Friday, July 2, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Sean Cummings

Urban fantasy author Sean Cummings joins us today to talk about writing in the current economy. How will the current economic climate affect you? Sean's here to tell us his perspective.

It’s A Strange Time To Be An Author

When Joanne emailed me and asked if I’d like to do a guest post, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d write about. The second book in my Valerie Stevens series, FUNERAL PALLOR, hits bookstores in the UK and Europe on Canada Day, and I’m currently working on revisions for a young adult urban fantasy for an agent. I’m also writing a spin-off novel from FUNERAL PALLOR, entitled TIM REAPER. Between writing, blogging, tweeting my butt off on Twitter and planning a cool giveaway for July 1st, it’s a wonder I have time to think about the big picture – the publishing industry in general.

It’s a strange time to be an author. 2010 saw the release of the iPad, a price war erupt over the retail price of eBook readers, a self-published novel on Amazon hit the big time and a BIG way, there’s still no consensus on a universal format for eBooks let alone a standard pricing formula, electronic versions of books are being pirated on a number of sites and there’s even talk of agents charging fees to authors because the agenting biz ain’t exactly as profitable as it used to be.

The global recession threw the publishing industry into something resembling chaos and the unpredictable nature of how new technologies and the Internet will impact books and bookselling has a lot of publishers and agents holding off on signing new authors because nobody has a crystal ball and everyone wants a guarantee of a sure thing. As an author, I’m more than a bit worried about what the future holds and while I have two books out with an award winning independent publisher and I’m grateful for that, I have my own aspirations and dreams when it comes to doing this whole authoring thing full time.

I’m still without a literary agent, although I think I’ll be signing with one if my third round of revisions are agreeable, and my books aren’t on bookshelves in North America (other than McNally Robinson and that’s because I’m supplying them with copies). I’m still learning as I go and I still deal with a considerable amount of personal angst as to whether or not I’m ever going to make it as an author. So all this begs the question: what’s an author to do given the hurdles we all face toward publication?

My advice (take it with a grain of salt because I’m still learning the ropes) for authors of genre fiction is this: forget about getting published in Canada because the Canadian publishing scene is the near exclusive domain for literary fiction. (Personally, I think Canadian publishers should get their heads out of their butts and start publishing stuff that actually sells more than a thousand copies, namely romance, sci-fi, fantasy, steam punk, horror, thrillers, etc, but that’s a blog posting for another day.)

Sean’s Advice – For What It’s Worth:

1) I think you should probably hold off on going the self-publishing route if your goal is to land an agent and have your book in bookstores all over North America because most self-published stuff is utter crap and the crap that’s out there has pretty much stigmatized the few good self-published books in existence. It’s a numbers game, too. If you self-publish, you’re going to have to shell out some big bucks to get product placement on Amazon, for example, and you still have to deal with marketing, giveaways, trying to build your brand, the list goes on.

2) E-Books are one place to look – particularly if you write erotic romance and there are a handful of good eBook publishers (Samhain, LooseID, Ravenous Romance, Carina Press, etc) out there where you can actually make some decent money. Bear in mind, though: eBooks still make up about five percent of the total market in North America, and most people still don’t own eBook readers.

3) Your best bet is to do as I’m doing: hone your craft, write a killer book, write a mind-blowingly awesome query letter and find an agent. The agent I’m doing revisions with on my young adult urban fantasy has really opened my eyes as to how I can strengthen the quality of my writing and also, how I can make my book more saleable. Her revision notes consistently remind me about who will be reading my book and why I need to tap into qualities that a reader can relate to.

4) Get your butt on Twitter and network network network! I’ve been on Twitter for a year now and through the people I’m following, I’ve been kept up to date on publishing trends. I learn about new agents who are looking for clients. I’ve formed relationships with bestselling authors who’ve referred me to their agents. I’ve found a top selling author who read my first novel SHADE FRIGHT and provided a lovely endorsement which graces the front cover. It is an amazing resource and I highly recommend it.

5) Make friends with book bloggers because they have the social networks you need to tap into if you want to sell your book. They do reviews, host giveaways, and more importantly, they’re your market. They act as a remarkable barometer as to whether your book might actually sell.

So, there you have it – my observations good and bad. I’m forty-two; it took me twenty years to get published. There is no fast track to publishing success, but if you stick to it, hone your craft and for heaven’s sake – keep an eye on the trends in the publishing industry, you might find yourself signing a contract and collaborating with an editor one day.

I wish I could offer more advice, but I’m not an expert and even the real experts have no idea how new technologies are going to impact the industry. Who knows if eBooks will take off? Will the existing money-losing model of book distribution be replaced with Print on Demand machines at your local book store? I really haven’t a clue so all I can say is just keep writing, keep your chin up and keep dreaming. Cast a wide net, get your book out to as many agents as possible and don’t be afraid to throw yourself out to the universe because the universe is a pretty big place and someone out there is bound to like a book you’ve written.

Sean is a comic book geek of the highest order, and self-described nerd. He is the author of the urban fantasy book, Shade Fright; and his newest novel, Funeral Pallor, was released on July 1st. His interests include speculative and science fiction, the borg, cats with extra toes, east Indian cuisine, and quality sci-fi movies and television. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada.

Enter to win your own copy of Shade Fright and Funeral Pallor! Points will be awarded for: commenting (1), tweeting (1), blogging (1), and facebooking (1) about this contest! Winners will be selected using Randomizer - so be sure to leave your email address in your comment! Good luck!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Sean, how do you like being an Honorary Prairie Dog. :)

I gotta tell you, though... That pic on your post is totally grossing me out. I write inspirational historical romances and I'm having a hard time getting past your photo.

However, I wish you all the best with your writing.

Sean Cummings said...

Hi Anita - well it's a zombified version of me and Funeral Pallor is about zombie prevention. :) Thanks for the good wishes!

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the info about Twitter. I'm a big fan of facebook but it isn't the best way for strangers to connect with one another because of the personal info that can sometimes show up. Twitter might be interesting so long as it doesn't take too much time away from writing.

How much time do you think an author would need to spend on twitter to network effectively?

Janet said...

Welcome to The Prairies, Sean - a little quiet on this holiday weekend (most everyone I know in Canada has taken the day off to make it a long weekend - or they're just putting in the hours). Seems to be quiet throughout the Blogosphere!

Great advice - for both the pubbed and unpubbed. I'm networking as much as I can (while holding down a Day Job and trying to maintain my blog on a daily basis - oh yeah, squeeze writing in there, too). Actually just signed up for Twitter this am - dipping the toe (haven't started searching for friends there, yet). I find the time needed for everything is amazing - and I guess the biggest piece of advice I need to adhere to is "Just Write".

Good luck with your writing, sales, and with the agent revisions!

Sean Cummings said...

Hi Stephanie - Twitter can be addictive, but it's fun to network. I usually spend about twenty minutes a day connecting with people, but I also read other people's postings a few times a day. A great thing about twitter from the publishing end are where agents and publishers post links to their own blog posts or trends in the industry. You just need to spend a bit of time on Twitter and figure out what works for you.

Sean Cummings said...

Hi Janet - good luck finding the time to network - it's a challenge to balance author promotion with writing, but the web is a fact of life of writers and social networking is key in getting your name out there. :)

Helena said...

Welcome to the Prairie Chicks, Sean. It's great to get another writer's perspective on writing, editing, and publishing.

New things have always sent the publishing industry into a tizzy. When paperbacks came to the forefront, people predicted the end of hardcover editions. On the contrary, more choice emerged at all levels -- writers, publishers, and purchasers of books. In the movie business, DVD's were going to mean the demise of cinemas, etc. etc.

Having an array of options doesn't necessarily shrink the market, perhaps it means the opposite. Your advice to focus on writing the best book you can is confirmed by the best editors and agents in the business -- we heard it at Surrey last fall.

Another worry I have in this whole area of marketing is the number of independent book stores that have gone under since the ownership of the big chains became so concentrated. Another bit the dust this week (Book and Briar in Regina, do I have the correct sp? Or is it Brier? Don't know if it is supposed to refer to smoking or the thistle!!) This reduced exposure for writers at the local level. If people want to buy online, they can do it from the independents. My personal preference in this is to support the local businesses, they usually give the better service as well.

You have chosen to post about what will continue to be a topic of great fascination, so I appreciate what you had to say today. (Was dodging electrical storms for part of the day and I live in an old house, so didn't have my computer on. Sorry my comment is late in the day.)

Blogging is the extent of my networking to date, so my point total will be even worse than my record of predicting the FIFA World Cup results! Still, I would love to read your work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your advice Sean, I am planning to try the Twitter thing when I get a chance. For someone who is humble about what you know, you have some pretty good suggestions and grasp of the situation, I think.
_Carrie Ann

Sean Cummings said...

Hi Helena:

I lament the loss of independent bookstores like the one in Regina, and I suspect more and more will continue to close because they just can't compete with big box stores and online venues like Amazon. There's also huge challenges facing independent publishers because of the whole antiquated distribution model where the publisher has to pay for the books that didn't sell to be shipped back to them. I honestly haven't a clue what's going to happen next and the same goes for those in the industry - there's a wait and see approach that I keep hearing about, but wait for what? Nobody has a crystal ball and I think the big fear is that authors are going to go the self-publishing route.