The question I never quite know how to answer… (part 7 on writing and publishing)

A lot of the people I run into ask the same question when the subject of my book comes up:

So, how is it doing?

Not a bad question.  In fact, it’s great they’re interested.  It’s fabulous someone is nice enough to ask.

The problem is how to answer.

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If you read my last post, you’ll know that indie publishing isn’t what you might expect if you’ve seen the news articles about someone who’s sold a million copies of their books.  In reality, over half of indie publishers earn less than $500 a year.  Currently, I’m barely shy of that number, and my book has only been out for 2 months.  (And maybe $500 sounds like a lot of money to you, but remember, with marketing costs, cover design costs, etc. that $500 still doesn’t cover my initial investment.)  So, one way to answer the question of how Borrowed Magic is doing is to say, “great!”  After all, I’ve almost made more than over 50% of indie publishers.

I feel really good about that.  When I started this adventure, I didn’t have a huge social media following, my name wasn’t already out there as a recognizable author, I was basically nobody.  So the fact that I’m above the average of indie publishers is fantastic.  I’m also keeping in mind that most indie’s are successful because they have more than one book published.  Someone reads your second book, likes it, goes looking for more, and buys you first book.  Therefore, the more books you have out, the more people are likely to find you and buy your books.  For example, I’m planning to publish my next book, Blessed,  in July or August.  Say someone finds that who never knew about Borrowed Magic.  They like Blessed and then buy Borrowed Magic because they now trust me as an author and want more.  So you see how the more books you have out, the more sales you get.  If you have 10 books out and someone doesn’t discover you until book number 10, they may go and buy the other 9.  The sales numbers increase exponentially when you have more books.  Back to my point…considering the fact I am an unknown author with only one book out there (and the prequel novella, but that’s free), I think I’ve done pretty well.

Another thing to judge success by for a new indie author without a huge following is reviews.  Currently, I have 30 Amazon reviews.  That’s around 17% of my sales.  Which is AMAZING!  I read an article just the other day from an indie publisher who said their reviews usually average 1% of sales.  Not only that, but my reviews average out to 4.6 out of 5 on Amazon!  Nothing to complain about there.  I have a few more reviews on Goodreads.  Currently 53, of which 31 have actually written a review and not just rated it.  I think my average there is 4.26, which is fabulous for Goodreads, whose reviewers are notoriously more critical.

So, how is my book doing?  Great!  You just have to keep everything in perspective.  And you also have to remember that if people don’t help spread the word — don’t just tell people you liked a book, tell them they need  to read it 🙂 — indie books die.  Their sales slowly go down and down until they’re not selling at all.  More than perhaps any other group of authors, indies rely on you, our readers, to help our books succeed!

 

The fork in the road… (part 6 on writing and publishing)

Maybe you got your dream agent and everything is great and you’re willing to wait 1 1/2 – 2 years to see your book on shelves (really, that’s how long it takes with a traditional publisher!).  You also realize that authors, on average, earn less than $10k a year!  (Yes, that’s right.  For the majority of authors, it will never be a full time job.  Remember the the next time you borrow a book instead of buying it and supporting the author.  🙂 )  Everything is going just how you planned.

Or maybe it’s not.

Maybe you didn’t get that dream agent, and you are disheartened and feeling you can’t write, your story must be terrible, and you’ll never be published.

Then you take a deep breath and decide what to do from there.  Your choice may be to write another manuscript and try the agent process again.  This was my choice after each of my first two books weren’t picked up by an agent.  However, after my third book wasn’t accepted — and this despite beta readers who loved it — I seriously considered publishing myself.

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So…Independent Publishing.  Self Publishing.  Whatever you wan to call it.  It’s definitely an option now a days for authors who are confident in their manuscript but for whom the traditional route doesn’t seem to be working.  Even traditional authors have taken the indie publishing route at times because they get a higher percentage of each sale.  If they already have a huge audience, they can often earn more money in the long run.

For those of us who don’t have an established name, indie publishing is a little overwhelming.   You have to get a cover designed.  You have to get your manuscript edited to perfection (whether you hire someone or not).  You have to learn (or hire out) digital formatting for each site you want to publish on.  You have to learn the ins and outs of each of the different sites.  If you want a hard copy also, then your cover has to be the right formatting and you have to deal with yet another site to upload to.  AND you have to do your own marketing.

That last one is, perhaps, the most daunting of all.  No publisher to back you.  No publisher’s catalog to be featured in.  No publisher to buy you premium space in the bookstore (yes, those displays at the front and books featured on the ends of the aisle are all paid for).  This idea of marketing is also where the “free” in self publishing kind of flies out the window.  Sure, it’s free to upload to all the sites, but the rest isn’t free.  You should ALWAYS (unless you’re a designer) pay for a cover design by someone who knows covers.  And you have to spend a certain amount of money on marketing.  You know all those blog tours you see on blogs all over the internet?  Many times, the author has paid for those.  Not paid each blogger, but paid someone to organize it all and make it easier for you.  Authors will also pay for review tours, cover reveals, etc.

And then, after all that work, over 50% of self publishers earn less than $500.  $500!!!!  Yes, you hear about the exceptions where someone has sold millions of copies, but it is RARE.  Many self publishers struggle with getting people to discover and then buy their book.  Even if they can do that, you need reviews to assure new readers that your book is worth reading.  And do you know how hard it is to get reviews?!?  It’s kind of like pulling teeth.

With indie publishers, I kind of get the misunderstanding.  With the success of books like Twilight or Harry Potter, and the sales numbers and book deals amounts floating around out there, everyone thinks they are going to publish a book “for free” online and then earn millions.  Because of that, there are a lot of terrible self published books out there.  There are also incredible self published books out there where the authors took everything seriously.  They read in the genre they write.  They got beta readers.  They rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it was perfect.  They might have even gone to writers’ conferences and taken classes.

So when you’re looking at indie publishers, look at reviews, read a sample, find the good ones and support those authors.  They have put hours and hours of work into what you will, hopefully, enjoy.  And then BUY their book.  Indie authors rarely price anything digital over $5.99, and most are $3.99 or less.  That’s like two gallons of milk!  Considering most earn less than $500 a year, the hourly rate would be very, very low (I don’t have the actual hours because I’ve lost count, but my book has 85k words, and I’ve spent at least 85 hours.  That many hours divided by $500 just as an example is a mere $5.88 an hour.  And that’s a conservative estimate on hours).

All that being said, indie authors would rather have you borrow their book than not read it at all.  After all, you might tell someone else about it and they WILL buy it.  Whatever you choose, support indie authors, tell people about the books of theirs you like, tweet about them, share them, post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.  Do anything to help them spread the word and maybe, just possibly, they’ll be one of the successes of indie publishing and get out of the $500 a year majority.

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Beta feedback isn’t about you. It’s about your book. -Amanda Shofner (part 4 in my series on writing and publishing)

Beta readers.  They’re an absolute MUST if you want to end up with a good manuscript.  I think this is one of the main things that separates the “I wrote a book and I put it on Amazon” people versus those who really put work and sweat into their book.  However, beta reader feedback can, at times, be a bit harsh.  But if you have a good beta reader, they’ll tell you everything they love about the book along with everything that isn’t working.

My experience with beta readers has been amazing.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say.  Books are one of the most subjective things out there.  90% of people will love one and the other 10% just won’t.  It’s not their thing.  No book will appeal to all people.  With that in mind, take beta readers comments with a grain of salt.  And don’t take anything personally.  Your writing is your writing.  You are you!

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Here’s the process I go through.  First, I send my finished manuscript out to 4-5 beta readers.  I read all their comments as they send them back.  I cry over a few.  I cringe over others.  I rejoice over the praise.  But I wait to do anything about them until I’ve let them sit in my mind for a few days.  Usually, I realize they were right about some things, and I find way to fix them.  Other things, I’m not so sure about and I wait more.  One thing I do know for sure is that if multiple beta readers bring up the same thing, I need to fix it.  If only one beta reader points something out, maybe that’s worth fixing too, but maybe it’s just that person’s opinion.  Those kinds of comments need to be really thought out with my vision of my own manuscript.  I’ve had one beta reader point something out that gave me a kind of “aha” moment and the manuscript was so much better.  I’ve had those same kinds of comments I never changed at all.

The key to all of this is to get beta readers.  Don’t be the person who thinks their manuscript is perfect just the way they wrote it because it isn’t.  I promise.  You need outside perspective.  You need people who will be honest about the good and the bad.  A beta reader is no help at all if they don’t find anything worth changing!

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Perhaps the hardest part in all of this is where to find beta readers you trust.  While your mom might be a good person to run your book by, she might not be the most objective.  Still, give it to her anyway because it will make you feel good!  🙂  I’ve found my beta readers mostly through forums that I’ve joined and gotten to know people on.  The Absolute Write forums were my very first (“share your work” and “old people writing for teens”), and my best beta readers are still people I met there.  The people on these forums are other writers.  They know the basics and can point out the flaws.  They are also usually huge readers, which is a big benefit.

And one last piece of advice, get beta readers who read in your genre and at least one who doesn’t.  If you can convince someone who doesn’t normally read in your genre to like your book AND those who do read in your genre to like it, then you really have something!

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You can make anything by writing -C.S. Lewis (part 2 of my series on writing and publishing)

So you have an idea, now what?  Well, you have two options: create an outline and plot out your book OR sit down and start writing and see where it takes you (we call this being a “pantser”).  Personally, I like to outline.  I think it creates fewer problems.  For example, you start a story and don’t know exactly where you’re going so you write one thing early in the book and then something that contradicts that later.  Then you have to go back and reconcile them so the book fits together as a whole.  I know a lot of successful people are pantsers.  I just prefer to have an outline.

Now, when I say outline, I don’t necessarily mean a document that contains roman numeral headings and subheadings, etc.  I don’t do a formal outline.  It’s more that I know where my story is going.  I know what the key, pivotal scenes are going to be.  And I always know how it will end.  I also realize that in all of that, things will still change.  I will get ideas as I go that change the details of how I get to the end.  As I get to know my characters, they will make decisions that weren’t in my general outline view of the book.  The outline just gives me a sense of direction and I feel it helps me to write a faster draft.

Yes, a draft.  It’s not a finished product.  It’s not even necessarily very polished.  It’s exactly what it says it is:  a draft.  I don’t worry too much about beautiful writing.  I don’t pay tons of attention to great dialogue tags.  I’m getting the story onto paper (or into a document on my computer…).  That doesn’t mean I’m totally sloppy.  I try to write a solid draft, but still, there will be so much to change.  For example, I think I have 11 drafts of Borrowed Magic on my computer.  And those are 11 drafts with significant changes!

It sounds easy, right?  A rough, messy draft shouldn’t be all that hard!  Wrong!  It might be the hardest draft for some writers (although I LOVE plotting, so I really like writing the initial draft) because you have to actually sit down and do it.  You can’t mean to do it.  You can’t say you’ll work on it tomorrow.  You have to have the discipline to actually get it done.  One thing I hear from a lot of my writer friends is that they have tons of unfinished manuscripts.  They either lost interest or didn’t know where it was going (another reason I outline…).  My biggest advice:  just write and write everyday.  If you get stuck on a particular scene, skip it and come back later.  You just have to get that first draft onto paper.

And then comes the even harder part — revising.  More on that in my next post!

Ideas are the root of creation. –Ernest Dimnel (part 1 in my series on writing and publishing)

They say everything starts with a good idea, and since Borrowed Magic came out, I’ve been asked one question possibly more than any other: Where did you get the idea?

I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts on the process of publishing and thought this concept of idea would be a good place to start.  After all, no matter how much you study about setting, plot, and characters, it leads you nowhere unless you have a great idea.

In my experience, the initial idea for a book falls into EITHER setting or plot or character.  The first book I ever wrote (which I still hope to do a TON of revisions on and publish one day) came from an image in my mind, a scene, a setting.  It was the tone of that scene that I wanted to capture.  Interestingly enough, that exact scene isn’t even in the book anymore, but the ideas that evolved from it are.  The book I’m currently writing came from an idea about a character — a young woman who’s grown up in an isolated religious community.  That evolved into this character being naive about so many things and yet so capable and strong at the same time.

Borrowed Magic evolved from a plot idea.  I started writing it during the whole dystopian craze.  Knowing I was going to start something new, I asked myself what the themes of dystopian were that I might be able to apply to fantasy.  The one I came up with was the idea that the world isn’t quite what it seems.  In so much dystopian, there’s a clean, shiny version of the world that is presented by whoever is in charge, and then there’s the real world, the dirty one, the one people are actually living in.  Once I had a theme, I thought of ideas of how I could apply that to a magical, fantasy world.  And that’s where Borrowed Magic came from.  The characters all evolved later.  As did the setting.  It was that one plot point that drove everything — at least at the beginning.

Other people may find ideas in other ways, but for me, the easiest way is to focus on one of the three elements of fiction:  plot, setting, or character.  Choose one of those that fascinates you and develop it.  You’d be surprised at how much can come from one great idea!  (more on developing an idea in the next post…)

RELEASE DAY!!!!

Borrowed Magic is now available to buy!

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For links to where you can purchase it, go here.

And if you want a chance to win a signed copy, go to my Facebook Page for information on how you can enter!

Thanks!

Shari

What do you think???

As I’ve been researching the YA fantasy market over the past year, I’ve run across a few interesting things.  First, a lot of fantasy in the “children’s” section is focused on middle grade.  Yes, there’s YA also, but it seems to me that a lot skips from middle grade all the way to adult. 

The second thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read agent blogs is that a lot of them want fantasy, but some only want urban fantasy, which really seems to be almost all the YA fantasy these days.  There are quite a few who don’t rule out the traditional quest fantasy, but then they stipulate it has to be new or different.

That leaves the question:  what really is new or different in traditional fantasy?  Many of these same agents, or others like them, also make comments that there are really only five or so different basic storylines.  What makes one book stand out, is the way that age-old story is told.

That leaves me to the question I’d like to know (and I used the cool new poll feature on wordpress).  For those of you who like fantasy, does it bother you to see the same story over and over again (you know, magic, overcoming the evil ruler, kingdom is at stake, etc.)?  I personally don’t mind it.  I mean, you always know the good guy is going to win, but how that ends up happening can be so different and if it’s interesting enough, I keep reading.

Another beta reader’s comments…

I have an update on my beta reader that had to stop.  She decided to take a long break, but she’s still going to beta for me!!!!  I am very excited.  Her and one other of my betas are my favorites.  They actually give me great advice.

In other news regarding betas, while I didn’t know if my first beta was going to be able to finish for me, I found another beta reader willing to fill in for her.  I sent the new beta the first five chapters, all which had been gone over by the two other betas, and then edited in detail by me.  I just got back her comments.  They are just so fabulous (at least I think so), I thought I’d post them.

“Your story is great. I do not read a lot of fantasy stuff, but am broadening my reading horizons. I enjoyed this. I think it will sell when it is done. Who ever beta’d for you before did a good job.

Your MC is believable and I root for him. You have done your job writing him well.

I would read more if you like or need future betas, even if they are rougher drafts after this one.

If you are done and ready to submit, let me know where I can buy it and when for I do want to finish the tale.”

So that just about made my day.  On to more editing…