Category Archives: Starting a Career

Are Small Publishers a Small Price?

When it comes to publishing, opinions vary by wide margins. Some say traditional publishing is the only way to get noticed, to come out with a quality book, and to have a chance at a wide readership. Others say traditional publishing is a scam, they use their authors, and only the top sellers get anything out of the relationship. For some, indie publishing is the only way to go. The writer has full autonomy of their work; able to make the covers, formatting, and editing quality the way they think it should be done. Yet, I’ve seen some authors and readers turn their noses up at indie publishing, saying it floods the market with sub-par books and the writers are wannabe hacks who couldn’t cut it in “real” publishing.

And then we come to small publishers. Are small publishers a middle-ground or a scam? Because the books are vetted by non-partial book enthusiasts, does that lend them more credibility? Are they run by publishing novices who don’t really know what they’re doing? Do they have the power to increase marketing and exposure or is it just self-publishing where the author does more work and never sees royalties? Are authors risking their novels/career/time because the small publishers always fold within five years? Are authors increasing productivity because a small publisher takes care finding and working with editors, cover artists, and formatting?

In short, what does it cost us to use a small publisher and what are the rewards? This is the question we’ll be asking this month. Read each day for views from the authors and the publishers. Our fictorians and multiple guests are going to be writing about personal experience and personal views. As always, we’d love to hear your comments. Keep the conversation civil and discard any preconceptions. Let the debate begin:

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the new Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Lies New Authors Tell Themselves

Nothing makes a professional author chuckle like listening to potential writers deciding to get into the field. Far too many think it’s easy to write a book and then have publishing companies dump shipping containers of hundred dollar bills on your front lawn. While this is a theoretical possibility (E.L. James comes to mind), it’s not probable.

I thought I would pick a few common lies that wanna-be writers tell themselves. Enjoy!

Writers Make Lots of Money

If only this was true. The best advice any professional author can give you is “don’t quit your day job.” You will need the income stability for yourself and your family, plus you may need the healthcare benefits if your day job provides them. Other benefits include life insurance and retirement contributions.

A study in the United Kingdom showed the average income for a professional author was £12,500, or $15,400 per year. That’s up from $11,000 per year, but only because the British Pound has declined in relation to the U.S. Dollar ever since Brexit was approved. Either way, fifteen grand and change will not go much further than paying some of your bills.

Is it possible to get rich writing? Yes, but again, not likely. You may have similar luck playing the Powerball and Megamillions lottery twice a week.

My recommendation? If you feel the call to write, then write and publish. Don’t go in with the idea you’ll get rich. If it happens, congratulations. Maybe you want to switch over and write full time, now that you no longer have to worry about money. You can work towards that goal, and you can change the odds with improving your craft and continuing to publish.

Writers are Experts in Language and Grammar

I have yet to meet one, although I would hedge and say that J.R.R. Tolkien is probably one of the closest. Every author I know makes a ton of mistakes when writing. After all, that’s why editors were invented. Editors typically have a better grasp of the mechanics of language…or at least the great ones do. The editors will comb through your work and fix all of those comma splices and split infinitives, vacuum out the extra commas, and polish the correct letters when you use to, too, or two.

The purpose of an author is to tell a fascinating story in a logical methodology. Things have to happen and destinies and lives should be changed. Focus on that while doing your best to learn more about using proper grammar. At the very least, your editor will appreciate the effort.

You Can Never Become an Author

This is the saddest lie one can tell themselves. You’re basically convincing yourself not to even try, although you want to. You might be the magic lottery winner (and not Shirley Jackson’s version) if you start to curate your thoughts and words onto a page.

Is it hard work? Hell yes, it certainly is! It takes a lot of writing, editing, re-writing, and re-re-writing to put out a decent story. You can’t wait for your muse to inspire you if you’re gunning for the professional author title. Writers write, and that means there is no time for things like “writer’s block”. Can you imagine not selling coffee at your day job because you’re not feeling your coffee muse? Writing is just that, a job. That means you need to learn to be productive. There are a lot of suggestions and recommendations on how to do this on The Fictorians. In fact, this October and November, there will be a NaNoWriMo theme that stresses productivity.

In the end, focus on the craft. Notch out some time from your busy schedule, even if it’s only an hour, and use that time to write just as if you were going to your day job. Produce new words. Edit old ones. Learn new skills. Read new books outside of your favorite genre. Improve yourself instead of lying to yourself. One has to realize that most of the time we’re our own worst critic.

I believe in you, for one. Now go earn some more fans.


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist and poet; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

 

Three’s Company, But Six is a Crowd

Writing critique groups are like blogs. They both tend to start with vows of seriousness and dedication. They launch with vigor and excitement, but eventually slow and become work. Life gets complicated (as it always does) and priorities change. First one deadline is missed. Then two. Then all of them. Most often, people in the group wander away, and unless there is a constant flow of new blood, the collective falls apart. Though plentiful, most fail within a year.

However, decay and disbandment are not inevitable, just common. I’ve contributed to half a dozen blogs or critique groups over the years. Only two have continued to this day. First is the Fictorians. Second is my current critique group, which has been going strong for over two years and has helped us all grow as authors. So, what makes these two groups successful, whereas the others failed?

The key factor, I think, is ensuring the group is the right size for what it is trying to accomplish. Groups that are too small may fail to meet their goals because the work overwhelms the members. There are simply not enough people to carry the load. Another common pitfall that I’ve observed is the tendency of small groups to synchronize into a group think. There needs to be enough diversity of thought and experience to keep things interesting and productive. So why then not take a “the more, the merrier” approach? Wouldn’t a group open to the public be preferable?

Frankly not, in my experience. It’s a matter of the time and reliability of the individuals involved. Nobody’s time is infinite, so any meeting that is too large must inevitably splinter into smaller groups to allow for practical critique. Secondly, large groups inherently diffuse personal responsibility. Why, after all, does any one member need to meet their writing goals for the week or read the other members’ submissions? Surely someone else will do it. Finally, the larger the group, the more likely there will be conflicts of personality that sour the tone of the meetings. Writers put ourselves on display in our fiction. We must trust those we turn to for critique or we will not be open to their help.

Take as an example my first two critique groups. With seven and eight members respectively, reading everyone else’s submissions became a chore and seriously impinged on my writing time. The critique we offered was often superficial and therefore not terribly useful. The second major problem that killed these groups was that we were never able to meet face to face. We tried to use a private forum to bridge the gap, but that medium destroyed accountability and it wasn’t long before people stopped posting.

My current critique group calls ourselves “the League” and consists of three members. Though we may seem too small, our size makes us flexible and familiar. Though we live in different cities, we meet face to face each week via video conferencing. When one of us has something come up on the normal meeting date, we can usually find an alternative time. This maintains accountability, which has been my only reason for making keyboard time some weeks. Because we are friends, we trust and value one another. We understand each other well enough to know what our fellow authors are thinking and can therefore offer deep, constructive criticism. Furthermore, we are comfortable enough with one another to engage in productive conflict, pushing each other to be better.

Also key to the success of the League is that we have been able to adapt the group to our changing needs. We started by performing weekly writing challenges. At that point, we three needed something to get us writing consistently, and it worked. For a time. After a few months, we all grew bored and frustrated, yearning to get to actual fiction. We three are novelists at heart, after all, and 1,000 word challenges weren’t promoting our goals of becoming published authors. So one meeting we discussed the problem and decided to change our focus to be prewriting new books in tandem.

For a while, this vein worked for us. However, we eventually found ourselves bogged down and struggling with making consistent progress. Another discussion led us to take David Farland’s Story Puzzle class as a trio. The class was fantastic, but even better because we took it together.

We all received extremely positive feedback from Dave on our assignments. NOT because we were particularly brilliant, but rather because we discussed his lessons and workshopped the exercises before sending them to him. I firmly believe that we three got more out of the class because we took it with friends.

My critique group has found a size and a strategy that works for us. Though every writing journey is unique, none of us is in it alone. I would highly encourage any aspiring author to find a group of like minds to help them take their craft to the next level. Like writing itself, critique groups require dedication, time, trust, and most of all the ability to grow and change.

New Beginnings from Old Endings

Whenever I begin a new writing project, I know I’m building on what I’ve learned from previous projects. Having written non-fiction for over two decades, and fiction for a few years now, I’ve come to recognize certain patterns in my writing habits that have been formed—both consciously and unconsciously—by my previous efforts. All my new beginnings follow a long chain of old endings.

In simple terms, it’s the learning process. My articles and book chapters, my short stories and novellas, all contained both successes and failures: things that worked, things that didn’t. Yet each one taught me something that I could take into the next project. The failures, if I’m honest, are the better teachers. That’s where the real learning is done. And the failures don’t need to be epic. Simple mistakes, recognized for what they are, show me what to do differently next time.

For example, my first professional fiction sale (a short story to an anthology), contained a fairly subtle yet significant example of floating viewpoint: “head hopping,” as it’s better known (where the point of view suddenly switches from one character to another without any cue to the reader that it’s happening). In my case, I was too inexperienced at the time to recognize what I had done, and it was subtle enough that the editor himself didn’t notice it until his second or third pass. (It was a scene in a séance, wherein I jumped blithely between the main character, a man trying to contact the dead, to the old woman who was leading him though the ritual.)

When the editor caught it and pointed it out to me, I was sufficiently mortified (another classic newbie move—overreaction!). But I also learned why head hopping was a problem, how it can disrupt the flow and pull the reader out of the story. I have been careful not to make the same mistake again. (Don’t misunderstand: many very good authors head hop through their characters all the time, and do it well. But not me, not then.)

The point: it was a learning experience. One that I wouldn’t have made had I not given that project my very best efforts, and made a sale to a good editor who then helped me improve the story. Because even my best at any given time will have shortcomings. Only by pushing myself will I make mistakes I can really learn from them. These are the good mistakes. The “new mistakes,” I now call them, stealing a line from the Shakira Zootopia song “Try Everything.”

Speaking of stealing, the best illustration I know of the process of making these “new mistakes” comes from one of my favorite books, Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. I think it speaks for itself:

(Image source: tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/102479069106. Note that Kleon himself stole this from Maureen McHugh!)

It’s a great illustration from a great book. Notice, however, that implicit in the “life of a project” is that we must complete our projects. For fiction writers, this is the equivalent of Heinlein’s second rule of writing: finish what you start. That’s the best way to learn. Even the epic fails, the stillborn ones destined for the scrap heap, teach us something … even if it’s just the extent of our current shortcomings.

But finish. Learn what you can. Then start something new.

Starting a new year is a lot like starting a new story. We can look back on the successes and failures of the ones we’ve finished, figure out what we’ve learned, and then begin a new one with a little more confidence.

Here’s to 2017—may it be full of new beginnings built on old endings.

Steve Ruskin has been a university professor, a mountain bike guide, and a number of things in between. In addition to fiction (most recently the sci-fi novella A Deal with the Devil’s Brokerhe has written for academic and popular audiences in publications ranging from the American Journal of Physics to the Rocky Mountain NewsVisit steveruskin.com.