Will You Do the Work? by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Guest Bloggers on Amelia Curzon's blog

Looking for some sound advice about starting out as a writer!  Well, my Guest Blogger for the week is here to share the essential basics of where to begin.  A warm welcome to you, Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, and thank you for your user-friendly guidance. 

People ask me for writing advice all the time. After all, I used to work for a publishing house and I am now an indie author of six titles.  I don’t mind giving advice, I really don’t. I do mind repeating myself. So for the sake of all perpetuity, I’m going to share the key steps to getting started as a writer.

Below, I’m going to share everything you need to consider if you want to be published. “Everything” as in the beginning steps you’ll need to take.  If you want to know more, consider my book So You Want to Sell a Million Copies? Or others like it that offer more in-depth guidelines, links, and information.Guest Blogger Author Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar on Amelia Curzon's Blog - "Curzon"

Step One:

Write a book. Yes, I know this might seem slightly obvious but you’d be amazed how many people seem to miss this crucial step in their rush to get into print. They have a great idea, a story that will leap at readers, and they can’t wait to sell it. Well, last time I checked, you can’t sell something that doesn’t exist (well, people on Wall Street try all the time and look where that got the global economy). Get yourself an office, a café, or even a clear space of desk and get to writing. There is no skipping this step.

Step Two:

Find beta readers. These are people who will tell you what they think about the book’s contents. They will say that a character doesn’t seem real or that the language is kitsch. You are not allowed to hate them for it because are providing you an invaluable service: prevention from public humiliation when your book goes worldwide. Treat them like gold. Do not ask your mother or Aunt Mildred, nor your father if his thing is to be overly critical. Find a writing group, online or in person, join, and return the favor to receive good critiques.

Step Three:

Think through your publishing options carefully. Do you want to go the commercial route and wait a year or longer for an agent to show interest in you? Because that’s if all goes smoothly; the agent then needs to sell to an editor and conversely a publishing house on your behalf, first, and then your idea. If you don’t have the heart for form rejections or time to bite your nails as you wait for replies, consider self-publishing. Smashwords, Kindle, iBooks – the options seem to be multiplying by the day. Consider which meets your needs and what budget you have for publicity, marketing, etc. Even if you go commercial, you’ll still be expected to promote your book. The days of company led marketing campaigns are all but nil, and those only for the repeat best sellers.

Step Four:

Build a fan base, not by spamming everyone you know, but creating a good product and establishing connections with other people who are either interested in your story or in the same genre you’re in. I recently published a contemporary romance novel. It borderlines literary fiction but in order to establish a niche, I’m reaching out to the romance set. They are friendly, they want reviews, and they’re looking to exchange guest posts, Tweets, Facebook likes, you name it. Once you do agree how you’ll benefit each other, make sure you hold up your part of the bargain. The internet makes the social media sphere a small world and you don’t want to be that uppity writer who angered a book reviewer.

Step Five:

Persist, be patient, and helpful. Just like you did in the writing phase, marketing and publicity may get cumbersome. See you can get on your team. There are plenty of reasonably priced groups and individuals out there looking to support authors of all stripes. Find them, join them, become one of them. Many of these opportunities are free, like Goodreads or Facebook interest groups. Remember: you need to give before you can get, so give as much as you can and build up these relationships with people so that they will be excited about promoting you and your project.

The irony behind headlines that say someone was a ‘overnight success’ is that they rarely are. Jodi Picoult, who has been on more bestseller lists than most of have pairs of shoes, once said that her overnight success was nine years in the making.

Ask yourself if you are willing to put in that kind of dedication. If the answer is no, then maybe you’d rather do something else. Like learn how to play tennis. I hear the Brits are trying to find someone to make it to the finals next year.

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Romantic ebook by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

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We Are the Gatekeepers Now! by Anne Chaconas

My Guest Blogger this week is the irrepressible Anne Chaconas.  Anne is an author, prolific blogger, phenomenal book reviewer and, though how she fits the time in I do not know, full-time mother. This is her thought-provoking take on who holds the reins in the book publishing industry.

Guest Blogger Author Anne Chaconas on Amelia Curzon's Blog - "Curzon"

As writers we are highly single-minded—our primary pursuit (as well it should be, I believe) is getting our works completed and out for public consumption. We obsess over main characters, mercilessly dissect plotlines, fret over dialogue tags, nitpick descriptions, panic over typos. And we write. We write, we write, we write. When we’re not writing, we’re thinking about writing. Or worrying about writing. Or feeling guilty about not writing. For a lot of us, that’s just the way the day goes (even when we’re at our day jobs, which many of us can—regretfully—not give up quite yet). And we love it.

We love the pressure, and the self-imposed deadlines. We love creating. We love playing with words.

Certainly, not very many of us slave away at manuscripts with the hope of languishing in obscurity for the rest of our lives. Sure, we may not expect to become the next Stephen King (or Nicholas Sparks, or E.L. James—pick your poison), but we hope to make a decent living from our craft. We want to quit that day job and devote ourselves full-time to what we love to do. We dream about that home office with the wide windows and comfy writing chair, about waking up early in the morning when they air is still new and the birds are only just beginning their chirps, and about knowing that we have the whole day to spin our yarns. No boss except ourselves, no hassles except those we put our characters through.

And, the thing is, our chances of doing that are at an all-time high. A wonderful thing has happened in the last 10 or so years—the true advent of self-publishing. Self-publishing used to be an incredibly costly endeavor, involving thousands of dollars and dealings with potentially (usually) shady publishers. Now, it’s virtually free. With e-readers flying into the hands of readers everywhere, getting your work out into the world is easier than ever. Just upload, save, and­­—blammo!—you’re there, published.

Two closed locks

Photo credit: espressoed (Creative Commons)

We all know it wasn’t always that way—the Big Six held the keys to the kingdom not that long ago, and its minions used their power to bat away authorial hopefuls from the citadel walls. We would finish our novel, our baby, our masterpiece—and then query. And get rejected. And query again. And get rejected again. Wash, rinse, repeat. No longer: Now, we are the gatekeepers. I say again: We are the gatekeepers. Oh, but that does have a nice ring to it. Very Tony Robbins: Take control of your destiny! And we are. In droves. Thousands of e-books are published every year now, in every conceivable genre.

We are the gatekeepers now!

Ah, but there’s a catch (there always is, isn’t there?): We are the gatekeepers. And when you’re the lord of the manor, it’s not all banquets and balls. Allow me to get trite for moment: With great power comes great responsibility. Sure, we don’t have to kowtow to some suit in New York, beg to have our book published, and then smile over paltry royalties—but readers still expect us to put out the same quality work as a major publishing house.

Let’s analyze why.

Readers have never much given a damn who published their favorite book. I have never met a single person who, in describing their current read, said, “Have you read the latest book by such-and-such? It was published by Random House!” (And, truth be told, if I did meet someone like that, I’d be a little frightened.) No, readers haven’t ever really cared who published a book, whether e-book or not. But they do care about the quality of the book. The formatting. The editing. The cover. Read any review on Amazon and chances are good that if there was anything negative to be found about the quality of the book it’ll be mentioned:

“There were frequent typos that distracted me from the story.”

“The formatting was weird and inconsistent on my Kindle.”

“The story line didn’t flow—wasn’t this book edited?”

And then—once they’ve started wondering how this book made it to market in the first place—then they might go and look at the publisher. If it’s not a big-name company that they recognize, they’ll pen those dreaded six words: “it’s just a self-published book.” And that’s how self-published authors—all self-published authors—get set back. It’s just a self-published book; that’s why the quality isn’t so great. It’s just a self-published book; that’s why it wasn’t edited. It’s just a self-published book; that’s why the cover isn’t that professional. Suddenly, being a self-published author is not a sign of entrepreneurship, independence, and self-sufficiency. Instead, it becomes a mark of poor craftsmanship, shoddy editing, and less-than-stellar performance. The focus is taken off the work itself, and is shifted dramatically to its flaws.

Here’s the problem: We, at our core, are artists. Some of us may not think of ourselves that way—I know I typicallydon’t—because we associate artists with paint and brushes, chisels and marble. But we are. Artists are good at creating. We’re not so good at making that creation good for public consumption. That’s what agents and publishing houses are good for. Now, before you all turn against me, let me say this: I’m not advocating that we give up our newfound publishing freedom and beg for the Big Six to take us on. On the contrary—I’m a big advocate of entrepreneurship, independence, and self-sufficiency. Heck, I’m self-publishing, too!

However, I’m also a big advocate of putting the absolute best version of my product out there. Writing does not exist in a vacuum. Well, good writing doesn’t. Good writing has an exceptional foundation, sure—but it also has beta readers, an editor, and a cover artist. It has a talented author at its core, but it also has people with proven expertise who have helped that author take his or her work to a new level. As writers, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as a single, lone entity—we’re not. We’re not just one person, typing away on a keyboard or scribbling away on a sheet of paper. We’re a cooperative of indie talents, all with the same goal: To lift out craft just one step higher, to increase the respect of our field just one tick more.

We don’t have the luxury of blaming errors of a third party: “Oh, I can’t believe my publisher used that cover!” “That is not the final edited copy of my work I approved!” Nope, nuh-uh. There is no third party. When you’re indie, the responsibility of presenting high-level work falls all back on you. And high-level work is what you must always present, lest a blemish start eroding your credibility.

Much in the same way that a series of missteps can bring down an entire career (Lindsay Lohan, anyone? Mel Gibson, perhaps?), a series of errors can bring down a literary work, no matter how good its foundation. Let’s be honest: A review which starts out “This book had so much potential,” is probably not going to end well. And the scary part is, they don’t have to be huge errors. Often, they are small, but cumulative. Consistent typos. An amateurish cover. Poor formatting. Any of these, or a combination of them, can turn your baby—that thing you’ve spent months, maybe even years, working on—into a slush pile of, “Naw, I think I’ll pass.” An accumulation of these errors over multiple works can ruin your budding career as a self-published author. And when multiple indie authors display these errors over and over again, they can tar all other self-published and indie authors with the same gunky brush.

Do we want the errors of a few to taint the hard work of many? Even worse, do we want to be the ones blamed not just for our own, but for the group’s bad rap? I sure don’t. I’m working too hard on my brand to let a few errors bring me down, and I don’t want a poor perception of indie authors as a whole to mess with all my hard work. Beta readers, editors, cover artists—all of these are in my future. I will make the investment in my work because this isn’t a vanity project or a lackadaisical endeavor; this is my life. And it’s the life of many of my author friends, too.

open locks

Photo credit: apropos (Creative Commons)

We are all in this together. We’re making inroads into the unknown. We are taking matters into our own hands. It’s an exciting, nerve-wracking, Brave New World.

But we must remember: With great power comes great responsibility.

We are the gatekeepers now.

Bio: Anne Chaconas was born in Central America, educated in the U.S. Northeast, moved to the Deep South for love, and is currently living on the East Coast (and spends most of her time missing winter). Her awesome husband, adorable daughter, three rambunctious cats, and two very adoring dogs keep her busy. Her debut novel, Salve Regina, will be available this fall. In addition to being a writer of things serious (and, sometimes, not-to-serious), she is also a snarky mommy blogger and a book reviewer extraordinaire. You can find her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and entirely too many other social networking sites.

The Fishing Pole: Musings on Amazon by Katherine Gilraine

This week I am thrilled to welcome my Guest Blogger, Katherine Gilraine, with her thoughts on the Amazon phenomenon

The saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he will eat for life.” We can all relate to that at one point or another in our lives, and in the world of publishing, we have to learn what constitutes the fish, and what constitutes the fishing gear, so to speak.

Self-publishing has turned the process of getting books released on its head. We the authors know it, the readers know it, and while it’s still new, we got used to the fact that self-publication is a very viable method of releasing written work. Not only that, but with gumption and hard work, it is profitable.Guest Blogger Katherine Gilraine on Amelia Curzon's Blog - "Curzon"

However, in recent times, Amazon has been dominating the e-book and e-publication market to such a degree that there have been noises that it’s a monopoly, and how they’re taking over the e-book market.

Let’s be clear: it’s not. Why? It’s not a publisher. It’s a distributor, first and foremost, and an extremely effective one. Considering that its best-selling product has been the Kindle, of course it will do everything in its power in order to keep the Kindles well-stocked. Amazon has recognized the power that e-readers have on the world of reading, and it has been ensuring that there is no shortage of material for it. If it means opening up the doors to self-publishers, then by all means.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So how, might you ask, does this relate to the fishing-pole saying?

Let’s see what Amazon symbolizes in respect to the saying. Amazon isn’t the teacher who teaches you to fish. By no means. No. Amazon is, more or less, the fishing pole and a bucket, next to a sign in the road that says, “This way to the river”.

The tools to success as an author are, without question, within the author. Story, writing skills, marketing, and perseverance. Those are the bare bones, and Amazon is only supplying you with the tools to utilize those bare-bone skills: distribution, marketing, and access. In exchange for getting the right to distribute your e-book – and this is only made exclusive with KDP Select – the tradeoff is a much greater exposure. But does Amazon, in and of itself, drive people to your book? No. That is where you, the author, employ your marketing mojo. The tools are there, and what you do with them is entirely up to you. No two people use the same fishing technique.

Now, to touch back on the monopoly issue.

It’s pretty clear: Amazon is the dominant market for e-books right now. B&N’s Nook is a second. Behind that is Apple iBooks. But in all actuality, Amazon is not discouraging competition. Far from it. It’s simply doing business and pushing out its next product. The reaction from the other e-readers and e-reader markets, theoretically, should be “Okay, I see X by Amazon and raise you Y by [competing product].” It’s just simply not happening. Instead, there have been a slew of bad decisions.

B&N had cut percentages to affiliates in digital sales. Big Six publishers have recently declined to renew their contracts with Amazon, and this is sure to have echoing implications for authors who have been traditionally published with the Big Six. On top of that the Dept. of Justice had come down on Apple and some Big Six companies over e-book pricing. And none of this does the authors any good.

So yes, authors will put their digital eggs in the Amazon basket, because they see Amazon rolling out one innovation after another, and they know that their faith will be rewarded. B&N and the Big Six are still holding onto the trad-pub and print-book-first model of publication, while Amazon has been thinking of what innovation to put into place in 2020, and it shows in their success.

My personal experience was with Amazon’s KDP Select program, which does appropriate exclusive rights to digital distribution – in other words, once in KDP Select, your book goes nowhere but Amazon in digital form for 90 days – but in exchange for it, you get a series of marketing options. Amazon Prime members would have free access (which doesn’t impact your royalty), and an option of free-copy marketing days. I had opted to make the first book of my series free, and when Amazon does promo, they do promo. All I did, really, was put the links on Facebook and Twitter.

In only 24 hours I had moved well over three hundred copies across three countries, and sold my other books – yes, as in royalty sales. The next couple of days after the freebie promo ran out, I started seeing paying sales of the first book. The ranking for the promo day, at the end, had listed my book as #6 in Science Fiction Adventure subcategory. In one day.

Apart from that I’m seeing the momentum carry forward past the one-day promo, which is resulting, directly, in sales. Needless to say, my two books will also get their turn with the free-copy promo.

But bear in mind this: Amazon had only appropriated rights to the digital distribution only with my KDP select membership. I am still the owner of my first publication copyright, being self-published, and I see the tradeoff of exclusive distribution for the sort of exposure boost that it provides as a good one.

Fact is, while Amazon isn’t a publisher, it is doing what most publishers aren’t: keeping the author and the customer in mind. Self-published authors have either been through the traditional publishing gamut or had opted out of it because it was not suitable to their needs. With the advent of Kindle and e-books, Amazon had also extended a hand of partnership towards the self-publishing world. This partnership is of very mutual profit: Amazon gains more material for distribution and potential profit, and the author gets an entire market for their work. And avid readers who want to discover new authors have the chance to do so.

Let’s cut to the chase: Amazon did not get to where it was by thinking of profit or by wanting to hold onto a business model that is rapidly growing antiquated. It has been doing nothing but its business, and it has encouraged the competition from other e-distributors, who had failed to rise to the challenge. Monopoly it is not, and a publisher it is not, but it is certainly one of the most effective distributors there is. It offers you an enormous potential, but it will not actually step forward and teach an author how to market a book. The author still has to do work.

If you have to take it back to the proverb, you can say that Amazon for a self-published author is a fishing pole with a baited line. You just have to figure out how to use it, and once you do, the possibilities are endless.

Kat Gilraine

For more information on the author, please visit http://www.katherinegilraine.com

Amazon storefront: http://amzn.to/InrIwW