Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Help From My Friends - Louise Marley

Another week, another great author looking to help out the general populous of writers looking to get published, speaking by their varied experiences. Today's speaker is Louise Marley, an award-winning Sci-Fi  author. With about a dozen and a half novels, and another handful of shorts, under her belt her career is in full bloom with some amazing storytelling. Without further ado, please welcome Louise:

What is/was the most important step in getting yourself established in the industry?

I’d love to have a clever answer to this, but in truth, I think the way to get established is just like the way to get published:  write great stuff and submit it.  We are as good as our last novel or story, and a nice little stack of high-quality material is the way to earn a reputation.

I think libraries all hold a near-and-dear place in our hearts, what is your take on the situation of libraries and how can we help stop the downward spiral?

This is of great concern to me.  My own public library, here in Redmond, WA, is one of the most-used libraries in the country!  It’s constantly full of ESL folks, students, people in need of an internet connection, and all sort of other people.  I wish we could, as a nation, spend more on libraries and less on bombs.  The only way I know how to effect that is to try to vote for the best people—and of course, if the library asks for anything, I give it.

If there is only one book people can read of yours, what should it be?

Of course I love readers who tell me they’ve read everything I’ve published!  But if I had to choose just one, it would probably be The Terrorists of Irustan, because in that particular novel, the plot worked out in that inevitable fashion that is always my preference.  It’s hard to pull off, but out of my seventeen novels—so far--I think that one came the closest.

What is the biggest pitfall in the publishing industry that people should stay away from?

Thinking that self-promotion on the internet can replace solid writing efforts!

Getting international book deals is another cog in the wheel of success, how should authors go about doing this?

I’m not sure how much authors can affect their international sales.  I do hear stories, occasionally, about how someone persuaded a foreign publisher to pick up one of their books, but I’ve had to rely on my agent.  Perhaps I’m not the best authority in this area—I’ve only had books published in French and German and Czech, which leaves a lot of countries who don’t yet know my name!

With more authors relying strictly on e-book sales for their success, what is the one thing that is being overlooked in the e-book industry that people should be focusing on?

I’m still of the opinion that authors who are making a big success by going strictly with e-books, especially self-published ones, are a tiny percentage of the writing population in general.  I love e-books.  They’ve made my most recent novels sell through a hell of a lot faster than just paper editions would.  I would still, however, hate to have to rely just on e-editions.  We who are colleagues more or less live on the internet and communicate electronically, but there are still many, many folks who want to hold a paper book in their hands.

Kindle Select - good or bad?

No idea, sorry.  I only barely know what it is.

With the declining sales of print books, what do you feel needs to be done to resurrect this portion of the industry? At this point, can it come back?

I think the proportional sales of e-books is just going to rise.  It’s inevitable.  In every way, an e-book is more cost effective—production, distribution, shipping (none), sales.  The day will come when my answer to your Question #6 will be outdated.

When editing, how do you separate yourself from the book to make it better when your editor gives you constructive criticism you may not agree with?

It’s important to stick to your original inspiration as closely as you can.  You’re the author.  The editor is trying to help you make it a better book, but it wasn’t her idea (usually) in the first place.  If you don’t have a clear vision of what it should be, who will?

What has been the best way to promote your work (knowing that success is different for each individual)?

I think I’m not great at this.  I love one-on-one contact with readers, book events, conventions, that sort of thing.  The sort of mass promotion done over the internet has so far eluded me, although Facebook and GoodReads have been extremely helpful.  The answer to the promotion question for me is an “all of the above” response—if I can think of it, I do it.  I send review copies, I send press releases (mostly ineffective, in my experience), I do Facebook and GoodReads ads, I keep an up-to-date website, I blog a bit at http://redroom.com/member/louise-marley/blog.  I do bookmarks.  I pray.  And I hope.  That’s about it!  =)

With so many self-publishing options out there now, apart from making more money (as stated time and time again by Joe Konrath) what is the biggest pro and biggest con of going about it yourself?

Biggest pro:  cover art control.  Much bigger con:  distribution, distribution, distribution.

What would you suggest bookstores do to stay with the changing industry? Would your answer be different for chains vs. local?

I have rather strong opinions about this, especially since seeing (as I predicted--http://redroom.com/member/louise-marley/blog/how-we-buy-books-or-a-farewell-to-borders) the demise of Borders.  One of the things Borders did wrong was ignore local interest in assigning books to their bookstores.  They didn’t seem to care that in Seattle, we read a lot of sf, while in Florida, they buy a lot of romance.  My first hardcover sold out the measly three copies they had ordered in two weeks—and my local Borders wouldn’t reorder.  How do either of us stay in business with a model like that?

Barnes & Noble does a much better job, and their CRMs (Community Relations Managers) are wonderfully responsive to local authors.  For independent bookstores, it all comes down to letting their customers know they’re really, really interested in what they want to see in the store, and then following through.  And it behooves us, as writers, to promote our local indies in whatever way we can.

What sets you apart in a sea of competition?

Quality writing.  Good storytelling.  Strong characterizations.  In other words, the usual.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Practice.  (Learned it in my musical life.)

What is your most humbling moment in the industry?

Oh, God.  The Death Spiral, when my first hardcover came out just after 9/11, and the story began with a terrorist incident.  It took years to climb out of that.

What aspirations do you have left that you've not yet met?

NYT Bestseller List.  Don’t we all?  =)

What is the best way to handle a negative review?

Do your best to forget it.

Do you ever thank a positive reviewer? How do you go about it to not seem like you paid them for the good review?

Really, I follow the rule:  Never, ever respond to the press.  Good or bad, a review is out there, and all publicity is good publicity.  If a good friend has written a nice review, of course I’ll thank her, but even if it’s not so good, I’ll still thank her for taking the time to read my work and write about it.  I may occasionally, however, ask someone to help with a good Amazon review to counter a bad one, since the most recent one is always at the top, and that can hurt.

I was a classical singer for a very long time.  Mostly, I was blessed with good reviews, quickly read and just as quickly forgotten.  However, I can tell you that every bad one was instantly committed to long-term memory, whether I wanted to have it there or not.  We’re human, and as artists, we’re particularly vulnerable.  We can only suck it up and go on.

What fact is stranger than fiction in the publishing world?

That writers have no control over their covers!  My readers have difficulty believing this, but if you’re with a big publisher—we’re now calling them legacy publishers, although I don’t know why—it’s the truth.  I’ve had two novels destroyed by bad covers.  The publishers don’t want to believe it, but I’m convinced it’s true.  My small press editions are my favorites, because my editor and I work together on the covers.  And they matter, they really do.

Thank you to Louise for taking the time to stop by and lend a hand! Please be sure to visit her website, louisemarley.com, or find her on Facebook. Please be sure to leave a comment or to ask a question if you have one - thanks for stopping by.


Louise Marley, a former concert and opera singer, writes stories of the fantastic. Sometimes set in the past, sometimes in the future, and often in a curious present, her novels tend to be feminist, often musical, occasionally dark, but always with compelling, colorful, and complex characters. Louise is in demand as a teacher of writing workshops for adults and young adults.

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