A note from your host: I just received this blog post from Toni this morning due to her insanely busy schedule. If you popped in this morning and didn’t find anything about Toni, it’s because I am insanely lazy on the weekends and sleep in until at least 9 a.m. My sincerest apologies.
Toni has some worthwhile insights about being published. If you’re an aspiring writer, like I am, pay close attention lest you have unreasonable expectations of fame, fortune, and a life of leisure after publishing. 🙂 And without further ado, here’s Toni…
When I decided to become a writer…
Wait a minute. I’m so used to starting sentences with that phrase that I forget that not everyone knows the story. I did indeed just decide one day. I didn’t write all my life, like most of the other writers I know. Oh, I was always a story teller, but I seldom wrote anything down. In fact, the only example of actual fiction writing I could find was a short story from when I was five or six. My sister was taking a college typing course and wrote down a tale that I, apparently, dictated to her. I have no memory of this, but found the typewritten page in some of my mother’s things.
It starts out, “There was a little girl and she was out in a hurricane…”
But I digress. Which I frequently do. Like most writers.
Anyway, if you want to hear the story of how I made the decision to abandon a successful, lucrative career as a business analyst in favor of the satisfying but financially capricious life of a novelist, go to my website. The story written there is absolutely true.
When I had the epiphany described therein, I had a few disadvantages. One, I hadn’t written a book. Two, I didn’t know anyone who had written a book. Three, I had no idea what one did with a book once they’d written it.
Lucky for me, I headed down to Borders and bought a copy of Writing a Romance Novel For Dummies, by Leslie Wainger. Amid the many pages of priceless advice was a suggestion that I join Romance Writers of America. Which I did, immediately, and then found a local chapter and headed to my first meeting.
Voila! A room full of experts. This was when the learning really started.
This all happened about five years ago, so when Sharon asked me about the surprises in my publishing experience, they’re all still pretty fresh in my mind.
So, here goes:
Surprise #1: Writers don’t make a lot of money.
I don’t know where I got the idea that major publishers paid well for the books they purchased. Probably from novels, in which the author characters wrote fabulous books that made them the object of pursuit by acquiring editors offering huge advances. I didn’t realize the authors of these books were putting their personal fantasies on the page. The vast majority of the authors I met had day jobs to support their writing habits.
If you want a rough estimate of what authors are getting paid, check out Show me the Money, a web page run by Brenda Hiatt. It’s specifically about romance novels but, from what other authors tell me, the numbers are pretty typical for most genre fiction.
This didn’t discourage me as much as it probably should have. Earl Nightingale once said that “…if you’re in the top five percent of your profession, it doesn’t matter if there’s ninety-five percent unemployment.” I figured I’d take the same attitude with writing, and become one of those authors that bring the average up (I’m still working on that one).
Surprise #2: Editors and agents “read to reject.”
I vividly recall the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when an editor, speaking on a panel, said “When I’m looking at a manuscript, I read until the first thing that stops me. If it’s in the first paragraph, I don’t read the second paragraph.”
Surely, I thought, it’s only her. Not all editors and agents are so harsh. Alas, the rest of the editors and agents on the panel all nodded their heads. “I usually read at least the first page,” said another, who had probably noted the gasps and dismayed expressions from the crowd. “Unless I’m really busy,” she amended.
I eventually learned that all editors and agents receive an enormous volume of unsolicited manuscripts. The more prestigious, the greater the volume. Big houses and agencies don’t have slush piles, they have slush rooms. They cannot possibly get through all of those manuscripts—it’s just not possible.
Once I got over the initial shock of this surprise, it made sense. I vowed that, in all future submissions, that first paragraph would be so riveting that they’d keep reading, and to make sure that the first page hooked them well enough to make them turn it.
Which leads to the next shocker…
Surprise #3: If you don’t have an agent, a major publisher won’t read your work.
Imagine you’re an acquiring editor, gazing across an ocean of slush, wondering if there’s a best seller swimming in there and fearful that you’ll probably drown before you find it. Then, a literary agent calls you up and says, “I have something you’ll want to see.” You’ve done business with the agent before and he knows what you like, and he’d never risk his reputation by giving you something that wasn’t up to your professional standards. You’ve just been handed a life raft.
This surprise was barely a speed bump because, by this time, I knew that agents regularly attend writers’ conferences, where they take pitches from hopeful clients. I targeted an agent who was selling the sort of thing I was writing, stalked her to a couple of conferences, got to know her and, eventually, sent her my work. And got the bestest agent in the whole wide world, Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
She was interested in an urban fantasy novel I had written called Mercy Killing, having just successfully sold another UF series, and thought she could find a home for it quickly. Which she did.
Surprise #4: As often as not, publishers change the book titles.
Oh, I’d heard rumors about this but I figured my titles were better than most. My first sale, which happened more or less simultaneously with finding an agent, was to Ellora’s Cave, and they’d kept my title (Witch’s Knight, by Virginia Reede). And, seriously, Mercy Killing had to be the best title ever. I actually came up with the title first, and then the plot. It’s why I named my protagonist Mercy and figured out a way that she could kill someone.
Imagine my shock when Mira Books told me that Mercy Killing sounded too much like a medical thriller!
The title they came up with, Beg for Mercy, wasn’t half bad, so I resigned myself. And, because it’s a series, I haven’t given up on Mercy Killing. I’m writing at least three more books about Mercy and her friends and, in my mind, book #6 is titled Mercy Killing. We’ll see.
Anyway, it took almost two years from the time that I turned in my finished manuscript until the books were actually printed. I waited nervously because, by that time, I’d already learned about the next item.
Surprise #5: Authors have little or no control over their book covers.
Any number of authors had told horror stories about bad covers and their frustration with trying to get them changed. Cherry Adair had a novel that took place on icy slopes in winter, and got cover art featuring people in shorts. The most famous is probably Christina Dodd’s Castles in the Air, on which the heroine had three arms. Here’s an image: Count ‘em.
Luckily, all of the Mercy series covers have been excellent, but I can claim no credit.
Surprise #6: Only a tiny percentage of books get a hard cover release.
I guess I’d mostly read bestsellers. I thought that most books came out first in hard cover and later in paperback. Now I have another goal on my list—to write a book that a publisher deems worthy of a hard cover release. I’ll keep you posted on that one. So far, I have had six paperback releases.
Therefore, I have learned…
Surprise #7: Mass Market Paperbacks don’t stay on the shelves for long.
If you’re a bestselling author, there’s a little notation in the computer at Barnes & Noble and Borders that when the in-store stock of any of your titles gets below a certain number (probably a small one, like 2 or 3), they automatically reorder. But, for ninety-nine percent of books, not only do they not reorder, but they remove any remaining copies of the shelves after ninety days or so and destroy them.
Yup. You read that right. They tear off the covers (this just makes me shudder), which are sent back to the publisher for credit, and throw the coverless books into the dumpster.
Sniff. The thought of my babies decomposing in a landfill…
I thought that, because I am writing a series, this wouldn’t happen so swiftly with my books. And I was wrong.
Beg for Mercy came out in September 2007, Angel of Mercy in May 2008 and both are completely out of stock everywhere. In fact, Angel was completely gone from the publisher’s warehouse shelves by July of 2008. The publisher has no plans for a reprint, even though the books “sold through,” which means they sold enough copies to cover my advance. New copies of Beg for Mercy, purchased by some smart dealers, are selling for upwards of $50 (original cover price $6.99). Man, I wish I’d bough a garage full that first month.
Despite all of these surprises, I’m happy with the choice I made that day (with my underwear around my ankles, like my website says). I’m sure more surprises are right around the corner, but I’ll figure them out. Check back with me…I’ll let you know.
Where to send your Self Addressed Stamped Envelope to get a signed book plate for your copy: http://toniandrews.com/CryMercyTour.htm
Toni’s Blog: http://tinyurl.com/ToniBlog
Toni’s TV show: http://toniandrews.com/SoManyBooks.htm
Cry Mercy Trailer: http://tinyurl.com/75vl4s
Book Rx, Toni’s “Book Doctor” service: http://toniandrews.com/BookRx.htm
Links to purchase the book:
Mira Books (discounted while they last!) http://tinyurl.com/oe8tkd
Amazon Link: http://tinyurl.com/CryMercy
Amazon UK Link: http://tinyurl.com/prh6ej
Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/pxrx9f
Indigo Books (Canada): http://tinyurl.com/qcycaf
Rendezvous Romance (Australia) http://tinyurl.com/r4g56z