Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Just Don’t

July 29th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Publishing & Technology: Just Don’t

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, at the risk of offending Erin (whose words of wisdom regarding author marketing and social media are far more informative than anything you will read in this post) or Chip (whose posts regarding how to approach an agent are golden) we’ll be talking about the do’s and don’ts of using social media to find, friend, and pitch to agents and editors who you normally would not have general access to. The general gist of this post is, when it comes to the do’s and don’ts of soliciting agents and editors through social media: “Just don’t do it.” If you understand why, without having it explained to you, feel free to stop reading now.

Believe me I understand the temptation. I spent many years as an author with a day job, searching for a shortcut to the big time. For years I only sent the same handful of literary short stories and novel excerpts to the top five or six magazines in the country. I was encouraged by the personalized rejections I received and redoubled my efforts to make connections with the editors who’d taken the time to scribble a few words of encouragement on their form rejections. (I still have most if not all of these rejections in a file drawer somewhere.) I tried cold calling agencies that represented authors that produced work that I aspired to. I did everything short of moving to New York and physically inserting myself into the literary scene. None of it worked, and in the years since I’ve developed a healthy appreciation for starting with smaller markets and developing my writing as I get published by incrementally larger publishers and magazines. And I’m glad that the temptation to use social media to network with people who I don’t know did not exist at the time. I can only imagine how many more people I would’ve pestered with my incessant cries for attention. This brings me to the point: if someone in the publishing business that you don’t know is open enough to connect with you on LinkedIn, or Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever, don’t immediately take it as an opportunity to pitch them. If they accept unsolicited queries or manuscripts through normal channels, use them. And if they don’t, just don’t.

Editing for Authors: Part 3, Turning on the Editing Eye

July 29th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to my series on editing for authors. This week, I’m talking more about ways to develop the right perspective for editing.

I wrote last week about the difference between the up-close-and-personal nature of the writing perspective and the more objective, big-picture mindset needed to be an effective editor. Obviously, it can be difficult to approach your own work objectively, especially if you have strong emotional ties to the material, and as I said last week, time is the best way to gain that emotional and intellectual distance from your work– you’re much more likely to see the weaknesses in your work after letting the initial writer-high die down.

But what if you still struggle with objective, big-picture thinking even after letting your manuscript sit for days/weeks/months?  How much time should you let pass, realistically, in the hope that you’ll wake up one day with a completely different perspective on your work? Truth be told, some authors will always struggle with finding the right perspective from which to edit their work, no matter how much time passes, but the good news is that there are other ways to help train yourself to approach your work like an editor rather than a writer.

Cleanse Your Palate.

If you have any experience on the fine dining scene, you’ve probably had meals at which a palate-cleanser was served between courses– a beverage or a sorbet intended to rid your mouth of any lingering flavors from one course before another was served so that the next course wasn’t “tainted” by leftover, clashing flavors. Obviously, if you waited a day between courses, all traces of one course would disappear from your mouth before you tasted the next one, but a palate-cleanser lets you enjoy the flavors of two dissimilar courses to the fullest without having to spread your meal out over three days. In the same way, you can cleanse your editorial “palate” by applying your attention to a completely dissimilar or neutral project in between writing and editing, and perhaps even gain a better editorial perspective than you would have by merely letting time pass.

For some, this can be as simple as reading a book, either something totally different from what you wrote so as to really get your head out of your story world, or something similar in genre/tone so as to help you start to develop an eye for pacing/story development in your own story. Others prefer to palate-cleanse by writing something “neutral,” such as a couple of blog posts or a journal entry or a long email to a friend– something with an entirely different voice and goal from your work-in-progress. Some find it extremely helpful to edit someone else’s work in the interim between writing and editing– this allows you to start thinking critically and globally right away because you don’t have any personal connections or bias to overcome. The hope behind using one of these strategies is that it will help to kick-start your editing mindset rather than just letting time pass and hoping for the best.

Learn From Your Past.

We all know the saying about how if you don’t learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it. Even if you don’t have a natural knack for editing, you have learned from reader feedback, critique partners, and manuscript clinics (if you’ve been writing for awhile) what areas tend to give you trouble, what weaknesses show up repeatedly, what you’ve had to work on the most, etc. Your previous problems can provide an excellent starting point for your editing process. Where your own “editorial eye” might not have looked at your work-in-progress and seen a pacing problem or cliche word choices, your past work is a map telling you exactly where to start looking for similar problems, and once you know what you’re looking for, you presumably have some experience fixing it (from applying all those earlier critiques to your earlier work). So, consider starting every editing process by looking back over your last three or four manuscripts and reminding yourself of their weaknesses/oft-critiqued elements (or even by re-reading them yourself and seeing what annoys you now that you are an older and wiser writer) and making a style sheet (more about this tool next week) to use as a jumping-off point for your edit. If you start by looking for problems you’ve had in the past and that you already have experience fixing, it can prime the pump for recognizing other issues and get you thinking critically about your manuscript.

Once you’ve figured out the best way for you to get into the editing state of mind, you can make a writing/editing schedule that fits your editing style and helps you to make the best use of your time. If time is the best way for you to gain perspective on your work, you could stagger your writing and editing so that the clock is always ticking on pages to be edited– if you need to let pages sit for three weeks before you can look at them as an editor, write for six weeks, then stop and edit the first three weeks’ worth of material. When you’ve done that, write for another three weeks while the second three weeks’ pages “ripen,” and so on. If your perspective is better aided by reading or writing other material, schedule breaks for that reading or writing into your writing/editing schedule.

You may prefer to finish your manuscripts and edit them all at once rather than alternating between writing and editing. If that’s the case, consider that even though you wrote the first chapters three months ago, you wrote the last chapters much more recently, and you may need to let the whole manuscript sit for awhile before you have enough perspective on the book as a whole to edit effectively. If you’re the kind of author who goes crazy if they’re not working on a manuscript at all times, you may want to consider always having two manuscripts in play– writing a second book while waiting to edit the first– so that you don’t feel like you’re wasting time while waiting for perspective to show up on the first one.

Keep in mind that these are just a few examples of dozens of ways you can balance your writing, editing, and space-making activities. Be sure to check the comments for several helpful posts from authors about what kind of schedule works for them (or leave yours if you have one). Next week we’ll be talking about the role of a style sheet in the editing process and how to build and use one. Thanks for reading!

The Immediate Past or The Distant Future?

July 22nd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Publishing & Technology: The Immediate Past or the Distant Future?
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 innovation in digital publishing (again). This week, like every week, I scoured the internet looking for signs that the publishing revolution that we’ve all heard about for so many years now will feature something beyond digitally delivered versions of print only books (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and again I came up empty-handed. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but the most relevant article I found this week was penned by The Silent History co-creators Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn in the spring of 2013. For the full article on the Huffington Post site click here.
I had the good fortune to attend a conversation between Eli Horowitz and Paul Collins (yes, that Paul Collins) not long before this article appeared on the Huffington Post Blog. The conversation was a part of the Transmit Culture lecture series put on by the Master’s Program in Publishing at Portland State University and what was discussed that evening galvanized my growing enthusiasm for pursuing for pursuing a career in publishing. During the conversation Collins and Horowitz discussed The Silent History, its recent launch, and its success (or potential lack thereof) as an experiment in innovative digital publishing at length before finishing the evening with talk of Horowitz’s tenure at McSweeney’s and a Q&A session with the audience. The Silent History is a truly innovative in its scope and unique (thus far) in its level of execution. As Horowitz and Quinn put it, “In the olden days (say, 2009), a few publishers did dip their toes in these waters, experimenting with a few innovative projects; these didn’t earn enough to justify their start-up costs, and publishers seem to have now largely retreated to straight digitization of standard text projects, occasionally adding a halfhearted enhanced ebook.” To date, The Silent History, still stands as the best (if not the singular) example of a truly innovative, digital text-based publishing venture. Is the reason for this purely economic or is Taylor Antrim correct in his June New York Times review of Horowitz and Adrian’s (traditionally published) book The New World, when he claims that, “It turns out we don’t want tech-aided experiments in form.”

Editing for Authors: Part 2, Perspective and How to Find it

July 21st, 2015 | The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

brick green no smile b:wContinuing my series on being your own editor, I’m talking today about the importance of the right perspective when editing your own work, specifically the role that time plays in your editorial success.

Writing is an up-close-and-personal business. You live and breath your story while you’re writing it, spending hours with your characters while thinking about and planning your story, talking about it with friends and family or your writing group, and then when it’s time to write, your creation appears on the page literally seconds after you conceive it– writing is, in essence, a largely improvised art form. Even if you know the general direction your story is going to take, even if you plan out all the names and scenes in advance, the truth is that when the time comes to put words on paper, you’re making it up as you go along. The words that come into your head are the ones you put down on paper; that’s the only way anything ever gets written. If I sat here and waited to write my blog post until I knew every word I was going to say in exactly the order I was going to say it from beginning to end, I would die before I started a single sentence– that’s not how writing works, and many writers’ favorite thing about writing is the instantly measurable nature of it– “I wrote 1000 words today!” But while that stream-of-consciousness creation is great for getting words on the page, it’s not so good for editing.

Editing is a process in which the majority of your decisions are made on a comparative basis— this line isn’t as clear as the rest of the paragraph; this scene’s pacing is slow compared to the rest of the chapter; this character/plotline is less developed than this other one, etc. To be an effective editor, you have to train yourself to take one or two (or ten) steps back from your manuscript and see it in pieces bigger than the individual words or lines so that you can make these comparisons. Because this is so different from the process by which we write, many authors have trouble shifting their perspective to one from which they can edit effectively. Mentally, it can be hard to switch gears from that one-word-at-a-time mindset to a more global approach to your work, and emotionally, it can be even harder to look critically and objectively at shoddy writing, confusing storytelling, or plot holes when you’ve been as  invested in your characters and as present in your story as you’ve been when writing. Fortunately, there are several ways to create some healthy mental and emotional “distance” between you and your manuscript. This week, we’re looking at one of the simplest and most effective strategies for gaining perspective– time.

Time is the Best Editor.

Like happens at some point in most long-term relationships, you and your manuscript are going to need (and benefit greatly from) a short (or perhaps extended) break from each other. Taking some time away after spending all day, every day in each other’s company can provide a radical shift in how you view your story. Elements that felt hugely significant when you wrote them can seem unimportant and cluttery upon revisiting the manuscript a few weeks later. A sentence you thought was particularly brilliant when it first popped into your head might, you sheepishly admit the next day, have been a bit cheesy.

Time away also helps you to recognize what you truly do like about your manuscript/what your priorities are. If you come back to your story and still grin when reading a scene you loved writing or still pat yourself on the back for a particularly great character, that’s probably something that should stay in, and something that should shape your editing process. Recognizing what is good and what is distinctive about your writing is as much a part of being a good editor as being able to sniff out the rotten parts, and just like time away from a significant other can make you appreciate their good qualities anew, so time away from your manuscript can bolster your confidence in its strong points and help you make decisions for what direction you want to take when editing.

The amount of time needed to attain an objective perspective for editing differs for everyone. Some authors have great success editing just a day after writing, following a routine of editing the previous day’s pages before writing new ones. Others prefer to allow more time to pass between edits, editing in bigger chunks at the end of every chapter or the end of every week. And many don’t want to edit their manuscript at all until they’ve finished a full draft, sometimes letting it sit for a few weeks after completing it so as to really be able to take a break from thinking about the charters and plot full-time.

The strategy that’s best for you depends on how emotionally involved you’ve been with your work-in-progress, how easy you find it to switch from your “author hat” to your “editor hat,” and how experienced an editor you are. If you have no problem snapping into editorial mode, you might not need more than a day between writing a scene and editing it to be able to make objective decisions about content and structure, and if you’ve edited your own work before, you may be able to recognize pacing problems or plot holes early on, before the manuscript has been finished. If, however, you’ve been very emotionally involved in your writing process– if the subject matter is highly personal for you, or the situations in the book are intense/difficult to write– you probably need a little longer to recover/recharge emotionally before you’re ready to step back and look objectively at the writing or storytelling rather than getting caught up in the associated emotions.

You also probably need more time if you haven’t had a lot of experience with editing (not to be confused with proofreading) your own stories. Recognizing major flaws in your plot, inconsistencies in your pacing, underdeveloped characters– these are all big-picture problems that are easiest to see when you have the whole manuscript to look at, so if you don’t have a lot of experience spotting them or fixing them, you’re setting yourself up for greater success if you give yourself the entire manuscript to work with and a nice two-or-three-week cushion to give the post-writing, self-congratulatory, “I wrote a whole book, I am a dang genius!” excitement a chance to die down and your more objective, “I wrote a rough draft of a book that needs a lot more work” side a chance to rise to the surface.

Success as an editor is largely dependent on being able to hold your work at mental-and-emotional arm’s length. Experiment a little and find out what your sweet spot is for time elapsed between writing and editing, and then let that shape your writing-and-editing routine. Editor-you will thank you for waiting, even if author-you rolls her eyes and tries to rush you. Next week, I’ll be talking about a couple more ways to develop perspective as an editor as well as some sample writing/editing routines to try. As always, thanks for reading!

 

Feast and Famine

July 15th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Publishing & Technology: Feast and Famine

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 a trend in the publishing industry (among others) toward the expanded utilization of independent contractors, or freelancers. I had intended to spend this week addressing either global publishing trends or talking about the highly comical price ranges that Publishers Marketplace provides on its “Report a Deal” form. But this month’s issue of Publishing Perspectives, the monthly magazine published by the good folks at the Frankfurt Book Fair, has a little article on its very last page by Laura Summers titled “In the Future, Will we all be Freelancers?” and I just can’t stop myself from weighing in on this trend.

Don’t get me wrong; I always wanted to be a freelancer. I used to dream about it when I worked a corporate job. I put myself through graduate school as a freelance reviewer of reference books and research materials for a publication catering to the needs of college librarians, doing a little web design, and writing for an SEO copywriting specialty company, and I truly did enjoy the freedom that came along with the position. I would roll out of bed at a reasonable hour, shuffle into the kitchen in my pajamas and slippers, put the coffee on, and settle in at the kitchen table to start my work day. If I had a meeting, a class, or an appointment to attend, I would leave the house and my work behind for the necessary time, without having to consider the impact on my nonexistent co-workers or boss and without having to ask for permission. If I felt like taking an afternoon off, or sleeping late on any given day, I only had to make a Faustian bargain with the rest of the week’s schedule to do so. There were some definite upsides, not the least of which was the exemption from dealing with the office jerk (and every office has at least one). But there were also some serious drawbacks to freelancing. At any given point, despite my efforts to diversify my sources of work, the work could just dry up, leaving me with little to keep myself afloat. If I weren’t diligent in my accounting and quarterly tax payments, I would get spanked with a hefty tax bill at the end of the year (and at a considerably higher tax rate than I was accustomed to in my previous life as a corporate drone). I was responsible for providing myself and my family with health insurance, and all the other little perks that come with working as an employee that are so easy to take for granted until you have to provide them for yourself. Freelancing also took a toll on my sociality as a human. I found myself babbling ad nauseum to the first person that I came in came into direct contact with at the end of the day, as if spending a solid day in my own company had left me starving for human interaction. In the end the good and the bad balanced out to the point where working freelance was tolerable, if only because I knew that it was temporary. And from my perspective, that may be the biggest problem with the entire industry dragging itself toward reliance on freelance creatives. There are very few people that are cut out for handling the income insecurity, isolation, and extra tax burden that come with working freelance for the long haul.

Editing for Authors: Part 1, The Importance of Being an Editor

July 14th, 2015 | The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to my Tuesday blog on craft! I’m starting a new series this week in response to several questions that have come in from authors over the past couple of months on the subject of editing your own work. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog in the past (or read any resource on getting published, or attended pretty much any class on writing), you know the importance of submitting a clean manuscript to an agent or editor. “One chance to make a first impression,” “These people work with words for a living,” “We’re looking for a reason to say no–” you’ve heard all the warnings, and you would never submit pages without having thoroughly proofread them, right? The problem many authors have is that they equate “proofreading” with “editing,” and while proofreading is certainly an important part of the editing process, your manuscript usually needs a lot more than just a proofreading to be ready to submit for consideration by an agent or an editor.

“But I’m a writer, not an editor!” Obviously, writing and editing are not identical tasks, and the skill sets needed to perform each one well differ enough that some authors have a really hard time putting on that “editor hat” beyond a basic proofread for punctuation and spelling typos. Some people don’t have a great eye for editing, while others flat-out just don’t like the process, and many don’t trust themselves to see their own story realistically after being so close to it throughout the writing process. I understand that it can be hard to switch gears from neck-deep-in-the-middle-of-the-action author mode to cool-and-detached objective editor mode, but as many excuses as there are for not being an editor of your own work, there are a lot more arguments in favor of developing your editorial skills.

“Can’t I just pay someone to do that?” Sure, there are plenty of great editing services out there that will provide everything from developmental edits to line-by-line copy edits, but not every author can afford to pay for that service, and not every author is happy turning his work over to a stranger for editing. By developing your editorial eye, you can save yourself money by delivering a stronger manuscript to your editing service and so (hopefully) needing less editing done. Becoming a better editor also makes you better equipped to recognize the weaknesses in your manuscript and get more targeted results from an editorial service by steering you to ask for help with specific trouble areas, e.g., requesting help with your inconsistent pacing rather than requesting a full (and more expensive) developmental edit. Knowing the kinds of editing attention your manuscript needs can also help you find the right editor for the job– if you know you need help with refining your voice, you can seek out an editor who has a really good feel for voice rather than one who’s a better plot editor.

“Um, isn’t that the editor’s job?” The idea that they need to be both author AND editor comes as an unpleasant surprise to many authors with a rosy view of the traditional publishing system. One author I heard from last month raised a pretty reasonable question: “I was told by an agent that my story and writing were pretty good but that I should consider having my manuscript professionally edited. I thought the publisher took care of that after I got a book deal.” That kind of mindset is understandable– somewhere along the line, someone whose job title is “editor” is going to be handling your manuscript, so why should you fall over yourself trying to do a job you’re not equipped for and not getting paid for? Well, yes, if you land a publishing deal, your manuscript will most likely pass through the hands of a professional editor, but– and I’m about to shatter some illusions here, so brace yourself– even after you’ve landed a publishing deal and a professional editor has started to work on your manuscript, you’re going to be expected to do a lot of the editing yourself. Unless you’re a celebrity author bringing little more than your name and photo to the project, you’re going to be expected to work with your editor to implement their changes and the suggestions they make, so the more familiarity with the editing process you have, and the more you practice looking at your manuscript with objective eyes and a big-picture mindset, the better equipped you’ll be to partner with a professional editor later in the publishing process.

The good news is that, even if it’s not your natural strong suit, you CAN learn to be a better editor of your own work. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about the editing process– the different levels of editing, the earmarks of a well-edited manuscript, and various strategies to help you develop your “inner editor.” If you have any editing questions you’d like me to address  in the series, let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to respond in future posts. Thanks for reading!

Publishing & Technology: Open Access Beyond Academia

July 10th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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 the slow, incremental growth of open access monographs in the world of academic publishing and how that business model could maybe have a positive impact on trade publishing in the future. According to a study published in May of this year by Publishers Communication Group (PCG), a marketing and sales consulting firm that exists as a division of the publishers services company Publishing Technology, “publishers and libraries are increasingly experimenting with Open Access (OA) books…with funding derived from a variety of sources including library budgets.” For the entire survey report on the PCG website click here.

The fact that OA books are slowly gaining in importance in the world of academic publishing, especially in the area of monographs, is not a tremendous surprise, working directly with academics to produce works with an all but guaranteed (if comparatively small) market, effectively cutting out the middleman, seems like a proverbial no-brainer. But, as the report goes on to state, “librarians and publishers perceive the benefits of the OA books movement differently,” with librarians advocating deeper institutional involvement while academic publishers “fear unrealistic funding expectations…vanity publishing, and the inevitability of institutional mandates.” Sound at all familiar? Understandable? I’m sure opinions will vary depending upon perspective. I am left wondering though. Could Open Access book publishing gain any traction in the trade market? And, if so, what would that look like?

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

July 1st, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

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

June 30th, 2015 | Conferences, Proposals, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

The Sixth Sign of the Amazocalypse…

June 25th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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.