Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Market Your Ass Off on Radio

Scott Jensen who frequently comments on our posts wrote this one in response to our recent Blog post, Market Your Ass Off. Comments are great and valuable adding to what we are trying to teach writers about the publishing world. However, this one was above and beyond. So we made the decision to feature his valued insights on Radio Marketing instead of hiding them where possibly no one could take full advantage of his professional marketing expertise. Hope you don’t mind, Scott.

He wrote:

And let us not forget radio talk shows. They are ALWAYS starving for new guests to interview. When I released my white paper "P2P Revolution" free over the net, I got on several and one of the nationals. Heck, I've been on radio talk shows over letters-to-the-editor I've written to newspapers. A non-fiction book would give you even more creditability to get on these shows. All radio talk shows these days have websites. Go to them and there will be a contact email address to which you send in a pitch. In fact, many will have a separate email address for just this purpose.

As I have appeared on a lot of radio talk shows and, being a marketer by trade, gotten tons of clients on such shows and advised them how to make the best of it, here's the pointers for becoming a great radio talk show guest.

1) NEVER use a cellphone or portable phone to do the interview over. Always use a land line. Many shows will even demand you only use a land line. Land lines give better sound quality and there's no fear that a battery will die halfway through the interview.

2) Do the interview in a quiet room in your house. Turn off everything that makes noise. ESPECIALLY the radio show you're about to be on since that can cause fingernails-on-blackboard feedback noise. Do not let anyone ... not even your beloved spouse ... be in the room with you. Turn off all fans. If you have central air, shut it down for the interview period. Put the dog and cat out in the yard. If your dog is a barker, have a friend take it over to their house.

3) Relax. Nothing is worse that a nervous motormouth guest. This is not a race. Choose your words carefully. LAUGH at the host's jokes!!! Just before you appear on their show, take some deep slow breaths and calm down your heart rate.

4) Don't over pitch your book. Hosts HATE people that are constantly pitching their book/company/whatever. Realize that the host will tell their listeners your credentials before and at the end of the interview. Your chief credential being your book. Having said this, casually work into your chat phrases like "Well, I did cover that in my book. In a nutshell, here's the main thing about that. You see..." Each time you use phrases like that, you tease the listeners to get and read your book.

5) TELL ALL!!! Never ever say anything like "I don't want to give away too much from my book." or other such nonsense. Give it all away. The more you give away, the more reason the listeners will want to get your book. Listeners will rightly assume your book has even more good information in it that that little five/fifteen/hour interview could ever possibly give. Tell all your book's secrets. All of its gems.

6) Have a sense of humor. If you can tell a joke or make the host laugh in some way, you're gold as far as that show is concerned. Nothing gets you an invitation back like being a guest that can make the host laugh. And the best humor is self-depreciating humor. Yup, humor at your own expense. Look at the greatest comedians. Their best jokes make fun of themselves.

7) If the host attacks you, don't return fire. Calmly point out something that is in your favor. Do not ... let me repeat that ... do NOT ever get into a shouting match with the host. Even if the host is a shock jock. Let them rant. You keep a cool head. And don't take it personal. One radio talk show host tried to roast me alive on his show and I calmly disfused all of his attacks. After the show, the show's producer was thrilled with my performance and gave me an open invitation to return. Then the host hopped on for a second and thanked me for being on. Only seconds before he was yelling at me and now he was very friendly. The point is to realize that talk radio is first and foremost show biz. Don't take anything said personally.

8) Keep on target. If the host wanders off on some bizarre trail, let him. It is HIS show. However, whenever possible, bring the talk back to your book's topic. Study Ronald Reagan for how a master does this.

9) After appearing on the show, send the producer and the host snail mail letters thanking them for having you on and offer to be on their no-show list of guests. Each talk show has a no-show list. This is a list of guests they can call at a moment's notice to fill in for a guest that ... you guessed it ... doesn't show. Give all you telephone numbers and volunteer for their no-show list. One show had me on twenty times in three months and only the first one was a scheduled interview. All the rest were fill-ins.

10) When you think up a new spin for your book, pitch the talk shows again. You can appear on a talk show again and again for the same book IF you can think of a new angle (a new conversational point) for the host to talk to you about in regards to your book. Pitch, pitch, pitch.

Good luck!

Scott

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust

The closing of Impetus Press located in Iowa City reminds us here at Wylie-Merrick what it’s like to fight the good fight and lose. Although we are not closing our doors, we have had to close to new writers. However, this story reminds us of the extra effort it takes to operate in what’s known as “Fly Over Country,” the backwater a few of the editors we deal with probably will never see or understand.

Art happens where it happens and, even though New York City thinks of itself as the center of the universe, most art happens elsewhere. It just ends up on one of the coasts because that’s where all the big buildings are, and it’s way easier and much hipper to have a book launch in a big building next to a great catering facility than it is to have one in the school gym next to a local steakhouse, even if they have really good steak.

Excuse me for being bitchy, but when I read about Impetus Press closing, it saddened me to think that yet another source for good books had been defeated by the unrelenting tide of mega bookstore returns. It’s also sad that poor distribution has claimed yet another victim in the war of art—or at least a good read--over commercial glop. It saddens me that what Willy Blackmore, whose great-grandfather was John Farrar of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and writer Jennifer Banash have failed not because they didn’t have a decent product, but because of a bad economic climate and the overwhelming tide of book returns. And yet another small publisher is gone. What would John Farrar think of a present publishing system that allows a distribution mess that favors the bookstore over the publisher? What would he think of an industry in which his great grandson failed even while trying to publish in the tradition that made his press world famous?

Impetus tried to publish books in the old tradition, books that created readers instead of cookie cutter novels that are published to give their readers instant gratification-beach reads and glop that’s forgotten the instant the book is dropped in the sand. As was once said, a great novel changes its reader—not anymore.

Not anymore.

Publishing today looks for the next best-seller or which small publisher’s backlist can be next acquired. Art is not even considered as great new authors wait in the wings for spaces consistently occupied by the same big name authors. They wait patiently for their voices to become silent or fall out of favor. Unfortunately, many of them give up.

Impetus was only in business for three short years, but they made quite an impact during that time. Jennifer loved her authors and she and Willy are trying to place them with other presses. We wish them all good luck and God’s speed.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Market Your Ass Off

Someone asked a question the other day that went something like this: When a contract is signed and edits are completed, does the publisher place the book on its Web site and is the author allowed to post his or her book on his own site? This got me to thinking maybe there are others out there who don’t understand the importance of marketing. Hopefully, the answer to this writer’s question will be of value to others.

Note: In the following, I will refer to both fiction and non-fiction works as books. I refer to them as books, because that’s what they are—books, as in bookstore, a place where books are sold.Yes, I know that a novel is fiction and book is used to designate nonfiction. I also know that the word "book" is used as catch all terminology for both fiction and nonfiction.

As far as what a publisher does to market books, that would be a question you should ask your publisher. However, generally, if the publisher has a Web site, they would put their entire list there and, in the case of very small publishers, might even sell the book from their Internet site. But that doesn't mean an author SHOULD depend solely on his publisher to market his or her book(s). Each author should also have a Web site, a blog and should, whenever possible, promote his/her books on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace along with links to any and every site possible. A writer must use all avenues open to him to do whatever he can to make sure that his book is in as many readers' hands as possible. A writing career is built on making readers aware of who you are and what you write. If you don’t do this, you are just another name among the hundreds of thousands of names of people who have offered their literary wares. It’s imperative that you, literally, make a name for yourself.

Never pass up an opportunity to market your product. The reasoning behind this is that an author, as the book's creator, is a celebrity in the eye of his/her readers. Most readers don't know, or care, who published their favorite book. Publisher promotion is never as effective as an author’s, thus most publishers depend on the writer to promote his or her own books. It's imperative and an author's duty to market his or her books to any and everyone possible. The Internet is there for the taking and it reaches more people than just about any other communication device ever known to man. Take complete advantage of this wonderful marketing tool. Study marketing techniques. Learn from what has succeeded and what has failed. Be a marketing guru.

If the author fails to do this--to do his or her own marketing--there is a good possibility that his book, especially a first book, will fail. And if it does, there’s a good chance it will be the end of any writing career the author had anticipated. Publishers are never anxious to waste money on authors whose books have failed. If a book flops, it's usually because the author did little or nothing to promote his or her book. So get out there and sell those books. You’ll profit from it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quagmire by Any Other Name is Still...Quagmire

This post is in response to Josephine’s question, “What if a query said "MY TITLE is written in the tradition of X and X" (best selling novels)? Would that be an instant turn-off? Auto-reject?”

It's all in the phrasing. If you state that your work is the same as a famous someone's work, your stating that, as an artist, you are at the same level as him or her, which might be viewed as an arrogant and presumptuous statement. Why even say that your book is written like anyone’s book? Why not let your work stand on its own merits rather than make comparisons? Some agents might view this as name-dropping or you might run the risk of naming an author’s work that an agent can’t stand, which could be a complete turnoff. So why take these kinds of chances by mentioning someone else’s work?

I know for many this might sound like a cop out, but when querying agents you really don't know how anything will be taken on the receiving end; you can only do the best you can based on the knowledge you have of the agency or agent, or lack thereof. So in that case, it might be safer to pick and choose your phraseology carefully, which is standard practice when writing a formal or business letter to someone you don't know well. Err on the side of caution.

Would it be an instant turn-off or an auto-reject if you said your book is written in the tradition of a certain author’s book? That would of course depend on how well your book was written and on how familiar the agent was with the referenced work. If you offer a comparison to an author with whom an agent is unfamiliar, he or she might think you don’t know what you’ve written and are trying to move attention away from that fact by trying to impress him or her with your vast literary knowledge. Another aspect is that if the agent knows the work to which you are making your comparison and your novel or book doesn’t stand up to that comparison. No matter how you phrase it, you are asking for trouble.

As far as I’m concerned, I base my acceptance on many things of which a well-written work is only one. If your book meets my requirements and I think I can work with you, I will represent your work. In other words, I over-look name dropping in favor of other factors.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Question of Social Networking

There are five questions in the series that Miss Expatria submitted. We will post the questions and answers one at a time here. Here’s the second in the series.

Question: How much has online social networking changed the way you do business, both in your dealings with potential clients and with the industry as a whole? Do you think this phenomenon will force the process to evolve over time?

Answer: Social networking per se, hasn’t affected the way I personally do business. The structure of how writers contact agents would have to be redefined and changed before much effect would be noticed. Most agents don’t solicit business, at least not in a conventional sense. Size, location and reputation have more bearing on who we are than anything else. Unfortunately, more emphasis these days placed on location than anything else as novice writers believe that being located in or close to NYC gives agents opportunities those of us outside the city don’t have. However, if an agent is known, has a track record for being able to find books editors want to publish, and is easy to work with, location means little in this business.

Social networking does a great job in giving potential clients a view of who we really are and in that respect networking has helped let those seeking agents know who we REALLY are. My current approach is to be out there more as a person rather than as an agent. Agents have gotten such a bad rap because of a few bad apples that if an agent looks to be too solicitous, danger alarms go off. With all the horror stories floating around on the internet about scammers, it’s no wonder writers are cautious. However, most agents actually like people, especially purple ones with orange stripes.

Because of the nature of the querying process, a literary agent, many times, is the first and possibly the only contact with publishing a new writer experiences. And because of the very nature of the query process, this experience might be very discouraging. Most writers experience rejection early on at the hands of a frustrated agent who, to keep up with his or her massive query load, will usually send a cold, canned rejection letter to all writers while muttering under his breath—“Dumb Ass!” Social networking does help remove some of social stigma caused by this frustrating experience. Writer and agents, know that we aren’t who each of us perceive the other to be so networking allows us to show our real, hopefully not to scary, faces to the public and gives us the opportunity to help each other en mass rather than one at a time, which we don’t often have the time, energy, or the opportunity to do.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Buy More Books

We’ve said over and over that publishing is a business and like any business, because of the recent financial slide, publishing is hurting. Click here for a blog post from Literary Ass that everyone should consider.

Go forth and buy those books. I am.

P.S. We, of course, highly recommend our clients’ most recent releases!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Burning Questions

There are several questions that writers should ask agents, but many are shy about making inquires. One reason for this could be writers believe that asking these questions would somehow shade how they are perceived by the agent or they may worry that really hard questions might make an agent angry enough to not want to offer representation. As for me, I believe if an agent gets angry when asked a legitimate question about publishing, the writer might be better off without that agent.

Last week I vented on Twitter about my muse hitting the wall when it comes to interesting ideas for blog posts. Miss Expatria, a very nice lady who writes about European travel from her home base in Italy, was kind enough to send me some tough, challenging questions. Because these questions made me stretch my brain muscles to come up with answers, the answers might phrased differently and might be a little more candid than you’re used to. My goal in answering them in this fashion is to stir up discussion, so please have at it.

1. Many movie pitches seem to depend on comparisons to other movies - "It's Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman," to quote from the first scene of The Player - but making a comparison like this in a query letter would get it thrown in the trash, and you could probably dine out on the story for a month. Why is that, in your opinion?

Answer: The reason is that it’s usually thought to be arrogant. This is especially true when the comparison comes from an unpublished author. A claim that a book by someone unpublished that his or her book is just like Steven King’s “Carrie” would be like an agent saying that he plays golf as well as Tiger Woods. It’s thought presumptuous for an untried writer to state that his work is similar to or the same as a work what sold several hundred thousand copies and from which a movie was made. It’s also discouraging when these comparisons are made and when the sample is read; the comparison usually falls way short of the claim made by its author. So if an author wants to impress an agent, just write something salable and leave comparisons to the critics after the novel is published.

The way the comparison is worded and the general overall feel of the letter makes all the difference in whether these comparisons are thought to be arrogant. For instance, instead of using statements containing words like “the same as” or “similar to” one might consider simply saying, "My book falls into the same category as Blank Blank or Blank." It might not seem like a big difference, but these few simple words can change the tone of a query from arrogant to neutral.

I’m looking forward to posting question number two. Please look for it soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Something to Consider

If you’ve been to our Web site lately, Sharene is closed to queries until January 1, 2009, and I’ve stopped taking queries from unpublished writers. The reason we decided to do this has much to do with the quality of queries we were receiving prior to this decision. So my next question would be to ask, “What’s going on out there in Writer Land?”

I don’t want to sound preachy, but folks, this is not a time to be lax on the quality side of your writing. Publishers have, for a number of years, been tightening their quality standards to the point that even that which was considered excellent writing a few years ago is now being rejected (and remember, fiction and nonfiction are fluid beings that grow and change over time as well).

Because inexpensive computers and word processors have given people the opportunity to become the writer they always wanted to be, more and more people are penning that which has been rattling around in their heads for years. This is not to say this is a bad thing because writing that poem, short story, or full length novel that you’ve always wanted to write is the most wonderful accomplishment imaginable, and I commend anyone who has attempted this and wish you to know that I applaud you. However, it’s a huge leap from putting that dream on the printed page to convincing a large group of people who would ordinarily spend that money for shelter, food, or clothing to instead spend it on your poem, short story or novel.

So, as an alternative, do something that this amazing time we live in allows each and every writer to engage in--publish your dream online and let others enjoy the fruits of your labor. You get to have a voice, and if you get a large enough readership, you might get published for actual money. (Don't forget that it is highly likely that the particular work you post will no longer be salable because it’s already been made available for a large reader base—the world. We have other posts on this.)

Here’s a suggestion…

Get yourself a Web site. If you want to be a successful author, you’re going to have to have one anyway. There are lots of companies that provide inexpensive Web hosting services and the templates to create a site in a matter of an hour or so. Next, post your poem, short story, or novel on your Web site. Another helpful tool will be a site statistics program that allows you to monitor how many Web visits your site receives each day, and since you’ll post nothing else there except your work, you must assume that everyone who goes to your site reads at least some of your poem, short story or book. Next get a free Twitter and Facebook account and advertise your Web site and the fact that you’re giving your work away free. From your marketing effort and Web stats, you now have the means to know how popular your work would be if it were sitting on a bookstore shelf. Actually, if you think about it, you will even have more evidence because you now have the ability to know how many potential readers have visited your site and read your creation. The other option is to post your work on your own blog space, which you can get for free. However, the problem with this is the temptation to post other items of interest there, which muddies the waters when trying to determine how popular your work is via Web stats.

One very last thing here is to ask for reader comments. Warning: Be prepared for criticism, because no matter how good you think your book is, your readers are the final judge. Then you have to decide how much weight to give each comment, as some people will be too eager to lavish you with complements or try to crush your ego just for fun.

If your now virtually-published book gets ten thousand hits and at least 200 excellent or great reviews, send me a query.

Now, I know we will get a lot of flack for this because most people have written one novel and giving it away for free is not what they had in mind. Well, here’s some news. Writers write; that’s what they do. You should have several pieces lying around you can work with or sell, not just one. Even just to establish a presence takes more than one project for 99% of writers out there. If you think you’re in the 1% that includes authors who hit it big on one book—Harper Lee, for example—then consider you are probably in good and abundant company. There’s a reason the phrase “writing the great American novel” exists. It’s because writing a book is one of those dreams that seems glamorous and easy when it is just the opposite, and everyone wants to do it. And everyone, including people all over the world, IS doing it.

In closing, years ago, Sharene and I wrote an article for the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market and in it made the comment that everyone, even the President of the United States, seemed to want to get published. I vividly remember seeing a review of the book on Amazon.com--from Publishers Weekly, I believe—where the reviewer picked that particular comment out of the guide and remarked on it as if it were unusual. People don’t believe us when we say it, but it’s true. There are millions of people who want to get their words in front of a large audience AND get paid for it, so the competition is fierce. I think the rise of blogs, Web sites, and social networking sites supports this and so why not use them to your benefit?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Aah, Those Little Secrets

Scott, one of our frequent contributors, asked a very interesting question today. Rather than post our response as a comment, we felt that because of the question’s depth and possible relevance, we would post it here.

Scott’s question is: What's your take on non-fiction by an author that keeps her/his real identity a secret? Let us say hypothetically that you're part of an industry where if you were honest about the industry it would hurt your career in it. That and if you could keep your identity a secret, you could talk more honestly and openly about your industry. Would having a judge or such publicly trusted person verify that you have the credentials you say you have help in such a situation?

My take on this is that if your identity is secret, doesn't that ruin credibility, or at least somewhat erode that credibility in the eyes of other experts? In my opinion, I would be rather skeptical of an expert who didn't want to risk his or her position and so wanted to hide behind a wall for fear of being identified.


Another consideration here is that anyone who writes a book, especially a controversial one, has to understand that his/her identity, at some point, could be compromised. So, that person would have to weigh that VERY heavily. What if the person’s identity is discovered? How much would that person be willing to sacrifice in terms of his/her professional and personal life? Many people write under pen names, but there is ALWAYS the risk of discovery, usually by accident. Or, in the case of something controversial, especially in today’s media-saturated, 24-hour news cycle to fill, Internet- overloaded society, anyone writing a book is subject to as much scrutiny as a political candidate. People who say they are experts do not have the luxury of remaining anonymous without being questioned, even if they can find people to certify their expertise.

I’m sure there are a few anonymous (so-called) experts out there, but for me, I really want to know who I’m dealing with and what their background is so I can understand the personal and professional filters through which the person gathered his/her knowledge. As a reader, that gives me a foundation on which I can build my own understanding. Expertise has to stand up to critical examination and anonymity usually doesn’t do well under that sort of scrutiny. In a way, it cuts off communication, and one of the frustrating things a person can do is refuse to communicate (consider the silent treatment).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Untrendy Trends

I’ve noticed some trends lately, and I hope that’s all they are. But first let me say that our only way of discerning whether you can write or not is gleaned though the query process. So if you drop the ball there, you probably won’t get past first base as far as an agent getting serious about seeing any of your work.

Many of you are now sending ten pages along with your query and that’s great, as it shows me that you’ve done some research on us. However, I have to say that just because you put a writing sample in your query doesn’t negate the necessity to also formulate a good query letter. As has been said over and over here and on just about every writer board that I’ve ever visited, QUERY LETTERS ARE IMPORTANT, so study how to write an effective one. There is no short-cutting this vital step. So if you’re getting loads of rejections, a bad query letter might be the reason.

One of the trends I’m seeing is that a number of writers send either their query, their pages, or a bio as an attachment. Do not attach anything to your query as that will only get you rejected. Viruses hide in attachments so most won’t ever be opened if they are not requested. But also, those who phish for information do so hoping that the recipient of your attachment will write back saying they won’t open attachments, so most agents, being aware of phishing techniques, will just hit the delete key.

Then there are those who have a passable query but get a rejection anyway. What’s that all about? It could be that you are querying something that’s not marketable, or something that I don’t represent. Yes, I’m open to many genre areas but I don’t take Christian or Spirituality queries at this time. The reason I reject in this area is that I don’t have expertise or sources developed and have no desire to develop them at this time.

Another tread is wrong word count: Yes I know that we’ve not posted what we consider a typical word count and we probably won’t. However, if you’re a novelist, it pays to know what constitutes a novel. For one thing, adult novels are larger than 50,000 words and anything less is a novella, short story, a young adult novel, a middle-grade novel, a picture book or a script. Information on exact word counts is like finding hens teeth, however, a little research will give you the answer and here’s how. Go to your local bookstore, picking up a few book and see what their average page count is. Next, multiply 250 words per page times that average and you have it. Say the average page count is around 350 pages, multiply that times 250 words per page and you have 87,500 words. Of course you don’t have to send exactly 87,500 words as that would be ridiculous. What I do like, however, are books that are well developed and well written and those books run somewhere in the neighborhood of 85,000 to 110,000 words. Simple books don’t do it for me.

If yours is a simple story with one character and no subplots that covers a day or two in the life of your characters, then yours will be a very short story, after you cut out all the overwriting that is. As for me, I like complex stories told from multiple viewpoints, so books that I like are usually around 350-450 finished book pages long. See how simple that was?

No commercial appeal: This is a catch all. It can mean anything, but I use it to mean that if the book you’ve written looks like what everyone else is writing—abused wife, kids, dog, bipolar problems, serial killer, fantasy set in a land far, far away and such, don’t send it to me. If it was a best seller a year ago, there’s been so many trying to duplicate it that it’s old news and has low or no commercial appeal. Whole genre’s have disappeared because of market gluts, so this is what I’m talking about here—no commercial appeal.

With all that I’ve mentioned above, I’ve left out the obvious books that have bad openings, point of view problems, no story, one dimensional characters—all that stuff that writers who query me have fixed already. However, if you haven’t, you probably shouldn’t query.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Grab Bag

Character, setting, theme, POV, and conflict/plot are the main elements of fiction and pretty much summarize the fundamentals on which editors and agents concentrate. Weakness in any of these areas can suck the life out of areas that are stronger, but every writer has their strengths and weaknesses. Few are masters at all elements and writers can spend a lifetime achieving mastery of only one.


To give an example, let’s say the author spends loads of time setting the scene at the novel’s beginning and none in getting conflict started or the main character developed. I’m not saying here that an author has to concentrate on all these elements as some areas are more essential than others, depending on the genre in which the book is being written. For instance, if a novel is plot-driven, as most pure genre novels are, then less time is spent on character development (however, that's not to say the characters aren’t developed) and more on making sure the plot moves forward rapidly, thus creating the page turner on which genre depends so heavily. However, if one is developing a novel that plays more on the readers’ emotions, then character, setting, theme and point of view come first, whereas conflict/plot are left to develop more slowly (but not too slowly and it has to be there). The art of bringing the elements together, making sure each is nuanced just so to get the story across, is the craft of fiction. As a writer, you need to understand the elements of fiction, your goals, the genre you write in, your ability, etc.

People write for a variety of reasons, but those who write successfully usually fall into two categories: entertainers and commentators on the human experience. To develop a novel and use your elements wisely, you need to know why you are engaging in the writing process.

I mentioned ability above. This is something else that is important for every writer to comprehend: no matter what level you start at, your writing ability grows and changes over time, just like fiction itself does. Some people start at a very low level (more weaknesses than strengths) and others start at a very high level (more strengths than weaknesses), but all writers share a common trait. If they continue to write, some part of their skillset will improve or change, for better or worse. Even published authors deal with this. At this point, you are all probably thinking that you know of published authors who have had one great novel and then a clunker…or three…or four. Usually, this is a result of other factors working against the creative ability once the author is published. Also, as one skill plateaus so another can be worked on, the writer has to go back and get up to speed on the skill he hasn’t focused on for quite some time as he’s improving in other areas. This is why some books may feel a bit uneven.

If you’ve heard of the “sophomore blues” then you know what we are talking about. No matter the skill level, it never gets easier to write that next novel. It may feel easier, but that doesn’t mean it is.

There are miles and miles to travel on these subjects, but to make this post short possibly more likely to be read, we are going to stop here and continue later.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Buzz vs Hype

Found this article by accident. Stephen King explains this better than we ever could.

Playing Against Hype

Sunday, August 03, 2008

My Point of View on POV

Point of view, or the perspective from which a story is told, seems to be something that causes problems in most of the writing samples I’m seeing of late. Also, of the comments and e-mails we’ve received on that post, almost all of them had to do with POV. Because of this, we decided to cover some of the choices available to you. Please understand that whole books have been written on this subject, so we have just brushed the surface here. If you would like to learn more about viewpoint, consult your local bookstore, Amazon, or see Writer’s Digest Books for more information on this very interesting, very important and valuable subject.

First person: The first person narrator is probably the most popular first choice of beginners because we write like we talk and, therefore it seems more natural to be in first person. It’s easy because this is how we first learn to write. In this viewpoint, we don’t have to think beyond ourselves, or at least it seems that way. In nonfiction, this is true; however, in fiction, first person requires becoming the main character and taking on their characteristics in some cases instead of the other way around. This can make it one of the most difficult POVs to use if done correctly (which is ironic considering it is usually viewed as the easiest by new writers). First person has other limitations, one of which is how does the main character describe him or herself to the reader? In the early use of this perspective, the character used a mirror to describe him or herself, but, as can be easily seen, this becomes cliché quickly as using the same device increases in popularity.

Another problem with the first person narrator is that seeing everything from one character’s point of view can become very limiting and unimaginative—something of which a novel should not be accused. Therefore, because there are other narrative choices that work better, a writer should choose the first person point of view only when no other choice will work. In other words, if there is no justification for using first person, then choose another viewpoint from which to tell your story.

In this point of view, the author often forgets to use all five senses and relies only on one, usually that of sight. Also, first person can smack of ego and that ego echoes over and over again because of the word “I”---“I’m going here and I’m doing this,” until your reader wants to choke the narrator. As can also be seen, first person has a habit of being wordy and boring if the author doesn’t actively maintain the main character’s perspective and instead injects his own.

One of the problems with this POV is that it can get tiring when overused in a genre. Chick-lit is a good example of this. The formula for the genre dictated the voice and many readers got bored with it because it was the same type of person over and over again. Lots of people, it was discovered, have the ability to have the “chick” voice, but it became very difficult to find authors who could take this in a new direction or make their voice stand out. This is one of the factors that helped the genre become stale fairly quickly.

Third-person omniscient: The omniscient narrator is one that sees all and knows all. It’s sometimes referred to as “the voice of God.” This narrative voice was popular in the 19th century and was the choice used by such classic authors as Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, in which he used the now famous opening line, “It was the best of times…”

The omniscient viewpoint is the voice of the author, as the author is the only one who knows all that’s going on in the novel he created. This viewpoint works well as long as you can make your audience believe that you know everything—that you are infallible and not capable of mistakes. This is very difficult to do in a society full of skeptics such as ours. In earlier centuries, authors or people who could write, were few and far between, so they had a sort of authoritative air about them and this POV would be accepted. However, fiction and all its elements grows and changes—remember, people is publishing and publishing is people—and so as society evolved and as the number of writers grew (and their air of authority diminished), this POV became less viable (less entertaining to the reader).

So, as can be seen, this point of view does not work well in modern times and therefore is rarely, if ever, used throughout a novel. It is, however, useful in novel openings where the author wants to achieve a wide-angle view of what is happening to things on stage. Steven King uses the omniscient viewpoint many times in his novel openings, as do many other thriller novelists. Omniscient eliminates many opening problems as it puts the reader in the middle of things and allows him to look around at everything onstage.

Third-person limited omniscient: Limited is the modern narrative point of view of choice for most seasoned writers. Limited Omniscient gives the writer all of the benefits of first person with none of the problems inherent with that narrative voice. It’s easy to write and, because of multiple POV versatility, it eliminates most of the drawbacks inherent in other POV choices.

Limited is more lifelike, as the reader sees, feels, touches, smells and hears things directly from a character’s thoughts as he or she witnesses them rather than from the author, as in omniscient, or from a one-dimensional shadow of a character as in 1st person. Things that are not apparent to the narration character are not known to the reader. In other words, the reader is immersed inside of whichever character in whose point of view the story is being told and the author has a choice as to how deeply the reader is immersed.

In real life, this is the way the world is seen, so third-person limited emulates life and thus a story and its characters become more believable when written in this voice. Of course, as with any point of view, there are drawbacks. One of these is that the story can be easily taken away from the lead character if another, more interesting character appears on stage. So care must be taken with your choice of lead characters. Also, too many points of view become confusing to the reader, so there should be a limit to how many narrators are allowed in a single story. The more main characters, the less power each exerts in the story.

However, other than that, third-person, past tense, limited omniscient point of view has too many pluses to be overlooked when choosing a narrator or narrators for your next novel.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Evaluate Your Manuscript

Somewhere deep in my files, I found a letter the title of which is Questions to Ask Yourself When Evaluating a Fiction Manuscript or a Partial. It’s a list that I use when training an assistant or a reader and I thought it might be valuable for those writers who are having a hard time figuring out what to look for in their manuscripts. If it does or does not help, please comment either way.

Hook—is it real or fake? For those who don’t know, your hook is actually your first few paragraphs. Be honest here. Try to imagine yourself in a bookstore or library trying to find something to read and you’re browsing through the racks, randomly scanning openings (the first few lines of a book) to find something that grabs you. Does your opening grab you? How long does it take? Fake hooks are forced, added to make a person think they’ll like the book—then the story falls flat a page into itself.

Opening—is something happening? Obviously, this would be beyond the hook. Some novels don’t need a very strong hook as they use other devices with which to build interest. However, something should be happening in those opening pages. Is something happening in your story early on or does your reader have to wade through miles and miles of verbiage before getting to the meat of the story?

Setting—time and place. Do you know when and where your story is being played out? Is it obvious to your reader? Time and place are important so make sure your reader knows these vital facts. Cities, countries or even open spaces have personalities all their own. If you can, you might even make the setting a character in its own right. Doing this can add needed depth to your story, so try it.

Cadence—the timing and music of language. Oh my gosh, not only do I have to write a book but also some music too? Yes and no. The written word also has a rhythm in the way that language flows. Some writers do this naturally while others need help. One easy way to create timing in our writing is by varying sentence length—short, medium, long then medium, short, long and so forth. One way to check for rhythmic timing is to read your book aloud. If certain areas are hard to read, they probably are awkwardly written and therefore lack rhythm. Try rewriting, rearranging your sentence structure, then read and rewrite until the passage flows and is easy to read. Think of your words as brain music.

Dialogue. Is conversation between characters natural or forced? Dialogue is difficult. A great study in dialogue is to listen to people and how they talk—I mean just listen, really listen, and when you do you will find that each person has his or her own unique way of speaking. You can close your eyes and picture whose speaking without seeing them. Your dialogue should be this way and it can be if you practice. As I said, each person has his or her unique way of speaking and listening will teach you that difference. Some people talk fast and others slow. Some mumble while others’ speech is clear and distinct. Some sound educated; others use plain language with no frills. Some swear, some use cliché and some leave out words. Make your speakers distinct by writing each person’s dialogue differently—the educated, the one who stumbles, the one who mumbles and the one who uses profanity. If you do this, your writing will become natural and natural dialogue doesn’t need tags.

Voice (point of view)—who is the narrator? If you cannot readily identify a narrator, it’s probably the author and the author cannot be in the story. Many times authors are not aware that they have suddenly become the narrator. So it’s imperative that you, as the writer of your story, stay out of the story. The author’s voice becomes very obvious when everyone is asleep and yet someone is narrating the story. Or someone is somehow narrating in an empty house, in an empty field or empty planet even. Some authors try to use the excuse that they are writing omnisciently and so are to be perceived as God. No, you’re the author and you’re not supposed to be in the story. Omniscient POV used to be the standard, but now it should be used sparingly, if at all. And not at all if you don’t know how to use it.

A character must be present and awake when narration is going on. Also, there are things that only one character can know, like what he’s thinking, seeing, smelling, hearing or touching. When that character is the narrator, he cannot know what others are thinking or seeing or hearing. He can see what others are touching or possibly smelling. He can also kind of know what they are seeing but he has no way of knowing what they are thinking, what they are really seeing, or know anything about any of their other senses. Only the author knows and if he reports on it, the author is in the story.

Uniqueness, originality—forced or natural? Is your story unique or is it like everything else out there? For instance, is your fantasy another Harry Potter or have you put an entirely different twist on the clumsy kid with magic powers who is destined to rule the world—the unlikely hero? This concept is as old at it gets, but putting an original take on it is what a writer must do.

When you finished reading your novel, did you find yourself wanting to read more? This is a hard question for an author. Of course, you want to read more. Are you kidding me? You wrote it and you love it. But would a reader want to read more? The only way to know that is to have someone else read your book and this is where a good beta reader comes into play. See Critique Two here for information on betas.

Marketing—is there a market for this book? This is a tough call. Every writer likes to think that he or she has writing the next best-seller and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in reality we know that the odds are very high that we might not be able to find a market for what you’ve written. So what is marketable and what’s not? That’s a good question that at times defies an answer. Supposedly, everything that’s well written has a market and that might be so. Yes, there are usually markets for just about any kind of writing if it’s well written. However, those markets might not be with a huge publisher who is going to make you very wealthy by publishing your book. I would advise every writer, first of all, to define his/her reason for writing. If you’re writing to become rich, now is the time to put aside your keyboard and not delude yourself any longer. The odds are astronomical that you will even be published, let alone be rich. So write for the love of writing. If you don’t enjoy it, then don’t write, but don’t write for the wrong reasons.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Count Elusiva

When someone comments on one of our posts, we try not to answer right away. Our reasoning is in hope that others will answer the posted comment and thus get help with other viewpoints beside ours. You might have noticed that we don’t know everything and hearing another side to an issue is very refreshing, in our opinion anyway.

For this post, there is an issue that I’d like to broach and that’s word count.

Many times recently, I’ve rejected books for low word count. Because this issue can be very confusing--as requirements vary so widely--we no longer post exact word count limits on our Web site. Publishers define word counts differently because they look at finished books rather than raw manuscripts. But, if you are a beginning writer and plan to have any kind of shot at finding a publisher or an agent, it would behoove you to understand word count and especially the difference, word count-wise, between a novel, a novella, a novelette and a short story.

Publishers try to get as close to 250 words to a published page (book page, not MS page) because that makes it very easy to convert word counts into page counts. I’ve found, however, if you use the rough estimate of 250 words per page, you come very close just by looking at a manuscript as to how many words are contained within. For example, a 320-page MS is about 80,000 words and this seems pretty consistent. Of course, itty bitty quirky things like narrative-rich versus dialogue-rich manuscripts throw this off, but on an average, in manuscripts in which narrative and dialogue are fairly balanced (as should be the case) then the 320 page equals 80,000 words formula works fairly well. However, nothing beats using a word processor word counting tool. Although this method is not entirely accurate, it’s closer than nothing at all.

Where this really comes in handy—this page to word count stuff—is when you are wandering through a bookstore and you want to see where word counts are for recently published books so as to gauge your own. Knowing this will allow you to understand about where certain publishers like their word counts to be, and this understanding might just move you beyond others vying for those coveted spots on your favorite publisher's list.

This may be a detail, but professional writers have a sense of how many words they need to fit a certain market. Details make a difference and separate those who want to be writers from those who are writers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Critique Groups Two

Critique groups, are they helpful or harmful?


That is the question and here is the answer—yes and no, or should that be no and yes? Anyway, it’s always helpful to have your raw manuscript read by someone other than your mother, brother, sister or spouse. So in that respect, critique groups are good no matter who sits on them. But when it comes to something beyond catching grammar mistakes and punctuation errors, unless there are writers in your critique group who are knowledgeable publishing professionals and who write what you write, critique groups might not be that helpful. Let me explain because I can hear the grumbling already.

Let’s take a worst case scenario first. Suppose you write non-fiction and everyone in your group writes romance, for instance. Let’s make this even more difficult by saying that they all write category romance—you know, those ones that measure 50,000 words and have a shelf life of about a month. Now I am not knocking category romances as they have a huge audience and many very professional authors make a darn good living writing them (and Sharene represents them and is glaring at me right now). What I’m going for here is contrast and hopefully I’ve succeeded.

As a writer on one of the boards said recently (and I’m paraphrasing here), “As a fiction writer, I’m having a horrible time writing a query letter. As far as I’m concerned, writing them is completely left brain and I’m a right brained individual.” This is the problem a non-fiction writer of say a how-to book is going to have in a room filled with category romance writers. One type of writing is right brain—very creative—and the other, although it also takes some right brain activity, much is left brain-power because what you’re writing about is tangible and less imaginary.

But let’s look at this a different way: your critique group is made up of all beginning writers who write romance and you write mainstream. Are you going to find much help in this mix? Probably not because they are, although both fiction, two different types of writing.

So the writer who is entertaining joining a critique group should first find out what the other members of the group write and, secondly, where they are in their writing life. My advice, if you are beyond the beginning stages, would be to find yourself a good beta reader or two. What and who is a beta reader and how does a writer find one? Beta readers are people who love to read and who are not writers. The easiest way to find them is to go to your local library and ask if a reader’s group meets there. Usually librarians are aware of these things. If you cannot find a readers group locally, try to locate one online.

But why not let your fellow writers read your book and offer criticism? Yes, that will work, but remember you’re past the checking for mistakes stage and just want to know how your book reads and the problem with many writers is that they want you to change your book to suite the way they write, whether they are conscious of it or not. Usually the first thing that goes when writers critique a book is the original author’s voice—something every writer should try to maintain at all cost as this makes each book original. A beta reader, on the other hand doesn’t understand or offer suggestions on how to fix things, they just read and tell the writer whether it’s a good read or a bad one. Some betas might also point out problem areas, but not how to fix them. For example, if your beta reader is confused by a scene where the setting changes, you’ll need to consider why the reader was confused and decide whether to revise.

So, a couple of important characteristics in a critique group, if you choose to go with one, is finding the right mix, including writers who write what you write and who are at about the same level. There is much, much more to consider. This just scrapes the surface.

Critique Groups One

We had some questions about online critique groups in another post, so we thought we’d address these and possibly add more about critique groups in general over the next few posts.

While pondering critique groups, it seems the answer always come down to one important thing:

Trust

Isn't it true that you have to trust the people in your critique group—their judgment, their character, their expertise, their sincerity—or the experience is a wasted effort? Like any social grouping, critique groups are only as strong as their strongest member(s). So give as well as take.

Someone asked if posting your work on an online critique site, especially if the membership is closed, counts as publication. The answer, from our perspective, is not really as it isn’t posted in a public place where anyone and everyone can download it and/or read it (the exception, of course, is if you have a million people critiquing your work, which might get a little sticky). Also, you are probably not posting the whole piece in its entirety, or shouldn’t be.

Where does trust issue come in? Just like in a regular critique group, you have to trust that what you are posting isn’t being copied and offered somewhere else. You also have to trust the credentials of the person or people offering feedback, especially since many posters hide their identities online and may or may not be who they claim to be or know what they are talking about. So the whole thing boils down to the fact that you have to trust the information you receive and trust that you to know what to do with any feedback you might receive.

Online critique sites can have value, just like regular face to face type groups, but as one commenter pointed out, do read the Terms of Service and know how many people can access your work and how. Generally, if you're posting in a closed membership area for critiquing, that’s not considered publication. However, know all the rules of the site and get to know the people doing critiques before posting your work online anywhere.

A good rule is that if you don’t feel comfortable with any situation, wait and think about it before making a commitment to it. Trust your instincts.

Remember also that critique groups are a social outlet. Have fun with them. We get questions about them quite a bit at conferences and so we are going to do at least a few more posts on our take and experiences with them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Where Are We Again?

Well, there is nothing like a blast from the past to remind us, in our tenth year, of our humble origins. How could we forget?

Anyway, I won’t go in great detail to relate what’s been happening the last couple of days except that someone has been bugging us because our mailing address and phone number are not posted on our Web site—yet again. It looks suspicious, says this voice, like we are ashamed of where we’re located.

So, we’d like to take a poll. It’s right over there on the right side. We’re curious as to how many people don’t know where we are. We’ve pretty much become, over the last decade, used to being referred to as “Wylie-Merrick? That’s that agency in________.”

That’s all for now. We have an appointment to get to.

Best,

Sharene

Monday, July 14, 2008

Who needs a needs list?

I’m sure many writers are wondering why they’ve received rejections from me recently, since I’m open to just about anything right now. For those who might be curious, I’ve listed a few reasons why below:

If you’ve sent me a query for a mystery. I only have one editor who is looking for mysteries at the present time and to get her attention the novel must have a woman protagonist and a dog must be integral to the story. If you story has a male lead, I’m sorry, but I have no market for these books.

If you’ve sent me a query in which I cannot discern what the book is about in the first few paragraphs, I’ve stopped reading as I don’t have time to dig that information out. Please study our list of past posts under queries for information on this subject.

If you’ve sent me a children’s picture book. I haven’t ever handled these. My partner does, but she’s really not looking for anything at the moment.

If you’ve sent me a YA novel that isn’t commercially marketable. To find what is commercially viable, look at recent YA best-seller lists (try Amazon or Publisher’s Weekly at your local library) or subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace.

If you’ve sent me a suspense/ thriller featuring a male protagonist. These are not readily marketable and I already have enough of these. Marketable suspense/thrillers must be primarily writing from a female’s perspective or I cannot do much with them. One exception to this is if you are multi-published (within this decade) and have a good sales record. This may not hold true for other agents, but it does for me and the editors I work with.

If you’ve sent me a romance or a women’s fiction that is written from a man’s perspective, it has been, or will be, rejected. Romances written from a male perspective are “love stories” and fall within the mainstream category. Also, there is no such thing as a women’s fiction that features a guy as the main character. This violates the very definition of women’s fiction. If you don’t know what that definition is, see the list on the left side of this blog, go to Wikipedia, or Google on women’s fiction.

If you’ve sent me a mainstream novel from a male perspective and are not published, then there is nothing I can do to help you, as I already have enough of these.

If you’ve sent me poetry, a western, an action/adventure, a script, a novella (unless it’s erotica), an urban fantasy with a male protagonist, an earth-based science fiction, or a fantasy novel that’s like all the others out there, then you’ve probably been rejected.

Our needs here change constantly, so I’ll remain open to everything rather than updating a needs list that’s outdated almost as soon as it’s posted. Hope this helps.

Robert

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New and Improved?

For those of you who have visited our blog in the past, you may notice a difference in its current structure. We’ve updated its look and added a new way to traverse past posts as of yesterday. Yes, we are a little behind as the label feature is already in use on just about everyone else’s blog, but we never said we were right on top of things, blog-wise.

Any-hoo, you can now find old posts by looking in the right-hand column for the list of labels. By just clicking on the label of the subject of interest, you will hopefully be able to find the information you seek. The link will take you to posts that correspond to that burning question you’ve always wanted the answer to...well, our version of the answer anyway. :0

This, hopefully, will eliminate searching blindly and wading through a morass of verbiage, making it easier to find what you need. It’s certainly made it easier on us.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t go into something in more depth if you find that we haven’t, but there’s loads of information that brushes the surface of things to get you started. Good luck in finding some nugget of wisdom—or maybe a lump of coal--here that was heretofore buried. It’ll be like a treasure hunt!

We really hope this makes it easier to navigate our blog, so feel free to comment if it doesn’t. Also, we are continuing to add widgets and elements to the blog as we go along and welcome input on those as well.

Finally, we have integrated the blog into our Web site (and added a link on the blog to return to our main site), so you can get here and back by simply clicking on a navigation button or link, or by doing it the old fashioned way—typing the address into your browser’s address bar. If you find you can't access our blog from the Web site, try clicking the Refresh button on your browser to load the most current version of our page.

Here's to progress, as slow as it sometimes is!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

2008 Query Checklist

Since, as one astute poster has noted, we’ve opened our submissions to include just about everything, we thought it a good idea to post a query checklist for writers. We are getting quite a few queries, as you can imagine, and most of the queries contain glaring problems, discrepancies, or omissions. We thought this might help. Also, click here if you’d like to see a sample query.

KEEP IN MIND: This is a general list based on our requirements. MAKE SURE you check the requirements of the agency you are submitting to before including or not including the items listed below.

Good things to have in a query:

  1. Project vital statistics—title, word count per MS Word (not page count unless specified in submissions guidelines), genre (fiction: suspense, mystery, romance, etc.), type (fiction/nonfiction), category (YA, middle-grade, etc.). If it’s mainstream, say it’s mainstream and not that it’s a mix of romance, mystery, and science fiction, because mixed genre equals mainstream.
  2. Project descriptions—one-line synopsis of entire work for the opening paragraph (some call this a hook); one-paragraph synopsis of entire work for second paragraph or so
  3. Publishing credits/related publishing credits, if you have them
  4. Credentials (for nonfiction), if you have them
  5. Brief description of what you’ve done to prepare yourself for writing for publication, if you have done anything (degrees, workshops, etc.)—We also like to know if you are active in a nationally recognized writer’s organization. Do you go to their conferences or attend their regional meetings? Also, if you hold office in one of these organizations let us know. Some agents like to see contest placements, but typically this doesn’t help us much unless it’s a major award like a Pulitzer or an Oscar (Edgars, Ritas, etc.).
  6. YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION--This should go without saying, but some writers leave it out or give an e-mail address that doesn't work. Also, remember to put agency e-mail addresses on your "not spam" list so you'll get responses that don't bounce.

Bad things to have in a query (or conversely, good things often left out):

  1. Anything that distracts from your project, such as personal information--Please don’t be offended by this, but we don’t want to know who you are unless it has to do with publishing. Let us explain: If you’re published, we want and need that information, or if you have an MFA or have taught literature in the college level, then we want to know that. However, we don’t want to know that you are married and have three kids or are divorced or live on the streets or have an interesting day job unless it relates directly to what you’ve written. At the query stage, we’re only interested in what you’ve written. If we go beyond the query stage, then we’ll be interested in who you are.
  2. E-mail attachments--Don’t send us an empty message and attach your query to it because it will be delete it unread. Why? Click here to read a post we did on this in 2006. REMINDER: We know this can be an easy way to blanket send queries; however, shot-gunning agents is not the best way to approach seeking representation. The proper way is to research each agent before sending him or her anything. Shot-gunning is another quick way to get an instant rejection from most agents.
  3. Testimonials—Please don’t tell us your book has been read by ten, twenty, thirty or even a hundred people and they all loved it. This is useless information and therefore not something that should be in a query letter.
  4. Publishing credit details--Don’t tell us you’ve been published and leave it at that. If you’re published, then we need to know what you’ve written, who published it, and when. Give all the facts or leave that part out, because if we receive a query and the writer says he or she has been published and says nothing else about it, we’re going to assume that the writer isn’t proud of the fact. If you’ve been previously published, we need the title, publisher, date published and sales information, if you have it.
  5. New Author Status--If you’re a new author and you don’t have any publishing credits, you don’t have to tell me you’re a new author. Just say nothing about your publishing history and I’ll figure that out on my own. Authors published by HarperCollins tend to note this in their queries; if we don’t see publishing credits, we’ll get the picture.
  6. The Wrong Name of the Recipient—Please make sure you address your letter to the agent you are trying to query. Yes, copy and paste can get you into trouble if you aren’t observant. Also, spell the person’s name correctly, especially if misspelling it turns it into something embarrassing. “Dear Agent” is also a no-no, as is “To Whom It May Concern.”
  7. Extra Redundant/Worthless Information--Don’t tell us you’ve just finished your fiction novel and are looking for an agent. We actually have people put this in the Subject line. This is wasted information. We already know that you’ve finished a novel and that you are seeking an agent; otherwise, why would you be querying us? The mental picture we get when someone puts this info in their query is them typing the last word of their MS, ripping it out of the printer and dashing it off to agents everywhere—no editing, no revision, just a raw manuscript that they want to get rid of as quickly as possible so they can start enjoying the fruits of their labor.
We have probably missed a few things here, but this will give you a general idea. We will try to update as we can. We did this quickly to get it posted, so we're sure there'll be more on this later.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gatekeepers Response

This is a response for Charles who was kind enough to post a comment on "The Truth Behind the Power" on 6/23/08 that brought up some good points. When we went to respond, we felt the length made it more of a post. The comment is below in italics and our response is beneath it.

"This just seems to prove the point about gatekeepers. Sure, the readers make choices, but it's like going to a restaurant and being given a menu - and agents and editors determine what's on the menu. Of course, they try to guess what will sell, but the point is unless readers have already declared something "edible," low chance for an author to get it through the gatekeepers. When even many agents have stopped taking unsolicited QUERIES, of all things, the writer has been fenced out several times. Face it, you have tremendous power from the writer's point of view."

Fortunately, agents and editors don’t make the decision as to what’s on the menu—readers do. We are all—writers, agents, editors, publishers, distributors and bookstore owners—driven by the entertainment marketplace. Writers want to be looked upon as artists, but publishing is a business, and like any other business, we are all part of a manufacturing process. Writers provide the raw material, some of which, unfortunately, is not compatible with the manufacturing process, and therefore, it must be rejected. The sorting out part of the process falls upon agents and editors, and because of that, they are the most visible to writers. However, the rejection part of the process begins with readers and works backward through the editors and agents to the writer, not the other way around.

Writers actually have most, if not all, of the power. They just have to realize it. Case in point is the seven-figure deal—who gets most of the seven figures? The editor? The agent? It is the writer, AND RIGHTLY SO (at least in most cases). Writers are immortalized, while agents and editors just fade away. For example, I can go out on any street in any city, large or small, and ask ten people if they know who Stephen King is. Most of them will at least have heard the name. However, if I go out on that same street and ask ten people who William Morris is, most won't have any idea, nor will they care (unless he's selling bootleg gasoline). Try this: Can you name Edgar Allan Poe's agent? Ralph Waldo Emerson's? **See what I mean? That's just how it is, and we're okay with that. Unfortunately, many writers don't see it this way.

While it seems that writers are powerless minions, and there will be days that they are, they are not nearly in as bad shape as it may seem. Writing is like any job—ups and downs, sometimes within a few minutes. It can be tough, but it’s what some people want to do.

And that leads me to the following:

  1. Remember, you DO NOT have to have an agent to get published.
  2. The thing about gates is there is always a way around them. Climb them, dig under them, squeeze through the bars, pick the lock, etc. I’m being completely serious here when I say that there is a way to make sure you get published and have a career in the publishing industry. The most straight-forward path to publication has always been there and always will be there. Unfortunately, it is not one that every writer wants to put the effort into or maybe they just don’t know about it. We’ll give you a hint: Sex in the City. No, we are not promoting the show, but there is one aspect of it that can help new writers everywhere. The answer is there, if you just watch the re-runs--as many as you can stomach--and pay attention.
  3. ***
**By the way, we know Poe and Emerson didn't have agents--at least none we're aware of (which proves our point...again)--but we can't wait to see how many comments it generates. Back in the day, publishing was just a little bit different.
***There's another hint on how to become a writer hidden in this post as well. Maybe even two.

Hope this helps.
Robert and Sharene

Monday, June 30, 2008

Before Posting Your Work

In my next few posts, I‘d like discuss the different kinds of trouble writers can get into by not totally understanding the language in a publishing contract or being afraid to ask questions about one before signing it. It behooves every writer to be very careful of what she/he signs, as it can come back to haunt him/her later in ways not even conceived of at the initial offer stage. If something in a publishing contract is not understood, it’s best to find someone who understands literary contracts to help you. If you don’t fully understand the document you are about to sign, then maybe you shouldn’t sign on the dotted line until you do. An agent will cost 15% of your advance and future royalties, but if you don’t understand the complex language in a publishing contract, the potential cost can be much, much greater.

A fairly recent phenomenon I’m seeing more and more of is that many writers want me to go to their Web sites to see their book or books. If you don’t understand publishing very well, it might seem like a good idea to post your work somewhere online. After all, editors and agents search the Internet all the time looking for writers, don’t they? No, most don’t. So you’re wasting not only effort but time and money also. And what many writers don’t know is that when you place books on the Internet, they are actually published. Therefore, when you sign that publishing contract, you might read the part that has to do with indemnifying the publisher against losses, which is usually under Warranties, Representations, and Indemnities. In most contracts, there is a statement that reads, in part, something like this: “the Work has not heretofore been published, in whole or in part, in any form.” Given that posting a book on the Internet for view is actually a form of publishing, an author can get into big trouble if the publisher is not made aware that his/her book has been posted on an Internet site, a public place where anyone can read or copy the book in whole or part.

Because it’s so easy to publish via the Internet, many publishers are now adding to the language mentioned above. This could mean that if a book is published in any way, shape or form, and the author doesn’t reveal this fact, then the publisher can sue the author for damages if the author doesn’t understand this clause and signs the contract with it intact.

That’s not all of it, either. If the publisher to whom you sell the publishing rights has published the book before this fact is revealed and it has been distributed and is available in bookstores, these folks (distributors and bookstore owners) can also sue you. The lawsuits can also extend to any subrights sold by the publisher. These subrights might be movies and television, foreign translation rights or any of the many subrights that are included in the rights package.

So the best free advice I can give is if you’re planning on ever selling rights to your book to a publisher, it would be wise not to post it or any part of it on a Web site or to allow others to post it. If you have unwittingly done this, then you must reveal this fact to any publisher as soon as it shows interest in your project so that the editor can make a decision based on those facts. As for me, I immediately reject those who tell me they’ve posted their work on their Web site. I feel like it adds too many complications to an already complicated process. If you want to post free stories, make sure they are those you never intend to try to sell the rights to unless you want to go through this hassle.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Busy Summer

Sorry we haven’t blogged much so far this summer, but things have been a little hectic here in “My Indiana Home” country. One might ask why that is and the answer would be that we took a vacation in early June and came home to full inboxes, multiple manuscripts, and a site to update. Then there’s the contracts--not that I mind contracts, mind you, because they translate directly into success, but they can be very time-consuming and producers of eyestrain, especially those sent in size eight font. And there are those sent in that font size.

So here we are, three weeks after returning from the Caribbean, rested, overfed and danced out, and we are finally seeing daylight.

We love that writers everywhere send us their queries and stories and are grateful for them. The big sigh of relief voiced here is that it feels so good to be kind of caught up enough once again to have some time to write on the blog, which we also enjoy. Publishing changes an awful lot, so posts can become irrelevant fairly quickly. This is one of the things I need to address in this post.

We’ve been tweaking our main site at www.wylie-merrick.com since we returned. It needed updating and besides, Sharene has a tech habit she has to feed on a regular basis. Because of the workload described above, the cascade of changes caused by the initial update has not been dealt with entirely as of yet.

For example, we are getting inquiries as to why there are no word count requirements mentioned on our site when we have a blog post (which we recently updated) wherein we lament why people keep sending us books with word counts too high or too low for the range we seek . Notably, we no longer have a page on our main site that indicates our word count requirements, and so this is very confusing to those who scour the site searching for this information. We feel that the word count requirement vary so widely anymore that places them here or on our main site just adds to the confusion.

There are many, many places on the internet that discuss word count requirements so to discuss them or place stiff, unwieldy requirements here is redundant to say the least. If there are questions about this, please feel free to post them here and we'll do our best to help.

Robert and Sharene

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Truth Behind the Power

Lately I’ve been hearing lots of comments about how agents and editors have so much control of who gets published, including quips about how we are gate-keepers. There’s also a philosophy that if you have an agent, publication is guaranteed. I’m really having an ego moment because so many people believe that agents and editors have a huge say in what gets published and when. That’s flattering, and I love the thought being that powerful, but, unfortunately, it’s just not true. Big Sigh.

Our industry, like most others, is controlled by the consumer, which in this case means readers. The idea that agents control anything is like looking through the big end of a set of binoculars. If you do this consistently, you get a very narrow view of what’s happening around you. Thus is this perception of agent/editor control over an industry that, many times, is beyond control of anyone except the consumer. I say this because most publishers are usually terribly surprised by those huge best-sellers. Readers control publishing and always will.

How it really works is like this: Readers read certain types of books and major bookstores (usually multi-national corporations like Borders and Barnes & Noble), make note of what type of book is being consistently purchased. These reading trends are noted and passed up the chain to marketing people at major publishing houses, discussed at editorial meetings, in which publishers and editors spend huge amounts of time, and taken into account when lists are made up for the next publishing season. These lists, usually for purchases a year or more in advance, are placed in the hands of the acquisitions departments and parsed out to editors.

This, of course, is a generalization of what actually happens, as the actual process varies from house to house and imprint to imprint. From this point on, agents become involved in the process, and, after that, the authors become involved. Most of the list is quickly filled by known authors for each particular genre. This means about 80% of the list is immediately filled and agents begin their search to fill the rest of the slots. Agents normally have lesser known clients who can fill some of this need, but in some cases, especially when a certain niche in the market appears, the type of book needed may be rare due to the sudden demand for it, and lots of open slots appear for debut authors of that type of book. There are also those growth areas where current authors cannot fill all the open slots available. Fiction, unfortunately, doesn’t have many of these areas left. Also, in this particular year, fear of recession is rearing its ugly head, so there’s a battle being waged for the entertainment dollar, and this affects acquisitions as well.

I hope this gives the new writer a broader perception of what our industry looks like. As you can see, consumption drives the market, and agents and editors have little control over the process. The next time you blame your agent because he or she couldn’t sell your book, please don’t. We sometimes take on clients because their books are so compelling that we can’t help ourselves. However, if readers no longer read certain types of books, these books languish no matter how well they are written or how much pull an agent has with a certain editor. It would be wonderful if publishers took huge chances and attempted to drive the market from their end of the process. There are publishers who do attempt this, but their idealism is usually short-lived, and when readers are either not aware of or are turned off by the product offered, these brave souls wither and die. The majors, on the other hand, have to answer to their stockholders, so the bottom line dictates that they don’t take too many chances with stockholders’ money.

Being a small agency, we’ve encountered many people who give us the impression that they believe if we don’t sell a book, that it must be because we are too small to know many editors or don’t work with major houses because of our size, or some such nonsense. That’s not true at all. We have friends in the business, in NYC and elsewhere, who are highly visible agents who have had difficulty selling books, too. Also, we can always tell when the industry is tightening its belt, because agents who normally don’t sell to mid-size or small presses start selling to them, which actually kind of infringes on our territory. We’ve had potential clients go with larger agencies thinking that their work warranted a large NYC agent who would get them published with a major house, and the agent then sold their book to the same mid-sized house we would have if the majors hadn’t bought the work. In this business, size or location mean nothing because in the end…

READERS DRIVE THE MARKET.

So if you want to have a job as a writer, find some way to encourage reading. Volunteer at your local school to read to young children (and not just your books, either). Donate used books to shelters. Do whatever you can to make reading viable entertainment, and the need for your work will be there. When just one reader leaves the market, everyone suffers, including the writer, publisher, editor, agent, other readers, and, of course, society in general.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Questions and Answers

When we do classes at writer conferences, we always save some time at the end for questions, and every time it seems we run out of time before all the questions are answered. Many times we don’t post because it seems that we are saying the same things over and over again, so Sharene, Ann, and I have decided seeing that is your blog, too, that instead of us telling you what we think you want to hear, maybe we should asking the writer community what information you would like from us. We’ve always been open to answering questions and have noted that on this blog; however, perhaps it needs to be said again. If you have any questions, please feel free to send them along. We will try to respond as soon as possible.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sad Truth: Why is it?

There seems to be something in the water lately—or maybe it’s airborne. It seems to be seeping into the minds of those who query us and it’s making them do strange things, which, in turn, makes our rejection finger want to hit the delete key rather than respond.

We live in an age unprecedented in the entire history of mankind, a time when anyone can connect to unlimited informational sources through the Internet. But it seems that with this wonderful resource, there are still literally thousands of writers, people who should know better by the way, who never utilize this wonder. With all this information literally at our fingertips, my question this morning would then be: Why is it that Wylie-Merrick still receives query letters from writers who get it all wrong?

WHY IS IT that we are still receiving queries addressed to “Dear Agent,” or “To Whom It May Concern” or “Hello There,” or to no one at all? Pure business etiquette should tell anyone who is trying to solicit anything from anyone that first impressions mean everything. Since it’s been expressed here on this blog that this is going to get you rejected, one would think that would be enough. There are posts on this blog that talk about why addressing a business letter (yes, a query is a business letter) in this fashion is not going to make much of an impression on most agents, or anyone in the human resources department of any company, for that matter.

WHY IS IT that we are still getting loads of snail mail queries when on our Web site and here we ask writers to only send us digital queries via an e-mail message?

WHY IS IT that writers are still sending chapters or samples of chapters when we have expressly asked that they not send them? When we receive chapters, we know immediately that the person querying us has never read anything about us—not a good thing when asking us, or any other agent, to represent your work. The reasons for this should be obvious to anyone who researches agents.

WHY IS IT that writers still send attachments when everyone knows that viruses are passed from computer to computer by attachments? Common sense would dictate to anyone who sits down to a computer on a regular basis (most writers live on computer these days) that you do not send unsolicited attachments to anyone. If someone requests an attachment, fine. Send it. However, if no one has requested chapters or a full via e-mail, then you shouldn’t send any attachments at all. We STILL get people sending us attachments with their queries in them. Needless to say, these are automatically deleted without response. HINT: Attachments can contain viruses, or worse, large attachments can really damage an e-mail programs ability to function.

WHY IS IT that writers believe that if they say they are a best-selling author, they suddenly are? There’s a new trend that when I send a rejection, I receive back an e-mail chiding me about the huge mistake I’ve made in rejecting a best-selling author and that I’m going to be really, really sorry that I did. Not really. We even have a post on this and why we can’t regret rejections. People who think we should don’t understand how the business works. Besides, let me put it this way: Best-selling authors who have queried us in the past have always given their name and their credits right up front so we know they aren’t yanking our chain. When querying an agent, put that information—the part about being a best-selling author—in the FIRST query letter, not in the rebuttal one. Also, if you wrote a best-selling novel in the 1980s but have written nothing since, there’s not much I can do for you. The audience created by the 1980s success won’t remember you unless you were really BIG.

WHY IS IT that agents are expected to have the knowledge of the publishing universe at their fingertips, and we do, but writers, those who readers depend on for a great read (fiction) and information (nonfiction) believe they shouldn’t have to do anything but put words on a page? This is called a double standard. Professional writers, of which one of us is one, have to have a certain knowledge base, and we find, oddly, that most new writers don’t believe this, at least those we have contact with.

WHY IS IT that when we do research, we cross-reference, double cross-reference, and then double check our cross-references for accuracy, so that even if we do miss something we know, deep in our agent hearts, we’ve at least tried to do our best to get the most updated information available on a topic, yet many writers look at one Web page from six years ago, query us based on inaccurate information, and then blame us? It is standard operating procedure here to research as much as possible before pursuing anything that has to do with publishing, and we’ve made it widely known that the most updated source of information is our own site. However, most people query us based on information on agent directories that we have little or no control over (and are outdated before they are published or never updated). We don’t expect writers to do anything we wouldn’t do ourselves, which is what most agents would expect. It is not an unreasonable request for us to ask you to give it your best effort.

To summarize all of this, before sending anything to us, please get to know us. Consider some of this information might actually be accurate and maybe make a note of it. We have gone to a great deal of effort to provide a blog filled with tons of information that every writer can use to help smooth the path to publication. It may seem harsh sometimes, but sugar-coated sweetness is like breakfast food that adds unhealthy pounds. We don’t sugar-coat anything because we know that what’s good for you doesn’t necessarily always taste good, but we think it will help your career, and therefore ours, which is the reason why we blog.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Responses to Comments for Trust Issue #3--Yourself

The comments we’ve gotten in response to our last post bring up some very important points, and we want to make some clarifications here. First, there’s a difference between practice novels and failed novels. Practice novels are those the writer intends as practice to improve his/her ability to craft a better book, with publication not even considered. Failed novels are those the writer couldn’t sell, so he/she wrote another book to try to see if that one would sell. The main difference is in writer motivation and intent. Remember, we're dealing with intangibles here, so hang in there.

We never said you have to mention the practice novels when you query an agent, but they can be included in your query with workshops, classes, degrees, and other preparation for writing for publication. Practice novels are for your education, not credits to persuade someone to represent you, and it’s all in how you present the information.

I’ve heard other agents make comments about getting queries with information about the six other novels the writer has written and how that makes a bad impression. And it does. If we get queries with descriptions of other novels because the writer is trying to sound prolific (based on an article that said agents don’t like representing writers with only one book) or trying to see if we’d like to see any other works in a variety of genres because they can write anything, then we consider that writer an amateur. However, if we get something wherein the writer states he/she wrote three practice novels and had them professionally edited and then re-wrote them for the experience of learning how to write a novel correctly, that’s different. This is one way a writer can learn the craft. The other might be to take workshops, take classes, get a degree, etc. The problem is most writers just sit down and write whatever comes out, and maybe they learn from the experience, but it isn’t really guided learning and in the end the motivation for writing those novels was usually to get them published, not learn from them.

We know, we know. Here we are, telling writers that they should plan to write at least—at least—a whole book to learn to write. Do we know how long that will take? Yep. Do we know how much work that is? Yep. But do you realize that most professions require some kind of certificate or degree or something that shows the person has engaged in learning and practicing the skills involved in that profession? Writing doesn’t require anything except that someone turn on a computer and start tippy-tap-tapping away. The strange thing about publishing is that you have people who have gone to school to be in the business, but yet if someone with no experience can produce a readable book during a time that genre is hot, he is automatically accepted into the fold. That’s not fair, is it? But it happens. Of course, those kinds of writers usually don’t last long because they have no idea what they’ve written and can’t reproduce it, or if they can, they don’t do it very well. And the worst thing is that their readers are cheated because the writer is learning as he goes.

What this all goes back to, and always will go back to, is what kind of writer do you want to be? We know—published! But that’s not what we mean. What are you willing to do to get there? Writing is hard, hard work. You might write ten novels before you get one that’s publishable. A hundred short stories. Five hundred poems. It is the journey that makes the writer, not whether he/she gets published. Ultimately, it is the journey that sells the work—maturity and skill gleaned from hard work and crafted into a fine story captivates a reader's subconscious.

A quote from Hemingway sums this all up: "Will work again on the novel today. Writing is a hard business Max but nothing makes you feel better." ...from Selections from Ernest Hemingway on Writing