October Ask a New Author - New Winners, New Contest, Ebooks & Fan Fiction

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By: mgershow, Assistant Editor

Congrats to this month's winners, gablesgal and JH! Since your questions were selected for this month's column, copies of the fantastic THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS are on the way!

To round out our months of giveaways, if we select your questions for next month's column, win a copy of Miriam's novel, THE LOCAL NEWS. Remember: You can't win if you don't send publishing and writing-related questions to askanewauthor@bookdivas.com!

I, like Susanna, am a Miami native.  After spending some 17 years in Europe, I returned to the US with some time on my hands, a son off to college, etc., etc.  I have always wanted to write and just finished my manuscript.  I have a friend who self-published and it was a nightmare.  What do you think about ebook publishing?  Susanna, how did you find a publisher? -gablesgal

Susanna answers: Bravo for finishing your book, Gables Gal! Congratulations.

I will tell you right off the bat that I never explored self-publishing for Stiltsville, and I don’t know terribly much about it, though I’m sorry to hear it wasn’t a good experience for your friend. My old classmate Seth Harwood published and promoted his first novel as a series of podcasts, and that novel ended up being picked up by Three Rivers Press and landing at the top of Amazon’s Mystery books bestsellers list.

Now, I realize that it’s not the goal of all self-published writers to land a conventional contract (and, in fact, Seth continues to self-publish as well as publish conventionally). I once heard an author give a great justification for choosing to self-publish: you never write a novel that doesn’t get read. As traditionally published authors know, that’s not always true -- many times, the first book written is not the first book published, and that might be true for you.

It seems to me, though, that the goal is usually to be as widely read as possible, and for most people -- and I’m certain there are many exceptions -- that means hooking up with a traditional distributor, for your e-book as well as your hardcover.

So why not try to get your book distributed conventionally? It takes some effort, but if you believe there is an audience for your manuscript, then there’s a good chance an agent and editor will agree.

You’ve finished your manuscript -- that’s the first step! My next step was to give it to a close friend for feedback. Choose your reviewers wisely -- they should have experience with close reading and criticism, and maybe even be writers themselves. If you don’t have a friend, sign up for a workshop or hire a professional.

I made many of the changes my reader advised, which took another couple of months. At this point, I found myself tinkering, unable to cut the cord and send my baby into the world. My friend advised me yet again. She told me it was time to let go. You’ll probably know when it’s time, Gables Gal. Make sure you’ve fixed the glaring problems and the typos -- the manuscript should be clean of all spelling and grammar and formatting foibles before you send it to an agent. (Think of it this way: your prospective agent is looking for any reason to put down your book and move on to the rest of the pile. Don’t give one.)

I believe in the wisdom of using an agent to sell a book, so I made a short list of agents I wanted to query. Every writer’s list is different, because you want to find agents who are interested in books that resemble yours in some way. My list focused on agents looking for literary fiction or what is known as women’s fiction, and who represented writers whose work I admired.

There are several ways to find the right agents to put on your list. It takes a little legwork but it’s not difficult. Many authors will list their agents on their websites, or you can use Publishers Marketplace or Agent Query to make a list.

Query according to the agent’s own guidelines, which you can find on the agency’s website. Some agents accept email queries; some prefer mailed queries. If the agent is interested, he or she will ask to see part or all of the manuscript. You’ll hear back anywhere from weeks or months; you can drop a line after a few months to inquire politely about the state of the decision process. Also feel free to query another small batch of agents if you haven’t heard back in a reasonable amount of time.

I matched with my agent quickly, and then she came up with a list of editors to pitch. I had a few recommendations of editors who might like the book, but mostly the ball was in the agent’s court from here on out. She matched the book with an editor who loved the book, and I spoke to the editor to get a sense of her take on the book and her recommendations moving forward. I liked her and she liked me and the publisher signed off and we had a contract.

There’s a lot of chatter about who you know and how a manuscript gets read. I had an MFA from a good school and a couple of published stories and a friend who was widely known and willing to recommend the book, and I’m sure this all helped me get a quick read from agents and editors. But only the manuscript itself will get you published, even if hearing back from agents and editors takes more time.

All the luck in the world to you. And remember that the rejections are part of the process -- you only need one agent and one editor who love the book and understand your goals.

Miriam adds: I have to admit that I know very little about publishing an ebook without a simultaneous print book release (which is how THE LOCAL NEWS was released, as an ebook at the same time as the hardcover and paperback).  However, here is an article by Tim Ferriss that quite adeptly details traditional versus self publishing in the age of ebooks.  

What do you think about fan fiction when it comes to your characters and your fictional world? Diana Gabaldon says no to fanfiction, while Naomi Novik is pro-fanfic, what's your take?-JH

The AANA Team says: Congrats, JH.  Yours is the first question that stumped all of us.  As three literary fiction authors, there’s not a whole lot of fan fiction swirling through our universe, so we haven’t had to give the issue much thought.  Fan fiction seems to pop up in response to genre writing of all sorts (sci fi, fantasy, YA, etc.) So we turned to our first guest columnist.  Chris Abouzeid is the author of the YA fantasy novel Anatopsis.

Chris says: This is a very complex question. The issues are:

  1. Authors who view it as a violation of themselves versus authors who find it annoying but harmless versus a few who find it flattering
  2. Copyright issues - Whether the publisher of the original decides to look the other way or has a zero-tolerance policy
  3. Whether any money is being made off the fan-fiction. 99.9999% of the time the answer is NO, which is why a lot of authors/publishers decide not to sue
  4. Whether the fan-fiction piece defames or sullies the image of the original
  5. How much the fan-fiction piece copies: Just using the characters to create a story versus using characters and plot elements versus plagiarizing large sections
  6. The intent of the fan-fiction author: Just trying to have fun versus hoping to go viral and create a following and make a YouTube video or game etc.

There are probably some other issues, too. But the reason it's so complex is that there's very little agreement on any of the issues. It really seems to boil down to the emotional temperament of the author and/or the policy of the publisher.

I did find one fan-fiction piece on-line using my characters. It was awful.

The AANA Team asks: How would you feel if you found GOOD fan fiction of your work?

Chris says: A tough question. I find fan fiction both flattering and irritating. If it's bad, I'm happy my characters meant enough to the writer to use them, but I also resent my work being used for bad writing. If it's good, then the flattery part gets overshadowed by the feeling that their success is mostly due to my hard work.

With a good piece of fan fiction, If the following remains small and/or they're not making any money from it, I might still point friends and readers to the piece, as an interesting oddity. If the piece developed a very large web following, however, or if it started making money, I'd have to think about the copyright infringement issues. But that happens even less often with fan fiction than it does with original fiction!

The AANA Team says:  Thanks, Chris!  New Authors learn something new every day.  For those of you who want to hear more from Chris, find him on his website or @gripemaster on Twitter.

Remember, for a chance to win THE LOCAL NEWS next month, send publishing and writing related questions to askanewauthor@bookdivas.com.