Browsing Tag

How Not to Talk to a Writer

Reblog: Things an Author Doesn’t Actually Control

Reblogging this because a friend just got a nasty-gram from a reader because one of her books isn’t out in mass market paperback.  Since I am in exactly the same boat, I thought this old post was pertinent.

It’s interesting (and sometimes infuriating) to see some of the things that fans blame on authors. Authors who are traditionally published often have little control over their published properties. That’s simply part of the way that the business runs.

But authors still take heat for some of these things. Recently an author had a book released, and for some reason, Amazon didn’t release the ebook on time.

And fans sent hate mail to the author.

Can you really call those fans?

So I’m going to put down here a list of Things that Traditionally Published Authors Generally Don’t Control.*


The Release Date

Yes, we don’t have much say over when our next book is coming out. Our publisher sets up a scheduled date and everyone races toward getting things done on time, but if we miss a crucial part in the publication process (say, for example, edits just take too darn long or surgery kept the author from getting a manuscript turned in on time) then the book might get bumped. Not to the next month, but to the next open slot in the publisher’s schedule….which might be 18 months away.

(That’s a simplification, but essentially, moving the publication date is difficult.)

((An author’s writing speed is another factor, although that’s not usually controlled by the publisher. Some authors can put out 4 books per year. Others put out one book every 7 years. It’s art, people, and not all artists move at the same pace. Be patient, please.))

Releasing ON the Release Date

This happens all the time. Books don’t get put out on their release date. Snags happen in Amazon’s or B&Ns ebook delivery, and the ebook doesn’t appear in the device on time.

This is INCREDIBLY frustrating to authors, too.

An author I know had a book come out in early February, and the nearby B&N still doesn’t have it on the shelf. They have 6 on order. I’ve asked. Those six are supposedly sitting in the warehouse, but for some reason, they’re simply not being shipped to the physical store. The customer service people don’t know why. I’ve been in to ask about it twice, and they’re supposed to call me when it comes in, but not having the books there two months later doesn’t help an author with first week/month sales.

Sadly, there’s little the author can do about it. We can email Amazon. We can contact our agent or our editor, who can contact someone else, but sometimes things just don’t get done.

Please don’t be angry at the author. I guarantee they want that book on the shelf, in the mail, or on your device.

The Price

If we’re talking about a traditionally published book, then no, the author has almost no say over the price. Currently, my older trade paperbacks are hovering near $15. I would LOVE to see them at $9.99. But it’s not going to happen.

I would love to have my ebooks go on sale. It’s not going to happen. I can ask, my agent can ask, but we don’t make that decision. Amazon points out on its page that these are the publisher’s prices, publishers have negotiated with Amazon, and the rest of us are stuck with the results.

So why not just give everything away for free?

Seriously? This is our job, and we should be paid for our work. Yes, we’ll post an occasional free thing. Yes, we like making things available to new readers. But we need to earn money, too. We have to pay our rent, and for genre fiction, at least, the best way to do that is via a traditional publisher right now.


This is related to all of the above. See where I  talked about the book that’s still not on shelves after almost 2 months? It happens a lot when a book comes out.

It also happens when a book is older. We cannot force Amazon to carry a book in stock. We can’t force B&N to carry all the books in our series. And we certainly don’t control used book sales.

(Martha Wells once told me an angry fan suggested that she was making The Element of Fire hard to find  so that she could drive up the price of the used books.  This is a ridiculous claim, first because an author doesn’t control the number of used books floating around and secondly because the author doesn’t get a penny from the sale of a used book. Ugh!–This was years ago, of course, before ebooks made out of print books easier to find.)

But there’s also a problem with that book that’s out of print. Being out of print doesn’t mean that the author can just put a copy up in their website. Since we’re talking about traditional publishing here, the author has a contract with the publisher for each book, and that contract determines who has the right to put the book out (in any form). Because publishers invested money in those books, they like to hold on to the right to reprint a book for….well, a long time. It varies.

But it often takes the author years to get the right to publish their book back. Sometimes it never happens (if it’s a particularly draconian contract–this is why we need agents).

And once the author gets those rights back, it may not be worth their while financially (or in stress) to try to self-publish a novel. Life may interfere and make a book unavailable.

Continuing/Finishing a Series

Yeah….this is problematic. If a publisher bails on a series, the author’s caught in a conundrum. We have limited options at that point.

A) We can convince another publisher to purchase the remaining parts of the series. This is MUCH harder than it sounds, because any publisher will know that they can’t control the books that are already published by another publisher.  (It would stink if they published books 4-7, but no one could get their hands on books 1-3 because the original publisher decided to let them go out of print.)

B) We can self-publish the remaining books. The downside here is that we’re never guaranteed that we’ll make a profit on this. The novella I published back in October is still not quite in the black. After a couple of tries at that, selfpublishing becomes a daunting prospect fraught with snowballing expenses and vast amounts of time sucked in. Not everyone wants to chase that rabbit.

Authors are in a Catch 22 situation here: people get upset if they never publish the next book, and yet the author may never see a payoff equal to the amount of money and time they put into it. (Essentially the publisher decided that readers weren’t willing to pay enough to read the author’s word to make it worth their while to publish more…and sometimes that’s proven out by the lack of response to a self-published book.)

What Can an Author Do?

These are just some of the situations where an author has limited control, but basically, all an author can do is ask people to buy their books.  Even if those books arrive a day late. Or are hard to find. Or are slow coming out.

We can ask people to buy, to review, to recommend.

What Can a Reader Do?

A reader can play the other end of the line. Buy the book, leave a review, recommend it to a friend. You can ask your bookstore to carry a book. You can suggest it to the library where you borrow books. You can suggest it for your reading group.

But please don’t write an angry email/blog post/review because of a factor that the author can’t control. Don’t write and tells us we suck because your kindle book cost more than $7.99.

That’s the sort of thing that makes writers want to quit publishing.

Publishing is hard. Be nice to your authors.

*Here are some other, excellent posts on the same subject:

Cherie Priest

Nicole Peeler (especially in regards to piracy)

Elizabeth Eulberg

Jeff Cohen


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer # 12 (Memory)

When you approach your favorite writer, if you ask them, “Hey, in that book you wrote twelve years ago, on page 37, why did ____________________?”

They may not have an answer for you.

They’re not being coy.

They’re not being evasive.

They may not remember.

If you look at the publication date of their book and then shift back a couple of years, that’s probably when they wrote it. Maybe even before that.

Since that time, they’ve written a million other words, some good, some bad. Some are more beloved than others. Some get edited once, and thus have appeared fewer times before the writer’s eyes.

It’s interesting to me to go back and visit the world of The King’s Daughter and The White Queen (the two old novels I’m reading through and serializing on my old website.) I have written other things in this ‘world’ since then, an entire novel set 50 years later, and I’ve outlined several others.  This ‘world’ is my writing passion.  I love these people with a white hot fire.

Going back, it was interesting to consider what I would actually change to make these two novels fit better with what I’m currently looking at.  I was surprised how little would change.  No, I wouldn’t be willing to publish these two as is–I need to rework some things.  TWQ is actually a first draft, the ending left off. (I’m -sure- I wrote it, but it didn’t make it into this file. I just have to find it.)

But it’s reassuring that my writing wasn’t too bad a decade ago.

And even so, it’s amazing to me how much I’ve forgotten….


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #11

Write what you know….


You teach Calculus? Then you should write Hard SF.

I’ve seriously been told this. By a major book company editor.

The truth is, I have no interest in writing an SF novel about Calculus. Nor do I think I would read one. And honestly, if we all wrote what we knew, we would only be writing diaries and journals. All fiction is just that….fiction.

Am I saying we don’t need to know anything before we write? Not at all. We need to put thought into our work. And yes, it truly helps if we learn to do things first hand. (Otherwise all my time learning fencing, horsemanship, shooting, rapelling, sailing, camels, languages, etc…was all wasted.)

But I write about sereia and selkies and seers. Do I know any of these personally? Have I interviewed any of them prior to writing? I’m afraid not.

And that’s a part of what makes writing (and reading, I hope) fun.

So if you want to write about submarines or dirigibles, you don’t have to build one first. Do your research, but don’t let the fact that you’ve never captained a dirigible stop you from writing that…

How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #10

I’ve been reposting items from my old-webpage, and this is one that was originally posted 11/16/13–a few months before the publication of my first novel. It’s rather sadly prophetic, because I, too, ended up in this boat when my publisher decided not to continue a series (more on that at the bottom)


(Here’s the original post.)

Why haven’t you written _________________ yet?


Now, I understand this urge, but it would be better to say something like I really loved __________. I would love to read a sequel to it. That first way of asking it makes it seem like the author answers to you….which is not how the world runs.

First of all, authors are generally writing as fast as they can. Some of us are fast, some are slow.

And sometimes we just don’t get to write that sequel at all. Authors often have little control over what’s published (unless they’re self-publishing). An author’s contract is never written as ‘just write whatever book you want.’ (OK, Steven King probably gets this contract, but the vast majority of writers don’t.)

Most authors who are in a contract situation write what the publisher says they’ll buy. (Or what they hope the publisher will buy, which is where I am.) If the publisher tells me “We’ve decided not to buy Book 3”, then I’ll immediately stop working on it and move to something I CAN sell.

Because sometimes publishers give up on series before an author is done.

I know a lot of authors to whom this has happened. I’ve been the reader on the other end of that equation, too. Would I have liked to see Ansen Dibell’s fouth and fifth books of the Kantmorie saga*? Another book in Martha Well’s Ile-Rien? The fifth Bracebridge Mystery from Margaret Miles?

Yes, I want all those books.

But for one reason or another, someone higher up in the food chain made the decision that those books wouldn’t sell well enough, and thus they aren’t out there.

It usually isn’t the author’s choice.

Sometimes it is. Sometimes the author is just done with that setting or group of characters. Sometimes we think we’ve explored all we can there. That happens, too.

But the decision about what to write next is always complicated. We simply can’t write everything….we’re only human.

*Books 4 and 5 exist only in French and Dutch, since her US publisher dropped them.


(As a final note, if you want to know why I haven’t written the sequel to Dreaming Death yet, it’s because of the above reason…the publisher decided not to carry forward.  I will be publishing it myself next year, though….if I can afford to do so. So far, self-publishing has not been profitable, but I’m hoping to turn that around!)

How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #9

What do you do when you get writer’s block?

This is a difficult question to answer. I’m not sure what ‘Writer’s Block” truly is. If you ask a dozen different writers about this, I suspect you’ll get a dozen different answers. But there are likely times when we all have a lack of motivation.

But I have a contract. I have to produce…on a deadline.

So what do I do when the inspiration is thin?

Usually I do something else. I don’t build sandcastles, but I’ll garden. I’ll clean house. Often I’ll work on some other writing project. But I’ll do something that will let my problem story ‘rest’. And usually that will shake free whatever I need.

That doesn’t always work. I have discovered that a deadline works wonders. In a workshop I was challenged to write a story in 24 hours given a prompt and some research time. I ended up writing “Fleurs du Mal” that way. Now I don’t set myself 24 hour deadlines, but I’m pretty good about meeting larger deadlines that I set for myself.

I suspect that’s one of the things that sets the ‘writers’ apart from ‘people with good ideas’. We’re practiced at forcing ourselves to sit down and pound out the words.

Even if they’re not always inspired.

Once they’re there on the page, it’s much easier for me to fix them.

That won’t hold true for every writer, but it’s what works for me.

What works for you?


(Next week is a holiday week, so no regular posts….sorry!)

How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #8

I have a great idea for a novel! How about you write it for me and we can split the profit!

Oy, vey…

I recently stumbled across this statement by Rick Riordan (best known for his Tres Navarre Mysteries)

(via Sugarpromises on Tumblr)

See, ideas are the easy part. And while some people think they’ll just whip out a novel themselves one of these days (see “How Not to Talk to a Writer #1), another subset of people come up with the strange hope that you’ll do all that pesky writing stuff for them…

But I don’t know of a single writer who’s out of ideas. Most of us have so many ideas that we’ll never get them all written. (Have you ever noted that people like Tom Clancy and James Patterson work(ed) with other writers sometimes? That’s because they spin out so many ideas that they’re comfortable farming some of them out to the bush league.)

Personally, I have 18 novel outlines or starts on my computer right now. That’s to say nothing of the ideas that I haven’t done that for.

Say it with me:
Writing is the HARD part.

I don’t mean writing a scene. Or a handful of scenes. What I’m talking about is a complete narrative that runs from one end to the other, beginning of the story to the end. And like Riordan says above, it’s easy to give up in the middle when it gets hard.

I spent a lot of the last few months trying to figure out how I was to get a character out of a prison. Well, in a way that would make sense. And not have him be too passive in the whole equation, or have his wife be too passive, either. I’m finally happy with my solution, but it took a long time to work it out.

It’s hard to steam through those parts that you can’t quite figure out. It’s hard work, even if it doesn’t look like it to an outside observer.

…and no self-respecting writer is going to do that for someone else.*

*I will say that if James Patterson approached me and asked me to ghostwrite for him, I might consider it (because $$$$). I am, however, far more likely just to recommend he talk to one of my friends who is more experienced with tie-in work.


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #7

“All writers are equal, but some writers are more equal than others.”

This episode is mostly about writer-on-writer talk. Lately I’ve seen a lot of talk about what it means to be a ‘professional’ writer (approval of a writer’s association, a book contract, making a ‘living’ at writing*…) versus a ‘hobbyist.’

I do believe that Chuck Wendig summed up my feelings on this best with this graphic:
Just because someone doesn’t meet the same criteria you set out for ‘professionalism’, that doesn’t mean they’re not a writer. They may be choosing not to pursue writing ‘professionally’. Or they may just not have reached the paying aspect of it yet.

A very smart woman once told me “Be nice to newbie writers because you never know which one will be the next J. K. Rowling.”

Will we be perfectly polite and helpful and stoke everyone’s feathers all the time? No. We’re human. We only have so much time and energy. And I, for one, am barely keeping my head above water, so I’m not critiquing for -anyone- right now. (Note how poorly I’ve kept up with my blogging schedule.)

But it never hurts to be respectful of other writers….no matter where they are on the ‘ladder of success’…

*I dislike this standard. What, precisely, is a living? Is this enough money to get by if you’re traveling around with a backpack, living in public parks, and eating McDonalds every meal? Or are we talking about being Castle, here?

Most writers don’t make enough money to quit their dayjobs and still be able to support their family. It’s not a living. I certainly haven’t made enough from my contract with PRH to support one person for a year, much less myself and two airedales….

Airedales eat a lot.

How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #6

“You write _________________? Oh, I don’t read that. It’s kind of __________________.”

Photo via Pixabay

Photo via pIxabay

You can fill those two spaces in with a) whatever you write, and b) whatever negative adjective you’ve heard before. But generally, this statement is rather insulting. The questioner may not mean it that way (or they might) but it’s about one thing.

The genre ghetto.

I don’t know if people who write Romance are as familiar with that term as most Speculative Fiction people are, but the genre ghetto is the term for any genre that’s considered lower than some other genre.

You know…people who read Literary Fiction think all the genres are crass. Romance readers think Science Fiction is only for boys. SciFi people think that Romance is stupid and predictable. Suspense writers think that Cosy Mystery writers are clinging to Agatha Christie’s skirts. The Mystery people think Fantasy is either all about Sex Fantasies, or Elves (or both.) And everyone thinks Erotica is poorly written and not up to the story-telling standards of their own genre.

Can’t we all just get along?

No reader (or writer) can read everything that’s out there. It’s just not possible. But it’s also true that a lot of us read a lot of different things.

I never read Romance until one of my college roommates handed me Dorothy Dunnet. But now I read it quite regularly. One of the things that I love about it is that it’s predictable. I know what I’m going to get when I open Mary Balogh’s newest novel. (When does that come out, BTW?) I LIKE THAT. It’s comforting.

I read Mysteries. I read YA. I occasionally hit Science Fiction. I read tons on Non-fiction.

All of those areas have their value. But a lot of readers don’t read everything.


So I’m humbly suggesting some revisions of the above statement. How about these:

“You write ______________? Oh, I’m not very familiar with that. What makes a book _______________?”

“You write _________________? Oh, I haven’t read much of that. What is your book about?”

“You write _________________? Oh, I should give that a try. It sounds interesting.”


So what have you heard about your own genre from someone who’s never read it?


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #5

Did you know that on page 37 of Book 1 of Series X that you got _______________ wrong?


This is one of those conversations that every author dreads.

There’s always something wrong. Always. We just can’t create perfect work. It’s impossible. And once something is published (save for e-books) it’s very difficult to change anything.


(Let me give you an example: When I wrote the very first bit of The Golden City, I set it in Venice. That lasted about one day, but I had already given 4 characters Italian names. When I switched the setting to Portugal, I somehow missed changing one of those names to the Portuguese spelling. Yes, I know it’s wrong, but…I can’t change it. I can’t fix it. I can come up with a convoluted explanation for why that character uses an Italian spelling (I do have one), but in the end….I can’t fix it. Sorry.)


Some people are honestly trying to be helpful when they tell us these things. And if it’s something that the writer -can- fix, it does help.

Some people just enjoy commenting on that sort of thing. They love catching other people out. It’s their hobby…

Authors try hard get everything right, but sometimes even choose to get things wrong. Intentionally, I mean.

Here’s my example:
I had a sentence where someone said “…kill two birds with one stone.”

I quibbled and quibbled and quibbled over ‘correcting’ this one, because the Portuguese saying is “Matar dois coelhos de uma cajadada.” That’s “Kill two RABBITS with one stone.”

The more and more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that English readers would be thrown out of the story if I used ‘rabbits’ in that sentence, and they’re my audience, not Portuguese readers. So I used ‘birds’.

And so someone -will- eventually come up to me and say, “Did you know that on page X of The Golden City you got the saying wrong? It’s really…”

So please try to be patient with us writers. We’re not perfect…


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #4

“You know, my uncle Olaf submitted his book to ______________. He says they’re not like other publishers; they read -all- the manuscripts sent in to them. His was published in only two months, too. You should try them!”

I’ve actually been told this, by a well-meaning neighbor who was. no doubt, sorry for me because I had to keep waiting forever for the whole publication process to pan out.

Notice that I said well-meant. It was. This neighbor and I are on friendly terms. We played bunco together. What this was symptomatic of is that she suspected I didn’t know my options. That I hadn’t done all the homework, and that her uncle Olaf had trumped me on that score.

The truth is that I was quite familiar with Uncle Olaf’s publisher. When I was treasurer of OWFI, we wrangled about this publisher a lot, trying to determine what the organization’s stance was regarding its ‘legitimacy’ as a book publisher.

I’ve also known someone who published his book through Publisher T. He hadn’t done his homework. He’d sent it to them because someone he knew at work had a cousin who worked for the publisher. Turns out his publisher was a subsidy press, charging him for editing, cover design, and creating a book trailer. He’d already purchased a hundred copies of his book, too. But hey, it was going to be out in only a few months.

I bought a copy of that book because I try to support my friends. The cover smeared when I brushed my fingers over it. I would not have been satisfied with the editor’s work.

But there are plenty of publishing options out there, and they have different uses.

So a short primer on book publishers below, with links:

I have used most of these:

1) Self-publishing
There’s a great article at Writer Beware that discusses the merits and pitfalls of self-publishing. Writers who self-publish -can- make good money, although history shows that the vast majority who go this route don’t.

The main difficulty here for some authors is learning all the formatting. And designing covers. And editing. You can pay others to do these for you, but that cuts into your pocketbook. For me, it’s worth it, because my editor at E-Quality Press does a fantastic job proofing and formatting, and my cover artists have always done great work for me.

2) Small Press Publishing

I’ve had work published by small presses. There are a lot of excellent ones out there, but I suggest being careful.

I was given the cards of a couple of other small presses at cons. I didn’t submit to either of those. I didn’t know their reputations, so I balked. I lucked out, because now neither exists. This is one of the problems for small presses. They don’t always make it and can collapse, taking your rights with them if you’re not careful.Writer Beware has a good list of what to look for in a Small Press, which people should read before going that route.

((BE WARNED: There are presses out there that call themselves Small Presses, but ARE NOT. They are vanity or subsidy presses. In fact, many of them specifically say on their websites that they are not vanity presses….but I suspect that if they feel a need to say that, it’s because someone thinks they are.))

3) Major Press Publishing
I’ve also been published via a Big 6 (5? 4?) publisher. I got that contract because my agent was full of awesome. Yes, there are people out there who land contracts without agents. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t have been able to do so. Nor would I have had the knowledge or clout to negotiate improvements to the boiler-plate contract like my agent did.

For that publisher, I had to rewrite. And rewrite. And edit and edit and edit. And it was about 18 months from landing the book contract to seeing an actual book. Sometimes this takes even longer.

A large part of the difficulty level on this is its level of rejection. You have to endure a LOT of that along the way. Rejection by agents. Rejection by publishers. Rejection of books after you land a publisher. It’s not all glamour. In fact, there’s very little glamour these days.mBut they do have some promotional advantages over smaller publishers. So that’s something to keep in mind.

And then there’s
4) Vanity/Subsidy Publishing

They want to publish your manuscript. And they can edit it for you for a small fee. And they can design a cover for you for a small fee. And they can….well, whatever…for a small fee. See the pattern? This is what my friend used, and I think he’s still in the red.

These are the publishers who don’t follow Yog’s Law: All money flows toward the writer. Writer Beware has good discussion of this here as well as a list of publishers they have questions about here (scroll down).

Now, I HAVE NOT used one of these. I’m a believer in Yog’s Law.

However, I will say that I can perfectly understand why some people might chose this route. Not because they’ve not done their homework, but because they would prefer to pay someone to handle the publication process for them. If they’re primarily interested in actually holding a book in their hands and aren’t worried about the money involved, this can be a valid option. Also, if they don’t have the time to wait or are writing about a tiny niche interest (family cookbook?), this can be a valid way to go….just not for me.

ETA: In a discussion elsewhere I mention that one of the easiest ways to tell a small press from a subsidy press is to look at how many authors they have. Subsidy presses make their money from selling services and books to the authors, so they want to have as many authors as possible. If you see hundreds of writers on their author list, then they’re probably a subsidy press.

The issue here is that most people writers talk to don’t know the difference between a book published by a POD publisher and Random House. To most, a book is a book is a book. That’s Shakespeare, right?

But that’s a topic for another day…