Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 17, 2013

Ten Keys to Publishing Success and Survival, Part 2

NOTE: We’re going to put randomizer to work on Sunday and pick one name from everyone who commented on either Part 1 or Part 2 of Jane’s post. The winner of a “Jane Porter Goodie Package” will be announced on Monday, May 20.

JanePorter_photo16_288px_72dpiby Jane Porter

On Wednesday I talked about the first 5 keys to success. Today I’m going to lay out the last 5 tips.

6. Flexibility is Essential to Survival

I owe this important insight to the stellar Stella Cameron.  I should have figured this one out on my own, but I didn’t.  Instead I spent the past couple of years banging my head against the wall, and then throwing myself against the wall, determined to make the wall move.  I was Jane Porter.  I am nothing if not fierce and tenacious.  I would make the wall move by my determination alone.

The wall didn’t move.  I just got hurt, and discouraged, and the futility of my actions impacted my writing, as well as my sense of self-worth.

We can’t control the industry.  We can only control ourselves, and I wasn’t doing a very good job of controlling myself, and it wasn’t because I didn’t lack conviction.  It was because I’d overdeveloped my muscle and grit, and failed to develop flexibility and balance.

The tough Jane realized during Stella’s fantastic keynote at the Emerald City Conference that great intentions and dense muscle aren’t enough … one has to be able to shift, adapt, evolve.

One has to choose to be flexible.  One has to make a conscious commitment to stretch, bend, yield, experiment.  If traditional publishing isn’t working for you now, experiment with e-publishing.  If what you’re writing now isn’t finding enough readers, take risks and try something new.  If you feel beat up or discouraged by publishing, spend some time focusing on what would give you pleasure, make that a priority.

Make you a priority.  Not you, the writer, but you, the person.

Make sure you’re getting what you need for a wonderful life.  Work out both sides of your muscles and take plenty of time to stretch.  And then stretch some more.  You must be agile to survive.  You must have hope and joy to thrive.

7. Success = Market Knowledge, Business Acumen, & Balls

Some of my biggest mistakes early in my career were in not getting proper market knowledge.  Then I figured out that massive learning curve and started selling, and succeeding.  I got comfortable.  Happy.  I knew what I was doing, I liked what I was doing, all was good.

And then, without consulting me, the industry started to change.  Amazon came on the scene.  The Barnes & Noble and Borders war swallowed up the small B. Daltons and Waldenbooks, and chased away lots of the indie stores.  The battles intensified and then Borders got in trouble, and you know all this … we all know this.

But Darwinian Jane, committed to the Survival of What Jane was Doing Well, was going to continue with Jane’s Plan.  So caveman-like, I pushed myself harder.  Wrote more.  Promoted more.  Spent way too much on publicity because I believed in the books I was writing, and was determined to reach my readers…even though it was harder to find them since trade fiction is still very print dependent.  Less than 50% of my trade readers, read on a device.  Now the romance reader has embraced e-readers.  The romance reader is at the front of the change.  The romance reader loves new things.  But the romance reader isn’t going to pay $10 for a Kindle download of my women’s fiction, and the bookstores that carry trade books are far and few and inbetween in many parts of the country now.

So despite my fierce, focused resolve, my passion, my commitment of time and resources, my trade books weren’t doing what I wanted them to do.  The results weren’t what I’d hoped.  The print runs were smaller, the sales smaller which doesn’t equal success in the traditional print world.

And there lies the problem.

Publishing is switching over to e.  Traditional publishers are pushing e over p.

Jane Porter—the writer—hadn’t.

Thankfully I had an epiphany a few months ago that I’m on my way to becoming extinct.  It was a jolt to the system, but the wake up call was just what I needed.

I’m a good writer.  A passionate writer.  There’s no need for me to give up, die out, or fade away.  I just need to refocus, and relearn the market.  I’ve spent the past four months revisiting my goals, my stories, my themes and see lots of opportunity ahead.  But it meant giving up contracts I’ve held for years.  It meant walking away from ‘a sure thing’, or perceived security for the new Wild Wild West of Publishing.

But its good.  It’s exciting.  And its not as if one has to give up all traditional publishing for new e-opportunities.  You can have both.  You can juggle, balance, risk, as well as stand back and watch…evaluate, experiment, play.

You can do anything you want.  Isn’t that amazing news?

8. Perspective

The great thing about having published 40+ books over the past 13 years is that I’ve been beat up good.  I’m still kicking and smiling.  And best of all, I’ve got some perspective now.

I believe we can succeed.  But success (at least for me) isn’t just about money.   Money is important.  It pays bills, and being paid well gives one pride and a sense of self-worth.  But I also want respect.  Appreciation.  I want my print readers to still be able to find me in a store.  And then I want to write the story that my reader will cherish for years to come.

Clearly, for me, publishing is more than putting a book out there.  I have a whole hierarchy of needs that must be met by my writing, and I didn’t get to this point overnight.

But then, most of us do not become successful authors overnight.  Most of us have to grapple with learning the craft, with understanding the different markets, with discovering which editors will buy what, or which e–platform will give us the results we want.

So give yourself time to adjust to the learning curve.  Learn. 

Also, to use my friend Sinclair’s expression, know what you bring to the party.  What do you do best as a writer?  Where are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  These are ten market things I think every writer should know:

  • Be able to identify your Voice
  • Find a genre/line/style that suits your Voice
  • It’s not necessary to go for the hard sale first
  • Conversely, don’t merely reach for low hanging fruit.
  • Avoid jumping from manuscript to manuscript, or genre to genre indiscriminately
  • Don't target a genre or publisher you don’t read
  • Don't send a query, or self publish a book, before its ready
  • Know your market hooks – hooks still sell books
  • Don't go overboard with market hooks – keep it fresh
  • Know when the horse is dead  (i.e., don’t be Cavewoman Jane)
  • Don't try to please everyone

9.  Quality Drives Success

Quality is huge.

Quality is everything.

Our readers deserve extraordinary stories.  Our readers deserve to be delighted, enchanted, surprised, moved, entertained.  Give your readers your very best story, each and every time.  Your readers will thank you, and they’ll repay you with loyalty and making you an auto-buy.

Apply high standards to every aspect of the writing and publishing process:  writing, editing, copy-editing, formatting, pricing, art, covers and blurbing, marketing.

Make quality part of your brand.  You’ll never regret it.  Readers love a success story.

10. The Successful Professional

I’ve learned to weather storms.  I still don’t like them.  I prefer blue skies and bright sunny days.  78 degrees is perfect.  No humidity, please.  But life isn’t like that.  Publishing isn’t like that, either. Therefore we must learn to deal with stress, pressure, and reality, with grace.  Dignity.  And that all important humor.

There are times our careers will fly.  There are times we will struggle.

I have enjoyed tremendous success, and I have had books that just didn’t sell.  I’ve had critical success, too, financial success, and then I’ve had challenges that made me question my sanity and my desire to continue with this career.

Editors can be difficult.  Publishers capricious.  Readers fickle, or critical.  Writers judgmental.

The writing life can be hard on families.  The writing life can be hard on one’s sense of self.  So strive for excellence, and yet hang on to your sense of humor.  Forgive yourself when things go wrong.  Savor the successes.  Protect your muse.   Guard your heart.  Cherish your real friends, the ones that are strong and kind and supportive.

Publishing is a very small world.  Be the writer editors and other writers want to work with.  People talk.  Publishing is constantly evolving.  Editors change houses.   Editors become agents, agents become publishers, readers become reviewers, reviewers become social media mavericks…

We don’t know the future.  We can make predictions but things change.  We know that now.  Ten years ago New York had all the power in publishing.  Ten years ago I couldn’t imagine a world without a bookstore on every corner  (okay, I lived in Seattle with its proliferation of coffee houses and bookstores).  We’ve learned that we’re going to have to be flexible, and adapt.

And we can.

Just remember, we’re in this for the long haul.  And we’re not just going to survive.  We’re going to thrive!

About Jane

The Good Daughter, February 2013

The Good Daughter, February 2013

Bestselling author of the  Jane Porter has been a finalist for the prestigious RITA award four times, has over 12 million copies in print.  Jane’s novel, Flirting With Forty, picked by Redbook as its Red Hot Summer Read, went back for seven printings in six weeks before being made into a Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear.  September 2012 brought the release of The Good Woman, the first of her Brennan Sisters trilogy, followed in February 2013 by The Good Daughter, and book three in the series, The Good Wife, is slotted for release in September.  A mother of three sons, Jane holds an MA in Writing from the University of San Francisco and makes her home in sunny San Clemente, CA with her surfer husband.

Find Jane at:
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorjanep

48 comments on “Ten Keys to Publishing Success and Survival, Part 2”

  1. I like the "You can do anything you want." comment, as well as the "Know your craft" tip from the first of this series.

  2. As one who has a brick pattern scar on her forehead, I'm taking #6 to heart. Very true thing, that.

    Thanks for your wisdom - and it's really bumming me out that I can't be entered for the goodie prize!!!

  3. Quality drives success. I like this key a lot! This is my number one key, even though I haven't achieved much financial success (only 6 months into this self-publishing adventure, but I've been writing for years). My short stories are published; my novels are selling slowly; my fiction reading blog has a steady if not slow pace. We s-p authors MUST focus on quality of writing, skills, presentation, and execution of our work. I hope to see the s-p industry thrive but we must all be absolutely professional about our approach. Great post and so insightful. Thanks, Jane.

    One more thing I'd like to add, May is National Short Story Month. If you like reading or writing short stories, please get out there and read, blog, review, comment, tweet about short stories. Join the movement to honor short stories and flash fiction.

  4. Perspective! That's what I needed to hear this week. 🙂
    Jane, I loved this workshop last month when you gave it at the retreat but I think it's hitting home even stronger this time around. Thank you!

  5. That market knowledge is probably one thing I struggle with. Because I like to read in a lot of genres--although I have my faves. I know, however, that I need to focus for a while as I'm gaining a better sense of my genre and the associated marketplace. Thanks for the reminder! Great tips--all 10!

  6. Honestly, I can't pick just one key or thought -- it all rang true and hit deep. I needed this pep talk! Thanks, Jane, for putting your thoughts and experience in words that resonate so clearly!

  7. Good grief, Charlie !! Amazing. Both Part I and Part II ... sound, intelligent and realistic goals and perspective. Thanks so much, Jane. The industry today can be a wonderful place to play and experiment. I never thought I'd entertain digital first or that eventually I'd prefer to be a hybrid. I know that I want to accomplish ... and every single time I come here to WITS I learn more about HOW to accomplish 🙂

  8. Not a romance writer. Children's lit is my thing. ut your tips are relevant regardless. New and unpublished but reading everything that seems helpful. I owe you a special thank you. Great tips.

  9. Thanks for your insights, Jane! I am just barely venturing into the writing world, but your points all ring true. Will have to bookmark and keep re-reading to let it all sink in.

  10. Jane, it's so clear from this wonderful post why you're as successful as you are! You keep knocking on doors (even when doors fall on your head), and you have the passion to keep writing and to keep learning how to bring your books to the right audience. I really love this post. You're an inspiration to all of us!

  11. Jane, Thanks so much for taking the time to put these thoughts to paper. And I love being inspired, so thank you for inspiring me that this (writing and selling NOW) can be done. But you're right, you have to be willing to embrace change.

    I second and third that persevance and mental strength are necessary. And it's so good to hear someone put Craft at #1.

  12. "It was because I’d overdeveloped my muscle and grit, and failed to develop flexibility and balance."

    I was the opposite: flexible as a cat, but flimsy in a clutch. It took me a while to accept that most authors are made entirely of muscle and grit, and only know flexibility and balance because they're in the dictionary. Knowing what challenges others helps me help them.

  13. Marketing is the part of this process I like the least. I finally had to tell myself that I am not promoting me; I'm promoting my book in which I whole-heartedly believe. That makes it so much easier.

    Thanks for the frank and helpful advice.

  14. Glad you mentioned QUALITY. Poor quality in self-published ebooks is obvious, so I'll skip that and zero in on my pet peeve: the low quality of most futuristic romances, making that sub-genre the red-haired stepchild of the romance world. Writers of futuristic keep posting ideas about how to promote the popularity of their work, focusing on better marketing and more romantic covers, etc. Pointing out the low quality of futuristic romance overall hasn't won me many friends, but I believe that anything well written will be embraced by readers. Science fiction is popular in today's world, but futuristic romance lags behind--primarily due to the fan-lit quality of the work being produced. Sometimes writers need to take a few pounds of pressure off their egos in order to take a good, hard look at their product.

  15. Number 6 spoke to me: flexibility. Not to get beaten down or beat up by publishing, not being published, not making sales and feeling as if it reflects on you, your value personally. It's tough not to get down in this industry. Thanks for the lift from someone who has survived and thrived.

    1. It's very hard not to get down sometimes. I think that's why "perspective" jumped up and down at me. 🙂

      And you are the lucky winner of Jane's goodie bag. Send me an email and we'll get you set up.

      1. Love the fact that your BLOG kept me from getting down today...won this nifty prize on the same day my email sent me a rejection. Thanks for the great work of keeping we writers from feeling so alone out there 🙂

  16. Jane - thank you again! So much of what you say today hits home, too, starting right off with #6 and going on from there.

    I don't think I've deliberately beat my head against a wall. But sometimes I focus on a goal above all else because it's what helps keep me fierce and tenacious and determined. Then, I forget about the wall and run into it. 😉 In either case, it seems as though we need to loosen up and become more flexible and work around whatever's standing in the way.

  17. Thank you for the great tips/advice. I've taken away something from all your tips. All writers could benefit from reading both posts.

  18. What a wonderful and encouraging post Jane. Thank you for breaking it down for us. As a newbie, I find the whole process over-whelming sometimes and need to remind myself to take it one step at a time. And then to learn that you are also a SoCal girl. Jenny Hansen, why have you not told me about Jane? Anyway, have a great weekend and I look forward to meeting you someday. 🙂

  19. Great piece, Jane. You are an inspiration. I have enjoyed the post and i tell you : i have learned one or two things from it.

  20. I really enjoyed reading this even though I'm not an author. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks, Elisabeth. I think the tips hold for other professions and life in general, not just writing. I know I've applied a few of those when I worked in the corporate world and even more so when I started freelancing (and considering tattooing the word "perspective" someplace obvious). 🙂

  21. You surprised me in this post. I figured success was success and never thought about the constant bumps on the road once you're there. I write, that is what I do, but being published is a bonus.

    A bonus that I never thought would pay the bills. I need to reach for a higher branch. 🙂

  22. Jane,

    I just got my first contract, so this post is so timely for me. I really appreciate your honesty in facing your fears. I think sometimes I am the only one who is scared and unsure about how to move forward. You gave me a lot to think about!

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