The Approching (Learning) Curve

Writing, as a profession, is a nebulous and often silly thing. Writing, in and of itself, is straightforward. You write, tell the story that is in your head, and that is about it. But the attempt sell ones work commercially introduces all manner of grey area.

These areas are those things you wish you had a map for, the things that I now say I wish someone had told me that when I started. To quote a friend: Here’s the thing: It’s all out there. All of it. You just have to look. If you do, you can save yourself a whole bunch of heartache, work, and, hopefully, rejection.

I talked the other day about submissions, manuscript format and the like. Those are hard-and-fast things. Please, follow them. Always. This is basic and common to every market, every book, every editor.

But what about the grey areas? What should you do when the rejection comes? What about reviews?

Honestly, this is a problem. There are so many wonderful things about the internet, and what it does for the writing and reading communities. It brings us all together. You can get to know your favorite authors, authors can thank readers. It’s grand. Only… some people take to far. There are far too many instances like that, things which are completely inappropriate. So let’s run through a few scenarios and see how you, and author, can comport yourself professionally.



Trust me



I got a rejection from [an agent, and editor, etc]: Sorry. Eat an Oreo. That’s it. Do not reply to the editor. Do not say thank you to them. Do not ask for feedback- it is not their job. Editors and agents get literally thousands of emails. If you just clog them up with more emails, they will remember you, and not for any of the reasons you want.

Most of all, do not be angry. They are doing their job. Do not threaten them, do not send an all-caps rant to them, nothing. Don’t even subtweet them. You think editors don’t see that stuff? Even if it is much later, and another editor/agent/whatever sees that you are in the habit of bashing people online… do you think it helps your chances?

In short: Do not reply to a rejection in any way, shape or form.

My book got a really nasty review! Sorry. Eat an Oreo. Leave it alone. They were wrong? They were stupid? They gave you two stars because their Kindle battery died in the middle of your book (it’s happened). I cannot be clear enough about this: do not reply to a review ever. It is a bad look, no matter how right you are. If there is clear abuse/misinformation/whatever, contact wherever the review is hosted. Don’t leave a reply. Ever. And certainly don’t do anything close to stalking, intimidating, or threaten them. If you do, though, please make sure I can see it, because there is nothing that brings me greater joy than watching stupid authors melt down publicly.

My book got a great review! Awesome! You may eat Oreos at you discretion. Do not reply. Not even to say thank you. It’s a bad look, and looking like you got a nice review from a friend (even if they are not) won’t help you.

Also, if you buy reviews, you are an ass.

My MS is ready! Time to submit! Hold up, tiger. Eat an Oreo and slow down. Real talk: Your manuscript sucks. Look at it, typos all over the place. Did you really write in first person present? Why? Look, you couldn’t even keep it straight and wind up in past half the damn time. You forgot about Carl’s B story for, like, six chapters. Your ending is flat out boring. Seriously, your mom is embarrassed for you.

Still with me? Good. First off, you needed to hear that, because you are in for a world of hurt over the next few months. But you can prevent some of that! Get beta readers. GOOD beta readers. Not your friends, not people who like you. People who will tell you what I just told you up there. Your friends will be all “OH EM GEE DEEN UR SUCH A GR8 RITER”. I’m not joking, this happens, so get people who will make your work better, not tell you how great it is– even if it is great (which it isn’t. You suck. Give up now).

Which brings us to query letter time!

PFFFFT DESR, my book is a special snowflake and I hate the idea of writing a query letter. Totes don’t need one. This doesn’t fit anywhere else, so you get it here, and it gets its very own paragraph:

You are not a special snowflake, and neither is your book. You and your precious baby are another drop in the ocean, and agents and editors are drowning in them. So get it out of your head that you’re special, that you’re the exception and that you don’t have to play by the rules.

Harsh? You bet your ass. But not writing a query letter, not polishing your MS until it shines, is like showing up to a job interview in Bermuda shorts without ever turning in a résumé. You’re just going to get laughed out of the office, and the only small mercy you get as a writer is that you only get a form letter, instead of seeing them laugh. That’s harsh.

So sit down and write the letter. Did you do it? GOOD. It sucks. Your mom is embarrassed again. Why do you do this to here? Google ‘query letter critiques’. Polish your query letter. Make it shine. Then, maybe, your mom will look at you again. Don’t get your hopes up, though.


God, I love that gif.

No one has bought my book and I have submitted it everywhere! I told you it sucked. Write another one. Every writer has a million words sitting in the garbage. Very nearly every book that has been published has been rejected literally dozens of times. Life goes on. Can it, start a new one. It can be hard, to be sure, especially that first one. You worked so hard on it, were so sure it was *THE* book and… no one wants it.

Eat an Oreo.


It’s Almost Time!

Better late than never for a blog post today, I suppose, but I do hope you’ll all forgive me for being a little out of my head today. I am excited to see what tomorrow and the coming days will bring, and I am trying not to get ahead of myself, but, to be honest, it’s hard not to when the early returns have been so encouraging (and I have received comments to the effect that we can expect a lot more along those lines).

In short, I’m excited.


I am going to take this opportunity to gush a little about my editor, Corissa Poley. I talked over the last couple weeks about my dream of doing this whole writing thing as a career. I don’t know what other people who dream about being writers dream of, but for me, it was more than just cranking out books. One of the things I always wanted, in large part because of the types of books I wanted to write, was the editor that was more than just an editor. I wanted someone who got what I was trying to do. Corissa is all that and more. I was completely prepared to work my way through several editors, take my lumps as it were, before I found one that clicked. But from day one, Corissa and I clicked- she got the universe, the story, how I write, all that. She gets all of it, and being able to call her up randomly and go what if I do this is a great benefit. She does a hell of a lot more than fix my typos (that is a job for several people). For as much as I harp on quality from indie’s, it’s been a blessing having her work with me on this/

As I’ve said before, having a book out is a dream come true for me. There are a lot of other dreams I have (like, say, the next book) that are yet to come, but working with Corissa has greatly helped me to achieve this one. So, thanks Corissa! You rock.


Nook Press: First Impressions

So Barnes & Noble rolled out Nook Press today, which at first blush seems to be a large step up from their PubIt service. It seems, however, that this is their move to ‘exclusivity’, in the same way a lot of authors are married to Amazon (for obvious reasons), B&N is likely trying to get at least some of those authors to publish exclusively through them.

nookTo that end, it has one major feature that Amazon and other retailers don’t- you can write, edit, etc right within it- basically, a full service word processor. It has some nice features- an outline feature, separate space for front and back matter and 0ne-click-publishing. Spiffy. Of course, this speaks to their efforts to keep authors to the Nook platform (which I certainly don’t fault them for) in that it creates another step to publish to Amazon and elsewhere.

The sales dashboard is nice, clean and simple and monthly reports are easily exportable. Most e-retailers have pretty user-friendly dashboards, and I think this is important because many authors either A) don’t want to get too in-depth (at least on an every day basis) and/or B) don’t have time, as they’re also working a day job, have families, lives, etc. So streamlined, one-click reports are a valuable tool.

It also boasts that there will be a lot of merchandising and marketing opportunities and support, which could end up being the difference in keeping (making?) Nook a truly relevant platform. If you’re an author, be sure to read through the FAQ (A well-written and organized FAQ goes MILES with me).

On the whole, it seems to be a huge step up from PubIt, and if authors and readers buy into it, could go a long way to keeping B&N afloat and relevant.


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Self-Publishing is not the Story

Another day, another Salon article whining about failing at self-publishing. What’s that, it’s not? It’s God’s gift to self-publishing, Hugh Howey himself and he says that you can get filthy stinking rich off self-publishing?

What’s your story?

Now, look, I get what he’s trying to do. But the fact that you can make money- and good money- self-publishing is news to exactly no one. There aren’t many authors who need to know that self-publishing is a viable option. In fact, fewer do, so the slush pile he refers to will shrink a little bit. To hear him tell it, everyone should just publish whatever they have. There isn’t word one about editing to be found from him. Nor is there any advice on how to market and promote your book once it is out, which leads to articles like this.

Because that’s the advice Howey gives, to borrow from Chuck Wendig: leave your book in a grassy field and hope someone walks by and picks it up. Maybe they will. Probably not. Either way, that information is useless. Do you know why? Self-publishing is not the story. Hugh really wants it to be. Amazon really wants Hugh to tell it that way (ever notice he never talks about anyone but Amazon? Of course, they’re the cool guy next door who married his mom. Or maybe they’re his mom?), because it helps their cut and helps Hugh sell books because he’s indie, not because he produced a quality work.

In the end, the things that make each self-published author successful (or not) are the same things that have made traditional publishers successful (or not) for the last 100 years- the ability to sell books. That’s it. Talking about how self-publishing can make you money is like saying you can make money being published by Random House. Everyone knows that. And it’s not like you’d do worse if Penguin published you. Again; I get what he’s trying to do, but he’s splitting a very irrelevant hair. You want to help self-publishers? Tell them to hire an editor and cover artist. Tell them how to market well and get their book in front of people. Use your reach to champion the quality books that are yet under the radar, not the people who have already made it.

Tell the story that matters.


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The End (no, not that end)

The other day I tweeted that “Game of Thrones really isn’t all that good”. This prompted Matt to ask what, exactly, I did like. Matt seems to labor under the impression, like many, that I can, at times, be somewhat cynical.

I don’t know where this comes from.

Here’s what I like, and basically don’t like about Game of Thrones (and a lot of other fantasy epics; more on that in a bit): I like endings. I don’t like stories that drag on forever and the middle- which can only rightly be called that after the author finally dies or gives up- is this endless quagmire of minutia that is a chore to get through. What I like are series that, through the whole thing, are building to the end. It’s what invites you to turn the page, tune in next week, Netflix the next movie (Netflix is a verb now, right?). After I read A Feast for Crows, I just didn’t care anymore. It felt like the Wheel of Time, which just… never… ended. I stopped caring about what happened next.

On the other side, you have Lord of the Rings, Babylon 5, Firefly. Lord, Firefly was a revelation, and just gut-wrenching for  it to go the other way when it was canceled and so clearly was just getting started (yeah, I watched it on TV). Bablylon 5- make your graphics jokes now- told one hell of a good story. There weren’t wasted episodes, where you wondered why they even bothered. It also has the benefit of having the best spaceships ever.

Now, I get it. There is a lot to love about Game of Thrones, and if you like it, I’m not judging you. It’s action packed and has lots of smut. It’s not that I don’t see the appeal of it. It’s that stories- even stories we love, either as a reader/viewer or author, have to end. That ending should be planned from the beginning, and everything should work towards that.


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Writing as a Business

Without beating a dead horse (or beating a horse I beat a lot anyway) (why are we beating horses?), it’s a pretty exciting time to be involved in publishing. It’s moving from a model that has worked OK  for quite a while, into a new, fast-paced digital realm where creators have more control than ever before. In fact, you- yes, you– can whip up your manuscript, have your graphic designer friend put together a cover, hit F7 and upload a file and bam, you’re a published author. Sit back at watch the money roll in.

Except, not. The notion of an overnight success is a lie, and you aren’t the exception to the rule and neither am I. I see author after author approach it like it’s just gonna work, like somehow their art is going to carry them and they’ll blow up or whatever. I honestly don’t know what they want, because it is dreadfully apparent that they have no concrete goals and no business model whatsoever.

What you and I, as authors, need to realize, is that writing is an art. Telling stories is an art. Selling books is a business. This is why ‘traditional publishing’ works. You write a book; they handle the business. So if you want to be an indie author and eschew traditional publishing, the truth is that you have to become a traditional publisher.

Allow me to illustrate: Let’s say you want to open a cupcake shop. There are some definite steps you have to take in order to be successful.

Yes, I do

Yes, I do

You have to spend money to make money: If you’re selling cupcakes from a cart, the mall, or a cute shop, it costs money. Likewise, you can’t expect to have zero outlay before your book is successful. Quality editing, artwork and formatting cost money. So does advertising. There are ways to save money on all these things, but don’t expect it to be free.

Someone else thought of it already: Everyone likes cupcakes. They’re one of the greatest things on earth. People like books, too, and there’s a pretty darn good chance someone out there has something similar. You have to compete with them- especially in the crowded indie field, since you’re playing from behind the traditional crowd as it is- so make damn sure you stand out.  If all you do is put your book up on KDP and tweet/facebook about it, it will quickly blend in with the background noise of all the people doing the same damn thing.

You might have to adjust your recipe: This could take a variety of forms. Maybe your marketing isn’t working, or one aspect of it is and others aren’t. Adjust accordingly. This, of course, opens up the whole ‘selling out’ debate, which I don’t care about in the least. Again: it’s a business. If your book doesn’t sell, what needs to change to make it more appealing? Dickens changed the ending of Great Expectations so it would be more appealing. You might have to do the same.

Some people don’t like cupcakes: Those people are idiots. Some people might not like your book, and they might not be idiots. But it doesn’t mean your book is horrible. Follow the golden rule of the internet: Don’t read the comments. Don’t let a few bad reviews trouble you. If there are good points in them, learn from them. But some people just aren’t going to like your book. Screw ’em. Move on.

Have definite, attainable goals: And do your homework in setting them. Sales numbers, review copies distributed, reach of ads, the release of your next book, the list goes on. Write those goals down. Look at them every day. Check them off and set new ones. Evaluate why you didn’t reach goals and revise your plan accordingly.

Go forth and sell cupcakes. I mean write.


The Pain (and Joy) of Rewrites

For me, anyway, it’s mostly pain. If you haven’t been following along, I am smack-dab in the middle of rewrites.

When I write, I (usually) have a pretty clear picture in my head of what is going on, and therefore it should be pretty easy to describe. So there’s this lovely little twinge when I see “What the hell is happening here?” off to the side or the always-awesome “you’re better than this”.

What hurts the most is that she’s right. I will read a paragraph I wrote, with a very clear, very specific scene in my mind and have no clue what I am talking about.




And then comes the really hard part (for me, anyway): not writing the same goddamn thing. I have to come up with a new, clearer way of describing something that should have been clear in the first place, with the added challenge of shoehorning it in between the existing structure of the story. Which usually means I have to rewrite a good chunk of the following paragraph(s).

Hemingway can get bent; I want to edit drunk.

But there is an upside to it, obviously. It does clarify and tighten the story. The flow and coherency are always much better. And for as much as I harp on quality in editing from indie publications, my own work damn well better be up to snuff.

It’s a pain to do, time consuming and I usually hate myself while I’m doing it, but it feels oh-so-good when it’s done.


Quality Control: Author Edition

In my latest Adventures in Indie Publishing column over at Nerds Feather, I talk about the importance (and all too frequent lack) of quality editing and artwork in indie and self-publishing. I focused mainly on the reader. What of those of us who write this junk magnificent artwork?

As I state over there, the largest problem is cost. Making some assumptions- namely, that your day job doesn’t exactly enable you to spend money on frivolous things like editing- how does one overcome the catch-22 of needing to spend money on editing and cover art with not having that money on hand?

First, let’s estimate some costs. For the purposes of this, we’ll assume the book in question is 50,000 words. According to the EFA, basic copyediting runs around $30-40/hour, with 5-10 MS pages per hour at 250 words. For the purposes of this estimate, we’ll say 8 pages, or 2,000 words per hour. We’ll again go middle of the road and say $35/hour, for a grand total of $875. Of course, a good editor does more than find your typos (obviously, mine has her hands full with that alone). According to the same rate sheet, fact checking follows the same rate scale, and for simplicities sake, we’ll assume the same number of hours- another $875, totaling $1,750. For the purposes of this general estimate, we’ll call that $2,000 (NOTE on the preceding: I separated copyediting and fact checking to allow for variances in each and to emphasize that they can be two separate services. As shown here, they essentially add up to the ‘heavy copywriting’ service).

Next up, the cover. I’ve said it before; I’m sure I’ll say it again: You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but it’s how they’re picked. At this point, you also have to think about if this book is going to print, or will just be an ebook. This can make a world of difference. There are many places that will do an ebook cover for under $300, and some of them are passable. Middle of the road seems to be more around $500-$1,000 for ebooks, and add at least $1,000 if you plan on going to print. So if you go with a nice ebook cover or cheaper print cover, $1,500 is a solid estimate (I use Atomic Covers, which runs at $900).

Of course, your book has to be formatted as well, if you plan on selling it more places than via KDP. Back to the EFA, which says $45-85/hour, at 6-10 pages per hour (remember, your 50k word novel is 200 MS pages). So we’ll say $50/hour at 8 pages per hour, for a total of $1,250. This feels high with the tools out there today, so let’s say $1,000. So our estimate shakes out this way:

Low Mid High
Editing $1,000 $2,000 $3,500
Cover $300 $1,500 $5,000
Formatting $200 $1,000 $1,500

So our safe, middle-of-the-road estimate totals out to $4,500, which, again, I assume you don’t just have lying around (if you do, can we be friends?). As an author, what are your options (no, doing it yourself isn’t an option, except maybe with formatting)?

Shop: There are a lot of options out there, and my late-night, whiskey-fueled estimate is not the bible on this (my day job is however, estimating, so it’s not just a wild guess). Rose Jasper Fox offers a Developmental Editing Package for $24 per 1,000 words- so our assumed novel of 50,000 words would cost $1,200- considerably closer to the low-end estimate for quality work. Do leg work, ask around, ask other indie authors and see where you can get a better rate.

The same goes for cover artists. There are a lot of them out there, and just because they’re the most expensive doesn’t mean they’re the best- and just because they are the cheapest doesn’t mean they’re the worst.

Ask: This requires more digging, and much more networking, but you always have the option to let them come to you. How many young artists out there would jump at the chance to do a book cover for their portfolio? Or is there a young editor that is just starting out that will give you a good price if they can use you as a reference? Ask around, on social media, where authors/editors/artists hang out (IRL and online), or just put up an ad on craigslist. This can save you a ton of money.

Save: Writing that book took time, right? I’m assuming that most of you don’t write at some NaNoWriMo pace all the time (if you do, write a how-to book and sit back and count your money). Let’s say it takes you a year to write your book- can you save $5,000 over a year? $3,000? Probably, especially if you cut back on things like lattes (2 lattes a week- almost $500 a year), cable (you should be writing anyway, not watching TV), the latest cell phone ($200+) or something else frivolous, like food or shelter. Your book is an investment, a business, as well as your creation. Show it the love and care it deserves.

Crowdsource: Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are both great options. If you go this route, make sure you have ALL your costs accounted for- people might not remember you as the greatest author ever, but you can bet they will remember you if you couldn’t afford to ship them their books. Also, make sure you’ll reach your goal. It’s a great dream that people will stumble across your campaign and Wil Wheaton and every other social media hero will tweet it and it will go viral and you’ll make like a million dollars and… yeah, exactly. Maybe it happens, and I hope it does, but don’t bank on it. Set a reasonable goal, and start recruiting people to fund it before you launch.

So in conclusion, do everything you can to make your book a quality work that people will appreciate and enjoy. If you do, you’re not only helping yourself, but the whole indie community.

CLOSING NOTE: If you are an editor/cover artist/etc, please feel free to drop your name/link/services/whatever in the comments, and/or shoot me an email at and I will be more than happy to include you in this and future posts along these lines.