerage section (without taking Kate Winslet with them so she could hog the piece of wood) that are the savviest authors now. People like JA Konrath, J Carson Black, Ruth Harris and others who owned some backlist and saw the iceberg long before the guy in the crows nest. As I emailed an internationally bestselling author this week who asked if she should be worried about all these changes: No. Those in steerage had to get out because it’s under water now, but first class is doing all right and the band is still playing. But the Titanic is still going down. In fact, some of the authors in the worst straits right now are those brand authors who have zero rights to any backlist, and who are locked up in long-term contracts with their publishers. They can enjoy the caviar in first class for a few more years, but eventually that ship is going under. And even now, they’re making much less money than they could on their own.
For you tech people. I laugh every time I follow a conference about the digital future and see the tweets. I see “experts” on social media on panels and I check their twitter accounts and find they follow 12 people and a duck while they have 16 followers and a goose. So while they’re talking about the power of social media, they’re often not using social media in their own business. I see editors talk about how many Facebook followers an author has, as if that equates to sales. Social media does not equate to sales. Not directly. There are ways to sell books via social media, but they are indirect and require the author, not the publisher to understand them. But the publisher could support the authors, except they’re pretty much clueless. I just look at selling more ebooks in my Area 51 series in one day than Random House could do in a year with the same titles in ebook. Certainly Random House should be able to sell more books than me? Why not? Motivation and the fact the distance between author and reader is very, very small now. And no one cares more about a specific title selling than the author.
Business people. Listen to your tech people—since they seem to be the ones dominating all the panels in the industry, but also listen to your content providers and more importantly, your readers. Understand that my Infantry maxim holds true for you: Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. Readers don’t care if a book is published by Random House or a goat. They just care if the book is good. Understand your days in the captain’s quarters on the Titanic are over. You don’t control distribution any more. But you can still captain a ship. It’s just not the Titanic.
Authors, as I noted in an earlier blog, put away your fear and all your other emotions. The changes are coming whether you like them or not.
In sum, though, it’s leadership that’s needed and sorely lacking. I thought publishers might lead the way, but I’m starting to have strong doubts about that. The tech people, well, Amazon is giving us a new Kindle soon that’s a tablet or whatever, but without the content, what good is it? So maybe it’s the time of the author? At the very least, maybe all those in publishing should be listening to authors more than they currently are or have been for decades. Because while we might able to lock 100 monkeys in a room and they might produce Shakespeare in a 100 years, we don’t have a hundred years. And the odds aren’t that good it will happen.
Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.
Write It Forward.
Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 by Sasha White
I think I sabatoge myself sometimes. Well, I know I do when it comes to weight loss, and to men..but right now I’m talking about writing. I know that I should not let what other authors, close and not-so-close friends, are doing effect what I do. Yet, sometimes I see things, be it a promo, a new group formed, a chat, an anthology…and it cuts me deep to see that it’s something I feel I would completely fit in, yet I wasn’t invited to be part of. Or worse yet, Sometimes I see an author who writes the same genre as me, get an award or hit a mile stone that and I think, “That should be me. Why isn’t it me?”
I know that letting myself wallow in the feelings of rejection, aloneness, and yes, a little bit of envy and jelousy is not healthy…but that doesn’t stop me from feeling them. It doesn’t stop me from thinking about how hard I’ve worked, and how much time and energy and money I’ve put into promotions. Or from wondering if I’m fucking crazy for caring that my peers don’t seem to see me as one of them, or thinking that my readers don’t enjoy my stuff enough to put up a review or nominate my books for something.
Knowing that it’s the story that matters, is sometimes not enough to stop me from being distracted by the peripheral stuff.
I originally posted this on my personal blog on March 4, 2007, and you know what? I still have those crazy feelings every now and then, and I’m not the only one. You’d think because we spend so much time inside our own heads with characters that there wouldn’t be room for this type of stuff, but you’d be wrong. It’s human to have some feelings of jealousy, or anger, or even envy. It’s okay, we all feel that way at some point or another.
What’s not okay is letting those feeling get control of you. What’s not okay is letting those feelings keep you from doing what you should be doing… the work. It’s important to remember that sometimes the only thing you have control over is you, and how you work, so focus on that.
Monday, November 28th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Some of my favorite feedback from readers involves them telling me how much something in one of my stories upset them, or made them cry, or made them happy, or excited, or whatever. “Why did you kill so-and-so? I loved that character! You made me so sad!” I hear that and think, “Awesome! You were supposed to feel sad. That means I did my job and the story is a success!” If I kill a beloved character and you don’t feel sad, something has gone horribly wrong, don’t you think?
As I write, I’m constantly asking myself: What experience do I want my readers to have when they read this? Do I want readers to be pleased? Outraged? Frightened? Grossed out? Turned on? Joyous? Depressed? I have the ability to impact people with my words. I want them to be affected by my words — otherwise, what’s the point? If I expect people to enjoy and remember my work, my work must make them feel something.
Another way of putting it: When I’m evaluating something I’ve written, I asked myself, How are readers going to react to this? Is that the reaction I want them to have?
I don’t have a formal checklist, but everything that goes into a scene and a story should be designed to affect the reader’s experience. The vocabulary, the tone, the pacing, the characters’ behavior. When I write horror, I ramp up the tension. If I want the reader to be scared, I try to be as gross and shocking as I can. I want the reader to be afraid that I might actually kill important characters. In a romance, I need the reader to be worried that the two main characters won’t get together. This means I have to make sure the reader a) likes the two main characters and wants them to get together, b) the obstacles to the relationship are believable so that the reader is truly anxious. And so on.
It’s about the building blocks. You have to ask yourself, how am I going to sell this romance to the reader? How am I going to get the reader to cheer when the bad guy is defeated? If I want the reader to cry when something happens, how am I going to build to the scene to earn that sympathy? This is where studying other people’s writing can help. Think about books that have made you laugh, or cry, or made you experience some visceral emotional reaction. How can you replicate that in your own work?
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was the first book that ever made me cry, when I was about seven, and I’ll never forget it. The tragedy of the situation wasn’t just Charlotte’s death, but the entire weight of the friendship between her and Wilbur that had been building through the whole book. The story spent hundreds of pages earning my tears.
In writing, then, you have two things you have to figure out: What reaction do you want your readers to have, and then how do you honestly earn that reaction?
Saturday, November 26th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Happy Thanksgiving weekend to those celebrating the holiday.
I was going to conclude my thoughts on character today but decided instead to go with the holiday theme.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, it was the one holiday I nearly always spent with my Dad and his family. We would get up in the wee hours and make the drive from Woodinville, WA to Lewiston, ID. Sometimes we stayed the weekend, sometimes just a night, but the feast was massive. My aunt typically hosted and there were usually around 50 people or more attending.
I have many great memories of Thanksgiving with my Dad. This year was my third without him. And it was our first without Jen’s Dad. But the other side of the coin is that it was also our third with our daughters, Lizzy and Rae. We spent the holiday with Jen’s family.
When I was a person of faith, I saw Thanksgiving very clearly as a religious holiday and I recognize that for many — both devout and marginal believers — it still is. For me, it is now about gathering together with the people I love and being grateful.
I have a quote from Cicero on my wall that I look at frequently as a reminder. He said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” I believe this strongly, every day of the year.
So instead of spending time on character today, I thought instead that I would share with you some things that I’m grateful for and invite you to share what you’re grateful for in the comments.
1. I’m grateful for my family — my wife, my daughters, and all of the friendships and relationships that enrich my life and form my tribe.
2. I’m grateful for getting to be what I wanted to be when I grew up — being a writer, though sometimes challenging, is very fulfilling and I’m thankful not just for the opportunity to tell stories to people but to also be changed and stretched by digging stories out of my brain.
3. I’m grateful for having the strength and resilience to build a life worth living and loving out of the Unfortunate Circumstances of my childhood.
4. I’m grateful for my day-job and everything it brings into my life, especially the people I get to work with.
5. I’m grateful for my health and for my happiness.
So how about you? How did you pass the holiday? And what are you grateful for?
Thursday, November 24th, 2011 by Candace Havens
It’s Thanksgiving and I hope that you are spending time with your family and friends, and that you aren’t sitting around reading blogs. But just in case you are… I think this would be a great day to put out in the universe what makes you feel grateful. Here are some of mine:
1. My family. I’ve the greatest kids and a mostly understanding husband. And I have a supportive mom and dad and extended family that is so amazing it makes me cry sometimes thinking about how great they are.
2. My friends. I have the most AMAZING friends. Truly incredible people that it is my great honor to know.
3. My writing. I’m so grateful that I can follow my dream of being an author. I get to write books that I love and it really doesn’t get any better than that.
4. My dogs. That’s right, Scoobie and Gizmo rate high on this list. They are my office mates and hang out with me all day every day. And they give me unconditional love, which is really hard to find in this world.
5. The Jobs. I’m grateful for my jobs writing about TV and film. I love talking on the radio about the latest movies and I adore going out to L.A. to talk to the TV peeps. I like using a different part of my brain than I do for writing books.
These are just a few of the many things I’m grateful for and I hope you’ll share some of yours.
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 by Bob Mayer
For many years the choke point in publishing was distribution. That is no longer true with the rise of the eBook. So the traditional route of writer-agent-editor-publisher-sales forces-book buyer-bookstore-reader has been broken. We’ve got writer-reader (of course there is editing, formatting, etc. but that can be outsourced so it’s not a chokepoint any more).
Left with those two choices, most people would say readers are now the gatekeepers. To an extent they are. But here’s the deal: writers create the product. The quality of the product is going to determine how readers react to it. The ability to promote/market the product is going to determine if readers even get a chance to react to it.
So it’s actually the writer who is going to determine their own success or failure.
99.5% of indie/self-published authors will be gone in two years. Other will take their place. And be gone in two years. The gatekeeper to a writer’s success is the writer. Here are the trends I see that will determine the few who get through the gate:
- In it for the long haul, rather than thinking you’re playing the publishing lottery. I see way too many writers who want success now. They check sales figures every day. Instead, they need to think about perhaps succeeding in 3 to 5 years with at least a half-dozen titles under their belt.
- Plan for the long haul. At Who Dares Wins Publishing we’re looking at least three years ahead. We have a writing and production schedule laid out that keeps us on task.
- Stay one step of ahead of the trends. Act, don’t react. This means sometimes you must take risks. Many of these attempts will fail, but the ones who succeed will be on the front end of the trends.
- Writing good books. This one seems so basic, but I see too many writers spend so much more time worrying about promotion than worrying about the quality of their craft. I’ve learned more in the last two years about writing than in my first 20.
- Sweat equity. This aint easy. Never has been. I’ve watched the careers or many writers. The majority of writers who are having the most success as indies have backlist, which is the sweat equity from the time they spent in the trenches in traditional publishing.
- Running an efficient business. Most writers just want to write. They don’t want to deal with all the details of running a business but being an indie author means you are self-employed. I know people who were great doctors or lawyers but went bankrupt because they couldn’t run their business.
- Networking and team building. “Indie” is an interesting term because in fact, I believe it’s very difficult to succeed on one’s own. You’re going to need help with the books (editing, covers, formatting, etc) and you’re going to need help with the promoting.
- Building a platform that as a specific message. At Write It Forward I view my platform as author advocate. I see too many writers whose platform seems to be “buy my book”. People have to have a reason to read your blog, RT your tweets, listen to you.
- Stay informed. Things are changing fast. Many people are trying a lot of different things. Some will work, some will fail. But staying up to date on everything that’s happening can help you make informed decisions.
- Be assertive but not obnoxious. I’ve grown much more assertive in the past six months. One of the largest mistakes I made coming out of Special Forces and going into traditional publishing was trusting that other people would do their jobs without having to look over their shoulders. This cost me. Now I push others, gently, but consistently, in order to achieve goals.
In sum. Writers, your fate is in your hands now. This is why I continue to update Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author
Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 by Sasha White
‘It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly.’-C J Cherryh
Last week I talked about ways I trick myself into moving forward when I’m stuck when starting a story, and yesterday Carrie showed us how she uses her red pen on her manuscripts so I thought this quote was timely. I also think it really needs no explanation so I’m going to shut up now, and share some more great advice form the greats.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~Anton Chekhov
“One idea does not make a story, you need a second idea to rub it against in order to make a fire.” ~Twyla Tharp
“Loafing is the most productive part of a writer’s life.” ~James Norman Hall
“Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” ~Colette, Casual Chance, 1964