Monday, April 16, 2018

Think Before Writing In A New Genre

This came across a feed I follow just this morning. I saw someone post that they were starting to write a new novel. Apparently this was not just a new novel, but a new genre for this author. OK, that's fine, but here is where the problems start.

The first question this person asked was if they had any recommendations of how to write the novel AND any recommendations of other novels in this same genre they should read.

ARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

This novel is destined for failure.

While I applaud people for playing around with new genres and learning new techniques that show up in those genres, starting something you have no clue about is a complete waste of your time and energy. That time you are spending, without having done any research on that genre is not going to be worth it.

Far too many authors, in my opinion, make this mistake. They hear from someone or they read somewhere, that a particular genre is the hottest thing right now. So they immediately dive in trying to catch that wave. Yes, being in on the cutting edge of a genre is great, but you have to have some understanding of that genre. As I have said, over and over again, every genre out there has specific nuances. It is not just  plot line. It is not just a setting.

Please understand, I want authors to be successful. Yes, I want authors to learn a craft and learn it well so playing around with other genres is a good approach. But please, take the time to do the research ahead of time.

We have all heard and probably used the phrase "Practice makes perfect." But the real phrase that people need to remember is "Perfect practice makes perfect." What this author is doing is simply not perfect practice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Forget Agents...They Are A Waste Of Time and Money

I have seen in the last couple of days a lot of people posting on social media, Twitter and the like about how agents are really a thing of the past. In today's climate, you really don't need to have an agent to be successful.

And they are right. 

As I reviewed the people writing these articles and making these proclamations, they are 100% right. They do not need an agent. Agents really are a waste of time and money.

And I know you are waiting for the bomb to drop here. You can't be expecting an agent to write a post saying that his job is useless. So yes, here comes the twist to the story.

As I reviewed these authors, there are a lot of trends that you have to ask yourself if you fit into their mold. 

First of all, many of these people who have dumped the "agent" route or even the traditional publishing route already have a career. They already have a following. And, when I talk about a following, I am not talking about some wimpy group of people who follow you on Facebook. These are people who have hit the REAL  New York Times and USA Today Best Selling List multiple times. I say REAL because we know of the hidden additional list that few can ever find and know of. These are the authors who have had many years with multiple book contracts. 

Think about it. When you see your favorite author come out with a new book, are you looking to see who published it? Probably not. For many of these people, they have skipped out on all of the traditional approaches and doing it 100% on their own. 

Secondly, these people have the time to do all of that marketing and publishing stuff. I found many who had no kids left in the house, a husband or wife making all of the money so they could simply just write and do their own thing. It is amazing how much you can get done when you have no other obligations such as work, kids and so forth. 

Next, these people, because of the time they have spent in the business with the agents and editors KNOW THE BUSINESS. They understand contract law. They understand how to get those books to the book buyers and sellers. They know how to promote beyond simply your "Join My Newsletter " promotions you use on Facebook and the like. Because of that time spent, they have made those connections.

They have also not cut those connections to traditional publishing. It is amazing how many of them still "dabble in that business." Look, once the contracts are up and rolling, it is easy to just stick to what you have, continue to write adequate books and not have to do anything with new contracts.

Finally, many  (I started to say all but I could not go that far), they are nice people. Because they have not burned any bridges, those book sellers, the reviewers and the like are still willing to do a lot of things for you. When they call their editors, they are able to get many of the changes they wanted because they have played nice and they have not been jerks along the way. They have proven to the world that they can be trusted.

In other words, do you really need an agent. No. Not if you can fit that mold of the authors I have talked about so far.

But...

If you still need someone to play "good cop, bad cop" for you in negotiations.
If you still need someone to translate those ugly contracts.
If you still need someone to help  you with career planning. 
If you... I think you get the idea....

Then you might not be ready to throw out that whole "agent thing."

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Finding Stories for Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction. When I have a chance to read a fantastic story, it feels like I am transported back into time, getting a great story, and at the same time, learning a great deal about a historical time period. It is unfortunate, however, to read so many stories that the only thing that makes it historical is the time stamp on Chapter 1 or the outer cover that has a character clearly from another time period, or the time stamp from the publisher.

For a lot of authors, this is their only concept for writing something historical, but I want to take the time today to talk about a great approach for developing a great historical piece of fiction. This is actually an approach one of my authors uses on her stories.

One of the first things this author does is travel a lot. She loves taking trips around the world, and while there, take the time to explore the culture and background of the location. She has not come back from a trip yet where she has not found some great story ideas. What she does is pretty simple. She takes those historical tours most hotels and cities offer. As she travels, she learns about individuals who lived during that time. This becomes the basis for a lot of her stories.

Now, let me explain one thing before I go to far. She DOES NOT take those characters and fictionalize their stories. She just uses the lives that those "real" individuals had, and then builds a story 100% on her own using that concept as the ground work.

A second approach that she likes to use is to pick a time period that she plans to write about and then start researching historical events that took place at that time. These might be political upheavals within the country, trade or border disputes, you name it. The key is, find something that is going on and then create characters that would be forced to deal with that situation.

The nice thing about each of these approach is that you have now given yourself access to a ton of primary resources out there on your topic. For example, this author had done a story about early steeple chase races in England. Once she knew the time period, she was able to access actual news accounts of a single race that happened to have a controversial ending. That allowed her to weave a story around that event. What did she have access to? Actual horse names in the race, the riders, the actual bets that took place, the play-by-play account of the race, and a whole lot more. She even got this information directly from the bookmakers right there at the actual racetrack who pulled out the books written at that time. That is killer research!

Finally, my recommendation is to avoid those "source books" for ideas. These are those generic "Dummies Guides" to a particular time period. While this information is great for some general ideas, getting the great story ideas for your projects is not going to happen.

Just remember that historical fiction is about "real" time periods. Don't fake your way around it and you will have some great success!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sometimes Normal Is Better

When I first saw one of my Greyhaus authors, I immediately fell in love with her work. Why was it? She was writing outside of the box. She had all of the similar voices of her genre, but the twists and turns she took with the story made it a completely refreshing read. She had all of the standard tropes, but her twist on the story really made it unique. I loved it. The editors who read her stories loved it. But in the end, the stories simply could not be sold. Why?

Because the stories WERE different.

I know that I will say time and time again to be different and not copy what is out there, and I am still going to stick to that concept. We don't want carbon copies of stories already out there. However, there are times when you story is so different, that it is simply going to be a tough sell.

You have to understand that agents and editors, when they take on your projects, are taking on risks. They at gambling on whether or not your story is going to sell. We all wish we could see into the future and know the success of your story, but that is simply not possible. We really don't know what the market will be like when your story hits the shelves.

With this particular author, her editors took a gamble on an approach. At the time, it sounded like a great approach and all of us were on board with the idea. In the end, the sales were simply not there. It had nothing to do with the marketing of the books, the effort of the author, the efforts of the publisher and marketing team - it was simply a project that, when it hit the shelves, the readers did not buy into.

That happens.

I have just spent the last several days going through a new round of submissions and I had a ton of stories that were taking similar risks. Was the writing good? Probably. Did the author really have some great effort into the project? Probably. But, in the end, I had to weigh the chances of being able to sell that product.

I have had several projects from my clients that I totally loved, but not matter how hard we tried, the projects were just a bit too "on the fringe" to be able to sell. 

So, as you look at your writing, consider that maybe the reason for lack of success with those submissions might not be due to your ability to write. It might all come from the market just not ready for that project right now. 

As far as my client, what are we doing? We are going back to the basics. No fancy trick plays, just a standard run up the middle (for you football fans).