Shadows Wake was published July 15, 2015, and since then I’ve learned so much more about the aspects of getting a book seen. And there is one element of this challenge that is directly on the readers.
Books live or die by their reviews.
Does that surprise you? It’s true. Authors cannot submit their books to book lists without a certain number of reviews with a four-star average (the number varies by list). Amazon’s visibility algorithms don’t work until reviews begin stacking up. Some say 50 is the sweet spot, others set a goal for 200.
The best thing you can do for an author you like is to review their book, whether that’s on Goodreads, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or Amazon. I’d encourage any reader who enjoyed a particular book to review it both where they bought it and on their favorite review site (e.g. Goodreads) if they have one.
Authors have more promotional opportunities based on their reviews. And honestly, we write for our readers. It’s absolutely wonderful to read good reviews (and educational to read bad ones).
Buying your favorite author’s book is always appreciated, and borrows are great, but it’s the reviews that make others willing to buy the book you enjoyed. It’s the reviews that allow a book to get more exposure. That’s why so many authors are more than happy to give away copies of their books if there’s even a remote chance a review will come of it. The publishing world is different today. Indie authors aren’t paid an advance and most traditional first time authors receive tiny advances. Reviews help books sell, which keeps your favorite author at his or her desk working on the next book you’re dying to read.
Your review doesn’t have to be fancy or wordy. Just write an honest view of the book in a couple lines if that’s all you feel like doing. It helps more than you know. Also, if you are used to reviewing on GoodReads, keep in mind that a four-star on Goodreads isn’t an equivalent review on Amazon. Often a five-star review on Amazon is equal to a four-star on Goodreads.
Think of the last book you loved or that made you feel. Go review it. The author will love you for it.
Two weeks ago I attended the Indie ReCon online. If you are interested in publishing, I highly encourage you to bookmark indierecon.org or get on the mailing list for next year’s ReCon.
The event is a nice mix of video and post and included such indie powerhouses as Belle Andre & Barbara Freethy, Joanna Penn, H.M. Ward, many others. There were also several Twitter Q & A sessions using the #indierecon hashtag.
I believe everything is still available at the indierecon.org website. Registration allowed attendees to enter for prizes and I won two: Indie and Proud by Christine Fonseca and a year’s subscription to the Bublish dashboard, which I’m really looking forward to exploring.
Topics ranged from marketing to income to a wonderful Thirteen Reasons You are Not as Successful as You Should Be.
The Self-Publishing Summit was also ongoing in April, with another set of video interviews put together by John Tighe, author of Crush it With Kindle. Most of the videos are available on his YouTube channel.
The best part about these free, online events is that you are not required to attend live. Both of them provided emails to alert you to a beginning session or provide you with the link for the playback. I did attend as many as I could in case I had questions for the guests, but watched just as many on playback.
If you aren’t sure you are interested in publishing (writing is a calling. Authorship is very much a business), it’s worth your time to check some of the presentations and educate yourself on what is involved. If you know already that you want to publish, you’ll find information for both beginners and those already on the path along with a nice mix of practical tips and strategy.
Did you attend either event? What was your biggest takeaway?
How many times have you said to yourself (or heard another writer say) “This would be so much easier if I could quit my job or work part time.” That used to be me. Having lived on both sides of this fence, I feel those of you still in the day job should know something. It’s a myth.
For one thing, most of us have a maximum words we can get out each day. For some that’s 500, for others it’s 5000, but whether you work or not, that number is not likely to increase much. In other words, time does not equal capacity.
Also, resistance remains, but now there are different distractions that resistance can use to keep us from the page. Errands, phone calls, housework, all of these things are still present and even more likely to distract you when you aren’t so focused on getting your writing in.
It’s too easy to fall into the thought that you can write later because you have all day. Discipline is required when your schedule is wide open.
Here’s another element that isn’t often discussed. Having a job gives your writer mind time to ruminate and work on the story while you work. It distracts you in good ways so your word well fills up and you’re ready to go for your next writing session. Without work, we need to create that distraction.
There are some good things about writing full time. One is that you end up with more time to daydream or cultivate the good kind of mindlessness with chores, walks, and what have you. The other advantage is that you are often able to write during the time of day you are most creative and energetic. However, establishing a routine when you first leave your job is absolutely vital or your days will fill with everything but writing.
I’ve held high-stress jobs with evening meetings and I’ve held jobs where I was on my feet 12 hours a day and on call 24/7. I had no life outside of work because I spent my spare time writing. Now that I’m not working outside the home, with lots more spare time, I have only been able to push my capacity by 1000 words a day.
If I had the means, I think I’d volunteer somewhere a few days a week or get a part time low stress job to get me away from the computer and give writing time more of a sense of urgency. Some of us just work better that way, I think.
The best jobs I had in terms of writing well were jobs that involved routine tasks that didn’t take a lot of brain function. My hands were busy while my mind was free to plan stories. If you have a job like that and your writing is going well, be thankful. It’s a win-win.
If you have the support, the money, and the desire to give up your day job to write full time, you need to know that discipline is required. Routine is important. Motivation is key. And even if all three of these things fall into place, you likely won’t produce much more in terms of word count than you did while you were working.
Only you can decide if giving up the day job is worth it, especially if you aren’t making money with your stories. A stimulating job can give you more to write about. A repetitive job gives your brain a lot of freedom. Any job can give you a better sense of urgency to keep your dates with the page. Make your own list of pros and cons, but do it with eyes wide open.
How do you think life would be different if you could write full time? If you are no longer working, what’s been the most difficult aspect?
I am an editor for a speculative fiction magazine; I get to read a lot of interesting stories and work with dedicated people. It’s a fun job and I’ve learned a lot. Like other magazines/journals, we have a slush pile, but even if your story makes it through the first round, it’s not guaranteed to make it past me. Many don’t. So, at the end of the day, what does it take?
An editor’s literary tastes are idiosyncratic, so I wasn’t lying when I said that you can’t know why someone rejected your piece. I had a flash fiction piece rejected a couple months back by Daily Science Fiction. It made it past their first round and into the second, final one, which means it was a strong contender for publication. But, ultimately, the gatekeepers decided my story didn’t make the cut. And though the rejection was a form letter, they essentially told me what I’m telling you now: My piece was a strong piece and they liked it, but someone’s story suited them better.
How is that fair, you may be thinking? And maybe it’s not. But that’s the way it goes in the publishing industry. At least they were nice about it.
How can you get past the gatekeepers then?
Below I’ve written some tips that might help you get further — at least for the speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror) magazines.
Make sure your piece is polished. Have it edited by a critique group, a friend with a no-nonsense eye for detail, someone who has read a lot of stories. SOMEONE. As with many editors and readers in the small magazine industry, I’m a volunteer. I have a certain amount of time I’m willing to give any story I agree to edit. If I sense your piece is going to take more time than that, then I will probably reject it.
Avoid overdone subjects or at least attempt to do something new with them. Here’s the thing: Readers of the slush pile and the editors read a lot of stories. Certain plots and settings, for instance, come up again and again in certain genres. What you think is a unique story may be something we’ve already read hundreds of times. The best recent example I can give: I read a few stories back-to-back primarily focused on battle. They were well written; they had characters that were fleshed out. But I was laden with the more-of-the-same feeling. Speculative fiction offers far more opportunities for literary exploration than battle and war. Send those stories.
Put your characters in a setting no one would imagine, use intriguing and original characters, write a plot that is going to make me want to know more — about the world, about the story.
Subjects that may classify as overdone or hard sells are going to be, as I said, dependent on the editor, but there are a few that may have trouble getting past more editors than just me:
- Elves, dwarves, dragons, wizards etc. The presence of these characters doesn’t mean I’ll say no, but it does mean you’ll have more to prove.
- Clearly black and white characters
- Twist endings. You think they’ll catch us by surprise, but they don’t.
- Time travel
- Revenge stories
- War/soldier stories
- Ghost stories
- Government or science as root of all evil
UPDATE: I forgot to add this, but Strange Horizons has an EXCELLENT, comprehensive, and somewhat humorous list of stories they have seen too often. DO check it out!
Personal hard sells:
- Gratuitous violence
- A woman as nothing more than the “wench in the tavern” or the temptress
- Stories set in bars or taverns or battlefields
- Masculinized woman as a means of providing the story with a ‘strong’ female character. A warrior woman does not a strong female make.
- Same with the overdone sassy woman character.
- Stories starting with dialogue (if I accept the story, I’ll ask that you change this)
- Stories with an antagonist created solely for the purpose of the protagonist. I mean one forced into the narrative just to give the story’s MC a foe.
- Magic as the answer to problems (thank you Robyn for reminding me of this one) or illogical/unbelievable systems
- Characters that fit nicely into archetypes
Try for depth. When I read a story, I’d like it to linger in my thoughts — I’d like it to make me think. I take great pleasure in seeing the parts of a story fall together, connecting, giving me reason to care about the direction it’s going. It’s like unraveling a special piece of chocolate. I read a lot of stories that have plot but no characters. What I mean is that the characters are simply pieces on the board, plugs, in a sense. But I am 99% of the time more interested in the characters than the situation. I want to see how the characters are reacting, who they are. The setting/plot should be secondary to the characters, not the other way around. (Unless the setting itself is the character.)
Make sure the story fits within the story you’ve written. This happens more often than you think: the writer has a good idea and writes well but has bitten off more than he can chew for the size of the story. When this happens, the story has pacing issues or attempts to cover more ground than it feasibly can, which means I feel that something in it is totally lacking or that the author has missed the mark. Some things in a story are meant to be ambiguous (endings for example) or left to the imagination (certain elements of the world), but the story still has to feel complete.
In conclusion . . .
I’ve said no to stories for a good many reasons — and not all of them were because the story or the writing was bad. Some of the reasons may have been for those I’ve listed above. Many times it happens that I’ve read a similar story already and the other person simply did it better. And that’s precisely why you should persevere. Keep writing and submitting. Keep reading and learning.
In the end, we’re all in the same boat.