Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why Conference Pitches Often Don't Get Agents/Editors Those Clients

It is conference time! You have registered for that conference and are all excited about going. Not only that, this is a chance for you to sit down, face to face with an editor or agent to pitch that story. You just feel that if they see your face, connect it to the story, you will be set and that contract is on its way to you.

Ahhh, but wait a minute. This might not be the best place for you. Let me explain.

Although I have signed authors from conferences, in many cases, the pitches I hear have me saying no before that person even left the table. You may be wondering why? If we hear the story and you have the chance to talk it out and skip the painful query letter and synopsis writing, you would think this would be the perfect situation. But when it comes down to it, the real reason the rejections will be coming your way is that you did not do your research. You were pitching a story that was going to be rejected, regardless of how much prep you put into the pitch.

Too many authors seem to believe if there is an editor or an agent there, they need to pitch their project. This is wrong. The research you theoretically would be doing before you send out a project via email is the same research you should be doing before you get that appointment with the editor or agent. Our names, bios, links to our websites and what we are looking for is ALWAYS in the conference information. READ IT! We reject your stories because you simply were pitching us a project we just aren't looking for.

I remember sitting at a pitch session where authors would simply line up for the panel of editors and agents sitting across the length of the ballroom. If there was an editor or agent with a small line, or with no one in line, the author just ran there and started pitching. They had no clue who this person was, or even what they wanted. This is not only wasting the time of the editor or agent, but it is also discouraging for you to hear "No" over and over again.

Now, let's take this to the next level. There are many authors who are pitching a story to that editor or agent BEFORE the story is even finished. Think about this... You wouldn't send that proposal out to the editor or agent if the story was not done. So why are you doing it here?

Oh, I know many of you say, "But this is a great opportunity!" To do what? To show the editors and agents that you are not professional? That you don't know the procedures for submissions? Probably not the smartest approach you could take.

Think of it this way. Those editors and agents are available 24/7/365 via email and their normal submission process. You can take the time to make sure that your stories are golden, that the query letters directly addresses what that editor or agent wants. Or, you can  blow that one chance with a pitch that is less than perfect, just because the person is there.

I would also add that too many of these writers, who are either unprepared, or who did not do their research, end up taking those pitch appointments away from people who could use the slot.

I love to meet with authors at conferences. I love listening to the stories and having the chance to ask questions after hearing the pitches. But I am also someone who is not going to have you send a project to me just because I don't want to tell you no to your face. I will say no right there and then.

So, do me a favor. Do your research. Pitch if you are ready. Pitch if the story is appropriate for that person. Pitch if you and your story are a right fit for that editor or agent. If not, take the time to network with other authors, take a couple of workshops or work on getting that story ready to send out. Your time will be better spent doing that.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Wanted: Active Authors

When I am looking at new authors to potentially sign at the agency, one of the things I am looking for is how active the writer is. No, I am not necessarily talking about someone who is writing 20 books a year, but I am looking for someone who is always striving to make forward movement. Unfortunately, there are many authors who seem to think that once they get an agent, they just have to sit back and let that person do all of the work. This is far from true.

What we are talking about here is really an issue of "Out of sight. Out of mind." To really be successful when you have an agent, or even an editor, is to make sure they know what you are working on at all times and to show progress. Doing so keeps your name in their mind, so when they
are talking to editors, your name will always pop up.

I think one thing many writers seem to believe is, if they are working on a project and really have nothing new to share, they don't want to bug the the editor or agent. In reality, we want to be bugged. We want to know what you are doing. It doesn't take much. A simple update in a couple of lines with an email is enough.

When you just disappear, the agent is not going to know if you have decided to move on or not.

So, if you haven't talked to your agent recently, send them an email. Let them know what you are working on and if you have some new projects to review. Who knows what may happen?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Do I Need An Agent?

This is from a prior post, but I think it was worth repeating.

First of all, I get it. Agents are not for everyone. There are a lot of authors out there doing really well without having an agent. However, there are a lot of authors out there who have found themselves in predicaments that made their publishing careers less than pleasurable. These might have also been situations that could have been avoided, had there been an agent in their corner.

What people need to know is that agents are not there to only negotiate contracts for you and take your money. They are part of your team to step in when things might not be going along so well for you. They are there to allow you to focus your attention on the creative side of your career with your editors. That icky business stuff is left to them. One editor I worked with described it as a way to make sure that fun part of the relationship is still in tack while the agent deals with the business.

I see all of the time authors who are unhappy with the way a publisher wants to do things with his or her book. While the editors have in mind changes that would make the book more marketable, an author might see things a different way. The author's approach might be taking the book in a different direction. Now, this might be due to the author not knowing some marketing trends and the publisher's approach is the better decision, or it might be that both approaches have merit. It is just a matter of communication. However, when authors are now sitting in a situation like this, the whole writing process can reach a stand-still. And here is where it gets ugly.

Authors can now view the publishers as being unwilling to do things "their way". They start to be difficult when it comes to the writing and communication back and forth with their editors. They may even find themselves sitting on social media, chat groups, or talking with other writers just to vent. They aren't thinking that what they say will get filtered around to others (including the editor they are supposedly trying to work with, other editor and certainly agents). Look people do talk.

And then things get really nasty. When it comes time for new contracts, suddenly what they wanted may not be there. The publishers decide to "take a new direction". They aren't doing this to punish the author and say, "See, I told you we would win." They are indeed taking a new direction because that working relationship was damaged and too hard to maintain. The may have also done this because they had heard from all of that external chatter that the author was unhappy and may indeed be wanting to go another direction.

I should also note here that this doesn't just happen to brand new authors who haven't been around the block. This can happen to a lot of seasoned authors who may have been doing this on their own for a while. Things were moving along nicely for years and then, WHAM! That one book with some issues brings in a ton of problems. Not fun!

Now let's bring in an agent. First of all, will an agent be able to fix everything? No! Is an agent a miracle worker? No! But they can be the one to serve as an intermediary to help smooth things out. Those issues you had with the book that brought things to a standstill? They can talk it through using different words and approaches that might open the eyes of the publisher, or simply be able to come back to the author and describe what the publisher was really saying.

The agent is also there so you can vent in private. Yell and scream at them. They can take the punishment and you know that information is not going to go anywhere else through those pretty leaky internet social media sites.

Now, as an agent, I hope to never find myself in a situation such as this. We want things to always move like clockwork. But, in those rare situations, having that agent in your corner might be enough to keep you moving and through that rough time in your career.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Why Certain Heroes Tend To Rock!

A lot of people tend to think that in romance, there is a fixed formula and if an author doesn't stick to that formula, publishers will not take it. In reality, the only two items that tend to be of a concern when it comes to romance is that the story must show a growing relationship and there is that happily every after. Still many seem to think that only certain characters work. What people should understand it that it isn't so much an issue of only wanting certain characters. It is more of the fact that certain characters sell better than others.

This is the reason why we see those standard trope characters such as:
  • Navy Seals
  • Special Ops Vets
  • Firemen
  • Doctors
  • Cowboys
With these characters, authors can tap into a lot of character traits that are fantastic with romance novels.

First of all, you have a group of guys who will tend to be physically fit. These guys need their bodies
to do their work so you can count on the fact that when they take that shirt off for a book cover, you will be getting a body perfect for marketing.

Secondly, for most of these occupations, you need to have dedication and drive. These people are focused and driven to do great work. They have a lot of people counting on them so they are going to do great things.

Now, when it comes to the cowboys, we add in the special touch with animals. This is that touchy feely side of the guys that you might now see with the other professions.

So, how do authors bring in that touchy feely side for the other heroes? This is where rescuing babies, the hidden baby storyline or even making the doctor a pediatric surgeon comes into play. We see that soft side of them come out here.

I think the thing to note here is that there are just some combinations that offer romance authors a lot of options when it comes to showing that relationship development. This is not an issue of the only things that work, but simply that some things work better than others.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Things To Know To Be A Successful Author - Question from a writer

Here is my question: I know you must have gone over these points a dozen times by now, but if you have a moment, would you mind giving a refresher; a concise list of what 10 (less or more - your choice) are the most important things a would-be author "needs" to learn in order to become a successful author? Something to be put on a poster and hung over the writing desk. You're absolutely right. We all need focus. Thank-you!!!

This is a great question. Yes, I am talking about this a lot here on the blog. There are just a lot of writers out there who have just sat down in front of their computers and started writing. Many of those people then start sending out projects to editors and agents, or even start publishing through independent channels without really knowing how things work in this business or even if their stories are great. I have also had several authors who have had stories with some potential that I have signed, and when we get going on moving to that next level, they panic, seeing that they are indeed far from ready.

So, with that said, here are some things to consider. I am not sure if there is an exact list here, but this can probably get you going... I am going to try to sort these by general topics as well.

  • The components of a successful story 
  • The balance between narrative and dialogue
  • The role of plotting and planning
  • Successful query letters
  • Successful synopsis writing
  • How to identify problems in your book and fix the problems in a reasonable amount of time

  • Roles and responsibilities of people in the industry including agents, editors, copy editors, marketing offices and so forth.
  • The procedure for submitting projects
  • The time it takes from proposal to print
  • Understanding the elements of contracts
  • The role of the revision process with editors and agents

  • The reasonable amount of time necessary to maintain a writing career
  • Balancing writing and marketing time
  • The time that will be taken from family and your full time job.
  • The need for authors attending conferences
  • The time necessary to get revisions completed

  • Understanding the role of web presence
  • The author's role for marketing books
  • The cost of marketing
  • Effective strategies for getting your name out there

That should get you going. Much of this, I should note, are things that take time to learn. This is not something you learn overnight, so be prepared to take your time. Don't rush the process!

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Grim Situation In Publishing - We Need A Hard Reset

Over this last several days, I have been playing catch up and reading a ton of new submissions. What I have seen is very alarming, and I do believe, it is an issue that is not just happening here at Greyhaus, but across the entire industry. The market is full of a lot of people writing stuff, but not a lot of people who are true authors. OK, maybe that is a bit harsh. What I am simply saying is that there are a ton of people out there writing novels but not really understanding anything about the business, about publishing, about marketing, or even about how to craft a quality story. What this
industry really needs is a hard reset to get things back in order.

Please understand, I do know there are some great authors out there, but right now, that number is dwarfed by the number of people who really are lacking the skills to make it in this business. Don't get me wrong. I do believe these people have great intentions and want to do well, but without the skills, they will not likely find great success. What is worse, however, is that they will do what so many are currently doing, and try to do this on their own, either through self-publishing, or creating their own publishing company. The end result is that it becomes harder and harder for readers to truly find good books.

Reading through submissions it becomes clear that this is not just a random idea. As I said, I was seeing this over the last several days in large numbers. For example I saw authors who believe:

  • Novels can be 30,000 words or even 500,000 words.
  • Agents will accept every genre even though submission guidelines say otherwise
  • It is OK for YA novels to be written in the style of Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Grammar skills are not necessary since the computer will supposedly fix everything
I also have seen an increasing number of people who clearly miss doing market research to know where their book fits in the world. I have seen guys who submit a thriller war novel to me saying this would work for Harlequin Intrigue. I have seen people submit memoirs and saying that since they changed the names of some of the characters, the story is now fiction. 

But it gets worse. Authors email me from my website asking questions such as "How do I submit to Greyhaus?" or "What does Greyhaus represent?" The disturbing fact is that those guidelines are right there on the website. What is even more frustrating are the authors who use the form submission I have on the website to submit a non-fiction self-help book and then clicking a category such as Contemporary Romance. OK, so maybe some of these people are missing some literacy skills, but I do believe that the majority simply are believing that if they just get a project to an agent, it will be accepted. 

I do believe this problem does not just revolve around the authors. The publishers out there just taking everything, and yes, this is primarily the self-publishing sites, are not helping matters much. It seems that the only thing that matters is to see an income from anyone who just puts things on their website. The problem is the market now has a ton of books that really had not business being published. No, this is not to say that because the story doesn't fit the mold of what "the established publishers want." This is really an issue that these stories are far from ready to be put out to the public. 

I do believe this is a problem that can be fixed. It will take, as I said in the beginning, a hard reset. The industry as a whole needs to take some more time educating future authors on all of the essentials of publishing. We need to return to the basics and teach people how to write (let's face it, this is not being done in the education system that much). We have to push to bring more professionalism back into the publishing industry. Writing organizations need to push harder at their conferences and in their journals to increase education, to teach workshops in craft more than marketing. Writing contests need to admit that it is OK to set a minimum standard before advancing projects to final rounds. And yes, it would be OK to say that no novel in the historical category this year earned enough points to advance so an award will not be given out. 

Publishing can be saved, but we need to push for it. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Developing Project Ideas

Sorry for the lapse in posting lately. I was out of town with my daughter on an orchestra trip.

I wanted to talk today about developing ideas for projects. I would love to hear how each of you come up with ideas as well so make sure to post some suggestions.

When I am working with my authors on projects, most of the time, I try to start working with some really broad concept of a theme or plot idea. In many cases, it starts with something such as, "What would happen if...? style questions. In other cases, I try build on a standard trope and then work on creating a unique spin to it.

Let's say I want to work with the historical trope of the hero needing to get married to get his inheritance. This is a pretty standard one. So, what if we spin this a slightly different way. Instead of our hero just finding a girl and getting married, what if there is the girl he has always been attracted to, but is not suitable for mom and dad? In this case, I play around with the same trope, but throw in a little Romeo and Juliet spin to it.

Another potential twist that works well is to build on historical events and then put it in another setting or time. Let's take, for example, the events surrounding the Great Depression. We had a ton of people who lost everything and simply had to pack it up and move to a new location. So, let's bring this to a present day situation. We have a heroine who has lost everything due to the housing crisis. Her company went bankrupt and now she is stuck with a school loan, house payment and so forth. Finding a new job is tough, so she has to now resort to a minimum wage job. From that we build the story.

As I am thinking of these, I am also thinking of what the big take away would be for the reader. What is the message I want to get across. In the first historical example, it would be something such as fighting for the one you love. The second would be the grit and determination to make it in the world despite the odds being against you.

I am working with one of my authors right now on a romantic suspense concept. In her case, I simply built it around three words she mentioned in an email - "Band of Brothers." From this, we built the concept around what would have united all of these guys who would now become the heroes in the series (sorry, can't tell you what that is yet). It was that idea, however, that became the unifying goals and motivations for the characters to not only get the girl, but to get into those nasty situations we often find those suspense characters to be in.

So, how do you figure out ideas? Let me know.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Unwritten Thing We Are Looking For In A Submission

I know many of you have heard of those "hidden" menu items at the local restaurants. These are the ones that are "on the menu" but unless you are in the know, you miss out. I bring this up, because, for agents, there is also an unwritten thing we are looking for in a story.

Now, before I get into what that mysterious item is, please note, this is not one of those things we use to just "get rid of authors." This is also something that you cannot prepare for. In other words, you cannot try to write to this, or even prep for it in a synopsis, query or your manuscript.

What we are talking about is purely subjective. It is the connection the story makes with us when we read it. It is simply whether or not we personally like it or not.

Now, I understand that you might be thinking this is unfair, but consider this. If we totally love a project, then we will want to read it over and over again (which is good considering we will likely be editing this thing several times). But the bigger issue is that we need to love it so much, we want to tell everyone about it.

When we sit down with editors (or talk to them over the phone) the topic of "So what projects do you have that are really interesting now?" will come up. If we love your book, and are totally excited about it, we will bring up your book first. We will also be so excited about it, that we will really hype that book up.

Let me give you two examples of this one:

You have heard be talk about Jean Love-Cush and her novel ENDANGERED. When she pitched this book to me in Chicago, I was sold immediately. I was then so hooked on this book, I couldn't stop talking about it. This continued until Simon and Schuster picked it up/. We are not totally excited about the next of her book which is in the editing phase called MISSING.

The second came from Stephanie Stiles. TAKE IT LIKE A MOM had me talking to everyone about it. I loved the lines. I loved the scenes. I could totally connect with the story. We sold that book to New American Library in 11 days after I signed the book.

I am sure you have all experienced the same thing when it comes to books, movies and tv shows. There are some that you can just connect with and others that just don't work well with you. This does not me the book, movie or show is bad. It just isn't something you are in to.

So, if you do get a rejection, please note this is not a situation of your writing being bad (although it could be). It might simply be that lack of connection.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Is Your Social Media Helping Your Marketing?

Whether we like it or not, social media has become a huge piece of our lives. Even if we say we are not interested in social media, we tend to get a lot of our daily information from the net. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, 38% of Americans get their news from online sources. Now, while this might just be about news, it does show a trend that this is where we are now going to for anything new.

For authors, this is also important considering the decline in bookstores out there and the fact that there are so many authors out there fighting for the coveted readers. Using your social media is a great tool, IF you are using this properly.

So, the question is, what is your social media saying about you and your writing? Are you promoting your writing and giving the readers an update on what you are doing and where you are going?

I saw this weekend several authors who were showing a lot of pictures of things they were doing as a family, pictures of dogs and cats, and so forth. Anything on writing? Not a whole lot. One author made a small attempt telling me the amount of words she had written that weekend.

Your readers are interested in your career. They want to know of the upcoming books and what they can be looking forward to in the future. They want to know about how you draft your stories and the process you take to get to that final product. They also want to know how you are reaching out to your readers.

So, take some time today and reflect on your social media. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are you talking about your craft?
  • Are you talking about your latest book, the up-coming book? 
  • Are you interacting with your readers?
  • Etc.??????