Sunday, September 30, 2007

How to "Make It" to Authordom

A.C. Crispin, sci-fi fantasy writer, offers an interesting take on the kind of person who will likely "make it"; that is, become a published, working author. I thought it was a great post--these observations apply no matter what genre you write.

This blog, which A.C. Crispin writes with Victoria Strauss, is called Author Beware, and regularly lists scams and cons out there that target authors. Sadly so many people want to make money off your dreams, leaving you high and dry. Well worth checking out.


Friday, September 14, 2007

How Hollywood Gets It Wrong

I’m always baffled (not to mention irritated) by portrayals of authors in movies and television. Authors are stereotyped in the most absurd ways—romance authors in particular--which explains why so many non-writers think we’re either too glamorous to be real or too stupid to live

Here are some myths I’ve seen in movies and on television:

All authors live in New York City and carry their finished mss. personally to their publishers.

Authors published in New York live all over the United States and in England, Canada, Germany, India, Australia, New Zealand, and all points in between. Authors mail mss to their publishers via USPS, Fedex, etc, or through email. Very rarely do they deliver it in person, unless they happen to be in Manhattan with said ms. under their arm and happen to be passing their publisher’s building that day.

Manuscripts are 4-inch thick tomes bound in brown or blue vinyl or whatever.

Manuscripts should not be bound. Mss. are sent to editors loose in a box (priority mail or fedex boxes are perfect with a little bubble wrap to fill in the gaps). Put a rubber band or two around the ms. to hold it steady--that's it. These days, full mss. can be emailed (with prior editor approval!). Maybe this bound ms. myth comes from the fact that movie and TV scripts get bound? Or it's easier for the actor to carry it around the set? This is nitpicky, but it bugs me to no end.

Romance editors loathe their work and would rather be nurturing the next Ernest Hemingway.

Most romance editors are voracious genre readers and love the best authors in romance, mystery, scifi/fantasy, horror. Go on, ask any romance editor what she likes to read for pleasure. I write for editors who love J.R. Ward, Karen Marie Monig, Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, and many more.

The author’s agent or editor flies to author’s house to nurse him/her through their bout of writers block. Editor/agent may stay for the entire movie.

Most publishers have large lists of authors and never enough editors. Editors work from early morning to late at night, often carrying mss. from the slush pile to read on their commute and on vacation. Agents take care of a dozen to fifty clients, and they have the same slush pile issue. These people barely have time to chat on the phone let alone fly to an author’s house to live with him for a couple weeks. Author must get over writer’s block on his/her own.

Editor meets author at coffee house or restaurant and reads ms., usually weeping and raving, while author watches.

This could happen if you and your editor both live in Manhattan. And you’re very good friends. And the editor doesn’t have anything else to do. What mostly happens is you send your finished ms. to your agent, who then passes it to your editor. The editor might send author a brief email saying “got it, thanks!” Depending on the editor’s schedule, you might not hear anything about that manuscript again for another few weeks to months.

All authors live in penthouse apartments in Manhattan, or mansions on the west coast, or both. They attend lavish cocktail parties and rub elbows with celebrities.

Maybe the top, top, top authors do. The household name ones. Cocktail parties with celebrities? Most authors get excited about meeting friends at Starbucks. Many keep on living in the communities in which they were living before they got published. If they’re very successful, they might buy a bigger house, take nice vacations, or have a second home.

An author who doesn’t make the NY Times Top 10 is considered a failure.

I saw this on Veronica Mars once. Veronica’s poor dad only made the extended list. Means his print run was pretty damn good, and he’ll probably make a nice little amount on it, especially if it was a hardback. It’s very, very, very, very, very, very, very difficult to make the top 10. Many authors never will make it, because much of making the big lists depends on print run, genre, and what the publisher and booksellers do with the book.

Addendum: Making a list doesn’t mean the book is a success either. Only the sell-through (the percentage of the print run that sold) determines success. If you make NYT top 10 and sell 30% of your print run, you’re screwed. Sell 70% and never touch a list, you’re cool. I know a couple authors who rarely appear on the lists and make a nice six-figure income every year.

Real authors won’t consider writing genre fiction, and if they do, they invent a pseudonym and hire an actor/actress to personify them so no one will know.

I saw this recently on a British murder mystery (who seem to be the worst culprits in stereotyping genre writers). This scenerio could happen, of course, and I think I remember reading about it happening once. However, most genre writers consider themselves “real” writers and live without shame. If not for genre (horror, romance, mystery, thrillers, westerns, etc.), the book industry would have died long ago.

Authors don’t write their own books. They hire ghost writers and sit back and collect the bucks.

All right, so a couple authors have come forward to say they hire a ghost writer to write while they do the marketing. But by and large, most of us type our butts off, revise our own mss., and spend a lot of our own time and money on promo. Of the writers I’ve met, and I’ve met many, all write their own books.

Plus, the author does have to pay the ghost writer himself, which comes out of his advance and /or royalties. Ghost writers don’t work for free, and the publishers don't pay them. Even if a publisher hires another writer to "clean up" someone's ms., it comes out of the original author's royalties. So it’s not a matter of having someone else work while you collect. You pay your dues one way or another.

If an author isn’t a bestseller right off the bat he/she is a failure and should shuffle back to his/her day job in shame.

Sometimes it takes several books to build an audience. Remember, it’s sell-through that determines a book’s success or failure, not lists. And many authors who weren’t hits at first changed names or genres (or both), started again, and moved on to huge success. They didn't give up. You’re a failure only if you decide to fail.

A broke author who hasn’t turned in a book in years calls his publisher to beg them for money—calling it an early advance on his next work (which he/she hasn’t written).

An author does not get paid until he/she signs a contract (whereupon he/she gets a portion of the advance), and turns in the book (getting the second half of the advance). He’s not going to get a contract unless he has at least a synopsis to show the editor. If no royalties are coming in from his previous book (because it’s out of print or off the shelves), he doesn’t get more money for that, either.

A book is written, edited, proofed, printed, shipped, and on the lists in a couple of months.

Books can be rush-printed if they’re on a timely subject, but most books take nine to eighteen months at the publisher, and that doesn’t include the time for the writer to write it. So the book you’re starting today may not see print for two years. Even the larger e-book houses now have a long lag time between sale and print. I spit my iced tea when I saw this on one of my favorite television shows.

The romance author: She is a woman in her 50s or 60s, wears flowing pastel or flowered garments and heavy make-up, calls everyone dahling and chases every man in the room (to their consternation). Sometimes accessorizes with a long cigarette holder and (horrors) a feather boa. She tells everyone to “feel the passion,” is terminally stupid, and has no clue how she’s made so much money (except, of course, her readers “feel the passion,” too).

If you meet a romance author, chances are you’ll never realize she is one unless she tells you. At conferences most authors dress business or business casual. They look like businesswomen and also grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, and friends, because that’s what they are (and of course some grandfathers, fathers, husbands, brothers). And I’ve never met a romance author who called me “dahling” (for real).

The “has-been” romance author. (Oh, she’s so sad.) She is anywhere from 40 to 60 and rather faded. She used to be a (na├»ve) bestselling romance author, but then her husband cheated on her or left her (or both), which made her realize that romance wasn’t reality. She can no longer write, because she no longer believes in the romance. She obviously can’t do anything else either, because she sits around in her shabby house and sadly wonders if anyone remembers her.

Most romance authors are very savvy about the real world and the world of publishing. Many are happily married or in long-term relationships—and I guarantee you, marriage will put you in touch with reality (hello?). Some authors have gone through divorce or have had more than one marriage. They understand that not all matches are perfect. And you know what? Most of them still believe in their stories, most continue to write. Even if some are turned off by romance, they might turn to another genre and keep going. Writing is their job, and they continue to do their job—or if they truly can’t write any more, they go find other employment. Romance authors do understand the difference between their own lives and their books.

The cynical romance author: She is the businesswoman who hates writing romance and loathes her audience (coldly calling them nasty names). But her books sell like hotcakes and she’s trapped. She can’t stop. Of course, she longs to write “real” books.

If you don’t buy into what you’re writing, it’s damn hard to write it. You won’t sell like hotcakes for long if you despise your audience and your genre. The cynical romance author could be true, but most romance authors love romance novels. That’s why they wanted to write them in the first place.

The author who has had writer’s block for ten or more years. This one is usually a man who writes literary fiction. He had one brilliant book or two, but he’s run dry. His publisher “understands” and will be there for him when he’s ready. (And his family understands that he won’t be bringing in any income. For ten years.)

Of course the publisher understands. There are plenty of authors to step into this guy’s slot while he’s wrestling with his demons. Sure, he might have been a big seller, but I imagine that within a year or two, the publisher will find someone else who's just as good a seller for them.. There are a lot of authors out there.

Our blocked writer has a breakthrough, produces his brilliant work (in a montage of feverish productivity), and the publisher welcomes him back with open arms.

In ten years the publisher could have been sold, merged, or closed completely. The beloved editor could move, quit, die, be fired, retire. If you don’t write anything for ten years, unless you were mega-famous (a household name) before, you’ll likely start all over again at a new house. If you can sell the book at all.

That wraps up my pet peeves of author portrayls in movies and on TV (and even in novels themselves). If you have any more, feel free to list them in the comments.

Friday, September 7, 2007

An un-scientific study of "what sells"

I enjoy looking at the bestseller lists not only to see who's doing what, but also what types of books are doing well. I grabbed some info on the USA Today bestselling romances for the entire month of August 2007, and did a quick and dirty analysis:

In the top 50

Almost Dead, Lisa Jackson (Zebra) -- Suspense

Ricochet, Sandra Brown (Pocket) -- Suspense

Dakota Born, Debbie Macomber (MIRA) -- Contemporary

The MacGregor Brides, Nora Roberts (Silhouette) -- Contemporary

Dockside, Susan Wiggs (MIRA) -- Contemporary

Tangled Up In You, Rachel Gibson (Avon) -- Contemporary

High Noon, Nora Roberts (Putnam) -- Suspense

The Devilish Pleasures of a Duke, Jillian Hunter (Ballantine) -- Historical

Into the Storm, Suzanne Brockmann (Ballantine) -- Suspense

Devil May Cry, Sherrilyn Kenyon (St. Martin's) -- Paranormal

Touch of Darkness, Christina Dodd (Signet) -- Paranormal

Tanner's Scheme, Lora Leigh (Berkley) -- Paranormal

Play Dirty, Sandra Brown (Simon & Schuster) -- Suspense

Force of Nature, Suzanne Brockmann (Ballantine) -- Suspense

To Scotland, With Love, Karen Hawkins (Pocket) -- Historical

Numbers 51-150

Never Deceive a Duke, Liz Carlyle (Pocket) -- Historical

Country Brides, Debbie Macomber (MIRA) -- Contemporary

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, Julia Quinn (Avon) -- Historical

The Perfect Bride, Brenda Joyce (HQN) -- Historical

Up Close and Dangerous, Linda Howard (Ballantine) -- Suspense

Twice the Temptation, Suzanne Enoch (Avon) -- Historical

Angels Fall, Nora Roberts (Jove) -- Suspense

Highlander Untamed, Monica McCarty (Ballantine) -- Historical

Mercy, Julie Garwood (Pocket) -- Suspense

The Pleasure Trap, Elizabeth Thornton (Bantam) -- Historical

Hidden Moon, Lori Handeland (St. Martin's) -- Paranormal

Immortals: The Awakening, Joy Nash (Leisure) -- Paranormal

Scent of Darkness, Christina Dodd (Signet) -- Paranormal

On the Prowl, Patricia Briggs, Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance, Sunny (Berkley) --
Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

(The subgenre labels are mine, so if I've erred, please correct me. Also, some of these books have been on USA Today for more than a month, so they might be 51-150 here, but were in the top 50 last month.)

Totals: 29 Titles

Contemporary: 5 (four in top 50)

Paranormal: 7 (three in top 50)

Historical: 8 (two in top 50)

Rom. Suspense (or Suspense): 10 (seven in top 50)

Based on the numbers alone, you might be tempted to say: "Rom. Sus. is rocking and rolling and paranormal is dying. I'm switching to rom. sus!"

But, look again--Most of the rom. sus. books on this list are by well-established authors: Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, Suzanne Brockman, Nora Roberts. Lisa Jackson is a relative newcomer, and she's been publishing since 1998.

Next look at paranormals: Seven overall and only three in the top fifty, but almost all these authors are relative newcomers. (Christina Dodd is the exception, but she's a newcomer in the field.) This is Joy Nash's first contemp. paranormal (she's done two historicals). Lori Hadeland is relatively new, as is Patricia Briggs and others in her anthlogy. Likewise, Lora Leigh is relatively new, though she had an established audience in e-published erotic romance. ("Relatively" means began their careers within the last five years.)

What that tells me is that in paranormal an author does not already have to have a long, well-established career to make the bestseller lists. Readers are buying these books for the subject matter, not just the author. More new and relatively new authors who leapt quickly to bestsellerdom in paranormal are Angela Knight, Cheyenne McCray, Katie Macalister, Jacqueline Frank, and many others.

In suspense? I'm not seeing any newbies hitting hard. (Although Cheyenne McCray's first suspense, Chosen Prey, hit USA Today when it came out, and she reports that it sold very, very well. And like Lora Leigh, Cheyenne was well-established in e-published erotic romance before she moved to St. Martin's Press.)

From talking with other suspense authors who haven't hit the lists yet, I'm sensing that readers are following authors who are well-established rather than picking up a book simply because it's a rom. sus.

Turning to historicals, I see a good mix of well-established, relatively new, and new authors in the mix. That tells me that historicals are still holding their own even if they're not the hottest subgenre in town.

(I never listened to those who said that historicals were dead--I started publishing historical romance in 2002 and my historical sales have climbed a fairly steady slope. Of course, as soon as I wrote paranormals--bang, USA Today bestseller. Hmm.)

But historicals hold their own. They've been around a long, long time, while paranormal and rom. sus. have both boomed, busted, and boomed again.

The only weak spot I see in this list is contemporary (non-suspsense). These authors: Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Rachel Gibson, and Susan Wiggs have well-established careers, and it's no surprise their books hit. Rachel Gibson is the newest, publishing since about 1998. Now, these authors sell gobs of books, but I don't see contemporary single title as a place where newcomers can spring onto the scene as a bestseller. Like suspense, I suspect it's a subgenre where you need to bulid readers before you're a hit.

My conclusions?

Paranormal is where newcomers can make a splash. (Can they stay a splash? That remains to be seen.)

Historical is also a good inroad, and is a subgenre that's proved it can stay throughout market ups and downs. New authors can make a good start in historical.

Suspense and contemporary? I'd suggest authors start in category in these two subgenres and work their way up, or start in e-publishing and establish a strong following before breaking in with a NY publisher.

Again, these are just my thoughts while musing over lists, based on a snapshot of what hit in August 2007. Take with a grain of salt and form your own conclusions!