Angel Martinez, Author Spotlight

The Scattershot Author: Or What Happened to the Writer Part? by Angel Martinez

Author's SpotlightOnce upon a time, there was a single process with a single purpose.

Step 1: Write and polish

Step 2: Ferret out submission guidelines (often at the library)

Step 3: Put together the packet – cover letter, synopsis, first three chapters

Step 4: Print out (or in the old days copy) aforesaid packet

Step 5: Wait in horrendous line at the post office to send out same, usually one at a time. No simultaneous submissions, you know

Step 6: Wait for reply, sometimes as long as two years or perhaps not at all.

The good old days? Not really. It was a lot of fuss, a lot of work, and ridiculous amounts of time waiting for rejection letters that told you nothing. But some days I still miss the single channel simplicity of those days. You were a writer and you wrote.

The world has a habit of changing, and so it did for publishing over the last fifteen years. Drastically. Then just when authors were starting to get the hang of this brave new world, this you-can’t-just-write-anymore world, publishing pulled the rug out from under us again. Amazon wants you as an exclusive author, or readers may not see your books. Facebook wants more money (shocking) and threatens to delete your posts if you dare to promote without paying. The European Union suddenly taxes e-books at an astonishing percentage. All Romance decides it no longer wants to be merely a distribution point and throws its hat into the publishing ring. It’s no longer simply enough to write. We are forced to fight tooth and nail for every scrap of visibility.

What’s a poor author to do? Do you simply write and ignore it? Do you try new genres until you’ve scattered your story breadcrumbs far and wide along the publishing ground, hoping someone will find the trail? Do you make yourself crazy and spend all the time in promotion? Do you crawl under a rock and cry?

I’m not going to pretend I have magic answers, but there is one thing we all must do – be willing to adapt. The rules change, they will always change. There may have been a single way and a single answer long ago, but not now. Genre authors not contracted by the big six houses must be willing to channel their inner mad scientists, to experiment, to leap into the void sometimes.

Authors have leaped. The term “hybrid author” is suddenly a legitimate thing. Still makes me think of a rose garden or varieties of tomatoes, but I’m fine with that. Hybrids tend to be more disaster resistant. They survive droughts and plagues. It also means we’re looking at ourselves more as contracted talent instead of as employees. As contractors, authors have more options than we ever did before – take advantage of all you can.

  • Submit to publishers, but do it carefully. Know your market and know the players. Don’t submit in desperation and don’t accept a contract that way either.
  • Never feel obligated to the publisher. Grateful for good staff and a well run house, yes, but obliged to submit all your work there? No. Shop around. Eggs in one basket is no longer a good thing these days, for so many reasons.
  • Take a serious look at self-publishing. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a viable, respectable option these days, provided you do it well. Not only does it give you more control, but it also gives you a better sense for the business.
  • Terrified of going it alone? Consider a collective or cooperative venture with other like-minded authors. When you have a trusted group of friends and a pool of talent, the terrors of publishing diminish considerably. Division of labor is a wonderful thing.
  • Genre jumping? Approach with care. Sure, contemporary romance will outsell everything else across the boards, but it might not work for you. Don’t chase trends and make sure you write what you love before you try to please the market. Some of the most successful authors of gay romance write in astoundingly specific sub-sub-genre niches. (Historical paranormal m/m romance? Who even knew that would be a thing a few years ago?)

Scattered though our attentions may be these days, it’s the organized, persistent, and adaptable author who will find success. Sleep with one eye open, kids. Ear to the ground and other clichéd aphorisms from our primitive hunting past. I’m betting the changes in the publishing industry have only begun.

Dividers

Angel MartinezAbout Angel: Angel Martinez has been lurking in the published world since 2006, when a small press decided it was a good idea to publish a short story with illustrations about an intelligent planet. From that rather shaky start, Angel now has twenty-one works published and won the 2014 Rainbow Award in the Best Gay Scifi/ Futuristic category for her novel Rarely Pure and Never Simple. Angel is a tenacious advocate for genre fiction and maintains a secret, embarrassing passion for old anime. (Voltron, anyone?)

You can find Angel’s work at Mischief Corner Books, Dreamspinner, MLR Press, Amber Allure and Totally Bound. For more info, news and silliness, please visit the website:

Angel Martinez

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21 thoughts on “The Scattershot Author: Or What Happened to the Writer Part? by Angel Martinez

  1. Lloyd A. Meeker says:

    Interesting that authors must adapt to a volatile publishing environment while remaining faithful to writing what we love. As you say, Angel, publishing paradigms are in massive flux at the moment. By the time I finish my current WIP some current must-have platform will have gone the way of Kindle Select. I believe that ultimately the only way to navigate the external chaos is to continue writing the stories that are true for us. It’s not a very snazzy solution in terms of the online feeding frenzy of social media promotion, but I’ve never been a particularly snazzy author… :)

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    • Hi Lloyd! So good to see you here! I think you’re right that at the end of the day, we have to be true to our work. We can jump through whatever other hoops we like to help readers see our work, but why both at all if it’s not something you love doing? Something you can give to the world with your pride intact?

      We have a lot of things to consider these days, but a writer should still be a writer :)

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  2. Great post! I’d like to submit that authors were never “employees” – for once, we don’t get and never got a guaranteed salary, any kinds of benefits, don’t work at publishers’ premises and don’t get paid time off. We also don’t get company-sponsored life/health insurance or other benefits.

    There’s also no minimum wage – considering the payout of my books, I’ve made anywhere between $1.50/hour to $400/hour (yes, the latter shocked me too and is an aberration, though a nice one). I’d never take a job where I’m not guaranteed a minimum wage of some description. We’re not even freelancers or contractors – a freelancer negotiates their fees beforehand – I’ve seen novels worked on for years pay out basically zero – they’re DOA. The only time I’ve seen a contractor-like contract was when I wrote roleplaying novels pretty much “for hire”, meaning I got an advance and gave away all my rights for practically ever.

    So, yes, our position is WORSE than that of any contractor/employee. Far, far worse. In addition, a lapse in productivity (writers’ block) means you might end up not eating/paying rent/mortgage. At least at a day job, you get medical leave or therapy/support.

    These very restrictions obviously mean that we need to stay nimble and smart. It absolutely means to protect yourself like a lion/ess, especially your rights. Getting a working knowledge of contracts (“What’s life of copyright and why is it the worst thing I can sign?”, “Are royalties based on net or gross?”, “What does the Right of First Refusal mean?” etc) is vital. It’s not fun, but I’ve signed every awful contract somebody offered me and these days I negotiate ALWAYS. My work is my only source of income at the moment.

    Regarding hybrid authorship. I think it’s now an accepted model and most readers seem to buy books by author or genre/subject (“gay dragons”, “romantic suspense”) than by any other criterion, though the problem is financial. Editing/cover/proofing is expensive, so in my case, I’m going hybrid on works that don’t fit into narrow little genre boxes (Return on Investment was rejected by every publisher I sent it to, but I believed in the book and took a punt on it, and it worked out fine).

    I’m planning to self-publish books in the future that don’t have romances, and I’m possibly opening up “straight” fiction or fiction without any sex or queer content, because I have those bunnies, too, and these days, I can write those books without having to lock them away in a drawer. So we’ve been released from the “little boxes”, which I personally consider the biggest boon of the new paradigm. You can write “weird” books that likely won’t be bestsellers, but will still find their couple hundred readers, which makes releasing them financially viable.

    Regarding distribution: by looking at my sales numbers of Return on Investment, Kindle’s exclusivity actually is a bad deal for me. Come February, I’m going wide with distribution via Draft2Digital. I was all right with Kindle Unlimited when the payout was closer to $2 per borrowed copy, but by now it’s dropped to $1.36 – on a book where I make $4.11 per sold copy. It’s costing me money. (Getting into Oyster/Scribd means I get paid full whack). Borrows cannibalise sales. As long as Amazon doesn’t pay me full royalty, I’m not staying exclusive with them – there’s something fundamentally wrong about learning a month later how much you’ll get paid. It’s much worse than contracting, it feels like begging for whatever scraps Bezos is throwing your way.

    So, yeah, it’s an interesting world out there. :)

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    • Hi Aleks! A wealth of good information from someone with a lot of good experience! I only mention the word “employee” because authors still ask if it’s all right to be “disloyal” to the house that published them. Damn straight, it’s OK. It’s your work. You publish where you want to publish the work.

      I’m so glad to hear you talk about being free of the little boxes. We are no longer slaves to shelf space in the bookstore and this is one of the most wondrous developments in our brave new world. We can, we must, write the stories out hearts tell us to.

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      • Hi Angel – I figured you knew the difference. Regarding loyalty – I’ve seen author loyalty abused so often (Ellora’s Cave, Noble Romance, and last but certainly not least Silver, who deliberately pitted authors against each other to mask the dodgy financial shenanigans going on), I snort when I hear “loyalty”. Signing a publishing contract is a business transaction, and yes, your publisher will USE those awful terms to screw you if they’re in a tight spot financially, get sold to somebody else who doesn’t give a cr*p about prior emotional attachments). In short, love your publisher (and lots of staff and publishers are lovely people), but look out for your own career first.

        Also, I’ve seen authors getting absolutely scr*wed when they were with one publisher only (I had friends with twenty or thirty books at Noble or Silver and nothing else anywhere). At the very least, diversity that income with some self-publishing or working with other publishers so if a publisher hits the wall, groceries/rent will still be covered. Considering how drastic and wick the changes are in publishing, always plan for the worst.

        But yeah. Freedom. For the first time in forever, authors are free. What a beautiful thing.

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        • Eeewww, the “S” word – yes, that was a particularly bad one with an astoundingly immoral person running the show. But we have to assume that terrible things could happen and you’re absolutely right – we have to approach our relationships with publishers in as clear-eyed and dispassionate a manner as possible.

          Fly, little authors! Be Free!

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  3. I’ve tried to self-pub books before, but as noted above, it takes a lot of capital that I don’t have and a pretty aggressive entrepreneurial mindset I’m not equipped with. I can market my books in my own way, but I don’t have the head for the minutiae of the business end of things. So for the time being, I’d rather work with small presses and am more than happy to give up part of my royalties in exchange for their help in editing, formatting, distribution, and some marketing.

    I have non-gay bunnies pop up sometimes, but whenever I try to write them initially, I end up feeling dissatisfied and ultimately tweaking with the story idea to work in my preferred market, which is speculative fiction gay YA (talk about niche publishing!). Maybe down the line, I’ll break out of my little comfy corner and attempt more mainstream stuff with lots of adventure and no romance.

    At this day and age, what worked back in 2009 and 2010 doesn’t hold true. It’s survival of the fittest in publishing, and only those who’re in it for the long haul and don’t treat books as the easy way to make good money will reap the rewards in some form or other. And in the end, it’s the readers who’ll benefit from a market of higher quality work.

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  4. Tried commenting before. Hope this one takes. Loved this post. I identified with so much in it. I’m trying to switch genres right now and am experiencing severe growing pains. This post made me realize I need to take it slow, stick with the new writing project, and realize what’s happening–I’m in the process of adapting and it ain’t easy. Also I’ve been stuck in the promo mode and need to get back to the writing. Thank you for this great post, A.M. I’m sharing with my FB writer pals.

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    • *hugs* Thanks, Paul! Absolutely! Write, write, write – we are nothing if we forget that very basic, central part of our selves. (It seems so simple, but so many of us get lost in all the other…stuff.)

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  5. In the good old days, Step #4 went like this for me:

    1) Print out manuscript.

    2) Try again to convince my computer to print out manuscript.

    3) Discover a glaring typo.

    4) Print out manuscript.

    5) Prepare cover letter.

    6) Print out cover letter.

    7) Replace ink cartridge in printer.

    8) Print out cover letter.

    9) Print out “I received your manuscript” postcard.

    10) Open up printer to remove jammed postcard.

    11) Print out “I received your manuscript” postcard.

    12) Open up printer to remove jammed postcard.

    13) Give up and pull out typewriter.

    14) Go hunting through desk drawer for nonfaded typing ribbon.

    15) Go hunting through desk drawer for correction tape.

    16) Give up hunt for correction tape and walk up to the town center to borrow correction fluid from my mother (since no one sells correction fluid any more).

    17) Return home and type up postcard and publishers’ address label.

    18) Place return address label on postcard and SASE.

    19) Add stamps and first class mailing labels to both envelopes. Add publishers’ address label to outer envelope.

    20) Recheck submission information and discover that the issue’s deadline was last month, not this month.

    I don’t miss the old days at all. :)

    Liked by 2 people

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