Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A Reason For Why Authors Are Not Finding Success In Publishing

I wanted to call this a theory but I think I will stick to a hypothesis. Still, I do think there is a lot of merit for what I am about to say.

I recently read an article (again) and the decline in the publishing industry for authors. More and more "authors" (NOTE: I am using Authors in quotes because they call themselves this, not that they are authors) are struggling and more and more are finding that breaking into the business is, in their words, "nearly impossible." These authors go on and on about the business strategies of the publishers, the stupidity of the book sellers and the fact that agents are supposedly only the "gate-keepers" to this privileged world of publishing." While these ideas might have a couple of examples, I do not think that is the real issue.

I have written here that one factor I do argue about the sales decline stems from the lack of readership and the rise of binge watching on Netflix, Hulu and the sort. People just don't want to read. But that is not something that, I believe, is getting in the way of authors not making it into the business.

So what is it you ask?

Sorry to say this, but I do believe the intelligence of the author population is seriously declining.

Don't take this the wrong way. I do believe authors have a lot of great intentions, but the submissions I see (and other agents and editors are seeing) tend to show a serious lack of education in the business, the writing craft, or the basic skills of research and knowing how to submit projects.

Over the weekend, I played serious catch up of submissions and found that nearly 70%+ of the submissions were for projects that A) were not what I acquired; B) the premise would never even sell if self-published, or C) the proposals/stories/queries were far from market ready. We literally have a population of "authors" who have absolutely no clue what they are doing?

It seems that so many "authors" are just sitting down typing what they call a novel and attempt to sell it. And yet, these same authors find failure at every turn. Eventually, they think that the secret to publishing might be to join a writing group. Good start, but now they are with other authors who have found the same lack of success and proceed to share their "conspiracy theories" justifying why their brilliant stories were rejected. (Note: These stories were labeled "brilliant" by their families and best friends).

I have said this before and I will say it again. Being an author is a job. It is a business. It is just like any other career. Before we enter any career, we go to school, we become educated, we get a degree or two, we have internships, we apprentice, we take classes from "accredited" schools. The key is, we become educated BEFORE we dive into a career.

And I am sorry to say this, but the vast majority of "authors" will continue to find a lack of success until they choose the path of education.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Avoid "But Wait" Moments

I have a seen a ton of stories recently that have fallen into this category. These are stories that come across to the reader as being VERY forced, not so much with the voice of the story, but the plot of the story. The best way I can describe this issue is "But wait, and then THIS happened" moments.

Essentially the story goes something like this. Hero and heroine are merrily heading toward their happily ever after and then "Oh no! Something happens." Now the characters deal with this and off they go toward that HEA again and then "Oh no! Something happens!" These moments tend to be things such as"
  • Store character works at goes bankrupt.
  • Kid gets sick
  • Parent gets sick
  • Work calls
  • Flat tire
  • Broken arm, leg, etc.
  • Passes out due to not eating
Do these things happen in life? Yes! But these are nothing more than complications and irritations. These ARE NOT conflicts.

What I am finding is that, more often than not, the real reason authors use these complications is that there is simply no significant conflict for the characters. In the case of romance writing, this means there is nothing stopping the characters from getting together.

Oh sure, authors try to make something of it. In one of the last cases I read, the author kept trying to use the phrase that "it had always been that way" for the other character as to why a relationship would never work. Nope! Just an excuse.

I should also add here, that if the character always knew that about the other character, then a relationship would have never been a consideration in the first place.

The reality is that when you start into this style of writing, you are really falling into the same trap as a soap opera. Think of it... How many times did Erica Cain fall into the same mistakes?

Monday, February 17, 2020

What Do Politics Have To Do With Submissions To An Agent?

I am going to try my best to walk a fine line here between talking politics and talking about business and publishing. In recent years, there is a huge divide about the role politics and social attitudes play out in business, and especially with the publishing industry. Many authors do believe that people are making decisions entirely subjectively and with intents to discriminate. While I am, in no way, going to say there are not people out there like that, I do want to say that the vast majority (and I use that term meaning more than 50% +1 person), are making decisions in a true business like fashion. I do want to say, before I continue, that I can only speak to what I do here at Greyhaus.

First of all, I make it very clear the things I represent, the things I like and the things I do not like. This is because, as an author, you want to work with a publisher that A) represents and markets the type of writing you do; and B) thinks the way you do. I have often said that you want an agent how knows your genre inside and out and is also, so in love with your writing, he or she cannot stop talking about it.

Is this subjective? Yes, in a way. People really do not read and love every genre out there. They have things they like better than others. They also know and understand some genres better than others. One of my authors was talking to me recently about a woman at her church who was writing a book and wanted to "talk shop" and potentially start a critique group. This was exciting, except for the fact that this author writes memoirs and modern non-fiction. My author writes historical romance (not modern). Can they help each other? No! They can be their to support, but neither understands the other genre enough to be of help.

This has absolutely nothing to do with liking a person, their backgrounds, political or social beliefs. This is entirely business.

Secondly, as an agent, when a submission comes in, I look at whether or not this is something I can honestly help with and sell. In this case, I am not only looking at this in the same way of I just talking about (do I understand it enough), I am also looking at the market out there. If there are not significant publishers out there representing that genre (or sub-genre, or topic) then I am not likely going to sign this person. The writing can be amazing, but if there is no one buying that type of story, then there is simply nothing I can do. I would also add that if there is no one, other than people in self-publishing or only digital publishing that can not promise sales, then again, I am not going to sign this person.

Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with saying I am not going to sign this person because I am anti - [fill in the blank]. I am not rejecting this person due to social or political attitudes. I am passing on this simply because it is not something I can help with.

Next, as an agent, I look to the quality of the writing. If the characters are weak, the writing is not strong, the plot is convoluted, or any number of issues, I am not going to sign the author. Think of it this way. When an employer is looking to hire someone, he or she looks for "the best" candidate." They want someone who can do the work and do it well. They look at the job description and interview based on that. (NOTE: Yes, I know everyone can probably find one employer who didn't do that, but again, I am talking about the general market).

Would an employer reject someone for how they look? Sure. If this person comes in looking like something completely opposite to what their brand looks like, are they going to hire the person? Probably not. But I should also add, why would that person go to a place that is completely opposite to what they believe? I am going to use an extreme example here. If someone is Anti-Gun, would they go to apply for a job that specializes in guns? If someone is Pro-life, would that person go to work at an abortion clinic? Probably not.

All of what I am talking about here is business. The agent has essentially job requirements and wishes. The agent also has a clear model he or she uses to guide the business. Decisions are based on that. It is also important that the author reviews that information BEFORE submitting.

Finally, I want to discuss an aspect of this but it is more on that author to author basis. I am talking about contests here. Contests are judged by people. A LOT OF PEOPLE! Writing organizations do not put out a contest, ask for submissions, and then award an author because of one person's decision, or even a small committee. Writing goes out to preliminary judges. It then goes to a group of final round judges who work with the stories that "scored the highest." In many cases, there is a clear rubric that asks us to look at character, plot, setting, conflict and the quality of the writing. Not once, since opening the agency, have I judged a preliminary or final round where I was asked, "On a scale of 1-10 how does this story fit with your political or social beliefs?" or anything that asks me to rank the story higher or lower simply because it incorporates something political or social. It is all about the writing.

When it gets to me in the final round, I am only looking at the stories that made it through the first round of judging. Could there have been better stories? Sure? But this is what I work with.

I would also add that with all of the authors who I have worked with over the years, I have never once heard someone say that a contest ballet came back saying their story was either elevated or rejected simply because of politics or social beliefs. It was entirely based on the writing. Now, could people be "lying" and using the quality of the writing as a "cover?" Sure. But again, I would argue there were A LOT of people reading your story before it made it there.

Writing is a funny business. Academically, it is in the HUMANITIES department because it focuses on human experiences, feelings and emotions. It is also extremely subjective. We like things and we don't like things. But we are also trying to be objective. We look at the writing as a product we are taking to market. The writing is not gone beyond an author sharing personal beliefs to a product that, to be successful, must be something that has a place to be sold, and that people will buy.

This is a business. Let's try to remember that decisions are based on business models. If you are an author writing outside of that model, or you write something the writing organization you joined does not represent, this is not something personal. You chose to write what you write and you chose to market you writing to a place that does not sell that product. At Greyhaus, I don't go to Children's Book Conferences because I do not represent it. I will not find authors there and it is not the responsibility of that organization to change their model to accommodate me.

Just something to think about.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Would Your Story Work In Real Life?

I get we write fiction and yes, we know that fiction writing is "not true" According to Oxford, fiction is described as...

literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people.

But, with that said, the stories still need to be realistic. This is, unfortunately, something that far too many authors fail to pay attention to as they write their stories. Authors get so hung up on creating great conflicts for their characters they miss thinking about the reality of the situation. This would simply not happen in the real world!

We can see this in a lot of different ways including the characters, relationships and certainly scenarios that happen in the plots. Let's look at each of these.

Your characters have to act and behave like real people. It is as simple as that. They should react to situations in the same way that everyday people would react. If someone gets hurt, do everyday people immediately go rogue, grab guns and take off to kill people? Probably not. Would priests give up everything they pledged when they entered the clergy to do something unethical? Probably not.

This is even more important when we are talking about the romance genre. The words they say should truly sound like someone in that situation. How they look at the other person should also be 100% real. Yes, you might find someone attractive, but truthfully, is someone really going to dive into a full blown relationship just after seeing how someone looks? Probably not.

I really struggle with this one in a lot of submissions. Authors, in an attempt to create a great story will often put people into a relationship that would never happen. I am reminded of a submission I had several years ago where someone who is coming from a VERY privileged, elite lifestyle would see a homeless person on the street and think this is a person they would have a relationship with. Sure, we would like to see something like that happen, but the odds are, these people would NEVER be in the same room with each other.

This one has a lot of connections to the characters and the relationships as well so you may see some overlap here. I am going to just list a few of these and I think you will get the idea.
  • A heroine running from a rapist thinking that having a sexual relationship with the hero at that moment is a good idea.
  • A cop deciding to have a romantic relationship with the person who they think is a suspect in the case
  • A character deciding to give up a successful career and start a business he or she knows nothing about
  • Characters deciding to run INTO the danger and not away from it
I spent some time with one of my authors recently plotting her next book. She had made a lot of these same mistakes. We had to go back and really "fact check" if the characters would really do that, or if the scenario is even possible.

I don't care if you think that sounds like a great scene, please take the time ALWAYS to see if it is really something that would happen in real life. You will be pleasantly surprised!