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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Writer’s Toolbox #5: Must-Have Research Tools Beyond Google and Wikipedia

This is the 300th post on this blog, and the 40th for Ruth Harris!

Ruth graciously agreed to join my blog in August of 2011, right after my out-of-print comic thriller Food of Love was accepted for re-publication by Popcorn Press. I was about to embark on the roller-coaster ride of a lifetime, publishing five novels (with two publishers) as well as contributing to three anthologies...in two and a half months.

I was amazed and honored that a New York Times bestseller and former Big Six editor would want to join my blog. I still am.

Little did I imagine that Ruth would someday want her bestselling fiction to join a book of mine between e-covers. But last November we came out with Chanel and Gatsby, a bi-coastal two-fer bringing together her Manhattan comedy-thriller The Chanel Caper, and my Hollywood comedy-mystery, The Gatsby Game.

I'm still recovering from my publishing marathon that began in mid-2011 and finally ended with the publication of my eighth novel, The Lady of the Lakewood Diner in December 2013. 

There will be more Camilla books coming. But right now I'm trying to deal with all the stuff I neglected over that two and a half year period. Seriously. You do not want to know how many things in my pantry had expiration dates of 2011 or earlier.

I could not have done any of it without Ruth taking over the blog every fourth Sunday. And her advice and wisdom have helped me survive this crazy ride.

Today she's got a fantastic list of resources every writer can use. There are many I'd never thought of. I'm especially intrigued by the name generator for multi-culti or fantasy characters. And the James Bond trivia. Who knows when you're going to need to know which Bond movie featured AbFab's Joanna Lumley, or who was the oldest "Bond girl"? And the BBC's "on this day" historical site looks like a gold mine. 

Thanks, Ruth, for continuing to educate us on this blog every month. We now have nearly 900 subscribers to our blog email, and we hit the 1600 mark with blog followers this week. We would not have the fantastic readers we do without Ruth's expertise, humor and wisdom...Anne

Writer’s Toolbox #5: Reference and Research—the World Beyond Google
by Ruth Harris

Which president came before Theodore Roosevelt?

How do you revive a dying orchid?

How fast can a rhino run?

What does SPECTRE stand for?

In the course of writing a novel, a writer—one who will never indulge in an info dump!—will often need to find the answer to all sorts of oddball questions, some of them basic, others esoteric, still others trivial but nevertheless important.

Google and Wikipedia and YouTube are the basic go-tos but there are many other sites (just about all of them FREE) that will answer your questions and, even better, give you answers to the questions you didn’t even think to ask.

Here is a brief round up of sites I have found indispensable for research including a few that aren’t usually thought of as reference sources.

The New York Times maintains a massive searchable archive containing more than 13 million articles dating from 1851. You can search by author, section, or time periods from past 24 hours, past year or by specific dates.

The Washington Post maintains a searchable archive dating from 2005. (For dates prior to 2005, there is a paid archive search.)

USA Today, New York’s Daily News and the BBC also offer valuable search options.

Time magazine’s archive extends from 1923 to the present and includes the weekly’s covers for a visual look at what made the headlines week by week during most of the 20th Century and all of the 21st.

From hair dos to manicures, grunge to prep: If you need a clue about what your characters are or were wearing or detailed info about their grooming routines, Vogue is the place to go.

Need to jog your memory about books, TV, movies and music? Try Entertainment Weekly.

The dish on celebs? Need inspiration from human-interest stories? What about The Sexiest Man Alive? People is the place to go. And not to forget: James Bond trivia.

Want to ask an expert? Sign up with Quora where you can choose from over 400,000 topics to create a feed of information tuned to your interests. Google Plus has communities devoted to just about any subject you can think of.

Messing with the Mafia? From Omertà to La Cosa Nostra, from Al Capone to John Gotti, the answers are here.

For the raciest in bathing suits or a who’s who and what’s what in the locker room and on the gridiron, the skating rink, the baseball diamond or the tennis court, Sports Illustrated will clue you in. Writing for a younger demo? SI Kids has the deets.

Pinterest, eBay and Etsy are usually not considered research sites but they are gold mines of ideas presented visually and, in the case of eBay and Etsy, items described in detail—a big help when you don’t know what this or that knicknack or collectible is called or when you want to find a popular hobby or off-beat interest for a character.

Need a name for a Catalan or Chinese character? Want a name for a hillbilly, a witch, a rapper? A name with ancient Celtic, Biblical or literary allusions? Try the name generator at Behind the Name

Authors of Regency fiction will find information on law, language, clothing, and the peerage plus links to other relevant sites from Regency author Joanna Waugh.

The Pew Research Center offers a searchable database covering everything from demographic data and scandals to international affairs and global religious beliefs.

Seeking a “fact checker for the internet?” Check out RefDesk.com.

Streetwise slang? Here’s the guide to current lingo: urban dictionary.

Hung up for a movie or TV series quote? This site will probably know.

Consult the Oxford dictionaries in a variety of languages including: British English, American English, German, French, and Spanish. The Oxford biographical dictionary contains bios of almost 60,000 people, English and beyond.

A dictionary on steroids, WordHippo tells you the meaning of a word and also finds synonyms, antonyms, words that rhyme with it, sentences containing it, other words starting or ending with it, its etymology, and much more. Type in what you are looking for, choose the appropriate category and WordHippo will come up with the results, as well as give one-click links to other data for the word.

Setting your story during a particular day in a certain year? Get the scoop on what happened on that day the BBC News OnThisDay site.

There’s a research blog for the history of graphic design at the University of Southern Missisippi.

Contemporary art? Try MOMA in New York City or the Metropolitan Museum. In San Francisco, try the SFMOMA, or MOCA in Los Angeles.

Renaissance art?

African art?

Folk art?

Science? Get information about Mind & Brain, Plants & Animals, Earth & Climate, Space & Time, Matter & Energy, Computers & Math, Fossils & Ruins at ScienceDaily.

Health and medicine? Rely on the experts at the Mayo Clinic.

Still need more? Try the Smithsonian:

The US Army has an extensive, searchable site that covers American wars from the Colonial era to the current War On Terror in the archives of the US Army Center of Military History.

Stuck? Out of ideas? Don’t even know what to look for next? Tell this site what you’re interested in and they will recommend websites/photos/videos: StumbleUpon.

We are living in the information age. Just about anything a writer wants to know or needs to find out is just a few keystrokes away. No more trips to the library. No more scrolling through hard-to-read microfiche. No more searching through heavy tomes to find that one piece of information you're looking for.

Explore beneath the surface to find the pearl of info that will make your book stand out from the crowd: the right research, properly used, can make all the difference.

What about you scriveners? Do you have anything to add to Ruth's list? Are any of you old enough to remember what research used to be like before the Internet?


The Chanel Caper by Ruth Harris is $2.99 on Amazon USAmazon UK and Nook | Kobo | iBooks

Here's what USA Today bestseller, Vanessa Kelly says about The Chanel Caper in Love Rocks:

"In an ongoing effort to upmarket her own outdated style and rekindle some romance in her marriage, Blake buys a faux Chanel handbag from a street vendor. This sets off a chain of wild events that includes murder, explosions, counterfeit drug rings, and the pursuit of suspects and warlords from Shanghai to Afghanistan. The Chanel Caper is a romantic comedy, a thriller, and a send-up of the big city lifestyle in the wake of the global financial crisis. All the disparate elements of this very funny story are tethered by the engaging Blake, a smart, sensible, and dryly witty heroine intent on saving her marriage. It’s definitely a romance for the grownups, set against the backdrop of the bright lights of the city that never sleeps."

And for a limited time, you can get The Chanel Caper  together with The Gatsby Game for the same price: only $2.99!  

Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy!

Available at


Win a critique of your novel from a literary star and Cambridge professor. Winners will get full critique valued at $800. Contest sponsored by the Writers’ Village Foundation, a not-for-profit UK organization established to help new authors. The top eight submissions will win a session of personal feedback from the award judge, novelist Michelle Spring, a Royal Literary Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Entry fee is $19 and the deadline is 31st March.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline: March 31.

Dark Continents Publishing's Guns and Romances anthology. They're looking for previously unpublished short fiction from 3500-9000 words. Any genre as long as there's a tough protagonist, weapons, and... at least one reference to music. Sounds interesting. Payment rate is a one-off of $20 per story plus a percentage of the ebook royalties. Publication estimated in late-2014. More info on the website. Closing date for submissions is February 28.

Glamour Magazine "My Real Life Story" Essay Contest NO ENTRY FEE. $5000 prize, plus possible publication in Glamour. Creative nonfiction. Must be factual and appropriate for a Glamour audience. 2500-3500 words. Deadline February 1st.

Dog Lovers! AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB FICTION WRITING CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one short story, maximum 2,000 words. Entries can be on any subject, but must feature a dog. (But it can't talk) Prizes $500, $240, $100. Deadline January 31.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Six Pieces of Bad Advice New Writers Need to Ignore

A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote a post about writing as a hobby as opposed to a profession (hint: they're both good choices), I got a couple of comments from new writers who were discouraged to read how much work and dedication it takes to become a professional writer.

They can be forgiven for being unaware of the realities, since so much misinformation about the business of writing has become part of our general culture.

From Ernest Hemingway's self-mythologizing to tales of fictional writers like Jessica Fletcher, Richard Castle, and Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris, we've been shown a romanticized—and mostly untrue—picture of what it's like to be a writer.

The indie revolution has brought a whole new twist to the myth-making. New writers now hear all they have to do is write a book, put it on Amazon, send out a few Tweets, and they're off to big-bux land in the footsteps of Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey.

And for some reason, everybody who's ever watched Oprah (or Richard and Judy in the UK) thinks they know all about what it takes to be a professional writer. Tell somebody you write and you'll immediately get lots of clueless advice from the "civilians" around you—from your family to your hairdresser to that know-it-all guy at work.

But the truth is, writing for a living is hard. If you love it, that won't stop you for a minute, but if you believe there are shortcuts, you're going to be awfully disappointed.

Here are six pieces of bad advice it's best to ignore if you want to launch a successful writing career.

1) Start with genre fiction, because it's easy to write.

People will tell you to start with something “easy” like a romance/mystery/kid’s book.

Yeah, I heard that one a lot when I was starting out. So the first book I tried to write was a romance. I spent nearly eight months on it. Oh, what a disaster!  I learned the hard way that every genre takes years to learn to write well. And if you don’t love a genre and read it voraciously, you’ll never be good enough enough to gain an audience.

This is true whether you self-publish or go the traditional route.

Readers are just as picky as agents when it comes to choosing what they buy. They don't want fill-in-the blanks fiction. They want passion and originality within their genre.

Also, if your book is successful in getting a traditional publisher or a bunch of fans, they're going to want more of the same. Whatever genre you succeed in is the one you'll be expected to write throughout your career. Why would you do that with a genre you don't love?

2) Write about vampires/zombies/dystopian YA/mommy porn: that's what's selling.

Alas, traditional publishing has smoked its last 50 Shades cigarette and sneaked out the back door without leaving a note. Dystopian apocalypses have met their Armageddon. Vampires and zombies have been safely returned to their graves, and werepersons, angel/demons and witch/warlocks have been banished to the shadows from whence they came.

The known authors in these genres are still selling, but traditional publishing is saturated and won't look at new writers in most of these genres. You can self-publish, but you'll be on the tail end of a waning trend, so you'll need to bring something original to it.

The big trends in traditional publishing are usually over by the time the general public hears about them. By the time something's big on TV or film, it's been played out in the publishing industry.

As I said in #1, only write what you love. If you simply adore the undead, your passion may bring a new spark to the genre and you may find a great niche audience in the indie market. But only write in the currently popular genres if they are at the top of your own reading list.

Writing to trends almost always backfires, as I found out myself. Back in the 1980s, I tried to write a "glitz" novel. Glitz was super-hot at the time. Judith Kranz and Jackie Collins were queens of the genre (and the bestseller lists.) The stories involved lots of designer name-dropping and steamy sex. But no matter how hard I worked at glorifying sex and money, the book turned out funny.

I was actually writing chick lit, but I didn't know that because it hadn't been invented yet. I still write chick lit, a genre that had its heyday at the beginning of the millenium. But I didn't write it because I was trying to follow a trend. It's what I like to read.

I'm not telling you to dump your ms. in one of these genres, or even that your books in these genres won't sell as indies. But don't write in a genre just because it's selling right now, because it's probably oversaturated.

3) Querying agents is a good way to get feedback.

I often hear new writers encouraging each other to "send it out: it can't hurt to try." (This often comes from your critique group, who are re-e-e-e-ally tired of reworking chapter one for the sixteenth time.)

But actually, it can hurt. A lot. Rejection is no fun. Why invite it when it means nothing? And a rejection from an agent means just that: zip, zilch, nada.

These days, most agents don't give feedback of any kind. Even the gentlest suggestion can backfire when upset authors retaliate with nasty return emails or worse...much worse.

That's why a good percentage of agents don't respond to queries at all unless they're interested, and most of the others send a one sentence generic note along the lines of "this does not fit our needs at this time."

Every writing group and forum is full of complaints from new authors who are trying to read meaning into those one-liners. But believe me, they only mean your book didn't tick off all the boxes on the list of what the agent's contacts at the Big Five are looking for this week. That's ALL.

For more on what rejections really mean, here's Ruth Harris's post on the subject.

There's also the problem that if your query is especially clueless, the agent may remember your name, and not in a good way.

DO NOTE: Agents don't get paid for reading your queries. They don't owe you feedback. They only get paid when they sell a book, and if your book isn't ready to sell, you're clogging up the pipeline and slowing down the process for other writers (like maybe you, a couple of years from now) who really are ready to publish.

The way to get feedback is to join a critique group or find a beta reader.

There are lots of opportunities for these online. Some can be snarky and useless, so do check with other users before you put your fledgling writing out there. Kristen Lamb's WANATribe.com is a bully-free, friendly community where you can meet beta readers. Two other great resources are are CritiqueCircle.com and SheWrites.  GalleyCat has a great new sign-up system for finding the right critique group.

Also the wonderful Jami Gold has a valuable post this week on how to find beta readers. 

For more on querying agents, we're going to have a guest post in March from agent Pam Van Hylckama Vlieg (yes, the one who was attacked by the crazed rejected author a couple of years ago) She's now a partner at Foreword Literary Agency and she'll be talking about the changing guidelines for queries.

4) You can launch a career with one book.

Blame the movies: the writer-hero struggles to finish that opus, finally types the last page, sends it to an agent and voila!—he has a contract and a book tour and he's an overnight millionaire.

This doesn’t happen anymore. If it ever did.

For self-publishers, it's almost impossible to get a readership with one book. Most successful marketing of self-published books is based on free and cheap deals to entice readers to come in and sample your work so they'll buy more. If there's no "more", all you're doing is giving away the store. Both Howey and Hocking had close to ten books a piece before they started making the big sales.

And even if you're going the traditional route, you need at least two books. I know this from experience, too.

I landed an agent with one of my first chick lit queries, and she had it six months and almost made a deal with Bantam. But did I use that time to work hard on a second book? No. I wasted my leisure hours obsessing about stupid stuff like whether I should quit my day job and what I'd wear on a book tour. (Yeah, I was running one of those movies in my head the whole time.)

When the deal fell through, my agent asked if I had anything else. I didn't. So she dropped me. I thought I could regain the magic with another agent, but by then the book had been out on submission to editors and no agent would touch it. I was back at square one with an unpublishable manuscript.

These days, most authors have to query agents for years, then when they get a deal, it's usually for multiple books. If you don't have those manuscripts waiting in the hopper, you'd better be good at writing very, very fast (while going on blog tours and social networking like mad.) 

And that book tour? These days they don't happen for anybody but superstars. Tours for newer authors simply don't offer a good return on investment except for reality TV stars or politicians with SuperPacs to buy up all the books.

5) Just finish the book, throw it up on Amazon and let the customer reviews tell you what needs editing.

No. No. NO!! This one makes me cringe. I still see lots of writers telling each other this nonsense in forums, and even some of the big self-publishing gurus advocate it.

But they are not doing new writers any favors. 

First of all, this gives ammunition to every self-publishing hater out there. You're creating the very "tsunami of crap" indies are accused of perpetrating.

And using Amazon or Goodreads customer reviewers as your critique group is one of the worst ideas ever.

Anybody who thinks they're going to learn anything from online reviews hasn't read them. 

Could George Orwell have learned from this review of 1984?

"I highly reccomend that you DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. And please for the love of God don't read that "Brave New World" book by Hoxley. It is twice as worse as 1984. To put it bluntly, DON'T READ ANY GEORGE ORWELL. Your just waisting your time.""

Or maybe Tolstoy could have improved Anna Karenina after reading this?

"If you see Anna for $5 at your neighbor's garage sale, go ahead and buy it. Hollow it out, and stash a handgun in there. Leave it next to your toilet if you have unwanted guests. Beat your disobedient child with it. Put it in your fireplace and have a nice glass of vodka. Just don't read it! You have been warned."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which tops pretty much everybody's "Best of 2013" lists has nearly 200 one-star reviews on Amazon with enlightening comments like this:

"This book is too depressing and sad. I have yet to finish it. Just when I think it will get better something else bad happens."

Right. Don't let anything bad happen to your characters, Ms. Tartt. We want books about nice people watching paint dry.

All you can tell from one-star customer reviews is that the reviewer was probably having a bad day. They do not help you write better books.

See #3 for suggestions of places to get useful feedback.

Then hire an editor. 

6) Don’t waste time on short fiction.

This is another one I fell for. I spent way too much time working on unpublishable novels instead of honing my craft with short fiction that could build a list of credits and establish my brand.

People will still tell you that short stories are a waste of time because they don’t make any money, but that has all changed with the ebook (see my posts on "Why you Should be Writing Short Fiction" and "Short is the New Long".)

Here are some reasons to write short-form fiction

  • Short stories are the best place to hone your skills. 
  • Short stories make money these days, both as stand-alone ebooks and in anthologies 
  • Publishing credits for short fiction and essays makes you more attractive to agents, publishers and readers. 
  • Winning a story contest gives your self-confidence a boost. (And you might even win a little cash.)
  • It’s a whole lot easier to publish a short story than a novel: there are thousands of literary magazines and contests in the US, but only five major book publishing houses. 

Short is definitely the new long right now. Novellas are having a renaissance, too. (In February we will host Paul Alan Fahey, author of a series of popular novellas. He'll offer a nuts-and-bolts formula for writing a compelling novella.)

What about you, scriveners? Have you followed any of this bad advice? What other writing misinformation have you heard? I had too much to list in one post, so I'll be writing about this again in February. Anything to add to my list?


This month, Sherwood, Ltd is 99c for Kindle US, UK, Nook, and FREE on Smashwords and on Kobo. And for book-sniffers (I have to admit to some closet book-sniffing myself) it is available in paper for the marked-down price of $8.54 (regularly $8.99 on Amazon and $12.99 in stores.) It's also on sale in paper in the in the UK for £6.81.

"A wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills to suspicion of everybody in the book...Read this book. It will be well worth the time."...David Keith at Smashwords

"One uses the term 'romping good yarn' advisedly but in fact this tale is exactly that. Aspiring author and failed A-lister Camilla, desperate for funds and affection, joins forces with a publishing team that beggars description. The similarities between the legend of Robin Hood and this story are subtle, the links never overdone or cliched. The narrative leaps from one twist to the next turn with pace and energy. The characters are delightfully off-centre and the hero? Well, he is definitely of a kind to swing down from the trees armed with bow and nocked arrow."...Prue Batten, author of the Guy of Gisborne series

BTW although Sherwood has all 5-star reviews on Smashwords, its Amazon buy page has had a visit from a couple of bullies who object to my "behavior" (i.e. writing a 2011 blogpost urging non-techie grandmas to write reviews). If you have read and enjoyed the book, some genuine reviews would be very welcome, especially on Amazon.


Glamour Magazine "My Real Life Story" Essay Contest NO ENTRY FEE. $5000 prize, plus possible publication in Glamour. Creative nonfiction. Must be factual and appropriate for a Glamour audience. 2500-3500 words. Deadline February 1st.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline: March 31, 2014.

Dog Lovers! AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB FICTION WRITING CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one short story, maximum 2,000 words. Entries can be on any subject, but must feature a dog. (But it can't talk) Prizes $500, $240, $100. Deadline January 31.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Go Global in 2014: How to Get Your Books into the Global Marketplace

A lot of bookish blogs have posted predictions for 2014. But I'm only making one prediction for the new year: writers will need to start thinking globally.

Growth of ebook sales in the US and UK has slowed, but the markets abroad are growing fast.

Eoin Purcell wrote in the Irish Times last week: "Ebooks outside of the US continue to grow – markets such as Ireland, France, Spain and Germany are only now beginning to see the growth that the UK & US markets experienced two and three years ago."

Publishing Perspectives says that Russia now is the third biggest ebook market, and a Price Waterhouse Cooper study predicts that by 2017, 54% of e-book sales will be overseas.

Gareth Cuddy at Digital Book World said this week, "There was a real opening up of new markets in 2013. This is evident in the fact our publishers sold into a third more countries in 2013 than 2012."

This is especially important information for indie writers. As Dean Wesley Smith said in his recap of 2013 publishing trends:

"During 2013, indie publishing in many, many ways, both paper and electronic, spread out over the world. Now your indie books get a much wider reach than any traditional publisher can manage, which not too many people have talked about yet, but will in 2014."

Zoom. The book business is changing by the minute.

So I figured it was time to get an update from the EBUK blokes: Jay and Mick and the team who run the EBookBargainsUK newsletter (and now blog!) They visited us last October and opened a lot of eyes to the huge market out there for ebooks in English around the globe.

A recent ad I put in their newsletter got my books onto bestseller lists in Australia, Germany, and Canada and even made a sale to the Orkney Library and Archive, the oldest library in Scotland.

Some of this info is a little overwhelming for a non-geek like me, but I think you'll be convinced that getting into as many of these markets as possible is going to be increasingly important.

Do note that self-publishers can get onto a lot of international retailer sites by going through an aggregator like Smashwords, D2D, or BookBaby. You don't have to upload to all these sites yourself.

Going Global in 2014

by the EBUK team

It was back in September that Anne and Ruth last invited us here to talk about the international ebook scene, and there’s no question the global ebook market has got bigger and better since then.

Numerous new ebook retail outlets have materialized even in that short time – we’ll be looking at a couple below – and we’re hearing more and more reports of indie US and UK authors not just selling overseas in increasing numbers, but selling in the most unexpected places, on platforms the authors never knew existed, in places they never knew ebooks could reach.

Which is why we felt it was the right time to launch our Go Global In 2014 campaign. Because if you don’t get your ticket now you may just miss the boat!

More and more authors are coming to realize that, important as Amazon is to any author’s career, we're not living in 2009 anymore.

Amazon is no longer the only show in town 

Amazon is still very much the biggest player in the ebook marketplace, but it's not as big an international player as you may think. 

1) Your books may be a lot cheaper on sites other than Amazon.

 If that sounds crazy you probably haven’t heard about the notorious Amazon surcharges. Respected indie commentator David Gaughran has posted about these on several occasions.

Put simply, for customers outside the Kindle Zone countries (that is, countries without a Kindle store) Amazon bizarrely adds a substantial surcharge to the list price. 

Your $2.99 ebook will cost a reader in Malta or Poland $4.99. 

In Norway it will cost as much as $6.99. (And the author will get just 35% of the $2.99 US price.) 

Similar surcharges apply across the globe to countries without a Kindle store.

That’s always presuming Amazon allows readers to buy at all. Despite that long list of countries in KDP where your ebooks are supposedly going to be on sale, the truth is many countries are blocked completely from buying. Singapore is an example.

Obviously, readers will be buying elsewhere. And in 2014 there are plenty of places to choose from.

2) Kindle isn't the primary e-reader any more. 

The world of e-readers, tablets and smartphones has changed beyond all recognition since 2009.

Having your books on Amazon is great, but they are in mobi format and not much use to anyone without a Kindle device.

Of course if you're on Apple, Kobo and Nook, you will have epub ebooks. 

So what about Apple, Kobo and Nook?

  • Kobo has been growing slowly, like Amazon, but it has many competitors, as you'll see below. 
  • Apple may have 51 ebook stores but actually many of them only sell public domain titles, so they're of no interest to contemporary authors. 
  •  Barnes and Noble is still more of a player than you'd know from its bad press. Readers can now buy your Nook titles from all four corners of Europe, from Finland up top to Norway on the left, tiny Malta down in the Med, Poland and Austria in the middle, and Estonia and Latvia over by the Russian border. It now has stores in Australia as well. But many of these they are restricted to the Windows 8 platform at the moment. 

But these four retailers pretty much have the market sown up, right?

If only…the publishing world would be so much simpler. 

Think wholesalers as well as retailers

The familiar retailers like Amazon, Apple, Nook and Kobo aren't enough any more. To reach the wider global market you need to have your titles in the wholesaler catalogues. 

These are distribution companies like Ingram, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, OverDrive,  etc. 

Because the wholesalers distribute to so many channels with so many different end-user devices your First Grade epub conversion from a Word doc that might be acceptable on Kindle or Nook will not be good enough.

If you plan on going global you’ll need an industry standard epub file that meets IDPF standards. 

IDPF is the International Digital Publishing Forum. They are the Trade and Standards Organization for the Digital Publishing Industry.

They have a free epub validator here. Just load up your epub file and it will come back approved or rejected. If your epub doesn’t pass the IDPF validator check it WILL NOT be accepted by any serious aggregator, such as Ebook Partnership, who can get your ebooks into the Ingram, Copia and OverDrive catalogues. 

As we showed here back in September, Anne has excellent global distribution, with titles in local ebook stores everywhere from Iceland to Switzerland to South Africa. Anne uses Smashwords and Ebook Partnership together to maximize her global footprint. And of course her ebooks pass the IDPF validation test. (Whew! Actually my publisher handles this. I'm a cybermoron...Anne)

If you’re new to the indie game and looking to move up to the next level as self-publishers you should bookmark the IDPF validator and make sure every file you put out passes the IDPF validation test.

Why is the IDPF validation so important? After all, your Word doc that you put up on KDP looks fine, and you can throw a Word doc into Calibre and out pops an epub. Why all the fuss?

Well for starters your Kindle converted Word doc may not work on all Kindle devices. Don’t take our word for it. Check out Lexi Revellian, who reformatted all her files when she realized the Kindle Paper White was playing games with her ebooks.

For other devices anything but an industry standard epub is just asking for problems. Yes, we know your ebook looks fine on your neighbour’s Kobo and your nephew’s iPad and your Aunt Dot’s Nook, but…

In the world beyond the comfort zone of the US, UK, NZ, Australia and Canada, people are reading ebooks on tablets, phablets. smartphones and apps most of us didn’t even know existed.

Ever heard of Archos? Or the ‘txtr Beagle? TheTolino Shine? The Infiebeam Pi? The iRiver range? Orient? Goopad? (Seriously). Lenova, anyone? Haier? Chuwi? Doodee? Onda?

No, we’re not making these up. Here’s the Onda – an 8”, 16GB tablet for just $115.

Yes, it ships from China, but you can pay by Paypal, so you know your money is safe. No, it doesn’t come with Amazon Prime and film and TV and all those extras that make the KindleFire so worth buying.

But here’s the thing: If you’re not in the US and you buy a KindleFire none of those wonderful extras will work anyway. The KindleFire is just another tablet. And if you’re outside the comfort zone of the US, UK, the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Canada your credit card may not be usable at Amazon. Paypal may be the only international payment option open to you.

And that includes countries where Amazon has Kindle stores. Want to buy an ebook from Amazon India? It’s just one-click, right? Er… No. Check out the hoops you have to jump through just to buy an ebook from Amazon India.

Speaking of India brings us neatly to the Aakash. 

Aakash: The $35 tablet

Way back in 2011 a $35 tablet was launched in India.

And everybody laughed. A tablet for thirty-five bucks? How could a $35 tablet be anything but an unmitigated disaster?

Surprise! The Aakash has been a phenomenal success. In the first quarter of 2013 the Aakash not only outsold Samsung in India, but sold twice as many tablets as Apple in India.

And this is just the beginning. The Indian tablet and smartphone market is still in its infancy. The number of Indians who will be buying tablets, phablets and smartphones in India over the next year or two is going to be staggering.

And many of them could be reading your ebooks on these devices.

Tablets, phablets and smartphones are taking off internationally on a scale that's hard to imagine. Many will be using devices we’ve all heard of and are comfortable with. But many more will be using devices we’ll never ever hear of and couldn’t pronounce if we did.

And they’ll be buying their ebooks from stores you’ve never heard of, too.

If you plan on going global in 2014 and reaching a truly international audience you need to make sure you are in as many of these stores as possible. Including the ones that don’t even exist yet.

No, no need to read that again. You read right the first time.

If you play your cards right, you can be in new stores from the moment they launch. Anne R. Allen did just that in Bild in Germany.

The Bild Ebook Store

Never heard of Bild? Given the Bild ebook store only launched in mid-December that’s no surprise. Luckily our patent early-warning new ebook retailer detector alerted us and we were there for Bild’s first day – and there were six of Anne R. Allen’s titles beaming back at us. (Much to my amazement...Anne)

As we explained here last time, Germany is a key market for your English language titles. For one thing it has as many English-speakers as Australia and Canada put together!

So with Amazon Germany, Apple Germany and Bild does that makes three ebook stores for Germans to choose from?

Nope. A quick count suggests there are about twenty German ebook stores, and we’ve probably missed several. Expect LOTS more through 2014-15 as market fragmentation accelerates.

But we’ve chosen to mention Bild here not just because Anne’s in it. Bild is part of a much bigger picture emerging. You see, Bild is part of a key consortium of ebook stores that together are challenging Amazon’s supremacy in the German market.

Sadly while Kobo has the largest German ebook store by number of titles, it has yet to make a serious impact in Germany. That will change as Kobo expands its presence in the country, but the big threat to Amazon comes not from Kobo, Apple or Google Play but from the domestic market. Not ‘txtr, surprisingly, but what is loosely termed the Tolino Alliance. 

The Tolino Alliance

The Alliance is a consortium of German publishing interests acting together to promote ereading in Germany. By summer 2013 they were estimated to have grabbed 34% of the German ebook market.

The Tolino Alliance comprise Thalia, WeltBild, Hugendubel, Buecher, Deutsche Telecom and Bertelsmann, who together are selling the Tolino e-reader and tablet across some 1500 retail stores. No surprise it did rather well then, despite some dismissive reports from industry commentators.

Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader typified the reaction to the Tolino Shine: “The Shine is going to bring generic ereaders to a whole new level,” he said, adding “Let me know when Tolino has a plan to sell ebooks better than Amazon, because that is the point at which they might start winning. At this point all I can see is that they are making the same hardware mistake as everyone else.”

Three months later Nate wrote a post headed, “Tolino Shine eReader Has Great Success in First 100 Days.”

The Tolino Alliance goes from strength to strength. Check out their website - In October they launched their tablet range, and in December their latest ebook store.

Nate talks about “winning” and “selling ebooks better than Amazon”, which somewhat misses the point. The thing is, it's not about winners and losers. It’s about market share and selling books. Not selling books better than Amazon.

The Tolino Alliance is devastating Amazon market share in Germany. Yes, Amazon are still the biggest, but for the Tolino Alliance to not just barge Apple to one side but to eat up a third of the market so quickly is pretty phenomenal, and perhaps a sign of things to come, not just in Germany but globally.

But Bild ebooks is of interest for other reasons too. We talk a lot about market fragmentation on our blog, and this new German ebook site is a fine example. For starters it’s run by a newspaper – the German tabloid Bild, which immediately gives it high visibility. Especially given Bild already has a digital music subscription service, and also sells video.

It’s powered by Buecher, part of Holtzbrinck. Holtzbrinck, who also own Macmillan, are one of the Big Five publishers. (They're also behind the Skoobe ebook subscription service, which long predates the US getting subscription ebooks).

Oh, and Bertelsmann, one of the companies in the Tolino Alliance? They own Random House Penguin, the world’s biggest publisher.

Next time you read how the Big Five has its head in the sand about ebooks, bear that in mind.

“Glocalization” and “market fragmentation”

"Glocalization" and "market fragmentation" are terms you’ll often see on the EBUK blog

"Glocalization" is a combination of "globalization" and "local". It's a measure of how multinational companies go about their business in foreign lands. Do they stick out like a sore thumb or seamlessly interact with the local environment?

"Market fragmentation" means sales are going to more and more smaller retailers instead of one or two monolithic giants.

Let's look at those new retailers in Germany.  Those local German stores start off with an inbuilt advantage over foreign competition, even if the foreigners got there first–so they are already fragmenting the market. 

And sometimes the new kids on the block gain an advantage over the established players, because they don’t carry the inevitable baggage that accumulates with age.

Many Germans haven’t forgiven Amazon for originally launching the Kindle in Germany without even bothering to translate the packaging and manual (bad glocalization), and Amazon has had more than its fair share of bad press in Germany everything from tax avoidance to Nazis in the workplace – and it has continuing issues with employee strikes.

But thanks to the early start with the Kindle, Amazon has held its own in the ebook market.

So far.

But as market fragmentation accelerates, and glocalizing stores like Google Play, now 44 ebook stores worldwide, and – to a lesser extent – Kobo, compete with the other international players like ‘txtr (18 international ebook stores, plus partner stores) and Sony (seven global stores) and the many hundreds of new White Label stores that WILL materialize worldwide through 2014, it’s essential indies are in distribution networks that will get you everywhere.

It cannot be stressed strongly enough that – while Amazon, Apple, B&N and Kobo are your primary retailers in the US and UK markets, you need to be in a wider distribution network than just the current front-runners.

Can small presses and indies get into the Tolino Alliance stores? Given those links with trad publishers you might be thinking there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell. But Anne R. Allen has managed it. (Again, all credit goes to my publisher...Anne.) 

Here’s Anne in Buecher and in Thalia. And yes, she’s in Weltbid, Hugendubel, Club Bertelsmann too. Of course if Germans don’t want to buy Anne’s books from an Alliance store they can choose from other local German stores like ‘txtr, Ciando and Libreka (there are others!). And then of course Anne’s in Apple Germany, Amazon Germany, Kobo Germany, Sony Germany and even Nook Germany.

Obviously they will be focussed on German language titles, but don’t let that put you off. Click on this link to Anne in the Ciando store and check out what language the site is in. Yes, it’s in English. If you check out the Bild site they have a top 100 English-language ebook chart link prominently displayed on the home page.

Surprise, surprise, it’s all big name trad pubbed titles – but there’s a reason these big names got to be so big – it’s because they are available everywhere. And in the new world of global ebooks they will just get bigger and bigger, while indies can get left behind.

That’s why it’s so important to Go Global In 2014.

How many ebook stores will you have available in in Germany for 2014? The ebook market is just beginning to take off globally. Take five minutes out of your busy schedule to check if your titles are available in Germany and other key markets around the world. And if they are not, set an hour aside to do something about it.

To help you find your titles we’re making available our EBUK Global Footprint template 

This is an Excel sheet which lists the English-language ebook sites (or ebook sites accessible through an English language portal) in the countries to which we send newsletters.

Just drop us an email at info.ebookbargainsuk.com with “Footprint” in the subject bar.
We’ll send you a Global Footprint spreadsheet template that you can copy for each of your titles. We update these regularly, as new retailers emerge or as we increase our promo newsletter reach to new areas.

It will help you keep track not only of where you are (you may be pleasantly surprised to find you’re in more places than you thought) but all importantly where you are not.

For example, if you are in Amazon India through KDP and in India’s Flipkart store through Smashwords you are probably confident you have the burgeoning Indian ebook market sown up pat. But as you’ll see from our Global Footprint template you could also be selling ebooks in Landmark, Pothi, Infibeam (oh, go on then, here’s Anne in Infibeam), W. H. Smith India, Google Play India, Crossword, Newshunt and Rockstand, to name but a few.

Indians can also buy from stores like Smashwords, Diesel, Blio, All-Romance/Omni-Lit, Scribd and similar retailers that don't have territorial payment or download restrictions.

How many options are you offering Indian readers to buy your ebooks?

Why is it so important to be in all these smaller stores? Because being there is half the battle.

And that applies equally whether you are selling in the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India or tiny Malta.

As we mentioned above, while Amazon will surcharge a Maltese reader wanting to buy your book, good old Nook have a Windows 8 option for Malta. And for those Maltese not using a Windows 8 app they can buy from their local Malta ebook store. Just one more of the many new retailers that launched since we were last here.

Among the other new arrivals Google Play opened ebook stores in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. In case you’re wondering,

Amazon has Kindle stores in none of these countries, and surcharges readers in all of them, so your Kindle-exclusive ebook is not going to be very appealing.

The Internet is called the "world wide web" for a reason. It is truly global. Your ebooks can be read, and talked about, pretty much anywhere on the planet. The question is, can they be bought?

Here’s the thing. When your many Amazon readers love your books and tell all their friends, many of those friends will be on other platforms. When those friends look on their favourite ebook site – which may be one of those unpronounceable ones you’ve never heard of – and find you're not there – you've just lost a sale.

You've also lost a sale from their proudly Australian friend down under who only buys from local Aussie stores like Dymocks, Booktopia or QBD.

And their Aunt Mabel who was given a smartphone for Christmas with a Blio app pre-installed and has no intention of learning how to use something new.

And when they wax lyrical to their relatives in Munich about your book and said relatives go to Thalia or Hugendugel and find it's not there for their treasured Tolino ereader you've lost another sale.

And when that first reader's cousin in Calcutta with the Infibeam Pi2 goes to buy your book from Infibeam, and their brother with the Akaash checks on Rockstand but your title is only on Amazon India and Flipkart...guess what?

Anne mentioned in her intro some of the unexpected places she’s had sales recently. It’s a safe bet these sales weren’t from casual browsers who happened to spot her books. They came from word of mouth recommendation over the 'Net – almost certainly from the ton of books Anne’s been selling on good old Amazon.

Yes, Amazon is by far Anne’s biggest selling platform, but the international market is where her new customers are coming from. Readers who don’t use Amazon probably heard about Anne’s books from readers who do.

Readers will find you. But only if you are there.

For indies wanting to sell globally it cannot be stressed strongly enough - if you are not in a retailer's catalogue you have no chance of selling there. Loyal customers to that store won't go setting up a new account somewhere else just for you. They will buy someone else's book instead.

Being there is half the battle.

What about you, Scriveners? Are you as gobsmacked by all this as I am? Who knew there were that many retailers? Or that indies can get into the big wholesaler catalogues? I'd never heard of a "phablet" before, had you? (I "corrected" it as  typo the first time, then realized it was a real thing.) I find this all very exciting, but also a bit overwhelming...how about you? 

Go Global In 2014!

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just another promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.

You can contact EBUK here. Their subscriber list is still relatively small compared to something like Bookbub or Ereader News Today, but they reach 14 countries – they just added Japan this week – plus they're inexpensive, offer lots of options and have the advantage of not being an Amazon affiliate. That means they don't get any money from Amazon or other retailers, so they can promo whatever books they like – even freebies –  on whatever sites are available, because they don't get a commission from any retailer.

Besides, they promote indie bookstores instead of the big four retailers.This week they're promoting Vromans in Pasadena in the US newsletter. (And our own Ruth Harris has a nice spotlight.) 

They will be rolling out more newsletters soon, including to the Middle East and Scandinavia, and each newsletter features links only to retailers available in that country /region. Same titles, but thirteen different sets of links. 

Jay Hounsell says "Advertisers should expect results in bingo numbers, not telephone numbers. For this reason we keep our fees very low and it's Buy One get One Free." Unlike other newsletters they offer a variety of listing options - One Day, Something For The Weekend, Featured Title of the Week, Author Spotlight, Series Showcase, etc.

Book of the Week

After reading all this, I'm kind of embarrassed to say my new ebook is only available at Amazon, but it will be on other platforms soon. If you do have a Kindle or Kindle app it's only $2.99 right now...Anne

My new comedy, The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CA

Who shot Morgan le Fay? 

The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is a comedy about a six-decade friendship between an aging rock star and her childhood best friend—the owner of a seedy diner in Central Maine, who might be the only person who can figure out who's been trying to kill the rock diva. 

"This isn't just "funny women's fiction for the Woodstock generation," it's a canny cultural observation that brings to mind two of my favorite British authors, Barbara Pym and Penelope Fitzgerald. Yes, the humor is there and sometimes spew-your-cocktail funny, but the character depth and plot fulfillment go so far beyond the humor. I felt I knew these people. I felt I was there."...Debra Eve of "The Later Bloomer Blog."

"In a panoramic view sweeping three decades, Anne Allen's "The Lady of Lakewood Diner" integrates the suppression of the fifties into the growing counter-culture of the sixties and the anti-war protesters of the seventies, all through the lens of the young women who live it. Folk music, the U. S. moon landing, JFK, The Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, the birth of Rock n' Roll, racial unrest, feminism, lesbian and gay consciousness, improvisational theater, Woodstock, the struggle of Vietnam veterans returning home and growing political unrest of U.S. military involvement all become part of the young women's lives as they mature....A cultural masterpiece for the discerning reader."...Kathleen Keena, author of Adolescent Depression Outside/In

Opportunity Alerts

Dog Lovers! Here's one for you: AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB FICTION WRITING CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one short story, maximum 2,000 words. Entries can be on any subject, but must feature a dog. (But it can't talk) Prizes $500, $240, $100. Deadline January 31.

CRAZYHORSE PRIZES IN FICTION, NONFICTION, POETRY $20 fee (includes subscription). This is a biggie, well worth the fee. This venerable literary magazine has published the likes of John Updike, Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. Winners in each category receive $2,000 and publication. Submit up to 25 pages of prose or three poems. All entries considered for publication. Submissions accepted in the month of January only.

2014 BETHLEHEM WRITERS ROUNDTABLE SHORT STORY AWARD $10 ENTRY FEE. Submit 2,000 words or fewer on the theme of "Food Stories". In addition to a $200 prize, the first place winner's story will be considered for print publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group's next anthology or as a featured story in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. Their last anthology won Indie Book Awards for Best Anthology and Best Short Fiction. Second place will receive $100 + publication in the BWG Writers Roundtable. Deadline January 15th.

Geist Literary Postcard Contest Canada's favourite writing contest is back! Enter now for your chance at literary fame and fortune! How it works: Send a story and a postcard—the relationship can be as strong or as tangential as you like, so long as there is a clear connection between the story and the image. If you’re not sure where to look for a postcard, you can make your own or visit Wikimedia Commons. The story can be fiction or non-fiction; maximum length is 500 words. For a classic example of a postcard story, read "How to Survive in the Woods" or "Death in the Family." Prizes of $500, $250, and $100 CND $20 fee. Deadline February 1st.

Writers over 40: Midlife Collage is a literary website that runs a creative nonfiction essay contest every month with progressive cash prizes. Stories must be true. Approximately 800 words. All submissions are entered into a $50 Weekly Contest. If a writer wins a $50 Weekly Contest, the writer may submit a Never-Published Story into their next $100 Contest. More info at Midlife Collage contest page.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Is Writing a Hobby or a Profession for You? Why Either Path Can be a Good Choice.

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to become a successfully published author, it's a good idea to consider first what that means to you.

What is your personal definition of success?

Do you want to be a professional writer or a hobbyist?

Before you burst into high dudgeon and say, "Of course I'm a professional! I've finished a whole novel, published a bunch of short stories and won three awards," consider this quote from publishing superstar Hugh Howey:

"Of…hobbyist writers, thousands now make a full-time living from their work. Thousands more pay a huge chunk of their bills from their hobby. These are part time artists who have thousands of fans and hear from readers all over the world. Some of them go on to get offers from agents and publishers and score major deals. All because they are doing something they love."

Writing is one of the best hobbies in the world. It costs almost nothing and keeps your mind alive and active and you get to create worlds—how cool is that?

And in the digital age, you can share that writing with lots of people. The online writing community is huge. On fan fiction sites or sites like Wattpad and Readwave, you can get fans and develop a following. None of it will cost you a thing. 

You can also buy a pre-made cover, trade edits with a friend and upload to Smashwords or self-publish with Amazon, Nook and/or Kobo and be a published author and it won't cost you much more.

And you might even make money. In the electronic age, the line between writing as a hobby and writing as a profession has blurred. To quote Hugh again: 

"There are tens of thousands of authors out there now making $20 or $100 a month doing what they would happily do for nothing."

Some writers, like Hugh, have made the leap from hobby to profession in a spectacular way.

And even though he's now a superstar trad-pubbed author with a big movie deal, Hugh still writes fan fiction. He's written a story, Peace in Amber set in Vonnegut's world of Billy Pilgrim and the Trafalmadorians through Amazon's fan fiction platform. It hasn't even been released yet, but it's already #1 in Kindle Worlds.

If you're not clear on your goals, I recommend this great post Dan Holloway posted on Jane Friedman's blog this week: What Do You Want from Your Writing in 2014? Dan provides exercises for clarifying your writing goals and suggests things like writing a letter to your future self. 

If you decide that for now your goal is to remain a hobbyist, that doesn't mean you can't be a brilliant writer—or that you can't be published.  

As Hugh says, this is the best time ever to be a writer, whether you choose to treat writing as a hobby or a profession.

But hobbyists can be easily ripped off, hurt, or manipulated if they're not clear on their goals.

Overpriced vanity publishers and predatory publishing contracts can turn a fun hobby into a nightmare for the amateur who doesn't know the ropes.

And lots of them get their feelings hurt and even quit writing because they make the mistake of querying agents and publishers.

Every day I see laments in forums and writing groups from writers who feel wounded when an agent or publisher rejects a book solely on the basis that it has already been self-published.

But the rejection doesn't reflect the quality of the book. It comes because they've flagged themselves as amateurs. A professional presents new material and doesn't mention failed projects.

Agents are only interested in working with professionals who can turn out product quickly on a regular schedule, make timely edits, show up for personal appearances, and dedicate a good deal of time to following directives from the marketing department.

This is the reality: no self-published book is going to be taken on by an agent or traditional publisher unless it's phenomenally successful. And for that kind of success, authors need to produce multiple titles and promote them in a well-planned, professional way.

How does the industry define "phenomenally successful"? According to agent Joanna Volpe, "Today, to turn publisher’s heads, that needs to be...50,000 copies in one month, at a $2.99 price point or higher."

Most smaller publishers won't be interested either. They'd like to be your first choice, not your last resort, and they don't want to deal with a book that's already been in the marketplace and failed to sell.

The truth is, you can't make the leap from self-publishing to traditional unless you become a superstar on your own—and then you may not want to make the switch.

Do note: plenty of self-published authors are just as professional as traditionally-published ones, so choosing to self-publish does not mean you've chosen to be a hobbyist.

But don't knock writing as a hobby. There's nothing wrong with hanging on to amateur status.

Keep in mind that Olympic athletes are amateurs.

What defines the hobbyist writer?

1) Hobbyists write for the joy of writing.

If money comes, it's gravythe way winning a money prize at the local club tournament is for a golfer.

2) They can write in any genre.

Or they can happily cross genreswith no worries about the marketplace. They can write memoirs, zombipocalyptic dystopians, Christian romance, and Star Trek fan fiction and still use the same name, or have 47 pen names if that's more fun.

3) They don't need to spend money on advertising or publicity.

Or, if they're fabulously wealthy, they can spend tons and hire a marketing team, even if they only have one book, written in Klingon, with an projected audience of two hundred readers. Hobbyists don't need to look at the bottom line.

4) They don't need expensive websites. 

And they don't have to obsess about branding or platform or spend any more time on social media than is enjoyable. In fact, they can ignore social media entirely and leave their manuscripts on random bus seats, sail them into crowds as paper airplanes, or write them on birch bark and make them into canoes. There is no wrong way.

5) They can give themselves a big old launch party, no matter the cost.

Or they can splurge on a conference or book fair even if it means spending more money than they'll ever make on the book, because parties and conferences are a blast and this is something they do for pleasure.

6) They can write only one book.

Some hobbyists spend decades working on a memoir and never write another word. It's very tough to make money on just one book, but if it's your hobby, that doesn't matter.

7) Hobbyists no longer have to publish with an expensive vanity press.

In the pre-digital age, vanity presses were the only way most hobbyists could get published. These presses charged thousands of dollars to put a few copies of your book into print. But now, even paper copies can be self-published cheaply through CreateSpace, BookBaby, Lulu, or Lightning Source.

Unfortunately, some of the Big 5 Houses have teamed up with the old vanity presses and offer overpriced packages that exploit the uninformed writer's "overnight success" dreams. A smart hobbyist doesn't go there.

They learn the ropes of self-publishing or use reliable, inexpensive self e-publishing assistants like Smashwords, BookBaby, Lulu, and Draft2Digital. These self-publishing companies offer inexpensive services and even keep track of your royalties for you. (Lots of professionals use them too. Smashwords is one of the best ways to get a book into the global marketplace. More on that next week in a guest post from the EBookBargainsUK guys on "Going Global in 2014".)

8) They don't waste agents' time (or their own) on the heartbreaking query-go-round.

A query is a job application for long-term employment in the publishing industry. Don't go there if you don't want the job.

At best, you'll get discouraged by the rejections, and at worst, you could end up signing a cut-throat contract that takes a piece of your rights in perpetuity or hobbles you with a "non-compete clause" that bans you from ever publishing books in your genre, even if the publisher or agent rejects it.

In these days when it's the hybrid author, not the traditionally published author who makes the most money, a non-professional writer who goes the traditional route could end up losing the possibility of making money from a book any time in the future (or even your children's future.)

What defines a professional writer?

We can't say a professional writer must make a living solely from writing, because many of our most lauded literary icons make a living teaching or have some other day job.

"Professionalism" means entering an industry and treating your writing as a business.

Not everybody wants to do that. Don't let anybody push you into it if you're not ready or you don't feel the need. The fact you're not "going pro" doesn't devalue the quality of your work—and it doesn't mean you shouldn't work to make your writing the very best it can be.

Remember those Olympians!

But you should be aware of these things:

  • If your goal is a traditional publishing career, you need to educate yourself in the industry and learn how to present yourself as a professional…and take care of yourself like a professional. (see #12 below) 
  • If you have long-term plans to make writing your primary career, whether you publish with the Big 5, go with a small press, or self-publish, you're more likely to succeed if you approach it as a business. 

That means writing becomes the main focus of your work life, even if you have another job.

How do you become a professional?

No, you don't need an MFA (in fact that won't impress many people in the industry.) But you do need to educate yourself about the business side of publishing.

Here are some things to do if you plan to be a professional author:

1) Learn the basics of the industry: the jargon, the names of big players, important conferences, etc. Read Publishers Lunch and Galley Cat, and subscribe to major industry blogs. Pay attention to what sells and what's overdone and on the way out. Join professional organizations in your genre, like SCBWI and RWA.

2) Keep up with the latest technology, as well as social media and contemporary marketing techniques. Start following business news, especially in the tech industries.

3) Treat your writing as a job.
Show up for work on a regular schedule. Treat it as your #1 job, even if you have others.

4) Lose the magical thinking.
As Porter Anderson says, just lighting a candle to St. Amanda the Hocking won't sell your work. Don't expect your first novel be discovered in a slushpile if you've never published anything outside of the church newsletter. Don't expect a 600,000 word zombie romance time-travel western based on your psilocybin hallucinations that time in Baja to be a million-seller, no matter how many times you Tweet about it.

5) Always think in terms of "Return On Investment". Estimate the income you can realistically expect to make, and factor in ROI when you plan your marketing strategy. Don't pay for expensive marketing until you've got enough titles out there to bring in the income to pay for them. (Remember what I said about launch parties.)

6) Have a career plan. Know where you want to be in a year, and five years, and ten—and budget your time (and money) accordingly. Make getting successfully published and establishing yourself as an author your #1 goal. That means submitting to magazines and contests and getting known in your genre in order to build a solid writing resume.

7) Develop a personal "brand" and platform (yes, platform still matters), and use social media regularly but with care. Keep religion and politics out of your online activity unless it is related to your writing. (For instance if you write Christian romance, it's fine to talk about religion—in a respectful way—or if you write about LGBT issues, promoting marriage equality is good. But don't share every far-right or far-left petition that lands in your inbox: you're eliminating half the market.)

8) Know your genre and realize you'll be expected to stick to it. Some authors do write in multiple genres, but fans don't like it when you switch. If you do, you may have to use a pen name and double your platform building.

9) Pay for professionals to edit, design and format your book unless you know how to do these things on a professional level yourself—or find a traditional publisher.

10) Don't try to publish a first novel or a single title in a genre. Have at least two finished and more in the pipeline before you launch a career. Yes, writers have launched careers with a single book, but writing the second one is tough while you're busy promoting the first—just ask Jay Asher, who got a fierce case of writers block after his first YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why became a #1 NYT Bestseller.

11) Learn the basics of journalism and content writing. Even if you prefer to write fiction, you'll need to write tons of articles, web content, and blogposts. A professional novelist is expected to write lots of nonfiction.

12) Learn something about contract law or have an intellectual property expert on speed dial. (See #8 above.)

13) Know there's no such thing as "overnight success."


But if you don't choose to be a professional, don't let anybody put you down for it. Does a golfer have to join the PGA tour to make playing the game worthwhile?

Maybe we over-value "professionalism" these days.

Consider this quote from Alexandra A. Palmer, who blogs as "The Happy Amateur"

"I want to engage in life as a favorite pastime, not a profession. I want to remain… a novice who is hungry for knowledge and humble at the same time. I want to be a constant devotee and admirer of life. In other words, I want to be an amateur."

Or this from UK businessman Nick Glaves

"Sometimes a happy amateur can get the better of the over-competitive, self-obsessed and grumpy professional."

I fear I'm a grumpy professional sometimes, and there are things I miss about being a happy amateur. But I was an amateur at a time when that meant nobody but a handful of writer friends and the 50 people who subscribed to an obscure literary magazine would read my work. These days, a hobbyist writer can reach a worldwide audience.

And who's to say that Klingon birch-bark canoe novel based on your 'shroom hallucinations won't be the next Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

That would be some nice gravy.

UPDATE: Jami Gold has written a fantastic post expanding on this subject. She's also made a significant improvement. Instead of using the word "hobbyist", which I got from Hugh Howey, she calls the first path "Artist-Authors" and the second "Professional-Authors". I think the change helps clarify my point, because it avoids the stigma the word "hobby" carries for some people. 


What about you, Scriveners? Are you a grumpy professional or a happy amateur? Or are you a professional who's also having loads of fun?Any other suggestions for people who prefer to keep their amateur status? 

Next Week: The EBUK blokes are back, this time telling us how to "Go Global in 2014". They say this is the year to get your work into the international marketplace. 

Books of the Week

All the Camilla Randall Mysteries are on sale this month! 

No Place Like Home 
99c on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon CA, and Nook

"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles

The Camilla Randall Mysteries 
Boxed Set: 33c per book!!

99c on Amazon US, NOOK, and now £0.77 on Amazon UK and 99c CDN on Amazon CA . $1.03 on Amazon OZ and 49 rupees on Amazon IN, and the equivalent on all Amazon stores.

"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess

Opportunity Alerts

FREE HOUSES FOR WRITERS.  Yes, you read that right. With its "Write A House" project, the city of Detroit is giving away houses to writers. If you're a promising writer, AND a responsible homeowner (who's handy with tools) and want to be a proud member of the Motor City intelligentia, check out their website for details. Applicants will be asked to submit a writing sample, a resume, and a brief description of why they think they should receive the Write-a-House award. Applications taken starting in Spring 2014.

Dog Lovers! Here's one for you: AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB FICTION WRITING CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one short story, maximum 2,000 words. Entries can be on any subject, but must feature a dog. (But it can't talk) Prizes $500, $240, $100. Deadline January 31.

CRAZYHORSE PRIZES IN FICTION, NONFICTION, POETRY $20 fee (includes subscription). This is a biggie, well worth the fee. This venerable literary magazine has published the likes of John Updike, Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. Winners in each category receive $2,000 and publication. Submit up to 25 pages of prose or three poems. All entries considered for publication. Submissions accepted in the month of January only.

2014 BETHLEHEM WRITERS ROUNDTABLE SHORT STORY AWARD $10 ENTRY FEE. Submit 2,000 words or fewer on the theme of "Food Stories". In addition to a $200 prize, the first place winner's story will be considered for print publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group's next anthology or as a featured story in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. Their last anthology won Indie Book Awards for Best Anthology and Best Short Fiction. Second place will receive $100 + publication in the BWG Writers Roundtable. Deadline January 15th.

Geist Literary Postcard Contest Canada's favourite writing contest is back! Enter now for your chance at literary fame and fortune! How it works: Send a story and a postcard—the relationship can be as strong or as tangential as you like, so long as there is a clear connection between the story and the image. If you’re not sure where to look for a postcard, you can make your own or visit Wikimedia Commons. The story can be fiction or non-fiction; maximum length is 500 words. For a classic example of a postcard story, read "How to Survive in the Woods" or "Death in the Family." Prizes of $500, $250, and $100 CND $20 fee. Deadline February 1st.

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