Archive for December, 2014

Let me state two things up front: I have not published a book myself (although I am poised to do so), and I have definite opinions about which route is the best fit for me. So that may color my analysis. You have been warned.

For certain both ways of getting your book to the public have definite advantages:

• Author Control – when you self-publish you retain control of practically everything, from contents and editing to format, cover design and marketing.
• Speed of Publication – If you are going strictly e-book, you can have your book on Barnes & Noble or Amazon in mere weeks. If you go through a print service, you can have hard copies in several months. Whereas, through traditional publishing it may be as long as two years before your book hits the street.
• Retention of Rights – When you self-publish you (usually) keep all rights, and can do whatever you want with the book at any time. With traditional publishing you have to work within the rules set by the publisher that has retained the rights.
• Inventory – Because you are controlling the printing process, you never have to face a warehouse full of unsold books. Print-on-demand allows you to print only what books your customers order.

Traditional Publishing
• Legitimacy – Many people consider (rightly or wrongly) traditionally-published books to be more “legitimate” than self-published books. Books published by major publishing houses carry more weight – even if the author is unknown – than books published independently. This carries over to brick-and-mortar bookstores, where you will rarely find self-published books for sale.
• Editing – Publishers provide in-house editorial services that will save the author the expense of hiring a professional editor to catch all of the inconsistencies and correct all of the punctuation and spelling errors even the most thorough authors sometimes miss. These in-house editors also have a very good idea what is selling right now and can help tune your manuscript to better fit your audience.
• Publishing Cost – If a traditional publisher accepts your book, they will be covering all of the costs of printing and publishing, and assuming all of the risks therein. This can save thousands of dollars over self-publishing book, where you have to pay up front for the books you print.
• The Paycheck – Most traditional publishers pay the authors of the books they produce an advance on expected sales, then additional royalties based on actual sales. Royalties range from 7.55 to 15% of total sales worldwide.

Simply comparing facts, however, is never enough. You wouldn’t do it when choosing a car or a home or a piece of furniture. There are a lot of other factors at work here. For example, the other day I ran across this post in one of the writing/publishing groups to which I belong: “Finally, my YA Romance is on Amazon, but now what? I don’t have a clue as to how to sell this book!” To me this is very odd, and at once I knew I would never read this book or seek out this author. How do you get to this point in your writing career without ever having considered how to market your book? This author went on to inquire about how much sex is acceptable in a YA novel. Wouldn’t you have asked this question before you wrote your novel? I think this example illustrates precisely what is wrong with the self-published market.

The key thing about the traditional publishing route is that before your book will be accepted by a publishing house it has to be well-written, polished, marketable, and likely to appeal to a specific audience. In other words, you have to know your craft and do your homework before you can get your foot in the door.

Not that some truly awful books have not slipped through — maybe because the author is already famous for something else, or because the topic is controversial or timely or is very similar to a recent book that was a huge success. Because those things will sell books, too. But probably none of those conditions apply to your book.

With self-publishing, none of the qualities of the publishing house gatekeepers are there, so anything — and everything — can get through. And does. The market is saturated. There are tens of thousands of e-books out there, many of them by authors who have no idea how to write a good book. Imagine if your local BevMo carried every beer brewed in the kitchen of a hobbiest, every bottle of bathtub gin, and every vintage of backwoods White Lightning? Without tasting every one, how would you know which were any good? By the label? Because the really good ones can afford to hire a professional artist to design their label? To some degree, yes. Because you can effectively dismiss those with cheap, amateurish labels. I know — “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But when seven-eighths of the books have covers that look like they were Photoshoped in an hour by someone who just bought the program yesterday, you can reasonably suspect that their lack of polish and attention to detail extends to their writing, as well.


To miss-quote Anton Ego, “A great artist can come from anywhere, but not everyone can become a great artist.” To be sure, there are a lot of truly wonderful self-published books. But how do you know? Well, word-of-mouth, good reviews, sales ranking, etc. in other words, marketing. A traditional publishing house is banking — literally — on the success of your book. It is in their best interest, and within their considerable power, to market and promote your book. They have publicists, contacts, and a well-earned reputation. And the money to back it all up. To be sure, even with traditional publishing, you are expected to pound the pavement and get the word out, go to signings, and meet with librarians and booksellers. But with self-publishing you’re on your own.

In case you haven’t paid attention, I lean toward traditional publishing. And I knew this when I started writing my current book. So I did my research, learned everything I could about what sells and what doesn’t, and sought as much help as I could to learn my craft and perfect my story. So that when I was ready to submit, it would be not only acceptable to a traditional publisher, but good enough to make them invest in it.

I’ll let you know if I succeed.




Today I bought another feather for my cap.  Membership in the scbwi — the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Because, you know, I write children’s books.

Well, so far just the one.  But that’s sort of the point.  I’m in that sinister twighlight between writer and author, and I need someone to guide me out of the darkness.  That’s what the scbwi is for.

Upon paying my $95 I was immediately rewarded with unlimited access to a whole host of valuable resources created and maintained specifically for writers of children’s books — from picture books and early readers, through middle grade to young adult.  Such resources as The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children, the bi-monthly SCBWI Bulletin, podcasts, master classes, discussion boards, mentorships, book launch parties, and conferences where you can meet with editors and publishers face-to-face.

My membership also automatically enrolled me in the regional association, in my case California: North/Central.  And the regional conference coming up in May happens to be held about 2 miles from my house.

As for critique groups and other personalized help, I already belong to an excellent online service, Critique Circle, which is very active, very fair, and has proven to be extremely helpful (I passed my entire manuscript though there, one chapter at a time as I was writing it).  But as good as CC is, it is often rather hit-or-miss whether you will connect with readers willing to critique your work who actually write in your given category.  The scbwi is, of course, exclusive to writers of children’s books.

I naturally have not had time to explore all of the resources available to me in the short time I have been a member.  However one thing I have discovered that really caught my eye was the list of grants available to authors.  Specifically unpublished authors with a work-in-progress.  The scbwi offers a grant every year in six different categories of children’s books to unpublished authors with a finished manuscript (I happen to be such a person), and the winner’s manuscripts will be submitted to a hand-selected group of editors with an endorsement from the scbwi.  There’s even a Late Bloomer award granted to an unpublished author over 50 with a WIP (I also happen to be one of these.  Ahem).

Probably the first thing I’m going to do is to dive into The Book, mentioned above.  It is available to members as a free e-book or for a nominal fee of $10 a printed and bound copy will be shipped to you.  I already have my digital version cued up on my iPad, in iBooks.  So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a WIP to publish….



Have you ever bought yourself a Christmas present, then handed it to your spouse and said, “Here, dear, wrap this and give it to me on Christmas and I’ll pretend to be surprised”?

Of course, with young children in the house you sometimes have to step in during the gift-giving process, so your wife doesn’t end up receiving Spider-Man slippers or a singing trout on Christmas morning. And there are times when it is just easier to pick out that one thing you want that has to be just right, so you aren’t disappointed by the wrong size or your husband’s tragic lack of taste.

But this was different. I could easily have just asked for this item. It wasn’t particularly expensive and It only comes in one size. It was unlikely anyone could get mixed-up and buy the wrong one, and they weren’t in danger of running out.

imageIt was the 2015 Guide to Literary Agents, and I bought it with my employee discount at Barnes & Noble at the end of my shift last weekend. Because I finished converting my entire novel into proper manuscript format, I’ve just about got my query letter worked out, and I just got word from my very last (and most important) beta reader that I would receive a very thorough write-up this week. So it is most definitely time for me to start organizing my agent list.

But it wasn’t enough to to just buy the Guide for myself. It calls for an occasion. After all, this moment has been close to two years in the making. I am, I believe, literally — finally— just mere days away from sending off my first finished novel for publication. It needed a pretty bow on it and a little tag saying, “From Santa.”

Of course, what I really want for Christmas is a literary agent. But, you know, I’m picky and kind of a pain to shop for.



The other day I read a blog by a fellow writer, who posed the rather intriguing question: “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” I thought it was a brilliant question. And while she made some excellent points and gave some wonderful literary examples, she never really quite answered the original question.

So I thought I’d take a crack at it.

I speak from some experience; the main character of my latest novel is Cat, a twelve-year-old girl. And before we go any further, I can assure you that I did not start behaving like my daughter while I was writing it. But I did learn to think like her, or like a variation of her. Really, the challenge wasn’t to think like a different gender; Cat is something of a tomboy and is unconventional is other ways. She likes to sculpt clay with her dad, she thinks princesses are supposed to be leaders not clothes-horses, and she wins the day by punching the villain in the nose. No, the challenge was thinking like a twelve-year-old.

In retrospect, I suppose, this seems a little odd. After all, I have never ever been a girl. I have been twelve. But I was twelve almost 40 years ago, and most twelve-year-olds today would not relate to who I was then. The coolest toy I had was Hot Wheels, and the only time we ever rented a movie, my dad brought home a movie projector and an 8mm Pop-eye short. Star Wars and VHS wouldn’t happen for several years. On TV we had three channels — plus PBS if we were lucky and the weather was good.

My behavior didn’t change. But I was fortunate enough to have a real live twelve year-old-girl living in my house who I could observe and ask questions. It really didn’t seem like that big of a challenge. Perhaps because of my fondness for Robert Heinlien. Of course he wrote many of his young adult novellas with female lead characters, but I didn’t get into those until later. I started with the adult novels. I Will Fear No Evil caught me out and fascinated me right from the start, because here was the story of an old man who used his wealth to move his intellect and personality out of his dying body and into that of a vibrant young woman. And Heinlien writes as if he has been a woman. Then came Friday, and The Number of the Beast, both told from the points of view of strong female characters. And Heinlien doesn’t just write female characters, his characters explore their femininity and sexuality. But when To Sail Beyond the Sunset came out, it was a revelation. This book is a first-person (fictional) autobiography of a woman, starting with her childhood in Missouri in the 1880s and through her entire remarkable life of 100+ years. And it is utterly believable and satisfying.


So when the idea of me writing a female lead character in first person occurred to me, it did not seem like an impossible hurdle. For inspiration I re-read the entire 13 book Hollows series by Kim Harrison, about a kick-ass bounty-hunter/witch in her early 20s. Those books, along with my own daughter, gave me insight into my character’s motivations, attitude, likes and dislikes, and priorities in life.

But for most science fiction, fantasy and horror writers, the idea of merely writing across genders must seem pretty mild. I know a woman who is writing a novel about a teen dhampire – a vampire/human hybrid. In this kind of book her gender could very easily take a back seat to her other qualities and motives. In my own book, The Last Princess, Cat encounters people who have interbred with dwarves, pixies, brownies, gnomes, ogres, elves, and even jinn. So I had to showcase their fae qualities in the way they acted and the way they spoke. Incidentally, I’ve never been any of those things either. And I did not, as it turns out, need to start living in the woods or start pounding swords on an anvil to get into character. There’s yet another dimension to these characters, too: I gave them foreign accents coinciding with the country of origin for their particular fae race. A German dwarf, a Cockney brownie, a French ogre, etc. Some of them are friendly, others are sinister, and that colors their character, too.

The bottom line – the answer to the question, “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” – is this: I behave like a writer. I do my research, I collect my notes, and fill out my characters with qualities appropriate to their race and age and motives and profession and country of origin – and gender. Their gender is only one of many qualities or “categories” one needs to think about when writing a character. This way I avoid stereotypes and banal, flat characters. One’s gender almost never defines a person, nor should it define a character.

But what about you? Do you find your behavior changes when writing outside of your own person “box?” What are some examples of characters that you have written that are utterly unlike yourself?  And what was your experience while writing them?


The theme of my first book, The Last Princess, boils down to “be yourself.”  12-year-old Cat learns she may be a princess and spends a good part of the book trying to conform to a stereotype — and failing.  Only when she embraces her utterly unprincess-like normal self does she triumph.  And furthermore, she bucks tradition and appoints an ogre-born to her counsel (in this world, many people are descended from ogres or elves or faeries who interbred with humans hundred of years ago).  She trusts this man because he, too, has learned to be himself and not to be like his vile ancestors.

I’m working on the sequel now.  And in this book, The Last Fearie Godmother, Cat is wished back to Ireland around the year 1500.  When ogres where still particularly vile.

So now I’m faced with de-evolving my ogres.  And every other kind of fae I introduced in the first book (as mostly-human hybrids).  It shouldn’t be too difficult — fun, even — because, after all, I adapted my fae-born characters by toning down the original stereotypes in the first place.  I just have to go back to their roots.

Humans are proving to be more difficult.

I mean goblins and ogres in the Middle Ages are basically the goblins and ogres we are familiar with from fairy tales.  Beastial, vicious, and cruel.  Monsters in the true sence of the word.  Ogres with green skin covered in coarse black hair, with claws and sharp teeth, living in caves and cooking children who strayed too far from the path fit right in to 1500 Europe.  And the contrast to the toned-down, mostly human version Cat knows from her own time will be clear and shocking.

But humans were mostly the same as today, at least physically.  However I’m learning that attitudes, beliefs and values were very different 500 years ago.  Obviously life was very different then than the one 21st century Cat is familiar with.  But if I thought writing in the point of view of a 12-year-old girl (while being myself a 50-year-old man) was a challenge, populating a book with people from the late Middle Ages is going to be much more  difficult.  After all, my daughter was a 12-year old girl from the 21st century less than two years ago.  Where are my examples going to come from, now?

I haven’t settled on a theme for the sequel, yet, but it might very well be something like “people change,” and let the stark contrasts speak for themselves. There’s going to be some pretty serious reverse-stereotyping going on when Cat expects ogres to be like her mostly-human friend and they utterly fail to do so.  Nobody will be like she expects, not even the humans.

And the best part will be when she finally returns home after her adventure and is never quite able to look at her ogre-born friend the same way again….