Saturday, June 21, 2008

Right of Revision

Q: Ms. Chima. Have you ever gone back and read your own books and began to wish that you had written certain parts differently or do you think that you captured the entire story just as you had imagined it?
Thanks, Matt

A: Matt, actually, I can’t stand reading my books once they’re in print, because I always want to change things. I can always see room for improvement, ways I can sharpen dialogue or deliver emotion more effectively. When I write sequels, it always gives me ideas about things I could have done differently in previous books. (If I’d known in Book 1 that Han needed to know all about poisons….) But short of traveling to bookstores and putting sticky notes in, I’m pretty much stuck with the way they are.

There are many potholes along the road to publication. One of them is sending work out before it’s ready. I’ve written before about the importance of revision, because a first draft is never as good as it can be.

But sometimes revision is just an excuse to hold onto a project. If you send your manuscript out, somebody might reject it. It’s much safer just to keep messing with it.

If you want to be a writer, you have to learn when to revise—and when to stop. First, you educate yourself by reading great fiction, reading books on craft, and attending conferences. That will prep you to do your best work. Then write the best book you can and have it critiqued by peers and mentors. Then revise revise revise until it is as good as you can make it at that point in time. Then let it go.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Self Publishing

Q: I’m thinking of self-publishing my book. I hear that if you publish through a traditional publisher, you have to pay back your advance if you don’t sell enough within a certain amount of time. Plus you only get about a dollar a book in royalties—you’d never earn your advance back at that rate. And you might have trouble getting your rights back.
What do you think?

A: Breaking into traditional publishing can be a frustrating business. I marketed The Warrior Heir for five years on my own before I found an agent who sold it for me. I never considered self-publishing because I didn’t think it was right for me and my project. I had a day job and had trouble finding time for writing, let alone intensive promotion.

What’s right for you depends on your individual situation. There are pros and cons to both self publishing and traditional publishing. I’m not an expert on self publishing. I can tell you that traditional publishing opens a lot of doors in terms of distribution and availability in brick and mortar book stores, as well as access to reviews.

Some writers self-publish because they want complete control of their final product and they don’t want to make the changes demanded by editors. But a good editor is your partner—she can make your book better. While we’ve all seen poorly written and minimally edited books from mainstream publishers, it’s less likely than in self-published books, where there are fewer quality control mechanisms in place. Your book may be fabulously written and edited—it’s just harder to get reviewers and bookstores and readers to take a chance on it because there’s a lot of bad stuff out there.

If you self-publish, it’s especially helpful to have what is called a "platform"--visibility and a ready means of accessing your audience. That’s why there are so many celebrity books out there. Let's say, for example, you are a well-known quilter and you publish a novel about quilters. You could market your book at quilting conventions and through quilting newsletters. Or maybe you’re a well-known motivational speaker who’s written a book about that topic. Every time you speak, you have an opportunity to push your book.

Regarding advances from mainstream publishers--you don't get any more money in royalties until the advance is earned out. But you typically keep the advance, even if you don't earn out, as long as you met your contractual obligation in terms of delivering an acceptable manuscript, etc. Of course, if you don't earn out your advance, it makes it less likely the publisher will publish a second book with you.

The issue of if and when you get your rights back is a contractual one. If you’re a new author without an agent, you don’t have as much leverage in terms of negotiating with a publisher. But if you have an offer from a publisher, it’s much easier to get an agent!

One thing I like about traditional publishing is the fact that the publisher is the one taking the risk and fronting the money for design, editing, and printing—not me. Many authors wish their publishers would do more in terms of marketing, but at least they’ll do something, particularly if they’ve invested a lot in an advance and production. I work hard to market my books, but I’ve really benefited from my publisher’s support. If you self-publish, it’s all up to you.

Good luck with your decision. It would be a good idea to talk with some authors who have self-published. We’ve all read about self-publishing success stories. Most of those authors have worked very hard. The important thing is to go into it knowing that in addition to writing a great book, you’ll need to be an expert in book promotion and networking.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Drama in the Every Day

So the other day I’m on my way to the airport to leave for a school visit in Dallas. I’m within two miles of the airport exit when traffic on the freeway comes to a standstill. Emergency vehicles scream past us on the median, and I realize there must be a serious accident up ahead. My pulse accelerates as I contemplate the consequences of missing my flight—a missed dinner with a group of librarians and a school visit that’s been nine months in the planning. After ten minutes of parking lot frustration, cars begin squirting off the highway through whatever openings they can find. I follow them, even though it’s not part of my long term survival plan to drive the wrong way down a freeway entrance ramp.
I drag out the GPS, which sends me into a construction zone, a maze of flagmen and single-lane tunnels between massive construction equipment. My blood pressure rises. Amazingly, I make it to the airport with just enough time to get to the gate. Whoa, I think, taking deep cleansing breaths, already crafting the story I’ll tell. There’s always drama in my vagabond life. Drama drama drama.
As I’m standing in line to go through security, I hear the twenty-something guy ahead of me tell the screener that he’s just been in a car accident. I focus in more closely, and see that his hand is wrapped in gauze and blood is spattered over his khakis.
“Um,” I say, “Were you just in an accident on I-71?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Someone lost control and rammed our car and we rolled several times.”
“Um,” I say. “How did you get here?” My unspoken question is, How in blazes did you beat me?
“Well, I called the airlines and they said if I missed my flight I couldn’t get out until tomorrow. I need to get to LA today. So I called my dad who works by the airport and he picked me up and brought me the back way.”
“What about the car?” I have visions of him abandoning his ride on the highway.
“The car’s totaled,” he says matter-of-factly. “My aunt was driving. They were loading it on the truck as I left.”
I can’t help staring at him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
He seems embarrassed by the fuss. “Yeah, it looks worse than it is.”
“Do you know you have blood on your pants?”
He shrugs. “I think that’s somebody else’s.”
While we stood in line, he took several cell phone calls from worried people. “No, I’m fine,” he said. “Looks like I’ll make my flight.”
I felt like a hysteric next to that guy. I wanted to be hysterical FOR him (perhaps I could offer a service?) Being a writer, I wanted to write his story. So I did.