Sunday, September 28, 2014

Self-publishing traps

I recently undertook to do an 'Assessments Day' for a local writing centre. I was honoured to be asked and really enjoyed the event. The writers I spoke with were generally very sensible and had their feet on the ground, but now and then I come across someone with stars in their eyes: someone who thinks writing books is going to be their path to riches.

Sadly, this is usually far from the truth. Most writers in this country earn less than the dole. In my city of Perth, for example, I believe there is less than a handful of people earning their living by writing fiction. If you write, do it because you enjoy it, not because you expect to make a living at it.

As a freelance editor, my speciality is doing what I call ‘mini-assessments’ for new writers. A mini-assessment is based on a synopsis and the first twenty pages of the writer’s manuscript.

I always start by giving new clients what I call 'the standard lecture'. Now, it’s quite possible that you already know these things, but it’s surprising how many writers do not, so I'll  restate them here to be on the safe side.
1.                  It’s extremely hard to get a novel published, and it’s getting harder and harder with the current uncertainties of the economy and the radical changes that are inevitable in the publishing industry. For every thousand MSS sent to publishers, no more than a half-a-dozen are published. Hard SF – or even ‘soft’ SF – is harder to sell than Fantasy and even harder to sell than the most popular genres, Romance, Crime and Mystery.
2.                  Because it is so hard to get published, your work needs to be of a very high standard in every department. This usually means spending money on editing and/or MS assessment, and these services are not cheap. Because of that, it’s sensible to make sure you’ve done absolutely all you can with the work before handing it to an editor.
3.                  You may well decide to self-publish. Here are a couple of things to bear in mind.
‘Vanity’ publishing should be avoided at all costs. Publishers who want money from you to publish your novel are vanity publishers, even if they call themselves self-publishing houses. True self-publishing means you set yourself up as a publisher and engage your own sub-contractors for editing, artwork, layout and printing. It’s a lot of work, but it usually works out cheaper than vanity presses. In either case, distribution and marketing fall to the author, and it’s a sad fact that most self-published or vanity-published fiction books sell fewer than 100 copies, and many sell fewer than twenty. The bolding there is deliberate as it’s something every wannabe author should know and accept.
 A note on e-publishing. This is becoming more and more the route most writers will follow to get their work ‘out there’. A quick look at Smashwords on any given day will reveal that several dozen new books have miraculously appeared overnight! So it’s just as competitive as the hard-copy market. All those books begging to be read no one could possibly read all of them, and many readers still have a resistance to reading on-screen at all. So an e-book has to be outstanding to succeed, and the author must also be ready to undertake a lot of work on promotion through the social media. Just sticking your book up online will not by itself bring in sales.
I hope I haven’t put you off self-publishing with the above comments: properly approached, self-publishing is as valid a way of any to get your work in front of readers. However, I do like to make sure new writers don’t have stars in their eyes and are not on the road to being conned by vanity publishers! There are some veritable sharks about on the internet. I’ve heard of people paying as much as $25,000 to get a book published, because they didn’t know any better, and I've personally met one young man who'd been fleeced of $12,000 for a really shabby editing job and very ordinary looking stock cover. Don't let this happen to you: don't be conned - be careful!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Writerly Advice From the Blogosphere

One of the great things about being part of the writing community is how willing its members are to share their experiences. Here are a couple of instances that came up in the last few days.

The first is from my Clarion South mate, Peter M. Ball. Besides being a talented writer, Peter is a source of great writing advice - and especially on his blog, Man Versus Bear. In the last week he's excelled himself in two posts. In You Don't Want to be Published he made me first shake my head and then think, both useful responses when you're being asked to work out exactly why you are writing and what you expect to get out of it. Then he capped it by writing Networking Tips for Reclusive, Introverted Writer-Types where he sets out what networking can be for a writer. It turns out that it's much simpler - and much less painful - than I had supposed.

The second comes from Must Use Bigger Elephants, Patty Jansen's blog. Patty has embraced self publishing and many of her posts are on her experiences in the area. Her latest post, Why I Self-published in 2011 and Why in 2014 I'm Still Glad That I Did, outlines the reasons for her original decision and what she has gained from it. She gives any writer lots to think about with what she has to say.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Australian Speculative Poetry anthology, 'The Stars Like Sand', now available!

I'm delighted to have a poem in this new anthology of Australian Speculative Poetry, The Stars Like Sand, edited by Tim Jones and P.S.Cottier, published by Interactive Press. From the editors:

Travel to the stars and beyond in this anthology by Australia's leading poets. Witness the end of the world, time travel to the future near or far, or teleport with a fairy or witch. Ghosts, dreams and strange creatures breed and mingle in these pages. Poetry has never been so mind-bending, or so entertaining.

It's rare to see anthologies of speculative poetry (fantasy, science fiction and all manner of hybrids), and The Stars Like Sand represents a wonderfully diverse array of voices and visions past and present, leaping into multiple futures. My poem 'Folds' is joined by creations from the likes of John Tranter, Sean Williams, Judith Beveridge, Simon Petrie, Kevin Gillam, Diane Fahey, Chris Wallace-Crabbe and Aussie icon A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson, to name but a few.

The Stars Like Sand can be found on Amazon in print and for Kindle here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

'Daughter of Hope' FREE from Musa Publishing through June!

Hi All, while I’m busy penning Ascension, the final novel of The Siaris Quartet (which is taking me on some unexpected twists and turns, I can tell you), Musa Publishing is kindly offering the first novel in the Siaris series, Daughter of Hope, for Free throughout the month of June. All you need to do is sign up for Musa’s monthly E-Newsletter to receive a free book coupon! Just follow this link:
Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

An excellent workshop on marketing your writing

Most writers realise early in their apprenticeships that workshops with industry professionals can play a major role in the learning process. Over the last dozen or so years, I have attended workshops, seminars and conventions with an almost religious devotion, seeking out the best ways to improve my writing. This must have been a successful manoeuvre, because I was recently lucky enough to see my first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia, in print with Satalyte Publishing.

But having a novel in print doesn't necessarily mean novels in readers' hands. As with any other commodity, marketing is key. Marketing is the art of finding out who would be likely to use your product and making sure people in the target group find out about it, and it's a subject sadly neglected during a writer's training period. So when we finally have the first-off-the-press copy in our hot little hands, how do we make sure other copies get into the hands of our target audience? If a writer is lucky enough to be picked up by a major publishing house, s/he will be guided by the Publicity Department of that publishing house. Those of us who have elected to go with small press or self-publishing pretty much have to do our own marketing.

Hachette authors, methinks, are blessed souls, because they have the guidance of Jaki Arthur, Hachette's Publicity Manager. As I'm not an Hachette author, I count myself fortunate to have been accepted into a one-day workshop on Marketing Development Skills facilitated by Ms Arthur at the WA State Library last Saturday. It was a free event, presented by the Australia Council for the Arts via Writing WA, but it was competitive - all participants had to have had a novel published in the previous year, and also been invited to take part in a writers conference for the following year. At the end of the selection process, there were eighteen eager writers delighted at the opportunity to participate. On Saturday morning we milled around outside the State Library, chattering excitedly while waiting for the doors to open at 10.00AM.

The workshop ran for over four hours plus breaks for refreshments and peer-group networking (we have, of course, vowed eternal friendship and will keep in touch via email and social networking) so what I can condense here will not cover all the many and varied topics. If you get the chance to attend another such workshop, jump at it!

Jaki Arthur recommended that we start by identifying the elements of our Public Relations Strategy:

1. Identifying our goals for the next year (having another book on the shelves, appearing at a conference, winning an award, being interviewed on radio, getting a place on the Tuesday Book Club etc.) No goal is too high - as Ms Arthur pointed out, it's best to aim high and achieve a lesser goal than to aim at a lesser goal and not succeed at all! Unlike the next eight points, which are to be drawn on as required when we interact with fans and industry professionals, this point is for our own use. We must never lose sight of our goals.

2. Analyse the themes in your novel. It should be possible to find at least seven, and Ms Arthur suggests that this is the magic number for marketing via this route. I found this hard - I'd only identified two themes in The Dagger of Dresnia but by brainstorming with the group via post-it notes on a whiteboard, I quickly realised that my two themes could be broken down into their component parts and that there were several other themes that I held in common with others in the room. This is the sort of thing that conference organisers love - they can mix and match their panellists according to themes! I actually wound up with eight themes: The nature of love in its many forms; the development of intimacy in different kinds of relationships; the singularising nature of an unusual talent; dealing with the consequences of the decisions we make; internal conflict; family conflict; problem teenagers; racial conflict. On further reflection, I could even add another - the potentially healing power of family ties. (I'd better stop now or this will turn into a post on 'identifying themes'!)

3. Develop three versions of your biography - one of 30 words, one of 80 words and a long one that might be half a page or so in length. Keep them up-to-date so you have them ready and on call when needed. Don't get stuck on biographical details and academic qualifications. Rather, make sure you include hooks for journalists and interviewers such as 'Satima was once chased by an angry boar when trying to separate a sow from her piglets.' (No, that didn't actually happen to me, but we can all find quirky incidents in our lives, and they make the best hooks.)

4. Get your press release together. It should contain the book's title, the author's name (and a photo) the imprint and the publication date. It should also carry your strap line and blurb (if your novel is already published, this will be the descriptive paragraph on the back cover) a bio of appropriate length, quotes from reviews - and, of course, the all-important cover image. (I have all this info on my bookmark handouts, which like an idiot I forgot to take to the workshop! Business cards are also useful. I have some - and forgot those, too!)

5. Be able to identify your genre or sub-genre. I soon realised that giving this information to people in the industry and to potential readers might require different approaches. 'Literary romantic fiction' might make sense to an editor or an agent, but might come across as pretentious to the layperson. 'Commercial' is also a loaded word to the layperson, even though it simply means 'suitable for a wide market' to a professional book buyer. So my blurb to an industry professional might be 'High fantasy in the classic pseudo-medieval setting,' while to a layperson my usual response is 'High fantasy - elves and stuff.' That usually gives them all they need to know, although if they are enthusiasts they will say 'Oh - like Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones/Whatever-the-current-flagship-of-the-genre-may-be?'  That always opens the door to further discussion and mention of the book's selling points.

6. Make sure you have a concise Strap Line for your latest work. 'Strap line' is the industry term for the well-known 'elevator pitch' - you know, when you find yourself in a lift with a famous agent and s/he politely asks what your book is about! You've got to be able to answer that quickly, before the lift stops at the agent's floor! I finally managed to get mine down to 'The Dagger of Dresnia is about an elvish princess, widow of a mortal king, who in her efforts to ensure the succession is tricked into a bargain with a Dark Spirit - and then all hell breaks loose.' (As an aside, I quickly realised when listening to each participant's quick pitch, that the successful strap lines centred on the precipitating incident while giving a clear idea of two basic elements of any story - what the MC wants, and what's going to stop him/her from getting it.)

7. Set up a web presence. (Of course, you can - and probably should - develop this well before your book comes out.) Ms Arthur suggests that we have, at minimum, an up-to-date web page, a blog, and a presence on the popular social media - Facebook, Twitter, etc. (Ms Arthur didn't seem to think these would help with sales, but I have found than many of my 900-odd Facebook friends were among the first to download the ebook version of The Dagger of Dresnia and over 160 of them have joined The Talismans series's page. Of course, I spend a lot of time on Facebook and over time, anyone who does that will build up a following. Some well-known authors, I'm sure, must pay someone to spend time on Facebook for them as they post regularly and have thousands of followers. Either that or they are far, far better time-managers than I am!)

8. As well as the more personal interactions online, get your bio and bibliography up on every possible outlet. Have author pages on e.g. Amazon, Booktopia, Net Galley etc. Note that many bookish sites (and even Big W has one!) contain interactive content and may feature online interviews. (I was interested to learn that Big W will not sell books that feature Bad Language. Damn and bugger, that puts The Dagger of Dresnia, with its explicit sex scenes, out of the contest!)

9. Do your homework. Make sure you know who to contact in relation to any particular conference or media outlet. To this end, start a hard copy little black book that you never leave at home. Be sure to include the role of the person - editor, publicity officer, journalist, fan, writer of...(title or genre) or whatever, because you will forget who is who as the LBB fills up!

10. Like point 1, this is just for our own use. We must never, ever, forget that our job is to write the best books we possibly can. We must never let anything get in the way of that. We can worry about all the various contingencies that can arise if and when they arise, and if there is an appropriate person at the publishing house to deal with such matters, we should let them do so.

And with this collection of tools at our disposal, we are ready to meet any foreseeable contingency. Literary Festival coming up? The organiser will want to see a press release, bio and themes. Have them ready! (Note that at the major festivals, participating authors receive an appearance fee, so perhaps it's best to leave negotiations to your agent or publisher.)

Please note that this is a record of my take on the workshop and shouldn't be considered as an infallible record of Jaki Arthur's utterly fantastic presentation!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Prompts, Anyone?

I'm a great fan of writing to triggers or prompts so when I was delighted came across something useful on poet Katy Evans-Bush's blog, Baroque in Hackney. Writing and writers being what they there are times we are teeming with ideas and others when we've got nothing and prompts can push start us when we have a blank space and inspiration fails.

Evans-Bush is a UK poet and poetry teacher and as a writing exercise she directed her class to Bibliomancy Oracle. It's not strictly a prompt site but having played around with it I can see why she suggested it.

Her other link is to 52 Write a Poem a Week . This is, unsurprisingly, a poetry website. I think its prompts and suggested exercises work well for any writer but particularly for speculative fiction writers.

Here are a few other sites and blogs I've found useful but there are many more on the internet.

Writing Prompts - the writer uses them to teach in secondary schools but adults will  find them useful too.

Creative Writing Prompts There are over three hundred prompts on this website.

Writers Digest A wide range of prompts on every conceivable subject.

Daily Writing Tips There are some interesting exercises, prompts and links here.

For those of you who like a book to hold in your hands, I highly recommend Everything I Know About Writing by Australian author, John Marsden. It's published by Pan Macmillan Australia and available from the publisher and - and, if you prefer it that way, it's also available as an e-book. His fiction is pretty darn good too.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

'Victoria Chase' shortlists in the Aeon Award 2013

My fantasy-steampunk hybrid short story, 'Victoria Chase', was shortlisted in the First Round of the Aeon Award (an international speculative fiction award run from Ireland by Albedo One magazine) in 2013. It's been a long wait to see if it would be chosen as one of the final 6, from a list of 32 stories over the four rounds of the competition. It wasn't, but it was still encouraging to get this far (for a third time)!

An excerpt from 'Victoria Chase', and a link to the full shortlist and other details of the Aeon Award, can be found at my blog here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A New Year and Egoboo WA is Alive and Well

Although it’s been a few months since we last blogged, individual Egobooers have been quietly making progress with their personal writing goals...

Joanna Fay 

Jo has recently published her third novel, Book Three of the Siaris Quartet over at Musa Publishing. Vividly written, Vow’s Answer continues the eons-old war as Xereth strengthens his alliance with the corrupt and powerful Morreath, threatening the lives of Gods, half-Gods, humankind and ultimately, Siaris itself. Book Four is soon to follow. You can read more about Vow's Answer on Jo's Blog.

Earlier in 2013, Jo published a short story “The Twelfth Hour” in Daughters of Icarus: New Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy (Pink Narcissus Press, USA).

Jo also won Third Prize in the Banjo Paterson Writing Awards Open Poetry Section with “Circle of Stones: and also received a commendation for “The Sheet Could Be Silk” in the Karen W Treanor Poetry Award.

Satima Flavell

Satima is excited about recently selling her first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia: Book One of the Talismans Trilogy, to Satalyte Publishing, due to be released in April. She is now busy with Book Two.

Satima has also continued to write theatrical reviews for Artshub and is also undertaking editing commissions from writers and tertiary students.

In the coming year Satima will be speaking at the Conflux Writers Day at the Australian National University in April as well as undertaking manuscript assessments for the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in September.

Laura E Goodin

Laura has been madly finishing off her PhD in Creative Writing as well as keeping herself busy with performances throughout the year:

"The Tooth in the Mouth" (short story) performed at The Vault Cabaret, Port Kembla, NSW, June 15, 2013 

Comets and Chocolates (full-length, one-man musical) performed at the Seymour Centre, Sydney, NSW, September 2013

"Is Not This Love?" (song cycle written with composer Houston Dunleavy) performed at The Studio Flute Tree, Leichardt, NSW, by Wendy Dixon, Michael Halliwell, and David Miller, October 26, 2013

"To the Person Who Left a Note on My Windshield" (poem set by composer Houston Dunleavy) performed at the Australian Society of Music Educators Conference, September 29, 2013

Laura performing "Person Who Left a Note on My Windshield"

Carol Ryles

Carol completed her PhD in Creative Writing and received a whole lot of fabulous praise from her examiners. Her novel, Heart Fire, is out looking for a publisher.

Carol's short story, "The Silence of Clockwork", written in the same world as Heart Fire and featuring one of its main characters (Ruk) was published in The Conflux 9 Convention Programme.

Another short story, “Siri and the Chaos Maker”, also set in the world of Heart Fire (but in a different country and era), is to be published in April in Kisses by Clockwork, edited by Liz Grzyb.

Sarah Parker

Sarah has been working on her Tea with Tarts workgroup as well as writing worksheets for Saucy Sarahs. A lot of her energy is also going into her new job at the Immunisation Alliance and their daughter project I Immunise.

Sarah was also Guest of Honour at Swancon 2013. This year she is organizing the kids' stream at Swancon 2014.

Helen Venn

Helen has been busily editing her first novel and is now working on its sequel. She continues to maintain her personal blog and has changed its focus from purely personal to include book reviews.

Keira McKenzie

Keira is madly finishing off her PhD in Creative Writing as well as blogging fabulously artistic sunset, wildlife and moon shots around Perth and Matilda Bay.

Sunsets and moonrise, buildings and birds:

moon rising over clouds 1/7/14
sunset /8/1/14
Pelican being photobombed by a pesky seagull - Matilda Bay 14/1/14

Architectural detail, West Perth. 7/1/14