Friday, June 14, 2019

Parkinson's Law and Publishing

I was listening to Planet Money on NPR last night as I was heading to the airport. They were reporting on all of these "Laws" and "Principles" that we often hear around the business world. One in particular stood out to me. This was Parkinson's Law.

The basic definition is: Parkinson's law is the adage that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".

So, how does this work with publishing and writing?

For new and unpublished authors, this is the reason why you are taking forever to get that novel written. Because you have no deadline, or you have set a deadline so far away, you will naturally take that long to complete the project. No deadline means you have literally told your brain there is no hurry at all.

Now, for published authors, this explains why some of you produce stories so quickly, and others take for ever.

I was thinking about my Greyhaus authors and some authors I know outside of the agency. My authors who really produce create deadlines with their editors that are literally back to back. They calculate down to the day exactly how long it will take to write a novel. For these authors, they really use that time wisely.

Now there are those other authors who, for whatever reason have said they would need "more time to complete a project." The reality is that probably could write that story in a shorter time, but have created a "supposed need" to expand that time to complete the project. The end result is that they do meet that deadline, but have slowed their production.

I know of several authors who used to produce 4 books a year. Now, they are lucky to produce 2. What is also amazing is how they often complain that they are struggling to meet that deadline.

We see the same thing when authors pitch to editors and agents and then hear the response, "Send it to me when you are done." The lack of a real deadline means that the author will likely take too long to get a project to that person, or worse yet, never get the project sent at all. This is why, when I request a project, I tell authors that project really should be in my hands within 2 weeks max. 

If you artificially create a longer deadline then you need, the odds are, the next time around you will say you "felt rushed" and then extend that deadline again.

There is nothing wrong with setting a deadline a bit longer if you truly need it. But keeping it a tighter deadline will certainly help you out. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Research Your Genre

I have heard a lot of authors tell me that they try to avoid reading their genre. Their argument is that they do not want to steal someone else's ideas and they really want to make their story unique and stand out. While this is a noble cause, it is truly a big mistake.

Authors MUST read their genre. They MUST research their genre.

The purpose is not to read to get new story ideas to use in your own books. The purpose is to keep an eye on the trends. Doing this allows you the chance to see what your fellow authors are doing and what directions the various publishers are taking with their storylines.

Now, here is the twist. Do not just read the established authors. The thing is that those authors are pretty much allowed to do what ever they want to do because they have a following. Sure, they might start trends, but this is going to give you a sense of false research data. Where you want to look are the new releases, and especially the new authors your publisher and other signed. These are authors that the publishers see as bringing a new voice to the line.

As you research, don't just look at the plots. While this will give you some insight, the reality is that you need to spend the time looking at the voice. Consider looking at the following:
  • How sensual are the books getting? Hotter? Cooler?
  • How much depth is going into the story in terms of secondary plots?
  • How are they using secondary characters?
  • How are they balancing narration and dialogue.
You have to understand that publishers are constantly evolving. They get new editors all of the time with new ideas and new directions. They are also doing their research seeing what other publishers are putting out and trying to make predictions. 

Will the guarantee success? I cannot promise that. What I can promise is that you will be closer than if you just sit there, write a story without seeing what is out there, and then keeping your fingers crossed.



NOTE: If you are interested in more of this, I do run a seminar on doing this level of research. Please have your chapter presidents and/or your conference coordinators reach out to me and I am more than happy to come and do this workshop and any other that your writing group would be interested in.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Catch A Clue

We have all seen those psychology experiments with rats. They run to one end of their cage and if they click the right button, they get food. If they click the wrong one, they get a small zap or negative reinforcement. After a couple of tries, the rats learn.

Unfortunately, I have several authors out there who are probably not as "with it" as those rats.

Yesterday, I was working through submissions and stumbled across 3 authors who have submitted to me in the past. In fact, they have submitted A LOT of projects to me over the years. In all of these cases, I have passed on their projects. But here is the thing. I have passed on these stories, not so much because the writing was not good, but because these are projects that are simply not things I acquire.

These authors are like those rats who apparently cannot catch a clue that doing the wrong thing results in a zap.

I know I am not any different than other agents out there. Just because we reject a project does not mean you cannot submit again. Take the information we give you to you and adapt your next project if you truly want to work with us. But we do want you to learn. If I say I only accept romance and women's fiction, then learn from that. If you do not write this, then don't submit your next project to me.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Don't Throw Darts

As I get ready to write this, I have a feeling it is going to fall on deaf ears. I already hear a ton of authors saying that their approach is really the best, or they need to try it a different way or they will not succeed. And... I am already going to say, before I start, that I 100% disagree.

What I am talking about is the approach so many authors take to submissions or pitches to editors and agents. They simply throw it out to the wind and hope something sticks. This is easily seen at many conferences around the pitch room. If you really want to see this in its full form, observe the conferences that have that open format speed pitch. You know the type. You have a room full of editors and agents and lines available to pitch to anyone who will listen. In situations like this, you will see authors just running from one line to the next, cranking out pitches to their book and not having a clue who they talk to. You will hear them later proclaiming the great success they had with requests from ALL of the people they talked to. They are now "on the verge of being published."

Nope...

The odds are that none will be published or signed with any of those editors or agents. In those short sessions, we really don't have time to assess the story so we simply request from anyone who shows. up. The request generally sounds like this, "That sounds interesting. Why don't you send me something? How about a synopsis and a partial and I can take a better look. Here's my card."

Now, I don't want to spend the time trashing the whole speed pitch thing. The point of today is to focus in on the belief that these authors and those who just send their project to every editor or agent out there is the best approach. These people are throwing darts.

The reality of the situation is that your story DOES NOT fit with every editor or agent out there. You as an author DO NOT fit with every editor or agent. As an author, I would hope you want the best for your novel and your career. You want this relationship to last a long time and your career to be highly successful. You have to do your research to find where you and your story really fits best.

Please understand I am not saying that some of these people are not great places to work and I am not saying these people have no clue. They do and they are highly respectable professionals. What I am saying is that you should be finding the right person for you.

Getting this research is not hard! Editors and agents put a lot of information out there for new authors looking for a home. Go to their websites. Sit in on those editor and agent panels. Listen, talk and read.

Throwing darts like this is just going to lead to a lot of frustration. You get a ton of rejections and eventually, you start to develop the belief so many authors have of "Fine, I will self-publish because clearly those editors and agents don't know great writing when they see it." Sorry, we do see good writing. We reject you because your story did not fit with us.