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Hello, hello, hello!

Well, I retired this blog a few years ago because a) after six years of answering questions, I felt like I'd expended all of my useful advice and b) I'd...grown weary of it. :) 

But recently, while listening to a podcast (shout-out to Scriptnotes) that is incredibly interesting and helpful and takes the time to answer screenwriting questions, I thought I might like to revisit this space and pay it forward again by opening up the floor to new questions.

I wasn't sure if there were still a demand for this sort of thing -- when I first launched this blog, back in, oh, 2008, I believe? - there weren't a ton of resources out there for aspiring writers. Now, there are dozens of blogs, and of course, there is social media, where you can ping authors and experts all the time. So I asked some readers on my Facebook page and put the question to Twitter: would this be a worthwhile service? 

And people said yes! So here I am. If we all collectively agree that it's no longer a worthwhile service, I am happy to return to my life of non-blogging. But in the meantime, let's try this again! The publishing world has shifted exponentially since I answered a lot of the questions that were posed to me, so my answers may have shifted as well. And surely, some of your questions have changed too.

I'm in the middle of proofreading my next book, so I imagine that I'll start posted questions and answers in a couple weeks. I already have a bunch of questions from Facebook, but if you have questions you'd like to answer (I won't attach a name, so don't worry about that), feel free to post below (anonymously is fine too). You can also drop me a line on Twitter, which is always great (I'm at @aswinn) or reach out via Facebook on my author page. I can't remember exactly how I compiled the questions coming in last time, but those are probably the best ways to reach me, as my email can get bogged down.

Any and all questions related to books/publishing/any of that are fine. When I used to do this blog, I was still enmeshed in the magazine world, but to be honest, other than celeb profiles now and then, I really don't have much experience in magazines these days, so I don't know how helpful I can be in that arena. 

Let's dive back in. I'll aim to post a couple of times a week, depending on my schedule, and we'll just see how it all goes. 

I'm excited to do this again. Hope you'll join me!


On Giving Up The Publisher's Advance

Question of the day:  I often write with the incentive of the advance. How did you get around not having that advance?

Great question and definitely one that I wrestled with before making my decision. It came down to this: for me, that financial incentive wasn't enough any longer. Advances have significantly shrunk these days, and it used to be that you got a huge advance (for our argument, let's classify "huge" as six-figures), you could count on publisher support. That's not the case any longer. So not only can you no longer count on this publisher support simply because they paid you well, but now...they're not even paying you as well. Advances have been cut/halved/reduced a lot. So that was one factor.

The second was/is that even with a semi-decent advance - once you've taken out agent fees, taxes, and the three-payment system, I couldn't bank my career/this book on these smaller payouts. (To clarify for those who don't know how it works, the publisher pays you in three installments: upon signing the contract, upon approving the finished manuscript and upon publication, and then your agent gets 15% of each installment payment. If you're publishing in hardcover, this might even been drawn out to four installments. So a 50k advance - which I think is a very healthy advance these days - becomes $16,600 for each installment. Then your agent fee (which is well-earned, I should add), takes it down to about $14,000. Then you factor in taxes, which depends on your bracket obviously, but for the sake of our argument, we'll take it down to about $9-10k. And this is spans oh, a year to a year and a half.) So, that's 27-30k of income over 18 months. Certainly, it's money. And I don't want to piss people off by saying that it's NOT money. It is. I get it. Please do NOT think that I don't think that 30k isn't real money. But stretched over that long of a period and at the risk of my book fading off into the night because the publisher didn't do right by it? That wasn't worth the risk to me. It WILL be worth it to some people, and again, I want to emphasis that. 30k is certainly nice money; it can be A LOT of money, particularly in the freelance world, which I came out of. But still, for me, it was time to figuratively put my money where my mouth was and skip this incentive - which is sort of the carrot they dangle so that you keep chasing after them - and change my goal.

My goal this time, quite simply, was to publish the book I wanted to in the manner that I wanted to. Again, I realize that this isn't everyone's goal. And that is totally cool. But I wanted to try something new; I thought I was up for the entrepreneurial thinking this required, much like a start-up. I cared less/care less about the book hitting lists and the money involved and care so much more about honoring the book. 

Of course, like any start-up, everything is a gamble. But I really did look at it like a start-up company. There are no guarantees, but if you believe in the product, you put some money into it and risk not getting it back or not earning it back. As I said in this recent Parade Magazine interview, my goal was to break even, which I understand isn't a very lofty goal, but I had NO idea what to expect. However, because the economics of self-publishing mean that you earn a lot more per sale of each book (70% of every e-book, for example), I knew how many copies I had to sell and thought earning-back was a reasonable goal. What I didn't totally count on (in a good way), was all of these subsidiary rights - audio, large print, foreign that are all now coming in, film. So I've way out-earned my initial costs already. And frankly, I've out-earned what a publisher would have offered me in today's market. (I say all of this not to be like, "look at me, rolling in the dough!" but to offer some perspective.) I think it was much easier for me because I had my backlist and publishing history, but I'm not going to say that I haven't actually been shocked. I have been. It was a gamble, but so far, a really good one. I really can't imagine I would ever do it differently again.


The Greatest Mistake

Question of the day: What early mistakes would you warn against for those considering self-publishing?

This is an easy one to answer but hard advice to stick to. The biggest mistake that I think too many people make is publishing too quickly. When I was doing a lot of my initial research, I'd land on blogs or sites where writers were spelling out their timelines, and they say something like, (paraphrasing here, obviously): 

October 7th: finished the book!

October 20th: Ugh, editing sucks!

November 3: Finished editing! Phew!!!

November 12th: I'm published! Go buy it!!!!!

To me, the most important part of the book birthing process is the revision process. I understand why writers don't enjoy it, especially when the carrot of publishing your book at any moment in time is dangling in front of you. But, erm, you know, there's a reason why self-published books have the reputation as not the same quality as those coming from the traditional system: and that is because many of them simply aren't as good. And you want to know why? It's because (and I'm guessing here, but I'm pretty sure that I'm right), most of them haven't been revised five times, which is about the average number of rounds a manuscript goes through at a big publisher. The difference between a second draft and a fifth draft is astounding. I have second drafts that I'd be horrified to have out into the world. And fortunately, I never had that opportunity because the editor always knew that it wasn't ready. But with self-publishing, it can be terms of it being ready to upload. But that doesn't mean it's ready for readers.

Revising takes time. A lot of time. You need to give your characters time to gestate, and you need to give your mistakes time to gestate too, so you know how to fix them. It's very hard to accept this, especially when you don't have the traditional editorial timeline pacing you. Normally, you sell a book and then you have at least a year until it comes there's no need to race through your edits. Your book comes out when it comes out, and no sooner. But with self-publishing, it can come out whenever you want it to! So it can be even more difficult to ensure that you've dotted your "i"s and crossed your "t"s. But ensuring that you've done this also ensures that you've written a better book. Don't put out a book that isn't your best. Why? Why bother? So you can be published? Who wants to publish something that's not his or her best?

Don't do it. Don't rush. I totally understand why people do. But I really think that's their greatest mistake.


The Agent's Role in Indie Publishing

Question of the day: How involved was your agent in the process of self-publishing? Do you/are you still working with her?

A good and relevant question, and one that I'm getting asked a lot.

To answer, my agent is still very involved in the process. Initially, a lot of the fact-finding, discovery and research was up to me. Neither she nor I had been down this road before, and while she supported my research, really, a lot of the work had to come from my end, since I was the one dealing with the nitty-gritty of hiring people, choosing a printer/distributor, copy-editing, etc. But she was supportive the entire time and certainly checked in and asked what she could to to help. She read the manuscript several times and weighed in on cover art and generally served as an advisor/friend.

Once the manuscript was finished, and the book entered the pre-publication phase, her involvement became more standard to what would happen with traditionals. She pitched all the subsidiary rights and sold many of those she's pitched; she chimed in on the film deal negotiations (I had a different agent for film); she is advocating the sale of the book to quite a few major retailers, which isn't something I can really do on my own as an author. From the business side, she's been invaluable (as always). But also, from the personal side, she's always been in my corner, which has been equally invaluable. Sometimes, when you take a leap like this, you just need to know that someone has your back. She had mine.

Do you need an agent to go indie? No. These days, you can record your own audio book, for example, and while I doubt you could sell subsidiary rights like large print and foreign on your own, these things may not be important to you. They were to me - and my relationship with my agent is also important to me! - so we both wanted to move through the process together. If you don't have an agent or don't want an agent, I'd just be sure to find a group of trusted readers or writers or whomever, who can offer opinions on things like cover art and jacket copy. A lot of times, you don't necessarily see the way that things can be improved until someone else points them out.

But can it be done alone? Sure. I'm glad I didn't have to though. :)


Back In Business. And Is Self-Publishing for Everyone?


So this is weird. 

I haven't logged onto the blog for almost a year. But when I read the last post I wrote, about writing for myself and falling back in love with the craft of writing thanks to the manuscript, it's almost surreal. That I find myself here with some news to announce. 

First, this happened: (Film Deal with Jen Garner)

Then, this happened: (Writer Unboxed piece on Self-Publishing),

And then, finally, on Tuesday, this happened: The Theory of Opposites came out!

Since the announcements, I've been getting a lot of questions about my decision and the indie path in general. So I thought, "hey, why not take to the blog and open it up for a few rounds of questions." I'll start answering some of the more common ones I've been getting, and you can feel free to weigh in below in the comment section if you have others. To be honest, I can't promise that I will answer every last one, and I don't know how long I'll blog for (mostly because I am really tired), but I'll try my best.

To start with:

Question of the Day: Do you think you had an easier time going indie because you came out of the traditional system?

Answer: ABSOLUTELY. I want to be very clear about that. I believe - and will always believe - that there is real value in traditional publishing, not least the experience and wisdom you get out of it. I would never discourage someone from taking the traditional route if he or she was so inclined. I came up in the system, and what I got out of it allowed me to also graduate from it. There are things that you learn via traditional publishers, about uncompromising revisions, about perfect copy-edits (or as near perfect as can be - I still find typos in a lot of books and c'est la via), about design and layout, and just as critical, about marketing and promotion, that I am pretty sure can't just be intuited or necessarily learned by reading about them online. This isn't to say that you can't be a wonderful writer - and a wonderfully successful writer - without the education that traditionals offer, only that I am all the wiser for it.

And I knew that if and when I wanted to take the leap into independent publishing, that this wisdom would be crucial. There is no doubt that it made the book a better book, in who I hired for editorial advice, in who I hired for jacket design, in weighing the costs of production and knowing where I had to sink in money, even if I'd rather not have. 

Then there is also the added benefit of emerging from the system as, for lack of a better word, a brand. (Please DO NOT think that I think of myself as a brand. I'm using this word as shorthand so that what I'm saying makes sense.) One of my primary concerns when I debated this move was whether or not it undermined my, well, reputation, as a pro, and I've been fortunate enough to learn that the leap hasn't undermined me one bit. I have sold the same subsidiary rights that I'd have sold with a publishing house - audio, large print, the film deal, some truly shocking (in a good way) foreign offers. I mean, the whole thing has sort of blown my mind, truth be told. 

BUT. I cannot stress enough that I believe these deals came in because I was a known quantity; I was a known "brand." Foreign deals for indie authors, for example, are rare. But I've had success in other countries in the past (shout-out to you, Germany!), so publishers, much like readers, didn't care who put out the book. They just want a good book, period. (And my agent would tell me here to remind you that part of the reason it sold is because it's a good book. I never say that when I'm asked why it's doing well. She emailed me yesterday to tell me to.) :) So yes, write a GOOD BOOK, that helps.

Listen, if you've never published the traditional route, I can't tell you not to go indie. I can't speak to that experience, of course. But I can say that I don't think the upside is quite there just yet for a lot of newbie self-published authors. It remains very difficult to break out and distinguish yourself, and the reason you DO hear about break-outs, like, oh, say, 50 Shades, is because they're the anomoly. Also, it's easier to self-publish in certain genres, like erotica (omg, did I just type that on my blog?) or romance or the like. Contemporary fiction is not quite there yet. Though I'm hoping that I'm breaking down some of the barriers to get it there.

So. Those are my thoughts. I want to also reiterate that I don't think there is one way to go about this. I have friends who are happy at their publishers and may stay there forever. I also have friends who are miserable and want to make a change. I have friends who are first-timers who want so badly to land a publishing deal, and I have friends who are ready to upload their completed manuscripts. There isn't a right way here; there's only the way that feels best for you right now. I wanted to have as much choice as possible and as much control as possible, so this was my path for now. I couldn't be happier with it. That doesn't mean that everyone will feel the same. 

Comments? Thoughts on whether or not you should go indie if you haven't come up in the traditional world?

(ps - I wrote this in the late evening after an exhausting week. If there are typos, please forgive me.)



On Finding Your Voice Again

Hello. Hello? Is this thing on?


It's been a while since I've been here, sorry about that. 

Part of the reason is because life has been busy since THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME came out last April (and I put this blog into semi-retirement) - I moved with my family across the country, I went about hanging out with my kids and adjusting to a new city and not worrying about all of the things that one worries about when one has to publish a book - and part of the reason is because - and I can say this now that I can look back on it with both a clear head and clear eyes - was that I simply lost my interest in writing books. 

I was both surprised and unsurprised that this happened. Unsurprised because part of me always craves change, and when I lost this sense of urgency to write, to dream up new characters, I thought, "Well, of course. That's you. What's next?"(Hey! I'm in a Gemini!) And I also understood that in this career, burn out almost feels inevitable (though I realize it's not inevitable to everyone). But writing novels can be draining because you put so much of yourself down on page that you're bound to need some time to refill your tank when you're done. So when this ennui made sense. Mostly.

But the surprised part of me knew that I loved what I did...or at least I thought I loved what I did, and that I now mulled over giving it up was unexpected, yes. But mull it, I did. I stepped back and asked myself how much I really loved writing books - or really how much of that was rhetoric telling myself that I loved it. You only have to read a few posts back on this blog to see that I was burned out, and I was let down, and I wanted to step off the push-pull of being a writer and all that it involves.

So I did. 

I told my agent (and I told my husband) that I wasn't sure how many more novels I'd write. I focused on my kids, on the move, on screenwriting (which, for me - and again, I know I am only speaking for myself, requires less emotional investment than a novel), and I resigned myself to the fact that when and if I wrote a book again, it would be many years in the future. Why? Well, I'd be dishonest if I didn't say that in addition to the exhaustion of writing a book, I was exhausted from the uncertainty of what comes after writing said book. Every book I've ever written has been with a different editor (not ideal); I've had imprints close on me; I've had editors leave (many times); I've had major reviews pulled; I've had just about everything. And don't get me wrong - I have also been fortunate enough to have some really wonderful success. But still. How much of it did I really love, and how much of it was me just saying that I loved it? Those are two very different things.

Both my agent and husband said they understood (though my husband told me I was crazy, and ours was a much more complicated conversation than the one with my agent! LOL), and that was that. Some projects have come across my desk that I've expressed interest in, but none really asked that much of me. I knew I could do them, do them easily, do them well, and I told myself that was just fine - I could be a pen for hire, that I'd already proven myself, that I didn't need much more. 

Then, about three weeks ago, I remembered a book that I'd started right before the giant wave of ennui took hold. I literally woke up one morning and thought, "Oh, hey, I remember that manuscript and idea, and I thought it was kind of awesome." It took me two days to open the file. Partially because once you stop writing for a long time, it's hard to steel yourself to start writing; but also because I knew what it meant: to go back and decide to do another book. It meant accepting all of the things that I had grown not to accept, that took hours of sleep from me, that distracted me from the rest of my life outside work: the question marks of the publishing world, the questions marks of editors, of imprints, of sales, of marketing, of readership, of expectations, and of disappointment. It felt like a very big pill to swallow.

Finally, I told my agent what I was thinking about - that a small voice was urging me to open the document and see if it still resonated. She handled me with kid gloves, and said, "Hey, why not just read it? No harm in just doing that." So I sat down, and I did, and it was as if someone had literally plugged my psyche into a socket. Wow. This might be electric, this might actually be fun again.

Those first few days back at writing were painful, brutal. I found myself deleting more sentences than not, agonizing over word after word. There wasn't that familiar sense of rhythm, there wasn't that assurance that I knew what I was doing. So I focused on doing an hour a day. Just to get my feet wet, to find my sea legs. And then, on about day four, instinct kicked in. I spent the weekend obsessively thinking about my characters and their voice and my voice, and I used that electricity to write five thousand words in two sittings. And more importantly, I used that electricity to remind myself to fall back in love with the process.

I don't know what's next. I love this manuscript, and I'm determined to keep going. I am hoping, this time, to shed the anxiety of the publication process, because I think that's where a lot of published writers get lost, get frustrated, get down on themselves, even if they've done nothing but everything that has been asked of them. I am going to try to write this book for the pure love of writing. That's it. There's nothing else to do.

It turns out that I do love writing, I do love my job - it's not rhetoric. It took me some time to figure that out, and the time was necessary for both me as a person and me as a writer. There's no shame in that. I'm glad I bounced back, that I, as I said to my agent this week, "came out of my dark period." Writers write. On their own time and when they're ready to. I'm glad I'm ready to now.



Question of the day: How do you deal with your story ideas that overlap or are eerily similar to another author's? I have been working on a "do-over" book for the last three years.  I just read the website of another one of my favorite authors who was describing a new novel she has coming out.  It is almost the exact same story as mine. I have been literally sick to my stomach for the last three hours since I read her post.  I thought I would ask you this question not only because I value your opinion, but also because you, too, have written a book where the main character is swept back into the past (LOVED Time of My Life, by the way!). One of my biggest fears about my storyline is believability of what is happening to the character, but to throw the fact that I now feel like a fraud on top of it is crippling me to the point of wanting to chuck the whole thing!  

This is a GREAT question, and please know that you are not alone in your struggles with worrying about originality and being a copy-cat. My dear friend, Laura Dave, often says that there are like, seven ideas in the world, and authors just spend their time writing or rewriting these ideas. Which is to say that a lot of us cover the same themes and same stories, but we all hope to repurpose them in a way that's never been done.

Does that always happen? But that doesn't mean that you should quit. For example, shortly after Time of My Life came out, I was told about a book called What Alice Forgot. A lot of readers wrote to tell me that it reminded them of TOML. I hadn't read it, so I didn't know. WAF did gang-busters. Shortly after that, I came out with The Song Remains the Same. A lot of reviewers then compared Song to WAF! And I picked up WAF last week and can definitely see the comparisons. But should I not have written it? No way. I think I put my own spin on the book and (while I haven't finished it yet, so I can't say for sure), I think both books - What Alice Forgot and The Song Remains the Same - stand on their own. 

All of that said, I totally understand your panic. NO ONE wants to be accused of cribbing an idea. But the truth is that unless you share the exact same brain, your book is bound to be different than the other author's. I mean, it simply has to be because you are a different writer. Does this mean that yours will be harder to sell, since she beat you to the punch? Maybe yes (if her sales do poorly or the market for this type of book tightens) but maybe no (it's not as if other vampire books had a tough time once Twilight took off). I guess what I'm saying here is that this shouldn't be a reason to quit. Maybe you'll write a BETTER book than said author. Or maybe you won't. But there will be dozens of reason why your book will or won't be successful - this is just one of them. 

One last note: I used to not read any authors who wrote similar books to mine while I was in the thick of the writing process. I was too worried that I would unintentionally copy them, whether it was their ideas or their phrasing. If there is a book that is already out that is truly very similar to your concept, I might skip reading it, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. Then, I DO think you run the risk of letting that other book get in your head. I've since ditched this rule (for myself) because I've discovered that reading work from my peers really inspires me to get busy writing, but for many years, this rule worked for me, and assured (me) that I was coming up with 100% original work. (With the understanding that you have to go back to Laura's idea: many of us are pulling off of the same themes and emotions - it's what you do with it from there that makes it original and your own.)

Readers - have you ever run into this scenario? How did you handle it? 


How to "Draw In" an Agent

Question of the day: Agents have said they love my concept but they aren't "drawn in."  I wrote it in the third person. Do you think that changing it to first person POV will help?

Without having read the manuscript in question, I can offer an assured...maybe. :)

Is that not helpful?

Okay, I'll elaborate. On one hand, yes, I think that there is no doubt that first person POV draws readers in more quickly and is often (not always) easier for the reader to relate to. So if this is truly your only hiccup, then yes, I'd say rewrite it. On the other hand, "not drawn in" may be agent speak for "I'm just not that into you." Agents are people too, and they don't want to have to be the bad guy and say, "Gee, I really just don't like this," so "not drawn in," may effectively be their way of saying they're not interested on taking you on date #2.

Again, I haven't read the manuscript, so I can't say. If you really think this is an amazing concept, and your rejections are simply a matter of execution - and you're willing to invest the time in more or less entirely rewriting the manuscript - then I say go for it. The only thing I will say as cautionary advice is that sometimes, writers have a hard time seeing the forest through the trees. In other words, perhaps this manuscript was a tool for you to figure out how to become a better writer and not the one you ultimately sell. I have one of those tucked away in the figurative back of my drawer, and let me tell you, I am soooooo grateful that it never got published. At the time, I didn't see it that way. But now that I've honed my skills, I can and I do. Not every book you write is necessarily going to be a good one, and this is more often true of first books. So if you can, try to assess the manuscript honestly and objectively, and if you can't do that right now, perhaps step away from it for a few months and return to it with fresh eyes. If you still think it's as good as you do now, then invest the time in reworking it. The other option is to have someone else read it, someone whose opinion you trust, and be okay with his/her honest feedback. Our critique partners often see the flaws that we cannot.

So...a murky answer to your question. The bottom line is that rewriting it will certainly prove valuable for you as a writer - it will give you the chance to continue to stretch yourself and flex your writing muscles, but just be sure that you'd still be okay in the end if the manuscript doesn't sell. Even after all of your work. 

What say you readers? Would you recommend that she rewrite the ms? Or do you think she'd be better off focusing her energy elsewhere? Has anyone ever rewritten a ms with a different POV and had success?


Finding Online Support

Hi guys! I had some downtime, so I'm back to blogging for a bit as a way to keep busy and continue exercising my writing muscles. I'll post a few questions and answers, and I'll try my best to keep this up until one of my projects gets the green light. So if you have questions that you'd like me to answer, feel free to post them in the comments section, tweet me or post them on FB. Thanks!

Question of the day: Which which writers' groups/associations would you recommend joining? As an aspiring women's fiction writer, I'm not sure if I fit in with many of the mainstream groups. I'm looking to find my tribe, beta readers, and a critique group, yet everything seems skewed towards straight romance, YA, or paranormal/dystopian/fantasy now. Which networks have helped you and provided the most support?

I wanted to post this on the main blog rather than answer it on the FB thread because I'm sure that there are some amazing resources out there about which I'm unaware. When I was heavily freelance writing, I found to be INVALUABLE. Truly. Possibly the best freelance resource and support network around. I do know that many of their members are dabbling in fiction these days, so it may be worth checking out - last I checked, there was a free week of access available to their forums. If you're looking to break into magazines or websites, I highly recommend FLX.

As far as fiction/books, I used to be a member of Backspace, which has a slew of both aspiring and established authors who weigh in and offer advice/support on the forums. Definitely worth checking out. The administrators often have agents and editors stop by and answer questions, which is obviously very cool and provides a lot of added value.

Those are my two favorites. I'm sure that there are many others that have cropped up since I really relied on forums and networking. Anyone want to weigh in on other great options for critiques and overall support?


What Are You Afraid Of?

Happy Friday, guys! 

I wanted to share this piece that I wrote for Monica Bhide's wonderful blog, about the reasons that writers are daunted and/or afraid of writing fiction. I'm so glad that she asked me to write this because it gave me the opportunity to think through some of my own fears and how I got over them.

Click here to read it - hope you enjoy!