Category Archives: Publishing

To Agent or Not to Agent

Guest post by by Robin Reed

Hmmm. My writing career, if I can use that term, seems to happen in fits and starts. I sell a story and I’m sure I am on my way, but then the next three stories are rejected and lie unloved on my hard drive. I do keep a certain amount of actual writing production going, I pour words into my computer and announce the number on Facebook so people can digitally applaud me. There have been an awful lot of skipped days, days when writing is about as appealing as washing the dishes. Despite all that, I do have more words stockpiled at the end of each week than I did at the beginning.

When it comes to building and keeping momentum in the getting published department, I am doing less well. This despite, or perhaps because of, gaining that highly sought, holy of writing holies, an agent. After attending a billion and a half “How to Get an Agent” panels at cons, I finally did it last year, and none of the ways that anyone ever mentioned on those panels.

I did it by personally meeting the agent, and paying $100 at a local conference so he would read my first ten pages. I will lay one secret of writing success (or not really success but closer than before) on you, and you may not like it. A few years ago I found myself with the means to go to writing events, and meet agents and editors in person. It was only then that I started to get somewhere in this business. A writing cruise to the Bahamas led to my first pro science fiction sale. Paying for the agent to read my first ten pages led to him asking for the whole book. A year later, after I had given up on ever hearing from him again, he signed me.

So then my writing sails were set and it was publication ahoy, right? Well, the agent sent out one round of queries late last year. They were all rejected. I assume he plans to send out more. Someday. Waiting for him has stranded me in the doldrums this year. I have all sheets to the wind, and there is no wind. So while I write, it is often without much enthusiasm. I know, my life’s passion is merely grist for the mill that is publishing. They want product, not my heart and soul. If my writing isn’t exactly what they think will sell (and they never know, do they? The Harry Potters and Hunger Games’ are always a surprise because they have no forecasting power, no matter how much they think they do) they will not take it on.

As of this writing, I don’t know if having an agent will produce any career momentum, or if I will be sent back to the minor leagues of self publishing. If the latter is the case, I will still keep what little momentum I have going, I will sell at book fairs and cons and online. I can’t stop, it’s a disease, an obsession.

So, as for building and keeping momentum, my only advice is to keep writing. You knew that before you started reading this, though. The momentum that may come when people read your work and recommend it to others and you appear on bestseller lists isn’t really up to you, except for the “writing a good book” part.

I won’t give any advice because I am still struggling with the earliest parts of writing success and no certainty it will go any further. I do suggest you meet people in the publishing industry if you can. Others have suggested to me that I should buy them drinks, which I’ve never done because I don’t drink alcohol and don’t enjoy bars, but if you do that sounds like a good place to become a face they remember. Or go to conferences.

Countdown. Liftoff. Set sail. Grease the wheels. Fill the tank. Pick your metaphor, write, keep writing, and never stop.

Robin Reed lurks on the outskirts of Los Angeles, accompanied by two cats. She has been published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Her self-published horror novel “Mama” sold pretty well for a while there.
She writes science fiction and humor under her real name and horror as Robin Morris. She is an entry-level member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction Writers of America.

 

Home As Setting and Theme

When my debut novel, Sleeper Protocol, was released in 2016, many of my childhood friends, family, and even my teachers commented about my use of “home.” Where I call home is a long way from where I live now, but every time I’m there the feeling of peace is as palpable as wrapping a blanket around my shoulders. I was born and raised in upper east Tennessee in an area called the Tri-Cities. My family actually lived very near a small community known as Midway – it was Midway between Johnson City and Tennessee’s Oldest City, Jonesborough. The Appalachian mountains filled the eastern horizon, running in a roughly southwest to northeast line. It’s a beautiful place.

And I never intended for my story to go there.

As the story of a cloned soldier trying to find his identity unwound from my brain to the keyboard, I initially struggled with “What’s the point?” or even Eric Flint’s famous guidance of “Who gives a $^#@?” I needed something to make the character’s emotional struggle hit home and that’s where the inspiration hit. So, I took my character home. In the third act, he descends Cherokee Mountain, crosses the Nolichucky River, and ends up on a small knoll where a farmhouse once stood. All of those are real places and the knoll is where my family’s homestead still stands. My cousins own “The Farm” as we call it, and it’s wonderful to know that it’s still there and open for my family to visit any time we want. That openness and warmth led me to bringing my character to an very different emotional level. I gave him a sense of place, a sense of a home that he’d once had and was very different than the future one, but a place he could identify with fully and embrace his identity. Once I’d opened that door, I proceeded to move him further along the path by having him stand over his own gravesite in the Mountain Home National Cemetery.

The journey to find his “home” was really the key to unlocking his identity. My first ideas to bring him through familiar territory to help with my description and emotional resonance gave way to something else entirely: a theme I’d never intended. Our sense of home is a large part pf our identity. Even our home nation, or state, or municipality is much more than a common bond to our neighbors. We identify ourselves to that place forever. No matter where I go, when I am asked where I’m from I always say that I’m from Tennessee and just happen to live elsewhere.

My point is this – write about your home or wherever you consider your home to be. Pull that emotion and identity into your own writing. Your voice will improve, your characters will seem more grounded and real, and your readers – especially those who claim the same sense of home – will keep asking for more. When you’re not writing about your home? Put that same warmth and emotion into the characters who are there. It makes a difference to the story and to your characters.

Brand Identity

A guest post by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. AndersonWhen I started my career with traditionally published novels, my editors and publicists encouraged me to make sure I mentioned the publisher whenever I talked in interviews and panels. I would promote my novels and proudly announce that it was “from Signet Books” or “from Bantam Books” or HarperCollins, or Warner, or Tor. I would print up my own postcards and bookmarks, sometimes even take out ads in publications. Once, I was roundly criticized for forgetting to put a publisher’s logo on the back of a postcard (that I paid for out of my own pocket).

It’s a basic commercial principle to promote brand loyalty among your consumers. Coke drinkers always drink Coke. Budweiser drinkers always drink Bud. Car owners are loyal to Ford or to GM. But…publishers?

I was an avid reader, a dedicated writer, earnestly trying to get a foothold in the industry. I paid attention to the news, to the editors, to shifts in publishing, but even I would have been hard pressed to define the difference between, say, an Ace science fiction book and a Roc science fiction book (yes, they are now under the same parent company). Or a Tor epic fantasy instead of a DAW epic fantasy.

Sure, there are some exceptions, most notably Baen Books, which has not only carved out a niche and a brand for themselves in the types of fiction they publish—generally reader-driven and fast-paced rather than literary and artsy-fartsy—and they even have a distinctive brand look with their cover art and type design. Baen has also drawn together a very devoted group of their core readers through parties at conventions, online forums, and extremely loyal authors.

But that’s the exception. As an author, I’ve been published by Signet, Tor, Bantam, Ace, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Pocket, Gallery, Kensington, Hodder & Stoughton, Warner, Baen, and more. Some of those books or series went out of print from one publisher to be picked up by another. Did my readers really notice the brand name on the spine, or did they go for the author or the series?

The dramatic changes in the book industry lag behind similar changes in the music industry. When was the last time you actually paid attention to what record label your favorite band or album was on? Who released Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? Celine Dion? Taylor Swift? My favorite band Rush was on Mercury Records for their first several albums, but at some point it changed to “Anthem Records.” As an administrative matter with behind-the scenes paperwork and distribution, it made a difference to the band, but as a listener, it made no difference to me.

Same with movie studios. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the original Star Wars movies were from 20th Century Fox because of the seminal fanfare before the rollup text, but—quick!—which studio released the Predator movies? The Transformers movies? The Twilight movies?

One of the little-recognized consequences of the widespread changes in publishing and the surge in indie authors is that it has almost entirely erased the lines of brand identity for publishers. Most indie authors create a “publishing house” and a logo for their own books. In a few years, what used to be a dozen or so major publishing houses and hundreds of smaller ones including university presses, has become hundreds of thousands of imprints, all of which look “real” on the amazon listing.

When you order a book called The Ogre’s Toothache because the title is intriguing, the cover art looks good, the story sounds amusing, and you’ve read something by that author before, do you really notice—and more important, does it affect your buying decision—whether the publisher is listed as Gallery Books or Moonglimmer Books? (Gallery Books is real, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but I just made up Moonglimmer Books…though I wouldn’t be surprised if such an imprint actually exists somewhere.)

When Rebecca Moesta and I formed WordFire Press, it was merely an exercise to release the eBooks of my own out-of-print backlist, to which I had reacquired the rights. We had called our own company WordFire, Inc. for many years, so WordFire Press was the obvious name. We had no intention of building it into a much larger publishing company. Rebecca herself created our original WFP logo with a graphics program, and then other author friends of mine, seeing the success of our original releases, came to us with titles of their own, and our publishing company unintentionally expanded.

At first, we took all kinds of books from author friends, some out-of-print romances, some unusual nonfiction titles. (In fact, technically, our very first book was a rather esoteric religious treatise by Rebecca’s father, which we published as a gift for him.) We didn’t really have a brand identity, nor did we intend to, but as we grew and we saw which books performed well and which ones didn’t, we started to focus on particular types of fiction, mainly the kind of stuff I liked.

As we revamped our website, we also got a snazzy new logo. We built up our author and title list, and we started to get a little more attention through word of mouth. But the real thing that began to draw recognition as “WordFire Press” rather than “Some Publisher” was our monumental effort of exhibiting at numerous conventions, comic cons, and pop-culture shows around the country. We gave our authors a chance to meet fans face to face, hand-sell and autograph their books, an opportunity to be seen by thousands of potential readers in a day. In 2016 we did 22 shows with a total attendance of 1.5 Million people. (That was insane, and those operations are now run by Rabid Fanboy, so that I can concentrate on the publishing end and, more importantly, my own writing career.) But even under Rabid Fanboy, the “Bard’s Tower” gives ambitious WordFire authors the opportunity to have the “famous author experience.”

But do I think that readers have a strong brand loyalty, that they pick up a book because it has the WordFire Press logo on the spine, rather than because it has a story that fascinates them, an author they’ve enjoyed before? No, I don’t think so.

Now, more than ever, you can’t rely on the brand of a publisher. You have to rely on your own brand as an author or the brand of your series. You have to rely on YOU.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre. Find out more about Kevin at Wordfire.com.

Fortune Favours the Bold at Tyche Press

What’s the recipe for a successful small press? Vision, a love for stories, a desire to discover new voices in story telling, a passion for speculative stories which awe and excite the imagination. Mix that with visionary Margaret Curelas, a lot of hard work and a small press specializing in science fiction and fantasy is created. Margaret’s authors speak highly of her and Tyche’s reputation is stellar. For these reasons, I had to interview Margaret about her experience owning a small press.

Tyche is an intriguing name with an unusual by-line Fortune Favours the Bold. What is the story behind the name?

We wanted to have a name that reflected our interest in both science fiction and fantasy, and Tyche (pronounced tie-key), does that. Tyche was the Greek goddess of luck and fortune. There’s also a planet in the Oort cloud named Tyche, which is the connection to science. And, with the goddess of fortune guiding us, the by-line followed quite naturally.

Tyche’s vision is indeed bold – that can be seen in the design of the book jackets and in the stories you’ve published. The book jackets are stellar – poster quality actually! Not only do they capture the spirit of each story but the jackets are also eye-catching and captivating. You take a lot of care in the design and presentation.

 

Thank you! Yes, our art director, Lucia Starkey, works very hard on the covers. After she reads the book, she’ll come up with a cover concept. With the concept in mind, she’ll contract artists best suited to that style and vision.

 

 

 

Your website does an amazing job of letting people know where your books, audio books and ebooks can be bought. However, distribution is cited as an issue when it comes to competing with the big firms. How do you ensure that the broadest number of readers have access to your books?

Print book distribution is not something we worry about. Most of our book sales are digital. Print books are available, of course, and in addition to the local brick-and-mortar stores stocking them, readers can ask their stores to order in a copy (or just order a copy online). Ebook sales are stimulated by discounting books, purchasing advertising for them, and participating in ebook bundles.

Anthologies are part of your repertoire and I see you have another one being produced this year. Is there a difference between producing an anthology and a novel?

I really enjoy the anthologies–I read a lot of short fiction. After not publishing one for a few years, it felt like the right time to publish another one, especially since Rhonda Parrish is the editor and her proposed theme was one I couldn’t resist.

There certainly are differences in producing an anthology versus a novel. The anthology requires more administrative work and higher upfront costs because of the number of people involved. Often an anthology will have twenty people or more, who all need contracts, to be paid, copies of the book, thing like that.

 

You do what few small presses do – your line includes audio books and also books written or translated into French. What was your business strategy in doing this and what has the reception to the expanded product line been both by authors and book lovers?

We started producing the audiobooks and translations because we wanted to try something new. Because we’re small, we’ve had to find cost effective ways to accomplish this. For the audiobooks, we worked with narrators who were looking to bulk up their portfolios, so they didn’t charge us an arm and a leg.

It was a similar situation with the French translations. Catherine Dussault wanted to apply for a translation grant, but in a Catch-22 type situation, she couldn’t apply for the grant until she already had done some translations. We were able to work with her because she needed that credit.

The new formats are hard! The audiobooks have done all right, but the French books have floundered, mostly because promoting in that market is a skill set we don’t have, and don’t have time to cultivate. As a result, our audiobook production has slowed, and we aren’t planning any additional translations at this time.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a small press?

A small press takes a lot of time and energy, so I would recommend not starting one when you have a young child at home like I did. But, you can’t let the press consume you either–make sure to carve out time for yourself, your family and friends, and your hobbies.

What are the advantages of publishing with a small press?

I think the biggest advantage is that we know our authors. They’re not just names.

 

 

 

 

Margaret Curelas lives in Calgary, Alberta, with two humans and a varying number of guinea pigs. After several years working in libraries, she’s now the publisher at Tyche Books, a Canadian small-press specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and related non-fiction. You can find Tyche Books on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tychebooks/) and Twitter @tychebooks, plus on the interwebs at http://tychebooks.com.