Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sales Sell, Reviews Don't

When authors submit query letters to editors and agents, they are often told to show the success of your writing. This is so true. If you have written in the past, we want to know of those successes! We want to see that we are getting someone who not only knows the business, but has found a way to do well in the business. We do the same thing when we submit resumes and cover letters to potential employers. The goal is to demonstrate that new company is getting a winner.

When it comes to query letters though, many authors miss the mark. These authors rely on reviews and comments they have received for their novels and not sales. Now, why is this not going to work for us? For the simple reason that reviews are not only subjective, but can be written by anyone. Let me give you some examples.

Let's start first with Amazon. This is a known procedure that many companies have used around the world. To hype up the quality of their business, they write their own reviews. They have their friends write reviews. Yes, they get great reviews, and yes, they now show up as 5 star reviews, but it isn't really an accurate reflection of what the whole public is thinking about. Authors do the same thing. When their novel comes out, they "take to the streets!" They get their followers to hype up the quality of their book.

I am not saying those reviews are lies. Those followers love their books. They would buy anything that person puts out. But these are VERY subjective and don't give the editors or agents an accurate picture.

Another twist to this would be getting those advance reviews for your books. This is always a great way to add comments to those advertising campaigns. but again, this can be a bit subjective and still will not give the editors and agents an accurate picture. Why?  Because authors know which places to send their books and where to avoid. If they already know a particular review site tends to be extra critical, or is not a big fan of a particular genre, they avoid it. Smart move, but again, not an accurate

What gives us a true picture are sales. How many units have you sold? How much money have you brought in on that book that you now want to be represented? Give us an accurate picture.

Again, be accurate with this. Don't try to hide the fact that you sold a ton of books, but did so marking everything down to $.99 to hype up sales.

Here at Greyhaus, I am always willing to look at books that have been previously published, but I always ask for authors to send me sales figures. If you show us the last three months worth of sales, this gives us a great idea.

A couple of days ago, I posted something similar when it came to the Shark Tank concept. I mentioned one guy heading into pitch to the Sharks but only had $200 worth of sales. Despite the fact that the product sounded like it was amazing (note, this came from reviews), when he showed sales, he demonstrated that the product might not be as strong as he had hyped it.

I want to remind you of something you have all been told when it comes to your writing. SHOW DON'T TELL. The same holds true with your stories and the marketing!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Learning From Shark Tank

I fully admit it! Watching Shark Tank is a guilty pleasure of mine. No, I don't DVR the show, but if it is on, I love to swing by and watch these people up there pitching their products. What I find most appealing is how these people try to convince the Sharks as well as, listening to the reasons they end up with their decisions. I bring this up today, because I think it is important for authors to spend some time watching episodes of this show. Through this, they might be able to finally realize why everyone has passed on their project.

I watched one just a couple of days ago and there were several rejects that stood out as analogous to the things I see authors doing.

One guy had, what seemed to be, a lot going for him. Great back story! Great enthusiasm! Great product! And yet, he almost lost it, and frankly, I seriously doubt even the sharks will save him. He had several problems.

First of all, when he pitched his product, he spent all of his time talking about his personal growth story. He spent the time talking about the people he was helping through his work. He only spent a little bit of time talking about the product. So, what was wrong with that?

I see authors do this all of the time when pitching a story to me, either face to face, or through a query. If you are not showing us your story and showing why your story is the most amazing thing out there, you are missing the point. A frequent mistake I see in a query is the author spending over the first third of the query telling me all of the other stories their project is like (but never being specific). Then the spend a small paragraph giving me a back-cover blurb that really doesn't give me a sense of the character, the plot of the story. Then, the spend another large block of time telling me how they got into writing, the books they read and why their debut novel was a "labor of love." Mistake! Tell me about the story.

Now, here is where the guy on Shark Tank made another mistake. He had not done his research. He didn't know how the product would get made. He did not know how it would be distributed. And, what is worse, he had only made a total of $200 in sales.

For authors, we see the same thing. Authors write a story and immediately start shipping it out to agents and editors and not having a clue about the industry. I don't care what approach you want to take with publishing. you have to understand the business you are entering.

On a second level, there are a lot of authors who have been selling their stories independently, or simply getting feedback from others on their books, and tell editors and agents that a ton of people like their project. A Lot means more than just your extended family. Fantastic reviews mean much more than just your friends on Amazon and Good Reads. Show us objective review. Show us sales of 50K or more.

On that same show, their was another person pitching to the Sharks who had a pretty good product. The problem is that their product was not as big as they projected it to be. Look, you can be enthusiastic about your product, or a story for writers, but know the true potential of your story. Don't think your story is bigger than it really is. I am sorry to say this, but your novella is not likely going to be a movie that hits the big screen.

This same person on Shark Tank made another huge mistake. She argued with the Sharks. You can be persuasive. But remember you are coming to the editors and agents because you believe they can help you and you need their expertise. Telling them they are wrong is not a good political or professional move.

Take a look at the show Watch it and listen. But when you watch it, don't get hung up on the people or the products. Listen to the arguments and the pitches. Now go and think about your query letters and your pitches. Think about the books you have pitched and gotten no where with. Think about your critique partners who also may have gotten less than favorable responses. Do not think about the story or the catchy things in their story. Listen to the words. You may be find what you have been missing.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Question from an Author - Steam in Historical Romance

Is there much of a market for Historical Romance that is not too steamy? Something in the realm of PG13 – "it" happens but not a lot of details. More sexual tension than graphic information. A couple blogs I've been following say that Historical Romance has to be Rated R or no sale.

Great question and YES, there is a lot of market for romances that are not over the top, Rated R in historical romance. 

If you take a look at the writing that is out there, you have everything from historical romance that is Inspirational focused all of the way through the hot steam. It is just a matter of where you want to market your writing. There are a lot of authors who write "sweet historicals" which have a lot of depth to the characters and plots.

My bet is to follow the lines of who told you that information. I do find A LOT of the self-publishing authors tend to head toward the Rated R side because those do better digitally. When you look at those blogs, you will probably see the same thing. 

The key is finding the right time period that is hot and the publishers that are really selling those. 

Hope that helps!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Don't Obsess Over Mistakes In Your Writing Past

I love that scene in Lion King with Rafiki just nails Simba in the head with his stick. After being asked why he did it, Rafiki simply tells Simba not to worry about it. It was in the past.

Look, we all make mistakes in life. We make mistakes with directions we decide to take with our writing careers. However, we cannot simply look at how someone else was successful over a mistake you made or a decision you chose not to take. For some reason, at that time, it was not in the cards for you. Spending time looking back on that mis-step is simply going to cause you to slow down in looking forward.

Again, I am going to one of my favorite Disney movies (OK, I get it is Pixar but hey, Disney owns everything).

Edna so has this figured out! The present is where your writing is. The future is where you are going. 

You need to set some goals for yourself. If a story you wrote that has been rejected in the past is still nagging at you, put it away. Learn from what you did in that story and craft something new. Quit trying to fix something in the past.

If your critique partner entered a contest you skipped out on, and then found out that everyone who entered got a free critique or even an opportunity to submit to that dream editor or agent, quit being jealous and move on! Celebrate with your CP and look to the future.

This business is always changing and always evolving. Your skipping out on a decision was a step toward something greater. The odds are, you were not ready to move on.

Just some motivation for the middle of the week!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Remove Distractions and Write Better

Distractions are some of the biggest reasons why writers simply cannot get their stories finished. We all know this. We all talk about this. And yet, we continually keep those distractions around us and then complain about the lack of progress. If you want to truly be a successful writer, those distractions have to go away.

I was listening to a podcast on NPR from the series Hidden Brain. In this series, Shankar Vedantam  was studying the concept of Deep Work. Essentially, how to really maximize projects you are doing and really, as the concept says, go deep. One of the things he noted with a researcher is the impact small little distractions can have on your work.

The specialist being interviewed noted how so many authors, to be successful, pulled out of society and found a great place to hide away and stay focused, Thoreau and J.K. Rowling found great successes by eliminating those distractions to get real work done. But the scientist went on to note that even smaller little distractions become huge impacts on that quality of work.

One of the things he noted were people who feel they are working well, but have to "just check in" on an email or a phone call. While this might seem like a quick check, the time it takes to get back into the groove of the bigger project is even larger. Essentially, think of the phrase "I am so on a roll now." We have all used that line before, but this is what they are talking about. If you are working that well and truly are "on a roll" stopping and trying to get that ball rolling again is even harder.

So, what are some ways you can eliminate those distractions in your life so you can write. Let's consider a few:
  • Eliminate social media This is a big one! You don't need to have your phone right next to you beeping every time someone posts on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. The same is true for having that social media running "in the background" while you write. Turn it off. I don't care f you have to shut down the wireless, but get off the grid! I don't know how many times my wife will be in the middle of a project, I will be in the other room and post something about the kids and hear her say, "Oh look, Scott updated his profile." Big mistake, she should have been working. In fact, as I write this and she is working on things for work, she has stopped three times to post something on Facebook, comment on an email that just came in, and checked her email three times. Not focused.
  • Have your research ready ahead of time Yes, I know that the Internet has all of the research right there so use it. But, have it taken care of BEFORE you start writing. Know what you are going to need for that next block of writing you are doing (see next distraction below). Getting online to find something will lead you to looking to other things which may or may not have anything to do with your writing. You might say that this will be good for later, but now is not the time to slow down your writing.
  • Plot out your story Sorry people, but I am back to this again. Plotting is the way to go. Knowing where you are going and what needs to get finished that day with your writing gives you the focus you need to succeed. My wife gets frustrated some days when we have some plans later in the afternoon. She will often say, "I'll get these projects finished while you run those errands." Now, in her head, she is thinking the errands that need to be run will take a large amount of time, giving her the time she needs to finish projects. For me, I streamline my work. I know the order of where to go to maximize the trip. I know where I can do "one stop shopping" to speed things up. The end result is that I am finished earlier than she is. OK, I get this is a gender thing, but in all honesty, I want to get on with my projects so I can do other things. The key is focus.
  • Turn off the phones Like social media, having your phone near you when you write will be a distraction. Now if you have no friends and no one calls you, this is fine (well not the bit about no friends but you get the idea). Every time that phone rings, you get pulled away from your work. Let the answering machine take care of things. 
  • Clear off your desk Again, this may sound insignificant, but having things sitting around your desk pulls your eyes away from the writing that needs to be done. I just noted, as I was writing this, that my eyes moved off of this section three times since I wrote the word "Again" just three lines earlier. I looked over and saw my checkbook... this reminded me that I had a bill to pay and I needed to update the ledger. I looked over and saw my insurance paperwork and reminded myself that I needed to take that to the truck (I have been saying this now for the last 2 weeks, by the way). I saw my pad of paper with the EQUUS FOUNDATION projects on it and I was reminded to get some social media out on that. Those are distractions.
  • Quit playing with the background music I watch my son and daughter doing this all of the time. They want music to listen to when they do their work. That's fine! But they keep their Spotify going and when they get a song they don't like, they pick the phone up and scan through for a new song to listen to. I scream, "Will you get back to work!" and their reply is "I am just looking for a new playlist. A) I interrupted (see last distraction in the list); but B), the time they took to look for that new song just took them "off that roll" they were on.
  • Have all of your supplies ready to go This is just like the research thing, but have all of your writing tools ready to go. When you clean off the desk, have your note pad ready to go, have the pencils sharpened. Have pens that work ready to go. Bring your snacks to the table. Have a tea pot or your coffee in the room with you. DO NOT create a situation where you have to get up "just to get a cup of coffee!" you know what will happen... You start to pick up the kitchen, you check the email (see above of "just checking in"), and your have lost your roll!
  • Find a quit place of solace to write Many major companies have changed how they set up their office spaces. By making the place nice to work, they maximize the productivity. You need to be focused. If you have an office to work in, shut the door. Keep it quiet. Keep the lighting perfect for writing. I know of several authors who have built little sheds in their backyards so they can walk away from the house and stay focused. When you are writing, you want to just think about the writing. Try adding plants. Light candles. Have a desk top waterfall flowing. Just be focused!
  • Kill the family No, I am not serious about this, but when you write, your family needs to know that they cannot disturb you. They cannot have you there to intervene on a fight. They cannot have you there to fix them a meal, or to ask even the smallest question. This time is your time so use it! You need their backing!
So, tell me, what are some of the things you do? 

And, now that you have finished being distracted by this blog post that just showed up in your social media feed, GET BACK TO WORK!!!!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Writing Lessons From Horse Riding Lessons

Yesterday, my daughter had a fantastic riding lesson. OK, maybe fantastic was not the right word for it. The lesson appeared to be a complete disaster with the horse deciding that that would not be a lesson he wanted to participate in. And yet, the lesson did turn out to be fantastic because after the 90 minutes of what seemed to be a huge problem, the lessons she learned were amazing.

We are all going to have good and bad days, just like the horse. Sharper Eagle for the last month or so has been through the roof, incredible. He had a bad day. Just like us.

As writers, you too are going to have bad days. Everything you write on that current work in progress will be the biggest piece of you know what you have ever seen. You will know good and well that your agent is going to dump you, your editor is going to fire you and your family will disown you for all the time you wasted on that story.

But that is not going to be the case.

Something just didn't work out right. And, like my daughter, from that disaster, you will discover how to fix this issue and move on. You will learn how to overcome those obstacles so that problem hopefully will not show up again. What's more, is that you will learn more about yourself and your writing style. You will grow as a writer.

I fully get that during that moment, all of those comments will probably fall on deaf ears. But, know that somewhere in your brain, you will remember that you have gotten over problems like this in the past, and you will do so this time, and you will do so in the future.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What Should You Be Writing?

Is your writing not going well for you? Do you feel like you are spinning your wheels and no matter how hard you try, that story just doesn't do what you want it to? Maybe you have finished the story and are sending it out to editors, agents, or even getting reviews and nothing is looking positive. It may simply be because you are in the wrong genre.

I have been doing some critique work lately with authors and had the chance to read two different pieces from the same author. The first story was...OK. Nothing amazing. I tended to find more things to pick on within the story and never really left satisfied after reading it. Was it bad? No. Was it amazing? No. It was just there.

But then I read another story from this author and it was amazing. It was a different genre and this author clearly rocked it. The voice was there. The writing was not forced. Wow!

After talking with the author, I found that the first story was an attempt at doing something new. This made a lot of sense. The reality of the situation is that the author simply was not comfortable with that new style and was still learning it. The other, the author had mastered.

So, with that in mind, what should you be writing? The answer is quite simple. Look to  your own bookshelves.

Now, I know that there are many of you who claim that you read everything out there. The odds are, though, that you do gravitate toward one genre more than another. In other words, if you walked into a bookstore, consider the shelves that you tend to go to first. Consider the aisles that you gravitate to. That is what you should be writing.

So, why is that? Because you full understand the genre. The wording, the styles, the nuances are all things that are running through your blood, so when it is time to write that genre, your brain already has the tools to make the writing successful!

I know that there are also some of you out there who believe that writing in the genre you read would tempt you to plagiarize stories and you would copy more than create your own story. This really is not the case. There will be common tropes, but you simply will not steal ideas. Another way to think of this is what your major was in college. You gravitated to the areas you knew better than others. Sure, you may have had some great teachers in other disciplines, or had classes you really loved in other disciplines, but your strengths really came out on the courses you understood.

I want to also add that authors should also consider doing this when they are deciding which publisher they want to write for. Look to your shelves again. The odds are you tend to read a select group of publishers and shy away from others. So go there!

Now, go out and do your research!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Before You Start: Does Your Story Have A Market?

I am sure every writer out there has done this some time in their past. Out of the blue, you come up with "THE PERFECT" story to be written. It is unique. It is fresh. It is hot and sexy. You can even see how the story will translate perfectly into a made for TV movie, or even the big screen. In most cases, you have even decided on who will play the characters and maybe even drafted your acceptance speech at the Oscars.

But, in all of this excitement, there is one piece you may have forgotten to consider and is necessary. Will this story even fit in the market today? Is there a place on the bookshelf in the bookstore for your story? Will anyone buy it?

Too often, writers simply start writing and then wonder why not editor or agent is interested in buying the story. They know the writing is good. Their friends have told them the story is great. But it simply does not sell. Now, part of this is that they have people who are a bit biased when it comes to the reading, but the bigger issue might simply be there was not market research done.

One of the roles of an agent is to work with authors before they commit a lot of time to a project. They don't want to dedicate too much time to a project, just to find that the story will simply not sell.

Market research is tough since we really don't know what it will be like a year from now, but there are a lot of things an author can do to minimize some of the damage.

Consider looking at the characters. Are these people who a reader would want to connect with? Are these people we would want to feel sympathy towards, or are we simply going to want to close the book and let them flounder.

Is the premise of the story something that really would work out. In other words, can we develop a plot that has purpose and meaning? Is there a real conflict in the story or is this simply a complication?

We can also look to see if this story is too similar to other projects already out there. Sure, common tropes are fine, but if someone on the outside picks this novel up and feels a sense of having already read it somewhere else, the book is not going to sell.

I know you may be overly excited about that project, but please, consider taking the time to think it through first. Not doing this may result in you losing valuable time that could have been spent on something that would sell.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Writers Helping Out EQUUS FOUNDATION

Greyhaus LiteraryAgencyis helping out The EQUUS FOUNDATION!Writers can donate to this great cause&receive a critique! by Scott Eagan

Too Much Information Kills Your Story

You have probably been told by editors, agents, and even your critique partners that your current story needs more depth. They want to know what that room REALLY looks like. They want to know the FULL reason why the character acts that way. While this information is certainly useful, when you over explain things or you go into far too much detail, the reader simply checks out.

There is a pretty good chance you have experienced this before when hearing someone tell you about something that happened in their life. We have a really great friend but when she starts telling us about her trip to Minnesota, she starts adding in all of this other information that we really don't need to understand the story. She will tell us that she left on a Thursday, and she remembered that because on Tuesday of that week she had to go to the doctor's office and that really slowed down her packing for the trip, because she was visiting her friend on Wednesday and this was the friend that she knew when she was working at the hospital right after college....

Do you get the idea?

The same goes for describing rooms or settings. Telling us briefly the decorations in the restaurant is fine, but when you go into describing every single picture and every nuance of the mean that is placed before the character, you have now reached the TMI level.

I also noted that all of the reasons why your character acts a particular way does not need to be over-done. I have noted that over and over here. Characters DO NOT need to have an extensive, soap-opera like lifestyle just to explain why they don't want to take the job, or to go on a date. It just might not be the right time. So tell us just that and keep the story moving.

What we are trying to do is to keep the reader connected to the plot. Don't kill them with that narrative.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fundraiser for EQUUS is still live through August

I want to remind everyone that the Equus Foundation fundraiser is still going and will be live through the end of August.

Why do I bring this up? Many of you attended some great conferences in the month of July. You are now getting ready to send those projects in to those editors and agents. Here is your chance for a great final check of the project AND to support a great cause.

For a donation to the Equus Foundation, authors will receive a critique of one of the following:
  • A Query Letter
  • A Synopsis
  • The first three chapters of your novel
And yes, you can actually donate and receive a critique of all three if you wish.

Please note that all money goes directly to Equus.

Check out the link on my website for full information

Monday, August 7, 2017

Live FB Chat On August 9th

I am so looking forward to this!

On August 9th, I will be doing a live Facebook chat with the INKSLINGERS DEN. This is a group of authors who are really working hard to share information about writing, working together and getting as much information as they can about the industry.

This is a closed group, so get over there and ask to join the group!

We will be starting at 6 pm and will focus in on the questions, WHAT DOES AN AGENT LOOK FOR?

I am going to structure the talk from the first contact with an agent through the final decision of signing or not signing an author.

Like all live chats, you too will have a chance to ask questions along the way.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Using What You Have Learned From A Conference

Conferences are fantastic for energizing a writer and really getting the creative juices flowing. You come back after sitting through a ton of workshops and now have a lot to consider. But now what?

Unfortunately, I see too many authors making huge mistakes with this information. These mistakes go in two different directions.

The first mistake is to attempt to use all of the new learning in the current work in progress. One presenter said using Strategy A will sell the book, another said Strategy B, another said Strategy C, and the critique group provided 5 other options. Now the author attempts to put all 8 of those ideas into the story. What they are doing is essentially saying it is time to make chili, opening up the pantry and dumping a little of all their spices from the rack into the meal. How did that work out? Probably not too good.

It is important to look at what you have, study what works best for that situation, and use the strategy conservatively. Go slowly. You probably are not fully clear how those strategies work yet and it could make things worse.

The second mistake is believing that you are already good to go. In other words, you learned all of this stuff, but when you get back to your writing, you convince yourself that your writing is fine without that strategy. This too is not going to work.

I am tutoring two high school students this summer to improve their writing. We work in a small 1 hour session and then give them a small project to work on for the next session. I have now met with them 3 times and in each case, they just didn't do the work. When they left the session, the they saw the value in the skills, but simply did not follow through.

So how do you think their writing is improving? I do think there will be some of the learning that sticks in their head, but the odds are, without the practicing of the skill on their own, they are no further ahead.

Look, you just came home energized to work. You have all of these new tools. Now take the time to study those tools and use those tools with your writing.