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.

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!

YA Futures

YA is big and has been since the late 90s. But the future today doesn’t look like it did even 10 or 20 years ago. What does YA science fiction readers want today?

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, I had the opportunity to listen to the top professionals in the field discuss what they see coming. On the panel were Charlie Jane Anders, James Smythe, Eric Picholle, Fonda Lee, and Kristina Perez.

3 Things That Don’t Fit In the YA Science Fiction of Today

  1. A sense of inevitable progress
    The golden-age of science-fiction brought us flying cars and space cities. From the Jetsons to Star Trek, optimism for a better world was writ large in our stories.

    These days, we’re making our dreams a little more down to earth.
  2. Angst
    The 90s and 00s taught us that angst and cynicism were ‘grown up’ and ‘mature’. Spoiler: they not. And teenage angst when written by adults, far too often turns into teenage melodrama.
  3. Space
    With the advent of the space race, sf writers assumed our future was out amongst the stars. These days, we’re looking at our own planet and resources.

    Space, right now, is a hard-sell in YA.

10 Things In YA Science-Fiction Today

  1. Social issues
    You don’t have to evaluate them, but they should be in there.

    Related? Teens don’t need as much hand-holding or explanations when dealing with LGBTQ+ themes, versus adult readers.
  2. Near future
    Where we might be in 20 years, not 100 or a 1,000.
  3. Taking the brakes off
    With YA, you can turn emotions up to 11. As a writer, you can delve into your own neuroses and baggage and trauma on the page.
  4. Hope
    The reign of dystopia is changing. The future looks bleak and people are looking for hope.
  5. AI
    Even if we’re not there yet, we’re getting really close to being able to fake true artificial intelligence. I would say some robots are pretty close to dog-level intelligence at this point.

    And then? There’s always “the singularity”, when the first artificial intelligence becomes self-aware.
  6. Genetic Manipulation/Trans-humanism
    The science is there. It’s time to explore the moral and ethical quandaries inherent.
  7. Fun Adventures
    Doing stuff with friends to fix things, save someone or something, or just wild hijinks!
  8. Hackers
    Hackers are more and more becoming the heroes of the story.
  9. Online Friendships
    Friends aren’t always local these days. Plenty of friendships have started or moved online as distance becomes less of a constraint.
  10. Mixed media
    With text conversations and real world descriptions, mixed media storytelling is getting bigger.

Clearly, as we don’t actually have any time-travel machines, these are all guesses and YA trends change faster than any other genre.

Let me know what you think is coming for YA. Did the panelists get it right?


As always, thanks for reading and I’ll be back again soon with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Booktube: The World of YouTube Book Discussions

The booktuber world is right next door to the authortuber world — full of people talking about their to-read lists, the books they’re actually reading, and their own community. As opposed to us authortubers, talking about writing tips, writing progress, and apparently streaming virtual write-ins. Both are full of people passionate about books and wanting to talk about it on youtube.

In the titular panel at WorldCon, Stevie “Sablecaught” Finegan, Claire Rousseau (Books and Quills), Thomas Wagner (SFF180), Linnea Sternefält (RobotMaria133), and Brianne Reeves (BreeReadsBooks) shared with us their experiences being booktubers.

Why Youtube?

Everyone had their own path and reasons that led them to youtube.

For Claire, 5 years ago, her partner started a geeking out/gaming channel. After seeing how it went, and attending a convention, she wanted to get in on it too, but with her own hobbies. Thus, her booktube channel was born.

Linnea started as a blogger. She’d seen the English-language booktubers, but was worried there wasn’t a large enough audience in her native tongue. Then? She found the other european-vloggers and decided to try it anyway.

Bree had graduated from college and was underemployed. So, she got back to her love of books, found the community, and wanted to join the conversation.

Thomas had been doing traditional book reviews on http://www.sfReviews.net since 2001. He’d seen his gamer friends start up game vlogs and wanted to try, so he tried it — without even knowing the community was there! He’s found that reviews are a lot more personal when your face is attached to the words.

Common BookTube Videos

These booktubers wanted to talk about books on youtube, but what sort of videos are out there?

  1. Book Hall
    – A stack of new books that you’ve gotten.
    • Thomas called his a ‘mail bag’, because he didn’t know it was a thing
    • Bree loves watching these, but hates recording them
    • Linnae loves these
  2. TBR
    – Your to-be-read pile. What you’re planning to read in the coming week or month.
    • Claire loves these
  3. Wrap-up
    – Your end of the week/month where you talk about which books you actually got to, and what you thought about them.
    – Some people do a video for each book (like Thomas, with his traditional book review roots)
  4. Book discussions
    – Talking and analysing books. These come in many forms.
    1. Simple analysis
    2. Comparing the book to the movie
    3. Comparing and contrasting different books of a similar theme
  5. Top 5 Wednesday
    – Share your top 5 books in a given theme/genre

Getting Started on Booktube

Don’t be afraid to join in. You don’t need much to get started, and all of the booktubers out there started just like you, wondering why anyone would care what they think about books.

These are people who love reading and just want to connect with other fans. Just like you.

  1. All you need is a smartphone, a youtube account, and the internet
  2. Crappy videos are fine – talk to people and build community.
  3. Try to post on a consistent schedule, at least once a month.
  4. Audio is more important than video, look to upgrade that first.
  5. To upgrade your video, you can do it in phases
    1. Better microphone (like a Blue Snowball mic + pop filter)
    2. Better camera (like a logitech USB webcam)
    3. Better lighting (like umbrella lights)
    4. Video Editing (like VegasPro)
  6. Monetization.
    1. If you get big enough (4,000 view hours + 1,000 subscribers), youtube will let you monetize.
    2. Patreon may be a better way to get money, but you have to have something to offer people at the different tiers that people are interested in. And that often means bonus material.
      NOTE: Most monetized channels can pay for a coffee. Or, in a good month, start to recoup the money they spent on equipment.
      WARNING: In some countries, it is illegal to accept donations/ patronage without giving them something physical in return.

Joining the BookTube Community

Most of these tips are going to sound familiar if you’ve seen any of my other posts on joining other online communities.

  1. Subscribe to other booktubers!
  2. Comment on other booktubers!
    • Comment on what they’re discussing, be on topic! You might think a compliment like, “you’re pretty” is something everyone wants to hear. Instead? The booktuber is probably thinking you didn’t care about what they were discussing.
    • NOTE: If your comment is non-specific, just long enough that your name links back to your own channel, they can tell you’re just trying to use them to find followers. It’s rude and won’t win you any friends.
  3. Watch to the end! Many booktubers have bonus material there. Like booktube challenges, or requests for you to share your own links below (either for your channel or similar themed videos).
  4. As always, don’t be disappointed at slow traction. It takes a while to become an “overnight” success.

Booktubers to watch!

If booktube sounds up your alley or you’re already a fan, here are some people the panelists suggested to check out.

And, of course, they didn’t do it themselves, but I’m happy to plug them, our panelists:


Had you run into Booktube before?

Are you a booktuber yourself? Tell us how you got into it and share your link below!

As always, thanks for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more panel notes. And maybe some ramblings on PitchWars, because it’s that time of year again.