Tag Archives: marketing

Party for the Oscars – Presented my book!

What an amazing weekend! I had the honor of presenting RADIO HEAD to Oscar nominees, actors, recording artists and press at a pre-Oscar Awards party at the W Hotel in Hollywood! I met some fabulous people, from the legendary Maria Conchita Alonso, to up and coming actors who score roles pretty much everywhere – hi, Austin Mincks and Bill Parks! As a Middle Grade writer and fangirl, I was thrilled to meet Dee Wallace, star of the show, Just Add Magic. My sons and I binge-watch the excellent MG-targeted Amazon series. Thanks to visual artist and dear friend Jason Mascow for taking photos and going above and beyond.
(Love these? Check out my pics from the Grammy Awards party at REN Gallery!)

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Filed under For the love of writing, Your highest potential

Author Paul Dorset’s “How to build a brand on Twitter for FREE!”

I have a feeling I would like Paul Dorset, were we to meet. Well organized, typo-free, and to the point, Dorset writes prolifically, and not just books. His blog Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind offers concise, valuable  posts about the craft of writing, yet for all his laser-focus, the banner image for his headline is a complete departure: a darling child, likely his daughter, next to a Christmas tree. Whimsical, warm, and poignant–and nothing at all to do with his niche. Works for me.

I follow Paul on Twitter (@jcx27), where he appears as a Twitter junkie, posting roughly 50-60 tweets–about writing–PER DAY. Is he feverishly tweeting the hours away on his iPhone, to the consternation of the little girl in the picture? Before any of us forcefully disarm his Twitter app,  he posted about his method on his blog, to help writers build their own brand in the Twitterverse. The following are excerpts from Dorset’s post:

1. Where do I get my material from?

If you’re like most people, there is only so much relevant content you can make up for yourself on a daily basis. This means you’re going to need to get more material from somewhere else. But where? The Internet of course. I use Google alerts. Go to http://google.com/alerts and try setting some up. Use the Alert information that is emailed to you for writing Tweets. Another place is your favorite RSS feeds. You probably read this stuff already so use it and re-tweet it.

2. How often should I tweet?

There are millions and millions of Twitter users on the Internet. Unless you have millions of followers, the chances that a lot of people will see all your tweets and click on links are very small. But don’t be despondent, this can
work to your advantage as well.

I have over 50,000 followers on Twitter. What do you think the chances of everyone reading and actioning any single tweet I make are? Actually, the number is very small. Twitter is a bit like a fire hose, you spray water everywhere; it’s not a direct pressure jet of water that is directed specifically at something. What does it mean? Well, actually it means that if I tweet one thing at 8am and then a very similar thing at 9am, there’s a good chance that the tweet will be seen by different people. But, if I only have 10 followers, then they will all most likely see both of my tweets. So, follower numbers are important as a ratio to tweet frequency too.

As a general ratio, for every 10,000 followers you have you can tweet the same
thing one time per day. So in my case, I can safely send the same tweet out 5
times a day without worry that people will notice I’m spamming them. But you have to intersperse your tweets with other tweets so that anyone looking through your timeline doesn’t see the repeated pattern. A reasonable timeline that anyone looking back through will be about 20 tweets or so. This means that if I am to repeat a tweet 5 times a day, and I need to create 20 tweets between each repeat, then I should be tweeting about 100 times a day! Now that’s a lot more than I currently tweet. In fact I guess I send out around 50-60 tweets a day. This means I shouldn’t repeat the same tweet more than twice a day.

But the question still remains, how often should I tweet? The simple answer is
that the more followers you have and the more you want to build a brand, the
more you should tweet – up to a limit of about 6 tweets an hour (above that and
it will be impossible to follow you). Tweeting 50 times a day (for me) is a lot of tweeting so I have automated much of the process.

3. How can I automate my Tweets?

There are two tools I want to introduce: Twitterfeed and Twaitter. They differ slightly and they both serve different purposes.

Twitterfeed

In the first step I wrote about building alerts and having them delivered as emails. Well, now it’s time to change those emails to RSS feeds so that you
make better use of them. If you go to http://google.com/alerts
and edit one of your alerts, you can select ‘Feed’ in the edit box. Save this
and then you should see a little RSS button next to the alert. By right-clicking on the RSS feed you can copy its feed address. Do this! Next, go to Twitterfeed.com and set up an account there if you don’t already have one. Create a new feed and then follow the prompts, pasting in the RSS feed address when appropriate (use the advanced settings to determine how often to update Twitter – every 30 mins or so). Then finish off the process and you are now automatically posting new alerts into your Twitter feed (you may need to wait up to an hour for the first feed to kick in). So, onto automating your own Tweets.

Twaitter

Twaitter is a free product that allows you to schedule your own tweets (up to 10 an hour) on a single or recurring basis. The process is very easy so I’m not going to go into details.

Put all your best blog posts on Twaitter. When you’ve built up 30 or 50 blog posts, I’m sure you’ll have a handful of favorites that you’d like others to read again. Post the links in Twaitter and schedule them (recurring). (Note: Link your blog to Twitterfeed to post all freshly published posts. Keep in mind, if you have a WordPress blog like me, there is a built-in tool which does this automatically, after each new post. -RL)

With the combination on Google Alerts, Twitterfeed and Twaitter, you can have
most of your tweeting automated and your branding well underway.

If you’ve followed along and actioned all the steps so far, you should now be
sending 30+ automated tweets every day to your Twitter feed. Now all you need
to do is a little gardening!

With the increased flow of tweets you’re going to get more replies from people.
Be prepared to answer them! You’re also going to have to carefully monitor the
traffic that’s flowing to your blog. This is the only way to understand which
of your tweets are working and which are not. Hopefully you have analytics on
your blog and you can see just how many hits you are getting. What time of day do you not get any visitors? When do you get peak traffic? Rearrange tweets to try and smooth things out a little.

Oh, and use exciting headlines for your tweets. There’s a lot more chance of people clicking on them that way. Words like ‘FREE’, ‘advice’, ‘help’, ‘dummies’, etc. will all drive traffic to you. Put yourself in the head of the reader. Which headline would make them want to click your tweet? If I had called this series ‘Building brands on Twitter‘ it wouldn’t have had as much reader power as ‘How to build a brand on Twitter for FREE!

It’s not an overnight process. Get the ball rolling, and refine your process to suit your material and unique audience. Do you currently automate? Do you have any advice culled from your experience?

Comment below or tweet me @RebeccaLacko

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Guest posts

10 Simple Ways to Support Authors You Love, and Love the Readers Who Support You

I’ll admit it, I’m a fangirl.

When an author’s amazing book inspires awe, when an agent teaches a class with the intention of improving and inspiring our burgeoning manuscripts, or either write a blogpost containing encouragement and advice for other writers–well, I want to return the favor of their generosity and give them a (virtual) hug.

I can’t get enough of author Jody Hedlund‘s blog, a vast compendium of rational, well-thought-out, organized and helpful advice on the craft of fiction writing. (She MUST teach a writing class. She must.) Her advice is so thorough, so intelligent, and in many cases so refreshing, that I began reading her books–I wanted to witness the application of Hedlund’s fascinating writing theories.

It is in the spirit of gratitude that today’s guest-post features excerpts from Jody Hedlund’s 10 Simple Ways to Support Authors You Love. “Before I was published,” says Hedlund, “I didn’t realize how much authors appreciated readers taking the time to publicly support them. In fact, I didn’t know my support was important. And even if I had known, I wouldn’t have had a clue what kinds of things would help my favorite authors the most.”

What kinds of action can we fans take to lend support? “Yes, THE best support is actually reading the author’s book,” contends Hedlund, “But, if you enjoyed the book, you’ll do the author a big favor by taking the support one step further. That one step can make a huge difference.”

Here are Hedlund’s ideas for choosing which “one step” feels right for you:

1. Write a book review and post it on Amazon. If you’ve ever ordered on Amazon then you’re eligible to post a review. It’s very simple to do and incredibly helpful (if it’s a good review!). Jody’s book, The Preacher’s Bride, has garnered several #1 slots on Amazon’s Kindle store due to the positive ratings readers have taken the time to write. [Side Note: If you’re a writer, use your author name when writing reviews. This can give your name extra exposure. For example, Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont, put the first review for The Preacher’s Bride on Amazon (and she did a fantastic job with the review!). Now her name and book are the first that people see when they visit the Amazon page for The Preacher’s Bride.]

2. Copy and paste your review onto other online bookstores. There’s nothing wrong with copying your Amazon review and using it on other sites, like GoodReads, Shelfari, Barnes&Noble.com or CBD.com.

3. Click the “Like” button on a book’s Amazon page. (You’ll find it near the top of your fave book’s page.)

4. Click on the “Tags People Associate With This Product” on Amazon. If you scroll down on The Preacher’s Bride Amazon page, you’ll see approximately 32 tags. The more tags and the more clicks, the better a book will come up in search results.

5. Tweet about the book. Recently Pamela Trawick tweeted a noteworthy tweet about The Preacher’s Bride. In 140 characters she managed to capture the essence of her reading experience: The Preacher’s Bride is outstanding. Great tension, good pace, fabulous plot. Read it.

6. Make a short comment of praise about the book on Facebook (or copy the one from Twitter). Twitter streams move quickly, and so tweets come and go. But on facebook, news has the ability to stick around a bit longer.

7. Pass along the book to a friend or to family. And ask them to pass it along when they’re done.

8. Buy the book as a gift for friends and family. Publishing houses keep track of every book sale. And each purchase is important to an author.

9. Ask your local library to carry the book. First check if they have the book (you can usually look it up online). And if they don’t, next time you’re at your library, personally request the book.

10. Make an effort to pass on your love of the book. Somehow, someway tell someone how much you liked the book. Word-of-mouth is the best way to help support an author! The more times a person hears about or sees a book, the greater the chances that they’ll pick it up and read it.

What other practical ideas have you done to help support authors? Have you taken the time to publicly support a book or author you’ve liked? Or haven’t you given it much thought before now?

Marketing is part of the job description of the modern author. Whether we’ve gone with self-publishing, small indie press, or the traditional route, all authors must market. However, writers tend to be happier working quietly, alone.

How can we avoid turning our marketing and promotion efforts into a litany to ourselves? Here are Jody Hedlund’s three ways:

1. Connect With Readers: Pay attention to what they’re saying on our blogs, facebook, and twitter. Be available. Make sure do the best we can to answer personal emails and messages.

2. Engage Readers: Don’t stand on the sidelines. Instead jump into social media conversations. Ask questions on Facebook or Twitter. Discover what people think or how they feel about issues.

3. Care For Readers: Find ways to let them know we appreciate them. Offer encouragement. Be real and open so they feel comfortable sharing their concerns and problems with us.

In one word: LOVE. Yes, love your readers.

If you love your readers, they’ll promote the heck out of you.

I’m sure we can all think of an author we’ve met online (or in person), one we’ve grown to admire and respect because of how personable and kind they are. I know it makes a huge impact on me when an author is down-to-earth, chats with me, retweets something I say, leaves a comment on my blog, etc.

I may have already liked that particular author. But my admiration rises even higher when they take the extra effort to connect with me.

On the reverse side, our admiration for authors diminishes when they act too busy for us, don’t respond to something we say, or only chat within a certain circle of author friends.

My point is that if we as writers grow to appreciate other writers/authors who connect with us, imagine how much that means to our readers when we make an effort to relate to them.

Marketing 101: Start by loving the readers we already have (including followers on social media sites). We may want more. But first we have learn to take care of those that are already sitting in our stadium. We need to figure out ways to bless and encourage the audience that’s before us.

When we’re loving and taking care of the readers and followers we have, they’ll WANT to support us. They may even go out of their way to help us and shout out the news about our books. They’ll be excited to promote for us, essentially taking a large part of “self” out of self-promotion.

We won’t need to toot our own horns so loudly because our readers will do the tooting for us.

What do you think? Have you supported authors because you’ve learned to like and appreciate them? Is “loving your readers” a good strategy? Or do you think it’s lame? If so, what do you think can work better?

Isn’t Jody Hedlund fantastic? If you would like to read more of her ideas, I’ve posted Hedlund‘s 5 Transformational Story Elements here. She offers a goldmine of excellent advice for polishing your WIP until story shines.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Author Teddy Wayne’s Tips for Book Publishing Publicity

I’ll be honest with you. I just wrote an entirely new scene in a different POV and tense for my novel RADIO HEAD, inspired by the phenomenal workshop I attended at UCLA with instructor Lisa Cron. She has graciously agreed to critique it for me, and so here I am, with breath held. I’m stymied because I can’t write another word of my novel until I hear from her–I want to know whether the new point of view, and the fresh tense, really work. I loved writing the scene, and would like to continue, but can’t help but wrestle with the doubts clinging fearfully to such a wildy different approach the story. If it works–please work!!–then I will begin rewrites on existing scenes, to match the intimacy and immediacy of the experimental style. Until then, I’d like to obsess further on the fine points of publicizing your about-to-be-published novel. (Think I’m not obsessing? I also posted Inara Scott’s top five publicity tips here.) An author must work just as hard on a book’s success after the deal is won, and preparing this info helps me proactively keep my eye on the prize while I await what will hopefully be a green light.

Complementing my last post on Agent Laurie Abkemeier’s tips for connection with your readers, I’m pleased to share author Teddy Wayne’s clever publicity tips learned after publishing his debut novel, Kapitoil,
last April, for both before and after your book comes out.


BEFORE YOUR BOOK IS PUBLISHED
:
 

  • Make a Web site, preferably from your name (not your book’s title—it’s a long career you’re trying to build). Author pages on publishers’ sites rarely do a good job. A decent site costs $500-1,500, depending on the designer and the complexity, or you can make one on the simple-to-use weebly.com that’s either free or low-cost (pay to use your own domain name, not one with weebly at the front). Use your book cover as the graphical theme. Teddy Wayne’s site displays review excerpts on the homepage, and has separate pages for additional press coverage, a summary of the book, events, news, my freelance articles, my biography, and contact information; you shouldn’t need much else except a blog link, if you maintain one.  Simple is fine; unprofessional-looking is not.  
  • Tactfully prevail upon any media friends and acquaintances. Ask politely if they’d like a galley, and if they accept, let them know you’re available to contribute something to their publication or do an interview down the road.   
  • Likewise, cold-email people you don’t know at media outlets with the same (tactful) offer.  
  • Pitch your hometown newspaper and alumni magazine; they’re more likely to run a profile on you.
  • Diversify. This is common sense, but print plus online exposure remains far more influential than solely online.  
  • Pay attention to the publication where you’ll be hawking your book. Do the people who read the publication also buy this type of book? A small literary website may be a better bet for promoting an avant-garde novel than a national gossip magazine.
  • Publish an excerpt of your book. If you’re lucky enough to land a well-known print publication, then doing so in advance can build up buzz. Otherwise, it’s probably best to wait until the publication day so readers can buy it immediately.  
  • Similarly, try to score a couple of other publicity mentions elsewhere a month or two before publication—but don’t burn them up before the book is available.  
  • Set up a Twitter account under your name. Since my book is set in 1999, I created a gimmicky Twitter feed for the name @TeddyWayne1999 and, for the first couple of weeks, satirically unearthed my supposedly archived Tweets from 1999 (such as “7/13/99: Stepping out for a night of swing-dance lessons in my new Hawaiian shirt.” I eventually started using it to dispense regular news about the book. Create a Facebook fan page under your name, too, but Twitter is superior at disseminating information to people who don’t already know you.  
  • Make a video trailer only if you can do so cheaply. Keep it under a minute. Be creative and, if appropriate, funny—don’t make one where it’s just you talking about your book. I put mine on my website, YouTube, and my Amazon author page, and it’s been embedded in a few other places.  


AFTER THE BOOK IS PUBLISHED:
 

  • This is easier for nonfiction, but publish essays and anything else relevant to your book after it has come out (which means pitching editors the ideas beforehand, and months beforehand for print publications).
  • Get your friends to buy from a bookstore. (Generous) friends may ask you what the best way for them to purchase your book is. Although authors like seeing their rankings shoot up, buying books on Amazon doesn’t help nearly as much as in a bookstore, since the store is more likely to reorder it and prominently place it if the book is selling. Amazon doesn’t care. And you’ll be supporting a bookstore.  
  • For Amazon, however, sign up for and use your individualized link for the Amazon Associates program, which gives you a small percentage of money back for every book ordered through it—and every other item ordered alongside the book.  
  • After you’ve reached out to mainstream media, focus on independent book bloggers who have sizable followings. Your publisher should have relationships with some. Send them finished copies; bloggers don’t care about timeliness the way mainstream publications do.  There are also places that arrange book-blog-review tours, such as TLC Book Tours. Note that most book blogs lean heavily on female readerships.  
  • Offer to go to friends’ book clubs if they read your book—and, if you’re willing, visit or speakerphone-call with strangers’ book clubs.  
  • Don’t waste money on an extensive book tour unless it’s something you want to do for fun. Traveling to a place where you don’t know anyone will result in few sales. Instead, give multiple readings in your current city and anywhere else you know a lot of people. Try to set up an event at your alma mater; they may provide an honorarium and spring for your flight, which you can use for a reading in another city. Get in on group reading series, especially in other cities. Turn your first reading into a launch party—a few bottles of wine help bring people in.  
  • Media attention begets further media attention. Overall, image, sadly, counts more than substance when it comes to publicity. Few people read books, but they do read capsule reviews and interviews and browse Web sites.  
  • Lastly, just because you have to turn into a one-person self-promoting machine doesn’t exempt you from gratefulness and humility. Profusely thank everyone who has helped you; they didn’t need to. Spread word of your achievements in the hopes that others will spread it further, but unself-conscious boasting about your success on Facebook turns people off. Karma has a way of popping up—if not for this book, then the next one, and if not for your career, then for your life. Promoting your book can be a stressful experience, but keep in mind that no one else cares as much as you do, so don’t jabber about it incessantly. Try to enjoy it, do the best you can, and remember that the point, ultimately, is to connect with readers; everything else that’s mercenary and businesslike is a means to reaching that rare moment of intimacy.

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel Kapitoil (Harper Perennial, 2010),  which was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels of 2010 and The
Huffington Post’s 10 Best Books of the Year. He lives in New York.

Check out my recommendations for books writers should read on the topic of–what else?–writing.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier’s Advice on Connecting with Readers

The only thing better than buzz about your new book is PRE buzz resulting in pre-orders. I follow agent Laurie Abkemeier (Brian DeFiore & Co.) on Twitter, and found this blog post by Erin Reel at TheLitCoach.com featuring Abkemeier’s advice about connecting with your audience so that your book sales transcend the frontier of your family and friends.

This advice is especially germaine to me. The Ting Tings have a fabulous song, with lyrics that speak to my heart: “They call me quiet girl, but I’m a riot.” I’m not an attention hog by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love to laugh; I’m social enough and can be a little outrageous. Once, that is, I’ve come out of my shell. Connecting With Your Audience: A Blogshop with Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier gives the required motivation to put away your shell and start building relationships with readers.

Excerpts from Reel’s article: How an author connects with their audience plays a major role in their book’s success and their overall success as an author. If you’ve been following any brand of publishing trade news you already know that the author with the biggest mouth enjoys better sales of their book (in this context, being loud about your book is a good thing). 

A large part of the effort that goes into to selling your book actually happens before your book launches – it’s called building pre-pub buzz. You want people talking about your book before it comes out. You want them anticipating it’s arrival. You want pre-orders! So how do you find your PR voice and connect with your audience before your book launch?

According to Literary Agent, Laurie Abkemeier: “During my years as an editor, and now as a literary agent, I’ve seen countless nonfiction books rise out of relative obscurity and become bestsellers. Some rode a trend, while others created their own categories, but in every case, the key ingredient to success was the author’s commitment to promoting the work. Too often, I see authors who are committed to writing the work, but when it comes time to promote, they lose steam or they have better things to do. They are too busy to contact bloggers or put together a mailing list of organizations. They don’t want to get on Twitter or Facebook or build a website or start a blog. They think that writing the book will be enough, and that people will, perhaps by telepathy, sense that the book is available. Or worse, they think that it’s the publisher’s sole job to get the word out to the largest possible audience. While expending time and energy can’t guarantee a successful publication, it is rare that an author can achieve success while also being a recluse. Even publishers know this. When editors get on the phone with authors, they often ask point-blank, “How are you going to sell this book?”

That’s why, when I work with an author to develop a proposal, a lot of work goes into the publicity and promotion sections. My authors detail their social media and online connections, their contacts at magazines and newspapers, and previous experience with radio and television. They list every friend who might endorse their work. They research the membership numbers of relevant organizations and associations. They build new websites, start a blog, and get on Twitter—long before the proposal goes out the door. Part of this is for the benefit of the editor reading the proposal; it’s important that the editor understands an author’s reach and ability to get the word out. But I also require my authors to go into this level of detail so that they can see what is expected of them, that their role in promotion is going to be critical, and that their responsibility to the publication goes far beyond the last word on the page.

1. Plan to earmark a certain percentage of your advance for promotion—whether it’s a new website, business cards, a freelance publicist, or ads in specialty publications.

2. Schedule a meeting with your agent, editor, publicist, and the marketing staff to discuss the publisher’s promotion plans. A good time for a meeting is six months before publication, when the publisher has a clear idea of what it will do, and it’s not too late for you to fill in the gaps.


3. Once your manuscript has been sent off to a copy editor, turn your former writing time into promotion time. Reach out to people about endorsing your work, keep lists of bloggers and their contact information, pitch original articles to long-lead magazines, continue to build your social media presence, and revamp your website to launch within four months of publication. (And it goes without saying, discuss your plans with your agent and editor.)

Writing a book is a big commitment, but the bigger challenge for most authors is to do the work to promote the book. Commit yourself to the long haul. Your book needs you more than anyone.”

Your action: Yet-to-be-published authors – get organized. Create a budget devoted to your pre-pub buzz efforts, NOW. You’ll be glad you did! Then, connect with your audience. Make friends. Collect emails and subscribers to your newsletter, blog posts. Gain followers to your social media accounts. Most of all, understand this takes a lot of time and focus.

Published authors: Get creative. Get together with other published authors in your area and create an event. Maybe the event has nothing to do about selling a book – maybe it’s a charitable effort, a major donation of your time for a good cause. Make sure you send out a press release…then consider holding a book signing/reading event to celebrate with your community. Have fun with it!

Originally from California, Laurie Abkemeier began her publishing career in 1992 as an editorial assistant in the Touchstone/Fireside division at Simon & Schuster. In 1994, she moved to Hyperion where she was responsible for five New York Times bestsellers and many other national bestsellers. Since 2003, Laurie has worked as a literary agent, exclusively representing nonfiction. Her talented roster of authors includes journalists, bloggers, poets, academics, and artists. You can find Laurie on Twitter (@LaurieAbkemeier) where she posts her AGENT OBVIOUS TIP OF THE DAY—the inspiration for her app, available as a free download for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts

The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents

Generally, I try to spare you overly lengthy blog posts. Most writers work from home and already have enough temptation to procrastinate from our craft with lame excuses such as folding laundry or taking the cat to the vet. This post is worth a sit-down. That is, if you’re serious about writing an excellent query letter for your manuscript.

Written by upcoming author JM Tohlin–whose novel The Great Lenore will be in stores Summer 2011–interviewed 50 agents about mistakes writers make when pitching a book.

The tips he has collected are invaluable. As Tohline comments, “You’ve (presumably) spent hundreds of hours planning, writing, editing and perfecting your manuscript. Now, it is time to treat your query with the same respect.”

He also recommends visits to Janet Reid’s Query Shark page, and to Rachelle Gardner. “Google agents and read every bit of advice they are willing to share. Study, learn, and practice! You already know that writing is an art. Now, it’s time to learn that query-writing is an art as well.”

Ready to be impressed? Here are the superb agents who contributed to this post:

Alice Martell * Amy Boggs * Amy Tipton * Annie Hawkins * Bree Ogden * Brian Defiore * Cameron McClure * Caren Estesen * Daniel Lazar * Danielle Svetcov * Don Maass * Elizabeth Pomada * Farley Chase * Gina Panettieri * Heather Mitchell * Helen Breitwieser * Helen Zimmermann * Janet Kobobel Grant * Jeff Gerecke * Joyce Hart * Kate McKean * Kimberley Cameron * Laney Becker * Liv Blumer * Lucinda Blumenfeld * Lucy Carson * Marietta Zacker * Maura Teitelbaum * Michael Murphy * Michelle Wolfson * Mollie Glick * Pam Ahearn * Rachel Dowen * Richard Curtis * Russell Galen * Sally van Haitsma * Sam Stoloff * Sean McCarthy * Sheree Bykofsky * Stephany Evans * and those who requested to remain anonymous.

In JM Tohline’s words, here are the mistakes these agents mentioned most often:

Mentioned 3x
“Go to my website for a sample of my work…”
“Find my query attached…”
Querying before your manuscript is ready

Note: “Before your manuscript is ready” does not mean “before the first draft is finished.” It means querying before you have written the first draft, allowed the manuscript sit undisturbed for a month, edited it multiple times – during which time you have begun to bleed from the head, due to the number of times you have pounded it against the wall in your pursuit of perfection – and handed it out to people to read, edited it some more, removed about half the manuscript and been tempted to throw the whole thing away, taken another break from it, come back feeling rejuvenated and edited it some more, had some more people read it…and edited it some more. After all this, your manuscript might be ready for querying.

As Donald Maass put it: “Granted, it’s difficult for newer writers to judge when their novels are in final form but I can say this: for first time novelists, 99.99% of the time when they begin querying agents they’re not really done.

Cameron McClure (of the Donald Maass Agency) added this: “Most writers query too soon – either before the book is really ready to be read by an industry professional, or with a book that is a learning book, or a starter book, where the writer is working through the themes that will come out in later books with more clarity, getting things out of their system, making mistakes that most beginners make, finding their voice.

Mentioned 4x
Talking about the book’s sequel, or…
…pitching more than one book at a time
Writing a query that lacks confidence

Mentioned 5x
Writing a query that is overconfident or pompous
Sending a query that has clearly not been proofread

Mentioned 9x
Queries addressed to “Dear Agent” (or anything similar!

Mentioned 10x
Vague query letters!

Mentioned 11x
Queries with more than one agent listed in the “To” field

Mentioned 14x
Queries that have no clue what the agent represents, or…
…that have no clue what the agent’s submission guidelines are

And there you have the basic breakdown. But your pot of coffee is still mostly full. Remember, your query letter is the first (and possibly only) impression you’ll ever make on an agent. Don’t slam the door on yourself – learn everything you can about writing a good query letter.

Jeff Gerecke – who mentioned both writers who send letters to him with a “Dear Agent” salutation and who query him regarding areas he does not represent – told me about a service that generates mass queries to agents. Let’s be honest – if you have not taken the time to find out what an agent represents (let alone to find out anything about them and address them directly!), why would they assume you took the time to write a worthwhile novel? As Jeff said in his email,I do expect writers to submit to lots of agents, but not blindly, so putting my name in the query doesn’t seem too much to ask.” Sally van Haitsma echoed with similar sentiments: “We assume you are sending out queries to multiple agents, and even encourage authors to do so since this is such a subjective business, but as a first impression it’s important to customize queries so they address us by name.

More specific thoughts on this topic came from Sam Stoloff:It might be a silly prejudice on my part, but I automatically discount queries that aren’t addressed to me personally. If the writer hasn’t taken the time to find out a little about me, to make sure that I’d be an appropriate agent for their work, and to put my name at the top of their query as a gesture of professional courtesy, then I am simply less likely to take the query seriously.

Are you starting to get the picture? As Mollie Glick said in regards to the “multiple agents in the subject line” problem:We like to feel special!

Sean McCarthy even took this one step further:I think the biggest mistake that writers make when querying me is not letting me know why I – specifically – would be a great match for their project. I know that it can be time-consuming to customize query letters, but even a simple sentence that references my taste, my background or projects that I’ve worked on will go a long way towards getting your pitch more attention.

After all, writing your novel was time-consuming, right? Editing your novel was time-consuming. Think twice before you send an anonymous query letter; the extra time is worth it.

Incredibly, this generalized sort of approach some writers take stretches itself even thinner than the basic “Dear Agent” letter.

Bree Ogden’s email gave an example of this that was embarrassing even to read (Point 1), and she proceeded to give two more suggestions (Points 2 & 3) that are very important to keep in mind! Her email looked like this:

1. If a writer isn’t going to research the right agents for their project, that’s really mainly hurting them, but at least don’t publicize it to the agent they are querying. For example: When I was a brand new agent, I would get queries that would say, “I am impressed with your sales and recent projects…” It was clear they had no idea who I was. So if you’re not going to do your research (which you absolutely should) at least try to make it look like you did.

2. This may be way more of a personal preference, but I do not like getting queries in which the author bio is the first thing on the page. In my opinion it should be last. I need to be hooked by the premise of the book in order to want to continue reading the query. And frankly, author bios can get a bit insipid. Instant query turn-off.

3. Loooooooong queries. There is an art to writing a query letter. And because the letter is an author’s key to the publishing world, learn that art. Writing extremely lengthy queries is a no-no and I usually stop midway through because I either lose interest or forget where the author was going. Agents have so much going on….an author needs to grab them with a concise, punchy, hard-boiled query.

One of my favorite agents, Michael Murphy (from one of my favorite agencies, Max & Co.) put it like this:
The answer to your question is an easy one.
The single biggest mistake writers make when querying me is sending manuscripts for areas I do not represent. On my website, in all my interviews, and I believe in most websites that list areas of interest for each agent, it is quite clearly stated that I do not represent YA, prescription (How To) nonfiction, nor genre fiction (SF, fantasy, romance, thrillers). Yet almost half the queries I receive are for these very categories.

I am dumbfounded by this. If I were applying for a job as a dental hygienist, I don’t think I’d apply to Jiffy Lube. Writers need to do a bit of research before spewing their query letters to every Tom, Dick, & Harry calling themselves a literary agent.

Normally, I reply with a simple note that I do not represent their kind of work. However, as these queries pile up, I am considering just hitting DELETE. Their lack of effort is wasting my time and their own.

Sorry to come off as a miserly bastard, but in this one area I feel like a miserly bastard.

In other words: If you are going to approach an agent – as Amy Tipton said – quite simply, “Do your homework!

Furthermore, send the query to the agents! Don’t post it on your website and send them the link. Gina Panettieri said,Don’t try to cut corners by simply referring agents to your website rather than writing a well-prepared query. It’s great to let us know about your website and we can check it out to get more info about you and your book, but we’ll only do that IF you’ve intrigued us with your knock-out query!” On this subject, Alice Martell put it like this: “If you’re asking someone to do something for you that they do not have to do, but you really want them to, you should make it as easy as possible for them.

Remember, agents do not have to read your query! In fact, most of them are not especially looking to add new clients. Don’t act like you’re doing them a favor by allowing them a shot at your work – put the query right there where they can read it, and give yourself a chance!

Several of the most in-depth insights came from Helen Zimmermann, who emailed a copy of the “What Not To Do In A Query” section of the lecture she gives at writers’ conferences…. Continue to read this post in its entirety for more excellent, thought-provoking advice, including nine less-obvious mistakes contributed by agent Liv Blumer.

You can  find Mr. Tohline on Twitter @JMTohline. Learn more about him and his new book The Great Lenore here.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Freelance Writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Upcoming Book Release? 5 Things Writers Should Do

Author Inara Scott sold her novel, Delcroix Academy: The Candidates, in October 2007. The book wasn’t released until August 2010. “This, you might think, would be ample time to plan my promotion activities,” she says. “In fact, I still missed the boat on a couple of things. But I also did a few things right. So to all of you who had recently sold your novels (congratulations!) and to all of you pre-published folks planning in advance (very smart of you!) here are some pre-release day tips:”

1. Do the Website. Like, Now.

Okay, you know you need a website. But release day is 18 months away. Do you really need one now? Short answer: yes.

Websites take a surprisingly long time to build, especially if you’re working from scratch with a designer. You can throw a holding place up on blogspot in a day, but if you want a quality, built-to-fit site with bells and whistles, START EARLY. Many designers have waiting lists or are backed up for months. Even once you get on their calendar, it can take months from first design meeting to launch. Make sure the site will be live several months before release day. You want to build internet buzz BEFORE your book is released, and that means a great website done well in advance.

2. Contact Bloggers, Get Them ARCs, Plan Your Blog Tour

Here’s the pre-release buzz thing again—you need to get on the radar of all those book bloggers before release day. You don’t know any book bloggers? Well, it’s time for some Internet research. I write for young adults, and I discovered there’s an actual directory of book blogs. About six months before my release, I went through and checked out, oh probably 100 of them, and if I liked the tone and structure of the blog, and if it had a significant number of followers, I contacted the blog administrator. I offered to send ARCs. They wrote back, many asking me for interviews. Plan a blog tour and make it interesting; don’t just recycle the same interview over and over again.

If you want an idea of how to promote via the Internet, check out this website. These guys are amazing. Fabulous promotion, unique blogs, and lots of ‘em.

3. Twitter, Facebook, Blog—Make Friends

Yes, the world of Social Media is crowded, and yes, you may spend a lot of your time talking to yourself. That’s okay. Do it anyway.

Once you’re there, do not spend all your time telling people to buy your book. You are there to MAKE FRIENDS. Friends don’t push their books. Friends don’t bombard their friends with sales pitches. Friends DO share their excitement over things like great reviews, new covers, and release days. They do this because they are friends, not because they are trying to get someone to buy their books.

4. Ask for Blurbs

You know those cover quotes you see on books? The “breathtaking” “spell-binding” “fast-paced” blurbs? Guess what—in most cases, the author probably asked for those blurbs himself.

It helps, of course, if you’ve got friends who are authors (see #3, above). But don’t despair if you’re friendless. Cold call (er, e-mail). Send out letters to authors you love. Make it personal—they should be able to tell that you’ve read their books and have an specific reason why they would be a good person to blurb your book. Be professional and polite. And do all this months before you need the blurb. People are busy and need time to read. Find out what your deadlines are and be generous with your lead-times. What’s the worst they can say—”no”?

5. Yes, You Need Bookmarks

Everyone hands them out, and many end up in the trash. That’s okay, make them anyway. In the months/weeks before your release day you’ll be attending conferences, meeting people in bars, and chatting with friends and neighbors. They will all ask you about your book. You will tell them the title and release day and they will promptly forget everything you’ve said.

Help them remember. Give them a tangible piece of paper with your cover, website address, and release day. Sure, many will end up in a landfill (or hopefully recycling bin), but some will go on bulletin boards, desks, and fridges. You will have done both your memory-challenged friends—and yourself—a service.

Inara Scott is the author of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates (Aug 2010) and the forthcoming Delcroix Academy: The Watchers. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook (Inara Scott) or via her website. (Note from Rebecca: Please check outInara’s bio page. It is a wonderful example of how an author can reveal herself to her audience without the trappings of showcasing an impressive compendium of writing courses, degrees or literary honorariums. Maybe Inara has all these commendations and therefore doesn’t need to brag. Or maybe she doesn’t. But I like what she says about herself so I don’t care either way. Your thoughts?)


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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?