Sunday, September 21, 2008

Something to Consider

If you’ve been to our Web site lately, Sharene is closed to queries until January 1, 2009, and I’ve stopped taking queries from unpublished writers. The reason we decided to do this has much to do with the quality of queries we were receiving prior to this decision. So my next question would be to ask, “What’s going on out there in Writer Land?”

I don’t want to sound preachy, but folks, this is not a time to be lax on the quality side of your writing. Publishers have, for a number of years, been tightening their quality standards to the point that even that which was considered excellent writing a few years ago is now being rejected (and remember, fiction and nonfiction are fluid beings that grow and change over time as well).

Because inexpensive computers and word processors have given people the opportunity to become the writer they always wanted to be, more and more people are penning that which has been rattling around in their heads for years. This is not to say this is a bad thing because writing that poem, short story, or full length novel that you’ve always wanted to write is the most wonderful accomplishment imaginable, and I commend anyone who has attempted this and wish you to know that I applaud you. However, it’s a huge leap from putting that dream on the printed page to convincing a large group of people who would ordinarily spend that money for shelter, food, or clothing to instead spend it on your poem, short story or novel.

So, as an alternative, do something that this amazing time we live in allows each and every writer to engage in--publish your dream online and let others enjoy the fruits of your labor. You get to have a voice, and if you get a large enough readership, you might get published for actual money. (Don't forget that it is highly likely that the particular work you post will no longer be salable because it’s already been made available for a large reader base—the world. We have other posts on this.)

Here’s a suggestion…

Get yourself a Web site. If you want to be a successful author, you’re going to have to have one anyway. There are lots of companies that provide inexpensive Web hosting services and the templates to create a site in a matter of an hour or so. Next, post your poem, short story, or novel on your Web site. Another helpful tool will be a site statistics program that allows you to monitor how many Web visits your site receives each day, and since you’ll post nothing else there except your work, you must assume that everyone who goes to your site reads at least some of your poem, short story or book. Next get a free Twitter and Facebook account and advertise your Web site and the fact that you’re giving your work away free. From your marketing effort and Web stats, you now have the means to know how popular your work would be if it were sitting on a bookstore shelf. Actually, if you think about it, you will even have more evidence because you now have the ability to know how many potential readers have visited your site and read your creation. The other option is to post your work on your own blog space, which you can get for free. However, the problem with this is the temptation to post other items of interest there, which muddies the waters when trying to determine how popular your work is via Web stats.

One very last thing here is to ask for reader comments. Warning: Be prepared for criticism, because no matter how good you think your book is, your readers are the final judge. Then you have to decide how much weight to give each comment, as some people will be too eager to lavish you with complements or try to crush your ego just for fun.

If your now virtually-published book gets ten thousand hits and at least 200 excellent or great reviews, send me a query.

Now, I know we will get a lot of flack for this because most people have written one novel and giving it away for free is not what they had in mind. Well, here’s some news. Writers write; that’s what they do. You should have several pieces lying around you can work with or sell, not just one. Even just to establish a presence takes more than one project for 99% of writers out there. If you think you’re in the 1% that includes authors who hit it big on one book—Harper Lee, for example—then consider you are probably in good and abundant company. There’s a reason the phrase “writing the great American novel” exists. It’s because writing a book is one of those dreams that seems glamorous and easy when it is just the opposite, and everyone wants to do it. And everyone, including people all over the world, IS doing it.

In closing, years ago, Sharene and I wrote an article for the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market and in it made the comment that everyone, even the President of the United States, seemed to want to get published. I vividly remember seeing a review of the book on Publishers Weekly, I believe—where the reviewer picked that particular comment out of the guide and remarked on it as if it were unusual. People don’t believe us when we say it, but it’s true. There are millions of people who want to get their words in front of a large audience AND get paid for it, so the competition is fierce. I think the rise of blogs, Web sites, and social networking sites supports this and so why not use them to your benefit?