Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How to Get Your Novel Published

I've been writing this blog since 2013, and somehow I've never covered this topic. In all likelihood, it's because I assumed anyone who found their way to The Literary Mercenary already knew the answer to the eternal riddle, "how do I get my novel published?" However, I like to be thorough, so in the event you don't already know the answer to this question let me break it down for you.

Step One: Write Novel

First, Research Your Publishers

Before I get too much further, that caption isn't a joke. You can't submit a partially completed novel, and hope for the best. Your book needs to be done before you even think about sending it off somewhere. That doesn't mean you shouldn't eyeball the market to see who would likely be interested in your book once it's complete, but it does mean you shouldn't focus on selling a product you haven't finished yet.

Good? Good.

Anyway, back to publisher research.
So, the first place you're going to want to start is The Writer's Market. This book is put out every year, and it lists publishers both big and small. Every entry gives a description of the publisher, including what genres they're looking for, what times of year they accept books from authors, suggested word count, and it tells you whether they want you to submit your entire manuscript, the first 10,000 words, or just to send them a query.

It also tells you the most important piece of information you need; whether or not you need an agent in order to submit to a given publisher.

Second, Choose Which Publishers You're Going To Submit To

Once you've gone down the list, you need to pick which publisher, or publishers, you're going to submit your work to. Then, go to those publishers' home pages and check their guidelines (they're typically under the tab along the top that says "Author Guidelines"). The reason there's an "or" there, is because some publishers won't accept simultaneous submissions. Which means if you're going to send your book to one of them, then you have to wait until you get a rejection letter from them before you send it along to anyone else. Or you can submit your book to all the publishers who accept simultaneous submissions, and wait until you've exhausted those possibilities first.

If you prefer the shotgun approach.

Third: Submit and Wait

Once you submit your book, you typically have to wait four to six weeks to get a response. Generally, if you haven't heard back after 90 days, that's when you're allowed to query to see whether or not you've been accepted/rejected. While getting an email back saying you were rejected weeks ago is bad enough, sometimes you find out that after three months of waiting, the publisher in question never received your submission in the first place. Then you need to choose whether you want to send your submission again, and wait another 90 days before hearing back, or move down the list to one of your other potential publishers.

If all goes well, the publisher will write you back to say they're interested. If you sent a query, they'll ask for the first 10,000 words to get a feeling for your style. If you sent the first 10,000 words, they'll ask for the whole manuscript. Once they've read the whole manuscript you'll get an offer, or a refusal.

Once you have an offer, you'll be sent a contract. Review that contract carefully, make sure you're not getting shafted, and then sign on the dotted line. If the publisher says no, though, then you get to move down the list of potential publishers, and start the whole process over again.

What Was That About An Agent?

Literary agents are sort of like faeries; most people have heard the word, but they don't really have any solid knowledge of the creatures they refer to. So, if you didn't read Do I Need A Literary Agent To Get Published?, let me break their job down for you. A literary agent is someone who has connections in the publishing industry. Often they're a former editor, publisher, or even author, who can pick up the phone and do a direct pitch to a friend or business acquaintance at a publisher. The agent negotiates contract terms, and looks out for the author's interests. In return, the author agrees to pay the agent a percentage of royalties every time the publisher cuts a check.

Remember, you get what you pay for.
The only time you need a literary agent is if you're trying to submit to a big publisher, like Random House, which requires all writers who query them to work through an agent. This is typical of big publishers, who use agents as a way to filter through all the projects on the market so that only those considered worth fighting for make their way to the publishers' doorsteps. If the publisher doesn't state they require an agent, then you don't need one. You can still work with them if you do have an agent, but you don't need to piggy back into the club with one.

There is an ironic thing about agents, though; the more experienced (and successful) you are as an author, the less you need one. Agents offer the biggest benefits to authors who are just starting out, and those who are wildly successful. Authors who are new at the game gain access to an agent's network of contacts, and the power of the agent's negotiation skills. Authors who are already established can use agents as a great way to filter out junk project offers, and to make sure as much of the social aspect of the job is handled as possible, while they keep writing. If you already have a list of your own contacts (because you've published several books, attended conventions, and socialized with others in the industry), and you can handle your own affairs, then you can scoot by without an agent, more often than not.

The Self-Publishing Route

The other option you have is self-publishing your book. This is the only guaranteed way to get published. You write your book, format it, design and create a cover, and use a service like CreateSpace or Smashwords to put your book on the marketplace. It sounds easy, but trust me, it isn't. Not only are you now the author, but you're also the editor, format tech, cover designer, chief (or sole) marketer, and you need to sell copies of your book all on your own. It's a lot of work, but if you're willing to do that work, and mix in a pinch of luck, then you can make a living as a self-published writer just as surely as you can as a traditionally published one.

Hopefully that cleared everything up for anyone who was still confused about how the publishing process works. If you'd like to help support me and my blog, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and toss a few coins in my hat. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter so you can get all my updates?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Authors Need Discipline, Not Inspiration

It's the new year, and you've decided you're finally going to the gym. For the first few days, you're sweating like a champ. You're sore and achy from the muscles you haven't pushed since you were back in school, but you're pushing through. Then you start cheating. It's not that you don't still want to lose that weight, and get the body you've been talking about for years, but you'd have to wash your workout clothes, and get off the couch, and drive through traffic... and it just seems like it's not worth the effort. One day won't kill you, and you can get back to it twice as hard the next day. Then the next day comes around, and you find some other excuse. Then, before you know it, you've been paying for a gym membership you haven't used in six months, and you're wondering how you got here.

And that dream physique goes right back to being just a dream.
If you're wondering what any of this has to do with writing, replace "going to the gym" with "working on your book," and you're there.

Inspiration is Temporary, Discipline is Eternal

Don't get me wrong, inspiration is great. It's that shot of adrenaline that slams into your head, and makes all your synapses fire at once when you get a new idea. It's the excitement you get when you sit down to work on a new project. It's a drug that can leave you buzzed for a while, and make you feel great about what you're doing. When that high wears off, though, all too often your work ethic evaporates along with it.

I wonder where I could get some more of that...
This leads us to another problem; the serial starter. A lot of writers think that losing their enthusiasm means the project isn't ready, and they use that as an excuse to stop trying. So they put it down, and start work on something else that's grabbed their attention. These inspiration junkies comfort themselves by saying they'll get back to the first project once they find that fire again... but they won't. And then they hop from the second project to the third, the third to the fourth, and pretty soon they're surrounded by a bunch of introductions and starting chapters, with nothing remotely resembling a complete work.

You don't need inspiration to be an author. It's nice, and it helps, but it isn't necessary. To be an author you need to have the ability to sit down at the keyboard, focus your brain, and get shit done. Maybe you can only do a few hundred words per day. But you know something? If you put in 500 words every day (which is probably less than the length of this blog post), then that means you'll have a 100,000-word novel in 200 days. That's one novel a year. If you could keep this up for a few years, then you'll have a respectable stable of books to your name.

Now just imagine if you could write 1,000 words a day. That isn't much, but it would let you do two books a year. If, that is, you can grit your teeth, build up the discipline to put your ass in your chair every day, and add that much story without browsing the Internet, texting your family, and succumbing to the siren's song of whatever TV show you've been binge watching.

It sounds easy. Trust me, it isn't.

Making The Habit

If you haven't already gotten in the habit of writing every day, then it's going to take time. If you can make it through a month, you'll be doing well. If you can make it three months, you'll have the habit set. Do it for a year, and it's going to take more than a new season of Game of Thrones to make you skip a day.

Seriously, it's easier to say "no" with every death.
The gym metaphor is important to keep in mind, because if you've ever tried to get on a workout regimen, that's a lot like writing a novel. You know what you're doing, and you have a notebook that tracks your basic outline to help keep you on task. All you have to do is show up, and sweat. That's the part a lot of writers don't want to do, but you need to if you're ever going to finish something.

You think inspiration is addictive? Wait until you get used to completing a project. It will turn you into a fiend. Trust me.

As always, thanks for stopping in on this week's Craft of Writing update. If you'd like to help support me, and keep this blog running smoothly, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? As little as $1 a month can be a bigger help than you'd ever guess. Also, if you haven't done it already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to keep up with my latest releases?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Don't Create Content Faster Than Your Readers Can Consume It

Most of the time on The Literary Mercenary, I'm focused on authors. Those strange, mostly lone creatures who spend somewhere between several months and several years telling a story with their fingers, who then publish that story in order to tell it to the world at large. However, those of us who aren't blessed with a huge fan base and massive royalty checks likely supplement books with other forms of creativity. I, for instance, am a freelance RPG designer, I write articles on InfoBarrel, and I run two regular blogs in addition to a lot of other freelance work.

What I'm saying is that I create a lot of content. Which is why I'd like to pass on this simple lesson; try to balance the ratio of stuff you make, to the amount of promotion you can do for it.

If A Tree Falls In A Forest...

Well, fall might be the wrong word...
If you write something, you need to get the word out about it if you expect to put eyes on your work. We all know the way this game is played. You write something, you edit it, and then once you have it published, you promote it. You blast the links on social media, get your network to help boost the signal, and then you hope for the ripples you created to grow.

Now, the advantage of writing a book is that you can spread your promotion out. You can do giveaways, interviews, get reviews from bloggers, do signings, etc. In fact, you can promote a single book for months before the train starts running out of steam. The reason for that is because, generally, you release new books with a lot of time between them. Even truly prolific authors will only come out with a few books a year, without the help of ghostwriters. This is an advantage for you, as well as your readers, because they can only consume so much content so quickly.

With other mediums, though, it's easy to do too much. Fellow bloggers, I'm looking at you.

Finding A Balance

Now, writing a blog, or working with user-created content sites that pay you based on views, are good ways to develop a following, in addition to creating revenue streams. And, generally speaking, if you have a big archive of work, then you'll get more income. Which is why it makes sense to try and create as much content as possible, as quickly as possible.

Number of posts, times average views per post, divided by some root...
While it's true that you will get more views when you have a big archive of content, it's important to remember that you are going to get the biggest number of hits on an individual post or article during the debut period (sometimes you'll see peaks and valleys with popular pieces, but for every one of those you write, you'll have a hundred others who are slow and steady). Just like with a book, you will see the most action when it's shiny, new, and getting all your promotional efforts. However, unlike a book, you can feasibly write several blog entries, or articles, per day.

You shouldn't, though, for the simple reason that you'll quickly overwhelm your ability to promote.

I'll put some of this in perspective. On average, I write three blog entries a week (one here, and two on my sister blog Improved Initiative), and two to three InfoBarrel articles a month. That's between twelve and fifteen pieces of content, give or take. That doesn't sound like much, but it's important to remember that if you over-promote on social media, then you lose followers. On forum sites, it gets you barred. So you need to look at how much content you can realistically produce, and how much of it you can promote, and where. If your work starts falling through the cracks, chances are it's time to take your foot off the gas.

You can create additional content that you aren't actively promoting. It's even possible that, through luck and circumstance, content that you don't promote will catch someone's eye, and become a viral sensation. But that isn't as likely to happen as it is with content that you broadcast to your readers and followers.

In order to keep them happy, and make sure they spread the word about what you're doing, you need to ask yourself how much your readers can digest. Don't try to make them bite off more than they can chew.

As always, thanks for stopping in to check out this week's addition to the Business of Writing section. If you'd like to help support me and my work, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and help me keep producing the content you want to see. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Deadlines Are Really More Like Guidelines (If Your Publisher Didn't Set Them)

As most of my regular readers know, I'm no stranger to deadlines. When I started pushing my fiction writing career forward back in 2012, I was mainly submitting stories to anthologies. Each of those projects had a theme, a word count, and a submission date in order for my work to be considered. After two years of that, I got into a comfortable routine. I'd find a project I liked, spend a few weeks writing a short story for it, and while I let it cool, I'd get to work on the next piece. I'd edit the first story, send it to my betas, and have the next story almost done by the time the first one was submitted.

Nothing stops the machine.
It was a pretty sweet strategy, if I do say so myself. While not every story I wrote got accepted, a quick glimpse at my Amazon author page is enough to see I had a pretty good batting average when it came to short stories. However, after two years of publishing shorts, I decided it was time to get down to business. So I rolled up my sleeves, and got to work on a dystopian sci-fi novel.

I finished that manuscript, by the way, and I learned an important lesson while I was writing it. Unless the deadline is given to you by your publisher, or you've promised a really big fan following you'd be done by a certain date, then assigning yourself a deadline is just putting jump leads on your genitals for no reason.

Arbitrary Deadlines Are No Good For You, Or Your Book

I knew, in the front of my mind, that writing a novel was going to be hugely different from the way I'd been writing and submitting short stories. I knew, for example, that there wasn't a specific call for my book, and that I'd be playing publisher roulette when it came time to submit the manuscript. I also knew that, while there are general guides for word count, I had a lot more latitude with how long my novel could be than I ever did with how long one of my short stories could be.

Lastly, and most importantly, I knew in the forefront of my brain that I didn't have a deadline. But because I was so used to writing to a certain date in mind, I didn't feel right about starting until I'd marked out a finishing point.

Three days before the apocalypse ought to be fine.
I noticed as I was working along, though, that I was getting more and more stressed. This became particularly true whenever I hit a plot snag, and I had to delete the past two of three days worth of work in order to take the novel in a completely different direction. I was falling behind, even though it was impossible to fall behind, because there was no penalty if I didn't make the deadline.

Slowly, I began to realize something; books work on their own timetable.

This wasn't my first manuscript, but it was the first one I'd written after years of working as a one-man fiction assembly line. And while there were similarities between the two endeavors, the sheer scale of writing a novel rendered a lot of the hard-and-fast rules I'd been using for shorter projects irrelevant. In the end, I was adding new word count to the project every day, and I was working my way along the blueprint I'd created at the beginning. Did it really matter if I finished my novel in December 2015, or January 2016? Were a few days, or even a few weeks, going to make that big of a difference?

Not really.

Finishing a novel was, in a real sense, like deciding I was going to lose weight. If I went to the gym, changed my diet, and kept making my goals, I'd see the results I wanted. If I set an arbitrary goal to weigh a certain amount by the end of the year, though, then it's possible I would have done some unhealthy stuff just to meet the meaningless deadline. Cut out meals, overworked myself, lost water weight, all so that a number would be at a certain point at a certain date. The same is true with a book as with your body. The closer you get to that date, the harder you crunch, hoping to slide in by the deadline. However, ramming extra word count into your book, and rushing through the closing chapters so you can get to the end isn't going to do you any good. Worse, it's just stuff you're going to have to fix in the editorial phase anyway.

There's No Rush

If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. If you were building a house, you wouldn't just jam some plywood under the eaves, call it a wall, and be done with it. If you were building a car, you wouldn't spin the lug nuts halfway on, and duct tape the headlights in place just so you could finish faster. In much the same way, cramming in word count to reach a deadline that doesn't matter won't help you or your book.

Seriously, take your time.
Think of your writing like a weight lifting routine. Getting through the routine is important, but so is maintaining your form, and your control. If you sacrifice form and control you can get through it faster, but it's just going to hurt you in the long run. So take a breath, relax, and remember that unless your name is already on a contract, you've got all the time you need to get this done.

As always, thanks for stopping by to see what I've got to say. If you'd like to support me and my blog, then why not visit The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today? Also, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?