Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Slice of Humble Pie


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Soon after Wild Children hit the virtual shelves on Amazon on April 28th, I received a disappointing review that essentially said, "there is a good story here, but the book had been poorly edited."

My first reaction, of course, was to seethe: How dare he! The review was especially glaring in the light of the fact that the book had jumped through many, many hoops of editing prior to publication. First there were the rewrites suggested by my publisher, then the detailed chapter by chapter edit, first round of proofreaders, second round of proofreaders... it had taken far, far longer to edit this book than to write it in the first place.

Still, everyone makes mistakes, and I had spotted inconsistencies even in some classics that have been out there for many years. Some people just tend to nitpick, I reasoned.

This only lasted, of course, until my publisher and I discovered that, by some crazy stroke, the files that got uploaded to Amazon were not the final, thoroughly cleaned up version, but one of the earlier ones.

You can imagine. First thought: Oh yikes! Second thought: thank goodness for digital publishing and POD, which makes correcting such glitches comparatively easy. Imagine discovering a blunder of this sort in a truckload of printed books!

Third thought: how fortunate that, despite the annoyance we felt towards the reviewer, the text was still checked just in case. This made the discovery of the mistake possible. So ultimately, I do feel thankful that this early reader cared enough to leave a review, even though it temporarily lowered the book's rating.

I suppose the lesson I have learned from this is, don't get toppled over by criticism, but don't dismiss it out of hand either, even if it seems completely unfounded at first glance.

PS: Wild Children is only 0.99$ for the next couple of days, so if you are looking for the next great find in the dystopian/light SciFi genre, you might like to check it out!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Why you should write in the genre you love

When I began writing my dystopian novel, Wild Children, I was pregnant with my son, and I think this hormone-infused state might have prompted the creation of the book's concept. I thought of the women who have suffered unspeakable cruelty under the Chinese population control policy - forced abortions, forced sterilizations, or simply having to give up on having more than one child - and asked myself: could something similar happen in the Western world? 

From there it was a pretty short leap to post-apocalyptic United States, where the government controls reproductive choices and transgressions are mercilessly punished. A woman named Rebecca has an illegal baby and, fearing retribution, leaves him in an orphanage, though it breaks her heart. Rebecca can never forget her son, however, and trying to find out about his fate leads her to the discovery of a government conspiracy on a scale she had never imagined. 

I wrote this book simply because I could not keep the story from pouring out to the pages, but once I was done, I naturally asked the questions every author who aspires to more than just writing for a hobby asks: will people be interested in reading this? Will any agent and/or publisher be interested in signing this up? Will it sell? 

I was somewhat discouraged because, at that time, several prominent agents, publishers and literary critics widely claimed that dystopian fiction is dead, that the market is saturated, and that people are tired of endless books riding on the wave of The Hunger Games. Reading this was pretty depressing, I confess. It even prompted me to start a forum thread titled, "Should I chuck my novel into the garbage?"

What, then, prevented me from throwing up my arms in despair and moving on to other projects?

The first reason was very prosaic. The novel had already been written, and I wouldn't be losing anything by querying it. The second ran deeper: after considering this for a while, I realized I don't really believe in "dead" genres.  All genres have their ebbs and flows, and a good book would eventually find its audience even if it wasn’t riding a trend, I hoped. 

Furthermore, I knew I wasn't attempting to copy The Hunger Games - that would be hard to do, as I hadn't even read the trilogy! 

So I queried far and wide, and after almost a year, during which I began working on a sequel to Wild Children, I signed up with Mason Marshall Press. I had been wary of small presses in the past, but working with them has been wonderful: my manuscript received lots of attention and was very meticulously edited, and any questions or concerns I had were always promptly addressed. I know that I have ended up with a much better, stronger book than if I had chosen to self-publish. 

When time came to reach out to other people about the book, I became further affirmed in my opinion that dystopian fiction is far from dead. People kept telling me that they love the genre, are always looking for good new dystopian reads, and would love to read my book when it comes out. Only a short time has passed since the publication, but we have already had some very positive feedback from people who've read the book and enjoyed it, and I'm sure glad I didn't bury it in my "Dismissed" folder. 

If there is one message I would like to pass on to other authors, it would be, write in the genre you love, because your inner passion will show. Focus less on the current popularity of the genre (which can peak or dip by the time you finish your book anyway) and more on producing the best book you possibly can. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Wattpad: a useful tool or a waste of time?

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I first found out about Wattpad from Lindsay Buroker's blog, and jumped in with the goal of connecting with other writers and building a readership. About a year and a half later, here is what I learned:

- Wattpad is a truly amazing dynamic network for readers and writers which gives voracious readers plenty of material; writers, in their turn, receive feedback, validation and, hopefully, following.

Caveats:

- Don't expect to have tons of reads soon. There is an ocean of stories on Wattpad, all vying for readers. Admittedly, not all of it is high quality material (to put it mildly), but it's hard to stand out.

- If you think that you will get book sales by posting some of the chapters and telling people to go to Amazon and buy the rest, think again. There are tons of complete book length works on Wattpad, all free.

- A good way of getting traction on Wattpad is applying to be featured but, again, you can only do this with complete works. I got only about 500 views on Paths of the Shadow before it was featured. Once I applied and the book got accepted as a featured story, the number of views grew to close to 20K.

Wattpad can be a good marketing tool for series if an author chooses to post all of the first book: it will attract more readers than just half a book. I have the first two books of my fantasy series, Paths of the Shadow and Warriors of the Realm, available on Wattpad in complete form. People who get hooked on these first two books go on to check the sample of the third.

However, one must keep in mind that the direct buying power of Wattpad readers is relatively low, as many of them are teenagers. You might get some very loyal fans this way, though, as many of us tend to stay loyal to books we have grown to love early on.

Summary: Wattpad can be a part of an author's long term strategy and of building a following, but other forms of promotion, such as Amazon or Facebook ads, are more effective for short-term sales.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

How being an editor makes me a better writer

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I used to scoff at editing. Writing was a shiny comet, a brilliant stroke of inspiration, a touch of the divine it would be sacrilegious to tweak or change. What was once put down on a page stayed there for good. And you know what they say about editors, right? Editors are wannabe writers that just weren't good enough.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and today I'm wiser. Writing that first draft is just the initial stage of the process; polishing it into publishable shape is a much slower and, admittedly, more tedious step, but an absolutely necessary one. No great work of fiction sprung into being as a first and only draft. Every book we have ever known has been edited, sometimes heavily.

These days I do some freelance proofreading and editing for other authors. Not too much, because I always have so many projects on my plate that I wish I had about ten more hours each day, and I could easily fill them with work, but I do take on some projects by request.

This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm a better writer than those authors who trusted me with their work. An editor doesn't need to be a prodigy. They just need to be capable and have a pair of discerning eyes. And that's so much more effective when done for someone else's work. When looking at our own, we automatically tend to gloss over little inconsistencies, mistakes, odd turns of phrase - all the things that jump out at once when reading something written by someone else.

That is why I believe that, if Jane Austen had a sister who was also a brilliant writer and wrote witty and engaging novels about marriage, the two would do much better taking each other's work and correcting it, than each trying to edit their own.

Working on other people's books makes me more capable of taking a step back and critically evaluating my own. Which is by necessity a good thing. The drawback is that nowadays, no matter what I'm reading - even if it's a paperback I bought in a local bookstore - I feel like whipping out my red pen.

Monday, 1 May 2017

KDP Select: yay or nay?


Up until now, I have enrolled all my books in KDP Select, but I have begun to question this decision regarding my newest upcoming release, The Landlord - a
 novel that swerves between contemporary England and the Regency era. After initially deciding this will be a self-published project and shooting for sometime in the summer for release date, I now have to determine whether to go Amazon exclusive.

The question appears to be simple: do the benefits of the KDP Select program outweigh possible sales at other retailers? What does KDP Select actually offer authors?

With Amazon exclusivity you get nifty promo options: free days and Kindle Countdown deals. You also are part of the Kindle Unlimited and KOLL, which means that people who have a KU subscription can check out your book risk free, and this gives you a chance to bait many potential readers who otherwise wouldn't buy your book.

Having said that, I do have to say that KU doesn't make much difference to my direct income from books, though I assume it raises reader awareness.

On the other hand, I don't know how good it is for authors in the long term to put all their eggs in one basket and reinforce Amazon's monopoly. Amazon is already pretty snotty with authors; I had several reviews removed from one of my books with no actual explanation. Amazon can afford to lose out on my sales if I have no reviews. I'm only a tiny little grain of sand in the ocean of indie authors, after all.

So, I haven’t quite decided yet, but I'm inclined to try out doing something different from KDP Select, at least this once. What about you? Do you give exclusive rights to Amazon, or do you spread out a bit more?