The spam monsters have won. Over the past several months, I have tried to limit spam in the comments to this journal. Despite my best attempts, though, the spam continues to be posted -- often more spam comments than legitimate ones.
Therefore, I am forced to bar comments from people who are not my LJ friends.
But all is not lost! If you would like to comment on a post here, and you are not an LJ friend, and you don't care to create an LJ account to become my friend, you can comment on my main website, the one that mirrors to this journal. That website is
Mindy, regretting that it's come to this, but pleased to finally get rid of the obnoxious spam
S is for Synopsis.
After a query letter, a synopsis might be the most challenging form of writing you ever create. In common parlance, a synopsis is a summary of a book’s plot. To the rational writer, though, a synopsis is much more. It’s a document written in paragraph form, in the present tense. Composed in third person, it tells a complete story; there are no “spoiler alerts” and no pulled punches about the plot resolution. It has one specific purpose: to sell your story.
Traditionally, authors wrote synopses to get an agent (or, if they weren’t represented, to get an editor.) Those are still valid reasons for traditionally published authors to write synopses. In addition, those authors might create a synopsis to assist their editors’ presentations to marketing committees or to prepare the art department before a cover is designed.
But self-published authors need to master the art of synopsis writing too. For a self-published author, a synopsis is vital to summarize an entire book for cover artists and for experts in publicity and marketing. In the crowded marketplace, you want evangelists who can promote your book far and wide. Those enthusiastic partners can best sell your work to others if they understand the story you are telling.
Formatting Your Mini-Masterpiece
You should use an easy-to-read format for your synopsis. In a heading, include your name and contact information. If you have an agent, put that name in the heading as well, along with contact information. Clearly state your manuscript’s name, genre, and word count.
For the body of the synopsis, double space your text. Leave one-inch margins to facilitate easy reading. Use a clean, readable font. The synopsis is not an appropriate place to advertise your creativity by selecting artistic fonts that require careful parsing.
Length of Synopses
Debates rage over the appropriate length of a synopsis. Some industry professionals maintain that a synopsis should be no more than three double-spaced pages (around 750 words). Others consider a reasonable length to be ten or fifteen or twenty pages, whatever it takes to capture the scope of your work. There is no standardized definition, no coded language for “short synopsis” or “long synopsis.”
So what’s the rational writer to do? Ask. Contact the person who is going to use the synopsis—an agent, an editor, a blog tour organizer, whoever—and ask that person’s preference. That one simple question can save hours of otherwise-wasted time.
The Meat of the Matter
The body of the synopsis consists of three major parts: the hook, the characters, and the plot. Each of these components works with the others to generate a rock-solid depiction of your book.
As with your query letter, the synopsis hook is short. Often only one sentence, the hook is an intense distillation of your entire book. It is so captivating that the reader must ask for more. As with the query, your hook should emphasize the aspects of your work that are unique. These might include a setting and time period, a specific character, or a startling circumstance. Hooks are elevator pitches—the summary of your work that can be conveyed to the world’s most important decision-maker in the time it takes to ride an elevator from the ground floor to a penthouse office suite.
The primary focus of your hook should be the tone of your novel. You won’t be able to fit in all the details of your intricate writing—even in summary format—and you shouldn’t try. Rather, your goal is to capture the spirit of the work. The hook for a romantic comedy will sound completely different from the hook for an epic fantasy or a thriller or a literary novel. Prepare your synopsis reader for what comes next.
The next section of your synopsis is a brief character summary. Limit yourself to two characters—usually your protagonist and antagonist. (If you’re writing a romance novel, you’ll typically describe your heroine and hero.) If you absolutely, positively cannot restrict yourself, you can add a third character description. Each character gets their own paragraph. By tradition, a character’s full name is written in ALL CAPS the first time it appears.
For each description, provide the character’s goal, motivation, and conflict. (In simplest terms, the “goal” is what your character wants. The “motivation” is why they want it. The “conflict” is why they can’t have it.) This section should not include details about a character’s physical description unless that information is vital to the goal, conflict, or motivation. (In general, we don’t need to know that a heroine has long blond hair. But if the character is Rapunzel and her goal is to find true love and escape her tower prison, then we do need to know she has both the world’s strongest scalp and longest hair.)
The majority of your synopsis will focus on your plot. Your goal, though, is not to recite what happens first, then what happens second, then what happens third. Rather, your goal is to focus on how plot events change your characters. Each major plot event should be summarized with an action by one character, a reaction by the same or a different character, and a summary of the effect. The culmination of your plot summary is the description of your character’s arc. Thus, your plot becomes a tool for displaying emotion, thereby gripping your reader.
You will likely write one paragraph for each major transition of your story. You definitely do not want to include every beat (the smallest unit of storytelling.) You may not want to include every scene (comprised of multiple beats.) But every time a character reacts to a substantial action and changes direction in a meaningful way, you’ll add a summary to your synopsis.
The road to writing a good synopsis is strewn with traps. Avoid vague, flowery, and unclear language—you’re trying to create a road-map, not show off your most extensive vocabulary. Don’t try to fool your reader about characters’ secret identities, including surprise villains. Don’t wallow in excessive plot details. Try to avoid skipping around in narrative time; rather, craft a simple, straight-forward narrative to help your reader understand your plot’s direction.
The final paragraph of your synopsis is its conclusion. Your goal is to summarize your characters’ successful arcs, underscoring how they have grown and changed. At the same time, an ideal conclusion wraps around to the initial hook at the beginning of the synopsis, mirroring the large questions set forth at the outset.
Once you’ve finished drafting your synopsis, invest several rounds of editing to make the most of your creation. Verify that every word is essential to the story you’re conveying; don’t give your readers a chance to be distracted by any unnecessary text. Test the strength of every verb you use, focusing on choosing action verbs that connote emotion, rather than weaker forms of “to be.” Similarly, concentrate on specific adjectives, searching for descriptors that carry shades of meaning.
As you near the end of your polishing, consider sharing it with a beta reader or other critique partner. Someone less familiar with the text will help you identify snags that aren’t easily found on a first reading.
Wrap up your editing with a grammar check and a spell check. If you’re sending your synopsis electronically, make sure that you’ve saved it at 100% view, so that your reader will open it in that same manner.
So? Are you ready to tackle the rarefied writing that forms a synopsis? If you don’t have a completed manuscript of your own to practice on, consider drafting a synopsis for a favorite book or movie. Can you summarize The Lord of the Rings in ten pages? What about Pride and Prejudice in five? Or your favorite Nancy Drew book from childhood in three pages or less?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Months and months and months ago, I received a lovely invitation from the Virginia Romance Writers chapter of RWA, asking me to speak at their monthly meeting. I made sure I had no conflicts, entered the date on my calendar, prepared some handouts specifically for the meeting… and promptly forgot all about it.
Which was fine. Because my calendar worked exactly as it was supposed to, and I saw the meeting a couple of weeks before the actual date, and I followed up with my VRW contact who of course had arranged for a hotel room and who of course had a specific address for where they were meeting and who of course made me feel completely and totally welcome.
And so, last Friday afternoon, I got my hair cut for the first time in six months (SIX! MONTHS!) I threw my overnight bag in the car, and I hopped down I-95 to Richmond.
Okay. I didn’t hop. I staggered. Slowly. Because of massive traffic jams. Included three accidents in the express toll lanes.
(Adding insult to injury, I still don’t know how much I paid for the privilege of creeping along, mile after mile, while the traffic flowed better in the normal, non-toll lanes, but there was no way for me to exit the toll lanes. Sigh. And grr. The transactions should come through on my transponder account… some time.)
In any case, I arrived in Richmond around 5:30, without any real problems. I checked into the hotel without any incident more alarming than my not knowing my own name. (“Checking in under Klasky. Oh, you don’t have that? Try [Married Name]. Oh, not that? How about [Name of VRW Member who set up reservation. Perfect!”)
My trusty iPhone told me that a Chinese restaurant was five minutes from the hotel, and Hunan Chicken sounded divine. I zipped around the corner to the Cheng Du Chinese Restaurant, spent a few minutes finding a parking space, and entered a restaurant to find myself the only Anglo person in the place. Every table but three was filled with boisterous Asian families — I later learned that a dental school nearby was celebrating graduation last weekend, and these were the relatives of some newly minted dentists.
After a satisfying cup of hot and sour soup and a gigantic plate of Hunan Chicken, I headed back to my hotel room. Despite the siren call of M&Ms down in the lobby (No, I won’t pay $4 for a standard-size bag of candy I don’t need, thank you very much!), I settled in to catch up on some writing that just had not gotten done during the week.
3000 words later, I climbed into bed and slept very soundly.
Saturday morning, I woke up in time to enjoy the hotel’s free breakfast buffet. I followed easy directions to the Glen Allen Library, and I met a couple of dozen Virginia Romance Writers members.
VRW is all the best that RWA has to offer. Members were energetic and enthusiastic. New members were greeted kindly. Career milestones were marked (with applause and chocolate). Life challenges were acknowledged, and hurting members were comforted.
After a quick business meeting, I spoke about The Rational Writer, focusing on strategic plans, tactical plans, time management, and metadata management. Members had great questions, and I once again contemplated the incomprehensible — how pantser writers ever manage to complete a book ::grin::
We broke for lunch, where conversation ranged from breeding dogs to past careers to racing motorcycles to any number of other things. While the VRW folks returned for an afternoon session, I hit the road.
My drive home started in a hot, sunny parking lot, with a brisk wind blowing and fluffy white clouds scudding across a brilliant blue sky. It ended in a vicious downpour, with my windshield wipers on high as I negotiated the fan-tail spray of trucks in front of me.
But all in all, I had a wonderful time. The Virginia Romance Writers were wonderful hosts. I’d be honored to join them any time in the future!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
R is for Research.
As an author, you have two basic needs for research. First, you need to research markets, including how publishing works. Second, you need to research specific facts for use in your books. Different strategies work best for each of these goals.
Researching for your Career
As an author, you owe it to yourself to conduct exhaustive and ongoing research about your career. You should understand all the key markets in your specific field, including new and emerging opportunities. This awareness will include familiarity with the major individuals who work in your niche. (If you’re traditionally published, these players will include agents, editors, and publishers, along with a broad range of people who are crucial to the promotion of your work. If you’re self-published, the players will include contractual service providers, sales outlets, and a similarly broad range of people crucial to promotion.)
You should also be familiar with storytelling and marketing trends in your field. What sub-genres are selling well? What is the typical price for a novel, novella, and short story? Are there new tools such as boxed sets, bundles, or other novel promotional gimmicks that are having an impact on sales? What do covers look like for books in your area? How are blurbs being structured?
Your resources for this information will vary according to which genres you write. A good starting place for genre writers is the national group affiliated with their field — Romance Writers of America for romance writers, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for speculative fiction writers, etc. In addition to having online spaces for writers to communicate, those entities typically have publications (e.g., Romance Writers Report and The Bulletin). They may also have in-person conferences, sponsored either directly by the organization (e.g., RWA Nationals) or allied with other key players in the field (e.g., the World Science Fiction Convention.) Of course, there are also specialty publications that focus on individual fields (e.g., RT Book Reviews and Locus).
Social media provide other means of research, bringing together authors with other authors and with readers. Collaborative groups of authors often use private groups on Facebook, or Google hangouts, or Twitter DM groups to discuss their ongoing issues with writing and publishing. Many of these groups offer emotional support in addition to providing factual data.
Additional research can be conducted in stores—either by browsing the shelves in a bricks-and-mortar location or by studying sales venues online. Of course, you’ll need to read some of those books as well; you should always be familiar with what other writers are creating in your field. (You may want to emulate those authors, or you may want to avoid what they’re doing in your own work.)
Industry norms change rapidly. The rational writer collects facts and figures, focusing on specific details to gain the best position in a highly competitive field. It is difficult to do too much research on how our business works.
Researching for your Book
By contrast, it’s extremely easy to conduct too much research for a specific book.
Let’s face it. A lot of us would rather research than write. We’d rather submerge ourselves in reference volumes or browse website after website. Each new fact we learn opens up new possibilities for more exploration. A quick search for a single fact can expand into a deep dive for hours.
And most books require at least some research. Books that are set in historical periods of our actual world may require vast amounts of research. Authors can safely assume that some reader somewhere is an expert on whatever topics they include in their work. Waving hands and pretending that details are unimportant can doom an otherwise excellent story.
So, authors must walk a fine line. Research, of course, can be conducted in a number of different ways, through various media. It may be completed in print resources or online. It may be done in person or through a librarian or by relying on an expert. It might be done at the beginning of a project, before the first word is committed to the book, or it might be scattered throughout the writing process, on a “catch as catch can” basis.
But research for a specific book can be the enemy of a career author. Every hour spent fascinated by research is an hour not spent writing. Efficiency can deteriorate. Deadlines can be blown.
The rational writer strives to limit research to the specific facts mandatory to a given work. Err on the side of doing too little research, going back to conduct more if necessary at a later date. You can always open up the Pandora’s box of research a second time, or a third. But if you’ve allowed a project to consume all of your resources, you cannot regain what you’ve lost.
So? What tools do you use to stay current on the market? What are your favorite tools for researching specific books? And are you tempted to continue your research past the time it’s yielding necessary results? If so, how do you curb that impulse?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Q is for Query.
Once upon a time, nearly every published author had mastered the art of the query letter. Most authors sent query letters to agents, tracking down a representative to serve as a middleman to an editor. Even authors who worked without agents had mastered querying those editors directly, reaching out to seek publication of their book. (Yes, a tiny fraction of authors attended a conference or knew an editor personally and pitched work verbally, without a formal query letter. But those circumstances were relatively rare.)
Now, with the advent of self-publishing, fewer authors seek representation. Authors may work their entire career without ever completing a query letter. If you’re one of those authors, congratulations. You’re through reading this week.
For everyone else…
A query letter is one of the most highly refined forms of writing you will ever complete. It consists of a single, one-page introduction to you and your book. It’s not your resume. It’s not your book’s synopsis. It’s a maximum of 250 words that is professional and intriguing enough to stand out among the—literally—hundreds that your agent of choice might be reading at one sitting.
In its simplest form, a query letter is a three-paragraph essay.
Paragraph 1: The Hook
The first paragraph is the hook. This single sentence is a tagline—an intense, distilled summary of your book that is so captivating the reader has to ask for more. Your hook should emphasize the aspects of your work that are unique. These might include a setting and time period, a specific character, or a startling circumstance.
Paragraph 2: The Summary
The second paragraph of your query summarizes the entire plot of your novel. Yes. In one paragraph.
Obviously, you can’t shrink 100,000 words into 150. Instead, you’ll need to focus on certain key aspects, the most important parts of your novel that make it stand out from all other novels in its category.
You will almost certainly not be able to condense your plot into this one paragraph. Instead, focus on what emerges from the mechanical operation of the plot. How do your main characters change? What essential, existential problems do they face at the beginning of the story? How are they transformed by their efforts to solve the problem? How does your specific setting or time period cause or influence that change?
Some writers create their summary paragraphs as if they were writing haiku. They focus on selecting individual words, weighing every syllable to guarantee that it serves the ultimate goal of describing the plot. Other authors start with a much broader scope, recording many details and far-ranging thoughts, only to pare them down to the final precious paragraph. However you approach the challenge, the end result will be the same: a single paragraph that contains the distillation of your novel.
Paragraph 3: The Biography
The final paragraph of your query focuses on you, the writer. This isn’t a chance to tell every detail about every step on your writing journey. Rather, you want to share details related to the specific work you’re pitching. Why were you the best person to tell the story you told? What unique experience did you bring to the job?
If you have nationally recognized credentials (you’ve won the Pulitzer, you’ve received a MacArthur grant, you are a New York Times or USA Today bestseller), share that information here. But if your greatest writing recognition so far has been the prize you won in Mrs. Robinson’s third grade language arts class, don’t bother mentioning it.
Don’t be afraid to skimp on your biography. Less truly is more here. If you pare enough words from your biography, you can “lend” them to your summary, adding more description to your book.
So, there you have it. A simple formula. Once you’ve drafted (and re-drafted, and re-re-drafted ad nauseum) those three paragraphs, you’ll want to review your query letter to make sure it includes a handful of other details. Specifically, make sure that you include:
• The agent’s name. (Not “Sir or Madam.” Not “To whom it may concern.” You want this letter to be the most powerful, personal appeal you’ve ever written, so make sure you address it to a person.)
• The book’s title. (Your title may very well be changed by the agent, an editor, or a marketing department. But this is your chance to give an agent something to hang her proverbial hat on. Use your title to snag attention.)
• The word count and genre of the book. (You should already have familiarized yourself with your field, so you know the typical length for books in your genre. Do not delude yourself into believing that your first novel, a 250,000-word young adult fantasy epic, is good enough to warrant an agent and editor taking a chance. That’s too long. And you won’t look professional if you pitch it. Edit before you ever get around to writing your query.)
• A brief thank you for the agent’s time.
Is it time to draft your query letter? Do you have a finished manuscript of your novel? Have you revised it as completely as you can? Are you ready to distill your masterpiece into three paragraphs? Ready, set, go!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
So, several weeks ago, I had to make the difficult decision not to attend this year’s Washington Romance Writers annual retreat. I had several conflicts that weekend, and the event just seemed too difficult to shoehorn in with other obligations. Sigh.
Then, I received an email from the president of WRW, telling me that the chapter was recognizing me with a career achievement award (one that’s given to recognize a member’s work, either because of quality or quantity.) The chapter wanted to know if I could join them on Saturday for lunch, to receive my award.
Of course, the answer was yes.
I rearranged a couple of things on my schedule and drove up to Westminster, Maryland, where the retreat was being held. For the first time in all the times I’ve driven there, I found the correct, most direct route without silly detours. I arrived early enough to chat with folks between sessions.
And then I sat down to lunch, sitting next to Keely Thrall (who was, in a wonderful sense of “coming full circle”, the president of WRW when I joined.) We had a lovely lunch, chatting with everyone at our table.
A number of awards were announced, all for kind, generous women who are devoted to making the most of their writing careers. My name was called, and I was charmed by the vigorous applause as I walked to the front of the room. I didn’t trip, or anything.
And now I have a visual reminder on a shelf in my office, a heartwarming token of what romance writers can mean to each other as we build our careers.
Thank you, Washington Romance Writers. I’m truly, truly flattered by your recognition!
P.S. The icing on the cake was finding out that my name was the answer to a Romance Jeopardy clue! (The answer was about my writing the nine-volume Diamond Brides series in one year 🙂 )
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
P is for Piracy.
Pirate. The word sounds sort of sexy. Pirates sail around in cool-looking boats, talking with funny, growling accents, and defying pompous prigs. They laugh a lot (yo, ho, ho), and they really know how to throw a party (that bottle of rum), and they’re portrayed in major motion pictures by big name actors. (Hello, Johnny Depp!)
But in the writing world, pirates are scum. They’re thieves. They take authors’ work without paying, sometimes without attribution.
The typical pirate website hosts thousands of electronic books. Some are files copied from legitimate ebooks; they’re duplicated and posted without permission. Others are scanned copies of printed books; pages are fed through a mechanical scanner that churns out poor-quality electronic files, often rife with typographic errors. Yet others are PDF files, the electronic equivalent of photocopies of book pages.
No matter the format, pirated copies all have one thing in common: the author didn’t get paid for her work.
Different book pirates have different models for distributing their illegal books. Some make copyrighted material available for free, often invoking the misunderstood statement, “Information wants to be free.” (Information—facts—might want to be free, but creative works are not mere information.) Other pirates charge a fee for their booty; they’re in the business to make money. Still others never actually have a book file to offer; rather, they use an author’s name and the name of his books to seduce unwary people to divulge credit card numbers, expiration dates, and security codes.
People who acquire pirated books also have a variety of motivations. Some have no intention of reading the books they steal; rather, they merely want to own the largest number of books possible. Others find themselves too poor to purchase books, so they download them from pirate sites in the mistaken belief that authors have no legitimate financial interest in their work. Still others could afford to buy books, but they choose not to, because they place their own interests above those of creators.
Just as there are different types of pirated books, different types of pirates, and different types of readers, there are different types of authors: those who have been pirated, and those who have not been pirated yet. Virtually every book that is available electronically will eventually be pirated.
So, what’s an author to do?
The United States Copyright Act allows authors to sue people or businesses that infringe their copyrighted work. That litigation, though, is costly and time-consuming. If the author did not previously have her work registered with the United States Copyright Office, her maximum damages will be limited to the actual financial harm she has suffered, a number that can be difficult, if not impossible to prove. Even if she did register her work before the pirates distributed it, copyright infringement litigation is expensive. Any individual case may take years to conclude.
Nevertheless, a 1998 amendment to the Copyright Act, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) provides a more immediate form of relief. The DMCA states that an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) is not liable for hosting an infringing work. However, when an ISP is put on notice that a work infringes, the ISP must remove that work from its site. ISPs are put on notice when they receive a takedown notice.
A takedown notice is a legal notification with specific requirements. It must:
• Be in writing,
• Be signed (physically or electronically) by the copyright owner or her designated agent,
• Identify the copyrighted work that has been infringed,
• Identify the material that infringes that copyrighted work,
• Include the owner’s contact information,
• State that the owner is acting in good faith,
• State that “under penalty of perjury, the information contained in the notification is accurate”, and
• State that the signatory has the right to proceed because he or she is the copyright owner or the owner’s designated agent.
Traditional publishers typically set up large-scale operations to detect and combat piracy. They hire services to track down pirated copies of their authors’ work, and they routinely send takedown notices to offenders. Most traditional publishers provide their authors with a contact person or email address, so that authors can forward notices of infringement that they discover.
Some self-published authors follow the same protocol. They use alert services to track appearances of their own name and/or the names of their books, and they regularly prepare and send takedown notices. Some authors delegate that work to a third-party service such as Muso. For a fee, the service monitors piracy and dispatches takedown notices.
Authors can spend substantial amounts of time policing their works, attempting to remove it from all possible pirate sites. Some writers, though, limit their monitoring. They might, for example, only send takedown notices to pirates who are charging for infringing works, ignoring the numerous pirates who merely make books available for free.
Some authors believe that they must police all of their works against all possible infringement, or they will lose their copyrights. This, though, is not an accurate understanding of United States copyright law. (It is a summary of United States trademark law, which requires trademark owners to enforce their rights against all infringers.) Each author will need to determine how much time and money she is willing to invest in protecting her work from pirates.
Where do (or will) you draw the line with regard to defeating pirates? How much time are you willing to devote each week to enforcing your copyrights? Will you send takedown notices to all offenders, or only to some? How will you make that determination?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
O is for Organization.
A writing career requires vast amounts of organization. Authors must be organized in creating their work, in promoting their work, and in running the day-to-day aspects of their business.
Organization in Work Creation
Different authors have different methods for writing a story. Some—usually called plotters—create detailed outlines, describing every encounter in each scene in each chapter of the finished book. Others—usually called pantsers or “organic” writers—fly by the seats of their pants, developing the story as they go. Both plotters and pantsers, though, need to be organized.
Both types of authors need to track information about their story as they create it. They need to know which scenes they’ve written and which remain to be done. They need to know the details of their characters and their settings. They need to know information about other books in the series (if any), including things that happened in early volumes and things that will happen in future stories.
Even if they don’t need to know those details in order to write, they must know them after they’ve written, so that one hundred pages later, they can say with certainty whether their character has blue eyes or brown, whether the village down the lane is Great Snoring or Little Haven, whether the villain’s dog is named Rover or Spot.
The problems get more complex in certain genres, e.g., fantasy (where authors fabricate entire worlds complete with rules of magic and social hierarchies and imaginary creatures) and small-town romances (where they’re expected to remember which shops are located next to which and who is related to whom.)
Organization also becomes more important for series of related works. Details that are defined in one volume need to persist into future works, or explanations need to be provided for the variations. Readers embrace books, in part, because they’ve mastered those details. Every time an author mistakes his own facts, he’s breaking a covenant with his readers.
Organization in Work Promotion
Authors need to be organized in promoting their work as well. Promotion might include written material (e.g., business cards, postcards, and bookmarks), online appearances (e.g., blog tours, Facebook launch parties, and giveaways), and in-person appearances (e.g., bookstore readings and conferences.)
Promotion works best when it’s cumulative. Potential reviewers, readers, and other targets should receive uniform information—book covers, tag lines, blurbs, etc., are all more effective when they build on earlier information.
Multiple appearances require tracking—where one is supposed to be when. They also require a comprehensive list of what should be brought to each event—written material, special pens for signing, buttons or ribbons or other gifts for attendees, etc.
Leaving things to chance creates multiple opportunities for failure. Instead, authors should have a calendar (print or online) and checklists of supplies.
Organization in Business
It’s always easier to maintain a system than to build one from scratch. Therefore, the rational writer implements business organization strategies early and continues to build on them throughout her career.
Those systems should include career planning (a strategic plan for achieving over-arching goals over relatively long periods of time such as one year), time management documentation (including a tactical plan detailing specific deadlines for the creation of one or more books), metadata management (collecting and making uniform all metadata for all works in all series), and sales quantification.
Moreover, authors need systems for tracking income, business expenses, and government filing deadlines related to taxation and corporate status (if any.)
Specific systems for work creation, promotion, and business are beyond the scope of this chapter. (My entire book The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts consists of descriptions of business systems, along with downloadable templates for those aspects of career management.)
So? Are you an organized author? What systems do you have in place to advance your career? What is the single system you most need to develop? What’s keeping you from doing that? When will you meet your needs?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
The life of an author is often lonely–we work in private, staring at computer screens, occasionally “socializing” by way of electronic media.
And then there are the field trips. Like the one I took last weekend, to Kent County, Delaware (home to Dover, Delaware.)
Let me start at the beginning…
Many months ago, I received email from Hilary Welliver, the Library Director of the Kent County Public Library. She invited me to be the keynote speaker at the library’s bit Authors and Audiences event, the culmination of a week of National Library Week activities. In preparation for my presentation, the Kent County librarians led several weeks of discussion groups, all focused on my first novel, the traditional fantasy The Glasswrights’ Apprentice.
I’ve been looking forward to the big event for ages. I used the occasion to ask (beg, plead) with my publisher for new covers, and they obliged, offering up this streamlined version of Apprentice:
I prepared a speech and practiced it in front of my mirror. I packed up some goodies to give away to the libraries in the system.
And on Friday afternoon, Mark and I hit the road. We relied on the Waze app to find the supposedly fastest route to Dover. Alas, I’m not at all convinced it gave us the speediest directions–suffice to say we stayed on surface streets all the way through DC, including several roads I’ve never been on in all the years I’ve lived here. Fortunately, we didn’t have any programming scheduled for Friday evening!
Once we arrived in Dover (having driven over the Bay Bridge and through various not-yet-planted fields), we checked into our perfectly serviceable room at the Hilton Garden Inn. After a bit of online reconnaissance, we headed downtown to find a cool, local place for dinner.
Alas, downtown Dover has not yet recovered from the 2008 economic crash. The majority of storefronts were boarded up, which made for a very sad several blocks. (We saw a lot of small towns like that when we took “getaway weekends” in 2009 and 2010; most places have recovered better than Dover has.) We did find a branch of the public library, which was being used by a number of patrons. And we saw some beautiful Federalist government buildings.
And we ate an incredible dinner at 33 West. (I had two appetizers–a baked macaroni and cheese enriched with pancetta and pulled pork and roasted Brussels sprouts with sliced almonds, green apple and balsamic glaze. The plate of sprouts was gigantic–and I could eat them every single night!)
The next day, we slept in, had a fun breakfast at the Countrie Eatery (yep, that’s the way they spelled it!) and headed to the library. The event actually served as a Book Festival for the region–there were about two dozen local authors, each with a table and displays of books published in every genre under the sun (memoir, inspirational, mystery, romance, health and fitness…)
The Friends of the Library provided tables full of refreshments (including cake! and fresh strawberries!) The librarians treated me like royalty, ensconcing me in the staff break room in case I needed to rest before the event (!) All the librarians came by to tell me about the discussion groups they’d led, and everyone was full of energy and enthusiasm.
I got a chance to talk with each of the local authors–there were so many wonderful personal stories about how people had come to write! And then, at 2:00, I was finally on stage. I spoke for about 45 minutes, telling the story of how I came to be published and how my career has changed with the development of self-publishing. I took questions for about 20 minutes–some from folks who had read Apprentice in the discussion groups, some from younger writers who are just starting their careers, etc. And then I sat at the lovely table above, signing books and talking to readers for another 45 minutes or so.
Kent County Public certainly knows how to host an event. And like so many libraries in small and depressed communities, it wears a large number of hats, serving children and adults in a variety of ways.
I still have the vase of purple tulips on the counter in the kitchen. And I have memories to make me smile for a very long time!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
N is for Networking.
Writing is one of the loneliest careers you can choose. You don’t report to an office. You don’t share meetings with colleagues. You don’t have a water cooler, a break room, any of the social trappings that most people are accustomed to finding in other jobs. Rather, you sit alone in a garret, scribbling away (for modern values of “garret” and “scribble.”)
And yet, writing is hugely dependent on communication with others in order to succeed in the fast-changing, diverse world of modern publishing. Authors need to understand trends and developments in publishing and distribution. They need to be aware of other authors in their field, friends and competitors (the two terms are not mutually exclusive), along with blockbuster successes. They need to reach out to readers, to the ultimate consumers of their work, with an eye toward growing that audience on an ongoing basis.
Authors need to network. And they can do that networking in person or electronically (or, of course, both.)
In-Person Networking—Writers Groups
Many writers rely on a writers group for their “entry-level” marketing. They meet with fellow writers on a regular basis (typically, once a month), sharing works in progress. At those meetings, they typically discuss news in the field (which publishers are buying what, who is paying large advances, which markets are trending at which vendors, what changes are being made in distributors’ terms and conditions, etc.) Because they’re human, they also discuss gossip (which author made a scene at which industry event, who got into an online flamewar with whom, who got upset with whom about a perceived slight, etc.)
Writers groups are typically small; otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to process the crucial business of evaluating authors’ works in progress. But they can be a rich source of networking, because everyone at the gathering has a common interest—publishing.
Writers groups are a good option for authors who are introverted. There aren’t too many people in attendance and the author likely knows everyone at any given meeting before he arrives. Writers groups are also a good option for authors who have limited finances. Typically, an author might be expected to bring food or drink (or to purchase food or drink, if the group meets in a public space), but there are no membership fees, no travel costs, no accommodation fees, etc.
Writers groups, however, are not likely to “spread a wide net.” Members will not necessarily get a broad range of perspectives, and they might not learn new topics, due to the relative insularity of the group.
Conferences lie at the other end of the in-person networking spectrum. Conferences (as they’re known in the mystery and romance worlds) or conventions (as they’re known in the fantasy and science fiction worlds) or cons (as they’re known in fandom) are gatherings in a public space, where anywhere from a hundred to a hundred thousand people get together to discuss their field.
Conferences typically have panels, where speakers address pre-determined topics. (At some conferences, these discussions are relatively ad hoc, with panelists conducting little or no prep work. At other conferences, panelists are required to submit written handouts nearly a year in advance.) Conferences also usually have book-signing events where readers can purchase books and have them signed by attendees. They may have official parties, awards ceremonies, off-site tours, etc. Editors and agents may take appointments with individuals during the convention.
Some conferences function as the annual meeting of a specific writers organization (e.g., RWA Nationals is the premier meeting of the Romance Writers of America.) Others are sponsored by interested groups of fans (e.g., Worldcon, the World Science Fiction Convention, is run by a group of volunteers from whichever city is hosting that year’s conference.)
Conferences may be devoted to a particular genre, or they may have attendees interested in multiple genres (e.g, the Novelists, Inc. conference.)
Authors desiring to network at a conference should do some scouting work ahead of time. They should determine whether a specific convention has the features they’re looking for in terms of size, formality, types of panels, ability to appear on panels, availability of appointments with industry professionals, etc.
In a relatively recent wrinkle, some authors are limiting their attendance at panels based on the operating policies of those conferences. Some authors won’t appear at conferences that do not have written harassment policies, or policies about accessibility, etc. Generally, these policies can be determined online, by studying the promotional sites of the conferences.
Given the vast variety of conferences available, an author is likely to be able to find one that meets his needs in terms of subject matter, location, time, money, and scale. The networking opportunities are wide, although some conferences provide better access to publishing professionals, some to fellow writers, and some to readers.
Social media exist to allow authors (and others) to connect with people. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and thousands of similar communities typically allow members to build communities of like-minded individuals, often creating smaller groups or lists based on common interests (such as a private group for editors, or a private group for authors collaborating on a single project, or a public group for fans of a particular series of books.)
The largest social media networks provide free platforms for people to communicate. In exchange, they harvest data about those people. The networks have policies to influence that data-gathering, often forbidding types of speech, or limiting communication deemed to be promotional in nature. Social media giants change their policies on a frequent basis.
Networking strategies that worked well in the past may not function at all in the future.
Nevertheless, social media networks are a good option for authors who have financial limitations. They allow an author to determine the amount of time she’ll spend with others.
At the same time, social media networks can become a huge time drain, requiring many hours to build and maintain relationships. Also, the transience of social media network rules may result in the loss of an author’s “social capital.”
So? What methods of networking have you tried? Why do they work for you? What can you change about your behavior to make them work better for you?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
M is for Money.
Do you write for money? If you’re a professional writer, the answer is almost definitely, “Yes.” (Of course, if you’re writing to preserve a story for yourself, your family or your friends, you might not have any intention of earning any money. You’re also probably not reading this post as a writer.)
“Money” is a dirty word in many circles. Most people are socialized not to talk about financial matters in public; we don’t share how much we earn (never enough!), or what we paid for our latest extravagance (often too much!), or what percentage of our income we’re reinvesting in our business. As an author, though, you need to focus on money, because money is a proxy for many important career decisions.
Stories regularly appear in major mainstream publications about authors who earn vast sums of money through their publishing careers. Sometimes these financial superstars are first-time authors who hit it big. Sometimes they’re authors who have generated dozens, even hundreds, of publications over many years, steadily developing a following. Sometimes they’re entrepreneurs who developed new business strategies, creating new markets or expanding existing ones in previously unimagined ways.
Many non-authors read these articles and assume that all writers are wealthy. Like Stephen King, we all must be making major donations to our hometown’s infrastructure, funding libraries and swimming pools. Like James Patterson, every single one of us must be sponsoring millions of dollars in annual gifts to bookstore employees. Or, at least, we could, if that’s the way we chose to spend our filthy lucre.
The reality, of course, is that most authors earn far less than the superstars. Some studies indicate that—on average—fewer than 100 copies are sold of each ebook published. Print books, especially self-published ones, do worse.
But authors aren’t immune to speculation about other writers’ money. Many believe they’ve failed if they don’t reach certain outsize benchmarks. They become disappointed with their chosen career and frustrated with the market.
The rational writer sets financial goals before launching a book. She examines the marketplace, studying how books in her genre typically sell, at what prices, and in what amounts. (A collection of abstract poetry might be a breakout success if it sells 100 copies in a week. A contemporary romance with the same level of sales would be unremarkable.)
The rational writer develops financial expectations based on facts rather than hype. Those facts are not necessarily easy to come by. Few competitors will say exactly how many books they sold at which price points over what time period. But the more information an author can glean and the more details she can pin down about dollars and cents, the more realistic she can be about the success or failure of her writing career.
Advance or No Advance?
Money—and analysis of monetary needs—can also help authors make one of the most basic publishing decisions for their work: Whether to be traditionally published or self-published. Traditional publishers often pay an advance, money up front that is separate from royalties on sales of individual copies of your work. If you need a chunk of money at a specific time, then you may choose to pursue a traditional contract with a publisher who can pay you a lump sum, even if that sum means your royalty payments will be deferred (or possibly never arrive.)
Within the traditional publishing world, some contracts obviously offer a large advance and some offer smaller advances (with the anticipation that the advance will be earned out sooner and royalties will roll in earlier.) Authors might prefer a large advance because that payment is certain; a publisher can’t demand that you refund payments, even if a book flops. Authors who prefer large advances often argue that their publishers are more invested in their careers; they’re more inclined to spend money on marketing and publicity to recoup the cost of the advance.
Other authors, though, prefer smaller advances. They believe they’ll be more attractive to a publisher if they consistently “earn out” their contracts, if they generate enough sales to cover their advance and quickly move on to receiving royalty payments instead. They prefer to be seen as team players, taking a risk with all the other professionals involved in bringing the book to market.
By contrast to the traditional publishing advance calculations, self-published authors have zero guaranteed income from their books. Nevertheless, they’ll enjoy a higher royalty on every single book sold. With the option of keeping a book in print as long as the author desires, the self-published author can receive “long tail” income—royalties that pay out for years, even decades, longer than a traditionally published book would pay.
The best financial decision will obviously depend on an author’s given monetary situation. (Of course, there’s also the factor that traditional publishers might not choose to accept a particular book, but that’s the subject of other posts…)
Genres—Stay or Switch?
Money also functions as a proxy when authors decide whether they should continue writing in one genre or experiment in others. An author might sell very well in one genre but only poorly in another. She then faces a decision: should she continue to write in the poorly selling segment of the market?
Of course, many factors might contribute to this decision beyond the financial bottom line. Authors might diversify their writing in anticipation of market changes. They might simply enjoy a new corner of the writing world. They might be experimenting with find a new voice, accepting one or more less successful work(s) as they hone their skills.
But if all other things are equal an author will likely choose a genre where she sells well. Money shapes the artistic direction.
Many of us would love to believe that we write for a sense of artistic fulfillment, that we create entertainment and/or art for our own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of our readers. But the rational writer understands that there’s more at stake. Dollars matter. Addressing those financial realities head-on can ultimately lead to greater career satisfaction.
(Elsewhere, I’ve written extensively about tracking money in your writing career. I’ve provided spreadsheet templates for authors do track their income and tax deductions. There are expert accountants and lawyers who can give personalized advice about money matters, based on an individual’s specific financial needs.)
So? What financial studies have you undertaken to bolster the launch of your next book? Have you reviewed how other books in the genre are doing? Do you know how they’re priced? Do you have a general sense of what’s selling and what isn’t? Have you read articles by authors who share their finances? Have you spoken with peers in general or specific terms about your financial foundation? What steps have you taken to control the financial end of your career?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
So, last week, the thermometer hit almost eighty degrees. Today, we’re expecting a high of 40, and the winds are enough to bring tears to your eyes. I’m wearing fleece socks on my feet and a T-shirt, long-sleeve T-shirt, and sweater.
But that’s not what I mean by “bundling up.”
Instead, I’m writing to tell you about the bundle I’m in. Okay. Not me. Fly Me to the Moon.
What’s a bundle?
I’m thrilled that you asked!
A bundle is a collection of books, unified around a single theme. You can pay what you want (above $5). If you pay more, you get more. And you can choose to support an amazing charity as well.
The bundle I’m participating in is called the Middlings Bundle. It’s being curated by Leah Cutter, an incredible, imaginative author and publisher who has chosen some amazing books for the set. Each book is “middling” in length — longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. And each book somehow concerns a “middle.” (Fly Me to the Moon is set in the middle of my other Harmony Springs book — it starts after the action in Just One of Those Things begins and it ends before Things does.)
What else is in the bundle?
The initial titles in the middlings bundle (minimum of $5 to purchase) are:
- How to Babysit a Changeling by Anthea Sharp
- Forever Falls by Michael Warren Lucas
- As Needed by Michael A. Stackpole
- Heaven Painted as a Cop Car by Dean Wesley Smith
- Siren by Blaze Ward
If you pay the bonus price of $12, you’ll get the initial five titles, plus the following (11 in total):
- Fly Me to the Moon by Mindy Klasky
- Walking Gods by Leah Cutter
- The Possession of Paavo Deshin by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
- Waiting to Fly by Sherry D. Ramsey
- Old Man by Daniel Keys Moran
- a coupon for a FREE EBOOK from Kobo Books
How do you get the bundle?
- Go to http://www.bundlerabbit.com/the-middling
- Pay what you want (but at least $5.) That five-dollar minimum gets you five books. $12 gets you all eleven. More gets you the love and affection of all the authors in the bundle!
- Decide whether you want 10% of your purchase price to go to a charity (without adding to your purchase price.) The charity we’ve chosen is The Washington State Talking Book and Braille Library, which provides access to books for those people unable to read standard print material. This award-winning organization also loans magazines, music scores, and foreign language titles. It’s a lifeline to many, particularly to those who are shut-ins, the material mailed to them for free.
- Download your files as DRM-free .epub or .mobi files.
That’s it! It’s easy, cost-effective, and actually sort of fun. And you end up with some great books to read.
But here’s the key part: Act today! The Middlings Bundle disappears forever on April 26.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to meet me in the middle?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
L is for Luck.
I’m not going to mince words here. Sometimes, you can follow every rule, you can do every single thing right, and your writing career isn’t going to go the way you want it to go. Publishers mess up book launches. Vendors change their terms of service. Computer equipment crashes. Stories refuse to be reduced to pixels on a screen.
Those are the bad luck days.
But there are good luck days, too. A friend connects you with a beta reader who helps you to create your best work yet. An advertising service had a last-minute cancellation and they can take your ad on launch day after all. A librarian just happens to love your work and chooses you to be the subject of a library-system-wide reading program.
As an author, you’re going to have more bad luck than you ever imagined was possible. And you won’t always recognize your good luck, even when it’s staring you right in the face.
So what can you do to manage “luck” as an aspect of your career? Bad or good, you can be prepared.
Because, bottom line, the worst of circumstances and the best of circumstances are going to require the same response from you: More. You will need to devote more time, energy, and resources to resolving a bad situation than you had originally planned on spending. And, perhaps unexpectedly, you’ll need those resources when good things happen.
I don’t need to explain how you need resources on hand to deal with bad luck. You can spin out all the horror stories in your own head—the costs to print replacement promotional materials, the energy to accommodate new editors after a catastrophic housecleaning at your publisher, the time and energy all that grappling takes away from your “real” job—writing.
But picture this: In the same week, your book is recommended by your favorite talk show host, your favorite politician, and your favorite movie star. (What? It could happen!) Immediately, a public that had never heard of you is clamoring for your attention. They want to buy your book, but they also want to interview you in distant, exotic places. You’re going to be front-page news on every newspaper, magazine, and blog post in the country. But you’re probably going to want to buy new clothes. Get a haircut. Etc. It’s the best of luck, but it’s going to cost you.
So, the best way to deal with luck—bad or good—is to develop a plan. No, you won’t be able to account for every conceivable instance of bad or good luck, much less the inconceivable ones. But your contingency plan can consist of several broad strokes:
Time: Develop a plan to devote more time to a project. You might push deadlines on other projects, if you control those. You might schedule leave at your day-job, spending one or more vacation days on dealing with the crisis. You might trade off household responsibilities with a friend, partner, or spouse.
Energy: Develop a plan to sustain your energy during a luck-based event (or, as so often seems to happen, chains of multiple events.) You might keep a special stash of chocolate (or liquor or… well, you know your favorite reward.) You might have a massage therapist you can call in a pinch. You might have a rejuvenating place you can visit on short notice—a friend’s house or a B&B or a rental property.
Money and other resources: Develop a plan to increase or re-allocate your resources in response to the emergency. You might have a fund of “mad money” to purchase solutions. You might be able to rent office space or computer equipment to cope with an unexpected change. You might be able to hire experts (editors, designers, psychologists) who can help you manage what luck has brought to you.
Commiseration: Develop a plan to share your feelings. You might have a supportive friend, partner, or spouse who is removed from the writing world but understands what you’re going through. You might have a writers’ group, a handful of people who know your goals and can listen to your emotions about your current situation. You might have a writers’ organization such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or Romance Writers of America, or Mystery Writers of America where others are experiencing the same or similar results from the luck that’s hit you. (Just keep in mind that if you’re experiencing good luck, most fellow writers won’t enjoy listening to you whine. Try to share good news with writers who are more successful than you, or at least temper your complaints to those who are less fortunate.)
Once the luck-induced crisis is over, you have one task left to complete: analyzing what happened, with an eye toward keeping it from happening again (in the case of bad luck) or making it happen again (for good luck.) Figure out what happened, exactly. Why did the event affect you? Is it possible for that event ever to happen again? If yes, figure out ways to respond faster, or better, or more completely, and incorporate that information into your contingency plans.
So? When have you been spectacularly lucky in your career? What could you have done differently to better take advantage of that luck? Conversely, what was one really unlucky event on your path to your current position? How could you have minimized the effects of that bad luck?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
K is for Kryptonite.
I’m sure you’ve brushed up on your superhero lore. There are a couple dozen types of Kryptonite, but they all mean disaster for the Man of Steel—he loses his powers when he’s confronted with the stuff.
As authors, we all have our Kryptonite, too.
For some of us, it’s related to the physical act of writing: We’re bad at putting our butts in chairs and our hands on keyboards, or we’re bad at staying there once we’ve seated ourselves, or we’re bad at taking breaks once we’re there, so our bodies end up twisted into unrecognizable heaps of aching bones and joints and tendons.
For some of us, it’s related to the act of developing a story: We don’t outline so we get caught half-way through a novel with no idea of how to work our way out, or we do outline and we’re bored to tears and incapable of writing once we start, or we tell the same story over and over and over again, or we forget that a story needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
For some of us, it’s related to prepping a story for publication: We don’t have an editor (or a copy editor) so we believe we can skip that step, or we don’t have a cover designer so we think we can just throw something together in Word, or we don’t have an ebook formatter so we rely on the vendors to do that work for us without checking the end results on any device.
And for some of us, it’s related to promoting the work we’ve published: We don’t like interacting with people so we avoid promotion opportunities in person, or we do like chatting on social media so we spend countless hours online when we should be doing other things, or we find it easier to spend money than to invest time so we throw thousands of dollars at an advertising campaign without any sense of whether we’re getting a positive return on our investment.
There are dozens of steps from coming up with a brilliant idea to selling a finished book to thousands of readers. And every one of those steps can become a stumbling block—Kryptonite—for you.
So what are you going to do about that?
First, take a close, critical look at your life as an author. Unflinchingly evaluate your weaknesses. Don’t allow yourself to believe that problems will magically disappear, especially when those problems have persisted since the very first time you considered writing a story. For example, you might feel an uncontrollable urge to drop in on social media during the time that you are supposed to be writing—every single time you sit down to write.
Second, brainstorm solutions to conquer your Kryptonite. At this stage, don’t hold back. Consider all possible methods for controlling the problem you’ve identified, regardless of the cost (in time, effort, money, etc.) In our example, you might ask your social media friends to send you reminders to knock it off if they catch you online during specific hours. You might turn off your phone or close applications on your computer or disconnect from the Internet. You might purchase and install blocking software such as Freedom, which will limit your ability to reach certain websites during certain times that you determine in advance. You might buy a second computer that has no capability of accessing the Internet.
Third, determine the costs for each of your options. While asking you friends to police your behavior has no financial cost, it might take a large emotional toll and cause you embarrassment. On the other hand, no one has to know if you’ve spent your money buying discipline (in the form of a second computer), but you’ll have to allocate funds.
Fourth, stage your response to your personal Kryptonite. Don’t assume that one minor action will resolve your problem. Rather, have back-up methods ready in case your initial response fails. Give yourself time, though, to make sure that the first approach isn’t working if you’re disappointed in a single short-term test. For example, if you determine that your first step will be turning off your phone will you work, but you lack the discipline to leave your phone off on Day One, don’t give up on that strategy immediately. Instead, try it again on Day Two. Maybe even on Days Three, Four, and Five.
But don’t try to fool yourself, either. If you’ve tried a strategy for five consecutive days and you can’t make it work, then that strategy likely isn’t going to be a good long-term solution for you. Look at your “staging” notes. Try your next strategy.
Not one of us is perfect. We all fall off the wagon sometimes. But the rational writer develops a series of tools to defeat known weaknesses.
So? How about you? What Kryptonite do you face in your writing career? What strategies can you develop to defeat the forces of evil?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
When I started law school, everyone said, “They’ll teach you how to think like a lawyer.” And everyone was right. Even though I no longer practice law, I still have a tendency to analyze things like a lawyer, structuring arguments to support my points, negotiating solutions, etc.
When I started writing books, no one Said, “They’ll teach you how to think like an author.” But they should have. Especially where titles are involved.
Cases in point:
Last week, I learned about a new anthology, UP AND COMING, which will print stories by authors who are eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. (Those are fantasy and science fiction writers.) I think the idea of the anthology is a wonderful one–it’s a fantastic opportunity for new voices to be heard. But I think the title of the anthology is worse than a disaster. Maybe I spend too much time reading romance (and it’s more out-there cousin, erotic romance, and, let’s face it, some outright erotica), but UP AND COMING has a distinct sexual connotation to me. I can’t stop smirking, like a teen-age boy.
And then, today, I read a blog post about book promotion. The author has a series of gritty thrillers–you know the type, with serial killers and cybercrimes, etc. And the books are all named after nursery rhymes–GINGERBREAD MAN and HICKORY DICKORY DOCK and TWINKLE LITTLE STAR. I get the cool irony–really, I do. But I wonder how many times the author is going to have to explain that the books are meant for adults and not for kids.
My own Harmony Springs series is proving a bit of a challenge. I purposely chose to title the first two books after Sinatra songs — FLY ME TO THE MOON and JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS. In the first book, the song is integral to the story. In the second book, the specific line “It’s just one of those things” is delivered at a crucial moment. But the titles make the books hard to find on a general search engine — anyone who just types in the titles without my name has to wade through a lot of music entries before they get to me.
Titles are always a challenge for me. Finding them. Matching them to my story. I think about them now in ways I never did before I was a writer.
How about you? Seen any great titles lately? Any truly horrific ones?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
As you know, Bob, we moved to a new house a few months ago. As a consequence of that move (and increased distance from my post office of 24 years), I decided to close out my post office box. Conveniently, the box had just come up for renewal.
I finally got around to completing that task last Thursday. I drove over to the old post office, waited in line for an unusually long period of time (a man in front of me was mailing 24 – 2′ x 2′ x 3′ boxes to a US soldier), and finally stepped up to the counter.
There, I learned that the software for closing out the boxes was down and I would have to come back the next day. Exasperated, I asked P–, the desk clerk, if I could phone ahead to make sure the computers were working before I came back over.
P– solved the problem, then and there.
He took the keys to my box and my renewal paperwork. He said, “I’ll take care of this tomorrow. There’s no need for you to come back.”
P– has helped me for the last five years or so. He’s scouted out lowest rates for strange packages. He’s processed countless “Media Mail” mailings. He’s always been efficient and courteous and patient–all the while speaking with the thickest Irish brogue I’ve ever heard in my life.
I handed over my keys without thinking. I knew P– would take care of the job.
Monday morning, I was sitting at my desk, delaying jumping into Chapter 8 (as you do), when my phone rang. Caller ID said it was “US Govt Postal.” With a sudden turn of dread, I answered the phone. What if the keys had been lost? What if something else had gone awry.
But there was P– on the other end of the line. “Good mornin'” he drawled. “I just wanted to confirm I shut down your box for you.”
He didn’t need to phone. He didn’t need to confirm he’d done the job he’d said he’d so. But I’m really glad he did.
I’ll miss P–. Maybe he’ll get transferred to my new post office. A writer can hope!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
J is for job.
Writing is the toughest job you’ll ever love. (Sorry, Peace Corps.)
When most writers start out, they have a day-job. You know—the one that pays the rent, puts food on the table, buys the computer and reference books so the writer can write. The actual author stuff takes place in spare time, time that could be spent socializing or relaxing or sleeping. The distinction is somewhat ironic, because successful authors need to apply all the discipline of a day-job to succeed in their writing job.
What does that discipline look like?
For starters, writers write. They don’t just plan on writing (although good writing takes planning.) They don’t just talk in online forums about writing (although online participation can stimulate good writing.) They don’t get distracted with Facebook and Twitter and the latest game on their phone.
Writers write. For some, that means generating a certain number of new words every day. For others, setting down new words for a specific number of minutes. Or completing a specific designation, such as a scene or a chapter. Or editing a defined section of text. Or.…
You get the idea. If you worked in a cookie factory, you wouldn’t get paid for thinking about the best cookie you ever ate as a kid. Your writing job is every bit as demanding.
A corollary of the “writer’s write” rule is: Writers meet deadlines.
Deadlines can be specific dates that you set for yourself. You’re going to get chapter 1 done by January 31. You’re going to finish a draft of the book by March 31. You’re going to finish your first pass of editing by July 31. You’re going to hire a content editor by August 31.
There are all sorts of fancy calendars that can track your deadlines. (I’ve created writer-specific spreadsheets, detailing every single deadline necessary to publish and distribute a book; it’s available for download in my book The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts.) But all the high-tech calendar systems in the world won’t do you a lick of good if you don’t meet your deadlines.
Once again, this is a basic job function. If you were a lawyer, you’d file your motion for summary judgment by the court’s due date. Give your writing self the same respect.
Other aspects of “job culture” bleed over into the life of a successful writer.
For example, writers maintain professional courtesy for other writers. They don’t savage other writers without good reason. (And even then, they make their attacks in the open, instead of lurking “backstage” in corners of the Internet where their victims can’t follow.) This doesn’t mean, of course, that all writers always must agree with all other writers at all times. Rather, disagreements should be handled with respect and professionalism.
Even more importantly, writers maintain professional courtesy for readers, especially reviewers. It’s impossible to publish a book and get 100% positive reviews. Some reviewers—brace yourself; this is shocking—get things wrong. They might not understand the fine points of the book an author wrote. They might mistake facts. They might have completely, 100% unreasonable opinions.
But the professional writer never engages reviewers. That interaction is never going to work in the author’s favor. The author might be considered a prima donna. He might attract much more negative attention than he ever would have received solely from the negative review. Even if the reviewer is completely absurd, engaging solely in ad hominem attacks, the writer is better off letting the absurdity speak for itself. The cost of interaction (especially including the time to engage) are just too high.
(One possible exception is when a reviewer is mistaken about objectively quantifiable facts; a dispassionate correction of a provable fact might not work against an author in the long run. Another possible exception is when a reviewer commits libel; an author may be advised by legal counsel that some public response is necessary.)
So, to complete your job, you have to show up for work, complete your assigned task, and not fight with your co-workers.
If you’re an author, what other aspects of job culture have worked for you in advancing your career? If you’re a reader, when have you reacted negatively to authors treating their role as a job? When has that been a positive thing?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Every so often, I add to the content of my website, posting articles of interest to writers.
I’ve recently added three such articles:
If you’re a writer, check them out to see if they can help you build your career. If you’re a reader, take a peek at some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making the books you love!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
I is for independent publishing.
“Independent publishing” or “indie publishing” sprang up a few years ago, originally as a synonym for “self-published.” It contrasts with “traditional publishing” (sometimes called “legacy publishing.”) Authors who published independently and traditionally are often called “hybrid” authors.
In indie publishing, authors are responsible for getting their books to market. In addition to writing their books, they assume all the functions of a traditional publisher. In exchange, they retain control over their projects and they receive substantially more of the income from projects. Let’s break down each of those elements in turn.
What are the functions of a traditional publisher?
An indie author is responsible for editing her book. Virtually every writer’s guide for professional writers exhorts self-published authors to hire editors. Developmental editors help define and strengthen the overall shape of the story, while line editors focus on individual words in individual sentences. Copy editors concentrate on continuity, grammar, and spelling, and proofreaders conduct a final pass, reviewing for typographic errors.
While some indie authors hire developmental editors and line editors (at costs upwards of $1000 for a full-length novel), many others rely on an informal network of other writers or beta readers to critique their work. Similarly, some independent authors pay for copyediting (an additional $300-$500 for a full-length novel), while some decide to skip that stage. The vast majority of indie authors do not hire proofreaders; instead, they rely on their own review of their manuscript and the attention of their copyeditor (if any.)
In addition to editing, an independent author assumes responsibility for the formatting, generation, and distribution of a book. This includes defining and creating all of the front matter (title page, copyright page, teaser text, review quotes, and “Also By” page), along with all of the back matter (acknowledgments, “About the Author” page, glossaries, indexes, and other related material.) The book also needs a cover (just the front cover for ebook-only editions and a “wrap-around” cover (front, back, and spine) for print editions.) The book must be formatted, typically in .mobi (for distribution through Amazon) and .epub (for distribution through other ebook providers), along with .pdf versions sometimes (for distribution in print.) Formatting for print publication includes a large number of specifications, including alternating headers on pages, page length standardization, gutter calculation (the right margin on left-hand pages and the left margin on right-hand pages), etc.
Independent authors also need to manage the distribution of their books. For ebooks, this distribution is conducted by uploading electronic files to one or more vendors. For print books, authors can opt for print-on-demand (where no inventory is maintained; rather, each customer who orders a print book receives a copy printed at the time the order is placed) or an inventory-based system (where the author warehouses books, sending them to bookstores or other vendors who take them on consignment.)
Indie authors also must assume responsibility for marketing, publicity, and promotion. This may include creating and distributing advance reader’s copies for reviews, building and maintaining a presence on social media, conducting book-specific tours (either in person or online), placing advertisements in print and electronic venues, attending conferences, etc. Promotion may entail special sales pricing for long or short periods of time.
Very few authors have the skills to complete all of these functions (in addition to actually writing the book!) Therefore, authors typically hire out the jobs they can’t do (or don’t want to do) themselves. Writers’ organizations such as Novelists, Inc. or Romance Writers of America often maintain lists of contractors who can perform each stage of book production. Legitimate contractors will provide references, along with samples of their work.
As an alternative, innovative service providers such as Draft2Digital provide “one-stop shopping” for many publisher tasks, allowing authors to create a single set of front matter and back matter to include in each of their books.
Why assume so much responsibility?
Presumably, authors become authors because they enjoy writing books. Why would any sane author assume so much responsibility for so many non-writing-related tasks?
First, authors enjoy substantial control when they become independent. They are no longer bound by traditional publishers’ notions of what will sell to end-users and what will not. Authors can write in very crowded, exceedingly popular genres, or they can write in micro-niches. They can even combine genres that would flummox a traditional publisher that is strongly focused on where books get shelved in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Furthermore, independent authors do not have to negotiate the traditional gatekeepers of agents, editors, and publishers’ marketing committees.
Indie authors can also control the number of books they publish in a particular time period, along with the length of those books. While traditional publishing remains focused on novel-length work, indie authors can combine a variety of short stories, novellas, and novels to balance their storytelling workload. If a particular project calls for the rapid release of many books in a very short time period, indie authors can move forward without concerns about monopolizing the scarce resources of a traditional publisher.
Moreover, the indie author controls the appearance of his book. He has full control over the cover design, without being overruled by editors’ beliefs or marketing committees’ determinations. He’s freed from the expectations—even demands—of book buyers at chain stores. Not only can he choose his own cover, but he can select fonts and other design elements.
Many indie authors believe that the marketing, publicity, and promotion they establish for their own work is no more than they would be doing for traditionally published works. Most traditional publishers no longer have budgets for new and midlist authors.
All authors—indie-published or traditionally published—are expected to invest their own time and money into advertising campaigns. Indie authors are at least able to control book prices for strategic sales of their work.
The bottom line for many indie authors, though, is financial. Indies retain approximately 70% of the earnings from all electronic books they sell. (That number is usually somewhat lower for books sold at relatively low or high price points, for books sold through Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press, and for books sold through a support service such as Draft2Digital or Smashwords, which take their own cut of the profits.) By comparison, the best traditional publishing contracts generally give authors 25% royalties on their books’ sales. Many traditional publishing contracts give lower royalty rates on ebook sales, along with single-digit royalty rates on print sales.
Is indie publishing for everyone? Definitely not. But through the judicious use of contractors, indie publishing can work for many more authors who would previously only have considered traditional publishing.
If you’re an author, have you pursued indie publishing? What do you consider to be the pros and cons of that market segment? If you’re a reader, do you consider whether an author is independently published or traditionally published before you buy her books? Why or why not?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
H is for health.
Writers are prone to a variety of health challenges, both physical and mental. It’s important to develop strategies to combat these problems—ideally, before they reach career-stopping levels.
As an initial matter, writers must create a working environment that avoids physical pain. Ergonomics—the study of efficiency in the workplace—addresses many of these issues. Volumes have been written about specially designed chairs, about the proper height of desks, about the ideal distance of a computer monitor from a user’s eyes and the best angle for that monitor. By definition, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Each author will need to experiment with equipment to find a system that avoids (or, at least, limits) strain in the eyes, neck, wrists, and other body parts.
Some authors avoid traditional desks altogether. Treadmill desks (allowing a user to walk while typing on a keyboard) enjoyed great popularity a short while back. Earlier trends have included standing desks, inflated exercise balls used as chairs, and kneeling chairs. Some authors work in bed, using lap desks, and others have created successful work spaces in recliner chairs.
No matter which work environment is chosen, a healthy writer takes regular breaks from that setting. Of course, the secret to writing success is in balancing the number (and length) of breaks against the amount of time spent working. Some resources suggest taking a five-minute break every fifteen minutes, standing and stretching and walking during the time away from work. Many writers, though, would never finish their work if they spent twenty-five percent of their available writing time in non-writing activities (likely more, in fact, because there’s always a transition period back to writing after taking a break.) Other guides suggest taking a break every twenty minutes, half hour, or forty-five minutes. One doctor of my acquaintance says it’s unnecessary to schedule breaks if a writer regularly consumes a gallon of water an hour—visits to the bathroom will guarantee sufficient breaks. He’s only partially kidding.
As you develop your own healthful workspace, determine a break schedule that works for you. Consider investing in a timer (or use the one on your watch, or any number of free apps.) Develop a set of exercises to complete during your breaks, including stretches for your hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, biceps, triceps, and pecs. You’ll know you’ve found the right set of exercises and the correct frequency of breaks when you have more energy and efficiency in your writing, compared with working straight through for hours.
Physical health is not just a matter of ergonomics and breaks. Nutrition counts too. Most writers give themselves treats for accomplishing difficult tasks—an allowance of chocolate after writing a particularly challenging fight scene, a bowl of chips after polishing off a difficult flashback. Completing a manuscript is likely celebrated with alcohol, a dinner out, and an elaborate dessert.
Some writers engage in “extreme writing”, offering themselves extreme rewards. One New York Times bestselling mystery author used to complete his annual physical, get a clean bill of health, and check into a hotel room with his portable typewriter (!), a ream of paper, and a case of Scotch. He emerged one week later with a completed novel and his writing quota complete for another 358 days.
Less intense writers go on writing retreats where they may consume higher-than-usual amounts of alcohol, sweets, and comfort foods. Similarly, multiple pots of black coffee have pushed many an author through a seemingly-impossible deadline.
If you’re trying to build a regular writing career, though, you should determine a nutrition regimen that works for you long-term. Figure out how much food and drink of what types you can consume and remain at your most alert and productive. Abide by those limits more often than not.
Of course, there’s another component to health: mental health. Writers experience greater incidences of mental illness than the population in general. We’re more likely to have depression and anxiety. Female writers are also more likely than the general population to suffer from drug abuse, panic attacks, and eating disorders. (Similar relationships may exist for male writers, but they have not been studied to the same extent.) Psychiatrists have theorized that there is a direct relationship between creativity and psychopathology.
In light of these connections, the rational writer develops systems to encourage mental health. These may include seeking professional medical attention including, in some cases, pharmaceutical intervention. Support groups (either in person or online) assist other writers. Good mental hygiene can be bolstered with appropriate diet and exercise (bringing us back to the physical health points above.)
Poor health—either physical or mental—results in a loss of writing productivity. Therefore, the rational writer develops strategies to improve health as part of a general career plan.
What concrete steps have you taken to preserve and improve your physical health? Your mental health? Have you seen a change in your writing career?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.