Saturday, 16 December 2017

Why are indie books a no-no?

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Despite indie publishing having gained substantial ground in the past few years, trad pub with a big publisher is still the trademark of the "serious" writer. Those books are the ones that are nominated for literary prizes and reviewed by respectable publications. If you're an indie, your only chance to be taken seriously is to sell a millions copies, because money talks, right?

But isn't it all a hurdle put in our way by the Big Pub monopoly? It's so unfair, this lack of equal opportunities, isn't it?

Well, yes and no.

Around the release of Land of the Lost Tribe, I started looking for book bloggers who might be interested in reviewing historical fiction. Bloggers, I am sure everyone will agree, are independent individuals. And you know what I read in the submission guidelines, time and time again? "No indie books. No self published books. Only books traditionally published by a reputable house."

Well, people are prejudiced, aren't they? They must be dinosaurs who have yet to discover the wonders of indie pub.

No, not quite.

Check this out: "I used to be open to self published books, but due to the unmanageable volume of poor quality fiction I was thus swamped with, I regretfully close the doors to self published authors, and will only review traditionally published books henceforth." I have read something along these lines in the submission guidelines of several book bloggers, and I don't believe this was written without a good reason.

Quite simply, indie publishing is a 100% democracy. There are no gatekeepers. No limits. No police. Anyone can call themselves an author, a publisher, an author-publisher, or whatever. But you know what? With freedom comes responsibility.

There are some terrific indie writers out there, whose books would never have seen the light if it depended on Big Pub. They aren't commercial enough. Or their work doesn't fit neatly enough into any specific genre mold. I'm thankful for indie publishing, but when there's no quality control, some people will always cut corners, and sometimes it's hard to pan for gold, so readers might decide to stick with trad pub, where it's safe.

It's like going into McDonald's - you might not get a gourmet meal, but at least you're pretty safe from food poisoning. Be daring and try a snug little backyard restaurant, and you might walk out with salmonella if the owner isn't conscientious enough.

Improving the overall quality of indie books isn't a hopeless matter, but it's a collective responsibility, and like it or not, we all bear the consequence of our fellow authors' choices.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Recapping 2017, or how on earth do you find the time?!

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2017 had seen the release of four books of mine: The Greenlanders (February), Wild Children (April), The Landlord (July) and Land of the Lost Tribe (December). On average, that's a book release every three months - not unheard of, but still a lot, especially for a busy homeschooling mother of three young kids. So how did I pull this off?

First off, I have to make a disclaimer and say that it's not like all these books were started and finished in the same year. Wild Children, in particular, was in the works since 2014. The Greenlanders had been floating in several unfinished versions for six years. Still, finalizing and publishing it all has been one heck of a marathon.

I managed this by staying really focused (translation: no life outside family and writing). I asked myself, how badly do I want this? And the answer prompted me to sacrifice leisure, recreation, hobbies and, in a measure, rest and sleep (in other words, my friends have despaired of getting return calls, and there were days when I didn't remember when I last had something to eat).

I'm not saying that in order to be a writer, you have to give up everything else, but sometimes a little prioritizing can do wonders. A couple of years back, I used to play computer games. I wouldn't hesitate to click on a YouTube video that looked entertaining. I let myself get sucked, for hours, into draining phone chats with people who treated me as a free therapist. Reexamining the value of my time really put things in perspective. In the past months, I've been encouraged to stay on track by knowing that we are expecting a new baby at the end of March, and thus that 2018 will by necessity be a slower year.

Here are a few more tips that have enabled me to make most of my time:

1. Set your goals and stick to them (as much as you can) - a consistent 1,000 words a day will get you further than a sporadic 4,000 once a week. Editing a chapter a day is a realistic goal that will help you keep your butt glued to the chair. Always outline so that you know, at least approximately, where you're going.

2. Write whenever you can - don't wait for that quiet uninterrupted stretch of two hours at the computer, because it might never happen. A few minutes, a few paragraphs that toll towards your daily word count goal are far better than nothing. I have done a remarkable amount of writing on my phone while getting the youngest kid to sleep, or while supervising the kids at the playground. It wasn't very effective, but it was all I had, and it enabled me to get on.

3. Reduce time on social media - yes, yes, we have all heard that social media is useful for writers and helps us network, build a platform, etc. It may be true, but social media can also be a huge time suck. Limit yourself to catching up with each social media account once a day - log in for a few minutes to FB, the same on Twitter/Goodreads/whatever, and be done with it till tomorrow.

For more time-saving tips for authors, download my free ebook, Writing Tips for Busy People.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Land of the Lost Tribe: ending the year with a new release

2017 has been a big year for me, and I'm finishing it with a new release - my latest speculative historical novel, Land of the Lost Tribewhich traces the steps of the mysterious dark-skinned traveler named Eldad ha-Dani, who had set the Jewish world astir by his tales of a Hebrew kingdom far to the south:

"The 9-th century A.D. is drawing to a close, and Simien, a Hebrew domain in the heart of Africa, feels the threat of its powerful Christian neighbor, the Kingdom of Aksum.

A courageous traveler named Eldad ha-Dani sets out upon a journey to rediscover his long-lost Jewish brethren and save his kin from spiritual isolation. But when his only companion meets a brutal end and Eldad remains alone in the desert, it looks like the people of Simien might never be known to the rest of the Jewish world."

The book is now available on Kindle and Smashwords (I've set the launch price to 0.99$ for a limited time), and will be in print in a few days.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Diversity and #ownvoices: is it fair?

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My post from last week seems to have released a genie from a bottle - I received many comments, here, on social media and in private, from writers who are perplexed as to what the publishing industry wants these days. After we have created an engaging plot and sparkling characters, after we have nailed the word count and polished our opening pages to perfection, we are told our manuscript won't sell because there isn't enough representation of racial, social and sexual minorities; to put it simply, because we are too white, bourgeois, middle class.

But what about fighting social injustice? What about giving a voice to groups that had been hitherto underrepresented?

Let me tell you a little anecdote. Once, my husband was put in charge of collecting a small local committee for a certain cause. Of the dozen or so applicants, he chose 3 or 4 individuals best fitted by their knowledge and experience.

Those several individuals happened to be all male.

Now, I am thoroughly familiar with the case in question, and I know with a certainty of 100% that my husband never had a hint of either misogyny or feminism in his decision making process. It's just not the way he thinks or works. Quite simply, he chose people according to their capabilities, not their gender.

Unfortunately, the public didn't see it that way. There was a general outcry about the absolute need to include a female representative, even though the women who applied were clearly less well suited to the purpose, and even though the committee in question had absolutely nothing to do with women or family issues. Not only my husband, but even I was besieged, until he had put his foot down and listed the qualifications he wouldn't compromise on.

You know what? Had I been one of those women, I would have been ashamed to say plainly and unequivocally, "pick me because I'm a woman, even though I'm ill qualified for the task." It's degrading quite as much, if not more, as being rejected because one is a woman (or a Jew, a person of color, or lgbt).

I am guided by this conviction in work, education, and yes, in literature as well. Diversity means, or should mean, that books featuring minority characters are given equal opportunity, not pushed towards representation, contracts and wide distribution despite their inferiority, at the expense of more conventional and better-written work. Naturally, I don't have precise data, but I have plenty of anecdotal evidence of talented authors who were told, "I loved your book, but we're looking for something similar with a female/minority character", and of literary agents who are tweeting "looking for diversity and #ownvoices", rather than focusing on giving the reader a good story.

This attitude is biased, unprofessional and arrogant. Unprofessional, because the gatekeepers of the publishing industry will tend to overlook weaknesses that would otherwise be deal-breakers for the sake of promoting an agenda, and arrogant, because said gatekeepers put on the hat of social revolutionaries who are determined to shape public views by pushing the "right" kind of books into mainstream literature.

This goes so far that I have personally seen websites of literary agencies which in general don't accept unsolicited queries at all, yet declare they are nevertheless open to books promoting diversity and #ownvoices, and even invite #ownvoices authors to submit full manuscripts, making a commitment to read them!!

Speaking of, #ownvoices is another pet peeve of mine. It's taking the whole diversity thing a step further, and saying that not only POC/lgbt/other minorities are supposed to be given due representation in books, but that said representation can only be properly done by those very groups - that is, if white, I'm not supposed to have the audacity to write about black people, and if one is of normal weight, one can't possibly identify with a severely obese MC. The next step, I suppose, is to say that books about animals should be written by animals.

Well, as you might know, I'm Jewish. Does this mean that I'm only qualified to write about Jews? Does this mean that I think only Jewish people should write about Jews? The answer is negative in both cases. Most of my characters aren't Jewish, and I have read some great pieces of Jewish fiction written by non-Jewish authors. In fact, if we can only write about what we personally know, what we personally are, I think we might as well stop writing altogether. Writing is about imagination and empathy, remember? It's about putting oneself in someone else's shoes. If I can't do that, I can hardly call myself a writer.

So what am I saying? Writers, keep writing. Give us the best story you can. Write whatever strikes your fancy. Write it any way you want. And don't mind anyone who tells you you can't or shouldn't.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

If The Hobbit were written today...

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I think that if Tolkien had written The Hobbit today, he would have trouble pitching it to literary agents. Why, you ask?

Well, first off, what is the targeted age group? I can't define The Hobbit as a book for adults, yet the main character is an adult, and how are kids or teens supposed to relate to someone outside their age range?! *eyeroll*

Second, women and girls are shockingly underrepresented in this book. Gandalf or Thorin Oakenshield should have been female to amend that. What's up with the all-male dwarves, anyway? Time for a female dwarf protagonist, with or without a beard.

Three, diversity. Do you recall even one person of color in The Hobbit? Me neither. Why not make Bilbo the scion of the one black family in the WASP Shire, struggling against racism and bigotry? It would be a good thing if he has confused sexual identity, too, and finds himself entangled in a romance with Thorin (whether the latter is male or female).

What about some action in the beginning, huh? What is it with the pipe smoking and tea drinking? Give us a dragon falling out of the sky, or an earthquake that destroys half of the hobbit holes on the first page, or we'll lose interest.

Finally, what about #ownvoices? How can Tolkien be trusted to represent dwarves in literature, when he was of average height himself? I say this is shameless cultural appropriation.

Bottom line: I'm thankful that Tolkien lived back in the time when one could simply tell a good story without worrying about social agendas, when one didn't have to dance on eggshells trying to accommodate diversity, whatever that means, when it wasn't a point of shame to be white, male and straight, and when readers were expected to have an attention span exceeding five milliseconds.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

One at a time

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First, a disclaimer: I am no publishing/marketing expert. If you want to get a really savvy opinion on how to sell books and gain followers, you'll probably have to look elsewhere. But if you want to know my personal strategy, it would be, "One at a time".

Books are written one word at a time.
Followers are gained one person at a time.
Sales are made one book at a time.

In other words, there is no fast dash to succeess, but rather, compunded progress over a long stretch of diligent work.

Granted, some books come out and become instant bestsellers. One can sit around and wait for this big discovery to happen. If people just go crazy over a certain book, its author doesn't really have to worry very much about a platform. But these cases are few and far between. This is why I consider it a worthwhile investment of time and planning for me to build a platform.

This means consistent presence online on my blog and social media, engaging with people on a personal basis, and collecting emails for my mailing list, which consists of fellow authors, bloggers who have previously reviewed my books, and readers who have contacted me out of interest in my writing.

And, of course, in between all that, I mustn't forget what makes me a writer in the first place, which is, naturally, writing. This is something I like to tell to every overwhelmed indie. If all your marketing and networking activities leave you no time to actually write, it's time to reevaluate your priorities. The more you write, the better you become at writing, and the more books you have out, the easier it is for people to find you.

Being an author means constantly chipping away at stones made of writer's block, rejection letters, a tough market, and various disappointments along the way. Patience wins; each day may seem like the one before, but when I look at what I have accomplished, I am reasonably satisfied. I currently have six fiction novels out, with more coming soon; I have a publishing contract, some sales, some good reviews, and some people who know my writing - considerably more than a year ago. I will keep moving forward to the next steps and climb them. One at a time.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Author interview: Wild Children and writing

Angela of The Contents Page was kind enough to invite me over for an author interview focused on my dystopian novel, Wild Children, its upcoming sequels, and writing in the context of a busy family life. Pop over to read the interview:

"What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m focusing on the sequel to Wild ChildrenThe Hourglass, which will feature, like the first book in the series, a great deal of bravery, resourcefulness and friendship on the side of the underdog orphans, plenty of conspiracy, greed and corruption on part of the unprincipled government, and the heart-wrenching dilemmas of some courageous individuals trapped in between, the most important of whom is Priscilla, the President’s daughter, who is determined to make her father lose the elections. Like in Wild Children, the action flits between the dense urban areas which are the last stronghold of civilization as we know it, and the vast empty remnants of the war-ravaged country.
I’m very excited about this upcoming book and the one that is due to follow it, Freeborn, the third volume in the series."