Have you read any good books lately (besides any of mine)? ;-) If so, on which “platform?” E-book or paperback?
Thus tweets the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Some replying have questioned it, pointing out for instance that it is just one year, and also that many e-books are “overpriced” by large publishers while many paperbacks are “priced to sell.” Yet it does once more address that tantalizing question: E-books or paperbacks?
I hate talking money. However, occasionally we do all alas have to nod to it in life. Many readers might not know: Kindle and other e-readers have been a real boost for us lesser-knowns and those looking to break into authoring, who often indie publish to get a start.
We know there are the “sneak peeks” that the likes of Amazon use to drive sales. But that is not always enough. Much as with musicians who do free gigs and artists who display paintings merely to be seen, when you are lesser known as an independent author it is certainly unreasonable to expect readers to part with money for your work until they believe it is worth it.
So making a novel free is often necessary. Still, it does go against the grain to offer complete free books to enable readers to get to know your work when yours aren’t “shorts” produced every few months for quickie consumption. It’s a lot easier psychologically to give away 1 “short” book when you have “16” others out there, than it is to give away a 400 page novel when you have only 2 of them.
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Much is also made of the fact that independent novels, be they shorts or full-length, are imperfect. They may have, for example, typos:
Inspired, I sensed afterwards, by my grandfather memories that I’d posted in the morning, I spent the day yesterday smashing through the opening chapter to Distances. Although it’s not long (but none of my chapters are really “long”; I dislike “long” chapters), it’s – I believe – on target.
Textured. Sentimental. Sharp.
A new character also zooms in, offering the novel’s very first line.
I know this post appears much later in the morning than usual. However, when you have an unexpected light bulb go off over your head you have to drop almost everything and get the idea into your manuscript as quickly as possible. If you don’t, it may vanish forever….
Having done that, on to this post. Yesterday saw me pass 40,000 words. So with Distances looking daily more and more like an actual book, rather than just bits and pieces, I took a break and decided to have another mess around with a potential cover. That’s always fun:
Well, everyone, I’ve struck out with the first literary agent. She emailed me that she likes my books’ idea (whether that’s really true, who knows?), but (and but is always the operative word) added that what she had read did not “grab” her enough. She concluded – quite politely – that she must “pass.”
Naturally not the response I had hoped for. Then again, not bad for a first try either. That’s the business. I took up this endeavor without illusions. You need a skin as tough as marble and to possess the ability to shrug off “passes” and move on immediately.
Because not everyone is going to be wildly impressed by what you write. Even the likes of Sir Salman Rushdie have produced books some consider “unreadable.” Every author gets rejected.
I choose to see this “pass” primarily as her loss. She had read only a little of it, and I’m sure if she doesn’t want it someone else out there will. As in sales, you just have to keep knocking on doors, and may have to pile up lots of unanswered queries and “Nos” until you encounter someone who says “Yes!” :-)
About five years ago, we had a laugh with my English niece (now 16) and nephews (now 19 and 12) about which would they prefer: fame or fortune? At the time they said they wanted “fame.” We told them you don’t want fame, because you might be famous and unable to put food on the table.
But as young kids not having to put food on the table for themselves, naturally they didn’t quite get what we had meant. Things have moved on. We asked the question again recently of the older two, and this time they were emphatic the other way: they wanted “fortune.” My niece, in particular, loves money in her pocket – as we discovered a year ago when she was visiting with us here in New York; she could have shopped until we dropped.
The default position seems to be everyone wants to be “famous.” The assumption narrowly in our context here is if you blog, or use social media, you are cravenly just seeking attention. However, I don’t buy that as applicable across the board.
Yes, out there are certainly the likes of my HarperCollins published uncle. He is a complete extrovert. He loves being on TV. He relishes being the center of attention in the room. Facebook is the worst invention imaginable for him: he can carry on to a couple of hundred “friends” about how he wishes he’d been in the Spanish Republican army in 1936 or something. (God, I hope he never sees my blog. Then again, he’d probably laugh, because he knows I’m right.)
Myself, I just want to write entertaining novels that stand on their own, which when a reader finishes she/he says, “I enjoyed that.” I seek to use this blog and Twitter to help spread the word and to be there for those curious about my books. However, I have no desire to be a “celebrity”…. as odd as that may sound in the novelist biz today. :-)
Cas, that is a stonking good post. Much of what you write sounds familiar – especially the rewriting and “fixing holes” and the 39th book by age 18, and the British vs. “American” spellings. (In early drafts, I fell into that latter trap!) I won’t even begin to try to address all you note. You’ve delved into the issues so fully already.
I will say I don’t know that there’s ever been a time when a “good outcome” has been out there for authors. My uncle is a long-published HarperCollins fiction author. (He does NOT know I have written a novel and intend to write more of them; but that is another, decidedly personal story.) He has an established readership, but much of his back catalog is out of print. He wants to get the rights back to many of his earlier books; and I’ve suggested he get them on Kindle when he does. They need to be available or no one can buy them! He knows what the Kindle is, but overall, technologically, he is an author “of the 1980s/1990s.” He’s also now in his young 70s – he doesn’t even have an author site. He doesn’t “quite” understand that, nowadays (as with so many other businesses), in many ways your author web site is your “shop front.”
Myself, I wanted to write the books I wanted to write. And I work hard to make them good ones for readers. If anyone desires similarly to write (via self-publishing or chasing a traditional publisher), my best advice is…. write the book. Don’t worry about the other side…. yet. Fretting over publishing is a waste of time when you don’t have a manuscript. Write! Write! Write!
There had once been those “gatekeepers” preventing us from reaching any readers whatsoever. So there had been “vanity” presses. Today, we may self-publish and we will reach readers, even if only a few. But that’s how journeys begin: with a first step.
My wife has told me that I must consider myself an author; that that is now my career (for now, at any rate). Just because I don’t sell Stephen King levels of books does not mean I am not an author. Nor you. Thus far I’ve sold more of my first novel than I had thought I would – not thousands of course, but enough that I feel positive about where I’m headed.
Based on what I’ve heard over the years from my uncle, I’ve decided to try to find an agent. Authoring is sales. Success in sales in any field is about piling ups (sic) “nos” until someone finally says “yes.” I well-know I will have to keep at it and be tough-minded about it. If one says “We’ll pass,” or doesn’t reply, find someone else. Keep at it.
Can I support myself writing? Absolutely not. But does that mean doing so [is] impossible someday? Who knows? Achieving anything worthwhile requires work. Above all, the product needs to be something people want to buy. Many people won’t buy books any longer; but many people still do. Hundreds of millions of them around the world.
No one is going to hand us money. Anyone who seeks to write needs to remember that reality at the outset, and manage expectations. If we keep them low, as we exceed them we’re thrilled! :-)
On reflection, that does broadly speak to what I believe about authoring in the current publishing climate. It is not very different, really, to what musicians now face. Or actors.
Which reminds me. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed a production of Big Maggie outside of Dublin. Written in 1969, it is a much-produced play in Ireland.
The actors at the performance we saw were (in my humble opinion) excellent, and the show flew by. While we learned one had been in small roles on RTÉ television, most were P/Ters or amateurs. None had (so far) hit the “big time”: meaning, for instance, London’s West End or Broadway. Nor were most likely ever to do so.
So what? They were on stage and doing what they loved. And all of us, their audience in the small theatre, appreciated it greatly.
That is what matters also for us as writers. Yes, it would be wonderful to “hit it big.” However, doing what we love, being proud of what we do, and reaching our audience – no matter how small or large that “crowd” may be – is what this is about.
The parents are now returned to Pennsylvania. I’m pretty sure they still have no clue what I’ve been up to. I know this because, if they did, they’d question me. (Believe me, restraint is not my mother’s strong suit.) Ah, the “fun” of writing under a “pen name.” ;-)
So, house guests gone, calm returns to the Catskills. And I can work again. After taking the sequel and cutting it in half, that idea I’d had of releasing the first half of it sometime in the summer is looking possible.
I had always planned the first sequel to be the same 5×8 size and font as Passports. So my dividing job yesterday revealed the book so far is 35,000 words in its first half, which is about 140 pages of text based on the Passports format. However, it is only 15,000 so far in its latter half.
I had a light bulb go on over my head first thing this morning. And, no, it wasn’t because I’d turned a lamp on that happened to be behind me. ;-) Rather, an idea hit me about the in-progress sequel: Should it be two volumes?
Passports is nearly 400 pages and a complete novel. Unexpectedly, while I had been sitting at my desk doing some writing, and also thinking on the title for the sequel (and I think I’ve got one at last!), it dawned on me that having had that full 400 pages as a series opener allows me the flexibility to do what I want afterwards. I don’t need to do the same format yet again…. exactly the same way.
Meaning another “400 page” effort all at once is hardly required. Currently, I have around half of the sequel finished. But I am months away from completing it, and it might not appear before early 2015.
That strikes me as just too far away. However, I could instead release the first half of it during the summer. I have much more written of the first half than of the second, which makes this even more appealing an idea. If I concentrated from here on only on that first half, finishing that within weeks is not out of the question.
As a reader, which do you prefer? A longer, single novel? Or do you like installments that appear at shorter intervals? Which approach appeals to you more as you follow an ongoing tale?
The halves put together would still add up to around another 400 pages. And they would have to be read as a continuous story, one after the other. In the future, after the second half were out for a while, I might re-package them as a single volume.
Hmm. Having the next 200 pages of the story out by August/ September? And another 200 pages out early next year? I like that idea. :-)
I’ve been writing with some gusto in recent days. Helpful in that was keeping mostly off Twitter and the web during that span. I got an entire chapter finished, other bits newly added, and others tidied up.
For reference and continuity checking (I hate stupid oversights and petty errors), I’d also simultaneously picked up Passports (the first book) and re-read large sections of it. I hadn’t done that quite as systematically and critically since it had been published in late November. In doing so, I have stumbled on a couple of issues.
First, I found myself reflecting on chunks of it where I thought, “Gee, that’s damn good. I wrote that?” And on others I found myself thinking, “Uh, that’s fine, but I could’ve written that differently or another way.” But what’s done is done regardless; there is no going back.
Worse, I am now also understanding how our personal lives as we write may impact what and how we write. My generally downer mood since our girlfriend Kam’s sudden death in early February has been leaving its ugly imprint on the style and tone of the sequel. In fact, “down” is often not a strong enough word: “angry,” “tearful,” and “depressed” at times are probably far more accurate descriptions.
In the last few weeks, I’ve also been exchanging emails with her younger sister: they were incredibly close, so she is, unsurprisingly, devastated. We’ve been recalling happy memories, but also discussing grief. The other day I mentioned how for a time in February I could barely face the sequel’s manuscript: it had become painful for me even to look at it.
I wrote her that every time I sat down in front of the PC, I kept visualizing Kam in the pages. (One of the terrible pitfalls of real people as any inspiration for fictional characters.) There was one horrible moment I became so upset I considered giving up completely. But then I reminded myself that Kam would never have been in favor of that. I could almost hear her gently admonishing me, “C’mon, Rooooob. Don’t be silly. You have to finish…” I also wrote her sister:
I began to realize that grief must be forced to lead to something worthwhile. I told myself I’d dedicate this one to her, and make it worth that dedication. I’ve been told the first one is “good.” Well, I am determined this next one will be better.
Brave words, I know. As we also know, conflict and tension are necessary in tales worth the reading. But as I review sections of Passports and compare them to stretches of the in-progress sequel, the latter is unmistakably darker: it’s stuffed with nightmares, stalking, other ugliness and viciousness, clinical depression and fatal illness. And all of that in merely HALF of the planned total novel.
It is still rooted in varieties of real happenings, but this second volume is shaping up overall as harsher and bleaker than the first book. I’ve got to be careful here. I realize why I’d unexpectedly drifted in this direction, and it has to stop.
The first book certainly has its seriousness, but it also has its “fun” and “optimism.” I don’t want to lose that balance. I’ve got 50,000 words left to begin to “lighten up” the sequel somewhat. Kam was never a “downer” person. :-)
Hope you’re having a good Wednesday, wherever you are….