Yallwest 2016 Impressions

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After weeks of covert activities in April, I capped off the month by volunteering at Yallwest 2016 in Santa Monica. Though I put in more hours of work than any sane volunteer, and didn’t spend much time as an attendee, there was a lot of good extracted from the experience: I had the chance to be awkward next to authors who are living my dream, got a glimpse into how the event is organized, and observed the YA fandom in the wild.

First Author Sightings

When I arrived at Santa Monica High School, one of the event organizers brought me to a classroom in tucked-away corner of campus. There was a group of women seated around pushed-together desks doing what I assumed was some kind of crafting. I smiled and gave a cursory wave to them as the organizer led me to a pile of boxes where I exchanged a medium-sized volunteer shirt for a large—I should’ve known a unisex medium at a YA festival would be too small.

The organizer then gave me my first assignment: stuffing festival wristbands into envelopes for attendees. There was one free chair at the far end of the circle of women. One of the women said I could take that chair because Veronica abandoned them to do some other work. I glanced at this Veronica, who had only recently vacated the seat, and realized it was the author of the Divergent series. Rather than steal Veronica Roth’s chair, I grabbed another from the center of the room. When I sat down, I realized the woman beside me was Marie Lu, author of the Legend and The Young Elites series.

The table was surrounded with established authors.

I was one of the few unpublished people at the table (on my left was Adele Walsh, an organizer of big YA stuff in Australia and New Zealand). Not wanting to seem like a pushy fan or a desperate-to-network author, I limited my words to business matters: envelope-stuffing business.

“Can I get some more orange [wristbands]?” Thanks, Sarah Enni.

“I need some more golds.” Thanks, Veronica Roth.

Well, I did mutter a single joke under my breath at some point. Only Marie Lu heard and quietly laughed. I don’t remember what the joke was, though. For the most part, I stuffed envelopes and listened. Veronica Roth shared about how, one month after she’d gotten her pixie haircut, her mother copied her hairdo and now they walk around looking alike. Someone also brought up the supposed fact that Australian authors showed they liked you by saying mean things to you (I believe Amie Kaufman confirmed this). After Ms. Lu left to do something else (chalking?), another volunteer showed up and I someone less intimidating to chat with.

FYI, if you were an attendee and your wristbands weren’t already separated at the perforation when you got them, it’s because Veronica Roth voiced idea that you should do it yourself.

Fans (and Having Fans)

The lines for signings at Yallwest ranged from hundreds of fans to handfuls. No matter the size of the line, however, the enthusiasm people had to get their books signed was inspiring.

While I was floating around the signing area, two women (perhaps, a mother and her teen daughter) asked me for Barnabas Miller who, I admit, I’d never heard of. However, I had noticed two men sitting at a signing table get up and leave a few minutes earlier. I told the women as much and added that the men might be back.

The women left and, sure enough, one of the men returned a minute later. He wasn’t Barnabas Miller, but he was Miller’s editor and author-friend, Daniel Ehrenhaft. It was a single fan missed and disappointed, but Ehrenhaft was visibly upset. He, I assume, hit Miller up on his phone and got him to hustle back to the signing table. After ten minutes or so, while I continued my volunteer duties, Miller and his fan returned. The girl had brought a friend (and ditched her mom). They had their books signed and looked damn happy about it. It was the feel good moment of the festival (with no witnesses).

The festival attendee I spoke to most wasn’t a YA fan, but the father of one. While his daughter was in line to get Veronica Roth’s signatures, he stood in the Sabaa Tahir line in his daughter’s place. I was put at the end of the line to give people the unfortunate news that the line had reached capacity, so I spent over half an hour talking to this guy—a father who built bridges for a living and accompanied his daughter to YA festivals. Coolest dad ever.

Now, Some Crappy Pictures

I didn’t take many photos at Yallfest because I was trying too hard to not be a geek. During the few panels I got into, however, I took some photos of horrible quality. Here you go:

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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

Book Two During NaNoWriMo

I’ve recently started outlining a for a “second” novel.

While I’ll begin writing this new novel in earnest during the National Novel Writing Month, I won’t technically be a NaNoWriMo participant as I won’t be following any of the NaNoWriMo rules: I don’t give a single bantha poodoo about hitting the 50,000 word count, I might start writing before November begins, and I’m not signing up anywhere. Still, it’ll be nice to know I’ll be making up stupid stories at the same time as so many others.

Panda-Rocking-Horse-No-Bantha-Poodoo

In regards to my first-ever completed manuscript, I’m still waiting on an agent to realize its immeasurable awesomeness (i.e., when they realize you can’t measure negative awesomeness).

Waiting for Agents, Revising the Manuscript, and Milking Cows

Waiting for Agents . . .

Waiting for agents to confirm that they hate my book (or not) has been somewhat stressful. As I wait for those who have my partial/full to finish partying in Frankfurt (there’s a giant book fair thing over there right now) and read rejections from other folks, I grow more doubtful of my manuscript and query.

Not fun.

It’s popular advice for writers with novels out on submission to begin working on another projecttheir next book, short stories, poetry, or whatever. Aside from getting your mind off the wait, it also prevents you from altering the manuscript that’s currently out on submission. You know, just in case the agents you’re waiting on actually love your MS and would be appalled by changes (because that totally happens).

Against this advice and my earlier wishes not to revise, I’m going to begin outlining and implementing major revisions for my novel.

Revising the Manuscript . . .

The plan is to condense, combine, and excise entire scenes; save the awesome, and replace everything else with more awesome. The current ending will be altered to become part of the rising action. Then, I’ll add a new ending which I came up with while listening to music in my car (a scene of unprecedented awesomenessyou can verify this claim after you put some money in my wallet).

And, well, I could always revert back to an older draft if an agent actually likes it.

Milking Cows . . .
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

And, so it begins – Agent Query Time

The path to publication: write, write, write, research, research, research, edit, edit, edit, query, query, query, and then you cry.

Peter Parker Crying Meme Sends Agent Query Misspells Agent's NameWell, I’m currently on that first “query,” so I have some time yet before I’m scheduled to shed my special writer tears. Against the advice of one “Mr. Lardo,” I went ahead and sent out a batch of queries at the end of the week as opposed to early Monday morning. I expect I’ll be sending out many more queries, so a few poorly timed ones can’t hurt too much, can it? CAN IT?!

Wish me luck, jerks (and non-jerks).

-A.D. Martin