The Entrepreneurial Realities Of Being A Pro Writer With Mel Sherratt

In today’s show, Amazon UK bestselling author, Mel Sherratt talks about her 14 year journey to the dream publishing deal, and how going indie has turned her into an entrepreneur.

In the intro, I reflect on my own year and the dangers of ‘comparisonitis,’ plus I talk about this fantastic end of year reflection post by Dean Wesley Smith on some of the changes that happened for indies and publishing in 2013.

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

mel sherrattMel Sherratt is the author of Taunting The Dead, named as one of Amazon UK’s Top selling ebooks of 2012. She’s also written The Estate series of crime thrillers, and has Watching Over You coming in Jan 2014.

  • Mel’s journey of 14 years, from the dream of the book deal, through multiple agents and pursuing a traditional book deal, through the massive indie success, and then a book deal with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer that has changed her life. How Mel’s dream has changed with the times towards becoming more of a hybrid author these days. She blends self-publishing with the traditional deal, blending the best of both worlds. Mel predicts that more and more authors

Becoming a pro-writer has turned Mel into an entrepreneur

  • Aspects of Mel’s business include some of the production side of her indie books with print-on-demand, setting up her own business, Blood Red Books, liaising with people. She’s been project planning and managing, writing a column for the local paper as well as dealing with her agent and editor. Mel is saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity these days. Her life now is quite unexpected, but it is the reality of the modern writer’s life. She talks about some of the tools and tips for planning and using To Do lists to achieve goals within specific time-frames.
  • We talk about production schedules, and embracing the fact that we are business-women making an income from what we love! Mel explains the books she is aiming to write in 2014.

Writing sparse and then adding layers

  • On Mel’s writing process – planning in advance, then a fast first draft of ~3000 words a day, then in the next drafts, Mel layers the text with fear, emotion and description in order to add up the words. We talk about Stephen King’s advice of removing 10% per edit, but both of us actually ADD words per draft. Mel’s strength is dialogue, and mine is description :)

On multiple agents

  • It’s quite normal to split up with agents (as I did with mine last month), and Mel explains her journey through new other agents before she found her current, fantastic agent. We discuss how there are many agents now who embrace the hybrid model, and how a good agent can be a great business partner. You just have to find the right one, and perhaps the best way is to attract them through indie success.

 For the love of blogging

  • Mel talks about how blogging enabled her to establish the discipline of writing and using emotional resonance to attract people. She also based her blog posts around interviews with other writers, establishing relationships. This uses the principles of generosity and social karma to create a bank of good-will. When Mel was finally ready to launch her own book, people were more than happy to help her.

On writing dark and twisted fiction

  • Mel talks about the themes of her gritty fiction, and how her latest ‘Watching Over You‘ is a psychological thriller in the vein of Single White Female. We also have a chat about being perceived as ‘nice girls’ in real-life when we both write such dark fiction.

watching over youYou can find Mel at MelSherratt.co.uk and her books on Amazon, including ‘Watching Over You,’ out in Jan 2014.

Mel is also on Twitter @writermels

Do you have any questions for Mel, or comments about her journey into being an entrepreneur? Please do leave a comment below.

Is It Worth Being An Author? Truly?

It’s much harder to write a book than people think. Because the words never come out the way they sounded in your head. And it takes a long time to get those words out. Many people want to write a book, but most of them give up because it’s too hard. Today’s guest blogger Dr John Yeoman poses one of the question that all writers fear … are the rewards really worth the hard work and endless rejections?

The reward: creating a world

Here’s a dangerous game. A long time ago, I went to a literary festival and asked a newly successful novelist before an audience of her fans: “Was it truly, honestly worth it?” The room fell silent. Everyone stared at me, the heretic who had made a rude noise in church.

“What do you mean?” The author looked at her agent. He studied the ceiling. “If you mean in money terms,” she said hesitantly “of course, not.”

Gasps from the audience. “But in terms of my self-esteem, yes!”

The audience relaxed.

“Not least, I have the pleasure of standing here before you wonderful people today” she glared at me “so somebody can ask me that damn fool question.” Laughter and applause.

Later, I apologized to her. And she apologized to me. “It was actually a good question.” She smiled. “It took me 15 years to get my first novel published and even that was a fluke.”

“But you’ve just received a $150,000 advance,” I said. “Surely that makes it all worthwhile?”

She shook her head. “I had to write and throw away five novels in that time, more than one million words. On an hourly basis, I’d have been better off working at MacDonalds.” Then she sold me her novel.

No, I won’t tell you her name, though you’d know it. Her novel was turned into a film and she now tops the bestseller lists. She might answer my question differently today. But the truth remains: only a few authors make any significant money from their novels. The upside is, if you accept that truth from the start, it doesn’t matter.

Do authors make money?

Is it the truth? Four out of five published novels by new authors lose money and most new authors never earn out their advance (J A Konrath, The Newbies’ Guide to Publishing, 2011). Fulltime novelists in the UK make 33% less than the average industrial wage (The Society of Authors). And most mid-list authors have to moonlight to pay the rent. (Check the tutors at writing foundations.)

[Note from Joanna. This article is based on traditional publishing, but we have seen a lot of authors making decent money from self-publishing, so it is certainly not true for everyone.]

But there’s another ‘truth’.

From the moment they see their first novel on a bookshop shelf, very few authors would choose another trade. Money or not.

In September 1999, I nearly missed my plane when I spotted my first published book on sale at Heathrow airport. I wanted to stop every passenger and cry: “That’s my book!” My wife had to drag me away. I went on to publish eight more books across twelve years, both fiction and non-fiction. One of them, The Lazy Kitchen Gardener – a work of fiction despite its title – netted me around £90,000 ($150,000) in year one.

Has the money been important to me? Of course. Writing is my principal source of income in retirement. But I’d have done it, money or not. Why? For the sheer joy of ‘meeting’ those thousands of readers who have mailed me, signed up for my newsletters and, in recent years, subscribed to my on-line writing classes. I’m still corresponding with folk who bought my first book in 1999.

That explains the mystery of the Blog Dance. I’d long wondered why authors, otherwise sane, would periodically embark on a gavotte of mutual admiration, making guest posts on each others’ sites.

They couldn’t be doing it merely to sell a handful of books at a few dollars each, could they? Or to chase that will o’ the wisp, an extra point on their Google page rank? The ratio of effort to monetary reward would make no sense.

Then I realized, the pay off is not principally financial. It lies in validation, recognition and self-esteem. Whether a bestseller or newbie, a published author creates a fan club and joins a community of peers. They’ve ‘arrived’.

The respect is priceless. Money is a bonus.

A novelist creates a world for the reader. Then the reader creates a world for the novelist.

So is it worth it, truly, honestly?

Of course, it is! If only so you can attend a literary festival one day, stand on a podium and hear somebody ask you that damn fool question.

What do you think of John’s article? Please do leave your comments below.

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. His hands-on course in story writing for profit can be found at:
http://www.writers-village.org/academy

Top image: Flickr CC / Tomas Fano

Traditional Publishing And Self-Publishing Are Not Mutually Exclusive

I’m getting a little weary of the hype that seems to suggest authors must either choose traditional or self-publishing, and that in no way could the two ever come together.

I also don’t like the polemic that has set authors against each other depending on how they choose to publish. I know this is an emotional topic and people have many different experiences of publishing in its myriad forms, but I wanted to put my thoughts out there and also see what you are thinking on the topic.

The choice of how to publish must be made per book.

I believe in the empowerment of the author to choose what is right for their book, and their business.

I also believe in the empowerment of the publisher to choose what is right for their business.

Some books are commercial enough that a publisher will pick it up because they believe it can make money for them. Some publishers may publish books because of love, not money but the bills still have to be paid.

Of course there are lots of great books that didn’t get picked up by the industry and many authors who feel disempowered by this rejection. Some authors have had bad experiences and have a justified grudge. But some books are just not right for traditional publishers at the time they were queried. The brilliant thing these days is that those books can be independently published by the author and do fantastically well. The author is empowered to publish.

But that doesn’t mean people should stop querying or aiming for a traditional deal if they want to.

I was on a panel on Radio Litopia the other night, discussing the London Book Fair and the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors. In the chat room, it was suggested that all successful indies just wanted a book deal, and if they took it, they were somehow crossing a line. That they were betraying the indie ideal and proving that the establishment is all anybody wants.

But this clearly isn’t true either. There are successful indies accepting book deals, but they are plenty of authors leaving traditional to go indie, but who are not getting reported on.

So I think authors need to be empowered to consider their choices per book.

Is this book something a traditional publisher might be interested in?
Is this book something I want to relinquish control of?
Is this a project I prefer to have creative direction on?

Because most authors write more than one book.

Let’s face it. There’s so much creativity in all of us, and we have years of creation and publication ahead.

I am currently writing my 3rd novel in the ARKANE series, Exodus, and I have ideas for several stand-alone as well as more in this series. My current fiction is probably commercial enough for the traditional market, so I may decide to query it, although I am very happy with my indie sales so far.

I am also working on a re-release of my non-fiction book, How To Love Your Job…Or Get A New One (out in May). There is no way I would query that. Firstly because it is from my heart and the book I needed to write four years ago to change my life. The rewrite contains everything I have learned since then. Also, it’s not commercial enough for them and so wouldn’t be worth it. I believe in the book but I definitely want it to be published on my terms.

Lots of books written means lots of choice.

There are authors already managing the hybrid model.

Joe Konrath is always talked about as an example. He has books with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer as well as his own indie books. Barry Eisler is another famous example, but I’d like to call out several other great authors who are rocking the hybrid model.

CJ Lyons has 16 novels and over the years has been with four different publishers for various books but after looking at her options, she decided to publish some books independently including some from her back-list that she had the rights back for. In September 2011 she hit the New York Times bestseller list with an indie book, Blind Faith, which was then sold to Minotaur. However, she continues to publish indie books, including recent success Bloodstained, currently rocking the Kindle charts at #60 overall as I write. [If you want to learn from CJ, check out these courses.]

Michael Wallace signed with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint in a 5 book deal for his awesome suspense thrillers set in a polygamist enclave. But he also has 8 more books that he has independently published. Michael writes about the importance of persistence in this article.

Recent news has Boyd Morrison dropped by his publisher in the US, but who still has traditional deals in other markets. So he will be in perhaps the unique position of publishing his next book independently in the US, but traditionally everywhere else. Now that is really the hybrid model!

As I was about to post this, uber-author Jackie Collins wrote a blog post about her decision to self-publish. Clearly she has a a lot of books with traditional publishing but in this case she says “you’ve always got to be thinking two steps ahead of the game.” There are a lot of great nuggets for authors in that post. Definitely go read it.

This is actually the model I would like to have. Some books with traditional publishers and others indie published. Isn’t that the best of both worlds?

I am more aware of thriller authors, since this is the genre I read and write in, but perhaps you have other examples of hybrid authors – or perhaps you are one. I’d love to know your thoughts on this, so please do leave a comment. 

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons navonod

Quick Tips On Publishing And Marketing. Joanna Penn Interviewed By PubSlush

In this interview, Erin Eber from PUBSLUSH Press interviews me about publishing and book marketing.

You can watch the video below or on YouTube here. There’s also an audio below the video and text highlights. It was recorded back in mid January and my book sales are over 35,000 now.

PUBSLUSH Press is a full service publisher using crowd-funding to let readers decide what books get published.Best of all, for every book sold, a book is donated to a child in need.

Audio version => JoannaPennPubslush.mp3

In the interview, we discuss:

  • How I decided between traditional and independent publishing for my first non-fiction book, and how I have never queried my novels. Indie as a positive choice, not a last resort. My models are indies who have made decisions to go hybrid/blended or have got deals on the back of indie success. A positive attitude and proving yourself first is a way to a deal. I mention CJ Lyons, NY Times bestselling author as a hybrid (and you can check out our multimedia courses here)
  • On selling books through the traditional publishing model vs indie. First time novelists don’t have a very strong position in the market. Indie is all about empowerment and puts you in a stronger position.
  • What role do authors play in their own promotion? We definitely have to do it ourselves but it’s not just indies, authors in traditional publishing have to do this as well. How Amanda Hocking got a book deal so she could just write but as I spoke, she was in London on a book tour doing promotion. You are the best person to promote your book as you care and you know the details. People will have to make the time to do this. Hopefully you will enjoy the promotion once you get started. The myth of the launch process vs wave promotions over time.
  • What is the best thing a new author can do in terms of internet marketing? Focus on your home on the internet, then on getting people to that. Then you need a list building mechanism so you can capture emails from interested readers. It’s also critical to get book reviews.
  • Long term plans for The Creative Penn? My life is split into two: J.F.Penn, thriller writer and Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn, speaker, blogger, educator. Managing the creative side vs being an entrepreneur. How I diarize days for fiction vs the entrepreneurial side. Wearing the many hats of an author these days. Using professionals and paying other people for services.
  • Pleasing our customers – readers – is critical for commercial success. So if you want to sell books, write in a genre and fulfill expectations of the customers. Traditional publishing is a business as well, and will only pick up books that they think will sell. As an indie, we have more creative potential.
  • The wild west of publishing in the next few years!

 Please do leave your comments and questions on publishing and marketing below.

Traditional Publishing: The Query And The Funnel

I am currently in the air flying down under to Australia and New Zealand. I’ll be in and out of the comments but I have some great guest posters for you in the meantime, starting with Jim Gilliam, author of Point Deception and The Campeche Reprisal.

When your SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) comes back it means your query didn’t make it through the small end of the funnel. If it had succeeded, you would have received an envelope containing a letter from an agent on her agency’s stationary.

Okay, you say, but where does the funnel come in to play.

The funnel is merely a metaphor for the following set of facts.

Of the thousands of books that are published each year only 20 percent are fiction. Yet 90 percent of queries to agents and editors are for novels thus the funnel effect.

Like it or not, writing is a business.

Agents and publishers are forced to go with what sells or go out of business and first-time authors with no credentials are the hardest to sell. If an agent or editor doesn’t think your novel will sell 10,000 copies in the first year, you will get your SASE back with a form letter, a handwritten note on your query letter, rarely a short personal letter, or in today’s mail a polite form letter with a nice handwritten note on the bottom; I really appreciated that one.

Look at it from the agent’s or editor’s POV, they are all inundated with thousands of queries so out of necessity the group has established guidelines that guarantee rejection of your query or if you prefer, the more PC term a “pass” on your work. So if the end result of the query letter is an offer of a contract only a few queries make it through the small end of the funnel. On the other hand if the end result of the query is a pass, almost all of these queries make it through the small end of the funnel–shooting your SASE straight back to you.

The perfect query

Now that everyone is thoroughly confused, let’s address the quest for the perfect query.

First of all, like the unicorn, it doesn’t exist!

The one truism that the vast majority of agents and editors agree on is that this is a highly subjective business. A big amen to that! I know this because almost every pass I get from agents that I’ve queried says as much in so many words. I’ve read over a hundred books and articles on how to write the perfect query letter. These books and articles were authored by agents and editors that are well known and respected in the business. One article, in PDF format was sold on Amazon for a nominal fee and admonished the potential buyer to stop wasting your money on other how to guides; she had the inside track because she used to be an intern at a well known literary agency. Her information wasn’t necessarily wrong, merely a rehashed summary of several articles.

Best information on query writing

Far and away the best little book on query letter writing is: How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman. The good news is it’s free (click on the previous link). The only thing he asks is if you download the book don’t email it to a friend, he prefers that individuals download it from his website. Hey, I can live with that.

One of the things that most, if not all, agents and editors agree on is that the query letter must be no more than a single page.

Another thing that seems to be a consensus is: Don’t start your letter with something like, Dear Mr. Agent, I am better than John Grisham. You may well be, but let the agent find that out for herself. Things not to say in a query letter are legend. So I will defer to Ann Rittenberg’s excellent: Top 10 Query Letter No-Nos . Ann Rittenberg accepts only one unsolicited manuscript every other year. I’ve received a couple of very short, but personal passes on her letterhead from her. Nice lady. If you go to her website you will find a link to her book on writing a good query letter.

With the advent of the computer and the Internet it seems that everyone has written a novel. Yet thousands of would be authors simply refuse to learn or ignore the rules of the writer’s craft. If you’re not one of these, congratulations, you’re way ahead of the rest of the pack.

I recently participated in Joanna Penn’s webinar: 21 Ways To Sell More Books Online. If you did not participate, I highly recommend that you buy a copy of the recording. It will be the best $21 dollars you will ever spend. [Thanks Jim!]

You will get a lot out of the experience and the two things at the top of the list will be her sound advice to

1) Write a very excellent book, and

2) Have it professionally edited.

If you don’t do these two mandatory things, then the fact that you’ve written the “perfect” query letter will not matter.

Query competition or writing competition?

At this point I’ve stopped querying agents who ask that you send “only” the query and an SASE. Now I only query agents who ask for at least the first five pages of my manuscript. I am not in a query letter competition with thousands of other writers, but rather a writing competition with agents and editors acting as judges. Accordingly, hooking the reader in the opening paragraph is an absolute must!

To quote Les Edgerton’s very excellent book HOOKED, the back cover to be specific,

“The road to rejection is paved with bad beginnings. Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It’s just that simple.”

Edgerton’s short story, The Bad Part of Town, begins: “He was so mean that wherever he was standing became the bad part of town .”

Whew! I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to pay attention to someone who writes like that. I commend HOOKED to you. Bottom-line, if your story doesn’t get started until chapter four, change chapter four to chapter one. Noah Lukeman’s excellent book: The First Five Pages hints that agents will read that many pages before passing on your work.

In his delightful book: Stein on Writing, Sol Stein says,

“Today’s impatient readers give a novelist fewer than seven minutes. Some years ago I was involved in an informal study of the behavior of lunch-hour browsers in mid-Manhattan bookstores. In the fiction section, the most common pattern was for the browser to read the front flap of the book’s jacket and then go to page one. No browser went beyond page three before either taking the book to the cashier or putting the book down and picking up another to sample.”

I do it that way when I buy books. Remember your first readers of your work will not be Stein’s “lunch-hour browsers” but agents and editors. That’s the reader you need to hook, not by page five, page three, or even page one. You must bait the hook with the opening line and set the hook by the end of the first paragraph.

At the end of his book Edgerton quotes Mike Farris of Farris Literary Agency, Inc.

“Remember that the beginning sets the tone for the reader. It tells the reader whether you can write, whether you can create a character, and whether you can tell a story. The most important sentence you will write is the first one. You make your first impression on the reader at the start, and you only get one chance to make that first impression. Don’t waste it.”

This statement is pretty much shared by almost every other agent in the business.

In a perfect world …

You’ve written a great book and had it professionally edited.

You’ve mailed out ten query letters plus the first chapter of your novel.

Six out of the ten respond positively and you pick the agent who you think can represent your interests better than anyone else.

This agent sells your novel to Doubleday for a six figure advance.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth. You’re a first time author, with no credentials to speak of and all of your seventy some odd queries have been answered with, “Sorry this just isn’t a good fit for us at this time.” Almost every agent who has passed on my work has mentioned that agents and editors exist in a highly subjective atmosphere, which means that the statistical correlation of your book hooking an agent or editor at any given time is r = 0.25, or no more than random chance.

Well you can get mad, you can get sad, you can give up, or you can go the Indie route as I did with my first novel Point Deception. Whether we like it or not, ebooks are here to stay. Take advantage of that. Follow Joanna Penn’s sage advice and write a great book, have it professionally edited, and don’t waste time chasing an agent to represent your work.

This is the electronic age, take advantage of it. If you can show an agent that your book sold 10,000 copies on Kindle, Book Nook, or Apple in less than a year, you will in all probability be offered a contract. That scenario is much more likely than being plucked out of the slush pile.

John Grisham’s first novel was A Time To Kill. He self-published it and sold it out of the trunk of his car and at meetings of local garden clubs. When his second novel The Firm took off, Doubleday picked up A Time To Kill. Both books went on to become blockbuster movies.

So who needs an agent anyway? I’ve heard of some established traditionally published authors who have gone Indie. True you don’t get an advance, but the royalties are much better and you see them quicker, especially on the ebook side of the coin.

Do you have any stories or tips about querying? Please do leave your thoughts in the comments.

Jim Gilliam is the author of Point Deception and The Campeche Reprisal.

Point Deception’s website: http://www.pointdeception.com.