Decide WHY You Write … THEN Decide How and How Much

If you think it unlikely that an op-ed on the topic of literature could raise the hackles (i.e., pitchforks) of those reading said article, you might be surprised.

As a writer who’s contributed, and had shared worldwide, reams of political, social, and artistic commentary over the last decade, appearing prodigiously on sites like The Huffington PostAOL NewsAddicting InfoShelf PleasureIndies UnlimitedWomen Writers Women[s] BooksindieBRAG, and others, I felt I had a good sense of which topics predictably stirred the ire of the masses: anything on gun reform, religious debate, LGBT issues, partisan politics, even home schooling, seemed ripe for rage. When I bit into any one of those, I did so fully girded for the onslaught to follow, poised for frothing emails, seething comments, and social media shares that inspired further froth and seethe. It came with the territory.

What I didn’t expect was to have my all-time most incendiary piece—the one that triggered the greatest volume of hate mail and trolling comments, countless responding articles ripping me a new one; ad hominem attacks about everything from my hair to my name to my bio to where I live, and, to this day, occasional snipes at my character—to be an article suggesting to self-published authors that quality ought to trump quantity in deciding how much to write.

“Dear Self-Published Writer: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year” (yes, there was some intended click-bait in the title) was a piece I wrote several years back in response to an instructive tutorial I’d found astonishing, one in which a “publishing expert” provided a list of “the ten best ways to be a successful writer” and her very first, her #1 suggestion, was: “write at least four books a year.” This was not qualified or offered with any caveat about making sure those books were expertly crafted, vigilantly edited and formatted, or beautifully designed and produced; no, just, “write four books a year.”

Corresponding comments under her piece, as well as comments shared in writers’ groups discussing these output suggestions, came with mountains of anxiety from writers struggling to get even one book done a year, much less four. But beyond the myriad emotional responses, I felt a certain misguidance was being promoted, one that adversely skewed what a writer’s priorities should be.

As a self-published author myself, and, perhaps more importantly, a reader of many self-published books, I had already been disappointed by the quality of far too many books crossing my path—poorly written, sloppily edited, amateurishly designed—and wanted my fellow self-pubbers to raise the bar, to take this new freedom-to-publish as impetus to demand the absolute best of ourselves, creating work that would position us favorably against any traditionally published author, burnishing opinions and easing stigmas ascribed to self-published work as a whole. So the idea, then, that an “expert” would blithely push self-pubbed writers to focus more on output than input felt anathema to me.

My article conversely (and, apparently, perversely) suggested that quality should always trump quantity in the debate about volume, and given the time and focus standardly required to produce qualitybooks, I posited that cranking out 4+ “quality” books a year would be a challenge for most writers, and, therefore, should not be prescribed as the “#1 way to be successful.”

“Off with her head!” they shouted.

The excoriation sparked by my thesis came largely from self-pubbed writers who clearly did write 4+ books a year, clearly did feel confident they’d met any quality demands, and clearly did take umbrage at my implications. OR it came from those writing 4+ books who’d prioritized sales over criticism of their books’ lack of quality. Or it came from self-pubbed writers who were just annoyed that someone (me) would suggest the self-pub market needed a standards upgrade.

But it was also because I hadn’t considered an essential precedent question: why are you doing this in the first place?

In my insular, perhaps myopic, worldview on the topic, I’d based my thesis on two things: 1.) The many comments shared by a large contingent of authors who didn’t appreciate or agree with the pressure to write 4+ books a years, and 2.) My own sense of why anyone writes and best practices in how that should be implemented. That second part is where I went wrong.

Because I’d made the (incorrect) presumption that all writers are driven to write and publish because they must write, and they want to write high quality books that can sit on a bookshelf next to any Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times bestselling, positive review inspiring book without standing out as “less than.” That, even if one self-publishes, the goal—the non-negotiable criteria—is to produce and publish a book that, regardless of subjective likes or dislikes, is unassailable in terms of quality.

Turns out my presumption was just that: a presumption. And one I was quickly disabused of in the torrent of response that followed. Below is just a snapshot of some of the nicer comments flung my way (you’d think I was lobbying for child labor or the repeal of Christmas):

1. “I guess you’re rich, but most writers need to make a living and going for Pulitzer Prizes is a luxury we can’t afford.” (I’m not rich.)

2. “I write up to seven books a year and, sure, they may not be masterpieces, but my readers love them and have been more than happy to pay for them. Hah, it looks like you’ve only got two.” (Yep, just two so far.)

3. “Not everything needs to be a masterpiece. Maybe you’re picky.” (Sorta?)

4. “I don’t have time for that kind of quality. I’d rather deal with self-publishing stigmas than never make a penny.” (Hmmm…)

5. “No one in self-publishing is going to listen to her anyway. Elitist bitch.” (Ouch.)

Clearly what I’d left out was the (obvious) reality that not all writers operate with the same set of rules, have the same goals; are working with the same agenda, hold to the same standards, or prioritize their output the same way.

So, OK… what do we do with all that? Where do we go from there? How does any of that apply in terms of the persistent questions, “How much should I write?” and “How many books are expected of me in a year?” It’s said that things don’t really kick in until after your third book (I’m counting on that… my third is out next year!), and building your library really does give you a more powerful marketing position, so those remain good, valid questions to consider. Answering them requires that you sort out these two tasks first:

Figure out why you write.

It sounds so simple but it really is the crux of the matter. If your reason for putting words into form is that you have stories that demand to be told; memories that must be memorialized; imagined scenarios that clamor to escape from your brain into colorful, cohesive narrative, that’s why you write.

If your desire to write is based on the conviction that you can make money putting out easy-to-digest books that fall into popular genres that appeal to wide swaths of readers; if you want to create simple tomes so family and friends can access books you’ve written; if you want to write solid books that don’t have to be prize-winners but will tap into active and commercial book selling markets, that’s why you write.

There are likely other reasons; those seem the main ones.

Then figure out how you want to write.

If your “why” is the former, it may follow that putting out the most beautiful, creative, editorially polished, breathtakingly moving book is your goal. If so, that’s going to take time. You might not need Donna Tartt’s eleven years, but odds are good it’ll take many fastidious, thoughtful, detail-oriented months/years to fine-tune your book to the level you desire. However it gets published, you may not ever see profit from it. Or you may. It may win the Pulitzer… or only get fifteen reviews at Amazon. It may garner stellar editorial response, passionate readership, and accolades from respected literary contests. Or not. But if it is the book you want it to be, it will be your creative legacy, and that, itself, is of value. But that kind of book will likely allow you to only produce one book a year, perhaps one every two years. Or so. And that’s OK.

If you’re the latter in the “why” camp, odds are good your “how” goals will be less lofty. You’ll choose to put out work that meets at least a modicum of quality criteria, but, like someone said, not everything has to be a masterpiece. And if your priority is making some bank, you can push yourself to get it written fast, accelerate the production timing, and get more than one book out a year. Maybe more. Maybe even the four that “publishing expert” advised. You might make money, even get some good reviews, but either way, if your goal is quantity and you’re meeting that goal, more power to you. Hopefully you’ll score in the dollars department as well.

 

The moral of the story is: if I had to write my original article over, I’d have written this one, because it’s more to the heart of the matter. Yes, I’d still insist to anxious authors that the demand to write four books a year is NOT the only way to be successful… not by a long shot. But I’d also make this most salient point: you do you. Define why you write and design the work model that best implements that reason. Once you’ve got all that figured out, the timing of production and the schedule of how many books to produce is easy to plot out, and all in your hands.

And though it may be trite, it’s stunningly true: Just enjoy the journey.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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When It’s Time To Stop Auditioning, Give Yourself the Job: Self/Hybrid Publish

Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a screed against traditional publishing. Yes, those are trendy and you’ll find lots of them out there, but this is not one. Life has taught me that when something sustains as long as traditional publishing has, it’s because it remains, however confounded and confused, a vital player in the scheme of things. I’d say that’s the case with the Big 5.

This is, instead, a few of my cobbled thoughts on the topic of why one might choose otherwise; why one might self-publish, or hybrid publish, or publish outside the realm of that iconic process of securing an agent who’ll, hopefully, wrangle a publishing deal, that will, hopefully, vaunt you into the stratosphere of big awards and New York Times bestseller lists. As much as one might dream of that starry-eyed path to literary greatness, there are myriad reasons why one might choose another turn. And very few have to do with not being good enough.

As someone who’s been involved in a variety of creative mediums throughout my career, the concept of stepping front and center to be judged toward some artistic goal is not a foreign one. Which is a convoluted way of saying, “I’m well-versed on the audition/rejection process,” which seems to apply to pretty much every step of life.

From birth on, in fact, we’re immersed in the act of striving for something: the cookie, the pat on the head, good grades, parental/teacher/coach approval, attention of boys/girls, that job we want, the lead in the play, first prize, the record deal, a deserved raise, and so on.

An actor? You submit your picture and resume; if you’re lucky, you book an audition. If that goes well, there’s a callback. If your luck holds, you go to the director, producer, network; whatever, and, usually, within a relatively short period of time, you know whether you’re in or out. Jobs, much the same timeframe. Record deals, boyfriends/girlfriends; that raise? All of these typically come to some recognizable fruition quickly enough to either celebrate tout suite, or launch your grieving process before the next snow.

If you’re an author? Not so much. The audition process toward getting traditionally published is far less linear, less step-by-step; less clear and more circuitous. It’s based less on talent and more on market trends; less on who deserves what and more on who knows whom. Less on right time and more on ‘how much time have you got?’ (a friend recently told me she’d just gotten a rejection from an agent she’d queried over a year ago!). Some of the words I’ve heard writers use to describe the process include: Time consuming, dismissive; rude. Arcane, confusing; contradictory. Exclusionary. Limited. Elitist. Devastating, elusive… impossible. And that’s just one Facebook writers group.

The Process

I’m sure there’s another, much jollier list of adjectives for those who actually make it through; who crack the code, score the agent, get the publishing deal. But this is about the other 96%, whose audition process might look something like this:

  1.  Write, rewrite; polish, re-polish the book and/or book proposal.
  2. Spend oodles of time (and money, if inclined to take classes, seminars, webinars, tutorials) fine-tuning the notorious query letter with the goal of meeting the arcane and specific demands of the literary agent world (which, most authors discover, will require several different versions of said letter).
  3. Diligently research which agents are open to unsolicited queries in your particular genre and note how they like to be approached.
  4. At this point, you should have your Excel spreadsheet out, organizing all the info you’ve gleaned into appropriate rows and columns (you do not want to double submit, for God’s sake, or query your novel to someone who won’t read fiction, or make the mistake of “checking back” if their site says “we only respond if we’re interested”).
  5. Once organized, put together impeccable packages with that perfect query letter and whatever else each specific agent prefers; then judiciously send them off in whatever amounts, order, and time increments you see fit.
  6. There. Done.
  7. Then you wait.
  8. And wait.

The seasons turn. You celebrate a birthday. Your sister gets married. The people next door move out. You lose the Oscar pool. Somehow you gain five pounds. You finish your non-fiction piece on elder care. You wait.

Then, oh happy day, you hear back! From some. Only some. Most are quickie email responses: “I’m not the right agent for you.” Some are scribbled notes on your snail-mail queries…same basic message. Others get more detailed: “Although it’s an interesting premise, I didn’t connect with the story the way I’d hoped.” They might give you some info as to why they didn’t connect or why they’re not right for you (usually not), but whatever you do, don’t write back and ask; they won’t tell you. Other than to tell you they’re too busy to tell you.

But, if you’re lucky, you garner a few requests for more (more pages, chapters, the manuscript). You’re excited to take that next step, thrilled that your sample grabbed them, your “premise was intriguing,” or your title “caught my eye,” and you send it all off, wishin’, hopin’, thinkin’ and prayin’…and then you wait. And wait.

Your parents take that cruise to Greece. You finally learn how to use Illustrator. More of the Arctic Shelf melts. You attempt making baklava. Your brother quits school to join a band. You start working out again. Your boyfriend gives you a cordless vacuum for Valentine’s Day. You wait.

Then you either hear back on the requested material or you don’t. If you do, you get something like, “I didn’t fall for the writing as much as I’d hoped.” Or, “Given the competitive marketplace, I need to love a project more than I loved this one.” Or, “You’re a white author writing black/Muslim/Hispanic/Asian characters and fear of cultural appropriation is too impacted a conversation right now.” Or… well, suffice it to say, rejection comes in a never-ending spectrum of hues and shades.

And then you…

You what? You’ve done your work, learned your craft, spent years honing it to a spit-shine by writing articles, blogs, short stories, screenplays, poems, etc. You’ve gained the expertise to know how to build a compelling narrative, construct a propulsive story arc, and conjure characters that jump off the page. Your dialogue is spot-on, you can make ‘em laugh and cry; your themes are resonating, universal yet unique, and those who’ve read your work are moved. Your book is loved (certainly by you), and it deserves life.

But after years of auditioning without finding the agent who is “right” enough to want you, your options are limited: traditional publishers aren’t welcoming to new writers who don’t have one of those. So what do you do now?

You shelve it. You write something else and try again. You set a bonfire in the backyard and burn your manuscript. You declare you’re done writing. You take up quilting, join a choir; finally paint the bathroom.

OR…

YOU DIY. You self-publish. You submit to respected hybrid publishers. You reach out to small presses that don’t require agents. You grab your destiny by the collar, drag it up on stage, flick on the lights, and make that sucker dance.

Like indie filmmakers, indie musicians; indie theater companies; freelance photographers, painters, potters, and mimes (yes, I do know some indie mimes), you take matters into your own hands, gatekeepers be damned.

You apply the same diligence to researching the art and craft of doing it differently, of doing it yourself, as you did researching agents. You suss out the pros and cons, talk with authors who’ve done it and have worthy experiences to share; you read everything you can on self-publishing. You zero in on the hybrid, small press, university publishers open to indie authors. You access professional book builders—content editors, copyeditors; formatters, proofers, cover designers—and you build the book you loved writing into the book you will love selling. One that reads, looks, and feels exactly as it should, with the edit, title, cover, and marketing plan you dreamed up and will launch with the help of skilled collaborators. A book that will sit comfortably next to any traditionally published book on any bookshelf anywhere in the world.

You stop auditioning and give yourself the job: published author.

And don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is a consolation prize. It might be for some, but there are countless reasons why authors self-publish. Some, yes, see it as their only option. Others never even consider the “traditional publishing audition gauntlet.” A few straddle both worlds, bouncing back and forth, depending on the book, the available opportunities, or the experience they want to have.

My Experience

Me? After a year spent querying my first book, I stopped auditioning and gave myself the job. My second: no “auditions” at all; went right for the stage. Both experiences have been a wild ride of hard work, empowerment, and tremendous satisfaction, but after finishing my third novel at the end of 2016, I decided to set out, once again, on the traditional route. Bluntly, I wanted the experience; it was one I hadn’t had. But after another year of querying, and with time spent at writers’ conferences meeting with and listening to agents, publishers, and writers working on both sides of the publishing divide (one that is more disparate than I even imagined), it came down to this for me:

I want to write the books I’m inspired to write without limitation, without fear, without focus on “what’s trending in the marketplace” or what “impacted conversations” may dissuade others from inviting me in. I want to work with courageous, innovative people who look to nurture and develop good writers, who are willing to take chances, push against resistance, and advance compelling ideas and forward-thinking mission statements. I could either continue on my own, with like-minded collaborators helping me get it done, or, this go-around, I had the option to work with a hybrid publisher who met my criteria and welcomed me in the door. I’m lucky to have that choice: my next book, THE ALCHEMY OF NOISE, will be published by She Writes Press in early 2019, and I’m thrilled to have Brooke Warner and her team in my corner. That, too, will be a new experience.

But which ever way each of our roads turn, however we get to where we’re going, how lovely is it that we do have choices? Auditioning may be a valid option for some; that long, arduous process will likely always have a place in the publishing industry, and I wish well to anyone taking that particular path.

Luckily for us indies, it’s no longer the only path that gets us there.

“The Stage” by Laura Wielo on Unsplash
“You Are Here” by John Baker on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Want To Help Inspire Kids To Read? I’ve Got Just the Way To Do It

Brilliant Books banner

If you are alive and aware in the year 2015, you know that one of the most common complaints articulated is how technology has surpassed all other avenues of entertainment for “today’s youth.” Likely every parent, teacher, mentor, writer has made note of this cultural evolution (devolution?), and while most would claim no antipathy for technology itself (many quite happily using it to their own advantage), there is a general sense that proper balance between the tugging mediums has yet to be found.

Which prompts the question: Is there a way for kids to learn and engage with technology without losing the glorious and countless benefits of reading actual books? As any book-reading/loving adult who concurrently loves the Internet can attest: YES! But first you’ve got to inspire a love of books and reading, and that’s not easily done in the cacophony of ever-more-seductive screens. 

Access All Areas SelfieMark Barry, a Nottingham UK native who also happens to be an incredible writer and novelist (two of his books, Carla and The Night Porter, are top faves of mine!), is the co-founder of a brilliant organization called, quite appropriately, Brilliant Books (you can read all about it HERE).  This organization’s sole mission is to create access to, and interest in, books… books that children are then inspired to read. Books that are put into the hands of children who might not otherwise have them. But Mark and his partner, Phil Pidluznyj, don’t just leave it there:

Essentially, Brilliant Books go into schools with successful people in tow; people who credit their success in careers, etc. because they read fiction as children and continue to read.

In two hours, they give an inspirational talk, then help us work with up to twenty children, in small groups, mostly reluctant readers, each writing a short story. 


IMG_0006Finally, after eight weeks, the stories are collected in an anthology which is presented to the kids in front of their peers, so they essentially become published authors at between 10 and 14.
  

Pretty amazing idea, isn’t it?

Obviously, there is a need for this sort of activity in millions of schools around the world, and if you’re interested in organizing just such a group in your area, much info and inspiration can be drawn from reading what Brilliant Books is doing.

Another way you can help is from afar: by purchasing Access All Areas, a sweet little short story anthology Mark put together as a fundraising gift.

Gathering many of his favorite authors (including, humbly, yours truly!), he gave the prompt to “focus on the magic of books and reading,” inviting writers to share stories about what inspired them as readers, what sparked their passion for words; what contributed to their love affair with books. The proceeds of this anthology, now on sale in both e-book and paperback at Amazon, will go directly toward much-needed items for Brilliant Books.

Access All Areas

If you ‘d like to know more about the authors involved, Mark has shared a bit about each in  Meet The Team From Access All Areas. A great group I’m happy to be a part of.

But the biggest call-to-action here is BUY THE BOOK!

Because this one’s not about raising the profile of any specific author, or participating in a push to get Amazon rankings up, or a contest won. It’s about spending a few dollars on a lovely collection of stories, all written for the purpose of getting — and keeping — kids interested in reading. As Mark always says:  “A society that doesn’t read is a poorer one than one that does.”

E-book

Amazon UK Customers can buy the E-book HERE
Amazon.Com/US Customers Can Buy the E-Book HERE

Paperback

Amazon UK Customers Can Buy The Paperback HERE
Amazon.Com/US Customers Can Buy The Paperback HERE

THANK YOU and enjoy the read!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Because We Can: SHOULD Everyone Publish a Book?

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Did you know that recent stats indicate that 450+ thousand books were self-published at last count? That’s a lot of books, garnering a lot of conversation about where the trend is headed and if it’s headed in the right direction.

A book site called Women Writers, Women[s] Books invited me to discuss what has become a compelling topic of debate not only in the book marketing world, but amongst the community of writers, some of whom view self-publishing less as a profession and more a hobby, while others fiercely fight to raise the bar.

My own view, excerpted from the article: 

I sit somewhere in the middle. As one who’s chosen to self-publish for a variety of reasons, I believe the ability of quality writers to get their work out, despite exclusionary practices, has been a boon. I’ve read several self-published books that are so excellent it’s impossible to understand why they’re not being hawked by one of the Big 5 (particularly considering some of what is being hawked!). But I’m also someone who’s bemoaned the unwise and oddly entitled attitudes of far too many self-pubbers who eschew certain standards of professionalism. When you hear writers commenting that they can’t afford or don’t wish to budget for professional editors, formatters, or cover designers, you know there’s a conversation to be had.  

To read on, click the linkShould Everyone Publish a Book? And be sure to share your own opinion in comments! 

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Free Book Promotions: How Good ARE They For Writers?

Buy my book it's free_r

Heard at a recent garage sale: “I always take free stuff even when I’m not sure I want it. I mean, it’s FREE; I can always throw it out!

Contemporary culture seems to have a conflicted relationship with free. People will hip-check each other to get to a neighborhood “free box” first, then get suspicious when eager salesmen dangle promotional freebies to close a sale. We all love a free meal but will still wonder what’s wrong with business that the restaurant is offering it. We can rationalize downloading music without payment, yet barely blink when art is auctioned for millions on the basis of “perceived artistic value.”

Then there are books, given away by the boatload in “free book promotions” in hopes of snagging that ever-more desirable demographic: the e-book reader. As the format surpasses all others in global book sales, the seduction of this burgeoning audience has become the mission statement of all book sellers, including indie authors, making Amazon’s brainchild promotion the Holy Grail.

To the uninitiated, the “free book promotion” is a strategy whereby writers offer their e-books free-of-charge for a number of days during their Kindle Select enrollment period. The objective is to entice readers in hopes they’ll download your book, leave a review, stir up positive word-of-mouth, then come back to buy your other books that aren’t free. This presumes, of course, that you have other books; it also presumes those planned objectives are met.

Are they?

Depends who you talk to. Some authors report getting thousands of free downloads, winning higher Amazon rankings and heightened name awareness as a result. Others tout similar stats but lament the cost of sites like BookBub and others that charge $200+ to promote those free promotions. Still others contend that the strategy’s value has peaked, as the sheer glut of free product has lowered incentive for readers to ever pay for books (despite e-books already being cheaper than other formats). Writers themselves are conflicted.

I asked indie author, Martin Crosbie, who’s had tremendous success with his books, particularly his novel, My Temporary Life, his view of the strategy:

“If I had not had the ability to offer my book for free I would not have found the readers I have. Reduced and free pricing has been the difference for me between connecting with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of readers each month as opposed to just a handful. Hopefully some of these tried and true methods will remain effective for a little while as we all scramble to increase our readership, because really, we’re not just selling books. We’re building our reader base; that’s where our real focus is.”

Most would agree, yet some believe the proliferation of freebies has permanently altered the landscape, both in the perceived value of writers and their work and the mindset of readers who’ve become habituated to not paying for books. Literary agent, Jill Corcoran, makes that point in her piece, The Devaluation of Writers, By Writers:

“I get it, we all want our books to be read… getting your foot in the door/getting your e-book on anyone and everyone’s e-reader is the first step to [hopefully] selling these buyers your second book. BUT, if your self-pubbed book is free, and, according to bookgorilla, John Green’s THE FAULT OF OUR STARS e-book is worth $3.99, then all of us in publishing will need to downsize our houses, our food bill, our lifestyles because unless you are selling a heck of a lot of books, at $3.99 or 1/8th of $0.99 or at the golden ‘price’ of FREE, we have all just devalued ourselves to a point of below the already pitiful American minimum wage.” [Emphasis added.]

CONTINUE READING at THE HUFFINGTON POST >>

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.