“Son of a Pitch” Entry

There are several of pitch events for authors, so I thought I’d give “Son of a Pitch” a try. I am posting my query and the first 250 words of No Rest for the Wicked for critique, so feel free to leave me comments. (Spoilers galore!)

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Title: No Rest for the Wicked
Genre: Historical, supernatural suspense
Word Count: 35,000

Query (no salutation, bio, or comparisons, and updated 2/15 after feedback):

Vi thought her days of grifting and dealing with the dead were over when she left Peter eating steam on a Chicago train platform. No one west of the Mississippi should know she sees ghosts, but a dead stranger still shows up at her doorstep. Transparent hat in hand, he begs her to recover his buried gold to pay his debt and save a life. What should be an easy buck turns into racing horses, cheating at cards, and tangling with bandits, all before lunch.

Once she figures out who tipped off the ghost, Vi must face the past she thought she’d buried. Peter reveals himself post-mortem to warn her of enemies bent on luring her back to New Orleans and willing to kill to get what they want. Neither distance nor death has tamed Peter’s love, and he’s determined to do whatever it takes to keep her safe. Vi may play the “damsel in distress” for a con, but she won’t let herself be rescued if she can earn his forgiveness and help him cross over. She may have broken his heart, but she’ll atone for the only deception she’s ever regretted—even if it kills her.

NO REST FOR THE WICKED is a suspense novella featuring humor, romance, and supernatural elements. In the series, Mistress of None, fans of gaslight fantasy and uppity women will love following Vi from shore to shore in 1870’s America.

First 250 Words of the MS (updated after initial feedback):

Viola Thorne couldn’t pinpoint the reason she preferred to bathe by moonlight. Perhaps it was the quiet chirps of the crickets, or the splash of stars above her head, but something about the nights here at the end of the world called out to her.

Steam rose off the water, eddying around her head and shoulders while the rest of her luxuriated in the gentle currents. A half-empty bottle of whiskey sat near a waxed paper parcel on the rim of her soaking niche. She reached inside and pulled out a fragrant hunk of soap. This was the last of what she’d brought from back East, and there was no telling when she’d be able to get more, but Vi worked the bubbles through her hair and scalp with gusto. The smell of lilacs rose from the lather to combat the reek of rotten eggs. She breathed it deep into her lungs as she closed her eyes against the tide of foam.

A gentle sensation as light and dangerous as hornet wings fluttered on the back of her neck and slowed her hands. Miles away from anywhere anyone might possibly want to go, she should have been safe from prying eyes even in daylight. Unwilling to let the peeping Tom know she was on to him, Vi went back to washing her hair, listening for the whisper of cloth as the infiltrator approached. If it came down to it, she could always reach out with her other sense, but only as a last resort.

Publishing 101: Part 3 – Names That Sell (Traditional Publishing Cont.)

This is the third installment of a multi-part series about the pros and cons of different types of publishing options (traditional, small press, and self-publishing), and the things aspiring authors can do to make their work ready for each one. These will be distillations of what I have learned on my own, as well as attending seminars through the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con 2016.

Read Part 1 – The Roots and Part 2 – Money Talks, which are also about traditional publishing.

Far and away, the biggest benefit an author can get from having their book published by a traditional publisher is financial support. This goes hand in hand with the huge team of people they have assembled to fine tune, package, and sell your story. But beyond their deep pockets, well-known publishers also have a brand.

The Power of Name Recognition

People trust names like Harper Collins and Penguin. They have certain expectations when it comes to the quality of what they are about to read because the publisher has established themselves and their reputation for putting out good books. This is not to say that there aren’t brilliant self-published books out there, but you have to wade through a quagmire of less-than-stellar books to find the ones that are truly professional and, well, “good.” (Whatever that even means. That is worth a whole series of posts on its own!)

For better or worse, publishers are gatekeepers of the written word. It helps a public that is constantly inundated with calls to buy, buy, buy! to find a way to sort through all the different products available. There are over 3.4 million different books currently available on Amazon alone, and so people who are looking for a way to narrow the field will probably choose a name (brand) they trust. This doesn’t just apply to consumers, but also to those retailers I mentioned last week. Bookstores only make money when books sell and they have their own reputations to maintain, so buying titles from big, established houses is just good business.

Maintaining a Reputation is Just as Hard as Getting One

I love the internet, but it definitely has its dark side. It has democratized information in that people now have an unprecedented access to knowledge, but the anonymity the internet affords can also bring out the worst in people. “Trolls” lurk everywhere and leave nasty, strongly-worded comments and “flame wars” rage in the comments sections as people argue for their own points of view. Pair this is our propensity to only bother to report how we feel about something if our experience was negative and you get a recipe for a quick and simple loss of reputation.

For publishers, their brand and their reputation for quality is incredibly valuable. Even if a company has tons of money their customers can lose faith. We’re fickle creatures and it doesn’t take much to totally turn us off a product or company. Then, we go on to tell our friends, and their friends tell their friends… you get the idea.

So, in addition to a 91% chance an author will lose them money, there is also the potential to lose their good reputation if a book the publish gets panned by critics and readers. If a book’s sales perform poorly, that also undermines a potential customer’s faith in the quality of the book, which is a deadly catch-22 that publishers want to avoid at all costs. From this perspective, it makes a lot of sense that traditional publishers are going to be more risk-averse and stick to tried and true methods (and authors) that have worked in the past. (We’ll talk about small presses and how they are jumping in to fill the gap in a future post)

If you are sure that you want to try to sell your book to a traditional publisher, there are a few things you can do to help yourself. We’ll take a look at these methods next week in Part 4 of Publishing 101. See you next time!

Read Part 1 – The Roots of Traditional Publishing and Part 2 – Money Talks

 

Publishing 101: Part 2 – Money Talks (Traditional Publishing Cont.)

This is the second installment of a multi-part series about the pros and cons of different types of publishing options (traditional, small press, and self-publishing), and the things aspiring authors can do to make their work ready for each one. These will be distillations of what I have learned on my own, as well as attending seminars through the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con 2016.

Last week, I told you about the roots of the traditional publishing industry and a little bit about setting expectations when it comes to how much money you’d really make with a traditional publisher. This week, we dive deeper into the financial realities of traditional publishing.

The biggest boon a traditional publisher can offer an author is financial support. This does not just mean buying ads, it means paying a huge team of support personnel to make your book ready to go. They pay for editors (yes, plural. They have different specialties, so the copy-editor at a big house is not the same person who advocates for your book in meetings). They hire an artist and type-setter for the cover (rarely the same person). They pay people to write your blurb, marketing materials, and press releases. They pay to have your book reviewed in major publications seen by book buyers. These people all need offices to go to, and the hubs of publishing like New York City have some of the highest real estate prices in the world. And of course, they pay to physically print and distribute your book.

When a publishing house agrees to take on a manuscript, it is a HUGE investment on their part, which is why they normally keep 90% of the profit. Or do they? According to the breakdown provided by Maxwell Alexander Drake in his Gen Con seminar, the publishing company itself actually only ends up with about a quarter of the pie to cover the salaries of their own employees and their overhead. The printers get about 12%, the distributors get a 15% cut, and the retailers take the lion’s share, 40%. Yep, the people selling your book actually make the most money off of it, NOT the publisher.

Because the publishing company makes the initial investment with no promise of big returns, it also means they make the final decisions about ALL of the things I listed above, and can decide exactly how much they want to invest in any title at any time. In theory, this should be a boon to the author because these are professionals who have been in the business of selling books for a long time. On the flipside, an author may feel like they lose control of the work that they spent years creating, and disagree with the decisions made by the “experts.” (I’ll address this more in a future post)

Not to mention, not all books get the same share of the attention (which roughly translates into dollars) from their publisher. Big houses are probably releasing ten books every month, and more than likely throwing 90% of their budget at only one or two titles at a time. This doesn’t mean they won’t promote every book they publish, but it is important to keep in mind that if you are a first-time author, you probably won’t get as much of a push for your book as an established author.

Basically, a publishing company is like those deep-pocketed investors of yore, with the discretion to put as much or as little money behind a project as they see fit. More than likely, any amount of money a publisher puts toward a title is more than an individual author could do on her own, but even if the numbers came out roughly the same, there is more than just the funding that makes traditional publishing attractive for a lot of authors.

I’ll address the second most important thing traditional publishing can offer an author next week, so come back for Part 3 of Publishing 101.

Publishing 101: Part 1 – The Roots of Traditional Publishing

This is the first of a multi-part series about the pros and cons of different types of publishing options (traditional, small press, and self-publishing), and the things aspiring authors can do to make their work ready for each one. These will be distillations of what I have learned on my own, as well as attending seminars through the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con 2016.

 

You’ve written your masterpiece (and revised it, and had it edited and beta-read, right?), now it’s time to decide how you want to publish it.

Let’s nip that idea in the bud early, shall we? Chances are, what you wrote and how you wrote it are going to be a much bigger predictor of if/when/how you are published than your personal preference for a certain type of publishing. They each have their own histories, practicalities, and pitfalls, as well market-driven or philosophical inclinations when it comes to which types of books these entities are willing to take a chance on. There are some things you can do at different points in your project that will make your manuscript more or less appealing to different types of publishers, so knowing what your goal is early can help you along the way, but this is still no guarantee that you’ll get to publish your “favorite” way (or at all).

For many authors, the goal is to sell their story to a traditional publishing house such as Penguin or a subsidiary, so let’s start with what the term “traditional” even means.

Not So “Traditional” After All…

Funnily enough, what we call “traditional” publishing is actually a relatively new phenomenon. Books, as in something of length written down in order to be shared, have been around for thousands of years. They were pain-stakingly copied and bound by hand, but if you equate “tradition” with the original way of doing things, there is nothing at all “traditional” about mass-produced, paperback books at all.

Even centuries after the invention of the printing press, the only things being printed on a large were religious in nature. Vernacular Bibles and letters of indulgence were the bread and butter of printing press operators until well into the 18th century. Newspapers arrived on the scene in the 1600’s, and periodicals rose in popularity soon after, but longer pieces like books were rare because it was so expensive and labor-intensive. Every single letter on every single page had to be laid out by hand, so it isn’t surprising the average Joe couldn’t afford to see his name in print.

If you want to read a detailed history of publishing you can find it here, but for our purposes let’s skip the minutiae and stick to books written by individual authors and how they used to get published. If you were lucky, you could find financial backing through organizations such as The Royal Geographical Society or convince some rich person to invest in your work, but there was no such thing as a “publishing house” until the advancements of the Industrial Revolution made mass-production cheaper and the standards of education higher. More people who could read meant more of a market for books, and where there is demand, someone will step in to supply.

What Does a “Traditional Publisher” Mean For Me?

You live in the here and now, so let’s look at what gives a publisher the title of “traditional” at the present. The Big 5 houses and their myriad subsidiaries are in the business of buying and selling stories. If they decide your book is worth their investment, they offer the author an advance, which can vary hugely depending on the name recognition of the author. So if you are a first-timer, don’t expect a lot of money up front. The advance is yours to keep even if your book never sells a single copy, but you won’t start making additional royalties until your book sells enough to recoup the cost of the advance.

Based on the statistics compiled by Maxwell Alexander Drake and shared at Gen Con 2016, 40% of books that are published by a traditional publisher lose money. These authors will never see another penny after their advance because their book didn’t make enough money to generate more royalties. A whopping 51% of traditionally published books basically break even, which means a total of 91% of authors never see more money than the advance they got when they signed the contract. Only the remaining 9% of books actually make the company, and the author, any additional money. No wonder they are so damn picky and exclusive! You and your book have got over a 90% chance of being a bad investment.

We’ll dive deeper into the financial side of traditional publishing and what it has to offer to authors in next week’s post, Part 2: Money Talks.

 

 

Build Your Industry Vocab: ARC/ARE

If you are an aspiring author, you probably already know that you will need to give away some free copies of your book in order to help you get the word out and get reviews. These can be distributed in a variety of digital formats, though there are many reviewers who still prefer printed books. If you are trying to get reviews before your book has gone into print, then you are likely offering an ARC/ARE.

There are several different terms that get used interchangeably, but in general they are called Advance Review/Reader Copy or Advance Review/Reader Edition. In the past, these were printed books, but increasingly they are being offered in only digital format such as mobi or epub. These editions may still contain some copy-editing errors or formatting issues, but for the most part should be as close to the finished book as possible.

When communicating with potential reviewers, you should try to gauge their level of expertise before deciding to use this term yourself. Many book bloggers won’t know the acronym, especially if they are just starting out. But at least now you won’t be caught by surprise if someone asks for an ARC!