Thursday, March 12, 2009

Booking Book Clubs

So today I'm over on Writer Unboxed talking about my experience interacting with book clubs - the good, the bad, the very occasionally ugly.

Check it out here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cracking Women's Magazines

Question of the day: I'm curious about how you broke into writing for major women's magazines. Is it hard to do so? Harder now with the economy than it used to be? You did a great blog a while back about how you packaged a story with a "Why You Resist/Why We Insist" theme and I wondered how a big a part of the process that is -- coming up with the catchy concept and headline.

I'm going to break this question up into a few parts because it has a lot of different elements to it, so check back for the answers to the second and third questions.

I think I've chatted about this before, but I'm happy to revisit. I broke into women's magazines in a fairly untraditional manner: I did it with no magazine experience. Basically, many years ago, I was doing some celebrity ghostwriting for a PR firm (yes, celebs hire ghostwriters and don't pen things themselves), and I was antsy to break out and do some editorial work. I was planning my wedding at the time, so sent of a pitch letter to The Knot, which now is a magazine, but back then, was only a website. I figured it would be an easy way to break in. Well, as fate would have it, they were looking for a ghostwriter for one of their books. I submitted a proposal, along with some sample chapters, and they hired me. I know. I couldn't have been more floored.

While the experience was less than ideal (for reasons I won't publicly get into - and don't take this as disparaging against the current Knot - this was years ago and many editorial teams ago), I have no regrets about it. Because with that on my pitch letter, "I recently ghostwrote XYZ for The Knot," I broke down my first door. I fired off a query to Bride's, based on a similar subject to the book, and voila, was granted my first feature. Easy as pie!

Ha! While it didn't take me long to break in, once I broke in, it DID take me a looooong time to land something else worthwhile. I did contract one other feature relatively quickly, only to be met with a swift and nasty kill fee, for reasons never explained to me and yeah, oh boy, was that demoralizing. (And FYI, in my defense, I'd freaking outlined the piece AND written half of it in proposal form, so to this day, I remember that editor and would never work with her again.) So instead of concentrating on features, I opted to really bone up my clips: I started pitching FOBs and a variety of websites, who always need more articles than magazines do, and slowly, things began snowballing for me. Cooking Light and Men's Health (I adore those editors to this day) began contracting a bunch of my FOB ideas, and eventually, I was able to leverage my good work with those shorter articles into feature pieces, not only for those original magazines but others as well.

Breaking into magazines requires a lot, A LOT of patience. There is very, very little instant gratification but if you realize you're in it for the long-haul, and attack your career with that mentality - whittling away piece by piece - I do think that you can find success.

So I'd love to hear from readers how YOU broke into mags.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Is Anyone Even Out There Reading?

Question of the day: Recently on the Dystel & Goderich blog there was a post that bemoaned the fact that agents are having a difficult time getting editors to read their submissions. I'm wondering if other agents are finding this also. Excerpt from DG blog: "Has EVERYBODY stopped reading? This last week a senior editor at a major publishing house received a proposal from us and rather than read it at all, she simply looked up other books in the category and decided that since they hadn’t sold, it wasn’t even worth reading one word of this author’s work. In another, rather shocking instance, a publisher of a very good house turned down material I had submitted saying that the fiction market was extremely difficult these days. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the note – the material I had submitted clearly stated that it was a memoir."

Well, I'm not an agent, but I do chat with my agent regularly, and from what I can tell, it's not that people have stopped reading, it's that acquiring has certainly slowed down, and thus, unless an editor really believes that what he/she is about to take a look at is really going to be worth her time, she's not going to devote said time to it.

One thing that is definitely happening right now, given slow book sales and the whole gloom and doom economy is that fewer books are getting bought and those books that ARE getting bought are selling for a whole lot less than they would have a year ago. I definitely even saw this when we sold The Happiest Days of My Life. Yeah, I got a very nice-sized advance, and trust me, I'm not complaining, but numerous parties involved noted that in a different environment, it would have been an even nicer-sized advance. But again, I'm not complaining. I'm happy to have had a healthy offer and a guarantee of a published book than nothing else, and yeah, these days, plenty of authors who would otherwise have a shot aren't getting them.

So are editors reading less? I'm sure. Because they're buying less. That's the real root of the problem here. Sort of like how in better times, I'd immediately open shopping emails (i.e, J. Crew) in my inbox just to see if there might be something that catches my eye. Now? I rarely bother because I'm not going to spend the money on something that I really don't need.

That said, I'm sorry that you got that "fiction" rejection for your memoir. That does feel sloppy and dismissive, but regardless, it's a "no" all the same, and I'd just try to forget about it. I don't know, maybe it's better to hold off on submissions until things are on the upswing? What do you guys think?