Friday, June 22, 2012

I'm Team "Write More Books"

A wonderful benefit to being a GH® finalist is that I was instantly enrolled in a class with a lot of other talented writers. Then they suggested other groups, and before I knew it, I'd joined two new (to me) RWA online chapters, two more Yahoo groups, and watched my email grow exponentially. (Personal motto: You're never alone after you final in the Golden Heart®!)

It was also a chance for me to change my mind about publishing my contemporary legal romances through Harmony Road Press (which we could do pretty quickly) or try again to get an agent/editor/publishing deal. But I quickly discovered what others have seen for themselves: if your writing isn't what the traditional publishers are looking for, you can have Golden Heart® tattooed on your forehead and it won't make a difference. So we're sticking with the original plan and will start publishing Magdalen Braden romances in the fall.

Which means gearing up for marketing Magdalen Braden romances. Only, do I need to?

I've been watching with interest the various discussions about independent (aka self-)publishing. One debate is on how valuable marketing and promotion is. Taking out ads, creating a trailer, soliciting reviews, doing blog tours, participating in social media, etc.: do these efforts generate sales?

Confession time: I'm not very good at online marketing. So that colors my perceptions dramatically. I would imagine someone who's good at marketing has a very different opinion of the process.

And maybe it's that simple: if you're good at it, it works, and if you're not good at it, it doesn't.

Here's another possibility: that the best marketing is to write more books. (I'm defining "book" in the digital-age sense: any specific and separate story that gets its own cover, its own blurb, its own page on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple, and that you can announce as a separate release.)

Write one, and maybe it will take off, but maybe it won't. Write two and the odds are better that one will take off and its readers will find the other one, which will sell better than it did on its own. Write three...

You get the idea.

So the story of an author who was selling a couple copies a day when she started with a single book, but who'd made $25,000 by the end of her first year, makes sense when I tell you that she'd published nine books in that period. Most of the money was made from the first two, but even that makes sense because they'd been on sale the longest.

Who knows--maybe if she'd published only seven books but spent the extra time promoting the first five, she'd have sold even more. No way to know.

But looking at it logically, I'm guessing she did fine on the "Write More Books" team. First of all, who's actually tapping in to our social media streams? Our friends, our colleagues, our existing fans. And they're going to buy our books anyway (or not) pretty much regardless of our tweets and posts. All social media does is remind them that we have another book out.

What about the ads, reviews, trailers, blog tours? Sure, that can get your name out to a lot more people, but so can Amazon's heuristics, which tell readers all the time about new-to-them authors. Nine books means nine more chances to get the author's name out to thousands of new readers.

Again, if you're good at marketing, great. But if you're not...if, like me, you're better at keeping your head down and tapping out more stories...then don't assume there's some fabulous readers-only cruise but for you, "that ship has sailed."

I can't prove it, but I'm willing to believe that Team "Write More Books" does just as well.

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Take a Licking and Keep on Ticking

I'd love to tell you how to take critiques, comments, judges' remarks, beta-readers' notes, and other feedback in the right spirit. Gracefully. With aplomb. (A curtsey might be over the top, but you get the idea.)

We authors need to know how to do this. Because, honestly? I think the animal behaviorists missed a trick. There's Fight, there's Flight, and then there's Cringe.

I do that. I get creepy-crawly sensations up my arms, the back of my neck tingles, and I just want to hide. And that's even with nice comments!

If I have any advice at all it would be not to respond right away. Because after Cringe comes Oh, Yeah?!, also known as Get Defensive. And that's rarely an author's best side.

This past weekend was Critique Central around here. I got back the judges' scores and remarks on my first-ever screenplay; an online friend had extensive, helpful comments on Blackjack & Moonlight, and a short story I wrote had to be turned around following the editor's corrections.

The easiest are the line edits. That's someone actually trying to make your work better. Assess all the proposed changes, make as many as you can and then accommodate the rest. Thank your editor; she's worked hard to improve your work, which in turns makes you look better as a writer. Send her flowers, if that's possible. Or chocolate.

Next easiest: the comments by a friend on a completed manuscript. Everything my friend said was right. I just didn't agree with all of it.

Wait. What?

Yes, I think it's possible for an author to acknowledge good advice while still seeing valid reasons not to take it. My friend is right: Blackjack & Moonlight would benefit from more conflict. But not without a major rewrite, and as it's just had a major rewrite, I suspect I don't have the energy right now to do a second one. Plus, I am willing to sacrifice conflict to keep other qualities that I like as much.

Still, Blackjack is the third book in what we're calling "The Blackjack Quartet" (because Jack "Blackjack" McIntyre appears in all four books). Our current plan is to start publishing the quartet in the fall, so I won't be prepping Blackjack & Moonlight for release until 2013. Maybe then I'll know how to address the changes my friend has suggested.

That's because I know I'm still learning how to write. What was hard a year ago is now much easier, so it stands to reason that what seems hard now might be doable next spring.

Finally, the judges' scores and remarks. This is tougher because it's my first screenplay. That should make it easier because I know I'm a newbie, but paradoxically, I'm more nervous about facing my faults in this situation. I think that actually fits with my thoughts about my friend's advice. When we're faced with evidence of our failings as writers, that's just hard. But it gets easier as we demonstrate to ourselves that we are learning and improving.

I may never write another screenplay, so these comments could be the only feedback I get. I want to approach them as constructive advice on how to improve, and not a terminal diagnosis from a professional. (One judge is a producer, the other is one of those industry insiders that has lots of different titles.)

I think I can get there...with time.

Which makes it suitable that I picked the old Timex watch slogan for the title of this post. Give feedback time to find that part of you that believes you're doing okay, that you're learning and improving, and that you want to be a better writer. And that you're grateful to be strapped to an arrow, sent through a glass pane, and dunked in some water. Don't worry; you'll survive. (John Cameron Swayze is very reassuring on this point...)