Category Archives: markets

Some Things Don’t Work

A while ago, when I had extra time to write between contracts, I decided to self-publish some supernatural mysteries because I enjoy writing them so much.  I knew it was a bit of a risk since urban fantasy is still pretty glutted, but I’d seen some paranormal witch mysteries that were doing well on Amazon and thought it was worth a try.  I had a lot of fun writing them, but I’ve given them a decent shot, and they’re still dead in the water.  I can’t get them off the ground.  So I came to a crossroads.  Do I keep writing them and hope the fifth or sixth one clicks, or do I admit defeat and try something new?

My agent loved the urban fantasies I wrote forever ago but got one rejection after another because no one was buying UF anymore.  I spent a lot of years trying to sell stories that no matter how well done, no one wanted to buy.  And I don’t want to do that again.  So this time, I’m throwing the towel in early.  Right or wrong, I’ve learned the hard way that some things are easier to sell than others.  So I felt sorry for myself, licked my wounded pride for a day, and then sat down and started to work on something different.  I don’t want to write a second cozy series.  I know a lot of writers juggle two or more of them, but I’d have too much trouble trying to keep track of which is which if they were that much alike.  I mean, cozies have some similarities.  If I’m going to do a second series, it has to be different enough from Jazzi to help me find balance between the two.

I’m sharing this, not to garner sympathy, but because when I like writing something, that’s what I want to write.  I don’t want to change or go in a different direction.  But I’ve found that I need to.  When my agent asked me to try to write a romance, I didn’t want to.  I’d never considered it.  Ever.  The plot points felt weird to me–hurt feelings and misunderstandings instead of attacks and battles.  The thing is, I learned a lot by writing the Mill Pond series.  I had to concentrate on character more than plot, and my tacklebox of writing tools grew richer for it.  I took some of those tools with me when my editor asked if I’d like to try my hand at a mystery.

This might sound crazy to you, but if you’re writing really well but your work won’t sell, maybe you should try something outside your comfort zone.  There’s so much to writing that we can’t control.  If editors decide a market is tight or dead, soon it will be, because they won’t buy anything in that genre.  If the market really is glutted, it’s even hard to find readers if you self-publish.  There are just too many things for them to choose from.  Markets come and go.  Literary fiction, I’m told, is a hard sell right now.  Sometimes, selling comes down to a current preference.  It’s harder to sell writing in present tense  now because there’s a bias against it.  Some editors prefer third person, single POV, over first person.  Some of that depends on what genre you write in, but I’ve read reviews where readers prefer third over first.  That doesn’t mean what you write won’t sell, but it means it will be harder.

For now, I’m going to try something new.  A straight mystery instead of a supernatural.  And I’m writing it in first person.  Then I’ll see what happens.  But it doesn’t hurt to flex your writing muscles and experiment a little.  You can start with something short and go from there.  Maybe try a one-hour read.  Play with a new genre, a different style.  But it’s hard to put your best into something, over and over again, know that it’s good (and I’m not just talking ego or confidence here, but comments from critique partners and editors or agents), and keep getting rejections.  When that happens, it might not have anything to do with how well you write, but a lot to do with what you write.  But let’s face it.  In writing, there’s no one right answer, and what works for one person doesn’t work for someone else.  But I’m ready to try to tilt the odds in my favor instead of against me.  So wish me luck.  And good luck to you and whatever you’re working on and Happy Writing!

 

Rejection

I haven’t written a short story for a long time.  Short novels?  Yes.  Novellas?  Love ’em.  But a short story?  I haven’t tried any since C.S. Boyack got me in the mood to write a few when he posted his October Macabre Macaroni stories, one a week.  I used that month to post dark stories on my webpage–with mixed results.  Horror and dark fiction have never been my strong point, but that’s exactly why I wanted to try it.  Some people would advise me to do what I do well, or at least better.  But once in a while, I like to push the envelope, to see how far I can stretch.  And I learned that I’m not much better at horror or dark fiction than I was with my earlier stabs at it.  Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.

BTW, C.S. Boyack wrote a short story that October I loved.  In case you’d like to try it: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/macabre-macaroni-second-helping/

Anyway, I digress.  Sometime last year, I got what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  If I could write a Jazzi and Ansel short story and get it into Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, it would be a great way to promote their series.  To say that I didn’t think this through enough would be an understatement.  But I’ve read quite a few novellas by favorite authors who use shorter fiction (66 – 100 Kindle pages) as teasers to keep readers happy during long pauses between their regular books.  And I’ve enjoyed all of them–Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap holiday novellas, Jenna Bennett’s honeymoon and holiday novellas, and Anna Lee Huber’s pre-wedding novella for Keira and Gage.

I decided that to be successful these stories needed:

  •   The same tone and voice as the books
  •    To establish the characters and their relationships just like the books
  •    Great mysteries to solve like the books
  •    The same feeling/setting as the books

Mind you, each of these things takes a bit of time, some extraneous scenes not found in short stories but possible in novellas.  I tried to accomplish all of the above with a lot less words.  And once I got all of those words written, I sent the story off.

A truth about Alfred Hitchcock magazine:  they only accept online submissions.  Then they give you a code to check your story’s status.  Upfront, they tell you that they’re so bogged down with submissions, you won’t hear back from them for 6 to 7 months.  Make that more like a year, maybe a few days shy of that.  And then you don’t receive an e-mail.  You only know you’ve been rejected when you check your code and see REJECTED next to the story’s title.  Now, I wasn’t heart broken when that happened.  I was a tiny bit ticked that they treat writers so shabbily, but publishing’s changed over the years, so I got over that.  I pretty much knew that the way I’d written the story made its chances  slim.  I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, and I had more success with 2,000 to 3,000 word mysteries.  This heavy monstrosity was 8,500 words.  Only an author with a big name can get away with taking up that much magazine space.  But it was a Halloween story, and if no one else wrote one, I might get lucky.  And the story events happen during the events of book 3 in my series, so I had a year to wait anyway.  So why not try?

But once it was rejected, I gave it another look.  And I wasn’t happy with myself.  I’d tried to marry a short story with a novella and ended up with a mess.  A short story needs one, straightforward mystery with hardly any distractions or extras.  A novella has the length to play with different elements, but that’s why it takes more words.  So…

I spent last night and all day today reworking the story.  It’s 7,000 words now.  And I like it.  I’m going to put it up on the blog’s snippet page closer to when The Body in the Gravel comes out September 24th.  My learning curve reinforced something I already knew, but a rule I thought I might be able to bend.  A short story is…a SHORT story.  And I’m up for trying to write another one for Alfred Hitchcock sometime.  But not for a while.  Right now, all of my attention has to focus on writing Jazzi Book 5–The Body in the Past.  (At least, that’s the title for right now).  I’m hoping to write one chapter every weekday I can.

Another lesson I learned?  Failure isn’t the end of the world.  AND, if you want to break into a market, you have to give them what they WANT.  No tinkering with their tried and true playlist.  Ah, well, my short story adventure has to wait for another day.

For now, try to stay cool, and happy writing!

 

 

 

A nice compliment

I had Scribes last Wednesday.  One of our members brought in a newspaper article about Louisa May Alcott with a few lines highlighted to share.  I never realized how hard Alcott had to work to make ends meet.  “She taught school, went out in service, sewed, and most of all, wrote.  She read all the magazines, figured out their style, and gave them what they wanted.  She wrote thrillers and mysteries, sentimental romances, modern fairy tales, and Gothic horror.”  (from Sarah Young’s column).  And then Rachel smiled and asked the group, “Does this remind you of anyone?”

I’ve never sewn, but yes, I’ve written a lot of different kinds of fiction over time.  And I appreciated Rachel’s compliment.  I’ve written a short Christmas science fiction story for a newspaper tabloid, and they bought it, but accidentally published it under another author’s name.  I’ve had short horror fiction in two anthologies.  I’ve sold dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and short mysteries.  And romances.  I like playing with genres, but I’m glad to be working on a mystery again.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written one, my hubby and I went to the bookstore to see what kinds of mysteries are out there.  I read my old favorites, but they aren’t very helpful for research.  They already have built-in audiences.  They can break the rules and still sell books.  I haven’t kept up with new writers in the field.  I wanted to see who’s selling today and what they do.  I asked my editor what mysteries he likes, and he sent me a stack of Kensington authors, most of whom he works with.   They were all “niche” mysteries. Every book had a protagonist with a specialty of some kind–one runs a bakery and includes recipes in her books, one writes “clambake” mysteries and includes New England type recipes, another entered poodles in dog shows and gave details about that, and yet another runs an organic farm and spa.

At the bookstore, to my surprise, I found the rows of mysteries all clumped under the “mystery” title, but the first half of the shelves were filled with “niche” mysteries in alphabetical order, and the second half was filled with “serious” mysteries.  The books were kept separate from one another.  I’m assuming that means that readers who buy the niche, cozy-style mysteries rarely buy the heavier ones, and vice versa.

I’m writing the niche style.  That’s what my editor likes.  And yes, like Louisa May Alcott, I’m going to try to give him what he wants.  That also means that my agent won’t have much luck if she ever tries to sell me to a bigger publisher.  They want books with higher stakes, bigger themes, more drama–page turners.  I’m okay with that.  I like the idea I thought of for mysteries, and I’m having fun writing it.

In the meantime, Kensington sent me an AWESOME book cover for my sixth romance, due out in November.  Thought I’d share, and whatever you’re working on, happy writing!

SpecialDelivery

 

Switching genres

Remember that WAY back when I started this blog, I warned you to do what I say, NOT what I do?  Well, I should remind you of that, because I’m thinking of doing the UNsmart thing again.

It’s like this.  Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I wrote short mysteries.  I even sold some to Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen’s mystery magazines–not so easy to accomplish.  But cozy mysteries were dead in the water, so I decided to try writing urban fantasy.  It was a hot market at the time, but of course, by the time I finished mine, the market was glutted.  Which is why it’s tricky to follow trends.  But from someone who knows–because she’s learned the hard way–trying to sell a genre that editors have decided is passe’ is a hopeless task.  EVERYTHING’S stacked against you.

Which leads me to my unsmart move.  I seem to be drawn to write whatever isn’t popular at the time.  I didn’t give up on urban fantasy even when my agent said it was dead.  She let me try it as a self-published author on Amazon.  She hoped if I hit the right niche, I might get lucky, so I tried three different series.  I even tried novellas and novella bundles. And then she suggested I try to write a contemporary romance.  So I did.  But I went for smalltown romances with a cozy feel.  And guess what?  Kensington took them for their e-book line, but the market for them is limited.  Who knew?  I sure didn’t.  My editor liked them enough, though, that he asked if I’d ever be interested in writing a mystery for him.  Now, I really like writing mysteries.  BUT…the other thing I’ve learned on this journey, is that it almost always takes time for an author to build an audience, and you don’t build an audience when you keep changing genres.  BUT…I really like writing mysteries.  When I asked my agent about it, she recommended that I write what calls to me the most.  And she warned that cozy mysteries are still dead, but that my particular editor still likes them. So if I like working with him, which I do,  then I could give it a shot.

So…I’ve started work on a mystery.  And we’ll see what happens.  It’s still early on. Nothing’s nailed down yet.  BUT if you’ve paid attention, I’ve given you THREE genres you might want to avoid if you’re a new writer and want to sell to a big publisher:  urban fantasy, sweet romances, and cozy mysteries.

Since I apparently am no good at picking the right markets with appeal, I did a quick search and got this:  https://medium.com/applaudience/fiction-trends-to-watch-for-in-2017-and-beyond-408fef67c07f#.mizi0o1vl

And from Kirkus Reviews:  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/proconnect/word-on-the-street/

Whatever you’re writing, good luck with it.  And enjoy the process!

webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

 

Nothing’s simple

You know, when I first started writing, it was a hobby.  I was serious about it, because I don’t seem to be able to do something half-ass that I care about, but I really didn’t expect much to come of it.  In the beginning–before God created computers and editing was a pain in the rear end–before you could move paragraphs and add and delete by hitting a button–I wrote short stories and writing was about having fun.  Writing is STILL fun for me.  Yes, it’s work.  Yes, it takes commitment.  But doggone, it’s fun to get inside other peoples’ heads and make their stories come to life.

I still love writing and writers.  But as soon as you go to your first writers’ conference, the rules change.  You don’t just think of a story you want to write, but now, you think about markets.  What are the odds that my story will sell to X market?   What are editors looking for?  I was horrible at marketing for a LONG time, because I wanted to write…what I wanted to write.  And guess what?  No one was buying it.  Did I care?  Not really.  Not until I got serious about getting a book in front of readers.

That’s when I got serious about what was selling.  And that’s when I learned that when I tried to write for the market, I was always a few years behind.  By the time I decided to switch from cozy mysteries to serial killers, that market was glutted.  I have to say, though, writing two books with really creepy villains was one heck of a lot of fun…and it taught me a lot.  Next, I tried a couple of mixed genre books, and that’s when I learned that those don’t have a prayer in the publishing world.  Publishers like books that can be stuck in an easily definable slot.  When they have to ask, “How would I market this–as mystery, supernatural, horror?”–kiss your sales goodbye.

About that time is when I met Anna Genoese at Tor, and she asked me for an urban fantasy novel.  It’s risky to write something when you’re not sure what it is.  But yes, you guessed it, it’s pretty damned much fun!  By the time I figured out what the market was, it was already glutted.  Windows of opportunity don’t stay open very long.  But FABRIC OF LIFE, my “sort of” urban fantasy, got me my agent–the wonderful Lauren Abramo.  And when we realized that writing urban fantasy was beating a dead horse, she suggested I try romance.  As you can tell, I’ve never shied away from trying something new, so the Mill Pond romances came into being.

There HAVE to be smarter, quicker ways to reach your goals, but I don’t know what they are.  I didn’t try them.  A lot of my friends didn’t either.  I belong to a writers’ club, and it pains me how much talent so many of our members have.  We’re so diverse, and so GOOD. But publishing is no easier than taking a bus to Hollywood and expecting to be a star.  It takes work and perseverance.  And you suffer lots of disappointment.  It’s HARD.  But if you’re doing what you love to do, it’s WORTH it!

I used to attend workshops where the SELLING writers would say, “If your work’s good enough, it will find a home.”  Bull pucky!  The odds are against you.  Know that.  Know the markets.  And you’ll do better if you know how to promote yourself.  Crappy writers can become bestsellers.  Great writers can be ignored.  So realize that writing is a business. The inventor of the hula hoop probably made more money than a lot of his fellow inventors. Part of selling is luck.  Part is providing what people want.  There are no guarantees.  So, if nothing else, enjoy yourself!  Love what you do.  And happy writing!

 

 

Writing: to market, to market…

I’m feeling pretty happy with myself. I finished the rewrites for Magicks Uncaged, my third book in the Wolf’s Bane series. Now, I’m waiting to see the cover, and then I’ll wait for it to be formatted and put online. But MY part’s done. At least, on the writing scene. The next “to do” on my list is marketing–not my strongest skill. And the sooner I start, the better.

A long time ago, I did a post on marketing. I haven’t gotten more brilliant at it, but since I’m at that stage again, I thought I’d mention it. In my writers’ group, there’s a wide variety of approaches to promoting books. Some–the more serious, literary writers of our group–pen beautiful, wonderful fiction, try to find a market for it, and then do very little to promote it. I think they feel that it cheapens their talents to hawk their own products. But unless you have a publisher, famous friend, or agent who works his fanny off to sell you, you’d better come to terms with the fact that you need to do it yourself. Readers won’t know your work exists if you just put it out there and let it die. Even publishers expect authors to market their work these days. Some look at a writer’s blog, twitter followers, and social media before accepting his work. So…here are some thoughts.

In the group of authors I know, there are those who think they’ll only succeed if they market their work to find an agent and a publisher. If you’re looking for a big, New York publisher, you have to have an agent. None of the big publishers, except Harlequin, look at unsolicited submissions these days. Getting an agent is no easy task. Sometimes, you can get one because you know an author who’ll recommend you. Even then, you might get turned down. Agents are as subjective about what they like and don’t like as anyone else. They have specific things they’re looking for. Another way of finding an agent is to join twitter and participate in some “pitch” sessions. (Use the hashtag “pitchwars” or “nestpitch” and follow the leads). If you don’t want to go that route, go to a bookstore and look at the acknowledgements in books similar to yours to see if their agent is listed. Then look the agent up online. OR type “agent” in the search engine of your computer and follow the leads. And do your homework. Find out what clients the agent has and how well he’s sold them. Even with an agent, you might not be able to tempt a big publisher. That’s why some of my friends have turned to smaller publishers. And they’re happy with them. You don’t have to have an agent to submit to most small presses. And if none of those appeal to you, you can self-publish through smashwords or Amazon, etc. If you go the self-publishing route, though, you’re in charge of EVERYTHING. You need to write the best book you can write, make sure it’s clean of any errors, find a topnotch cover, format it, load it, and promote it. And remember. A book cover is usually the first thing a reader notices. It gives a “feel” of what the book’s about, but you don’t have to pay a fortune to get a good one.

No matter what you do, you need to be willing to promote yourself. You need a webpage, a blog (on your webpage or separate), and you should be on twitter and facebook. I have a friends’ facebook page separate from my author’s facebook page. And there are theories about the best way to use all of them. I’ve found #MondayBlogs useful on twitter, but there are more writer twitter hashtags. Paula Reed Nancarrow (whose blog I love for many different reasons) did a survey on twitter and blogging and wrote a few posts on the results. Here’s one of them: http://paulareednancarrow.com/2015/03/23/twitter-bloggers-and-communities-of-practice/

Another blog I always recommend for marketing is Lindsay Buroker’s. Most of us won’t have the success she has (she knew marketing and blogs before she started writing), but she’s happy to share what works for her and what doesn’t. http://www.lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/my-self-publishing-thoughts-after-50000-ebook-sales/ I’ve learned a lot from her blogs. Here’s another one of hers I found useful:
https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/4318779-how-do-you-establish-a-fan-base-before-you-launch-your-book.

Can’t think of anything to blog about? Try Molly Greene’s link: http://www.molly-greene.com/101-blog-topic-ideas/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=evergreen_post_tweeter&utm_campaign=website But remember. When you blog, you’re trying to build an “author platform,” to “brand” yourself. Another blogger I recommend for marketing is Rachel Thompson: http://badredheadmedia.com/2013/12/06/branding-101-authors/. A second, good post on branding by her: http://www.bookpromotion.com/brand-author-book/. She’s worth following.

Just to give you a checklist, these are good for marketing: twitter, facebook, a blog, and a webpage. Most experts suggest blogging at least once a week. Some authors use blog tours to promote their books before they come out. I’ve never done that, but I know authors who’ve had success with it and some who haven’t. If any of you have tried it, I’d be curious if you liked it. I can tell you that I’ve been happy with some of the paid advertisements I’ve used to promote my books and novella bundles. I can recommend kboards and Ereader News Today. They’ve worked for me anyway. And many of them aren’t that expensive. Most have a variety of packages. Anyway, I’ve run on enough for one post. Good luck with whatever you’re working on!

twitter: @judypost
webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
author’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

Writing: Learning As You Go

Earlier this year, I paid $25 to enter the Kindle Book Review awards contest for the top, indie books published from May 2012 to May 2014. I was hoping I might make the 20 top semi-finalists, but no such luck. Okay, I was disappointed, but not disheartened. In writing, you win some, you lose some. But I was curious what kinds of books won, because those are books I can learn from.

The whole judging process started with what readers look at when deciding to buy or not buy your book: the cover, the blurb, and the opening, sample pages. If those hooked the first readers, then they passed the book on to people who’d read the entire book. I have no idea how many books made it past the first readings, but I know it’s no easy feat. When I wrote mystery short stories and sent manuscripts into Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines, slush pile readers would scoop up manuscripts by unknown writers to take home and look at. If a writer didn’t hook them in the first paragraph or two, that story got put on the “forget about it” pile. Only a tiny, tiny few stories passed the slush pile to be given to first readers. If the first readers like the stories, they’d pass them on to the editors. Once an editor bought one of your stories, your writing went straight to her desk when you submitted a new one. But you had to earn that right. Writers compete with thousands of other writers. But the truth is, once you make it out of the slush pile, then you’re competing with professional writers. And they know their stuff.

Study your competition when you start writing. And learn by studying the best. I’m glad I entered this contest, because I’m lazy, and I wouldn’t have followed through if I didn’t have something invested in it. When I got the list of the writers who DID make the 20 semi-finalists, I looked them up and did what the judges would have done. I looked at their covers. What made them stand out? I read their book blurbs. What made them better than mine? And I read the free, sample pages.

I write urban fantasy, so my take on what worked and what didn’t might not ring true for literary fiction or mysteries, etc. But every sample I read started with a sense of immediacy, plunging the protagonist in danger from page one. That’s where I made a mistake. I only put two new books online from May 2012 to May 2014, and both were second books in a series. I started the book I chose to submit, Blood Battles, emphasizing Enoch’s relationship with Voronika, because–to me–that’s the theme that would continue throughout the entire series. The antagonist and book’s big problem didn’t come until AFTER I caught the reader up with the fallen angel and his vampire. Maybe not the best strategy. And since I’ve read the beginnings of quite a few of these books (I intend to work my way through all of them), I’ll rethink the opening pages of my novels.

My advice to you? I’m including the link for the writers who’ve won a slot in the top 20 for each genre. I’d go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or smashwords and look the writers up. I’d study the book covers and blurbs for their novels. I’d read their free, sample pages. And I’d ask myself, How do these compare to mine? Learn from what they’ve done right. Grammar and spelling aren’t enough. Know your craft. Still be yourself, but know what’s out there now. And make your decisions based on that.

2014 Kindle Book Awards

If you have any views, opinions, or questions on writing, let me know!
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