MIND MELD: Publishing Lessons From Debut Authors (Part 2)
There were so many wonderful debut authors in 2013, and the last post was so much fun, I asked a few more of them this:
Here’s what they had to say…
I have just returned from my very first Romantic Times Booklover’s convention, and what comes to mind first when thinking about how to answer this question is how welcoming bloggers and readers have been, as well as the other authors in my publishing house. Everyone has been helpful and encouraging, which has been a wonderful experience. I learned that the community of readers and bloggers who just want to discuss books is still going strong—and hopefully will be for a long time to come. (New Orleans was an absolute blast, by the way. I was thrilled that Angeli’s on Decatur survived Katrina and Pat O’s is still serving a mean hurricane.)
Something heartwarming that also comes to mind is I recently visited my local library and found my book. It wasn’t pristine and perfect, but shabby and torn, with the glue on its spine barely holding the pages. In the library world, this is what we call a well-loved book, one that doesn’t sit on the shelf but circulates often and is read by many. It was nice to discover that mine had made that list.
However, the main thing I’ve come to realize is that I still have a lot to learn. Getting published is just the beginning of the journey. This is an ever-changing business; with e-books and indie publishing becoming more popular, I suspect it will change even more. Also, I’ve accepted that I’m really not that good at promoting my books on social media—and that it’s okay not to be. I’d rather discuss food, wine, my dogs, my garden, and fun places I’ve traveled, with some information on my books. I mentioned this to an industry professional and I was told that the best promotion any author can do is to write a good book, and then a better one after that. Summer Moon is finished and will be available in September, and I’m now working on book three of the Celtic Wolves series and enjoying the journey as I continue to learn.
Always keep reading,
Alan Averill has been writing for as long as he can remember. His first novel, The Beautiful Land, was the winner of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. He’s also done writing and localization work for dozens of video games, including Fire Emblem Awakening, Hotel Dusk, and Nier.
He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife Sue, his dog Sam Perkins, and a whole lot of rain. You can find more of his random musings on Twitter at @frodomojo, or at www.alanaverill.com.
Er, let me back up a bit. If you don’t know me, my name is Alan Averill, and my book, The Beautiful Land, came out in June of last year. The path my book took is fairly unusual — no agent would touch it when I was shopping it around, so I ended up entering it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. In what I still consider to be something of a shock, it won the whole thing, and I got a one-book deal with Penguin as my prize. And a year later, my little book that could was finally sitting in stores just like all those other books I’d been in love with my entire life.
I’ve been trying to publish my writing since I was in my teens. I’ve been rejected by agents, publishers, magazines both literary and schlocky, online journals, short-story contests, and even the Steppenwolf theatre company. (When I was sixteen, I sent them a play that was handwritten on sheets of graph paper. In hindsight, this was a terrible idea.) So all of that to say this breakthrough was a very long time coming, and aside from my wedding, the biggest moment in my entire life. And that’s where we come back to the initial sentence, because I thought my future career as a writer was set once someone agreed to publish my first book. I thought the hard work was over and I could just sit down and write all day. I thought I was done dealing with rejection. Like I said, I thought this part would be easier. But it isn’t.
I finished my second book in the summer of last year and sent it to Penguin (they had an option on it as part of the contract for The Beautiful Land). And then I waited. And waited. Aaaaand waited. And finally, six months later, they came back and told me that while they liked the new book, they weren’t going to publish it. Which pretty much put me right back at square one all over again.
It’s not all the same, of course. I have an agent now (the awesome Evan Gregory), I have a book under my belt, and I have the confidence that enough people liked the first book to vote for it in the ABNA, which means someone will probably like this new one enough to publish it. So I suppose that’s the big takeaway a year removed from my first book–that getting published is only the first step. Staying published? Well, that seems to be the real trick of the thing.
A few other odds and ends that I’ve been ruminating on since I was asked to write this post:
- The publishing industry as a whole moves incredibly slowly. I came to them with what was pretty much a completed, edited, and tested manuscript, and it was still a year before it came out as a book. (That’s apparently fast, by the way. Some established authors I’ve met over the past twelve months tell me it can take a couple of years between the time a book is accepted and the time it comes out.) Even on this new submission, my agent told me to expect at least a six-month wait before we started bugging people to see if they’d read it yet. This isn’t a complaint, by the way — I understand that it’s a large business with a lot of moving parts and things take time — but it was pretty surprising. I localize video games when I’m not writing books, and I’m used to decisions being made with much greater speed.
- The marketing side of books is different than I imagined it. I think most publishers want the author to be a partner in the marketing — or perhaps even drive it — and that came as something of a surprise to me. I thought I’d have book tours and readings and all of that, but my publicist mostly concentrated on having me write blog posts and make an appearance on a panel at San Diego Comic Con. Again, this isn’t a complaint — I’m sure they know what they’re doing in this respect more than I do — but it was certainly different than I was expecting. And a bit of a disappointment, to be honest, because I am not good at marketing myself and was hoping to have a bunch of perky, extroverted people who would take care of that for me. (In a perfect world, I’d hide in a cabin and send my manuscripts out on horseback, but in this day and age that’s never going to fly.) So I’ve been trying to learn how to be more self-promoting and aggressive with the whole marketing end of things, which has been a real challenge for me.
- There is no better feeling in the world than seeing your book on a shelf in a bookstore, especially if you’ve been struggling toward that goal for most of your life. (And I think I’m safe in assuming that pretty much all the writers reading this right now are in the same boat.) I’ll still walk into bookstores just to see if there’s a copy sitting on the shelf, because it’s such a freaking thrill when it happens. I was sitting next to Margaret Atwood once! She’s a real author! She’s seriously good! And I’m RIGHT NEXT TO HER! Dude. So awesome.
- Reviews are strange and you probably shouldn’t read them, especially if it torques you when people give your book one star because they don’t like the font or something.
- Agents are kind of great, and I highly recommend getting one.
- Getting emails or Twitter messages from random people who liked my book is a fantastic thrill. It’s nice to know that what you did actually means something, you know?
And that’s about it, at least so far as I can think of on this lazy Sunday afternoon. I hope I can make this writing gig work as a career, because it’s my passion and my love and all I really ever wanted to do, but I suppose we’ll see. At the very least, I’ll always have a copy of The Beautiful Land sitting on the bookshelf in my living room, right between Margaret Atwood and Russell Banks. And that’s something I’ll never get tired of looking at.
Writing THE RIVER OF NO RETURN and getting it published – the whole experience has been, hands down, the most “fun/unusual/interesting” thing that has ever happened to me. And I’ve certainly learned a lot about everything, from who I really am to what the world is really like, in the process. But your question isn’t about writing, it’s about becoming published. A direct result of being published is that I’ve suddenly met all these people, all these personalities, from agents and publishers to bookstore owners to readers. The whole publishing experience has been hugely social, while the writing experience was anti-social (I disappeared into my study for a year, told no one what I was doing, and all my friends thought I was chronically depressed when in fact I was having the time of my life). So my answers are all going to be about other people and what I’ve learned from them since the book came out. I could go on and on and on, actually! But I will attempt to extract some choice tidbits.
FUN THINGS I’VE LEARNED SINCE BEING PUBLISHED:
There is a man in Chicago whose sole job it is to meet authors at the airport and drive them around the city from bookstore to bookstore to sign books and meet readers. He’s been doing it for thirty years – in fact, he sort of invented the profession — and he has met basically every author you can think of, fiction, non-fiction, you name it. He is the most congenial, delightful, knowledgeable guy in the world. He had endless stories about other authors, all of them hilarious, none of them mean. Hanging out with him, cruising through Chicago, and ultimately eating a hot dog together at his favorite hot dog stand, was probably the most downright fun thing that has happened to me since publishing THE RIVER OF NO RETURN. By the way, apparently NO ONE eats mustard on a hotdog in Chicago. So I don’t know if I’ll ever be invited back again.
UNUSUAL THINGS I’VE LEARNED SINCE BEING PUBLISHED:
This is not going to sound unusual at all, but it was such a revelation to me. Readers are real people. I know that sounds ridiculous – of course they are. I’m first and foremost a reader and I know that I’m real! But before I was an author, I never really thought about how authors are real people, and now that I am an author, I find myself absolutely delighted with how real readers are, and how readers bring their entire, complex lives to bear on what they read. I have not met a single reader of THE RIVER OF NO RETURN who hasn’t given me back something from their reading experience that surprised, delighted, educated or redirected me. Sometimes I find myself thinking about readers in the same way that I think about my beloved Mom. I love them, I’m desperate to please them, nothing can make me glow more than a true compliment from a reader. Nothing hurts more than their disappointment. Nothing is more intimate than the way they understand my imagination. Sometimes too intimate! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been slightly weirded out by how a reader seems to know me, as if for years.
INTERESTING THINGS I’VE LEARNED SINCE BEING PUBLISHED:
I’m using “interesting” in that sarcastic, articulate-every-syllable way, here. Everybody wants to know if the book is going to become a movie. Obviously I want to know that, too. How fun/amazing/over-the-top outrageous would that be? And I’m guilty of asking authors that, too. But I’m really trying to stop. Because it is definitely in-ter-es-ting that we sit around bemoaning the fate of publishing and reading, and all we want to do is turn novels into movies. I’m just saying.
RS Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter. He has been a freelance writer for over a decade. He has written for local, state and international publications.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book and game store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has done Masters work on a degree in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, as well as worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly’s State Crime Commission.
He was the Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest. His short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006.
His story, “Hollow Moments” is featured in the horror anthology Deep Cuts published by Evil Jester Press in 2013
Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. His next two books: The sequel to the Six-Gun Tarot: The Shotgun Arcana, and an urban fantasy-noir novel: Nightwise, have been purchased by Tor and will be released in 2014 and 2015.
He is at work on a new urban fantasy series for Tor, scheduled for release in 2016.
He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his children: Jonathan, Emily and Stephanie, two cats and two dogs.
The first time I met someone at a convention who had read my book and really got into it. It was a very surreal feeling to discuss my characters and plots with someone who seemed to have taken as much time to know them as I did. I had never expected my story, my words, my characters to resonate with people I had never met. I guess I should have- that’s kind of the definition of a writer, but It really blew my mind.
In a similar vein, it has been very gratifying to receive e-mail from readers that have told me how my book had made a difference in some way in their life. One reader actually wrote songs based on some of the lines from Six-Gun Tarot. Another reader said they were happy I had included a gay character in Six-Gun, that it had been encouraging to them to have a hero that they could relate to ina historical fantasy.
It’s also great to meet beginning writers who are where I was a few years ago and try to encourage them and support their efforts. I believe everyone has a story to tell and that everyone can find a way to tell it.
The coolest thing about being a published author is that people will read your book, and often will even pay money for the chance to do so. It sounds simple and obvious, but after years of guiltily imposing on friends to read my latest draft—trying to figure out who might be interested or who even has the time—it’s miraculous to have my book out in the world, finding readers whom I don’t even know personally.
And hearing from those readers has been a revelation. I spent quite a long time obsessed with the characters who became the protagonists of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic: a modern-day women who’s first trapped and then empowered by magic and the embittered magician who becomes her teacher. From the start I had a dim conviction that they might interest other people, too. So when I get emails from readers saying that they got totally lost in the story and hated to see it end and when is the sequel coming out, damnit—I feel like wow, I’m not alone. That’s really fun. (And yes, I’m working on the sequel. Will get back to it as soon as I finish writing this, I promise.)
And the readers who don’t like my book? I’ve learned that while I don’t especially like reading bad reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, it comes with the territory. Some of the criticism is helpful, and some of it just underlines for me how different people bring different expectations to the same book—something I already understood intellectually, but now I really get it.
I was surprised at how much I enjoy doing readings. My problem sometimes is knowing when to shut up. I’ve learned that writing your name 75 times in 30 minutes at a book giveaway is actually pretty hard. (An illegible signature is a good thing because then no one will know if you misspelled your own name.) And as a published author, I’ve seen a new side of booksellers and librarians—how hard they work to get books to readers, and the enthusiasm, creativity, and love they bring to the process.
People told me that my life would change after I became a published author. It has, a little. But I still have to clean out the cat litter. I don’t get mobbed on the way to the grocery store. Writing doesn’t get easier but it’s still fun, a happy discovery. Oh—I have gotten into Twitter. That was a suggestion from my publicist. I still can’t quite see the reason for it, but I’m sort of addicted.
I am almost embarrassed to admit that I only discovered the world of book bloggers after my debut young adult novel was published. This is despite a lifetime of reading, which I now realize has almost always been in isolation. I have never belonged to a book club, where we sit around sipping wine and chatting about the latest novel to win the Man Booker Prize. I was a latecomer to Goodreads – and was even later to LibraryThing. I had different tastes in books than my friends – and that was the small percentage that actually liked to read. I sometimes swap books with my family – although my husband is a devout reader of non-fiction and I personally have no interest in the ins and outs of the stock market.
I was lucky therefore that my editor at Strange Chemistry is a former book blogger – having run the popular Floor to Ceiling Books. I could seriously spend months going through the archives on her blog, which of course led me to other blogs and to eventually sign up for Goodreads and LibraryThing. And then the moment of facing-my-fears arrived – instead of lurking on these various blogs I actually needed to connect with bloggers to see if they were interested in reading and reviewing my book. It was just as scary as submitting to a publisher IMO, especially when approaching those who I had been following for a while; those whose opinions I valued and based my own to-read list on.
The response, however, was overwhelming. Soon I was staring down the barrel of an 80 DAY blog tour, which stretched from Australia to Bosnia. Their generosity was characteristic of those who have given up thousands of hours to share their love (and sometimes their un-love) of books with others. But it was not just the interactions relating to my book that made a mark on me as a reader and writer. It was chatting with them via Skype. It was exchanging photos of our respective countries. It was speaking for the first time in my life to someone from Romania! But above all, it was knowing that others out there believed in books as much as I did. They spoke about make-believe worlds and made-up characters as if they were as real as you or I.
I have a long list of favorite blogs now, but I am not going to try to list them here (because I am sure I am going to miss someone!). Instead I am just going to preach to the converted here and recommend that everyone – both readers and writers – hug a book blogger today (perhaps virtually to avoid being arrested) – and then ask them for a suggestion for your to-read list!
Kate Maruyama was raised on books and weaned on movies in a small college town in New England. She writes, teaches, cooks, and eats in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and two children.
Her fiction has been published in Arcadia Magazine, Controlled Burn, Stoneboat and on Role Reboot, Gemini Magazine, Salon, The Rumpus and The Citron Review, among others. You can peruse some of these pieces on the Writings page.
She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and co-founded and edits the literary website, Annotation Nation.
But the suprisingly terrific thing I’ve learned is that writers are resourceful individually, but when you get them together, they are a force to be reckoned with. It takes a lot of help to launch a book. When my book came out I got a great deal of support from my LA writers’ community, in which I’ve been heavily involved. I was thrilled to be asked to read at all of the places I’d been to, listening to other writers. Wendy Ortiz at Rhapsodomancy, David Rocklin at Roar Shack, Xochitl Julisa-Bermejo at Hitched at Beyond Baroque, all asked me to read for their series. There was enormous support from my Antioch University Los Angeles MFA community, who gave me a signal boost when I needed it and Alistair McCartney had me to read at Literary Uprising, Antioch’s local reading series.
I got a tremendous boost from the online writing community, in particular, my fellow authors from 47North. Steve McHugh (The Hellequin Chronicles)and Richard Ellis Preston (Romulus Buckle series) started a blog exchange, where we interview each other or put up articles on each other’s sites or do media blasts when each other’s books come out. Melissa F. Olson (Dead Spots) organized a reading by LA 47North writers at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach. I learned from Denise Grover Swank (The Curse Keepers) and Stant Litore (The Zombie Bible) about Facebook launch parties, where you gather a bunch of writer friends together to chat with readers live when your book launches. It’s a rising tide raising all boats scheme that is not only helpful, but a lot of fun.
All of these writers are a constant support to me as we brave the waves of publication, with all of its excitement and pitfalls. Of course, along the way, you learn about things like dino porn, which, I think, is a small price to pay.
Kerry Schafer is licensed both as a Mental Health Professional and an RN, and spends most of her daylight hours helping people–usually even with a smile. In books, she gets to blow stuff up, preferably with something more interesting than a bomb. Dragons are good; exploding giant slime toads are even better. She has published two novels with Ace Books: BETWEEN, which was released in January 2013, and WAKEWORLD, slated to hit stores in January 2014. She is also the author of THE DREAM WARS novellas, available where electronic books are sold.
Kerry and her Viking live in Colville, Washington, in a little house surrounded by rocks, trees, and gangs of deer and wild turkeys.
For starters, I had no idea the paparazzi would be so intense! It’s insane the way they show up to the house at all hours of day or night, demanding interviews and flashing those damned cameras. We’ve had to build a fence and buy a dog…
Okay, fine. Back to reality, even though it’s not nearly as fun.
In the real world, we did in fact build a fence and buy a dog, but the fence was because of the dog and not the media, which seems remarkably uninterested in the wondrous fact that I am now a published author. In fact, life in general moves on pretty much the same as it always did.
Interesting facts that I have learned –
1.Blurbs and pitches and queries don’t go away after you are published. I think that rather than a place of fire and brimstone, hell is full of desks where writers are made to write synopses and cover copy for all eternity. No writer has ever come back to confirm this, of course, probably because there’s always a deadline looming.
2.It’s easy to get caught up in pursuing some elusive phantasm of success and forget to write for the sake of words and story.
3.Making time to write is easier when I’m under contract, because it feels more like a job and therefore neglecting housework and allowing the other denizens of the house to starve while I’m writing seems justified.
4.Agents and editors are human beings, very much like writers. They are smart, but also fallible, and passionate about books. Who knew?
5.There is no feeling in the world like signing a book for somebody who has already read and loved it.
Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.
She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.
Pantomime was released February 2013 through Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of Angry Robot Books, and is a Top Ten Title for the 2014 American Library Association Rainbow List, as well as being nominated for other awards. The sequel, Shadowplay, followed in January 2014.
1. Basically everything about the publishing industry. When I subbed my book through an Open Door to Angry Robot in 2011, I had no idea how the industry worked. Now I’ve got a pretty good idea.
2. How supportive people are. Bloggers love to help spread the word about books they love. People who don’t read my genre or who haven’t spoken with me for years still took the time to pick up my book to support me, which was super awesome.
3. People drink a lot of alcohol at cons.
4. Getting published and staying published are two very different things, but we also have more options than ever before.
5. Trying to figure out your sales via Amazon ranking/Bookscan etc is like trying to read your future in tea leaves.
6. Nothing is cooler than getting a really nice piece of mail or artwork from a reader. I never really thought about that aspect of it, but it’s the best.
A lot of readers think of authors as something close to rock stars, which is crazy, considering how many of us stay in PJs all day long while we work. It’s an incredibly humbling experience meeting fans who love your book, and a great reminder of why we write in the first place. We write to connect with readers. For me, that means kids and teens, and they are the best kind of audience. They go into books with an excitement and openness that I think fades or is lost as we get older.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to bet on your own book. Once upon a time, I think word of mouth could help propel a book through the clutter, but these days, there’s just SO much content out there that you have to find a way to break through. So whether it’s creating a trailer, pumping up your tour, building a better website, being more active on social media… I had to really commit to promoting the first book almost like a full-time job. By the second, the audience was onboard and doing much of the work for us, but initially I really had to invest in finding an audience just as strongly as I did writing the book. It’s not enough to be just a ‘writer’ anymore. At some level, you have to be an entrepreneur as well.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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