Monday, June 29, 2015

Waiting for the Gatekeepers

by Author of THE MEMORY BOX

Some people will waste a lifetime waiting for the Gatekeepers. I was almost one of those people. By nature, I'm a rule follower. Even unwritten rules. If there's a way something is "supposed to be done," that's how I'll do it. When I finished writing my first novel, I queried agents. This was the way it was "supposed to be done." And, since I had aspirations of being traditionally published, I didn't give it a second thought. 

That second thought didn't muscle its way in for years. That's because I typically espouse a "never give up" philosophy. I also clung to "If you don't believe in yourself, no one will," through 81 rejections. But my believing in myself wasn't exactly convincing the Gatekeepers. The options were clear: move on, or self-publish. I had no interest in self-publishing. I had no interest in giving up either, but I'd be lying if after those rejections I said I still believed in myself.  

So I moved on. And after a good amount of sulking, I started book number two. A couple of years later a friend of mine, who'd read book number one, called me to ask if I'd heard of Gone Girl. When I said I hadn't, she said, "I'll be right over. You need to read it." 

Reading Gone Girl changed my trajectory. Witnessing the success of a book of that ilk convinced me there was a readership for my book. What the heck was I waiting for? I was so entrenched in my traditional thinking that agents and editors had the first and last word on what was worthy, and what readers wanted (a.k.a. what would sell), I had never considered that a book could be a success without their stamp of approval. Perhaps I should have followed a different philosophy: "You can't win it unless you're in it." The wonderful difference about the time we live in now, as writers, is that we can let the readers decide.

Last summer, I self-published book number one, my psychological thriller. It was released in the midst of the Hachette/Amazon debacle, the timing of which, I believed, couldn't have been worse. Pleas and petitions from traditionally published authors to boycott Amazon were circling the literary world. Articles about Amazon's passive/aggressive tactics affecting writers' careers were awhirl. 

I empathized with the authors, many of whom I'm fans of. Some are my friends. They'd toiled away at their craft, doling out copious amounts of blood, sweat and metaphors. They'd finished their manuscript, queried agents, accepted representation, sold their book, released it, and now, after all those unquestionable triumphs, at the exact time they expected to celebrate their book's release, they were met with a brick wall from their biggest distributor. I identified with them. Sort of.  

Simultaneously, I was days away from releasing my first book, albeit somewhat differently. 

I felt conflicted. My future distributor was flipping the bird to my tribespeople. Should I postpone my release? I called a writer friend of mine. "What'll I do now?" I asked her. "How can I cross the picket lines? How could I do this to those authors? What about those publishers?"

"What about them?" she said. She went on to reiterate the cold hard facts. I had tried and failed at the traditional model. I'd queried agents for years and speed-pitched them at conferences; I courted them on Twitter, and followed them on Publishers Weekly. All of that led to some serious blasé interest which nearly culminated in a solid maybe from one of them. Two publishers read my manuscript, praised, and promptly rejected it. The only thing that kept my manuscript from crashing on my hard drive was Amazon.
I pressed the publish button.

The days that ensued were punctuated by emails and phone calls. One friend reading the book in Hawaii was approached by someone from California who'd just heard about it. News came in that the book was spotted in Duck, N.C. and on a beach in Cape Cod. On an island in Greece, and a bus in Canada, in the mountains of Colorado, at a doctor's office in New York, and in Boston, and on a bench in Nice, France. It soon became the buzz of book clubs and my offer to appear at discussions was snatched up by nearly 60 clubs worldwide. To my amazement, my book had shot up to the No. 1 spot on Amazon three times in twelve months. 

The events of the last year have far exceeded my expectations. But, I'm not suggesting the self-publishing route is for everyone. There are many days it's not even for me. Neither am I saying that the events herein have been typical. I continue to be challenged by all that it involves: getting bookstore space, publicity, reviews, readers. But, these are good challenges to have, and I very nearly had none of them. Nor would I have experienced the rewards, if my manuscript remained on my hard drive. Waiting for the Gatekeepers.

Eva Lesko Natiello is the award winning author of the bestseller, THE MEMORY BOX, a psychological thriller about a woman who Googles herself and discovers the shocking details of a past she doesn't remember. 


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Monday, June 22, 2015

Dear Authors: Don’t Respond to Goodreads Reviews

Another day, another classic Goodreads author meltdown. Someone gave self-pubbed author Dylan Saccoccio a one-star review, and Saccoccio (rather predictably, as Goodreads veterans well know) went apoplectic. Saccoccio’s contributions to that thread have since been deleted because his account has been banned, though you can read some of his comments here and check out the archived thread here, because everything he wrote was ridiculous and abusive. Goodreads reviews are nothing if not dangerous stuff, folks.

Props, by the way, to reviewer Cait’s composure through the whole thing.

I’ve talked before about how this kind of behaviour led me to quit Goodreads, and the gendered stuff I was talking about in that post echoes a similar dynamic here, with a male author attempting to shout down a female reviewer. But there’s another dynamic at play that we need to talk about: authors, regardless of their intentions, should not be responding to reviews on Goodreads.

Not everyone is going to like your book. If they post an honest review — even if it’s blatantly wrong, or you don’t agree with it, or it hurts your feelings, or you think they’re a big stupid butt-face with a butt for a face — you have to just breathe and move on. Breathe. And move on.

You know who looks terrible in an author-versus-reviewer shouting match on Goodreads? The author. Always the author. Because an amateur reviewer on Goodreads, even if they post an awful screed, has nothing to lose in the situation. Even when the author isn’t behaving in a completely unhinged fashion as in this latest example, the author is the one with the professional identity to uphold. When it does go off the rails as badly as we all know it can, it’s the author who will lose sales and face.

I had never heard of Saccoccio before this weekend’s confrontation, but you can bet I would not feel comfortable picking up his book because he has made it unsafe to speak publicly about his work. And he’s made himself look, frankly, dangerous.

But it’s not just the one-or-two-star reviews. I also don’t think authors should respond to positive reviews, even to say thanks — the dynamic is too weird. Perhaps not all reviewers feel as I do, but I think the reviewing space needs to be its own thing, unadulterated by the feeling of the author’s hot breath on the reviewer’s neck as they try to make an honest assessment of the work in front of them.
Authors, I implore you: shake it off and back away from Goodreads. Here are ten things you can do that are better and more productive than responding to a review that is eating at you.
  1. Take a long walk. Find a tree. The tree is now the reviewer. Yell mean things at the tree. Explain to the tree how hard you worked on the book. Kick the tree. Let your dog pee on the tree. Get it all out before you go near your computer again.
  2. Look at animated GIFs of kittens doing crazy things. See? Don’t you feel better?
  3. Write out a response to the reviewer in longhand. When you finish, put it in your sink and light it on fire. NO ONE NEEDS TO READ THAT. EVER.
  4. Call your mom and tell her all about how the internet is stupid and full of mean assholes and let your mom remind you that you are the best little author she knows. Bonus marks if you also have explain what the internet is to your mom.
  5. Close your eyes. Imagine a penguin. The penguin thinks you’re a great author.
  6. Put your head in a pillow and scream. Curse. Cuss. Blaspheme. Have your own little tribute to The Aristocrats. (Wash the pillow after, because that’s not good mojo for sleeping later.)
  7. Use all your pent-up anger to write a blindingly good fight scene. Or a blindingly good sex scene. However your cookie crumbles. Add it to your next book and know that you triumphed over that review.
  8. Remind yourself of the Stephan J. Harper affair. You don’t want to be that guy. And you don’t want that to be your Google legacy, either.
  9. Have you considered eating your feelings? My feelings, in times of stress, often taste like lightly salted Ruffles and glass bottle Coke. YMMV, and experimentation is strongly recommended.
  10. Take the useful feedback to heart and write another, better book. Win many awards and become famous without being famous for having a meltdown. Remember: living well is a far better revenge than becoming a wide-spread Twitter joke.
So what do you think, Rioters? Should authors respond? And what other awesome advice would you give an author to help them shake off a bad review without going bananas? Meet me in the comments and we’ll hug it out.


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Monday, June 15, 2015

How I Succeeded As a Self-Published Author

Writer, author, blogger, mother
Sold out: reflections of a seasoned self-publisher

With the exception of 9 copies sitting in an Amazon warehouse in Indiana, I have completely sold out of A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism, the book that I self-published 7 years ago. The book, which tells my story of raising a child with autism (my son Matthew) from babyhood to young adulthood, is forever available digitally, which I find comforting.

I had no intention of self-publishing my book. It was the traditional route or nothing for me, and on the afternoon that an agent--a really good one--called and said "Yes! I will represent you" it seemed that I was on my way.

My agent got close with a few publishers after three rounds of submissions--but alas (as they say in the publishing world), not close enough.

This was back before self-publishing packages did everything for you. iUniverse and existed, and print-on demand was in it's infancy. But after going to a few workshops about publishing and marketing, I decided to do the whole thing myself. This included a zillion tiny details, including finding a printer and deciding how many books to order.

I went the volume discount route. When the first shipment of 1,500 books arrived in (roughly) 34 heavy boxes on large wooden flats, the first thing I thought was "I have made a catastrophic mistake." And a very expensive one. My husband was 10 times more freaked out than I was.

But then I figured out how to sell the books. I did it logically. I thought "If I wanted to find out about a book like mine, where would I go?" And I went to those places. I got a distributor to sell to book stores. I went door-to-door to independent bookstores in my area and asked them to sell them on consignment *just* as a chapter of my book was published in the local paper, on the radio, or in a magazine.

I pitched book clubs, called schools, libraries and disability groups and offered to speak for free if I could sell my book. I even got on a local morning show. I almost got on Good Morning America, but then I didn't

I should mention that these marketing activities did not come naturally to me, and it pained me to be a smiling and semi-pushy self-promoter. And there were times when my efforts bombed in a big way. Like the time I flew to Chicago at my own expense to speak at an event in the suburbs in a torrential rain storm...on the night of the Obama/McCain debate...and no one showed up. But the image of books stacked in my garage kept me going. I learned from my mistakes, and retooled.

In all, I sold about 7000 (paper) books, really great for a self-published book. The digital sales are impressive too, though I haven't counted the exact number. "Is that all?" commented many, "A friend of a friend's sister wrote her book in three months and has sold many millions" or something to that effect. "If only you could get one Oprah..."

I learned to smile and shrug. 

You write a book, you sell a book, then what?

I'll tell you what. Writing that book changed my view of the world, and my contribution to it.
When I started writing, it was all about the trials of having a child with autism. How hard it was. How it affected me, my family and friends. And there was a lot of tricky stuff. But in the process of writing the book, I grew to appreciate how hard it was to be my son Matthew, and other people with disabilities, in a world that wasn't ready to accommodate them.

I learned more and more about the world of disability as the author of an autism and disabilities blog on (the web version of the San Francisco Chronicle), the most valuable and life enriching non-paying writing gig a woman could ever ask for. (I'm still at it, by the way).

There, I continue to write stories from a parents perspective. But not as much as I used to. Now, I am spending more time listening to people who are living with disabilities, and hearing their stories.

"We are living in a world not constructed to house us," says my friend, self-advocate Stacey Milbern. "Regardless of whether it's an intellectual, behavioral, physical, sensory or chronic health disability, almost everything we touch was not meant for us, and we have to -- on our own or if you're lucky, with other people -- figure out how to make it work."

From a practical standpoint, the writing, speaking, advocating, and listening has helped me become a great communicator (if I do say so myself) an even better writer, editor, marketer, SME (Subject Matter Expert. YAY!) which has enabled me to do good work elsewhere. 

And all of it has enhanced my sense of humor, and made me a better mother. At least I think so.
Let me go ask my sons.


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Monday, June 8, 2015

Don't Sweat Your Synopsis. Just Write It! 8 Easy Tips

Become a fan Author, "Haven Lake," "Beach Plum Island"

Whether you're an aspiring writer pitching a book idea to agents, or a seasoned author whose editor expects a synopsis for each new novel, creating a synopsis can feel like the worst writing you've ever done.

That's because it IS the worst writing you've ever done. Imagine summarizing one of your favorite classics in a synopsis. Whether we're talking Pride and Prejudice or Ulysses, that synopsis would be a snoozer, since it's just a pitch giving the highlights of the plot. No pretty language. No tension. Just an outline in prose form.

But that's exactly what you have to do in many instances as a fiction writer: Pitch your work in abbreviated form. And, now that I've had to do this beastly synopsis exercise a dozen times for editors, I've realized that it's highly useful.

For one thing, giving your agent or editor a synopsis can save time and heartbreak. When my editor rejected my last synopsis, for instance, she was essentially rejecting only 20 pages, not a 498-page novel that took me a year to write. Yeah, that rejection stung a bit, but I knew it was the concept of the book she didn't like, so I wrote a different synopsis. She bought it.

Even if you're self-publishing, crafting a synopsis is a useful tool, because it will help you conceptualize the book. Later, it will help you market it. Of course the novel will morph as you write and the characters take over, but you will always have that blueprint for the book's foundation -- and a pitch you can tweak over and over, whether you're using it as book jacket copy or for something like a Goodreads giveaway.

All right. Down to basics: What is a synopsis? It is a summary of your novel's narrative arc and describes the main characters and conflicts.

Here are eight easy tips for writing one:

1. Keep your language precise and active, and focus on telling the story.

2. Start the book in-scene with one of the main characters: "From the moment she woke on that chilly February morning, Savannah Smith knew without a doubt that she would divorce her husband."

3. Each time you introduce a character, give a quick character sketch: "Burly Jones is a 36-year-old workaholic whose biggest joys in life are horseshoes, women and his motorcycle, not necessarily in that order."

4. Don't get bogged down in details. Stick to a few main characters and make their core conflicts clear.

5. As your plot unfolds, reveal it in steps the way you would relate a movie plot to friends over dinner, skipping the dull parts and hitting only the highlights.

6. Include a bit of dialogue to liven the tone: "I want you to know the truth before you see him." Those were the last words her mother spoke, but Trish didn't know what she meant.

7. Be sure the main conflicts are clear, and that there is a resolution to each conflict.

8. Keep your synopsis short, typically between 5 and 20 pages.

Now get busy. Stop sweating that synopsis and just write it!


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Monday, June 1, 2015

Is the self-publishing stigma fading?

by Ben Galley

For a long time, going the DIY route repelled critics, publishers - and readers. But as its successes accumulate, so the shame falls away

“Sorry – no self-published books accepted.” How many authors have been confronted with those words? I certainly have. It’s a prime example of what has been dubbed the self-publishing stigma. But as the sector grows, shrugging aside suspicion and hostility, will this negative image fall away? Has it already begun to do so?

I jumped into the game in late 2010, when the concept of being an indie author was still relatively new. Like most others at that time, I tottered about, toddler-like, trying to find my way through this new and strange landscape.

It was in these early stages that the first few success stories began to emerge: self-publishers such as Amanda Hocking and John Locke became founder members of what is affectionately called the Kindle Million Club – writers who have shifted seven-figure quantities of ebooks. Self-publishing was spotlit as something not only viable but lucrative. These stories, among others, spurred thousands of authors to join the publishing fray. “No publishers needed!” might as well have been the battle cry.
The brutal truth is that when you can publish anything, people will do exactly that. The market was flooded with indie literature and, sadly, a large percentage of it was substandard. Bad editing, awful covers, and mediocre content were rife. Advice was scarce, the methods many and varied. It was an exciting time, but a muddled one. Just as self-publishing was trying to shrug off the mantle of vanity publishing, it earned itself a new reputation – for low quality. Lo and behold, the self-publishing stigma was born.

It’s a black mark that has had many different manifestations over the last few years. Most common is reviewing policy: many critics of all types have closed their doors to self-published books, some because they were inundated by requests and others because they were tired of wasting time on unedited books. Traditional authors, such as Jonathan Franzen, have decried the rise of indie authors. You might even remember Waterstones changing its policy on book events in 2012, after receiving a number of complaints about harassment of customers by authors selling books on the shop floor. And of course, most literary awards will not accept self-publishers or small-press books – due to the variable quality and the sheer amount of entries they would receive.

I can see their point, and I don’t blame them. The self-publishing boom has produced a lot of low-quality literature, and you only have to trawl the shelves of Amazon and other stores to see that it’s still coming. But it’s surely shortsighted to think that all indies should be treated the same way.
As well as the indie authors who don’t spend time, effort, and money crafting professional products, there are plenty who do. The availability of advice has played a key role in this change. Whole new support industries have sprung up, offering everything from design to editing and marketing support. Indie authors have begun to share tips and tricks, while the Alliance of Independent Authors has pushed their cause with an Open Up To Indies campaign. 

Many of them have turned to the writing platform WattPad, on which readers – many of them very young – now spend 9bn minutes each month. Every day, 64,000 stories are uploaded, which adds up to 70m stories since the site was founded. A huge proportion of the authors publishing on WattPad are indie authors. Significantly, they are predominantly young, so fall outside the demographic identified by Dr Baverstock’s research: that nearly two-thirds of all self-publishers are aged 41 to 60.

The stigma may not have gone – it may never vanish entirely - but it’s beginning to fade, and that makes me happy. As publishers are beginning to demonstrate with those six and seven-figure signings, it’s increasingly short-sighted to ignore the indie author.

Ben Galley is the author of the Emaneska Series of fantasy novels, and a new YA western fantasy series, the Scarlet Star Trilogy. He’s also a self-publishing consultant at


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Monday, May 25, 2015

Genre Kryptonite: Bad Girls

GENRE KRYPTONITE is a regular feature about genres we have an inexplicable weak spot for. Check out previous entries here.
This is a guest post from Rachel Weber. Rachel makes her money writing about video games and then spends it all on books. She’s originally from Jane Austen country in England but is spending two years eating her way through San Francisco with her dog Batman. On meeting Terry Pratchett she temporarily lost the ability to form sentences. Follow her on Twitter @therachelweber.

Good girls go to heaven and bad girls go on my bookshelf. I might recycle, remember birthdays and cry when I see disabled dogs, but it’s the wicked women that turn my pages in literature.

As my father sat on the edge of my bed reading me The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, one thought burned in my tiny brain: that White Witch sounds like she has it all figured out. Sure I wasn’t keen on her wolf servants and the whole Aslan thing was unfortunate, but damn she was impressive. Keep your fawns and beavers Lucy Pevensie, I’m going to ride a sleigh, turn people to stone, and magic up Turkish Delight whenever I damn please. 

Cut to a small English school where I found a bad girl or two in the library. Elizabeth Allen from Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl In The School is a 1940s mean girl with plenty of pluck but she shapes up disappointingly quickly. Katy Carr from What Katy Did showed promise, but (spoiler alert) ends up temporarily crippled which rather took the fun out of the vicarious mischief thrills. I needed a stronger hit of devilment. 

My condition only worsened with the onset of breasts and braces, and once I stumbled upon Virginia Andrews I was done for. That collection was an all you can eat buffet of terrible role models and I was ready to gorge. Mad mothers, vengeful daughters, wicked siblings and inappropriate sex? It was a party in my brain and a fiesta in my pants.

Tragically, I was a physically healthy, well-cared for girl with a happy family. Is there anything worse for a dramatic teenager? So I developed that strange sixth sense bibliophiles have and found books about sad girls, brilliant girls, girls with more issues than Vogue. Prozac Nation, Girl Interrupted – I wanted to be a Lisa but thought I was probably a Susanna – and Junk by Melvin Burgess. My heroines were troubled, but in textbook teenage style I only saw the dark glamour of their stories.

I read a lot of horror around this time too, but in the ’90s women weren’t so much metal in horror as receptacles for knives and demon spawn. It’s hard to be badass when you’re missing your internal organs. 

A little later it was Lux from The Virgin Suicides, then a hot and heavy relationship with The Bell Jar and a crush on Legs Sadovsky from Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. I scoured libraries, read blurbs, picked through Geocities websites decorated in black roses for possible leads. 

Sixteen-year-old me sizzles with envy at the YA around today. I might be too old to call its characters role models but I can still heart them with all the devotion of a One Direction fan. Daisy from How I Live Now, Cadence of We Were Liars, Genevra “Ev” Winslow of Bittersweet. In my day we had to walk six miles in the snow with no shoes to find that sort of complicated heroine. 

Of course it turns out I was just ahead of the trend, now everyone loves a bad role model. Gone Girl made a dangerously unhinged mind the hot accessory for female protagonists and shone a light on some I’d missed. I love every word and heroine Gillian Flynn has ever written and I want to go Misery on her so she’ll write a new book. Megan Abbott’s twisted teens in The End of Everything and Dare Me are heartbreakers and the crime boss Gloria Denton of Queenpin makes me giddy. Kirby Mazrachi from The Shining Girls? Swipe right. 

Now that I’m pretending to be a responsible adult I need these ladies more than ever. They’re a time machine back to the teenage me and a reminder that while I might be a good girl in the streets, I’m a bad girl between the covers.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Are Small Presses the Best Choice for Latino Writers?


Recently, I wrote about the dismal publishing scene for Latino authors. Well, I was remiss in at least one aspect. I implied that Hispanic writers are limited only to pitching the big New York publishing houses or jumping into the self-publishing quagmire. There is another option.

Namely, it is the world of small presses. Now, in the past, the phrase "small press" invoked images of ink-stained loners cranking out bizarre manifestos. Well, you'll be glad to know those guys have moved on to troll internet comment pages across the web.

The small presses that exist today are often professionally run, highly principled organizations that focus on marginalized or experimental writers. And when it comes to Latino authors, we may be entering a golden age. 

I'm talking about presses like Arte Publico, Floricanto, and Editorial Trance, all of which have been doing great work for years. And there is also Aignos Publishing, co-founded by Jonathan Marcantoni and Zachary Oliver.

Marcantoni says that Aignos, and other small presses that have a similar focus, look for writers who push boundaries and challenge readers to question their worldviews. Authors who embrace their distinct cultures -- something Latino writers are well-known for doing -- may find a home at Aignos or a similar small press.

"A small press gives authors the legitimacy of being affiliated with a company, one that is taken seriously by media and festivals and awards, in a way writers never get as self-published authors," Marcantoni says. "Well-established small presses have marketing plans and publicists, plus the distribution channels are on par with what large presses use."

Indeed, I can speak to this issue, as my own self-published novel, Barrio Imbroglio, is selling somewhere between hot cakes and lukewarm waffles.

It would certainly help to have an established marketing team behind me (my current marketing team consists of me and my cats).

Marcantoni says that when it comes to small presses, "the Latino author gets the best of both worlds: world-class distribution, a company backing their efforts, and creative freedom."

That combo often leads to great books. For example, Aignos recently published Nuno, by Carlos Aleman. The novel is a lyrical love story set in pre-Castro Cuba and the aftermath of the revolution. Marcantoni says that Nuno doesn't fit into mainstream expectations of Latino literature. As such, it lines up with Aignos' mission of pushing writers to develop their views and skills instead of pressuring them to make the bestseller lists.

"No one should be a writer to be famous," Marcantoni says. "It should come from a desire to express yourself and touch the lives of others.

So will we see more Hispanic authors telling their unique stories via small presses, touching the lives of more and more readers? Well, there's ample reason to be optimistic about such a future.
"The Latino community can stand out as one of artists seeking to raise the bar of what storytelling can be," Marcantoni says. "And there are publishers out there who will support you."

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