The Long, Winding Road to Publication 

I have given a lot of thought to those 15 years, and what I learned from that huge mistake of turning down the offer from HarperCollins. I’ve wondered why I would have been so willing to subject myself to being treated like a commodity, as the major publishers tend to do, rather than working with people who value your work for what it is. And one thing became clear. It’s not the money, although that certainly helps. It’s more a matter of being taken seriously, of having your efforts validated. It’s about avoiding that feeling of meeting writers you admire and having them dismiss you because you’re an unknown author. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve experienced this, and it’s an awful feeling.

Source: The Long, Winding Road to Publication – The Millions

Most published authors can tell you a story like Russell Rowland, if not worse. Editors quit, agents move on, publishers change directions, reviewers only pay attention to big houses and big books, it goes on and on. If you’re an aspiring author, Rowland’s long, winding road is a cautionary tale.

Readers, who enjoy his books are likely to say, “He should have been treated better than this,,” or “If a successful author has to fight to a contract, what chance to those of us right out of school have in this business?” The answer is always “Slim to none.”

A friend on my Facebook list, who is very well known, honestly reports on her weekly writing activity, including rejections. Rejections? What’s wrong with the people who are reviewing her work for possible publication. She is more well-known than Roland but still has to fight for every sale.

Publishing has always been this way though, it appears to me, it’s much harder today than it was 25 years ago to have a manuscript considered by either an agent or a sizeable publisher. I don’t know why. Perhaps publishers were losing too much money considering everything. Or perhaps it’s more difficult now because profit margins are smaller and everyone wants to be a writer.

Dorothy Parker once suggested that if you have any friends who want to be writers, one of the best things you can do is “Shoot them now, while they’re happy.”  When I was a college teacher, several students asked about their odds of becoming successful authors. None of them liked my response and (so far) I haven’t seen any of their names on a bestseller list.

I like writing, but it’s somewhat of a curse; as long as you know that, you’re ready to go.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s most recent novel is a mystery/satire.

 

 

 

 

When you find the work you love it’s no longer work

“The one thing you can always count on in life is your work. If you’ve found true, good work to do, it will always be there for you. If you put it aside for a while, it will wait. You may not make money at it, but you will feel that you’ve done something worthwhile.”

– Theodora Goss

Wikipedia graphic

Within the context of her author’s blog, Goss is probably thinking of work as artists and authors view work. Over a half-century, ago, Abraham Maslow in creating his hierarchy of needs said that man’s ultimate motivation is that of fulfilling his/her full potential. He called this level self-actualization. Other psychologists have spoken of this hierarchy using their own terms, but when all is said and done, it defines–for me–why we are here and what our work and other activities are forever drawing us toward.

So, when I think about counting on one’s work, I’m speaking not of jobs/careers that are motivated by power and greed and fame and/or those that turn people into driven workaholics that take them away from family and friends and the wholeness of a balanced life.

Work, it seems, that leads the worker toward self-transformation or possibly toward what Carl Jung called “Individuation,” need not be restricted to artists, authors, composers, dancers. It can be any job or career or hobby that brings joy to the person and that (hopefully) brings love, respect and other similar benefits to his/her family and friends. Some authors separate the kind of work they do with the kind of work a factory worker or a salesman does as though authors are God’s gift to the world and that all other jobs are less important. That kind of vanity bothers me. Sure, some people work jobs they do not like so they can “buy back their time” for activities that lead them toward joy and fulfilment during their off-work hours.

However we define “work,” we are looking for something that makes us better than we were before. Perhaps that work is paying work. Perhaps it’s an avocation or a hobby or a long hike in the high country. Once we have it and know what it is, it’s our personal Nirvana that’s always available.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Thinking book covers

This is one of the cover pictures I use on my Facebook author’s page. It’s a handy way of showing all the covers in my Florida Folk Magic Series together.

While the book cover is often the last thing an author thinks about, it’s the first thing a prospective reader sees. Some say a reader decides in 15 seconds whether to look inside the book at a physical book store or via the look inside features on book pages at Amazon and B&N. However, as I write I can usually see my characters and their environment quite clearly; it’s almost as though I’m looking at them in a photograph.

So, I’m lucky that my publisher Thomas-Jacob works with authors to come up with the cover art. In this case, we used two artists. The first did Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman; then, when he wasn’t available to do the cover for Lena, we found another great artist who was willing to work in the style we needed to make all three books look like they belonged together.

Thoughts behind the cover: The book is set in another era, the 1950s. So, we have an unpaved road through the piney woods. Eulalie, the conjure woman, wore a dress and a hat (unlike the jeans and tee shirts people wear today) when she rode her bike into town to sell stuff out of her garden at the mercantile. Her kitty, Lena, would either side in basket or trot alongside. The railroad tracks figure into the story.

The style of the art tells you these stories are magical in that there’s something ethereal the scenes: the radiance in the first book, the spooky nighttime in the second, and the sudden appearance of an alligator in the road in the third one. The mood here would be quite different if we had tried to do this cover with a photograph of a similar scene or with stock drawings.

I like spending time on the look and feel of the covers because they set the stage for the story. When I look at the covers of some self-published books on Amazon, I wish the authors had worked a little harder to come up with unique covers instead of using stock photography and a boxy layout. Spending the money for original art or custom photography is money well spent.

Malcolm

 

Don’t Let Your Publisher Become Your Worst Enemy

I have a wonderful publisher, in Thomas-Jacob, and couldn’t be happier. One of the positives of a small (some say boutique) publisher is that the author and the publisher can actually talk to each other about what the best approach to the book.

Larger publishers often make decisions about books that come from heavenly heights and cannot be questioned.

A long-time online friend of mine is an acclaimed Canadian author. I’ve read most of her books. What bothers me about her publisher’s decision making is the fact that those books have different Canadian and U.S. Titles. Sometimes this is necessary. But in her case, those differing titles cause a lot of reader confusion about what book they’re buying. Frankly, I don’t think the U. S. and Canadian audiences are so different that a book requires separate titles for Amazon and Amazon.ca. I think this kind of thing hurts the author.

I just finished reading a novel by one of my favorite U.S. authors that is set in New Orleans just after the Civil War. I considered posting a review today, but then saw that on Amazon the book was listed as Political Fiction. Those who like southern gothic fiction and historical fiction will never find it there. Pardon my exasperation, but who the hell came up with those genre classifications for this novel?

From what I hear, if one of the major U.S. publishers releases your novel, you may have to put up with some stuff you don’t like. I guess that’s called “paying your dues” or pretending that “the publisher knows best.”

Book genres aren’t perfect. Neither are titles. But they do tend to steer prospective readers toward an author’s book. If you can, I hope you can discuss such things with your publisher before the historical novel you titled “Tough Women” is released as “Porn Babes” in the “How To Repair a Flathead 6 Engine” genre.

I’d say that if you cannot agree on the title and the genre, you have a problem.

Malcolm

Creating ARC Copies: A How-To

Once upon a time, Publisher’s Weekly asked for a review copy of a children’s book our small press had in the works. We were new to the business then and had no clue how to accommodate them, so we lost the opportunity for a high-profile review. Ouch! Now that I know better, I won’t make the same mistake again. Better still, I’ll share what I’ve learned so you won’t, either.

Source: Creating ARC Copies: A How-To | Celebrating Independent Authors

I saw a post by author Hope Clark in which she said that she buys copies of her books and sends them out to her favorite readers prior to publication so that then her books go live, there’s a batch of reviews ready to go. (She’s at a mid-seized publisher and buys the books at cost because many publishers don’t send out review copies any more.)

For the same reason, think about creating advance reader copies (ARCs) of your books so that you can send them to review sites before your books are published. In fact, major review sites won’t look at a book after its publication date; many of them expect a copy four months in advance.

You may not get in Kirkus or Book List, but it’s worth the time an effort, I think, to try. This post at Indies Unlimited takes you through the basics. Reviews early on in a book’s life not only draw more readers but improve how your book is displayed on sites like Amazon or in book newsletters.

Malcolm

 

Will write for food

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

  • I tried writing for money and it didn’t work out.”
  • My parents’ greatest sorrow–other than the fact I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth–was that my grades in English classes were always lower than my grades in my other classes. They knew I was running from destiny before I did.
  • On my first visit to the radiation department to talk about upcoming cancer treatments, the doctor asked what I did for a living. When I told him I was an author, he asked how many of my books had been published. When I said, “All of them,” he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but we do have a financial assistance program for the indigent.”
  • I once set up a card table downtown with a poster that said, “Will write for food.” A cop brought me a tomato and mayo sandwich and said, “Okay, ace, write something.” I took out a scrap of paper and wrote, “Mama don’t allow no tomato sandwiches ’round here.” “Buddy,” he said, “you’re no James Patterson.” “Story of my life,” I said.
  • When people look at me funny during a conversation, my wife explains that I’m a writer. That usually shuts them up.
  • On the plus side, when people know I’m a writer of fiction, they think I’m just making stuff up whenever I insult them with one wisecrack or another. This has given me a lot of latitude for saying just about anything to anyone.
  • Most English teachers can sense fear; mine always sensed flippancy. They discovered sooner or later that I thought high school and college English departments were doing their best to train people to hate reading and writing.
  • I was once thrown out of a college English class for challenging the professor’s negative views about journalism. He said journalism was hack writing. I said many of the world’s greatest authors began as journalists. He stipulated that but said they were in the minority, and that most journalists couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. When I said, “you probably can’t either,” he told me to get out. My father, who was dean of that university’s school of journalism, went over and had a talk with him, ensuring that I was back in the class the next day. Afterwards, I kept out of trouble (mostly) and ended up getting a B in the course.
  • Writing is like drugs. I’ve spent large amounts of time looking for a 12-step program to help me quit. So far, no luck on that.
  • People keep saying that the pen is mightier than the sword. I usually ask if anyone is still using swords these days. When they look at me funny, my wife says, “he’s a writer.”
  • If you decide to write for food, pick something you like. There’s no point in working all day for a tomato sandwich. much less humous. Go for a steak or a plate of oysters or wine that costs $500 per bottle. Otherwise, you’re not only selling yourself short, but you’re eating stuff that doesn’t taste good.

Malcolm

How honest should a writer be?

A relatively well-known writer on my Facebook friends list shares a daily journal-style entry about her writing life. It includes new books accepted, poems written, meetings with publishers, and rejections received.

When I first noticed her mention of rejections, I wondered how somebody so widely known ever received rejections. The fact that she acknowledges this, gives hope for the rest of us. On the other hand, the gurus of writing and promotion tell us to always be positive. That is, we’re told not to mention projects that fail, manuscripts that are rejected, or problems with publishers or publicity plans. Negatives in any of these areas are said to turn off prospective readers.

The author I’m referring to has more books than I can count in print and a very wide following. So, she can break the guru’s rule. Plus, she’s never nasty about things that don’t work out. That’s a plus, I think.

I wonder how often famous writers send off a manuscript via their agents and get a “sorry, not our cup of tea” response. If they do, we never hear about it. I suppose the gurus would say that if we did hear about it, it would sound more like a failure than an honest look at how the writing business works.

Authors have work-day problems like everybody else, but if we mention them, we’re accused of having a sour grapes attitude. Professionals are expected to move on to the next project and not worry (much less rant) about the projects that don’t come together. I guess I can see that. Yet, I still respect my widely known Facebook friend who reports both rejections and acceptances.

I hoped to get a short story into the last issue of Glimmer Train, a well-respected fiction magazine that is ceasing publication at the end of this year. No dice. They didn’t like it. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Perhaps I should have spent more time with the story or placed a different focus on it. One never knows. Author’s usually don’t get a critique when a magazine doesn’t like a submission.

Those rejections are practice, though. I dislike sites that provide writing prompts because I see no reason to write a story that is simply practice. If I write it, I want to spend enough time on it to make it worth submitting. Sometimes these stories don’t sell. But, I’ve been told not to speak about it because (supposedly) it chips away at my platform as a writer. Is this good or bad? I really don’t know. When I think of bestselling authors, I know that most of them don’t have blogs that discuss the books they submitted that the publisher rejected. So, maybe the rest of us shouldn’t dwell on that either.

How often do you see a headline such as LATEST JAMES PATTERSON NOVEL REJECTED BY GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING? You never see those kinds of headlines. Does this mean everything Patterson submits is accepted? I don’t have a clue.

So, as aspiring, emerging, and small-press authors, we’re told to be positive every step of the way. If we’re not, we’re told we’ll look like amateurs or writers not worthy of a second look by prospective readers. Do you see authors this way? Must we be perfect or ignored? There’s so much competition out there, most of us feel a lot of pressure to appear perfect even though we know we’re far from it.

The gurus tell us we don’t have the luxury of telling the truth about the business of writing. Well, I don’t care. Who you know is more important than how well you write. That’s where it’s at because publishing is seldom fair.

Malcolm