Those end-of-year “Best Of” lists can drive an author, published or wanna-be, crazy. Why didn’t my book make a list? When will I ever make a list? When will I be published so my book can be considered for a list? Rather than feed that anxious envy, I’d like to concentrate on a few things that I hope will help out aspiring and published writers.
Here are a few of my own suggestions for a Very Crafty New Year.
Wired For Story by Lisa Cron – I’m hooked on brain science. I’m also hooked on Lisa Cron’s books. In this well-documented text, Cron gives writers the science behind our human need for stories, and then presents solid craft tips and exercises to help us make our stories shine. This is the best kind of craft book, and no writer should be without it.
The Emotional Wound Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi – This is a comprehensive thesaurus. If you’re trying to get to the heart of your characters’ emotional journeys, and need to understand the psychology behind a backstory wound and how humans respond to trauma in terms of traits and behaviors, then this book may be your answer. I especially liked the intro that discusses the psychology of the backstory wound.
Verbalize by Damon Suede – Suede takes a new and interesting approach to creating compelling stories: he uses grammar. That’s right, grammar nerds. Finding the right verb can help you define your character’s behavior. Finding the right object (noun/phrase) can help you refine your scene goals. Although a bit wordy at times (hah!), I find this book fascinating and useful.
Writing Craft Ideas: Query Letters
A recent post by Lorin Oberweger of Free Expressions really got me thinking in a different way about the query letter. Her thesis is that adding the component of the emotional heart of your story can take your query from ordinary to stand-out. Here’s a snippet example of what she means:
Consider the difference between this:
“In a future America, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen fights for her life against other teens, pitted against one another in a battle to the death.”
“In a future America, where “district” citizens are being brutally punished for a massive uprising, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen saves her younger sister’s life by volunteering to take her place in a battle against other teens where only one will survive.”
Check out Free Expressions for more from Lorin, plus the ability to attend the best writing workshops you can imagine (a holiday gift to yourself, maybe?)
And in another post on querying, Jane Friedman takes querying apart, piece by piece, with lots of sound advice. Do sign up for her newsletter, which is always full of exceptional advice.
Writing Craft Links
In addition to the above, I highly recommend the following newsletters, which are always my top reads:
Writer Unboxed – for essays on writing and the writing life from a battery of very smart people.
I’m very excited to be able to reveal the cover of my next book, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, which will launch August 25 from Viking. This middle-grade novel is a companion to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, with a different protagonist (though some of the same characters). I’m excited for this story to reach the many readers who’ve asked for more in my 1940s fantasy Scottish world.
This wonderful cover was made by Jen Bricking.
It still amazes me (I mean, really, amazes me) that I’ve written, now, eight books, five of them published by one of the Big Five publishers. Once upon a time – and it still feels like yesterday – I was desperately trying to write something that someone, somewhere would think worthy of publication. I struggled with craft, I ached to be able to say what lived inside my head, and I felt the sting of rejection time and again.
I had a desk with a drawer that was about five inches deep. As I went through form rejection after form rejection (this was back in the day when rejections came back in a thin self-addressed stamped envelope) I decided that I would put each rejection inside that drawer and I wouldn’t quit trying until I couldn’t close the drawer.
It felt like it took forever, but eventually I sold one thing…and then another…and then I found one agent…and she sold three books…and now I have my dream agent who has sold three books and we’re working on more. Several of my books have won awards, and one has risen to multiple starred reviews, of which I’m deeply proud. And the drawer wasn’t stuffed (paper is really thin!)
I have some year-end advice for those of you seeking to be published (and one piece for those who are, but feel you haven’t “made it”).
Don’t give up. Maybe you need to polish your craft. Maybe you need to find the story that sings from your heart. But if you want to be published, don’t give up.
Be open to opportunity. Make plans to attend conferences to meet fellow writers and hear the words of agents and editors. Always be nice – always.
Go to pitch sessions (at first this will be scary, but over time you’ll feel more self-assured). Hone your pitch. Keep names of agents/editors that you connect with (but don’t bug them).
Try for “entry points”. My first publications were a short story and a short article in children’s magazines. I was paid – and I was an officially published author after that.
Keep learning. Keep listening. Stay connected to your local writing community. Find people you trust as beta readers – and be generous and read their work, too.
When you feel you have something worthy of submission, send it out. Send it out again. And again. Reassess after each rejection, but don’t give up.
Always check submission guidelines before sending. Don’t waste your time or theirs.
Target your submissions to editors and/or agents that you believe will like your work. Submit to up to five at a time, no more.
If you think it might help, and you have the funds, get advice from a professional. Go back to school or attend writing workshops or hire a book coach. But…if you apply yourself you can learn a lot about craft by studying writing-craft books (more on that in a future post).
Don’t give up.
And…if you are published and are disappointed by anything (the reviews were less that you wished, your sales were not what you hoped) don’t despair. Move on to the next book. And DON’T GIVE UP.
I’m sending you my best wishes for your future success!
Serious studies of late (here’s one) suggest that expressing gratitude can make you feel happier and improve physical and emotional health.
Boulder River, Montana
So many people I know are feeling sad, or mad, and the world at large feels fractured and splintered and polarized. It’s hard to counteract negativity in the abstract (even harder when it’s a constant background drumbeat), and hard when so many have experienced personal losses (as I have in the past year). And this is the time of year when we are forced to weigh our feelings against expectations of happiness, which often creates quite the opposite result.
But I am grateful, so grateful, to so many, that in the spirit of the season I’m going to turn Thanksgiving from a noun into a verb.
I want to thank my family, husband and son, for supporting me through my life and career, giving me much-needed strength and financial backing, as well as being my first readers/critiquers/idea generators. And, of course, I thank them for their love.
I want to thank my three publishers – my editors and copy editors, illustrators and cover artists, in-house staff who have touched my books even when I don’t know your names – who have given me the opportunity to send my words into the world. Deepest personal thanks to Marlo, Kendra, Aneeka, and Madeleine.
I want to thank my agent, Erin, her staff and co-agents, and all the EMLA family of artists and writers who have become my tribe.
I want to thank my collaborators and critiquers, from my first critique group years ago in Texas, to my partners in Montana, with a special bow to my friend and mentor Kathi and my current partner Jen.
I want to thank my VCFA family for providing me a knowledge platform that has helped me to express what I really want to say, and for being a continuing base of support and friendship.
I want to thank the wider writing community that truly comprises the world in which I want to live. Especially thanks to SCBWI, for starting me on this road, to my Spooky team, and to all the people who are part of the incredible kidlit community.
I want to thank my local indie bookseller – and all booksellers – for doing what you do fabulously: putting books in the hands of readers.
I want to thank my readers – the schools, the teachers, the librarians, the students – and thank Carmen who helps me reach them. And I especially want to thank those of you who have written me notes or have told me how much you love something I’ve written, which gives me great joy – and thanks to you young readers most of all.
I want to thank the universe – and my parents – for giving me the chance to live in a place of great beauty and peace.
Lastly, I want to thank those of you here, reading this, and I send you the wish that you, too, can receive many blessings.
I’ve known Caroline Starr Rose for a long time – her talent, her generosity to other writers, her award-winning books, and her delightful self. Caroline has a new picture book out and it’s right up my alley. Historical nonfiction about two women? Racing around the world in the 1800s? Yes, please!
Here’s a synopsis of A RACE AROUND THE WORLD:
Seventy-five days. Two very different women. One incredible race.
In the late 1800s, the world was enchanted with speed. Steamships raced across oceans, locomotives dashed across continents, and a famous novel by Jules Verne imagined a man circling the globe in only eighty days. A fearless New York reporter called Nellie Bly thought she could be faster. She set out on a ship heading east across the Atlantic and vowed to be back in seventy-five days! That same night, another New York reporter found herself on a speeding train to San Francisco. Her name was Elizabeth Bisland, and she’d just been given a most astonishing assignment: to travel around the world, going west, and to beat Nellie Bly. This is the true story of two remarkable women who didn’t just race around the world—they changed it.
And here’s Caroline!
Please tell readers how you came to discover this marvelous story about two remarkable women – one of whom is well-known but the other is new to this reader.
I grew up with a book about the one-of-a-kind, trailblazing journalist, Nellie Bly. In January 2017, I thought I’d try my hand at writing my own book about her. There are a number of children’s books about Nellie — she’s just that interesting. But only a couple focused exclusively on her most famous feat — an around-the-world trip that she hoped to complete in less than 80 days.
It was only in reading Matthew Goodman’s book, EIGHTY DAYS: NELLIE BLY AND ELIZABETH BISLAND’S HISTORY-MAKING RACE AROUND THE WORLD, that I learned Nellie had a competitor named Elizabeth Bisland. Like Nellie, Elizabeth was a journalist living in New York, but that’s where the similarities ended. Twenty-five year old Nellie was plucky and quick. Twenty-eight year old Elizabeth was thoughtful and reserved. Nellie relished the rhythm of newspaper work. Elizabeth preferred the steady pace of a monthly magazine. The more I read, the more fascinated I became with each woman’s story. I realized this was the focus I wanted my own book to take.
The illustrations are lovely and very detailed where it matters. Did you have input with the illustrator?
I’m not sure if it’s because my last two picture books have been historical or because I’ve worked with a publisher who always does it this way, but I’ve gotten to be quite involved in the illustrating process. I saw several sets of sketches and was able to make comments on a number of things, such as adding the map in the background of the picture of Nellie and Jules Verne (one of my favorite images), removing a sink and adding a basin and pitcher in Elizabeth’s steamer room, and contrasting Nellie’s one dark dress with a variety of colors for Elizabeth.
It was especially insightful to read the comments the art director left. She saw things I would have never imagined (like the angle the ship should take while riding a monsoon wave). It was fun to see in real time how the illustration process involves a series of drafts, just like the writing does.
Do you have anything special you’d like to share about A RACE AROUND THE WORLD?
Thursday, November 14 marks the 130th anniversary of the Nellie and Elizabeth’s race! Nellie traveled east from New Jersey by steamer that morning. Elizabeth left New York City that evening by train, traveling west. I would love to think young readers out there might be following along with Nellie and Elizabeth this Thursday.
You and I share a love of writing historical fiction/creative non-fiction. Please tell us what it is about writing history that appeals to you. And…what is hard about it.
As a child, history came alive to me through books. I want to offer the same opportunity for my readers. Historical fiction beckons us to step outside ourselves and enter worlds completely removed from our own. It asks us to be bigger than ourselves. I love that.
Many things are hard about writing historical fiction. It takes a lot of work upfront. I love research, but like it or not it’s an extra layer added to the making of a book. When writing about specific historical events (rather than “only” setting a story in a specific time and place in the past), it can be tempting to push characters through a historical gauntlet, rather than let the story organically unfold. Those events need to take place but in the context of the character’s life. The balance can be tricky!
What’s next on your writing desk?
Next up is a novel tentatively called MIRACULOUS. I call it history ultra lite, as it’s set sometime in the late 1800s in a midwestern state I never name. There is no historical event anchoring the story but a historical phenomenon from the era is at the heart of the story — the traveling medicine show.
Jack works as an assistant for a man named Dr. Kingsbury. He wholeheartedly believes in the mysterious doctor because his tonic saved Jack’s little sister. But things start to change for when the medicine show comes to a town called Oakdale. The story is told in five voices — Jack’s and four other Oakdale residents, including a girl named Cora who becomes Jack’s friend.
Caroline says: My goldendoodle is Boudreaux (Boo). This is the photo showing dog owners do indeed start to look like their dogs!
I know you have a dog – as a dog-lover myself (as are many of my readers) I’d love to hear a bit about your pup. And if you have any surprising tidbits about yourself!
My dog, Boudreaux, is a goldendoodle. We got her when we moved to Albuquerque nine years ago. Though my husband and I grew up here, the move from Louisiana was hard on our boys, and I promised a puppy to make things easier.
We thought the name Boudreaux would be a fun reminder of our Louisiana days. (It’s a common last name in Cajun Louisiana). Her nickname, Boo, is a Cajun term of endearment.
I’m the third “Starr” in my family. My grandmother was Gene Starr. My mom is Polly Starr. But as I don’t have any daughters to pass the name onto, our boys promptly decided Boo would be Boudreaux Starr Rose. It’s pretty much the sweetest thing ever.
Boo is my fuzzy writing companion. She’s often near as I work. Everyday we take a few walks together. These breaks are especially good when I’m stuck with my writing. How I love this girl!
Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable, Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices, Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her family in New Mexico. You can find her online at www.carolinestarrrose.comTwitterInstagram
I’m thrilled to be able to introduce Jacqueline West, the New York Times best-selling author of the gorgeous series, The Books of Elsewhere, and her newest release, A Storm of Wishes! Check out that extraordinary cover. And this sounds like a fantastic read, which will very much top my TBR stack. And…check out her fun fact at the end of this interview. It’s really awesome.
Please give us a synopsis of your newest MG, The Collectors – A Storm of Wishes.
Sure! Here’s one of the official ones:
It’s been only a few weeks since Van uncovered a magical secret—that wishes really can come true, and that a mysterious society called the Collectors protects us from the dire consequences even the smallest wish can have. Van knows only too well how wishing can go awry: his mother is recovering from a broken leg, his friend Pebble has been stolen away by the evil wish collector Mr. Falborg, dozens of dangerous creatures called Wish Eaters have escaped into the world, and Van himself has almost died—twice—all because of wishes.
When Van’s mother is offered a position at the renowned Fox Den Opera, located in the quiet, beautiful forest a few hours north of the city, she whisks Van away with her, hoping this will be a safer home for their family of two. But Fox Den is home to an ancient Wish Eater—a powerful creature with the ability to grant wishes that have catastrophic consequences; a Wish Eater Mr. Falborg would love to get his hands on. Van must team up with the Collectors and find a way to stop him before he makes a wish that leaves the world in chaos.
I know that this is a sequel to your first Collectors. Having just finished my own “companion novel”, do you consider this a true sequel?
Oh yes, this is very much a sequel. It picks up right where THE COLLECTORS left off, it features the same major characters, and it answers many—if not all!—of the big questions that remained at the end of the first book. The big difference here is the setting. THE COLLECTORS takes place in a large American city and the hidden, magical underworld beneath it. A STORM OF WISHES moves from that city to a deep forest, where secret mansions and ancient wishing wells wait within the trees.
You are quite prolific in both YA and MG, as well as short fiction – and your website also describes you as a poet. Much of your work is fantasy, but you also have some realistic fiction.What’s your favorite age and/or genre to write?
I’m not sure I have a favorite age to write for—which is probably why I do it all! I love being able to move from one project to another and to find myself somewhere completely different with each one; it helps keep me from getting stuck.
The same goes for poetry and fiction. For years, most of what I published was poetry, and now I spend most of my time on fiction—in part because I love the challenge of the novel, and in part because I have deadlines! But I know that my work in poetry informs my fiction. I think about the sound and rhythm of each sentence, and I tend to go overboard with figurative language.
Genre-wise, though, I’m a fantasist. Almost everything I write could fit under fantasy’s big umbrella, whether it’s fantasy/mystery, fantasy/horror, fantasy/adventure/humor… Even my most realistic fiction slips into magical realism. I love how fantasy removes the limits of the real world. It’s so freeing to get to play with worlds where anything can happen.
Are you working on something now that you’d like to reveal?
I’ve got a couple of creepy YA novels on the back burner, and I’m more than halfway through drafting my next MG dark fantasy/mystery. It doesn’t have a title yet—those never seem to come to me until the very end—but it involves a very small, very old town, a library full of secrets, and a book that may not actually exist.
Please share one “fun fact” about yourself. And…any pets? (If so, any pet photos to share?)
I have a form of synesthesia, so to me, each letter of the alphabet has a color, and every word is a combination of those colors. When I’m choosing character or location names, I often take their colors into account. Certain characters need names that are full of dark, mysterious colors; others might be mostly pastels or bright reds and yellows. Of course, nobody knows this color code but me…which is probably a good thing, or it might give away which characters can be trusted!
And yes, I do have a pet: a giant, bouncy springer spaniel/border collie/beagle mix named Brom Bones. We got him at Halloween ten years ago, and he was very bony at the time (he’d been in a shelter for weeks), and he reminded us of the “wild, unruly hero” from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow—one of my favorite Halloweeny stories. Washington Irving describes his Brom Bones this way: “He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of good humor at bottom.” That’s our dog to a T.
Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors, and the middle grade mystery Digging Up Danger, as well as the YA novels Dreamers Often Lie and Last Things. Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and a Junior Library Guild Selection, and received the 2010 CYBILS Award for fantasy/science fiction. An award-winning poet and occasional actress, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.
Several years ago, the marketing guru Kirsten Cappy of Curious City had a wonderful idea – why not build a Halloween-themed website that will allow kids access to stories, and create printable downloads for folks to put into Trick or Treat bags? That site – Trick-or-Reaters – has taken off, and now, in a new and improved version, anyone (parents, teachers, librarians, grandparents…) can download and print a give-away with links to the curated list of stories the site features. Here to answer my questions and tell us about the site, how it works, and its future is Amy Wells Denecker, who has recently updated the site for Curious City.
Illustrator Kevan Atteberry has created spooky-great artwork for the site.
It’s a brilliant idea – filling kids’ minds with stories instead of filling their bellies with candy at Halloween. When a child goes to the site, what will they find?
We’ve worked hard to design a homepage that is accessible and visually appealing to children. Kevan Atteberry’s amazing artwork is the foundation for that, of course, but we hope that the Scare-o-Meter and the crystal ball selection tools will make it easy and exciting for kids to explore the site to find books they’ll love. Once young readers have made their selections, they can read a bit about the author and the book in the “Creepy Creator” and “Wicked Read” sections. The “Snatch a Story” section includes features like book excerpts, sequential artwork, book trailers, and audio clips, which bring the book to life, and in many cases, authors share “Free and Freaky” activities, which provide curious kids with creative, book-based projects to work on even after they’ve put the computer away.
How many books are featured on the site? Are they all Halloween-themed or do you have some variety?
We have nearly 150 books featured on Trick-or-Reaters.com, and they are not all Halloween-themed, though they do tend to focus in some way on magical, fantastical or scary stories. As our founder Kirsten Cappy has said, “Halloween is a day where we all play with story. Millions dress up to celebrate the heroes, villains, and other characters that strike their fancy,” and that’s really what’s at the heart of Trick-or-Reaters—the stories we like to tell and the people we imagine being on Halloween–so even if even if kids aren’t looking for a fright, they are certain to find something that they’ll like on the T.O.R. website. We have books about the simple act of dressing up for our youngest readers, books about ninjas and pirates for those seeking adventure, and good old-fashioned ghost stories for older readers looking for a scare.
For authors, what are the steps to join the site? I know that my own site features an audiobook selection. Do you collaborate with authors and publishers to choose the right material for the site?
If an author is interested in adding a book to Trick-or-Reaters, he/she can complete the contact form on the “Add a Story” page or simply email us at email@example.com. From there, we’ll work with the author to gather the necessary materials, including the selections for “Snatch a Story” and “Free and Freaky,” and once we have those materials in place, we’ll create a feature post for the book. Authors who don’t have these materials readily available shouldn’t fret; we’d be happy to collaborate on creative ways to promote their fabulous books on our site.
Treat bags filled with cookies and literacy activities and site instructions.
Have you had any feedback from libraries and teachers about the program?
Yes, based on responses we received in conjunction with a T.O.R. book giveaway last year, they’re very enthusiastic. Overall, they report how happy they are to have something to share with children besides candy, and most were eager to distribute the flyers in their schools and libraries. A few even mentioned how excited children would be to curl up with these stories on a cold winter night, so we were thrilled to imagine the site’s reach even after Halloween.
Do you plan to keep expanding the program? Any new features?
Yes, absolutely! Our main goal for this year was to redesign the site. We wanted to create an actual Scare-o-Meter and reconfigure the search tools to make the site more accessible for children seeking books in a particular age-range or genre. Moving forward, we hope to add many new books to the site, but beyond that, we’ve brainstormed developing a version of the site for young adult readers, adding a featured audiobook selection each Halloween, much like AudioFile does with their Sync program in the summer, collaborating with authors to provide event planning one-sheets so that libraries and schools can host Halloween-themed events featuring their books, and arranging contests where kids could win an author visit to their school or library.
Do go visit the site – it’s truly awesome – and give the kids who ring your doorbell this Halloween something that will last a lot longer (and is a lot healthier!) than candy.
Ready for Halloween? I grew up in a haunted house. Yup, really. Free-lance writer Sally Diamond has written a spooky-fun guest post on…
Surviving the Night at a Haunted House
Did you know that 45% of Americans believe in ghosts and haunted houses. Have you ever spent the night somewhere that felt creepy? Maybe something just didn’t feel right? Perhaps there was a historical ghost in residence. To inspire your own story writing, imagine staying in a haunted house. But, how are you going to survive the night?
Identify the noises
Creak…creak…ssh! What was that? Was it the door? Was it a broken floorboard? Was it a ghost moving through the hallway of the house? Oh no wait, it was just the cold north wind moving the rusty weathervane. Drip, drip drip…is it the sound of the white lady’s tears? Is it blood dripping from a dagger? Or simply the bathroom tap that has been left on. You might feel nervous or scared, but if you work out what those creepy noises are, then maybe they might not be so terrifying.
Get yourself cosy
If you’re going to get a good night’s sleep, then you have to get yourself as cosy as possible. Tuck into that warm sleeping bag and make sure that your pillow is as soft as a marshmallow. Have you got a cuddly friend that keeps you company at night? You might want to consider whereabouts you’re going to sleep in the haunted house. Are you sure that you want to spend the night on that creaky old four poster bed, the one with the blood red covers? Maybe you might be better down on the floor next to the living room fireplace. Wait a minute – who lit the fire?
Know your ghosts
If you want to survive the night in a haunted house, it helps to know the ghosts. Make sure that you read about the history of the house before you go – learn about the myths and legends. Did you hear the rumor that haunting the bedroom is a Victorian white lady who was killed tragically on her wedding night by her husband’s lunatic brother? Many people believe that ghosts remain on this earthly realm because they seek vengeance, or there is an unfinished task they need done. Maybe there’s a way you can help the white lady move on?
Perhaps there is a haunted house local to you that you could go and visit. I bet there are some wonderful stories you could write about surviving the night there.
Thanks, Sally! I know lots of authors who seek out haunted houses. Are you one? Oh, and I’ll share my own haunted experience soon…………..
I’ve been thinking about names lately – character names, place names, book titles. Connotations are important. The right name can generate emotional responses, can elicit visceral reactions. When I was writing THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, I wanted to come up with a name for my castle, something that created an image but that wasn’t real. Rooks are a member of the corvid family, and crows have dark connotations (think Poe). And “kill” is a Scottish word for a ravine with a stream, but it also connotes, of course, murder. Hence, Rookskill, something that sounds creepy, deep, and dark.
What do you think of when you think of ice? Cold. Hard. Dangerous. Treacherous when you need to go somewhere, deadly if you are not prepared to face it with the right gear.
Now consider ICE.
The acronym stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (This is not a political post…okay, maybe it is, a bit.) This agency is tasked with the law enforcement responsibility of finding and deporting illegal aliens in the U.S. and it has come under fire for the way it’s handling its duties.
When I see pictures of people wearing black shirts with the white letters ICE I have an instinctive, visceral response, and while it partly has to do with the nature of the work they do, it is also a response to their presentation.
I submit that this may be intentional, that this presentation is meant to be cold, hard, dangerous, scary. However, I also submit that those who wear ICE white lettering on black might subliminally absorb the name and presentation of the name and not to their benefit.
Words have power. They elicit emotional responses in those who use them as well as those who read them.
Hopefully from the previous post you have a general idea of why most authors aren’t rich and what happens once a book is written. Here are a few more things I’d like to add. I’m going to be personally open and honest here, because I think it might be helpful for both authors and readers.
There is only one JK Rowling, only one James Patterson, only one Tom Clancy. They are the authors you know about who have done well, and there are a handful of others in their orbit. These authors command six or even seven figure advances. Kudos to Patterson, in particular, who gives back in a big way to many charities.
Me with my books, 2019. Kind of surprising to have written so many!
“Midlist authors” (I count myself among them) can receive advances from four to five figures. For each of my books my advances have been in that range, but not high numbers. Over the 12 years of my career so far my advances, spread out as they are, do not add up to a living wage.
One of my novels, my second (FORGIVEN), although award-winning and recognized by Junior Library Guild, went out of print (OOP, or was “remaindered”) very quickly due to a “series of unfortunate events” (the closing of Borders, the sudden appearance of cheaper e-books, etc.). That means it never will earn out, or even come close.
I was able to recover the rights to FORGIVEN, and have re-issued it as an e-book on my own, with a cover that I paid to have made. I’ve made probably less than $100 on that re-issue over the years, so really my only objective is to keep it available.
My first novel FAITHFUL is vanishingly close to earning out and I hope it does before it goes OOP. (I’ll be doing a special 10-year anniversary promotion to help it along, starting this fall. Please stay tuned!)
I’ve also written a YA sci-fi novel (ARK) and out of curiosity posted it as an indie book on Amazon, with no marketing. It’s barely sold a dozen copies (hence the value of an author having a traditional publisher or, if indie, doing an incredible amount of marketing).
Doing an author thing I love.
For each of my books – whether my publisher has done marketing in a big or small way – I’ve done additional marketing, which costs money and time. I’ve made my own bookmarks, business cards, postcards, pamphlets, handouts, teacher guides, study guides, stickers, temporary tattoos, all at my expense. I’ve paid to have my main website made and maintained, and even set up an additional website for CHARMED CHILDREN. I’ve made or purchased items as give-away enticements. I’ve invested much time in social media, although it’s incumbent upon an author not to be all “buy my book!” all the time, so I have to give a lot of thought to what I post, where, and when. I’ve appeared at festivals and on panels at conferences, and gone to book signings at my own expense in order to help spread the word.
Sometimes I’ll travel to a book signing and have one person show up, who may or may not buy my book. (This is not uncommon, and is an author joke. Only, it’s one of those morbid jokes.)
These expenses are tax deductible, to a point, but every two out of three years I’ve taken a loss.
I have earned money by doing school visits, and some appearances are paid or reimbursed. I love the work and I love meeting young readers, and those visits also help spread the word. But the preparation and travel take precious writing time, can be exhausting, and the additional income is not huge. Many writers teach. Many others have quite different day jobs. Some of us are lucky to have supportive spouses. But most of us are not in it for the money.
So why do this author thing?
Because I love writing. I can’t not write. It is a deep thrill to write something that connects with readers. It is an emotional high to write something that I feel deep in my bones. I dream about my stories, I think about my characters when I take a walk, I believe in them and their lives and in what my young readers need to know from what my characters experience.
All the writers I know would agree with that statement above.
PS: If you are a teacher, I feel you. I taught for four years. I know that most of your classroom materials, including books, you must purchase from your own pocket. This is neither right nor fair, as you are also doing a job you love. I do try to donate my books to classrooms as often as I can. But if I can’t, now it’s my hope that you understand why.
Many times when I’m talking with folks who are not authors and have no connection to the world of publishing (other than reading – but, yay you readers!) I realize that the arcane publishing model is not understood. This isn’t surprising (note the word “arcane”). For one thing, most lay people think authors are rich, and sadly that’s not the case. I thought I’d write a little primer here to help the lay person through our confusing model of writing/selling/making a living.
The Traditional Model
This author at a book launch.
There are five major publishing houses in the U.S. today: Hachette, Harper Collins, MacMillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster. Within each house is a number of imprints and divisions. There is an unspecified number of smaller publishers that specialize in different kinds of books. Collectively these are known as “traditional publishers”, and authors would prefer to sell a book to these houses because (a) they pay the author, (b) they support the author with marketing and publicity, (c) they deal with art (both interior and cover), layout and design, and (d) they make the book widely available to booksellers through distributors and catalogues. Plus, they come with a certain cachet.
Most traditionally-published authors today have agents who negotiate contracts on the author’s behalf and know which editors at which houses are looking for what kind of manuscript. Thus, an author wishing to be traditionally-published usually will first need to find and woo an agent. Agents are also specialists, with interests in children’s or adult books, and may even be particularly interested in, say, only working with picture book authors. Many agents are “editorial” meaning that, after they sign the author as a client, they will work with that author to polish manuscripts before submitting to editors at publishing houses.
Here comes the arcane part.
When an agent sells a manuscript to a publishing house and the contract has been negotiated and delivered, the author usually (though not always) receives what is called an “advance”. An advance is really an “advance on royalties” (royalties are the author’s percentage of money earned when books sell in the bookstore). What this means is that the publisher is giving money to the author not free and clear but under the assumption that enough books will sell so that this “advance” is paid back to the publisher – after which earned royalties do go to the author. Royalty calculations are incredibly complicated but result in most authors earning a tiny percentage (like 5%) of the book’s sell price. That means that if a book sells for $20, the author will receive $1.00 in royalties, which will be either applied to the advance or sent to the author if the book has “earned out”.
Got it? I know. Confusing.
Here’s where it gets really sad. First, most advances are small. As in, several thousand dollars tops. Only a handful of authors earn big advances (say, five to six figures or more). Advances are not paid out at once on signing; the first part of the advance is paid on signing, the second on delivery of the early revised draft of the manuscript, the third when the manuscript goes to copy edits, and the final payment on publication. This process can and often does take up to two years, spreading a small advance over a long time.
Second, many books don’t “earn out” their advances, which results in an unhappy publisher which then results in an author who may not be welcome to publish with them again.
Third, most books don’t sell for their retail price, but at bargain prices. We’ve all bought them, on sale, on the bargain table, on line. When they do sell at bargain, the author’s cut goes down proportionally.
At an event – sometimes only a few people show up but that’s okay!
Fourth, book piracy is rampant – and every time someone downloads a “free” book, the author loses potential income as well as street cred with the publisher.
The “Indie” Model
Electronic publishing has opened the door to anyone who wants to publish a book independently, sans agent or publishing house. This is a very attractive option because while there is no advance (nor other support), the author keeps a much larger percentage (like 75%) of the book’s list price. However, most self-published e-books sell very poorly (i.e., several hundred copies), especially if the author doesn’t devote a considerable amount of time and energy to marketing. The romance and crime book titles do best in this model because readers read them quickly and are hungry for the next book.
Now perhaps you can see why most authors aren’t rich. In fact, surveys by The Author’s Guild and others indicate that most authors are not making a living wage and must rely on supplemental income. For children’s authors, much supplemental income comes from giving paid school visits.
You can help your favorite authors by…
buying their books or asking your library to stock a book
reviewing books on Amazon and/or Goodreads (even a brief review helps)
never downloading free books
not asking authors to give you books or give free school visits.
We thank you for reading and also for understanding!