The Best Time for Writers – Alan Rinzler at Elliott Bay 1/23/10

I went down to Elliott Bay Books on the other day (1/23/10) to see a presentation from Alan Rinzler, an editor at Jossey-Bass, about getting published. Naturally, an interesting topic for any writer:

The topic of his talk today is “Why There’s Never Been a Better Time for Writers Who Want to Get Published.” He’ll speak about book publishing from the inside, dispelling myths, confronting realities, and explaining what current changes mean for writers wanting to be published in this volatile business. He will also speak about presenting proposals and manuscripts in an effective manner, finding an agent, knowing what acquiring editors are looking for.

It was quite interesting to hear the state of publishing from an insider who is more cheerleader than defeatist. As the title of his talk suggests, he believes this is the best time for writers. While there were some contradictory elements in his presentation he does have a point. He started off by noting that the number of book sales is up in certain genres, specifically young adult, graphic novel and literary fiction. Certainly encouraging news. However, as he would do throughout the presentation he then notes that publishers either don’t know what they are doing or botch the sales job. In his opinion, the only way to sell a book is have buzz via social media. Book tours are a thing of the past (I often wondered how they could make money with them when so few come to readings; it’s at best a break even proposition). Interestingly, he really didn’t see much room for the book stores. He noted that they usually send back all the copies of a book with in a few weeks of receiving them so that there is not time for the slow build, which is es specially important in fiction. only 10% of books make money. He didn’t answer how publishers can justify big advances with those odds. His final, comment of note on the publishing business was that all the job cuts were just cutting away the fat and that staff now are more lean and do more with less. The take away is if you are going to write, be social media ready.

He then went on to talk about what writer should do to get published. Most of it is common advice, but he did break it down into quick bites. Finding an agent, for example, isn’t a book length topic.

Find an agent – You need one to protect you from “people like me.”

  • To find one go to writers conferences. It is relaxed atmosphere and they are on their best behavior.
  • Be aggressive: go to their office and wait them out; send an email submission even though they say no because they can be tempted by something good (and they ignore query letters).
  • The best if you know someone who has an agent.
  • Self publish and show them the book.
  • Read Publisher’s Weekly and Publisher’s Market Place weekly emails. It will tell you the deals with the agent’s names.

Writing a Proposal

  • Should be 25 pages.
  • Have a 2 to 3 paragraph hook. How you are going to say this book has to be published.
  • Out line of no more than 10 pages
  • Platform: where are you in the public. Have you written anything else, been on TV, etc.?
  • DVD of you talking.
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