Slush

A rather silly and  inaccurate article from WSJ proclaiming The Death of the Slush Pile.

An excellent post on agent Janet Reid’s blog, Slush Works.

discussion on the AW forums, that references both essays.

This stuff comes up every now and then. Every week it seems like some new Website goes up, announcing that they’ll revolutionize the publishing industry by collecting writers in one place for agents and editors to browse at their leisure; this is such a common meme that savvy writers simply call these sites YADS: Yet Another Display Site.

A mighty pile of paperEvery week it seems like some newspaper looking to fill column inches runs a scare piece about the death of the slush pile, all the ways publishing is doomed, the “revolution” in “indie” publishing or yet another ridiculous story about submitting a re-keyed manuscript version of Gone With the Wind, and—quelle surprise!—receiving form rejections from agents too canny to verbally engage with some wingnut who’s just submitted a re-keyed manuscript of Gone With the Wind…Then Twitter explodes with links to the original essay, writers despair, bloggers pontificate, and message-board threads proliferate on writer’s fora across the Web.

Read those pieces more closely. Too often,  these articles are thinly-disguised, self-serving press-releases pretending to be articles. Remember a few things. Remember that there are some very key differences between fiction and nonfiction publishing. Remember that book-selling and publishing, while very closely related and interdependent, aren’t the same industry.

Most of all, remember that an article full of speculation full of doom and gloom and looming apocalypse is just more interesting reading than an essay that says, “Yep. Writing is a competitive and challenging aspiration. You’ll have to work your ass off, and you still may not make it. That hasn’t changed one little bit in centuries, so don’t look for it to change anytime soon.”

The best essay I’ve ever read about slush, by the way, is Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Slushkiller. You should read it, if you haven’t. You should read the comments, too. And if you’ve already read it, you should probably read it again. Every writer I know actually finds it oddly encouraging.

Interview: Susan Bays, Independent Publisher at Arbutus Press

By Gloriana 

Susan Stites Bays publishes under the name of Susan Bays, and writes as Susan Stites.  She owns and operates Arbutus Press, a small independent company that publishes nonfiction subjects relating to Michigan and the Midwest only. Arbutus Press flourishes due to Susan’s skills, resourcefulness and drive.  Here, Susan shares some of her secrets—how she began, what she’s learned along the way, and her vision of the future. 

Tell us about your company in its present state. 

Arbutus Press is still a very small publishing company with a bright future.

What got you into self-publishing?

It all started under the name Discovery Travel Tours, a production company for audio travel tour tapes. After some success with writing a script, hiring an announcer, booking studio time, finding an artist for cover art, ordering jewel cases and J-card inserts, and selecting music or sound effects for audio, a 60-minute audio cassette tape describing Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore found its way into the marketplace. That was in 1989. It is still stocked through regional bookstores.

I guess that venture got my feet wet. Actually, it was total immersion into the exciting field of writing and producing.

After two more titles on audio tape, I found the concept of tape tours difficult to distribute. It didn’t fit standard displays at bookstores. There were no distributors who would handle them because the product was neither a book nor a book on tape. I realized that the product’s time had not yet come to the Midwest (tape tours are very popular on the West Coast and in museums), so I moved on to publish a book on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a guidebook in its second printing.

So, from what I gather, you tried travel tapes, but found that in this market, books do better. 

Exactly.

Why did you choose to pursue the travel genre? 

I was a gypsy of sorts and loved to explore. I read Joseph Campbell at the time and just followed my bliss. In addition to bliss, it was a way to make my travels more necessary. Friends often came with me on my “business trips” to hike the dunes or take the ferry to Mackinac Island. I couldn’t think of a better business to be in.

You must have had to do a lot of research to jump in and publish a book. How did you find everything you needed to get going as a publisher? 

I bought a book on self-publishing. That got me started. From then on I just flew by the seat of my pants and asked people questions. Research was really part of my training as a biologist, so I applied those learning strategies to acquire the knowledge to get a book in print.

It was, and still is, a huge learning curve. I made mistakes, some costly, but it’s all part of the process of doing it on your own.

Care to pass on any of those lessons?

There are many technical aspects of the printing process that I found difficult to understand, ranging from paper selection to scanning and reproduction of photos. Now I realize that there are prepress businesses to help with this process. But it all takes money. The language of printers was foreign, so just communicating with them was difficult.

Then there was the confusing discount that booksellers and distributors receive, sometime tiered depending on shipping charges, consignment or not, and a million other details.

I never consign with bookstores anymore. If they want to buy a book, that’s fine, but consignment is very labor intensive, and the bookseller has no motivation to sell your book. The merit of consignment comes from a measure of desperation. No one was buying my tapes outright because the whole concept was unfamiliar. My choices were to consign with a bookstore or look at cardboard boxes in my basement that were filled with tapes.

Why didn’t you go with an established publisher? 

I might have given that option a brief thought but never seriously considered it. I really wanted to do it myself. The rewards, financial and personal, were my original motivation. Why would I want to give 95% of that away? I know that established big publishers are absolutely the route for fiction, but my project was regional nonfiction.

Would you define “regional nonfiction”?

To me, regional nonfiction means that the intended readers are familiar with the topic of the book because it is essentially about their neighborhood or about their neighbors. And distribution of the book is limited to one area or region. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear, Dunes National Lakeshore is limited to bookstores in the region and visitors of the dunes. It is not a fictional account of the dunes, but a factual guide.

Why is self-publishing is better for that genre?

Because the marketing is easier. People are already somewhat familiar with it because they have visited the place or already know they like the topic. Again, the Sleeping Bear Dunes book sells itself if someone is interested in the dunes and needs a guidebook, versus a work of fiction written with the setting of the dunes.

In fiction, you’re selling the writer’s ability to tell a story with exciting characters and compelling conflicts. It takes many readers to form a consensus that a book of fiction is worth recommending. The reader doesn’t know if s/he will like it or not before buying it unless it is recommended by someone like the New York Times, other book reviewers, friends, book clubs. How many times have you overheard people in bookstores say, “I’ve heard this is good”?

I’m not discouraging writers from self-publishing fiction; I’m saying be prepared to put tremendous effort into getting the book out to readers.

How did you find a printer? A distributor?

There are resources in the library to help find vendors. Also, I asked an independent bookstore owner for advice. This proved valuable in finding distributors, publishing and marketing organizations to join, and journals to read—-for a start.

How did you handle the business aspect of self-publishing?

I bought Quickbooks, keep a card file, have a file cabinet, stamps, fax and a telephone. What more do you need?

Quickbooks?

Quickbooks is a software accounting program. It tracks the sales of books and accounts receivable, prints invoices and also has a wonderful feature that allows you to accept credit cards for book orders from individuals.

You did your own writing. How did you obtain the photographs that must have been an integral part of the project? 

Of the three books I’ve written, each has different sources. Some used historic archival photos or public domain photos. Even my digital camera produced some photos. Friends of mine took color shots for one of the books, and I share the profits from that project with them.

Did you do your own public relations work for the book? 

Yes. I found that every stage of publishing required a new skill. Public relations work is the most difficult for me. It takes a tremendous amount of my time and energy, and I have to put my ego away. PR can be an endless pursuit, because without readers for your book, you’re left with that basement full of cardboard boxes. Besides, the author is really the best person to convince a newspaper, radio show, or bookseller on the merits of their book. Sometimes, just the author’s enthusiasm alone will rouse interest.

What did you do about advertising at the beginning? 

I wrote a press release and sent it to various newspapers. If a press release is well written, the newspapers sometimes print it verbatim. It saves them money and benefits an author. Never underestimate the power of that first press release. Usually a follow-up phone call [to the place you sent your release] is helpful.

How did the book do when you released it? 

All of them have done well. By well, I mean I’ve made enough money to pay for the expenses and then some. The “some” is invested in more projects. Right now, I’ve taken the leap from self-publishing to other-publishing. I have an author’s work in layout ready to send to the printer next week.

By “other-publishing,” I assume that you publish others authors’ books?

It seems to me a natural progression to move from self-publishing to publishing other people’s work. For me, I can apply the acquired knowledge and experience from fumbling around to get my own stuff in print for the benefit of others. Sometimes it’s a joint venture, where the author and I team up and finance the project jointly, and sometimes it’s a standard contract where I apply my knowledge and money to publish a book for someone else.

What type of book is the one you’re publishing for the “other” author? 

I have two that I’m working on. One is a very special cookbook, and the other is a historical chronology through black and white photos.

Have you ever gone with Print On Demand (POD), or have you always used conventional publishing? 

I have researched Print On Demand and received a sample copy of one of my titles. I wasn’t impressed with the quality of reproduction for the photos, so it wouldn’t work for me. But I do have a copy of a an author’s work of fiction that is text only, and it seems a viable solution to the problem of quantity and expense for that type of book.

Your Sleeping Bear Dunes guidebook is in its second printing. This means it’s sold out or almost sold out. How many do you print at a time? 

I printed and reprinted 3,000 books under that title. Another book out last year will have 10,000 in print by mid summer. Determination of the print number has to do with what I think the interest is. Century of Summers [a third title] is an extremely regional book about people and places on a small inland lake near Traverse City. I have only 600 in print and sell them at the corner market. I’m pretty conservative in my print runs. I’d rather pay more per copy than store many books. Reprinting is nothing more than making a phone call and writing a check.

Susan, your experience illustrates several cardinal aspects of successful entrepreneurs in this field: 1) Write about what you love. 2) Be resourceful. 3) Do your homework. 4) Be willing to take risks. 5) The only way to learn is to jump in and do it. Does that sum it up? 

Well said.

What is your five-year vision for Arbutus Press? 

I see Arbutus Press remaining a small publisher of quality regional nonfiction in five years.

Susan, thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. 

Visit the Arbutus Press website at www.Arbutuspress.com. Susan’s publishing name is Susan Bays, and she can be reached at Arbutuspress.com.

©2002 Gloriana

SFWA Panel on Google Book Settlement

Google and the Google Book Settlement might be one of the biggest  concerns of the entire decade for published writers. Ursula K. LeGuin resigned from the Authors Guild, because of their capitulation.

So very much has been written about this wrangle and Google’s rather blatant attempt to completely revise copyright law, and I won’t try to recap it all, here. SFWA is hosting an online panel discussing the Google Book Settlement, and you’re invited.

The text-based panel will be held at 11 a.m. (EST) Jan. 21 and will run for 90 minutes on the SFWA discussion forums. The text will create an instant transcript for writers who cannot make the opening discussion. After the first 30 minutes of discussion, the floor will open for questions from the audience. The online discussion is open to the public, although anyone wishing to ask questions must register at the website. Visit the SFWA discussion forums at http://www.sfwa.org/online-google-settlement-panel/ to watch the panel and to register.

figs want to be free

Here are some links to read, if you’re still feeling in the dark about all this, and how it might concern you and your book:

Wired article about the original proposed settlement

Some criticism of the revised version of the proposed settlement

One take on where things are now, and what objections remain

A petition to be presented to the Court, expressing the opinion of the undersigned authors

I’m generally a fan of Google. But I’m vehemently opposed to their proposed end run around all existing copyright law. They’ve apparently decided that, not only do “figs want to be free” but that they’re big enough to simply set up their own fruit stand with other people’s figs.

A Quick Note

Just wanted to let you guys know I’m down with the flu, right now. On the mend, but still not anything like functional.

In the meantime, just in case you didnÆt realize these resources are out there, let me direct your attention to these two writing-related and markets-listing sites that can save you hours of chasing around on the Web:

Duotrope’s Digest

Duotrope is a subscription-based service for writers and artists that offers an extensive, searchable database of current fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art markets, a calendar of upcoming deadlines, a personal submissions tracker, and useful statistics compiled from the millions of data points we’ve gathered on the publishers and agents we list.

Ralan.com

“provides up-to-date listings of markets in the speculative genres only. It started in 1996 as a way to find markets, organize writing links, and share this information with other writers. Soon those other writers started helping back, pointing out new markets and noting changes in listed ones. This two-way interaction continues. Today there other sites that provide literary markets and links, but thanks to all of us, Ralan.com is still, to many, the most up-to-date in its field.”

Resources like this are often found through word of mouth, and it’s a privilege to get to point new writers in helpful directions. I’ve used both of these sites, especially for fiction and poetry markets, and found valuable, up-to-date information. When I can, I support the tremendous amount of work they do, via paypal.

Hopefully, you’ll find them as helpful and worthwhile, in pursuit of your own markets.

Tor Books Internship

Internships are a standard part of how people learn the publishing business. When you work at a major publisher, you’re gaining experience, insight, and making contacts that can eventually serve you for your entire career as a writer, editor, or even as an agent.

If you’re interested in working in publishing, and you’re in the NYC area or willing to relocate, Tor/Forge is currently seeking two editorial interns:

Tor Books is seeking two editorial interns for the spring 2010 semester. The interns in this position will gain insight into the process of publishing a book at every stage, from acquisition and contracts through production and, finally, the finished product. They will learn about acquisitions, editorial review, scheduling, rights and territories, catalogue, and sales. There will also be opportunities to read and evaluate unsolicited manuscripts. While this is an editorial internship, the position will involve interaction with other departments including Production, Marketing, Ad Promo, and Publicity. Our interns have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of genre fiction, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, mystery, and romance.

This has been a friendly-neighborhood boost-the-signal announcement.

Spam for Breakfast!

We talked about SEO and keywords, last time. I’ve got a post I’ve been working on about agents blogging, but in the meantime I’ve been deleting a fair amount of spam from the comments threads since we went live with comments here. (Thank you to HistorySleuth for the heads-up on this morning’s fresh batch.) So I’m looking at turning on more of the anti-spam tools. If you guys get comments hung up in moderation, please feel free to drop me a note and I’ll take a look. Real comments make me grin the rest of the day, so I don’t want to miss any.A smiling George Burns and Gracie Allen from an old SPAM canned meat advertisement.

But I’ll confess to being already a bit grumpy about spam in general, so I got just plain mad when I got to the AW forums to discover that an agent (and a legitimate agent at that) is apparently running a contest on her blog, and one of the rules for entry is to post a link to the contest site on your own blog or site, and two other venues. That means that a half-dozen comment-spam links had been posted all over the forums, already.

So I wrote the agent in question with my objections, and she blew me off with a cheerful but dismissive statement that this is just how it’s done, and “Obviously, I didn’t send them directly to you nor do I have control over where they choose to post.”

No, actually — requiring that people invade other sites with comment spam is NOT how it’s done. It’s a fairly astonishing breach of netiquette, in fact. There’s a good article about comment spam, what it is, and how to deal with it, here.

Requiring that people spam message boards and other people’s blogs? That’s a far cry from asking people to tweet a link, retweet the link, or post on their own blogs/sites. Dealing with spam takes up an awful lot of everyone’s time. Most bloggers, community members, and board moderators are actively hostile — and with good reason.

Why don’t we just ignore spam? Because it interrupts the conversation. When you have to scroll past post after post of links that have nothing to do with what people are actually talking about, it’s disruptive and distracting. It’s also a cheesy attempt to try and cash in on other people’s hard work maintaining a community.

So how does anyone get the word out about a promotion (or a contest) without making site-owners and bloggers actively hostile? That’s dead simple. You build a reputation with your participation, then you spend that reputation carefully. Participation. Real conversation. Posting good links in relevant places will actually enhance your credibility, in fact.

Message boards and blogs are usually equipped to let people link back to their own sites in their signatures and/or profiles. Often, there’s even an appropriate place to post a direct link if you have an announcement or are promoting something. If you’re participating in real conversations, saying interesting things, interacting and engaging with an online community, then people are going to be a good deal more attentive and curious about what you’re doing elsewhere, as well.

By Ursula Vogt

Are you familiar with the Report on Pay Rates for Freelance Journalists recently issued by the National Writers Union? You can read a copy at the National Writers Union and you should become very familiar with it. It’s nothing less than an outline of your professional future.

If the ability to provide the luxuries in life like health care, housing and groceries are tied to your future income as a freelance writer, being familiar isn’t an option. You, my fellow writers, are about to live it unless changes are made.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Have No Income

Low pay for writers is not a new problem; in fact, most of us struggle with that each time we choose where to send the query and each time we look at a bank statement. The report takes it one step further, asking and answering the question of what we should be making compared to staff writers and college grads. The long-term financial inequality is alarming, but the trend that really should give freelancers a kick in the backside is that very few of us have a solution we are committed to. In the absence of an answer, a group powerful enough to change the course of entire nations with nothing more than words, has become powerless to control our own professional and financial futures. Why?

problem certainly isn’t apathy or lack of courage. The mention of the name Tasini is enough to rally even the newest among us, dispelling that theory. But fairness in dealing with financial compensation, like the rights issues, remains a constant and necessary struggle. What hurts writers collectively is the one thing we value; individuality. We create alone. We submit alone. We negotiate, you guessed it—alone.

It’s no secret that turning down an assignment for lack of fair compensation, whether in the form of pay, rights, or both, means it gets assigned to a writer who will ignore the long-term consequences. We write for what we can get or we stand on principle, receiving nothing. It isn’t an easy decision. Try telling the checker at your local market that you haven’t got the cash right now, but he should be really proud of you for turning down unfair pay. My guess is you’re not coming home with much for diner.

“Writers are such kind, gentle push-overs,” says Meg Weaver of Wooden Horse Publishing, and author of Twelve New Things Writers Must Do Today To Make Money. “First we allow our customers to set the rates we will be paid. Then, we don’t complain when the rates can’t even feed a gerbil.. It’s time to put our proverbial foot down and stop accepting the pay and the rights publishers allow us to receive. Magazines are in the business to make money,” she says, “It stands to reason that they won’t voluntarily pay writers more. We have to ‘convince’ them. That means we can’t undercut each other but to agree what reasonable rates are and to stand firm, even if we have to give up jobs in the short run.”

Meg encourages writers to join organizations like the National Writers Unionand the American Society of Journalists and Authors and to become active. “It’s the age-old strategy of many organizing for a common goal. It works.”

Solutions We Can Work With

While the strategy is time tested and effective, the publishing world employs another strategy: divide and conquer. New writers especially struggle with this issue. To break into freelancing, they almost certainly have to write for nothing or on spec, just to accumulate the bylines. But is this being disloyal to the efforts of the freelance community as a group? We’ve all gone back and forth with this one and it’s time to set some standards and stick to them.

Brett Harvey, Executive Director of ASJA, says there are no easy answers.

“Since the most important things to acquire as a beginning writer are clips, or credits, it’s OK to write ‘on spec’ (meaning for no pay unless they publish your piece) once or twice—but NEVER more than once for the same publication! If they liked your work well enough to ask you to write for them again, they can pay you.”

For seasoned writers and novices alike, Brett encourages a visit to the ASJA website at www.asja.org and a click on “Resources.” “There you will find position papers and tip sheets about all aspects of freelance writing.”

Toni Brandmill, Grievance and Contract Division Coordinator for the National Writers Union, also encourages writers to be informed. “Much of the information you are interested in is available in the Union’s Freelance Writers’ Guide, available for sale from the National Office for $24.95. This book contains a lot of narrative about the Union and the writing life/business as well as rate scales. If I were you,” Toni suggests, “I would start there and then make your decisions about membership.”

Membership dues for the NWU are currently $95 and will be going up in the fall or winter of 2001 to $120. For membership information and application to the ASJA, use their site link.

Can You Afford Principles & Freelancing?

You can’t afford not to have them both. Your options are to quit writing or quit eating. If you’re here, reading this article on a website committed to writing excellence, choosing not to write would be as damaging as choosing not to eat! Yet, by allowing pay scales of competent, professional writers to be dictated by something other than the financial ability to pay is allowing high-income publications to make the decision for you.

There will always be writers who either don’t have the commitment to the profession or the ego, and yes, ego is what it takes to turn down a publication charging millions of dollars in advertising. But until freelance writers learn to develop both, the trend will continue.

Income isn’t something we can do without, now or in the future. Explore options offered by organizations like the NWU and ASJA. And until the trend changes and more than a handful of writers can support themselves and their families, explore all your financial writing options, too. Be a little less individual in the pursuit of fairness and test your individual creativity. You can’t afford not to.

Copyright © 2001 Ursula Vogt

Ursula Vogt is a freelance writer whose work has been seen here as well as Writer’s Digest, The Writing Parent, Parenting Today’s Teens and Writer’s Exchange. For links to her weekly parenting column, and other information, you can contact her at www.UrsulaVogt.com.

Avoiding Writing Scams

By Laura Bell

Let’s just get real for a second. There probably isn’t a way to get around them completely. As negative as this sounds, they are growing by leaps and bounds. The use of the Web in advertising writing jobs has just made it all that easier.

Here is the latest one that I fell prey to. I read about this new “citizen journalism” site. The story about the background of the founder, she had covered politics, impressed me. That was my first mistake. Frequently, you see promises of shared ad revenues. That sounded o.k. at the time. I went to work posting to get folks to read the work I uploaded. I was impressed with my numbers. I waited and then I waited some more.

There was an excuse about Google, the source of the shared ad revenue. Then there was talk about hunting for new financing. Then finally, there was an announcement late May that there would be a payout at the end of June. The timing was supposedly necessary so that June clicks could be included. Well, to my dismay, I got paid for, according to an email announcement, June earnings. Hmm, doesn’t seem to be what I agreed to.

Avoid sites that don’t specify when and how much you are going to get paid. I have another site acting as agent for my content. Every time he make a sale, he lets me know what my portion is; and, he sends me money when promised.

Print publications are not out of the running for having management deep into skullduggery when it comes to cheating writers. One of my goals has been to get my byline into a national glossy general interest magazine. I found a copy of this at Barnes and Noble years ago. The publisher running this was so good that she convinced Hearst, by use of a great “dummy,” to be her distributor. I got my desired byline, but never saw a penny. It was the first time an editor actually lied to me, saying that a check had gone out in the mail. I never got a dime; nor did any of the contributors. I found out later that nobody, including staffers, ever got paid. The publisher packed her bags and went to a new town and started again.

Then, there was the guy in upstate New York that managed to get many to write more with promises of later payment. He was successful in convincing about a dozen writers before he disappeared. I found out later it turned into a class-action lawsuit. He actually gave me a phony Fed Ex tracking number when telling me when to expect delivery. I spent days on the phone while listening for a truck that never showed up.

Getting Exposure

Many novices are dragged into these schemes because they are so anxious to see their names in print. My suggestion is don’t be anxious. It really and truly isn’t that difficult. There are hundreds of community newspapers throughout the country. What they never have enough of is content. Find one near you and volunteer. Stay long enough to get four or five good clips and then move on. There are also non-profits in every city who would be thrilled to get your help with one of their publications. All writing exposure for newbies does not have to be on the Net.

However, there is one thing that wouldn’t put you into the clutches of scammers, start your own blog. WordPress is easy. Learn how to get the word out on it. Editors are now accepting blogs as legitimate samples of your work.

Cautions that May Help

Any writing post that says “great way to get exposure” means run for the hills. Do not jump into any alleged opportunity that promises revenues or money down the road. There is a very good chance the publication or site will no longer be in business when it comes time for payment.

Join writers groups. Writers talk. Go to yahoo.com and click on the Groups link on the left side of the homepage. Type writers into the search blank.

There are professionals groups that still meet in person. Many now have web pages. You can check that out by using Google or your favorite search machine.

Use your email mailing lists (also known as YahooGroups) as a place to make friends with other writers. Start writing to a few off-list and make arrangements to meet in person when possible. Share your war stories.

Also, take advantage of writers’ newsletters. There are a multitude of them. Find them through your favorite search engine also. Many given warnings about publications and websites that haven’t paid or are paying late.

Team up with one or more of your writing pals and check out possible gigs together. If you are both dealing with same editor, then there will be strength in your numbers. I had this help many times, and we got out just before a couple of sites dissolved into ashes.

Check out www.well.com if you really want to have a gateway to writers and the ups and downs in their life. This ISP started out as a BBS and has been around since 1985. Its main core has always been writers, editors and artists. I have been a member since 1996. There are conferences for both editors and writers. You have a chance to hear the other side of the story.

One last thought on the subject, well at least for the moment—when checking out a print magazine as a pending market, check out the contributors. Have you heard of any of them? Just perhaps, you can find their email addresses with a little digging. I have used this trick more than once to find out if someone else was waiting on money.

Unfortunately, the publishing world is even harder than breaking into Hollywood some days. You have to learn how to look out for your rights. I guarantee no one else is going to do it for you. Amazingly, I still find there is more to learn after almost 30 years.

Laura Bell has been a published journalist since 1979. She has over 350 bylines to her name along with five years of self-publishing history. She has been a columnist five times and her work has appeared in: the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News, Small Business Opportunity, the Los Angeles Business Journal, the Pasadena Star News and the Pasadena Weekly, to name a few.

Promoting Your Prose

By Mary Emma Allen

Promoting Your Books At Writers’ Conferences

When I mentioned to a colleague that I’d sold eight of my writers’ resource books and another on Alzheimer’s at a writers’ conference, she remarked that she didn’t know writers could do that. It all depends on the conference, but these are good places to network and to let others know about your books even if you’re not one of the speakers/teachers.

You’ll find that writers’ conferences vary. Some don’t have this opportunity available to attendees. Some allow only members of the organization coordinating the conference to sell books at the members’ book table. Others only sell the books of workshop teachers and keynote speaker.

Check Out the Possibilities

However, when you’re planning to attend a conference, check out the possibility of book sales and opportunities to sign books. Inquire whether they have sales and signings and who can participate.

Also, check to see whether the coordinating organization takes a percentage of the sale. Some offer this as a service to those attending and don’t take a fee. Others will ask for a 10% to 20% donation.

If you don’t have a book to sell or aren’t allowed to sell your book at a conference (some simply don’t have space for book sales), inquire whether there’s a table where you can leave literature and business cards. Most conferences like to have freebie material for the attendees to pick up.

I frequently get requests from conferences for literature about my books and, when I published a newsletter, guidelines and information about it.

Types of Books

It’s difficult to determine what type of book will sell at a conference. However, at writers’ conferences, I’ve found that my Writing in Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont is popular, along with my manuals for writers.

When I give talks about Alzheimer’s at conferences or nursing homes, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents is the book attendees pick up. However, I have sold these, as well as my anthology of children’s stories, at writers’ conferences.

If you’re one of the speakers or workshop teachers, just about all of your books will be of interest. However, if you’re speaking on a particular writing topic, anything you’ve written about it usually will be more popular.

Working at the Book Table

Volunteering to work at the book table enables you to meet the attendees, answer questions about your book(s), and autograph your books. Also it’s fun. I enjoy meeting the other authors as they check their books at the table.

This also gives me an opportunity to network with more of the attendees, to meet them, and to make newcomers feel welcome at the conference.

Inquire About Guidelines

Whenever you’re registering for a conference, check to see if they have a book table where you can display and sell your books. Then inquire about the guidelines.

*Who is hosting the book table?

Committee members or a local book store? At one conference I attended, a local book store checked in the books and took care of sales. A couple weeks later they mailed me the check for my books sold.

*How many books can you bring?

Limited space often restricts the number of titles an author can display.

*Do you bring change for sale of your books or does the organization make change?

Let them know whether you’ll take checks from individuals purchasing your books.

Even if you don’t sell many or any books (and it’s difficult to predict beforehand how many and what types of books will sell), you’ll have an opportunity to let more people know about you and your writing. Have order forms to leave on the literature table so that if someone cannot buy your book the day of the conference, they can order it later.

Explore the possibility of selling and promoting your books at conferences. It’s also an enjoyable way to network and meet more writers, editors, and publishers.

© 2002 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen, an author of books for children and adults, also offers a workshop, “Marketing Your Books & Manuscripts.” She teaches writing classes online, at a local college, and in elementary and high schools. Visit her blog Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Interview: Miriam Goderich, Vice President Jane Dystel Literary Management

By Laura A. Hazan

The song New York, New York goes something like this: “If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York.” That pretty much sums up the feelings of many writers, too. Breaking into the elusive New York publishing world equals success, and the highly sought after New York literary agent is the first step to making it there.

Obtaining a New York agent isn’t easy, but it is possible with concise, error-free queries, a well-written story and a professional demeanor, advises Miriam Goderich. She should know—she is a New York literary agent. Goderich, Vice President, Dystel and Goderich Literary Management (DGLM), started as an assistant to Dystel and 13 years later is her partner in the agency. DGLM has over 300 clients, between 100–150 are active.

Goderich and the three other agents at JDLM receive 300–400 queries a week. “People overdo it,” Goderich said. A professional one-page query letter with some precise details about the project and relevant information about the author, free of typos and grammatical errors, will be given proper consideration. Complete submission requirements are available on www.dystel.com.

Goderich feels that the query letter is one of the most important documents in the publishing process. She recommends having letters, outlines and synopsis proofread and critiqued just like a manuscript. Many of JDLM’s queries are unsolicited; others come from referrals and contacts made through conferences. Be patient, JDLM will respond to every query they receive, but it may take 3–4 weeks.

Goderich knows she wants to see the complete manuscript when that one letter “sticks in my mind. If I’m still thinking about the concept or the character a day or two later I know I need to see more.” Once JDLM receives the complete manuscript it may take up to 6 months for them to decide to represent it, especially for an unpublished writer.

“It is harder to sell them to publishing houses. Publishers want return on investment,” and with new writers there is little guarantee that will happen. New writers also present other challenges, such as “educating them on various aspects of the industry” Goderich explained. “Like any business, with some experience you know what to expect, what to ask and what to do.” Unpublished writers simply need more guidance.

Nonfiction works dominate JDLM’s client list (available on dystel.com). “Nonfiction is about 80 times easier to sell then fiction,” Goderich said. Most agencies survive on their nonfiction sales. As a writer of nonfiction “all you need is the proper credentials and a good idea,” Goderich explained. Fiction needs a compelling storyline, terrific characters and, to show that the rest of the novel will hold up, it “really does need a good opening. A great opening is not always about the writing, it can be about setting or characters,” Goderich said. On rare occasions if a manuscript has a strong character but a weak story or vice versa, Goderich might make suggestions and ask to see the manuscript again. She has even come across manuscripts with solid writing that don’t work for the agency at that time and “told the writer that I would love to see anything else they do.”

JDLM sells about 90 books a year. Together with their clients, JDLM agents edit and revise manuscripts to ensure that a strong project is being presented to the marketplace. They are currently marketing mainstream and literary fiction, and their nonfiction areas of interest are parenting, cooking, nutrition, politics, health and women’s issues. “The market is great, we’e done well this year. Even fiction is doing better,” Goderich stated. Occasionally “publishers come up with ideas and call us looking for a writer,” Goderich said. While this is not a common occurrence, it demonstrates the importance of a well-connected agent.

Goderich advises writers to do their homework before contacting an agent. Read the agency’s listing in Writer’s Market or check their website– make sure they market what you write, and if possible, stick with agents that are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). “AAR is a good way to weed out fly-by-night agents and those that charge reading fees. As a writer you should never pay reading fees. AAR will also answer questions you may have about an agency,” she stated.

Goderich also suggests writers read everything, to help keep current and generally aware of what is being published. She also recommends reading other recent works of fiction and nonfiction because reading good writing often benefits the project a writer is working on. “We even have a book club in our agency to help us keep up on newly published works,” she said.

“The center of the publishing community is New York. It is an old-fashioned sort of business with a lot of face-to-face meetings and lunches,” Goderich explained. That sort of networking is why a New York literary agent is so important.

Keep sharpening those queries and maybe you will find yourself represented by a New York agent and one step closer to making it there.

After years of being surrounded by books in her career as a librarian, Laura Hazan has taken a hiatus to write a book of her own. Laura is currently working on her first novel and pursuing opportunities in freelance writing.

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