Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How To Publish Your Book -- Some Tips From Smart Women

Once upon a time, I went to college. I say “once upon a time” because it’s been nearly six years since I stepped through the Arch into Northwestern University for the very last time. College feels like a lifetime ago. I wasn’t a writer yet. I didn’t even know I wanted to be one.

But Northwestern is what set me on the path to becoming a writer. If I’d gone to NYU Tisch, or some other musical theater conservatory program like I’d wanted, maybe you’d see me singing on Broadway or in the movies–or more likely, waiting tables. Instead, I went to NU, where Professor Breslin told me in no uncertain terms that my future happiness would be determined by my freedom to write.

There are a lot of famous writers who went to my alma mater. George R.R. Martin is a living legend. Veronica Roth was my year. Talk about intimidating.

So imagine my surprise when Northwestern University’s Medill Club of New York – that’s the alumni club for Northwestern’s top-ranked school of journalism – invited me to speak on a panel about publishing. The day The Guardian compared Paladin to Game of Thrones was a highlight of my writing career, but to be clear, I’m well-aware I’m no George R.R. Martin!

The panel – called “How to Publish Your Book” – took place this past Monday in front of a full crowd. I was joined by Marysue Rucci, editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster; bestselling author Maria Murnane; editor Whitney Frick with Flatiron Books; literary agent Renee Zuckerbrot; and our moderator, author and editor Christina Bryza. Every single one of these women are Northwestern alumni, which is pretty dang cool. They’ve also all been incredibly successful in their careers, and it was as much a learning experience for me as it was for the audience.

I stuck out a little bit like a sore thumb as the one representative of nontraditional digital publishing. Maria, my fellow author on the panel, had self-published her work but was eventually picked up by a traditional publisher, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Hopefully the diversity of our experiences benefitted the audience.

I did come away from the panel with a few key takeaways that I think are valuable for all aspiring writers, no matter what path you want to pursue.

I remain a huge advocate of Wattpad as a platform both for growing and established writers. As part of prepping for the panel, I reached out to the good folks at Wattpad for some up-to-date stats on usage of the app. Did you know that a new user joins the app every second??? That’s crazy! There are also over 100 million uploads on Wattpad – so if you think it’s easy for your story to get noticed, think again. That’s a whole lot of competition—more competition than on Amazon Kindle.

Marysue Rucci, the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster (one of the big four publishing companies), addressed a question that I think just about every single aspiring writer on Wattpad has asked: if your story is published online first, does that mean a traditional publisher won’t be interested?

Her answer? Publishing online is not a barrier to getting traditionally published. In fact, publishers actively seek talented online writers. And now you know.

Another question that came up is whether it is better for debut authors to query newer literary agents (assuming you’re going the traditional route). The assumption there is that newer agents have lighter loads and more time for you.

While there is some truth to that – a newer agent will likely have more time for handholding if your manuscript isn’t in perfect shape – there is no reason to limit your search. All agents are open for the right author and story—even the ones who say they’re closed to submissions. To quote Renee, our agent panelist, every agent wants to be able to say, “I found him out of the slush pile.” Every agent is in search of the next big thing.

But – just to give you some perspective – Renee estimated that she gets an average of 100-120 queries PER WEEK…and she accepts “very few.”

Whitney Frick, the editor with Flatiron Books, provided even more clarity on the number of layers between writing a manuscript and getting an actual book deal. Most editors at publishing houses accept submissions only from agents (and even then, the submissions pile up). If the editor gets a submission she likes, she then has to pitch the book to her editor. A conversation also needs to happen between the sales and marketing team. The author and agent usually has to come in and meet face-to-face so everyone can make sure there is good chemistry. I had no idea the process was so complicated.

Another useful piece of advice? According to Marysue, the first paragraph of your book is the most important thing you will ever write. She said she can usually tell within 5 pages if she’s going to fall in love with the rest of the novel.

The biggest overall takeaway from the panel – whether you choose to follow a traditional or nontraditional publishing path – is that writing a brilliant story is the number one key to success (easier said than done, eh?). You can have the best platform in the world, but if the quality of writing isn’t there, your book won’t sell.

As most of you know by this point, Paladin goes on sale Thursday, May 14 (here’s my not-so-subtle transition). I’d like to think that, despite having used a non-traditional publishing platform, I’ve written a quality story. It will be interesting to see where my Wattpad journey will take me.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Long Road to Publishing; Wattpad Annual Block Party & Free Giveaways!

Wow—I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I updated this thing. Bad author Sally. But—at least I update you with big news.

Those of you who read the last chapter installment of Paladin on Wattpad know that I decided to pursue a different path, discard the rewrite I was working on, and focus on making improvements within the original story. I decided to put my faith in you, my readers, and my gut instinct, that the original plot—though not without flaws—was worth keeping.

It’s been my dream for a few years to see Paladin as a “real” published book – a book you could pick up and read in your hands and thumb through the pages. A book you can download for any kind of device – whether you’re reading on Wattpad, Kindle, Nook, etc.

I’ve set really high standards for myself – the Paladin I publish in “the traditional way” needs to be the best possible version of my writing. I’m pouring my heart and soul into improving the overall quality of not just the writing, but the depth and richness of the characters, and the aspects of the books you’ve come to love. And of course, because I can’t help myself, I’ve added in a few new twists and turns ;)

The road to publishing is a long one—I’m still making edits as we speak (what the heck am I doing blogging??? I should be working on Paladin!). But finally, finally publishing is on the horizon – I’m targeting an official book release for this spring. Yes, there will be print copies. Yes, there will be e-books. You guys, I’m so beyond excited.

I’ll provide more updates (here and elsewhere) as I get closer to the publishing date, and share all the specific details. In the meantime, I can update you on my participation in the Wattpad Annual Block Party during the month of February, where different Wattpad authors are being featured in a special book (download it here: http://w.tt/1zkBHRK) every day. My day is February 21st – I’ll be posting a behind-the-scenes look at Paladin featuring all your favorite characters.

The reason this is relevant to publishing? Well, there’s a HUGE (and I mean HYOOOOGE) raffle that anyone can enter. I’m giving away a whole lotta stuff – a signed canvas blowup of the cover of Paladin, two signed copies of the cover, and naming a future character after the winner. But the most exciting giveaway (in my opinion) is that I will be giving away a free advanced copy of Paladin (signed by yours truly).  

To enter, all you have to do is visit the link below and log in through either Facebook or your email.

Also, I highly encourage you to come check out my post on Feb. 21st (again, here: http://w.tt/1zkBHRK), because I will be announcing the coolest reader contest I’ve ever run ever (pardon my babbling, but I’m psyched). Besides, you can also say hi to Braeden!

Thanks as always for your amazing support…hope to see you on the 21st.

Friday, December 6, 2013

In Defense of Bad Writing and Teen Fiction

Brace yourself, folks—this post is going to be a rant-y and ramble-y one. I might even piss a few of you off. But I’m okay with that.

So, let’s dive right into it. There is a growing divide on Wattpad between the adults and the teens, and a divide between the pop fiction writers and…everyone else.

I don’t like it.

Many folks on Wattpad are outraged by the amount of attention “bad” teen writing gets. They’re disgusted by the millions (literally) of fan fiction stories about One Direction, and the hundreds of thousands of melodramatic romances about werewolves and their mates. Worse, they say, the writing is atrocious. None of these kids know how to tag dialogue properly, and haven’t they heard of spell check?

But the most heinous crime of these teen so-called writers is that their stories are popular. Somehow, these illegible, clichéd stories are topping the What’s Hot lists and have generated millions of reads.

The folks who are complaining don’t always say this out loud, but what they’re thinking is, it’s not fair and my story is more deserving.

Now, I object to this on a whole lot of different levels. To be fair, I’m biased, as Paladin has gotten a lot of visibility on Wattpad, and perhaps if it remained among one of the millions of undiscovered stories, I too would be annoyed.

But here’s the thing. Paladin will never see as many reads as the #1 Romance or #1 Fan Fiction story on Wattpad. And I don’t care. It’s not a competition. It’s not like readers only choose one story. Readers who love to read are excited when they come across lots of good books. The fact that “Project Popularity” has 6.5 million reads and over 100K votes doesn’t mean that readers will choose that book over mine. Maybe they’ll choose Paladin, because they prefer fantasy to contemporary romance, or maybe they’ll decide to read both. Depending on the speed of your reading, a book only lasts a few days or perhaps a week. Once you’re done, you move on to the next one. A reader’s appetite is limitless.

What I’m trying to say is that another book’s popularity doesn’t have any impact on your own. So stop blaming those egregiously popular teen writers if your book isn’t getting the kind of visibility you want.

The other piece of this unfounded anger that bothers me is the accusation that these “bad writers” are undeserving. Let me ask you this—do you think these authors purposely try to write badly? Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I believe 90% of writers on Wattpad take pride in their work and are trying their damned hardest. Besides, how do you ever get better at writing without, well, writing? We all have to start somewhere.

I’m not saying that means we need to coddle younger or inexperienced writers. We don’t need to tell them they’re brilliant or hand them a participation trophy—that doesn’t do them any good in the long run. There’s a very easy solution to dealing with the writing that offends you on Wattpad—don’t read it. I may defend the bad writers (or at least defend their right to write), but that doesn’t mean my empathy extends to reading writing I don’t like. I guess I just don’t get why people find the existence of bad writing so offensive, so long as the author is not a) charging me for it or b) forcing me to read it.

Probably, though, what people find truly objectionable is the fact that some of these “poorly written” stories are popular. I want to qualify this a little—I have never seen a popular story on Wattpad with incomprehensible writing. Ridden with basic mistakes that make my inner Grammar Nazi cringe, yes, but not incomprehensible. The point is, all of the popular books still manage to tell a story.

I think we all could benefit from taking a look at these popular stories with less than stellar prose and analyze what it is that makes people flock to them. Obviously it’s not the writing, so that tells us that readers care more about other aspects of a book.

Your snarky response to me (I’m having an imaginary conversation with you in my head) is that well, duh, they play into clichés. There’s the love triangle, the bitchy cheerleader, the bad-boy vampwolf, etcetera, etcetera. You would never stoop so low as to write something so trite.

Okay, fair point. But obviously there’s a market for cliché stories, or people wouldn’t read them. If people enjoy reading clichés, why is it wrong to write them, especially if you enjoy them yourself? The same goes for fan fiction—people write fan fiction and people read them. Demand for One Direction stories exceeds the supply. Isn’t the fact that there are readers out there clamoring for 1D fan fic enough reason to write them? (Btw, you should all go out and read Fangirl by Rainbow Powell. It’ll change your perspective on fan fiction. Plus, it’s brilliant. I cried.)

But there are a lot of clichéd stories on Wattpad that don’t have reads in the millions. Which to me means that these popular authors are doing something else to get to the top. Something that could be applicable to the rest of us. Maybe, just maybe, these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad authors have something they could teach us (kudos if you catch the reference). Maybe they’re doing something right that you’re doing wrong.

Now, I am an old, and no longer so hip to what the cool kids are doing these days. But in some of the rants I’ve seen on Wattpad coming from adults and teens alike, I’ve identified a few problems.

Stop alienating potential readers.
Do you know what’s not helping you get reads? Complaining about how much all the teen writers on Wattpad suck. Part of the appeal of Wattpad—beyond the fact that books are free—is the ability for writers and readers to connect. You are not just your story—you are you, a person, and readers can interact with you. They see your comments in forums and on walls. You’re not helping your cause by insulting the vast majority of the Wattpad population.

And let’s be realistic about the Wattpad audience. I don’t have any data points to prove this, but intuition tells me that the ratio of adults (ages 18+) to teens is something like 25:75. That probably isn’t going to change significantly because teens are more social media savvy, and adults have access to credit cards and aren’t as reliant on free e-books. You may say you’re only writing for adults, but that severely limits your potential readership. I’m not saying you have to pander to a younger audience—you should write the book you want to write—but dismissing the entire teen population as beneath you seems pretty foolish.

I don’t know about you, but I started reading “adult” novels when I was 9 years old. I still recall my first adult book—it was Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. There was a scene in which the Big Bad Guy killed a little boy, cut off his testicles and ate them. There were also BDSM scenes. So yes, it was truly adult. I still loved it (although I totally did not get that Denna was a dominatrix until YEARS later).

I bring this up because, just like adults often read Young Adult books (who hasn’t read The Hunger Games?), teens often read adult books. You may not be writing a story for them specifically, but you shouldn't pooh-pooh them as readers.

You don’t know how to promote your story.
The popular teen writers on this site might not write better than you, but they sure as hell promote better. They promote better than me, too, if it’s any consolation.

Why do I say that? Well, I’m not a teen. I’m not completely out of touch, but I can’t relate to a teen on the same level as another 16 year old. And the way social media works, things go viral based on peer-to-peer recommendations and peer-to-peer influencers. That includes stories on Wattpad. By virtue of being an old, I’m out of that peer-to-peer circle.

Well, eff, you might be thinking, how is that commentary remotely useful? To me the takeaway is that I need to try to get on their level. I mean, I’m not about to start gabbing about One Direction in the forums, but I do talk to potential teen readers all the time about interests we have in common. It helps me understand how they think, what kinds of promotional tactics appeal to them, what they want to read, etc. Besides, some of them are pretty cool.

The popular authors on Wattpad also put the time in to promote. And yes, one valuable method of promotion is just being active in the forums and getting to know people on a personal level. The writers who you see everywhere (all over the forums, posting on walls, on stories, etc.) tend to have massive followings.

Your story isn’t as good as you think it is.
Okay, this one obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, and maybe it’s not that helpful to bring up since it’s so hard to self-evaluate. Your story may very well have not been discovered yet because you haven’t put in enough time promoting it, you’re new to Wattpad, etc.

But no matter how much time you spend marketing yourself and your book, if you didn’t write a story people will like, you won’t get readers.

I think a LOT of writers mistakenly believe that because their stories are technically well-written (the grammar is flawless; the prose is beautiful; the descriptions of setting are sweeping) they’ve written a great book. Unfortunately, good writing isn’t that simple. The characterization, the plot development, the voice are what determines whether your story is good or not. Those aren’t measurable things, and while they’re learn-able, they’re not necessarily teachable. How do you create a loveable character? I don’t really know how to explain it (nor have I perfected the art myself)…all I know is they should feel alive on the page. You should be able to feel their personality in the narration. They should be able to move your readers to tears or laughter.

I like to point to the story I wrote my sophomore year of college. The writing is close to technically perfect.  The story is awful. Why? It’s boring.

So that brings me back to a much earlier point I made, about why a poorly written story is popular and yours might not be. Frankly, readers will choose a book with terrible writing and a fast-paced plot and great characters over a well-written story with no heart every time.

Alright, folks. I think that’s enough incoherent ranting from me for now. Feel free to tell me I’m a heartless beyotch who is so beyond biased my rambles are irrelevant. I don’t mind!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Obsessive Writing Compulsion (Paladin Rewrite Update)

So I’ve been on a bit of a writing binge lately (we’re talking over 12K words in a week, which for me, is like, crazy, yo), and I finally feel like I can give you a leedle update on how my rewrite is going.

Side effect of obsessive writing compulsion: sleep deprivation. Side effect of sleep deprivation: mild insanity. You have been warned.

So yeah. The rewrite. I was stuck in a rut for a few months for a few reasons (one being my love life…met a wonderful guy, and he was distracting. But! He moved away. Sad for me, good for my writing). Besides that, I’ve been generally lacking in motivation.

Finally I think I’ve gotten into the groove with this new version of the story. The story is coming much more easily now (before it was a struggle just to come up with a couple hundred words, and now my fingers are struggling to keep up with my brain).

I’m about 25K words into my rewrite, and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out. I can tell my writing has improved and I’m confident the dialogue is snappy.

BUT…because everything with writing must have a but…I’m nervous. Nervous how all of y’all who love the version of Paladin I have up on Wattpad will receive it.

I didn’t realize, I think, how dramatically different the rewrite would be. You all know that I was asked to add in new layers and characters and subplots, and that has had a very significant impact on the pace of the story. To put it into perspective, I’ve written 25,000 words, and Sam just ran away from Haywood in the most recent chapter. She hasn’t decided she wants to become a Paladin yet (that’s coming) and the road between Haywood and The Center (renamed, btw, because “The Center” is a lame name for a capitol city) is not a straight one.  We’ve already met Tristan, but Braeden is still a good 5-10,000 words out of the picture.

When I’ve talked to folks about the rewrite in the past, I’ve told them to think of it as a prequel. If I had to guess, I think something like 60-70% of the book will take place before Sam and crew head west for the Diamond Coast.

But a prequel is not an entirely accurate description. The sequence of events, out of necessity, has had to change. So have some of the character motivations. And the introduction of new characters and plot threads has had more consequences than I anticipated.

For example: Sam’s mother isn’t dead at the start of the story. That majorly affects Sam’s relationship with her father (the duke) and perhaps more significantly, her view of love and romantic relationships.

Sam also isn’t completely friendless. In the Wattpad version, I described her as having few friends—which I think is still true—but I didn’t think it was realistic that she’d spend 18 years in Haywood without making any friends. She’s weird, but she’s a good person. Even outcasts have a friend or two (I’m speaking as a former outcast). So I’ve introduced a friend for her, Will, who has a minor but important role. I have to say, I’m getting a kick out of his character. I really like the dynamic between them.  Here’s a quick snippet:

She slung an arm around Will’s shoulders. “Cheer up.”

He shrugged her off. “Don’t you ever get tired of winning?”

She grinned. “No.”

“Well, I’m tired of losing. It gets depressing, you know.” He looked at her sideways. “I suppose you don’t know.”

“You defeated Owen just yesterday,” Sam pointed out gently. “Handily, too.”

“I did, didn’t I?” He threw her a lopsided smile.

D'oh! I went off on a tangent. The point is, the first 25,000 – and possibly the first 50,000 – words are entirely new content. Not reworded content, new. You will meet the people who enable Sam’s escape from Haywood…

Emont’s coach waited for her a mile down the road from the castle. The peddler himself leaned against the carriage, watching her approach. He had lit a lantern, but his clothes were so bright she could have seen him without it. He was taller than she remembered, thin all over but for a slight paunch. A fading bruise across his cheek served as the only remaining evidence of the bandits’ attack. “Lady Samantha,” he said. His voice was no longer hoarse, but sonorous and full. “I half-hoped you wouldn’t come.” (FYI, my agent hasn’t edited this paragraph yet. So it could change.)

…And you’ll witness her journey with them. You’ll also get a lot more detail on how Sam learns to fake being a boy. The Paladin Trials won’t be a quick chapter anymore; they’ll take up a relatively significant portion of the book.

So why am I nervous? Well, I’m afraid that a lot of you are going to freak the !@#$ out. I’m afraid the story will be so different you’ll hate it. I’m afraid you’ll be upset when some of the most memorable events from Paladin are delayed until the second book. I’m afraid that this story won’t stand up to the original.

I personally think that the story I’m writing now is stronger (and Mommy Slater agrees! That’s one!). But I’ve also come to realize that I’m essentially writing a new book. A book that has the same characters, the same feel to it, the same major themes, the same general direction…but a different story to tell. There will be overlap, but for better or for worse, most of the story will be new to you.

I’ve still got a lot left of my rewrite to go (oh, a good 80,000 words…), so who knows where the story will take me. I hope people see the book as an opportunity to read a new story about characters they already love. After all, the original version of Paladin remains up on Wattpad for anyone who wants to read it. So it’s kind of like a bonus, right? Right?