Rules to Sell Your Writing By

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I’m not listing rules here. Sorry. But I am commenting on how hard it is to sell something you’ve written. How should you go about it? Get an agent? Skip the agent and query an editor? Skip them both and put it out in e-format and market the hell out of it? Well, sure. I’ve heard stories of each of those methods working really well. And the sale of a book, like the sale of anything else, depends upon some hard and fast rules. Unfortunately, those rules are not logical in the sense that you can parse them using a Ben Franklin Close (look that up if you want; it’s a real thing) or other hard, logical means. Like any sale, the rules of selling something you’ve written are perfectly logical, but they are emotionally logical. And the greatest story out there can be rejected a thousand times just because nobody reviewing it for possible publication felt like buying it at the time! That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with it: there’s a famous story about somebody who changed the names in Casablanca and shopped it around Hollywood, where it was rejected by every single mover and shaker in that town! It’s even a true story, I’m pretty sure, and it illustrates my point very well.

Even if it isn’t a movie, there’s a lot of expense involved in publishing a book. You can check it out for yourself, if you want to. Just see how much a printer would charge you for five thousand copies of a three-hundred page book, library bound and with decent paper. But, e-publishing is different, you say. No books to print, or bind, or store or anything. Yep, that’s an advantage, and feel free to go ahead and publish your work. Like a speaker I heard recently pointed out, however, there are tens of millions of books on Amazon, but only those in the “top 200,000 in sales” actually are selling any. All those others? Well, as you might have been thinking, they didn’t cost much, did they? If you think about it, an e-book still needs layout, good cover art, and marketing. Lots and lots of marketing. You can opt to do that yourself, if you have any marketing talent. But it’s going to take more graphic talent than is evidenced by the average Garage Sale sign for your efforts to be successful. You’ll have to actually know how to do graphic design (or pay someone to do that for you.) You’ll have to know how to get people to want to read your book, even if it’s a great one. Ask your self what you think of television commercials (adverts if you’re a Brit.) Marketing people generally like them, so long as they’re well done. Thirty seconds of time in a second tier market will cost you thousands of dollars. Now how do you feel about them?

Selling comes down to appealing to potential buyers on an emotional level. Sad, but true. If you write fiction, then maybe you have a leg-up in sales, because presumably you can get inside your characters’ heads and figure out what they want. Maybe, if you can do that with real people, you have a chance at selling your own work. If you can’t do it with living beings, you can hire someone to do it for you. Which brings you smack dab back to needing a publisher. Aaaargh!

I think of my own moods. One day I may really like something, but the next day I think it’s really stupid. I’m not unusual in that. Maybe the second day I’m tired, or hungry, or I twisted my ankle in a pothole on my morning jog, or my kid got caught stealing from the candy store. Or any one of a million other variables that you, as the writer, can’t possibly anticipate or do anything about even if you could know about them. The only thing you can do, and this is the truth, is make your query absolutely irresistible. That way, even if the editor is having a terrible day, she may put it aside and read it later, when she knows she’ll feel more like doing so. An ordinary query, well, it’s just a part of a pile of work that’s interfering with thinking about being tired, or hungry, or, you know. And that’s a “maybe” only. Maybe she’ll just get frustrated and reject the whole pile just because it clears her schedule. Maybe. There’s no way to know, and no law says she ever has to tell you why she didn’t buy what you were selling.

Which brings up some more emotional rules. Such as “Don’t bug the agent/editor.” “Don’t be clever with them.” “Remember you will need to get rejected a lot before you actually sell anything.” It’s true. In sales there’s a rule that you make twenty contacts to get one prospect, and twenty prospects will yield you one sale. That’s 400 contacts to sell one item! Because, for some reason, the other 399 people just weren’t emotionally ready to buy what you were selling. In this case, they just didn’t feel like risking a lot of work on your book. It isn’t personal, it’s just the way it is.

So, I guess I do have a rule or two. Rule #1 is to be persistent. Keep learning, keep submitting, keep writing. You haven’t failed until you’ve quit. And rule #2 is be ready for tons of rejection, because that’s what you’re going to see. If Sony wouldn’t touch one of the greatest movies of all time, and Decca wouldn’t hire the Beatles (and they wouldn’t,) you must know that it isn’t personal, it’s just tough. When it feels really tough, just re-read rule #1, and keep on plugging.

Writing for Love

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Writing For Love

Writers of Southern Nevada is proud to present Writing for Love, February 12, 2014 at the Downtown Cocktail lounge in beautiful Downtown Las Vegas Nevada. Meet authors! Hear readings! Maybe get a book signed! Mingle and enjoy cocktails with actual writers of romance and erotica, just in time for Valentine’s Day. This is the first in a series of events by Writers of Southern Nevada which will feature various genres and venues as it progresses. Plan your evening now, and I’ll see you at Writing for Love!


Then you should attend Fiction Writing in the Digital age in Las Vegas on October  11th and 12th! The Fiction Writing in the Digital Age conference includes several workshops on how to market your published books. The faculty includes indie and traditionally published authors in addition to agents and editors. Meet fellow writers and learn more about the industry from folks like Morgan St. James, Jo Wilkins, Peter Senftleben and many more. And on Friday evening there is The Atomic Book Signing at Atomic Liquors! Visit for more information.



Peggy Richardson will be presenting at the Fiction Writing in the Digital Age conference in Las Vegas on September 11th and 12th. Peggy excels at making the unclear clear, bridging the gap between people and technology. She has been involved in publishing more than 200 books, eBooks, and information products, both for herself and for clients. She is known for taking complicated technical language and making it accessible and real. She’s a great asset for anyone thinking of publishing a book in electronic form, and she’s just one of the presenters at the conference! Visit for more information.


Freelance Writing, Anyone?

The title of this site says “Observations of a Freelance Writer.” Not that I do a lot of that these days, but it’s still true. I’ve been paid for writing various things, so I qualify. I’ve just posted a page about the 2012 Writers of Southern Nevada Freelance Writing Conference, to be held October 13, 2012. That page includes a link to the sign-up page for the conference, but if you’re too impatient to click twice, then click here! The conference lasts one day and features an impressive lineup of freelance writers and editors to help you get your career to the next level. I know I’ll be there ’cause I sure can use all the help I can get! How about yourself?

Spade & Archer

This book was written by Joe Gores, who isn’t Daishell Hammett, but might as well be. It is a prequel to the famous Maltese Falcon, of Bogart movie fame. The last ten lines, in fact, are the first ten lines of Hammett’s novel. The publisher is Alfred Knopf of New York.

This isn’t one of my usual one-line reviews because I really liked this book. Besides, in order to have so closely duplicated (not quite perfect, but close) the style of another writer, Gores obviously studied Hammett’s vocabulary, phrasing, even sentence length, and made quite a practice of duplicating those things.That could be a lesson to anyone studying to write fiction, I believe.

I did notice one thing that is different. Hammett refers to automobiles as “machines” in The Maltese Falcon, but Gores calls them “cars.” The period references in the book that I know are all spot-on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “cars” is more accurate for the twenties, but not once does Gores use the term “machine” to refer to an automobile.

Other than that, it was damned near a perfect copy of Hammett’s voice, and it made me want to read The Maltese Falcon again. In fact, if you’ve never read the Hammett work, you might start with Spade & Archer and go right into the earlier book when you finish. Even if you read them in publication order, though, you’ll be sorry when you’re finished. That’s a promise.


Twenty-Five Random Things About Me

You’ve probably seen the chain email about this little game. Frankly, I don’t do chain email (see #1 below) but a friend of mine got such a good response on Facebook that I had to post something as well. It’s on Facebook if you’d like to go there to read it, but what the heck, I wrote it, I can post it anywhere I like. So, without further ado:

Twenty-Five Random Things About Steve Fey

1. I don’t do chain letters.
2. I think Casablanca is the best movie ever made. Except when I’m watching Citizen Kane.
3. The cheeseburger is the greatest gift ever given to a hungry world.
4. I’ve owned a slew of Ford motor vehicles in my life. Got rid of the last one last Labor Day weekend.
5. If you think you know how to fix our educational system, by all means get in here and get to work!
6. Outside of the cheeseburger, pizza is the greatest gift ever given to a hungry world.
7. The odds are that a person has no idea what the odds are.
8. I think the addiction some locals have to “the old Las Vegas” is probably a condition listed in the DSM.
9. The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association.
10. My favorite cake is red devil’s food with boiled caramel icing. (Put red food coloring in and it’s red velvet cake.)
11. I’ve never passed a parking test, but I’ve been licensed by four jurisdictions.
12. I once got hit by a truck, head on, while riding a motorcycle. I suffered a moderate concussion, which means that I survived after being knocked out. I do not recommend the experience.
13. I think twenty-five is a heck of a lot of facts to come up with.
14. I’m glad they’re close to catching the Tylenol poisoner.
15. In spite of cheeseburgers and pizza, the best food I’ve ever had is the crab stuffed lemon sole at Spice Buffet under the casino at Planet Hollywood.
16. I could swear I used to get that dish at the Aladdin. Huh.
17. My doctor expects me to live well past a hundred. I’m not sure this is a good idea.
18. I’m not a good gambler because I do know the odds. Takes the fun out of it.
19. I discovered that getting a PhD is a symptom of ADD. Go figure, right?
20. The funniest movie I ever saw as a kid was The Shaggy Dog. On the fourth viewing I was still almost wetting my pants at it.
21. My favorite film genre is comedy.
22. That said, the Pink Panther series with Steve Martin is nowhere near as good as the originals.
23. The fact that they are remaking The Karate Kid is proof of something. Something sort of disturbing.
24. I really liked War and Peace once I found a decent translation of it. Never could stand Anna Karenina in any form, including film.
25. I’m glad to have gotten to number twenty-five. It would be embarrassing to run out of things to say about yourself after only twenty-four measly things!

Hillerman in Albuquerque

The reason I wimped out, er, failed to post last week was that I was in Albuquerque attending the Tony Hillerman Writers’ Conference Focus on Mystery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve been a fan of Hillerman ever since I read the first of his Navajo stories. He died a month before the conference, which is a crying shame, but he leaves a wonderful body of work for fans to enjoy for a long time. I can say that he was remarkably accurate in his portrayal of both the place and people of the four corners area. I’ve visited the Navajo in their homes, and found them to be funny, generous, and reserved, not necessarily in that order. All of which is by way of background to me going to that particular conference.

At the conference I won a book by Louis Bayard titled Mr. Timothy. Now that is one fine book, and Mr. Bayard signed it for me while I waited. That was a highlight. If you like a good thriller and have an interest in Victorian London, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Mr. Timothy is Tiny Tim, all grown up and still having issues with his dead father. And it’s a good thriller, too.

The conference was good, but I’m not sure it was worth all the fuss and expense of going all the way to Albuquerque for. Not that Albuquerque is not a nice place, because it is, but it is a long way from Las Vegas Nevada. (It’s not far at all from Las Vegas, New Mexico.) It was interesting to ride on Interstate 25 again, as for many years that was the North-South main road through my town. And New Mexico is a beautiful place, to the point of feeling sort of weird. The workshops at the conference were good, but not as nuts-and-bolts as I’d expected, or would have liked. I did learn some things, especially about publishing mysteries, and also about making villains sympathetic, which is an important thing to do, of course. I mean, who doesn’t love Doctor No? Exactly, nobody. He’s a popular, if consummately evil, guy, and a fitting foil for Bond, James Bond.

Still, for the money, I’d have liked more hands-on instruction, but if I’d gone down from Denver I’d have probably loved it. Denver is closer to New Mexico in several important ways than is Las Vegas.

Albuquerque is a small town of 850,000 people, many of them surprising. For instance, the driver of the shuttle taking us to the airport after the conference, when I said “Eh voila!” just like in Fractured Fairy Tales on Bullwinkle, made the proper response, which is “Nous Avaunt Arrive'”. Of course in the original that’s all one sentence uttered by a magical French talking duck. Then he told me, in beautiful French, that he’d studied French and lived there for a time, and learned the language well. Indeed he had.

Well, I did have a good time, although the hotel featured Starbucks coffee, which I’ve never liked, but other than that, I did learn some things and enjoyed the company of like-minded literary fools. It’s a small conference, but nicely done. I probably won’t attend next year, but I am planning to enter their contest. Why not? A man from Vegas won this year, so I’ll go for two in a row.

As for Albuquerque, they love books. Just look at this picture I took with my phone on Central Avenue if you don’t believe me.