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Thursday

Red Hen's Kate Gale: "AWP Is Us" Fiasco

MY OWN ORDEAL AT THE HANDS OF KATE GALE 

Kate Gale, the managing editor of Red Hen Press (the press that published my novel YEAR OF THE RHINOCEROS), has made the careless mistake of showing her foolishly racist and generally insensitive nature in public. Gone is the facade of the beneficent white liberal out to help writers and make the world a better place. The war she has stirred up on Internet is just this side of stupendous, or horrific, depending on your pov. A sample of the posts and commentary:

Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-diversity-at-awp-20150826-htmlstory.html

Publisher's Weekly
http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/trade-shows-events/article/67901-charges-of-discrimination-lack-of-diversity-leveled-against-awp.html

Huffington Post (her "committed to diversity" attempt at apology)
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-gale/awp-is-us_b_8029224.html

The Adroit Journal
http://www.theadroitjournal.org/blog/2015/8/25/letter-to-kate-gale-of-awp-is-us

Inside Higher ED
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/08/26/article-defending-writing-program-association-infuriates-many-its-members

She has attempted damage control, but it has failed. In Kate Gale's own words from her blog:

It has been recommended by many that I not write this personal message, that I let my initial retraction stand in its place. But I did not become a writer to stay silent. I was raised in—and escaped from—a cult that enforced child abuse, silence, and ignorance upon its members, and I have since dedicated my life to diversity in publishing, to making voices heard that were not heard before. I am grateful for the calls for action, for diversity, for underrepresented voices, for empowerment.

What I can do is tell you how truly dedicated I am to diversity. This is not an empty promise, but a record of twenty years of publishing that reflects this dedication and lifelong mission; a record that stands not for itself, but pushes me forward into projects already in the making to improve and expand on this diversity

I'm not out to pile on Kate Gale for the sake of pilling on. For years I have openly wanted to talk about my especially bad experience with Kate Gale in her role as managing editor of Red Hen Press. As a matter of fact, it was undeniably one of the top worst experiences of my entire life, right up there with a chronic illness, and that's because of the humiliation she inflicted and the calculated hateful impact she leveled on me at a time that should have been my finest hour. Kate Gale demonstrated a near pathological insensitivity towards me as an author,and in a way I can only explain below by relating what took place just before Red Hen actually published my work, and then later, at the AWP conference in Chicago where my novel was to debut in 2009.  

After Red Hen agreed to publish my ms back in 2008, Kate Gale obtained my manuscript, YEAR OF THE RHINOCEROS, sent by me after a clean-up draft. A few weeks later, she returned the manuscript by snail mail, with a note that she'd made some edits. The "edits" consisted of 136 GIANT RED X's slashed onto the pages of my manuscript--coincidentally smearing all my best
passages of prose narrative, and without any explanation. Nothing. No notes in the margin or elsewhere. Just one giant red X after another, some half a page in size. I am not exaggerating.

If you are a writer, you must have known how I felt. I oscillated between a state of anger and confusion. Who would do something so obviously insulting and cruel? Kate Gale was a writer, the managing editor of a well known literary press. She should have known better? And for the first time, I wondered at her sanity. I showed the ms to writer friends and they stared in disbelief at the well over a hundred giant red X's. Proof of an unsettling and disturbing episode of manic hate on her part? I don't know how else to describe it. A day later I called Kate Gale, prepared to tell her the deal was off. Over the phone she behaved as if nothing was out of place. She was guiltless, of course. Her ridiculous answer to me would have me believe those huge red X's were "just there to make me think about editing those particular paragraphs." 

I once again emailed my ms to Red Hen, but without removing or arbitrarily editing the 136 paragraphs of narrative slashed with X. To make a long and horrible story short, my ms underwent six galley changes due to incompetent errors created in the pages by Red Hen staff working directly under Kate Gale. Finally at wit's end, I called the press. Kate ignored my calls to her regarding her personal staff creating errors in my 426 page ms. Yes, they actually *created* errors! One of them, for example, was to remove any space separating an overhanging letter at the end of a sentence from the opening letter of the next line, so sentences appeared joined. After four galleys worth of frustrating edits and re-edits forced on me by Red Hen, her husband Mark joined in the fracas and sent me a sudden diatribe accusing me of not cooperating in the editing of the galleys. I was in disbelief. The circumstances were just the opposite, but I presumed that he'd been lied to because his diatribe directed at me was so genuinely full of indignation. 

Months later, at AWP in Chicago, the date my novel was to debut, she set me up for a humiliating incident involving her staff production manager. She asked me to meet her at breakfast time in the hotel lounge to discuss the book. I met her and we small-talked a bit, then she said, "I have someone who needs to tell you something." I had no idea who she was talking about. She lifted her hand in air and gestured. From off stage came the production manager of Red Hen Press. She walked up to me, sat down in front of me with a look of pure rage that was very theatrical, and proceeded to erupt at me in front of everyone present (yelled, not talked loudly) in the hotel lounge for daring to email Red Hen staff regarding multiple typeset errors and other errors not in the draft I sent them. I sat there listening, not daring to become angry. I politely denied her accusations whereupon she stood up and stomped off. This is precisely what happened. It was altogether a surreal, distressing and mystifying experience. Kate set the whole thing up. She didn't apologize or show any sign of surprise. She knew it was coming. She even grinned when I expressed my opinion of the whole charade.

After having observed me being unfairly trashed (the production manager told so many lies I lost count) and without any intervention on her behalf, she then set up a fake book signing at AWP without providing even a chair, and no announcement of the signing. As crazy as this sounds, it's all true. One thing after another after another. Myself and one other guy simply wandered in front of the table looking like idiots. I supposed that he was on her shit list too. I could not help but suspect that she hated men. She was known for her warmth towards her female poets. Whether that rumor was true, I can't say for certain.

In the months following publication of my novel, Red Hen never promoted my book, never listed it on the front page, and never included it at events. Btw, I'd met Kate Gale at a hotel in DC months before AWP to pick up my book contract and have a social drink. To my shock, she arrogantly blew me off without explanation and went back to her room after less than ten minutes--and this after I'd driven over 50 miles in horrendous D.C. traffic to meet her--a meeting called and arranged by her! 

Another jaw dropping experience, one of those you just have to experience to believe. 

For reasons I never truly understood, Kate Gale behaved like the worst human being I've ever had the displeasure of meeting. To this day I still don't get it. I found her frightening and vengeful. What I did to deserve her wrath, I never understood. I'm just glad I finally got this terrible episode off my chest.

Tuesday

The Writer's Edge Interview With Author Jenny Milchman : A Lesson in Tenacity and Smarts

 
Jenny Milchman
I wish I’d known just how polished and perfected a work has to be to get published traditionally. I was lucky enough to get kernels from industry pros that allowed me to go back and hone my craft...

How long did it take you to get published? 

Here are my stats: 11 years, 8 novels, 3 agents, 15 almost-offers from editors. An almost-offer happens when an editor wishes to acquire a book, but gets turned down by her editorial board, or by people in the marketing or publicity departments, or even (as happened to me with my seventh novel) the publisher herself. My first published novel was the eighth one I wrote. And of course, there’s “long” in the non-numeric sense, too. It took an age, an epoch, forever. I thought I would never break through. 

Why did you hang in so long versus, for instance, self-publishing?

When I started out, self-publishing as we now know it wasn’t an option. There was so-called vanity publishing, and it cost a chunk of change, and carried with it a stigma of failure. This was in the day of snail mailed query letters, which had to include an SASE. An SASE, for those not familiar with the term, is a self-addressed stamped envelope in which your rejection comes back. I gave a publishing talk at a college recently, and asked the audience if they knew what an SASE was. When I got blank stares, I asked if they knew what an envelope was.

But I digress. When I began things were different. The very first agent who offered to represent me asked if I had email. If! Then Amazon came along and changed the face of self-publishing. However, it wasn’t the greatest option for me. When emerging writers ask how to identify their publishing path, I tell them to close their eyes and picture a few dream moments. The ones that make them want to try and put their stories out there for the world to see versus just scribbling away in a garrett somewhere. For me those moments meant seeing my book on shelves. Bookstores and libraries have always been extremely important in my life. I wanted the support of booksellers and librarians as I became a published author, and one day I hope that my books will lend them support in return. For all that Amazon does, it can’t reproduce the experience of a face-to-face encounter or a bricks and mortar.

So for me traditional publishing was going to turn out to be the best path. The right path. But that won’t be true for everybody. I have always believed that how you publish is a highly individual decision.


Jenny Milchman's First Novel
What one thing did you do as an "emerging author" that really made a difference and helped in getting published? 

I can’t whittle it down to just one thing, but I think I can manage 3 bullet points. Hope these are helpful!

  • Attend as many author events as you can. Support both the author and the bookstore—I used to buy a book to read, and a second to give as a gift. The bookseller will come to know you long before you have a galley you hope she or he will read, and the author might give you a friendly smile, some advice, an agent referral, or even a blurb.
  • Do things that connect writers and readers. Start a blog or a book club, depending on whether you prefer virtual or face-to-face. 
  • Follow agents on Twitter and Tweet their advice. 
  • Hold a literary series at your local library. 
  • Frequent Facebook groups and post interesting resources and helpful tidbits for members. You will be making a place for yourself in a world that is big enough to include your own work one day.

I basically believe that monies should flow toward the author, not away, but attending a conference became a pivotal piece of my own publishing journey. Determine whether you want to focus on craft or business in making your decision. If it’s the latter, look for conferences that include agent panels, pitch sessions, or talks by editors. Among others, I heartily recommend Algonkian events in New York and elsewhere.


What one thing did you do that worked against your getting published? 

I thought my work was ready long before it really was. Rather than seek out sources of feedback and additional reads—writers groups, workshops, classes, retreats, even a freelance editor—I kept squandering chances with agents. I wish I’d known just how polished and perfected a work has to be to get published traditionally. I was lucky enough to get kernels from industry pros that allowed me to go back and hone my craft, but I think I could’ve sped up the whole process—it didn’t have to take eleven years—if I hadn’t been handcuffed by the slow waiting time when you’re querying and submitting.


Now on your third novel, if you had it to do all over again, would you still keep trying for so long? In other words, is it all you hoped it would be?

I would try for twenty-two years. It’s all I hoped it’d be and more.
_____________________________

Jenny Milchman’s third novel, As Night Falls, is an Indie Next Pick and a summer release. Her first two books won awards, inclusions on Best Of lists, and critical acclaim. Find Jenny on the road, thanking all those people who helped her along the way, by checking out what Shelf Awareness calls the world’s longest book tour

Sunday

The Pros and Cons of Hiring One-Stop Shops vs. Multiple Specialists for Book Publicity

by Paula Margulies

There are many different services that publicity firms and individual publicity consultants offer to authors looking to promote their books. These services can include any combination of the following: 
  • Creating media kits (press releases, fact sheets, Q&As, etc.), distributing press releases on the newswire services, and creating sales pitches targeted to specific markets
  • Working with you to fine-tune your website and create the best possible web promotion for your book
  • Scheduling book signing and reading events
  • Contacting local and national television and radio station producers to set up interviews
  • Working with local and national print and online editors to obtain feature coverage
  • Helping you identify your personal brand, your target audience, and your potential reach as an author
  • Setting up speaking engagements at targeted venues
  • Placing articles you’ve written in targeted print and online publications
  • Helping you identify your strengths as a blogger, so you can capitalize on the blogging community
  • Working with you to develop an integrated social media brand image on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and other social media sites
  • Setting up blog tours and online author interview opportunities
  • Providing guidance on the creation of promotional items (bookstore posters, bookmarks, postcards, tear sheets, business cards, etc.)
  • Acting as a sounding board for ideas, helping to answer general questions, and providing guidance on promotional issues

Most publicists feel comfortable doing the majority of the items listed here. Some, however, may specialize in one or more these tasks – there are those, for example, who work only with authors and books in specific content areas; others specialize in scheduling feature interviews with national media; some mainly offer blog tours or set up social media pages, while others specialize in magazine article placement. 

What any publicist does specifically for a client will vary depending on the book’s subject matter, whether the book is fiction or nonfiction, the amount and types of publicity the author is looking for, the author’s platform, and the author’s budget.

So, what should authors consider before hiring a publicist? I suggest thinking about 1) the scope of promotional work you’re looking for, 2) the budget and timeframe for the work, and 3) whether or not you want to hire one publicist to handle everything, or use a number of specialists to handle different aspects of your publicity.

Which brings me to the main question: Which is better, the one-stop shop (hiring one publicist to handle all of the work), or farming out different parts of the publicity work to multiple consultants?

Here are the pros and cons (from a publicist’s point of view) for each option:

The Pros of the One-Stop Shop 
-       You get one unified, focused perspective and source of guidance to work with (rather than possibly having to deal with conflicting information and points of view from numerous consultants)
-       You have one contact point for your publicity, which makes it easier for media, speaking venues, readers, etc., to reach you or your publicity contact
-       The person handling your publicity will be able to easily integrate all the aspects of the book’s promotion because s/he is the only one doing so
-       Your branding and all of the publicity information put out about you is consistent, because it comes from one place
-       You may be able to save time on your projects because just one person is handling all of them (rather than having to wait for different people to coordinate/adjust their schedules)
-       You may be able to save on costs by hiring one person whose rates, style, and availability fit your budget and needs

The Cons of the One-Stop Shop   
-       The publicist you choose may not handle all of the types of publicity you want to use in your promotional campaign
-       The publicist may not be able to accommodate the timing you want for some of your promotional projects
-       You might want more perspective than just one person’s on your promotional campaign

The Pros of Hiring Multiple/Specialized Publicity Consultants or Firms 
-       You can spread out the expertise you need depending on what each publicist/promotional expert offers
-       You can bounce ideas off of multiple experts to see what fits/suites you best
-       If all of your consultants are on the same page, you can use them as a kind of marketing team that works together to help you promote your book
-        
The Cons of Hiring Multiple/Specialized Publicity Consultants or Firms 
-       You can get conflicting information and/or opinions from different PR consultants, which can result in confusion, misunderstandings, and/or discord in your working relationships
-       You can have problems establishing boundaries, especially if some or all of the consultants are used to doing the same thing
-       People looking to contact you or your publicist may have a hard time deciding how to best reach you if there are multiple individuals promoting your work at the same time
-       Your brand may be difficult to manage as a unified image if multiple people are presenting you to the public, or if your consultants aren’t all on the same page
-       You may find it time-consuming to juggle the intricacies of having all the consultants work together efficiently
-       You may be tempted to play one expert off another in the hopes of finding a champion when you don’t agree with one of your consultants, which can result in a breach of trust
-       Your projects may take more time if there are any scheduling conflicts or miscommunication/confusion/misunderstandings among the consultants.
-       It may cost more to hire multiple consultants or firms

There is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should hire just one person for all your publicity needs, or consider using a number of different people with expertise in certain areas. Personally, I prefer to handle all of my client’s publicity – doing so makes it easier to be responsive, provide guidance, and maintain a consistent promotional and brand image. But, I have, on many occasions, worked with other consultants on client projects, and I’ve enjoyed those interactions.

Whichever way you decide to go, it’s crucial to be up-front from the beginning about what you want the individuals you’re hiring to do (rather than spring it on the publicist or team after the work gets going). If more than one consultant or firm will be involved, it’s especially important to be clear on individual assignments, so that each consultant knows what his boundaries are and how his work fits in with that of the other consultants you’re using.  
__________


Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

Tuesday

New York Pitch Conference

The New York Pitch Conference celebrates its ten year anniversary of working the New York publishing to bring quality literature of all kinds to the American reading public. And don't we wish more of them read!

Included here a few quality comments from supportive writers and published authors:

http://writenaked.net/2015/04/03/guest-post-day-in-the-life-at-the-ny-pitch-conference/
Posted by New York Pitch Conference Review on Friday, April 3, 2015

http://www.thegamesmenplay.com/blog/2014/12/17/more-adventures-in-publishing?rq=algonkian
Posted by New York Pitch Conference Review on Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Cindy has signed an agent contract with Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Agency in New York:cindyfazzi.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/new-york-pitch-conference-the-art-of-selling-your-first-book/#more-667
Posted by New York Pitch Conference Review on Friday, October 10, 2014



_________

"My novel was requested by four of the five editors I pitched. Tessa Woodward at Harper Collins quickly made an offer for it, and Paula Munier, who had read my first page at the conference, represented me to negotiate a contract. After getting Tessa's notes, I am now working on a significant re-write that will expand and improve my novel more than I ever could have on my own." 

  - Kim Van Alkemade, Author of ORPHAN 8


"Read More 275 queries later, I attended the New York Pitch and by lunch of the first day I knew exactly why my novel had failed. By the end of the day, I had changed the title, made editorial changes to the story, and later, when time came to query, I employed the strategy recommended at the conference: research agents on Publisher's Marketplace and use the editors from the conference who requested manuscripts as leverage. Within one hour I received an email requesting a full manuscript from an agent at Trident Media. Six days later I received another email about my novel, THE ENIGMATOLOGIST, and requesting to discuss representation. Using what I learned at the conference, I was able to do in what week what I couldn't do in three years. I'm absolutely convinced that everything I learned at the conference is responsible for my success."

 - Benjamin Adams, signed by Trident Media Agency


Cate Holahan's DARK TURNS pitched at the NYC in Paula Munier's NYC mystery/thriller workshop and sold to Matt Martz at Crooked Lane, the new crime fiction imprint of Bookspan--two book deal. Publication set for 2015. Paula Munier, NYC faculty, representing Cate and DARK TURNS.

"Read More Algonkian helped me develop a discipline around the creative process, enabling me to write with a clear intention to publish. It has been a year since the program and I continue to refer to the workshop material. From the story analyses I learned to examine my own work with rigor." 

 - Sheela Sukumaran, PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow 


"Understand, before that I had never taken a writing class, attended a seminar or workshop, I didn't even have a writer's group. The beauty of this conference was that they had editors from major houses coming to listen to our pitches and to give us feedback, and even to ask for our manuscripts if they were interested. And I was one of the lucky ones. Two editors asked to see a partial. I started querying about September 20, and my agent, Sally Wofford-Girand of Brick House Literary Agents, made an offer of representation..."

 - Sujatha Hampton, Author of AS IT WAS WRITTEN


"Read More The New York pitch conference gets tons of credit for my pending publication. Plus, your advice on querying to only a few agents at a time, and Caitlin's editing all contributed to my good news. Publication set for early 2016! Thanks for putting it on and for encouraging scared newcomers like me." 

 - Angela Pisel, novel sold by Jill Marsal to Putnam


"I must confess that it surprised me when folks at the New York Pitch Conference fastened on Thomas Edison's dark side as the most interesting aspect of the novel ... Once you define the book as being about the struggle between the Weisses and Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patent Company, however, a lot of diffuse stuff falls into line. Then I came home from the recent Algonkian conference at Harpers Ferry, reread the manuscript, and realized I had thrown away a great opportunity in the second-to-the-last chapter to resolve the Edison/Weiss conflict in a meaty and dramatic way. In a word, it was lame." 

  - Irene Fleming [aka Kathleen Gallison], Author of THE EDGE OF RUIN

___________________

A substantial amount of commentary and contract awards can be found here.

Friday

Top Seven Reasons Why Aspiring Authors Fail to Publish

by Michael Neff

At a conservative estimate, upwards of 250,000 writers in the U.S. are currently struggling to write or find an agent for their first commercial novel or memoir. If you understand this business, you also know why an enormous percentage are unable to make it happen. Below are the top seven reasons why otherwise passionate writers will join the 99.9% never to become commercially published.

1. INADEQUATE WRITING SKILLS AND STORYTELLING PROBLEMS


In the case of the former, the writing itself does not display the energy, creativity, and polish necessary to convince an agent to go deeper. This is perhaps the number one cause of failure. Usually, the writer is not aware--or at least, not sufficiently aware to enable productive change. Perhaps this is a first stab at fiction, she or he not realizing that journalism or other nonfiction writing ill prepares one for the challenges of competitive commercial narrative. Obviously, the writer does not know a good editor or reader, and therefore, has never received truly helpful crit. Or perhaps an ego obstacle is present, a father to the "birthed baby" phenomenon: the writer has produced a passage, a character, or scene they can't possibly do away with. It is sacred to them. So it remains, defacing the narrative like a major pothole, jolting agents and publishers alike each time they meet it.

In the case of the storytelling issue, the writer may actually be accomplished at connecting the word dots. The agent gives it a good read then backs off. Why? Well, maybe because the story goes nowhere. It flattens out and stays that way. Where is the inciting incident? The first major plot point? The story is eventually uninteresting or perhaps even confusing. Just recently a fine writer handed me sample of his ms. His prose skill kept me turning, but finally, I bogged down on characters who spun endlessly in place, who never really took action or engaged in any reaction worth noting.

2. FAILURE TO ADEQUATELY UNDERSTAND THE MARKET


We are not talking about trend chasing... Virtually every time I speak with a student I discover that she or he has not sufficiently researched their market. In other words, they don't have a clue as to what types of first novels are currently being published in their chosen genre (assuming one is chosen). Why is this important? Because the first novels provide the writer with a concept of what the market is looking for. Also, it helps steer the writer away from starting a project that will be DOA on arrival due to being way too deja-vu or trope heavy. Far too many writers make the Tom Clancy mistake, i.e., they attempt to emulate a huge author, falsely believing it will get them published. They don't understand that author gods like TC could get away with terrible literary crimes in their old age and still become published. Instead, the writer must examine first novels published in their chosen genre over the past two years: investigate story types, settings, protagonists, etc. The research always yields productive results because first novels are the weather vane for where the market is going, and on more than one level.

3. NARCISSISM TIMES TEN EQUALS BOTTOM FEEDING


The writer is puffed, living in a state of I-know-better. She or he is therefore incapable of successfully editing their work. Friends, relatives, or bad agents have told them their writing is good, and their story interesting (they dare not do otherwise!)... Perhaps the writer is a big success in their other career, so why shouldn't they also know-it-all when it comes to writing? OMG.

We once had a millionaire venture capitalist hand us their 15 page synopsis and the first few pages of their novel. The synopsis was absurdly long and unable to summarize the story in any coherent way; and the first couple of novel pages needed a good line editing because the prose was inadequate and one tended to speedbump over at least one awkward sentence per paragraph. Of course, these facts were unknown to the venture capitalist. He presented us the work with a grand TA DAH!, expecting a corroboration. Well, of course, irritation set in when we tactfully pointed out shortcomings. He also did not believe us when we explained that the vast majority of agents would not, repeat NOT read that 15 page synopsis regardless (and if they did, the novel was DOA). Later, he went on to self publish and sell a total of 136 copies at last count.

4. INCREDIBLY BAD ADVICE SPELLS DOOM


Whether the source is an article, a friend, or a writer's conference, the writer has been told something that steered them wrong, or built a false expectation, or made them believe a man-bites-dog story will happen to them. For example, a writer with a manuscript in need of a good final editing told me, "Not to worry. The publishing house editor or the agent will complete the edit for me." I explained that would not happen--not for a first timer with zero track record. Another piece of incredibly bad advice often heard from egoistic writers or agents: "Writers are born, not made." This is simply not true. A clever, determined writer who shelves the ego and seeks to research and learn their craft will succeed. Tenacity wins. See our Top Ten Worst Pieces of Bad Writing Advice.


5. THE COMING OF MORALE LOSS

The most common form of morale loss occurs at such time the writer finally realizes their writing is not nearly as good as they suspected. The writer returns to a favorite slice of writing, seeking to admire, build confidence, only to discover their favorite slice has gone stale and offensive. So what happened? Writers who fail to understand that such realizations are necessary watersheds (and they happen to all writers!) and indicators of growth, become disillusioned. They quit.

The second biggest cause of morale loss results from no success in selling an agent on your novel. It's been dragging on for years. The novel ms has been shopped around. No one is buying and feedback is confusing. Or perhaps the novel ms is resting like a one ton anchor on your desk (waiting for neck) eight years later and still not ready despite several restarts and who knows how many total drafts.

If any of the above is the case, welcome to the club! Buy yourself a drink and get back to work.

6. IMPATIENCE EQUALS LOTS OF WASTED POSTAGE


The story might even be pretty good, fairly original, and the writing likewise, however, the writer is impatient and sends the ms out too soon. Flaws exist in the plot, character development, and God knows what else. No one knew! The writer's crit group was mistaken! Agents and editors will stumble a few times before reaching for a rejection slip. Most likely, the writer will never know why. She or he will just keep sending out the same damaged ms again and again.

7. INSUFFICIENT CREDS TO PROVIDE COMPETITIVE EDGE


Credentials, platform, prior publications--these things can matter, especially for literary/upmarket writers. The vast majority of first novel writers do not get work published in viable short fiction markets. This makes it even more difficult to land a good agent. Many agents will not look twice at a writer whose cover letter does not demonstrate a track record of some type. A publishing record, even a meager one, helps convince publishers and agents that you have what it takes. Even in the mystery/thriller and SF/F markets, you go to the top of the stack if you've published shorts in reputable journals. Contest wins, past mentors, certain types of nonfiction, and participation in writing programs can also matter, depending on the genre and marketing desires of the publishing house.

Monday

Why Social Media Doesn't Always Work for Unknowns

by Jurgen Wolff

If you're a novelist who expects social media to lead to book sales, the truth may shock you. After all, everywhere you look you're told to get on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and other social media outlets to attract people. Get a lot of followers, then when your book comes out they will buy it.

"YES, MY  FOLLOWERS WILL BUY MY BOOK!"

A friend recently told me about one of her friends who started a blog about how to write children's books. He posted almost every day and the blog became quite successful.

Then he published a children's book of his own and mentioned it frequently on his popular blog.
Very few of his followers bought his book.

The reason isn't actually all that surprising. They go to his site to learn how to write their own books. A few may appreciate his effort enough to buy his book as a token of thanks, but not many. If your blog posts or tweets or pictures are not directly about your book, the odds are there will be little crossover.

"THEN I'LL BLOG ABOUT MY BOOK!"

I have more bad news...very few people will want to read a blog about a book by an author who isn't already known.

I see advice all the time suggesting that novelists blog about the setting of their novel, or write posts in the voice of their protagonist, or reveal the true-life inspiration for the book.

I'm sorry to be so blunt (especially since this is true for anything I would write, too), but...who cares?

 "OK, I'll PUT A BOOK TRAILER UP ON YOUTUBE!"

Again, who cares? What's going to make people want to watch a book trailer for a book they've never heard of?

"SO I SHOULD GIVE UP?"

Yes.

Just kidding. I think there are a few things that can work, and I'll cover them in this post.

Friday

Unsheath a Steel Fist From the Velvet Glove? Timeless Agent-Insider Viewpoints on The Biz

By Richard Curtis

Traduttore, Traditore
("The translator is a traitor") - Italian proverb

One of the critical roles literary agents play is that of translator. We perform the task on several author. The writer who sells his first book to a publisher and reads his first contract is plunged into a sea of words that may be totally unfamiliar to him, or that are used in a totally unfamiliar way. "Force majeure," "net proceeds," "matching option," "warranty," "discount"—these need to be defined for the novice author. There are many difficult concepts to be grasped, such as "advance sale," "midlist," "fair use," "reserve against returns," "pass-through," and "hard-soft deals." The language has its own slang, too, and our initiate hears bewildering references to who handles the "sub rights," what is the tentative "pub date," and what happens when the book is "o.p.'d."
levels. The most obvious and fundamental is explaining the nomenclature of publishing to the uninitiated

Agents patiently try to demystify these terms, but it may take many years of experience before our clients are completely at ease with them. It may well be true that what distinguishes professional authors from their amateur brothers and sisters is that the pros have undergone this linguistic rite of passage and are now able to sling around "pre-empts," "first proceeds," and "escalators" with the best of 'em.

But there is another, and profoundly more important, job for the agent-translator to perform beyond explaining to his clients the terminology of the book industry. I'm talking about using language to forge and strengthen the bonds between authors and publishers. For, while the goals of both may ultimately be identical, they are usually achievable only after many conflicting viewpoints and interests have been reconciled. Sometimes those conflicts become intense, and if allowed to go unresolved can cause serious if not fatal breakdowns in the relationship. An agent, standing between these potential adversaries, must find common ground for them to stand on, else all - including his commission - is lost. And though their differences may be genuine, sometimes they are semantic, and if an agent can pinpoint and settle the linguistic problems, perhaps the more substantive ones will not seem quite so insuperable. Although it's a stimulating challenge, not all of us enjoy sticking our heads up in this no-man's land.

You must not think, however, that editors cannot be seriously wounded. And it is important to know that fact, because a hurt editor (or art director or royalty bookkeeper) may not want to work as hard for an author who has irked him or her as for one who has been supportive, tolerant, and forgiving. This is not to say that editors are so thin-skinned they fold the first time someone criticizes them. But I do know that if an author or agent injures an editor's feelings seriously enough, it can undercut his or her initiative, and that may eventually redound to an author's detriment. Some years ago I phoned a bookkeeper who had been verbally abused by an author a few months earlier. This author was owed another check, and I wanted to know where it was. "Funny thing about that check," she said, deadpan, "it keeps falling to the bottom of my pile. Must be gravity or something."
We have learned that "a soft answer turneth away wrath."
It is therefore vital that editors and their colleagues in other departments of publishing companies be handled with a certain degree of diplomacy, and it is in the language of that diplomacy that most agents are adept. We have learned that "a soft answer turneth away wrath." And most of the time, we are able to rephrase or paraphrase the blunt demands, the raw needs, the hard feelings, the hostile remarks, of our clients into gracious packages of civility that convey everything the author intended without damaging the fragile sensibilities of the person at whom they were directed.

I've been keeping some notes about discussions recently conducted with editors and am happy to offer herewith a few examples of this process in action. Some of them are tongue in cheek, others are deliberately exaggerated. Still others will sound stilted, and that is because, unfortunately, that is the way I speak.

Let's take one of the commonest problems in our business, that of getting editors to make up their minds about submissions. Editors are burdened with a great many tasks that curtail their reading time. They may be inundated with manuscripts to read. They may be on the fence about a submission and wish to postpone a decision for a while. They may be soliciting opinions or sales estimates from colleagues in their company. They have many legitimate reasons for taking a long time to read submissions.

At the same time, some editors seem to have a considerably dimmer sense of the passage of time than people in other fields, such as airline management or television programming. So, one of the first lessons one learns in the agenting profession is how to translate an editor's promises about time. "I'll read it overnight" too often means, "I'll get around to it in a week." "I'll read it in a week" means, "I'll be back to you in a month." And "I'll read it in a month" may well mean that the manuscript is lost.
Let's take one of the commonest problems in our business, that of getting editors to make up their minds about submissions.
In order to reasonably hold editors to their promised schedules, agents use the elegant phraseology of coercion. "As I'm loath to keep manuscripts out of circulation," I might write, "may I trouble you for a decision?" If this fails to yield a reply, I might escalate to something more pointed, like, "My client is getting restless," or, "I'm under some pressure to determine where we stand."

Sometimes a humorous approach is in order. I'm a great believer in the power of teasing to accomplish that which solemnity cannot, and I'm not above a little sarcasm under the appropriate circumstances: "When I submitted that manuscript to you, the oceans were two inches lower."

If an editor has sat on a submission for an unconscionably long time, I will invariably get a phone call from my client saying, "You tell that sonofabitch that if we don't have a decision by Friday, I'm personally gonna come down there and rearrange his prefrontal lobes with an ax haft!"

Justified though that ultimatum may be, it is couched in language this is terminally infelicitous. By the time I'm through modifying it, it may sound something closer to this: "As you don't seem able to make up your mind, suppose we say that if I haven't heard from you by Friday, I'll put another copy of the manuscript into play elsewhere, and you may take as much time thereafter as you wish." And sometimes I'll put a finer point on my message with this veiled warning: "Do let me know when your work load is down to a more reasonable size so that our agency can resume submitting books to you."

I'm certain that you must be saying to yourself, "How is an editor going to get these messages if the agent pussyfoots around that way?" The answer is, editors get these messages loudly and clearly, for unless one is incredibly dense, he or she will have little doubt that a knife has been placed against the throat.
The transmutation of hurtful language works the other way around, too, so that when we have to tell a client that his publishers hate his book so much they want to manure a cornfield with it, we may say something like, "It didn't live up to their expectations"...
Another common problem for agents is, of course, overdue checks. Authors are remarkably articulate when it comes to expressing the discomforts of financial deprivation and to depicting the character and ancestry of those who conspire to keep them in that condition. Unfortunately, most editors would go through the roof if exposed to the authors' invective. Enter the honey-tongued agent, and though that agent might love nothing better than to say, "Pay up or we'll vaporize you," it's more likely he or she will say something a bit more subdued. Perhaps a subtle form of extortion: "It would be to your advantage to remit payment promptly so as to avoid scheduling delays," In plain English, this informs the editor that unless his company ponies up the dough, the agent isn't going to deliver certain manuscripts that the publisher desperately needs to put into production. Because a late manuscript can wreck a production schedule at fearful cost to a publisher, the wise editor will undoubtedly give the check-processing machinery an extra-hard spin when he or she gets a message like that from an agent.

I can think of lots of other ways that agents refine the harsh language of their clients without sacrificing effectiveness. For instance, though we may be thinking, "My client just turned in a real turkey," what we are telling an editor is that, "My client thought you might like to see a first draft of his book before he starts polishing it."

Or, "My client is going to sue you into Rice Krispie-sized pieces" becomes, "My client is contemplating contacting his attorney, at which point the matter will be out of my control."
Or, "My client thinks your editor is so incompetent, he couldn't spell "cat" if you spotted him the C and the T!" becomes, "I'm not certain that the author's and editor's views about the book are entirely compatible."

* "My client is so upset he's taking big bites out of his living room sofa" translates into, "My client is finding it hard to understand why . . ."

* "You'll use that cover on my client's book over his dead body!" may be altered to, "My client is pretty determined."

* Here's a brief glossary of other agently euphemisms commonly employed when tempers start to overheat:

You: "I'm thoroughly disgusted with those people."
Agent: "My client is somewhat disenchanted."

You: "If I had that editor's throat in my hands . . ."
Agent: "I'm not sure my client is completely comfortable working with you."

You: "They're lying and cheating."
Agent: "My client feels he may have detected some discrepancies.

You: "What a crummy deal?"
Agent: "Some of the terms leave something to be desired."

You: "I wouldn't sell another book to that butcher if he were the last editor on earth."
Agent: "Let's have lunch."

The transmutation of hurtful language works the other way around, too, so that when we have to tell a client that his publishers hate his book so much they want to manure a cornfield with it, we may say something like, "It didn't live up to their expectations," or, "They found it lacking in certain respects." Or an editor's remark to the effect that a certain author couldn't write his way out of a trash can liner becomes, "They don't feel you've reached your potential quite yet."
Here are a few others.

Editor: "This material is simply lousy."
Agent: "Your editor is disappointed."

Editor: "What language is your client writing in, anyway?"
Agent: "Your editor pointed out some obscure passages."

Editor: "Your client is the rudest person I've ever had the misfortune to work with."
Agent: "Your editor seems to have overreacted to what he perceives as a slight."

Editor: "Is your client crazy, or what?"
Agent: "I'm not sure your editor appreciates your sense of humor."

Of course, not all agents approach matters as delicately as this. Some of us are in fact quite plainspoken, and even the most tactful among us realizes that there are unavoidable occasions when we must unsheath a steel fist from the velvet glove. Still, it is gratifying to know that at least when it comes to the language one may still find reminders of the time when publishing was a profession for civilized ladies and gentlemen.

Monday

When Selling Books, Don’t Forget to Finish Your Swing

By Paula Margulies


As many of you know, I have a daughter who plays college softball. Thus, I spend most of my weekends in the spring driving for hours on California highways and sitting in the stands at college stadiums, cheering the team on while trying to avoid the inevitable sunburn and rear-end numbness we softball moms lovingly refer to as “bleacher butt.” Yes, it can be tiring and time-consuming, but the end result is worth it – I get to watch my daughter and her teammates play the game they love, and nothing gives me more joy (except maybe, after a few nights spent on lumpy hotel mattresses, coming home and sleeping in my own bed).

While I don’t purport to know a lot about softball (I never played it, although I did play a season of women’s rugby in college and have the dental work to prove it), I’ve learned some invaluable lessons from this sport that my daughter adores. One lesson, in particular, that resonates is the adage to “finish your swing,” which my daughter’s hitting coaches claim is the most important part of sending that softball over the fence for a home run. And, just as in softball, finishing strong can be the best way to guarantee success for authors who are trying to promote their books.

As a publicist, I’ve been hired by many authors who are eager to succeed at the publicity game. They are willing to pay me for my services, travel to parts unknown to give talks and sign books, and spend lots of money on printing, postage, and other expenses to get the word out about their work. But while the majority of the authors are willing to part with their hard-earned cash, I find that oftentimes they don’t consider that the work of promotion isn’t finished once I’m able to garner whatever type of publicity they’re looking for, whether it’s setting up a book or blog tour, helping them place articles in magazines and journals, or scheduling media interviews.

And that’s because making these types of events happen is not all there is to it. Once an event or interview is set up, there’s a lot more work to be done – booksellers want display copies, giveaways, and sometimes even food and drinks supplied for their events, and most of them expect the author to fill the seats with attendees.  Likewise, other venues where authors appear (whether it be a library, a museum, a church, a specialty store, or a professional organization luncheon) often hold the same expectations. And even bloggers expect review and giveaway copies, along with the promise that the author will share the blogger’s link on social media sites.

This means that authors have a continued role to play once their publicists book gigs for them. Yes, getting the bookseller, producer, or venue host to say yes is the first step (and oftentimes a big one, depending on the importance of the event to the author), and yes, some events, blog posts, and interviews bring their own viewers. But, in most cases, the work isn’t finished with the confirmation. In addition to showing up (which requires a certain amount of preparation in itself), authors can expect to provide all the amenities for the event including, in many cases, the attendees.

But it’s not fair, authors say – I have to write the book, hire a publicist, pay a lot of expenses, and then I’m supposed to fill the room, too?  

The answer is a resounding yes – your publicist and the venue host can do a good portion of the promoting leg-work for you but, in general, the events your publicist sets up for you will only be successful if you follow through.

But where do I find people to attend my events? authors ask.  Many authors are reluctant to go back to their friends and family members who have already been asked multiple times to buy books and attend signings. But there are other ways to promote an event – here are some to consider:
  • Think outside the friends and family box – post notices at work, school, church, book clubs, etc. Hand them out to your fellow yoga classmates, post them at the grocery store and coffee shop near you, and keep them handy when traveling, so you always have one to give to a potential attendee.
  • Offer incentives for people to come – free food, drink, giveaways, etc., can often be a motivator for those who are considering attending an event
  • Place notices in local media online calendars
  • Send out press releases to local media and schedule interviews prior to the event
  • Announce events on social media sites
  • Blog about your upcoming events – share some insights into what you plan to do there or what the event means to you
  • Promote your event or interview at related group meetings and on social media sites where you and your books’ content would be of interest
  • List event dates and times prominently on your blog and website
  • Send out reminders to those on your email lists
  • Be proactive in promoting – tell anyone who might be interested, as often as possible, about your upcoming appearances, interviews, etc.
While completing these activities might sound daunting, consider the ramifications of not doing any social media promotion, not sending display and review copies, not providing giveaways on blog tours, not listing events on your blog and websites, and not talking about your upcoming gigs to anyone who might be interested. Without these types of author follow-up, your events run the risk of not being very successful. You might have connected by setting up the event, but the real power is in the follow-through. Ask my daughter – she’s hitting .415 this season, and she’ll be the first to tell you that even though her swing is strong, the really big hits don’t come unless she finishes moving that bat all the way through.
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Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula MarguliesCommunications.