C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

I like you more when your dog dies: Niches, conversations, dead blogs and a contest.

We don’t sell anything unless we tell stories. To sell stories, we must have stories about our books.

Seth Godin’s blog and books sell because they’re short, pithy, smart and he owns his niche. To own a niche now, you’d do better define a new one. Don’t try to take Seth’s purple cow, tribe or incisive observations about case studies. (Note: “Case studies” is the more scientific word for “stories.”)

Define your own niche and you’ve got a better shot at selling more books.

For instance, my next book is about Romeo in a drug-infested, coming-of-age thriller in New York. Shakespeare plays a role in finding the modern Juliet. Coming-of-age and thriller aren’t normally such cozy neighbors. My last book was a zombie apocalypse with an autistic hero and Latin proverbs. Not a lot of competition in that end of the zombie market.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege.

Familiarity is overdone. Differences define us in the market. (e.g. Bookstores are still crammed with Harry Potter knock-offs, but there’s only one JK Rowling.) Take something familiar and find a way to make it original again and you’ve got something.

Story is the most important thing. Story works.

Podcasts don’t sell unless they’re rich in content and tell stories. From business success to how-to and gee-whiz science, podcasts don’t work as sales engines unless they tell aspirational stories. From the startlingly different (Welcome to Night Vale) to personal confession (Marc Maron’s WTF) stories must be told and be relatable.

I’ve noticed more authors seem to be shifting their cyber-presence to Facebook and away from Twitter. They’re all Twittered out. Tweets are solid tools of discovery and live-tweeting makes the Oscars watchable, but Twitter tends to be less about story and connection. We need a little more space to achieve resonance.

Facebook offers more opportunity for personal connection. FB’s post length helps, but it’s also subtext. On Facebook, you have friends

Twitter is less friendly and more competitive. On Twitter, people have followers and people pay attention to numbers gained and lost. On Twitter you use ManageFlitter and WhoUnfollowedMe. On Facebook, if crazy Aunt Sadie unfriends you, you’re relieved you can swear again and her abandonment confirms your politics are sane.

Personal stories help us plug into each other’s pleasure centres.

The mind often fails to make distinctions among what’s real and illusory, cyber and real world. On Facebook, Story is the carrier wave of connection: “This is my child, my dog, my life!” we tell each other.

Since we don’t know what the hell we’re doing and we’re all scared, our connections reassure us. “Maybe I’ve screwed everything up, but at least I’m making the same mistakes as everyone else in our journey toward a better tomorrow.”

That’s why your photo catalogue of a glorious tropical vacation on Facebook doesn’t fit into the brain’s three-prong plug of connection. People love shared stories of failure, vulnerability and happiness, but only after that happiness is earned by failure and vulnerability. We root for the underdog and rags-to-riches stories, not Donald Trump. Your new car is nice for you, but I like you more when your dog dies. My dog died. Commonality is currency. Because I want to be loved, I love you when you’re suffering insomnia from worry, too. Misery doesn’t just love company. It insists on it.

Though we are each mysteries, we like to imagine we are each other.

Each of us is just as challenged and sad and lonely, but we hope to be rich some day, too. When the money and success roll in, we tend to forget all this stuff about connection. We blame the poor for their poverty, give luck no credit for our rise and trumpet all our hard work to the exclusion of any variable that does not bow to our big ol’ brains.

No wonder the rich and poor hate each other (except the poor want to join the resented rich, too.) Meanwhile, the rich would rip out their own throats with car keys from their repossessed Lexus if they had to get by on less than $100,000 a year.

Our class boundaries break connections. That’s why celebrities seem so otherworldly in person. They lost their shock collars and passed the invisible electric fence! They made it, so we can, too! Unless they’re the children of celebrities. Those lucky devils get a sneer and a Barry Bonds asterisk beside their fame.

Our stories about who we are become who we are.

That quest for privacy? Quaint. Adorable. Amish.

Jonathan Franzen worries about our attention spans, the death of literature and loss of privacy. He worries about the horrors of the Internet, just about every week it seems, in the Huffington Post. Horrors.

Blogs are dead sales platforms.

You have to have an author site, but you’ll get more juice from connecting on Facebook. Twitter will serve you better than a blog because it serves more people.

A blog is too much of a commitment for the reader. Too few blogs are “appointment reading”. A blog is a magazine at the doctor’s office. You only pick it up when there’s nothing else to do and you’d rather be doing something else.

I am subscribed to many blogs. They’re up there somewhere, forgotten in an RSS reader, added to a long reading list I will never get to. The blogs I actually read daily don’t have to be stuck in my bottomless bookmark bin. I go to them.

Blogs fail because signals go out but they don’t connect. Like this post, a bad blog post pontificates. I’m doing it now, connecting less, to fewer people. Still here? You’re already hoping the meta will stop and I’ll somehow pull out of the dive and land a punch and a point in the final sentence. How will I bring us home after such a depressing, meandering trip? I’ll show you. Indulge, a moment more, before the doctor calls you in to talk about those test results.

There are exceptional blogs, still breathing.

You can tell which blogs still have a heartbeat. They have a large and active comment community who aren’t just there to fight. (The Passive Voice is necessary to indie writers, for instance, as is David Gaughran’s blog.) Their lure is a story of aspirational subtext: Read this and you will succeed as we analyze the mistakes and triumphs of others.

And what are comments but the back from the forth? The best comments are more stories, resonating and rising up in conversation.

Commenting as a sales tool is less effective than it once was, back when people still asked, “What’s a blog?” Commenting doesn’t sell, though it can hurt you if you’re a dick. Some commenters never communicate human warmth. They think their intellect and snark will win people over and drag eyeballs back to their own dead blogs. They’re wrong. We only go back to their blogs to see if they’re rude to everyone (yes, always, yes) and make mental notes of what books not to buy.

Living sales platforms are conversations.

Facebook is a bigger sales engine at the moment, coming at you sideways, fun and friendly and under your defences.  We tell stories in conversation with friends. That’s where the connection lies, even if it’s a lie. We share our failures and hopes and dreams and we don’t look at our watch when we’re on Facebook. (That’s how the wasted hours slip away and books don’t get written, too.)

Facebook falls short in some ways, but that’s where I can talk with Hugh Howey or Chuck Wendig or Robert J. Sawyer. Facebook is alive with conversation. That’s the hot, three-pronged brain plug of connection we crave.

So who cares about this shit? Too long to read. Meet me on Facebook and maybe we’ll connect in a conversation. Blogs are dead. I killed it. Just now. I regret nothing.

Season 2 is the quest.

Season 2 is the quest.

~ There is a secret in This Plague of Days. You’ve already read it. No one has guessed it yet. If you suspect you know, DM me on Facebook or DM me on Twitter. Praise and adulation will be heaped upon those who guess correctly. First prize is a signed paperback. Three winners will appear in my next book. Adulation for all will happen on the All That Chazz podcast.

Filed under: author platform, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

JK Rowling will finally sell Harry Potter e-books

Filed under: ebooks, , , ,

Writers: Do you have time to get published? And can we dump the “self” from publishing?

P Harry Potter

Image via Wikipedia

Wow. I just noticed that an author profiled on this blog, the great JE Knowles*, was rejected 100 times before her book Arusha, was accepted by Spinster Press. I’ll say it again: Wow. That’s common. Many authors who later went on to great success were rejected many times before someone in traditional publishing saw their manuscript’s sales potential. One day, JK Rowling will announce who rejected Harry Potter before Bloomsbury picked up the deal of a lifetime. (Then the tears, excuses and recriminations can really begin. That promises to be quite delicious, but I digress.)

The reasons for such rejection are many (and many of those reasons have little or nothing to do with any particular author.) I’ve delved into that reasoning elsewhere, so let’s talk about time. It takes you a long time to write a book and get your editor and/or beta-readers lined up. You comb and comb the manuscript and until at last you don’t find any typos. (As soon as you send off the manuscript, inevitably you will find a new round of typos and errors but just do what you can because that’s all any of us can do.)

You do your research and you send it off to editors or agents. You format your submission to the individual requirements of each agency or publishing house. Most just want queries up front and some want an outline, too. Others will ask for partials but the length of a partial can vary. If it’s non-fiction, you’ll need a business plan for all the marketing you intend to do to sell the book and evidence of your vast platform. You send it all off to five agents or houses and you wait. In the meantime, you work on expanding your platform and thinking happy thoughts and get all caught up in that positive thinking bullshit of The Secret.

Many agents and houses don’t actually do rejection slips anymore. No answer is an answer. The trouble with that is, you don’t know when they’re done with you. Next, after some undetermined time, you feel like your stress headaches will squeeze your forehead so hard your brains pop out through your nose. So you decide it’s time to decide upon the next five agents and you begin your research again.

And so on. And you begin to question your mission on earth and the need for your existence. And you get more of those brains and blood in the Kleenex headaches. And then you get a nibble. An agent wants a partial from a query you’d assumed had been forgotten. This tentative bit of interest can go south so many ways so quickly, I’m not even going to belabor those ugly facets here. Let’s just say, it’s a long road to getting an agent, and that’s no guarantee you’ll be published.

Once you get over the initial ecstasy of someone validating your wretched writerly existence (and that little orgasm is disappointingly brief) you start to get itchy that your book isn’t up for sale and won’t be for a long time.  “Patience,” you’re told. You’ll be told that a lot. Eventually you may begin to wonder if it’s just you being impatient. Then that will pass and you’ll start to wonder if there really is a flaw in the argument of  “This is how it’s done and this is how we’ve always done it.” The point is, after you’re accepted by a traditional publishing house, it still an 18-month wait until you hold a book in your hand. In most cases, unless you’re Sarah Palin (and thank God you aren’t!) that time-frame is a minimum.

So, how old are you? Do you have years to wait before you’re in print? There are alternatives. Smaller presses and POD publishers might have a shorter time frame to get your work in print. Using Smashwords, you could have your book out very quickly.  E-books are fast. Often, too fast.

If you’re not prepared to wait for the traditional publishing model, the deeper question is: Are you prepared to start your own business and become an independent publisher? I see a lot of self-publishers, but I see far fewer independent publishers who are prepared to dive in and get really serious.  The difference between a self-publisher and an independent, I think, is one of seriousness and commitment. You can get anything out there quick and awful. Any half-considered manuscript full of errors and dropped threads can be pushed on an unsuspecting populace quickly. (Of course, it won’t sell well, the word of mouth will consist of warnings and readers you suckered the first time won’t come back for your next book.)

I’d like to see more independent publishers who are ready to hire an editor (said the editor) and swim in the deep end of the pool. The stink on self-publishing is that the quality is atrocious. Eventually, I’d love it if the independent publishers who committed to quality outnumbered the self-publishers. In many people’s minds, “self” will always signify “vanity.” Those objections aren’t all wrong.

As creators, we must demand more of ourselves for emerging models to fly. We’re at the end of the beginning. Now let’s knuckle down.

And yes, you’ll see my first book, independently published, up and out there, later this year.

 

*See the first link below for that interview and more information about JE Knowles.

Filed under: DIY, ebooks, Editing, Editors, publishing, self-publishing, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Writers: On sending your stuff

J. K. Rowling, after receiving an honorary deg...

Image via Wikipedia

 

To the right is a picture of JK Rowling. Notice that she is not me. As with Highlander, “There can be only one!” I’m sorry this has become necessary to point out.

One of the posts here is a neat spreadsheet that shows how JK Rowling plotted out Harry Potter. Recently I got an email with several errors addressing me as JK Rowling that asked me to email the writer so I could read some of her work. Billionaire authors don’t do that much. In fact, as presented, I wouldn’t do it, either.

I’d feel bad about pointing out this error so publicly, but it’s apparent the writer is not someone who reads this blog. Please read the blog (and also www.chazzwrites.vpweb.ca). When someone jumps from my bio page to ask about my bio, it just feels like spam and carelessness. Writers are detail-oriented and email, no matter how casual you want to appear, should reflect that. (In fact, I’ve sometimes gone through several drafts on queries to make them appear breezy and casual.) Whether you’re sending a manuscript, a query or a short email, you must pay attention to the details.

I know what you’re thinking. You already know this. Okay, but obviously many people still don’t. One writer told me she had already written several books. That’s a good sign. However, in one short paragraph, she made seven errors. That went into my evaluation of how much I could help her right away. I decided editing her book would be time and cost-prohibitive for me and for her.

When I take on a project, I have to take into account how much time I will have to invest in the book. From that short paragraph, I had to conclude that, were I to take her on, the job would be rewriting, not editing and proofing. When it starts out that bad, it doesn’t make me confident about larger issues like attention to detail, story arcs, characterizations and narrative logic and consistency. I have ghosted a couple texts. Writing and rewriting are not out of the question, but I have to know the scale of what the job requires going in (or I may as well be working behind a counter wearing a paper hat and slinging fries.)

Does your project have to be perfect for me to work on it? Of course not. If it were perfect you wouldn’t need anyone (and you’d be god.) I’m not being nitpicky or cranky. It’s just that when I get a query, I’m looking for signs the author is serious. If you’re asking me to take your work more seriously than you do, that’s a bad sign.

Queries and sample chapters give you an idea of how I work and they tell me how much time your book will take up. That’s one of the main variables in determining my rate, so please, don’t shoot off an email—to me or any other editor—before reading what you wrote at least once.

I’m trying to end on a positive note, so I’ll add that I just took on an editing project that excites me. The author’s serious, nice and I can’t wait to dig into her book and take it from great to fantastic. In fact, the antidote to amateurish folks is waiting on my desk. I’m off to work on the manuscript.

Filed under: authors, blogs & blogging, Editing, Editors, getting it done, links, Rant, Rejection, What about Chazz?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

Harry Potter Inspiration

P Harry Potter

Image via Wikipedia

Last weekend we took the kids to the Ontario Science Centre to learn some science and, of course, see the Harry Potter exhibit. It was fun to see the artifacts from JK Rowling‘s world as imagined through the movies. There are a number of lessons to be learned from the Harry Potter phenomenon. Here’s what I take from it:

1. Write a great book and it will find its way to the marketplace, no matter the naysayers.

2. A book that’s categorized as Young Adult (YA) can be enjoyed by many age groups. People who read Harry Potter are of varying ages. Some people, like the agents and editors who turned down the opportunity to publish the series, thought that was a problem. (Ha! Ha! Ha!) The Twilight series is proving books don’t have to be so shelf-specific, too. It’s an obstacle by way of rule of thumb that all cross-genre books face. Scott Sigler had a hard time getting his books published until he provedthe publishing industry was acting in a way so narrow-minded they might have bowling alleys for brains.

3. A good book, or a good bunch of books, is only helped by controversy. Censors have never learned that the more they worry about young minds being corrupted–and complain about it in the media–the more books they will sell for the author.

4. When you have a great success, haters will emerge. Worse, someone may even come out from under a rock to try to sue you for copyright infringement. Wipe the tears away with fifty dollar bills.

5. JK Rowling’s success is an inspiration to all of us who toil alone at keyboards (as yet unheralded.) When the last Harry Potter book sold, I was at the midnight sale at my local Chapters. I didn’t come to buy that night, though it was fun to see all the wizard and witches dressing up for the event. I came to sit at a table at Starbucks, sip a coffee and watch and feel the genuine excitement over the release of a book.

We don’t often get excited about books and I know there are many distractions. But that–okay, I’ll say it–that magical night was a reminder that there are still plenty of us who love the written word. We love it so much. We really do.

Filed under: Books, publishing, Rejection, Writers, , , ,

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