Publishing and Technology: Talkin’ Bout That Generation (Gap)

July 1, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about those pesky Millennials and how they still won’t (or rather just don’t) buy ebooks. This week’s post was touched off by an article by Charlotte Eyre on the website The Bookseller regarding information released in Deloitte’s Media Consumer 2015: The Signal and the Noise report. Though the statistics reported in the document are specific to Deloitte’s research in the United Kingdom, I think it’s safe to make some general extrapolations from the data regarding U.S. consumers.

The gist of the article on The Bookseller was that, though Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation we’ve seen to date, they are not embracing the ebook (not even as they emerge from their tween years). In fact, it may be a bit of a mistake to market ebooks to this generation at all. And, though most respondents in the Deloitte sample did purchase a book (regardless of format) in the past year, they were least likely to have purchased it in ebook form, and did report that the majority of their media consumption was focused on other non-print media. None of this should come as much of a surprise for anyone who’s been even loosely aware of trends in media consumption and publishing. But, it does point to an area of continuing concern for all of us who make a living off of the written word.

So, how do you get millennials (and Generation Z – if that’s what we’re really going to call what’s next) to buy books, if not via e-readers? As I’ve mentioned in the past, according to the white paper put out by Thad McElroy of Digital Book World in December of last year on the 11 Topmost Digital Book Publishing Trends and Opportunities, “the future is ripe for innovators, change agents and book business entrepreneurs.” The problem seems to be that there is very little actual front-end innovation happening in the book publishing world. It’s as if publishers figured that all they needed to do was to come up with a way to digitally deliver the same product and they were done moving into the future. Imagine if radio had tried to compete with that new thing called television by simply broadcasting audio-only programming on unused television channels. Or, and perhaps more to the point, imagine if book publishers had begun broadcasting scrolling text on unused television channels. Converting an old medium (no matter how beloved) to a highly-limited version of a new medium and expecting everyone (especially those young enough to feel little to no nostalgia for the old medium) to continue using it in favor of the new one seems more than a little foolhardy. The time is past ripe for true innovation in book publishing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

How do I create a great book proposal?

July 1, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Your novel is ready to go. Your nonfiction book is fleshed out. NOW WHAT?

We’ve got a brand new book releasing to help all writers who are trying to create the best book proposal possible. Step by Step Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is the new book from longtime editor Holly Lorincz and me.

Pitch Book CoverThis book uses clear, detailed explanations, work-sheets, and annotated examples to walk you step-by-step through: industry terminology, querying, pitching, creating a proposal, and formatting the whole thing. You’ll find helpful information regarding what to say, who and when to query, and how to find contacts. Suggestions on how to create a pitch are offered, along with sample pitches, as well as advice from a speaking professional on how to deal with a face-to-face pitch.

Inside, there are detailed instructions for building professional, industry-standard proposals, both fiction and nonfiction, using plenty of examples and multiple samples of successful, real proposals. In fact, that’s one of the things that sets this apart from other books on proposals — I went back to authors whose books I had sold, and asked their permission to use the proposals we created. So the text offers real-world examples of proposals from books that actually sold in the market, including a couple bestselling books. There are also worksheets available in each section which readers have found extremely useful, walking the writer through their own material. There is even a section on how to format a manuscript before attaching it to a proposal. Here’s what some people in the industry have said:

“Chip MacGregor was my first literary agent and helped me get my very first book deal. I don’t know if there’s a better possible way for me to answer the question ‘Does Chip MacGregor know what he’s talking about?’ than that!”  – Jon Acuff, New York Times Bestselling author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck
This book is clear, concise and well written. Although one might feel this is just a reference book on proposal writing, it is much more . . . it is also a good basic primer instructing the reader in the art of selling your work and how to handle most any situation that you may encounter along the way.”
– Michael Hingson, New York Times bestselling author

“Chip MacGregor and Holly Lorincz’s Step by Step, Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is a keeper, whether you’re a newbie or multi-published. Fiction and non-fiction proposals are covered in detail – all you need to do is fill in the blanks. I’ll definitely be referring to this power-packed book each time I draft a new proposal!”
– Leslie Gould, Christy Award winning and #1 bestselling author

You can order a print OR a Kindle copy here. Thanks — let me know what you think!

Posted in Agents, Books, Resources for Writing | 0 Comments »

Craft for a Conference: Part 5, The Art of Being Memorable

June 30, 2015 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wWelcome to what will probably be the conclusion of my “Craft for a Conference” series (unless someone asks a question about an aspect of conference materials that I haven’t addressed already). Through my last four posts on conference craft, I repeated one mantra: that the purpose of any material you take to a conference (including spoken pitches) should be to gain the interest of the person you’re talking to as quickly as possible and to make yourself stand out from the crowd (in a positive way) as much as you can. When I meet with authors at conferences, the thing I see missing from pitches/conference materials more than anything else is that memorability factor– I read a lot of good hooks, some nice one-sheets, but at the end of a day where I’ve taken 20 appointments plus heard pitches at lunch and dinner, I’m often hard-pressed to recall ONE story idea without looking at my notes.

Now, obviously, there’s an element of information fatigue at play there; even a great, memorable story can get lost in the annals of memory if I heard ten forgettable pitches after it, and that’s what my notes are for. But when I read those notes, I want to go, “OH yeah, this one!” because I recognize the unique elements that stood out for me when you pitched it. I want you to have made it easy for me to remember it by pulling out everything that is most unique and most characteristic of that story in your one-sheet or your pitch. The fact that this doesn’t happen more often tells me not that authors aren’t writing memorable stories, but that they don’t always know how to make themselves/their pitches or materials memorable, that they don’t know what elements of their book stand out from the crowd and how to highlight those.

With that in mind, here are some places to start in your quest to make your book or story stand out at a conference (or in a query letter):

  • Identify what makes it unique. What are the elements of your book that are unusual or fresh? What do you bring to your cookbook/memoir/mystery novel/romantic suspense that I haven’t seen in others? One way to identify these unique elements of your book is to ask your beta readers what stood out to them/what elements of the book they found most interesting or exciting. Though readers tend to read within the confines of certain genres, they still appreciate and are drawn to novelty within those genres– that’s why people read more than one of the same type of novel, after all. Do romance readers really want to read the same story over and over? Well, yes, in the sense that they want boy to meet girl, boy and girl to overcome problems, and boy and girl to live happily ever after, but the unique details of each basic romance story are often what determine which novel a romance reader will pick up next– if a reader has a choice between nine romance novels in which a nanny falls in love with the widowed father of one child and one in which a nanny falls in love with the widowed father of eleven children, they’ll probably pick up the one that’s a little more unexpected, a little more surprising, a little less familiar.

    That doesn’t mean that you have to change the story you have written: if you wrote a nanny-falls-in-love-with-father-of-one story, figure out what DOES set it apart from those other eight, and highlight those elements in your pitch and conference materials. Does it have a unique/unusual setting? “Katie Nana isn’t sure how she ended up providing childcare on an archeological dig in Egypt.” Memorable. Does one of the major characters have an interesting/unusual vocation or workplace? “Katie’s mom, a former soap opera star, spends her weekends reminiscing to Katie about her glory days and spends her weekdays gambling away Katie’s inheritance.” What about some quirk or characteristic on the part of a major character that adds color to the story? “Katie Nana’s photographic memory makes her a great lawyer but a lousy girlfriend– who wants to be in a relationship with a woman who can always conclusively prove that she’s right?,” or “Katie’s best friend Valerie, who’s always claimed to be psychic, says that Katie and Clint are destined to be together, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to convince Katie.” Mine your manuscript for pieces that stand out or that you feel add color– a talent or hobby of the protagonist, an unusual pairing, etc. If you’re having trouble determining what parts of your story are unique, take a look at what else is out there in your genre– the more you read in your genre, the more you’ll pick up on what elements stand out.

  •  Make modified or combined comparisons. One of the best ways you can communicate a lot about your story to me in very few words as well as making it memorable is to make a comparison to something I likely already am familiar with. “It’s like ________ plus ___________,” (“It’s like Pride and Prejudice plus vampires”) or “It’s like ________ meets ___________,” (“It’s like Robinson Crusoe meets The Bachelor”) or “It’s like ___________ in _________” (a different setting– “It’s like Romeo and Juliet in outer space”) or “It’s _________ if ________ were different” (“It’s Bruce Wayne’s story if his parents had never been killed and he’d never become Batman)– etc. Hang your story on a story or franchise that is already in my memory and then tweak it so I remember your part, too, not just the big name. Obviously, you’ll still need to do a little more explaining– “It’s like Robinson Crusoe meets The Bachelor; a sailor is shipwrecked on an island and lives there alone for years until a second shipwreck brings five sheltered New York debutantes on their way to tour Europe to his island.” Beware unrealistic comparisons– don’t drag in a hugely successful franchise just because you think that makes your project sound more salable. It mostly just makes you sound naive. Make sure a comparison is actually justified and that it actually helps describe your book before say that your book is “like Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings,” which doesn’t really tell me anything and makes you sound a bit like a raging egomaniac (and is an excellent example of being memorable for the wrong reasons).
  • Tell me the twist. Think about some of your favorite books or movies with surprise endings or twists to them– chances are, those twists would be some of the first things that came to mind if you were telling a friend how great such-and-such was. No one left “The Sixth Sense” and told their friends that they should go see it because “the single mom storyline was very touching and honest.” The word-of-mouth on that movie was, “YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE TWIST AT THE END!!!” If you’re hoping to make a lasting impression on an agent or an editor and your book has a great twist, a great “wow” moment, tell them about it. I’m not going to remember your cryptic, “There’s a surprise at the end,” I’m going to remember, “My main character is actually dead the whole time!” or “The narrator is actually the murderer!” Tell me right away that cool thing about your story that I would remember vividly after I’d read it, because it will also help me to remember it before I’ve read it.

Posted in Conferences, Proposals, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Ask the Agent: What if another agent took my manuscript out already?

June 29, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

This question came to my in-box recently: What is the protocol for getting an agent for a book that was agented before? I don’t think I should withhold that information, but I don’t want to put up roadblocks either. I’ve let it stop me from going forward and could use your input.

 

If you had an agent in the past who took your book to market but was unable to land you a deal, by all means reveal that to your new agent or prospective agent. For example, if my buddy Greg Johnson has taken a World War II novel manuscript out to all the houses doing those types of books, then I need to know that. Things with the manuscript would have to change for me to take it out to publishers. We may need to shift the story a bit, do some heavy rewrites, re-title it, or do some serious revising to make it work. So if you took this out to editors already once, it’s fine to try again, but you need to let me know what’s changed.

 

So if you had an agent take the manuscript out a couple years ago, and have done serious work on it to change and improve it, talk to your agent about it. Find out where it was sent, and, if you can, what was said about it. That will help him or her when they start talking to editors about it and somebody begins asking questions.

The thing to remember is that there’s no magic in MY taking a book out that everyone has already rejected. Occasionally I’ll have an author approach me with a manuscript and say, “Well, this other guy has shown it around to everyone already.” Okay… so why would I be able to land it? It’s not like I can take a book and place it with an editor who has already seen it and said “no thanks.” (And I don’t want to be surprised by having an editor tell me, “Um, Chip… we already turned this down three months ago.” It makes me look stupid, and won’t win you any friends.) So just be open about it up front. Maybe I know of some houses that haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps I know of changes at a house, so the story might now be a fit. Maybe I know of an editor at a house who is looking for exactly this type of story, but we need to change the book’s title or the names of the characters to get a fresh review. Maybe I can suggest a smaller house for you to go to, where it might be a fit. Just be open about it. And understand that if everyone has seen the book, another agent probably isn’t going to help you land a deal. At that point, you may want to self-publish, or set it aside for a season.

Posted in Agents, The Business of Writing | 1 Comment »

The Sixth Sign of the Amazocalypse…

June 25, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: The Sixth Sign of the Amazocalypse

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about about Amazon’s announcement of their new payment plan for authors. Well actually, it’s not for all authors. In fact it’s not even for all independent authors. In fact it’s only for a small segment of independent authors publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. But, if you didn’t notice, social media lit up like the announcement was the sixth sign of the coming Apocalypse (if you can judge by my feeds, anyway). Much of this has to do with irresponsible reporting. Half of the news sources I looked at prior to writing this post announced the story with a baiting vagueness that made it seem like Amazon was simultaneously devaluing the written word and sucker punching all writers in the gut. If you’d like to read the actual announcement from Amazon click here.

While I have no desire to wade back into the quagmire of discussing cultural agency and digital self publishing on this blog, I do find it slightly humorous that the folks making the biggest fuss about the announcement (in my feeds, anyway) are my traditionally-published author friends and my small-bookstore-owner friends, while the voices of reason that I read in such places as this Fortune article, arguing for the rightness and fairness of paying authors by words read where the same independent author apologists that seem to come to Amazon’s defense every time the giant gets caught up in a little controversy. Regardless of whether or not Amazon’s switch to paying some authors in a small segment of their self-publishing business by words read is a good thing for culture, business, and authors remains to be see, I like many of the predictions put forth by the one camp and fear many of the ones put forth by the other.

But what’s most interesting to me, as someone who’s lived through a couple of corporate takeovers in other industries, is whether or not this is the first sign of Amazon turning on the independent authors it’s worked so hard to brand apart from traditional publishing. Successful corporations have to maximize margins in every segment of the value chain, including production.

Posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Want to meet us?

June 23, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’m frequently asked where people can meet us and talk books, so if you’re traveling and want to chat sometime, look us up.

Amanda Luedeke is speaking at the Realm Makers Conference, July 7 & 8 in St Louis. For people who like science fiction and fantasy, this is a popular conference to attend. It’s held on the campus of the University of Missouri, and this year’s keynote is our good buddy Robert Liparulo.

Chip MacGregor will be at the 60th annual Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle July 16-19. We’re meeting at the SeaTac Hilton, and this year’s conference offers a a robust line up of workshops to benefit writers at all levels, from specific instruction on elements of craft to sessions on the business of writing for those writers ready to publish.  A sampling of topics range from crafting a memorable villain to developing an author platform and Writing Groupmarketing your book. (You can find the full schedule here.) There’s also a long list of agents and editors coming, plus keynotes from authors like Andre Dubus III, J.A. Jance, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Boyle, and Kevin O’Brien.

He will also be speaking at the Willamette Writers Conference, August 7 to 9 in Portland, Oregon. One of the great writing conferences on the left coast, you’ll find a long list of agents and editors, a very strong list of workshops to attend, and one of the most creative schedules of any conference. Chip even gets to moderate a panel with New York Times bestsellers Jennifer Lauck, Philip Margolin, April Henry, Laurie Notaro, and Daniel H. Wilson.

If you write for the CBA market, we’ll go right from there to the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, August 10 to 13, also in Portland. Several CBA-focused editors and agents will be there, as well as teaching sessions with such bestselling authors as Susan May Warren, Jane Kirkpatrick, Leslie Gould, Jim Rubart, and Snowflake-creator Randy Ingermanson. It’s a beautiful setting, at the Red Lion Jantzen Beach, which is right on the Columbia River. Last year the writers ran into the cast of “Portlandia,” who was doing some shooting on the site!

And, as always, we’ll be back at ACFW, coming up September 17 to 20 in Dallas — more on that later.

Posted in Conferences, Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Ask the Agent: What if my story doesn’t fit a genre?

June 22, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve been getting all sorts of interesting (if sometimes random) questions from readers lately, and wanted to offer some notes on genres, writing style, and the contemporary publishing market. Here are some questions that came in recently:

What do you do when your story doesn’t fit into the box of any specified genre? For instance, if characters and/or objects in a story symbolize something deeper, but the story can also be taken as a literal story (e.g., The Le Petit Prince or Pilgrim’s Progress), is it going to be classified as inspirational, or drama, or children’s story? Is there some other genre out there that I’m missing?

If you have a story that uses characters or objects that symbolize something deeper, you’re probably writing an allegory. And right now there is very little market for allegory. A bit, perhaps, with “business fables” that teach organizational principles, or the occasional sci-fi novel, possibly with some children’s books. But for most part, allegories are one tough sell.

I am a freelance editor and writer, so editing is what (barely) pays the bills, but I have a couple of novel projects I feel need to come out of me. However, my writing style tends to reflect the style of books I love to read—the descriptive, long-sentence style of Dickens, for example. Dickens is one of the greats, but nowadays the passive construction has a bad rap and “show, don’t tell” seems to be the motto of the industry. My question is this: is there a market for descriptive writing anymore?

The truth? Not much of one. Maybe you could capture a new audience and re-start it, but no, the culture has moved on from that style. Remember, writing is art, and art needs its own new expressions in each generation. That’s why it’s hard to go back and read James Fenimore Cooper – his prose just doesn’t work in contemporary culture. (For that matter, try going back just fifty years and reading Jack Kerouac or Ernest Hemingway – great writers, but they feel dated to most contemporary readers.) The same is true in any art – most of us probably aren’t listening to a lot of Gregorian chants or hanging wall art of medieval paintings. You might do so occasionally, because you value the artistry of another age, but few people want a steady diet of art from another era. I’m a huge Dickens fan, and love reading his stuff, but I realize he’s a tough sell in our own generation.

Would you please tell about publishers who market only to the Library Market? 

There are some publishing houses that have a direct-to-library division. These imprints usually produce expensive (roughly $35) hardcover books with sturdy bindings – perfect for the rough handling many library books get. The printed books are not carried by bookstores, though sometimes print copies can be ordered from Amazon (again, they’re a bit pricey). The ebook was formerly not commonly available, but is now often made available not long after the print release. These imprints are usually looking for topics that might appeal to schools or enthusiasts, but which would not have a broad commercial appeal. I’ve done sports books, history, and memorabilia titles with library imprints.

What would be the average number of copies they would print for an average book, or print run?

That depends on the size of the publishing house and the projected sales of the book. A small house may only print 500 copies of a book that is seen as having limited sales potential, but may print as many as 2500 copies of a book they are hoping finds a readership. A medium sized house may print as few as 3000 copies of a debut novelist, but may print 10,000 copies of a book they think will have some breakout potential. A large house may start with as few as 5000 copies of a book, will often have two or three times that in the warehouse, and has been known to print hundreds of thousands of copies on a surefire hit.

Got a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Send it in, and we’ll try to get to it this month!

Posted in Agents, Current Affairs | 1 Comment »

The Ten Things NOT to do on Social Media (a guest blog)

June 19, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

For today’s “Top Ten” list, we present The Top TEN Things NOT to do on Social Media when it comes to Marketing your book:

  1. Tweet: Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book NOW. #buymybook #buyitnow #buyitordie It always amazes me how much you can threat a person in 140 characters or less. People generally don’t respond well to threats. It’s just a fact.
  2. Twitter Party etiquette: Don’t show up at someone else’s Twitter party and start throwing in links to your book on Amazon, hashtag: #justincaseyouwantedtoBUYmyBOOK — That’s the equivalent of wearing your wedding dress to someone else’s wedding. Hello?
  1. Facebook Book Cover Tag: This is when authors gets so excited about their new book, that they tag everyone they know on the cover pic of their book. Which makes their cover show up on all their friends’ Facebook pages. Don’t. Do. It. Not if you want you keep your friends, anyway.
  2. Facebook Private Message each of your 3001 friends: Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy it NOW! That’s spam and you risk being kicked off Facebook. Then you’ll have 0 friends. Don’t do it. Twitter messaging is similar. Don’t PM all your followers. There’s nothing “private” or personal about a copy/pasted message.
  3. Instagram photos of your book over and over and over again. From different angles with hashtags that run so long, one could sprain a finger from scrolling. No one shops on Instagram. You can’t click on links (outside your tag under your profile name.) Keep it fun. Keep it light. Invite, don’t swamp, readers and then walk away.
  4. Pinterest: Ummm… Does anyone even use Pinterest anymore? Just curious.
  5. Snapchat: This probably applies to Young Adult authors, but Snapchat is a fun way to share your story. Not your BUYmyBOOK story when each chapter starts out BuyMyBook, Buy it NOW. You’re much better off engaging your readers on SnapChat as you. Your real life story. That’s the bonus material readers are looking for. YouTUBE is a place to tell longer stories, post book trailers, and ask Vloggers to review your book. BUT beware the ever present ticking of the clock and impatience of this fast paced world: Keep it short. Less is more. And share tastefully.
  6. When there’s a SALE: Don’t remind everyone on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all other Social Media sites, every hour on the hour. I get it. People need to know your book is on sale, but drowning someone never made them come back for seconds. Unless we’re talking shots. But then I might need to refer you to AA. But let’s stay focused, here. J
  7. A note on Amazon Categories: Don’t list your book under a category it doesn’t belong in just to get on a TOP TEN list, because in the end, you will just end up with lost readers and a review like this: “Why was this book listed under Amish Vampire Stories? There wasn’t one neck-biting incident, and one minor character might have had a distant aunt who was Amish, but that doesn’t make the book Amish. One STAR is too generous, but I had to rate it in order to warn readers!”
  8. DISAPPEAR: I get it. Sometimes we need to unplug. Sometimes we all need a break from the madness of Social Media and all the messages and images pulling at our attention. BUT, don’t disappear forever. Readers are looking for the person behind the story today more than ever. They want to connect with authors and have relevant (and sometimes meaningless) conversations about stories, life, and all of it. Be available but don’t be a slave to Social Media. And don’t treat it like a servant either.

Social Media is made up of real, living, breathing individuals who have feelings, thoughts and Rajideas. Don’t ever forget that.

So before you post something in the spirit of marketing your book, think twice, remember who your audience is, and remember to be yourself. And be real. Not just your edited, filtered, perfect self that only shows up on a good hair day. Keep it real. And keep it light. See you there.

**

Rajdeep Paulus, Award-Winning author of Swimming Through Clouds, Seeing Through Stones, and Soaring Through Stars is mommy to four princesses, wife of Sunshine, a coffee-addict and a chocoholic. As of this June 2013, she’s a Tough Mudder. To find out more, visit her website or connect with her via FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Instagram.

 

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 14 Comments »

Publishing & Technology: Open Source Publishing – The Future?

June 17, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be discussing free distribution as a marketing strategy and applying the concept of open publishing to literary and genre publishing.

While making a recent decision regarding which tech conferences I might attend this summer, I found myself reading Cory Doctorow’s bio on the O’Reilly Media SolidCon – Internet of Things conference website. Doctorow will be a featured speaker at the conference and will, no doubt, be wearing his “technology activist” hat during this appearance in San Francisco later this month. Doctorow has a very popular blog and scores of tech publishing credits to his name. For an example of his writing about technology and the internet go to his recent post on internet utopianism on craphound.com.

What struck me while reading Doctorow’s bio, however, was the following statement: “His novels…are published by Tor Books and simultaneously released on the Internet under Creative Commons licenses that encourage their re-use and sharing, a move that increases his sales by enlisting his readers to help promote his work.”

I don’t have access to Doctorow’s sales figures, so I can neither confirm nor deny the claim that this marketing strategy effectively “increases sales.” But, it is an interesting concept. One that almost seems to embrace the intended legacy of the Google Books project, the PWYW (pay what you want) pricing philosophy, and the idea of open source, while taking content marketing to a completely deeper level. I would love to know more about his interaction with Tor surrounding the creation of this marketing strategy and what (if any) concessions Doctorow had to make to get them onboard. It’s challenging to argue against free or low-cost access to content as an audience building strategy for emerging writers, but one is left to wonder how it might benefit established writers (or publishers for that matter).

Posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Craft for a Conference: Part 4, The “Why?” of a Writing Sample

June 17, 2015 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to my series on crafting effective pieces for use at a conference. Today, I’m discussing the value of bringing a writing sample with you to a conference and how to make sure it represents you effectively.

Like I said the first week of the series, there isn’t one hard-and-fast rule as to what you should bring to your editor and agent meetings at a conference. Some editors are happy to glance through a full proposal, some agents love to see a one-sheet on your project, and some people don’t want to look at anything on paper, preferring to hear you talk about your project and ask you questions instead. NONE of us wants to leave with a big stack of papers, and word is starting to get around that it’s increasingly difficult to get us to leave with any printed materials you bring us, so the practice of authors carrying around their sample chapters or first 50 pages or, heaven forbid, their full manuscript, has become much less common at conferences.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad fewer authors are trying to send me home with ten extra pounds of paper, but I have been disappointed, on many occasions, when meeting with an author who’s done a good job of hooking me with their story or concept through their one-sheet or pitch, to ask if the author has a writing sample with him and be met with a blank, slightly panicked stare and the stammered apology, “I– I didn’t know– I’ve heard you don’t want– I don’t have–” by which they mean, “No, I don’t have a writing sample, either because I didn’t expect to get this far, or because I’ve been told not to bring a big stack of paper to a meeting like this, or because I thought you would only be interested in hearing about my platform, and now I’m having a heart attack because you’re asking for something and I don’t have it and how could I blow my big chance like that, please excuse me while I go jump off a cliff.” The lesson here is that, while some editors will never ask to see a writing sample in a 15-minute meeting at a conference, some will, and you want to be equipped with a dynamite writing sample in case that happens.

There are several advantages to having a writing sample with you at a conference. As an agent, there are several scenarios in which I’ll ask to see the writing. First, I’m trying to determine whether or not I’ll be able to sell your project, so obviously, the quality of the writing is a factor there– I can’t sell a great story if it’s terribly written. Having a writing sample to show me right away adds to the impression I’m forming of you: when I get home after the conference and look over my notes from the meeting, they say “great idea, solid writing” instead of just “great idea, dot dot dot question mark,” and you have a better chance of standing out from the crowd in my memory and in the flood of material coming in after a conference.

I also want to know whether I connect with your voice as a writer– whether the way you tell your story resonates with me, whether I think I could champion you and your work to a publisher. There have been several times that I’ve met with an author at a conference and been pitched an idea that was only so-so in terms of uniqueness or saleability, but because I loved their writing/voice so much when skimming the writing sample, I’ve requested to see more/talked more with that author after the conference. I made the decision to stay in contact with those authors on the strength of their writing more than on the strength of that one idea/project.

It’s also a possibility that I’ve asked all the questions I need to about your story or your platform and already know your project isn’t going to be a good fit for me, but there’s still 7 minutes left of our meeting– in that scenario, seeing your writing can give me something constructive and concrete to offer you in terms of feedback/suggestions, so that I don’t send you away completely empty-handed. Obviously, this isn’t the ideal result of a meeting with an editor or an agent, but if you have 15 minutes with an industry professional, by all means you should be ready to take full, blatant advantage of having that opportunity to pick their brain/get their feedback on your writing, and having a writing sample with you in this situation could mean the difference between leaving disappointed 8 minutes early, and leaving still-disappointed but with some constructive pointers or specific encouragement– something with takeaway value– because they had the chance to take a look at your writing and give you their initial thoughts/suggestions.

So, you’re going to bring a writing sample to your next conference, “just in case.” What should it look like? Remember (also from the first post in this series) that the purpose of anything you bring to a conference is to get the attention/interest of an agent or editor as quickly as possible and to make yourself stand out from the crowd as much as you can. With that in mind, here are some things to consider when polishing and selecting a writing sample to take to a conference or include in your proposal.

  • Proofread within an inch of your life. This is where a misused word or a poorly-placed comma has the power to break you. We’re using these pages as a representative sample of your command of the English language in print, and we don’t have to find too many errors or typos to conclude that your writing isn’t ready for publication yet.
  • Demonstrate your storytelling ability. Stories are told in action and dialogue. Writing samples that start out with a bunch of descriptive, biographical backstory don’t show us that you can effectively draw the reader in to the current action/conflict, and doesn’t demonstrate your ability to bring your characters to life and make them speak and interact naturally with their environment. This is a big reason to avoid beginning your writing sample with a prologue or a scene-setting chapter– even if this is where you believe your book starts, it’s not necessarily the most effective place to start your writing sample. Show us how quickly you can immerse the reader in your story.
  • Make sure your writing voice is in evidence. Figure out what makes your writing sound like you, and then make sure the sample you’ve picked is full of whatever combination of things comprise your voice– beautiful imagery, conversational tone, dry humor, clever wit, larger-than-life characters, evocative description, raw style, etc. I want a writing sample to excite me and to stand out from the start, so don’t wait until four or five chapters in to really hit your stride/find your voice– I might not make it that far. Show me right away what makes you stand out.

Remember (also from the first post on this series) that the purpose of anything you take to a conference is to catch the interest of the reader and stand out/make a positive impression they’ll remember. Your writing sample is no exception; don’t miss out on an opportunity to give someone more reasons to remember you and your book!

 

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