As a Reader, What Would You Like to Ask a Publisher?

My interview blog Pat Bertram Introduces . . . is really taking off. I post author interviews and character interviews, and someone suggested I post publisher interviews, too. Sounds like an interesting idea, especially since I’d like to do more to support small independent royalty-paying presses that publish books by a variety of authors. (Like Second Wind Publishing, the company that publishes my books.)

Before I can do the interviews, I have to compile a list of questions such as my author questionnaire or my character questionnaire. Some of the author questions might be applicable, but I’m more interested in getting behind the scenes of the publishing companies to help readers learn more about small presses. And I don’t want to ask writer-oriented questions such as submission policies and what royalties they pay because I’m trying to steer readers their way.

So, as a reader, what would you like to ask a publisher? What genres they publish, of course, and the criteria they use to choose the books they decide to publish. How they decided to become a publisher might be a good question. What else?

[If you are a publisher who would like to be interviewed, please leave your name as a comment/reply. If you are an author who would like to do an interview for me or have your character do an interview with me, please go to either the  author questionnaire or character questionnaire (or both!) and follow the directions.]

Writing as Conversation with Readers

One of the guest stops on my Daughter Am I blog tour is the Second Wind Publishing Blog. I talk about a fan letter  (well, fan email) I received, and cite a quote by John Cheever, “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.”

Many writers don’t consider readers — they write solely for themselves, or at least they say they do — but often as I am writing a passage (or more precisely, after I have written it), I wonder what readers will think. Will they understand my references? Will they find the humor? Is my writing clear enough? I like thinking that perhaps someday a reader will share the product of my mind.

Malcolm R. Campbell, author of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire responded to my guest post with, “Whether it’s a book, poem, post, review, article or news story, I always hope somebody will say something. One never knows. It’s a slow conversation, so much time having gone by between the moment when something was written and the moment when somebody tells you they found it.”

Such a wonderful description of writing/reading — a slow conversation. I know I’ve read many books where I felt the author and I were having a conversation, silent though it may be. I read and I think about what I read. It’s quite a heady realization that now I am a writer with readers of my own.

If you’re interested in reading the original blog post, you can find it here: Writing Without a Reader is Like a Kiss Without a Partner.

I am also at the D.C. Examiner today: Pat Bertram speaks about her novels and her writing

Today is the last day for the Clue Game at the Simpson Haunted Mansion

Also, this is your last opportunity to leave a comment to win Daughter Am I from: Book Reviews by Bobbie

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I Had an Epiphany Today!

For the past six to eight months, I’ve been trying to figure out how to sell books online. I’ve been roaming the internet, experimenting with various social networking sites, but everywhere I went I ended up in a writers’ community. Not that it’s a problem — I’ve met many fine authors, found some good books, learned much about writing. Still, I want my novels to find a readership, so I roamed further afield, signed up for some author/reader sites. And guess what — there I found those same authors. Finally I decided to spend my time on Goodreads and other book sites and have found mostly . . . yep. Authors.

I’m exaggerating here. Of course I’ve met readers, voracious readers. The problem many readers are struggling with is that they already have stacks of books to read, or they read constantly and can’t afford to buy all the books they want to read so they haunt libraries and used bookstores, or else they set up books blogs and do reviews and get so many free books they don’t need to buy any. Readers also tend to stick with a single genre and the authors they’ve already read. Many, of course, are adventuresome, and will try new books by new authors, but these readers are so overwhelmed by the incredible number of books available, that the chances of them finding your book are zero to zilch.

So, what do we poor authors do? Ah, here’s where I had my epiphany. Promote to non-readers! Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Think about it though. We all talk about there being so few readers in the world, yet DB has sold zillions of books. Who is he selling the books to? It has to be people who seldom read. Somehow, someone convinced those non-readers that they had to read his books, and they rushed out to buy the novels.

How does one reach these non-reading readers? If I knew that, my name would be as well known as Dan Brown’s.

DAIDaughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age adventure, will be available from Second Wind Publishing in two weeks!

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When Writing Suspense, More is More

The other day I broke my rule about giving critiques (I’ve lost too many friends by being honest) and responded to a writer who asked my opinion of his work. I gave him a few suggestions about comma usage and speaker attributes, then I put my foot in it. I said there was no suspense, no reason for me to read further. (To create suspense, a writer must raise questions in readers’ minds, and he didn’t raise any questions.)

This got me a long email explaining that of course there was suspense — we didn’t know who the killer was, who he was going to kill next, and if the detective would catch him in time. True, these were unanswered questions, but simply posing questions does not create suspense.

To raise questions and to make us worry about those questions, a writer must show us readers why we should care. Just a thought flitting through the killer’s mind that he was going after an unspecified “her” does not create any sense of immediacy or concern. If we know that he planned to kill a little girl that he (and we) saw playing with a kitten, we have someone specific to worry about.

Also, if we’re supposed to care if the detective catches the killer, we have to know the detective’s stake in the matter. A cop doing his job is completely different from a father worried about spending too much time on the job and not enough time with his daughter. And if it turned out the little girl with the kitten was the cop’s daughter, we’d worry about the characters even more .

The moral of the story is, when it comes to suspense, less is not more. More is more.

And the moral for me is, no more critiques.

Is Writing Worth the Effort?

A friend asked me if trying to become a successful author is worth the investment of time and money. Not only do writers have to hone the craft, they need to attend conferences, workshops, hire editors and publicists, build websites and promote.

I wish I knew the answer to my friend’s question. Now that my books are nearing their release date, I’ve been spending most of my time on the internet researching how to promote. And I still don’t know how to do it. Blogging, of course. Publishing articles. Making connections on Facebook and Gather. But to become successful, writers need to go beyond the obvious. Nor do I have the money necessary to do all that is required, including attending conferences, joining national writing groups, traveling to booksignings. So I have to do it on the cheap.

Is it worth it? I won’t know for a year or two or ten if I’m going to be a successful author, so right now,  I’ll leave you with the daunting facts: one and a half to two million books are written every year. 150,000 are published (about half of those are self-published), and since many carry over from year-to-year, I figure that at least a million are being peddled as we speak. 75% of published books (including some with big advances) sell less than 500 copies. 85% of published book sell less than 1000 copies. 84% of books in a bookstore sell less than 2 copies. A book is considered successful if it sells a total of 5000 copies. Considering the time it takes to write, edit, and promote, that comes to about $1.00 an hour for the author. Woohoo. (And that doesn’t take into consideration the sometimes hefty amounts people shell out for conferences, editing, classes, etc.)

Because time as well as money is at a premium, we feel guilty when we promote and let the writing lie fallow. And we feel guilty when we write and don’t promote. Juggling with fire would be easier, and less complicated, especially when the fireballs being juggled include jobs and family.

On the other hand, what choice do we have? We are writers. We need to write, and we need readers.

Writing Is an Adventure. Be Bold!

All too often, inexperienced writers tiptoe through their novels, letting major events — fistfights, gunplay, murders, betrayals — take place off-page. It’s much easier to let characters emote afterward than for the writer to take the time and trouble to tackle the action scene. I know I have passed on opportunities to create such scenes, thinking the characters’ reactions all-important, but I forgot one thing: readers need to experience the drama.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the confidence to bring such complex scenes to life, to juggle the many elements that comprise an action scene, but the only way to learn is to plunge headfirst into action. Write it fast and fearlessly; let the words fall where they may. You can always clean up the mess in rewrites.

Beth H., a fellow writer, posted an article “Going All the Way” that I bookmarked as a reminder not to play it safe, not to hold back. By jumping into situations that test your characters and your writing ability, you can give your stories drama that stands apart from the common.

Writing is an adventure and, as Beth said, “Give yourself freedom to go all the way.”

Writing Without a Reader is Like Kissing Without a Partner.

Print on demand publishers and publish on demand printers. Co-op publishing ventures. Ebook publishers and self-published ebooks. BookSurge and Lulu. Content providers for websites, personal websites. In this brave new world of publication, there is a way for anyone and everyone who has strung words together to be published.

What is lacking is readers. In fact, I would be willing to bet that many writers read less than one or two books a year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there are more writers than readers. Whether we like it or not, reading is considered to be entertainment, and the money spent on movies, music, games means less money for books.

The traditional publishing industry is answering this trend by promoting authors rather than titles. If your book is one of a series, you have a much greater chance of being published than those of us who prefer starting with a whole new set of characters for each novel. The publishing industry is also continuing their move toward more blockbuster novels, which stands to reason. It is cheaper to promote a single author than several. They still do publish books from new authors, but it is harder for you as a new author to attract the attention of a publisher, and if by chance you do attract their attention, for the most part they leave you to sink or swim on your own. This could be why so many people are publishing their own books. If you have to do your own promoting, why not reap all the rewards?

The sad truth is that while the self-publishing business is growing, the money earned by most individuals barely counts as an allowance. On average, a self-published book sells between four hundred and five hundred copies, which means that a few people who are good at self-promotion will sell a lot, while everyone else will only sell a few.

The only sane way to deal with this insane situation is to write for ourselves, but many of us feel the same way as John Cheever, who said, “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.”

The next best thing is to write a fabulous novel that is so entertaining and well-written that any reader who sees it will immediately fall in love with it and spread the word.

It could happen.

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Your Quest for Publication

There are eight days remaining in the first round of the Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer Contest on gather.com, and I will be glad to see the end of it. It’s not just the time it’s taking from more important things like writing this blog, it’s that the thing turned sour. I thought it was bad that contestants were leaving overblown compliments on work that was less than stellar, but what’s even worse is that now some of them are spewing poison. That I have not been a victim of these unproductive remarks is immaterial.

Interestingly enough, the hate spewers are not good writers, though they think they are. I understand how hard it is to accept that readers don’t like your work, but in the end, aren’t readers always the final judges? They vote with their money, with their praise or denigration, with their recommendations. From that standpoint, this is a good experience. We can’t fight with every single reader who ventures an opinion with which we don’t agree.

There is also a lot of bitterness among the contestants because some of the entries at the top are atrocious. So the ones at the top learned early on that the contest is about gaining votes, not about good writing; more power to them. At least they were paying attention to the unwritten rules. As someone who has often been oblivious to unwritten rules, I am proud that for once I understood them. And, as I mentioned before, the days where a writer can sit back and wait for the royalties to come in are long gone. It is up to the author to participate in the process, and this contest is no different. The winner will be one who has participated and who will continue to participate in the marketing of the book.

Not that I think one of the top runners will win; the contest is all laid out in the written rules, and gather has control of it all the way. There is no way a bad novel will prevail in the end.

So what wisdom can I impart to help you in your quest for publication? Enter contests, but be aware that the true value comes from what you learn about yourself and your writing, not the prize. Listen when readers offer their comments even if you don’t agree with them. It’s one thing to be rejected by an agent or editor — you can always justify it by saying your novel does not meet their needs — but when a reader says it’s a little slow or hard to understand, pay attention.

In the end, whether published or unpublished, whether published by a publishing house or self-published, it all comes down to readership. And believe me, there are a heck of lot more writers than there are readers.

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