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Cross Posts from my writer’s BlogBRStrickland.Blogspot.com

Sites Now Live

I am very excited to announce that my Official Author and my Official Art sites are both now live on WordPress.com. You can find my Author site at bryanstricklandauthor.wordpress.com for all the latest news and updates regarding my literary works. My Art site can be found at bryanstricklandartist.wordpress.com for recent updated portraits, concept pieces, and sculptures.

Having an official home for both aspects for the first time is an interesting experience. Up till now, I’ve used my Facebook page to share my art and my writing updates, including posts from this blog. Where that has worked to a point, it’s like renting an apartment. It is never really yours; you can’t change the space, you can’t paint the walls or…take one out. Facebook as a platform is about connecting friends and, these days, making you prey for marketers. As such, it’s time to move out.

Come check out my pages, subscribe for updates, and share my new home. Ciao!

The Lonely Road

In my last post, I discussed the choice between focusing upon seeking Agent representation versus the search for publishing directly at the source. Today, I am going to consider a more substantial question: traditional publishing vs self-publishing:

Traditional Publishing
The path of Traditional Publishing has been fairly set for a long time. Changes in the industry have certainly stirred things up from time to time, but the larger game still holds today. Money. The big five publishing companies choose titles not unlike the film industry. Big blockbusters and heavy hitters provide the revenue stream while smaller or untested works often eek by on the backs of these bigger sellers. The opportunity for taking chances on untested concepts or authors is certainly there, but largely limited.

These companies clearly have a sizable budget for marketing, but like the blockbuster hits vs indie film analogy, that marketing budget is going to be aimed at the titles likely to draw sales. Meaning, if a new author signs with one of these companies, the author is largely responsible for the marketing of their own book. Not overly beneficial if the author felt they were going to be able to farm that job out to the marketing team. Additionally, it seems to me that the marketing done in these early days largely relies upon the brand of the publisher, more than the content of the book. As if to say, “Look everyone, I have a book coming out soon. It was accepted by this big company, so you know it’s good.”

Soon is also a relative term as the process of publication from initial acceptance to final publication can take up to two years. There are many steps in traditional publishing, which include; editing – not just proofreading editing that focuses upon correcting grammar and structure, but marketing editing where larger aspects of the content of the book can be tweaked to fit market standards. Cover creation is usually done by artists chosen by the company and created with marketing concepts in mind, leaving little say to the author.

Indeed, the traditional publication process takes the author’s individual work and makes it into a collaborative effort owned in part, or in whole, by the company. The company usually gets the last say in development, placement, pricing, etc. The biggest advantage of these sizable companies really is getting physical copies of a book into the brick and mortar books stores nation wide. From there, the response and sales are largely in fate’s hands.

In the early days of self-publishing, the options were largely through vanity publications. These publication runs were paid for directly by the author, allowing them to bypass the traditional publication companies. The moniker vanity basically sums up the sentiment of this early evolution. Another option would have been publication through some niche publicists, smaller companies that published to suit specific interests; poetry compilations or craft how-to books for instance.

These days, however, self-publication has taken a new form in the publication world: E-books and Print-on-Demand (POD). A dizzying, digital deluge of some fifty-thousand e-books alone are said to be produced each year. Many, if not most, bypass the normal publication steps; i.e. agent vetting, editorial review and revision, marketing tweaks, etc. It seems that everyone with a notion can publish their work with very little difficulty though Amazon and other such companies, delivered straight to the reader.

Additionally, the advent of on demand printing means that publishers no longer need to publish in sizable runs in order to stock book store shelves nation, or even world, wide. Now, any customer can go online, order the book of their choosing from a list, and have a freshly printed copy shipped to their home in relatively no time at all. Online sales is really the focus of self-publishing, leaving brick and mortar bookstores able to order their own copies if prompted. However, there are no sizable runs to stock their shelves like with the traditional publishers. The marketing of the work is also left almost entirely to the author to handle which can be a challenge if they are unknown in larger circles.

This unparalleled simplicity and availability in publishing provides its own issues. Since anyone can now publish their works, largely without the traditional screening and editing process, the quality of this deluge has been called into question. Indeed, just lacking the very brand of the big companies can cause some readers to dismiss the work outright. Also, a title becoming lost in this annual flood of self-published books, all presented largely equivalently by these publishing services, is a serious concern.

So, to the question at hand. 

Should one chose to go the traditional route or the self-publishing route? Well, as with all things, it comes down to what fits the need best. For me, the idea of taking my book and placing it into the hands of others to be tweaked and augmented, decided over and parted out over a period of years is less appealing. Especially if I am going to be responsible the marketing in either instance. It seems to me that it is easier to market something when you have something to market, beyond the promise of brand backing in an eventual release.

The route of self-publishing can be considered a lonely road as the author becomes responsible for everything from editing to cover creation, marketing, publicizing, etc. The success or failure of the piece rests almost entirely in the hands of the writer, which can be both empowering and paralyzing. But, being a do it yourself kind of person, the lonely road feels more welcoming to me than the alternative. To that end, I have decided to pursue the self-publication route for my book. Stay tuned for updates, including the publication of my official Author’s site coming soon.

To Agent or Not to Agent?

I’ve discovered a few things in my quest for publication. One thing I’ve discovered is that there are some publishers that will not accept unsolicited manuscripts, period. These publishers require an agent representing the author to directly reach out and provide the submission. I’m sure that this provides the publisher with valuable benefits as they do not have to sift through hundreds, if not more, of submissions, paying interns and entry staff to find the diamond in the ruff. Having a trusted name in the form of a known agent telling them everything they need to know about the manuscript up front is by far cheaper and simpler.

However, there are still publishers who will accept unsolicited manuscripts, allowing the author to submit their work directly. Sometimes the open callings are only for a short period of time to limit the likely deluge, but this still offers the author direct access without the need of a representative. This being the case, it is fair to ask, Should I find an agent to represent me or go at it alone? 

As with most things, there is no easy answer here. The benefits an agent can provide to an author, particularly a new author, cannot be understated. Having someone reputable supporting your work and using their connections to push you to the front of the line, so to speak, can be invaluable. Also, as mentioned above, there are plenty of publishers that will only accept submission from an agent.

Because of these benefits, it is easy to think that having an agent is a sure bet to become published. Sadly this is not the case. I have encountered a number of personal accounts during my online research where even published authors have had no success getting some of their work published under literary agent representation. I’ve also heard it said that having an agent who doesn’t really believe in the project is almost worse than not having an agent at all. In most cases, having an agent is really like stacking the deck in you favor, but doing so does not guarantee success.

We also have to consider the economy of effort. Finding an agent takes time; researching, querying, waiting for responses…it all adds up. I’ve spent the last several months undertaking this process myself, and as I’ve said in a previous post, I’m still searching for the right agent. All this time and effort to find an agent to represent my work and, in essence, even if I found one I would be no closer to actual publication. However, with an agent to represent my work, my chances would likely improve.

So, what is the best approach to successful publication; is it best to find an agent first or take one’s chances at unsolicited publication? As so much of this business is based upon the subjective tastes of the recipient, it seems there is no singular formula for success. Really more of a “right time, right place” or “lighting strikes” kind of luck to it. If your work reaches the right hands in the unsolicited inbox at a publishing company and they make a case for it to the editor; boom, you’re in. If the right agent finds your work compelling and intriguing and wants to represent you, they can use their special contacts and get your work in front the right editor. That way too, you’re in.

Is one way better than the other? If it ends in publication, either way is equally successful and in either case it seems to come down to that “right time and place” luck. My only recommendation at this point is to try both. Why limit the potential to get your manuscript into the right hands by favoring one approach over another. I have received responses from publishers regarding my submissions, showing that they do read and consider these unsolicited queries. Again, it seems to just be a matter of luck and timing. And those, we seldom have any control over. As any good statistician might tell you, if you want to improve your odds you need to increase your exposure.

One last word on the matter. Either way, it is like fishing. It takes time to get a bite, even if your bait is good. Which brings us to the topic of the next blog post: traditional publication vs self-punishing in the modern era. Stay tuned….

The Dreaded Synopsis

So, it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. As it has a tendency to, life got a bit crazy over the past few weeks. Between hectic schedules, car maintenance gone awry, and the close of the tax season; I’ve been a little drawn and quartered. But, I am still here and I am still chasing my dream; full publication of my book. 

I know that I’ve not said much about it here, apart from it being finally complete and chronicling the process of getting it into the right hands. In part that is because I am still looking for those right hands and I do not wish to compromise my options in publication. However, I will share something that I have learned along the way: If you want an Agent to read the full manuscript of your book, you need a synopsis. I know, I know, the dreaded synopsis. But, I will tell you, I have queried over a dozen agents and not one to date has requested to read the full book. I get that the premise might not be for everyone and certainly an agent’s tastes are largely subjective. But not one even asked to read the whole thing before turning it down? That tells me there is something lacking in my approach. 

Now, as they are all busy business people, no one has the time to sit down and spell out what that thing might be. So, time to think like an agent. When someone sends their query letter and first few pages, this is like a sales person making a cold call. It is all in the approach, and if that approach is lacking, then the person on the other end is not going to stay on the line any longer than necessary. 

Knowing that my approach is clearly lacking, I have come to realize that what is missing is the intermediary blurb. No one wants to take the time to read the full version of every book that crosses their desk. That would amount to hundreds of pages worth of reading with every query to find that there is nothing of interest there for them. Also, you can’t get a real feel for the story, or the players involved, from the first few pages either. All you are really left with then is a paragraph or two in a query letter to hook the agent’s interest and this is just, clearly, not enough. 

What they need is the cliff notes, the boiled down version, a quick hit that tells them what the book contains. Enter, the synopsis. More than just a checklist of events, this brief document needs to convey the complexity of the characters; who they are, what they want, how they set out to achieve their goals. Beyond that, it also needs to encapsulate the emotion of the story; the depths of pain, the heights of joy, and the whole range in between. All within in a page or two. Impossible? I would tend to agree. 

Having completed my first novel of 140k+ words, I can honestly say that I have found the prospect of writing two pages or less about that book almost more daunting than writing the book itself. How does one go about boiling down the substance, the subtexts, the nuance, the broad strokes, etc. in such a minute blurb? Well, having no idea of my own, I searched online and found some helpful articles on just what makes the synopsis tick. None were as helpful to me as Jane Friedman’s article on How to Write a Novel Synopsis.

Having the blueprints or recipe, of course, does not a synopsis make. That takes time, effort, and more than a little hair pulling. You already know your characters; their ins and outs, their wants and desires. You know your setting and the conflicts that arise. Now all that is left is to do it justice in 500-1000 words. This is still no easy task; balancing the story, the characters, the emotion, the highlights, and the nuance. It has to be an accurate representation of your book, paint it too much one way or another and the prospective agent may get the wrong impression. Finding that balance can be an immeasurable challenge to some, like myself.

When it is all said an done, however, giving yourself every tool, every advantage, in the struggle to be noticed and chosen in a sea of publication-seeking candidates is worth it. When all the prospective agents have to go on is the quick hit hello and a moment’s glance, give them all you can. Remember, your story is worth it. You are worth it. 

My Writer’s Journey

Everyone has a story to tell. So many lives intertwined through time and circumstance, so many funny stories, heartbreaks, and struggles waiting to be shared. We all have something to say, something to contribute, and something to share. And in today’s world; with social media, e-publishing, and micro-publishing, there are so many ways for us to share openly. The world has become a sea of voices, a forest of talking heads. Some more popular or sought after than others, but each as important.

For me, starting out with a fresh manuscript, a hope to be published, and the desire to be widely accepted as the writer I am, this sea is intimidating. If we all have a voice, if everyone is talking, who out there is looking to hear what I have to say? What chance do I have? I suppose this self-defeating aspect is partly why it took so long to complete my tale. That negative voice inside that whispers just loud enough to stifle the enthusiasm to write, that questions the validity in just the right way for doubt to grow. We all have that self-doubt, it is part of being a person.

What I have found through years of struggling to trust myself, to finish the piece for the sake of the story, and to give my characters the voice they deserve, is that it boils down to probability. I have seen an inspirational poster many times that depicts an empty basketball court, stating “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Who can argue with that? If you don’t try, you won’t succeed; if you don’t ask, the answer will always be “no”. Taking the chance doesn’t mean you will always succeed, no one makes 100% of the shots they take. But, if you want the chance at succeeding, then you have to take the shot.

So, here we are. I have overcome my self-doubt and endeavored to complete my novel. Years of writing, editing, second guessing, and polishing have yielded a finished product. And now the true test begins: Marketing that story. Do I believe in myself enough to convince someone else to take a chance on me? Do I have the wherewithal to weather the storm of rejections, the ‘thanks for submitting, but…’ responses, and the ‘no thank you’ letters?

I do. I do because I know that if I stop now, the answer will always be ‘no thank you’. I know that I don’t need all of my query submissions to be answered with an emphatic “yes!” I just need one. One yes to over come years of self-doubt, shadowy fears of failure, and a hundred ‘no thank you’ responses. Just one person to believe in me, to take a chance on the world that I have created and arduously honed. And though I don’t yet know who that one person will be; that one agent who loves my characters as much as I do, that one publisher who delights in the body of the draft, or the editor who gently corrects the narrative when it strays.

But whoever that person is, or those persons are, I just want to say, hello. I will meet you one day. I am going to shake your hand, and thank you for believing in me and my tale. I look forward to that day. Until then, I will continue to strive to find you. I will send query submission after submission, sift through rejection after rejection until we do. Because, if I stop now, that day will not come. My story would end here. And that, is not going to happen.