The Business of Writing Part 2

Part 2 of my interview with Heidi Cullinan, Ethan Day, Amy Lane, Z.A. Maxfield and Marie Sexton on the Business that goes along with being a writer. 

Marketing-
What promotion have you found most successful for you?

ZAM-I feel that blogging, both on my own blog and guest blogging is a very helpful thing. I am starting a monthly newsletter. I also find that being nice to people, and being genuinely interested in other writers and their careers, is the best promotion you can have. Generosity of spirit is a very cool thing to have, and to experience from others.
MS-Goodreads is absolutely the #1 place to promote. I didn’t even know it existed when my first book was published, but it is definitely where I’ve found a huge portion of my readers.
Beyond that, I recommend just paying attention and watching for opportunities. There are tons of yahoo groups for authors and readers. Some of them you can use for promotion, and they may or may not be helpful. But often, you’ll find other authors looking for guest bloggers. Take them up on it. Join blog tours. Reach out to other authors who have releases when you do. We’re all this boat together. Yes, in a way we’re competitors, but we’re also each other’s very best resource.
HC-Making the blog Coffee and Porn in the Morning. It was a whim one afternoon, but it’s turned out to be one of my favorite things. We get a lot of traffic, have a lot of fun, and my name and books and links are all right there for every visitor. I do YouTube book trailers as well, and I invested a lot of money in getting a smooth, good-looking website. I think Twitter helps me as well. But mostly I invest in the places where I have interest and means. If I hated Twitter, it would be a bad place for me to network. I can’t stand Yahoo groups, so it’s not surprising I’m seldom there. We need to go with what works for us and not feel bad when what doesn’t work for us seems like the new black for everyone else.
ED-Unfortunately there’s no real or accurate reporting of sales, and because the resellers often times pay months and months down the road, I’ve found the success of promo to be VERY difficult to track. If you’re a super organized person who spreadsheet and keep track of what you did & when you did it, then six months or more down the road you can perhaps pull out your royalty invoices and try piecing all that together.
For me…I could write a book in the time it would take me to do all that, so it’s not something I deem to be an effective use of my time. I try to base my promo on things I enjoy doing, because I’m more likely to actually do it that way. And I happen to believe that anytime you can team up with other authors for promo you should. It costs less per author and 12 authors will always draw more of a crowd than 1.
I don’t know. There are some authors who might disagree, but whatever you do for promo – you will always catch more flies with honey…honey. In other words, don’t be an ass in public.
AL-Mostly just being a part of my community. If I can chat, I do. If I have time to go on twitter or Facebook, I do. If someone asks me to post a blog, I do if I can. If I have time to write a free story, I’m there. For me, it’s not any one thing that’s successful, it’s being out there, caring about my fellow writers, being an ear or a friend or a guest or a one-liner. I keep up my blog, and although that was never really about promotion, it helps make all of the other things gel.  I read about the issues, I know whose voices are heard, and I try (it’s hard–I am opinionated, even though I also try to be tolerant of opposing opinions) not to alienate anybody. It’s a small place, and many of these people are my friends. I keep thinking like that, even as the world opens up to some extent–it helps to remember that everybody in this small community has a story to tell as well.       
Any tips on how to handle reviews, both good and bad?
ZAM-Don’t. Ever. Read. Them. How often do I break this rule? Too. Often. One of my mentors recently admonished me to ignore reviews, he said if they’re good they’ll make you lazy and if they’re bad they’ll make you crazy. (Or words to that effect.) I think the point is for me, if I’m looking for validation, I’m not likely to find it from reviews or reviewers, in fact, I’m not going to find it outside myself at all.                    
MS-DON’T READ THEM. Period. Especially reader reviews. For a newly published author, it’s way too tempting to track each and every review. Trust me: that way lies madness. DON’T do it. Resist the urge with all your might.
Here’s the thing: we all love positive feedback. We all love to read those good reviews. But for most of us, one negative review can undermine a hundred good ones. Reader reviews are worse, because there is nothing to compel them to be professional. Yes, you may get some great ones, and it’s easy to get sucked in. It’s really easy to think, “Yes! This is why I write!” But eventually you’ll get that one that calls you a fraud, or makes a personal attack against you, or one that so blatantly misses the point that you know they didn’t actually read the book at all. You’ll get that one that says, “I bought this historical regency romance expecting it to have killer robots from outer space, and since it doesn’t I’m giving it one star.” (I’m not even kidding.) And you’ll sit and stew and think of all the things you want to say in response, but can’t. Things like, “So, why EXACTLY did you think there would be robots in a historical regency novel?” But no matter what the review says, you can’t respond. You can’t defend yourself. And so instead, you stew some more.
It’s an absolute waste of time and brain power.
Now, do I think reviews or reviewers are worthless? Hell no! I love them. I send my books to lots of them. I hope they review my work. I of course hope even more that they love it. But I’ll be the first one to say, they owe me nothing. Reviews are for READERS. My advice is, save yourself a billion headaches, and stay the hell away.
Now, if you do read one, and it tears your heart out? Cry. Drink. Bitch to your spouse/partner and your closest writer friends. Do not respond to the review. Do not argue. Resist the urge to blog about it or tweet about it. I wouldn’t even recommend complaining on the author lists, because you never really know who’s in those groups. There are authors who are also editors at other houses or who review for review sites or who are friends with people who are. It’s easy to think you’re in a safe forum, but really, I don’t think there’s any such thing. There are eyes and ears everywhere, and not all of them are friendly. One of the hardest things about this gig is the fact that you’re not really allowed to have opinions anymore.
HC-All reviews, be they one-offs on someone’s lunch on Goodreads or a professional one in Booklist, are opinions. Taken collectively they do begin to bear a bit of weight, but even then, they’re still opinions. Also, once you approve the galleys, the book is done. Everything that happens past that point for you are just interesting occurrences, except for collecting royalties. Everything but the money is stuff about The Book, not you.
There’s this vague concept that one can learn from commentary, but only so much, and only from certain commentary, and if that commentary makes you despair or shuts you down, shut                 it down. Ignore it. Delete it. Do what you have to do to protect your work and your sanity.
Others disagree, but I’m of the camp that votes for authors not commentating on reviews. A “thanks for the review” is nice, but I don’t think it’s essential. You wrote the book. You did some PR for it. That’s all you have to do, because now you’re writing another one. You’re always one universe ahead of the rest of your book world, because you’re creating the space for the next party. If nipping back to see how the party actually turned out interferes with your future parties, don’t go.
Now, if reviews don’t bother you or throw you off, then by all means, do what you like. Personally, I’ve found even the good ones make me anxious. I always feel like I’m waiting for some other shoe that never comes. Part of it to me is that you write it and you always wonder if it’s okay, and the truth is, you never really know, because there’s no answer. There are ten million answers, and at best you can even them out and get an average, which is so very not the same thing.
ED-I do read them and no longer comment other than perhaps a thank you for taking the time. When my first book was released I made a comment about a review I received where the editor was mentioned and not in a good way. From my perspective that crossed a line. It’s my name on the cover of that book so I have opened myself up to criticism – it’s merely part of the biz. To bring anyone else into the line of fire just felt wrong to me. Yes – the editing is part of what can make or break a book so I get that can be seen as pertinent and topical for a review. At the same time – no one outside of the author and their editor truly knows what has gone on behind the scenes. For all the reviewer knows, the editor may have brought up all the points they have issues with and the author may have disagreed and insisted those changes not be made. Depending on the severity of those changes they may not have been large enough for the publisher to have walked away from the project so the book was published anyway. My point – if you don’t know you shouldn’t bring it up. The reviewer has a responsibility to read and make an honest assessment of the book. I still believe any comments should be leveled at the author alone. If the problems the reviewer had were things an editor should have mentioned and didn’t then the author will be able to judge from there if they want to work with that editor again. No one has the right to assume anyone guilty outside of the person listed on the cover of the book. That’s just my opinion, lol. In retrospect, I’m not ashamed that I spoke up for something I believed to be wrong. That being said, I likely wouldn’t do it a second time in a knew-then-what-I-know-now type of scenario. I enjoy dialoguing with a reviewer or reader when I feel like they made an honest attempt to read and review the book – even if they didn’t like the book. I’ve learned things from those experiences and hopefully that feeling is mutual.
At the end of the day – a review – outside of technical and grammatical issues is merely one person’s opinion. That’s all that they are. If you’re unable to deal with people leveling their opinion about your work then don’t become an author. It’s that simple. It will happen and it will happen more than once. You will NEVER please everyone so you need to accept that as fact and move on. If you can’t then you either need to not publish or never go looking. I’ve had good reviews, bad reviews, and the other kind, where the comments are so ludicrously heinous and in some cases utterly baseless, that I understand they come from an individual who has decided they do not like me for whatever reason and has decided to take it upon themselves to take me down a peg or two. These are the ones I usually laugh my ass off while reading. Perhaps I’ve simply seen too many pissed off drag queens on a verbal rampage in my day to be phased by it, but I’m able to read them, laugh it off and move on. If you really wanna see me cry, take my DVR away! : )
I do not now nor have I ever expected everyone to like my books. My entire college writing career took place in workshop type environments where everyone in the classes read and commented on everyone else’s work. I quickly got used to hearing both the good and the bad along with everything in between. That desensitized me to a certain degree.            
AL-My first is to believe in what you have written, and to believe in why you are writing. Be aware when you are writing something that is very often disliked in your genre–cheating, polyamory, non-traditional heroes–and decide if that is really what you want to do with the story. And if it is, then commit. People will still rip it up and tear it down, but if you believed in the character’s action when you wrote it, that makes it easier to deal with the criticism. (And that goes for everything you write–blogging, tweeting, e-mail, whatever. Stop, think about what you’re saying, and only press send if you really believe in it. You’ll still probably put your foot in your mouth (or that could only be me) but at least you know that, at the moment, you were being true to what you believed.) There was an entire contingent of people who hated Keeping Promise Rock because Crick cheated when he was in Germany, and that same group hated Chris and Xander for the Third Home Game of the Month.  But those were things I felt necessary to the story, and necessary to the characters as they were established. I knew they would catch heat when I wrote them, and I wrote them anyway, because it would not be the story I needed to tell if I didn’t. Being true to your story makes the criticism easier to handle.               
Oh–and for the good ones?  Say thankful. Be grateful. Somebody got you–it’s not always a given, and it’s always a miracle.
What do you think makes a successful interview?
ZAM-I think honesty is the best and most interesting thing. For someone like me, who can talk all day about how I write and why I write etc., having to face the fact that I’m not really that great about the business end of things was eye opening. Seriously. Receipts. Pffft. My accountant would just brain me if he knew.
MS-Well, one that makes people go buy your books, of course! 😀
Seriously, now:
I think a lot of times, interviews focus more on the writer than readers really want. They ask about our opinions on the latest hot topic, or the latest controversy, or that one controversy that’s been brewing for years. They ask how long we’ve been writing, and what our inspiration comes from. I’m not sure readers care about that stuff. It seems to me that the ones readers like the most are ones that are sort of goofy, or the ones that focus on the story and the characters. I could write some kind of manifesto on why I prefer first person over third, but I think most readers would just yawn. But if I wrote up a random post that said what Matt gave Jared for Christmas, or where Jon and Cole went on their honeymoon, I guarantee people would read it and ask me for more.
HC-Good question. I don’t know. I think that’s better asked of readers. Probably not too long of answers unless you’re fantastically interesting. Brief and witty or at least genuine. You don’t have to bare your soul, but be yourself. It works on dates and it works in interviews.
ED-Being yourself obviously, but people still have to read them and you want them to be entertained enough to read through the entire interview so they get to the blurb and excerpt for your book at the end. Approach the interview the same way you would a story. Look at yourself the way you’d look at a character in your story and treat your answers like the dialogue in your book.
I think the most important thing is to remain consistent with your online and public persona as well as during your promotional ops. Don’t be a dick ever…at least not in public, lol. If you need to throw a hissy – do it at home or amongst close friends who may still judge you for it but would never post it on You Tube. : ) You can be professional and still have fun.
       
AL-I have no idea. I just try not to bore the holy shit out of people.          
Human Resources-
Do you have help with any other areas in your writing? If so, what role do they play?
ZAM-I have the most terrific husband who wrangles kids while I work. He’s lovely! He lets me read all my work out loud to him, and he’s so fricking patient! And my daughter makes my video trailers when she can. She’s in college now, so she can also do some initial editing for me. Mostly writing for me is kind of a family business. The boys (who are too young to read the work) help with things like matching up trading cards, and bringing coffee to my office for me. I’m pretty lucky. I have tremendous support.
MS-Beta readers, of course. Ones like my husband, who will always tell me it’s great no matter what, and others who will be more honest. I also often need them to prod me. I need them to say, “I really want to read more about those two! Get to work!”
My husband, who supports me while I sit around playing with my imaginary friends.
Readers: Seriously, every email or comment on my website is like a little gust of wind in my sails. It’s great.
I recently did the Artist’s Way book creative-recovery thing. Mostly, I thought it didn’t apply to me, but I will say, I LOVE the morning pages.  Every day, first thing (or, in my case, whenever you actually remember) you sit down and actually write out three pages longhand about … whatever. Anything. Whatever you need to clear out of your mind before you can work. For me, it almost always starts out with a list of things I need to do that day, and then possibly a bitching session about whatever has my panties in a wad, and then I generally move onto my current WIP and whatever I’m stuck on there. I can’t really explain it, or why it works, but it’s been tremendous for me. It’s like clearing out the cobwebs before I get down to business.
HC-I have an agent and a publicist, and I adore both. I love having partners in getting my work out and protecting it and getting paid. I have beta readers too, a whole host of them, who give me good, honest feedback. I also have one of the most understanding spouses in the universe. He is my right arm.
There is of course my “wife” as well, aka Marie Sexton, as mentioned above. We have a chat window open at all times, and I think she keeps me sane most days. Everyone should have a buddy in the trenches, and she is mine.
ED-I do not – but I’m on desperate need of a minion. Before any of you go judging me over that admission, my minion would most likely end up running the asylum. I’m a huge mess, completely disorganized and totally ripe for a hostile takeover. : )           
AL-I have the best beta readers in all of explored space, and I really trust my publishers and editors.       I don’t always do what they say, but I trust them to have the same goal as I do–to tell the best story possible.       It really helps if everybody believes that literature (YES, ROMANCE IS LITERATURE, DO NOT WRITE IT IF YOU ONLY THINK IT’S PORN!) is important to the human condition and should be treated with respect.       It means that we can all sacrifice our egos (and mine is sized a little like my ass–unhealthily large) for a final product that makes us proud to be in this business.   
Thanks again for answering my questions! I learned a lot from this, and I hope you did as well. Let me know if you have any other questions you’d like to ask! 
About the authors:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her family. Heidi also volunteers frequently for her state’s LGBT rights group, One Iowa, and is proud to be from the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage.  http://www.heidicullinan.com/
Ethan lives in Missouri. He is currently single but always looking for that special someone that makes his heart skip a beat. He was the youngest of four children and the only boy. After a few stints in college, he eventually signed up for a Creative Writing Course. He took the class because there were no tests. For once his scholastic laziness paid off, and he found an outlet for all the fantasies running amuck in his head. It was love at first write, and he’s been doing it off and on ever since.   http://www.ethandayonline.com/
Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her at http://www.greenshill.com orwww.writerslane.blogspot.com, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.
Z.A. Maxfield is a fifth generation native of Los Angeles, although she now lives in the O.C. She started writing in 2006 on a dare from her children and never looked back. Pathologically disorganized, and perennially optimistic, she writes as much as she can, reads as much as she dares, and enjoys her time with family and friends. If anyone asks her how a wife and mother of four manages to find time for a writing career, she’ll answer, “It’s amazing what you can do if you completely give up housework.”  http://www.zamaxfield.com/
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.  http://www.mariesexton.net/

7 Comments

  1. Damn, I love these! I want more questions so I can see what everyone else had to say.

  2. I have a question…

    How did you pick a publisher for your work? Do you use the same publishing company with each story you write, or based on the piece written?

  3. Oy vey. How many hours do you have?

    Short answer is I try to match both me and the story up with the best deal/house for us at the moment. Well, and now I have a partner in that too, because that's what my agent does. But it's different for each author I think. For me the bottom line is MONEY, but not just the royalty rate. It's the long haul and the marketing and the professionalism and frankly the fit. It's just got to feel right. And it's different for everyone. Like shoes. Except, you know, not shoes.

  4. What a fun interview, Poppy! Thanks again for allowing me to take part. Very flattered to have been included with such an awesome lot of authors.

  5. This was Awesome and Poppy you're right it helps sooo much to get the opinions of these wonderful vets especially for us newbies.

  6. Absolutely fascinating. I learned I have a lot to learn! Thanks to all of you.

    Oh, and Marie? Two things: What *did* Matt give Jared for Christmas? And Oestend 2? Waiting impatiently!

  7. OMG, Oestend might kill me! LOL. It's about 63k right now. I really do need to get moving on it again.

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