Riding the Fence – Indecision at Your Own Peril

May 11, 2017

There’s something that’s been ricocheting around my pea-sized brain for a while, and it has to do with Riding the Fence…as in, “Do I wanna self-publish, or do I wanna go with a publisher?”

This makes my teeth itch, and I’ll tell you why.

Time Suck

I had an experience recently where the author was Riding the Fence about whether to self-pub or sign with a publisher. I was the lucky slob who drew the short stick.

I liked his book and made him an offer. But we gotta back up and count all the hours that I spent getting to that point to making the offer.

  • Reading his book proposal (1 hour)
  • Reading his manuscript – making copious notes on arc issues, organization, and further development (30 hours)
  • Discussing with marketing/sales teams and other publicity folks (8 hours)

So, going into this endeavor, I invested nearly 40 hours. Big deal; it’s what I do.

However…

He was expecting a six-figure advance. Yah, ain’t gonna happen. He didn’t have the story or platform to support such a fantasy. Depressed, he then tells me he’s considering self-pubbing.

WHAT?

Now I’m thinking voodoo dolls and sharp, pointy things. Nearly a week’s worth of my time is blown to bits.

Reality vs Fiction

Because he’s Ridin’ that Fence like a buckaroo, he asked me exactly what I could do for him and his book. Okay, I’m totally good with these questions, because authors should have a solid idea about what their potential publisher can do for them.

However…

Time spent writing numerous emails pointing out the Realities and Fiction of self publishing (16 hours)

After nearly three weeks hemming and hawing, he wrote to tell me he was self-publishing. Argh. Why in the HELL didn’t he decide this before he wasted all my time? This kind of stuff is so unnecessary.

It Ain’t About Just the Money

Publishing has drastically changed since the heyday of spending like drunken sailors. Publishers gotta work smart if they want to stay in business. We always plan for a book to do well, but the marketplace is a fickle mistress, and the best-laid plans may go awry. And they go awry for all kinds of reasons. Just to say, that they also go very right for all kinds of insane reasons, as well.

However…

  • Author platform was over-inflated
  • Genre Buyers don’t like the topic (that is a whole other post in itself)
  • Intended audience doesn’t respond

Huge advances makes only one person happy; the author (and his agent, if he has one). They get a nice payday regardless of the book selling well or tanking. The publisher eats it. In these uncertain times, advances had little choice but to go southward.

However, what a publisher CAN do is offer:

  • Superior editing and design work
  • National/international distribution
  • Marketing/promotion
  • Getting authors into industry book fairs and conferences
  • Sending review copies and media kits to industry reviewers and media

And that’s just a short list…and they do it all on their own dime.

The self published author is responsible for bankrolling the entire endeavor, and they often have no idea whether they’re getting a great editor or cover designer. They don’t realize their books won’t be reviewed or stocked on store shelves.

In simple terms, self-pubbed authors are a team of one, and they’re competing against publishers who do this for a living. Even as small as we are, we’re a team of hundreds…all who are devoted to selling our books to the widest marketplace.

So, sure, the advance offered to this particular author may have been less than he was expecting, but the cash outlay that we would have put into his book would have been in the tens of thousands…along with countless hours of professionals doing what they do best.

Do the Research

Let me say that I have no problem with those who want to self-pub. Heck, the marketplace is big enough for everyone to play in the sandbox. But don’t hedge your bets to a publisher by Ridin’ the Fence…”I’ll see what they offer me, then I’ll make up my mind.” That kind of attitude really sucks the jam out of my jelly doughnut.

Make up your mind about what kind of publishing options you want to pursue, and stick to it. Someone who isn’t sure will invariably find fault with the publisher for any little thing that happens.

Publishing is a partnership – a two-way street – and if one of those parties consistently rides the fence (“Damn, I shoulda self-pubbed…then I’d be rich and famous.”), then what chance does the committed party have in succeeding? And the self-pubbed author is rarely rich or famous.

Do the work and research ALL your options BEFORE you decide whether to stick your big toe into an editor’s front door. The more information you have, the better able you are to decide which option is best for you and your book. And you won’t waste anyone’s time.


Rejection Hurts: A Cautionary Tale

April 26, 2017

I’ve just had a Wut. The. Hell? moment. Hasn’t happened in a long time, so I guess I was due. What am I talking about? The suckosity of rejection, and how authors choose to deal with it. The struggle is real, and it’s biting my butterks right now.

Lashing out over rejection. I’ve talked about it a number of times over the years. After a refreshingly long drought from nastiness, one came barreling down to the Price Batcave with enough force to roust The Rescues from their undeserved nap (after all, there is filing to be done!). Le sigh. Why, why, why do authors do this?

Here is the exchange:

Me: Thank you for writing. I’m afraid there are many, many books on ….. already on store shelves. Minus a unique hook and well-established author platform, I don’t see the qualities that make this a “gotta have it.” Best of luck to you.

This is a fairly standard rejection. It’s brief and offers my thoughts on why I rejected it, because I don’t like to leave the author wondering what elements were responsible for the rejection. When I have a hundred other queries to read, brief is my champion. Needless to say, I was shocked when the below email came blasting into my inbox:

The Author: I usually don’t bother with this kind of stuff, but really, how many of your published titles are “gotta have it” books.  How can anything you’ve said possible be of any importance to me.  If this book is not for you, then just pass on it and leave it at that.  Be an adult about it and have a little compassion for the authors who submit to you.  Seeing your titles I would think you would be a pro at turning someone down without covering your own behind.  

I am old, but what you’ve written could be devastating to a young person.

“Covering my behind”? I’m not quite sure what this even means, since I’m not obligated to justify a rejection letter. The author inquires how many of our books are “gotta have it.”

Srsly? How to answer that. Do I go for tongue-cheek?

“Well, none of them are ‘gotta have it’ books, dear author. We just publish any ol’ crud that crosses our desk.”The mind boggles.

After some thought, I decided on honest enlightenment.

Me: All of our books have “gotta have it” qualities. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have published them. My comments to you were offered as an explanation as to why it wasn’t right for us. I give these in order to help authors figure out why they’re receiving rejections, or how they may improve their query letter so as to be more successful in the future. Only in rare instances do I receive a response such as yours, because most authors want to know the reasons behind their rejections. It’s impossible for me to know who is going to take offense at constructive critique or be appreciative. But my aim for the past fourteen years has been to help authors wherever I can. Rejection hurts, but lashing out and being acutely rude to me for the shortcomings of your query letter is hardly appropriate or professional. May I offer a bit of your own advice, and act like an adult?

Considering how some editors and agents have fired back at snot-grams such as these, I felt mine was a reasonable response to someone who has an obvious aversion to rejection.

Dear Authors…we know rejection sucks stale Twinkie cream. Don’t forget, we suffer rejection as well when an agent or author decides to take the other publisher’s offer. No one is immune to the effects of, “Ah crap, lost out on that one.” But the guarantee is that the sun will continue to rise, the birds will sing, and authors will continue their search for the perfect publisher. And hopefully, there will be a love match. If not, then write something else. The trick is to remain true to your passion, and not let passion overtake your desire to punch out an editor’s lights. Because, really…it’s just plain stupid.

 

 

 

 

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Comp Titles: How to Take the Jam Out of My Jelly Doughnut

April 25, 2017

Is there anything worse than getting a doughnut that doesn’t have enough jelly? It’s one of life’s tragedies, and the struggle is real. If I order a jelly doughnut, then please make sure there’s all sorts of gloppy, oozy jelly in there. So much the better if it dribbles down my chin. Pure. Bliss.

How to take that jam outta my jelly doughtnut? Well…

Tell me that your book has no book comparisons. Continue the blight by insisting you’re breaking “new ground.” Bless your heart. Maybe you are breaking new territory, but I can assure you that someone has done it before you…to some degree…which would be a title comparison.

I don’t ask for title comps for my health. I need them when I’m talking to my sales teams, bookstores, book fairs, basically anyone with a pulse. I. Need. Them. All publishers do, in fact. It’s a part of navigating this nutty biz.

Failure to do your part in providing important info pegs you as a Noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and doesn’t care), or plain lazy. It tells me that you aren’t in touch with your competition – and yes, Mrs. Wigglesnort, there is always competition. Worse, is that I won’t take you seriously. If you insist you have zero competition, then I have to wonder about the veracity of your manuscript. It’s a matter of dominoes, and once they start to fall, it’s hard to win the game.

Competition is tough, tough, tough in the lit world, and you’re looking for reasons to engage us, not repel us. Make sure you submit a winning jelly doughnut. Know your competition. Read your competition.

 


Noob Alert

April 24, 2017
Dear Prospective Authors,
Please, please, please refrain from sending me your cover art in your query letters. You need to spend time telling me how amazing your story is, and why I must have it. This kind of thing shows you as being a noob – someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and they don’t care.
I avoid noobs.

Always Act Like a Professional

September 12, 2016

Rejection bites. Everyone knows this. It brings out the the worst in some – and I’ve been privy to those “worst times.” I don’t like having to write rejection letters any more than you like receiving them. But once they’re written, that’s the end of it for me, because, well, I have a ton more queries awaiting my attention.

So it’s irritating to receive an email from someone I rejected, informing me that my analysis and reasons for rejection are all wrong, and that I’m an idiot. And furthermore, the manuscript won TWO awards and many readers said how much they LOVED the story…and oh, there is a publisher who has accepted the work. I’m truly happy it won writing awards and that readers enjoyed reading the manuscript and that the author has a contract offer. If the author has gotten that contract, then why bother fanning it in my nose? This confuses me.

The fact that it didn’t work for me isn’t a declaration of any lack of talent or unworthiness. That ain’t my call. My call is this: Can I sell it? If there are elements that make me feel it would be a tough sell, then I have an obligation to those who work for me to reject it.

And really, what is the benefit of an author sending me (or any other editor) a letter like this? Is it supposed to make me curl up and cry because I missed the boat? Am I supposed to feel chastised because I was too thick-headed to understand the story’s fabulosity? None of these things happen at my end, and this second-grade nyah nyah makes the author look less than professional.

And that’s the crux of this business – any business, really. Always act like a professional. Rejection hurts, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to fire off a “you suck” email after receiving a rejection. In fact, emails like this make me breathe a sigh of relief that I did reject them. Who needs a loose cannon who flips out at rejection? Can you imagine the fireworks over a bad review? Yikes.

Lastly, it’s letters like this that make me want to return to sending out form rejection letters. Many times I do offer reasons as to why something didn’t work for me as a way of offering the author objective insight from someone who’s been selling books for almost 14 years. Perhaps I’ve seen something the author didn’t, and they can look at their writing with fresh eyes. Or…they can get hurt and lash back.

Either way, authors who write out of anger diminish themselves in a way they don’t even understand. This industry is filled with rejection and tough love. If authors don’t learn that one lesson of grace under fire, then their career will be decidedly short and filled with angst.

Pissed off at a rejection? Eat chocolate.


Hello, Query? Meet Your Manuscript…

August 8, 2016

I know, this sounds funky, right? I mean, presumably the person who wrote the query is the same person who wrote the manuscript, so why the need for an introduction to each other?

Well…

I can’t tell you how many queries I read or pitches I hear that whet my appetite to the point where I scream, “SEND PAGES!” with the same inflection I use when yelling, “Honey, the meatloaf is on fire! Again!

It would be unseemly to yell about my meatloaf being on fire, and have “honey” discover that it’s really a Bundt cake that’s aflame. Right? First thing you’d utter is “What the hell?”

This is what happens when I get a query that says it’s one thing, but the manuscript says it’s quite something else. For example, if your query states that you’ve written a memoir of friendship built around the love of hot rods (the vroom vroom kind, not the…oh get your head out of the gutter), but your manuscript is really a How To on how to form a Hot Rod club, then my eyes will cross, and I’ll let The Rescue Beagles commence to tearing and shredding.

Because this isn’t what I was expecting.

Don’t tell me memoir, then give me How To. It forces me to switch gears and completely realign my thinking. And let’s face it, my synapses only fire under extreme protest. They’d much rather be sipping mai tais under a cool palm tree.

This just happened to me, and I was in the process of writing a rejection letter, when…shock of shocks…my synapses fired and told me to look at the chapters as a How To – even though it was supposed to be a memoir. I’ve decided to give this another try. This time the author lucked out. Synapses save the day! But when I’m reading a bunch of queries and sample chapters in a day, those same synapses may desert me. I may utter, “What the hell?” and reject it.

I hate rejecting things that sound like amazing concepts.

This requires objective self-analysis on your part. You have to step outside of yourself and read your chapters with an unbiased eye. How do they read? Do they read like a memoir? A How To? A romantic comedy? A horror show? If they read in a definite way, then you need to write your query to match it, so the bleary-eyed editor on the other end will see your brilliance for exactly what they are.

So introduce your query letter to your manuscript and see if they are friends or oil and vinegar.


Avoiding the Terrible Awful

August 3, 2016

Whenever I go to writer’s conferences, the question usually arises; “What’s the absolute worst thing an author can do?”

Oh. The mind boggles.

I’m usually the one on the panel who urges my synapses to fire more quickly so I can go back through the many years of some of the more interesting WTF-ery that has flown across my desk. And truthfully, my brain rebels because I’d rather concentrate on all the right things to do.

However…

There is one little thing that busts my chops every time because it’s just so absolutely horrible. It’s the query letter that doesn’t tell me anything about the manuscript, but instead asks for advice. Could I please talk a bit about my company and what we’re looking for? Could I please state how I want the query to look? Then I’m told the author “isn’t really a writer,” but, oh gosh, the story is JUST SO GOOD, that it’ll sell a bajillion books. Everyone who’s read the manuscript says so.

Um.

There is the “new writer” and then there’s the “hopelessly lost, out-of-the-zip-code writer.” It’s so achingly incredible that anyone in 2016 can be this lost. This goes beyond living on Writer’s Island. This is more like living under a rock.

I realize this is an extreme case of the Terrible Awful (thank you, Minnie Jackson) – but the fact that it still happens is worrisome. And of course, there are varying degrees of the Terrible Awful, and there is a very simple solution: Pretend this is a job interview.

The gods would toss down lighting bolts if you went into a job interview and ask the boss to tell them about their company and their guidelines…all the while telling them absolutely zip about you. It would go back to that getting laughed out of the zip code thing. If you want a job, then you make sure to put your best foot forward.

There is no reason for me to reply to a “query” such as this, so the author has blown the one chance they had with me. So think about your own query; is there a compelling reason for an agent or editor to reply in the positive…let alone reply at all? Does your query detail your main character? Does it focus on the heartbeat of your story and highlight what’s at risk? Does the tone of your query match the tone of the writing in the manuscript? I’ve seen any number of queries that insist the story is a comedy, yet the writing is somber and the storyline is anything but amusing.

Most importantly, have you written your query then walked away from it for a while? Did you let others read it and ask them if it’s written in a fashion that makes them want to read more?

Don’t be the Terrible Awful. Be the Holy-Margaritas-I-Gotta-Have-This!


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