Monday, February 21, 2011

"Make a Living with Fiction" Panel at Radcon

I've been to panels with similar titles before, and they all focused on writing query letters, getting an agent, how to meet publishers at cons, and so on.  This year was quite different.  Three published and even best-selling authors (Patricia Briggs, Mike Moscoe aka Mike Shephard, and S. Andrew Swann) spent the hour discussing the uncertain publishing market, whether you should self-publish ebooks, and how to self-promote whether indie or traditionally published. 

According to Mike Moscoe, if anyone tells you they know where the industry is going to be in 2 years, don't believe them.  No one knows.  I noticed this general theme at the Villains panel, where noted and famed authors like CJ Cherryh discussed their recent move to self-publish print on demand and ebooks.

For now, it's best to just guess.  Place your bets folks, because it's going to be an interesting ride.

For the most part, this panel was, for me, a validation that I have a good head on my shoulders and have been making decent decisions so far.  Being successful in this business, in the end, comes down to luck, but luck will do you no good (or even harm you) if you're not covering a few bases.

The biggest message was: Write well.  Now that the market is the slush pile, the stakes are even higher when it's time to market.  While it's always been true that even the best writers will benefit by writing more, now new writers may not have the benefit of an editor to guide them through this early phase.  Your goal is to get through this phase without damaging your reputation too badly.  You might be able to get someone to read your 1st or 2nd book with lots of promotional efforts, but if that book sucks, then it will be impossible to get them to read your 5th or 15th book, which will inevitably be much better.

Most of all, if your work actually does suck (and isn't at least pretty good), you really shouldn't publish it.  I put that in bold because I don't think anyone wants the indie market to be a giant slush pile.  Wait until you've written out all of your sub-par words, file them away, and only publish the good stuff.

Since I've already stored all my crappy writing in a cool, dark place, I concluded that I should market appropriately to the quality of my work.  I happen to think my work right now is "pretty good", and is getting better, and eventually will be excellent.  If I market When Prey Hunts and Make Willing the Prey as if they were excellent, then no one will buy my actually excellent work 5 years from now.

People get a general feeling for just how excellent your work is by the quality of the marketing materials, how often your ads or fliers pop up, how often they see you interviewed in blogs, and so on... Anyone who took my laser-printed bookmark with the hand-threaded ribbon at Radcon probably knows that the free ebook "Four Fae" and Kindle novella "Make Willing the Prey" are probably "pretty good", so they can't be disappointed.  Later, when I'm Super Awesome, then I can ramp up the full color printing and fancy artwork and blog tours and so on.

At least, I think that's what they were saying. :)

Speaking of bookmarks at Radcon, yeah.  I probably distributed about 100-125 free bookmarks at Radcon.  And according to Mike Moscoe, that's the best thing I could have done.

He's spent years trying every possibly marketing gimmick.  He confided that he over-marketed given the quality of his early work.  Which is one reason he publishes his newest work under a pseudonym.  He learned the three most effective techniques for promotion of fiction:
  1. Go to cons.
  2. Give away bookmarks.
  3. Print a good bio and an email address on the books you sell.
That's it.  Which made me feel very pleased that I was already doing the first two. :)

Another piece of advice, which I am already trying to do, is to market yourself over your books.  Sell a brand, not a title.  This is why I spent so much prep before Radcon coming up with a "brand" for the universe of my fae stories and books.  It took two days of concentrated effort, plus the help of friends and family, to settle on "Dreams by Streetlight".  Now when ever I promote any story in that world, I am promoting every other story in that world.  And myself as an author.  So that 10 years from now, when I'm actually writing excellent books, my name is what people will remember, not the title of my first two or three books which will (relatively) suck.

Thanks to Patricia Briggs, Mike Moscoe, and S. Andrew Swann who spoke on this panel, for their openness in sharing their wisdom to those of us just beginning.


  1. I suppose that's the reason I want to get published by one of the 'big six'. I want to get someone to say that I don't suck.

    I'm conflicted, though. My Smooth Running stuff is probably more of a niche title, what with all the sex and violence, so my plan was to self-publish it if I can't sell it to an editor.

    On the other hand, I don't want to harm my reputation. I know my later work is going to be better than my current work. Though if it comes down to it, I can use a pseduonym. I'm all about the stories I want to tell, I don't really care about fame.

    On the third hand, (I said I was conflicted) I've heard from pros who's opinion I trust that you only get one chance to 'open big'. If you launch a book with a big splash, that's your best chance to start above the mid-list.

    I don't know. I'm giving serious thought to dropping some cash (once I have cash again) on a free-lance editor to make sure my first book is as error-free as I can make it.

    Of course, Kay would tell me to 'learn how to edit for myself'. And I'm inclined to think she's right.

    Anyway, thanks for the con report and the food for thought.

    Mark Andrew Edwards

  2. For "When Prey Hunts", I am probably going to drop cash on two things: Professional editing and cover art. :)