I’m at the library, looking for something to check out and I see a row of similar-looking spines, books all by the same author, some with numbers on them. It’s a little army of series fiction! (And almost always one of those numbers is missing!)
I have an irrational insecurity around serial fiction as a reader.
I feel like I have to start at book one if I’m going to start at all, and then, I wonder, will I feel compelled to read all the books in the series? What will I miss out on in the literary world if I get to the end of Adam Dalgliesh’s career? I skip over the series and go to a stand alone instead. As a reader, I think I want the whole story wrapped up in one tidy package. And I want my literary diet to be broad. If I pick up the first Harry Potter, for example, I feel, and I’m sure that’s just me and my neurosis, that there’s an expectation that I have to read all of them. I don’t want that kind of pressure. Maybe I’m not a series type of reader? Not all of us are. But, if I’m going to be a successful novelist, then there’s some good reason why writing a series is a great idea.
Series novels are good fits for plotters who love details.
Every successful series writer must plan their little hearts out. They aren’t planning the events for 300 or so pages, they are planning for 3-8 times that amount. All that planning allows for the plot bunnies to come around to book five. This planning allows for the backstory to weave its way in and out across many plotlines. This is a complicated process and there are some authors who love the freedom that comes with many books in a series.
Series books don’t wrap things up neatly.
This is also a good thing for novelists who like to meander. Most novels have restrictions to them: that every little tangent needs to serve a purpose. But not a series. What is left undone in book 1 can be explained in book 2. If this is done well, then the reader is interested and wants to find out more.
Series books can provide rich character arcs.
If the main character is a teenager in book one, and a father of six in the very last book, then you can assume some changes happened in their life. This long arc creates a beautiful canvas on which the author can create some interesting art. The character development itself becomes as important as the plot. And it’s this character that the reader may fall in love with and want to know more with subsequent books.
Series books can show off all the characters, not just the big stars.
Sometimes those secondary or tertiary characters are appealing in their own right. A series allows a writer to delve into their secrets and experiences. Complicated characters that intertwine together can make for some great stories. These background characters are perfect for creating new plot lines, falling in love with and making framing for a murder. What is your protagonist’s ally in the first book could be their betrayer by book seven.
Series books do require a great deal of commitment.
Series books are challenging for the author! But the best reason of all to stick with it create a series is that once the first book is successful, the subsequent books have built-in readers. These are the fans you can reward with consistent references and hints of the past. Multi-book ideas can be a rich experience for the writer and the reader. Maybe I’ll get over my literary neurosis and commit to writing (and maybe even reading) a series.
And that one reason? I’m afraid to be tied down to one genre.
I’ve hopped around the genre spectrum to know that there’s fun in creating a fantasy world, developing a romance and crafting a mystery. It’s all the fear of missing out, see, and maybe that’s what makes me a neurotic human.
So, if you’re a reader or writer, consider series fiction.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.
In my mind, success looks like stacks and stacks of books at a wholesale store.
Every time I go to Costco, I pass the end table where the books are and I look and I say to my kids, “Someday, my books will be there.” To me, that a mark of success.
If I come to that point in my career, then I have a tangible reminder of the success I’ve accomplished. And I want this to be the right kind of book — a novel — not an “I lived through a disaster and now I’m going to tell you my story” kind of book.
The authors who have books at Costco are household names. That’s why they’re there. So when ordinary moms like me are out buying cereal and fruit and twenty pounds of chicken thighs, they can look and say “THAT BOOK!” or “THAT AUTHOR!” if you get your books at Costco, you’ve already paid a LOT of dues. You’ve put in your time and worked hard. Those books at Costco sell themselves.
If Costco is my measure of success, it has to come after a million more tiny successes preceding it.
I will have to be successful in building a platform and attracting the type of publisher who usually deals with Costco. I’ll have to write not just THE book but book after book after book to get me to the place where THE BOOK is more attainable.
My definition of success is not a one-time deal after all. It's a journey.
But if I am so bold as to have such a finite measure, then there are some questions I need to ask myself.
If this is my definition of success then what will happen after I achieve it? What then?
If this is my definition of success then what will that make me if I don’t achieve it?
What if I do all the work, write all the words, put out all the books, develop the platform and never make that goal of having books at Costco?
Or what if this? What if you get to the goal and you find out that it is not satisfying? What if that goal isn’t enough?
I believe a healthy definition of success is one that doesn’t tie our identities to it.
The goal of having books sold at Costco is kind of arbitrary, really. Perhaps there are other measures that are just as satisfying, just as attainable and just as worthy of a celebration. Maybe my definition of success should include other things too, like selling thousands instead of hundreds, getting on a best-seller list, or earning enough that I could support my family.
I also believe that healthy definition of success should be based on what I can do today.
Did I write 1000 words?
Did I read great books?
Have I tackled my to-do list?
Have I practiced the discipline that being a writer requires?
If I focus on these day to day goals my big Costco goal becomes less intimidating. It also becomes less important. I should be proud of what I do on a daily basis so that if my “success” never comes, I can look back and say, “I did my very best.”
I’d like to suggest that we balance our to-do list and daily word counts with a mindfulness of contentment. Today is a success if we give all we’ve got.
We are successful if we:
Choose to work with hope.
Tick things off the to-do list with joy.
Don’t beat ourselves up if we fail.
Put relationships first.
Never compare what we do to what others do.
Stretch ourselves, grow as artists.
Never give up.
Enjoy the journey.
Conversely, we are failures if we:
Compare ourselves to others.
Try to please everyone.
Disrespect the rules of excellence.
Disrespect our readers with shoddy work.
Feel sorry for ourselves when we don’t succeed on the first try.
Obsess about numbers, like sales or followers or rankings.
Expect instant success.
Isolate ourselves from other writers.
When we get to the end of our writing careers, we need to be proud of what we’ve done, who we’ve touched, and how we grew into something bigger.
Perhaps it will translate into sales somehow or a bestselling list or a table at Costco. You never know.
Success should not just be what happens to us that day. Success comes every day that we make good decisions about how we spend our time, what attitudes we embrace, in whom we’ve encouraged.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.
February is upon us and that means conference season approaches.
If you are attending your first writing conference, CONGRATULATIONS! You have made the first step to furthering your writing career. While each conference is unique in the opportunities it offers, there are some universal tips to remember in order to get the most out of the conference.
Conferences are expensive. Often, it’s an issue of saving up money all year before being able to afford to go. Between registration, cost of travel, hotel, food, and other goodies (not taking into account the prep beforehand), you can easily spend up to $2000 per conference. In this case, choosing the right conference is just as important as deciding to attend a conference. Is it hosted by a genre specific organization like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or is it a general conference for all authors like the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference? Each has its own benefits and drawbacks depending on what you are looking to accomplish, and what they provide.
Pro Tip: Last year when many of my writing friends were attending Romantic Times in Las Vegas, I was tempted to attend. But after some careful consideration I decided to attend the Romance Writers of America conference in San Diego, CA instead. While RT is fun, and many of my friends were attending, it offers more for published authors. I realized that at this point in my career I would benefit from the networking opportunities and workshops of RWA. I can always attend RT after my books come out. (Admin note: The first ever conference for 10 Minute Novelists will be held in 2018. Watch this spot for more details.)
Once you decide on the conference that best suits your needs, plan ahead. Most conferences release workshop schedules to attendees a few weeks before the event. Sit down with the list of workshops (and their room numbers) and a map of the conference facility. Go through the list and see which workshops you want to attend and figure out where they are. Most workshops run 45-minutes, with a 15-minute break in between. You’ll have just enough time to get from one room to the other, and maybe stop by the bathroom on your way.
Pro Tip: I have a confession to make–I am addicted to spreadsheets. When I attended RWA last summer, I went prepared. I took a map of the conference hotel, a list of the workshops, and put them on a spreadsheet. That way I had a visual of what was happening where and at what time. I even color coded it based on the type of workshop it was (craft, chat, research, career, etc). It was a thing of beauty…
Hand-in-hand with knowing the schedule ahead of time, is knowing what the best use of your time is. With many workshops occurring at the same time, it’s sometimes difficult to decide which to attend. If you face this dilemma, sit towards the rear of the room. There is no shame in ducking out of one workshop to attend another. It’s common to see people coming and going to listen to different speakers.
Pro Tip: When I found out that some of the workshops I wanted to attend were occurring simultaneous of each other, I panicked. Then I regrouped and took note of which ones were recorded. RWA records many of its workshops and offers them for sale to members. That way I was able to attend the unrecorded workshops and purchase the recordings for my library. Check with your conference, sometimes they’ll offer them for purchase ahead of time at a discount.
4.The Hunt For Representation
Are your conference offers pitch sessions, and you are seeking representation, it is important to research the industry professionals who will be taking pitches. If you attend a general conference like Writer’s Digest or the Southern California Writer’s Conference, be sure the agent you pitch to represents what you write. It will be a waste of time for both of you if you pitch your literary fiction novel to and agents who only reps children’s books. Even if you are attending a genre specific conference, not all agents or publishers represent the same books. A publisher who produces romance books for the LGBTQ community will not be interested in a small town contemporary romance with straight characters.
Pro Tip: I know it’s tempting to bring your completed manuscript with you to a conference, but I don’t recommend doing so. Most industry professionals will not have time to read with an eye for acquiring, and they do not have the room to pack multiple manuscripts. If you get a request for your manuscript, you will be given specific instructions on how to submit the required documents.
5. Pitch Perfect
You did your research and made a pitch appointment with your dream agent. Do you have your pitch ready? If you don’t, now is the time to write one. If you are having trouble with it, think of your pitch as the back cover copy on your book. What would it read like when your book is published?
Most pitch appointments run anywhere from five to ten minutes. You’ll have a few minutes to give your pitch and some time afterwards to chat with your prospective editor or agent. While you can memorize your pitch, it is always a good idea to keep some notes handy in case your mind goes blank. Don’t worry if your delivery isn’t perfect, industry professionals know most writers are introverts and public speaking–especially in front of strangers–isn’t their thing.
Pro Tip: When I pitched my story I made sure to write it on a 3×5 note card. It kept me on point, and also gave me a place to write questions of my own. The pitch itself only took two minutes, and that left time for the agents to ask me questions about my story and where I see my career going (hint: they’re looking for longevity!), and for me to ask questions about the agent, their agency and how they could help me achieve my goals.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be prepared. Not only for your pitch, but also for your workshops. I’ve known some people who get so focused on their pitch appointment, they forget about the workshops and networking opportunities available to them. Make a list of things you will need to bring with you. If you like to handwrite notes, be sure to bring a notebook and pens with you. If you are more technically inclined, a tablet, laptop or mobile phone may be more your style–just be sure to bring a portable charger or two to make sure you are fully charged at all times.
Pro Tip: Many conferences are held at hotels, but the little hotel notepads don’t offer much space for note taking. I always bring extra notepads and pens in case someone needs one. If you’re published, you can even bring a pen with your website or logo on it. What better way to be remembered than as “that nice writer who gave me a pen when I needed one.” Who knows, you may meet a new friend or writing partner this way.
Opportunities abound to network with other authors, editors, agents and other industry professionals. Aside from the pitch appointments and workshops, there are evening socials, publisher parties, and the ubiquitous hotel bar. I know, writers tend to be a solitary lot but a conference is the perfect time to break out of your shell and make connections. Here are a few things you should have in your networking arsenal.
Business Cards: If you haven’t done so yet, now is the time to have some business cards made. They should include:
Your email and/or phone number
Your social media handles
Your website, if you have one
What you write
Optional items include:
Your tag line, if you have one
A photo headshot
Elevator Pitch: You may run into editors and agents in unexpected places and shouldbe ready with your elevator pitch. The premise is that it should only take as long as an elevator ride.
Having trouble thinking one up? An easy way to create an elevator pitch is to summarize your story into one sentence of 20 words or less. Similar to how the old TV Guide movie entries used to read.
Elevator Introduction: You should be able to introduce yourself at a conference. Confession–I get super nervous around big name authors and editors, so I fan girl. A lot. Which usually means I forget my own name. In order to combat this and at least look like I know what I’m doing, I have a little introduction that I keep handy.
“Hi, my name is Christina. I’m a 911 dispatcher by day, historical romance author by night.”
It’s fun, it’s quick, and a shows a bit of personality. It’s also a nice ice-breaker to use at the bar and social events.
Pro Tip: I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I’m going to say it again. The bathroom is not the place to pitch your book. You can wait a few minutes for your target industry professional to exit the bathroom before you launch into your pitch.
8.Pack and Dress Wisely
Don’t know what to wear? You can’t go wrong with business casual. While most conferences don’t have a dress code, you will want to present yourself as a professional. Shorts, jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops may be appropriate for your hotel room or walking about town, but not necessarily for you pitch session or workshops.
I mentioned before that many conferences are held at hotels, and hotels are notoriously cold in their public rooms. Be sure to bring a sweater and to dress in layers.
Pro Tip: Packing also goes hand-in-hand with being prepared. Make sure to check, and recheck, what you have in your suitcase before you leave. Do not be like me and get to your conference destination only to realize until the first morning of the conference that you forgot to pack appropriate shoes. Luckily, there was a shopping center across the street from the hotel where I was able to buy an emergency pair before things got underway.
9.Take Care of Yourself
Conferences are busy events. Lasting three to four days, they pack as much activity as they can into such a short amount of time. Workshops start early in the morning and go all day. Then there are the after parties, the publisher parties, the meet and greets, the hotel bar, books signings… the list goes on. It can be an introvert’s worst nightmare, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the most out of it without having a nervous breakdown.
Be sure to wake up early enough to eat some breakfast, grab a cup of coffee (or two), and mentally prepare for the day.
Bring non-perishable snacks with you. Granola or protein bars are small enough to stick in a bag, and can stave off hunger until the next scheduled meal break.
Be sure to stay hydrated. Being inside with air conditioning can dehydrate you, even though you’re inside. Water bottles are easy to carry and refill as needed.
Try to avoid snacks and drinks that are heavy on the sodium and sugar, as they can dehydrate you.
Sitting for long periods of time taking notes can make everything tense up. Take some deep breaths and stretch your back and limbs, and flex your wrists.
Stay healthy! Wash your hands frequently, or use hand sanitiser. To prevent your skin from drying out too much, keep a travel size hand lotion in your bag.
Don’t forget your mouth! Stick lip balm is easily portable and will keep your lips from chapping in the air conditioned rooms, and a tin of mints will keep you fresh for your networking opportunities.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the crowds and activity, take some time for yourself. If it’s close you can go to your room or, if your conference offers it, take advantage of the Quiet Room for a few minutes and recharge.
10. Have Fun
This is the most important tip I can give you: have fun.
Yes, writing is a business and a conference can go a long way to furthering your career. But this is also a time to listen, learn, laugh at the jokes, and make new friends.
When I attended my first writing conference, I didn’t know anybody or the first thing about writing a book. I went with an open mind and an empty notebook. I thought I would learn some new skills and, perhaps, come out with a story idea I could play with. Was I nervous? Absolutely! There’s nothing like being a new person in a new place completely unsure of yourself. I did not expect to walk out of there with new friends, friends who have turned into colleagues and have helped me grow as a writer over the years. You may go in as a solo writer, but you leave as a member of the community with everyone encouraging you on your way.
And that is truly priceless.
Christina Alexandra is a romance writer from Southern California. Always looking for an adventure, she has held many different jobs including both medical and veterinary offices, music teacher, law enforcement instructor, service dog puppy raiser, emergency grief counselor, coroner’s assistant and, currently, an emergency services operator. Christina writes stories set in Georgian and Regency England and credits her varied experiences as the foundation from which she builds true-to-life characters and emotional stories with a unique twist on modern issues. When not researching, writing or working, she spends her time traveling and cooking–oftentimes with a historical flare.
Long before you submit your work to your beta readers, before you assume that you’re done, before you start thinking about renting that billboard to advertise your latest literary genius, you should read your manuscript out loud.
Start at page one. Finish at “The End.” And listen. And keep a red pen handy to make notes.
I’m completely convinced that you’ll make a lot of notes. I’m convinced that you’ll hear far more errors than you’ll ever see. Reading aloud reveals everything.
This is why you should read your manuscript out loud:
You’ll hear words repeated. We all have writing habits that need to be broken. We may use “just” or “some” too many times. By reading aloud, you’ll be able to see patterns of filter words that need to be eliminated. Make a note in the margin, or highlight your offensive word so you can do a “find” and “replace” later.
You’ll have a better sense of the story’s pacing. When we are writing, we have everything going on in our heads. It may never occur to us that the interior monolog is too long or that exposition needs a trimming. By reading aloud, you may catch these things.
You’ll catch bad blocking. If you are reading aloud, you may be better in tune with what is happening in the scene. This new, fresher, multi-sensory experience may reveal some errors or inconsistencies that need correcting. Fix them now. They can embarrass you later.
Need help? As a fan to sit and listen to you. Record your reading. Put on a play.
You’ll hear the clunkiness of poorly written sentences. Passive voice, for example, is more offensive to the ear than to the eye. If you’re reading aloud, you may come across a sentence that doesn’t sound right. Maybe it needs a rearranging. Or cut them out entirely.
You may notice unnecessary character ticks. Do your characters “sigh” or “smile” or “roll their eyes?” If you read your manuscript aloud, you may see how often they do this. These aren’t necessary. If it is so important that your character reacts, come up with a less predictable way to express it.
You may find spelling mistakes that spellcheck won’t notice. There is a magical process going on in our brains when we read aloud. We experience a cognitive hey day when our brain, mouth, and eyes are all stimulated at once. I think, and I say this without being a neurosurgeon, that this makes us more alert. This is helpful with those pesky homophones. Have a red pencil ready and mark all you see.
You may hear inconsistencies in the dialogue. In your novel, you want each of your characters to have a distinct sound. You won’t know if you’ve really pulled this off until you hear your characters come to life. Act your characters, don’t just read their lines, and see if you need to strengthen dialogue.
This is going to take time. So get comfortable, get a big glass of tea (or whiskey if the book is really bad) and start talking to yourself.
Your manuscript will be all the better for it.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.
In this digital age, an author’s internet presence can make or break her.
Reputation, success, overall career—these are just a few of the things on the line when we power on our computers and plug into the virtual world. We’re all familiar with the horror stories about authors reacting badly to online reviews of their own books—Kathleen Hale stalked a Goodreads user who left a snarky one-star review, going so far as tophysically visit the woman’s home, and Richard Brittain took stalking a step further when he tracked down a cheeky 18-year-old andbludgeoned her with a wine bottle after she criticized his work on Amazon.
Simply put, our kind does not always fare well in the digital realm.
We creatives are a sensitive breed, acting as protective mother hens to our word-children. Without proper discipline and restraint things can turn ugly, and fast.
But I’ve noticed a growing trend of self-published and independent authors who struggle with having a good presence on the opposite end of the spotlight. Instead of losing control with a reviewer of their own work, they lose control when they step into the reviewer’s shoes.
Authors should be a shining example of leaving stellar reviews, be our opinions positive or negative. We know firsthand how much work writing, revising, editing, promoting, publishing, and marketing can be. Whatever our opinion, it can—and should—be handled with grace. Here are a few basic guidelines to ensure this happens.
Were you given a free copy? Acknowledge that!
In this industry, receiving free review copies happens a lot. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this exchange, but it’s important to be transparent about these things. Let’s say you give an honest five-star review of your critique partner’s book, but neglect to include a disclaimer that you’re acquainted with the author and received a free copy. Now, let’s say someone figures out you’re connected with the author. Suddenly, that five-star review isn’t looking so shiny. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you were honest in your review. It doesn’t even matter that you barely know the author and have only been Facebook friends with him for three weeks. You weren’t forthcoming about the situation, and now the whole ordeal seems suspicious. People may not feel they can trust you anymore. And they certainly aren’t interested to learn more about YOUR work.
Use professional language!
The three S’s—slang, snark, and swearing—are fun to employ, especially when you’re discussing a book you didn’t enjoy. But when writing a review, especially one intended for public online display, you should avoid all of them. You’re not just a funny Goodreads user anymore—you’re criticizing or praising a colleague. Decorum and respect are in order here.
This goes double for authors you’re acquainted with, even in such nebulous ways as “I think we bumped into each other at a workshop five years ago.” In these cases, you must avoid writing the review as if it’s a personal letter. No, “Suzie, this was so good—much better than the first draft. Post more about this book in the group next Wednesday!” Instead, shoot for, “In The Great American Novel, Ms. Smith’s skills as a writer and storyteller are only improved from her stellar debut, The American Novel.”
Be honest, but kind!
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you enjoy a fellow author’s personality, online presence, or cute cat photos—their work just isn’t your cup of tea. That’s okay! If you choose to review their books, be honest in your reactions; however, before you hit “send” on a two- or three-star review, check yourself. Did you write your honest thoughts in the best possible way? Did you, in emotionally neutral words, explain the issues you found with the story, or did you just say “this book stinks”? Did you come up with at least two things the author did well to “sandwich” your complaint?
If you said no to either question, reconsider posting this review. There’s always a way to express an opinion without being downright mean. It isn’t always easy, but we’re writers, after all—if anyone is able to temper honesty with kindness, it should be us.
Can’t say something nice? Don’t say anything at all!
They may say they don’t care if you give it one-star, but let’s get real here: we all care about that. Consider this the Golden Rule, Author Edition. I’ll admit, this one is extremely difficult to pull off. How do you say to the nice author you met online, the one who’s helped you out so much, “I know I promised to read and review your book, but trust me, you don’t want my opinions on public display”?
This isn’t fun. It stinks. It stinks even more if, like me, confrontation is your kryptonite and fibbing is distasteful. Each situation will vary, depending on how long you’ve known the author and how developed your friendship is. They may never ask you when you’ll post a review, and if that’s the case you’re off scot-free. But if they check in with you to see how the reading is coming, it’s best to let them know how you feel before posting a fully negative review for their work.
Couldn’t finish the book? Say so!
Whether you didn’t have the time, the story disinterested you, or the writing was just plain awful, it’s important to let those reading your reviews know if you didn’t complete a book. Further to the point, include details. What page were you on when you stopped reading? What Kindle %? Did you skip around a bit before giving up? This helps others struggling with the decision to keep reading or not decide whether they should persevere, and it’s also a courtesy to the author. What if the problem you had with the book was resolved one chapter over from where you stopped reading? If that’s the case, you’ve unintentionally misrepresented the world and possibly led potential readers astray.
Avoid the “I would have written it this way” trap!
Nothing is more insulting when another writer rolls up their sleeves and turns into an armchair quarterback in the Amazon review section. You might wish a character handled a certain situation differently, and it’s fine to say so, but don’t list all the ways you would have written it better. You’re leaving a review, not teaching a course. What you would have done is irrelevant, because this isn’t your book. Not only will you damage your relationship with the author (if you have one), potential readers may lose faith in the author’s credibility and authority. It also makes you look snobby and unprofessional, and if others find out you’re a writer, they most likely won’t be checking out your work.
Don’t participate in a publicized blog tour if you can’t give a positive review!
It happened to me. I signed up to participate in a release blitz for an exciting new novel, I downloaded the free book, and . . . I couldn’t finish it. Couldn’t get past 10%. I wasn’t an author at this point, so I had no qualms about leaving a review on Amazon (with my did-not-finish information front and center), but I couldn’t bring myself to post the review on my blog. Not on a day when I knew the author would be doing her best to sell, sell, sell. I could have opted out and posted a promotional blurb instead, but I didn’t want my followers to think I recommended the book, so I did the not-so-comfortable thing—I emailed the tour coordinator and told her I wouldn’t be able to participate.
Most coordinators will tell you it’s fine if you have a negative review and they’d still love for you to participate. As an author, I strongly recommend bowing out. It’s a bad idea to showcase a negative review of another author’s work on a day when lots of traffic will be coming through.
Write the review you’d like to receive!
If your review is positive, make it more interesting than “Good book!” If your review is negative, make it more constructive and kind than, “This book sucks!” You’re an author! How much do you crave well-thought-out, elegantly written reviews? How much do the hastily written, vague one-star snark attacks hurt? Write the positive review you’d choose to include in your promotional material. Write the negative review you’d actually be okay with, one you’d find yourself nodding along with thoughtfully and saying, “Yes, I see where she’s coming from.”
Study these guidelines. Learn them. Implement then. Your fellow authors will thank you!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good story must be in want of a publisher.
It’s the age old story. You have so many hopes and dreams. You have all these wonderful stories to tell. You know that it will take an attachment, a proposal and perhaps a big commitment to make you moderately rich and a teensy bit famous. So you, the perfect Lizzie Bennet, who will only writes for love, not necessarily £10,000 a year, will be happy just to attach yourself with a publisher who respects you.
Fortunately for you, your access to publishers on the internet is an inviting a prospect as a town full of regimental soldiers to a 16-yearold girl. But if you don’t have a benefactor such as the much lauded Lady Catherine de Burgh, or your family’s connections are little more than a barrister uncle in Cheapside, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own.
Never fear. This list will give you some guidance.
Top 10 Things to Consider When Choosing A Publisher With The Same Care As Jane Austen Heroine Choose A Husband
You’ll attract folks like you. If you want the best, then be the best. Before you start looking for a publisher, make your story the best it can be. I know, you’ve been working on it for a long time and it really is good. It’s not silly like Lydia or Kitty’s, and it’s not quite as good as Jane’s (but she’s being courted by the Big Six.) Your first responsibility as a writer is to write well. Take your time. Learn from the greats. If you are going to take your writing seriously and you want to attract publishers who take writing seriously, then push yourself to the most excellent level. If you want to make a fast buck, then you’ll attract publishers who want to do the same. Don’t know where to get advice? Start with hanging out at my Facebook group, 10 Minute Novelists, which was named by Writers Digest as one of the top 101 sites for writers for advice.
2. Get the right kind of feedback from those knowledgeable in the industry. They will push you to excellence and the right connections. Your story is level headed. It has a liveliness to it, it’s been tempered by your exposure to great literature and you’ve been told, more than once, that it has “fine eyes.” But the best advice will come from critique groups, beta readers, editors or experienced writers who know the business and can honestly show you where to improve. You need to listen to them and improve your story in the very best way you can. You also never know who knows who. It does pay to be connected. I recommend Scribophile as a great resource. 10 Minute Novelists has a group there. Check them out. Ask for Sara Marschand. She’s awesome!
3. You understand your own goals for publication. Some writers have Rosings Park ambitions. Some will be content with Longbourne. (Forget Purvis Lodge. The attics there are dreadful!) If you don’t know what you want, then it will make choosing a publisher all the more difficult. This is what I did: I tried to find books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were similar to mine in content. I looked at who published them and who represented them. I asked myself if I wanted my books to be lumped together with these kinds of books. If I did, then it was from this list of publishers and agents that I would do research. If I didn’t, then I kept looking until I found books that were a better match. Writer’s Market is a great resource for writer willing to do the research. Get the book!
4. You have a full understanding that an entire industry has been created to take advantage of desperate authors. And along comes your first contact with a publisher. He is tall, dark, handsome (okay maybe not in reality, but go with me, this is fun!) He is a mercenary. He may not be interested in art. He may not be interested in your long term goals. He may just want to cash in from your hard work. Legitimate publishers, who have good reputations, are, in this current economic climate, not likely to initiate relationships with writers. They don’t have to. They’re turning manuscripts away constantly. It’s the less than trustworthy who are Googling authors and trying to sign anyone. Anyone. What to do? Go to Preditors and Editors and look for the names of reputable and notorious publishers, agents and editors. This is like Consumer Reports for writers. You’ll be really glad this site warned you about that Wickham!
5. If the publisher that contacted you is a start-up with few past authors, you need to be careful. This should be a red flag. If you are their first client, or one of the first, it’s not likely that they have the credentials or the power or the skills to make you famous or even sold. Get names of anyone associated with them and send a few emails. Ask this, “I understand you worked with Wickham House for your book on gambling. Was that a positive experience for you?”
6. You should get a third party to look over a contract or legal document. If this potential publisher wants you to sign something, it is in your best interest to ask a lot of questions. Find a lawyer that specializes in contracts, or ask an agent to look something over for you. You don’t have to sign with an agent to sign a contract, but if you should be fully informed in what you’re signing. This is not one of those moments when I agree to the terms and conditions should be your knee-jerk reaction. And if your potential publisher doesn’t have a contract to sign, that means they’re depending on verbal agreements. This should be a red flag for you. A reputable publisher will be happy to provide you a contract, make adjustments, be patient with you while you get someone to look over it, and calm your nerves.
8. Make sure that they have professional graphic designers working for them. Ask what happens if you don’t like the cover. Ask other authors if they liked their covers. Ask for them to show you all of the covers that they have been responsible for in the past. If you don’t like what you see, you may want to rethink this relationship.
10. Don’t be desperate. Beginning writers think that having the word “published author” is like a halo of legitimacy. In some ways it is, but waiting to get published with a reputable, trustworthy publisher is far better than rushing into a relationship that you’ll want to get out of in a few months. Take your time. Do your homework. Someday I’ll use your book to teach your ten children how to play their instruments very ill.
Because you want so badly to be published, you’re not much different from the sad situation that all young women of the Regency Era were in.
You want to be published! That’s been the goal all along! Your mother has four other writers in the house who need to marry well because if they don’t the estate will be entailed away to Harper Collins! (Oops, sorry. I got carried away!) But trust me, you don’t to sign up with the first soldier that comes along.
You do have choices. While being published is a great accomplishment, it’s not the only opportunity for writers. So before you sign, take the time to really get to know your publisher and do your research.
Jane Steen, a member of the Facebook group, 10 Minute Novelists, shares with us today about good practices and ethical behavior for writers. This is an important issue for everyone who has published either traditionally or independently. Please read and consider carefully Jane’s thoughtful suggestions on ethics for authors.
A short history of how I came to draft the Ethical Author Code
It started with a Facebook conversation between authors. Someone suggested a visibility tactic that involved, I think, upvoting your own book on a site. I can’t remember the specifics. But I do remember writing, “I don’t think that’s ethical.”
Up to that point, I hadn’t seen the word “ethics” used much in online places frequented by writers. Which isn’t to say that people weren’t being ethical.
Most authors behave ethically as a result of innate honesty or from a good upbringing. Many have a grounding in business ethics gained from years in the workplace.
And yet we all know there are rotten apples in the barrel. As an avid reader and reviewer who spends far too much time on Goodreads, I’m perhaps more aware than most authors of the damage unethical behavior does.
The activities of an unscrupulous minority have harmed the reputation of authors as a group, and self-published authors in particular. Book bloggers and top reviewers—the very people whom authors most wish to befriend—are extremely sensitive to breaches of ethics and etiquette, and their standards are high.
Very high. I’ve learned to see through their eyes, and I knew that readers perceived the tactic proposed in that Facebook conversation as spammy and unethical. So I spoke up.
A lively discussion ensued and I defended my position. I explained why authors owe it to themselves, to each other and, above all, to their readers to hold themselves to an ethical standard. As a result of that conversation the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) invited me to contribute a post on ethics to the Self-Publishing Advice blog. I hoped to light a tiny fire to combat all the wrong-headed marketing advice I was seeing in writer groups and, worse, the growing animosity shown by authors to readers who dared to criticize their books.
I hadn’t anticipated the amount of attention my post would get on Twitter. I hadn’t expected the sudden eruption of YA novelist Kathleen Hale into book blogger infamy with her gleeful doxxing*—on a major website—of a reviewer who’d given her novel one star on Goodreads. I hadn’t foreseen the British case of a novelist who slugged his reviewer on the back of the head with a wine bottle, leaving her with concussion and stitches.
Within a month of my original blog post I’d been asked to draft an Ethical Author Code—which, let me tell you, is easier said than done. But with the help of the ALLi leadership and others, the Code went up on the ALLi website in time for the FutureBook conference in London. There ALLi’s Orna Ross announced it as a Big Idea that might help shape the future of the publishing industry. Blimey.
The Ethical Author Code isn’t just for self-publishers, by the way.
It’s for “any writer who has published a long-form work of fiction or non-fiction, either via a trade publisher or self-publishing platform.”
Because personal responsibility doesn’t stop when you sign a publishing contract.
The four major objections to the idea of an Ethical Author Code
As you can imagine, I’ve participated in a few discussions about ethics since then. I think I’ve identified the four major areas of pushback against the notion of an Ethical Author Code. Each point has its variants, but they go roughly like this:
How can we enforce the Code? And if we can’t enforce it, what’s the point of having it?
Why do we need a code or badge to show people we’re ethical? Shouldn’t they judge us by our actions?
This has all been done before, and failed. Stop flogging a dead horse.
Big Publishing employs all kinds of unethical business practices, and nobody objects to those. Why should individual authors be held to a standard that the corporations don’t keep?
These all seem like pretty compelling arguments for sitting on our hands and doing nothing. In this individualistic world, people are uncomfortable with the idea of being told what to do, and it’s that sense of discomfort that runs through all the objections I’ve encountered.
I’m here to argue that we authors are the ones who hold the power to mend the breaks the book world has suffered as a result of the unethical behavior of a minority. And I believe we can do it with as much flexibility and freedom as we all feel we need, given how different every author’s experience of publishing is these days.
I want to take the negatives of each of these objections and turn them around. I’d like to empower authors to encourage each other to a high standard of professional behavior, in the same way that we encourage each other to improve our writing craft and output.
1. A code of ethics isn’t about enforcement—it’s about personal responsibility
The point of having an Ethical Author Code isn’t to create some kind of ethics police. I’m not—never have been—interested in criticizing what other people do, and I don’t think you should be either. If you come across unethical behavior that infringes the terms of service of the website where it occurs, by all means report it or flag it or do whatever’s necessary, and then get on with your day. Finding a procedural way to deal with unethical behavior is vastly preferable to expressing your outrage on your blog or on social media, even if you’re offended because the host site doesn’t seem to be dealing with your complaint fast enough. (Believe me, if enough people complain, they will eventually take action).
The Ethical Author Code isn’t about other people—it’s about you. It’s about your commitment to being a true professional, one who employs ethics and etiquette as part of her author’s toolbox. I’ve been hugely encouraged to see authors referring to the Code when asking others for their opinion about a marketing ploy they’re thinking of using. It means they’re concerned about the long-term consequences of their actions. It’s that kind of long-term thinking that distinguishes the author who’ll go on to have a long and successful career as a beloved member of the book-loving community. Isn’t that what we all aspire to?
One variant of the unenforceability argument is the claim that if authors are to adopt an ethical code, so should, say, reviewers. How come they’re allowed to be vulgar and abrasive and offensive in their reviews, and we’re just supposed to turn the other cheek? Well, this is an area where we just have to take it on trust: taking responsibility for ourselves, rather than existing in a permanent state of outrage about other people, is the best policy for the long term. Somebody’s got to be the grownup, and since we’re the ones asking people to pay us to write, that’s us. Again, it’s about you, dear author, taking the decision to be the most professional You that you can be.
2. Think of the Code as a rallying point
I’ve noticed something about writers. They’re not joiners. Or maybe they’ve joined writers’ groups in the past and haven’t been comfortable with what they’ve found there. And if you’re already acting ethically, why should you have to tell people that? Won’t making a public declaration that you’re ethical make people suspect the opposite?
If that’s your objection, I’d ask you to think again. You already belong to a large group of people known to the public as Authors. The reading public make surprisingly few distinctions between the traditionally published and self-published, the avant-garde and the conservative, the professional and the sloppy. Authors—as a group—have a public image, and it’s not always a particularly professional one. What other people do is affecting you right now—it’s affecting your sales and your readers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard avid readers say that they’re mostly reading books by authors who are no longer living and can’t throw a hissy fit about a negative review. Readers are no longer restricted to the books available in the library or the local bookstore—thanks to online shopping and e-readers, they have access to just about every book ever written.
And yet people are wired (somehow) to look up to writers in their communities. Perhaps it’s a halo effect that dates back to the days when our ancestors sat around a communal fire, breathlessly listening to the storyteller acting out tales of history and imagination. Perhaps there’s a sort of inbuilt assumption that those of us born with the gift of expressing ideas in fiction or otherwise are leaders, worthy of respect.
Go back to the Code and read it carefully. If you agree with its provisions—and if you’re like most authors, I’m sure you do—then think of making a public commitment to it as a rallying point, a way of showing your readers that you’re putting them first. It’ll take the efforts of a large number of authors over time to make an impact on the reading world, but I think we can do it.
3. A good idea should never be buried
I’m sure someone’s raised the notion of a code of ethics for authors before. All good ideas are perennial—each generation simply shapes them to fit their particular environment. And yet before writing the Code, I did an internet search on author ethics, and found—nothing. Whatever happened in the past didn’t stick around long enough, or didn’t quite have the right qualities to succeed. Or the timing wasn’t right. Ideas are like inventions—they need the right environment to flourish, and I believe we’ve got that environment now. Traditionally published authors know they have options they didn’t have before. Many self-publishers have grown from slightly unpolished beginners to consummate professionals. We’re closer to our readers than ever before, and promoting ethical behavior is a great way to show them we care about that relationship.
4. We’re leaders, not followers
The publishing world is changing fast. The largest publishers, of course, are the slowest to change, and that’s understandable. Over the years they developed a whole bunch of marketing tactics that worked because the market was much more concentrated in certain places (e.g. bookstores, print journals with review sections, bestseller lists.) They’re clinging to that older model because it still works up to a point.
It’s odd, though, that individual authors want to imitate those tactics, since they don’t have anything like the budget or the marketing staff the big publishers have. They often end up trying second-tier versions that veer close to unethical and often come across as spammy and offputting to savvy readers. Authors who are quietly achieving success in the new market conditions don’t use these tactics. The formula for long-term success is clear: write well, publish often, build your fanbase through the smart use of social media, and curate your backlist. There are a great many authors out there earning a living without even bothering about bestseller lists or co-op placements. They know that there aren’t any shortcuts—they work hard for what they get, they understand the business and they’re professional.
If you’re going to follow anyone, follow those authors. At the same time, the big publishing companies are coming under fire for some of those tried-and-trusted techniques. It’s possible that in ten years’ time many of those hallowed marketing strategies will be history. Using the practices of publishing corporations as an excuse to engage in unethical behavior is like building a house on quicksand–a poor long-term strategy for success.
I—and ALLi, which has been so instrumental in fanning the flames of the very small fire I lit back in August—see the Ethical Author Code as a win-win situation.
We’re looking for as many individual authors, readers, bloggers, writers’ organizations and publishing industry corporations as possible to express their agreement that ethics and etiquette are valuable tools for long-term success. As we near the end of the Gold Rush era of self-publishing and the traditional publishing world continues to change, I think we’ll find that the most successful authors are those who’ve learned to operate as highly professional creative entrepreneurs. And they don’t work in a vacuum—most successful authors are also well plugged into groups and organizations where they can motivate and support each other. They’re talking about best business practices, comparing notes on publishers, agents and service companies, and sharing tips for success. They’re starting to see publishers—large and small—as potential partners rather than as employers.
Above all, they’re aware of the responsibility that they shoulder when they expect readers to pay them to write books. The Ethical Author Code is, I hope, just the beginning of a discussion of the right way to do business. I’m hoping that in the not too distant future, books on business ethics and etiquette for authors will be on our shelves right next to the books on writing craft, or advice on book covers and marketing. In this maturing disrupted market, the keys to success will be quality and excellence in every aspect of a writer’s professional life. I’d love it if you could help me get the conversation going about the piece of the puzzle that’s been missing up till now.
Jane Steen is an historical fiction writer and lives in the Chicago area.
*doxxing or doxing is the online disclosure of information someone else would rather have kept private, such as her real name, address, phone number and so on.