Because of a very fortunate turn of events this year in my writing career, I was asked to speak to other authors who had been my support system in the ups and downs of my 7-year career: the San Francisco chapter of the Romance Writers of America. This group is filled with an even mix of aspiriting and already published successful writers, all of whom have been there for each other with inspiring words, great advice, and a shoulder to cry on.
Yes, it was my turn to give back.
Here's what I told them (in the few moments when I wasn't dithering off-topic, on such things as house renovations from hell, book promotion, instore co-op and other necessary evils of success for the chosen few–
But then caffeine on a belly of oatmeal will do that to you. Next time: fill the ol' belly with pancakes first. Oh yeah: and look at your notes every once in a while…)
The year 2011 did not start out well for me. I was one of many midlist authors who had a novel under contract with publishing house, but then it was dropped as part of a loss-saving attempt in light of the Borders bankruptcy.
I made sure that my own private pity party was short and bittersweet, then turned my attention on promoting the novel which was due out in April. I was proud of the buzz I'd already built prior to its release, which turned into a 10-market tour hosted by women who had the same career as Katie, the heroine in my book The Baby Planner.
As far as my editor was concerned, it paid off — enough for her to ask me to lunch. As we nibbled lady-sized salads at the Bergdorf-Goodman Restaurant high over Central Park, she asked, "So what can I see next?"
This is why it's always a smart idea to promote promote promote your books, no matter what your publishing house is (or isn't) doing for it.
Knowing that you need to publish or perish, I was also smart enough to take the great advice of my writer pal, Bella Andre, who has hit it out of the park indie-pub'ing her re-acquired backlist and some new books. She convinced me that a novel which had had four editors salivating for it- (until it got shot down in committee) was the perfect test for me to indie-publish. The first book in that series, The Housewife Assassin's Handbook, is out now.
Thus far I'm loving the sales. The second in the series, The Houswife Assassin's Guide to Gracious Killing will be out by the end of the month. So yes, authors: Independent publishing is one way to watch your orphans thrive.
Writing novels is not for the faint of heart. I truly believe you need a wonderful agent to match you with the right editor: someone loves your writer's voice and your story, and wants to help make it the best book possible before showing it to the world.
But even a great agent and a superlative editor can't do the one thing that keeps an author writing for a living wage. For that, you need a legion of readers who fall in love with your characters, and wants to see more of them, and of you.
Thanks to my wonderful agent, Holly Root, who saw the potential in my books to translate into different media, my novels were shown to a talent agency which felt that they did indeed have the potential to be adapted into movies or as a TV series.
Well, they were right. One of Hollywood biggest producers, Jerry Bruckheimer, has optioned one of my books, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, for a television show that will run on ABC.
So yes: this year has been a rollercoaster. But I was one of the lucky ones.
I'm making a living wage as a writer.
These readers are out there. I know authors who exhaust themselves trying to find them: touring, social networking, responding to comments and emails.
I strongly feel that, with the changes that are occuring in the distribution of books — the surge of online book sales, coupled with the decline in the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores, not to mention the number of books they take on — will also change the role of publishers:
They will have to get more agressive — and smarter — in how they promote the books they publish.
I have no doubt that they will soon publish less authors. But in order to thrive, they'll have to make the books they do publish as profitable as possible. This means focusing on marketing and promotion as well as distribution. They need to recognize niche markets for specific authors and their books, and court them…
Something that authors do, now, for themselves…if they're smart.
And could to even better if they had the financial resources and personpower of their pub houses.
Every author writing for that imprint is a brand.
Every book is a product under that brand.
This is, simply, Marketing 101.
Which brings me to you, the author:
If you're a writer, be prepared to spend most of your career in the 99 percent.
Everyone in this room writes, because we must write. This need to write comes from the depth of our souls.
Ninety-nine percent of the world doesn't have this desire. (Thank gawd! Aren't there already enough of us, in this very competitive field?)
So, consider yourself in the one percent.
Already, I applaud you.
A reality we all know: ninety-nine percent of aspiring writers will not get published by a New York publishing house. All the more reason I want to applaud the many I see this room who have made it into the one percent who have been traditionally published.
Of all traditionally published writers, how many have been able — or will be able – to make writing a fully-fledged career that pays the bills and puts food on the table? How many will still be published ten or twenty years from now?
I'm guessing that number is closer to one percent than 99 percent.
And of those who are lucky enough to make writing their vocation as well as their avocation, I'm guessing that 99 percent of them will never have the joy of learning that their book has been optioned and produced in an entertainment medium, such as film or television.
But here's the thing: If you ever want to be in THE 1 PERCENT (of the 1 percent who write; of the 1 percent who get an agent; of the one percent who get a publishing contract; of the 1 percent who can make a living writing; of the one percent who may enjoy watching their characters come alive in the small screen or the silver screen) you have to stay in the game.
You have to write.
Afterward, you have to edit, and re-edit, and edit again, until your manuscript is a page-turner.
Then you have to query a large, well-researched list of agents with your manuscript.
Once you get that agent, you have to to listen to him or her as to what else has to be done to it so that s/he will be enthusiastic when it is sent out to editors (remember: agents work on a commission, so they don't get paid until your book sells; they are putting sweat equity in you as well).
And once your book is published, you have to promote it.
And you have to write more books.
So, yeah: writing is the easy part.
Staying in the game is the hard part.
Last. Author. Standing.
(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.
The top photo is the book cover for Writing Romance: The Ultimate Guide on Craft, Creation and Industry Connections, which is published by the San Francisco Chapter of the Romance Writers of America