Life After Querying: Publication Insights from Authors

For writers who are interested in pursuing traditional publication, there are all kinds of tools and resources for drafting writers and revising writers and querying writers. There is hardly anything that then allows a writer on submission with publishing houses know what to expect. And if a writer publishes with one house — even a few times — and then doesn’t resign? It’s like trying to walk a maze in the dark with a blindfold on.

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With this in mind, I put together a survey to see what the “typical” experience tended to be, how writers negotiated time expectations when writing and marketing, and asked for some advice. Over 50 authors jumped in to share their experiences. I’m going to get out of the way and let you peruse the results.

How many times have you been published?

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.33.01 PMWhen was your first book released?

1990s – 4
2006 – 2
2009 – 2
2011 – 5
2012 – 4
2013 – 6
2014 – 6
2015 – 8
2016 – 6
2017 – 4
2018 – 1

Did you publish the same book that you were querying when you signed with your agent?

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How many publishing house read your book before you signed? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.57.44 PM

How many books were included in your first contract?

42 authors signed a single book deal.
6 authors signed a two book deal.
5 authors signed a three book deal.
One author signed four books, and one author signed six (this one was direct author to publisher)

Has the entirety of your publishing career been with the same publishing house? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 3.03.02 PM

If you have changed publishing houses, which book was it with? screen-shot-2018-01-19-at-3-03-33-pm.png

Considering the amount of time you have available to write, what % is spent crafting and what % is for marketing?

(for reference, the 1st number is crafting/the 2nd is marketing)

7 – 90/10
1 – 85-15
10 – 80/20
3 – 75/25
6 – 70/30
1 – 65/35
5 – 60/40
14 – 50/50
4 – 40/60
3 – 30/70

What advice do you have for authors who just signed their first contract?

  • Don’t be shy about communicating with your editor and publicist when you have questions or ideas.
  • It’s never too soon to start working on your next book
  • Always be writing.
  • Enjoy the honeymoon
  • Don’t stop learning. Book 1 is part of the journey, but keep writing, keep honing your craft so future books can be even better.
  • Market a lot at first, keep writing too
  • Read and understand what you’ve really agreed to.
  • Don’t compare to other authors!!
  • Get an agent.
  • You’re not done waiting.
  • Enjoy the giddy, crispy delight of having done this amazing thing. Then take a deep breath, because there’s way more work than glory ahead. ??
  • Keep writing. Book one is just one piece of your career.
  • Make sure to read the contract before you signing you don’t understand it ask for help
  • Build a mailing list!
  • Keep your day job
  • Be clear on the expectations
  • Be careful and read the final print of the contract. Make sure you have an agent who has your back.
  • Start writing the next book! One book does not a career make.
  • Try not to fret social media
  • Connect with other authors who are in a similar situation. It really helps when questions come up.
  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Build relationships based on commonalities and a desire to support others–not on hoping people buy your book. Have your agent be ultra-involved in marketing plans with an aim toward getting you as much support as possible. Remember this is a long game, a marathon not a sprint, and focus on your next book, and your next, and…
  • You make your living writing, not waiting. At first, I was nearly frozen with fear as I waited for edits or notes from my editor (agent) but I’ve quickly learned that that time is golden. It is time to try new ideas, work on my craft, build the next book. Oh, and become friends with your cover artist! Getting to know her/him will be a HUGE help if you need additional art for swag etc. They will also LOVE to help spread the word for you on their social media channel because it is their work too.
  • Be patient and keep writing
  • Focus on the good parts and celebrate them
  • All your marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket. If I were going back, I’d focus on a few select things I like or really want to try and would just spend the rest of my time on the next book.
  • Don’t rush to sign a contract. Don’t rush to fire your agent.
  • Get marketing savvy. You still have to do a lot yourself.
  • Remember you have little control about what happens next. Focus on editing your book to the best it can be and let go of the rest.
  • Before you sign, don’t rush. Don’t settle. Read it twice. If you sign, be cautious. Be clear. They’re not doing you a favor. This is your career.
  • Begin your next manuscript as soon as possible. Do not stop writing.
  • Write your next book and consider going indie. 😉
  • Breathe. Ask questions. Advocate for your book and your career. Meet your deadlines.
  • Nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Things will happen that you’ll be sure are going to ruin the book, the events, your career. It won’t. Don’t sweat it. Just keep working.
  • Everything is going to be fine.
  • Lay strong marketing groundwork now. Build relationships with people.
  • The first contract is just the beginning, not the final milestone. Enjoy all the little successes, because there will be lots of things that don’t pan out the way you expect them to. Cultivate gratitude and try to keep your eyes on your own paper–envy is hard to avoid, but poisonous to creativity.
  • Enjoy it!
  • Treat the time between signing and actual release day as a learning experience.
    It depends on whether they signed via an agent or not. If it’s an experienced agent, let them handle it. Ask for twice the number of finished copies they offer. Ask for print ARCs. Remember that while your sights are on a single book your editor is juggling multiple titles. All are important to him or her; keep that in mind when emailing, etc.
  • Keep writing, keep making connections like you’re still trying to get published
  • Start networking!
  • Just keep swimming
  • Keep your head down and work on your craft. There is so much out of your control.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different, but all are valid.
  • Expand your platform as much as you can now. Be gracious. Watch out for people who just want to take your money. Ask around before signing up for marketing/promo services.
  • Be prepared to do a LOT of marketing on your own, no matter how you are published.
  • Ask questions!
  • Be informed. Stand up for yourself. If you’re panicking, you’re in the majority.
  • Be willing to make your own magic happen– your publisher likely won’t do it for you.
  • Make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract. Watch out for contracts that want to claim all future works or who will force you to purchase your rights back.
  • Editorial feedback is not always direct, so trust your gut. “We need a bigger plot point here” may mean “you need to make us care more here.”
  • Have an attorney review it. Don’t get sucked into the hype of the moment.

What advice do you have for authors who have to go on submission after having worked with a publishing house?

  • Be patient and prepared for change
  • None. I’m about to do the same thing.
  • Understand this happens to everyone. Publishing houses make mistakes and editors get fired or hired away, all of which are to of your control. Switching publishing houses is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Sometimes the journey is hard and ugly. But it’ll get good again eventually.
  • Be patient and start working on something else
  • Keep writing.Keep submitting.
  • You’ve got this.
  • Keep moving forward
  • Evaluate how your agent or publisher has performed for your book and don’t be afraid to jump ship.
  • If you have to start over trying to find a new agent or new publisher, I would say gird your loins! And never give up, and stay busy on a new project.
  • Keep your chin.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Many authors end up publishing different works with different publishers. You’ve got a leg up in the process since you have books out there in the world and a web presence already.
  • If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up.
  • Don’t think about it. Write the next book instead.
  • Hang in there. You did it once, and it will happen again. Maybe even at a better house than your first turned out to be.
  • It takes time. Oh my goodness, so MUCH TIME! Before finding a publisher that was a fit for me, we went out on submission to at lease 20 different editors/houses. I piled up comments, collected them, then finally started writing something new.
  • Before we had even collected all of our responses I had a new book ready and THAT is the book that finally found a home. Did I mention it takes a long time?
  • Solidarity, friends.
  • Don’t take any contract if it means changing your manuscript in a way you don’t want to.
  • Good luck and keep writing.
  • Being on sub is the worst anticipation. Fill your time with non-related writing activities as much as possible.
  • All the eggs in one basket is not the norm. It’s okay to be at more than one house, and self-published at the same time.
  • Most of us do have to chAnge publishers from time to time. Don’t be discouraged
  • Consider going the indie route. 😉 My indie book makes more than my book with a publisher…and I get paid every month and can see all the numbers.
  • Take courage. Believe in yourself and your writing. Absolutely write the next book, and focus on the things you can control!
  • Keep your tribe close. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ll need them more than ever.
  • Submission sucks. Be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied up in your writing–and even your worth as an author isn’t solely dependent upon whether or not a publisher buys your books.
  • It’s brutal out there. Believe in yourself and enjoy the act of writing.
  • Keep trying. There’s a home out there for it somewhere.
  • Best advice: never get angry in publishing (agent, editor, copyeditor, PR folks). It’s not personal–though it certainly will feel like it is.
  • Patience, grasshopper, it only takes one YES
  • As much as possible, try and write the next book and forget about the one on sub. It can take a LONG time, but that is no reflection on the quality of your work.
  • My bias is toward finding an agent you trust and who believes in your work 100%. That might include telling you a particular book of yours doesn’t have a market right now. This is certainly harsh to hear but I really do believe agents know and understand the market better than most writers do.
  • It’s OK to feel bad. Submission isn’t fun. Stock up on junk food and binge watch your favorite shows when you need to.
  • Develop a nice, thick, shell. I’ll be “out there” again after book #2, and at least I know now not to take rejection personally!
  • Get writing on something new
  • Turn the MS over to your agent and forget about it. Do something else, write something else. That book, for the time being, is not in your hands.
  • Find other things that bring you joy, and focus on them.
  • Each house has its own business plan. Whether or not your project is a fit may have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Reality is, if they don’t know how to sell it, they aren’t the publisher for you.
  • Persistence outweighs skill 10 times out of 10

How do these experiences align with what you’ve experienced or heard? Have any advice you’d like to add? 

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Resolve to Quit! But if you can’t…

“Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.” – Homer Simpson.

It’s a new year, and that means new goals, new plans, and new resolutions. It’s a time for fresh starts, rededications, and the Rocky soundtrack on a constant loop. It’s also the time of year when everyone writes a blog post about the importance of sticking to your guns and never, ever quitting.

This is not that kind of a blog post. I’m just warning you up front.

I’ve seen several people I know struggle greatly with writing over the years, and not the usual “I’ve hit a plot hole and I can’t get up!” sort of struggle. I’m talking about friends who seem to be at an existential crossroads of sorts; who aren’t sure if they have the strength or will to ever write anything again; who want to set fire to their laptops and be done with it all.

Maybe you’re at a similar crossroads with your own writing. Maybe it’s because you just got your fiftieth rejection letter. Or your hundredth. Maybe the thought of having to do one more bit of self promotion gives you stress hives. Maybe you discovered a book on the bookstore shelf that has the exact plot you’ve been wrestling with for the past two years. Maybe it’s because you’re just tired and burned out. However you ended up at these crossroads, know that you’re not alone. Every writer ends up here at least once in his or her career. The question is: what to do about it?

Here’s my first suggestion: Quit.

No, I’m serious. If you just can’t take it anymore, then quit. Please note that I am not referring here to simple writer’s block, or the rough days where nothing seems to be coming together, such as are common to all writers. But if writing has lost all joy for you; if it is affecting your emotional or physical health, or negatively impacting your personal relationships with family and friends; if writing has become, in the words of Chuck Wendig, “an endless Sisyphean misery,” then why on earth are you still doing it?

You have to ask yourself hard questions: Is this really for me? Is this really what I want? I can’t answer those questions for you, nor would I ever try. I’m not saying that every moment of writing should be sunshine, sparkles, and dancing unicorns. I don’t know any writer who experiences that all the time. Writing—or any worthwhile creative endeavor, for that matter—should be a struggle, and should stretch you and challenge you. But for heaven’s sakes: if you’re not experiencing any enjoyment whatsoever from writing, isn’t that telling you something?

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Okay, I hear the sounds of angry mobs sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches out there. You’re upset with my first suggestion to quit. That’s good. That means there’s still a spark inside you that won’t let you give up just yet. For you folks, here’s my second suggestion, taken from a quote from Rick Walton: “Quit. But if you can’t, then do the work.”

Think about why you started writing in the first place. What led you to do it? Was it a school assignment that awoke something inside you didn’t even know was there, or have you always felt compelled to tell stories? Think about how it felt when you wrote your first story, about the thrill that came from typing ‘THE END’ and knowing that this story was all yours. Think about the first time you were brave enough to let someone else read your writing, and they actually liked it!

Now think about never writing again. How does that feel? If it makes you dig in your heels and put up your dukes and want to fight me for merely suggesting it, then it means you’re still in this. But it means you’ve got some work to do. It means taking yourself seriously enough to actively and consciously arrange your time to write on a regular basis. It means working through that plot problem that has been kicking your trash for the past three months by any means necessary. It means finishing that book, that chapter, that scene, that paragraph, or that sentence. It means sitting down and opening a blank file and writing “Chapter One.” And it means doing it today.

Don’t worry that your first draft will suck. Your first draft is supposed to suck. That is its whole job. Your job is to make that first draft exist. Your job is to get the words out of you and down on the paper. There is time to fix them up, rearrange them, and make them look all sparkly later. Just get it done. You know you can’t quit, so go do the work.

A big part of doing the work is to keep the proper perspective. Too many writers focus too much on this nebulous, ever shifting goalpost called “success.” This skewed line of thinking reduces success to a binary choice between all or nothing, as if to say that anything less than being the next Stephen King or JK Rowling equals abject failure.
Emily King said it well: “Success is a dangling carrot that motivates us to work harder and persist, no matter where we are on our personal journey. Fame. Fortune. Rubbing elbows with important people. Notoriety. Independence, creative or financial. One person’s perspective on what success looks like will change to the next, and our interpretation will change as we taste nibbles of it. In essence, success is something we chase, not something we achieve.”

My advice is to focus on SATISFACTION, not success. Success can come quickly, and be taken away just as quickly. It doesn’t mean you should stop chasing your dreams and goals, but it does mean that you can—and should—learn to be grateful for where you are. Don’t define yourself based on something that hasn’t happened yet. Give yourself credit for what you’ve already accomplished, which is likely more than you realize.

J. Scott Savage also had wise words on the subject: “Am I against making money by selling what we write? Heck no! Make as much as you can. You have earned every dime. What I am against, is taking an art, a talent, something that blesses your life and the lives of those your share it with, and turning it into a job that is only worthwhile if it makes lots of money. I am against seeing people asking if they should give up a God-given talent that brings them joy, (even when it is very hard), because enough other people didn’t buy their work.”

I echo those words. I believe in God, and I believe He gives us talents to help us grow and develop in this life. Think of how many people in this world have a talent for music. How many of them are superstars, with all the fame and fortune, and what does that mean for the rest of us? Does that mean God totally screwed up when He gave me a love of music? Am I somehow a failure in life, and displeasing Him just because I only play my guitar for fun, and I’ve never played Carnegie Hall? Not hardly.

It’s the same with my writing. Don’t get me wrong: getting paid for what you write is awesome, and I highly recommend it. But the NYT bestseller list is not the only way to honor the talents you have been given. Your gifts were given to you for a reason. Your voice is needed. Only you can tell your story the way you can. That’s not something to walk away from lightly.

Now, if you’re still feeling burned out, here’s my final suggestion: Quit. But just for a little bit. Everyone gets burned out from time to time, and it can be healthy to take a little break now and then. You’re still a REAL WRITER even if you’re not writing every single day. Take a sabbatical and do something completely different. Travel. Try a new hobby. Take a class. Go to a writing conference. Do something that will jump-start your brain and get you back on track.

This new year, resolve to quit feeling sorry for yourself. Resolve to quit beating yourself up. Resolve to quit listening to those negative voices telling you that you can’t do it. Resolve to quit giving up, and get back to work.

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Know Your Value

Recently I was talking to my daughter when she brought up how she was asked to do an art piece and how there was a kerfuffle when my daughter brought up payment. It was expected to be done for free because “well, it’s just art.” That because it was an artistic endeavor it didn’t mean anything. I was proud of her for holding to her stance of not just giving out work unless she feels genuinely moved to do so. And that got me to think about value. There’s value in what you create, even if you aren’t a mega success, you created something. It goes beyond just dollar signs. Plenty is put into your creation which cannot be accounted for.

“Time is more value than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” -Jim Rohn

You spend time plotting. You spend time outlining, researching, and actually writing. Then there’s more time invested in cover selection, creating or updating your website, etc… Your time goes beyond just writing and it shows in the finished product. Don’t let anyone diminish that by convincing you to undersell your work.

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“This is the key to time management – to see the value of every moment.” -Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Time daydreaming is time well spent. Drifting off into space where your imagination takes over to have you creating new worlds where foxes are moon men who desperately want to get to Earth to gather enough honey to fuel their Cosmo Cannon is well worth it. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” -Henry David Thoreau

When I published my book I had so many people come up to me or message me over social media to be there to support me. But as with the situation my daughter encountered, more than a few wanted free copies. Uh…no. I don’t come to work for free, and writing IS WORK! You’re purchasing a piece of the author (let’s not forget the cover artist, editor, etc) when you get a book. Aren’t they worth something? Giveaways are fine or giving a copy to a reputable blog or someone with solid connections, but just putting time and money down to just pass it out like gum? I think not.

“Every job from the heart is, ultimately, of equal value. The nurse injects the syringe; the writer slides the pen; the farmer plows the dirt; the comedian draws the laughter. Monetary income is the perfect deceiver of a man’s true worth.”
-Criss Jami

Don’t let sales or lack of them change who you are. To change the core of who you are for fame does no good for anyone. Stay true to who you are. Cherish and value your true self at all costs.

Trust in yourself, love what you do, and make you know your value even if others don’t. Until next time have a writeous day!

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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or a long commute you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. He’s working on publishing his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem sometime in 2016, along with a few projects with his other daughter.

The Politics of Women Writing about Women

I would like to call your attention to the following quotes:

“To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature)

“Ever since the Renaissance, modern man has perpetuated the idea that he carries an infinity of possibilities within himself; their realization is always within reach, at least in his phantasies and dreams. His potentialities are such that, if need be, he would live apart from the rest of society; he could return to nature.” (Leo Lowenthal, Literature and the Image of Man, 2011)

“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, 1962)

Man and freedom. It is a pairing as old as literature (and later, film) itself. From King Arthur’s tale, to the Star Wars odyssey, to Braveheart, and the writings of Emerson, Steinbeck and Whitman, the fantasy (or phantasy, as Lowenthal writes) of the return to nature, of the pursuit of freedom, is a predominant, serious theme in “mainstream literature,” both fiction and non-fiction. Think of Kerouac’s journey or actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s journal of their motorcycle trip around the world (which inspired my own husband to ride from Arizona to the Arctic Circle) and you will likely be able to recall and list a variety of stories that validate the eternal search of men for another place, a new adventure, the finding of oneself, and the solving of challenges as they arise. These are considered life-affirming, worthwhile quests not only to be lived but to be recounted and admired. The search for freedom, I am sure would be argued, has philosophical implications; it is fodder for serious reflection and craft, and, therefore, it is to be studied in university courses, discussed in roundtables and eternalized as “real” literature.

There is of course nothing wrong with any of that. I was immensely proud of my husband’s journey, and I myself was happy to teach a course on travel writing at the university (though I could not resist subversively including Eloisa James’s Paris in Love in the reading list).

So why did I start a post about the politics of women writing by talking about men writing? Because it is still the case that what a woman does is often considered in opposition to what a man would do.

Let me preface what I will say in the next paragraph by stating that women too are capable of adventure and the pursuit of freedom. One does not have to go any further than Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to know just how brave women can be. However, more often than not, and perhaps also in quantitative terms, one will find more titles about freedom and adventure penned by men, which is as much an indication of market perceptions and publication opportunities as it is of anything else— remember that J. K. Rowling used initials for fear that boys would not read the fantastical adventures of a wizard if they knew the author was a woman.

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If writing about freedom is often associated with the Masculine, writing about connection is often associated with the Feminine, and that is the crux of the matter for this post. Women often, though certainly not always, enjoy reading and writing about community, communion, the building of a home, the sharing of love, the finding of one’s place in the world. When a book is about love (from a woman’s perspective), or a woman’s search for connection and growth through internal struggle and learning, it often loses its claim to be called “mainstream fiction” through no fault of its own. Instead, our books get classified as “romance” (if a love story with a satisfying ending is at the center of the story) and “women’s fiction” (if personal growth and connection are the central thread). Much like it happens in other areas of work and practice—like one realizing they’ve become a “woman doctor”—“female writer” is a loaded term, indicative of the partition that is still present in the representation of women in their professional capacities.

Don’t get me wrong: I am proud and happy to be associated with these genres and to partake of the craft, talent, and wisdom of so many authors writing in them. It is an honor just to be a member of the same professional associations as many of them or to find myself having dinner at the same table. What I appreciate much less is the realization that in a world that is still so unequal in its bestowing of respect and opportunity upon women, literature figures as one more reminder that there are strides to be made. The number of people who still “don’t get it” is at the same time surprising and frustrating.

Last year, the New York Times published in its book review section, for the first time, a front-page roundup of romance, a genre predominantly, as the saying that is commonly cited in the community goes, “for women, about women, by women.” Who was given the task of writing about the new releases and the growth of the industry? A man. One who very clearly did not enjoy nor understand romance. His condescending, unimaginable conclusion: “Its readership is vast, its satisfactions apparently limitless, its profitability incontestable. And its effects? Harmless, I would imagine. Why shouldn’t women dream?”

I can’t imagine a scenario where the same critic would have been as patronizing to fans of science fiction and adventure sagas (associated with masculinity) as he was to romance readers and writers, which, truth be told, also include men. Can you imagine his writing about a saga of freedom and liberation and asking, “Why shouldn’t men dream? Sure they have 9-to-5 jobs, but shouldn’t they be allowed to at least write about the great outdoors?” I don’t think so.

But maybe the last laugh is to be had by those who find great satisfaction in writing, reading, and community building around stories often associated with the Feminine, be them men or women. While all of general fiction, according to Publishers Weekly, sold 33 million books in 2014 in the US (a great chunk of which is represented by women’s fiction, since for statistical purposes those titles are not counted separately from mainstream fiction), romance alone sold about 31 million. An obvious conclusion is that the literature that focuses on the feminine universe sells more than anything else.

Perhaps it’s time social endorsement should follow. Or not—we will keep writing and having fun anyway.

___________________________

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Patricia Friedrich is a Professor of English (Linguistics/Rhetoric and Composition) at Arizona State University. She is an expert in the spread of English throughout the world, a researcher of peace in relation to language, and the author/editor of six books, including The Sociolinguistics of Digital Englishes and award-winning The Literary and Linguistic Construction of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. She has written many chapters in other books and articles in such periodicals as Harvard Business Review and World Englishes. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals such as The Linnet’s Wings, Birkensnake, and Gray Sparrow. Her novel manuscript, The Art of Always, won first prize in the “Realizing the Dream” competition as a mainstream fiction work (RWA’s Desert Rose Chapter). She is represented by TZLA Literary and Film Agency and lives in the greater Phoenix area with her family.

Star Wars, Coke, and Other Things to Ponder

I did a whole big branding worksheet not long ago, and it asked questions like – Why do you write? Where do you fit in? How are you different? Only, I had to think beyond my normal answers. Deeper. And man, was it HARD. I’m interested in EVERYTHING. And I’m currently in the switch from writing YA Contemporary to… everything while I figure out what direction I want to go next. In my mind, none of this “everything” or “experimentation in writing” fit with any kind of brand–although, I’m learning differently. Anyway, this is what’s been on my mind lately. (If you’re curious, you can find the worksheet HERE)

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I listened to a great episode of This American Life the other day, the one with the real Coca-Cola recipe. (If you’re curious, you can find that HERE.)

The people behind This American Life worked hard to re-create Coke using a recipe they found while visiting the Coca-Cola archives. They found the same suppliers for the specific ingredients of Coke, they learned as much as they could about what made Coke one of the biggest companies in the U.S. The Jones Soda Co even helped them out with the mixing/stirring/creating. In the end, they had a product that was almost indistinguishable from the real deal.

And then… They went to a grocery store and had people take a taste test, comparing the real Coke to the version they’d created. Some got it right, some got it wrong, but the interesting take away for me came from one sentence, spoken by one person… “This tastes like my childhood.”

Coke isn’t just a flavor, it’s a brand. They have DECADES of marketing behind the flavor. So, Coke is about a lot more than just what people taste after they pop open the can.

And before you wonder if I’m getting paid to promote Coke, know that I like Pepsi better.

So, the flavor is the same, the texture is the same, but Jones Soda Co could never recreate Coca-Cola. There’s too much behind that name for them to compete.

And to jump to Star Wars, for those of you who were paying attention and read the title of this post 😉

We went with the masses to see THE LAST JEDI, and love that film, hate it, feel meh about it, millions of people watched that movie. There was much discussion  in my family about what we liked and didn’t like (no spoilers, PROMISE!) And my daughter wondered why anyone would watch any more STAR WARS after seeing the prequels. (She did love the most recent). But again, STAR WARS is so much more than each individual movie. Every time I see those letters scroll up the movie screen and hear the opening music, I’m 8 years old again. STAR WARS is my childhood.

So why on EARTH am I talking about Star Wars and Coke on a website set up for writers? I mean, no one is expecting you to run out and be the Coke version of an author. But there’s still something to be learned.

AUDIENCE IS IMPORTANT. How your readers feel is IMPORTANT. When I open a novel from Stephen King, I know (at least some) of what I’ll get. When I open a book by Sarah Eden, I know (at least some) of what I’ll get.

Do people know what they’re getting from you? As much as I occasionally despise the idea of “branding” it is so important. Find your readers. Find your people. Be conscious of WHO will read your books, and how you want them to feel. Put thought into your posts, newsletters, social media, etc… This isn’t about you, this is about them.

I’m a very slow work-in-progress with this, but being mindful is the first step, right? RIGHT??

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

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IMG_9581Jolene talks about everything, but is most happy when encouraging other writers to be writers. She is the author of 8 traditionally published YA novels, and many indie published romance novellas and novels. She works as a freelance editor, interned with The Bent Agency, and is the current chair for the Storymakers Conference in Provo, UT.

You can find her at BeenWriting.com and joleneperry.com, or just hiding behind her laptop in her bathroom where she (occasionally) hopes to not be discovered by her family.

 

 

The Reality of the Breakout Book

We are delighted to welcome today’s guest, Aimie K. Runyan

Many authors share my tale of woe. I worked on the book of my heart off and on for a decade. I polished the heck out of it, landed and agent, polished more, then landed a book deal with a major independent publisher. Sounds like the stuff of dreams, right?

It was, until my book flopped with such an audible thud, I’m pretty sure it can still be heard in my publisher’s swanky New York high rise. Sorry about that.

Which of course, meant the second book I was contracted to write received little to no marketing support. I can’t say I blame them. They are a business, after all.

So what next? I licked my wounds, and as any good scribbler does, I started writing. I left behind my beloved French emigrant girls to embrace an era of Historical Fiction that has broader appeal—WWII.

Hold on, hold on, hold on… the advice is always ‘don’t cater to the market’ and ‘write what motivates you’. It’s true, but I’m a firm believer that certain niches have a solid reader base despite the market. WWII is one of those niches. Especially if you add in a hint of a love story.

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But that isn’t enough—people have read zillions of WWII stories, and they crave something new. When I was deluged with articles by friends about the Night Witches after the last surviving pilot had passed, I knew this was going to fill a void in the marketplace. Which is great, but it’s not enough to write a stellar book.

I started my research, and fell in love with these women. They were fierce, driven, and took zero garbage from their commanding officers who resented their presence on the battlefield. These were my people.

I managed to sell the book to my dream house, Lake Union, and I could tell there was palpable excitement for the project. That was the greatest feeling in the world. And when I was selected for one of their key marketing tools, I knew it had the opportunity to break out.

And it did. #2 on the charts in the US and UK and #1 in Australia. I always knew the Aussies were a great bunch.

How does it feel? Surreal. I’m by turns elated and convinced I’m about to wake from a lovely dream.

So what does this mean for my career moving forward? Well, despite my fondest wish to write about 15th century Ireland, I’m going to be relegated to writing about the wars for the foreseeable future. Which is fine. There is so much ripe material to pull from—unmined gems—that I can make my own, that I don’t feel limited for the moment. And the market is bound to change, and my material with it. Which is just as it should be.

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It means I now have a reader base who want more books like Daughters of the Night Sky, and it’s my job to produce them regularly. The days of spending a decade crafting a novel are done if I want to keep that fan base loyal.

Overall, the biggest perk of having a book “break out” is really the feeling that what I do is appreciated by a large number of readers. It’s such a lonely business, so rife with self-doubt, that any victory is a huge deal.

Of course, the old axiom is also true—you’re only as good as your next book. Success is just as fleeting as failure, so I have to strive to make each book better than the last.

So back to the purple fountain pen of fury, it won’t weald itself!

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Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She has written four historical novels, including the internationally bestselling Daughters of the Night Sky. Her  next novel, Girls on the Line, which centers around the women who served as telephone operators overseas during WWI, will release in November of 2018. She is active as an educator and speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children.

 

 

 

Professional Etiquette for Writers

OR, You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

In their book, Million Dollar Professionalism for the Writer, Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta lay out the following bit of advice:

“Never, never, ever, never, never, never, never ever be a jerk.”

I’m half tempted to offer a hearty “Amen!” and end this blog post right here, because I’m not sure you’ll ever hear a better suggestion on how to act as a writer, nay, as a human being. But in the interest of hitting my word count, allow me to expand on this idea further by way of a real-world example.

A few months ago, I attended a writer’s conference with my sister, Lisa. In addition to both being published authors, Lisa and I have worked in the publishing industry for many years: she as an editor, and I as a slushpile reader. We had both taught classes at the conference, and Lisa was ending the day by taking pitches from some of the attendees.

At the close of the conference, I found myself waiting outside the room where Lisa was hearing the final pitches of the day. Realizing that the pitches were taking longer than expected, I pulled out my laptop and proceeded to catch up on a few work items as I waited.

Shortly thereafter, a man approached and asked if he could take the seat next to me. I agreed, and we introduced ourselves. He mentioned that he had attended one of my classes earlier, and that he had enjoyed it. I thanked him and asked if he was waiting to pitch his story. He replied that he had already pitched to Lisa earlier, and that he was waiting because he wanted to ask her a follow-up question. He then began to ask me about reading in the slushpile, how long I had been doing it, and how I made decisions as to what I recommended versus what I passed on. They were the sort of questions I get asked all the time from new writers, and I was happy to answer them in a little more detail.

Our conversation was moving along quite nicely when I began to sense that he was inching towards pitching his story to me. He kept bringing the conversation back around to the book he was working on, and while I was trying to remain friendly and supportive, I was also trying to subtly convey the message that I was not the person he should be pitching to, especially when I didn’t initiate a request to hear about his book.

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Unfortunately, my new friend wasn’t picking up on the message. He grew bolder, the conversation became more and more one-sided, and he proceeded to dump more and more of his book on me. I didn’t want to be outright rude to him, but I was becoming more annoyed with him the longer he went on. I kept trying to indicate that this wasn’t the time or place, and that I wasn’t the person he should be talking to, but he wasn’t hearing me. By the time he pulled out a three-ring binder and started showing pictures he’d downloaded that represented what he felt his characters would look like, and launched into a presentation of how his insanely complicated magic system worked, I’d had enough. I faked an incoming phone call, and excused myself to the other side of the room.

A few minutes later, Lisa exited the pitch room, only to find herself face to face with this fellow, who excitedly asked if she remembered him (she did), and if she had any questions about what they had discussed during his pitch session (she didn’t). Lisa looked at me and screamed a silent “SAVE ME” with her eyes. I immediately came back and we excused ourselves from the situation.

As soon as we were out of earshot, we began to debrief each other about our experiences with this person. Not only had his pitch session been a train wreck of infodumping and Internet photos (which Lisa had expressly told him not to show her), it turns out he had been emailing Lisa and other people in the office for a few weeks already. In fact, by the time we arrived back home, we both discovered that we had brand new emails from this guy waiting for us. And we were both annoyed.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for confidence, gumption, and general sticktoitivness in terms of how you present yourself. And it’s good to stand out a bit from the legion of other writers out there. But folks, hear me loud and clear on this point: you want to stand out for the right reasons!

You should practice your “elevator pitch” in case someone wants to know what your book is about. And if they ask, then go for it. But always—ALWAYS—be a professional. Don’t be THAT GUY or THAT GAL. Don’t ambush people with your pitch if they haven’t asked for it. And especially don’t get under the skin of the very people whom you are hoping will read your book and decide its future.

Because if I’m the guy who ends up reading your book in the slushpile, then you want me to be as happy as humanly possible. You want me to be sunshine and rainbows and little animated birds fluttering about as I read. You don’t want me to remember the time you trapped me at a writer’s conference and wouldn’t let me go until I had heard about every single character and plot point. You don’t want me going into your story already irritated with you. In the words of Bruce Banner: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

If you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer, then you must act like a professional. Publishers don’t want to work with writers who are self-important divas, who can’t take criticism or direction, or who are just plain difficult.

In short: Don’t be a jerk.

Can I get an “Amen!”?

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.