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Writing Diaries – My Journey as an Aspiring Author

s 2A few of you might be aware that I am an aspiring novelist. I have been formulating the ideas for a book for the last year and have been seriously working on my novel, Dragon Games since March. It has taken a huge chunk of my time, but every sacrifice has allowed me to shape this story into something I’m really proud of. It’s one I’ve always wanted to read and it includes, you guessed it, dragons! Every few Sundays, I will be posting things related to my journey as an aspiring writer, whether it be great advice I’ve received, inspiring moments, or even snippets of my novel. This week’s topic:

The Most Inspiring Elements in My Work So Far

There are so many elements that go into writing a book, it can be overwhelming at times. luckily for me, I have an excellent support system in the form of my husband who teaches collegiate English and has forgotten more about the rules of writing than I will ever know. I also have several friends and acquaintances who graciously offer me their time and support in this project and keep me motivated every day to work towards my dreams. They remind me that I’m doing something bigger than myself and talk me out of the furnace when I’m ready to burn it all and start over again.

While support was essential for me to pursed to this as a career, I also needed to learn more about the craft. Along those lines, I signed up for two workshops offered by best-selling author David Farland (Professional Writers’ and Million Dollar Outlines) and found them invaluable in learning how to shape my novel into something people want to read. Farland is a wealth of experience and knowledge and any aspiring writer would benefit from one of his workshops (as a side note, I have also met some of the coolest people at these seminars and am convinced you will be seeing the published works from them in the future). For those of you who can’t make the seminars, he also has several daily writing “Kicks” that impart nuggets of his wisdom throughout the week. I can’t say enough good things about them and fully believe that if I make it as a writer it will be partly because of what I learned at these workshops.

Finally, this project wouldn’t have been imagined without the hundreds of fantastic books I’ve read so far. Every day in my adventures in reading I come across elements of writing that blow me away and help me improve my own craft. Stephen King once said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” I couldn’t agree more; writing every day helps keep the creativity flowing and reading gives me ideas on what sort of book I want to write. Above all else, I know what I like to read and I believe that is invaluable information in creating a story others like me will enjoy.

A great writing support system, classes to improve my writing intelligence, and constant immersion in other authors’ creations are the elements that got me started and have kept me going. What elements inspire you?

by Niki Hawkes

The Woes of Self-Publishing Part II

snoopy_typewriterSince The Woes of Self-Publishing Part I went up a couple of weeks ago, I’ve fielded a few questions regarding some of my comments. I thought I would put together a Part II in case anyone else had the same inquiries:

Q: In the initial post, you said one of the main problems with self-publishing is the limited distribution. Does this pertain to the ebook market as well?

A: My response was with regards to physical copies only, but I assume ebook publishing would indeed allow you to get your work to more people. You do limit yourself to those who have access to e-readers though, which is something to consider based on the demographic of your target audience. As you said, the 70% payoff can be a great incentive, but you still have to work for every sale (some people like having this much direct control, so it just might ba a viable option for them). If you gain enough hype this way, you can actually get bookstore deals once you hit a certain number of sales (much like Amanda Hocking and P.D. James).

Q: It seems you have a rather negative outlook about the quality of self-published books. I find this disturbing as they seem to me to be much higher quality than your average mass market book. Where does this strong opinion come from?

A: It is possible that the ones I’ve dealt just happen to be from lower-end publishers, but I have seen hundreds of these books over the last ten years of my career and my conclusion is drawn from that. The quality is not always horrible, but to me they almost always look less professional. I will admit that I have occasionally seen some standard-looking printings over the years, but the author usually ends up charging $10 to $15 more than the market price to compensate for the higher-quality printing price. As self-published books are already slightly over-priced (mostly because the small publisher doesn’t have the resources or scale to compete with the big companies), this severely cuts back on your sales opportunities, especially if you’re not there to hand-sell them.

As for the formatting, self-published books most often come in a trade paper format, which are always higher quality than mass markets – this is true for traditionally published books as well. My initial comparison was between trade papers only, as mass markets are in a category of their own. I wish I could line up a bunch of the self-published books we’ve got next to the traditionally published ones to show you what I’m seeing. We at the bookstore have a private joke running at how blatantly they stand out. In any case, just because I’ve had some negative experiences with them doesn’t mean it’s not a viable option. These are just more things to consider when making your decision.

Q: I’m concerned that if I go the traditional route for publishing that my books will just get pulped if sales start to drop – how often does this usually happen?

A: The only books that regularly get returned for “pulping” are the mass markets, as its literally cheaper to destroy them than to ship them back. The publishers usually just print new ones if the demand ever increases. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d think… Nowadays, most new mass markets get featured at the beginning of each section or on nice displays located at the front of the store. The have at least three months of prime real estate to generate sales. If they are popular, they get what’s called “modeled” status, and we integrate them onto the shelves because we anticipate future sales. If they haven’t appealed to the market (or if we have too many copies – which happens to even bestselling authors), that’s when they get “pulped” and we don’t see them again until the tastes of the market change (hardcovers and trade papers just get redistributed to warehouses so they can go to other stores. If you get a deal that involves a hardcover or trade paper publishing before you get to the mass market stage, you’re chances of success increase that much more because you essentially double your exposure time).

Something to consider about “pulped” mass markets: we as employees get to take home a few, so even if it didn’t generate sales on the floor, you could be earning supporters even at the end stages of the process. Think of it as an ARC without the cost or hassle. I can’t tell you how many authors I now support and hand-sell because I had free access to the original titles (btw, if I like it, I always order it in and buy it). It’s a great way to make booksellers your champions!

The Woes of Self-Publishing…

I don’t usually share anything other than book-related posts, but this morning I was reading one of my favorite writing blogs by Christian Mihai and responded to his survey about self publishing. Realizing I have some strong opinions on the subject, I decided to share my response with you. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled reviewing tomorrow. :)

111I don’t know if you’ll find this helpful or not, but I’ve been in the book selling business for over ten years now and I’ve got some insight on the marketing element of self-publishing. While there are excellent arguments for going the self-publishing route, I thought I would share the reasons why I wouldn’t choose that path.

The biggest problem with self-publishing is the limited distribution, advertising, and availability of your titles. When you go the traditional route, other people become invested in your success and take certain measures to integrate your works into stores across the country and online retailers. They sort of become your champions and sales result, whereas a self-published writer has to build up their own audience and practically hand-sell every copy. It’s possible to be successful that way, but it is definitely the tougher route. Your audience is limited to the people you can contact and, even with an online following, the publishers almost always have a much broader range. Availability and distribution add to this problem:

Most of the time when a self-published author wants to do a signing at our store it’s a two week long ordeal to contact our home offices and have them get in touch with the publisher (assuming they have paid to put their books in our system. If they haven’t, there’s nothing we can do for them). If we had to work that hard to get ahold of the book (and there’s never an exception to this with regard to these types of books, in my experience) then certainly other stores aren’t going to arbitrarily carry them unless you give them all personal visits. After all the work it takes to get the books, when they come in I am always underwhelmed at the quality and cost of the printing. I can usually spot a self-published book a mile away, and they are frankly a pain to deal when once the author is gone. If the author doesn’t pay for their books to be returnable within our systems, we wont even order them because 9 times out of 10 we’re stuck with them forever and only sell a couple if the author comes back regularly. I once worked for a manager who thought all of this was too much of a hassle, and refused to even talk to the self-published, much less order their books.

Other considerations: sometimes in self-publishing, the writing suffers. When publishers reject you, it often means you need to go back and keep developing your story to make the book more marketable (or even start working on other projects). You might even have a good story, but your writing needs improvement before its ready to be sold. A good deal of self-published authors don’t go through this important developmental phase. They settle for “good enough”, whereas fighting for an agent encourages continual improvement. I remember reading that J.K. Rowling got rejected over a hundred times before someone took a chance on her, and that only forced her to make changes and mold her story into the phenomenon it is now. I personally want to push myself to the point where agents recognize the value of my work and are willing to put their names on the line to support me, even if it takes a lot of rejection and perseverance.

Hope that was helpful!