Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Are You Asking Questions

We just had a great webinar yesterday with Joanne Grant talking about what editors and agents want. When we opened it up in the middle for a quick round of question and answers, at the beginning, things were really quiet. We brought up, however, that asking questions when given a chance is something authors should be doing, and yet often do not do.

I remember sitting in a room at an RWA Convention up here in Seattle and we had the standard editor/agent panel. When it was open for questions, there was nothing but crickets. No one said anything. Finally, it was just the editors and agents who started talking because frankly, it was uncomfortable to be sitting at that table and just staring at a very large ballroom full of authors just looking back at us.

Editors and agents are out there a lot trying to answer questions. Many have social media accounts where they openly tell people to ask questions. And if you are not, you are missing out on a great opportunity.

I also bring up the question of whether you are asking questions or not, based on many of the submissions we are seeing lately. It seems that so many authors out there rely solely on websites such as Query Tracker or USA Literary Agents. They have somehow come up with the belief that if they go there, it is one-stop shopping. You get a list of agents, you get their email address and a single line of what they represent. I should note, that it seems many authors ignore that line, or think it is just what they are interested in right now. Do they go to the website and do research? No. Do they do any additional research? No.

Now, I know that some authors admit that they do go and ask questions, but we run into another problem. They return to those sites and ask questions in DISCUSSION BOARDS. So who they hear from? People who have not gotten representation. They get nothing but people who complain that they did not get what they want. This should seem obvious though. Think of it this way. I am an author. I use the site and get the representation. Do I need to go to the site any more? Nope.

If you are just relying on what other people say, you will simply run into a lot of rejections because of misguided information. These sites are not trying to deceive, but it is not going to be all that you need to be successful. Take the time to do your research. Ask questions. Visit their websites. Do your own work!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

You Think You're Close... But Then

I recently saw a post by a fellow agent who talked about one author's first book selling. As always, this is a great time to rejoice and celebrate. But the take-away I noted (and this is not to be negative) is that it took over 1 year of trying to massage the book, get it ready and then the marketing. As I continually say over here, it takes time. 

But it did get me thinking of the numerous times I have seen authors state that they are "on the brink of being published." While this is a great positive thinking approach, there is simply no such thing as "being on the brink." You either are or you aren't 

You may have spent hours on that query letter and synopsis. You may have spent months on that story. You really have it. You send out a proposal to your editors or agents, or in a Pre-Covid-19 time, you sat down with an editor or agent at a conference. You got feedback that they were totally excited about the project and wanted more! That is what you want to hear. 

So you make one final check, you send that project out... and then wait. 

Now comes the heartbreaking email back. "While we loved the story and the premise, in the end, we are going to have to pass on this." Ugh!

You may or may not get a fully developed reason. Even then you start asking yourself, "What happened? Everything seemed to be in alignment. It all looked so good in those first conversations. 

The think is, the story DID look good. There was excitement at the time. But like everything in the publishing industry (actually pretty much the entire world these days), things change. 

First of all, remember that editors in particular, are looking way in advance. They are looking at projects for 1-2 years down the line. They have current authors that are already under contract. There are other authors submitting at the same time that might have something stronger. Or, in the cases we have seen lately, many publishers are still worried about the economy and might not be taking risks.

I have an author who had worked really hard on this new proposal. She is established but was looking at trying something slightly different. She put in the the time. She did the right things. Even the initial feedback looked great, but then, we got the rejection. Not what they wanted right now. That is the reality.

Secondly, the story might not be the same thing as what you pitched, or what those initial three chapters looked like. I get this so many times when I read a query, think I have something amazing and then the bottom falls out. 

Finally, if you are working with an agent, we might think the world of the story, but the editors just do not see it that same way. I remember one author who ran her story through a workshop I coordinated at the RWA Conference in Orlando. We hade 4 other agents on that panel and ALL of us wanted the story. She had offers from everyone. She took one offer and they too worked that story, prepped it and everything, but it did not sell. The enthusiasm we all had was just not there for the editors. 

So, what do you do? You keep writing. Start something new. Take a breath and move on. It may be with the same story (which we will be doing with the author of mine) or maybe you find a new direction. Those rejections are not going to go away. So live with it and move on!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

You Too Can Help Out

I am always posting here of things authors can do to increase sales. I am going to push for this again today, but with an emphasis on bookstores, both large and small.

In an article from THE GUARDIAN yesterday, 7/22, the reporters were discussing that, despite the fact that sales have been increasing, many of these stores are still really struggling.

While bookshop sales have rebounded strongly since stores reopened on 15 June, the PA is warning that “publishing will require further support from the government to ensure a quick and full recovery”. Some small publishers have been forced to turn to crowdfunding to keep themselves in business, with Jacaranda Books and Knights Of appealing for donations after warning that they risked closure without immediate financial support.

Why is this happening? It is as simple as the internet and where people shop. Think of it. You need a book so where do you go? The odds are, you run to Amazon or if you have a Kindle, you just head to the Kindle Book Store right from the APP (Oh wait, that is Amazon!). Now yes, I get that you are buying books and supporting your authors, which is why those sales figures are going up. But the bookstores, and those smaller publishers are still struggling. The money is just not flowing through their hands and back to the publishers.

Those small publishers that the article mentions are also struggling. Again, think of the Amazon buying model. When you go there, those bigger publishers (as well as the algorithms) will often filter up their books to the top of the searches, and those smaller indie publishers get bumped back down. This is not an intentional thing, but simply due to the fact that there are so many authors out there and the market is flooded. BUT... when you go into a bookstore, you browse. Your bookseller will often recommend books that you might not have seen. Even going into places such as Barnes and Noble and Waterstones have tables set up with "New Releases" or "Employee Picks". I am betting that the majority of you have found new authors from these tables. 

So what can you do? 

As authors, you can provide links to sites that will direct the readers to those bookstores. Really hype them up as a great site. The smaller bookstores CAN and WILL order books for you  and the time will be the same as when you order from Amazon (not counting digital releases or Prime). Even for Digital Releases, set those hyperlinks up in your marketing promo to go to the publishers directly, or if your bookstore does digital work, send the readers there.

As readers, get in the habit of getting back to those bookstores. Yes, I get the COVID-19 thing is still there, but you can still frequent them online. As I have pointed out, my favorite bookstore, A GOOD BOOK in Sumner, Washington is where I go to get all of my purchases. Evelyn has been hooking me up with everything I need, from romance novels, to books for my daughter, to GRE Testing Guides. She also has a digital purchasing option. 

I am someone very excited to see sales numbers going up. Not just because it is great for the industry, but it also tells me that maybe people are not completely running from books and literacy might not be declining. We can do this. Make a big push to help them out.

Feel free to comment with your favorite bookstore in your area. Add a link to them and let us know why they are the best thing ever. And after you do that, go buy a book from them!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Info Dumps Suck!

I was watching a live chat with an editor friend of mine yesterday and she was talking about first chapters. One of the things that came up was the desire to tell everything the author thinks the readers need to know in that first chapter. This does not just happen in the first chapter, but often happens throughout a book. We call these info dumps. In simple terms, this is when the author has a block of information that is just inserted into a book.

Let's start with what the impact is of these info dumps. First of all, this approach to writing simply slows the reading down. It's like driving along a highway, making really good time, and then get stuck behind a line of trucks on a hill and you are down to a ridiculously slow speed. Ugh!

Secondly, this is going to turn off the reader. Well, maybe not all of the readers, but a good majority. You might think all of the readers need this information, but the reality is that very few are interested in that block of material you just inserted. This is part of the reason why researchers put an appendix into their writing. It essentially says, "If you want to read more about this, go to Appendix C." It works the same way with footnotes and endnotes. In reality though, how many of you stop your reading of a piece of writing such as this, and then go and look at that secondary reading? Probably not a lot. But if you do, think now of how hard it was to get back into the actual reading of the main thesis? The same thing happens with your stories. The info dump becomes a distraction. 

So, how do you deal with getting that information out to the readers? It is important to first ask if that information really is needed? Will this advance the plot? Do you really need to know the true recipe for a meal prepared in 1823? Yes, you might look this up for yourself to determine if the ingredients would have been available at that time or in that location, but unless you are planning to narrate the scene describing the step by step procedure of making the meal, this IS NOT necessary.

Information you provide in your story, from world building to back story needs to show up on a "need to know basis." Give us hints if we need the information for later, if not, hack it. 

The positive part is that all of that information you hacked can now be used to increase your understanding of the characters and their goals, motivations and conflicts.