Why I’m Going Right To Self-Publishing

I’m in a few author groups on Facebook, and recently someone was talking about their novel in progress, and was asked if they were going to self-publish or attempt to get an agent and a publisher.

I honestly can’t remember what the answer was because I immediately began to consider the implication of the question.  Attempting to traditionally publish my novel never even occurred to me over the seven years I was working on it… off and on.

Why not? Aside from the stigma of self-publishing basically being a non-issue these days, the truth is that an author doesn’t need a big house publisher, or even a small traditional publisher to put out a quality book that can be successful. Indie-authors Nick Cole and Jason Anspach have enjoyed incredible success with their Galaxy’s Edge series. They wrote some quality science fiction novels, had some kick-ass covered illustrated, and new how to market them in a way that would get them noticed by their target audience. If you’ve ever listened to Nick Cole talk about how they did it in a podcast, he’ll tell you that as successful as Galaxy’s Edge is doing, he know other authors who are doing even better.

And if you Google “self-publishing success stories” you can find a number of examples of authors who didn’t need a publisher to strike gold.  It does seem they are often Sci-Fi/Fantasy, paranormal, or romance, but still… the potential is there.

Bottom line: a self-published author can be a success.

Of course, my path to success will be a bit more difficult. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been struggling at times to really settle on what the genre of my book is. I’ve used lad-lit a lot recently, and while I think it generally fits that description, I worry that marketing it as such might turn off potential women readers… who I do think will enjoy the story as well.

I’ve skimmed lots of articles on achieving success in self-publishing. There’s plenty of different marketing strategies out there and not every strategy will work for every book. I’m still at a stage where I’m thinking about the product itself before the actual promotion. And I think about my process in choosing books to read.

I scan covers. Why? The old saying goes “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, to which I say “the hell I can’t.” If a cover looks like crap, I interpret that as a sign the author doesn’t believe in their product enough to invest in their work. Hey, maybe the next great American novel has a shitty cover and I’ll never read it… but that’s just the way it is. Covers tell you so much about a book, and in the era of online book buying, you’re looking at thumbnails and titles before you’re even clicking on the book to find out what it’s about… so yeah, the cover needs to be good looking and genre appropriate.

Look at the Galaxy’s Edge covers. They’re amazing.

I’ve also invested in a really nice cover (to be revealed later) and formatting services for the paperback. It has to be done. It may not be the world’s most beautiful cover. But, I think it does the job. The cover concept was one I put a lot of thought into. My goal, as someone writing contemporary fiction that could be described as lad-lit is to appeal to male and female readers, and so my cover does not scream “lad-lit” the way many lad-lit covers do. But, I’ll talk more about the cover later when I’m ready for a cover reveal.

And I’m currently strategizing how  to market this thing so that I can actually achieve sales when it comes out. Maybe even enough sales to buy my morning coffee everyday. And hey, if it doesn’t, I’ll try again. But, it’s becoming clearer all the time that you don’t need a publisher to be a success. Success takes effort, no doubt, but it’s an effort anyone can achieve without some company taking a huge chunk of your royalties when they’ll still expect you to do all the marketing anyway.

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On Writing (Strong) Female Characters

Men know jack about women. Women don’t really get me either. But, men and women authors have to write characters of the opposite sex. They do it all the time. Some even write novels/stories with women narrators. Hey, if they can pull it off all the power to them. Nick Hornby did so quite effectively in How To Be Good, a novel I haven’t read in some time, but, I remember thinking he was successful at it. His novels A Long Way Down and Juliet Naked also feature women narrators or POVs in them and I think he did those well.

But, then again, I know jack about women, so what do I know? Still, writing women characters was something I felt would be one of the more significant challenges for me. Especially characters that are explored in depth over the course of the story.

Recently, I linked to an old article titled King of Lad Lit Nick Hornby On Writing Strong Women — the article was, perhaps, not as insightful about being a “guy’s writer” writing about women as I hoped for… but, I’m gonna explore that idea on my own anyway.

There are a number of primary and secondary characters in my novel that are women. I would not call them strong or weak women by design. I did not set out to say “this character is going to be strong.” No, I had basic idea of who the characters were when I started, and rather than set out a huge laundry list of qualities they would possess, I had a rough idea about each of and the let the character develop organically however they might… and usually that meant something more complex than strong vs. weak.

The truth is, women (and men) are a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has personal flaws that they struggle with or refuse to recognize. Writing “strong women” characters simply because political correctness doesn’t do your writing any favors… at least, if your goal is to write realistic characters. I tried to write realistic characters, which meant women characters who were just as flawed as my main character… even if for different reasons.

That said, the weakest character in my novel is probably the main character, Nick. When the novel begins he is only months removed from a marriage proposal that ended with his girlfriend revealing that she cheated on him, resulting in the relationship ending. He’s humiliated and depressed, but realizes after a one-night-stand that he needs to get back out there and find a new relationship, which he does, but the incident with his ex-girlfriend haunts him throughout the story, and ultimately influences some bad decisions.

The two most prominent female characters in the novel are Nick’s roommate Devon and his new girlfriend Alli. Neither were written to be specifically “strong” characters as much as they were written to be important characters needed to play specific roles in the story. They both have what would be considered “strong” qualities, though. Devon is assertive and confident, and Alli is motivated and hard working. But, they are also polar opposites, since Devon is extroverted and promiscuous, and Alli is introverted and virtuous. Devon is perceptive, and Alli is naïve. Despite their clashing values and personalities they are both important influences on Nick’s growth over the course of the novel. And I like that. I like that both have vulnerabilities that make them who they are. They are each unique blends of strengths and weaknesses that, I hope, make them believable and not reading like agenda-driven characters.

Whether I’ve succeeded in writing realistic/believable characters has yet to be determined. My first beta reader is still hard at work. I have another beta reader lined up, then someone who will edit it. I’m looking forward to reviewing the first round of comments/suggestions!

Writing for Men… and Women.

Today I got curious about the prevalance of the term “lad-lit” and decided to do a Google News search on the term and see what came up.

Not much. Articles were sparse… but… I did find a three-year-old Newsweek article that caught my eye about… you guessed it, Nick Hornby. Titled, “King of Lad Lit Nick Hornby On Writing Strong Women” I was curious because, in writing my first novel, the yet-to-be-published Not Famous, writing female characters was an interesting challenge for me, and thought this article might provide some interesting insight that I could either relate to, or learn from.

What first struck me about the article was how it addressed Hornby and his ability to appeal to women readers.

Hornby laughs when I tell him that three generations of women in my family love his books. “If you write fiction and the fiction isn’t about people killing people, if you don’t get women, you’ve got no one,” he says. “Which is funny ’cause I was supposed to be the guys’ writer.”

Indeed! “Lad-lit” is arguably men’s fiction right? It may be written about and by men, but we live in a world with men and women on it. If you only appeal to one, you are, in fact, limiting your potential audience. This is, of course, one of the main faults I find in how “chick lit” is marketed.

Let’s compare the definitions of “chick lit” and “lad lit” according to Wikipedia:

chick lit:  genre fiction, which “consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists”. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.

lad lit:  a fictional genre of male-authored novels about young men and their emotional and personal lives, often characterized by a confessional and humorous writing style.

This definitions are basically similar… But what also caught my eye was the definition that popped up when I Googled “chick lit” via dictionary.com

chick lit:  literature that appeals especially to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme..

Hmm.. What does dictionary.com say about lad-lit?

lad-lit: fiction about young men and their emotional and personal lives

Notice the difference? Chick lit is, according to dictionary.com, books about women for women to read. Lad lit is not similarly defined as being limited to a male audience.

Is this limiting the audience to women a setback for the genre? I don’t think so. The best I can tell from a few minutes of Googling is that it remains a popular and profitable genre. Despite this, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner has often complained that women writers are not taken as seriously as male writers.

I don’t really agree with that assessment, but if there’s any reason for such disparity, I think it comes back to the definitions I previously cited, and how that affects how these two genres are marketed. Chick lit (or Women’s fiction) is packaged and marketed for women. When I think of Chick lit, I think of books with illustrated, feminine pastel-colored covers that scream “this is a book for women, no men allowed.” Lad lit has it’s fair share of covers that suggest the book is for male readers, but when I look at the covers for, Mike Gayle’s books, for example, I see generally gender neutral covers that can appeal to male and female readers despite stories clearly written about men or from the male perspective. Nick Hornby’s books have had various covers over the years, but the ones currently showing on his official website seem quite neutral to me. Jonathan Tropper, same thing. Maybe being a man has biased my perceptions, but I still feel if male authors are getting a better mix of readership of the two sexes, then marketing is the real reason behind that.

But I digress, back to the Hornby interview. Why do his books appeal to women, too?

The books that got him pegged as [a guy’s writer]—High Fidelity and About a Boy—were both successfully adapted for film and appealed to female readers perhaps because of their guy-ness. When I first read High Fidelity (1995), the story of a hapless record store owner who sets out to unravel the mystery of why women keep dumping him, I thought, This should not fall into the hands of women.

“And of course they all ended up reading it for exactly that reason,” he says. Still, his best-known books are about men, or boy-men, having to grow up.

High Fidelity and About a Boy are perhaps popular with women because they show men struggling to be better, and they reassure them that beneath the sports talk and record cataloging, there’s a compassionate person in there.

I’m not sure how this relates to the title of writing about strong women, but that is something I’d like to discuss more in-depth in a future blog post, because writing women characters was  indeed challenging for me. Lad-lit is often about flawed men… But, of course, women have their flaws, too. Both men and women characters should have room to grow over the course of a novel, and I’d like to think I succeeded in doing so with Not Famous (of course, we’ll find out when I publish it). My characters are all very different and their stories and growth over the novel are unique. I’d like to think that, more than anything, would attract all kinds of readers, regardless of them being men or women.

We Need More American Lad-Lit

According to Wikipedia, “Nick Hornby is considered to be the originator of” the lad-lit genre. As a result, much of what is often considered lad-lit is written by other British authors. The term itself is British. When I consider the lad-lit that I’ve read, this holds true. Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Nick Spalding, Matthew Norman, Steven Scaffardi, Matt Dunn, Andy Jones, Jon Rance, Mike Gayle, Graeme Simsion (sort of), Mil Millington… all but three are British and only two are American (Tropper and Norman)…

I certainly don’t claim to know all the lad-lit authors in the world. There must be more that I’m not aware of, but I’ve searched for books of the genre all over, and found that oftentimes, lad-lit is just a term assigned to any contemporary novel by a male author. I’ve seen crime and thriller novels lumped in as “lad-lit” on some online lists. No. Just no. Stop. That’s not what I’m looking for.

Lad-lit, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a fictional genre of male-authored novels about young men and their emotional and personal lives, often characterized by a confessional and humorous writing style.” This is the stuff I like to read. It’s the stuff I like to write. I can’t be alone here. I’m sure there are lots of American books that fit this description, but often get lumped into other genres.

Looking on Amazon, here’s the genres and sub-genres I get when I click on books by Jonathan Tropper and Matthew Norman:

  • Humor
  • American Contemporary
  • Satire
  • Women’s Fiction
  • Domestic Life
  • Family Life

There are a few other odd categories that I’m not including, but the bottom line here is that the problem is likely not a lack of “lad-lit” by definition… The problem is really a marketing issue. Books like Tropper’s and Norman’s aren’t marketed as lad-lit because, I’m sure, publishers don’t want to send the messages that “this book is only for male readers” the way chick-lit is clearly targeting women readers. That may be a good strategy for sales, but what does it say for readers (and writers) like me who enjoy a books that fit the definition of “lad-lit”?

Matthew Norman spoke with British lad-lit writer Steven Scaffardi on his blog a couple years ago, and had this to say about it.

Q: You write what I would call lad lit, but how would you describe style of your writing?
A: We don’t have that term in the U.S. Over here, there’s “chick lit,” obviously, but no one is exactly sure what to call the male version of that. Here’s the simplest description I can come up with: I write very contemporary comedies about relationships and families, and, so far, I’ve done that through a male point of view. I heard someone say “dick lit” once. But…that’s just gross.

I’m not sure if the term lad-lit should be exclusive to the UK, but Matthew Norman is right in that there’s really no American equivalent for the term “lad-lit”… which is unfortunate. But, the reason is likely that, according to surveys, women read more than men. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule. I’m sure men outnumber women significantly as science-fiction readers, and women read romance novels far more than men do. Obviously chick-lit is a thing, and a popular thing at that, but it begs the question why lad-lit, or an equivalent American term for the genre, is not a thing in America.

Because of this, it’s hard for me to find books like Tropper’s and Norman’s by American writers because I have to search heavily to find them. And, in both cases, I’m fairly certain “readers of Nick Hornby will enjoy this book” came up somewhere when I discovered both of them and took a chance on them.

In his interview with Scaffardi, Norman had this to say about Hornby:

Q: Who are your favourite authors writing in the same or similar genre?
A: My favorite writer is Richard Russo. His novels taught me that serious—sometimes very serious—fiction can also be funny as hell. A close second to him would be Nick Hornby. Anyone who writes the types of books that I do owes Mr. Hornby a huge debt of gratitude. When you read his work, you laugh and then you cry, and all the while you’re nodding your head, because he just gets it. Jonathan Tropper and Tom Perrotta are great, too. I like those guys a lot.

Am I hurting myself by writing a novel that fits the lad-lit description? I have no idea. Obviously the best thing for me to do is categorize the book the same way Tropper’s and Norman’s books are and hope my novel, when it is published, will attract their readers. I’m gonna write the books I want to write, as all authors do. I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that publishers shouldn’t discount the 20-30 year old male reader as a viable demographic for contemporary fiction. Perhaps they need to work harder at increasing their share of the book reader’s market by acknowledging that even in America “lad-lit” can be a thing.

Kill Barnes & Noble?

I must admit that I am conflicted about reports of the impending inevitable death of Barnes & Noble and whether it can be saved… or should be.

As an aspiring novelist, I can think of few things that would be more satisfying than seeing my novel on a bookshelf at Barnes & Noble. Okay, seeing someone buying it would be nice… and selling thousands or millions of copies would be pretty sweet, too. But, let’s face it, indie publishing seems to be the wave of the future.

Indie sci-fi writer Jon Del Arroz says “good riddance” to Barnes & Noble.

So what is there to save? It’s providing books more expensively than amazon, with a worse selection. In fact, it’s the only thing keeping traditional publishing from completely caving. The book buying/selling system that is outdated and hasn’t changed since the 1930s is all B&N is promoting. You must get an agent who takes a percentage, who goes to a publisher who then takes a majority of a percentage, who marks up to a distributor who takes a percentage, who then is at the whim of a book buyer who only buys select books and cuts out most of the midlist without some arm twisting.

Let’s face it, if I published my novel through a small publisher and they got it in bookstores, online sales are crushing brick and mortar bookstore sales… so, no matter what, the satisfaction of seeing your book in a bookstore is trivial compared to the potential volume of your online sales. So, fine I accept that… In fact, I embrace it. It would be great if bookstores like Barnes & Noble gave us reasons to go into their store that can’t be replicated online, but they’re not trying… or at least, not hard enough. Case in point, it’s been a long time since I’ve even been in a bookstore. And I usually only go to browse, then look up the book online for the Kindle version. I know, sounds awful right? But, that’s the way it is.

Truth be told, I’ve not even considered any traditional publishing route for my forthcoming novel. What for? Successful indie authors make good money… I might be able to as well. I know success in indie publishing is still difficult to achieve, but hey, you’ll never succeed if you don’t try.

Being shelved in Barnes & Noble used to be a dream of mine. But, in the end, as an aspiring novelist, if the point is to sell books, Barnes & Noble just doesn’t cut it anymore.

So, Yeah… Back Here…

I’ve neglected this blog, I know that.  But, I didn’t realize how badly I’d neglected it when I realized that my host, ThirdScribe, was apparently no longer working, so I’m back on WordPress.com… Not sure what happened to ThirdScribe, but I’m not gonna fret about it…

Any blog posts I made while at ThirdScribe are lost, but considering I barely blogged, the little content I produced there won’t be missed.

Anyway, there is some new stuff to report, which I will inform you all about in the next day or two.

Does Lad Lit Have to be Comedy?

My recent progress towards the completion of my novel has me wondering about what genre it is. As someone who reads, and is largely inspired by, what is known as “lad-lit”, naturally, it seems to make sense that my novel would fit in that category. I’ve previously pondered what makes lad-lit “lad-lit” but the definition I found back then, in retrospect, wasn’t very good. A recent search (and by recent, I mean a few minutes ago, I found the following definition of lad-lit.

Lad Lit is a fictional genre of male-authored novels about young men and their emotional and personal lives, often characterized by a confessional and humorous writing style.

Everything about this definition fits… except the part about the humorous writing style. There is some comic relief in my novel, but it’s generally more serious in tone. Thinking about it, humor seems to be the most common characteristic of lad-lit these days. In an interview on Steven Scaffardi’s Lad Lit blog, author Matthew Norman (another author I enjoy) said “…my books are comedies. It’s taken me a while to fully admit that to myself. There are serious things in them, of course—even downright depressing things. But humor is always there. I like comedy because it makes the difficult stuff more palatable.” When I think about the novel I’m writing, his books are definitely feel as though they ale in the same “genre” that I am writing… but I feel my “formula” is the opposite. My novel-in-progress has some comedy in it, but it’s not meant to be a laugh-out-loud comedy. So, I’m again at a loss.

I can say for sure that my novel does not fall under the literary fiction genre:

Literary fiction comprises fictional works that hold literary merit; that is to say, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary or political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.

My novel may be more serious than comedic, but I’m certainly not trying for a Pulitzer Prize with it. I’m not trying any political or social commentary with the story or any deliberate symbolism. It’s a story meant to entertain. So, scratch literary fiction off the list.

So, what else is there? Well, there’s contemporary fiction:

Contemporary fiction can be defined as literature written by authors who refuse to reside within literary boundaries, choosing to reflect the realities, insanities, absurdities, ironies, comedies and contradictions present in post-globalization human cultures.

This is pretty close, but I wouldn’t say I’m trying to push any boundaries either. This definition suggests contemporary fiction is a more complex genre than my novel is.

So really, we go back to lad-lit. But there’s that whole issue with the “humorous writing style.” I like humorous books. There’s nothing wrong with humor. But I just don’t see my story as ever being classified as humor. So I’m once again left wondering, what the hell genre will I classify my novel as? Do I focus more on answering the question of who my target audience is rather than what the style is?

UPDATE: So, I asked Steven Scaffardi for his input on Twitter. Here’s what he said: