Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Where Are You in Your Career?

Every once in awhile, meine Autoren, I grow weary of hearing the sound of my own melodious voice (astonishing, but true), so I'd like to take a moment to ask you: where are you in your literary career?

Whether you're a fresh-faced college freshman writing your first novel or a seasoned author with a dozen novels under your belt, you know one thing: writing is hard work. Tell us what you're working on, whether you've got representation, how many years you've been writing, what genre you prefer, how and why you became a writer, &c, &c. No, really, let's talk about you.

Go nuts!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Round 1: Random House

Sorry for the Friday silence, mes auteurs, but thankfully the technical problems that canceled last week's round-up have been resolved. Onward and upward!

If you haven't heard, the Wylie Agency has lost its e-book battle with Random House, meaning that thirteen of the twenty contested e-titles are back under Random House's control. While I'm sure this has soured both Wylie and Amazon (with whom Wylie made the exclusive sales contract) on The Big House, it's an important victory for the publisher and, I think, for their authors. Also, Amazon gets to sell those e-books (via Random House) regardless, so I'm not sure how upset they really are.

What does that mean for you, gentle readers and writers?

First and foremost, it means that you need to be more aware than ever about e-rights: what your contract says about them, what your royalty rates are, under what conditions those rights can revert, &c, &c. Electronic rights are going to be immensely important over the next five years, and if you and your agent aren't on top of your game, any mistakes you make can and will come back to bite you.

Second, as I've mentioned before, I do think that electronically native imprints and sales models that more closely knit the acquisition and sales forces are the way of the future. That is to say: while Wylie went about this project the wrong way, I think their idea has merit and may represent the prevailing sales model in the next decade or two (smaller agency/house hybrids with more emphasis on e-books).

Finally, it signals (to me, at least) the necessity of editorial, computer-savvy, and legal input into the publication process, meaning that regardless of where e-books go in the next few years, you're still going to want someone on your side to edit, format, and sell your book.

What do you think, bros and she-bros?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why This is a Returnable Business

As I've mentioned before, back during The Great Depression (as opposed to today's Great Recession), a lot of things (surprise!) weren't selling, including (surprise again!) books. In order to get book stores to carry their stock, publishers allowed them to return any unsold merchandise for credit. Not surprisingly, this worked pretty well. Very surprisingly, the industry has continued this practice for the past eighty years, boom or bust, recessions, depressions, and rapidly expanding bubbles be damned.

As Jeffrey Trachtenberg points out (albeit in a Wall Street Journal article from five years ago), returns are "crippling inefficiencies of an antiquated business" and "The book industry... has been saddled with this system since the Depression." Around forty percent of books are returned (my estimate would be slightly higher in today's economic climate), comprising hundreds of millions (if not a billion or more) dollars per year in lost revenue. Many of these books are remaindered; the rest are pulped. Sad but true, mes auteurs.

So: why does the industry maintain this astoundingly inefficient business practice?

First, there's a sort of institutional singlemindedness I've discovered in which publishers seem to believe that because something has worked in the past, it will 1.) work just as effectivley now, and 2.) continue to do so indefinitely. As you can see: not the case (although, somewhat ironically, the returnable stock structure probably saved more than one book store when the recession hit in 2008). How things are done is how things are done, and this is more or less the end of it.

Second (and this sort of ties into the above), publishers are expected to demonstrate healthy growth year-on-year in terms of their sales numbers. Any year in which a publisher converts from a returnable to a non-returnable model will immediately see a 40% (or more) reduction in gross sales, and even though they'll recoup a lot of this by not having to print, package, ship, and warehouse books that will never pass through the register to the consumer, it would cause enough of an accounting and financial nightmare that most publishers will (and do) balk at the prospect, myopic as that practice may be.

Third, as mentioned in Trachtenberg's article, publishers have been steadily increasing the prices of books for years in an attempt to (among other things) compensate for the revenue lost to returned, remaindered, and pulped books. A conversion to a returnable model would almost certainly require a reduction in price point, which is great for consumers but bad for the publisher's bottom line (at least in the short term). I think there's something to be said about e-book pricing here, but that's another post for another day.

Finally, as I've mentioned in some of my co-op posts, brick-and-mortar retailers order more copies of would-be bestsellers than they really need, since they need to make those elaborate hardcover towers at the front of the store to attract consumers' attention. In a non-returnable model, they would be stuck with these books until they could either sell them at a sufficient discount or destroy them; this would in turn disrupt the co-op system as retailers and publishers scramble to reset the bar for promotional quantities.

This is all assuming a perfect world with a perfect supply chain, and as we all know, neither of these exists. Even if a publisher were to reach maximum efficiency in terms of getting books to retailers' warehouses, they would still need the cooperation of the retailers' supply chains and sales forecasting in order to make a non-returnable model work. It was easy back in the '30s to convert from a non-returnable to a returnable model when there were no superstores or Amazon; these days, converting back would be a Herculean task (though I think it would be enormously beneficial in the long-term).

What say you, meine Autoren?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We Regret to Inform You: The Form Rejection (Rerun)

Another hectic week, meine Autoren, so here's another classic from the PMN vault. Enjoy! — E

Episode: "We Regret to Inform You: The Form Rejection"
Originally aired: Monday, November 2nd, 2009

For those of you in the know (and there are more of you than you might think), there have, over the past several months and years, been periodic imbroglios re: the use of the form rejection by literary agents. I don't usually foray into this territory, but I thought a patented PMN Analogy® might be of some use. It's actually not my analogy—I'm shamelessly appropriating it from a guy I was talking to last week—but I find it too good to pass up.

Remember when you applied to college? Fun, right? The standardized tests, the trips to the guidance office, the teacher recommendations, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, &c &c. The point being: remember when maybe you didn't get into that one college? Did they send you a personalized four-page essay on how you were super great, but they just didn't have room for you? Or did they send you a one-page "thanks, but no thanks, better luck elsewhere"?


As I've said before, you, gentle (though as-yet-unrepresented) readers, are not any given agent's primary focus or responsibility. Their time and efforts go first and foremost to their clients, and only after they've negotiated contracts, calmed down their own hysterical authors, sat through endless rounds of auctions, and attended every known (and many an unknown) conference on the planet do they have time to sit and read your query. This is why said query has to be good, and this is why you can't be upset with a form rejection. Not only does an agent not have time to respond to every individual person who queries him or her, but to be completely honest, he or she wouldn't owe you a personal rejection even if he or she did have the time. Disheartening, perhaps, but true.

Caveat: this doesn't mean I wholeheartedly endorse the form rejection for, say, partials or fulls, and I've never been a fan of the idea that no news is bad news (i.e. no response means rejection). And I do realize that most (if not all) writers view their work as reflections or extensions of themselves, and often (perhaps subconsciously) equate rejection of their work with rejection of their overall abilities as writers, or even with rejection of themselves, period. But this is not the case, bros and she-bros. It's simply a rejection of your novel, not an indictment of your character.

I don't mean to sound harsh here. I write, you write, we all write, and we all get rejected. None of us likes being rejected, and I'm sure agents don't relish the opportunity to reject us. But it's a necessary evil of the system, cats and kittens, and if you want to graduate from the Publishing School of Hard Knocks, you've got to be able to take a form rejection or two. Or ten. Or two thousand.

All I can say is: soldier on, dear readers. Never give up! Never surrender!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Battle for Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble (BKS) announced a first quarter loss today, falling short of the company's forecast and underscoring not only booksellers' ongoing struggles in a soft market, but Barnes & Noble's particular battle between Ron Burkle and Leonard Riggio.

First, some background. Leonard Riggio is the chairman and largest stockholder of the company, which has been trying to sell itself (on its own terms, more or less) for awhile now, given that their sales are declining and (in my opinion) they want to attract fresh capital for their reinvention as a cutting-edge digital media company. Ron Burkle is a mega-rich investor who has accumulated almost 20% of BKS's stock and, despite his comments to the contrary, is widely believed to be attempting a takeover of the company.

Barnes & Noble, however, has what's called a "poison pill" defense (named for a spy's last resort should he or she be captured by the enemy) that makes it prohibitively expensive for Burkle to reach 20% (Riggo himself owns almost 30%). (If you're interested, you can read the details here.) Long story short: Burkle wants Barnes & Noble, which comes with the ability to unseat Riggio and to add his own people to the company's board of directors. Riggio, of course, is fighting back.

Talks have repeatedly broken down this summer, culminating with a Delaware judge's ruling that BKS was not being unreasonable in its defense against Burkle. This resulted in a proxy fight that, if successful, will accomplish the same thing: eliminate Riggio and add Burkle to the board.

This doesn't mean a whole lot for Barnes & Noble in the short term (at least, not in an operational sense); business will continue as usual despite the mounting legal fees. While some have speculated that the battle against Burkle is partially responsible for BKS's 1Q decline, I'm more inclined to think it has to do with slumping hardcover sales and reduced consumer spending in general. In short: Barnes & Noble is, à mon avis, far from doomed, but they certainly have their work cut out for them.

What do you think, mes auteurs?

Monday, August 23, 2010

101 Form Rejection Projects for a Rainy Day

I hope you enjoyed last week's guest posts, readeurs and readeuses, and that a little more of the publishing world (particularly the non-sales aspects) has/have been illuminated for you as a result.

It's Monday, which means I'm going to ease into the blogging week with a frabjous discussion of the myriad uses for form rejections.

I like to pin up my tiered or personalized rejections above my desk, but the form ones, being both a) more copious and b) neither near or dear to my coal-black heart, require something more involved/vindictive. Therefore—in patented (call the U.S. Patent Office if you don't believe me) Bullet-o-Vision™—the first 10 of my 101 Form Rejection Projects for a Rainy Day:

· Cathartic papier-mâché. Make a tiny replica of you sitting on a stack of your bestsellers! Make a tiny replica of you winning the Pulitzer! Do not make a tiny replica of you strangling all the agents who rejected you. Bad karma.

· A crackly quilt for super hot nights. Staple (or sew, if you're sufficiently crafty) your form rejections together to make a blanket. Note: crying yourself to sleep on said blanket may cause the ink to run and is not recommended. Additional note: crying over form rejections in general is not recommended.

· Fancy coasters. Glue your rejections to pieces of cork and drink (something alcoholic) off your rejecters! (Rejectors?) If you're fancy: Laphroaig. If not: Jack Daniels.

· Origami. Try and make a thousand paper agents! (See #1, above, regarding treatment of said paper agents.)

· Use the backs to write The Great American Novel. Be green and emulate Thomas Wolfe at the same time!

· Agency trading cards. Collect them all! Trade them with your friends!

· A flipbook. Remember: no violence! Images of you winning multiple Nobel Prizes for Literature or receiving a $1,000,000.00 advance are permissible (and, in fact, encouraged).

· Make a fire. Preferably in your fireplace. Not as imaginative, but definitely cathartic.

· Pretend traffic tickets. Put them under the windshield wipers of cars parked on your block. Hide in the bushes and observe people's reactions.

· Confetti. Throw yourself a party! You're one rejection closer to representation.

Add yours in the comments!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Guest Post: Inevitable Envy

People are loathe to admit it, but envy is an inevitable (and unenviable) part of the writing life. I have been on both sides of the envy seesaw, and it’s no fun either way. Envy has always seemed to me such a sticky-feeling emotion, the kind of thing where you need to shower just after you admit to yourself that you’re feeling it. No wonder we call it by so many other words.

But Shakespeare felt professional envy, probably directed toward Kit Marlowe—in fact, he wrote sonnets about it. Fitzgerald and Hemingway had a famously rivalrous friendship—as did Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Melville got tired of playing second fiddle to Hawthorne, and I just read that Virginia Woolf, after reading glowing reviews of the “The Four Quartets” by TS Eliot, went out to walk in the fields and tell herself “I am I, and must follow that furrow, not copy another.”

So here’s the bottom line on professional envy. If you feel it—or rather, when you feel it—first of all, take comfort that you’re in the very best of company.

Second, use it as an impetus to write. You can’t let your friend get that far ahead of you, can you?

Thirdly, remember that this is a street which goes both ways and that at some point, if you keep writing, you will be on the receiving end of someone else’s envy. It might just be a well-turned phrase in a writing workshop, or it might be the Pulitzer. Either way when you notice it you’re going to feel… a little sticky. Because here’s the weird thing about envy: it feels no better to be envied than it does to envy other people.

When I sold my novel, my friend Dawn said, “the publishing process will be full of surprises. And one of them is that your friends are not going to be particularly happy for you.” It’s a harsh realization. For years you and your friends are lolling around in the same muddy pasture of despair. No one can get an agent, much less published. It doesn’t seem possible. It seems as far away as if you were sitting there saying, "some day one of us is going to fly.”

But then it happens. Someone sells her book. And the reaction is not just envy but surprise. Wait a minute. She sold her book? Actually sold it, and she has an agent and an editor and a title and a cover and all that sort of stuff? The land shifts beneath you all a little bit and it’s hard not to have a jumble of emotions, with envy certainly among them.

Now here’s the conundrum. If your group is full of good writers and you’re committed to helping each other, the news that the first of your group has published is both an occasion for envy and, on the other hand, a boon for everyone. There’s a little more of a crack in the gate. Maybe your friend will ask their agent to look at your book. Maybe they’ll help you when it’s time to negotiate your own contract or publicize your own book.

But even if the stars align and you’re able to help each other beautifully—and indeed it has happened among me and my writing friends—you still have to go through that gate one at a time. Some people have to hang back and watch their friends precede them into the land of the published and that hurts. So I guess the fourth point about envy is…

Accept it as a rite of passage. And in some ways, evidence of how far you’ve come. Melville envied Hawthorne because he knew him. Ditto for Shakespeare and Marlowe, Sexton and Plath, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Woolf and Eliot. We envy people who are nearby, who seem just a step or two ahead of us in the process. The language of envy begins with “It could have been me…”

We don’t feel that about people who are far above us. You don’t lie on your couch and re-read Pride and Prejudice for the 700th time and envy Austen. She’s Austen, for God’s sake. It would be like feeling envy for an angel. So when your friends begin to improve in their writing, to publish, to win awards or be admitted into colonies, your envy is a sign that you’re not that far behind them. Painful as it is, you’ve moved a step closer to publication.

Because if it could have been you, someday, it will be.

Kim Wright has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing. Love in Mid Air (www.loveinmidair.com) is her first novel and the book trailer can be found here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Guest Post: "Honey, I Deleted Your Novel!": An Author's Guide to Avoiding Disaster

Several years ago, in trying to transfer some files, I accidentally deleted my wife’s novel. The fact that I’m still alive says more about the lack of loaded weapons in our house than about my wife’s forgiving nature. (She did forgive me, eventually. I think. Maybe.)

Once I got past that horrible, “Oh god, I am so totally cut off from the marital bed!” feeling, the first order of business was to make sure nothing like this ever happened again.

Having come up with a handful of habits and strategies that have so far protected me (and, more importantly, my wife) from any more data disasters, I thought I’d put them into a simple guide for any other authors out there who might have careless partners, overeager toddlers, or keyboard-strolling pets wandering around the house.

Lifesaving Tip #1: Copy, Copy, Copy

The simplest way to make sure you never lose your manuscript, or any version of it, is to make copies. Every time you go to edit your work—whether it’s an entire novel, a chapter, short-story or poem—save a copy first.

To distinguish one copy from another, put the date in the filename (e.g. GreatAmericanNovel_02_01_10), or number it (e.g. MyLifeStory_backup1, MyLifeStory_backup2, etc.) or add your own special code (e.g. MyBestseller_DanBrown, MyBestSeller_ToniMorrisson, etc.) This prevents you from overwriting one copy with another, and makes it easier to find a previous version when you need it.

Lifesaving Tip #2: Auto-Backup — It’s On!

Most word-processing programs have an Auto-Backup feature that you can turn on or off in the Options or Preferences panel. One option makes a backup of your file every time you open it. If later that day you discover your creative instincts were complete crap, you can get your original un-mangled version back instantly.

Another option, Auto-Save, saves your open files at regular intervals. If your computer crashes while you’re riding a creative tsunami, you’ll only lose as much work as you did between the last auto-save and the crash.

Turn both of these on. Now!

Lifesaver Tip #3: Drive, Baby, Drive

Backup drives are cheap, easy to use, and come in a variety of formats and sizes—from huge, networkable disk arrays to tiny thumb drives that fit on your keychain. My suggestion? Get one thumb drive, and one external hard-drive.

Thumb Drives

Also known as “flash drives,” they come in everything from black rectangles to colorful animal shapes. There’s even a SpongeBob Squarepants version, if that’s what you’re into. The smaller sizes (e.g. 2 gigabytes) are fairly cheap, but big enough to hold everything you’ve ever written. The larger sizes (e.g. 16 gigabytes or more) will hold everything you’ve ever written, plus your book trailers, author photos, and favorite time-wasting games.

Since thumb drives are small and easy to lose, they’re best suited for temporary storage. When you finish that climactic scene in your murder mystery, stick a thumb drive in your computer’s USB port, copy the files and voila! Your laptop can crash, a coffee-shop bandit can make off with it, you can spill RedBull into your keyboard—it doesn’t matter. You’re backed up.

External Hard Drives

Storage sizes range from about 250 gigabytes (big) to a terabyte (ginormous!), and physical footprints can range from little bricks to cubes the size of your bread machine. Most of them connect via USB or FireWire, but some are networkable.

Choose an external drive that is reliable, easy to set up, and has enough room to hold whatever you’re going to backup. A 100 gigabyte drive can easily hold all your scrivenings. If you want to backup your entire computer, you’ll need an external drive about the same size, if not bigger, than your internal hard-drive.

Once you’ve got the new drive connected, look for software to perform regularly scheduled backups for you. The Mac (OsX 10.5 and above) comes with Time Machine already installed. Not only does this program work beautifully, it’s incredibly easy to setup. For PCs, there are a world of options, from Microsoft’s own backup program, to software included with external hard-drives and third-party software.

Lifesaver Tip #4: Here, Hold This For Me

So what happens if your house catches fire or sinks into a swamp one night and all your disk drives go with it? The best backup is always an off-site backup (meaning someplace other than where your computer is), and the two easiest and cheapest (i.e. free) ways to achieve this are web-based email and on-line document storage.

If you have a web-based email account such as Yahoo or Gmail, you can email your files to yourself every day. They’ll sit on those nice, big, conveniently remote servers for as long as your account is active, and if you ever need to retrieve them, it’s as simple as flipping through your in-box from any computer, anywhere.

For an even simpler solution, take advantage of the free on-line file storage offered by Google Docs, Windows Live SkyDrive, and other services. Just create an account, upload any documents you want to store online (up to whatever their maximum is), and presto! Free off-site backup.

Lifesaver Tip #5: Fortress of Certitude

There are a lot of things you won’t get with free on-line storage: unlimited space, security, encryption, version control, automatic backups, etc. So for the ultimate in safety and convenience, consider using one of the paid backup services. These companies will let you backup whatever you want, whenever you want to their servers. If your computer crashes, you’re covered. If your house burns down, you’re covered. If there’s a nuclear attack—well, some of these places might even survive that.

Look for a service that works with your operating system (Windows services, Mac services), and has an easy to use interface. Incremental backups (i.e. where the software tracks changes between one backup and another) should also be a priority. That way, if you decide to ditch your third-person narrative and go back to the first-person version you had three months ago, you can get the exact versions of your files from that day, or any day.

So there you go: the secret to creative (and possibly marital) survival.

Chris Abouzeid is the author of the Young Adult novel, Anatopsis. His short stories, poetry and book reviews have appeared in The Boston Globe, Agni Magazine, The Literary Review, Epoch, Southern Review, New England Review, Other Voices, and Literal Latté.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Guest Post: What Makes a Good First Sentence

I’m standing in front of my bookshelves, pulling out some of the volumes and reading through the first sentences. “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” That’s Jane Eyre. “London.” That’s Bleak House. “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. Further along, there’s a sentence I know only in translation: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” That’s Gregory Rabassa, the translator of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.

If Brontë, Dickens, Hartley, and Marquez were publishing today, they would have made their agents and editors happy. Their opening words grab us right away and hit the jackpot: they make us want to read more.

For writers trying to catch the attention of an agent, an editor, or a reader, the first sentence is crucial. Some agents say that they are actually more patient readers than the writing world gives them credit for. Still, we writers agonize. We want to create something that intrigues, that stands out, that suggests something of our unique writing style. But how do we achieve that? I thought a small sampling of great opening sentences might give some lessons on how to hook a reader.

The best openings seem to fall into a few categories.

The universal truth

Tolstoy starts Anna Karenina with his famous statement about the difference between happy and unhappy families. I don’t know how the original Russian goes, but there’s nothing distinctive about the language of the translation. Nor is there anything special about Hartley’s opener about the strangeness of the past. But the idea is interesting and takes a moment to grasp. That first sentence tells us that the book we’re reading is about memory and isolation.

The quick mystery

It takes Brontë only ten words to unsettle us. She shoots down possibility as soon as she raises it. Why is there no possibility? Where are we? What day are we talking about? Why is “that day” so memorable that she’s referring to it that way? And who, after all, is talking?—because we know right away that this is no omniscient narrator. Ann Patchett does it almost as simply as Brontë: “When the lights went out, the accompanist kissed her.” We immediately want to know about that relationship, the setting, the ensuing plot. Marquez takes a little longer, but the effect is an intense dislocation. Later than what? Later than when? Why are they shooting the colonel, and why? How do you discover something that’s been around forever? Marquez’s first sentence signals the way his novel goes on to fold time over and blur the personal and the historical.

The style icon

There are lots of great ones here, one of them from a book I never finished and didn’t particularly like. But I’ve never forgotten the start of Gravity’s Rainbow: “A screaming comes across the sky.” That generates almost enough curiosity to carry a reader through hundreds of Pynchon’s pages. Take Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, considered by many to be one of The Perfect Novels. “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” You have to pay attention to a voice and an attitude like that. Then “The Dead”: “Lily the caretaker’s daughter was literally swept off her feet.” A classic case of first-person limited, signaled by Lily’s error of usage. And my sentimental favorite from Tom Drury’s The End of Vandalism: “One fall they held the blood drive in the fire barn at Grafton.” It’s a novel about straightforward people, and its first sentence has only one word with more than one syllable, and that’s the name of the town.

These aren’t the only kinds of successful first sentences. Others sow a seed of doubt in the writer or the setting; still others introduce the elements of the plot right away; every now and then, a first line is spoken to us, in dialogue. It’s not even requisite for an excellent novel to have a catchy start. Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, for instance, starts with a rather mundane sentence about a series of emails.

If these many sentences have anything in common, it’s that they alert us that something special is going on: that the writer is in control. A good first sentence places the reader squarely in the writer’s grasp, either because the voice is enticing or because the story seems–it’s too soon to know for sure–compelling. One way or another, through tone or voice or language or plot, a good opener makes the reader unable to resist the novel’s pull. No pressure, but that’s all we writers have to do.

What are some of your favorite first sentences? And, unless they’re the same, which novel openers have you found most effective?

Henriette Lazaridis Power's work has appeared in Salamander, the New England Review, The New York Times online, The Millions, Rowing News, and Writer 2.0. She is the founding editor of The Drum, a literary magazine publishing short fiction, novel excerpts, and essays exclusively in audio form.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Post: Talking Books: Promoting Your Work on Radio

With all of the focus on online marketing and social media, it’s easy for an author with a new book out to overlook the traditional media—especially radio.

I’m not talking about the kind of radio station that plays music all day long. I’m talking about talk shows and current affairs programs. Because the kind of person who listens to intelligent radio programming is also the kind of person who reads. Radio listeners are the types of people who might just buy your book.

So how do you get on a radio program?

First, you need to research what programs there are that are relevant to your book. Is your book a novel, and more suitable to an arts show? Or is it non-fiction, and so might fill well within a show oriented towards science or health or current affairs? In addition to the major radio shows that get national airplay, many regional shows are likely to feature local authors—both regional shows that are affiliated with a major national network, and smaller, independently owned local radio stations.

There are actually numerous radio programs that focus specifically on the arts or on books—here is a list of some of the big national ones:

CBC (Canada)
Writers and Company (weekly)
The Next Chapter (weekly)
Q (daily arts and culture show)

“Fresh Air from WHYY” (daily arts show)
(also CBC’s daily arts show “Q” on PRI as of June 2010)

ABC (Australia)
The Book Show (daily)

Open Book (daily)

Obviously, the bigger the show is, the harder it is to get on. So, if you and your work are not so well known yet, you might want to focus on the smaller regional shows for now. But you also might want to aim high and try for the big ones, too. As long as your pitch is professional, it can’t hurt to get your name out there, can it?

So how do you do that?

1. Research the show that you want to get on. Make sure your book is relevant to what that show is about—otherwise you are wasting your time.

2. Find the name of that show’s producer. Send your book and a professional press release addressed to him or her several weeks before the date that you hope to be interviewed. Make sure your phone number(s) are on the press release (you’ll see why below).

3. Find a “time hook.” The media always want stories that appear to be “timely.” The lead-time to producing a book is so long that you’d have to be pretty darn lucky to have some news event happen to coincide with your book release. So make your “time hook” yourself, by organizing an event. The producer is much more likely to say yes to your pitch if they can wrap up the interview saying “And Jacqueline will be appearing tonight, reading from her new book at the Joe Blow Café…” Suddenly, the “story” is “timely” and they are more likely to want it. (This works for newspaper interviews too).

4. Think of the medium.
Radio is about sound. It’s only partly about the words you wrote in your book (if they ask you to do a reading at all—oftentimes they won’t). And it’s not about how you look. It’s about the sound of your voice, how you put words together. Do you sound confident and interesting and fun? That’s good for radio. Do you sound bored, or do you mumble or stumble over your words? Hmm… that’s not so good for radio. So how do they know this about you? Well, if the pitch you’ve sent them interests them, they are very likely to get back to you by phone—the reason for that is because they are checking you out. They want to see how you sound. And how that phone call goes may be the clincher for them—do you sound good, or not?

5. Feel free to follow up with the producer, a week or so after they have received your package. A gentle “I just want to make sure you received..” email or phone call is fine. But don’t hound them.

OK, so let’s say you’ve got the interview. It’s easy to freak yourself out and get nervous. And that’ll make you stumble and sound bad. So don’t do that.

The radio people will be there in studio to make you feel at ease. They will explain to you how to sit, how far to be from the mic. I find it helps to drink a big glass of water right before I go on, so my throat is nice and clear. Find a comfortable position, so you can maintain a constant distance from the mic (usually leaning forward on the table is best) and so you are not rustling papers or clothing that will make distracting background sounds.

And most of all, don’t think of it as a public speech. Treat it like a private conversation with the host. This will keep you from feeling nervous, and it will also ensure that you come across sounding fluent and natural.

Jacqueline Windh is author or major contributor to four books, including the Canadian best-seller
The Wild Edge. She is also a photographer and a freelance radio broadcaster whose documentaries have played on CBC and ABC. You can find her at www.jacquelinewindh.com.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Guest Post: On Publishing Choices: An Opinionated Primer

Thus begins Guest Post Week Round 2, mes auteurs! Sit back, relax, and take in the next few days' worth of guest posts, and be sure to check out this interview I did with the witty and brilliant Ms. Tahereh Mafi. Enjoy! — E

While I was searching (again) in 2009 for a home for my memoir, Map, I decided to take the time to articulate some publishing fundamentals and my own philosophy on the matter. Map had caught the interest of an agent and a publisher early in the decade, but at that time eight years later when the book was truly ready for publication, they were long gone. Yet I knew there were readers out there who needed to read stories like mine, a coming-of-age memoir about a time when it was easier to admit that you were in love with another girl than that you had met someone on the Internet. I wound up self-publishing Map this past October and in March it was named a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award (the Oscars of queer books). Now eight months post-publication, I stand by everything I say below, and add only that self-publishing is an experience that redefines the meaning of success and reminds you (often wonderfully) that book selling happens one copy and one reader at a time.

At its heart, publication is about reaching an audience. A love letter, a fortune cookie, a blog, a bestselling novel—all are forms of publication.

Traditional book publishers—the conglomerates, independents, and university presses whose books fill the shelves of your local bookstore—aim to contribute to this process for a selection of books they choose. They aim to do this while staying in the black, compensating their authors in some way, and (usually) providing paid employment to the folks doing the work of publishing.

When you submit a book to a traditional publisher, and they turn it down, it's essentially for one (or more) of three reasons:

1. Manuscript not good enough,
2. Book not expected to be financially viable (the math will vary from press to press), or
3. Lack of chemistry.

If you're lucky, the rejection letter will give you a clue to the reason. This is valuable information, particularly when multiple publishers seem to be in agreement. Use it. (If the reason is manuscript quality, revise until you can revise no more.)

Self-publishing has historically gotten a bad rap, despite the occasional success stories, but recent changes in technology are beginning to alter the landscape. It's anyone's guess how this will ultimately play out; meanwhile, there's attention, debate, and opportunity that didn't exist even five years ago.

There are legitimate reasons to choose to self-publish as well as to work with a traditional publisher. Each option has pros and cons, and the right choice will vary from author to author and from book to book. There are five basic arenas to take into consideration in making an intelligent decision: the shape of the words themselves, the physical product, the credential of affiliation, reaching an audience, and economics. The weight of the economic part of the equation will be heavily influenced by whether or not writing books is—or is intended to be—your primary means of making a living.

With self-publishing, you can hire people such as designers and publicists and editors to assist you—self-publishing does not have to be an all-or-nothing decision, though ultimately you are the one in control of what is offered to the public and how. With traditional publishing, a team is already in place, led by someone who is not laden with the emotional baggage an author inevitably brings to the publishing process.

Even if you go with a traditional publisher, it's possible that the book will see print when it is still in need of more editing, but this is an even greater hazard with the self-publishing route, especially in this day and age when you can make the decision to self-publish and have a paperback for sale and in hand in under a week.

Quality matters.

Patience is important.

Your own internal editor and feedback from others each play a valuable role.

It is worthwhile to strive for—and hard to truly recognize—your absolute best.

"Best" is a moving target.

The wonderful thing about self-publishing is that it provides an outlet to authors whose voices aren't being heard otherwise, and a home to books whose audience is simply too small or too hard to reach for most traditional publishers' business models.

The challenge is that, without gatekeepers or curators, there's an awful lot of noise. (I argue that this is a good thing—I don't believe people should be silenced just because their best isn't as good as someone else's best. Others certainly disagree.) As glad as I am—as a writer, reader, teacher, and fellow human being—that the noise is there, absent of word-of-mouth recommendations and such, I'm not likely to be reading many self-published books myself. I'm in good company here; when browsing for new reading material, most readers prefer the implication of quality that comes with a traditionally-published book to the gamble that comes with a self-published one.

With self-publishing, you lose the credential of affiliation with a traditional publisher; you lose the branding. You also lose the ambiance of the branding that often softens judgment while someone is actually reading your words.

It's the difference between saying, "I got into Harvard," and "I'm wicked smart." The first, we're expecting intelligence (at least until someone we respect tells us, "Harvard made a mistake that day"). The second, we're thinking, "Oh, really? Prove it."

If you're self-published, you need, somehow, to get other people saying the equivalent of "She's wicked smart." People whose opinion is already taken seriously by those who might read your book if they believed that you were wicked smart.

Of course, even if you're traditionally-published, it's helpful (and flattering) to have people raving about you, but in the world of self-publishing, if you want a larger audience than your close friends and loved ones, it's absolutely fundamental.

There are lots of ways to encourage this raving to happen, and to get people reading and talking about your book. Most of these will take a lot of time and energy, no matter which publishing route you take. So first, and most importantly, take the time and energy to get the words right.

Audrey Beth Stein is the author of the memoir Map, a 2010 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Bisexual Nonfiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and is a two-time national prizewinner in the David Dornstein Memorial Short Story Contest. She teaches memoir and novel development at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Direct links to order Map can be found at http://map.audreybethstein.com.

Friday, August 13, 2010

(Round Up) Days of Summer

It's that time again, for the weekly round-up with Laura from Combreviations (and don't forget—guest posts next week!):

Hello, friends and foes. This week I'm going to ease you into the funniest and most nauseating thing I've seen in a while. So hang in there and hold on to your lunch.

You know what's charming and not nauseating? A new book on Roald Dahl contains a missing chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sweet! (Ha.) And hey, here are 11 fictional characters in real life—I'm glad someone found Waldo. Now if only I knew the right book to be reading in public so Waldo would ask me out. Maybe I could read the new Jonathan Franzen—he's on the cover of Time, you know. And Mark Twain is always a good fallback, because there really is something to reading him today. Maybe I'll check out some of these overrated contemporary authors, or pretend these book suggestions for Obama are for me, the other President of the United States.

What are some more feel good things from the week? Well, this slightly misguided book trailer is great, and I want about six of these text posters. There's a new Chicago Manual for the Internet age, which made me sqee a little inside. And I love these better book titles, but then, I love anything that makes me feel smug and erudite. Here are some famous literary last words (hey, at least go out with a bang, amirite?), and the descendants of Dickens and Tolkien are writing together, which should be super interesting and potentially terrible.

And don't forget to check out this repackage of the Twilight books, changing the covers from black to white, so everyone who already has all four will go out and buy them again. Suckers. Is everyone feeling good and smug? Proud of ourselves? Then maybe you won't want to click through to the piece de resistance, the best and worst link in the world: erotic GOP fanfiction, starring Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Hilarious! But also, I would like to scrub my eyes clean. Ech.

Happy emotionally scarring day, reader types, and see you next week here or all week at Combreviations.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Borders: Redux

I've been following the trials and tribulations of Borders Group for awhile now, and once again it seems there's a shake-up of sorts going on at their corporate headquarters.

Borders announced another round of job cuts at their Ann Arbor office yesterday, only seven months after their last corporate cut (which eliminated 88 positions). It's unknown whether their new ceo (their fourth in two years), Bennet LeBow, ordered the cuts, but it doesn't bode well for the company regardless.

Now, caveat: I am not a financial authority or analyst of any stripe, so what I'm offering below should be construed as neither (a) super fancy or detailed information, nor (b) financial advice of any kind. That said:

Borders (NYSE: BGP) is currently trading at a dismal $1.25 per share, which doesn't tell you a whole lot until you realize that means their market capitalization (share price x number of shares outstanding, which is a guide to the size of the company) is only $80 million. Compare this to Barnes & Noble's (NYSE: BKS) $850 million market cap and last trade of $14.48, and you get an idea of how much Borders has shrunk over the past few years (especially given that Barnes & Noble actually has fewer shares outstanding than Borders Group).

Here's where things get a little (but not super!) technical, so feel free to skip to the end if you like.

BGP's P/E (price-to-earnings) ratio is currently -0.83; given that the P/E ratio is defined as price per share divided by the annual earnings per share (there are a few different ways of calculating these earnings), this indicates that Borders is suffering losses. I find the negative number a little strange, though, since it's my understanding that the P/E unit is in years (that is, an investor buying a share of Borders' stock would expect to wait -0.83 years of earnings to pay back the purchase price of $1.25). If anyone can clarify this point, please do so in the comments.

For context, Barnes & Noble's P/E ratio is 23.98, which seems to indicate a high forecast earnings growth for the company; then again, it also means that anyone buying BKS now is paying $23.98 for every $1 of earnings, so if we imagine another company identical to Barnes & Noble but with a lower P/E, that would be a more attractive investment. (Have I lost you yet?)

Finally, BGP's beta coefficient (a measure of the correlation between the stock's earnings and the behavior of the market as a whole) is 3.77. A positive beta coefficient means the stock's behavior is generally correlated with the market, but 3.77 is very high, which indicates that Borders' stock is pretty volatile (which you might have already guessed, given the multiple ceo changes and staff reductions they've undergone over the past few years).

Again, for context, BKS' beta is currently 1.35, meaning Barnes & Noble's stock price correlates directly with the market and is pretty stable (the overall market, by definition, has a beta of 1).

In summary (this is the end, in case you've been skipping down): while I'm no financial expert, Borders looks like it's been in trouble, is still in trouble, and will continue to be in trouble until and unless (a) they stage some kind of incredible comeback, or (b) the market as a whole returns to its former glory, pulling BGP up with it. I won't go so far as to say that I think Borders will go out of business this year or next, but things aren't looking good.

Financial experts, armchair economists, and auteurs du monde: what do you think?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ten Commandments of Blogging (Rerun)

Work abounds, mes auteurs, so another blast from the past (this one from last September). Enjoy! — E

Episode: "The Ten Commandments of Blogging"
Originally aired: Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

1. I am thy blog. If you're an author, you should already have a blog. If you're not yet published, now is the time to start.

2. Thou shalt have no other blogs before me. We all love reading blogs—we wouldn't be here if we didn't—but yours comes first. Write your own posts before you spend all afternoon reading someone else's.

3. Thou shalt not make of thyself an idol. Keep your ego in check; you always want to portray yourself positively in your blog. Your reputation is all you've got in this business, and if you earn yourself one as a likable person as well as a great writer, you're a golden calf.

4. Remember thy Schedule and keep it, wholly. You don't have to write a post every day, but keeping a regular schedule is a courtesy and a sort of unwritten contract between you and your readers; they'll know when to expect new content and will come to appreciate and respect you for that.

5. Thou shalt honor thy agent and thy publisher. You couldn't have done this without them. Give props where props are due.

6. Thou shalt not commit character assassination. Everyone has authors or critics they don't like, sometimes personally. Don't pull an Alice Hoffman. And, I guess, don't try to kill anyone in real life, either.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery, but thou shalt pimp thyself. No one sells you like you do. Facebook, Twitter, &c. The more pervasive your presence, the more likely it is that people will buy your book.

8. Thou shalt not plagiarize. Always quote. Always cite your sources. Always link back to them if they're on-line.

9. Thou shalt not deceive thy audience. Never post anything you don't believe is true, and be sure to provide links to any research you've done. Always be sure to clarify whether a point you're making is an opinion or a fact.

10. Thou shalt monetize. I don't do it because I don't consider blogging a part of my livelihood, but you, as authors, should consider self-promotion as part of the job. Let Google or whomever run a few relevant ads on your blog and make a little cash on the side. (Unless you've got a large readership, though, it probably won't be much.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

He Said, She Said

I don't know whether this will become a regular segment, mes auteurs, but from time to time my myriad opinions on topics not strictly sales-related begin to back up, and I find I have to share them (whether or not they've been solicited).

"So," he said, "let us discuss dialog tags."

If you're not familiar, dialog tags are words like "said," "asked," "yelled," "shouted," &c that modify passages spoken by characters in short stories and novels to indicate speech (and sometimes the manner of speech). Some authorities maintain that all of them are acceptable, others that only "said" and "asked" are okay, and even a few hardline minimalists who only accept "said." I vacillate between the second and third categories.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I find properly done dialog tags beyond "said" and "asked" distracting. If characters are constantly hollering, yelling, whispering, yodeling, beseeching, imploring, choking, rasping, and croaking, I can't focus as well on the story. I should be able to tell whether a character is doing these things within the context of the scene; authors shouldn't need to communicate this to readers directly.

Which of the below do you find more effective?

"No!" Anthony shouted.

"No!" Anthony said. Susan recoiled at the force of his reply.

You probably don't even need the exclamation mark in that second one. Is it Shakespeare? No. Does it get the point across? I think so.

Second, I find that the majority of dialog tags beyond "said" and "asked" simply aren't done properly. For example, you can't "smile" or "chuckle" a line of dialog. You can smile while saying something or chuckle after saying something, but "'No,' Sue smiled," and "'Why not,' Dad chuckled" are both annoying and physically impossible. (Please note the difference between "'Yes,' Sue smiled" and "'Yes.' Sue smiled.")

Final thought: I think "asked" is sort of superfluous, since the question mark in the line of dialog already tells you that what is being said is being asked, but I find it relatively unobtrusive, so I don't have a major beef with it.

What do you think, meine Autoren?

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Death of (Another) Format

A couple of months ago, I mentioned my belief that e-readers will quickly make large print paper books obsolete. After careful analysis, mes auteurs, I'm comfortable predicting the death of another format (although I think this one will take much longer): the mass market paperback.

For those not familiar, the mass market paperback is that chunky, newsprinty $4 to $8 paperback you find in airports and grocery stores (in addition to traditional independent and chain bookstores). It's especially popular with genre fiction (fantasy, mystery, romance, science fiction). Historically, they've sold well because they're cheap, lightweight, and don't take up a lot of space; not many people buy them to display on bookshelves or coffee tables.

E-books are already relatively cheap, and they have no weight and occupy no physical space at all. As the cost and heft of e-readers steadily declines, there will be (in my opinion) no reason to buy a mass market paperback rather than an e-book, and I think this will lead to the format's demise.

A lot of people are currently worried that e-books will kill the hardcover, but I find this relatively unlikely. Hardcovers have been status symbols and conversation pieces for centuries, if not millennia. People like having bookshelves full of hardcovers. They like having them signed. They like physically perusing a library rather than flipping through a list of titles on a screen. For these reasons (among others), I think hardcovers will survive the conversion to e-books, although I certainly expect print runs to be reduced and POD to become a more tenable option for smaller publishers.

As for the mass market paperback: granted, the lendability factor will definitely keep it alive for a few more years, and it will probably take decades beyond that before the second-hand market begins to fold. As soon as solid lending or renting protocols are established by the e-book industry, however, I don't see any reason why consumers would rather have a physical, low-quality paperback than a non-physical, high-quality e-book. Can you?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Round Up

Super quick round-up time, with Laura from Combreviations:

This was a week of learning, dudes and dudettes. We learned all about Angelina Jolie from the Morton bio, and will soon learn about Justin Bieber from his memoir, as well as Fidel Castro, also a memoir writer. We learned a drinking game for readers, and got our pre-college on with a reading list. We also found out these 20 classics of gay literature and the 10 best dressed characters in literature. We learned that a lot goes into a novella, and that, hey, chick lit is up for debate. We can also learn for the future, by listening to the Karma Sutra on audio. Sexy.

But knowledge requires a system of morality, to inform our judgments. Is a paywall for media morally necessary? Should sex disappear from the British novel? Is it okay to hate on Kindle users? At least we can rely on Superman to always save the day.

That's it for today, ladies and gents. See you next week here, or all week at Combreviations. And I, like you all, can't wait for the fall, when things actually start to happen again and round-ups are more than a paragraph. Until later!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Benefit of Experience

Sometimes, meine Autoren, we publishing folk seem to do perplexing things. We tell you the cover image you love won't sell your book and will need to be changed (everything from the color scheme to the imagery to the very title). We tell you the proposed on-sale date is all wrong and we'll actually need to get the book out the door two months earlier. We tell you you'll need to make author appearances in far-flung locations because those regions are where your book (or books like it) sell(s) best.

As much as it might seem otherwise, we generally don't do these things because we want to make you unhappy or are utterly incompetent at our jobs. The reason we ask for these (often annoying and occasionally apparently pointless) changes is because we have (wait for it!) the benefit of experience. We might not know for certain which covers will look best on the display table or what the absolute perfect on-sale date for your book might be, but we certainly know what probably won't work in terms of everything from overall appearance to release date to promotional placement.

We know what the co-op deadlines and promotions are; we know what season your book will compete best in; we know (historically speaking) what covers have worked and which ones have tanked; we know who your audience is and how to target them; we know how much your book should cost and what format it should be; we're starting to get a pretty good handle on this newfangled "e-book" nonsense (electronic sales chez moi are quite excellent; I'm not sure how publishers elsewhere in the industry are faring). Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But we've done this for awhile now, and we are (again, generally speaking) pretty damn good at it.

So rest assured, mes auteurs, that should you one day know the glory of representation, advances, royalties, and the nightmare joys of shepherding a book through the publication process, there will be plenty of industry professionals available to help you (even if, at times, it doesn't quite feel like help).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Word to the Wise

Most of the authors with whom I've come into contact are delightful people: courteous, professional, funny, smart. They'll go above and beyond for their book, they'll put in the hours and the effort necessary to make their public appearances and signings enjoyable events, and they'll do it with smiles on their faces even if there isn't exactly a song in their hearts.

Some authors, however, are not so great.

I've known or known of authors who berate their editors, make demands, refuse to be flexible with dates and locations for events and signings, and/or all but directly insult their fans at said events and signings. Not surprisingly, this earns them a reputation in the industry as Not Easy To Work With. This goes without saying, but you do not want to be known as Not Easy To Work With.

I know I'm largely preaching to the choir here, but it bears repeating that writing is work, and work can be stressful. Sometimes your sales aren't as great as you'd like. Sometimes a chain decides to flat-out skip your book. Sometimes you're unhappy about a cover or a blurb falls through or your editor gets laid off and you get a new one who's, let's face it, just not that into you(r novel). These things happen.

Regardless, however, you've got to remain polite and professional. You don't have to be all sunshine and rainbows, but you do need to maintain your cool, follow through on your commitments, and keep the lines of communication between you, your agent, and your editor open.

If you earn yourself a reputation in the industry as Not Easy To Work With, you'll find it difficult to get your agent and editor to do things for you, you may have trouble attracting offers for subsequent books/novels, or you might even get flat-out dumped by your agent or house. (It's unusual, but it has happened.) Even if you don't exactly make your agent or editor's Ten Least Likable list, being known as difficult, needy, antagonistic, or temperamental will not help your writing career and will likely hurt it. While being a nice guy won't directly sell your book, it can't hurt, and often helps.

Sure, J.K. Rowling or James Patterson could be the biggest jerks in the world and it probably wouldn't negatively impact their book sales; people will put up with a lot for money and success. But sadly, mes auteurs, you aren't J.K. Rowling or James Patterson (yet), so remember: it doesn't necessarily pay to be nice, but it doesn't cost anything, either.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What You Can Do: Twelve Easy Steps (Rerun)

A blast from the past, mes auteurs—here's a post I wrote almost exactly one year ago. Enjoy! — E

Episode: "What You Can Do: Twelve Easy Steps"
Originally aired: Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

(Edit—for more on royalties, see this morning's post by Jessica over at BookEnds.)

So, caveat: this isn't meant to be a complete list. I'm sure I'll revisit this post and add to it as time goes on, but I've been thinking about it for awhile now and would rather share it with you sooner than later.

So, without further ado: what can you do to sell you book, and more importantly, when should you do what?

1. Completion of your novel. Congratulations! You've written an entire novel (~60,000 – 100,000 words)! Now go edit it. No, don't tweet about how awesome your book is (yet). Edit.

2. Six months later... congratulations again! Between your critique group, your trusted first-readers, and your biggest editor/critic (i.e. you, at least at this point), you've polished your novel to a high lustre. Such a high lustre, fact, that you've begun using British spelling and grammar without even realising it. Ace! (Apparently you are also stuck in the 1980s.)

Have you written a truly smashing query letter yet? You have? Ace again. All mod cons, as they say. (British slang, incidentally, is weird.) Anyway—time to start querying Nathan, Janet, Kristin, Jessica, and all the rest. Cast a wide net, and remember: no exclusives!

3. Three months later... you're still querying? Of course you are, unless you're luckier than Malachi Constant. What, did you think this was going to be easy? Keep at it.

4. Three months after that... Hooray! After several form rejections, a few polite refusals on partials, and one or two fulls, you've gotten an offer of representation. (To make this as simple a scenario as possible, let's say this is one of your dream agents and you accept the offer immediately.) Don't start the party just yet, though. Now you've got real work to do.

If you've got representation, you're that much closer to getting published, and so at this point you need to start expanding (or straight-up building) your platform. If you've already got a blog, ramp it up; if you've already got a Twitter account, tweet it up; if you're on Facebook, start making connections like crazy. If not, get going right now. Start playing the networking game. Check Go Daddy to see if your name has already been registered as a domain name. If not, consider buying it. If so, try and figure out a good alternate name. (Hint: http://www.newjohnsmith1-2-3today.info/ is not a good name.)

To be honest, there's no such thing as "too early," but the offer of representation is, in my mind, when things get serious. If you haven't given thought to blogging/Twittering/website-ing/Facebooking/&c, start now.

5. Another three months after that... O frabjous day! Your book has been sold to an editor! You must now do the following:

Party. Nothing major: you're a working author now. Live it up a little, but do not get outrageously drunk or stab your wife with a penknife. You are not Truman Capote or Norman Mailer (respectively).

Hit the ground running. Discuss everything with your agent and newfound editor. Ask as many questions as you can think of. If you are, like me, unmarried, childless, and have relatively few obligations outside of your day job, I highly recommend you make promoting yourself and your book your new, all-consuming hobby. Figure out what you're willing to commit to (I recommend as much as you think you can safely handle) and let your agent and editor know you're willing to work hard. If you've got substantial commitments (e.g. sextuplets, reality TV show), find a balance.

Ramp it up. If you haven't bought that mega sweet domain name yet, do it. Blog about yourself and your book. Tweet about it. Change your latest Facebook employment to "author" and announce your good fortune in your status. Network, network, network.

Let your critique group know. Go to literary events. If you don't already know the booksellers at your local stores (national chains and indies) by their first names, now's the time to start. Aside from the fact that they're most likely wonderful people who will turn out to be excellent friends, they're going to be very helpful later on (see below).

An aside: definitely talk this over with your editor, but if you feel like it's a good idea and your advance is big enough, consider hiring your own publicist. He or she may be able to work wonders for you.

Oh, and yes—if you're not too up on all this computer mumbo-jumbo (although you should be), see if you can get your computer science major nephew (or some similarly inclined relative or friend) to help you out for a nominal fee (or, better yet, for free). If you happen to know a web designer who can make you an awesome website, so much the better. At this point, it's all about who you know. Keep asking yourself that: who do you know who is able and willing to help you?

Now, in case you weren't keeping track, in this oh-so-magical best-case scenario, it's been fifteen months since you finished your novel. You now have representation. Is this unrealistic? Yes, I think, slightly, but don't assume that novel you finished fifteen months ago was your first one, and do assume that you're a talented writer with a good story, and suddenly it's not so far-fetched after all.

Oh—and order business cards. You're an author now.

Now then—

6. Nine months before on-sale: You might have comp titles already. Ask your agent to check on them for you. If you're neurotic and wealthy enough, pay to track the sales of your comps on BookScan. Discuss potential sales numbers with your agent. Be as realistic as possible. Do not drive your agent insane.

7. Six months before on-sale: You signed your contract long ago and the book has already been through launch meetings over at your publisher's house, meaning that everyone who's going to be involved in selling your book to retailers (marketing, publicity, sales, &c) has known about your book for a few months now. You've got your very own ISBN, retail price, descriptive copy, sell sheets, title information sheets—the works. What's happening now? Well, sales calls. And, if you're lucky, co-op. That means book stores are about to find out all about you.

Remember those friends you made at your local book stores 6+ months ago? Call them. If you haven't already told them about your book, tell them now. Ask if you can do author events, readings, signings, everything, anything. (Discuss this with your agent first.) If you have friends who are established authors, talk to them. See if they'll blurb or promote your book, allow you to guest-blog for them, read with them at area book stores, and so on. You can't do too much of this. You really can't.

Continue to blog, update your website, tweet, guest-blog, &c. The more people hear about you, the better. (Assuming you're always polite and professional—and you are, aren't you? Good.)

8. Three months before on-sale: Keep up your relentless self-promotion, but keep it classy. Follow through on everything. Keep the lines of communication between you, your agent, and your editor open. If you've committed to readings, tours, podcasts, blog posts, e-mail blasts, local radio shows, infomercials, impromptu subway performances, &c—make good on those commitments. If you got your own publicist (see Step #5), he or she will be helping to organize all of these things. Oh, and speaking of organizing, have you scheduled yourself a release party yet?

9. On-sale date: Breathe. Do not check the sales figures yet, they won't be up. Relax. You feel good, you feel great, you feel wonderful. Have that release party you planned three months ago, publish one more blog entry or tweet, and call it a week. You've earned it.

10. One week after on-sale: Your publisher will have your week one sales available. Ask your agent/editor if they can forward them to you. If you're sufficiently neurotic and wealthy (see Step #6), compare these numbers to your BookScan numbers and to the first-week sales of your comp titles. Celebrate or panic accordingly.

11. One month after on-sale: You might have some reviews. If they're positive, blog, tweet, podcast, &c about them. If they're negative, say nothing. Do not try to explain away a bad review in your blog—you're only creating more links to negative press. And for the love of God, do not pull an Alice Hoffman.

12. Three months after on-sale: You're hard at work on your next novel, mate. (This British slang thing is seriously addictive.) Publishing is a business and you're a professional now; celebrate your victories, be gracious about any pitfalls or shortcomings, learn from your mistakes, and keep writing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why You (Still) Want an Agent

The times, they are a-changin', mes auteurs. The digital age means more books are available in more ways than ever before, which in turn means two things: first, you have that much more competition for eyeballs, and second, you need some way to differentiate yourself from the crowd such that all those eyeballs are reading your book.

In short: regardless of whether you're going (exclusively) digital, you want an agent.

Even if you fancy yourself a complete one-(wo)man show, an agent's multiple talents, myriad connections, and considerable experience will all be great assets to you in your quest for publication. This is true for more than a few reasons. In tried-and-true Bullet-o-Vision™ (I really should make a blog label for this):

· If you're dealing with an editor, an agent is worth his or her weight in gold in terms of contract negotiation (not to mention that going with an agent in the first place generally makes it much easier to get an editor's attention). This is doubly true as the details of e-rights are being hammered out.

· An agent will secure you a publishing house by way of said editor, meaning he or she is basically getting you editorial input, a marketing team, a publicist, a sales team, and an art department capable of making you a Truly Fancy Cover. Unless you're the aforementioned Jack/Jane of all trades, this is a huge bonus for you. (You also won't have to worry about getting your e-book fed out to Amazon, Apple, and the like.)

· You've got a buffer between you and your editor/publisher. This means that you can spend your valuable time writing while your agent spends his or her time talking to the editor/publisher (pitching your next project, hounding them for royalty statements, finding out why the awesome cover they helped you negotiate isn't showing up on Barnes & Noble's website, &c).

· You have a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. Your agent has a Fancy Website with lots of loyal visitors. If you both add links to your book to your websites/blogs, you get that many more eyeballs reading about (and hopefully soon reading) your book. Agents go to bat for their clients in more ways than one.

· Finally, you get a measure of that e'er elusive brand recognition that separates your book from Joe "DIY" Lunchbucket. If you self-publish on-line, the only one vouching for your work is you. If you have an agent and an editor, you've got at least two organizations behind you vouching for your talent and credibility as a writer.