Nuts ‘n Bolts of Publishing (Series) With Bestselling Author Jane Lebak
Sometimes going in both directions at the same time is the most fruitful route of all. In this week’s edition of Nuts ‘n Bolts of Publishing, author Jane Lebak talks about her road to hybrid publishing and what it takes to make it in both worlds — and in between.
Jane writes books and knits socks. She lives in the Swamp with her Patient Husband and four children where she writes smart fiction about pun-slingers, angels, and angels who sling puns. Find her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Or visit her author page on Amazon.
Are you traditionally or self-published?
I started out traditional, then became that weird animal, the hybrid publisher. I had a few titles out under my own imprint and a few with a small press. I was having too much fun being in control of my own everything though, so I terminated all my contracts, and now I’m fully indie.
How long does it take you to write a book?
I’ve found I work really well at 1,400 words a day, with some days off for a literary pause now and again. At that rate, I can turn out a first draft of a full-length novel in ninety days, and then I start editing.
What are your tips for staying focused?
I’m naturally obsessive, so focus isn’t so much of a problem for me. But when it’s difficult, I’ll trick myself by setting up a spreadsheet and graphing my word count. Having the visual reminder of my progress helps when the brain wanders off into the woods, and there’s extra motivation in needing to “feed the spreadsheet.”
What tips do you have for authors looking to find an agent or publisher?
Remember that first and foremost, it’s a business. Agents and publishers are in the business of writing, so while your manuscript is your soul and your art, to them it’s a product. Their analysis is going to be different than yours because of their business perspective, so you have to remember when you get the inevitable rejections (maybe one, maybe a hundred) that they’re not analyzing your art or your soul. They’re analyzing your saleability and your marketability.
What that means is that some manuscripts just aren’t going to appeal to the Big 5 publishers (or traditional agents) because they appeal to a smaller market, or because the market you have isn’t traditionally reached by their favorite advertising methods. And in those cases, once you’re sure you have the best possible manuscript, you should look into other methods of publishing and reaching that audience.
Tell us about QueryTracker. How can authors use this platform?
I love QueryTracker for so many reasons! Authors who want to find an agent are faced with a huge organizational problem. First of all, finding agents to query. Does the agent represent your genre and category? Is the agent open to queries? What’s their preferred means of hearing from potential clients? Secondly, knowing what to expect from an agent after querying: does this agent send rejections or just delete unwanted queries without responding? Does the agent typically request a full manuscript or only a few chapters? How long does this agent take to respond?
QT functions as a database to help you narrow down the agents you might want to query (35,000 agents becomes, say, 200 once you plug in your genre and category) and then you can use it to keep track of who you queried, when you queried, and what responses you received. You can make sure you’re not sending the same query twice; you can make sure you’re not querying multiple agents at the same agency; you can know in advance that a specific agent says she accepts urban fantasy but lately has only accepted contemporary YA manuscripts.
QT also allows you to post comments about specific agents on their profiles, including their boilerplate rejection letters. So when an agent sends a rejection that you’re not sure is personalized, you can double-check it against the rejection everyone else has received and discover that their supposedly personalized suggestions are actually the same ones they send to every querier. And you, therefore, are free to ignore it.
QT has forums where you can find support and have other writers help punch up your query letter. It’s just an amazing resource, and it’s free!
How do you balance all of the demands of a successful writing career (writing, marketing, etc.) and the myriad personal life demands?
I neglect my children and haven’t done housework for years. It’s pretty bad.
What were your 1–2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
The fact publishing is a lot more than art, and that having achieved one success doesn’t at all mean you’ll succeed again. The experience is different every time.
What would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I’d have ignored a lot of the career advice I got from academics and instead focused on learning the commercial nuts and bolts. I understand they were trying to teach about art, but I picked up some of their attitude about commercialization that derailed my career for a number of years. Moreover, I managed to get a Master’s in English without knowing the first thing about freelancing. If I could do it differently, I’d go back in time and hand myself a copy of Starting Your Career As A Freelance Writer and start earning a living from writing a lot sooner.
What marketing or promotional activity produces the best results for you?
The market is always changing, but having a series and promoting the first book for free is my current tactic.
Did you have a platform in place when you started this journey? What are you doing to build a platform and gain readership?
I’d been building a platform for years while my ex-agents failed to sell my work to the Big 5, so I was in a pretty good position once I started getting my work out there. I’m not actively doing anything specific to build a platform rather than just getting myself and my work out there as often as I can and in as many ways as I can.
How important is utilizing social media to becoming a successful writer?
Very important: I joined a number of publishing forums online and soaked in every bit of information I possibly could. Authors are great for sharing leads, sharing interesting articles, and sharing the results of their different marketing efforts. In return, I give back where I can (but in the black-belt level writing group, where writers talk about being in the “seven figure club,” you can imagine I am very, very quiet.
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
Think like your character, not the way you think your character should think. Your antagonist should be the protagonist of her own story, and when you’re writing someone who believes something the direct opposite of what you do, go ahead and immerse yourself in that mentality. Figure out logically why your characters believe the things they do. If you’re writing a slave-owner, figure out exactly why some people think it’s okay to own other people. If you’re writing a knitter, listen to other knitters and hear them talk about delicious, smooshy yarn and how annoying it is to purl three together through the back loop. Learn the vocabulary and world view of anyone you write, and the characters will be more compelling.
Don’t worry about telling the reader what they should believe about your character. Just embody that character in full and let the reader come to her own realization.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing the third novella in the Father Jay series. He’s a disabled priest and his brother is a jaded cop, and they don’t really get along well even at the best of times. This is not the best of times. It’s such a fun story.
*** If you’ve read one of Jane’s books, PLEASE consider leaving her a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Reviews are the fuel that keeps a writer going!***
Are you an author interested in sharing your writing and publishing experience? Send us an email at info @ forewordz.com (no spaces). We’d love to interview you!