Why Write?

writer2Part of my job description as an editor is to keep writers from getting discouraged as they struggle to publish and publish well.  It’s not easy, since it takes a lot of effort to learn the craft of writing, and once you break into print, your readership tends to build slowly.  Even writers who are prepared for these natural roadblocks often give up – I can think of several clients with promising first novels who I wish were still writing.

Maybe the answer is to change the focus, from writing to publish to just writing.

Of course, you want to publish.  You want to share the joy of your creation with other people.  It’s nice to have the marketplace affirm your skills.  And it would be even nicer to be paid for writing, if only because it gives you more time to do it.

But if all you’re interested in is making money, there are easier ways to do it.  I once had a potential client who said he didn’t want to spend money on having his book edited unless I could guarantee it would earn $100,000.  I don’t think I need to explain to Writer Unboxed readers why we parted ways.  So don’t lose sight of the other reasons for writing. [Read more…]


How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal By Self-Publishing

by Andrew Stawarz
by Andrew Stawarz / via Flickr

Here’s the brief answer to the title of this post:

Sell a lot of copies, strong five figures, if not six figures. Sell so many copies that traditional publishing is potentially less profitable for you than self-publishing.

Few people like the brief answer, so here’s the long answer.

By far, the No. 1 consulting request I receive is the author who has self-published and wants to switch to traditional publishing. Usually it’s because they’re disappointed with their sales or exposure; other times, that was their plan all along.

These authors ask me, in many different ways:

How can I get my book the exposure it deserves?

Back in ye olden days of self-publishing (before e-books), the message to authors was so much simpler: Don’t self-publish a book unless you intend to definitively say “no” to traditional publishing for that project. Yes, there was a stigma, and in some ways, it helped authors avoid a mistake or bad investment.

Today, with the overselling of self-publishing, too many authors either:

  1. Decide they won’t even try to traditionally publish, even if they have a viable commercial project, or
  2. Assume it’s best to self-publish first, and get an agent or publisher later.

The assumption of #2 is one of the worst in the community right now. As far as #1, some authors end up self-publishing for the instant gratification (we have a serious epidemic of impatience), or to avoid what’s increasingly seen as a long, exhausting, and dumb process of finding an agent or securing book contract (which, of course, offers less profit than self-publishing).

I support entrepreneurial authorship, and authors taking responsibility for their own career success. But I would like to see more authors intelligently and strategically use self-publishing as part of well thought out career goals, rather than as a steppingstone to traditional publishing. It’s not any easier to interest an agent or publisher when you’re self-published, and since new authors are more likely to put out a low-quality effort (they rush, they don’t sufficiently invest, they don’t know their audience), chances are even lower their book will get picked up.

Before you self-publish, consider whether any of the following describe you. If you can say “yes” to at least a few of these statements, then you’re on a better path than most self-publishing authors I encounter.

[Read more…]


False Summits–and How to Get to the Top Anyway

harrybinghamToday’s guest is Harry Bingham, the (British) author of the Fiona Griffiths crime series, which has been critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. He also runs a couple of outfits, The Writers’ Workshop & Agent Hunter, that offer a variety of help and advice to new writers. Harry lives in Oxfordshire, England. He’s married and he and his wife are, this summer, expecting their second set of twins. They’re not terrified at all.

I’ve had over a dozen books published by some of the world’s biggest publishers. Some of those experiences have been wonderful, while others have been . . . not so great. I want to help other writers have the best possible experience of publication.

Connect with Harry on his blog and on Twitter.

False Summits–and How to Get to the Top Anyway

If you’ve ever hiked any distance in the mountains, you’ll know how elusive that final summit can feel. The loom of the mountain always shields your view, so your near horizon is filled with a crest which, as you approach, melts away into a new horizon, a new crest, another draining slog upwards. Never mind the actual ascent: that succession of false summits is wearying in itself. An inducement to despair.

If you know anything of what I’m talking about, you’ll also have a good sense of the life of an author. You want to write a novel? OK. That’s a tough gig, but you do what you have to do. You write away until you have a hundred thousand words of half-decent prose. Only then – whoops! – another summit looms. Gotta edit and correct and rewrite, till that half-decent prose becomes almost flawless.

Forewarned is forearmed. It’s important to realise that your job isn’t only about writing, and your job doesn’t finish once you get that book deal.

And then you have to get a literary agent. And then you have to get a publisher. And perhaps, just possibly, you win an advance large enough to mean you don’t also have to haul garbage, or wait tables, or (horrors!) do anything else which is, like, an actual job.

And that has to be it, right? Manuscript, check. Agent, check. Advance, check. Plus, in this fantasy of ours, a big publisher ready to blast you into the stratosphere. No more false summits, surely. This is, this has to be, the very top.

Grumbles in Paradise

Well, yes. In theory. Only it’s no secret that my own experiences with publishers have been somewhat mixed, and you don’t have to hang around with authors for long to realise that plenty of them feel likewise. Indeed, when Jane Friedman and I surveyed more than 800 authors to find out what they thought of the firms that published them, we got a true measure of what authors actually think. [Read more…]


Dream Come True: Bringing a Great Classic Back to Life

Flickr Creative Commons: Ulrike
Flickr Creative Commons: Ulrike

The changes in the publishing industry in recent times can seem really daunting and, like most writers, there are times when I’ve thought dark thoughts about just what the future might hold. But if there are many challenges in the new landscape of publishing, there are also great new opportunities. The rise of self-publishing is one of those opportunities that has been discussed at length, but another that hasn’t been quite so prominently discussed is the fact that the fall in printing prices caused by the advent of digital-based typesetting, design and proofs, as well as new methods of raising money, such as crowdfunding, has meant also a rise in small presses: people, sometimes authors and artists, sometimes not, following their passion and taking on publishing projects that in the past would simply have seemed like a pipe-dream. For me, one of those dreams is actually coming true: being actively involved in reintroducing to English-speaking readers a classic French novel that was one of the great books of my own life.

As a French-speaking child living in both Australia and France, Jules Verne’s great adventure novel Michel Strogoff was my favourite book in the world when I was around 12. The book was enormously influential on me, both as a reader and a writer, leading to a lifelong fascination with Russia and a lifelong love of both reading and writing adventure fiction. I’ve re-read the book many times over since then and love it just as much. An epic chase novel set in Tsarist Russia, it’s also beautifully written. With its mix of vivid characters (including, unusually for Verne, strong and interesting female characters), cracking pace, colourful settings, non-stop action, adventure and suspense, leavened by deft touches of romance and humour, it’s reckoned in France to be Jules Verne’s best novel, and not only has it never been out of print, it’s also inspired dozens of film and TV adaptations.

The one that started it all off: my childhood copy of Michel Strogoff!
The one that started it all off: my childhood copy of Michel Strogoff!

But it always frustrated me that when I mentioned it to English-language friends, they had never heard of it because the only English translation had been done back when the original French edition was first published. That translation was very much of its time, and in my opinion did not capture the liveliness and freshness of the French original, as 19th century popular French novels are much more ‘immediate,’ pacey, and less densely wordy than was the prevailing literary taste in 19th century English-language novels. ‘Michael Strogoff’ as it was titled in English, had been popular in its day—indeed, in the US it was popular enough for not only the first film ever of the book to be made there, in 1914, but also for a small town in Texas to be named after one of its main characters, Strogoff’s tough and indomitable mother, Marfa.

But the translation had dated quite badly and by the time I was growing up, the novel had fallen out of favour in English speaking countries, though in France its enormous influence continued unabated. There, not only writers speak of being first turned on to the love of reading by Michel Strogoff, but people in many other walks of life do as well, including the former President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

As I’m bilingual, I had toyed with the idea of creating a new translation myself but other books and other projects got in the way. And then one day I met the wonderful translator and writer Stephanie Smee, who had just translated the works of another great classic French author, the Countess de Ségur, another childhood favourite of mine.  [Read more…]


If the ‘Elastic Mind’ Snaps: A Lenten Lullaby


Image - IStockphoto: nastco
Image – IStockphoto: nastco


This will be my last post until Monday, April 13,2015.

No, not me.  (You wish.)

Kathy Pooler
Kathy Pooler

No, that’s a colleague, the memoirist Kathy Pooler. She’s a good, cold-weather Catholic, mind you, so Lent means a lot more to her than it does to troppo Protestants like me.

Following a retreat with some author-colleagues, Pooler has decided to cut her exposure to social media way back for Lent. She writes:

Being away with these treasured friends got me in touch with my own need to step back—rest, refresh, renew. After five-plus years of nonstop weekly blogging and intense social media involvement, I have decided to…go on my own Lenten sabbatical.

She’ll have a few guest posts going up, and she’ll check email. But, she writes, “I will limit my time on Facebook and Twitter to automated sharing of guest posts. This will mean turning off my social media notifications on my iPhone.”

So now we can talk about her all we want. Just kidding. Pooler goes on:

I know that limiting my social media presence will be a supreme challenge as I so love connecting with others. But I also know I need to take care of myself; to step back and reflect before I can come back and be all I need and want to be. And it fits in with my mantra to “simplify.” Until we meet again, I wish you all peace and quiet moments of reflection during this Lenten season. I look forward to returning in April refreshed and renewed. I plan to share the lessons learned when I return.

Therese Walsh
Therese Walsh

Aside from the fact that Pooler turns out to be really good at benedictions (who knew?), this has reminded me of the February 3 post here from Therese Walsh, author and Writer Unboxed’s co-founder. She wrote about a search for “mono-tasking,” meaning, in essence, the ability to hunker down on one sustained project or task without feeling pulled apart by competing thoughts and stimuli.  So many of us know what she’s talking about, all too well.

Walsh and I have been in touch a bit since that post ran, comparing notes. I’ve offered a few technical responses that I find helpful to the relentless blitz — RescueTime (which I find invaluable — you’re welcome to explore it free with my link); “frequency following” sound recordings, which I find helpful while focusing on work; meditation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what she wrote, her distress at feeling her concentration is challenged — I can relate; that bad feeling (this is my characterization, not hers) of having our livers pecked out by data transmissions.

And I’ve been thinking about what Pooler’s doing, heading off the social grid to get a grip.

In keeping with the Lenten theme, it has to do with temptation, somehow. I think this is part of what we’re talking about.

[Read more…]