Wasting away in Mañanaville

time-flies

Silk’s Post #102 — Let me ask you a question: have you ever procrastinated? No? Really? Not even once? Okay, you’re dismissed. The rest of you should read on.

Some background: this is my last post before the 5writers get together for our mini-retreat in Vancouver later this week. It has been on the calendar for more than two months. One of the key things on our agenda is reviewing synopses for our five books in progress, and we all agreed to have these ready for presentation and discussion.

A confession: I’m still working on my synopsis with less than three days left to finish it. Did I say “still working” on it? I meant “just starting to work” on it. I will charitably assume that all the other four writers are totally ready. Actually, I know better. We’re all in the same boat.

So why is it so difficult to knuckle down and focus on writing? Why do even ambitious and engaged people procrastinate, especially on projects that are really important to them?

I can understand putting off tasks like, say, taking the garbage out, or purging an over-stuffed back hall closet that you know has absolutely nothing in it you’re ever likely to look for in the next five years (we all have one of those). But writing? That’s supposed to be a calling, not a chore. I admit I’ve sometimes put off writing to do some other wonderful thing, like sailing. But I’ve also put it off to do something incredibly mundane, like laundry.

It seems so perverse – and pervasive – that I don’t find the easy, little-questioned, explanations very satisfying. Old-fashioned laziness doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it, since I know plenty of procrastinators who are demonstrably not at all lazy.

Some of the psychology terms used to explain procrastination – like lack of attention control or inability to defer gratification – liken procrastinators to immature children, the weak-willed, or those with mental deficiencies. Granted, it’s the job of psychology, apparently, to look at human behaviour through the lens of pathology. But bouts of procrastination are so widespread that I’d have to call it pretty “normal”, even among people who are usually quite self-determined.

The most common view of procrastination is often expressed with the ever-popular “boot strap” cliché. Procrastinators simply need to apply better self-discipline. You know … in the same way that fat people just need to go on diets. No problem. Right. Well, there must be some kind of problem conjuring up self-discipline – and a common one – judging from the number of new diet books and schemes constantly springing up (a $20 billion dollar-a-year industry in the US alone), and the untold number of unfinished manuscripts lying around in bottom drawers nationwide.

In any case, the old “boot strap” saw is neither an explanation, nor a very useful prescription. Saying that procrastination can be stopped by having more self-discipline is like saying that rain can be stopped by having less water fall from the sky.

As Nietzsche might have said, procrastination is human – all too human. I decided to do a little investigating into the phenomenon. I figured, if I couldn’t discover a way to stop being a procrastinator, maybe at least I could make myself feel better about it.

Procrastination, Wikipedia asserts, “is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the last minute before the deadline.”

Except for the reference to the “last minute before the deadline”, this definition doesn’t seem to fit the writer’s circumstance very well at all. But let’s read on …

“The pleasure principle may be responsible for procrastination; one may prefer to avoid negative emotions, and to delay stressful tasks … Some psychologists cite such behaviour as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.”

Hmm. Stressful tasks. Coping with anxiety. There’s something in that.

“Procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, and severe loss of personal productivity, as well as social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may promote further procrastination.”

Yes, yes, the effects are obvious. So tell me something useful: why do we do it?

“While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder … On the other hand many regard procrastination as a useful way of identifying what is important to us personally as it is rare to procrastinate when one truly values the task at hand.”

Ugh. Let’s put off delving into the rest of the Wikipedia discussion of neuroticism, meta-analytic research and temporal motivation theory, which purports to “summarize key predictors of procrastination into a mathematical equation”. Maybe tomorrow.

If we can’t get a straight answer on why a writer who loves to write would procrastinate about writing, maybe we’ll have more luck investigating discipline (and how to get some). Back to Wikipedia.

“Discipline, in its natural sense, is systematic instruction intended to train a person, sometimes literally called a disciple, in a craft, trade or other activity, or to follow a particular code of conduct or order. Often the phrase “to discipline” carries a negative connotation. This is because enforcement of order – that is, insuring instructions are carried out – is often regulated through punishment … Discipline is the assertion of willpower over more base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for motivation, when one uses reason to determine the best course of action that opposes one’s desires.”

Huh? If you’re still conscientiously trying to follow this somewhat contradictory line of thought, you’re more disciplined than I am. I checked out right after the thing about punishment.

Let’s try for more practical advice. The Mind Tools website provides a helpful list of signs that tell you you’re procrastinating when you are …

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do list.
  • Reading e-mails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them.
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee.
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important.
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
  • Waiting for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle the important task at hand.

Mind Tools and other websites also attempt to explain why people procrastinate (refreshingly, without the psychobabble) …

  • You might simply find a task unpleasant or boring.
  • You might simply be lazy or unmotivated.
  • You might be hopelessly disorganized.
  • You might feel overwhelmed by the task and lack the confidence to tackle it (this can further escalate stress and diminish confidence).
  • You might be too much of a perfectionist (also related to lack of confidence about accomplishing the task to impossibly high standards).
  • You might have poor time-management or decision-making skills, and can’t decide how to start or what to do (another indicator of lack of confidence).

So, of five potential causes frequently cited, three of them relate to a daunting, immobilizing lack of confidence. I call it Fear of Failure. Finally! A possible cause of writing procrastination that makes sense.

Unfortunately, I was spectacularly unsuccessful in finding cures for Fear of Failure. Neither did I locate that No Fail Recipe for Self-Discipline. So I’m sorry to admit that in the perennial writer’s quest for productivity, it’s still every man and woman for him- or herself.

wait-but-whyBut I did find a hilarious and instructive post on a just-discovered blog that I plan to return to often. “Wait But Why” by Tim Urban ran an illustrated essay titled “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate”, starring Rational Decision-Maker, Instant Gratification Monkey and Panic Monster, which takes place variously at the wheel of a ship and in a diversionary outpost called the Dark Playground.

He follows this up (some time later) with a Part 2 titled “How to Beat Procrastination”. A lifelong procrastinator himself, Urban admits that him giving advice on procrastination is like the guy who shoots himself in the foot while talking about gun safety. But his paradigm for forward progress – “changing your storyline” – is liberating, and he has added some intriguing new settings in this essay, including The Dark Woods, The Critical Entrance, Mixed Feelings Park, The Tipping Point and The Happy Playground (Where the Instant Gratification Monkey gets distracted from The Dark Playground by giving him diversionary High Self-Esteem Bananas).

If you really want to understand and tackle this procrastination syndrome and get yourself a new supply of self-discipline, I highly recommend “Wait But Why” over doing serious self-help research or seeing your psychiatrist. Urban unerringly hits every nail on the head and makes you laugh your guts out at the same time.

Seriously, go to “Wait But Whyright now and read these posts about procrastination. No, don’t wait until tomorrow or put it on your long To Do list.

Come to think of it, nothing boosts self confidence and lightens the burdens of stress, angst and perfectionism like a belly laugh – especially when you’re laughing at yourself. It’s very freeing.

Maybe I can change my storyline and become the Mistress of Discipline yet.

The ever changing publishing world: Kindle Unlimited is another addition

Karalee’s Post #89

Now who would have thought that books could be bought on a monthly subscription? Unlimited eBooks for $9.99/month? eBooks on Kindle have gone the way of Netflix!

Amazon recently released Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 per month.

Now my first thoughts were gloomy. How can authors possibly make a living?

Then they switched to picturing Joe stuffing a whole apple in his mouth like he wondered about in one of his last posts on self-publishing. (Who knows why but this is how my mind works sometimes.) I’ve been chuckling over this image for the last couple of weeks because in my early days of dating my husband we counted how many grapes he could put in his mouth at once. Joe’s apple is a happy trigger. (Note to writers that this is a good trick to use.)

And it’s those memorable things that stick. Like certain scenes in books we’ve read, particular characters, or places that authors have taken us to vicariously. Or a new way of becoming published and read as authors.

 

quote winston churchill

 

Then I came back to reality.

CHANGE IS HAPPENING.

Period.

And it isn’t subtle.

 

Sometimes I feel like this quote by Churchill, that me as a writer am at the end of the pile driver with no choice but to embrace these changes. But then it depends on how you look at the pile driver (or Joe’s mouth full of apple.)

If you want to read a great post on Kindle’s eBook subscription have a look at what David Gaughran wrote regarding Kindle Unlimited. Below I’ve quoted a couple of his paragraphs from his post that I find particularly interesting:

Kindle Unlimited:

The main stumbling block for self-publishers is that participation in Kindle Unlimited is restricted to titles enrolled in KDP Select – Amazon’s program which offers various additional marketing tools in exchange for exclusivity. Author compensation will be similar to borrows under the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – a percentage of money from a fixed pool. The only real twist is that payment will be triggered when 10% of downloaded books have been read.’

 

How popular will Kindle Unlimited be?

Oyster and Scribd have a headstart, but Amazon has proven it can eat up that ground in no time. While the competition has more big books from big names, thanks to its deals with major publishers, Amazon has two key advantages (aside from the obvious). To my knowledge, Kindle Unlimited is the only subscription service that will work on the tens of millions of e-ink Kindles that are in circulation – the others are app based. And it’s also the only major subscription service combining e-books and audiobooks. The audio market is growing faster than the e-book market at the moment, and Amazon clearly feels that it’s only getting started. It is pushing the audiobook angle in all the marketing and PR, so it views that as a big selling point to readers.

Not long ago I used to think that eBooks would never take off. Now I believe they are here to stay and for many good reasons:

  1. Many “old” people like my parent’s generation are taking to the electronic readers because they can increase the font size
  2. Airlines putting a weight restriction on luggage means that downloading books are a great option
  3. If you run out of books on holiday or anytime, it is very easy to download ebooks 24/7
  4. I realized that when my husband and I started downloading books we wouldn’t share our iPads to read each other’s books we recommended, so we downloaded the same book on our own iPad. Bonus to authors!
  5. So maybe this subscription method of unlimited downloads per month will also open an avenue for readers to try new authors. The main problem I foresee is the time limit to read lots of books every month. (Netflix and family time do come into the equation too!)

eBooks are a reality. They are here to stay and truth be told, I hear mostly positive feedback from reader friends on how easy it is to access books they want. (Now finding new authors is another issue I won’t tackle at this time.) So, I’m taking these changes as the way the world is and embracing them and accepting that change is happening not only quickly, but it will be to the benefit of authors with good stories to tell.

roads to follow

 

We all have our own road to follow, but I’m getting the feeling that the pile driver that Churchill refers to above is actually building the foundation for the new way of doing business as authors.

What path are you going to follow?

Happy writing!

Self-publishing – a contrarian view

lemonade

Silk’s Post #101 — In his last post, 5writer Joe shared some valuable advice from experts in self-publishing, compiled by Betty Kelly Sargent, founder of BookWorks, in a Publishers Weekly article. It all sounds eminently sensible and business like. Calm. Reasoned. Soothing, almost.

Oh, except for the number bomb dropped into the introduction, which activated my morbid fascination with “arithmetic for writers”. Sargent did some Googling, and found 54,400,000 results when she searched “self-publishing an e-book”. Although I’m grateful to her for reducing this Niagara Falls of advice to a mini-fount of wisdom, there’s nothing calming about the depth and breadth of self-publishing chatter out there. It’s terrifying.

If you immerse yourself in this conversation, it’s easy to see exclamation points (my favourite abandoned punctuation mark!) where none need exist: You must know this! You better not do that! Hurry up! Slow down! Self-publishing is a dead end! Self-publishing is the future! Don’t even think about self-publishing without reading (listening to, attending, buying) this important book (article, conference, workshop, guide)! Sargent opens her Publishers Weekly piece on this cautionary note: “It can be a jungle out there for self-publishers.”

No kidding.

The only possible responses are: a) to face one’s fears and put it into perspective, or b) to curl up in a ball and whimper like a baby. So let’s break it down.

First: How did this daunting body of knowledge and advice about self-publishing and e-books get so big, so fast?

My theory: this is a whole new business model for a centuries-old industry. A revolution. And in a revolution, chaos tends to reign. Lots of people are running around the public square and up blind alleys, trying to figure out where to go, what to do, who all the other people are, and whether one should follow them or run away from them. Everything is, to at least some degree, experimental. Everyone is coming up with their own thoughts and theories and recipes for success, from authors who want to be published, to publishing industry folks who want to keep (or get) a paying gig in this brave new world. Everyone’s trying to read the bones and get a lock on the future, but it’s a complex and fluid situation. There’s a lot of re-invention going on here, a lot of pathfinding.

And since we’re all writers, we are, of course, writing about it. Endlessly.

Not only that, but – as you no doubt have noticed – the Internet is a gigantic echo chamber. Of those 54,400,000 hits on the “self-publishing an e-book” search, what percentage of them are truly original and substantive? How much of all this verbiage is derivative, recycled or simply repeated in an endless game of “telephone”?

Okay, whew. That cuts it down to size neatly. I feel better already.

Second: How – and when – does a potential indie author need to learn about self-publishing to be successful?

Writing a novel and publishing a novel are two completely different enterprises (whether as an e-book, or in print, with or without a traditional publisher). That may seem self-evident, but it’s worth thinking about the implications at a personal level.

These two processes do not use the same brain cells, or at least they don’t use them in the same way. They’re entirely separate challenges, and require different skill sets, knowledge, methodologies and mindsets. For me, and probably for many novelists, the writing part is what I love and the business side is something of a necessary evil.

I’ve been here before in another life.

When I started my graphic design business many years ago as a freelancer working from a tiny home office, it was my love of design and copywriting that drove me to take the plunge. I had just lost my job as a designer in a small studio, which was the psychological equivalent of about 100 rejection letters. Yeah, okay, I was fired. For being too “headstrong”. I had no formal training and little experience and – like an unpublished novelist who believes in her own talent even when no one else is willing to take a chance on her – I knew if I wanted to get into the field, I was going to have to create the opportunity myself.

Not only was I a novice designer, I knew virtually nothing about running a business. I just jumped in with both feet, blissfully ignorant but confident that I’d figure it out.

Fortunately, I did.

Every day I learned what I needed to know. It was pure, hands-on, real-world, just-in-time training, and a ridiculous amount of hard work. My modus operandi was to make it up as I went along. That meant being constantly on the alert for opportunities and pitfalls, and learning from my mistakes (of omission as well as commission). Since I wasn’t part of the “establishment” I had to be inventive – and build a great team of collaborators – to survive.

The good news was that we not only survived, we thrived. The venture turned into a 35-year career, a sometimes crazy roller-coaster ride, and a successful, award-winning agency in an industry not known for longevity. Still, I always viewed the business side of it as the price I had to pay to get the chance to do the creative work.

(Eventually, I became the “establishment”, which, ironically perhaps, took a lot of the fun out of it for me.)

This experience taught me that you don’t need to know everything at the beginning of a venture that you’ll eventually have to know in order to make it successful. In fact, I believe that you can only learn things when you’re ready for them. And what makes you “ready” is usually the necessity to act – the point in your journey when you simply have to move forward or fall back.

It also taught me that when you do get to that tipping point, you need to get out of your comfort zone, do your homework, figure out a plan (even if you change it later), rev yourself up for hard work and commitment, and forge ahead without fear. Mindset is everything. Even if you fail to reach the goal you hoped for, you won’t fail to learn – and that new expertise will propel you to a new goal.

This is the nature of risk-taking, and business is all about risk. For that matter, so is writing. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith.

Third: Who do you listen to when you need to figure out how to navigate the swirling waters of this emerging self-publishing industry?

Clearly, there is no shortage of advice. While some of it may be conflicting, and trends and opportunities are continually shifting, it just can’t be that hard to find some models of success to emulate. Find them, study them, then tune them to fit your own circumstances.

Because the short answer to this question is that, in the end, you have to listen to yourself.

Yes, you. The novice. The “non-establishment” (and likely unpublished) writer. Because you’re the person who’s going to have to do all the work, make and learn from your mistakes, and think on your feet.

The advice Sargent curated in her Publishers Weekly article – based on industry experts’ “single, most important piece of advice” to aspiring authors – focused on the themes of “knowing what your want” and “being patient”. We’re told to:

  • Take enough time to produce a product that’s worth our readers’ time and money.
  • Know our goals and be absolutely clear about what they are and how we plan to achieve them.
  • Be patient and not worry about how the work sells out of the gate.
  • Make our books as widely available as possible in the networked world.
  • Avoid premature distribution by starting small, publishing beta versions and growing our “author platform”.
  • Write every day and hire an editor.
  • Treat self-publishing as a business, including doing competitive research and having a business plan and marketing plan in place.

All good advice. But it doesn’t really get us there, does it?

And that’s the problem with everything I’ve read to date on self-publishing. It tends to be either at the level of platitudes, or at the level of step-by-step prescriptions. Yes, I think it’s critical to take all this on board, but knowing stuff isn’t the same as doing stuff.

If Sargent had asked me her question – “If you could give someone starting out in self-publishing only one piece of advice, what would it be?” (and there’s no reason anyone would really want to ask me, a total novice, so consider the source) – I would have had a contrarian answer:

Before you consider self-publishing, look into your own heart and ask yourself whether you’re willing to do what’s necessary to take on a completely new business enterprise without knowing everything you need to know at the outset, or being guaranteed of a formula for success. Whatever other advice you follow, it won’t magically get you there.

Only you can get yourself there, under your own power.

You are a writer. You know how to research. You plan your books (maybe by outlining or maybe organically). You invent stories. You innovate. You improvise. Are you prepared to embark on the journey of adapting these skills to a business venture – as opposed to an artistic one?

I do believe self-publishing is a do-it-yourself extension to the modern writer’s journey. But make no mistake, it requires one to become an entrepreneur – with all the challenges (and rewards) that entails. In many ways, self-publishing should be treated as a kind of small business start-up. I believe that it’s impossible for those who’ve never been down this road before to know whether they’ll really take to it – or not – until they try it.

But look at it this way: you have nothing to lose but your literary anonymity!

 

Advice on self-publishing

PUBLISHER_WEEKLY_HEADERHere’s another article on self-publishing from the heavy hitters at Publishers Weekly.

It can be a jungle out there for self-publishers. Just try Googling “publishing an e-book,” and you get a staggering 54,400,000 results. If you search “self-publishing an e-book” you come up with 2,510,000 results and if you ask for “self-publishing advice” you will be directed to a sweet 3,070,000 offerings.

We decided to simplify matters by going to some of the leaders in the self-publishing world and asking them one simple question: If you could give someone starting out in self-publishing only one piece of advice, what would it be? As it turns out, the key is to know what you want, and to be patient.

Jane Friedman, professor, speaker, blogger, and publisher of Scratch magazine had this to say:

“The most important advice I can offer is don’t rush. Many first-time authors make a lot of mistakes along the way — some of which are inevitable — but I find that some authors don’t even have a clear idea of what their goals are. I tell authors: Before you do it, take time to understand why you’re doing it, to research your opinions, and to hire experts if needed to help you achieve your goals. Take enough time to produce a product that’s worth your reader’s time and money.”

When we asked writer, blogger, and consultant Joel Friedlander what advice he has to offer, he said:

“Know your goals. Be absolutely clear about what those goals are and how you plan to achieve them. Self-publishers need to understand why they are writing this book, who it is for, how they will reach those people, who they will have to hire to help, what their budget is, and what they want to get out of all this. So many times I’ve seen authors spend thousand of dollars unnecessarily and run into dead-end after dead-end because they simply didn’t have a clear set of goals in mind when they started out.”

Hugh Howey, celebrated author of the Wool and Silo series and self-publishing expert, offered this advice:

“My one piece of advice would be patience, both in publishing and in expectations of sales. Make sure your work is as amazing as you can make it before putting it out there, and once you do publish, don’t worry about how the work sells out of the gate. Books are now available forever. Start writing that next book. Don’t be in a hurry.”

For Ron Martinez, founder of the direct retail and social media marketing service Aerbook, the author/reader relationship should take center stage. He said:

“Remember that the most important relationship in the book business is the one between author and reader. Make your books as widely available as possible in our increasingly networked world. There has never been a better time for books to find their readers.”

Carla King, blogger, writer, adventurer, and self-publishing guru, had this advice for people new to self-publishing:

“Premature distribution is one of the most embarrassing mistakes made by self-published authors. Avoid it by starting small, publishing beta versions of your book, and growing your author platform as you perfect it. You don’t want to publish and then discover copy-editing errors, realize you should have invested in a better cover design, or wish you’d spent more time on marketing copy, metadata, and back of book information. So upload your book in places that allow you to publish, sell, remove, revise, and republish in just minutes.”

Cindy Ratzlaff, social media strategist and brand evangelist, said: “My first piece of advice would be to write every day. But my second piece of advice would be to hire an editor. Even the best writer needs the trained eye of a professional editor.”

And finally, author-marketing expert Penny Sansevieri put it this way:

“Self-publishing should be treated as a business. You would never open up a brick and mortar store without doing some competitive research and having a business plan and a marketing plan in place. Yet it amazes me how many times authors launch a book with no idea of the market or how they plan to get it out there.”

So there you have it. According to these experts, self-publishers need to be patient; know their goals; make their books the best they can be; network to find readers; avoid premature distribution; write everyday and hire an editor; and research your competition. Sage advice, indeed, and it sure beats sifting through the 3,070,000 suggestions offered by Google.

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.

*****

Personally, I think there’s nothing worse than premature distribution, but some interesting advice there from more people who’ve been there and done that. 

Pitching self-published novels to agents

Will an agent represent a book you’ve self-published?

It’s one of the things I’ve wondered about. Like could you stuff an entire apple in your mouth? But since this is a writing blog, I went looking for an answer to ‘how to pitch self-published novels to agents or editors’.

Here’s a blog that talks about it. My thoughts are afterwards. It’s from Writer’s Digest.

SEPTEMBER 5TH, 2014

How to Pitch Your Self-Published Book to an Agent

chuckMany writers who’ve self-published a book for one reason or another get to a point where they want the book to be taken to the next level and see a widespread, traditional release. This is the point where they may contact a literary agent for representation. So with that in mind, I want to help explain some of the necessary basics about how to pitch a self-published book to an agent.

What Constitutes a Self-Published Book?

If you’re wondering what types of books fall under the umbrella of “self-publishing,” the answer is any book where the decision to publish the book was the author’s alone, the transaction involved the author paying any upfront costs for services, and the book is available for viewing/purchase now. This includes:

  • E-publishing—such as Smashwords and CreateSpace.
  • Vanity presses.
  • Print-on-Demand (P.O.D.) publishers.
  • Book printers.

Basically, if you think your book falls under the umbrella of “self-published” books, then it almost certainly does, and that means you must pitch it as one and disclose to the agent (or editor) that it is already available for purchase. If you self-pub the book, and it has virtually no sales, it is still considered self-published, even if the masses have not discovered it yet.

How to Pitch a Self-Published Book

If you want to pitch a self-published book to a literary agent, you have to immediately understand that you have a tougher submission road than others. That’s because when agents review a query for an unpublished novel, they’re looking for voice and story. When agents review a query for a self-published novel, they’re looking for voice and story—and they’re also looking for one or several good reasons as to why this book deserves a second life via traditional publishing. Agents look for factors that hint at money and success. You are trying to show that your book is head and shoulders above the other million items that are self-published each year, and thus it demands fresh attention. So here are 4 elements to include in a query letter for your self-published book that can impress an agent:

  1. Sales numbers. How many copies has the book sold? And by sold, I don’t mean free downloads. I mean how many copies you’ve sold for money. How many print books? How many e-books? (And since it’s assumed e-books are usually downloaded at $0.99, have wording in your query if the price was higher—such as $2.99 or $6.99.) “Impressive” sales numbers will differ from agent to agent, but you shouldn’t query before you’ve sold at least 2,000-3,000 print books or 10,000-20,000 e-books.
  2. Awards and any recognition. Did it make any online “best of” lists? Did it reach No. 1 in any category bestseller lists on Amazon? Has it collected any accolades that vouch for its content and quality? Such recognition could be a local honor, or a niche fiction award, or anything else.
  3. High-profile endorsements or blurbs. Since your book’s release, has it attracted the attention of any notable authors, politicians, celebrities, organizations, or person of interest? If so, whom? What did they say about the book? A blurb from a recognizable name or large group is a great marketing tool, and agents know this.
  4. Media attention or reviews. Has your book received a review in any mainstream publications or media outlets, such as morning TV shows (local or otherwise), newspapers, magazines, or notable blogs? If so, explain some of the greatest hits. Please keep in mind that Amazon reviews do not count.

Will an Agent Find Your Self-Published Book and Contact You?

A deep hope within authors is that, after a book is self-published and available for purchase, a literary agent will come across the work and come a-calling. Does this happen? Occasionally. Does this happen with any degree of regularity? No.

Some agents make an effort to scan through Amazon’s e-book bestseller lists and find hidden gems that are blowing up the charts. In fact, this happened to Couleen Houck, author of Tiger’s Curse. After she e-published her book and spread the word to friends, it remarkably made its way to the No. 1 spot on the Kindle children’s bestseller lists for seven straight weeks.

Getting to that spot for just one week would have been impressive, but seven straight weeks is quite amazing. Says Houck: “Costco contacted me about selling my series in some of their stores. I was contacted by China, Thailand, and Korea to see if the translation rights had been sold. A film producer e-mailed me. My world was spinning when a literary agent contacted me. He said he’d found me on Amazon and was impressed with my reviews. Two days later I had representation. Within a few weeks, I had a [traditional] book deal.”

So, as Houck’s success story shows, this possible path to publication can indeed happen, but it’s a rarity in a marketplace glutted with self-published works. And don’t forget Houck’s book was huge—and your book is likely not selling at the stratospheric levels hers was. So don’t just e-mail an agent and say, “Check out my book! [Amazon hyperlink] IT’S THE BOMB!” Understand that you’re not yet at a level where it’s that easy. Entice the agent by mentioning sales figures, pricing details, media attention, endorsements, awards and more for your book. These items don’t come quickly or easily, but including them in your query letter will immediately make your work stand out among other self-published books.

Literary Agents Sound Off on Reading Pitches for Self-Published Books

“Oftentimes a self-published author will just send a link for me to look at, which I never click, or they don’t send the book in a Word doc or PDF for me to evaluate. In addition, authors aren’t immediately transparent on sales or download info. I find self-published authors make me work too hard for the information I need. For self-published authors to get my attention, I need transparency around sales and download figures, and want a straightforward and professional query without buy links or embedded images. Don’t make me work to get the information.”

Elizabeth Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates)

“My thoughts for self-pub are similar to any type of query as far as the pitch itself. It should be clear, concise, compelling (we’ll call it the 3 c’s!) and well written. As far as the self-pub background, I need to know the realities of the publication history, even if that means it’s only sold 300 copies in 4 months. Frankly, if the sales are low, I’d prefer to see a pitch for a new book—and not one that’s part of a series from the first one.”

Stacey Glick (Dystel & Goderich)

“The good news: The stigma of vanity publishing and self-published books not being good enough has been proven false by the ‘Kindle Millionaires’ and other self-published authors who are making a comfortable living going it alone. The bad news: The expectations of a self-published author are higher than they’ve ever been, both in sales numbers and in social media marketing muscle. When I receive a query from someone who has self-published a book, I want to know how many books you’ve sold yourself, how extensive is your social media presence (I will Google you!), and what your future plans are. If you’ve published the first book in a series, don’t pitch me the second because zero publishers will be interested in publishing your sequel if they don’t have the first book. And don’t tell me that you’re looking for an agent because you haven’t sold very many self-published books and you want a publisher to help you accomplish that. They are going to run into the same obstacles you are. Self-published authors need to self-write, self-produce, self-market and self-sell. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Laurie McLean (Foreword Literary)

*****

Personally, I think there’s a lot of junk that’s being self-published. Not that there aren’t some gems, but the trick for anyone going this route will be to separate themselves from the crowd.

How to you reach your target audience? How does anyone find you? How do you market your books on a larger scale? How do you build a following? How do you create ‘buzz’?

Also, I think this article hits home about being a professional. You want to make it in self-publishing? Boy you better know how to work sales, social media, and be largely successful WITHOUT representation. You also should know how to present yourself to agents or editors.

dexterIt’s not unlike the traditional route. There are ways to succeed and ways to ensure failure. Sending a query in written in your own blood, probably not a good idea. Threatening someone, well, yeah, that’s just psycho. Mass queries addressed to ‘to whom it may concern’ or ‘dear sir/madam’ just show you haven’t taken the time to know how to be a professional about it.

But look at that article hard and you see it’s saying that self-publishing success comes with a LOT of work. More work than traditional publishing. Look at the past posts from people who’ve been there and done that.

Thoughts?

 

Is ‘not knowing’ holding you back?

Karalee’s Post #88 —

http://wallpaperwonder.com/stars-wallpaper-download.htmlYesterday was one of those days when the heavens seemed lined up and my mind in the right space to absorb new concepts and philosophical musings into my life. I’m sure most of you have had wonderful days like this too and can still remember them years later.

What happened was that I was talking to a friend that coached me to stretch my beliefs. I’ve been avoiding making some decisions (letting go of some things I believe I shouldn’t) and fear of having no concrete idea what the ramification of those decisions will really be has been holding me back. And, I would gather, this is true for many people.

For sure it’s is a control issue and a place of safety knowing where “I am at.” In reality though, even the smartest person on earth doesn’t know for sure what the future will be. BUT what I am certain of is that not making decisions is slowing my personal growth. Which, by the way, includes writing a damn good story with a hugely memorable protagonist that absolutely doesn’t fit the mold as Helga talked about in her last post!

So my friend and I talked around this issue and what popped up for me is, simply, let myself be at peace with not knowing. Simple, right? It’s not an easy mindset for me, although when I get there, somehow it is freeing. Try it yourself and see how it feels thinking this way.

In actual fact, it is quite exciting! Let go and try things and see what happens. The mystery of not knowing and going forth and seeing what is or can be, is I imagine, some of the reasons that explorers, scientists, and people doing extreme stuff, do what they do.

I’m not saying that I need to be extreme, but letting go does put me in a different mindset.

Who knows why, but the mood at dinner last night was light and talkative too, even my eighteen year old son who is in second year at university (taking commerce and computers) joined in. Now the stars and the universe must have been lined up in a particularly good arrangement! :).

He made the statement that “no one knows how humans think; how we make our thoughts.”

Now this is absolutely the reason all families should eat around the dinner table with no electronic device distractions. This is social interaction at its best! My son’s girlfriend was with us too and we had a great discussion about what is intelligence, what makes us human, etc, etc.

We had lots of ideas and discussions, and in the end had to be at peace with not really knowing the answer. In retrospect when I think about it, not knowing in the first place is what opened the door for this discussion.

So I say again, be at peace with not knowing!

Yesterday was a memorable day for me and I believe that being in an open state of mind made it possible. As writers, being in this state is our sweet spot, where creativity flourishes.

Don’t you agree?

Happy writing!

 

Breaking the mold

Helga’s Post # 93 — We writers all have days when the creative wheels stop spinning and eventually come to a grinding halt. If we are lucky, this could last a day or two. But it could stretch to weeks, months, and beyond. Such is the writer’s bane. We deal with these annoying phenomena in different, and yes, creative ways. Most writers are quite adept in their quest to defeat the insufferable phase. Some of us start working out, or taking up running – age permitting – gardening or some such, and a few of us believe that inspiration lurks inside the fridge or cookie jar.

Speaking for myself, when I am stuck writing my next scene or chapter, or when my own words start to bore me, I close my computer and go in search for a cure. That could be the library, a coffee shop, or my favorite, the local dog park at the beach. Watching people who are owned by their dogs ranks high for rekindling my writer’s inspiration.

Coffee-Art-01A few days ago after my walk at the dog park, I was sitting outside Caffe Artigiano, a venue known by connoisseurs for serving the best coffee on the planet. I was sipping my artfully prepared latte on this glorious late summer morning, the air crisp, leafs turning from green to vibrant yellow and orange. I was thinking about my writing, watching people pass by, searching for a memorable face or figure.

It struck me that most people look rather uneventful. So very different from what TV makes us believe Mr. and Mrs. Average look like. Unlike their young, slim and handsome TV versions, most passers-by are over fifty, sixty, and many much older. Some walk with a slouch, almost all wear ‘comfortable’ shoes and have bad hair-days. With a few exceptions, they are generally not very ‘attractive’ in the traditional sense, or at least what we are made to think is the norm. The fact that I noticed people’s ‘uneventful’ appearance showed me how brainwashed we are to adopt a certain image of how people should look and what makes them attractive.

TV is not the only culprit, though. Think of the last two or three novels you’ve read. What image do you have of the hero or heroine? She might be in her mid-thirties, tall, beautiful hair, and she is a skilled communicator. Perhaps our hero is toned because he works out a lot, women are drawn to him, and of course he is expert in using his fists and a gun. They are also strong of character or become so as the story progresses.

I think of the characters in my own writing and admit that I too have fallen into the trap. Not with all mind you, but I endowed quite a few with these attributes. Boring! But isn’t that what readers expect and want?

I believe a lot of writers face this conundrum. It takes a lot of courage to create a hero or heroine in her fifties or sixties (or God forbid, seventies), of uneventful looks, short of height, in fact, an average person like your neighbor, a relative, or your best friend. Because we fear that’s not what readers want and they won’t buy the book. Is it worth a try to break out of the mold? For sure it will take more skill. It’s not lazy writing. Endowing characters with humor can go a long way, as can a great plot and really good prose.

I am intrigued and may take on the challenge. Just to be different. Because, ironically, creating characters that don’t fit the commercial mold are anything but average. In the end, everyone is unique and important.

article-1249510-00027A4E00000258-325_468x658

Surrey Writers’ Conference

Surrey International Writer’s Contest

surrey IWCAnyone going?

I’m still making up my mind. Last year, I had a lot of ups and downs, but the ultimate result was a complete failure to interest anyone in my book. Worse, some of the agents never even got back to me, which I find increasingly odd in an age where indie publishing is becoming (or has become) acceptable and profitable.

sean ranHowever, let’s take a look at this year. There’s a good social media presence, and some very accomplished people, which could be very interesting for us 5/5/5. There’s even a masterclass on owning your online space by Sean Cranbury. I like owning my space and Mr. Cranbury knows his stuff.

diana G

Diana never put her arms around me, but then I’m not a highlander

Diana Gabaldon will be back, as will Jack Whyte, and frankly, they’re both worth the price of admission, both great speakers, great story tellers. I have a secret crush on Diana so whenever I get near her I go back in time and become 9 years old, again, blushing and mumbling and looking at my feet. I think I said to her last year, as I stood beside her in the food line up, “Errr, uhm, book, you, that thing, you know, ack, character, highlander, urm, erp, ah, oh look there’s a muffin.”

There’s a pretty good selection, as always, of workshops, and one of my favourites, Hallie Ephron is giving a keynote speech. She written one of my writing bibles, “Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ‘Em Dead with Style,” and she’s amazingly approachable.

Same with Don Maass. I often learn more in one of his two hour workshops, than I could learn in a year at college. He’s also written one of my other bibles, “Writing the Breakout Novel,” and while I haven’t written one yet, there’s still good advice in there. Totally good advice.

I guess it’s up to every individual (and their finances) to determine if this year is worth attending.

IMG_1557

That’s me on the left

For me, even being a card-carrying introvert, I have fun talking to the people there. When I’m not sweating like a used car salesmen at a tax audit, I can actually have some fun, talking craft or experiences or even learning a thing or two from the person sitting beside me.

If the other writers decide to go, then I’ll probably tag along for sure. I mean, I’m the only guy in the 5/5/5 so I’m sort of like their pet. Like a bulldog or pet pot-bellied pig.

But everyone, please at least check out the web page. Check out the writers, agents, editors and gurus who attend.

And maybe I’ll see a few of you there.

 

Research is the love of learning

Karalee’s Post #87

For me, researching a topic  often pulls me in so many interesting directions that it can be difficult to refocus on the details that really matter. I don’t want to get lost in the milieu of research, rather I need just enough information and details to enrich my story to keep it exciting, or to convince readers that my details and characters are authentic, or to keep my plot line progressing at the proper pace.

Building stories and the world that one’s characters live in is a fun challenge whether it takes place on Earth or on some made-up planet or anywhere else for that matter. Today the internet is the go-to place to search for anything imaginable. It’s a magical place that can entice a person to explore forever and not stop when you’ve found what you were looking for because “everything” is interesting. This can be fun, but not always. It can be a time sucker and prevent real progress, and one can get lost in places never intended to go to in the first place, like Hansel and Gretel.

Focusing on the task in hand can seem almost impossible.

photo by Joanne SmithLast Friday my friend Joanne and I were running  around Burnaby Lake. The sun had caught this spider web, bringing into focus what is often nearly invisible, and we couldn’t help but stop and admire it. Call me crazy, but it made me think of story building and how this spider had to both start and finish somewhere. Not only that, but the purpose of the web itself is to catch food for survival.

Now unless you as a writer have given up your day job and risked everything in order to make a living at writing, the purpose of your story as a writer isn’t literally for survival.

We write because we love to tell stories and build our story worlds and have them make a difference in our reader’s lives, whether for sheer entertainment or for teachable moments when we view our worlds in unique ways.

Research can provide our stories with anything from the foundation up, but it must all be built from the author’s story ideas and  knowledge of this craft called writing. I’m sure spiders learn along the way too and build better webs with practice.

I read this great blog post about research by Tosca Lee on the blog The Kill Zone. Check it out as I feel her method not only makes sense, it is also a good use of one’s time and energy.  Now that’s worth researching.

Happy writing!

Thoughts on my 100-post milestone

toastSilk’s Post #100 — This is the 100th time I’ve sat down to write a post for this blog. Who knew it would ever go this far or last this long? I certainly didn’t.

I wrote my first post – “The getting started brainfreeze” – 9 days short of two years ago, on September 17, 2012. While there are, no doubt, still some ice crystals lurking in my gray matter, I’d have to say we’ve all come a long way since then.

We began the 5writers5novels5months blog to create interest in our crazy challenge to each write a novel in five months. We needed the encouragement – a wee cheering section – and I guess we also thought that publicly declaring our intentions would keep the pressure on us to follow through. Also, as “emerging” writers we really needed to learn how to blog.

But those 5 months have come and gone, and here we still are.

For the most part, we accomplished our original objectives (even if not all five novels were finished on deadline), but along the way we also found other rewards to blogging. Like building our community of more than 1,600 followers, getting comments and encouragement from writing friends we’ve never met in person, sharing experiences and advice with people who face the same challenges we do, and finding other great writing blogs to follow.

Of course, some of the 5writers enjoy blogging more than others, and it’s fair to say that every one of us has, at some point, groaned audibly when looking at the calendar and realizing it was our day to post … right in the middle of a flight somewhere, or a real estate deal, or a household move, or a sailing adventure, or a kids’ hockey practice, or any number of other activities.

A common concern is that writing the blog takes time away from writing our books. It’s true that there’s only so much time available. Not only do we all lead busy lives, but each of us has struggled to make the time and sustain the drive to finish our novels, not just to first draft, but all the way through rewrites to a polished version. Never mind the scarier step of seriously marketing ourselves to become published authors. Would the time “lost” to blogging otherwise really be spent on novel-writing? That’s a great question I have no sure answer for (though my inner skeptic just rolled her eyes).

And still, we’ve persisted with the blog.

But we all feel the need to create a new chapter in our 5writers story.

In three weeks, the five of us will meet over a couple of days to discuss the launch of a new challenge. I’ll take a marketing note from the masters of the modern launch, Apple … “wish we could say more”. But it’s fair to expect our next chapter as a writers group to re-invigorate and shape the direction of this blog.

In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate my 100th post tonight with the person who’s had to put up with my whining and bitching … put up with the many times I’ve dragged myself away from the blog after finally clicking “publish” and staggered off to bed at 3:00 am (usually waking him) … and put up with my frustration that after more than two years of fitful effort, and a lot of talk, I still don’t have one novel really ready to pitch or publish. That, of course, would be my dear husband.

Thanks to him. Thanks to my cherished 5writer friends. And thanks to all of you who take the time to read our scribbles online.

I toast you in 15 languages …

Cheers!
Skal!
Kippis!
Salud!
Okole maluna!
Cin cin!
Budmo!
Kampai!
Prosit!
Mabuhay!
Slainte!
A votre santé!
Gan bei!
L’chaim!
Oogy wawa!