Agent Monday: No Tricks Required

Future Rock StarHappy Agent Monday!  And a very happy Veteran’s Day to you amazing people who do so much for us all…  Today (on a completely unrelated note) I’d like to talk about the many tricks and gimmicks some writers use to get an agent’s attention. And the truth of it all: that no tricks are required. I know it feels important to get noticed. You want your manuscript or your query to stand out, to make an agent suddenly pay attention. You want to be memorable. But, trust me, if you are using a gimmick or some sort of sneakiness to get attention — it’ll backfire on you.

Here are some of the gimmicks and tricks I’ve seen over the years…

1. The Spectacle:

I’ve heard plenty of ridiculous stories about authors creating a spectacle to get noticed. What I’ve experienced myself? At pitches, authors dressed as their character and playing that role. It can get pretty awkward, especially in the realm of children’s literature. Will I remember you? Sure. I can picture some of these authors right now.  Do I remember their actual pitch? Not at all. Did I request their full manuscript? Not a one. The concept and writing are the stars of a pitch. When the author does something campy, it’s like they are saying: Hey, I know this isn’t that exciting an idea, so let me distract you with this thrilling schtick instead. But this isn’t an acting audition. It’s about words on paper and a phenomenal idea. It’s that simple.

2. Misleading Message Lines:

In queries, message lines that look like the book has a pending offer from a publisher (it didn’t), or was tied in a significant way to a celebrity (it wasn’t), or was being made into a movie (yup, also not true). All are a huge fail.

Will I open your email fast? Maybe. Will I reject you even faster? Absolutely. So you know someone, or took a seminar with someone who said something kind, or even chatted with someone at a cocktail party once. Maybe someone said, hey, send it to me when it’s done. Even someone in the industry saying your project shows merit is a far cry from a celebrity endorsement, a book contract offer on the table, or an inked film option. I promise you that agents know the difference. When the writer is misleading, that signals someone I don’t want to be in a business relationship with. I honestly don’t care how red-hot the writing is. As they say on Shark Tank: I’m out.

3. The Inflated Self-Pubbed Claim:

This is done by folks who have self-pubbed, but then want an agent for that same book in order to get a traditional publishing deal for it. All too often these writers claim their already self-pubbed manuscript is a runaway success and has crazy press and mega-reviews. It’s a huge hit!

Okay, here’s a heads up. I personally know the self-pub circuit well, probably better than most agents do. I just might have self-pubbed a YA novel or two of my own that has, in fact, gotten awesome press, rankings, awards and solid reviews, plus I may currently have a novel up at WATTPAD that has over 400,000 reads. So here’s what I know: If your ebook on Amazon has a few kick-ass 5-star reviews, all within a month or so of publication, then that is probably family and friends helping out, and not significant. If your ranking is in the millions, you haven’t sold at all. If your ranking is in the 100,000’s, then you’ve sold 1-2 copies lately. If your ranking is in the 100s, you may have just come off a free giveaway there, which boosts you for a week or so, or you may even have had a handful of copies purchased via friends (but funded by you) to boost that. Yikes, right? Also, you could be a top 10 in an obscure subcategory on Amazon – again with under 5 sales. If I jump over to Goodreads and find nada in readers and reviews, then I google your book, and ditto, I know you are blowing smoke up my you-know-whatski. I’ll feel tricked. Not cool.  So tread carefully, folks.  What does matter to me? If the writing and concept is awesome, and if you have like 10,000 or more PAID purchases within a short period of time, and true review buzz.  That’s noteworthy. No tricks required. Even better? If you have all that, but are querying me with your next ms. which is still unpublished.

4. The Prologue Trick:

I see this a LOT.  A manuscript starts off with a prologue full of darkness and danger and a life or death decision. It’s often, basically, a preview of things to come later in the manuscript. And it never works for me. It reminds me of those posters that start off with, in big bold letters: SEX! And then continue with: Now that we’ve got your attention… Followed by the real purpose of the poster.

It’s a gimmick that comes from a desperate attempt to grab attention FAST! And it signals a lack of confidence in your writing. Plus, there’s the added fact that it’s hard to care about this gripping action when we haven’t even met the character yet and don’t care about his fate. Do you really need to trick the reader into continuing? Is that what you need to do to hook them? Why can’t you hook them from chapter one with writing that pops and a situation that we are drawn into? That’s the sort of attention that you want.

???????????So, about all of these tricks… I suggest you just skip them all. The real trick is having wonderful writing and an engrossing story. Focus on that. Work hard on your craft. Get it right and believe in yourself. Then agents and readers will notice you for real.

 

*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.

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Why Writers Win III: Four Things Writers Can Do RIGHT NOW!

If you’ve been following this blog, then you know I believe the Age of the Author is upon us. Are you taking advantage of all the positive changes? In this post I’ll delineate four things I believe all writers should do right now to advance their writing careers and benefit from the current publishing revolution…

This is the last post in my 3-part series on WHY WRITERS WIN.  In this series, which is taken from a talk I gave at the Write Stuff Conference, I look at the current industry changes through both my author and my associate agent (at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency) spectacles, and I like much of what I see.

In my first post, I talked about the publishing revolution and the scary changes it is stirring up for writers, plus the many positive opportunities these changes are bringing to us creative folk. My second post delved into the great opportunities that self-publishing is presenting to us authors, as well as the many terrific changes big publishers are now making to improve their relationships and partnerships with authors.

So here are four things you should do to make this YOUR Age of the Author.

1. Get writing!

Simply put: write the best book you can, and work your butt off to learn your craft and perfect your writing.  Sounds simple, but it is the most complex of the four recommendations.  Don’t lose sight of this goal. No matter what changes are afoot, this is still the most important thing for you to focus on in your career.

2. Get smart

Plug into what’s really going on now.  You’ll discover even more opportunities, ways to take advantage of trends and avoid career missteps as this revolution rolls along.  To do this, you simply must attend writers conferences and workshops, and connect with fellow writers and editors and agents to learn from their experiences. I got my first book deal with Random House for my novel What I Meant… by making contact with editors and agents entirely through conferences.  You can see how I used these conferences to make it all happen by checking out my article Why Conferences: Or How I Got My Agent and Editor.

Also, please DO consider subscribing to Publishersmarketplace.com.  You can share the subscription with other writers, you can subscribe for only a month or two at a time, whatever works for you.  It’s a phenomenal resource.  There’s a free daily newsletter you can get without a subscription, but it’s nothing compared to the site. Thinking about writing a novel about serfs during the end of the dark ages? Before you dip your toe into years of research and toil, type in some key words into Publishersmarketplace and you’ll quickly know all the major books on your topic that have come out in the past 10 years, you’ll know what overlapping books have recently been purchased but not yet come out on the same subject, and you’ll be able to craft your novel to be unique.  You’ll also know all the publishers, editors and agents who dealt with those books…perfect info for submissions.  So why aren’t you subscribing to this again???

Another way to stay plugged in is to subscribe to the relevant free newsletters that publishersweekly.com emails out.  I always get their general PWDaily newsletter along with their Children’s Bookshelf newsletter, but there are others related to religious books, cook books and comics.  Subscribe to whatever you want here.

Also, you simply must join and participate in writing organizations relevant to what you write in order to make important connections and learn! Organizations like The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, etc. not only focus on an area that interests you, but also offer phenomenal local conferences, workshops and meetings bringing editors and agents and writers together in an accessible environment.  They also have wonderful online communities where you can ask questions, and share your concerns with others in the know. Search for the organizations that encompass your writing interests, and dig deeper to find your fit.

I know, I know.  It all sounds like SO MUCH WORK AND TIME.  But you will actually be saving time in the long run.  You can use all the info you glean to focus your queries, to write books that are best placed for your market, and to move yourself ahead in your career while becoming part of a supportive community.  I’d like you to take on the challenge to get plugged in to your business side, and I’d like you to look back five years from now…even one year from now…and see a huge difference in your knowledge and your connections!

Finally, if you are looking for an agent, find one who is right for YOU, and who will keep abreast on all the shifts in the business, in rights, and in the best options for your future career.  You want an agent that will represent your CAREER, not just your book.  In these shifting times, you need someone with vision, who will also have eyes wide open to all the opportunities the changing publishing landscape presents.

3. Get Found!

Yeah, this is about all that online “stuff.” At the minimum, you should buy a domain in your name (not in your book’s name…titles get changed…you’ll write more than one book…etc.), and set up a webpage that will represent you.  I have a paid domain, but this website is free (wordpress.com) and I easily handle all the layout and content myself.  No dominatrix webmistress required, and I have complete control, which means I can update whenever I like.

Make creating your website a priority. Think of it as your virtual business card.  Yes, you need one even if you haven’t published yet.  Here’s what it can include: 1. What sort of writing you do.  2. Your bio and author pic. 3. Brief excerpt of your work (very brief). 4. Later on you can add links to buy your works, and appropriate listings of appearances, etc. 5. Book trailers, videos/vlogs are all fun and cheap to do if right for you and your work.  So, with your virtual business card (a.k.a. your website) in place, you can link back to it in posts elsewhere, in your email signature line, etc.

You also want to create a facebook page, and point it back to your website, plus a Twitter account that has a profile which points back to your website, and a LinkedIn page that…oh, you get the idea.  And go to goodreads.com to create a profile as a reader.  If you’ve pubbed a book, then get that author account, and use it!

Not sure any of this is worth your time?  I’m crossing my arms and sending you my most severe scowl right now (which, considering I’m only 5’2″, isn’t all that intimidating, but still…)  Google your name in quotes right now and see what comes up.  Now Google “Marie Lamba” and check out what pops up.  Much of what you’ll see stems from me taking the above steps to “get found.”  And when I get submissions from authors and I’m interested in them, guess what I do?  Yup. I Google em.  Wouldn’t you love for what pops up to be something positive and professional?

I know, I KNOW!  Oh the TIME involved in this.  Time that should be SPENT WRITING.  But it is a business too.  Think of all this as free advertising.  Think of just how many thousands of dollars you would have had to spend on ads just 20 years ago to reach even a fraction of the people who you could with all this new cool FREE stuff.  And once you set it all up, you can just spend 15 minutes per day checking in and updating if needed, or commenting.  But remember that whatever you put out there is getting found by a future reader, or editor, or agent, and act accordingly.

4. Get Read

Take advantage of digital and self publishing options to boost your readership for existing and to-be-released novels, and boost your success as a writer! I touched on this a little bit in the second post in this series. I must remind you of two important caveats. Caveat 1: only put out your very best work that is as good as anything that a big NYC publisher would print. Caveat 2: be aware of pre-existing contracts and rights that you are involved in, and keep your editor and agent in the loop.

So…how can self-publishing (let’s call it by its hipper name “indie publishing”) be used as a career building/reader building tool?

Well, you can, of course, release a book yourself to begin to build your fan base.  This can work well with genre writing, especially with a series.  You can write short stories related to your book, and release these in ebook free or cheap, with a link to your full novel (which will, of course, be at a higher price). You can offer through your website extras like downloadable outtakes from your novel. If you have a niche market, you can indie publish your title and reach the right folk.

So, with the groundswell of change going on, indie publishing is now a cool way to reach readers, which is kinda the reason why we write in the first place. BUT don’t indie-publish a book expecting to get an agent to then take it on and sell it to a big publisher. You need huge sales to do this (we’re talking in the 10,000 range), and you still need to make the agent and then a publisher fall in love with that book.  Your rights on that book will be muddied. HOWEVER, say you have an indie pubbed novel that is praised and doing fairly well.  Then you approach an agent with a different novel.  Well, it can show you have been well-received and have already begun building an audience.  I see that as a definite plus.

Determined to go 100% traditional publishing? Cool.  But why not have a few related short stories on hand in reserve to help with your traditional book’s promotion? Or some other extras you can offer online as bonus material.  Very cool, right?  Big publishers are already seeing the wisdom of this, doing stuff like offering 99 cent prequels, 99 cent short stories with a 45 page preview of a related book included…and they are doing these in advance of print releases.  It’s advertising, baby.

So open your mind to the possibilities…possibilities to reach readers that we never had before. In the olden days, a print ARC (advance reader copy) cost big bucks to print and mail to advance readers in order to generate buzz.  Today? Ebooks cost next to nothing.  One FLUX author Linda Joy Singleton gave away close to 70,000 ebooks of a first novel in a series of 5.  The rest of her series sold HUGE since so many readers were invested in finding out what happened next.

What can we writers learn from this? Would a free novella ebook be the right way to build your audience?  Every author/book is different, but it is worth considering the options. Options that are now at our fingertips.

Yup, boundaries between traditional and indie, between writer and reader are blurring all around us.  I see it as a good thing.  I want my authors to succeed, to be read.  Today there are more ways to publish, to promote…more opportunities to reach readers and communicate with fans, too.  Now we can each create books that will come alive for readers, and never ever die.

In wrapping up this 3-part WHY WRITERS WIN series, I want you to fully understand what all of this means.  This means you as a writer will never again have to have a brilliant manuscript sitting on your bookshelf never to be seen by readers. People who say that the reason a book isn’t accepted by big publishers is because it isn’t good enough are not 100% correct.  Many books are passed over because of the marketplace, because of past sales figures, because they are too niche for a big press, etc. etc. etc. Some of these rejected books are actually fabulous.

Now you have many tools to shape your career. Now you can promote your writing for next to nothing. Now you can write what you LOVE and know that readers will get a chance to see it.  So take these four steps.  And CELEBRATE folks, for THE AGE OF THE AUTHOR is here.

Happy writing,
Marie 

Publishing Revolution: Liars Club Authors Telling Some Truths

Why Writers Win: Take II

In an earlier post titled Why Writers Win: The Age of the Author, I shared some of my thoughts about today’s publishing revolution. This is all from a talk called Claim Your Victory in Today’s Publishing Revolution that I recently presented at The Write Stuff Conference. Yes, there are some confusing and even upsetting things going on, but there are also tons of great changes that are actually helping authors.  That first post set out some of our darkest fears, and then pointed to some truly positive twists for writers.

So here, in Take II, I’d like to explore even more of the positive stuff floating around.  And one of those things is the rise of self-publishing, which shall forevermore be known by its far cooler name: indie publishing.  Think of indie music, and you’ll get the right vibe.

Yeah, self-publishing was painted with a heavy brush stroke of horrible by folks who thought of it as the land of the unaccomplished. But in case you’ve been living in a cave over the past year or so, let me break it to you: things are changing.  Tons of great authors are indie publishing their work, and now writers can put their own work out there in a high quality form at a low cost.  Readers benefit. Writers benefit.

Two years ago I would have been shocked to think that indie publishing would have been GOOD for an author’s career. And today?  Today I’m a traditionally published author (What I Meant…, Random House) with two indie published titles (Over My Head and Drawn), and I’m also an Associate Literary Agent for Jennifer DeChiara Literary in NYC.  If that doesn’t tell you how much this industry is changing, I don’t know what does!

Indie publishing can be a disaster for an author who doesn’t take their own work seriously, though. If someone puts out their first draft, or doesn’t have their work edited, then it’ll definitely hurt that writer. BUT, for the writer who does hold their own work to the very highest of standards, indie publishing equals opportunity. Today, as long as you put out superb work, you are building your reputation, and can garner great reviews from readers and from respected book bloggers too.

Many authors are also using indie publishing to keep their out of print books alive.  In the past, when your publisher declared your book out of print, it was forever lost to readers.  This is heartbreaking to a writer.  Imagine a book you’ve lovingly labored on for over two years, getting its time in the sun for a mere few months before disappearing forever!  But today that writer can get their rights back from their publisher and indie publish their title as a print and/or ebook.  It’ll live forever, new readers can discover this book, and the writer continues to earn money on books sold.  No downside there, folks.

Indie publishing can also be a smart option for areas big publishers usually don’t handle, such as short stories, novellas, anthologies, poetry by unknowns, etc.  It’s also great for a book with a narrow niche focus.  If you know of a small but dedicated audience for your book and you know how to reach them, then this could be the smart way to go.

All in all, indie publishing can be another way for you to build your brand, your reputation and your readership. But let me throw in two caveats. 1. Only publish things that are AS GOOD AS what the big publishers are doing!!! You want your name to be associated with high quality writing.  And 2. If you have an agent and/or editor, keep them in the loop to be sure that whatever you are indie pubbing is not infringing on any existing contracts you may have. Work in partnership with your agent so he or she gets the full picture of your career.

Indie publishing is definitely changing the landscape of the publishing field.  Writers have more options. They are seeing that they can have more control of their careers and more input.  And now that authors do have more options, major publishers are responding to make clear about why writers should go to them!

In the past, publishers were very slow in sharing with authors info about sales figures, about promotion, etc.  But things are changing, folks. In a recent Publisher’s Weekly article, Little Brown exec Michael Pietsch said, “Publisher’s must treat authors as equal partners.” And Random House’s Madeleine MacIntosh said, “If authors are confused about what we do, we need to make it clear.”

Now Simon & Schuster offers to its authors online info about up-to-date sales figures, and just a few weeks ago Random House authors (myself included) received info about their brand new author portal.  The portal gives us sales figures about our own titles, info on rights sold, current news about publishing, and a slew of promotional tools.  This is huge!

In the future, I see we writers having more communication and input with publishers, better partnerships, services, and overall, more control over our careers.

Age of the author, baby!

Are there still challenges for writers today? Absolutely. But now there is so much more we can do to build our audience and expand our careers.   We have opportunities we never had before at low or no cost!  So get excited about this publishing revolution, gang.

In my final Why Writers Win post, I’ll detail the four things I think we writers can be doing right now to take control of our creative future.

Stay tuned!

Why Writers Win: The Age of the Author

A few weeks ago I gave a talk about the publishing revolution at the wonderful Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, PA.  The talk was titled “Claim Your Victory in Today’s Publishing Revolution,” but it could have as easily been titled “Writers Win!” or “Entering the Age of the Author.”  This upbeat presentation focused on how, yes, things are indeed changing, and some of these changes may seem scary, BUT many changes are benefiting us writers.

Anyways, since the chat was so well-received and motivating, and since, frankly, we’ve had enough doom and gloom chatter to last us a generation, I thought I’d share my points here with my fellow writers.

Okay, so remember that Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times?  Well, we authors are absolutely plagued by interesting times right now.  Yes, this indeed is a publishing revolution to rival the printing press.  Really, two factors are colliding to create the perfect storm of sorts: 1. Ebooks, and 2. The Economy.

For a LONG time we have plodded along with certainties. And the main truth was that a big publisher = big success.  Signing with big publishers meant contracts with great advances, reviews in prominent publications, your book would appear in all bookstores, you’d have tons of publicity and promotion, and you were well on your way to a long CAREER as an author.

Then this “given” started to erode as all the publishing models began to shift.  A large number of editors were laid off in 2008. Authors were suddenly expected to do more of their own promotions. Book reviews in many print publications began to disappear. There was no guarantee that your book would appear in the major chains or indies (even before the demise of Borders). And now we hear a lot from authors about low advances, or no contracts being offered on a next book.

Yes, the economy has a ton to do with all of this. And Ebooks have come in at an especially crazy time.  We fear they may pose a threat to print books. The pricing of Ebooks is a huge issue.  Brick and mortar stores feel threatened by Ebook sales.

And let’s pile onto this, indie publishing, which is on the rise.

All these factors together add to an overall sense of instability in what was once a fairly predictable business model for publishers, booksellers and authors.

So, let’s get it out there…here are some of the scary things that we writer’s fear:
1. It may be the end of print books.
2. Bookstores may go the way of record stores.
3. Top publishers could fail.
4. That we’ll never see a book deal…and even if we did, we wouldn’t get any sort of an advance, or an editor who would have the time to edit, or the sort of promotion that would make us succeed, and so we would be labeled a failure and really NEVER EVER get another book contract, and…

BREATHE, EVERYONE, BREATHE!!!

No. Really. Deep breaths. Head between knees if necessary.  See, this is the kind of stuff that feeds into our writerly despair.  So knock it off already, guys.  Isn’t it time to look at some decent facts that are out there?  Walk on the positive side with me for a bit, okay?

1. We are writers!  In all of the tumultuous changes, THE constant is the need for writers, for content, for great stories.  That ain’t going nowhere.

2. Writing the best book you can is still the most important thing you can do for your career, and ain’t nothing changing that!

Okay, I’ll wait a few minutes while you read these two previous points and let ’em sink in.  Now nod and smile.  These are good things.

I’d also like to point out that despite the doom and gloom we writers sometimes share whenever a bunch of us get together and natter, the reality is that book deals are being made, as always.  Great deals too!  In the past 2 days alone, more than 100 deals were posted on Publishersmarketplace.com.  These included film deals, international rights, and book deals in areas including YA, middle grade, debut fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, general fiction, women’s fiction, thriller, romance, memoir, mystery, picture books… There are multi-book deals, significant deals even (which are between $251,000-$490,000).  But what about debut authors? I spotted 24 deals involving debuts in the past 2 weeks.

And as an agent myself, when I’m calling major publishers to pitch books, I’m finding editors eager to listen, eager to acquire great stuff, and they have wish lists for me of the types of titles they want to see in the future. Lots of stuff is happening, folks. So feel positive.

ALSO, I feel that this is a great time for more smaller focused presses to start appearing and succeeding big-time. With the changes in technology, books can now be printed on demand (means no warehousing costs), and a small press can now have great access to retail distribution with the aid of online sales. This will equal even more options for writers.  At least that’s what my Magic 8 Ball tells me.

So what’s the upside about Ebooks? Well, studies are showing that Ebooks are leading to more readership.  Score another one for writers!  Some stats suggest readers buy 3 times as many books once they have an Ereader. And sales of Ebooks are climbing. Check out this article by Philip Jones of The Bookseller magazine, where he discusses some UK companies seeing a staggering 500% jump in Ebook sales, and how they expect a similar jump this year. Crazy, right? I’ve also found that impulse buys are a wonderful thing when it comes to Ebooks.  A person hears about a book or meets an author at a festival, they click on their phone and ta-da! They now own your book.

Other Ebook thoughts: Young adult readers are poised for huge increases in Ebook sales as teens start to get their own Ereaders. And because of Ereaders, more readers are branching out to different types of books.  For example, someone who wouldn’t be caught dead reading erotica in public can now do so discretely on their Ereader. This goes for adults reading YA, for men reading women’s fiction.  And we writers? We benefit with a growing audience.

Obviously this Age of the Author stuff is a HUGE topic, so I’m breaking it down into a few posts. In my next post about this, I’ll talk a bit about how Indie Publishing is presenting writers with more opportunities, and how traditional publishers are switching things up to better serve their authors. And in my final post on this subject, I’ll talk about the 4 most important things we Age of the Author writers should be doing right now to build our audience and expand our careers.

Hey, it’s all good!

Marie

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.

Going it Alone

Here’s a question that’s been popping up at a lot of writer’s conferences where I’ve spoken about book marketing: Would I ever self-publish a manuscript? Hm. If you’d asked me a year or two ago, I’d have said NO. Self-publishing seemed to imply that no one else would take your book. That it was inferior somehow. That it wouldn’t be professionally edited. It felt like a giant step backwards.

Things are starting to shift a bit, as some established authors are starting to think: Do I really need that publisher?  J.A. Konrath is an author with a following who is currently making a mint on titles he’s self-published.  Imagine no middleman. Imagine the writer being able to put his work out there and collect payment, big payment, for it, instead of royalties from what’s left after all the other folks involved take their cut. Seductive. Definitely seductive.

Now we do need to distinguish between self-publishing a printed title and an ebook.  With a printed title, you would ideally like for it to appear on bookstore shelves.  Think that will work? I recommend you ask your local bookseller about that.  Here’s the problem: distribution. First of all, how will you even pitch your book to all the stores nationwide? You will have no sales rep to do that. Say you do get a bookshop to stock your self-published title. But then it doesn’t sell. They typically can’t return it (especially if it’s a print on demand title).  It’s a total loss for them.  If they’ve got a book from Random House that doesn’t sell, they can return it to the publisher at no cost.  So, which do you think the bookseller will refuse stocking on their shelves? Yeah.

This problem has become so prevalent, that it’s actually starting to affect the traditionally published authors.  When I go to a bookshop to tell them about my title, they practically run away, convinced I’m one of the many many self-published authors who have come knocking on their door. I’ve learned to say my publisher’s name before I even say my own name.  It’s tough out there.

Now, with ebooks, it’s all about the online action. Problem is, how will anyone ever find your book? If you have a household name, it’s a different story.  I predict that with the rise of ebook readers, more and more big name authors will be jumping the publishing ship and going it alone. If a publisher won’t meet their pay demands, or otherwise pisses the author off, that author may not need the publisher anymore. They can just click a few buttons and their story is out there ready for purchase.

So what about me? I’d lie if I didn’t say I was tempted to self-publish. See, I’ve got three unpublished novels sitting on my bookshelf. And the wheels of publishing turn so slowly (especially with the recession), that deals are slooooow in coming. I’ve got readers asking for my next book. If I could just get it out there…

But wait. So much of this business is about faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in your writing. Yes, even faith in the publishing world. What if the next editor who sees my manuscript loves it? What if I were to self-publish the manuscript, and therefore that next editor never got to see it and fall in love with it in the first place?  Editors can transform a manuscript from good to phenomenal. Then the book will reach the shelves it needs to. It’ll get reviews. It’ll be seen. Would I really want to miss out on that?

The most important thing for me is to operate with faith, and not out of fear.  If you are thinking of self-publishing, I encourage you to ask yourself: Is this because I’m afraid it’ll never see the light of day otherwise? Or do I truly believe that this is the best way to reach my readers and continue on as a writer?

The answer won’t be the same for every author. If you are a non-fiction author with a killer way to reach your target audience that doesn’t even involve bookstore shelf space, then you can go for the non-traditional mode and do well.  If you have a personal family story you want to share with relatives.  If you have a collection of poems you want to print and sell at festivals. If you are such an unbelievable marketer that you know your self-published volume will get attention. If you are world famous and everyone is asking for your life story…

We all have our stories and our reasons and our personal goals.

As for me? I write fiction. I’m not famous. So I’m sticking with the traditional model.

And praying that it all works out.