Friday, 29 March 2013

Five Cynical Tips for Mid-List Authors

TIP ONE: Make Sales Or Die

We're all grown-ups here, so let's be straight with each other. The publishing industry as our role models knew it - those star-dusted writers whose novels we read and loved as kids - is dead.

Long live the new publishing industry!

In this brave new world, the mid-list author who can't make a bestseller list becomes very rapidly a pest and a bore. They can be as talented, professional and competent as you like, but if they can't consistently hit the new sales quotas, they're toast. Soon they will see the editor's eyes glazing over at lunch meetings - if they've not already been downgraded to coffee shop status, or 'just a quick phone chat'. Not long after that, their contracts will fail to be renewed or may actually be cancelled.

So don't get too comfy once you have a safe little contract and a slowly growing backlist. The fairy-story ending for successful writers has been edited to read 'Keep making sales or die!' It has become clear that writers can no longer rely on one publisher, or genre, or source of income.

Cynicism is the new trust in publishing. Publishers - and even readers, sadly - can turn fickle on the publication of each new sales report. So don't worry too much about building a following in one place only, but keep a suitcase packed by the door. Just in case.

Sometimes the only way forward is to reinvent yourself.

TIP TWO: All Of Us Write Debuts, But Some Write More Debuts Than Others

Following on from the above, be prepared to reinvent yourself from scratch periodically. This can mean a new pen-name, a new genre, and definitely new readers. Invent a new persona for each name, with a separate email address, Twitter and Facebook accounts, blog and website.

Try not to tangle the reins, despite the temptation to retweet promo via a different account just because the previous account has more followers. And watch tone in social media. It should match your new persona, not sound just like the original you with a funny hat on.

Duplicitous? You betcha. This is the age of the debut novel. Try to write one at least every three years.

TIP THREE: Dust Off Your Childhood Dreams

Becoming jaded is a perennial danger for the mid-list author. After a few novels, you may start to feel you've seen it all before, and probably written it all before too. Hold on, didn't you use that same plot twist three books ago? Oh well, no one will notice ...

Stay fresh by constantly revisiting your vision of yourself as an author. Once upon a time, you knew where you were going. Right to the top! Then you became a published writer and suddenly things were a bit more complicated.

Well, now is a good time to return to that vision and see how it panned out. Why did you start writing in the first place? Are you achieving what you hoped you would achieve as a published author? If not, what's standing in your way? It may be that you always intended to write for the stage, but that nice agent persuaded you to try a crime thriller. Now nobody cares about the socially significant play you were always tinkering with in college, and just want another gritty Bob Hardarse thriller from you.

Adjusting your career can mean a major shortfall in income. Are you prepared for that? (Though given that publisher advances are disappearing into the toilet right now, it won't be quite such a shock to find a new playwright may only get paid for bums on seats.)

You may even find that reviving your early vision of yourself as a writer juices up your usual writing. One can but hope.

TIP FOUR: The Social Media Drain

Twitter is just marvellous. What did we do before Twitter? Sat around making paper aeroplanes, no doubt, or having affairs with the milkman instead of writing our novels ...

But there's a catch. While social media brings the lonely writer much-needed industry contacts, endless promotional opportunities and the undying approval of your lovely editor, it can also make you deeply insecure and an unpleasant companion for the cat.

"How does X get so many followers? He's a complete toad!" -- "Why did Z land that lucrative contract? I can write rings round that guy!" -- "Oh please! Not that old promo link AGAIN!"

Worse still, social media can eat into your writing time like acid. Suddenly you can't even manage the bog-standard 1000 words a day, because you're writing half that cumulatively via Twitter, Facebook and blog sites.

To avoid potentially disastrous over-tweet, set strict limits to how often you connect with people online. Try not to compare yourself to others in your field. That way madness lies. And be particularly careful who is silently following you (and listening to your tweets). Remember, they've all got it in for you.

TIP FIVE: Sod The Lot Of Them

Ah, so you're between contracts. Or perhaps between agents (which is probably worse). It happens to the best of us. In fact, it happens to most of us. Luckily, the brave new publishing industry is good for something at least in this respect. It's called, self-publishing.

You've sent out a submission or a pitch to agents/publishers. Maybe half a dozen. But don't sit there waiting to hear back from them. Instead, strike out on your own and start earning a small but probably useful amount of money without even parting with a percentage as commission to your agent.

No one needs know what you're up to. (Unless you tell them.) You can become Felicity Doppleganger while still writing respectable chicklit or Roman mysteries for your traditional publisher.

It's never been easier to self-publish. And if you need an editor to tidy things up, you can always hire one discreetly. Though most experienced mid-list authors will be able to do a reasonable job on their own, and save the expense. These days the odd typo or continuity error may even galvanise an offended reader to review your book on Amazon, and you know what they say: all publicity is good publicity.

Waste my precious time on self-publishing? Never!

Ah, but the short story is king on Amazon at 77p. So time wasted is at a minimum. Pick a popular genre, such as sci fi/fantasy, paranormal or romance, and you need only knock out short fiction under 10,000 words. And that's a generous amount. If you lean towards erotica - and it does pay to be saucy - you could go as low as 6000 words at a push.

Though I always feel readers appreciate a little more effort than that, and we all want to be loved by our readers. Don't we?

If you have enjoyed this blog post, please support the writer Elizabeth Moss by browsing her books on Amazon. Well, some of her books ...

Monday, 18 March 2013

Sex and the Tudors

If The Tudors show is anything to go by, the Tudors were constantly at it.
I'm currently writing a Tudor romance, so I've been researching sex in Tudor times, as one does. Perhaps the most fascinating thing I've discovered is that sex wasn't entirely unprotected in those days. No, many couples went to great lengths to avoid pregnancy occurring.

This was despite the fact that contraception was against the law. It was considered a sin to have intercourse outside marriage, and therefore all intercourse was supposed to take place within marriage. Since it was part of God's plan that married couples should procreate - 'Go forth and multiply!' - trying to prevent that happening was considered a sin against God. Those who tried to interfere with that natural law could be condemned to death - and sometimes were, especially if they were of the wise old village woman variety, i.e. considered to be witches.

Nonetheless, this not being an ideal world, much sex occurred outside marriage, most commonly between men and prostitutes, between married men and their mistresses - sometimes married women themselves - and between young couples unable to wait for the sanctity of marriage. In all these cases, pregnancy would have been a very bad idea indeed.

Even married couples sometimes preferred not to add yet more children to their tally. (Childbirth being one of the key killers of women at the time, this is not entirely a surprise.)

So here are a few of the methods of contraception used by these more wily Tudors: 

Depending on who you ask, Elizabeth I either practised abstinence, remaining a Virgin Queen to her death, or else had several secret children by a number of different candidates, such as the Earl of Leicester.

Abstinence. Yes, well ...

Withdrawal. Still popular today, this was not a foolproof method of avoiding pregnancy, as a man is easily distracted at the vital moment.

Keeping the current child on the breast. (Clearly this was unreliable and only worked for those who already had a baby or young child.)

Avoiding the more fertile time of the month, a method which they didn't really understand, so not a great tool in the fight against pregnancy. So to speak.

Magickal objects (one source cites 'weasel testicles' to be worn about the neck), spells and incantations. Um ...

Pessaries and morning-after pills. These consisted of all kinds of grim and unpleasant substances, including the acidic medium of vinegar, taken orally or crammed inside the woman prior to intercourse, or sometimes after it. I should imagine most were utterly ineffectual. See magickal objects above.

Those concoctions designed to induce abortion may have contained pennyroyal among other herbs, and even mercury. Babies are notoriously hard to dislodge once implantation has taken place, so some of these potions may have killed the mothers as well as the babies they were carrying.

Condoms. Here, controversy enters. Some historians believe these may have existed in some minor form during Tudor times, others consider they did not arrive in England until the late seventeenth century. Some believe these early English condoms may have been made of leather, though animal intestines treated with oil were popular in other countries at this time, and parchment condoms have even been suggested. Bizarre!

Also see:
Sex in Elizabethan England by Alan Haynes

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Moving back - hotting up

The notorious King Henry VIII of England. How many wives and mistresses does one king need?
Some exciting news here for Elizabeth Moss readers. For my next few novels at least, I will be heading back in time, writing Tudor romance instead of Regency novels. And they will be even more romantic than before. Yes, the temperature in here is about to start rising ...

My first Tudor title is in progress at the moment, and should be published later this summer. I'll keep you all posted on how it goes. Meanwhile, wish me luck!

Elizabeth x