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.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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’sFunds for Writers, Worldwide 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Karen’s official book launch was this Saturday–a quiet signing at Breakwater Books in Guilford, Connecticut.
And damn it, I just had to be there.
I decided not to tell her I was coming, for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be fun to surprise her, and 2) If I had to back out at the last minute, I didn’t want to screw up her plans.
God bless my crazy friend who offered to tag along and ended up driving nearly the whole six hours from DC (I get a tad nervous in that NYC snarl, but she drives like a machine).
Much zaniness along the way, including a stop at the Pez Visitor Center. Yes, that’s the candy that pops out of the heads. Did you ever wonder what the World’s Largest Pez dispenser would look like? Wonder no more.
So anyway, we finally made it to Connecticut and headed for Breakwater Books. Now keep in mind that, although Karen and I talk via electronics frequently, we hadn’t seen each other in person in EIGHT years.
So I walked in, and this happened:
Fun, right? I thought so.
Karen invited us back to her lovely home afterward, and we all had breakfast with her husband and son the next morning, then hit the road before the snow started. Here we are outside the cafe at Lyman’s Orchard (a way cool farmer’s market store):
The whole trip was way cool, and I’m so glad I was able to do it. This Saturday Karen will be giving her first reading in Mystic, CT. If you’re local (or if you’re into crazy road trips), go get a book signed and hear her read from Homing Instincts. You won’t be disappointed.
Congratulations, Karen! Hope to see you again before another eight years passes!