Categories: Business of Writing

A New Life

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 22, 2015
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Candlewick biography coverToday I want to share something that I didn’t know happened in the publishing world.

In September 2013, Candlewick Press released my picture book biography ELECTRICAL WIZARD: HOW NIKOLA TESLA LIT UP THE WORLD. The book has sold well, but to reach a broader audience they decided to  repackage and re-release the book in a new format.

The design has been changed to a smaller chapter book format, and the story has been broken into chapters and spread out to fifty-six pages. The book will publish as part of the Candlewick Biographies series for readers ages 8-12. While this is older than the original audience, the text has always skewed older and in the new format it looks just right.

We’ve been able to make an improvement, too. Early reviews complained about a lack of dates, so we added a timeline.

The new version has recently released simultaneously in hardcover and in paperback, the latter priced at a very affordable $4.99.

So with a bit of repackaging ELECTRICAL WIZARD gets a whole new life – ready to reach older readers and with the new low price, I hope a lot more readers!  I think it’s an example of a publisher doing something remarkable—and right – for a backlist book.

Thanks Candlewick!

P.S. The new version released September 8!

Shut up? Keep talking? Delilah Dawson’s straight talk to authors about social media

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 11, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
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Book-LoveIt’s magical when you find a book that you love. You finish the last page and want to fall on your knees and propose. Be mine forever! I will never forsake you!

As an author, I want this relationship for my books. I want them to find their way into the arms of readers who will love them.

But how does this magic happen?

When it comes to which books make it big and which go out-of-print sad and alone, there is serious black magic involved.

Recently author Delilah Dawson wrote a series of blogs on book promotion. She talked about what works and what doesn’t, offering sound advice for authors everywhere.

In a nutshell, her black magic answer is “time + hard work + great books + luck.” I recommend you read further. Here are links to her posts.

Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work

Wait, Keep Talking: Author self-promo that actually works

I also think you should follow her on Twitter (@DelilahSDawson) and check out her website.

Needs Updates

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 11, 2015
Comments: 2 Comments
Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness Scotland

Needs updates

I am in the process of moving. Putting my current house on the market is turning out to be way more stressful than I anticipated.

First, I had a bunch of workers fixing all the little things that I should have fixed for myself long ago. Then the stagers rushed through, moving furniture and rehanging art. I get kicked out of my home with a one-hour notice as strangers walk through my home, poking and peering at all of my stuff. Shortly after each showing, my realtor sends the “feedback” and I get to to hear how the driveway is all wrong or the kitchen needs updating.

I feel homeless and violated and judged all at once.

I am also in the process of sending my debut novel, THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, into the world. It releases October 1st, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the experience is going to be much like moving. In some ways it already is. Selling a book to a publisher is the first step into a wider world. Editors and designers, publicists and marketers all get into the mix. They move things around. They re-envision the way the book will look and feel. They change things.

Unlike the home selling process, I have enjoyed the collaboration with the team at my publishing house. I know it is a better book because of their expertise. I also have valued the distance it has created between me and the book. Just as my house doesn’t feel like my home anymore, the book doesn’t feel like as much a part of me, of my very sinews and bones, as it did before.

I am hoping that this helps.

Because soon, terrifyingly soon, readers will make their way through my book. They will examine its rooms, poke in its dusty corners, and lift the sheets. And they will decide, just as the strangers walking through my house will decide, if they like it or not, if they want to live here.

I try to remind myself that tastes differ and that this is a good thing, but I anticipate it will be hard when the reviews start coming in. I may wish I had updated the kitchen after all.

 

The Time of Day

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: March 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

I’m not a morning person and I am committed to getting some exercise (walk, run, or yoga) almost every day. As a result my basic schedule for MANY YEARS has been: wake up, get kids off to school, workout, shower, eat breakfast, and then get to work.

Oftentimes this means I don’t get to my desk until 10 or 10:30 in the morning. After a couple of hours of work, I’m hungry, so I have lunch. By then, it’s 1 p.m. and my daughter gets out of school at 2:15, so I cram to get some work done. Work time per day: Two hours and then one hour — so three total.

But recently, I have made a tweak in my schedule that has changed everything. I don’t have any more time, and yet, I have more time!

Instead of working out when my kids leave, I get right to work at 8 am. At 12:30 or 1:00, if I’ve worked intensely, I am so ready for a walk/run/yoga break. I eat breakfast with my kids in the morning and then eat with them again when they are gorging on their snacks, so eating takes less of my work time and I gain nice mealtimes with my kids. But best of all I get FOUR TO FIVE HOURS of uninterrupted writing time each day!

Is that INSANE?! What took me so long to figure this out? I mean at least a DECADE!

The moral of this story is: Take a hard and creative look at your schedule. Forget your old habits and assumptions and try something new. You may have more writing time than you think.

Do I have to blog? The curse of the writer’s platform

by Amber Keyser
Published on: March 12, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
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1188800347_z1One piece of advice that many, many pre-published writers hear is that they need to develop their online presence. They need a platform.

Ugh.

Most of us hate that.

But we love books, right? The logical first stab at blogging is often to review books that we read. Before you jump on this bandwagon, I offer a few words of caution.

First, this weird, wild world of interwebs that we inhabit has dissolved the traditional boundaries of publishing. There used to be a clear demarcation between readers and writers and reviewers, between editors and agents, between publishers and the rest of us. These lines have blurred. Many agents are “editorial.” Many editors also write. Some agencies have set up their own in-house publishing wings.

And this brings me to book reviews.

I don’t write them. Ever. I will tell you when I love a book. I will beg you to run out a buy a book that I adore (like OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt). But I don’t give stars and I don’t review. Let me tell you why.

Writing useful, constructive, intelligent reviews that analyze the craft within the pages is HARD. It takes skill, experience, and time. The reviewers who do this well are GOLDEN. If I were going to review, I would be compelled to be that kind of reviewer. But that would take immense time and energy away from writing my actual books.

Many reviews that you will stumble upon are of a different sort. They are a reader’s opinion, based not so much on analysis but on feelings and impressions and person connections. This is cool too. I love it when a reader connects with something I’ve written, but it’s different from a literary review. And there are so many of these blogs out there, that you will find it hard to make your voice heard among them. If you are doing this as a writer trying to build a platform, it probably won’t get you very far.

The other reason I don’t review books is that the book community is small and these people are my friends. I want to support them as artists more than I want to publicly critique their work.

But back to platform… do you have to blog?

No.

I blog very infrequently on my main website, usually about experiences or thoughts that get lodged in my brain and require a little noodling on my part. I don’t have the illusion that this will win me millions of followers, but it will give the interested few a peek into my weird head.

We blog here because we saw a need. So many people over the years have asked us if we had room in our group (Sadly, we don’t) that we decided to lift the veil on our process so that other writers could look inside. This isn’t a platform for any of us. It’s a service. We’re trying to meet a need that we observed.

As you are thinking about building your base as as writer, think about what you have share, what need you could fill, and what would be fun for you to explore. Being online as a writer is about building relationships. There’s no need to force it.

And find me — on Twitter, on Goodreads, or on my author FB page! I love to connect with other story-tellers and other readers!

Talking Money

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 29, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
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There has been an interesting discussion on the interwebs lately about how much authors make and especially, what it means when a writer says that he or she “writes full time.” This implies that all of us who “write full time” are also making enough money to support our families on writing money. In fact, many of us (like me) can write full time because our awesome spouses have jobs that include health insurance and 401k and reliable income all that good stuff. (See the Salon article that spawned the talk here.) This is the first year I have made a non-negligable income, but it is not yet enough to support us. Many working writers–i.e. those making money–say that it takes between five and ten years of steady sales plus the slowly accumulating royalty stream to either justify quitting their day jobs or getting their spouse off the hook.

There has been a call for transparency and honesty among writers about money. Many an innocent soul has been sucked into the allure of becoming an overnight millionaire a la Fifty Shades. Everyone’s Great Aunt Hilda thinks that as soon as we sell a book it means we are rich, rich, rich. And many more of us are thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Am I the only one with multi-book deals who is still eating ramen noodles every night?”

So what do the economics of writing really look like? The 2015 Author Survey by Digital Book World sheds some fascinating light on the money issue.

2015 Author Income copy

 

For traditional book deals, 65% of all authors are making less than $10,000 a year. For indie authors (supposedly the holy grail of money printing), 75% are making less than $10,000. In general, authors who can work both sides–indie and trad–the so-called hybrid authors are doing the best. 50% of them are making more than $10,000 a year. (I’ll argue that this is because well-known, traditionally published authors move to indie publishing where they can make more profit and take their fan base with them.)

As for what to tell Great Aunt Hilda, reaching the $100,000+ mark is accomplished by very few authors–about 7% of traditional authors, 6% of indie authors, and about 84% of hybrid authors (see above).

So thems the stats… Does knowing them change anything for you?

 

Taking a Chapter Break

by Addie Boswell
Published on: January 26, 2015
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Shelves in progress.

Shelves in progress.

Only waiting for the window seat.

Only waiting for the window seat.

This fall, I built a wall-to-wall shelving unit for my office/studio. Complete with power tools, pocket-hole joints, european hinges, doors, drawers, knobs, and lots of sawdust. For a couple of months, the shelves were my obsession. I can’t tell you how much I loved building those shelves– measuring the space, planning and drawing the dimensions, sawing, drilling, sanding, painting. For another Scriva, it was reupholstering her kitchen chairs. For you it may be organizing your pantry or planting a garden bed. Whatever your current alternate dream job is, you relish the joy of tangible goals, visible progress, and a purposeful and absolute outcome.

In opposition, of course, to the everyday business of writing books.

A work-in-progress is amobea-like. Gelatinous. Unending. Writing a novel is like navigating infinite space, corralling small children, filing the contents of a garbage dump. How do we progress in the face of such an aim? Which leads me to Chapter Breaks: Self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Places for the story to take a breath, the page to turn, the reader to begin again. From Writer’s Digest “An old-fashioned cliffhanger is not required (though they still work), but tension of some kind is essential. End not where the action lulls but where it is the most dynamic.”

We need chapter breaks in our books and we need chapter breaks in our writing: self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Five thousand words. A printed first draft. A contest submission. A conference to attend. A vacation. A stay-cation. A pedicure. A set of shelves. These little deadlines are lifelines: not just how we get the work done, but how we keep our sanity.

Would You?

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: October 8, 2014
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Recently, I stumbled across this article in the New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

“Swoon Reads, a young-adult imprint that is part of Macmillan Publishing, is upending the traditional discovery process by using crowdsourcing to select all its titles. By bringing a reality-television-style talent competition to its digital slush pile, the publisher is hoping to find potential best sellers that reflect not editor’s tastes but the collective wisdom and whims of the crowd.”

So here’s the deal. Once you finish your manuscript for your YA romance, you upload it to the Swoon Reads site.

Then you sit back and see what people have to say about it. If you get a lot of reads and likes on your manuscript, the editor considers publishing it. Submission guidelines are here.

Would you give it a try?

NEVER Give Up on a Book You Believe In

Don’t give upWhen I was pregnant with my second child, who is now 10 years old, I started writing a picture book called Squeaks, Stumps, and Surprises: A Big Brother’s Guide to Life with a New Baby. I was trying to see my second pregnancy and the appearance of a new baby in the family through my first child’s eyes. I asked him and his friends what they thought about pregnancy and new babies, especially new siblings. And I learned that little kids don’t see things the way we adults do.

In the book, I tried to capture the voice of a slightly older, wiser kid giving insider advice about what life with a new baby would really be like. I loved writing it, I loved revising it, and when I submitted it to publishers, I got nice notes back about the writing and the concept. But all agreed it wouldn’t stand out in the crowded New Baby market.

So I went back to it, revising it again, making the voice stronger, fresher, funnier. This went on for several years (I had a new baby at home after all) before I submitted again. This time I found a few editors who liked it, too. It went to acquisitions several times, but alas, no one bought it.

I got busy with other projects, busy with my two kids, and forgot about the manuscript for a while, perhaps years. If I happened to think of it, I would open the most recent version and read it. I’d think: “I still really like this book.” Sometimes I’d play around with it again. I changed the boy to a girl. I broke the book into sections. I added more dialogue, more funny lists, more punch lines. I cut it radically. I added more material. I cut again. I went from one narrator to two: a boy and a girl.

I started working with a wonderful agent who sold some of my manuscripts. When I first showed her this one, she said something to the effect of: “I’m not sure this would stand out in the crowded New Baby market.” Sound familiar? So I put it away again.

In the meantime, I started writing a graphic novel. (MUDDY MAX, coming this August!) Sometime while working on the graphic novel, I took yet another peek at the new baby book. I thought: “I still really like this book.” And I had an idea. What if the book was a picture book/graphic novel hybrid with some main narrative text and some funny scenes in comic form? I carved out some time to try this, got great feedback from my critique groups, revised again and showed my agent. This time she said: “All right, let’s give it a try.”

And I am happy, ecstatic, thrilled to report, that TEN YEARS after first writing the book, we got an offer on it. I am still in shock that it actually happened. Look for The Big Kids’ Guide to Life with a New Baby sometime in 2016!

And don’t EVER give up on a book project you believe in.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. In case it’s not obvious from the story above, it is OK to put a manuscript aside for a while (months or even years), play around with it a lot, try some radical revisions, get feedback, put it away again, revisit it again. But if you like it, if you believe in it, if there is something in there you think is special, don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

On Rejection

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 12, 2014
Comments: 1 Comment

It happens. All the time. Even once you start selling books, you still get rejected. A lot. Yup. When it happens to me, I tell the Scrivas. They commiserate, and I move on to the next thing. That’s it.

So in honor of rejection and the people I share it with, I offer you this hilarious form rejection letter from the 1920s. Perhaps for fun you could fill this out for your current WIP and get the rejections over with in advance. Or maybe we should all write a condolence note to George R.R. Martin. He’s never getting past #17.

 

Rejection

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