Monday, October 28, 2013

How many eBooks is too many?

Libby Fischer Hellman recently wrote a thought-provoking blog decrying the surge in "binge publishing," the practice of publishing multiple eBooks over a short period of time (up to five or six titles a year).  This is particularly common in the Indie world and now even traditionally published authors, who used to publish one book a year, are feeling the heat, being urged to produce more material in order to feed the beast.  Read a 2012 New York Times article about that here.)
Hellman argues the current flood of eBooks has led to market oversaturation and by releasing a flurry of books in a short amount of time, writers leave themselves little room to actually practice the craft of writing.  The focus has shifted to producing books at a dizzying pace, rather than letting readers anticipate the next release.

I'm a pretty fast writer.  I can't turn a book around in four to five weeks like other authors I've read about (my hat is off to you, because I just don't have that kind of juice), but I can complete a pretty solid 80,000-word first draft in about two months time.  However, I'm also a thinker and I like to let my words and my story marinate.  So even though I can churn out a draft in about eight weeks, I need time away from what I've written so I can come back and look at it with super-fresh eyes and a crystal-clear perspective. 

This is what happened with one of my forthcoming books, "Live to Tell," which I will release sometime in 2014.  I started writing it on September 1, 2012 and completed it on October 30, 2012.  Then I didn't look at it again for six months.  When I opened it back up, there was a lot there I liked and a lot that needed sharpening.  A previous trip to Boston inspired the addition of several new elements.  I had to determine what research was needed, conduct the research, incorporate the research, decide what scenes needed to be fleshed out or deleted altogether and what characters needed work.  After I worked through (most) of those issues, I put it away again until this past summer when I really drilled down on it.  At the moment, it's about 97% ready for beta reading/critiquing, which will commence by the end of the year.  Then comes the process of absorbing those comments, making the necessary revisions, letting everything sink in some more and then making some tweaks. And sitting on it some more before making final, FINAL tweaks. Only when I feel I have written the best book I can will I start production on it (cover development, proofreading, formatting). 
It's a long process, but it's the process that works best for me.

When I first decided to dive into Indiedom last Spring, my grand plan was to publish the three manuscripts collecting dust on my computer by November 2012. That grand plan went up in smoke pretty quickly as I realized the sheer amount of work outnumbered the hours in a day.  Although I had worked in publishing (on the retail side) and in PR for a number of years, there was a lot to learn and I spent a massive amount of time studying production, marketing, distribution, etc. (and still do).  Oh, and I still had to revise those manuscripts.  And there was a LOT to revise (alright, some more than others).  So despite my best intentions, I came to the conclusion that releasing three books in a few months time just wasn't feasible for me.
If anything, I do know my limitations.

Because I like to take my time, I've realized I will probably be a two-book a year author.  Besides "Every Breath You Take" and "Live to Tell," I have four more books in various stages of development (i.e. a page here, three chapters there) and coming up with new ideas every day.  While I strongly subscribe to the notion that the more work you have increases your chances of readers finding you, I'm not pushing myself to release all four of those books in 2015.  Spa days were invented for a reason.                 

With that said, I've actually done all my writing for the day and am off to read a book.
Until next time...


Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Genre Dilemma

Back in the mid-2000's, the days when I was doing the query go-round (for the uninitiated, that's the process of querying agents for representation.  A disheartening and back-breaking process), what was hammered into me by my incessant research of how to approach agents, was how imperative it was that you define your genre in your query letter.

I admit, this presented a bit of a quandary for me.  Beyond the extremely broad "suspense" tag, I had no clue what genre my books fell into. 
In the name of research, I headed to my local Borders and pored over the mystery section.  I put a hand on every book on those shelves and read every back-of-the-book blurb (yeah, sometimes, I'm crazy like that). Some clear patterns began to emerge; romantic suspense was huge (hero and heroine fall in love against the backdrop of danger).  FBI profilers on the trail of the elusive killer were also huge.  Quirky detectives caught up slick capers.  Burnt-out detectives obsessed with their latest case.  Sadistic serial killers.  Legal thrillers.  Medical thrillers. Forensic science thrillers.  Sexless, alpha-female assassins.  Whodunits, of course.  Cozies.  Cat detectives.   Procedurals. 

It was overwhelming and more than a little discouraging.  I didn't write about ANY of that, nor was I really interested in doing so. 
It was only after I went home and started looking at my own bookshelf that I realized my "genre" was staring me in the face; psychological suspense/ domestic noir.  Patricia MacDonald, Wendy Corsi Staub,  Joy Fielding  and Mary Higgins Clark all wrote about the types of things I was writing about: the murderous husband, the wronged woman, the psycho ex.  The drama and suspense emanated from threats close to home versus crazed serial killers being pursued by single-minded law enforcement officials. 

If classifying the genre of your book was important before, in today's brave new Indie world, it can be downright make-or-break (just look at the emergence of the crazy popular New Adult category for proof).  Picking the right genre can provide incredible visibility for your book; the smaller the category, the better your chances of being discovered by new readers, especially if you sell enough to make the top 100 of your chosen category.  (I had this happen with "Sweet Little Lies," managing to be sandwiched between two James Patterson books.  Say what?"). 
When I was choosing my Amazon categories for "Sweet Little Lies," I went back to being a bit stumped.  It definitely wasn't psychological suspense like "Live and Let Die" is. Much the way I had scrutinized those Borders shelves all those years ago, I painstakingly examined the myriad of genres on Amazon.  After much research and lots of thought, I settled on Spy Stories and Tales of Intrigue.  By definition, "intrigue" means "to carry on a secret or illicit love affair," which is at the heart of "Sweet Little Lies."

You might have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the right genre for your book

However, at the last minute, I got cold feet.  Probably ninety percent of the books in that category are...spy stories.  I worried I would piss readers off who wondered why this little domestic drama about cheating spouses was in a category dominated by assassins and double agents.

In the end, I chose the Crime and Murder categories, which are the right categories for that book.  I'm grateful that Amazon breaks its categories down so specifically, giving authors the opportunity to really drill down on what categories make the most sense for their books.

While it can be intimidating and at times downright confusing to try and choose the right genre for your book, don't let it get you down.  Don't be afraid to experiment until you find the categories that work for you.  Who knows?  You might even wind up creating a new genre in the process (see the aforementioned "New Adult").  Don't be afraid to write in the genre YOU want to.  It can be tempting to try and write what everyone else is writing.  In the end, you really do have to write the kind of book you want to read.

As always, back to writing.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Slacker Writer

I've been slacking off on my blog posts lately, though I'd like to think it's for fairly good reasons (at least that's what I'm choosing to tell myself.) Truth is, as an old boss of mine used to say, I've just been covered up these past couple of weeks.

By day, I'm a freelance copywriter and have been for several years.  By day and night, I'm dutifully pecking away on suspense manuscripts.  Like most Indies, I got into this game because my ultimate goal is to be a full-time novelist, but since Rome wasn't built in a day, I have to fit my writing in around my writing, if that makes sense.  This of course means some things can and do fall by the wayside for a bit before I can go back and pick them up.   
Talk to any writer about their writing routine and it's like pulling the lever on a slot machine; you'll hear a different outcome every time.  Some writers are up at dark-thirty and write for two hours straight before work.  Others hunker down over the computer for two hours a night after work.  Some might even devote their lunch break to tapping out a few words.  Some have the luxury of already having their writing career as their day job and can devote numerous chunks of time to it during the day.  Some of us have daily word count goals (mine is 2,000) while others may have a daily chapter or page goal.  Some can churn out a manuscript while sitting in the local bar (don't I wish.  I'd be too focused on the wine), while others need complete solitude and silence (true story—at night, I write with the TV on—doesn't bother me a bit.  But during the day, it's a distraction, though on occasion I will listen to music).

In a perfect world, I like to get my words in first thing in the morning, but in my frequently imperfect world, it might not be until nine at night.  Sometimes, I can burn through 2,000+ words in no time at all, and be pretty happy about those words to boot .  Other times, I'm only able to get 500 words on the page.  They tend not to be pretty, unless you count pretty ugly, but the important thing I've learned is not beat myself up about it.  The victory is getting the words out of my head and onto the screen. 
Regardless of what is going on in my life at any given time, I've learned to take the victories in small doses and not beat myself up if I don't always get everything on the to-do list done that day.  If that means I don't blog for a few weeks, or the five marketing activities I designated for myself have to wait a couple of days or I only manage to write 1,000 words instead of 2,000, it's okay.  Victories are victories, no matter how small they may be.  Sometimes, we can only do what we can do and as Scarlett O'Hara always said, tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow could be the day 2,500 words are written, six marketing activities get done and two blogs are posted.  Taking it all in stride is a lot easier than just giving up and deeming it all a big fat failure because one or two things didn't get crossed off the list.

So, I'm going back to the wayside and picking up a few things, which is perfectly fine with me.  As long as I do that, it's all good.

Now, back to writing.