Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Are You a Real Author?

Are you a real author?
It’s not a rhetorical question. There are certain practices and attitudes that separate real authors from the rest.
Allow me to illustrate. Recently, I agreed to read a manuscript for a writer. It was a swap situation, one I won’t repeat. I spent over six hours reading and commenting on the book, focusing on areas for improvement, as the writer requested. Her response: “Wow…I guess you hate my book…Thanks.”
Real author? Not yet.
For a few years, I sold real estate to help my children with their college expenses. (Want lots of money? Sell houses, not books!) Decades ago, when the real estate industry was first evolving, there was recognition of the need for industry professionals—if indeed they were to earn the right to be called professionals—to police themselves by agreeing to adhere to a code of ethics. To this day, it’s primarily the Realtor Code of Ethics that distinguishes professionals from those who are just in the biz to make a quick buck however they can.
Now more than ever, authors need to prove that they are professionals. By adhering to a few fundamental principles, they earn the right to be treated as such.
Here’s my proposed Code of Ethics for all authors, regardless of how they publish:
The Author Code of Ethics
1.      An author respects the right of readers to choose books from an open marketplace.

2.      Acknowledging that writing involves learning and growth, an author handles criticism with grace.

3.      An author respects the right of fellow authors to choose the path to publication that is best for them and their books.

4.      An author refrains from deceptive and fraudulent practices, such as plagiarism, over-inflated taglines, and purchased reviews from vendors who have not read the book.

5.      Aside from accepted forms of literary criticism such as reviews and critical studies, an author refrains from public disparagement, by name, of other authors and their work.

6.      An author’s engagement with readers and other authors is courteous and respectful.

7.      Acknowledging the importance of literature in a free and vibrant culture, an author strives to write well, within the expectations of genre and audience.

8.      As a responsible member of the literary community, an author interacts with the public in ways that exemplify the professionalism of all authors.

9.      For the purpose of improvement, an author cultivates objectivity with regard to his or her work.

10.  An author affirms the importance of open discourse.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Free Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A scam: don't fall for it!

Let’s keep this simple.

Everyone likes to get things for free. (Whether they value them is another matter; mostly, they don’t.)

Say you want free books. There are good ways to get them. Libraries, for certain. If they don’t have the book you’re looking for, ask them to order it.

If you like e-books, there are thousands and thousands of free ones available through legitimate online vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.). True, a lot of them aren’t that great, but if you search, you’ll find some gems, one being the Alaska Sampler that David Marusek and I put out each year. There are also legitimate e-newsletters like BookBub that will match your reading interests with time-sensitive offers for free and discounted books.

If you’re a book blogger and/or reviewer, you can be swimming in free books, via NetGalley and/or having a following that will attract the attention of authors and publicists.

Another great way to get free books is to follow an author via her website or on Goodreads. Authors and publishers often arrange giveaways—drawings for free books. And authors sometimes seek out beta readers and early reviewers, with whom they share e-books for free. Authors who have control of their book pricing will generally be happy to let you know about sales and such—a newsletter or email alert function on the author’s website will keep you in the know.

The bad way to get free books is piracy. It used to be that authors worried (if they worried at all) about plagiarism. Now, pirates steal whole books, making money either directly or indirectly off the backs of authors who work hard and earn little, statistically speaking.

Piracy of intellectual property, like everything else in the economic realm, is fundamentally about value.

A Starbucks latte has value.

A McDonald’s Big Mac meal has value.

A novel in which I poured my soul—not to mention three years of my life—has value.

I know, we all make our choices. All I’m saying is that when you consider all the legitimate ways to get a book for free, there’s no reason to pirate it, and there are ample reasons not to.

Which brings me to the ugly. A lot of those free book download sites are straight-up scams, using books as bait to lure in the unsuspecting. They post fake conversations about the books, including review language they lift from legitimate sites and even­—get this—fake “good cop” admonitions against pirating, along with “bad cops” who offer links to the pirating sites.

When you click through to the “free download” button, you’ll be asked to input your credit card information, so the scammers will have it “on file,” in case you want to buy a book later.

Guess what’s next? Fraudulent credit card charges. Nasty malware installed from what you thought was a legitimate website. (The malware is as clever as the fake discussion boards about the book: it tries the password out on your email account and uses it to send emails to your contacts, ostensibly from you, encouraging your friend to click on the link that will load malware onto his or her device.)

Don’t risk it. Get your books the way everyone else does. Authors rarely get rich. But your small contribution to our efforts is much appreciated!

Mark your calendars: Deb has a legitimate free book offer coming up. On Feb. 26 and 27, the e-book version of What Every Author Should Know will be available for free through Amazon. Thanks to author David Marusek for research and links for this post. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Publishing Your Way: The Author Collective

The new IndieVisible graphic, featuring renderings of its members

For a recent article published in the IBPA Independent, I interviewed representatives of several author collectives. What I discovered was too exciting to keep to myself! Here, the first in a series of interviews on author collectives, featuring a Q & A with Chelsea Starling of IndieVisible

Who started your collective? What was the initial impetus and vision behind its founding?

Indie-Visible 1.0 began in October 2012 with Jordan Rosenfeld and myself as the founding members. After a year, with a collective of about fifteen authors, things weren’t moving along as we all hoped they would, even though a handful of our members were able to publish books during that first year. Our membership activity slowed, and we lost focus along the way. Also, we had two distinct camps of writers in the group - half of us were more literary-minded and half of us were genre writers.

Our vision for Indie-Visible became split and Jordan and I had a meeting and agreed to disband, realizing that our different visions were making forward motion impossible- everything had slowed to nearly a halt for about a year. Jordan began a new collective called Scarlet Letter Writers, and I kept Indie-Visible.  Two of our original members, Christina Mercer, and Victoria Faye stayed on, and we began thinking big. On a long road trip, my mind went on wild brainstorm session, and I called Christina. For three hours, we hashed out a new outline for how we’d like to see IndieVisible grow, and decided to make it our mission to find all of the people we needed once we got to Nashville in June to attend UtopYA Con. 

When was the collective started? With how many authors and books represented?

IndieVisible 2.0 began anew in June, 2014. At UtopYA Con, we found a handful of incredible women to join us in creating the new vision for the collective. We added cover designer Regina Wamba of May I Design, blogger Toni Lesatz of My Book Addiction, blogger Maria Pease of The Paisley Reader, editor Crystal Bryant of The Plot Ninja, Marketing Diva, Beth Isaacs of True North Publishing. Our numbers have risen over the past few months, and we are now eleven incredibly talented women, with author James Matlack Raney being the first dude to join our ranks, making us a dirty dozen. Many of our members are in the process of prepping debut novels for publication, while some have published entire series, trilogies or multiple books.

You’ve recently undergone a major reorganization. What’s the reason behind that, and what results do you hope to see?

We are actually incorporating IndieVisible in January, 2015 as an LLC. My vision for IndieVisible is and has always been to create a way for authors to quit their non-writing day jobs and get paid to write, and we’ve finally found a way to do that. 

IndieVisible 2.0’s focus is on promoting Children’s, Middle Grade, YA and clean-ish NA fiction. (No erotica). The biggest issue we’ve been trying to solve is how to get books directly to the kids, tween and teen audiences. We’ve finally solved that problem with our Adopt-an-Author program we’re Beta launching in February 2015, which will pair indie authors with classrooms around the world, delivering books and exciting interactive reading/writing courses that will incur no cost to the schools, and will give our participating authors a nice income to afford more time to write.

With the reorganization, many authors and books are now represented?

Our current members are as follows:

Chelsea Starling, Christina Mercer, Crystal Bryant, Heather Sutherlin, Victoria Faye, Regina Wamba, James Raney, Kristen Day, S.M. Boyce, Maria Pease, Beth Isaacs & Toni Lesatz. We also have partnerships with a handful of awesome bloggers and freelancers, who will be bringing our two blogs: ReaderHub and PubHub to life at indie-visible.com. Some of us have published a handful of books, some entire series, some are still working on debut manuscripts. Regina is a book cover designer and photographer, who has created some gorgeous journals with our branding wizard, Victoria Faye.

How does the collective reach readers? How are the books published and distributed?

We will be reaching readers via our ReaderHub blog and through the program we’re launching in February. We have a collective reach that is pretty huge, so we’ll be sharing across all of our social media platforms. We’re also staring an Indie-Visible street team in the spring, which will be run by our marketing diva, Beth Isaacs. 

What distinguishes your collective in the marketplace?
Our collective is different than many because we have members who are bloggers and freelancers in the industry in addition to authors. IndieVisible 2.0’s new website will give indie authors a single place they can visit to find and hire reputable freelancers to build their own dream publishing team. Readers will be able to interact with writers via our ReaderHub blog where we have a team of bloggers creating fun content, book recommendations, and interactive contests. We are also different because we are building a business around our collective that will ultimately offer significant financial support to authors who work with us in the Adopt-an-Author program. 

How do you vet membership? What’s required of authors who participate? What benefits do participating authors enjoy?

At this point, I have been the sole Collector of Awesome People. I have chosen each member based on a gut feeling that they would fit into our team, and so far I have been fortunate enough to have assembled the most incredible group of superstar humans to carry this project forward. Authors who are interested in joining our Adopt-an-Author project once we’re past the beta phase will be vetted via an application process. Benefits to authors joining this program include direct contact with readers across the globe, and financial security that will allow authors to afford plenty of time to write, which is always the most challenging aspect of being an indie author.

What are the challenges of running a collective? What advice would you give to authors who either want to start a collective or join an existing one?

Our collective model is wild and unconventional. We are creating something that doesn’t exist yet, and with the creative minds on board, it’s been really fun. Our biggest challenge is going to be making the transition from everyone volunteering their time, to being able to pay our people for the efforts they contribute. We feel like we are on to something pretty special, as we have been able to navigate a handful of time zones and even countries with our members in an organized manner. We have a facebook group where we all keep in touch, weekly meetings which are either recorded or detailed minutes are taken by our resident Virgo/Bookkeeper, Christina Mercer. My advice to people starting a collective is to choose people to join the collective who share a vision, and be sure there is a leader who isn’t afraid to lead. Every collective has its own purposes, and ours is definitely outside the box, what we’re doing isn’t for everyone.

What are the advantages of a collective over a traditional publishing arrangement? What advantages does a traditional publisher have over a collective?

It’s hard for me to answer this, as I’ve not experienced a traditional publishing arrangement. For us, we have become such good friends, we are all wonderful collaborators, so ego doesn’t get in the way of what we do. We have a “lift as you climb” mentality, which is a phrase we learned from Janet Wallace at UtopYA Con, and there is something absolutely magical about working with such positive, uplifting people. We are all rooting for each other, celebrating each other’s individual successes, and looking for ways to make something amazing that can help other authors, whether they are brand new to being indie, or want to join our Adopt-an-Author program. And we’re making an amazing way for readers to find fantastic new books, and have a chance to interact with authors in fun new ways. 

What do you think the future holds for author collectives?

The publishing industry is experiencing so many exciting new changes, and I believe that author collectives will continue to pop up and establish themselves as a legitimate part of that landscape. It’s an exciting time to be a writer, to be an indie, and to be a reader, and author collectives are definitely a great way to create a solid community in what has historically been a lonely vocation. I love my team, I love what we’re doing and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why My New Book Won’t Sell

My new book won’t sell.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. A few readers will buy it, ones like those who’ve kindly endorsed it.* But I’m not expecting it to attract a huge number of readers.

I expect you’re wondering: Why would I bother writing a book when I don’t expect to sell many copies? The answer, in part, is that this book is a “passion project,” one that’s entrenched somewhere deep inside me, one that I feel compelled to share with however few readers might appreciate it.

Another reason I decided to go ahead with this book is that I’d already written parts of it, published online at here The Self-Made Writer, my teaching series for writers, now in its fourth year. Not that you can just push a button and turn a series of blog posts into a viable book. As with any meaningful collection, the material needed to be curated, organized, and amended. It needed revision for voice. It needed new chapters, to fill in the gaps. It needed cohesion.

In draft, this book was actually incorporated into another book that came out at the beginning of this year: What Every Author Should Know: No Matter How You Publish. But early readers suggested that there were really two books—one a comprehensive guide to publishing and promotion, the other a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest.

Here’s the problem: My plan had been to sneak the craft portion, the part about writing your best book, alongside the part that I knew would attract the larger audience, the part about how to publish and promote. From traffic stats at The Self-Made Writer, I knew that page views for posts on publishing and promotion are on average four times greater than page views for posts about craft.

That trend is visible all over the web, in chats and on reader boards, in Google Plus groups and LinkedIn discussions. The MFA crowd aside, there’s a huge concern with how to get published, and an even huger concern with how to get your book noticed.

I get that. It’s a confusing time in publishing. There’s a content flood, so even the most experienced marketing people at long-standing publishing houses are less certain than ever about how to attract readers for authors who aren’t flying celebrity class.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe this: Reading may be a subjective experience, but there are still certain qualities readers expect of great books, whether they’re fiction or nonfiction. Readers may not be able to articulate these expectations, but believe me, they have them. If you want your work to get noticed—if you want to find readers—your writing needs to rise to the top. Good isn’t good enough. Your work needs to be exceptional.

No amount of marketing, no amount of agent or publisher clout, will make readers love a book that’s poorly conceived and badly written.

And in the changing world of publishing, where who’ll buy and read your work is in many ways beyond your control, what you can control is the quality of your work and your efforts to continually improve at it.

If you agree, and you commit to writing your best book, I believe you’ll gain an advantage in the marketplace by studying how best books are made and applying those processes to generate your own best work.

Statistically speaking, however, you won’t do any of that. If you’re like most authors, you won’t consult my new book, or other books devoted to helping writers improve their craft. You won’t commit to writing as a lifelong process of learning.

I don’t begrudge you that. We all have to do what we have to do. For me, it was writing this book. Even if it won’t sell.

*  "Some of the best advice available today on the craft of writing.” Tanyo Ravicz, author of Ring of Fire; “An excellent resource for writers who are serious about their work.” Stephanie Cole, author of Compass North

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored fifteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works as freelance editor and coach on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ready to Publish: Strategies for Authors

I wish I could say I’ve never submitted any of my work before it was ready to publish. In truth, I’ve done it more often than I care to admit, especially in my early days of publishing.

Some “too soon” submission, or even “too soon” publishing, is unavoidable, and perhaps even necessary to a writer’s development. It’s hard to judge your own work, and in fact you may be better off submitting too soon than holding your work back indefinitely because you’re holding it up against potentially unreachable standards.

But you don’t want to keep doing that forever. Of late, markets have become less forgiving. In traditional publishing, agents and editors rarely take time to “grow” authors the way they used to; Big Five publishers in particular are looking less and less for the slow-build author and more and more to the smash-hit celebrity. In indie publishing, authors who haven’t already built loyal followings are finding it harder to get noticed with projects that don’t shine in one way or another.

It’s for these reasons, along with the challenge of navigating an ever-changing set of publishing options, that I wrote What Every Author Should Know: No Matter How You Publish, along with its companion volume, Write Your Best Book (February 2015).

It’s also why I agreed to teach a six-hour “Ready to Publish”workshop for the 49 Alaska Writing Center. The workshop is activity-based; during our session, participants will create several documents, including an action plan, to guide their thinking about whether their writing projects are ready and what to do with them once they are.

In particular, workshop participants will:

·         Examine their writing process as a way of assessing where they are with their work
·         Clarify what success means to them
·         Use query questions to better understand their projects
·         Use “also boughts” (aka comps) to better understand their readers
·         Write back copy as a means of refining their approach to their projects
·         Create individualized “ready for market” surveys
·         Assess ways to use early readers to the benefit of the work
·         Apply the psychology of revision to the creation of “best books”
·         Draft a publishing strategy for their work
·         Draft a query or sell sheet
·         Create an action plan

If you’re in Anchorage on Saturday, Feb. 7 (9 am – 4 pm), I hope you’ll join us. Advance registration is required. A copy of What Every Author Should Know is included with the registration fee. There’s also an optional “first pages” critique; for this, be sure to register sooner rather than later, as I’ll be preparing the written portion of the critiques in advance of the individual consultations, scheduled during the lunch hour and aftermath of the workshop.

Workshop participants always benefit from interacting with other authors and the instructor. But if you’re not able to attend, take the DIY approach—grab a copy of What Every Author Should Know and use the bulleted list above to create your own “Ready to Publish” workshop.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored fifteen books. Her most recent are What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion, and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works as freelance editor and coach on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A version of this post also ran at www.49writers.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creative Mistakes: Five Ways Authors Box Themselves In

As an author, you’re a creative type. That goes without saying. But in your approach to your craft, your publishing, and your promotion, are you actually as creative as you might be?

Writing is a scary business, any way you cut it. In Write Your Best Book, the companion volume to What Every Author Should Know, I compare it to the position my son played on his high school hockey team. There’s nothing quite like being the mother of a goalie. He’s got his team out there, helping, but when pucks whiz toward the goal, it’s all up to him. And believe me, those pucks fly from every direction. The goalie has to watch every angle. He has to be quick. Fluid. Psychologically unshakable.

I don’t mean to suggest that the position of author should be a defensive one, although sadly, that’s how it ends up for some. What I learned from being a hockey mom (and please, no comparisons with thatother hockey mom) was that goalies shore up the uncertainty of their position with practices that don’t make a whole lot of sense, like never washing their jerseys during the season (my son claimed this was essential for his success) and talking to the goal posts, as top goalie Patrick Roy did in every game.

The equivalent for authors are these creative mistakes, all of which confine us in unhelpful ways:

·         A focus on the wrong kind of being: To write is to make yourself vulnerable. You will fail, time and again. Your work won’t be as good at first as it will become if you stick with it. Writers who fail to accept these truths typically end up spending more of their energy on “being” a writer instead of doing the hard work of a writer. The “being” that benefits writers is the “being” of everyday existence, the conscious effort of experiencing life as it happens, of staying actively engaged as opposed to striving to present ourselves as writers (or as anything else).
·         Risk aversion: In any uncertain enterprise, the natural tendency is to shy from risk. For survival, risk aversion is a healthy impulse. But in both the entrepreneurial and creative pursuits of a writer, risks are inherent. To avoid them means doing what everyone else does—and getting generic results.
·         Relying on formulas: Good writers balance reader expectations, which are sometimes taught as formulas, with the unique insights and approaches that are only achieved when we allow ourselves to think beyond formula. The same applies to promotion—do what everyone else does, and you’ll get lost in the crowd.
·         Believing you’ve got nothing left to learn: A writer’s education is never finished. Seek out the best—in the books you read, in the examples you follow, in the discussions of craft and business in which you engage. Be an active learner of both aspects of being a writer: your craft and the publishing end.
·         Seeking rewards too soon: The readers, the accolades, the sales—these will come. Focus first on your process, on doing your best creative work. Don’t rush a book because this person or that person has theirs out already. Don’t succumb to discouragement because your rankings aren’t what you’d like. Take your time. Persistence, diligence, completing your work, having the courage to publish—these matter, but check your motivation. If it’s all about rewards, your work will suffer, and you’ll likely be disappointed. Repeat after me: you have nothing to prove.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored fifteen books. Her most recent are What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion, and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A version of this post also ran at www.49writers.blogspot.com.   

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why First Pages Matter, and a Critique Opportunity

One reason first pages matter: the "look inside" feature

No matter how you publish, first pages are crucial. From reading the first five to ten pages (sometimes even your first page or two), your readers—including agents and editors, if you’re going that route—are going to decide whether your book is worth their time, money, and attention. Online book vendors know this; that’s why they offer the “look inside” feature on a book’s “buy” page. 
You may think all this attention on beginnings is unfair. You’ve got a great narrative (either fiction or nonfiction). Lots of twists and turns. Unique characters. Readers can’t tell all that from the first few pages. 
Sorry. They can, and they do. 
From time to time, I’m asked to jury a writing contest or award. The first round of eliminations is actually easier than you might think; from the first page or two, it’s generally clear whether the author is capable and whether the selection is captivating enough to warrant a closer look. 
While recognizing the importance of first pages is a crucial step towards making sure yours are a worthy representation of your book, it’s also paradoxically true that authors sometimes try so hard to impress in a book’s early pages that their efforts end up attention of all the wrong kinds. In attempting to make sure your first pages “grab the reader,” it’s easy to overdo, putting the reader off instead of drawing her in. 
In What Every Author Should Know, I’ve written about five common flaws of first pages: clichés, bad pacing, insufficient grounding, flat characters, and shoddy dialogue. But of course it’s not enough to avoid the mistakes. You want your first pages to shine with an organic sort of magic, creating a magnetic pull from which the reader is helpless to escape. 
Study the first five pages of a book you love. Make notes on how the author draws you into the book­—the set-ups, the turns of phrase, the nuanced characters, the tension points that hint at the stakes. Then do the same with the first five pages of your own manuscript.
Sometimes it’s tough to see your own flaws. Or you see them, but you’ve worked the material over so many times that you’re not sure how to improve. That’s when a good critique can be helpful. 
In conjunction with my upcoming 49 Writers Ready to Publish workshop, I’ll be doing a limited number of first pages critiques. Registrants who opt for the critique will receive instructions for submitting their first five pages in advance of the workshop. On each manuscript and also in a brief editorial letter, I’ll point out what’s working well, and I’ll offer suggestions for improving the parts that need work. During the lunch break and after the workshop is over, I’ll meet one-on-one with participants to discuss these critiques. 
If you’re not able to attend the Ready to Publish workshop on Feb. 7 in Anchorage but you’d still like a first pages critique from an experienced author and editor, check with me at debvanasse (at) gmail.com and, time permitting, we’ll see what can be arranged.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored fifteen books. Her most recent are What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion, and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works as freelance editor and coach on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A version of this post also ran at www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.