Punching Self-Publishing Stigma in the Face

Successful novels that were self-published - The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan - My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking Wool by Hugh Howey - Fifty Shades by E L James - Eragon by Christopher Paolini - Daniel's Gift by Barbara Fr

First, a bit of a summary of what I’ve learned about indie publishing over the past six months, and then a glance at some indie successes.

Indie publishing, not self-publishing.

One thing I’ve learned about non-traditional publishing is that many prefer to call it “indie publishing” as opposed to “self-publishing” because the latter carries an outdated, negative connotation.

Traditional and indie publishing: neither is clearly better than the other.

In an older post, I analyzed a number of pros and cons for traditional and indie publishing for a new author. To paraphrase myself: Indie publishing allows for greater freedom in the content of your writing, the cover design, and much more. However, going indie generally requires substantial out-of-pocket costs for the author. Traditional publishing, on the other hand, takes away some freedom but the publisher would provide professional editing and a cover design, and potentially aid in marketing and an advance on royalties. My ultimate conclusion was that new authors should at least chase traditional publishing first because it allows time to understand the market as well as an opportunity to properly edit the manuscript before rushing to print (impatience is one of the worst traits of a self-publishing author).

Manuscripts without a high concept have a tougher time getting published traditionally, but there’s no such bar for indies.

As I’ve previously discussed, high-concept fiction is highly original, widely appealing, easy to visualize, and easy to sum up in three sentences or less.

These days, agents and publishers generally look for high-concept work. Thus, if an author’s query (or even just the hook) fails to demonstrate enough high-concept qualities, traditional publishing folks will be very unlikely to even look at the manuscript. It makes sense considering the quantity of material that goes into their inbox and the fact that a book without a high concept will result in less impressive sales numbers.

If you’re indie, you can publish just about anything—there’s no requirement of a high concept. However, you’ll run into the problem that agents and publishers anticipate when they see a “low concept” book: it’s going to be much more difficult to get people to buy that thing.

A book doesn’t need a high concept to be awesome.

While a book which lacks a high concept may be difficult to market, it isn’t necessarily a bad book: a book that doesn’t seem original on in a three-sentence summary may be original in its details; wide appeal is helps for quantity in sales, but books which cater to smaller, niche markets can great; visualization for high-concept fiction generally should be somewhat of an “action” scene which will be non-existent in subtler works; and there are plenty of awesome works out there that are difficult to sum up in a few sentences while demonstrating originality, wide appeal, and provide a strong visual.

Indie authors should utilize professional editors as well as beta readers.

A lot of the sucking found in self-published titles can at least be partially attributed to a lack of professional editing. At worse, these novels require drastic revisions under the guidance of a developmental editor. In the not-too-bad scenarios, these books merely need another read-through by a copy editor.

Many indie authors probably don’t bother with professional editors due to the considerable cost. In those cases, the author should alternatively gather a substantial amount of beta readers (including a mix of casual readers, other authors, and English Major-y people to provide feedback), and take time to seriously weigh their suggestions.

I’ve seen at least one indie author admit to ignoring all beta reader feedback and simply rushing to print. While it’s a good idea to critically analyze feedback and avoid rushing to change your book based on the opinion of a single reader, you shouldn’t take any feedback too lightly—particularly when the same bit of advice is repeated by several readers.

Too many indie book covers look like stuff I made in seventh grade (some are even worse).

Seriously, I’ve seen covers that look like they were slapped together by some kid in the late 90’s on MS Paint. If you aren’t considerably gifted with graphic design, find someone who is (i.e., a professional with a relevant degree). If you really want to get away from the old stigma of being self-published, it should look like it belongs on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

If there’s an image, the resolution should be high—I don’t want to see pixel-y blocks unless your book is about 8-bit video games. Also, the book title and author name should be easy to read with genre-appropriate fonts (this article by Derek Murphy may be helpful, though some of those fonts are a bit too flamboyant and illegible for my taste). I’ve also read an article which suggests to use a serif font and sans serif font for the title and author name, but to avoid using the same type for both—one is serif, and the other sans serif.

Book sales will require dedication to marketing endeavors—platform building, book reviews, pricing deals, appearances, interviews, and conventional advertisements.

You can’t just slap your novel onto Amazon, B&N, Lulu, Smashwords, and Kobo and expect sales to magically happen. You’ll need to market that thing. Personally, marketing my book is what scared me into chasing traditional publishing. However, reading about different avenues for authors to get the word out on their books has made it less foreboding.

The first thing an author needs is a platform: a means with which the author can reach an audience.

If you’re a celebrity or a renown expert in some field that relates to your book, then you’re pretty well off. Having none of that, it may be a good idea to make some noise on the internet (e.g., blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). I’ve read some articles that bad mouth the effectiveness of social networking as a means to advertise your book, but I’m of the school of thought that believes some reach is better than none. Continue reading

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Pitching Fiction without a High Concept

One Does Not Simply Meme High Concept VS Low Concept Fiction A.D. Martin

Thanks to the recession and other factors in recent years, many literary agents and publishers now have a more vocal preference for novels with a high concept. High-concept work, to put it simply, is work that’s easy to pitch effectively.

To define high-concept less simply . . .

To be high-concept, a work must be: (1) highly original; (2) widely appealing; (3) easy to visualize; and (4) easy to sum up in three sentences or less while demonstrating the first three elements.

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Novel Revisions – Substantive Changes and Proper Planning

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki, distributed under CC BY 3.0.

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki, distributed under CC BY 3.0.

It’s 7:42 PM on a Sunday, and we all know what that means: It’s time for another writing-related post to bore and alienate people.

On my first WordPress post ever, I was starting on draft six of my novel which was a little over 75,000 words (and the title to my first post was misspelled, as evidenced by the perma-link—I’m awesome). I’m currently halfway through draft seven and the word count has gone up to 79,000. Still fluctuating.

[UPDATE/NOTE: Check the comments for other WordPressers’ thoughts on planning out your novel.]

Substantive Changes in Later Drafts

Since I started this novel, I knew that I would immediately have to make huge substantive changes when I started editing: adding, removing, and changing entire characters and events. This was somewhat anticipated because I wrote my novel in a don’t-look-back method where I would avoid editing my chapters too much as I went. My priority was to reach my word count goal. So, it was a given that I would need to make important changes to the novel.

However, I didn’t expect that I would still be making major substantive changes while working on draft seven. Really, I thought by the time I got this far, I’d simply be tweaking prose and correcting grammar and spelling mistakes.

This problem likely resulted from not starting with a detailed outline; I just created the world and a few characters with certain psychological profiles, and nudged them forward to do whatever they wanted. This resulted in a whole lot of mundane crap that had to be cut and altered.

Benefits of “Proper” Planning

I don’t think there’s absolutely correct way to plan a novel. Between the many successful authors out there, I’m sure they’ve used just about every method conceivable. That being said, I think there are a few things I could’ve done to help me write a better novel and avoid making substantive edits so late in the game: Continue reading

YA Characters Free-for-all Battle

YA Character BattleAlright, here’s the scenario: Twelve characters from several popular Young Adult novels (mostly the same ones I mentioned in my other post breaking down bestselling YA) are pitted against each other in a Hunger Games-like competition. Each series will be represented by two characters. Instead of the actual rules from The Hunger Games, let’s say the characters are just tossed into the arena with their usual gear and are told they have to fight each other; only one may survive.

Rather than write a fancy narrative, I’ll give a sports-analyst-like prediction.

*SPOILER WARNING* Minor spoilers may appear (so, I hope you’ve already read Mockingjay).

The Contestants

1. The Hunger Games: Katniss; Gale
2. Divergent: Tris; Four
3. Harry Potter: Professor Lupin; Cedric Diggory
4. Twilight: Bella; Edward
5. Legend: June; Day
6. The Outsiders: Ponyboy; Steve

Play-by-Play Predictions: Continue reading

The DNA of Bestselling YA

What makes a Young Adult novel (commercially) successful? That’s a very important question for all YA authors, agents and publishers. Here’s my breakdown of five big-hitters of YA, considering author inspiration, premise, theme, and cultural context (note: I’m just another person writing stuff, and not proclaiming myself as some all-knowing god of fiction).

Warning, there may be some spoilers, but there aren’t many big ones, so read on!

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Everyone’s favorite oblivious-to-love heroine.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Inspiration

Suzanne Collins has stated that The Hunger Games is “very much based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur” wherein the Athenians were required to send seven youths into a labyrinth where they are faced with the deadly Minotaur (no mention of Battle Royale, though I would assume that Collins at least saw the name while researching). The catalyst for the story came when Collins was flipping channels and seeing young people compete in reality shows, and other young people dying in real-life wars.

Work and Context

Commercial and mainstream fiction generally relies heavily on the premise. The Hunger Games‘ handles that quite well: the young, poor, and attractive are forced to fight to the death while Continue reading

Chapter-One-Writing Advice I Wish I’d Read Earlier

Challenge AcceptedI finished six drafts of my novel before I realized that its opening doesn’t do its job as well as it should: it doesn’t immediately draw the reader in. It took me until earlier today (while discussing the matter with another writer) to realize that since I intend my novel to be commercial, it needs to hit the reader over the head with a hook as quickly as possible.

With that in mind, I went online and searched for tips on writing a black hole of a first chapter to suck people in. I wound up reading Chuck Wendig’s advice on his blog (warning: Wendig is awesomely foul-mouthed [I’m providing a “clean” translation of his advice below, in response to Ms. Hawkins’ comment]). I’ll be keeping his 25 suggestions in mind as I re-work the beginning of my manuscript.

I’m waiting for some beta readers to give me feed back, anyway; might as well beat the crap out of my first 15 pages ’til it’s awesome.

[UPDATE!] Here’s Wendig’s advice compressed and translated into nice-guy language for educational purposes (some of his advice may be lost in translation due to my failure to interpret or articulate, so please check out Wendig’s post if you don’t mind the cursing):

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