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: http://jennsminis.wordpress.com / with many photos here: http://www.jennifersromances.com/Miniatures/miniatures.html )

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


RECOMMENDED READING

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:

YOU CAN NOT EXPECT TO FIND INSTANT SUCCESS IN A WRITING CAREER OF ANY KIND AND DECIDE IT'S NOT FOR YOU WHEN YOU GET ONE (COUNT IT, 1) REJECTION!

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!

OK?

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!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Editorial Process

Lately I've been hearing a number of misconceptions about what happens to a book when it gets bought by a publisher (small or large). I hear:

1. "Editors don't edit anymore."
2. "Why does it take so long for the next book to come out?"

I will answer both in a post about the whole editorial process.

1. Myth: Editors don't edit anymore.

Well, I can't speak for all authors everywhere, but it certainly isn't true for ME. In the past eight years, I've worked with seven different editors, and each one, trust me, edited my work. (This goes for both gigantic New York houses and small e-press.)

2. Why does it take so long for the next book to come out?

Because though an author might write a book in a few months (or a few years, depending on the author and the book), it takes print houses nine to 18 months to process the book into print form; e-houses a bit less (if the book is e-released alone first).

Let me start at the beginning:

  • The manuscript is accepted by the publishing house.

    The editor chats with the agent or author about what the publisher is offering, author/agent accepts, champagne is broached.

    The contracts department then works up a contract according to what editor and agent/author have discussed and sends contract to agent/author.

    Agent and/or author go back and forth a few times with the publisher until the contract is hammered out.

    At a print house, once the contract has been signed by the author, the publisher sends out a check for *part* of the agreed-upon advance. (Most e-houses do not pay advances.) Advances are usually split into three or more parts: 1. Signing the contract; 2. delivery of first book; 3. (possible) delivery of synopsis for subsequent book; 4. delivery of subsequent books; 5. (possible) publication; and 6. (possible) when published hardback book goes into softback or mass market

    Standard time between contract signing and your first check: four to six weeks.

  • Manuscript

    If the editor had the manuscript in hand when the contract went out, the book can be scheduled in the publisher's list of books coming out in the next year or so.

    If the editor purchased on a partial (synopsis/chapters), contract will indicate when the full book is due.

  • Editing/Revisions

    Once the editor has the full ms. he/she reads it. She then contacts you via phone or email to discuss the book and possible changes. Sometimes these changes are minimal; sometimes deep.

    The editor then sends you back the ms. for revisions, usually with a letter asking questions, suggesting changes, asking for clarification. A due date is set for when revisions should be returned. (Some editors skip the chat and simply send the ms. back to you with the letter.)

    Note that at this point, the ms. is not considered "accepted." If the editor thinks the book is a mess even when you turn it back in, she can still reject it, and you won't get the rest of your advance (contracts vary as to how long you have to fix the book or write something else.)

    Standard time for aquiring editor to read book and send back revisions: a few weeks to a few months.

  • Author revises the book.

    Depending on how extensive requested revisions are, this can take you an hour to two full weeks.

    Now--lest you think suddenly all control is wrested from you, and the book is being written by a "committee," and the world has gone all swirly and green; not at all.

    If you don't agree with changes your editor has proposed, you can certainly argue. I often do. This shouldn't be a heated, screaming match; it should be a reasoned discussion about what is best for the book. Editors are not always right; neither are authors.

    Keep in mind you are very close to the book at this point. An editor is reading it for the first time. Things are going to jump at her that you never saw (or your critique group never saw). This does not mean that the editor is perfect, and you should do whatever he says; nor does it mean it's time to go all diva and scream that no one understands your gift.

    Anyway, that's revisions.

    Standard time you are given for revisions: two to four weeks

    You turn in the book, the editor adores what you've done, and they send you the D&A (Delivery and Acceptance) advance.

    Standard time to get your D&A advance after acceptance: six weeks to 60 days.

  • Copyedits

    Next, the book is sent to a copyeditor, usually a freelancer; sometimes someone in-house. That person does line edits; that is, she or he marks corrections to grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and asks questions about sentences or story points that are unclear.

    Standard time for freelance copyeditors: Two to four weeks

    Most houses let you look at the copyedits and answer the copyeditor's queries. Some houses take the CE manuscript and send it to production without you seeing it, but this makes me squirrelly, so I always ask to see the CEs.

    You go through the ms. one more time, curse at the copyeditor for changing your words, change them back, correct other errors, answer the queries, concede that the CE has caught things you missed.

    Standard time for you to look at the CEs: Two weeks.

  • Proofs

    Once you have messed with the copyedited ms., your inhouse editor goes over it again then sends it back to Production to be put into page proofs. These proofs are close to what you're going to see in the final copy.

    Standard time from CEs to proofs: Two to four weeks.

    You get sent either a printout or a PDF file, which you then proofread.

    Most houses also send the proofs to a freelance proofreader at the same time. Between you and the proofreader, the typos should all get caught. (Note I say should.)

    Reading page proofs is my favorite part. The book is so finished that I can't change the story--I can now just read it as a story. I also like to make sure I've caught every problem I possibly can. That's my OCD talking.

    Standard time you get to look at proofs: Two to three weeks (Often less, because time is marching on)

  • Book to printers

    By now, the book has a cover (usually before you've done the revisions, because it needs to be in the catalog a long time in advance) and a blurb. This plus the manuscript gets sent to the printers for the final book.

    Standard time at printers: Six to eight weeks.

    There you have it. The book comes of the press and is warehoused and sent out to booksellers nationwide (or pubbed on an ebook site). If you are owed a pub advance, you get it four to eight weeks later. For ebook houses, your royalties start rolling in six to eight weeks after the book is posted (depending on the pub's payment schedule).


Mileage can vary, of course!

While the pub house is doing this for your book, they're doing it for many, many other authors at the same time, which adds to the time. Smaller houses with fewer authors might have a shorter time frame.

E-book houses put out books anywhere from four to six months after author turns in the ms., because they don't have to schedule time at the printers and wait for that process.

The e-book house I write for uses a similar editing process except:
1. I don't get paid until the book is published and starts to earn royalties.
2. The line editing and proofs are done in one step.
3. I usually don't get a cover until the book is a few weeks away from publication.

More notes:

Everything I'm talking about here are the mechanics of getting a book to print. I have skipped the conversations with my editor about the back blurb and the cover, me seeing the cover and either gushing or weeping, the covers being printed and the marketing team going out to sell the books to the distributors with lovely covers in hand.

So...books are still put through the wringer, and you can see why it takes such a long time to process them.

Caveat: I speak only from my own experience writing for NY houses and e-houses, and as an editor at medium-sized nonfiction presses.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to "Get Started"

As I slowly catch up from my three-month marathon of revising two books and writing the complete ms. of a third, I'm finding my inbox filling with questions from aspiring authors about how to get started writing a book.

I think many bloggers here are already in the completing-the-ms.-and-getting-it-sold stage, but I think it's a good thing to review how to start writing in the first place.

You just sit down and write.

Profound, eh?

But true. Writing is a skill/craft that develops by working at it. It's unlikely you'll simply be brilliant and become an overnight star. It doesn't work like that in writing.

(And here's a truth that very few people want to hear: It NEVER works that way. Talented people succeed because they work very, very hard to hone their craft, and they have that craft in place when the right opportunity for them to shine comes along.)

So, you want to write a book. You're willing to work. You might think you have loads of talent; you might think you have zero talent. What do you do?

READ

then

WRITE

Read a wide variety of books and make a pile of the ones you love. It's likely that what you love will have something in common--even if they're all from different genres! Something in those books speaks to you. Is it family love? romance? in-your-face action/adventure? Sad stories about courageous people?

Whatever it is, read those kinds of books and find more like them. Then start writing. It doesn't really matter whether you have a good plot or characters or have a grasp on dialog--the act of writing you teaches you as you go.

You might think--but it's crap! It has to be good!

No, it really doesn't. Not your first attempt. Forget about the high-falutin' ideas about "First Novels" and all that BS. It's a good bet your first manuscript will be full of holes, with flat characters and dialog, and likely be an amalgam of books you like. That's ok, because you need to get that out of your system.

If the book is brilliant--hey, you're lucky. If not, don't worry about it.

View your first manuscript as a learning tool. I taught myself to oil paint a few years ago. I certainly would not let anyone see my first attempts! Eventually I painted a couple pictures that were ok enough to frame and hang on my wall.

Books are similar. Your first attempts at scenes or dialog might not be good. And that's ok. Allow yourself to be bad. From "badness" you'll find a little goodness, and you can take that and build on it.

If you find yourself bogged down in the middle of your book, that's ok too. It's entirely up to you whether to abandon it or push through to the end.

Note: When I was first starting, people advised me NEVER to abandon a book, or I would just end up with dozens of half-written manuscripts. That is a danger, admittedly. But I discovered that my instincts were good--I would realize that the story was wrong somehow, or wasn't what I wanted, or something. Letting myself walk away and start fresh led me to writing something that I could finish and was publishable. When I wrote that publishable book, I knew it. The pieces came together--all those things I tried to write before finally gelled, and yep, that book got published.

Once you have a complete manuscript:

1. Celebrate! You've reached a point that so many people aspire to and never reach.

2. Now worry about making it readable and/or publishable. There are tons of books out there on craft (dialog, scenes, structure, style, grammar . . .). Look them up in the library or shop at your local bookstore or online. I read many books when I was learning--some helped, some confused the heck out of me. Find ones that work *for you.*

3. Read some more, and start another book.

A word about process: Don't get bogged down by trying to copy another writer's process. Everyone's is different--you have to figure out the way of working that is right for you.

Some writers won't write a word unless the scene is planned meticulously from beginning to end. I prefer to go with the flow: I might make a note that says [Janet talks with Coyote about the skinwalker; Maya interrupts] and then write the scene. The flow of the dialog, the setting, the important points all come out of my head as I think about them. For me, if I plan ahead too much, it takes away the freshness of the scene.

But, I know plenty of good writers who plan, plan, plan. They make charts; they make posters; they make spreadsheets. They know every single thing that's going to happen and then they write it down.

However, it is not the process that's important but the end result. No one reading your book will have any idea whether you wrote it longhand with a pen or plotted each scene on a spreadsheet and organized it by bullet points. They probably won't care either.

That's my spiel on getting started.

Just start.

What you come up with might be putrid. It might be brilliant. But you will never, ever know unless you sit down and start typing.

So, go for it, and have FUN!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creating Characters the Organic Way

I wrote a big, meaty post on my method for developing a main character over on The Chatelaines. http://www.thechatelaines.blogspot.com

Scientific it ain't. But it works for me.

:-)