books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Would Your Book Idea Work Better in a Magazine?

In her February 22 blogpost, Bookends agent Jessica Faust said one of her top reasons for rejecting a (nonfiction) book is that it “would work better as a magazine article.”

This hit home because I’d just read a book by a friend of a friend who’s seeking advice on marketing. It’s a fun how-to about shopping for bargains—well written and informative—but the lovely color photos make the book too expensive for the average bargain shopper.

(Note to self-publishers: if your paper book retails for more than $15, you’re about to have a major problem stacked up in your garage.)

In the case of the bargain-shopping guruess, I wanted to scream at her: this stuff belongs in a magazine! That’s where photos are a major plus. (And it’s one of the reasons my freelance magazine career stalled. I’m the world’s worst photographer. For some reason I always wiggle the camera and my photos come out looking like a bad dream by Claude Monet.)

Magazine articles aren’t as easy to place as they used to be, but they’re still easier to sell than books. (See my post on the inefficiency of the book as an information-delivery device.)

My advice to the writer-friend-of-a-friend, and anybody else who’s working on a non-fiction project is: take excerpts from your book, turn them into short articles, and start querying magazines. Now. This doesn’t mean you should stop work on your magnum opus, but selling bits of it right away will be a win/win prospect for you.

There are some reasons why:

1) Magazines usually pay actual cash money for your work. Not that much, especially when you’re just getting started, but getting paid for writing is as good for the soul as it is for the wallet. The day you get that check, you can call yourself a “Professional Writer.” See? Doesn’t that sound good?

2) Published articles help establish you as an expert in your field.

3) They provide credits that look impressive in your query letter.

4) They build platform. Even if you don’t get paid, a bio in a strategic local magazine can give a link to your website or blog and bring in potential customers for when you do get that book published.


Here’s what I suggested my friend’s friend could do:

1) Extract selections from the book that can tweaked into 300-1500 word articles.

2) Subscribe to Writers Market online (still a bargain at $6 a month)

3) Compile a list of local publications—including newspapers—that accept freelance work. In the beginning, you don’t have to limit yourself to the ones that pay. Not only are you building platform, but you’re getting to know editors who may give you some ink later on—like an interview with “our own” contributor who has come out with a new book on…”

4) Start sending out queries and full articles (depending on guidelines.)

5) Start collecting clips. (Those are published articles you can use to sell more articles.)

This advice isn’t just for authors of how-to books. Consider this route for memoirs, too. There are lots of nostalgia, history and regional magazines that are interested in well written (and especially humorous) tales of days gone by.

Here are a couple of paying-market nostalgia magazines:

GOOD OLD DAYS
LOOKING BACK

Also check out local publications aimed at seniors.

And while your fiction-writing friends are papering their walls with their 11,100 rejections, you’ll be a published writer with some extra bucks in your pocket.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

TEN TIPS FOR WRITERS

On February 20th, the UK’s Guardian ran the results of a survey of famous authors, requesting their tips for aspiring writers.

The article was inspired by Elmore Leonard’s how-to book for writers, 10 Rules of Writing, which is about to come out in paper in the UK from Weidenfeld & Nicolson. (It doesn’t seem to be available in the US except as a grandly overpriced $50 hardcover or Kindle ebook.)

But the Guardian article is free and has some wonderful advice from an assortment of contemporary literary heavyweights from Joyce Carol Oates to Neil Gaiman.

Some suggestions were common to most of the lists: edit to the bone, always read your stuff aloud, and don’t write for markets.

I was interested to note that most of them also agree with the agents I quoted last month in advising against prologues.

Here’s Elmore Leonard on the subject:

“Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want."

And Hilary Mantel:

“Be aware that anything that appears before "Chapter One" may be skipped. Don't put your vital clue there.”

Here are ten of my favorite tips from the survey:

1) Roddy Doyle
“Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.”

2) Richard Ford
“Think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.”

3) Anne Enright
“Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.”

4) Jonathan Franzen
“Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.”

5) Esther Freud
“Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained.”

6) Neil Gaiman
“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like”.

7) Michael Morpurgo
“It is the gestation time which counts…By the time I sit down and face the blank page I am raring to go. I tell it as if I'm talking to my best friend or one of my grandchildren.”

8) P. D. James
“Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.”

9) Joyce Carol Oates
“Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: "A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."”

10) David Hare
“Write only when you have something to say.”
*******
But in closing, it’s good to keep in mind Al Kennedy’s tip on taking advice from other authors: Don’t “give older/more ­experienced/more convincing writers…charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.”

And this from Margaret Atwood: “Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TIME TO DISPENSE WITH OUR BOOK ILLUSIONS?

Should we forget our book dreams and just blog instead?

On January 21, agent Jessica Papin posted a must-read piece about rejection on the Dystel and Goderich blog

She gives a sobering reality check, reminding us how much the book business has changed in the past couple of decades

She suggests we “dispense with the illusion that books represent the optimal way to ‘share a story with the world.’” And adds “A writer’s conviction that his is a book that ‘people need to read’ is better served in the blogosphere.”

She also says the general public needs to know it’s no longer true that “being an author represents a reasonable path to fame and fortune. These days, fame and fortune are a reasonable path being an author.”

That’s the sound of a million aspiring authors weeping.

OK. Let’s pull ourselves together. Yeah, she’s saying you have to run for vice president FIRST, then you get your book deal. Sounds unfair, but really, how many people would have bought Mrs. Palin’s book when she was a small-town mayor?

I’m pretty sure Jessica is mostly talking nonfiction here—she mentions memoirs in a later paragraph—and I hope she isn’t talking to professional writers who have worked long and hard to perfect our craft.

I think she’s mainly referring to the thousands of earnest amateurs who write down their personal stories—often about surviving a life-threatening disease or terrible tragedy—and expect to get a major book deal. She’s sad to have to reject them, but she wants them to understand that treeware is no longer the optimal information delivery device for their stories.

And she’s not alone. Funds For Writers’ Hope C. Clark wrote in a similar vein in her blog “In selling a book, you touch that person once. In posting a blog, you subscribe with that person, entering a more long-term relationship. Frankly, it's more prestigious to develop a following online than selling a few thousand books.”

And: “People have misconstrued the meaning of a book in recent times. Publication doesn't make you wealthy. Those days are long gone….You find more readers online than in a bookstore… and it's way cooler to be a master blogger these days. Just ask those who've landed book contracts as a result.”

In her Funds for Writers newsletter on February 14th, Hope again tells readers to hold off trying to publish that (nonfiction) book. “Write and submit smaller pieces, blog, find a niche, become an expert, create a reason for people to want to read your work” BEFORE you submit.

I got pretty sad after reading these posts and several others like them, but after a bit of cogitation, I realized how freeing this information is: if you have something to say, you can say it—right now. Right here on the Web. No queries, no agents, no three years lead time before the book comes out.

Are you going to make a bunch of money telling your story this way? Not super-likely. But most books don’t make money anyway. We have to be writing for the love of it. And you’re more likely to be that one writer in thousands who finds a publisher if you’ve made yourself a name first.

Blogging is publishing in its most immediate form. It’s the best way to find out if you have a readership. Yes, it’s hard to explain to your less-than-computer-literate friends and families that social networking has the same—or more—value than a real, solid paper book they can show around to their friends. (And no, Grandpa, I’m NOT frittering away my life!) This is 21st century reality. We all have to get used to it.

So keep blogging already!

GENRE WARS ANTHOLOGY AVAILABLE

Literary Lab's Genre Wars Anthology is now available! All profits will benefit WriteGirl--a great program for empowering girls and young women through creative writing and mentoring programs.

The anthology contains my post-apocalyptic YA story The Big Ones, as well as great short fiction in a whole bunch of genres. Widen your reading horizons! Support a great cause! Buy it here: https://www.lulu.com/commerce/index.php?fBuyContent=8298552

More info at Literary Lab's blog http://literarylab.blogspot.com/2010/02/genre-wars-anthology-is-available.html

On their blog you can see a picture of the great cover (it looks like a vintage New Yorker cartoon) I really wanted to post it here, but after a frustrating morning I have to admit my aged cybermoron brain has failed yet again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

YOU’RE NOT A FAILING AS A WRITER; YOU’RE BUILDING INVENTORY

Why an Aspiring Novelist Needs a Bunch of Books that are Good to Go

Most writers I meet are desperately trying to get a first novel published. Most will fail. Here’s the bleak truth: almost no writer gets a book deal on the basis of a first novel alone.

“Yeah, but…” sez you, “how come I see first novels published all the time?”

Because, gentle writer-friends, the “debut” book is NOT the writer’s first novel. It’s probably her third. Or fifth. Or tenth. It’s simply her first novel that got published--the one that finally got an agent’s attention AND could withstand the nasty scrutiny of a bunch of snarky editors and marketing people looking for reasons to reject it. (Remember: finding representation is just a first step to another set of rejections—this time of your agent’s pitch.)

So does that mean you should just toss that first novel into the shredder?

Nope.

OK, a lot of us will realize, after we learn to write better, that the first novel was just a practice piece. But others write excellent beginning novels that don't get picked up--mostly because they aren't the high-concept, breakout, hits-the-current-trend-at-the-perfect-spot-in-the-curve material publishers require these days.

So what you need to do after that first round of rejections is put the first novel in a drawer and write another. And another. And keep querying. And keep getting rejections.

No, don’t jump off that bridge!

You’re not facing defeat; you’re BUILDING INVENTORY. You wouldn’t open a store with only one item to sell, would you?

I recently read an interview with agent Jenny Bent in the online zine Women On Writing. The interviewer asks if agents prefer writers with more than one book “in the works.” Here’s what Jenny said: “Absolutely. It’s pretty much essential. They want an author for the long haul, not just one book. And these days, they want to release them pretty close together because the thinking is that this is the best way to build an author.”

Think about it: writing another novel in a few months while you’re also focusing on marketing your debut book (and keeping your day job) could send you on screamy-meemy overload. So isn’t it nice you’ll have that drawer full of manuscripts?

One caveat: DON’T make all those books part of a series. (A major mistake I made.) If you can’t sell #1, nobody’s going to want to buy #3 or #4 as a breakthrough “debut.” The best thing to do is write all your books as stand-alone titles.

But DO write them in the same genre. Develop a personal style or setting that can be established as your “brand,” but don’t use the same characters or a continuing storyline.

Then, when that agent call comes, and she asks what else you’re working on, you can deliver your already perfected pitch for the novel-in-the-drawer (and all its little friends) and you might even get yourself a multiple-book deal.

Remember—to be a published writer, you have to be in it for the long haul. So, in spite of all the rejections you’re getting on that first novel, go write another and start building your inventory.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Great Advice on Plotting

I just read a fantastic post on story structure by Jodi Meadows at (W)ords and(W)ardances. Challenge your character! Each new episode must complicate the one before, adding a new layer to the tension. Build tension vertically as well as horizontally. A must read http://jmeadows.livejournal.com/743005.html?view=7779421#t7779421