If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.
I have to admit, our review session crept up on me this time. Every week I provide you with at least one writing tip, and every ten weeks or so I piece together a clip show of those writing tip segments to help you keep things fresh in your mind.
As always, if you have a writing or publishing question you would like me to answer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on Instagram at @writingbreakpodcast.
In putting together this episode, I did choose to leave some of the writing tips out because it was just getting too long. This is supposed to be a writing break, you understand, not a writing retreat. Although a Writing Break writing retreat could be a lot of fun. Where would we hold it?
OK, I got off track there. Now, let’s settle in at the Writing Break cafe and get started on a full episode of writing tips.
From Episode 64
You Wrote a Book. Now What?
Many authors tell me that they only need copy editing and don’t want to engage in the developmental editing and line editing process. The reasons behind this reluctance are usually time, money, and ego. My responses to these excuses are brief:
Time: Excellent writing takes time.
Money: One bad review will cost you more in sales than you would have spent on editing.
Ego: The right editor will fall in love with your manuscript and your purpose. A developmental editor is your assistant, not your boss. (A copy editor is your boss, so it’s okay to hate them a little.)
Let’s review the different editing stages to get a deeper understanding of what an editor does during each stage.
From Episode 65
How Much Do Authors Actually Make?According to a:
If that seems low to you, you do not want to hear how bad traditionally published authors have it. According to a 2018 survey, the average income for traditionally published authors was $6,080 in the United States, and $8,600 in the United Kingdom.
From Episode 66
When and How to Start Marketing Your Book
Some days I think the hardest thing to discuss with authors is marketing. As I’ve stated before, whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, you are expected to do a lot of your own marketing these days.
The kicker is that the best time to start marketing your book is as early as possible. The earlier you start, the more time you will have to build an audience for your book. Marketing your book while you are still in the writing phase will give you a head start when it comes time to release your book and start selling copies. I know you don’t want to hear it. Many authors wait until their book is done to even begin thinking about marketing and are then surprised when they sell a mere handful of copies on release day.
Some authors tell me that they don’t do social media. I can understand not enjoying social media, but we are fortunate to be living in a time when this powerful marketing tool is available to us for free.
In addition to social media, you should consider creating a website or blog for your book where you can share excerpts, author interviews, and behind-the-scenes content. This is also where you will build an email list so you can stay in touch with your potential readers and let them know when your book is available.
You could also make the effort to connect with other authors in your genre, and social media is a great tool for that as well. This can help you build relationships that can lead to getting your book in front of a wider audience. Just remember that these connections should be genuine.
Another way to meet potential readers and booksellers is by attending book festivals and conferences. As I’ve said in the past, not every writer is going to succeed at this. You know your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to face-to-face interactions.
Other free options for book marketing that you can start while writing include appearing as a guest on a podcast or even as a guest writer on a blog or website.
It takes work. A lot of work. It also takes consistency, creativity, and patience. But most of all, it takes authenticity.
If you really cannot stand the thought of marketing your own book, there are book marketing agencies that will happily charge you a whole lot of money to do it for you.
From Episode 67
5 Things Writers Need to Know but Don't Want to Hear
As we venture into the nitty gritty of what happens after you’ve written and polished your manuscript, we should make sure we have a clear view of the ever-changing publishing landscape as it stands today. Here are 5 unpleasant things about today’s publishing landscape to keep in mind, but maybe at the back of your mind—way, way back.
A professor once told me that more than 80% of people say they have a book inside them. I’m not sure where that statistic came from, and I like to say that 70% of statistics are made up on the spot. But it’s probably safe to say that many people feel that they have a book inside them. That means there is a lot of human competition, and now we have to factor in the possibility of AI as competition. Understand that the odds are you will be rejected. Not because you are not a good writer but simply because of the volume of submissions. The rejection rate is high, so you need to be ready to be rejected and keep going. You need to be committed.
Writing is an art; publishing is a business, and that is how we must think about it. Approach the publishing process like a professional and not a high-maintenance celebrity. In addition to building your readership and promoting your book, which authors have always had to do, you also have to be ready to accept feedback and act upon it in a way that improves your writing and helps your career.
You need to write because you think it’s a good idea, not because people tell you to write. Haven’t you ever been sharing something about your life and someone says, “You should write a book?” Do you think that if you stopped, dropped, and wrote a book, that person would even read it? It’s just a thing people say. You are not obligated to obey. If you decide to write anything, it ought to be because that is what you want to do with your time and energy.
Be careful when you encounter publishing advice from established authors. Those starting their career now have different obstacles to overcome than established authors had when they were starting out.
Your best shot at selling a book is to write about what you want to write about. Think the manuscript out thoroughly, and make sure that the final version is the best you can do.
From Episode 68
Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
While there are some publishing houses that accept unagented submissions, traditional publishing typically starts with finding a literary agent who is willing to represent you. This agent will then pitch your manuscript to publishing houses. If a publishing house is interested in your book, they will offer you a contract. This contract will include a number of terms, such as the advance amount, the royalty rate, and the marketing and distribution terms.
With self-publishing, you are managing the entire publishing process and building your editorial team as you go. This includes editing, proofreading, cover design, interior design, marketing, and distribution. Some brave authors even attempt to do it all themselves.
As I’ve said before, I believe the future of publishing is self-publishing. But what about the here and now? What is the better choice for authors today?
With traditional publishing, your book gains access to a wider audience. Traditional publishers have a network of distributors that can get your book into bookstores and libraries around the world. This means that your book has a much better chance of being seen by a wider audience than if you self-publish.
Additionally, traditional publishers have in-house editors and designers who can help you improve your manuscript and make your book look fabulous.
Traditional publishers also market and promote your book. For example, they might send out ARCs to book bloggers and reviewers and run advertising campaigns.
All that sounds terrific, so why wouldn’t you go for traditional publishing?
For starters, there’s the wait time. We’re talking years. It takes time to find a literary agent, find an interested publishing house, negotiate the book deal, edit the book, design the book, prepare the book for publication, market the book, and distribute the book. Some authors work on their manuscript for years, and once they’re done writing, they don’t want to wait any longer to get it out into the world. And some authors write books that are timely and would be less relevant if they had to wait years to publish it.
Then, there’s the money problem. Traditional publishers offer low royalties. Yes, a traditional publisher might help you sell more books than if you were doing it on your own, but they take quite a bit of those royalties, and your literary agent also takes a cut.
And, of course, there’s the control issue. Once you sign a contract with a traditional publisher, you will hand over control of your book. A while back I shared a story about a Vietnam veteran who was told he needed to change portions of his memoir or the publishing house would terminate his contract. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Some authors submit, and some choose to walk away, thereby restarting the publishing process.
Publishers also have the final say on cover design, book pricing, and marketing campaigns. When it comes to marketing, authors often complain that their publishers do not do enough to market their book. Additionally, publishers expect their authors to do quite a bit of marketing as well.
The process of traditional publishing can feel unfair at times, but does that mean self-publishing is right for you?
Self-publishing speeds up the publishing process and leaves you in control of every aspect of your book, including its content. Self-publishing also means you get more of your royalties.
Still, the upfront cost of self-publishing can be expensive. You’ll have to do a lot more project management and marketing, and you won’t have as many avenues of distribution open to you as a traditional publisher would have.
Knowing yourself and what you want to achieve from your writing will help you make the best choice for you right now. Keep in mind that you are not locked in for life to either of these publishing models.
From Episode 69
Is Hybrid Publishing Right for You?
If neither self-publishing nor traditional publishing sounds quite right, there is always hybrid publishing, which combines elements of traditional publishing and self-publishing. For the sake of brevity in this segment, when I use the term hybrid publishers, I’m including hybrid publishing houses, such as Manhattan Book Group, as well as companies that offer assisted publishing services but are not officially a publishing house, such as BookBaby.
Hybrid publishers can step in as early as the writing stage. Authors retain more control over their books than with traditional publishing, but they also receive some of the same benefits as traditional publishing, such as access to distribution channels and book marketing support.
While hybrid publishing will get your book out faster than traditional publishing, it does come at a cost. Hybrid publishers might charge you upfront for their services, take a portion of your royalties, or both.
Think of hybrid publishing as self-publishing with a ready-made publishing team. While it might cost more than self-publishing, it can save you a lot of time.
The important thing to remember is that not all hybrid publishers are created equal. There are too many scam artists out there and even some reputable hybrid publishers that do not let you communicate directly with your editors, designers, and cover artists. That can be frustrating.
Do your research and look for a hybrid publisher with a good reputation and track history. See what their authors say about them, beyond the testimonial section of the company’s website. Whether you want a full-service hybrid publisher or only select services, you should be able to find a reputable company to assist you with the perfection and publication of your manuscript.
Do I have a preference between self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrid publishing? Yeah, but my preference doesn’t matter. Every author should select the publishing model that works best for them.
From Episode 70
Literary Agents and Bestselling Books
Over the past few weeks we’ve reviewed three book publishing models: self-publishing, hybrid publishing, and traditional publishing. For the most part, traditional publishers demand that your manuscript be submitted by a literary agent. But why?
A literary agent helps the publisher, the author, and your work. Publishing staff do not have enough time to read and properly evaluate every manuscript out there, so ideally literary agents will select and submit only the best manuscripts. This is, of course, a completely subjective process, so do not get too discouraged if you’ve been rejected by a literary agent.
Let’s say you’ve gone through the excruciating process of querying agent after agent and you finally find a literary agent who wants to represent you. What will this clever person with immaculate taste in books actually do for you?
Negotiate. A good agent will work hard to get the best possible deal for their authors. Items that are negotiated include an advance, the author’s royalty rate, and the publisher’s marketing plans for the book.
And, finally, a literary agent helps your work by ensuring that the manuscript they’re submitting is an original work, a marketable work, and a well-written work.
How do literary agents get paid? Reputable literary agents do not charge any upfront fees, but they do charge commission. The commission rate is usually 15%.
You’ll increase your chances of landing an agent if you take the time to review agent websites and online profiles so that you query agents who would be a good fit for you, your work, and your career. This is a subjective process as well, and it’s up to you who you query. It is also a discouraging process, and patience is a must.
Just like hybrid publishers, not all literary agents are created equal, and they do not all operate in the same way. For example, some are much better communicators than others, and some are better at business than others. They also tend to operate quite differently. Some might try to submit your work to publishers without actually signing you on as a client. Some might want you to pay for an outsider to edit your proposal, and some might send your proposal off without editing it.
If you’re not really sure if a literary agent is a good idea, think about a real estate agent when you want to buy or sell a home. They do a lot for you…if they’re good. They know what can be negotiated. They know the market. They have all this information that would take you a long time to figure out on your own, and yet some of them are not great and some of them are really bad. And sometimes you don’t know it until you’ve sold or you’ve bought.
When we look at the recent debacle at New Leaf Media, it’s clear that there are no guarantees in the literary agent selection process. You can do all the research and land a great agent who works at a reputable agency, and something can still go haywire. It can be a stressful part of publishing if you want to go the traditional publishing route. I want you to be ready for that and to understand that some things will be beyond your control, as if you need me to tell you that.
From Episode 71
Should You Self-Publish before Landing an Agent?
In a thoughtful article on Publishers Weekly, author Julie Mathison discusses her experience publishing with and without a literary agent.
In Mathison’s case, she sought out a literary agent for years before landing one. Then, a year and a half after being signed with an agent and after receiving many compliments from editors about her writing talent, her manuscripts remained unsold because as good as her writing was, the experts felt her manuscripts were not marketable.
“If I self-published, I would be venturing out into the world with only my own stamp of approval. This was my moment of truth: did I believe in my voice?”
She did, in fact, believe in her voice, and her work won several awards. She is doing well publishing on her own, but she began to wonder, “Would any agent be interested in a previously self-published author? The answer was yes, with the result that now, as I proceed with my production schedule, I still have manuscripts out and conversations in process. It’s the perfect intersection for a before-and-after shot. Once, getting an agent meant my chance to be heard by the world. Now, getting an agent means finding someone who is as passionate about my voice as I am. And if that person isn’t out there? It doesn’t really matter. I’m already on the journey, and now, I’m in the driver’s seat.”
You can move in and out of traditional publishing, you can make your own path, but you can’t do it if you do not believe that your writing is worth the effort. So, I would like to ask you the same question Mathison asked herself: Do you believe in your voice?
From Episode 72
3 Hints That It’s Time to Stop Writing
There is no barometer that can clearly measure when an author should stop tinkering with their manuscript and hand it off to an editor, a literary agent, or even beta readers. It can be difficult for some authors to let go, so I would like to offer you a few . . . hmm, let’s call them hints. Yes, three hints that your manuscript is ready to be viewed by someone other than you.
The changes you’re making are small and insubstantial. It can be fun to tweak parts of the story here and there, but it can also mean that you’ve lost traction on the road to publishing. If the idea is to get your book published, keep the manuscript moving toward that goal.
You’re out of ideas. As long as you still have new things you need to massage into the manuscript, feel free to keep doing so, but once the ideas stop coming and you don’t know what else to write, it’s time to take a break, seek help, or move on to the next stage of your publishing plan. If you are out of ideas but you know the manuscript is not what it should be, it might be time to hire an editor to help you further develop the story.
You start to make big changes that are different but not necessarily better than what you had before. Counter to #1 where it’s clear that the small changes being made are insubstantial, big sweeping changes can feel productive. This is fool’s gold. Be sure that you are not mistaking activity for achievement.
From Episode 73
Generative AI and Copyright Protection for Authors
The Authors Guild has also updated their Model Trade Book Contract and Literary Translation Model Contract to include a clause to prohibit the use of an author's work for training artificial intelligence technologies without the author's permission.
Publishers and online platforms have been adding language to their terms that allows them to data-mine books for use in training AI models. The new clause in Authors Guild’s model contracts is meant to help you fight this. The new clause prohibits a publishing house or online platform from using or sub-licensing books under contract to train generative AI technologies without express permission.
I hope you enjoyed this bonus episode. Next week, we’re on Summer Break. Do something fun. The week after that, we’ll be continuing on with season 4.
Thank you so much for listening. As always, you deserved this break.
If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at email@example.com.
Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.
Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.