Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Un-American Publisher

Laura Ann Ford not only completed her novel but managed to get it published!  Then, due to unresolved problems with her publisher, the contract was terminated -at her request.  Her book is no longer available for purchase, but she has agreed to share her story with you.  This is an unusually long post, but I wanted you to hear about her experience in her own words, uncut, as a clear warning to those of us who want so badly to see ourselves in print. 

It took me almost a year to finish my novel, and another year to watch it go up in smoke. I was prepared for rejection; that’s just part of the game. What I wasn’t prepared for was the devastation of realizing that I had been suckered into a scam. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was more than a little naïve about how the publishing industry works. I hadn't planned on publishing McCullen at all. It needed work and a real editor. Having heard the story, my grandmother suggested I get it published. Though I had my doubts, I did a search for book publishers. Going down the list of results, I read the guidelines and submitted inquiries to a few. Most of them never responded and others sent rejections. Since I couldn’t afford to self publish, I assumed I was out of options. Then, the call came, “Congratulations! Your work has been accepted for publication.” I nearly dropped the phone on the floor.

I figured out something was off very soon after I submitted my final manuscript. Some unnerving comments had been posted on my website. One of them has remained etched on my brain since the day I read it. “You have just signed on with the Satan of publishers.”

The second shock came the day I received my page proofs. I was given forty-eight hours to review the entire manuscript and notify them of publisher errors. Right away I noticed the title was misspelled. The title page its self was correct, but at the top of every other page it read, “McMullen” instead of “McCullen”. The rest of the manuscript was riddled with typos and grammar errors, which I later discovered were not considered to be publisher errors. I emailed the company with my list of changes, only to be informed that they would not fix those mistakes, unless I paid them to do so. It was my responsibility to ensure that all such errors had been corrected before submitting my final manuscript. Basically, they did no editing whatsoever before creating my page proofs. In fact, the proofs had mistakes that were not in the final manuscript I sent them! Nonetheless, I paid them to correct the mistakes and never received corrected proofs. I waited until my printed copy arrived to see if corrections had been made.

I didn’t even get any author copies. I had to buy my own book just to see what it looked like. I found out later that other authors were given copies of their book. The expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” was meant for McCullen. I was happy with the cover but on the inside it was mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. No revisions were aloud unless I bought more copies, of course. I sold a few copies to family and friends, but I was becoming more and more ashamed of the book. I defended the company at first out of pride and embarrassment, but eventually I kept quiet and removed all proof of publisher identity from my websites. However, I continued to promote McCullen and finally landed a book signing. I was so excited; I even posted a thank you on the company message board. A message they continue to use as a testimonial on their site. A month before the signing, the store manager notified me that he had been unable to order any copies of McCullen, but he would keep trying. We eventually decided to reschedule. The second date neared and McCullen was still not available. The publisher would not respond to his messages. The official release date for McCullen was August 22, 2009. It was not available for purchase, except publisher direct, until December. Even then, no bookstore would stock it because it was considered POD (Print-On-Demand).

I received email after email attempting to bribe me into buying my own book. "We’ll send copies to Oprah, Walmart, the New York Times, and even Random House Publishing." All I was required to do was buy a bunch of books I couldn’t afford.

The last straw came when the company decided to discontinue soft covers, only to turn around and create their own version of a paperback. At the same time, I noticed McCullen was no longer available on any of the online stores. That was it! I sent them an email requesting to have my contract terminated. The answer was no, unless I purchased 50 copies of McCullen! Now, I don’t have seven hundred plus dollars lying around for books I couldn’t use. I never received a dime in royalties, other than the measly one dollar they call an advance, and I had already paid for corrections, e-book format, and author copies! I emailed them again to no avail. I also reported them to the BBB, though I doubted it would do any good. I wanted out of their trap so badly. It had been fun to say I was a published author, but it was an illusion. I’d rather not be published at all than to be under their spell for six more years! And then, for some unknown reason, the certified letter came telling me my rights had been returned, and the contract terminated. My nightmare was over.

By now, some of you already know who my publisher was. I am tired of hiding behind a veil of embarrassment over my mistake. Let me make it perfectly clear, this is what happened to me. If you have had a good experience with them, I’m happy for you, and wish you the best of luck. All I know is that PublishAmerica treated ME unfairly, and I am not alone. I won’t speak for anyone else but there are many others that have had a similar or worse experience. Writers Beware! Do your homework before signing a contract with a publisher or agent. If I had only checked with the BBB or done a simple Google search, I could have saved myself a whole lot of headaches. No one goes from unknown to a bestselling author overnight.

You can learn more about Laura's journey toward publication at  http://www.lauraannford.net.

Learn more about publishers to avoid from Writer Beware - a publishing industry watchdog group that shines a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Fearful Journey

Diane McAndrew is a brave woman.  Not only is she embarking on the journey of writing her first mystery novel, but she had the courage to talk about that experience to a bunch of total strangers - YOU.  Maybe after you read her guest blog and comment on it, you won't be strangers any more.  Here is Diane's experience in her own words.

I was recently asked what it was like to be writing my first mystery/suspense novel. My response to the question was that it was scary, exciting, intense and exhausting all at the same time. If I had an endless amount of space I’d write today about all of them. However, since I have to keep this short I want to address the “scary” part of it.

I say scary because, for me, it is one of the most fearful things I have done. Fearful because, even though I wrote my first “book” at the age of eleven and have dabbled in a lot of other writing since, this is the first time that I have attempted to do any formal writing (not counting school papers which for the most part were generally impersonal) where I have the intention of letting other people read it, critique it, embrace it or reject it. What if I found out I wasn’t quite the writer that I thought I was? I would be crushed! Writing has been one of my loves for so long that it would devastate to find out I was terrible at it!

And, what if, by reading my book, people would actually be able to penetrate the brick wall that I’ve built around me over the years and see who I really am? That thought stopped me in my tracks! I’m a very private person (ask my mom – she hates that I’m that way) and I don’t easily let people in, and this book has a lot of me – my personality, my character traits, my thoughts, my view on the world – in it. Made me shiver just thinking about it!

And then there was the fear of not knowing what I was doing! I had never written a “real” book before and I didn’t know the first thing about it. What if I did it all wrong and got nothing but rejection letters? What if my dream died because of my own ignorance?

All of these fears paralyzed for me for a bit and almost made me quit before I had even gotten started! However, being a stubborn girl and one that refuses to quit anything (and having a very supportive husband who kept telling me I could do this), I decided to just jump in with both feet! I began reading every writing book I could get my hands on and attending as many writing conferences as I possibly could. Both were instrumental in helping to guide me down the right path. Scared or not, I was soon able to push my fear aside and just sit down and start building my book. I learned to approach it like a jigsaw puzzle – I found all the outside pieces (the bones of the story) and then I have begun filling in all the other pieces! And what a challenging but fun puzzle it has turned out to be!

Keep us posted on your progress, Diane.  We can't wait to read your novel!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

5000-Word Days—Part Inspiration, Part Determination

There's a lot I find interesting about fellow author Tielle St. Clare.  She's the author of more than 20 novels and novellas.  She writes hot and sexy romances, typically involving werewolves or dragons. She has lived in Alaska for 38 years.  And Recently she wrote 5,000 words of fiction in one day!  I asked her how one manages to do that, and she was kind enough to send an answer for my blog.  Take it away, Tielle!

I know there are some people who can sit down and pound out 5,000 words of wonderful text in a day and still be smiling when they finish.

Not me. Oh, I can make it—5,000 is such a nice round number, isn’t it?—but to get me there I need a mix of inspiration and determination.

Like many authors, I work two jobs—writing and the 40-hour-a-week day job that gives me benefits. Writing is more flexible, time-wise, so it often gets squeezed around my day job.

I’ve learned that when the day-job starts to take over my life, I get crabby. The voices in my head get louder and to release them, I need a solid, nothing gets in my way, writing day. 

Most days, I try to put down about 1,000 words. Not monumental but it keeps me moving forward.  For me, 1,000 words equals about an hour of writing—though it tends to run a bit long because I’m easily distracted by bright shiny objects like online Scrabble and hunting down book reviews.

Recently, I hadn’t been giving my writing enough attention. I cleared the decks I found a day to devote to writing.

I sat down with the intent to make some decent progress on my WIP.  I was focused on about 2,000 words. It wasn’t a goal, just a number in the back of my head. This was the determination portion of my day. It took me almost three hours to reach 2,000 (remember, easily distracted and there was free wireless at the coffee shop). In the end, I’d made decent progress, filled out some scenes and felt pretty good.

I could have stopped there but I had a bit of time in the evening and decided to spend it writing.

This is when inspiration hit. Nothing specific, no revelations, but the scene started flowing. Words tripped out of my fingers. I was happy. The story was moving, characters were behaving (or misbehaving in my case). I did a quick word count and I was at 4300 for the day.

Determination returned. I was that close?  I was going for it. I remained at the computer determined hit what had now become my goal. The last three hundred words were a bit of drudgery and might not make it in the final version but by that point, I just wanted to reach the goal. 

For me to write 5,000 words in one day is part inspiration, part determination.  Of course, that’s most of my writing days.  Determination gets me to the keyboard and I hope that inspiration comes to visit.

Learn more about Tielle St. Clare's writing at http://www.tiellestclare.com/

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Life of a Happy Ficton Writer

Bryan Davis is the author of three series filled with fantasy, adventure, and mystery! He’s also one of the most dedicated authors I’ve come across. I am very pleased that I was able to get him to take a moment out of his busy schedule to tell us about his love of writing, his approach to creating, and his unusual relationship with dragons.

I am often asked what it’s like to be a writer, and I wonder if describing my life would create a false perception. Based on what I hear from others, I’m an anomaly.

Okay, that’s too formal. Actually, I’m a freak. I’m a possessed writing/promoting machine. If I’m not actually at my keyboard pounding out my third or fourth novel in a calendar year, I’m thinking about my story while driving to one of the two hundred speaking engagements I have lined up for the year.

I love doing this writing thing. It’s such a great adventure. I get to write about my passions, and people actually want to read what I wrote. And to top that off, readers write to me saying how much my books have changed their lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Another aspect I love is being with my family, getting their feedback, and traveling with them across the country and across the ocean as we conduct research and promote our books.

For example, with every story that takes place in our world, I have traveled to the specific locations and explored, including taking fifteen-mile hikes in the snow and walking the streets of Glastonbury, England. And I often take virtual tours through the Internet by browsing photos and reading interviews. Whenever I need expert information, I find an expert and send an email. It’s wonderful how so many people are willing to help a novelist.

One of the most rewarding aspects of writing is being able to create characters. In my mind, they come to life, and people often ask how I make fictional people seem so real. I think the secret is to write a character’s normal way of life before the story crisis strikes. Get to know the character through his or her typical activities. I might eventually cut out a lot of what I have written, but this is what helps me to learn how a character ticks.

Then, when the crisis comes, the character will react the way I have built him, and he will guide the story arc. This is why I never outline a story beforehand. I have a basic premise and an idea about where a story will go, but once I create the main character, I then sit and go on the adventure with him. This makes the story organic and alive, and the character will always feel realistic, because he is doing what his characteristics dictate, not what the preconceived story dictates.

This technique works for all my characters … even dragons. It also allows me to explore the human psyche. By allowing the story to bend to the character’s actions, the character feels truly alive, and the story isn’t harmed, because it is, after all, the character’s story. I breathe into them, and they, in turn, inspire me with their sometimes surprising decisions.

So that’s what this writer’s world is like. I bring fantasy to life in a way that allows a reader to do what I do—go on an adventure with a character who feels real, thereby becoming infused with the same passion that I infuse into the story.

In a way, since we feed each other with inspiration, my characters and I are symbiotic. And since I am symbiotic with dragon characters, I guess I really am a freak. :-)

Get deeper into the world of Bryan Davis at - http://www.facebook.com/l/87953nNtTMftx3YiZ_pGTO3khCw;www.daviscrossing.com

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Silent Moments: Expressing Non-Action in Writing

I bumped into Tim Handorf on the web site for accredited online colleges where he had posted a well-researched list of search engines for serious writers. As it turns out he is a serious writer himself and has submitted this every thought-provoking guest spot reminding us that even action stories can't be action all the time.

Think about what you do every day. You probably wake up, engage in some sort of hygienic routine, eat, go to work or school, eat again, hang out with friends, maybe read or watch a bit of TV. Whatever it is that you do on a daily basis, whether it's humdrum or more exciting, you probably perform repeated actions that you don't really think twice about anymore.

When we are asked by friends or family members what we did during the day, we either gloss over these routines or describe events that were more out of the ordinary--the break-up of a relationship, a boss giving you a difficult time out work, a flat tire, or whatever. The one thing common to communicating life's events to others is that we are always describing action.

As fiction writers, especially if we are writing novels, we are charged with the task of recreating life as it is actually lived. Although we don't often really think about it, life is not simply always doing. Whether or not we realize it, we spend a lot of time not doing anything, no matter how busy we are. We spend a lot of time thinking and processing information about our surroundings. And these moments are difficult to pin down because they are often short, fractious, and they occur in silence.

Charles Baxter, a renowned novelist, essayist, and critic, described this quality in an essay entitled "Stillness", which was included in his collection, "Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction Writing". In the essay, Baxter noted that contemporary writers, whether published or not, have begun to avoid these moments of non-action. He explains that this phenomenon may have much to do with the fact that we live in a hyper-connected, attention-deficit age in which doing or saying nothing is considered almost sinful.

Baxter warns, “If, however, we have truly lost the ability to be interested in stillness, we will have lost the capacity to be accurate about an entire dimension of our experiences.” I think that this is very wise assessment, and since reading “Stillness,” I've begun to watch out for those moments in which nothing much is going on to take note of my surroundings―the sound of a brewing coffee dripping into the pot, the way a particular room smells, what's going through my mind when a friend I haven't seen in awhile rings the doorbell.

Observing these details, however, is only the beginning. While it's not all that difficult to become aware of these moments if you try, it is difficult to be able to describe these moments in writing. One way to do that is to see how other writers have fashioned silence with the written word. In my own reading, Marcel Proust is particularly adept at recreating stillness. It's not only the words he uses when putting silence on paper that I find remarkable, but also the places he chooses to insert these stillnesses. Stilness, as Baxter explains, if placed correctly, can serve to make those moments of action that propels our stories along much more intense and meaningful.

For more information on Baxter's conception of stillness, check out his essay collection or read this recent Rumpus interview.

Tim Handorf regularly writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. He welcomes your comments at his email Id: tim.handorf.20@googlemail.com.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Who has the Rights?

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about Andrew Wylie, the literary agent who decided to start his own publishing company to produce e-book editions on Amazon.com. He started with 20 books which were published before e-books were even thought of. Despite that fact, Random House thought IT had the electronic rights to. This prompted Random House to declare it would no long do business with Wylie’s agency. This was potentially bad news for Wylie’s 700-plus clients, among whom are the estates of such literary giants as Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Ralph and John Updike.

The real question is obvious: who owns the rights to publish the e-book versions of books that were bought by publishers before e-books existed? Wylie was saying that those rights have not been sold and so belong to the author. And if a publisher holds those rights, what kind of royalty should authors get? These days 25% is common for e-books, although if you do it yourself on Amazon you can get 70%.

I can see how this can impact the survival of publishing companies. A lot of money is made from backlist books like Portnoy’s Complaint, The Invisible Man and the Rabbit books, and those books cost the publisher almost nothing to publish now. A couple of classics can make up for a new title that flops.

But as an author, I can’t accept a publisher making green off rights it didn’t pay for. And sometimes I think big publishers miss the point. They are no longer the only game in town. They don’t get to make all the rules as they did a couple of decades ago when the only way to get your book in front of buyers was to either invest tens of thousands of dollars to self publish or to accept whatever deal a publisher offered.

Regardless of how you feel about e-book rights, the unavoidable truth is that if publishers want to stay in business they have to attract good writers and if they hope to do that they will have to make a radical change. They will have to actually be NICE to authors and treat them with a little respect. They may even have to (gasp!) deal with them fairly.