Archive for the ‘business’ Tag

I won NaNoWriMo….

When you’ve been a professional writer of one kind of another for three decades (which still freaks me out–how did I get old enough to have that much experience?), writing 50,000 words in a coherent narrative during a calendar month isn’t that big of a deal. I actually wrote 71,000 on the official project, and then noodled around with another project yesterday for another thousand words of brainstorming.

However, most people are not sick and twisted enough to have spent three decades putting words down for a living (mostly instructions–I don’t yet make a living wage from novels). For normal people, writing 50,000 words of a coherent narrative in 30 days is a big deal, and it should be celebrated. For all you wonderful people who made it through to word 50,000 by midnight tonight (your local time), major congratulations are in order, along with confetti and a marching band.

You did it. Get your badge, pat yourself on the back, take a relaxing bath and have a celebratory beverage of your choice. You’ve earned it.

Me, I’ve finished a terrible first draft of a historical romance that will never see the light of day under the pen name Val Roberts, because I don’t like the plot anymore and it’s way different from my regular genre. If I can beat it into shape, I’ll probably publish it as Jane Reynolds, which is also a name I can claim as mine. But it sounds more like a historical romance writer, at least to me.

Just as an FYI, Val Roberts is a pen name, but it’s a slightly shortened version of my legal name, in case I ever get the chance to sit next to Nora Roberts. Hey, a writer can dream. 🙂


Writing, writing, writing

Progress report: In two weeks, I have a net gain of three thousand words (which includes rewrites, expansions, and cutting material that is now redundant or no longer part of the story at all). I’m getting there, slowly but surely. I have to get it done by the end of October, because…

I’ve also started plotting work on my “NaNo” book; the story I will be working on in November, as part of National Novel Writing Month (fondly known as NaNoWriMo, or NaNo for the truly lazy). This is going to be something completely different: a historical romance about a duke who isn’t quite a duke and a ruined baron’s daughter who isn’t really ruined.

I never thought I would try to write a historical romance, but the characters popped into my head and wouldn’t go away, so here we are, LOL.

One other thing —

For writers who publish independently: I attended a workshop called the Indie Unconference October 12-13. It was mostly about marketing, but there were also discussions about the latest developments in wide vs. Kindle Unlimited (Amazon exclusive), and the best way to do print-on-demand now that Createspace is no more (may it rest in peace).

Back to the work in progress,


Want to find out when the next book is out?

You can sign up for the new releases mailing list in the upper-right corner of my home page (http://www.valrobertsauthor.com if you’re reading on Twitter or FB).

I don’t spam or send giant newsletters full of “extra content” (good lord, who has the time?) or sell your personal information (squicky).

When I have a new book out, I send you an email with links to purchase, should you be so inclined, No muss, no fuss, and easy to delete if you’re not so inclined.

Okay, my crass commercial message is over, you can go back to your regularly scheduled activity (or, you know, sign up for the new release notices). Should you be so inclined. 🙂



Second in a Series of Firsts–My First Second Book in a Series

The Nobinata Gambit is officially out among the virtual bookshelves, which marks another turning point for me; it’s the first story I’ve written about a character that had already appeared in a story, making it the second book in a series. What’s the name of the series? Beats me. It all started with a novella called “Finding the Briar Rose” which is a Sleeping Beauty retelling that I’m going to rewrite and publish as a freebie next year (early next year, I hope), because I like the characters and they should live somewhere besides my dead-manuscript file. The first published story in the series is The Valmont Contingency.

The Nobinata Gambit is the story of Shak and “Lilo” (her real name is Yuki) after the end of Valmont; they save the emperor of the Empire of Nippon and Allied Cultures from an assassination attempt by one of his distant cousins, with assorted tragedies, murders and goings on, a love story, and more sequel bait thrown in because life never lets you do one thing at a time.

The universe for this series is the area of space colonized by humans after Earth’s magnetic field fails–it doesn’t actually FAIL fail, but it flops poles (again, it’s done it before), so it effectively fails for a few thousand years. Geologically, that’s an eyeblink, but for humans it’s a real problem since the magnetic field keeps out lethal high-energy particles from the Solar wind. Privately, I’m calling these books the Diaspora series. Let me know if that works and I’ll put it on the books I control.

My next title will be Getting Lucky, also the second in a series (my second second book, so to speak); it’s the story of Sasha from Open Mike at Club Bebop and the personage he finds lurking in the sealed archive he’s searching for more information on that tantalizing piece of video Colonel Singh turned up in Bebop. Yes, Sasha is smitten by someone as sneaky as he is, and…Martians, although not live ones. I know, right? More on that when it gets beaten into shape.

However, The Nobinata Gambit has an excellent cover, created by the talented and beautiful Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs (The Killion Group):

The Nobinata Gambit - Cover

  In case you were wondering, you can
buy it here:

Amazon (Kindle)

Barnes & Noble (Nook)


 Sorry, Apple readers, I can’t figure out how to get a direct link to the book in iTunes.

If you know, leave a comment with directions.

The Query Letter

This is another post primarily for writers, but about the business end of things.

Yesterday, @saramegibow mentioned in her #10queriesIn10tweets Twitter feed that she passed on a query, in part, because the writer said agents are crazy. This boggled my mind: Why would anyone put that in a query letter? It’s a business communication, not a manifesto.

Your first introduction to your editor or agent is most often a query letter. When you’re introduced to a person for the first time in real life, you don’t say, “Hey, I’ve heard you’re not as big of a [bleeeep!] as other people in your field.”

At least I hope you don’t. It’s insulting. And a little on the crazypants end of the spectrum.

Okay, quite a bit on the crazypants end of the spectrum.

There are four parts to a query letter:

  • Salutation (why I’m sending this to you in particular)
  • Manuscript statistics (word count, genre, the fact that it’s done)
  • Blurb (enough of the story to make sense and get the reader interested in the rest — not a synopsis)
  • Bio (something about the writer’s writing background)

For the salutation, you might mention you follow the person on his or her blog, or you met at a conference, or you know he/she has bought/sold books in your genre.

You don’t say anything about traditional publishing gatekeeper trolls; it’s not relevant, it’s not polite, and it isn’t going to make this person disposed toward working with you. Period.

For the statistics, all you need to say is “Best Book Evah (your title) is a [genre genre], complete at [computer wordcount] words.” That’s it.

And please don’t say “fiction novel” — you can get away with “science-fiction novel” or possibly “womens-fiction novel” if you hyphenate it. Otherwise, they will giggle at your redundancy; these are word people, and we word people find that sort of faux pas amusing.

The blurb is where you put your version of back-cover copy. Beware, you want to sweat over this, because a) it can make the difference between a request and a pass, and b) when you sell, the production team might just use it as the basis for the real back cover copy. I have had that happen to me. I suck at back-cover copy for my own books, so this is a little worrisome.

Please note that a blurb is not the same as a pitch or a synopsis. A pitch is generally one sentence, something you can blurt out between floors in an elevator, particularly if you’re terrified at the time.

A synopsis is a high-level summary of the entire manuscript (including the entire plot, character arc(s), and voice of the manuscript, if you’re good), usually 3-5 pages long.

It won’t fit in a one-page query, but many editors and agents would like to see it with the query, so write it to go with the query. Sweat over this one, too. It’s how you prove you can write a character and structure a story. Again, when you sell, the publisher is going to use the synopsis in production, giving it to the cover artist, the blurbist, the sales force.

The last part of a query letter is the writer’s bio. This is the place to mention that you have an MFA, or you’re a member of a professional organization such as RWA, or if you’ve had books published. You can also mention self-published titles, particularly if they’ve sold well.

Agents and editors will do an internet search on you if they’re interested in your work, so if you put a link to a professional-grade website or blog, or a social media handle, that’s okay, too. You might want to skip the Facebook profile with naughty photos or the twitter handle @gross-stuff.

Once upon a time (the 1980s), I was the college student who copy-edited and typed a children’s book manuscript for a lovely senior citizen. She also asked me to look at her query letter; I was appalled, because she was sending her checking account number to Vantage Press (a venerable “vanity publisher”). In a query letter.

Please don’t do that; it scares me. Yes, I talked her out of it, but it wasn’t easy. And it was in the vicinity of 30 years ago, so probably slightly less dangerous than it would be today. Still.

Be careful with those query letters.

Marketing: When is it squicky?

Writers have heard for years they have to brand, they have to be “discoverable” and they have to market, Market, MARKET their own work because nobody else is going to do it for them.

I’m here to say there are times and places to turn it off. For example, I belong to the Romance Writers of America professional organization, which costs me US$95 per year. I belong to several chapters within that organization, including a couple of special interest chapters, which all charge US$20-US$30 per year in dues.

For any individual listserv, I’m pretty much paying US$50 a year for the privilege of getting e-mails. At least two of the chapters I belong to have a promo/marketing problem on their listservs/Yahoo groups. Frankly, it smacks of personal injury attorneys handing out business cards at a Bar Association meeting. Squicky.

I work closely with sales and marketing people in my day job (pretty much, I am the marketing communications department at my small company), so I deal with message, urgency, and spin — a lot. I know all the tricks, and I don’t like it when they’re used inappropriately.

So what do I mean by promo/marketing? This:

  • “I just posted to my blog about (insert subject), so click this link to read it.”
  • “I entered this esoteric contest you’ve never heard of and I’m blatantly soliciting votes.”
  • “Congratulations!” or “I commented on your blog!” (followed by a 20-line signature that includes multiple book covers and an author blurb) — this one looks particularly desperate, which is extra squicky.

Basically, marketing is anything that demands an action from me: give you blog traffic; give you support; give you more attention than your words merit; buy, buy, buy your book(s). Greasy-leer, sweaty-palm, used-car-salesman-with-matching-white-belt-and-shoes squicky. Note: Not all used-car salesmen are squicky. I’ll bet you know the ones I mean.

What’s not squicky?

Class is never squicky. Write thoughtfully about interesting topics and have a discreet link in your signature (that is four lines, maximum, with no graphics) and I’ll probably click it and read about your books.

For example, if your new blog post is so fascinating you want to promote it, post it to the list as well as your blog. Discuss it with your colleagues, using full sentences and words (textspeak on an email list is definitely more squicky than classy).

Be polite. Be interesting. Have ideas. I know, that takes time and we don’t have time because we’re on the social-media-marketing hamster wheel. So get off the wheel; it’s probably the leading cause of squick. I’m a lot more likely to tell my tribe about your new title if I know you as classy, thoughtful, polite, and interesting.

Even if it’s a humorous YA vampire mystery romance I’m most likely never going to read (sorry, YA vampire romances aren’t my thing, even if they have funny mysteries attached), I have friends who love that premise and would also love to find a new author. Just not a squicky one.

Viva La Revolution Digital!

I wrote this for a local writing group’s newsletter and I thought it might be nice to post it to my blog, too. Enjoy!

As I write this, 19 of the top 50 USA Today bestseller list titles are selling better in digital format than in hardcopy for the third week in a row.

Figures cited in January 2011 peg digital books as 9 percent of the trade book market. At the end of July 2010 they were five percent of the market. That’s now fast this “new” book format is growing.

So what is a digital book? Well, it’s pretty much the electronic file a publisher would send to its printing plant to produce a physical book. This means it has been written, revised, edited, copy edited, formatted proofread and galley-proofed. A cover has been designed. Jacket or back-cover copy has been written and an author photo has been taken.

Quotes have been obtained from other authors and an author bio has been written or edited. Catalog copy has been written, a website listing has been created. All of the things that have to happen for a hardcopy book to get to the ink-and-paper stage have been done.

It’s ready for printing—or for conversion to E-pub, PDF, Mobi or some other electronic format suitable for reading on a computer screen, a cell phone, an I-Pad or a dedicated e-reader.

What’s in it for you as a reader? Less expensive books. Yes, you have to invest in a reading device (unless you already have a smart phone or can read on a computer), but you can buy books pretty much anywhere, anytime.

Many publishers set digital book prices slightly lower than physical book prices, and if you’re an online bookstore patron, you don’t have shipping charges added to the total.

And that’s the digital publishing revolution from the reading point of view.

From the writing point of view, there’s a lot more involved. For example, digital-first publishers like Carina (the digital-first division of Harlequin) don’t pay advances. They pay higher royalty rates than regular publishers and get the books to stores considerably faster.

My book came out from a digital-first publisher, Samhain Publishing; I signed the contract on Saint Patrick’s day 2009 and received my first royalty payment in mid-October of that year.

New York publishers generally get books into print 12-18 months after the contract is signed. And they break advance payments into several portions: part on signing the contract, part on manuscript acceptance after editorial revisions, and the final portion when the book hits bookstores.

The royalty rate for my publisher is 40% of cover price on digital books purchased from their website and 30% on digital books purchased from a third party website, such as amazon.com.

Standard royalty rates for digital books from New York publishing houses are, well, lower than that. Most houses are trying to make 25 percent on net the standard, with net being the amount the publishing house gets for the book. However, the payments are comparable to hardcopy versions.

Of course, to them it’s still only a small percentage of the market. Or it was until a few weeks ago, when the bestsellers started selling more digital copies than paper copies.

The market is in flux, the method of payment is in flux and the role of big publishers is in flux. Writers still create stories and readers still consume them. At least some things don’t change, even in the midst of revolution.

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