Are Debut Authors Getting Publishing Deals?

 I found this question in a thread in one of my writing groups. (I love this group–they really hit on the pertinent subjects). There were a lot of answers, but I noticed that the majority of them answered by saying that there were big six and seven-figure deals that had currently been made, and they cited the names of the authors. I think I saw a total of three. Obviously, these posters and the OP were thinking about the Big-5 houses since you rarely see any advances in the small and independent presses. I know that my agent has had to go after my small press deals with a knife in one hand and a money bag in the other. Most small presses won’t bend for an advance, but some will, depending upon how badly they want your book. If the agent doesn’t get the amount they’re looking for they usually write-in much higher royalty rates and retain more rights. My agent is a magician when it comes to amending or rewriting contracts in our favor.

I only have the free addition of Publisher’s Market Place, which does list recent deals, and some of them include debut authors. Yet I continually see the deals announced as “New Your Times Best Seller List” and “USA Best-Selling Author” inks deal with so and so for this much, repped by big-name agent. I do not see that many debut deals announced. I sure haven’t seen tons in the past three years or so, or especially recently in the past six months as a result of this pandemic. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, and the posters were correct in answering in the positive. But I know for sure it’s happening less and less. 

This was my answer:

I just know that all my small press and independent publishers are suffering. Many authors are without sales or reviews–they’re not even on the boards. Myself and a few others are doing better but we’re in poor shape compared to what we used to do. Really poor shape. Yet I will support my small press publishers with my last dying breath. Their task is a labor of love, with a wish that they can stay alive and profitable so they can bring new talent and great books to the masses. 

I still believe the Big-5 are ambulance chasers when they seek out and buy debut authors. Wool, Twilight, 50 Shades had huge appeal and readers before the big houses woke up and smelt the coffee. New authors might be grabbing the golden tickets, but you have to admit that they are far, few and in between. More than ever, I’m researching these huge author deals and discovering the histories of these authors and these books. In one form or another, they have appeal with some kind of track record or platform behind them. Suzy ala The Hunger Games, was already connected up in the industry before she hit it big–and yes, admittedly a great book/series. Look at the story behind The Martian.

It’s not the editors or CEO of the publishing house who determines a purchase. It’s the marketing department, and they nearly, singularly run the entire show. The exception would be a totally breakout novel sold by an A-list agent, where the author had no credits, no fan base, virtually no footprint or platform in the industry. A book that gets six and seven figure deals without that type of support is an extreme outlier. Or all the galaxies are inline in their favor!

My agent is having difficulty getting responses from the Big 5, and it’s been one of her, and her fellow agents, biggest complaints. A-list and celebrity authors are dominating and filling the slots, especially with on-going series that seem to have no end. Those are marketing department decisions–strictly business. Admittedly, there are a hell of a lot of goofs with lofty advances and tepid sales, but the vast majority of the “in-house” best-sellers keep the lights on. Again, marketing. Again, business. Which  =  math and numbers, sell-through, production costs, advertising and distribution. 

These debut block-busting authors MUST appeal in some way (other than a great tome)–they have something else going for them, because the authors themselves are a selling point. That’s why name branding is so important. Age, gender, race, religion, topical/political stance and such things, all play into the package. Case in point–Eragon. Heavens! Christopher was More marketable than the book! If that book had NO campaign (launched by the help of his parents BTW) do you think that book would have ever had a chance or gotten the deal that it did? Marketing saw that one coming like a freight train. Kid writes epic fantasy, dresses up the part and visits schools to do readings! The AP wires caught on fire. Marketing (of big name publishing house) realized that half of their job had already been done. It was only necessary to shove the kid and his book to the moon–he was already in the stratosphere.

The (cited) article mentions an uptick in reading and increased sales. Oh yeah? Maybe for Random House, and maybe for certain categories and genres, but how about a huge poll that involves all other publishers great and small? Lets include all trad publishers other than the monsters and see how they stand on that issue. She (CEO Random House) says that people are tiring of Netflix and resorting to books, whereas I see the opposite across the wider spectrum. Huge movie and game-streaming. Are people really reading more now?

Not to be a Danny Downer here; just saying that there is so, so much more in bringing a book to break-out/best-seller status than just exceptional words on a page. Whenever I hear the old adage, “Write a great book that everyone will want to read and it will sell”, I cringe. And I believe  this forum knows what I’m talking about more than any other. Our true masterpieces, our hard-gained brilliance, even, has been squashed so many times it’s a wonder we haven’t all had massive strokes from elevated blood pressure. When they say that this business is 99.999% rejection, they had us in mind.

That was my contribution to the discussion. That was my take on what I was seeing. I really hadn’t said anything new. 

Slots are also filled seasonally. Although there are no strict adherence guidelines, you can just about guess which season a debut author who writes like King or Cartland might end up in.

Fall: August or September through November.
Winter: December through March.
Spring/Summer: April through July or August.

Liz S, Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, states:

“The Obvious (with a few caveats): This is all about promotional opportunities surrounding holidays and other special events. Books about Back to School and Halloween should pub in the Fall season, right? Not so fast – most retailers want those books to ship in July, so they’re in stock for promotions that now begin in August (school) and September (Halloween). Books about Christmas can pub in the Fall months, but no later than October so they are in-store and on promotion early in the season. Black History Month and Presidents Day should pub no later than December (Winter season); ditto Valentine’s Day.”

There is also the difficulty in pushing a new/debut author into and under the limelight. Whereas a standard brand-name author has a solid fan base already installed, a newbie is going to need a publicity campaign bordering on the size of a presidential election. This can make the PR people run for the Tums and anti-depressant meds.It is no small task: literally making somebody out of nobody. I know that for my first major TV appearances, I had to be groomed, tailored and tutored by a Disney PR person, no less. 

So is there any wonder why there are not as many debut authors as we’d like to think? The ones we see are huge media grabbers, and they are meant to appear that way. And just between you and me, nearly all claims of these huge dollar figure advances are over-inflated or outright bogus. The true declarations will pan out–read about King, Rowling and Rice for some accurate advances and deals. 

So how do you up your chances to become one of the elite authors who make the big time? A couple of suggestions: if you are a self-published author, write terrific books and develop a huge fan base. Get viral. The ambulance chasers will come skidding up to your door. For the traditional or “legacy” route, get yourself a top-gun agent that has more pull than a locomotive. It doesn’t hurt if your galaxies are aligned, either.

Red-shifting outta here…

The Guest Post Dream Catcher legend by Jessica Rydill of The Speculative Fiction Showcase.

Screamcatcher cover

Story Origin of Screamcatcher: Web World

It all started with a dream catcher. This iconic item, which is rightfully ingrained in Indian lore, is a dream symbol respected by the culture that created it. It is mystifying, an enigma that that prods the imagination. Legends about the dream catcher are passed down from multiple tribes. There are variations, but the one fact that can be agreed upon is that it is a nightmare entrapment device, designed to sift through evil thoughts and images and only allow pleasant and peaceful dreams to enter into consciousness of the sleeper.

I wondered what would happen to a very ancient dream catcher that was topped off with dreams and nightmares. What if the nightmares became too sick or deathly? What if the web strings could not hold anymore visions? Would the dream catcher melt, burst, vanish, implode? I reasoned that something would have to give if too much evil was allowed to congregate inside of its structure. I found nothing on the Internet that offered a solution to this problem—I might have missed a relevant story, but nothing stood out to me. Stephen King had a story called Dream Catcher, but I found nothing in it that was similar to what I had in mind. So, I took it upon myself to answer such a burning question.

Like too much death on a battlefield could inundate the immediate location with lost and angry spirits, so could a dream catcher hold no more of its fill of sheer terror without morphing into something else or opening up a lost and forbidden realm. What would it be like to be caught up in another world inside the webs of a dream catcher, and how would you get out? What would this world look like? How could it be navigated? What was the source of the exit, and what was inside of it that threatened your existence? I did remember that in the center of the web was a hole that marked the passage of beautiful dreams that descended down upon the sleeper–THAT had to be the way out!

Screamcatcher: Web World, the first in the series, was my answer. Upon later reflection, and after the story had been completed, it reminded me of the portal fantasy Jumanji. Only this was not a board game. I knew that if I were the first to do this, then I’d have one shot and one shot only to get it right. And as far as POC, I thought what better lead character could I use other than a First Nations Tribe female teenager, who knew enough about Indian lore to understand and read some of the signs to guide them through this universe. I knew that I hit on something when one of my reviewers said, “Just like Jo Rowling owns the wizarding world, you just put your stamp on the dream catcher world–own it, and be proud of something brand new.” I only hope and pray I live up to this. 
Amazon

About Chris H. Stevenson:

Chris Stevenson author photo

Chris Stevenson, aka Christy Breedlove, originally born in California, moved to Sylvania, Alabama in 2009. His occupations have included newspaper editor/reporter, astronomer, federal police officer and part time surfer. He has been writing off and on for 36 years, having officially published books beginning in 1988. Today he writes science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, young adult (his specialty), thrillers and horror. He has a total of 13 titles appearing on Amazon. He was a finalist in the L. Ron. Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and took the first place grand prize in a YA novel writing contest for The Girl They Sold to the Moon. Under the Christy Breedlove pen name, he took first place for the best YA book in the N. N. Light Book Awards Contest, and just now took a 5-Star review and badge in the Reader’s Favorite Awards contest. He writes the popular blog, Guerrilla Warfare for Writers (special weapons and tactics), hoping to inform and educate writers all over the world about the high points and pitfalls of publishing.
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

The Lows of High Book Price

A thousand pardons if I come off like a rant. I’m a mashup between J.A. Konrath and Harlan Ellison. I’m a writer advocate and defender of the written word. I also watch the industry like a stealthy Sasquatch. These articles are always meant for Guerrilla Warfare for Writers, my down and dirty blog. There is no BS here. Maybe some inaccuracies. I don’t even like posting these articles to my YA website–no one reads me there anyway. I hope you suffer me well. 

First and foremost, if you are a celebrity author you don’t need to be reading this. If you are an A-list author, pass on by. If you are a very popular author with a huge reader fan base and have a enormous mailing list that draws purchasing customers in like flies, audios. If you have a break-out or bestseller, you can kindly leave by through back door. There will also be some outlier exceptions. This article is not a call to arms for you. You are profitable, consistent and probably comfortably set in the mighty realm of book sales.

If you are new to writing with a minimum number of releases, an old-time mid-lister like me with a ton of books out there, or a new writer launching your first book, I think you better read this and make some grave determinations. It’s unlikely a publisher is going to read this, but I’ve been with and seen too many that need to know what is working and what is not as far as ad pricing. This warning goes double for authors who just don’t care that their e-book prices are going to be placed high regardless. It goes triple (as of this writing) because of the corona virus and the financially stressed atmosphere it has created.  People are buying essentials. As far as entertainment, they are streaming movies and playing games. Who started the the rumor that they were buying books hand over fist? Do you remember when this news was sent out on the wings of doves at the very beginning of the pandemic spread?

I would like you to read three paragraphs (below) which come straight from the keys of most of the advertisers I know and have dealt with. The wording might not be the same but the implications all point to the same conclusion. They don’t want your high-priced book. They want rock-bottom cover prices and freebies. The reason is twofold; Shoppers want bargains, plain and simple. That’s why W-Mart and Amazon rule the nest. Yet the second reason is that the company itself doesn’t want to lose a potential customer. That means you won’t be coming back for seconds if there are flat sales. They are also competing with other promotion and marketing sites that have the same mindset policies.

Here’s my statistics for two YA fantasy/thrillers that had excellent covers and blurbs. Both of these ads were run before and during a Halloween special (the horror factor was quite evident).. Both books were priced at $2.99.

Book one ran for 15 days on a $45 budget. It received 5,391 impressions; total clicks–5–and a CTR of 0.09%

Book two ran for seven days on a $100 budget. It received 10,195 impressions; total clicks –13 and a CTR of  0.13%.

I don’t think I have to do the math for you. Except for the takeaway, which was $145.00 from me and some wide-eyed experience. I later changed companies, dropped the e-book price to .99 cents, and still fell flat–no sales. We could argue all day long about what I did wrong with these two companies. I did not stop there. I enlisted in seven of the companies listed below, with very low, rock-bottom prices. Please excuse my spelling on the names.

Just Kindle Books
Fiverr–bkknights
Fussy Librarian
FreeBooksie
E-book Hounds
Robin Reads
Kindlebook Review
Book Barbarian
Booksends
BookDealio
Ebookdiscovery
Ereader IQ
Ent
Book Reader Magazine
Pretty Hot books.

Out of my promotions, I received three apologies and full refunds. I think I sold two books from Ent. That was it. I won’t go into which seven, but I did do my research beforehand. They were my best picks. 

Have you ever heard that it wasn’t the gold miners who made money off their digs, but the merchants who sold them the supplies, tools, products and other services? We basically have the same thing going on here, with grandiose claims of the promotion and marketing companies talking about going to the top of the sales charts, breakouts, unlimited exposure and guaranteed results. Results. Not sales. Impressions and clicks are a normal state of business and you’ll see them. What you won’t see are voluminous click-throughs–buys, sales, mullah.

There are many Indie writers who are exceptions to this rule because they have targeted outfits that payoff for them. Might be some trade published out there too. This comes from a lot of trial and error–R & D–and it NEVER ends because the books can go through an insufferable amount of tweaking to fine-tune the results. This happens when an author watches his/her ups, downs and in betweens–the stats that govern peak sales. Self-published authors also get a larger percentage cut of the royalties than the small trade-house authors. Many of the elite Indie authors pay thousands for ads a months, but they reaps thousands plus in return. So it is a revolving door for them–huge investments that garner huge profits. You want to make money, you have to spend it. That’s not my quote, lol.

Look, all I’m saying is be wise and careful with your expenditures. You are going to see, if you already haven’t, self-proclaimed experts that can do all forms of editing, covers, formatting, book tours, pod-casts, trailers, page ads, listings, book-to-movie deals, screenwriting, agent introductions, publisher submissions, blurbs, illustrations, writing courses, query letters, one-on-one instruction, translations, ghostwriting, expedited (paid) reviews, synopsis’s, proof reading, evaluations and all other manner of Internet blasting services. Can you pay for some of these services without losing your shirt or blouse? Sure you can! It’s up to you. But be aware, unless you really need and believe in any of them, you’ll lose out every time. 

I often wonder if we are just giving our books away because the sea is awash with them. So many tens of thousands of books are published each year that the numbers keeps compounding and burying the authors under tons of pixels. Nobody can find you, lest you post on FB that you will commit suicide if somebody, anybody doesn’t buy one of your books before you take that leap. Well, if it goes viral and you were bluffing, it would work. I think you get the idea. Dear gawd, I’ve often entertained the idea.

1. Your deal price should be as competitive as possible (This is a company motto BTW).

“We promise our subscribers the best deals available. The better the deal, the more appealing it is to our subscribers, and therefore the more likely it is to be selected by our editors/readers. We rarely feature books priced above $2.99, and even $2.99 is an unusually high price for many of our categories.(I JUST LOVE IT WHEN THEY SAY $2.99 IS UNUSUALLY HIGH).

“While your deal price should be based on your book marketing goals, pricing as low as possible will entice more readers to download your book. The lower the price, the higher the conversion rate of a Deal. Knowing this, our editors prefer books that are competitively priced, since those will drive a higher volume of reader engagement. They’re also able to select a higher percentage of discounted books. If you’re not selected for a deal between $0.99 and $3.99, consider resubmitting your book for a free promotion, as this can be a really effective way to increase your chances of getting selected.

“Keep in mind that the competitiveness of your price depends on your category. While it’s normal to see a higher priced book in Cooking, for example, prices are usually lower in the Mysteries or Romance categories (THOSE TWO ARE THE BEST-SELLING GENRES, BTW).. Browse through books in your category to see what’s competitive in your own genre. Again, if your book is not selected at one price, try resubmitting at a lower price or for free. Your chances of being selected will be higher.”

Note the last sentence. They are going to select you in accordance with how profitable they think you can be.Sounds to me if you don’t go low enough to suit them, they’ll politely blow you off.

I’ve heard some positive news about AMS, BookBub featured ads, and in a blue moon, FB and Twitter boosters. I’ve used all but the grand daddy feature ad. While these might still show some profit, they certainly aren’t working like they used to. Profit has measurably declined, and I mean this in a general sense.

What does my crystal ball tell me for the future? I can only take a wild stab at it and say that the heavy visual sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and others are driving a wedge between the other competitors. They could be the wave for future book exposure. I know their swords are drawn against Amazon

Anybody have any solutions or ideas about gaining some profitability in this industry? I’d love to hear it. Or any promo/marketing site that has fulfilled your dreams. BTW, just like FB put the whammy on My Space, do you see another FB type site in the future? I dooooo,

Blessed wishes, please stay safe and healthy.

Chris and Christy.  

Quarantine Writers

It’s not all fame, friends and eight-by-tens for us writers during these trying times. It’s no fun for anybody, for that matter. The physical entertainment industry is shut down at the moment, and that includes film production, but development is purported to be moving right along. Book stores are still closed, as of this writing.

There are so many conflicting thoughts about who has been inspired to write new material during this time and those who have totally lost inspiration and motivation. Some writers are reporting increased sales, or no changes. Others have seen sales spikes and then leveled off. Some have flat-lined and/or tanked completely. I’m not the best industry watchdog, but I can hopefully express some thoughts and solutions via some experience and a bit of common sense. Lord willing….

WHAT’S SELLING?

Via my drive-bys and article reading, it seems that Children’s Picture books, some Middle Grade and Non-fiction inspirational books are doing well or have even picked up. As far as genre fiction, adult thrillers and romance are up there, but that’s not unusual for these popular genres. Sweet romance in (Christmas settings and HEA) are seeing upticks. That’s what I’ve noticed. Dark fantasy and horror, my genre at the moment with four new books out, is limping along with little gains.

INSPIRATION AND MOTIVATION

Short and sweet–Like Anne Rice says, if you are in the doldrums, FORCE yourself out of it and lay down the ink. Once you get started you’ll pick up that lost momentum. Her advice (and mine) about blockage in the confines of your present manuscript–transport yourself back to the day when you felt that white hot spark for that book and remember the thrill you had crafting it. It was the best thing on the planet, wasn’t it? You were hot on it. Now you’ve warmed. And it’s those negative muses that are whispering those rotten little sweet nothings in your ear. Your book’s quality hasn’t changed. You’ve changed. 

Adjust your attitude and recapture that positive, warm and fuzzy feeling you once had. Still can’t write anything new? What’s wrong with editing or rewriting a trunk novel you once had high hopes for?

ATMOSPHERE

It’s not easy sharing a crowded house now during this lock-down period. Kids are restless souls and they’ll be all over the place. Noise and distractions will rule the day. Drugs and alcohol might have slipped into this confined lifestyle. Tempers might be volatile and explosive. Do the best you can in reserving some private time for yourself after all your necessary chores are done. Try to find a quiet place reserved for concentration on your story or book project. It won’t be easy. It will be more difficult than ever. Try to maintain a status quo and even keel during this time. If you have a spare room, nab it for you own, even if it is a temporary hideaway. Don’t lose faith. 

PROMOTION AND MARKETING

This one is so tough to solve, especially now. It’s always been tough. What is effective for one writer in a certain category or genre can be disastrous for another. I could list all of the promotion and marketing sites out there but it won’t do you any good unless you know exactly which one might work better than the other. The top three, off the top of my head for general commercial fiction would be Amazon, FB and BookBub. Then again, I’m seeing little drops in ROI on these, with the exception of BB. Don’t throw a ton of cash at several sites just to see which one rings the dinner bell. 

Get the best advice you can from your peers who have had experience in this area. You have to target your category and genre precisely. 

I’m not saying this is the time to do it, but you could try some price drops, freebie specials, Kindle Unlimited, cover and blurb changes. Indie authors can make these swaps and change-outs fairly easily. Us trad people have to clear it with our publishers. And, again, this is NO guarantee of increased visibility and sales. It is a maneuver that just might work for you if you think your book could be a bit stale. It doesn’t cost anything to try it. 

MY ALTERNATIVE FOR BETTER SALES

This is strictly my game plan, and has been for about eight months. I’m inept, even lousy at picking paid-for marketing sites. I’ve lost bundles of cash. I don’t know how to bid properly and I seldom have a book that qualifies for these sites, which most often stipulates 99 cents or free books. When I’m sitting at $2.99 to $4.99, I’m at the mercy of my publishers and I try and work with these figures as best I can. Yes, I have certainly sold books at full, higher prices, better than my rock-bottom specials. It’s weird that it works that way–but all the variables of each book play into the scenario.

I’ve heard and read from several blogs and YouTube presentations that books receiving 40–60 reviews on Amazon start tweaking the Zon’s head and pulling attention. I’ve heard 40 from one source, 50 from another, and 60 from yet another. I do believe it is the 50 mark which is the most accurate. So I’ve been requesting book reviews from all of the major review list sites. I personalize each and every pitch letter, reading About Me pages and Policy Guidelines. It costs nothing, but the workload is difficult and time-consuming. Then again, time seems to be all I have on hand right now. I’m in bedroom lock-down, voluntarily. We all know about writer solitude, so there’s nothing new about that.

Truth be told, I’m out to get as much ink as an octopus. That includes mentioning, in my pitch, that I would love to do interviews and guest posts as an alternative to a book review. ‘Cause right now, the reviewer’s TBR piles are higher than K-2. They are swamped. So go after them with double barrels. It’s a Zombie Land double tap. 

HINTS:

Are you following any famous authors on FB or Twitter? This can be an unexpected goldmine. If you happen to comment on one of your famous author’s (or celeb) posts, and they like it enough to share it to their community, you’ve just thrown yourself in front of their followers and friends list–this could result in tens of thousands of reads. Cultivate those sources and watch them. Don’t ask for anything outright. 

Have you ever watched a YouTube movie about your favorite authors or your genre? Have you ever left great comments, showing your wit, knowledge or introspection? Ah, then…after your sentence or paragraph, skip a line and add your name and author of (your book title). Nothing more. No links. No Amazon mention. Don’t elaborate with a spammy message. I’ve done this simple little sig tag and never gotten in trouble for it. Why do it? YouTube videos can get a tremendous amount of hits, and people DO read the comments. It also makes you come off as an authority, perhaps a person who knows what they’re talking about? I would apply this to only those sites that you visit more frequently and not the ones you visit out of curiosity. 

Blessed wishes, please stay safe and healthy,

Chris and Christy. 

The Psychology of Editing

First and foremost, I am no editor. I’m only an author with some thoughts about this subject. I don’t think an author on this planet can edit themselves, with the exception of Anne Rice!

Nancy of Melange Books suggested I might share some prep advice when it comes to writing and editing. Particularly editing. We’re all going to go through these stages with our Melange books, and it is inevitable. As authors, we’ll always need new eyes—a fresh outlook from another perspective. I shouldn’t remind you that these views and changes that come from your editor are not personal opinions from an editor. Editors are stand-ins for readers—readers are the well-spring from which you flow. So take in mind that any editor who flags a problem is seeing these speed bumps or errors in place of the reader, and is removing the “bad” or “questionable” before the reader even sees it. Problem solved, you end up with a smooth, uninterrupted transition through your text. That’s a very positive thing. Every little nuance that is pointed out and corrected makes the story, better and better and better. It’s teamwork, and the goal is to make it shine.

Do you have a choice word or paragraph that you just can’t let loose of? Do you believe it’s intrusive to remove it? I’ll bet your editor knows that it’s going to throw the majority of readers off because it is too exotic, misplaced or not really needed. She knows that passage will confuse the majority of readers by leaving that kink in there. You want wide and easily comprehensive writing. You can’t afford to lose your customer’s interest or let them pause. Editors know that part of it and it deals with pace. “Couldn’t put it down” means there’s a lack of speed bumps.

Tip 1: (Got ahead of myself there). Prep. Prep first means health. Strive to be in the best physical condition you can before you write or handle any editing. Get that flu on the run, ease that backache, take your choice of meds for that migraine and generally strive to be as wide awake and rested as you can. Eat right—you have a stint in front of you. Me, I have to take dozens of pills a day, drag my oxygen tube around with me and get in some walking laps inside the house. I’ll avoid any of the stronger medicines, and I won’t drink or smoke at the computer or at any time. I’m damn lucky to live from one breath to the next.

Tip 2: If you’re just about ready for your first edit pass, you’ll be told this by your assigned editor. Do you feel the drudgery coming on? Here’s a nice little psyche move that’s good for you and your editor. If you think your book is finally ready to hit the editor’s desk, do a real fast run-through the text. Your editor will click their heels and     oblige the request. This might take you four or five days, depending. Trust me, you’ll find things you missed. You always do. No reason for major rewrites, just a solid, precise read through. This helps in two ways: it will bring back great memories of where you were when you started this tome, which you wrote with white hot inspiration. Right? Remember that masterpiece? Nothing has really changed. You were thrilled to the gills when you wrote your first draft of it. You’re reliving  that state of awe and exhilaration and, even laughing and crying over some of those memorable scenes. Secondly, you are recapturing your momentum. You’re remembering every beat and the natural rhythm of the story, the action sequences, pauses, breathers and crucial dialogue passages. Your character’s names, ages, vocations, motivation and physical characteristics will click right back into place. You’re not going in half-blind. In addition, this takes some extra time off of your editor’s workload, which is a relief and speeds up the process.

Tip 3: Remain steady on your editing pass, progressing at a good pace. When you find yourself enjoying your story too much and glossing over the words, remember to slow down and get back in critical mode. Slow down enough to catch those missed commas, hyphens, quotation marks and periods. Don’t jump ahead and anticipate what you thought you wrote–double check it and find out what is actually printed. You might have revised something way back there and forgotten about it. Keep continuity in the back of your mind—your characters don’t change skin, hair or eye color every other chapter. They don’t take off in a Chevy and later burn rubber in a Ford.

Tip 4: I’m not an editor but I sure can see POV swaps in just about every book I read. If you have a multiple view point story, separate the scenes with a chapter or transition break. A transition is this little indicator like this:   #              #           #  between paragraphs. Your publisher will insert those symbols in their own house style, in case you already know them.

Tip 5: A little metaphor and simile never hurt a writer. Observe the passive and telling in the next phrase:

He was clumsy. He wasn’t experienced. He looked like an amateur runner.

Now, a bit longer but showing with some voice:

His stride was crazy-legged; he ran as much sideways as forward. She nearly laughed out loud but thought better of it. Instead, she felt somewhat sorry for him. It might have been his first jogging experience. Diane was no stranger to barbs or insults. Even with a slung gut and knocked knees, wasn’t Seabiscuit hard on the eyes but chock-full of speed and heart?

Tip 6: Are you seeing a lot of red lines tagged in your manuscript? So much that you think it’s overwhelming? Don’t despair, take one at a time and you’ll breeze right through them. Remember, you are forging ahead and leaving all the bad behind. It’ all uphill from the very beginning now. You won’t be going back.

Tip 7. Learn to stop editing. Quit. That’s enough. Don’t insist on, or try to sneak in, structural editing when you’re in final proofs. It’s going to be just fine. It’s true that you can edit a book until it’s worthless. If you are in the middle of a grammar or syntax pass, stay on that track—focus on that. If something flies out at you that needs attention, make a note of it to later share with the editor.

Don’t argue with an editor. Don’t insist. Compromise. She is the pilot and captain for now. You are passenger with the seat belt fastened and tray in the upright. She’ll know when it’s time to land.

Thanks, Chris red-shifting outta here

Rejecting Publishers

You, rejecting publishers? Say what? You would think it’s always been the other way around. Yet maybe you don’t realize that you do have that option and can enforce it any time you like. I’m not talking about random dismissals or motives sparked by revenge or anger. I’m referring to instances where the publisher seems, not only not right for you, but something else is amiss. Something’s not kosher and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Although you’re desirous of seeing your book in digital form or print, and nothing would boost your ego more or delight your family members than having that happen, you’d better slam on the brakes and start thinking with your gray matter instead of listening to your heart. 

A BOOK THAT IS BADLY PUBLISHED IS WORSE THAN ONE NOT PUBLISHED AT ALL.

Remember that. Because if you don’t heed that warning you’re likely to end up with a very bard publishing decision that could hamper or even ruin your writing career. I’ve been through this more than once, so allow me to throw you a life preserver if you feel lost, alone and confused in a potentially hazardous environment. There are also subtle warning signs as well as the obvious ones, and I’d like to point out some these traps and snares that could land you a very bad contract offered to a very good book.

The Obvious–do some research. Visit sites like Predators and Editors, AbsoluteWrite (writing group) and Piers Anthony’s e-book publishing forum. Type the name of the publisher into the search bar and bring up the dirt, if there is any. You’ll find comments or articles from past authors or site managers who’ve accumulated reports and testimonials about the publisher. Look for “not recommended” declarations, poor performance, late or no royalty payments, low royalty percentages on “net”, non-communication or response, unimpressive back-list numbers, lack of distribution to even the online retailers, back-end fees, irregular publishing schedules, requests for family and friends email links, any charge upfront contingent upon editing, the printing process or distribution and anything else that might immediately warn you off. 

What if everything looks good, even great on the surface and you find no negative reports? These are the ones that can slip by you, suck you in and sink you. You’ll find these red flags in the contract, but before you even get that far, read their website from stem to stern–open up every link and peruse all of their files. The mission statement is where you’ll start, followed by the submission guidelines, then the “About Us” page. After 30 years I’ve seen it all. In just the past 15 years I’ve (or my agent) rejected 28 publishers, putting only two of them in the dugout. My most recent offer came from a press that offered contracts on six of my remaining books–books that are repped by my agent. I’m currently investigating this publisher up one side and down the other. This offer came out of the blue, and I won’t bore you with the details right now.

Here are some not so obvious and obvious warning signs that you’re headed for trouble:

When the publisher asks you for an itemized email list of your associates, group members, family relatives and friends, co-workers or any other contact source. This will be for a mass, spam e-mailing campaign, targeting potential customers. Nothing could irk your friends and associates more than this unexpected spam slam.

When a publisher mentions or stipulates that an author’s duty is to self-promote and market the book, including examples on on how to do so–sell at conventions or street corners, solicit major radio, newspaper and television media, hold bookstore signing events where you purchase bulk copies of your books without the financial aid/assistance of the publisher, recommendations to purchase banner or page ads, entering fee-charging contests, and so on, you’re headed for trouble. This type of information/participation doesn’t have to be mentioned–it’s already implied–most writers dig in and promote anyway, but if it’s heavily emphasized, especially more than once on the website or contract, you know this publishers is going to do little or nothing to get your name and your book out there. If you fall for this one, congratulations. You’ve just hired yourself on as an unpaid sales and publicity person. 

Don’t buy a minimum number of your own books as a stipulation from the publisher. This is “vanity mill” territory. The reader is not supporting the publishers in this instance, you are.

When the publisher states that you must reach a certain e-book sales threshold before you are allowed to go to print? This one is becoming more prevalent, but it also indicates a lack of financial solvency. They don’t have the basic start-up print funds. Avoid.

When you find in the contract that the publisher will not provide any free author copies? Look for this one.  This one’s very subtle and it might not mean much to you. But take heed; it means the publisher is a shoe-stringer and the only alternative you have is to purchase your own books for posterity and/or for giveaways or reviews. This is mirroring a vanity operation with the mirror being held very far a way.

When the royalty amount is based on net. Net can mean postage, editing, cover art, retail discounts, returns and just about anything connected with the book’s production and distribution. You’ll need it spelled out in the contract in regard to what constitutes their interpretation of net royalty. Fight for gross. It’s simpler and easy for you and your records.

When the publisher sells exclusively on their website, with maybe one other retail source? Here’s a list of a few retailers where you’d like to see your book available for sale. Not necessarily all of them:

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Create Space
All Romance
Bookstrand
iTunes (iBookstore)
Sony
Kobo
Copia
Barnes & Noble Nook
Overdrive Content Reserve (distributes to libraries and various retailers)
Lightning Source (an Ingram Company) is another good exposure resource.

When a publisher will not provide even a token advance? They have NO financial backing, regardless of their excuse that their high royalty rates more than make up for it. The entire sales of the book and risk is on you. Not them. They have no incentive to make their money back, only the production costs, and that’s likely after YOU have sold a sufficient number of copies to recoup the expense. And they can recoup very quickly.

When a publisher has an extravagant termination clause–$500 plus, ranging into the thousands. Strike it. They have no right to lock you in.

When a publisher who does POD and e-book charges you a set-up fee for a print addition. Again, this means their pockets are empty.

When a publisher refers you to an in-house or associate editing service before the contract is signed?  Chances are it’s their own service or an affiliate. Does conflict of interest ring a bell?

When a publisher keeps delaying or pushing your print schedule ahead. This is more often a sign that they are experiencing some type of difficulty, probably financial, dealing with the set-up and print fee. This is after all the work (cover art and editing) has been completed. Make them furnish the copyright–they can buy these and bulk and should have them. It is a courtesy extended to the author. It’s the norm, really.

When a publisher places very high prices on their e-book or print books. Either their overhead is unnaturally high or they’ve got Mr. Greed whispering in their ear. If they are vanity, they are counting on you to purchase your own books at that higher cost. Find that clause in the contract and modify to your benefit.

Wen a publisher has a very small back-list or none at all. This shows they’re new to the game, perhaps too new to have established an adequate reader fan base. Two years (bare minimum) in the business is enough time to determine if they’re in this for the long haul and have a decent roster of authors and books. However, longevity doesn’t mean they can’t suddenly tank and take a stable of authors down with them.

When a publisher does not send out ARCs (author’s review copies) or galleys to the major or even minor media review sources., OR EVEN TO YOU. Reason–high cost of books and postage for print editions. For e-books? Plain laziness. 

When a publisher switches editors (or several) on you midstream? Something’s up. Like a disgruntled commission-paid employee has jumped ship, the editor is sick (multiple times), or some other snafu is interrupting the process. Generally, one or two-person publishing operations are very limited in what they can do so when an emergency arises it has them scrambling for back-up help that they never had to begin with.

When a publisher suffers not, agents. Any publisher who refuses to deal with agents is one you don’t want. Something is amiss with their business practices and they don’t wish to reveal, haggle over it or amend their contract. They will force a boilerplate contract on you whether you like it not.

Listen and feel for your Spidy sense, people. If something seems off, investigate it more thoroughly. Don’t settle. You don’t have to.  Contact their authors on the side and ask for an honest lowdown on their performance.

Thanks for reading. I’ll red-shift outta here–Christy, who is Chris H. Stevenson

Advance Money?

Certainly, your best advance deal would come from one of the imprints owned by the Big Five corps or houses. Although a great deal could come from a well-known independent like Kensington and others. (Disregard Publisher’s Market Place definitions for a moment) I would consider a substantial deal, or something I was very happy with, as an advance of five figures and over. I would not scoff at $2,000 to $5,000, provided they had reputable distribution for bookstore placement and library inclusion. And, department store and book club sales would be icing on the cake. A participating marketing team and publicity manager is always a plus, and automatically provided by the big guys. These larger houses also have a foreign rights team and go after those huge overseas markets.

In the prehistoric past, I asked Ray Bradbury, Alan Dean Foster and Poul Anderson the same question: “What’s the best way to go; high advance, or no advance with higher royalties?” They were unanimous (and our own James D. McDonald will tell you the same thing): “fight for the highest advance because it’s more than likely it will be all you will ever get.” So, if the advance is high and the book doesn’t earn out, you’re in fairly good shape. The publishers may not be in very good shape but that depends. I just had that happen to me recently. The money was good but the book is a snail in sales. I don’t think I’ll ever earn out and I’ve done everything humanly possible to promote the title. Remember that you are the one who spent months, maybe years sweating and toiling over that book, possibly costing you some money to bring it up to high publishing standards.
Now, if your earn-out is fairly close to your advance payment, the publisher can/will make money. It also depends on the book—Manufacturing costs (for paper), editing, cover art and maybe shipping, might determine a break point outlay for the publisher until they make a profit. If sales are really dismal, it is possible that the publisher may lose some money, or maybe a lot.
About small press: It’s highly unlikely that you will get an advance from a small or independent press. They just don’t have the budget for it. There are exceptions—an agent can work a contract and obtain, at the very least, a token advance payment. What’s the typical advance range for a small publisher? This is also subjective, but climbing out on a wobbly limb that may break, I’ll say I’ve seen $50 to $1000. The sweet spot seems to be about $100 to $200, judging solely by the deals I and my agent have tried to wrangle in the past. If the small press has legitimate distribution like Perseus, IPG or Midpoint, there is a higher probability that they may cut loose with a small advance. It’s not a guarantee, it’s just more likely.    

To paraphrase: Go to the publisher (with agent or not) with a knife in one hand and a money bag in the other. Don’t settle on a boilerplate contract—they are not written in your favor. Never be overwhelmed and giddy with the prospect of publication and sign a contract in haste and then swoon ohhhhhh…mighty God, it’s Random House, or Tor, or Baen!
Never, ever be afraid to stand up for yourself and play hardball. State your wishes to your agent, if you have one. The juggernaut publishers have heard it all before–they are professional negotiators–they do not flinch. If they say no, you backtrack a bit and start over. Take your time. They will never say that your demands are unreasonable and that they’ve changed their mind about giving you print (small press has been known to do this, BTW). The largest publishers come from a place of power–you don’t. That means you upscale your importance and worth. They will actually respect that attitude. Besides the talent, it means they have a serious business partner on their team. Business...sound familiar? That’s what publishing is first and foremost.

Back in my day, the (stated rumor) average advance was about $5000. King got $2,500. Anne rice pulled an astonishing $12,000. So you can see the amounts can vary wildly, even today, depending upon the expectations of sales and the budget of the house. But we all thought that five grand was pretty cool back then. Anything over that, damn, we were rich and bragged it up! Takin’ about the 1970s here.

Advances today? I’m going out again on that long limb that might break, but I’d say that $7,500 is a common, general average for most categories and genres from the advance-paying Big 5. Marketing has more say-so about this upfront money than any division of the publishing company. And never forget the importance of rights sales; they can often top out over everything, but it might take a little time. Case in point; Jo Rowling’s reprint rights to America were $105,000, where her Bloomsbury advance was $1,275 pounds. King’s paperback rights went for $400,000, giving him a 50/50 split. These are examples of big houses, big deals and what it could mean to you.

Happy hunting. 

Editing: What’s Your Bag?

Once again, another topic arose at AW which I thought might be an interesting foray. The answers to proper editing technique is diverse—everyone has their own way—a technique that works best for them. There are two basic approaches and either one is fitting. There is no wrong or right way. There is a third, more complicated way that we can touch on. 

EDIT AS YOU GO

I really feel the fun and excitement in writing a first draft novel. I get totally zoned out and focus on my world. I demand to be left alone for three months when this happens. I don’t outline–my next scene/scenes are popping in my head as I write the current one. The book leads me where it wants to flow. The characters make me take dictation–it seems they want to run the show and do what they want. I don’t let my characters run rampant, but install little checks and balances for them. The plot wants to go where the conflict is heaviest. For my pace, I can’t have any lengthily dinner scenes, shopping, walks in the park, with meaningless character dialogue–I’m very guilty of this in the past and it kills my pace. So once I’m in my new world, I’m trapped there until I find my way out. That means THE END.

First editing draft: I’ve taken Anne Rice’s advice and adopted her writing ritual. I’ll write in a fever then back up about four or five pages and edit the hell out of it. That means as much structural and copy-editing (and other areas) as I can stand. Structural problems mean I’ve made a big goof somewhere, but I’ll still go to the source and try and fix it as best I can. Then I forge on and repeat. I’m simply accelerating and then hitting reverse. That way, the first editing draft doesn’t fill me dread and I can still move along fairly fast. For me, storytelling is fun–editing is blistering work. I want the easiest transition I can get between the two. I’ve heard lots of people say that they edit while they write–I think it’s the same thing.

There are some who might take this approach and go back to edit a chapter, or maybe two or three and then pick up again. That means a break in the writing and a chance that you could lose the momentum and thread. But it also means there will be less “work” in the following editing drafts. So you can relax a little more and not fret over the “monster that is to come.” Caveat: I’m still going to make several editing passes, but I’m knocking out as much as the hard stuff as possible in the backward pass.    
BLAST THROUGH

That’s exactly what it sounds like—writing through the first draft as quickly as possible, staying filled with that white-hot fit of inspiration—blasting through. Some writers have to do this or else they’ll fall off their pace and let the story go static for even a short amount of time. They haven’t got the time or impetus to worry about editing at this stage. These people are sometimes loath to stop, believing that the first novel draft presents the most difficulty. It’s a great strategy, and I’m sure we’ve all heard the comment from the pros and instructors: “you have permission to write shit. It’ll be cleaned up in the editing process.” This is a very popular style, if not the most popular one. 
There’s no doubt that getting that first written novel draft completed deserves a medal valor, and it really does. These writers actually like/love the first (and subsequent) editing drafts because it gives them a great feeling of accomplishment in fashioning a diamond out of a lump of coal. This is also the time for them to cut or add words, chapters, characters, and scenes as they see fit or if it’s needed (structural). Writing the book is the difficult part for them. That’s where most of the doubts, foul-ups and blocks are experienced. Even if they’ve outlined, they view that first novel draft as a daunting task, wondering if they will ever finish it. If they decide to pull out and trunk the project after they’ve hit the end, hey! There was no harm done and certainly less work invested.

MULTIPLE STAGE EDITING

There has to be something said about concentrated editing in different areas and making those first, second, third, fourth and fifth editing passes, suffering through individual stages. Actually, “suffering” is kind of a strong word. I think we all make multiple editing passes. There are only a select few professionals who can edit as they go and come out with a shiny manuscript that is near perfect. Anne Rice is one of them. We’re not Anne.

What stages are important? Well, what’s important to you? Where are your weak spots? This can include passive/active, continuity, copy-editing, proofing, structural editing, pace and so on. I’ll make about three editing passes, taking up two of these areas in one pass. Or I’ll go right on down the line and hit all six each for six edits. But they will be very light and fast because I’ve already been there. You can really specialize and concentrate on one, and only one area from the very beginning, and I’ve done this before to really focus on special problems. I call it target editing. I have a problem with passive and active, so that one is a slow, precise go for me. Continuity is another.

With a large book, multiple stage editing can take a VERY long time. If you don’t mind the process, chances are your final copy is really going to shine with a high gloss finish. There are some writers who love this type of editing and they don’t mind the time invested.
Yeah, I hate to admit it but writing is rewriting. It’s my necessary evil and I hate it.   
Whatever you decide, keep a positive attitude. Try not to listen to those little Debbie Downer muses that hang around and tell you that your story is nothing but a crock and you’re wasting your time. Always remember that another pair of eyes will see something totally different in what you’ve scribbled.  

RANT to Mr. Marketing Guru

Hello, Mr. Sales Marketing Guru. (I’ve got a bone to pick with you).
Since you continually besiege me with your adverts, I thought it was time I responded to your claims and declarations.


As an opening salvo, I will tell you right now that I’m not interested in any pay-for-review services. No matter how you disguise or slice it with claims of guaranteed reviews and sales, you cannot convince me that your costly services are worth these extravagant amounts you are asking for. Calling it “fast-tracking”, “special social media services” or individualized marketing plans, will not alter the fact that what you are proposing is a cost-for-service advertisement which preys on gullible and desperate authors.  


You will have to convince me that eager reviewers are alive and well out there, ready to review books. After 1,650 personalized and custom book review requests (pitches), I received 160 requests for my recent release. Out of that acceptance total, I have, so far, received 34 Amazon (foreign and domestic) reviews, and this has been over a five-month period, soliciting for eight hours a day, 24-7, with no let up. BTW, a great percentage of reviewers are buried, quit or have rebranded themselves. You’ll see that notation on their contact or review request page. Most of these listings are not currently tagged as such.

   
Simply listing a book as available for review on a database or promo site (for one day in most cases), is GROSSLY ineffective at the present. The one-week or one-month programs are equally ineffective if you lack precise targeting. We are experiencing a swarm/glut of new books in numbers that have never been reached in the history of this industry. If there are willing reviewers out there, I have had to seek them out and then go on a TBR pile that is higher than K-2–backed up two, three and four months or more.
There is no way you can guarantee one review, let alone several, for any book at this time.

The last bastion of hope is to give away books to accumulate a half-way decent rank on Amazon, and those are not sales—those are freebies—not deserving of a “Best Selling” connotation. All of these listed (*) below companies have failed in click-throughs for my book when it was priced from $4.99 to a drop of $2.99. After trying again, I garnered no better results at my current KU and .99 cent stage. I can attest to the fact that my book has a great title, cover and hook/blurb—AllAuthor stats are through the roof at over 3,040 views and about 550 clicks in four months, and a first place contest win. Not too shabby, considering it is the first in a series. I’ve had 18 full-length interviews and several guest spots—more ink than a dozen octopi.


Supply has eclipsed demand, plain and simple. AMT is on a southern slide, FB and Twitter booster ads are completely glossed over by readers and ineffective, while the Amazon, FB and Twitter book clubs and genre sites are flooded with the same solicitations—a “buy my book” barrage from thousands upon thousands of members. It is even difficult for GoodReads to keep up with such a relentless showcase of author’s books, stories, series and collections. GRs is for readers anyway.

 
People are not buying reading devices like they are buying books, as you so stated. The only way readers can make room for new book purchases (or freebies) is to wipe their inventory of accumulated books they will never get around to reading anyway. Unfortunately, this also seems to be a standard practice for many reviewers who need to “clean house” so they can choose titles for the next year. Out with the old, in with the new.  

 
I am the owner/poster of Guerrilla Warfare For Writers, an advocacy writer’s/blog site aimed at watching the industry, and I have been doing this type of analysis for 14 years, out of my 30-year career. Roughly (35%) of the current listed review site/blogs are now refusing to review self-published authors. They profess to be swamped. This was not the case two-three years ago. I’m not even an indie author (only a hybrid), but this trend has come around to bite all those who believe that writing to market with quick release has always been the answer to garnering sales and a reader base. I blame not the Indies. I’m upset with a program that allows the world to publish, when we don’t have a world to read the published material.  


The largest feature and most expensive ads on BookBub, are now showing a slow decline in conversions because of a traffic jam to gain access into the program. Albeit, BB still seems to show returns on investment, which is astonishing in itself. Other ad groups have raised their prices and modified their guidelines. Some of these major marketing sites do work—all is not completely lost—but you have to find them first.  
SOME OF THE PROMO AND REVIEW SITES I INVESTIGATED AND USED: (Forgive my misspellings).


Fiverr*Fussy Librarian*Bargain Booksie*Robin ReadsKindlebooks ReviewBook Barbarian*Booksends*BookDealioEbook DiscoveryE-Reader IQEntBook Reader Magazine*Just Kindle Books*Pretty Hot Books*


Those sites marked with a “*” brought zero results to me—hundreds/thousands of engagements and NO conversions, prompting two of them to refund me in full. Out of pocket loss = aprox $550 before refunds which were in the neighborhood of $70.00. Granted that my price was a straight $2.99, and I was told this was the reason for the lack of interest/response. However, when implementing the Kindle Unlimited and .99 cent strategy and applying it again to several sites, there was zero change in rank and reviews. My sales continued on a flat line. I’m not alone in this festering no-man’s-land.

Why are book tours collapsing now?—Just recently I had two tours cancel on me. There was a time when book tours were popular and worked.  Answer: there doesn’t seem to be enough tour participants to carry an author through an extended promotion period, and that was the reason I was given for the failures. Sure, it depends upon who you are using. But you better have a long gap between appearances with any one given site because you can’t sell to the same readers who’ve already picked you up.


The largest book tour sites are not only expensive and claim to garner successful results, but express the opinion that nothing is really wrong in this slow market, it’s just that the timing and individual book may be the culprit for the lack of sales and reviews. This blanket statement is tired, worn and continuously used as an excuse. Blame the cover, the blurb and the sample pages, or even the author for that matter. That’s much easier to say than we’ve overpopulated the system. What was next on the hit list? “NO SALES? YOUR KEY WORDS ARE RESPONSIBLE!” So now we have apps to hunt down super-selling keywords, guaranteed to get that lost audience you somehow missed. Or was that eager-to-buy audience really there to begin with?

  
I hired a promotion manager/PR director who has tried everything humanly possible for sales, but has come up with limited results—prompting us to change our tactics and come into social media circles from a different angle. BTW, this is no fault of the manger whatsoever—she is fighting it out with her own competitors. Again, the problem is glut.


The author population has grown by the millions and the number of books listed with just Amazon are staggering and increasing every month. This is a saturation issue that will not go away and only get worse. We have NOW reached the tipping point.
 Personal reading devices across the board (globally) are overloaded with free books (hundreds or thousands) per device and there is just no room for new books even with the most severe low-cost offers. (Readers jammed up their devices when the freebie gold rush hit—this begat the age of Indie superstars, and this constant rotation has never stopped). Now authors are currently offering complete books for .99 cents and lower for an entire series. Many of the A-list Indie superstars and high-ranking mid-listers are reporting 50% cuts in revenue in the past few years. If this is happening to the best-selling brand name authors, what is happening to the rest of us? In the day, Wall-Mart was cursed for providing loss-leaders. Now we understand their reasoning. Sacrifice. For profit.

 
There are so many books listed for free (no gimmicks), via the small trade publishers and Indies, that it is not necessary to purchase a high quality read or audio book anymore—the reader has only to put themselves on a waiting list when the book hits a free or discounted status. This desperation is playing out full-tilt in front of us, forcing authors to compete with each other for even the slightest name brand exposure. We never had a world of “Permafree” before this massive influx. Welcome to costless books, the wave of the future.

 
Giving away free books is the surest way to dilute and saturate your reading fan base. And yet you claim this is the ideal strategy. Those who might have bought your book already have it because of free and borrow offers. Your solution: pick another loss leader until you’ve run through your entire inventory. Then what? Write to market with faster releases. Really? Call novellas that are 20.000 40,000 words long, “books.” Give away as many books as you can to draw some type of word of mouth or organic sales. This strategy gives legit Indie authors a bad rap. They can’t sell their books for true value. Small trade publishes can’t recoup their investments on give-away prices.

 
Mr. Marketing Expert, I sincerely hope that you address this problem and make some type of arrangements and/or policies that will show some, or any type of success, regarding the horrid situation we are (collectively) encountering at the moment.

I am not a crepe hanger or doom peddler. These are indicators which cannot be swept under the carpet or displaced by claiming this is a cycle or a normal glitch in the book sales industry. If you would like to discuss this matter with me, I would be happy to engage in a truthful and honest disclosure. I feel terrible when I see my fellow authors wallowing in despair because they have no sales or reviews for their midlist or even new titles.


The real crime is author/writers spending money on worthless campaigns that produce zeros on a royalty invoice or check. The newest, debut authors are the worst hit. Their despair is tangible when they express their desperation in the writing groups and forums.   
Sincerely,
CJB

Contests and Awards

I’m celebrating an unexpected victory at the moment. Trying to grasp what happened. I was just informed that my book Screamcatcher: Web World took first place in the N. N. Light Book Awards contest for best Young Adult novel of 2019. Not a huge event, nor a teeny one either. I must have been auto-entered in this running because I had no idea such a platform was part of their yearly program. I take it that about 1,750 books in 25 categories/genres were considered because of their highest reviews. I wasn’t even forewarned as a finalist position. Since this was a no-pay entry contest, it made it all that more significant and relevant to me. I really attribute most of this to luck and timing.

This is the third time I’ve won or placed in anything literature related in 29 years. I think we all know how impossible the odds can seem. Yet when it happens, you sit there in a stupor and wonder the why of it, rather than the whole “Oh hell yes!” of it. Needless to say, I’m humbled and grateful to be called out for a little book that I thought was nothing more than a little slammer beach read. The heck with me—this is a win for the First Nation’s Tribe, a salute to our North American Indian cultural history.

I would encourage others to adopt the feeling that this could happen to you too when you least expect it. And isn’t that always the way it seems to work? Victory always seems to sneak up on you with no pre-warning. I’ll have fond memories of this day and time in my life. It felt like somebody wrapped their arms around me after a long period of loneliness. And in the writing world where rejection is 99% of our existence, these are the moments that make it all worth the insufferable effort to accomplish and carry on. On the upside, this contest required no payment or commitment to enter. These types are far, few and in between. Many of them are small and barely register a blip on the “who won what” radar. Yet even the smaller ones can have a huge reader base and attract the curious. 

THE DOWNSIDE OF CONTESTS AND AWARDS

J. A Konrath, the successful Indie guru, is noted for saying that contests “aren’t worth sh.t.” That they have no relevance or significance when it comes to notoriety or impact on sales—particularly sales. He goes on to say that they are a gimmick or scam at best. Nearly all of them. He has a point, to a certain extent, and I don’t and can’t disagree with his logic and opinion. Our senior population is a favorite target of contest campaigns because the contests come in so many venues and guises, covering a multitude of subjects.

Contests and awards can be an enticement, and yet they can be an entrapment. Ergo an addiction. This, by the way, applies to just about every contest or award out there for a multitude of products and services—books, jewelry, appliances, gift cards, cars, vacations, artwork, poems and the like. There’s no end to the array of prizes and circumstances by which you can enter with the possibility of placing, becoming a finalist or winning. Wouldn’t you know that many of them include honorable mentions as kind of an afterthought. The more divisions to win in allows the host to pander and cater to many more participants. First, second and third placements are the most common winning sequences, with sometimes a hats off to the overall grand prize winner of the entire field. Honorable mentions usually bring up the rear, and make no mistake about it, those little wins won’t go unrecognized by participants and can be just as important as the larger award positions. What’s important is that you got ink!

We definitely have some legitimate and noteworthy contests that can pull in lots of interest from industry professional watchdogs. These contests are mostly free but require nominations to be included in their lists. They are considered premium awards and are usually sponsored by huge organizations and companies each year. Among the best known book awards and competitions are: (Including fee entries)

General Book Awards Contests

1. TCK Publishing Readers Choice Contest

Website: http://www.tckpublishing.com Contest details: www.tckpublishing.com2019-readers-choice-awardsFee: Free

2. Benjamin Franklin Awards

Website: www.ibpabenjaminfranklinawards.comContest details:www.ibpabenjaminfranklinawards.comentry-formFee: $95

3. Best Book Award (American Book Fest)

Website: www.americanbookfest.comContest details: www.americanbookfest.comamericanfictionawards.htmlFee: $69-$89

4. Beverly Hills Book Awards

Website: www.beverlyhillsbookawards.comContest details: www.beverlyhillsbookawards.comrules-beverlyhills-book-awards.htmFee: $75

5. Colorado Book Awards

Website:www.coloradohumanities.orgContest details:www.coloradohumanities.orgprograms/colorado-book-awardsFee: unpublished

6. Georgia Author of the Year

Website: www.authoroftheyear.orgContest details: www.authoroftheyear.org/faq/Fee: $60

7. Hollywood Book Festival

Website: www.hollywoodbookfestival.comFee: $75

8. International Book Award Contest

Website: www.internationalbookawards.comContest details: www.internationalbookawards.com/2020callforentries.htmlFee: $69 ⁠–$89

9. National Indie Excellence Award

Website: www.indieexcellence.comContest details: www.indieexcellence.comentry-formFee: $75

10. Nautilus Book Awards

Website: www.nautilusbookawards.comFee: $165–$185

11. NextGen Indie Book Awards

Website: www.indiebookawards.comFee: $75

12. Reader’s Favorite

Website:www.readersfavorite.comContest details:www.readersfavorite.com/aboutFee: $99 – $119, discount on multiple genres/book

13. The National Book Awards

Website: www.nationalbook.orgnational-book-awards/submissions/Fee: $135

14. The Wishing Shelf

Website:www.thewsa.co.ukContest details: www.thewsa.co.uk/enter/Fee: $89

15. Woodson Book Award

Website: www.socialstudies.orgawards/woodson/nominationsFee: unpublished

16. Rubery Book Award

Website:www.ruberybookaward.comFee: unpublished

17. 2019 Foreword Indies

Website: www.forewordreviews.comContest details:www.publishers.forewordreviews.comawards/#why-registerFee: $89

Children’s Book Awards Contests

18. The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

Website: www.moonbeamawards.comContest details: www.moonbeamawards.com38/guidelinesFee: $55

19. The Royal Dragonfly Book Awards

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.compurple-dragonflyFee: $60

20. The Golden Kite Award

Website:www.scbwi.orgContest details: www.scbwi.orgawards/golden-kite-award/Fee: unpublished

21. Mom’s Choice Award

Website: www.momschoiceawards.comContest details: www.momschoiceawards.com/applyFee: unpublished

22. The Purple Dragonfly Book

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.compurple-dragonfly/Fee: unpublished

Christian Book Awards Contests

23. Cascade Contest

Website: www.oregonchristianwriters.orgContest details: www.oregonchristianwriters.orgcascade-writing-contest-2019/Fee: unpublished

24. Illumination Awards

Website:www.illuminationawards.comContest details:www.illuminationawards.com/entryformFee: $85

25. Christian Indie Awards

Website: www.christianaward.comContest details:www.christianaward.comeligibility-guidelines/Fee: $45

26. Christian Book Award

Website:www.ecpa.orgContest details:www.ecpa.orgpage/cba_1_overview?Fee: unpublished

27. Carol Awards

Website:www.acfw.comContest details:www.acfw.comcarolFee: $45 for members, $115 for non-members

28. The Inspy Awards

Website:www.inspys.comContest details:www.inspys.com?page_id=1183Fee: Free

29. Christianity Today Book Award

Website:www.christianitytoday.comContest details:www.christianitytoday.comct/2019/may-web-only/nomination-instructions-2020-christianity-today-book-awards.htmlFee: $40

30. CPA Book Awards

Website:www.catholicpress.orgContest details:www.catholicpress.orgpage/CPABookAwards?Fee: $36 for members, $76 for non-members

31. The Christy Awards

Website: www.christyawards.comContest details: www.ecpa.orgpage/christy_submissionsFee: $175

Self-Published Book Awards Contests

32. The IndieReader Discovery Awards

Website:www.indiereader.comContest details: www.indiereader.comproduct/indiereader-discovery-awards-entry-2020/Fee: $149

33. The Best Indie Book Award

Website: www.bestindiebookaward.com/live/Contest details:www.bestindiebookaward.com/submit/product/best-indie-book-award-entry/Fee: $50

34. Foreword INDIES Book of the Year

Website: www.forewordreviews.coContest details:https://publishers.forewordreviews.com/awards/register/Fee: unpublished

35. Indie Reader Discovery Awards

Website:www.indiereader.com/enter-discovery-awardsContest details: www. indiereader.com/product/indiereader-discovery-awards-entry-2020Fee: $150

36. The Independent Publisher Book Awards

Website: www.ippyawards.comContest details: www.secure.independentpublisher.comcart/?program_id=4Fee: $75-$95

37. The Eric Hoffer Award

Website: www.hofferaward.comFee: $60

38. Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Website: www.indiebookawards.comContest details: www.indiebookawards.com/enter/guidelinesFee: $75

Crime and Mystery Book Awards Contests

39. CWA Daggers

Website:www.thecwa.co.ukContest details:www.thecwa.co.uk/the-daggersFee: unpublished

40. The Edgar Awards

Website:www.mysterywriters.orgContest details:www.mysterywriters.org/edgars/edgar-submission-information/Fee: unpublished

E-book Book Awards Contests

41. ELit Awards

Website:www.elitawards.comContest details:www.elitawards.com/entryformFee: $70–$90

42. Global E-Book Awards

Website:www.globalebookawards.comContest details:www.globalebookawards.com/instructions-for-entering/Fee: $4.97

43. Digital Book World Awards

Website: www.digitalbookworld.comContest details:www.digitalbookworld.com/dbw-award-formFee: $59

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Book Awards Contests

44. Bram Stoker Award

Website: www.thebramstokerawards.comContest details: www.thebramstokerawards.com/submissions/Fee: unpublished

45. Fanstory Horror Writing Contest

Website:www.fanstory.comContest details:www.fanstory.com/contestdetails.jsp?id=105611Fee: unpublished

46. Hugo Awards

Website:www.thehugoawards.orgContest details:www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/Fee: unpublished

47. Nebula Awards

Website: www.nebulas.sfwa.orgFee: unpublished

Business Book Awards Contests

48. Axiom Business Book Awards

Website: www.axiomawards.comContest details:www.secure.independentpublisher.comcart/?program_id=1Fee: $75-$95

50. Financial Times

Website: www.ft.comwork-careers/business-book-awardFee: unpublished

Other Book Awards Contests

51. TipTree Award

Website:www.tiptree.orgContest details: www.tiptree.orgabout-the-award/the-processFee: unpublished

52. Spur Awards

Website:www.westernwriters.orgContest details: www.westernwriters.org/spur-awards/Fee: unpublished

53. WILLA

Website:www.womenwritingthewest.orgContest details: www.womenwritingthewest.org/willaCurrentFinalists.htmlFee: $65

54. Royal Dragonfly

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.comroyal-dragonflyFee: $60-65

55. Stonewall Books

Website:www.ala.orgawardsgrants/awards/177/applyFee: unpublished

56. Living Now Book Awards

Website: www.livingnowawards.comContest details:www.secure.independentpublisher.com/cart/index.php?process=product_detail&product_id=5Fee: $95

57. Green Book Festival

Website: www.greenbookfestival.comFee: $50

58. American Fiction Awards (American Book Fest)

Website: www.americanbookfest.comContest details: www.americanbookfest.comamericanfictionawards.htmlFee: $69–$89

59. PEN/Faulkner Awards

Website:www.penfaulkner.orgContest details:www.penfaulkner.orgaward-for-fiction/submission-guidelines/Fee: unpublished

60. AICP Cookbook Awards

Website: www.iacp.comContest details: www.iacp.comawards/cookbook/Fee: $150–$200

Among this list are free contests that carry a lot of weight—the Hugo, Nebulae, Booker Prize, Pulitzer, Bram Stoker and other such notables. However, take note of the fees associated with most of them. Name your category or genre and you’ll probably find yourself eligible in one or more of these offerings. Some are for unpublished manuscripts. How deep are your pockets? What are your realistic expectations?

BUT LOOK AT THOSE ENTRY FEES!

Do you think for one minute those sponsoring agencies are losing money by bestowing huge cash prizes and publication upon you? You would be wrong. They are making money hand over fist. The question you have to ask yourself is…is it worth the expense and nail-biting to anticipate or expect a win of any kind in any of them? With thousands or tens of thousands of applicants, tabulate your odds of picking up a win. It’s worse than a crap shoot in Las Vegas. If you are a contest chaser and think that you can even your odds by entering many or most of these contests, you’ll end up sitting on the curb with your hat in your lap begging for living expenses. If you happen to feel good about your odds in a certain competition, it doesn’t hurt to enter. Just do so with the full knowledge that everyone has the same hopes and dreams and the playing field is level. 

I’m sorry, but I can’t see myself as a wunder talent since I might have edged out a runner up because of a dropped run-on sentence or a POV slip. Final decisions could be that close.  

 
How much does talent have to do with copping a win? Fortunately a great book will stand out whether it is picked by a panel of judges or a reader’s poll. It is subjective and a matter of personalized opinion. Yet the wheat will win over the chaff. Every time. 

There are and have been instances where an applicant can actually sway the votes by using huge marketing campaigns (more expense) aimed at fans, readers and relatives. This happens a lot with book cover contests. Get somebody to click on you as a favorite and wallah! You start stacking up the votes. This happens. It’s a little desperate, but if the cover really is great, it’s justified. People can go to extreme lengths to win—you’ve heard of those authors who have bought thousands of copies of their own books to hit the NYT, USA Today and Amazon top-seller lists. The same thing happens in the contest and awards arena. 

What’s in it for you if you pick up a substantial or even moderate win? Besides publication and a cash prize (if it’s offered), you have bragging rights. Sometimes you get permission to wear the contest badge, usually a star with the logo displayed prominently on your book cover. Does it help? Money and publication is fine. Wearing the badge? That’s up to you. A little gold star might give you a second look. It is NOT a guarantee that your sales and reviews are going to skyrocket. Your win is not an earth-shaking event and, except for the most prestigious awards, don’t expect front page news, radio interviews or TV spots with the major networks. This kind of news goes over with fans, friends and relatives more than other segments of the populace.

So you won something…consider it a personal best. Take pride, include it in your diary and remember it fondly. You certainly did something right and, no, it really wasn’t all luck. It was pluck and you just happened to be there with a beloved book that made an impact on somebody who cared enough to draw you out of the crowd. Good luck with your future entries, and may we all have our 16 minutes of fame!