Tag Archives: publishing

Some Thoughts on Reading and Writing

A while ago, there was a discussion on Janet Reid’s blog around how much you should read in your chosen genre before you write that genre.* The received wisdom is 100 books. Yes, 100 books in your genre of choice, before you commit to writing that novel. Some of you can easily burn through a 300-page novel in an afternoon, so 100 books is a summer vacation assignment. For others who, due to time constraints, or other reasons, are not fast readers, that sounds like a six-month commitment. Maybe longer. I’m doing really well if I can get through 50 books in a year at the moment. What does that mean for the person chomping at the bit, eager to write their big crime novel, who has only read a handful of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie stories, and maybe one or two Michael Connelly and Lee Child books? Must they wait?

Here’s my take on this dilemma, for what it’s worth. I’m an as-yet unpublished writer, so I offer these thoughts for consideration, not as proven method. Indeed, I invite discussion in the comments.

What’s the Point of the Rule?

Whenever anyone spouts a so-called “rule” of writing, I’m immediately skeptical. For every rule, there’s a successful (and talented) author who has broken it. But these “rules” end up in how-to books and Writer’s Digest articles, so there must be a reason for them.

Before embracing or endorsing the rule, I ask a simple question: “What’s the point of the rule?” Because behind every writing rule, there are scores of literary agents and editors throwing paper, pencils, and laptops around in frustration at yet another dim-witted wannabe writer who doesn’t know his apostrophes from his asterisks, writing boring, been-there-done-that, prose, thinking they’re the next Hemingway.

Behind this particular rule is the idea that in order to write something original, you need to have a good feel for what’s been done. Also, if you want to get a good idea of how your novel fits into the general canon of the genre, you need to have a familiarity with that canon. All this helps the agent and publisher sell your book. If you’re writing another re-hash of a P.D. James plot, then no-one’s going to be interested.

That’s all well and good. BUT

You and I know there are plenty of books out there with settings and plots that all ring familiar. And yet millions buy them and enjoy them. Why? I think because each writer brings something unique to the telling of the story. Whether it’s their style, their “voice,” or their characters, or their peculiar perspective on the familiar, or something else, there’s a reason we keep turning the pages. It’s like a Columbo mystery, where we know who did it and how it’s going to end up within the first ten minutes of the show. And yet we keep watching because we love Columbo, and we love watching how he solves the murder.

If you ask me, I think writers should definitely be readers, and read as much and as often as possible. Writers should also write, and write as much as they can as often as they can. As a writer you should feel free to imitate styles, try out different genres, and find your voice and perspective. Then write whatever the heckovellia you want to write. Even if you’ve only read a couple of books in that genre. The worst that can happen is no-one will read it. But have fun. Enjoy what you write. If you’ve got any talent, you’ll know if what you’ve written is worthless dung,** or if you’re onto something. After that, all the usual “rules” about getting beta readers and so on apply.

What do you think? Disagree if you want. After all, what do I know? ūüôā

*¬†I’ve realized that I’ve probably written more in the comments on Janet’s blog articles than I’ve written articles on my own blog! Okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but that’s an imbalance I ought to redress.

** As opposed to priceless dung? I’m sure flies and beetles can tell the difference.

Writing about Writing

You might notice that the tag-line to this blog says “Reading Writing Music Theology Etc.” If you’ve been following for any length of time (well, not¬†any length–I mean, if you’ve been following for a few days this wouldn’t appy) you’ll have seen book reviews, Music Mondays, Sunday School Notes, Doctor Who stuff, and other things. But where’s the writing? Sure, I’ve posted some flash fiction from time to time. But you may have noticed I’ve gone quiet when it comes to writing tips and publishing advice.

Back when I started this blog, oh some six years ago now, I did a mini-series (a costume drama, I think) on querying agents, giving tips and suggestions. I was, at that time, querying my first query-ready novel. I had done a lot of reading, and I wanted to sum up all my research and offer it up to the world.

Since that time, however, I’ve done some hard thinking. You see, I am, and remain to this day, an unagented, unpublished writer. So my expertise in publishing is as good as my reading and conversations I’ve had with agents and published writers. I don’t have anything to offer by way of good, positive experience. When I look for query advice, there are two types of people I consider SMEs (Subject Matter Experts):

  • The people who read queries as a job requirement and necessity (i.e., literary agents and editors)
  • People whose queries have secured them multiple requests from agents, or, who have secured agency representation as a result of their queries. In other words, people who have written successful queries. Queries that have produced the desired result.

I am in neither of these camps. So why should anyone listen to what I have to say, when you have plenty of SMEs telling you what you want to know?

As for writing tips, sure I can tell you what works for me. But I have nothing to show for my writing so far, so why should you care what works for me? Clearly what works for me doesn’t yet work for many other people. Again, when I want writing tips, who do I turn to? Published authors whose work I like, people who have demonstrated ability with the craft of writing, and have, as a result, written work that is salable and/or critically acclaimed.

So, at least for now, until I have a credible enough platform from which to pontificate, I’ll gladly point you to SMEs. But unless, for some strange reason, you want to read my thoughts on writing, how I go about composing prose, or whatever, I won’t be posting “tips and tricks” here. Or anywhere else. It just seems a little presumptuous, and a bit arrogant, of me. After all, in the immortal words of the Eighth Doctor, “Who am I?” (Whovian in-joke). So here are some SMEs to get you started. You can easily Google for more:

Query SMEs:

Query Shark/Janet Reid

Carly Watters

Publishing Crawl (Pub Crawl)

Various Tips from Literary Agents

… and other Literary Agent blogs.

Writing SMEs:

Stephen King (his book ON WRITING)

Jeff Somers

Writer’s Digest

James Scott Bell

The Manhattan Trip, Day Two

As I mentioned yesterday, the main purpose of this New York trip was so my FirstBorn, Sarah, could audition at Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Day Two of our adventure, therefore, started early with a trip uptown on the subway (the 1-Line, to be precise) to Juilliard, which is near the Lincoln Center, and not far from Central Park. The journey by train only took about fifteen minutes, and then we had a short walk from the station to Juilliard. On the way, I spotted the Mormon Temple:

Why take a picture of it, especially since I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Well, first, I’m a theologian, so things like this interest me anyway. But also, if you Google “Mormon Temples”… go on. Google. I’ll wait. Do you see how everywhere else, Mormon Temples are big stand-alone buildings with tall spires? I’m not sure whether it’s because of city ordinances, or just lack of space, but the Manhattan Temple is not quite as impressive looking. Yet it¬†still has¬†the trademark golden Angel Moroni blowing his trumpet atop a… pole? Not quite a spire, but I guess it had to suffice.

We arrived at Juilliard, and I walked with Sarah into the lobby area where they were receiving applicants. I asked if she wanted me to stay, since they did offer a tour to parents and friends of auditioners, and maybe she wanted me to hang around for moral support. She said she was okay, and would text me when she was done. Juilliard hold their auditions in the morning, then ask their applicants not to leave town while they select those they want to see again. If you have been selected, you get an¬†email from them between 2 and 4 that afternoon. Sarah was warned that if she got¬†a call-back, she could expect to be at Juilliard as late as¬†11 that night! She probably didn’t think I would enjoy waiting around that long, so I wished her well and we parted ways.

Those who know me know that I’m a huge Beatles fan. Well… okay, I’m not that big, and I find enormous insects to be kind of gross, so let me re-phrase. I really like the Beatles, and have for over 30 years. Being from the UK, I have always known who the Beatles were. But it wasn’t until John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 that I really started paying them more attention. Since my Beatles fandom helped fan the flame of my interest in music, and my desire to learn to play instruments, that tragic event was quite a seminal one in my life.

After the Beatles split up in 1970, John moved to New York. His battle with the Nixon Administration to get a Green Card is the stuff of legend. It’s a battle he eventually won. John and his wife Yoko¬†moved into the Dakota building, just across the road from Central Park, where they lived and raised their son Sean. And it was just outside the Dakota building on the night of December 8th, 1980, that John was shot. Those who were around at the time will remember the international outpouring of grief. Hundreds gathered in Central Park singing his songs, mourning together. Not long after, a section of Central Park was given over to Lennon’s memory. Called “Strawberry Fields,” after one of his most famous Beatles songs, its centerpiece is a large circular mosaic:

“Imagine” is probably John Lennon’s most famous non-Beatles song.

One sign says that “Strawberry Fields” is supposed to be a “Quiet Place.” Given that it’s right next to Central Park West, a major road, it is amazingly tranquil, with benches all around, as you can see in the picture above. Each bench carries a dedication. One in particular caught my attention:


After lingering a little, I made my way across the road to the Dakota building. It’s still the residence of the rich and famous today, which is why there’s a guard post and “Authorized Persons Only Beyond This Point” signs. I believe Yoko still lives there. Of course, I had to go and stand in that fateful spot, the place where one heart stopped, a million hearts were broken, and lives were forever changed. It gave me a chill.

I hadn’t had breakfast and seriously needed a cup of tea, so I started making my way in the vague direction of Seventh Avenue. I could have taken the 1-Line back to the hotel, but I decided I’d rather walk. According to Google Maps, it would take about 40 minutes to get to the Hotel Pennsylvania from Central Park. I had the time, and I really wanted to take in the city, so off I went!

I breakfasted on a bagel at a Starbucks on West 59th Street, not far from the Lincoln Center. The tea was okay (“English Breakfast”) and only cost a couple of dollars, so I was happy with that. Sarah texted me while I was there to say she had finished orientation, she would be auditioning soon, and I shouldn’t wait around for her. She had the MetroCard I bought yesterday that was good for a week’s worth of unlimited travel, so she was fine.

With the help of Google Maps (don’t get me started on my lousy sense of direction!), I oriented myself toward Seventh Avenue and started walking. Before long, I found myself on Ninth Avenue, and a district known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” I’m not quite sure why¬†Hell’s, but I understood the “Kitchen” part: restaurants! Lots and lots of restaurants. At least five flavors of Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, you name it! There’s even an Afghan Kebab House:

One restaurant (Chinese, I believe) had a sign on the door boasting “MSG-Free, Vegan, Gluten-Free…” and other ways it catered to every possible preference and allergy under the sun!

My family (and sometimes I) enjoy the show “Project Runway,” which is kind of like “American Idol” for fashion designers. Every week, the contestants go shopping for fabric at this amazing fabric store called Mood. It so happens, Mood is located on West 37th Street, between 8th and 7th Avenues. Since it was so close to the hotel, I made a point of swinging by just to see what it’s like in real life. Here’s what I found:

It doesn’t look much from the outside. The sign on the front says that the ground floor is for upholstery fabrics. If you want the fashion fabrics, you go through a door at the side and take the stairs to the third floor. I almost went in and shouted, “Hello, Mooood!!” but resisted. Thankfully.

While I was at Central Park, I got an email from my literary agent friend, Janet Reid (regular blog readers will know who Janet is). Before leaving for New York, I had emailed her saying I would be in town. She invited me to stop by the office, namely New Leaf Literary and Media. Her email that morning was to tell me I should call after 11 am to arrange the visit. It was after 11 by the time I got to the hotel room, so I called her, and she told me to come on over.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the 22nd floor of 110 West 40th. Janet met me at the door and invited me in…

Bear in mind, folks, I’m a writer who has been stalking following literary agents on social media for the past six years, hoping to find one who will be receptive to my work. Since most agents live and work around New York City, it’s not often I get to meet one in the flesh. Here, I was about to meet a whole office full of them!

Janet introduced me to Joanna Volpe, head honcho of New Leaf, and agent to Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, and numerous other best selling authors. I also met Jaida, JL, Mia, and I’m pretty sure I met Danielle and Sara (see the New Leaf website to put faces to these names)–everybody was busy working so I didn’t have much time to stop and chat. Janet then took me back to her office where we talked for a bit. Then Sarah texted to say she was done with her audition, and where was I?¬†Janet invited her to the office. When she arrived, we all headed out to lunch at the eatery next door.

It’s always a wonderful thing when you can combine good food and good company. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but they had a falafel burger on the menu. I checked with the waitress and, indeed, it promised a burger-sized falafel on a bun. I¬†love falafel, so I ordered that with eager anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed:

It came with coleslaw that really needed more vinegar, and potato chips that were clearly homemade, but lacked flavor. The burger was the star, and it more than made up for the rest of the plate.

Over lunch we talked about Sarah’s audition (it went well, but she won’t know anything until this afternoon), publishing,¬†and Janet’s blog (on which I am a frequent–perhaps too frequent–commenter). Janet also took pleasure in tormenting me (“You’d like to meet [literary agent] Jessica Sinsheimer? Oh, I had dinner with Jessica the other evening. We talked about you!” My mouth drops. “Just kidding!” Grrr.)

Once our bellies were full, we headed back to New Leaf. Our phones needed to charge, and Sarah was waiting on an email from Juilliard, so Janet invited us to hang out in their conference room and recharge our phones while we waited. I have a theory that Janet is trying to keep the list of agents that I query very short–as in, only her name. At¬†Bouchercon 2015, after telling Janet that literary agent Jessica Faust, with whom I had a pleasant fifteen minute chat, was on my query list, she replied, “You have a¬†list??” When we got back to the 22nd floor, Joanna was using the conference room, but kindly vacated it so we could use it. I’m certain that if I should query Joanna Volpe, Joanna will¬†say to Janet, “Colin Smith… do I know him?” And Janet will say, “Oh yes. He’s the guy that kicked you out of your conference room.” See what I mean?

Over the next couple of hours, Sarah went over her monologues for Carnegie Mellon, while I read some of the books in the conference room. One picture book I read that was quite entertaining was THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT DRAGONS by Shelley Moore Thomas and Fred Koehler. Throughout the book, a mouse insists there are no dragons in the story, while in the background we see clear evidence of dragon activity. I also started reading GHOST COUNTRY, the second in Patrick Lee’s series that started with THE BREACH (which I have read).

By the time four o’clock rolled around, Sarah had not heard from Juilliard, so she decided to head on over there just to be sure. We said our goodbyes to Janet, and I went back to the hotel while Sarah took the train back uptown. While Sarah was gone, I asked at the hotel cafe if they could fill my travel mug with hot water. Of course they could! Only $1.50 for a medium cup, and $2.00 for a large cup. I frowned and walked away. Sarah returned to say that Juilliard was a “no.” She wasn’t terribly disappointed since she knew it was a long-shot. It seems Juilliard gets about 3,000 applications every year, out of which they select 20 students. The experience was worthwhile, however.

To celebrate/commiserate, we ate supper at one of the Irish pubs nearby. The one we chose, The Blarney¬†Rock Irish Pub, was relatively inexpensive, and served veggie burgers. A great combination! I drank Blue Moon (they had it on tap), and Sarah got a hard cider. Sarah tried their shepherd’s pie, which she said was actually very good. My veggie burger was also good, as were the fries (no, they were not chips–and as Irish as they might claim to be, I wouldn’t expect proper chips in the States):

We then walked back to Korea Town to visit Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery, where we picked up some food for breakfast tomorrow. Sarah suggested we try¬†Starbucks for hot water. It seems she had been able to get a cup of hot water free of charge from them. So we found a Starbucks and, sure enough, they gave us two large cups of hot water, no charge. I have never felt so much love for Starbucks in my entire life. To complete my New York experience, we stopped at a street vendor and I got a large pretzel, which I took back to the hotel to munch on while I drank a cup of tea using our Starbucks hot water. (Yes, Sarah and I both brought tea bags from home, because that’s what we do.)

And that pretty much sums up our second day. Day three promised to be nerve wracking. Sarah’s Carnegie Mellon audition was at 8 am, but we didn’t know when she would be seen. Our flight out of JFK was scheduled to leave at 12:59 pm, so we needed to be leaving for the airport between 10 and 10:30 am. Did¬†we make it out in time…? Find out tomorrow!



Links and Stuff

We’re starting with fashion this week. In particular, shirts. Namely, to tuck or not to tuck. As far back as I remember, I’ve always tucked my shirt–button-down, polo, t-shirt, whatever–into my trousers, jeans, or shorts. My mother would always tell me to “tuck yourself¬†in,” and maybe I never got out of the habit. The other day, I came home from work, removed the button-down shirt I was wearing (tucked in), and threw on a t-shirt. I knew I would be going to exercise shortly, and I would change my shirt before doing that, so I didn’t bother to tuck it in. My children couldn’t believe their eyes. One even remarked that I looked like a completely different person. All I did was not tuck in my t-shirt! What’s with that? Have I been doing something wrong all these years? The kids say letting your shirt hang out is the thing to do these days, with the possible exception of button-down shirts–though even there, the preference is not to tuck. And you know, my observations at work this week seem to bear that out. If I was¬†someone else, and not too old to care, I might now be self-conscious about¬†tucking my shirt in. But this whole incident has made me curious: is this really a thing? Is it the trend now, both with men and women, to let your shirt hang over your trousers? I admit, I thought people did it to hide the fact their trousers are a bit more snug than they would prefer. But no–there are some quite trim looking guys and gals at work who fly their shirt tails. Is this another fashion trend I’ve let pass me by?

Now, to the links! First, I want to disavow any connection with the Tropical Storm that invaded the south east coast of the U.S. last week. It might have been my namesake, and it may have been wet and full of wind and bluster, but it wasn’t me. Really.

Thanks to Twitter, my attention was drawn to this very interesting audio clip that came to light earlier this year. It’s the only¬†recorded interview with Harper Lee, author of the classic novel, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Lee was a notorious recluse, refusing interviews for much of her life, so this is a precious insight into her thoughts and motivations, recorded only a few years after the book was published. It’s especially interesting to hear why she thinks Southerners make better story tellers. If you have ten minutes to spare, it’s worth your time.

Speaking of writers, prolific self-published author Emma Adams announced this week that she has an agent. Why would a self-published author, and one who seems to be pretty committed to self-publishing, want an agent? Usually, you get an agent if you want to go the traditional publishing route, and be published by, say, Penguin, HarperCollins, or any number of the larger publishing houses. Emma says she still wants to continue self-publishing, but having an agent will help her with things like foreign rights sales, and dealing with¬†audio books. I wanted to share this with you, first because it’s cool news and worth sharing, and second, to show how publishing is changing with the times. I think¬†these kinds of hybrid models will become more popular given how hard it is to get a foot in the door of traditional publishing, and agents find new ways to use their skills and resources to help a broader range of authors, traditional and non-traditional.

Now this is fun, and requires no commentary on my part: Rancher on horseback lassoes would-be bike bandit in Walmart parking lot. A warning to bike thieves looking to ply their trade in Oregon.

And finally, my condolences to those who lost friends and family members in the shooting in Orlando early Sunday¬†morning. Whatever your thoughts or beliefs about gun control, homosexuality, Islam, or any of the other issues raised by this event, two things are clear. First, the gunman was an evil man committing an act of monstrous evil. And second, those he killed were human beings made in the image of God. Genesis 9:6 tells us that murder is the worst of crimes because God made man in His image. To kill someone is to desecrate and dishonor one who bears that image. It should grieve the hearts of all people, especially Christians, that someone should do something like this. There’s more I could say, but now’s not the time. I simply pray for healing, and for Gospel light to bring peace, mercy, and repentance to bear.

How was your week? Was your shirt tucked? ūüôā


Analog vs. Digital: A Thought for the Ongoing Debate

Since storage space and conversion technology has made digital media and digital storage a viable commercial option, a debate has raged (at least among some) as to the relative merits of old analog forms versus the new digital forms. For example, do you prefer the look and feel of paper books, or the convenience and availability of digital books and e-readers? Is music better on vinyl or on CD? And should we do away with vinyl and plastic altogether and just download our music to our phones or other devices?

There are many good arguments on the digital side. Digital books and music don’t wear out. They always look and sound as good as the first time you opened them. They are easy to store, taking up a few megabytes on a server somewhere, as opposed to inches on a shelf. You can put your mp3s and ebooks¬†online, in the “cloud,” so you can access them anywhere, anytime. They never go out of print, and are easy for publishers and retailers to store and distribute to customers.

However, there’s one major drawback to digital media I’ve observed that I don’t often hear discussed. Format. Those of you old enough to remember when video tapes were new, you’ll recall there was a format war that boiled down to VHS or Betamax. In the early 80s, video recorders used one or the other format, and they were not compatible with each other (i.e., VHS video recorders couldn’t play or record Betamax, and vice versa). In the end, VHS won the day. What about all those Betamax tapes? Unless you kept your Betamax VCR, they are now useless.

We assume file formats will last forever. There will always be codecs that will enable my PC to play mp3 files. There will always be pdf, epub, and mobi formats for my ebooks. There will always be word processing apps that can¬†read my Word .doc and .docx files. And granted, many of these formats have been around for close to twenty years, and probably won’t go away anytime soon. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about technology is that it changes. Cassette players have given way to CD, and some say CD’s days are numbered, giving way to digital download. And what happens to all our Microsoft Office files if Microsoft should go bankrupt? Can we be sure there will be computers that can read these things in fifty, sixty, seventy years’ time?

When I was at university and starting my New Testament Greek studies, I wanted to get a Greek-English lexicon. The standard scholarly lexicon was, however, well beyond¬†this poor student’s budget, so I looked in used book stores for a suitable alternative. In the end, I picked up an¬†old edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon. This¬†is a classical (i.e., Attic) Greek lexicon, but while it may lack some nuance of meaning that the later NT Koine Greek had, it would suffice. I paid fourteen pounds for it–significantly cheaper than the latest NT Greek lexicon–and it got me through two years of Greek.

Here’s a picture of the lexicon, open at a random spot:


I would like to get it re-bound sometime when I can afford such things. Now, take a look at the name of one of the previous owners. See the date? That’s almost 90 years ago.


Now look at the title page. See the Roman numerals at the bottom (click to enlarge if your eyes need help)? Can you figure out the date?


If you figured 1863, you are correct (M=1,000; D=500; C=100; L=50; X=10; I=1, so MDCCCLXIII = 1863). Think about that for a moment. This book is 152 years old. When this book was published, Queen Victoria had been reigning for just twenty-six¬†years, the Great Exhibition was¬†twelve years ago, and the horror of Jack the Ripper wouldn’t happen for another¬†twenty-five years. In the U.S., Abraham Lincoln was President, and¬†the Civil War was still going on.

And yet I don’t need any special technology from 1863 to be able to read it. I can open it up and dive into the text just as well as any Victorian university¬†student might have done. And, barring flame¬†or moth, this book will still be around in another 152 years, and still be readable regardless of technology changes.

Can I have that same assurance with my digitial media?

What do you think?

Why Do Publishers Do This?

Have you ordered a book, or been in a bookstore and picked up a brand new novel, only to find the pages look like this?:


You see that copy of Shirley Jackson’s LET ME TELL YOU? See the pages on the side, how they’re all rough and uneven? Here’s a close-up in case you can’t quite see what I mean:


This was not on the discount rack in some podunky, rag-tag, off-the-back-of-a-truck warehouse store. This was on the “New” shelf of our Barnes and Noble. The copies behind it were all the same. It’s not just B&N either; I’ve had new books from Amazon that were like this. Look at this copy of Carolina De Robertis’ THE GODS OF TANGO on a different shelf:


Same rough, uneven pages. I know I could probably return a¬†book in this condition, but if all the books on the shelf have the same problem, what are the chances they’ll find me a “clean” copy? Might they¬†all be like that? Would I have to wait for a second edition, or the paperback edition, to get one that looks good?

While this apparent carelessness does grate on my sensibilities, often I’ll just sigh and take the book anyway (after all, it’s the content that matters, right?). But it makes me wonder why publishers will let books go out on the shelf like this. How much control do they have over the quality of the end product? It certainly doesn’t reflect well on them.

If you have any insight into what’s going on here, please let me, and others who are curious, know!

UPDATE: See Heidi Kneale’s reply for an answer. Do you like this “deckle edge?”

Vanity Press

Traditionally, when an author wants to be published, he or she will query an agent, sign with an agent, and that agent will then shop for a publisher. When the agent finds a publisher who wants to publish the author’s work, the agent and the publisher will draw up a contract. Under the terms of this contract, the author, the agent and the publisher receive a percentage share of the royalties from the publication of the book. The publisher will usually pay the author (via the agent) an advance against royalties (usually in three or four payments), which is repaid via the author’s royalty share. If the book sells more than enough for the author’s royalty share to repay the advance, the author will start receiving royalty checks (usually in semi-annual payments). If the book doesn’t sell well enough to pay back the advance, the author is not required to make up the difference out of pocket, but he or she won’t receive royalty payments from the publisher, and the publisher may not want to publish the author’s next book.

“Vanity presses” take a different approach to publishing. Under this model, the author pays a publisher to publish his or her book. The publisher may also offer editing, design, and promotional services for an additional fee, otherwise the author is responsible for all other aspects of the design and marketing of his or her work. The advantages of this model are clear:

  • the author doesn’t have to go through the cycle of agent/publisher submissions and rejections before getting published
  • it provides an opportunity for authors to publish books that are not mainstream, or may have a limited audience (at least initially)
  • authors receive a greater royalty share, since they paid the publisher up front, and they didn’t use the services of an agent

But there are downsides, too:

  • the author doesn’t have the quality control usually provided by agents and editors (for free)
  • the author has to become proficient with publishing contracts to avoid being scammed
  • the author has to have the funds to get the book published

There are ways around these downsides. Authors can hire lawyers, editors, and marketers. Also, as self-publishing continues to gain respectability in the marketplace, some literary agencies provide their services to those who wish to self-publish.

The whole subject of self-publishing is more complex (and contentious) than I can deal with in 500 words, but as technology opens up opportunities for independent publishing (ebooks, Print-On-Demand, etc.), the self-publishing and “vanity press” option is one many authors are taking seriously. After all, the author wants to get his or her work into readers’ hands, and this is another way to accomplish that.

What are your thoughts about self-publishing? Is it something you would consider? Would you buy a book published by a “vanity press”? If you have, were you disappointed, pleasantly surprised, or did you get what you expected?

RTW: How Far Would You Go…?

This week’s Road Trip Wednesday challenge on YA Highway poses the question: How far would you go to get published? Here’s the explanation:

We writers can form quite an attachment to our characters and stories. But we also know publishing is a business, and sometimes to make it in said business–to really build a career from it–we have to bend a bit. How far would you go to break into the publishing world?

The bases in the picture are not necessarily in any particular order of severity. But the real problem answering this is, for all of one’s idealism, one never knows, when pushed, how one will react. It’s a lot easier to say, for example, “I would never sacrifice my artistic integrity just to write what sells!” when you’re a young, single person, with few if any responsibilities outside of yourself, and with your whole life ahead of you. When you’re middle-aged with a family to support, those decisions are not as clear-cut. Even then, if you already have a job and you’re not relying on writing as your source of income (as much as you would like it to be), it’s easier to stick to your principles. If getting published means a roof over your head and a meal in your stomach, you may be willing to bend much further. I’m sure Billy Joel didn’t really want to play piano bars to make money in the early 70’s–but it was that or starve.

Saying all that, here’s where I currently am with this:

First Base (no problem): Make revisions based on editor feedback. I presume the editor likes my novel, and my agent wouldn’t have hooked me with an editor s/he didn’t feel was a good fit, so all being well, this shouldn’t be a big deal.

Second Base (not much of an issue): Make minor revisions to sign with an agent. The way I see it, having the right agent can make or break a career. The best agent will love your work and fight for the perfect publishing deal. This being said, I would hope an agent that really gets my novel wouldn’t ask for revisions that would harm it. However, if the revisions the agent requests show a lack of connection with my novel, that may be a sign this isn’t the right agent.

Third Base (getting uncomfortable): Switch to a well-selling genre. In theory, I don’t have a problem with the idea of writing different genres–especially ones that put me outside my comfort zone. I like a challenge! But to do this just to sell a novel would have to be a last resort to get published. I mean, I must be really hard-pressed. I wouldn’t say completely desperate because, as I said, it might actually be fun to try something different. But it would chafe my artistic integrity. There again, I might discover it’s fun and I enjoy this new genre, which is why I would never say never.

Fourth Base (you may as well take my soul while you’re at it): Jumping on the trend train. Sorry, I think at this point I’ve dug my heels and said no. Trends come and go, so rather than write something I have no passion or interest in just because people are into it at the moment, I would prefer to write what I love, and wait on the market to be right for it. Again, having a good agent could be key here, since my agent might look at my novel and WIPs and suggest which of the projects I have might make a better “break-in” novel given current market taste. And if I don’t have anything that would appeal to current trends, that agent would be able to recommend other courses of action that don’t require “selling out.” I believe, perhaps na√Įvely, that agents respect author integrity, and no agent who loves my work and cares about my career would let me go to Fourth Base.

That’s my take on this. What about you? Hop over to YA Highway and join the blog carnival fun!

Borders Closing: What Does It Mean for Writers and Publishers?

Borders SignIn case you haven’t heard, Borders–the large bookstore chain, and Barnes & Nobles’ biggest brick-and-mortar rival–are going out of business.¬† Here’s a news article if you need to catch up.¬† I have my own thoughts about this, but what do I know?¬† Over the last day or so, I’ve been hunting around for some informed opinion on the subject, and I think I’ve found something along those lines.¬† Eric at the “Pimp My Novel” blog is what you can call an “industry insider.”¬† He works in the sales department of a publishing house, so I would think he would know something about this.¬† Anyway, I would like to offer you his insights.¬† For the record, they do largely agree with the thoughts I had been having.¬† So, not only do I feel delightfully validated ( ūüėÄ ), I also don’t have to write a blog on the subject: Eric’s done it for me!¬† So–without further ado… here’s Eric’s blog.¬† Enjoy.