When to quit querying and self-publish

Books and fingersRejections are tough, and when they stand between a writer and his dream of getting published, the call of  the world of digitally self-publishing can start to echo louder and louder. But when is the right time to quit querying and self-publish?

We’ve all heard those stories of great books getting turned down by agent/editor after agent/editor then going onto success as a self-published title. There’s Lisa Genova, who spent a year getting rejections from agents for her novel Still Alice, then finally self-published (ignoring advice from an agent who said it would kill her career) and building the novel’s sales into such a success, the book was picked up and published traditionally by Simon & Schuster.

Then there’s Amanda Hocking, who sold $2 million worth of her self-published her YA novels, attracted the attention of an agent, signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press and has gone on to sell movie rights.

And J.A. Konrath, who was a traditionally published author before ebooks became viable, but has found much more success self-publishing his previously rejected novels than he ever did through traditional publishing.

Of course, these don’t represent the results for the typical self-published writer. Just like in the traditional publishing world, there are J.K. Rowlings as well as mid-list authors you’ve never heard of.

So, the question is, is self-publishing right for you? In an interview with WritingRaw.com, agent Eddie Schneider said he’s wary of writers who self-publish because it “implies that the author has poor impulse control.” But he goes on to say, “That being said, there are books that people (publishers and agents alike) just don’t get and have to be shown, by sales success, that they ought to get.”

In his keynote speech at the 2010 SCBWI summer conference, former publisher and now agent Rubin Pfeffer outlined the economic benefits for authors putting out their own ebooks.

Does this translate to: Getting rejections — just do it yourself? No. Absolutely not. Or maybe.

Rejections to query letters could mean a number of things: the query isn’t strong enough, the writing isn’t good enough, the story isn’t interesting enough, the characters aren’t developed enough. Let’s face it, plenty of us have sent out queries for a book we thought was ready only to look at it later and think it wasn’t.

Or the rejections could simply mean the agents/editors just think the book won’t sell, as in the case of Still Alice. With form-letter rejections and no-response policies, it’s hard to say what your specific rejections mean. So, this is where the hard work and gut come in.

Before you quit querying and consider self-publishing, think about these:

  • Have you worked your novel over and over until the plot is brilliant, the characters come alive and the writing is spectacular?
  • Have you gotten feedback from critique groups?
  • Have you gotten feedback from a professional editor?
  • Have you given yourself time away from your novel and then come back to it with a fresh eye?
  • And, do you believe in this story? Truly, deeply, you’ve said yes to all the above and you really believe in this story.

If your answers to all the above are yes and you’re thinking about quitting the querying and self-publishing, consider this:

All the success story writers I’ve mentioned here worked hard not just writing their book, but also marketing it. As a self-publisher, you’re not only the author — you’re responsible for sales too. So, you’ll have to drum up attention in the online bookstores, get reviews, get interviews, build a buzz. And sure, nowadays, even traditionally published writers have to do the same, but they have an easier time getting reviews and notice just for having that publisher’s name behind them. And after all that marketing and building a following, you’ll have to write more books and market them, etc. It takes hard work, discipline and lots of passion. And success won’t happen overnight.

If you choose to go the self-publishing route, to be successful, you must treat it as any traditional publisher would. That means, get a good book cover, write great promotional copy and — most important — hire an editor. I suggest hiring a good content editor as well as a good copy editor.

Content editors will help with plot, character, tension, show you where you need to build up the action and when to add more description. Copy editors will make sure you have your commas in the right place, that sentences aren’t awkward, spelling and grammar is correct (your word-processor spell-check won’t catch the difference between “they’re” and “their”). Traditional publishers have a main editor for a book and a team of copy editors who go through the manuscript word by word. Even they miss mistakes occassionally, but you want your self-published novel to be at least as professionally produced as theirs. So hire good editors. That could be the best money you spend.

Is it time to quit querying and self-publish? That depends on the writer. Agents sign new clients every day, and Publishers Marketplace lists lots of book deals for debuting authors. It just takes one Yes, and the next query you send out could be the one. But if you think you have what it takes to produce a quality book and market it yourself, today’s technology has made it more accessible than ever.

Whatever you choose, don’t stop writing.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Image source

How to install IndieBound Reader on Kindle Fire

Kindle FireMy wonderful husband surprised me with an Amazon Kindle Fire under the Christmas tree this year. Before Christmas, I had heard some disappointing things about the Fire, but the biggest one — that Fire users can’t buy ebooks from independent bookstores — turns out to not be true. Great news for anyone who has already invested in a Fire or got one as a gift.

I had heard that Amazon had closed its Kindle to outside bookstores, forcing users to only buy ebooks from Amazon. I dislike Apple and its closed ITunes system for the same reason, but it turns out that the reports about Amazon aren’t quite accurate.

For any tablet, to buy ebooks from independent bookstores, you need to use the IndieBound Reader app. (The bookstore you want to buy from must be a member of IndieBound and make their inventory available through the IndieBound Reader app, so check with your favorite indie bookstore.) While the default settings for the Kindle Fire don’t allow the installation of apps that are not in the Amazon Store, including the IndieBound Reader app, there’s a quick and easy way to allow your Kindle Fire to accept these outside apps.

Here’s how:

1. In your Fire, click on the Settings icon, the gear-looking symbol in the top-right corner, then click on More… in the drop-down menu.

2. Scroll down to Device and tap it to open those options.

3. Near the bottom, you’ll find “Allow Installation of Applications.” Change that from OFF to ON. You’ll get a warning that says that installing apps from unknown sources can be dangerous for your security. Tap that you accept that. (You should always be careful about what you install and install only apps that you trust, like the IndieBound Reader app.)

4. Tap the Home icon in the bottom-left corner, then Web in the menu at the top.

5. In the URL field, type: http://www.indiebound.org/reader.

6. Tap the “Download IndieBound Reader for Android” button near the bottom of the web page. It will look like nothing has happened, but tap the Menu icon at the bottom (the only that looks like a page) then tap Downloads.

7. In the Downloads menu, you should find IBReader-1.1.apk. If it’s not there, tap the back button to go back to the IndieBound web page and hit the download button again.

8. In Downloads, tap the IBReader-1.1.apk file and a menu will appear asking if you would like to Install or Cancel. Tap Install.

9. That’s it! Now you can go back to Home and you’ll see the IndieBound Reader icon, a big white i in a red square. It’s also accessible in your Apps menu. Tap the IndieBound Reader icon and follow the instructions. You can choose the independent bookstore you would like to buy ebooks from then shop away.

To test it out, I bought Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark & Grimm. It works perfectly. The setup is a little difficult if you just want to browse, but if you already now what book you want, you can search for it. And you can’t read a sample, like you can with Amazon, but you do get the book cover and a brief description.

One point! Ebooks bought through the IndieBound Reader can only be read with the IndieBound Reader. So you won’t find them in the regular Books area on the Fire. To access the books, open the IndieBound Reader app and you’ll see them in the Books menu there.

The IndieBound Reader isn’t quite as smooth a reader as Kindle’s, but it works fine and allows you to support your local bookstore, which is always a good thing.

Thanks go to Tech & Trend, whose article helped me figure out how to easily allow outside apps to be loaded onto the Fire. Tech & Trend’s article recommends you look for apps at 4Shared.com. I tried to find the IndieBound Reader there but couldn’t. But going straight to the source worked perfectly, so follow the instructions I’ve listed above.

Library Phantom and ebooks

KindleHave you heard about the Library Phantom? If not, read this article on NPR. In a nutshell, an anonymous woman has been creating amazing sculptures out of old books and leaving them in libraries in the U.K. “In support of … books, words and ideas,” wrote the artist.

While it seems a shame to tear up an old book, there’s no denying that if an old book is going to have a new life, it would love to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or a street scene with a moon, or a gorgeous wren with puffed up feathers.

This artist obviously loves books, allowing the old yellowing pages to tell a new story through sculpture. And then placing her artwork in the places that love books the most: libraries.

Reading this article made me feel nostalgic for libraries and printed books. This is premature, of course, as there are still plenty of both, but with the popularity of ebooks on the rise, the future is going to look much different.

I loved going to my local library when I was a kid. I still remember walking in, shaking the snow off my boots and pulling my hands out of my mittens (my memory is in winter, for some reason) so I could choose a new book to read. Seeing all those books on the library shelves, I felt like the Book Thief. So many choices. So many stories. I couldn’t wait to read them all.

In 20 years, how many physical libraries will be left, where young readers will be able to stare up at the shelves in awe? How will an inspired artist be able to sculpt a bee-colored glove out of a Kindle?

For all my nostalgia, I am a fan of ebooks. Ereaders save trees, and the production of ebooks is less expensive for the industry, which can allow more books to be published. On a practical side, ereaders are great for traveling (I bought my busy traveller dad a Kindle last year so he could stop lugging around 10 books with him every trip) and for the gym (one of the reasons I’d like to get an ereader one of these days).

And ereaders have encouraged gadget-loving former readers to come back to books, which is the best news of all. With their interactive capabilities, ereaders are going to allow authors and publishers to reach new levels with books, and that can only help reluctant readers to discover a love for stories.

It’s a new future and good things are coming. I only hope that libraries and paper books will still be a part of it.

Self-publishing and ebooks

Going into the Austin SCBWI chapter’s annual conference this weekend — it was great, by the way — I was curious to find out how middle-grade novels are selling in ebooks, as that’s what I write. I’ve seen lots of articles in the Publishers Lunch enewsletter saying that ebook sales are rocketing in adult books and even taking off in young adult, but I suspected that middle-grade was behind. According to Egmont‘s Elizabeth Law, I was right. She said they’re not seeing noticeable ebook sales in middle grade.

Anathema book cover

Megg Jensen's self-published YA novel Anathema

Even though MG is slower to this technology, it’s great to see ebooks being embraced so quickly. As I wrote in January, sales of ereaders were stellar for the Christmas season, with many places selling out. Although I still love — LOVE — physical books, whether a book is printed on paper or eink, it’s still a story. And if this new technology is enticing more readers to stories, that can only be good.

The new technology also is changing the publishing landscape. With ebooks, it’s easier than ever — and less expensive — to self-publish books. Author J.A. Konrath has written about this extensively on his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog. He had gone the traditional route before he started publishing his books on his own as ebooks, but he gives good arguments of why that doesn’t matter. YA author Amanda Hocking is an example, selling more than 185,000 ebook copies of her self-published novels.

Now, I’m not saying all writers should stop submitting to agents and editors of traditional publishing houses and go it alone. There are definite advantages to being signed by an agent and getting your work published by someone else. Let’s face it, most writers are not so great at the business end. And throwing an ebook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever doesn’t automatically mean it will sell; there’s marketing, publicity … oh, and the book should be good (editors are invaluable) or repeat sales won’t be much.

But the advent of ebooks has made it easier for writers to take the publishing of their work into their own hands, and blogs and social networking make it easier to build publicity.

YA author Megg Jensen is trying just that with her novel Anathema. And so far, it looks like she’s off to a great start. The book launched on Tuesday, and as of Wednesday, she had already sold 50 copies. She’s hosting a contest right now where people can guess how many books she will have sold by March 11, and the main prize? An ereader. Now that’s what I call promoting future business.

What do you think? Would you be willing to read a book if it’s self-published, either in print or as an ebook?

Write On!

Going digital

KindleHappy New Year!

It’s a new year, and, now that I’m finally starting to settle down after my monster move, I’m back on Day By Day Writer. I’m excited and pledge that I’ll be with you at least three times a week.

So, with the new year comes good news and bad in the publishing industry: Borders is still in financial trouble and delaying payments to vendors in a short-term effort to fix things. But on the upside, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble reported strong sales of their ebook readers, the Kindle and Nook, respectively. Amazon says 2010 Kindle sales were at more than 8 million units, with B&N claiming “millions” of Nooks were sold.

I can attest to this, as I had a hard time finding one this Christmas.

Although a paper-book lover, I definitely see the benefits of going digital. Aside from the obvious benefit to trees, e-readers are great for avid readers who travel a lot. My father is one of those. He makes long trips a few times a year, and on those trips, he carries a good four or five, maybe more books. And I’m not talking about little thin books. When he left my house a couple days ago after the Christmas and New Year holidays, he left with me the James Bond Union Trilogy — a three-book pack — because it couldn’t fit in his suitcase. He had another three books already in there!

For people like my dad, an e-reader, at a little more than 8 pounds for the Kindle, is a great idea. And although we had had conversations about how we both preferred the feel of paper, I took a leap and bought an e-reader for my dad for Christmas. After much research, I chose the Kindle, but both Best Buy and Target — all my local stores — were completely sold out of the devices when I was shopping, proving their popularity. Amazon happily sent one my way, however, and my dad was surprised and pleased. A gadget lover, he quickly loaded it up with his favorite books, and I caught him reading his Kindle on the couch a few times before he left. Next time he flies across the world, his suitcase will be a lot lighter, but he’ll be able to carry with him many, many more books to enjoy.

The popularity of e-readers is great news for publishers and us writers. Book sales have been waning the last few years. But, if people like their e-readers, they’ll want books to read on them.

And good books are good stories no matter whether they’re printed on paper or e-ink.

So, this year, keep up the writing. E-reader lovers need more stories.

Write On!

Editor Nancy Feresten on the future of publishing

Revision update: Still on chapter 22 of 30, thanks to a car that needed an alignment and wheel balancing (why do these things take so long), laundry and some others. Don’t you hate the way the nitty gritty of life gets in the way of your writing? 🙂 I’ve got eight chapters to do this weekend to keep my goal, and I’m thinking I won’t make it. But I’m going to try.

In my fourth report from the Houston SCBWI conference, National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten talks about the future of publishing.

If you missed my earlier reports, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself; Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talked about making your query letter package stand out; and Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talked about what makes a great book.

First off, Nancy said that National Geographic has become one of the few major publishing houses to reverse its policy of not accepting unsolicited queries from writers. She said she wants to hear from writers, which is why they’ve opened their doors again. But, she said their team is too small to respond to every query, so they have instituted a policy that they will only respond if they’re interested in your work.

Nancy tackled the subject of the publishing itself, and she had some interesting things to say. Quoting a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Nancy gave these stats:

  • Kids spend 7.5 hours a day with some kind of media, up from 6.5 hours a year ago.
  • They spend 38 minutes a day out of school time with some sort of print media (books, magazines, comics).
  • Most of their time is spent with TV, over videogames, music and movies.
  • Over the past five years, time spent reading books is up, whereas magazines is down.
  • Girls read more than books, which has been a constant in the study for years.
  • If a child watches a lot of TV, that does not correlate with a drop in reading unless the child has a TV in his or her bedroom.

This shows that kids are busy, but as Nancy said, “Our big challenge is to figure out what they want to read.”

She said that studies show that being smart is now more important to children than being popular, a switch from past years.

In non-fiction, children want facts, photos, true unexpected stories and to laugh and have fun.

To that end, National Geographic is looking to publish:

  • Serious reference books that are fun and educational. They’re looking for writers and illustrators for this on a work for hire basis;
  • Innovative narrative non-fiction that are smaller stories, potential award winners. They’re accepting proposals for this, but again, will only respond if they’re interested;
  • Fun reference books, which offer photos, facts and fun at a low price. These will be written on a work for hire basis.

With all the new technology available now, with ebooks, etc., Nancy said the market is changing, but challenges bring opportunities.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both print and digital, but she sees a future when the best of both will be combined for a different kind of market than one we know now. Children will have their own ereader, which will be big enough to accommodate the beautiful pictures in children’s books. Families will go to libraries and see print-on-demand version of books, choose the ones they like best and download them to the child’s ereader. These type of ereaders also will be useful in classrooms, with children having less to carry, and teachers being able to make changes to textbooks as they go along.

No matter how technology changes, however, Nancy emphasized that it will be up to writers to create the future. Children will always want good stories, information and fun. Writers will be the ones experimenting with the best ways to use the new technology to tell these stories in the best ways possible.

Sounds like a great future. What do you think about the future with ebooks?

Check in tomorrow for my final report from the Houston SCBWI conference, with literary agent Sara Crowe.

Write On!

Mark McVeigh on publishing

I spent my Saturday at the fabulous Austin SCBWI conference, which offered a great lineup of speakers. Over the next week, or as long as it takes to cover them all, I’ll post what I heard.

Literary agent Mark McVeigh

Mark McVeigh

First up is literary agent Mark McVeigh, who has his own agency, The McVeigh Agency. Mark knows something about children and the children’s literary industry. He taught sixth grade for four years and was in editorial at Golden Books, Scholastic, Random House, HarperCollins, Dutton and as the editorial director at Simon & Shuster’s Aladdin imprint. There’s a great interview with Mark at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog.

Mark gave a candid but encouraging talk about the current state of the publishing industry. “There is good news,” he said, explaining that the industry is in a time of transition.

Middle-grade, early chapter books and young-adult are on the verge of breaking out in digital books, he said, adding that he thinks people will ultimately make more money and sell more books in digital. He buys e-books himself, and said that if he likes it, he also buys the hardcover to have on his shelf.

He encourages people, if they can afford it, to buy books, whether digital or print editions, to keep the industry going.

That said, he’s still busy. Mark was late to his presentation because, he admitted, he was working on his speech in another room. He explained that he has been getting up at 7 am and working til 3 am.

He advised that, especially now, writers need to defend their muse. “Rejection is not necessarily a reflection of your work,” he said, pointing out that good books are getting turned down right now because publishers feel that they can’t afford to take any chances.

To defend your muse, he said, be true to your writing. “I want clients who are warriors,” he said. Be brave. And, he said, write every day.

He also said to have tough love in critique sessions and choose writing friends carefully with an eye toward learning to get better.

He suggested writers keep up with what’s going on in the industry, for example, by reading Publishers Weekly, and network at conferences and online, through blogs and community forums. He even said writers can make a name for themselves by creating and posting videos on YouTube, whatever it takes to make yourself known.

Other advice Mark offered:

  • Sign with an agent because publishing houses are becoming less and less inclined to buy from writers who are not agented.
  • After they’ve got a deal, writers shouldn’t turn down paperback original. Despite the fact that some reviewers still refuse to review paperback books, people are buying paperbacks more than any other format right now. “Genius will show through no matter what the format,” he said.
  • Have a good lawyer read your contract.
  • And most of all: “Keep working on your craft.”

Great advice.

Tomorrow, Andrea Cascardi with Transatlantic Literary Agency.

Write On!

Synopsis helpful links and iPad impressions?

Manuscript update: Buried in query letter and synopsis writing hell.

Yesterday, I promised more on synopsis writing today, so here goes.

I went through this already with my first novel, but when I sat down to write the synopsis for my second, I felt like a toddler on uneasy legs. So, I did my favorite procrastination activity: Research. (Just kidding about the procrastination activity. Research is incredibly important and useful and helpful, but I will admit that sometimes I can be a little more meticulous than I need to be when I’m avoiding the writing I should be doing.)

In my research, I found some cool links on synopsis writing, ones I hadn’t found in my original research. Share time:

  • How to Write a Synopsis: Marg Gilks explains why working hard to write the best synopsis possible is necessary (because it’ll be used as a sales tool by your agent and editor) and offers up some good tips on how to write a brilliant one, such as starting while you’re doing the final read of your manuscript.
  • How I Write a Fiction Synopsis: Diana Peterfreund, an admitted lover of synopsis writing (she has to be in a minority there), details how she writes a synopsis—before the book. And she defends herself against all the writers who gasp and think she’s crazy. It’s a fun and thought-provoking read.
  • Writing the Fiction Synopsis: Diana Peterfreund points readers to Kathy Carmichael’s online synopsis workshop, which has some very useful tips too.
  • Synopsis Samples: Charlotte Dillon provides a huge number of sample synopses, most for romance books, but the great thing is, these are synopses that got the said books sold, so they’re priceless no matter the genre.

Got any others you want to share? Paste them into the comments.

And now onto the big news of the week, Apple’s iPad. Sure it sounds all ooh and ahh, but, call me sentimental, I’ve got a special place in my heart for Amazon’s Kindle because it came first. (Not that I own one. I’m still in love with paper and ink.)

Also, I’m not big on the idea of one device taking over the world. I have an iPod — like everyone — but I was THRILLED when Amazon started selling music downloads with no digital rights management that can play on any device. For that alone, I started buying all my music from Amazon instead of iTunes, and the fact that the prices were cheaper didn’t hurt either.

From what I’ve read, DRM for the iPad hasn’t been revealed yet. But with all those major publishers on board to offer their books on the device, I really hope Apple isn’t being too greedy and is playing nice with the industry by allowing ebooks downloaded through iBooks to be read on any player.

What do you think? Future? Gimmick? Scary? Exciting?

Here’s a quote from the New York Times blog posted live from the Apple announcement:

“Isn’t this awesome?” Jobs says. It is, but everything looks good on stage. Nothing ages faster than the future when you get it in your hands.

Very true. What’s next?

Write On!

Winnie the Pooh on Nintendo DS

Done today: Chapter 1 (four pages)

Revision remaining: 165 pages

Daily pages needed to be finished by end of November: 3.5

Finally got down to some good revision this morning. Phew! Does it feel good to be working with the book again.

We’ve read that children’s books have been doing better than some other segments in this recession. Borders even took floorspace from CDs and DVDs to expand children’s books. However, in today’s culture, kids have so many more things calling out for their attention, and the most popular is videogames.

That’s why I LOVE what Egmont is doing. Britain’s Telegraph reported that Danish publisher Egmont (which has a U.S. division, Egmont USA) has signed a deal with EA Games to put children’s books on Nintendo’s DS handheld videogame console. The Telegraph reports that Penguin is involved in the deal too.

The ebooks will be known as Flips and will include Enid Blyton books (a favorite of mine was I was a tyke) and boys’ book Too Ghoul For School.

Egmont owns the rights to Winnie the Pooh (still a favorite of mine), the Mr. Men series (I love Mr. Tickle!!), Thomas the Tank Engine, Wallace & Gromit and Rupert the Bear, so I’d guess it’s only a matter of time before these are on the DS too.

Ereaders and ebooks have been gaining in popularity. The blogosphere and Twitter have been all, well, atwitter with discussions about them. Are they the future? Who knows. I personally don’t think paper books will ever go away completely, but maybe that’s my nostalgia talking.

But the interesting thing about ebooks is the opportunity to attract kids. Kids lock onto gadgets and new technologies faster than anyone, and what better place is there for a book than a handheld videogame console kids carry around all the time?

The key is making the ebooks as fun as the videogames, which could be a challenge with so much less interaction in a book. In the Telegraph article, Egmont’s Rob McMenemy said ebooks won’t be popular with kids until they have color and moving imagery. The Flips will have an interactive element.

I think he’s right. And my hope, is that kids who gain a love for these moving, interactive ebooks will grow up to enjoy the paper kind — or at least regular old digital kind — of stories only books can deliver.

What do you think? What’s the future?

Write On!