Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Career Novelist and advice

As I said in my last blog, the very lovely Anne McAllister sent me a copy of The Career Novelist by Donald Maass. The book had been on my I-need-to read-this list ever since I first learnt of its existence.
If you are looking for a how to book on writing, his Writing the Breakout Novel book and workbook are excellent, but this book is primarily aimed at the novelist who is just starting her publishing career. It did not disappoint.

Parts of it are now dated and this is why I suspect that it has been allowed to go out of print. But to the discerning reader, there is still plenty to be gleaned.

It is sort of a question of where to start with his good advice. One piece advice that is applicable to every writer is that the ultimate transaction is with the reader. They are the consumers of your product -- give them good value, bring out your new product regularly to encourage repeat purchases and they will make you successful beyond your wildest dreams. You should remember that ultimately your group of fans is unique to YOU. They are discrete subset of readers who want YOUR settings, YOUR characters and to be immersed in the world of YOUR Story. YOUR readers will know your writing more intimately than probably you do. Thus where you should spend the lion share's of your time is crafting stories that allow your readers in.
It is the most important relationship in the business -- author and reader. By giving her best, the author strives to fulfil her part of the bargain.
If an author is going to write a cross over type novel, she needs to think where her main body of readers will be found. That is her primary market.
Self-promotion does not always work and in order to promote, one must first have a product. Again, trust the reader to respond to your writing.
Some publishers can be career-killing. Authors should study the market and be wary. Rights can be difficult to reobtain in the advent of bankruptcy, despite what contracts say...
Maass makes the point that it takes at least FIVE books to become established and an overnight success. Sometimes, it takes longer. Think Patrick O'Brien. The vast majority of huge best sellers came from mid list authors who broke out or already established best selling authors. It is highly unusual for first time authors to hit the jackpot as it were.
Huge headline advances are not what they seem -- they are a marketing tool so that sub-rights can be more easily sold. If a book does poorly, the author might not get the whole advance. In fact, even if it does well, it might be years before the author sees the whole advance as headline grabbing advances are often multiple book contracts with various provisions.
Authors should not think about quitting the day job until their ROYALTIES can support them -- not their advances but their royalties. The real money in this business is made through the sale of sub-rights -- IE when the book is printed in other languages. A writer can quickly get into trouble if she treats her advance cheque as a pay cheque.
The sales figure you want to know most is the sell-through ratio -- how many books are sold versus number shipped. A high ratio is good. It means the publisher is making money. Huge print runs can place pressure on the sell through ratio. Books can be easily reprinted these days. Every publisher has their own rules about reprints and when they happen. Backlists are important to publishers and to writers alike.

I could go and on. After reading it, I do feel that I have a far better understanding of the industry. My only wish is that Maass would update the book.


Amanda Ashby said...

Thanks for the great blog, Michelle. I've read his Breakout book but I haven't heard of this one so I must go and add it to my ever growing wishlist!!!!

Michelle Styles said...

It is worth trying to find Amanda. It is out of print but I merely touched on the valuable advice.

For example, he devotes a chapter to how he goes about selling a ms, and the intricacies of auction, multiple and single submission. And why he varies approaches depending on the ms.