Agent Monday: Why You Should Build Community

three american cocker spanielsHappy Agent Monday everyone! Coming off a weekend here that was a mixed bag of gloomy rain followed by glittering sunshine. The bright spot in Saturday’s gloom was spending time at Philadelphia Stories Magazine’s annual fab Push to Publish Conference. Live anywhere near the Philly area and never heard of these folks? They are a great regional resource, plus they run this kick-ass conference, so…  At the conference I sat on a beginning marketing panel for authors with brilliant folks Don Lafferty and Janice Gable Bashman. And one of the best bits of advice that came out of it? Build your community.

Here’s why… First of all, writing can be a lonely business. Don’t you want to talk with people who share your passion? And who get where you’re coming from? Yeah you do! Second of all, you can learn so much from others that you can’t get from a blog post (not even an Agent Monday post). Third of all you can and should support each other. Sharing information to boost your careers is one way. You can crit one another’s works. You can meet more people through each other. You can show up at each other’s readings and signings, and help promote one another, too. You can find your people, connect with your audience, and grow your reach.

That’s marketing stuff, and it’s also career stuff, and human well-being stuff, too. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and it’s something you should begin doing the moment you decide you are a writer (or, like, right now after reading this post). What you should NOT do is wait until your book is going to come out and then be like, Hey, girlfriend, nice to meet you! Help me! Promote me! Look at me! Buy my book! Okay, bye!

Liars_Club_Logo[1]NOPE. Build community. Think long term. Give and take. And reap long-term benefits. That’s what I’ve been doing as an author/agent for years. Including belonging to an amazing author group The Liars Club. Together we have promoted indie bookstores and libraries and literacy, and we’ve done panels and joint signings, we hold monthly free writer’s coffeehouses, and we’ve helped each other through thick and thin. Hey, we even put together a short story collection called LIAR LIAR. If you want to know more about us, you can follow The Liars Club on Facebook by clicking here.

Interested in building your community? Here are some suggestions:

1. Start in your region. Local publications? Grab em. Read em. Submit to them if appropriate. Local conferences or writer’s organizations? Attend. Meet folk. Volunteer. At any writer’s conference you attend: don’t overlook the most important people you’ll meet there! No, not the agents and editors. The folks sitting next to you in the audience or at lunch. Meet your fellow writers. Share your interests and struggles. Exchange contact info. Friend online. Stay in touch and support each other!

2. Support the reading and bookselling community! Visit your local bookstores and libraries. Borrow books. Buy books. Attend events. Chat with folks because they love books — you can learn from them. Don’t do it because someday you want to GET something from them.  Do it because they are part of your world and you do have something in common.

3. Support your fellow authors every way you can.  Read a book you loved? TELL PEOPLE. Review online, post those reviews and ratings wherever you can. I try to take the time to cut and paste the reviews I do onto sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing and Shelfari and Barnesandnoble.com. Show up at author events and readings. Share their good news online with others.

4. Get involved. Volunteer at a conference or for a literacy organization or to help out at a book fair. You’ll meet people on many levels. Join and volunteer for organizations related to your interests and writing. Groups like Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or International Thriller Writers, or Romance Writers of America, etc. have tons of events and benefits and conferences and information, and above all, people in your writing space who you can support and learn from.

5. Think beyond the writing world. Have sustainability issues in your novel? Then you should be familiar with the magazines and organizations and happenings related to that. That is your community too.

Start now. Get involved. Build community. I guarantee you that even two years from now you’ll find you’ve built a support system that reaches far beyond just you at your computer and your few friends and family. You’ll have learned a ton, made meaningful connections, supported and received support in countless ways. Oh, and that all just might help you impress an agent, and market your book someday, too.

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

Agent Monday: The Big Conference Question

559176_396083483744682_1794076432_n

Here I am, hydrating at a panel talk with fellow Liars Club authors at the Princeton Public Library.

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  As you writers set new goals for the new year, you may be stewing over whether it’s worth including writer’s conferences as part of your plan.  Why, exactly, should you go to a conference. Is it worth the money? Couldn’t you just spend that time writing and then learning what you need to know via online research? These were some of the questions writers in my own critique group were chatting about at our last Rebel Writers meeting.  So today, I thought I tackle The Big Conference Question: should you go?

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences by now. First as a writer, and now as a literary agent as well.  Some have been amazing. Some have been, well, eh, in value. But I’ve always learned from them and I’ve never been sorry to attend.  In fact, I landed my own agent, the lovely Jennifer De Chiara (who still reps me, and now I also work as an agent for her firm…yeah, we talk a lot!) and secured my first book deal as an author through conferences, and you can read about all that here in my post WHY CONFERENCES.

Go ahead. Give that one a look.  I’ll wait…

Taps foot…

Done reading that? Okay. So that shows how all the stars could align through attending conferences, and how it did for me. In today’s post I want to go a little deeper into what you might look for in a conference and truly expect, and point out some of the not-so-obvious ways you can benefit beyond the “I landed an agent!” and the “I got a book deal!”, which, truthfully, does not typically happen first time out of the gate. With me, for example, those things were achieved after years of conferences, tons of learning on my part, and tons of polishing of my own writing in between…and then the contacts I made via conferences led in a lovely straight line to my goal.

So, what is YOUR goal. Yup, getting your book published, and published well.  But those who are most successful understand that takes a bunch of intermediary steps. So those who dive into a conference with the sole hungry purpose of getting published will probably blow the many opportunities offered to them at a writer’s conference.  They’ll be too focused on landing an agent to absorb what an agent, who may not be asking for their manuscript after a pitch, is offering in the way of advice on how to improve that pitch. I see that as an agent a lot.  The writer flies across the country and spends mucho bucks on hotel and conference fees to pitch face to face with agents. That writer pitches to me, and the pitch is confusing. I pass, and offer advice on how the pitch is unclear, how, perhaps the writer could focus it better.  But the writer, herself so focused on landing an agent, has shut down the moment it seems like our conversation is not going her way. She hears NO and is done with me and dashes off.

55317_10151069673077234_735972308_o

Here I am studying opening pages at a pitch session held during the Push-to-Publish Conference in Rosemont, PA

Do you see why that level of single-mindedness is a fail when it comes to conferences? If the writer had listened to what I said, she might have discovered a way to improve her pitch, and the next agent she’d pitch to that day, might have said yes.

So, again, I ask you to think about YOUR goal. Here’s a good one: to learn.

At conferences you can figure out the best way to present yourself and your work, whether in a query or in a live pitch. You can hear agents speaking and find out if they are looking for the sort of writing that you do, or not. If not, cross them off your list of submissions, but still listen and take notes – they might offer you a tidbit of advice that’ll help you when contacting agents who are into your type of writing.  Also, it does give you the opportunity to see what a particular agent is really like. You want someone who will represent you well to editors.  Does the agent speak well? Do you like the impression they give off? If the answer is no, then do you really want them to be the face and voice of you and your career? 

You can learn so much about the business side of writing through conferences – the sort of stuff you can’t glean just through reading magazines and books and blogs. Sit in on a panel of editors, and you’ll discover how the acquisitions process works, what they like and don’t like taste-wise, what they will expect from authors they are interested in. And that will all help you.

And then there are elements of craft. Over the years, I’ve learned amazing plot techniques from picture book authors (even though I was writing YA at the time), and research ideas from non-fiction authors (which I used for my historical YA fantasy DRAWN), and gathered so much inspiration from many presenters that kept me chugging along as a writer even when chugging along was pretty tough.

But here’s the most overlooked benefit of attending a conference: the people sitting beside you there!  Talk to the folks around you, and on breaks between sessions and at meals. You’ll find your peers. Swap info on the writing life, and the sort of writing you’ve done. You’ll meet people who get you. Who are doing what you do. Some will have book deals and agents and endless wisdom to offer. Others will be up and coming and be able to offer bits of info you can use, and you can do the same for them. Collectively, all of this will propel you closer to your big goal.  Friends, critique partners, contacts, a bit of info about a writing organization you should get involved with. These are amazing stepping-stones to your success.

So, looking ahead to writer’s conferences this year, which should you choose? I say start with smaller ones closer to home if you can, for starters. Ones with several decent editors and a few agents. You’ll have a lower price tag, more face time with everyone, and a great start.  If you find one farther from home, look carefully at what you’ll get out of it. Are you one of thousands? Do you have opportunities to learn in smaller workshops and have more personal time with fellow writers as well as industry professionals? There are a ton of writer’s conferences out there, with more popping up every day.  Know your goals for attending, and keep an open mind as you go from event to event at a conference. Keep your focus on learning however you can, and you’ll find endless ways to do just that. And remember, that knowledge will help you get where you want to be in the end!

To see where I’ll be this year, check out my Appearances page, which I continuously update as needed.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Publishing Revolution: Liars Club Authors Telling Some Truths

LIAR LIAR Book Launch

(Cross-posted at the Liars Club Philly site.)

It’s the truth. The Liars Club is launching their new short story anthology Liar Liar at Between Books, 2703 Philadelphia Pike in Claymont, DE, on Saturday, October 29th from 2-4 p.m. Visitors to the launch, which is free and open to the public, will be able to grab one of the first copies of Liar Liar and have it signed by the many authors featured in this book. Best of all, part of all proceeds from this book go directly toward causes advancing literacy. No lie.

Liar Liar features a bold collection of stories, each centered on a lie. Included in the collection is my own short story “What I Did…”  With an introduction by blockbuster novelist Sandra Brown, and stories that range in tone from the hilarious to the bizarre and even the frightening, Liar Liar is the perfect book to entertain you during those long fall and winter evenings.

At the Between Books event, I’ll be there along with many other Liars including award-winning fantasy author Gregory Frost (Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet )thriller novelist Jon McGoran (aka D.H. Dublin, Freezer Burn, Body Trace), urban novelist Solomon Jones (The Gravedigger’s Ball, The Last Confession), fantasy/scifi and media tie-in author Keith DeCandido (his many titles include Dragon Precinct and Unicorn Precinct), crime novelist Dennis Tafoya (Dope ThiefWolves of Fairmount Park), historical author Keith Strunk (Prallsville Mills and Stockton), novelist Kelly Simmons (Standing Still, The Bird House), mystery author Merry Jones (Summer Session, The Borrowed and Blue Murders) and short story author and social media marketing expert Don Lafferty.

“We’re thrilled to be holding our launch at Between Books,” says author Gregory Frost. “This is a premiere bookstore that not only offers general books, but also specializes in sci fi, fantasy and horror. Plus the store holds incredible events. It’s a book-lover’s paradise.”

For more information, or to reserve a copy of Liar Liar before the event, call Between Books at 302-798-3378.

On the Radio!

Me? Not!

When I was a teen I’d dreamed of this moment. The moment I’d be on the radio with people actually listening…

Well, okay, the dream was a bit different, and it went like this: I was just some ordinary kid hidden away in some ordinary suburban basement belting out songs I was listening to on my record player (yes, vinyl records…).  But wait! Someone walking by hears me. Thinks, yes, this is the unusual voice everyone’s been looking for. That someone, of course, is a famous producer, and I, of course, am discovered.

Dream come true?

Well, maybe not. But I WAS on the radio last night, and, lucky for you, I wasn’t singing. And I was contacted by a producer. That happened on Tuesday. See? My Magic 8 Ball was right all along.

Here’s what happened. Over at the Liars Club blog I had done a post about the Collingswood Book Festival in NJ (which is tomorrow, and is free…come visit!), and NPR radio station WHYY was interested in talking about the fest and the panel my group the Liars Club was doing there on the revolutionary changes in today’s publishing.

So, presto! By Wednesday I was on a train into Philly to do the interview.  Then sitting at the WHYY studios across from the very kind Newsworks Tonight host Dave Heller, who did not make me feel in the least bit nervous.  And, I’m happy to report, I did not knock over that overly full styrofoam cup of water they’d set out in front of me.  (I’m convinced they put it there as a test of some sort. I immediately slid the cup far far away from me, averting certain radio disaster, short-circuited wires, shooting flames, things like that.)

We talked about what it’s like to get published these days, about the growth of independent publishing, about the Liars Club, about how I write and why I do what I do. I also chatted a little about my books, including a bit about my newest upcoming novel DRAWN.

It was such a fun experience, and last night the show aired, and THAT’S when I got nervous. Seriously nervous. What if I’d misspoke? What if I sounded like a tool? Well, you can judge for yourself, and let me know what you think.

*To listen to the interview, just click here.

Thanks for having me, Newsworks Tonight. And thanks (from everyone) for not asking me to sing.

Psst! Secrets…Pass it on!

It's a secret...so tell everyone!

Hey gang, just wanted to let you in on a few secrets…

First of all, I’ll soon be revealing the cover for my new young adult novel OVER MY HEAD.   Look for this, and for the book to be coming out in June!  Very excited.

This novel picks up two years after WHAT I MEANT… finishes, and you’ll get to hang out with Sang, Megan, Dalton, Gary, Doodles and some new characters the summer before senior year as Sang falls big time for the one guy everybody thinks is wrong for her.

And for the many of you who have read WHAT I MEANT… and have asked me, “What happened to Gina? Why did she act like that?”…well, I’m putting the finishing touches right now on a short story that will soon appear in an anthology including stories written by the wonderful authors of The Liars Club.  I can tell you the anthology will be called LIAR, LIAR!  I can tell you that Gina is running from something, and hasn’t been entirely honest with Sang. And I can tell you the story will be called, “What I Did…”  And I can tell you that I can’t tell you much more just yet.  But I will. Soon. Honest.

Look for details, including when and how to purchase LIAR, LIAR! as well as OVER MY HEAD on this site. Soon. Cross my heart.

In the meantime, like all good secrets…Shhh! (And be sure to pass it on.)

Got Books?

How many books do you have on your night table? On your bookshelf? Chances are pretty good that the total is more than 20.  Did you know that in the middle ages people used to travel for days to a library with a major holding of 20 books?

It’s crazy to think of that, but back when the monks did the “publishing” it took one monk 20 years to create one Bible.  If you think about each book taking that long, well, you can understand how exciting 20 different books in one location could be.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting yet another one of my girl scout  “So What’s the Story?” workshops to a group of teens.  This time our group met in Hellertown, PA and had 79 participants. I shared the history of the book, my massive pile of rejection letters, and read from my novel WHAT I MEANT… And at the end of it all I signed copies of my novel for each girl that was there.  But, most importantly, each girl there also donated books from their own collections and together we designed inspirational bookmarks that would go in those volumes.

And the really great thing about all this is that now I get to give those books to my local shelters!  Through these workshops over the past 2 years, the teens I’ve met with and I have probably put more than 2,000 books in the hands of children who are homeless.  The gratitude I’ve gotten from the shelters is phenomenal, and I’ve been told that for many of these kids, these books have been the only ones they have ever owned.

I can’t think of a more simple way to help someone, and I’m so touched that our book drives have continued to make such a difference to children and teens throughout our area.  So I’m putting out this challenge to everyone in cyberspace.  Got books, whether for adults or kids?  Ones you’ve outgrown or that you don’t plan on rereading?  Then why not donate them to your own local shelters?  Google the shelters in your area and find out what their hours are for donations, and then you too can pass on the knowledge and joy and hope that every book can represent.

Next week I’m looking forward to visiting Frankford High School in Philadelphia with fellow authors Jonathan Maberry, Solomon Jones, Don Lafferty and Keith Strunk.  We’ll be chatting with students and also bringing the school district a tremendous stash of donated books from ourselves and from our fellow authors in The Liars Club. It’s a part of the school district’s Read for your Life literacy drive, and it creates yet another opportunity for you…if you live in the Philadelphia area, you too can donate books to these needy classrooms.  Check out this link for what they’re looking for and where to send your books.

Right now I’m looking at boxes and boxes of donated books filling my family room. Picture books and early readers and novels and non-fiction. Beautiful titles. And I know that by the end of this week, scores of kids who really need them will have these books in their own hands to treasure.

I can’t imagine having a library with only 20 books.  And I certainly never want to think of what it’d be like to never own a book of my own.  So spread the joy, folks, donate your books, and because of YOU  many other people will be proud book owners too.

How Authors can “Join Forces”: my article in Writer’s Digest!

Interested in working with other authors to get some publicity for your books?  On newsstands right now, in the January issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, you’ll find my article “Joining Forces,” which covers this very same subject. What a coincidence!

The piece highlights the Liars Club, an innovative author’s collective I’m so proud to be a part of.  We’re made up of 13 authors (who basically lie for a living), and together we do special events, signings, workshops, and good deeds, including helping out charities, championing independent bookstores, and speaking up for libraries in need. Plus we really help each other out.

Any group of writers can band together to make more of a splash in the world. So check out the piece if you’re interested. You’ll see how we do it, find some useful guidelines, and also find some links to other groups of authors who also run interesting marketing collectives.

Workshop: Become Your Own Book Publicist

Learn Low-Cost and No Cost Techniques that’ll get you Noticed
A Liars Club Class

Registration now open!

Whether you are working on a manuscript, are self-publishing, or have a book deal with a major publisher, these days you are expected to know how to promote yourself and your book. Are you ready? Author/actor Keith Strunk and I are offering a 3-session class to help you get the skills you need.  We’re both members of The Liars Club, a group of authors who basically lie for a living and who work together to promote literacy and our love for literature.  This’ll be a great workshop…no lie!

Instructors: Marie Lamba and Keith Strunk (bios below)
Date:
3 Classes, Mondays, November 1, 8 and 15
Time:
7-9 p.m.
Location:
Lower conference room at Saxby’s Coffee, 22 N. Main St, Doylestown, PA
Cost:
$95, payable at start of first class by cash, or by check made out to The Liars Club. *Do not mail payment.
Pre-registration required:
Class size limited to first 20 registrants. To register, send an email to marielamba@hotmail.com with “Publicity Workshop” in subject line.  Please include your name, address and phone/cell in your email. We will email you your enrollment confirmation.

Class Details:

This 3-session workshop will show you how to become your own best publicist.  We’ll explore the skills you need to present yourself professionally and effectively to publishers, the media and your readers.  We’ll also share public relations and publicity techniques, combined with out of the box ideas that can have you connecting with local, national and even international audiences…all without breaking the bank.

This interactive program will address the unique needs of workshop participants and how they can best publicize themselves and their works. Class size limited.

Subjects to be Covered:

Creating a compelling author image based on who you really are:
Identifying and reaching your true market
Building your online identity
Blog and website content essentials
Sales techniques you need to know
Unusual/effective marketing through public relations, publicity, Internet/social media
Getting free press online, in newspapers and in magazines
Approaching booksellers, setting up your own book tour, and growing relationships
Face to face interactions with readers
Public reading skills
Interviewing skills/media coaching for print, radio and TV

Your Instructors:

Marie Lamba: Marie is author of What I Meant…(Random House), and has an essay in the anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishers). A full-time freelancer, her work has been published in over 100 magazines including the national publications of Garden Design, Writer’s Digest, Gardens & Landscapes and Sports International. Marie has also worked in publishing as an editor and as a promotions manager, and is an award winning public relations writer.  She has used her P.R. and marketing skills to garner attention for her novel, snagging coverage online, in newspapers, and in magazines. Some of her most effective out of the box marketing ideas include extensive reading workshops for more than 1000 teen scouts, and the Truth Tour parties her group the Liars Club has thrown for independent bookstores (featured in indiebound.com, in Shelfawareness, and on the American Booksellers Association’s online site). Her article “Priceless Promotion” appeared in the August issue of Romance Writer’s of America’s national magazine RWR, and her piece “Beyond the Bookmarks: Marketing Partnerships that’ll get you Noticed” is scheduled for the January 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest. Marie has also done book promotion coaching for a number of authors, including Dennis Tafoya (Dope Thief, St. Martin’s), C.G. Bauer (Scars on the Face of God, Drollerie Press), and Jeanne Denault (Sucking Up Yellow Jackets, O Books).

Keith Strunk: Keith is an actor, teacher, and author.  He is a partner in Interlude Group LLC, specializing in interpersonal communication training and development.  With a business perspective developed through a career that spans the corporate, non-profit, and academic sectors, his work experience includes teaching at Rutgers University and Ursinus College, film and video production in NY and regional markets, freelance writing, and corporate training and development.  He is co-founder and Managing Director of River Union Stage, a professional Equity Theater based in Frenchtown, NJ in its ninth year of operation (www.riverunionstage.org).  He attended Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts Professional Training Program in Acting where he earned his MFA. An award winning scriptwriter, Keith has written scripts for both corporate and artistic venues, including a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol that has been seen on various stages in New Jersey.  He is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton from Arcadia Publishing and has written brochures, workbooks, scripts, marketing materials, and multi-media for corporate clients including Chase Automotive Finance, King Pharmaceuticals, Medco Health Solutions, PNC Global Investment Servicing, Princeton University, and Sika Corporation.  Keith has led workshops and presented at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education National Conference, the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Garden State Council, SHRM Central NJ Chapter, and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Conference.  He’s scheduled to lead a workshop at 2011 The Write Stuff Conference for the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

Of Misery and Chocolate

Cross posted over at The Liars Club site, where the authors are all answering the question: How do you deal with rejection? Here’s my response:

I brood. I pull into myself and feel ugly and stupid. I stew. I grouse. I eat ice cream. I tell myself I suck. I devour a chocolate bar. I look over my rejected bit of writing and see every flaw. Why hadn’t I seen that before? OF COURSE IT WAS REJECTED.

I consider another line of work. I hear the button factory is hiring…

I snap the leash on my dog’s collar and take a long long walk. I breathe deeply, and force myself to forget about writing. But my mind whirls back to the rejection again and again with renewed sting.  I get a cup of coffee.  I watch a cheesy chick flick. I pace.

And I look at my rejected piece of writing again. You know, it doesn’t suck. I might change one or two words, but damn if it ain’t bad. I get pulled into the writing again, and find myself enjoying the words of this manuscript. And remembering past rejections that turned into acclaimed successes.

I remind myself that readers are subjective, that novels have specific audiences. That I want an editor who is head-over-heels in love with my work. That once my agent finds this editor, things will be different.

I start to feel better. I start to feel encouraged.  I eat another piece of chocolate. I start to feel fat.

Okay, the pity party is officially over. I’m ready to move on. Ready to feel strong and hopeful again.