The First-World Problems of A Published Writer, Part One

My life is awesome, don't get me wrong.

When I was mired in the foxhole of query hell dodging rejection bullets while trying to reload with a better, more awesome query, I looked at published authors as people with no problems. Or at least, their problems were nothing in comparison to mine.

And I still think this is true. But...

Published authors have our own set of issues—marketing plans we don't agree with (Hey, at least you have marketing that you're not funding yourself!), a cover we hate (Um, an art department made your cover, not your cousin with her outdated Photoshop software!), a title change (Really? Because if a pub house wanted me I'd change my title to This Book Sucks & The Author is Ugly), or thematic battles with your editor (Hello!??! At least you have an editor!). 

And to be very clear, in case any of the fabulous people at Katherine Tegen are reading this (I love them all, along with every cell right down to its nucleus in every one of their bodies), these issues are not my issues. I'm culling these examples from years of conversations with other writers.

But the problems I want to talk to you about today are the everyday problems, little misunderstandings that crop up with people who don't understand the publishing industry—and you shouldn't expect them to. In fact, I won't even call them problems because they aren't. They're blips on the screen that have occurred enough times that you feel like it's a problem, like an eye twitch that happens one too many times in the afternoon. What's the remedy? Remind yourself to be grateful you have eyes and move on.


1) Where can I buy your book?—Well, a bookstore is a good start. Just saying. Or this magical thing called the internet. Don't say that. Yes, they might be the 1000th person to ask you that—and essentially it might feel like a silly question—but it's not their fault they weren't the first person to ask you back when you had patience. If they're the 1000th person to ask—and you answer politely 1000 times—you might sell 1000 books.

2) How much is your book?—This depends entirely on who is selling it. Seriously. Amazon is selling it cheaper than Barnes & Noble, and both of them are selling it more cheaply than the local Indie. It all relates to the magical Amazon algorithm and overstock and price gouging but Indies count on support and... oh wait, this person doesn't care about the politics behind everything. Just answer the question with the jacket price. If this launches them into a long story about how they found it cheaper on eBay, fantastic. Listen to it. Don’t launch into a diatribe about how the secondary market hurts you. It does, yes. But it’s only going to make them feel bad, and they just supported you… or at least they thought they did.

3) Can I buy it from you? - Technically, no. In order to do that I have to have a vendor's license and charge tax and declare it as income. Also, I don't carry my books around in my trunk like I'm selling roses on the corner or meat out of coolers. If fact, this is one of the major reasons why I went the traditional publishing route—I don't want to handle sales myself. Again, just answer the question. They want to buy the story that's published, not the long boring one you're telling in response to a simple inquiry.

4) Hey, I wrote a book too! Will you read it?—Here's the thing, 200 million Americans have written / are writing / want to write a book. Chances are you know a few of them, and if you don't already they are going to seek you out. The quick answer is no, however it's also a fairly rude answer that will make people think you are too big for your britches now that you're a fancy-pants published writer. Definitely say the no part, but say it nicely and with encouragement, along with a list of writing blogs and podcasts (this one is a good start), and suggestions on how to find a critique partner more suited to where they are in the journey. You might be passing on a chance to usher in the next Margaret Atwood, but that's not your job. Your job is to write, and you can't do that when you're mentoring someone else.

5) My cousin in Tucson bought your book! How did you get it in bookstores out there?—Yeah. Here's the thing, the general public doesn't know the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Remember, 200 million Americans want to get published and they now have the opportunity to do exactly that (and more power to them). So those authors are selling their books themselves, they are hand delivering their stock to bookstores, and this is the average person's concept of how books get "out there" now that they probably know someone who is doing exactly this. Your publisher did all this for you, and you sank a third of your lifetime into getting the deal that made that possible. Explaining this will make you sound elitist, even if you're not. So what's the best answer? The simple one: my publisher. Period.

These are some of the tiny, silly, nagging little problems of a published author. It's not the questions, it's the repetition. And there are days when none of these are asked, followed by days where I get all five multiple times each and I want to drink bleach just to see how it makes my intestines smell.

Then I say to myself, "Mindy—you get paid to make up stories about things that didn't happen to people that don't exist. Shut up."

The Saturday Slash


Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query.

I’ve been blogging since 2011 and have critiqued over 200 queries here on the blog using my Hatchet of Death. This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot me an email.

If the Saturday Slash has been helpful to you in the past, or if you’d like for me to take a look at your query please consider making a donation, if you are able.

If you’re ready to take the next step, I also offer editing services.

The Fall of the House of Erie is a contemporary fantasy aimed at young adults. A teenage witch hunter investigates a murder, discovers her best friend is a witch, and uncovers a plot to ruin a prominent magical family. It is complete at 62,000 words and has series potential. I know there is advice out there that says to put the title, genre, and word count first, but I have always felt like it's best to start with your hook. Everyone has a title, genre, and word count. What have you got that sets you apart? Your hook.

Sixteen year-old Jordyn Mielzynski longs for a typical summer following in the footsteps of the legendary Van Helsing as a Vatican monster hunter. Is it supposed to be tongue in cheek that you're using the word typical here? Instead, she has to survive summer school. Why is she in summer school? Isn't that typically a punishment? What did she do? Until the police ask Jordyn’s adoptive father to investigate the drowning of two boys in the city park during a summer heat wave. I'd combine these two previous sentences into one, for flow. When the Lex Legati, the wizard police, show up, it confirms her suspicions. These aren’t ordinary deaths. Then, Ted Erie, the only witness, runs away, becoming the prime suspect. Unfortunately, Ted is the younger brother of Jordyn’s best friend, Stephanie. Who Jordyn didn’t know was a witch. Getting a bit murky here. You don't need all the names -- When the only witness (who happens to be her best friend's brother) disappears, he becomes the main suspect. To make matters worse... then do the best-friend-is-a-witch-reveal). Now, Jordyn’s caught in-between helping Stephanie save her brother and bringing a murderer to justice. Unfortunately, justice doesn’t have best friends. Love the last line here.

Couple of things - is Jordyn operating in an official capacity? Is she a junior witch hunter of some sort? Is she trying to earn a badge? It also raises questions about how good she is at this if she doesn't know her BFF is a witch. More importantly - how does it make her feel? There's no real allusion above to whether she feels betrayed or foolish, or anything like that, just that she's torn between helping her friend and bringing the murderer to justice. Just a touch more emotion on how that reveal affects her would be good.

Overall, you get murky once you start throwing too many character names in, and you need a little more info on Jordyn's offical / unofficial involvement. Is she being encouraged to do this investigation? Or is she operating under the radar?

I studied at Wittenberg University, majoring in creative writing. The short story I wrote for my grandfather about his time in a POW camp during WWII is in the Library of Congress alongside his interview about the experience as part of the Veterans History Project. I currently write two weekly blogs.

Decent bio. If you have good traffic / followers on the blogs you should mention that. Also, what are their topics? Are they relevant to what you're querying? If the answer to both these questions is no, I wouldn't bother mentioning them.

Living in the NOW - Six Years After Debut, What's Changed?

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel too hopeful dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Kate Karyus Quinn, who has been on the blog multiple times in the past, for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) , the SNOB (Second Novel Omnipresent Blues), and the SWAG (Shit We All Generate). Kate was my first guest on the podcast, and today she’s ushering in the NOW.

Kate is the author of multiple YA novels, screwball romantic comedies, and a contributor to multiple anthologies. Her debut, Another Little Piece, came out in 2013.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career? 

It’s all over the fucking place. I have felt like a failure far more than I’ve felt like a success. That being said, I think more recently, I’m finally finding a place of greater equilibrium, where I’ve made peace with the fact that Oprah is not going to call and neither is Steven Spielberg and that staying in this business is always gonna require a lot of hustle.  

It’s not just writing. It’s networking. It’s being aware of what’s going on in the publishing industry. It’s looking at all the different ways money making avenues and deciding how many of them you can use to help pay the bills.

I think – like a lot of authors – I wanted the fairy tale. The JK Rowling insane success story. Riches, critical acclaim, AND a fucking theme park. Instead I’ve made a modest amount of money doing something I love, have gotten mixed reviews, and as for the theme park… eh, I’d honestly rather just someone put my name on a library someday.

Let’s about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself as an artiste. The first book I wrote was romance which is arguably one of the most disrespected genres of them all. So, I never had dreams of writing “the great American novel.” I just wanted to write a book that I’d want to read, because I am first and foremost a reader.

Kate NOW.png

But I guess I’ve realized since then that what I want to read is not always what other people want to read. I went through a bad time a few years back where I was really questioning myself and my writing and I really so very very badly wanted to write something that would break out big. But you can’t manufacture that type of thing – or I couldn’t anyway. And it made me deeply unhappy trying to force it.

Since then I’ve come to a happier place where I realize that I have LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of ideas and I need to pick one that A. I’m excited to write and B. That there’s also a market demand for.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut? 

Yes, the bloom is off the rose. When my debut was pubbed I was in my early thirties and now I’m (gasp) officially forty. There are definitely times when I’m at book events with other children’s authors and I feel OLD.

I think there’s also a bit of cynicism that creeps in. And exhaustion. That hustle that I talked about above is tiring. But, as cheesy as it sounds, I think you have to remember to count your blessings and keep working. Even when it feels like there are so many books out there (and OHMYGOD there are SO MANY BOOKS out there!) you have to believe in your little book and believe that the world needs it… which takes a crazy mixture of guts and (let’s be honest) self-regard.

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

I’ve accepted writing the need to write a good synopsis and blurb and logline. Basically, that I have to not only be able to tell the story, but I also have to be able to tell about the story – which are two really different skills!

I just self-published an adult romantic comedy and I wasn’t getting the sales I wanted, so I decided to rewrite my blurb. I rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again. Then I did it again. And now, finally, many versions later, it is way better.

Really what I’ve realized is that a blurb or synopsis isn’t a book report. The teacher doesn’t want to make sure I read the damn thing. It’s in fact a sales pitch. Which means knowing my audience – ie: don’t tell someone who wants a sports car about the heated seats – tell them about acceleration and let the heated seats be a nice surprise for their bum on a cold winter’s day.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how was it changed (or not changed!) your life? 

The first thing that I ever got published and paid for was a short story in Woman’s World. I was paid $800 for 800 words. I cried when the acceptance letter (snail mail!) arrived. It was the most emotional I ever became – even though the offer for my debut novel was significantly more money and more prestige and more, well, ALL the things (except a theme park… damn it). But that first acceptance was the one that made me believe I wasn’t crazy, that I could do this and make money doing it. And it’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. So yes, it has changed my life and I truly believe – to steal from Wicked the Musical – I have been changed for good.