Friday, July 28, 2017

Accepting the Changing (already changed, actually, years ago) Publishing Industry

Today's blog was inspired by the Debut Author's page of the monthly RWR magazine. I've been watching it for years and, though I haven't compiled the data into a cool pie chart or anything (I should, but I'll bet RWA have this information already) it looks like the larger percentage of debut authors publish independently and the very few that have publishers are with a small, boutique press. This confirmed what I already knew, that not only did e-readers change the publishing industry, they changed publishing houses need to risk investing in untried writers.

This is not new news.

That said, I've had a hard time adapting my own expectations of the road to publication. I started out with my query letters to agents and the few big names that accepted unagented submissions. I pictured my novels on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I'm not a total dinosaur, so most of my queries were sent via e-mail, but when I first started some agents still required hard copies. This was ten(ish) years ago.

Now, when it comes to the querying, most agents and publishers have an online submission process. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Convenience aside, it is symbolic of their hands-off approach to new submissions. It's probably much easier to dismiss a file than pile of pages that was carefully prepared to specifications.

I've really struggled with the fact that the big publishers do not accept debut authors. It seems like the industry expects and WANTS authors to self publish first.This really messed with my long term plan and it's taken me awhile to come to grips with the change. I hate it, but have to get over myself and work within these parameters.

Besides, the change makes sense. It's like that job at McDonald's that you had during high school so you could show work experience as you interviewed your way up the employment ladder. An example from the genre would be the well loved trope of the reformed rogue who's been around the block and knows what to do in bed. You rarely see a virginal hero in romance and, I guess, publishers don't want a virgin author either. Self published authors have sales numbers, reviews, a readership waiting so when the publisher picks them up, they're a sure thing. It cuts down on the risk of investing in a newbie.

I have pitched to a few boutique publishers that are simply a label away from being self-published. They'll provide you with editing and a cover, but you do all the marketing. It may be worth it to some rather than pay the roughly $500 it will cost for professional editing and an okay cover, but to me, the only good thing about self publishing is lost in this deal--autonomy.

My biggest hurdle in choosing the self-pub route (and I still haven't committed to it) is that I really need the validation that acceptance by an agent/publisher provides. There are so, so, so many poor quality books and I'm afraid to join their ranks. If my books are not good enough for a publisher to stand behind, they're not ready for publication.

The good news (for authors like me) is that most of the major publishers have smaller, niche imprints that publish in e-only. This removes the risk of investing in a print run, but still offers the professional editing/cover/marketing services of a major publisher. This route won't put me in a brick and mortar book store, but it's a step in the right direction and will save me from myself and the possibility of putting a low-quality book out there with my name on it.

Of course, I am warming up to self publishing. I'm really almost there. It's only taken a bunch of near misses to make me feel my books might be good enough combined with hundreds of flat out rejections that have made me tired of playing the game. I'm even at that point where I waste time looking up book cover art.

I am currently waiting on a yea or nay from another interested party. I'm not optimistic, but must have some hope or I'd be more invested in the steps toward self-publishing. I am getting myself ready for that eventuality because pitching has become something like banging my head against a wall and, really, I should be writing.

I will finish up this post by telling you that accepting self-publishing as a viable option has really freed my writing. I'm not writing to anyone's formula. I can tell an authentic story without bending it to meet genre norms ( I wrote a virgin hero and I'm not worried about it).

If you are interested, here is a link to data compiled for RWA 2016 showing trends in sales. It may just be my translation, but the data really promotes self-publishing.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

History Happened. Really. So Get it Right.

Allow me to jump back into the blogosphere with a short rant about historical accuracy.

I like writing with historical settings. I have written fantasy and struggle with consistency. I have to draw maps and create cultures and magical systems and naming traditions. When writing with a historical setting, it's all been done for you. Thank you, people who came before, for laying it out for me.

That said, research is required. No matter how much I think I know, I am constantly second guessing and double checking. Whatever the era, there is a plethora of resources available (online, for free!) to help fine tune the details of your novel. You don't want to fudge because you lose credibility as a writer, no matter how great your story may be.

The following points stand out to me both as a reader and a writer.

1. Language
When writing a story set within the Elizabethan Era, I found myself looking up the word Machiavellian. Certainly Machiavelli had existed and been published prior to this time. But even though the educated may have read his work, would his name have been equated with the theme of his writing? No. It's a more modern term and would be inappropriate to use. Word choice matters when it comes to making your setting real. I just read something set in early Victorian where they used the word "perp" in reference to the bad guy and it broke me out of the story completely.
To become comfortable with the word use of your chosen era, read work (primary sources) from that time. If you are uncertain, Wikipedia is a decent and easy resource to double check (I once looked up "cunt" because I wanted to confirm period crude slang for that particular body part. The table full of youth pastors meeting behind me became suddenly silent when it popped up in 100 pt font on my screen. Good times.)
Whether or not you choose to write in dialect (I did originally, but then an acquiring editor at Avon told me to nix that), make certain the speech patterns are consistent with the era, the class, and the setting. Consider period slang, contradictions, and forms of address while still making the dialogue accessible to the reader.

2. Names
I have found church records for marriages, baptisms, etc... from the years I write online. Even if you cannot find direct resources of the names of commoners, looking at the names of the royal families of  will tell you the trends of the time (people tended to name after the people in charge in homage/butt kissing). Depending on your era, historically people were not creative in the name department. Even today there are some countries that have lists of approved names. Learn about the culture of your setting. Are sons named after fathers? Do children take their mother's maiden name as a middle name? Does their birth date figure in to their naming (saints days)?
This can be frustrating because it limits creativity OR it could be a relief that you don't have everything to choose from. I've seen many authors nod to historical naming with the character's given name and then play with nick-names. Personally, I'd rather read about a real guy with an old fashioned name like Edwin than an archetype who goes by Rogue (just in case we didn't understand the archetype)

3. Norms
This is the biggest challenge for me. You want to write something historically accurate that the modern reader can relate to. If your main character is a woman (and mine always is) you have to be careful not to give her modern thought processes. Women's rights were limited but for a woman in that era, that would be all she ever knew and would be, if not content, at least resigned to her lot in life. Depending on the era you are writing there are very specific thoughts about religion, ethnicity, and class systems. Modern readers may see oppression or racism or elitism while the historical characters see it as the way of their world. How you write it will make all the difference. For the historical characters, these aspects of society were normal but can be off-putting for a reader. Finding the balance between historical views and modern sentiment is tricky. Have fun with that.
Being consistent with social norms extends to casual interactions, introductions, conversations public and private, forms of address, seating at the table, manners, class distinctions, etc... It's the biggest aspect of historical setting and what gives the read a feel of authenticity.

4. Costumes
Again, as with norms, it's hard to make historical fashions something the modern reader can comprehend. People have preconceived images of what is attractive now and it's hard to merge modern aesthetic values the historical. Consider your characters from the skin outward, being sure to include their undergarments (or lack thereof) and the correct names for the items. I read a book where the corset was referred to as a busk (a busk is the solid, removable insert in the center front of an early corset). It may be sexy by today's standards to have your heroine forgo her chemise beneath the corset, but consider that the chemise protects the outerwear from sweat and the skin from the coarse, heavy, boned corsets. Research. Look at portraits from the era, look at patterns for construction, and read about the way the garments would have been worn. You can find primary source fashion plates but many of the reenactor websites can be a good resource (they take their attention to accuracy very seriously).
I have to be careful not to make my books a treatise on historical costuming because I love the details. I end up trimming my descriptions down to the bare minimum. I want the reader to picture the character in the gown and how she feels, the impression she leaves, rather than the pleating at the waistband or the embroidery on the shoulder epaulets. It's actually hard for me, but no one wants pages and pages of dress description, they want the story. The dress only matters in how it furthers the character and plot, but it should be accurate.
One positive in understanding all the layers and the way they fasten is that it will help you also undress your character later. :)
The only area where (my personal feeling) it's okay to deviate from historical accuracy in costuming is in the area of hygiene (especially if your work is sexually explicit). Enough said.

1751 Countess of Coventry
A renowned beauty

Ultimately the story has to take dominance over all these details, but working in the true flavor of your chosen era will make the story richer and let the reader truly immerse themselves in your world. Granted, not every reader knows whether or not cotton would have been worn by medieval Scottish peasants (it wouldn't have) but you still owe them accuracy rather than hoping no one will care/notice. It's your name on the cover and your credibility at stake.

You may be asking what gives me to right to lecture on attention to detail in historical romance. If you don't want to take me seriously as a writer (I get that), at least consider this from a reader's perspective. I never read another book by the author that called a corset a busk.


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