On Writing and Publishing

Recently, my writer/vlogger friend Avianne was asking me questions about writing & publishing, and since they were pretty great questions, I got her permission to use them for a blog post. Check out her lovely blog here: http://www.xoavianne.com and I’d like to thank her for letting me ramble on about myself, seeing as that’s one of my favorite things to do. 😉

Onto the questions!

What does a average day consist of for you? 

I’ve been a full time writer for 1 year and 6 months. (And yes, I’m counting! It was the greatest job transition of my life.) The absolute best part of being a full time author is getting to do all of my work in my pajamas. Between drinking coffee, doing house chores, packing the kid’s school lunch as well and driving her to and from school, and taking pictures of my dog, my average day has only about 3-4 hours of actual writing time in it.

I use a Passion Planner and spend every Sunday organizing my upcoming week. I plot out my novels and schedule how much I will write per day to get a draft done on time. Typically, I spend 2-5 days plotting and outlining a novel and then my writing goal is one chapter a day, which is around 2500-3500 words. If the chapter turns out shorter, I’ll write two. If, for some reason, it’s not a good day, I might not write at all. In the end, I always manage to meet my deadlines, which is about 30 days from start to finish per finished first draft. (I haven’t always written that fast, but over the years, and with going full time, it’s become a lot easier.)

How did City of Legends get published?

I originally published City of Legends myself. I didn’t seek traditional publication for it because I was unsure of the book’s genre and its ability to find success since teen superheroes weren’t a big thing back then. (They still kind of aren’t, even though superheroes in general are.) I plotted out the 3 book series, published 2 of them, and then got a magical email from my lovely editor at Alloy Entertainment.

It was magical because of several reasons. For one, Alloy’s manuscript submission website had been bookmarked on my computer for about 2 years. I can’t tell you how many times I stared at the screen, wanting to submit them my book, but was ultimately too chicken to do it. When I first talked to my editor, I’ll never forget what she said when I confessed that I’d always wanted to submit to them but feared rejection: “You should always submit. You never know when it’ll work out.”

The second magical thing about this email was that it came just a couple of weeks after I quit my job and moved to another town for my husband’s work. Getting that email was like a massive sign from the universe telling me that choosing to walk out on mechanical engineering and pursue my dream was worth it. And with all of the editing that came after I signed my contract, I know I wouldn’t have been able to maintain all of my deadlines if I still had a full time day job, so it really worked out well.

The third magical thing about the email was that it came in a time when I was really doubting myself as a writer. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I’d finish the trilogy I’d set out to write when I first self-published City of Legends (back then it was called Powered). I was doubting every single thing about myself and my abilities, and I was this close to cancelling the entire thing. Alloy’s email changed it all. I finished the third book (wrote it in 27 days), we revamped the entire series, and it’s now better than I ever imagined it.

Can you explain the whole publishing/ agent thing? How does it work? How do you get an agent? Do you have to have an agent?

Gladly! Publishing is generally broken into 2 categories: self-publishing and traditional (or trade) publishing. I’d like to break it up into 3 and add small publishers to the list.

With Self-publishing, you simply do everything yourself. You can hire editors, cover artists, formatters, etc–trust me, there’s a ton of them just waiting to be hired–and then you can publish the book through Amazon, Nook, and the likes, all for free. I won’t go into the pros and cons of it because that would take too long, but the simple fact is that no matter what anyone says, self-publishing isn’t the same as trade publishing. Anyone can put anything out there and it doesn’t have to be good. Some people make a lot of money self-publishing, and others don’t make any.

Traditional publishing requires an author to have an excellent book and an agent. (More on agents in a sec.) Your agent will represent your book and pitch it to editors, who are the people who buy books for publishing houses/imprints. Once your book is bought, you receive an advance, which is a payment against royalties. So, if in your contract you earn $1 per book sold (just using fake numbers for example), and your advance is $10,000, you’ve been paid for the first 10,000 sales before the book is even out. Then, once it’s out, your first 10,000 sales will have to be sold to earn the advance, and then you’ll receive more payments on each book you sell above the amount to earn out your advance. If you never sell those 10,000 copies, you’ll never get paid anymore for that book.

With traditional publishing, all you have to do is write and edit. The publisher pays you for the book, and they pay for the editing, the cover art, the marketing, book printing, etc. It’s also more prestigious and easier to get noticed in bookstores when you have a book by a trade publisher. My ultimate goal as a writer is to see my book on bookshelves, and a trade publisher will get me there.

Small publishers are nearly identical to the big publishers, only with a few differences. The main difference is that most of them don’t require you to have an agent to submit your book to them. An author can submit directly to them and negotiate their own contract if they want to. Some small publishers pay advances, and some don’t. Some can get their books into bookstores, and some can’t. You most likely won’t have as much marketing power or visibility behind your book with a small publisher, but that’s not always a bad thing. Small publishers have a passion for books and work very hard for their authors, just like the big publishers do.

As for agents, no you don’t have to have one. I will say personally that I think having an agent is the BEST possible thing you can do for your career. Agents are your biggest advocates. They work exceptionally hard to make sure your book is a success.

You get an agent by researching them and finding agents who represent your genre and are looking for books similar to yours. Then you send them a query, which is typically done through email now, and it’s a 2-3 paragraph summary of your book that’s enticing and well-written and hooks them to read more. It can (and often does) take several submissions and several rejections before an author finds an agent. I recommend checking out Agent Query and Query Tracker before embarking on an agent search.

Since you’re a full time writer, how do you always generate plot ideas. It’s hard to come up with a really good story idea.

I wish I knew the answer to this question! I am constantly in this weird state of thinking I don’t have enough ideas, and yet having more ideas than I have time to write. I think the only solution is to write down all of your ideas, even if they aren’t good. Read a ton of books, and when you don’t like something in the book, think of a way you’d make it better. Watch movies, and movie trailers. Sometimes my best ideas come to me while watching a movie trailer when my mind will come up with a unique idea sparked from the movie’s plot line. Also, pay attention to your surroundings. Listen and watch. Nearly all of my best ideas came to me because I was observing other people in their element. Recently, my daughter said something and I misheard her. I thought she said something completely different, and the words I thought she said made an amazing idea pop in my head. It’s now my newest WIP. (Which I can’t share online because I’m being secretive about it, hehe.) Whatever you do, don’t sit down with a blank piece of paper and try to think of something. It won’t work! You have to free your mind and keep it open and the ideas will come to you.

As for Indie publishing, how did you personally go about marketing? I know you’re not incredibly spammy like most other indie authors so I’m curious.

Firstly, THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS. As I mentioned in my Twitter Etiquette post a few posts back, I absolutely loathe authors who are spam robots. Shouting your book into the internet 50 times a day isn’t going to sell any copies. At most, you’ll just piss a lot of people off.

The thing is, authors who spend all their time promoting must not have any time for writing. I’d prefer to write. As for marketing, all of my closest author friends have heard me say this at least once: I suck at marketing. So I simply don’t do it.

Sure, I post about my books, or make a Pinterest inspiration board, or join group giveaways in efforts to make my book more visible to the public. But those are all just ways of me being me. It’s my way of being a genuine person who occasionally talks about my books because they’re important to me.

Marketing is a dirty word in my opinion. The internet is filled with snake-like people trying to sell you their courses on getting rich by marketing, keywords, SEO, paid advertisements, etc, etc, etc, and it just makes me want to scream. I get about 1 email a day from someone cold-emailing me trying to sell me their “get rich quick” book promotion services, and let me tell you: the only people getting rich off those scams are the people selling them to hopeful authors.

So to answer the question of how I go about marketing, the only answer I can really give is that I’m just myself. I make friends online and talk about books and let social media know when I have a new book out. Over time, I’ve developed relationships with bloggers and readers, and in my opinion, word of mouth from people who genuinely care about my books is the best form of marketing there is. I can only hope that my readership will grow over time and that each new release will have a better sales record than the one before it.

*So there we have it, writing and publishing advice from someone who’s been at this since 2008. I have 4 self published novels for teens, The City of Legends series published by Alloy Entertainment, and The Break Up Support Group will be published in November by Swoon Romance, a small publisher. I recently signed with a wonderful agent, and hope to have more books published in the future!