Friday, July 10, 2020

A Must Read from Jane Friedman: How publishers decide which books to bet on

I will let the article do all of the talking. Jane Friedman does a great job with this. 

How Do Publishers Decide Which Books to Bet On?: Every book is a gamble, and publishers ask the same two questions any capitalist or gambler asks: how much should we stake, and how much might we profit.

I want you to read this, especially to those of you who often think editors and agents are just making arbitrary decisions on which book they like or don't like, or even why they passed on your project.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Verify Your Research

We're going to talk about research today. I know, in the past, I have focused on the research you do to find editors and agents, but today, it is all about the research going into your books. Verifying the authenticity of that research, in today's digital world, is more important than ever.

I am bringing this up because just yesterday, I saw on a social media writing group I follow, an author asking for some help on research for his book. OK, so far so good. This person knew to reach out to people. But here is where the problems showed up. The post followed with a lot of people offering links to the research sites they used. These people were honestly trying to help and provide, what they thought, were great sources. However, looking at the links (and yes I followed a couple to verify) these were sites that a true researcher would have to question the information. 

The digital world we live in has a lot of people out there claiming to be "experts" in their field. But their expertise is far from credible. 

Just because they say "they know their stuff" does not mean they know "the right stuff."

As someone who teaches academic writing as well, we focus heavily on verifying the source and verifying the material and information in the source. Is it up to date? Is this person a specialist? Is the information coming from a source that might be biased or have an agenda? 

While some of you might think this might be over-kill, I can guarantee there will be readers out there who will catch you on this. Not great publicity.

So, for this person who was asking about the research, the recommendation is that feel free to look at the research, but take it a step further. Follow those links, verify the information. Cross check the information. It may take time, but at least you will save your reputation. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Write What You Want, But Don't Be Stupid

One question editors and agents are asked all of the time is "What should we write?" Our answers are almost always the same thing. We want you to write the story from your heart. When you have passion behind a project, you will always write a stronger story. But with that statement comes a warning.

Don't be stupid!

Too often, it seems, writers sit down and write a story that they do put their heart and soul into it. They completely immerse themselves into those projects, researching, revising, contemplating... This is good. We want stories like this. The stupidity, however, stems from the author wanting to sell the book, but never took the time to truly see if the story is even going to be marketable. Is this really a story that will sell?

I remember meeting a really nice writer at the Romantic Times conference years ago. She came up and talked to me after a workshop I did and she was so enthusiastic about her book. You could see it in her eyes and you could hear it in her voice as she talked about it. This was a story about her grandmother and how she lived through the depression. No, the grandmother did not do the "Grapes of Wrath" thing. There was no living in a shed in the mid-west with the dust storms blowing around. Grandma didn't even lose a job. She survived it really well. Sure, she watched others around her struggle, and yes, the financial side of things was not amazing, but this had now just become a story about one woman. 

I would say, there was nothing special here, but there was. It was special to this author and her family. As I listened to her talk, I kept thinking "So what?" What would an average, everyday reader get out of this story? In this case, the story simply was not going to be marketable to anyone outside of her family. Maybe, if she came from a small town where everyone knew the family our the surroundings, the story would sell at the historical society, but for anyone who did not know Grandma, buyers would not be there. 

This was tough to tell her this. I did stress that a story like this IS important and her writing it WAS important. Knowing our family histories is something we cannot ignore. But she did not see it that way.

Now here is where the story becomes tough. I watched her, during the large pitch sessions move from editor to editor and agent to agent, really pushing the story. In every case, I saw the same reactions from the editors and agents. A slight shaking of the head saying no.

But let me take it a step further and talk about those stories where someone really is being stupid. Stories where the project really is morally or ethically objectionable. Stories with plots that are just plain ridiculous. Yes, there might be a slight glimmer of "That could make a good story," but then when it ventures into the absurd, you are wasting your time. 

Look, there is nothing wrong with writing stories like this for personal pleasure, for your family, or even as a writing exercise. I want you to do these stories. Just don't be stupid and deceive yourself think the story will sell and people will buy it. Even if you think you'll self-pub it, don't expect the crowds to come running.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Wanted: Flexible Authors

So, this happened yesterday.

One of my authors got an email from her editor. The editorial team decided that they wanted to go a slightly different direction than my author had planned to go when we put the contract together. It was very clear, from the wording of the email, the editor was "treading lightly" and spent a lot of time justifying why they wanted to take a different approach. 

So what did the author do? 

She adjusted. She went with the change. 

This is something I hear a lot about from people as to why they decided to self-pub and refused to go in the direction of traditional publishers. "I want complete control over my writing!" "I don't want anyone telling me what to write and what not to write."

I get it! But here is the thing. The editors DID NOT tell her what to write or not write. They are still allowing her to craft her own stories, but wanted to take it in a slightly different direction.

So my author did that. 

And here is what the pay off is going to be. First of all, she got a great project in exchange for making the changes and now has a coveted Christmas time release. This is ALWAYS great for sales. But more importantly, because she worked with the editorial team and because she did not whine and complain about the things she wanted to do and how she was not going to get to do those things, the editorial team likes her more. When special projects come up, who will get those slots? She will! When there is a prime position in the line up, like her Christmas story, she will get it. 

The key is to play nicely.