Whether to go “big” or “small”

Present word count:  28,073

Husband’s home, cat’s healthy, I’m writing. YAY!

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

7. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a ‘real’ publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it’s promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart’s couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using POD or a small run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people.

Okay, I actually have to quibble with a lot of this, although I kind of agree with the gist of what he’s saying.

Actually, given such online sites as QueryTracker, you’re spending a year trying to please A LOT of different people in New York (and some in Colorado or the West Coast), hoping that AT LEAST ONE will want to represent you and get you a traditional contract. Besides, if you’re doing things right, you’re not spending ALL of that year trying to achieve that…you’re also continuing to write more stories.

I don’t think, if you do it right, you give up a lot of time. Let’s say you’ll devote a couple of hours each Friday afternoon to queries. That’s not a lot of time.

As for giving up control over what your book reads or feels like, that may be a good thing! You may really need an editor. Hopefully not, but you may. I’m just saying.

And the promotion point is kind of moot, unless you’re going to be the next J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, etc. Why? Because big publishers don’t really do much promotion anymore unless they think you’re going to be that big a success. So, in 99% of the cases, the promotion’s pretty much up to you, anyway. You’re controlling it (hopefully).

I guess Jon Stewart is the new Oprah (and Godin told us not to bother with her in his last point), but, yeah, I’d take a seat in his studio any time. He is sooo funny (except when he swears or is a bit vulgar). But who says it’s great being the Queen of England? I’d rather be Oprah. Kate Middleton can have all those garden parties and laying of wreaths. I’d rather write, thank you very much.

Finally, if he means my family and close friends when he’s talking about my book spreading “like wildfire among a select group of people,” well…I can’t quibble with that.

My conclusion: if I think I have a “big” concept, I’ll go “big.” Otherwise, I’ll probably be content with a smaller press.

Originally posted 2012-02-06 17:14:24.

Back in the Saddle

Present Word Count of WIP: 13,901

After two days and more than 3,500 words written, I can officially announce that I’m back to my writing. What a relief! I was beginning to suspect that the holidays had completely upended my routine.

It’s always difficult for me to write when my daughter comes home for a visit because she’s about ready to graduate from college and her visits home come so seldom these days. As much as I see myself as a writer, I’m a wife and mother first, so I’m still having to fight off the guilt for carving out periods of the day to shut myself off from those responsibilities. It’s easier with my son (who’s about to graduate from high school) because he still lives here and, like me, he tends to shut himself into his cave every day, not craving company. But Allison is very social. Obviously, I wasn’t very successful from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

It’s a good thing we have New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, that’s probably the only thing I like about New Year’s Eve as a holiday. This time, I’ve set myself 5 “SMART” goals, 4 of which involve writing. That’s “SMART,” as in Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-Specific (something I picked up from a recent QueryTracker Newsletter).

I’ll post the writing goals here so that you can all hold me accountable:

1) Write every day for at least two hours.

2) Finish first draft of SOG by February 20, 2012 (so it’s somewhat ready to pitch at the ANWA Conference). Finish final draft by April 30, 2012 (for pitching at the LDStorymakers Conference).

3) Find 20 agents who rep my kind of YA Fantasy and organize them from most to least appealing. Query top 7 by May 15, 2012.

4) Blog twice a week (usually Mondays and Fridays), once on each blog.

So, yes, I decided not to wait until Friday this week because I couldn’t stand seeing my website go unchanged another day. Tomorrow, I’ll probably post on my other blog here. As for the daily writing goal, I’ve completed ten chapters now of my WIP. I’ll try and keep a running count of words written each week here, to keep myself on task.

So, what are your goals for the new year? I have a feeling that, despite the dire predictions of the Mayans, 2012 is going to be a terrific year!

Originally posted 2012-01-05 12:17:17.

The Situation

It rained today. About an hour after we’d told our 17-year-old son it wouldn’t, and he walked out the door without a jacket. What’s the big deal? One of my son’s manifestations of his Asperger’s is the way he reacts to rain. He can’t stand it! If he feels one drop on his shirt, he needs to change the shirt. So, after fretting half of the morning, my husband finally drove down to the school to take him a jacket. Just in time, too, because by then it was beginning to pour.

As he got out of the car, he saw my son begin to emerge from one of the classroom buildings but the rain pulled him up short. For a second he looked panicked, until he caught sight of his father, running over to hand him the jacket.

His relieved response? “Thanks for appreciating the situation.” (Doesn’t that sound just like a kid with AS?) Then he put the hood up and ran off to his next class.

How often do I, as a writer, fail to appreciate the situation? By “situation,” I mean anything from misreading the weather patterns in my own querying process to ignoring the dreary rain of rejections or drought of fresh ideas a fellow writer might be experiencing.

Here’s my situation: I got yet another rejection from an agent. Yes, it was from the one I’d mentioned toward the end of my last post. As far as I can tell, I can do one of three things, besides getting on with my WIP, as well as the promised edit of a friend’s manuscript.

1) Send out more queries

2) Try a small publisher

3) Put it in a drawer (so-to-speak) since I refuse to self-publish this one

4) Do a combination of #1 and #2

I’m leaning toward the combination. Now, what’s your situation? I’m sure I’d better appreciate it (and be able to lend a figurative jacket) if I only knew about it.

Originally posted 2011-05-23 17:48:04.

Beirut it is

I’ve gone back and forth over which story to write next.

First, it was going to be an historical women’s fiction piece set in a convent in 17th century Milan, Italy. I really had begun to give the main character shape and even mentally thought through her development over the course of the tale. Despite my fluency in Italian, however, all the research required intimidated me (not to mention the fact that I would likely need to return to Italy for some of that research…and we simply cannot afford such a trip just now).

Then I got all geared up to write a novel based on my experiences as a teenager in Beirut when the civil war broke out there in 1975. (I learned at the recent conference that such a story would be classified as historical YA fiction. Yes, I am officially old now.) I even began writing it until some other flashes of inspiration struck and stalled me…all speculative.

They’re good ideas, but not for now. I’ve been advised to go with my gut, not the market or even the suggestions of others. Today, I’m back on course with the Beirut story of a dysfunctional American expat family that finally comes together as a country begins to fall apart. (Now, don’t get ideas that this story is based on my own family. We were not, and are not, dysfunctional…but we were there.)

P.S. – I’ve submitted a partial of Laps to another agency. Keeping my fingers crossed because this agent is a dynamo.

Originally posted 2011-05-18 07:37:59.

Marketing a Must

One of the things I realized coming back from this writer’s conference was that I can’t afford to sit on my heels with my website, blog, and social media accounts. Sara Megibow made it very clear that even if she likes your writing she won’t take you on unless you’re already acting like a professional. I can see her point. I’ve been on Facebook and LinkedIn for years, and I’ve blogged off and on for years, as well. I created my first website back in 2008 and then updated it this past year. I’ve also had a Twitter account for a couple of years, but now I’m determined to get comfortable tweeting and doing a whole lot more on the marketing end. I may only have one book out, but it’s a pretty good book (if I do say so myself) and it’s about time a lot more people knew about it.

My first purchase after the conference was this book: Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs. You can bet I’m going to be up late nights devouring its pages.

Originally posted 2011-05-12 12:49:14.

What a Trip! What a Conference!

I’m ready for human cloning (on a temporary basis, that is). I think writers need to have clones so that their writer self can remain at the keyboard creating while their marketing and student selves go off to conferences to learn, network, and pitch to agents and editors. (If you’re a writer, I know you agree with this.) The only drawback to the 2011 LDStorymakers Conference was that I couldn’t be in several places at the same time.

But first, the trip. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Sure, I could have used a clone or two to help me drive for 9.5 hours straight (other than gas, food and potty stops). Still, it was great weather and at the end of the day I got to meet up with three old friends from my junior high days and compare notes over dinner. I hadn’t seen one of them since 10th grade. It was amazing to see how our lives had turned out thus far. Good fodder for a novel…but not right away or they’d get mad.

I roomed with the fabulous Liz Adair and Thursday morning was spent assembling folders and binders for the conference. Then, while everyone spent much of the day in Boot Camp, I got to drive down to Provo and have lunch with my beautiful daughter, Allison. Afterward, we lucked out and got into the Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU’s Museum of Art. He could tell an entire story with one painting or even one etching. I think my favorite altar pieces were those of Christ with the child and Christ at the Pool of Bethesda (particularly since it relates to my newest novel that I’m pitching). I arrived back in SLC that evening in time for a quick dinner and then a fun “Meet and Greet” with fellow Storymakers. The interviews conducted by Tristi Pinkston, Frank Cole, and Terri Ferran had me wiping tears from my eyes because I was laughing so much and I can’t wait to upload them to the new website. (I’ll keep you posted on that.) Stephanie Fowers and her sister were invaluable in taping the interviews. Warning: they’re in high def, so don’t be too judgmental on appearances. After all, some of these interviews were done at 10 pm after a full day of Boot Camp!

Friday and Saturday were a blur. This is when I really could have used a few clones. In between helping Liz with door prize giveaways several times each day and grabbing meals here and there, I attended great presentations by Becca Stumpf (on pitching), Marion Jensen (on Social Media…but I missed the last half because I was scheduled to pitch to Sara Megibow, a terrific agent–I don’t know how she did it, but I wasn’t nervous at all; I felt so at ease talking with her and she expressed interest in Laps), Sara Crowe (on synopsis writing, which turned out to be the pitch portion of your query letter rather than a full synopsis…not what I was expecting but still helpful), Josi Kilpack (on launching your book), Dave Wolverton twice (on habits of successful writers and on using resonance to make your writing sell), Bob Conder (on Screenwriting), and the energetic and funny Sara Megibow (on acquiring a literary agent). I also attended a speculative fiction panel featuring James Dashner, Rob Wells, Dave Wolverton, Julie Wright, and Howard Taylor. You might wonder why since my fiction thus far has been solidly grounded in reality, but about two weeks ago three fascinating ideas for novels hit me–all speculative (one YA semi-historical, and two dystopian). I know. I should have attended Rob’s on Dystopian Fiction, but hey–that would have required clones.

Anyway, the Whitney Awards Gala Dinner was terrific as always and some of my favorite people won, besides. I’d invited my daughter and a guy she’s dating, Bryan Beus, to join me since he’s an illustrator (he did the covers and illustrations for James Dashner’s first two installments in the 13th Reality series) and a soon-to-be-published author. He ended up knowing as many people there as I did!

My last comment on cloning: it might help de-stress your pet cats. Every time I go away for a short trip and then return, Peach and Anastasia have to get re-introduced to me. It’s as if they can’t believe it’s really me walking in the door. Of course, if they were to encounter more than one of me at a time, they’d probably go nuts, so that alternative won’t work…for them, anyway.

If we can’t have cloning at next year’s conference, maybe we can at least have an option to buy DVDs or CDs of the presentations we missed. What do you think?

Originally posted 2011-05-09 12:47:24.

Upcoming ANWA Conference and Why I Can’t Attend

ANWA (American Night Writers Association) is holding a terrific conference in a few weeks. Here is some information, including a list of faculty and classes:

19th Annual ANWA Writers Conference
“Writing at the Speed of Life”

American Night Writers Association
will hold its 19th Annual Writers Conference
in Phoenix, Arizona on February 25 & 26, 2011, with

SPEAKER Chris Stewart

Author of “The Great and Terrible” fiction series, The Fourth War,
Missionary Miracles: Stories and Letters from the Field, and other works
Make the ANWA Conference your two-day Writer’s Getaway. Come to the Friday afternoon and evening workshops, and spend the rest of the evening at the “Meet & Greet,” where you will rub shoulders with the agents, editor, and authors. Enjoy the heated pool and jacuzzi, then wake up refreshed and ready for a great day at the conference. Hotel room discount is available if you book by February 2, 2011.

  • Laurie Schnebly Campbell, author of Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams and noted teacher of online courses
  • Chava Cannon, award-winning singer-songwriter and member of BMI
  • Elana Johnson, author of Possessions, and query letter guru
  • Cecily Markland, owner of Inglestone Pubishing, editor of The Beehive Newspaper, and a published author
  • Angela Morrison, author of YA novels Sing Me to Sleep and Taken by Storm
  • Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, agent and owner of Mortimer Literary Agency
  • Carolyn Murphy, the Family Tree Gal
  • Janette Rallison, national YA author who has sold over 700,000 books, including My Double LifeJust One Wish,My Fair Godmother, and Revenge of the Cheerleaders
  • Kirk Shaw, editor at Covenant Communications
  • Kelly Sonnack, agent from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who specializes in all types of children’s literature, including picture books, and middle grade and young adult novels
  • Chris Stewart, best-selling author of The Great and Terrible series, and other books
  • Conrad J. Storad, award-winning childrens author of Don’t Call Me a Pig (A Javelina Story), and Rattlesnake Rules

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Here is a taste of the class list for the 2011 ANWA Writers Conference. Friday workshops are interactive and hands-on. Titles of classes that will be presented twice are followed by an asterisk (*). More class titles will be added later.

  • Writing A Killer Query Letter (Friday Workshop)
    Elana Johnson, author of Possessions, and query letter guru
    Every submission, whether for a publisher or a literary agent, starts with a query letter. You can craft a query letter that will hook an editor or agent to request more material in just a few steps. Bring your one-page query letter to share, receive feedback, and leave this two-hour workshop with a killer query letter that will generate requests.
  • Sonoran Desert Tales—Making Nonfiction Fun for Young Readers (Friday Workshop)
    Conrad J. Storad, author of Don’t Call Me a Pig (A Javelina Story), and Rattlesnake Rules
    To become a better writer one must write. Then write more.
  • Pitching to Agents, Editors, and Publishers (Friday Workshop)
    Elana Johnson
    So you think you want to pitch to an agent or editor? You don’t need a 90 mph fastball, just a clear picture of how to talk to another human being about your book. Come learn how to say all the right things in all the right places that will impress an agent or editor enough to generate a request.
  • Read Me A Story—Reading Aloud to Cultivate the Art of Listening (Friday Workshop)
    Conrad J. Storad
    The art of listening is an acquired one. It must be taught and cultivated gradually—it doesn’t happen overnight.
  • A Match Made in Heaven: Finding the Right Publisher and Convincing Them It’s So
    Kirk Shaw, senior editor at Covenant Communications, Inc.; and freelance editor for David R. Godine, Publisher; Northwestern University Press; and other publishers
  • Avoiding Childish Mistakes When Writing for Children
    Kelly Sonnack, agent from Andrea Brown Literary Agency
    What are some of the mistakes writers make when writing for children, and how can you avoid them? What are the things that make editors and agents cringe and stop reading? Kelly will discuss the pitfalls to avoid when writing your children’s book.
  • How to Start a Book and Get it Finished
    Laurie Schnebly Campbell, author of Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams and noted teacher of online courses
    For writers anywhere in the process from imagining a book to completing the final chapter, this class looks at how, when and why to start writing, roadblocks and solutions along the way, and what to do after reaching The End.
  • Block-busting: Putting the Joy Back in Writing
    Laurie Schnebly Campbell
    At some point, almost all writers suffer from the inability to tell the story they want. Part of writer’s block is a lack of joy in the process, so counselor Laurie Schnebly Campbell looks at the causes—including exhaustion, boredom and fear of success—and the benefits of this block. Take home new awareness of what works for you, and renewed inspiration for returning to the craft you love.
  • Perils of Publishing: Extreme Makeover—Editing Edition
    Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, agent and owner of Mortimer Literary Agency
  • Write What You Know: Gleaning from Reality to Make Characters Breath *
    Angela Morrison, author of YA novels Sing Me to Sleep and Taken by Storm
    Gather, delve into, and create using Angela’s favorite techniques to turn what we know, love, learn, and yearn for into living characters to populate our scenes.
  • Beginning Songwriting For The Versatile Writer In You
    Chava Cannon, award-winning singer-songwriter and member of BMI
    Calling all story-tellers! Did you know that songwriting is story-telling set to music? After this 1 hour class, you too will have the skills to write a song. You will learn basic song formatting, do’s and don’ts and how to get started. Pre-requisite: NONE. No musical skill required, just the willingness to step outside the “Novel” box. Come join in the FA LA LA and add songwriting to your resume.
  • Editor and Agent Panel
    Kirk Shaw, Kelly Sonnack, Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, Cecily Markland
  • Topic: Family and Personal History Writing *
    Carolyn Murphy, the Family Tree Gal
  • Topic: Dialogue *
    Janette Rallison, national YA author

So how come I won’t be there? Unfortunately, I’ve got shoulder surgery scheduled three days before (a partial tear of my left rotator cuff) and there’s no way I’d be able to handle luggage at the airport, let alone lug all the books around that I’d probably want to buy.

But, hey! That doesn’t mean you can’t! There’s no better place to find an agent or a publisher than at a writer’s conference. Register now at a discount by going here.

Originally posted 2011-01-18 16:54:09.

The Reckoning Wins Another (Bigger) Award

This morning, I’d planned on posting my next piece in my Publishing’s Paradigm Shift series, but I’ll save it for tomorrow, since I have big news to share:

The Reckoning won 1st place for Mainstream/Literary Fiction in the 2010 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards!

Not only will I receive $1,000 check, but my book will get featured in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest next year AND I’ll finally get a real official review in Midwest Book Reviews. Hopefully, this will bump up sales. Naturally, I’m floating around today (and not because of my head cold).

My only question now is…do I add an addendum to my publishing history on those queries I’ve already sent out for my next book? And how best do I do it? I think I’d better ask Agency Gatekeeper or Rachelle Gardner. They’re always open to questions from their readers.

Originally posted 2010-11-18 10:47:36.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – Effect on Authors

With all of this movement toward e-books, what can authors expect in the near future? Some of the coming changes may include the following:

•Funding for authors’ advances may begin to be provided by external investors (as they are with films and plays)

•Best-selling authors, who already have a name brand, may turn to self-publishing for higher royalties, making more room for midlist and debut authors

•Until then, the bar is higher and authors may want to consider self-publishing

•Some authors are already serializing their books online to build readership

•Publishers can’t hold on to rights indefinitely by making books available as POD or e-books, according to recent rulings (when such a book is out of print, rights will revert to author)

Average advances today are between $1,000 and $5,000 for debut literary fiction as opposed to the $50-100,000 advances of the past. For commercial fiction: $15,000 or less. And publishing houses are beginning to shrink their lists, so it’s becoming more and more difficult to get picked up as a debut author.

One option is to take your chances with self-publishing and try to find ways to grow your own fan base. One unpublished author is serializing his new book, chapter by chapter on his website where, over the next ten weeks, it will build like a part-work. In the words of a friend, he’s “doing a Dickens.” And he’s making it available for free, betting that many readers won’t want to wait and will go ahead and download the entire book for less than the cost of a paperback. After that, it will go to Amazon, with an iPod version later. A second, already published, author, John Gorman, is serializing his new thriller to a WordPress site. On the site, his Mission Statement encourages people to contribute to the story. He won’t publish their words, but he might run with their character ideas and plot twists, so there’s a collective element to this novel.

For those who decide to self-publish, Publishers Weekly now puts out a quarterly supplement, called PW Select, that announces self-published titles for $149 and reviews for free those they feel are most deserving of a critical assessment. For more information, check www.publishersweekly.com/diy.

Personally, I went the self-publishing route for my first book and it’s seen very few sales, despite the awards, simply because it’s not out there enough. I won’t go that route again. I’d rather hone my craft and keep writing and querying until I get an agent. An agent will lead me to a publisher who can get my name out there. I’m hoping that a lot of these top authors who no longer need a big publisher will go the self-publishing route, thereby making room on publishers’ lists for more midlist and debut authors.

In my next posting on this topic, I’ll share the thoughts and experiences of some of those who have.

Originally posted 2010-11-15 11:04:47.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – Effect on Agents

I had listed the possible effects on literary agents as follows:

•Some, like Scott Waxman, will become e-book publishers, as well

•They will need to become well-versed on self-publishing options as fewer manuscripts get picked up by traditional publishers

•They will need to be able to envision e-book possibilities for their authors

•As their 15% gets less and less for more and more work, they’re looking at alternatives to make ends meet

Scott Waxman saw an opportunity for growth and started up Diversion Books, a straight eBook publisher for quality projects that can’t seem to find a home with traditional publishers. It’s a totally separate company, with different personnel, and Waxman Agency is not a shareholder. While he’s a co-founder, he’s not running it. Waxman says,

“Any author who has a project they think would fit, we’re happy to talk about it, but we’re not soliciting it.”

To make ends meet, some of the other options agents are beginning to consider are:

•Shifting their compensation from a contingency basis to billable hours (like lawyers)

•Charging for services now offered free

•Raising their commissions to 20%

Think of all that an agent now does—reads and responds to queries and manuscripts (30-50 queries a day), edits, submits books that never sell, etc. In a highly competitive environment, with shrinking advances (at the midlist level, anyway) and cautious publishers, it’s getting harder and harder to make a living. Some may begin charging for services like editing, lecture and tour arrangements, marketing, promotional activities, website management, and social networking.

Could you really blame them?

Originally posted 2010-11-01 11:29:52.