Friday, September 30, 2011

When is it right to self-publish?

It's probably one of the hardest decisions authors today face. Both sides, legacy and self-publishing, have benefits, and there's absolutely no way to predict results until you're knee deep in either choice.

My advice is, if you ever might maybe-perhaps-one-day want to be traditionally published, query exhaustively before going to self-pub. Self-publishing can really complicate getting an agent (see why here). If you're sticking it to the man by self-publishing, that's cool. Don't query, too, though. They're separate paths; until you sell a million copies you've got to step on to one or the other.

But saying "suck it" to traditional publishing (or agents) might not be why one self-publishes. You might be *fine* with traditional publishing. You might be torn, feeling discouraged after a bunch of form rejections from a book that, by many unbiased accounts is PRETTY DARN GOOD. So when do you take the plunge, call it quits, and go self-publish?

Actually, wait. there's one caveat first: No one should self-publish without expecting it to be a lot of work. Without having an active online presence, a slammin' cover (peer edit, just like with your writing), and a marketing plan of your own design or someone else's. Books don't just sell. Ever.

If you fall into one of the following categories, self-pub might just be the best route for you:
  1. You're writing what's in bookstores right now and you're getting form rejections. If you're seeing books that are suspiciously like yours come out right now, it means that they were being bought a year ago. Unless you think you've got a pretty substantial twist or a really new take (be real) you might be better off self-publishing it.***
  2. You're writing significantly shorter or longer than traditional wordcounts.
  3. You're writing poetry without the platform of some amazing prizes and journal publications.
  4. You're writing a memoir with neither a strong platform nor a "third act"--something that happens as a result of what happened to you that makes yours a more universal story: legislation that was enacted or overturned, for instance. This does not go, however, for other types of nonfiction (in my opinion).
  5. You're writing extremely graphic violence or sex. Or both. 
*** The relates the most to young adult fiction. People seem to be jumping on that bandwagon with stuff that's past its prime: dystopians, vampires, werewolves, angels. 

The reasoning here is that there may very well be an audience for your book, but that might also be a very small audience or one that's not easily reached by the typical event-oriented marketing that publishers do. Therefore, an agent might also have a hard time finding an editor to buy it. If you sell a billion copies, you'll be laughing all the way to the bank because you found the audience no one else was willing to.

However. This does not give you license to not edit. You still should have a writing group or beta readers of people who write and read in your genre. You should still listen to them. They ARE your audience. Let them judge your cover, too (PLEASE).

Anything else that's prompted anyone to self-publish?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

#AskAgent 5

#AskAgent time again!

You know the rules: questions are open from noon until 3pm EST, answered by tomorrow evening. The topic (although feel free to ask whatever, including questions about specific projects!) is revision. Thanks for playing!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Submission Guidelines

Nothing is more frustrating than authors who query without following submission guidelines. The wrong subject line means your email isn't filtered properly and my response is delayed--sometimes meaning we miss out on ever getting a chance to work together at all. People send their query as an attachment, with no information about the project in the body of the email...and no, I don't click unsolicited links or attachments. Not many agents (read: nearly 0) do.

But the worst of all is when I get a well-crafted query with the right subject line with a good idea...and no pages pasted into the email.

Seeing the writing is so important, and it can remedy many common query faults, at least for me. If the story doesn't quite make sense or it sounds like something I'm seeing too much of, seeing great writing will always, always give me pause and make me reconsider rejecting.

So submission guidelines aren't just because agents are ego-maniacs who demand that you jump through a lot of hoops. We take great care with our query inboxes to keep them organized and responses quick. And, even more importantly, we want to give you as many chances as possible to get our attention: query and pages.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

#AskAgent 4

Welcome to our fourth #AskAgent! This is a weekly Thursday feature on ze blog that has a Tuesday night equivalent on Twitter (just search "#AskAgent"). I think today we should talk about agent function. What we do in various scenarios, from contract negotiation to self-publishing consultation.

Rules are as always: questions are open from noon until 3 EST, I'll try to get them answered by Friday night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Finish Your Manuscript

One of my phenomenal interns emailed me this morning and asked if it was OK to read only the partial of this manuscript that she thought looked really good.

"Why don't you read the full, if it looks so good?" I asked, drooling at the prospect of something kicka$$ soon to cross my desk.

"Oh, he hasn't finished the book yet." She replied.


Y'all finish your books before getting our hopes all up and stuff! This goes for all fiction and for memoirs. Finish the book, let it sit a couple days, edit it, have beta readers read it, and take their suggestions to heart. Let it sit a couple more days, do one last pass, THEN send.

If that seems like a lot of work, consider the competition. There are authors out there that are doing that, and they get signed. And then they go out on submission faster because they've done work on the book. And then your agent feels happy because they didn't have to re-write the book for you.

I'm going to do my job: find editors that will want this book and sell the crap out of it. Hell, I like editing, so we'll do some of that too. But don't you cop out on your job. You should be of the (honest, corroborated) opinion that your book is ready to sell THE DAY you query it. Get used to editing. You'll do a lot of it.

Just a note, nonfiction can be pitched and sold on proposal and a sample chapter. So that's a different case. Nonfiction authors do their pre-query work on the platform side.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Synopsis Monday

It's Monday, which is bad enough, but I'm also working furiously on some series synopses for a couple of backlist series that we're sending to digital publishers to be published as ebooks. One is a Western series, which is difficult to sell these days but which did quite well in the 80s and 90s; I think we'll see them have new life as ebooks. The synopsis is hard to write, though!

Anyone out there working on synopses? Do you hate them? Love them (crazies)? 

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Cover Art

I made these covers, for Mary Mackey's Earthsong Trilogy, soon to be re-released as ebooks (yay!!). They're Jean M. Auel-esque (pre)historical romances. She has a bunch of other awesome books, most recently Widow's War (Civil War era women's fiction) and Sugar Zone, a collection of poetry.

I guess I sort of do this freelance now, because I really liked the project. Just letting everyone know. if you're interested in commissioning me for cover art, email me at proseblog[@]gmail[dot]com.

I am proud of these covers. If you hate them, please don't say anything. :)

I also did this cover, for Sukie Miller's nonfiction book AfterDeath, available here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ask Agent #3

Here we are again! It's our third ask agent. The topic is, loosely, etiquette. But you're free to ask whatever you want! Rules are as usual: no personal questions and no abuse. Questions about your own projects are welcome.

Questions are open from noon until 3pm EST and everything will be answered by tomorrow at midnight.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to Get Twitter Followers

I've noticed a rash of "so-and-so is trying to get ## more followers by the end of the day! Go follow her/him!" tweets recently.

Why is this happening?

I've seen others taunting people: "I'll post XYZ picture if I get ## more followers!"

This is so completely backwards. Posting interesting content will cause people to want to follow you. Interesting content is not a weapon. It goes against everything organic about social media to use it to taunt people into following you. And those people are probably not going to return to your feed, so I hope you don't intend to ever use it to tell them anything else.

Twitter and Facebook followings are built over time, not crammed into one or two "follower drives." What sort of artificial timeline is making people do this all of a sudden??

Traditionally, marketing centered around "events" (hence Event Marketing). So, say, a book launch. A very clever marketer would arrange a series of appearances or reviews or other buzz-generating items slightly before, on, and after, a certain date.

Social media--the internet in general, really--is making Event Marketing a thing of the past. Which is not to say that it's not useful or that no one does it anymore. It still has its applications. But crafting an online presence is not meant to serve one date (although a good presence will give you a strong platform when there is a specific piece of info you need to disseminate). You have to create a reason for people to want to add you to the noise of the Interwebz, so make an effort. Followers drives ain't it.

Monday, September 12, 2011


It never ceases to amaze me how powerful randomness is. How one seemingly random occurrence can be related to other recent random occurrences and how fast the randomness synergy adds up to something wonderful.

For instance, my love affair with StumbleUpon has brought me two clients. I set aside 20 minutes every day to use it. If nothing else, I see some really cool stuff and it gives me fresh fodder for my social media accounts. Sometimes I even find things to pass along to my authors for their social media accounts.

There's so much information available to us these days. It can be so overwhelming, but if you just let randomness take over (in moderation) you might be surprised at the benefits.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

#AskAgent 2

OK, topic today will loosely be self-publishing, since that's what we've been talking about this week. But feel free to ask anything, even if it pertains to your own project, so long as it's not a personal question for me.

Questions close at 3pm today, Thursday, EST. I will answer by Friday night...I hope. (I'm travelling this Labor Day weekend)

Go for it!