After work I headed over to the Richard Hugo House’s writer’s conference. The conference is focused on marketing and selling your work in both traditional and non traditional media. Tonight’s session was a round table discussion by Alan Rinzler, Barbara Sjoholm, and Jeff Vandermeer. Sjoholm read a history of publishing, while interesting, it was not particularly revealing. Alan Rinzler talked next and he covered the same ground he did a few months ago and you can read my review here. Rinzler is part cheerleader, part realist and his talks always leave you feeling that you can do it with a bit of luck. Vandermeer’s talk was the most interesting because he talked about mixing social media into your publishing platform. Naturally, he noted that it is the correct mix of social media and writing that makes one able to finish a book. If you are not careful you will end up doing too much social media. He is an interesting case because he talks with his readers via his blog about what he is doing and that feeds back into his writing. I don’t know if I’d ever like to do that, but it is an interesting approach. I think he is right in noting that starting authors should be careful about doing too much social media because it only becomes chatter and gets lost amongst the noise. Ultimately, though, most of what they talked about was the oddities of the publishing business (book returns, etc), and the need to make yourself stand out, both in your work and the ways you talk to your readers.
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.