Tag Archives: publishing

The Gender Bias in Books

Last week, a coworker left me speechless. I was reading my book at lunch when she asked me what I was reading (I hate when people interrupt me that way, but you’re not allowed to be huffy about it!). I was reading Abaddon’s Gate and was about to start telling her how much I enjoyed it when she asked: “Is that science fiction?” This, honest to goodness, is how that conversation progressed from there:

“Yeah, it is.”

“Oh… Does your husband science fiction?”

“Oh yeah, my husband and I both love it, and–”

“Did you like it before you met him?”

“…uh, well, yeah, I mean, it was practically a requirement for me to–”

“Oh.” (pauses, biting her lip) “Well, it’s lucky you found a husband who liked it. I guess it’s probably easier for a woman to find a man like that than the other way around, though!”

I think I gave her this face:

Apparently being a woman and liking science fiction means I’m basically unmarriable and should be incredibly lucky that I found a forgiving man to marry me.

And if that were it, that would be one thing. I could shrug off one lady as just being kinda crazy.

And then author Catherine Nichols wrote about her query experiment—she sent her exact same book and exact same query letter to agents under a male name. And the male version of her got far, FAR more favorable responses than her real name.

Read about it here.

Here is one of the more salient points:

Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.

And even the rejections she got were more favorable, with more long-form responses and positive reactions.

This article—particularly following those outdated, sexist comments from my coworker—just was a real punch in the gut. I may be getting tanked before a single word is written, all because of unconscious (or perhaps a little bit conscious) bias on the part of the agents, the very first gatekeepers in the traditional publishing journey.

Bias against female authors in sci-fi/horror is part of why I use my initials with my book, Undead Rising. But I thought that was just for the reader who may be wary of a “girly” book…I had no idea that this sort of bias had leeched all the way through the system. But I can’t say I’m truly that surprised. Publishing is one of the most opaque, challenging industries, with a convoluted process and a lot of gut feel on the part of agents and editors in determining who gets in the door. And with the recent events at the Hugo Awards, I think there is a good reason to be concerned.

I used to sign my query letters with my name, thinking it would be more personal and therefore welcoming for the agent on the other end. I thought I was improving my odds by being warm and friendly. But perhaps I need to switch to only using my initials there, too; perhaps that is what it will take for my fiction to get a fair shake (especially as the book I’m querying is either sci-fi or literary fiction…both genres which carry a reputation as a boys’ club).

I’m deeply frustrated by this revelation, and sure, it’s one woman’s experiment with a relatively small sample. But her results are huge. I hope it leads to some careful thought in literary circles.

Do you see a bias in publishing? What should we do about it?

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Filed under Feminism, Publishing, writing

Top 10 Things I Learned From DFWCon

DFW writers' convention

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending DFW Writers Convention, one of the bigger writers conventions, and after two days of shaking hands and smiling at other writers/editors/agents, early mornings and late nights, and many workshops, I feel obligated to try to sum up the experience. For those of you who have yet to attend a similar convention, I say get out there and find one: it’ll step up your game. In the meantime, read on:

10. Everyone is wary of Amazon. Agents practically felt they had to whisper it in case the shopping ma

gnate somehow overheard, but Amazon is currently the enemy you keep close. They all unanimously said it was essential, but are decidedly concerned about that growing monopoly. Remember: Amazon is useful, but Amazon isn’t your friend…it’s a business.

9. Those who excel at social media are people who already are very open and energetic. Though I did learn some about manipulating Facebook’s algorithm for your favor, my biggest takeaway from the social media conversation was that you have to be willing to tell the world just about everything about yourself…except nothing negative, at all. Remember, you’re selling yourself, and no one wants to hear the bad parts. It was very telling that the agents, who insist everyone must be represented on Twitter/social media, were also th

e first to say their Twitter persona is not the same as their real lives. Hmm…

8. No one has any idea what will sell. Not really. As is probably always true at these kinds of conferences, talk swirled around what was in demand. And depending on who you talked to, it was just about anything. This year sci-fi was the predominant winner, but none of the agents seemed particularly keen on it. (Two years ago it was all romance and some New Adult. This year, New Adult was practically dead.) One agent said something ridiculously specific was on her wishlist. It was all over the place.

7. Agents are not a hive mind. Along the same lines, just because one agent feels strongly about

something doesn’t mean they all will. At more than one panel the agents (politely) disagreed with each other, particularly at the all-important Query Gong Show (a game to suss out when an agent would stop reading a query). It really is about hitting the right mark.

6. It is less important to have an agent than it is to have the right agent. Following in the same train of thought, one lecture from an author who’d made the NYTimes Editor’s Choice list made this point really clear. He’d had a very well-known agent for years…who was completely unable to sell his material. But after he switched, it found a home. As painful as the agent-finding process is (and it is), sometimes having an agent may be worse than not.

5. Agents are really busy people. Keep this in mind while you’re fretting over your email inbox,

wringing your hands while you wait for a response: they have to respond to you and a helluva lot of other people. I’ve mentioned my negative agent experience—I waited nearly a year for a response on a requested manuscript!—so I know the waiting is terrible, but be realistic. One agent had had 10,000 queries the year prior, and had accepted … 6. Agents have a caseload of about 35 books they’re selling at any one time. Plus they’re going to conferences all over the country. That’s plenty for one person.

4. Keep your query letter short. Because agents are so busy, they may be reading your query at 11:30 at night, just before bed. They don’t have time for a long monologue. This was the number one reason letters were rejected at the gong show. Keep your query short—shorter than you think it should be!—and the

agent will open your manuscript if interested. Corollary: start with the genre and the word count to avoid surprises.

3. There is such a thing as “hybrid” publishing, and it may be the most successful option. I heard mixed reviews on this but I’m choosing to accept the positive: agents feel that there is definitely a place for a combination of self- and traditional publishing. Some even said that building an audience with a first, self-published book was a good way to eventually attract an agent. Authors also said that some things a

re not not suitable for the traditional route, making self-publishing some pieces a good idea. So there’s no n

eed to be “all in” one way or the other.

2. “Successful” authors seriously struggle. What seems like the end may just be the beginning of a new phase. I’m perhaps most grateful for the lecture by Dallas author Will Clarke, who had the markers of success—two traditionally published books, coverage in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, the book tour, the works. But his story was shocking: he’s never bought out his advance; the publisher dropped him; his book was optioned for Paramount studios but will never see the light of day; and the continual book tour burned him out creatively, emotionally, and physically. Success has its downsides.

1. Even the most experienced and successful authors are plagued by insecurity about their writing. Superstar author Charlaine Harris was this year’s keynote speaker, and despite being unequivocally a renowned and esteemed author, she admitted that she’s afraid to read Stephen King’s On Writing  or any other “how to write” book for fear of discovering she’s been doing it wrong for more than 30 years. If even someone as relentlessly successful has those fears, it’s ok for us newbies to admit to them, too.

Have you attended a conference? What wisdom can you share?

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Filed under Conventional, Publishing, writing

Goodreads Giveaway: Was It Worth It?

In an effort to drum up interest in my book, Undead Rising: Decide Your DestinyI took the advice of Writer’s Digest and created a Goodreads Giveaway. People love free stuff, so the idea is that you can let people know about your new book by giving some number away, thus attracting a lot of interest and getting those much-needed early reviews.

I decided to give away 5 copies of my book, and I took the WD advice that the advertising to lesser-served readers outside of America was worth the potential shipping costs and opened the giveaway to readers in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom. Because, really, what are the odds that one of those readers will win?

This was my first giveaway, so I wasn’t entirely sure how long to run it for, but I let it stay up for about 3 weeks (there was a bit of confusion about when it would be posted—hint: it doesn’t go live until Goodreads staff approve it, so the start date is a little fuzzy).

In three weeks’ time, 977 people requested it—with the “peak” entry times at the beginning and end of the contest, no surprise there—and many people put it in their “to-read” category, meaning they’ll hopefully get around to reading it anyway.

Goodreads randomly selected 5 winners out of that pool and sent me their addresses in an easy-to-read CSV.

Oops benedict cumberbatch

That’s right, very British Benedict. Oops is right.

…Out of the 5, one was in London and one was in Canada.

Oops.

All told, shipping cost me about $50 plus a nice lesson from a postal worker about how to fill out customs forms. I used bubble-wrap envelopes–Priority Mail for the U.S. readers and regular old bubble-wrap for the other countries–to ensure the books arrived safely, signed each book with a little note, and included a note thanking them for entering the contest and requesting they consider reviewing the book or otherwise letting me know what they think.

So, would I do it again?

I think so. But I’ll be better prepared next time!

While I really liked the idea of shipping Priority so that readers got their books as quickly as possible, it unnecessarily ratcheted up the price. I think it’ll be regular brown bubble envelopes for everyone from here out.

I’m not sure I’ll still allow entrants from the UK and Canada, though I do love the opportunity to get into that market. I’ll have to consider it carefully.

I think I’ll open the giveaway to more readers next time, which in turn may encourage more people to enter and show more people the book.

I’ll also do a better job of getting a well-targeted Goodreads ad up (again, I had a little confusion with how those worked and when they’d populate) so that more people will know about the Giveaway.

I’m not sure I’d tell authors to expect reviews from a Giveaway. Because the winners are randomized and they have zero obligation to review your book, you may get folks, as I did, who have very few (or no) reviews of books. So it was great to get the book in the hands of new readers, but not necessarily a guarantee of reviews. (Of the 5, only one has reviewed my book so far. But she seemed to like it!)

All in all, a Goodreads Giveaway was a little bit less of a slam-dunk, and shipping was a lot more nerve-wracking than I expected! I think I’ll try again, but I’ll be better prepared for the results (and have a bit more money stashed aside for shipping costs!).

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Filed under Publishing, Undead Rising

Win a Free Copy of Undead Rising–Courtesy of Rachel Caine!

My husband is awesome. He honored our first anniversary this weekend with a very modern “paper” gift: he reached out to Rachel Caine, one of my very favorite and most inspirational authors, to ask her for a letter to me, to help me get over the first-book jitters.

And she’s proven she’s my idol for a reason: she way over-delivered!

First, she sent me a very beautiful reminder to just keep trying. Here’s part of it:

 There’s no “right” way to publish. We are all blind people in a dark room, bumping into things, making mistakes, learning, moving on… I’ve written under 3 other names in my career, and had to change and reinvent myself because my books weren’t selling, until they were. It’s a hard road, with lots of twists and turns, and it can seem like it *should* be easy, but it’s only easy from the outside.

(I’m keeping the rest, just for me!)

Then, she tweeted about my book (and anniversary!) to all her fans! As a bonus, she’s giving away 5 copies of Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny.

Undead Rising Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter to win!

And my many, many thanks to Ms. Caine and my dear sweet husband. This is the best anniversary gift I could have ever asked for!

If you aren’t already reading Caine’s books, I can’t recommend them enough. I particularly love her Weather Wardens series, though she’s most famous for her Morganville Vampires series. She’s got another book coming out soon, too!

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Filed under Undead Rising, writing

The Importance of Failure

I’ve been thinking a lot about bones lately. I’ve been thinking about what happens when you break one. A friend is a power lifter; he literally wrestled a bear once (for charity. Both he and the bear were fine). But he fell while trying to fix a toilet and broke his elbow and now has a very impressive-looking brace on it.

I was thinking about how, when a bone breaks, it hurts a great deal, and even after it sets it can throb and be sore for weeks. (I’m taking this on faith; I’ve never actually broken one and was unwilling to do it for science’s sake).

But then it begins to heal, and while it heals, a mass of bone surrounds the broken area. As a result, the place where a bone broke is temporarily stronger than it was before it was ever broken.

The effect isn’t permanent, or I imagine every athlete and soldier in the world would be throwing themselves down stairs to try to break-and-heal more, but it’s got me thinking about failure in general.

I was reading one of those stupid lists of “things everyone should do before ____,” and failure showed up there, too. Most of the list amounted to that: fail, and fail again, and learn from failures while you can. It also quotes J.K. Rowling, who famously was on welfare and at rock-bottom before she sold Harry Potter and became a hero to authors and readers everywhere. She told Oprah:

“I’ve often met people who are terrified—you know, in a straitjacket of their own making—because they’d rather do anything than fail. They don’t want to try for fear of failing,” she says. “[Hitting] rock bottom wasn’t fun at all—I’m not romanticizing rock bottom—but it was liberating. What did I have to lose?”

I wonder if perhaps it was her failure that allowed Rowling to succeed?

Resilience is one of the most amazing characteristics of humanity. Did you know that, psychologically speaking, there is a large segment of cancer survivors who say they are grateful for the cancer, as terrible as the experience was? That is failure of the body. There are many kinds of failure, some for which we contributed and some that happen for no reason at all. They all hurt wickedly, and are sore for a good long time after the event. But what if, like with a broken bone, we are stronger after we have healed from a failure? What can we do with the lessons we’ve learned from our failures, and what will we go on to achieve?

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Filed under Publishing, Science, writing

Should Books Come With Trigger Warnings?

Neil Gaiman’s most recent book was a collection of short stories under the title Trigger Warning. He opened the book with a short discussion of “trigger warnings” (an internet phrase that is used to indicate that there may be objectionable or deeply troubling content to follow, to allow readers to “opt out” if they feel unprepared for it). Gaiman comes out neither for or against trigger warnings—he basically says if someone will be greatly upset by something, they do have a right to avoid it, but that sometimes it is good to introduce ourselves to troubling things, in order to grow as people—and I didn’t think too much about it beyond “hm.”
Then I read Ship of Destiny. Not to spoil too much, but there is a sudden and unexpected rape scene in the story. Much like a real rape, it occurred practically without warning. It was not a particularly graphic scene, violence-wise, but the word choices and the trauma of the victim that played out over the next several chapters deeply troubled me.
I think I would have liked to have had a trigger warning that there would be a rape in the book. I think I would have still read it—it was very well executed, sensitive to the victim, and made it clear that the villain was a deeply conflicted, messed-up person—but I would have liked some warning, so I could have emotionally prepared myself.
I struggle with rape scenes in all genres. I was interested in Girl with a Dragon Tattoo until I heard there was a graphic rape scene, and I know myself well enough to know I just can’t handle that. I had to stop watching a movie (I think it was The Missing?) because it looked like the main female character was going to be raped–I ran out of the room crying and couldn’t bear to finish.
Someone I know has told me she wishes TV shows and movies came with trigger warning-esque labels: she has a crippling anxiety about people being shot in the head after someone close to her died that way. I can’t blame her for that.
But of course, content creators may not want their work to be labeled in this way. (Publishers probably wouldn’t!) It might put off potential book-buyers. People might protest something that, if they just read it in context, would be fine. There’s a danger inherent to telling people your work might be challenging to them.
I don’t know that I feel that all books should carry a trigger warning. After all, I found Kushiel’s Dart …troubling… but it was still a great book and I’m glad to have read it. (The difference between that and Ship of Destiny? Kushiel’s Dart had lots of clear warnings about what I was getting into!)
I agree with Gaiman that sometimes we have to push our boundaries a little, and that may mean reading something we find unnerving. But I also think people do have a right to protect themselves, particularly that very delicate emotional scared place we all have.
What do you think? Would you want your book to have a trigger warning?

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Filed under Reading, Short Stories, writing

How to Edit Your “Choose Your Own Adventure”-Style Book

Now that you’ve written your totally awesome gamebook, you’ve got to edit it! Unfortunately, because you’ve got all these disconnected storylines running all over the place, that’s a bit more of an organizational feat than normal editing. So what should you do? Here’s my advice after working on my adult zombie gamebook, Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny.

Take a Deep Breath
And just try to be patient. It’s pretty complicated, and even after taking more than 6 passes through it (both me and with other editors) I still found mistakes in the final form. Which is frustrating.
Make a Checklist
Since you made that awesome list when you wrote it, you can now turn that list into a checklist. You’ll want to mark off each section you’ve read/reviewed as you go. YES, you will most likely loop through the same sections repeatedly. You have to check the direction with every one, even if you just glance to make sure the transitions make sense.
Use the “Find” Feature
Late in the game I decided to change the names of a few characters. There was no way in Hades I was ever going to find all the incidences of those names, but the find tool made it easy to find and replace them in one quick pass. The same thing holds true with other story details (if you’ve decided, as I did, to keep some things constant across storylines). Because you’ve got a nonlinear story, you’ll need some clever tricks to track everything down.
Rewrite and Modify
After I showed a draft copy to my brother, I had to add in a few more scenes. (He felt like he died too often, poor baby). Because I’d written the book in Scrivner, this wasn’t that hard, but it did mean changing the choices to lead to that section, and inserting new pages. If I had been going by page number at this point–instead of the simpler numbering system–I’d have been in big trouble.
Layout the Pages
When you are completely confident that the story works, doesn’t have errors, and is generally in good shape, lay out the pages. It is a BIG headache if you have to go back and change these later (odds are good that you’ll have to go back and change them later…) but that’s why you’ve got your checklist as a backup.
You may want to do a rough layout, and then save two versions, if you’re doing ebook and print. They are similar in manuscript format but are about to change dramatically.
Add Page Numbers
I worked from the beginning and moved through my numbered list in order. That meant, in some cases, I added page numbers to some choices and left others with the placeholder number until I reached that point in the number system. In those cases, I just used the “find” tool to find my placeholder once I knew for certain what page it would be on. I also wrote the page number next to the original number in my list.
Use a pencil. I had to erase and scratch out at least a few times, particularly in the final pages.
Add Links
Because I wanted an ebook option as well as a printed option, I had to add links for ereaders. But the number system I used also made this pretty easy! I added the links in my document in Word (after exporting the manuscript from Scrivner). Word has a great “bookmark” tool that allows you to create in-document links. In Microsoft for Mac, this is located under Insert>Bookmark. You’ll add the bookmark itself to the section you want to send readers to, and add a hyperlink to that bookmark to each choice. (So: choices become links; bookmarks are at the beginning of the new section). You can also nickname your bookmarks with a few words–or even your number system. That chart you made really comes in handy!
Google “add bookmarks in Word” if you need step-by-step directions. A word of warning: if you have a full novel like Undead Rising with a lot of links, your document is going to get pretty big and the bookmarks may get challenging. That’s another reason I find the number system so useful.
Add Formatting For eBook and Print Versions
This was really time-consuming and you may want to hire a designer for this part. Print and ebooks naturally have some strong differences in layout and needs of the reader, and you’ll have to design carefully to accommodate that. For print, I wanted clear bullets to indicate each new choice. For the ebook, the choices were already obvious because they are underlined links. I also added dropcaps to signal new sections for the print book; that wouldn’t be necessary in an ebook, because the link will “warp” the reader directly to the new section.
Whatever formatting you decide on, be extremely careful that you don’t mess up your page numbers (in print) and that you are consistent throughout.
Check It Again
After you think everything is perfect, you’re going to need to check it..again. And probably again after that. The first pass should look for spelling and grammatical issues (I read the book backwards to help look for those); the second pass should check every link and every page direction. It’s tedious but very important that it be perfect!
After this, you should have a gorgeous ebook and/or print gamebook ready to publish!
—-
Undead Rising coverIf that sounds like a ridiculous amount of work, maybe you should just enjoy a good gamebook instead. How about Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny, now available in print and for Kindle?

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Filed under Editing, Publishing