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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, December 30, 2012

An Editor Confesses: 6 Things Writers Taught Me...by Ruth Harris

Best Wishes for a Happy 2013 from Anne and Ruth! 

 Six Things Writers Have Taught Me About Writing 

by former Big Six Editor Ruth Harris

I’ve known and worked with a lot of writers over the years (decades). Some work first thing in the AM, others in the PM, some don’t get started until near midnight. Some write sober, some don’t. Some write on a computer, some on legal pads, and these days some write on tablets. Some edit as they go along, perfecting each sentence before going on to the next. Some keep strict, almost corporate office hours, some write irregularly but in hot rushes of productivity.

Others write a first draft as fast as they can, then go back to edit and revise. Some outline in detail; some prepare elaborate storyboards, others work from a jotted list of scribbled notes; still others let the characters do the work. Some brainstorm the plot with a trusted friend, spouse or editor. Some work with a crit partner getting comments and guidance along the way; others won’t let anyone see their work until it’s finished. Bottom line, there’s no ONE way to get the job done.

No matter where, when or how writers write, though, professional writers have taught me the following:

Let yourself go. Get rid of the inner censor, that stern, humorless second-guessing nay-sayer that kills your ideas before they’re born. That killjoy is telling you your idea is too outrageous, too unbelievable, too over-the-top to see the light of day? Don't listen. Tune him out, shout her down  Don’t quash that zany/loony/nutty idea; instead, let it rip. Play with it and see where it goes. The “unspeakable,” the “unbelievable,” the OMG! “you can’t write that,” are exactly the ideas that lead to the fresh, original breakthrough.

Don’t kill your darlings, kill your inhibitions instead. You can always tone them down later. Considering every possibility, no matter how over-the-top, is the reason TV writers’ rooms are noted for Raunch and Irreverence. The reason? "R & I" I break through the conventions, the “should’s and can’t’s” that destroy creativity.

Edit yourself. Heresy coming from an editor, I know, but professional writers are often excellent editors of their own work. After years of experience, they have learned to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and figured out effective work-arounds.  They have developed the ability to look at their own work objectively and their approach is practical: what works stays, what doesn’t work hits the cutting room floor; aka the delete button.

The ability to self-edit comes with time and experience but it’s a goal for beginning writers to keep in mind.

Consider your book from the POV of a marriage, not a hot affair. Spouses get to know each other very well, are aware of all the plusses and minuses and still love each other. Take off the rose-colored glasses of passionate romance, marry your book instead and live happily ever after.

Bag your lordly delusions. Most of the professional authors I’ve known don’t clutter their minds with undefined notions of “relevance,” “significance” or “art.” Instead, they are experienced, disciplined and competent storytellers and entertainers who understand that craft matters. Great books are about characters, plot, setting, if “art” is the outcome, so much the better but, as in building a house, don’t rely on a gauzy fantasy from a literary review when what you need is a hammer and some nails.

Know your genre. Successful writers whether of horror, romance, thrillers or mystery study their genre. They know what their readers expect and they do NOT let them down. Period. No unhappy endings for romances. Readers want the HEA (happy-ever-after) so that's what the pro delivers.

No “revelation” at the end that the whole book, the characters and their trials and tribulations, was the MC’s dream. We're talking compelling fiction here, not a shaggy dog story. No tearing up in tough-guy noir. Hard edges, dammit! No weepy heart-to-heart confessions in action thrillers. Paranoia is the WTG because paranoia works; paranoia is what the reader wants. Disappoint him or her at your peril. Don't think you can reinvent the wheel. Pros know better.

Rescue yourself. One of the great old-time pulp writers (200+ books) once told me “Each one is a pain in the ass in a different way.”  What he meant was that  at some point each book is going to present a problem. A plot going nowhere. A boring/stupid/addled/DebbieDowner character. Too much/not enough background/research. Too long. Too short. You name it, sometime, somewhere in the course of writing a book, you will get stuck and you won’t know why.

Professional writers have learned how to bail themselves out. Whether it means going back to the beginning and starting again, a light rewrite, a total revision, a personality transplant (for a character, not the writer—lol), the pros have learned how to get themselves out of trouble.

Write. Write a lot. Then write some more. Seriously. Professional writers turn out copy, they meet deadlines, they get the job done and the more they write the better they get. Same with any job, career or profession.  Do you want a surgeon who’s just out of med school or one who’s done hundreds of knee/hip replacements? See what I mean?

How about you, scriveners? What are the most important things you've learned about writing from your fellow writers? Do you write on a computer? An iPad? A legal pad? A clay tablet? Do you have a writing routine or do you work in hot bursts? Do you edit as you go along, or dump it all on the page and deal with problems later?


Get a new ereader or tablet for Christmas? Anne's new Camilla Randall mystery, NO PLACE LIKE HOME will be FREE on Amazon on January 1, 2 and 3! In both the US and the UK.  It's a comic mystery about a super-rich home decorating maven who ends up homeless. With the help of a trio of intrepid homeless friends and a little dog named Toto (and the ever-polite sleuth, Camilla Randall) she exposes the secrets of the "financial wizard" who has ruined her life and the lives of so many others. It's #4 in the series, but you don't have to have read the others. All the Camilla mysteries are stand-alones.

And #3 in the series, SHERWOOD, LTD, about mayhem and murder at rogue publishing company in Robin Hood country is still free on Smashwords. for all ereader platforms.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Secret Writing Rule Book…and Why to Ignore It

Somerset Maugham famously said, "There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are."

But pretty much everybody you meet in this business will tell you there are a whole bunch. (One is "never start a sentence with 'there are'" —so watch yourself, Mr. Maugham.)

I recently read a great post by editor Jamie Chavez about what she calls the Secret Fiction Rule book. She points out that nobody knows where these "rules" come from, or why so many great books have become classics without following a single one. But that doesn't seem to matter. You will hear this stuff repeated over and over again at conferences, critique groups and forums.

Take them all with several shakers of salt. Most are true some of the time, but if you follow them rigidly, you'll end up with wooden, formulaic prose that nobody is going to want to read.

Here are ten of my unfavorites.

1. Show, don't tell:  Authors who follow this rule closely can write such murky stuff that you never know what's going on.

Is this really the best way to present a character? "He wore a helmet with a wide brim, longer in the back to protect the neck, big black boots, and a protective coat and overalls held up with red suspenders. He smelled of ashes and soot."

Why not just tell us he's a %$@*ing fireman already? After three pages of these guessing games, the building has burned down and WE DO NOT CARE.

2. Eliminate all adverbs. Seriously? Even when you're writing in the voice of someone who is, um, rather vague?

3. No prologues. Yeah, I know I've preached the no-prologue gospel because so many beginning authors use them for unreadable info-dumping, but my readers keep pointing out that George R. R. Martin seems to do OK and he loves them. I think it depends on your genre and what your readers expect. Personally, I'll skip it, but I'm probably not your target audience.

4. You must write every day. Nothing should be done every day. Moderation in all things. Including moderation.

5. You must blog to have a successful writing career. Finally, even agents are seeing the silliness of this dictum. You must do what's right for you and your writing. There are many paths to writing success.

6. Cut the last paragraph of every chapter. This annoys me no end. I write great last paragraphs.

You're not going to take them away from me. No, no you're not!!

7. No multiple points of view. Multiple points of view in one sentence—or even one chapter—can be really confusing, but novels with several points of view can be richer and have more depth.

8. Eliminate the words "was", "that" and "just." This one just makes my blood boil. I wrote a whole blogpost about the "was" police.

9. Kids can't die. Jamie Chavez addresses this in her post.

10. Happy endings are required in any commercial book. Ditto.

And here is a little verse I stole from Dorothy Parker wrote about the rules in that Secret Book.

Rules for the Beginning Novelist
…with apologies to Dorothy Parker

Writer, writer, never pen
Background story till page ten.
Use no flashbacks—no, nor prologue.
Never start your book with di’logue.
Set the hero’s hair on fire.
Keep the situation dire.
Write in genres tried and true
From a single point of view.
Tell your tale in linear time.
Avoid a plot that strains the mind.
No dead kids, bad priests, abuse
Or politics in your debuts.
Copy last year's biggest hit.
No one wants to read new @#%*
Make it light but never funny.
(Humor’s too subjective, honey.)

And if that gets you published kid,
You’ll be the first it ever did.

Have a very Merry Solstice Season, everybody!

What about you, scriveners?  Have you run into the "Secret Writing Rules" book? What are your unfavorite writing rules?

REMINDER: Congratulations to the winners of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE..AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY. 

The winners of the ebooks are: E.S. Ivy, Clare London, and Cheri
And the winners of the pbooks are: Stella Notte, Linda Gray, and Jlmbewe

Contact Catherine at ryanhyde at cryanhyde dot com with your address to receive your prize. Some of you don't have blogs or email addresses, so we can't contact you. (A little tip: it's a good idea to put your email address on the "about me" page of your blog. That way agents and editors who fall in love with your deathless prose can contact you. You want to make sure you're home if opportunity knocks. It does. It happened to me!)

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Social Media Overload: How Do Authors Reach READERS? Advice from Bestselling Romance Author Roni Loren

First: We have Contest Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered our contest last week for free copies of How to be a Writer in the E-Age...and Keep Your E-Sanity! which I co-authored with Catherine Ryan HydeWe assigned everybody a number (two numbers if you entered on both blogs) and put them into the random number sequence generator at random.org. (Timestamp: 2012-12-16 05:05:33 UTC)

The winners of the ebooks are: E.S. Ivy, Clare London, and Cheri
And the winners of the pbooks are: Stella Notte, Linda Gray, and Jlmbewe

Please contact Catherine at ryanhyde@cryanhyde.com with your address to receive your prize.

Today we have a visit from one of my favorite online author-friends. I knew her even before her name was Roni Loren :-) Roni is an awesome blogger who always has something innovative and thoughtful to say at her blog for the Fearless Romantic. She's become a bestselling author for Berkley Heat through her smart use of social media, so this is market-tested advice. My experience with Twitter and Facebook mirrors hers. I much prefer Twitter, but the readers seem to be on Facebook.

Social Media Overload: How Do You Reach READERS?
Guest Post by Roni Loren

If there is one question that all writers would love to have a definitive answer to, it’d be: How do I reach my current readers and attract new readers?

For many of us, the most practical place is online. We don’t have the funds to fly around the country for book signings or to pay for shiny ad campaigns in magazines or on TV, so we go to our computers.

But, of course, the choices are overwhelming. Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? Blog about writing? Blog about...other stuff that readers will like (and what the heck IS that other stuff)?

First, let’s tackle the biggie: blogs. I’ve had a blog going on four years now. I started out as a writing focused blog. That was before I had an agent or was published, so it seemed the obvious track to take. Over time, I’ve morphed into a more flexible blog. Sometimes I blog about writing, sometimes it’s about what I’m reading, and other times it’s just general life topics.

And the reason I made that gradual change was because I went from a blogger who writes to a published author who blogs. The focus changed. Of course, you can have a niche writing blog, and there are many authors like Anne and Janice Hardy who do a fantastic job at providing that to the writer community. However, I chose to go a slightly different route because (a) I get tired of writing about writing at times and (b) I wanted to provide my readers with something fun to if they happened to stop by.

So what should YOU do? Well, that is up to you and what you feel you can maintain and enjoy. If you do decide to stay focused on a more craft/industry type blog, then maybe make sure your website has “sticky” extras that readers can dig through if they stop by. (See my post Author Websites: Layering Yours With Sticky Extras for ideas.) I have photos of my heroes, pictures of The Ranch (the secretive, illicit resort my series centers around), and a music playlist for the books and characters. I also keep a list of what I’ve read that anyone can look through. Those are things readers enjoy. (And my web stats speak to that. The Ranch page gets a surprising amount of hits.)

So try to look at your site through the eyes of a reader stopping by for the first time. What are you offering them?

All right, now on to the two other biggies out there…

Facebook or Twitter? It's a question that people seem to have definite feelings on. Most people prefer one strongly and see the other as a pain. In the past, I've made it no secret that I'm a Twitter girl. I like the fast pace and the simple interface. I like that I can follow a bunch of people and get a little nibble of everything. And frankly, I use it as my blog reader now since I never seem to have time to keep up with my Google Reader.

However, over the last few months or so, I decided to put more effort into my Facebook presence. Many established authors swear by Facebook for connecting with readers, and I know that people are way more likely to be on Facebook than Twitter.

So I begin to put focus on FB and not just by copying tweets over there. FB and Twitter are inherently different in the kinds of updates that "fit." I also made the point of keeping FB more reader-focused than writer-focused. Twitter is filled with my fellow writers who don't mind hearing about word counts or craft-related things. But FB seemed to be getting more pure readers, so I didn't want to bore them with the technical side of writing.

And you know what?

When I did a poll recently, the difference in "crowd" became noticeable.

I posted a question on both Twitter and Facebook asking what I should put on a stamp I'm going to use when I send out signed bookplates. One option was my tagline "For the Fearless Romantic" and the other was "Greetings from The Ranch."

So the results were very telling. Almost every one of my Twitter followers said the Fearless Romantic one. Then on Facebook, every vote was for The Ranch. It was amazing how divided it was.

And then I realized the difference. My writer friends were going for the one that spoke more to "author brand". We've been trained to think that way, to have that marketing hook. But my READERS who are already fans of the books were thrilled at the thought of having "Greetings from The Ranch." One line is meant to "sell" the books to new people. The other serves to entertain people who love the series already.
So, it was an easy decision. Anyone who is asking me for a bookplate is already a fan. Therefore, this needs to be for them. It's not about selling someone new on the book. If this were for promo material at a conference or something, the fearless romantic line would be the better fit. So it was a lesson in knowing who your audience is for something.

BUT, back to the point, this also showed me the clear distinction. Twitter is where my writer friends hang out. Facebook is where more readers are. (At least from my own anecdotal evidence and what I've heard from other authors.)

So which one should you do?

Short answer: Both

Longer answer: If you don't have time for both, do which one you enjoy the most because that's the one you'll probably thrive at.

But here are some things to consider and make a good case for cultivating both...

Why Is Facebook Important?

■ It's the most likely place fans will look for you besides your website.

■ Not everyone is a social media addict (like we writers are). Your every day person may not read blogs regularly, have a google plus profile, a Twitter account, or a Goodreads account. But even the most social media averse person probably has a Facebook page. My grandparents have one, my parents have one, my high school teachers have them. I'm hard pressed to think of someone I know who DOESN'T have one.

■ It allows you longer updates because not everything can be said in 140 characters.

■ It gives you the chance to put up exclusive content and sneak peeks to give your readers something extra for following you and reading your books.

■ You only have to post an update one or two times a day. So there is more opportunity for interaction about one topic.

■ It's easy for people to share you with their friends.

■ And yes, I’m aware that the recent changes with the “promote” button make updates harder for all your followers to see. However, if you post interesting things that get good interaction, the algorithm spreads the message to more people.

Why Is Twitter Is Important?

■ There is an incredible writer community on there. Writing is a solitary business. Hanging out on Twitter is like the office water cooler. You can go there for gossip, encouragement, or just to vent to each other.

■ Some readers do prefer Twitter and that will continue to grow.

■ It is a wealth of blog link love. Like I said, it acts as my blog reader these days.

■ It's more casual than FB in my opinion. Since you can update throughout the day, each update doesn't have to be super profound. : )

■ It's easy to share things via Twitter.

■ It doesn't have all the restrictions like FB. And your followers see your updates--you don't have to pay extra to "promote".

■ You don't get a crap ton of emails anytime someone comments on something.

■ It's less of a commitment for someone to follow you on Twitter. Most people won't "Like" a FB page unless they are a fan already. But many people will follow you on Twitter just to check you out and see what you have to say. So it's easier to introduce yourself and your books to new people.

Each obviously has benefits and drawbacks. But I think if you can manage both, you're going to find you have a more well-rounded online presence. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find you and connect with you.

So, if you aren't already there and want to hang out with me, you can find me on Twitter AND Facebook. ;)

And a quick note and PSA on Pinterest and Tumblr because I know someone will inevitably bring one of them up in the comments. If you follow me, you know that earlier this year I was sued for using a photo on my blog that I didn’t have the copyright to. Therefore, Pinterest and Tumblr scare the crap out of me because I know now the rules, and you are not protected. Anytime you post something that you don’t have clear permission from the copyright holder to post, you can be sued for copyright infringement. So use it at your own risk. All I post now are book covers, movie posters, and creative commons licensed pics. *end PSA* : )

So what do you think? Do you have a preference on your social media presence? To those of you on both Twitter and Facebook, do you find a difference in the "crowd"? As a reader, do you seek out authors on any particular social network? Do you read blogs?

Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars, er, rock concerts. Yeah, that's it. She is the National Bestselling Author of The Loving on the Edge series from Berkley Heat. Website: www.roniloren.com

NEWS: Anne is visiting Louise Wise's Wise Words this week with some tips on fixing some of those pesky problems in your WIP that your critique group can't help you with.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing? Which is the Right First Step for YOU? Win a Free Book to Help You Decide

The list of million-seller "indie" authors is growing every day. Self-publishing has not only become mainstream—it's edgy and cool. Persuasive blogs by self-publishing stars like Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, David Gaughran and Kris Rusch have inspired a staggering number of new writers to self-publish in the past two years.

Publishing your own work is a way to save yourself from the sometimes-horrific treatment of authors by "legacy" publishers (the indie term for the old guard) who have acted greedy and desperate as the e-publishing revolution shakes up their world.

Indie publishing has also become a successful road to traditional publishing superstardom and major Hollywood deals for authors like E.L. James and Hugh Howey.

And this week, an indie even made it into the august pages of the New York Times Book Review.

But self-publishing is not an easy road—and a number of factors are making it more difficult than it was a few years ago—as I wrote in last week's post—so I urge new writers to carefully weigh their options. There are alternatives that aren't making so many headlines, but may be better for you personally.

I often hear from new authors who are feeling pushed into self-publishing by "experts" who tell them they are being foolish to query agents and small publishers. Or even that all publishers "hate" writers.

Yes, some traditional publishers and agents have behaved very badly recently, especially ones who used to rely on the mass-market paperback and have seen their markets evaporate. The must-read Passive Voice blog is full of hair-raising stories about publisher/agent bad behavior.

Some self-publishers have behaved badly too. The review-buying scandal of last summer is still having repercussions.

But John Locke's scammy review schemes and Harlequin's rotten contracts shouldn't sour you on either route. Authors on both paths still have highly successful careers.

So you shouldn't be looking at the rotten apples when you make your publishing decisions. You should be looking at yourself. Your own personal goals--and skills--should matter more than following trends.

Some people dream of running a mom-and-pop business. Others thrive working at a big corporation. Still others prefer to work for a local small business with only a few employees. None of these paths is wrong. It's about what suits your personality, and only you know which path is right for you.

All publishing roads are going to take patience, hard work, and the ability to deal with setbacks.

In order to make an informed decision, it's important to educate yourself about all publishing routes. If you're a beginning writer, you should be reading Agent Rachelle Gardner and the Query Shark as well as Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith.  (And BTW, learning to write a great query and synopsis is just as important for indies, since you'll have to query reviewers and learn to write great blurbs)

Read The Passive Voice, but also subscribe to the free Publisher's Lunch newsletter. Another must-read is Being Human at Electric Speed, the blog of former Writers Digest publisher Jane Friedman (which includes a weekly state-of-the-industry post from Porter Anderson.)

Don't let fourth-hand information on writers' forums push you one way or another. Absolute Write tends to be the comfort zone for a lot of people going the trad. route and the Kindleboards are home to some enthusiastic self-publishers. They are both great resources, but take any advice from individuals there with several shakers of salt. (Especially if they're cranky. As a general rule, I think it's safe to assume people who are in a chronic state of rage probably don't have all the answers.)

When you publish a book, you're entering an industry, so you need to know all aspects of it. Whether you go the traditional or indie route, you're starting a business, and you need to be aware of the marketplace. Things have changed a lot since the Kindle was introduced five years ago and you don't want to make a decision based on out-of-date information.

As I said on the blog last week, new retailers like Kobo and the newly-improved Smashwords are opening up the market. It may be more difficult to get your book noticed than it was at the beginning of the indie revolution, but a lot of self-publishers are doing very well. Friend of the blog indie author Saffina Desforges recently had three of her books in the top three spots in thrillers in the UK, and Catherine Ryan Hyde, my collaborator on HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY has seen her career soar since she started self-publishing the books she had previously only been able to traditionally-publish in England.

And I should point out that the decision isn't really "either/or." An increasing number of top-tier authors like Saffi and Catherine are moving to the "hybrid" model, with an equal number of self-and traditionally published titles and a career aided by an agent/manager. The two "roads" are merging.

Consider the following:

1) Most self-publishing successes like Konrath, Eisler and Locke have agents.

2) The majority of self-publishing superstars started out traditionally published—with a strong platform built in partnership with their Big Six publishers.

3)  A lot of the biggest names in "self-publishing" sign with traditional publishers as soon as they get a good offer.

4) Indie publishing (small press or self-publishing) can be a dead-end in the traditional world if you don't have spectacular sales, so be wary of using self-publishing as a way of "getting noticed" by the trads.

There's a reason I put "FIRST STEP" in the title. Going from trad. to self-publishing is easier than going from self-publishing to trad., unless you have big sales. Like 20,000-book sales. Agent Janet Reid wrote a must-read post on the subject in October. She points out, "Publishers love debut authors, cause they're easier to pitch to retail accounts. It's easier to launch a career than revitalize one."

5) Other more "traditional" alternatives to the old Big Six paradigm are appearing all the time.
  • The new Amazon imprints are offering more lucrative contracts than the Big Six right now. 
  • There has been lots of innovative thinking from agents recently, in both the US and the UK, as Porter Anderson reported in this week's Writing on the EtherAgents are becoming managers who help authors self-publish and traditionally publish at the same time. 
  • New small digital publishers are springing up every day.  They usually offer at least a 50% royalty and also help with promotion to your target market. For a great list of some of the new digital publishers (with ratings!) check out Patricia de Hemricort's blog Publishing a Book is An Adventure. 
  • Big Publishing is opening its doors to unagented work for the first time in decades with new digital imprints from HarperCollins and Random House . (Not to be confused with  Simon and Schuster's new experiment in vanity publishing--which is something to avoid.) 

So what does all this mean to the new writer?

It means the most important thing is to keep your options open, because what's true today may not be true tomorrow.

And how do you do that?

1) I urge new writers who aren't schooled in business to consider querying agents and smaller publishers before taking the self-publishing plunge.

I know—I can hear the groaning from everybody who's read the stories that all agents have horns. But the horror stories you've heard are about agents have been desperately clinging to the old paradigm. Most of those won't be around much longer. The agents who are succeeding in the new digital world are learning to be managers of the hybrid career. Having somebody on your side who knows the ropes can make or break a career, especially if you're not a born negotiator.

Here's what Porter Anderson had to say after attending London's FutureBook conference this week:

"If anything, the digitally enabled rise of self-publishing is emblematic of the transformation that agents, like publishers, are having to contemplate. And if there’s a single term for what agents do up ahead, “manager” seems to be part of it."

(But check them out at Writer Beware and don't sign away any rights or "in perpetuity" contracts.)

Yes, some books in some genres can't get an agent's interest no matter how well written, but everything's cyclical. A few years ago, chick lit was poison to agents, but recently I've seen a lot of them asking for it. And lots of small romance publishers were eager for it the whole time.

2) Take a good long look at your own goals and talents.

Self-publishing is about becoming a small business owner. Were you born with the entrepreneurial spirit? Do you love playing with numbers and marketing statistics? Are you a self-starter who prefers working alone? Then you're a born indie. (And you might be interested in the post today at the Writers Guide to E-Publishing about how to set up your publishing business as an LLC.)

But if the thought of balance sheets, market analysis and accounting fill you with loathing, opening your own publishing business could be a nightmare.

A huge amount of a self-publisher's time is spent in promotions and marketing. Yes, traditional publishing involves putting in a lot of marketing time, too, but you'll usually have some guidance and help. If you're indie, you're on your own.

As Self-Publishing advocate Ruth Ann Nordin said last week at the Self-Pub Authors blog

"If you don’t feel like doing all the work that self-publishing requires, then you probably should pick another business to go into because it’s harder to do this than a lot of authors will tell you." 

She also says in one of the comments: "I hate the blogs that preach overnight success. It’s doing so many authors a disservice. Those blogs make it sound like all you need to do is publish a book and watch the sales come in. If it was that easy, we’d all be hitting the bestselling charts."

But she also adds: "...if you don’t mind doing all the work, then I think it’s one of the most worthwhile professions a person can have.  If you love it, it’ll be worth it."

Running a small business can be bliss for people who are bottom-line-savvy self-starters with a lot of patience. It also helps to have some capital saved up.

But if you work better with enforced deadlines, moral support, and a team to urge you on, consider alternatives:
  • Consider a small digital press in your specific niche. I'm very happy with my boutique press. My editor works with me on every aspect of my writing and book marketing. And I'm not alone. A literary author I know has recently signed with JMS books, a LGBT press which does promos and helps with target advertising and has got him a great collection of reviews many Big 6-ers would envy. 
  • Join an authors' collective: Indie authors are banding together to hire editors and designers and do joint publicity. I was just followed on Twitter by an interesting one called Indie Visible
  • Start your own affinity group. Author Claude Nougat is actively working on starting a new genre, Baby Boomer Lit, and has formed a Goodreads group to promote it. This is the kind of innovative thinking that will drive the new publishing business.
  • Keep your eye on the new digital imprints from the bigger publishers.

But before you join any small press or collective, make sure you read some of their titles and contact their writers in order to make sure they are 100% legit and professional. And always check with Writer Beware.

Finally take the current market into account. Does your genre sell better in ebook or pbook format? Indies depend on ebooks for most of their sales.

  • Right now, mostly adult genre fiction (especially thrillers, romance and erotica) and nonfiction books with a specific niche sell best as ebooks.
  • People who buy pbooks (paper books) are more likely to buy literary (or literary women's) fiction and children's books.
  • Children's books are finally starting to sell as ebooks, (up 300% in the last year) because of the new tablet technology. The black and white Kindle of a couple of years ago was no place for a children's picture book. But on the iPad or KindleFire, it's fantastic. Still, children's books do best in hardcover.
  • Romance writers do best as self e-publishers. A survey last May said romance (especially erotic romance) did better than science-fiction, fantasy or literary fiction. 
  • Young Adult books are popular in both formats, and they are still the darling of agents and trad publishers. At the last writers' conference I attended, all the agents represented YA. Only one would even look at adult fiction. So if you write YA you've got a great array of choices.
Whatever path you take as you start to publish, it's important to keep in mind that you'll have a much better chance of making a career out of your writing if you do two things first:

1) Establish a strong online platform in your genre

This doesn't mean making a lot of writer friends you chat with. You do want to network with other writers, but don't count on them as your core readership. Your fellow authors are not your audience unless you write how-to-write books or novels about writers. Network with people who read your genre. That means it's much better to blog about films or review books in your genre than it is to blog about fighting writers block and how to write a query letter.

2) Build inventory

It's hard to start a business. And it's very, very hard to start a business when you have only one product to sell. There's a classic Saturday Night Live skit from the late 1970s about a pathetic mall store that sells nothing but Scotch tape. It's hilarious. Fred Willard's clueless, doomed optimism is pure comic genius.

But do you want to be that guy?

If you're just finishing up your first or second book and all of this feels overwhelming, let me remind you that Catherine Ryan Hyde and I have written a handbook for beginning writers called HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY.

Between us, we've got experience with Big Six publishers, small presses, boutique digital presses and self-publishing. We don't favor any one road and provide lots of advice for authors on all paths.

In honor of the holidays, Catherine and I are running a promotion this week of HOW TO BE A WRITER. We are giving away:



THREE FREE E-BOOKS OF HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE--for Kindle or Nook (and they come with free updates.)

Anybody who would like to be eligible for the free give-aways, just mention "free book" in the comments and your preference of pbook or ebook. If you go over to Catherine's blog and comment on the give-away post, you'll get your name in twice. The contest will go until 9 PM next Saturday, December 15th. Winners will be announced on this blog next Sunday.

Oh, yes, and I have a little bit of news of my own. NO PLACE LIKE HOME, the fourth Camilla Randall mystery, is now available for purchase ("Likes" always appreciated.) And the boxed set of the first three Camilla books is now at a special holiday reduced price of $2.99. (also available at the reduced price in the UK.)

It was suggested to me that I ask people to nominate this blog for WRITER'S DIGEST'S 101 BEST WEBSITES FOR WRITERS. If you felt like nominating us, Ruth and I would be ecstatic. Submit an email with the subject line "101 Websites" to writersdigest@fwmedia.com to nominate http://annerallen.blogspot.com/ .

So what say you, scriveners? Do you aspire to a hybrid career at some point, or are you aiming to be 100% indie or 100% traditional? Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Or would you rather work with a team? Don't forget to say "free book" in the comments if you don't have a copy yet and you'd like to win one.

NEXT WEEK: We'll have a guest post from romance novelist and uber-blogger Roni Loren with some solid advice on using social media to promote your work. 

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Indie Publishing in 2013: Why We Can't Party Like It's 2009

Amazon's Kindle turned five years old last week. What an exciting half-decade it's been!

Jeff Bezos showed his genius when he gave his e-reader that name. The device sparked a conflagration that is still pretty much out of control. The old publishing world is in chaos, and nobody has a clue what direction the wildfire will take next.

Although if you want a little glimpse into the crystal ball, Agent Laurie McLean offered some optimistic predictions in her guest post here two weeks ago.

But in just the two weeks since her post, we've seen more wild shifts and changes. HarperCollins, moving to more ebooks, is closing one of its biggest warehouses, and seems set to gobble up Simon and Schuster.  And Simon and Schuster has launched a new scary-scammy self-publishing wing by teaming up with the vanity publisher Author Solutions. Yes, the Author Solutions which was recently acquired by Penguin, which was recently purchased by Random House. And Random House is launching several new digital-only imprints. Ditto HarperCollins' Avon imprint which is actually soliciting your NaNo novels. (Yes. That one surprised the heck out of me, too.)

Confused yet? I sure am. Some people think the Big Six-no-Five-or-is-it-Four—are soon to become the Big One, which still may not be Big enough to compete with what some fear will become the most powerful publishing force of all: the Mighty Zon. (Sarah Lacy at PandoDaily has some interesting things to say on the subject of Amazon's inevitable dominance.)

In five years, Amazon has gone from mail-order bookseller to major player in world publishing.

They did this partly by sparking the "indie revolution".

The "revolution" was another product of Mr. Bezos' marketing genius. He wanted cheap electronic books for his new Kindle, and the Big Six were not about to slash prices for some upstart online retailer with a gadget nobody thought they needed. Publishers wanted to charge the same price for an ebook as they did for a new hardcover book. Amazon accused them of price-fixing and went after them through the legal system.

But meanwhile they needed cheap books for the new Kindle owners.

So they opened up Amazon to self-publishers, offering an author-friendly e-book creation system and a 70% "royalty" to authors who priced their books in the range Amazon wanted to promote: between three and ten dollars.

I'm putting "royalty" in quotes, because, by strict definition, Amazon doesn't pay a traditional royalty. Publishers pay royalties. Retailers take a percentage. For self-publishers, Amazon is a retailer, so technically, Amazon is not paying a 70% royalty; it's taking a 30% sales commission.

But whatever you choose to call it, the payment system worked. Big time. While the Big Six were shrinking advances, lists and print runs—and making increasingly unreasonable demands on authors—the Zon offered writers a new way to distribute their work and actually make money at it.

I first became aware of the viability of Amazon-aided self-publishing in late 2009, when a fellow chick lit author, Elisa Lorello, self-published a novel that went to the top of the Kindle bestseller list on Christmas Day. This was when traditional publishers were treating chick lit as toxic waste and refused to acquire any titles that didn't involve vampires, werepersons, or other dentally-enhanced people-eaters.

I paid even more attention a few months later when Amazon offered Lorello a nice contract with their first publishing venture, Amazon Encore.

Elisa became one of thousands of highly successful e-book self-publishers. In 2010, Amazon's new "indies" like John Locke and Amanda Hocking became household names. At the same time, established, agented novelists like Joe Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith self-published and started to preach the gospel of the "indie" movement.

Then, on March 21, 2011, New York Times bestseller Barry Eisler turned down a six figure advance from St. Martin's  to self-publish his new thriller.

That was the moment when even the nay-sayers had to accept that self-publishing had become mainstream.

Indies went on to become some of the greatest bestsellers of all time, like E. L. James (although, like me, she started with a small press, not strictly self-publishing.) Other self-pubbers made high-profile deals with Hollywood, like Hugh Howey, who sold his Wool books to Ridley Scott for some serious bucks. (Sorry, Hugh, that I tried to give Wool to Speilberg in an earlier version of this post. LOL.)

Subsequently, a whole industry of editors, designers, coders and online advertisers sprang up to minister to the needs of the new indie entrepreneur-authors.

John Locke wrote a book telling how to achieve Amazon success like his. Literally millions of self-publishers flooded the marketplace in 2011 and 2012. (Nobody's quite sure how many ebooks there are, since many don't have ISBNs.)

But a few months ago, things began to change. Amazon made some policy changes that were decidedly less friendly to self-publishers.

Indies who formerly sang Amazon's praises began to get cranky. I recently saw this lament on the Kindleboards (with apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford.)

You write sixteen books, what do you get
Another year older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the Amazon store.

Some authors even think indies are being "being quietly herded off into a corner" since the DoJ decision brought down the price of Big Six books. Stephen Hise wrote a dark post at Indies Unlimited on the effects of Amazon's policy changes on the indie author.

What we do know is that Amazon's attempt to bring down prices through the legal system finally paid off. Big name ebooks by Big Six authors are now selling for reasonable, and even give-away prices.

So indies aren't as necessary to the Amazon bottom line as they once were. I'm not sure things are as dire as Derek Haines says in his post in The Vandal, because established indies report they continue to have good Amazon sales. But he has some legitimate worries.

For the new author who is thinking of launching a career by self-publishing through Amazon, it's important to be aware things have changed drastically in recent months. One thing to be aware of—especially if you're a newbie—is that a lot of the most powerful marketing strategies of the "Kindle Millionaires" are no longer viable:

#1 Garnering lots of of Amazon reviews: A great deal of John Locke's success was due to his huge number of positive Amazon reviews. His "how I made millions" book claimed this was due to his expertise in targeting the right reader.

But it turns out his expertise was actually in buying fake reviews.

The paid review and sock-puppet review scandals that rocked Amazon this summer after revelations by Locke--and an embarrassing number of others--have resulted in a draconian crackdown on all Amazon reviews.

The L.A. Times reports that many authors have found their reviews disappearing. Some popular legitimate reviewers have had all their reviews (of indies and trad-pubbed books alike) deleted with no explanation. I've seen lots of reports from authors who have lost dozens of reviews for no apparent reason. And authors who question the arbitrary removals are told they'll be banned from selling on Amazon forever if they dare to question any action by the Great Zon. Even Amazon advocate Joe Konrath thinks they've gone over to the dark side with this.

Amazon now bans authors from reviewing other authors' books in their own genre. They claim this is because their TOS guidelines ban reviewing by a "competitor," and this protects against attacks on rivals by sock puppets. But they delete positive and negative reviews alike. And not only from authors in their own genre. Some people have been told all published authors have been banned from reviewing. (If the New York Times or the New Yorker did this, they'd have to go out of business. Authors have ALWAYS reviewed other authors.)

They are also deleting reviews by anybody with a name similar to the author. I've had reviews deleted from anybody named "Allen". The rational is that anybody with the same name has a financial interest in my work. (Yes, Woody Allen, Joan Allen, and General John Allen have a big financial interest in my books :-) )

As you can imagine, this has made many reviewers wary of posting anything to Amazon, and has left readers jaded and untrusting. Seeking reviews is now a much less sure-fire way of making sales. Unfortunately, search engines still favor books with more reviews. Not a good situation for a newbie self-publisher.

2) Using free ebooks to raise your Amazon profile. Elisa Lorello had her big Christmas 2009 success because she offered her book free on Amazon that day. That pushed her to the top of the "bestseller" list and raised her book from obscurity to the top of suggested "also boughts" and "top sellers" that appear on every Kindle.

But in late 2011, Amazon introduced KDP Select. Only authors enrolled in the "Select" program are now allowed freebie give-aways. Select requires exclusivity. If you sell ebooks at Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo, etc—or even on your own website—you aren't allowed to list a book as "free" on Amazon.

And the "also boughts" and "top sellers" also heavily favor books in the KDP Select program.

Until recently, Amazon matched the price you charge for your book on other platforms, so it was possible to get around the KDP Select exclusivity by making your book free on Smashwords, but many of us are finding that even after several months, Amazon doesn't seem to be matching a "free" price.

They are however, sweetening the pot for KDP Select members by doubling the price they pay for "borrows" (Select books are also free to borrow for Amazon Prime members.) Now many Select books will get more than the sale price for a borrow. It's tempting, but only if you have other books available at other retailers. I think it's unwise for anybody to be 100% dependent on the whims of Amazon's ever-changing algorithms.

3) Selling mass quantities of 99 cent ebooks to become a bestseller on Amazon. A year ago, D.D. Scott, the force of nature behind the Writers Guide to E-Publishing, preached the gospel of "Snickers-bar marketing" and the 99 cent ebook.

But that has all changed. Here's what she said last week,

"Up until a few months ago, using the 99 Cent Price Point got you a ton of fabulous VISIBILITY ….You could more than make up for a higher royalty per book (using a price point of $2.99 or above) because of the higher quantity of books sold at the lower 99 Cent price.

BUT…not anymore!!!

Due to the agency pricing/cost-fixing schemes and the resulting Department of Justice settlement with a few of The Big Six Publishers – with several more holding out for litigation, many Big Six/TradiPubs are lowering their prices to between 99 Cents and $3.99.

Also…and this is HUGE…Amazon’s algorithms have definitely changed to favor the TradiPub books at these lower prices."

There was also a change in the Amazon algorithms last May that give a 99 cent book sale less "weight" in sales rankings. To be counted as a full "sale" a book has to sell for $2.99 or more.

4)  Getting featured on Kindle Nation Daily, E-Reader News Today, Pixel of Ink or other sites for e-book readers. Recently the big sites for ebook promos announced they will be severely restricting the number of free books they list, due to a firm request from Amazon. Here's how they put it at ENT.

"While Amazon cannot "make" us do anything with our website, they can tell us they will not pay us anymore if we don't do what they want us to do.  And what they've told us to do is cut down A LOT on the free books or they will not pay us at all.  I can't go into detail on what they've told us but this is something that will be affecting all sites similar to ours within the next month."

5) Promoting your work on Facebook. Facebook is still "free" for family and friends, but now you have to pay to use it for marketing. Meghan Ward talked in her post this week about "Promoted Posts", which Facebook launched in May of this year.

"For $5 $10, or $15, Facebook will make your post more visible within your followers’ news feeds. If you don’t promote your post, only a fraction of your followers will ever see it." 

Facebook's changes mean that only about 16% of all your followers now see your regular posts. If you want more people to see them, you have to pay around $50. Even for family photos and LOL Cat videos.
~ ~ ~
So does all this mean the indie movement is over?

Not at all. Simon and Schuster wouldn't be making their clueless foray into self-publishing if they thought indie publishing was going to diminish.  

But I think it's important not to think of it as the "Kindle" movement any more. I think the "revolution" needs to wean itself from the Mighty Zon and Facebook to be truly "indie".

The truth is, "indie" is a misnomer for someone who is 100% dependent on a mega-corporation. Yes, when you publish on Amazon you're an "independent contractor" rather than an employee, but that isn't necessarily a ticket to financial independence.

I think the indies of the future will need to focus on smaller outlets like Smashwords, Kobo and Barnes and Noble, even though they may require more initial work.

Smashwords may be a little cumbersome, but it is a truly "independent" company. Mark Coker started it because he's an indie author himself, and I think right now he still only has about thirteen employees. It's still a very "indie" operation.

And a number of indies are finding Smashwords is their best source of revenue. Horror author Edward M. Grant said on the Passive Voice blog this week,

"I’ve sold about 4x as many e-books through Smashwords and its distributors as through Amazon in the last three months, and made more money on most of the sales."

If you want to support independent publishing, look for ebook titles to buy at Smashwords before clicking automatically to Amazon. You can buy a book there for your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad or any other device just as easily as with Amazon. And there are a whole lot of great books free. (Shameless plug: My comic mystery SHERWOOD, LTD is free on Smashwords.) Leaving your reviews on Smashwords instead of Amazon may also have a greater impact. Certainly your review will have a better chance of a long shelf-life.

Kobo is another very author-friendly retailer that's just beginning to hit its stride. They're the biggest online book retailer in Canada, where they started, and now they've been acquired by e-commerce giant, Rakuten, they're getting a good chunk of the global market.

British indie superstar Saffina Desforges says Kobo is blitzing the airwaves with adverts for their mini ereaders, which are "cute and back lit--with a very attractive price tag of 40 quid."

Kobo reps tell me they plan to start forums and discussion groups to rival the Kindleboards. Let's hope they'll be monitored by polite Canadians so we can leave the crankypants Kindleboarders behind to snipe at each other in the Amazon jungle.

Let me be clear: I'm not telling indies to abandon Amazon. It still has 43% of the ebook market--which may go up again with the phenomenal success of the new Kindle Fire tablet.

And I think KDP Select is great for launching a book, but I suggest using it for the minimum of three months. Do your freebies and get your title and name out there. But then I think it's best to opt out and spread your book to as many platforms as possible.

Amazon's shift to favoring the traditional publishers may mean fewer "Kindle Millionaires," but I have no doubt there will be new Indie E-Book Millionaires.

For the new writers out there who are on the fence about self-publishing, my advice is to keep your options open. Don't make your decision based on old news. The new digital imprints and unagented submissions at Random House and HarperCollins could be game-changers. (They are offering real publishing contracts: the opposite of Simon and Schuster's vanity publishing imprint.)

And don’t forget there are wonderful small digital publishers like mine who pay great royalties and take all the financial risk by providing cover design, editing, formatting and even some marketing. A niche publisher that carries only your genre and targets your market can be a very good choice for a newbie writer who is not an expert in business or marketing. (Just make sure the publisher is legit and check them out with Writer Beware. If you have to pay up front or sign away any rights, you don't want to go there.)

Because now more than ever, indies will have to become market-savvy entrepreneurs. Here's advice from Kristen McLean at Tools of Change for Publishing.

"In order to be well-equipped for this new environment, we think authors and content creators need as much training in business and publishing expertise as they do in writing. They need to understand deep structural issues like the way data flows around the industry, new modes of discovery, new thinking about consumer behavior, how to read the numbers, the potential of new technology, and how to build an effective team around themselves so they can run their businesses."

One way for authors to keep up with publishing business news is to follow Jane Friedman, who has launched a new link list today of Best Business Advice for Writers.

Whether or not Amazon is "dumping" the indies, it's time to rethink the rules that have been working for self- and small publishers for the past four years. We all need to plan innovative marketing strategies that involve smaller, more indie-friendly companies.

You don't want to find you've escaped the oppression of the Big Six only to be squashed by the Big Zon.

Book News: Anne's new Camilla Randall mystery, NO PLACE LIKE HOME will be launching next week. It's set in San Luis Obispo, "the happiest town on earth" and explores how close we all are to homelessness. (I'm totally in love with this cover by Laura Morrigan.)

Also, we'll be having some exciting give-aways of ebooks AND paper books for HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE...AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY on this blog and Catherine Ryan Hyde's next week. Stop by for a chance to win free books!

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