Why Writing Isn’t Enough

Happy Monday! I’m sharing a guest post from Britt Skrabanek that was published on Kristen Lamb’s blog today. Britt is a savvy author and marketer who has some good points to make about our publishing expectations. As much as I wish I could click my ruby slippers together, press the “easy” button, and be an Amazon bestseller (how’s that for mixing some metaphors?) it ain’t gonna happen without work, patience, and sometimes, a little bit of luck.

The Last Rejection Slip

Typewriter - Once upon a timeI’m no poet, but I had a little fun writing this during JD Mader’s Flash Fiction Friday. There’s so much great writing going on at 2 Minutes: Go. I hope you’ll check it out. And maybe next week, you’ll come write with us. Or read what results.

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The Last Rejection Slip

Dear author, confidentially,
I’ve had the opportunity
To peruse your latest tome
About the final sack of Rome
Or was it romance in the air
Between two alpha billionaires?
A clone of the latest big bestseller
Paranormal fortuneteller?
A steampunk Valley of the Dolls?
Amish gangsters and their molls?
While it’s brilliant, shows such pluck
It won’t help me make a buck.
Sorry for the frank report
There’s just too much mail to sort.
So thanks but no thanks, author friend,
And with this query I will send
My suggestion you self-publish
Check out Facebook, Twitter, Bublish.
If you do well, please advise
Because I’d like to cut my ties.
See, there’s a novel in my head
(Seinfeld meets The Walking Dead.)
I’m dying to get out of here
Publish more than once a year
Write the book I damn well please
And get bigger royalties.

The Brave New World of Self-Publishing

Cover_January_2013_2Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing this link to an article by Nina Shengold in the January issue of Chronogram, an arts and culture magazine that serves the Hudson Valley area of New York.

It’s a look at the growing number of authors in the Hudson Valley area—a kind of mecca for traditionally-published writers–who have chosen to self-publish their books.

Nina surveyed twenty-two authors to craft her article, plus asked local bookstore owners and even literary agent Jean Naggar for their comments.

I was one of those authors. My last two novels were self-published, and if you look very closely at the lower-right corner of the photo with the article, [the chick wearing what looks like a Muppet around her neck] I’m holding both of them. I also edit and proofread for authors, mainly of the indie variety. If you’d like to hear more about what I do or how I can help you, please drop me a note via the “contact” form on my website.

Thank you to multi-talented local author and publisher Brent Robison for the idea for this blog.

Oooh, Shiny…

I don’t know about you, but I love a good bit of irony. Just last week, my friends and compadres at IndiesUnlimited.com were having an aerobic bit of discourse about the dreaded “G” word. No, not gorgonzola. Gatekeepers. And whether or not indie authors needed them in this crazy cowtown. I can see both sides of the issue, and I have great respect for my friends who say, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” So it was with a bit of a sociological eye that I submitted Drawing Breath – weeks before my post aired – on a tip from author J.L. Murray when GrubStreetReads.com offered a free promotion. Do I like shiny things? Yes. Do I like praise? Heck, yes. So when J.L. Murray, David Antrobus, and I were all endorsed, our lovely book covers on their home page all in a row, sure, I was moved. Do I think we NEED endorsements other than those lovingly offered by our readers? No. But better than the endorsement is what the Grub Street evaluator said about Drawing Breath:

“I loved this book! From the beginning the story drew me in and I couldn’t put it down,
even when I was crying so hard I couldn’t read. You have created a beautiful story that
explores innocence both for Caitlin and in my opinion Daniel as well.” -L.R.

Now that’s an endorsement!

Fighting for Reviewer’s Eyeballs

I’ve read enough and talked to enough other authors to know that once you sign your publication contract, everything doesn’t magically become wonderful, or easy. True, there have been wonderful moments: finalizing the manuscript, seeing the art for my cover, and having two giant boxes of review copies deposited at my front door.

Now the hard work begins. First, to identify appropriate reviewers, and convince these very busy professionals that my novel is worth 234 pages of their time. You think you’re busy? Some of these people receive thousands of inquiries each month for reviews, and have backlogs of hundreds of books waiting for them, for when a free moment or two pops up. Add the usual challenges of life, the day jobs some of these people have in addition to the websites they maintain.

It makes me understand why some are so quick with the thumbs up or down. I just have to figure out how to cut through the pile, with a pitch that’s pitch perfect but not too over-the-top. Ideally, all of this should fit on one page. It almost makes me miss those frustrating, hair-pulling days of writing draft upon draft of the original synopsis.

Through trial and error, though, I’m discovering what gets reviewers’ eyeballs and what is just noise. Here’s what I’ve learned so far about writing reviewer pitches:

1. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Then get someone else to proofread. As Writing 101 as this sounds, it still applies. It’s often the first thing a busy reviewer will see about you. Typos in the address block? Missing words? Eye-rolling grammatical errors? It all counts, and it could count against you. You don’t want to give the reviewer the impression that your book could also be full of typos–how ponderous would that be to read? Especially critical are errors in contact information, because you are accustomed to seeing that information in all of your correspondence and thereby stop seeing it. I almost sent out six valuable review copies along with a set of letters that did not contain the correct area code. D’oh! But this turned out to be a good thing. It gave me an opportunity, while I was correcting the phone number, to fine-tune a pitch that seemed a little flabby.

2. Do your homework. Think like a busy reviewer. It’s Saturday morning, your parents are watching the kids, you’ve got a pot of coffee on, and you’re shuffling through a mountain of review packages that have been piling up in your office. You only have a minute or two to decide up or down on each one. Do you want to review that 400-page zombie western? Or a 250-page romance novel? Oops…you don’t do romance. And the author would have known that if she had checked the reviewer’s submission guidelines. Just like when you were selling your novel to agents and publishers for the first time, submission guidelines still rule.

3. Make it easy for them. Put everything they need for a quick decision up front: title of the book, genre, release date, publisher, number of pages. This way, he or she will know if this work is in their wheelhouse, and if they will have enough time to read it and write a review in a timely enough way to meet both of your needs. After that, include a well-crafted blurb about the book. This might be the same kind of copy you put in an ad or on the book jacket (assuming your book has a book jacket.) Don’t forget to include, probably at the end, a bit about you, where the book will be sold, and relevant web pages (like your publisher’s online catalog and the page on your website where they can read an excerpt.)

4. Manage your rejection. You thought all that rejection ended when you got an agent or publisher to say yes? Not so fast. Remember that bit about the really busy reviewers? Yes, they might reject you, too, and it probably has nothing to do with the quality of your book. It could merely be that they have too many books to review that month. Or, they just posted two apocalyptic zombie novels in a row on their website and including yours would turn them into a niche reviewer. Cry if you need to (I pass no judgment) but don’t let the rejection stop you. Somewhere out there are reviewers who will love you, or at the very least, agreed to read you.

Most importantly, know that the author/reviewer relationship is symbiotic. No, the reviewer doesn’t stand to make immediate buckage taking on your book (unless you choose a reviewer who charges for reviews, a practice I’ll tackle in a future blog.) Some do it for the sheer love of reading and support for authors. They also do it to get good web content to attract more visitors and therefore make some money from their websites. So if you adjust your thinking and work with your potential reviewers instead of against them, it could turn a worrisome task into an adventure. Continue reading