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Cheri’s Note: This was an uplifting and inspirational way to end another great WD conference!

The Drive to Write–Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); author of No Plot, No Novel and Ready, Set, Novel

NaNoWriMo: Writers sign up to write a 50K word novel, from scratch, during the month of November each year. Baty and a few friends first experimented with the idea in 1999 (a total of 6 people). By 2000, 130 writers participated. In 2011, there were 300,000 participants in 33 countries. Six years ago, NaNoWriMo became a non-profit in Berkeley, CA, with a staff of seven. On Friday, January 20, Chris left the organization. On Monday the 22nd, he began his new job as a full time writer.  He explained his decision to make this change with this quote: “A ship in harbor is safe–but that is not what ships are built for.” –John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928.

Baty said that a common trait in others who’ve left the shore is the drive to write. Something else they share in common–they’ve all packed the same four things:

  1. An established deadline.  Set a deadline and then share that date with someone (even a newly met stranger). Ask that person to hold you accountable for that deadline commitment. And don’t ask just one person. Invite several people to hold you accountable.
  2. Momentum. “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann, German writer. “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” –Isaac Newton. Even if you don’t start out writing every day, commit to opening the document every day. That single motion of opening the document will automatically begin to expand and lead to writing.
  3. An appreciation for messes. Writers need to make as many messes as possible in both the writing and the business levels of this endeavor. Fumbling in the dark, on and off the page, is part of the process. The only way we can better ourselves is to make mistakes–trying and failing first.
  4. Faith. Faith that “our books don’t suck.” That we’re getting better as writers. That our work will eventually mean something. The world holds a lot of surprises–and success is often closer than we know.

If we give ourselves permission to take this crazy path, we have the power to accomplish unimaginable things. Baty says he’s watched hundreds of thousands of people write a book in one month that they didn’t even know they had in them when they started. That’s quite impressive and unimaginable. And we each have the power to do such things.

He offered to have faith for us, on our behalf, believing in our possibilities, because he’s seen them firsthand.

Cheri’s Note: As I said earlier, this was quite a moving and inspirational presentation, and the perfect closing for this conference!

And this concludes my series of summaries on the sessions I attended. But this exercise in sharing has accomplished something unexpected. One of my goals for 2012, as I complete and rebound from the chemo, is to get back to a more frequent and predictable blogging rhythm. Very much in tune with Chris Baty’s “objects in motion tend to stay in motion” point, my need to get these summaries out to you has put me on a daily blogging cycle that I’m hoping to sustain–unexpectedly meeting one goal by accomplishing another. And that, after all, seems to be the story of a writer’s life.

Wishing you all a happy, productive day!

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This Was One of My Session Choices on Sunday, January 22.

The First 50 Pages (and Why Getting Them Right Is the Key to Your Success)–Jeff Gerke, Founder & Publisher of Marcher Lord

The focus of this section was fiction.

Gerke asked: What do your first 50 pages have to accomplish?

  • Fiction is about someone wanting something they can’t get.
  • Agents and acquisition editors make their decisions based on the first 50 pages.
  • JOB #1 of those 50 pages: Engage the reader!
  • Introduce hero & main characters.
  • Establish context for your story. That means establishing the “normal” before you violate that normal with your inciting incident and subsequent plotline. Establish what the main characters’ lives are like before everything changes.
  • Reveal genre. Include backdrop, era, story world.
  • Set the tone/voice.
  • Introduce a theme (underlying message), villain, stakes.
  • Start time bomb, which helps generate suspense.
  • Start hero’s inner journey.
  • Set up Act II.
  • Establish “circularity” (something that’s set up at the story’s beginning, which is then referred to again at the story’s end).

Normally, editors are sheltered from the slush pile. Agents are those who deal with slush. They are looking for something they like and something they can sell. They see so many submissions that aren’t ready. If they choose you, that’s really an accomplishment!

Acquisition editors receive the best manuscripts, already screened by the agents. Then they have to sell those manuscripts up the food chains of their publishing organizations. There isn’t time for them to really cull through the piles they receive. That’s why proposals and the first 50 pages are so important. Concentrate on writing a great synopsis.

Editors are focused on their companies making money and on keeping their jobs, in addition to the quality of the writing and storylines their receiving.

In publishing houses, chances are good that only one person in the firm will actually read the entire manuscript before a contract is signed with the author. (I found this to be one of the most revelational things I heard at the conference!)

Four Different Ways to Begin a Novel (the first two listed are the most commonly seen and recommended):

  1. Prologue. This method has become unnecessarily controversial, in Gerke’s opinion. He believes that prologues are fine and a legitimate way to begin a novel. Those who disagree say that prologues are too full of backstory and information dump. Gerke says that prologues are good because they can effectively introduce the villain, the stakes, and the ticking time bomb, all with the benefit of not needing the hero to be on stage. Gerke’s recommendation for avoiding any bias against prologues in first-50-pages submissions is to simply change the title of “Prologue” to “Chapter One,” and leave the rest of writing unchanged.
  2. Hero Action. In this method of beginning a novel, the hero is on stage from page one, doing something interesting.  (Ex. cited: Indiana Jones, the Lost Arc.) Reveal the hero’s personality, his heroism, his “normal.” Do not make an unlikeable hero. Unlikeable heroes are disengaging to the reader.
  3. In Media Res (“into the middle of things“). This method starts in the middle of the story and then flashes back to catch up. Not recommended for a first novel. (For additional clarity, I copied the first two lines of definition from Wikopedia:  “In medias res or medias in res (into the middle of things) is a Latin phrase denoting the literary and artistic narrative technique wherein the relation of a story begins either at the mid-point or at the conclusion, rather than at the beginning (cf. ab ovo, ab initio), establishing setting, character, and conflict via flashback or expository conversations relating the pertinent past.” Here’s the link to the rest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_medias_res. I sort of like this method personally.)
  4. Frame Device. A modern story where the main characters are old at the start. The rest of the story takes place when they were young and is told through a combination of flashbacks and modern-day plot points. (As a personal note, this method requires extensive research to ensure that the flashback settings fully capture the settings and what was going on in the flashback era(s) This would also be true with the In Media Res method.)

The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors, and Readers, and Set Your Novel Up for Success, by Jeff Gerke, is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/First-50-Pages-Editors-Readers/dp/1599632837.

Sunday, January 22–Panel Members:

  • Phil Sexton–Moderator of Panel; Publisher, Writer’s Digest
  • Karen Cooper–Publisher, Adams Media
  • Michelle Howry–Senior Editor, Touchstone (an impring of Simon & Schuster)
  • Donya Dickerson–Senior Editor, McGraw Hill

A. What is the most common mistake writers make in nonfiction proposals?

  • Too much emphasis on the manuscript.
  • Not enough evidence of need. Why does this book need to be in the marketplace?
  • Not enough emphasis on the author platform.
  • Not enough competitive analysis. Need to do research: a) Where will this book go on the shelf in Barnes & Noble? b) How does this book contrast with competitive titles? c) What does this book provide that no other book does? Check publicity volume of competition and occupied shelf space in bookstores. Also check Book of the Month Club offerings and other visible signs of a book’s sales/popularity.
  • Writer is not realistic about competition for books by a “new author.” In proposal/query, presents him/herself as “the next ___________ (fill in the blank with a famous author’s name).” This approach brands the writer as inexperienced and unrealistic. Instead, the writer should answer: a) Here’s how my book fits into the market, and b) Here’s how my book differs …”

The approximate length of a nonfiction book proposal should be thirty pages, not including any sample chapters.

Include suggestions about where book could be sold outside of the trade (ex., Walmart, Costco …) Research should include publishers and where they sell.

———————————————————

B. How important is the author’s writing in nonfiction?

  • Depends on the imprint, the book idea, and how hungry the editor is for an acquisition.
  • Authors should not have someone else write the proposal. Both the manuscript and the proposal need to have the same style. Editors can tell if they’ve been written by different people.
  • Editors/publishers vary regarding how important the writing is. If the concept is great, the quality of writing is not as important. Writing can always be beefed up through input from agents, editorial staff, or even ghost writers contracted through publishers.
  • The author’s platform plays a role in how important the writing is. The more the author already has in place to help sell the book, the less important the actual writing becomes.
  • Editors differ with respect to the weight applied to a) good writing, b) promotion, and c) platform.

————————————————————

C. How has the view of self-publishing changed?

  • All three editors said they would enthusiastically look at proposals that included self-published books.
  • Writers should keep in mind that, if an author is doing well with self-published book saes, then there is a strong case to be made for not going with a traditional publisher.
  • However, publishers can offer access to additional distribution channels, unique book promotions, etc.

———————————————————

D. What is the most compelling proposal you ever received, and why?

  • Wreck This Journal. Original proposal was a mock-up that was intended to be torn apart (as is the final product). Sometimes editors have to do a hard-sell job with odd ideas like this one, when channels like Barnes & Noble and Amazon have decided to passed on a project.
  • The Starbuck’s Experience. Author had gained full access to Starbuck’s operations. (The publisher was instrumental in changing the title from the original.)
  • The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Author had secured permission from J.K. Rowling to use the Harry Potter name.
  • Retail Hell. The proposal came in as a self-help book. The publisher reworked it into a memoir.

Editors and publishers want authors who are cooperative and willing to listen, who respond positively to input, and who want to work in a partnership to produce the best quality book possible.

–Cheri’s Note: I’m now studying up on how to write a nonfiction book proposal. I will keep you posted on what I’m learning and how the process unfolds once I actually begin writing the document.–

What the heck is the pitch slam anyway? Well, depending on the person answering that question, the pitch slam can either be comparable to walking the proverbial plank, or the experience can be a writer’s nirvana. Technically, the setup involves a whole bunch of agents sitting at little individual tables arranged around the edges of two huge hotel conference rooms. And those agents are waiting for hundreds of aspiring writers to line up in front of the little tables, in order to pitch, one-on-one, their books du jour.

Expectations tend to run pretty high with writers who’ve never been to a writer’s conference before, and I spoke with lots of young men and women who were truthfully anticipating the signing of a book deal by the end of Saturday. In reality, this is an exercise of practice–practicing the pitch, testing out the story idea, gaining a little feedback from several “someones” in the business, and maybe–at best–getting a request to submit a proposal or a chapter or two. We were specifically instructed not to hand any of the agents any materials at all–not even a business card. And yet I watched as dozens of writers tried to force flash drives or varying sizes of manuscripts into the agents’ hands. Needless to say, by the end of the three hours, there were hundreds of folks who’d come face-to-face with a major expectation/reality adjustment.

This three-hour session is the only reason lots of writers attend this particular conference. In fact, the conference attendance pretty much doubled on Saturday (same thing happened last year), because there’s a Saturday-only registration option. Such an approach seems to me a bit like jumping into the middle of the open sea after foregoing your swimming lessons. But what do I know? And I have enough to worry about, with respect to my own plans and expectations, without worrying about my conference-mates!

Actually, as those of you who’ve been following this blog know, I wasn’t planning to participate in the Pitch Slam at all this year, believing that on Day 13 of my fifth chemo round I wouldn’t be able to project my strongest, most energetic, and promotable self and book story. Plus, since my first book-length priority for 2012 is my nonfiction project (although I’m being driven nuts by the next novel clamoring to get out of my head), I didn’t feel confident that I was far enough along with the manuscript to confidently pitch the work. However … I was so totally energized from the conference sessions by Saturday morning that I decided I didn’t haven’t anything to lose by pitching, and I figured I’d be totally stupid to bypass such a gaggle of agents who were only there to listen to book pitches. (None of the agents who participated in the Pitch Slam received any compensation for being there, which is pretty amazing all by itself!)

Directions in the Friday evening session designed to prepare everyone for pitching Saturday afternoon cautioned against developing pitches that are too long, for a variety of reasons. First, this is the way the three hours were organized: Approximately 60 agents (eight or nine were last-minute cancellations due to the Saturday snow storm, but three or four local area agents were added in) were seated at their little tables around the two huge conference rooms. In the conference directory, the agents were listed alphabetically with the specified genres of books they were looking for, and each attendee selected a group of agents that appeared to be a match. As soon as the doors opened at 2:00 Saturday afternoon, we all filed in and formed lines in front of the first agent we wanted to pitch to. Generally, there were about 6-10 people in each line, and each pitch session was three minutes in total.

Here’s another reason why our pitches were supposed to be ultra short: The first person in line sat down in front of the agent when “start” was signaled, and a 60-90-second pitch was designed to leave another 60-90 seconds for the agent to comment and/or to (hopefully) request some sort of submission to follow. Once the “time is up” signal sounded, the next person in line was supposed to sit down in front of the agent. (Can you imagine how cross-eyed those agents must have been after engaging in three-minute pitch sessions, one after another, for three consecutive non-stop hours? They deserve a lot of credit and admiration for such duty!) At any rate, as you might imagine would happen, most of the attendees had never pitched a book before, and the majority were failing miserably with the 60-90 second pitch objective. Instead, they talked continuously for the full three minutes, leaving the agent only a few seconds to say anything at all (and usually after the “time is up” signal had sounded). So, the next person in line started their own pitch late and, in order to be fair, would take the full three minutes even though the “time is up” signal sounded a long time ago. Consequently, all the lines were growing restless with the timing that was becoming increasingly out of whack. Eventually, the conference staff began to enforce the schedule, walking around and making sure that pitch sessions were ending at the signal. By hour number two of the three, the lines were finally moving at the planned pace. When someone finished a pitch, they would then go to the end of the line in front of the next agent they wanted to pitch to, and depending on how many people were already in that line, most attendees were able to pitch to six or eight agents during the three hours.

Typically, after each pitch session, I could tell that most people were spending their time revising their pitches while they were waiting in the next line–and I was doing the same thing. I’m not used to pitching nonfiction, not to mention that I’d only started to prepare that morning. So, I had afforded myself minimal practice time prior to sitting down in front of the first agent. Still, I had pretty good luck. The lines I was standing in were especially long, because there were fewer agents looking for various categories of nonfiction–and there were even fewer of those looking for the “health” category. And because I started feeling tired after two hours, I only pitched to four agents, whereas if I’d been feeling more on my mark, I could have easily squeezed in another two or three in the final hour. (Apparently, there were a lot of complaints last year about too few agents (I think there were 40-something) and not a big enough Pitch Slam time slot (only two hours instead of the three hours this year). The conference organizers really responded to that input, and I didn’t see or hear about anyone who felt that there wasn’t enough time to see all of the agents they wanted to meet.

The four agents who listened to me (and I was pretty good about keeping the pitch close to 60 seconds) had plenty of time for comments and input. Two of them enthusiastically requested a proposal and a sample chapter. One requested the same information but with noticeably less enthusiasm. And the fourth agent waited until I’d finished the entire pitch before telling me that she didn’t represent the health category of nonfiction (even though “health” was clearly listed under her name in the program). But since I hadn’t even planned to pitch at all when I arrived on Friday, I felt good about the experience and the end result. I learned a lot and had fun, and that’s where expectations should realistically be set for this type of exercise at a conference with close to 1000 other writers chasing the same dream.

Now I have to write a proposal 🙂 (and fortunately I attended a nonfiction session that included a few things about how to do that, plus I bought an e-book on the subject–The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters by Marilyn Allen & Coleen O’Shea, partners in the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency). Some agents were more interested in seeing the book and the writing. Others told me to stop writing the book and focus on writing the proposal (which is supposed to end up somewhere around 30 pages in length). One agent in particular made a couple of significant points, especially for me, who’s really a fiction girl but who’s writing this nonfiction book because I believe it needs to be written. She said that a completed nonfiction book can be a disadvantage because, once the concept is contracted with an agent, an editor will enter the scene who will have major input about the book’s structure. A huge percentage of editors will not want to take on the structural rearrangement of a book that’s already entirely finished. The agent also told me that going through the process of writing the proposal will prove invaluable to me once I finish the proposal and then refocus on the book, especially if I do, in fact, decide to publish this one on my own as an e-book first. She told me as well that following that DIY path will not eliminate the traditional publishing path for that book in the future!

So, my new direction is to write the proposal, which I will then submit to the three agents who requested information, along with a sample chapter (which is not supposed to be the first chapter but one that’s in the middle of the book). Following those submissions, I will give the agents a reasonable amount of time to respond. Then, unless some miracle happens and my submissions turn into something other than rejections, I will refocus my attention on finishing the book, which I will proceed to publish as an e-book, with a separate print option. The goal is to get this one, as quickly as possible, into the hands of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, so I’m not going to wait very long for someone in the traditional publishing world to say “yes.” I’ll get the book “out there,” and then continue to approach agents the old-fashioned way while I start working on my next novel. If someone eventually wants to acquire the nonfiction project, that will be terrific. In the meantime, I will have met my objective of making the information available to my breast cancer target audience.

Although there will be additional posts forthcoming on the Day 3 (Sunday) conference sessions that I attended, along with the incredible, outstanding Closing Address by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, I want to say here how valuable I found this year’s Writer’s Digest Conference to be! And even though my expectations for the Pitch Slam were really low, I walked away from that afternoon feeling invigorated and inspired. If you’re looking for a writer’s conference that will actually send you home with practical information and experiences you can really use on your literary journey, I strongly recommend that you give this conference a try. Apparently, there will be a west coast version later this year (in September, I think), and then the east coast version will happen again in January 2013. Not sure if that one will be in New York again or in some other east coast city. But you can bet that I’ll be there, if I have to drag myself on my hands and knees!

Stay tuned for the final “chapters” of WDC 2012! And have a terrific weekend!

(Cheri’s Note: Not only is Barry Eisler a successful author  of an impressive stream of thrillers (traditionally published), but he also made publishing history in Maarch 2011 by turning down a $500,000 two-book deal with St.Martin’s Press in order, instead, to published his next novel electronically. That next novel, Detachment, was released in the fall of 2011, and you can read all about the story at:  http://www.npr.org/2011/10/07/141116856/barry-eislers-detachment-from-legacy-publishing. Hearing him speak at the conference was a huge treat!)

Day #2, Keynote Address: The New World of Publishing, and What It Means for You–Barry Eisler (www.barryeisler.com— Eisler directed us to his Web site’s section “For Writers” and then to a sub-section “Resources for Indie Writers.” I checked this out, and the information is both useful, easy to reference, and comprehensive. Anyone considering launching out in the DIY direction would benefit greatly by visiting this site. Thanks, Barry!)

Despite all of the changes taking place daily in the publishing industry, one thing has not changed. Readers still love to read and are willing to spend some amount of money to get their hands on good books.

Writers are their own CEOs. And being your own boss carries with it the responsibility of writing the best book possible (and the best edited).

Even when they’ve written the best book possible, writers need to understand the realities of the publishing world in 2012.

  • Even with a great book, making any measurable amount of money with the endeavor is not a good bet.
  • 93% of all published books (and this includes cookbooks, self-help, history, politics–everything) sell less than 1000 copies over the life of the book!
  • The average book only sells 83 copies over the life of the book.

The most important thing to Eisler is getting his books into the hands of readers as expeditiously as possible. (Traditional publishing can add years to this process, especially if the writer is new/unknown.) So, what has changed in the publishing world due to the onset (or onslaught) of digital publishing?

  • Paper books require a distribution partner, and that role has traditionally been filled by traditional publishers, which is one reason why publishers’ contracts with authors typically specify an 85% take of the book sales for the publisher.
  • Digital books, however, do not require a distribution partner. Consequently, Indie writers are now on a level plaing field with huge publishers.
  • Amazon was the first company to offer authors a direct-to-consumer marketing plan.
  • Writers now have choices regarding how they get their work into the hands of readers.
  • This, according to Eisler, makes authors the number one players in the new world of publishing.

(Eisler’s remarks were relatively brief. You can find a ton of extremely useful information “For Writers” on his Web site: www.barryeisler.com. )

Day #2, Session 3: Seven Secrets of Successful Self-Published Authors–Keith Ogorek, Sr. VP of Global Marketing with Author Solutions. (Full disclosure: Author Solutions is the parent company of iUniverse, Inc., which has been my publishing choice for both of my novels. They helped me create beautiful products, by the way–and my second novel, Separation of Faith, is winning accolades for both the editorial quality and the production quality/cover design. Although I had a lot of input on the book’s appearance both inside and out, the iUniverse staff deserves most of the credit for those elements. And I learned a huge amount from them during the process, which will be of enormous help if I move forward with my own e-book.)

  1. Know the Target Audience. Picture the target audience–gender, age, interests, and where they go for information.
  2. Believe in Your Work. The main goal of publishing a book is to impact people in some manner through your writing. Know your strengths, and promote them.
  3. Set Deadlines for Yourself. Deadlines are important from the time the first inspiration for your book arrives in your head. One of the most important is the date you want to hold the first copy of your book in your hands. Then work backwards to set interim deadlines, coordinating with your publisher (traditional or promoted self-publishing) or with any organization helping you to make sure you understand all of the steps involved with the publishing process. Then set promotional deadlines after the book is released, marketing wherever possible at birthday or holiday parties, speaking engagements, etc. (For both of my novels, I set up a table any place I could get permission–restaurants, libraries, local fairs/festivals. You won’t believe how easy it is to find people willing to give you a little space to sell your work. But you have to be “out there” asking for the permission!)
  4. Create Timelines to Meet Your Deadline(s). Work with someone who’s familiar with the publishing process as you establish milestones. Understand all of the steps involved. Completing the manuscript is first and foremost, if you’re writing a novel. Lots of new writers tend to forget that the book should be finished before you begin any of the next steps. (Nonfiction can vary with respect to whether or not the manuscript needs to be finished first. Some agents/editors focus on the writing while others focus on the book idea and proposal. Obviously, if you’re going the DIY route, the manuscript needs to be finished before you start worrying about anything else.) Once the book is finished, then proceed with editiing, submission (whether you’re pursuing a traditional path or one of self-publishing), design (interior and front/back cover), revisions, printing. Understand the list of tasks within each of these steps and make sure every task is plotted on your timeline.
  5. Understand Your Goals & Options. There are basically three options for getting your work into print: a) traditional publishing, b) DIY self-publishing, and c) supported self-publishing. (iUniverse, Inc. is an example of a supported self-publishing organization.) Key differences: a) who own the content, b) investment of time & money, and c) speed to market. (Traditional publishing can take as long as three or more years to get your book into the hands of readers–and that’s after you’ve secured an agent! Once the agent finds an interested editor who then successfully sells your book up the food chain in his/her publishing house, time to market can still be as much as two or more years.) Which option is for you? That depends on your talents, level of commitment, and patience. Also, keep in mind that self-publishing a book to get started and begin putting your work in readers’ hands does not eliminate the traditional publishing option down the road, especially if you’re able to demonstrate success with your marketing. More and more agents are looking at self-published books to validate an author’s work. Social media helps develop a following/establish your position as an expert. Understanding your target audience is key. A blog should be your social media centerpiece. To enhance your blog, interview other bloggers for posts, or bring others into your blog as guest bloggers. Facebook and Twitter are critical as well. Use all social media to provide real-time updates on events and news related to you and your book(s). Use tags effectively.
  6. Put together a Marketing Plan before Publication. Include a video about the book. (Video book trailers have become common and important. YouTube has plenty of examples with a simple “video book trailer” serach. Another interesting idea (especially if you’re doing any form of self-publishing that affords you control over the book’s cover) is to use your blog/Web site to sponsor a contest where your followers vote on book cover ideas. Offer three options. Otherwise, your marketing plan should begin promoting your book before you actually have a book to sell. If possible, give readers the opportunity to pre-order. Once the book is released, schedule yourself into every venue that will give you time and space. Send press releases to all local media. Remember that readers will not buy your book if they don’t know the book is there. (Cheri’s Note: Here are a couple of links that might be useful. Free & Low Cost Book Marketing Links: http://www.thewriterssite.com/direct_pages/marketing.html.  Book Marketing with Free Giveaways: http://www.bookbuzzr.com/blog/book-marketing/how-to-market-your-book-with-free-giveaways/. BookDaily free promotion: http://www.bookdaily.com/lndpg/lndpgv1. Even if you’ve already been promoting a book for awhile, these links might give you a fresh shot of inspiration [if you haven’t found them yourself].)
  7. Plan a Book Launch Event to Celebrate the Publication. This can be a great motivational occasion (something I can attest to, from my own experience). To save money, combine your book launch party with things like family reunions, speaking engagements, church events, etc. (Cheri’s Note: Whether you hold the party at a reunion or as a separate occasion in a hotel meeting room, just have a book launch party somewhere! I’ve known self-published writers who opted not to have any sort of launch event, and most of them struggled to get the book off the ground. You need to build a “buzz” about your book, and nothing does that better than your being there in person with a crowd of folks to celebrate the launch of the work you’ve labored for years to create!)
  8. Before Deciding on a Self-Published Option, Ask Yourself These Questions: 1) Is there a book out there just like mine? 2) Is there an audience for a book like mine? 3) Can I sell this book on my own? 4) How will I garner publicity for my book? 5) Can I create professional packaging on my own? 6) What good does it do to die with a manuscript in my drawer? 7) How many people would you say you have to impact with yor writing before you would say that publishing was worth the effort?

For more information on this subject and presentation, and on the presenter’s input from the conference, go to: www.indiebookwriters.com.

Cheri’s Note: The next session summarized below seemed important to attend, even though I’ve been going the self-published route for some time now. But I wanted to hear what was new and what has changed since I listened to a group of agents at last year’s conference. A year ago, I mentioned in a blog post that I was surprised to discover that some of the agents were allowing self-published books to be pitched during the Pitch Slam. This year I was sort of blown away to discover that there’s been yet another tectonic shift, leading to a huge percentage of the conference sessions and panels not only addressing but embracing the self-publishing aspects of the industry and how to navigate through the morass.

And there didn’t seem to be any agents or editors in attendance this year who were openly expressing concerns about talking to/hearing from self-published authors. Part of that shift appears to be coming from a huge improvement in the quality of self-published books, in addition to the somewhat embryonic but impressive movement of established traditional authors into self-publishing, especially through e-books. So, for those writers out there who’ve grown weary of querying, the stigma of going the self-published route for at least your first book no longer exists. In fact, agents and editors seems to admire authors who’ve taken charge of the situation, in order to get their work into the hands of readers. No one knows better than the agents and editors how difficult traditional publishing is these days for unknown writers. Traditional publishing houses continue to slash the number of titles they publish each year, and debut authors are getting fewer and fewer of those slots. But self-published authors, who’ve written a quality book that’s been meticulously edited and who’ve had any reasonable success marketing their book(s), now have a better chance of getting noticed, in many cases. So, keep the faith out there–and continue plowing ahead!

Saturday, January 21–Ask the Agents Panel, Moderator: Chuck Sambuchino (Author, and Editor of Guide to Literary Agents)

Agents on Panel:

  • Mary Kole, specializing in YA (Young Adult) at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • April Eberhart, adult commercial and literary fiction at the April Eberhart Literary Agency (openly looks for self-published books “done well”)
  • Diana Fox, adult fiction at the “boutique” Fox Literary Agency
  • John Willig, prescriptive and narrative nonfiction at Literary Service, Inc.

Sambuchino: What are an agent’s primary duties?

  • Communicate with authors
  • Read manuscripts
  • Represent authors
  • Edit manuscripts
  • Sell books to publishers
  • Guide authors through the publishing process
  • “Trusted Advisor”
  • Receive 15% of eventual book sales

Sambuchino: What are the most common reasons for rejections?

  • Writing is not good in the query letter. (Yikes!) And/or the writing in the first five pages is not good.
  • If a submission gets beyond the query letter: a) The story doesn’t get off to a fast start in the first paragraph! b) Writing is not good, leaving the suspicion that one person wrote the query letter, and another person wrote the manuscript. Agents can tell the difference in style and structure. c) Authors are not responsive to agent communications. (I just can’t understand what such writers must be thinking.) d) Authors are uncooperative/unresponsive with respect to suggested edits. (I did see a change in the attendees this year, in that a lot more of them have reached the understanding that they’re not going to get anywhere if they don’t secure quality editing. And that requires an openness to suggestions as well as letting go of the “this is my work” attitude. There were still a lot of young “newbies” at the conference who were hearing all of this stuff for the first time. But, in general, the group (I think there were about 800 of us there) was realistic about what they would have to go through with respect to someone else editing their work.)
  • There is not a strong storyline.
  • There is not the desired level of quality writing plus exciting plotting.
  • The author is not a team player.
  • The author’s “voice” is not coming through. There is an absence of authenticity.
  • There is too much “telling” instead of “showing.
  • The story lacks structure.
  • An exceptional level of creativity is not apparent from line 1.

Sambuchino: Nonfiction is gaining attention. What are you looking for from the authors?

  • One agent said that sample chapters were more important than the proposal. But others preferred focus on the proposal because a finished book means that necessary editing and restructuring becomes more difficult, if not impossible.
  • Authors need to “drill down” to a niche target audience. Books too generally targeted will not be successful.

Sambuchino: Explain the value of “the platform.”

  • It signifies a built-in audience for the book.
  • The world has changed with respect to how readers get their information. Authors have to compete through their platforms by answering, a) How is my book a better for what I’m writing about than other sources? (For example, better than sources like WebMD for a medical book) and b) What is unique about my book that doesn’t exist in any other book or information source? c) Why am I qualified to write this book?

Note: The audience for this panel was packed, and the session could have gone on for hours. But we were limited to 45 minutes. In my conference survey, I suggested expanding the time a bit, especially since the conference organizers have expanded the Pitch Slam (which I’ll cover in more detail when I get to that point). 

More later …

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