Thursday, January 1, 2015

Musings 1/1/15 ~ It’s 2015. So now what? Or Writing the Way I See It Part II.


Happy New Year, all!  OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss the end of 2014 and what’s may or may not happen in 2015.

So I made a promise to myself – not a resolution!  I promised myself that I would officially retire from the business if I didn’t get traditionally published this year.  Hey, I’m old.  I have to think at one point well, this is obviously not going to happen after a certain time.  I just chose this time to be now – well December 31st at any rate.

I’ve been keeping this to myself until I was sure of everything but now, I think I’ll just let everyone know what is going on with my quest to go the traditional route.

But first, something else that’s kind of bothering me.  Or more accurately – I’m so confused.  Has anyone seen this article on Publisher’s Weekly by Jennifer McCartney concerning Sophie Jackson and her work, A Pound of Flesh?  The link leads to the article itself.

Yes, my fellow authors it’s happened again!  Someone wrote fan-fiction based on Twilight and Simon and ( “Hey, we know a money maker when we see it!” )  Shuster grabbed it up.

Here another link to an article in case you wish to see more:
Twilight-based fan fiction promised the same literary success as 50 Shades of Grey
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/twilightbased-fan-fiction-promised-the-same-literary-success-as-50-shades-of-grey-9629296.html

OK, am I the only one who wants to write a forty chapter fan-fiction and make not just money – but a sh**load of money?  All right, no, I’m not in it for the money – well I want to get paid, but I truly love writing.  I have mentioned before that I’ve been writing since I was five (take that Paolini) and started on the road to publication when I was fourteen, when a friend stopped me in the cafeteria line and pressed a newspaper clipping into my palm.  
Unfortunately it was from one of our favorite scam publishers (neither of us knew that of course) and that was enough for me.  For a few years I’d been writing short-stories for my friends and teachers with them as the main characters.  They loved them and my English teacher and her university professor husband became my mentors.  It was very encouraging to have someone tell me, I think you’re good enough to be published.  I wrote my first book in three months. 

Of course it never a steady thing for me.  Life often and very brutally got in the way but when I could I wrote.  I was bound and determined to see my work in print.  Now mind you this is before e-books, Kindle and smart phones.  Hell this was before the internet (Yes, I’ve said it before, I’m old) so if you wanted to see publication you wrote snail-mail letters to publishers to obtain their guidelines, including an SASE of course.  Writer’s Digest and The Writer were around but I didn’t realize they existed until I was in my late twenties.


“Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective, Remington Steele? He doesn't exist. I invented him. Follow. I always loved excitement, so I studied, and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so... feminine.” ~ Laura Holt: Remington Steele


So I started my journey on the path to publication and it was damn hard.  Of course we all had that time that I thought it wouldn’t be.  That you just write the book send it out and viola!  You’re published and they’re making a movie about your book with a Behind the Scenes feature on the VHS (Yes, I’m old) and rubbing elbows with Hollywood.

It was difficult to send full novels out because it costs a lot of money, not to mention there were no home computers back then and novels had to be typed long hand and then copied unless you wanted to send your original and pay for its return,  You couldn’t just print multiple copies like you can now and even that’s expensive.  The copy of Tinderbox I sent to DAW cost me a total of $120.00 to print and send.  That included ink, paper and postage.

So I continued to learn and read.  Did I say I read?  I devoured books with a passion.  My idea of a fun adventure would involve being locked overnight in a bookstore or a library.  I’ve read tens of thousands of books in my lifetime.  Yes you heard right. I’ve said I’ve got almost four hundred books on my bookshelves now and am planning on buying more.  Books and bookshelves that is.
Still I worked to perfect my craft.  To realize that everything I wrote wasn’t brilliant to start with and immediately worthy of publication.  That I had to work at it and learn to edit the hell out of my writing but not edit it too much that I lost the overall story.  Yes you can over edit.  Back then it seemed as though all agents wanted money although I was assured by the owner of one of the bookstores that I frequented that there were some who didn’t do so.  I didn’t believe him.  Those were discouraging times.

Then the net came along and a new world opened up.  I didn’t have to write snail mail letters anymore or print out a whole manuscript.  It was just getting agents to want to look at my work.  So I continued to write, study and research.  I joined critique groups took some courses all of which helped me improve.  More agents were appearing with more genre wants and they didn’t charge fees!  When I was better equipped financially, I started joining various writing organizations to learn even more.


“I've done everything the Bible says! Even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! What more can I do?”

~ Ned Flanders: The Simpsons

I read articles, blogs, websites.  Found a list of the agents I wanted and researched them, followed them on social media.  Asked them questions when I wasn’t sure about something.  Some answered, some didn’t.  I learned to write query letters and synopsis.

I had my writing defeat and quit then but the urge to write wouldn’t go away.  I managed to make it about two years before I started Tinderbox.  My brain refused to stop thinking like a writer.  It took me five years and three crashed computers to finish it.  I feel it is my best work to date.  And I have proof of this.

About eleven months ago, an agent made a request for a full of Tinderbox. Unfortunately after sending it and nudging twice, I haven’t heard anything since.  There is no indication on their site of a “no response means no” policy when it comes to submission, so I wrote it off as a no response.  I then received two more requests for fulls.  One was a pass and the other is still out.  I also have two partial requests I’m waiting on.  So obviously I’m to the point where I am talented enough to catch the interest of agents.  And of course there are my e-books so publishers as well.

But it’s been a long and hard fight for me, and I’m getting a little tired, so I decided this was going to be the year it happened and if it didn’t, then I was going to officially retire from the business.  I know I’m great at what I do but I haven’t been able to figure out what it is I’m missing.  But still I tried.

Then I see a case of fan-fiction writer makes it big.  First EL James and now Sophie Jackson.  Now me, I love fan-fiction and yes I wrote some back in the day, more for pleasure and the love of the subject than anything. But I had already written several novels and short-stories of my own already and long before I even knew what fan-fiction was.  I’ve always thought if it’s not yours then it’s not worth it. 


“Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.”  ~ George RR Martin http://www.georgerrmartin.com/

Now don’t get me wrong, if I get to a point where readers want to write fan-fiction about my characters, then I say, go forth and enjoy!  Hell, I’d be as flattered as all get-out.  Just as long as you don’t try to make money off of my work.  To me it’s disrespectful and let’s face it, it is plagiarism.  As hard as I have worked to create what’s mine, I feel no one should take it away.  I’m sure if the shoe was on the other foot – if you’ll pardon the cliché they would feel exactly the same.


“As for anybody publishing any story “derived from” my stuff, I am absolutely opposed to it & have never given anyone permission to do so. It is lovely to “share worlds” if your imagination works that way, but mine doesn’t; to me, it’s not sharing but an invasion, literally — strangers coming in and taking over the country I live in, my heartland.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin http://www.ursulakleguin.com/UKL_info.html

Stephanie Meyers isn’t making a big fuss but she also doesn’t seem to be 100% behind EL James either.  She seems to have adopted a “Good for her, but I won’t read it.” type attitude.  But it just makes me wonder, does she care about her words?  Maybe she didn’t have to work as hard, I really don’t know.  She did say in an article that she also feels people should write their own words so maybe she does.  But me, as I’ve written I did work hard and still am.

And I guess my point, after this long missive, is that when I see things like this happen – fan-fiction into millions of dollars, I wonder, why am I doing all of this work?  Why have I studied and researched and worked to improve my craft like I’ve been told so often by agents, publishers, editors and other writers?  What’s the point of writing the perfect query letter, the perfect synopsis and choosing carefully who you submit too when someone else comes along, writes something that isn’t even theirs and bam!  They’re a damn millionaire.  Agents, editors and publishers are always writing and speaking about how writers need to follow instructions to a tee, how they want query letters to be a certain way, how they want our writing to be and how we should submit to them. 

So I do this.  I’ve done this for decades and when I see stories like Fifty Shades and A Pound of Flesh and publishers and agents are snapping it up, it’s like being punched in the stomach.  I know it’s not a common occurrence – well I suppose it is now.  But it only hurts authors who are truly working hard to become a part of the business.  Well actually, I’m more confused than anything.  Why do you tell me to do all of these things then you grab someone’s bad fan-fiction, or ask for a full on the basis of a 140 word pitch on Twitter, when it took me a query letter, synopsis, partial and finally the full?

I’ve always prided myself on being able to write my own works.  With Tinderbox although it takes a page from Andersen’s story, it’s not a complete re-write of his words from a fan-fiction I might have wrote.  I’m very proud of that fact, not to mention this isn’t the only novel I’ve written over the years.  Go and look at one of my e-books or novellas.  There’s nothing like them on fan-fiction.net or any fan fiction site for that matter.

So that’s about it.  One more year at this. 

Then again, I wonder if someone would accept some re-written Hunger Games or Divergent fan-fiction?

Peace ~
CJ

Monday, August 4, 2014

Writing and Publishing: The Way I See It

Writing and Publishing: The Way I See It

This definitely one of those keeping my own counsel situations …

But I’m not keeping it this time.

I’ll be the first to say that publishing is a business and should always be treated as such. And it’s not an easy business. It can be monumentally frustrating. But people still strive to be published. And quite frankly I’m a bit tired of the naysayers. So now I’m going to have my say. Actually I’m going to speak about a few subjects concerning the industry. Realize this is just my opinion.

It all started a couple of days ago.

Two articles were posted on Facebook.

The Publishers Are as Bad as Amazon by Thomas Hauser

And

Traditional publishing is 'no longer fair or sustainable', says Society of Authors by Alison Flood

This is not the first time I’ve seen articles like them. In fact there seems to be a lot of ranting and raving against the publishing industry for the past few years. It started when e-books finally became a popular medium – well at least that’s where I came into the picture.

The first article by Mr. Hauser speaks about the evil cesspool that is publishing. I read it twice to make certain I didn’t miss anything. But it did raise a lot of question in my author’s mind. By the way, it’s not my intent to pick on anyone and I apologize if it seems that way. I’m merely using this article as one of many examples.

First is this paragraph: “Many clauses that are imposed on authors throughout the industry today bear no relationship to any economic reality other than the best interests of the publisher. Yet these clauses flourish because virtually every major publisher insists on them and the average author has no recourse.”

They do? All of them? How did you get this information? Can we see a copy of these contracts? I mean it would help if we know who was doing such things so at least we can make an effort to avoid them.

“The author must submit his next book in completed manuscript form to the publisher before it is considered by any other publisher.”

Please correct me if I’m wrong but I’m fairly certain that this falls under, Right of First Refusal. I can’t say if that was what the author was referring to, but it means that if a publisher accepts your first book, they’re asking for the right to have a first look at a sequel. I don’t know why this is a problem because if a publisher wants my first book and it does well which proves somebody is doing their job right, I’m sure as hell not going to send the second book somewhere else. But that’s just me.

And it’s only for a certain number of days, I’ve seen 90 days as the norm. Then the author can say, well, sorry it didn’t work out and go elsewhere.

“The first publisher need not consider the manuscript before publication of the work currently under contract…”

I’m not sure I understand this, so forgive me. Is this supposed to mean that even after the contract is signed that the publisher doesn’t have to publish it?

“In sum, just getting published is an adventure in contract law for most authors.”

It’s pretty much always been that way, at least it has been for the thirty plus years I’ve played this game. Which is why we’re told before you sign anything read it – and if you don’t understand it, get a literary lawyer to look at it. Better yet, get an agent if you can. They can take care of all the legalese. It’s their job after all, and any good agent is going to try their damn best to get as much money as possible because that’s their bread and butter as well.

There's nothing improper about an author being held liable if he has violated someone's rights. But most mainstream publishers now insist upon a warranty and indemnification clause that holds an author liable for damages and attorney’s fees regardless of fault.”

Of course not. Any author who violates someone’s rights and I’m assuming the author means copyright infringement, he doesn’t specify, should be made to handle it themselves. Last I checked stealing is wrong. Why should a plagiarist be bailed out?

“Publishing today is characterized by powerful corporate entities acting in concert to the detriment of essentially powerless authors. Something must be done to remedy the situation because it's driving a lot of good writers out of publishing. They simply can't make a living writing books anymore.”

First off, it’s always been that way. The author is right that publishers are there to make money but I don’t consider myself powerless. And as for making a living writing? Yes, it’s possible and there’s many instances of it however no author should expect that to happen. Yes, work towards it but believe it or not, some of us have nine to five’s to support ourselves. Does Mr. Hauser really know the statistics of how many writers actually make a living from their work?

The author also states, something needs to be done and I agree. So how about some suggestions? Is it possible that articles like this only convince aspiring authors they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell and why bother? I know the writers of these articles have every right to voice their opinions, but so do I. It’s hard enough to do this without basically telling authors, “Try it and you’ll only be bitch slapped.”

The second article talks about how authors who depend on their work are being paid less. I’ll admit it’s a damn shame, but then again, what were they doing before they were published? Did they have a job? Did they plan for this? As previously stated, people have made a living simply by writing, but others have to have a job. I feel fortunate that I have one I like and I’m free to write when I have time off. Authors interviewed for the article have stated that they’re only making amounts such as 18,000 extra a year (11,000 pounds sterling).

Wow.

Add that to what I make a year at my nine to five and I can afford that trip to Japan and buy up all the yaoi in the country.

But I suppose I can’t truly say anything about the situation as I don’t know what is going on in the lives of said author(s). All I know is, before you jump into that big writing pond, you have to make certain you prepare for all eventualities.

I would suggest reading the following articles which name common misconceptions to being a published author:

What You Should Know About Being a Published Author: Facts About Being an Author by Valerie Peterson.

Why Writers Write: Common Myths about being a Writer by Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

The Myths & Realities of Being a Published Author by Jodi Hedlund

Then there are the articles that say self-publishing is the answer. For some it is. I’ve seen many instances of self-published authors becoming moderately successful. And I give major props to those that go that route. But it’s not always the case for everyone, and the authors who say, “Don’t even bother with traditional publishing, because with self-publishing, you’ll make millions of dollars.” Are painting an unrealistic picture to those who are desperate to get published.

We see authors like JA Konrath (and again no offense intended) who often comment about the millions of copies sold self-publishing e-books and I believe print books and the piles of money they have brought them, without telling people, your experience may vary. And yes I have been to his site numerous times and unless he put up a disclaimer recently, I’ve never seen it. And to be honest, we only have his word for it. Maybe he could supply some proof of his hundreds of thousands? Like a large charitable donation? Or at least telling us he paid off his mortgage?

Wait, you say, that’s really nobody’s business. Actually, he made it everybody’s business by revealing that he was making all that money. If he says he’s done so, then I believe I have the right to say, “Prove it.” Not to mention he was published in mainstream first and already had a fan base. The rest of us have to start from scratch. He himself says in his FAQ that his contracts were “amicably terminated”, so it doesn’t appear he had a great epic battle with them.

I’ve done my research and can find no real indication of this but if anyone has proof, please point me in the right direction.

But more on self-publishing. I’ve looked on Amazon and seem some damn nice looking self-published books. And they are good. I mean damn good. So good in fact I wonder why mainstream publishers or agents didn’t accept them. Or maybe they decided right out of the gate to go for self-publishing.

But self-publishing costs money.

But wait, you say again. What about self-publishing companies that are free like Smashwords or Amazon KDP? I have stories on Smashwords myself. The most you have to do is get a nice cover and advertise or at least that’s the way it was for me. But I haven’t had any noticeable sales and everything else I’ve listed for free. I had one story on KDP but very little came of it.

And recall, there’s no guarantee you’ll do well. Of course there’s no guarantee you won’t either. Some are successful, some aren’t if you’re willing to go that way, then bravo.

All right, so what about the big self-publishing companies. The one where they published all those good books you mentioned?

OK, let’s have a look.

A few of the companies I looked up won’t give you prices unless you open an account or order a catalog.

Amazon’s CreateSpace IDP, Trade paperback:

Covers:

Custom: $399 Custom Premier: $599

Interiors:

Simple Interior: $199 Custom Interior: $349 Moderate Custom: $579

CS – Professional Services:

Editing Services:

Copy Editing: $160 Line Editing: $210

Multi-Line Editing:

Editing Package: $300 Editing Package Plus: $470

That’s just a sample. Feel free to look up the rest but for Layout and Design it runs from $149 to $579 for interior options and for cover editing $99 to $599. Kindle conversion, $79 to $470. Marketing Copy Essentials, $249 and Kirkus Review $425 and $575. So say I want the basics for self-publishing:

Custom Cover: $399

Simple Interior: $199

Copy Editing: $160 (and you will NED THIS)

Interior Options: $149

Kindle Conversion: $79

Market Copy: $249

Total $1235

Wow.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money to me. And this is for the bare bones service but me, I want the book that has my name on it to look excellent. I looked around a bit more and found similar amounts.

So for me, self-publishing with a service isn’t an option. As it isn’t for many of us. So what choice do we have? Risk everything on one of the free services or learn to deal with the big bad publishers.

Now onto another subject, I love the fact that I’m published with many fine small presses. Where’s the love for them? Come on, show them some love. If you don’t want to do mainstream and can’t afford or don’t want to self-publish check them out. The companies I work with are run by absolutely marvelous people that I enjoy working with.

Fantasy Faction has a great article Small Press vs. Self-Publishing by Ashley Barnard. Yes, the author states there are drawbacks to small press publishing, however the article does state something very true and reads:

“Another important advantage that small presses carry over self-publishing is the free package that comes with it. By this I mean the cover design, editing, formatting and distribution. All of these are incredibly important components your book needs regardless of your route. If you can’t afford a decent cover design, or know someone (including yourself) who’ll do it cheap, you might as well kiss self-publishing goodbye. No matter how many times you’ve heard, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” it’s simply not true. If you have a crappy cover, no one is going to give your book a chance.”

The last line is painfully true, I know that for a fact. I spoke before about what it may take to self-publish. Some of the books I’ve seen have those great covers? Well usually the author does the cover themselves. I wish I could draw that way! Or they have a friend who does the cover. Whether or not they pay them depends. I have a wonderful artist friend in Robin Brantley but I would want to pay him for his work and I simply can’t afford to. And he like any other professional deserves to be paid.

So again it comes back to what choice do some of us have?

Well for me…

My lifelong dream is to be published in mainstream. That’s what I’ve been shooting for all these years, like many authors who have published e-books and are proud of them, we want to make that jump into mainstream eventually. I want to feel that book in my hands, look at that cover, marvel at the design and open it up and see the words I wrote. See my name on it – my real name.

What’s my point? Hopefully I am offering a solution. Find the choice that’s right for YOU and no one else. Look at things realistically. Take what you hear with a grain of salt, including what I’m saying here. Do your research. Learn how to deal with the industry. No one has to tell me how rough it is. I have some STORIES. You are NOT helpless. There are ways to protect yourself. No one says you have to blindly accept things the way they are. And by all that’s good and decent, don’t do anything out of desperation! I’m guilty of doing this and have been royally screwed. This business takes the patience of Gandhi and Job put together.

There are authors out there, you see them every day who aren’t making millions of dollars. Yet they continue to write and publish stand-alone and series of books and make what they believe is a reasonably nice sum at it. And they are HAPPY with it. Search for their blogs and sites. Looks at their photos. They always have huge grins on their faces that would be hard to fake. Some have nine to five jobs, families to take care of, bills to pay and houses to keep. And they still do it.

Communicate with them. Ask them questions. Most are happy to interact with their readers. Read the interviews and the blog posts from as many people who are savvy about publishing as you can. Listen to what they have to say but again, don’t jump recklessly into anything.

If you go in hoping to make millions of dollars you’re likely to be disappointed. That’s the honest truth. And you shouldn’t be writing for those reasons anyway. But if you’re writing for yourself first and the love of writing, then for your readers, and you’re looking to tell a damn fine story and obtain reasonably good reading base to keep your career going then you have more than a fighting chance.

So keep fighting the good fight.

Peace ~

CJ

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Musings 7/30/14 ~ Writer’s Digest: How About Our Lit Agent Stories?



It’s Wednesday and I’m sitting here having my coffee and taking one last stab at looking up literary agents.  I’ve been at this game for awhile.  I know we’re not supposed to say that, but sometimes you have to wonder why not?  I’ve read articles where the writers says, don’t say you’ve been trying to get published for a long time.  So saying, “I’ve been working to be published for years,” will cause agents and editors to be turned off?  I always thought that when you worked to achieve something for several years or more that it showed determination to succeed.  That you truly wanted what you were fighting for.  That you developed experience that no one else had.  It’s how you succeed in business and writing and publishing although a love, is also a business.

My research often involves stopping by Writers Digest.com and partaking of the various articles including the How I Found My Literary Agent forum by Chuck Sambuchino, which is always of interest.  But something I noticed, and I just tweeted @ChuckSambuchino to ask – I mean, asking never hurts right?

Many of the postings are from authors, and props to them, who were able to obtain their agents within a few months to a year.  It’s wonderful but – what about those of us who haven’t quite yet reached that pinnacle?  Looking at them perhaps the rest of us may wonder, what are we doing wrong?  We’re doing everything that needs to be done.  We’ve done a complete Remington Steele, you know, studied and apprenticed, we’ve read, we’ve written, we’ve had our work beta-read, and we wrote the perfect query.  We’ve had bites, we’ve even published online but we have still haven’t quite made it.
Then of course, the doubts start creeping in.  That little voice that says, you know exactly why you haven’t received an offer.  You try to ignore it but it isn’t always easy.  A little encouragement goes a long way.

I believe it would be helpful if the forum posted a story from someone who had to take a big chunk of their lives before they succeeded for various reasons.  Life sometimes gets in the way.  Did I say sometimes?  How about a ridiculous number of times?  It would be very heartening to see that despite this, there is success at the end of the tunnel.
Now I know people have to volunteer to post but as previously stated, I’m hoping there is somewhere in the archives, an instance like this.  And if not, I’d like to encourage my fellow authors who had to take the long road to an offer to post.  From the WD.com site and as Chuck Sambuchino wrote, “If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.”

I for one would be very interested in seeing these stories.  Anyone else?  Post your support here.

It’s off to the 9 to 5 for me in a little bit.  Have a fab day, everyone!

Peace~
CJ Black