Posted in Books, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Back-Burner Books

It’s definitely different to be an “indie” author. When I finish a book I must choose what to work on next. Choose! What a concept.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound momentous to most people, but trust me, it’s momentous. There is no one in New York telling me that I must deliver, say, a 75,000-word romance set in Regency England by such-and-such a date.  It’s liberating, naturally, but it’s also unsettling to find myself drifting, directionless — and having to make decisions that will affect the next couple of years of my life without the input of a team of interested experts.

Like most authors, I have a number of books knocking around in my brain, clamoring to be written. There’s Book 3 of my unfinished “star” trilogy, for example. Also a sweeping historical saga with lots of “sturm & drang” that my agent had me put together years ago— back in the days when we were trying to move me into, well, sweeping historical sagas with lots of sturm & drang. There’s a Christmas Regency that could be lots of fun, featuring two characters I love so much that I want to spread them out over four books and let everybody around them fall in love and marry off, one after the other, until FINALLY Gavin and Felicity get their happy ending in book 4. There’s at least one novella, which I’m drawn to as possibly easier to finish quickly and get out there. And then there’s the third book in my YA paranormal series, The Spellspinners.

So how to choose?

To my (mild) surprise, I find that a lot of my considerations are the same ones that a publisher would have. For example: Which, of all the possible books I could write, is the one most likely to find an audience? The difficulty with putting this consideration at the top of the list, of course, is that the question is unanswerable. Nobody knows what will sell. And the fact that publishers pretend to know, when in fact their guesses are wrong more often than they are right, has driven authors nuts for decades. So it’s ironic, to say the least, that I find this particular question pressing on me so—now that my fate is in my own hands!

I would love to write a Regency again. What’s stopping me? That darn YA series I foolishly started. Because it’s contemporary. Since the Regencies are set in the past (duh), they can be written any time. A book set in the here & now must be written in the here & now. Otherwise you end up with a Sue Grafton problem. She’s the brilliant author of those Kinsey Millhone “alphabet” mysteries, which started out contemporary but have gradually slid into the past … since Sue can’t write as quickly as Kinsey’s adventures happen. Now she’s stuck writing mysteries set in the 1980’s, and it’s not the 1980’s anymore, and it’s more and more difficult to remember exactly how life really was in the 1980’s (what was playing on the radio that year? Did everybody have a microwave oven or not? etc.). Sue Grafton’s writing historicals now, and I don’t think she intended that when she started out.

I had hoped that Scary Cool would be the end of the series, or at least this portion of the series, but alas, all the reviews seem to be expecting another book. Okay, I guess I did leave a few balls in the air at the end of Scary Cool. So Book 3 must be written. And it must be written next. Leaving all my Regencies still simmering away on the back burner. :sigh:

Fortunately, these Spellspinner books are a lot of fun to write.

Posted in Books, Publishing, rwa, Writing

More than Shoes

I wanted so badly to come back from RWA and confirm for you that yes, it was all about the shoes.

But no. Incredibly, it was about far more than shoes. And if I show you some of the shoes I’m talking about, you will understand how awesome this conference truly must have been:

publisher party pumps

Pretty freaking awesome.

I am still reeling from sensory overload, so forgive me if I’m a bit incoherent. I learned so much that I’m still struggling to process it all. Two of the biggest takeaways: (1) Publishing is changing – radically, and rapidly. (2) Storytelling is not.

It’s a great time to be a writer. It’s not such a great time to be a publisher. Nobody wants publishers to die, but they are thrashing and gasping like fish in a basket. It’s gruesome to behold. Kinda tugs at the old heartstrings, too. They are still the best at what they do, and everybody loves what they do. But they are no longer essential. They are “extra.” They are the frosting on your career’s cake, but they are no longer the cake.

So while we are all chewing on that mouthful, let me tell you what else I learned.

Blogging: I’m doing it wrong. Very few people care what happened at the Romance Writers of America 2012 National Conference. Those who care, care intensely, but never mind that. I simply must stop jabbering on and on about writerly stuff. :gasp!: :sob!: This is going to be a hard habit to break, so only time will tell how far I get with this one-!

Facebook: I’m doing it wrong. Okay, this really hurts. I thought I knew Facebook. But my knowledge extends only to being a person, not being a page. I gotta tackle that page from a new angle. (In my spare time.) This could get ugly. I bet it takes me a while to hit my stride, because I have no clue how to accomplish this — but it sounds like a really good idea: “Make your page a fun place to hang out.” Ohhhh-kaaaay.

I learned a lot of other stuff too, but it’s all writerly stuff. So I can feel my workshop leaders tugging on my sleeve and whispering, “Wrap it up! Quick!”

I’d better take their advice. Wouldn’t want to spend all that time & money at RWA for nothing.

One last thought: Every time I plan to go to this conference, I fret about the expense. I think, “Do I really want to go?? How badly do I want to go? Is it really worth all that @#^%$!! money?”

So far, when I have decided to go, I have never regretted it. Never. It’s just SO much more than shoes.

Posted in Other Stuff, Publishing, rwa, Writing

How to Jinx a Writers’ Conference

I am really looking forward to the Romance Writers of America conference in Anaheim. I mean, I am REALLY looking forward to it. Is that a Bad Sign? Should I temper my excitement by reminding myself of, say, that Mexican Riviera cruise — which I was confident would be a dream vacation … until Day Two, when the Norovirus hit?

Maybe there’s no such thing as a jinx, but I am typing this with my fingers crossed. Just in case. Because if I manage not to jinx it, this RWA conference is going to be fantastic. FANTASTIC! There; I’ve said it.

I’ve attended quite a few, over the years, and they have all been great. But I’ve never been in quite this position before: making money from my books without being beholden to a publisher. I have no editor. I have no agent. I am not up for any awards. In other words, I am feeling no performance anxiety of any kind. I have no meetings set up. No conversations to anticipate, fret about, and mentally rehearse. No acceptance speech to write. No “graceful loser” smile to practice. No tricky etiquette questions to mull (“Which of us is supposed to pay for this lunch? After all, she invited me – but I chose the restaurant. And she’s my editor/agent/reviewer/chapter president …so does that tip the balance? And if so, in which direction?”). For the first time in my career, I will be free as the proverbial bird.

And, as if my enviable position above the fray weren’t blissful enough, I also have a book contract with NAL (or Signet, or Intermix, or whatever it is calling itself these days) — a bona fide subsidiary of Penguin Putnam. An actual “Big Six” New York publisher. Ha! Yes, I am hugging myself. Forgive me. It’s just too, too perfect. Because the contract is just for an e-release of one of my old titles — so it’s really no big deal, right? But a contract is a contract is a contract — so I am officially a Contracted Author. With a book coming out in August. Which means that, unlike most of the other self-pubbing authors, I get to attend the Signet/Berkley/NAL party on Friday night.

If you’ve never been to an RWA conference, you are going to have to trust me on this. Friday night is the night when all the publishing houses host parties for their authors. And you do not want to be left in the lobby with the wannabes, pressing your nose against the glass and watching as all the published authors are swept off in limos to glamorous destinations that you can only dream of. (Okay, there aren’t always limos and it’s not usually that thrilling of a destination — in fact, often the parties are just receptions held on the conference hotel premises — but that doesn’t matter; being in with the in crowd feels great, and being left out hurts. That’s just human.)

So. I go to the conference needing nothing from anyone, expecting nothing, able to enjoy every minute to the full without the usual high-adrenaline plague of nerves. And yet I get to attend the party. How perfect is this?!

Too perfect. Excuse me while I go throw some salt over my left shoulder.

Posted in Other Stuff, Publishing

Life on the Pioneer Trail

I am not the first to travel this road, but all of us crowding the self-pub trail today are certainly among the first. It’s exciting – and confusing – because none of us really knows what to expect. Some of us will reach Oregon, and others will die of cholera while crossing the plains. Metaphorically speaking, of course. And some who reach Oregon will hate it and wish they’d never left Ohio — but I imagine those folks will be few.

Being a pioneer involves, as it always has, a certain amount of risk. And, at least initially, ridicule. There are always people who will warn you not to make the attempt, and promise that you’ll be sorry if you do this crazy thing. I hung back for years, thinking I was better off where I was, hoping that a miracle would happen and Signet would reissue, say, The Fortune Hunter. Because wasn’t I better off hoping for that, however unlikely it was, rather than asking for my rights back and eliminating that delicious possibility forever?

Well. I may have hung back for a while, but I finally made the leap. Early this month, I received the rights back to my entire backlist — with the exception of my first book, The Nobody, which Signet plans to re-release as an e-book in July of 2012. This development derailed my progress on the Wicked Cool sequel (temporarily, I trust!) while I feverishly cleaned and formatted and spruced up my old manuscripts. Now they’re out, for better or worse … my self-published darlings, the books of my heart.

And now is when I wish somebody had built a paved road and put up a few signs. Instead, there’s a dusty, faintly-marked trail with an awful lot of fellow travelers crowding around on it, arguing about which route is best. Alas, not enough writers have gone before us to show us a sure-fire way to get where we want to go. It’s a safe bet that some of us are going to miss our timing and get snowed in at Donner Pass, and some of us are going to wander into Death Valley while seeking a shortcut. At this point, you honestly can’t tell which of us at Point A is among the group that will reach Point B.

Do this, do that, do some other thing … no matter what you hear advocated, there is always someone out there warning you that it’s the exact wrong way to go. “Get out on social media and hype your books.” “No, no, that just irritates people!” “Offer some of your books for free.” “No, no, that completely backfires — people don’t value what they can get for free!” And so on.

I hope the dust settles soon, because it’s awfully hard to see.

Posted in Publishing, Reading, Writing

I’m sure there’s a better way to do this

Someday, I am going to learn all about blogging. (Should have done that before I began, eh?) I know there are ways to link my blog to other people’s blogs, but I’m not only unsure how to do this, I suspect that there is some sort of protocol — a secret handshake or other ritual — required before one takes such a step. So, since I don’t know how else to do it, I’m going to paste links to a couple of blogs I have been featured on lately:

Romance Novel News (they interviewed me about self-publishing, but if you’re already reading this blog you’re probably heartily sick of the subject) and Heroes & Heartbreakers, who posted an absolutely lovely article about my work called “The Return of Diane Farr.”

Okay, I’m diving back into my writing cave now. For all of you who were expecting a sequel to Wicked Cool prior to Halloween, all I can say is … believe me, I’m disappointed too. Augh!!

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Wow. Just … wow.

I went through this blog tonight, assigning “categories” to my posts. (Because, let’s face it, there’s always some super-urgent chore like that demanding my attention and preventing me from writing.) And I came across one I’d titled “The Truth About E-Books.”

I couldn’t assign a category to it because I couldn’t remember what it said. So I read it.

And that was my “Wow. Just … wow.” moment.

My contention, in that blog post, was that e-books are for amateurs and hobbyists. That print publishing is the way to go, if you can. Which is why e-books are for amateurs and hobbyists — you know, the ones who can’t get published by a “real” publisher.

It’s hard to believe I wrote that less than a year ago.

How quickly things change in this business!

Posted in Publishing

The Adventure Continues

This whole self-pubbing adventure is pretty amazing. I think I may have mentioned that my expectations were low at the start, but since my expectations were honestly low — as opposed to, you know, trying to fake myself out when actually my hopes were high — I have been honestly, and pleasantly, surprised.

For those of you keeping score at home, I have given up fretting about Amazon reviews. For one thing, Wicked Cool has now garnered so many five-star reviews that I can afford to breathe easily. For another, it is ridiculous to stew over things one can’t control.

This is an excellent adage, by the way, and I wish I applied it universally. I don’t, however. I still compulsively check my sales numbers, and mentally set “goals” that must rank among the stupidest goals ever set by any human being, anywhere. Because there is nothing, NOTHING, nothing whatsoever, that I can do to move those sales numbers! So why am I muttering to myself, “If I can just sell X before midnight …” As if I were a sales clerk working on commission. The sales clerk, one assumes, is surrounded by customers with whom s/he can actually interact, and might, therefore, be able to influence whether something is purchased or not. An author, sitting alone in her pajamas, staring at a computer screen? Not so much. You’re fairly helpless in that situation. No, get real, you’re completely helpless. And yet you keep thinking, “*&$!@, only X in the past hour! I’ll never make it!” and mentally reviewing what time it is in New York or Denver or Honolulu, trying to decide whether it’s reasonable to expect anybody to buy teen paranormal fiction at 2:16 a.m.

Somebody please tell me this is normal.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

The Truth About Amazon Reviews

It has come to my attention that savvy consumers view 5-star reviews on Amazon with suspicion. Not reviews of vacuum cleaners or cameras, mind you. But book reviews? Nowadays, a 5-star review of a book you’ve never heard of is (I am told) assumed to be a plant.

In a world where anyone can publish and anyone can review, it’s expected that authors are, naturally, bludgeoning their friends and relations into posting rave reviews on Amazon. And they do! The abuse of Amazon’s customer review system by hyperactive, anxious authors, desperate to compete in an ocean of content where most books sink without a ripple, is so well-known that the trick is no longer effective. (Is it fair to call it a “trick”-? Aw, heck. For purposes of this blog post, let’s call it a trick.)

The problem is, sometimes a 5-star review of a book you have otherwise never heard of is genuine. The reader not only read the book, but loved it. How is a would-be book buyer to discern the difference between puffery and honest enthusiasm?

Do you, Gentle Reader, have a system of weighing customer reviews that winnows the wheat from the chaff? If you do, please share it with us.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that WICKED COOL received a 1-star review last week. This is always painful to an author — but it doesn’t, you know, ruin your life or anything. Your voice is not going to connect with everyone. Some people can’t stand Shakespeare. That doesn’t mean Shakespeare sucks. I don’t care who you are, or how well you write, some readers are not going to “get” you. That’s just the way it is in this business. I am grateful that my 5-star reviews outnumber my 1-star reviews, but this was certainly not the first 1-star review I have received. Just the first for this book.

What gave me pause this time around was that a Facebook friend clued me in to The Awful Truth: ALL my other reviews were 5-star reviews. So when the 1-star review popped up, in a lot of people’s minds it instantly negated all seven of the other reviews. (And, apparently, the professionals quoted under “Editorial Reviews.”) The experienced Amazon consumer would, based on the picture currently presented, assume that all seven of the 5-star reviews were posted by my mother. And the 1-star review was the only “honest” review.

Wow. What a catastrophe.

I am hereby going on the record and coming clean about those eight WICKED COOL reviews. I am personally acquainted with one, but only one, of the people who posted a 5-star review. Three more, however, are very kind and interested internet friends. So four of the really good reviews you can, perhaps, dismiss. (If you must.) The other three? I have no idea who those people are.

I also have no idea who the 1-star reviewer is, unfortunately.

I’ll tell you why I care: 9 times out of 10, I choose the books I buy based on customer reviews. So the idea that people are going to dismiss ALL the good reviews of  WICKED COOL and only believe the bad is turning me pale.