Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I have heard from multiple publishers the same line: They enjoyed my submission, but it isn't marketable. I recently had a smaller publisher say that I wrote an entertaining story but it isn't worthy of critical acclaim and that more or less makes me a “B List Author” and they are unable to publish my work. My question is, when is it time to hang up the hat? Do I stop trying to submit my work (it's a sci-fi and there are not many sci-fi publishers)? Do I try to self publish? Is self publishing ever a good idea? Do I give up on writing altogether? (I am not a fan of being labeled a "B List Author," but I digress.)

First of all, I wouldn’t be a fan of being called a “B List Author” either. It seems like an outrageous thing for a publisher to tell anyone. But keep in mind, it’s just one obviously jaded editor on one day.

Remember that publishers only make money when they purchase manuscripts that they think they can sell. Period. They aren’t going to take on a project they personally like but they don’t think can make money. So, their feedback is helpful for you.

That said, I would follow up with a letter to the editor thanking them for the time and input and asking what would have made the book more marketable? Tell them you are looking to rework the manuscript and would appreciate any feedback they can offer. Some won’t reply, but some likely will. Take their comments to heart and as a gift to you to help improve your story.

Years ago, I had a book proposal that was rejected by about 20 publishers. I reworked it, taking their comments and reasons for rejection into account to make the book better, and then finally sold it.

As far as “hanging up your hat,” I really can’t say. However, remember that if the book isn’t marketable to a traditional publisher who has a marketing team that knows your market, it won’t likely be any more marketable if it’s self-published.

And, it’ll only be more difficult to sell to consumers since (1) you don’t have the marketing experience that a publisher has, (2) you don’t have the contacts they have in bookstores, (3) you may not know the market as well as they do.

For all authors—traditionally published or self-published—the key is producing stories that entertain readers, and then connecting with those readers so that they discover you. If you’re convinced you have done the first and that you can do the second all on your own, then perhaps self-publishing will work. Otherwise, rework your story so that it’s marketable, or move on to another project or career.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What is the key to emotionally captivating characters?

Emotion is evoked through empathy (feeling the emotions along with the character) and sympathy (feeling emotions for a character). We vicariously feel emotions when we identify with the deep questions that the character is asking of themselves or the world. You need to find a connection point between your character and readers’ lives.

My friend author Robert Dugoni says characters should be empathetic or sympathetic, but not pathetic. So, strive to give your character a deep struggle but not one that’s melodramatic or overplayed.

We might find it hard to identify with losing a limb, but all of us know what it’s like to feel helpless, to understand what it means to have to overcome hardship.

I suggest giving your character an emotional wound we all share, a question we all ask, or a struggle we all find ourselves engaged in. For example, the loss of a loved one, or the question about whether their choices (and lives) ultimately matter, and the struggle to find meaning or forgiveness.

Well-rounded characters also have:
  • A variety of status relationships (high and low) with other characters.
  • A quirk, foible, special skill or emblem that makes them unique.
  • Deep desires that give them intention in each scene—an intention that readers will care about.

We want readers to worry about the character, so ask what the stakes are. For example, what’s at stake for the guy to overcome the loss of his arm? Or what’s at stake for the mom to deal with the loss of a child.

Trust your gut. If it’s telling you that your character is too cliché, then work at making him more distinctive and give him a universal quest—to love and be loved, to find freedom or happiness or acceptance or adventure. Readers can relate to those goals and make them more emotionally involved.

Monday, March 3, 2014

International Thriller Writers On-line Craft School

I am honored that I was asked to be one of the teachers for the International Thriller Writers On-line Craft School. This is a great opportunity for any writer, especially a thriller writer, to take advantage of...without having to go all the way to New York City for Thrillerfest.

Check it out: International Thriller Writers On-line Craft School