Guest post: Dalya Moon – Remember who you were

Dalya Moon is a fellow writer of fantasy whom I met at the kindleboards, where her posts about the trials of being a no-name self-published writer are refreshingly honest. She also keeps interesting records of her sales (much better than mine! I should not be allowed in the same room as an Excel spreadsheet). In this post, she addresses that all-important gap between expectations, hope and reality.

I quit writing at least once a week. So do many of the writers and self-publishers I know.

It wasn’t like this in the beginning. There’s the initial rush: someone read your book! They liked it! This seems like enough for you, and in the beginning it is.

But then, you hear the success stories. Your friends and peers get amazing deals and top the best-seller charts. You start putting out more books, faster. Now it’s not just about having a person read your book, but about a hundred or a thousand. Some of your friends sell a thousand books a day. Why not you?

And this is where the real problems begin.

Amazon is this big piggy bank full of coins, and you’re circling it with your ball-peen hammer. Other people are standing under rivulets of coins, telling you that all you need to do is write quality books and work hard and it’ll happen for you, too!

You bang on the piggy bank. Nothing comes out. You toil, all day and night, for months, years. You read blogs, analyze numbers, talk to other hammerers on message boards, comparing notes. You make charts. The charts tell you nothing.
You have low sales, and on top of that, you get critical reviews. You pay cash for advertisements that do absolutely nothing. Perhaps a few of your mates are unkind and diss your work behind your back. You get hurt feelings, and then you feel ashamed of having hurt feelings. It’s just a book! It’s just eight or nine books! Why are you being so petty?
You have a few bad days, and then you have a very bad day.

And you think that your very bad day is about the writing. It’s Amazon’s fault. Algorithms. Wrong genre. Cover confusion. Epub formatting. Blame Smashwords!

But maybe your bad day isn’t about writing at all.

Not everything’s about writing.

What were you like before you wrote and published books? On what did you blame your bad days?

Try to pick up some new life activities to give you a variety of things to be annoyed about. Take up yoga. Or pick up the empty food containers around your desk.

Remember that before you became a writer and a self-publisher, you were someone.

* * *

Dalya Moon is a self-publishing author –

Self-publishing successfully, seven further thoughts

Publishers are only evil gatekeepers that stop people from recognising your genius? Think again! Publishers have huge marketing networks and have accumulated much experience about what works in terms of selling books. Quit blaming them for all your ills and watch what they do and how they do it, and how long it takes them to do it.

One of my most popular writing posts is Ten Home Truths About Starting out in Self-Publishing which I wrote a few months ago. In it, I outlined in a nutshell my feelings about the average self-publishing no-name author. It’s awesome to see all those points agreed with and elaborated on by Mark Croker from Smashwords in his free guide The secrets to Ebook Publishing Success


But, OK, you’ve self-published. What next? Here are a few more observations.

1. Experiment with your books’ listings
Use some of your earnings to design a more striking cover. Try a different sales blurb. Ask random people for their opinion. Do they find the cover attractive? What genre do they associate with the image?

Make sure you fill out all fields relevant to your book in Amazon’s Author Central page. Change the categories your book is listed in from generic to more specific. Prepare some books for a print version.

2. Giving away books helps sales
This one sounds counter-intuitive, but it works. Don’t be stingy or demanding about copies you give away for the purpose of getting the book reviewed. Many people won’t get around to reading or reviewing. Get over it. Give away some more books. Saddest thing I ever heard a self-published author say: “Let’s face it, your friends and family will be the only ones to buy your book.” No. Your friends and family should get the book for free. At this point in the game, the word is generosity. Getting your stuff read. Give lots of freebies. This month, I’ve given away over six thousand copies of various pieces of fiction.

3. Don’t sweat the numbers
Especially if those numbers are Amazon sales rankings. Who cares? Who of you intended audience browse by popularity anyway? Most will browse by genre and author name.

4. Don’t talk back to reviewers
Even if they are clearly wrong or show no sign of even having read your book. It just make you look like an arse. Online bookselling sites are the domain of readers, not writers. Don’t be creepy and look over the reviewers’ shoulders. Browsing people can see that some reviews make no sense. Trust their intelligence. I don’t remember who said If you fight with a troll, you both get dirty, only the troll likes it

5. Work to make your name memorable in a good way
Love your work, be proud of it, and develop it as best as you can. Be interesting. Don’t spam people with Buy-my-book messages. Your Twitter and Facebook followers know who you are. There’s no point in spamming them.

6. Write more fiction
So that the people who have liked your freebie can buy it.

7. Start over with point 1
Selling fiction takes a long time, but put yourself in the best position for when an opportunity comes along.

Selling fiction–anywhere, self-published or traditional–is like bashing your head against a wall. You will see cracks every now and then, but few of the bricks ever fall out. “Will this book sell?” is the eternal question, even if you have had fiction successfully published with large publishers.

The great ebook experiment mark 2 (because I can)

February this year marked my entry into the ‘self-published’ ebook market. I put ‘self-published’ in quotes because the material I put up first were reprints, but I eventually increased the number of works available to nine, ranging from a full-length novel to a MG novel to a short story collection to individual short stories to non-fiction. While none of the books have been a runaway success so far, I am not unhappy about the results, and certainly not because these works will remain avialable for the forseeable future as I increase sales and writerly clout elsewhere. Like selling traditionally, ebook self-publishing is a matter of persistence. The difference is getting some income while you are shooting for the big deal that may never come or that may become less desirable as ebook sales rise.

But what about the all-self-pubbed-material-is-crap crowd?

For writer, trying to sell something is about validation. Published work has met a certain quality standard. Of course, crap will still be published–according to your standard, or mine, but my this-is-a-crap-book will be different from yours. The important thing for a writer is to say so-and-so bought my work so at least this person thought it was worth a professional level of payment. Validation. For me, that came in this past year by selling three stories to pro level magazines. The picture at the top of this post shows me with at the Writers of the Future ceremony. To the left of me is Eric Flint, the editor who bought my first pro story.

You cannot possibly over-estimate the importance of validation for a writer trying to justify hours in front of a computer or time away from family, or money spent going to cons. And wouldn’t it be nice if you get a little income from it as well? Again, income = validation.

You can’t, of course, live off $10 sales to token magazines, or even sales to pro magazines, but last financial year, my fiction sales broke well into the four figures just from selling short fiction (and that’s not counting the money I won at WOTF). There is money to be made, and it’s up to you to find it.

Short fiction sales are fun, quick and easy. You submit, wait up to three months for a reply, wait a further few months as your story is in the pipeline, and then either upon publishing or after a number of months (usually three or six) the story is yours again to sell as a reprint.

Novel sales… well, I’ve had a manuscript with an agent who requested it a year ago… six months after I sent the query. If I found an agent for this novel, it might take another year to sell it to a publisher, another two years before it sees the light of day, and another six months before I get to see any income from it. And that is if they publish as planned, and I’ve seen enough delays happen to friends’ novels to know that this doesn’t always happen. What would be more of a bummer being told that no, we won’t be publishing your book at the end of this year, but at the end of next year (if we’re still in business). This sort of stuff leaves you powerless. They’re sitting on your work, not doing anything, and you signed the contract that allows them to do so.

Authors are told to grin and bear it. It’s hard enough when you have ten other novels out, but for your first one… I don’t think I could put up with it. Four to five years is a huge chunk out of your life, a huge time slot in which you have to justify your writing and muster enthusiasm to keep doing it. Meanwhile, bills have to be paid and maybe you or your partner are considering working less or stopping work altogether. You do not have this much time to muck around and beg for income to justify time spent writing.

So, there you go. Here are reasons why, for the forseeable future, I will continue to send stories to regular markets but to release novels myself. In that vein, there will be some announcements soon.

How to get a novel published in today’s market

Taking a break from editing stories to write up some of the general advice I’ve gathered lately. The above question keeps coming up again and again in various incarnations. Because the ultimate dream of every writer is to have a novel published by a big publishing house. At least it is, for most writers, for now… er, yes, this is where the caveats start.

Everyone agrees that the market and the industry are changing faster than you can say boo. Nobody knows how.

Print publishing can work, but is hard to get into, harder to sell well, and you can get milked financially by various parties.
Online (self) publishing no longer has the pariah stigma, is easy to get into, just as hard to sell well as print fiction, is a lot more work but pays you a greater percentage and gives you (much) greater control.
Based on the above, what do you aim for? The answer depends on who you talk to.

Agents are great when they are good, not so great when they turn out to be a poor fit, inexperienced in your (sub) genre, or lose enthusiasm before your contract with them has run its course. A good agent is worth his or her fee many times over, but not all agents do the best by your work. Maybe they start off being enthusiastic, but are overcommitted and/or lose heart after your book doesn’t sell. You still have another x amount of time on your contract with the agent, and the agent is not shopping your book actively. You (the author) lose. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. Based on the above, do you want an agent? The answer is different depending on who you talk to.

So, taking everything I’ve read into account, I believe the following:
– Spread your risks and pursue both the electronic and traditional avenues for different works. Treat your ebook collection as an artist would treat his or her art portfolio.
– As emerging writer, the agent you can get is unlikely to be the agent you want. You might just be lucky that you snatch the next big-name agent on her way up to super-agent status, but, yeah, more likely this is not the case, and the agent will turn out to be overcommitted, a poor fit, or just in general not very successful as agent. This will happen despite best intentions on both sides.
– Similiarly, if you put out ebooks, the editor you can get is not the editor a big publisher uses, because the editors of that calibre already work for those big publishers (ergo: do your darned best to edit as best as you can yourself, as if you’d be sending the book on submission, and ask a friend to proofread. In other words: don’t waste money on ‘cheap’ backyard editors).
– Don’t treat your self-published material as legitimate publication credits. That makes you look like an arse.
– Don’t be apologetic about self-publishing either.
– And don’t stop sending stuff to as many different places as possible. Don’t rule out any options.

the p-game

You can take this as ‘the publishing game’. Some call publishing a game, played by an elite and exclusive group of people who are supposedly not interested in giving new writers a go. I prefer to call publishing a different kind of p-game: the p for persistence.

Imagine two writers who both want their material published. I’ll talk about short stories, but this story can apply just as well for novels.

Both writers are submitting their material. Both are getting lots of rejections and the occasional acceptance, usually from small magazines. Both would like to be published by a certain magazine. Writer #1 submits three stories. All three are rejected. This writer then concludes that the magazine ‘doesn’t like my style’ and stops submitting. Writer #2 submits 16 stories. All are rejected, although some come back with nice comments. After story #16 is rejected with a note that says ‘lovely story, but we’ve decided it doesn’t fit our magazine’, writer #2 is ready to commit suicide. He looks at writer #1 and wonders if this magazine is just playing a game with him. At this stage conspiracy theories surface. But he wants to be published in that magazine, so he sends another story, which they hold for seven months before rejecting it. Writer #1 is ROTFL and writer #2 is ready to accept that his friend is right. Except he’s got one more story that he’s written recently. It’s a bit of an oddball thing, and represents a change in style for him. He sends it, not expecting anything. They again hold it for seven months, and when the message comes (by now he’s almost forgotten about the story), it’s not a rejection. They’re buying his story.

Now, this little tale is a consolidation of my experiences over the past year of trying to get into magazines.

You, too, want to be published by a magazine you like but is hard to get into?

– Submit, submit, submit. As soon as something comes back, send something else, providing it fits within the magazine’s (sub)genres.
– If submissions start taking a long time, and I mean a looooong time, to get back to you, then you’re on the right path. Check Duotrope and you’ll see that almost every magazine takes far longer to accept something than to reject something.
– Keep submitting no matter what. Sometimes you’ll wonder if a magazine accepted your story just because they got sick of you. It doesn’t matter (in all truth, what’s published is deteremined by quality, since many magazines strip author names for their slush readers), just keep submitting anything that’s suitable.
– Few people ever sell anything to a magazine on their first submission to that magazine. I’d love some anecdotal stats on this. Say you’ve published in a big-name magazine, how often have you submitted to them before you had something accepted? Let me know in comments.

Selling your fiction

A post prompted by a comment on last week’s post. It feels a bit smug, because I’ve been on a selling spree. The advice below, though, is going to be pretty basic:

How do you sell your fiction?

1. Finish it. You’d be amazed how many novels or stories are started and never finished.

2. Workshop it. If you’re still writing in your attic and have never shown your writing to anyone, it’s high time you did. It may well save you a lot of heartache and embarrassment. Don’t show your fiction to your family, show it to a bunch of strangers calling themselves writers.

3. Edit it. Rip the plot apart, turn it upside down and inside out. Work on your writing style. Polish, have people read it and polish it again. Rinse and repeat.

4. Submit it. You’d also be amazed how much work is never submitted. Writers get discouraged after one or two rejections and let novels and stories languish. This year I’ve made 120 submissions for both novels and short stories.

5. Expect rejection for the simple reason that most magazines, agents and publishers have a 99% rejection rate. Celebrate rejection. Turn it into a race with your writer friends (who can get the most rejections in a year?). Every rejection represents a submission. It was my aim to get 100 rejections in 2009, and I turned my adventures into a blog post series.

6. Keep submitting no matter what. The nature of acceptance is fickle and very subjective. Up until mid-October, I hadn’t sold a single thing. Since then, I’ve sold six short stories and a novel. If this hadn’t happened, I would have set the same target for next year.

7. Submitting is crapshoot. Any magazine or publisher which publishes the type of fiction I’m trying to sell is fair game. I look at their range, at online material. If they publish speculative fiction, I send it.

7a. Consider the marketability of your fiction. Does a market ask for fiction with, for example, strong female characters, gay or lesbian characters, a romance thread, horror? Do you have something that might possibly suit that market? Could you, for example, adapt a novel so you could peddle it to the plethora of small presses that specialise in horror?

8. There are many other venues to sell a short story than the big-name magazines. There many other venues to sell a novel than getting an agent and hoping for a bite from the big publishers. Try all avenues. Submit, submit, submit.

If you don’t submit, you will never be published