Publishing Advice From Author Bill Schubart

GUEST POST

Guest Post by Bill Schubart

Bill Schubart, author

 

 

This guest post is by author and colleague Bill Schubart, who gives a brief, long view of the publishing industry’s transformation from Twentieth-century traditional publishing to today’s many options. He ends with good advice to all writers. Read on!

HOUSE BRANDS

I grew up amid two publishing families. Roger Straus (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Alfred and Blanche Knopf. They were both family cousins and close friends of my paternal grandparents. In the fifties, the publishing world had two entities, vanity publishers (Vantage Press et al.) and the traditional publishing houses. The traditional publishers enjoyed their reader’s brand respect.

BRAND IDENTITY

Today, in this Amazon-driven maelstrom of buying, publishing, and distribution options, most publishers have lost any cohesive brand equity. By “brand equity”, I simply mean value recognition – whether a publisher’s name evokes any specific quality or characteristic in the consumer’s mind. If I say, “Harper Collins,” does anything come to mind? Does anyone go into a bookstore and ask, “What’s new from Random House?” Coherent publishing brands evoke in the consumer some identity attached to the books they publish like Harlequin Romance, Chelseas Green, or National Geographic. Its lack makes online marketing a challenge.

VALUING CONTENT

Bill Schubart

Lila & Theron is a finalist for a Benjamin Franklin award in best popular fiction.

Furthermore, publishers failed miserably to ascribe any value to the content they sell, leaving consumers to believe that a book’s delivery medium defines its selling price – $25 for a hard-cover book; $18 for a paperback, and $15 for an audio book. So, when ebooks arrived, readers assumed they would be free as the transactional cost to buy and deliver one was virtually nil. Had publishers defined their work with a value, say $8.00, and then allowed consumers to choose the delivery medium, authors and publishers would be in much better shape.  As in music and film, the ability to monetize digitized intellectual property is at grave risk.

HYBRID PUBLISHING

The good side of all this is that technology has filled the void between vanity and traditional publishing, enabling anyone to publish either alone or with a for-hire or “hybrid publisher.” There are many professionals who can assist and advise would-be self-publishers about the universe of these intermediary publishing services. The ins and outs of self-publishing are too numerous to detail in a blog post and can be better served in a panel discussion. I can only speak to stand alone self-publishing and traditional publishing, as they form the basis of my own experience.

ADVICE TO WRITERS

I will, however, offer one piece of advice to writers seeking to publish in any channel. Escape yourself. Get out of your own head. When writing, you must inhabit the imagination of your intended reader. When seeking an agent or publisher, you must understand the constraints and protocols of their business model. When your self-published books arrive, you must understand the rudiments and challenges of bookselling as you approach a bookstore owner and ask him or her to promote you and carry your books.

EMPATHY FOR ALL

It’s good to believe in yourself and your work, but only when you have empathy for and knowledge of those who will make your book a success, will you start down the road to a successful career.

Bill Schubart lives works and writes in Hinesburg, VT. His latest novel Lila & Theron is a finalist for a Benjamin Franklin award in best popular fiction.

Deborah & Bill met at Vermont Public Radio; both write fiction set in Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Resistance – Roxane Gay

roxane-gay

Roxane Gay

According to Wikipedia, that most questionable but oh-so-convenient source of information, Roxane Gay is – among other things – “an American feminist writer, professor, editor and commentator … associate professor of English at Purdue University, [and] contributing opinion writer at The New York Times ...”

She is also, apparently, a champion for writers who want to stand up for their beliefs, even in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.

Gay is perhaps best known for her NYT bestselling essay collection, Bad Feminist. But, she came across many new readers’ radar (mine included) in January when she pulled her upcoming book, How To Be Heard, from Simon & Schuster after learning that the company’s TED imprint, Threshold, had also signed to publish Milo Yiannopoulos’ book, Dangerous.

For those not familiar with Yiannopoulos, he is described in a related Washington Post article as a, “Greek-born, British writer who thrives on the publicity he generates by being outrageous. His incendiary and racist remarks about “Ghostbusters” actress and Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones on Twitter got him permanently banned from the platform in July 2016.” They also note that, “His caustic viewpoints on women, minorities, Muslims and immigrants have made Yiannopoulos a de-facto mouthpiece for the ‘alt-right’ movement, short for alternative right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.”

In a January statement to Buzzfeed, Gay explained her stance and how it was her “putting my money where my mouth is.”

And to be clear, this isn’t about censorship. Milo has every right to say what he wants to say, however distasteful I and many others find it to be. He doesn’t have a right to have a book published by a major publisher but he has, in some bizarre twist of fate, been afforded that privilege. So be it. I’m not interested in doing business with a publisher willing to grant him that privilege. I am also fortunate enough to be in a position to make this decision. I recognize that other writers aren’t and understand that completely.

Yesterday, Simon & Schuster cancelled Yiannopoulos’ book deal. The publisher reportedly made the decision in response to statements Yiannopoulos made about pedophilia on a conservative radio talk show.

Gay posted a reaction to the publisher’s change of heart on her Tumblr:

In canceling Milo’s book contract, Simon & Schuster made a business decision the same way they made a business decision when they decided to publish that man in the first place. When his comments about pedophilia/pederasty came to light, Simon & Schuster realized it would cost them more money to do business with Milo than he could earn for them. They did not finally “do the right thing” and now we know where their threshold, pun intended, lies. They were fine with his racist and xenophobic and sexist ideologies. They were fine with his transphobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. They were fine with how he encourages his followers to harass women and people of color and transgender people online. Let me assure you, as someone who endured a bit of that harassment, it is breathtaking in its scope, intensity, and cruelty but hey, we must protect the freedom of speech. Certainly, Simon & Schuster was not alone in what they were willing to tolerate. A great many people were perfectly comfortable with the targets of Milo’s hateful attention until that attention hit too close to home.

.I share this story because I think there are several things we can learn from it and, specifically, from Gay’s words and actions.

First of all, freedom of speech must exist for everyone, even those whose opinions we find abhorrent. Censorship is not advisable as a solution because silencing any voice opens the door to silencing all voices. (Personally, I wish that more individuals and news institutions would stop providing free press and air time to people like Yiannopoulos, but that is – perhaps – an opinion for a different post.) We can, however, find other ways to condemn and cripple hate speech and oppression in all its forms. Gay’s choice to pull her book from the publisher was a powerful way for her to a) exercise her will in the situation, and b) bring wider attention to the story.

I also think there is something important about how far Yiannopoulos had to go before Simon & Schuster drew the line. I haven’t had time to fully digest what it means that, as Gay points out in her Tumblr post, the publisher was willing to look past all kinds of offensive opinions until pedophilia was in play. It makes me think of the quote from Martin Niemöller that begins, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.”

Finally, I believe that artists – including writers – must very often play the role of canaries in the coal mine. While it is not mandatory that every creative endeavor carry the weight of political opinion, I believe history will show us again and again that artists are often the first line of defense against forces of oppression, in all their hideous forms.


Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Writers’ Freedoms and Freedom.to for Writers

Today, I’d like to share a couple of things that are, in a way, at opposite ends of the “engagement” spectrum:

On the #writersresist front, PEN America’s Daily Alert on Rights and Expression (aka: DARE):

pen-americaPen America is the largest of more than 100 centers of PEN International, a group that has been supporting the freedom of writers for more than 90 years. On their website, they state their mission as, “PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”

While most of their freedom-fighting work has been needed abroad, recent shifts in the U.S. government – perhaps, in particular, the new administration’s contentious relationship with the media – have shone the spotlight on instances of concern here in America. In response to this, PEN America has refocused its newsletter and begun publishing a daily (yes, daily) update on rights and expression at home and globally.  You can find all the editions of this on the PEN America blog. You can also subscribe to the PEN America newsletters and then manage your preferences to focus on just the DARE one if you like.

On the #savemysanity front, the Freedom app that allows you to cut off your access to specific websites:

app-freedomI missed the window to share my two cents in last week’s Friday Fun post. We were asked to provide tips for writing during times of turmoil.  As I mentioned in my recent weekend edition post, I’m definitely feeling some tension between my writing and my life.  As someone who hasn’t been previously engaged in politics or legislative activism, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by everything I have to learn and all the news I feel I need to consume. I’m working on finding a saner, healthier balance, but – in the meantime – I’ve also armed myself with a handy little tool for shutting myself out of, say, Facebook for an hour or so at a time.

The Freedom app offers a multi-session trial so you can try it out. A couple of tips:

  • If you’re running a social media app on your smartphone, Freedom will not be able to block access to the app. (It works only on web browser protocols and cannot override app permissions.) If you find yourself reaching for your phone too often, may I suggest putting it in another room, or maybe locking it in your car.
  • I also found that on my MacBook Pro, if I have an instance of Facebook open in a browser tab, I can still interact with it a little once my Freedom session starts. Solution: I click to refresh the Facebook tab, and then I get a little message telling me that the website is unavailable. (At which point, I breathe a deep sigh of relief.)

I hope you find both of these resources helpful. While it’s important to keep our eyes open and stay aware of what’s happening in the broader writing community (including novelists, journalists, poets, nonfiction writers, etc.), it’s also important to carve out time for our own work free from distractions and all the “noise” that’s jamming the Internet.

Good luck in your battles on both fronts, and – no matter what happens – keep writing!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Patreon for Writers – A Fascinating and Evolving Space

patreon-byrneMaking a living as a writer is not easy. In fact, for the vast majority of people, earning their keep with nothing but words is nigh impossible … a pipe dream … a long shot.

Even so, we writers are a hardy (read: “stubborn”) lot who tend to dig our heels in when it comes to our writing dreams. And, thanks to the hyper-connected world of the Internet, we are no longer condemned to live out our writers’ lives in cramped garret rooms or the basement meeting rooms of local libraries and churches. With today’s virtual information highway, we can send our work out into the world, collaborate and converse with others, and even – gasp! – make money. Through the magic of the worldwide web, we can reach larger, more diverse audiences in real time and without having to go through a middle-man gatekeeper.

I am super grateful that I’m able to support myself and my daughter working as a freelance content writer. Over the last decade, I have built up a sustainable business that has kept our single-parent household comfortably afloat.

But, I want more.

Today, I’m paid to write what other people want me to write, and at the moment that consists primarily of website copy, ghostwritten articles, and eBooks, etc. for a variety of businesses across a range of industries. Someday, I hope to get paid to write what I want me to write. I hope to get paid to write stories and essays that are based on the unique thoughts that I’ve grown in my own head.

This is why I am fascinated by all the different ways that creative, entrepreneurial authors are making money these days. It used to be that there was only one path for a writer to take: traditional publishing. Then we added the concept of self-publishing into the mix. Today, innovative writers are also taking advantage of crowd-funding, including Patreon.

patreon-logoI am still in the initial stages of exploring the Patreon model, so I don’t consider myself an expert; but I thought it was worth sharing a few of the interesting pages that I’ve found in case you find the concept as fascinating as I do.

I’ve known about Patreon for a while, but didn’t take a close look at the platform until I saw a blog post from author Monica Byrne talking about her Patreon. I had read Byrne’s debut novel, The Girl in The Road, and was intrigued to learn that she had set up a Patreon with the hopes of earning a “bare-bones MINIMUM WAGE” that would allow her to write full time. As of this writing, Byrne is earning $1,612 of her $2,000/month goal via monthly donations from 359 patrons who pledge anywhere from $1 to $250 each month to support Byrne’s writing. (Most patrons fall into the $1 – $5 range.)

The basic idea is that “patrons” (meaning anyone who wants to support an artist or writer) pledge to donate a recurring monthly amount via an automated payment. Typically, pledge amounts start at $1 and increase by small increments – $1, $3, $5, $10, etc. Each pledge amount comes with specific “rewards” – sort of “thank you gifts” from the artist/writer. These can range from access to patron-only content (stories, articles, behind-the-scenes posts, Q&A sessions, etc.) to early access to new work, to real-world items (Monica sends handwritten postcards!) to acknowledgment in a finished work or even the chance to collaborate on a project.

Intrigued by this business model, I cruised the Patreon site to see what other kinds of writers were using the platform to earn “real” money. Here are a few of the pages that I found most interesting:

  • Mike Bennett, author of the vampire series, Underwood and Flinch: $2,005/month via 599 patrons
  • Wait But Why (aka Tim Urban and Andrew Finn), creators and publishers of a unique, long-form, (not-a-blog) website that covers topics from happiness and human nature to science and philosophy to general observations: $13,204/month via 4,303 patrons
  • Writing Excuses, a fabulous, four-person podcast on the craft of writing: $1,542/month with 290 patrons
  • N.K. Jemisin, a prolific science fiction and fantasy author who has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards multiple times: $5,193/month via 964 patrons

As I said, I’m still just exploring this business model for writers, but you have to admit that it’s pretty intriguing. Patreon has a handy landing page just for writers if you’d like to get more of the facts. And if you have any first-hand experience with a platform like this, I’d love to hear your story.

Meanwhile, I’m pledging my monthly support to both Monica Byrne and the Writing Excuses team … and I have a feeling I may be adding to that list in the not-too-distant future.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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P.S. Fellow NHWN-blogger wrote a post about Kickstarter and the kerfuffle caused by one writer’s daring to ask her fans for money. Good For You, Not For Me is a great read by Lee Laughlin, and I very much enjoyed the reader commentary as well.

Carina Press is looking for your story

Carina Press has made two big calls for submissions recently. Carina is the digital first imprint from Harlequin. They publish books in a wide variety of fiction genres including contemporary romance, steampunk, erotic romance, gay/lesbian fiction, mystery, science-fiction, and fantasy, among others.

In the past, Carina has required a completed manuscript and a detailed synopsis for submission. Recently, Carina announced their first-ever call for proposals. If your book meets a few important criteria, you could be in luck, but hurry! The deadline is July 13th and there are a few conditions:

That’s it, so what are you waiting for? Submit your proposal today!

New Anthologies from Carina in 2017

Carina has also announced a call for submissions for 5 anthologies to be released in 2017 both as anthologies and as novellas. The requested word count is 25,000 to 40,000  and genres:

  • A Jewel Thief, Capers and Heists Anthology
  • Alien Love: A Romance Anthology
  • Sexy Shifters: A Male/Male Romance Anthology.
  • Sexy Shifter A Het Romance Anthology
  • Too Taboo: A Forbidden Erotic Romance Anthology

Submission dates vary by anthology but start August 1st with Too Taboo and end October 4th with the Capers and Heists anthology. Decisions are offered approximately 3 weeks after submission.

Details can be found on the Carina Press website.

Good luck and make sure you let us know Carina accepts your work!

What are you working on this summer?

How Julie Writes A Book, aka Our Summer Vacation

red-hands-woman-creativeOn Sunday night I had the great good fortune to be a guest on The Writer’s Chatroom, hosted by our own Lisa Haselton aka Lisa Jackson. I loved answering questions about my writing process and the publishing business. Though hardly an expert, I do know a fair amount. Right now I am deep in the weeds of writing book #3 in the Clock Shop Mystery series (working title, Chime and Punishment). It is due to my editor at Berkley on July 15. Book #2 in the series, Clock and Dagger, is coming out August 2. That means I need to get blog posts prepped for guest spots, work on a social media campaign, and possibly plan some public appearances.

I am so, so fortunate to have a publishing contract. But with that good fortune comes the pressure of producing a book a year for three years in a row. Though at this point in the process, the pain of forcing those words out of my brain onto the keyboard is real (my friend Hallie Ephron said it is like putting a log through a meat grinder) I’ve done this twice before for this series, and three times before for books that haven’t been published. I know I can do this. It may not be pretty, and I may not sleep for the next five weeks, but I can do this.

This summer I am going to write about my book writing process. I won’t make it genre specific, though I can write a post about that if it is helpful.  Posts will include how I plot, writing a series, the editing process, pitching your book, and promotion. What else would you like to know more about?

I post every other week, so two weeks from today we’re going to talk about plotting. I am a plotter, not a panster, and I’ll walk you through my process, how it helps get the first draft done, and what’ I’ve learned by putting it into practice.

Your homework, should you want to play along, is to think about the story you want to tell. Think about these questions:

  • Who are the main characters in your story?
  • What launches your story? “A Day in the Life” can be dull. “A Day in the Life After XYZ Happens” is a novel.
  • What is the overall theme of your story?
  • What else happens?
  • Where is it taking place?

Over the next two weeks, mull your story over. Think it through. Write ideas down. We’ll tackle plotting in the next installment of this simmer series.

Happy to hear any ideas you might have!

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ClockandDaggerJulianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mysteries. Clock and Dagger will be out August 2.

Putting It Together

killing timeI’ve written about this before–the difference between being an author and being published is vast. By published, I mean being engaged in the business part of writing. While it is, and remains, a thrill to hold a book I wrote in my hand, the business is fraught. Publishing trends, consolidation of publishing companies, e-books, making a living. I firmly believe that remaining grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given is the best path forward. However, I need some help navigating that path.

Help comes from many places, including Jane Friedman. She teaches, blogs, speaks at conferences, and offers a variety of services. Her blog posts are terrific. A recent post was called “4 Lessons for Authors on the Current State of Publishing“. It is definitely worth reading the entire post, but today I want to focus on one piece of advice she offered.

“An author’s online presence is more critical than ever to long-term marketing strategy.” She has a good deal of advice in this area, but supported one of the decisions I made early on. I don’t separate my online lives. J.A. Hennrikus short story writer and Julianne Holmes author of the Clock Shop Mysteries–you may take different roads to get there, but you will end up in the same place.

I am on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I have a url for J.A. Hennrikus and one for Julianne Holmes, but they both end up the same place. I blog here and at Wicked Cozy Authors, and both places I use both names. Am I doing this all perfectly, or even well? I don’t know. What I do know is that I am trying, and in this publishing climate, trying counts for something.

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J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time, the first in the series, has been nominated for a Best First Agatha award.

Saturday Edition – Getting Paid to Write, Part II: When and Why to Write for Free

No Such Thing as “Never” or “Always”

shift freedomIn Part I of this series, we talked frankly about the very real, very widespread problem of certain publishers and clients expecting writers to write either for free or for rates so low they would offend my twelve year-old daughter. We heard the passionate and well-presented opinions of Porter Anderson, Chuck Wendig, and Harlan Ellison, and I got up on my ever-ready soap box to decry the bad behavior of the Powers That Be. But, because we live in the Real World, I also acknowledged that this isn’t a cut-and-dry issue. While I believe fiercely that quality writing has real value and that writers who provide such material should be well compensated for their work, I am also aware of the realities facing writers in today’s marketplace.

It’s hard for a new or struggling writer to turn down an opportunity – even an unpaid one – to get work published. After all, we write in order to be read. Our drive to get our words and stories out there is strong, akin to survival instinct. And, just to be clear, even established writers wrestle with this dilemma. I’ve talked to several talented, self-supporting writers who still have to think long and hard about certain unpaid/low-pay writing “jobs” that come across their desks.

The marketplace environment we writers must navigate is complex, mercurial, and full of potential pitfalls. While there are many brilliant and trustworthy sources of information and insight out there (the aforementioned Porter Anderson and his colleague Jane Friedman being two of my go-to reads), ultimately you have to make your own choices and find your own path. While it’s smart to stay informed and consider other people’s perspectives, you need to develop personal criteria for assessing “opportunities” in the context of your writer’s life

As we’ve talked about before, most of us have some hang-ups about money, and when you tangle that up with the self-doubt and other ailments that often accompany artistic pursuits you can wind up with a pretty volatile mess … not a good place from which to make sound decisions. I hope that the following observations, anecdotes, and rules of thumb – both my own and those generously shared by colleagues – will help you sort out your own thoughts and feelings about when and why you will consider writing for free. It’s important to have principles, but it’s even more important to know deep down that they are your principles and not just adopted opinions.


Picture This …

There are a variety of scenarios that force writers to weigh the pros and cons of writing for free vs. holding out based on principles. Though this list is by no means exhaustive and only touches lightly on each type of situation, you will get a sense of just how often you might have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to write this for free?”

Intern/Beginner “Jobs”

One of the most common hurdles for new writers is getting experience and building up a portfolio of work. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg quandary. Whether you’re an essayist, a short-story writer, or a copywriter, it’s hard to land the better-paying gigs/more prestigious placements unless you can share work that demonstrates your ability. But, if no one will give you a shot on a well-paying assignment because you haven’t got relevant work to show, how are you supposed to build your portfolio?

When you’re starting out, there is nothing wrong with doing an internship or working for a lower rate that correlates to your level of experience. Everyone has to start somewhere, and sometimes an internship or mentor relationship can provide experience and networking benefits that far outweigh typical monetary compensation. If you find a good fit somewhere, go for it.

The trick in this case is knowing when enough is enough. At a certain point, you will evolve beyond the beginner stage and will have earned the right to higher rates. When this happens, you have to be willing to recognize the fact and then speak up about it. Most individuals, publishers, and companies will be happy to have you continue working for free or for peanuts unless you say something. Sometimes, you’ll have to leave that initial situation and move on to others where you can enter into the relationship at a different level. That’s okay, too. The writing life is about constant growth and change. Sometimes you’ll outgrow certain relationships.

One other caveat that’s directed more to the business and copywriting folks – please be very wary of content farms and many of the so-called freelance job sites. Though there are some that are reputable and fair, many of these organizations take advantage of new writers. The rates are terrible, the jobs are low quality, and the expectations on turn around times are completely unrealistic. In most cases, you’d be much better off hustling your network and local sources (think local business organizations like your chamber of commerce, etc.) for projects with small businesses and professionals.

“Exposure” Opportunities (Including Writing for The Huffington Post, et al)

This is probably one of the most prevalent no-pay/low-pay scenarios that writers encounter. From newbies to well-established professionals, we all field these inquiries on a fairly regular basis.

The scene goes something like this – you get a call or an email from a cheerful editor or business owner who would love to offer you a great opportunity to get some exposure by writing an article/essay/website/brochure/whatever … for free. This person may or may not ply you with enthusiastic projections about how many readers the publication has or how much business you’re likely to get because you’ve written the FAQ page for some obscure website.

When you are faced with this kind of “opportunity,” the first question you need to ask yourself is this: What’s in it for me? Hint: the answer is rarely what the publisher/business owner is selling you. There are good write-for-exposure opportunities and bad write-for-exposure opportunities, and which category a request falls into depends entirely on the writer’s personal situation and goals.

Bad opportunities have no upside for you, the writer. There are hundreds of reasons why you should immediately disqualify a so-called writing opportunity:

  • The publication has no real audience
  • The quality of other work published there is low
  • The business website gets almost no traffic
  • Writing copy isn’t your thing anyway
  • And so on …

On the flip side of the coin, here are some examples of write-for-exposure scenarios that serve the writer as much as the publisher/business:

Stephanie Hepburn (@stephepburn) writes about sustainability and ingenuity at The Good Blog. She repurposes those posts in a series on Huffington Post, for which she is not compensated. Hepburn explained her decision to write for HuffPost in an email interview,

“In the past decade, freelance journalists (and journalists generally) have seen a significant decrease in pay and opportunity. Writing for free just further undermines our value, so I avoided doing so until relatively recently. What changed my mind, at least for now, is that no publication has ever employed me to write an opinion piece. Opinion writing for publications is overwhelmingly male, specifically white men. This causes disparity not only in terms of opportunity for writers but also a lack of diversity in opinions that are available for readers. Meaning, readers predominantly only have access to opinion pieces written by white men, which fails to represent our population as a whole.”

Writing for free for HuffPost is a win for Hepburn because she is not spending time creating original content, the platform does enable her to reach a much wider audience than if she only published on her own blog (resulting in a social media boost that sometimes translates into incremental traffic to her website), and – perhaps most importantly for Hepburn – it gives her a chance to diversify the OpEd voice of a prominent online publisher.

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Susan Nye, fellow blogger here at Live to Write – Write to Live, does not write for HuffPost, but she would consider the opportunity if it arose, “I’m not paid for my twice weekly blog posts. So, if Huffington Post or another site with a huge  audience asked to repost should I ask them to pay me for something I was already willing to post for free?” Nye and Hepburn both bring up an important point about providing free content to these non-paying outlets. In both Hepburn’s experience and Nye’s hypothetical situation, the work provided for free is existing work that is being republished. Though this is not the case in every situation, it’s an important distinction to make.

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Craig Tomashoff is an experienced journalist who has written and edited for broad range of well-known publications including People magazine, TV Guide, the Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Emmy Magazine. He has also worked as a television writer/producer on shows for Queen Latifah, Martin Short, and Craig Kilborn. Tomashoff also writes (for free) for HuffPost.

“With the Huffington Post I’m never working toward money,” Tomashoff explains. “It’s never gonna happen. Mostly, I just have something to say and I want someone to see it, or I want to show my ability to write.”

Tomashoff has been in the industry a while, so he’s got some valuable perspective on how things have changed in the writing marketplace. The Internet, he says, changed everything. Many people stopped reading newspapers and other print publications that employed journalists, and digital media brought about a glut of content that increased competition exponentially.

While Tomashoff would like it if experienced writers could be a bit choosier about the work they accept, the reality is that many of them can’t afford that luxury. He tells a story about taking a job mentoring the young blogging staff of an up-and-coming entertainment website. When the company told him the rate for the gig, he commented that it was less than what he’d usually accept for a week’s worth of work. They explained that the rate wasn’t per week, but for the whole gig. Tomashoff took the job anyway. “It’s a matter of preservation,” he says. “You never know when the next job will come, and – meanwhile – you can learn a skill that might apply to that next thing or uncover something else you want to to do.”

“Spec” Work and the Client Who Won’t Pay

“Spec” work – work that you do “for consideration” without any guarantee that the work will be accepted and paid for – is something we touched on in Part I of this series. This scenario applies mostly to “marcom” (marketing and communications work like copywriting and content creation), but can sometimes also crop up in literary situations.  While I don’t ever advise a writer to accept spec assignments (they usually turn out to be an exercise in spinning your wheels), there are some rare instances in which the effort is worthwhile.

When I worked in the world of advertising, we did spec pitches all the time. It was part of the cost of doing business. Whole teams – strategists, planners, writers, designers, developers, etc. – would pull all-nighters to whip up amazing work intended to wow the client into signing budgets worth tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars. In these cases, the effort was worth it because the potential payoff was big, and – in most cases – you didn’t pull out the big guns until you’d already run the gauntlet through the initial filtering rounds, so you knew you had a pretty good shot.

On a smaller scale, the risk is greater that you – the writer – will get the short end of the deal. I’ve heard  plenty of sad tales of writers who did spec work, didn’t get hired, and then later found that the potential client had gone ahead and used their work anyway. So not cool. If you find yourself tempted to say yes to a spec assignment, consider asking for a “token” payment – a low fee that (make sure they understand this) is in no way representative of your actual rates, but which serves to demonstrate their genuine interest and a small modicum of respect for your time.

Sometimes, even when you land the paying gig, things go south because the client refuses to pay. I, along with all my freelancer friends, have our own war stories about clients who’ve tried to screw us over. In some cases, they’ve succeeded, and we’ve learned important lessons … the hard way. Whenever this topic comes up, I share this presentation Mike Monteiro gave to a group of creative professionals in San Francisco. I’ll start you at the good bit (the title page of his deck kind of says it all – fair warning, this clip contains profanity):

The contract issues that Monteiro goes on to discuss are a much larger topic that I care to cover in this particular post, but I do just want to point out that no matter what kind of writer you are, it’s important to button things up in terms of contracts and rights and all those other details.

“Pro Bono” Work

Pro bono work is another beast entirely. This is work that you willingly do for free because you want to. It’s volunteer work, basically. Many writers provide pro bono services to friends, local businesses they frequent, or non-profit organizations that they believe in. I actually enjoy doing pro bono work once in a while because it’s a great way to give back to people and causes I believe in. It makes me feel good about my ability to provide something of value that might make a real difference for someone. The caution here is to be clear and firm about boundaries. Happily, I haven’t had any terrible experiences, but many writers who volunteer their time for various organizations have found that it’s true what they say, “If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

Nichole Bazemore is an accomplished writer and editor who has helped a variety of businesses and publishers up their content game. Bazemore occasionally does pro bono work for organizations she believes in, though she makes commitments carefully. Even so, she has her own battle scars. After doing a variety of pro bono writing (including blog posts, press releases, and a feature story) for a cause she believes in deeply, she was approached by one of the organization’s leaders about writing a book. When Bazemore provided a price, the would-be “author” became offended and walked away. Unfazed, Bazemore moved on. As she put it, “I’ll donate a few thousand dollars’ worth of work to an organization I believe in, but when you ask me to write a book without compensation, you can go kick rocks. That’s just exploitation.” Well said, Bazemore, well said.

Unpaid/Fee-based Submissions (e.g., to Literary Magazines)

Another area that sometimes gets caught up in discussions of no-pay/low-pay writing is the realm of literary magazines and other fiction publishers who not only don’t pay for submissions, but sometimes charge a submission fee. This can seem  unfair (I have to pay money to have my work rejected?), but it’s indicative of the financial challenges editors and publishers face to keep their magazines alive.

YiShun Lai is an author (her debut novel, Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, is available for pre-order now), writing coach, and copywriter. She is also the nonfiction editor for The Tahoma Literary Review (TLR). While she acknowledges that the literary market is tough and not a “cash cow,” she believes that writers who submit and are accepted deserve to be paid in cold hard cash, a policy that TLR supports.

Even when writers do submit to non-paying markets, however, there are non-financial benefits that can be worth the effort. Lai explains that the more a writer publishes in literary magazines, the more publishing credits that writer can include when they query other publications. Quality publishing credits increase your credibility with editors and also, should you eventually pitch a book idea, agents. “Agents know it’s hard work to get published,” Lai says, “They appreciate the effort.”

The submission process is sometimes complicated by other factors. Beyond submission fees, some literary magazines solicit big-name writers to contribute. In these cases, Lai explains, the editor is obligated to publish the solicited work, which in turn reduces the number of spots available for as-yet-undiscovered writers who are waiting patiently in the slush pile.

It can be a disheartening battle, but it can lead to Good Things. Take, for instance, the on-going story of a small, independent digital literary magazine called Full Grown People (The Other Awkward Age). Founded and edited by Jennifer Niesslein, this gem of a site publishes excellent personal essays on a wide variety of topics. The digital magazine recently placed well in a respected ranking of literary nonfiction markets, and a Full Grown People piece by Kate Haas was mentioned in a What We’re Reading post on The New York Times website alongside pieces from The New Yorker and The Atlantic. These may seem like small victories, but they are possible stepping stones for both the publisher and the writer in their larger, longer journeys. Though I haven’t spoken to Niesslein or Haas, I’m willing to bet they would both say their efforts were worth it.

Free Books

For novelists and nonfiction authors, “free writing” invariably leads to discussions about the pros and cons of giving away books. While this post cannot hope to cover the deep and broad topic of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing or all the nuanced variations on that theme and the pricing/selling conundrums that ensue, I would like to just touch for a moment on the sometimes-beneficial tactic of giving away your books.

This idea is explored in a post called Why give away your work for free? A collaboration between the publisher Medium, Litographs (purveyor of literary-themed products), and science fiction author Cory Doctorow, the post curates quotes from a number of authors who have benefitted greatly from the act of giving their books away.

Doctorow sums it up nicely, “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity, and free ebooks generate more sales than they displace.” Many other authors agree with him, including Neil Gaiman, Paolo Coelho, and Matt Mullenwig. The idea is that, in today’s over-crowded market, your best bet at success is not necessarily as much about making sure everyone pays for your work as it is about making sure as many people as possible are exposed to your work. The theory goes that if you can get massive distribution – even free distribution – and turn readers into fans, you will have built a strong and profitable platform from which to launch future (paid) works.


It’s a lot to think about …

Clearly, there are many different situations in which writers have to give careful consideration to whether or not they are willing to write either for free or for a minimal fee. The scenarios are many, the nuances are subtle, and the context can change dramatically depending on each writer’s personal situation and journey. As Tomashoff said in our interview, “This isn’t something you can approach with an absolute mentality. It’s always on a case-by-case basis.”

It’s important to remember that there are not as many “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys” as we might think. Mostly, there are writers looking for a break and opportunistic publishers looking for an edge in a very competitive market. Sure, sometimes there are players with unethical practices, but other times “unfair practices” turn out to be justifiable (as in the case of many, struggling literary magazines).

While I am sticking to my guns about joining Porter Anderson in his boycott of Huffington Post, I have found some middle ground that allows me to still support the writers who publish there. Since many of those writers are repurposing pieces they’ve already published elsewhere, usually on their own site, if a HuffPost link crosses my radar, I seek out the original and share that instead.

I also support writers and publications I admire in other small ways – “tokens,” perhaps, but worthwhile nonetheless. For instance, I donate $3/month to the brainpickings, a site that I read on a regular basis and which features high-quality writing on topics that inspire and educate me. I purchased the paperback anthology of essays published by Full Grown People. I have also taken advantage of “micro payment” options on sites like Writer Unboxed, which use an app called tinyCoffee and PayPal to enable readers to “buy the author a cup of coffee.” Nice.

We may each be on our own writing journey and bear the responsibility of making our own choices about when and why we write for free, but we can still support each other and the broader community in small ways. After all, we are all in this together.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: djwtwo via Compfight cc

Sunday Shareworthy Feb 14 – Reading and Writing Links and Sundry

 

winter riverBaby, it’s cold outside. We’re talking below freezing with wind chills in the don’t-even-think-about-going-outside zone. This is the perfect weather for curling up on the sofa with a good book, a piping mug of tea, and an electric blanket (optional: two body-warming cats). But even if such an indulgence isn’t in the cards for you today, you can still give yourself a little reading treat with this week’s collection of shareworthy links. So, brew up your favorite hot drink and settle in. I hope you enjoy these writerly and random finds.


Books I’m Reading:

book 100-yr houseEarlier this week a writer friend of mine mentioned a fantastic workshop she took with the novelist & short story writer Rebecca Makkai. Inspired by her enthusiasm for her workshop experience, I bumped Makkai’s novel, The Hundred-Year House to the top of my reading list. And, I’m oh-so-glad I did.

The Hundred-Year House is a beautifully crafted novel that tells its tale backwards in three parts (1999, 1955, and 1929) plus a prologue that takes place in 1900. It’s a complex story involving a large cast of characters, layers of artistic exploration, and recurring themes and details. From the Makkai’s site:

When Doug’s mother-in-law offers up the coach house at Laurelfield, her hundred-year-old estate north of Chicago, Doug and his wife Zee accept. Doug is fascinated by the house’s previous life as an artists’ colony, and hopes to find something archival there about the poet Edwin Parfitt, who was in residence at Laurelfield in the twenties (and whose work happens to be Doug’s area of scholarship). When he learns that there are file cabinets full of colony materials in the attic, Doug is anxious to get to work and save his career—but his mother-in-law refuses him access. With help from friends, Doug finally does access the Parfitt file—only to find far stranger and more disturbing material than he bargained for.

The book has a Gothic flavor complete with a sprawling mansion, mysterious suicide, and resident ghost. It’s a story of secrets that are sometimes hard to untangle told in a way that puts the reader under a dreamy spell while simultaneously compelling her to turn the pages in quick succession. I read this book in two sittings over as many days because I just didn’t want to tear myself away.

Though the story is dark in places, overall it left me with the impression of an irreverent escapade. There are shenanigans aplenty and witty banter, all of which serve to keep some lightness in the story despite the lurking shadows that circle around the history of the house and its many residents. I thoroughly enjoyed this read both as entertainment and as an accomplished example of the writing craft. The backwards structure of the novel is fascinating, and Makkai does an admirable job of keeping the story moving without losing her readers in the dust. I’m already looking forward to reading her other books, especially her debut, The Borrower. Love the premise of that one.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

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Sundry Links and Articles:

worlds of leguinI have long been an ardent fan of Ursula K. Le Guin. Her Earthsea trilogy was one of the first serious fantasy series that captured my imagination. I have vivid memories of creating my own runes and spells based on the magic of Earthsea. More recently, I have been enjoying Le Guin’s outspoken voice on her blog.

You can imagine my delight, then, to discover that a team of documentary film makers are making a feature movie called Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. From the project’s website:

Viewers will accompany Le Guin on an intimate journey of self-discovery as she comes into her own as a major feminist author, inspiring generations of women and other marginalized writers along the way. To tell this story, the film reaches into the past as well as the future – to a childhood steeped in the myths and stories of disappeared Native peoples she heard as the daughter of prominent 19th century anthropologist Alfred Kroeber.

Le Guin’s story allows audiences to reflect on science fiction’s unique role in American culture, as a conduit for our utopian dreams, apocalyptic fears, and tempestuous romance with technology. Le Guin, by elevating science fiction from mind candy to serious speculation, has given permission to younger mainstream writers like Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, and Jonathan Lethem to explore fantastic elements in their work.

The project exceeded its Kickstarter goal in only a matter of days, and I can’t wait to see this film.

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Finally, a quote for the week:

pin leguin a writer is

Here’s to caring about words. Happy reading & happy writing. See you on the other side!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Sunday 6 February – Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links and Sundry

snowy treeNew England showed its true colors this week. After a Thursday that felt like spring (complete with near sixty-degree temperatures and March-like zephyrs), Friday dawned to a cold rain that transformed into heavy wet snow as the mercury fell. Parents who had scoffed at seemingly premature school closings were soon grateful that they didn’t have to venture out into what became a pretty messy afternoon commute.

Yesterday, after the storm had passed, my beau and I enjoyed a long walk in a nearby state park. Every bough in the forest was coated with a layer of snow, giving the place a clichéd faerieland look that was charming as hell. And when we reached the open spaces, the pristine surface of the snow sparkled like some crafty goddess has scattered a miniature universe of stars across the meadow. It was quite breathtaking.

And now it’s Sunday – hopefully a day for kicking back and letting your mind meander aimlessly. Here is this week’s batch of freshly curated links to my favorite blog posts, reads, and sundry other digital locations. Grab a mug of tea and a biscuit and enjoy. And if you have any links of your own to share, please feel free to drop them in the comments!


 Books I’m Reading:

book weatheringI have a very long list of books on my To Read list. Many of them live on Goodreads, but a few stragglers are in my wish list on Amazon, a Books folder in Evernote, and a photo album on my phone. (I have a habit of surreptitiously snapping photos of books I find in bookstores.) I know I’ll never get to all the books on my list, so sometimes it’s hard to pick which one to read next. Usually I browse my lists to see if any titles jump out at me. It’s more exciting, however, when one of my to-be-read books jumps out at me in Real Life. That’s just what happened with Lucy Wood’s novel, Weathering.

I first encountered Wood’s writing in her collection of short stories, Diving Belles. This anthology haunting stories weaves elements of Cornish folklore into everyday life, making the magical seem like a concrete part of our world – a force to be accepted. In Weathering, Wood tells a seemingly simple story of returning home:

(From the book jacket):

Pearl doesn’t know how she’s ended up in the river–the same messy, cacophonous river in the same rain-soaked valley she’d been stuck in for years. But here her spirit swirls and stays . . . Ada, Pearl’s daughter, doesn’t know how she’s ended up back in the house she left thirteen years ago–with no heating apart from a fire she can’t light, no way of getting around apart from an old car she’s scared to drive, and no company apart from her own young daughter, Pepper. She wants to clear out Pearl’s house so she can leave and not look back. Pepper has grown used to following her restless mother from place to place, but this house, with its faded photographs, its boxes of cameras and its stuffed jackdaw, is something new. Fascinated by the scattering of people she meets, by the river that unfurls through the valley, and by the strange old woman who sits on the bank with her feet in the cold, coppery water, Pepper doesn’t know why anyone would ever want to leave.

Wood’s work is like a series of old photographs pieced together into a subtle story that resonates in your head long after you’ve turned the last page. Her descriptions evoke a powerful sense of place and mood, almost visceral; but they are never just stage dressing. As I read, I sometimes thought to myself, “Is this going anywhere?” I only realized after I finished the book that the nagging sense of being stuck was part of the spell Wood wove. Her story captivated not only intellectually, but also emotionally – pulling at me like the current of a spring river that refuses to be ignored as it flexes its watery muscles and murmurs an endless incantation.

I will be looking more closely at the structure of this story and Wood’s masterful use of language. I look forward to sharing some of what I learn in a later post.

My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

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Sundry Links and Articles:

visualize narrative structure

Understanding the connections and relationships between your characters is an important element of your story, but never before have I seen such a fascinating “mapping” as the Visualization of Narrative Structure created by Natalia Bilenko and Asako Miyakawa who asked the question, “Can books be summarized through their emotional trajectory and character relationships? Can a graphic representation of a book provide an at-a-glance impression and an invitation to explore the details?”

The project analyzes three books – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. The interactive graphs created for each book allow you to explore the emotional trajectory of each character in depth: “Hovering over the sentence bars reveals the text of the original sentences. The emotional path of each character through the book can be traced by clicking on the character names in the graph. This highlights the corresponding sentences in the sentiment plot where that character appears. Click on the links below to see each visualization.”

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comma queen

We could all use a grammar refresher once in a while. (It can’t hurt, right?) Our own Lisa Jackson does a fabulous series called Grammar-ease, but if you’d like to supplement her posts with some video tutelage I recommend the Comma Queen Series by The New Yorker. If you’re, like me, a staunch supporter of the Oxford comma, you might like to start with the episode on The Importance of Serial Commas. Or, you can browse the whole collection of videos.

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin writers dont choose

Thanks, as always, for sharing part of your weekend with me and for giving me a space to share all my writerly geekiness. Have a GREAT week. Happy writing, happy reading, and happy exploring!
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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