Last January I was an unpublished author who’d never worked with a professional editor. I’d just launched my website/blog. I’d never tweeted or guest blogged, produced creative work under the pressure of a deadline, and not many people had read my work (relative to the number of people who would after publication). In short, 2012 was a watershed year of change for me as a commercial fiction writer. Below are my thoughts on some aspects of the process. It is a long post, but there are subtitles so you can jump ahead to subject areas that interest you. Feel free to tell me your thoughts on my thoughts in the comments!
Great to see your story reaching people
Three of the biggest highlights were seeing professionally designed covers for my stories, seeing my book in a bookstore, and attending book signing events like New York Comic Con and a signing with Nora Roberts at her bookstore, Turn the Page. Other amazing moments were having strangers tell me how much they enjoyed the book or the characters and working with a professional editor. I meant what I said in my the Acknowledgements for Dark Light of Day that revisions and edits are kind of like boot camp for novels. The process isn’t easy, especially the first time, but I don’t think any experience – no workshop, book, or class – can duplicate what you learn from the process.
I spent some time hand wringing before my release. For good reason. Some reviews can be brutal. And, honestly, nothing can really prepare you for some of the harsher critiques. But I’m glad my initial reactions to other people’s initial reactions to my work is behind me. I continue to believe that every reader deserves the right to his or her own opinion. And, let’s face it commercial writers, if we can’t take criticism, we’re in the wrong business. But I also know that I’m more relaxed now about reviews than I was just three months ago. And – and this is the really important part – I’m so incredibly grateful for all of the positive feedback I’ve received. The four and five-star ratings and the heartfelt praise is beyond nice. It is sustaining.
Last year at New Year’s, we took a nice family flight to Cape May, New Jersey. The day was peaceful and reflective. I spent New Year’s Eve day this year writing. We still went to a friend’s house later that night to celebrate but my mood this year is slightly more… stressed. I took some time off for the holidays – I think every writer should – but you end up paying for it later because the deadlines don’t change. And when you’re traditionally published, you don’t have any say about when your books come out. (I found out the release date for Fiery Edge of Steel from Amazon).
That said, I can’t imagine self-pubbed authors don’t also have deadlines to meet. They may be softer or self-imposed, but all writers who treat their writing as a business are going to have deadlines. Learning how to manage the demands on your time (research, writing, revising, promoting – most authors say they have books in three stages at all times: the book they’re promoting, the book they’re doing revisions/edits for, and the book they’re prepping/writing) is a big part of a debut author’s learning curve.
2012 had some creative challenges too. To be clear, when I use the word “challenge” I don’t mean something negative, I mean something that pushes you, stretches you, or helps you to grow as a writer. Among the creative challenges I faced in 2012 were: a change of title for the first book in the series and a change of gender for a secondary character (which significantly impacted my main character). Sasha de Rocca was originally another female waning magic user. I hadn’t wanted Noon to be the only one of her kind because I felt it was just too unbelievable. But too many people were confused by it so, after mulling it over for a while, I changed Sasha’s gender. And you know what? Not one person (that I know of) has expressed disbelief that Noon is the only one of her kind. I think it’s a concept we’re used to seeing in fiction, especially fantasy, so it was a good change to have made.
Another challenge I faced was how to market a genre-bending series. Dark Light of Day and the Noon Onyx series is unique. Its core is fantasy, as evidenced by the imprint under which it’s been published: Ace. But there are significant romantic elements and the voice is young. I’ve mentioned before that initially we pitched this story as “Scott Turow’s One L meets Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series” to YA editors. We received some terrific feedback but I would have had to age the characters down and do away with the law school aspect, which for me is a big part of what makes the series unique. And the way some of romantic scenes are written, as well as the premise for how the world came about and some of the themes and concepts, all meant I wouldn’t have been comfortable with marketing the series as a traditional YA. The Noon Onyx series will likely appeal to many YA readers, but they will be readers who are comfortable with the more mature scenes and themes. Bottom line: I was thrilled when my editor at Ace wanted to publish it.
A year ago, I was familiar with Facebook but Twitter was new to me. I didn’t know what I would think of tweeting and, due to unfamiliarity, I was skeptical. My editor was the one who convinced me to give Twitter a chance and I’m glad she did. I’m quite sure I’m not using Twitter as efficiently as I should, but I like it. But I see its power and potential. Whoever first said it’s like a newsy cocktail party was spot on. I like that you can have brief exchanges with people. And that 140 character limit is also a nice exercise for wordy writers like me.
I’m neutral about Facebook. I continue to have a presence there because it’s expected and I want to be able to reach people on the social media platform of their choice. And, at times, the posts seem funnier and/or more personal than those on Twitter. But the constant changes make me leery of making it a significant part of any promotional plan. Frankly, I wasn’t at all surprised when FB started charging to promote posts. I don’t mind doing it for certain things (partially as an experiment, I paid to promote my post about my cover reveal for Fiery Edge of Steel), but I’m not going to pay to promote general status updates and I doubt anyone else will either. Which means the social aspect of Facebook may fade. [I'll also admit that my Facebook presence is very limited, so my reactions may not be typical of other authors with a much greater friend/fan base].
I ended up loving WordPress. Adding guest bloggers to my already eclectic mix of blog topics turned out to be even more fun than I thought it would be. For anyone on the fence about adding guests to your blog, I think it’s definitely worth the time investment. I like getting a first hand glimpse at what other writers are working on and guest blogs tend to be more interactive. The themed guest blog series (Spring Into Summer Romance, Fall Into Winter Darkness, and the upcoming New Year, New Adult series) have worked great for me because both my personal reading tastes and my work as an author spans many genres. I’m looking forward to continuing the themed guest blogs in 2013.
I have a presence on Goodreads but I tend to let it do its thing without much involvement from me. I like to give readers space to discuss my books without worrying about me listening in all the time (although GR readers do not appear to be meek about expressing their opinions! ) The reviews there are passionate and mixed. Despite some negative reviews, I’ve been grateful for the exposure. The Goodreads giveaway that my publisher sponsored for Dark Light of Day led to many more readers hearing about the book than might have otherwise (almost 900 readers signed up for a chance to win 25 copies) and Goodreads continues to generate the most discussion of Dark Light of Day (far exceeding the number of reviews on Amazon or Barnes & Noble).
International nature of blogging
Looking back at the past year, I’m thrilled with this WordPress blog/website. (For anyone not familiar with blogging platforms, WordPress and Blogger are two of the biggest). My WordPress experience has been fantastic. First off, it’s a community, just like Twitter or Facebook, but you can get to know people and/or what they’re into better with a blogging platform. It’s the difference between saying hi to someone on the street and inviting them in for coffee and a chat around the kitchen table. Second, WordPress is free. So, right off the bat, I feel like if I just take the time to keep this site updated and continue to use it as a tool to reach out and connect with both readers and writers, it’s well worth it.
And I’ve been satisfied with my stats. I know other bloggers’ stats are higher, but I’m excited to have reached 99 countries and to have had over 12,000 views for my first year. I’d love to grow my reach, but I’m also mindful that my primary goal is to be a better fiction writer. This blog allows people to discover me and my work, and it gives me a needed creative break every now and then but ultimately it’s a side-show. So when traffic is slow or my stats appear unimpressive, I tell myself it’s okay – especially if the reason for the slow traffic or low stats is that I’ve ignored my blog to focus on my fiction writing.
Book blogs / blog tours
I’ve said quite a bit already about book blogs and blog tours (and that I am a fan of both) so I won’t belabor the point again here. It’s enough to just repeat that I definitely think blog tours are worth it, but the details (whether you use a blog tour company to help you plan, organize, and execute it; how many stops you should do; how long it should be; what stops you should visit, etc.) are the key to effectively utilizing this promotional tool. My deadline for Noon Onyx book #3 falls within days of the release date for Fiery Edge of Steel, so I already know I won’t be doing a big blog tour for Fiery Edge. But I’m okay with that. I think writers need to assess their guest blog/blog tour needs for each book separately.
Some writers have said writers groups aren’t worth the money. I am not one of them. I owe a debt of gratitude to Romance Writers of America. That group is one of the only national organizations that accepts unpublished members into their ranks. Through RWA’s chapters, workshops, and meetings, I learned how to structure a novel, come up with a good hook, draft a query letter, and much more. I met writer friends who are incredibly supportive and, albeit in a round about way, I was introduced to my agent through RWA. I wasn’t thrilled to hear that RWA is cutting the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category from the RITA (the highest award for romance fiction) because I think it sends a message to members like me, who write urban fantasy and other genre fiction with strong romantic elements but who do not write traditional romance, that we are no longer welcome in the organization. But I’m cognizant of my debt of gratitude. Even if I choose to leave RWA in 2013 (a decision I haven’t yet made) I will always be a romance fan. I will continue to support romance authors by buying their books and I will continue to suggest RWA as a resource for those writers writing traditional romance.
Another thing you hear writers question the value of from time to time are agents, especially now that the publishing climate is changing so dramatically. I realize it’s likely the ten years I spent in legal practice that contributes to my position on this (I occasionally met clients who should have consulted counsel MUCH sooner than they did about certain matters) but the fact is, all writers should have a professional advocate, someone who is in their corner no matter what. At the very least, all writers should have a professional advisor or mentor. My guess is that, as publishing changes, the role of agents will also evolve. But my advice to any writer signing a contract is: get an agent or, at the very least, have a literary attorney look at it before you sign.
Reading for pleasure
My personal reading plummeted in 2012. Mostly, it was due to time constraints. This, obviously, is not a trend I want to continue long-term. I’m hoping it’s just the result of being a debut author. As I become more familiar with the publishing process and the industry, I’m hoping there will be less trial and error time (Ha! I tweeted a link to a news article recently that was titled, “Change is the Only Constant in Today’s Publishing Industry“).
Future of publishing
Who knows? I wish I had a crystal ball! One thing I am absolutely certain of is that STORIES will never go away. Storytelling, and its prerequisite – imagination – is part of our collective human experience. What form stories take, how they are delivered to an audience, and how that audience finds them will continue to evolve at ever-increasing speed.
I never miss an opportunity to tell everyone how much I appreciate their support. So, of course, I can’t let a year-end post go by without once again telling each and every one of you how much I appreciate all that you’ve done to support me: all the shares, likes, and reviews. All of the purchases and positive word of mouth. All the visits and views, retweets, and ratings. To all of the blog hosts and bookstore employees, to all of my friends, family, followers, and fans – you are all amazing and awesome!
I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year’s! Best wishes for 2013!