About Me

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A writer by predilection, an aunt by blessing and a friend by choice, Shelley has spent many years journaling before sitting down to draft her first novel. She has a B.A. in English discourse and is currently working on her third romantic-suspense, the title of which will be announced soon pending publication. Shelley is a member of the Romance Writers of America as well as her RWA state chapter of the Maryland Romance Writers.
"I love story-telling. It's a way to live an experience through the eyes of a character." - Shelley N. Greene

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Backup

Hello.  It’s been three weeks.  I know, slacker thy name is Shelley.  I have been busy writing, reading and performing other authorly duties as assigned, if that lets me off the hook in any small way?

No?  'Kay.  

I would lamely try to blame the delay on the crazy weather (both an earthquake and a hurricane have hit my area in the same week) but I will respect everyone’s intelligence and not make excuses. We were lucky that neither natural disaster caused much damage, so I will not push the universe into sending us any more.  

Given that it has been a pretty exciting week (i.e. many readers are probably picking tree debris off their front lawns as I type) I’m going to keep this entry short and sweet.

This week I’ve decided to talk about the art of choosing a publishing house.  This is a tricky subject for several reasons, but we’ll try to keep to the basics.  

My writing significant other, Sarah (a.k.a. my critique partner) compared the process of picking a publishing house to applying for college.

“You can have your Harvard-esque first choice but you always want to have a back up and even a third and fourth option.” – Sarah Allan

This is very wise advice.  There are some big names out there in the publishing industry.  Many houses require that an agent submit your manuscript which is yet another deciding factor in who you finally want to go with.

And similar to applying for a college, you want to research what each of the houses has to offer and whether or not that is what would serve you best.

During the RWA conference back in June I checked out several publishers and compared their models.  Some were smaller houses, some strictly e-publishing only, and many held different guidelines regarding print books.

Now the emergence of e-books has brought about a paradigm shift in the world of publishing.  We can’t even begin to cover all of those details in this entry (it would most likely be a multi-post series), but summed up, e-publishing has a dynamic all its own. There are no solid charts on the scale or guaranteed profit of e-sales because the data is still being gathered.  Numbers fluctuate, and like a new model of car, the statistics of it can really only be measured in hindsight.

That’s not to say that authors shouldn’t take advantage of the trend now.  E-books are hot and they offer higher percentages of revenue to the author.  Nook and Kindle will likely be around ten years from now, so if you want to look at an e-publishing group, check out the company’s history and try to get a gut feeling about them.

You can garner clues as to what places you want to apply in several ways.  First and foremost, I say stand up and walk over to your bookcase. Pull out three to five of your favorite books, and mix it up: grab a reference book, a novel, a mystery and so on.  Flip open the cover or check out the spine.  Who’s the publisher?

The point here is that if you love a publisher’s product there’s a great chance that they’ll love your work, too.  Especially if you see a theme with several different books stemming from the same publisher.  And you want to be sure to write down the names and look them up online.  Some publishing houses go by different names (usually separated by genre) but are unified under a single business figurehead.  Several different books all printed by the same company is a big sign that you like that company's style.  This exercise acts as kind of a divining rod pointing you in a starting direction.

You also want to ask a lot of questions about what you want and what benefits publishers have to offer.  Do you want your manuscript published right away?  Do you look forward to having print copies of your book?  How long are you willing to wait for publication and sales proceeds?

It’s advisable to be upfront about the average cost of everything.  Ask the publisher how many books they publish each month, how long it takes for e-book distribution and whether or not your book will be produced in both formats.  Find out if there are different incentives for print versus e-book (usually print will give you less profit because it’s more expensive to produce) and decide how important these numbers are to you.

Some publishing houses still specialize solely in print books.  With the world going digital, this may initially seem like a bad deal for you, but be sure to stop and look at every option closely before you gong it.  

Marketing and self-promotion is important as well because it’s not an easy thing to endeavor alone.  You’d be surprised how many e-authors have struggled to make time from already busy life and writing schedules to try to get publicity for their newly published books. Another benefit of publishing houses is that they have marketing resources readily available and it’s a valuable way for readers to find you without additional out-of-pocket expense.       

But even with a strong campaign in place, the prime rule of marketing is that word of mouth is single best way to sell anything.  You want your name out there, talked about, with easily accessible links of where to find you and your books.  So if you choose to pay a percentage price from profit, make sure that it pays you back through the support of your publisher. That way, like picking a college, you decide how much you’ll be sharing with your publishing house, an institution that will serve you in return.

And while a big name publisher is like an Ivy League choice, they admittedly have the big name for a reason.  The major-league names have been around for a while, and if you throw your hat in with them you have a good chance of going far.  But that's not to rule out the little guys.  The up-and-coming e-pubs of today may very well be the digital giants of tomorrow.  Kind of like the community college that has all the same professors as the top 100 school, right?  ;0)

  So really check out the places you’re interested in, many have fact sheets on their websites to help you weigh the pros and cons.  Go in with a list of key items that are important you (i.e. profit, promotion, book prints etc.) and select a first, second and third choice that matches your criteria.  And don’t be afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions.  With some luck, and a lot of hard work, you’ll be working for them but they’ll be working for you, too.

 As of right now I choose to remain quiet about my choices.  I feel that weird superstitious twinge that if I tell anyone beforehand that it might not happen, like making a wish. Sarah knows who my Harvard is, but my second choice is kind of a Yale, so I evidently have good taste as well as high hopes.  And Sarah has sagely encouraged me to add a few “state-school” level backups. I have a few really great companies in mind, and I want to dream big, aim high, and be reasonable about it.

I promise that if I land Harvard I will disclose the name, I’m sure that I'll want to shout it from the mountaintops.  ;0)


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pure Imagination

         Here is where I make my apologies for the skipped entry.  I had every intention of blogging last Sunday but was deterred for what I think is the best reason – I got lost in a great book.

            Three books actually, a best-selling series that has been out for several years and is now being made into movies.  I ignored the world except for the necessities of life for four days straight.  I started reading and got swept away…

            And getting that absorbed is a rare thing, because the story was so incredible that I wanted to “live” in it.  How many books can you say have ever impacted you like that?  

            When reading, I am the one being entertained, but every writer knows that it’s a lot easier to be on the reader side of the page.  And being in the “audience” you come to appreciate the genius of the author.  Reading the books, I was blown away by how enveloped I became with the heroine, the thoughtful details of her feelings and her life.

            A small cavern deep in my chest ached at how creative the plot was.  This author has such imagination!, I thought.  My story doesn’t even hold a candle to this…

            Okay, there it is.  The evil little thought in your mind.  The green-eyed self-doubt.  The negative self-talk that I have no imagination or that my thoughts aren’t as deep as other, incredible authors.  

            It’s said that “good writers are good readers.”  And readers are the heart of it because they provide the imagination.  They “see” the worlds in the words.  And while I was a fabulous reader this week, my thoughts occupied with the story, I still felt a twinge of guilt.

I lay in bed one night thinking about this.  Good writers are good readers, but we also handle our subject matter differently.  Reading other's work is a way to expose yourself to another voice and writing style, but it’s also a way to focus on the nuances of your own story.  And as all the awesome plot points of the book I’d read lingered in my mind, my thoughts turned to my manuscript.  For a fleeting moment I felt failure.  My little single-title contemporary story isn’t futuristic or metaphysical. It isn’t a fraction as dynamic as the book series that has dominated my brain all week. It won’t necessarily leave a reader thinking about the degrees of virtue or ethics, but it is a good love story. 

It’s a good story, I remind myself repeatedly.

While the never-ending comparisons continued to battle in my head, I began to ask myself questions.  How strong are my characters?  What maintains the bonds between them?  What are the real reasons two people fall in love and what makes up believable conflict?  What reasons would these two people, or any of the adjacent characters, have to care about each another?

Stories are formula but it’s the unique qualities of the characters, plot and voice that make them special.

Inspired by reading, I was motivated to walk over to the pillars of my story’s plot and kick at them to test their fortitude.  

It’s easy to be entertained, but its work to make what you write entertaining.  And it’s the ability to get lost in a good story that’s essential. 

This week I looked at what I had written and asked myself honestly, am I lost in this world?  Do I relate to my characters—the places, people and things?  Why?  Why not?

As I furtively questioned it, poking at gaps that made up the weak points in my story, I did start to feel a little hopeless.  Caught in the overwhelming knowledge that I have holes in my work, I also stared squarely into the face of my fears.  I questioned whether I have a creative mind, but I must, otherwise why would I endeavor to do this?  Spend hours typing, editing…documenting the images I see.  

            A world of pure imagination, how do we get there? What makes your imagination come alive? 

For me, it’s in reaction to my daily routine.  I live a life full of regimes.  Same clothes, same schedule, same food.  I ask myself often how a land of adventure can even reside in the crevices of all of that order, all that monotony.  The repetitive patterns of everyday life are played out to a silent dirge sometimes, and then that's when it hits me.  The daydreams are the escape.  The wayward thought that pops up and asks, “What if I drove past work today?  What if I turned onto the highway and drove until I ran out of gas?  How far would I go?  What would I see along the way?”

I’m currently working to get into that zone and stay there.  I’m also applying the obligations that I feel in everyday life to my characters lives.  I ask myself, “What makes a person stay in a place?  What makes two people feel obligated to one another?”  These are the heartstrings that I need to tie in place in my story and I want them to be realistic. I want to build a world, a believable one.

And I am beginning to get lost in my own story, because that’s when I know it’s good. When you want to run home to write the same way you want to run home to read a good book.  That’s the goal.

And never doubt the power and expanse of your imagination.  If you can appreciate ingenuity in the books you read, then you have the ability to imbue the books you write with personal vision, too. 

You just have to open yourself up to it.

-         -  SNG  :0)