Goodreads For Authors by Michelle Campbell-Scott

This Friday I recommend Goodreads for Authors, a book by Michelle Campbell-Scott. I love Goodreads as both a reader and author because it is all about books and is designed for, and filled with, readers. Step-by-step, Campbell-Scott walks you through how to use the social media platform.

The book tells you how to sign up on Goodreads, add or start a blog there, claim your author profile, review books, meet people, and set up ads, among many other things. If you're already familiar with Goodreads, as I was when I read the book, you can easily skip to the parts you still need to learn. I encourage you not to do that, though, and instead to read the entire book. It's a fast read, and Campbell-Scott is very thorough, so you may discover facets of the platform you missed on your own.

I listened to Goodreads for Authors on Audible. While that worked fine, I wished I'd bought the book instead so I could more easily flip or scroll to review certain sections. Also, there are links and checklists in the book that I would have found easier to use in ebook or paper form. If you're too busy to read another book, though, and might be able to fit it in on audio, definitely do so. You'll still get a lot out of it.

Until Sunday, when I'll do an overview of how I interact on social media as an author–

Best,

L. M. Lilly

 

What Does The Weekend Mean For You?

Weekends are supposed to be a time to relax, yet most of us find them filled with all the responsibilities and tasks we didn't get to during the week. When you're also fitting writing into your schedule and/or you have a career that requires working weekends some or all of the time, that can add to the pressure. Instead of relaxing, you're stressing more because you're not relaxing.

That's why this Friday I'm recommending an episode of The Petal To The Metal where two authors talk about weekend time and the balance between enjoying life and getting things done. I was drawn to this because they offer tips and alternate perspectives and acknowledge that there's no one-size-fits-all answer. As I noted in Tips For Writing Novels While Working More Than Full Time, not everyone can follow generic advice (like get up an hour early, write every day, or write during your lunch hour). But that doesn't mean you can't finish a novel or that you shouldn't enjoy life while you do.

http://thepetaltothemetal.com/ep006/

 

Until Sunday–

Best,
L. M. Lilly

Tips For Writing Novels While Working More Than Full Time

Okay, I admit it. When I was in law school, one of the main reasons I sought a position at Chicago-based large law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal (now Dentons US LLP) was that author Scott Turow is a partner there. It wasn’t just that I wanted to meet him, though that crossed my mind. Mostly, I figured a firm that touted a novelist/lawyer in its marketing must be comfortable with attorneys who pursued other vocations along with law.

In contrast, at the other big law firm where I interviewed, a partner glanced at the one line on my resume about fiction writing and said, “You know, you won’t have time to do that here.”  Points for honesty.

As anyone who practices law knows, regardless whether a firm or company tends to hire lawyers with outside interests, juggling law and the rest of life is a challenge in itself, let alone pursuing another avocation. I'm sure that's true for other professions and jobs, too, not to mention being a parent. The reality is, few people who write novels have more spare time than anyone else. And Scott Turow notwithstanding, most published authors don’t earn enough to quit their other jobs.

So below are a few suggestions on fitting writing into an already too-packed life.

(1) Seek Out Something Different

The less time you spend wracking your mind for ideas, the more time you'll have to actually write. Stimulating your mind with new activities and information can generate a lot of thoughts and ideas on which to base your fiction.

If you're too busy to add anything new outside of work, try to vary within your profession. Work with someone you don't usually partner with, have lunch (or coffee if you're short on time) with a colleague you seldom see, pick up a project that's just a little outside your comfort zone. Talk to someone whose views are completely opposite to your own.

And if you can do something new outside of work, that's a great way to get your creativity flowing. Attend a play, a movie, a concert, or just take a walk along a street you don't normally travel and really look and listen. It doesn't matter if you like what you're doing. Sometimes at a play that bores me out of my mind I come up with great new story ideas.

(2) Develop A Habit

In the classic Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill said, and I’m paraphrasing, you are what your habits make you, and you can choose your habits. In that way, writing is a lot like working out (though I'm far more likely to do the former than the latter). If you need to decide every day whether to go to the gym or what time to try to squeeze it in, it's less likely to happen. Same thing for writing. But when it becomes a habit, the pages start churning out, and it feels great.

If you don't already have a habit of writing at a particular time or for a certain number of minutes or hours per week, figure out when it's most likely you'll be undisturbed, even if it's only a half hour a week on Sunday morning or Friday night. When that time rolls around, write, even if you write about how you don't have anything to write about. Or you can use that time to sketch out what you'll write about in the following session.

Once you have the habit, you can increase the amount of time you write, and the quality of what you write.

(3) Create Time

If finding half an hour a few times a week is a challenge, look first at television, social media, and video games. I’m always surprised how many television shows my lawyer friends, even those with kids, find time to watch, until I remember–they don’t also write.

If you’re already lean on recreational activities, look at your work. Is it possible to work less and write more? Some firms or companies allow reduced schedules for reduced pay. I did this for several years at Sonnenschein, though I concede with mixed results. Sometimes I still billed more hours than people on regular schedules and just earned less. On average, though, it did allow me to write more. Likewise, when I ran my own firm, after a number of super busy years, I began deliberately cutting back. First I turned down new cases other than from existing clients, then I turned down any new matters at all.

If that's not an option, consider buying time. With the advent of virtual assistants and a sharing economy, almost anything can be outsourced. This is especially wonderful when you can pay someone less than your time generates in your own profession. If you earn two-four times as much per hour at your day-to-day paid work than you would pay someone to clean your home, remodel your bathroom, grocery shop, do your taxes, wash your car, fix typos in your manuscript, or keep your financial books up to date, do what you do best, and pay someone else to handle those other tasks. You can then use the extra free time to write.

(4) Harness Your Unconscious

Much of the creative process takes place behind the scenes. Even if you’re extremely busy, your unconscious can come up with story ideas and scenes and flesh out characters. The key is to stimulate the unconscious without stressing out. One way I do this is to ask myself a question before I fall asleep or head to the office, such as–when I was plotting The Awakening–“Where is the most unnerving place for Tara to be confronted by a stranger who claims to know the meaning of her pregnancy?”

If I ask a question like that every so often, then put it out of my mind, eventually a scene or idea pops into my head.  (In that example, the scene takes place just before midnight in a deserted Laundromat where Tara works. The stranger enters as she's closing for the night.)

(5) Use Your Downtime Well

One of the things I love about TV law shows is how no lawyer goes to court and sits forty minutes waiting to give the judge a status report. You also never see lawyers waiting at the gate when the flight to the deposition is delayed.

In the real world, most of us spend some time waiting. That’s why I carry a note pad everywhere and pull it out if I have more than five minutes. (You can also use the note function on your phone for this, but judges frown on lawyers appearing to be emailing or playing on their phones while in the courtroom so I carry paper.)

I particularly like scribbling about characters, because if I’m cut off in the middle, it doesn’t matter. In fact, my unconscious will probably keep going with the train of thought. Now and then I write snippets of dialogue or openings for scenes. While the legal pad pages rarely make their way to my writing desk, and the exact words almost never get typed into a manuscript, my thoughts flow more freely when I do have time. It’s a big part of why I’m usually able to turn out pages as soon as I sit down to write.

You can also use time stuck waiting in line to observe fellow customers. Notice their chins, their noses, how they carry themselves, their expressions. Think about how you'd describe them in writing. This can be especially helpful if your physical descriptions of characters tend to get repetitive or rely too much on describing eye color, hair color, and height.

You can find specific writing/thinking prompts for short time periods in Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.

(6) Set Small Goals.

Most professionals are goal-oriented people. That’s how we got where we are. Large goals, like writing a best-seller in two years, are inspiring, and they work well when pursuing a pre-set program like graduate school. But they also are too easy to put off truly pursuing until tomorrow.

So break those goals down. If you have a regular schedule, your first-draft goal could be a page a day or seven pages a week. If you have an erratic schedule, a goal of a number of pages per month or per three months may work better. One of my best writing instructors, author Raymond Obstfeld, called this latter approach the spare change method. Rather than writing X amount per day or week, you throw whatever you can into the writing equivalent of the spare change jar. So when I practiced law full time, one week I might have written 4 pages, the next 10, then next none, but at the end of the month, I’d written 30 pages.

(7) Write Something Bad.

If you’ve tried cases for twenty years, you might be able to think through an opening argument the night before trial and give it the next morning. But when you started out, you probably outlined the argument, practiced ten times in front of a mirror, and tried it out on a colleague or two. Yet, for some reason, many of us insist on trying to make every sentence of our fiction perfect the very first time.

Hemingway said all first drafts are sh*t. I find this very freeing. Many of my first drafts are rambling or too sparse (or both) and include pages that ultimately don’t need to be there. A first draft is a thing of beauty not because it’s perfect, but because it’s done. Trying to write well the first time out can keep you from writing at all. So the biggest key to finishing–no matter how much time you have or don't–is being willing to write something bad. Then you can revisit, rewrite, and polish all you want.

There’s no magic to finding time to write, any more than there is to finding time to study in college, or to raise children, do volunteer work, or care for your parents while working fifty hours a week. There will be things you’ll miss while you sit and write, and carving out the time to write may mean, for a while at least, earning less than you could if you focused all your efforts on a more immediately lucrative profession.

But if you love writing the way I do, it will be worth it. Much as I enjoyed practicing law, nothing satisfies me more than finishing a piece of writing and feeling I’ve done my best with it. (Though practicing law did mean I eventually got to meet Scott Turow. Pretty cool.)

Until Friday, wishing you a productive and not-too-stressful week–

Best,

L. M. Lilly

P.S. If you're starting a novel and are looking for a clear, quick way to plan it without being bound to a rigid outline, try Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel. It's free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers (reg. $0.99 for Kindle, $4.99 paperback). The Kindle version includes a link to helpful worksheets. It can save you a lot of time.

In The Beginning There Was Conflict

Before you put pen to page or hands to keyboard, there is one thing absolutely every novel needs:

Conflict.

A weak conflict–or none at all–is usually why a reader loses interest early in a novel or halfway through.

The Cardinal Rule

If you’ve ever watched a soap opera, daytime or otherwise, you know the cardinal rule. It applies to any drama or comedy, but it’s most obvious in serial television shows. Once a character reaches a moment of happiness, that character disappears until things go wrong again.

If everyone’s happy or at least content, the reader or watcher isn’t interested. Without conflict, there’s no story. There’s no suspense, no question that keeps the reader turning pages in the hope of an answer, and no one to root for or against. This is true whether you’re writing a novel, telling a ghost story around a campfire, or improvising a skit at your local comedy club.

The best way to have a strong conflict is for your main character to want something hard to achieve.

Warning: 

If you haven't read or watched Gone With The Wind, Beware – Spoliers below 

 

For example, throughout almost all of Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara is madly in love with Ashley Wilkes and wants him to love and marry her. There are many obstacles, some present from Day One, others that develop. Here are just a few:

  • He and Scarlett are unsuited to one another (she’s driven, ambitious, outspoken, high-spirited, and has little interest in book learning; he prefers a quiet and scholarly life, is reserved, refined, and has little interest in starting a business or earning money)
  • Ashley gets engaged to his cousin, Melanie, which is a family tradition
  • Scarlett marries Melanie’s brother on the rebound and is quickly widowed, limiting her social interactions, and bonding her to Melanie
  • The Civil War begins, and Ashley leaves to fight in it, perhaps never to return

As Scarlett's experiences show, life should be hard for your main character. As you plot your novel, resist the temptation to allow your protagonist smooth sailing or to make things easy. Instead, think about how things can get worse. This is one time negative thinking is a plus!

Your First Page

There needs to be conflict from the first page of your novel. There’s a saying that your protagonist must want something on page one, even if it’s only a glass of water. The reason behind that saying is that if your protagonist wants nothing, there's no conflict.

So although there’s nothing about Ashley on the first page of Gone With The Wind, nor about the upcoming Civil War, we learn in the second paragraph of the book that Scarlett’s internal nature—willful, outspoken, and “lusty with life” is “distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanor” and the strictures Southern society places on women. Because there’s immediate conflict, the reader is willing to wait a while as the larger conflicts, both personal and societal, unfold.

Further, seeds are sown about the Civil War in the very first scene. Margaret Mitchell doesn’t do that by simply telling us war is on the horizon or by giving us a history lesson. Instead, she frames the prospect of war in a very personal way to our protagonist. Scarlett is talking to twin brothers who both carry a torch for her. She wants to hear about them being thrown out of school (yet another conflict), and they want to talk about war, a subject that bores her. She becomes impatient and insists there won’t be any war.

Finally, in that very first scene, Scarlett becomes upset, but hides it, when the twins tell her Ashley is getting engaged to his cousin Melanie. This is yet another conflict that will feed into the larger story arcs.

What does this mean for you?

If you're searching for ideas for a novel, are in the midst of writing one and are stuck, or your feel your scenes are dragging, you are likely missing conflict. Look again at your main character. What does that person want and why? What obstacles are in the way? That's where you'll find your conflict and your story.

Until Friday–

Best,

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel provides a clear, quick way to figure out a plan for your novel. It includes questions to walk you through the process, examples from well-known stories such as Gone With The Wind, and tips for when you are stuck. It's free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers (reg. $0.99 for Kindle, $4.99 paperback).

The Hero’s Journey

If you've attended a writing seminar or read an article or post about story structure or about filmmaking, you've probably heard about The Hero's Journey. Based on an analysis by Joseph Campbell of myths across cultures and through the ages, it is used in many successful movies, including my favorite, The Terminator. Many novelists use it as well.

This Friday's recommendation is a succinct (8 minutes 40 seconds, to be exact) explanation of The Hero's Journey from The Journeyman Writer:

http://storywonk.com/the-journeyman-writer-32-beginning-the-heros-journey/

I hope you find this helpful. Best wishes for a productive and/or relaxing weekend!

L. M. Lilly

P.S. If you'd like to try a simple, quick way to plot enough of your novel to provide structure without locking yourself into a detailed outline to soon, try Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide to Plotting and Writing Your Novel.

When Your Job Is Not A Day Job

Ever since I published my first novel in 2011, business colleagues have asked if they could give my number to other professionals who are writing novels. Others have contacted me because they've recently started or finished a book and want to hear from someone like them about the writing and publishing process.

Having another career in addition to writing is wonderful in many ways. It can mean we're doing work that's mentally engaging where we meet interesting people and, hopefully, earn a fairly good living. But that same career can also make it a challenge to write, publish, and–if that's part of your goal–sell your work.

If you sometimes feel it will take forever to finish your novel or you can't imagine when you can squeeze in time to send out query letters or go through the self-publishing process once you do finish it, you're not alone. Advice to “write during your lunch hour” doesn’t help if your typical lunch is 10 minutes eating at your desk while reading trade publications or answering email.

So you know it's not just you, below are some of the downsides for writers who also have another career or profession. But I've also listed the upsides. Yes, there are upsides!

The Challenges

If you write as a second or additional career, you're more likely than other writers to:

  • Experience significant demands from your first profession, including ethical obligations. One advantage of a traditional day job, such as working as a data processor, telemarketer, or waiter, is that generally when you punch out for the day, you’re done. When I worked as a cashier, if I didn’t want overtime, usually someone else did. As a lawyer, if a client calls last minute or a court enters a ruling that requires a quick response, I need to take care of it. Any plans I had to spend that evening or weekend polishing my chapters for an editor, researching where to schedule ads for an upcoming promotion, or being with family or friends, need to be put aside.

While that’s part of what makes a career more interesting than a day job, it also makes it much harder to set a firm date by which to finish or publish a novel, to send out a certain number of query letters a week, or to regularly post on social media.

  • Have an unpredictable schedule from day to day, week to week, and month to month. This makes it harder to write at the same time each day or the same day or days each week, which in turn makes it harder to get into a writing habit or to make time for marketing or publishing. (In future posts, I'll address some ways to track your progress and establish a writing a habit, despite that writing every day at a certain time may not be possible.)
  • Think of “books” only as printed books and focus on bookstores as the best sales outlets. While a love for and familiarity with paper books can mean you’ll be more motivated to sell paperbacks when many other writers are ignoring them, it also means you may overlook the sales potential of ebooks and audiobooks, as well as overlook the necessity of an on-line presence. I sell the most novels in ebook format, then in Audiobook format, than in paperback. If I'd kept my view of books as paper books, I doubt I'd have sold 10,000 copies of The Awakening to date.
  • Have a limited view of what “professional” means and how it looks. Conforming with certain standards for appearing professional is great when it comes to presenting yourself. You know how to dress and behave in a professional way and you understand why you should have well-written marketing materials free of typographical errors.

As I talked about in Is This Blog For You?, though, unfortunately, this view also may cause you to dismiss advice from those who don’t fit your image of a successful business person. I almost skipped a free on-line seminar I’d signed up for when I saw the first two minutes of the initial video presentation. The presenter wore jeans and a wrinkled T-shirt, and he was sitting at a computer desk in his bedroom, his electric guitar leaned against the bed behind him. (The presentation was not about music.) The decor also suggested the bedroom was in his parents’ house. As someone who takes a lot of care in what I wear to court, to teach, or to meet with a client, my gut reaction was that this wasn’t someone who took himself or his presentation seriously, so why should I devote time to his talk or to any part of a seminar that would use him as the headliner?

To my surprise, I learned quite a bit from him about writing good advertising copy, and I learned from the other presenters, too. All of which I would have missed had I rejected him based on my view of how a professional looks and acts.

The Pluses

As a writer with another career, you're also more likely to:

  • Have a professional network from your first career or profession. Knowing about another career from first-hand experience and interacting with professionals in other careers gives you a wealth of plot material. It also gives you a lot of information about various types of jobs. Other writers can get that by researching or interviewing people, but you already have it in your head. Which means you won't ever need to be that writer whose main characters are always writers. (Something that always annoys me, unless it's Stephen Kind doing it. Somehow, he makes it work.) That network also expands the number of people who might help you spread the word when you publish.
  • Have extensive knowledge of your field and/or technical expertise. Knowledge gained through your first career can also provide a foundation for your novels. Readers love getting the inside view of a profession or industry. Authors like Scott Turow and John Grisham used their experiences as lawyers to create exciting novels and sparked a new genre, the legal thriller.

Even if you don't write about your profession, the skills you learn with it can be helpful. When I started writing The Awakening series, I was working so many hours as a lawyer that the last thing I wanted to was to write about law. But my research, writing, grammar, time-management, and client service skills aided me in plotting, finishing, and marketing the books. I also tapped into professional contacts who were medical doctors, probate lawyers, and former police detectives to flesh out details of the obstacles my main character faced.

  • Have more money than time. While not everyone with a first career or profession makes a lot of money, odds are you earn more than someone working retail or punching a clock. This can also be a challenge (see above), as you're probably working more than 40 hours a week. But it does give you a certain flexibility. You can buy time by paying others to do things that otherwise take up your writing time, such as housecleaning. You can also pay for a class run by a skilled, published author or pay a reputable story editor to go through your manuscript. If you choose to self-publish, you'll probably be able to afford a professionally-designed cover, which will increase the chances of readers buying your book.
 The Big Picture

Of course there are differences among those of us who juggle multiple careers, and no advice is one-size-fits-all. What worked for one author, regardless of her or his background or other career, to sell a thousand copies may do nothing for another writer, and may not even work for the same author a year later.

The publishing industry is changing rapidly, and it’s an exciting time to be part of it. You belong to a long tradition of writers with other careers that includes William Carlos Williams (doctor), Lewis Carrol (mathematician, photographer and teacher), and Virginia Woolf (publisher). Overall, in my view, your first career or profession on balance helps your writing, despite that you many not be able to maintain the same production schedule as someone who works a 9-5 job or writes full time.

As we go forward together, I hope some of what I’ve learned—and what I keep learning—as I juggle the roles of author, attorney, and adjunct professor will save you time and trouble and make your writing life happier and more successful.

Until Friday,

L. M. Lilly

Do You Need A Publisher, Part 3: Money

Mary Higgins Clark was paid a $64 million advance for a five-book deal. The average advance for a first novel, however, is generally between $5,000 to $15,000. Most novelists, including published ones, don’t make a living writing. They supplement with other work, often as teachers of writing, speakers, editors, or non-fiction writers. Others write on the side and earn most of their money in another profession.

In Do You Need A Publisher (Part 1), I talked about the factors that might affect whether you pursue a traditional publishing deal or publish your work yourself. Those factors include:

  • a desire for prestige and recognition, which I talked about last week
  •  a desire to earn money
  • a desire for control over your work
  • a desire to run a business, and
  • what type of book you’re writing

You can make money no matter how you publish, but here are some differences in what you're likely to earn and how it may affect your career:

The Big 5 Publishers

The authors who make the most money up front are the household names, such as Mary Higgins Clark, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. Most authors in this league have been writing and selling novels for decades, but sometimes a debut novel will be bought for a six or seven figure advance. The Big 5 are the publishers that can pay these types of advances. An advance means the author is paid before the book is published. If the book earns enough in royalties to repay the advance, the author is then paid royalties as well. The upsides of this type of deal are obvious. Before the book goes to press, you have a good chunk of money in your pocket.

On the downside, the need for the book to earn back the advance is a lot of pressure. If it doesn't happen, that may tank the chances of a contract for later books. More significant for most new writers is that the odds against landing a deal with a large publisher are near zero. First, you’ll need to spend time and effort trying to find a literary agent to represent you before the Big 5 will consider your work. Second, even through literary agents, the Big 5 most often enter contracts with established authors.

Given the potential large payoff, though, if you think your book will fit one of these publishers, don’t be dissuaded by the odds. Not only is there a shot at a large advance and the publicity and marketing that comes with it, much of what you do to pursue your goal will help you if you later decide to try another route. For instance, crafting a compelling query letter to agents can also help you write queries to publishers or write marketing copy if you self-publish.

Small and medium-sized publishers

Small to medium-sized publishers usually offer advances between a few thousand dollars and $45,000, though some very small presses may offer no advance. The financial upsides include possible up front money and the fact that the publisher pays the publishing costs, such as cover art and editing. The publisher also may help market and publicize the book, and most bookstores are more willing to carry a traditionally-published book than a self-published one.

The downsides include that the author has limited or no control over many factors that affect a book’s sales, such as the quality of cover art, editorial services, marketing copy, where and when the book is advertised, and the price. Also, the size of the advance usually matches the marketing budget. A $5,000 marketing budget won't go very far, and you'll likely have lost control of your work and rights that might help you earn more money.

One of my income streams is from the audiobook editions of the first three books in my Awakening series. I did a royalty-share deal with the producer/narrators, and the books were already written, so creating the audiobooks was a no brainer. If you sign a contract granting those rights to a publisher, though, you no longer have that option, and the publisher may not be obligated to produce audiobooks. Finally, royalties from a publisher range from 10-25% of the purchase price, while when you self-publish, your royalties range from 30-70% of the book's price.

Publishers that charge the author/vanity presses

If the fee is reasonable and you'd rather spend money than invest time in publishing your own work, you might be the lucky one-in-a-million author able to earn money by paying a company to publish. You need to consider, though, how much you're paying compared to how many books you're likely to sell, keeping in mind that these types of companies, no matter what they say about marketing or publicity, rarely do much to sell your book. Publishers that pay the author an advance and hope to earn it back and then some through book sales have an incentive to see that your book sells. Companies you pay do not. They are making money off of you.

For that reason, in my view, it's a very long shot that you'll make money paying a company to publish your work. You're also risking paying for services that will be inferior to what you could have contracted for yourself. The only time I suggest these types of companies is if:

(a) the fee is not that much more than you would spend if you found the services you need yourself;

(b) you get a referral from someone whose books are selling well and who is earning more than she or he spent;

(c) the person who referred you is selling the same type of book you wrote; and

(d) that author’s books are well-edited (no typos, good story arc) and have professional-looking covers that fit the books' genre.

Independent/Self-Publishing

Some authors earn an excellent living by publishing multiple books themselves, by self-publishing and later being picked up by traditional publishers (as happened with The Martian), or by some combination of the two. A few authors that appear to have done quite well self-publishing include Hugh Howey, J.F. Penn, and Melissa Foster. Others earn enough to write full-time or have a decent side stream of income. Others, usually those who publish only one or two books and devote little time or money to marketing, spend more on self-publishing than they earn.

On the upside, as noted, indies earn a much larger share of royalties, particularly on ebooks, than do traditionally-published authors. That means you can generally price your books lower to gain readers while earning the same amount in royalties or more per book than traditional authors do. Indies also retain all their rights and have control over the covers, marketing, editing, etc.

The downside of indie publishing is that the indie must pay the publication costs, which range anywhere from zero (as all aspects can be handled by the author) to a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. In addition, if you plan to market your book through paid advertising, you pay for that as well.

The Short Version

To pull this all together, the Big 5 offer the biggest potential for large advances and stellar advertising and marketing, indie/self-publishing offers great potential earnings if you’re in it for the long haul, and the likely financial rewards of publishing with small/medium publishers vary widely depending upon the advance offered and the publisher’s marketing budget. If you publish with a small or medium-sized publisher or you self-publish, a lot of your success will depend on how much time, effort, and sometimes money you are personally willing to invest. As for publishers who charge you, there may be some authors out there who made money that way, but in my opinion, it’s a buyer-beware proposition.

Stay tuned for posts on the other factors that go into choosing a publishing path.

Until then, best wishes for a productive, peaceful week.

L. M. Lilly

Do You Need A Publisher, Part 2: Prestige And Recognition

One factor, maybe the most important one, in deciding whether to seek a publisher or to self-publish is what you want out of writing. (For a discussion of types of publishers, see last week’s post.) If your goal is to make a living writing, how much money each method is likely to generate might matter most. But even if that is your goal, prestige or recognition is almost always part of the motivation.

Most of us who write, especially if we’re over forty, dreamed when we started out about book signings, being interviewed on Oprah or C-SPAN, or winning awards. It’s a great feeling to publish a book and be recognized for it or simply be able to see it on a bookshelf. So let’s start with talking about prestige and recognition. Don’t worry, I’ll get to money next week.

Prestige and Mahogany Desks

John Gardner once said, in his book On Becoming A Novelist, that there’s nothing less prestigious than being an unpublished novelist. Today he might substitute “self-published” or “independently-published.” While publishing your own work is becoming more accepted, if you opt to do so, you’ll still need to be prepared for the people—whether or not they’ve ever written a word of fiction—who will look down their noses at you.

Others simply won’t see you as a “real” writer. A colleague once told me how much she’d liked The Awakening, which she’d borrowed from a friend. When my second book in the series came out, she couldn’t make it to the book release party, but she asked me to bring a copy to her office. When I handed it to her, she said, “I don’t have to pay for this, do I?” Had I been published by Random House, my guess is she wouldn’t have asked that.

This view that a traditionally-published novel has more value or that it’s more impressive to be a traditionally-published author is known in the indie world as the Mahogany Desk Syndrome. Many see it as nothing more than a form of snobbishness. It also reflects the fact that when a company unrelated to you chooses to publish your work, it shows the world that someone other than you is willing to put money, time, and effort behind your writing.

My own mahogany desk and bulletin board–the old fashioned kind.

I understand those who feel that way, but I personally am more impressed by people who stand behind their own work. When I left a large law firm to start my own practice, people congratulated me on being an entrepreneur and having great confidence. I view publishing my own work the same way.

Awards and Best Seller Lists

Many literary awards, including some for genre fiction, are open only to novels published by traditional publishers. For instance, self-published books are not eligible for the Edgar Award, which recognizes mysteries. The Man Booker award, a literary fiction prize, also is not open to self-published books. This is starting to change, however. The Deep, a self-published novel by Michaelbrent Collings, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award in 2015. And in researching this article, I learned that self-published books, so long as they are available in print, can be nominated for Pulitzer Prizes.

Many awards exist that are specifically-targeted to indie/self-published authors. (A few are listed in this Publishers Weekly article. ) Being able to say your book is award-winning is a plus, but there is definitely a Buyer Beware factor, as some indie awards have hefty entry fees.

As to Best Seller lists, both the USA Today and New York Times best seller lists are open to both traditionally and independently published works. In addition, Amazon continuously lists the Top 100 books overall and in numerous categories regardless of publisher. The Top 100 lists update hourly. Getting your book into the Top 20 of any category helps sales because it means people see your book. Being in the Top 100 of all the books is a huge sales boost. As far as prestige, though, because the lists update hourly and it takes fewer sales to qualify, they don’t have the cache of the USA Today or New York Times list.

Speaking Engagements

One novelist I met at a conference, who was also a former attorney, said in-person events were the main plus of having had his novel published by a small publisher. While he didn’t have much of a marketing budget, his publicist got him onto panels of traditionally-published authors at fan and reader conferences.

Most speaking opportunities I’ve seen that are open to indie authors are limited to conferences specifically directed at writers interested in self-publishing, not at readers. Likewise, when I joined other self-published authors at a local book expo, the traditional publishers were on the first floor and the indie authors were relegated to the twelfth. There were no signs posted telling attendees that there were more books on the twelfth floor, so there was almost no foot traffic.

There are exceptions, of course. The Martian started as self-published, and I’m certain Andy Weir is welcome to speak anywhere he likes.

What Readers Think

Most readers don’t care how a book is published. Few people check the publisher when they buy a book on-line or in the bookstore. They look at the cover, the summary, and the first page or so. Also, the more books you publish, the less people scoff. Those indie authors who hit the USA Today or New York Times best seller lists also add a stamp of approval to their books and careers.

At the same time, if a book is free or 99 cents–both strategies indie authors employ to boost visibility and sales of other books in their catalogues–or the cover looks unprofessional, a reader may hesitate. A book from almost any traditional publisher has been edited and proofread by professionals, which is not true of all self-published books, so readers may have had a bad experience and be skeptical of indie publishing. I’m convinced that’s why one 5-star review of The Awakening after I started offering it free said, “I actually liked this book,” as if the reader were quite surprised. A professional cover and well written and edited book summaries and sample chapters will usually override any reader concern about your work, though.

In short, my view is that if what matters most to you is prestige and being recognized by peers as an author, some type of publisher, be it small, medium, or Big 5, is at least somewhat more likely to provide that. All the same, if you prefer to self-publish, fear not. The world is changing quickly, many awards are open to indie authors, and many people no longer make a distinction between one type of publishing and another. In fact, I predict that in another five years, how you publish will make no difference at all.

Best wishes for a productive and not-too-stressful week.

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Please share your views in the comments, as a reader or writer, of indie versus traditional publishing.

Three By Three: Creating A Writing Space

Whatever it looks like and however it fits with the rest of your life, it's important to have a space where you feel good and where you can write. This is especially so if you have another demanding career or profession. If you don't have a physical space set aside in your life for writing, it will be hard to make space in a figurative sense.

Two years ago I got rid of the pull-out sofa in my second bedroom and created a home office. Before that, I had a nice antique desk in that room, but it was too high for comfortable keyboarding, and the overall space was cramped. That desk is still there with a monitor on it, and my law firm laptop sits on a tray below it. (You can see it on the left side of the photo.) I have a standing writing area for my fiction writing. I also have a third desk that I moved home from my law office. That is where I sit when I'm hand-revising printed manuscripts or am grading my law students' papers.

This is the first time in my life I have had such a large area devoted to my writing. But there were pluses to my other writing spaces over the years, however small. I have had anything from one corner of the dining table, to a drafting table, to a spare room at my parents’ house.

Below are some things to think about when choosing your writing space. There are basically three choices for location: somewhere in your home, somewhere in your “other” workspace, or somewhere in public. And there are three major factors that affect how well those spaces work for you: what else you do there, who else is there, and your fiction writing work style.

What else do you do there?

If you are someone who feels the need to do laundry if it's in front of you, load the dishwasher as soon as you finished eating, or sweep the floor after every meal, first, come to my house. I will write while you do those things. Second, working at home might pose challenges for you. It's all too easy to decide to throw in a load of laundry before you start writing. It seems like it won’t take much time. But in about half an hour, you’ll need to switch it to the dryer. In another hour, you’ll need to take it out and fold it. Now if you were lucky enough to set aside two hours to write, you’ve spent about twenty minutes of it on laundry. With a little practice, you can get past this, but if you find that chores at home interrupt your writing every time, you should probably find a writing space somewhere else.

This is where writing in public is particularly helpful. The barista at Starbucks is not going to ask you to clean the cappuccino machine, and the librarian will not expect you to reshelve books. Put your phone on silent, leave books and ear buds at home, and don't connect to the Internet. There will be nothing for you to do but write.

If you have an office for your other career or profession, you may want to try writing there. (More on that below.) A few recommendations if you try it:

  • Set aside some small space in that office where you put your notes on your writing project and anything else that relates to writing. That way you won’t waste time digging it out or organizing it.
  • Unless it's impossible to do for your profession, turn off email notifications, forward your phone to voicemail, and block off the time on your calendar. (If the only way you can find time to write is to be available for emails or telephone calls, try ignoring them for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, then checking in. Odds are, you can be away for that amount of time, and if there’s no emergency, proceed for another 15 or 20 minutes.)
  • Even if you’re paid for results or tasks, not by the hour, it's probably best not to tell people at work that you are writing while you're there. They will view you as “not working” and feel free to interrupt you to chat. They also may start to imagine you’re not as attentive as you should be even if you are.
Who else is there?

If you live with other people or pets, give some thought to how that affects your writing. The obvious answer might be that you should have complete isolation and quiet. But I found that now that I have that, at least once a week or so I take my laptop or a notebook and go to a local Starbucks to write. I like the energy and noise around me. Sometimes, it actually helps me focus. There also are times when I want to write in my living room with the television on or my parakeet chirping away in his cage. (I rarely let him out while I write, as he usually jumps on the keys or bites the tip of the pen.)

Joss gives me a rare moment of peace.

Despite what I said above, if you have children, a significant other, or pets whom you’ll feel as if you are wrong to ignore no matter how much you want to write, it's better to make arrangements to be away so you can write somewhere else. Asking others to carve out writing space and time for you almost never works. It has to be a priority for you first, equal with your other work, or it will never be one for anyone else. This is why I simply don’t answer email or phone calls when I’m writing unless I have a break scheduled already.

What if your spouse also is a writer or also has work to do at home? Some couples I know both work from home. This arrangement seems most successful when the workspaces are in two separate rooms. This makes sense to me. If you like each other and enjoy each other's company, there will be a lot of temptation to pause what you're doing and chat. If you're not getting along, the negative energy will likely make it difficult to concentrate.

You may also choose to write in the workspace for your other career or profession if that’s an option. If you have an office and can shut your door when you choose and be undisturbed, and it's compatible with your work schedule, you might write for a set time, say 30 minutes a day twice a week, during your usual workday. What probably will work better, though, is to come in early or leave late. Then even if you don’t have an office, if no one else is around, you may be able to write at your desk, in an open conference room, or in the work kitchen. These types of spaces can be wonderful if they are deserted.

Public spaces can also be a great option if, as I sometimes do, you like the bustle of people around you, but you don’t want to interact. Depending upon where you live, the following can be good places:

  • a coffee shop
  • a library
  • a restaurant in off hours
  • open seating areas in a college or university
  • a park in good weather
  • the back room of a friend who owns a business
When and how do you do your best writing?

I am most productive, and feel the best, when I can set aside large chunks of time to work on a single fiction project in peace and quiet. I take periodic breaks, but I love to immerse myself in the fictional world and focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Sometimes I do that with a lot of noise around me, and that's fine, but what I don't want are interruptions. Other people like to shift from task to task and feel antsy or frustrated when they spend hours on one project.

Temperature, sleep, and food also matter. I need to be physically warm. If I am shivering, I find it too hard to think. I also work best when I have had a lot of rest and have eaten. Some people get an edge from pushing themselves beyond fatigue and from working through meals. I just get edgy. And angry, and irritable. (So you probably don't want to come hang out with me if I have just put in a 12-hour work day.)

All of these types of factors affect where your best writing space is. If you prefer not to be interrupted, choose the place where that is least likely. As I mentioned, that may be at a public place, or it could be at your workplace before anyone else comes in or after they leave. If noise bothers you, you might need to write when you're alone, or buy a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

It also matters whether it helps you or makes it harder for you to need to go to a different place to write. It’s a lot like exercise. If you are someone who exercises more if you must go to a specific place to do so, a health club membership is a great deal. For me, a 10-minute walk to the gym means I never get there, but I roll out my yoga mat every morning at home. Likewise, I write the most when I have a nice writing space at home, despite occasionally liking to write elsewhere.

Don't worry

Whatever space you choose to write in, every once in a while, try something different. For one thing, you may not know for sure yet where you do your best work or where you feel happiest writing. It may take some experimenting. Also, as your life changes, where you prefer to write will change as well. So if you can't find the ideal place right now, don't worry about it. Pick the best place out of your options, and keep in mind that change always happens.

If you'd like to email me a photo of your writing space, send it to [email protected] and let me know if it's okay to share it.

Best wishes for a productive, not-too-stressful week.

Best,

L. M. Lilly

Self-Editing For Fiction Writers

Whether you plan to submit your writing to a publisher or agent or to publish it yourself, you need to know how to line edit your work. That goes beyond basics such as correct spelling and grammar. For your writing to be clear and strong, you'll need to use active voice most of the time, avoid repeating the same words, and replace weak verbs with strong ones, among other things.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is the best book I've ever read on how to review and edit your own writing to make it shine. It's easy to read and easy to apply the points the authors make.

Have a peaceful, wonderful weekend (and holiday if you're celebrating one).

Best,

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Even if you plan to hire an editor and proofreader to review your manuscript, you still need to know what a properly edited piece of fiction looks like. If you don't, you'll run the risk of paying a significant amount to a poor editor, only to find out after you hit publish and see reader reviews that your novel is filled with typos and grammar mistakes.