Category Archives: General Interest

The Ultimate Victory – Writing The Too Perfect Book

By Aaron Ritchey

So I was sick of it all. Sick of the rejection. Sick of editors. Sick of my stupid Amazon ranking. Sick of the current project, which was completely unmarketable. Like any publisher is going to want a young adult sci-fi/western, steampunk, biopunk, family drama, dystopian epic. Epic I tell you!

Sick of it all! Sick to death.

In December of 2012, when Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II came out, I watched all five Twilight movies, and I was really moved by the experience. You laugh, but I was. I left and bought Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” and listened to it over and over. The song is on the soundtrack. Google it, if you don’t believe me.

I wanted to write something simple, something completely genre, completely marketable, a perfect example of a young adult romance. I studied the genre. I read broadly. I outlined the story. I kept the characters relatable, and I worked on streamlining the language. I hired an editor, took it through my critique group, used beta readers, did a final polish.

In the fall of 2014, I started querying my young adult romance. The rejections were slow in coming. Several agents read the whole thing. I was closer than ever! My hard work had paid off!

Last week I achieved the ultimate victory! I got a rejection from a big-time literary agent who complimented my story structure and called my writing commercial. However, she basically said my book was too genre; it wouldn’t stand out.

Which is exactly what I wanted.

I am not sugar-coating this rejection. I really do feel a sense of accomplishment. When I was querying my epic, I had a lot of agents and editors scratching their hands. One laughed when I pitched it as a post-apocalyptic cattle drive, and she asked me if I was serious. Yeah, I was. The Hunger Games with cows. My epic finally found a home with WordFire Press and will be out in the fall.

So the book I adored, my cross-genre sci-fi/western, has a publisher. So far, the YA romance I wrote for the market hasn’t. What does this tell me?

There are no rules. There is no manual on writing the perfect book. It’s all very subjective, and in the end, I need to write books I’m proud of.

My YA romance will one day see the light of day: either through a traditional publisher or self-published.

But do you know what?

If it goes through my Indie press, I’ll take my little YA romance, which is too genre, and I will Aaron Michael Ritchey the hell out of it.

‘Cause those are the books I’m proud of. My books.

Secrets of Author Success as Told By Someone Successful (Which is Not Me or is that I?)

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

As writers we hear tons of advice from editors, agents, other writers and fans (plus anyone who ever hears we are writers, randomly, even in the loo).

All of this advice is wonderful. And horrible. Good and bad. It's all about how we see it, and how we react to it.

The Guardian newspaper out of London once collected 10 bits of advice from some famous authors. While I love reading this list just to see what advice Neil Gaiman has for me, it's the Irish novelist, Roddy Doyle, who struck the biggest cord. Here's a few bits of his wisdom:

1 Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

Best advice I can think of. If my favorite writer can't handle the pressure, what is the future for a hack like me?

4 Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

I like this idea as it keeps me on track. I can always change it at a later date. It's not like the publisher is going to keep my title anyway.

5 Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.

When I started out writing, I used to play online poker. I called it research. God, do I love my research.

6 Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".

Again, when I first started out, I thought I sounded smarter by using my thesaurus at will. Now I use it as a coffee coaster. I find it works much better.

Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It's research.

God, I HATE research. I'm a writer. Why do I have to wash my clothes? Or the floor? No one's looking there.

And finally, my favorite:

10 Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

J.A. Kazimer lives in a small mountain community on Mars. When she's not fostering peace accords between people and Martians, she writes best selling, award winning books about how awesome she is...

Any advice you would add? Any advice you've ever taken that you'd like to share?

Clever ways to boost your luck!

by Janet Lane

Is there a way to improve your odds for publishing success? It’s likely you’ve learned about other writers’ successes and wondered, “When will it be my turn?” or “How did he finally get so lucky?”

There are ways to improve your luck, and reading about others’ success stories gives clues about ways we can improve our own odds for success.

The remarkable life of TV anchorman Tom Brokaw was recently the topic of a news feature, as well as a cover-page story in Parade magazine. Brokaw’s beginnings were modest. Born to working class parents and raised as an Army brat, he went on to travel to all seven continents, write six best-selling books, win every major award in broadcast journalism and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Success didn’t destroy him--he has been married for 52 years to Meredith, with whom he raised three daughters and enjoys five grandchildren.

In his latest release, A Lucky Life Interrupted, he writes about the not-so-lucky events, one of which was a battle with multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in his bone marrow. The experience gave Brokaw a dose of humility, and he shared his thoughts on good fortune. “I believe you make your own luck. It’s always a mistake not to go, so I jump on the airplane, try new things… A big part of making your own luck is just charging out of the gate every morning. And if you want to be lucky you’ve got to go out and take advantage of it.”

So it’s as simple as Nike’s slogan, then -- “Just do it!”

In the Parade article, Brokaw reviews his good luck -- good parents, a lucky break when he landed a job at a Yankton, SD radio station that launched his broadcasting career, and a serendipitous assignment from NBC to cover the White House during Watergate, an assignment that gave him the opportunity to play a large part in the greatest political story in American history.

Is it as simple as that, then, “Just do it?” Those of us who have invested a year or more in a novel--the writing and the polishing and the peddling of it--know that it takes more than just doing it. Timing and luck often play a part.

Consider Diana Gabaldon’s story. She posted incomplete chapters of her work in progress in an on-line chat room and caught the attention of an agent who secured a lucrative contract for Outlander, which became a New York Times best-selling series and made-for-TV movie. Then there’s J. K. Rowling with her Harry Potter series. Rowling graduated from writing on paper napkins to becoming richer than the Queen of England.

The Parade article included five tips to get luckier:

1. PAY ATTENTION. We need to pay attention when opportunity knocks. We need to open the door, and take action. Put down your cell phone. Walk away from your computer. As Brokaw says, “Charge out of the gate every morning.” That means get out of the house, step out of your comfort zone--join the publishing world in an active, rather than passive way.

2. OPEN YOUR CALENDAR. Avoid over-scheduling yourself, and save some “down time” for walking, meditating, enabling you to make connections and allow patterns and ideas to reveal themselves. Talk to people and listen, and you’ll begin to recognize opportunities.

3. INCREASE YOUR ODDS. It’s like the old expression, “If you throw enough mud on the side of the barn, some will stick.” You must be in the game to win. If you try 30 new things, you might be able to count 15 good things that happen to you.

4. TAKE CHANCES. Serendipity is more likely to strike when you step out of your comfort zone. Expose yourself to new people, new places, and new information. (Which is why attending writing events such as the RMFW conference is so valuable.)

5. LET IT GO. Clinical Psychiatry Professor Richard A. Friedman notes that the “unlucky” tend to dwell on their bad experiences, replaying negative events and giving them too much weight in their lives. Losing out on a good parking space becomes as bad as losing your wedding ring. Try to downplay the unlucky events, and create ways to easily recall your lucky or successful events.

And why not carry a good-luck charm, something that reminds you of a good-luck moment in your life? Brokaw mentions the late Sam Gibbons, a Florida congressman who carried a cricket, which he used as communication with fellow soldiers during parachute assault during World War I. “It’s a reminder that I’m lucky I wasn’t jumping into enemy territory in the dark of night,” Gibbons said.

Keep writing, keep dreaming. Pay attention, be ready, and take chances.

Good luck! I’m cheering you on!

Support

By Robin D. Owens

"My brain has decided that writing isn't a temporary job anymore," said Laila, a writer I've been sprinting alongside in the mornings lately.

"I'm rearranging my office this morning during our writing sprints. When I started working my day job from home and writing too, I assumed it was temporary. I thought I was going to join an MBA program. But after finishing this manuscript, I've realized that writing isn't a temporary job anymore."

"That's important." I typed back. I spend most of my days with an online group doing sprints. They are motivational and supportive (the people . . . though I suppose the sprints – wars – are supportive, too, and certainly motivational).

Everyone is invited. The ones who stay find this process works for them (it doesn't for everyone). We are published traditionally, published by small press, self-published, published through Kickstarter, and unpublished. Laila is unpublished.

Laila joined the war room (a specialized chat room) in March (yes, I asked her since I'm writing this with her in the war room) "one week into the draft of the manuscript."

The last couple of months have been intense in the war room, with three of us solidly working. I was late with Heart Legacy and turned it in May 8, then jumped on Ghost Talker, due at the end of this month. (Ha, ha, ha).

Jay had a book due to her small press on June 15. Both Laila and Jay finished their manuscripts on the same day last week.

We all celebrated with cheers and virtual champagne. Because we aren't in the same room, you know, or even in the same area.

We are worldwide. Sweden, England, Ireland, East Coast Canada, Central Time, Mountain Time and West Coast Time zones are all represented.

But we are a community, an extremely supportive and motivated bunch. And that's incredibly important to me. By now, I would say that daily support is necessary to me.

I've done the home-from-day-job-start-writing business. I did that for many years, writing alone in the dark every night, writing on weekends and holidays. At that time (and now) I had RMFW critique buddies, the monthly meetings and various get-togethers for support.

For me, the support of writing friends is vital.

I think it is vital for all writers. You aren't alone. There are others out there like you. People who hear characters speak to them or see a scene roll before their inner eyes. Or writers who struggle with character decisions, turning points and plot. Clunky words and learning technique. And if you hang around us, we will motivate you to write.

A caveat: Make sure you find the group that fits you. Ditch the ones that drag you down and suck out your energy and emotions (because, yes, some do).

But if RMFW fits you (and it boggles my mind that it wouldn't), stick with us, your friends in RMFW, your critique group buddies. Your Writing Groups. We will help you. We'll be there. You can count on us.

May you write wonderful words today.
Robin

(p.s. send me an email if you think you need the wordwars group -- robindowens (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll get back to you with the chat room url and password. Like I said we're open to everyone, but a lot of people come and go deciding whether or not we work for them. We tend to do days in the U.S. Sometimes evenings and nights. We do have a spec fic slant.)

What’s Going On At Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers?

The Colorado Gold Conference

JefferyDeaver200x230Have you signed up yet? With keynote speakers like Jeffery Deaver and Desiree Holt, how can you go wrong? Add in agents and editors--Danielle Burby, Trish Daly, Denise Dietz, Tiffany Schofield, Chelsey Emmelhainz, Sarah Joy Freese, Erin George, Carrie Howland, Emily S. Keyes, Melissa Jeglinkski, Ben LeRoy, and Latoya C. Smith--and you know Westminster, Colorado is the right place to be September 11-13, 2015.

If you haven't registered yet, you better do it now. Last year the conference registration was filled in record time. You don't want to miss out. For all the information on master classes, conference sessions, meals, hotel, and how to register, click here to go to the website's conference pages.

The Podcasts

Mark Stevens is currently hosting a series of interviews and programs with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Podcasts. Podcast #5 featured Heather Webb with "Finding Your Voice." #4 -- Holt Finalist Tina Ann Forkner Talks Romance & James Norris Previews RMFW Workshop on Boosting Character Conflict.

The complete list of podcasts and links are available in the website Podcast section right here.

The Blog

Are you following the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog Monday through Friday? With a team of regular contributors and several guest bloggers each month, all from the RMFW membership list, the blog is a great way to meet other members and enjoy the information they're willing to share with the tribe and all aspiring writers interested in what we do here at RMFW.

Did you follow Jeanne C. Stein's lessons in genre writing? Get a chuckle (or a groan) from reading the humor of Julie Kazimer or Aaron Ritchey? Explore ways to get reviews with Janet Lane? All these and more are available on the blog pages of the RMFW website.

By the way, you can sign up to receive email notices of each new blog post so you don't miss anything. Just scroll down the blog page until you find the Email Address (in red) box in the right sidebar.

The Social Media Connection

Go to the Home Page or the Blog Page and you'll find the little Social Media icons in the right sidebar with links to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and more.

Are you a member?

If you visit the website, listen to the Podcasts, attend the conference, enjoy our monthly free classes, or read the blog, but haven't become a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers yet, why not today?  Here's the link for membership information.

A Writer is One Who Writes … by Linda Berry

Linda Berry 11-06When asked when I knew I wanted to be a writer, I usually say it was about fourth grade. That's when, as a big fan of the feature called “Life in These United States” in The Reader's Digest, I realized it made a big difference how a story was told. I began to appreciate humor, brevity, and careful word choice. Looking back, I realize that long before I had professional ambitions, I would often volunteer to take the notes of the meeting or write the blurb for the newsletter. In sixth grade I won $25 in a national contest for saying (in 25 words or less) why I liked a certain toothpaste. It was fiction. I had to borrow the required box top from a neighbor, since we didn't use that brand.

Years later, I have some solid publication credits that range from poetry and plays to a newspaper activity column and six cozy mystery novels. Of course (of course!) my career as a writer has not been one huge success after another. In the olden days, when manuscript submissions still involved postage, SASEs, and, all too often, paper rejection slips, I sometimes gifted special writer friends with wastepaper baskets covered with decoupaged rejection slips.

My dedication to the job--as well as the rewards--still waxes and wanes. Good times, bad times, blah times, discouraging times, productive times--they're all in there, so I've developed several writing-related activities designed to keep me moving and productive, and remind myself that I am a writer. The very best of motivators would be a contract and/or a deadline. I'm talking about those other times. If you've ever suffered from the blahs, maybe one of these ideas will help you.

WRITE SOMETHING
Draft a query letter describing your idea to an editor or publisher. Draft an application for a writing job, even an imaginary one. Write a thank you note or a letter to your mother. Write a letter to the editor. Almost certainly, you'll find yourself editing and improving what you've written, as well as clarifying your thoughts. Flannery O'Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” How can that be a waste of time?

POSITIVE THINKING
Find some motivational slogans to post near your work station. “The only unforgivable sin is giving up.” “Even Babe Ruth struck out most of the time.” A little of this goes a long way with me, but it's far better than thoughts like “What made you think you could do it?” and “Who cares, anyway?”

RESEARCH
Find out about markets, contests, conferences, organizations, classes and workshops for writers. Check on details for a story.

NETWORK
Put that research to use. Enter a contest (which might come with a deadline, a focus, and feedback). Get into an existing critique group, or form one. Join a group (like RMFW) of people who face the same challenges and have the same goals. These people are the ones who can help you over the bad spots and re-direct you when you go astray. Sometimes they'll have useful marketing information.

FANTASIZE
Why not? Sometimes I fantasized about what I would wear at my first book signing. Write jacket copy or a review for that as yet unpublished, or unwritten novel. (This might help you find your focus. What IS that book about?)

TEACH
Teaching is a great way to sharpen your own skills and understanding. Lately, I've been tutoring a Korean woman who wants to improve her writing in English, and I recently presented something I called “Working With Words” for a high school career day. I tried to give these hopeful high schoolers an honest assessment of their chances of making a living as writers. At the end, I gave each one a certificate (which I had downloaded and customized) that read: “A writer is one who writes. Abigail Authoress (not her real name) is a writer.”

TAKE A CLASS
Attend a conference like RMFW's Colorado Gold, where you can learn craft and marketing and meet people at all stages in their careers. I'll be there, presenting a session called “Show AND Tell,” discussing how to apply the advice, “show, don't tell,” and another session addressing ways to expand or compress your manuscript to make it the length you need. I'll also be facilitating a discussion called “Birds of a Feather,” for writers of mysteries. If you come, say hello. And if you need one of those certificates I mentioned, either download and customize it yourself, or let me know and I'll have one ready for you. A writer IS one who writes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Linda Berry's mystery novels are set in the small Georgia town where she was born. For more information about Linda and her books, please visit her website.

What Makes a Keeper Book?

By Pamela Nowak

There’s a big difference between an enjoyable read and a keeper book. For me, the keepers are those books that take me beyond light entertainment and involve me emotionally in the story. They are the books that make me feel as if I am in the story and make me gasp or worry or cry. They are the ones I remember long after reading them.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that for me, the books that do this have a few key elements in common: a firm grasp of scene structure, a plotline driven by GMC, conflicted/complicated characters, and tight POV.

Hah! So what do I mean by that?

Scene structure is critical. Early on in my writing, I heard Jack Bickham at a Colorado Gold Conference and immediately bought his book: Scene & Structure. His process made sense and (as a plotter) I immediately grasped the way it paired character and plot. It gave purpose to each and every scene and allowed me to keep from straying off on tangents when writing. As a reader, I find that structured scenes keep me more involved in the story, without feeling like the character is simply wandering through time with things happening to him/her.

Bickham’s basic tenet is that each scene should have a goal, conflict, and a disaster. The POV character has an immediate short-term goal. Early in the book, that goal is based on his/her long-term goal or the story question. With each disaster, a new short-term goal is formed which influences the character’s next actions. These goals are important because they allow the character to guide the plot rather than having things just “happen” to the character. This makes the character more sympathetic and guides the plot. Conflict is the result of something or someone that disrupts the goal and isn’t just made up (such as an argument for the sake of argument) and therefore will have a consequence for the character that will lead him/her to react, feel, and form a new goal which in turn moves the story forward. In short, scenes constructed in this way provide continuity and allow the characters to drive the story rather than the author.

Disasters can come in many forms from a blocked goal to partially met goal to a “yes, but…” goal (met but doesn’t turn out as anticipated). After each disaster, the character reacts, either on or off stage in what Bickham calls a sequel. He/she has an emotional reaction, processes/thinks about what happened, makes a decision, and forms a new goal. Of course, like scenes, there are variations in sequel format. The “scene and sequel” construction keeps the story always moving forward and character-driven.

GMC is closely related. Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict emphasizes plot construction that relies on a character with a goal who is motivated by something and runs into conflict (something that blocks them from meeting the goal). The key difference here is the motivation element. A character has a back story that has shaped him or her into who they are. Goals are (or should be) related to their backstories—which really is part of character development. If you’ve ever read a book and said, “now why did she do that?” you’ve encountered a story that lacked motivation elements. As I writer, understanding motivation allowed me to more fully define my characters—villains and heroes alike.

And that leads me to complex characters.

My favorite books are those that have heroes or heroines and villains and even secondary characters with pasts that have shaped them into who they are when the book begins. Their backstories have created both inner and outer goals. I think of it this way: the outer goal is what the character wants but the inner goal is what he/she truly needs. The outer goal is usually related to the story question and launches the story. The inner goal is related to the deep part of a character and his/her arc; it’s tied to his/her flaws and often, the character doesn’t even realize it motivates his/her actions. Give me a complicated character in need of growth and you’ve got me hooked.

Pair up that character development with a tight POV and the result is an emotional link that keeps the reader constantly involved in the story; the reader feels like he IS the character. A tight POV means that descriptions are relayed in a way uniquely that of the POV character. An artist would experience the world in a broad palette of color and technique; a musician would interpret life via music. A man who has been in prison would temper things through a different lens than a free-spirit who spent time in a commune. A writer who uses words and phrases and metaphors that relate the world to the character employs tight POV and lets the reader feel what the character feels. This goes a step further when actions and movements and internal thoughts and reactions are all related in the same way.

It’s rare to find books that employ all of these elements but when I do, I read them again and again. They go on my keeper shelf and I buy such authors without regard to the exact plot simply because I know their books will be good.

If I have one goal as an author, it is to employ all of these elements and to have readers say they were so involved with the characters that the book became alive. In short,... to be put on the keeper shelf.

Descriptive Power on Page One

By Karen Duvall

Description often gets overlooked for the power it can have in a story. Some dismiss it as no big deal, just use the five senses and you're good to go. Some avoid using it altogether because they think readers skip that part to get to the action. Some worry over excessive exposition that could be perceived as an info dump. And some apply it strictly as a means for building their story world, period.

The above assumptions are mostly false.

Effective description is one of the most powerful tools in a writer's toolbox. There's a skill to making it work in an active way that enhances both plot and character, and can make the difference between an okay story and a compelling one.

I could spend an entire day teaching a workshop on description, but I'll condense the basics for the purpose of this blog. In fact, I'm going to start at the beginning. Of a book. Like, page 1.

An overall issue I see with a lot of first books is an eagerness to reveal the setting in a cinematic way. A literary camera pans across a vista in the land where the story takes place. Or the camera slowly zooms in on some metaphorical image that sets the tone of the story about to unfold. Or perhaps the lens is pointed out the window as thick clouds of fog roll across the screen to create atmosphere.

The above might work great for a movie, with a voice over done by the main character. And though screenplays share a number of similarities with the novel form, they are different medias. Film engages the viewer visually and captures attention that way. Books use words, and call upon a reader's imagination to conjure the image that's intended to be seen. This takes time, and readers are less likely to have the patience to translate all those words into something visually engaging enough to compel them to turn the page. A writer needs to hook them before they decide to go watch a movie instead.

But you want to set the tone, the atmosphere, and visually engage your readers, so how else can you do this? If you want to use description to open your book, your job is to create context. Associate the description with the action and the characters. Don't separate the two. Engage your reading audience by creating a balance that ties all these elements together.

Let's use the vista as an example. As your words paint a panoramic view of the story world, they need to include an active element in the story. You'll be in a character's point of view as you do this (please avoid omniscient if possible) so his emotions are attached to this unfolding landscape. Maybe it's morning and the character is tense because of something about to happen. What he sees and feels relate to this scenery in some way. Maybe his job is to slaughter a farm animal to feed his family and he's loath to take a life. Or he has to check the zombie traps that were set the night before and he's scared of what he'll find. Consider having some conflict at play here because readers will be most engaged by tension rather than entering the land of the happy people. Even if your characters are happy, there needs to be a hint of unpleasantness just around the corner. Tension on every page.

Just remember that context is key, especially for genre fiction. And even though you think you're showing rather than telling, a description that lacks engagement with the plot and characters is like a barren island floating in a sea of nothing. Dry. Boring. Stagnant. It doesn't take the reader where he or she needs to go.

Does the first page of your manuscript open with description or action?

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

Lesson Eleven –The Market –Big Press, Small Press, Self-pub

By Jeanne C. Stein

We’ve reached the last lesson. I hope I’ve given you one or two nuggets to strengthen your writing. This lesson will increase your understanding of the business. The two go hand in hand. If you are truly serious about a writing career, it isn’t enough to immerse yourself in the creative process. You must also be aware of how publishing works. Publishing, for good or evil, is a business and as such, profitability is of utmost importance. The authors that sell are the authors who will continue to be published.

Last time, we talked about agents. This time we will look at the different publishing venues. I must add here that I’m not going to be talking in depth about e-pubbing. There are lots of venues you can check if that’s what you’re interested in. Just google JA Konrath and you can get a wealth of information. I’m going to talk about the mainline route—Big houses, small presses and self-publishing.

We’ll start with the traditional publishing houses. The big boys with the familiar names: Penguin/Random House, Harper Collins, Kensington, and on… What are the advantages of going with a big house? Are there any disadvantages?

To start, lets look at the process. For those of you already published, this will be a review. For those of you YET to be published, this will be a brief overview of what to expect. Some people are surprised.

We’ll talk about money first. If your manuscript is accepted at a big house or small, whether through an agent or plucked from the slush pile, you’ll be offered a contract. The contract will stipulate the amount of your advance (upfront money paid against future sales) and how the balance will be paid out. For instance, you’ve been offered a $5,000 (which seems to be the norm now) advance for your first book. Your first check will be 50% or $2500. If you have an agent, he will get 15% of that (that’s the usual fee.) The remaining $2500 will be divided into two payments—$1250 upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript and $1250 upon publication of the book. Again, the agent gets 15%.

So far so good—what about royalties? Let’s say your book is published in trade paper back—the larger paper back size. Retail price is $15.00. Your cut is most likely 8% of $15.00 or $1.20. To make back the $5,000 advance, you have to sell roughly 4100 books. That means, 4100 books sold before you see a royalty check. Okay, you’ve sold 4100 books according to the latest statement. But where’s the check for your full royalty? All you’ve gotten is maybe $300? Why? Because publishers hold money back against returns. In other words, publishers want to hedge their bets. They want to make sure if Barnes & Noble returns 400 of your books, they haven’t paid you for them. They can hold that money for as long as your contract stipulates.

That’s the way the money works. What advantages are there to going with a big house? First off, you’re probably going to get a larger advance. The big houses have thousands of authors generating millions of dollars. Those big names who get the seven figure contracts really pay the way for the mid list writers. The Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts of the publishing world bring in vast amounts of revenue.

Secondly, large houses have marketing and publicity departments. They send out bound review copies ahead of publication to generate interest in an author. They have art departments to design original covers. They have contacts with the media. They have a sales force to make sure your book gets to the stores.

What don’t they do? Generally they don’t pay for a first-time author to go on tour. They expect you to arrange your own book signings although they will make sure a supply of your books gets to wherever you intend to be. They won’t pay for advertising in magazines but they will design the art if you want to pay for the space. In other words, they rely on you to do most of your own promotion.

What about a smaller publishing house? I’m speaking here of independents. The little guys who put out 12-20 books a year. Most likely, you will get little or no advance--$100 - $1000 is the average. They may not have the distribution channels available to make sure your book is available to the B & N’s and Border’s or the contacts to get your books reviewed. Cover art may be less professional, i.e., generic or stock. You may get less editorial support. Small presses operate on a shoestring and sometimes, they go under, taking your book with them. It is so important if you go with a small house and you are unagented to have an entertainment lawyer check out the contract. Things to check are ebook and media (TV/Movie) rights. You don’t want to sign these away. It will cost you down the road. There should be a clause stipulating when you get the rights to your books back—especially if something happens and the house either goes under or doesn’t publish your book. This sometimes happens with a small house.

On the other hand, you may get much more personal attention with an editor who has ten rather than thirty authors to work with. Your book may be released months rather than years after purchase. You may have more input into cover art and cover copy.

Pros and cons. Look at each. I’ve been published by both a big and a small house. In my case, bigger was definitely better. More exposure, more reviews, more professionalism by far. But if you think you’d like to start small, by all means do it. Your comfort level is what’s important. How do you find the small imprints? Join writers’ organizations—Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers of America—most have local chapters in big cities. Investigate local groups. Find them through libraries and community colleges. Then attend the meetings. Often the speakers are editors of small houses (and agents looking for new stuff) who will listen to your pitch and ask you to submit. Just like polishing your query letter, practice a one or two line pitch.

What about self-publishing? We’ve all heard about the Christmas Box. Richard Paul Evans wrote the book, self-published it and sold it out of the trunk of his car. Now it’s a mega-best seller picked up by Simon & Schuster and sold around the world.

Lightning does strike.

But the truth is, self-publishing a book is fraught with problems. Most bookstores will not carry a book unavailable through one of the major distribution channels. Neither will they invite you to sign. Self-publishing is expensive and time consuming. You must design your own cover and format. Register your own copyright. Reviewers are seldom interested in a self-published book, no matter how well written. You are the sole marketing agent, warehouser and distribution agent for the book.

So why do people do it?

Frustration with normal publishing channels is the most common reason people choose to self-pub. They have a story to tell and want to find an audience. They are too impatient to wait the one-two years necessary for a book to go from acceptance by a publisher to print. They want to keep all the money for themselves, not understanding that often to make back the cost, they have to charge an exorbitant amount for each book.

But again, like choosing a big house or a small house, self-publishing is an option. Just do your homework before you decide. And remember, there are literally millions of books out there. The trick to successful self-publishing is to have three or four books ready to go before you publish your first. Then release a second book four to six weeks after the first, the third, four to six weeks after that, etc. Build a readership. Make them eager for your next release. In the meantime, be writing books five, six, seven and eight.

Rinse. Repeat.

We’ve reached the end. Writing is a solitary endeavor and it’s important to find support and encouragement. Here are a few of the national writing organizations I mentioned before you might want to check out:

Sisters in Crime http://www.sistersincrime.org/

Mystery Writers of America http://www.mysterywriters.org/

Romance Writers of America http://www.rwanational.org/

Horror Writers Organization http://www.horror.org/

There are many others and most have local chapters, too.

I hope this class has provided you insight into what genre writing encompasses. Many of you are well on your way to writing your own. You have the tools to write a well-crafted book, the knowledge to avoid pitfalls and mistakes, an awareness of what publishing venues are available to you.

I want to thank all of you for participating. I’m always available at Jeanne@jeannestein.com and will answer every email.

Below is a list of a few of my favorite writing books in no particular order:

Jack Bickham SCENE AND STRUCTURE

James Frey HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL

Dwight Swain TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER

Lawrence Block WRITNG THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT

Carolyn Wheat HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION

Patricia Highsmith PLOTTING AND WRITING SUSPENSE FICTION

Happy Writing!

How to Get Away with Murder (Non-TV Show Edition)

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

From the title you’d guess that I was about to tell you how to murder someone. But I’m not. At least not really. This post is about reality in fiction.

No, really dear NSA (who can still read my meta data, or is that my mind thanks to the Patriot Act renewal). I’m not plotting to kill anyone.

I promise *wink, wink*

Anyway…. I recently asked my facebook writer friends, which I truly hope you are one of (if not, why not? I don’t smell that bad and I can be fun. No really. Ask anyone. If you’d like to become one, please do so at www.facebook.com/JulieAKazimer), about using a fictional fact in a story.

More to the point, I wanted to lie about something. Something insignificant but what appeared factual in this story. Basically, I planned on saying Washington DC had the third most surveillance cameras in the world. This is a lie. They’re not even close. In fact, the third most cameras belongs to…drum roll…Chicago. Not surprising with the amount of Bears there. Number two is London, and number one is Beijing in case you ever need to know, which goes back to the title. Damn, I guess I was offering advice on how to avoid a murder charge.

I was surprised by the response of my fellow writers. Many said, hey, it’s fiction so do what you want. This was my thinking at the time. But a far greater number of writers responded with, “WHAT?! ARE YOU CRAZY?” To which I said, “Maybe, but what’s your point?”

And boy did they have a point.

As a reader, I sometimes believe and then tell others ‘facts’ I read in a novel. Now I’m not talking about story ‘facts’ but little bits of research-y (yes, I just made up my own word. It’s my blog post, so there) ones like how everybody on a white, sandy beach gets their own cabaña boy.

Oh, how I long for a cabana boy.

But that’s another post for another day.

So what’s your opinion? Can I lie about the amount of cameras? Or would I be leading my flock (that’s what I’d love for all of you to start calling yourself. No. Really. That would make my year) astray? Where’s the line between fiction and reality in fiction? Or the reverse, how much fiction can you put in non-fiction or memoir?

Oh, and if you murder anyone in Chicago because of my advice, let’s just call that ‘our’ little secret.

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website.