Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Establishing a Good Line of Credit with Agents

Sometimes people say "YOU CAN'T GET AN AGENT UNLESS YOU KNOW SOMEBODY!" or "YOU CAN'T GET AN AGENT UNLESS YOU ARE PUBLISHED!" - but we all know both of these are myths.

Newbies with no publication credits get agents (and book deals) all the time. But they aren't REALLY newbies of course... they might be unknown, so far, but they've been working on their craft for years. They are good writers. And, I'd venture to say, they've also been mindful of the agents' time and tried to put their best, most polished work out there, and been sure to follow guidelines so as not to sour good will or burn any bridges.

Let's say for each finished manuscript you want to query, you are given a "chit" of sorts. This chit gives you access to x-amount of an agent's bandwidth/time/patience, provided the agent is taking queries.

Since agents are generally benevolent creatures who really want to help writers, they are happy to accept the chit. However, since agents don't know you from Adam and you don't have "good credit" yet, this chit is for, at most, three minutes worth of time. (If you've been referred or you do have other work, the credit line is likely to be a bit longer - but everyone gets credit). Since you have so little time, you'll definitely want to be sure to have followed directions and submitted a really stellar piece of writing!

If the agent is simply not interested in the book, you'll get your same chit back. Better luck next time, no harm done, try again later with a new manuscript.

If the agent likes the book, they will go ahead and give you more credit on that chit. Depending on how much they like the work, you might get a few hours or even a day of credit.

If they end up liking the book but they don't sign it up, you'll get the chit back, likely WITH the extra credit included. Go ahead and use it again next time. Yay!

If the agent loves the book and you become a client, you get a bag full of chits back. You can use them to ask lots of questions, and your agent will likely encourage you to do so, but do BE AWARE: Middle of the night panicked phone calls at home for no good reason WILL cost more than reasonable questions asked by email in the light of day. That being said, the longer your agent knows you, the more you work together, and the more sane you are in general, the bigger credit line you will get (so when you DO have a legit cause for a panicked phone call, don't worry, you'll get heard!)


If your manuscript is riddled with errors, you have clearly never read the submission guidelines, or your work seems like a monkey might have typed it... you might not get your chit back. You can rebuild credit, but it is going to take a while, and you're going to have to submit something different in truly stellar shape next time.

If everything is OK but you pull a weird stunt like re-sending multiple slightly revised versions, or they request the full and you send it but then snatch the manuscript away from them as they're reading it, or they ask for revisions and you say you're on board but then nothing is actually changed... well. Again, you've cashed in your chit. It will take a while to get that line of credit back. It can be done, but it isn't going to happen overnight.

If you reveal yourself to be a class-A jerk by doing something like responding to a civil form rejection (or frankly ANY kind of rejection) with vitriol or threats - you cashed in your chit for good. In fact, you set your chit on fire. No more credit for you ever. (But what do you care, right? You have to know you are burning bridges when you send an email like that.)

Make sense?

PLEASE NOTE: THERE AREN'T REALLY QUERY CHITS. (But man, wouldn't life be easier if there were?)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

ProTips for Published Authors pt 2: THE BOOKSTORE EVENT

Desperate in Vermont asks: What do most authors DO at bookstore events? Do they simply read from their work? Or do they tell stories about the writing of it? What do CUSTOMERS like them to do? What do BOOKSELLERS like them to do/not do? What makes one author event more successful than another? Are there any no-no's I should be aware of?

Oh sweetheart. I've got bad news: There is no formula for a successful event.

But the good news is: If you have a good attitude about it, your event is highly unlikely to be a failure.

I've been a bookseller for a long (LONG) time. For many years I was an events coordinator. I had events that were insanely, unexpectedly fabulous - and events where somebody wound up crying in the fetal position. And everything in between. I know I've told these stories before, but I have to repeat them.
Once at a store in San Francisco, on a night when the Giants were in the playoffs AND it was the storm of the century (a storm so bad that the heavy glass & steel back door of the store LITERALLY FLEW OFF ITS HINGES)... we had an event for a fairly little-known cookbook author. Not a soul showed up, but the author and her assistant, and the three booksellers. We had a great conversation and ate cookies the author brought. She was absolutely charming and gracious and understanding, signed books, told jokes. And on the back of that event, all three booksellers were so delighted by her that they sold that stack of books...and the next...and the next... and the book became a bestseller for the store, for years. Yay!

Another time, I held an event for a bigshot author. 150+ people showed up, on a gorgeous day when they could have been doing ANYTHING. She was angry that so few were there, and she SAID so. She was insufferable and rude about the whole thing, even though people had come early and waited hours to see her. She complained within earshot of the crowd. When she left, we boxed up the books we hadn't sold and returned them. Feh.
Get the point? Yeah. So now. In no particular order. Tips for before, during & after the event.

Tip #1: DON'T BE A JERK. Smile. Introduce yourself to everyone on staff. Be kind. Even if nobody shows up - believe me, the booksellers are as much or more mortified when that happens than you are. A thank-you note to the store events coordinator after the event is not required, but is nice, particularly if they did a great job & you connected with them in some way. Remember, you have a whole career ahead of you... and booksellers tend to have long memories. When they think of you, they should remember your sweetness!

Tip #2: INVITE PEOPLE! For pity's sake, drag your friends, family, facebook friends, old school chums and whoever else isn't nailed down along with you. The bookstore can advertise all day long, but let's face it, unless you are well-known, the people most likely to show up are people that you can kick in the shins later if they don't. If not a lot of people show, you'll be glad of the company - if the event turns out to be packed with strangers, you'll be happy to see some familiar faces in the crowd. IF you send an invite out to people and you get a lot of RSVPs, you should definitely let the bookstore know a week ahead of time so they are sure to have extra books on hand.

Also, before the event, be sure to advertise the event yourself as much as possible, and always link to the bookstore holding the event on your website or blog. And after the event, if you have a blog, mention what a great time you had and put a picture! [ETA: It's probably a good idea to carry a little notebook to write down bookstore people's names, or any fun incidents that happened at the store, because you might be too overwhelmed to remember later. If you have a mailing list, it is cool to ask attendees at the event to give you their email addys if they want to be on it - but don't add people without their knowing.]

Tip #3: Don't oversaturate your market. If you have a couple of different bookstores in your immediate area, don't book events with both of them for the same title in the same month. You'll be cannibalizing your own audience - even your most hardcore fans and friends are unlikely to come to the same event twice. I suggest doing a "launch party" at one store, and perhaps offering to be on a panel event or just sign stock at the other store, at a later date.

3b: If you are not a well known author, the adage is, do one awesome launch party in the town where you live, and another in your hometown or wherever your MOTHER lives. Sounds silly, but many moms have secret ways of influencing people to show up at events. You could also do one wherever you went to college, if you know a lot of people in that area. But don't worry your pretty little head about booking events all over the free world in towns where you don't know anyone unless your publisher is sending you - that is a lot of energy and time that you could be spending on writing another book.

Tip #4: Keep it light, keep it fun, keep it brief. As for what you actually do during the signing? I like it when authors chat a bit about what brought them to write the book, maybe tell a couple of anecdotes on the making-of, read a little, take Q&A and sign.

For most people, reading very short excerpts works best. I prefer a few well-chosen sections - maybe a couple pages each - with commentary about the book in between. VERY few people can read lengthy passages straight through without being boring as sh*t. Plus you are trying to get people to BUY THE BOOK - don't read the whole dang thing aloud! (And don't be afraid to end your section on a cliffhanger!) [ETA: For the actual signing, stores should have good pens at the ready, but if you need special pens, don't forget to bring them yourself - and test them first to be sure they don't bleed through the page.]

Tip #5: Create your own questions. During Q&A, sometimes the audience clams up. I'd definitely create a list of 5 or so questions that you can "fall back on" -- so if nobody asks anything you can say something like "you know a lot of people ask ________" -- and tell a little story to illustrate the answer... this buys you some time until somebody actually asks something. If nobody asks ANYTHING (unlikely), you'll just go through your five or so stories and then wrap it up.

Tip #6: Visual aids raise interest level. Kids especially love to see visual aids. I know one prolific author who has ALL his jackets taped together and unfurls them like a scroll and has kids hold it up - it stretches across the room! People think it is cool if you show off all the book jackets from around the world or early versions of book jackets that didn't make it, or a funny story you wrote as a kid, or a writing notebook with a thousand cross-outs in it, or your own embarrassing childhood photo, the menu from the restaurant that inspired the book, or whatever. People love "behind the scenes" stuff and "making of" stuff, and kids love knowing that fancy published authors were just kids like them once upon a time.

6.b - Caveat about technology! USE YOUR IMAGINATION in your presentation, sure. But be aware that if you are relying on powerpoint, most bookstores won't have a screen or projector... so. Don't rely on powerpoint, is what I'm saying. But if you do, be prepared to bring your own equipment. (If you know that you have a tiny voice and it is likely to be a big crowd, tell the store ahead of time - they might well have a microphone, but they'll probably have to set it up.)

Tip #7: Bribe the audience. It's fun if you have giveaways - like maybe bookmarks or postcards to hand people as they are getting their books signed (or for kids who can't get a book but would like an autograph). Sometimes authors bring little prizes (stickers, pins, a little candies, something like that) for the people that ask the first questions or buy a book -- or something a bit more special (galley of a new book, bookstore gift card, t-shirt, burned CD of a "playlist" for the book, etc) as a raffle or for the person who came from the farthest. At my store we always do giveaways for the teen events, but most bookstores probably don't, so you can bring stuff yourself and make it happen if you want to.

Tip #8: Feed the audience. Personally, I love having little refreshments at events. The bookstore will sometimes provide refreshments, sometimes not. Sometimes they aren't allowed. By all means ask. If you want to bring special treats, CLEAR IT WITH THE BOOKSTORE FIRST so they are aware and have a place to put the stuff - and be sure that you provide napkins, a platter, cups, a wine key, or whatever you will need. Don't bring anything that requires cutlery or is messy - no popcorn or red wine.

For regular signings, I think just a plate of cookies or something is sufficient and nice. For launch parties, it is fun to go a little overboard and have a nice spread, and to have things that are "book specific" - like, Japanese treats for a book set in Japan, or food that is mentioned in the book. But whatever you do, keep the type of refreshment appropriate for the time of day and audience - animal crackers and (light-colored) juice works for little kids. Cookies or mini-cupcakes and lemonade works for older kids. White wine, sparkling water, grapes and crackers & cheese if you are expecting mostly adults.

Tip #9: APPRECIATE YOUR BOOKSTORE! This should go without saying, but kind words about the bookstore you are in is always appreciated. Buy a book or two yourself while you're in there. AND PLEASE, do not direct people to buy the book from a competitor like A**zon while you are IN THE BOOKSTORE having an event with piles of the book in front of you. Yes, this has actually happened. It is absolutely shocking, and makes the booksellers Instantly Hate You Forever. Common sense, no?

Tip #10: VITAL for traditionally published authors: Keep your publicist in the loop. Don't go off half-cocked and book a bunch of events without telling anyone. You really don't want to work at cross-purposes to your publisher. Some publicists will really want to be the point person for all events - others are more hands-off - but even if they don't do anything and it is something you are totally booking on your own, you REALLY need to tell them what is going on & where you'll be at least. This is for your own benefit, so they don't think you are a loose cannon, and because the bookstore will probably need to be in touch with them for various reasons (ordering the book, getting hi-res author photos, or getting co-op money for advertising, for example!) - and boy-oh-boy is it awkward when the publisher has no clue what the author is doing.

Any other questions for me, or tips for our anxious writer-friend?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

ProTips for Published Authors pt 1: WEBSITE TIPS

UPDATED 5/9/12: The lovely Laura L. Sullivan has changed her website so it now features the info I highlighted in this post. So now the example doesn't work -- but you CAN now use her page as an example of what you SHOULD do! I'm leaving the post as-is because I think the info is still important, but the links won't show you what they used to now. Carry on. (And buy LADIES IN WAITING!) ;)


Time to put on my bookseller hat and give all you adorable published authors a couple of quick but IMPORTANT tips.

I'm going to pick on a certain blog/website, by author Laura L. Sullivan (LADIES IN WAITING, Harcourt 2012) today. Note, and edited for clarification: I don't know Laura personally, she isn't a client or anything. I'm only picking on Laura because I happened to notice it this morning, and it is something I notice ALL THE TIME on various author websites. There is nothing inherently "bad" about Laura's website, just a couple small points I noticed with my booksellers eye. On the whole, it's a good, simple and clean presentation, with a funny and informative blog. Her book looks awesome and I can't wait to read it. And... that's where the problem comes in.

Take a look at the page she's set up for her brand new YA book. It's neat, clean, has a nice description and a good image. It looks right up my alley, in fact! But... notice anything missing? I bet booksellers will...

I don't know who the publisher is, or what the ISBN is, or how to order it other than from A**zon, where I don't shop.

My first question when somebody tells me about a new book is almost always "who is the publisher?" (My second question, if I am sitting at my desk, is "what's the ISBN")
If I know the publisher, I know which sales rep to beg for a copy. I know how I'll be ordering it for the store. (If I have the ISBN I can order it right then and there and be sure I am getting the right book!) I'll likely have a good idea of the type of reader the book will appeal to, to be honest, because so many imprints really do have a "brand" -- a book about bawdy restoration teenage girls is probably going to be a lot different as a Simon Pulse book than as an FSG book. It just IS. I might order it either way, but I'd like an idea of what I am getting into. I know that the general public, average readers, don't know or care much about who publishes what. But booksellers, particularly buyers, and librarians care - they care a lot.

When you don't put the publisher name anywhere on your website, it makes it seem like the book is self-published. There isn't anything wrong with being self-published... but frankly, it makes it a lot more difficult for booksellers and librarians to get hold of your book, and a lot less likely that I'd pursue vigorously for author events and the like. Yes, I could click around a bit and find the pub info on A**zon (which is what I did in this case) -- but if I was on the run, or only had a second to look, I simply wouldn't bother clicking - I'd say, Oh, well, I guess I'll look it up again later, and then promptly forget.

A**zon doesn't hold author events, or host book fairs, or contribute to the community. It is really important to a lot of people (not just booksellers - but YES, BOOKSELLERS!) that you not just link to A**zon. I would strongly encourage adding links to B&N and IndieBound at least, plus it would be EXTRA nice if you also linked to whatever your personal indie bookstore is, and if you don't have one, someplace like Powells or Books of Wonder.

I was a buyer and events coordinator for a major bookstore for many years. I am still a bookseller in fact, and I still do author events! So please believe me when I tell you:

You are losing sales when you don't have publisher information immediately visible - and you are accidentally offending people when you only link to A**zon. Your website is for readers - but it isn't JUST for readers, it is also for people who get books into readers' hands. And it is easy-peasy to help them help you!

I like to see the TITLE (pub, date), as I did in the opening to this blog post, the first time a book is mentioned on a website (like, on the "about me" page for example). You don't need to KEEP mentioning it, but mentioning it once is nice. You can take the year out once it isn't "new" anymore, if you like.

And then this info would be great to see set in its own paragraph after the description on the book page:

by Author
Young Adult
Publisher, Year
ISBN 13:
Audio ISBN: (if applicable)

Available from [IndieBound], [B&N], [A**zon], and your local independent bookstore.

AND NOW, ladies and gentlemen, I'm gonna go get my hands on a copy of LADIES IN WAITING!

[ETA: Again, this is a UNIVERSAL problem, I notice it ALL the time - and I picked Laura's website because I think it is otherwise REALLY GOOD. And the book looks REALLY GOOD. This is not a ding against her personally - I hope a thousand people click on her website and think the book looks great too!]

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Reading with the Enemy

I've seen a lot of outraged links this weekend to a certain commentary by Orson Scott Card. Frankly, I don't have the energy to find the offending article, but if you really want to know the deets, you can probably google something like "Orson Scott Card Homophobia" and come up with plenty of dirt.

Because yeah. Orson Scott Card? Pretty much a flaming homophobe, and he is in no way shying from this position. He's loud, he's proud, he's not a fan of equal rights for The Gays. This is not news, though of course every time he writes a new commentary on the subject, people get freaked out again.

And I get it.

As a huge fan of The Gays myself, I'd rather not support somebody who I think is hateful against them.

But near as I can tell, what OSC is doing is just exercising his freedom of speech. Rather bravely, I'd say, considering he's spouting some seriously unpopular opinions. (I absolutely DO NOT AGREE with him and think he might be broken-brained, but I still acknowledge that it takes some balls to wave your loony flag around like that.) And he isn't dumb - he knows very well that his position is not embraced by a lot of people (particularly the people who will likely be keen to leave outraged comments on the interwebs), but he's living his own truth. He's not actively taking anything away from anyone, he's not attacking anyone physically, he's not threatening anyone or committing any crime. Soooo...

Do I want to line OSC's pockets with gold? Heck no. I don't pay for his books anymore, personally (though I certainly did as a kid). If somebody asks me what I think of him, I'll say this: He is a very good storyteller. Ender's Game is probably one of my most re-read books of all time. He's excellent at starting series (less successful at finishing them). He's extremely problematic personally/politically.

BUT. You should still totally read Ender's Game. Get it from the library. Borrow it from somebody. Order it from A**zon, read it, then return it. [ETA: kidding!] If only so you can know what people are talking about. It is sort of silly to get up in arms about a book you haven't read or an author whose work you don't know.

And Ender's Game is good. It's VERY good. It had a profound impact on the way that I personally read, and since reading is like 80% of my life, it has had a big impact on my life. So actually... maybe buy it. What the heck, it's only a mass market paperback, it's not like you are giving him more than two bits.

And this brings me to my real question:

At what point does an artist's work overshadow their personal issues?

Like... look. Let's get real. Lots of great authors, directors, painters, singers and the like are actually TOTAL DOUCHE-CANOES. Basically 9 out of 10 people from the olden days were at least somewhat one or more of the following: racist, misogynist, anti-semitic, homophobic, violent alcoholics and/or wife-beaters. It's easy to sugar-coat the old days, or excuse bad behavior. Some bad behavior, indeed, is in the eye of the beholder. But to get specific:

* Herge, creator of Tintin: Nazi Collaborator. ("But he didn't know what he was doing!")

* Elia Kazan, director of ON THE WATERFRONT and STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE: Turned over his friends and colleagues to the House Unamerican Activities committee. ("But he only named names that they already knew!")

* William Burroughs: drug addict, total weirdo, shot and killed his wife. ("But it was an accident!")

* Frank Sinatra: Mafia ties, violent, alcoholic wife-beater. ("OK, but only when he was drinking gin.")

* John Lennon: Drug addict, wife-beater. ("But he was a GENIUS!")

* Harlan Ellison: Noted curmudgeon, inappropriate lady-groper. ("Inappropriate, or zany? Curmudgeon, or gadfly?")

* Frida Kahlo (only because I haven't mentioned any ladies): Bisexual communist who had extramarital affairs all over the place including with Trotsky. (Not that I think there is anything wrong with that, personally, but lot of Americans would). ("Everyone was a communist in those days! Trotsky had that neat goatee!")

* Michael Jackson: Come on.

Woody, Roman, Pee-Wee, etc etc, THE LIST GOES ON. Lots of people are less awesome in real life than we'd like them to be. They are... well, they are people. People are flawed. Some people believe things that you don't believe. Some of them do things you wouldn't do. Some are real schmucks. Some of them are actually criminals. Does this take away from their work?

I seriously want to know: Do you expect creators to be "nice" or have private lives or political beliefs that you approve of? Do you think this is an unreasonable expectation?

Can you separate somebody's political/personal/religious views or personality from their artwork/writing/music?

If you met an author and he was a real jerk to you - would you read his books? What if you were already a fan? Would you stop liking whatever you'd liked before?

If you saw some art, and you had no knowledge of the creator, and you thought it was a work of genius... and then you found out the artist had murdered somebody then committed suicide ten years ago... would you think less of the artwork?

Same piece of artwork, you have no knowledge of the creator, you think it is a work of genius... and then you overhear the artist telling racist jokes at the bar. Think less of the artwork now?

I AM FULL OF QUESTIONS AND THOUGHTS on this topic and I could go on for ages - I'd love to hear what you all think.

[ETA: To clarify (or mystify?) even further: Despite however it might sound above, I really DON'T have concrete opinions on this topic. It's a big one, and I myself am completely conflicted and unable to process it without emotions. So don't worry about offending me or anything else - I am asking what you think because I really want to know!]