There are a lot of writing blogs out there, and many offer great advice. However, most of the ones I’ve seen are geared toward nonfiction writers. As novel writers, we have different goals and needs. We’re storytellers. We write to entertain.
This blog is about helping you write a better novel as I pass along what I’ve learned about this crazy business. So please, pull up a chair and make yourselves comfortable. And if you see something you like, please be sure to post a comment.
I was on Facebook the other day and came across a post about supporting the arts. It had plenty of likes, but there was a problem. The people creating the posts, and hitting the like button, may have thought they were supporting the arts, but they actually weren’t. Why? Because they weren’t telling their friends to BUY the art!
Hitting the like button doesn’t mean a damn thing
Whenever I post about my books and photography, I always include a link to a website where you can purchase the book or photograph. The posts will always get plenty of likes as well as comments such as, “Nice photo” or “I like really your book cover.” On rare occasions someone may say, “I’ve read her books and she’s great.” That’s the kindof a comment I live for! Sadly, those comments are too few and far between.
Unfortunately, hitting the like button doesn’t help me pay my bills. So if you really want to support my art, (or another artist’s work), please buy a photo or a book.
No, it isn’t a hobby
I’ve never understood why so many people think of the arts as just a hobby. Colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in the arts. Film and television production is a multi-million dollar industry. Does any of this sound like a hobby to you?
Artists, writers and musicians work damn hard, and they spend many years learning their craft. If you ever took music lessons when you were a kid you probably remember just how hard it was, and most of you gave up long before you mastered the instrument. Now think of what it took for a professional musician to reach that skill level. Does that sound like just a hobby to you? Do you really think hitting a like button on social media is all you have to do to “support” this artist? Seriously?
If you really want to support the arts then put your money where your mouth is
If you really want to support a musician then go to their gig and order a meal while you’re there. The venues who hire musicians do so to attract more paying customers. I realize some venues may be pricey, however the appetizers are usually less expensive. Trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of chicken quesadillas at friends’ gigs.
If you really want to support an artist then buy their art. Most authors have their books available for the Amazon Kindle, and you can download a copy for a few dollars. You can also get a Kindle app for free for your phone or tablet. Books make great gifts too, so if their writing genre isn’t your thing, you can still buy a copy for someone else.
You can also share their posts with a click of a mouse. Word of mouth and organic reach really are a thing, and it really does help get the artist’s name out there. Best of all, it only takes a few seconds of your time, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Same goes for visual artists. How hard it is to share a post or click on a website link? You just hit the like button, so you obviously like their art. Visiting their websites helps improve their Google rankings, and many artists have their work reasonably priced.
Can’t afford to buy a framed print? Then you can probably buy the same photo on a coffee mug. You certainly can on my website. It only costs a few dollars, and it really does help support the artist. It will also be very much appreciated. Having someone tell me how much they enjoyed reading my book, or how much they like having a piece of my art in their home, means more to me than you could possibly imagine.
Sometimes well-meaning things people say to writers which really aren’t the best things to say. They’re not doing it to be insensitive. At least I hope they’re not. They simply don’t realize it’s inappropriate.
A few years ago I was going through a difficult time. I’d ended a friendship with someone who had been my best friend for ten years because it had become toxic. Ending a relationship with a close friend is similar to ending a romantic relationship. It’s a painful experience to go through.
What anyone in my position wants to hear are words of support. Unfortunately, because I’m a novel writer, what I got instead was, “Gee, you should write a book about this.”
I’m sure everyone who said it thought it was well meaning, or even cool for them to say. However, it wasn’t cool at at all. It was insensitive, and it came across as glib.
Writers are people too. We experience the same disappointments everyone else experiences, and when bad things happen, we feel the same pain everyone else feels. What we need are the same words of support others get. I don’t know of any writer, myself included, who goes out and deliberately creates drama in their life just so they can write a book about it.
How we handle this would depend on the situation and the individuals involved. However, we are certainly within our rights if we choose to speak up about it. When bad things happen, we deserve the same dignity, respect and compassion, as anyone else.
Years ago, a fellow writer contacted me about including me in a book she was writing. I’d met her at a few events where I was promoting my Luke and Jenny book series. Her book was about honoring people who helped to preserve the history or promote the culture of the old west. It would feature many prominent Arizonans, as well as a few Hollywood actors.
Needless to say, I felt both honored and excited to be included in this very distinguished group. One member had been the host of a kid’s TV show in Phoenix which ran for over thirty-five years. He may not have been as famous as the Hollywood actors, but I grew up watching him on TV. I was especially excited to be in the same group as him, and I really looked forward to reading her book once it was published.
A few years went by. I checked her website from time to time. There was no new information, but I wasn’t concerned. Writing a book doesn’t happen overnight, so this was not uncommon.
It’s now been more than a decade since she first contacted me, and her website has since been taken down. It wasn’t a good sign, so I wondered if something might have happened to her. A number of people she included in her book have since passed away, including the kid’s TV show host. Then the other day I saw one of her posts on Facebook. It was the first I’d seen or heard of her in years.
I commented on her post and asked how she was doing. I also asked her about her book. Her response was totally unexpected. She had changed her mind and wasn’t going to do her book after all. It was too much work and she just didn’t have the time. Seriously?
We’ve all had ideas for books which we may have started, but, for whatever reason, were unable to finish. The issue is her having contacted and interviewed people before she changed her mind. At the very least, she should have reached out us, along with the families of those who had passed away, to thank us for our time and apologize for not being able to complete the book. It would have also been nice if she had returned whatever materials I may have sent to her. Where I come from this is called common courtesy.
Things happen, but it never ends well when you don’t deliver on the promises you make. I honestly feel like I’ve been duped, and whatever respect I may have had for her evaporated the minute I read her comment. I take my profession seriously. I’ve worked hard to build a good reputation. If something beyond my control comes up and prevents me from keeping a promise, I let the other party know, as soon as I possibly can. Not only is it common courtesy, it’s also good karma.
As authors we’ve all been told social media is our best marketing tool, and it is. However, the Internet is always changing. Nowadays, at least by my observation, social media seems to be waning in popularity. My main social media accounts are Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been using both for years. A few months ago I started using Instagram, but so far I’m giving it a big, fat, meh.
I’ve spent most of my social media time on Facebook. It used to be a lot of fun, and, for a time, Facebook was a popular fad. Everyone was on Facebook. Those who weren’t just weren’t cool. People posted photos of their kids and grandkids and talked about their hobbies and interests. I shared my book covers on Facebook and I’d post about the current book I was writing. I also started a business page under my pen name, Marina Martindale, which has hundreds of followers. So, what changed?
For me, social media started changing when people began posting their politics. It created an us vs them atmosphere, which was both divisive and hostile. As an author and artist, I’ve worked hard to build a following. Therefore, I keep my politics out of social media because I don’t want to alienate any of my fans. Facebook and Twitter, however, added their own fuel to the proverbial fire when they took sides and started censoring people on one side, but not the other. Strange business model. I’ve never understood the concept of pissing off half of your customer base. But hey, that’s just me.
The Covid pandemic has made the one-sidedness, and the censorship, so much worse. Here’s a fun fact for you. Doctors don’t always agree. Remember the old ad jingle about four out of five dentists agree? So where was the fifth dentist? Don’t ask on Facebook or Twitter. They will censor you just for asking. Nowadays Facebook will put you in “Facebook jail,” if you so much as say, “boo!”
We Americans are accustomed to speaking our minds, and everyone has the right to their own opinion. We don’t take kindly to censorship, and many walking away from social media as a result.
By my own observation, I’m seeing fewer posts on Facebook from friends who used to post frequently. Others have closed out their accounts entirely. I’m seeing less traffic on my business pages. I’ve also stopped advertising on Facebook because my ads no longer have the reach they once had. Now in case you’re wondering, I’m not alone. My marketing guru tells me she’s seeing the same issue with other clients. Like any other fad, Facebook, along with other social media platforms, has apparently run its course. What was once new and exciting has become, “Been there, done that, and you can stick your censorship where the sun doesn’t shine.”
Once a customer walks away from a business, they’re gone. They don’t come back. I’m also seeing people forming new social networks, such as Parler, but they’re niche networks. While I make no claims of being a social network expert, I think smaller, niche social networks may become the trend in the future. Yes, Facebook and Twitter will still be around. MySpace is still around. However, I think their popularity has peaked, and I doubt they’ll ever regain the following they had before.
So, where does this leave us as authors? I have no plans for closing out my social media accounts, but I’m now focusing more of my marketing on email newsletters and blogs.
As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, every author, regardless of experience or genre, needs an editor. There are no exceptions. However, finding the right editor for your book may be daunting. This is especially true if you’re a new author working on your first book.
The best way I know to find an editor is to ask for referrals through writers groups, forums and associations. Then, once you have a few names, the next step is to reach out to them and see if they would be a good fit for you.
Your editor is your writing partner, so chances are you’ll be working closely together. He or she will also be working for you. So, as with any job, you’ll need to conduct a job interview. The following questions are a guide to help you determine if your prospective editor would be the best fit for you.
Do you edit books in my genre?
Do you charge be the hour, or by the word count?
How much will you charge?
Do you offer manuscript evaluations?
How long is your turnaround time?
Would you have any issues if my manuscript should contain graphic violence, sexual content, or harsh language?
I found Cynthia, my current editor, at a writer’s association meeting. We were both surprised to see one another there as both of us were, at the time, also performers in Tombstone, Arizona. Because we already knew one another we knew we would be a great fit as we shared other interests besides writing. We also have the same twisted sense of humor. Never underestimate the importance of having a good sense of humor. In fact, I learned the hard way to never drink coffee while I’m reviewing her edits. A few years ago there was an unfortunate incident when I was reading one of her snarky comments in the margin while swallowing my coffee. I of course started laughing, and the coffee nearly went out my nose.
I can’t think of a better example of having a good relationship with your editor. The editing process can sometimes be intense, so being able to crack a joke can relieve the tension. Remember, your editor is there to help you. He or she reviews your manuscript with a fresh pair of eyes to catch the mistakes you may have missed, and, when necessary, make revisions or suggest rewrites. Their goal is to create a positive experience for your readers. And the better the reading experience, the more likely your readers will recommend your book to others.
Many newbie authors don’t understand how basic retailing works. I sometimes see posts on author’s forums from people who are most upset because Amazon is selling their books below THEIR price.
Let’s Take a Short Course in Business 101
You write a book. You then want to sell your book. (And who doesn’t?) There are different way to accomplish this, depending on the book format. These days most authors sell an ebook and a print edition. I’m now going to explain the differences in how they are distributed.
For ebook editions distribution is pretty simple. You upload your file to Amazon or Smashwords. You determine your retail price. Amazon asks you what percentage of that price do you want them to pay you as a royalty. You make you selection, submit your file, and viola! You ebook is now available for purchase, at your price.
So, how are you able to do this? Well, simply put, ebooks are intangible. They’re an electronic file. Amazon didn’t purchase tangible, printed copies of your book for resale.
Print editions are different. They are a tangible product. It costs money to have them printed and distributed to booksellers. So, how does this work?
Most small press and independent authors will usually use Print on Demand. POD for short. Here’s how POD works. Once your book is typeset and your cover is designed, you upload the file to the distributor, which, oftentimes, is Ingram. You include your retail price, along with a discount, typically 55%. That discounted price is your wholesale price. Your retail price is, essentially, the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, or the MSRP.
So what’s a wholesale price?
Your wholesale price is what resellers, or retailers, you know, book stores, pay for your book. They then stock your books in their store.
So why aren’t they selling your book for your price?
The retail price is what the consumer, in this case, the person who wants to read your book, pays to purchase it from the bookseller.
The bookseller has overhead expenses, such as rent, the electric bill, and so forth. Therefore, he or she has to factor in their overhead and sell the book at a price so that they can make a profit. That price may be the same as your MSRP, or it may be less. If they can sell it for less, the consumer is more likely to buy. If they are having a sale, they may drop the price even lower. Either way, the final retail price is determined by the bookseller, not the author. The author’s price, which is printed on the book cover, is the suggested price only. There is no written agreement between the author and the bookseller.
Your other option–print and distribute it yourself
If you’re not happy with the way books are printed and distributed you can print and distribute your book yourself. Some authors choose to do this, and there is certainly nothing wrong with it. However, there are some disadvantages. First, you’ll have to find a book printer and pay for a print run, which is typically 500 or 1000 books. That’s a lot of books, so you’ll need a place to store them.
Once you have your print books in hand, you can sell them directly from your own website at your MSRP. Again, some authors do this, quite successfully, but it’s also a lot of work. Once a book is sold you’re responsible for the shipping, so plan on spending time waiting in line at the Post Office. You can also sell the book yourself on Amazon as a third party seller. However, you’re still responsible for fulfilling the order, which means you’re still the one who has to go to the Post Office.
So there you have it. If you want total control of the MSRP, and you don’t want anyone selling your book for anything less, then you’ll have assume responsibility for the printing and distribution, and well as fulfilling the orders. Again, some authors do this successfully, while others do not.
“I have this really great idea for a book that I think you should write.”
This has to be the most infuriating thing anyone could ever say to an author. While the person saying it may have thought they meant well, they’ve just told you how to do your job. Then there’s the other implication. Somehow you’re not capable of coming up with your own ideas for your books. Good grief! I never thought that I would actually hear this, but sure enough, someone said this to me. It was a real jaw dropping moment.
My response was firm, but polite. I told him I write contemporary romance novels, and that I ONLY write contemporary romance novels. Period. In other words, I set my boundaries before the conversation went any further. Had he said, “Yes, I know. I just wanted to tell you about my crazy ex girlfriend,” I would have listened. When he finished his story, I would have thanked him for his time time. I would have also let him know that I couldn’t guarantee I would ever use his story for a future book.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with people sharing their stories. Other people’s stories can be great inspiration for a novel, and oftentimes they are. However, adding the words, “I really think you should write this,” changes the dynamics of the conversation rather quickly, and not in a good way. I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job. Any decision to use anyone’s story, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, is mine and mine alone, and it’s subject to my own interpretation.
Once I firmly set my boundaries the gentleman didn’t elaborate any further. I had a funny feeling that romance novels weren’t his thing. He never got around to telling me what his great idea was, and I didn’t ask.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer working from home, it’s having to set my boundaries.
Working at home is certainly convenient. The commute time is less than a minute. You don’t have to worry about who used the restroom before you. You can work in your sweats, assuming you don’t have a Zoom meeting. If you do, then wear a nice top with your slippers and sweatpants. Going to lunch is easy too. It’s only a short walk to the kitchen.
Convenience, however, has it’s drawbacks. You miss out on watercooler conversations. There’s no coworker saying it’s five o’clock so let’s go grab a beer. It gets lonely at times, and you can easily put in sixty or eighty hours a week. Sometimes it’s necessary. Especially when you have a deadline. However, if you’re not careful, you could easily burn out. And for creative people, burnout can be a career killer.
If took me a while to figure it out, but I eventually came to realize that I had to set boundaries for myself.
Learn to Set Boundaries
Family time, and time for yourself, is as important as the time you put into your work. Perhaps even more so. Kids grow up fast. You don’t want to miss school plays or soccer games or other family time because you were too busy working. You also need to give your creative mind time to recharge itself.
I set my first boundary when I decided to get my nails done every week. A little pampering does wonders for your self-esteem, and a manicure isn’t that expensive. Now every Wednesday afternoon is my time for me, and in spite of it all, I still get things done.
Another boundary is ending my workday at five o’clock. I define a workday as doing paying gigs and activities related marketing and promoting my creative work. However, writing contemporary romance novels is one of my greatest joys in life. I live for my creative writing time, so I don’t set time limits on that.
Weekends are another boundary. I don’t open my business email account on weekends or holidays. If brick and mortar offices are closed on weekends and holidays, then my home office can be closed on weekends and holidays too.
How and when to set your boundaries is entirely up to you. What’s matters is keeping things in balance, and making the time to do the things you enjoy doing.
There is nothing quite like the thrill of finishing your very first manuscript. If you’re like most new authors, you probably can’t wait to see your book in print. However, there are a number of steps you need to take before you’re ready to publish. The following checklist will help you determine if you are indeed ready.
Is there is a viable market for your book?
The old adage about there being an audience for every book is generally true, but some genres are more popular than others. That said, some niche authors do very well. I know a gay man who writes romance novels for gay readers, and he built a following rather quickly
Have you completed your research and listed all your sources in a bibliography?
This mostly applies to nonfiction works, although I included bibliographies in my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. The series was written to teach actual historic events in an interesting and entertaining way, and the books were geared toward educators.
Have you gotten two to four manuscript reviews to use for your back cover blurbs?
It’s an important step which many new authors miss. Having a back cover blurb gives you more credibility. I’ll ask other authors for reviews and let them know there’s some free publicity for them, as their name and book title appears on my cover. Authors associations and online forums are a great way to connect with other authors.
Have you obtained written permission for all the visual references you’re including, such as photographs or charts?
This is a biggie, and never assume it’s public domain because it’s a historic image or it’s royalty free. Copyright laws changed dramatically in the 1970s, and some museums own the rights to images in their collections. Also royalty free doesn’t mean copyright free, so read the terms and conditions carefully when purchasing stock images. When in doubt, ask. Better yet, create it yourself if you can.
Have you used your spellchecker?
Seriously. Even the best of us make silly mistakes, and double checking your spelling will make your editor’s job a little easier.
Have you decided how to publish your book?
Gone are the days when big publishing houses dominated the market. Today’s authors have many options. Please refer to my post, The Three Options for Book Publishing, for more specific information.
Are you prepared to deal with the possibility of rejection letters or receiving bad reviews?
Not everyone is going to like your book, and those who choose to find an agent or go the traditional publishing route will have to deal with rejection letters. However, you needn’t fear an occasional bad review. It means you are real, because not everyone will like your book.
Are you willing to accept editorial changes?
This is another biggie. Your editor is a fresh pair of eyes who goes over your manuscript to give it the polish it needs to help it become successful. They can and will make changes. Therefore, it’s important that you find someone you feel comfortable working with. Once again, author’s associations and online forums are good places to ask for referrals.
Have you planned a budget to cover expenses such as software, editors, and other out-of-pocket costs?
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, writing a book is a business venture, and you will have some out-of-pocket expenses. Even traditionally published authors have overhead expenses, such as computers and software. Grants, endowments or crowd funding may be available for those authors in need of financial assistance.
Do you have a plan for marketing and promoting your book?
Marketing the book is the author’s responsibility, even if you are traditionally published. Thankfully, there are many how-to books out there to help you with your marketing plan.
If you answered no any of these questions then you’re not ready to be published. However, this checklist may be a handy guide for doing what you need to be ready.
Remember, book publishing is a team effort. So for best results, you must be willing to work with others and be willing to consider whatever suggestions or advice they may offer you.
Every once in awhile I’ll come across someone who thinks intellectual property should never be copyrighted. Or they believe that everything on the Internet is public domain. Most of them understand copyright law. They just think they’re entitled. According to them, the movie studios, record companies and book publishers have plenty of money. Therefore, they shouldn’t have to pay for the music or book, and they see nothing wrong with pirating an artist’s work.
No matter how many times you try to explain to these people that pirating an artist’s work is actually stealing from the artist, they don’t care. Their argument is that books, music, and other creative works are merely ideas and nothing more. To them, it’s simply wrong to put a copyright on an idea. Creative works, however, are more than just an idea. They are the result of someone’s unique interpretation of an idea, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into creating it. This is why creative works are considered intellectual property.
I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice. However, it’s common knowledge that a creative work belongs to the person, or persons, who created it. I’m also going to explain, in layman’s terms, what pirating, and plagiarism actually are.
Pirating means you are obtaining a copy of someone else’s creative work in such a way as to circumvent having to pay for it. A perfect example would be borrowing a friend’s CD and copying the music onto your computer. And yes, pirating is also illegal. Making copies of someone else’s creative work without their permission is illegal too. This is why, for example, a church cannot photocopy songs from a single songbook so that each choir member has a copy. If they were to get caught they could end up with a hefty fine. They would, instead, have to provide a songbook to each choir member.
Regardless of how the work is pirated, the end result is the artist who created the work it isn’t paid by the person using it. Pirating is stealing. Period.
Plagiarism is another way of stealing. It’s taking someone else’s work, putting your name on it, and then claiming the work as your own. This is why scholarly works include footnotes and bibliographies. It’s also why our teachers and professors would gave us failing grades on term papers if we didn’t properly credit our sources. There have also been cases of plagiarism in music when a riff used in one song may have sounded too much like a riff used in another published song.
For more specific information on copyrights, fair use, and other intellectual property law, or if someone has used your work without your authorization, please consult a copyright attorney.