• Publishing is in flux and no one is quite sure what the future looks like.
• Publishers are merging, resulting in fewer places to submit manuscripts.
• Many authors who have published numerous books are finding their advances going down, not up.
• With self-published books now plentiful, there are more books than ever before for readers to choose from.
• It is difficult figuring out how to effectively market books.
• A book’s potential sales are highly unpredictable.
• Many authors’ books don’t live up to the publisher’s sales expectations, meaning the publisher might not want to renew their contract.
• Poor sales figures can make it difficult or impossible to get another traditional book deal.
• Writing can be difficult and frustrating.
• Sometimes it’s hard to meet deadlines.
• The publishing journey often doesn’t live up to an author’s expectations.
In the midst of these truths, I frequently counsel writers who are experiencing moments of disappointment and dejection. They might be anxious that a series of speed-bumps could signal the end of their writing career, sometimes before it has even started. Often they are questioning whether it’s time to give up. Some are sad, thinking their lifelong dream is dying. A few are wondering how they are going to pay the bills.
While I understand that everyone has to deal in their own way with disappointment, and we all have a right to respond to setbacks in our own way, I also want to encourage everyone to avoid getting bogged down in despair. Because here are some other truths:
• A few bumps in the road doesn’t mean your dream has to end.
• Publishing setbacks are not “failures” but necessary and expected rites of passage in this business.
• Just because things didn’t go the way you envisioned doesn’t mean things can’t still go well — possibly after a re-envisioning of your goals.
• People are reading more than ever, meaning we need writers more than ever.
• There are more options than ever before for getting your work in front of readers and getting paid for it.
• You can embrace your identity as a writer, and refuse to let external circumstances change that.
• The best way to deal with dejection is to stand up and fight. Don’t let yourself settle in to the despair. You’re not a quitter — pull out that fighting spirit and decide to be a writer regardless of the obstacles.
I’m not trying to be a cheerleader or a pollyanna. It’s just that I spend a lot of time talking writers off ledges, and I understand what that ledge looks like. But you cannot afford to spend much time on the ledge. You need to get back to work. You need to acknowledge your fear and your frustration, then turn it around and make a new plan. You need to refuse to spend time worrying about things over which you have no control (the publishing industry at large, for instance) and focus on what you CAN influence.
Just don’t let yourself get trapped in despair. You can’t afford the time. Get back to work!
As everyone becomes busier and more harried, and we all seem to communicate with electronic devices more than with people, I think it’s more important than ever to pay attention to basic politeness in business situations. It’s all-too-easy to rush through our days with little concern for niceties.
Here are some tips I’ve gleaned, meant as simple reminders of the common courtesies that can make our days more pleasant.
1. Don’t say someone “referred” you unless they really, truly did.
Agents are the recipients of far too many “suspect” referrals. Be honest in your communications.
2. Avoid discussing problems with your agent or publisher in a public forum like your blog.
It can be so tempting to vent, but the way to actually solve problems is to go directly to the parties involved.
3. Don’t let email completely replace voice contact.
While it’s important to be aware of how others prefer to communicate, try not to let business relationships be “email only.” A well-timed phone call every now and then can smooth over a multitude of rough patches.
4. In email, remember: Bottom line up front (BLUF).
Don’t ramble. Even if you need to explain something at length, you should still put the most important point or question right up top.
5. Keep email subject lines current.
If you are hitting “Reply” but the subject of the email stream has changed, update the subject line to reflect the current content. Otherwise, people won’t be able to find and identify the email if they’re looking for it later.
6. Double check your email before hitting SEND.
We’ve all had nightmares of sending an email to the wrong person… or sending a “venting” email that nobody should have seen. To avoid this, here’s my trick: Whenever you’re composing a sensitive email, FIRST delete the names in the “To” field. That way, you can’t accidentally send it. Once you’ve decided the note is suitable for sending, you can add the “To” names back in.
7. Be sensitive to people’s time on the phone.
While some conversations require a sizable chunk of time, I generally recommend either planning on a 30-minute maximum, or clarifying ahead of time what length of time has been slotted for the call.
8. Send thank you notes!
It’s easy to overlook notes in this electronic age, and I confess I have a hard time with this. But enough people have told me what a big impression thank you notes make — and what a BIGGER impression the lack of a thank you note makes — that I’m convinced it’s still the most courteous thing to do.
9. Speak positively about others.
I don’t think it’s enough to simply avoid speaking negatively about others. I think it actually makes YOU look good if you praise others, giving credit where credit is due, or simply admiring someone’s work. Whenever you have the opportunity to speak about a person who is not present, make it something good if at all possible.
10. Greet people with a handshake in professional situations.
Sometimes there is that awkward moment when you’re not sure whether to shake hands. This is especially true in our business where many of us have been friends and business acquaintances for so long that a hug feels more natural. If you are comfortable with a hug, that’s fine. But remember the handshake is still the professional greeting. When in doubt — put your hand out.
11. Pay attention to the person with whom you’re interacting.
Whether you’re meeting with someone in person or on the phone, pay attention to them, not to your electronic devices or computer. It’s tempting to multi-task, but it’s much more valuable to focus.
12. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
People will often fail to live up to your expectations. People will hold different viewpoints from you. Try to remember that most people are doing the best they can with what they have, and give them grace.
13. Carefully consider your words, both written and verbal.
Before saying something, use the old method of asking yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Hopefully this will keep your interactions productive and you’ll avoid regret.
Even in this electronic age, etiquette is important!
Whether or not you have a book to sell right now, you probably have reason to build a platform and gather a “tribe.” Last week we discussed blogging as one possible avenue for this, and I also gave you a list of several other ways to use the Internet to connect with people. But this is not an easy task, especially when you’re sitting at your desk by yourself trying to come up with creative ideas. Wouldn’t it be great to have a whole team of people with whom to brainstorm, exchange ideas, discuss successes and failures, and share encouragement?
You CAN have your own marketing team — and it’s simpler than you might think.
Most of you are familiar with the concept of a writers’ group or critique group, even if you’re not part of one. Your marketing team works the same way. You gather a small group of individuals who meet regularly to discuss each others’ projects, but from a marketing standpoint rather than focusing on the writing.
Here are some ideas for creating this kind of group:
1. Keep the group small and manageable — I suggest 3 to 8 people.
2. Create a Zoom or Skype account to hold your meetings online using your webcams.
3. Start by inviting one or two people to join you. Get it set up and have a few meetings before deciding whether to invite more members.
4. Be extremely selective in choosing your group members. Once you invite someone to join, it would be extremely awkward to disinvite them.
5. Gather people who are creative, proactive, good at sharing ideas, and are a fit personality-wise.
6. Discuss what your group’s goals will be, and what you’d like to accomplish in your meetings.
7. Find ways to help each other in concrete ways, beyond simply sharing ideas. Allow members to operate in their areas of strength.
8. Create an agenda for each meeting. Google docs is helpful for this, since each member can access it and add to it.
9. It’s best if your group has a leader; if you don’t have one, designate a member to lead each meeting.
10. Let everyone suggest topics for future discussion.
11. Here are some meeting ideas to get you started:
Have each person bring one creative marketing idea they’ve heard about or used recently.
Designate a topic to explore in-depth (for example, “How to get the most out of Goodreads”) and have each person be prepared to discuss one aspect.
Have a meeting dedicated to goal setting for each member, or have everyone bring a list of short and long term goals for discussion.
Brainstorm marketing ideas for one person’s specific project or current need.
12. Use an online scheduling tool, since setting up meetings with four or more people can be challenging. Doodle.com works great.
Ten years ago, the standard wisdom was that authors, both fiction and non-fiction, should have blogs in order to gather an audience and build relationships with readers. Now, not so much. As social media and online marketing have evolved, my thoughts on blogging have changed. I think each author needs to carefully consider whether blogging is an appropriate vehicle for them based on:
1. If they can do it well;
2. If they enjoy it; and
3. If their writing career can benefit from it.
If blogging doesn’t suit you, don’t spend too much time trying to make it work.
Why aren’t blogs the appropriate vehicle for all authors?
The proliferation of blogs in the last ten years has made it increasingly difficult to stand out in the crowd.
Many authors are blogging faithfully but it doesn’t seem to be increasing readership of their books.
Many authors seem to be blogging to an audience that’s mainly other writers.
Many authors have a hard time figuring out what their blogs should be about (mostly fiction authors).
So, how do you decide if you should have a blog? Here are my thoughts:
Have a blog if:
1. You have something important to say and it seems people want to hear it.
2. You understand that blogging is about offering something of value, NOT about promoting yourself and your books.
3. You enjoy blogging (for the most part, anyway).
4. You find blogging contributes to your creativity and enthusiasm for writing your books, rather than sucking all the energy out of you.
5. You can find the time for blogging without it completely stressing you out.
6. Your books have a highly defined target audience, making it easy to target your blog.
7. Your books are topical (especially non-fiction), so that you have a clear and obvious theme for your blog.
Don’t have a blog if:
1. You keep asking yourself and others, “But what should I blog about?”
2. You only want to blog to promote your books and/or because you think you “have to.”
3. The whole idea stresses you out.
4. You honestly don’t have the time in your schedule to blog regularly.
5. You’ve been blogging for a year or more, and haven’t built up to a traffic level that seems worth it.
Nowadays there are numerous alternatives to blogging when it comes to online networking and promotion.
using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter effectively
leveraging all the various ways Goodreads offers for promoting books
learning how to attract a readership through Pinterest
having an effective LinkedIn profile page
Find what works for you and stick with it! Being consistent will build your platform.
I heard a delightful interview with NY Times bestselling author Paula Brackston on the Grammar Girl podcast, in which she talked about the writing process and the life of a writer.
“I was one of those overnight successes that takes about ten years. I’d been trying to get a novel published for a long time. I wrote short stories and articles and things like that, and I also did an MA in creative writing. I had small children so I was beginning a family at the same time, and I just kept going.”
She goes on to give more details about how her career progressed, and she stresses the importance of persistence.
“If you give up, you’ll never know. Just be persistent, be passionate, really put your passion onto the page because it shines through in the writing.”
This is the advice we always give writers, but somehow it has more weight coming from a successful author who has been in the trenches. The journey of a writer takes a lot of grit, to use a popular word these days, and not only in the beginning but all the way through.
So—what do you do while you’re waiting for that “overnight success” to happen? It can be hard when you’re sending things out and waiting for responses; when you’re waiting for an agent and/or a publisher to take a chance on you.
Here are some things to do during the waiting:
Keep moving forward. If you’re submitting queries, then rather than putting all your eggs in that basket, make sure you’re also writing your next book. Don’t let yourself get stalled out on one step of the process.
Keep learning. Take workshops, get critiques on your work, consider an advanced degree in writing if that appeals to you.
Keep writing. As Brackston said, write articles, write short stories, find places or platforms that will publish your shorter works.
Keep growing your platform. Use social media, your blog & website, your email list to gather a reading audience.
Keep networking. Become a part of one or more writing groups that are right for you. Get to know other authors. Volunteer to read for them, so they might want to read for you. Help them promote their books. Become a part of the writing community.
Keep building your submission list. Always be looking for more names of agents and/or editors to whom you can send your queries. Maintain a spreadsheet with the names, dates of submission and responses.
Keep reading. I recommend author memoirs, since they can help you be more open-minded about your path. Read books both in and out of your genre. Read, read, read—it’s the best way to become a better writer. Shoot for 50-100 books a year (which is an arbitrary number, but it’s nice to have some kind of goal.)
Keep listening. There are so many interesting podcasts these days. Look for podcasts for readers and podcasts for writers. Consider storytelling podcasts, which can help you sharpen your ability to tell a good story. Listen to interview podcasts, in which you can hear from authors, both fiction and nonfiction.
What are your favorite things to do while waiting?
The publication journey isn’t easy, no matter how you approach it. I’m always encouraging people to be patient, persevere through the obstacles, and doggedly pursue their dream. For some people, this means persistence through years or decades.
But… is there a time when you should give up? Maybe so. I could be wrong but I think there are a few signs the publishing journey is not for you.
You may want to stop pursuing publication if…
1. You’re only doing it for the money. (In the majority of cases, the money’s not that great.)
2. You expect the publication journey to be anything other than the hardest job you’ve ever done. (The ups and downs alone can drive you crazy.)
3. You have an aversion to hearing bad news. (The path always seems to be strewn with little firebombs.)
4. The thought of using social media to promote your book still gives you hives. (It’s just reality, period.)
5. You think Tweeting “Check out my book!” constitutes a good social media strategy. (That’s so 2010.)
6. You expect to receive only four- and five-star reviews on Amazon. (Even War and Peace has 1-star reviews.)
7. You believe selling one book to a publisher means you’re a shoo-in for selling more. (This is only true if your sales on that first book are through the roof.)
8. You truly believe your book is better than all the others out there. (You may be a tad unrealistic.)
9. You think anything else—anything—might make you as happy as writing does. (Because if so, you should go for it!)
Feeling like staying in the game? Congratulations! This journey is for you!
Pharrell Williams Masterclass with Students at NYU Clive Davis Institute - YouTube
I watched a YouTube video from 2016 that featured Pharrell Williams giving a Masterclass with music students at NYU. The thing that’s really neat about this clip is that it captures the moment recording artist Maggie Rogers was “discovered” by Pharrell. It’s fun and heartwarming watching his reaction to her song. (Start watching around the 23-minute mark.) Things went nuts for her after that. Her debut album released a couple of weeks ago, and she’s now on a world tour. (Okay, yes, I bought her CD.)
But the reason I bring it up is because of something she said in a recent NPR interview. As they were discussing the amazingly fast journey from studying music to recording and touring, she said:
“I’ve never had any doubts about the music. But the reality of the music industry is something I had to learn.”
The music. The art. The writing. The craft.
You know that part. You’re an artist, you’re a writer, you’ve been patiently and diligently working on it, developing your voice, nurturing your skill. You’re comfortable with that aspect of the journey.
But publishing! The industry! The reality! It may be frustrating. It may not make any sense. There is so much you don’t know. It may seem arbitrary, unfair, a long shot, any of those things. The point is, as Maggie Rogers so aptly pointed out, it’s a whole new thing to learn.
And that’s normal. Everybody deals with the same difficulty: making that transition from developing the craft to navigating the industry. Luckily there are practically unlimited resources these days for learning about the industry, from podcasts to blogs to conferences to online courses.
As you transition from the writing to the industry, I hope you take heart in knowing it’s a learning curve for everyone. It’s something you have to learn, and you will learn it. It’s sometimes frustrating but it’s totally doable.
Whether you’re working with a traditional publisher or you’re self-publishing your book, the only way to ensure excellence in your final product is to put your work through a rigorous editorial process, consisting of more than one round of editing. Following are the three basic types of editing that your manuscript may go through. Every publisher has their own process, and they may call each step of the process by a different name.
1. The Content Edit (developmental, substantive, or macro edit; sometimes simply called revisions.) This is where the editor gives big-picture notes. Fiction: plot, characterization, scene crafting, POV’s, and all the other elements of your story. Non-fiction: logical flow of ideas, readability, strength of argument, interest level. The editor doesn’t actually edit your work in this stage, they usually give you a set of notes and send you back to work on your revisions.
2. The Line Edit. The editor works directly in your manuscript document, using Track Changes and Comments in Word. She suggests word, sentence and paragraph changes, looks for discrepancies, asks questions about things that don’t make sense, highlights inconsistencies or POV breaks, and looks for anything else that needs to be smoothed out. The line editor is responsible for seeing that the manuscript conforms to house style guidelines.
3. The Copy Edit. This is the most detailed editing, dealing with typos, spelling, punctuation, word use. Sometimes fact checking is done; permissions are checked; footnotes are verified.
At some houses, editing is a long and involved process, where at others, it hardly takes any time at all. Some publishers place a high priority on editorial excellence and put a lot of time and money into it, while others basically print what the author wrote.
If you’re self-publishing and looking for an editor, you can use the above terminology to ensure you’re getting the level of editing you need.
When was the last time you had a terrific conversation about writing and your publishing journey with your fellow author friends? Talked about your dreams for the future and tried to identify any roadblocks that might be holding you back from pursuing them?
It’s often difficult for writers to “dream big” or set lofty goals because they’re constantly being told — and shown — that publishing is a difficult journey and writing is a career in which huge success is a long shot.
This is the advice I regularly give to writers: I encourage them to follow their dreams and to keep persistently pursuing them, while also advising they keep their expectations in check and be realistic about their possibilities.
It’s quite a contradiction, isn’t it?
I strongly believe all of us should pursue our dreams, and not be afraid of dreaming BIG. Yet, as an agent, I’ve been on the downwind side of writers being disappointed that their dreams aren’t coming true in the way or the timing they’d hoped, and I’ve experienced their anger or resentment or despair — or their blame. So it makes sense that, from a business perspective, I’d also want to remind people to be realistic.
But I’m thinking now that maybe “realism” isn’t the answer, and maybe “manage your expectations” isn’t the right advice. Maybe what I’ve really meant to tell writers is this:
Dream BIG, and pursue your dreams persistently — and be diligent in guarding yourself against anger, resentment, despair and blame when things aren’t going your way.
Don’t let the difficulty of the path convince you that you shouldn’t have BIG dreams and BIG expectations. But also, don’t let the difficulty turn you into a bitter person.
Instead, let difficulty make you ever stronger; let it guide you in adjusting your dreams as needed; let it spur you toward the path that will result in your success, no matter how close or far it is from your original dream.
I’m finished saying “manage your expectations.” Now I think a better approach is this: Keep your expectations high, but manage your response to adversity.
So dream big and yet avoid despair when your dreams don’t seem to be coming true! We all should be encouraged to dream big, set high expectations and lofty goals.
Today I thought I’d talk about an aspect of novel-writing that I don’t see addressed very often, even though I deal with it all the time when editing novels. It’s the technique of foreshadowing and its black-sheep cousin, telegraphing.
Foreshadowing is when you purposely drop tiny hints about what’s going to happen later in the novel, to heighten the effect or the suspense. It might not even be a hint, but an image or idea that thematically relates to whatever’s going to happen later. It’s like subtle shading to plant tiny, even imperceptible, seeds in your reader’s mind.
Telegraphing is giving away too much, too soon, thereby ruining the suspense, or the impact of the event.
When you foreshadow, the reader usually doesn’t notice it when they initially read it. But later they might have an “aha” moment, remember it, and put two and two together. Often foreshadowing can’t even be detected until someone reads your novel for a second time. It’s that subtle.
But telegraphing works the opposite. The reader notices the telegraphing detail, groans, and predicts what’s going to happen. It takes the fun out of reading a novel. Envision the important event, or piece of information that your reader’s going to learn, like a balloon. Telegraphing is like letting some of the air out of the balloon ahead of time, so when the time comes for the “pop” you get a fizzle instead.
Often when I mark a manuscript with the note, “Delete – telegraphing” the writer will respond, “I was trying to foreshadow.” It can be tricky to know the difference between the two. If you’re trying to foreshadow, ask yourself if there’s any chance the reader could begin to guess what you’re hinting at. If so, then you’re probably telegraphing. Make it more subtle.
Better yet, always decide carefully whether foreshadowing is even necessary. Are you sure you need it to heighten the tension? It’s a device to use carefully.
As an example: I was working with a client on a novel in which the hero is eventually going to fall in love with the heroine. At the beginning of the novel, he has been corresponding long-distance with her, but he thinks she is an elderly lady. Part of the surprise the reader looks forward to is him finding out she is actually the same age as him, opening up the possibility of a relationship.
The author included an early scene in which the hero discusses the reasons he thinks his pen-pal is elderly. I asked the writer to strike the whole conversation because it was telegraphing. I don’t want the hero to have any reason to question his assumption about the heroine’s age, because that would ruin it when he finally finds out the truth. The author’s intent was to foreshadow, but in this case it was telegraphing. Further, foreshadowing wasn’t even needed. The situation has enough tension inherent in it—the reader is already looking forward to the hero discovering the truth about the heroine.
Remember, when you’re trying to foreshadow, do it carefully and make sure to avoid crossing the line into telegraphing.