Well look where we are again! Another year is coming to a close, and it’s been a lovely one. And a crazy one. And one in which I’ve been admittedly a little manic. And busy. And happy and sad and up and down and all those things writers get. Well, probably all people, but whatever.
ANYWAY, if you recall last year, I had a post up with Ten Blunt Messages for Writers on the Eve of 2013. This year, I dropped the “Dear Writers” part, because honestly, some of these messages are for the publishing industry too. (And yes, I know it’s basically just yelling into the wind to post them here, about on par with writing an Open Letter to Miley Cyrus, but whatever. I CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BALL.)
Where was I? Oh yeah. Bluntness. Let’s do this.
1. No agent is still better than a bad agent. Also, NO PUBLISHER IS BETTER THAN A BAD PUBLISHER.
If you read my blunt messages from last year, or listen to me talk, ever, you know how absurdly passionate I am about not trusting just anyone to handle your career. You may think, “OK, Dahlia, you’ve made your point.”
Maybe. Maybe not. Because I still spend a whole lot of time advising people on exiting from bad contracts. And I also get a lot of “You left an agent relationship that wasn’t working for you, so now maybe I can do the same,” which is great. (Here’s my original post on that, should you need some guidance.) But the fact is, there’s only so much being in a bad relationship with an agent can hurt you without a publisher being involved. In the age of self-publishing, there is always that option, and thankfully I know a number of people who’ve recovered from bad agent relationships with successful self-publishing endeavors.
A bad publisher, however, can seriously screw you. A bad publisher can make it so your book will never, ever be read. They can make it so you’ve thrown away your one shot with this book in a way even a bad agent can’t do. A bad publisher can take a huge chunk of your earnings while doing absolutely nothing for you that you couldn’t do yourself.
Before signing with any publisher, ask yourself this: Why am I doing this instead of self-publishing? And then ask yourself if the answers equal 30-55% of your royalty rates per book. PLEASE. Because if they’re not paying an advance, or getting your book into stores, or providing a strong publicity plan, and all they’re really doing is basically self-publishing your book for you…stop. Don’t. And run.
2. Properly managing expectations is the single-most underrated issue in publishing right now.
It’s impossible to argue that certain things sell better than others. Putting a half-naked couple on the cover of your NA will help sell it. Marketing your book as a romance will help sell it. Putting an exciting, fast-paced blurb on your book will help sell it.
But then what? What about when people actually read your book, and find the way it’s been marketed isn’t an accurate reflection of the content at all? Or, in the earlier stages, if your query isn’t an accurate reflection of your book?
Readers read with expectations that vary more than “good” or “bad.” They will dislike a book if they read it waiting for a suggested storyline that never pans out. They will be disappointed if they bought it because you suggested heavy focus on a storyline that’s really more of a subplot. They may buy your book, but you can’t make them like it. Or review it well. Or decide not to return it.
So please, stop. Stop misrepresenting the contents of your books (or your clients’ books) for marketing purposes. It’s not doing authors favors in the long run. I swear.
3. You don’t need to get offended at everything that can be read as offensive if you want it to be. Nor do you need to respond to it.
Top five most tiresome things I’ve seen on Twitter this year is a zillion people jumping on the defensive every time someone says something that can be perceived as derogatory about anything. Guys. It is not worth your time, or your energy, or your sanity. If there’s something an agent tweets about seeing a lot of, that’s not her saying “I hate everyone who does this and think your book is automatically bad and everyone should rot in hell.” So you do not need to jump in and explain why you’re a standout from this pack. Like, I just wanna slap a “No1curr” license plate on the rusty ’95 Taurus bumper that is every freaking tweet I see when this happens.
Similarly, I like to think we’re at the stage where we’ve all seen enough incredible self-published, Young Adult, and Romance books to stop going nuts every time some random asshole suggests they are universally without merit. They are always people who clearly don’t read all that widely, and continuing to give their opinions any sort of acknowledgment just feeds the beast. At some point, you just have to say, “I know better than you do about this, and sucks for you that you haven’t found the right books to change your mind.”
Trust me – there are a lot of legitimate ways to end up with hurt feelings or massive insecurities in this business. Don’t waste your time piling on more.
4. Refusing to accept critique is the surest way to stunt your growth as a writer, both in skill and career.
I don’t know how anyone got it into his or her head that there are books that get published with zero editing, but this is not how publishing works. I wrote a pretty good book. Then I sent it to betas, and changed it. Then I sent it to more betas, and changed it. Then I got an agent, and she had me change a scene. Then I got an editor, and I changed it some more based on her edit letter. Then more based on my line editor. And I’ll change it yet more based on my copy editors. That’s what the publishing process looks like. So if you can’t accept others’ opinions, or don’t want to hear what they have to say, what are you even doing? What do you think this job is?
You don’t have to take all the crit you hear, but you should at least be considering all of it, and why you’re getting it. Because no matter how good you think you are, there’s no escaping this when you do it professionally. If you’re looking to do this for money, and especially if you’re looking to do it traditionally, you’d better learn how to work with others to make your work better. And if you’re not hearing any? Get better CPs.
5. Idealism is nice, but so’s appreciating where and why some of your ideals are actually probably clashing with other ones.
Three things under this banner that I really, really want to talk about here:
- Celebrity book/author hate
- “Lowbrow” book hate
- Amazon hate
This past year, I attended SCBWI in NYC, and it was an interesting experience, though probably not one I’ll repeat. One thing that really stings me about it to this day is a speech made by one of the authors – one who’s been very successful – in which she eviscerated celebrity writers. How terrible that these illiterates get huge amounts of money to “write” books! They have no business calling themselves authors! And then they become bestsellers, while those struggling – those who truly love the written word – can’t earn out four-figure advances!
Ahem. First of all, if you’re a professional author, or, really, a professional anything, calling out individuals by name to a room full of people is actually sort of gross, in my personal opinion, but whatever. Second, though, what it really ignores it this: They bring in money. And that is the money that allows Debut Writer to even get her four-figure advance. You’re probably pretty pro new writers getting book deals, huh? You’d probably like it to continue to be possible?
Then start by appreciating why revenue in the publishing industry is necessary, no matter who’s bringing it in.
Obviously the hatred of “lowbrow” books brings with it similar themes, but here’s a far, far more important issue I have with trashing books like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY:
They create readers.
No, I don’t care that you don’t like what they’re reading. They are reading, and if you’ve ever wished you could be the one to turn around a reluctant reader, then you should have infinite amounts of appreciation for the fact that people like E.L. James and Suzanne Collins have done just that.
And finally, Amazon hate/boycotts. Look, I get it. They’re not a bookstore; they’re a massive internet megalith that’s put plenty of all of our favorite stores out of business. There’s a lot about their effect on the American economy that’s actually pretty heartbreaking. And, of course, there’s the double-edged sword of “people can afford things they never would’ve been able to previously” and “Amazon devalues products by setting prices unreasonably low, especially of books, and sometimes without your permission.”
Here’s the other thing, though: if you’re an author with a small press (ahem), or especially if you’ve self-published, and in-store placement will be somewhere between minimal and non-existent? Amazon is what gives you a shot in hell of being discovered. And not just because you can sell there, but because all the work they put into the search algorithms that make them a megalith also helps your book get found. All those “People who searched for X also searched for Y” things or whatever? They bring up “small” books all. The. Time. So unless your ideals don’t allow for small authors to get their names out there (and maybe they don’t, but this is awkward, because guess what I am), this is probably a thing you’re pretty pro after all.
(Also I happen to have written this paragraph long before I did this interview with Leah Raeder, but as a very successful indie author who’s actually already published something, her words of wisdom on the subject are very worth reading.)
6. New Adult is a real thing that is selling. That doesn’t mean it’s being handled particularly well by traditional publishers.
It’s great that traditional publishers are taking on New Adult now. This is something I blogged about a billion years ago, and it’s been interesting watching it come to fruition. But the truth of the matter is, I still think they suck at it. I read NA books re-released by publishers after buying the rights for six figures and find it infuriating to see that they don’t run even the most epic of grammatical train wrecks through an additional proofreader. And while this isn’t to say that they haven’t been buying some books I’m very much looking forward to, I fail to see what they’re really doing for the authors that the authors can’t do themselves. If the big deals are still predominantly going to the authors who self-publish first anyway, what’s the draw to subbing them to editors at all?
This blunt message isn’t really to authors; it’s to publishers. Please, step up your game with NA. I know that for some reason you’re all allergic to having foresight when it comes to the category, but please open your eyes. It’s not going away. If you run it into the ground by insisting on publishing the same stuff with the same covers over and over again, what’s going to happen is that new independent authors are going to try to expand it to be more than the Contemporary Heterosexual Romance category it is, and they’ll succeed, and you’re just going to fall behind again, and this will be a whole new vicious cycle and please just be better at this. Thanks.
7. You cannot have a solid partnership with people you don’t respect.
This year, I wrote an admittedly controversial blog post on why querying agents and submitting to small presses simultaneously actually screws everyone over. I knew there would be people who wholeheartedly disagreed with me, and I get it – you have to be your own #1 advocate, and by ceding to what agents and editors want from you, it feels like you’re putting The Man’s needs before your own.
The thing is, to feel that way is kind of missing the point. Because this is about what’s best for you in the long run. This is about making sure you maintain solid relationships with the people you want to work with. This is about understanding how things work, and how people’s time works, and what it’s like navigating the business of traditional publishing. It is not a solo enterprise.
Obviously, this post sparked some conversation, but one in particular stands out to me. It wasn’t one I was meant to see; rather, it was had in a writers’ forum, and it ripped both me and the post apart, partly under the presumption I’m an agent. (I’m not, in case anyone wasn’t sure.) It suggested that as an agent, I was being selfish, and just about what I wanted, and what was best for me. And as writers, the people having this conversation really didn’t give a crap about what agents want; they just wanted to get published, however they had to make that happen.
The thing is, though, agents are people. They’re people you work with, converse with, trust with your work and your career. Your agent isn’t some stepstool you smash under your boot on your way to superstardom. So if you view them that way – as gatekeepers rather than partners – why are you trying to work with them at all? How solid and healthy do you think your relationship will be as long as you view them that way? If you don’t trust them within the confines of the system, and don’t trust them to find you the best deal possible, what’s even the point?
8. You are a person, not a promo machine.
Yes, I’ve already posted about The Necessary Evils of Self-Promotion, but I’m probably going to repeat myself about this one until the end of time. Because the fact is, being a cool person online is the best form of self-promotion, and it’ll make people find your books a whole lot faster and with a much greater predisposition to liking them than spamming links will.
Taking it one step blunter, though, be realistic about what’s really going to work for you and what’s going to get people excited about your book. So often, I see authors who haven’t debuted yet clamoring for people to get excited about excerpts or randomly tweeted lines or hints and I’m just like “GUYS, no one knows you yet! This is not so exciting!” I would so much rather get a sense of your writing from a guest post, or of your personality from an interesting interview, or see a playlist that gives me an idea of your book’s vibe. And that might just be a personal preference, but hey, that’s my name on top of this blog.
9. Everybody talks, and everybody can see what you put out on the Internet.
The publishing world is so incredibly small, but we’re not talking just agents and editors. When you’re an ungrateful contest entrant who ignores all crit? The rest of us who run contests know it. When you’re nasty about getting crit from a beta? Those of us who are pretty prolific betas know it. When you send nasty letters to an agent? When you publicly bash other writers? Understand this: everybody knows it. Stop. Act with some discretion and responsibility. Learn the beauty of having trustworthy friends to text about your frustrations. And stop thinking that a little talent can overcome a lot of lousy personality.
10. The only way to make a change in the publishing industry is to support the change you want to see.
The fascinating thing about New Adult, whatever you think of it, is the way it proved that there is power to be had outside of The Industry, as long as readers want it enough to prove it with their wallets, authors want it enough to prove it with their writing, and bloggers want it enough to promote it.
This can be true about anything.
If you want more diversity in your books, prove it. Buy it. Blog about it. Write it. Step outside your comfort zone, and just freaking do it. Might you fail? Sure. But you might fail at your attempt to be the lovechild of John Green and Rainbow Rowell too. There are no guarantees in this industry except for one: nothing can thrive that does not exist.
So consider your fear of failure. Then measure it up against the fact that letting it stop you from making a character who is gay, or black, or deaf means there will be one less of those characters on shelves (or Amazon) than there might’ve been. And please, just do your research, take a deep breath, and do it.
Cool, I feel better now. Happy holidays!