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 Positive Side of Rejection

MP900178845Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  If you live in the northeast, then you have just experienced a weekend full of sparkling sunlight and glittering orange and yellow leaves.  That’s gotta make you feel great, right?  So this is the perfect time to talk about…rejection!  The “R” word. I know, it’s dreaded, negative, a buzz kill, depressing. But let’s take a sparkling sunlit view of it: the positive side of rejection.

Last week, through Philadelphia Stories Magazine, I was able to present a full-day workshop to writers where I focused on the marketplace, what agents do and don’t do, and how to approach and snag the right agent for a writer’s work. It was part of their annual Push to Publish Conference at Rosemont College. One of the first things I did in this workshop was to share my own twisted path as a writer, full of plenty of starts and stops, leading to where I am at this moment as both an author and an agent. I was frank about the tough decisions I had to make in my career, which didn’t always make sense to the world but were right for me (What? You stepped down from a slew of contributing editor positions at magazines to write a novel no one seemed to be interested in???), and the years of rejection I faced.

It’s not that unusual a story. It’s something all writers share. Rejection. And that “why the hell am I doing this?” feeling. But one thing I always emphasize is this: “The only thing I knew for sure was that if I quit, my dreams of becoming a published author would never happen.”

Okay, so after this intro, I had people at my workshop introduce themselves and share what they were working on and the path they’d taken thus far. It ranged widely from already published people, to folks just starting out and exploring their love of writing. But a few themes quickly emerged: the writing life is full of starts and stops. And rejection and other perceived “stops” can stop a writer cold.

The writing life is full of starts and stops.

Just because you’ve had a book published, doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. In this audience alone, there was the book that came out through a press that didn’t promote it well, another book that was printed but never left the distribution center! Just because you’ve gotten an agent, doesn’t mean your writing career will then go smoothly. In the audience, there were writers who had agents who had suddenly left the business, or who were operating unethically and had to be dropped.

These writers, however discouraged they may have felt, didn’t stop. They were ready to move ahead. They’d learned a bit about the importance of not just publishing, but publishing well. And about not just getting an agent, but about the importance of getting the right agent.

And they didn’t let any of this stop them in the end.

The writing life isn’t about that one big break. It’s about many opportunities and adversities. It’s about learning from these, and getting smarter and more focused and moving forward. Kinda like life, right?

Rejection can stop a writer cold.

Rejection hurts. When someone rejects your novel idea, it’s like someone called your baby ugly. How do you move on? How do you put the hurt in the right place and not let it stop you?

At the workshop, some folks admitted that they were afraid to send out query letters, or to send out many of them. One writer quite honestly admitted that if she didn’t query widely she could always tell herself that there was the possibility that someone would take the book. She wasn’t ready to really put herself out there and find out that she simply wasn’t good enough.

Who hasn’t felt like that?

Here’s the thing: you gotta really be honest with yourself. Are you standing in the way of your own goal of getting published? If you never submit, or rarely submit, then, yup, you are. The writing life is full of starts and stops and starts again. And there isn’t one editor, one agent, one publisher, but many, with many differing opinions. And you are not a writer with one static piece of writing. You can edit it, and try again. You can write yet another piece and try again. You can learn from the rejection process and improve over and over again.

Like the writers who had some success but then a surprising roadblock, and went on to do even better, you can learn from rejection and move on, and move closer to your goal.

So send out a few queries. Get only form rejections? Then redo your query and send out a few more. Make sure you are targeting the right agents who are actually interested in what you write. Start getting pages requested? Then your query is doing its job. Not getting the right response for those pages? Then see if you can learn from those rejections and improve your writing.  And write something new, too. Always move forward.

Group of Children Lined Up Against a Wall with One Girl (8-10) Making a FaceLearn from your rejection. And keep your chin up. Take a moment. Revitalize yourself, doing whatever inspires you. Read something you love. Take a walk through the glittering autumn sunshine, and get back to writing and sending your stuff out. It’s a process, and you are NOT alone.

And you might want to remind yourself of some of the subjectivity of our business by getting yourself a slim little book I always keep on my shelf: ROTTEN REJECTIONS. It’s a compendium of just that.

Here’s one of my favorites from that book, which Nabokov received for LOLITA:

“…it is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and it will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation…”

So go forth, writer. And be not afraid!

*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.

Agent Monday: Conferences from the Agent’s Point of View (Revisited!)

Happy Agent Monday – and Happy Labor Day to you all! Last week I reposted a column about writer’s conferences and writer’s nerves, etc.  And today I’m including part two – which details writer’s conferences from the agent point of view.  Planning on attending a conference?  Read on!

Here’s part 2 of the encore post:

Asian Women Chatting over CoffeeLast week I shared some things I learned as an author about meeting agents and editors at writer’s conferences. So, BAM! Let’s switch pitch table sides. Now, as Associate Agent at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I really am on the other side, taking pitches, sitting on the panels, and walking around conferences to meet writers and hear what they have to say. So here are some thoughts, and some tips.

First of all, like I said in last week’s post, the important thing to remember is that agents and editors are people. And most are pretty nice, too. Take the folks at the great Push to Publish conference which I’d attended (in 2012).  (NB: this Oct. 2013 I’ll be the Push to Publish pre-conference presenter where folks can spend the day with me – registration info here.) I wish I had time to hang out with these agents and editor and swap stories about our clients and our projects. But that’s one thing many conferences are tight on: time.

So as an agent, I arrive with a schedule in hand. For some conferences, I may have just been whisked over from an airport, and have barely arrived before I’m “on.” I love to meet my fellow agents and editors. But above all, I want to meet you writers! But time is short. So I meet with you during pitches, or chat with you during registration, or swap ideas with you during panel talks.  Longer conferences are great because there are more chances for real exchange. Exchange of biz cards, yes, but also exchange of conversation and ideas. There can be time during a cocktail party or in line for breakfast, or just hanging out in the hotel lounge after the main events are over.

But there are often many of you and few of us agents, so when we do get time with you, it’s important to use it well. I’ve done pitch sessions that have run anywhere from 5 minutes to 15. If a writer comes to me and is especially nervous, I understand. Sometimes however, this wastes our valuable time together as we spend our minutes more on getting focused than on talking about a book. In these cases, I think it’s best for the writer to have their pitch written out. If you just admit right up front that you are really nervous and ask if it’s okay to read your pitch, I for one will smile and say of course.  Then you can take a deep breath, read the pitch, and then our conversation can begin from there. And I bet you’ll feel better after that.

Some writers are naturals with pitches and with chatting. And for me, it really is a chat. As if we are sitting together for a moment at a coffee shop, talking shop. These writers smile, and introduce themselves and shake hands. They then sit and say something to the effect of, “I’m here to tell you about my new memoir called ‘About All That.'” And then they say their brief, focused pitch. These authors allow me to then respond with my reaction to the pitch. They listen to any questions I may have and answer them as well as they can. And they ask me questions like what do I think about this sort of book in the marketplace? They listen and allow us to interact, with note-taking happening after our allotted time.  This is all time well spent.

Sometimes writers squander their pitch time because they come to me unfocused. They haven’t thought ahead about the market of their novel (is it YA or mid grade?), or come up with a succinct way to describe the novel to me. So we spend our time together learning about the author, her approach to writing, what she wanted to achieve, the many ways she approached creating this book. Everything but what the book is actually about. And because of that, I can’t give any viable feedback or know if this novel is something I want to look at.

Sometimes writers come into the pitch with only one goal: sell!  I’m not naive. I KNOW that is the goal. But I think this sort of over-focused writer can miss out on great opportunities that lead to the sell. It’s not just about getting that jazzed reaction from the agent and the green light and that book deal. Seriously. It’s about coming into it ready to learn and pick up cues and adapt and make connections. And all of these things can lead you to the sell, so don’t be short-sighted.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A writer comes up to me very confidant with a pitch. She’s ready to sell it, and is sure a smart agent will snap it up. So I hear the pitch. I may be interested, but I’m confused about something so I ask a question. Over confident writer immediately deflates, convinced they’ve failed. Or withdraws, upset (yes, I’ve seen tears in response to questions). Or grows hostile, convinced I’m ridiculous to say no (which I haven’t even said yet) and that there is nothing more I can do for them and so they should just move on to wow the next person.  Every single one of these writers is simply blowing it. Why? Because as long as we have minutes together we can be learning from each other.

I can learn more about the novel in response to my questions. If my concerns are addressed, then maybe I will be interested. The writer can spend time building a relationship with me. Maybe this book won’t fly, but another book might in the future. Why burn bridges? The writer can also be paying attention to my reaction to this pitch. Even if I’m not the agent for you, did I become interested in certain things? Did I become puzzled? Did I express concerns about certain aspects? Then perhaps you can tweak your pitch and your queries to future agents based on this, and be more successful at your next pitch appointment. Ask me, “what do you think?” And if I say I’m not interested, ask me, “do you have any advice that I can use?”

When it comes down to it, I’m looking to work with pros. Even a debut author can be a pro. People who are open to discussion about their books, who are open to suggestions, who are folks I’d consider working with. If you are overly emotional, then I can’t picture you handling changes from an editor or meeting deadlines. If you are hostile or a prima donna, I’m never going to want to work with you. There are many talented people, and even if you are a major talent, if you are sending up flares that you are a difficult person, then I’m not interested.

When I go to conferences, I’m there to meet you, chat with you, and swap ideas. I’m hopeful that I will be finding my next client sitting right across from me. Someone who is professional and interesting and ready to work hard. I meet tons of fascinating people at every one of these conferences. Not all of them end up as my clients, of course. But many of them end up as people who I hope to hear from and interact with again.

I encourage you to remember that a pitch is more than a sell. Conferences are a place to meet people, to make contacts and to learn.  Get questions answered. Try out different pitches for your novel at different conferences and learn bit by bit which parts are most effective and which are not working so well.  Remember all of this can lead to a sell. I always enjoy meeting people who are passionate about their writing. It’s energizing and exciting.

Enjoy the process, and best of luck!

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

New Book Fest at Chestnut Hill!

Chestnut Hill, PA is on the outskirts of Philly…close enough to have an urban feel, with hip shops, restaurants, and a vibe of culture…far enough that it has massive leafy trees and truly incredible homes.  Seriously, they are stone castles.  The people of Chestnut Hill are also urban hip.  So when this town decides to throw its first book fair, you know it’s going to smoke!

The first ever Chestnut Hill Book Fair will kick off on Friday, July 10, and continue through Saturday and Sunday, July 11 and 12.  There will be panel discussions, activities, readings and book signings.  For the kiddies there are plenty of picture book authors doing their stuff, along with performances, and a green eggs and ham brunch!  I’m so proud to be a part of it. I’ll be there on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday, July 11, from 2-4 p.m., visitors can catch me at the lovely Robertson’s Flowers, 8501 Germantown Ave in Chestnut Hill.  I’ll be hanging out, doing a reading,  and happy to chat about writing, my novel, life in general.  And I’ll be signing copies of my young adult novel What I Meant… Since part of my novel takes place in Philly, and in Doylestown, a suburb not too far away, I’m sure I’ll feel right at home. P.S.: It’s free!

On Sunday the 12th, from 2:30-4 p.m., I’ll be in the Bombay Room at the Chestnut Hill Hotel (8229 Germantown Ave, Chestnut Hill) on a panel talking about “Tips for Marketing Your Book.”  Among the other panelists who will be there is fellow Philly Liar’s Club author Kelly Simmons (who wrote the wonderful novel  StandingStill).  We’ll share how you can get your book noticed, revealing some unorthodox but completely doable ideas of our own. The panel is one of several aspiring writer workshops being sponsored throughout the weekend by Philadelphia Stories, a magazine that publishes great fiction, poetry and art from folks in the region. Each workshop costs $10.

A bit more about the Philly Liar’s Club: we are 13 professional writers who basically lie for a living. This is one talented as well as warm bunch of authors, and I am so proud to be their newest member.  Speaking of Liars, you can also catch some of my other Liar buds throughout the festival.  On Friday evening from 8:30-10 p.m. (Magarity Ford Site, 8200 Germantown Ave), there is a 100% Liars mystery panel featuring Ed Pettit (renowned Poe scholar), Jon McGoran (aka D.H. Dublin, Freezer Burn), Dennis Tafoya (Dope Thief), Kelly Simmons (Standing Still), and Merry Jones (The Borrowed and Blue Murders).  I wish I’d written a mystery so I could sit in on that one.  Kelly Simmons will also be signing at the Borders, 8705 Germantown Ave at noon.  And another warm and wonderful Liar, paranormal novelist L.A. Banks (author of the 12 book series on Minion: A Vampire Huntress Legend) will be signing on Saturday, 11:30 a.m., at the Magarity Showroom, 8200 Germantown.

Liars aside, there are also SO many wonderful authors coming. Authors that I adore as both writers and as friends.  Here’s a sampling: Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars), Nancy Viau (Samantha Hansen has Rocks in her Head), Linda Wisniewski (Off Kilter), and Elizabeth Mosier (My Life as a Girl).  There is so much going on, you’ll just have to check out the book fair’s site to get it all in.

Truly, this is going to be one rocking event.