Friday, September 22, 2023

What Really Is A Publishing Career?

I really wanted to address this issue. I hear authors, over and over again talk about being a published author. When I hear this, I have to always take it with a grain of salt. Why? Because in the "publishing world" we really have a full spectrum.

On one end, we have people who finish a book, get a ISBN number and that is it, we have to ask, is this really publishing or is it just printing a book? Technically, it is published and that is fine, but can you really put your self into the category of an author with a publishing career? Probably not. 

What about those people who have a couple of books and that is it? Are we at a "publishing career" yet? Still not there.

So, Scott... where are you going to with this? 

Well, let's start with the definition of "career"

an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life and with opportunities for progress.

Working with this, someone who is a "one hit wonder" does not have a publishing career. Being an author with a real career in publishing does mean that you are devoting not just a lot of time, but it is really another job in your life. This is no longer a hobby. You have to be in this for the long haul.

Here is what I want to stress. Publishing as a career is a time commitment. You need to be in it for the long haul. When you reach out to an agent or an editor, we want to know where you will be in the next 5-10 years, easily. You do need to expect spending at least 5 out of 7 days a week on your career. When you are on a deadline, expect 7 days a week. You cannot expect to make it a career if you are able to only produce a single novel each year. In today's market, you have to be a producer.

But let me just say, if you are thinking you can't do this, that is OK. Writing is for everyone! Maybe being a published author is not in your path. Maybe a career is not there.

Why can I say this? I have two books of poetry "published", and yes, I put this in quotes. The first was a personal project working with the writings of my grandfather. The second was personal work just for me. I wanted to take it to that next step and not just spiral bind it for my family. Is this a career? No. Am I published? Again, technically yes, but I am never going to flaunt it. I simply tell people I have put out two books of poetry. 

It is OK to find your place in the writing community. There is always a place for you!

P.S. For those of you who are conference coordinators, I do have a version of this as a keynote/motivational speech. Just reach out!

Monday, September 18, 2023

Lying To Editors and Agents Is Not The Right Approach

I was scrolling through TikTok this weekend and an author was talking about the ultimate way to make sure editors and agents not only pay attention to you, but sign you. In this case, here is what she recommended.

Send in your submission and then follow it up with an email saying that there are a ton of other people wanting to read the project. She claims that agents immediately drop what they are doing, read your project and want to buy it.

Ummmm, no.

We know you send out simultaneous submissions. Sorry, but this common. But if you start claiming other people are begging for your project, and that is not true, that lie is going to come back and bite you in the butt.

Understand this. If I like your project, I am going to call and talk to you about the project. Your lie WILL come out in that discussion. To add to this, remember that an author-agent relationship is built on a big word TRUST.

If you are someone who lies, I cannot trust you.

There are far too many people out there claiming all of these tricks to get us to read your project and sign you. These are gimmicks. In the end, we want those stories that are quality. And we don't want lying and manipulative authors. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

It's What's Inside That Matters

When you tell me about your book, or you tell me about the characters in your book, what do you talk about? When you tell me about yourself as a writer, what do you tell me? I want you to really think about this.

The reality is that you probably do not make the major focus about the external characteristics of you or the characters. You talk about personalities. You talk about events. You talk about conflicts. When it comes to you and your writing, you talk about your passion to "tell stories" and to "take people into different worlds and experiences."

I was thinking about this over the weekend when I was talking about plots and stories that are being hyped up out there with a current author and it got me thinking about a workshop I had taken on EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion). The speaker at this conference, who was a person of color made it very clear that when he described himself, he did not make the external characteristics the only focus of who he was. It was his personality, his experiences and so forth. 

And yet, authors are making these external characteristics the center of everything. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is not a plot and is not a story. Being a person of color is not a plot and is not a story. What makes a story is the experiences this person goes through in their life, and the fact that they are part of another community might add depth, but it is not the central focus. 

I want you to think of something. As I was getting ready to write this, I thought about the Netflix show, BRIDGERTON. IF you have ever read Julia Quinn's novels, race is not a factor. When you read the book, many (I am sure there might be some) never even think about the color of skin of any character. In fact, even in books where this might be an issue, after it is mentioned early on in a book, the odds are, you forget about it. So, with that in mind, I took a look at how the general public had this show presented to them. Here is what the TODAY show described. 

Imagine the most dramatic episode of "Gossip Girl," add some Jane Austen-approved longing glances and witty dialogue, wrap it up in some gorgeous 19th-century ballgowns and stylish suits, then top it off with Dame Julie Andrews' voice promising intrigue and scandal and you'll have "Bridgerton," Netflix's new Regency-era romantic drama.

"Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes produced the eight-episode season (along with showrunner Chris Van Dusen) as the first series in a major agreement she signed with Netflix. The show is based on the popular "Bridgerton" book series, written by Julia Quinn, that revolves around two families during "the season," an annual period where elite families would host formal events to introduce their children to society and find them a suitable marriage.

One of those families is the titular Bridgertons. Led by their recently widowed mother, Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell), there are eight children in the household: four girls and four boys, all named in alphabetical order. The oldest son, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), is in charge of helping his sister Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) find a suitable match following the passing of their father, while younger sister Eloise (Claudia Jessie) is more interested in writing and her own ambition than her societal obligations.

Across the street is another family, the Featheringtons. Their mother, Portia Featherington (Polly Walker), is already dealing with the stress of guiding three daughters Philippa (Harriet Cains), Prudence (Bessie Carter) and Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) through the season, when distant cousin Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) comes to town.

On top of it all is Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews), an anonymous gossip who publishes a newsletter discussing the gentry's biggest scandals, engagements and more. Romance, star-crossed lovers and high-stakes intrigue ensue.

The show's plot lines may seem a little obvious at first. Of course innocent, bright-eyed Daphne Bridgerton is going to express interest in the "rakish" Duke Simon Basset (RegĂ©-Jean Page), her older brother's best friend who has sworn to never marry or have children. And of course Marina Thompson's arrival in town isn't as simple as it first appears, but Rhimes and producer Van Dusen frequently throw in plot twists and dramatic scandals that liven up the romantic drama. And the relationships between characters give the audience plenty to invest in.

You know, the color of skin of the characters has nothing to do with the story. 

I'll take this a step further. How many productions have you seen diverse casts? The answer is a lot! These productions let the words of Shakespeare tell it all. Here's one on a personal note. I was fortunate enough to be in a production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC with the Tacoma Little Theatre (obviously in Tacoma, Washington). I was also fortunate to be cast in the role of Capt. Von Trapp. The director did a great job of putting together a cast of kids that worked well together, acted well together and, more importantly sounded GREAT together. But look at my kiddos (best I could do with this older scanned document but I think you get the idea!).

We all had personal laughs about the Captain's gene pool. The point, however, is that this show was a hit because of the story, the characters, the staging, and the singing, NOT because of what they looked like. 

I think that too often, authors are trying desperately to create stories that put skin color, gender and sexual identity to the forefront so much that they forget to tell a really good story. I get that editors and agents are openly promoting that they are looking for stories written by diverse populations and about diverse groups, but the reality is, in the end, they simply want a great story. Be reminded of the last comment in the article I quoted from the Today Show. "And the relationship between characters gives the audience plenty to invest in."

When I listen to pitches at conferences, I always tell people that they cannot read their pitch. Just tell me about it. When they do this, what they felt was truly important about their story and plot always jumps to the forefront. If you were to sit down and tell me about your story, if the first things you say out of your mouth involve any of these external characteristics, that might be telling you something. Your focus is not on the story. 

SUBNOTE: Please understand if I am writing a story specifically about race relations, or something similar, and THAT is the central focus of the story, then yes, those elements will be brought up early on since those elements are the focus of the story. 

Monday, August 21, 2023

New Trend? Maybe?

I know authors always want to know from editors and agents what the current trend is. Their goal is to immediately start writing in that genre and "hit it big." As always, editors and agents answer the same way. 

If we could answer that, we would all be stinking rich. 

And yet, we turn right around and tell authors to pay attention to what is out there. We tell you to watch what is selling, who is buying, what they are buying and who they are buying.

Yes, we are telling you to pay attention to trends.

As I look out there, I am going to throw this out there for a trend. No, it is not a specific genre, but it is an approach to the stories, plots and characters that I believe will be around for the next couple of years.

Stories will have less complexity. Plots will be basic. Novels will be easy and fast reads. Stories will also be sold on gimmicks and current social media hotspots. Before I go any further, let me also say that these stories will not be those that will last the test of time. I heard a radio personality last week describe it best when he said, "When I finish a book, and don't plan on rereading it, I toss it." That will be this batch of books.

So, where does this come from? Let's look at some signs.

The rise of streaming services...

According to the New York Times, in a July 19, 2023 article, they noted:

Netflix added 5.9 million subscribers to bring its global total to 238 million. Its revenue rose 3 percent, to $8.2 billion, from the same period last year, and the company also said it had $1.5 billion in profit in the quarter, a similar number to last year at this time.

If you think about it, how do phone companies, internet providers and even creators of tablets advertise their products? "Think of all the things you can stream!" And when you think of these programs, none are overly long, the plots don't required a lot of critical thinking skills, and the stories are full of the latest gimmicks and social media trends. People want to sit down and binge watch an entire season in pretty much one shot. 

Even period dramas have turned into "costume dramas" and covers of current pop hits...

Our family saw this big time when the season of Reign came out. My wife and daughters all made comments that they could clearly see all of the dresses these girls were wearing as "supposed period dresses" being worn at prom.

And remember the music? You watch these shows and realize you're humming to a song and you are sure you know it from somewhere. You have! Groups such as Vitamin String Quartet, Two Cellos, Piano Guys, Eklipse, Escala... They are killing it out there! Why do these work? It is connecting the "readers" and the "streamers" to something they know.

TikTok and the rise of influencers...

It doesn't take rocket but listen to the books they all love. More importantly, listen to what they say about them. "Totally loved the characters", "These two are really hot together", "Could not put this down, very fast read." 

The Covers...

Personally, I am not a big fan of the new cartoon covers, but these sell. Why? Because they come across as "fun reads." You simply cannot pick up one of these books and think there is going to be a lot of plot going on. 

Final Thoughts...

For me, I am someone who still loves a book with a little more to it. But, I am finding that I am shifting my thoughts about some of the books I am looking at. I still want a well written book, but those complicated plots and not always going to be a big draw. 

Now, let me say, having an overly simple plot is not easy. These plots lead an author directly into a brick wall of repetition.