Musing on Monday: Keeping the Faith

It’s over.

The proposal we had out on submission didn’t pick up any offers. Most of the rejections were along the lines of “love the writing, but…”

(FWIW, I always think that’s a cop-out. If you really loved the writing, there would be no “buts” because the writing is what makes the characters come to life and plot work.)

Naturally, I was discouraged and upset, even to the point of railing that boy, this time, I am really quitting.

“Why do I put myself through this?” I asked myself over and over.

It’s a damn good question. In publishing, you hear no a lot more than you hear yes (even if your book sells, you probably got a “No, thanks” from at least one editor on the way to garnering that contract). Even if you are lucky enough to land a contract, the publisher is probably not going to throw large wads of cash at you (unless you happen to be one of the tiny subset of writers who are already so “proven,” you could write the phone book and NY would want to buy it for six figures).

And guess what? After you do that the first time, you’re not done. No, it’s wash, rinse, repeat…possibly for years until you have that “breakout book” and possibly for always.

As my dear friend and CP Lacey Kaye said to me in email yesterday, this business is not for the faint of heart. I’m not even sure it’s for the bold of heart.

You see, I was pretty upfront and honest with myself about the relative chances of getting a contract for this book. Now, I still happen to think it’s a good book, more than good enough for New York publishers, but I also knew going in that even good books don’t always get contracted, and for reasons that don’t have all that much to do with their quality. Just for example, Several editors mentioned, for example, that their historical lists were very full and they had very few slots to acquire for.

So, before the proposal went out, I told myself in no uncertain terms that I would not EXPECT it to sell. None of this “positive thinking” stuff for me, no sir! I knew it wouldn’t sell and if it did, it would be the rough equivalent of winning the lottery.

Now, I think it served me well that I didn’t have high expectations, but I’d be lying if I said I truly had no hope. I did have hope. I mean, if I really thought it was so bad it had no chance of garnering an offer, I wouldn’t have put it out on submission in the first place. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I’m not that big a glutton.

When I realized it was definitely not going to sell (which was actually the day before the last two rejections came in), I didn’t cry, but I came pretty close to it. And over the next couple of days, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to decide whether I’m cut out for this or not. Because if I could be that upset when my expectations were low, how could I put myself through it again and again? What would happen the next time a project I really loved was rejected? And the next and the next? My answer to myself was pretty much that I’ll be just as crushed and raw as I was this time.

So, am I hanging it all up? Honestly, I sometimes wish I could.

The problem is, I can’t seem to stop writing. I can’t seem to stop. It happens in my head whether I want it to or not. Even while I was grousing to myself about this whole gig being so not worth it, I had multiple stories and characters pop into being and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. It’s kind of like a disease. In a way, I’d love to be cured. In another, it would be the rough equivalent of excising a part of my personality and changing the essence of “me.”

So, chucking the towel probably isn’t a choice. But I did come to a couple of conclusions about how my own goals need to shift as a result of this experience. Maybe, if you’re also out there chasing that contract, be it the first one or the one after that or the one after that, something here will keep you from contemplating towel-chucking:

1) It’s not about the contract; it’s about the writing. You don’t stop being a writer just because you don’t pick up a contract for publication. You stop being a writer because you stop writing. Period.

I know this isn’t an original thought, but I came to the conclusion that I’ve been far too focused on landing that next contract and a lot less focused than I ought to be on writing a book that pleases me, regardless of whether it pleases anyone else. It’s also something I have to remind myself of over and over and over again. Because I will forget sometimes.

2) Bite the bullet and write the whole book before trying to sell it.

I’m not saying this because I don’t think I can sell a book on proposal. It’s just that, if it’s rejected by all the NY publishers, I’m left with a book I can’t sell to anyone else without finishing it first. That’s a dilemma, because while it could earn me some money with an epublisher, there’s no guarantee that it will be worth the investment of the time and writing resources to finish it when I could be writing something else instead.

I am in a bit of a quandary over UNASHAMED, the book we just shopped unsuccessfully. It’s about half written. I love the characters and I really want to see them through to their HEA. But I also don’t know if that’s a worthwhile investment of my time when I have dozens of other things I could be working on that haven’t made the NY rounds and been rejected.

In other words, while there’s no guarantee that anything else I write will sell to an NY publisher, there’s a 100% guarantee that UNASHAMED won’t. Do I write it anyway? Decisions, decisions…

Decisions I’d rather not have to make next time!

3) Rejections are neither bad nor good. They just are. Overanalyzing them will only drive you crazy, so just set them aside and move on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “Oh, but that’s a good rejection.” I’d be equally hard-pressed to recall how many times I’ve used those very same words with my writer friends.

Now I think there’s no such thing as a good one. There’s equally no such thing as a bad one (well, perhaps if the editor tells your agent to stick this writer’s garbage where the sun don’t shine, but I don’t think that happens too often).

A rejection is a rejection, period. It means you didn’t sell the book. It sucks. No amount of positive feedback can sugarcoat that, nor do any glowing comments about this or that aspect of your project mean that this editor is any more likely to offer for the next one than for this one. Ditto the editor who loathed the book and apparently thinks you should go back and read Novel-Writing for Dummies a few more times. There’s nothing to say the next project you offer up won’t be right up that editor’s alley.

So, don’t try to figure them out. Don’t second-guess the book you wrote and wonder what if you’d just done this or that differently. It will only drive you crazy and keep you from focusing on the next project.

And whatever else we can say about ourselves as writers, it’s that there’s always a next project.

Guest Author–Margaret Mallory

book jacket photo 5/7Happy Friday to you all!

Now that you’re here, pull up a chair and welcome Margaret Mallory today, author of Knight of Desire, which is hitting bookstores this very week!

Jackie: So, tell me a little about your debut novel, A KNIGHT OF DESIRE. What gave you the idea for the story and why did you choose to set it in the medieval period?

Hi Jackie,

Thanks for inviting me today.

knight_of_desire_revised_coverEarly on in KNIGHT OF DESIRE, I have a scene in which my heroine, Lady Catherine Rayburn, steps out alone onto the drawbridge of her castle to meet a group of men-at-arms. This drawbridge scene is what came to me first. The conflict between my hero and heroine grew out of this scene, and I built the rest of the story from there.

At the start of the story, my heroine has been spying on her husband—a violent man who is involved in treachery against the crown–and passing secret messages to her friend, Prince Harry. It is while her husband is off meeting with Welsh rebels that these rough men-at-arms gallop up to her castle gates. Since they carry the king’s banner, she cannot refuse them entry. Still, she is suspicious. After warning the guards to drop the portcullis behind her if she signals, she ducks under the half-raised portcullis and steps out alone onto the drawbridge.

Our hero, William FitzAlan, is among the men waiting on the other side of the moat. The king has granted him the castle and lands belonging to the traitor he defeated today in battle. His second prize is the newly-made widow standing on the drawbridge. Although he has dreamed of the achingly beautiful Lady Catherine for years, he knows better than to trust her. What kind of woman could share her husband’s bed for years and still betray him to his enemies? In what other ways did she betray her first husband?

Once this scene came into my head, I knew my story was a medieval. I love themes of honor and loyalty, so this was perfect. But when? What I wanted was a period mired in rebellion and divided loyalties. I love history, so researching a few centuries was the fun part. What luck for me that Henry Bollingbroke wreaked havoc by usurping the throne from his cousin. Shortly after he took the crown, he faced rebellions on both borders and conspiracies left and right. I’d found the year for my story: 1405.

Jackie: Wow, what a fascinating setup and opening for a story. And I love the way you “found” the time period for your story. One of the things I love most about writing historicals is getting an idea and then being able to find a time period and place when it actually could have happened. Those synergies between reality and imagination are just so much fun.
I have to admit, though, that I’d be terrified to write anything set in the medieval period. Can you tell me about the challenges that come with writing a story set in this period? Or was it all just much easier to research than I imagine?

I’d say one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the issue of young teenage girls being married off, often to much older men.  It just doesn’t sit well with the modern reader to see a thirteen-year-old married to an adult man of thirty or fifty.  I worked in the state children’s services agency for several years, so this sure looks like child abuse to me!  How I’ve dealt with it in this series is to have my heroine and hero get together AFTER the heroine’s first marriage.  Multiple marriages were quite common, which isn’t surprising with so many women dying in childbirth, men dying in battle,  and the big age difference you often see between spouses in noble marriages.  If you look at the family trees of historical figures from the time, you often see men and women widowed and remarried several times.  Henry VII’s mother, for example, outlived four or five husbands.   She was married at twelve the first time and was already a widow when she gave birth at thirteen. 

Jackie: Oh, good point! You know, now that you mention it, I remember reading quite a few medievals and or late Renaissance-set stories in which the heroines were in their mid-teens at the beginning of the story in the 80s, but you rarely see any books with very young heroines like that any more. I suppose since I WAS in my mid to late teens when I was reading those stories, it didn’t bother me, but now it almost certainly would. But at the same time, I do think those stories were more historically accurate in some ways.
So, tell me, what for you is the best part of writing a book? And what’s the worst?

The worst part is all the sitting!  And then there is not eating all day while I’m sitting, since I’m home alone with no one watching.  The best part is harder to say.  I spent many years at jobs where my days were filled with non-stop meetings.  As an introvert, I do like having a lot of time alone, living in the stories in my head.  Another thing I really enjoy is following characters through a series.  I’m finding that I become so attached to a younger character in my book that I want to give him a story of his own–and a happy ever after.  🙂 

Jackie: Hey, what’s wrong with sitting? Okay, well, aside from the secretarial spread, lol.
So, can you tell us a little bit about the next book in the series (like title, release date, etc.)? And maybe give us a preview of what you’re working on now?

I am very fortunate to have my second book in the series, KNIGHT OF PLEASURE, coming out just 5 months after the first.  The hero is Sir Stephen Carleton, who is the younger half-brother of William, the hero of KNIGHT OF DESIRE.  You’ll love Stephen.  He was such a charmer and so prone to trouble at twelve that I knew he’d make a great hero.  Much of this second book takes place in Normandy, where Henry V (Prince Harry in book 1) is busy reclaiming lands that once belonged to England.  Check out the cover on the book page of my website, because it is GORGEOUS.   Really, I cried when I saw it.

I’m busy working on the 3rd book in the series, KNIGHT OF PASSION, which is scheduled for release next July.  The hero of this one is Jamie Rayburn, who is a toddler in the first book and a teenager in the second  It’s been so fun to watch him grow up.  The heroine, Linnet, proves quite a challenge to him.  Oh, oh.  I’d better run soon, or I’ll never meet my deadline!

Jackie, thank you so much for having me as a guest.  It was fun!

Thanks to Margaret for guesting on the blog today and also for her generous offer to give a copy of KNIGHT OF DESIRE to one lucky commenter. Just leave a comment between now and Monday morning to be entered for a chance to win! I’ll draw a random name from the hat around nine am PST on Monday and notify the winner.

WTF Wednesday–Politicians Who Can’t Keep It in Their Pants

Okay, you tired of the RWA brouhaha? Me, too. Definitely time to give some other folks what-for!

I didn’t have a topic for today, however, until I heard that South Carolina Governor John Sanford, after being “missing” for several days, then reportedly hiking in the Appalachian Mountains, and then reportedly hiking in Argentina, admitted he’s been having an affair with an Argentinian woman for the last year. This, of course, comes on the heels of the admission of “family-values-lovin'” Republican Senator John Ensign’s affair. The list of other straying politicians is, of course, legion, and includes plenty of Democrats as well as Republicans.

Okay, so, here’s the thing. It’s not really that I care that much whether a politician is getting a little on the side. I mean, from a practical point of view, I don’t see that a politician’s marital fidelity has much bearing his effectiveness as a legislator/executive. It might make him (or her) a total jerk and a lying asshole, but it doesn’t make the person incapable of doing his job.

That said, I do care when the politician in question espouses holier-than-thou positions about morality and values, and then goes out and violates them withough, apparently, the slightest attack of conscience. That’s what’s always gotten to me with the various Republican bigwigs who’ve been caught in extramarital shenanigans; they want the rest of us to live up to standards they themselves cannot adhere to.

Even worse than the politicians, though, are the wives who stand beside them while they confess their sins and apologize to all they’ve “let down” with their behavior. (Actually, I think the only thing they’re sorry for is that they’ve been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.) I threw up a little in my mouth watching Eliot Spitzer’s long-suffering wife make sympathetic eyes at him during the news conference when he announced his resignation, and I couldn’t even bring myself to read the reports after John and Elizabeth Edwards were on Oprah.

So, I’m laying it on the line for the ladies. If your husband cheats on you and you stick with him, that’s your decision. But do NOT expect my sympathy for how you’ve been wronged. Because honestly, if you don’t pitch his sorry ass to the curb, as far as I’m concerned, you either don’t think you’ve been wronged or you don’t care that much. You’ve basically given him tacit approval to do it again…and again…and again. And chances are pretty good, he will.

Yeah, I’m talking to you, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And yanno, staying with the rat bastard was probably in your best interests. It’s just that I think you cared a lot more about becoming President than you did about where he puts his junk, so please don’t pretend otherwise.

Just sayin…WTF?

And I’m out!

P.S. I still love Bill Clinton. I know it is wrong, but…I can’t stop. Probably some sort of disease…

It’s All About the Pie

Every time the debate over the legitimacy of epublishers erupts within RWA (which it seems to do with frightening regularity of late), there’s always speculation about why the debates get so heated. Or, more accurately, why the folks who are published by ‘recognized’ publishers who offer advances that suit RWA’s guidelines get so fired up and snippy when epublished authors pipe up and say they’re quite all right with the “no advance, higher royalty rate” model.

I’ve heard a lot conspiracy theories suggesting that the outrage isn’t directed so much at the payment model as at the content of the books. Specifically, a lot of epublished authors speculate that the contingent that’s “out to get” them either a) hates “those books” (erotic romance) and/or b) thinks their books are just not good (which is why they haven’t been able to land a NY contract).

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t SOME of this attitude out there. But the reality is, I think, that most of the authors who are vocally in favor of RWA holding the line on its publisher recognition standards1 have far more personal reasons for holding their beliefs. I really don’t think they care that much what other writers are writing or whether it’s any good or not.

What they are fearful of is the possibility that their publishers will be the next to hop on the “no advance” train. And that hits them right in the pocketbook, which, let’s face it, is almost everyone’s most personal space. (To support this statement, I observe that authors, in general, are much more willing to share dirty secrets about their sex lives than tell you how much they earned on their last book! Talking about money is pretty much taboo in the publishing world. Which is a shame, because if we could actually ferret out a realistic picture of how much authors earn under each model, we wouldn’t be arguing based on assumptions.)

The authors who are accustomed to and have benefitted from the advance model are naturally wary of any payment structure that doesn’t guarantee them a minimum income stream for their work. They also believe, not without justification, that a larger advance translates into greater publisher support in the form of marketing, promotion, etc. If their publishers stopped paying up front for their work and didn’t have to guarantee a minimum rate of return on the sale of their books to make a profit, would they still put as much effort and support behind marketing and promoting it?

The truth is, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think anyone does. But I do think that whatever the model–be it an advance+royalties or royalties only–the publisher benefits when books sell well. This is just as true for e-only publishers as it is for traditional print publishers. The more copies sold, the better the publisher’s profit. Period.

Moreover, for traditional NY print publishers, there’s really no benefit to NOT marketing the books they put out because the profit model depends on volume–the more books are sold, the more profit there is to be made. Whether or not the author is paid in advance for the book’s content, the “packaging” of that content requires a significant upfront investment on the part of the publisher, and the publisher is going to make a better return on that investment if the book sells well than if it doesn’t.

So I don’t necessarily believe that if print publishers started paying authors on a model similar to that used by most epublishers, the result would be an abrupt change in the way those publishers market and promote their authors books. And those authors who are regularly hitting the New York Times/USA Today bestseller lists would almost certainly have the clout to continue to demand those six and seven figure advances. By the same token, it’s entirely possible that newer and/or midlist authors might actually find it beneficial to be paid based on actual copies sold (especially if the royalty percentage were higher and returns were somehow capped/limited) because the pressure to earn out the advance in order to get that next contract would be considerably less.

But of course, this is all just speculation. I think authors who are accustomed to receiving advances are frightened of the possible repercussions if the no-advance model becomes “legitimate.” And I can’t really blame them for that. It’s working for them. It’s what they know. Why would they want to risk lending approval to a different model with such an uncertain outcome?

Well, here’s why: Because that model doesn’t work for very many of RWA’s members.

Advances (and nice ones much bigger than $1,000) might be the way we’d all like to be paid for our work, but realistically, only a small minority of RWA’s 10,000 members have gotten multiple, advance-paying contracts from NY houses. I believe roughly 20% of RWA’s members are currently considered “published” by the organization, but the rules for qualification have changed enough over the years that there’s no way of telling what percentage of those members are still actively contracted by advance-paying publishers. (Right now, I am one of the 20% who qualifies as “published” but I’m between contracts. And I will continue to qualify as such whether I sell another book to a advance-paying publisher or not.) In other words, of that 20% who qualify as published, there’s only an even smaller subset of authors who are actively continuing to be contracted and paid under the advance model.

Which means that well OVER 80% of RWA members aren’t in any way benefitting from the “preferred” method of earning income on their writing. It is, in my estimation, 100% true that the “real” money in publishing is made by authors who write for the big NY houses and receive advances for their books, but it is also true that there is more money to be made in epublishing than in not being published at all. Whether it’s $20 or $20,000, the author who contracts her book with a reputable epublisher is earning 100% more income from writing than an author whose books are just taking up space on her hard drive. And to deny that is to be blindered to the reality that NOT EVERY BOOK and NOT EVERY AUTHOR is NY material.

It wasn’t that long ago that NY and a few small print presses were pretty much the entire pie when it came to publishing. If you couldn’t get a contract from those places, you were sunk. But now, we have epublishers making the pie bigger. One of the ways they’re able to increase the size of the pie is by publishing books that don’t have a market in NY but do have a market.

So rest assured, advance-receiving, multi-NY-contracted authors…those of us who epublish aren’t trying to steal any of your pie. We’re just taking our slices from a different part of the expanding pie. And that is something we should be celebrating, not denigrating.

Because a bigger pie means more for everyone, not just the limited, lucky few.
1RWA will only “recognize” a publisher and grant them workshop space and editor appointments at the National conference if the publisher pays a minimum advance of $1,000 on every manuscript contracted. This doesn’t mean that all publishers that DON’T offer an advance are considered vanity or subsidy publishers, or that authors who publish with them can’t be recognized as published under RWA’s rules. It’s important to understand this distinction, since confusion between PUBLISHER recognition and AUTHOR recognition is rampant and leads to a great deal more ill will.

Lo, What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks

So, after Saturday’s look into the statistical improbabilities involved in NY publishing, I first want to add a few caveats. Because, while statistics say a lot about how hard it is to get published in NY and stay there, they don’t say much about individual experience. In other words, statistics provide generalities, but assuming that they apply perfectly to you as an individual isn’t right, either.

Those numbers (some of which are validated and some of which are just my own best guesses based on my “insider” knowledge of having friends in the biz who’ve either gotten–or haven’t–multiple contracts) might make you think I’d just chuck the whole pursuit of another NY contract right out the window on the theory that it’s like playing the lottery, and there’s not much point in trying. (I do NOT, in fact, play the lottery. I always figure I win a dollar–or five or whatever the going rate is–by NOT playing. It’s 100% guaranteed rate of return if I don’t play.)

Getting a contract from a NY publisher isn’t really a lottery, though, any more than getting a contract from a epublisher is. (Epublishers don’t publish everything that’s submitted to them, either, though I believe one of the knocks against them by many outsiders is the perception that they can and will publish “anything.”)

But bottom line, the author does have a limited amount of control over getting that contract. There are no guarantees for any one project, but I do believe that honing one’s craft and keeping at it will ultimately lead to a sale–and then another and another. You just have to be willing to suffer a lot of disappointments and rejections before that happens. (Note: not all authors DO suffer those disappointments and rejections. There are a few geniuses out there–I count some among my friends–who could probably write the phone book well enough to go to auction with it. But we can’t all be those writers.)

So, no, I’m not anywhere near giving up on getting that next contract. I have a project on submission right now and, while I’m not counting on an offer for it, I’m still hopeful. But if that project doesn’t sell, my agent and I will sit down and discuss what’s next. Sooner or later, we’ll hit on the right combination of factors (story, voice, etc.) that snags that next offer. I have complete confidence in that.

But in the meantime, I would be foolish to overlook the opportunities epublishing presents for me to continue earning some income from my writing. For all the fantasticness of the “guarantee” of income an advance provides to the author, it’s only guaranteed AFTER you get an offer of publication. If you’re between contracts, it can be a long time before you see any guaranteed money, and until you get that next contract, everything you’re writing is earning you EXACTLY $0. Unless and until you sell something, you are guaranteed to be writing for free.

And that’s where epublishing comes in. I definitely draw a line in the sand between the projects I write with the intention of trying to sell them to a NY publisher and those I write with the intention of getting a contract from an epublisher, but I love the fact that I can write those shorter, slightly quirkier manuscripts and find a home for them where I can earn SOME income on those sales. To me, the possibility of earning even $50 on a story that (because it’s 25k in length or less) takes me relatively little time to write and that I wanted to write anyway seems considerably more sensible than thumbing my nose at the “unfair epub business model” and holding out for the “guaranteed” advance I may not get for months or even years.

Now, it would be a wholly different matter if I didn’t LIKE and WANT TO write stories that are a good fit for epublishers and a poor fit for most NY houses. In that case, I can see why it might be a waste of my time and effort to write for so little return on my investment. But the truth is, I enjoy writing those stories, I like the regular income stream they provide, and I am sure I get some benefit in terms of name recognition and new readers by putting out new stories on a regular basis.

Furthermore, if these were the only kind of stories I wanted to write, I imagine I might be perfectly content to be only epublished for the foreseeable future. And I could imagine a quite comfortable income from doing so, not because any one of those ebooks would earn as much as NY-published book, but because put together, my ebook backlist (once built to a certain level) could easily sell enough copies to approach the average NY advance. That’s especially true for writers who can reliably hit bestseller lists at the bigger epublishing houses.

I kind of forgot where I was going with all of this, lol, so let’s see if I can sum up. It seems to me that RWA is so focused on the “guaranteed income” provided by an advance that it doesn’t see it’s promoting a model in which the vast majority of its members will never see a dollar from their writing or if they do, they will work for years or even decades before they do and may have to work for years or decades for no pay BETWEEN those income streams.

I’m not saying epublishing is perfect. Anyone who is under that impression need only read my article on The Perils and Pleasures of Epublishing to understand exactly what I see as its pitfalls and potential problems. But it does offer a space for writers to grow their careers and their skills and, yes, earn a little income from their work, even if it’s less (or a LOT less) than $1,000 per title (and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times–a ridiculous amount to apply evenly to all works from 20k-100k words in length).

The advance model is definitely “better” than the no advance, high royalty rate model…for those whose books are selling to the publishers who provide those advances. But to demand that all publishers must offer a $1,000 advance to be “legitimate” or worthy of recognition is simply blindered, because it doesn’t recognize how few authors are actually able to consistently and reliably achieve sales under that model.

Tomorrow: It’s All About the Pie.

It’s a Hard Knock Life for Us

…or What RWA Would Rather You Didn’t Know about Publishing.

I hate math. But sometimes, it is very useful to illustrate a point.

  1. Getting an agent (or at least, a good, reputable one) is hard.

    Most estimates say agents offer to represent about 1% of the authors whose projects come across their desks. Realistically speaking, although there are many more than 200 reputable literary agents in the US operating at any given time, you probably only have about 200 out there who represent projects in your genre/sub-genre. It is, of course, entirely possible that the 200th agent will be the one who offers to represent your project. Still, statistically speaking your chance of getting an offer of representation from an agent on any given project remains 1%…you just get that 1% chance 200 times (and a 99% chance of rejection the same 200 times).

    Of course, that’s just per project submitted. Few authors write only one manuscript and rest their entire career hopes on that one book. If you keep at it and you work to hone your craft, the chances you’ll eventually snag an agent are probably close to 100%. But it takes time, effort, and perseverance as well as a modicum of talent and a lot of skill. Some people who want to be writers are lacking in one or more of these areas and, honestly, they’re the ones who account for 95% of the 99% of projects agents reject.

    But even if you’re a hardworking, talented writer, it can be a long time before you fall into the category of the 5% who get requests, let alone the 1% who get an offer of representation.

  2. Getting an offer for publication from an NY house is even harder. 

    Even if you have achieved #1, the chance that any given project you submit to an NY house will sell is small. Editors in traditional print houses say they offer contracts for publication to approximately .5% of the manuscripts they read. The percentages are probably higher for agented manuscripts than unagented, but there are also some houses you can’t submit to without an agent and those houses still have similar acceptance rates, so although you probably have a better than .5% change of getting an offer from one of the ten or so houses you’ll submit to through your agent, the chance that any single project will sell can’t be much more than 25%. And I’d bet that’s a generous estimate.

    Of course, as with agents, a pass on one project doesn’t mean you won’t eventually sell a different project. But even with a good, reputable agent, there are some authors who don’t ever sell a manuscript. Often, that leads to a break-up with the agent and starting over from scratch again.

  3. Getting one offer for publication doesn’t mean you’ll get another.

    It’s an article of faith among unpublished writers that getting that first contract for publication is the Holy Grail. Once you have it, you have credibility. You have been validated as an author. You have arrived. And now it’ll be comparatively easy to sell the next project. And the next. And the next.

    Ahhhh, how I wish it were true. The stark truth, however, is that selling the first project may be easier than the second (or the third, or the fifth). Because now, editors aren’t just looking at your book and whether they like the concept and the voice enough to take a chance on it. No, now they are also looking at your past sales figures. How did your last book do? Did you sell-through? Earn out your advance? Have a high rate of returns? Publishers are wary of taking a chance on an author whose previous books haven’t done well. You might get around this by taking a new pen name or just because you find an editor who loves this book more than life itself and is willing to put his/her reputation on the line for it, but the first is a pain in the neck and the second is even more unlikely than selling your first project was.

    I’m not trying to be a downer, here, but the realities are pretty stark. An author I know recently said she’d heard only 2-3% of writers get a second contract offer. Now, I’m not exactly sure what that statistic means. It might mean only 2-3% get an offer from their first publisher for the book that fulfills the option clause, and it’s probably not a lifetime statistic. But I certainly know plenty of authors who have yet to land second contracts (myself included, lol) and a fair number of others who’ve been cut by their publishers and have yet to find another house because their sales data showed no improvement over time or because WalMart didn’t order copies or any number of other factors totally outside the author’s control. I won’t name any of them, of course, because who wants to be associated with that sort of statistic, but face it…this business can be brutal, even to multi-published authors with a long track record, to say nothing of those of us newbies who are trying to break in and make a name for ourselves.

  4. Even authors who are successful in areas #1, #2, and #3 rarely earn enough money from their writing to call it a “career.”

     I won’t belabor this one, but an Author’s Guild survey has shown that the average income for a published author is $10,000 per year. And that is gross, not net. Agent’s fees and costs associated with promotion are not taken into account in that figure. 

    I believe that survey also showed that roughly 15% of authors make a sufficient income from writing not to have a day job, and another 5% earn enough to be the sole breadwinner for themselves and/or their families. The remaining 80% write on the side, and consider any money they make to be, at best, supplemental income. The ones who do make a living at it are often fortunate enough to have a spouse/significant other who earns enough to support the family during the author’s “lean” times, or are capable of writing quickly enough to juggle multiple contracts and/or put out three or more books per year.

    Now, that’s across all genres, not just in romance, and it’s possible that on average, romance authors do slightly better than that. But even if romance authors do, on average, twice or three times as well as that, it’s hardly what I’d consider “career” income, especially when the costs of doing business are taken into account.

So, why did I go off on this depressing little statistical rant? Well, because I’m tired of the mythology that surrounds traditional print publishing. Of course, this is related to RWA President Diane Pershing’s latest open-mouth-insert-foot into the question of advances and publisher recognition, but it’s more than that. It’s an honest attempt to get everyone to face facts.

Ms. Pershing is completely correct that most authors won’t earn $1,000 on a single work published by an epress. I think that’s absolutely 100% accurate. I know I have yet to do so, and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to admit that. Some authors certainly do earn that much and more, but it depends a great deal on many factors: the publisher, the genre/sub-genre, and the author’s name recognition/brand.

But at the same time, the notion that an author has somehow reached the Promised Land once she’s gotten a contract from a publisher that pays a $1,000 per book advance is equally flawed. I’ve just outlined all the reasons that’s not the case. Yet RWA’s policies on this matter obscure this fact and make it seem as though that advance means something objectively that it simply doesn’t. And it needs to stop, not just because it’s delegitimizing a huge chunk of RWA’s membership and a growing segment of the market its authors have for selling their work, but because it’s giving far too many unpublished members a much too rosy view of the real world of publishing.

WTF Wednesday–A HodgePodge

Well, I got to this so late today that I’m afraid all I can manage is a list of things that have made me say WTF at least once today:

  • The continuing fallout from the Iranian election fiasco. Let’s hope we see real change for Iranian people as a result of this. They deserve it. Otherwise, WTF?
  • Read an article today about the continuing overmonitoring/overcollection of Americans’ emails by the NSA. Including, apparently, President Clinton’s. (Well, I bet his emails are a lot more interesting than mine, actually.) WTF?
  • There are only two more days left before school is out and my kids are home all day. Wasn’t it just September? WTF?
  • There is no beer left in the house. WTF?

Please, feel free to share your own personal expression of the WTF’edness of life. We all need to vent every now and then!

TV Tuesday–The Closer

Happy Tuesday, everyone! As you may or may not recall, a couple of weeks ago I dubbed this day of the week TV Tuesday, and promised to spend it talking about my favorite shows and why I love them.

thecloserToday, I thought I’d do my homage to TNT’s The Closer, which stars Kyra Sedgewick as Brenda Lee Johnson, a Southern police detective with a reputation for getting her suspects to crack under questioning who has been transplanted to Los Angeles. (One of my favorite early episodes has Brenda trying to drive to a crime scene alone and getting lost because there are about a dozen different streets in LA with some version of Mulholland in their name. So true!)

The Closer isn’t a particularly new series–I’m sure it’s been around for three or four years now–but I only discovered it after it was into its third or fourth season. As soon as I did, I went back and purchased all the back episodes from iTunes, since I wanted to see it from the beginning. Along with House, I’d say this is the show that really brought me back to watching TV on a regular basis. Until I discovered these two dramas, I honestly thought TV had been lost to the reality show craze, and frankly, I hate reality shows.

So, what is it about this show that I love so much? Well, first, I’m a sucker for any type of mystery/police drama. That’s not because I like violence, but because I love the problem-solving. I prefer a story in which I’m learning “whodunnit” alongside the protagonists, rather than one where I know who the bad guy is with certainty from the outset. And I love when I get to the “aha” moment with the lead character, and realize at exactly the same point he or she does who the villain is. (Conversely, I hate it when I figure it out before the protagonist does, because then I wonder why the character is dumber than me, lol.) I think The Closer stands up well on this front–I’m usually right there with Brenda when it dawns on her who did it and/or how she can prove it.

But it’s really the character of Brenda Lee and Kyra Sedgwick’s masterful portrayal of her that keeps me coming back. The ensemble supporting cast of characters is also terrific–don’t get me wrong–but it’s Brenda I’m drawn to, and I think that’s simply because she’s not perfect. She’s smart and incredibly talented and driven, but she’s also a little too driven (to the exclusion, at times, of her loved ones) and more than a little neurotic and not always as diplomatic as she ought to be. In a lot of ways, I see myself in Brenda–or at least I want  to. Maybe I’m not as smart or talented as she is, but I’m at least as driven, and that leads me to make all the same basic mistakes in my own interpersonal relationships that she does (although perhaps not quite to her extreme). And I love Brenda for that, and for the fact that she is so flawed and yet, ultimately, cares deeply about the very people she so often hurts in her determination to get to the truth.

Musing on Monday: When Will I Make It?

I wasn’t going to post anything today, but then I read this fabulous post on Zoe Winters’ blog. (Don’t worry, I’ll be waiting for you when you get back from reading it.) A few minutes after that, I started chatting with one of my critique partners about how easy it is to fall into the trap of measuring your own success (or failure) by the yardstick of other writers’ successes.

Of course, we all know better than to do that, right? No one else is you, no one else writes your books (if someone else does, you’re either plagiarizing or have a ghostwriter, and either way, it means you’re not a writer), and no one’s path will be your path.

But the truth is, it’s hard not to feel a little bit of envy (or even a lot bit) when you see other writers achieving the type of success and recognition you so desperately crave. It’s doubly difficult to avoid when some of those writers are your friends, especially if they started writing and seeking publication at roughly the same time you did. It was easy to commiserate with each other over rejections. It’s much harder to congratulate those same friends when they’ve received great publishing contracts and are clearly well on their way to stardom while you’re still digging in the trenches, just praying you can land an agent, let alone a contract. (None of which is to say that said envy makes you not happy to see your friends’ successes. But I will say that I have seen more critique partner relationships break up when one gets a publishing contract and the other doesn’t. It just isn’t easy.)

So how does this tie into Zoe’s post? Well, she’s right. We all want validation. And we all probably have pretty much the same yardstick for validation–that is, that our writing is good enough for other people to want to read it. Or perhaps more accurately, good enough for other people to be willing to pay to read it. Whether you’re published by a big New York house, a small press, an epub, or even self-published, it comes down to having the sense that someone other than you values your writing. 

The problem is, for most of us, that goal of being valued by someone other than yourself is a moving goal post. At first, maybe all you want is for an agent to offer representation. It seems like that will be “making it.” But then, once you have an agent, the goal changes. Now you have to get an editor to like your book enough to publish it. But even when you get your contract, you haven’t “made” it, because now readers have to love it enough to buy it and recommend it to their friends and make you, if not an NYT bestselling author, at least a moderately successful one with good sales numbers so that your agent can sell your next book.

And man, it never ends. Wherever you’re at on the continuum, the goal post is always shifting and there’s always someone who’s “ahead” of you on the continuum. (Unless, of course, you’re Nora Roberts. But let’s face it, there’s only one of her.) Always someone who’s getting more love from editors, more love from reviewers, more love from readers.

So, how does one avoid this pitfall? Frankly, I don’t know if it’s entirely possible. And maybe a little envy is healthy. Maybe it makes us work harder, dream bigger, live larger.

But in the end, I think all writers (and artists of any stripe) have to come back to the place where “making it” isn’t defined by anyone or anything but our own satisfaction in having created a world we love in that place we call a book.

WTF Wednesday–How Twitter Will Be Ruined

Today, I just heard that Twitter appears to be imposing per hour Tweet limits of 50 per hour per account, even though the API limit is 100 per hour. (If you have less than 100 followers, I gather you are classified as a “small” account and only get 20 per hour.) If you exceed your 50 or 20 per hour limit, you get placed in the equivalent of TwitterLimbo, unable to send through any new Tweets for at least two hours.


Okay, I get that there are a fair number of Twitter spammers out there (although I’ve been blessed to encounter relatively few true spam messages through Twitter). I also know that Twitter gets overloaded from time to time and goes down because too many people are sending too many messages all at once. So I understand, in principle, the TwitterGods desire to prevent such problems by tamping down on the number of Tweets that come through on an hourly basis.

The problem is that such limitations, while they may reduce annoyances and downtime, fail to recognize Twitter for what it is–or at least, what it has become. I’m not sure the creators of Twitter fully appreciated what they were creating when they invented it. If you read their introduction to Twitter on the login page, it says:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

Oh Twitter, how little thou know thyself!

Those who don’t Twitter or who only use the function sporadically might be forgiven for believing this, and I know for a fact that my husband doesn’t “get” Twitter because he doesn’t understand how much more it is. And I have to admit, I resisted joining for months because I couldn’t figure out why it would be better than chatting with my buds in Yahoo IM.

Honestly, it didn’t take me more than a week to understand. Twitter’s power is in the end user’s ability to follow and interact with a network of people who share common interests in something very close to real time (especially if you use an API like TweetDeck which updates the feed automatically). True, you’re limited to 140 characters, but it’s amazing how complex a conversation you can carry on with a dozen or more people at once despite having to keep your statements brief and pithy. I’ve learned so much from my Twitter network in the month or so since I’ve joined, and have (I like to think) made many new friendships as well as strengthened existing ones.

So, given that I think the entire purpose of Twitter is to let people talk to each other and create new social networks by doing so, it’s obvious why I think limiting how much people can talk is counter to the very soul of what makes Twitter so much fun and so successful.

But it gets worse. Because I think that one of the reasons the TwitterGods are clamping down and creating limits is because Twitter is getting too big for its own infrastructure. And one of the reasons it’s getting too big is that there is so much media “buzz” around Twitter. I keep hearing in the news about Twitter. About how all companies will eventually “have to” join Twitter to market their products and respond to negative marketing news that comes through the Twitterverse (#amazonfail, anyone)? In the past two weeks, I can think of dozens of references to Twitter and its “power” as a corporate tool (including at least one report in which someone said GM should Twitter to help it recover from bankruptcy).

Okay, media, guess what? I don’t follow companies on Twitter. I don’t want to follow companies. I follow people. And if corporate marketing becomes the primary focus of Twitter, I’m out.

So please, for the love of all that is holy and Twitterific, restore our Tweet limits to their original, glorious 100 per hour and upgrade whatever you need to in the underlying software to make that work. And remember the prime directive–Twitter isn’t about promotion or marketing or sales; it’s about PEOPLE!