Getting — and Staying Published

All writers who want to share their work with the world want to be published. Some want to self-publish while others would prefer to have the backing — and distribution — of a publishing house.

At the titular panel at WorldCon 2019, George Sandison, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rachel Winterbottom, E.C. Ambrose, and Michelle Sagara talked about the realities of traditional publishing — when you’re not an A-list author.

The Top 3 Ways Writers Make It Hard On Themselves When Getting Published

  1. Quitting their dayjob
    • A publishing contract is great! It’s a huge amount of money. But, look at it as a year’s salary (or 5 years). There is no guarantee your next book will find the same market — or that your current book will perform as well as the publishers hope.

      If you get an advance, there are shockingly few authors who ever “earn out” — or make back for the publishing house — what the publishing house gave them.

      Many authors see their advances getting smaller and smaller, until they reflect what the market will give.
  2. Switching markets
    • Of course it’s always best to write what you’re most passionate about. If you’re forcing the writing, it usually comes through to the readers as a lack-lustre book.

      That said, if you change genres and markets, it can be like building your audience from scratch. Except, without the “like”. you ARE building your audience from scratch.
  3. Getting the wrong agent
    • If you get a contract before you have an agent, it is usually very easy to find an agent. It is always wise to get an agent or contract lawyer to look over your publishing contract, but unless the lawyer specializes in book sales, the agent will likely be better versed in industry standards — what’s expected and what’s not.

      That said, make sure you know if the agent you’re working with is invested in your career, or just here to help you through this single contract. Misunderstandings can leave your career in shambles.

Is It Three Strikes and You’re Out?

Usually, what it looks like from the writers’ end is…

  1. Your first novel? Floats on clouds of hope and optimism — and the traditional publisher advance reflects this.
  2. Your second novel? Well, they like to give writers second chances.
  3. Your third novel? Good luck.

The reality is that publishers need to sell a writer and their voice, not necessarily just one genre. Plenty of authors have more than one type of story in them.

Typically, writers query agents, and agents submit manuscripts to acquiring editors. Occasionally, some publishing houses will be open to unagented submissions. But, once you’ve sold a book or two, a working-relationship can evolve.

Acquiring Editors Can Work For An Author

Editors that select works for publication at publishing houses can have working relationships as close as an agent with a given writer.

And, of course, the more senior the editor, the more clout they have when it comes to deciding what gets published.

Here are 4 ways they can help a writer.

  1. They can go to bat for your novel, versus the publishing board, even if the numbers aren’t there. (i.e. We messed up marketing last time, but this writer is too good!)
  2. Publishers can pitch ideas internally, and bring in the author they want to write it.
  3. Even after a slump, if your pitch is keen enough, they can get you an offer.
  4. Some have success changing by-lines, to re-introduce authors to new audiences.

But sometimes? You need to walk away.

Reasons to find a new publisher

  1. Sometimes, a new publisher is what you need after a slump. The old one has already used all it’s connections and marketing techniques. It’s time to try something new.
  2. Sometimes, the editor you’ve worked with leaves and no one has the passion for the manuscripts they left behind.

But not everything relies on the publisher. There’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re ready for the market.

Ways To Set Yourself Up For Success

  1. Network
    Make friends in the industry. Hit conventions (if you have the time/energy but no money — volunteer! Or, you can just keep reading my notes).

    But, be sure you’re making a good impression when you do. Everyone knows somebody here, so be friendly but respectful of boundaries.
  2. Be prepared
    Rejection stinks. Seeing friends (or frenemies) succeed while your novel is passed over hurts — whether you’re at the “hoping for an agent” level, “hoping to publish” level, or the “hoping for awards” stage.

    Know that you aren’t alone. Know what you need to keep your passion from burning out.

    Read! Write! Ignore jealousy. Or acknowledge it — and then move on.
  3. Don’t give up the day job
    Even if you do get a huge contract, or tons of steady ones, fear of bills and falling behind can put too much pressure on you, and take away the love of the writing. Remember to take care of yourself.

    Age doesn’t matter, but financial security can affect your approach.
  4. Remember what you’re comparing
    When you see social media feeds and think about all the ways you don’t measure up? You’re comparing their highlight reels to your blooper reel. Take a break if you need to. Step away if you need to.

Audience Questions

  1. How does maternity/health leaves of absences affect your career?

    If you’re writing on a schedule, know this:
    1. Publishing schedules are flexible – but…
    2. Write first — as much as possible, if the leave is scheduled, and drop everything you can to make it happen.

    If you don’t have a schedule, it’s up to you.
  2. Should I self-publish?

    The more niche your book it, the more successful it could be as a self-published book.
  3. What does it take to succeed as a writer?

    Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about the writing.

    Can you write a sentence? How about a paragraph? A chapter? Can you plot?

    There is a huge cliff between a great book and a ho-hum, not bad book. Most are ho-hum.

The Importance of Kindness

These days, people prioritize a lot of things. Truth. Honesty. Maximizing share holder wealth. But there is something that seems undervalued — often described as a tool of the weak by those who are so inclined. But they’re wrong.

Today, I’m talking about the importance of kindness.

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Corinne Duyvis, Geoff Ryman, Claire Light, and Vanessa Rose Phin shared their thoughts about the true importance of kindness.

What is Kindness?

Kindness is the feeling of compassion channeled into action. But what is kind for one person, can be cruel for another, because we don’t all have the same wants or desires. When torn between the needs of multiple people and groups, the kindest thing to do is to balance the different wants and needs.

Kindness is a way of being — and death is the limit. It can be stepping up when someone else steps out of line to hurt someone. It can be discouraging unkindness and penalizing it.

Kindness is also said to be the ‘Culture of Hufflepuff’ (me? I’m a proud Hufflepuff). In JK Rowling’s magic school from the Harry Potter books, the students are split into four houses: the ambitious, insular Slytherin, the bookworm-ish Ravenclaws, the brave, heroic Gryffindor, and the friendly, loyal Hufflepuffs. Hufflepuffs do their best to be kind and not to judge others.

Is Kindness A Weakness?

Some see kindness as a luxury.

But, even in math, the purest of sciences, we find it can be the right solution. In game theory? Those who start off with a kindness, end up exchanging tit-for-tat, and find themselves winners. Those who are all out for themselves, find no one on their side.

Kindness opens you up to risk. To rejection.

To be kind is the bravest act of all.

Manners Versus Kindness

Politeness is what is expected of people. So-called “PC” terms are just requiring people to treat minority groups with the same level of manners that they’ve traditionally been expected to perform toward the majority group, or the groups in power.

But, as anyone in the South can tell you, politeness and manners can be weaponized — used to show someone they are lesser and/or don’t fit in. Think about the ubiquitous “bless your little heart” and all the judgmental condescension inherent within those 4 little words.

With manners, in most polite societies, you can demand tolerance. But tolerating something is inherently judgmental. Kindness is embracing people of all kinds.

In many cultures, one cannot demand a kindness. “Kindness” that is expected is an obligation or a type of manners. Kindness is a gift that must be freely offered.

Comfort Versus Kindness

The core of both is empathy. I’m sure all my readers out there will be encouraged by the recent studies saying that readers of fiction score higher on empathy tests.

Just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you need to attack someone. If you see they’re suffering, even when they’re in the wrong, you can get a lot of mileage out of recognizing their pain, but helping them understand the opposing viewpoint.

A comfort for someone is — a comfort zone, or a safe place. Somewhere they can relax and let their guard down.

Comforting someone — is an act to help someone (often, through an act of kindness), when they cannot be somewhere that is safe. When you can’t keep the stressors away.

Fairness Versus Kindness

What is fair or good is not always kind. Taxes paying to feed millions, to pave roads, to fund hospitals is a good thing. But, it’s not a kindness to those who have to pay up the money, and it’s not a kindness from those who pay when the payment is institutionalized. 

People often treat accessibility for disabled individuals as a kindness that should be thanked — an act deserving of gratitude. This attitude is ablelist — when ramps grant access to everyone, while stairs are selective, why are ramps not the default? When someone has a legitimate need, versus a mere desire, providing it should be seen more as an act of fairness or even an obligation, rather than as a kindness.

Trigger warnings or content notes are often derided as coddling people. Why? Movies have had them for decades. Letting people decide what they’re up for or not is just allowing them to make informed decisions. Using them can be an act of kindness if freely given. If begrudgingly given, because the site the media is on requires it, then it’s not a kindness, just a fair expectation.

And kindness isn’t coddling. Often, correcting someone’s mistake before it gets too big IS a kindness. As a writer, feedback that requires tons of work is a bigger kindness than encouraging publication before the manuscript is ready.

Kindness To Oneself

Society can be cruel. People who take care of themselves are often seen as prideful or arrogant. They’re told they’re self centered.

In many societies, women especially are expected to self-sacrifice for their families, while men are supposed to throw themselves into their work, to earn their value.

Meanwhile, people who don’t take care of themselves for whatever reasons are seen as lazy and just plain bad people. Unworthy of help or support or love.

There are many ways you can be kind to yourself.

  • Eating well — both nutritiously and treats in healthy measures
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Taking care of your body (exercise, medication, etc)
  • Being honest with yourself – and your own limits
  • Nurturing healthy relationships and healing/ridding yourself of unhealthy ones 

There are many ways to be good, to be just. There are multitudes of ways to be kind.

Be the kindness you wish to see in the world.

Portrayals of Mental Health In Genre Fiction

Portrayals of people with mental illnesses have come a long way. From variety to accuracy to ending stereotypes.

In the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Alasdair Stuart, Penny Jones, Dr. Glyn Morgan, and Devin Madson, discussed who gets it right… and who gets it wrong.

Why Are There More Portrayals of Mental Illness In Genre Fiction Today?

  1. People are more comfortable discussing it
  2. Nearly everyone will suffer at some point in their lives, even if it’s just temporary stress
  3. People are being rewarded for opening the discussion
  4. The audience is welcoming

What Informed Older Portrayals of Mental Illness?

  1. Mental illness as a reaction to trauma was accepted — it had an external reason.
    • Rod Serling of the original Twilight Zone’s work was often based on his WW2 experience, characters named after friends he’d lost
  2. Murderers and manic pixies were given mental illness as reasons people could do horrific things

Who Got It Wrong?

Some illnesses are hard to make palatable, like schizophrenia. Some are misused or misrepresented like psychopaths. And some, start off strong, but then stumble and disappoint us.

  1. Sheldon from The Big Bang — seems like an autistic stereotype, but the writers claim it’s not, so claim they’re not negatively portraying autism.
  2. Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy — set him up in the first movie as a great autistic/Aspergers portrayal, but then turned him into mere comic relief.
  3. Fat Thor — Fans debate if he was a punchline or still worthy
  4. ‘Magical lab technician’ – CSI/House/etc – using their illness as a plot device

Who Got It Right?

  1. City in the Middle of the Nights – Charlie Jane Anders – PTSD
  2. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal – Anxiety
  3. City of Lies – Sam Hawke – OCD
  4. Station Blue – (Audio Drama) – Bipolar
  5. The Far Meridian – (Audio Drama)
  6. Bright Sessions – (Audio Drama) – Empathy
  7. Gone – (Audio Drama) – Running low on meds
  8. Sleeping Beauties – Stephen King
  9. Hereditary – Psychosis
  10. American Horror Story
  11. Vast Horizon – PTSD
  12. Brooklyn 99
  13. The Crow Garden
  14. Final Approach
  15. Shutter Island
  16. Planetfall – Emma Neuman
  17. Emma Donahue

What Do People Want To See More Of?

  1. More.
  2. Aspergers
  3. Better portrayals of early treatment — before things hit crisis level
  4. Trauma — is resolved too easily (unless it’s a character quirk)
  5. Relapse NOT seen as a failure, just as a thing that happens and has to be taken care of.
  6. Postpartum depression

Mental Illnesses As A Sign Of Their Time

Some illnesses are triggered by environmental factors. Some are diagnosed based on limited information. The panel discussed how mental illnesses used to be designated and what might the future hold for humanity?

  1. Different diagnoses — we used to think epilepsy was a mental illness. Now we can treat it. As we learn more about the root causes, hopefully, we can help more people live better lives.
  2. Isolation

What about you?

Where do you see genre fiction getting mental illness right? Where do you see them messing up big time?

What do you want to see more of?

And what do you think the future will hold?


Authors and Social Media: Friends or Foe?

Authors get a lot of mixed advice when it comes to social media. Let’s talk about different author approaches and tips and tricks to make social media work for you. In this post, I’m combining notes from two panels.

From the titular panel, Francesca T. Barbini, Gareth Powell, and Georgina Kamsika discussed if social media was our friend… or our foe.

And in Social Media: Tips and Tricks, Brenda Noiseux, Stevie Finegan, Lydia Gittens, and Pablo Defendini shared their experience with us.

Top 3 Things To Know About Social Media

  1. Commit to the platform you’re most comfortable with
    • If you try to do them all — have a team
  2. Pay attention to what you’re looking for: connection or sales
  3. Be yourself. Be authentic.

Should You Have Separate Private and Public Accounts?

As I’ve mentioned before, and with all things writer-related: it depends.

If you have a business or family that you want to keep out of the public eye, it’s a good strategy.

Otherwise, it’s up to personal preference.

Some people don’t, some people can’t — their public life IS their private life, and some people… are glad to know where the split is.

You should look at your profile and see if what appeals to your current friends/followers is what appeals to the audience you want to build for your work. If they’re in alignment, you’re good. If not? You might want to consider a split.

Best Methods To Engage Others

  • Honesty
  • Offering help online
  • Feeding positivity
  • Twitter polls
  • Acting like it’s your own personal pub — and just chat with people
  • Quote and tag people who are talking about you!
  • Note: Things like #authorLifts (twitter hashtags, where you tag people and have a big follow loop thing) are going to find you writers — not readers. It’s a way to game your account. Most of the people on that hashtag are looking for followers, not friends. But! Many writers are also readers. Look to find your community and friends.

How Many Hashtags Should I Use?

On Instagram? Around 30

On Twitter? Around 3

On Tumblr? Only the 1st 5 show.

5 Tips To Make Twitter More Useful

  1. A tweet stays in a feed for 17 minutes on average. Tweeting every 2 hours (assuming you have something to share) is recommended. More before a big event to up your traction. People see more tweets from those they’ve interacted with recently.
  2. Pin a tweet with your intro/link to your latest book
  3. When you have more than 1000 followers, you’ll need to start making twitter lists to keep track of groups.
    • Suggested lists: Close friends, worklist, local emergency feeds, mentors (people you look up to), BookTwitter, Etc
  4. Curate your list. You don’t have to follow people who don’t interest you, who you don’t think will be interested in your product, your book, your blog. Don’t hesitate to block someone who is trolling you or thinks twitter is a dating site.
  5. NOTE: people don’t know if you’ve muted them. So, if you don’t want to hear them, but don’t want to offend them, this might be the way to go.

3 Facebook Tips

  1. Facebook Ads are more effective than boosts — but pick your target demographic carefully.
  2. Personal pages currently have better reach than author pages, even if you reach the friend limit, people can still follow you.
  3. Facebook is actively throttling crossposts – especially to Patreon or WordPress – it might be best to put the link in the first comment.

7 Newsletter Tips

[If you’ve been following, you might know I both hate email AND have an email newsletter. Some of you are reading this FROM your email!]

A mailing list is something that you own. If Facebook shuts down tomorrow, you could still get your content and news to these followers. ListServes, Myspace, even G+ are gone. Internet communities are never guaranteed.

  1. Email can be time-consuming but can be very rewarding
  2. Try not to send news more than once a month or quarter
  3. Email viewers skew to an older demographic
  4. Mailchimp is highly recommended [Note: that’s what I use!]
  5. Make sure you don’t use words like “freebies” in the title or the email system might dub you ‘spam’
  6. If you send too many emails yourself, the email system might dub you ‘spam’
  7. If you send them out yourself, DO use “BCC” (blind carbon copy), so none of the readers can see the other email addresses — or “Reply All” to them.

3 Snapchat Tips

It’s a way to connect, but not necessarily sell to your target audience. In case you are unfamiliar, it’s a chat program that’s mostly used to share pictures with filters and maybe added text. You can chat back and forth with individuals, spend a single snap to a group of people, or share it publicly as a ‘story’. A story will disappear after it’s been watched.

  1. Younger demographic
  2. Can’t schedule
  3. Stories can reach all of your followers

Stats To Watch

When you start doing social media, there are dozens of numbers for every site you’re working on. Analytics Pages – both for Facebook and Twitter, Youtube has one as well.

  1. Demographics – Currently, facebook is the older audience, instagram/snapchat are younger.
  2. Likes/Click Rates – see which types of posts do better and if there is a timing component. Try different things and see what resonates best with your audience.

Social Media Tools

There are tons of tools for social media. Everyone, from solo artists to corporations are using them.

A few hints on using tools.

  • If you’re going to schedule your social media, you should still comment and interact outside of the scheduled posts.
  • Remember to consider time zones and viewing habits for different platforms.
  • Try to sound just as personal and authentic in the scheduled tweets as you would if you where live posting.

Tools to try

  • TweetDeck – It’s a browser tool, not an app, but you can watch multiple feeds at a time, or a feed based on a single hashtag that’s trending. You can also use it to schedule tweets (like during twitter pitch contests) [I use on occasion.]
  • Unfollow tools are handy
    • Many people follow you, then unfollow as soon as you follow back to boost their own “follower-to-unfollowers” ratio. Making themselves look more popular. They’re users who forget you within a week. Feel free to unfriend them.
  • Hootsuite – great for cross-platform scheduling
  • Picmonkey – photo editing
  • Trello – project management tool [I’ve been trying this intermittently. Mostly when I’m juggling several projects.]
  • Slack – Chat website/app that can share files. Good if you’re coordinating a team
  • Falcon.io – Costs money but is very handy for a campaign
  • Canva – lots of free stock pics (and premium paid ones) [I use for my preview pics]
  • Facebook Groups have scheduling, as do Pages — but pages just made it an annoying option to access that’s easier done on the PC than the phone.
  • Old school – a folder with a bunch of pics, or a list of tweets to share later

4 Ways Social Media is Bad For Authors

Now, before we decide if social media is the answer, let’s acknowledge the downsides.

  1. It’s a huge time sink
  2. It’s so active, your feed is rarely still
  3. When you’re not feeling social — it’s draining. For extroverts, you might find yourself not wanting to go out
  4. You’ll find yourself comparing your progress to other writers’ successes. And that can be very discouraging

Should Authors Do Social Media?

If you don’t want to, don’t. The resentment of being forced to do it will bleed through and you won’t come across as genuine.

It can be a useful way to get to know editors and agents in the field. But remember this is a small field, everyone knows everyone, so be careful who you offend.

If you do, “Look after your name, and your name will become your currency.” Your brand IS your name when you’re a writer. Everything you do will reflect on you. Tweets from 10 years ago regularly come up in the news.

Debate if you want to politicize your career. Many people do. Many people avoid it like the plague. Decide if making a political stand is the right choice for you — and the choice you can live with.

If someone upsets you, and you have thousands of followers, be careful what you say. You don’t want to abuse your power and have all of your followers descend upon some small-time person with maybe 20 followers. You won’t come out clean — you’ll look like a bully.

Are you the type of poster/tweeter who shares rants? Or well-researched articles? Or both?

Only you can decide where you spend your time and energy. And what sort of image you choose to share.


Let me know what your favorite social media platform is and what tools you like!

Let me know if there’s anything I missed! Even with two panels, there was only so much we could cover!

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Appeal of Portal Fantasy

Portal fantasy has always been popular. From tales of fairy circles to Narnia, we’ve always enjoyed watching people from familiar places enter fantastic realms.

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Seanan McGuire, Vina Prasad, Genevieve Cogman, and Kathryn Sullivan discussed what it was about portal fantasy that kept people coming back for more.

What Is Portal Fantasy?

In a portal fantasy, the main character is transported from our world to another. This allows us to see the new world through the eyes of someone with our context. (NOTE: The Japanese version is called: Isekai )

Usually, the protagonist is either young and/or dissatisfied with their life and looking for an escape.

But, the portal to go home has to be hard to reach. If it’s like flipping a button, it’s just a story about someone who lives in two (or more) worlds.

But aren’t portal fantasies just big fairytales?

Well, while fairytales are a subset of folklore, in those, you know where the portal world is and how to access it. And you choose to go there (or at least risk it).

Portal fantasies, you stumble into, and you have to find out the rules as you go along.

Introductions to Portal Fantasies

  • Most of the 80s cartoons
  • Doctor Who
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Digimon
  • Narnia
  • own daydreams
  • John Carter of Mars
  • Irish Mythology
  • Dante’s Inferno

Favorite Portal Fantasy Tropes

  • When the main character tries to introduce something they know from their own world that seems obvious… and then finds out WHY things were the way they were.
  • The kids who go through the portal are never the cool or popular kids. It’s the weird kids. And? Whatever the kids’ weirdness is, that weirdness is the reason they succeed in the portal world.

What is the Appeal of Portal Fantasy?

  • Wish fulfillment – one day, as a kid, you wake up and realize that you’re not actually going to become a unicorn/space princess
  • Being the one with the answers – you go into the fantasy world knowing so much more about technology and mechanicals possibilities, that you can actually change society.
  • Different expectations – in a fantasy world, they can value something that is a detriment, or that nobody cares about in the real world
  • Teaching the value of home/what you already have – Sometimes, home sucks and you’re better off elsewhere. But, for most of us, being reminded to look at what we have helps us see, with all our struggles and issues, it’s not that bad.

Are you a fan of portal fantasy?

What are your favorite portal fantasies?
How do people get them right… and how do people get them wrong?

Let me know in the comments below and join me next week, for more writing tips and writerly musings
.