Making the Most of Your Book Event

March 27, 2014

booksigning

Book events are enough to give the heartiest of writers the heebie jeebies, and it’s because few know the mixin’s of a successful event, so I thought I’d share some of the foolproof goodies.

But before I get into that, it’s vital to decide whether you can pull off a book signing. This isn’t a case of “If you schedule it, they will come.” This is about showcasing you and your book, so an event will only be successful if a lot of people know you, or you have a compelling reason for people to attend. For example, when I wrote The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box, I alerted writers groups in the cities where I was planning a book event. I sent out a TIP sheet that talked about the book, and what I’d be talking about at the event. I never had an audience under 50 people.

In another example, my bud, Annette Dashofy – author of the wonderful CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE – knows everyone in Pittsburgh. Or it just seems that way…and they all came to her author event at Mystery Lover’s Bookshop. We were crammed in like little sardines, and we had a blast. Since so many people know her – and adore her – they were eager to come support her on her big day. Predictably, the store sold out, and Annette had to fork over two cartons of her own stash. Huzzah!

Now, you could be like my friend Jim Misko, who is the most outgoing, I-love-ya-man author I’ve ever seen. He goes into Costco and sells a ton of books to total strangers because he’s just so damned friendly and fun to hang around.

Wherever you fit, you need to plan your book event thoughtfully.

  • Be a big mouth. I’ve gone to book events where 3 people showed up. It’s painful and depressing.  They won’t come if they don’t know about it.
  • Give ‘em a compelling reason for coming to your signing. Whether they’ll learn how to cure cancer or make really good homemade wine, capturing someone’s imagination is a powerful tool. When I did events for my novel, DONOVAN’S PARADIGM, I tossed out the whole, “Have you ever considered if your doctor’s belief system can impact the way he/she treats you?” Hmm.
  • Read from your book. You want to give the audience a sense of your story, but keep it short and sweet. Audiences can doze off fairly fast, so choose a scene that sparks controversy or demonstrates an emotional impact—this gets the audience slobbery for more. Be sure to set up the scene.
  • Talk about how you came to write the book. It’s fun to hear the “story behind the story.” Was there a particular person or incident that inspired your book?
  • Do a Q&A. I know this can be scary…”What if no one asks a question?” Pah, don’t worry about it. Mix this in when you’re talking about how you came to write your story. And be sure to repeat the question before you answer it. Not everyone will hear it, so repeating it is good manners.
  • Figure out how and when to end the Q&A. It sounds simple, but this can go on for too long, and you won’t have time to sign books. Most events last about 2 hours, so plan accordingly. Decide who’ll be the bad guy – you or the bookstore.
  • Always thank the bookstore! They worked hard on your event, setting up chairs, advertising, ordering books, so be sure to thank them in front of your audience. And bring them something yummy. Back when I was doing personal book events, I always brought goodies for the bookstore workers – cookies or cupcakes. They loved it.
  • Bring food and drinks for your audience. Food is a great ice-breaker. People attending your event may not know each other, but munching on a few pretzels or cookies, while sipping a pouty white wine or mineral water relaxes your audience. For example, I always do a book cover cake for our authors’ first book events. If you enlist some good buds to cut up the cake and pass plates out while you’re busy signing books, your audience will stick around…and invariably buy more books, which makes the bookstore love you.
  • Bring extra books. This is key. If you have a big turnout, you’ll sell out because attendees tend to buy more than one book to give as gifts and such. If you have an extra box or two of books in your trunk, you’ll satisfy all your readers and make the bookstore very happy. WARNING: It’s common for bookstores to order around 30 books because they don’t want to have any extra stock that they may have to return. Be a good Girl Scout and be prepared!
  • Relax, breathe, and have fun. Book signings can be a lot of fun if you’re prepared.

How ’bout you book signing event veterans? Do you have anything to add to the list?


Letting Go – Tossing Out

March 25, 2014

trashThe packers come in two days to pack up our stuff for our move to the cow-tipping capital of the world – Burlington, Iowa – so I’ve dedicated this week to tossing stuff out. Today was tackling the fridge and freezer.

My freezer represents my good intentions. Those siu gau wrappers I bought several months ago represented my aspiration to become more proficient in the kitchen. I have a fabulous recipe for siu gau, and thought it’d be a hoot to surprise the hubs.

Well, make that I had a great recipe for siu gau. Last time I made it was about thirty years ago, so it’s possible it got lost. I’d spent about an hour online looking for a suitable replacement recipe, but gave up. Who am I kidding? Me and grease? Really? We do have two fire extinguishers, but I don’t think I could survive the humiliation.

Out they went.

The sausages were a sentimental favorite, and much harder to toss. The hubs bought them at this great little shop in the Strip District in downtown Pittsburgh that makes the best designer sausages. I don’t know why we never got around to making them. I suppose life just got in the way. We’ve stuffed in a lot of happy memories of The Strip and its eclectic shops and street food vendors.

Out they went. Sadly.

Same goes for the pasta. Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in The Strip has the best homemade pasta – in every flavor imaginable – and we bought all kinds. And didn’t finish them in time.

Out they went…with a tear.

Other stuff was much easier to toss. The frozen bananas weren’t an emotional dilemma. Neither was the half-full bag of peas.

I’ll miss the chocolate wine because, well, it’s chocolate and wine. Need I say more?

Out it went.

Letting go is what we do during the writing process. We have scenes we adore – they’re our “Strip District” goodies that are filled with love and gooey fabulosity. But as delicious as they are, they simply won’t survive the move to finished product because they may derail the plot or be completely irrelevant.

These freezer/fridge items only have specialness to us because they represent something from our heart…which is why it’s hard for us to let go and toss ‘em out. It’s why black-hearted, soulless editors are your best friend. They don’t have the sweet memories of buying those marvelous Italian pastries while waltzing down the Strip District streets, stopping in at Rolands for a quick drinkie on the upstairs patio, where I’ve watched more than one person lose his drink overboard and land on someone’s parked car. Editors weren’t with you on your trip, so they will rip the guts out of anything that doesn’t support the plot.

Many of my authors have wept croc tears when I’ve red-lined a scene or three. “Really? THAT one? But I love that scene.” I can almost see the collective chin quiver and thoughts of hiring a hit team.

I’ll share here what I share with my authors. Ask yourself why that scene needs to be in the story. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best writing you’ve ever done, it has to make sense to the plot. If you take it out, will the story still stand and be just as rich? If you can justify that scene, then perhaps it needs to be tweaked in order to make it relevant.

During your editing process, there will be things that will be easy to let go, like butter. Can’t pack butter. Others, you’ll moan and groan, like my chocolate wine – because I’m cheap and hate to waste good choccie wine. The idea is to stand one or two degrees away from your story – where you can be the objective observer who can clinically agree that as much as you love a scene, it doesn’t belong in the book.

As for me, it’s back to the freezer. Frozen string beans? I hate string beans…what the hell was I thinking?


Those Fabulous Books Don’t Write Themselves, Yanno…

March 5, 2014

…somewhere, an author, sweating blood, decided to sit down and pour their creative guts out on cyber paper to bring you fabulous books.

creative process


Of Love Notes and Track Changes

February 28, 2014

beagle hugsI love a good note. I write them to myself all the time. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t remember to buy chicken tenders and toothpaste. I even leave myself little notes in my writing. When penning Donovan’s Paradigm, I left myself love notes that were almost as long as the manuscript itself…”Insert heart attack scene here.” or “Ask about drugs used for patient allergic to morphine.” or “Insert screaming match here.”

I totally get love notes – you’re either creating a chapter foundation and don’t want to interrupt the flow, or needed to go back and research a bit more. But it might be a better idea to insert these love notes in the margin so it stands out. It’s too easy to miss a love note that’s in the manuscript. Even if it’s another color. I know because I see them in submissions. [Insert chess scene here], or [Change names of everyone in this scene]. This is like seeing a manuscript’s lacy Victoria Secrets. I don’t wanna see this. I want a finished manuscript.

Track Changes

Same thing goes for the Track Changes feature. Authors forget to Accept or Reject Changes and turn the Track Changes feature off. So I’ll see all the little love notes between the author and their beta readers or indie editor. “This part is really rough, you need to beef this up.” “An editor will skewer you if you leave this in.” Ouch. Talk about seeing lacy Vickie Secrets.

Don’t be in such a hurry to bang a manuscript out to an editor’s desk if she asks to read your full. Do yourself a favor and insert all your editorial notes in the margin…which is hideously easy. In Word, there is a Track Changes feature, which allows you to do all sorts of things, and inserting a comment is one of them. In later versions, you’ll find this feature in the Review tab.

Love notes and Track Changes are great, but they’re meant to be private. Oh, and that reminds me that I’m almost out of designer doggeh chewies…


Chapter Content – Too Much or Not Enough?

February 10, 2014

pondering
Have you ever read a book and thought a chapter or three went on for too long? Or not long enough? Or worse, they seemed to be a confusing mish mash of information all piled on much like the old college prank of stuffing a VW bug? This aberration comes from a lack of proper organization. Sounds simple, no?

The answer? Re-organize, and you have great chapters. Okay, if it were that easy, we wouldn’t have this problem of wonky chapters, right? Here are some of the things I look for when I edit.

Chapter Intent

I look for chapters that are clear about what they’re saying. I want them to have a clear direction. It’s like the time when we first moved to Pittsburgh. We were trying to find a particular furniture store, and Zelda (what I’ve named my phone’s navigation app) took us on the wildest goose chase that I’m still shocked we didn’t end up in Ohio. Bitch. If she had just gotten rid of all the ups and downs, turns and twists, we would have gotten to the store in fifteen minutes, instead of forty-five.

It’s the same with chapters. If a chapter introduces a character, then zaps over to backstory, then teleports over to the history of the setting, I’m going to request the author’s bloodletting, because there’s no sense of direction.

A lot of us just sit down at the computer and barf out our chapters. It isn’t until subsequent drafts that we begin to refine and define. This is why an outline can be helpful at some point in the revision process. It forces you to stay on task and prevents you from wandering off the railroad tracks…or from going on and on and on and on…

A chapter should have a beginning, middle, and an end…which leads me to…

The Middle Stuff

If you’re clear on your chapter intent – example: “This chapter explains why I have Rescue Beagles in my employ, and why I won’t allow them to answer the phone anymore” – then the middle stuff needs to support that intent. If you keep it clear, then it makes it easier to know how and where to end your chapters.

Chapter Ending

There have been times when I’ve reached the end of the chapter and turned the page looking for the rest, because I didn’t realize I’d reached the end. Instead, the chapter left me hanging and had zero impact. I call that Endus Abruptus. To me, abrupt is only effective when the Rescue Beagles of Questionable Breeding breeze into my airspace to polish off my margarita. The only solution is to shout out an abrupt, “Get your own damn drink!”

Endus Abruptus shouldn’t be confused with a cliffhanger, which is equally abrupt. Oh nay nay. These offending chapter endings leave a scene unfinished. It’s like a punchline that makes no sense, and you need further explanation in order to get its meaning.

Conversely, I’ve read plenty chapters that actually ended two pages ago, and the authors seemed unaware of that fact. Instead, they rambled on and on until the ending sort of faded away – in much the same fashion as my imbibing one too many Fireballs.

There are all kinds of ways to end a chapter, but they have one thing in common; they make sense. Where and How to end a chapter is as intentional as the plot and character development.They satisfy whatever transpired in that chapter by giving enough information to keep you turning the pages. They have a Mini-Me version of rising action, climax, and falling action.

Paragraph Transitions

I’m big on transitions because I can be thick between the ears. You gotta lead me from Point A to Point B in a logical fashion. If one paragraph is about a character’s thoughts on the weather, and the next one goes into firing one of his employees, then you need a transitional sentence that leads into that next paragraph because, without it, there is nothing remotely linking those two paragraphs together.

Think of transitional sentences as couplers between railroad cars. They’re the magic that keeps the entire train together. Take out a coupler, and the train falls apart. Same goes for transitions between paragraphs of differing topics.

Example:

Being a native Southern Californian, I had no idea about the dangers of snow and freezing rain when I moved to Pittsburgh. I’m an idiot that way. Most I ever had to worry about was whether to put on short sleeves and bring a sweater, or just wear long sleeves and ditch the sweater. Weather meant looking at the surf report, not ice skating on my driveway in my best shoes. Though today, it looked like ice skating would be the main course of my work banquet, since I finally decided to fire the Rescue Beagles – their antics were taking a toll on my last shred of sanity.

“Rescue Beagles, you’re fired. You can’t type, you refuse to file, and your phone manners are dismal. I give you points on your margarita-making skills, but you can’t continue biting the pizza delivery guy and expect to collect a paycheck.”

The sentence in red is the transitional sentence. Without it, the reader would do the blink blink thing before hurling the book across the room. Avoid the book hurl.

Chapter Balance

This is where I go all feng shui and call people “Grasshopper.” Balance is a delicate internal gauge that ensures the information in each chapter has the proper weight. For example, if your chapter exposes how your main character discovers pygmy yaks have been eating all her Coach purses while she’s at work, then you need to put the proper amount of literary weight behind which element you feel is most important. Is it the discovery behind who’s eating the purses, or is it how your main character caught them?

It’s easy to throw off an entire book by giving more weight to inconsequential things, while paying less attention to the really important stuff that needs explanation. Recently, I read a manuscript where one chapter talked about meeting her long lost aunt, whom she thought was dead. It was quite pivotal. But instead of talking about that, the author chose to go into backstory, and paid scant attention to actually meeting the aunt. Grasshopper wrote that chapter completely out of balance.

So, dear Grasshopper, chapters are the building blocks of your book. If they’re filled with a clear intent, are well-balanced, have effective transitions, and come to a logical conclusion, then this makes it easier to edit (which makes me deliriously happy) into a bright package of fabulosity. Go forth and rocketh your world.


Literary Caboose – Satisfying Endings

January 12, 2014

I lurve me a book with an ending that scratches every literary itch and leaves me spent. After all, endings are the literary caboose to your story. Your writing can be the stuff that bring nations to their knees and beg for a good spanking, but screw up the ending, and it’s, “Book, meet Wall.”

Your literary caboose can’t be taken lightly. Evah.

The good thing is that, like writing, there aren’t any real rules to endings. They can either knock you on your ass, or hint at the how the character’s conflict resolves itself, and they can be equally satisfying.

Balance

I look for endings that, first and foremost, are equally balanced to the story. If I read a thrilling adventure story, then I expect an equally thrilling ending. It’s a lot like my meatloaf dinner (about the only thing I cook well). I need to have an equal amount of mashed potatoes and meatloaf, so I can have a bite of each in one forkful. If it’s out of balance, I can go back and get more of whatever I ran out of. Unfortunately, the reader isn’t as fortunate, so they’ll simply say terrible things about you and throw your book to a couple of ravenous Rescue Beagles. Eeek.

Conflict

To me, an ending that puts the jam in my jelly doughnut is proportional to the conflict. Conflict gets my attention – the bigger, the better because the protagonist has more to lose. So I keep turning the pages to see how it turns out…will the protag get what s/he wants? Given the enormity of the conflict, I’m expecting a good payoff.

mommy-tinyAn example of conflict is in Kate McLaughlin’s book MOMMY, I’M STILL IN HERE. Kate’s daughter was diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of bipolar disorder docs had ever seen. Her cycling could happen in a matter of hours instead of days, and her daughter’s behavior threatened hers and her family’s life in the most horrific ways – which kept my heart in my mouth as I flew through the pages.

Because so much was at risk, I expected a huge payday…and I wasn’t disappointed. At. All. In fact, I think it was the first time I finally blinked.

So ask yourself whether your literary caboose is in proportion to the conflict. One shouldn’t overpower the other.

Evokes An Emotional Response

Testicles-smI remember reading Melissa Haynes’ LEARNING TO PLAY WITH A LION’S TESTICLES. I blubbered and laughed my fool head off throughout the entire manuscript. The animals of S. Africa (including the one on two legs) taught her so much about life and coming to terms with her mother’s passing, and I was right there along for the ride. She had me so emotionally invested in her story, that her ending was like landing on a soft cloud. I couldn’t read another book for about a week because I wasn’t ready to leave the aura of her story and the impact it made on me.

Melissa knew exactly how to tap into a reader’s soul (even those of us who don’t posses one), and give it a gentle massage.

Is your book an emotional story? If so, does your ending give the reader an equally emotional response?

Main Character Takes Action

Since your story has a main character and something is happening to him/her, and they’re working toward some kind of outcome, it only goes to reason that the ending would include the main character taking action.

Example:
Rescue Beagle #1 tries to figure out if stealing the ham off the counter is worth the risk of Overworked and Underpaid Editor’s brain blowing up. She decides that not only is it worth it – because ham is oh-so yummy, but that it would be kinda fun to see OW&UP Editor’s brain blow up. So she decides to go for it, and has Rescue Beagle #2 hoist her up on the counter.

The part in red is the action. Without taking any action, the ending – the literary caboose – falls flat.

The Great Hint

That’s not to say that you always see the main character taking action “on screen.” Sometimes a story is equally powerful if the ending hints at the main character’s action – and leaves it up to the reader’s imagination.

9781933016573-frontcoverA prime example of that (wee horn tooting here) is with my novel, DONOVAN’S PARADIGM. New surgeon Kim Donovan has gone from crisis after crisis with her new hospital and the lead surgeon (love/hate relationship), and her soul is weary, used up, spent, crapped out. She needs a change of scenery, but it scares the hell out of her because she’s worked so hard to get a new experimental healing program at her hospital, and she’s afraid to let go.

I don’t reveal what action she takes because it felt emotionally right to do so, and actually made for a more powerful ending. Instead, I leave it up to the reader to decide what she does. Hmm…slight spoiler alert, huh? I will say I thought it a great ending.

Is the Hint Ending a good choice for your book? Sometimes writers simply don’t know how to end a story because they don’t want to leave some mystery. This could be a good option to think about.

Showdown Ending

I lurve me a good showdown. You know, where the bad guy, who’s been kicking everyone else’s ass, finally gets his own come-uppance.

REDEMPTION - HIGH RES - final frontI have to think no further than Chris Baughman’s REDEMPTION – Book 2 of the OFF THE STREET series. Ho-lee-crap. This is one of the most amazing showdown endings I’ve ever read. I remember standing up on my couch and belting out a whoop and screeching, “Oh hell YES!”

The reason I was filled with such bloodlust is because Chris does such an exemplary job at making me hate, hate, hate the pimp in this case – which was actually a kid Chris had gone to high school with <shudder> – by showing the evil that drenches every cell of his pathetic being.

Throughout the whole story, I was itching for Chris to bust this guy’s ass into next year, yet Chris shows admirable, yet frustrating, restraint. But when it becomes absolutely necessary for Chris to take action, the showdown made my intestines explode. I was exhausted, yet exhilarated, when I got to the last page.

Is there a showdown in your book?

Other niggly things that I look for in a satisfying ending also include:

Climax: This is the part that leads to the ending, so it shouldn’t be rushed. Takes your time preparing your reader for the big kapow. Okay, I could get a bit X-rated here to refine the point, but you get the idea. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am doesn’t work anywhere.

The Big Kapow – keep it short and sweet: This is the actual ending, the big wrap up. It’s what happened to the main character as a result of the Climax. It’s the closure. And it’s short and sweet – a scene, max. If it dawdles on too long, it cancels out the climax, and the reader gets bored. “Yeah, yeah, I get it, they rode off into the sunset. No need to show that Mr. Cowboy Pants doesn’t know how to light a fire and asks the Western Beauty if she brought a lighter.” That’s for another book. End it and be done with it.

Deus Ex Machina: Oh, how I detest this element. Maybe someone can come up with an example where this was used effectively. But to me, this is what inexperienced writers do, and they’re so contrived that it makes me want to mainline cheap gin. Deus Ex Machina solves a seemingly unsolvable problem by introducing a new character, object, or event, and boOm…instant ending. Blah. I say rip the skin off that suckah. I usually refer to this as the Scooby Doo ending. Double blah.

Logical/Believable: A satisfying ending means that it makes sense. If your main character is a serious surgeon who’s wanted nothing more than to practice medicine and is passionate about incorporating alternative healing methods in her surgical practice, then it makes no sense for her to chuck it all to join the circus and ride elephants. The story HAS to lead the reader to that possibility. Readers are smart, and they have a good feel for what your character would and wouldn’t do. Your ending can have a surprise, but it has to be logical. Check to make sure readers will buy off on your ending.

If you’re stumped on your ending, try messing about with it, using some of the examples I put here. It could be that your literary caboose will have nations falling to their knees and begging for a good spanking.


Publisher Contests and Puffery – Do They Mean Anything?

January 8, 2014

Award-winning_books

An acquaintance excitedly told me about the publication of her book and urged me to rush over to her website and look at her cover art which, of course, I did. The little gold seal on the cover caught my eye, and I asked her about it. What’s with this “ABC Publisher Romance Winner”?

“Oh,” she said with no small measure of pride, “I won the contest and was awarded a publishing contract.”

Um. Oh. “Okay, but why is it on your cover?”

“I’m an award-winning author, and this will sell books!”

There were simply no words. It’s ludicrous to think this little gold seal is an amulet whose power will sell books because this is a no-name publisher with no marketing or promotion, no distribution, and no store placement. The only people who will see her book are those who have a book pressed into their hands by…the author.

Stuff like this make my teeth itch because it’s puffery and has zero meaning. Store-front publishers do this stuff to capitalize on the real award winning competitions, like PEN Award, Pulitzer, Man Booker, National Book Award, Edgar Awards, and to a smaller degree, Ben Franklin, and IPPYs, thinking having a little gold seal will sell books.

And it may. I mean, readers could see my acquaintance’s gold seal and believe her book is very important and buy several copies – and for her sake, I hope they do. But this will be limited to those who know her and attend the talks she’s planned around town. There is no grander reach to the reading market by the publisher.

Meanwhile, this acquaintance is calling herself an award-winning author, which I imagine makes her feel like a million bucks. But how does this translate to sales if her publisher sits on their hands and forces her to do all the marketing and promotion?

Authors tell me they’re award winners in their queries, and I check them out. First thing I look for is whether the contests are so obscure that they have no meaning. Can I see how many writers competed in each genre? It’s impossible to give credence to these contests. Now, if you won a Pushcart, then I know you have some writing chops.

My feeling is that these “award winners” by unknown publishers are meant to puff up the author’s ego and to attract more victims writers to their web. Without any marketplace presence, there really isn’t anything to crow about, right? We all love the feeling of being considered exceptional. When I was 10, I was voted “Smelliest Feet” at Y Camp. Now, one would think I’d be embarrassed, but oh nay nay. My distinction awarded me the top bunk, where there was a small rip in the tent at the foot of the bunk. Not only could my feet air out, but it was also the coolest place in the tent during a very hot summer in the mountains. And because it was such a goofy award, I made a lot of friends. Go figure.

But I digress…

My point is that if any of us are going to be awarded for being outstanding, shouldn’t it mean something? Shouldn’t we care about quality and depth, and not just the title? There are great publishers who hold contests from time to time and the winner receives a contract, so I’m not saying writing contests bite the big one. But talk is cheap, so stick with known publishers whose books grace the bookstore shelves.

Which would you rather have? A cover devoid of an Award Winner seal and widely distributed and promoted, or a pretty gold seal on a book that will end up sitting in your garage? …which is what I fear is the fate for this acquaintance of mine.

If you enter a publisher’s writing contest, please make sure that the publisher has the chops to  distribute, promote, and market their books. How can you figure that out? Simple. Go to a bookstore. If you see their books on the shelves, then you know they’re walking the walk. Don’t let anyone appeal to your ego, lest you become their victim.


Friends and Lovers of Writers: Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned…

January 4, 2014

writers rules1. This warrants a quick kick to the shins of the person who deigns to ask such a ridiculous question.
2. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this question. I always tell them that I have written the latest bestseller.
3. Ok, I wanna show of hands for those of you who have heard this and wished you had a dime for every time someone uttered this. If we pooled our money together, I bet we could throw one hell of a party.
4. True story: I asked an ER doc about the weirdest thing he’d ever seen while on shift during a full moon, and he regaled me with a story about a patient who presented with a hairdryer up her hoo hoo. Now I had to research that. Hey, don’t look like that…you’d do the same.
5. My family has personal experience with this. Entire conversations took place that I have absolutely no memory of. The fallback in the Price Batcave was, “Was Mom writing when you said that?” It was my get outta jail free card.
6. Oh. Hell. Yes. To that bitchy teller at the bank…Chapter 3 is on you.
7. I…oh…um…yeah, whatever.
8. I can attest that I have NEVER done this. Ever.
9. To this I say, bless Doris Dumrauf and Annette Dashofy and their Christmas gifts…
10. Word.


Calling Roget’s Dictionary…

December 22, 2013

definition of writerWell, I was gonna say wine…


Thou Shalt Only Publish Here, Not There, Nor Anywhere

December 20, 2013

I'mstuckwithyou

I received an email from an acquaintance who received a contract offer with an alarming clause, and he wanted to know if this was a standard clause.

In a nutshell, the clause forbids the author from submitting subsequent similar stories to other publishers – or self publishing it. All stories that are deemed “similar” fall under the jurisdiction of that publisher and must remain with that publisher.

Now, this is entirely different from a First Right of Refusal clause, which simply states that the author must give their publisher the first right to review subsequent manuscripts, and reject it or offer a contract. I wrote about it here,

This is far more overreaching, so I’ll explain the pitfalls:

Definition of “Similar”

There is no definition of “similar,” in the contract, so how is the author supposed to understand what falls under the current publisher’s purview and what he can submit elsewhere? Are they talking about genre, plot, characters, setting? Further muddying the waters is, how does the publisher possibly enforce that clause with such dubious wording?

Many authors write in the same genre, so if an author writes YA distopia, does this clause grab all of the author’s future YA distopia? Or are we talking the characters? Without having this clearly stated in the contract, the author is walking a tightrope without a safety net. The worst of all is that the publisher has ultimate control over what they deem “similar.”

Authors can’t be held to a moving target. Define by what is meant by “similar,” then maybe there’s something to work with. However, at that, I would never, never, never suggest an author sign such a ridiculous clause in the first place. And, frankly, I would question any publisher who would put that into their contracts.

Author Freedom

My friend’s acquiring editor told him this clause is meant to help grow the author’s career by cutting down on cases where the author could find themselves competing against their own work by having similar books at different publishers.

Personally, I think this is a load of camel slop because first and foremost, the publisher is inhibiting the author’s freedom to do what he wants with his writing career. What this really does is help the publisher corner the market on that author’s “similar” works, therefore ensuring maximum sales for the publisher…which, in theory, is good for the author.

And sure, I can imagine the frustration a publisher would have seeing one of their authors give another publisher a similar book. The original publisher worked hard to establish the author’s platform in the marketplace, and now they have competition. And my answer to this is that it’s incumbent upon the publisher to be so freaking fabulous that the author wouldn’t think of going anywhere else. It should be a relationship of fabulosity, not force.

You do not, not, not take away an author’s freedom. It sends a terrible message, and…well…it’s rude. A publisher is either up to the task of doing good things for their authors, or they’re not, and the author should have the ability to move on if they want. Good publishers don’t keep their authors by force.

Publisher Suckosity

And this brings me to another point. Publisher suckosity. What if you sign a contract with this clause and you find out down the line that the publisher isn’t doing a good job in promoting, marketing, distributing, and selling your book? The clause makes you their writerly slave.

Signing a contract is a happy happy time, filled with daisies, puppies, and rainbows. Authors never imagine the possibility of a Dark Lord of Suckosity surfacing, bringing slobbery, murky, bloaty gnomes whose sole job is to make you wish you’d never picked up a quill.

So the worst case scenario is that not only have you discovered the Dark Lord of Suckosity, but this lousy clause ties you to them with lightning bolts.

Any clause that gives the editor control over deciding what “similar” means is meant to favor the publisher. Trying to insist that these clauses are meant to protect the author is publishy-speak for, “Gee, I hope they didn’t see through my smoke and mirrors.”

This clause puts you in a Demilitarized Zone – you’re not free to take a step forward or backward because they own your soul and tell you what you can and can’t write.

My advice to my friend was to run. Far and fast. And if you see a clause in a contract, I urge you to join my friend. Stay safe, dear writers!


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