Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On the Contrary - Salability isn't everything.

"On the Contrary" is an occasional feature in which I look at a widely accepted idea about writing and publishing and give an opposing or at least alternative view. This post was originally a commnet on another blog.

I was on Rachelle Gardner's blog, and a comment to a recent post there struck me. Cheryl Lewis, a freelance writer and editor recounted her experiences working with self-published authors. Often, she would put substantial effort into helping them create a quality work, and then watch, frustrated, as they reverted the work back to something much closer to the original.

I was moved to respond to her as reproduced below. It seemed to me that my thoughts on commercial salability versus integrity of voice would be worth posting here. So enjoy:

Cheryl, my first impulse is to say that I think you were wrong and your clients were right. But my second thought is to frame the issue in different terms. I think you and your clients may have had different goals.

Let me give my own perspective. I'm an aspiring novelist, and I came to that highly unlikely role because I conceived of a story that I thought needed to be told. It was the story that drove me to write - not the desire to write that led me to seek a story. My goals in this story are to construct it so that it will (hopefully) touch the lives of its readers. This is not necessarily compatible with a maximum degree of salability. The audience to whom I want to speak is unknown in numbers, but I expect it to be a relatively small niche audience. It is quite possible that the work as I have conceived it will not be viable as a commercial product.

Should I then allow it to be edited for salability? I'm completely okay with editing that will help the work be more effective at what I intend it to accomplish. I would not be okay with editing it into a different work, even were that edited work to become a best-seller. (I would even be okay with editing for salability as long as the character of the story remained intact. More audience is good.)

I think what I'm addressing here may be that elusive quality caled "voice". It sounds, from what you recount, like you were editing your clients' work for a more salable voice. I suspect the problem they had was that the resulting voice was no longer theirs.

People who approach writing from a commercial or "business" perspective may overlook the reality that there are other reasons for writing. I think the proper role of an editor is to assist the client in realizing their goals for the work. Those goals may not necessarily include a spot on the best-seller list. If the goals of the writer and the professional standards of the editor are incompatible, I think it's best to get that out in the open up front. Not every writer and editor are a good partnership any more than are every writer and agent.

I hope you don't see this as a hostile response. I'm reacting in part to the substantial amount of story constructing advice I've seen on various sites which, if I tried to follow it, would change my novel into something I would no longer consider worth writing.

Best wishes for your work,



Monday, January 25, 2010

Blog Alert - Do You Make These 8 Mistakes When You Twitter?

Myself, I'm not a huge twitter fan - although I'll stop short of declaring it totally for the birds. A lot of my own disembrace of Twitter is due to my personal circumstances. I have internet access only in the evening, and generally in the context of a day job. I don't use portable networking appliances, and don't even have text enabled on my cell.

But for people whose circumstances allow them to participate in the tweeting world it appears to have its uses. And for those who wish to use twitter as a tool to become more widely known, this recent blog post by Michael Hyatt offers some excellent tips for the novice tweety-bird.

Michael is CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, a prominent Christian publisher with an Evangelical orientation. Although I sometimes feel that his embrace of the social media trend borders on the cultish, his depth of involvement seems to generate some interesting and useful insights, which he frequently shares on his blog.

If you're an aspiring tweeter, check out the post.


Blog Review - There Are No Rules - Jane Friedman

Blog Review - There Are No Rules - Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is Publisher & Editorial Director of Writer’s Digest, and I would love her blog for the title alone. I'm one of those people who always looks for the exceptions.

Jane's blog is diverse, and regularly presents thought-provoking topics. Although she doesn't post daily, she is a frequent poster. I would say she averages about 4-5 posts per week.

Recently she has been hosting a guest post series by Jim Adam. In "The Strengths of the Potter Series" Jim uses the Harry Potter books as a springboard to discuss a wide variety of issues relating to the craft of storytelling.

One of my favorite recurring features is Best Tweets for Writers.

She describes it as follows:

"I watch Twitter, so you don't have to. Visit each Sunday for the week's best Tweets. If I missed a great Tweet, leave it in the Comments. Always welcome your suggestions on improving this weekly feature."

A "Best Tweets" blog post is divided into sections, as listed below.

Best of Best
Stand Alone
Getting Published, Agents/Editors
Craft & Technique
Publishing News & Trends
Twitter, Blogs & Social Media
Marketing & Platform Building
Self-Publishing and E-Publishing
Resources & Tools
The Writing Life & Fun Stuff

"Best of the Best" is an "all-star" listing drawn from the other categories. If you;re not a twitter user, you may be surprised, as I was, about the high number of tweets that are links to articles or posts of subtance. The only tweets on Jane's list that are genuinely aimed at the ADD audience are those in the "Stand Alone" category. But beware - when you read one of Jane's "Best Tweets" posts, be prepared to overstay. The wealth of quality links assembled there can be overwhelming.

One unique aspect of Jane's blog is that her professional position is that of selling support services and information to writers via
Writers Digest. These include not only the magazine but also books for writers, conferences, and a variety of online classes, workshops and webinars.

This reminds me of the story told about the gold rush days. Individual miners might become fabulously wealthy, or go flat broke. But the steady reliable profits went to those who sold supplies to the prospectors. This observation may sound cynical, but that's not how it's intended. Jane is obviously a dedicated and talented individual, and I do not believe that she would be associated with an organization that did not deliver good value. Seeing the quality of what she gives away freely, one can only imagine what the paying customers get!

My reason for mentioning Jane's niche within the writer-advice community is that it frees her from dependence on any particular business model within the rapidly changing publishing landscape. Often I see opinions on major issues - traditional publishing versus self-publishing, for example, and the advice-giver, even when doing their best to be fair and even-handed, is nonetheless biased by the particular niche they occupy professionally. Jane has no built-in professional bias. Her niche is one that will flourish as long as there are aspiring writers. It gives her the freedom to take a truly open and unbiased view of the various controversies of the publishing world.

The wide variety of topics Jane covers is suggested by her sidebar list of blog categories:

Best of Twitter
Building Readership
Craft & Technique
Digitization & New Technology
F+W Life
Getting Published
Guest Post
Industry News & Trends
Marketing & Self-Promotion
New Titles From F+W
New Titles From Writer's Digest
Sneak Peek
WD Magazine

Check out Jane's blog. And get ready to get hooked!


Monday, January 18, 2010

Blog Review: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent

Blog Review: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent

What do you say when superlatives are inadequate? I continue to be amazed that this blog can exist. Judging by this blog, Nathan appears to have the kind of energy that people write superhero comics about. Not only does he put out quality posts on a daily basis,but he has assembled an archive of useful content that would easily be priced at the high end if assembled and published as a book. Other people are making good money packaging and selling the kind of advice Nathan gives away.

As well as maintaining the quality of his own posts, Nathan has attracted a huge following of active commenters that provide not only support for his efforts, but also debate, counterpoint, added insights, and occasional outright drama. He is clearly a "people person", and even when ticked off by a commenter, he manages to maintain a basic aura of fairness and good nature - no mean trick.

In the wake of a recent blog format update, there is now a forum site associated with the blog. I haven't had time to check it out, but it is reputed to be an arena of lively discussion among friendly people.

Aside from reflective posts about current issues in publishing, anecdotes from his work as an agent, etc. Nathan has a couple of recurring features. One is his weekly "This Week in Publishing" which has brief reports and links to significant events. The other is the irregular "You Tell Me" in which he throws out a topic and lets the commenters have their own field day giving their views. (If I'm put ever so slightly in mind of how Tom Sawyer got a picket fence whitewashed, I surely would never let on :)

Aside from the daily posts, the blog site is resource-rich and well organized. Featured prominently on the blogs home page is a box of links titled "The Essentials (please read before you query)" On many agent blogs, such a title would link to one or two articles and/or a set of query guidelines. But Nathan has assembled what is essentially a mini-course on what writers need to know about the publishing processs. There are 13 articles, not counting links to the FAQ and Writing Advice database. The list of topics begin with "How the Publishing Process Works" and proceeds through "When in Doubt, Query Me".

There are also link boxes for Author Resources, Agent/Editor Blogs, Writer Blogs, Book Blogs, Publisher Blogs and Lit Journals. If you begin at Nathan's blog and start clicking, you will find yourself encountering more resources than you could ever imagine. In fact, one of the dangers of this blog is that the process of learning about publishing can become so addictive that it may threaten to crowd out writing. Not to worry - writers notoriously seek and find excuses not to write. As excuses go, you could do way worse :)

Needless to say, as Nathan is an agent, much of the content on the blog revolves around query letters - a topic not without its contentious moments. While some agents respond to inadequate queries with what we call on the streets "Attitude" ('tude for short), Nathan's approach is to cut down the number of bad queries by teaching people to write good ones. (I'll emphasize again, this is the kind of stuff you can go to other places and pay the big bucks for.)

And, it doesn't hurt a thing that Nathan is a writer as well as an agent. It was an amusing irony for Nathan's audience to watch him blog about his YA book JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, (to be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2011.) One is reminded of an obstetrician awaiting the delivery of his firstborn. Being an agent clearly provided Nathan no immunity to "writer nerves", but suffering through the travails of becoming published has inevitably made him a better agent. In an industry where the roles of writer and agent are all too often framed as adversarial, Nathan has situated himself squarely in the middle of the disputed territory and planted a fruitful garden.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blog Alert - How to get a Small-Press Book into Barnes & Noble

One thing which no aspiring novelist should overlook is the growing number of alternatives to traditional publication by a large publisher. One alternative which has been around for a while is the world of small presses - a world which is very much on the radar of the blog Inde-Debut 2010. Their "about" page describes them as "... a group of first-time authors who've joined together to spread the word about their books that hail from small presses."

A recent post written by Scott Heydt explains what a small press author may typically go through in the process og getting their work to appear on the Shelves at B & N.

I was struck by Scott's down-to-earth style and his nuts-and-bolts focus. He's not talking generalities, he's talking what you would actuyally do - right down to the level of who to call on the phone and what to say to them. If you've been published by a small press, or are contemplating it as an option, this article is a should-read, and the blog is a check-it-out.


How to get a Small-Press Book into Barnes & Noble | Indie-Debut 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hello World

Welcome to my blog.

Why the Contrarian Novelist? The quick answer is that Aspiring Novelist and Novelist in Training were already taken :) But "contrarian" was already going to be an important part of the blog description.

When I decided to write seriously, I soon came across all the great and some of the not-so-great free resources for writers on the Internet. And, as I worked my way through the endless articles and posts of advice for new writers, one thing that kept appearing repeatedly was the advice to establish a presence online. A blog seemed possible.

But it's hard to find time to do a blog well. I already spend so much time reading other people's blogs that it's cutting into my writing time and my day job. Besides, what could I write about that would draw and keep an audience?


I suddenly realized that the problem was the solution. If I'm spending mega-amounts of time following writing advice blogs and similar resources, I must be accumulating a lot of knowledge about those resources. That's got to be of some use to people who might be too busy actually writing to go all those places themselves. So I figured that a blog of resource reviews and writing advice comments would be doable, fun, and useful to others.

But why contrarian? I did say contrarian, didn't I?

Well, the blog is going to be contrarian because I'm contrarian. For me, it's always more fun to look for something that all kinds of people believe that's wrong, misleading, or just plain dumb and poke holes in it. Or maybe fill in some of the holes that are already there, depending. Demolish or rebuild. Or maybe more than one of the above.

Not to say that I disagree with everything. There's a lot of really good advice out there, and a lot of great resources. I've learned a lot. And if I pick a blog or website to review, it will usually be because I really like it and want to share the good stuff I've found there. I already know that my first review will be Nathan Bransford's blog. Nathan is a San Francisco based literary agent with the Curtis Brown agency, and a heck of a nice guy. He's got the best agent blog I've seen so far, and surely one of the best on the Internet. If a you're looking to be published in the traditional way, and get on bookshelves, and only have time to read one publishing-related blog regularly, that would be the one.

They say it's best to blog on a regular schedule. I have a TERRIBLE time keeping to a schedule, but I figure one review per week is doable. My target will be late Sunday night, so anybody that takes in interest should find a blog or resource review waiting Monday morning.

Between reviews, I'll post as the spirit moves me. Usually I get inspired to write when I see a post on somebody else's blog that strikes a chord, or discord, as the case may be. And some of the rants I inflict on these good folks' comments pages are probably worth posting here. We'll see.

I'll also talk about my own novel-to-be, Dandelion Lawn, and all the interesting stuff I've learned trying to write it.

Okay, first post is done. I have a blog (yay!) . Now, you guys can come find it. Read, leave comments, tell your friends. Let's party! (or whatever)