Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Twenty Years In The Making

I thought this post would be perfect considering that National Novel Writing Month just finished and there are hoards of hopeful novelists out there with fame and fortune in their eyes.

To all of you, I say patience, grasshopper, and use some eye drops. Without patience, you are doomed. Without clearing the stars out of your eyes, you won't be able to keep working.

You see, all of a sudden, after 20 years, people are discovering my books.

Wait, let me start over.

Some of you have heard this story, so humor me while I tell it to those who haven't...

I started writing in earnest about 18-20 years ago. I've been published about 12 years, 10 of those with a traditional publisher. After a couple of non-mystery novels, which are still unpublished, and for good reason, I turned my hand to mysteries and the Odelia Grey mystery series was born. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, as it turned out) my initial agent hated TOO BIG TO MISS and refused to represent it, even though she had represented my initial two novels that were never published. So I fired her ass and moved on, publishing TOO BIG TO MISS and THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL with iUniverse.

My next agent (who by the way is still my agent all these many years later), loved Odelia and was able to catapult the series into the welcoming arms of Midnight Ink, who reprinted the first two and went on to contract for 10 more novels in the series, and it was Midnight Ink who launch both my Ghost of Granny Apples and Madison Rose Vampire series. From there, my agent and I jumped Granny Apples into the Penguin family with success.

Like I said, all of this took about 18-20 years total.

In the last six months, it seems like more and more readers are finding my work. After all this time, my sales on both my traditionally published books and my self-published works are gaining a nice upward momentum. Not rocket speed, but definitely a slow steady upward trajectory.

As one reader wrote in a recent e-mail: "How can you have 10 books and I just now found you?"  She was referring to my Odelia Grey series, of which the 10th book in the series, A BODY TO SPARE, was recently released.

Why? Who knows?  A few months ago I unleashed my street team on the world with over 1,500 bookmarks. I'm doing more regular blogging and my blogs are linked to several reader sites. I'm a solid presence on social media. But more importantly, I am prolific. I stay in the eye of the reading public.

In talking to my colleagues, one thing is for sure, the more good, solid, and entertaining content you have out there, the more likely your sales will be affected in a positive way. There is more for readers to discover, which, in turn, leads them to your other work. It's not enough to have a couple of books out in a single series, or a few stand alone novels. Today, a writer must be constantly feeding the reading machine with new books, short stories, and essays to get any traction. It's the Circle Of Life for authors.

And ... I can't say this enough ... the work must be of high quality. If you think you're going to attract readers by throwing out fistfuls of schlock just to get more out there, you are sadly mistaken. In spite of what I just said above, you are better off producing one or two super well written and edited works than a half dozen thrown together disasters. Nothing will turn readers away from you faster and send your career into the gutter.

Unfortunately, the trend among publishers today is to contract for 2-3 books in a series, then cut the series if the books don't perform to their liking. Decades ago, publishers nurtured a new talent, giving an author time to find his or her voice and build a foundation of loyal readers. Today, publishing is about instant gratification. 2-3 books and you're done, and with it possibly your writing career, unless you find another venue for your work and keep the faith. This is one of the many reasons self-publishing is doing so well. Authors who were fired by their publishers have found new life for their books and their careers by continuing with self-publishing, often with greater financial rewards.

Today an author cannot live in a writing vacuum, thinking all they need to do is write a good book to build a career. You must write a good book, then another, then another, then another. The books and stories must be of high quality. You must be PR savvy. Have the patience of Job. The skin of a rhinoceros. And the determination of The Little Engine That Could.

Do you still want to be a writer?

1 comment:

Julie said...

Everything you say is true...except when it's not.

A few years ago, the best selling Kindle book on Amazon, and I mean two million copies so yeah, was probably one of the worst written pieces of schlock I've ever read, yet people were buying them up like water bottles on a desert island. I'm not going to name the author nor the series, but I read the first of many in the series (and of which there are more than three), and it was just...horrific. But somehow it resonated with readers. Great, spunky protagonist who gets herself out of a jam and oh yeah, can do magic. What can I tell you? She must have had awesome marketing skills.

As an editor, I can tell you that 99% of the time when I give an author a quote, they balk. I know they are thinking, "Why do I need to waste my money on something that's not important?" Honey, I read your manuscript, for you, it's important. And then there are cases like the one mentioned above. Publishing is like the Wild West now; you just never know what you're gonna get.

Congrats on your upward-bound book sales! Hooray! (Retirement!!!)