Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Difference Between a Good Book and a Great One

In the course of my checkered history in publishing I’ve dealt with a whopping number of egos, personalities, talents and not so talented types and I can tell you for certain that if there’s anything all publishing folks have in common, be they writer, agent, editor or publisher—it’s the quintessential search for The Holy Grail of the industry, a REALLY GREAT BOOK, hereinafter referred to as an RGB.

Now because of the various egos involved, all the agents, editors, writers and publishers will go through a perfectly enormous of amount of chest- thumping, posturing, bean- counting and opinion-mongering about just what constitutes an RGB. Any number of experienced and not-so-experienced people are only too happy to pipe up and offer advice about producing that hottest of properties. They will tell you that it’s a matter of capturing the “bestseller formula”, of plot, luck, timing, subject matter, category, perfecting your craft, finding your audience, establishing a social platform, adequate editing, exquisite marketing, a picture perfect format; who you know, not what you know; and last but not least, a great cover design.

In point of fact, all of the above contribute to, but do not necessarily constitute ,the RGB. A really fine fictional craftsman can find fans and sell copies without ever getting credit for having written an RGB. A brilliant marketer can make hay while the proverbial sun shines, hold live internet chats and willing authors will be enthralled with tales of his or her success. But it doesn’t mean they have written an RGB.

In my younger days, I devoted no end of effort into discovering the secret to producing the RGB: What IS that elusive thing that makes the publisher buy it, makes the public hanker for it, and makes your agent rich enough to retire to the Hamptons simply because he or she “discovered “it?

The only answer I ever managed, after millions of hours of research and countless hours of writing, paying my publishing dues and so forth was, hmmm--perhaps all these experts spend their off hours reading tarot cards and entrails? I mean, who knew?
Many years later, I’m beginning to discover that I might have gotten closer to the truth than I’d imagined. Because if there’s anything that RGB’s have in common with the business of publishing it is, that like tarot cards and entrails, there is always something about them that depends to a large extent on intuition.

The psychologist Carl Jung defined intuition as "perception via the unconscious" while Thomas Merton said the artist has a subjective identification with an object that is intensified and so can "see" the object's spiritual reality.

Any writer makes a host of essentially intuitive choices in the course of writing a book, of course. But it’s not so much the ability to “write what you know” that defines a great book, it’s the ability to tap your intuition and write what we ALL know that really counts. What readers respond to without always knowing why, is that spiritual reality that goes beyond the specifics of plot or formula or character and enters the realm of our common experience as human beings.

For a writer, the real key to what we call the creative process lies in that moment when those characters stop doing and saying what you want them to do and start moving through your story on their own. It lies not so much in your ability to write from a well constructed outline, but to depart from it. That takes courage, a certain amount of skill and a fair command of your craft, but it also takes the ability to really listen to that inner voice.

So the next time you find yourself obsessing over how many words you’ve written today, or whether Marcie’s eyes are the same color on page 230 as they were on page 12; or what the next wave in paranormal fashion might consist of, take a step back and read between those lines. What you find there is almost more important than the words on the page.

It isn’t magic—but it’s close.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The photo

If anyone is wondering, Lisa took the photo from the top of a butte in Nebraska. Nice sunset, eh?

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Challenges Facing the New Wave of "Kindle Authors"

Hey, I'll be the first to admit that I love being a Kindle author. I know Teresa does, too. It seems to be like the wild west of publishing these days, and boundaries are being pushed every which way. And this is a good thing. But the sheer quantity of material available on any of the e-book platforms is truly daunting. And there are more than a few stinkers out there. But for the most part, it is a positive thing for both authors and their burgeoning readership.

Yet still I wonder if and when the Kindle flame will burn out. I remember not too long ago-ca. 1990 or so-when e-books were the wave of the future. Several publishing companies created fledgling e-platforms so people could download a book onto their desktop. And the trend went...nowhere. Until Amanda Hocking made the news and Kindle commercials became, well, cute. Booyah, there you go: Kindle-ification of America. Soon NOOK, smashwords, iPad....the plethora of applications, platforms and services exploded into the American consciousness like the Big Bang of the prose industry.And it is realistic to say that desktops will soon phase out in favor of the pad applications even for every day use.

I feel like such a plebeian because, well, I don't actually own a Kindle or similar device...ok, yet. The debate is whether to get a color Kindle, a NOOK...or iPad. Choices, Sophie, choices. 

Still I enjoy browsing the titles and seeing what's out there. It's really exciting. And it makes me wonder how one stays competitive when so many new titles appear each day. In the old print and ink days, there was a benchmark: number of copies sold. With the low pricing and emphasis on cool cover art, even mediocre titles are selling, and far exceeding the benchmarks that used to-theoretically at least-be set by a higher quality of writing.

So where does this leave both the reading and writing industry? Certainly new authors will have to be multimedia savvy; proficient in code and formatting numerous platforms for e-books. And it isn't an easy task, even for a twenty-something. One will have to have access to ever-evolving cover art - are flash covers too futuristic right now? I don't think so. I think that would be hot actually.

We have genre morphing where certain distinct genres blend together into a new hybrid that works more often than not. And why not? Can one blithely categorize life into genre bits? Of course not, but the business that loves to label things "a" and "b" will have to accept "abz". And that will be a challenge for publishers. The authors seem perfectly content to field that ball.

As an author, you will have to be less about the greatness of you and more about the good storyline that pops in a mini blurb. And yeah, I'm still stuck on the flash cover thing. But even the static cover will have to pop louder than any others. I suggest finding the good professionals and hiring that work out. There is nothing worse than pixelated, goofy looking covers to really hack you off. Even if the writing is good, covers do sell titles.

Authors also have to be competitive about pricing their product appropriately. You sure you want to charge what the local bookstore charges for a paperback? I would study the other authors in your area and see what they are charging. Keep it real.

Yep, it is true: Kindle authors are moving into a cool new wave of publishing. I am pleased to be riding that wave. We'll see if I get tanked or stay on top for a while. Either way, the ride will have been worth the effort.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Publisher on the Grill: A Series of Informative Questions

An aspiring author queried Village Green Press regarding how we do business with authors. Our responses are below the questions. We thought you might like to know.

1. Do you do a final edit of the manuscript before it goes to print, & is there a charge to the author?

We don't automatically accept every submission, but only those we feel have potential in today's competitive market. If we feel a manuscript has that potential, but isn't quite ready for "prime time" we do offer an array of editorial services to help get it where it needs to be that are billed separately before we agree to any publishing contract. It's common knowledge in the industry that well edited books sell better, and we work with you in partnership to achieve that goal.

2. The cover design, is it included or again is there a charge to the Author?

Good cover design is a specialized skill. While we work with authors who may bring us previously designed covers, and do listen to their input, we only publish books with covers that are consistent with current commercial standards. Should you be accepted for our program, the cover design is included in the quote for your particular publishing package.

3. What is the percentage you give your author?

Our royalty percentages vary for various publishing products (print, e-book, foreign rights and translations, book club sales and so forth) Generally speaking royalties fall in the 50-70 percent range.

4. How do you determine the price of a book?

By calculating the projected number of copies we expect to sell, and comparing it with similar titles' prices. We feel that titles with a lower price point tend to make up in volume what might be gained in possible revenue for a higher priced product.

5. Do you have a marketing team,if yes is there a charge to the author to use it?

Our authors can choose from a range of adjunct paid marketing services in addition to those included in our basic publishing package. Typical examples of such services include, press releases, book reviews, author websites and blogs, social networking, scheduling online author interviews, book signings, public appearances etc.

6. What does a typical time line look at from acceptance to actual print?

Four to six weeks.

7. Do you offer any feed back to your author after a submission?

Our goal is again to support the author all the way through the publishing and post-publishing process. We understand that in today's competitive environment some books take quite awhile to gain an audience and offer our authors regular and continued support through that process.
8. Do you sell on any of the larger sites, example, Amazon,Barnes & Nobles, Books a million?
9. Do you charge the author to make their book available in ebook?

Every author has the option to include e-book publishing in their initial contract package, or to contract separately for e-book publication. Charges depend on their choices, but as e-book publications exceed print publication by 147 percent last quarter, we do encourage author to issue an electronic version of their books.
10. How committed are you to making sure you have done all you could do to help your author's success?

We consider ourselves to be in a true partnership with our authors. While we can't always predict what's going to be the next bestseller, we do believe that good books always find a following, and work with you to help establish your reputation as an author.One that will continue a career over many books, not just one.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to be an Aspiring Author by Teresa Kennedy

As someone with more than 30 years in this industry as an editor, author, packager, and manuscript consultant I’ve worked both sides of the desk. And I can tell you for sure that if there is one constant in the publishing industry, it’s that the rules are always changing. Less than two short years ago, so called “self-publishing” was considered anathema to a writer’s career. That is of course, until authors began to succeed at it. Now, even the most staid and power-suited publishing conglomerates are scrambling for a piece of the pie. E-books and self published titles with the right kind of sales can be suddenly transformed in whopping print deals, blogs become books, and translation rights have truly gone global. The truth is, the great free-for-all that is today’s publishing landscape holds a wealth of possibilities for aspiring authors everywhere.

For a newbie, those possibilities can be overwhelming. And the blogs and newsletters and advice columns are chock full of conflicting advice about what to write, who to write to, how to edit and how to be “professional,” or held to some largely invisible, yet vaguely articulated standard.

Let’s face it, an amateur is not a professional and no amount of professional posturing is going to change that. But that doesn’t mean your work shouldn’t be published either. To be a professional simply means getting paid for what you do; it does not mean changing who you are and what you write about in order to get there.
There are some rules that never change though, and in the interest of helping along your process, here are my Top Ten for aspiring authors everywhere.
          Write a good book. Easier said than done, I know, but the fact of the matter is, I see a lot of material written by folks who see their book as a tool to market themselves, not as a story or collection of information that has to stand on its own. Bottom line: If it’s not a good book, it doesn’t matter how big your following or social platform is, it will tank anyway.
            Don’t rely on feedback from friends, relatives and other aspiring writers. While feedback groups are great and writers’ groups can certainly serve as a lively way to get much needed support in what can be a very lonely job, the keyword there is support.  But support is not the same as a professional , objective opinion. Taking editorial advice from someone who hasn’t published a book is like hiring a mechanic who can’t drive a car—doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it’s all theoretical.
            Begin at the beginning. Too many first and second drafts begin by introducing characters, explaining the background, depicting a series of events leading up to the point where something actually happens and so forth. As one very informative writing teacher has said: Know what the chase is, and cut to it. Any background can be worked in later on.

4.       If you can’t explain what your story is about in 200 words or less, you don’t yet know what your story is about, so it’s probably best to wait before you present it to others.

5.       Few aspiring writers realize the damage the wrong verb use does to their work, not to mention their sentence structure. Consider the following: “I started to turn the doorknob. “ “I began to think.” Go over your prose with a fine-toothed comb and get rid of all the started tos, wanted tos, and began tos, et al. Either your character turns the knob or they don’t; either they think or they don’t. But if the author can’t be more precise, you may find your readers 'beginning to yawn.'

6.       If your manuscript is presented in Courier, you are broadcasting to the world that you are amateur. Period. Similarly, if you have preformatted your manuscript to appear more like a printed book, if it’s single spaced or you have not paginated it, everyone will know that you have not taken the time to discover how to format your work appropriately. So even if you are an amateur, you don’t have to look like one. ‘Nuff said.

7.       A story takes place on the page, not inside a character’s mind, with the possible exception of say, Kafka. Unless your literary aspirations tend in that direction however, too much by way of internal monologue makes for piles of rejections. We want to know what happens to a character, not what they thought happened to them.

8.       Please, oh, please. Don’t be a copycat. Dare to be different. It is true many books follow a formula, but do keep in mind that if there are seventeen thousand vampire books on the market, yet another vampire book by an unknown author isn’t likely to succeed. There are fashions in the literary industry just as there are in any other industry. But last year’s fashion is always yesterday’s news.

9.       Like any other endeavor, you gotta have heart. Find your authentic voice and use it. Technique can be taught, and craft can be perfected. But a heartfelt story is something people recognize even under a ton of bad technique, and that’s what really counts.

10.   If you’re seeking an editor, an agent or a publisher, find somebody with whom you can form a real relationship, and don’t rely solely on their reputation or track record. Experience certainly helps, but these people are ultimately working FOR you, not the other way around. So it’s important that you believe in and trust them almost as much as you believe in yourself!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Is Writing Advice All About the "Don'ts"? By Lisa Adams

Okay, I was perusing a series of blogs about the craft of writing the other day and something really started to stand out: so much of the advice given was focused on a negative premise: "Don't do....." Wow, why would you want to approach the front door of the house of writing, let alone knock on it?

Don't get me wrong, there are some obvious things you would not want to do as a professional in any field. Paramount among these things is approaching any project without being prepared. I would no sooner go to court without knowing the case than you would send an agent a manuscript excerpt without editing it first, right?

But it seems one would want to be careful about taking a lot of the "don't" advice to heart. Some of the don't-fest folks seem to be adept at trying to get published, but have never actually been published. With a negative and adversarial attitude, it's really no wonder.

And there is such a wide variety of inaccurate "don't" advice out there:
"Don't ever sign on with new publishing companies because they're out to rip you off."
"Don't self publish or you will spontaneously combust."
"Don't ever believe a publishing company that says they are doing something new - old wheels that aren't broke don't need fixing; and publishing will never change - there are no new ideas out there."
"Don't ever send an agent something they don't represent."

As in the law, there are exceptions to every sweeping general statement about publishing.

I have a wonderful new concept: be yourself always and from the beginning. Submit manuscripts in the form requested by the agent and/or publisher. Then be patient and see what happens. If you want to self publish, do so. Because everyone can tell you "don't," but why not give it a shot if that's what you want to do and it makes you feel good?   

And if you are serious about writing for an extended period of time and further, writing more than one book, you will naturally make the effort to portray yourself as a professional. I think you would be far better served by actually speaking to editors and authors at writers' conferences to get a feel for the business, yes, business, of publishing. And once you know something about that the "don't" factor actually should become self evident. In other words, nobody needs to tell you, you can figure it out yourself.

I still find the best resource for information about publishers, agents, and editors to be Jeff Herman's "Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers & Literary Agents." This is what you would call a primary research source, and a good one.

Does all of this naysaying the naysayers mean you shouldn't pay attention to some of what they say? No. All I am saying is invest a little of yourself in the process of decision making about your own future and you should do just fine regardless of the outcome.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Contracts and Widgets

One thing any would-be published author will encounter in one form or another is a contract. Lawyers are scary to many people. Obviously if you receive correspondence from one, unless you are and heir to a vast fortune the likelihood is it is not good news. Add to this the inevitable and never-out-of-style lawyer shows and movies...and Congress...well hell, we'd say you have good reason to be cautious. But contracts are a legal inevitability if you want to: (a) protect your rights as an author; and (b) receive a fair shake in the royalties department.

One word every would-be author should commit to memory: boilerplate. This is a legal term meaning language in contracts that is there and never changes. Typical boilerplate provisions include but are not limited to: how disputes are resolved; which state's law controls interpretation of the contract provisions; who the contract is between (author and publisher); transfer of rights; exclusivity of rights to publisher; and others. Usually these terms are what one would call non-negotiable.

There is usually room for real negotiation with a publisher if the publisher is an indie press vs. a big house; and where the product is an e-book vs. a hard copy product. The rationale behind this is a big house has no vested interest in negotiating anything. That entity has been around for a while and you are literally one of hundreds of authors. That entity figures you will be happy just to have the name associated with your product and so they, for the most part, will dictate the terms. You may have some say regarding the cover design, but even that is unlikely.

An indie press, on the other hand, will likely be more willing and able to negotiate royalty splits on things like e-books because unlike a hard copy run, e-books do not require actual per-page costs. When a big house or indie press goes to press literally, they are looking at certain up-front costs to print the product before it even leaves the distributor's facility. Many of the big houses use Lightning Source (a POD outfit - no matter what they may say, it's true - Simon & Schuster is one of their big clients). If you want to see what we mean, go to their website:

What points of negotiation are not considered off limits? As previously stated: e-book royalties; certain primary and secondary royalties on hard copy print runs depending on the publisher's cost; method of dispute resolution; how long the publisher has exclusive rights to your title; how the product is to be delivered to the publisher; for of notice for termination of the contract.

If you receive a publishing contract, do not rely on yourself to be able to interpret the legalities of the document. Get off your butt and have a friend of a friend who is an attorney look it over. I guarantee they will see things in it you will miss. A classic example and horror story of what happens when you don't do your homework follows:

Would-be author was offered a contract for her first novel. Publisher said she could have stock warrants in lieu of advance. Author was so excited she signed on. Silly author - a stock warrant allowed her to buy the number of shares reflected in the warrants if publisher ever became a publicly-traded corporation...which of course it never did. So the "advance" was worthless and, in fact, she would have to pay for it. Ooops.

It is also a good idea to do due diligence on the publisher. Does this mean if a company is a start-up it sucks? Obviously not. It means they won't have a track record yet. So research the people who started the company. Do they have industry credibility? Have they ever been published? There is a big bad world of shady operators out there, but don't judge all publishers by that standard. Sometimes the most advantageous contract terms will come from the smaller and start-up publishers because they seek clients and want to build credibility. Besides, who's to say one should instantly reject an indie company that wants to do things a little differently than other companies? After all, they said e-books "died out" about seven years ago...hmmmm..

Also do not write off indie houses that have traditional and self-publishing capabilities. Hey, Harlequin did it a few years ago and rocked the publishing world...but they still did it and we doubt their readership changed or their corporate board suffered any from the added revenue. Publishing is a business and the goal of both parties is to make money. Some authors who want more control over their product prefer self publishing but will use the services of an indie press to achieve that goal - it's a hybrid type of publishing contract. And they are valid.

It seriously does not take a rocket scientist to write a contract - there are plenty of templates out there to use - but if, God forbid, you wind up in a dispute with the publisher over the terms of that contract, you will spend a lot of money on attorneys to resolve it. So take some preventative measures and make sure you understand the document you are signing.

At the same time, though, it is wise not to push the envelope of chutzpah merely because you are dealing with an indie house. Somehow there is an idea floating around out there that an indie house has to do things on the author's terms or they will never "make it." Here's a big news flash: it ain't so. What will have happened is you closed a door on an opportunity.

Have some decorum and approach your contract negotiations in good faith - protect your interests; but do not perceive the publisher as the enemy who is automatically out to rip you off. Sure the publisher needs to make money - they will be selling your product. But guaranteed your product will be better once professionally edited and with a spiff cover than when it arrived as an e-mail attachment, right? 

In short, don't let the contract make you lose sleep; but read it with an intelligent and logical approach to what you wish to achieve in partnership with the publisher. After all, there's a lot of litigation out there that could have been prevented by taking a little time to review and negotiate.