Wattpad: Engaging Readers as You Write

Note: This article previously appeared in a slightly different form in Write, The Magazine of The Writers Union of Canada

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Confession: Sometimes I have trouble writing the next page of my new novel. WPNot because I am short of ideas, but because I have a lot of other urgent matters that demand my attention. I have often envied the writers whose editors or literary agents I imagine standing at their sides like midwives, encouraging them throughout their labour, reminding them of the rewards of manuscript delivery, telling them how much the world wants to see their next baby, and finally urging them to “push.”

When I heard about Wattpad, an Internet platform for readers and writers that attracts 27 million unique visitors per month, and 200,000 uploads of writing per day, I thought it might be part of the answer to my problem. And it has been. But it is also other things.

What It Is

Wattpad is a social storytelling platform where writers can register to post all kinds of work – poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction – and where readers can read that work: all at no charge.

Most writers post short segments of their works in progress (1,000 to 2,000 words at a time, sometimes much less, sometimes much more), adding to it at regular (or irregular) intervals. Some writers are posting whole manuscripts in serial format that they have previously completed. Others (like me) are posting early drafts of longer works one section at a time. Still others slap up writing fragments like ill-mixed paint with hairs in it, and leave it there to dry — perhaps intending to come back and edit later, perhaps not.

Once the piece is up there, the effort to attract readers begins. You can contribute to this process (but probably only once) by emailing all of your friends and inviting them to check your story out, and by posting your Wattpad link to other social media sites (here’s mine). Of course, you also want to encourage visitors to your page whom you don’t already know, and you can do this indirectly by reading and commenting on the writing of others on the site, getting involved in the discussion forums, and entering the informal competitions Wattpad puts on from time to time. The goal is to get people to “follow” you so that they will be notified whenever you post a new installment or an update.

Every time someone takes a look at a segment you have posted, your “read” counter goes up. Readers can also vote for or post a comment on your work. The more reads and votes you get, the greater are your chances of being noticed by even more readers.

Some people use Wattpad as an end in itself – they are not interested in publishing elsewhere. Others are creating works ultimately intended for self- or traditional publication. Many writers have several projects on the go. Some ask for input and guidance from their readers; others just write.

Who’s on Wattpad?

The two Canadians who developed Wattpad (Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen) intended it for readers as much as writers, and Ashleigh Gardner, Head of Content: Publishing, says that “Ninety percent of Wattpad visitors are there to read and comment, not to post stories.”

She also says that regular visitors include publishers and agents who are looking for new talent.

“Some writers use Wattpad to promote their books to publishers,” she says. “Perhaps their novel was rejected when they submitted it directly, but now they can demonstrate that there is significant interest in their work.”

Gardner also tells me that the Wattpad app for smartphones and tablets is downloaded about 400,000 times a day. “Eighty-five percent of our visitors now reach us from mobile devices,” she says.

The advantage of Wattpad’s mobility component is clear: your work is accessible to readers no matter where they are, and your followers will receive “push” notifications whenever you post something new.

Copyright and Other Concerns

Gardner says that the site features a very sophisticated data-checking system that not only protects what is posted, but also works to prevent piracy. “All work on Wattpad of course remains copyright to the author,” she says. “Further, it cannot be copied and pasted, and readers can’t download it.”

A few people have told me they’re reluctant to sign on to Wattpad because they fear it will lead to spam, but so far Wattpad has attracted no more spam to me than have Twitter, Linked In, Goodreads or Facebook (which is, in my case, none).

Wattpad has had a reputation for being a place where teens post stories for one another, but if that were true at one point (and wouldn’t it be great to know that there are millions of teens who are interested in writing and reading?), the demographics are changing. “The majority of visitors are now between the ages of 18 and 30,” Gardner says, “and the subject matter of the content is changing as the average age goes up.”

Making Wattpad Work

The important part of making Wattpad work for you is to remember that it is a social media platform. If you don’t engage with it (read others’ works, respond to comments, participate in forum discussions), you will miss out on the very important reciprocation factor, and your work will languish. Further, thanks to algorithms, the more readers you attract, the more readers who will find you on their own.

Networking is not as painful as you might think. While it’s true that the Wattpad platform sports lots of dabblers and thousands of very bad writers, it doesn’t take long to sort the wheat from the chaff. And there are also some very good writers there, clearly intending to do as I am — get the work written and noticed by intelligent and discerning readers.

I’ve found a few manuscripts on Wattpad whose next installments I am genuinely eager to read and I’ve also found a few very careful and helpful readers who will probably help me get through Seeds and Secrets far more quickly than I would ever have done on my own. There is a definite motivation to keep going when readers start asking when you’re going to post the next installment. (As of Jan 1, 2015, Seeds and Secrets had received 1,500 “reads” and 121 votes. It stands about 450 from the top in the General Fiction category.)

In addition to pieces of my novel, I’ve put up a couple of works of short nonfiction on Wattpad – one previously published, one not yet – and received encouraging – and immediate – responses on them as well. I am also posting blog posts from my 2011 solo trip to India – Watch. Listen. Learn – which seems to be very popular. In fact, the response is making me seriously consider publishing it as a book, which I had not considered doing before.)

For me, Wattpad is like a humungous writing group where no one has to make coffee or serve beer, get dressed before offering feedback on other writers’ works, or pay any attention to comments from readers who don’t get what they’re doing.

Wattpad is not for everyone, of course, but if it sounds like a tool you could use to stimulate your writing and find new readers for your existing work, check it out. I’ll be happy to read the writing that you post – as long as you read mine. :)

_______

Update: You can check out Wattpad’s 2014 Year in Review here. According to Nazia Khan, Wattpad’s Director of Communications, the company has noted some interesting trends this year:

  • People are writing novels on their phones
  • Episodic/serial reading is back (Dickens would be so pleased)
  • Everyone is a fan of something as evidenced by the growing number of fanfiction stories
  • Teens are reading. Yes, really.

I didn’t buy your book this week, and your publisher is to blame

Mary W. Walters

Mary W. Walters

Dear Fellow Author who has the good fortune of working with a traditional, mainstream publishing company:

This week I read a review of your book or heard an interview with you on the radio, and I was so taken by it that I wanted to have your book immediately. I didn’t even want to take the time to make a note of the title, go down to an independent bookseller and purchase it there (sorry, Independent Bookseller). I wanted it right now.

So I went to Amazon/Kobo/iBooks to make what is known as an “impulse purchase.” (When it comes to books, I do not apologize for being an impulse buyer.)

But then I discovered that in the electronic version, your book was $13.50 or maybe $15.00 or maybe even $19.95.

Now, I can see paying that amount for a paperback, but I am sure as hell not paying that much for an ebook. Because I know how much an ebook costs to make when the book is already available in print: it costs next to nothing. I know because I have created two novels in paperback (DV and Rita) that I have converted to ebooks, and in each case it cost me a ONE TIME PAYMENT of $79. One time. That’s it. After that, I make at least 35% and sometimes 70% (depending on the distribution agreement) of the selling price on every single copy of each book I sell in e-version.

Your publisher wants to rip me off, and rip you off as well

Q: Why didn’t I buy your book in e-version at $15 if I would have paid that much or more for it in paperback?

A: Because I cannot stand to be swindled. And I cannot stand to participate in a scheme that rips YOU off as well, my fellow author. If you were being paid fairly from this widespread scam that sees ebooks being priced at over $10, you would be receiving at least 35% of the cost of that ebook in royalties or (depending on how the ebook is distributed, which is something you should know), even more than that.

Three times this week alone – with three different books by three different authors – my finger has paused over the  “Buy It Now!” button, I’ve thought about the price, I have not clicked, and I have closed the screen. And the problem is that I will probably now never buy that book of yours. It’s sad. I’m sad for you. You may have lots of other advantages over those who publish on their own, but for the reason of ebook sales alone, I’m glad it isn’t me.

P.S. Joseph Boyden has edited a new anthology that focuses on the plight of first nations women. It is called Kwe: Standing with our Sisters, and it features contributions from Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Gord Downie, and many others. It was published by Penguin/Random House and it is available as an ebook for $2.99. Now thats more like it.

(You are welcome to forward this message to your publisher.)

I’m Checking out WattPad. Have You Used It?

 

WP

Seeds and Secrets is a novel about a woman who accidentally discovers a formula that will allow her to grow younger… or at least stop growing older.

One of the (few remaining) challenges about not having an agent or publisher is not having anyone give a damn if you ever get the next paragraph of your next novel written. I know that my kind readers will say that they care (at least I hope they do!) and I hope they will feel amply rewarded for their patience when the next book does come out. But their support is not the same as having someone say, “We need your manuscript in two months,” or whatever the deadline might be that a publisher can impose. I’ve never had that kind of encouragement, so this lack of external pressure is nothing new for me, but it is hard. I know many writers who live on advances and deadlines, and I envy that: I think it must keep them writing in a way that a vacuum cannot.

So I’ve decided that maybe an alternative route might be to get a few readers interested in my next book, and eager to see what happens next. For that reason, I have posted the first chapter on WattPad, where it can be read for free, as will subsequent chapters as I complete and post them. This is actually the second draft of Seeds and Secrets – I wrote the first one before I started writing The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid with John – but now that DV is up and running (my sixth book! Hard to believe!), and I have almost unpacked following my move to my new life with Arnie, and done some (quite a lot of) work for clients, and completed the first half of the PD workshops  for The Writers Union of Canada, I have started thinking about what’s next. And so I’m revising Seeds and Secrets, which is a novel about a woman who accidentally discovers a formula that will allow her to grow younger… or at least stop growing older.

The first chapter is up here now. You can read it on your computer, or download their mobile app. My goal is to have the revised draft of the whole novel up by the end of August, ready for publication. Even if no one cares if I meet that deadline or not, the fact that I will be under the illusion that a few people might be interested will be of immeasurable help to me: I know, in fact, that it will keep me writing.

However, you don’t need to do anything but click through: you don’t need to actually read a word. I am just playing tricks with my own mind and — in the meantime — doing more research for another book I’m writing, called In Defence of Procrastination.

While I’m here though, I will ask for your input. Have any of you used WattPad? Did you learn anything I should know about? Are you on there? (I can check out your book if you provide a link. Community-building is one of the goals of the site.)

I’ll let you know what I find out and how I progress with occasional updates on my WattPad Experience here. In the meantime, soon you will be reading in this space a diatribe about why I am so sick and tired of reading everyone’s whining posts about all those bookstore closures. That should make me popular. ;) Stay tuned….

 

 

 

Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps – 2014 PD Workshop from The Writers’ Union of Canada

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 2.54.34 PMI am truly delighted

to have been selected as one of two presenters for Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps, The Writers’ Union of Canada’s cross-country series of professional development workshops for 2014.

My fellow presenter is the noted fiction author Caroline Adderson, who has five books of fiction for adults and several books for young readers to her credit. Caroline will be talking about the traditional route to publishing – how to find a publisher, how to prepare your manuscript for a publisher, working with agents and editors, and doing promotion once your book is out.

I will be talking about independent publishing – why you might want to consider it, even if you’re a traditionally published author (as I am)  – e.g., for getting your out-of-print backlist out quickly, and maximizing your returns on sales –  as well as how to actually manage the self-publication of a book. I’ll be talking about finding editors and book designers, how to publish cost-effectively, managing distribution and, of course, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about promoting self-published books.

With the help of John Degen, executive director of TWUC, former literature officer with the Ontario Arts Council, former executive director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the former communications manager for Magazines Canada (formerly Canadian Magazine Publishers Association) – John is also a writer – we’ll also be covering contracts, royalties, and copyright issues, and discussing the current state of the publishing landscape from a writer’s perspective.

Appearing East, West and On A Computer Near You

The first installments of the tour will take place in Eastern and Central Canada in February, 2014. Dates and locations for the one-day (9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) workshop have now been announced:

  • Monday, Feb 3 Moncton, NB
  • Wednesday, Feb 5 Halifax NS
  • Monday, Feb 17 Montreal QC
  • Tuesday, Feb 18 Ottawa ON
  • Friday, Feb 21 Toronto ON

We will visit four additional cities – in Western Canada – in the autumn of 2014. Dates and locations for those are still to be announced. It is anticipated that the workshop will also be available for purchase in digital format after the series of live presentations is complete.

It is not necessary to be a member of TWUC to attend its PD workshops.

About The Writers’ Union of Canada

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 2.54.45 PMThe Writers’ Union of Canada is Canada’s national organization of professional writers of books, and has approximately 2,000 members. TWUC was founded 40 years ago to work with governments, publishers, booksellers, and readers to improve the conditions of Canadian writers. I have been a member of TWUC for a long time, and highly recommend joining – not only does it serve as a highly effective advocate for and promoter of writers with governments, the cultural industry and the public,  membership offers a host of wonderful advantages that range from a community of writers to dental benefits.  For more information, visit the TWUC website.

Although membership in TWUC is currently restricted to writers with “a trade book published by a commercial or university press, or the equivalent in another medium,” at its May 2013 annual general meeting, in a unanimous vote, members of the Union approved a resolution opening membership to professional, self-published authors. The resolution will be presented to the entire TWUC membership in a referendum, and will come into force with a two-thirds majority. For more information, view the Union’s June 1, 2013 media release.

In the meantime, I hope to meet you in person at one of TWUC’s PD gigs this year!

Jeffrey Getzin: Finding Special Fans and Unexpected Readers

Today I am very pleased to introduce another young(er) writer, Jeffrey Getzin, whom I also met on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition forum a few years so. He has since self-published his first novel, Prince of Bryanae, a fantasy, so he is another of the significant contingent of writers who have chosen to launch their careers themselves, rather than waiting around for the traditional industry to recognize their talents. I have noticed that a really huge segment of this new crop of independent writer / publishers is working in fantasy: I wonder if it has anything to do with the popularity of fantasy games like World of Warcraft among this generation. There is certainly a crossover readership.

Jeffrey is the person who developed a series of challenging questions for Alison deLuca to respond to, two weeks ago, and now Alison is interviewing him. She encouraged him to talk about his first novel, Prince of Bryanae, and what other writing projects are coming down the chute in the near future. He also offers the wisdom of experience to would-be self-publishers. Thank you both!

If you want to know more about Jeffrey, his writing, or his martial arts achievements, check out his website.

AdL:  Jeff, thanks so much for giving us your thoughts on self-publishing and writing Prince of Bryanae, your fantasy novel. You’ve stressed in other interviews that your main character, Willow, is a strong character. Could you describe her for us?

Jeffrey Getzin

Jeffrey: Thanks, Alison. I’d be delighted to!

In the Kingdom of Bryanae, there is none more feared than Willow, the elven Captain of the King’s Guard. She is one of the deadliest creatures who has ever walked on two legs, having obsessed about weapons and combat for 150 years!

When we first meet her, she’s a bit of a cypher; she’s abrasive, emotionless, and obsessed with discipline, but through the course of the story, we find out why she is this way, and a large part of the book is about Willow coming to terms with her past and becoming a whole person.

As for being strong, oh yes. Yes indeed, she’s strong. She’s dedicated her entire life to self-discipline, and is driven like no protagonist you’ve ever met. She’s like a Terminator with a rapier and pointed ears. Through the course of the book, she suffers countless injuries and runs up against what look to be insurmountable obstacles and unbeatable foes, but Willow never gives up.

AdL: As you went through the writing process, how were you able to access edits and beta reads? What feedback surprised you the most?

Jeffrey: The first reader of Prince of Bryanae was my girlfriend Kate, to whom the book is dedicated. She was my focus group for characters and plot, and I depended heavily on her reactions. If she liked a hero or hated a villain, I knew I was on the right track. If she didn’t react the way I had hoped, I’d tweak the book to bring them more in line with my intentions.

After the first draft was done, successive drafts were read and critiqued by writer friends, writers groups, and even co-workers. Prince of Bryanae went through literally dozens of revision cycles. Even so, I still catch the odd typo to this day!

AdL: Tell us about the language in POB. What words did you create or use to reflect the action in the book?

Jeffrey:  There are several languages spoken in this book.

First, there is Szun Universal, which is the language spoken by most humans in my world. I wrote that language using English, a language which which I have a passing familiarity. ;)

Second, there is the language of the invading humans. Initially, they are simply referred to as “barbarians” but later we learn that they are called Kards. I invented their language.

Third, there is the language spoken by the elves of Willow’s homeland. Initially, I used an invented language, but later in the book, it became the new “default” language and was represented by English. (An interesting side effect of this is that when an elf encountered someone who spoke Szun Universal, previously represented by English, he heard it in a made-up language that sounded English-like.)

Of course, when I say I invented these languages, I don’t mean I went to Tolkien lengths and wrote entire vocabularies. Instead, I got a good feeling of what each language should sound like, and a very rough idea of its grammar. I invented words only as I needed them, though I made sure to reuse them when appropriate for consistency.

[Begin Spoiler]

Finally, the protagonists actually meet an honest-to-god Szun, and not just any Szun but the one who invented Szun Universal! It turns out that over the centuries since its invention, humans have been mangling the language, so when we meet the Szun, he essentially speaks English in its “original form.” I structured this original form borrowing heavily from the Latin grammar, where verbs appear at the end of sentence, but I took it to an even greater extreme, where words are listed in increasing order of “importance” (modified by precedence). The result unusual the least is to say.

[End Spoiler]

AdL: Please share a passage from your book that you really enjoyed writing.

Jeffrey: Here is a passage of which I’m particularly fond. In it, Willow has run into her mother after being estranged for over a hundred years. It was a lot of fun to write because it has snappy dialog, and also, it’s the first time we get a clue about the nature of Willow’s childhood.

“You’re looking well, Waeh-Loh,” said [Willow’s mother]. “Other than the dark circles under your eyes, that is.” Her eyes surveyed Willow, had already glanced at the shabby cowl she wore.

“Thank you, mother,” Willow said, ignoring the barb. “You’re looking well, too.”

And she was. Tee-Ri looked extreme, barbaric, vulgar, yes. But she also looked beautiful, voluptuous. The two appeared about the same age, which was just another of the many lies of time as measured by elves.

The two women regarded each other. Around them, more spectators were arriving on the scene, gawking and chattering among themselves. Two elves in Bryanae: that ought to keep them steeped in gossip for years. Not that they didn’t already have a lot to talk about after Willow’s failures and subsequent demotion.

“Your father sends his regards,” Tee-Ri said.

Willow arched an eyebrow.

“Really? Who is my father these days?”

The corner of Tee-Ri’s mouth twitched. She had always been well adept at lying to herself. No doubt, she had convinced herself that this man really was Willow’s father.

“Jabar,” Tee-Ri said. “The great-grandson.”

“Ah, keeping it in the family, are you?”

Tee-Ri’s nostrils flared, and she sprung towards Willow with a hand raised and the backhand slap already headed towards Willow’s face. She stopped, though, when Willow’s rapier whisked from its sheath and pointed at her throat.

Tee-Ri’s porcelain face turned even whiter as she looked down at the rapier. Her face reddened.

“You would draw steel against your own mother?” she said.

“You would strike your own daughter?”

Tee-Ri took a step back, and Willow lowered her rapier but did not return it to its sheath.

“You’ve changed,” Tee-Ri said.

“You haven’t.”

Tee-Ri’s face registered the wound. For just a moment, she showed her age, and she was a sad, tired woman.

“I’m a practical woman, Waeh-Loh. The world changes, trees sprout, trees die. One either flows with time or is swept aside by it. Surely, you must know this. Or has your life among the humans turned you into one as well?”

“You tell me, Mother. You’ve spent more time in their beds than I have.” Tee-Ri’s cheeks were now a bright red. Willow pressed her attack. “And while you’re at it, Mother, when’s the last time you gave any thought to my real father?”

Tee-Ri raised her hands in half-surrender. She smiled ruefully.

“Like I said, I’m a practical woman.”

“You’re a cold, heartless bitch.”

“Ah,” Tee-Ri said, her eyes sparkling with malice, “and I see you’ve grown up to be just like me. Just look at yourself. Your hair is like straw, your body is a cylindrical lump, and your face looks like it hasn’t smiled in a thousand years. At what point did you decide to stop being a woman, Waeh-Loh? At what point did you decide to stop being an elf? My lovely, smiling, darling daughter has grown up to be a calcified statue of an old man. You can’t even get within a hundred leagues of Bryanae without hearing of the famous stoic elf Willow, that humorless, single-minded shadow of a woman.” Tee-Ri snorted. “Why, I’ll bet you’re still a virgin.”

Willow pressed the point of her rapier against Tee-Ri’s throat again. Willow’s hand shook with the effort to restrain herself.

“You know that’s not true,” Willow said with a small quaver in her voice.

Tee-Ri retreated a step, but Willow advanced, keeping the rapier pressed against her mother’s throat.

“Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”

“Because I’m your mother!”

A grim smile played at the corner of Willow’s lips. She pressed the point of her rapier an infinitesimal distance further into Tee-Ri’s throat.

“Not good enough.”

Tee-Ri started to shake. Her eyes cast about, seeking help. All around them, the fair citizens had gathered to watch the spectacle. The mood was of curiosity, though, and not of outrage. The people of Bryanae were excited, yes, but no doubt looked at this confrontation as delightful entertainment.

“There are people around. They’ll see!”

Willow shook her head.

“Not good enough,” she said. She pressed the rapier in a little more. A thin stream of blood trailed down Tee-Ri’s slender white neck.

“Stop it, Waeh-Loh!”

“It’s Willow.”

“What?”

“Call me Willow. That’s my name now.”

Tee-Ri began to cry and hyperventilate. She inserted sporadic sobs as punctuation.

“You can’t kill me!” she said.

“Oh? Why not?”

Suddenly, Tee-Ri’s eyes focused.

“Because I’m here to deliver Warlord Jabar’s terms.” Buoyed by this revelation, a small smile played upon Tee-Ri’s beautiful, savage face.

A cold lump formed in Willow’s belly.

“Terms?”

Tee-Ri’s smile broadened. She took a step away from the rapier. This time Willow didn’t compensate.

“Yes, terms. You didn’t think that it was just a coincidence that I came to see you when I did, did you? Don’t be ridiculous. Terms for the return of your prince, of course.”

AdL: Tell us about self-publishing. What challenges have you encountered?

Jeffrey: At first, I thought that self-publishing was admitting that I couldn’t hack it as a “real” writer. Until only recently, self-publishing was also known as “vanity” publishing, and was considered a form of literary masturbation.

Recently, that’s changed. As the price of print-on-demand publishing has decreased, and with the arrival of portable digital readers such as the Kindle and the Nook, the barriers for admission have lowered for self-publishing, and the value-add of traditional publishers has diminished.

I mean, what do traditional publishers actually do for you?

They critique and edit your book, but this is something you can do yourself if you have enough gumption, elbow grease, and some talented friends.

They engage an artist for the cover photo, but again, you can do this yourself. I was fortunate enough to find Carol Phillips to do my covers and I’d stack her work against the majority of the artists doing “professional” books. There are a lot more talented artists out there, too, so again, it just takes hard work (and money) to locate one and to commission a good cover.

They typeset your book for print. Once more, this is something you can do for yourself with a little research, a little moxie, and a lot of hard work.

Finally, they handle the book promotion. Here is where it gets difficult for the self-publisher, as you have to be your own publicist. It’s difficult, especially if like me, you have a full-time job that doesn’t leave you a lot of spare time.

Nevertheless, self-publishing has many perks. Chief among these is that you have chief and total control of your product. The book that’s published is the book you wanted to publish, not the book some editor felt was more sale-able.

This is, of course, a double-edged sword. A professional agent or editor knows what’s likely to sell. “All” you know is what story you wanted to write. Maybe you’ll luck out and they’ll be the same thing, but maybe you won’t…

AdL: What are some of the unexpected joys that you’ve found in your self-publishing journey?

The least expected and most rewarding experience has been the strong positive reaction I’ve received from such a diverse group of readers. I’ve managed to reach people I never expected to reach, and touch them in ways I’ve never expected to touch them.

For example, while I don’t come right out and say it in my novel, Willow is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It turns out that one of my readers has a soldier for a husband who suffers from PTSD, and they both loved the book! They told me that my portrayal of PTSD was accurate, and they both enjoyed a story where the heroine was a fellow sufferer.

Another surprise came when I learned that the teenaged daughter of an old friend had come across the book, and loved it. Now, Prince of Bryanae is pretty dark in places, and it’s very violent as well, so I never even considered teenaged girls as a target demographic; it just seemed like something that wouldn’t appeal to them. I was delighted to be wrong on this. It absolutely made my day when I heard from her.

However, the most poignant experience has to be regarding my friend Dan Copeland. He and I trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu together, and then he was diagnosed with brain cancer. But Dan was one hell of a fighter, and even showed up to his some of his chemotherapy appointments in his gi (uniform). Well, I gave Dan a copy of the book and he became an enthusiastic supporter of it, even reading it multiple times!

Dan recently lost his fight to cancer, but it touches me that first, I was unexpectedly able to bring some pleasure into his life with this book, and that second, someone as brave and strong as he would could find it worth reading. When you’re diagnosed with brain cancer, you pretty much know the clock is ticking and yet he found it worthwhile to read my book multiple times. I can’t begin to describe how honored I feel by this.

AdL: Are you working on a new book now?

Jeffrey: I have a novella called “Shara and the Haunted Village” that will be coming out soon. It’s about a starving seamstress who leaps at an unexpected chance at riches and adventure when a shadowy pair of adventurers asks her to lead them to a haunted village.

Next in the pipeline is another novella called “A Lesson for the Cyclops,” in which a circus freak falls in love with a rogue who’s on the run (and when is a rogue not on the run?), and how her life changes from the encounter.

After that, I actually have the first book I ever wrote, a prequel to Prince of Bryanae called King of Bryanae. I wrote it many years ago, and while there’s a lot of good stuff in it, there are also many problems with it. I plan to edit and revise this novel and make it something worth selling.

Next, I just started a new story, as yet untitled. I’ve written a single chapter, and I’m not sure where it will lead, or if indeed, it will lead anywhere.

Finally, I have a story for a third novel in my Bryanae series bouncing around in my head. It’s not quite there yet. I need the story to stew a little longer before it’s ready to commit to the page. :-)

AdL: What advice do you have for those who are considering self-publication?

Jeffrey: Write the best book you can. Spell-check. Have lots of beta readers; listen to them. Spell-check again. Revise. Rinse. Repeat. Only when you’ve made your book as good as you possibly can should you start the publication process.

Then, learn to be patient. There are so many good books out there by so many talented authors, that even if you’re the next Harper Lee, it’ll take a long time for your readership to grow.

Finally, develop a thick skin. Not everybody’s going to like your book; indeed, some will hate your book. If you’re not prepared for that, then you should not publish. While most of my reviews have been very positive, I’ve received a few 1- or 2-star reviews that would strip paint from furniture. You have to be able to withstand that if you expect to have any pleasure from the experience.

AdL:. Take a section from Prince of Bryanae, and rewrite it from the point of view of a minor character in the scene to create a short of about 250 words.

Jeffrey:

The thunderstorm had so thoroughly doused Don-Lan that he felt there wasn’t a dry spot on him. Every piece of fabric he wore was saturated to capacity: every drop of rain just rolled off his clothes onto the splashy mud through which he trudged. Around him, the other elves and the human soldiers sputtered and stumbled alongside him in the swamp that hours ago had been a field.

The princess had given him one job to do: lead them back to Headquarters. It had seemed so simple at the time, but with the rain assaulting them and the sky as black as night, how could he be sure they were heading in the right direction?

Another explosion of thunder deafened him, and moments later, a flash of lighting lit up the field in stark relief. Don-Lan’s heart pounded in his chest, terrified that any moment he and the rest of them would be electrocuted.

The human officer, the one with the mustache, trudged through the mud up to the princess and shouted something into her ear. She said something in reply, shaking her head, and Don-Lan could see the frustration on the human’s face. Then the black human joined the fray and shouted something else.

The princess shouted something unintelligible to first the one with the mustache and then to the black one.

The black man replied, defiance evident in his demeanor. To Don-Lan’s astonishment, the princess slapped him.

The black man bared his teeth in rage and wrapped his hands around the princess’s throat.

Chaos ensued.

Don-Lan ran forward to try to break up the fight. Pree-Var-Us evidently had the same idea, as he was running alongside him. The princess fought against her assailant: kneeing him, scratching and kicking at him, desperate for air. The human officer drew his sword.

Pree-Var-Us waved his arms, shouting at them to stop killing each other, that they had a common foe.

Then there was another blast of thunder, and suddenly Pree-Var-Us had no head. His arms continued to flail, but blood jetted from his neck, and then he fell to the ground and was still.

The black human released the princess, and she and the two humans gawked in astonishment and horror at Pree-Var-Us’s corpse.

(Fiction passages © Jeffrey Getzin)

The New Publishing Rules: Panel Discussion, Anguilla Lit Fest

“Writing Is Just The Beginning: The New Publishing Rules”

 Anguilla Lit Fest Panel Discussion, Friday, May 25, 2012

Moderator: Stephanie Stokes Oliver (Author/ Editor; USA/Anguilla) Panelists: Malaika Adero (Vice President, Senior Editor, Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, USA), Marva Allen (Hue-Man Bookstore/USA), Marie-Elena John, Author (Antigua/USA), Lasana Sekou (Author, Founder of House of Nehesi Publishers, St. Martin), Mary W. Walters (Writer/Editor, Toronto, Canada)

Left to right on panel: Stephanie Stokes Oliver, Lasana Sekou, Malaika Adero, Marva Allen, Mary W. Walters, Marie-Elena John. (Photo: Gerry Riskin)

How do you get three publishers, six writers, five editors, and a bookseller onto a panel when there are only six chairs on the platform?

Well, welcome to the world of writing and publishing ­– as it always has been, and as it always will be. For centuries, many, many writers have turned their attentions away from what they were creating and contributed at least some of their time to the editing, printing, promotion, marketing, and distribution of books – theirs and others: sometimes because they needed work (although the pay has never been that great), sometimes to get themselves and their friends into print (a lot of fine publishing houses were started this way), but mostly because they cared about books and wanted to make sure that the best found their intended audiences.

Stephanie Stokes Oliver, Moderator

Over the past hundred years or so, as the publishing process became more refined and some people began to suffer from the illusion that there could be money in the books business, some publishing houses became larger and larger, and the bigger those companies became, the fewer the number of writers who were involved, especially at the top. This made good business sense. We all know that serious writers are lousy at business. Many would rather read a “good” book than one that sells a million copies overnight. (Do not start in on me again, I am not dissing all the vampire novels or all the romance novels or even all the vampire romance novels: just the poorly written ones. No matter what the genre, there is no excuse for bad writing, and even less excuse for reading bad writing.)

However, as I have maintained all along (even in my very first Militant Writer post, “The Talent Killers,” which really was intended to be partly tongue- in-cheek), those who love great writing have always continued to infiltrate the publishing business. These literature aficionados are especially visible in the smaller presses, but we still find them occasionally at the larger ones as well, particularly in the role of editor.

Finding A Platform

One of the most difficult aspects of the impact of the new technology on the books business, in which the publishing model as we have come to know it is dissolving before our eyes, is how writers and other people who love great writing can continue to talk to one another. There is a tremendous temptation among those of us who have begun to self-publish to be defensive and self-righteous, and a similar impulse among those of us who have not.

There are, however, a number of issues on which we can agree:

1)    the manuscripts of self-published authors have not been vetted and preselected by independent, experienced editors before they become books: there is no quality control. As a result, a majority of the books that are self-published are junk;

2)    most self-published authors cannot afford to (or choose not to) invest in top-notch substantive and copy editors or book designers and layout artists. Therefore the majority of self-published books are not only junk, they are badly edited and poorly laid-out junk with crappy covers;

3)    for many, many years the established publishing system has – despite its inherent flaws – offered the only truly workable system for weeding out the good writing from the crap and getting it to readers;

4)    in recent years the traditional publishing system, because it is profit-based, has become unworkable not only commercially but from a literary perspective as well;

5)    some truly outstanding writers, with strong track records in the established publishing business, are discovering that self-publishing offers them an opportunity to control their destinies for very little cost, and to increase their profits;

6)    the new possibilities offered by technology have created not only self-published authors but also e-books, which have been adopted by readers en masse, and which are taking down independent booksellers one at a heartbreaking time.

So where does that leave a panel of intelligent, dedicated committed writers, readers, publishers, and one of the most well respected independent booksellers in the USA? Well, it is a testimony to the perspective and vision of the participants of the panel discussion that was held at Anguilla’s first LitFest on the morning of May 25, and its moderator, Stephanie Stokes Oliver, that we were able to engage in a lively discussion and find our common ground rather than increasing the size of the fissures that currently threaten to separate us.

Publishers

Lasana Sekou of House of Nehesi, panelist

The three publishers on the panel were Lasana Sekou, founder of the House of Nehesi,  Malaika Adero, vice president and senior editor at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and Marva Allen, a director of the new independent publishing house Akashic Books. In answer to the opening question, they explained the traditional publishing model: how a manuscript is selected for publication, edited, designed, laid out, released and then promoted. They described the challenges  – historical and new – that face publishers: not only the big-picture issues (most notably economic ones) but the day-to-day frustrations.

From them we heard that: senior editors at major houses have to deal with marketing divisions that veto excellent manuscripts because they will not sell; publishers face such avalanches of unsolicited manuscripts that they are unable to even look at unagented material; publishing houses must sometimes turn away promising writers because they are so pig-headed and misguidedly arrogant that they will not allow their work to be edited; the new technologies mean that already overburdened senior editors need to get all of their authors’ books into e-book format – and not only the new releases, but the backlists, too. We learned that they are saddened when good books must be turned away, that they feel a responsibility to ensure that fine stories continue to be told, and that they respect and want to sustain the voices that tell the stories they admire, and the ones that move them.

Editors

After the panel: Malaika Adero (r) and me

The editors on the panel were (in addition to Lasana, Malaika and Marva, who were also all editors as well as publishers), Stephanie Stokes Oliver, editor of Unity Books and former editor of Essence magazine) and me, freelance Book Charmer and manuscript editor.

All of us (and all of us as writers as well as editors) agreed that even the best-written manuscripts need strong editors. Writers need substantive editors who will tell them where their manuscripts are working and where they are not, what characters need to be developed more and which ones less, what isn’t clear to readers and what needs to be omitted.

These editors need to be people who can help the writer say what the writer wants to say in the way the writer wants to say it: and who are willing to listen to what the writer says in response to editorial suggestions. The editor lets the writer do all of the necessary edits and revisions. A good editor never does the rewrite.

We all also agreed that books need to be well copy-edited before they are published (and winced at what we’ve seen out there in some self-published books, but also in some books from well established presses.)

I expressed the opinion that I have stated before on The Militant Writer, that the era is coming when some editors’ private imprints will have cachet – independent of publishing houses (as translators have done in the past). If you are self-publishing and have attracted a certain well-respected editor to work with you on your book, you will put his or her name on the cover as your editor, and that will alert readers to its quality. Top editors will be able to hang out their own shingles and make some real money for a change. And they’ll be able to pick and choose the manuscripts they work on. (Some will say they cannot afford to hire editors. If you put aside $5/week for the two years or more when you would be waiting for a publisher to make a decision  on your manuscript, put it in the publishing queue, edit it, typeset it, print it, and release it, you will have no trouble saving up enough money to pay an editor – and a book designer.)

Bookselling

Marva Allen, panelist (l), and me – after the panel

To my mind, booksellers, particularly independents, are the innocent victims in the transition to new publishing models. This has less to do with the proliferation of self-publishers than with the growing popularity of e-books. Marva Allen, whose Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem has an international reputation, is recognized for her contributions not only to fine writing in general and the writing of African-Americans in particular (“A SKU for every hue”) but to the building of the reputations of a number of important individual writers.

She told us that the economic reality of bookselling has reached the point where she is not sure if she will renew her lease.

Writers

Marie-Elena John, Panelist

All of us who were on the panel are writers. A couple of us – Marie-Elena John most notably (whose novel, Unburnable, I am eagerly looking forward to reading), but also including Lasana Sekou, Stephanie Stokes Oliver and I – are writers first and foremost, in our self-perception and our lives.  Malaika Adero and Marva Allen are writers too, and all of us on the panel shared concerns as writers and lovers of good writing about the traditional publishing industry – its slowness to respond, its inability to change (Malaika compared it to an ocean liner trying to steer its way into a tributary), its poor track record in promoting and distributing the books it does publish, and its increasing tendency to overlook quality fiction in favour of what a friend of mine calls “mental junk food.” (The name of Paris Hilton, “author,” came up in this context several times.)

Publishers used to argue that it was the books by non-writer celebrities that allowed them the financial stability to publish less economically viable literary works. No more: there is no financial stability in the business anywhere. As writers we understand this, and as readers and writers we’re in despair over what we’ve lost – even as new doors open for us.

The New Gatekeepers
As I have also said before, the readers are the new arbiters of what will sell and what will not. In recent months, we have seen a significant example in Fifty Shades of Grey – a book that not only found a kazillion readers for its author, but opened up a whole new genre of writing. Within weeks, imitators were putting out their erotic novels by the hundreds. And it wasn’t only other self-published writers who were proving that when you are trying to make a buck, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: it was the established publishers as well. (Most of the rest of us just stood around turning Fifty Shades of Green.)

To my mind, the ability of a writer to reach directly out to readers – eliminating the middle people – and the ability of readers to respond – by throwing rotten eggs at us or by welcoming what we’ve written and spreading the word to other readers – are some of the most exciting aspects of this evolving, truly democratic world of publishing. But the evolution also has produced so much garbage that it is hard to find the glints of precious metal that are surely in it somewhere.

To find the best books, we are going to continue to need great book reviewers who establish reputations for themselves – often in specific genres. Their stamps of approval will mean as much in future as does a review in the New York Times today. Unfortunately, given what’s happening to newspapers and magazines (which pay almost nothing to reviewers anyway), most of these future king- and queen-makers will consist of unpaid bloggers. (Oh, and Oprah: whose book club, I have heard, is back.)

The publishing panel discussion at the Anguilla LitFest was invigorating, with the love of literature and great writing forming a common bond among panelists and audience members. In addition to our conviction of the importance of continuing to write, find and promote good writing, we were also all in agreement that electronic books and self-publishing are here to stay. We are going to have to learn to live with them – and with one another – in this rapidly changing world.

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(Note: Thanks to Gerry Riskin for most of the photos on this page.)

A Book-Promotion Experiment: The Book as Soap Sample

My first novel, THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, is a story about a young woman who must go home and confront her past when she learns that her mother — to whom she has not spoken in several years — is dying. It won the Writers Guild of Alberta award for excellence in Writing, Novel Category waaay back in 1988.

As a promotion of the impending release of the Kindle version of THE WHOLE CLOVE DIET, The Woman Upstairs is downloadable on Kindle at no charge for four days only (March 25 to 28, 2012).

In other words, I’m using my first novel as a free sample for a few days, like a little box of soap flakes, to promote my new novel.

Last year I rereleased The Woman Upstairs (NeWest Press, 1987), which had been out of print for two decades, as a POD and an e-book through CreateSpace. It only cost me a couple of hundred dollars to have it scanned in. Plus I had a new cover made because I didn’t own the rights to the visual. I have done nothing to promote it aside from posting links here and there: I just figured that it was available and maybe some day, when I published another book, it might sell a few copies.  I wanted it to be available in case.
As most readers here know, I am self-publishing my next novel, The Whole Clove Diet (it’s available now as paperback). I decided that, in anticipation of the release of the Kindle version of The Whole Clove Diet, I would test out the Kindle Direct Publishing “Free Promotion” option with The Woman Upstairs. This allows ebooks priced at $2.99 or more (which is the price point for accruing 70% royalties; anything less and you are down to 30%) to be given away for up to five days. (Of course, no royalties accrue on these books. Nothing times 70% is the same as nothing x 30%.)</div

So I started the sale Sunday morning, and I did not notice where the ranking was at that point, but I would guess The Woman Upstairs was probably a millionth or so on the best-seller list, like the paperback is. It was at about #4000 in the Kindle Free Store when I first started watching a few hours later.
I have been promoting it as much as I can on the social media, but that does not explain what has happened to it — there must be a lot of people who are finding it on some “free books” list somewhere from which they download everything in sight. In the past day it has moved up to #11 in Kindle Literary Fiction and #17 in Kindle Contemporary Fiction. But what really blows me away is that 1200 people have downloaded it. That’s almost more than the first print run, I think.
Who knows how many people who have downloaded it will ever get around to reading it, and better yet like it enough to pay for the new book (which is my master plan), but it’s been an interesting process. Here’s the link if you’re interested in watching what happens.
At the end of Wednesday, it will go back to $2.99, at which point I expect it to fall off the face of the earth again. But it’s the long term impact I’m interested, and I guess I may never know exactly what that is.

If you had told me five years ago (or even two) that I’d be giving my first novel away – even as an e-book and even only for four days – as a promotional device, as though it were a sample package of soap, I would not have believed you. But these are interesting time, and they call for creative approaches.

This is (one of) mine….

I’ll report back at some point on how this and other strategies for book promotion re: The Whole Clove Diet have worked out.

By the way, I have started yet another blog (my 10th, I think) for items related to The Whole Clove Diet, and diets in general.

And again, here’s the link to the free Kindle version of The Woman Upstairs.

(On March 29, it will go back to its usual astronomical ;) price of $2.99.)