Category Archives: Publishers

Getting Beyond “Yes or No” Thinking in Writing, Part Two

So, last time I wrote about tips and techniques I’d learned from others to get past seeing rejections as personal (“My story sucks”), pervasive (“I’m a loser”), and permanent (“I’ll never sell a story”).   Rejection is a fact of life for writers–the rate of rejection will go down as one gets better, but it will never go to zero.  Even the best writer produces a lousy story on occasion.

Chances are, you’ve noticed how binary humans can be in their thinking, i.e. that attitude of “It’s either Yes or No.”   So this week I want to go into more depth about getting comfortable with searching for the wriggle room between the “Yes or No” mindset.

Since we’ve been discussing the pursuit of publication through a traditional publisher or magazine, let’s use it as an example of the wriggle mind game.

Playing Mind Games with Rejections

On the surface, it seems so straightforward when a story is submitted to an editor–it’s either a sale or no sale.

But if we dig a little deeper, we find that not all No’s are equal.   There’s:
1) “No, but please send us your next story.”
2) “No, but interesting story.”
3) “No.”
4) “No.  This story is not to my taste.”
5) “No.  The craft in this story is poor.”

That third “No” can have a lot of hidden background that the writer doesn’t see.  It might just be a plain old “No, this story is no good.”   But, it is also possible the editor was swamped with stories and had to do form rejections for everyone, even the ones that were liked.  Or a story was recently published that was very similar to yours, so they had to pass on it.   Or the editor wanted to buy it, but the sales and marketing department rebelled.

Too often, writers see all No’s as exactly the same, because they’re focusing on selling one particular story instead of focusing on establishing a relationship with an editor.

I’m sure you’ve heard salespeople talk about cultivating clients.  Writing is no different.   Over time, as they submit story after story to an editor, writers have the chance to cultivate an editor by showing what they can do.   Stephen King did not sell the first novel manuscript he sent to William Thompson.  Nor the second, nor the third.  It was on the fourth manuscript, CARRIE, that he finally made a novel sale.

That’s why pro writers with 20+ years experience making a living as writers emphasize the importance of “keep submitting a work,” and “keep writing new work.”    A “No” isn’t about “No,” it’s about cultivating potential business relationships that may result in a sale a few years later.

The Wriggle Room Between “No Control” and “Absolute Control”

So, we’ve seen that when we look closer at rejections there’s more going on than a simple “Yes” or “No.”  Another example of that binary attitude at work is when we see a situation as having “No Control vs. Absolute Control.”  Oftentimes, there’s wriggle room if we look closer.

This is probably best explored with an example.  Let’s take the example of … book covers in publishing.

It’s rare that a writer gets absolute control of his or her book cover unless the book is indie published.

But often we go to the opposite extreme in mindset, and assume we have no control at all when our book is traditionally published.  But if we sit down and brainstorm ideas, sometimes we can come up with ways that can “tweak” what is going on with a book cover at a publisher.

Okay, so I’m going to take a moment and try to brainstorm ways I could wriggle past “No Control” on book covers with a publisher.  There’s no guarantee that any of them would help, but I wouldn’t know unless I tried.

Brainstorm Ideas to Get Past “No Control” Over Book Cover

1)  I could learn more about book covers in publishing.  Laura Resnick has a great series of articles to read on covers.

2) I could make a collage of favorite photos and pictures about the book, and send a JPEG copy to my editor to share with the art director and/or book artist.

3) I could ask for “cover consultation” in the contract if I have some clout; if I have major clout, “cover approval.”

4) I could demand a particular cover artist in the publishing contract if I have enough clout.

5) I could ask for final approval of the cover artist chosen written into the publishing contract if I have the clout.

6) I could provide a list of cover artists I admire (with their website gallery addresses) to the editor.  The editor and art director might throw the list out, but there’s a chance one of the names might catch their interest.  Can’t hurt to try.

7) I could politely ask the editor for a chance to see the cover sketches and layout before the final cover is done.

8) I could take a class on Photoshop, graphic design, or illustration so that I had a better understanding of what a book cover artist does.

9) I could go to bookstores to study covers, and browse through e-bookstores to look at thumbnail-sized covers.

10) I could find out who has won awards for their cover design work, and study the award-winning covers.

I could go on, but I’m certain you all see the point I’m getting at.   Sometimes even in situations where the writer officially has “No Control,” there’s wriggle room IF the writer is pleasant to deal with.   Woo, don’t whine.

So, to reiterate, remember that there’s more to a “No” than just “No.”  And keep an eye out for ways to wriggle out of a “No Control” business situation in publishing.   Good luck!

Dealing With the Shock of All Those “No”s

Fiction writers and salespeople have more in common than they realize. Just like doing cold-calling in sales, the journey to the first sale by a fiction writer goes like this:

“No, no, no, no, no, no, …” (typically this part in parenthesis has about 40 to 500 entries of No) “…, no, yes, no, …”  (more “No”s) “…, no, yes,  no, …” and on and on and on until the writer either 1) stops submitting work to editors, 2) quits, or 3) dies.

Every once in a while, fiction writers will encounter another writer who got a “Yes” the first time a story was ever submitted to an editor.  Rare, but it happens.  For a few seconds there’s a strong temptation by everyone else to hurl their pens at that person.  However, the profession of fiction writing is so rough and tumble that at some point that writer will get a long streak of “No”s that will balance out that easy “Yes” earlier on.

In last week’s blog post on “Fiction Writers and Learned Helplessness,” I did a thought experiment where I compared the submissions process to sticking your hand into a box where one of three things happened: 1) you got an electric shock for “No,” 2) nothing happened for the situation of no response, or 3) you got injected with an opiate for “Yes.”

I mentioned some of the mind games–such as setting up a scoring points system for submissions, or having a friendly competition with other writers to gather the most rejections–that fiction writers play to keep writing and submitting despite the frustration of getting a heavy flow of “No”s.

In this post, I want to explore some of the mental techniques that can be used to keep going.   These techniques are based on ones covered in Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman’s book Learned Optimism that were developed by studying groups that had to deal with a high flow of “No”s, like salespeople.

A writer who has a pessimistic mindset that sees each rejection as permanent (“I’ll never sell a story”), personal (“My writing always sucks”), and pervasive (“I’m a loser”) is going to have a hard time of it on the journey to that first “yes” from an editor.  I ought to know, since I’m a pessimist by nature, and had to teach myself not to talk to myself constantly in a defeatist manner.

The good news is, one can change how one reacts to rejection.  Let’s take the above three thoughts in order and explore how to do that.

Seeing rejection as permanent (i.e. “I’ll never sell a story.”)

Whenever the word “never” or “always” shows up in a negative thought, consider it a red flag.  Sure, the negative thought might be accurate, but the operative word is “might,” not “is.”  Too often, negative self-talk turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I’m constantly telling myself “I’ll never sell a story,” I’ll lose the motivation to keep writing and submitting my stories, and this negative thought will in time become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also, another fallacy in this negative thought is the assumption that one’s writing cannot improve.  When I had doubts about my craft, one of the best decisions I ever made was to find teachers whose writing I admired and go study with them as a student.

Seeing rejection as personal (“My writing always sucks.”)

Here’s another case of leaping to a negative conclusion when a “No” is encountered.  Here’s the ugly truth about the slush pile–the editor may have been in a bad mood or exhausted that day, and decided to do automatic form rejections for everyone in the slush pile regardless of merit.

Beware of the usage of “my” and “I” in a negative thought about rejections.  There’s a big difference between saying, “This story sucks” vs. “My writing sucks.”  The second is much nastier in the self-inflicted attack.  The first will keep you calm enough to be able to look over your writing and learn from mistakes.

Seeing rejection as pervasive (“I’m a loser.”)

This is where the negative self-talk gets really ugly.  A writer gets a rejection, and immediately jumps to treating the rejection as a commentary on everything that the writer does (including non-writing activities) and who the writer is as a human being.   Please don’t do this–repetition of the “I am a loser” mantra will sabotage morale and motivation.  Again, it’s an attitude that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy and makes it impossible to learn from mistakes.

So, that covers the problem of the three p’s (permanent, personal, pervasive) in dealing with rejections.  Also, finding ways to laugh at the whole submissions process helps a great deal–whether it’s writing a story that makes fun of it all, telling jokes, or throwing darts at rejection letters.  Try different tactics, and see what works.

————

I find I have more to say, and next Monday I will talk about some of our perceptions as writers of what we can and cannot control in publishing.  We often see things as “Yes or no,” “Open or shut,” and such, when the reality is more complicated than that.   There are mental techniques that can be used to brainstorm ways to try and gain more control of  a situation.

I will be on business travel, but will do my best to get internet access to post next Monday.

 

It’s Not Indie VS. Traditional, It’s Indie AND Traditional

As fiction writers, we live in an exciting era right now due to the new distribution opportunities available through Kindle, PubIt, and Smashwords. But to hear some writers talk, it’s Indie vs. Traditional, and one has to choose sides.

Well, a lot of neo-pros and old (20+ years) pros I’ve been talking to are excited about being able to do both indie publishing and traditional publishing at the same time.  Having more revenue streams as a writer makes it easier to pay the bills each month. And as long as one is careful about reading and negotiating away any excessively broad non-compete clauses in a traditional publishing book contract, doing so should not be a big deal.

Short stories still need to go to traditional markets first if you want to sell them to a place like The New Yorker.  But if you write a novelette or novella that can’t find a traditional home, it is now possible to indie publish it instead of just letting it sit around unpublished. And once the exclusive time frame on a traditionally published story expires (and if you didn’t sign an all rights contract), you can republish it as an indie reprint to generate more income.

But one thing I want to emphasize is the importance of thinking twice before giving away a royalty cut to an e-packager for an indie story.  Dean Wesley Smith and J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler debate the pros and cons at length in a post put up today.

We’re all in for a wild run over the next few years in publishing. Since I used to work in the software industry–which makes publishing look glacial by comparison–I confess I’ve welcomed the publishing technology breakthroughs that are bringing on a faster business pace.

Helpful Links on Media Insurance

I’ve been having to do research on what media insurance is available for writers and small publishers, and realized I ought to share what links and resources I’ve found so far since other writers may want to know about them.  What follows is a long list of links.

The best discussion of the legal issues involved with online publishing (including insurance needs) is still the Citizen Media’s Law Project guide at Harvard University. This guide provides a terrific discussion on what to look for in a GOOD insurance policy for media & libel & etc.

I have discovered that NYC lawyer Mark Fowler has been blogging about writers and law for a few months.  He had a terrific thoughtful post on Libel Insurance.

The Author’s Guild offers a media liability policy to its members.

The Media Blogger’s Association also offers media liability policy to members.

The National Writer’s Union does not currently have a media insurance policy for members.  They do offer contracts and grievance assistance to members through their committees.  They recently helped a member who had to deal with a threatened libel suit in Pakistan. A writer does not have to be published to join the NWU, just has to provide evidence that he or she is actively pursuing a career as a writer.  Dues are on a sliding scale, depending on writing income, and start at $120/year, and go up to $340/year if making over $45,000/year in writing income.

Through Mark Fowler’s website Rights of Writers, I found out about the media insurance policy benefit for members of the Independent Book Publisher’s Association:
http://www.ibpa-online.org/benefits/liability.aspx
Yearly membership dues start at about $129/year to join the IBPA.   A writer who is self-publishing through his/her own tiny press can join the IBPA.

There is an online insurance broker that will work with individuals to get a policy from AXIS PRO.   I don’t know what the pricing difference is (i.e. if money is saved by going through IBPA instead), and I don’t know the broker and have not done a policy with them.

The Borders Bankruptcy Number Crunching

C. E. Petit is crunching the numbers over at his website right now about the Borders bankruptcy and how it may impact publishers as creditors in the Chapter 11 proceedings.  Go read his posts from yesterday (Feb. 20) and today, great stuff.

This is a wise time to learn about the financial health of any publisher you have contracts for novels with that are still in print, or if you are planning to sign a contract in the near future with a publisher.

If the publisher is part of a publicly traded conglomerate on the stock exchange (and you know the name or ticker symbol) you can easily look at the SEC filings at 
http://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/webusers.htm
The quarterly (10-Q) and annual filing with the SEC is where the good stuff can be found, like how much cash they have on hand (Cash and Cash Reserves), cash flow, and their debts. You’ll want to take your time and read back as far as the database will allow you to get a good feel for what is going on in a particular company.

As for private publishing companies, if your library has access to Hoover’s (http://www.hoovers.com/), you might be able to get some info on their finances from there.

Also, another resource to turn to for help in doing financial research on a publishing company is your nearest Reference Librarian. Librarians are a wonderful resource for this sort of research.