Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Vacation!

Hi everyone,

First, I apologize for being MIA this week. I had a multi-day training at work (we're about to release a the latest version of one of our software packages and, since I'm a technical writer and do all the documentation, I had to sit through the whole thing) and my sister-in-law has been staying with us this week as well. All that translates to me not having a single spare moment with the computer. I really didn't bail on you guys.


Christmas is this weekend! This afternoon, my wife, her two sisters and I are all packing ourselves into my little Honda Civic, along with all our luggage and Christmas presents (I defy any troupe of clowns to do better) and making the 10–12 hour drive to my in-laws' house in California. We won't be coming home until next Thursday, so I'm giving you all fair warning that I have no intention of blogging next week.


I will say that I have an announcement to make on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. (No, I haven't signed with an agent or editor, and neither am I self-publishing a book.) So, now that I've eliminated the three conclusions to which most of you are likely to jump, I will say that it is good news and leave you all to stew in your own wonderment. MWAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! :D

Anyways, Merry Christmas! And a happy New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Perfectly Normal, Not-at-all Fanboyish Conversation with Dan Wells

Hi everyone! I had about three heart attacks before getting this weeks interview set up. I had emailed two people about doing interviews and, as of this morning, still haven't heard back from them. However, some of you will remember that several weeks ago I announced that I would be hosting an interview with Dan Wells in the near future. Well, the near future is here! I got an email from Dan yesterday, neatly solving my little interview problem!

Dan Wells is one of my favorite authors, partly because I listen to his podcast, WritingExcuses, which he and his friends Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler started before Dan's first book was published (throughout the early days of the podcast, Dan's take on writing and publishing was really interesting because he hadn't actually been published yet). Dan's first books were the John Cleaver series (I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don't Want to Kill You), about a sociopathic teenager who wants to make sure he doesn't become a serial killer. I know that sounds terrible, but that honestly is the basis for the series, and they are fantastic! Dan is currently working on several other, non-serial killer related projects which I am very excited for.

So, my friends, I'm excited to introduce you to Dan Wells!

When did you first start writing?

I told my parents in second grade that I was going to be an author, and I've been writing most of my life. I didn't start working toward professional publication until college.

You know, I think Dan has most of us beat. A lot of us have been writing since we were kids, but probably not since we were that young.

When did you start writing I Am Not a Serial Killer?

I started planning IANASK in early 2006; I started actually writing it the second week of January in 2007, and finished it about six weeks later.

You spent a whole year just planning? Wow! No wonder those books are so good. I'd love to hear about your planning process.

Where did they ideas for the John Cleaver series come from?

Like all normal, well-adjusted people, I read about serial killers for fun. I find them fascinating, especially their psychology. One day, riding home from my writing group, I was talking about serial killer predictors, and my friend Brandon said, "That would be a great first line for a book: There are three traits in common to 98% of serial killers, and I have all them." That's not the first line of the book, though it's still a very cool line and it got my thinking about what kind of character would say it, and what kind of life he would lead. I made him a teenager because I wanted to show his psychology while it was developing, rather than fixed, and I threw in some supernatural monsters because I thought they were cool, and there you go.

This is why it's so important to have someone you can talk to about your writing! Every writer needs a sounding board, and I don't mean crit partners and beta readers. You need someone you can bounce your ideas off of before you ever start writing. I recently lost my sounding board and I basically haven't made much progress since.

How long did it take for you to find an agent who was willing to represent you? An editor?

I found my editor first, about two or three months after the book was finished. I found my agent just a few weeks later. That sounds fast, but keep in mind that I'd been writing and submitting books for about 8 years prior to that with nothing. It's like they say: it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.

Haha! I like that! It reminds me of something I heard on Writing Excuses: that most writers complete four or even five books before their first novel is accepted for publication (and that's often their sixth book, not their first).

What advice do you have for aspiring authors about finding an agent a/o publisher? (other than patience and persistence)

Find books you love, that your book is similar to, figure out who the agent and editor was, and query them. Not only are they more likely to carry your type of book, but you're more likely to be happy with an editor whose work you already love and respect.

That sounds really simple, but I bet a lot of us never thought of it. ...I didn't.

How have writing conferences and conventions influenced your career as a writer? (Do you recommend any in particular?)

The one my friends and I chose to visit when we first started networking was World Fantasy, and I still think that's the best networking convention in genre fiction—the ratio of pros to aspiring authors is better there than anywhere else, and it's pretty easy to meet people and get into great conversations. That's where I met my editor. Of course, every person who takes this advice changes that ratio for the worse, so you have to be careful. WorldCon is also good, and the Nebula awards, and possibly World Horror if you write dark fiction. DragonCon is hands down the most fun convention I've ever been to, but it's hard to make it a business opportunity unless you really know what you're doing.

Dan and the others mention these conventions repeatedly on Writing Excuses. They sound amazing, but Dan and the others always point out that you have to do a lot prep if you want them to be productive.

What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned about writing since you started your career?

I've learned to try new things. There's absolutely no need to pigeonhole yourself into one genre or even one style—try everything, write everything, and find what works for you.

I feel like a lot of writers pigeonhole themselves because they get started in one genre or sub-genre and then think that's all they're good at. Admittedly, it would take some adjustment to switch to something else, but it's really not different that starting that next book anyway!
How many books have you written that haven’t been published?

So far, six, though I hope to get that sixth one polished up and sent off to an editor sometime this year.

Very nice!
How do the books you read influence your own writing? (stylistically as well as thematically)

It's hard to say. Sometimes I'll choose a book specifically because it has a certain tone or diction that I want to emulate in my current project, but most of the time I just read whatever—which usually means I'm not reading my own genre. I read very few thrillers and horror novels, which makes my horror novels a little different because I'm making it up as a go. My next book, coming in February, is a YA, and I don't read a ton of YA, so I kind of made that up, too. That doesn't make my books better or worse than the rest of the genre, just different. Most of what I read, honestly, is historical fiction, with the occasional dip into fantasy or SF. If that's lent a specific flavor to my writing I don't know exactly what it is, but I wouldn't be surprised.

That's really interesting because usually people tell us to read what we write (or vice versa). On the other hand, it's smart not to let yourself get locked into a single genre, whether reading or writing. The wider your range of literature, the more ideas you can generate.

How do you keep yourself organized?

Mostly just by setting goals. I used to set work hours for myself, like I had when I worked in an office, and that helps to a point, but the more valuable organization came when I just looked at my deadline, calculated backwards, and told myself how much I had to write each day to hit it. That makes my life more structured but my day-to-day work far less regimented, which works really well for me.

It's good that you know how to pace yourself like that. I think it's a skill that every writer should have.
How do you deal with writer’s block?

If I can't write, it's because there's something stopping me, so the simple solution is to figure out what that something is and fix it. Is my outline broken? Am I not ready for the next scene? Am I just tired or hungry? Solve that problem, get it out of the way, and move on.

Plain and simple.

How do you keep your whole story interesting? Or, how do you avoid slow stretches?

The slow stretches are the fun ones for me; I could write act two forever, it's starting and ending a book that are hard. The way to keep it interesting is to go back during revision—revision is the key to good writing, hands down—and tighten it/tweak it/pump it up.

When I finished my first book, I had to force myself to go back and revise. I thought I was done with the story and I just wanted to send it off. But I'm glad I did, because going back over it, I realized there were still some major problems with it.

How does your own life and experience inform your writing? Is it intentional?

That's another hard question. Sometimes it's not intentional at all—the John Cleaver books, for example, include a lot of my moral outlook that's obvious in hindsight, but which I certainly didn't include on purpose. My SF books, on the other hand, tend to have a very incendiary, fight-the-power political slant, and that's definitely on purpose. So I guess the best answer is that it's different from book to book.

I bet it's kind of fun for authors to look back at their work and notice what sort of stuff they slipped in without realizing it.

Who’s your favorite author?

My favorite book of all time is Dune, by Frank Herbert, but I didn't love his others as much so I don't think I'd say he's my favorite author. I'm a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and Bernard Cornwell and A. A. Milne, but again, I don't think I'd say any of them is my favorite author. I'm going to say Victor Hugo, because I have yet to read a single word of his that isn't brilliant. Even the big non-fiction essay portions of Les Miserable that everyone told you to skip are amazing—don't listen to those people, they're stupid. Read the entire book, and then read his other stuff. You'll be glad you did.

You should meet my wife. You could start an "I Love Victor Hugo" club!

Favorite book?

Dune, as I said. Start to finish, that is simply an astounding piece of work. Close runners up are American Gods by Gaiman and Perfume by Patrick Suskind.

Absolutely LOVED Dune! Not such a fan of American Gods, though I am a huge fan of most of Neil Gaiman's work. I haven't read any of Patrick Suskind.

What’s your favorite genre to read?

Probably historical fiction, though I still read a lot of fantasy and SF.

My wife is a big historical fiction reader and, I must admit, it's becoming more and more tempting all the time. I'm particularly interested in ancient Egypt.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I'm one of the biggest gaming geeks you will ever meet. I have a massive collection of board games, a ton of collectible card games, thousands of dollars worth of tabletop miniatures (both pre-painted and ones I'm painting myself), and I'm in three different ongoing roleplaying campaigns, one of which I GM (Legend of the Five Rings, for those curious). I play games pretty constantly.

Fun! I never got into gaming myself, but not for lack of interest. I've never had any friends who could show me the ropes (I'm too shy to just jump in on my own).

What are three interesting facts about yourself?

1. I used to live in Mexico, and still speak mostly fluent Spanish.

2. I skipped middle school, did a ton of AP credit in high school, and started college as a Junior.

Holy smokes! How old were you when you finished college? Seventeen? Got to admit, I'm kind of jealous.

3. I have five kids, two cats, and up until last week I had an English Bulldog. My house is pretty chaotic.

I want to thank Dan for taking the time to do this interview. On blogs like mine, it's always nice to get some perspective from someone who's already gone through all this and figured out how to make it work. Incidentally, if you haven't read his books, I highly recommend them (I never thought I'd read a horror novel...EVER, but I really like Dan's work). Also, if your interested in learning more about Dan, visit his web site at

See you next week!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A New Challenge: Middle Grade

So, I've been kicking around a question in the back of my mind for the past two or three months: what separates middle grade literature from YA or adult literature? (You know, apart from the obvious: age of the intended audience).

The reason I ask is because at first I was inclined to think the major difference was that middle grade literature can't delve into more serious issues that apply to the real world. But I've decided that's not true; just look at some of the more popular middle grade titles if you don't believe me. Quite a few of them deal with such things as death, loss, grief, ambition and betrayal, broken homes, love, friendship, etc. And what's more, some of them do a lot better with those more serious themes than a lot of YA and adult literature.

So, the difference isn't in the theme, necessarily.

There's another obvious answer: reading level. Middle grade is, supposedly, written in simpler, easier to understand language by definition and necessity. But again, I'm not so sure this is entirely accurate. One of my favorite authors, Garth Nix, wrote a fantastic middle-grade fantasy series called The Keys to the Kingdom. One of the things I love about Nix is that his prose is absolutely beautiful. I don't mean flowery or anything like that; it's eloquent in how easy it is to understand without being simplistic. Also, I've learned several new words from him!

When it comes to the actual writing, I think middle grade might actually be harder to write that YA or adult literature, precisely because it has to be so easily understood. I think it's the mark of a true master to write a sophisticated, meaningful story that's easily understood by 10–13 year old children. It reminds me of a movie called A River Runs Through It. I saw it when I was young (it's one of my dad's favorites) and I didn't understand this scene until I was in college. A scene toward the beginning of the film shows the main character as a boy, being educated by his father; the boy brings a paper (presumably an essay or report) to his father, who reads it and then tells him to write it again...this time only half as long. That's the essence of good writing: to be able to reduce it down to the shortest, simplest form possible, without losing meaning, power, or impact. It's harder than it sounds.

So, my friends, what do you think is the difference between Middle Grade and YA/Adult literature? Also, if any of you know of good resources (online or otherwise) for writing middle grade literature, please share them!

Have a great day!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: E.J. Wesley

Hi everyone! After I read EJ's post last week (the one I reposted on Tuesday), I decided I had to know more about him. EJ runs a blog called The Open Vein, which I really enjoy. If you didn't check it out after Tuesday's post, I hope you will now. Anyway, on to EJ.

How did you get started as a writer?

I didn’t start writing fiction (seriously) until 6 or 7 years ago, and hadn’t even entertained the idea until I started reading the Harry Potter stories a couple of years before that. At the time, I worked at a counseling agency specializing in adolescent groups. We used the HP books as a tool in therapy, as a means of getting the kids to open up about their own difficult experiences. It worked marvelously! I decided then that I wanted to write fiction. I guess it was the first time that I understood how truly powerful words can be.

I know what you mean! My father-in-law is a therapist and he is constantly recommending books to his clients. I'm generally much more escapist in my own reading (no judging please!), but my wife isn't. I actually love hearing what she thinks of books because she has a much more cathartic experience than I do. So, to sum up my rambling: books are great and they can really help people!

What was your first complete story?

It was a young adult novel with a sword and sorcery vibe. I drafted it, edited it, read a few chapters to a  riting group and succinctly put it away—maybe for good. I haven’t gone back to it in over 4 years! The writing was bad, but it was an important first step, I think.

Tell me about it. They say, on average, authors don't get published until they've written three for four books. It all comes down to experience! There may be absolutely nothing wrong with the ideas, but every author has to learn the craft.

What made you decide to write it?

It was my first idea for a novel-length story, and I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. It wasn’t about publication; it was about seeing something through to completion. A major life goal accomplished.

My first book was the same way. Maybe someday I'll revisit it and fix it up, but in the meantime, I have other ideas to explore.

Do you free-write or outline?

I’m a soft outliner. I tend to free-write the first few chapters and then outline a few chapters ahead of my current place. If I get too far ahead (in terms of outlining) everything gets a little stiff, and if I completely wing it—well, it feels like I’ve completely winged it.

If you free-write, how do you keep things organized?

I usually start outlining at the point I feel I’m getting disorganized or the story is getting too big. Most of my stories start with only one or two characters in focus. So it’s pretty easy to keep up initially.

If you outline, do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?

I usually have a solid idea of how I want to start, and a fair idea of how things will end. My mileage varies, as they say.

I can unequivocally say that you are the first person to answer all three parts of that question. Kudos!

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Not sure I truly believe in writer’s block. That stuff is for hobby writers! Lol If you’re serious about writing, you have to do it every day, rain or shine. Sometimes the words come easily, sometimes they don’t. If I’m stuck—really stuck—I’ll jump to a new part of the story or next chapter. I’ll go back to what I was stuck on later. It usually works itself out by then. Generally I just keep putting words down even if I don’t feel like it.

In terms of general inspiration, music and coffee are my motivators of choice. I’ll slap something appropriate on Pandora, get something warm to drink and I’m off to the races!

Sadly, I'm still in the hobby phase. I write as often as possible, but from time to time things get out of hand and my writing gets put on hold. I hate that!

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters
don’t turn out the same in every story?)

To be completely honest, I don’t usually worry about it. The initial concepts for my stories tend to be all over the place, so I’m not starting with even remotely similar characters. One story is about a girl in middle school in Chicago, for instance, and the next will be about a college-aged guy in small town Texas. They couldn’t sound the same even if I tried to force them.

What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

I really just draw off of conversations and the people in my day-to-day life. Friends, family, etc.

So if any of you know EJ personally, look for yourself in his writing! :D

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

As crazy as it sounds, mostly by making engaging and believable characters. My ‘real’ world is 99% about the people in it and 1% about all the other stuff. If the characters in your story behave realistically and are enthralling, you can have talking cats or just about anything else going on in the world around them and pull it off.

That being said, I think layers help add depth and realism, just like in painting and drawing (which I also do!). You don’t need to have razor sharp detail on the stuff in the background, but it needs to resemble something familiar, if that makes sense. Add a bush (coffee shop, etc.) here, a small mountain (government, etc.) there to give your characters some aspect of space/perspective in the world.

Hey, good analogy! I'm going to keep that one in mind!

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

I really do try (honestly I do, beta readers) to cut out the extraneous. It gets really difficult to do on your own, though. Everything feels important when you draft. However, in the end no one really cares about your main character’s affinity for bran flakes but you. Cut it and forget it, just like that magic oven thing (I think).

It's amazing how much doesn't make it into a story that still has an impact on it. Everything the writer knows informs the story somehow, even if the actual facts/events don't show up in the end.

How does your own life inform your writing?

See #4

'Nough said.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

Do grant writing conferences count? Lol I’ve actually been a member a several fiction writing groups both online and ‘live’ and attend some workshops associated with those. I’ve attended an online writer’s conference (WriteOnCon), and it blew me away. I mostly learned that there are TONS of writers out there who struggle with the same things I struggle with and that writing really is a craft. Meaning if you work at it you’ll get better.

Another point worth remembering: you will get better!

Who is your favorite author?

Growing up it was Stephen King. In fact, he was really the only non-assigned fiction I read until college (or so). Now? Tolkien, JK Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Charlaine Harris, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Sir Arthur Doyle, C.S. Lewis, Paulo Coelho…

I've read at least one book by each of these except Martin and Harris (and they're on my list, so someday...) and I have to say ... you have great taste!

Favorite book?

Stephen King’s The Stand, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter 1-7, Night by Elie Wiesel, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, …

Ooh! New titles! How exciting!

Favorite genre to read?

Not a genre, but young adult fiction is my favorite. I just think the stories are so much more imaginative and inspiring for that age group. You can really write any genre in YA, and you can also tackle subjects from serious to goofy and get away with it.

Agreed! The funnest books are predominantly YA in my opinion.

Favorite genre to write?

Same. Like my reading tastes, I tend to write all over the place. I’ve been writing more paranormal stuff of late, though.

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

Play guitar, paint/draw, listen to music, watch sports, play with my dogs, love my family and friends, get outside, drink wine and eat!

Wow, it sounds like you have it pretty good! Kudos!

What are three interesting facts about you?

Hmmmm, I was voted “most shy person” by my high school classmates (my friends still laugh about that one). I had never flown on an airplane until graduate school. (Now I’ve been all over, including Europe, Mexico, etc.) I started college wanting to be an optometrist, graduated with degrees in counseling and psychology instead, and subsequently spent several years working as a grant writer. Go figure!

I got a degree in print journalism (no laughing!), intended to get into magazines and wound up as a tech writer for a local software company. "Best-made plands of mice and all that" (if anybody gets that reference, I will be overjoyed.)

Thanks for talking with us, EJ! You've made a couple of good points here and I hope we see your work in print soon!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Guest Post: EJ Wesley on ePublishing

I have another exciting guest blogger today. I just realized this will be my third guest blogger in as many weeks (not counting Thanksgiving), which may sound a bit excessive, but I just love what these people are saying!

Today I'm hosting EJ Wesley, from The Open Vein. Last week he wrote a wonderful post that I want to make sure all of you see. It's a real gem!

An Observer's Tale—10 Things I've Learned about ePublishing

As we race toward 2012, I thought it would be a good time to share my observations on e-Publishing. The publishing world is evolving at lightening pace. A bevy of attractively priced new reading gadgets *cough* KINDLEFIRE*cough* and a huge commercial push promises to make 2012 the year of the eBook.

I keep up with tons of self-published (and otherwise) authors on the Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the like--trying to learn what I can. As such, I thought it would be appropriate for me to regurgitate my knowledge in the form of An Observer's Tale - 10 Things I've Learned About ePublishing

This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive tutorial on the process, nor should it be taken as gospel. Just my take.

1. eBooks are like so hot right now:

This might be the understatement of the decade, but this digital media stuff is a big deal. In the last ten years we've witnessed the digitization of every major form of entertainment from music to movies. Now it's time for written entertainment to share the stage. Some have labeled it a fad, some a revolution. Whatever your take, I think we can all agree that this is now at the very least a movement--a shift--to a new way of "doing" books. Who knows if paper and pixels will be able to coexist, but I'd bet the family farm that the pixels aren't going away.

2. Fit and finish don't just apply to car shopping:

Hop over to your local online monster retailer and browse the eBooks. Do it like you would browsing for cars at the auto dealership. Why? You'll quickly get into the head of the average book shopper, that's why. It's the shiny exterior (i.e. the cover) that draws them in, the awesome stereo and smooth interior (blurb or back jacket verbiage) that gets their imagination going and the salesperson (reviews) that seal the deal. In an increasingly cluttered book market, presentation makes the difference.

 3. It's a slow burn, baby:

That tune doesn't apply to ePublishing. There are no golden tickets. Much like in traditional publishing, there is a constant effort to figure out the purchasing habits of fickle readers. eAuthors are scrambling to try to figure out how Amanda Hocking, John Locke, etc., etc. managed to become Kindle millionaires seemingly overnight.

I follow both of the afore mentioned authors on Twitter and blogs (One of them follows me, but I'm not namedropping or anything... OK, it's JL and I nearly blew a gasket when I saw his name pop up as a new Twitter follower! Name.Dropped.) and I can tell you neither of them truly claims to know exactly how it all happened. One thing both say: it took some time and they worked hard to promote their stuff. They didn't instantly sell 10,000 books a month. Word of mouth had to build. The Interwebs had to weave its magic. Just like in traditional publishing, expect to have to pay your own dues before you get much payment in return.

4. Skinning cats and publishing electronically have a lot in common:

There are many, many ways to get a book published electronically, and many more yet to come.

Total DIY: You can study Kindle/Apple/Barnes & Noble/WhatHaveYou and learn to format and upload yourself. You can get free pictures online and create your own covers with free photo editing software. It's not rocket science, but it's also not without frustration. If budget is a concern, you can definitely do it on your own. Knowing your limits is important, however...

Hire out some of it: Don't have an artistic eye? Cool. There are oodles of folks online that will design a good cover for you. Got a great cover, but don't care to format? Cool. Lots of folks out there will format your book so it reads nice and pretty on the nook, iPad, Kindle, Kobo reader things. See # 2 if you're not sure why it matters.

Hire out all of it: Specialty ePublishing companies are ALL freaking over the place. Go to any online writing community and you'll see their ads. Hangout in the writing dens of Twitter and you'll get a half-dozen follows a day from someone offering to publish your book for a fee. (That and maybe a few unwholesome offers, but I digress ...) Heck, some of them even promote your book in various places. Prices vary. Quality varies. Choose wisely.

5. One is fun, but 8 is great:

Only got one great story in you? I'm sorry to inform you that self-publishing isn't going to pay your next electric bill. Nor will it likely pay any electric bill. Ever. Here's the thing, just like in traditional publishing you have to build a readership in the eWorld. That typically doesn't happen with one great book. It takes several. It takes building a reputation.

eReading is like any other electronic media thing, which is to say it's about consumption. Unlike Sam the Business Man who buys one non-fiction book every year at the airport to read on layovers, the owner of that Kindle plans on getting her money's worth. When she finishes one book, she's going to immediately jump into another. If you only have one book in the store, she can't buy your next. It's science--or math--or something.

The best anecdote I've read on the subject relates virtual shelf space to actual store shelf space. The more space you occupy the better chance someone is going to 'find you' and buy you.

6. Traditional rules don't necessarily apply...:

Suburban cat vampire fantasy doesn't sell you say? WRONG! There are no hard rules when it comes to ePublishing. All those agents and editors in the traditional world aren't wrong (just aggravating) when they shoot down your 'Hamster Falls In Love' picture book idea. In the paper world there are all kinds of upfront production costs that force the publishing machine to make hard choices about what they invest in. That doesn't exist online. If you want to publish it, you can. If you can connect with the people who are interested in what you've written, you'll probably even sell a few copies. And unlike a paper bookstore, even if you're only moving 6 copies a month it'll stay on Amazon's shelf forever.

Heck people are even publishing poetry again. That should really be all you need to hear to understand that up is now down, and that cats now sleep with the dogs.

7. Well, except for these:

Don't read 6 and assume everything has changed. These basic principals must be observed for any kind of publishing success:

You must have a great story.

It must be extremely well-written.

It must be gleamingly edited. And edited. And edited. And edited ....

You can never shortchange a reader with a poor product. Readers will drop you like a bad habit, even if your book is only .99 cents.

8. Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising!

I'm not talking about action figures (but that would be AWESOME!); I'm talking about selling your story and yourself. Understand where your story fits in terms of genre. Make sure your cover looks better than those 'other books' that pop up in the product search. Know where your readers hangout online--go to them. Use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to their full potential. Learn and heed the rules of responsible, non-D-Bag marketing. Make friends by promoting other authors more than you promote yourself. Make sure your story is available to every kind of reader for every kind of reading device. Make sure your website, Twitter page, Facebook, etc. say, "I'm a pro, not a schmo."

Self-publishing means you're now a small business owner. That business will sink or swim based upon your effort and nothing else.

9. All the cool kids are doing it:

ePublishing isn't just a game for the little guys to dabble in. J.K. 'I could buy your country' Rowling is self-publishing her Harry Potter books electronically. So too are many, many highly successful traditionally published authors. Some are completely abandoning the traditional route, others are simply supplementing their paper efforts, using it as a vehicle to explore things that wouldn't normally fly in the trad-world. Regardless of the reasons, don't assume that your too big or too small to make a go of it. It sure looks like there's room for everyone.

10. No one has THE answer:

There is a lot of advice from super-helpful authors out there. They might tell you to Tweet this way, never pay for XYZ, or never use XYZ font--you get the idea. They're all right to an extent. ePublishing is still very much a baby in the grand scheme of things. As such, each individual experience is a valuable learning tool. However, I've learned you'll find more conflicting answers than definite methods of success. Does this mean you should tune them all out? Absolutely not. Just understand that the path to success seems to be different for just about everyone.

Keep your ear to the ground and be willing to adjust your expectations and tactics as needed. That should keep you on track at least until next year. :)


BTW, big WAY TO GO for all of you who reached your NaNoWriMo goals! I'll buy you the frosty beverage of your choosing should we ever cross paths! :)

And, of course, I'd like to thank EJ for letting me repost this. I think he makes some really good points. And if you'd like to get to know EJ better, you're in luck! I'm hosting an interview with him on Thursday! Come by and check it out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Guest Post: Brooke Johnson and "The Clockwork Giant"

Hi everyone! I know it's been a long time and I'm sorry for that. Also, I'm aware that today should be an interview day, but today is a slight deviation from the norm. I got sick on my way home from Denver and have been inoperative for the past few days (i.e. I didn't get an interview lined up). However, I have something just as exciting! Another friend of mine, Brooke Johnson, is releasing her first novel. Like Melissa, Brooke also decided to self-publish. If you read her blog, you'll know that Brooke went back and forth for a long time on this decision, so I've asked her to share with us what her reasoning was and why she decided to self publish The Clockwork Giant. So, take it away, Brooke!

Reece kindly asked me to share why I chose to self-publish in this changing industry. I know a lot of writers are sick of the debate, and other writers hang on every word, wondering what they should do when the time comes. I used to be in the latter group. I read every relevant blog post, weighing the pros and cons. For a long time, I sat on the fence. I saw the good and bad of both sides and waited for the decision to make itself. But before that decision came, there was a long, drawn out battle.

For my entire college career, I was taught that the only way to be a real writer was to publish a book through a publishing company. From the moment I entered the blogosphere, I was told that the only way to become published properly was to go through an agent, and then, if I made it that far, get signed on with a publishing house. Writers, agents, publishers, college professors… everyone, said that self-publishing was taboo. There was no validation in self-publishing.

So I disregarded it as an option.

My idea of success, at the time, was landing an agent. Obviously that changed, but let me walk you through it.

My first foray into the publishing industry was with a young adult adventure story that I wrote while in college. I finished the first draft, edited, sent to beta-readers, and edited some more. Before this, I had written numerous half-novels, ones that never got past 25,000 words, if they got that far. I thought that by finishing the adventure novel, I had accomplished something great, and that was true to an extent. That accomplishment, however, wasn’t ready to be published, and I didn’t realize that. Still, I queried widely. Two agents out of thirty-something asked for partials, and while they both had nice things to say about the novel, they ultimately passed.

Fast forward a few months, and I was halfway through my steampunk novel. It was then that I made the decision to self-publish. When I started the novel, I still had it in mind that I would seek traditional publication. But with the ever-changing industry, my resolve weakened, and after a lengthy discussion with writer friends and my husband and a ton of research, I decided that self-publishing was for me. Several things contributed to that.

E-readers were a big factor in my choice. As the e-reader market grew, and the ease of authors getting their work to readers became easier, the more I leaned toward self-publishing. Family and friends constantly asked why I didn’t self-publish, and when I was still on the fence, I explained how there was no validation in self-publishing. No one would take me seriously as a writer… etc. I reiterated everything that had been drilled into my brain for my entire writing career thus far. But as much as I tried explaining why self-publishing wasn’t the way to go, no one understood why. I chalked it up to ignorance of the professional writing world.

With the rise of the e-reader, the everyday reader can browse the Nook or Kindle shopping page, find a book that piques their interest, and buy it on the spot. They aren’t going to stop and see if the writer published with Penguin, Simon & Schuster, or HarperCollins. They’re going to see the cover, the title, and the blurb, just as they would with any other book. Most readers don’t care whether a book is self-published or traditionally published. They’re only interested in a good book. And when I realized this, I finally realized why no one outside of the publishing industry understood why I didn’t self-publish. In their eyes, it was just as legitimate as traditional publication.

Self-publishing first won the debate in my mind, because in the eye of the reader, it doesn’t matter.

So I continued writing the book, and in another few months, I had finished the first draft. This was about a week or two before this year’s WriteOnCon, and I was hoping to get some feedback on my pitch and first few pages to kind of test the waters. I was so confident with my story that I even joked with my husband: Hey, I bet that when I log in to WriteOnCon on Tuesday, I’ll have a message from an agent, requesting the book. It was a joke. But I believed that the book was good enough to go the traditional route and succeed. I had no doubt that it would be a success.

Well, to my utter, speechless surprise, I logged in to WriteOnCon that Monday evening and, sure enough, there was a message waiting for me. An agent had requested a partial from me, based entirely on my first five pages. I giggled like a slightly insane, silly little girl. I had dreamed of that moment for years. Yes, an agent had requested my first novel, but this novel was so much better than that one. I had faith that it might actually pan out traditionally. But after the initial hysteria wore off, I grew afraid. What if the agent did want to represent my work? And with a whole new basket of dread and fear and uncertainty, I reconsidered my stance on self-publishing and traditional publishing.

I believed I could find success with either of them, but I wanted as much success as I could. Which one would offer me that? I went back to the reader argument. Most readers just want a good book. That much is true. But I reasoned that most readers choose books based on word of mouth. When a friend reads a book, or two friends, most people who enjoy reading don’t want to be left out of the discussion. Why do you think Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games did so well? People talked the books up to their friends.

But how did they find the book in the first place? Maybe another friend recommended it to them. Maybe Amazon decided that they’d like it. But what about the person that just finds it in a bookstore? Bookstores don’t stock self-published books, and as far as I know, Amazon doesn’t recommend self-published books unless you’ve purchased a self-published book through their website. And, I reasoned, the majority of people who read don’t read self-published books. Why? Because they find their books at bookstores. Maybe, for every one-hundred readers, there’s one that just happens to search for a certain type of book online, and they find a self-published one. They like it. They recommend it. But for every one of those readers, there’s ninety-nine others that will never find that book. That thought process was slightly construed, but at the time, it seemed to be a valid argument.

So I swapped sides. I knew that my book was good enough to make it in the industry, as slow and convoluted as it is. In the meantime, I received a full request from that agent. The goal was in sight. If I could only land an agent… that’s all I ever wanted, right? I could be a successful writer. I could have a publishing contract. My book could be in bookstores. At the time, that felt like success to me.

Still, I had the mindset that if I didn’t get a writing contract with the steampunk novel, I would self-publish it, after querying more agents.

And only a week later, I decided to self-publish again. It just felt right.

Here’s why:

Disregarding sales numbers and royalties and all that, self-publishing and traditional publishing come down to two things: control and distribution.

For a while, I thought I wanted the latter. I wanted my book to be in bookstores, where readers would see it. Traditional publishing could give me that. But no matter how good distribution is, what if my publisher gives me a bad cover? What if they don’t market the book properly? What if my editor or my agent decides that I need to change an integral part of my novel, which ends up making it worse? What if my publisher decides not to publish my second book? What if a huge bookstore chain decides not to carry my book? Even before all that, do I spend a year querying, and then another year to two years submitting to publishing houses, and then another year or two waiting for the book to come out? I couldn’t release control like that. I couldn’t depend on a business to have my best interests in mind.

Now, with self-publishing, I have so much more control. I design the book cover. I am in charge of marketing. I decide when the book releases. I decide whether or not to make changes to my book. I decide when and what I want to publish next. I make my book available for purchase. And I don’t spend years waiting for my book to reach bookshelves. I wait months. I don’t have to deal with the middle men. I have control over every aspect of the business, except distribution. I can’t guarantee that the random reader will stumble upon my book while wandering the Ocean of Kindle or the smaller Sea of NookBooks. It’s a risk on my part. There’s no way of knowing if my book will even find readers. But, the same can be said with traditionally publishing. I could be one of the unfortunate many who never see their book take off.

Publishing is a risk. It’s a matter of finding ways to reduce the impact of that risk. With traditional publishing, I would invest years of time before a book is even on a bookshelf, and I would undergo several cross-my-fingers-and-hope situations along the way. With self-publishing, I invest a fraction of the time, and I undergo only one cross-my-fingers-and-hope situation—when my book goes on sale. Whether my book sinks or floats depends entirely on me and the reader. If it fails, I have no one to blame but myself. I learn from it, and when I release the next book, I have a better chance of success. In traditional publishing, if my book fails, I fail. There is no second book.

The way I see it, there is less risk in self-publishing. And to be perfectly honest, I’m happier with that choice. Since I began, my goals changed. Originally, I wanted an agent. Now, I just want a reader. And I already have that. People have read my book and loved it. Maybe someday in the future, I will write a book with the goal of traditional publication in mind, but for now, I’m happy being self-published.

I'd like to thank Brooke one more time for putting together this post for me. The Clockwork Giant will be available December 13 from Amazon,, and Smashwords. I'm currently in the middle of an ARC of the book, and it's really good!

Have a great day!