Saturday, December 6, 2008
1. Random House's restructure
2. Simon & Schuster layoffs
3. bad third quarter sales reports
4. Harcourt putting a freeze on submission (note--I'd heard Harcourt was having problems for a long time, so that one didn't surprise me).
I like to keep this blog upbeat and positive, but let me get this out of my system:
It sucks! It sucks! It sucks!
Ooo, that felt good. Anyway, I've come across a couple of takes on what's going on that lend some hope:
Neilson Bookscan reports positive increase in book sales in November, up from Nov. 2007.
A look at Random House's restructure by an agent (and former RH editor).
Then just for a downer:
I read last night on the NPR website a bookstore owner saying she will probably order fewer books, and books she would have done a smaller buy on, she'll pass on altogether (unless there's buzz about the book, then it will get ordered).
Arghhhhh!!! If all booksellers don't order the book, how will there be buzz about it?????
What's an author to do?
How I defeat the gloom and doom.
1. I recognized I can't do much about it (breathe, breathe, let it go).
2. I think of myself as a storyteller, not a novelist.
The method of getting stories into the hands of readers might change. But that doesn't matter to me. I will continue to tell stories whether people read them in print novels, on their Kindles, iPhones, e-Readers, or watch them on television screens. I might have to change my method of writing and getting the stories out there, but I still have stories I can tell, and I will continue to tell them.
But right now, there's gonna be no room for slackers. Not that there ever really was, but I'm feeling the pressure doubled to write something GOOD and more importantly, something SELLABLE.
That means, we can't be lesser clones of the bestsellers, and we can't write books that appeal to only twelve people. We have to be good and innovative, connect with our readers, and carve out a niche for ourselves--and at the same time give the editors something they can sell to reluctant booksellers.
This is a time of change, folks. It's real, it happens, it will happen again.
How will you meet the challenge?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I posted elsewhere about BEA (http://jenniferonwriting.blogspot.com/2008/06/bea-and-things.html).
The Books-a-Million show was similar, on a smaller scale. Authors from several publishers signed stacks of free books (I had a beautiful swirly stack of The Redeeming that I hated to disturb.)
Other vendors such as Ghiradelli and Republic of Tea were there to encourage the bookstores to carry their products (or more of their products or their new products). The Republic of Tea sample I slammed down was mighty good. I love their tea. But I digress.
As at BEA, I noted that publishers were interested in showcasing their hardback mainstream authors and YA over genre. However, more genre authors were signing--Lynsay Sands, Julia Quinn, Stephanie Bond, and a couple mystery authors. There were quite a few Christian publishers there, and I was made aware that Christian fiction is trying new things--suspense, historical, and paranormal. Very cool.
The feeling at this show was positive and upbeat. The main complaint I heard was that the show was too short. They did half a day instead of an entire day, which I gather is a change.
The booksellers that came to my booth said several things that gave me cheer.
Nowhere did I hear complaints about book sales being down. Now, that doesn't mean they weren't (obviously), but that vibe was not in the air. Everyone seemed optimistic and upbeat. It could be that at trade fairs, you're supposed to be positive to encouage vendors to sign contracts with bookstores, but still, it was nice not to hear gloom and doom about the book industry. I get plenty of that elsewhere, real and imagined.
Here's me with my swirl of books.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I wasn't a big reader of Crichton, although I was certainly aware of his works: The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, his most famous, and the lesser known The Great Train Robbery, a personal favorite of mine.
I am a Tony Hillerman fan, enjoying the novels that followed Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee through various murders and other crimes on the Navajo reservation in northern AZ, NM, and southern Utah.
I'm always sad when we lose terrific authors, that their voices will be forever silent. Fortunately they both left behind volumes of great stories that we can read again and again.
I'd like to say good bye to both authors, and thanks for all the wonderful stories.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
It starts right away--the controls are on the right hand side of the page. I'm talking about the Immortals series, why I write under many pseudonyms, how I write quickly, and about my upcoming new historical series.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Last week I went to Alabama to the Books-a-Million trade fair, then turned around and went to Seattle for the Emerald City writer's conference. Both were terrific, and I learned much. I hope to do a "what I learned" post soon. (short version: romances sell. paranormal romances sell very well. People in Seattle are nice.)
Right now, I'm busily writing about 30 pages a day. I figured out a way to write big chunks like that and keep my sanity, so thought I'd share it.
This method should work no matter how many pages you want to write a day--5, 10, 20.
First, I know pretty much what I want to write. Weeks ago, when I had nothing to say on this book, I couldn't have done it. But I've figured out in my head what I'm doing and where I need to go so I'm now just writing it down.
(Note that I didn't say I outlined it. Ha. Me and the outline don't mix. The best I can do is jotting notes every once in a while. You use whichever prewriting is good for you, or simply sit down and go for it.)
Second, I break my writing into three sessions. For me: the first one is in the morning at a coffee house (with bagel), second mid-morning to about 1 (after I get back from coffee house, putter arond a little, answer my email, etc.), third between lunch and dinner. After the third session I shut down (even if I think I can do more), enjoy dinner, family, tv, books, going out--you know, real life.
Each time I sit down at a session I say: "I'm going to write XX pages." (for me right now it's 10 pages per session, but for you it might be 2 or 5). I don't do anything (no email, no games) until that number of pages is done. I am allowed to go to the bathroom, refresh my tea, pet the cats, or stretch (which you should do) as long as it doesn't take me away more than a couple of minutes.
Each session ends when the page count is met. Period. Then I am free to go to lunch, pay bills, run errands, answer email, pet the cats some more (they insist), take care of family issues--until the next session starts.
Fit your sessions around your life. It's easiest for me to do morning, elevenses, afternoon, because that's how my life flows right now. Yours might be lunch, after dinner, three in the morning.
Why do I stop after the last session even if I think I can keep going? Because if I do too much in one day, I'll be too worn out to do it the next day. My brain cells will cease firing, and I will likely not make the page count that day. The point is to do a certain amount each day, enjoy the time off, and start fresh the next morning.
Also, I don't recommend doing 30 pages a day unless you have a lot of stamina or are a lightning-fast typist--right now I don't have much choice because I'm behind again, and need to meet a deadline.
My method may not work for everyone, but thank heavens it's working for me right now. Deadlines are hell!
I'm also excited because I just sold a new 3-book contract, but I'm not allowed to be excited during my sessions! I save it for in between. :-)
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I have no idea how well this movie is done, but it might be worth looking at, if only for the costumes!
Info at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.p hp?storyId=94662956
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Time: 8:16 EST (that's 5:15 PST)
Or http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ and search on Canned Laughter and Coffee.
There will be a live chat at the same time, and if I can figure out the technology I'll answer questions, etc.
I'll be talking about Immortals: The Redeeming . . . well, anything Renee asks me, actually! She's a hoot, so it should be a fun show.
Looking forward to it!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I haven't said much about critique partners, writing groups, and critique groups but it's a good topic.
I offer this advice:
1. Don't expect to find the perfect crit. partner/group right away. In my opinion, it's better to be on your own than be with a bad critique partner. Take time to find just the right person/people.
2. Find someone who "gets" you. If your goal is to write novels for Silhouette Special Edition, that will take a different kind of voice and storytelling style than if you're writing gritty thrillers for Random House. Your crit. partner should understand the genre and subgenre you are writing. (They don't necessarily have to write it themselves, but they should have read it and understand what the audience wants. This is true for everything from Young Adult fantasy to Harlequin to gritty thrillers at Random House.)
3. A critique group isn't a bashing session. Constructive criticism is helpful, saying "I can't believe you wrote that crap" isn't. A critique is pointing out weaknesses and saying why they're weak, and pointing out strengths and saying why they're strong. (I always start by saying what I loved before I get down to what bugged me.)
4. Wait 24 hours after getting the criticism to respond. The immediate instinct is to explain what the CP didn't think was good or didn't understand. Let it sink in--then decide whether to agree with the critique, ignore it, or ask for more clarification.
5. Find people who can turn your material around quickly, like in a day or two to a week. When you get published, deadlines are tight, and you need someone who can read fast so you can revise quickly. Likewise, if you decide to enter a contest, you need that critique so you can fix things before the contest deadline. Turn their material around just as quickly.
6. Don't believe everything your CP or crit. group says absolutely. Everything is subjective. If you have four people agree your hero is weak, your hero might be weak. If you get four different responses, then it might just be different tastes.
A true story: I once had a partial ms. critiqued by two different published authors. Each circled the same paragraph (description of the hero). One told me it caught her attention because it was wonderful and vivid, the other told me it was putrid (she used more diplomatic words, but that was the gist). Who was I to believe? (I never finished that book, btw.)
7. Don't let your ms. get critiqued to death. Give your CP or group a chapter or chunk and have them critique it ONCE. Fix it and move on. If you radically rewrite the entire book and want their opinion on the rewrite, that's fine, but again, ONCE.
8. Don't let your CP change your voice, your characters, and your plot into something they want to write themselves (and don't do that to your CP). It's ok if they don't like what you're writing, as long as they understand your audience and what you're trying to do. And a bad transition is a bad transition no matter what the genre.
9. On the other hand a CP or critique group who gushes about everything you do ("Oh, it's wonderful. Oh, I love it!") and offers no constructive criticism isn't helping you. Stroking your ego, yes; helping, no.
10. And last: Don't get critiqued to seek validation; get critiqued to make your writing stronger.
There it is, ten thoughts on critique groups.
I'm sure there's more. Feel free to add.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
I am working on a post about writers's block (which I suffered last year and am happily over--I want to share the misery and how I overcame it).
I'm also working on three books, two novellas, a proposal, and preparing for the RWA National conference in between various dr.'s appointments. Hence the blog has been a bit quiet.
Follow the link below to "Don't Be a Writing Diva." I especially like #11 and #18. #2 Send your book in before deadline---umm, I'll have to work on that one. :-)
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Another disappointment was that I didn't get much industry buzz. Since the point was to push to buyers, of course no one was going to talk about what wasn't working any more.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
She's spelled it out very well.
I'm off to Book Expo America to see what's up and sign arcs of Immortals: The Redeeming. Take care,
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Each year Brenda Novak raises thousands of dollars for juvenile diabetes research, and receives donations from hundreds of authors, editors, and agents.
This year I dontated a big tote bag of goodies. Included in my giveaway are signed books, tea and coffee, kitchen goodies, pens, jewelry bags and other fun stuff, all in a Jennifer Ashley / Allyson James totebag.
Click here to view the item and bid. You can click the around the site to find many, many more items to bid on while you're there, including agent or editor manuscript evaluations.
Bidding ends May 31.
Friday, May 16, 2008
I thought I'd share some of what I've learned since then, listed in no particular order:
1. Getting a book published is only a step. If you want to make a career of writing, you have to make plans, work hard, lose sleep, get indigestion, and keep going.
2. Authors have little or no control over the following:
- Type size and layout inside the book
- Back blurbs
- Book size (hardback, trade, or mass market)
- Print runs
- Bookseller orders
- Bookstore placement
- Book reorders and restocking
3. What made some of my books sell well:
- Good cover
- Catchy title
- Catchy premise
- Part of a series
- Books published close together
- Publisher marketing to booksellers
- Popularity of previous books
4. What had little to do with book sales:
- Reviews (good or bad)
- Online rankings (Amazon; B&N)
- Some of my own marketing efforts
5. It's hard to believe you can get published when NY just isn't buying, when bookstores report declining sales, when everyone around you says it can't be done unless you sleep with two agents, an editor, and a sales director. THEY'RE WRONG. Keep trying.
6. What's in your heart and what publishers are buying may not be the same thing. The trick is to combine the two. (If what's in your heart is what's selling, then you've saved a step.)
7. Bad reviews don't mean bad sales. What drove the reviewer nuts might be the exact element that readers glom like there's no tomorrow.
8. Good reviews and nice awards don't necessarily mean good sales, either.
9. Patience is a must!! Things will not always happen to your time-table. Keep a relative time-table, but learn to be flexible.
10. You're not always in the spotlight. When you are, enjoy it, bow graciously, move back to the wings, and plan your next foray into the spotlight.
11. An agent is essential to moving beyond small press. You can get into a few NY houses without one, but you need one to move beyond their midlist.
12. Agents do much more than sell your book to a publisher. They do a bazillion things you never thought of to keep you happily published, paid, and have a chance at that spotlight.
13. Writers can make gobs of money or they can make next to nothing. Just a year can make a big difference either way.
14. The key to success is persistence and consistency. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep writing, keep submitting.
15. The publishing world is "not fair." Other authors will get the things you want (more publicity, a better contract, more money--or they'll get published and you won't). Likewise, you will get things that other authors want. New authors can explode into bestsellerdom while authors who have worked patiently for ten years still haven't reached it. That is the way of things.
16. Other authors will become some of the best friends you will ever have.
17. You will pick up strange enemies who think that if they can shoot you down, you'll fail and they'll step into your shoes. Ha ha ha ha ha. It doesn't work that way. (See the "not fair" point).
18. Making a bestseller list is more about mathematics than about the book itself. You not only need a great book but 1. large print run; 2. terrific distribution; 3. quickly filled orders and re-orders; and 4. good placement in the stores (this is paid for by the publishers). If you have a great book and not the other four, it will not hit a bestseller list. (This does not mean that it will not sell well, because word of mouth is very powerful.)
19. Publishing is the most illogical, old-fashioned, uncontrollable business you can ever get into. Don't expect it to make sense.
20. Some of your books will sell better than others (or some will be published, and some won't). Learn to enjoy the surprise of a good seller, let go of those that disappoint you.
21. Pick your battles. You won't and can't win them all. Go for the most important ones and let the little things go. On the other hand, don't let too many little things add up into one big nightmare.
22. Be courteous to everyone, not just the people you think will make you rich and famous. Treat everyone like they might make you rich and famous. You never know! (And it's just good manners.)
23. If you hate what's selling like hotcakes, don't force yourself to write it. The trend won't last forever, and you'll be miserable. Remember that after you sell the first book, your editor will expect your next one to be in the same vein. Keep an eye on the market, but don't be a slave to it.
24. Don't wait for "permission" to write. Explore, enjoy, learn, hone your skills, revel in the art, write what you want to.
25. Enjoy writing!! Why on earth should you be an author if you hate it? I still love to write. I just came off of heavy deadline stress and had free time (wow). What did I do? Wrote! I still do it for my own entertainment--I've just found a way to make money at it.
Please feel free to add to this list! What have you learned since starting to write with an eye toward publication?
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
I've been pondering what to post on this blog, and many things have occurred to me such as:
Thoughts on a five year career (which will be six-year by the time I get to this)
Another rant about people who say there's no way you can get published in NY
So many topics, so little time.
I've decided I'll do this post on print runs, because it's a practial thing that every writer, sooner or later, needs to understand, plus I can write it in my sleep.
Even if you haven't been published yet, or think print runs/numbers are beyond your grasp, this is something you seriously need to know. (I'm talking about mass market, NY publishers in this post, btw.)
Once I understood print runs and percentages, my stress level went way down, because I can now predict how each of my books will do even before they hit the stands. No more biting my nails and glaring at the Amazon ranks wondering if I can lower them with the power of my eyeballs. (That doesn't work, btw.)
Oh, and I learned that Amazon rank is a piss-poor way of determining whether your sales are good or bad. B&N is a tiny bit better, but still not terrific. Those ranks are way off reality and don't reflect the percentage of your sellthrough, which is much more important. But I digress.
How print runs are determined:
Wait a minute, what on earth is a print run? you ask.
A print run, very simply, is the number of books the publisher prints of your novel right before it goes on sale.
Announced print run: Publishers "announce" print runs, usually for books they're very excited about and want to push. This happens before the book is offered to the distributors. These announced runs can look very good, but it is NOT the actual number of books they ulitmately print. I call it the "cheerleader's" print run (Give me a 2, give me an 0, give me an 0 -0 -0 -0).
Your book might acheive this print run, or it might not. Don't feel bad if it doesn't. No one is disapponted. Publishers announce a big print run to indicate enthusiam and support for a book they think will be big. It's meant to start everyone's engines.
Initial print run: This is more or less the number of books actually printed to be shipped to the distribution points and stores right before the release.
How is the initial print run determined? By the number of orders the publisher receives from distributors and booksellers.
About four-six months before release date, the publishers send their sales reps out to the distributors with a pile o' covers and data on their upcoming releases. The more excited the publisher is about the book the more incentives they will offer to the distributors and buyers.
Incentives can include coop (often offering the book to the distributors as a "buy one get one free"). They can include payment for placement at the front of stores, a "dump" (a single stand filled with one book), and other incentives I don't understand because they involve accounting.
The distributors will look at an author's sales history, how much incentive the publisher is willing to give, what the cover looks like, and other factors (like how well similar books are selling--this is why you see a slew of vampire books or whatever at the same time).
Yes, covers have to do with what distributors purchase, especially if it's a debut author with no sales history. That's because the books are being sold to the distributors/buyers sometimes before the manuscript is even finished, or it might be in the editing stages. These buyers don't even read the book--all they see is the cover and the sales line. (Scary, no? I guarantee you that so far the better my cover, the better my sales).
So--the publisher takes the total number of orders they receive (or promises of orders or whatever), and go back home and determine the print run. They'll print that many plus a little bit more to cover the re-orders. This is your initial print run.
A couple of weeks before release date, the books are shipped out to the distributors, etc. This is called the initial ship.
The number of books initially shipped will probably be a little less than your total print run. Or it could be the whole run
OR, even better, there could be more demand than anticipated and suddenly the print run is completely depleted by orders. This can happen before the book is even released or the same week, or a week after.
This is called selling out the print run, and from here you can go to a second or even third and fourth printing.
Selling out your print run does NOT mean you sold all those books (I wish). It means all those books were ordered by the bookstores/distributors, and the publisher's warehouse has run out. The publisher now needs to print more to fulfill the orders. (The print run can sell out, but the books can be stacked in the back of a store or sit three months at a wholesaler's warehouse unsold. You just don't know.)
Also, a publisher might decide to let the book go out of print and not print any more, for reasons known only to the universe and the accounting and sales departments.
However, quickly selling out a run is a good sign that your book is selling swiftly in the stores and the stores want to reorder to fulfill customer demand.
If the print run doesn't sell out right away, it's not a bad thing either. It means the publisher guessed right.
I've had books go to third printing within weeks; I've had them go to second printing after a couple of months. My early books weren't reprinted until after a couple of years, LOL.
You can guess, from your initial print run, about how many books you'll sell. The average overall sale of mass market paperbacks is 50% of the books printed and shipped. So if my print run is 70,000, I can expect that at least 35,000 will sell. At least. It could be more (which is good). It could be less (not as good). I'm pleased to say that so far (knock heavily on wood), my percentage has been more than the average 50%.
(An aside: It's 50% in romance. I hear that it's less in other genres--I don't know if that's right so someone correct me if so.)
BTW, hardback sellthrough needs to be better, like 70%, trade paperback also 70%.
Do we as authors have any control over the initial print run?
Not really. Especially not if you're brand new or in the midlist.
Your print run will also reflect where you are on the publisher's list:
A-level authors are the leads. They will get the most sales incentives and the biggest push. The most money will be spent on them. (I won't say they get the best covers because I've seen lead authors get putrid covers.) The publisher will print advanced review copies (arcs) for them and spend the most money and time on advertising and marketing. Publishers are looking for big print runs for these people.
Why? Because these authors either have a good history of big sales or they have such a fantastic debut novel that the publisher is willing to back them. The publisher feels that with these authors, they'll get their money back.
(Although--I hear many tales of the big, big, big authors getting such high advances and such unbelievable marketing push that publishers actually lose money on them. Loss leaders, I guess.)
Try this: Think of a genre, and think of the authors that spring immediately to mind. Think of authors who are household names, or the ones you see the most often in the grocery stores or airports. Those are A-level authors, the ones every budding novelist aspires to be.
B-level authors are often called the 2nd leads. They get more push than the lower midlist, but often not as much money/incentives as the A levels. However, these authors can do very well and get solid sales and pretty good print runs. B-level authors can often make bestseller lists (which you need a good print run to do).
C and D level authors are the midlist authors. C's probably get a little more push than D's. These books can sell solidly, and are kind of "bread-and-butter" books. Many authors are started here when the publisher simply wants to see how they do. (This is where I started, btw!)
Another point I want to make about print runs is this: That the success of your book is pretty much determined four to six months before readers even see it.
That's not to say the book can't do surprisingly well, or that your efforts marketing to readers is completely useless.
But realistically, most books are sold by word or mouth and by impulse buy. That's why we all want our publishers to get those front-of-store or end-of-shelf spaces at the bookstores and mass retailers.
So what can we as authors do to get a big print run and front of store placement??
Here's the answer (deep breath):
WRITE A DAMN GOOD BOOK!
(Caveat: A damn good book that has wide appeal.)
Have a catchy premise.
Write characters that spring off the page and people can fall in love with (or at least find so interesting they have to come back to them again and again).
Write solid stories without plot holes or too much meandering or dead wood.
Write strong dialog between your characters and keep the most interesting characters on your pages at all times.
Develop a strong, full, interesting voice. (Please don't ask me how!! I dunno, except practice, practice, practice.)
A damn good novel is no guaratee you'll be put at the top of the list, get huge advances, and a huge print run. Publishers and distributors can guess wrong
But if readers think it's a damn good book, you're off in the right direction.
I hope you find this information helpful, and as always, please correct me where I'm wrong. I want to learn too (although I reserve the right to argue).
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I am musing on posts on professionalism (which I had planned to do before my conference but oh well), conferences, reviews, and still what I've learned in the first five years of my career.
I'll get back to everyone when I've caught up with myself. Back to writing!!
Monday, March 10, 2008
To answer the question "Do I Need an Agent?" see my post: Why You Need an Agent
I strongly suggest you do find one--if you want to be a top author in your genre, see your mass markets in Walmart with your name in big shiny letters and have a shot at NY Times. Without an agent, you can still get published, but it's likely you'll stay midlist, if you even stay published beyond a couple of books.
Lecture over. So how do you find this stellar, godlike being who will take your career from nothing to mega-stardom?
You write the best book you can write.
You pitch or query.
You take a chance.
1. The top questions to ask yourself are:
- What genre do you write?
- What agents represent my genre?
- Of those agents, which have clients who write things similiar to what I write?
- Does this agent have a good track record of recent sales?
- Is the agent small and independent or work for a large agency? (There are advantages and disadvantages to both--another post)
- Does the agent land good deals for at least some of his/her clients?
(Note: I won't even put in the question: Does the agent charge a reading fee? because that's an automatic disqualifier. Never send to an agent who charges a reading fee. Never, ever, ever. Ever.)
2. Go Hunting.
- Read Guides to finding an agent, such as: Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents (This is the best, most up-to-date guide. Amazon has it at a good price, but most libraries carry it as well).
- Check sources such as Predators and Editors: http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubagent.htm where complaints can be lodged against fraudulent agents. Look for agents with "$" after their names, which means there is a record of them making sales to legitimate publishers.
- The Association of Author Representatives lists agents who fit their criteria (no reading fees, and the standard 15% of royalties after they sell you, among other things.)
- Double-check anything you find in a print or online guide against the agent's own website (if he/she has one) or by asking his/her clients. The very nature of print guides ensures that the info. is out of date as soon as they hit print, but they are excellent places to start.
- Reading an agent's blog is a good way to figure out what kind of books they like and are having the most success with.
- Make sure the agent charges the standard fee after they sell you of 15% of your royalties.
3. Make lists
- List agents who represent books in your genre, who have made sales for authors at legitimate publishing companies (not vanity presses), and who you think you'd like to work with.
- List your "dream" agents as well as agents you might not have known about who on paper fit your criteria.
- List what conferences your agents will be attending and see if it is convenient and cost effective for you to meet them there.
Now you can go two ways: 4. Send out queries; 5. Pitch at conferences. Most people do both.
QUERIES and PITCHES
4. Send out queries
- Learn how to write a good query letter. There are plenty of books out there to teach you, or see my guide to writing queries.
- Send out query letters five to ten at a time. (A tip from my own agent--don't make it obvious that you're doing a mass mailing. An agent likes to be approached as though you put a lot of thought into seeking her out because you thought she would be a good match for you. EVERY agent in your list should be someone you think would be a good match, or you shouldn't be querying them. Do take the time to make the letters a little personal.)
- When a query comes back with a rejection, file it and send the next letter to the next person on the list.
- When a query comes back with a request for a partial, send a well proofread synopsis and first three chapters (or whatever they ask for) with a SASE--right away!
- When a query comes with a request for a full, print your ms. (if they don't ask you to email it), put it in a tyvek priority mail pouch or box and send it. I say priority mail, because it's worth the $15 it will cost to get it to the agent quickly and efficiently. Buy delivery confirmation to calm your nerves about whether it got there. That $15 is a write-off anyway. If you feel like throwing more money around, send it Fedex.
- When a query comes with a request for a full ms. with an exclusive--go ahead and give the agent an exclusive--with a time limit! 60 to 90 days is reasonable. If they're that excited, they should be reading it quickly anyway, and we're all aging.
- When an agent calls you to offer you a contract, be careful. Ask to look over the contract before you make any promises or sign anything. (Feel free to jump up and down and scream in excitement as well.)
5. Pitches at conferences
- You get six to ten minutes to pitch your book at a typical agent appointment. A pitch is your verbal query letter.
- Don't waste any time! Hone your pitch to a few sentences.
- Print those few sentences on a notecard (with the title and your name and contact info), and give it to the agent when you're done. You can give him a nice business card too, but it's not mandatory. (Or you can give him a business card with the name of your book and a sentence about it on the back.)
- Don't use the entire pitch time to pitch. Pitch fast, then ask the agent if he/she has any questions about the book.
- Ask the agent questions. After all, she will be working for you! Some suggested questions: Why did he/she become an agent? What authors does she represent? (If she represents big names, she'll be proud to tell you.) What kind of things does he read for pleasure? What book has he sold that he's excited about?
- When the agent asks for a partial or full, follow the steps under query letter above.
TAKE A CHANCE
An agent has called you to say that he loves your four-book magical turtles fantasy series, and wants to represent you. What now?
1. Look over the contract carefully. What kind of fees is your agent expecting? I reiterate that 15% is standard. They might charge 20% for foreign rights sales, which is ok. Ok also if they charge small office fees like copying and mailing. (My agent does this, and so far it's been a negligible sum, which I take as a tax deduction anyway.)
2. Sign the contract and see what happens.
Unfortunately the last part is what you have to do. If you found an agent that's a good fit for you, he/she will be out there pitching your manuscript to the editors he knows are looking for what you write.
Note that the agent selling you might take a while!!! I hear authors complain that they finally found an agent, but he hasn't sold anything. I ask them how long they've had said agent and they say: "Two weeks."
And I politely try not to laugh (or sometimes I just laugh anyway, depending on who it is).
It might take your agent a year to sell the book. That's ok--if they are genuinely trying.
What you DON'T want is an agent who sits on your book and never sends it out. If they have an editor in mind that it's perfect for, and he/she knows that editor is closed to submissions for six months, she might wait for something like that. And that's fine.
But an agent with no strategy and no enthusiasm for your work is worse than no agent at all.
How do you know before you sign with them?
- You talk to their clients. Most authors are willing to say whether they like their agent or not. Talk to a range, though, so you don't just get that one sour grapes author who couldn't get along with the agent. Hear tales of good and bad.
- Sometimes you just don't know, and you have to take a chance. It's like marriage.
When do you know when you should break up with your agent?
- If your agent has not been sending out your work, or sending it out half-heartedly and making noises that she doesn't think it will sell at all.
- If your agent doesn't sell the first ms. and makes no indication she wants another, or won't work with you to make your mss. more sellable.
- If your agent won't return your phone calls for a month or more. (A few days is ok if it's not an emergency. When I have an emergency, my agent is back to me within hours.)
- If the agent has sold some things for you, but is unwilling to help you grow or unwiling to help you change direction.
How do you break up with an agent?
- In writing. Write a formal, professional letter (no venting), telling your agent you need to terminate your agreement and find other representation. You can give a time limit (e.g., "our agreement is terminated thirty days from the date of this letter.")
- Depending on your contract, it's common for your agent to retain the selling rights to everything you've given her up to this point. Even if you move to another agent, your first agent still gets to try to sell what she has and take her 15% from your sales. Plus she retains 15% from what mss. she's already sold.
- Pitch a new book to the new agent you have in mind. The new agent will not want anything that another agent can dispute is hers to sell.
Breaking up is hard to do.
This business, unfortunately is a lot about learning to let go. You will have to fight many battles as a published author--pick ones that are most important.
We love our work and are emotionally attached to it. Leaving a precious book with an agent who didn't do much for it is hard, but it's the way it is.
Write something even better and pitch to an agent more enthusiastic about you.
Please don't think it's always bad news. The majority of authors I know, and the most successful ones, have agents they have been with for years, agents who have seen them grow from midlist nobodies to mega-stars.
One last thing. When I looked up Jeff Herman's book, I saw a post by an author who basically said that there is no chance an agent will read anything by an unknown and unproven author.
That is simply not true.
As I've said elsewhere, I was an unpublished nobody when I started, and I knew no one. I found an agent who took a chance on me, and sold the book I pitched to him nine months later. He got me a three-book contract with that ms., and the next month got me a second three-book contract in a different genre.
I was lucky, true. But I also made my luck.
I had been burned by a beginning agent who really didn't know how to sell mss., and I had to write the termination letter. I researched more carefully the second time around! Also, I worked very hard on the books I pitched to my second agent, and made them as well crafted and marketable as I possibly could. No, I didn't leap to instant stardom with them, but they pushed my career off to a good start and I never looked back. (They were, if interested The Hanover Square Affair and The Pirate Next Door.)One truly final thing to leave you with. I decided to sign with the second agent because he was:
- looking for books in my genre (in this case, mystery).
- a fairly new agent looking to build a client list.
- an editor for about 20 years at top publishers (HarperCollins, Crown, and others).
- based in New York City (this isn't strictly necessary for everyone, but that's what I wanted).
- showed genuine interest in the Hanover Square Affair and had ideas about where it might sell and to whom.
- didn't charge a reading fee and had a reasonable contract.
- responded to me within a reasonable amount of time (I pitched in December, we had a signed contract by April).
I hope this is helpful! This is as always, what worked best for me, plus what I've gleaned talking to editors and agents and authors.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Describe your road to your first sale.
What if anything surprised you about being a published author after the first sale?
You now write with a pseudonym, Emily Bryan. Why did you decide to take a new name and what kind of books does Emily Bryan write?
Personally, this is huge. Most of my extended family lives in small Midwestern towns—places where Walmart is THE bookstore. Since my Diana Groe books weren’t in Walmart, I don’t think some of my cousins ever actually believed I was published. Of course, now the books will be under Emily Bryan, so they still may not believe!
My next Emily Bryan romance will be Pleasuring the Pirate in August 2008 and a 3rd is contracted for spring 2009.
You write historical romance. What do you like about the sub-genre, and what challenges does it present?
Distracting the Duchess is set in the very early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. One of the challenges was creating characters who aren’t the usual suspect—you know, the ingénue and the rake. That story’s been told, often and well. I wanted to tell a different tale, so my heroine is a widowed duchess who paints nudes and my hero isn’t a titled lord. He’s a second son who dreams of serving his country in British India. Trev never expected to have to serve his queen by posing nude, but when the clues to Beddington’s key lead to Artemisia’s doorstep, Trev’s mission becomes . . .Distracting the Duchess.
What advice can you give aspiring authors?
Thanks so much Diana/Emily for your insights.
Because writing can be a long-term career, reinvention is an extremely important skill to learn. The book market changes very quickly (say about every 2-3 years)--the climate is different and readers want something with a different mood.
Reinvention can help in several ways: 1. if your sales are not what the bookstores and publisher want them to be, or 2. if you personally find yourself wanting to go a new direction and try something new.
It's a topic that should be explored in-depth, food for a future blog!
Friday, February 15, 2008
Case in point: I have a manuscript due March 1, but also have revisions for another book due March 1, plus have to go over copyedits for a novella (due Feb. 19), plus stay on top of all the marketing for the book I have coming out in April. Not to mention getting workshop handouts to the conference coordinator for an April conference and buying the bags for said conference. (I'm buying them myself and donating them.)
When I start running around with my eyeballs rolling in mad circles, my friends and family tell me "Calm down, and for today, don't write."
You might as well say "Don't eat." or "Don't breathe."
Because when it comes down to it, I'm a writer because I love to write.
I am a professional writer because I found a way to take doing what I love and turn it into a career. In other words, now I get paid to do what I enjoyed doing anyway.
I can talk on this blog or in my workshops about how you can make a living as a writer (working your butt off is a big requirement). I have ambition--I want to stay a bestseller and sign more contracts and make more and more money.
But even if no one ever bought a single book from me again, I'd still write stories. I'd pass them around to my friends or post them for free on a website.
I write because I love telling stories. Some days I know I have to sit down and write (and do a good job), and that dismays me. Some days I'm not in the mood. But most days, I sit down excited to be back at it. It's the first job I've had where I look forward to Monday.
I've lost track of how many books I've written. I wrote about seven before I got published (that's the number I tell everyone, and I think it's right, but the truth is, I can't remember). Book number 20 is due to come out in April 2008, and that's just paperbacks published by NY publishers. I have also published four books and four novellas at an e-publisher. I have another book coming out sometime this year at the e-publisher, plus two more NY published books, and then four NY books and a novella in 2009. And that doesn't count the other e-books I plan to write and the proposals for the next round of contracts. All in five years.
And this doesn't even count the number of stories I've started and then decided weren't good enough and pushed aside (although I do take good ideas from unfinished stories and use them in the ones I know will work). Plus those seven (about) unsold manuscripts.
My point is that I've done all that (when, I have no idea), and I still love to write. Story after story still pours into my brain, and I look forward to getting my hands into it.
I don't think I could have survived this long writing so many books if each one wasn't special to me. It has nothing to do with how much money I might make, how many good reviews I might get, how many awards I might be up for.
I seriously just love it.
When I write the book money, reviews, awards, etc. aren't even in my brain. I'm in the story with these people waiting to see what they'll do. (This is probably why I never outline first--it's much more fun to "watch" it happen.).
Some books I've made a pathetically tiny amounts of money on. Some books have earned me nice, fat royalty checks that make me smile. And you know what? I don't love the money-earners any more than the non-money earners, or the award winners more than those that never even got nominated.
For each book, something in that story spoke to me, and made all the stress of marketing, revisions, edits, proofs, contracts, blah blah blah worth it. If you take all that stuff away, the joy of writing is still there, at least for me.
I don't know how much help this is to aspiring and new authors, but I think I'm trying to reassure everyone that you can do this job and get paid for it without that taking away the wonderfulness of why you wanted to do it in the first place.
You gotta love it.
Friday, February 1, 2008
What I never knew about being a published writer is that there is so much more to it than writing a book and giving it to your publisher. You need to keep up with:
Talking with your agent about new projects and writing new proposals.
Signing contracts and getting them to the right people at the right time.
Keeping up blogs and websites (whether you do it yourself or give updates to someone else).
Keepng track of who owes you what money when and follow-up when it doesn't appear (your agent does most of this, but it's always good to keep your finger on it.)
Doing revisions of mss. already turned in.
Working with your editor on cover and back cover copy.
Proofreading the final pages.
Preparing self-marketing strategies for books as they come out. (This can involve mailing cards or book covers to readers groups or booksellers, mailing out review copies [if the publisher doesn't], buying ad space in print and online, and so much more.)
Keeping track of business expenses and taxes.
Preparing for and giving workshops.
Doing signings and appearances.
Doing interviews, both online and in person and guest blogging.
Going to conferences.
Not to mention the general work of keeping your desk from collapsing under the weight of all the paperwork you will get around to filing "someday."
Because I write four to five books a year, multiply all this times five.
So what happens when major events happen in your life, and you still have to get all this stuff done? Remember that most authors work by themselves, although some hire assistants to do the busy work (mailing, copying, keeping track of things, and all that filing.)
There are two very important things to remember:
1. Your life is more important than your writing career. You can always get back to your writing career later.
2. In your writing career, the single most important thing is the writing. All the other stuff I talked about is secondary.
Now, if you are stuck like I was having to finish books while I was both busy and upset, there are several things you can do.
1. Talk with your editors and/or agent (or whoever is waiting for your work) and explain exactly what is going on. Mine were fantastically understanding and supportive.
2. Ask someone to help you with all the busy work, both in your writing and personal life. There's no need to be a martyr and go it alone. You can always help them when things are bad for them.
That's the mechanics--now for the actual writing.
1. I found that writing helped me retreat a little from the bad things that were happening in my life. It's fine to sink yourself into creativity and your imaginary world for a while if that helps you cope.
2. Write in a place where you are the most comfortable. If you have the best output at a coffee house, plan an hour to go there and write.
3. Don't worry about writing. The best gift my editors and agent gave me was to say "don't worry, take your time." That let me write when I could and not stress over it when I couldn't. I had to be there for others, and I didn't feel pulled apart, or guilty no matter what I did.
4. Keep taking care of day-to-day stuff and don't let it pile up too high. That way when you get back to writing you don't have things falling on you, and your clothes are clean.
5. Relax. Let the writing flow, let it be your therapy. Don't try to write something you really don't want to. OR let the discipline of writing on one project every day carry you through.
6. Find methods that block out unhappy feelings for you--for example, writing to certain music, writing by candlelight, reading something inspiring before you sit down to write, prayer, writing in complete solitude or writing surrounded by people. Whatever makes your writing session more productive or calms your mind.
As I said before, sometimes the writing itself will help you get through.
I hope this is helpful. These are random thoughts that came to me while I was coping with stress and a sad event and had to keep writing.
But I did it--I finished the ms. I was working on and turned it in, and now am working on the next project (and doing a workshop and booksigning this weekend, signing contracts and mailing them, working with my editor on cover copy, looking at copy-edits . . .)
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Joy: I sold my first two full-length novels at nearly the same time. In 2004, I had a fantasy romance, Crystal Shadows, under consideration at Ellora's Cave, and a historical paranormal, Celtic Fire (a 2004 Golden Heart Finalist), under consideration at Dorchester. I'd gotten the request for Crystal Shadows after making a contact with an editor at a Romantic Times convention. The request for Celtic Fire followed a contest win in which a Dorchester editor was the final judge. Crystal Shadows sold first, and came out in ebook format that same November. Celtic Fire sold soon after, but since the lead time for print book production was longer, it didn't appear in bookstores until June 2005.
You had some small press/e-press sales; what do you like/dislike about small press vs. large NY press?
Joy: Yes – in addition to publishing Crystal Shadows with Ellora's Cave, I also published two novellas and a short story published by New Concepts. Working with small press was a very good experience for me. The shorter length of my New Concepts work gave me a chance to experiment with different types of stories and develop my voice, and the wider opportunity for publishing slots was encouraging. There's also an anything-goes quality to small/epress publishing that's very refreshing. I feel very fortunate to break in at Dorchester, a big press with a reputation for pushing the envelope in the romance genre—the editors there are open to a very wide range of innovative story types. Large presses also have the advantage of a very wide distribution network. My print runs at Dorchester have been fantastic. More books out there leads to more sales to more readers.
Do you have an agent? and if so, why?
Joy: I do have an agent. She's invaluable when negotiating contracts, which leaves me free to concentrate on the creative side of writing. I signed with her in 2004, and she was instrumental in getting Celtic Fire read quickly by, and subsequently sold to, Dorchester. A manuscript—even after you've sold the first one—can languish a loooong time at a big publishing house without a good agent to push things along.
What do you think about the market for historical romance these days?
Joy: I'm really encouraged to see a huge rebound in historical books. It seems a few years ago, everyone was claiming historical romances were dead, but like Mark Twain's mistaken demise, the rumors were premature. What's happened is that the narrow focus of the historical market has widened, making room for different time periods, different locales, non-traditional heroes and heroines, and more paranormal elements. All of which is breathing life into the subgenre.