The Next Chapter: December 2014 update and a year in the writerly life

Janus has two heads so he can look back and ahead. Plus, you really can’t make meaningful progress unless you take some time to reflect on your accomplishments and understand where your journey has brought you to this point.

Let’s start with December, shall we?

In the wake of NaNoWriMo, I needed a wee respite from the purely creative writing. I kept up with my regular blog posts and caught up on a few things that happened in November that I had set aside posting about because of the aforementioned NaNo.

I returned to Marushka after a few days, though, because the force is strong in this one 😉 Also, I have to finish my shit (Wendigism).

Toward the end of the month, though, I wanted to get another short fiction submission revised and sent.

December 2014 writing progress

So at the end of the month, I’d written a total of 15,167 words, 8,812 of them on the blog, 6,234 on Marushka, and 121 on the short story.

What about 2014?

It was a good year, I think.

Since it was the first year I tracked my writerly output, I really have nothing to compare it to, but I know I’ve written more words in this year than I did in 2013 or any year before that.

The highlights:

“The Broken Places” was published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine in its June issue.

“On the Ferry” won second place in the In Places Between contest.

“Downtime” will be in the fall 2014 issue of On Spec Magazine. The issue hasn’t come out yet (long story short—please subscribe or support them on their Patreon page), but I’m still pleased as punch.

I have writerly income to report on my tax return for the second year in a row!

I’ve put “The Broken Places” and “Downtime” in the short story category in the Auroras. It’s my first year doing this kind of thing, so we’ll see how it goes.

Overall, I submitted six short stories for publication. This is fewer than in past years, but given my greater focus on my larger projects, I’m happy with this.

I attended Ad Astra, CanWrite!, and When Words Collide conferences, and workshops by Brian Henry and The Humber School for Writers.

In 2014, I have written:

  • 110,361 words on this blog
  • 34,589 words on Marushka
  • 21,464 words on Gerod and the Lions
  • 3,521 words of short fiction
  • 3,161 words on Apprentice of Wind
  • 2,384 words on Figments
  • Total: 175,480

2014 Summary

That’s a fuckload of words. Sorry. I felt the profanity appropriate.

Plus, I mapped out and reverse engineered both IoS and Figments, and revised some of IoS.

I am still eternally grateful to Jamie Raintree for her wonderful Excel spreadsheet. This year’s has enough project slots that I don’t have to modify it 🙂 Also, it appears to have a way to track drafting and revisions. I’m excited to see how it works out.

For the second year in a row, the most popular posts on my blog have been those I wrote back in 2012. Dress for Success has been consistently popular. I didn’t think a post about writing in my pyjamas would have been so compelling. Go figure.

Eight Metaphors for Persistence . . . is also a heavily viewed post. I appreciate that a bit more because it was the first post on this iteration of the blog and spoke to how I picked up the pieces after being hacked.

Still, I would like to see some of my book reviews, or conference reportage posts, rank higher.

My overall views on the blog went down from last year. In 2013 I filled the Sydney Opera House five times. In 2014 I only filled it four times.

I take all this with a grain of salt, however, as the number of my followers through WordPress has only grown and at 373, I’m closing in on 400 followers. That’s not bad for three years of blogging when I don’t have a book to sell.

Those who receive my posts via email, or who can read them through WordPress may not be counted because they haven’t actually visited the site.

Personally, as long as you’re enjoying what you read, I’m good. I’m a fan of the slow build.

What’s ahead for 2015?

I’ve you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll know I don’t go in for resolutions. I set goals and manage my projects on an ongoing basis, sometimes re-evaluating and adjusting my goals to account for the dreaded scope creep 🙂

That’s all stuff I learned from the project management I have to do for work. It’s also similar to the dreaded underwear creep (damnit, not another wedgie).

In all seriousness, I intend to revise and submit several more short stories throughout the year. I also intend to write a few new ones.

I intend to finish my first drafts of Marushka (goal length approximately 76,000 words) and GatL (goal length approximately 50,000 words). I can manage this at a pace of about 5,000 words a month. I’ll finish Marushka first, because it’s where my head is at the moment, and then return to work on GatL afterward.

I will revise IoS and finally (FINALLY) start querying. This is so long overdue, I can’t even. Can’t. Even.

I will move onto revisions of Figments once I start querying IoS.

I will map and reverse engineer AoW and probably Marushka.

I don’t think I’ll be able to manage much more than that for the bulk of the year.

I will again engage in the NaNoWriMo Challenge, even though I will be working through the month of November. I was very pleased with the 2014 results, even though it wasn’t a “win,” per se.

For financial reasons, I’m going to stay close to home this year with conferences and conventions. Most likely Ad Astra and Can-Con.

My big expense, professional development-wise, will be a writing retreat in the summer (if I can swing the leave from work—summer’s a peak time and it’s always a big deal), also local.

I’m facilitating my first writing workshop in years in February. You know I’ll be blogging that one 🙂

And the rest will be based on opportunities as they come my way.

I like preparing my Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday curation posts on the weekend for easier distribution (and more writing time) through the week.

Aside from that, the bloggage will come out of my writerly life, as it usually does.

I have one more post to go before the night is over.

See you shortly 🙂

The Next Chapter

How to get published

Once again, here’s some November catch up displaced by other priorities.

On November 6th and 7th, I travelled down to Humber College in Etobicoke (Toronto) to attend the How to get published workshop Hosted by Cythia Good and Jennifer Murray.

Humber Shcool For Writers Lakeshore Campus

About the presenters: Cynthia Good is the former president and publisher of Penguin Canada and current director of Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program. Jennifer Murray is the former director of marketing at Penguin and vice-president, marketing at Kids Can Press.

As with any of my transcribed sessions, discretion is advised. I fully acknowledge my humanity and there may be errors. If you see any, please be kind enough to let me know so I can make corrections, post-hasty.


 

You can’t make a living creative writing alone. (Mel’s note: It is possible to make a living writing, even in Canada. I know several people who do it, but it usually involves a fair amount of risk that most of us are not prepared to take. Do not lose heart if it is your goal to quit your day job. You just have to plan carefully and understand what level of risk you are comfortable with. As ever, do your research. /end rant)

It’s a brave new publishing world since the advent of digital publishing.

Publishing used to be a paternal system. Now it’s more like a partnership. Much more business and marketing knowledge is required of the average writer.

There have been a few big sea changes in the publishing world.

Two years ago Random House and Penguin merged (Mel’s note: officially, it’s Penguin Random House, or P/RH, but I still like Random Penguin). It’s a 51% to 49% balance of the controlling interest in the company and a shift from primarily German to primarily English oversight.

More recently, HarperCollins (HC) announced that it would be shutting down its Canadian distribution centre. This will mean the layoff of 120 people including the former president of sales, distribution, and administrative finance.

What does this mean for HC? They bought Harlequin last year. Another merger of sorts.

Another recent bit of news is that the government has disallowed new foreign publishers to set up operations in Canada. This is affecting Simon & Schuster (S&S) and their imprints, resulting in the departure of several key employees.

A Canadian publishing company that started up eight months ago may not be able to make it in this increasingly hostile publishing environment.

Will we see a HC and S&S merger?

The thing about mergers is that in order to support their infrastructure, publishers depend on authors whose sales will finance that support. Midlist authors are being dropped. Fewer chances are being taken on new authors.

These authors are going to small and boutique Canadian publishing houses.

In Canada, a bestseller is about 5,000 copies. Really, if you take into consideration returns, the print run should be anywhere from 7,500 to 10,000 copies and at least 5,000 of those must sell. 5,000 is the break-even point.

Why go for a traditional deal?

If you write non-fiction, there’s still money for public speaking. Though marketing and promotional budgets are disappearing, there is still some money to be had.

Traditional publishers are also branching out into digital. Hazlitt is an online magazine put out by RH.

They’re also getting into providing author services. Author Portal, through RH again, is much like Kobo Writing Life and offers similar metrics. Penguin bought Author Solutions (Mel’s note: BOO!) because selling author services ala carte is more lucrative.

Marketshare by format (Canada)

  • 18% ebook (24% in the US)
  • 58% paperback
  • 24% hardcover

Booknet keeps the statistics and only publishers and booksellers have access to that.

Ebooks have hit a plateau and are expected to hold. Pricing is not expected to hold, however.

Scribd, through HC, is billed as the Netflix for books. Amazon also offers a subscription-based service (Kindle Unlimited) whereby you can loan unlimited material.

In general, Amazon sells ebooks at a low price. Print prices are also falling.

Publishers in Canada can’t compete and can’t survive without government grants.

Three years back, in the battle between what was then the Big 6 and Amazon resulted in an Amazon win.

In part, it comes down to discoverability. How do readers find their books?

The traditional path between author and reader: author -> agent -> publisher -> distributor -> bookseller -> reader.

Now authors can go directly to the reader.

There are also book apps. Apps based on popular books. No one is making money on boo apps yet.

E.L. James’s success led to trends in erotica. Young adult and new adult are still strong categories.

Wattpad is a Canadian company and you can post your novels on there, chapter by chapter, for free. You can get great reader feedback that way. There are no stats currently on how releasing material on Wattpad may affect sales of ebooks or print books later on.

Of the Big 5 publishers, Canadian authors have access to three:

  • P/RH – both still take submissions seperately for the main publisher and all imprints. RH has Vintage, DoubleDay, Knopf, McClelland and Stewart, Tundra, etc. Penguin’s imprints include Viking, Allan Lane, Hamish-Hamilton. Collectively, they publish 100-150 books annually.
  • HarperCollins, which has recently acquired Harlequin.
  • Simon & Schuster, though they are, as mentioned, in the midst of transition.

There’s also Scholastic. They’re US-based, but Canadian authors can access them.

Small or independent publishers

  • Dundurn in Hamilton. Their focus in on history. They are in growth mode.
  • ECW publishes everything.
  • ChiZine is a niche publisher of horror.
  • Bundoran and Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Micropublishers, or boutique publishers

  • Biblioasis
  • Gaspereau
  • Freehand
  • Goose Lane
  • Pedlar Press
  • Bookthing
  • Tightrope
  • Insomniac
  • Mansfield
  • Groundwood
  • Pyjama Press
  • Second Story

How do you choose?

If you aim for a big publisher, you will usually get a better deal.

With smaller houses, you get more attention and they will take more risks on new authors. Smaller presses are more agile and have specialties.

Editors

It’s a matter of match-making. The editor needs to make money for their publisher. They have a lot to read and a lot of work to do for their current clients.

Make sure your first page is memorable.

A well-written book with excellent sales can make an editor’s career. They receive bonuses based on sales, awards, and word-of-mouth (reviews). They usually have “stables” of writers.

They curate their authors’ best work.

Agents

Do you need one? For the big publishers, yes. The best way to get an agent is to get a publisher (ironic, isn’t it?).

You can approach editors directly. They’re always looking for new authors.

Think about why you want an agent. They can offer:

  • Emotional support
  • Editorial support
  • Career counselling
  • Access to big publishers
  • The ability to negotiate a good deal
  • Contract review
  • Interpretation of your royalty statements
  • The ability to negotiate for marketing budget or cover input
  • Advice on next books

For all this (sometimes more, sometimes less) they get 15% of every sale. Foreign rights, television, movies, audio, etc. (all subrights) generally demand 20%.

Agencies:

  • Westwood Creative Artists
  • Cooke Agency
  • Transatlantic Literary (primarily children’s)
  • Anne McDermid
  • Helen Heller (commercial)
  • Rights Factory (experimental/literary)
  • Rick Broadhead (practical/non-fiction)
  • PS Literary
  • Beverley Slopen

Always check the agency’s submission guidelines.

Other resources that might give you additional information on agents are the Association of Canadian Publishers and the Writers’ Union of Canada.

Make sure that your manuscript (ms) is complete and polished. N.B. Non-fiction should be queried with a proposal.

Why might you not want an agent?

  • Control over your career
  • Direct relationship with editor or publisher

A Baker’s Dozen (things to do before you query)

  1. Perfect your manuscript
  2. Get feedback
  3. Attend writers’ workshops and courses
  4. Hire an editor (freelance). N.B. Humber is launching its own Publishing Services.
  5. Submit to journals and magazines
  6. Research and submit to competitions
  7. Attend conferences or conventions
  8. Volunteer for or attend literary festivals like Word on the Street (WotS)
  9. Read
  10. Get to know local bookstores and librarians
  11. Have a presence on the internet
  12. Be prepared to give it away.
  13. Learn everything you can about publishing (Publishers Weekly, Quill & Quire)

Preparing to write your query

Research your comparatives/competition. Market research.

Be professional.

Submit to multiple agencies. Have your A list, your B list, etc. It’s also good to identify what you’re not interested in.

Have a strategy.

Query letters

Start with the story. Make it compelling. Get to the facts (word count, genre, etc.) at the end.

  • Introductory paragraph – if you have met or been referred to the agent. If not, show your research. Why do you think you’ll be a good fit?
  • Pitch/short synopsis – be as interesting as possible. Don’t give away the ending.
  • Comparables – be realistic.
  • Biographical info – keep it relevant.
  • Closing.

Agents will not appreciate it if you do not state the word count, call your book a “fiction novel,” use poor spelling, and/or poor grammar.

Self-publishing

This is not new. Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman self-published.

Keep in mind that for every Hugh Howey there are thousands of self-published wannabes. Only 400 out of every 1.5 million books published sell more than 100 copies.

Consider your motivation. You may be:

  • An oft-rejected writer (this doesn’t necessarily mean your book is badly written, but consider the possibility)
  • Someone who wants to establish credibility
  • Someone who wants to help others
  • Disappointed with traditional publishing
  • Interested in establishing a legacy

If you self-publish print books, you generally need as many as 2,000 books for distribution.

Advantages

  • Certainty/total control
  • Speed to publishing
  • Increased income

Disadvantages

  • Up-front costs
  • No advances
  • Time consuming
  • Marketing and promotion are entirely on you
  • Distribution
  • Liability
  • Access to prizes and grants

Terry Fallis states he spent $1,400 for editorial review, cover layout and $2,000 for additional editing.

Use Wattpad to get reader feedback.

Use Kickstarter or Indie-go-go to fund your publication.

Check out James Altucher’s blog. Start with this post on Publishing 3.0.

Be prepared to become an authorpreneur.

Consider partner publishing with a company like Iguana Books.


 

As I said at the outset, my notes are not complete. I can’t write down everything said in the course of a day and a half. We also wrote query letters and critiqued them in class, as well as learning how an agent sells your book to a publisher. We also went over non-fiction book proposals, which I chose not to share with you here. There was a lot I couldn’t include.

That was the first day and a half. The last half of the second day was given over to Jennifer Murray to discuss marketing and promotion.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t take notes for the marketing piece.

You’ll have to register for the next session if you want to find out about that 😉 I’d recommend it if you’re in the Toronto area.

And that’s it for Writerly Goodness tonight. Toddling off to Bedfordshire.

The Next Chapter: September 2014 update

So here we are at the beginning of October, my favourite month, not in least because Samhain (Hallowe’en) was my hatch-day (and yes, I’ve heard them all and would proudly claim to be witch, werewolf, vampire, or anything else you’d care to call me).

September was an interesting month.

I made further progress on Gerod and the Lions. Total word count on the project is 21,423 words, just over half-way for an MG novel, which this is supposed to be. I’m no longer on track to finish by the end of the year for reasons I’ll tell you about shortly, but I figure I’ll be done the first draft in January or February of 2015. Not bad.

I finished mapping and reverse engineering Figments (finally!). One thing I’ve learned from this project is that reverse engineering is tough.

When I worked backward through my plot for Initiate of Stone earlier this year, I was working with a seventh draft. I’d already completed a lot of the structural reorganization that reverse engineering might have indicated was necessary. Though I fine tuned a lot of foreshadowing and really tightened things up, there wasn’t a lot of tearing apart and putting back together.

With Figments, there was. Figments is a first draft, a NaNoWriMo first draft, at that. I’m not ashamed to admit that I lost my way a few times. I ended up listing events in reverse chronological order and then reorganizing them into Victoria Mixon’s holographic structure. In made my head spin.

Another thing I’ve decided is that I’ll head back to the computer for my mapping. It’s just a lot easier than rewriting everything out by hand. The reverse engineering, though, has to be done by hand. It really puts you in a different headspace.

Having accomplished the Figments mapping and reverse engineering, I’ve moved onto Apprentice of Wind. That will take me a while to get a handle on as well. It might as well be a first draft, though I went as far as draft four with IoS and AoW as one honkin’ monster of a novel 😛 I have subsequently changed enough in IoS and cut up parts of AoW that it really is like starting from scratch.

The other thing I started on this month is reworking IoS. I still have betas outstanding, but my writer’s head had to go there. I haven’t gotten very far, just a few chapters, but I think it’s going well. I have enough distance from the novel that I’m seeing a lot of things more clearly than I had before.

This isn’t to say that the outstanding betas work over the last year and a bit has been for nought. I still want to see what you recommend. I’m not above going back and changing even more. I just had to get at it.

I can finally tell you about my mysterious short(-ish) story tale. I had submitted it to Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine in response to a special call out by C.C. Finlay in the first part of August.

I received word on September 21st that he wasn’t taken with the story (though it was a very nice rejection—thank you!). So, I promptly revised to try and fix what may have been the dear thing’s flaws and sent it off to Writers of the Future.

In reviewing my previous submissions to that contest, I realized that my honourable mention from 2011 was for the same story that I eventually revised and submitted to On Spec: “Downtime,” which should be out in the fall 2014 issue (I’m still so excited about that).

Can’t wait to get my paws on my contributor’s issue. Sorry, drooling there a bit.

Other On Spec news: they won an Aurora Award! W00t! Congratz! So pleased for them. Chuffed even.

Also, Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, the online publication that accepted “The Broken Places” back in June, has become an Amazon bestseller. More W00t! and Gratz! to the good people at Bastion.

Though I decided not to move forward with my self-funded leave this fall, I’ve decided that I still want to attempt to do NaNoWriMo again this year. Yes. That’s while working the day job. Yup. I’m certifiable.

I had considered taking a blogging holiday for a month, and it may come to that if I can’t manage my time and get the words down, but I’d prefer to keep to three posts a week: Tipsday, Thoughty Thursday, and my WWC2014 reportage.

In the last month, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted a lot on Sundays. I’ve found that to be a wonderful gift for the writing side of things. This weekend is an exception. You’ll find out later in my second post of this particular Sunday.

The other thing I’ve tried in the last couple of weeks is to prepare my Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday posts on Sunday and just post them on the appropriate weekday. I think between giving myself Sundays, prepping the weekday posts, and then focusing on my NaNo project to the exclusion of most other creative endeavours for the month, I’ll be able to hack it.

Of course, November will be the acid test. I’m also heading down to Toronto for a couple of days for a Humber School for Writers workshop on November 6 and 7. I just can’t help myself. I have to try.

I’ve already been doing some research on my idea and I’ll be working on a rough outline and further research this month. It’s the strength of this idea that has convinced me to make this crazy NaNoWriMo commitment.

I’ve also joined Jane Ann McLachlan’s street team I’ll talk a bit more about street teams in a future post. Her next novel, a YA science fiction, will be coming out soon. Much excitement there!

So, here’s how September’s numbers worked out:

September's writing progress

A total of 13, 218 words. Modest, but reasonable.

7,921 on the blog, 5203 on GatL, and a scant 94 on my longish short story (that was after removing and rearranging several hundred, but I never count negative words).

So that was my month in writing.

How have your projects been shaping up? Please share in the comments. I love hearing about your yummy, yummy words.

The Next Chapter