Sherri Shackelford here, fresh from conquering The Big Apple. And by ‘conquering’ I mean I didn't die.
Because my good friend wrote a fabulous book, I had the opportunity to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City a few weeks ago. (You may recognize the book by Cheryl St.John – Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict.)
Several attendees mentioned how many classes were offered on ‘selling your book’ or ‘how to get your book published quickly’ rather than ‘how to write a great book’. The sentiment was something I heard echoed throughout social media from the Romance Writers of America Conference. (Full disclosure-I didn’t actually attend RWA this year. Maybe they were lying.)
Curious, I thumbed through my RWA conference booklet from 2008 in San Francisco. I was a starry-eyed young writer back then. I was still green and hungry for knowledge with less than a year of learning under my belt. Thankfully, there were plenty of sessions about craft for a newbie.
Which left me wondering: Are we selling books, or selling out?
I’ve just sent off the proposal for my fifth book to my editor at Harlequin this week. So you’d think I’d know what I was doing by now, right? Wrong. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.
Which brings me back to the question: Are we selling books, or selling out?
I came into the business at a great time. Indie publishing was still in its infancy and I didn’t have any other choice but to learn the hard way through a series of rejections and re-writes.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not here to champion traditional publishing. Unless, of course, you’re a big fan of dying poor beneath a leaky garret. (Just kidding. I’m not kidding. I am. Mostly kidding.)
I am, however, a fan of learning. When my first book was published, I received a small burst of interest from other authors curious about ‘how I did it.’ (Not in a scary OJ Simpson kind of way, I’m sure.) These fresh new authors wanted me to give them an honest opinion of their work.
These authors wanted me to tell them they were great and ‘here’s my agent’s home email’ and ‘here’s my editor’s private line to the red ‘publish-this-person-now’ phone’. They wanted me to dress up in old-timey clothing and write A++++++++ on the chalkboard.
Don’t be that person.
Why sell books before their time simply because we can?!
A lot of what I learned in New York is old news for most people, but it’s a good refresher.
1. Take advantage of Goodreads. That’s where the readers hang out. But don’t be creepy and try and sell your books all the time. Engage people in discussions about other books you both love. Join groups and learn what people are reading and enjoying. Never, Never, NEVER engage a reviewer. EVER. Not unless you want cyber pitchforks lobbed at you. Read all the rules of the groups you join and FOLLOW them. Don’t be like your brother-in-law, the Amway salesman, and make people hide behind potted plants to avoid you.
2. Gather a mailing list. People read 1% of their twitter feed and see about 10% of their facebook posts. Everyone reads email.
3. Don’t bug people on facebook. They want to see pictures of your cat wearing a sailor hat. Really. Or maybe a nice meme of Tom Hiddleston ordering you to relax and take a bath. People do not want to hear ‘buy my book’ blah blah blah ‘buy my book.’ Sure, they like to hear about new releases and they enjoy cover reveals. They also like to hear how you dictate all your books to a male-model-turned-secretary while wearing your pink silk mules and a diaphanous peignoir. (C’mon, we’re all selling a dream, right?)
4. Have a nice website. It doesn’t have to be Potterville, but don’t have something that looks like your brother-in-law, the Amway salesman, designed it. Update your website. If your biography has your 2008 release listed as ‘new’, update the information. People are looking for an easy way to discover your backlist. Help them.
5. Stop worrying so much about selling your books and building a platform, and spend more time writing new books. More content drives more sales than a Tom Hiddleston meme.
6. It’s okay to be traditionally published. The galaxy will not be cloaked in evil if you sign with a Big Five Publisher. It’s also okay to be a hybrid author. It’s okay to be Indie published. There’s no need for ‘Team Indie’ and ‘Team Traditional’ T-shirts.
7. The guy from Amazon doesn’t differentiate between small-press and self-publishing. It’s Big Five or Indie. I don’t know what that means, but I thought it was interesting.
8. Figure out metadata. And when you do, explain metadata to me. That class was really overwhelming.
Here’s what I learned about craft from the Writer’s Digest Conference:
1. Never stop learning. (Actually, that’s not from the conference – that’s from me.)
2. Good stories will trump good writing. (I know we’re all thinking about the-book-that-shall-not-be-named with the numbers ‘5’ and ‘0’ in the title.) Read Lisa Cron’s ‘Wired for Story’ and search the Seekerville blog for further explanation. (I once had an admired friend tell me she enjoyed THAT book. She sunk in my estimation faster than an Italian cruise ship. Then, she said, "It drew me in." You can't argue with that.)
3. A story is emotion. Read Cheryl St.John’s, ‘Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict.’ Take special note of the excerpt from Sherri Shackelford. (Just kidding. I’m not kidding. I am. Mostly kidding.)
4. Writing books is hard work. If it’s not hard work, you’re doing it wrong. The fun is in the beginning when everything is fresh and wonderful. The fun is at the end when all that work is behind you. The fun usually dies somewhere in the middle when you realize you’ve just spent three months writing THE WORST BOOK EVER WRITTEN. Real authors suck it up and push on. Hobby authors start a new project.
Here’s the thing—I don’t know how to tell when your work is good enough for publication. There’s always some point in the process where I’m pulling out my hair and having serious discussions with my husband about how I’m planning on hitchhiking around the country to pull my current books from Wal-mart shelves one by one because they’re awful. To which my husband inevitably replies. “Keep the crazy at home, and you already spent the advance.”
(Joke’s on him—I let the crazy go public a LONG time ago!)
I DO know it’s a good idea to keep learning, to ask for and accept criticism -- hire a professional editor. (Not your brother-in-law, the Amway salesman.) Attend lots of conference and share what you’ve learned. Especially about metadata. Because metadata is really confusing for some people.
Bad books do not a good career make. Discoverability is getting more and difficult. Earning money is a good thing. Self-promotion is important. (For example: If everyone reading this blog could buy a copy of The Cattleman Meets His Match and then pop on over to Goodreads and/or Amazon and leave a review, that would be great!)
But please don’t annoy people all day long with blah, blah, blah ‘buy my book.’ And don’t just sell books. Sell GREAT books! That’s what I learned at Writer’s Digest.
Now, my question to you, Seekerville is this: What is the new apprenticeship/polishing process in this brave new world of publishing?
I’ll give away two copies of The Cattleman Meets His Match to people who comment!
The Cattleman Meets His Match
GALAHAD IN A STETSON
Cowboy John Elder needs a replacement crew of cattle hands to drive his longhorns to Kansas—he just never figured they'd be wearing petticoats. Traveling with Moira O'Mara and the orphan girls in her care is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Yet despite Moira's declaration of independence, the feisty beauty evokes John's every masculine instinct to protect, defend…marry?
Moira is grateful for John's help when he rescues her—and she can't deny that his calm, in-control manner proves comforting. But she is determined not to let anything get in the way of her plans to search for her long-lost brother at journey's end. However, can John show her a new future—one perfect for them to share?
A wife and mother of three, Sherri Shackelford's hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.
Sherri is currently working on three more books for her Cimarron Springs series. Her current books include Winning the Widow’s Heart and The Marshal’s Ready-Made Family, and The Cattleman Meets His Match. The Engagement Bargain releases in February of 2015. Visit her website at sherrishackelford.com or contact her firstname.lastname@example.org