Darcy took second place in the Maggie historical category!!!!! Yes, this is Darcy so I guess I should stop referring to myself in the third person. I'm soooo excited! India (Carolina) and I have had a great time this weekend. Please congratulate India on her honorable mention in the single title category!!!!! I'll have a complete post up Monday with pictures and fun stuff to share. Special shout out to my GRW homies: Bev, J Perry Stone, and Cynthia, plus our Romance Vagabond sweetheart, Manda! You guys ROCK!
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
I joined RWA in 1998 thinking I knew everything there was to know about writing a romance and that all I really needed was to find an editor. How hard could it be to sell my very first book? Yeah. Go ahead. It's okay to laugh. I know I still laugh about it. Honestly, I didn't know a gosh darn thing. About characterization. About dialogue. About presentation. My first book was 800 pages long. Single spaced. Eventually, I started figuring out the rules. But it took me a while. I kept writing book after book after book (I've written WAY too many to put a number on it. Really.). And I wondered. Why weren’t the editors and agents wanting my story?
I started eyeing contests. Maybe I just needed a track record. At the very least I'd get feedback. And boy did I ever! One judge told me that she hated my heroine but hated my hero even more than my heroine. And she hadn’t even gotten to my writing yet. I never told a soul about that one judge because I feared that this person was right. But I was stubborn. Like the heroines I love to write about. Give up? Never! I was developing a tough skin. I already had a huge rejection pile (and by huge people, I mean over 200 rejections). Contest after contest, I never seemed to go anywhere. And the Golden Heart? What a dream that was. But I entered it year after year after year. And year after year I waited by the phone all day only to figure out by the weekend that I wasn’t a finalist…again.
And then...things started happening. Slow. Definitely slow. But at least it was happening. I finaled in a contest! Never mind that I took last place. I finaled! It made me throw myself into my writing all the more. The next thing I knew, I went from placing last to placing first. And then in 2005 I found out I was a Golden Heart finalist in the Short Historical Category. I sobbed my thank yous to the gal that called me and quickly called up my critique partner, Maire Creegan, even though it was only 6 something in the morning. She thought something horrible had happened. Talk about a wonderful experience.
Even though I didn’t win the Golden Heart, I met so many amazingly talented writers. And their story with regards to trying to get published reflected my story. But even though I was a Golden Heart finalist, I still didn’t sell. Everyone kept telling me to hang in there. So I did. I even decided to take a trip to London with my critique partner and see the place that I’ve been dreaming about all my life. I came back from the dream trip of my life to a personal nightmare that happened on the way back from the airport. My husband was brutally attacked by two strangers in front of me and my two kids. He almost died. Lost consciousness. If it weren’t for me taking on the two guys before the police arrived, he most certainly would have.
Taking blows for the person you love takes on a whole new meaning. And it changed my writing forever. At first I couldn’t write. Didn’t want to write. All I wanted to do was to make sure that my family was being cherished. Taken care of. I started thinking about the grim reality that if my husband had died, how would I have taken care of the kids? Writing is not a way to put bread on the table unless you’re a bestselling author. And I wasn’t even published. So I turned my back on my writing and followed my second love. Cooking. I went to Culinary school and felt as if my life were starting all over. I missed writing but a part of me knew that it wasn’t practical anymore. And with me being in school I had an excuse not to write.
In the end,a huge part of me was suffering because of it. I turned my back on myself without knowing it. And this is where the fates stepped in. I'd hardly started school when I found out that I was a 2007 Golden Heart Finalist. My husband insisted that I go to National even though we were short on funds. So I went to National and even though I didn’t win, again, it was this sense of how awesome it was just to be part of the excitement. To be noticed after all these years of writing. After the Golden Heart/Ritas, at the reception, I saw my 2005 Golden Heart buddy Victoria Dahl and we started chatting. The sweetheart that she is, she starts asking about my writing, what I write, what I currently have to offer and after hearing the "pitch" for the last book I wrote before my husband‘s attack, she suggested that I submit to her editor and that she would slip in a good word for me.
I was besides myself. I realize in this industry it's difficult to put your name on the line and more often than not people shy away from "recommendations" for both reasons of time/commitment and fear of what will happen to the relationship between 2 friends once the rejection comes. So anyway, Vicki e-mails her editor, John Scognamiglio, and God knows what the woman said, but he actually requested the full right off the bat. I didn't expect much of it but I still appreciated the opportunity. I sent it off August 8,2007. It arrived in New York August 10, 2007. (I keep a calender and write everything down, in case you were wondering). I then get a call on August 16 from John. The editor. Only I'm not there to take the call. I was in Powell's (the greatest used and new book store in the world!) loading up on books that I kept telling myself I needed to keep me in the game.
I came home and there's a message. It's from John at Kensington and he wants me to call him. But he says he won't be in the office on Friday (it was a Thursday when he called). So I called him ASAP, about 40 minutes after he did, but he had already left the office. Talk about torture. I left a polite message or at least I think I did because I was so freaked out of my freakin' mind, I still don't remember what I babbled out. And then I start thinking, Could this really be it? No. Wait. It's way too soon. And gosh darn it, I didn't include a synopsis with the complete!! But then I started really hashing it out with my husband. He kept telling me to at least try and be prepared. Start thinking positive. Start looking into agents. Just in case. So here I was calling around telling agents, "You know, I think I sold, but I'm not sure because I haven't really touched base with the editor and won't until Monday. You interested???"
Pam Hopkins, who is represented by one of my chapter friends, told me to send the first three chapters but that she wasn't promising anything, because even if the book is a sold book she needs to love the book. Which I absolutely loved about her. So anyway, I spent the whole weekend AGONIZING about what Kensington had called about. I didn’t want to tell myself I sold and then have that taken away.
Come Monday, Pam calls the house and leaves a message that she really liked the first three chapters, loved my voice, and wanted to see the rest before making a decision. I get home from culinary school and still no word from John. So I take a deep breath, knowing it's already 4 o'clock in New York and call him and leave another message saying that I was going to be home. And I wait. He calls within the hour and introduces himself and says he wants to buy the book. I was still in shock, even though I knew the possibility of him wanting the book was "sorta" there. Hell, I'm STILL in shock. I somehow gained my wits about me and told him that I wanted to go into this with an agent. Right after I got off the phone, I talked to Pam Hopkins for awhile and well, she's my agent!
SOOOO...the deal? I got a two book deal with Kensington. My historical romance, Mistress of Pleasure will debut in summer/fall 2008. I am still throwing up butterflies. And in the end, I have all of my friends and my critique partner to thank. For keeping me afloat even though I thought I had already drowned. The lesson of this story? Don’t ever give up on your writing. Ever.
Mistress of Pleasure, Zebra Debut Summer 2008
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I dreamed of the RITA ceremony last night. Mostly because I realized as I was falling asleep that today was going to be Thursday and I needed to get my post up, but also partly because I'm getting excited about writing again and the RITA/Golden Heart ceremony is such an unforgettable event that I may as well dream of little golden statues all night long.
(But really, where does Thursday go? It gets sandwiched between Wednesday, which I spend the first half of the week looking forward to, and Friday, which is, well, Friday. When Wednesday finally rolls around, I train my eye on the prize. Thursday...meh.)
So Erica touched on the RITA ceremony back on Monday's post. Mostly, I just wanted to wax about it for a minute because I think all romance writers should experience it once in their writing careers (and by waxing I hope to convince you to get off your duff and go). You should experience being there, I mean. Sure -- getting a RITA would be grand -- but by definition, most of us will never have one to grace our office shelves. So it's the ceremony to which I refer, and I have to say: wow.
Every year it's a little different, with a different theme and, of course, it's in a different place. That's good. Keeps you on your toes. But some constants remain from year to year.
You will want to look pretty
Sure, you don't have to. It's probably not your night, and it's the last day of a very long weekend. Or actually, it's not because you still have to get up early the next day and drag yourself to the airport, then go home and greet your children and husband and waggy-tailed dog. But this is one of those cases where everyone else will be dressed up, and you wouldn't want to be the one little lemming that refuses to jump off the cliff, would you? No. (Can you imagine being that lemming? The one who goes "Hey, guys? I'm not so sure about this idea. I think I'm going to head over to that rock over there. You come get me when you're done. Guys? Guys?"
You will want to remember to go
Heh. Seems funny -- now. Just wait until it really is the last thing on your agenda before packing up and going home. Two years in a row now, I've been late. I've gotten ready in the very last 15 minutes possible and rushed downstairs, only to get crappy seats. So don't get carried away relaxing in your room the night of. Go have dinner! (They don't feed you.) Have a few drinks! (Trust me, it will improve the cut segments.) Don't rush your makeup! (See #1 above.)
You will want to bring your glasses, and maybe a Kleenex or two.
Obviously, you want to be able to see. But don't discount what you will hear. Everyone's touching story of triumph, and the mega-long list of people they will want to thank. If you don't get teary at least once during the ceremony, then you're either a cold-hearted you-know-what or you weren't listening.
You will wish with your very soul all the way down to your toes that it is YOU up on that stage!
Do I need to explain this one? The downside here is that you can't even enter unless you a) have a complete manuscript (so what are you waiting for!) b) the money to enter (I'm a little broke right now myself) and c) actually, you know, enter.
And then I suppose you have to d) draw the right judges for e) your story that rocks hard-core.
Do not pass up the opportunity to hob-nob with your favorite authors, editors, and agents at the afterparty!
When people win prizes during a fabulous low-lit ceremony and tears are shed between friends, publishers and critique partners, everyone wins. Take advantage of the good cheer and thrill to talk one last time to the contacts you made during the week. And then hit the bar, or go out on the town. The party doesn't end until you get on your plane!
So. Have you been? Are you going to San Francisco? Did you eat up all the links on romancenovel.tv? (Navigate to the RWA 2007 tab.) Do you have pictures of yourself or the afterparty online? Share!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Or, I could call this Confessions of a Former Contest Junkie. As a former contest junkie, I've enjoyed the thrill of finaling and even victory (w00t!) as well as the agony of soul-crushing scores and comments (boo hiss!). Thankfully, I have the Mavens to pick me up, help me sort through the feedback, and ultimately appreciate the experience. I'm a former junkie because I'm not contesting Glorious beyond the Golden Heart and I'm not ready to contest my next ms. And when I do (I say when because I'm sure I will at some point), I will specifically target contests for their reputation for feedback and excellence as well as the final round judge(s). For instance, I entered the Maggie because I knew I would get detailed feedback from experienced authors/judges. And then I finaled, so yay for that! (Stay tuned next Monday when I return with fabulous stories from the Moonlight and Magnolias conference where I will learn the fate of my Maggie final!)
The very first contest I entered (the Emily two years ago) garnered me a near perfect score. And two not-so-near-perfect scores. I entered before I even knew what a "CP" was, before I understood the rule of POV shifting, and well before I'd ever heard "show, don't tell." It was a very, very positive experience and is probably why I continued to write. I threw my first ms (what I started the month before the contest as purely a "practice book") into the contest just to see if I was even remotely on the right track and thankfully I received very constructive and encouraging feedback. Little did I know then, this is not always the case.
I recently judged my first contest and we did a training session at our chapter meeting. We were cautioned not to "destroy" anyone and I kept thinking, "wow, would anyone really do that?" I don't think so, at least not purposefully. That said, I have received contest feedback that was fairly demoralizing, and I think it actually gets harder to take, not easier. The better I get at my craft, the harder it is to get smacked down by a judge who says I don't have enough description when another judge loved my description. The key is to be constructive and to recogize preference vs. craft. Just because a judge doesn't like something, doesn't mean it isn't well-written. (Practice saying it with me!)
The important thing to remember with contests is that they are absolutely a crap shoot. One person's masterpiece is another person's wallbanger and that goes for New York Times bestselling authors and the newbie who hasn't yet finished the book. Enter them for whatever reasons you may have, take the feedback for the value it can provide, and above all, write, write, write.
Dish your stories! The highs, the lows! Why do you love contests? Why do you hate them? Tell us what contests you're in now so we can root for you!
Be sure to check in Friday when my friend and CP, Delilah Ahrendt shares the story of her road to publication and how finaling in the Golden Heart contest helped her along the way!
Monday, September 24, 2007
While I've no plans to enter the Golden Heart this year, I do confess to being something of a chapter contest junkie. In the last fourteen months, I reckon I've entered ten chapter contests and, although I'd promised myself not to enter any more for a while, I have to admit to feeling the tug of both the Emily and Launching a STAR. It's those yummy agent and editor reads in the final rounda that tempt me.
But that brings me to the other side of contests. For each contest entry, there must be a judge. Someone who, presumably, is a reader and writer of romance, preferably of the sub-genre she's judging. Someone with a firm grasp of craft, the ability to be an open-minded and thoughful critic, and the time (and willingness) to do a thorough, careful job. Depending on the contest's criteria, judges may be drawn from published authors (PAN members), PRO members (unpublished authors who have completed a manuscript and submitted it for publication), Golden Heart finalists, and/or chapter contest finalists.
When I entered my first few contests, I suppose I had the judges pretty firmly on a pedestal. I imagined them as infallible, objective arbiters of the quality of my writing. If they liked what I was writing (i.e., I finaled), it meant I was on the right track. If they didn't, it probably meant I should chuck my manuscript in the nearest waste bin and never look back.
Since then, of course, I've come to realize that even an excellent manuscript can fail to make the finals in contest by sheer luck of the draw. Let's face it, even when it comes to published romance novels, not every reader likes every book. The chances that you'll draw one or more judges in a contest who just don't "get" you are quite high. (In one contest I entered recently, my manuscript received one perfect score of 100, a 93, and a 69. To say that last judge didn't respond well to my story would be an understatement, but it also probably just means it's not the story for her, not that the story is crap.)
Still, the ins and outs of being a contest judge remained a mystery to me until earlier this summer, when I volunteered to judge the Celtic Hearts Chapter's Golden Claddagh. Because I'd entered a historical in the same contest, I obviously couldn't judge the category I arguably know best. Instead, I wound up receiving three entries in the FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal) cateogry.
I was a little nervous about judging these manuscripts since FF&P is not a sub-genre I normally read, but I decided to give it my best shot and be as fair and open-minded as I possibly could be. The contest scoresheet instructions stated very explicitly that judges must justify any score of 3 or below (out of a maximum of 5). As a result, if I couldn't come up with an objective reason other than "I just don't like it" when I gave a score, I gave the entry a 4. If I loved some aspect of the manuscript, I gave it a 5. Only when I could come up with solid, clear justification for my reaction did I give a score of 3 or less. (And I don't think I gave out any 1's.)
It was hard, time-consuming work, but also rewarding. It gave me a glimpse into what the judges who read, score, and comment on my contest entries have to go through. The amount of time and emotional energy it takes to do the job well is really pretty staggering. Those of us who enter contests should be extremely grateful that there are people out there who are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to read our work and provide us feedback. They provide us an invaluable service and deserve our thanks (and thank you notes are nice, too!).
YOUR TURN: Have you ever judged a contest? Do you plan to? What qualities do you think are most important in a contest judge? And do you send thank you notes to your judges? (Jacqueline hereby admits she didn't used to, but is sending some out very soon.)
Good morning, Mavenland! The humid sun is in the air, which can only mean it's the season for---wait. I live in Florida. The humid sun is always in the air. Well, somewhere else, I'm sure there's a bit of a nip, which signifies the onset of
my birthday in 8 days Autumn. If you write romance, autumn also marks the time to start thinking about your RITA or Golden Heart entries.
My job is to make sure we're all on the same page when I talk about these things, so herewith: RITA/GH in a nutshell.
Romance Writers of America
RWA is, despite their name, an international organization dedicated to the promotion, support, encouragement, networking, friendship, and education of fiction writers. The vast majority of the members do write romance (or books with "strong romantic elements") but because the craft, promotion, and career info is so great, it's also a fantastic organization even for those who don't write romance. (Am I a member? Uh, yeah. Does it show? *g)
2008 RITA contest
The RITA contest is designed to celebrate excellency in published romance novels.
Be an actual book-book, of book size/feel/appearance (exception: Novella allows shorter), published by a non-Subsidy/Vanity publisher, in English or with an English-language version, copyrighted/printed the year before the contest year. You can only enter this book once, in one of the following categories:
* Contemporary Series Romance
* Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure
* Contemporary Single Title Romance
* Historical Romance
* Inspirational Romance
* Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
* Paranormal Romance
* Regency Historical Romance
* Romantic Suspense
* Young Adult Romance
* Romance Novella
* Best First Book
The first major deadline for the 2008 RITA Contest is November 30, 2007. That's the cut-off for sending in your entry forms and fees. However, be forewarned: 1,200 entries are the maximum allowed, so even if you send your stuff before the deadline, if you are entry number 1,201 it will come right back to you and make you sad.
OMG. The RITA award ceremony at the national conference every year is our version of the Oscars. I'm willing to bet there's few writers who have ever witnessed the pomp and wild squeeing who didn't wish it was their turn on the red carpet to accept their golden statue and stammer their "I couldn't have done it without..." speech into the microphone. It's a pretty big deal. (Think Erica is dying for the day she's eligible to enter? Hmmm...)
Complete list of past RITA winners can be found here and here, but I want to give a quick shout out to my pals Rocki St Claire and Betina Krahn who won in 2007, and my good friend Karen Rose, who not only won in 2005, but whose book Die For Me just hit the New York Times. Go Karen!!! (You can win an autographed copy!)
What's it all about?
Winning, baby, yeah! The RITAs are unequivocally NOT a feedback contest. After all, your book is already written and published! All you receive are score numbers. You can try and use those numbers to extrapolate how you rank against the other entrants, but IMHO, that's an exercise in demoralization and/or aggravation. Because there are hundreds of judges and the very nature of "quality" in fiction is subjective, one judge's wall-banger is another judge's keeper shelf. Either you win, or you don't. (Let's hope you win!)
2008 Golden Heart contest
The Golden Heart contest is designed to celebrate excellency in aspiring authors of published romance novels. (In other words, unpublished authors who have written a romance.)
Be an aspiring romance author who has never accepted a non-Subsidy/Vanity publishing author before contest entry deadline. Which means it's totally cool if you enter, the deadline passes, you get a multi-million dollar deal, and strut to the award ceremony for unpublished authors the same week your book hits the NYT. (Er, cool, but unlikely. *g)
Golden Heart categories:
* Contemporary Series Romance
* Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure
* Contemporary Single Title Romance
* Historical Romance
* Inspirational Romance
* Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
* Paranormal Romance
* Regency Historical Romance
* Romantic Suspense
* Young Adult Romance
Your 100% completed story (which you may enter multiple years in a row, so long as it's never previously won) must show up at RWA Headquarters no later than November 30th, 2008. As with the RITAs, it's first-come, first-serve, and they stop accepting entries once manuscript #1200 rolls in the door.
And now, a quick riff on "Don't do as I do":
Last year, I lost some serious cashola to RWA thanks to misunderstanding instructions. By the time I discovered my entries had been disqualified, it was far too late to do anything about it. So that this does not happen to you, let me make sure the following paragraph is crystal clear to everyone in Mavenland:
The entry shall consist of six printed copies of the partial manuscript, six printed copies of the synopsis, and one copy of the complete manuscript. The complete manuscript may be supplied as a printed copy, a computer diskette or CD. If submitting on a diskette or CD, the entire manuscript shall be saved as a single computer file formatted as .doc or .rtf file that preserves all aspects of the written copy. The diskette or CD must be labeled with the entrant’s name and title of the manuscript. If for any reason the staff is unable to open or read the electronic file, the entrant will be contacted via guaranteed delivery and will need to provide a printed copy of the manuscript, postmarked within two business days of the receipt of the letter.
What did I do? Overnighted two CDs containing both .doc and .rtf versions (for good measure) of both my stories. What happened? Nothing. My entries died the moment the envelope was opened. Why? Because the CD is only for the full manuscript. You still need six printed copies of the partial, and six printed copies of the synopsis. (So really, how money/time saving is the CD, I ask you??? Aargh.) Do not let this happen to you. Whether you decide to print the full manuscript or burn it to CD, make sure you also print a half-dozen copies of everything else.
Complete list of past Golden Heart winners can be found here and here, but I want to give a quick shout out to my pal Carla Hughes, a multi-year Golden Heart winner, as well as 2007 Golden Heart finalist and upcoming Guest Maven Delilah Ahrendt.
What's it all about?
Winning, baby, yeah! The Golding Heart is unequivocally NOT a feedback contest. The judges do NOT write on your manuscript. All you receive are score numbers. You can try and use those numbers to extrapolate how you rank against the other entrants, but IMHO, that's an exercise in demoralization and/or aggravation. Because there are hundreds of judges and the very nature of "quality" in fiction is subjective, one judge's wall-banger is another judge's keeper shelf. Either you win, or you don't. (Let's hope you win!)
More contest talk to come...
YOUR TURN: Are you a member of RWA? If so, are you thinking of entering and/or judging either the RITAs or the Golden Heart? If you're a member of an organization other than RWA, please tell us all about your organization's most esteemed contest/awards! (ie: Edgars at MWA) Know any finalists/winners?
Friday, September 21, 2007
The Manuscript Mavens are thrilled to welcome today's Guest Maven, CARRIE RYAN.
Before I get on to the meat of the post, I have a confession to make: I just signed with an agent. Like, this week. As in, I just sent the signed contracts out on Thursday and verbally accepted the offer on Tuesday. I'm now represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich (Erica and I are now agency sistahs!). And it's true, for a while after you sign with an agent, you really can't say it enough: "I'm represented by... you'll have to run that past my agent... did you know I was agented?"
But that's not what this post is about. Not really. It's about what you do after you get the call, and what happens if you get more than one call. For me the call came on Monday. It was a message on my answering machine from Jim and my boyfriend told me later that he pressed play while I was out of the room because he wanted to screen the calls in case it was a telemarketer or my mom so I wouldn't get my hopes up when I saw the light blinking. But it was Jim, just asking me to call him. I'd queried him 3 weeks before, sent the first 100 pages the week before and the full the Thursday before. My boyfriend started throwing me in the air in excitement but I told him that I'd heard stories of agents calling to personally reject authors and not to get his hopes up.
And so he fed the dog while I walked around letting out little yips of terror/excitement. Then I thought to check my email and there it was: the offer of representation. I was shocked, my boyfriend over the top excited. He took me to dinner, we popped champagne, and then we got down to business.
First, we talked about what to do about the other agents I'd queried. Some of them had requested partials and some fulls. For everyone who'd requested material I decided to email and let them know that I'd gotten an offer of representation and ask whether they'd be interested in reading the manuscript and getting back to me in a week. Second, we made a list of questions to ask the agent. I got a lot of the questions from websites, by googling, and reading agent blogs. Then I added my own questions. I wanted to know what their expectations for the book was, if they were involved in editing the submission, if they'd be involved in career planning and helping me with ideas for my next book. And I also asked whether they'd be there if and when I struggled with the next book because I felt like this one came out of the blue. Third, we jotted down thoughts about what I would be like as a client (being very honest): would I be needy? Would I want a lot of involvement in my career planning? Would I be the type to email or call incessantly? Would I want a friend, a partner, someone to put me in my place? I figured that if I knew what I would be like as a client, I would be better able to figure out who would work best for me as an agent.
Then came the scary part: actually calling the agent and emailing the other agents to ask if they could rush to get back to me. The first I put off for much of the day. After all, I had just started a new job and all of this came during my first full week, the time when I had to really prove myself! Everything I'd learned about agents was not to rush them, and so I had to really force myself to write these emails asking them to get back to me. And you know what? By the end of the day, each one of them wrote me back thanking me for getting in touch with them and telling me they'd get back to me shortly.
Then came the phone call to the agent who'd offered representation. My heart was pounding so loud I couldn't hear myself think. I called him, I let him tell me about how much he loved my book, and then I tried to ask the questions on my list but I just felt pushy and strange. He asked me how I came up with the idea for my book and I totally babbled, completely forgetting to tell him the most important aspects of how I'd come up with the idea. I remembered half-way through the conversation to take notes, and even those notes were scrambled! But I got off the phone knowing that he got my book, he loved my book, and he wanted to represent me. I was sold!
But I waited. Within two days I had two more offers of representation and one rejection that started with "I couldn't put this down— the story is completely compelling, and [your protagonist] so fully drawn. I love the storyline and the myths you have created here." Yes, that was a rejection! On Thursday I had two more phone calls with agents and I tried to take better notes, to be more forceful with my questions, but in the end I was just overwhelmed. These agents were telling me what I most wanted to hear: they loved it! They wanted to send it out that day! This would be big!
And I wanted to throw up! How awful does that sound?! How many of us spend hours and hours scouring blogs, forums, articles, workshops to learn how to query, to learn what's hot in the market, to learn an agent's preferences so we can personalize our letters? I've spent so much time learning how to get an agent, that I had absolutely no idea what to do once the agent wanted me! Other than drink a lot of champagne :)
So what do you do when an agent likes your manuscript? You celebrate :) You make endless lists and try to convince your family that this is big. And then you get down to business. You google the heck out of the agent. You ask questions about the agent on your forums. You ask your writer friends if they know anything. You look up the agent on Absolute Write, Backspace, Verla Kay. If they let you, you talk to the agent's authors. And you start to realize that half the stuff out there you can't trust and that most of the rest is rumors! You realize that there are amazing mentors out there, people who have been in the business and know how it works and are more than willing to share that expertise.
But ultimately you realize that the decision is in your hands and that you have to make the decision that works best for you. And you have to make this decision without all the relevant information. Because no one can tell you how it's going to work out. You have to realize that every agent has his or her strengths and weaknesses and you have to figure out what's most important to you.
I would have given anything in the world for someone to tell me "You're making the right decision," but in the end, there's no wrong decision. Once you find someone who loves your book, who wants to work with you, and who's a reputable agent -- everything else falls away. Whether you get one offer or more, what's important is that you can see yourself with that potential agent for the long run.
Would I do anything differently looking back on everything? I'd sit down after every agent call and write myself an email -- I'd write about how I felt having talked to that agent, what we talked about, and what were the pros and cons. I have such a terrible memory that even 20 minutes later I had a hard time remembering what I'd talked about with each agent and how it made me feel. I'd call the agents I'd queried but not heard back from (if I was legitimately interested in hearing from them). I did end up calling them, and either they weren't interested in the book or in rushing and I was glad that I'd put those queries to rest.
Most of all, I'd spend more time realizing that I'd hit a major milestone. This was my third completed manuscript, one I wrote because I loved it even though I thought it would bomb in the marketplace (seriously -- at 20k I wasn't even sure I should bother writing more). This was the manuscript I'm most proud of, the one I really really revised. This manuscript has a place in my heart. It's strange to realize that I may never write another query letter, but also hard to realize that there are still rejections in my future once we start submitting to editors.
But I'm not going to worry about that now. Because I think my boyfriend has a bottle of champagne waiting for me. Remember to pat yourself on the back for every query you send out -- every query is something to celebrate because you're proving to yourself that this is real, that you're going for it. And my motto has always been: if you don't quit, you *will* make it.
YOUR TURN: If you have an agent, let us know what you did/said when you got the call/email. If you are pre-agented, are you making a list and checking it twice? What sorts of questions will you ask someone who offers representation? Anything specific that would/wouldn't be a deal-breaker for you?
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I wish I could give you encouraging words regarding your chances of ever receiving representation from Delightful Agents Are Us. However, despite your thorough research and perfect targeting of Exactly the Right Agent For You, your project is simply not right for us and never, ever will be. Please lose our address and never call or write again.
And be very, very glad this is not a form letter. You were so incredibly wrong for us, we decided to take the time out and personally reject you. You may not be so lucky in the future.
Think this letter is complete fiction? Think again! The only thing delightful about Delightful Agents turned out to be the amount of time I spent howling with laughter over their Please, for the love of GOD never submit anything like this to us again tone.
Yeah, so I exaggerated a bit. Not much, though. I wish I could share the real deal. Despite the stabbing pain this letter caused when I first read it, though, the truth is, they had the right of it. It really turned out to be a letter to treasure. When you spend the following eight weeks praying you never see another form letter stuffed into yet another self-addressed stamped envelope you never wanted to see again when you sent it out in the first place (pause to breathe), you start falling in love with the ones that at least gave you a hint of why you were rejected at all.
It will probably happen to you.
My advice? Laugh. Cry. Rant. Rave. Call your mother or your girlfriend or your CP and pick apart every single word until you're sure the agent (or intern!) meant to slice you down to your manicured little author toes and serve you up on a platter to that nasty, barky dog your neighbor makes sure to leave outside at three a.m. And then get a really big margarita and drown yourself in it.
Or don't. Whatever works for you, so long as the third thing you do is print out the next submission packet and send it on its merry way. Because I'm pretty sure, and don't quote me on this, but I'm pretty sure the only way for you to get your manuscript published is to actually send it out. To my knowledge, even the e-publishers don't hack into your laptop and suck all the manuscripty goodness out to be published on their sites. You have to actually get your manuscript out of your computer and into the hands of capable people before anything approaching Instant Fame can befall you.
Unless you *like* to torture yourself, wondering if you'll ever, ever be discovered. It's not my crazy brain suffering. Knock yourself out.
I showed you mine, now you show me yours! Post an exaggeration of your worst rejection letter, or tell us imaginary one the one that strikes fear into your heaving bosom. Then come back tomorrow, when a special guest shares what happens when they actually *like* your manuscript.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Where to begin? Can you download a list of agents, how to query each one (they all want different things, which blew Mr. Burke away), as well as a complete dossier about them? Um, sadly, no. Absent the easy ticket, I sat down before RWA National this summer and started working on a spreadsheet to track my queries. I set it up with agency name, agent name (sometimes the agent and agency are the same thing, but often they are not and it's imperative to track which agent you are querying at a large agency), address (email and snail), type of query (email or snail, letter only, letter + synopsis, letter + first 10 pages, letter + first chapter, etc.), and the date I sent the query. I also created columns for whether I got a request, when I responded, and whether I followed up. Oh, and a column for any notes (for example, I noted "RWA Natl" for the agents I pitched in Dallas).
Armed with a nifty location for my data, I stared at the blank screen and thought, now what? After a couple of years of writing and hanging around other writers, I had some ideas about agents I was interested in querying and so I started with them. Then I went to agentquery.com where you can search agents by genre and find out almost everything you need to know to fill in your little spreadsheet. So, was I ready to send yet? No.
If the agent/agency had a website, I visited their website. If the agent/agency had a blog, I visited their blog. I did as much research as possible to determine which agents I wanted to query and how best to query them. I admit to being a little stymied when I got to large agencies. Who to choose? I'd been told by numerous people that, whenever possible, you should pick a particular agent and target them for your query. Makes sense, but how to choose? They all seem so nice in their 200-word bio!
Then I realized that this process really is a courtship. (See Maven Lacey's awesome post on how finding an agent is like dating.) We make the first move when we send the query. If they like what they see, they ask to see more. If we like what we see (how excited were they when they asked for more?), we send more. And so on. At any time along the courtship, one or both of us might decide the other is not "the one." I've never shied away from making the first move (ask Mr. Burke), so I did my best to choose agents that were appealing for whatever reason (books they liked, websites they liked, any neat-o personal information I clicked with, etc.).
Finally, I asked my RWA chapter loop if they had any suggestions for people looking for sexy historicals. Our chapter president came back to me with a fantastic list (she rocks!), which I inserted into my spreadsheet (some were agents I'd found, but some were not - double yay!). Now, I had a list of forty some agents. Wow! That's a lot of query letter writing!
You may ask, "Aren't you sending the same query letter to each?" Basically, yes, but I tweak each one for each agent. While I'm not looking for a new BFF, I would like to connect with an agent on some level and I'm probably not going to do that with a form letter. So, even if I had very little distinctive information on a particular agent, I changed something about the letter to make it unique.
How'd I do? The jury's still out, but I only sent my first round of letters about three weeks ago. I'll be sending another round this week. I'm doing them in batches because let me tell you, querying is time consuming! Lots of printing, stamping, addressing, individualizing (the letter). But so worth it. And I say that without having gotten a request (yet!) from a query. Even without a request, there is something about putting your work out into the big bad world. It's that next step on the road to publication and that, by itself, is a success.
Are you querying? If not, are you getting ready? How did you prepare? Dish your secrets!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Yesterday, Erica talked a little about what agents do and don't do. Today, I want to talk about when (or whether) you need an agent.
Now, here's where I dispel a myth that I certainly held dear for a long time. I always believed that the first step to getting published was to get an agent. And that virtually nobody on the planet ever got published without first having an agent.
So imagine my surprise when I went to a meeting of the San Diego RWA chapter several months ago and discovered that the majority of the published authors in the room were unagented. And not for lack of trying.
What? How could this be? I was dumbfounded.
It turns out that most of those authors were published by smaller, niche presses or epublishers. And those publishers, it turns out, just don't generate the kinds of sales that justify advances sufficient enough to be worth an agent's while.
As one of these authors told me, it costs the agent just as much to sell your book to a small press for a $1,000 advance as to sell it to an NYC publisher for a $20,000 advance. This means that even if the agent thinks your book is fabulous and exactly the sort of thing she'd love to read, if she doesn't think there's a market for it at one of the larger publishing houses, she's probably going to pass on it. Even if she's pretty sure she can sell it to a particular small press, 15% of your $1,000 advance plus another few hundred in royalties just isn't enough to justify the amount of time of and effort she's going to expend.
Since I already knew this when I started submitting Carnally Ever After to various epresses, I didn't even bother to try to find an agent for that piece. There's no advance at all for such a small ebook and the royalties add up to relatively low amounts. (I just got my first royalty statement from Cobblestone Press, and while I'm very pleased, 15% of it would hardly be much of a reward for an agent!) Moreover, realistically, there were few places I could have sold it that would have netted a significant enough payout to interest an agent.
But let's say you're shopping a project that you really want to sell to a big publishing house. If you're not willing to drop down to the next level and choose a small press instead, do you need an agent?
In two words, hells yeah!
See, in addition to selling your book by getting it in front of the right editors, your agent protects your interests as an author. More than once at the RWA National in conference, I heard editors say that if they like your work, they will gladly purchase it whether you have an agent or not. (There are many houses, including Avon and Kensington, that take unagented submissions, so it's not like you must have an agent to get in the door.) But if you don't have an agent (or you have a bad agent), they are also more than happy to take advantage of that and beat you down on the terms of your contract.
So, suppose the fabulous thing happens and, after months of shopping for an agent without success, an editor at a major house offers you a contract. What do you do then? Well, what you do is start querying agents all over again. You may already have an offer, but you still need an agent to look out for you. She understands all that legal-beagle stuff in the contract and that alone is worth the 15% you'll pay her, even if she turned up her nose at you six weeks ago. Just make sure the one you pick is reputable and well-respected, or you might just as well be unagented.
But what if you submit your book to every agent editor in creation and none of them wants to represent you? You still have the option of trying the smaller presses and epublishers. And your book may be perfect for one of those markets.
Just be careful! If at all possible, review the contract with an attorney to make sure there aren't any clinkers in it (like you have to pay the editor and cover artist out of pocket if your book doesn't sell a certain number of copies or some such). And don't sign on the dotted line until you're sure it's in your best interests.
YOUR TURN: What do you think is the most important thing an agent can do for you? Sell you or protect your interests? Or both?
Monday, September 17, 2007
Happy Monday, Mavenland! This week's theme is agents. I'm here to chat a little bit about what you should do and know before sending that first query.
The first thing you should know is what an agent is and is not. A literary agent knows the market and which editors at which publishing houses are buying what. Although your literary agent may (or may not) be fun and friendly and nice, her primary occupation is to sell your book, not to be your BFF. Although your literary agent may (or may not) offer revision letters or line edits or general plotstorming on one or more of your manuscripts, her primary occupation is to sell your book, not to be your critique partner. Although your literary agent may (or may not) be available 24/7 via phone or email or fax to listen to your every concern, her primary occupation is to sell your book, not to be your psychologist.
Conversely, because her primary occupation is selling your book, your primary concern during the agent hunt is to find an agent capable of and enthusiastic about doing just that. It does not matter how nice or fun or sophisticated or insightful the agent is or what a great shoulder to cry on she makes, if she is incapable of or ambivalent toward selling your novel.
Next, I want to debunk two common agent myths. These are at opposite ends of the "what is an agent" spectrum, and both are equally destructive.
First, the agent is not some mysterious goddess on high, capable of extinguishing your career with a single Mua-ha-haa. The agent, as it turns out, is a human. Doing a job. Don't let your nerves send your stomach spiraling into projectile vomiting before a conference pitch session. No matter what happens, that pitch session is unlikely to make or break your entire career. Do many pitch sessions. The more you do, the easier it will be. Likewise, don't send out one query letter--send a gazillion.
Second, the agent is not your employee. No, seriously. She's not. An employee is someone who must follow your direct orders, consistently appear for work at a prescribed day, time, and place, and is paid relevant to that effort, whether hourly or salary. Your agent, on the other hand, does not see a dime until she sells your novel. Until then, you are a charity case she's taking on spec in the hopes of making both of you rich. Even once you do get into a pattern of consistent sales, she continues to not be your employee. You are her client.
Analogy time. (Y'all know how much I lurve analogies.)
Imagine, one day, you look beneath your bed, and right there next to half a dozen moldering manuscripts is the antique necklace old auntie Hephzibah (god rest her) gave you at your christening. Seeing as how the mortgage doesn't pay itself, you decide to hawk the jewelry for money, so you head over to Pawn Row. The first pawnbroker doesn't buy it from you. The jewelry is beautiful in an odd, ugly sort of way, but his clientèle are too discriminating and he fears them uninterested in such a piece. The second pawnbroker doesn't buy it because your personalities clash the second you walk through the door and you're pretty sure if you have to speak with him a moment longer, you'll shank him with a machete. The third pawnbroker wants to hang on to it for a while to decide, but ends up passing. The fourth pawnbroker never does really decide, just makes statements like, "Gosh, it would be nice to work together. I do really like you. And old auntie Hephzibah's necklace isn't bad. I'm sure somebody somewhere would like to buy it. Maybe. And if not, maybe something else under your bed. Any other old aunts about to pop off?" The fifth pawnbroker, on the other hand, claps her hands together the second you walk into her store. She takes one look at the necklace and squeals, "Omigod! Perfect! I know six people off the top of my head that would die for a chance at that thing! I love it!"
You, of course, go with pawnbroker number five. She suggests rubbing the necklace in a restorative gold powder, and suddenly the interlocking chains are shinier than ever. Even though she sells old auntie Hephzibah's necklace at auction for $200,000 (keeping 15% for herself), the pawnbroker is not your employee. She comes to work when she wants to, not on your command. She does what she wants during the day, not based on solely your needs. She has other items she's working on selling, not just yours. She is not your employee. AND, she is not the only pawnbroker on the street. She realizes this, and you should, too. If you had chosen not to sign your antique (auntique? *g) necklace away to her, your life would not be over. You may or may not have gotten an equivalent deal elsewhere. Or maybe you'd've ended up selling those old pearl clip-on earrings on your nightstand before finally selling old aunt Hephzibah's necklace. Hard to say.
So, now that we're on the same page as far as determining the nature of an agent, let's talk about how you attract one. Not, I might warn you, by walking into their pawnshops. Leave their NYC offices alone. (Or wherever they might be.) Instead, try to confine your initial contact to pitch sessions, snail mail query letters, and e-queries.
But more on that later this week.
YOUR TURN: Have you heard these or other agent myths? Any other rumors you'd like to dispel or hearsay you'd like validated/repudiated? Do spill!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Uh, time management? Ra-ra, do some?
Yeah, I'm the Late Maven this week. Even though I've been almost comatose for nearly 24 hours, don't think that's going to get me off the hook with Maven Erica. I knew weeks in advance, as Maven Jacqueline pointed out earlier in the week, that I had a post due today--and I even knew the subject of it. So last-minute death-by-suffocation-slash-killer-headache isn't a reason to be late. It's an excuse.
Which brings me to *my* time management advice, which is to take advantage of notice when you have it, try to get notice when you don't, and keep your schedule open for those pesky little emergencies that crop up. All while working your jobs in their scheduled priority (sorta like what Maven Darcy was saying yesterday).
Some things I know I have to do in advance are blogging, dental checkups, eating during the week (on the weekends, I eat most of my meals out), walking the dog and myself, and so on. By keeping a pretty detailed calendar in Outlook, I can prevent double-booking my evenings and weekends (hold on a minute while I flaunt my fabulous personal life). I can also see what will happen if I don't get something done on time. Don't make the RWA meeting Tuesday night? Spend Wednesday trying to get into email contact with the board members, just because I didn't show up. And so on.
At my job, we call work that doesn't get done on time "travelers," and most of my 8 hour day goes to looking for ways to prevent work from being completed late.
Unfortunately, in real life nobody is going to walk up to you waving a chart and ask you why you didn't walk the dog tonight. You have to be accountable to Fido because you want to be. But I suggest, as I did back in the other time management-type blog I did, making a list (either mental or physical) of work that is okay to travel/delay. For example, I try *really hard* not to travel my exercise. The laundry can be done tomorrow, the floor swept next week, and really, neither is the worse for it. But exercise is like interest investing. Once today is gone, it's totally gone. You can't get it back.
So I actually prioritize exercise over writing. Gasp!
What are some non-comprimisable work statements you have in your life? How are you going to prevent getting them done from taking time away from your writing? Or are you? Anyone else work out--do you have tips for me on how to get both done in a very limited timeframe?
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
How's that for time management? When I started writing seriously a little over two years ago, my writing plan was the "catch as catch can" variety. This meant I wrote (and did all the things that go with writing - research, plotting, craft honing, etc.) whenever I could. I kept my laptop on the kitchen table or on the island and maintained a "drive-by writing" schedule. I actually wrote a good deal of Glorious that way and, strangely, it worked.
What didn't work about it is that I felt as if I never had enough time to write because I was always doing it in snippets. The truth was I hadn't prioritized the rest of my life in order to accommodate the writing. A few months ago, this finally sank in and the answer, surprisingly, was: stop writing.
What I mean is to allow yourself to be "done" for the day. You could always write more. You could always clean more (but who wants to!). You could always do anything more. But, there are only so many hours in a day (cue Bill!) and you have to prioritize (see Maven Erica's Monday post).
It's very, very hard to stop writing (or whatever it is you love to do). Some days it's almost impossible, in fact. But there comes a time, when you simply must focus on other things: family, paying bills, bathing, eating. You laugh, but how many times have you waited to eat until your head was pounding and your stomach started to devour itself because you Couldn't. Step. Away?
I began to incorporate writing tasks into my to-do lists. Instead of:
2) Balance checkbook
3) Grocery shopping
I got more specific:
1) Finish scene with Wroxton and Tess
2) Read Maven Lacey's scene
3) Map next scene
5) Balance checkbook
6) Grocery shopping
Notice how the writing stuff moved up? No accident! I find that if I do my writing tasks first thing, I don't feel harried later in the day for having not written. And by not written, I mean not written enough. You have to recognize your limitations and accept them. My mom says things are much more complicated nowadays because people just have more to do. You might think that's a "good old days" nostalgia idea, but she's right. Even she has more to do now that she's retired!
Since I've adopted this technique of stepping away from writing when I've accomplished my daily goals, I actually feel more productive. Writing to daily goals increases my production, for sure, but it also helps the other aspects of my life that maybe get ignored (okay, sometimes I still forget to eat!).
How about you? Ever step away from the ball to increase perspective or productivity? What tricks keep you sane in the neverending tangle of things to do?
Monday, September 10, 2007
Like Erica, I like to write to-do lists. And then I promptly lose them.
Alas, it's true. Maven Jacqueline is not the most organized person on the planet. In fact, I could probably vie for the title of Least Organized Person on the Planet. (My eldest son could probably make a run for second place. The apple does not fall far from the tree!)
So, how does an organizationally-challenged person like me hold down a full-time job, maintain one personal blog and one group blog (most of the time, anyway), keep up with day-to-day household tasks, and still find time to write?
Uh, beats me?
Okay, I'm kidding. I do know how I do it. Unfortunately, it's a completely unscientific method that leaves plenty of room for error, not to mention spending a good deal of my time running around with my hair on fire (figuratively speaking, of course).
In a nutshell, I do have a to-do list in my head. And that list, thankfully, I can't lose. I know the broad outlines of what I have to do and when each item has to be done. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I want to approach a particular project, especially if it's work or blog-related. I do a lot of the writing in my head in the days leading up to the point at which I absolutely must start or I won't make the deadline. Finally, at the last possible minute, I do whatever it is I have to do and manage to finish just in the nick of time.
Kinda like this blog post. Tuesdays are always my day, right? And we have our blog topics mapped out for weeks in advance (because the other Mavens are way more organized than me!). Why didn't I sit down and write this post a week ago or even over the weekend instead of waiting until the morning it was due to crank it out?
I could give a lot of pseudo-psychological answers to that question, but I think the answer's pretty obvious: I like to wait until the last minute. It's my m.o. and has been since I was a kid. I never finished a term paper or other project until minutes before it was due. I need the challenge of getting things done right now to motivate me. And usually, I do pretty good work under pressure.
Certainly, in my academic and work life, this strategy has worked well for me over the years. It's harder with writing because, at least at this point in my life, there really aren't any deadlines except those I make for myself. And because I know those deadlines are real, it's easier to slough them off. If the words aren't coming or the scene's just not working, it's all too easy to dart off on blog rounds or check my email obsessively or find someone to strike up a chat session with. Procrastination is my middle name.
Conversely, however, writing is the one thing in my long mental to-do list that I do because I want to, not because someone expects it of me. And so, I make time for it, usually by not doing all those other things until the last minute. I slip in writing (or writing-related tasks) wherever and whenever I can.
So I guess, in a manner of speaking, I do have a time management strategy. It's just not one I'd advocate others using. To-do lists and schedules are much better for most people. But if they're not your style--as they are definitely not mine--then they probably won't work for you. I know all efforts to confine my life to anything but the broadest outlines of structure have met with dismal failure.
YOUR TURN: Do you like schedules and structure, or are you a free spirit? If you're disorganized, what tricks do you use to help yourself get things done when you must?
P.S. I am thrilled to announce that Carnally Ever After was #2 on Cobblestone Press's bestseller list for the month of August. Not bad for a debut release, eh?
Goooood morning, Mavenland! This week's theme is Time Management. Obviously, you already possess a brilliant head for managing your time, since you saved a few minutes to drop by and say hi to us here. *g
Let me hereby confess: Rarely a day goes by that I don't scratch out a to-do list.
Sometimes on a notebook or post-it, sometimes typed in a neat spreadsheet, sometimes logged into my computer calendar program complete with auto-reminders, sometimes scratched out across the back of an envelope or anything else flat and blank enough to be attacked by my ballpoint pen.
Side note: In yesterday's mail, I just received this perfectly perfect gift from the wonderful and inimitable Maven Darcy:
So, why do I bother with all this? Several reasons.
1) I've got a mind like a steel trap, ie: rusty. If I don't write it down, chances are high I don't do it.
It's like going to the grocery store without a list--when you're hungry. You may have meant to just pick up some olive oil, but the next thing you know, you're unpacking $150 of crap from your trunk and you forgot the damn oil.
What you don't want to do is wake up one morning and realize, "Oh, crap! My [agent/editor/CP] has been waiting on XYZ for two months. I could've finished weeks ago if I'd been busy writing instead of watching the Closer and playing Spider Solitaire."
2) To-Do Lists help me focus.
In order to write down what I need to do, I have to know what I need to do. It's my first brainstorming session of the morning. I don't put everything on the list (ie "brush hair", "drink coffee", "work", "check email compulsively",) just the things I don't always have to do, which means they may get forgotten in the normal hustle and bustle of the day.
Here's today's list, verbatim from the back of a client envelope (written without benefit of the notepad--tomorrow's list will be so much cuter!):
* EW blog (this would be my blog)
* MM blog (the very blog you're reading)
* Conference call [client name redacted]
* Massage (threw out my back last Friday, am only now getting around to this. /sigh)
* Oil change (a necessary task so easy for me to forget)
* P.O. Box (Because I moved, the post office I now go to is not the one with my box, so I have to make a specific trip across town)
* Bills (Might as well drop 'em off while I'm at the post office, right?)
* Bank (hopefully the post office has a check or two from a client invoice)
* MM chat
I'm going to talk about this last one for a second, as item three:
3) To-Do Lists help me prioritize.
On Mondays, the Manuscript Mavens have our weekly chat, where one of the things we do is go over our current goals. Once we know where we all stand, it's easier for us to see the big picture and which items have greater priority.
For example, last week my number one writing goal was to finish addressing the items on my edit memo so I could send the polished MS off to a CP and return the shiny new version to my agent. She's been waiting on the story for a few weeks now, so it was (is) a high priority of mine. Now that I finished, my new high priority is the Maven with the most pressing deadline. Maven Darcy has a request of her own to send, so she'll be my #1 concern. As you can see, this varies depending on who has a publishing deadline (ie Maven Jacq's timeline for Carnally Ever After), editor/agent requests, personal submission goals (er, insofar as query letters), contest entry due dates, and so on.
If nobody has a pressing goal, the Maven credo is always "Your work comes first, crits come second." We are a team, but we also have to make progress on our own goals. To this end, a bulleted list comes in handy when prioritizing.
Also, this can help you to realize whether or not something belongs on your To-Do list, whether on paper or in the back of your mind. Perhaps it better behooves your goals to give up Law & Order for a few weeks or to otherwise limit the extra-curricular activities you're currently involved in. Not to the point of being a hermit, of course, but if you kill an hour after work every day going to happy hour, who is that helping? Limiting it to just Fridays would save you four hours a week. I gave up TV. Sometimes whole months go by without me touching the remote. That was a conscious decision, and one that has helped me immensely. It also gives me more time to read, which I feel indirectly helps me as a writer. Other people I know limited their tailgating or bowling/poker leagues or clubs or phone calls or web surfing or compulsive email-checking. Even if you save 30 minutes a day, that's another half an hour you can spend on the stuff that really matters to you.
4) To-Do Lists can afford a sense of accomplishment
I'll be the first to admit I often don't end up crossing everything off my list before the end of the day. However, having a vast majority--or even anything--crossed off helps you to see that you did in fact Do Something Productive. Some days, the IE ("interruption express" in Mavenland) is so disruptive, you crawl into bed feeling like you've just wasted twenty-four hours. If you have a list to look at and see that while you may not have accomplished every goal, you at least got some action items out of the way, you will see that the entire day was not lost.
It's also psychologically affirming. If it seems like you truly won't be able to get to a single thing on your list, go ahead: pick up a pen and add all those sudden emergencies that came up. And then cross them off. After all, you did it! You may not have anticipated spending your time in such a way, but flexibility is a life skill and you had to re-prioritize. Know that some days are like that, and tomorrow you can try again.
5) To-Do Lists help me to be reasonable
This may be the most important of all. It's so easy to get frustrated when you don't accomplish everything as quickly as you'd like. But how attainable was your goal? "Polish manuscript in one week" was my pie in the sky dream when I first got my revision letter, but it was patently unreachable. I still had to eat, sleep, work, run errands, etc. And then unforeseeable circumstances intervened, causing me to take an unplanned trip a thousand miles away, and so on. My goal became, "Try to polish at least one chapter per day." That was more realistic, specific, quantifiable, and attainable.
If you look at your To-Do list and your first thought is, "OMG, I would need an army of interns to even make a dent on this in 48 hours, let alone tackle it all myself in 24," then acknowledge that fact as true. Pay attention to your gut reactions. If there's no way you can get it all done, then there's no way to get it all done, and it's not a realistic list. Take another look and see what items can be moved to another day/time, or which items you could get help for.
warning: tangent incoming
On that topic, consider what your time and mental state are worth to you. If you hate mowing the lawn, for example, because you're allergic to grass or it takes five hours you can't spare or whatever your reason might be, consider paying the neighbor kid (or a professional) to come do it. Maybe it'll cost you ten or twenty bucks (I have no clue what the going rate is) but if it saves you your sanity and/or gives you that sacred block of time to tackle an action item nobody else could help you with, then it was worth it.
Same goes for childcare and house cleaning. If you could get so much more done if you had a little help with Junior, consider paying the neighbor kid (or a professional) to play games with Junior in the living room for an hour or two every day/week/whatever while you work on your bills/taxes/manuscript/etc. If you just don't have time to get your work done and keep a clean house, then either keep a less clean house or hire someone else to come mop the floors and dust those hard-to-reach places. And so on.
Look at your life as objectively as possible and decide whether or not help would help. Why do you think professionals in many non-writing industries have secretaries or interns or assistants? Because sometimes there's literally too much work for one person to efficiently handle on their own. Nobody can write your book but you. Just about anybody could mow your grass or scrub your shower or read the Berenstein Bears to give you that opportunity you need to make some real progress.
And don't be your own worst enemy. If you already don't have time to do half the crap you have to do, do not volunteer to take on more work. Resist the urge, no matter how well-intended, until you truly have the time to spare.
YOUR TURN: Are you a To-Do list person? If so, what are your reasons for making your lists? How do you determine what to put on them? Whether you're a to-do person or not, are you ever overwhelmed by the amount of stuff you need to get done? If so, have you ever limited (or discontinued) one or more of your major time-consuming tasks?
Friday, September 7, 2007
The Mavens are thrilled to announce Sheila English, today's guest blogger.
A publicist and CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, the premier creators of Book Trailers®, Sheila Clover English has created a niche in the book industry with creative promotional and marketing ideas.
A five-year veteran as an Executive Producer of award winning book commercials, Mrs. English is best known for her creative media endeavors, bringing book commercial distribution to movie theaters, television, cable and an online network of approximately 150 sites.
MM: What interested you in making book trailers, and how did you turn that interest into a business?
Sheila: It was a combination of things really. I was an aspiring author looking to find a way to promote myself in a unique way, but also, once I came up with the idea of book trailers, I thought it would be a fantastic marketing tool and I wanted to create them for other authors.
MM: Could you describe your book trailers' integration with social sites and subsequent viral marketing?
Sheila: Book trailers are formatted and supported by a variety of online social sites. User-generated video sites such as YouTube, Veoh, Google, Yahoo, iFilm and over 100 other sites created a venue that allows books to be seen in a way that most people respond to - visual.
We have a fulltime staff that is responsible for distribution of our videos onto those sites. But, they do so much more than that.
Social sites are like cities and the landscape of those cities can change according to the type of people that come in, new widgets, new groups and other variables. So, book video may be popular there for a while, but it there may come a time where book video isn't being watched as much for a time. Our distribution department does research on a continual basis to make sure our videos are uploaded to sites that have interested viewers and to sites where the video will get quality hits.
We distribute to more than social sites though. We have boutique or specialty sites as well, such as The Romance Zone or Find Me An Author. We also send our videos to booksellers and the videos play on bookseller sites.
Viral marketing is often misunderstood. Viral marketing happens when you put up information, in this case a video, and other people take it and pass it on to others. This is a common occurrence for COS videos. We have a loyal fan base who will put our videos on their sites or blogs. We make video sharing very easy to do. Since 2005 every single video done by COS has gone viral to some extent.
MM: Could you give examples of the types of authors who should consider using book trailers, and examples of authors who may be better served waiting for a different time/project?
Sheila: This is a really great question!
I have actually recommended that a client wait to have a video done. There really are good times and reasons to do a book video.
New authors benefit by getting their name out there. You can have the best book out there, but if no one knows about you, how will they know to pick up your book?
For new authors we would do a different distribution package than what we would do for an established author. A new author has different needs than an established author. Our distribution is catered to the needs and situation of the client.
Any author trying to create or change their brand. I feel branding is very important. So many authors try selling their books one at a time. Really, they should be selling themselves and making themselves a promotional tool for each book. We have worked with authors to help develop or change their brand.
Any author starting a new series. It's good to have a video that announces a new series is coming. For author Christina Dodd, we started working with her to establish her brand. Then, once we got that done, we wanted to highlight the different genres she does. She started a new paranormal series and we did a video for each book, but we also did a video for the series as a whole. It was a great success! The books did great and it caused a real buzz online because she'd never done a paranormal series like this before. We even had booksellers contact us asking to use the videos! The same thing happened with author Lisa Kleypas. She started doing contemporary novels after years of doing historical novels.
Highlighting a cross genre is a wonderful reason to use a video. You may write romance, but your books are well researched and you write about SEALS or suspense or something else equally as exciting.
Expand your readership. Much along the same lines as highlighting a cross genre, you can highlight certain aspects of your book in the video to target specific readers. You can concentrate on action/adventure to bring in more male readers. You can concentrate on paranormal elements to bring in more fantasy readers.
Bring in new readers. If your numbers are staying the same it's because you're doing the same thing. If you want your numbers to go up, do something different. Video reaches more viewers than a print ad will.
To build your website traffic or membership. You can feature your video on your own website first and direct people to that site in order to see the video. If you're building a membership, you can do two videos, one that points to the one on your site. Christine Feehan's website membership has gone up 600%!
Fan appreciation. You can do one as a gift to your fans. If your book just did great how do you thank your fans for their loyalty to you? Fans love the videos!
Sales Teams. You can have your video put on DVD or CD Rom and sent to your publisher to give to the sales team.
Expanded Media. You may be ready to do television or movie theater ads. You can spend less than $2000 and get great spots. Plus you have the benefit of telling booksellers that your book will be on television. And you can put "As seen on TV" on your site.
There are good reasons to do a video. And there are bad reasons to do a video.
Book video is a promotional tool like any other. If you use it correctly you can build a great marketing campaign. I see a lot of people creating videos and putting them on their site, YouTube and MySpace. They put them there because they don't know what else to do with them. You need to use the video to hit specific target audiences, or for very specific reasons, in order to get the most out of it.
MM: Your web site shows a wide array of services, ranging from a $250 single-image video to a $50,000+ amazing trailer, complete with a live action custom script, sound effects, and CGI. What possibilities would you recommend an e-book author (who earns no advance), a debut trade paperback author (with, say, a $5000 advance), and a multi-published author (with, say, a $25,000 advance)? How much depends on the disposable income available, and how much depends on where they are in their career?
Sheila: If you're an author you need to determine what your disposable income for promotions will be. Only the author can really decide that. And of that money, what is your ROI (return on investment). If you pay $250 for bookmarks because you can get 2500 you need to really know what you expect out of each and every bookmark. How many sales do you expect to get in relation to the number of bookmarks you give out? How many people will remember your name from a bookmark? How many other bookmarks are competing for that same reader?
People often go for what they feel is more instead of what is effective. It's a common mistake that I see made over and over.
The trend I've seen with e-book authors is that they are doing their own. If they do their own they could still get COS to do target-specific distribution for them for $150. They could have a Fast Track Trailer done for $390 that will also go to booksellers, can be linked on Amazon.com and will be seen by thousands of people. They need to determine for themselves what they feel is right for them. If they're looking at making $150 - $300 on that book, then I wouldn't recommend a $390 video. But, I would recommend the distribution.
A debut trade paperback author may want to spend 50% of their advance. They aren't just looking to have a video made, they are looking at an investment in their career. Our most popular videos are our level 1 mini teaser ($750) and our level 2 mini teaser ($1500 and very popular with booksellers). Every video we create comes with distribution. Every video we make is sent to booksellers and book clubs. It does on Reader's Entertainment TV and on our MySpace. If the author spends 50% of their advance, they could have a video done, perhaps purchase extra distribution or put the video on television in certain US regions.
An established author with $25,000 is still going to want to be thrifty with their money. But, studies show that the live action trailers are by far the most popular with fans. We have done live action trailers since 2002 and we have our own fan base for them. For $5000 you can get a great live action video. That may sound like a lot, but on average, the cost of a professionally made commercial is currently $12,000 per second. COS actually makes the least amount of money on live action Book Trailers in relative comparison to our other products. But, in all honesty, they are the most fun to make. Where many of our competitors are charging $7000 to $20,000 for a professionally made Book Trailer, we try to keep the costs low and script to budget.
The type of video you choose should give you an effective tool for your situation. Whether it is a $250 Cover Story video or a $5000 - $10,000 Book Trailer, you need to know what you want to use it for before you pay for it. We have had top authors start with our $250 video and after they see what it can do for them they immediately move up to our $1500 video. We don't try to persuade an author to do a particular product. If they ask what kind of video they should go with we ask them what their budget is, or if the budget is flexible, we ask them what they hope to accomplish with it.
It is not uncommon for me to have a one hour consultation with a client to determine what product and distribution is best for what they want to do with their career.
MM: How much control/input does the author have over the video's fonts, colors, script, casting, sound/CGI effects, cinematography, etc?
Sheila: We have an established contract that spells all of that out with our client in advance to them even sending us a deposit.
We want their input. And in the end they must sign off on the script, casting and final video proof. We want them to be so happy that they come back again and again. One of our strongest marketing tools is our repeat business.
Of course, we do have to have limitations on certain things in order to stay within budget and on time. If a client pays $5000 and then insists on $1500 of that going toward wardrobe, that isn't fair to our production partners. So the best way to have a positive experience for everyone is to communicate effectively and establish acceptable parameters in advance.
And, clients pay us for our expertise. If they want to do this themselves they can hire a videographer/editor. And some do. But, we work closely with the booksellers and we do beta testing as a QC/QA measure to ensure that the fans like what we're doing as well.
If the client wants to have the majority of the creative control, we can't make any promises that it will go viral or get picked up by booksellers. We have a great deal of confidence when we maintain the majority of creative control.
MM: Once an author purchases a trailer, does it belong to her to do with what she will, or does COS retain copyright/ownership?
Sheila: This is an industry standard. The author retains the copyright to the book, characters, etc. COS retains the copyright to the video. But, it is a product and it does go to the author to use it wherever he/she wants. The client is given a formatted copy and they can put it on their site, on YouTube, etc. We do not automatically format for television though. So, the client couldn't take the video to their local TV station and have it played as a commercial.
Also, the client would not be able to take their video and have another company make changes to it.
Again, this is industry standard. If you watch a movie made from a book the copyright does not go to the author or even the publisher. It goes to the producer.
MM: Speaking of copyright, from what we gather Circle of Seven didn't just put book trailers on the map--you trademarked it. Do you actively police usage of the phrase? Is that even possible?
Sheila: We did trademark it. And, in all fairness, it was NOT a common term when we did it. As a matter of fact when we did a broad search on all the search engines at that time we didn't get back a single return on the term. When we went to NYC and spoke to every publisher there, we had to define what a Book Trailer was. People did not simply know what we were talking about by the term. It's common now, but we've spent tens of thousands of dollars marketing the term, the definition and the utilization.
By law we are required to police the use of the term or we forfeit our right to it. But, we only police the term in relation to people selling their own product under our trademarked name. If no one is making money off the term we aren't concerned with it. And, by making money we don't count the fact that authors who make their own video are making money through sales. We really are only concerned with competitors.
At this point in time it would be impossible to police the term. And we really aren't looking to penalize authors who use it to describe their video. We hope their video does great and that they decide to hire us later on when they can afford a professional book video maker!
MM: Do you have any data you can share on the success of various services you offer? Are there many good ways to measure click-through rates and increases in sales due to book trailers?
Sheila: A recent survey showed that 70% of the people who watched book videos were enticed to purchase the book. That's from all viewers though, not just COS viewers.
Here are some statements from clients:
"I call the money I spent on a COS mini teaser "the money that goes on spending" I have benefited from your tremendous after care." Veronica Towers (e-book author)
"In just three days of being featured on MySpace books, my blog got over16,000 views, my website received ten times the usual amount of hits, letters from interested readers greatly increased, and my pre-sales numbers on my upcoming release spiked. I cannot thank Sheila and COS enough for providing this service. " Alyson Noel, author of: Faking 19, Art Geeks and Prom Queens, Laguna Cove, Fly Me to the Moon, Kiss & Blog, and Saving Zoë
We have authors who have never made any of the bestseller lists make them after we did their video and distribution.
As far as click-through rates go that is not the best way to measure success. I work with other online distributors and no one uses click-through rates as the only measurement of a successful online campaign. There is a formula though. It has to do more with number of "engagements" instead of click-through. If the person shares the video, posts it to a site, blogs about it and links to it, clicks on it, comments on it, rates it, those are all "engagements". We do follow those on some of our videos, but not on all of them.
We have more and more booksellers taking the videos as content. That's very telling. And many of our clients who use the Amazon Associate program have reported increased sales during the time the video is up.
The fact is, you'll get more people to see that video in the year or more it is online than will ever see it in a single print ad. What is that worth?
MM: We notice on your web site that the commercials can be formatted for TV and movie theaters. What percentage of your clients take advantage of this? Do you have any data as to the ROI of showing the trailers at the movies as opposed to the Internet?
Sheila: More and more of our clients are taking advantage of this since COS has established relationships with National Cinemedia and Comast allowing us great distribution for relatively little money. COS also works with ABC, NBC and CBS, but they tend to be more costly.
Since the publisher is the gate keeper of the information about increased sales in a given area, we don't know the specifics of how well the tv campaign did in a given area. What I can tell you is more and more publishers are paying for the media time…repeatedly.
The movie theater idea started in 2004 when digital media was accepted as a format. This was all very new. Historically you could put up a static ad on the big screen, but nothing really exciting. Technology changed and so did the utilization of our videos. COS came up with a way to make digital media look great on the big screen. And, according to our rep at NCM we are the only company who has done this.
Now, we can penetrate areas such as Los Angeles and New York City via movie theaters at an affordable rate compared to TV spots. We ran one campaign in the middle of NYC that ran over 900 times for less than $2000.
The viewers online, television and in movie theaters are likely to cross over. People will see the video on TV then see it online. They are seeing it more times in more venues and are more likely to remember it that way. The great thing about using the Internet is that people can come back to it. If they missed the author's URL they can just watch the video again. They can search for it if they think about it later. They can share it with their friends. They don't have to move from their seat to buy it after they watch the video. I highly recommend Internet distribution.
MM: You have won awards for many of your book trailers. Can you tell us a little about the kinds of awards you and your videos have won?
Sheila: The most prestigious award that you can win in the commercial field is the Telly Award. It is like an Emmy or Oscar, but it's for commercials. We have won seven Telly Awards. The Davey Awards are International Film Awards and are sponsored by the International Academy of the Arts. Collectively we have won 11 awards so far. The categories range from special effects to screen writing and from comedy to best low cost video. We also won something called the Cameo Awards which were for romance videos only and we won 12 of those including reader's choice.
We are very proud of the awards, but especially the Telly Awards because those are so difficult to win. We won alongside Warner Studios, Disney, SciFi Channel and other top producers. We've spoke with people from other production companies who have been in the business for 20+ years and never won a Telly. So, the fact that not only did we win, but we were the first to win making Book Trailers, is really exciting for us!
MM: Sheila, thanks so much for joining us today!
YOUR TURN: When did you first hear of book videos? What are examples of the best ones you've seen? If you have one of your own, please link to it in the comments!
Thursday, September 6, 2007
First, Don't miss tomorrow's guest blogger!
Sheila English from Circle of Seven productions, the company who began the book trailerTM phenomenon, will be here to answer all your burning questions, from when you should (and shouldn't!) consider a video commercial for your stories to what kind of results should you expect from your investment.
Now, onto the show!
Over the past two weeks, we've been talking about the many ways you can promote yourself and your books. Yesterday, Maven Darcy talked about promoting yourself to others and sounding confident while you do it. I admit, I am not that great about either promoting myself or my friends in conversation. (Pause to let you digest the fact that I may actually be bad at something.) But it's true...Maven Darcy nailed my startled Whhwhawhaat? after the Rose City Luncheon perfectly. You mean we can promote each other?
Lucky for me (and all you people like me), there's the internet. I'm not nearly as shy about promoting my writing on the internet (if you're reading this, it must be because you want to, right?) and I'm certainly not as shy about promoting my friends. So. It seems to me, internet promotion is where it's at. Your readers are active, they're interested, and they're just a few mouse clicks away from buying my product. What's not to love?
But how do I get you people to promote me by word of mouth? Well, I can try to be a sneaky ninja. I can email Maven Erica and beg, for example. But what we all really want is to have more of are those lovely times when we Google our own names and find really nice comments about ourselves (or better yet, our books) on other people's sites. (And by that I did not mean to imply Maven Erica and I are the same person. You get what I mean.)
Obviously, if I knew some trick to creating positive word of mouth I would have done it already. This site would have thousands of millions of hits and I would be world-famous. At the very least, I would be in a completely different industry. Unfortunately, my suggestion that you "just stand out from the crowd" doesn't make the cut for startling advice. I can only tell you what works for me in real life, and that is to act totally bonkers and hope people get the joke.
Which is sort of the problem and the solution at the same time. I think, and I'm no professional here, most people aren't willing to put themselves out there with controversial subject matter. Let's talk about two seemingly different but totally similar things: Anna Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan and Napoleon Dynamite.
Did that get your attention, Anna?
Both had that "Oh, no she didn't!" factor, right? With CTC, nobody could believe Anna would (allegedly) try to bring back the 80's romance novel. With Napoleon Dynamite... Need I say more? But if I do, let me tell you... Yet another very special 80's throwback. (Okay, that was just a really weird coincidence. What I meant to point out is that the story is just so freakin' weird, it's hard to believe anyone ever thought it up, let alone made it into a successful movie. A really, really successful movie.)
Both were successful because, I think, they each have enough elements in them that the entertainee could identify with what was going on. But at the same time, the entertainee is glued to the story because they just can't believe anyone would ever actually write something that sounds a lot like the weird crap that goes through their head on a day to day basis -- stuff that they would never, ever admit to. (Ok, maybe less likely with CTC, but I think you get me here.)
My point is, when you're watching Superbad, 40 Year Old Virgin, or Knocked Up, you're identifying with the storyline, but at the same time, you can't believe someone had the nerve (or the creativity) to write that story in the first place.* Which is why you walk out of the theater (or put down the book) and immediately start looking for people to talk about it with. Often, I might add, in slightly negative tones. But hey, the writer's the one laughing all the way to the bank, right?
So take that gem, make it your own, and let the people talk about you just a little bit. Sure, you may have the occassional weirdo walk up to you and repeat something back to you that will make you cringe wondering why you let that tidbit fall out of your mouth in the first place. Er, fingers. It's human nature to want to fit in with the crowd. But chances are, you'll have 10 more people laughing their hineys off because you did. (Or crying into their hankies, or whatever.)
Be weird. It's different.
Tell me something you've said or done that made you cringe at your own bravado/stupidity/hilarity/craziness, and then tell me about the person who came up to you and said hey, that was funny!/sad!/cringe-worthy!/you almost made me pee my pants!
Don't leave me out here on a limb, guys...
* If you click on the Knocked Up link (or Google this subject at all) you will find that, in fact, someone else DID write that storyline before. Two someones. But that totally takes away from the fun point of this blog, so I choose to ignore it. Sorry, Rebecca Eckler and Patricia Pearson.