A blog article arguing for a hybrid model that allows for authors to walk both the traditional and self publishing routes.
I’m currently trying to get traditionally published while working with the self published Tempered by Fire. In honour of my first rejection slip, I give you this article.
Most writers dream of becoming successful writers. While there are multiple and interpersonal definitions of successful, for the sake of this post I’m going to define successful writing as writing as a career - meaning that you are able to make your living, or most of your living, off of your writing. Why wouldn’t we want to? Many of us are extremely talented. However, while our imaginations are endless, the issue with publishing is that our choices are limited. I understand that not everyone wants to write commercial fiction. If you do, good for you. If you don’t, good for you. While some of us want to write something that is undefinable, crosses multiple genre boundaries and be completely different from everything else on the market, writing with those qualities is sometimes very hard to sell. It’s a brutal truth, but a truth.
1. Pick a Genre or Sub-genre
The one issue I have found with other people showing me their writing is that, while their writing might be beautiful and unique, it does not fall into a specific genre or subgenre and would therefore make it hard to sell. One of the things I see on editor/publisher blogs is them lamenting the fact that many of their submissions don’t follow their guidelines, specifically that of genres and conventions. While your writing may be fantastic, it also needs to be explained and appeal to a certain audiences, and when it is in that specified genre, it needs to have certain writing conventions that make it appeal to the audience.
Established genres are popular for a reason. Not only do they appeal because they are familiar, but because the elements in them are ones that people enjoy. This differs for every single genre - each one has elements that are directed at a certain audience. And this audience is made up of your possible readers. While it’s alright to cross a few boundaries (Romantic Comedy/Sci-Fi Thriller/Fantasy Mystery), it does not strengthen your market when you cross all those boundaries in order to expand your audience. First off, it’ll be hard to market. The definitions that make up a genre and the conventions that follow them are ones that are key to marketing. Narrowing your view will help you appeal to a specific market. Try writing a marketing plan revolving around a sci-fi thriller (The book can have aspects of romance/drama/comedy, but it primarily that). Now try writing it for a baseball themed space bonanza with two hilarious protagonists in love via political commentary, with all of those trying to struggle to be in front. It’s a little harder. What bookshelf is a seller going to put it on?
2. Once You’ve Decided on Your Particular Genre, What are It’s Conventions?
Wikipedia tells us that “A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom.” Writing is filled with these conventions, and they are constantly changing. Genre is filled to the brim with conventions. GENRE IS BASED AROUND THESE CONVENTIONS PEOPLE. THEY’RE KIND OF IMPORTANT. Conventions helps dictate what goes into a story or a book. Yup, these are even more limiting, Popular fiction and commercial fiction, while evolving, is filled with conventions. These conventions are what makes these books popular. Sometimes these conventions suck, and we, as writers, have to suck it up.
For example, my novel TEMPERED BY FIRE is a young adult novel (no, this is not a shameless plug. It’s a good example. And a shameless plug. But not really.). Its sub-genres are urban fantasy and comedy. Right off the bat, I have set guidelines for my content. It’s YA, fantasy, and comedy. Comedy is pretty broad, and essentially just means that I have to be funny. But when I look at other extremely popular YA novels write now, you can immediately see that conventions that make it popular and lumps all the books in together. Here are a few conventions in popular YA.
Do any of these seem familiar? It’s because they are conventions that are currently extremely popular in YA fiction. If you are hoping to have an book in this current market that flies of the shelves, you better have some/all of those elements present.
BUT THAT’S UNFAIR HANNAH. THAT LIMITS MY GENIUS. IT’S GOING TO BE THE SAME THING AS EVERYTHING ELSE, AND THAT’S WHAT WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. I SHOULD SELL BOOKS ANYWAYS.
You totally should. I totally believe that sometimes these conventions are total balls. But the problem is, they sell books. So how do you make this different?
3. Follow those Conventions, but Stab Them in The Eyes with a Butter Knife.
You can work around these. The goal is to make your book similar enough to sell, but different enough that it provides a breath of fresh air and stands out from the crowd. Conventions are easy to manipulate in any genre. You can add in the new while still following those set formulas.
For example, genre conventions in Tempered by Fire (I’m not saying my book is awesome. I’m really not. I have mixed feelings about it. I’m just showing how when I was fed up with YA conventions, I twisted them to my own benefit).
The Trio - I have the standard trio. However, my characters aren’t mature adults or in love with each other. One of them is strictly a friend, with none of this open-ended possible relationships. One of them is cynical and prone to tantrums, one is like, the sweetest thing ever, and the third is just, well, a five year old boy in a seventeen year old body. Characters that follow conventions but are still different are important to creating a work of commercial fiction that stands out.
Mythical Beings - There are traditional Irish fairies, dragons, magical beasts, sabre-toothed monsters, etc, so it fits in perfectly.
Angsty Romance - There is angsty romance, but the romances in the book flawed. No love is truly perfect. It’s stormy, imperfect, and sometimes denied, but it is love nonetheless.
The Girl is Special - And sarcastic. My God, is she sarcastic. And cynical and silly and like that one friend you have that can always make you shoot milk out of your nose and say “you’re so weird.” Like most YA heroines, she doesn’t really want the Sight, but she just sighs and gets on with it.
What I used to make my book different is I took all of these genre conventions and stuck them into a COMEDY. There aren’t really a lot of YA comedy fantasies out there. (Shout out to Terry Pratchett!). While this has yet to be seen if it’ll ever hit bookstore or whether or not it will ever be successful, this manipulation of genre conventions has proven to be successful in the past. Just look at books such as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Tolkein, etc.
Knowing where your book stands in relation to everything else on the market and knowing what makes it different and what makes it stands out is incredibly important. Whether you’re going the traditional route or plan to self-publish, being able to lump your books in with others and know why your book is special is crucial to marketing and target audiences. You are writing for your audience. You are writing for you readers. You are writing for a living. Keeping these things in mind is very important for commercial literature.
Now go kick some ass.
(Enter Usual Disclaimer about just blundering through life, this is my opinion, etc. etc, we’re all different and have different opinions, this is just mine.)
‘Take a character you’re working on and have them fight a monster. What kind of monster is it? How do they win?
My beloved Morgan sent me this as a prompt to help me get in the mood for continuing to write the sequel of my novel TEMPERED BY FIRE. Here’s a new character. Does it count if he’s the monster? And tumblr formatted it weird. Huh.
TRIAL BY FIRE PROMPT
The box began to wriggle. We stared at it.
“I’ll open it!” Ryan said eagerly.
Maggie stared at him, and then at me. “We receive a strange box from a group of moody mythological beings, and he’s excited to open it? Does he even have an off button?”
“He does, but it’s on the back of his head and you have to trigger it with a baseball bat.” Even then, you’d have to hit really hard. Believe me, I’d tried.
Ryan ignored me, and went to open the box. He went still.
“We have an issue,” Ryan said, turning around to face us.
“I already regret having to ask for clarification,” I muttered. My life was just one strange issue following another. “Please tell me it isn’t a severed head. I can’t handle a severed head right now.”
He quietly reached into the box, and with disdain picked up whatever it is, before turning dramatically around and shoving it in my face. I screamed.
The puppy licked my nose, and both my cheeks.
“They gave us a three headed puppy,” Ryan said flatly.
Two of the heads cocked their ears, and the third one choked on something before it grinned at me. My heart melted. He was just as gross as I was.
Ryan gingerly put the dog on the ground. The size of a jack-russell terrier, it was jet black with smooth fur. Its legs were a little longish, and it had a deep, wide chest and a scruffy little tail. It looks like a regular tiny mutt, if not for the three heads.
“He’s so cute,” Maggie cooed.
“Why would they send us a three headed mongrel?” Tony asked.
The little monster looked up at me and wagged his tail. He was pretty cute.
Maggie reached into the box and pulled out a note. “It says his name is C2EB. Pronounced “Seb”.”
I vainly tried to rub all three heads at once. “What does that mean?”
“Cerberus 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Clever.
“They did not just saddle us with a hellhound. A tiny, malformed hellhound,” Ryan said. “We have to get rid of it.”
“You just can’t re-gift a hellhound,” Tony said. C2EB attempted to viciously defeat my foot. I liked his spunk.
“We can’t bring him with us. He’ll slow us down.”
Maggie unfurled another piece of paper. “Here’s his pedigree. He is one hundred percent hellhound.”
“He’s roughly the size of a loaf of bread,” Ryan argued.
“Which makes him convenient for travel,” I argued. “We can’t just leave a puppy here.”
“And if the furies wanted us to have him, there must be a good reason for it,” Tony interjected.
“Probably because he’s a runt.” How on earth could he be immune to the charms of a three headed puppy? It was like a regular puppy, but three times the fun.
“Yes, but now he’s our runt.” I continued to pet him.
Ryan sighed. “You want to keep him.”
“Yes. Yes I do.” Two of the heads were arguing over a stick. The puppy promptly fell over. Ryan scowled. I glared at him, daring to deny me. He didn’t look away. I tried a new tactic.
“Hailey, if you’re trying to simper, please stop. It hurts to look at,” Maggie said. So much for that.
“Fine, you can keep him. But he better not slow us down,” Ryan said, storming off. C2EB followed him for a few steps, then cocked a leg and sent a steady stream of sulphurous urine after him. Maggie burst into laughter.
C2EB attached himself to my leg and looked up at me. I looked down at him affectionately.
“That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”
Someone’s going to get angry at my take, I just know it.
“I was dismissed by one gentleman as an “entrepreneurial amateur.” Another told me flat out that he was planning on buying my book until he found out I published it myself, but that he NEVER reads anything by a self-published author. His faulty reasoning told him that the only sort of person who self-publishes is the the kind of person who has been rejected by every publisher in town and, as a vendetta against readers, publishers, and decency, puts the inferior material out themselves. They don’t seem capable of comprehending the fact that there are thousands of reasons to self-publish and all of them are completely valid.” -http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bryan-young/combatting-the-stigma-of-_b_890000.html
I have two notes to make on this quote from Bryan Young of the Huffington Post. One, the idea that self-publishers are entrepreneurial amateurs. We are actually entrepreneurs. We are essentially running our own business, or starting up one. We are in charge of every aspect of our book, from writing it, to editing it, to formatting it, to marketing it. Our success essentially rests on our shoulders. I think people tend to forget that we’re taking everything into our own hands. I know that I’m an amateur, yes, without a doubt. And I did submit to some agencies, but was told in a lovely letter that I was too young and too new to take on. So I went into self publishing. As well, the idea that we are inferior and that our material is inferior is one that I also find common among readers. Even if we choose to self publish, we still did it. We still wrote a book, and poured our sweat and blood into it. Even if someone chooses to not publish their work, they still did it. And that’s what should count.
I would jump at the chance to get picked up by a publishing house, I’m not ashamed to admit that. But whether or do or I don’t, that shouldn’t take away from what we as a group have done now.
“I believe part of the reason is because self-publishing is so easy nowadays that just about anybody can do it and the quality of some self-published books is poor. Some naive first-time authors think they can do it all. Some newbies think that they are great writers and don’t “need” an editor. Novice authors often think they can design their own cover without any sort of advice from a visual designer. I have seen more than a few self-published books in my capacity as reviewer for Catholic Fiction.net in which the quality of writing was so bad I won’t even review it.” -Ellen Gable, http://ellengable.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/the-stigma-of-self-publishing/
Self publishing is easy. And there are always going to be bad writers that choose to self publish. There are going to be people who are only in it to try to make a profit. I take self publishing with a grain of salt. I think you have to, really. Self-published authors on the whole make very little money.I know with my book, I’m not going to making that much money, even if by God’s Graces I sell a lot of them. But the point want to make about self-publishing from this quote is that the quality of SOME self-published books are poor. Not all of them. Is my book poor quality? I can’t say, I really can’t. I do hate it (if you read something 200 times, you’d hate it too!), but I don’t think it’s horrible. I have read some self-published authors that are horrible, and some that are beautifully written. That being said, I’ve also read both from traditional publishers. The moral is to not judge a whole community based on one or several individuals - the same thing that we try to do in real life should also be applied in the self-publishing world. Judge an individual, not a community.
As most of you know I’ve finished writing one novel and am working on my the next book in the series. While my first one still has some polishing up to do, the reviews have been so good that a friend of a friend who is an editor is going to polish it up for me. In the mean-time, between working two jobs and marketing and trying to get the first one off of the ground, I’m trying to write the second book, TRIAL BY FIRE. Here are some of the issues I’m facing.
This one is huge. I spend all my time to put money away or spend it on important things like food, rent, and bus tokens/passes that when it comes right down to it, I’m too tired and don’t want to write. I put it off. While sometimes this is necessary (I am, unfortunately, not an android, and need to sleep sometimes), it’s hard to fall out of this habit.
ALREADY KNOWING WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN
Trial by Fire has been story boarded, researched, and had character biographies written. All the voices are figured out, the plot is decided (though without a doubt it is constantly evolving, especially towards the end), and even some of the jokes/witty lines are written down. However, this seems to take a lot of the excitement of it out for me. When I get down to it, I’m really grateful that I have a storyline and that I’ve planned a lot of it out, because then I can shape it and evolve it past what I had, but sometimes knowing that you already have it makes it that much harder to sit down and do it. If I know it, why can’t my computer already know it?
NOT BEING IN A FUNNY MOOD
This doesn’t really work if you’re not writing a comedy, though I think it can apply to almost any genre as well. If I’m in a bad or cranky mood, it’s hard to make a scene funny. For sadness, anger, action, or romance scenes, it’s not hard to get into that mindset, especially if I already have a constructed playlist. Music influences my mood way too much, so it’s easy to get into moods to write those scenes with as much emotion as possible. However, it’s extremely hard to get into a funny mood, one where you’re brimming with small observations or sarcasm or wit. Listening to comedians doesn’t really help. Sometimes I can write without feeling funny, but by my nature I’m kind of quiet. It’s hard to slip into the sarcastic mind of my protagonist and see things as she sees things and respond as she would respond. Getting into that mood and that mindset is probably the biggest problems I face when trying to write Trial by Fire.
HOW I FIX THIS
1. Reward System - If I finish this chapter, I’ll give myself a cookie. However, I usually end up getting frustrated and just getting the damn cookie anyways, because I’m an adult and who am I to restrict access to my own fucking cookies?!
2. Pep Talk - Now, I can’t pep talk myself up at all, so I get my sister or boyfriend to do it. Usually then I’m ready to sit down and write. Having a set of your own personal cheerleaders does a world of good.
3. READING - Reading is probably the biggest thing that helps me to sit down and write. Sometimes, to help me get into the mood, I’ll read other sarcastic or funny novels. Sometimes I’ll read love stories, or sometimes I’ll read thrillers or crime. The whole point is that I’m doing the other key part of writing. Reading gets your mind going, your imagination flowing and your writing gears cranking. Intertextuality comes into play. Reading for an hour before I write always does wonders, since after finishing a good story, I’m compelled to work hard and finish my own.
I don’t think I posted it here - but if you like the facebook page for TEMPERED BY FIRE, you get to read the first eight chapters free (as long as I can message you).
Please excuse the typos and grammatical errors - for the second printing they will be fixed, but I had a deadline to meet in order for everything to go through. It’s actually super nice - a friend of a friend of a friend is an editor, and when they read my reviews offered to review them for free, so that’ll just make the second printing more awesome.
When somebody gets legitimately angry at me because something bad happens to a character and doesn’t speak to me for several hours because they’re just going to yell at me, that’s when I know that I’ve done a good job in writing that character.
When somebody tells me they cried, or that the sympathized or saw themselves in that character, and that it evoked painful memories, that’s when I know I’ve done a good job in writing that character.
When somebody tells me they were snorting with laughter, or that they were in hysterics over something a character did, that’s when I know I’ve done a good job in writing that character.
This doesn’t always happen. It’s hard to write consistently good characters, ones that people can identify with or care about. It’s almost impossible. But when it does happen, it’s like gold. When my room-mate came in, threw my book down on my bed and told me she was angry at me before picking it up again and cradling it, I was thrilled. Because when readers stop viewing people as characters in a novel and start viewing them as actual people, I feel like I’ve won the writing jackpot. I’ve managed to create believable characters, flawed characters, that people legitimately care about.
I won’t say that I don’t care if nobody reads my book, or that I won’t care if this this entire venture fails, because I will care. But knowing that I wrote characters that people care about is a huge victory that, even if this is a small stepping stone in my life and doesn’t have an impact on the rest of it, tells me I at least did something right.