Talk Back: What is a professional writer?

August 26, 2013

On my Kindle: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Talk Back – Tell us how you write!

A few weeks ago the web was abuzz with writers discussing the definition of “professional writers” after a horror writer wrote a controversial blog post on the subject.

Now I don’t want to add to the fire but since I didn’t hear much from writers I know (mostly romance writers) on the subject, I thought I’d come out here and ask you, wonderful Musetrackers:

How do you define a professional writer?

And do you feel the need to label writers in this manner?

I was a little disturbed to see some authors viewing professional writers as only those who are paid to write which basically implies only contracted writers and people on staff at newspapers and magazines qualify.

Because most of us write then hopefully get paid after making a sale or self-publishing, and a lot of us may take quite a lot of time between sales or may not be able to fully pay the rent yet, does this means we are not quite yet “professional”.

And does it matter?

So what do you think? Do you consider yourself a professional writer? What does it mean for you? Is it a question of work ethic or monetary compensation? Do you label other writers as professional or not?

Let’s hear it!

Much love,
Marie-Claude xoxox


“Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down”

September 15, 2011

No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.  ~Russell Lynes

By: Stacey Purcell

I’m sure a lot of you have read about author Kiana Davenport’s trouble with a large traditional publishing house. In case you haven’t, I’ll do a short re-cap. This author signed a deal for a book that she wrote which was due to come out in 2012.

So far, so good.

Ms. Davenport has won numerous awards, been previously published and by all rights is a wonderful writer. She is also a fashion model who lived the high life and spent most all of her money. She submitted and was accepted by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin books. The terms for her new contract were less than what she used to command, but she needed the money that the advance would pay.

Just prior to this arrangement, she came across Joe Konrath’s blog about self-publishing and turned to him for help. With a bit of guidance, she sold a collection of short stories and was successful! She then published a second collection and  the proverbial poop hit the fan!

 “The editor shouted at me repeatedly on the phone.  I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of ‘blatantly betraying them with Amazon,’ their biggest and most intimidating competitor.  I was not trustworthy.  I was sleeping with the enemy.”

Kiana Davenport immediately hired a lawyer. (Good for her!) He pointed out that the first collection was published before she signed the contract, so they turned their attention to the second collection and demanded that she take it off line, erase all mention on the internet about her short stories and that she submit in writing that she would not publish any of her back log items while her current book was with them. (That would represent a good two or more years of her life.)

Can you say straight jacket?

She refused. (Yay!) They terminated their contract and demanded her advance back. They are also holding her novel hostage until she sends them the money. That’s the whole sordid affair in a nutshell.

My first response to reading about her plight was disbelief. I simply couldn’t believe that an established business under the banner of an even bigger company would resort to classic bully tactics fronted by their legal department. After spending several hours researching articles posted by several amazing bloggers (lawyers included), I can say I was wrong. Do they not realize writers have blogs? Stories like this WILL get out and spread like wild fire.

Authors are urged to remember they are “professionals” in most every writing group out there. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it ad nauseum to always be on my best behavior, remember this is a profession, dress appropriately etc. etc. etc. So I ask the question, “How professional was it that the editor screamed at her over the phone? How professional was it that they called her agent offering treats so she would move forward in the right spirit?” I would also answer the questions by saying that they seem to be on shaky legal ground.

I haven’t seen the contract, I can only interpret the actions by both parties. If the publisher thought they had an iron clad legal stand, there wouldn’t be such an emotional outburst on the editor’s part, and they wouldn’t have tried to offer incentives for her to agree to their terms.

“The vice president and publisher of that house called my agent, offering extra little sweetmeats if I would just capitulate and ‘adopt the right spirit going forward.’  This somewhat sinister and semi-benevolent attempt at mind-control fascinated me.”

I think someone at Riverhead omitted the clause about what they would allow her to publish or not publish during the tenure of their agreement. I also think that if all of the above is true, then they are in breach of contract. By terminating the contract and demanding the advance back, on baseless grounds, they are now in the wrong. I believe they are bluffing by demanding the advance back and I’ll bet that her lawyer is telling her much the same thing. **Remember, I’m not a lawyer and am only expressing my thoughts.**

This whole story makes me sad. Not every publisher is a bad guy, some actually support the idea that the author is out there drumming up business and making their presence known on line. It seems to me that it’s a win-win situation and a model that would help traditional publishers stay afloat in this tumultuous time. Scenarios, like this, hurt everyone and I hope that the coming days as the landscape dramatically changes in our business, we will see calmer, more rational behavior from all.

For Crying Out Loud- Get It Right!

September 1, 2011

The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.  ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

By: Stacey Purcell

Do you want to hear a semi depressing number? I read that less than 1% of the books that are published by the Big Six are by debut authors. Excuse me while I sit down for a second. That is a fairly harsh number, to say the least.

Fortunately for those of us still working on getting the first book out of the door, we have options. The publishing landscape is not as desolate as it seemed when I came across that tidbit of information. As you have undoubtedly heard by now, our industry is changing fast. What does that mean?

It means that we have options…if we don’t blow it.

E-publishing has brought us several more publishing houses that are looking for quality work. Companies like Carina, Wild Rose and Ellora’s Cave are offering representation to thousands of authors and paying a higher percentage to the writer. We also have the ability to skip agents and publishers altogether.

Here’s where we start to have some trouble.

The other day, I was chatting with Jenn about writing contests. She noted that there seems to be a drop in the number of entrants across the board. I’m sure the economy is partially to blame, but she also pointed out another factor that is driving the numbers down. As more writers self-pub, they are entering less contests. Whoa! Stop everything! It should be just the opposite..

One of the biggest draws in a writing contest is the final judge for each genre. If you’re a finalist, then your pages are read by agents and editors. Obviously, if you are doing your own work, then you don’t need them. So why enter? In my opinion, if you are publishing your own book, then you should be entered in multiple contests. It’s a terrific way to get your pages edited and help you polish those words. Can you edit your own work? Of course you can, I just wouldn’t advise it.

Listen up people, if you are going to publish DIY, then please don’t settle for editing it yourself. Enter contests, find critique partners, hire professional editors, and just get it right! We have this amazing opportunity to take control of our artistic future and the public is receptive. There are many success stories, but there are many failures as well. I’m afraid that if they are continually disappointed with mediocre, sloppy books, they will stop giving new authors a try.

Even at $2.99.

Even at $1.99.

Heck, even at .99.

When an author puts out a crappy piece of work full of typos, poor spelling and awkward sentences, they sink themselves. They also make it more difficult for me to grab that customer back to being willing to try an unknown writer. That makes me mad. Many of my friends have beat me in putting their stories up for sale first and I watched how hard they worked. Countless hours were spent writing and re-writing until it was their best possible product. They used the feedback from contests to hone their writing style and add more texture to the stories. It didn’t stop there. They had critique partners and beta readers marking up their manuscripts. It wasn’t always fun, but they knew it was necessary. Feedback is essential to any really good author.

This is a competitive industry. Be smart when you make decisions about your career. There are many things we can’t control in life, but the quality of our work isn’t one of them.

This one is just because I thought it was funny!

What Is An Entrepenauthor?

June 2, 2011

Publication – is the auction of the Mind of Man.  ~Emily Dickinson

Do you have passion for what you do? How about drive and persistence? Have you ever thought about those three words? If you haven’t, now’s the time to decide if you want to be a successfully published author or simply one that has your work out there in the public eye- sitting, stagnating, wasting away like a decaying fish on a hot summer’s afternoon.

Some of you might think my opening is a bit strong. I would suggest to you that, like it or not, those three words will have to be a part of your every move if you want to make money. I’ve always maintained that the writing industry is schizophrenic in that you have the great camaraderie among authors who are willing to bend over backwards to help each other versus the business side which is as cut-throat as any Wall Street entity would dare to be. Whether you will be traditionally published or take matters into your own hands doesn’t matter- it’s time that you learn how to embrace what happens after you write “The End” in your novel.

We’ve discussed a few different ways to market your book, today I want to introduce you to the idea of being an entrepenauthor! Trissa Tismal coined that term and I think it’s brilliant.  Once the decision has been made to sell your material, you are a business! As such, the first thing that needs to be created is a mission statement. It only has to be ten to twenty words. It is to focus the needs you’ll meet for the consumer. Is it to entertain? To provide an escape? To scare the living begesus out of them? To titillate them? The key word there is to focus and then make sure you are constantly writing to fulfill your mission statement.

An entrepenauthor has created a mindset shift. Authors need to be in complete control of their writing and publishing destinies, but that means thinking outside of our cozy artistic playgrounds. An entrepreneurial attitude will allow us to make a niche in this industry. Niches makes riches, it also creates a focused market to aim our energies at.

We create that niche by doing market research and positioning our product. Go to your local bookstore, (or online) and find the top five selling books in the genre you would like to publish in. Study them. What similarities do they all have? Dissect them to understand why they are so popular. That’s called market research, BTW. Now, decide how you will make yours different. Darker? Funnier? Shorter, longer? What niche will you occupy?

Now comes the scary part- the marketing plan. This is where most authors, no matter the level of writing talent, fall flat on their face and start to rot like those fish in the sun. We’ve all heard of the J.K. Rowling success story, but it is the exception, not the rule.  Research shows that for every one million books sold, 950,000 of them sell less than 99 books. Wow, really? That’s not much to show for years worth of work.

To stay out of that group, you need to create a road map of the things you need to do to increase the potential sales. Let’s start with the idea of publishing. If you are being published by an established house, then you may skip this step. If you are self publishing, then don’t use your name as the publisher. Create a name for your company. Check to see if it’s already taken and register it. Typically company names end with Books, Press, or Publishing. You can be creative, but make it general enough to give yourself some latitude in case you change genres. For instance, if you write erotica, you might choose Throw Me Down Publishing. If you were then to switch to YA, that might not be the best choice.

You are an entrepenauthor! This week you’ve learned how to create a niche for a target market, how to make a mission statement to focus your energies on creating something that no one else can, and have begun thinking of yourself as part of a business entity.

I’m challenging all of you to think of a mission statement and a publishing company name. What will it convey? If you’re feeling brave, share it with all of us. You never know, your words may inspire someone else to find their own.

A Lesson In Paranoia…They Really Are Watching

March 31, 2011

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.  By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.  ~Mark Twain


I believe that anyone who is involved in the writing world has heard about the incredible meltdown an author had after a critical review. I don’t want to talk about that. We can all agree that she didn’t handle it well. We can all agree that she damaged her career. Enough said.

What I do want to discuss is that I found a few interesting items sprinkled throughout the 307 comments. (Yes, I slogged through every single one.) The first thing that caught my attention was the side argument rippling through over the idea of indie publishing.

What is indie publishing?

It is a gloriously vague term. Being so, it is open to interpretation. Many of the folks felt there was a distinct difference between being a self pubbed author and being an indie pubbed author. For them, the word indie refered to small, independent presses that accepted submissions and then published. Righteous indignation ran amuck when a different understanding was applied. “There’s self- publishing and commercial publishing, all the rest is smoke and mirrors.” Those in this camp think self published writers are using this word to give credibility to their work when, in fact it isn’t good enough for traditional publishing. Ouch, that’s harsh.

Others weren’t bothered with the interchanging of self-published and indie. Many thought it was a buzz word flung about in an attempt for writers to equate themselves with the hip alternative music scene that brought us great music from artists like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. However, the buzz behind the word was that it was still an attempt to bring more credibility to the arena of self pubbed authors.

There were a few who offered a concrete definition for both. “Indie was one who publishes without the aid of any sort of publisher and self-published was one who publishes with the aid of a pay-to-publish company.” A commenter who has a doctorate in language forensics states that terms in culture shift and that direct publishing is now considered indie. It may have been used differently before, but the meaning is expanding and encompassing all meanings- like it or not.

The best comment: “It doesn’t really matter though, no one cares except other writers. Readers just care if the book is good.” Enough said.

Besides arguing over the meaning of a word, a more serious notion was raised. Did she only harm her career? The answer is no. There were agents, editors and other book reviewers that chimed in on this debacle. Let’s start with the agent. “…as an agent actively looking for clients who has the manuscripts of some of the posters here, I have been turned off from all of you. Furthering this discussion is as unprofessional as beginning it.” Ouch again.

Just because you weren’t the one having the temper tantrum, joining in on the condemnation just got you sucker punched. The lesson here is to not stoop to a level that is obviously not professional.

Book reviewers were out spoken when it came to the topic of self-published authors. “I’ve sworn off reviewing self pubbed because I had two writers that did that. It’s a shame, but burned twice and I had enough.”

Readers also jumped in. “You and others like you have long since turned me off to indies forever.” How about another? “I’m now on an all-indie boycott.”  Still another. “This is the very type of behavior that will continue to tar self- published authors as hobbyists.” Big ouch!

What you put out there on the world wide web will come back to bite you in the tushie because they ARE watching. Agents, editors, our readers, book reviewers, librarians, and book store owners are reading blogs, tweets etc. Be professional. Be courteous. Be intelligent with your comments. Working at your keyboard, you are standing on a world stage. Enough said.

Agent ready? Not so fast! Practical Advice for Submitting.

July 7, 2010

Song of the day: Let’s Get It Started by The Black-Eyed Peas

Last weekend, I had the honor of hosting Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency in Houston. He visited with my RWA chapter and offered us valuable pointers on preparing to submit and pitch to agents and editors.

I’m going to share his wisdom and what I learned with you.

Must...pick up...agent...

First and foremost, when picking an agent up from the airport during rush hour in the middle of a flash flood warning, it is wise to leave the house much, much earlier than you would normally.  Don’t leave the agent, no matter how understanding they are, waiting for 45 minutes at passenger pick-up. Okay, now that my PSA is out of the way, let’s continue.

Scott had so much great information; I have decided to break it up into a series of three blogs. Yes, this is my sneaky way of getting you, the reader, to come back. Mwahahaha.

This installment will focus on what a writer should do to get ready to submit. Bless Scott for his handouts because I can hardly read my own handwriting.

Before you entertain the idea of fraternizing with agents and editors, you must be READY. That means you should be ready to present your manuscript in FULL. It must be complete and spit-shined.

You must also treat writing as a BUSINESS, not a hobby. Crocheting is a hobby. Mastering Guitar Hero is a hobby. Collecting freakishly tiny spoons is a hobby. Brewing beer…well, you get the idea.

Nice package.

Do your RESEARCH. Is the agent right for you? Is the publisher right for you? Who is accepting? What are they accepting? Who will read you submissions? The editor? An assistant? The cover artist? The UPS man? Read your desired target’s blogs. Follow them on Twitter. Get to know their personality. NOTE: I don’t suggest stalking. That’s a hobby for the unstable.

Write a good QUERY. Consider this your cover letter. You’ve heard this before. Keep it brief. Include the genre, word count, blurb, and what is distinctive about your story. Don’t forget your writing biography. This is your first impression. Will the agent or editor want to know more?

Write a SYNOPSIS that won’t make them cringe. I can’t promise you won’t cringe, but try your best to keep the recipient from wincing. Three to five pages is good. You’re cringing, aren’t you?  Show the plot. Not the sub-plot, not the secondary characters. Don’t let your hero or heroine tell the story. Don’t hint to what happens and don’t end it with a cliff hanger. That is not the purpose of the synopsis.

Clowns scare me.

Be PROFESSIONAL. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? People forget that writing is a job. A REAL job. You’re not working as a clown for children’s birthday parties. Hey – don’t get your big red nose bent out of shape if that’s what you do for a living. It’s a euphemism. Don’t harass. Agents and editors are not sitting around their offices reading submissions. They are working with their existing authors; making phone calls, attending meetings, editing, etc. They read submissions in their downtime on their commutes or before bed.  By pestering them, you may come off as pushy and brand yourself as a pariah. Word gets around and so does the plague.

Send only what is REQUIRED.  That means the material that is requested and contact information. If sending by mail, don’t forget the SASE. For the love of Pete, use delivery confirmation that doesn’t require a signature.

Be TIMELY. This applies to requests and/or revisions. Take no more than a couple of weeks to respond. This goes back to professionalism.

Finally, KNOW YOUR BUSINESS. Where in the market does your book fit? What authors would you compare with?

There you have it. The basics straight talk from a respected agent.

Next week, Preparing to Pitch.