Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why I Turned Down Two Publishing Contracts

25 July 2011

Travel adventure memoirist Pamela J. Olson breaks down the pluses and minuses in detail.


After three and a half years of work, I finished writing a book of travel adventure memoir journalism called Fast Times in Palestine. I spent much of those three and a half years dealing with the publishing industry. In the beginning I got a top-notch agent, developed a book proposal, put together three sample chapters, and sent them off to the Big Boys in New York.

Two of the publishers asked for five more chapters each. But between their asking and my finishing, the financial crisis hit, and it was pretty much crickets after that. In the meantime I racked up several kind rejections that all said pretty much the same thing: “Love the story, love the writing, I just don’t know where to position this or how to market it.”

. . . .

I tried my luck with smaller publishers, and two offered to publish my book. I hired a consultant to look over the contracts, and I gave them both a great deal of thought. But in the end, as a first-time author with a genre-bending book about which I am deeply passionate, I decided it didn’t make sense to publish on their terms. And I’m not convinced a major publisher would have been much better. Here’s why.

Basically, here’s what a publishing house offers:

An advance. Ah, the lure of the six-figure advance. Everyone dreams about it. I certainly made a few fantasy plans about what I would do with it. But in reality, publishing houses are giving less and less to untested authors, and of course it’s only an advance against royalties. The vast majority of authors never earn out their advance, which means that’s all you get. And $25,000 (if you’re lucky) for three years of work puts you waaaaaay below the poverty line. (Small publishers rarely give any advance at all.)

. . . .

Another point to consider: A lot of publishing houses are cutting costs in part by cutting the quality of editing, and many won’t take on a book unless it already looks almost ready to go. In fact, many people who get published in New York had to hire their own editor to even get their manuscript in good enough shape to be considered by an acquisitions editor. So you may end up doing a lot of your own editing regardless of what happens.

. . . .

Publicity. New and midlist authors are stuck doing the vast majority of their own publicity even at major publishers. Only the mega-best-sellers get advertising dollars and serious public relations pushes.

Distribution. There’s no doubt publishers have the best chance of scatter-shotting your work to all corners of the country in a relatively short time. But most people buy their books online, and you can sell on Amazon just as easily as anyone else. It can be disappointing not to see your book in many bookstores, but keep in mind most new and midlist authors don’t get good placement in bookstores anyway. A few spine-out copies in a back corner aren’t going to do much for your sales numbers.

The worst part about signing with a publisher is that if you don’t make a splash in the first few weeks, they simply move on to the next book in their line-up, and your book languishes indefinitely with virtually no support at all. And your own creative marketing options are limited. Because you don’t own the words, you can’t decide when, where, or at what cost to sell them. You can’t even do giveaways without permission.

. . . .

Meanwhile, here’s what publishers take away from you when you sign with them:

Creative freedom. If they want to stick you with a hideously ugly, inappropriate cover design, they can. If they want you to take out the kissing scene, they can make you do it. They always hold the power because you can’t opt out of the deal unless the publisher breaches the contract or the book goes out of print (a slippery concept in a world of eBooks and print-on-demand, and it can take months or years for it to kick in).

. . . .

Rights to your words. Once you’ve signed on the dotted line with a publishing house, you no longer own your words. You can’t use them or post them or give them away whenever you feel like it. You might have an opinion, but you won’t have much of a say.

Control of timing. With a mainstream publisher, it will take at least a year from signing the contract to seeing it on the shelves. And that’s assuming you get a deal, which itself can take months if not years. Then the publisher can put you anywhere in her stack of priorities. She can promise a May release only to realize a similar book will be released at the same time and push it back six months. And so on.

With self-publishing, if you want it published in April, it will be published in April. See how that works?

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

How Does a Writer Get Discovered Online?

25 July 2011

Regular visitor Robin Sullivan is a small press publisher and publicist who gives regular lectures to a group of 500 authors in the Washington DC area.

She’s beginning a series of blog posts about what a writer must do to be discovered online.


Priority #1 – Your own site
You MUST have a site controlled by you that you that you can send people to. Period. Don’t ever think author pages from: your publisher, Amazon, or Smashwords is “good enough”. You must have a site exclusive to yourself that you are in complete and utter control of.

. . . .

The other advantage of using a blog is that you get a SINGLE site. If you try to maintain both a blog and website one will usually be woefully neglected. (Usually the website) If you have only one to keep up to date your life gets a lot easier and you don’t confuse your readers by giving them several different places to go to.

. . . .

I want you to start on the right foot and that means thinking about your name (both for your site, and handles used by sites such as twitter and forums).

Writers are in an interesting position because they have their own name, their books name, and in some cases series names. We’ll make this real simple because I want you to forget all the other things and focus on YOUR NAME. It’s the only thing you can count on.

If you are traditionally published, there’s not telling what the “final name” of your book will be. If you stated a blog with the name of that book, and they change the title – you’re going to lose a bunch of momentum. Also keep in mind you’ll probably have more than one book out there. If you try to make your sites books specific then you’ll have to duplicate information on multiple sites with each new book. Also you’ll loose cross-selling opportunities.

Link to the rest at Write to Publish

Passive Guy can second Robin’s advice because, when he was even dumber, he built separate websites for Mrs. PG’s books.

Some were lovely setpieces, but they never changed and daily visitors dwindled to single digits. He’s left one up because it’s pleasant-looking, but taken the rest down.

The First Words Out of Your Keyboard – How to Begin a Novel

24 July 2011

We looked at the first several lines of current romance bestsellers a few days ago.

Let’s consider the first sentences (except for one paragraph and one paragraph+) of several masters.


Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups


In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen, and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.

Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It


The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

William Gibson, Neuromancer


The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.

Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts


Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting V under the more flexible V of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller V. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

He said to Effie Perine: “Yes, sweetheart?”

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

The Relationship of Editor to Author

24 July 2011

The relationship of editor to author is knife to throat.

Author Unknown

31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing

24 July 2011

Ideas from Leo Babauta:

Overheard dialog. If I’m anywhere public, whether it be at a park or a mall or my workplace, sometimes I’ll eavesdrop on people. Not in a gross way or anything, but I’ll just keep quiet, and listen. I love hearing other people have conversations. Sometimes it doesn’t happen on purpose — you can’t help but overhear people sometimes. If you happen to overhear a snippet of interesting dialog, jot it down in your writing journal as soon as possible. It can serve as a model or inspiration for later writing.

. . . .

Art. For the writer aspiring to greater heights, there is no better inspiration that great art, in my experience. While it doesn’t compare to the experience of seeing the art in person, I like to find inspiring works of art and put it on my computer desktop for contemplation (Michelangelo’s Pieta is there right now). It doesn’t have to be classical works, though — I’ve found inspiration in Japanese anime, in stuff I’ve found on, in local artists in my area.

. . . .

Freewriting. One of the best ways to get unstuck if you’re uninspired. Just start writing. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Don’t edit, don’t pause, don’t think. Just write and let it flow. You’ll end up with a lot of garbage, probably, but it’ll help you get out of your rut and you might just write some really good stuff among all that garbage.

Link to the rest at Write to Done

Voldemort Knows and Understands Nothing

24 July 2011

As people are saying good-bye to Harry on the occasion of the last Potter movie, Michael Gerson writes an essay on Pottermania, how it’s done and what it means:

Arguably the most famous living Englishman is, technically, not alive. But Harry Potter now determines the American conception of Britishness as thoroughly as Sherlock Holmes ever did. Rather than making the disappointing pilgrimage to Baker Street, a generation will visit King’s Cross station asking for Platform 9¾ and expect to exchange dollars for Galleons at Gringotts. The mythic geography of England — always as important as its actual hills and streets — has been reshaped by J.K. Rowling.

. . . .

The books, in fact, are gloriously derivative, providing an introduction not to magic but to mythology. Harry’s world is populated by centaurs, dragons, werewolves, grindylows, veela, Cornish pixies, sphinxes, phoenixes, goblins and hippogriffs. It is as though Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology, European folklore and Arthurian legend suddenly discovered the same playground. “I’m one of the very few,” Rowling has observed, “who has ever found a practical application for their classics degree.”

. . . .

In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien — who knew something of the subject — describes the highest achievement of the teller of stories as “sub-creation.” The sub-creator fashions “a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world.” Tolkien calls this “a special skill, a kind of elvish craft.” The creator of Harry Potter practices this craft well — an achievement her detractors cannot understand or duplicate. To read Rowling is to pack a bag and make a visit.

. . . .

Rowling seems to anticipate the objections of those who dismiss myths as lies. Harry’s enemy, Voldemort, does the same. “That which Voldemort does not value,” she writes, “he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Living and Dying in the Kindle Store: 15 Ebook Covers

23 July 2011

Book designer Joel Friedlander shows what works and what doesn’t in the Kindle Store:

You see these covers in two formats, like the rest of Amazon’s displays. A page of search results will show very small thumbnails—60 x 90 pixels—that are extremely challenging to carry off as any kind of good design.

When you go to the product detail page, you’ll get a larger—300 pixels high—image which makes it a lot easier to see the covers. In some cases, I have both versions for you to look at.

This title exhibits the most common failing of ebook covers I saw in the Kindle store: complete fidelity to the print book covers. You’ll see more below, but no matter how lovely this cover is in print, it fails even at legibility in the small preview size.

. . . .

It seems like the thriller writers have the easiest time making the transition to ebooks. Here, the design is so graphic, simplified and typographically distinct that the book works at every size.

. . . .

Here’s a book that’s delightfully delicate and effective in print, but never should have just been dumped onto an ebook cover, at least if you care whether people can read it.

. . . .

Here’s an example of a great print book cover that fails as an ebook preview. In the small size the distinctive typography just about disappears into illegibility, and the most valuable real estate on the cover—the top half—is just a black rectangle. In the larger image, enough detail is restored so you can see the cover well. Works in one size, not in the other.

. . . .

Perhaps as more books move to “straight to digital” we’ll start seeing covers specifically designed for this environment. The books that seem to translate best are ones with simple shapes, typography and colors, although the ability to design these covers is not so simple.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Why Authors Benefit from Abuse

23 July 2011

Abuse is often of service. There is nothing so dangerous to an author as silence. His name, like the shuttlecock, must be beat backward and forward, or it falls to the ground.

Samuel Johnson

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