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Q & A with Writer Art Taylor

“Art Taylor”

From Cathy—

Author Art Taylor will publish his first book—On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories—on September 15 of this year from Henery Press. His short stories have won many of the mystery world’s major honors, including two Agatha Awards, the Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards, in addition to twice making the short-list for the Anthony Award. A native of Richlands, NC, Art now lives in Northern Virginia, where he is a professor of English at George Mason University and writes frequently on crime fiction for The Washington PostMystery Scene, and other publications.

Please welcome Art to Write Despite.

How and why did you start writing?

Reading and writing were always directly related for me, even as a child. Books fed both my interest in stories and then my interest in storytelling. I remember telling my first grade teacher sometime before Christmas that I was writing a book and that it would be released sometime after Christmas. I think it was about mice (and wish I still had it now). Needless to say, it’s been a long time until now, when I’m actually (finally!) on the verge of having my first book out. But I think the connection is still the same. I love to read, and I just hope that my writing might give some reader out there the same kinds and ranges of experience that I’ve gotten from books I’ve loved.Del & Louise cover

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I always go back to Anne Lamott and Bird by Bird and that chapter on “Shitty First Drafts.” When the internal editor starts nagging at me that what I’m writing is terrible (and often it is), I have to remind myself that most writers go through that stage and that it’ll all get better (hopefully!) with revision. And when the journey ahead seems daunting, I have to tell myself that I’ll only finish it one step at a time.

Favorite three authors?

That’s such a tough question—only three? I like different writers for different things, of course. Mario Vargas Llosa has always been a favorite (since long before he won the Nobel Prize, I should add), particularly because of the texture of his prose and his attention to structuring narrative, intertwining stories, and juxtaposing points of view (among other things). I’d say I admire Ian McEwan as well, for many of the same reasons. In my own genre, I don’t know a writer stronger than Tana French. What’s interesting about all that is that I’m a short story writer, and each of these writers are novelists often working on much, much bigger canvases: complex, intricate story lines.

What was your first published piece?

Back in elementary school, I had a poem published called “If I Were An Ace”—third grade? fourth? I probably have it stuffed away in a box somewhere, but more than the poem itself, I remember sitting on the couch in my parents’ house late at night (late for me) and writing, writing, writing it and just being so thrilled at the way it was coming together. I couldn’t have been prouder—and wish now that the act of creating was always so much fun, so driven.

Could you talk about not having an agent, and how that’s affected, or not affected, your being published?

In today’s swiftly, swiftly shifting publishing landscape, I don’t think that having an agent is as necessary a step in the process as it may have once been. I don’t have an agent now, though I did try that route with a previous manuscript and earned some interest but never an actual rep. With the growth of small presses who are willing to take a chance with unagented authors and with programs like #pitmad on Twitter (where you pitch your manuscript to agents and publishers both) and with the rise of different publishing models, including various degrees of self-publishing… well, it’s a new world, as I said. I was very lucky in my own case for two reasons. First, my success in the short story market helped to give me some visibility for both publishers and agents; at Malice Domestic two years ago, when I won my first Agatha Award, I had agents hand me their cards and then had Henery Press approach me even more directly about when I was submitting a manuscript to them; the latter was an invitation I couldn’t refuse. Second, and related, I’ve been fortunate to develop a lot of strong relationships in the mystery community, with other writers, with editors, and with publishers—and being part of the fabric of all that does, I think, expose you to possibilities. By that last, I’m not saying that it’s all about networking or about who you know—that’s hardly the case at all. But being an active part of the literary community can go hand in hand with honing your craft, doing your best work. Marketing yourself without developing your craft—that’s a poor move. But toiling on your craft and not being attuned somehow to the community and the marketplace…that might prove a poor move as well.

Advice for those now on the road to publication? 

The previous response probably includes some implicit advice, but I want to focus back more explicitly on craft issues here.

First bit of advice: Whether you write every day or not, touch base with your writing somehow every day. In the past, I’ve tried various ways to keep on a writing schedule: writing for a certain amount of time every day, for example, and at the same times each day, or maybe writing for a certain number of words each day. While I know those systems work for others, they have ultimately seemed artificial for me—and really it became increasingly tough to adhere to any sort of set schedule or word count in the midst of juggling work and parenting and household chores and errands and… and in the end, I more regularly felt guilt about falling short of my goals than elation about meeting them. I won’t say I’ve lowered my standards but instead that I’ve readjusted my sense of pacing. If I sketch out a full scene or revise a scene, that’s great. If I make notes about what to do next, that’s great. If an idea pops into my head for a plot complication or a way to amplify a character, and if that’s the only thing I jot down in my notebook for the day, then that’s great too—because it’s keeping my mind going on the project, and a lot can happen when your mind is working, working, working on ideas, even if you’re not pushing up the word count on the page, even if you’re not at the computer at all. Maybe all of that goes back to the bird by bird advice above. Some days have more birds than others.

Second bit of advice: Ignore what I just wrote—if some other approach works better for you. The worst advice I’ve ever gotten is that we writers have to do certain things in certain ways to be a success. Each writer has his or her own approach; success can be reached through many different paths. Just check out the chart here.

What are you working on now? If you’re taking a break, what are you reading now?

Right now, I’m drafting the second of three intertwined novellas that may become my second book. Beyond that, I don’t want to say too much more—else I jinx the small progress I’ve made on it so far!

As for reading, I’m at various points in several books: Charlotte Armstrong’s Night Call and Other Stories of Suspense, Patricia Highsmith’s The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Rules of Thumb: 73 Authors Reveal Their Fiction Writing Fixations. Beyond that, I’m always browsing stories in several anthologies that I have at home and in the office, including the most recent several that I picked up at the latest Malice Domestic convention—Fish or Cut Bait from the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move from the Austin Mystery Writers, and two volumes of The Whole She-Bang from Sisters in Crime Canada—and the Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, which has become a regular bedside companion.

You can pre-order your copy of Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del & Louise here.

Pulling Those Weeds

From Karen:

Writer Friends,

In this season of gardening, I think you’ll enjoy this thoughtful essay from Ann Mehl, business coach. Great advice, and very applicable to us!

http://www.annmehl.com/weeds/

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“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot

Author Betel Arnold learned through experience that dumping the toxic baggage that damages her writing process (competitive frenemies, a nasty inner critic) is just as important as a regular writing routine. Betel’s inspiring and inspiring spiritual self-help book, Buried Beneath the Words, is available now in English and Spanish.

Please welcome Betel to Write Despite.


The idea of writing never occurred to me until the day my five-year-old daughter showed me her drawing. “Look mommy,” she said. Purple buildings sat side by side on a hilly street. “Who lives there?” I blurted. She shrugged. As a way to keep her engaged I suggested we write a story about the people who lived in those buildings.

At the computer, I was surprised and a bit ashamed when I tried to control the story. My daughter who is easygoing gave me free reign. Eventually though, she got bored and wanted to stop, I didn’t. I typed until motherly duties called. About five years later, while browsing my documents, I came upon the story and my interest was piqued. Could I finish the story? Also, what is the fate of the characters I created? I had to know.

I joined a writing group. Here, I met people who were serious about writing—it was their life. I felt like a complete fake but I continued to attend. Also, something that happened to me in fifth grade gave me hope.

That year, all students attending P.S. 19, were required to submit a story for a contest. The winner’s story would go in the teacher’s handbook. I remember writing that story. Since, the possibility of winning never crossed my mind; I let myself go and wrote without care. I can’t explain the utter shock and disbelief I felt when my name was announced as the winner. I couldn’t believe it. But this experience is what kept me in my seat when I wanted to run out of that writing circle.

Since then, I’ve published, Buried Beneath the Words, I have co-authored, 13 Lucky Ways to Beat Clutterism Disease—due out in September, and the young adult novel I started years ago, Jordan City, is complete.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that I would like to share with you. Things that support my writing.

  • I show up. I made a personal commitment—if writing was what I was going to do, then, I would show up. And I do. Everyday, I get up early, grab my cup of coffee and head upstairs to my office. I write a minimum of a thousand words a day. It doesn’t have to be good or perfect or for publishing. If something happens to interrupt my schedule, I go with the flow, but I make sure, that before my head hits the pillow, I’ve written those thousand words. The majority of the time, I exceed my goal.
  • I do not criticize myself or my writing. For too long, I beat myself up and felt like a fake. I compared my writing to those who had been writing all their lives and came up short. I no longer do that. Everyone’s journey is their own. I stay in my lane. If I am struggling with a scene and I become frustrated, I stop. I go for a walk, a bike ride, or I take a shower. These activities work for me. They bring clarity.
  • I take care of myself physically and emotionally. I eat well, I go to bed early, and I exercise at least four times a week. I take myself on dates—I enjoy my company. I recently went on a writing retreat to a house atop a mountain all by myself. The peace I experienced is indescribable. In taking care of myself, I analyze my relationships. Toxic friends destroy peace of mind. I no longer ignore the stress certain friendships can cause; for the sake of my writing and my peace of mind, I am prayerful about my relationships.

Today, I view writing as my friend, as a great teacher. The changes I made in my life because of it are priceless. I am so glad—“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot

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The Power of Faith, Family and Friends

From Karen:

Think you have trouble squeezing writing into your day? Try throwing five kids into the mix. Tamara Grantham does it, and her debut novel, Dreamthief, will be published on September 1, 2015. It’s a fantasy tale, full of elves, fairies and intrigue.

Tamara says the loving support of family and friends, and her own steadfast faith, have made it possible. Read on and be inspired. Please welcome Tamara to Write Despite!


tamara's book

I started writing on September 1, 2010. I remember the date because it was a beautiful day. The leaves were beginning to change, the summer heat had cooled, and my son had started Kindergarten. I was at home with my two youngest, a 3-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy. I’d overcome the stresses of buying a new home in a new city, and my husband had started his 2nd year of residency. The past year had been pretty brutal. I was a small-town Texas girl transplanted to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’d never lived so far away from home, and my husband’s 80-hour work weeks were a killer. Luckily, I was blessed to make some friends who were true kindred spirits.

One of these kindred spirits loaned me a book called Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. It was a fun, creative story, not unlike the stories I’d created in my own imagination. In her bio, the author wrote that she’d written the book while raising two young children and one on the way.

I stewed on this information for a few days. How did she do it? I couldn’t even find five minutes to check my email. How had she done it? And if I were to write a book, what would it be about? Would it have magic? Romance? What would my characters look like? Where would the setting be?

I couldn’t leave all the information stuck in my head. I sat down and wrote a 10-page outline about a girl named Ivy who lived on a Texas farm. I called it Forbidden. The story was a mix of Anne of Green Gables meets Tess of the d’Urbevilles, with a little magic and romance thrown into the plot. It never got published, but I still have my hopes up.

After I wrote my outline, I was hooked on writing.

I finished the first draft of Forbidden a month later on October 1, 2010.

Oddly enough, I’ll publish my first book on September 1, 2015, five years to the day that I started writing.

My first published book was actually my fourth novel. Dreamthief started out as a question asked by my brother-in-law. He worked as a military policeman at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Apparently, he’d pulled over quite a few people who were a little off. They also happened to display fairies and unicorns on their car’s bumpers. “Are people who read fantasy books and collect fairy stuff a little weird?” he had asked.

Hmm… Were they? And if they were, then why? These questions evolved into my book’s premise. What if they’ve really been to fairy world and can’t remember it? And what if their lost memories are causing their societal abnormalities and mental disorders? And if so, who would treat them? A half-elf who can remember both earth and fairy world? After that, I had a fresh new book to write. But I didn’t do it alone.

My husband was a huge influence on my writing. Every Christmas he bought me several books on writing. I read them all. Some of them I read twice. He read everything I wrote and gave me critical feedback. And for the most part he loved all my writing.

I queried agents for four years. I got some requests for pages, and even a few full manuscript requests. I attended writing conferences. At one conference I had all three agents request my book, but nothing came of it. After doing some research, I realized that my inability to snag an agent might not entirely be my fault.

The industry was changing.

Self-published and smaller press-released books were gaining steam. These authors were not taking a huge profit pay cut, and they were successful with their sales. I looked into several methods of publishing and found my dream publisher. Clean Teen Publishing did beautiful covers, they had a professional online presence, and most importantly, their authors were selling books.

I submitted Dreamthief, my novel about Olive Kennedy, a Fairy World psychologist, to two publishers. A day later, I had two manuscript requests. And the next day, I had two offers.

I signed with Crimson Tree Publishing, the adult imprint of Clean Teen Publishing, on November 8, 2014. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

I have so much in my life to be thankful for. I have two wonderful parents, two sisters and a brother who support and love me. I’ve been extremely blessed to have five beautiful children who fill my world with laughter.

I have a husband who also happens to be my best friend, who is stronger than me in so many ways, who supports his family and tries his hardest to give us the best life possible. I owe so much to him.

And lastly, I have a loving Heavenly Father. He is my savior and redeemer. He blessed me with the gift to write, but more importantly, the motivation to keep going when I feel like I can’t, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Connect with Tamara on Facebook and Twitter.

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Forget Me Not

(From Karen)

So, yes, I’m once again sharing a post from Women’s Fiction Writers. We should really pay them a royalty.

Like most writers, I struggle to stay organized and keep my lines from getting tangled when I’m working on a long piece of fiction—like my new novel. So many details, so many threads to remember and keep straight.

Outlines and notes help, but author Amy Sue Nathan relies on a handy method to index the issues.

Sometimes it’s the little tips that help a lot.

Read on

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Writing Through Grief

Much has been written about the therapeutic effects of writing, about its ability to help you sort out the noise in your head and push on. For Sarah Kilch Gaffney, the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, has become a “lifeline.”

As a young widow and single mom, Gaffney turned to writing to help her process her grief and to forge a new life with her toddler daughter. She writes beautifully of the experience in a recent Washington Post essay.

Please welcome Sarah to Write Despite.

SarahKilchGaffneyBW

I have always been a creative type, and I started writing in my late teens. I studied creative writing and environmental studies in college and went on to work in the conservation field for a number of years. I never stopped writing, but I also found it challenging to write with any sort of consistency. A poem here or there. A fiction story started but rarely finished.

Fast forward several years and I found myself in starkly different circumstances. My young husband was dying from a brain tumor and I was caring for him and our toddler daughter.

And I felt compelled to write about what was happening to us, like there was somehow no possible way that I could not write it all down and get it all out. During the last weeks of his life, I wrote an essay about our decision to have our daughter despite his terminal diagnosis. I remember desperately wanting to get it submitted before he died, having no idea if anyone would even want to publish it. In a surreal series of events, I sent the essay out on a Tuesday and the following day my husband’s hospice nurse told me we were looking at hours to days. He died that Saturday night, and Sunday morning the essay was accepted for publication.

I’ve continued to send essays into the world ever since.

Writing about my husband’s illness and death, and the challenges of raising a child as a young widow, has helped me work through my grief more effectively than bereavement groups, grief therapy, and anything else I have encountered. Everything has helped, but writing through it all has been the most fruitful. Knowing that there are others in the world finding comfort in my words, realizing that perhaps they are not alone in their suffering, has also given me a deeper purpose. That my grief might help others with their grief was an astonishing revelation.

Right now I am in a state of great flux in my life. My daughter and I just marked one year since losing my husband and her father. I recently left nursing school, which was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but which has also brought me great relief and closure. I started nursing school to take care of my husband, to save him in the only way I could think of. I returned to school after he died, but my heart was no longer in it. Though I was succeeding in every aspect of the program, it became clear that I was succeeding despite myself and that I was not happy. I have learned the hard way that life’s far too short for that sort of thing.

As I start the process of rebuilding my life with my daughter, of figuring out what I want to do and what direction I want to take, my writing remains a constant source of grounding, problem-solving, and emotional expression. For me, writing is both an escape and a way to face my grief head-on, with all of the rawness, beauty, and love that I can manage. Writing allows me to focus and reflect on the small moments in life that are so, so important: reading with my little one, going for walks in the woods with her, acknowledging all of the good things in my life. It also gives me a chance to spend time with myself and to work through my grief on my own terms. It is a crucial and tangible lifeline, and I’m holding on for dear life.

Advice For a Monday Morning

good_advice_mutt–From Karen:

Okay, I’m sharing this image just because I love it. Welcome to a new week!

I’m sharing this post from one of our favorite blogs, Women’s Fiction Writers, because I think you’ll love it. Women’s Fiction Writers Blogstress Amy Sue Nathan has just published her second novel! Check it out and support a sister.

In this post, veteran author Cathy Lamb shares her publishing history and some unconventional advice. DEFINITELY worth a read.

An exerpt:

“Your packet out to agents, online or by snail mail, looks like this: Cover letter, one page. Twenty pages of your story. Synopsis, one page.

Send this packet out to ten agents at a time. Yes, I did say ten. Everything you hear or read, here or on Jupiter, will tell you to send your partial manuscript to one agent at a time. Don’t follow that rule either. As you can see, I don’t really like rules. Too confining, too dull.

Why submit to multiple agents at the same time? Many agents will never, ever respond to you or your pages. Other agents will take months to read it. With others, the rejection slips will come back so fast, you will think the agent didn’t even read your book. And, he may not have. He may not be taking on clients.

Want more mean truths?  An agent will read the first paragraph of your work, MAYBE the first page, of your book, before he tosses it if his attention is not grabbed. If he likes the first paragraph, he reads the first page, then the second page, then the third.

He knows QUICKLY if your book is something he can sell to a publishing house. They’re experienced, they’re smart, they’re efficient. Never forget: They are BURIED in manuscripts.”

The Camera Doesn’t Lie

From Karen:

Okay, so these aren’t the most flattering photos, but they are pretty darn funny.

They were shot during my reading and signing at Tolland Public Library in Connecticut last week.  Many thanks to Kate Farrish for organizing.

It was a lovely event, lots of nice readers (phew) and a lively discussion. Those of you contemplating your first reading/signing events should know this: People are really nice at these things. No kidding. They’re there because they’re interested in writing and stories…and in your work! Many know how difficult the process is and admire your persistence and dedication.

The audience also seems to know when you’re bluffing and when you’re speaking from the heart. I received a few comments afterwards on how much audience members appreciated my warm and candid comments. THAT was nice to hear.

Questions I received touched on my writing process, how I got the idea for this book, what I’m working on now (a new novel) and how tough it is to break into publishing today. I answered as best I could, no whitewashing, just telling it like is. And that was the most fun of all.

I’ve added captions to these photos, illustrating a little—just a little—of what was running through my mind…

Will anyone show up?

Will anyone show up?

Hope the hands make me look like I know what I'm talking about.

Hope the hands make me look like I know what I’m talking about.

They're nodding and smiling. Maybe I should say that again.

They’re nodding and smiling. Maybe I should say that again.

You're going to give me money?

You’re going to give me money?

Author, Author!

From Cathy

Last week I had the pleasure of attending two literary events celebrating new books by people I’m proud to call friends. They are both exceptional writers, and I was honored to have been asked to review at least parts of both of their books while they were being written. I’m even mentioned in their acknowledgements, which is so very sweet. (Although when I pointed this out to my teenage son, his only comment was, “But you realize the goal is to get your name on the front of the book, Mom, not in the back.” Alas, as they say, always an editor, never an author.)

Jenny Jackson, editor at Knopf and Doubleday, and author Katherine Heiny

Jenny Jackson, editor at Knopf and Doubleday, and author Katherine Heiny

In any case, Sunday, February 8 was the launch of Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC.

Katherine read from the story that hurled her into the literary world, “How to Give the Wrong Impression,” which was published in the New Yorker when she was only 25. After the reading, her editor, Jenny Jackson from Knopf/Doubleday, interviewed Katherine, asking all the key questions about her journey to publication, her work habits, her inspirations and roadblocks. It was an exciting, enlightening evening, and I was so glad to be a part of it.

book group

Book group loves Bright Coin Moon! That’s Kirsten on the far right.

Monday night I met with my beloved book group of a dozen years to gush over author Kirsten Lopresti’s young adult novel, Bright Coin Moon. We all agreed we were more than impressed by this gem of a book–lost in it to the point that we forgot it was written by one who actually walks among us, who lives close enough and is accessible enough to join us for salads and tequila chicken fettuccine at California Pizza Kitchen, and sign our books and answer our questions.

So add to these two books Karen Guzman’s lovely Homing Instincts, and you could say people are getting published all around me.

Am I happy for them?

Thrilled beyond words.

Am I jealous?

Yeah. A bit at least.

Am I feeling like I should throw in the towel because I haven’t accomplished this yet?

Quite the opposite.

Seeing that this can–and does–happen to wonderful, talented, deserving people is nothing short of…well, I would say, miraculous. But it’s more like a push from behind–or a grasp of the hand and a yank forward.

I’m not saying I’m as good a writer as them. I’m saying if I work hard I can be deserving of publication. I’m saying I shouldn’t expect it to not happen, but to just be bold enough to believe it might.

Scratch that.

Believe it will.

I’m trying. I hope one day to get there. I hope that for all of us.

Write well, everyone, and know that the promise of your words finding their way into the world is more than conceivable. If you’re putting in the work–every day–I have to believe it’s even pretty damned possible.

Want to Sell Your Book? Read on…

By Karen Guzman

Please settle back for a very informative interview with Christina Hamlett. It’s the truly useful kind of information we all need. Christina has an awful lot of experience in the wilds of publishing. She’s eager to share what she knows and give new writers a leg up. I know. Christina was kind enough to feature my debut novel on her You Read It Here First blog.

A former actress and theater director, Christina is an award-winning author and media relations expert whose credits to date include 31 books, 157 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films and squillions of articles and interviews that appear online and in trade publications throughout the world.

She is also a script consultant for the film business (which means she stops a lot of really bad movies from coming to theaters near you) and a professional ghostwriter (which does not mean she talks to dead people).

Learn more about Christina’s work and hook up with her on her various platforms:

www.authorhamlett.com

www.mediamagnetism.org

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Christina-Hamlett/155417084517326

Please welcome Christina to Write Despite.

Christina and Chief Canine Officer Lucy

Christina and Chief Canine Officer Lucy

1. What advice can you offer new writers looking for markets to sell their work?
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, it’s critical to establish yourself as an expert in your field. To do this, you need to embrace an enthusiastic mindset to write articles, compose blogs, teach workshops, participate in chat rooms, utilize social media, write reviews, and endear yourself to the media by being the entertaining, informative and dependable guest they’ll want to invite back time and again. The more visibility you can generate for your work, the more “name recognition” for your prospective readers and, subsequently, the more trust they will have in your brand. Freelance markets abound these days for not only getting your work seen but also getting paid. Some of my favorite resources are Hope Clark’s Funds for WritersWorldwide Freelance, Where Writers Win, My Perfect Pitch, Authors Publish Magazine, Freedom With Writing, and Wow! Women on Writing.

A cautionary note about the plethora of content mills out there: don’t devalue yourself. A site that pays $25 for a 500 word article is only a viable option if you can actually compose that entire article in an hour or less. If it’s going to take you time to do research, rewrite, edit and potentially get it sent back for revision, your pay comes out to about $.10 an hour. Seriously. You’re worth much more than that.

 2. What are some of the biggest publishing mistakes you see new writers making?

  • Not understanding who their target audience is.
  • Not putting any thought into their marketing platform.
  • Telling an agent or publisher, “My book is the next Hunger Games.”
  • Telling an agent or publisher, “Everyone says my book would make a great movie.”
  • Not reading dialogue aloud to see if it sounds doofy.
  • Not doing sufficient research.
  • Not doing sufficient proofreading.
  • Sending more than an agent or publisher has specifically requested.
  • Sending an unsolicited manuscript as an email attachment.
  • Starting a story in the wrong place.
  • Writing a story without a compelling or sustainable conflict.
  • Not listening to agent, editor or publisher feedback.
  • Believing that a book can only be validated as “real” if published traditionally.

I think the worst one, though, is whenever I hear a defeatist author say, “Well, I guess if I can’t sell my book to a traditional house, I’ll have to self-publish.” I’m reminded of a homely classmate in elementary school who told her daughter, “Well, I guess if no one wants to marry you, you can always go become a nun.”

3. How much of the burden to sell a book is on the writer these days? It seems like publishers want you to already have your market established before they’ll touch you.

Like any other industry in this woefully drekky economy, publishers across the country have downsized and their marketing departments are typically the first to get outsourced. Rarely these days will a publisher take on a fledgling writer unless that writer is already creating a buzz for his/her work and demonstrating a willingness to work hard and promote it. In turn, this has given rise to the popularity of self-publishing in which authors not only have more control of their own intellectual property but they’ll also be working just as much as they’d be expected to for a traditional publisher. The difference is that self-publishing will get them 70+% royalty vs. 8-12%. Another consideration is that unless a book really flies off the charts, the average shelf-life for a new title at a brick and mortar bookstore is 2-6 weeks (as opposed to indefinitely in cyberspace), and 30% of paperbacks and hardcovers end up in landfills. It should also be noted that agents and publishers are sometimes reluctant to take on someone who has only written one book and has no immediate plans to write another one. That said, you not only have to have that first book completed but also be a whirling dervish about fleshing out ideas for multiple works thereafter.

4. What are some innovative ways writers can get the word out about the projects?

I love this question! And I just happen to have all sorts of creative ways to accomplish this. Try these for starters:

  • Suppose you’ve written a murder mystery that unfolds at a winery. Instead of sitting at a table in a bookstore and hoping someone will walk by and notice you, create an event wherein you schedule a reading or a talk at an area winery. Customers who buy an autographed copy of your book are then entitled to a modest discount on their wine purchase. Since they were already on the premises to buy a bottle or two, half your work of selling is done before you even start talking.
  • For cookbook authors, do a cooking demonstration at a gourmet shop that not only whips up excitement about the products and utensils they sell but also reinforces your “expert” status. Pass out free recipe cards featuring the cover of your book on the back.
  • Are you writing YA books? Offer to be a speaker for Career Day at neighborhood schools. In concert with the exciting advice you dispense about what it’s like to be a writer, distribute pencils and pens with the titles of your books imprinted on them, hand out free bookmarks, and give them mini-teasers in the form of a tri-fold brochure or simple booklet that contains the first chapter and ends on a cliffhanger.
  • Give your fictional YA characters their own blog and encourage teens and tweens to contribute to it, post reviews, and ask advice about writing, relationships and life. This strategy will also keep you in the loop on the topics that interest them.
  • Volunteer for literary events and festivals. Organize readings and discussion groups at the library. If it’s not cost-prohibitive, attend national conferences/conventions and participate on panels. Leverage your expertise through consulting, mentoring and training gigs. Teach workshops at community centers or through distance-learning forums. Build your email list from registrations and routinely forward articles of interest and monthly tips that supplement the classes your recipients have attended. The goal is to keep your name active for every outreach group with whom you come in contact.
  • Civic organizations (e.g. Rotary) are always looking for dynamic speakers for their luncheon meetings. Whenever you have the opportunity to give a talk to these groups, be sure to not only have copies of your books on hand but also what’s called a one-pager to distribute to attendees. The one-pager is a tidy summary of your background, your publications, your website(s), your professional affiliations and, most importantly, your availability as a speaker. Gregarious people typically belong to multiple clubs and organizations (including the Chamber of Commerce) and what you’re providing them is an easy way to make their next meeting a hit. The more you can become a known – and reliable – commodity, the more bookings you’re going to get and, accordingly, the broader your platform will become.

I love hearing from aspiring authors of all ages and can be reached at authorhamlett@cs.com. Just put the words “Karen Sent Me” in the subject line and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. I do request, however, that you not send me attachments to critique for you. Since I do this professionally, I charge professional consultation fees which I’m happy to provide upon request.

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