Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Last Five Years

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I sort of wish there had been some sort of futuristic time capsule of the blog, or famous future sayings by each of the bloggers that we could pull out today. Perhaps, something like this:

Jeff: You should definitely listen to me more, and I’ll tell you how it’s done. My character bible classes are going to be popular and I’ll let you be first in line.

Rob: Those dang Canadians.

Stephanie: I’m going to make you think I’m a sci-fi writer and then stun you and become a creepy mystery writer. No one will see it coming! Bwahaha!

Kerry: Believe in yourself! You can do it!

Sariah: They weren’t sheep! They were birds!

I don’t know what mine would be. Probably, it’s Thursday so I have to blog. I don’t want to ruin my perfect record of making sure there’s a blog every Thursday.

But seriously, it’s been really fun to go back and read some of my first blogs here. It’s so hard to believe it’s been five years. Five years ago in March I was awaiting the release of my third fiction novel with Spring Creek books and my first non-fiction book later that summer and I was blogging about finding time to be a writer with six kids. Crazy! Now, here I am, five years later, I publish with Covenant and have two more books under my belt, and oddly enough, I also have two more children, so I’m finding time to write with eight kids. Wow!

If I could go back in time, knowing what I do now, and give myself some advice about things I’ve learned since then, it would be this:

First, enjoy all the little moments more. Savor them. When that box of books arrives, take a moment to hold your novel that you’ve worked so hard on, and then grab a pen and write down everything you’re feeling in that moment. Someone, (I forget who, sorry!) told me once to write it in the front cover of one of your books so you’ll always remember that feeling.

Second, don’t stress so much. The books will get written. The editor will answer your email. The dinner will get made. The kids will keep growing. Adding stress and worry doesn’t do a thing for you.

Third, let people get to know the real you more. Be less of a hermit. Laugh and have fun with your friends, especially your writer friends. It adds such a richness to the writing experience.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to stand firm about what is important to you. Editors and publishing houses are more flexible than you think. You won’t regret it.

The last five years have been such a great ride for me. Like riding a unicycle on a tiny balance beam ledge. I found my groove and lost it. I wrote horrible limericks, crazy fanfiction, and silly short stories so I could laugh with my friends over them. I’ve written characters I loved and hated. I’ve changed publishers, editors, and jobs. I’ve presented in conferences, classes, book clubs, and libraries, and I’ve met so many wonderful people who have become friends. It’s been a journey, on a twisty, turny, road filled with both dark and sunshine, but it’s been one I can look back on and say I’m glad I took it.

I’m so grateful to be part of this blog. I’ve looked up to all of these bloggers for years, and count myself lucky to be a part of this group. What a great five years it’s been and here’s to another five.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Five Years Ago

Five years . . . wow. Five years ago, my youngest daughter was a toddler. Now she’s a first-grader, missing her two front teeth. My oldest daughter was a freshman in high school. Now she’s finishing up her second year at BYU. The kids have grown, but in an odd twist of reality, I didn’t get any older. Weird, huh? No, those aren’t gray hairs. They’re . . . highlights.

In 2006 when the Frog Blog began, I was just finishing up writing the sequel to my first book, The Believer. In a blog post, I made this comment about manuscript submission:

Up until the point that you submit the manuscript, you’re free to imagine whatever scenarios you want. The publisher will love it! They’ll snatch it up in record time! The first print run will sell out in a day! You’ll have so many fan letters that your e-mail server will crash! Your publisher will call you up, begging you to please, please write another book as quickly as you can because the world needs your unique and unparalleled genius. People will send you chocolates!

But once you submit the book, you’ve applied for a reality check. And so the panic begins.

Turns out that in this case, the panic was warranted. In June 2006, on the day we were leaving to drive to a family reunion in Utah, I found out that the sequel had been rejected--not because my publisher didn’t like it, but because they feared it wouldn’t sell well enough at that time to be a good move for either them or me. Turns out that sequels don’t tend to sell as well as first books in a series, so unless you have really strong sales numbers for the first book, a publisher will be skittish about a sequel. I didn’t know that, nor did I know what constituted strong sales numbers, so the rejection came as a shock (I’m happy to report that now in a letter every author receives, my publisher talks about the particular challenges associated with sequels and advises authors on how to proceed).

This rejection was by far the most painful thing I’d experienced in my writer’s journey. I felt like I’d walked full-speed into a brick wall. The Believer had gotten great reviews. People were waiting for the sequel. And now, I had nothing to offer them. I felt like a failure. All around me, authors were churning out books right and left. All the other Frog Bloggers had new or upcoming releases. And I’d published one book and then fallen flat on my face.

But I didn’t blog about the rejection (sort of a Twilight Zone thing, I guess. I blogged about finishing this manuscript and then submitting this manuscript and then it sort of . . . disappeared). Experienced author friends had cautioned me not to cry about it in public; people who didn’t understand the industry would get the wrong idea and think if my publisher rejected the book, it must not have been good enough. Recognizing this as wise counsel, I was careful about what I said publicly. So why am I not afraid to blog openly about it now? Well, I figure I’ve accumulated enough of a track record that people won’t automatically assume the book was lousy. But five years ago when I blogged about that disappointing day, I referred to the rejection only as an unnamed source of stress as I discussed our vacation:

Our anticipated drive time to this year’s family reunion was about twelve hours, but we decided to do it the easy way—half and half. We stopped at one in the morning to spend the night, or what was left of it, in Winnemucca, Nevada. (Winnemucca is a truly snappy name for a city). I’m grateful we didn’t decide to attempt the whole trip at once—halfway was more than enough for that night. I’d had a rotten day anyway, the sort of day where you get smacked with stress that turns your brain to mashed parsnips. Thank heavens I’d made the packing list prior to departure day and had already packed a good portion of the clothes, or who knows what we would have ended up with. My kids would have gone to get dressed and found I’d given them only three socks, pajama bottoms and an onion.

It sounds almost cliché to say it, but I gained a lot from that painful experience and what followed. Here are some things I learned:

*My publisher really supported me. While I was vacationing in Utah, I was able to meet with my editor and members of the acquisitions committee. These busy people took over an hour of their time to sit and answer any questions I wanted to ask. It was very plain to me that even though they didn’t feel it was the right time for this book, they valued me as one of their authors and wanted me to succeed.

*When you get knocked on your rear end, you (vent in your journal and moan to family and trusted friends, cry, get frustrated, feel discouraged, and then) jump up, dust yourself off, and get writing. Perseverance is vital to success.

*It’s important to be flexible. I enjoyed writing futuristic fiction, but if I wanted to keep writing sci fi at that time, I needed to find another publisher. On the other hand, if I wanted to keep writing for the same publisher, I needed to write something different for a while. There was no one “right” choice—the question was which track I wanted to follow, and a different author in that situation might have made a different decision. For me, I wasn’t married to futuristic novels—I also really enjoyed contemporary mystery/suspense. I decided to put the sequel on the back burner and focus on something in a more solid genre for the LDS market. I pulled up a suspense novel I’d started a few years ago and got to work on it. That book became my second novel, Fool Me Twice.

*Sometimes an answer you don’t like can turn out to be a great thing, setting you on a new path that leads to new opportunities. It hurt when I found out the sequel had been rejected, but once I got moving again, I’ve really enjoyed my writing journey over the past five years, and have released three contemporary novels with another on the way. I enjoy writing in this genre, and winning a couple of Whitney Awards for mystery/suspense was a huge highlight in my writing career. Sure, someday I'd like to write sci fi again, and I will--there's time. (And by the way, the door is still open with my publisher for the possibility of the sequel to The Believer—not right away, but who knows what will happen in the future?).

I don't know what my writing journey will bring--chances are, at some point, there will be another brick wall that I'll smack right into--but I hope I can remember that once the shock wears off, it's time to dust myself off and keep moving. Here’s to the next five years!

Five Years of Rob

Since we're looking back at the history of Six LDS Writers this week, I figure I ought to blog (since, five years ago, I used to blog).

It's really amazing what has happened in the last five years. I think all six of us have gone through some really serious life changes, some terrible and some amazing.

I thought I'd go through some of my old posts--ones that I find particularly memorable or interesting or funny or whatever--and offer a little commentary. A Brief History of Rob, or Whatever.

Never Make Eye Contact, March 14, 2006
This was my first post on this blog, and I think it's interesting for one big reason: the entire post is about how I hate marketing. Of course, what I meant was "self-promotion", but at the time I didn't know the difference--and I certainly didn't guess that five years later I'd have an MBA in marketing.

Everyone's a Critic, March 16, 2006
This is one I'd forgotten about, but it's interesting for two reasons: first, it's in response to the first significant kerfuffle I'd gotten into on this blog, and second, it's discussing my plans for the LDS Fiction Review Database (a database containing all reviews of all LDS fiction everywhere). For people who know the history of the Whitney Awards, you'll remember that this database was my first (and misguided) attempt at helping LDS fiction as a whole. When my mindset shifted from pessimism ("LDS fiction needs to be fixed") to optimism ("LDS fiction is good, and we need to highlight the best of it") the Whitney Awards were born. You can read the first announcement about the Whitneys here.

Guest Blogging, July 21, 2006
An important discussion of an email Stephanie Black sent me.

For Love of the Game, October 10, 2006
It was with this post that I announced I had decided to return to grad school.

Wow, December 28, 2006
The announcement that Deseret Book was buying Seagull and Covenant. I added very little commentary here, but the discussion thread is really interesting in light of what has happened in the last four years. We were all afraid and unsure and speculating.

'Roid Rage, February 28, 2007
This was the first of several blogs about my as-yet undiagnosed pneumonia. At the time this was written, the doctor thought it was asthma. Fun fact: it was this pneumonia (undiagnosed for three months) that led to much of the financial trouble I had in grad school, which in turn led to much of the financial trouble I had after grad school, which in turn led to me writing Variant. It's a tenuous connection, certainly, but I still think it's interesting.

Resistance is Futile, May 8, 2007
After resisting for a year, I joined LDStorymakers, and then I dove in head first and tried to get everyone else to join. There were several blogs to this effect, but this is the best one.

Fake Interviews:
Spencer McKay

Lovers, Haters and Swingers, October 30, 2007
Once I was in business school, I started annoying everyone with business/marketing blogs. I still find them interesting, even if no one else cared.

2007 SixLDSWriters Christmas Letter, December 2007
This is one of my very favorite posts.

The Nephite Who Loved Me, May 21, 2008
A photoshopped movie poster for Sariah's upcoming book.

Minnesota: Currently Giving 106%, June 2006
In the summer of 2008 I lived in Minneapolis while doing a brand management internship with ConAgra Foods (for Orville Redenbacher popcorn). I blogged about it several times.

Architecture and Books -or- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tract Homes (and Harry Potter), July 29, 2008
This blog is notable for being the first time I used the phrase "who the hell cares?" in this LDS blog. But I was doing it in defense of a wonderful person when a moron criticized her taste in books.

Billings, August 19, 2008
I wrote this while stranded in Billings, Montana. I was broke and depressed. I followed it up the next day with this: On The Road Again

Max Robison Wells, January 3, 2009
We had a little baby. He's rad.

Barack Obama, January 2009
Even though I talk about politics a lot, I never really give much of an opinion. I did here.

Annette Lyon, Forgive Me Please, March 2009
I think this is my all-time favorite blog. Annette was blog touring and I'd agreed to write about her, but creating a graphic novel based on her covers seemed like more fun.

A Cry For Help, May 5, 2009
At long last, I finish grad school. I need a job.

You Can Never Go Home Again, June 2, 2009
Because it was 2009, jobs were few and far between, especially for dorks who'd just graduated. So, I and my wife and three kids moved back in with my parents.

The Float, July 2009
While living with my parents and being unemployed, I took over the creation of the Stake's parade float.

Time To Set Another Goal, August 25, 2009
This blog details my brother, Dan Wells, giving me the goal to write a sci-fi/fantasy book in two months, in anticipation of the World Fantasy Convention. It was this challenge that got me to write Variant, which got me the deal with HarperTeen, which changed my writing career forever.

The News, November 11, 2009
I announce that Variant is now represented by Sara Crowe.

My Heart Is Breaking, December 9, 2009
This is the first blog in which I discuss my chest pain--pain that would plague me for the next six months and was (eventually) diagnosed as Tietze Syndrome.

The End of Seven Months
After seven months of unemployment, I got a job! Hooray!

Major News: I May Hyperventilate
Variant sold to HarperTeen!

Things Never Work Out As Planned, October 10, 2010
I think this is about as good a place as any to end this 5 year recap. The point of this post was to explain how many of the things I'd expected--to get a great job right out of school, to not be unemployed, to not have major financial problems--hadn't happened. And yet, despite it not going to plan, everything has worked out splendidly. It's worked out differently, to be sure. And at times it's been painful and awful. But it's worked out nonetheless. I look back at Five Years Ago Rob, and he seems like such a different person; different goals and different plans. It kinda makes me wonder where I'll be in 2016.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Looking Back

It’s weird to realize how much has happened over five years and how quickly it went. I’ve had a son go and almost come back from a mission, had a daughter get married, published five books—three with a publisher I’d never worked with at that point, changed jobs, visited over 400 schools, and changed agents.

The biggest recession since the great depression hit, e-books went crazy, a self-published author started making Twilight like waves—except that five years ago, most people were just hearing about Twilight, a huge book store chain declared bankruptcy, lots of people lost their houses and their jobs. One of the greatest prophets of my lifetime passed away and a great one took his place.

Yeah It’s been crazy.

So what have I learned personally?

First, I think, is that perseverance is key to whatever you want to accomplish. I’ve seen some of my good friends and family members go through some tough struggles. What kept them afloat was the fact that they didn’t quit. In the publishing field, people who were unknown five years ago have hit best seller status.

I’ve considered giving up writing many, many times over the last few years. I honestly think my lowest points in my publishing career have been during this period of time. At the moment I have no idea where things will lead me, but the future looks pretty bright and I’m glad I didn’t quit.

Second, the path we are following often takes truly unexpected turns but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Five years ago I’d never written a book for kids. Five years ago, I’d never even considered writing fantasy. Five years ago the big thing was Harry Potter. No one had heard of Hunger Games and only a few people knew much about this new vampire book except that it had received a huge advance and the author was Mormon.

I’d love to have a map that explained where things were going and why, but since I don’t, I’ve learned to be flexible and look for opportunities in places I might not have expected.

Lastly, I’ve learned that you really can’t do it alone. If it wasn’t for great friends, awesome family, and the support of many of the people who read, and write, this blog, I know I would not have achieved half of what I have. I hope I’ve been able to help some others along the way too.

So here’s to the amazing, annoying, unexpected last five years. I hope the next five bring you both wisdom and surprises, and that all your fondest wishes come true—even if it happens in ways you don’t expect. Happy anniversary!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Surveys That Pay

I had quite a few people ask me to pass along this information when I posted about getting a free Kindle, so I thought I'd go ahead and share what I know.

I've been doing surveys for a couple of years now to see what works/what doesn't. One of my pet peeves, and there are sites that do this regularly: You start/finish a survey and after spending 20 minutes on it, it will suddenly say, oh, sorry, you don't qualify. Or you finish it and then there's a message on their website that says too many people took this survey, so you've just wasted your time and aren't getting compensated.

So these are the sites that I use, that pay well and pay often, and don't typically waste your time (although I have no guarantees).

Keep in mind that for most of these sites you'll have to fill out profile information/surveys that will take up some time, but it's important so that the site will know what surveys to send you.

Also note that most sites have a minimum balance before they'll pay you. As for qualifying for surveys, every site has their own set up as to how they send surveys out. Sometimes you'll be on the tail end and even though you answer the email right away, you may still not qualify because too many people in your demographic have already taken the survey.

SurveySavvy - I've been a member at this site for several years. There is no minimum balance for payout, so they'll send you a check whenever you request one.

Opinion Outpost - This is BY FAR my favorite survey site. I used to qualify for surveys more frequently - I don't know if I've just been inactive for awhile so I'm not at the front of the line any longer. They have a minimum payout of $5.00 (or 50 points), which you can request as an Amazon gift card, or donate to the Red Cross. At $15, you can get a Citi gift card, at $20 a check. I always get the Amazon gift codes and spend them on books. As a bonus, if you don't qualify for a survey, you can play an instant game where you have a chance of winning $50. FYI, after two years, I have never won (you can also donate to a charity instead of playing the game).

Opinion Place
- This survey site is a little different. You can only log on once a week and try to qualify for surveys; but if they send you a special invitation, the week restriction doesn't matter. They will pay you in Amazon gift codes or Paypal credits. When you qualify, they send the codes to you a few days later via email.

- These guys are fun because if you get a survey, even if you don't qualify, you still earn 5 points. When you earn 1100 points total, you can cash them out for an Amazon $10 gift card. What I like about them is their surveys are typically more fun, and they give you lots of chances to try out products. Right now I'm doing an in-home survey for them where I'm keeping track of my daughter's snack preferences for two weeks. I'll earn $60 in Citi gift cards by doing this. I really love getting the products in home to try out, and they're great about hooking you up with chances like that.

Valued Opinions - Earning money at this site seems to go a little more slowly, i.e., I don't get surveys all that often from them. But when I do get one, I typically qualify and get paid for it. They have a $20 minimum for cashing out, and also offer Amazon gift codes via email.

MyPoints - I think I've talked about them before, but this is another slow-going site where you can accumulate points over time and they have many different types of rewards. I've received CVS and Wal-Mart gift cards from them in the past; now I'll probably always request Amazon codes (or a Barnes & Noble gift card - there's a complete list of rewards here). They will send you emails and usually give you 5 points just for clicking on the link in the email. They will have small surveys on their main page that are also worth about 5 points. They have offers that if you complete them, will give you more points. They're a shopping portal - which means that if you're going to buy something like flowers from FTD, you'd go to MyPoints first, find the vendor, click on it and then order like normal from the browser window that opens up, and MyPoints will give you points for doing it. You can also print out grocery coupons from their site that will give you points for using them. AND they occasionally send out surveys for you to complete.

A good idea is to create an email account that you use for all your survey sites so that everything's in one place and it doesn't get mixed in with your regular email.

And on an unrelated side note - Connie Brockway just announced that she is forsaking traditional publishing and going indie. For those outside of romance, Connie Brockway is HUGE. And she's best buddies with the genre's top-selling authors. I imagine if she does well (and she expects to) her friends will soon follow. If you're interested, she talks about it here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Authors Gone Wild

by Julie Coulter Bellon

There has been some flap recently over authors who get angry when they get a bad review. One author ranted about the bad review on Twitter, delivering twenty-seven tweets about it, including the reviewer’s telephone number and e-mail address and asked readers to contact the woman and tell her what they thought of “snarky reviewers.” Another author responded to their bad review in the comment section of the review blog and wrote, “"I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make."


That’s just scratching the surface as other incidents in the blogosphere have come to light, including a response to a bad review that said the reviewers themselves were jealous and probably hadn’t ever written anything more than a grocery list. It stuns me a little bit to see this kind of behavior. As an author I have had a few negative reviews (I’m looking at you Goodreads) and while it stings, I know I wouldn’t ever resort to name-calling and death wishes for the reviewers. (Although I might borrow one of Rob’s voodoo dolls and stick pins in it.) (Kidding, kidding.)

No matter what, every author will experience a time when someone won’t like their book. All their hard work, blood, sweat, tears, effort, love, everything they’ve poured into that book will be labeled. Characters are too shallow. Plot had holes. Grammar mistakes. Too cliché. Whatever it is, it’s going to hurt, and there is no way to prepare yourself for it. So here is my advice for authors who get a bad review.

If the review is so bad it makes you want to cry, get out a journal or open up a new Word document, and write down how you feel. Get it out of your system, and then let it go. Do not post it on your blog or Twitter or Facebook. You will be tempted, but don’t do it. (I know some people post links to bad reviews for the sympathy vote, and validation that your work doesn’t suck, and that is not taboo, of course, and completely up to you as a person, but be careful. Don’t let your friends trash the reviewer, either.)

Take a good look at the review. Is there anything to their criticism? Is there something you could improve on in your writing style? Try to look for any positives that you can take away from it, and then move on and get back to writing.

Talk to your best friend. Or, if you don’t have a best friend, or they’re not home at the moment, take a nap.

Get out of the house and away from the computer. Go for a walk. Go to the mall. Go to that little bistro you love and get a low-fat yogurt, or a chocolate brownie, or something that will take your mind off of it.

Sit down and remind yourself of why you got into writing. Think about how you love to share your stories with others. Think of how you felt when you got that first fan letter thanking you for your work. Look at how many good reviews you’ve gotten and maybe read a few of those.

Whatever you do, don’t diss your reviewers and don’t make the mistake of publicly reacting defensively to feedback. It can be an author’s biggest mistake and often comes back to bite you. No matter what, reviewers have taken the time to read your book and offer their opinion on it. You may not like their opinion, but it’s theirs and it does deserve some respect whether you choose to respond positively or negatively. However, if you post your positive or negative feelings online, you can bet that, with social media today, your post will get around. And what you post matters. It says something about you as a person and as an author. Make sure what is out there accurately represents you as a human being, and not you when you are in the heat of the moment.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'll Give You a Song

Since there was a great, vigorous discussion about e-publishing already taking place in the comment trails of the past two posts, I was tempted to just skip my blog today, but, well, I’d better do my duty. Work first, then play is my motto!

Ha ha! Actually, that’s a gigantic fib. I’m perfectly capable—unfortunately—of ignoring work and playing instead (hello, email and Twitter). If someone paid me for the skill of procrastinating work, I’d be rich, though I’m guessing if someone volunteered to pay me for procrastination, they’d be the type of person who’d never get around to sending me the check.

Today’s topic: music. My daughter wanted me to buy the new Mana single (I know that's not typed correctly--I tried to figure out how to make an accent mark but failed). Mana is a Latin rock band my daughters love. I don’t speak Spanish, but both of my daughters study it—one daughter is in AP Spanish Literature and the other is minoring in Spanish at BYU. I think it is absolutely awesome that they’re both on their way to becoming fluent. I never got past the “Hola, como estas” two-years-of-high-school-Spanish phase, so to see them actually learning a new language is exciting. It’s also handy. The other day I was playing Sorry with my two youngest children and we had a dispute about the rules, with the six-year-old insisting you couldn’t do something and me saying you could. She grabbed the rule sheet, but it turned out to be in Spanish; we’d lost the English one. So I took the rule sheet downstairs, handed it to my 17-year-old, told her our question, and she found the section in question and translated (turns out the six-year-old was right :).

Um . . . anyway. Where was I? Yes, buying a song. So my daughter was messaging me, saying I needed to enter my info into iTunes so they could get the song. I accused her of whining and said I was trying to finish writing my blog and she was raining on my parade. She said that wasn’t a valid use of that idiom. I typed, “so you’re the idiom police now?” She typed, “you told me to get a job.”

Later, she messaged, asking “do you have a song for me?” I said sure, but her words sparked a memory, so I gave her the following song (though at the time I messed up the first line-hey, it had been a while since I'd heard it):

“I’ll give you a song
That I think is tops
If you keep up this racket
I’m calling the cops.”

She was amused. This song, written by Joseph A. Bailey and Sam Pottle, was sung by Oscar the Grouch on a Sesame Street album that my sister and I loved when we were young. Thinking of that song made me think of the album, which made me think wouldn’t it be fun to have that album again? I went to iTunes and searched for it and to my delight, there it was—Sesame Street: Bert and Ernie Sing-Along, originally released in 1975. Bert is taking a bath and singing to himself. Ernie hears him singing and decides a sing-along is a good idea (“Ernie! What are you doing—you can’t push the piano through the bathroom door!” “Sure I can, Bert. Watch!”). A bunch of fun songs follow, and it’s remarkable how familiar the album is, even though heaven knows how many years have passed since I heard it. Music is like that; it really sticks in your head. I’m not a little kid anymore, but I still love that album (my six-year-old did NOT want to hear it at first—perhaps she felt it was beneath her dignity—but later conceded it wasn’t bad).

How about you? Is there any music that you loved as a kid and still love or have recently rediscovered?

Replying to Outliers

I wrote this as a reply to Rob's post, but it's too long. Surprising, right?

I get your point. I do.

But people are leaving out what e-publishing offers.

Suddenly...I will get 100% control. That means no more title changes, covers of my choosing, leaving things the way that I want them.

It means writing what *I* want to write - not trying to think of the next high concept that will get me in the door, not trying to be aware of what I have to write for what market, not worrying over whether or not my new agent/editor will force me to write questionable content because that's how it's done; it suddenly means that everything is in my hands. It doesn't matter if another author has a book like mine. It doesn't matter if the publisher has taken on another book with similar content. It means I don't have to worry about the, "Oh, you're so close. But no thanks." None of that matters anymore.

Not for a second do I think it's easy. Not for a second do I imagine that I'll be making $100,000 next month. least there are possibilities that didn't exist before. What if someone had told Amanda Hocking "This e-publishing thing is crap. It's too hard. Don't do it." Or Victorine Lieske? Or HP Mallory? Or Michael J. Sullivan? (All indie authors off the top of my head with recently acquired agents shopping deals for them, which means they *must* be outliers or anecdotal, right? ;) )

For the first time in a long time, I am *excited* again. Books I've been wanting to write, books of my heart, have been put aside because they won't work for certain markets. My Muse had gone silent. And suddenly the floodgates have opened. I have ideas, dialogues, scenes coming so quickly I can hardly write them down.

This isn't because New York doesn't want me. I don't know whether or not they do. I haven't tried. I don't have a drawer full of rejections. Not because I assume they will reject me, but because I haven't had anything to give them that I think will work. The midlist author is disappearing. It'd better be big or go home (see also: Ally Condie, Rob Wells, Stephenie Meyer).

Here's the reality: publishing is changing. Publishers will fight it tooth and nail for as long as they possibly can. But for generations that consume all their other media digitally, they will expect to consume their books digitally and they will be livid that the book they want costs $12.99 and is more expensive than the paperback. My mom got excited today by the possibility that she could get a certain author's books as e-books, until she saw all the prices. While a consumer may understand paying $25 for a hardback (they can look at the book and see the costs involved), there's nothing like that involved with e-books. Consumers will clamor for lower prices, and if traditional publishers refuse to give it to them, someone will come in and fill in the gap (see also: John Locke. Go to Amazon's Kindle Store. He's the guy that's got most of the Top 100 slots).

And the simple fact that I see ignored - there are people that no matter how hard they try, no matter how many times they submit to New York, are never, ever, ever going to get published. And before that meant languishing in obscurity with only your mom to read your books. Now it could mean that you might be like Tina Folsom and sell 100,000 books in less than one year by e-publishing all those New York-rejected books. And there are so many authors that are thrilled beyond belief to have just five people buy their book in a month. That means five strangers went out of their way and actually read something, paid for something, that previously just sat on someone's hard drive.

Publishing is hard. It's hard to go through New York and succeed, it's hard to do it yourself and succeed. But so what? Marketing? Up to me whether I'm with NY or just me. Accounting? For sure 100% accurate, because it's just me (NY tends to have a slight problem in this area). Cover? Plenty of excellent designers who can do it for me on the less expensive side (and there's even websites where you can bid the work out - a writer I know did that and got 150 covers to choose from). Editing? I'd be using a professional for that either way - one way means I get to keep the money I earn, the other I give up 90% (give or take) of the money in perpetuity.

It's not the same beast. E-readers have turned everything on its head. You asked how many authors are making a decent living on e-publishing - I would garner a guess that it's probably a tad more than make a living wage via traditional publishing.

I'm actually feeling a deep urgency to get started with this stuff because I want to get my foot in the door before other excellent authors figure out what's going on, before we get more midlisters and more bestsellers turning to this medium and suddenly there will be so much more competition.

So, never mind. Ignore everything I just said. As you were. ;)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Outliers and Anecdotes: Why epublishing articles drive me crazy

When The Appendix podcast (which I run, along with Sarah Eden and Marion Jensen) did its first episode about ebooks, I declared that I was sick of hearing about them. It seems that another dozen articles pop up every day, and very few of them have anything meaningful to say. (Note: since I initially said that on the podcast, just about every episode mentions ebooks in one way or another. So I'm a hypocrite.)

I'm skeptical about epublishing, for lots and lots of reasons. I'm not saying that no one should dive into it, but rather just saying that a healthy dose of realism is in order.

I don't intend this blog to be comprehensive, and it's certainly not a Should-I-or-Shouldn't-I? guide to epublishing. Instead, I just want to make a couple of points that ought to be obvious:

Without further ado:

Let's define a couple of statistical terms, and a couple of logical fallacies, and then talk about how they knock down 90% of epublishing arguments.

  • Outlier: an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data. In our present situation, I think we can call Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath outliers. We can also call JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown outliers. They are data points that are significantly different from the vast majority of other data points.
  • Availability heuristic: the idea that because you can think of an example of something, it must be significant. For example, "There are three new thai places near my house--it's got to be fastest growing trend in restaurants" or "That guy on the news was attacked by a bear, so bear attacks on humans must be commonplace" or "An author turned down a huge advance to epublish instead, so epublishing must be really better than traditional publishing."
  • Anecdotal evidence: evidence, which may or may not be verifiable, which is used to support a conclusion that does not follow from it. "I didn't get a job until January. The American economy must be better this year." or "I stopped getting asthma attacks after I stopped eating Chex Mix. Chex Mix must cause asthma" or "I'd buy five times as many books as I currently do if they only cost $2.99. Therefore, lowering the price will significantly increase volume sold across the country."

If you can't guess my point, it's this: statistical conclusions cannot be based on outliers or anecdotal evidence. It may be 100% true that Chex Mix causes asthma, but the FDA shouldn't ban Chex Mix because of a single point of data. Likewise, it may be true that Hocking's success is replicable, but you shouldn't go into epublishing just because you heard her story. That makes as much sense as going into computer science because you expect to get Bill Gates' salary, or taking up basketball because you really want a mansion like Kobe Bryant's.

Notice: I'm not saying "you shouldn't pursue great success." What I'm saying is this: don't expect the outlier. Expect the trend.

So, in epublishing, what's the trend? I'm not asking what the hype is--I'm asking what the hard numbers are. How many epublished authors are making decent money? The answer is... who knows? A few? Some? Lots? Not sure?

What does that mean? The market is changing, and while great successes has occurred (Hocking and Konrath, for example), if we're being honest we really have no idea what the trend will be. We can make hypotheses about it. We make assumptions about success based on pricing and distribution models. But what we cannot say is "there is evidence to show that epublishing is better for authors than traditional publishing". So stop it, internet.

This all leads into my long-standing worry about epublishing, which is not that epublishing is bad or wrong, but that people are getting into it for the wrong reasons. Publishing is really hard, but epublishing looks so easy--no wonder aspiring authors are excited about it! But desperation is the WRONG reason to epublish. Rejection letters are the WRONG reason to epublish. Hopes for Hocking-style paychecks are the WRONG reason to get into epublishing.

What's the right reason? Because you've sat down and worked out a business plan, with realistic expectations, and you've fully weighed all your options.

Wait--a business plan!? But I'm an author!

Remember back before everyone freaked out about epublishing, how you used to see article after article warning people about the perils of self-publishing? Well, epublishing is self-publishing. Sure, you have a better distribution method, fewer startup costs (but not NO startup costs), and maybe a little less stigma, but it's still the same beast. When you go self-pub or e-pub, you're effectively starting your own micropublishing company. All the pitfalls that seemed so daunting for decades--managing your own marketing, editing, accounting, graphic design, etc--now seem to be glossed over in a wave of hype.

I guess my conclusion is this: if you want to epublish, then do it. But be skeptical of the hype (because 98% of it talks about outliers, not trends), get into it for the right reasons, and have a solid business plan before you do it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writing is Like Fixing the Toaster

Last week I was asked to help update another blog I post to. We were trying to add a couple of new features to the sidebar and the person who set up the blog template has a really busy schedule and didn’t have time to update it. Unfortunately, the blog was not a standard out of the box template. It was written in straight HTML so I couldn’t just find the widget and add it.

The good news is that the code was done by a professional coder, so it was neatly laid out and well documented. The bad news is that I am not a programmer. So I did what I usually do when I’m trying to fix something. I dug around inside and started playing with stuff (being careful not to permanently change anything until I’d figured it out.)

First, I found what appeared to be a complete section of code for one of the existing sidebar boxes, and deleted it. Then I looked at a preview version to see what I had done. Turns out I hadn’t gotten all the code for that box. I tried it again, and appeared to have succeeded. Next I reset the code to its original form and pasted in the code I had deleted before—creating a second copy of that box. With a little more messing around, I was able to create a new box, add the spacing images above and below it, and eventually paste in the new code for the widget I was adding.

My wife likes that I can fix most things around the house. Again, I follow a pretty standard procedure. Poke around, being careful not to break anything, see if I can figure out how it works, then determine, whether or not it is something I should try to fix myself or hand off to a professional. I recently saved about $500 by replacing the circuit board in our furnace myself. (While being EXTREMELY careful to make sure I wasn’t doing anything that could explode, suffocate, burst into flames, etc.)

Partly I’m telling you this to brag a little. I mean seriously, when you find something that’s broken and fix it to like new (or better than new) status, you want to get all the applause you can. Am I right?

Mostly though, I’m telling you this because I think it relates to writing. The curse of many writers (especially those that are new to the craft) is that we want everything to come from our imagination to the paper perfectly the first time. We read a book we like, and in our minds we imagine our favorite author penning those words exactly the way we read them on the first try.

In reality, writing is a lot more like dabbling in programming code or fixing an appliance. Let’s divide writing into a couple of sections.

1) Before You Open the Hood—When fixing an appliance, the first thing you do is a little research. Any information available on-line? It’s much easier if you can find instructions (and warnings) from people who do this a lot and know what you are about to try. When I added my widgets, I Googled the issue I was looking at and got some good help.

In writing, this is the part where you play with the story in your head. Do you know what is going to happen? What if you did this? What if you tried that? Recently you read a great book where the author did a, b, and c. Any chance you could use that kind of set up in your story? Do a little freestyle internet research, where you start with one thing and follow various links to see what you can find. I can’t stress enough the value of thinking before writing.

2) Dig In—This is the part that scares most people off. Both in writing and fixing things. Do I really know what I’m doing"? What if I screw something up?

In fixing something, the first and foremost goal is not to screw it up any worse than it already is. So a little caution is a good thing.

In writing, you have no such worries. You started with a blank screen or piece of paper. At the end of the day, the worst thing you will have is a blank screen or paper. As long as you put down words, you have something to work with. To quote some editor, “You can’t edit nothing.” But you can always improve what you have written, Will it be perfect? Not if you’re like me and 99% of the rest of the writers out there. Will it even make it into the final version? Maybe not. Will it take you a step closer to the final version absolutely.

The beginning of a story can be one of the most daunting things for a writer. Until you put a word down on paper, the story can be perfect inside your head. As soon as you start writing, problems arise. What makes it even worse is that often you don’t know your characters, voice, or even exactly where the story is going until you’re well into it.

A good friend of mine, and fellow critique group member, Annette Lyon, doesn’t put chapter numbers on her first few chapters for this very reason. It lets her dive into the story without the anxiety of thinking, “This is the first word, sentence, page, that my reader will see.” Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. You can figure that out later. The key is to get writing.

3) Figure Out How It Works—This is actually my favorite part of writing. You are not finalizing anything. You are not committed to any course of direction. You are just fiddling. The other day, the door that goes from our garage to our house stopped swinging closed by itself. My wife pointed this out to me, and after a week or two of complaining every time someone forgot and didn’t close the door all the way, I examined the mechanism. It turns out there are two spring-loaded hinges. So are they broken now and need to be replaced or can I fix them? Well first I have to figure out how they work. There has to be some way to loosen and tighten them or you would never be able to get them on an open door in the first place. Hmmm, a hex bolt. What’s this little pin do? Sproing! Ahh, it holds the spring in place.

Same deal with your writing. So often we stop because we are afraid of drawing our character wrong. But remember, there is nothing to break here. The worst that happens is that you erase and start over. Character boring? Try a new voice or angle or gender or age. Give her a twitch or a have him be starting a new diet. Play with your story until you figure out how it works and where it’s going. Stuck on a scene? I have the perfect fix for you. Add this note. “Something cool happens here.” Then continue writing the part you know. The magic is that later in the story you will discover precisely what should go there.

In a nutshell, give yourself permission to make mistakes.

4) Fix It—If you have made it to this point, hurray! You are well on your way to success. As long as you actually have written an entire story to fix. If you have written three pages and are now going back to edit those pages, stop it!!! Didn’t you read anything I just said? How can you fix your story when you haven’t put in the blood, sweat and tears to discover how it works?

Get as much of it done as you can before going back and fixing. One you do start fixing, the the key is to view your story like a house full of furniture. Move it around. Try a new look. Keep playing until it feels right to you. then move on to the next room. I tend to do a lot of this.

She peeked around the corner. Her feet kicked up a loose piece of carpet and a beetle scurried out from the dirt.

“Do you hear anything?” he asked.

What were they doing here anyway? If her mother knew what she’d been doing. She would be toast.

The ancient hotel creaked like a battleship in a rough sea.


Hmm, what if I build up to the bug, but make it even creepier?

“Do you hear anything?” he asked.

The ancient hotel creaked like a battleship in a rough sea. “No.”

What were they doing here anyway? If her mother knew she’d returned to the abandoned building, she would be toast.

As she peeked around the corner, her foot kicked up a loose piece of carpet and a nest of tiny black spiders darted out of the darkness up the wall and across the floor. One climbed up her shoe and leaped onto her bare ankle.

Same basic story, but we move things around a little, fix some grammar, and add a nasty little detail to crank up the tension. You can do the same thing with entire chapters. What if the police chief doesn’t learn that his wife is missing until after he discovers the note?

Not everything I try to fix works out. Sometimes I have to give it up as a lost cause. That may happen to your stories on occasion too. But that’s okay. It’s part of the process. By getting rid of the junk it’s easier to discover the gems. The key is to not let the enormity of the project, your inexperience, or hiccups in the process stop you. The only book you don’t learn from is the one you never try to write.

And remember, it’s by giving yourself permission to fail that you allow yourself the opportunity to succeed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Making Your Bid

by Julie Coulter Bellon

For the past week and a half we have been getting bids to have our cupboards and countertops redone. We finally chose a company to refinish our cupboards and they came yesterday and removed all the doors and took them away. I honestly didn’t realize what that would do to me. With no cupboard doors, my kitchen was naked. There was nothing to cover my stuff! And boy, I had a lot more stuff than I thought. I mean, you know how a black skirt and a cute jacket can cover and hide any “extra” stuff you might have? Yeah, cupboard doors do the same thing. For example, with no cupboard doors I can easily see that I have two toasters crammed in one cupboard. And one entire top shelf that I never look at has about fifty scented candles on it. It’s a stuffapalooza that is driving me crazy to look at. I can hardly sit here and concentrate with all this stuff staring at me. Which is sort of odd, because it’s not like my desk is that organized, but I can still work with a pile of papers right next to me. Yet, cupboards with no doors has made any and all work-related actions come to a grinding halt. (I was going to take a picture and post it, but then I decided it would probably affect all of you, as well, so I will spare you having to actually see it. I’m sure you can visualize your own kitchen with no doors. Wouldn’t it freak you out, too?)

Anyway, I did have a writing tip to go along with my cupboard/counter story. You see, we had ten bidders come to bid on the project, (five for the cupboards, five for the counters), and each bidder was completely different. I never knew what kind of person was going to show up at my door. One bidder came in shorts and a t-shirt with an old beat-up truck, another came in a full suit with a really flashy car. One spent ten minutes measuring things, barely spoke a word, wrote a few figures on a paper and left. Another spent an hour and a half telling me how great my kitchen would look with brown and gold accents and how his product is unique to the entire NATION and I would be lucky to have it. Some had presentation packets with samples, others just referred me to their website. None of those things really bothered me, however, I just thought it was interesting to see the contrast between different individuals and companies. I did have a few pet peeves come up, though, when people were late to their appointment and didn’t call (one guy was over an hour and a half late. Very unprofessional in my opinion.) Another one wore his muddy shoes into my home and tracked all the way through it as he measured our counters. Yeah, I was a little bugged. But, overall, it was quite an eye-opening experience in how many different companies there are out there who do this sort of thing, and how many different approaches there are to selling said company and product.

What does this have to do with writing you ask? If you think about it, writers are sort of like bidders. We are representing our work to agents and publishing companies and how we present ourselves matters. For our kitchen, we needed a company that could refinish our cupboards and our stair railing. We made that clear when we asked these companies to come. But one company, knowing they didn't do stair railings, came anyway, and really wasted everyone's time. As a writer, are you giving your bid to the right agent or company? I mean, if you write YA and you’re putting your “bid” to an agent who only represents romance, then you’re wasting everyone’s time like my one bidder. It’s important to know who exactly you are giving your bid to and what they are looking for.

We were also getting bids for granite countertops, but one of the companies that came out had a full line of solid surface and quartz as well. We hadn’t really thought about those materials, but suddenly, we felt like we had some options. As a writer “bidder” do you have any other options if the agent or publishing house wants something else from you? Can you give them options when it comes to you and your work?

There also is the matter of presentation. Once you have your bid ready to go, are you the kind of person who is following the submission guidelines every agent/publishing house has? Or will they feel annoyed because you didn’t follow common rules like my bidders who were late and had muddy shoes?

You also want to decide what sort of person you will be representing to these agents/publishing company. Are you the casual guy in the shorts and beat up truck? Or are you the full suit guy with a flashy car? Your presence and how you present yourself matters to both the agent and publishing company because once you are published, you will be selling yourself as well as your writing. If you are shy and have a hard time talking, it can be a little off-putting, like my bidder who didn’t speak a word, was for me. Writing is such a solitary business until you are ready to do marketing. And then it’s important to be able to express yourself in public, with social media, blogs, etc. Be prepared for that. Have your presentation ready, and be enthusiastic about it. I mean, the guy who spent an hour and a half telling me how great my kitchen would look with his product believed every word he spoke. Or he made me believe that he believed it. I was excited about what he had shown me after he left. But the guy who said "just look at my website," made me feel a little let down. Be the guy who is enthusiastic about your writing. Be able to sell it.

Of course, once your work has sold, the real work begins and the cupboard doors come off. Your mettle as a writer will be tested as you move to the next phase, and it’s up to you whether you stick it out and see it through, or crumble under the pressure. Be the kind of writer that I wish I could be at this moment. One that isn’t stuck in their chair, staring at mounds of unorganized stuff. Gather yourself. Gather your strength and write no matter what is staring you in the face.

As for me, I will have to stop and organize the stuff so I can stop looking at it (and my children will stop bringing their friends over to stare at it. We're sort of a neighborhood sensation right now.) Ooh, and I can apply that little gem to writing, too. Hopefully your book, will be a neighborhood and beyond sensation! See! It all ties together.

And with that, I will “bid” you adieu, my fellow bidder/writers so I can get back to my naked kitchen. (Can we say naked on this blog? I forgot. If we can't, pretend you didn't see that and substitute another word.)

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Contradictions of a Writer

Rob Wells is finishing up the first draft of the sequel to his upcoming YA sci fi novel, Variant (in fact, he might be done now. If so, congrats, Rob! If not, GET TO WORK, SLACKER). A week and a half ago, he tweeted the following: “I had to look up some details from VARIANT and ended up reading several chapters. Forgive me for saying so, but that book's pretty darn good.”

I suspect that many of us aren’t accustomed to coming right out and praising our own work (hence Rob’s joking request for forgiveness), but Rob should think his book is good—fantastic, in fact. I think every author should love his/her work. If we don’t love what we write, why should we expect readers to love it—and even spend money to buy it? We’re readers too, and naturally, we’re going to write the type of thing we like to read—so, if we think our own book is lackluster, a little on the boring side and not too polished, maybe a scant three stars on a good day . . . um . . . bummer. Not a good sign.

Of course, it’s difficult—impossible, even?—to read our own work like we’d read another author’s work. We’re powerfully emotionally invested in our own work and might want to adore it, even when it doesn’t deserve adoration. Strangely enough, we might also want to criticize it more harshly than we would another writer's work, nitpicking at even tiny flaws. Contradictory, huh? In his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card said:

“Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

“It’s best if you believe both these things simultaneously, so that you can call on Belief 1 when you’re deciding whether to mail the story out, Belief 2 when going over the story to revise it, Belief 1 when choosing which market to submit to, Belief 2 when the story is rejected (of course, I expected to get this back), and Belief 1 again when you put it back in an envelope and mail it to the next-best market.

“Of course, believing two contradictory facts at the same time is sometimes referred to as madness—but that, too, can be an asset to a writer.”

I love that quote. I agree with Card—as authors, we need both beliefs. We need that excitement about our work—the exhilarating sense that we're doing a good job of creating a gripping, well-written story that readers will enjoy. Lose that joy of creation, and what’s the point? I hate to burst the bubbles of any aspiring writers out there, but most of us aren’t getting rich writing books. This isn’t a business you go into for the money.

But at the same time, the worst thing we can do for a book—and our writing careers—during the creation process is to regard our talent and skill as infallible and our stories as perfect. If we’re not willing to improve our skills, to look for problems in our manuscripts, to listen and seriously consider it when our instinct or feedback from an outside source tells us something isn’t working, to be flexible, to delete, to add, to rewrite, to polish, to do all of this as many times as it takes to produce a strong, publishable manuscript—we’re toast. To succeed, we MUST be willing to regard our work critically and see where it needs improvement—and then improve it. And we should continue to grow our skills, book to book.

And when all your hard work pays off, a book is polished and published (or in your publisher’s queue awaiting release), and you can no longer change a word—then don't forget to enjoy what you’ve done. Flip through the pages and think, “Hey—this book is pretty darn good.” Go ahead and love what you created. Five stars! (And you can pre-order Variant here).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dude, I'm Getting a Kindle (For Free!)

So after my post last weekend (was it last weekend? I can't remember whether or not I posted. You may not know this about me, but I'm not always so good about the posting), I figured it was time to step into the future.

I'm buying a Kindle!

Well, sort of buying one. Not so much buying as getting for free.

How, you ask?

Well, one of the major ways is through Swagbucks. I've mentioned Swagbucks in a previous post, and it is a site I use on a daily basis. Last year I earned enough points to get more than $150 in Amazon gift cards, which I saved up. There are other, more dedicated people than me who spend way more time on the site than I do and thus earn way more than I do - I typically only answer the daily poll in the morning and then use it as a search engine the rest of the day. I probably earn swagbucks twice a day from searching. It's something I'd be doing anyway (going to websites) so it just makes it a little easier, and it gives me some cash.

I earned the rest of the Amazon gift cards from doing surveys. There are a lot of scammy type survey sites out there, and it's taken me a while to winnow it down to the sites that are really good and won't waste your time and actually pay out. I was going to list them all for you, but as I'm now really tired (nearly midnight) instead of looking them all up I'll list them another day (if anyone's interested). But I cashed in points that I'd earned and got another $50 in gift cards.

So I'm getting my Kindle for free, and already have my first few books picked out that I'm going to download with my extra money. I fear this may become a highly expensive habit as it's so easy to justify only spending $0.99 or $2.99 on a book, which means I'll have to keep taking those surveys and earning swagbucks so that I can get my books for free too (or, more likely, just help mitigate the costs of what I'll probably be spending).

Once it arrives and I figure it out, I will let everyone know what I think of it!

For those that haven't heard, there are rumors that by November 2011 the Kindle will probably be free (I remember when it first came out and was like $500 or something - now it's down to $139) or close to free. The general guess is that you'll have to buy a certain number of books or sign up for some kind of program (like when you get a free cell phone by signing up for cell service), but you may just have to hold off a few more months so that you can get it for even less money.

Does anyone else have an e-reader? What do you think of it? If you don't have one, are you interested in getting one?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lauren Goes to College

by Lauren Bellon

Hi I’m Lauren and I am Julie Bellon’s oldest daughter. As most of you know, my mom is a very busy woman and was having a hard time thinking of something to blog about today. So I offered to step up and tell a story, because I am a freshman in college and have a very exciting life. I would guess that most of you readers are a bit older than me, and reading about me will add a little excitement to your life and remind you of when you were young and groovy.

This is my first year living away from home and it is super exciting. Let me just tell you a little bit about the place that I am living. It is probably about 200 years old, falling apart, flooded earlier this year, and was infested with mice. As you can tell, it is really nice. In fact, this extremely old woman in my family ward told me that she lived where I am living now. She said they had great times playing Yahtzee. Don’t worry; this story is more exciting than me playing Yahtzee.

As previously mentioned, my apartment had mice in it. My roommates were the first to spot the mouse running across the floor, and I had yet to see the creature. I have one roommate that we like to play jokes on, so I made a trail of cheese to her bedroom from the oven where the mouse had been spotted. I then went to the grocery store, and when I returned half the trail was gone and the mouse was running for cover under the oven. This sparked a long night of mouse watching.

We made a small pile of cheese in front of the oven and turned off the lights. We sat on the couch and waited to see if the mouse would come out with us all there. We waited and waited, and then he finally emerged. We watched him run back and forth, taking cheese to his home under the oven. My roommates had a hard time keeping in their screams. My other roommate came home to find us sitting on the couches in the dark. We quickly shushed her and she joined in on the fun. After watching the mouse for quite some time, one of my roommates had a good idea---we should try to catch the mouse.

My roommate headed over to the cupboard and pulled out another one of my roommate’s Tupperware bowl. She handed it to me, and I sat down on the floor with the bowl hovering over the pile of cheese. My roommates climbed onto the kitchen table and watched in silence. The mouse came and I started shaking. I slammed down the bowl but he was too quick and I missed. We decided to add peanut butter to the pile of cheese to see if that would keep him there longer. He came back for more food and I tried again, only to have another miss. Again we sat, and waited for what seemed like forever. Finally, the mouse emerged again. He sat eating peanut butter not realizing what was going to happen.

I closed my eyes and slammed the bowl down as fast as I could. I looked down. All my roommates thought I had missed, but I saw that I had definitely caught him. The only problem was that his head was on one side of the bowl and his body was on the other.

I had killed the mouse.

I started freaking out. We all ran from the room screaming, and drew some attention from people in the lobby. Some boys heard the commotion and were kind enough to dispose of the mouse for us. (In case anyone was wondering, no we did not keep the Tupperware, we threw it out.)

The next day, the exterminators came. We told them the problem had been taken care of, and I think he should have hired me on the spot but that didn’t happen.

And there you have it, a glimpse into the exciting college life. I’m sure that makes you want to send all your kids to college, because the two things I have learned are how to kill mice and how to sleep in any of my classes sitting up. (I’m just kidding. I love college and I am learning so much. It was well worth my parents’ money.) Love you mom!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Page Intentionally Left Blank

Today, I'm the guest on Sheila Staley's "What Do You Think About . . . Wednesday" feature. I got to answer the questions "What do you think about writing mysteries? What is the easiest/hardest part of writing mystery/suspense?" Therefore, according to the law of the Frog Blog, which I just made up on the spot, I can count this as my Wednesday blog (Thanks, Sheila!). You can read my guest post here. So please drop by Sheila's blog and say hi, because Sheila is awesome.

In other news, I finally started the actual writing on my new suspense novel and . . . I'm on Chapter 2! Okay, I haven't actually written a single word there, but I did type Chapter 2, so woohoo! I'm happy to be moving forward on a new project.

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Shortcut or an Alternate Route?

by Jeffrey Savage

(I just want to say that this is not a response or a rebuttal to Sariah's excellent post yesterday. This is a post I wrote shortly after LTUE and the big discussions everyone was having there about the USA Today story featuring Amanda Hocking. It is purely coincidence that Sariah wrote her post yesterday about e-book publishing and I had mine today. I loved Sariah's post and I think this is something nearly every author LDS or not is considering.)

When I was about four, my family went camping. Shortly after setting up our tent, stove, obligatory giant thermos of Kool-Aid, etc, my Dad took my older sister and me down the road to the bathrooms. Camp ground bathrooms, shudder, but that’s another story. After we were done, he said, “You two take the road back to the campground and see if you can beat me.”

We ran like bats out of . . . a campground bathroom, only to discover our Dad waiting by the tent. He’d taken a shortcut. My sister, being the older and smarter of the two of us, quickly discovered the path that led directly from the facilities to our tent. I, being younger and dumber, watched enviously and when no one was looking, attempted to discover the great toilet trail myself.

Can you see this coming? If you close your eyes, can you see this kid wondering into the deep woods in search a shortcut to the potty?

Vicki  Jeff (2)

Then can you imagine this mom going, “Wait, you told my baby there was a shortcut through the woods and then didn’t keep an eye on him?” Yeah, us dads are not always the sharpest tacks in the drawer.

Obviously I didn’t get eaten by a bear, washed away by a river, or stolen by a stranger of dubious intent. In fact when I was found a couple of hours later, my entire narrative of the harrowing events was, “I cried three time and I prayed four times.” Whew good thing it hadn’t gone the other way or I might have been blogging to the Heavenly Hosts.

Over the years, my storytelling has hopefully improved a little, but my love of shortcuts has only grown. I LOVE, I mean LOVE a good shortcut. It is so cool to know that you know a better way than most people. I’m always looking for an angle. I have learned to master the art of buying hotel rooms on Priceline, And you know what? William Shatner is right. It does feel great to check into the Atlanta Airport Westin knowing you only paid $40, when everyone else is paying $100 or more. A long time ago,I played World of Warcraft for about a year, until I realized how much time I was wasting on it. My favorite things were learning a trick that would let me earn a lot of gold more quickly than everyone else or an easy way to level up fast.

When I got into writing and publishing, I felt exactly the same. I figured there had to be a way to jump to the top of the list. Let me clarify. I wasn’t looking to avoid hard work. Quite the opposite. Often shortcuts require as much or more work than the normal path, they are just faster. I tried contests and blogs. I was one of the first people I’d ever heard of doing a blog tour and I did it with over 200 blogs. I soon became recognized as a guy to come to if you had marketing questions.

Along the way, I learned things. Again this is pretty normal in my opinion. In order to find a shortcut, you often have to try a number of paths that either dead end or turn out to be longer than the path most people take. The nice thing about the world of writing is that there are many, many people who have tried different paths and are willing to share their stories of success and failure. The bad thing is that what works perfectly for one person doesn’t necessarily work the same way for another. She met an agent at a conference, struck up a friendship and sold her her vampire trilogy. He self-published a Christmas book and parlayed into a multimillion dollar career. Just because you sold a gazillion books by e-publishing, doesn’t mean that will work for me. And just because I got an agent through the slush pile doesn’t mean that will work for you.

Which leads us (in a very non shortcutty fashion) to my topic today. Are e-books a shortcut to success? Have we reached an age where hundreds of queries, hundreds of rejections, negative editors, and over-budget publishers are no longer necessary?


Wait, what? Not what you were expecting me to say? I know. Over the years I’ve kind of build up a reputation as being dubious about the whole “radical publishing paradigm shift” thing. I’m a huge proponent of e-books. Anything that lets people carry and read more books and buy them whenever they want and wherever they are is a great thing in my opinion. I’m just not sure that changing the medium automatically changes the process as much as most people think.

But Amanda Hocking and many other authors have clearly proved that you can be a successful author without an agent, editor, the marketing of big publishers, or even a tangible book. The words can pour directly from your brain, through a keyboard, to the internet, and into a readers e-book device without needing the approval of a single person other than you and your readers. So, yes, agents, editors, and publishers are no longer necessary. There is a path you can take that has led others to success which is much quicker and possibly less painful than the traditional one most authors have followed for over a hundred years.

The question in my mind is not so much can this process work as whether we are seeing a shortcut to success or an alternate route. Is that ambiguous enough for you? Let me try and clarify my question with part of an e-mail I recently received from my good friend Dave Cebrowski.

“Can a writer - one that is unpublished make a living selling e-books - think about it - if you could sell 100,000 books a year, couldn't you live on that? Sure you have other marketing costs to promote the book - so figure 20% so maybe you sell 200k books a year as ebooks and make the rest of your living from speaking engagements and consulting work to other up-and-coming authors.”

Obviously, as we just discussed, the answer is yes. It can and does happen. But does it happen enough that we could call it a shortcut? Imagine that you and your neighbor drive to work at the same time each day. You live next door to each other. You work in the same office building. You leave at exactly the same time. The only difference is that he takes the freeway and you take the side roads. If one of you always gets there faster that would be a shortcut. Even if the faster path was occasionally longer due to traffic, weather, or other conditions, it would still be a shortcut. But if one day route A was faster, and the next day route B was faster, and you couldn’t count on either way constantly saving you time, what you would have is not a shortcut, but an alternate route.

So let’s examine e-book publishing in that light. Is e-book publishing a faster route to publications? Yes, hands down no brainer. If you know your stuff, you can turn an unpublished manuscript into a work for sale in less than 24 hours. You could potentially sell your first book before you could get your first rejection going the traditional route. Is it easier? Once you learn the basics of layout, find someone to do your cover, etc, it is generally much easier to publish your own book than to convince someone to publish your book for you.

Is it more profitable? Here’s where things start to get a little less clear. First of all, profit may not mean anything to you. Very few of us started writing with the goal of making a living at it. And even fewer of us kept that dream once we realized how incredibly difficult it is to make a living. But for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that you do still have the dream, as I do, to make a living writing fulltime, and move on to how an author makes money.

In its most simple terms profit equals number of books sold x royalty earned. The great thing about self-publishing an e-book is that the royalty you earn is awesome. If you sell a book for even $2.99 on Amazon, you can earn $2 per book. Double the price and you get double the royalty and so on and so on. Theoretically, you could get to the point of the kid who has a lemonade stand selling one glass for a million dollars and thinking, “All I have to do is sell one glass.” But obviously price point has an impact.

Let’s stick with our lemonade stand analogy for a minute. Traditionally the problem with self publishing was the same problem you had with owning a lemonade stand. You make all the profit, but you also have all the overhead. E-books took away the overhead. You can now publish a book without paying a cent. The other problem you had was that you had limited distribution. Unless your lemonade stand was in a shopping mall or along the side of a busy road, you couldn’t get a lot of potential customers. Same with self-publishing. It was next to impossible to get into book stores. With e-books you can immediately get yourself into the largest bookstores.

You have now addressed two of the biggest problems with self-publishing: start-up costs and distribution. But there is still another big hurdle that even e-books can’t get you over. You have distribution, but how do you generate demand? Let’s imagine that now every kid who opens a lemonade stand can instantly sell virtual lemonade to anyone in the world. The good news is that anyone can buy a glass from you. And since you have no overhead at all, you can sell your lemonade pretty darn cheaply. But how do you separate your lemonade from everyone else’s? If you get there early you won’t have as much competition. And if your lemonade is already well known from selling lemonade traditionally, so much the better. And hopefully your lemonade is so good people will give it great on-line reviews.

Still there are more lemonade makers coming on-line every day. And some of them are owned by big companies who can do lots of marketing. Or people who are already well known from their other ventures. You start to despair until you read about another person just like you who opened a virtual lemonade stand last year and is now making money hand over fist. If she can do it anyone can. Perfect! Nothing can stand in your way.

But let’s leave our lemonade analogy and go back to our drive to work analogy. Amanda Hocking and others got to work much quicker. In fact they not only got there quicker, but their experience was better than the vast majority of even the authors who succeeded in the traditional route. The e-book route worked for them. Are they representative of most e-books authors though? Do more authors who publish e-books succeed more than authors who take the traditional route?

Defining success as selling enough books to make a living (which is what has gotten Hocking and others this sudden national exposure) the answer is definitely not. Most authors who are making a living writing fiction are doing it through traditional publishers. And the numbers aren’t even close. That’s what makes authors like Hocking and JA Konrath such big news. They are the huge exceptions. They are the lottery winners, and they know it. Using them as examples of why you should go straight to self-published e-book is like using JK Rowling and other hugely successful authors as examples of why you should quit your job and write books. they are what R&D departments call outliers.If you want to make a living as an author, your chances are much, much better if you are published with a traditional publisher than if you self-publish.

There’s one last thing we need to consider in this scenario though. How many people try to get published with traditional publishers but don’t make it? That definitely affects the odds. If a million people all go the traditional route and only a few thousand are accepted, the vast majority of people who write books never even have a chance at success. Whereas if those million people all publish e-books, most of them won’t make much money, but all of them will at least have a chance to. Is that a good thing? It is if you are one of those authors. So while your odds of success are much better if you get a national agent and a big publisher, your odds of at least being in the game are better if you self-publish.

This post is not to say you should or shouldn’t self-publish e-books. Just like the gold rush, this is an exciting time for authors. You write the best book you can, stick it out in the big world and hope to hit the mother load. And if your book is good enough, and you work hard enough, and the dice roll your way, you may be the next Amanda Hocking.

But knowing that most people selling enough books to make a living are doing with the backing of traditional publishers (either currently or before they started self-publishing) doesn’t it make sense to at least try the traditional route with your book before going straight to e-book?

Marion Jensen and I were having a discussion recently at the LTUE conference. He said something to the effect of if your options were going with a publisher that could only sell a thousand books or so, or self-publishing an e-book, which route would you choose? For me, that question is a no brainer. If I sell a thousand books with a small publisher, I make at most $1,000. And they keep the e-book rights to my title forever. If I self-publish, I may only sell a hundred books, but I have the potential to sell many, many more, and I keep getting the royalties forever. Therefore if my goal is to make more money, I go the e-book route. If my goal is to sell more books, I probably still go the e-book route.

That being said, for me personally, I could never convince myself to self-publish a book without at least trying to get it published nationally first. Even Amanda Hocking tried to get an agent and a national publisher publisher before going her own route. I think Brandon Mull said it best when we were at a conference together and he was asked if he preferred working with big publishers or small publishers.

He said, “Big publishers can ignore you and small publishers can ignore you. Big publisher can promote you and small publishers can promote you. The difference is that when a big publisher decides to promote you they can have a much bigger impact.”

I think self-pubbed e-books are a great way to go. They offer many benefits that the traditional route does not. But if your goal is to make make enough money to earn a living writing, self-publishing is simply another route. Not a shortcut.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

I Think I'm a Convert

Not in an LDS sense (born in the church and all), but in the past week, mostly thanks to David Vandagriff, I may be an e-book convert.

As the song says, something's happening here, a sort of e-revolution. I will freely admit that I fell into the snob category when it came to "indie" publishing. I thought that it was for people who couldn't get published any other way. I thought the books done this way were as the name implied - vanity publishing. People who wanted to be in print and this was the only route they had. I heard the stories of those who sold 100 copies of their books, if they were lucky. The online publishers who considered 500 copies of an e-book sold to be a bestseller. Publishing in print was the only medium I had ever considered.

And as I studied the market and the trends, I saw the old Catch-22 - you couldn't get an agent unless you were published, and you couldn't get published unless you had an agent. I decided that the best route for me to take was to try and break in to a smaller independent market. Knowing that there were LDS publishing houses, it seemed like a good fit. I knew I didn't have to have an agent to submit, and I thought I might have a chance. Plus, I had a Book of Mormon story that I really wanted to write. It kept coming to me and I kept writing little scenes here and there until I committed to writing a book and could finally get it all out on my computer. I also liked the idea of having this little way to help build the kingdom.

You probably have already guessed that my gambit was successful - I finished the book and mailed it off to my publisher. They accepted it with very little changes (mostly cosmetic) and it was published.

I had done it!

But, as with most other authors, I didn't want that to be it. The next two books also came along and were quickly accepted and published. But to make it in the industry, at least for me, I needed to be published by one of the Big 6 in New York. They were the ultimate gatekeepers. To be accepted there meant I Had Made It.

Problem was, I had some unexpected (and very longed/prayed for) babies that are a handful and a half (times a million). Everything was put into them and the rest of my family. I suddenly didn't have anything for myself or my writing.

Story ideas continued to come. Many of them I had to dismiss as not being quite right for an LDS audience. No stories with magic, obviously (and I love paranormals!). The hero gets drunk in that story, nope, can't write that one. This YA heroine might use some fraks and frells in her language, can't use those placeholders.

Then the other concern I had while sitting in one of my RWA meetings was the realization that the people who were selling big were the people who had unique hooks (see also: Ally Condie, Rob Wells). A big idea. A blockbuster idea. I realized that I had none of those. I've been waiting several years for one, and it hasn't come.

My ideas are more run-of-the mill, I suppose. But I still want to write them. I'm also aware of the fact that agents have to "fall in love" with your story to want to represent you. What if I sent a manuscript out for her blind date only to be stood up every single time?

I also like genre combining, which works well in some places, but not so much in others. Apparently some publishers' sales departments don't like it when they can't figure out how to sell your book.

I know that there is a ceiling cap on how many books I will sell in LDS publishing, which poor Jeff Savage tried to explain to me before my first book came out - I just didn't believe him. Finding this to be very true, I looked at New York publishing as a way to expand that audience. But as Miss Snark once personally assured me, my numbers in LDS publishing were phenomenal for a first time author. Writers want to be read. We write to write, but we also write for readers. I wanted a lot of readers (as, I would guess, do most other authors).

Then I looked at what I would have to do in my romances. I don't plan on putting in any smut. I've heard from some LDS authors who've had a hard time selling to Christian houses because of their religion (although there are some who do just fine). I also had a writer friend back in Ohio who absolutely did not want to put any love scenes in her books, and her editor basically told her she had no choice. Without wanting to, she did it in order to be published. And her books since then have contained more and more of those types of scenes. I didn't want to compromise on content, either.

So thanks to a link to David Vandagriff's blog, I started reading about the revolution that's happening in e-books. Once the domain of no names and low numbers, now even well-known, bestselling authors are releasing new works solely as e-books and retaining all the electronic rights.

I used to think there was no money in it. Unknown (to me until three days ago) 26-year-old Amanda Hocking sold 900,000 e-books last year. She admits to doing little to no publicity. She somehow found that lightning in a bottle, and her books just took off (even to her own amazement). 900,000 books where you are making .35 cents to $2.04 each...that is A LOT of money, and a lot of readers. Not surprisingly, she has one of the top New York agents now, is looking at a print deal and selling off foreign and movie rights.

JA Konrath is another that you may know of thanks to his excellent blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. He got into e-books when his first publisher dropped him (despite his books selling well) and a growing disenchantment with publishers. Thanks to his savvy, he's now selling 1,500 books A DAY. He is planning on making at least $500,000 this year. Some might argue that his success comes from his previous publishing, but he'll tell you that his pseudonym is outselling his Konrath name. And that there are lots of unknowns that are easily outselling him (see also: Amanda Hocking).

There are unknown, previously unpublished authors who put out books and are suddenly selling 10,000 copies a month. For those keeping score at home, that's $20,000 a month. That might be possible with a New York house, but other than scoring a major deal for an awesome book, there's no way you're making that kind of money. Quite a few of the names on the Kindle bestselling lists are indie authors.

Obviously there are lots of people who will never sell that many. I don't assume that everyone who tries it becomes a bestseller. But I also think that quality will get found, and will rise to the top. Just like the best/most entertaining videos go viral on YouTube or the best bands/musicians are the most downloaded on iTunes, readers will find the books that are well-written.

With e-books only having approximately 8 to 10 percent of the market, obviously there is room for growth. The Kindle on Amazon continues to sell at an amazing pace - it is currently Amazon's #1 bestselling product and has the most five-star reviews. More and more people will get in to this technology. I don't think print books will ever go away completely, but I do think more people will start using e-readers now that there are industry standards like the Kindle or Nook.

So I'm intrigued. I think I want to try it. I want to write some of the books of my heart that I thought would never sell to anyone and see what happens.

Since I've been hovering around the Kindle boards on Amazon lately, I've seen some LDS authors that I know. With that in mind, is anyone else considering this? Has anyone else tried it? How are you doing with it? (Post anonymously if you wish, I'm just sort of obsessed with this whole idea lately and want to know if anyone else is feeling the way that I am.)