Today’s reblog comes from Nathan Bransford, who has worked as an agent, author, and now freelance editor and consultant. He knows that there is a lot of side-work that comes with publishing—from query letters and synopses to promotion and marketing. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things that come with writing, but aren’t actually writing.
He gives us a reasonably-sized list of things to focus on when writing and selling a book:
Particularly in this day and age when so many authors are lost in the weeds of Amazon algorithms and marketing strategies and social media and querying etiquette, it’s shocking to me how many people forget this: it all starts by writing a book that people want to read.
And not just want to read: writing a book that makes other people press it into other people’s hands so they’ll read it too.
That’s it. That’s by far (BY FAR) the most important thing.
Unfortunately, it’s also really, really, really hard to do, which is why it’s tempting to focus on things that are easier and feel more in your control.
It’s the ultimate crossover event! Today we have a continuation of my short story series, as well as my Reference Desk series detailing useful tools for writers. Get ready for a battle of publication catalogues and a submission tracker showdown!
Finding the right place to submit your short fiction isn’t trivial. Back in the olden days, you might have to subscribe to an actual dead-tree trade journal just to have a somewhat up-to-date list of publications. These days, the internet gives us some easier options.
The two most popular submission tools for short fiction writers are Duotrope and Submission Grinder. Both of them are designed to help you find markets for your stories and track your submissions. Today, I’ll be comparing some of the different features between these two tools to give you a better idea of which one you might want to use.
Let’s get this out of the way up front. Duotrope is a paid service. After a 7-day free trial, it costs $5/month or $50/year. Submission Grinder is completely free to use, although they have numerous options to donate.
If you don’t want to pay or can’t afford it, Submission Grinder is the tool for you.
Duotrope maintains listings of publishers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and visual art. It also lists literary agents for fiction writers. Submission Grinder maintains fiction and poetry listings.
At the time of writing, Duotrope lists 5,027 fiction markets. They claim that they keep their listings accurate and up-to-date by checking each active listing for changes about once a month. They also run more thorough check twice a year, contacting the editors or agents if anything appears to be inaccurate or if there are signs that the market may be dead or on hiatus. (Websites not being updated is honestly a pretty big problem with small markets.)
At the time of writing, the Submission Grinder has 2,669 listings for fiction and poetry. It’s not entirely clear from the webpage how the listings are kept updated, although there are links for users to suggest a new market listing or suggest a correction, so it seems to be mostly crowdsourced.
Both tools let you
Add stories to your tracker
Add submissions for a story
Mark a submission as accepted, rejected, or no response
Track and search personal statistics
Both tools also aggregate the statistics across their user base. This allows them to show information like what percentage of submissions are accepted or rejected by a specific market. They both have anonymized feeds of recent activity.
Duotrope has a plethora of statistics*, including the markets that are fastest and slowest to respond, and those that are most or least likely to accept (or even respond!)
*Note: you can see the list, but not the actual statistics, without a subscription
Both tools have an optional newsletter with new listings and other publishing news.
Duotrope has transcripts from hundreds of editor and literary agent interviews—possibly useful for getting a better idea of what your favorite market is looking for, or just general good practices.
Duotrope has some basic guides for writers, especially around submitting your work. It also has guides to using their various tools.
Honestly, both of these tools get the job done. They make it easy to search a lot of different markets, and to track your submissions as you send them out.
Overall, I do find Duotrope to be a little bit nicer. It has a few more features and a little more polish, but that’s to be expected when they have a subscription fee. If you don’t mind spending the money, I think Duotrope is good value for the cost.
Submission Grinder feels a little more like a community project, crowdsourcing market info and relying on donations. Maintaining a popular tool site takes work, and based on their Patreon, I think Submission Grinder is powered more by love than money.
If you have a story or two that you’re looking to send out, you should definitely try out one of these services. It will make it a lot easier to find ideal markets and keep track of what gets sent where.
Alright, the full title of today’s reblog is “How to Be a Professional Author and Not Die Screaming and Starving in a Lightless Abyss.” Hyperbole is Wendig’s brand. This is also a two-for-one deal, because Chuck takes as his inspiration Heather Demetrios’ Medium post, “How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Even Trying.”
Heather was a debut author who had some success early on, and made the mistake of assuming that would equate to the authorial equivalent of a steady paycheck. She found out the hard way that one or two big advances do not necessarily mean that subsequent novels will fetch the same amount of money, especially for new authors.
Most authors write for the joy of the art. Unfortunately, if you also want to make a living with your art, business savvy becomes a significant concern. Most professional authors make a fairly modest income, and it doesn’t come in the form of twice-monthly paychecks or health insurance.
Demetrios advice comes in the form of a list of regrets, in the hopes that other authors won’t make the same mistakes she did. Wendig adds his own rambling advice as a successful professional writer with quite a few years’ experience.
I feel deeply for the writer, because this shit we do comes with no real map. No creative map, no story map, no industry map, no money map. “HERE IS A BUNCH OF MONEY,” a sinister shadowy figure says in an alley. “IN SIX MONTHS, WE WILL EXTRACT FROM YOU A BOOK, AND THEN THE DEAL IS COMPLETE.” And then the shadowy figure is gone, and all you’re left with is the crisp smell of burning paper and a mysterious whisper in the well of your ear that says, “deckle edge.”
But, the good news is, there exist answers to a lot of these conundrums, and so I’m going to do some painting-with-shotguns here and try to broad-stroke some thoughts and answers about the challenges this writer faced in her Authorial Journey.
Writing a brilliant short story isn’t enough. When it comes time to submit, you’re in a competition with every other author who’s submitting to the same magazine, anthology or contest. And often, that’s hundreds of other people—hundreds of other stories—you’re going up against. Make sure to seek out critique and make revisions. Polish that story until it shines.
If your story is accepted, an editor may certainly ask for changes, but you still need to show your very best work up front if you want to get that far. Editors and readers are looking for any excuse to reject your story to whittle down that huge pile of submissions. Don’t give them an easy excuse like typos or sloppy grammar.
Where to Submit
The first thing you need when submitting a short story is someplace to submit to. Hopefully you’ve been reading short stories, because this is a great way to do field research on publications in your chosen genre(s). The publishing landscape is ever-shifting, but it’s a good idea to read widely to get a sense of who the heavy hitters are.
For example, as someone who writes a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, I know that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction And Fact, and Asimov’s Science Fiction are three of the biggest speculative fiction magazines. They’ve been around for decades and pay professional rates for short stories. There is a prestige to getting published by them. However, there are a number of other magazines and websites that are popular and pay well, and an even larger number of smaller magazines and websites that often fill specific niches and tend to pay less.
Ultimately, what you want to do is understand your options and match your story to the places with the best chance of accepting it. The best way to do that is to read some sample stories and look at the submission guidelines.
Most actively publishing magazines, open contests, and anthologies with open submissions will post submission guidelines on their website. Submission guidelines are just the publisher’s description of what kinds of submissions they want, and how they want to receive them.
Tools like Duotrope and Submission Grinder collect the submission guidelines of many different publications and make them easier to search, so these can be a real boon. However, they sometimes take a while to add new publications, remove defunct ones, or update guidelines that have changed. Always, always, always double-check the publication’s website, and follow those guidelines if there’s any discrepancy.
Submission guidelines typically have some subset of the following:
Genres, Subgenres or Topics – A description of the kind of stories the editors like. This can be very broad (“hard science fiction”) or considerably more specific (“steampunk,” “stories related to climate change”). Contests and anthologies often have a theme, and even big magazines will sometimes have “theme issues.”
Word Count – Most publications have hard limits on the size of story they will accept. They might also note the size of story that they prefer, even if they occasionally accept larger submissions.
Submission Windows – Anthologies and contests always have cutoffs, because they eventually have to publish or judge. Some magazines only accept submissions at certain times.
Pay Rate – Legitimate publishers say up-front how much they will pay. This is often a rate like X cents per word, although you will sometimes see a flat payment per story/poem. What counts as a “professional rate” is often decided by your genre’s professional organization. For example, the SFWA currently considers 8¢/word to be the minimum for sci-fi and fantasy.
Form and Formatting – Some publications only accept stories sent as Word documents to an email address. Others have a form directly on their website for submission. They may specify a specific font, font size, or line spacing. These may sound pedantic, but they’re designed to make it as easy as possible for the editors to wade through a sea of submissions. You do not want to be the person who makes an editor’s life a little more difficult.
Response Time – Submitting stories is slow! Most publishers take weeks or months to respond to a submission. Patience is a virtue, but if you wait for the specified response time and don’t get anything, you should feel free to reach out to the publisher, or move on and submit that story somewhere else.
Other Stuff – Submission guidelines may also say whether a publication accepts simultaneous submissions (sending one story to multiple publications at the same time), multiple submissions (sending several stories to the same publication at the same time) or reprints and translations. As a rule, don’t send any of these things unless it’s explicitly allowed.
There is a standard format for short stories, and the incredibly detailed visual guides on William Shunn’s website have become the go-to place for writers to find them. Remember, the specific instructions within a publication’s submission guidelines should always be followed first. If the instructions aren’t specific on a particular point or leave something out, you can default to Shunn’s recommendations.
When you first finish a short story, there will probably be a number of publications that fit your story. The next step is to decide which of them to submit to first.
Consider starting with the best pay or highest prestige. Sure, I’m less likely to have my story accepted by Analog than a smaller magazine, but if they do accept it, I’m getting an excellent pay rate, and a really nice publication credit. If they reject it, I can always send it out to another.
There are other approaches, however. If you’ve found several potential publishers who accept simultaneous submissions, you can send your story to all of them at once. Simultaneous submission can really speed up the submission process, where you’re often waiting weeks or even months for a reply.
If one or more of your potential publishers has a submission window, you may want to submit to them while it’s open. If they reject it, you can submit to the others at any time.
When you’re submitting your first short story, it may seem silly to talk about tracking your submissions. After all, it’s your baby, your pride and joy, and that publisher will surely love it. And even if it gets rejected, it’s not that hard to keep track of one story.
The truth is that writing and submitting short stories is a grind. Statistically, most publishers don’t take simultaneous submissions, it usually takes weeks to get a response, and most stories don’t find a home on their first submission. If you’re going to write short stories, you’re likely to end up with multiple short stories out for submission at once. Possibly a lot of them. You’re going to get rejections. And you’re going to have to keep writing.
Tracking your submissions ensures you know what stories are currently out, who has already looked at them, and who’s looking at them now. You’ll want to track the expected response time so you know when to check your spam folder, send a query, or give up and send to another publisher. You may want to make a list of the publications you’re interested in sending a particular story. You might also find it a useful place to track acceptances and payments (don’t forget those taxes!)
If you want to do your own tracking, Excel spreadsheets and Google Docs are infinitely flexible, and as long as you’re willing to put in the effort, you can craft exactly what you want. Alternatively, both Duotrope and the Submission Grinder have built-in submission tracking, and tracking your statistics in those systems helps to build statistics that can be useful to everyone.
The hard part of the short story grind is the rejection. Nobody likes pouring their heart and soul into a story, only to be told that it’s not good enough. Unfortunately, the simple math of publishing is that there are far more stories being submitted than there are slots for publication. The majority of stories are never published.
The way to fight that math is to craft the best story you can, and then submit as much as you can. More (good) stories and more submissions raise your odds. You will need to build up the fortitude to be rejected over and over again and keep on going.
It’s also important to note that not all rejections are created equal. There are a few different kinds:
Form rejections – These are most common. The story didn’t pique the interest of the publication.
Higher-tier rejections – These may still be form rejections, but they usually mention that the editors were interested, or that they considered the story but ultimately didn’t find a spot for it. Some publications have multiple tiers of readers, and the story didn’t get all the way to the top.
Personalized rejections – These are rare and valuable. They are specific to you and your story, and explain in more detail why the story didn’t quite make the cut. If you’re lucky, they may suggest improvements or invite you to submit more work to this publisher.
While all rejection may seem bad, it’s a great sign to receive any personalized feedback from a publication. These people are constantly wading through the slush pile of submissions and working on tight deadlines, so they only spend time on a personalized response when they really like something. Unfortunately, due to the complexities of publishing, they may really like your story and still not be able to publish it. Take it as a win, and move on.
Rudel is an incredibly prolific short story writer who tries to make 100 short story submissions every year. His blog is a great general resource when it comes to writing and submitting stories, and his monthly recaps show just how much rejection even a successful author has to power through.
At this point in the Short Story Series, we’ve been through all the basics of writing short stories. I’ll probably still have one or two more articles, but you know enough to get started. If you haven’t done it before, it may seem daunting to write a short story and send it off to a publisher. Great! The best way to gain experience is to try it.
Once your story is submitted you can forget about it for a few weeks and write something new. It’s the authorial circle of life. Don’t give up, and keep writing.
When you’re writing short stories with the intention to publish, you’ll want to pay attention to your word count. Short story publications most often pay per word, and will have limits on the size of stories they are willing to publish.
As a general rule of thumb, shorter stories are easier to get published than longer ones. Many publications won’t accept longer stories at all, and those that do accept them will often only accept a small number per issue.
On the other hand, the internet has provided new opportunities for longer stories that still fall short of novel-length. Novellas are becoming more common on e-book services like Amazon. If your story lends itself toward serialization, you can also consider breaking it up for episodic publishing, like Vella.
Microfiction/Nanofiction (<500 words)
Not everyone agrees on the definition of these terms, but they typically refer to the shortest of stories. I’ve used the microfiction tag for twitter-sized stories, but some people apply the term to stories up to a page long, or up to 500 words (about two pages).
Drabble (100 words)
Drabbles focus specifically on a length of 100 words. Some publications, like Martian Magazine, require exactly 100 words. Others, like The Drabble, treat 100 words as an upper limit.
Flash Fiction (<1000 words)
Flash fiction is a blanket term for the shortest fiction. One thousand words is a common upper bound, although some publications will categorize up to 1,500 or even 2,000 words as flash.
Short Story (<10,000 words)
Again, this is a little nebulous, but once you get beyond ten thousand words, you’re getting outside “standard” short story territory. Many publications will have tighter limits for what they allow, like 7,500 or 5,000 words.
Novelette (10,000 – 17,500 words)
There is a weird limbo between the short story lengths typically published by magazines, and the length of full-fledged novels. Novelettes live at the shorter end of this range. They’re typically defined as anything from ten thousand to 17,500 words, although some definitions cap them at an even 20,000. Sometimes novelettes are considered a subset of our next category, novellas.
Novella (20,000 – 40,000 words)
Novellas are the top end of the range before you get into novels. These are rare in traditional paper publishing, but they’ve become more common with the proliferation of cheap e-books.
Anything above 40,000 words is typically considered a novel. If you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, this is the default goal. However, a higher word count is expected in most genres. This leaves “short novels” in a similar situation to novellas. As with novellas, these have become more common in e-books, where customers are less likely to consider how thick a book is before buying, and the economics of printing are less of a concern.
Any length-based categories I missed? Let me know in the comments.
I was recently talking with my daughter about her writing goals, and it got me thinking about my own. I started this blog because my writing life had stagnated. I had an abundance of dreams and aspirations for my fiction. I had ideas. I just wasn’t doing any of it.
This blog has been great for me. Not because of incredible readership or acclaim; but because it got me writing regularly again. I write almost every day. I devote much more of my time and thoughts to writing. Writing has become much more exciting.
In a lot of ways, this blog is the locus of my writing. Razor Mountain is my biggest writing project right now, and I’m posting it to the blog. I’m doing storytelling classes with my daughter, and posting about it on the blog. I’m reading fiction and books on craft and writing advice blog posts. Those are all great things to do for the pleasure of it, and as ways to become a better writer. But those things are also fodder for blog posts.
Objectively, a blog has no hard deadlines. Nobody’s paying me to write it or yelling at me if I don’t. Even so, this blog has worked as an excellent external motivator for me. For a while, that’s been enough.
Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.
And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain
If you want to follow this advice, the first thing to figure out is what exactly the mountain represents for you. It will change over time. For me, it means finishing novels and short stories, and submitting them for publication. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but traditional publishing still holds an allure for me. (Mainly the allure of an editor who reads hundreds of stories each month saying “this one is special, and I want to pay you for it.”) And when I say “finishing,” I mean polishing to a standard that I can be proud of; to the best of my abilities today.
Once you know where you want to go, the next question to ask is “how do I walk towards the mountain?”
Getting My Bearings
When I started this blog, just writing something (anything!) several times a week was a big move toward the mountain. Now that I’ve been doing it for over a year and a half, it’s starting to feel like stagnation.
The blog is still valuable as a way to reflect on my work and organize my thoughts on writing, as well as a place where I’ve met other writers and readers. It will continue to be the home of Razor Mountain—my dedication to that project hasn’t changed.
So, how can I walk towards the mountain? I’ve been thinking about that for a while. The strategy I’ve come up with can be boiled down to a few steps.
Evaluate, Plan, Execute, Repeat
Right now, I have a full-time job, and I treat my writing as a hobby. I don’t do a lot of planning. I write what I feel like writing, when I feel like writing it. I don’t really keep track of what I’ve worked on in any organized way. However, my gut feel for how much time I spend writing and what I spend time on are not very useful metrics. Gut feel is usually pretty inaccurate. So my first step is to actually track what I’m writing.
I’ve been evaluating project planning tools, which is annoying because most of them are focused on big business, not on individual creators or freelancers, and most of them have the kind of pricing where you need to call a salesperson to get a quote.
I know plenty of creative people will hear a phrase like “project planning” and immediately go into fight-or-flight mode, but it really is valuable to get all your projects (and potential projects) out of your head and onto paper, or at least a screen. My goal is to get a better view of all the things I could be working on, prioritize them, and then track how much I’m actually working.
Once I have some data, I can make a plan. Maybe it will show that I write less than I thought I did. In that case, I can plan ways to sneak in more writing time. Maybe it will show that I spend too much time on some things, and not enough on others. In that case, I can re-order what I work on, or set limits on certain things.
Once I have a plan, I have to actually try to follow it. It’ll go well, or go poorly, or go somewhere in-between. Then the process starts over again: re-evaluate, make new plans, execute again.
The Experiment is Ongoing
When I write the process down like that, it looks neat and tidy. Real life never quite works out that way. I’ve been working on this for a few weeks, and I’m still trying to find a free tool that I’m happy with. I’ve tried several tools. I stuck with Monday.com for a while, but it’s one of those big enterprise tools, and their free plan removes all the interesting features as soon as the initial trial is over. I’m currently trying ClickUp, which seems good so far. Fingers crossed. It’s an unfortunate amount of work to get projects loaded into a tracking tool, only to discover that it doesn’t do what you want it to.
My initial takeaways are that I do spend less time writing than I thought I did, and that being able to look at a list of projects and decide what’s important to work on next helps me a lot. As a procrastinator, assigning due dates to projects is extremely useful. A project just doesn’t feel real until it has a dangerously fast-approaching due date.
Ultimately, my goal is to treat my writing less like a hobby and more like a job. It won’t be a simple one-time process change. It’ll be more like continuous evaluation and improvement.
I’ll probably have further posts as I make progress. For now, it’s enough to once again be moving toward the mountain.
Yes! Of course! I mean, sure, probably. Long-standing publishing orthodoxy takes it as a given.
And, of course, I’m a writer with a blog. Based on my typical audience, chances are pretty good that you, reading this, are also a writer with a blog. We have some sunk costs. It’d be much easier to not ask this question. Because if the answer is anything other than an unqualified “Yes,” we might have to consider how well we’ve been spending our time.
Chuck Wendig asks the thorny question, and doesn’t shy away from the answers. And like so many things, the answers turn out to be complicated and nuanced.
Way back in THE OLDEN DAYS, in the BEFORETIMES, at the outset of this current wave of social media (Twitter, FB, IG, eventually not Tumblr, eventually yes Tik-Tok), it was a common refrain that an author had to have a “platform,” which was something of a corruption of the notion that non-fiction authors had to have a platform. For non-fic authors, that platform meant they had to have a reliable reputation in the subject matter at hand and/or some kind of demonstrable expertise in it. But the dilution of that became simply, “As an author, you should have a social media following at one or several social media sites.” (At this time, blogs were still acceptable. Remember blogs? Yeah, me neither.) It was a little bit advice, a little bit mandate. What that social media following meant or needed to look like was a set of teleporting bullseyes, and though I’m sure some publishers had hard and fast numbers they hoped to see, they did not share them with any authors I know.
The purpose of this social media following was unclear, though it was usually sold as some combination of, hey, be funny, be informative, earn an audience, oh and don’t forget to SHILL YOUR BOOKS, BOOKMONSTER. Drop the links, use the graphics, do the hokey-pokey and shake it all about. You’re an author! Also a brand! Standing on a platform! Asking an audience to love you with money! You’re like the Wendy’s Twitter account — be funny, be individual, be the best version of yourself, get attention, but also get them to eat your goddamn wordburgers.
The question is, did it work then? Does it work now?
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve probably heard a bit about NFTs. The news outlets and crypto bros are all incredibly eager to tell us about just how much money this or that JPEG was recently sold for. The only thing more popular than gawking at these huge sales is writing blog posts trying to explain in layman’s terms what the heck an NFT is, or why the heck anyone would want to buy one.
As authors, it feels like we’ve been living in a technological revolution for a while now. We’ve seen a huge transformation of the publishing industry in the past decade or so. Traditional publishing and distribution channels shrank while self-publishing and online distribution became viable options. Could the recent rise of NFTs represent yet another way for authors to sell their work?
For as much talk as there has been around NFT visual art and the (ugh) “metaverse,” there is comparatively little discussion of monetizing the written word. Although the latest NFT craze has been around visual digital art, there’s no technical limitation stopping other types of art from being “NFT-ified.” An NFT itself is able to hold only a tiny amount of data, but the way NFTs are typically used is more as a glorified digital certificate of authenticity, and it can point to almost anything. So let’s take a look at what fiction NFTs might look like, and whether they seem likely to be a viable way for authors to sell their work.
Publishing fiction and building an audience is already a challenge. Most of us aren’t looking to make it even harder, so it’s important to look at the downsides of using NFTs.
Minting Ain’t Free
NFTs use cryptocurrencies and blockchains as their bedrock (usually the Ethereum chain and its native currency, Ether). You’ll need a cryptocurrency wallet, and you’ll need some cryptocurrency in it. That means you’ll need to buy crypto with real money. You’ll need to pay gas fees. You’ll probably also need a browser extension or a wallet with built-in browser to interface with the exchange and set up your listing.
If that last paragraph sounded like technobabble to you, then you see the other cost: complexity. If you haven’t been involved with cryptocurrency and/or you’re not very computer savvy, getting all of this set up can feel like a pretty big undertaking. Plus, the world of crypto is full of hacks and scams (try looking up “rug pull” or “stolen NFT”), so jumping into it without a good understanding of what’s going on can be risky.
No Silver Bullet
Huge sales of NFTs have drawn big headlines because they make for exciting news, but anecdotes should not be confused with statistics. Like cryptocurrency, the NFT marketplace seems to be pretty volatile. It’s fueled by speculation, sentiment and hype.
A few people have tried to fight the hype with research, and what they’ve found is that most NFTs don’t sell for more than a hundred dollars (and that’s before fees). Most artists who jump in aren’t getting rich. It’s not even clear if the average artist breaks even. There are a few people selling for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, but is that really any different from Stephen King or E. L. James in the traditional publishing world?
Simply minting an NFT is no guarantee you’ll make money, and it’s certainly possible to lose some.
An Ideological Minefield
Cryptocurrency and NFTs aren’t exactly mainstream yet, but they’re getting more attention and press. And there are plenty of institutions and investors hyping them (often with holdings that stand to benefit from that hype). But there are plenty of others who are just as loudly pointing out the dangers: energy consumption, unstable and insecure technology, lack of regulation or oversight, and more.
In a world that is increasingly polarized, this is a natural ideological battleground—a tangled web of political beliefs, complicated technology, and economics. Having money at stake rarely makes people more objective.
It’s fair to say that announcing a venture into this arena will be met with excitement by the true believers, and scorn by the skeptics. Be ready to deal with that, and hope that the audience who gets excited is big enough to make it worthwhile.
So far, NFTs don’t seem like a great deal. They’re certainly fraught with challenges. But there are some possible advantages too.
NFTs have name recognition. They’re relatively new technology that’s attracting a lot of attention. And for those who are interested, they feel a bit like being involved in a sci-fi future.
If you’re the sort of person who likes experimenting with new, technology-infused forms of storytelling (like interactive fiction), then NFTs may be an exciting new playground. And the readers who are interested in new forms of storytelling may be more likely to jump the technical hurdles and be willing to support an NFT project.
This article from Lit Hub suggests that at least a few authors are making money by using NFTs to experiment with form and function, or at least provide a novel (heh heh) marketing twist for their writing projects.
Another Potential Income Stream
One of the oddities of NFTs, at least where digital art is concerned, is that they don’t actually provide legal or physical ownership of the thing they represent. They’re a digital note that can’t be easily forged, and point to the digital item of your choosing.
An NFT could be used as a way to sell the rights to a story or a novel, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be used more like autographed promotional materials or Patreon rewards: a bonus or collectable for invested fans. Minting an NFT of a story doesn’t mean the buyer owns any legal rights to that story, and you could still go on to publish it yourself.
Be aware, however, that blockchain information is inherently public. A typical NFT points to the item it represents at a URL that anyone can access. Since many publishers want “first” rights, minting an NFT of a piece of fiction may severely limit the rights that you can subsequently sell.
I’m personally pretty skeptical of NFTs and their cryptocurrency underpinnings, but it is a fact that it is now possible to mint NFTs for our art (or at least tangentially related to it). If nothing else, I think it’s always good to know what options are out there.
What do you think? Would you ever consider making NFTs of your fiction? Do you think there’s a market for it today? What about in five or ten years?
Aeryn Rudel is a sometimes-editor, sometimes-RPG-designer, and writer of stories. In fact, he is an unstoppable story writing machine.
On his Rejectomancy blog, he talks about various writing topics, but what I find most interesting is his thorough documentation of the sheer quantity of short stories and flash fiction he writes, along with his submission, acceptance, and rejection numbers.
There’s plenty of advice out there about writing and submitting short stories to publications, but I haven’t found another person who is so thorough in documenting their own personal experience. He really embodies the idea that writers should embrace rejection as a natural part of the publishing process and build up a thick skin.
Earlier this month, he compiled some interesting information and advice to commemorate his 500th rejection, a feat that took him almost ten years of submissions.
I’ve done my outlining and prep for Razor Mountain. I wrote my author profile and my book description. I’ve got a couple of chapters in revision, just about ready to go. But I don’t have a book cover.
Why Yes, I Am an Old Man
I grew up in a time where traditional publishing was effectively the only publishing. Self-publishing was basically a scam where unpleasant little corporations tricked authors into spending a bunch of money to print a tiny run of their book that would be available nowhere and bought by nobody.
In that strange and distant age, there was an oft-quoted adage: “In real publishing, money always flows toward the author.” If you’re in traditional publishing, that’s still generally true, but we now live in a world where self-publishing is definitely real publishing and a viable strategy for many authors. But self-publishing means that the author is taking on all of the tasks that were once managed by a publisher, and taking on all the risk that entails. In self-publishing, money doesn’t always flow toward the author. In many cases, you have to spend money to (try to) make money. For me, at least, that takes some getting used to.
Those costs can include a variety of things: copy editors, content editors, proofreaders and sensitivity readers; indexing; book design and formatting; marketing; and cover design. The folks at Reedsy have a good post on how these costs can add up, although they should be taken with a grain of salt since they make their money as a marketplace for exactly these kinds of services.
As an old man who still thinks traditional publishing is pretty cool, I ended up accidentally backing into self-pub in the form of an experiment. I wanted to write a serial novel, putting it out into the world as I wrote it (more or less). There are only a handful of authors that could get a traditional publisher to sign on to a project like that, and let me tell you, I am not one of them. Publishing a serial novel has its own unusual considerations, but at the end of the day, it’s self-publishing, and it involves many of the same considerations that self-publishing any other novel would.
If you’re looking at self-publishing and you need a book cover, what are your options?
You can do it yourself. But should you?
The obvious advantage of this strategy is that it costs no money, and you have complete control of your cover design. The disadvantage is that it will cost your time, possibly materials, and the quality of the output is going to depend entirely on your skill. If you are a visual artist, this might be feasible for you. Just remember, book covers are a specialized art. Even if you are great at painting, drawing or visual design, it won’t necessarily be easy to create a great book cover.
Before you embark on crafting a book cover, look around for good reference material. Browse Amazon or Bookshop, or go to your local independent bookstore and snap photos of covers you like. Consider your book’s genre and the feel you want the cover to have — thrillers are going to have very different covers from romance or memoir, for example.
There are also services that help to make the process easier. For example, Canva has a book cover design template, along with a variety of pre-built cover designs, free and paid. You can change any of the elements to suit your own needs, from fonts to colors to pictures or illustrations. If you need pictures, you can try searching a free stock photo site, like Pexels. These sites have photos that you can use without paying royalties. Don’t use any pictures without a clear statement of copyright and conditions of use!
If you have experience or are willing to put in the time to learn, professional design software can give you even more creative control. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are industry-standard tools that require a purchase, or you could use a free tool like the powerful (and goofily-named) GNU Image Manipulation Program — GIMP.
Friends, Family, and Freelance
For most of us, it’s just not feasible to create our own book cover with a high-enough level of quality. However, you might know someone with the artistic skills you lack. Do you have an artist friend, family member, or coworker whose work you respect? Consider offering them a commission. For the amateur artist, it may be fun to work on a project that actually pays, and it’ll be far less expensive for you than other options.
Be aware though, that you’re going to have to collaborate. You don’t want to end up poisoning an existing relationship if you end up disagreeing on the design. Treat this as a professional relationship — make sure to be really clear about what you want, how much you are paying, and how much freedom you’re giving your artist to adjust and improve the design based on their own artistic sensibilities.
And yes, you should almost always pay. Even if your artist is a friend or family member, they’re doing a professional service for you. You’re trying to make money by publishing — it would be a disservice to your artist to not compensate them for their contribution to your success. Look at freelancer and professional rates, and make sure you’re offering a reasonable fee that you both can agree on. (Occasionally, you may have a hard time convincing your artist to accept compensation. Consider something more personal than cold cash — take them out for a nice meal, or give them a gift you know they’ll appreciate.)
This is a broad category, but I’m considering this to cover any artist you do not personally know, who gets paid for their art in any way. This includes amateurs who take commissions, professional freelancers, and commercial services.
If you want to find a freelancer, you can browse sites like Reedsy or Fiverr for artists who are specifically advertising their book cover design services. These are the folks who are mostly likely to have experience in this specific field of design, and some examples for you to look at.
If you have favorite artists on an art site like DeviantArt, you might consider asking them if they’ll create a cover for you on commission. Just be aware that many excellent artists will have never created a cover before, and may not be interested. Even if they are, you’ll want to have a detailed description of what you want.
Finally, there are the corporate options. These are companies who employ professional artists who specialize in book covers. This can be the priciest choice, with some cover options costing upward of a thousand dollars.
On the cheaper end of these services are pre-made book covers. These are somewhat like the Canva templates: professionally-designed covers that can be customized with title and byline. Some services will let you specify minor tweaks to things like the font and sizing of the text, but these are mostly what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
If you’re willing to pay for the most expensive options, you can buy a custom book cover design from one of these services. You provide your input to the company, and they come back with one or more designs. You then pick what you like and make adjustments until it’s just right. This is the most expensive kind of cover design service, but you’re paying for strong creative control and high-quality art and design to get a professional product.
When Ryan Lanz, whose blog I follow, posted his cover reveal, he shouted-out his designers, Damonza, who offer pre-made and custom-order covers. There are at least half a dozen other companies who do similar work that are easy to find with a Google search. I won’t recommend any of these, since I haven’t worked with them and can’t vouch for the quality of service. However, they all have galleries of their work that you can browse to help you make a decision.
Making the Right Choice
Many writers, myself included, want to spend as much time as possible refining their craft — writing! But if you’re going to self-publish, there are business considerations, and you have to take them seriously if you want to maximize your chances of success. As often as we say “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” people do exactly that.
Remember that a book cover is a business decision. You have to decide how important your cover is, and how much time and money you want to put into it. You also need to consider the resources available to you. Maybe you can’t afford a custom professionally-designed cover, but you have an artist friend who is eager to help. Maybe you can sock away a smaller amount of money for a commission or freelancer. Maybe you’re an artist as well as a writer, and you’re willing to put in the effort to make something great in Canva, Illustrator or GIMP.
How about you? Have you self-published? If so, how did you get your book cover? Were you satisfied, or would you try something different next time? Let me know in the comments.