How–and Why–to Write a Business Plan For Your Book

“Do you know how to eat a whale?" the old joke asks.

The answer: "One bite at a time!”

The same advice holds true for writing a business plan for your book.

Many authors don't actually take the time to write a business plan. Either the process seems too boring, too complicated, or "not worth the time." In some cases, writers simply don't think to do it. Whatever the reason, writers who fail to write a business plan for every book they write are missing out on an important tool for writing and publishing success.

Business plans are important whether you self-publish or work with a traditional publishing house, and though it's generally better to write them before you start the novel, it's never too late to write a business plan for your current work-in-progress--even if the book has already released (though if that's the case, you'll probably focus more on the marketing sections and less on the pieces dedicated to how the book gets written).

Today, I thought we'd take a walk through the sections of a book business plan, to take a look at what they contain and offers some #PubLaw pointers on how to write them:

A typical business plan has seven sections, and a book business plan is no exception: 

1.  The Summary comes first (but you can write it last if you prefer, because it basically summarizes the rest of the business plan.)

The business plan summary isn't the same as a summary or synopsis of the book itself (that's Section 2). Instead, this summary contains a one-paragraph synopsis (think "jacket copy") of the novel and a summary of the entire business plan, including the genre, target audience, and other “at-a-glance” relevant facts about the book and the way you plan to sell and market it to the intended readers.

2.  The Book Description contains a synopsis of the book. If you haven’t written your novel yet, it’s OK to create a placeholder – a one-page summary of the story you plan to write. If you write your synopsis (or outline) first, you can add it here before you write the book; if you write it after the manuscript is finished, you can add the completed section to the plan at the appropriate time. 

3. The Marketing Section actually consists of three sub-sections, containing your plans to market the book during its pre-release, release, and post-release phases. The more detailed you can be when planning each section, the better. (And if you have no idea how to do this, I've blogged about it in detail at my own blog, in the #PubLaw category.)

4. A Competitive Analysis follows the marketing section. This part of the business plan requires you to identify where your book will sit in a bookstore (even if you plan for an ebook only release) and to examine similar works in the marketplace, analyzing why readers will (or should) want your book instead of (or in addition to) the other options. This is also where you brainstorm strategies to maximize your advantages and minimize any weaknesses you find.

5.  The Development Timelines Section is designed to keep both you and your work on track during the various phases of writing, producing, and marketing the book. Like the marketing section, this actually consists of three different timelines: one for the writing process, one for the publishing process (regardless of whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, there will be things you do during the publishing process), and one for marketing the work.

6.  In the Operations and Management section, you plan (in detail) who will handle each specific part of the writing, publishing, promotion and sales process. If you publish traditionally, many of the duties will fall to your publisher, whereas if you self-publish, this part of the plan becomes a critical roadmap to the staff and process of bringing your book to market.

7. The Budget finishes up your business plan. As with operations and management, this portion may be simple or complex, depending on the author’s plans and past experience. This is where you plan the budget for everything from production costs (primarily an issue for author-publishers) to marketing and travel expenses associated with the book's release.

In a panic? Don’t be! Business plans take work but they’re not as difficult as they seem. They're also a powerful tool to take control of your book and your writing career.

Have you ever written a business plan for your book? If not, would you consider it in the future? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the business plan!

It’s Full of Stars

In many ways, a writer's journey has much in common with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel-turned-classic-film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The hapless author boards his-or-her craft (a manuscript instead of a rocket), launches into a hostile space, and spends many months (or, sometimes, years) in what seems like suspended animation. Time passes, the author alternately waiting for something to happen and struggling with the perpetual fears that NO ONE WILL EVER OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS no matter how much (s)he begs.

(HAL’s got nothing on a writer’s subconscious. Trust me here.)

During those weeks, and months, and years, the author keeps busy, studying craft and working on as many manuscripts as it takes to reach the destination. Agents get queried, tearstained rejections get filed, and life moves on. Eventually, the writer finds an agent and a publisher, or decides the self-publishing path is the right one.

Then, just like the astronaut in 2001, the author's journey reaches its endpoint–the book release. At which point, the author stares in awe at the real, live book in her hands and whispers softly...

It’s full of stars.”

… fade to black. Journey over. Story ended.

WHAT????

Now, wait a minute.

If you're like me, you saw that ending and said. "That can't be all there is."

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

But there's a reason 2001 ended where it did, and why it didn't tell us any more. It parallels the writer's path here, too.

When you get there, you realize the ending--whether we're talking 2001 or an author's debut release--isn't actually the ending at all.

The ending is just the start of another journey.

Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. (There’s a reason we call it “the writing life.”) The author's initial trip to publication is wonderful, scary, and filled with firsts, and yet it's merely the opening bars of a longer (and even more beautiful) symphony.

Surprise. When it's over? It isn’t over.

And now, another story.

In late December 1973 I was two and a half years old.

A neighbor gave me a pair of lovely presents wrapped in shiny paper and tied with ribbons. I opened the first, unwinding the bow and setting it gently aside before I peeled back the tape that bound the paper. Minutes passed, but I took my time. I savored every moment until at last I removed the wrapping and revealed a brand-new book beneath.

A hardback book.

I don't remember the title but I'll never forget the cool, slick feel of that cover beneath my hands. Immediately, I opened it up and began to "read" the pictures.

My mother gave me a gentle reminder: “Susan, don't forget you have another present. Why don't you open it? What do you think's inside?”

I paused, one hand on the page to hold my place, and looked at the second package. After a moment I answered, "Probably … another book.”

And then, I went back to reading.

That story has more to do with this post than you might initially suspect.

I love my debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CATI enjoyed every part of the detailed process that went into its writing, editing, layout, and publication. The book's release came after ten years of struggle, craft, and rejection, and I savored the feel of that book in my hands as I savored the beautiful Christmas book my neighbor gave me many years ago.

But by the time I held my published book in my hands, I had already boarded another craft--the second book in the series. When that one was finished...I started on the next.

Consider this post your gentle reminder to stop gazing lovingly at the book in your lap--regardless of whether or not it's published--and to continue moving forward, one the next phase of your journey.

Because the writer's journey, the writer's life, is not about a destination. Finish a project and start on the next one.

Never let your fears or insecurities stop you, no matter how impossible the journey seems right now. Don't wait on someone to open the pod bay doors and let you enter this realm--success as a writer is something you have to work for, and accomplish, through hard work, determination, and effort. And you can do it, if you try.

But on the way, take time to enjoy the process, no matter where you are.

Today is the dream.

Today is the journey.

Savor this moment.

Trust me.

It’s full of stars.

Finding Your Writing Pace

Authors often forget that professional writing is a two-pronged calling.

First and foremost, writers write. It's what defines us, and we do it whether or not we write for publication or for pleasure (or, as happens in many cases, both). There’s nothing wrong with writing as an avocation instead of a career – and some writers make a business decision to self-publish (or even NOT publish) their work and never worry about sales or the business side of publishing.

That is a legitimate choice.

But for authors who intend to make writing a career, publication is a business, and sales do count, and to make those sales you must start with a salable product. In publishing, as in any other business, quality is not the place to compromise. Quality works sell better, and are more engaging to read, than unpolished or hurried ones.

As the old adage says, “you never have a second chance to make a first impression.” This goes for authors too. Whether you’re querying agents, approaching a publisher, self-publishing, or marketing your work to readers, professional authors have a business obligation (as well as a personal one) to produce the best work possible.

As an author, you have a story to tell, but a working writer never forgets that a story is also a product, and high-quality goods sell better than shoddy ones.

From a business perspective, an author must plan enough writing time to write, edit and polish each work before the due date or release. Rushed works never please as well as careful, well-developed stories.

As an author, you need to learn how long it takes you to write, revise, edit and polish a work for publication--not "what the market wants," but what you can reasonably do. Your speed might not be the same as anyone else's--and that's okay.

Your time to produce a manuscript will likely decrease with time and experience, but learning how long it takes you to write and polish a publishable manuscript is a fundamental part of every author's early business plan. You’ll need to know in order to set and stick to your publishing schedule – regardless of the publishing path you choose.

Don’t panic if you can't finish a novel as fast as someone else, or if it takes you more than a year from start to finish. If you want to write faster, or more consistently, try setting a schedule and deadlines--even if they're entirely self-imposed. Vary the pace and find your comfort zone. (Also: be open to change – few writers keep the same pace throughout their careers.)

Knowing your pace helps you plan and schedule releases and publishing contracts – regardless of publishing path. It also helps you plan for future projects. Can you handle more than one series at a time? Some authors can, but some cannot--and their results don't matter...what matters is how it works for you. It's not a race, and your writing career cannot--and should not--be defined by someone else's process.

Many authors enter the business with little awareness that writing pace controls many other decisions. Finding your pace means finding the time you need to deliver a polished, professional work that readers will love. Quality wins out over speed every time.

Take some time this week to examine your pace. Try making a schedule. See what works, and discover what doesn't. Challenge yourself, but respect your creative process, too.

Do you know how long it takes you to produce a finished manuscript? Have you gotten faster as the years go by?

Colorado Gold 2015: Another Wonderful Weekend With the Herd

Another Colorado Gold Conference (my sixth) has come and gone. No matter how I try to freeze the clock, somehow the moments pass--far faster than normal--and it seems things have no sooner started than I'm home once more and waiting for the next one.

This was an unusually wonderful Colorado Gold for me, this year, and not just because I had the honor of viewing the Friday evening banquet from the other side of the podium. (Huge thanks to everyone who voted me 2015's Writer of the Year.) In addition to teaching classes, attending workshops, and spending time with my beloved "herd" I learned a few important lessons--and received some critical reminders--that I will carry with me in the year to come:

12004745_832040746909072_5028712672877300556_nPublishing is a Business; Knowledge is Power.

From Friday morning Master's Classes to morning and afternoon workshops, conferences like Colorado Gold empower authors to take charge of every aspect of their publishing careers. No matter how much we know about the business, there's always something more to learn--and wonderful instructors like Keir Graff (pictured) and the rest of the RMFW faculty make learning FUN.

Nobody Gets "Too Big" For Kindness (aka "We're all in this together.") 12002855_832258653553948_7773124374528047647_n

Keynote speaker and guest of honor Jeffery Deaver not only attended workshops "like the rest of us" but spent many hours meeting and talking with our RMFW crew. He showed particular kindness to our three teenage attendees, encouraging them and talking with them about their works. Thank you, Mr. Deaver, for being such an inspiring speaker, gifted workshop teacher, and all-around class act.

Many hands make light (and happy) work.

10301455_832539993525814_7436406780272355661_nConference chair Susie Brooks and her team of amazing volunteers kept the conference moving without a hitch (without any visible hitches, anyway) and did it with perpetual smiles. Anyone passing the registration table at any hour--day or night--could see Susie and her team at work, hear their laughter, and receive a friendly smile. The same was true of the army of RMFW volunteers, who worked hard--but happily--to make this the best Colorado Gold Conference yet. As authors, we'd be smart to follow their example when carrying out our writing--and our day job tasks!

Though Often Loners, We Are Not Alone 

As I might have mentioned once or twice, RMFW is my tribe--my "herd"--and both the organization Attendees01-sliderand its members have had an irreplaceable impact on my life and my writing career. Much of a writer's life is spent in solitary--butt in the chair and fingers on the keys.

Conferences like Colorado Gold remind me--and should remind all of us--that there are others, brothers and sisters of the written word, who toil and worry and suffer as we do, and that we are stronger together than any of us could possibly be alone.

Everyone's Tail Gets Broken...But Time With the Herd Will Help Us Heal.

Every writer has a path to walk, and few of those paths are paved with fairy dust and unicorn kisses. Far more often, we spend our days on the bottom of our proverbial tanks, with our broken tails in the air. Colorado Gold is a vitally important safe-haven, a writers' reef, where we can come together for a few sparkling days and nights each year to recharge in the company of our "herd."

IMG_6210

We share our stories, eat and drink (sometimes a little more than we planned), laugh and cry and "hug it out"--and leave a little happier, a little stronger, and far more inspired than we were before. Conferences heal our wounds--or, at least, help set us on the path to healing. They renew our hope. They remind us that we do this not for money, or fame, or success (or, at least, not only for those things) but because we--like all the others here--are in love with the written word.

Our stories burn within us, and we write because we owe those burning stories nothing less. 

Thank you, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Gold volunteers, fellow attendees, and members of my lovely herd, for reminding me of so many important things. I cannot wait to see you all at next year's Colorado Gold. 

***

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she  raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Do YOU Know How to Find Your Agent Match?

Finding an agent isn't just about finding "someone" to represent your work. The author-agent relationship works best when author and his or her agent match well on a personal and professional level. 

Some people prefer to work via email; others like to talk by phone. Some authors want to know about every submission and every editor's comments, while others would rather hear only positive news. 

Although, to a certain extent, authors must "wait" for an agent to offer representation, we can increase the odds of getting that offer by making smart--and informed decisions--about which agents to query in the first place.  

Agents often advise authors to "do your homework before you query" but many authors struggle with understanding that assignment. 

Three weeks from now, at Colorado Gold, I'll be presenting a joint workshop with my fantastic agent, Sandra Bond, on exactly what it means to "do your homework" and how to pick--and work with--the agent that's right for you.

In the meantime (or for those who might not make the conference) here are some tips to start you in the right direction.

 

1. Query only agents who represent works in the genre where your manuscript belongs--and your subsection (if any) within that genre. 

Note: this requires knowing what genre you're writing. 

Every book needs to be shelved (or "shelve-able") in a bookstore. Figure out where your book would be shelved BEFORE you query. Even if you're writing a speculative-historical-mystery-YA/MG-romance...one (2 at most) of those are primary. Know your genre.

Narrow your query list from "all agents in the known universe" to "agents who want to represent MY genre." No matter how well you write, you won't convert a romance specialist into a mystery lover--or vice versa. Do not try. The easiest way to rejection is querying agents who don't represent the type of book you're offering.

2. Check the agent's bio, website, or wish list (if any), and see whether the agent likes the type of book you've written. 

Finding the right agent requires more than just a genre match. Huge diversity exists within genres. You need to find an agent who likes the type of book you've written (e.g., cozy mystery) rather than something on the other end of the genre spectrum. 

Many agents also use the "Manuscript Wish List" (#MSWL) hashtag on Twitter to let people know what they're looking for. Check this too. 

3. If you can't tell what the agent is actively looking for at the moment, look at the his or her client list and see if your work fits into the "group." 

An agent whose client list consists primarily of cozy mysteries and middle grade novels might not be the best candidate for your gritty, erotic police procedural. It's tempting to just send queries out to every agent in your genre, but don't. It wastes a lot of time and effort on both sides.

Determining whether your work fits into an agent's client or wish list requires honest self-reflection about yourself & your work. The question is not "do I want Agent A to love me?" but "do I genuinely believe Agent A will love this book I wrote?" These are not the same thing.

4. Google the agents you want to query; read their articles and interviews.

Before I pitched Sandra, I read an interview in which she mentioned liking character-driven mystery. That's what I write, so the interview helped me decide to pitch her (at the 2012 Colorado Gold Conference).

Researching agents individually does take more time than simply carpet bombing the Writers' Digest listings, but it also gives great insight into whether an agent would be a good fit for you as well as your work. The query process isn't just about sending a thousand missiles into the night and hoping one of them hits a target. "Aim" comes before "fire" (or "send") in queries as well as warfare. 

Want to know more? I hope you'll join Sandra and me for the "Finding the Perfect Agent" workshop at Colorado Gold!

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she  raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Debunking Copyright Registration Myths

Authors are often confused about the benefits and timing of copyright registration for creative works. It's a universal issue authors must understand, regardless of the publishing path they choose, so today we're taking a quick and dirty look at some popular myths--and truths--about copyright registration.

Myth #1: You Have to Register Copyright, or You Lose It.

The truth: Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office (or with foreign copyright offices, where appropriate) is not a legal requirement for copyright ownership.

Copyright ownership attaches automatically at the time a qualifying work is created. (For the sake of time and space...short stories, novellas, novels, anthologies and most other published fiction and non-fiction works generally qualify for copyright protection.)

However, copyright registration is required in order to obtain a variety of protections available to copyright holders under U.S. Law. Among them:

  • The right to sue infringers to stop infringement.
  • The right to collect statutory damages (money damages, in amounts set by law) from infringers.
  • The right to recover attorney fees against an infringer in a successful lawsuit.

Myth #2: If You Don't Register Before The Book Is Published, You're Screwed and Cannot Register At All.

(And yes, "screwed" is the technical legal term.)

The Truth: To maximize access to legal rights, an author's copyright should be registered within 90 days of the initial publication date. (Note: publishing the work for free online can constitute "publication" - so consult an attorney before you self-publish or release the work to the public in any form.)

However, authors can register copyright at any time. ANY. TIME. Although some legal rights--for example, the right to recover statutory damages and attorney fees--are lost if the 90-day window passes, other legal rights are available to the copyright holder at any time after registration, no matter when the registration is filed.

In other words: it's never too late to register. It just might cost you some rights if you delay.

Myth #3: Authors Should Register Copyright Before Querying Agents.

The Truth: Not unless the work is already published--and even then, the registration trigger is publication, not queries.

Sometimes authors think they need to register copyright to protect the work from being stolen by unscrupulous agents or publishers. To this, I have two answers:

First: why are you querying unscrupulous agents and publishers?? Do your homework and query only reputable industry professionals.

Second: Although this scenario might have happened to someone, somewhere, registering copyright to avoid an agent stealing your work is about as effective as wearing bulletproof briefs to prevent a random stranger from shooting you in the crotch as they pass by. Again...it might have happened, but if you're hanging out in places where this sort of thing goes on, a re-evaluation of life choices might be in order.

Registering copyright too early can create problems for traditional publishers, most of whom register copyright on the authors behalf. If the work is already registered, the publisher has to complete a different kind of registration, for a 'revised edition' of the work--which creates extra paperwork and headaches all around.

Myth #4: Legitimate Traditional Publishers Always Register Copyright for the Author.

The Truth: Many do, but some don't.

If you publish traditionally, your contract should contain language stating; (a) who is responsible for registering the copyright, and (b) that the publisher will include a copyright notice which satisfies the requirements of U.S. law in all copies of the work published and sold. If the language isn't there...ask for the publisher to insert it. If you don't know what language to ask for...consult a publishing lawyer.

Myth #5: Registering a Copyright is Difficult/Expensive/Requires a Lawyer

The Truth: None of the above.

Most copyrights can be registered online at the U.S. Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov); in most cases, registration costs less than $50. The copyright office website has a tutorial for copyright registration that can walk authors through the process, step by step, with useful explanations for some of the more confusing terms.

The copyright office's tutorial isn't perfect--there are some areas where I think it could use improvement, and I'm planning a #PubLaw copyright registration booklet (when I get the time to write it...and a unicorn that takes dictation). Even so, it makes what might seem confusing much simpler, so anyone can do it.

So...when SHOULD you register copyright?

If you plan to self-publish, register copyright on your publication day if possible; definitely register within the 90-day window to preserve your rights.

If you publish traditionally, ensure your contract dictates who will handle the registration, and if the task falls to you follow through on publication day or within that first critical 90 days after initial publication.

And there you have it...a whirlwind tour of common copyright registration myths and the truths behind them. We now return you to your regularly scheduled summer fun.

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, just released on July 14. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Respect for the Law…and Copyright…Starts at Home

By Susan Spann

In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless."

For example:

...Copying a photograph or an inspirational piece of art from someone else's website.

...Re-blogging a blog post without obtaining the author's permission in advance.

...Downloading pirated ebooks, songs, or videos off the Internet, because after all...those people make tons of money and surely my single download doesn't hurt.

I've heard the excuses a thousand times. "[The artist or creator] doesn't need my money." "It's only one download." "I'm crediting the original author--(s)he should be glad that I wanted to share the work!"

Excuses are not justifications, and wrongful taking, copying, or even re-blogging of someone else's work without the legal permission to do so constitutes copyright violation...regardless of your motives.

In simpler words: the fact that you didn't intend any harm doesn't make an illegal choice okay.

Few artists get paid even close to "enough" for the time and effort they spend creating their works. If you're reading this, you're probably a writer (or an artist, or both) and you know the previous sentence is true. More importantly: it's not for the consumer to decide "how much is enough."

Bloggers rarely receive any monetary compensation for the work they do. The benefit they receive consists mostly of website traffic--which might, in time, develop into a platform allowing the blogger to sell a nonfiction book or other creative work. When you re-blog an article (a term that normally refers to cutting and pasting a blog or other content onto your own blog or website, usually--though not always--crediting the original author and often linking to the original source), you're depriving the author of much-needed website traffic. In other words: you're using their content to promote your blog or website instead of the author's own.

If you do this without permission, it's illegal--and it's also morally wrong. If you believe an article or blog entry merits reading, it's better (and legal!) to post a sentence or two on your blog, describing the article, along with a link to the original source. For example:

Read a post about respecting copyrights on the RMFW Blog today. Do you know the difference between legal linking and copyright infringement? Susan Spann explains why, "In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless" -- and why it's really not so harmless after all. Check it out: [Insert Link to the post you're reading...]

See what I did there?

Here are some quick tips for sharing content without violating copyright:

1. It's okay to capture a short "pull quote" or teaser to use along with your link. Just make sure it's short, and a "teaser" rather than the heart of the useful content.

2. Links are legal--and the original blogger or author will appreciate you for doing it! Link to the original source, rather than copying the material over to your own blog or website.

3. If you really want to duplicate the entire article, ask permission. Many times, bloggers or writers will gladly grant permission for you to re-post content (sometimes with a few reasonable restrictions). I often grant permission for re-blogging or re-posting of articles (subject to restrictions like my byline, a link to my website, and no alteration of my original content). However, if the author refuses permission, don't be a jerk. The content does belong to its creator.

Don't be afraid that sending people to someone else's website will cost you traffic. "Aggregators" are blogs or websites known for providing links to useful content elsewhere on the web. People who value your opinions will come to you even if you "only" point them to useful content (as opposed to posting it yourself). Respecting others' copyright reveals a professional attitude, and raises your reputation far higher than taking other people's work without permission--whether or not you attribute the source.

The good that we do in this world comes back to us eventually--so do the right thing, and remember: respect for the law, and copyright, starts at home.

How do you handle sharing valuable content you find on the web? Do you link it on social media, or post a "look at this" on your blog? Have you ever asked an author for permission to re-post? If so, how did it go?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Writing the Gender-Flipped Character

By Susan Spann

Good fiction requires both male and female characters, and every author needs to learn to write both types convincingly in order to put a compelling cast on the page.

Few authors have experience living as both a male and a female. Most of us are only dealt one hand of gender-cards. The trick, as an author, is learning to how to peek at what the other side is holding (pun intended). Successful authors, like successful gamblers, often cheat.

My shinobi mysteries features dual protagonists, neither of whom is female. However, I was born with "indoor plumbing" -- facts which, taken together, create a conundrum:

How can a woman write a book from a man's perspective? And, for other authors...How can a man see life through a woman’s eyes?

Pervasive gender stereotypes and snide remarks aside, it’s not only possible to write from the other gender’s perspective … authors can do it very well, with a little time and practice.

Here are some tips for writing from the “other plumbing’s POV":

1.  Character first, gender second. Trying to write “like a man" or to "sound like a woman” will get you in hot water, no matter which direction the gender flip is rolling. Instead, consider your characters as if they were real people. Learn as much about them as you can—personality, backstory (most which doesn’t make it into the novel), likes/dislikes, phobias--everything a "real" person needs to become a unique individual. The more well-rounded your characters become, the more convincing they’ll be—regardless of gender.

2. "The Ability to Speak Does Not Make You Intelligent.” (Bonus points for those who can identify the quote.) Dialogue is key to gender differentiation. Men and women speak differently. Many of those differences relate more to personality than to gender, though gender also plays a role. Men and women both speak referentially, but references differ according to gender, personality, personal preferences, and experience. An athlete doesn't sound like a stripper, and neither of them will sound like a ballet dancer, male OR female.

Statistically speaking, more men than women will recognize the quote that leads this paragraph* because the “sci-fi/gamer” contingency contains more men than women. That said, many of my female friends would know the quote immediately. That's the circle in which I run...and it points out another important facet of gender-swap in writing: don't let your preconceptions about gender control your writing. Investigate how the other half really lives. 

3. Tell Me About Your Feelings. Men and women often express emotion differently. My ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, considers his feelings only rarely, and almost never discusses them. By contrast, many of my female characters express emotion with less reserve. (Ironically, the era in which I write--medieval Japan--results in far less emotional display by both genders than you might see in a modern novel--once again, research trumps preconception.) Beware of stereotypes, and individuals do differ, but as a rule men spend less time discussing emotions, especially when talking with other men. Women (again...as a rule) relate better to emotional topics and tend to discuss them in more detail.

4. Observe. Listen. Take Notes. And Share it on Social Media. OK, maybe not the last bit, but the rest of this is important. Listen to conversations in public places. Watch how people interact. Pay special attention to the "other gender," especially when the people in question are similar to the characters you're writing. Watch the way they stand, the way they gesture, the way they move. Pay attention to word choice and rhythm when they speak. People act most naturally when they don’t think anyone is watching, so try to observe without being noticed...or arrested. Note: STALKING IS BAD, MMMKAY? Police mug shots look really bad on the inside cover of novels.

5. Cheat. Find a beta reader and a critique partner of the opposite gender. (Note: that's two different people, not just one.) The beta reader should simply read, without editing the manuscript, and tell you whether the characters of his or her gender sound like "real" people. Critique partners should read and also offer edits or suggestions. Both are important, because they will notice different things. Tell them you want to know if anything sounds wrong or out of place … and then pay attention to what they tell you.

My now-adult son acts as my alpha reader for every novel, and I also have a male critique partner. Trust me when I tell you that nothing—NOTHING—critiques your work as bluntly as a college-age male. (My critique partner is far more polite about telling me something's amiss.) However, I can rely on them both, and if Hiro or Father Mateo says or does something "wrong" I can count on one or both of them telling me: “No guy in his position would say that. EVER.”

Note taken. Revision made.

One of the most difficult parts of writing gender-flipped characters is avoiding stereotyping (it’s hard to do, even--or maybe especially--in posts like this). Knowing what men like, and how they act, helps woman write the male POV, and the opposite is true for males writing inside a female mind. (To whom I say...God help you all.)

What helps you write from the other gender's perspective?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Five Ways to Improve YOUR Conference Experience

Many (if not most) professional authors understand the value of attending writers' conferences. In addition to offering valuable writing tips and marketing classes, conferences provide an unparalleled opportunity to network and connect with other authors and industry professionals.

But are you getting the most from your conference experience?

Here are some tips for turning a fabulous, educational weekend into a practical boost for your writing career:

1. Identify your conference goals and make a "conference plan" before you go. Whether you're attending to improve your writing skills, develop a network of business contacts, find an agent, or simply re-connect with writing friends, you'll achieve the most success if you go in with a plan.

A conference plan doesn't have to be complicated (or even in writing, unless you like making lists). Think through your reasons for attending the conference. Why are you going? What do you hope to achieve? When you leave at the end of the weekend, what will you feel happy about accomplishing (or disappointed not to achieve)? Those are your conference goals.

Try to establish at least three goals for each conference: a personal goal (such as "meet and remember one new person each day"), a professional goal ("learn to pitch my book effectively in a single sentence"), and a "reach goal" - which could be anything from "finding an agent" to "learn how to use Twitter properly for my writing career." The key is making sure you have a range of goals, at least some of which are within your exclusive power to achieve.

2. Get involved! Teach, Volunteer, or Serve on a Conference Committee. It can be difficult to get panels or workshop teaching spots before you achieve publication, but try to find the places where your special skills or experiences can benefit the conference. If teaching isn't your thing, consider volunteering or joining the organizing committee. Making a personal investment in the conference's success can help you have a successful experience too.

3. Identify and attend conferences that focus on your genre. General conferences are great, and definitely worth attending, but many conferences also offer specialized experiences. Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention), RWA National (for romance writers), and the Historical Novel Society Conference are merely three examples of national-level conferences that promote in specific types of writing. Local and regional conferences also offer topic-specific choices. Some are writers' conferences, while others cater primarily to readers. Find and attend the ones that work best for you.

4. Select a "home conference" to attend every year. It's nice to experience different types and sizes of conference, both to discover your personal preferences and to reach the broadest possible audience. However, it's also important to establish a presence at a conference where people can get to know you well. Having one conference you "always" attend can help develop your personal and professional networks, and offer a "safe harbor" where you always feel welcome and at home.

5. Have fun, and let it show. People are drawn to happy, confident people. Readers like authors whose attitude is friendly, open, and fun. Conferences may seem overwhelming (especially when you go in with a plan and have things you want to achieve) but don't forget--for many of us, a conference represents a chance to meet up with old friends, make new ones, and take a vacation from reality. For three, glorious days, you can be a writer---and only a writer-- around other people who love books and writing as much as you do. Take the time to enjoy it!

15C18 networking

And while you're looking for that conference home, may I recommend our own Colorado Gold? It's happening September 11-13, 2015, at the Denver Westin, and registration opens May 1. It's been my "conference home" since 2010, and I look forward to it all year. I hope to see you there in September!

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Don’t “Gag” on your Publishing Contract

Today's guest post relates to a topic I'm seeing more than I'd like to in the publishing lawyer side of my day: contracts containing a "nondisclosure" clause which prohibits the author from discussing the publisher--or the author's relationship with the publisher--in public.

Too many authors sign these contracts without an understanding of industry standards -- or the fact that this kind of nondisclosure clause gives the publisher far more power than it deserves. As a result, I want to shed some light on these clauses, and why they're bad news for the author.

Nondisclosure is not the same as "confidentiality."

Some contracts contain a "confidentiality" clause which states that the parties (if mutual) or one party (negotiate for mutuality whenever possible) cannot disclose the other party's "confidential information" in public without permission from the party which owns the information. This is more common in business and employment contracts, which often involve the disclosure of business methods and proprietary information (like software), than in publishing.

If you work for a company which owns proprietary information or uses trade secrets, you've probably seen this kind of clause before. It appears in employment contracts, contractor agreements, and "nondisclosure agreements" (also known as NDA's).

Confidentiality provisions don't make sense in the publishing context the way they do in business. In publishing, the author's information (the manuscript) is supposed to become public (that's what publishing means, yo) and the publisher generally doesn't share trade secrets or other confidential information with authors. Therefore, there's really no reason for confidentiality provisions.

However, sometimes publishers do include a confidentiality clause in publishing agreements. A "standard" confidentiality clause should always be mutual and should state that neither party to the contract can disclose the other party's legally protectable trade secrets and proprietary information without the permission of the party that owns that information. Although obnoxious, this kind of clause isn't necessarily a deal breaker -- as long as it's not overly broad and relates only to certain kinds of "legally protectable" confidential information.

Even so, I'd suggest you ask the publisher to remove it.

If you see a confidentiality clause in your contract, don't sign without an attorney or an agent reviewing the contract and either negotiating it out or letting you know that the wording and content isn't a trap.

By contrast, "Nondisclosure" provisions are contract clauses which prohibit one or both parties from any public discussion of either: (a) the terms of the contract, or (b) their relationship.

General "nondisclosure" provisions do not belong in a publishing contract.

Good publishers don't want to stifle the author's ability to talk about the publisher or the publishing process. Publishers would prefer that authors spoke about them in a positive way, of course--and authors should behave professionally in public whether or not a contract requires it. However, it's dangerous for the author, and for publishing generally, for publishers to try to stifle the author's freedom of speech.

Publishers can attempt to enforce a general nondisclosure provision in ways which prevent the author from speaking out if the publisher fails to comply with its contractual obligations. Sometimes, these clauses can be invoked to stop the author from mentioning when the publisher behaves inappropriately, or to prohibit authors from warning others away from the publishing house.

Overreaching nondisclosure provisions can be used to prohibit the author from speaking either in public (e.g., on blogs or social media) or in private - meaning that the author is completely barred from discussing the publishing house in any way without the publisher's permission (which publishers like this usually grant only for purposes of advertising the author's book and experience in positive ways).

If you're offered a contract which contains a nondisclosure provision, ask the publisher to remove it. If the publisher refuses, be willing to walk away--or to hire an attorney or agent to negotiate on your behalf.

Don't let yourself get stuck in a situation where you have no power to speak about your experiences. Insist on industry-standard contract terms which don't prohibit you from discussing your publishing experience. If you're not sure what that entails, or how to ensure you've obtained it, don't sign anything without an agent or lawyer reviewing the contract on your behalf.

Finally, remember: HAVING NO DEAL AT ALL IS BETTER THAN HAVING AN UNFAIR DEAL OR A DEAL YOU REGRET. 

This can be difficult to remember in the heat of the moment, or when your dream appears to be on the verge of coming true, but remember: Bad contract language can turn that dream-come-true into a waking nightmare. Keep your business wits about you and insist on a contract that respects your legal rights as well as the publisher's interests.

What do you think about confidentiality in publishing?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.