The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself Before You Publish – Anne R. Allen
If it’s Sunday, it means I’ve crossed the pond and can be found lurking over on WG2E again. Which is rather appropriate because, as promised yesterday, my post at WG2E is all about the launch of our new publishing imprint, the Mark Williams international Digitial Press, and in particular our unique Crossing The Pond service.
Here at MWi in West Africa I’ve dragged blogging guru Anne R Allen all the way across from California to stand in for me. Problem is, Anne posts on Sundays too. So Anne had to drag NYT best-selling author Ruth Harris across from New York to the Pacific coast to fill that gap. A right game of musical chairs.
Was it worth it? Only you can judge. But word was out last week from Gatekeepers Inc that all us writers are wasting our time blogging. Over at the Passive Voice the one and only Passive Guy was discussing a post on a literary agents’ site. The argument being put forward by Wendy Lawton was that writers are wasting their time writing blogs as they don’t sell books and are only read by other authors.
Leaving aside the ludicrous suggestion implicit that writers don’t read books, Wendy seems to be rather missing the point about why writers blog, which is hilarious given how agents nowadays constantly recite the mantra about all writers needing to have a degree in SMP to get anywhere .
What Wendy doesn’t understand is this: A good writing blog is an extension of that writer’s purpose in life: To write.
Bloggers who scream Buy My Book! in every post soon have no readers. But good blogs attract readers back time and again. A good blog sells the author, not the book. Wendy Lawton, you have a lot to learn.
Today’s guest is a fine example. Anne R Allen is one of the leading blogging gurus in our field, widely loved and respected for her weekly observations on the writing life. Yet Anne hasn’t had a book available for sale for years! Her last publisher inconsiderately went bankrupt and left her in limbo as an author.
In fact, just this week has that finally been remedied, with the first of two of Anne’s books being released by Popcorn, a small press outfit in the US (about which I’ll be returning in another post). Prior to this Anne had trod the same path of agent rejection and author dejection as the rest of us. She could have walked away and watched TV, but instead Anne started blogging for the benefit of fellow writers, and today gets visitor numbers most of us can only dream of.
The connection with the Seurat painting? Just the title, Sunday Afternoon. After all, we don’t need an excuse to display fine art.
But we do need today’s guest, Anne R Allen, to show us how blogging too can be a fine art.
The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself before You Publish
Two decades ago, if I’d known the challenges I’d face in pursuing a writing career, I’d have chosen a more stable profession.
Like maybe running an all-ayatollah drag show in downtown Tehran.
Since the late ’nineties, writers have been treated with more and more contempt by the publishing industry, as marketing departments have taken control of artistic decisions and editorial meetings have turned into Gossip Girl-style hissy-fights. Advances have shrunk, royalties never happen, and contracts have turned draconian. Even long-established authors can barely scrape together a living and only a handful of superstars get the benefit of publicity and marketing.
But a little less than two years ago, this crumbling world was rocked by an earthquake called the Kindle, and aftershocks are still altering the landscape on a daily basis. The pulp paperback is in its death throes, as mass market houses like Dorchester slink into ignominious bankruptcy. E-book sales grew 169% just last month.
Trusted voices in the publishing industry, who not long ago warned against self-publishing, now sing the praises of self-epubbing. Insiders Nathan Bransford and Jane Friedman see it as the most lucrative road for many authors. Agents like Laurie McLean and Jenny Bent suggest new authors self-publish rather than directly query agencies.
And writers are shouting hallelujah. After years of being told to wait, wait, wait, and LEARN PATIENCE, PEOPLE, aspiring writers have hopes of establishing careers writing fiction. Now. Not three or five or ten years down the road after the excruciating query/submission/editing process, but right this minute.
Self-pub gurus urge you to jump in immediately, because 1) You’re throwing away the money you could be making on those manuscripts sitting in your files. 2) There’s an indie “bubble” that’s about to burst. (We’ve been hearing that almost since Joe Konrath published his first blogpost, and now Stephen Leather is telling us the party’s almost over.) (Do read Mark’s rebuttal.)
The biggest lure of all is that writers are making real money. Joe Konrath and the superfab ladies at the Writers Guide to E-Publishing regularly post hot financial statistics that are pure writer porn.
Is it time for you to join in the orgy?
Something happened last spring that serves as a cautionary tale.
It was a brouhaha that went viral when an indie author came to cyberblows with a book blogger over a bad review. The author had a very childish meltdown and the entire blogosphere followed suit: a Lord of the Flies moment in indie-land.
I think the people who made the nasty blog comments all wanted to believe it all happened because the writer’s book was really bad—so they could tell themselves it would never happen to them.
But Isaac Asimov once observed that writers fall into two groups: “those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
Unfortunately, in these days of social media, there’s very little “secretly” any more. Everything is visible—on a global scale.
That writer wasn’t ready to publish—regardless of the quality of her book. Her problem was that she hadn’t yet developed the soul-calluses that are required of a professional author these days.
Turns out there were some unspoken benefits to the old query-fail-query-fail-submission-fail-editorial meeting-fail, fail, fail system we’ve suffered through for the past few decades. It not only gave writers numerous readers to help hone our books to perfection—it also taught us to deal with rejection, failure and bad reviews.
If you choose to self-publish because you can’t handle the rejection of the query process, you’re setting yourself up for worse pain later on. If those form rejections in your email sting, think of how you’ll feel when very personal rejection is broadcast all over the blogosphere.
Don’t publish until you’re psychologically prepared to take the heat. Always keep in mind this is a business, and business can be nasty.
Here’s the question to ask yourself when you’re trying to decide if it’s time to publish:
Are you emotionally ready for your close-up?
Every successful author gets nasty reviews. Every. Single. One. If you want proof, go read the one-star reviews of literary classics on Amazon. Unfortunately, indie authors attract those one-star reviews more than any others. In fact there are professional review trolls who are paid to bring down a popular writer’s star ratings by rivals in the genre. (Yeah, it’s an indie-eat-indie world out there.)
Learning to deal with crushing, unfair criticism needs to be part of your skill set. Make sure you keep in touch with the part of you that has nothing to do with your books—the one that goes outside to hear real birds twitter and gets face to face with actual friends.
And do make sure your book is really, truly ready. Not just for friendly readers, but unfriendly ones. I suggest you look for some not-so-tame beta readers and ask them to do their worst. Then imagine seeing their harshest words in a review. Can you see how a reader might accept them as valid? If so, hold off and do some more editing. Better yet, write another book. (David Gaughran has a must-read post this week about the need for inventory in indie publishing success.) Then edit the first book again.
Then you need to accept that after a nasty review, it’s time to STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Hide all electronic communication devices and bring in chocolate, wine, DVDs, and/or your BFF, and hibernate. PAY IT FORWARD author Catherine Ryan Hyde suggests you allow yourself to mourn for at least three days after a bad review. I think that sounds about right.
And this advice doesn’t just apply to self-publishers. My comic thriller FOOD OF LOVE went up on Amazon this weekend. It’s professionally edited and polished, but way quirky. It breaks all recognized rules of corporate publishing. And a whole lot of other rules besides. It roller-coasters from comedy to tragedy. It’s got politics, religion, race issues, and body-image issues. Also a hot KGB agent, a sexy fat chick and a couple of Elvis impersonators. Plus a small nuclear bomb.
I’ve got to anticipate that a few readers will find it all too much.
So if you miss me from the blogosphere for a few days after the reviews start coming in, you’ll know I’ve taken my bag of Belgian chocolate chunks off to the beach. If I’ve learned anything in my two decades of rejection, it’s how to put on a happy face and do my copious bleeding in secret.
Thanks, Anne. Not so many thanks, though, for reminding me about all those great Asimov books I haven’t read in decades. My poor Kindle will explode!
Anne will have her second book out with Popcorn shortly. And another three out with that upstart digi-press MWiDP between now and November. More on those nearer the time.
Meanwhile you can be sure she’ll be ignoring the advice of Wendy Lawton and carrying on blogging with a vengeance.