Crafting A Path to Selling Fiction
Guest Post by Miriam Pia
After hearing from Deb Wunder, a professional writer who found her voice in non-fiction,
I can now bring you a Guest Post by Miriam Pia who crafted her own path through side-channels and specialty magazines as the world shifted to Electronic Publication.
This is the 20th post in a series about Marketing Fiction in a Changing World. Here is the index to all of those posts.
Many of the previous posts are about that changing world, about building an audience online, about connecting with that audience using various media based tools.
In this series, I have also noted many of the non-systematic changes publishing has undergone, in the haphazard way that Disruption works in a human-based-culture.
Draw a line from the print-only publishing world, to our own Indie publishers who work E-book only or E-book and Print on Demand (sometimes plus audiobook) only, but never distribute through brick-and-mortar stores. Look at how Amazon has disrupted Mass Market Publishing, and how Mass Market has fought back.
Distribution is the industry that is undergoing massive disruption of the kind we looked at last week. The whole publishing industry was founded on Distribution from wholesaler to retailer. That structure has been disrupted. Understand how and why, and craft your own path into best seller status.
Today's distribution model is completely changed, yet (as with the post on Depicting Disruption last week) entirely the same. It is just a different technology being used to do the same task: gather and connect with a Readership.
So here is our Guest, Miriam Pia describing her path.
Jacqueline Lichtenberg asked me to blog a little bit about my adventures with publishing so far.
Well, it has been what I myself consider a little bizarre.
Like most writers I started out as a child who learned literacy. My mother encouraged me to write in English daily. Unlike August 2010 to 8 April 2016, I was living in a nation where English is the main language. By the time I was 12 or 13 years old I read a lot for recreation as well as having been a good girl who read what the teachers told me to read. At some point, that means I was getting decent to excellent American educational publisher materials, and "Big 6" publishing house hits from bookstores and libraries. Like most writers, back then I did not think about it that way.
My first adult awareness of publishers was a little unusual. My boyfriend's parents ran a writing business from the family's living room and that guy's youngest brother used to write short fiction and submit them to magazines. I lived with my boyfriend and was exposed to a lot of what went on, considering, but of course it was nothing like it was for the parents running the business or the young guy submitting fiction stories.
Mostly the parents expressed that they had to copy write for corporations to earn an entire living and the youngest would periodically report having received another rejection from another magazine. He either said that he stuck the rejection slips onto a nail in his bedroom wall or else he said that Steven King used to do that. For some reason I don't even remember which.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend felt even weirder than he had before he brought in a girlfriend who would also write a novel while hanging around at home. The clackety clack had already been getting to him, and this only made it ...harder to quit smoking.
A few years later I had a first publication as a professional thanks to an older woman I met as a senior work colleague at a university. She had a go at starting her own newsletter and included me as one of her published authors. She paid a penny per word for a poem and a short story. I was so happy to go pro!
It was more years later before I got anywhere with professional writing again, and for a while my best luck was to get a free copy of magazine. There were several years when pagan magazines helped me. A British magazine Comhairle Cairdre and another called Time Between Times published nonfiction and fiction. I barely remember what happened that made it work, but I can tell you that I succeeded in not offending some English lady who ran a magazine or publishing company that controlled multiple magazines.
Another couple of years later, I felt I was having a tough time making any headway. I managed to communicate online with some pagans enough that one lady took pity on me and let have some book reviews for Pangaia. Goddess forgive me if it was actually Pagan Dawn magazine and not Pangaia. It was like 15 years ago. Some editor took pity on me. Sorry but that's really how it was. I was glad. I had fun writing a few book reviews for a reasonably reputable magazine.
The next breakthrough I had was when I submitted a short story to the Iliad Press Summer Art Awards. They gave my story an Honorable Mention. While not a first prize and no cash, in this case a small press told me that my work was not horribly substandard which was really nice but not as nice as a prize with money involved would have been. That was in like 2001 or 2002.
An Indianapolis paper NuVo accepted a couple of letters to the editor from me, but I never developed the rapport to write for pay with them. NuVo is a newspaper that markets the entertainment industry to college students and yuppies in Indianapolis. I did go to the same cafe as a woman who wore more dresses and succeeded in getting that same publication to pay her to write for them about food. They mostly use staff writers and the first years earned about $13K for the year back at the beginning of the 21st century. Most of them have degrees and majored in either communications or journalism but the organization has some wiggle room for the one who gets there some other way.
The International Society of Poetry publishes poetry anthologies and runs contests. They serve a market that is predominantly to support amateurs in having a good time, but they also send out some rewards for work they think is particularly good and once or twice each year they run a contest in which the top prize is tens of thousands of dollars and a relatively serious publishing contract for like a book of poetry or something.
They published a few of my pieces in books and online. They gave me 2 Editor's Choice Awards, but again, those awards did not include me winning money. One award was in 2003 but the other was in 2008. They have a mixed reputation because, as mentioned above they crank out large anthologies which mainly serve amateurs as a way to have a good time and share some work with family and friends or to enjoy having a bunch of work by other people who were not known before. They publish a lot of free verse poetry . All of mine that they used were just 23 lines of free verse.
After that, my big breakthrough with publishers was another surprise. It was corporate clients, who hired me to ghostwrite. That meant I wrote 'blind'.
Here's what I mean. In the magazine industry most editors hire people who have read the magazine for a while and have really learned the style. Writing that way is 'with sight'. Blind is like with blind dates . I just had no idea. Magazine publishers say this is horrible practice but there it was: corporate publishers wanted this and I went ahead and did it.
Thanks to that, I got paid more than I had before as a writer but instead of an artist marketing my own creations I was writing something for someone else. I had bid on the project so I had some idea. What I liked best about it was that it mimicked good relationships with editors and managing editors at magazines and publishing companies in that I knew I was hired so I wrote and they paid me. Especially when I needed to earn money that worked much better for me than spending God knows how long trying to get Fussy Editor 73 to decide she liked me or my article pitch enough to look at it after I wrote it and then maybe their magazine would use it and send me $20 half a year later.
Instead, I was hired and I wrote and they paid me for what I wrote. That is what happens with traditional magazines and publishing companies after Fussy Editor 73 has concluded that you or I are good as gold but until then, good luck (sarcasm intended). I would still like to befriend Fussy Editor 73 and the others, but wow, it can be tough.
So I wrote for people who don't know me and who's names I have mostly forgotten, to write and get paid. The vast majority were corporations which means that my work appeared all over the place but usually as part of a corporate blog or on a website and without my name appearing anywhere. I don't even know where my work appeared - which is hilarious in some ways and like a fun house mirror for my ego as a professional writer.
Here is a partial client list. A few of the places I do remember are Closeout Explosion, BookRags, Latham Shindler's short stories. There were also Jermaine Davis and Alan Northcott and Victor Ogazi. There was EastBiz and an Atlanta Real Estate Blog and years later Allmand and Amp and Void Visuals. The reality of writing professionally, in this way, has made some of what should be perfectly clear a bit of a blur, mainly because I was home working from my living room or typing away in a cafe most of the times that I did that work. There have been other clients in the near and distant past. Some may be offended to be mentioned, whereas others might be proud to be.
The most frequent project types with the corporate clients were articles. Here is where we find a big difference between the way I worked and some norms in the industry. What I did is both good and bad. It is bad in that the majority of professional writers would have specialized much more by now. For example: 'I'm a fashion article writer for such n such set of magazines based in NYC.' Or 'I do grant proposals'. Instead, I am still in the professional stage of exploration, and have tried a number of different types of writing projects and continue to try more.
The good part about this, is that, over time, there are some signs of specialization anyways and thanks to the flexibility of some of the freelance services I have more freedom to go ahead and try to develop my skills in new areas within professional writing.
During the second decade of the New Millennium I finally had another type of breakthrough, in that I finally got a publication by book publishers with myself as the real and official author, rather than having ghostwritten a book or part of a book for a corporate or private client.
As most people can imagine I was delighted to get published by a regular press rather than being self-published. It is true that personal connections helped in that a guy I found online who was a playmate of my older brother's, 30 years ago, helped get a publisher he knew to not ignore my submission. Wilder Publications was able to publish as a POD a self-help / intro to philosophy booklet that I released and wow, do they want me to sell more copies above cost. I agree but that gets into another part of the job.
Here is my self-help book:
Before then, I had a profound personal drama with an Indian publisher Alethia. I was thrilled because they accepted a novel that I had written in 2006 and again it was not self-publishing and I was glad.
They got so far as to design the cover but they did not release the novel according to the schedule that appeared in the contract so instead of that novel coming out with a price in Rupees from the publisher based in Pune, India it came back to me.
A few years later, that novel found release through SBPRA which is an author subsidized deal. I need to find the readers and sell lots more copies but it is nice that there is a nice professionally produced version of this novel for sale. That one got released in 2015.
Way back in the previous decade there was other excitement, hope, drama then nothing because Artemis publishing told me they were interested in a work of academic philosophy that I had produced. My understanding is that they collapsed and were not able to follow through, and in 2016 I still have not found another publisher for that work, but have updated and modified that work. I would rather not self-publish it because of personal limitations. I just think self-publishing works better for certain kinds of people. It requires certain skills, only some of which I have.
This year, SBPRA
is working with me to release a science fiction novel under a pen name.
Whether sensible or insane, I threw a male pen name onto that one for a couple of simple reasons. Even though both Jacqueline Lichtenberg and I are women who write science fiction, it is possible, most SF fans are young men. There are older men and women who like it, but the market is still young men.
What I meant by the male pen name was for young men to just see some other guy's name on the cover of some book and for them to just go for it even if for some weird reason they feel like they should go for something that some other man did. Due to the nature of my own ego, my real name is listed in the acknowledgements. Some will be offended but others will love the little trick.
The pen name is Robert Fitzgerald Jr. by the way, and the first novel on which that name appears is The Children of Loki which is about interstellar mercenaries. That man known as ‘Rock’ could portray the novel’s main character – Kiel Bronson, but to portray Gezka FaucMerz would rely on graphic arts and other special effects magic. There are other male and female characters who are more normal. What I am getting at is fully explained whenever one reads the novel.
I have had some comedic fantasies about using a male actor to portray Robert Fitzgerald Jr. at book signings so the men can find the guy who wrote the novel they like. Anyway, I may have created something I had not anticipated trying that, but that novel is due to be released later this year. I mean, I am the author so I would do the actual signing but uh – well, I’d try to make a rather amusing game of it when the young men show up to meet RFJ and there I am at the table with a pile of books and some guy dressed up as RFJ, so they’ll not be disappointed somehow.
That's what I have experienced with book publishing so far.
Meanwhile, I have periodically tried to get a literary agent and I would like traditional publishing company contracts. I will continue. I have had one agent, associated with SBPRA for a year several years ago.
At this point, that is what has happened to me. I feel I still have a lot to learn.