QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, June 27, 2011

Publishing and Why You Need a Game Plan--Keeping the Readers in Mind

Courtesy of Daino_16

So often we writers put so much energy into planning and perfecting our novels that we forget that the final "The End" is really only the beginning.

Many writers aim to become authors--writers who are published--because we all want to be read, right? And the way to be read is to be published.

It's an exciting (and sometimes ulcer inducing) time in publishing right now. Now, more than ever, authors have more options to consider as they seek to have their works published. I'm going to discuss both commercial and self-publishing, and why it's so important to have a game plan regardless of how you decide to publish. Publishing is not a one-size-fits-all, so it's important to learn as much as you can from various sources so you can make the most informed choices.

Why do I think it's so important to have a game plan? Because I believe that authors should be focusing on finding readers, not sales. Sales are fickle things. You might do some incredible marketing, but if your focus is on getting the greatest number of sales, then you might be missing the mark a little. Sure, you might get a lot on this book, but what about the next? And the one after that? But if your focus is on finding readers--readers who will become fans--then you're likely to get the sales anyway without limiting the sales and hard work to just one book.

Commercial Publishing
If you go the commercial route, chances are you have an agent and a publisher. This means your books will likely--but not always--be stocked in bookstores like Barnes and Nobles and other indie stores. You'll have access to editors, and the publisher will have a marketing and publicity department.

What does this mean to the reader? That a number of professionals all agreed that your work meets industry standards and they worked together to help you make it even better.

So why do you need a game plan? The economy hasn't been a happy place for a long while, and bookstores and publishers are feeling the pinch. This means shrinking budgets and less shelf space. More and more, authors are required to help market their books. You can do this through blogging, Tweeting, and Facebooking. Social networking is very important, but I also think it's often misunderstood. The point of social networking is to network. Meet people. Form relationships. What it isn't for is commercials. If you find yourself only using your social network accounts to publicize things about your books, then you might want to rethink your strategy. I think you can definitely use networking to mention things like book signings, contests, etc., but that should never be the focus. Commercials tend to be ignored, unfollowed, and forgotten. And that means wasted time on the author's part.

Is social networking a must? Nope. If you don't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. It will show, and could impact your career negatively. There are plenty of highly successful authors that don't Tweet, blog or Facebook. The important thing is to do what works for you. It's also important to remember how vital it is to be professional anytime you attach your name to something online. The Internet is not the place for rants, temper tantrums, or virtual witch hunts. If you go that route, you might initially get a lot of comments supporting your rant, but I don't think a lot of authors consider how many people silently go elsewhere for a good read when they behave badly online. There's really no way to measure this, but it's always worth keeping in the back of your mind. :) I'm not saying it's bad to be passionate about things, but I do think it's possible to be passionate without tearing anyone else down in the process.

I do think it's important to have a website that's up-to-date. You want your readers to be able to learn more about you, your books, and whatever else you've got going. It's also probably a good idea to have a way for readers to reach you. I've found that how well I connect with an author--whether through emails, blogs, Tweets, etc.--does influence my spending habits.

Other ways to connect with readers include having book launches, book signings, going to conferences, online events, book fairs and festivals, school visits, and speaking at the library and other places that tie into your book.

The final things no game plan should be without: keep your expectations real and write the next book. Find out what you should expect realistically and adjust yourself accordingly. And nothing keeps an author's books selling like having the next book come out, especially if each book is better than the last.

Even if you don't read kid lit, I'm sure most everyone is aware that JK Rowling is self-publishing the Harry Potter books as ebooks. So what does this mean? Well, long-term effects are going to take some time to figure out, but there will likely be a lot of writers turning to self-publishing now that JK Rowling has done it.

And that's a big mistake. JK Rowling is basically in a league of her own. She has the status and the money that pretty much no other author has. And she can do some things other authors can't because of it.

If you self-publish, all of the above I've outlined for commercial publishing game plan  is applicable. Times a thousand. With self-publishing, there are no professionals vetting your work, so readers have only the novel and your word to rely on. If you decide to self-publish based on what big name authors are doing or to make some easy money, you're setting yourself up for failure. Publishing well, regardless of how you go about it, takes a lot of hard work. It isn't easy, and it shouldn't be. Readers deserve the best you have to offer.

When you self-publish, you are basically becoming a small business and need to think that way. That means that you'll need to invest in your business to get it running. Investment comes in the form of time and money. Time to write the best story you can and to polish it until it gleams. Money to hire an editor to help make your work stronger and make sure it's clean. An alternative would be in forming a cooperative group where members do the editing for each other. The important thing in either scenario is to make sure that whoever you have editing your work does a good job and can help ensure that your novel meets industry standards. The same holds true with the cover and formatting. If you want to be taken seriously, it's important to take your novel--prose, cover, synopsis, formatting--seriously. To compete, you need to make sure the novel and cover meet industry standards.

And either way you slice it, you're going to need to invest time and money to make sure your book has a fighting chance. There's a lot of white noise out there. A lot of people who have just thrown things together and slapped them up online. As a self-publisher, you won't have a company behind you vetting your work, making you available in bookstores. It will be harder to get reviews, and you'll have to prove yourself in ways a person who is commercially published won't have to. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just the way it is right now.

In order to stand out enough that readers can find your books, you're going to need to be creative and think outside the box. You're going to need to be professional, and willing to take the time to get your name out there. You'll need to make sure your book is stellar--both in the prose and the formatting. Self-publishing is starting to lose the stigma, but it's still there, and not entirely without reason. As a self-published author, it will be on your shoulders to prove to the readers that you have a product worth buying--so make sure that you do.

I think it's also a good idea to have a five-year plan. List where you'd like to be in five years, how many books (and which ones) you want to have out, what you'll need to do to get there, and anything else that will help you be successful. I think a marketing plan--even a simple one--is helpful to have as well. If it's written down, it's easier to see what you need to do, ensure you have the funds to do it, and to keep focused.

As a self-publisher, I think it's vital to keep your expectations of success in check. Don't go in expecting to be an instant success or to make a ton of money. If you do, you'll likely be disappointed. (Just as you would if you had gone the commercial route.) The most important thing is to make sure your product is professional, that you're professional, and that you get to work on the next book. Having a large list of professional quality books can also help you stand out.

In Conclusion

As you can see, this is something I've been thinking a lot about. With so many different opportunities, I've decided to diversify my options, so to speak. I've written my five year plan to include commercial publishing and self-publishing. Why? There were a lot of personal reasons, and being a very prolific writer is a help. But one of my biggest reasons is that I want to reach as many readers as I can, and I believe that having a foot on both sides of the line will help me do that. (This is me, personally. Every author, every book will be different.) So long as the quality is excellent for both sets of books, I think the commercially published books and the self-published books will bolster each other. I could be wrong, and I'm going in knowing this. I'm also going in knowing that I've got a lot of hard work ahead of me. :D

So while I'm querying agents for one series, I'm releasing my novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA as a subscription-based online serial. I first came across this idea at CONduit earlier this year when I heard Tracy Hickman speak about his Scribe's Forge method of publishing serial novels. I fell in love with the idea and ran with it. You can find out more about both the novel and the method at my blog and my website.

Ironically, it was after I'd made the decision to self-publish my fairy godmother series that led me to write up my five-year plan. Which, in turn, made me realize how important it is to have one for my commercially published-to-be books as well as the ones I'm putting out on my own.

There are some notable exceptions in both commercial publishing and self-publishing, but far more of us fall into the non-exception group. I firmly believe that success doesn't happen by accident. It comes from deliberate action, thoughtful consideration, and a lot of hard work. I want to be successful, which is why I think having a game plan is so important.

What about you? What are your thoughts and experiences? Do you have a game plan? If you do, what's worked well for you and what have you included?

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 6/24/2011

Around the Internet

Ever fantasize about making enough money writing that you could quit your day job? Alexis Grant explains why she's keeping her day job.

One person's point of view on whether he would self-publish if he were unpublished.

Rachelle Gardner explains why traditional publishing seems to run at a glacial pace.

From Fuel for Your Writing: Everything is a Remix: why it's okay to reuse some ideas, but not others.

In keeping with the reusable-ideas theme, did you love Danyelle's recent post on the Unloved and Unappreciated Cliche? You might also enjoy How Cliched Is Your Writing? Take the Test from Write It Sideways.

Should the novel you're revising be condemned?  Find out here!

And if it should indeed be condemned?  Find out how to build a better novel premise from Adventures in Children's Publishing!

Then, our own Stina Lindenblatt teaches you how to storyboard the way screenwriters do: using index cards and a corkboard!

Finally, we all know that building a platform is important in this business, and that social networking is an important approach.  Find out how to make sure the stories you tell on your blog engage readers, rather than turning them off.

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Listen to Your Gut

If you’re like most writers (fiction and non-fiction), one of your goals is to land an agent. However, not just any agent will do. You need one who will be the best advocate for your project, and one who shares the same passion for it as you do.
But why is this so important? Why not sign with the first one who offers representation?
I’m going to answer this by sharing with you situations in which writers signed with the wrong agent. These are individuals I’ve spoken with or they have shared their experience via their blogs.
·    Agent sold the client’s book, but didn’t get them the best deal. I’m not talking about money. I’m taking about the option clause. This refers to an editor having the first right to buy or reject your next book before any other publisher sees it. Typically, it’s X number of months from the time contract is signed. In this writer’s situation, it was 18 months after her first book hit the bookshelves. You do the math. This meant the publisher was allowed to hold onto the second book for almost three years before making a decision. Unfortunately, the writer didn’t know about this until it was too late.

·    Agent was submitting to the wrong editors.  Editors have a wish list, and there are certain books and topics they aren’t interested in. Agents learn what editors are looking for and make sure they target your manuscript to the right one. If your project is only going to editors who aren’t looking for that type of book, your project will never be sold.

·    Agent didn’t submit client’s book to any editors. I can’t imagine this happens very often, but it has happened. In this situation, the client did the right thing. She asked for a list of editors to whom the agent had submitted her book. When the agent left the industry (without telling her clients), the writer contacted the editors, only to find out none of them had heard of the writer or her manuscript. The agent had never even contacted them.

·    Communication dwindled to nothing after book went out on submission. For some writers, this might not be a big deal. For others, they want to know about the rejections. And they want to be able to share their concerns with the agent.

·    Agent did a mass mail-out to all editors. When we query agents, we’re told to only query five at a time. That way if your manuscript (or query) is constantly being rejected, you’re able to fix it before querying again. You only get one shot. Same deal with editors. There are occasions in which an editor will request revisions. But even though she falls in love with your book, the acquisition committee might not be as enthralled with it. This means your agent can take your shiny new project to a different editor who hasn’t already seen the original book. You can’t do this if the agent pitched to all the editors in the first round of submissions.

So how can you avoid signing with the wrong agent?
·    Google the agent’s name and find out as much as you can about them. Yep, that’s right: Stalk them. This is your career we’re talking about. Just remember, I not talking about the type of stalking that will result in a restraining order.
·    Look up their names in P&E (Preditors & Editors) to see if they have a bad rating.
·    Only query agents listed in Querytracker.net. Patrick has already done a lot of the work for you, including linking interviews the particular agent has done.
·    Check out writer forums such as Absolute Write, Querytracker, Verlakay’s blue boards (for kidlit writers), and see what other writers (and sometimes clients) have to say about the agent.
·    If you get The Call, ask to talk to the agent’s clients. Though that might not always help. I know a number of people who did that and signed with the wrong agent because the clients didn’t know there was an issue with the agent at the time.
·    Know what you want in an agent. Maybe you’re fine if he only wants to rep the one book. Or maybe you know you want an agent for your career (but this doesn’t mean you can’t change agents at some point).
·    Have questions ready for when you get The Call. The above issues can be addressed during the call so that you and the agent are on the same page if you decide to sign with him.
·    Ask if you can have a list of editors to whom the agent is submitting. If you want to see the rejections, let the agent know that before you agree to representation. Some agents don’t like to do that, and you’re left in the dark as to what’s going on with your submission. I’ve heard this complaint a number of times. Of course, if you don’t want to see the rejections, then you don’t have to worry about this.
·    Check for the name of the agents who represent your favorite authors and books. They are often mentioned in the acknowledgement page. Also, note if the author switched agents. There might be good reasons for that, including:
                ·     Communication issues
            ·     Agent and author no longer shared the same vision.
            ·     Agent wasn’t in love with the new novel, but the next agent was.
Just because an author left an agent, that doesn’t necessarily mean there was something wrong about the agent. It just might mean she was no longer the right one for the client.
·    Listen to your gut.
The last point is the most important. A number of writers I spoke with said they had a bad feeling about the agent who had offered them representation, but they ignored it. Turns out their gut was right.
Remember, just because the agent has a pulse, this doesn’t mean you have to accept the offer. Do what’s right for you. Your book and career will thank you for it.
Does anyone else have suggestions on to how to avoid signing with the wrong agent?

Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 6/17/2011

Congratulations to Molly Zenk. You can read her success story here.

If any of you Tweet, social networking just got a little more permanent as the Library of Congress is building a Twitter archive.

Author Jody Hedlund lists 10 ways to avoid having mid-book doldrums.

Our own Stina Lindenblatt has an excellent article on what to watch out for when you query. This isn't about watching out for scams, but making sure you don't sign with the wrong agent.

Nathan Bransford takes a very unscientific poll on attitudes toward e-book pricing. It was interesting to see the change that one year had on people's opinions.

Agent Jessica Faust gives some good tips on email etiquette. And agent Jennifer Laughran gives us information on how she handles the slush pile triage.

Have a great week!

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Are You Ready for The Call?

One of the most exciting -- and nerve wracking -- moments in a writer's life comes when an agent suggests The Call -- otherwise known as a phone call to discuss representation. Particularly if you are lucky enough to have multiple agents interested in representing you, you need to be prepared with questions that will suss out the agent's approach to representation.

Before the Call, you should always research the agent using her agency's site and any social media she uses (you can find those links in QueryTracker).  You may also want to check out AgentQuery, Publisher's Marketplace, and Preditors and Editors. In many cases agents list recent sales, whether they’re a member of the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR), and how big the agency is. If you can’t find that information, of course, you can add it to your list of things to ask about.

To help you prepare further, here's a big list of questions to consider asking, cobbled together from around the web!

  1. How long have you been in business as an agent?
  2. Are you a member of the AAR? If not, do you adhere to the guidelines set forth by the AAR?
  3. How many clients do you represent? [Hint: If they represent 50, they’re not going to have a lot of time for you.]
  4. Who in your agency will actually be handling my work? Will you represent me personally, or will my book be assigned to an associate?
  5. What made you decide that you wanted to represent my work?
  6. Do you feel that the project is ready for submission to publishers, or will I need to make revisions before submission?
  7. If the manuscript needs revisions, how extensive will they be? Will they be small changes, or will I need to make major plot or character changes?
  8. How involved are you in working with your clients in developing ideas?
  9. Which editors or publishing houses do you believe would be a good fit for my book?
  10. What houses that publish my type of manuscript have you placed projects with?
  11. How often will you be in touch when I’m on submission? Do you prefer email contact or by phone? Generally what is your response time?
  12. What can I do to increase my book’s chances of selling?
  13. Do you represent your clients on a book-by-book basis, or are you interested in representing future projects as well?
  14. What if I decide to write something in [different genre you’re considering]? Would you represent that book as well? If not, how would you feel about referring me to another agent?
  15. If you can’t sell this manuscript, what happens? Do we revise? Will you look at other work by me? Or am I dropped as a client?
  16. What are your commission rates? [Standard is 15% domestic.]
  17. Do you issue a written agent-author agreement or contract? What is the duration of the contract?
  18. Will you consult with me on any and all offers?
  19. When you receive money for me, how quickly do you pay out my share? Will you issue a 1099 tax form at the end of the year? How do I get my money if something happens to you?
  20. In the event of death or illness, what provisions do you make for continued representation?
  21. What are your policies if we should part company for any other reasons?
  22. What are your questions or expectations for me if I decide to take you on as my agent?
All right -- now you're ready for that phone to ring!

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Strengths and Your Protagonist

One of the reasons I love having a real-life critique group is that I learn even when I'm not the one being critiqued. For our meeting this past Saturday, one of the members had contributed a zombie story, and another member, unsure what to do with it, had gone through the trouble of finding an online guide to analyzing ironic fiction.

It never would have occurred to me to look up something like that, since I grew up bilingual in English and Sarcasm, but since I write a lot of humor, I snatched the article from the good critiquer's hands...only to discover not that much I didn't already know.

Except for one thing.

We all know about character flaws. A villain is arrogant and therefore discounts the one minuscule chance in a million that the heroes might just somehow be able to shoot a plasma bomb into the air vent and blow up the death star. "I think you overestimate their chances," he says, moments before he's floating through space in a million different directions. And we see this in protagonists too, where the protagonist has to overcome his weakness in order to solve the main conflict, and in a tragedy, often he doesn't.

But this article mentioned something I'd never considered: that sometimes your protagonist's strengths are going to get in the way of solving the problem.

Think about that for a moment. Think about the real people in your life for whom this is absolutely true: the organizational genius who could plan a mission to Mars but whose family gatherings are fodder for a letter that should go viral the week before Thanksgiving ("Please do not use the over-size blue serving dish you used last year.")

When a character's strengths are what stand between him and resolving the conflict, you've got an amazing story on your hands, because the reader will sense the tension: we don't want a conscientious worker to become a slacker, for example. We know he won't want that either. But we'll also recognize as readers when this hard worker is burning himself out or needs to rely on someone else's help, only he won't do it.

Every character trait has both positive and negative aspects, of course. To give an example far too close to home, take the writer who can create worlds and people, and makes her deadlines, but who has three loads of unfolded laundry on the couch. The trick would be (and this is not only for "ironic fiction" but for all fiction) to have the positive side of the character trait be what's standing in the protagonist's way.

A karate black-belt is able to use his opponent's strength against him. Your villain should be able to use the protagonist's strengths the same way.

Consider the possibilities: a forgiving protagonist who lets the villain get too close because she believes he's changed. A loyal protagonist who remains faithful to a leader he doesn't realize is taking advantage of him. A logical, intellectual protagonist who needs to follow the lead of his emotions in order to solve the conflict (or an intuitive, intense protagonist who needs to stop following his emotions and trust his analytics).

In all these cases, a character would need to retain those good character traits, not overcome them. And the challenge of the writer would to supplant what is good in the protagonist with an even greater good.

Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the flawless Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 6/10/2011

Summer is rapidly approaching, which means the publishing industry slows down and some agents close their doors to queries. Make sure you check the agent’s website before submitting during the next few months to make sure your query won’t be automatically deleted. Also plan to wait longer than usual to hear back from an agent.

If you’re new to querying, or will be jumping into the querying ring for the first time at some point, you’ll want to read author (and former literary agent) Nathan Bransford’s post on rejections.
Agent Jessica Faust explained why it’s important that an agent is passionate about your book when she offers representation.

Realities of Publishing
You’ve landed an agent and she sells your book on auction to a major publisher. Check out author Kirsten Hubbard’s post on the realities of being a midlist, debut author. 
Industry News
Although bidders are emerging to buy Borders, the company announced this week that up to fifty-one additional stores may need to be closed in the next few weeks.

Conference News
If you’re a writer of thrillers, ThrillFest is the place you’ll want to be next month. It takes place July 6-9 in New York City. Just days after the sold out Romance of America national conference ends.
If you’re going to pitching at an upcoming conference, check out these pitching tips.

Have a great weekend everyone!
Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Cliché: Unloved and Underappreciated

Courtesy of Yello-Dog
Clichés are next to adverbs and to be verbs when it comes to warning new writers of the pitfalls awaiting them in this new world of words.

There's emotion clichés--hearts pounding anyone? There are also plot clichés (or tropes)--the orphaned Chosen One ring a bell? There are websites you can go to that detail clichés in literature, especially in fantasy. And there are a lot of them.

So why do clichés get no love?

Looking at it a different way, a cliché became a cliché because it worked. It was brilliant and successful at conveying the exact emotion to the reader with an economy of words. Tropes are similar to clichés in that they also worked at showing the reader exactly what kind of story they were reading so they knew what to expect. And then you have archetypes that are on the other end of the spectrum, but just as predictable. Sometimes it can be helpful to see these as a gradation rather than separate things:

cliché--> trope --> archetype 

And yet many times we writers are warned away from using these tools, except maybe the archetypes. Some even go so far as to twist their story into a manifold of knots so they can avoid falling into the cliché/trope traps. As writers, we want to be original. Go boldly where no writer has gone before. But when you strip a story down to its bare bones, it's easy to see that there are really very few stories and really no new ones since a few millennia ago.

So trying to come up with a completely knew story is kind of crazy. Clichés and tropes aren't the enemy. They can be used to help teach the craft, because one of the best ways a writer can hone their craft is to study the masters.

It's definitely possible to work within conventions while still bringing something new and fresh to the table. I write fairy tale-type fantasy, and those clichés and tropes can come in handy because they resonate with the reader. Fairy tale retellings are very popular, and yet so many of them follow the same tropes whether they be royal child that is cursed and requires some sort of intervention to break the spell so as to claim their happily ever after or a common, yet worthy person who must do the impossible to lift the spell, battle the dragon, and win true love.

And yet, even with using so many of the same tropes, there is a wide variety of stories that are different from each other--even within the same fairy tale.

The key is in using the cliché, the tropes, to resonate with the reader while twisting it here or there to give the tale your own unique spin. The twists are one of my favorite things in fairy tale retellings, but it's difficult to move beyond the cliché if you don't understand why it works in the first place.

So what can be gained by owning the cliché?
  • Stories that aren't painfully contorted in an attempt to evade falling into anything even faintly resembling the familiar.
  • Connecting to the reader much faster, because in general, readers connect to the characters--people they're familiar with and who they see a bit of themselves inside.
  • Better able to find a balance between the predictable and the unpredictable. Being able to use that to bring something new and unique to the story.
  • Readers should be able to know who they ought to be cheering for.
To be clear, I'm not advocating lazy writing. And in my mind, the cliché or trope is the starting place, not an end unto itself. It's the familiar, and as that is established and woven throughout the story, the new things and the way you twist the cliché are what will delight and engage the reader, drawing them even further into your story.

Because at the end of the day, that's the story's job. A story isn't real until the reader breathes life into it.

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Promoting Your Book: The Dos and Don’ts of Being a Great Interviewee

I’ve done a number of interviews over the past few months—both as the interviewee and as the interviewer—and along the way I’ve had a lot of really great experiences…and one really bad one (identifying characteristics are being changed to protect the guilty). Here, then, are some tips to help you be the best interviewee you can.

DO remember to be personable and professional.

First and foremost, remember that anytime you deal with other people, you are networking—probably in hopes of finding outlets to promote your book. The more personable and professional you can be, the better the interviewer (and probably readers) will like you.

DON’T forget that the other person is doing you a favor.

Remember that the individual who is interviewing you or asking you to do a guest post is doing you a favor by providing you with publicity for your book. He is also driving traffic to your website, blog, and social media accounts. Therefore, you want to make everything easy (or even better, fun) for him.

DO expect interview questions to be repetitive.

Coming up with interview questions can be tough, especially if the interviewer hasn’t yet read your book. You can also expect interviewers to be interested in the same types of things, like how you came up with your idea and why your book is important, timely, or unique.

Back when I was in digital media publishing, I got to do an audio interview with a famous author whom I admired. I slaved over the questions, both eager to impress her with my knowledge of her books and enthusiastic to learn more about how she got published. But as she began to answer me, it very became very clear that she’d heard my questions a million times. And that brings me to my next don’t.

DON’T become an answer automaton.

No matter how many times you’ve answered the questions, that interviewer and that audience may be hearing your answers for the first time. The author above lapsed into a bored, obviously well-rehearsed set of answers. While we were able to pull clips from the interview, without talented editing her lack of enthusiasm could have been poisonous.

While it’s easier—especially in written interviews—to use the same text you used last time, you’re better off writing off the top of your head. Nobody wants to interview a robot, and if you’re not tailoring your responses to the nuances of the interviewer’s questions, that’s how you’ll sound. Also, if people are interested in your work, they may seek out multiple interviews. If all those interviews are exactly the same, your readers will be bored. To some, that repetition may even suggest you don’t have time for your fans. Not a good move—those are the people responsible for your sales.

While that does mean finding yet another way to tell the story of why you wrote the book, answering as spontaneously as you can also means that from time to time you’ll come up with a fresh, interesting angle you haven’t yet shared.

DO provide a press kit if you don’t have time for individual interviews.

If you really don’t want to write new answers each time, provide a set of questions with answers as part of your website’s press kit. Then you can simply direct interested parties to that page. Provide 8 to 12 good questions with answers, along with any supplemental materials (see the next DO).

DO include helpful photos and links.

DO provide the interviewer with any information she might need, including a photo of you, a photo of your book, and links to your website, blog, or social networking sites. If you’re doing a guest post and an image of something you’re discussing in the post might be useful to readers, include that as well. DO be sure to attach these things to your email if you’re doing an email interview, even if the material is also available online.

DON’T expect your interviewer to do additional research.

Never ask an interviewer to sort through pages and pages of information in search of pertinent details or answers for your interview. I recently asked a psychologist to do an interview about his controversial books for one my websites. After he’d agreed and I’d written up some questions, he directed me to an online discussion board (which was password protected) and expected me to dig through numerous long posts in search of appropriate questions to my answers.

He immediately followed up that expectation with a digital copy of his latest book and stated that I could draw quotes from the book and he’d say he’d said it. (I’m still confused by that. If he actually wrote the book, didn’t he say it?) Not only was the individual insensitive to my busy schedule, but his lack of helpfulness and downright arrogance left me annoyed, resentful, and—probably needless to say—unwilling to do a damn thing to promote anything he’d written. (Worse, I suppose, he inspired the blog post you’re now reading.)

DO keep a calendar – and use it.

As soon as you commit to doing an interview or guest blog post, give yourself a deadline a week or (at most) two away to get it done. We all have busy lives, and it’s embarrassing to have to apologize because you forgot. (Trust me on this.) I strongly recommend a paper calendar on the wall near your desk, because you can see your deadline approaching. A digital calendar may only remind you a day or two ahead of time, forcing you to scramble to put something together.

What's your experience? Which DOs and DON'Ts would you add?

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Publishing Pulse for June 3rd, 2011

New At QueryTracker:

Congratulations to QT success storyMichael Hagan!

Seven agent profiles have been updated in the last week with changes such as new email addresses, two agents closing to queries and one opening up to queries. Always check for the most recent information (both from QT and from the agent's website) before you query.

Publishing News:

Liberty Media is interested in purchasing Barnes And Noble. The LA-based Gores Group has expressed interest in buying half the remaining Borders Book stores. Meanwhile Amazon.com initiates "sunshine deals" to allow publishers to experiment with ebook pricing.

The Google Book Settlement appears to be dragging on longer than Jarndyce versus Jarndyce. The next hearing to discuss a draft of a settlement will take place on July 19th.

BEA's attendance figures were flat as compared to last year (although numbers rose with the inclusion of BlogWorld.)

Around the Blogosphere:

Author Jill Hathaway talks about self-doubt.

At The Passive Voice, a section you may want to include in your next publishing contract to prevent legal "Gotchas."

Via Janet Reid, seven tough questions for nonfiction writers (which you should ask yourself before writing your nonfiction proposal)

Also via Janet Reid, who gave a hat tip to Molly O'Neill:
Literary Quote of the Week:
I know that journalism largely consists in saying "Lord Jones Dead" to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive. -GK Chesterton

Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the unsurpassed Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Taking Portraits That Say Wow!—Part Two

Here are some more tips to help your friend take a great author photo of you.

Leave the cheese for the pizza

                                                 ©Carolyn Kaufman

We’ve all been there. The photographer tells you to say “cheese,” and you end up looking phony in the picture. Your mouth might be smiling, but your eyes are saying, “Hey, get on with this would you!” Yep, you remember the photo, don’t you? A few of you are even cringing at the memory of it.

I find just talking to the individual helps him relax and he’ll probably smile at whatever you’re saying, especially if you’re joking around or telling him an amusing story. Having a shutter release button is helpful here. Then the individual will be interacting with you and not with the camera. Plus, they won’t know when you’re actually taking the photos.

Posing 101

                                                     ©Stina Lindenblatt

The best trick for posing is to find pictures that appeal to you in magazines. This way the person has a visual of what you want, and they don’t have to try to figure out what the heck you’re telling them to do.

The most unflattering pose is the head-on one. You know, the one referred to as the mug shot. Okay, let’s just save that one for passport and driver’s license photos. There’s a reason most people don’t look good in them.

The best pose is where the shoulders are at an angle to the camera. It doesn’t have to be by a huge degree. Even a slight turn of the shoulder toward the camera is pleasing. The next step is to have your friend look in a slightly different direction to the line of the shoulders. For example, if your friend’s shoulders are turned to the right, then have her turn her head to the left. Even if your friend’s shoulders are square to the camera, this technique will help prevent the dreaded passport photo look.

Using The Sunlight To Your Advantage

                                        ©Stina Lindenblatt

When shooting portraits outside, you need to consider the lighting. If the sunlight is too bright, it can cause shadows on your friend’s face, and the picture will look awful (especially if they fall under the individual’s eyes).

By scheduling your photos either early or late in the day, or by placing your friend under a tree or beside a building, you can reduce the risk of this happening. But what happens if you don’t have that option. In the above photo, it was cloudy when we started, but then the sun came out, casting shadows where I didn’t want them, including on my model’s face.

The solution? By redirecting the sunlight into the shadowy areas of the face with the reflector, I was able to soften the contrast between the areas touched directly by the sunlight verses those in the shadow. Definitely more flattering. This technique is used often in fashion photography. Of course, you’ll need an assistant to help you.

The reflector doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A white poster board will work. All your assistant needs to do is move it around until it catches the light and bounces it where you want it on your model. It’s really easy.

Of course, there are times when the direct contrast works really well. But that depends on the look you’re striving for, the angle and placement of the sun, and how your friend is posed.

Add Some Sparkle

                                                    ©Stina Lindenblatt

Look at the teen’s eyes. Do you see the sparkle there? The picture was taken in the shadow of the building. What you’re seeing is the sun bouncing off the parking lot in front of her. If you don’t see this sparkle, then add it with your flash. Or better yet, use a reflector as explained above.


                                                       ©Carolyn Kaufman

                                                       ©Stina Lindenblatt

I find the simpler the background the better.  If that’s not possible, then go for a shallow depth of field. Also, contrasts between the subject and the background can produce a great picture (for example: weathered/new; rough/smooth; dark/light). This is known as juxtaposition and is a popular technique in photography. It involves placing objects close together for a contrasting effect. It can also been used to emphasize the subject, as I’ve done in this picture.

Hopefully these suggestions will help your friend take a great author picture for your website, blog, book. Any questions?