The numbers game

Once upon a time I was a fledgling young writer with dreams of multi-book contracts and booksignings in my future. I worked very hard to hone my craft (still do) and become the best writer I could. And still the rejections came. I know I’ve blogged here before on the magic combination of getting published, but it’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax to STAY publish.

In order to sell that first book my writing had to be in tip-top shape and I naively believed that that is what would keep me selling. It’s not that writing skill and talent don’t have anything to do with longevity in this career, but in addition to those elements is one that perhaps you might not be expecting. I know I wasn’t. Perhaps that was foolish of me, but when I realized that publishing is more a game of numbers than it is of words, it was a shocker.

I’d done my job as far as pleasing readers – I had fan mail to prove it. And I’d done my job with my editor because they loved my work. Yet, I had first one and then another contract not get renewed. And I was left wondering what the hell was I doing so wrong? I still take responsibility for part of my slow-growing career, but the truth is much of it is out of my hands and always will be. I can’t make readers buy my books with the kind of velocity that most publishers deem as successful. I can’t make readers love my books and want to share them with all of their friends – though I certainly hope that happens, it’s never a guarantee.

There are numbers everywhere in this business – print runs, advances, royalty rates, sell-throughs, bestseller lists…its enough to make you send hate mail to your high school algebra teacher. Even Amazon uses some kind of magic algorithm to figure their bestseller lists and which books get shown where. Feeling dizzy and a bit depressed yet?

Okay so now that I’ve depressed everyone, let’s talk about how to keep working in the face of all this gloominess. The first thing you have to do is figure out what success means to you – it will be a different answer to each of us. The next thing you have to realize is there’s really only so much you can do. Promo efforts are a crap shoot, some things work beautifully for some authors while they fail miserably for others. Decide what you are and aren’t willing to do to reach that level of success and be willing to work your butt off. And then do your level best to ignore everything else. Stressing about reviews, stop looking at them. Comparing yourself to another writer, stop it. Fretting about your sales rank on Amazon, walk away from the browser. Every writer out there wishes they were doing a little better. #2 wants to be #1 and #1 wants to do it again with the next book and the next…. So yes, the numbers are depressing, but try, try, try to stop worrying about it all so much. And if my words aren’t enough to encourage you, I’ll leave it to Bob Newhart.

At the end of the day this whole writing gig needs to be a labor of love. Be prepared to be more frustrated and defeated than you ever have been in your life (unless you’re a mom, then you’re already golden cause that gig is WAY harder). So how do you keep sane in the midst of the numbers game?

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Luck: The Most Fowl of Illusions

First off, I’m not actually a “published” or “signed” author or even as many would proclaim, even recognizable as a legit “author” by what most of society deems as being an actual author. So writing this little blurb(more or less a rant) based on our topic of the month at hand might seem a bit unnerving and silly.

I am however a writer; a self-published writer, but still a writer. Because what do writers do? They write. Sometimes until their genitals bleed. My “self-published” status is mostly due to the fact that I don’t actually intend on ever being “signed” or “published” by any of the big names or any names at all if I can help it. I don’t want a contract with deadlines controlling my every move, I don’t want someone telling me “what’s hot” or “this is what’s selling, so write about this”; in hindsight I would cease to be a writer, in turn surrendering over my material. I don’t want “what the public is currently into” to dictate what I have to write about in order to make a buck. And after a hundred demanded rewrites and re-edits, whatever words I’ve splooged would cease to actually be my material. Of course the aforementioned is not how the gun show plays out every time, but it’s just not the road I want to go down. It’s not the kind of risk I’m fond of taking when my words are on the line.

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With that said, luck has absolutely nothing to do with my writing/publishing process…I simply get inspired by life, write my ish with whatever verbatim my literary libido prescribes, get a few opinions from close friends, edit the piss out of it once, twice, thrice…(maybe this is where luck comes into play, as in editing my own work it is impossible to catch every single little tid bitty of a lyrical error)…and finally upload my manuscript and cover designs to Lulu’s media platform and BAZINGA….out comes my spawn in the form of a paperback 🙂

Simple, methodic, religious, and a bit tedious at times…but it’s better than being just the flavor of the week. I prefer doing all the work myself. 100% control is my bitch….perhaps to a fault, perhaps not; I haven’t decided, maybe it’s best not to decide. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all and it’s completely and irrevocably irrelevant; I’ll leave it up to Black Jesus to decide.

Of course, my literary loves, this does not mean I respect you professionally-signed peeps any less or at all; I love you all because we all share a love for the written art. And while I don’t give “luck”  a second’s thought in regards to my writing or everyday life, I do believe that being optimistic plays a key role in our respective literary worlds. In the end, I like to hope that luck plays a very minor role in our respective positions…as we are all artists, and as artists we must create from life…not depend on luck.

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Throw the dice, find a four-leafed clover, don’t forget your horseshoe … oh yeah … and the BIG secret

teehee … Now we’re either on the edge of our seats waiting for the big, top secret to success. But first …Here are some crazy business/publishing/reader facts just to make you feel like crap:

  1. Our readers: 1/3 high schoolers don’t read another book after high school. And 42% of college grads can be lumped in the same box. 80% of US families DID NOT buy or read a single book last year. 70% of American Adults haven’t set foot in a bookstore in at least 5 years.
  2. 70% of books published do not earn their advances back. (meaning 70% of all books on the market lose money for their publisher)
  3. According to R.R. Bowker, there are about 175,000 books published each year. That is an average of 479 books each day, or about 19 books every hour. (Kind of makes me feel NOT so special right now)
  4. According to Publishers Weekly, there are more than 86,300 publishing companies worldwide. Self-publishers make up the vast majority. In fact, self-publishers make up about 86,000 of that figure. There are about three or four hundred mid-sized publishers and six large publishers that are well-known. These figures give you a good idea of how difficult it can be to have a book accepted by a major publisher.
Uff … Take a seat. I know. We have these incredibly high hopes for our books and our author platforms. We’ll be the next … fill-in-the-blank.
So what’s that secret? It depends on how you define success.
As for success in my career, that’s tricky. True: I have four published books and am writing my fifth (under contract). But my numbers, by any measure of “success” aren’t successful. In fact, my sales are … not good. Honestly, I owe my career to my relentlessly supportive agent and first novel, FREEZE FRAME, that won the IRA (international reading association) Best Book for Children and Teens in 2009. This was a big deal award and I’ve been riding that out on every novel ever since. Again, though, I’m NOT a “successful” author because I simply don’t have sales … I’ve never earned royalties on any books (to date) and have never gone into a second printing on any books, not even FREEZE FRAME … I feel successful in my career, though, because I’m able to do what I love. Also, it’s a hard world to break into. Just having one novel on the shelves is a gift!
So, let’s ignore the numbers. After that ramble. What makes any writer successful?

  1. I love my job.
  2. I work hard. I sit and write. I write badly. I revise. I listen to critiques. I re-write. I stare at cursors blinking on the screen. I procrastinate. But at the end of the day, I write.
  3. I’m hungry. As opposed to “life success” … my career success hinges on this. I need to feel the hunger, the drive to write better. To come up with more interesting characters. To read and read and read and study so I can write better. Hunger is KEY to success. I don’t sit back and think a muse will come. I sit and work my tail off until at least one sentence in ten pages is worth saving.
  4. I share. So many people want to “guard” the gates. Keep secrets. I recommend agents and editors to writers. I pass along information. I try to help my writers’ group with critiques. I support libraries, teachers, and anybody who loves books. I will give a SKYPE visit to anybody who donates to my charity of choice: FIRST BOOK.ORG, instead of asking for payment.
  5. I’ve been able to write what I love. I’ve had editors and houses support my crazy ideas and back me up even when the numbers weren’t there. Lots of people work to make this happen. Lots of people take leaps of faith. I’m just lucky to have had this, time and again.

Ignore the numbers. Define “success.” And enjoy the ride because, well, it’s a tough one but worth it. Even if you get ONE SINGLE LETTER  a year from a kid who says, “Wow. I haven’t read a book in ages. I loved your book.”

One letter? Success. Big time. That’s the secret — that one letter.Image

The myth of getting ‘lucky’

I don’t believe in luck, good or bad. People told me when I started publishing (note: not when I started writing. Writing and publishing are two very different creatures) that it was all about luck. Finding the right person on the right day who was looking for exactly what you were trying to sell. Like winning the lottery. Sheer dumb luck.

But that’s not exactly true. It’s more about MATH.

Yes, I said it, the word most of us creative types shrink in fear of. Math. Math will make you successful, or not. and here’s how.

Let’s say you wrote a book. A good book, nay a GREAT book. You decide that you want the *fame and fortune of being a published author. So you draft a query letter and send your manuscript off like kids on Halloween, door to door begging for sweets.

If you send that query to one agent, your chances of getting published are about zero. Sorry, them’s the facts. Zero. Zip. Nada. It could be the best book EVER WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF EVER and the math is still against you. If you send that same query to ten agents, your odds go up. One hundred agents later, and the odds grow. Now add a few small press publishers into that mix. The odds double, triple, quadruple. Because now, you are playing the numbers game. Say you throw a water balloon onto a low traffic street. Odds are, you won’t hit anything. But keep tossing those little bundles of fun and you are bound to hit something eventually. So don’t be afraid or ashamed of high numbers. High numbers are good. They mean your changes of winning are good too.

This is where perseverance comes into play. What are your odds of winning the lottery if you never buy a ticket? Zilch. Same thing applies to this. The more you play, the better your chances of winning big. The difference is, the lottery won’t write you a letter telling you that you are an untalented loser (and yes, some rejections can be or at least feel that harsh.) Perseverance is what allows you to brush off the thorns of NO and keep running, striving to reach that elusive YES.

Well, perseverance and chocolate.

So what is luck? It’s a way to justify success or failure as somehow beyond your control. Have you ever picked up a book and thought, this is just awful! How did this book get published with (insert big publisher here) and I can’t even get looked at?!? Well, they must have gotten lucky, right? Or on the flip side of that, you can tell yourself that string of rejections isn’t because your book needs work, it’s just bad luck.

Nope. Wrong.

With everything in life, you are what you make yourself. You are as successful as you make yourself. You think only writers with an ‘in’ in the industry can get published? Then create an ‘in’ for yourself. Be resourceful. Be stubborn. Be creative. Don’t think you can do it? Then you can’t. You have to grab life by the tender bits and take what you want. Yes, it may be hard. Yes, it may take a long time. But it will happen if you make it happen. So *go kick a leprechaun off a balcony and take control of your own destiny. Your luck will be whatever you make it.

*Rich and famous author may be a figment of your imagination

*I do not condone leprechaun violence, except in SyFy channel movies.

Extracted_cover_120
Welcome to the war.
The Tesla Institute is a premier academy that trains young time travelers called Rifters. Created by Nicola Tesla, the Institute seeks special individuals who can help preserve the time stream against those who try to alter it.
The Hollows are a rogue band of Rifters who tear through time with little care for the consequences. Armed with their own group of lost teens–their …only desire to find Tesla and put an end to his corruption of the time stream.
Torn between them are Lex and Ember, two Rifters with no memories of their life before joining the time war.
When Lex’s girlfriend dies during a mission, the only way he can save her is to retrieve the Dox, a piece of tech which allows Rifters to re-enter their own timeline without collapsing the time stream. But the Dox is hidden deep within the Telsa Institute, which means Lex must go into the enemy camp. It’s there he meets Ember, and the past that was stolen from them both comes flooding back.
Now armed with the truth of who they are, Lex and Ember must work together to save the future before the battle for time destroys them both…again.
* * * *
Add EXTRACTED to your Goodreads
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Luck, Perseverance, or Something Else?

As the month progresses, I’ve been reading the blog posts written by other members of Scene 13. We’ve been discussing whether luck or perseverance is most important for a writer’s success. I think there’s a third element that’s also important, but so far, I’ve only seen one other author mention it. What’s that missing element? Flexibility.

I don’t want to dismiss luck and perseverance. After all, luck–getting the right person to read your story or finding out about an anthology that would be a good match for a retired story–can be key in get a story published or finding readers, and perseverance can keep you going long enough to develop your writing chops and find opportunities. Certainly, as someone who waited fourteen years for her husband to propose, I know a lot about perseverance. However, to me, perseverance implies following the same strategy over and over. Publishing is changing so rapidly that you can’t expect to do the same thing all the time and get the same results. You need to follow what’s happening and be willing to change when it’s necessary.

When I first started writing, traditional publishing was the only path any serious writer would take. However, two stories that meant a great deal to me didn’t fit well with traditional publishing. Although they were both in the same series, one was a novella narrated by a woman in her mid-twenties, while the sequel was a full-length novel focusing on the woman’s teenage son. Novellas are a difficult sell to book publishers. For a time I considered putting the two stories together as one novel, but that book would have been too long for any traditional publisher to try with a newbie author. I could have dropped the first book and tried pushing the second as a standalone YA novel, but that wouldn’t have fit with what I want to do with the next book in the series. Plus, Joanna deserved the opportunity to tell her story.

The advent of tools for simple self-publishing gave me the ability to put both stories out there at the length that I thought was best for each of them. I did have to change my mindset toward self-publishing, but when I did, I discovered other advantages to self-publishing that may help me someday achieve my long-term goal of writing full-time.

Today, both Lyon’s Legacy and Twinned Universes, Books One and Two of the science fiction Catalyst Chronicles series, are available in paper and ebook formats. The official publication date for Twinned Universes was supposed to be this coming Sunday (since my main character is pure Irish, I thought the tie-in to Saint Patrick’s Day was appropriate), so I’ll take my family out for brunch to celebrate. And hopefully with the perseverance to finish the Catalyst Chronicles series, the flexibility to change strategies as publishing evolves, and the luck to find the right readers for my books, I’ll be writing stories for years to come.

Luck? More, Please!

Usually, when the topic of luck vs. perseverance while on the quest toward publication comes up, it’s to reinforce all the hard work that goes into getting published. I mean, first you have to wrench this story out of your soul, get in on paper in a way that makes sense, revise, edit, re-revise, re-edit…and that’s before you ever get around to querying an agent or knocking on an editor’s door. So, yes, there is a crap ton of work involved, and if one doesn’t have the perseverence to see it through, they will fail.

I, however, have had the obvious benefit of luck. Gather round, and I’ll tell you about it.

I began my first book, Latera’s Song, in the eigth grade. I loved the world and the characters so much that I wrote about them for years. I even drew them, along with complex scenes from the narrative. Eventually, life happened, and all my notes and drawings were packed away.

Fast forward a few years; I owned my own home, and the box that held all those notebooks and loose leaf binders was unceremoniously dumped into a closet on the third floor. A few years after said dumping, I was cleaning out the closet, and the box in question saw the light of day yet again. Being that I didn’t really want to clean, I reread Latera’s Song.

I fell in love all over again.

I rewrote the novel, expanding some aspects, completely chopping out others. I changed the name from Latera’s Song to Rise of the Deva’shi. I worked on it day and night for months, obsessed with perfecting it. When the day came that it was as done as it was gonna get, the question became, what the heck should I do with it?

I had never wanted to be a writer. I never tried to get anything published, and I had no idea what to do or who to ask. Heck, I had never even taken any literature courses beyond the requirements, being that my degrees are in environmental science and marketing. Then, I remembered that a friend of mine was a published author. So, I dug out her book, looked at the logo on the back, called the publisher and asked them if they’d publish my masterpiece. They said yes.

Well, it turned out that the publisher in question was Author House, one of the largest vanity presses out there. So of course they published it! For a wallet-lightening fee.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against self-publishing. I think it’s a great option for writers, and something that you should at least look into. I, however, stumbled into it like a blind rhino in a china shop. But, an even crazier thing happened: people started reading Rise of the Deva’shi. Even crazier, they liked it.

When I started shopping around my next novel, set in the same world as Rise of the Deva’shi, I was pretty much starting from scratch. I had no idea how to query, who to query – I could barely even write a query that was worth reading! While I was embroiled in query hell, my husband revealed that he knew someone.

Now, I will not mention this someone by name, since I write these posts mere moments before they’re due and I have not secured his permission. Suffice to say, the someone is quite a well-known, award winning spec-fic editor. He also happened to have been in a band with my husband almost 20 years ago.

Mr. Editor had a look at my novel, Heir to the Sun, and agreed to publish it. He even agreed to take on the sequel! To say I was over the moon would have been an understatement. I felt like his willingness to take a chance on me was my big break. In many ways, it was.

There was a bump in the road, and the sequel wasn’t published. (But it will be. Stay tuned.) Still, I was confident that I could do this writer thing. I was even comtemplating self-publishing the right way, when another series of events unfolded.

At the launch party for Heir to the Sun, one Vikki Ciaffone picked up a copy. A few weeks later, she found me on FaceBook and sent me a message, telling me how much she was enjoying it. We started chatting, and struck up a friendship.

Meanwhile, I started working on a story about eleves and Elementals, missing brothers and evil governments. Its working title was Dreamwalker, and I wrote it as a paranormal romance.

That was not its genre.

So, I rewrote it as a YA fantasy. Sadly, this was also not its genre.

I made the main character a bit older, added a bit more story, and it came out an urban fantasy. I was feeling pretty confident that the story had found its sea legs, so to speak, so I shipped the manuscript, now called Copper Girl, off to my new friend Vikki for a critique. We met for lunch at a diner in the wilds of Connecticut, and she told me that she loved it.

And, that she was going to be editor in chief of a new urban fantasy imprint, Spence City.

Then, she told me she wanted Copper Girl.

Then, she asked if I would be her marketing coordinator.

Then, she kindly whipped out the smelling salts and got me up from where I’d fainted.

Have I worked hard? You bet. I have worked my butt off on every novel, every short story, every blog tour. But, based on how all this came about, I also realize how lucky I’ve been.

Don’t forget to enter our Marchapalooza giveaway – just click the button to the right of this post. And, if you’d like to win an ARC of Copper Girl before you can buy it, follow the link:

1 + 1 + 1 = 9 (at least for now…)

Many years ago, when I first started writing, I was told that to become a published author you needed, luck, perseverance and talent. Now this bit of advice came with a BUT, you only needed to have 2 of the 3. So you could have luck and talent or perseverance and luck, etc., etc. I’d actually argue though that to stay published you really need all three. So here’s my story…

It was June 14, 2004 and I was with my mom at lunch, so I just happened to have 
my ringer turned up on my cell phone. I noticed the area code on the caller ID and I
 had just read about a fellow chapter mate noticing the same thing and how 212
 meant NYC. So I immediately started to panic. When I answered she asked for me 
and said that it was Kelly from Avon and that this was, “the call.” She loved my book 
and wanted to offer me a 2-book deal.

my first published book

my first published book

Holy cow! My hands were shaking like crazy and I mouthed to my mom what was
 going on and she started jumping up and down and holding her hand over her
 mouth to keep from screaming. I remembered vaguely that I needed to write things 
down, so I grabbed an envelope and jotted everything down on the back. I wish I had 
been more coherent to hear all the glowing things she said about my writing and the 
book, but I was listening for number details so I would have info to give my top
-choice agent when I hung up the phone. You see at this point I didn’t have an agent. 
I’d been trying for a while and had no luck, that’s why I’d started submitting to
 editors.

So I hung up the phone, jumped around with my mom for a bit and called my agent
 choice and left her a voice mail with the details. Then I called a myriad of people –
boyfriend (now husband), critique partners, dad, sister, etc. Then I had to go back to
 my (then) day job. ACK! So I reluctantly went back to work, but I was excited and dazed
 and shocked. I told all my co-workers and they were all very excited as well. Then 
the agent called back and we discussed details, she offered representation, then she
 called Kelly back to finalize the details of the offer.

So that day, I had woken up with 5 completed manuscripts and having written for 7
 years and yet another frustrating day having not heard anything from NYC and that 
night I went to bed as a multi-published author – or at least contracted as such. For
 all the difficulties in this business, the highs are pretty stinking high!

Now, 9 years later, I’ve published 8 books (plus one novella) and have 3 more coming out this year. And frankly I still think it takes a little bit of luck, a good measure of talent and a huge helping of perseverance to stay in this business.