Tag Archives: business of writing

Writing-Tip Wednesday: On Writing Every Day

We’ve all heard it said — usually with authority and condescension and a certain righteous certainty.

A real writer writes every day.

If you want to be a professional writer, that’s what you have to do: Make it a habit, part of your daily routine.

It is even possible that such pronouncements have, in the past, crossed my lips. And I will say that most professionals I know do write each day, or very close to it. I write at least six days most weeks — I certainly work every weekday. And I would recommend that even those who have yet to make writing your profession make the effort to write as often as possible.

That said, let’s be clear about a few things.

First, when I said that I write every day, and that I work each weekday, that does not mean that I am always writing fiction on those days, or even always churning out pages of prose. “Writing” can mean research. Writing can mean blogging. It can mean updating my website or doing social media stuff. It can even mean, at times, staring out the window trying to work out my next plot point. Yes, when I am in the middle of a novel, I will write 10,000 or 12,000 words per week for weeks at a time. Usually I have some prose project or other underway and I will work on it steadily.

But “writing” can mean many things, can refer to different elements of my job. It doesn’t always mean “writing my book.”

Second, even if the only work we ever needed to do as writers was write our fiction, it still might not make sense for all of us to write daily. As I have said many, many time before, there is no single right way to do any of this. Some writers outline, others wing it. Some writers write in absolute silence, others like to have rock (or country or classical or jazz) blasting in the background. Some writers produce clean first drafts, others sneeze their books all over the proverbial page and spend the next six weeks cleaning up the mess in rewrites.

Some writers write every day. Some don’t. Some writers get burned out if they try to produce pages each day. Such writers are not doing it wrong. They’re not neglecting their art. They work a certain way at a certain pace. Full stop.

Third, life matters and sometimes it gets in the way. I know plenty of writers who would LOVE to write everyday, but simply can’t. It’s just not an option. Jobs, familial responsibilities, financial factors, the sheer enormity of emotional burdens and physical health problems — any one of these things can make writing on a regular basis impossible. Combine two or three of them, and time for writing becomes an almost unaffordable luxury. That doesn’t mean these people aren’t writers. It isn’t cause to question their commitment to their work in progress. It means that right now, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, their writing output will be limited.

My point — and it is directed at myself as much as anyone — is that stating glibly that writers ought to write every day reflects the worst sort of arrogance and privilege. I GET to write every day. This is one of the great blessings in my life. I do this professionally, and I have the opportunity to give expression to my creative visions daily. Judging those who don’t have that same chance is pretty far off base.

Look, if you want to write, if you aspire to a career in fiction, and if you have the chance to write at least for some time each day, I would encourage you to do so. I would also encourage you to count your lucky stars that you can.

If you can’t, don’t get down on yourself and don’t let anyone (including me) tell you that somehow you’re neglecting your art or doing this wrong. You’re not.

And finally, if you’re in this position — wishing you could write more — consider keeping a journal, even if it just consists of typing an email to yourself in a moment’s free time with some scrap of an idea or a stray thought, or writing a few words in a notebook. You don’t have to Write Your Book. You can simply express yourself in the easiest, quickest, most convenient way possible. There are no rules to this, no single right way blah, blah, blah. You can’t do it wrong, because in this respect there is no wrong. There is only what we can do and what we want to do.

Best of luck. Keep writing.

Monday Musings: Getting the Most Out of a Convention

I am just finishing up a very nice weekend at Boskone, a terrific regional convention in Boston. This was my second Boskone, and I feel that I am starting to know people at the con, and also to be known. I hope to be back again next year.

The truth is, this was the first convention in some time that I have truly enjoyed. I am frustrated by elements of the business right now, and I’m struggling with my creative process. Over the past year or so, those frustrations have kept me from getting as much out of my convention appearances as I would have liked.

I have read plenty of “How To Approach a Convention” advice posts. I’ve even written a few. There is lots of helpful advice out there on how to network at conventions, how to comport oneself on panels and at readings, how to approach the entire con experience in a way that will maximize its impact on career growth. This is not one of those posts.

Rather, I am thinking about what I did this weekend to ensure that I had a positive emotional experience, to make certain that I didn’t come away with deepening frustration or the sense that I had wasted my time. So here is my $.02 on making the most of the convention experience on a more personal level.

Go into a convention weekend with realistic expectations. The best conventions I’ve attended are not necessarily the ones that result in book deals or anthology invitations or even new relationships with Movers and Shakers. No, the best weekends are the ones that simply leave me energized. You don’t need to have a huge breakthrough or a career changing moment for the weekend to be worth your time and money.

Along similar lines, be aware of the smaller moments and look to harness them. That energizing experience can come from something as simple as a stimulating panel discussion or a late night conversation in the hotel bar or a reading that helps you see beyond a plot point that has held up your WIP. Don’t overlook these encounters and experiences; don’t take them for granted. Try to recognize them as they happen, even if it’s on the very first afternoon of the convention, and make note of the moment. “What a great conversation! [For instance.] Even if nothing else happens this weekend, that justifies my being here.”

Take some time away from the convention. This is a big one for me. I love to travel and explore, and since conventions often take us to new places, I take the opportunity to see the city or landscape beyond the convention hotel. As an example, last year, the first time I attended Boskone, I walked part of the Boston Freedom Trail, seeing historical spots I’d written about in the Thieftaker books. This year it was too cold and windy for that, but on Thursday night, just after my arrival, I went out to dinner on my own, enjoying some good food and the ambiance of a fun restaurant. The next morning, I met a dear relative for lunch in Quincy Market.

The corollary to taking time away from the convention is don’t be afraid to be alone for a while. When we attend conventions, we often feel that we have to be social every minute of every day. That’s not only unrealistic, for many of us it’s a recipe for burnout. Alone time is healthy, it allows us to take stock of the experience we’re having and perhaps make some adjustments in attitude and approach. That dinner I had alone was great fun. So was the one I had the next night with several friends. We need a blend of experiences.

And since I mentioned attitude… Go into the weekend with as positive an attitude as possible. This doesn’t mean that you should be annoyingly peppy or anything like that. But do try to approach the convention with the expectation that it will be a positive experience. This year I was dreading Boskone a little bit. Not because it isn’t a great con, but because my recent conventions had left me so disappointed. But the day I flew up to Boston I tried to force myself out of my own head, as it were. I knew that if I approached the weekend expecting the worst, that would be what I got. Instead, I went in open to whatever might happen. The con wasn’t perfect, but I managed to laugh off those moments that didn’t go so well, and embrace those that did.

A lot of this is pretty basic stuff — and a lot of it can be applied to experiences other than conventions — but now and then it helps to be reminded of even the most simple notions. I needed the reminder before this weekend. And if you find yourself heading to a convention with feelings of trepidation or even dread, maybe this post will help. I hope so.

Enjoy your week!

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Finding an Agent

Agents – good ones – understand contracts. They are fluent in legalese, and not only can they spot troublesome clauses in a written agreement, they can also improve terms on less contentious but equally important clauses. It is worth finding an agent for their contractual expertise alone.

A few of you expressed interest in a Writing-Tip Wednesday post about finding an agent. (And if you’re interested in offering suggestions for future posts, just sign up for my Facebook group here and leave your thoughts in a comment.)

I could write my next three posts about the agenting process and still not cover the topic in a comprehensive way, but I will do my best to start the conversation here. I will likely return to the subject later in the year. And further down in this post I will share a link to a couple of posts about querying written by my own wonderful agent, Lucienne Diver.

To start, though, I want to focus on a question I hear with some regularity: Do I really need an agent?

This is a valid question. The publishing industry has changed markedly over the past decade, and has undergone huge changes since I started writing professionally twenty-five years ago. At one time, when big-house publishing still dominated the industry, when self-publishing was still called “vanity publishing,” and small presses were at best an imperfect alternative, aspiring authors really couldn’t hope to make a professional book-length sale without an agent. Most large publishers were unwilling even to consider unagented manuscripts. And to some degree that remains true today.

The difference, of course, is that with publishing technology being what it is, and e-books and audio books taking up ever larger portions of the book market, small press publishing is far more viable than it has ever been, and, for many, self-publishing has become a legitimate path. Authors can sign with small publishers and/or earn money from their own books without necessarily having an agent.

And yet, I still believe having an agent makes sense. Why? A couple of reasons. First, I can’t tell you how many new writers I have seen struggling with bad contracts, dealing with publishers who, through incompetence or malign intent, have put them in impossible situations. They are stuck earning next to nothing and, in many cases, are unable to regain the rights to their work. Agents – good ones – understand contracts. They are fluent in legalese, and not only can they spot troublesome clauses in a written agreement, they can also improve terms on less contentious but equally important clauses. It is worth finding an agent for their contractual expertise alone.

But a good agent can help in other ways as well. The fact is, even if authors start out signing perfectly fine contracts with small presses, most aspire to more. They want to sell foreign rights to their books, not to mention film or television or game rights. They want to develop a career strategy that will take them to greater and greater heights of success. A competent, honest agent can help with all of that, and the earlier an author begins a partnership with an agent, the more fruitful that relationship is likely to be. So, yes, by all means, find an agent.

How?

There is no single method that is guaranteed to find you the best agent, the most honest agent, the agent who will bring you fortune and fame. Those things are as dependent on your relationship with your agent as they are on the agent herself. A lot of finding the right agent comes down to doing research, listening to people talk about their agent experiences, and then, in the end, finding someone with whom you have some personal chemistry.

The research is fairly simple. Most of us can place our work in a certain genre or subgenre. We know whose work is similar to ours, who our most comparable authors are. Likely, all or most of those other authors have agents who they acknowledge in their books or on their websites. Those names are a good place to start your search. On the flip side, many agents list their clientele publicly. Look at those lists. Do you see yourself fitting in with those other authors? It probably seems obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: If the agent in question specializes in, say, military science fiction, and you write, say, high fantasy for YA readers, you might want to keep looking.

You can also talk to friends, ask around at conventions and workshops, or even meet agents at such events and find ways to approach them. Agents attend conventions and workshops looking to connect with new writers. Approaching them – politely and in appropriate venues at appropriate times – is perfectly acceptable.

If meeting agents proves impossible, you can still query them. Here is Lucienne’s take on how best to craft a query letter. And here is her post on what comes next after the query.

Finally, you want to talk to any prospective agent in depth. It is always flattering to have an agent express interest in representing you, and it’s tempting to leap at that first offer of representation. Finding an agent is hard, and it’s easy to assume that the first offer could wind up being the only offer. The truth is, though, if one agent is interested, another is likely to be as well. And while that first agent might be fine, or even perfect, there is also the chance that the fit won’t be right.

Ask questions. Where do they think they might place the work you’re selling at the moment? What kind of follow-up do they think you ought to write? What do they think is the best direction for your career going forward? If, in discussing these things, you get the sense that the agent either doesn’t have good answers, or is pointing you in a direction you don’t wish to go, you might want to consider continuing your search.

A couple of nitty-gritty points before I finish: Standard agent percentage is 15% on domestic sales and secondary rights (games, media, audio, etc.). For foreign sales it’s generally 20%. Legitimate agents do not ask for retainer fees, reading fees, etc. They do not try to set you up with “book doctors” or freelance editors who will “improve” your manuscript for a fee. If an agent asks for money, or tries to arrange such services, chances are they’re looking to scam you. Run away. Remember that money flows TO the writer. Agents make money when you make money, by taking a percentage of your earnings. And remember as well that a bad agent – someone who is incompetent or dishonest – can do more damage than good. This is one more reason to be careful with your selection and to not rush into anything because you’re just thrilled to be offered representation.

Writers will work with many, many editors over the course of a career. Editors move from publisher to publisher, they might be interested in one series but not another. Changeover in the editor-writer relationship is to be expected. The writer-agent relationship, on the other hand, is for the long haul. It’s a cliché to compare it to a marriage, but it’s also true. I have been writing for a quarter century. I have worked with at least ten different editors on long fiction and nearly as many on short fiction. In that same time, I’ve had two agents. The relationship with the first ended amicably, as I was taking my career in a new direction and he was looking to retire. The relationship with the second is going strong after twenty years.

The search for an agent can be frustrating, it can be slow, it can be discouraging. Can you start your career without an agent? In today’s world, yes, you can. And if you have that opportunity, go ahead. In fact, if you get an offer from a small press, that can be the perfect opportunity to approach an agent. “I have an offer,” you say. “Would you be willing to represent me in my negotiations?” Many agents will leap at such an offer. And if they prevent even one bad clause from finding its way into your contract, if they win even one concession on royalty rates, if they make even one foreign sale of that same work, the percentage you pay will be well worth it.

Writing Tip Wednesday: A Rose By Any Other ‘Nym…

Poor sales for one novel can drive down orders for the next one or even convince booksellers not to stock that next effort at all. And so, sometimes authors have to restart careers by switching names and starting over. With that new name comes a blank slate – no sales record at all, good or bad.

There are certain questions I’m asked again and again at conventions and workshops – Where do your ideas come from? What is your daily routine? How do you outline a novel? How do you find an agent? What is the average flight speed of an unladen swallow?

(African or European…?)

Many of these questions will find their way into upcoming Writing Tip Wednesday posts, but for today I would like to address another set of questions I get a lot: Why do I write under two names? And why might writers starting out now want to work under a pen nam?

I have noticed that many of the writers submitting to the Galactic Stew anthology have written their stories under pen names. Honestly, in some cases I’m not sure why, but that’s fine. It’s a choice, and we’re all free to do what we want.

But generally speaking, there are specific reasons authors resort to pen names or pseudonyms or aliases (all of which are basically the same thing).

When I first proposed the Thieftaker series, I had just completed my third epic fantasy series (the LonTobyn Chronicle, Winds of the Forelands, and Blood of the Southlands). The books had done pretty well commercially and critically, but taken together the three series totaled eleven novels and close to two million words. I was ready for a change. The Thieftaker books were historical urban fantasy with a strong mystery element. They were shorter, leaner, focused on one point of view character.

Tor was interested in the new series, but they were concerned that readers seeing my name on the cover of the first book would think “David B. Coe – ah! Epic fantasy.” They would be disappointed to read something different and might respond with poor Amazon reviews, etc. So we went with a pseudonym. I was allowed to tell fans that the new series was in the works and coming out under the new name. Tor wanted me to bring as much of my audience as possible over to the new series, but they also wanted to avoid confusion.

This is what’s known as “branding,” which is something of a buzzword in today’s marketplace. Branding is probably the most common reason for using a ‘nym. Often writers switching genres will do exactly what I did with Thieftaker. Then again, I have several friends who write a broad variety of books and do them all under one name. And, for the record, I started writing epic fantasy as David B. Coe and historical fiction as D.B. Jackson; last year I released the second book in my epic fantasy/time travel series as D.B. Jackson, and my book for the History Channel as David B. Coe. So make of that what you will…

But if you have written mystery or romance under your own name and are now trying your hand at science fiction or fantasy, you might want to use a pen name.

People also write under pen names for reasons of reader sensibility. What does this mean? Well, as a for instance, I know authors who write, among other things, both erotica and middle grade. If they want to keep their middle grade audience, and if they want to avoid ticking off the parents of their readers, they are probably safest writing in these genres under different names.

Similarly, some authors are known under their own names for professions that have nothing to do with writing novels. In this case, selecting a pseudonym, or even choosing to write under a different form of one’s own name (say, D.B. Coe instead of David B. Coe) can be a way of preserving the professional integrity of both names.

Sometimes authors change names to fool bookstore computers. Seriously. Publishing is a tough game, and some would say that it has never been harder to maintain commercial success than it is right now. We are only as successful as our most recent book. Poor sales for one novel can drive down orders for the next one or even convince booksellers not to stock that next effort at all. And so, sometimes authors have to restart careers by switching names and starting over. With that new name comes a blank slate – no sales record at all, good or bad. In certain instances, that can be helpful.

Authors can use a pseudonym to conceal their gender. Not so long ago, publishers believed that female authors would have a difficult time selling fantasy or science fiction, and so many women in the business took on names that were purposefully androgynous, or used initials instead of names to obscure gender. Andre Norton’s real name was Alice. So was James Tiptree, Jr.’s. Today, the need for gender neutrality can work in any number of ways  – for example, a man writing romance might want the same sort of gender anonymity  – and this could be one more reason to consider a pen name.

Finally, authors can choose a pseudonym simply because they feel that their real names are not interesting enough, or might be difficult to remember, or might create spelling problems that complicate online searches (although most search engines are pretty good at discerning our intended targets, even if we don’t spell them correctly).

As I said at the outset, this is a choice, one that each author may have to make several times over the course of a career. Yes, there is something special about seeing one’s (real) name on the cover of a book. But if by using a ‘nym we increase the likelihood of the book being published at all… Well, to my mind, that’s a no-brainer.

Keep writing!

A Quick-Tip Tuesday Post About Deadlines

“But,” you say, “what if an editor asks me to make that two month deadline?”

Be honest with her. Tell her that two months won’t work, but you can get it done in three, or three and a half. When it comes down to it, the editor is going to get the book at the same time no matter what. You can only write so fast. Faced with the choice between A) an honest assessment of your writing pace and a book handed in when she expects it, or B) a book promised on an unattainable schedule and then handed in a month late, just about every editor will choose A.

Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post is up at the Magical Words blog site. Todays topic: Deadlines! We writers hate them, but meeting deadlines is part of being a professional. My post offers a few tips for setting realistic deadlines and sticking to them. You can read the post here. I hope you find it helpful.

Keep writing!

It’s Quick-Tip Tuesday: Take the Challenge!

Quite often, what separates the professionals from those who only aspire to the profession is not talent or even luck, but rather the willingness to risk rejection. If you send out a story it might be sent back, or it might be published. But you will never, ever publish anything that you don’t submit.

Today’s Quick-tip post is up at Magical Words. In it I issue a challenge to the aspiring writers who visit the site. Don’t allow the pursuit of perfection be the enemy of your success. Finish polishing your manuscripts and send them out, sooner rather than later. You can read the post here.

I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you’ll accept the challenge.