Is Writing to Spec Selling Out?

Flax is very nearly a weed – popping up volunteer-style just about everywhere. And yet, the blue flowers almost luminesce, making up for everything.

Selling out. It’s the cry of the artist. The accusation of the betrayed fan. I’ve blogged before about whether I think this is a real concept and where it came from. Essentially, for a writer, it’s sacrificing the story for commercial gain. That can mean even the gain of not violating an existing contract. We’ve all seen it happen. Charlaine Harris reportedly kept writing the Sookie Stackhouse books long after she wanted to. I would say that I’d love to have that problem – deciding between writing a book I don’t care about and a multi-million dollar contract, but I think it would be an extraordinarily painful decision to make.

All the same, I think brand new authors, especially pre-pubbed authors, worry about this a great deal. Maybe it’s because the artistic vision, the fledgling storyteller is so very fragile and new. It’s very difficult to know – definitely an acquired skill – how to separate good feedback from bad. Agents and editors famously reject anything that’s too outside the marketing box, even as they ask for “fresh ideas.” It takes time and confidence to know when to believe in a story nobody wants to buy. Because, sometimes, it can be true that your carnivorous shape-shifting sunflower story is and idea that plain should just not ever see the light of day.

The other end of the spectrum is writing to spec. The worst examples are those authors who get into writing particular series, like Vampire Diaries, where they have no artistic control, a corporate ideal dictates the characters and stories and straying from dogma is brutally punished.

As with all things, there’s a place somewhere in the middle. I’ve discovered it gets easier to find that sweet spot once you have a good editor relationship.

See, when you’re a new writer, you’re nearly throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Some are better than others at writing for the market, knowing what kind of thing sells fast and what doesn’t. I have a friend who’s an NYT Bestselling Author who absolutely planned her series with that goal. I, myself, am terrible at this. I tried the same thing, the same approach she did, and my “fresh take” on things is apparently so out in left field that no one has any idea how they’d sell it. So far, I have two totally different novels that have decidedly not stuck to the wall. They slide off into a disheartingly floppy pile on the floor. Sometimes I just let them lie there for a while.

But others *have* stuck.

And there, my friends, is the key.

Because once you’ve sold that book to an editor who loves you (and she will or she wouldn’t have bought your book – my editor Deb recently tweeted that part of her decision to buy a book hinges on whether she loves it enough to read it 4-5 more times in the course of editing, a hell of a lot of love), then you have a relationship where you can discuss the next story. In my case, I don’t have contracts for the next books, so they’re always careful not to guarantee me anything. Which is good for me because I don’t have to guarantee anything either. But they will give you an idea of will or won’t work for them. Editor Grace guided me towards a different word count and essential elements she’d like to see. I wrote Hunting the Siren with those guidelines in mind, but it was still my story. When I mentioned to Editor Deb what I was working on as a follow-up to Sapphire, she pointed out a few things that would make it a hard sell to the acquisitions team. I set that story aside and wrote Platinum instead, which the acquisitions team snapped right up.

Is this selling out? I just don’t think so. Mainly because I’m still writing all of my other stuff. It might also be that I have two fabulous editors who really respect that writing isn’t something that can be controlled and dictated. They give me freedom, but they also give me guidance for the market. That’s their part of the job, as far as I’m concerned.

And heck, at least they’re not cluttering up my kitchen floor.

Is It Really Harder Writing a Sequel?

These are scarlet gilia blossoms – big favorite with the hummingbirds. Such a vivid color.

It’s interesting how each new book I write is a different experience. Over the years, I’ve heard writers make note of this, but I suspect it’s one of tose things that, when you experience it for yourself and it hits home, you have that big “ohhh” moment.

In some ways it’s a satisfying feeling. “I’m a big girl writer now and I get what all these other long-established writers have been talking about.” But it’s also kind of daunting. Because you suddenly realize that you do not have this gig down. That you will never have this gig down. That each new book brings a new set of challenges.

Which is a good thing, right? All that learning and growing and development of craft and art.

This is on my mind because it came up in comments on yesterday’s post and also because I’ve started the sequel to Rogues Pawn, which will be Book 2 in the Covenant of Thorns series. Kev suggested I call it Rogue’s Spawn, which I am just SO tempted to do, if I didn’t think the Carina marketing team would kill me for it. It wouldn’t be inaccurate since Rogue does want her firstborn child – and that’s not a spoiler because it’s right there in the blurb. So, for now, I’m just calling it RP2.

Thing is, this is the first sequel I’ve written. The other follow-ups are same world, same general idea, but new characters, new story. This is the same characters and a continuing story.

And it’s HARD.


Usually I love drafting a new story, but this has just been a slog so far. The first chapter has taken forever. I have to keep going back to the first book and my notes to make sure the continuity is right. It’s kind of pissing me off.

So, I did what every good writer does: I whined to my CP Laura Bickle about it. She cheerfully came back with “Oh yeah – writing a sequel sucks.”

Which took me aback. She’d never mentioned.

“The first half is always a slog. I never feel good about it until I get halfway,” she continued, all perky. “You’ll be fine. Just keep slogging.”

So, now I know.

So, how about you all who’ve written sequels? Can you verify Laura’s assessment? Any tips or tricks?

Or chocolate?

That works, too.

What Happens When You Talk About Writing Instead of Doing It

This was smoke from the Gila fire drifting our way Friday evening. Fortunately the cooler air over the weekend subdued the fire quite a bit.

When I was in college, I imagined sometimes that a TV or movie camera was following me around. For a long time I thought this was a weird thing about me, weird enough that I never told anyone. Later I discovered it has a lot to do with my personality type and a tendency to view my actions from a certain remove. I’d especially do this when I was trying to learn something new.

For example: studying.

In high school, I never really learned to study. Memorization felt pretty much effortless. If I heard or read something once, I retained it. With the possible exception of calculus, but I had a bad attitude there. In college, however, the sheer volume of information meant I had to work at learning and memorizing – and I had no idea how to go about it.

So, I kind of did it like in the movies. I went to the prettiest libraries on campus. I set out my books and supplies. I did everything I could think of to look like I was studying – perhaps a romanticized version of it, but still – and hoped that would do it.

Of course, this was silly. Creating an external appearance does not create an internal process. That took a different level of effort. One that had nothing to do with how I looked from the outside. It’s akin to the temptation to talk about a thing instead of doing it.

This has been on my mind because I notice writers doing this, especially newer ones. Social media creates the venue for the “look at me!” moments. And the support network is great for staying motivated and not feeling like you’re working in a vacuum. However, writers are especially prone to talking about writing instead of doing it. Ostensibly, waxing on about your plot and characters is giving you a chance to think about the story, but every moment you’re talking about it instead of doing it, you’ve lost time. That includes tweeting about it.

I’m kind of amused by the #amwriting hashtag on twitter. Not that it isn’t a useful way for writers to connect. It’s just that, every time I see it, I want to reply “really, you’re #amtweeting.”

My point is, all of these internal processes – writing, studying, learning – occur where no one else can see, deep inside the locked box of our skulls. What someone else sees when they look at you is totally irrelevant.

Magic occurs in the dark, without witnesses.


Networking and the Value of Writing Friends

Forest fire season is starting here and the skies are filled with smoke this morning. The flip side to this is that the sunsets should get pretty spectacular.

We’re also hitting summer conference season. I have RomCon in June and RWA National in July. I was considering DragonCon in August, but decided against it and am waffling on World Fantasy Con in November. For me, it’s mainly a question of time commitment, though going to conventions can be pricey. A lot of writers (or their spouses!) try to parse out the return on investment (ROI) for going to conventions. They try to calculate if book sales increase in proportion to the expense of going.

This kind of math is impossible to do.

A number pre-pub writers have told me they’re not going to a convention until they have a book to sell. I usually nod understandingly, but I usually want to take them by the shoulders and shake some sense into them.

Because you don’t go to conventions to sell books.

You go to make friends.

And, not to sound like a famous advertising meme, these kind of connections are beyond price.

That’s what networking is all about. It sounds like this very dry thing, which I suppose it can be. But in truth, networking is about forming friendships, finding your tribe, developing that extended family of choice. In reality, it’s the least dry effort there is. Those friendships become your greatest support. These will be the only people in your life whose eyes don’t glaze over when you weep over your 49th rejection and who rejoice right with you when that 50th query strikes gold. They will pet you when those edits seem too difficult to contemplate and understand why it’s just SO VERY WRONG that your heroine on the cover is holding a knife. They are also your first and best cheerleaders.

Today, there’s an article in USA Today on the Happy Ever After Blog with a list of recommendations from authors for books like Fifty Shades of Grey. Two of my friends recommended my books – one said Petals and Thorns and the other cited Sapphire. I owe them big time for this and will find ways to pay it back. But I also know I don’t have to, because they’re my friends.

Beyond price, I tell you.

Overplanting and Planning Series Too Close Together

The desert four o’clocks bloom in these random patches, spots of brilliant color I come on unexpectedly while walking. Better than a Cracker-Jack prize.

Well, Feeding the Vampire is now officially book 1 in a new series! My Ellora’s Cave editor, the lovely and delightful Grace Bradley, accepted Blood Siren, which now has the working title Hunting the Siren, as book 2 in the Blood Currency series!

Yes, it’s been a busy week. Funny how nothing seems to happen for months on end and then, boom! all in the same week.

So this means I have two official series now, Blood Currency and A Covenant of Thorns. It’s three if you count the Sapphire and Platinum books, which I refer to as the jewel series – but no one has given me an official series title for those, so I think they remain a looser grouping. None of these are contracted series, meaning I don’t have money wrapped up in delivering the next book by a particular deadline. From what I’ve seen of my cohorts with contractual deadlines, this is a pretty nice place to be.

Still, it hit me last night that I’m really moving forward with three series now. And, if I sell The Body Gift and The Middle Princess, that could bring it up to five.

It reminds me of the advice always given to new gardeners and landscapers, not to plant too closely together. Of course, the urge to do this is irresistible, especially when you have a vast expanse of nothing nothing nothing.You *want* to fill it up with stuff, as much as possible, as fast as possible.

We did this at our first house. We had this very long strip of back yard out to the alley, bordered on one side by a chain-link fence and a parking lot. SO ugly. And we had less than zero money to put in a privacy fence. So we planted seedling trees and shrubs, all along the fence. One day, at the city landfill, David scored a bunch of hail-damaged bushes and trees Walmart was dumping. He came back with a truck empty of gardening detritus and full of a small forest. We planted them ALL. Some died, but about two-thirds lived and thrived.

All this time we knew we shouldn’t plant them too close together. All the friends, all the landscaping books, warned us not to.

But we just didn’t care. We had this great ugly desert of nothing and we wanted to fill it up, whatever it took. We always figured we could deal with overgrowth later. Or let the next homeowner deal with it.

Are you waiting for the moment of Great Regret?

Never happened. It’s funny, telling this story and realizing that we never regretted that for a moment. In fact, when we decided to sell, the real estate agent walked into the backyard and actually took a breath in wonder. Our tiny house had this forested, shady grove in back, with winding paths and sweet feeling of privacy.

I suppose I’ve answered my own question now. I may indeed have overplanted. But I’m not sorry now. I’d be sorrier to have nothing nothing nothing.

I’ll take the abundance with gratitude.

Rogue’s Pawn Cover Reveal!

Here it is!!!!!

Rogue’s Pawn

This is no fairy tale…

Haunted by nightmares of a black dog, sick to death of my mind-numbing career and heart-numbing fiancé, I impulsively walked out of my life—and fell into Faerie. Terrified, fascinated, I discover I possess a power I can’t control: my wishes come true. After an all-too-real attack by the animal from my dreams, I wake to find myself the captive of the seductive and ruthless fae lord Rogue. In return for my rescue, he demands an extravagant price—my firstborn child, which he intends to sire himself…

With no hope of escaping this world, I must learn to harness my magic and build a new life despite the perils—including my own inexplicable and debilitating desire for Rogue. I swear I will never submit to his demands, no matter what erotic torment he subjects me to…

Why Pitching is Never a “Make or Break” Deal

Here’s another shot of the eclipse that you can’t tell is an eclipse. Still kind of pretty though.

This week on the group blog I share with other fabulous speculative fiction writers, the Word Whores, we’re talking about the one that got away. It’s the idea that someone or something slipped through your fingers, an opportunity forever lost, the ship sailing away without you.

And I just don’t believe in this.

More, through my career as a writer, I’ve come to see that there really is no such thing as a lost opportunity. You see this advice all the time from editors and agents, e.g., don’t think your pitch appointment is your make or break moment. This is a difficult piece of advice to understand, because it FEELS like it is. Especially at first.

When I was first trying to sell Rogue’s Pawn (Book 1 in the Covenant of Thorns series! Out July 16!! Muppet Flail!!!), and this was several years ago now, I joined RWA expressly so I could go to the National Conference to pitch my book to an agent and editor I couldn’t access otherwise. I signed up, nagged them to give me my PRO status (if you don’t know what that means and you want to, go here), so I could get the early opportunity to snag an appointment. I only went to the conference for a couple of days – flew in from a day job trip and flew out again two days later, right after my pitch appointments. Both requested to see more, the agent 100 pages and the editor the full manuscript. Afterwards, I sat in the bar by myself (because I didn’t know anyone) and drank a glass of champagne, congratulating myself for seizing the opportunity.

Both said no.

I sat on my metaphorical dock, watching that ship sail off into the sunset without me and wondered what to do. Should I sit there for another year, until the next National conference? What if that ship sailed, too.

Clearly that’s just not an option if you’re not the type who’s fond of sitting on her butt, doing nothing.

So I dug up other opportunities, found many avenues to pursue. I can talk about those sometime, if anyone wants me to. But the point I’m attempting to make today is, I’ve talked to SO MANY editors and agents now, that it’s no longer a big deal. Some of them I count as friends. They’re interesting people with jobs relevant to my field. Some I work with directly, some I don’t.

But there’s no longer this huge charge over pitching a project to them. Maybe it will be a hit with them, maybe not. One agent has now read three of my novels and I know that each time she hopes it will be something she can fall in love with. Maybe that will happen. Possibly it will happen with someone else first. But I’ve talked with her about projects for years now. None of those conversations were make or break.

That’s the thing: ships don’t really sail away, never to return. If you frequent a busy port, there are ships coming and going all the time. The idea that just one is for you is ridiculous and self-limiting. We live in the modern era. There are lots of ways to get to India.

And lots of fish in the sea.

Stepping Stones and Brass Rings – A Publishing Primer

This is the sun setting during the annular solar eclipse. Obviously I don’t have the right filters for you to actually SEE that the sun is 95% occluded, but it did make for interesting light.

So, a lot of you know this information already. If so, you may be excused from today’s blog. Go sit in the sun and have some lemonade or something!

But, there’s apparently a lot of up and coming writers out there who don’t know this stuff, so I’m doing a little primer today. Last week, while I was being the Twitter voice for Carina Press, I saw a question come through from an aspiring writer asking if Carina, as a digital first press, ever then passes along books to another imprint for print publication. The asker was thinking of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and how the book went from ebook to print publication by a major publishing house. She was inexperienced enough not to know what question to ask and came across as sounding like she regarded ebook publication as a stepping stone to “real” publication.

I understood where she was coming from, because I get asked quite frequently if any of my ebooks will get “really published.”

Stepping stones – moving from smaller venues to bigger ones – is the path for most artists. The Beatles started out playing obscure bars in Germany and ended up on American television and playing to huge crowds. It’s a fact of life that it’s easier to get published with smaller presses to begin with than it is with major houses. Major houses have more choices, so they can be more selective. It’s also easier to self-publish than to be published by a smaller press – because there is no filter at all. Among the smaller presses, there is certainly a hierarchy. Some simply publish better stuff than others – because they have more choices and can be more selective. Now, you’re not going to find this hierarchy written down anywhere. And it changes over time. It’s largely governed by where writers want their work to be published (or where their agents want it). Sometimes this is about money, sometimes about distribution, sometimes about cache.

For a long, long time, the brass ring – the big golden prize – was publishing with “New York” or “The Big 6,” now often referred to as “legacy publishing” or “traditional publishing.” This is where the big advances were, the distribution, the cache. Publishing with New York was the literary equivalent of signing with a major record label. You might not be playing stadiums right away, but you had a shot at it.

What EL James did with Fifty Shades of Grey is write fan fiction first. A lot of authors start this way – writing stories based on someone else’s world and characters. It can be a good way to learn, just like a lot of bands start out playing covers. Self-publishing for a new writer, then, is the equivalent to standing on street corners and singing for tips. It’s a lot of work, takes a lot of courage and hustle. Things can absolutely happen that way. Billy Bragg got started that way. But you’re not going to get screaming fans packing the street right off the bat, not like if U2 decides to do a street gig. They have the audience already. The busker spends a lot of time in the rain, singing to no one.

For EL James, she hit lucky. She was a busker who got picked off the street, signed to a major label and is playing to stadiums. (I know that’s a bit of a gloss, but allow me the analogy here.) It’s great for her. It’s also not how it works for 99.9% of the writers out there. In other words: don’t try this at home.

Most writers follow a path more like The Beatles. Lots of practice, lots of tiny, obscure gigs, then better gigs, building an audience, hitting the lists in the UK, then hitting the US. It seems like an overnight success, but only if you’re not paying attention.

The thing is, publishing is all in upheaval right now. It’s unclear if New York is really the brass ring anymore. Moneywise, authors who are not playing to stadiums, stand to do much better with epublishing. The royalty rates are far, far better. No advances, but that may be an outmoded model anyway. Sure, it’s lovely to go to print, but with bookstores on the decline, does that distribution really mean what it once did? People around the world can read my ebooks who would never see a print version.Which is better?

So, it’s too late to call this a short answer, but: yes, sometimes digital first publishers also print books on paper. It depends on the press. But you sell a book to one publisher – they don’t then pass it along to a competitor. The author decides who publishes the book and signs a legal contract. Are some presses “better” than others? Yes. And the only people who can answer this question are other authors. Even then you have to take it with a grain of salt, because everyone wants to spin their own publisher as the best. Agents can also advise on this, but their criteria can be different, so you have to take that into account.

The upshot of all this upheaval is, suddenly there are so many more opportunities, so many rings of different colors and sizes to reach for. It’s up to the writer to decide what she wants.