books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? There's an App for That! How to Create Your Personal Idea Goldmine.



Today we have our first regular monthly post from Ruth Harris. Ruth is in NYC, so she very well may be without power today, so if we don’t hear from her, we can blame Irene. All of you East-Coasters, hang in there: you’re in our thoughts.

I think the most common question a writer gets is "where do you get your ideas?" Some of us find it hard to think of a simple answer, but now, it's easy: just tell them there's an app for that!  Ruth suggests you use an app like Evernote to preserve random ideas and articles as you browse. I checked it out and it looks pretty awesome. It’s free to download for Windows, so I’m going to try it. I don’t know if anything can really organize my hoard of yellowed clippings, grimy notebooks and random bookmarks, but it’s worth a try.

This is the kind of article I love to read—one that tells you NOT to feel guilty. Go ahead and read those trashy magazines and tabloids. It’s research, people: research! 

The Passive Guy seems to agree with Ruth. He had a post this week telling us to read bad books

And, Ta-Dah! Ruth also has a stupendous announcement that represents a major pinnacle for this blog: Our November guest (November 13th) will be the legendary crime fiction writer and writing guru LAWRENCE BLOCK!!!

I’m so jazzed.

In other blog news, Two posts from this blog made the top 25 in the Write it Sideways compilation of 101 top fiction writing tips:  #11 12 Signs Your Novel Isn’t Ready to Publish and #25 Can You Write a Publishable First Novel?

Wealth Creation for Writers
by Ruth Harris

Writers are always being told to read, but since just about every writer I know—Including me—is an almost-obsessive reader, that advice is more or less like offering style advice to Coco Chanel.

Instead, I want to explain how your ordinary, everyday reading—whether on the Web, via Kindle, iPad or Nook, in dead tree versions of magazines or newspapers—can be your own personal gold mine of ideas.

Once you delve into that mine, you will be able to find ways to connect unrelated ideas—one of a writer’s most potent weapons. You’ll also discover new vocabularies, find important clues to the creation of characters and plots and feel confident that you will never run out of ideas.

1. Read anything and everything.
Never feel guilty about picking up a magazine or Web surfing as long as you make note of stories that pique your interest and ideas that flash through your mind.

2. Consider an app like Evernote. Or at least keep a notebook to scribble down a few words. (Honestly, any writer who doesn’t have a note book—paper or electronic—should have his or her writing devices impounded.) 

3. Connect the dots. Connecting apparently unrelated ideas is the writer’s version of magic. An example is Michael Lewis’s Vanity Fair article about Germany’s national character and German finances. In his article, ML points out how the Germanic dual obsessions with cleanliness and filth (shit/scheisse) resulted in German banks holding a boatload of worthless bonds. The bonds, rated AAA, looked clean from the outside but were dirty (crap) on the inside.

This connection of ideas is basic to a writer’s tool box: an aspect of the German character/the bond market, seemed, on the surface, unrelated. But together, they provide spine and energy to what might otherwise be a dull article about European finance.

4. Look backward.  In his famous 2006 commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs commented that you can only “connect the dots when you look backward.” It’s what writers do: it’s why characters are unforgettable, stories are compelling and plots offer twists and surprises. It’s only when you look backward that you can see connections you miss when you were going forward. That’s why it’s essential to make note of your everyday reading and what jumps out at you.  

OK, how does this work?

Here are a few stories that got my attention recently:

  • One involved an importer who took a chance on selling a prized variety of Pakistani mangoes costing $80-$100 a box even though he would probably lose money on the deal.

  • Another was about a Chinese beauty queen being trained to enter (and win) the Miss Universe contest.

  • Yet another was about how Hewlett Packard’s purchase of Palm, which looked like a bad deal at first, is now looking good.

I doubt I will ever write about Chaunsa mangoes but it’s entirely possible I will write about pride. Perhaps, one day, my note about the Pakistani-American importer who put pride before profit to distribute what are considered the world’s most delicious mangoes will be just what I need to make my point. 

The Miss Universe contest doesn’t interest me but Luo Zilin’s determination and hard work—the dance lessons, the English lessons, the etiquette lessons, the practice in cat-walking and the media interviews—do interest me. They might, one day, help create a character. 

I also don’t give a hoot about Hewlett Packard’s corporate machinations but a decision that looked bad at first but turns out well later offers the potential of a great plot twist.  For example: Mr. Wrong who turns out to be Mr. Right.

Here are some other ways non-literary reading can improve your writing.

5. Increase your vocabularies.
(Please note the plural.) Just about every world has its own jargon and, if you want to write with style and verve, you need to find out what people who occupy those worlds say and how they say it.


  • Fashion magazines, style blogs and catalogs are filled with photos and descriptions of clothing. In them you will find a whole vocabulary with which to describe your character’s clothing and wardrobe in a way that brings them alive and makes them real to the reader. Stilettos or clogs? Polos or Tees? Grunge or business casual? Black tie or white shoe? The vocabulary of clothing is complex and rich.

  • Beauty and grooming sites are filled with photos and comment, some of it snarky—some of it sincere—about exactly one subject: how people look. With their help, you can turn your descriptions from insipid to inspired. Good hair day or bad plastic surgery? Muffin top or too rich and too thin?

  • The business pages are a source for jargon as well as fantastic information on occupations & careers: your characters have to make a living, don’t they?

  • Niche magazines or blogs—bass fishing, ice climbing, stamp collecting, arctic biology—will open new dictionaries and provide information for the alert writer.

6) Find unlimited plot ideas. Does you WIP need more struggle and conflict? Success and failure? Triumph and tragedy?

  • Go to the sports pages. Seriously. Almost every story is basically about how an athlete, talented or otherwise, overcomes—or doesn’t—golden-boy good looks, a reputation for dogging it, a lousy attitude in the clubhouse, jail time, injury, scandal, depression, poor parenting, mean and/or incompetent coaching.

    How the tournament winner holding the silver cup is a guy no one ever heard of. How the overlooked utility infielder gets the game-winning home run and the overpaid hot prospect blows the save. How the local hero is a good guy who gives more than just money to the charities he cares about. Why a big, hulking defensive lineman takes growth hormones to get even bigger and more hulking. How Tiger Woods rose to the pinnacle and why he then fell from the heights. What Novak Djokavich did in order to defeat Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal. How the American women’s soccer team won, and whether or not Serena can win again.

    Besides, it’s not just the drama and the schmaltz, it’s also about the language: sports are all about action and sports writers are great with verbs.

  • Business magazines: They’re full of stories of loss and triumph. Read between the numbers and statistics and tap into the emotions they generate.

  • And don’t forget the tabloids: Yes. Those guilty glances at the headlines in the supermarket are an endless wellspring of sex and scandal: a great plot in every crazy headline.

The last thing I want to point out is that when you create a gold mine from your everyday reading, that mine will be yours and yours alone because it will be based on what you care about and therefore you and only you will be able to mine from it.

The mango importer who interests me is another writer’s yawn. The connection I made between a Chinese Miss Universe contestant and her methodical determination might leave another writer rolling his or her eyes. The fascination with which I read Michael Lewis’s article about the connections between the German character and the German economy might cause another reader to flee to the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly.

So don’t feel guilty about your “light” reading. It’s your own personal gold mine. You’re the only one who can create it—and the only one who can profit by it.



What about you, scriveners? Where do you find your ideas? Do you keep notebooks? File newsclippings? Use Evernote? Do you read tabloids and tell yourself it's research? 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

RIP the Author Book Tour—and why you shouldn’t be sad to see it go

We’ve all fantasized about book tours, haven’t we? That glamorous trip we’ll take when our novel makes it big? Our publisher will send us off in a whirlwind of glamorous travel: booksignings, readings, and personal appearances with our adoring fans all over the country—maybe the world!

But this week, BookTour.com shut down, saying fewer tours and marketing budget changes make business “financially unviable.”

The book tour seems to be one more casualty of the electronic revolution.

Of course the death of one company doesn’t mean touring has completely disappeared. There are still tours for superstars. No doubt this year’s presidential hopefuls who don’t make the cut will get major book deals, complete with extended tours of the mini-malls of the heartland. And when Mick Jagger writes his memoir, novel, and/or children’s book, he’s sure to get booked on global booksigning expedition.

Just last week, Meghan Ward posted an interview with Holly Watson, a publicity manager with Penguin who plans such tours (a great insider’s view) so the institution is not dead…quite.

But my crystal ball says it’s not going to last long.

Not just because it’s hard to sign an ebook. (OK, they have invented the Kindlegraph—an online service lets authors create a digital autograph and send it directly to the customer’s Kindle. But it’s not the same. And you don’t have to travel anywhere to use it.) 

But 70% of books sold are still in paper, so why is a book tour “financially unviable”?

That’s because it’s not just the ebook that’s killing the book tour. Social networking has affected it even more—simply because social networking has turned out to be a better way to sell books than traditional advertising.  

This week Kristen Lamb wrote a great post on why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. It included an interesting quote from super-agent Donald Maass: 

“There are only TWO things that sell books…a good book and word of mouth. Period.”

David Gaughran at "Let's Get Digital" said much the same thing in his Tuesday post on “Word-of-Mouth in Action.” He said: 

“While a glowing review in the New York Times will undoubtedly shift some copies, if the limited amount of people that actually read the reviews (and then purchase the book), don’t then spread the word, the sales bump will be temporary.”

Also speaking about that coveted NYT space, here’s a quote from editor Alan Rinzler’s blog from June 5th:

“That $50K space ad in the New York Times? Forget it. It’s only for the author’s mother. The twenty-city bookstore tour with first class airplanes, limousines, and hotel suites? A waste of money.

Not even an appearance on the Today Show can guarantee more than a brief spike in sales. And Oprah, bless her heart, isn’t around anymore to guarantee sales for the very small number of titles she once had as her book club picks.

The old ways don’t work, and smart people in book publishing know that and say it openly now.

What works, all agree, is the creation of “buzz”, one person telling another, “Hey you have to read this!”

This is where you, the author, come in. What creates buzz is when the author connects directly with the reader. Readers don’t care who published the book; they want a relationship with the author.”

How do you form those relationships? Get that buzz? Start that word-of-mouth?

Social Media. 

That’s why the blog tour has replaced the book tour.

I recommend every writer who’s approaching the marketing stage of a writing career get a copy of Kristen Lamb’s book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media  and follow her blog.  Kristen takes you step by step through the process of establishing a digital “platform.” Right now the three most important legs of that platform are still Facebook, Twitter, and a blog. (Google + may take over from FB at some point, but it isn’t even close yet.)

But what if you don’t want to start your own blog?

There are good writers who really, truly aren’t cut out to blog regularly. They’re fiction writers and anything nonfic hits their muse’s snooze button.

But non-blogging authors can still connect with people through blogging. All you have to do is leave comments.

A post on this blog averages 1000 hits. That means your comment will be seen by 1000 potential readers.

Think how many bookstores you’d have to visit to reach 1000 people.

You do have to make sure people can reach you if they see your comment and want to find out more. If you’re not at the stage where you want to pay for a website (I’m not) and you don’t have a blog, you can give yourself an online profile if you sign up with Gravatar.com

Gravatar gives you a page where you can post a picture, a bio and links to whatever sites you do participate in on the Web—whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, RedRoom, or whatever. Having a Gravatar profile and url is a huge help in commenting on blogs—you get your picture in the comments and you don’t have to jump through so many hoops. Signing up with Google profile is good, too (although it only works on Blogger blogs.) About.me is a new alternative as well. Take five minutes to sign up with each, and you'll raise your online presence a good deal.

Of course you don’t want to leave a comment that says anything spammy like “buy my book”. That’s not “creating buzz”, it’s creating irritation. As Alan Rinzler says,

“A cardinal rule of the new author platform is never to actually ask people to buy your book. Rather promulgate your work by making an enduring connection.”

 It’s permissible to have a signature that mentions your book, or you can bring it up as an example as you talk about the topic of the post: “This advice sure would have helped me when I was working on my romance, The Savage, Burning Duke” is OK, but if the Burning Duke shows up in every one of your comments, you’re going to start getting blocked.

Once you start commenting on blogs, you’ll make blogfriends. Bloggers will recognize you as one of their regulars. Then when you have a book to promote, you ask blogfriends who are likely to reach your target audience if they’ll let you guest blog, give an interview, run a contest for a free book, or—if they do them—write a review.

And that's what they call a blog tour.

You can visit anything from a handful of blogs to dozens, over a week, or a month, to coordinate with your book’s launch. You’ll reach thousands more potential readers than you would flying around the country getting groped by TSA agents. 

And before you lament the loss of the glamorous booksigning tour, it’s good to know it isn’t actually an age-old institution. Yes, people like Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain toured the world selling books, but it was their lectures that brought in the crowds. Those revered authors were offering an evening’s entertainment—not just the opportunity to stand in a long line in a crowded bookstore to acquire an author’s scribbled name on a flyleaf.

The author book tour as we know it was invented in the 1960s by Jacqueline Susann, who changed the face of publishing with her steamy Hollywood sagas and savvy marketing. She rented her own plane and flew around the country visiting as many bookstores in as many towns as possible. She made a point of memorizing the names of the employees of each store before she arrived, establishing a relationship with each one as she sprinkled her Hollywood glitter across the provincial backwaters of America.

Susann designed her tour as a way to market herself, not so much to customers, as to bookstores: their owners and employees. It was a radical way to hand-sell books to the retailers who would in turn hand-sell to customers.

But in our 21st century world, when bookstores are evaporating, it makes no sense to cater to the middlemen. (And the truth is, most booksellers hate booksignings: they don’t bring in much revenue and gum up the store traffic for regular customers.)

For those of you who are feeling despair at the news that we are losing one more revered literary institution, Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde says, “If you’re sorry to hear the news, you’ve never been on an author tour.”

Turns out they weren’t much fun, even before today's draconian security measures and customer-unfriendly airlines. They mostly involved lots of missed flights, skipped meals, double-booked interviewers, and always—the airplane cold.

A blog tour sounds a whole lot better to me. I’ve already had some fantastic offers from fellow bloggers to guest, give interviews, etc, to promote the re-release of Food of Love, and I’m going to get to know a whole new bunch of people. All while staying in the comfort of my own home, drinking my favorite tea and wearing my Crocs.

What about you, scriveners? Are you disappointed you won’t get sent on an author book tour when you land that Big Six contract? Do you want one so much, you’ll set one up at your own expense? Or are you secretly relieved?

And speaking of blog tours, Kim Wright, who visited here on her blog tour promoting her critically acclaimed novel Love in Mid-Air, has just come out with a great guide for writers who have just finished your own opus: Your Path to Publication, available for pre-order now. 

Next week, Ruth Harris will be taking the helm, with a post on “Wealth Creation for Writers”. She’ll also have AWESOME news about a legendary  upcoming guest, plus the debut of her brand new medical/political thriller, HOOKED—a dishy book about sex, greed, ambition and murder among the high and mighty. Emphasis on the “high”. Sounds like a fantastic read to me!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Way We Publish Now

This week I saw a new item at our local dollar store—hardcover books. Well, actually one hardcover book—hundreds of copies of it, dumped in a big bin. It’s sad enough to see good books remaindered on the sale tables of Barnes and Noble, but these were being dumped for a buck a piece, along with off-brand detergent and dented cans of dog food.

What’s worse, I recognized the title. I'd seen the author interviewed by Stephen Colbert—just a few months ago.

I felt a little sick.

Kind of like the way I felt when the only remaining indie bookstore in our nearest big town closed. And the LA Times killed off their book review section. And the Borders at the mall shut its doors.

What’s going on? Have people stopped reading? Should we give up our dreams of becoming authors and take up hula-hoop decorating? Is the book dead?

Nope. It turns out the opposite is true. In fact, The New York Times recently reported that sales of books are going nowhere but up. In the US, trade titles grew 5.8% in the past three years, juvenile books grew 6.6%, and adult fiction went up a hefty 8.8%—in the middle of a recession!

So the book business isn’t really going to Hades in a handbasket. But it is on one wild ride—a ride that’s moving so fast that even industry professionals can’t keep up.

Here’s a little recap—

Back in the dear, dead days of 2009 B.K. (Before Kindle), book authors had only three options:

Option #1: Go through the long, painful process of querying literary agents, hoping to find one who could sell your work to a big or biggish publishing corporation. From the mid-20th century until the early 2000’s, if you wrote a book good enough to snag a reputable agent, you had an excellent chance of launching a professional writing career. But the agent-funneling-to-the international-publishing-conglomerate paradigm had been developing flaws over the past few years:

  • Ever-shrinking advances

  • Bullying market departments seizing creative control

  • Non-existent marketing budgets, except for superstars (Here’s a link to the great 2009 piece on the subject from the New Yorker for those who missed it two weeks ago.)

  • Ever-more draconian contracts, demanding ownership of copyright and preventing writers from “competing” with their own books by publishing anything else, anywhere.

  • “Creative” royalty-eating accounting

  • Rigid genre formulas

  • Fad-publishing and lemming-like overbuying: giving two or three genres dominance to the exclusion of all others, thus killing off those genres by oversaturating the market. Examples: chick lit and vampire romance.

  • Dropping writers who didn’t make the wildly optimistic sales quotas established by the marketing department (as reported by the reliably inaccurate Bookscan.) Your career could be ended by an accounting mistake. The only way you’d ever be able to publish again involved changing your name and never, ever admitting you’d been published before. 
Option #2: Submit to smaller, regional presses that read their own slush and don’t require an agent-gatekeeper. This minor-league option sometimes led to the big leagues, but it had major drawbacks.

  • Small or no advance

  • No standardized practices—hard to tell the good from the bad.

  • Difficult distribution. Usually big chains wouldn’t order from them, and many indie bookstores would order titles only as special orders.

  • Tiny profit margins. With the high cost of materials, and small mark-up on paper books, they often went belly-up, owing royalties to writers and back pay to staff (speaking from experience here.)

  • No marketing budget 

  • No reviews in the big publications like Kirkus, NYT, People, etc.

  • Titles unlikely to get the notice of Hollywood.
Option #3: Self-publish

  • Oh, pu-leez. You’ve all heard the stories. “I read a self-pubbed book by my hairdresser’s son and it had no plot and typos on every page—and if I ever have to read another 50-page masturbation scene, I’m going to throw myself off a bridge.”

  • Unless you wrote something sappy and inspirational like The Celestine Prophecy or The Shack, you wouldn’t even recoup costs.

  • The only way you’d be able to publish again involved changing your name and never, ever admitting you’d been published before.


But a revolution started late in the year 2009 A.K.

You can read that as “After Kindle” or “After Konrath”, since mystery author J. A. Konrath sounded the first voice of the Kindle revolution on his blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

The A.K. era has provided many new paths to publishing, and those paths go in remarkable new directions. Sometimes they even make U-turns.

Option #1 is still the same: query agents and hope for that Big Six contract. Some people will argue with me, but I think this is still the best path to fame and fortune for the writer with a shovel-ready, trending-right-now debut novel. If you write like Raymond Carver and have a YA steampunk zombiepocalypse thriller—all edited, polished and ready to go—and a few more like it in the hopper, you just might be the next superstar. It still happens.

But this traditional road is an even rockier path than before, because:

  • The big bookstore chains who worked in partnership with the Big Six to create bestsellers are going belly-up. Borders is dead, indies are evaporating, and the book shelf space in supermarkets and drugstores has shrunk drastically.

  • The mass market paperback is disappearing. Publishing Perspectives gives it three years to live . Mass market publisher Dorchester went bankrupt, transferred to an all e-book format—and has yet to pay royalties to its former mass market authors.

  • As the Big Six acquire fewer and fewer non-celebrity titles, agents are unable to sell books they adore, and being “on submission” can be an emotional Bataan Death March.

  • Now less than 1% of books published by the Big Six are by debut authors

  • The Big Six are pricing ebooks higher and higher, thwarting sales of even their bestselling authors.

  • As marketing departments insist on “guaranteed sales numbers,” agents are looking less at their own queries and more at the Kindle bestseller lists.

  • Big Six authors are getting tiny royalties on ebook sales, and their paper books are being pulled from shelves within weeks of launch (and sent to the Dollar Store, apparently.) The average advance is about $5000, and most authors never see any royalties. You have to write really, really fast just to make minimum wage.
Option #2: Submit to Small Presses. This is the same, too. Except it's a much more appealing option than it used to be. Technology has decreased overhead and Amazon and other online retailers have leveled the playing field.

  • Small companies, which have fewer cogs in their wheels, can move faster. Most are pricing their ebooks under $5.00. Most also use POD technology for paper books, so they only print as many books as they have orders for. This drastically reduces overhead, so they’re much more likely to stay in business than in the past.

  • Because of low overhead they often pay much higher royalties than the Big Six.

  • With online retailers dominating the book market, distributors are no longer essential to sales numbers. Every book is available for browsing with a few clicks on Amazon. A book from a tiny press has equal space with one from Random House.

  • Ebook-only presses are mushrooming all over the ’Net. They are willing to take chances on new authors and innovative genre-bending because they have very little overhead. This also means they can afford to keep retail prices low.

  • Genre-specific small publishers can service neglected niche markets and connect writers directly with fans looking for a particular type of fiction.

  • Small presses offer professional book design, coding, paper book distribution and sometimes, more publicity than a Big Six publisher.

  • But you’re still not likely to get that call from Stephen Spielberg. 
Option #3: Self-Publish. With the phenomenal success of self-pubbers like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, the stigma has been lifted. Self publishing isn't for rejects any more. It's for rebels and literary innovators. And anybody can join this wild-west gold-rush sparked by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his little Kindle. (You can also now self-pub paper copies quite cheaply through Amazon's Create Space.)

  • This is no longer the “I’ve been rejected everywhere, so I guess I have to…” option that hairdresser’s son took.

  • Fortunes are being made, and even mid-listers are making a living.

  • Self-publishing an ebook costs next to nothing, especially if you can design your own cover and get a fellow writer to exchange editing/proofing duties with you.

  • New companies like Smashwords and BookBaby provide self-epublishing services at very reasonable prices, and also supply helpful things like ISBNs.

  • Agents, publishers and filmmakers are ignoring their own slush piles and trolling the Kindle self-published lists for new clients. (Yes, I mentioned this above, but my point is: although that’s not so good for queriers, it’s great for self-pubbers.)

  • Big Six publishers are offering self-published stars the kind of huge advances usually reserved for literary superstars and members of the Rolling Stones. Self-pubbed Kindle stars like Amanda Hocking and Mark Edwards and Louise Voss   have taken this U-turn route back to Option #1.

  • This week, Amazon opened a Kindle Indie Store just for self-pubbers, so you don’t have to compete with the Big Six guys to become a bestseller. (I’m not entirely sure this isn’t ghettoizing the indies, but we’ll wait and see.)

  • Plus you just might get that call from Hollywood. The film rights to Amanda Hocking’s initially self-pubbed paranormal trilogy were sold to Media Rights Capital in March for major bucks, and I’m hearing from indie readers of this blog that Hollywood has been knocking on their doors.
Option #4: Query an agent who will help you self-publish ebooks that will stand out from the crowd

  • Agents like Andrea Brown are helping their clients self-publish to bypass the high cost of Big Six ebooks. There’s been a lot of noise about this being a conflict of interest, but the authors themselves aren’t complaining. Agents know how to provide editing (which they’ve been doing for years) plus hook you up with top-notch cover and book designers. They can help with publicity, marketing and career management as well as handling film and foreign rights (a biggie).

Option #5: HIRE an agent who will help you self-publish ebooks.

  • Yes, hire. Some very reputable agencies like Bookends LLC are forming separate branches that accept all comers and help them through the e-publishing process for either a percentage or a flat fee. A flat fee service—as provided by Laurie McLean at Agent Savant—feels better to me, but both seem to be working.
Option #6: Publish both e-books and paper books with Amazon’s new paper book lines. This is the new holy grail of publishing. You only get in by invitation at this point, but Amazon is making changes almost daily, so stay tuned.

  • The first of these was Amazon Encore. This doesn’t provide a huge advance, but your book is printed on real dead trees and you get to sell to the 70% of readers who still don’t have Kindles. Plus your royalties are way better than if you published with the Big Six

  • Then came Montlake Romance in June. Amazon lured bestselling romance writer Connie Brockway from Simon and Schuster to debut their new romance line.

  • Next to be announced was mystery/thriller line Thomas and Mercer. This is where indie superstars Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath are now, having accepted reputedly huge advances and impressive royalties.

  • More are coming—and we will probably be able to submit directly to them at some point.

  • Major drawback: these books will be sold mainly through Amazon. Amazon would like other retailers to carry them, but many bookstores are planning to boycott these lines, because Amazon is a rival bookseller.

These options aren’t either/or, as some of the arguing in blogs and forums might lead you to believe. Most of the Big Six published authors I know are also releasing indie books. Some are also using small publishers as well.

Yes, it is scary that one corporation--Amazon--is cornering such a huge segment of the book market. Let's hope that Barnes and Noble and Apple and new start-ups will challenge their growing monopoly.

You can get a beginner’s overview of ebook publishing from the ever-reliable Jane Friedman on her blog here.

If you want more in-depth information, you can buy a great little book on epublishing from the (incredibly smart) Irish writer David Gaughran on his blog Let’s Get Digital or in the Kindle store  for only $2.99.

The publishing world has changed irrevocably in the past two years. The changes came about partly because of the e-revolution and partly because the old system was already in a state of decay. Even though we’re going to miss the corner bookshop (which may be replaced with cool coffee-house/wine bar/print-while-you wait media emporiums) the good outweighs the bad—for both readers and authors.

As Gaughran says, "[Big Six publishers] have been underestimating readers for years. If you talk to readers, their main complaint is that everything is the same, piles of books chasing one fad after the next. Readers want diverse voices, readers like works of different lengths, readers like writers who play outside conventional genre boundaries. Indie writers have been filling that need."

But the greatest thing to come from the ebook revolution may be the way it empowers writers. We now have choices. Even authors who are still publishing only with international conglomerates know they can walk away if they want to. They can demand more equitable royalties. They can refuse to take orders on what to write and how many books to churn out per year. They can publish novellas and short stories and books outside a specified genre.  

And for newbie authors—you’ve all got a chance to make the big time.

One caveat: Don’t publish before you’re ready to be a disciplined, professional writer. (See my post Three Questions to Ask Before You Jump on the Self-Publishing Bandwagon) Reviewers can be unforgiving—even of things like trite cover design, overpricing and a few typos. Amateur comments on Amazon can be cruel, and trolls are being hired to post nasty reviews and bring down a rival’s stats.

So hone your skills, build your inventory, and develop some calluses on your soul. Then set out on whatever publishing path feels right to you. The way things are going, there should be even more options very soon.


So how are the changes in the industry affecting you, scriveners? Are the new possibilities changing how you view your own career goals? Is it affecting how you write?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wait! Don’t Kill That Darling! The REAL Skinny on Self-Editing from Samuel Park

Today we're getting a free editing class from college professor and critically acclaimed literary author, Samuel Park. So get out your WIP and try these ten steps. I think you'll find them enlightening. I did. And think of the money you'll save on editor's fees.

Obviously his method works. Here are a few samples of the kind of praise he’s getting from literary superstars:

 “This Burns My Heart is quietly stunning—a soft, fierce story that lingers in the mind. Samuel Park is a deft and elegant writer.” —Audrey Niffenegger, NYT bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife

“Writing prose with the beauty of poetry, Samuel Park traces a young woman's journey to hard-won maturity, alongside the meteoric rise of post-war Korea, in a novel which shines with eloquence and wisdom.”—David Henry Hwang, Tony-Award winning author of M. Butterfly

“Samuel Park's astonishing novel, This Burns My Heart, provides mesmerizing perspective into the life of a Korean wife and lover.”—Jenna Blum, NYT bestselling author of Those Who Save Us

From Good to Better: 10 Tips On Editing Your WIP
By Samuel Park

I’m a big believer in revision. In fact, I think that’s one of the biggest advantages that writers have over artists in other fields. Filmmakers can’t shoot film endlessly, but writers can edit a manuscript to perfection for years. I know writers whose first drafts are spotless and ready to be printed and bound, but I’m more of a reviser, and for me, the revision process is when the manuscript really comes together. Still, every writer dreads the moment when she gets a list of comments from a writer friend. Here are some things I keep in mind whenever I need to implement those changes. These are tried and true tips that I’ve used over the years that can take your WIP from good to better.

1.     Do Listen to the Smart People Around You

My personal philosophy is that as a writer, my responsibility is to write a book that a lot of people will want to read and enjoy and want to recommend to others. I feel like I’m in the business, plain and simple, of providing pleasure and joy. So if I’m not doing that to the friends offering feedback—who are, in fact, my first readers—that is a sure sign that the manuscript needs more work. They’re only the first in a long line of people I have to please: my agent, my editor, my publisher, my publicist, trade publication reviewers, book bloggers, newspaper reviewers, magazine writers, and finally, and most importantly, the readers! That is a long chain and a lot of people. So in order to get to the buying readers, I have to make each person in that chain love it—and I have to start with the friends giving feedback, and so I take their reactions very, very seriously.

2.     Ignore Bad Advice

This is the exception to the item above: If someone gives you feedback that doesn’t seem to be coming from a place of love, ignore it. Completely. Don’t even think about it for more than a second. As important as it is to implement and use feedback from readers providing constructive, helpful criticism, it is very important—for one’s soul, for one’s future as a writer—to ignore feedback that is not intended to help but to hurt. Be alert to it and do not let it interfere with the good work of improving your manuscript.

3.     Focus on Different Things During Each Pass

I recommend doing one whole pass based on a single aspect of the manuscript you want to improve. For instance, doing a revision based on making the main character stronger—and that’s all you do. Don’t worry about the other characters, the language, the plot. For that pass, just focus entirely on that one character—her development, her dialogue, the descriptions of her. I’ve gotten a lot of praise for writing from a female perspective in my book—people respond uniformly positively to the heroine Soo-Ja. This is partly due to the fact that I spent one long revision period focusing entirely on her. Later, you could do a revision focusing entirely on cuts, or a revision focusing primarily on descriptions.

4.     Trust the Reaction, Not the Prescription

Sometimes your early readers will point out a section that needs work, and then offer a solution. 9 times out of 10, they’re wrong about the solution. They’re right in their reaction, and they’re right in that that aspect of the manuscript may need doctoring. But what may need to be fixed may not even be in that chapter. It could be something that wasn’t addressed earlier on in the story. That section may actually be work fine, and may not need changes at all—what may need to be fixed is the pacing of the section right before it.

5.     If you Think It, It is So

If you think you may need to change something, but aren’t sure, it probably means that you do. The thought alone—the hunch alone—is enough. You may debate with yourself, Well, maybe it’s fine, maybe it’s working, I’m not sure if I should change that. Well, merely the fact that you’re thinking about it means that yes, you do need to change it. If the scene was working or was perfect as it was, the thought wouldn’t have occurred to you. When in doubt, work on it.

6.     Don’t Kill Your Darlings

This is a fascinating phenomenon that I’ve observed: while most of the time your early readers are 100% right about what’s not working on your manuscript, sometimes they want you to cut out exactly what’s best about it. I find that really fascinating, and I don’t know why it happens, but it does. Maybe the parts of the manuscript that are the most personal, original, and fresh, also happen to feel the most foreign, self-indulgent, and unnecessary. I’ve had this happen on a couple of different manuscripts, and fortunately I hung on to the passages, which turned out to be the ones that, post-publication, were the ones that people most liked and were most representative of the book. In one case, the passage that the reader wanted to cut out was the exact reason why I wrote the book in the first place!

7.     Ask “What If”

What if the heroine of the story at one point ran into another character she does not normally interact with? One of my favorite scenes in my novel, when the main character meets the man who is courting her sister-in-law, was not in the original draft. The scene ended right before his arrival. I thought, what if the scene continued? What would happen? What happened really surprised me—I didn’t even realize I needed that scene, and now I can’t imagine the book without it.

8.     Do More Research

If you’re unsure how to make edits on your manuscript, try doing more research. It will probably trigger new thoughts, and help you think of new layers to add to the story. In my mind, in order to create output, you need to provide a lot of input (new inspirations, more information). Personally, before each edit, I feel the need to replenish first by taking in more ideas, more inspiration—the same as when you’re writing the draft.

9.     Don’t (Always) Read Out Loud

I hear this all the time: read your writing out loud when you edit. Indeed, it helps catch redundancies, and makes the prose tighter. Reading out loud also helps you notice mistakes that look “invisible” in print. But ultimately, there’s a very mysterious alchemy that happens when you write something down, and then someone reads it on the page. Writing is not really that oral, otherwise novels would sound like blueprints for performance pieces. If you take out too much language—language that would not normally be spoken—you may take out the very ligaments and joints holding together your sentences. Just because it feels awkward saying it out loud, doesn’t mean it necessarily feels awkward reading it silently, in your head.

10 And When You Get Stuck…

Sometimes an editor or agent asks you to make some changes, and you find yourself unable to think of how to approach it. My suggestion, a trick I learned from a writer friend of mine, is to pick ten separate paragraphs and add two sentences to each. It is easy, doable, and effective.


Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil to Korean parents, Samuel Park moved to the United States at age fourteen. He went to high school in Southern California, in the South Bay Area, and then studied at Stanford University, where he graduated with B.A. (with honors) and M.A. degrees in English. He has a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Southern California, and his scholarly writing has appeared in journals such as Black Camera, Theatre Journal, and Shakespeare Bulletin. He is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Columbia College Chicago.

Samuel Park’s novel THIS BURNS MY HEART, chosen as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, is now out. It has also been selected by booksellers as a Great Read Indie Next List Pick, and rights have recently been sold to Germany and Norway. Learn more on his website: www.samuelpark.com and follow him on twitter at @SamuelPark_

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So what about you, fellow scriveners? Are any of these tips new to you? They were to me--especially the not killing your darlings part. And learning that it's good to listen when critiquers see a problem, but generally ignore their solution. Interesting about not reading aloud, too. 

Do you have any questions for Samuel? Or any personal tips to share for self editing?