Sunday, February 10, 2013

Becoming a Bestselling Fiction Author

How to Become a Bestselling Fiction Author
By Jennifer Ashley
Workshop, Glendale Chocolate Affair, Feb 2013

Tips to increasing the odds of sales, exposure, and bestsellerdom, regardless of whether you’re trad pubbed or self-pubbed

What this worshop is NOT about:
Marketing campaigns
Being a one-time blockbuster / flavor of the month
Social networking yourself until everyone hates you, including your pets
Writing “what sells”

Instead: How to build a successful career--writing books for a living

1. What do I mean by Bestseller?

National Lists:
NY Times
USA Today (approx 10,000 sales in a week makes this list)
Amazon Top 100
            # 90-100 = about 300 books a day (of one title)
            #50 = about 700-800 books a day
            #40 and down, thousands of books per day

Not small lists:
Fiction>Mystery>Ebooks>Mysteries & Thrillers>Historical>Regency>1812>Left-handed Spinsters>  "Ooh, I'm number one!"
(These lists can get your book exposure, but the actual sales are small)

National bestsellers happen with a burst of sales at one time

A book can sell just as well over time and never hit a bestseller list

Bestsellerdom Isn’t the Whole Story!

Five Steps to becoming a Print Bestseller
Great book
Package (cover, blurb)
Print Run  / Placement in Stores
Pre-orders and Re-orders
Word of Mouth

Five steps to self-pub E-Bestseller
Great Book
Package (cover, blurb, price)
Availability (top e-vendors)
Alerting the masses (newsletters; FB)
Word of Mouth

What Does the Author have the most control over? 
Great Book

2. Write the Very Best Book You Can

A. What Makes a Great Book?
(Regardless of Format; Packaging; Marketing)

Memorable Characters 
           Examples: Sherlock Holmes; Scarlett O'Hara; Jackal in Day of the Jackal
            People who stick in our minds
            We want to know all about them
            Don’t necessarily like them
            If unlikable character is focus, need sympathetic one to connect to reader (Dr. Watson, Melanie and others, French policeman in Day of the Jackal)


            Don’t pull back from emotional encounters

            Be in the moment—immediacy more interesting than the big picture
            Example: Battle of Waterloo from POV of an infantry captain of a square, not the bird’s eye view of every battle movement

            Never let down the intensity. Rest, but not for long
            (example: Action TV shows like Burn Notice—few lines of personal / emotional plot thread; pause a beat or two; someone breaks in with action plot)

            Keeping it intense:
                 When revising, cut deadwood. If the back of your mind is saying "Blah, blah, blah," the paragraph / page / scene needs to be cut!

Put the good stuff up front
            Bourne Identity—Jason Bourne drowning
            Marie Force romance—Man steps off curb, woman runs into him on bicycle, she’s hurt and might lose her job, has kid to take care of (we know all that right away)
            Outlander—“People disappear every day”
            Entire first scene / chapter should be the hook

            No throwaway lines!
            Every piece of dialog moves the story forward or deepens characterization (ideally, both)
            Find tightly written books and TV shows / movies and study their technique
            (Example: Buffy the Vampire Slayer--pick an episode and listen carefully to every line of dialog)

Satisfying elements for your target audience:
            Thrillers: Edge of seat, gripping scenes, constantly asking “what’s going to happen?”
            Romance: H/h together, tension between them never stopping until end (whether it’s between them personally or outside problems)
            Erotic romance: Same as romance, but sexual tension includes more erotic details. Must be believable
            Mystery: Who did it? Why? How? (Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie good at “how did that person drop dead in front of everyone?”) “How” less fashionable these days: Who and Why are more prevalent
            Horror: Fear—but believable. Play to a basic fear we all have (what’s in the dark, dying in dreams, monster under the bed, helplessness). Stephen King popular for a reason
            Historical novel: Historical detail in POV of a character or characters who takes us through those details

B. Increasing your odds of bestsellerdom, or at least great sales

Hedge your bets:
            Some time periods, settings, style of writing, and topics are vastly more popular than others
            Realize that setting in a place and time that there is little interest in will lead to smaller sales.

Caveat: Write what you are passionate about instead of trying to fit it into a box. A writer can have a lucrative career writing wonderful books without ever hitting a bestseller list

“What Sells?” 
Trends / vs. Universal Themes
            Look beyond the outer trappings of popular novels to find the theme that speaks to the readers

            50 Shades and similar books: Outward Perception: “Erotica (esp bondage) Sells!”
           Theme: Woman Coming of Age: Woman who is inhibited emotionally for whatever reason finds man who awakens her sexually and emotionally, using sex and emotional challenges to do so.

            Twilight: Perception: "Vampire books sell (esp to teens)!" 
            Theme: Surrendering completely to someone who takes care of you (boyfriend, husband, God), is the way to true serenity and happiness (some of that in 50 Shades as well)

            The DaVinci Code: Perception: "Treasure hunt books sell!"
            Theme: People will go to any lengths to preserve the status quo of their religious beliefs (any beliefs for that matter).

           Gone With the Wind: Perception: "Civil War books sell!"
           Theme: Woman will do anything she must to save her symbol of stability and happiness (her home)

           Day of the Jackal: "Catch the assassin books sell!"
           Theme: Little guy is put in charge and saves the day (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings/ the Hobbit, similar theme)

            Ben-Hur: “Action / adventure stories set in Biblical times (with chariot races) sell!”
            Theme; Revenge versus Forgiveness (Ben-Hur starts out driven by revenge on his ex-best friend; his encounters with Jesus teach him that revenge isn't enough—forgiveness and love is necessary for a full life)

            Outlander: “Time-travel and Scottish books sell!" 
            Theme: Woman torn between two worlds—where she thinks she belongs (the “right thing to do”) vs. following her heart

Trends die swiftly ---> Themes endure

3. Consistency: Schedule; Packaging; Content

In our society, consistency is our best friend
Consistent Quality (don’t put huge effort into one book and blow off the others)
            Releases out at a consistent pace (1 per month; 1 every 6 months; 1 per year)
Series vs standalone books (series are more popular, but standalones w/ related style can work)
            Deliver series consistently—stick to what series is about
            Consistent Packaging  (find one cover look for a series and stick to it--same fonts at the very least!)
Give value for money--"cheap" should not mean a throwaway story or book. 

Give your very best book, regardless of the book's price or how much money you think you should make.

Make it about the book, not the money!
Consistency builds

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Character and Control

I've kind of let this blog go, because of one reason--I'm too busy to breathe. Sometimes you have to sit down and decide what to let go in your life in order to stay sane. Blogging takes time and mental energy, and I'd rather spend both on writing books. Therefore, not much blogging.

That said, writing related issues occasionally occur to me, and this venue is a great place to muse on them.

Today, I was thinking about writers letting characters take control, and some comments I've come across lately from people who severely disagree with this method.

I like to say I let my characters tell the story. And they do. I put them in motion on the page and see what they do. I watch, and I write down what I see.

I saw a tweet the other day that said basically that an author who lets his / her characters tell the story is an idiot. A fool, not really a writer. Saw the same kind of comment in a book I'm reading on plotting.

Writers are ALWAYS in control of their characters, right? 

Not quite. When I say my characters have control, tell me the story, or take over I do NOT mean that they meander about talking about the reproductive cycles of cabbages while the bank they're standing in is being robbed (unless I'm going for zany humor).

But my characters then don't forget all about the trauma of the robbery and decide to take a European tour where they meet some aliens and journey with them back to a moon of Jupiter.

See what I mean? Now, we could probably come up with a plot where that all works... but I'm being a bit silly to make a point.

I put my character in a situation (say, a bank being robbed while my hero is there on his lunch hour). This bank robbery will be very important to the story (maybe he's a private detective, maybe he realizes one of the robbers is his best friend's son, maybe he's undercover for the CIA). 

But then I let my character go. I sit back and watch him decide what to do while the bank's being robbed. Be a hero and tackle the guy with the biggest gun? Does he covertly make a phone call? Does he go all Burn Notice and take down the robbers with duct tape and canned air? What kind of a person is he--what would he do? (as opposed to the eight-year-old girl, or the eighty-year-old woman in the electric scooter.)

My character's actions should be logical and make sense for him: X happens, he reacts by doing Y, causing Z, which causes A, then B, and so on. I watch, I type.

But I've not decided beforehand what Y, Z, A, B, and C are and outlined them. I can't think that way. I can sit here and project out a very, very rough sketch of a story line, to a point, but I can't really know how the story is going to flow until I write it. 

What was in my rough notes as C turns out to be W when I start writing. W comes to me out of nowhere, and is a much better, more entertaining, and more logical course than C.

But I will never know that until I start writing and let the characters go. The act of moving my fingers on the keyboard seems to trigger the creativity in my brain.

That's what I mean by writing by the seat of my pants and having my characters in control. They do, I watch.

Possibly, what's going on inside my head is me seeing the situation and problem-solving it via my character as I write dialog, stage direction, description, inner monologue. I'm good at problem-solving (figuring something out as it's thrust in front of me). I suck at strategy (planning in advance). 

When I release my inhibitions and let the characters take over, they tell me things about themselves I never knew, and do things I didn't realize they were capable of.

Now, if they do decide to hop a plane to Paris and then fly off into space with aliens, when I revise the story I can see whether that incident logically flowed with the story line (maybe I'm writing scifi; or the character is using the aliens as a thought exercise with his therapist), or whether it was a strange and unnecessary digression (but hey, it worked for Monty Python's Life of Brian).

Letting my characters tell me the story does not mean I let them rampage willy-nilly through the book with a mad fixation on aliens and cabbage. But watching what they do does make my stories richer and deeper than they'd be if I slavishly followed an outline I'd beaten to death beforehand because I thought this was the "right" way to write a novel.

It's just the way that works for me. If I had a different brain, maybe I could only write a story after I'd meticulously planned every plot detail. If you're much better at planning in advance than I am, go for it.

Whatever works FOR YOU is right.

That's my musings for a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. Hoping for some rain soon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Print Pub vs. E Pub vs. DIY (Indie) Publishing

This handout is from a talk I gave to the Northern AZ Romance Writers in Prescott last month. It's an update of my "Print vs. epub" talk, with added information about the new self-pub options available to writers.

My take is that each form of publishing has its trade-offs--and that you need to understand what you get and what you give up.

The Current Face of Publishing
Print Publishers, E-publishers, DIY E-publishing

Your Publishing Path = Your goals (achievement, financial) + understanding the trade-offs involved in each type of publishing

Your path is your path, no matter which one others perceive
as more "prestigious" or financially sound.

Print "New York" (Traditional) Publishers

Predominantly New York-based large corporate publishers (Random House, St. Martin's, Penguin [Berkley, NAL, Signet], Kensington, Harlequin, Grand Central [Hatchett])

Distribution to major chain bookstores and big box stores
(Walmart, Target)
Aggressive marketing to booksellers who in turn market your book
International distribution
Potential of high advances (six figures and up)
Increased possibility for making national best-seller lists
Some large publishers now offering ebook first lines

Only top-tier authors and authors whom editors wish to build get large advances and aggressive marketing to booksellers

A system that can quickly kill careers of mid-list authors (diminishing print runs, no support w/ booksellers)

Advances, even large ones, dribbled out over several years

No author control over covers, book price, distribution, print runs, publishing schedule

Royalty payments twice a year, only if book has earned out its advance

Authors must market to readers (via social networks, booksignings, conventions, promotion materials) and foot the costs

Comparatively low ebook royalties (25% of net proceeds is common; can be as low as 6% of cover price)

Authors can feel lost or neglected in huge corporations

Publishers tend to focus on narrow band of "what sells"

Small (Print) Press

Independent presses, some with only two or three employees; specialized presses (one genre only, or distribution to one channel, e.g., libraries). Examples: Avalon, Poisoned Pen, Walker Books, ImaJinn

Smaller, family-like atmosphere
Small presses can be prestigious and produce award-winning authors
Good distribution within specialization
Good sales and/ or awards at small press can lead to contracts at larger presses.
Some small presses can sell mass market rights to get you wider distribution.

Very small advances ($500-$1000) and small chance of earn-out
Limited distribution
Small print runs
Little or no author control over price, print run, distribution, publication schedule (though more author input is possible)

Ebook Publishers ("Ebook First" Pubs)

Small to medium-sized publishers, sometimes specializing in one or two genres (e.g., romance; erotic romance), publishes ebooks first, then might publish a small run of print books or POD books. Examples: Samhain, Ellora's Cave, LooseID

Well-established publishers have loyal readerships
Distribution to predominant ebook vendors (Amazon, B&N, Sony)
Higher ebook royalty rates than print houses (30-40% of cover price is common)
Quarterly to monthly royalty payments
Some epubs now placing authors on New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists

No advances
Little to no author control over covers (though more flexibility in this area)
No author control over price, publication schedule, print publications
Print publication of the ebook follows slowly, sometimes not at all
Saturation of ebook market means fewer sales per author

Do-It-Yourself Ebook Publishing (Indie Publishing)

Authors use services such as Kindle Direct Publishing; PubIt (Barnes & Noble), and Smashwords to package and distribute ebooks

Distribution to all major e-vendors (Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo, and others)
Higher royalty rates (35-70% of cover price)
Monthly or quarterly royalty payments
Complete author control over covers, pricing, distribution, publication schedule, marketing, and story
Books can earn into the hundreds of thousands of dollars
Cover and formatting costs can be minimal ($100-$300 per book)
Instant access to sales numbers

No advances
Author assumes all cost and responsibility for editing / proofreading ms
Author assumes all costs for packaging and marketing the book: Cover design, formatting, marketing materials, advertising
Non-writing aspects (marketing, ms. formatting, etc) can be time and labor intensive
Print distribution minimal
Not all books earn high $ amounts

Conclusion: Carefully consider your options before taking the plunge in any direction, and understand the pitfalls you may encounter. Realize that no publishing career will be without ups and downs, mistakes, and setbacks. Understand what each publishing model can do for you, and what it can't, and plan accordingly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Workshop from Tucson Book Fest: Book is Written, Now What?

I'm reproducing my handout from my talk in Tucson: The Book is Written, Now What? Enjoy!

Organization and Career Focus

What kinds of books do you see yourself writing day in, day out? How many books
a year can you write? (be realistic!)

What kind of publisher do you want
to target? (large press, small press, e-pub)

Market Research

Who are the editors and agents buying/selling what you write?

Writer’s Market (updated annualy)

Conference websites (editor’s bios--shows what editors are looking for)

Agents’ blogs

Check a publisher’s distribution and reputation, not just how much $$ you can get up front. Distribution can be more important than money (keeps you published)

Go to stores (Walmart, Target, grocery chains, bookstores) and see what publishers are on the shelves who publish what you are writing or close to what you are writing.

How to Get your Ms. Read

• Contests

Target wisely (publisher-sponsored; your genre; editors/agent judges)

• Conferences

Hone your pitch to the agent or editor to one-two sentences. Give them room to ask you questions. Ask them questions--what are they looking for? What was the last thing they bought that got them really excited? What is the most recent (new author) book they've sold to a publisher?

• Query Letters

What is a query letter? A one-page letter that contains information about your book plus your pitch:

Paragraph one: Tell the agent why you've written him: I'm looking for
representation for my mystery series set in the outback of Australia in the
1940s. The first book is 80,000 words and is finished.

Paragraph two-three: Blurb of your book. Very short setup of main
character, main problem, villain, what makes the book unique. (or in romance,
hero and heroine, main problem, etc.)

Paragraph four: Offer to send a partial or full manuscript at the agent's
request. Thank her for her time, and sign.

That's it!!!

Send out up to 10 query letters at a time. When one comes back, pop another in the mail.

• Submit constantly.

Agents: Why do I need one?

• Agents can be your number one biggest asset.

Agent does much more than get you sold (you can get yourself sold).

Shop for agents wisely. Ask questions, read their blog, research them.

Do not use agents who charge up-front fees.

For Inspiration

The amount of dedication you give to your writing career is what it will give back to you.

Don’t settle. Believe that you can attain the highest levels! What you shoot for, you will get, or get very close to.

When you make writing your job, it becomes your job (with pay!)

For Education

Lawrence Block, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (Insightful articles on writing, discipline, technique, marketing).

Steven King, On Writing. Part 1 is an autobiography; part 2 offers gloves-off advice for starting and sticking to writing, the basics of good writing, how to finish the book and what to do with it.

Donald Maass, The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success. What everything means, and how to survive it.

Jeff Hermann, Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Editors, Publishers, and Agents (updated annually)

SWFA’s Predators and Editors website (lists agent addresses and websites, $=an agent with a track record of sales):

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Online Workshop--Agents: Do You Need One/How Do I Get One?

I will be teaching an online workshop from Feb 1 to Feb 7 through my RWA chapter at /. My workshop:

Jennifer Ashley--Agents: Do You Need One, and How Do You Get One if You Do?

From 2/1/2011 to 2/7/2011

Questions many authors face at the beginning of their careers are: Do I need an agent? What for? How do I find one? Will an agent represent an unknown, unpublished author? What about if I'm category published or e-press published? The answer to all these questions is: "It depends"--on many factors. Agents are not golden tickets to success; on the other hand, navigating the waters of big-house publishing without them can be tricky and sometimes impossible. This workshop will address what an agent's job is, what you should expect from them (and what you should not expect), when and why you should go it alone, how to find an agent to represent you, and how to work well with your agent once you're signed with her.

Cost: $15 for Desert Rose RWA members; $20 for non-members

Sign up at:

Please feel free to forward!!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Denise Agnew's best books on writing

Denise Agnew has a terrific New Year's post on her top ten books on writing. These are more inspirational than the nuts and bolts of craft, and well worth reading. Pop over and have a look.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Staying Motivated When Times Get Rough

I have not posted here in a while, for which I humbly apologize. I have been writing, marketing, revising, rewriting, editing, proofreading, proposing, and on and on and on, while at the same time trying not to burn out.

As some of you may know, I've been caught in a publisher's spiraling troubles--I moved to another publisher already (did last year), but the problems are still pulling at my heels. Lots of issues to solve.

I know many authors caught in the same situation who are finding difficulty writing and staying motivated to write. Luckily, I have not had this problem; I still love digging my hands into my books and writing them. That's not to say I'm not distracted as heck from getting work done! (I so need to turn off the Internet.)

I had a brief revelation yesterday about staying motivated creatively, so I want to quickly share it FWIW:

Divorce the act of writing from getting paid for it.

I write for money. I have no other marketable skills (*g*), so I have to turn in books to get paid. I don't always want to. Sometimes I would much rather go to the mountains and look at the view. (And I do; it's inspiring.)

But when I separate the act of writing from money, business, contracts, proposals, numbers--in other words, when I make it all about the stories, the creative motivation returns.

I do plenty of creative things just to do them. I build dollhouses and dollhouse miniatures (it's not a hobby; it's an obsession). I don't do it for money--spend money yes, make money, no. Yet, I'm still motivated to do it. I pick up the miniature magazines I subscribe to, look at the beautiful things other people have created, and I want to get out my glue and paint and make them too (or purchase them from said people--I'm happy to shop!)

Yesterday I made an autumn wreath for my front door, digging through my boxes of silk flowers and leaves and making a huge mess before I was finished. I didn't do this for money or because I had a contract. I did it because I wanted to create something pretty for my front door.

Making a wreath is not as difficult as writing a novel (well, not as time-consuming, anyway), but it's a creative process, one I went through without thought of compensation. I just wanted a wreath.

Building dollhouse miniatures *is* time-consuming and complicated, and costs money, but I do it anyway. I build my settings because I want to create something beautiful. I display them in various places about the house (or I thrust them upon long-suffering friends or family members).

I have no monetary motivation for building these things. I will receive no compensation, no fame, no fortune, no awards, no name in print, nothing. I take photos of my projects and post them on my website, my minis blog, or to a Facebook group for the like-minded mini-obsessed. But that's all the "publication" I will get.

(BTW, if you want to join the long-suffering, my mini blog is here: / with many photos here: )

I still do it: for the joy, to delight in the finished project, to see if I can do it.

Why should writing be any different? Yes, I have contracts, and I make money when I sell books (see no other marketable skills). But I write to create something beautiful, or as near to beautiful as I can--for the joy, to delight in the finished project, to see if I can do it.

When I think of writing like that, the motivation is there, the joy is back. Having contracts and deadlines is an extra motivation, of course (and why I write books rather than do minis all day), but I'm also working on a couple of books/projects for which I have no contracts and no deadlines. I might never sell them, but I'm still motivated to finish creating what I've started. Having other books on deadline will slow down this process (like the minis), but will not stop it.

In conclusion, if you are tied in knots about writing, fear you'll never be sold again, have rights tied up to the book of your heart (and believe me, I know how horribly heartbreaking that is), stop.

Divorce the act of writing from signing contracts, making money, yadda yadda yadda.

Go back to writing for the sake of it. Create something beautiful. See that you can do it. Try a new genre you've always wanted to try. No one says you *have* to write what you've been writing thus far. Write what you want to write, try to sell it when you're done. Forget about "career" and go back to why you wanted this career in the first place.

Even if you never sell that piece of writing, it is NOT a waste of time. Every book or story completed teaches you something new, builds up your existing skills, and leads to new creative thoughts. When I build another miniature project, I try to learn something new, which I can take with me to the next project. I get better as I progress. Writing is no different.

And hey, you can always thrust that finished and lovely novel upon your long-suffering friends and family, or pop it on Kindle and thrust it upon the people there.

But whatever happens to that piece of writing in the long run, you had the delight in producing it, you saw if you could do it, and you learned something.

On the other hand:

If you think I'm insane, and the only thing that motivates you is impossible deadlines, it's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Join in and write!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Recommended Reading: Novellas

At RWA, Bonnie Vanak and I did a workshop on Writing the Novella. I had a handout of recommended reading (novellas I feel did an excellent job conveying story/character/plot/resolution) in a short word count. I ran out of handouts, but I'm reproducing it below:

Put on Your Shorts:
Writing the Novella and Shorter Lengths (10K-30K)
By Bonnie Vanak and Jennifer Ashley/Allyson James


By Bonnie Vanak
“Darkness of the Wolf,” Nocturn Bite (Silhouette 2009)

By Calista Fox:
Devil’s Kitchen—Ellora’s Cave E-book (Jan. 2009)
Until Jake—Ellora’s Cave E-book (May 2008)—Voted Best Book of 2008 for its Category by Romance Reviews Today
High Voltage—eRed Sage (March 2008)

By Virginia Kantra
“Sea Crossing,” in Shifter (Berkley 2008)

By Ilona Andrews
“Magic Mourns,” in Must Love Hellhounds (Berkley 2009)

By Meljean Brook
“Blind Spot,” in Must Love Hellhounds (Berkley 2009)

By Angela Knight
“Dragon Dance,” in Beyond the Dark (Berkley 2007)

By Allyson James (aka Jennifer Ashley)
“The Dream Catcher,” in Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance (Running Press 2009) (short story, 5000 words)
“The Decidedly Devilish Duke,” in Private Places (Berkley 2008)

The RITA nominated novellas for 2010 (all pubbed 2009)
“A Little Night Magic" by Allyson James in Hot for the Holidays ( Berkley, Jove)
“The Christmas Eve Promise” by Molly O'Keefe in The Night Before Christmas (Harlequin)
“On a Snowy Christmas” by Brenda Novak in The Night Before Christmas (Harlequin)
“This Wicked Gift” by Courtney Milan in The Heart of Christmas ( HQN)
“Charlotte and the Wicked Lord" by Amanda McCabe in The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor (Harlequin Historical)
“Annalise and the Scandalous Rake” by Deb Marlowe in The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor
( Harlequin Historical)
“The Robber Bride” by Marjorie M. Liu in Huntress (St. Martin’s Press)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

You Do Have More than One Shot

I realize I haven't posted anything since April, which does not mean I've let this blog go. It means I've been busy with the most important part of a writer's career--duh, the writing! (That gets lost sometimes--don't let it!)

I was inspired to do this post while watching a television show, in which one of the characters confesses he's had a dream of writing something his whole life and never did it. The other characters encourage him to go for it, and he finally finishes his story and sends it in.

Very nice, right?

Then I started laughing. The character haunts his mailbox for TWO WEEKS, and then is devastated when he gets a rejection. "Oh, well," he says. "I guess I'm just not cut out for this. I'm an average Joe, not someone with talent." The other characters pat him on the back and say, "At least you tried." And he goes back to his life.

I'm sitting there with my mouth open, going--what kind of a stupid, messed-up message was THAT?

OK, I do get the point of the (rather cliche) story. The theme is "You have to go for your dream. Even if it doesn't work, at least you tried instead of saying 'if only' your whole life."

That's not a bad message.

But the execution--oh my goodness! OK, I do also realize they had to tell this story in half an hour and keep the character and the series status quo.

But now I can use it to send my own message:


Well, you can, but if so, you weren't really in the game in the first place.

Becoming a career writer, which means making a living off your published books being bought by (a huge gob of) strangers in bookstores or online, takes TIME AND HARD WORK.

The idea that you're a failure (read, untalented loser) if you don't find instant success is simply not true.

Success comes from trying and trying and trying again until you find what YOU want. This is true in any career--most people learn all they can about their chosen profession then start at the bottom and work their way up.

We do the same thing as writers.

As writers, our "education" is either getting an MFA in creative writing (the way you'd go if you want to be a literary writer) or reading tons of books in the genre/style we wish to write and then writing them.

Our job application is the query letter to an agent or editor, our employment agency is our agent (though we can bypass an agent and sell ourselves--see my post "Why You Need An Agent" ).

When we sign our first contract, we've landed our first job. It may be a great job that lets us quickly climb the career ladder, or it may be a dead-end job that we need to quit after a couple of books and try again in another place. You might end up rising to the top at that publisher, or getting fired (that is: dumped, contacts cancelled, it happens).

All of this takes time and work.

Even self-publishing, which people think is a great way to bypass all the pain and suffering of finding an agent or a publisher is still WORK! and TIME! and STRESS! and add in MONEY! Self-publishing means essentially becoming your own publishing company--hiring people to edit and proofread your book, create book covers for you, format your books, and either print and distribute them for you or upload/distribute them to e-book sales sites, and then it's up to you to do all the marketing and sales. You are now a small business--with all the work that entails!

To be a published author, you have to keep writing, keep submitting, keep trying, keep selling. It's a never-ending game. It's not easy money. If being an author (whether you're published and stressed or unpublished and stressed) doesn't make you happy in and of itself, THEN, you give up and do something else (which will likely lower your blood pressure).

Have I shouted enough? Writing is a tough career. I don't care if you decide to publish yourself or go the agent/publisher route, it's still tough (each is tough in a different way).

The bottom line is: Thinking you can sell a novel/story/play/whatever in TWO WEEKS and then GIVING UP when it doesn't is ludicrous!

HAVE PATIENCE, DON'T GIVE UP, and if you can't sell the first thing you finish, WRITE SOMETHING ELSE!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Look at My Royalty Statements--Or Appearance vs. Reality

I recently received my royalty statements from Berkley and spend a little bit going over them. Here's what I learned:

(Data these observations are based on: Three mass market books; three trades; two anthologies [one mass market, one trade]; and one book that was in both trade and mass market. All titles were pubbed between July 2007 and Oct 2009, except one from early 2006. Two titles were mainstream fiction; the rest paranormal or erotic romances.)

1. Ebook sales: Ebook sales constitute FIVE PERCENT (5%) of the print book sales overall. In other words, for every thousand books sold, 50 were ebooks and 950 were print.

This is across the board, whether the book was mass market or trade; anthology or single book; erotic or mainstream romance; higher price or lower price.

2. Ebooks sales drop off significantly as the book ages. Ebook sales were strongest in the first six months and then tapered off, same as the print sales.

3. Two books I thought had tanked actually had very strong sellthroughs (number of books sold compared to number printed). I thought they had tanked based on my Amazon/B&N rankings, plus lack of online chatter about the books. But no.

4. Mass market paperbacks had far bigger print runs than the trades. So despite making more royalty *per book* on a trade-sized book, the royalties for the title as a whole are much smaller than the overall royalties on the mass market titles.

5. Trade paperbacks sell a little cleaner than the mass markets (i.e., fewer returns). (Part of the reason is that trades don't get "stripped and returned; the bookseller has to send back the entire book.)

6. The title that got the worst reviews has the best sales.

7. A title that won a significant award--tanked. My worst-selling book ever!

8. The romances (so far) have outsold the mainstream fiction titles.

I can't really compare how erotic romance sold vs. "regular" romance, because they are in different print formats, so it's hard to tell. Different print runs, different return rates, different prices, different distribution. (Although both sold ebooks at the same rate: 5% of the print sales.)

Also, all the romances are paranormal, so I can't judge the difference between it and historical. (However, the historical romances I did at Dorchester have sold as well, or in some cases better than, the paranormals at Berkley).

There you have it. I offer no conclusions or philosophical statements, just the data!