Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Making a Living as a Writer

I haven't kept up this blog, because I've been so busy writing, but I've been learning so much about self-publishing that I want to start sharing what I know.

But first, I want to comment on a cliche I hear bandied about the writing community time and again:

"Everyone knows writers can't make a living writing."

Ahhhh!!!! Stick my fingers in my ears, bite my tongue!

I've been hearing this statement for years. I heard it before I was published, I heard after I was published, I heard it before I was successful, I heard it after I was successful, I heard it when I was broke, and I heard it when I was making a good living from my writing, I heard in in 2011 (when it was so "easy" to self-publish (apparently), I heard it in 2014 (when it was so "easy" to self-publish ... no, that's not an echo), and I'm hearing it now in 2018.

It is the great myth of being a writer that most writers are starving. An equally believed myth is that you write one book, are offered a 7-figure deal, and you go on TV interviews and sign movie deals, and you are set for life and never have to work another day, ever.

Both of these can and do happen. But, and I promise I'm not making this up ...


And just because others say it can't be done, that doesn't mean it applies to you.


Read on . . .

I know plenty of people who make a living as writers. Many of them started publishing at the same time I did. Now people look at them with envy, and say they "got lucky," or they "got a break" and whatever.

The truth is that these writers are able to make a living because they WORKED HARD, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, THEY WORKED SMART.

But how do you do that?

The first year I was traditionally published, I made a grand total of . . . wait for it


That's a 2 with three zeroes. Two thousand dollars. I had to give 15% to my agent. The rest I blew on promotion.

My first month of self-publishing (nine years later) I made:


Notice the lack of zeroes in that number.

Did I weep? Did I say--"Oh, it's too hard. I'll never make a living. I'll never quit my day job. Oh. Oh. Oh."

No. What I actually said (both times) was . . . "COOL! I MADE MONEY OFF MY WRITING!!!"

For the first time in my life, someone had paid me to write. How awesome was that?

The next thing I did was say, "OK, I made that much. How do I make more?"

I made more by looking around to see how other authors were making a living. When I went to conferences, I didn't sit with authors who were mourning about their low royalty checks or saying they had to go back to work, and this career is an empty promise. I sought out the authors who weren't in the doldrums; writers who were excited and happy, and ready to move forward. I said to myself, I want to be like them.

So my first tip in making a living writing is:

1. Surround yourself with positive people.

If enough people tell you you'll never make a living writing, you'll believe it. If you believe it long enough, it will happen.

My second tip has to do with understanding the publishing world, beyond just "what sells?"

2. If you want to make a living writing, don't agree to write for a press where you will likely make very little, if any, money.

This should be a no-brainer. And yet, I see authors excited that an unproven start-up e-press offered them a contract--these writers will be lucky if they make $25 in a year. But now they can say the magic words contract and published. But--you've just signed all your rights away to your beloved book for the grand total of $25.

If having a contract and being published is very, very important to you, regardless of how much you will make, then you go for it. There's nothing that says you have to write for money and no other reason. But realize that and make it a conscious choice.

3. Make sure you know exactly what you can expect from a publisher--money-wise, professionalism-wise, prestige-wise.

For example, if that publisher offers you something that you feel is more important to you than large advances and lots of sales--say they're known for their authors who win big awards--then by all means, write for them.

4. Make the choice about what is important to you, and gear all your actions to that choice.

After I sold my first book, I realized that the key to success was discovering not "what sells" but WHERE books sell. And I did my best to go there.

I realized quickly that most books aren't sold in bookstores. Counterintuitive, right? But the truth is, books are sold at the big box stores, and now online. Ebooks were already growing. Booksellers were cutting back and closing (sadly; I love bookstores).

I saw that a way to make a living was to build up my backlist with publishers who were hitting the most readers. That meant the publisher who first bought me (Dorchester), who were terrific at getting books into places like Wal-Mart; and also Ellora's Cave, whose books were in great demand in the ebook market. Both of those publishers are gone now, but more on that later. (At the time they were the best places for me to be published.)

I sat my butt down and wrote!

This doesn't mean I cranked books out like a meat grinder--I put a lot of thought about what I wanted to write before I started, and I dedicated myself to writing the best books I could.

5. Hone your ideas, and have MANY of them.

When you pitch to an editor or an agent, you are not pitching a book, you're pitching an idea, plus the assurance that you have the skills to write that book.

Come up with as many ideas as you can. I have a ton of them: Some are great; some just ok; some need much more thought before I tell anyone about them. Mull them over, research the market, pick the best ones. If editors/agents don't like one, try another.

Believe me, I've pitched plenty of ideas to my agent and editor--over the phone, at dinner, talking in a hotel lobby--that they've negated. Some of those ideas I rethought and re-introduced at a later date, and sold them.

(I used to have to wait weeks for rejections. Now that I'm published, I get rejected at the speed of light!)

6. If you write something you're not emotionally invested it, chances are it will be a weak book, and not help your career.

I never have waited for my agent or editor to tell me what I should write next. It's a mutual conversation. There are things I don't want to write, and when they're suggested to me, I say No. It goes both ways.

7. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. 

Now, at one point in my career, I saw the pathways I was following leading to disaster. My publisher started to crumble and fall.

Yikes! There goes my living!

It wasn't the total disaster for me that it was for others, because I was still writing for Berkley and Ellora's Cave. (See? No eggs in one basket! I still had eggs.)

But then EC was gone. And the $ I made from Berkley wasn't much. Advances were low, and my income dwindled to nothing. ("Sorry dear, we have enough money to pay bills this month, but after that, no more.") Did I mention my DH was out of a job at the same time?

So, I started exploring the possibilities of self-publishing.

None of this was easy. It was hard to juggle, hard to produce, hard to keep from sliding into depression and despair.

8. Always keep looking for new ways to reach readers.

Once my backlist at Dorchester was gone from the shelves, I looked around the publishing universe to see where the readers had gone. I notices that many readers had migrated to Nook and Kindle (etc) and authors were now talking about quitting their day jobs because of self-publishing.

"Hmm," I said. "Let me check that out."

I revised a backlist book, learned how to format it, and released it. I did this on a shoestring budget--my biggest expense was the cover, because I had to hire someone to do it for me (no way did I have time or skills to learn graphic design on the fly). I paid about $100 for the cover.

As I said, I made $35 in month one.

Again, did I moan--"Woe, woe! No one can really make money at this!!!"

No, I said, "Cool! People actually bought it! And not just my mom!"

So I put up book 2 of the backlist the next month. And then more books. I found a short story I'd written for the series that was never published. I made it a novella. Then I wrote a new book in the series.

See what I did there? I took the resources I had (backlist),  took new resources (self-publishing), and shoved them together.

By the end of the first year self-pubbing, I had seven or eight books out. I wrote a shorter book to go with a series that was struggling at Berkley, to remind readers it was out there. I did not make a fortune! But we could again pay the bills.

BTW, that backlist series and that little book, all published in 2011, turned into two of my most lucrative series to date. I never would have believed that when I started.

Which just goes to show ....

9. Don't give up.

"But," you say, "that's great for you. You already had a name when you self published. And we can't control whether a publisher offers us one contract, or two, or any at all."

But . . .

When I self-pubbed, I did it under one of my least-known pseudonyms. No one knew me. The backlist of my most popular name had been wiped out, and I heard readers saying they didn't think I was writing anymore (ack!), and some thought I'd died (double ack!) My discoverability had gone way, way down.

I made money self-pubbing because I worked very hard and worked as smart as I could. Remember my first month? $35.

I know authors out there who would have been discouraged by that number and given up. I was the opposite.

If one book can make $35, I said, then two books can make $70. Four books, $140. And so on.

Now I have 70 self-pubbed books.

Now I make a living. Why? Becuase of math.

If each of those 70 books sells one copy a day (on average! that means some will sell ten copies, some will sell zero), then at the end of the month, I have sold about 2100 books. If I charge an average of $2.99 per book (average! as in some will be 99 cents, some 4.99 and up), with 60-70% royalty, I have made about $4200. And that's a month with no new books and everything selling one book a day (on average).

By the way: This is without spending money on marketing. This is just having books sit there.

I'll say it again: The key to making a living writing is building backlist. Backlist snowballs.

To answer the question of selling to publishers. It's hard! I know it is. It was hard for me to sell the first time, and it's still hard! 

I don't sell everything I come up with. I get plenty of rejections. I've just learned not to take them personally. I keep trying until my publisher says, "Yes, that sounds like something that interests me. Work up a proposal." (Which, by the way, they might still reject.)

That brings me to

10. Always keep trying. Keep trying to find new ideas, new stories, and new places and new ways to sell those stories.

That one's self explanatory.

Good luck!

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): http://pred-ed.com/pubagent.htm

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 http://www.drworkshops.com/ /. 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: http://www.drworkshops.com/Workshops/Details/2011-Agents-Do-You-Need-One

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: 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


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!