Friday, October 29, 2010

The (Not Very) Halloween Round Up

Today's Friday round up, from Laura:

Hello friends and foes! I found this free online rhyming dictionary, and was going to make us all suffer in verse today. But then I thought, no, that's cruel. So instead, we're going to be jealous of others. Good? Good.

James Patterson became the second author to sell a million e-books, which is almost as impressive as Stephen King making $80,000 off of an e-novella. The Whiting Foundation gave out awards to some very lucky (and deserving) young authors, and Danny DeVito gets to be the Lorax in the new 3D movie adaptation. Congratuations, all you people, I'm super jealous. I would be great at speaking for the trees!

It turns out, contrary to popular belief, being a prolific writer doesn't mean you suck. It also turns out Keith Richards has some good tips to help keep you alive. But don't worry—you can still buy books while drunk. There's a new color Nook out, for all of your picture viewing needs—just hope that B&N doesn't have the Amazon problem of selling e-books in the wrong territories. Technology creates problems we never thought we'd have, friends, and would make Twitter addicts out of some great literary characters. Technology also helps us print books, as the great Rejectionist points out.

So, friends and foes, remember to dress up your dog as a literary character for Halloween, and have a good weekend (and a safe/happy holiday)!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Up Next: World of Tomorrow Week

Every once in awhile, mes auteurs, I train my all-seeing eye on Book Sales of the Future (as opposed to the drearier Book Sales of the Present). Next week, then, I'll be covering The World of Tomorrow insofar as it pertains to publishing: specifically, the changes I think we'll see as e-books become even more pervasive, print-on-demand technology continues to improve, and the industry (including authors, agents, editors, publishers, and retailers) begins to restructure in an effort to accommodate those changes.

So! Here's what I'm thinking in terms of the order, ladies and gentlebros, and please let me know if you'd like me to touch on additional topics or address the below in a slightly different order.

Monday, November 1st: It may be a new month, but we'll be returning to an old topic: e-books. Sales, distribution, and the effect the new(ish) format will have on the market as it reaches parity with physical books. Also, I'll cover what you can do to help sell your e-books that differs from what you'd do to sell physical copies.

Tuesday, November 2nd: Self-publishing returns! Will the stigma of auto-publication wear off as we progress further into the twenty-first century?

Wednesday, November 3rd: The future of the traditional publishing house: the changing roles of agents, editors, and publishers, who will subsume/merge with whom, and who will have shrunk, grown, or even be left standing in a decade or two.

Thursday, November 4th: The indie renaissance: will the advent of the digital marketplace lead to a resurgence of independent and used book stores? This guy thinks so.

I may also work some kind of summary into Thursday's post.

Questions? Comments? Conspiracy theories?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Your Magnum NaNOpus

I resurrected my discussion of NaNoWriMo in yesterday's post, and while I did make more in-depth inquiries via the Twitter, I thought I'd take a moment to ask you: dear auteurs, if you're participating in NaNoWriMo this year, what are you writing about?

Whether you're writing the first half of your epic fantasy about a war between elves and cyborg orc pirates from space or the first draft of your YA story of a girl and the ghost of Herman Melville getting to be BFFs, NaNoWriMo can serve as a scaffolding for (and a sort of enforcer of) your writing time. Granted, you shouldn't need the Internet to give you the kick in the proverbial buns, but if it works, it works.

So, participating Autoren: what are you writing?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


It's that time of year, mes auteurs! Small flaming gourds, people extorting you for food on your very doorstep, and ghoulish apparitions in the night can only mean one thing: NaNoWriMo is (almost) here.

In case you're not familiar, NaNoWriMo (or "National Novel Writing Month") is a project created by Chris Baty just over ten years ago that dedicates the month of November to writing novels: simply, if you compose 50,000 words between 12:00 am on November 1st and 11:59 pm on November 30th, you "win." And who doesn't love winning?

I wrote about NaNoWriMo last year and got an interesting array of comments and responses. Many were to disabuse me of the notion that a large number of NaNoWriMoErs send queries regarding their 50,000-word mss (hint: 50,000 words does not an adult novel make) to agents, thereby contributing to the global surplus of form rejections. And perhaps they were right; if you, dear readeurs, are any indication, virtually nobody does this.

And yet people do do this. For every few people NaNo-ing just to have fun, or to get a start on that novel they've been putting off, or just to see if they can do it, there's probably someone (based on the anecdotal evidence in which I've been awash for the past few years) who just queries with what they've got. Or, I imagine, sometimes just sends the whole ms along, since if their mentality predisposes them toward sending unfinished/inadequate work to industry professionals, they're probably not super good at following directions (i.e. query before sending a partial or full).

This is a bit of a muddled post, meine Autoren, so in kid-tested, mother-approved Bullet-O-Vision™—

What I am saying:

· NaNoWriMo is fun, entertaining, and a good way to get yourself writing on a regular schedule.

· While this is neither Chris Baty's nor NaNoWriMo's fault, the project encourages a lot of terrible writers with too much time on their hands to churn out dreadful Frankensteinian monsters with which they proceed to pester literary agents, editors, friends, and family. Being literate does not make one a good writer. Not everyone is or can be a good writer. Sad, but (à mon avis) true.

· Granted, a lot of these people are probably writing terrible novels anyway, but anything that encourages them further gives me heartburn.

· Just because you can write 50,000 words that more or less make sense in a month does not mean you're cut out to be a writer.

I realize I'm very much preaching to the choir here.

What I am not saying:

· That NaNoWriMo is terrible. (Because it's not!)

· That you shouldn't participate in NaNoWriMo. (Because, if you've got the time, why not?)

· That you shouldn't use ideas/passages/chapters written via NaNoWriMo in future works. (Good ideas are good ideas!)

· That you should submit the entirety of your NaNoWriMo work to agents. (See above!)

· That no one has ever sold a novel they wrote during NaNoWriMo (but the numbers are small indeed).

What think ye, gentle readers/writers/viewers/collaborators?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sales Update: The Music Memoir

Looking to finally secure that six-figure advance with a Big Six publisher, mes auteurs? If so, look no further! All you need is the following:

• An international reputation as a major musician spanning at least three decades;
• A decently talented ghostwriter.

In short, music memoirs are in, primarily because (quoting the article's anonymous New York City publishing executive), "they're pretty easy to produce, and with an already built-in audience, fairly cost-effective." That is to say: publishers are convinced people will buy a memoir by a musician, so they pour more money into the marketing and sale of the book, thereby creating the literary equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Well, sort of. Not quite. Partially.

Publishers are right that people will buy musicians' memoirs, which (à mon avis) is because they (musicians, not publishers) seem to suffer disproportionately from drug addiction, problems with alcohol, mental illness, hilarious/absurd/numerous sexual escapades, &c &c, and we Americans love us some sex and death in our entertainment. True, the publishers' commitment to higher advances and (in some cases) production values guarantees that they'll work harder (read: spend even more money) to move copies of the book through the register, but at the risk of repeating myself: publishers cannot create a bestseller without the reading public's cooperation.

While some musicians (and celebrities in general) are qualified to write their own memoirs, most aren't (and even those who are usually don't): instead, ghostwriters are hired to write their book for them. I'm actually not quite sure how the advance and royalty structure works for ghostwriters, but I imagine they're contractually entitled to a cut of the book's profits. Any agents and/or ghostwriters in the house: please feel free to enlighten me/us in the comments!

Now, to come full circle: if you don't have the aforementioned multi-platinum international rockstar of mystery career and qualified ghostwriter, all is not lost! You just have to get permission to write the authorized biography of some such celebrity. Which, I guess, might be difficult if you don't already have some sort of "in" and/or a proven publication record in journalism, memoir, creative nonfiction, &c.

Yes, well, while you ponder the implications of becoming a world-famous musician and/or journalist who covers world-famous musicians, I'm going to go pre-order Keith Richards' Life. To the Internet!

Friday, October 22, 2010

E-Round Up

Friday is round up day with Laura from Combreviations:

Hello, Eric's auteurs, and welcome to the sometimes intermittent but always super charming (question mark?) Friday round up. And what a round up it is! A secret Dr. Seuss manuscript was found, not to be confused with the secret Stieg Larsson manuscript. These should also not be confused with the secret to Mitt Romey's best-seller-hood, or the secret of which authors write in the buff. But if they're naked, at least we can see their common literary tattoos, right? Eh? I bet Simon Cowell has a secret literary tattoo—he is the man British women would most like to see a romance novel about, after all. Attention British women: I don't understand you.

What I do understand is that we all need to cool our jets about 3D. 3D book covers? Preposterous! The Nook to be sold in Walmart? Scandalous! Borders to launch a self publishing platform? Inconceivable! George Bush having a boring book trailer? ...Actually, yea, I can see that. Let's redirect to what models read, and the new cover for the grown up Sweet Valley book, and all agree that reading is hip and sexy.

Speaking of hip and sexy, check out these literary Halloween costume ideas. The Man in the Yellow Hat? Adorbs! What, you find that conflicting? Not as conflicting as critics find James Franco's book of short stories, or I find this $97 e-book.

As we close for the day, friends and foes, I have to say that I saw this interview with Andrea Cremer and thought, hurray, I sort of e-know you! Congrats to Andrea, and to all of you: get some sweet Internet interviews so I can link to them. Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 4 of 4

My fourth and final installment in this miniseries, mes auteurs, has to do with (à mon avis) the most difficult aspect of the writing life: dealing with rejection.

As I've said before, a rejection of your work—no matter how strongly you identify with it or believe it to be an extension of yourself—is just that: a rejection of your work. It's not an indictment of your character, it's not a dismissal of your accomplishments or promise as an artist, it's not a personal attack. All it means is that the agent or editor in question doesn't want to represent you or pay you based on the work you've created. That's it.

That said: rejection still sucks. Nobody wants to be told something he/she created isn't wanted, especially if he/she spent years crafting it. It can be especially upsetting if one gets relentless form rejections, or (though slightly more encouraging) receives a few partial requests but no invitations to submit the full ms.

The truth is, however, that just as discipline and talent are necessary (though not sufficient) conditions for success as a writer, so, too, is perseverance. Refusing to quit in and of itself won't necessarily get your work published, but without it, you'll be steamrolled over by the inevitable rejections and will never get your writing to the right agent or editor.

Be prepared to get rejected hundreds—if not thousands—of times. Understand that this business is exceptionally susceptible to bias and subjective/individual taste, meaning that simply because your work is rejected, that doesn't mean it isn't good. Remember that a lot of people who are/were much better writers than you were/have been rejected a lot more than you have been. Finally, keep in mind that there are some people who for whatever reason—celebrity, better connections, more money, &c—will have a leg up on you that has nothing to do with their (or your) writing, and you need to be writing as well as possible and submitting your work as persistently as you can in order to partially offset this imbalance.

Stupid? Yes. But, to quote Bender "Bending" Rodriguez, the truth is often stupid.

If anyone has any particularly good methods for dealing with rejection, please post them in the comments—as for me, I find that pinning up the personalized/tiered rejections is encouraging, and the form rejections can make pretty good art projects. In all seriousness, though, I read the rejection, have a snack/drink/nap, and get right back to writing and submitting. What else is there to do?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 3 of 4

In a perfect world, mes auteurs, the writing business (like all businesses, enterprises, systems, &c) would be entirely meritocratic: everyone would get a fair shake, the best writing would be selected for publication, and talent, discipline, and hard work would pay off regardless of extraneous factors like luck, emotion, nepotism, and social status.

Alas, dear friends, we do not live in a perfect world.

Because of this, you have to do something besides read great books and write great books if you want to increase your odds of getting published: you have to network. And, as the name might imply, networking is... well, work. Details? Why, sure, if you insist.

1. Networking is necessary. While some of you may have a strong negative—yea, perhaps even visceral—reaction to the prospect of spending any of your writerly energies doing anything apart from reading and writing, you need to understand that networking is a necessary part of the writer's life.

Think of it this way: if you're interviewing two candidates who are more or less identical on paper and equally impress you in person, are you going to go with the candidate who was initially recommended to you by your Most Trusted Bro, or the guy who walked in because he saw your ad on Exactly. And, unsurprisingly, agents think the same way. This goes back to what I was saying two weeks ago about who you know: there's a certain amount of prerequsite what (read: good writing) you've got to have, and after that, it's all who.

This is absolutely not to say that you must know someone in the industry in order to get published. All I'm saying is that the more people you know, the more doors you'll open to opportunities that you might otherwise have missed by being an unknown quantity.

2. Chances are, you know someone. Think about the people you might have a connection to in the industry. Does your best friend have an agent? Is your fraternity brother working in the industry? Do you have friends of friends in mfa programs, literary agencies, independent book stores? Is your aunt a book conference junkie? &c &c. Make a list of the people who you could reasonably ask about the industry, representation, getting your foot in the door, and so on. I'm willing to bet you'll come up with more than you might at first expect.

3. If it turns out you know no one, don't despair. Okay, let's say I'm wrong and you know absolutely no one in the industry (worse, you don't even know of anyone who might even be related to the industry in the most tangential way). You're not doomed if you query agents to whom you haven't been recommended or haven't met at conferences, so long as you follow their guidelines and send them a well-crafted query. In fact, if you get a "close, but no thanks" e-mail from one of them, you can refer to this if and when you query them with a different project down the line.

In the meantime—and if you can afford it—consider attending conferences, readings, workshops, and other literary events, and do your best to meet industry insiders (authors, agents, editors, librarians, sales(ahem)people, &c) and develop strong professional relationships with them. The publishing industry isn't really as impossibly huge as you might think, and any given person who's been in it for a few years will have a lot of connections that might come in handy when you're trying to sell your book.

4. Relationships require upkeep. A quick note on the above: all relationships require work, and professional relationships (especially in this industry) are no exception. If your friend lands your dream agent, don't let jealousy consume you: foster your relationship with that friend, ask about him or her, trade work, and hopefully down the line he or she will be able to help you get representation via recommendation to his/her agent, getting you in touch with an agent or editor who may be interested in your work, and so on.

The flip side of this issue is: don't be creepy. Don't reply to form rejections from agents in an attempt to be Super Best Bros. Don't pitch your MS to agents or editors at/in inappropriate times/places (e.g. the bathroom at T.G.I. Friday's). Don't corner your friend of a friend's girlfriend's brother's former roommate at a party because he once worked at a publishing house after college. You get the idea.

That's all I've got for today, bros and she-bros. If you have any comments/questions/epiphanies/ideas/vitriol/profound insights/divine revelations, you know where to go.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 2 of 4

Today's tip is a piece of advice I once received from a college professor, and it may be the best aphorism on the creative process I've ever heard: "There is no thinking except in the writing. There is no writing except in the rewriting."

Revision is essential to the writer's work, at least insofar as doing so is a an actual re-visioning of the author's original intent—a method of getting closer to what he or she meant and desired to communicate in the initial draft. The first words, mes auteurs, are not always the best words, and if you want to be published someday, you've got to know (or learn) to revise.

Some writers prefer to revise as they go along, writing passages or chapters, revising/editing them, and moving on; others prefer to write the entire novel before going through for a second pass. I fall more into the former group than the latter, but I don't think either approach is superior to the other. My theory is: do whatever works for you.

Unless! (And here's the caveat you knew was coming): unless what "works for you" is not revising. There may—although I personally doubt it—be an argument for this in the realm of poetry, but I don't think it's ever a good idea to send unrevised (un-re-visioned, un-revisited, &c) fiction or nonfiction out into the world for potential publication (or, heaven forbid, self-publication). As mentioned above, the first draft is where the thinking takes place; the second (and subsequent) drafts are where the writing takes place, the correct words are chosen, the plot is tightened up, the craft is honed, the characters made flesh.

All this to say: you're going to be writing more than one draft, and if you're convinced you're a one-draft wonder, you're almost certainly wrong. Again, I'm not aiming this advice at the one-in-ten-million outlier. I'm aiming it at you.

That said, meine Autoren: what's your process for drafting new work? Do you edit as you go along, or once the entire draft is complete? Do you cut passages apart with scissors? Reorder chapters? Do you go through two drafts? Two dozen? Two hundred? Do you tend to revise on your own at first, or do you immediately enlist the help of others for your second (and subsequent) drafts?

To the comments!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 1 of 4

And now for something a little different!

This week I'll be focusing on the best writing advice I've heard/seen/received, mes auteurs, and I'll be kicking it off with some thoughts on what I think is the most crucial ingredient necessary to a writer's successful career: discipline.

As I've said before: even more than talent, a successful writer needs discipline. A modestly talented, disciplined writer can have a solid career with luck and hard work; an undisciplined writer of immense talent probably won't, since he or she will never actually finish anything, write regularly, or develop the kinds of relationships and connections that, generally speaking, grease the wheels of the Great Publishing Machine.

I'm going to preface this with the admission that, yes, there are exceptions to every rule, and I'm sure anyone could come up with a list of at least a dozen writers who were immensely talented, terribly undisciplined, and either had successful commercial careers, were widely recognized as geniuses after their deaths, or both. This advice isn't aimed at the one-in-ten-million outlier. It's aimed at you.

In patented, battle-tested Bullet-O-Vision™:

· Set and keep a writing schedule. Write regularly, if not daily. Do not wait to be inspired; writing is work. Even if you can only spare an hour a day three days a week, set that time aside and don't give it up for anything except a real emergency. Try to write at the same time of day each time you write, and be sure to select a time that works for you. Don't get up at 4:30 in the morning if you're not a morning person, because your writing will reflect this.

· Write the scenes you want to write when you want to write them. This isn't to say you should wait to be inspired, because (as mentioned above) you shouldn't. What I'm saying is: if you get to your daily hour of writing and are really excited to write the scene where your protagonist escapes from the robot Nazis, write that scene, even if isn't chronologically next in your plot. You have to stay excited and enthused, mes auteurs.

· Maintain a writing space. Find a place that works for you and write there consistently. It's a little Pavlovian, but it gets results: you'll train yourself to recognize that this time and this space are reserved for writing, and you'll find yourself undistracted and ready to write after a few writing sessions at the same time and in the same place. Again: try to write regularly, if not daily.

· Set deadlines and stick to them. Deadlines will be very real once you sign your first contract, so my advice is to get used to them early. If you can reasonably write 5,000 words a week, make that your goal; if you want to finish a chapter a month, set the 30th/31st as your deadline and stick with it. Reward yourself when you meet or exceed your deadlines and goals!

· Keep a notebook. When you are inspired, you won't necessarily be at your desk or computer. Record anything you think might be useful: images, snippets of overheard conversation, epiphanies, &c. Save the things you cut out of your novel for potential future use. Review them periodically. You'll be surprised how often they come in handy.

· If you fall off the horse, get right back on. Things come up: family drama, extra work at the office, family emergencies, holiday extravaganzas. Some weeks you might not get to your writing. If and when this happens, don't stress out, go into overdrive, or—worst of all—give up. Get back into your writing regimen as soon as you can and don't look back.

That's all for today, meine Autoren. Thoughts? Ideas? Comments? You know what to do.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Abridged PMN-English Dictionary, 1st Edition

Laura is unavailable today, mes auteurs, so I've decided to provide you with my own brand of Friday frivolity.

My own personal lingo is occasionally difficult to disentangle from accepted industry jargon, so I present to you, bros and she-bros, for the very first time: The Abridged Pimp My Novel-English Dictionary, First Edition.

À mon avis: "In my opinion" (French). Qualifies statements as the author's opinion rather than fact.

Bro: 1. Friend (male); term signifying ebrotional attachment. (See also she-bro.) 2. Lexeme substituted for a phonetically similar lexeme in appropriate man-related contexts. E.g. "Broseph Stalin," "brofessional boxing," "brotal victory." Non-man-related contexts (e.g. "Jacqueline Kennedy Bronassis") are to be avoided.

Irrespectively: The opposite of "respectively"; used to correct the sense of a sentence rather than completely rewriting that sentence. E.g. "Bob and Sue are my she-bro and bro, irrespectively."

Mega: Prefix or modifier amplifying the ensuing noun or adjective in size, extent, manner, or degree. E.g. "megajerk," "mega awesome."

Meine Autoren: "My authors" (German). A term of endearment.

Mes auteurs: "My authors" (French). A term of endearment.

Ninja: Adjective. Synonymous with "awesome." E.g. "I'll have that ninja burger that comes with bacon and bleu cheese."

Readeurs: "Readers (male)" (Franglish).

Readeuses: "Readers (female)" (Franglish).

She-bro: Friend (female); a term of endearment.

If I've left out any definitions (which, by definition, I have, this being an abridged edition), please ask in the comments and I'll attempt to clarify!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You And Technology: Mega Bros

There's been a lot of hand-wringing going on in the publishing industry regarding the rapid technological developments that seem to be constantly besieging it. More specifically, the wailing and gnashing of teeth has been going on for nigh six hundred years now, and every time something changes, The End is presumed near. To you I say: not so!

Whether you have your jerkin in a twist over movable type or are hyperventilating into a paper bag at the prospect of dealing with e-rights, have no fear: technology is, despite the insistence of some in the book world, your friend, and the better you know how to make use of it, the easier it will be for you to sell your books. Things are ever changing, mes auteurs, but the written word isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

First: if you don't know how to use a computer, now's the time to learn. Incidentally, I have no idea how you're reading this blog if you don't know how to use a computer, but I imagine someone might have made a daguerrotype for you and sent it by horseback, or maybe they printed it out and made mimeographs, or perhaps they're just reading it to you from the next room. Regardless, computers: learn how to use them.

Second: if you don't have a website, seriously think about getting one. Where else are you going to provide links to your book(s), aggregate your Facebook/Twitter/Blogger output, brag about your accomplishments, announce future events/readings, &c &c?

Third: writing requires research. Where does one conduct research? If you said "the library stacks," I have some news for you: ironic flannel is in, Grey Flannel is out, and anything acid-washed is super out. The Internet is the single most powerful and complete repository of human knowledge, useful and non-, ever invented, and the scholars at the legendary Library of Alexandria would have given their frontal lobes to browse through it for thirty seconds. Use it! (Both the Internet and your frontal lobes, that is.)

Finally: while I don't recommend it, if you absolutely insist on going your own way and self-publishing, there's a veritable panoply of options available to you now. You can print on demand! You can sell an e-book through Amazon! Your options are not limited to Usenet ASCII rants or .pdfs you made and linked to on your LiveJournal. You (perhaps with help) can create really great-looking POD books and/or e-books these days for very little money; if you're going to go solo, at least do it right.

I'm not saying any of you are Luddites or technologically illiterate, meine Autoren, but it's easy to be swayed against the rapid electronic evolution of the industry by a (very vocal) minority of myopic, stodgy publishing folk who are going into the twenty-first century kicking and screaming. Keep your eyes, ears, and minds open, seize any opportunities you find, and always look for newer and better ways to sell yourself and your writing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: The Novel & The Short Story

I've oft wondered, mes auteurs, whether the majority of you write short stories in addition to novels, and if so, how similar you find the two media. Do certain ideas lend themselves much better to short stories than novels, and vice versa? Do you believe the two arts are so different that being good at one doesn't necessarily mean you'll be any good at the other? If you read and write short stories, which magazines/journals do you like to read/subscribe to? &c &c.

Responses & frivolity in the comments!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Singles: Not Just for Kraft or eHarmony

In case you haven't heard, mes auteurs, Amazon is introducing Amazon Singles, a new variety of content aimed at providing Ye (We?) Unwashed Masses with 30- to 90-page chapbooks, novellas, pamphlets, and so on. From the article:

Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format.

— Russ Grandinetti, Vice President for Kindle Content, Amazon

First of all, bravo, Amazon. Second of all, IT'S ABOUT TIME, I TOTALLY HAD THIS IDEA ALREADY. Like, over a year ago. It's a good thing we have the Internet these days for keeping track of things like this.

I believe the sale of e-chapbooks, e-novellas, and even (gasp!) e-short stories via Amazon will help revitalize two flagging genres of American writing: poetry and literary fiction. Don't want to take a chance on a début poetry collection? Try the shorter, cheaper chapbook. Not sure you want to buy that up-and-coming author's novel? Buy a short story or two. Only have a two-hour train ride and don't want to start a whole new book? Try an essay or a novella! Don't even get me started on the potential literary magazine renaissance.

The literary world is changing, bros and she-bros, and it's doing so very quickly. Smaller publishers have more opportunities now than ever before to showcase their (read: your) work electronically, so if you're not signed with one of the Big Six, don't despair—your publisher may be much nimbler and more savvy than a larger, more traditional house, and though you might not become the next J.K. Rowling, you certainly stand to gain a lot by having your work available to an ever-growing and (omni)voracious audience.

Again, however, I feel I should caution you: this does not mean an Internet free-for-all, and this does not mean that self-publishing is the way to go. I'm not saying you're stupid or impulsive, mes auteurs (far from it!), but simply because one can flood the Internet with work that hasn't been edited, marketed, or even reviewed by professionals—who, let's face it, sort of know what they're doing—doesn't mean one should.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Here Be Dragons

I wrote a post last April about myths and misconceptions in the industry, mes auteurs, and I think it's once again time to put a few rumours and unfounded fears to bed.

Onward! (Again!)

· You have to spend money to make money. Aside from incidental costs like paper, printer ink, and postage (and that's only for agents who still don't accept e-MSS), you shouldn't have to pay to submit your work. Let me say that again: no legitimate agent will charge you to read your manuscript or to represent you. Period.

· You have to know someone to get published. This one is sort of true, but let me re-emphasize: if your writing isn't good enough and you're not Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan or Kanye West, it doesn't matter who/how many people you know—you're not getting a book deal. Knowing someone greases the wheels; it doesn't build the machine.

· You don't have to promote your book; publishing houses have publicity and marketing teams for a reason. Unless yours is one of the publisher's lead titles, you're going to have to do some of your own legwork. Midlist authors at large houses and most authors at smaller houses have to be willing to do at least some self-promotion in order to give their books the best possible chance in the market. If you're asked to do podcasts, blog tours, physical book tours, readings, signings, or bookstore events, it's in your best interest to do as many as possible.

· E-books and self-publishing are going to make publishers, agents, and editors obsolete. It's true that the industry is changing rapidly and that, à mon avis, the Publishing World of Tomorrow will require fewer employees and companies. Roles will unquestionably change. But as long as people are willing to pay to read books, you're going to have people to sell them, manage their brands (i.e. you), market them, and make sure they're as strong as possible before publication. The future is not a bunch of people uploading their just-finished MSS to Amazon for immediate review and sale.

· Amazon is going to kill the independent/second-hand book store. While I can't say for sure this is 100% false, I'm very confident that Amazon will not kill independent, local, and second-hand book stores; there's no substitute for their ambience, knowledgeable staff, and propensity to stock hard-to-find titles. In fact, should Amazon manage to kill brick-and-mortar chains (which I think is the likelier scenario), indepedents might undergo a resurgence/renaissance of sorts. Think of it this way: chains are the dinosaurs, indies are the scrappy mammals, and Amazon is the asteroid.

That's all for today, meine Bros und She-Bros. Questions in the comments!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Automatic Writing

I'm sorry for the lack of round-up yesterday, mes auteurs, and by way of apology I'm offering this PMN Special Saturday Edition™. O joy! O rapture!

The problem of writers' block has been mentioned a handful of times in the comments over the past several months, and I recall at one point being asked (via Twitter, if memory serves) to offer possible remedies/solutions, rather than simply saying that writers can't afford to suffer from it. So: here goes.

First, I'm not sure I believe in writers' block. I certainly believe in writers' laziness, since I've suffered from it a number of times, but I don't think I've ever had any dry spells that I couldn't write my way out of with a little discipline and a few tricks. My favorite trick is automatic writing.

Now, the Wikipedia article on the topic makes the whole thing sound a little mystical and—well, crazy—so let me clarify: when I say "automatic writing," I mean writing without any interruption or editing. No pausing to think, no re-reading what you wrote, no need to pay attention to anything except the next word. (No trances, &c, at least not for me.) Sometimes you end up writing things that don't make any sense. Sometimes you end up writing "I can't think of anything to write" twenty times in a row. The point is, however, that you're writing—and while the product itself generally isn't even close to first-draft quality, I've found that there are usually a few brilliant nuggets that jump-start the more usual, conscious, craft- and plot-oriented writing.

So, if you find yourself stuck in your writing, set aside twenty minutes a day to write without your internal editor looking over your shoulder. Will it be good? Probably not—at least, not most of it. But you'll be writing, you'll be reinforcing good habits and providing structure for your writing life, and you'll almost certainly discover one or two great ideas buried in your subconscious that you might not have had any clue you'd produced.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's Who You Know

There's something I've learned in my time on the sales floor, mes auteurs, that I think not only applies to sales, publishing, and/or writing in general, but to life: up until a certain point, it's all about what you know. After that (and I think most people cross this line earlier than they think), it's all about who you know.

You do your research. You learn the basics and mechanics of writing. You write a terrible novel. You learn from it. You write a pretty good novel. Maybe you even write a stellar one.

You do more research. You learn how to craft a query letter. You figure out which literary agents represent the kind of work you're producing and you send them that query letter. You personalize your queries and you follow all directions to the letter.

At this point, you've more or less exhausted the what portion of your knowledge.

To be fair, this filters out a substantial number of people: you'd be surprised how many queries (or attempts at queries) agents receive from people who (1) are functionally illiterate, (2) know nothing about the publishing industry or how it works, (3) are crazy, (4) are unable to follow directions, (5) haven't actually finished the novel they're pitching, &c &c. You're reading this blog, though, so chances are slim that any of these apply to you.

The number of people trying to sell a novel these days, however, is so unimaginably huge that even with all the hacks and lunatics filtered out, you're still facing long odds. Knowing what can only get you halfway there, if that. Now you've got to know who.

Caveat: thousands of writers are discovered/find representation every year without knowing a soul in the industry. They've never attended a conference, workshop, or seminar in their lives; they're just truly fantastic writers who found agents with whom their work resonates. The odds of this, alas, are astronomical. You should, à mon avis, endeavor to improve them.

Maybe you have a great relationship with a professor and she offers to show your short stories to her agent; maybe your best friend has an agent and he thinks your work would interest her, too; maybe your uncle's former roommate is an agent and your uncle offers to hook you up; maybe an agent you pitched your novel to at that conference last month wants to see a full MS.

The possibilities are endless, and when you aren't writing or reading, you should be thinking about networking: specifically, think of people you know who can help you further your career. No one sells their book solo; take the time to cultivate relationships that can get your foot in the door down the road, and your odds of one day seeing your book in (e)print will rise more than you might think.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Frankfurter Buchmesse!

No, it's not the name for the mechanically separated meats found in the common American hot dog, meine Autoren. The Frankfurter Buchmesse (known to us as the Frankfurt Book Fair) is this week (today, October 6th, through October 10th), and is the largest trade fair for books in the world.

Publishers, literary agents, editors, authors, and other industry insiders from around the globe attend the Frankfurt Book Fair to negotiate international rights, network, and drink a whole bunch of German beer. (If it sounds mega awesome, that's because it is.) Alas, I'm not cool enough to be invited and don't currently have the spare cash to fly to Germany for a week (because if I did, I'd have already gone for Oktoberfest), but I've heard enough good stories to know that it's a productive and entertaining meeting.

The fair is open to the general public on Saturday and Sunday, so if you happen to be in the area (or feel like booking a last-minute flight), you can visit exhibitions set up by publishers from dozens of countries and learn about The Next Big Thing(s) in Publishing. I imagine it's a time-consuming and expensive endeavour, dear readers and writers, and I'm frankly (ha! "frankly") not sure how much networking you'd be able to do, so I don't recommend you go unless your editor or agent has specifically asked you along (in which case you're already there). That said, you can always ask him/her if it might make sense for you to go next year.

Conferences in general, however, particularly those run in the good ol' U.S. of A. by your genre guild of choice (e.g. the RWA, the MWA) are great events for you to meet agents and other authors, network, discuss your works in progress, attend readings, and so on, and I absolutely encourage you to try to attend one or two of these per year if at all possible. Trade fairs, conferences, literary festivals, readings, seminars, &c can be of immense value to you, your work, and your career, and as long as you're not breaking the bank to attend them, it's a good idea to make it to those being held in and around your area. If you've got the money to travel a bit, (inter)national events are great, too.

For those of you who have attended trade conferences (or even—be still, mein Herz—Frankfurt): how was your experience? What did you like best/least? Would you recommend that/those conference(s) to others, and why?

To the commments!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Titles and Covers and Sales, Oh My (Rerun)

Again, due to meetings and required reading, we've got a rerun here at PMN today. I'll be back with new content tomorrow; try to soldier on without me for another 24 hours! — E

Episode: "Titles and Covers and Sales, Oh My"
Originally aired: Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Guest post submissions are in, mes auteurs, and now the time-consuming (yet thoroughly enjoyable) task of selecting five of them to run the week of Monday, June 28th falls to yours truly. Results will be in soon!

In yesterday's comments, the question of how titles and covers play into the sales discussion came up. Let me, for educational purposes, present the following (entirely fictional) one act play featuring sales rep #1, sales rep #2, marketing guy, and art guy.

sales rep #1, sales rep #2, marketing guy, and art guy are all gathered around the conference room table with myriad other publishing professionals.

sales rep #1: I don't know, art guy. This cover just screams romance to me, and Dudes and Bros and Explosions is a thriller.

art guy: True, but one of the main characters is a woman who tries to be "one of the bros" but then falls in love with the protagonist, yeah? We figured it was more of a romantic suspense.

sales rep #2: No, we're aiming for a male audience. We need to take the clinch off the cover and throw in some dudes. Maybe some bros.

sales rep #1: And some explosions.

sales rep #2: Definitely some explosions.

marketing guy: Also, what about the title? I mean, yeah, it's kind of intriguing, but what about the title we launched with?

sales rep #1: You mean The Huzenlaub Effect?

marketing guy: Yeah, that! I'd pick that up in a book store.

sales rep #2: We thought it sounded too academic. Plus, it turns out it's pretty similar to the Huzenlaub process, which is...

sales rep #1 (reading from BlackBerry): "...a form of parboiling designed to retain more of the nutrients in rice."

sales rep #2: Yes. That.

art guy: Okay, we stick with Dudes and Bros and Explosions. But I'm not sold on cutting the clinch. I mean, hot women on book covers sell. And the dude has one arm around her and he's holding a grenade in the other. I don't see what's not to like.

sales rep #1: You made the protagonist look like Fabio. He's described in the book as more of a Kiefer Sutherland type.

sales rep #2: With an eye patch.

sales rep #1: Yeah, an eye patch.

marketing guy: Eye patches don't sell.

sales rep #1: Eye patches totally sell. Boy Wizard with an Eye Patch sold three million copies in hardcover.

marketing guy: Boy Wizard with an Eye Patch was written by J.K. Meyer. She could have written the character with two eye patches, leprosy, and a daytime job on FOX & Friends and it still would have sold.

sales rep #2: All right, what if we foil emboss the title? Shiny things sell.

art guy: Too expensive.

sales rep #1: What if we make it a trade paper original and drop the price point to $16.99?

sales rep #2: That might work.

marketing guy: You know what? I think I like Bros and Explosions and Dudes better.

The curtain closes as everyone at the table tries to speak at the same time.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Some Things I Might Know About Query Letters (Rerun)

Due to meetings and required reading, bros and she-bros, it'll be reruns here at PMN today and tomorrow. I'll be back with new content on Wednesday; in the meantime, enjoy! — E

Episode: "Some Things I Might Know About Query Letters"
Originally aired: Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

As usual: caveat.

As you may have surmised by this point, I am not an agent! I have never been an agent, I'm not sure I'd ever want to be (or am cut out to be) an agent, and so there's no reason to think I ever will be an agent. Aside from having written a few dozen query letters in my day and reading many an agent blog, I have no direct experience with actual, paper-and-ink (or electron-and...more-electron) queries.

But! I have written pitch letters, and I do work in sales, so (to some extent) I'm very familiar with many of the basic components of query-writing and -reading, so I consider myself qualified to at least talk about the basics, which (as you may also have surmised) I now will.

Less is more. I'm led to believe that agents don't have a ton of free time. Your query, like a pitch letter or title presentation in a sales call, has to be short and sweet. Yes, there's more small talk and relationship-building between a sales rep and a buyer than between a potential client and an agent, but a good salesperson knows when to be social and when to be businesslike. I'm not saying not to have a little fun with your query; what I'm saying is, cut to the chase. Keep it under a page.

Be professional. This sort of ties into the above point, and it also kind of goes without saying, but it bears repeating. Besides being as brief as possible, you want to be polite and professional. Do not call your novel a "fiction novel," do not talk about how it's sure to be an instant bestseller, do not talk about your multiple academic degrees or your sunny disposition or your cat. Talk about your book, and if it's a non-fiction proposal, talk about yourself insofar as it pertains to the project you're pitching. That's it!

Personalize, personalize, personalize. Guess how many non-personalized pitch letters to editors, publicists, and other industry professionals go into the so-called circular file? Around 95 to 100 percent. It's the same deal with agents: don't be creepy and tell them how much you like the floral wallpaper in their living room and by the way could they please turn the TV toward the window so you can watch reruns of Get Smart with them, but at least do them the courtesy of addressing them by name (no "Dear Sir or Madam"s or "To Whom it May Concern"s) and demonstrating that you know something about them and their agency. Mention some titles they've represented that you liked! Tell them you thought their post on query letters was really helpful! Don't get carried away, but if you expect an agent to take the time to read your query (and hopefully, your partial and full), take the time to personalize your query.

Follow directions. Yes, it can be frustrating when one agent asks for a 300-word double-spaced query and another asks for a 500-word single-spaced query. Occasionally you will find that different agents want totally different—perhaps contradictory—things. But if you believe that agent is right for you, take the time to tailor your letter to their guidelines, which (one must assume) they have established for a reason. If they ask you to include the first ten pages, include the first ten pages, and don't send a writing sample (no matter how sorely tempted you may be to do so) if they specifically ask that you don't. You want to put your best foot forward from the get-go, and following an agent's guidelines is a very big and generally necessary component of achieving that.

Do your research. This ties into the above point, but in a more general sense. If an agent doesn't usually represent science fiction, your grand space opera spanning 10,000 years and a half-dozen galaxies probably won't interest him or her, and you'll likely waste both your and the agent's time by querying. If it's not clear from an agent's guidelines or title list whether they represent your genre, by all means, go ahead and query anyway; however, 90% of the time, you should be able to figure out whether an agent will be interested in your type of project based on his/her (agency's) website. You're not looking for just any agent, after all—you're looking for a business partner, one who's genuinely interested in your work and willing to champion it to an editor. In short, you're looking for a good match.

Know how to sell your product. Sure, you know your product; after all, you wrote your book, so you know it better than anyone. Your knowledge of your book isn't being tested, though, but rather, your knowledge of how to present it. If I'm writing a pitch letter, it's not enough that I know everything about the title I'm trying to push—I have to know the best way to position it and anticipate what will catch the reader's eye and hold his or her attention. You need to know that about your product—your book—as well. Where's your hook? What sets your paranormal romance apart from all the other paranormal romances currently on the market? Don't start crunching BookScan numbers or hypothesizing about your target audience, but grab and hold the agent's attention with a great opening line and a well-paced, concise description that leaves him or her wanting to know more by the letter's end.

That's all I've got for you, gentle readers, and I hope it's not a total rehash of all the query advice you've gotten before. As always, if you have any questions or comments—or even rebuttals, calls of shenanigans, or plain old-fashioned vitriol—fire away!

Friday, October 1, 2010

October Round Up

Time for Laura's Friday round up:

It was a dark and stormy morning in New York (except over the Columbia MFA program, darlings) when the city found out it would have to spend $27 million replacing the all-caps street signs. What font issues! Especially in such a literary place—check on this interactive map of special booky locations. The people are already feeling the crunch of acronym haters, and now this? I'm going to have to take a long sit down with Snooki's new novel (as written by her Twitter) or some Kindle erotica before I can calm down. Kindle erotica, and Google's list of dirty words, are great reasons to monitor your kid's e-reader reading, because the kids are all about e-readers. If only there was some sort of Internet Dewey Decimal system... The kids are also all about the Tea Party coloring book, because politics and crayons go hand in hand. You can always trick your non-reading child into reading with fake Facebook feeds. Or you can get a judge to sentence them to read.

Personally, I'm more interested in webcomics than this whole "books" thing, like this Emperor Franzen one. I'm also about following book series without having to track down information in more than one place. Hurray for the internet, friends and foes. You can also trick me into reading with Playboy's scandalous fiction, or with Gene Hackman. Love that guy. Why no, I didn't win a genius grant. How could you tell?

That's it for this week, folks. So read your new Tucker Max, figure out who wore it best, hip-hop v. literary edition, and try to avoid the world splitting animosity caused by books by Brontes.