The Junior Authors Writing Conference 2014

JAWCBack at the start of the new year, I was approached by Laura Thomas to speak at her conference for young writers. The conference was held on October 18 at a Vancouver hotel and there were about 60 young writers in attendance. I based my talk on Publishing Options for the New Writer on not speaking to kids, but to emerging authors.

When I arrived, I saw that most of the attendees were 11-13 years old and my heart fell. I thought, “I am going to bore them to death!” So, I gathered my courage and walked to the front of the room. While things started off pretty normally, after about 7 minutes into my 45 minute time slot, there were so many questions and animated comments from the attendees that I realized I quickly wasn’t going to get through my prepared speech. Actually, their questions were so valid and on-point that it was like they knew what I was going to be talking about.

I remain supremely impressed by these young people – their intellect, their desire for writing and their ambition. I am posting my talk here, mainly in the hopes that it may help other writers – young or old. And I can’t wait to see what kind of books these young people produce – I’m almost positive there will be a bestseller in their midst.

And the highlight of the day: finishing my talk, going off to the side to answer a few questions, only to turn around to see 50 kids waiting for my autograph!

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I’m Michelle Halket, and I make books. I don’t write them, I take what others have written and I turn it into a book.

About 6 years ago, I had a conversation with someone about how difficult it was for authors to get their work out into the world. And how that was such a shame that so much creative spirit never gets acknowledged. And so, I decided to start a website that would help authors get their work “published”. At the time, it was just going to be a simple website where people could publish their books, novellas, stories, poetry, etc. But as I researched the concept, I saw one very small, but very interesting trend – ebooks. So I decided I would take pretty much anything that someone wrote, pop a generic cover on it and make it into an ebook that people could buy from our website. At the time that we launched, we were called ireadiwrite – and nobody knew what ebooks were  – they were this fringe thing that I had to explain every time I told someone what I did. It was brutal. I didn’t charge the authors anything, I would just take a portion of what they sold, much like with traditional publishing.

But like music, the digital form took off and enabled me to surf that wave. And as we grew, I realized that I wanted to produce books that I liked, that I wanted to read, that I felt were good. So we evolved, and almost 4 years ago became Central Avenue Publishing.

Today, we are a traditional press that is proud to house over 30 authors and have published over 100 titles. Most of our books are by American authors, but we do have six Canadian authors, one Australian, one South Africa and a photographer from Germany. We publish nearly every genre. My one rule for publishing something, (other than liking the book) is liking the author. A publisher and writer work closely together, even if we never meet in person, so it’s important to feel that I can work well with someone.

Our books are reviewed or discussed on book review blogs on average twice per week and this doesn’t include reader social media sites like Goodreads or Shelfari. Many of our books have gone on to hit store bestseller lists, including Across The Hall, Amber Frost, Can You Hear Me Now? and our most popular book, I Wrote This For You is now stocked at all Barnes & Noble stores in the US.

No matter what type of work you’ve written, or which publishing option you choose, you need to have the absolute best version of the work ready to go before you start on any path. This means it’s finished, been beta read, edited for structure, style and copy and finally proofread – a few times. I can’t tell you how many queries I see for books that haven’t even been written, or are written so badly and fraught with typos, that I can’t believe they own a word processor. So no matter what you do, please do all that is necessary to create the best work you can.

My next question is the most important… Do you really want to be a published author?

Because once it’s out there, especially in this digital age, there’s no way to unpublish it. Having others read your work can run the range of being most satisfying to being very stressful and upsetting.

Most of the writers  I know are introverts, meaning they get energized by being alone or just with a few close friends rather than being with a lot of people or having an audience. Once your book is published, you open yourself up to criticism, both constructive and destructive. Often times, there are just plain old mean reviews of your book, just because there are haters and the internet gives them a place to hang out anonymously and come up with funny ways of saying how bad something is.

These are things you need to think about. As a published writer you need to have a thick skin, detach yourself from your work and learn from the inevitable criticism that will result. But for most writers, having their work read is the reason they write. So, if you’re up for the consequences and challenges of being published – then let’s learn a bit about that.

Today, you have so many more options to get your work out into the world than authors ever had before.

In traditional publishing, the author writes a query letter or a proposal, and submits it to a literary agent. Most publishers will not accept queries directly from authors, preferring to use agents as a middle person to help weed out the weaker proposals. If the agent accepts the authors, he or she will shop it around to the acquisitions editors at the various publishers. The editor reads it, considers whether it is right for the house, and decides either to reject it (leaving the agent free to offer it to another publisher) or to publish it.

If the publishing house decides to publish the book, the house buys the rights from the writer and pays him or her an advance on future royalties. This advance represents what publisher thinks the book will sell and is paid up front to the author. Once the book starts selling, the advance is “earned out” and the author won’t be paid again until the book sells more than what the advance was.

The house puts up the money to design and package the book, prints as many copies of the book as it thinks will sell, markets the book, and finally distributes the finished book to the public. This whole process takes about 18 months to 2 years.

The major trade book publishing companies in the United States are often referred to as “the Big Five” (formerly “The Big Six,” until Random House and Penguin officially merged in June 2013). They are Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillan Publishers, Simon and Schuster and Penguin Random House.

Most authors would consider getting published by an imprint of one of these companies as the epitome of their writing careers. To many, it represents fame and fortune. But getting there is challenging. Selling yourself to an agent is difficult enough. There are thousands of agents – and getting them to notice you among the thousands of queries they get can be difficult – even when they are open for submissions, since many of them are only open for submissions at certain times.

With the changes in reading and bookselling, big publishers are relying on big names to keep up sales, so unless you are a celebrity, you’re going to have a difficult time selling your book. It’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.

Within the realm of traditional publishing, there are thousands of smaller presses who operate in a similar fashion to the larger publishers but have carved out a niche for themselves in a particular genre or regional focus. The nice thing about getting a small publisher is that you don’t always need an agent, so approaching them is a little easier.

It is extremely difficult for the typical unknown author to get a publishing contract, and many ‘vanity publishers’ or subsidy publishers sprang up to give these authors an alternative. Essentially, these companies would publish any book in exchange for payment up front from the author. The term “vanity publishing” arose from the common perception that the authors who paid to have their book published were motivated by some overestimated sense of their own talent. The cost to have your book published by one of these companies is very high – the author chooses which publishing ‘package’ they want which can range from $1,000 to $10,000. There is no guarantee of sales, but the author does get a finished book in their hands.

Have any of you heard of crowd funding, like with KickStarter or IndieGoGo? For those who haven’t, a crowd funding site is a way of raising funds for a project by appealing to a large group of people who can donate as much as they wish. It works for charitable causes, music, small businesses, and authors too. With the success of these crowd funding sites, we are starting to see some crowd funded publishing companies which combines a vanity publisher with a self publisher. Unbound and Inkshares are the two more popular ones but there are rumours that Amazon will be doing it too.

Basically this means that authors sign up and appeal to people to fund their project by making donations. But instead of then having to go out and do everything themselves, the publishing company takes over and does it for you, once you’ve raised the $5,000 or so that they ask for.

Self-publishing is the publication of any book by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established publisher. The author is responsible and in control of entire process including the design of the cover and interior, formats, editing, proofreading, price, distribution, marketing and public relations.

Authors can either learn all the things they need to do themselves, or they can outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services. The problem with outsourcing is that authors need to have money to do it, and it can costs thousands to hire editors, proofreaders, cover designers, interior book designers and ebook coders.

Many authors turn to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter to get money, or fund the publishing process themselves. If an author elects to do it themselves, they can choose the format of the book they want to produce.

Creating an ebook would mean distributing it to the five major ebookstores including Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google and Kobo. Not all that long ago, you had to get your own ebook created and then find a company that would distribute it to these and the many other ebook stores that were around. Now, it’s terribly easy. For the most part, you can sign up, upload a word document and the bookstore’s online portal will convert your document to ebook formats for you.

If you don’t want to deal with each store individually you can use a distributor like Bookbaby or Smashwords who will take your word document convert it and distribute it for you.

If you want a print book, you can create accounts with either of CreateSpace (an Amazon company), IngramSpark or Lulu and upload a print ready pdf and cover design and using a technology called print on demand, they’ll print your book for you – either one or 1000, it’s up to you.

With so many choices and with the changing trends in reading and publishing, how do you know which is right for you?

There is a terrible misconception that getting your book published by a traditional publisher means fame and fortune and a road to a Man Booker or Nobel prize. This isn’t the case. Getting a book deal as an unknown author could very well mean a small advance and a print run of just a few thousand copies which then get returned to the printer. Traditional publishers want new authors with an established fan base/platform. The problem with traditional or legacy publishing is that print books and the old model of distributing them is languishing. Bricks and mortar bookstores are closing down and print books are expensive for publishers. So the prospect of hitting it big as a writer is about the same as winning the lottery.

Does this mean that you give up on traditional publishing? No! Publishers have a great amount of experience and ability behind them and they can be your best collaborators and advocates for your book. But go into it knowing that becoming the next JK Rowling is not likely, that building your craft and your readers will come mostly from your own efforts – not from theirs.

How you decide to put your creative work out is really based on two things: What kind of personality you have and the genre of your work.

If you are this kind of person:

  • You would rather mostly write
  • You don’t mind giving up creative control
  • You don’t mind giving up a lot of the royalties
  • You like working with others
  • Your book is in a currently marketable genre: YA paranormal, dystopia, romance, literary fiction

and you believe you have a superior piece of literature, then by all means, go for it! I’m a publisher and I am blessed to work with many talented authors. I don’t mind doing the work for them and letting them just do the writing. But marketing is a joint venture and they put in as much work on marketing themselves and their books as I do.

I mention the last point about marketable genres because I think that it’s important to realize that publishers are business people – they want books that sell. So if you write in a genre that has a timely subject matter, or is currently popular like dystopia or YA paranormal, you may have more likely chance of getting it accepted.

There are thousands of writers who are opting for self publishing – not because it’s a last resort, but because of these reasons:

  • You’re highly entrepreneurial
  • You learn easily
  • You don’t like giving up creative control
  • You prefer to work alone
  • You want all the royalties!
  • Your work is in a niche genre: science-fiction, memoir, poetry

In fact, self published authors and their books are forging the path of publishing into places never seen. In fact, according to a report released earlier this year, self published authors account for 55% of all dollar revenue from ebooks on Amazon. 38% comes from Big Five published authors.

Whether you choose to self publish or follow a more traditional path, I strongly recommend reading and researching both paths. I personally follow Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath and Nathan Bransford who all have excellent insight into publishing trends.

But traditional, and self publishing aren’t the only ways to get your work out into the world. There are so many other options! Which one you choose is really based on what you’ve created. For example:

Cookbooks: As a person who cooks a lot – I regularly turn to the internet and blogs for recipe ideas. So, anyone who enjoys cooking and who likes to tweak recipes should first start by starting up a cooking blog. Couple your recipes with great photography and it’s a great way to build up a fanbase. The best and most successful blogs often get book deals out of it.

Poetry: Our bestselling book is I Wrote This For You, a book of poetry and photography. But as a genre, poetry is a not generally a fast seller. But the success of this project is based on its success as a blog where it garnered thousands of followers. Now as a book, it’s sold tens of thousands of copies and is being translated and licensed by overseas publishers.

For other poets, I strongly suggest getting involved in the local poetry scene. A variety of restaurants and cafes hold poetry slam nights with an open mic. Check them out and get some valuable feedback on your work.

Regional Interest/Charitable: For exposure, I suggest checking out crowdfunding sites like KickStarter to help you get a fanbase and fund any self publishing or creative work you do.

Self-Help/Advice/Memoirs: Social media has opened up so many avenues for creative people. A few years ago, there was this Twitter account called Sh*t My Dad Says. And it was this one young man who just simply quoted the words his father said to him. It got so popular, his followers grew by the thousands every few hours and he ended up with a #1 New York Times Bestseller.

Kids Books: While digital books are growing, kids books don’t seem to do as well in digital as they do in print. If you’ve written a book aimed at kids 12 and under, I would make sure you have a print version. But if you or your friends have some app-building abilities, then go for it – books as apps are on the rise and create a whole new experience for young readers.

In conclusion, there are so many ways to get the fruit of your creative labours out there. From traditional to self publishing, to using the internet in its myriad ways.

Pay attention to the trends out there – reading is going digital and getting shorter. Read about what is happening with other authors and their experiences. Listen more than you talk.

The way you publish will depend really on your personality, so pay attention to what kind of person you are and decide what is most intriguing for you.

Find unique ways of sourcing out what you need. Ask an artistic friend to design a cool cover for you and share the royalties. Work with a detail oriented family member to read and edit your book for you. Pair up with a mentor who can teach you more about their writing experiences. Start a blog and post your poetry. Open up your twitter account and listen in on some chats about self publishing and ebook coding. Connect online with other like minded authors who are doing what you’re interested in. Listen more than you talk. And stay away from negative places, either bitter authors ranting about the injustices of the publishing world or the hating readers who love to leave bad reviews.

If you might indulge me for a moment, as artists who create, I ask you: Pay for art. Support those around you who create, so that you help create a culture that values art enough to support those who make it. I’m not asking you to buy a thousand dollar painting. But if you’re given the opportunity to pirate a song or a book, think twice, and reconsider. Sure, the record label makes money, and so does the publisher. But so does the artist. You are the artists who will create a world for yourselves, so refuse to create one that attaches no value to your work. We don’t want you to stop writing so you can do other things just to make money. Because then we’ll all lose.

And finally, if you have a finished piece of work, and you want to share it – please do. You make the world a better place by sharing your creative spirit.

Cover Reveal: Leilani by LM DeWalt

9781771680004medAnother great YA paranormal book that is coming this summer is Leilani by LM DeWalt, the third in the Quest for Reason series. Check it out when it launches this summer!

For Lily, forever does not seem to be as long as it implies. Having finally found the love she longed for and settling in Lima, Peru, she again finds herself suddenly alone. Everyone she cares about is disappearing one by one and she can do nothing to stop it. Even her new son, who is on the brink of death, is taken from the hospital.

Someone or thing is behind the disappearances and Lily vows to stop at nothing to get everyone back safely, though in this world of vampires and witches, not everyone seems to be what they appear.

Cover Reveal: Persephone’s Orchard by Molly Ringle

Persephone's OrchardWe have a few projects in the pipeline, and one of them is Persephone’s Orchard by Molly Ringle. It’s a new telling of an old myth and we’re happy to release the cover here. Check it out when it releases in June 2013.

The Greek gods never actually existed. Did they? Sophie Darrow finds she was wrong about that assumption when she’s pulled into the spirit realm, complete with an Underworld, on her very first day at college. Adrian, the mysterious young man who brought her there, simply wants her to taste a pomegranate. And soon, though she returns to her regular life, her mind begins exploding with dreams and memories of ancient times–of a love between two Greeks named Persephone and Hades. But lethal danger has always surrounded the immortals, and now that she’s tainted with the Underworld’s magic, that danger is drawing closer to Sophie.

ISBN Trade Paperback: 978-1-926760-98-8
ISBN ebook: 978-1-926760-99-5
FICTION | Mythology
Pages: 300
List Price: $15.95 | $4.99
Coming: June 21, 2013

New Release – Sapphire Sun by Suzi Davis

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We are very happy to introduce Sapphire Sun by Suzi Davis. This is the third book in the Lost Magic series and is highly anticipated by fans all over the world—just like the two before them. Gracelynn Stevenson is haunted by the spirits of her predecessors and is starting to remember memories she tried to erase. But the past has a way of showing up in the present and while Gracelynn wants to know more, Sebastian is doing everything he can to leave his past in the shadows. But, it’s not working and when others who possess the Lost Magic show up at her home in Victoria BC, Grace fears he’ll be lost forever.

Sapphire Sun is Suzi’s best book yet and readers won’t be disappointed as Grace and Sebastian try to fight an evil that hovers close to them – too close. We’ve had such a great response to our query to reviewers, and they feel the same way about it.

SuziDavis

Suzi Davis is a British-born Canadian writer and artist and has been writing stories andpoetry for as long as she can remember. Her current focus is on writing young adult novels whose genre allows her to explore the relationships between families, friends and young lovers. Interested in the paranormal, there is always an added element of magical fantasy to whatever tale she spins. Suzi lives on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island with her husband and young sons.

Find her books in both print and digital editions.

On Being a Small Press Author – NM Facile

Running a small press is just like running a business with a group of employees – well almost. I don’t actually get to see them every day and we can’t gather around the water cooler to chat. Since we all see each other only virtually, I thought it might be nice to ‘introduce’ our authors to both each other and their readers via a series of short interviews. These interviews will run twice a week until December – it’s a neat way of finding out how similar authors can be, and yet so different.
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Today, I’m chatting with NM Facile, the author of the very successful Across The Hall. NM is a wonderful story teller, writing stories and characters that connect with her readers so well. When her book first came in, I loved sitting down to read/edit it, it was a book that brought me back to my college days and the uncertainty of romance and love that exists when you’re still young. This book has been one of our bestsellers, it continues to sell well two years after its publication and with sales on par with books released by big New York publishers. I’m so proud and pleased for NM, she’s a wonderful gal who more than deserves her success. Her new book, Cure For Pain will be out December 1, 2012, (but digital editions are available now!).

1. The first book I can remember reading is: This is a hard question. I’ve had books around my entire life.  I have clear memories of reading 100 Dresses by Eleanor Estes late at night when I was very young.  I was scared of the dark and had to have the hall light on right next to my door.  I read and reread many books by the light of the hall.  Thanks to back lighting I still read in bed late at night.

2. The first book I ever wrote was: Across the Hall.

3. An average day in my life goes like this: I’m fortunate to have a husband who deals with the morning routines of getting the kids breakfast and off to school.  This allows me to sleep in because I have a tendency to work best late at night. I wake up and read awhile then check email and the news.  I take care of things around the house or sometimes do things with my mom in the afternoons.  Twice a week I spend half days in the classrooms for my two elementary school children.  After school I catch up on how the kids’ days went and sometimes act as a taxi for running between activities.  We have supper as a family then it’s time for homework and bed.  After the little ones are asleep I either spend the rest of the night writing or I watch TV with my husband or teenage son.  I usually spend an hour or more reading before I go to sleep.

4. I found out about Central Avenue Publishing from:  I found Central Avenue Publishing on a search for small independent publishers to submit Across the Hall.  I decided to submit my book because I liked the fact that they were a small but growing company who dealt primarily with digital books.  I’ve been reading digital books for years and see that as the future of the industry.  Central Avenue Publishing submission guidelines were clear and unintimidating, Michelle has excellent credentials in the publishing industry, and the royalties and marketing were fair.  I like knowing that at Central Avenue I am more than a number or just an indy author under their wing, Michelle makes me feel like I’m part of the group.

5. The last book I read was: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

6. In order for me to sit down and write, I need: A dark room with music on, sometimes a glass of wine helps, too.

7. My ‘day job’ is: Fortunately right now writing is my ‘day job’ and I hope that it can stay that way.

8. I carve out time to write by: Reading less.  If I wasn’t writing I would spend that time reading.

9. In order to find time to write, I feel as though I sacrifice:  I don’t feel as if I sacrifice anything to find time to write.  In fact I often have a nagging little voice in my head when I’m doing other things, telling me that I could be using that time to write.

10. I am currently working on: An unnamed story set in the 1950’s.  I’m also working with my nine year old daughter on a children’s story.  She came up with the plot and I’m fleshing it out.

11. The best piece of advice I ever got was from my mom. Growing up she always told me “don’t put yourself in a bottle.”  Meaning that I should never confine myself in thoughts or actions to the limitations that people or circumstance may try to put upon me.

12. The best piece of advice I would give is: Whether good or bad, things change, it’s how you look at it and deal with it that makes the difference on the outcome.

New Release: Why I Love My Gay Boyfriend by Sabrina Zollo

Today, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Sabrina Zollo, the first new author we’ve brought into the Central Avenue fold in a long, long time. We were captured by Sabrina’s great story when she submitted it – well, after we found it. It seems as though cyberspace claimed a few of our submissions late last year and we didn’t find this out till months later. I’m sure happy we found it – it’s one of the most fun stories I’ve read in a while.

It’s the story of Veronica Lopez, a young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed MBA grad who’s looking to save the world. Faced with a lack of job prospects, she accepts a marketing position at Gisele, a global cosmetics empire. When she’s faced with female co-workers who instantly hate her, she finds solace in the only person who is nice to her, a gay man named Stevie. Stevie becomes her fashion consultant, and guide to all things corporate. When Veronica starts to get herself into trouble by performing a few career limiting moves and alienating her best girl friends, Stevie sticks by her.

It’s a fantastic tale, told with the wit of someone who is just a great story-teller. Sabrina has created characters full of flaws and redeeming qualities, as all good characters should be. Why I Love My Gay Boyfriend is a guaranteed fun read.

Sabrina Zollo is a marketer and author who lives in Toronto, Canada. She has been compulsively writing stories since childhood. She graduated with an MBA from York University and has worked in brand management for almost ten years. Sabrina is a consummate lover of Pinot Grigio, dark chocolate, shoes and spin class.

Why I Love My Gay Boyfriend is available in both print and digital editions.

On Being a Small Press Author – LM DeWalt

Running a small press is just like running a business with a group of employees – well almost. I don’t actually get to see them every day and we can’t gather around the water cooler to chat. Since we all see each other only virtually, I thought it might be nice to ‘introduce’ our authors to both each other and their readers via a series of short interviews. These interviews will run every couple of days for the next month or so – it’s a neat way of finding out how similar authors can be, and yet so different.
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Today, I’m happy to present LM DeWalt, the author of two successful books, Lily & Datura – both of which are available in English and Spanish. I met LM through some authors who were published with us, but moved on to other pastures. Fortunately for us, LM stuck with us and we’re happy she did. She’s a kind, compassionate person and a very busy one, she’s a student, an ESL teacher, a mother and a writer. I’m not sure how she does it – to tell you the truth. But she does it with grace and beauty, and a remembrance of youth that many of us lose.

1. The first book I can remember reading is: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or at the time, Alicia en el País de las Maravillas

2. The first book I ever wrote was:  Lily: Book One in the Quest for Reason series

3. An average day in my life goes like this: After I get a cup of coffee, I play some games on Facebook (to wake me up), then I do my schoolwork, and then I start getting ready for work. When I get home from work, I start writing.  On my days off, I get to spend time with my husband and sons.

4. I found out about Central Avenue Publishing from: Another writer who had a book published by Central Avenue Publishing. I decided to submit my book because: After my twenty-some rejections from an agent, I decided to go a different route. It took me a little while but I realized the rejection letters were actually form letters and had nothing at all to do with me. I decided to skip the middleman and go right to the publisher, which was the best move I ever made.

5. The last book I read was: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

6. In order for me to sit down and write, I need: I have to make sure my schoolwork is done first, then I turn the music on and type away until my carpel tunnel says it’s time to stop.

7. My ‘day job’ is: I am an out of work teacher so I started bartending recently. It is a lot of fun and it’s inspiring some interesting characters.

8. I carve out time to write by: Taking advantage of TiVo. I record everything so that I have no television commitments and no excuses.

9. In order to find time to write, I feel as though I sacrifice:  Time with my family, but they are extremely supportive of what I do so they don’t complain (much).

10. I am currently working on: Book three of The Quest for Reason series. I am terrible at titles so it does not have one yet.

11. The best piece of advice I ever got was from: My grandmother and it was: “Always be who you want to be, not who you think you should be.”

12. The best piece of advice I would give is: Never give up on your dreams, no matter how silly you may think them to be.