Friday, August 04, 2006
Anyway, hubby and I are headed out of town in a few for a nice weekend to ourselves! Yahoo!! I've packed the last Harry Potter installment (never read it) and Jennifer Paddock's A Secret Word. I met Jennifer on MySpace, and she's a fellow Felicity lover, so obviously, it goes without saying that I adore her and assume I'll adore her book as well. We Felicity followers share a certain kinship, you know?
So I'm prepped for some serious R&R - a pre-natal massage, fine sheets, good dining...ooh, I can't wait and feel more relaxed just thinking about it.
If you have some time on your hands because this entry is so short, I'll pass along a few links. For a little inspiration, check out Philip Beard's incredible story about how he went from self-publishing his novel, Dear Zoe, to landing a fat contract at Viking. The book, which was a Book Sense pick in both hardcover and paperback, was previously rejected by 27 editors. Like he didn't have the last laugh. Ha!
And while you're surfing around, be sure to click over to Erin Zammett's blog on Glamour.com. Erin's been in remission from leukemia for several years, and many of us have been following her story via the magazine since she was diagnosed. She's also a cool, fun, witty gal who was kind enough to give me my first shot at writing for Glamour (after four years of pitching....See? It's not easy!). She'll be updating daily, so add it to your favorites.
Anyone else have fun plans for the weekend? Has the heat caused any other serious mental meltdowns or is it just moi?
Thursday, August 03, 2006
When aspiring writers hear the word "platform," their first impulse might be to jump off of one, because having a platform can indeed make or break you. That said, there's good and bad news to come in answering this question, so let's break it down point by point.
1) What is a platform? A platform is really a synonym for your visibility, your marketability, you contacts, connections and how many people (other than your extended family and high school alumni committee) know who you are. Dr. Phil, for example, has an enormous platform. Your local shrink, however, does not. Even though they technically do the same job.
2) Why do platforms matter? Because your platform helps your publisher sell books. Period. The good news (remember, I said that there was some) is that platforms matter less for fiction than for non-fiction. Publishing houses are willing to take on a first-time novelist with no name for himself, but are less willing to take on your aforementioned local shrink. Why? I'd imagine because when it comes to debut authors, most readers don't expect to have heard of him, but if they're looking for advice on how to save their marriage, they'd like to know that these words of wisdom are actually coming from someone whom they trust. Blame Oprah.
That said, there's no doubt that having a wide-spread platform can help you when it comes to fiction. My advance was much larger than most debut novelists, in part because the editors who bid on my book knew come publication time, I'd be putting in calls (code for: begging, crying and offering up my second born) to all of my magazine editors and various contacts, asking them for a plug or a review. And you can be damn sure that I will indeed be doing so. But did my platform help sell my book? I don't think so. I think it just helped pad the advance. But without a platform in non-fiction, you're much less likely to sell the book at all.
3) What can I do to build a platform?
Ah, the million dollar question. First off, it goes without saying that you need a website. I write off potential interviewees all the time when I can't find them on the web. And regardless of the field you're in, I'd take steps to set you apart from your peers. If you're a child psychologist, look into becoming an APA spokesperson (or whatever organization you're affiliated with); if you're a nutritionist, try to nab a media position with the ADA, etc. Magazine writers frequently tap into organizations such as these when they're looking for expert interviews. And the more widely quoted you are, the bigger your platform. Another excellent tactic is to register at Profnet, which is sort-of the go-to place for magazine writers to find experts for stories. If I'm working on an article on, say, breast-feeding and don't have an M.D. in mind, I might do a search on Profnet to land the perfect source.
Of course, if you can afford it, hiring a PR company might be a good route. If you can't, you're not dead in the water. A writer friend of mine (and a mother of two), Jen Singer, had a wonderful ms called, 14 Hours 'Til Bedtime, that she relentlessly shopped around. She finally landed an agent, and when they sent out the ms, editors loved it, but guess what...she didn't have a platform, so the offers didn't exactly explode in their laps. But she was determined to not only sell the book, but to position herself as a parenting expert. So she launched a website, mommasaid.net, told everyone she knew about it, signed up for Profnet, sent press notices to editors and writers, etc, etc, etc. In other words, it wasn't easy, but she's now a well-known parenting expert who is often quoted in top mags and has even appeared on the morning shows. In fact, she just signed on to be a spokesperson for Similac and has been a spokesperson for Huggies for the past two years.
Here are a few words of advice, straight from the horse's (or Jen's) mouth:
"Building a platform is like building a house: You want to use the best materials possible. I’m careful about which Profnet leads I answer, and where I provide content, because I don’t want to become overexposed. Don’t jump on every “publicity opportunity” that comes your way, and don’t tie up your content or yourself with exclusive contracts unless it’s truly worth your while. Ignore people who wonder why you’re spending so much time on something (like a web site) that might have no immediate and direct income. It takes time to build a platform, but it pays off in the long run if you do it right – and if you stick with it, no matter what other people say."
Quite clearly, Jen built her platform from the ground up...so it can be done. And her tenacity will definitely pay off for her next book: NO ONE will blink when her agent pitches it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she sells it at auction. But building a platform requires dedication and a lot of energy. If you're willing to do it and you truly believe in your book's topic (and don't just want to write it to say that you've published a book), then definitely go for it.
Anyone out there working on their platform right now? How are you going about it?
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
The quick answer: for sure. In fact, I currently have six blurbs for my book, and only one author is published with my house, and she's not even at my imprint. Of course, I got these blurbs on my own: I reached out via email to authors whom I thought might enjoy the book and with whom I might share an audience. I didn't know any of them beforehand, so I simply jotted down a (very kind and humble) introductory note and asked them if they'd be willing to take a peek. Most said yes. I made it clear that there was no expectation of a forthcoming blurb, and if they hated the book, then they should definitely not endorse it. I've been fortunate that most people accepted and that most have indeed had very nice things to say. (Though I'll admit to being heartbroken when Lolly Winston couldn't fit it in her schedule. Wah! I still love her though! And can't wait to read her new book!)
Remember that blurbing is in some ways a two-way street. Trust me, I was so, so, so, so flattered that these wonderful ladies not only took the time to read the ms, but also to write something so wonderful about the book, but they also get their names on the back of the cover, or on my website or on my blog or in the press kit or wherever. So it only serves the author or the publishing house well to open themselves up to outside authors.
My process of gathering blurbs was a bit unusual - most often, it's left up to the editor, the publicist and the agent, which is why you often DO see authors blurbed from the same house or imprint. But I just wanted to be a bit more involved, and I'm glad that I was.
This question of blurbing raises a whole other issue: do blurbs matter? I know that as a reader, I definitely take a look at them and and that they can tilt the scale if I'm debating a purchase. And if I've enjoyed a book, I'll often buy a blurber's book because I assume that we have similar taste. Diana Peterfreund blogged about this a few weeks ago: whether or not blurbs really have any influence on readers. They most definitely influence booksellers (i.e, if the press kit is brimming with top shelf blurbs, they'll likely be interested in buying more copies) and get your sales and press teams fired up, but to the average reader, do they really do much? I dunno.
Let be honest: doesn't size always matter? :)
Anyway...from what I was told, both before I submitted my ms to agents and after I'd nabbed one, the sweet spot for debut authors is about 80k words (75k-85k is perfect). This is for commercial fiction...I believe that you can go longer for historicals and perhaps paranormals. Anyone else know? YA is much shorter - somewhere in the 60k ballpark. But whatever you do, try to trim your ms to under 100k words. Anything longer, and from what I understand, agents assume that you've either rambled on too long and/or lack any ability to self-edit.
After you've proven yourself, I'd imagine that you have more flexibility. I mean, if the publishers knows that you have a built-in audience who is going to slap down their credit cards regardless of length, I doubt that they'd balk at your 115k ms. But for first-timers, generally, it's probably best to try to adhere to what the industry prefers.
Just my opinion, of course. Anyone have a different experience or know the desired word counts in other genres?
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I recently received some blistering feedback from a well-regarded reader. She did not like the manuscript in the least bit, but at least she was honest and told me what I needed to hear, and what needed work. But now, I am questioning my ability as a writer. I love to write, and I put a lot of hard work, long hours, and expensive editing into this novel, so I am frustrated. At least I know that it's not ready to be shopped around, and don't have to worry about embarrassing myself. Anyway, it leaves me wondering whether to further refine it or to concentrate on a new novel. Any suggestions?
I think this is a more common dilemma than we all realize. When we're sitting at home reading and rereading our completed ms, how can we possibly know whether or not it will amount to anything? After all, if we didn't think it was genius, or at least had potential, we'd never have written it in the first place. Yet nearly EVERY published writer I know - and clearly, I don't know all of them (!!!), so there are obviously numerous exceptions - has an unpublished ms rotting up her hard drive. So...the question of the day is, "how do you know when to throw in the towel?"
I've already shared my experience: it really wasn't until I'd written a MUCH better second book that I understood that my first really was a fairly large pile of crap. Okay, maybe that's not fair. But it certainly wasn't as good as it could have been, and truly, were it now being published, it would probably only serve to embarrass me. Since I'm out of ideas on this question but thought that it merited a discussion, I surveyed some fellow authors to garner their advice. Wise words were offered. It would be smart to heed them.
"Well, for me, it was almost a physical thing. (This was for my first completed manuscript that never got an agent.) One day I was fine, working and reworking it for the 100th time, ready to send still more queries out - the next day I woke up, opened the file, felt nothing for the words on the screen, and I closed the file, opened up a new one, and started right in on the next book - not knowing, until that moment, that I had a new book in me. But knowing that I had to move forward, and going back to that old file wasn't accomplishing that. It was like a friendship that you keep nurturing along - a one-sided friendship, actually, where I was the one coaxing it along long after the book had served its purpose. (Which was - to teach me how to write a novel, to let me get all the rookie mistakes and bad habits out of my system.) It was just time to start over again with something new and the most important thing I learned by doing that was - that I could do it again, that I would always be able to do it again. That was a very liberating moment for me, because it helped my writing immensely - it gave me the freedom to edit and chop and remove and start over without any fear that these were the only words I'd ever write that well again.
With books that were agented and I had to give up on them - it was much clearer. The 15-20 rejections that each of them accumulated pretty much made the decision for me. But each time, I was eager to tell the next story, so while it was painful, it wasn't crippling. "
Best-selling Louise Bagshawe, author of numerous books including the upcoming Sparkles, offered this brilliant advice:
"When I started my writing career, I had to junk books several times. I mean complete MS that had been handed in to my editor. She said, 'Unpublishable'. I said 'Fine.' Started over the next day.
The fact is that the market is tough, and if you are your own worst critic, you will be your own best friend. I don't know, but I have a feeling that newbie writers often fall in love with their first effort just because it was such an effort. They confuse the hard work of the process with the quality of the results. That's why spending time apart from your MS when it is finished is SO important. If it doesn't knock you out - if you have any doubts - it's not ready, I don't care if you spent two years on it. Now, I'm sort of in a groove with my novel career. I know what my fans want and I deliver it. I do not expect my MSes to require major rewrites. But at the start of my career it wasn't that way. The remedy for me was and is to go away, read the bestsellers of my rivals/heroes/competition in the same genre and then reread my own book and ask if I'm even in the ballpark. I recommend that to amateurs on my blog, but I always suspect most people skip that step. Just look at the competition. Is your book that good? No? Why not? You can do better, then do better. Especially if you're unpublished, because then you stand a chance of that really big deal when you hand the truly great MS to the enthused agent. You only have one chance at being fresh new talent.
Rachel Cole, who has been published in several literary magazines and who is fine-tuning her third ms, echoes similar thoughts to me. "For me, this has only happened recently, when my latest WIP (my second) really started to click. I realized that my first novel, no matter how much I loved it, had one too many core flaws that no rewrite could fix and that I was now cannibalizing it for the new story. Though all the characters and situations are completely different, there are some very strong similarities in the themes and ''morals'' of the two. So, while I'm not writing the same story again, I feel I'm in a much better situation to say what I wanted to say then, but via a completely different story." Adds Shana Silberberg, who recently wrapped her second ms, "what made me realize the first one sucked was writing my second novel - a novel that was much better, and actually spending the time to fix it up instead of considering the first draft to be the only draft."
A lot of wisdom to be found in the above words, me thinks. Did they ring true to anyone besides me? Anyone have other thoughts on when to move on?
Monday, July 31, 2006
First, just to clarify and so as not to offend any veteran agents (snort, as if they'd take the time to read this blog!), there are definitely some wonderful seasoned agents out there...in fact, these women (and men) have earned their stripes and are undoubtedly great reps. Right? Right. :)
But what you're saying, and what I surmised during my agent hunt, was that they weren't necessarily great reps more me. Agenting isn't a one-size fits all industry, and agents will be the first to tell you that.
Whew, with that out of the way and so as to avoid any "you're an ageist" emails, let's get down to business! How was I able to whittle down my query list to the youngsters? Well, this probably isn't an enormous surprise, given my past posts, but really, it was all through research. Look, I've said it before, I'll say it again: any great writer - be it author or magazine writer - has to know how to dig up morsels and tidbits and information that sets them apart from the average aspiring writer who doesn't take the time or have the sensibility to do so. While I can't remember where I started, at some point in my research, I searched the forums at Writers.net (key words such as "younger," will bring up some threads with info). I also filtered through agentquery.com using the search terms "women's fiction," or "chick lit;" I believe that agentquery sometimes includes their college and graduating year (or shoots you to a link with more information that might). I cross-referenced all of these things with the agent's website, which often includes personal info such as graduation year or something in their bio that could give me a general sense of their age, (i.e, "I enjoy spending time with my husband now that my kids have left for college," or "I spend my non-agenting hours chasing my toddler around the house). I also double-checked my hunches on PublishersMarketplace: if she'd sold a lot of books that focused on younger women, chances were, she related to these heroines on some level, and thus might relate to mine. Oh, and there's always google: type in a name and you'll be amazed at what the engine spits back out...it might require some digging, but you can find 5k races (which list age), wedding announcements, alumni notes, you name it. And it never hurts to ask around: on the various Yahoo writers' loops, other repped friends, etc.
I don't mean to sound like a stalker here. I'm not. I'm just pointing out all of the ways that you can discover information on agents. They're normal people who live lives, and if you want to see if they'll be a good match for you - in terms of age, interests, etc - the information is probably out there.
That said, here are some of the up-and-coming younger/youngish agents whom I discovered on my hunt. (For the women's fic/chick lit category - the only one I looked into.) This list is by no means exhaustive, just some that come to mind.
Stephanie Kip Rostan
Nikki Van Der Car
This list is definitely not complete - just some of the names that I have in my notes. I don't know these gals personally, so don't write them and say that I suggested contacting them! (In fact, sidenote: it is very, very, very bad form to EVER do this to an established writer without asking him or her for permission to use her name. Even if she's passed you contact info, you simply don't name-drop unless she's told you that you can. I've seen a lot of my friends beyond steamed in these situations, and there's no faster way to burn a bridge. FYI.) I have no idea if any or all are accepting new clients, what their submission standards are, etc. I'm just telling you what I have jotted down.
So...which agents did I miss? And do you think that the age or demographic of your agent really matters?