Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So, What If Your Book Doesn't Sell?

There's a piece in The Millions today that got under my skin a bit: "Shutting the Drawer: What Happens When a Book Doesn't Sell?"

First of all, I don't think the author of this essay needs to have to have the funeral service for her book quite yet. Nine months is a long-ish time, but it isn't actually a LONG time. Particularly if there are warm responses from editors - why not tweak the book and try another round, for crying out loud? Sheesh. But whatever, that is between her and her agent.

This goes out to the rest of you.

Thing is... and I am not sure there is a gentle way to say this, but... just because you want to be published, doesn't mean you automatically get to be. Not even if you are super smart. Not even if you are super smart and SPECIAL. Not even if you have lots of published friends or an MFA or a great agent or whatever.

Maybe your book hasn't sold because you just haven't found the right editor yet. Or MAYBE your book hasn't sold because it just isn't good enough. So REVISE, or write another, better, book.

Sometimes books don't sell. Sometimes they take a long time to sell. I've sold books after YEARS of trying. A recent agency book was sold after 4 years of submission and 45+ editor rejections, and now has starred reviews and is going places. It happens, it really does.

Sometimes you have to revise them before they sell... or revise them again. Sometimes you have to take a break and come back later with fresh eyes. Sometimes you have to shelve it and then cannibalize that book for parts. Sometimes you have to shelve it and move on. Sometimes you have to shelve it and move on... more than once.

I've said it before: first books are very often like first pancakes. Sort of a mess. A shame to waste food, but if they are not in servable condition, you have to throw them away. Or better yet, eat them yourself while you cook better ones.

The good news is, those ugly books aren't a waste. You'll be a better writer because you wrote them. The only way to learn to be a writer is to WRITE. The only way to learn to write novels is to write some novels. That doesn't mean they should all be published - but it also doesn't mean that they weren't worth writing. I have never heard of somebody becoming a WORSE writer with practice.

If the book that doesn't sell is the book that taught you how to be a better writer, it was worth spending time, blood, sweat & tears on.

Now keep going!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Scamsters Want YOU

While going through some of my childhood stuff on a recent house-move, I found a photo album full of pictures I'd cut out of trashy teen star magazines when I was in elementary school. I remember poring over these rags with my friends, reading them from cover to cover, even the ads in the back.

Draw Tippy the Turtle and you could go to Art School! Find true love by calling this number! Have your fortune told over the phone!

Of course we never FELL for any of them... until... Amazing weight loss tricks & glamour model lessons, and if you order now, FREE French Sunglasses!

Well obviously we wanted this. I mean, hello. We were 10 year old girls, the promise of glamour was catnip to us. But $15.99 or whatever it was was way out of reach. Unless we all put our money together... so we did. And I sent off the form, and the money. And we waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing. NOTHING.

Now, I wasn't a stupid kid. I knew that the "secret" to losing weight was to eat healthy food and do more exercise. I knew that models worked hard, were genetically blessed, and generally older than fifth grade. But... I REALLY REALLY WANTED THOSE GLAMOUR LESSONS. Weeks passed. Nothing. Seeds of doubt were planted in my heart. Months passed. I wrote them a letter. Nothing. I wrote them a FANCY letter on my mom's lawyer stationery.

Finally, one day! Six months later! An envelope! A dirty, thin envelope. With... a crummy, illegible quarter-page flyer in it with some smeary fake "model tips." I was crushed. And bitter. And mostly, just so, so embarrassed. HOW could I have been so dumb? And I'd not only spent my own money, but also had to explain to my friends that I'd lost their money as well. AND DID NOT EVEN HAVE FRENCH SUNGLASSES TO SHOW FOR IT. *woe*

So what does that have to do with you, my doves?

Well, gmail and similar companies have ads which target you based on what your emails are about. Every time I check my gmail, the ads on the sides and top of my email are all about writing and publishing. The thing is... they are all scams. ALL. SCAMS.

I barely notice them. It doesn't register with me, because I am not their target audience. But you... you, my pretty and innocent little writer friends... you who are unpublished but want to be, who can't seem to get the attention of agents and editors, who are maybe even to scared or confused to know how to TRY to get that attention... YOU ARE THEIR TARGET.

And as much as I would like to give each and every one of you some French Sunglasses, I can't.

So here instead are some words of wisdom.

, it's a scam.

Writing takes practice. Lots of practice. Traditional publishing is very competitive, and generally quite time consuming. If somebody is offering you a shortcut, it's a scam.

MONEY FLOWS TO THE WRITER. Agents do NOT get paid until you do. Traditional publishers pay YOU, not vice-versa. While there are totally legit services you can hire to help you edit your book and the like, if somebody is offering to be your "agent" or "publisher" and they say you will be traditionally published, but they want you to write them a check, it's a scam.


WHEN IN DOUBT, LOOK IT UP ON PREDITORS & EDITORS. While the website is not infallible and there have been mistakes or instances of miscommunication on there, if an agency or publisher is marked "caution"... do yourself a favor and pay attention. And take a look at their warnings page, more ways to spot a scamster.

These scamsters are CRIMINALS, and they are able to operate because they are practiced and smooth, and because so many writers are so full of hopes, dreams and wishful thinking that they don't use their noodles. And then are often so humiliated at having been scammed, or so confused, that they don't or can't warn others.

If you get taken by one of these schmucks, you stand to lose much more than $15.99. A scam publisher can potentially take you for hundreds or thousands of dollars, can take the rights to your work, can take your words and your dreams and your dignity, and yes, even years of your life, because that's what you'll spend in trying to get your money back or living in regret.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Great Big TOUR POST

There are certain things that happen to some writers that other writers may look upon with envy. Being "sent on tour" for example, is not something that happens to every writer, and if you've never been sent on tour, you might be tempted to believe that it is all Ritz Suites and Stretch Limosines. (Hint: Ritz Crackers and Some Stranger's Buick le Sabre are a bit closer to the mark.)

While it is awesome to get to (hopefully) connect with readers and booksellers in far-flung towns, tours can also be really physically and mentally grueling. They can mean weeks of disrupted routine, rarely if ever seeing spouse or kids or pets, sleeping in a weirdly different bed every night, abrupt time-zone changes, strange itineraries that involve going through Chicago to get from Portland to Seattle, daily plane trips (with all the attendant drama there, we all know how efficient and fun plane travel has gotten!)... add to that the pressure of being, you know, put together, not a wreck, friendly and "ON" when you get wherever you are going (because nobody likes the complainy grump with bags under her eyes snapping at Iowa schoolchildren...) Yeah. I don't know. I personally wouldn't sign up for it, I value my sleep time and cozy bed too much.

ALL THAT SAID - sometimes genius writers have to crawl out from their genius-writer-holes, strap on their outgoing smile, and go where their publisher tells them.  One of my authors is headed out next month for almost two straight months of travel and appearances, and she had a slew of questions for me -- and I was hoping maybe some of my author-friends who have been in her shoes can advise?

This post can then serve as the go-to whenever one of my authors asks such questions in the future.

* I told her she should get bookmarks or buttons or similar to bring with and give to fans when they get their books signed.

* And a little book with which to put down the names of all the stores she visits and who the events coordinator was so that she can send thank you notes, and she can have an area in there where people can sign up for her mailing list if they want to, or give her their twitter-handle, so she can tweet them, etc etc.

* And her laptop of course, plus any special cords she might need if she will be doing powerpoint presentations at schools or anything.

Any other must-brings?  What about clothes?  Do you check baggage, or no?  How do you pack for two weeks solid with no home-time? Tips/Tricks?  (This is Sept/Oct, US/UK, school visits + book fairs + bookstores + possibly a couple of posh dinner type things.)



Saturday, August 06, 2011

Editorial Agent, or what?

I read this blog post from Authoress Anon with interest yesterday... particularly the comments section. It seems that everyone wants an "editorial agent" who is really hands-on. And most agents I know describe themselves as "editorial agents."

It made me think about myself -  am I an "editorial agent"?  I don't think I am. I am not an editor, I am a SELLER. I want editors to edit. But I do give advice, when needed. I certainly comment on most everything my clients give me, and suggest tweaks, etc. That is editorial...


The only analogy I can come up with is a real estate analogy.

If your manuscript is a house you are trying to sell, I am the agent, and editors are prospective buyers.

I will certainly give you advice on things to clean up to help me show it to its best advantage (repaint that garage door! bake some cookies!) I will "stage" the house. I will create an awesome listing that helps turn potential negatives into positives.

Cramped? No, "Cozy."

Sinkhole? Try "Seasonal pond."

No closets?  "Classic style."

Needs work?  "Great potential."

Falling apart? "Handyman's dream!"

I will take potential buyers on a tour and make them see what their lives could be like here. Sure it'll take a bit of elbow grease, but the attention they pay and the touches they give it are what will make a house a home. Won't they be the envy of the neighborhood when they show off this beauty?  Don't they love it? Now let's negotiate.


However... I am not an architect. I am not a general contractor. I am not even a handyman. I didn't build the house, and I can't just go in and fix the house myself.

I can point out the problems that might keep you from selling it, but the house has to have good bones to begin with, and you have to do the hard work. It is YOUR house.

This analogy falls apart once the book is sold, because of course, it is STILL your book and you have to do the hard work. But at this point, you'll have not just one, but a group of experts to help you get it to that next level. Which, in this now completely broken analogy, would presumably be a spread in Better Homes and Gardens.

OK, OK, I'll shut up now. Anyway... I'll pose the same question to readers of this blog. What do you think? What kind of agent are YOU looking for? (Or if you are agented, what kind of agent do you have?)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Notes from the Career Development Desk

Q: From what I've read, the best way for someone without professional editing/publishing experience to elbow their way into the publishing industry is an internships. All but a few internships are unpaid. Nearly all publishing internships are based in the northern/northeastern states. Of those, most are in New York. Assuming those very general assumptions are correct, here's my question...

What's a broke Southerner to do? Unpaid internships work for those with a nest egg, I suppose, but New York is an expensive place that's even pricier when one factors in relocation.
I know this can't be right, but by all appearances, the deck seems to be rigged in favor of New York natives or people wealthy enough to move and live on the pay of a part-time job (assuming they can find one) while interning. Is there something I'm missing? Something that exists that hasn't been said that changes the above set of assumptions?
It is very generous of you to imagine that "this can't be right."  In fact, you are right. I'd say the deck is rigged toward a) the wealthy, b) NY natives, or c) the very ambitious, who are willing and able to happily live on a tight budget.

Publishing jobs are very often in NYC or other major cities, and even once you have a real job as an editor, you will in general be paid VERY POORLY. I cannot stress enough that these are not jobs you take because you are money-hungry. Prestige? Sure. Snob appeal? Totally. But 'easy way to pay rent'... not-so-much. I am not saying you have to be a trust-fund baby - I'm saying, you have to prepare to be stone broke for a while.

Agents, as it happens, almost universally make zero (0) dollars when they start, and sometimes for a really long time. When I started at my agency, my boss told me in no uncertain terms that I was unlikely to see money before a year, and unlikely to be able to live off my earnings for five years. I was very lucky and started selling right away... but she still wasn't TOO far off.  This is why many agents are: a) independently wealthy/from wealthy families, b) married, (and/or) c) have a second job/work as an assistant when they are new.

Editorial is slightly different as you'll at least get some sort of paycheck, but, assuming you are coming in with no experience, you'll still have to slog for a long while as an intern or lowly assistant, then slightly less lowly assistant, before you actually become an editor. And even when you are an editor, you aren't going to be pulling in huge dollars. Again, this is a job you take for the love, not for the money.

And it's a part of the reason publishing has a long history of being called things like a "gentleman's business," and why you do find a relatively high percentage of over-educated, privileged white folk in the halls of publishing. (I am not excluding myself from this description.)

Of course this means that, gatekeeper-wise, there can sometimes seem to be a dearth of unique perspectives and world-views. It would be really great if there were more opportunities for people of color, people from different places and socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. All I can say is -- it's a known problem.  Many companies [claim to] strive to be pro-active about reaching out to different kinds of people. Most major publishers DO offer paid internship programs.  (Click here to find a listing of many internships - you'll see some paid, including Random House, Scholastic, Macmillan...) But of course, those internships are also likely to be very much sought after. And they mostly all in NYC, which, as you mention, is a bear of a place to live in while broke.

Here's what I would do, if I were a Southern college student who wanted to be an editor: I'd try to find an internship at a local small publishing house or literary agency. Yes, these places do exist, even in the south, depending on where you are.  I'd try to get a paying job at a bookstore (hopefully you have one near you!)  I'd work my butt off in school, and save as much money as possible until graduation. I'd make friends in NYC, or local friends who also have NY ambitions.

Then I'd probably do what generations of broke kids have done in NY, and that is couch-surf or live with a ton of roommates, hustle to apply to as many (paid) internships in NY and entry-level jobs as possible, and/or see if there are ways to get scholarships or financial aid for the Columbia Publishing Course or NYU Publishing Course. (I personally have no idea if these options are offered - but hey, you can ask!). Also, learn to budget if you don't know how already, and get to like the taste of rice and beans.

But maybe I myself am missing something. I know lots of editors and editorial assistants... maybe some of you can chime in with some advice for our new Southern friend?


ETA: So what, we can get one Southerner an internship or a job, possibly, maybe... How does any of this fix the BASELINE PROBLEM - lack of diversity in NYC publishing? Well, it doesn't. But if you would like to comment on that, I would love to hear it.