Writers’ Group: A fabulous institution

I was writing an article about convening Writers’ Groups for kids for the Australian Education Times this afternoon, and couldn’t help reminiscing about the Writers’ Group that began my own journey to publication. I was part of a fabulous Writers’ Group for a few years before my teaching and studies began to dominate and I took a break from the group.  I miss it. The following post was about the wonderful women that wrote and critiqued with me during those early writing years. I still call them friends.

books3A writer’s group exists to give feedback during the development process of writing a novel. Members of the group read, or hear the work read, and respond with constructive criticisms designed to enhance the development of the piece. Comments and criticisms relate to aspects of the writing such as character development, voice, point of view, consistency of tense, plot development and structure, among other things.

As anyone who has written (or attempted to write) a full length manuscript knows, it is easy to get lost in your own vision, your own story. I thought the first manuscript I wrote (the one that remains unpublished in the bottom drawer of my desk) was fantastic, a masterpiece! That was until I read it out loud some years later. Now I cringe with embarrassment when I think about it, and wish I’d thought to join a writers’ group way back then.

The manuscript I’m working on now (my third) will probably be my strongest. Why? Because each week in my writers’ group, my fellow Authors tear it apart. Well, maybe not tear it apart, but they do tell me what is wrong with it and why. Sometimes it is hard to hear. Sometimes the scenes I think are awesome, they suggest cutting (yes, every writer has heard about ‘killing your darlings’ but it doesn’t make it any easier). Sometimes the bits that I think are boring, they say are important for plot development. Sometimes I think one or more of them are wrong and I ignore them (at my own peril, I know), but mostly they are right - and I love them for it. Because I trust them. Because I know they have my best interests at heart, as I do theirs.

The inherent value that lies in constructive criticism cannot be underestimated for any author developing a manuscript. Any manuscript, in any genre benefits from this kind of deconstruction. So what happens when someone who struggles with accepting criticism, no matter how constructive, joins such a group?

A writing/critiquing group that provides endless empty positive platitudes is more destructive than it is constructive. It serves no purpose at all and is not fair to the writer sharing the work - it provides no basis for development. But what do you do when a writer receiving constructive suggestions fires back with personal attacks?

Well, you could do nothing, and watch as the group dynamic changes, regular members stop attending, people start feeling intimidated and getting defensive, until the group eventually dissolves. Or you could step out of the firing line and allow your fellow writers to be very clear about what is, and is not, acceptable within the context of a critiquing group. And if you are lucky enough to be part of a positive, productive, functional group of writers that holds high esteem and mutual respect and trust for each others work, this is exactly what will happen - in no uncertain terms!

Writers groups are a wonderful, valuable and I believe, essential means for developing a manuscript. But it is crucial to get the ‘right’ mix of people for it to remain so. I love my writers group.

On Publishing, promotion and putting yourself on the line

self-promotionThe manuscript (and several more following it) is complete, the contract signed, editing done, book cover sorted, publisher’s launch over. You’d be forgiven for thinking that my work as an author is over, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong.

I was at the Australian Book Expo, at Olympic Park last weekend, to sign books and talk to people about my new release. The expo itself was a bit of a disappointment because numbers were pretty low, but it gave me a fabulous opportunity to chat with people. It was interesting watching my publisher in action, but even more interesting to wander around and chat with other authors either published traditionally or self-published, and in some cases, both.

Most authors who had been around for a little while understood the nature of the changing industry and described their journey to (and from) publication as a roller-coaster. I could certainly relate. But I came across one or two authors, at the Expo to give their titles a boost, who were a tad resentful that they were expected to have a hand in promoting their books. I listened as they described the days where, once they’d signed the contract, they were given an advance and then sat back waiting for the publisher to tell them where to go (to sign books, speak, etc) and what to do, and in the meantime they got on with writing the next manuscript. Ah… if only it were still like that. But it’s not.

It is only when the contract is signed, if you’re lucky enough to be published traditionally, that the real work begins. The in-your-face, rejection-inducing, self-esteem challenging, slap-in-the-face, get-knocked-down-get-up-again task of getting your book ‘out there,’ type of work. Unless you are published by one the ‘five,’ in an industry that is just beginning to settle enough to get a glimpse of what writing and publishing might look like into the future, one thing is clear — the role of the author now includes promoting the book. It’s become a necessary part of getting your work out there. Readers can’t read your books if they don’t know where to get them. But for most writers I know, it is this part of publishing that is the most challenging.

Writers are the kind of people (I am very much generalising here, and happy to be contradicted) that are content working alone, in front of the computer, sometimes for months at a time. I know myself, when I am writing, days, sometimes weeks, pass barely noticed. It’s our work that we want in the public domain, not ourselves. Self-promotion is uncomfortable, awkward, and often off-putting, and I for one, do not enjoy it one little bit. Luckily, in the age of technology, it doesn’t necessarily have to be done face-to-face. But it does have to be done. And that’s what social media is for. Developing an author platform on social media is critical if you want any chance whatsoever of getting your work read. There is no escaping it.

So what would I say to those authors who refuse to change their way of operating? Well, in polite terms I’d suggest that as an author in the 21st century, you need to embrace change as an inevitability and adapt accordingly. Or to put it a little more bluntly—build a bridge! If you don’t have the skills to build a bridge, get someone else to do it for you, or you will sink into publishing oblivion. The halcyon days of book publishing are gone. Deal with it.

The reader, the writer, and technology – where to next?

the book is deadI’m a little late with my last post because I’ve been lost in my PhD for the past few weeks. I’m researching how young adults source and engage with narrative. It’s because I write for the young adult (YA) demographic that I am very interested in the who, what, when, where and why of YA reading.

I’ve written in this blog before about the changing nature of reading, but getting stuck into the research that backs the anecdotal evidence I gather as a convener of YA writers’ groups is both validating and terrifying.

It’s validating because it reassures me that I am lucky enough to have my finger on the pulse of YA reading attitudes and habits. But it’s terrifying because of the implications for writers of YA fiction. At this point in history, we are experiencing a convergence of the flow of media between traditional and multimodal platforms. And it's this that is challenging the notion and definition of what it is to read.

Traditionally, narrative content was developed and presented as text on a page to be read in a linear fashion from left-to-right and cover-to-cover. Reading this way required concentration, concentration enough to allow the reader to get carried away by characters and the lost in the plot. Reading had the potential to transport the reader to another time, another place, another reality, and drop them there for days. But the way in which young people read is changing. Instead of sitting somewhere quiet, oblivious to the operations of the mundane and succumbing to the fictional world between the covers of a book - they are skimming the surface of multiple platforms simultaneously without losing themselves completely, in any.

Story is no longer about deciphering and interpreting marks on a page. It’s become more about a multitude of visual and auditory stimuli concurrently bombarding the senses.  Without fully immersing themselves in any single mode of literacy consumption, young people are browsing multiple platforms in an attempt to maximise their absorption of content.

You’d typically find them sitting on the lounge with their iPad on their lap. They’ll be watching TV, playing Minecraft, scrolling through Facebook feeds, chatting with friends via IM. They could be using an App to game, or edit pics, or interact with random TV viewers. They might be tweeting, googling, pinning. Maybe they’re surfing blogs, downloading software or apps or music. But they’re doing several or all of these things AT THE SAME TIME.

So where does actual reading factor into it? If you accept the various Education, Sociology and Anthropology research reports, you’ll note that the nature of general literacy, and YA engagement with it, is changing. Once upon a time, a literate person was one who could recognise text-based symbols on a page and gain some meaning from them. Nowadays, a literate person must not only recognise the various sensory stimuli created by sounds, images - both still and moving, but they must also have a semiotic understanding of the platforms that both create and disseminate these.

Nowadays, a literate person is one who understands the nature of feeds, walls, search engines, youtube, limited character communication, and not only engages with this multimodal means of consuming content, but is also able to create content to contribute to it. Maintaining effective social connections depends on this. So too, does the ability to sift through the proliferation of independently created content, including eBooks,   and make judgement s about what is reliable information and quality content, and what is not.

And writers must be able to rise above the rabble to remain relevant in this technological battleground. But how? How do we, as professionals, maintain the status quo as authors, as constructors of quality fiction? All the evidence suggests that we are headed toward a paperless society. We’ve already seen the explosion of eReaders and eBooks flood the market. Bookshops are collapsing all over the place, publishers are shrinking and morphing into electronic shadows of their former selves in an often vain attempt at relevance in a marketplace that no longer requires a gatekeeper to fiction, and readers are turning to links instead of chapters.

Does this mean writers must become developers to create fiction that YAs want to read/watch/interact with/consume?

I suspect that strong narrative writing will remain where it’s always been, a place where readers seek respite from their chaotic existences, for the experience of losing oneself in another reality. It may just be that the ‘other reality’ for the writer, will turn out to be in cyberspace.

Writing is my lifeblood

IMG_3581After four years, three versions, two editions, one name change, multiple rewrites and much stress, my novel Fake Profile is about to launch. I am relieved and excited and just a wee bit scared. Terrified actually! Writing this novel has taken me on a roller coaster of a journey unlike anything I have experienced in my professional life.

I’ve felt the highs and lows with equal intensity. From the exhilaration of winning an Australian Society of Authors Mentorship Award for the raw manuscript in 2010, to the crushing disappointment of having a publishing contract offer withdrawn because I unwittingly uploaded an e-version and elected to retain the Digital Management Rights for the manuscript.

I’ve felt the warmth and enthusiasm of a supportive writing community and the harsh cold reality of a publishing industry fighting for its life in a changing world. A few times I stuffed the manuscript deep inside a folder hidden on my computer, vowing to throw in the towel , only to drag it back out and rewrite the whole thing again.

And through the whole process, I learnt much about myself—the most important of which is: I am a writer. I can’t ignore the fact. It doesn’t matter how disillusioned I become, or how harsh the critics are, I can’t not write. It’s as necessary to me as breathing. It’s difficult to explain how much a part of my being is dependent upon my writing. If I don’t write for any length of time, I feel the life force begin to drain. I become weaker and sadder and this influences every other aspect of my life. My teaching suffers, my friendships suffer, my connection to myself suffers, the way I view the world is affected.

I love being a writer. I thrive on the solitude it requires. I love the writing community. They get it. When I talk about the voices in my head, they know exactly what it means. My writing colleagues can follow my chaotic thought processes from manuscript to manuscript and character to character without blinking an eye.

I had barely finished Fake Profile before starting the next novel, Say Nothing. And the first draft of Say Nothing was complete before I began the long, slow and laborious road to publication for Fake Profile (and that itself, is a post for another day). Now I’m almost finished the first draft of my third, and while that is happening the first of a trilogy is incubating.

It’s been a very long time coming. I’ve been writing since I was very young, but it’s only been the last ten years or so (I have earlier manuscripts sitting in drawers that have never seen the light of day), that I began to take my writing seriously enough to recognise it is my lifeblood. I have no choice. I have to write. It is as simple as that.

Who do you write for?

Writing —like reading— is a very subjective pursuit. People write and/or read for a myriad of reasons, ranging from catharsis to leisure, as a profession, a boredom buster or in pursuit of knowledge. To achieve success in the field a writer needs to first develop an understanding of why they themselves write, then get to know why people read, and develop an understanding of the readership for which they write.

Sound daunting? It can be. But if you are serious about being a writer and you dream about making a living out of your writing, it’s important to understand every aspect of what makes a successful writer, apart from the obvious—having the ability to write! Rightly or wrongly, some of the most successful writers (particularly eAuthors) are not necessarily the ones with the best writing ability.

So how do you make sure that you are successful in attracting a readership to your book? As I mentioned before, thinking about why you write, what you write, and for whom you write is imperative. Understanding your target audience can mean the difference between your book collecting dust on a shelf (physical or electronic) or being consistently downloaded and read.

Writing for yourself is a fabulous thing to do, but don’t be surprised if others don’t engage with it at the rate you’d like them to. Of course, it doesn’t really matter whether or not anyone reads your work if building a readership is not your focus. What is meaningful and enjoyable to you personally may not necessarily be what appeals to others.

An experienced and successful author once told me that the road to success was to select a genre and stick to it. At the time, I dismissed this advice as being unnecessarily pejorative. But now, a few years down the track, I understand what she meant. An enormous amount of time and energy goes into building an audience, so it is more productive and effective to focus your energies on one particular demographic.

Firstly, you need to identify the genre in which you most enjoy writing. For me it’s young adult fiction. Probably because I spend a lot of time around this demographic. I am familiar with their vernacular, their behaviours, their hopes and fears and dreams. And their realities — harsh and unjust as they sometimes are. The old adage ‘write what you know’ works for me here. This doesn’t mean you (or I) will be stuck with the same genre forever, but it is a good idea to establish yourself first. When you become better known, you’ll be able to diversify, and carry your readership with you.

Once you have identified your genre (and sub-genre), you need to refine your target readership. Will it be gender specific? The novel I am writing now is a young adult crime fiction. The readership I am targeting is boys aged between thirteen and fifteen.  Typically with young adult fiction, boys won’t read ‘books for girls’ but girls will read everything, so targeting this narrowly will enable me to capture of broader audience than my focus.

The next step is to think about the components necessary to draw this group in. Of course, I am speaking very generally here, but boys of this age typically prefer fast-paced, action-packed narrative that is outcomes based. They also prefer series. How do I know this? Apart from the anecdotal information I pick up working in a high school as a writer-in-residence, I did my research.

Local libraries are a great resource for info about reading behaviour. So too, are bookshops (those left standing). Pick a less busy time to visit either and ask those who work there about popular titles, plots, and demographics. I’ve had some fabulous conversations of this nature with people for whom books are a passion. Arts sections of newspapers commonly run features about book trends, bestseller lists are indicative of genres that are popular and will reflect local as well as national or international trends.

Another important thing to think about is matching content, plot and storyline, to the demographic. There is no point targeting 30-35 year old men for your readership if you are writing romance—they won’t read it. Now, I’m sure there are probably men in this age group who love reading romance (but may never admit it); there are always exceptions. But I’m speaking generally; you need to consider ‘the group’ you are targeting, rather than individuals within it.

And don’t underestimate the power of sourcing information word-of-mouth. Find other readers. If you are a writer, then you will be a reader and know other readers. Ask them. If you write for adults, join a book club where you get to hear and participate in discussions about books. You’ll learn the likes, dislikes and preferences of other readers. And seek out and talk to people in the demographic for which you want to write. If you can write narrative with plots that people want to read, there is a higher probability that well-written books will sell. Consultation is invaluable in developing plot. Knowing where to find and how to target your chosen readership to promote your work is for another post.

 "Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing." Sylvia Plath

Tempers, trolls and twisted logic

The other night one of the current affairs shows ran a story about social media trolls. I don’t generally watch these types of tabloid programs but the story got my attention. Trolls are people who roam sites like Facebook and Twitter with the single focus of upsetting people. They are relentless and completely random in their attacks, but their actions can have devastating results on hapless victims.

How do we, as authors, deal with this issue should it affect us? There is no denying the need for authors to establish and maintain a social media profile to help promote books. And the law of probability being what it is; odds are we will have to deal with it at some stage.

I’m not going to delve into the psyche of the social misfits that engage in trolling—I can’t, I don’t understand them. But I do understand social media so I can provide assistance and advice in dealing with their actions.

The most important thing to remember is that you need to protect your professional (and personal) brand. DO NOT engage with anyone attempting to attack your reputation. Trolls seek a reaction and thrive on the conflict and distress they create. Familiarise yourself with the security settings on your social media pages and use them. Block anyone who is particularly vitriolic. They’ll go elsewhere to satisfy whatever twisted need they’re seeking to fulfil. Facebook fan pages and Twitter both have reasonably effective means of blocking, deleting and reporting trolls.

In the same category as trolls, but perhaps more relevant to authors are the ‘repellent reviewers.’ These people post reviews that are downright destructive and serve no other purpose than to attack and destroy your reputation. There seems to be an increasing trend where a jealous and spiteful person gathers others and over the course of a few days, they target a particular author or book and fire off one-star ratings accompanied by a few mean words (crap story, don’t bother, etc).

There is no justification for this type of behaviour. It is one thing to post a negative review if the reviewer is genuine and explains what aspect of the book they found not to their satisfaction. Whether it is a lack of plot, bad grammar and structure, superficial characterisation or sloppy style, readers are generally quite discerning. It is not enough just to say the book was crap. These types of reviews are trying to keep a book lower in the rating charts, mostly in a misguided attempt to give a rival’s book a stronger profile. Like trolling, repellent reviewing is an abhorrent practice that has no place online.

If you notice that you have been targeted in this way, report it. Etailers and distributors generally take the matter seriously. In July last year, Smashwords deleted the accounts of people who engaged in this practise on their site. Never ever engage with these people. They cannot be reasoned with. Report it.

Stay vigilant, monitor your social media profiles and don’t let the twisted logic of these horrible people impact on your work or reputation.

Terrible titles

The header for this post is Terrible Titles, but perhaps it should have been: Creating a Suitable Title For Your Novel That Doesn’t Put People Off Reading it But Clues Them Into What It May be About Without Being Irrelevant or Long-winded. Snappy right? Would you read any further?

Finding a suitable title for your novel is a delicate matter. A novel title needs to be catchy, or at least rhythmic. It needs to roll around the mouth and off the tongue in a sanguine manner that makes the potential reader want to say it over and over again until it gets stuck in their head and they feel compelled to navigate to Amazon and click on that purchase button.

A book title has to speak volumes to the multitudes. It needs to enthrall and entice a reader to download the novel, or open the cover, or at least read the blurb, which ideally should build the magic. It needs to be indicative of the genre, to allude to the content, even if in a very subtle way. A book title needs to create intrigue and engage the reader. And it needs to do it all in just a few words. No problem, right? I wish! It was easier to name my child.

So how does an author come up with a title that does this for their book? It’s a process. And like most things relating to writing, it is subjective. I guess it’s a bit like naming characters, sometimes the names just pop into your head when your characters begin speaking to you. Other times you change the name so many times your character can’t help but develop an identity crisis.

The title for my first novel—the one that still sits in the drawer unpublished—came to me the day I started writing it, and hasn’t changed since. It doesn’t need to. It fits. My second novel Fake Profile began life as Turning Point. I thought it was poignant; market research of the target demographic didn’t get it. They thought Fake Profile fit better because it’s about a group of friends who create a Fake Facebook Profile for someone. Go figure.

The novel I’m about to finish has had three title changes so far. And will probably have another few before publication. But I have learnt enough about appropriate naming to realise the value of consultation. After all, it is the reader that needs to be drawn to your book if you want it to sell. It’s counter-productive to stick with a title you absolutely love, but no one else relates to. Check your demographic. If you write romance, there’s little point in giving your book a title akin to the horror genre. And vice-versa. Ask your potential audience. Come up with a few options that you think might be suitable and create a poll. Most people are happy to give their opinion, especially if it is sought. Listen to your audience.

I’ve seen book titles I get bored with before I’ve finished reading them, but others that I’ll click through and bookmark so I can return to read the blurb later on. Of course it’s subjective, but you can give yourself a head start by doing your research. Google your potential title to see if it’s already being used. Consult. Try it out on people. Say it, write it, ensure that it fits with your cover design.

A title is the first thing you share with your audience. Make sure it’s a good one. Oh, and if you come up with an awesome title for a Young Adult Crime Fiction novel, let me know!

Sourcing reviews

I have two reviews for my book on Amazon. Two. That’s probably about 274 less than I hoped I would have by now. And 119 less than I’d have if everyone who bought the book reviewed it on whatever platform they bought it from.

It’s a bit disheartening really. Especially since having reviews can mean the difference between effective promotion and mediocre promotion.  But it’s sourcing reviewers that has become a little problematic for me. A few months ago when I first published, I put out a general (and very polite) call on my personal Facebook profile (where I only have people I know) suggesting that if people would like to review the book, I’d be very happy to provide it to them. Only one person did so. I didn’t push it, or ask again. I don’t want to be one of those annoying ‘friends’ who rabbits on about nothing else but my books all the time.

So I stepped outside of my personal circle and began to investigate options for having eBooks reviewed. And I found some very interesting, and somewhat disturbing, trends.

It’s difficult to get traditional hardcopy book reviewers to look at an eBook. Publishing online is still regarded with somewhat less-than-credible suspicion by the mainstream, particularly here in Australia, where we seem to be a little slower in adapting to a changing industry than in the UK or US. That leaves authors with few options.

There’s a few ‘review’ sites around (for example Authonomy, IWriteReadRate) where you register and upload your book and review and receive reviews. I’ve experimented with some of these sites and found all but one to be quite unpleasant. On Authonomy I was bombarded with tit-for-tat requests for reviews. You know, the ‘I’ll give you a positive review if you give me one’ type arrangement, where quality and content of the manuscript seems to be irrelevant. It might work for some, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t think I’m the right personality type for this kind of thing―I’m far too straightforward and honest.

Of the review sites, the one I found to be most beneficial is YouWriteOn, because their review process is far more independent. Authors are assigned random books to review and earn ‘credits’ which then are used to receive reviews that have been randomly assigned to to others. This gives the author a more realistic idea of what readers think of their writing. The drawback is, it’s a development site so you can only upload the first 5000 words of your manuscript, and the reviews are not public. Still, I’d recommend it if you want to get an objective opinion about your writing.

More recently, I’ve noticed a few entrepreneurial reviewing endeavors popping up claiming to be assisting authors to increase their book profiles online. A book is targeted by a series of reviewers, usually other authors, and the reviews are then posted on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and wherever else your book may be. For a price.

The cost varies according to the site you use to source your reviews. Now I’m not suggesting that anything particularly untoward is happening here. I just wonder, if you are paying to have your book reviewed by other authors participating in the program, how objective the reviews could be. Especially when it’s a reciprocal arrangement.

Of course I want people to review my book. But I want honest reviews. Constructive reviews. And I don’t want to pay for them. Or badger people to write them.
I want to know what readers really think. I know that I might not always like what people say. And as every author knows, a bad review is like a kick in the guts. But I’m prepared to take the risk because I want to grow as an author.

I’m serious about making a living out of writing fiction full-time, so I need to deepen my understanding of the market and write accordingly.  Reading, like writing, is a subjective pursuit. And very personal, for both the reader and the writer. I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone is going to love what I write.  But I am realistic enough to know that I need to be conscious of what people want to read, what they enjoy reading, and what they think of my writing. Independently, realistically. After all I can’t support myself with my writing if no-one buys my books. And books are often bought on word-of-mouth recommendations. Or reviews.

Have you had your book reviewed? How did you go about finding a reviewer? What has been your experience of the process?

A contract lost

I lost a publishing contract. The offer of a contract to publish my novel Fake Profile with a traditional publisher was withdrawn. Before it was made. I didn’t even know about it, but I was gutted when I found out. At least, I was until I realised that I was no worse off than if I hadn’t known about it. And really, I can’t be sure I would have accepted the offer of a contract if it had been made.

The contract offer was NOT made,  apparently, because I hold the Digital Management Rights to my own book. Recently the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age, and the West Australian, all ran an article about authors who were pursuing publication through electronic means as an alternative to seeking traditional publishing deals. I was featured in the article as an Australian Author who had opted to publish electronically.

The eBook cover for Fake Profile featured prominently in the article and sales have been steadily increasing ever since. Fake Profile is listed on Amazon and is distributed through Smashwords to Apple iBooks on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel and Kobo. Most of my sales come through Apple AU, followed by Amazon. I’m happy with the way sales are going. I didn’t expect them to be too high in the first months, particularly as I don’t have a publicist and haven’t yet gone into full promotion mode. But I have been pleasantly surprised with sales so far. And I’m very much looking forward to listing my next book in January.

When I began the journey toward publication, I would have loved a traditional publishing contract. And I tried to get one. I queried agents and submitted to those Australian publishers that still accept unsolicited manuscripts, all to no avail. I even pitched the book to a panel of publishers at a NSW Writers’ Centre writers’ festival. By that time I had my author website and blog up and running, I had a Facebook fanpage as an author and a Twitter account. And the beginnings of a marketing plan. Following the pitching session, I received some fabulous feedback, except from the publisher — her response was “If you’ve done all that, what’s left for the publisher to do?” Indeed.

It was then that I decided to pursue the electronic publishing route. However, it seems it was a publisher who was at that festival and had heard my pitch, who intended offering me a contract. Until the article was published.  The article referred to reasonably strong sales and an increasing profile. Seems the publisher was spooked by the fact that my book was already out there, with a variety of retailers in a variety of locations. And its Digital Rights Management (DRM) remained with me.

I’d not really thought too much about DRM when I published Fake Profile. It’s my book, why wouldn’t they stay with me. But apparently, DRM is a sticking point with traditional publishers. They want exclusive rights—total control—over your book. It means that they would get to say where the eBook is listed for sale and how your royalties are paid, (50% net seems to be shaping up as the norm for eBooks, though there are some publishers that are still vying for much more than this in contracts offered to authors). And you couldn’t sell your own book from your own website. Seems a little counter-productive to me.

A non-exclusive DRM contract would be far more reasonable, and I think, acceptable to authors. I want to have some control over my books. If only so that I could continue to promote them and sell them from my website (once I get my eShop up and running).

I’ve written before about the need for publishers to adapt their practise in this changing environment, or risk losing relevance. The news that I lost a contract because I decided to publish electronically was hard to take at first, but I’ve since realised that it is indicative of the turmoil in which the industry finds itself.

Authors are no longer reliant on publishers. We are not restricted to the Australian marketplace; we can choose who sells our books, we can experiment with price, and we can earn between 35% and 60% royalties. And if we want to see our books in hardcopy, Print-on-demand is free and easy and accessible to everyone.

If I’d been offered a traditional publishing contract for Fake Profile in the first instance, I would’ve jumped at the chance to be published in hardcopy. Would I have the same enthusiasm for a traditional contract now? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m pretty happy with things as they are. My book Fake Profile is selling well; my new one, Say Nothing, will be out soon, and I probably won’t waste time trying to pitch it to nervous publishers while it could already be earning me money online.

I’m not aiming to be a best-seller just yet. I’m happy having the time to write. I’m refining my craft, experimenting with the market, and enjoying my writer-in-residence job. And I’m very happy heading toward being a mid-lister while I do it.

Do you write to live or live to write?

They say that when you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life. I get that. When I write, I am at peace with myself, the universe and everything. I love creating characters and plots and watching them come to together to form ‘story.’ I love being woken in the middle of the night with that flash of inspiration and having to scramble around to find a pen before I forget it. I love the excitement I feel when a new story idea comes to mind. And the satisfaction when a character finally finds ‘their’ voice.  I even quite enjoy the battle with procrastination I sometimes (okay, often) have.

I just love being a writer. At least, I do when I can just write. Fiction is my first love, but I’m also happy writing creative non-fiction and other articles. But writing for a living these days involves so much more than just writing. Writers are finding themselves increasingly responsible for the marketing, publicity and promotion of their work. And if they publish eBooks, they often have to format, design and distribute themselves as well.

We are in the midst of an industry metamorphosis where the only certainty is change. It’s hard to navigate a constantly evolving landscape, and what the publish industry will look like in a few years time is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, authors are left wondering what the best course of action might be to get their work into the public domain.  Especially emerging and developing authors.

Traditional publishers seem less likely to take a risk on a new author and if they do, author advances appear not to be as common as they once were. One emerging author I know was recently offered —as a first contract, a three-book deal with no advance and 7% of net royalties. 7% of NET royalties. An enormous amount of time and hard work goes in to writing a book. Then there’s the redrafting and editing and agonising. I don’t think any writer worth their salt would accept such an insulting offer. And luckily, neither did the aforementioned author. She told them what they could do with their 7% of net royalties.

That brings me back to the business of being a writer. If traditional publishers cannot adapt to a changing industry quickly enough, it is up to authors to take the reins to ensure that readers are not left without enough new material available in emerging formats to keep them reading. And this is where it becomes challenging.

Creating an eBook is not just a matter of writing the narrative and sending it off for someone else to do the work. Learning to format the manuscript into the various document styles required by the different eReader technology is both challenging and time-consuming. And just as time-consuming is designing the cover for the eBook, which needs to be a jpg image file. There are plenty of people out there who will do it for you and small businesses are cropping up purporting to manage everything for you—for a price.

Problem is, without an advance on the manuscript, writers often don’t always have the initial outlay required to get their manuscript eBook ready. And then there's the publicity side of things to be concerned about. Writers need to let people know that their book is ready for reading. This means marketing and promotion. And of course, the best means of marketing and promoting an eBook (or any book for that matter) is by using social media.

An author website, a blog, a Facebook fan page, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, have all become necessities. And that’s before you start thinking about a YouTube book trailer. All these practices are incredibly time-consuming and labour intensive, and though you may be able to outsource some of them, they still need regular and consistent input and maintenance.

Yep, writing the book the book is the easy part and probably makes up about 15% of the journey. The hard work begins when you complete that manuscript.