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Publishing’s Most Exciting Upheaval . . . and You

photo by Kris Krug

Update: Contest winners have been chosen and have been contacted via email. They are:

3 First Prize Winners: A copy of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software
Barbara McDowell Whitt

6 Second Prize Winners: Copies of the e-books The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing, The Marshall Plan® for Success as a Novelist and How to Bring Your Memoir to Life
Jessica Nevins
Vic Warren
Tracey Pintell Quade
Edie Melson
Susan M. Toy

Today’s returning [2] guests are Evan Marshall & Martha Jewett.

Evan Marshall is an internationally recognized expert on fiction writing and author of the Hidden Manhattan and Jane Stuart and Winky mystery series [3]. A former book editor, for 30 years he has been a leading literary agent specializing in fiction. The Marshall Plan [4]® Novel Writing Software, which he co-authored with Martha Jewett, is an adaptation of his bestselling The Marshall Plan® series. Read his articles at themarshallplan.net [5].

Martha Jewett [6] is a memoir advocate, editorial expert with an outstanding track record in book publishing, and co-creator of The Marshall Plan® series, a structured approach to writing fiction and nonfiction which helps writers get great results fast. She is co-author with Evan Marshall of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software. Martha worked as a business book editor at major New York publishers including John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Harper. She collaborated with authors to reach the widest possible audience—as developmental editor, acquisitions editor, editorial consultant, ghost writer, and independent literary agent. She was awarded The McGraw-Hill Corporate Award for Editorial Excellence. She blogs about memoir writing at writeyourmemoir.com [7].

Evan and Martha are celebrating the release of the new version of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software by holding a contest for readers of Writer Unboxed.

3 first prizes: a copy of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software ($149 value).
6 second prizes: copies of the e-books The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing, The Marshall Plan® for Success as a Novelist and How to Bring Your Memoir to Life: 52 Fiction-Writing Techniques from The Marshall Plan® (total $15.99 value).

To enter, send an e-mail to evan@evanmarshallagency.com with “Writer Unboxed” in the subject line. In the body of the e-mail, put the e-mail address to which you want your prize sent if you win. Winners will be selected at random and notified by e-mail by the end of September 2013.

[pullquote]To enter, send an e-mail to Evan@evanmarshallagency.com with “Writer Unboxed” in the subject line. In the body of the e-mail, put the e-mail address to which you want your prize sent if you win. Winners will be selected at random and notified by e-mail by the end of September 2013.[/pullquote]

In the meanwhile, please enjoy their essay on why this is such an exciting time in publishing.

Publishing’s Most Exciting Upheaval . . . and You

We all know publishing is undergoing massive changes due to the explosion of e-books and self-publishing. E-books are outselling print books, and self-publishing (aka indie publishing), no longer a shameful stepchild, has traditional publishers running scared.

A major benefit of this upheaval is that indie publishing is now a fertile breeding ground for some of the most creative fiction writing we’ve seen in decades. The reason for this is that indie authors are not forced to run the gauntlet of rejection that exists at every traditional publishing house—a gauntlet powered by (and excuse our mix of metaphors) a giant “category sieve.”

For a fiction publisher, category is everything. What is this novel? A romance? A mystery? A thriller? Even mainstream is a category. And it’s important to know a novel’s category from the beginning. The author needs to know it to get the manuscript in front of an agent. The agent needs to know it to get the manuscript in front of an editor. The editor needs to know it to help her company package and sell the novel. Booksellers need to know it to slot the book onto the right shelf or web page.

But indie publishing is a completely different animal. The middlemen are cut out. Authors don’t need to explain what their novels are if they don’t care to.

And this difference is making it possible for new kinds of fiction—fiction that doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into a slot—to get into the hands of readers, who have long been the victims of traditional publishers’ relentless categorizing and hungered for something new and different.

Don’t get us wrong—in the “old days,” thanks to a few visionary editors, or else by mistake, some new and different sorts of novels made it through the traditional-publishing labyrinth and achieved huge success, in effect coining their own categories. Many credit Agatha Christie with creating the cozy mystery. Georgette Heyer is cited as the inventor of the Regency romance. Richard Adams, best known for Watership Down, is known as the creator of the anthropomorphic animal fantasy. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels began a whole movement of romantic mysteries with spunky/sexy/funny heroines.  Christine Feehan unleashed a new genre of dark paranormal romances when she published Dark Prince, the first of her Carpathian novels. We’re sure you can think of others.

But the days of these category-creating works appearing traditional publishers’ lists may be over, because it’s no longer necessary for traditional publishers to take the kinds of risks that bring about these happy results. Why should they, when indie publishing has become their talent pool, their “beta testing” department? All these companies have to do is closely monitor the rich selection of novels currently being indie-published and cherry-pick the ones that have already achieved huge success.

Think of such genre-defining authors as E. L. James, whose Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has engendered a slew of explicitly erotic BDSM romances. The books began their lives as popular Twilight fan fiction. The Writer’s Coffee Shop, an Australian publisher, heard the buzz, snapped them up and published them in rewritten, standalone form. These editions were in turn signed by Random House.

Amanda Hocking had sold over a million copies of her self-published fast-moving young-adult paranormal romances and urban fantasies when St. Martin’s Press grabbed her.

Bella Andre began her career as a traditionally published author. When, after six years, her publisher dropped her, she began to self-publish, and this is when her sales went through the literary roof. This time it was Harlequin Mira that swooped down to pluck the cherry, but Andre wasn’t willing to let go of everything she’d accomplished on her own, and granted the publisher print rights only, the first deal of its kind. The success of her red-hot romances featuring the kinds of alpha heroes we saw early in romance fiction is prompting publishers to implore agents: “Bring me a Bella Andre!”

John Locke is the first self-published author to sell more than a million digital books on Amazon.com. Of course, traditional publishers came knocking on his door, but Locke, like Andre, wasn’t willing to hop into anyone’s arms—at least not completely. He made a deal with Simon & Schuster to handle sales and distribution of the physical editions of his funny, sexy crime novels featuring Donovan Creed, a not always politically correct former CIA assassin with a weakness for call girls. Like Harlequin Mira, Simon & Schuster was willing to take what it could get of this talented author.

So what can authors learn from all of this?

[8]Be realistic about the kinds of novels you’re writing and proceed accordingly with your publishing plans. In other words, if your books fit neatly into one of those category slots, you may do nicely with a traditional publisher. If, on the other hand, your novels blaze new trails—blend genres in a fresh way, venture into new story territory or are just different in some important way—you should strongly consider self-publishing. As mentioned above, it’s the way to eliminate all those middlemen who are likely to try to block your way, and get your books into the hands of the people you really want to judge them: readers.

If you decide you’re the second kind of author, the self-publishing kind, throw off the creative shackles publishing “experts” have placed on you and give us all the creativity you’ve got. Write the books you’re really excited about writing, regardless of whether we’ve seen anything like them before, because that’s what readers of indie novels want and expect. It’s how those new fiction categories are born.

Accept that self-promotion is more important than ever. What you don’t get when you self-publish is a traditional publisher’s well-oiled publicity and promotion machine. So you have to make your own. Master the world of websites and social media and never stop working at growing your platform. Hire professionals if you’re able. A self-published novel without promo behind it is like that tree that falls in the forest. If no is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Stick with it. Accept that the examples of self-publishing mega-success discussed above are rarities, the exceptions rather than the rule. As in any endeavor, self-publishing success comes with persistent hard work over an extended period.

Don’t get lazy creatively. The best-loved authors never stop trying to top themselves, to do something new that will delight their readers. Be aware of what other authors are doing so as not to duplicate, but more importantly, to keep topping yourself.

Be prolific. Traditional publishers have large lists and are not usually able to get an author’s books out with the frequency we see in indie publishing. Take advantage of this fact. If you can get high-quality novels out every few months, do it. Every month, all the better. Even faster if you’re able. You know those readers who devour a novel a day? They’re your market.

Be prepared for a traditional publisher to knock on your door. It may come sooner, it may come later, it may never come, but know what you would do if it does. Of course, a lot depends on what kind of offer a publisher might make, but know in advance how you’ll feel about the prospect of jumping aboard the traditional publishing machine. After setting your own pace and calling all the shots, you may be frustrated by the loss of control.

There has never been a more exciting time in publishing, because never has literary creativity of every kind been so richly rewarded.

Make it your time.

Have thoughts to share? The floor is yours. And don’t forget to enter Evan and Martha’s generous giveaway! Write on.