Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Guest Blog by Leslie Wells

One Way Or Another by Leslie Wells

First of all, a disclaimer: Joe and I go way back. I acquired his first six novels at the New York publishing house where I was an editor. It was a wonderful experience to work with Joe on Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini, Fuzzy Navel, and Cherry Bomb. To me, what made the books really sing were his break-the-mold protagonist, Jack (Jacqueline) Daniels, and the many snort-beer-out-your-nose-hilarious scenes. Not to mention that Joe was willing to go on a huge cross-country tour that he set up himself; sleeping on friends’ couches, booking his own signings and speaking events. I remember his excited calls to me, reporting that he’d sold a bunch of copies at a number of great bookstores. Needless to say, I was very sad when the publisher decided to discontinue our small line of mysteries, and Joe and I were unable to keep working together.

Actually, this wasn’t the first time I had to stop editing an author I liked, and whose work I admired. With a tightened economy and large conglomerates devouring smaller houses like amuse-bouches, many of us were experiencing lack of support for authors with whom we’d worked for years—in Joe’s case, more than five. An editor puts loads of labor and love into developing her list of writers, and an author who produces a new book every year or two is icing on the cake. It means a spot on your list that you don’t have to go out and acquire. You know they will deliver; you have a good working relationship; they know what to expect from your editing, and vice versa. And as anyone who isn’t wet behind the ears knows, not every book you publish will earn out. 

Much of publishing is about building an audience; continuing to publish through the titles with lower sales in the hope and belief that the next book will gain an even larger readership. Some houses stay the course when they believe in an author; others can’t, or don’t.

Here’s a story from back in the day: the first company that I worked for published John Irving. He had written three previous novels for another house, all with rather small sales. Then a very smart editorial assistant, Jane Rosenman, read the manuscript of The World According to Garp and highly recommended it to her boss, then editor-in-chief, Henry Robbins. He pre-empted the novel, and the rest is history. (Jane went on to have a great career, and is now with the 5E editorial group.) But that was before Bookscan, and before an author’s track record was considered equal to or more important than the impact of the read itself. If an author’s new novel was on submission today, after three previous small books—what’s known as a “bad track”—it’s my guess that many publishers wouldn’t go near it with a ten-foot pole, no matter how good it was. In some ways, it’s easier for an editor to acquire a first novel than it is to buy an impressive second or third book, if the previous novels netted smallish quantities.

All this is to say that it’s great that indie publishing has come so far, and is such a wonderful option for writers today. Many of my author friends have now chosen to self-publish, as opposed to enduring the nail-biting beauty contest of wooing a traditional publisher. Of course the latter can be rewarding; there are many dedicated editors who love their jobs, and are great at what they do. But if a writer decides that he or she doesn’t want to go that route, it’s nice that independent publishing is such a terrific option.

I myself have experienced being published from both sides of the fence: by a traditional publishing house, and now as a self-published author.

My first novel, The Curing Season, was pre-empted by a top editor at a major New York City house. The art director came up with a lovely cover, the book received some great reviews, and overall I was very pleased with the outcome.

For my new novel, Come Dancing, I decided to take a different tack. So many of the authors I know are choosing to go the indie route that after checking out traditional publishing options, I decided to try it myself.

To backtrack a bit: writing my novel took almost five years, since my day job as an editor takes up all of my weekday hours. (I’m now a freelance editor, ever since the publishing company I was with for two decades was sold.) I wrote draft after draft, and because even an editor needs a good editor, I asked several for their input. Peternelle Van Arsdale, a tremendously gifted freelance editor, was particularly helpful to me. Finally I was convinced that I had a fast-paced, entertaining book with an interesting setting and engaging characters. I was ready to take a deep breath and put it out into the world.

Now for the fun part: I asked the talented designer, Laura Klynstra, to come up with an eye-catching jacket.

Amy Bruno of Book Junkie Promotions (who did a fantastic job putting together my virtual blog tour) asked two bloggers if they could provide early reviews, and to my great relief, they wound up liking it. Then I wrote my own flap copy—a fun assignment after years of coming up with other authors’ jackets! My teenager helped me upload the book. I used Smashwords to send it out to all the various ebook venues, and Createspace for the paperback. 

After that, I e-mailed every single person I knew, and asked them to buy it. 

Here’s the Amazon page with the description and early quotes:

Knowing I didn’t have the technical know-how to set up my own website, I asked Kassiah Faul of Creative B to do one for me. When I was browsing other authors’ websites, hers were the ones that really stood out, so I felt very lucky that she had time to do mine. I included two bonus scenes that aren’t in the novel, to attract readers to the site:

Next I set up a Goodreads giveaway, which allowed hundreds of potential readers to sign up for a print copy of the book. After the giveaway, many who did not win a free copy downloaded the ebook and reviewed it. I also set up listings on websites that promote daily deals. I try to hit ten different deal sites on the days that I reduce the ebook price to 99 cents. (I’d read that most ebooks do well with a lower price point, and so far I’ve kept its regular price at $1.99.) The freedom to price my book as I want seems like a huge benefit in a time when zillions of titles are available. And at this point, I’m aiming more for a wider readership and garnering good reviews than earning big bucks.

I also read a number of ebooks to learn more about the whole process. Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s free guides to publishing and marketing were extremely helpful, as were his youtube videos. I had read that in addition to setting up a website, it’s great to blog on a topic that will be helpful to readers, and about which you have some expertise. I figured that my subject was how to improve one’s writing, so every Monday I blog about writing tips:

Joe asked me to include some of my tips:

1. Show, don’t tell. This is one of the cardinal rules of fiction writing, but often it’s hard to be aware of when you’re telling rather than showing. Instead of explaining your characters to the reader, try to reveal who they are through their actions, dialogue, and thoughts. Here are some examples:

Carl was a modest guy who wasn’t comfortable accepting praise. When his manager said the new ad campaign was working well, Carl just ducked his head and went back into his cubicle.
Showing  the action, rather than describing it, can be much more effective:
“Hey, great job on that new ad campaign,” Tom said. “You really knocked it out of the park.”

“Thanks,” Carl muttered. He glanced down at the Styrofoam cup in his hand.  “Guess I’d better get back to work.” He ducked into his cubicle and began shuffling papers.

Here’s another example:
“I’ve just started seeing someone,” Julia said. She didn’t want to sound like she’d been sitting by the phone all this time.
“I’ve just started seeing someone,” Julia said noncommittally. (This shows how Julia was feeling, as opposed to telling the reader how she felt.)
2. Less Is More (Or, When in Doubt, Leave it Out). A common habit among writers is using too many words to describe something. It’s tempting to toss in a few extra adjectives or adverbs once you’re on a roll, picturing a scene in your mind. Or to add to a list of items in your character’s apartment, for instance. But most readers don’t want to have to wade through excess verbiage—particularly when you’re using two words where one would do, or where both words mean essentially the same thing. Take a look at these examples:
Meticulously and carefully, Dr. Pedantic graded the exams.
Edited sentence: Dr. Pedantic graded the exams meticulously. (Meticulously and carefully are similar in meaning, so only one is needed.)
The waiters cleared the table of cutlery, plates, and bowls. Patrick gestured for more champagne.
Edited sentence: As Patrick gestured for more champagne, the waiters cleared the table.

3. Just Hanging Out: Dangling Modifiers. The phrase “dangling modifier” probably brings up bad flashbacks from your middle school grammar class, but it’s good to avoid this common mistake when writing. A dangling modifier occurs when we use a descriptive phrase that is not near the noun that it describes—or the noun isn’t even present in the sentence.
Here are a few examples:
At the age of ten, my family moved to a new neighborhood.  (Your family was ten? Then your parents were … nine?)
Edited sentence: When I was ten, my family moved to a new neighborhood.
Running to catch the subway, my manuscript fell out of my backpack. (The manuscript was running for the D train?)
Edited sentence: As I ran to catch the subway, my manuscript fell out of my backpack.
Upon entering Jack’s apartment, his huge collection of albums caught my eye. (This implies that the albums grew legs and walked into the apartment.)
Edited sentence: As I entered Jack’s apartment, his huge collection of albums caught my eye.

(Many more tips are on my blog.)

So far, the indie experience has been amazing.  I loved being able to choose my own jacket, write my book’s description, control the way I promote and market my novel, and change the pricing at the click of a button. And I like the fact that my novel is available in all the ebook venues, from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, Apple ibooks, Scribd, and so on. I’m now working on the sequel to Come Dancing, and the reviews I’ve received so far have been immensely helpful as I write the next novel about Julia and Jack—a book publishing assistant and a famous British rock guitarist.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you:

My official bio:

Leslie Wells left her small Southern town in 1979 for graduate school in New York City. After receiving her Master’s in English Lit, she got her first job in book publishing. She has edited forty-eight New York Times bestsellers in her over thirty-year career, including thirteen number one New York Times bestsellers. Leslie has worked with numerous internationally known authors, musicians, actors, actresses, television and radio personalities, athletes, and coaches. Leslie blogs about writing tips, New York City, rock and roll, and the Eighties:

Joe sez: Leslie was great to work with, and I recommend her for anyone looking for a good editor.

I've asked her to keep an eye on the comments if anyone has any questions.