Thursday, August 28, 2014
It's an ongoing discussion. I watch people talking about whether a publisher really cares about social media, blogs, websites and such. Maybe the response I just got from a major publisher will shed some light on it.
The editor said she really liked the project we submitted. It went through several levels of committee . . . until it got to the level where the marketing people were involved. She said the editorial people really liked it, but her website was not functioning properly and she hadn't posted in social media for months. They passed on the project but said they would take another look at it if she could address their concerns.
It's not the first time I have heard comments like these from editors. I'm sure there are publishers that don't look at these things very closely, but it is clear that there are those who do. One thing about it, I never saw a submission rejected because an author had too MUCH social media and online presence.
One of my clients said that authors have to be careful making changes that don't get reflected in their submissions. For example, she said she had quit putting emphasis on her author page and had begun to concentrate on her profile instead. Her rationale was the fact that Facebook now tends to reward those author pages where they buy advertising.
It's about platform. It used to be that platform was only important in non-fiction. But then it used to be that much more marketing and promotion was done by the publishers. Things change. Now whether at a large or small house the author is expected to do a great deal or even all of the marketing and promotion. And platform matters, even in fiction. What publishers are looking for is authors that are fully engaged.
I'm sure the discussion will continue with people deciding for themselves whether to invest more or less time in social media, blogs and websites. But as for me, and what I tell my clients as I see the responses coming in on submissions is . . . you can't have too much media presence.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
I stayed up late last night to participate in a west coast book launch on FaceBook. The book is: Living Like Lions by J.R. Duren and the launch began with this video of quotes from C.S. Lewis.
J.R. is an author, artist and musician who lives in Spain with his wife Heather, and their cute dog Charlie.
In the course of the conversation with guest and worship leader Kennon Bickhart: mention was made of The Imposter Syndrome.
J.R. asked Kennon: "This internal struggle...the fluctuating between feeling inadequate and feeling over-confident...do you think this is something common among all artists?"
Kennon Bickhart: "I do. You even find it in other professions. I see many web programmers who struggle with this as well. They call it the imposter syndrome, which I think is accurate."
Wikipedia defines it as: The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
Have you ever felt like a 'poser'?
I have heard from some very well published authors that they feel as if one day they will be discovered to be the fraud they are. Silly.
But then I recall the time I went to Haiti as a medical missionary, pulled teeth and performed minor mouth surgeries in the poorest of conditions; how at times I couldn't believe the patient actually got numb after an injection, or was so thankful, having been alleviated of their tooth and toothache. But I have the photos to prove I was there and did those things. I wasn't posing (slang for pretend or mimic) after all.
Our mind can play tricks on ourselves.
Objective feedback is so important for writers. It keeps your feet on the ground, and ones head out of the clouds.
But when it is your day to celebrate your books launch- go for it. Have a party, invite your friends.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
If you answer with something that ends with “dot-com,” I understand. With so many titles to buy, it's tempting to save a few dollars. I've done so often. But savings comes at a price.
This past weekend I got a fresh reminder of the worth of a real, independent bookstore. My wife and I drove an hour to a signing by a favorite author.
I'd never visited this store, but I found it instantly welcoming. Near the front door was a display stacked with copies of the latest release, plus previous titles. While we waited for the event to begin, we took turns browsing.
At the information desk, a bookseller was happy to answer questions. She even walked me halfway across the store to make sure I found the right section. All the while, I kept being distracted by the face-out titles. Not at all like searching and clicking online.
As we waited, the air was filled with readers talking about books – titles by the evening's author and others. Recommendations flew back and forth. Like social media without the media.
I came home with a newly signed hardcover, a few signed back copies, and a determination to visit again, the next time I was in the area.
I hope you have your own favorite local booksellers. And if you're looking for a store while on the road, here's a link to the Better Places to Buy Books database, compiled by Kate Brittain and featuring information on more than 2,000 independent bookstores in the U.S.
Monday, August 25, 2014
My husband and I attended the last show for our daughter and son-in-law’s Shakespeare Festival last night and afterwards there was an alumni ice cream contest. We got to test a bunch of different ice creams…heartburn, anyone? But it was fun. And the most fun came in watching the new students at the campus laughing, dancing, getting to know each other. The excitement was palpable.
It started me thinking about our writing. Is the same excitement still in our stories after a few years? Are we still laughing, dancing, and getting to know our characters well as we write?
One of my fave authors for decades is still writing, but I’ve noticed I can figure out whodunit by page ten or twenty at the most. After spending fifteen or so dollars for her new book only to know by page ten who the culprit is, I have to wonder if she’s just lost her excitement. Yes, a twelve million dollar contract would rev me up, all right, but for how long? Does complacency set in for everyone no matter the money, no matter the thousands and millions of readers who just wait for your next book to release?
Don’t let your stories down, don’t let yourself down, but more importantly, don’t let your readers down when you write a new story.
Picture yourself as a first-time college student, dancing with your hands in the air, laughing, smiling, getting to know your new friends, your new characters. Telling their new story.
Then dance like no one is watching and let the excitement flow!
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Well, I suppose I'm one.
A hybrid author is a relatively new term and it means an author who has one foot in the traditional publishing world and one foot in the Indy publishing or self- publishing world.
In addition to being an agent, I have books in print from significant size traditional publishers, from small and independent houses, and I have self published projects. I've done magazine articles, have written online content, done greeting cards and been in a number of collections and anthologies. I guess that qualifies me.
How do we feel about clients that want to self publish? We are supportive of them. Most of our representation contracts are for "all book length work," which of course includes novellas, so to self-publish we have to exempt the project from the contract. We don't look to make money on anything we didn't handle. If there are other works to represent we continue to represent them for those projects. If there isn't anything else to represent, well, it's hard to have a contract to represent nothing. Joyce is looking at a new Amazon program that works through agents and offers some things that authors don't otherwise get. That could change things some, more details on this coming.
I had a client that turned down a substantial house contract which included a good sized advance. She pulled all her projects to self publish. I'll tell you the truth, I thought she had made a mistake. Turns out she had a rare gift for online sales and promotion and has made significantly more money in the long run. Some people can do that. Unfortunately a lot of others jump into doing it only to discover that they don't have the necessary skills to do what they need to do to be able to be successful.
When I represent my clients I encourage them to go with traditional publishing as the first option. If we fail to find a home for them there then they can decide what the next step is for them. If they do have the skill set to do it they can make more money self-publishing. If they don't a small house or Independent Press can get them published, but of course earn part of the proceeds for it. Or if they don't have the skills there are places where they can contract for the assistance that they need.
The bottom line is the decision to self-publish should not be a knee-jerk reaction to getting a couple of rejections. It should be a business decision where you look at what will be required of you and whether you have the ability to do it or not. It can be the right decision if you do, just keep in mind that a majority of those who try do not achieve the results that they want.
So the question is "are you one of those with the necessary abilities?" If so you may can even firmly plant your feet in both markets . . . and become a hybrid author.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Hickory, dickory, dock/ the mouse ___ __ ___ _____.
1901 Mother Goose rhyme
I think that I should never see
a poem as ____ __ __ ____.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
against the sweet earth's flowing breast.
My Dad could still recite this poem by Joyce Kilmer in it's entirety until his death at age 84. And because of that I can- almost.
The Lord is my ________, I shall _____ _____. He leadeth me _____ _____ ______/ He restoreth ____ ____. Yeah though I walk through the ______ __ _____, I will fear no evil/ for though are _____ _____.
How many times have the words of David's 23rd Psalm comforted you while laying in the dark?
Old Lady, who?
I didn't know that you could yodel!
Police stop telling these knock knock jokes!
Alright, so some words we wish we could forget. But as writers, we all need to think about the possibility of our words lasting a very long time. Especially now with digital magazines and books. What might have been tossed out to save space for the really valuable stuff, can now be placed in a virtual file.
Proverbs 25:11 tells us: Like apples of gold in settings of silver, Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
Philippians 1:9-11: And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Things that are excellent.
Some of you might say; "Frankly darling, I don't give a __________ ", but you should. We need to. Like the words here:
"O Captain! my Captain, our fearful trip is done / the ship has weather’d every rack, ___ _____ we sought is won."
The words of Walt Whitman re-immortalized by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poet's Society, and all over the world this past week after Robin's untimely and tragic death, remind us that our days are numbered.
Choose your words wisely, for one day you might have to _____ ______.
Tweetable: If you question the value and longevity of our words, see if you can fill in the blank on a few of these.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
It wasn't the kind of victory non-writers can appreciate. But if you've ever spent keyboard time seeking just the right illustration, you can understand.
In a couple months, at the CLASS writers conference in Albuquerque, I'll teach a multi-part class on writing for periodicals. It's a class I've taught for years. One segment dates to the late 1980s.
Over that span, I've always kept looking for better examples to illustrate my teaching points.
This morning while checking email, I found a four-leaf clover. Amid the website's feature articles was the perfect example for my session in Albuquerque on how to write reviews and how-to articles.
The name of the article by Yahoo's associate food editor Rachel Tepper: “Eat Like a Local: Albuquerque, New Mexico.” It not only shows how to write a review and a how-to, but it also serves as a model of how to blend the two.
I expect my writing students in Albuquerque will appreciate it as a class handout, even if they don't visit the best lunch place in town (The Grove Cafe & Market) or enjoy the carne adovada at the best hole-in-the-wall (Mary & Tito's).
Meanwhile, the discovery was too good to keep to myself until October.
Monday, August 18, 2014
I’m often asked what the most important things are when it comes to being a writer, and the answer is quite simple.
There is no other answer that keeps you more on track. Even if your grammar and punctuation are poor, the more you write, the better you will get as with any craft. Of course, those online courses and writing organizations don’t hurt, so keep studying as well.
In other words…hop to it. There’s no story that writes itself in spite of what someone might tell you. “It was meant to be written so much that it practically wrote itself.” Bravado even if the writer believes it. But the fact is, no story writes itself.
Never skip the rules. As you learn more, you will oftentimes break them, but you must know what they are in order to skip around them, correct? Don’t skip a wonderful plot with twists and turns that no one expects. Don’t skip getting us deep into the characters’ POVs. We want to be invested in their lives…their stories.
Jump right into the action! Nothing like a story that takes a reader’s breath away on page one, leaving them wondering what will happen on page two. If you slowly ease the reader in, he or she might not turn from page one. And your entire goal is to keep the story moving so that the reader cannot put it down.
See how easy it is?
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from having the next bestseller if…if you don’t quit!
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Every so often an author sends a project over again even though I have rejected it, hoping to sneak it by. I just respond by telling them when I wrote back passing on it.
Because I keep records.
Most agents and editors keep records. They know when something was submitted, what it was, the size and genre, and they know what disposition was made of it.
That doesn't mean a project will not get a second look, but that will likely NOT happen if an author just re-submits as if it were the first time.
I will never submit a project to an editor a second time without asking permission to do so. And if I do ask permission to do so there has to be a reason that I'm asking. Perhaps the work has been heavily edited and worked on and is much different. That's probably the best reason.
Or perhaps the author has reason to believe that the agent or editor's situation has changed. "Two years ago you passed on my mystery entitled XXXXXXXX because you already had too many similar projects on your plate. I have done significant work on it since then and I am writing to see if your situation has changed and if you might give it a second look."
The market might have changed. "Earlier you passed on my project because the market was just not buying this type of book. I notice comparable titles THIS BOOK and THAT BOOK have published and I have reason to believe the market has changed. May I send you a proposal to give the project a second look?"
In each case, a query or a proposal is not sent, but merely a short note asking for permission to do so. Failing to do so is likely to make the agent or editor think you are just trying to slip something by and in all probability will just get a response that we have already handled it.
Because we keep records.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
But do we have to be linked 24/7?
A couple weekends ago, I took a break. My wife and I hit the road early, without first checking our email. Any phone we took was set to vibrate. When we arrived in Alamosa, Colorado, we checked in for our train ride and decided to window-shop – without checking any portable electronic devices.
I'd brought a mass paperback to read on the train, but I spotted a coffee shop that also sold used books. Amid the usual paperbacks I found a British naval fiction title missing from my collection. Perfect recreational reading.
Soon we boarded the train for a two-and-a-half hour trip across Colorado's San Luis Valley to the top of LaVeta pass. Even if we had wanted to check our phones, there would have been no signal.
The concert site lay even further off the grid. Accessible only by rail, the electricity came from an array of solar cells and a windmill generator. Under sunny Colorado skies clear of cell phone signals, we enjoyed an acoustic concert.
Then back to Alamosa for a dinner at a locally owned restaurant, and a return drive listening to recordings of cowboy music.
The next morning, we checked our phone messages and emails. Nothing we had to have answered the day before. And as we considered those messages, we were more relaxed.
Give it a try.
Monday, August 11, 2014
I’ve taken a g’zillion classes online and at numerous conferences, okay, not exactly a g’zillion, but it feels like it. I also present at conferences. Teach at small groups. And so and so on. And I feel like I’m touting the company line. At least, all that I’ve learned over the last twenty or so years through extensive reading and all of those conferences and classes.
And here’s where I get upset. We are teaching other writers specific basics and rules, and when they enter contests or submit their work the first time around, they are judged by these so-called basics that are expected of them. You know a few of them: no head hopping, cut the adverbs, and avoid as many of the inane dialogue tags as possible and others.
And I have to say, I agree with most of those. Not carved in granite, but I understand the logic behind them. Yes, I understand you have to know the rules before you can break them. But I just finished a bestseller, and I must say, very good historical fiction but it broke them all. Nearly all dialogue tags included adverbs as well as pages of prose with adverbs not sprinkled for flavor, but the main course. And head-hopping? Oh, yeah. I had to keep rereading to be sure who was thinking. I sure wasn’t. I was long lost.
I’ve never minded head hopping as long as the head we are in is clear. I’m not adverse to adverbs like a lot of folks, though I don’t particularly use them, and I don’t mind most dialogue tags. Okay, they do irritate me. Especially men growling and barking and women who purr and coo. I don’t get that. Not at all. In fact, it really turns me off a novel when there’s a bunch of that in place of good old she said/he asked and solid enough verbs that they don’t need the adverbs.
So, I’ve got my pantyhose in a knot. We tell writers one thing when judging their entries in contests, when classes are taught, and when most edits come through, but we reward writers, and readers seem to like authors who do exactly the opposite.
Help me out here, I’ve got my pantyhose in a knot again.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Why do I include the Mr. in front of my signature block?
Funny you should ask.
I get a lot of submissions addressed to Ms. Terry Burns and instead of making a big thing of it I subtly allow them to spot it in the signature.
Often it is too subtle as any further communication suggests. But other than a small prick to my masculine ego it really doesn't matter. Or does it?
Actually it can as when it happens it is often accompanied by a submission a bit too feminine for me and I have to write back that it would be best evaluated by a female agent, or sometimes just pass it to a female agent with a note to the sender that I am doing so. Often they are wasting their time and mine when spotting the correct gender would have allowed them to target the right agent. Looking at my page on the Hartline site when they go to check the submission guidelines should be a clue.
What am I thinking? It is amazing how many people will submit something to an agent or editor without checking the submission guidelines. That's like trying to fix something on your car without looking in the owners manual or (gender specific) sewing up a dress without getting a pattern.
The problem is a name that is often used by either gender. Maybe I should pick me a gender-specific nickname like "Spike" or "Thor" that would not be mistaken. Or perhaps go with my middle name of Wayne, my son goes by his middle name.
But that ship has sailed. For over 70 years I have been Terry and I don't suppose I will be changing now. But if you are submitting and want to avoid the situation altogether just avoid the whole thing and just call me Terry.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
When I checked out the novel from the library, I didn't suspect the writer had broken many of the rules. All I knew was that I was prepared to devour it.
Even spine out, the title caught my attention. Murder Rides the Super Chief (details changed) promised to press three of my hot-buttons: a historical cozy on a cross-country train trip.
My interest in the genre got me through the opening chapter. But I kept wondering when the story would actually begin. And why was the author describing in meticulous detail virtually every facet of life in California in the winter of 1952?
Things didn't get any better when the protagonist boarded the train. Starting with the locomotive, the author took me to the back of the train. Page after page of description of the furnishings and features of each car.
Finally I learned why she was traveling from California to Chicago just before Christmas: She was an employee of the railroad assigned to work on the train. (Why didn't the author think to include that in chapter one?)
It turns out, she was the train's hostess. And readers had the privilege of watching over her shoulder as she welcomed every passenger and informed them on which car they would be riding. Every passenger. Not just the obligatory colorful characters, but also the ordinary ones.
I jumped off the train.
If I'd ever wondered why writing teachers say that fiction is life with the dull parts removed, I'd seen the alternative. Likewise, I got resounding reinforcement for beginning in the middle of action. And why dumping the contents of your research and offering lengthy passages of backstory can make even the most eager reader close the book.
Are you tempted to break one of the basic rules of contemporary fiction? I hope you have good reason – and that you know what you're doing.
Monday, August 4, 2014
Well, it’s here. For the last couple weeks conference season has been in full swing, and it’s just getting stronger.
I’m not going to discuss proposals, synopses, or the ever-popular elevator pitch. What I’m going to discuss is: opportunity. The chance for you to connect with editors, agents, and even more importantly, other writers. Why other writers? Because they will be the ones to help you once you are published.
I realize that many of us, believe it or not—me, too, have a difficult time in new situations, meeting new people. I get over it more quickly now, but it used to be a disaster waiting to happen.
Put on your mask, whether it’s different makeup, a new hairstyle, what it takes to let you feel as if you have a ‘good place to hide’, and join in the crowd.
Try sitting at a table at lunch or dinner with new folks. Just ask one question of the person on either side of you. “What do you write?” And let them talk. By letting them talk, you will make an instant friend.
Take the time at an agent or editor’s table. Don’t tell them what you write; ask them what they are looking for. What is their favorite book to have represented? Put the questions in their laps and enjoy the interesting answers. You will make a much bigger mark on them rather than rambling through an entire meal about how wonderful you are.
Get to really know the folks at the conference: volunteer, offer rides from the airport, help carry someone’s books (I know, it will feel like grade school, but help someone who needs it). Make yourself the go to person even if it makes you cringe inside.
Soon, you will interacting in ways you never thought possible and you will be remembered.
Conferences are no good to you if you spend all the time in a hidey hole!
Don’t wait for something to happen. MAKE something happen.