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Hi! This will be a quick post, but one that’s hugely exciting! In January, Amazon opened the fifth annual ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) competition. There are two categories: General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction. A maximum of 5000 entries were accepted into each category prior to the close of the entry period on February 5, 2012. There are a whole bunch of rules and judging levels (http://tinyurl.com/7hgp4qt ) if you’re unfamiliar with the contest/process and interested in learning more for future reference.

At any rate … last year I entered Separation of Faith in the General Fiction category, on sort of a lark. Much to my surprise, the novel made the first cut in the competition (the 5000 entries in each category are narrowed down to the top 1000 in each category). Given the odds, I wasn’t surprised when that was the end of the good news. The 500 novels chosen for the Quarter Finals in the second cut did not include Separation of Faith. And yet I loved the experience anyway!

So … this year I decided to try again. And as you already know from the post headline above, my little book has once again made the first round cut!! There’s no doubt that Separation of Faith has some sort of legs, especially in the contest arena, having won or placed in more than a dozen contests thus far. This success hasn’t translated yet into any significant visibility in the publishing world–but, just like every real writer out there, my motto is, “Where there’s a new day, there’s indestructible hope, no matter how daunting the odds.”

Now we have to wait until March 20 to see if the fresh perspective from a new set of judges will make a difference this time around. Even if the novel didn’t advance any further than the next cut, making the top 500 out of 5000 entries would sure be a kick! Nonetheless, the first round cut authors do receive feedback from two of the judges, which I found to be both interesting and useful last year. I know from all of my other contest experience, though, how many good novels are out there just waiting to be discovered. We’ll simply have to wait and see how Separation of Faith stacks up against the other 999, whose authors are dreaming the same dream along with me. Our stories are whatever they are at this point. Still, a little bit of luck would sure be useful (and appreciated).

Hope all is well with each of you and that your publishing journeys are on your projected paths for 2012! My next post (tomorrow) will include a chemo update as well as a bunch of links to articles that I’ve been collecting for you. There might be a surprise as well. 🙂 Stay tuned … and have a wonderful night/weekend!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.–

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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!

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(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. )

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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.

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Writer’s Note: This morning I did get up at 6:00 to write my post on yesterday’s conference sessions. But I didn’t finish writing/editing before I had to get ready for the first of today’s sessions, which started at 9:00. Then the day turned out to be nonstop, without a single break except for the half hour we had to eat our box lunches. I stepped outside for a quick moment to take the promised pictures of the snow, but the snow had already stopped falling, and all of the streets had been salted. So there wasn’t anything pretty to capture. And this afternoon I decided to pitch my nonfiction book after all in the three-hour Pitch Slam. I’ll give you the details when I post about today’s stuff. Needless to say, I was really exhausted when I returned to my room shortly before 5:00. But I want to finish yesterday for you. Then I’ll grab a little dinner. Once I’m ready for bed, I’ll work on the post about today, which I can hopefully publish before tomorrow starts. 🙂

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Early Saturday, January 21, 2012

Good morning! Weather update: Although the sun isn’t up yet (6:00 a.m. as I start writing here), the view from my 27th floor window at the midtown Sheraton is magical. The snow is falling, and the streets below are definitely white. TV weather-casters are all acting like kids. For the past several years, by January 21 in this part of the world, people have been grumbling about the snow, and local towns have typically been running low (or out) of their snow plowing funds. But this year, we’re having our first storm, other than the Halloween weird show. So almost everyone who speaks is excited. This being Saturday helps with the light-hearted reaction! I’m anxious to talk with a lot of people at the conference. There are 600-700 of us in attendance (lower than last year), and we learned from one of the organizers last night that the world is represented–several places in Europe, South America, and 40-some of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. (I feel fortunate that I only had to drive across the river, which took a mere 20 minutes yesterday!) I’ll take pictures of the snow outside during our breaks this morning and will upload them for you later.

Well … enough of the weather report. Here are my notes from the sessions yesterday afternoon. I’ll be abbreviating and using incomplete sentences in the interest of time, and I’m not going to focus on putting things in bold. So please forgive the imperfections.

My Choice of the Options in Session #1. Writing About Yourself in the Digital Age–A.J. Jacobs, Author (and contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?)

Jacobs has written three books that I’d never heard of but that I will now bring into my Kindle–The Year of Living Biblically, a NY Times bestselling humorous memoir about what happens when someone tries to follow every rule in the bible, and The Know-It-All, one man’s quest to learn everything in the world by reading the encyclopedia from A-Z. Jacobs referenced both books at the beginning of his talk as a basis for how to write about yourself if no one knows who you are and/or if you think no one cares who you are.

Lessons he learned about how to make people care about who you are and what you have to say:

  • Be expansive. Write about the world, your surroundings, “the setting and the characters” you encounter, in addition to yourself. Create vivid pictures for the reader and give them added value rather than just the rudiments of what you originally outlined.
  • Be compassionate and mindful of others when you’re writing about them in the context of your own story. Remember that once something is up on the Internet, it’s there forever. Maintain a “generosity of spirit,” and don’t use real names. He gave an example of his using a college classmate’s real name in one of his early books while telling a story that painted her as elite and self-indulgent. When he recently ran into that classmate at a reunion, she cornered him and said that his comments are the first thing that comes up when her name is Googled. So, be honest with your story, but be sensitive enough to use fictitious names.
  • Don’t tell every single detail. Memoirs can get bogged down (and thus make readers not care) when the level of detail and the number of story layers is excessive. The importance of omission is as critical as that of inclusion, and what you leave out can be as significant as what you tell.
  • Be totally honest. Readers appreciate (and thus fully engage) when writers have the courage to fully open the kimono. Letting the reader in on sensitive issues/events adds to your authenticity as a writer and is a risk worth taking.
  • Recognize and accept the fact that our job as writers no longer just includes writing. Whether we like it or not, being a writer has become an entrepreneurial business. We need to establish a brand/presence for ourselves, and we need to embrace the marketing elements as part of the creative process. For example, when his book about the bible came out, he wrote several articles for publication that drew from the bible as part of his promotion. One article for Glamour magazine was on sex and love, and another was for an MTV publication on music and dancing, both articles citing biblical passages. Whenever possible, he makes his promotional responsibilities part of his creative endeavors.
  • He views Twitter as a “creativity booster.” He didn’t tell us how he approached this, and the Q&A session didn’t afford enough time for me to ask him. He did reference a book, however–The Future of the Book, by Sam Harris. If I see him walking around this weekend, I’ll get more detail because I’m also trying to improve my Twitter activities. If I don’t see him, I’ll send him an email.

Suggestions for “getting noticed”:

  • When querying, make the first line of your letter/email the hook/lead.
  • Meet the people you’re targeting in person whenever possible. Don’t become a stalker, but be persistent. Tenacity can actually work (over time). And use compliments liberally (but authentically). Being a “KA” can also be very effective.
  • When writing a memoir, anyone can make him or herself fascinating and vulnerable with vivid language and great storytelling. You don’t have to be “famous or important” in order to make readers care about you and your book.

Creatively, Jacobs believes that this is the most exciting time to be a writer. Financially, not so much. Writers need to keep their fingers in every medium possible–blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and anything else you can manage. Self-promotion is a necessity. We just need to learn how to put ourselves “out there” in a manner that makes readers care about us.

My Choice for Session #2. Writing the 21st Century Novel–Donald Maass, Literary Agent & Author. (If I’m not mistaken, one of my blogging buddies–Jacqui Murray, www.worddreams.wordpress.com — had the amazing experience of reviewing one of Donald Maass’ books, Writing the Breakout Novel. For the record, I find him absolutely amazing. Pitched to him at a couple of conferences about five years ago, before Separation of Faith came together. And as I said last night’s post, his mission in life appears to involve an authentic passion about helping new writers create great novel. In person, the stuff just sort of oozes out of him. If you ever have a chance to see him in action or to pitch to him, don’t let the opportunity pass!)

Maass began his presentation by explaining the inspiration behind his 21st Century Novel book, which will be published by Writer’s Digest Books later this year. He said that over the past several years, he’s been noticing that a number of literary novels and unspecific genre books have not only been hitting the NY Times Bestseller list but staying there for as long as one or two years. The Art of Racing in the Rain was one example he cited, and that book just happens to be one of the best novels I’ve read in decades, or perhaps ever! Totally turned me into blubbering mush. Maass shared the emotion, which is created by other novels that had been catching his attention. So, he decided to begin doing research on the specific reasons why books like Racing in the Rain hugged the bestseller list for such unbelievable lengths of time when other genre-specific novels far more acclaimed and being developed into movies did not have the same bestseller list staying power. The result of his research turned into Writing the 21st Century Novel, and books like Racing in the Rain became what Maass now calls “high impact fiction.”

Summary of Maass Conclusions:

  • There’s a rise in cross-genre fiction.
  • Straight genre fiction is declining and is being replaced by “high impact fiction,” which is a hybrid–telling a great story that reaches readers in powerful ways while also using old-fashioned, classically beautiful writing.

He then walked us through several plot and character development exercises, asking us to use/visualize elements of the novels we’re currently writing. He said that his 21st Century Novel book will contain close to 400 of these exercises, and he gave us a good taste of what those would be like. Even though I’m focusing on my nonfiction book right now instead of my third novel, I found his exercises very effective and invigorating. Made me want to get to work on that novel sooner than later. Can’t wait to see what else will be in his book.

Summary of Maass comments as he was putting us through the exercises:

  • “High impact fiction” writers are writing from a place of personal experience, revealing things that are “hard and difficult” through the characters.
  • Author authenticity reaches through to readers’ hearts.
  • Make character emotions big.
  • Excite reader imagination and emotion with something different, something not only unexpected but big. If you think the climax of your novel is aready big, jolt the reader by creating something even bigger.
  • Create an inner-journey story where true change [in characters] takes many steps. Deepen the character. Think “flawed,” “human,” “brave.”
  • Things need to happen in a novel!
  • Recommended reading: The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard. Author intentionally put the biggest event she could think of in the middle of the novel so she could outdo herself at the end of the book.
  • What fiction lovers are willing to pay for in this tough economy is the combination of great stories powerfully told with incredibly beautiful writing.
  • The focus on the craft of writing is back! (Yay!)
  • Authors are what make a novel great, not any promotion or marketing. (Yay again!)

My Choice for Session #3. Pitch Perfect–Chuck Sambuchino, Agent, and Editor of Guide to Literary Agents (This was a basic/beginner session, especially useful for those who’ve never pitched before. But there weren’t any other choices during this time slot yesterday afternoon. The choices started today, which you’ll be receiving later … 🙂 )

A “pitch” is basically a spoken query letter (or what you find on the back of a book jacket/movie DVD box. (So, this summary can work for you/perhaps help you, if you’re dropping into this blog and just happen to be focusing on querying right now.)

Basic beats of a pitch:

  • 3-10 sentences in length
  • For fiction (which includes memoir in terms of pitching), do not reveal the ending. Peak the agent’s interest.
  • Do everything possible to cut down on confusion. Whether fiction or non, open with a) genre, b) book title, c) word count, d) whether or not the book is complete.
  • State your “log line”–Your story described in one single sentence.

Next:

  • Intro main character(s).
  • Intro something interesting/unique about protagonist, or what that character wants.
  • What is the inciting incident (the event/issue that propels the story into motion)?
  • What happens next?
  • Present the stakes (what happens if the character fails).
  • What other “wacky” things happen?
  • Describe the character arc.
  • Present a non-specific wrapup (not revealing the ending, but creating a sense of intrigue).
  • Remember that the entire pitch should only be 3-10 sentences in length.

For nonfiction:

  • Start with the same “basic beats of the pitch.”
  • What is the book about?
  • What are the author credentials?
  • Present the author platform. Visibility as an author, including blog, Web site, speaking engagements …  What concrete abilities exist right now to sell the book?

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Okay, that completes my notes from yesterday’s three main tent sessions. My promise to you is that, before the weekend is over, you’ll also have my notes on the three sessions this morning, the Keynote Address right after lunch, my details about the Pitch Slam this afternoon, and then the three sessions tomorrow morning as well as the Closing Address. The stuff is really interesting and, I believe, of great value to us as we each pursue our literary journeys. So, my notes are extensive, and I don’t want to shortcut the transcription for you.

Since I don’t have any pictures of the snow, I’m closing with a shot of me in my room after I came up from today’s sessions. Have a great night!

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In a Nutshell, Three Elements to Launch 2012’s Writing Year:

1. The third annual Writer’s Digest Conference begins tomorrow (January 20) at the Sheraton in Manhattan, and I am extremely excited, as usual! Those of you who are familiar with this blog understand my affinity for this particular conference and the impact that the first conference in September 2009 had upon my publishing decisions relative to my second novel (Separation of Faith). That first conference also marked the motivating moment for the launch of this blog, among other social media outreach activities.

Throughout the multiplying years in which I’ve been pursuing this literary dream, I have no idea how many sizes and shapes of conferences I’ve attended. A bunch, for certain! And a number of those were actually produced every year by Writer’s Digest in conjunction with Book Expo America (BEA), the publishing industry’s annual convention event. But Writer’s Digest broke away from BEA in 2009 and began holding their own conference. And that’s when everything changed for me. You can read about the reason’s for the metamorphosis in this blog’s Launch posting (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/).

Since then, the WD conference has become the best one out there, in my opinion. For writers in search of the truth about the publishing world and practical information/tools that help us navigate through that world, this conference is “the” place to be. If you’d like to explore the conference agenda and sessions, here’s a quick link: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&. And for those of you with a sustained interest, I’ll be blogging throughout the three days, giving you the inside scoop from the sessions I attend and from other attendees and presenters with whom I have the opportunity to chat.

Regarding the Pitch Slam session on Saturday afternoon, I’m not sure yet if I’ll be pitching. Part of that decision will depend on how I’m feeling (see point #3 below). If I do pitch, I’ll be focusing on my nonfiction project, which isn’t finished (nonfiction books don’t need to be finished before pitching, but I’d prefer that mine were). Still, if I’m feeling empowered by Saturday afternoon, I might run the project by a few of those agents just for the practice. At this writing, I’m fairly certain that I want to move forward with that project on my own, publishing an e-book first followed by print options. I’ll know more about that direction once the conference is over, since I’m attending several sessions on how writers can navigate the wild and ever-changing publishing world on their own. Stay tuned for my blog posts on the subject as the conference unfolds. If you happen to be at the conference yourself, please let me know so we can connect somewhere!

The opening address will begin at 4:00 p.m. EST. You’ll be on my mind! 🙂

2. New Year’s Inspiration can be found almost everywhere we look as writers. People in my life are constantly telling me about someone they know who’s in some sort of jam that could be tweaked and woven into a novel’s plot or subplot. And I recently sat at the pharmacy for 90 minutes where I observed no less than a half dozen interpersonal scenarios that could be spun into fun stories. If we’re alert, there will never be a shortage of material. But as 2012 gets underway and we are all still focusing on our resolutions, I’d like to share a few links I’ve been collecting that I hope will offer you a nudge, an idea, or a little inspiration, if you’re in search of such things.

Please let me know if you find anything helpful in these lists. Since creating consistency in my writing routine is one of my 2012 resolutions, I have the “Reboot” list posted on the wall close by.

3. Where Am I in the Treatment Part of My Life? Currently, I’m in the middle of Round #5 (of 6). The effects became noticeably cumulative, beginning with Round #4, so I’ve been struggling a bit, especially through the holidays. But the good news is that #6 will happen on January 30, followed by the standard three weeks of not-so-hot, which will then be followed by … nothing else! Yay! When this process began with Round #1 on October 13, today’s point on the calendar looked like a millennium away. And yet, here we are, about a month away from being completely finished with the process. And I’m going to the Writer’s Digest Conference, which I wasn’t sure I could make even a few days ago. Lots of blessings to start the New Year!

Two more photos are attached, both of which were taken a week before Christmas. These images seem to be a good way to mark the progress of this journey within a journey.

All the best to each of you as the New Year becomes fully launched. Wishing for each of you that your dreams come true in 2012! Talk to you soon from the conference!

Holiday Thoughts & New Year’s Wishes

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