Opportunities for Advancement

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was in charge of the writing workshops for Dragoncon. We had nearly 100,000 people coming to the convention each year, and I worked hard to cover various writing topics so that our students had a broad understanding of the field. One year I put on a workshop on “Creating Great Characters. We had 22 people in the audience, and I’d seen all of the same folks at workshops on plotting, world creation, and other writerly topics.

The thing is, we had a major publisher come that day to talk about what makes a bestseller, and in order to accommodate the crowds, I had to use the biggest room in the convention center. It held over 2000 people but we had to turn away hundreds more. It was a circus.

In the following three years, I noticed that nearly all of those 22 dedicated students took off and began publishing. I doubt that any of the “2000” who went to the big talk ever wrote a damned thing. Some classes just aren’t as sexy-sounding as they should be. They’re not as enticing.

I’ll be teaching a workshop on “Creating a Perfect Cast for Your Novel” this next week. The title isn’t sexy, but the information in it is vital.

You see, when you create characters for a novel or a screenplay, you can’t create each one in isolation. You have to create characters who surprise each other, motivate each other, and bounce off of one another in unpredictable and exciting ways. Creating such characters strikes at the heart of what makes great storytelling.

So if you’re interested, if you’re serious about breaking into this field, follow this link. http://mystorydoctor.com/live-workshops-2/


When you submit your novel to a publisher, there are a lot of things that you should take into consideration. How well does the publisher market the books in your genre? Do they pay good advances? Do I think I’d like the editor I’m working with? How quick are their response times?

One area that you need to consider is “What are my opportunities for advancement?” Many publishers have lead authors who are pretty much masters of their field. These authors get paid big advances, get the best covers, and get a larger advertising budget than a small midlist author—and they aren’t about to get dethroned so long as they keep writing at the top of their game.

So how do you move up the food chain at that publisher? Will your sales numbers just magically begin to overwhelm the lead author’s numbers?  No. A major author gets their work promoted differently from a new author. Your books might all go to the same bookstore, but the major author gets “cooperative advertising” with the bookstore so that their books are promoted face-out on the bookshelves. The major author will also have many more copies available to sell. The author’s books might be displayed in five or six areas in the bookstore—say in the front window, or behind the counter at the checkout stand, in the “new books” section, or on special displays at the end of an aisle.

More than that, the lead author might have his or her books display in far more locations than you do. For example, when my book “Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia” came out, it was sold not just in bookstores but in displays in special cases at 10,000 grocery stores and airports across the country. It was also sold in finer gas stations everywhere!

So when your book is being sold at 30,000 or 40,000 locations outside of bookstores, it’s easy to begin racking up big numbers, and as an author whose books are getting limited distribution (just in the bookstores), it becomes harder to compete.

One analyst put it this way: “When you have your book in a bookstore, you’ve got 50,000 competitors breathing down your neck.” Ideally, you want to get out of the bookstores.

So when you go to a new publisher, you may want to consider, “What are the opportunities for advancement?” “Who is the best author in their stable?”

Usually, to become a lead author, you have to patiently wait for their current lead author to stumble usually by dying.  I could say that the big author needs to miss a deadline and get sick, but the truth is that some authors are too big to fail. If they get ill or turn in a lackluster manuscript, the publisher may hire a story doctor to come to the rescue, either repairing the lackluster manuscript or sometimes even ghostwriting a book. The audience may never know the difference.

If you’re hoping to become the superstar at a major publisher, look at their lead authors. Are they sick or aged? Are they beginning to stumble? Have they lost the passion needed for their work? If everything is good at a publisher, then you might want to move along, find a publisher that offers greener pastures.

In short, part of selecting a publisher requires you to really ponder your opportunities for advancement.



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