The Truth about Big Publishing

A couple of weeks ago, I asked several of my writing groups this question:

If you could ask a Big 5 editor a question about the industry, what would it be?

I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with editors from some of the biggest publishing houses in the world this past week, as well as a few different agents. To be honest, I was a little terrified going into it. I feared I would be viewed as the outsider who self-published, ICK! That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Here’s what they all had to say…

Self-publishing has lost the stigma it has carried for so long. All of the editors were very open to submissions from self-publishers. With that being said, there was still quite a bit of eye-rolling about self-publishing, but that’s fair; there’s a ton of crap out there, and you know it. However, self-publishers who have worked hard to be professional, have invested their own time and money into the process, and have been successful with sales and reviews have a much higher probability of getting picked up by a publisher. Why? Because they already come with fans, and they’ve proven they are dedicated to making writing a long-term career.

Now, that doesn’t mean they are going to jump at the opportunity to REPUBLISH your self-published work. I wouldn’t count on that at all unless you have hit the sweet spot of sales numbers. By sweet spot I mean your book has sold enough to prove it’s marketable but still hasn’t exhausted its market.

But for new work going forward, it is a good idea to let them know how your self-publishing endeavors have fared. Unless, you know, your sales numbers have been abysmal. You should probably keep that to yourself.

You asked. They answered.

Here are some answers to specific questions:

Where do you see big publishing houses in 5 years especially in light of print on demand and eBook options?

This was incredibly interesting to me. We all know the tides of publishing have changed. Barnes and Noble is really the only bookstore left standing, and the big publishers are all working together to help keep them standing. It’s only a matter of time before major print runs become obsolete, and big publishing is bracing for it. For the time being, in an effort to keep Barnes and Noble afloat, one publisher told me they won’t buy your book if they know Barnes and Noble won’t buy it. She even went so far as to say she has incredible, future best sellers from proven authors stuck in a drawer because it’s not what is marketable at the moment.

The lesson from this for you? Remember this when you get those rejections. It doesn’t necessarily mean your book isn’t publishable.

Why do literary agents think they are worth such high prices?

There were some amazing literary agents at this event. And the biggest realization I had is: ALL AGENTS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. Some, like the ones I met with, don’t stop at simply selling your work to publishers. They help with branding, marketing, planning, editing, brainstorming…the list goes on and on. They would certainly, in my opinion, be worth their commission.

On an almost-unrelated note, Janet Reid wrote a great article over the weekend explaining this. You should read it. Why don’t big name authors just self-pub and make more money?

Does self-publishing a good product that gets good reviews (though not stellar sales due to limited marketing reach) negatively or positively impact how they view potential authors?

The literary agents I talked to said they pay most attention to the reviews. Publishers and agents realize new authors don’t have a platform to market to right away. An existing platform is certainly a bonus, but they are realistic about newcomers to the business.

Would you change your mind, if you knew I was a ghost writer for three of your best-selling authors?

I didn’t ask this one specifically because it doesn’t apply to me, but it was clear whatever experience and credentials you can present will help your query stand out among the masses.

Are you willing to work with authors who publish with multiple companies and also self-publish?

This was an overwhelming YES which completely took me by surprise. I think everyone I talked to actually encouraged hybrid authors because traditional publishing still takes (at the very minimum) a year to get a book into print.  Hybrid authors can self-publish in the interim to keep their platform “hot” and active. I hope it goes without saying that the self-published stuff needs to be up to par with the quality of the traditionally published work or this just won’t work.

What type of story or voice gets you excited? What tense/person do you prefer for fiction/fantasy?

This definitely varies from person to person, genre to genre, and is heavily dependent on the target audience.

Do they simply look at the story itself or do they take a close look at the author themselves?

They look at both, but as I said before, they are very realistic when it comes to new authors. They focus heavily on the MARKETABILITY of the story, not just if it’s good or not.

What I Learned

  • The best thing I took away from all this was the big, scary, intimidating mask I’ve always seen on the big publishing world was stripped away. These editors are amazing. They’re fun, down to earth, and incredibly kind and gracious.
  • Attending conferences is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL if you want to publish well. Even if you’re self-published–no, especially if you’re self-published. Why? Because you’re your own publisher, and you need to keep up with the big boys. Learn all you can from them if you want to compete.
  • Barbara Vey is amazing. You should look her up. She’s the queen of selling yourself as an author, in my opinion.
  • Always carry business cards. (Thanks, Barbara!)
  • Liz Pelletier (CEO & Publisher) of Entangled Publishing is brilliant. If you ever get the chance to sit in on one of her lectures, DO IT. You’ll thank me later. (Side note: I’m convinced Entangled is an excellent publisher who is on the cutting edge with hybrid authors. They accept unsolicited submissions.**)
  • Choose your literary agent wisely. A big name can be far less valuable than someone who is willing to get in the trenches with you and be a huge advocate for your work. Check out The Seymour Agency.
  • Join writers’ associations like RWA, Thriller Writers of America, etc. If I heard this once, I heard it a million times from everyone at the conference. Publishers and agents want to know you are invested in this business.
  • Sourcebooks is a great publisher particularly for Wattpad writers. They accept unsolicited submissions and don’t require the author to remove the story from Wattpad**. (Funny story. My friend Juliet Lyons just signed a 3 book deal with Sourcebooks, and her editor was one of the editors I met with! Small world!)

I’m forever grateful to The Seymour Agency for providing me with such an amazing opportunity. I can’t wait until next year!

**Note: I have not worked with these publishers. I’m only giving my overall impression. ALWAYS DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

The Emotions Thesaurus

Whenever I give writing advice, one tool I often refer to is The Emotions Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It’s an amazing little book filled with appropriate body language, feelings, and actions concerning all sorts of emotions in your characters.

Today, it’s companion book, Emotion Amplifiers, is FREE on Amazon, so grab it while you can! Here are a couple of (affiliate) links.

 
 

Me, Myself, and I hate Pronoun Abuse #writingtips

Earballs (n) plural : : The part of your brain that ‘hears’ what you are visually reading.

I want to talk about pronouns. Specifically, I want to address the ever-confusing REFLEXIVE PRONOUN. Like my beloved semicolon, there is much abuse in the Reflexive Pronoun world. We’re all going to take a giant leap toward ending Reflexive Pronoun abuse!

What is a Reflexive Pronoun? Myself, Himself, Herself, etc.

For now… I’m only going to focus on Myself. Because if you can master “myself” you can figure out all the others by YOURSELF. See what I did there?

Me – Me is an object pronoun. Me is always used as the object of sentence. In other words, the VERB is happening TO ME. You can remember this by asking, “What is happening to me??”

She gave me the cookie.
He ran beside me.
The dog chased me.

In all of those examples something is happening to ME, making ME the object of the action.

I – I is a subject pronoun. I am always the subject of my own sentence because I am the master of my own universe.

I like cake. Who likes cake? I do.
I am a writer. Who’s a writer? I am.
I would like you to learn about pronouns. Who would like you to learn? I would!

Myself – Myself is a reflexive pronoun. It is used ONLY in conjunction with I. It is used to add emphasis and/or REFLECT back on the subject of the sentence. And WHO is the subject?? Duh, I AM.

I did the job myself.
I propped myself up on the pillow.
I, myself, did all the work.

*******************

<BEGIN RANT>

Now, I’m  going to rant about something that bugs the bejeezus out of me in fiction writing. It’s when authors using reflexive pronouns like this:

I found myself standing before the king.
I found myself in a lot of trouble.
I found myself confessing my hatred for pronoun abuse.

Grammatically, this is perfectly correct.

But figuratively, it makes me want to claw my earballs out.

It’s like the character has suddenly woken up from a coma. “What the f*@% am I doing here!?!”

But… that’s a personal thing for me. Technically, like I said, there’s nothing wrong with it. Just know: if I ever read your work and come across this phrase used in any other way than a character going on an Eat-Pray-Love-type journey to “Find Themself” in a very spiritual sense, I’m pointing and laughing at you.

</END RANT>

*******************

What about that tricky little conjunction “AND”?

“And” always seems to screw up the best of us.

Carol and I went to the store.
She sang louder than Debbie and me.

How do you keep those straight? Drop what’s on the other side of the conjunction and decide what makes sense.

I went to the store. (Me went to the store, is just plain dumb, right?)
She sang louder than me.

Want to point and laugh at me? Here’s an actual example from my published novel, THE SOUL SUMMONER:

He was a bit older than Adrianne and myself, maybe twenty-two, and he had a sweet, genuine smile.

That was published in the first edition. And it’s wrong. 🙂 Nice, huh? Made it past my editor and 6 proofreaders. The correct form of that sentence would be:

He was a bit older than Adrianne and me, maybe twenty-two…

Eeek! Even reading that now, it hurts my earballs. Why? Because it sounds wrong. Why does sound wrong? Because Americans don’t speak good!

Apply the rules above to determine which word to use:

Who is the subject? Not I. He is.
If the subject is anything or anyone other than “I”, YOU CANNOT USE MYSELF.

What happens if I drop what’s on the other side of that conjunction? I’m going to remove Adrianne and see what happens…

He was a bit older than ME.

Ahh… that makes perfect sense. Right?

Clear as mud, are we?

Bad Decisions Make the Best Stories

Since I published The Bed She Made back in May, so many people have asked, “How do you come up with your story ideas?”

Welp…

I’ve sucked at life a lot over the years.

For my birthday, my best friend bought me a sign for my wall. It says, Bad decisions make the best stories.

Isn’t that the truth?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to take any glory in any of my failures in life. I’ve done a lot of stupid things, and I’ve hurt some really amazing people along the way. But, for those past transgressions, I hope I’ve been forgiven, and if anything good can be taken out of some of the most despicable time periods in my life… then BRING. IT. ON!!!

The Number ONE Rule for Writing

The NUMBER ONE rule for being a better writer is to READ.

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. — Stephen King

The best way to learn how to write is to study under those who have already done it really well. Reading is a free university accepting anyone who aspires to put pen to page.

Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window. — William Faulkner

Here’s what I recommend:

Start with the genre that you enjoy writing. Read the classic masters of the genre and the current ones.

Like Fantasy? Read The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Read Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Read The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. Read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Want to write Historical Fiction? Read anything by Philippa Gregory (The Constant Princess is a good one to start with.) Read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I also recommend you do even more reading of historical NON-FICTION under this category too. The foundation of this genre is thorough research of history!

What about ChickLit? Throw a stone, pick an author.

Are you getting the idea?

NEXT get out of your comfort zone and read some classics. A few years back, I challenged myself to read everything that I was assigned in high school because back then I usually opted for just the Cliff Notes! In one year, I read Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Kafka, C.S. Lewis, Salinger, and Steinbeck.

Then, step out of fiction entirely!

Read plays to learn how to write dialogue and action.

Read poetry to learn to craft metaphors, similes, and imagery.

Read Dante’s Inferno to learn about world building.

When you read, read like a writer. Pay attention to scenes you really connect with, then dissect them to figure out why you connected. Notice how other writers use verbs and adjectives. Bank new words into your own vocabulary. Feel the pace of what you’re reading. Read passages aloud to hear rhythm and flow. Read bad literature to learn what the writer did wrong!

Read. Read. Read.

And before someone asks (or thinks it)…

Can I watch the movie? or, I saw it on HBO, does that count?

NO. JUST, NO.

Never judge the book by its movie. — J.W. Eagan

So… WHAT ARE YOU READING??  (Let us know in the comments!)

Top 10 Writing Tools & Resources

I get asked a lot about recommended books and writing software, so here is my list of writing tools that I use and recommend. I really use all of these products myself, but this post does contain affiliate links because a girl’s gotta eat. 🙂 Here is the list in order of necessity to me:

1. Scrivener – Scrivener is a writing platform that will change your life. (Thank you @tangomega for changing mine!) Unlike Word, Notepad, Google Docs, and other word processors, Scrivener was created JUST FOR WRITERS. It has tools for plotting, brainstorming, research, formatting, and much MUCH more. It also has a “speech” function that will read your words aloud, which I use ALL THE TIME for editing purposes. Also, if you plan on self-publishing, it has an amazing “compile” feature that will build your eBook in matter of seconds. It costs only $45 (USD) and has a very generous free trial. It is available for MAC and Windows.
Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X (Regular Licence)
Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

2. On Writing by Stephen King – I read this book religiously once a year and, I’m not even a big fan of his fiction. His writing advice is PRICELESS. See it on Amazon

3. Elements of Style by Strunk & White – This tiny book needs to be on the desk of EVERY WRITER. It’s a quick reference guide for punctuation, grammar issues, common mistakes, and general writing advice. This is the author’s bible. (This book is really tied with On Writing in my order of importance.) See it on Amazon

4. The Chicago Manual of Style – This is an essential editing tool for writing fiction in the US. It is available in print, but they also have a website with all the same information. It has a free trial, but the subscription is totally worth it. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org

5. Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich – A great reference for fiction writing that includes everything from plot development to revision. See it on Amazon

6. Grammar Girl Website – Someday I’m going to take her out for beers. I love this website and reference it often for common grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues.  http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

7. The Collins English Thesaurus – I’ve recently started using this online thesaurus over thesuarus.com. It tends to return more relevant results and has been a lifesaver in moments of synonym crisis. http://www.collinsdictionary.com/english-thesaurus

8. Writer’s Digest – Their website has some amazing articles on everything from writing to publishing. I DO NOT PROMOTE THEIR FORUMS, however. It seems to be full of bitter writers who wait to pounce and devour the work of others. I was a member just long enough to decide to leave. I never posted any of my work there after seeing what a LOT of members did to other members.

9. Google Drive – I back everything up to Google Drive. It has a handy-dandy auto-synch feature with Scrivener, and now I don’t have to worry about losing my files!
wattpad
10. Wattpad – I also need to throw Wattpad in here as an honorable mention. It is a self-publishing platform for millions of online readers. It’s completely free and has an awesome online community of writers! I’m spending more time there than on Facebook these days!

How to be a Better Self-Editor

I actually got this advice from a Writer’s Digest article many, many moons ago, and I always suggest this method to authors who ask me to edit their manuscripts. If you want to be a serious writer, you should follow a process like this BEFORE you submit query letters, seek out an editor, or publish your work in any shape or form.

Draft 1 – Just puke your ideas onto the page.

Draft 2 – Reread your manuscript on the computer where you wrote it and look for plot holes and non essential information.

Draft 3 – Print it out. Grab a red pen and CUT, CUT, CUT. Rewrite.

Draft 4 – Read it out loud and listen for flow and check for missing words, grammatical errors, spelling errors, etc. I actually write in Scrivener which has a speak function. Your novel sounds like Stephen Hawking, but there is no better way to make sure your delivery is smooth than hearing it with your ears. With particularly complicated scenes, I have my husband or another poor soul read it out loud. I listen to where they stumble over information or syntax and edit it till it is smooth.

By the end of Draft 4 you will be SICK of your novel, but it will be tight and fluid.

I actually do one final proofreading on mine in an ebook format. I’m always shocked at how many small typos I miss.

BUT IT’S SOOOOO MUCH WORK!!! Yes. It is. But, as with anything, the work is a commitment to your craft. You owe it to your novel to make it into a masterpiece.

BUT MY WRITING IS SO GOOD THAT IT DOESN’T NEED ALL THIS WORK!!! Trust me, IT DOES. No matter how good the writer, we all make mistakes. Our brains only read what we INTENDED to write–not what we actually wrote. This is why editing is absolutely essential prior to publication. If you can master becoming an efficient self-editor, you will save yourself a lot of time, frustration, and money later on!

Showing vs. Telling

No matter what stage of your writing career you are in, you’ve probably heard a lot about showing vs. telling. Like me, you may be SICK of hearing about it. But, there’s a reason we are all sick of it… it is a plague on the writing world! So, I’m going to break this down into a quick mini-lesson.

Showing is letting the reader EXPERIENCE the action, the setting, or the characters . Telling is just giving the reader information. TELLING IS BORING.

You’ve got all sorts of weapons to combat boring storytelling in your arsenal of writing tools. Let’s take a look at just a few of them.

Combat Telling with Action

This is telling:
She was surprised because thought she was addressing another child and not a full grown man.

This is showing:
When she finally looked up from the mess, and her eyes locked with his, her head snapped back in surprise. She took in his fancy clothes, and then hid her flushed cheeks behind her hand.

Do you see the difference? They both give the same information–she’s surprised and embarrassed because he is not who she expected. But, the second example is active; the first is not.  I can share the experience with the characters in the second example. I can see it and feel it.

Let’s look at another example:

This is telling:
Marla heard a whisper coming from under her bed. She was afraid.

Hopefully, you can spot the telling in this right away. The ‘Marla heard’ is a pretty dead giveaway right off the bat. And as much as I appreciate short and to-the-point sentences, “she was afraid” is just lazy. I mean, she just heard a voice under the bed and all the reader gets is “she was afraid”?

Let’s try it again.

This is showing:
A small whisper rose from under the bed. “Marla.”

Marla’s heart was pounding so loud she could barely hear the voice. She pressed her eyes closed and cocooned herself inside her comforter. 

Combat Telling with Dialogue

This is telling:
The surgeon is arrogant.

This is showing:
I considered his suggestion and then looked back over my notes. “But, Dr. Woods specifically said for you to remove the tumor and not just sample it.”

He lowered his head and cut his dark eyes up at me. “Well, that’s because she’s the doctor and I’m the surgeon.”

Let your characters speak for themselves. You can get a lot of information about personality, education, self-worth, etc. just by how they speak.

Combat Telling with Sensory Details

This is telling:
Karen liked it when her mother baked cookies.

This is showing:
Karen licked every morsel of melted chocolate off her fingertips.

Doesn’t that just make your mouth water with chocolatey happiness?

And this concludes our mini-lesson in showing vs. telling. There is plenty more that I could add to this very condensed overview. If you would like to add to this list… well, that’s why God created comment sections. See below!!

 

7 Words that are NOT Words

My daughter recently asked me, “Mom, how do you spell naw?”

“Like you are gnawing on a chicken bone?”

“No, like naw-duh.”

I have FAILED.

I’ve been reading a lot of Wattpad fiction lately and I’ve learned something… I’m not the only one who has FAILED. So, let’s go over my list of words THAT ARE NOT WORDS!

words

FOR THE SAKE OF GRAMMAR AND ALL THAT IS HOLY, please just stop.

1. Naw is not a word.

No form of this should ever be used. Ever. The word is NO.

2. Alot is not a word.

I really hate it a lot when people put these two words together.

3. Nevermind is not a word.

I blame Kurt Cobain for this one. Technically, “nevermind” is a word and it means attention. But, unless you are a great grandmother in the deep South and you are saying something such as “Pay him no nevermind”,  you will never use this word correctly. So stop.

4. Expresso is not a word.

Repeat after me. Esssssspresssssooooo. Espresso.

5. Nother is not a word.

I’m not even sure how this got started, but if you say “whole nother” please smack yourself in the face right now and never do it again.

6. Irregardless is not a word.

Just because Webster finally gave up and added it to the dictionary doesn’t mean that it’s a word regardless of your feelings about it.

7. Ain’t is not a word.

Are we really still having this conversation?

Writing Dialogue Tags

First, what are dialogue tags?

A dialogue tag is: he said. she said. he asked. she asked. etc.

Lesson #1: Using–and the fear of over-using–the word said.

We, as authors, feel like ‘said’ is redundant and not creative. So, what do we do? We try and get creative and use words like mentioned, stated, claimed, exclaimed, commented… JUST USE SAID.

This is a big hurdle that ALL new writers face.

‘Said’ is not redundant… the word ‘said’ is INVISIBLE. The ONLY purpose it serves is to tell the reader who is talking. If you start using words other than said (more than VERY rarely) it become devastatingly distracting. Occasionally you can use words like whispered and muttered, but use them sparingly. You may also use ‘asked’ when your character is asking a question.

Lesson #2: Dialogue tags and adverbs.

What about… “he said lovingly” or “she said emphatically”? REPEAT AFTER ME: The road to Hell is paved with adverbs. – Stephen King.

The use of adverbs in conjunction with a dialogue tag is exactly what he’s talking about. Don’t do it. EVER. It is LAZY writing and the epitome of telling vs. showing.

Lesson #3: Non-speech words as dialogue tags.

This is really common. Never use non-speech words as dialogue tags. ie sighs, laughs, smirks, etc. A smirk is a sarcastic smile; you can’t smirk a sentence.

Move the action to the beginning of the dialogue and you don’t even need to use a dialogue tag:

He laughed. “I thought it was funny!”

Lesson #4: Mixing dialogue and action.

Don’t get into the habit of mixing dialogue tags with action as seen here:

“I need to go to the grocery store,” Elaine said as she picked up her keys, walked toward the door and opened it.

Read that sentence out loud and you will hear how heavy it sounds. Let action be action and dialogue be dialogue. Often, you don’t even need to use a dialogue tag if you have properly executed the action. This is a sign of truly great writing! Instead:

Elaine picked up her keys and walked to the door. “I need to go to the grocery store.”

Sometimes it is necessary to mix the two, but it shouldn’t be done out of habit. Again, it’s lazy writing. It should be reserved for when a character is speaking and doing something simultaneously–and sometimes not even then. 🙂

If you are a writer and you don’t already own it, PLEASE DO YOURSELF A FAVOR and get ‘ON WRITING’ by Stephen King.