Boot Camp for our readers

Miriam, Jim, Jessica and I recently participated in a Writer’s Digest boot camp. Each of us spent 3 solid hours online answering questions from the students who had registered for the class. The questions arrived  in threads and once I got the hang of how to answer, it was an interesting exercise filled with many curious writers looking for information from a publishing professional. I was happy to oblige.

The questions ranged in content and complexity and some questions prompted others. I’ll share a couple of examples to give you the idea. One question posted was: “How critical is a synopsis?”  To which I replied  that different agents probably see it differently but I don’t weigh too heavily on the synopsis if the query letter is good and I personally prefer a synopsis that’s brief and just gives a story overview. More like flap copy from a book.

Another question that came up was: “Do agents really research the writer (presumably when they receive a submission from them)?” This prompted a follow-up question about a writer who has a blog and if that’s something an agent will consider when reviewing a query.  My response:  “Yes, absolutely. An author who has an online presence and is active in social media can be very positive. For nonfiction it’s critical, less so for fiction, but the more public a figure you are in this market (and world) the easier the chances to sell your work.”

It got me to thinking that I’d be happy to offer here on our blog a similar service. While I can’t promise to answer questions for 3 hours straight, I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have about, well, anything that relates to writing.

I promise I will get back to you before too long but please be patient since I’m away in Austin, Texas at a writer’s conference this weekend where I’ll be answering a lot more questions.

So, ask away!  Thanks, and look forward to hearing from you.

18 Responses to Boot Camp for our readers

  1. Mootstrap says:

    Hi Stacey, thanks for this!

    I’m a brand new blogger and also an aspiring author. Does it only count for something if my blog is used to promote my writing, projects and experiences?

    • Mootstrap says:

      I mean as opposed to establishing an online following through mostly casual blogging.

      • DGLM says:

        Hi, all, and sorry for the delay in responding. I promised I would so here goes!

        Mootstrap, it’s a bit of a hard question to answer hypothetically but my sense is that a blog or website should be a broad indicator of your platform and not just a place to showcase your writing, unless you are already published.

  2. G. Kachman says:

    Just to follow up on Mootstrap’s question – what’s your feeling about a website built around a manuscript? I understand that there are book cover professionals, so the cover design is left to them…is a writer getting ahead of themselves, if they go ahead and make a website, including graphics and OFT (Other Fun Things, yeah I just made that up), relating to their novel…??

    • Stacey says:

      Yeah, I think it’s not the best idea to share very much about your unpublished work online. It feels unprofessional to me when I look at an author website that’s full of discussions about his or her not-yet-published work.

  3. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Not meaning to be Captain Bringdown here, but I’ve seen so many hopeful, well-constructed writer’s blogs constructed around a manuscript they’re trying to get somebody to read, and the only people who seem to pay any attention to them are other hopeful writers, by and large. There may be a handful of gatekeepers who factor stuff like this into their calculus, (although mostly there doesn’t seem to be much calculus involved) but most of the really sharp agents from the bigger hitting houses around town seem to take the matterial itself as it’s first and only propulsion system. I’ve been getting all my bites recently on nothing more than a really powerful sales pitch and being on the cutting edge of the breaking buzz, which IS something serious players pay attention to. After that, it’s just a question of how bad an agent really wants to play in this ball game, and by the way, as far as this social-media promo idea is concerned, it was a full-page review in Entertainment Weekly that put The 5th Wave on the bestseller list, not a lot of Twitter chat…

  4. Lee Westmore says:

    I hear a lot about Facebook and Twitter presence. Is there any real payoff for using them?
    – in terms of salability (i.e., getting an agent or publisher to read your work)
    – in terms of sales (i.e., inducing readers to purchase it)?

    • Stacey says:

      I think in terms of Facebook and Twitter, it matters what you are writing. For nonfiction it’s obviously a lot more important than for fiction but any way a writer has to engage with his or her audience is going to be helpful in marketing and promoting their work. A potential author with a strong social media platform is more attractive than one without.

  5. Melissa says:

    What would you be thrilled to find in your slush pile? Great writing, of course, but great writing about what? Or great writing by whom? Or great writing, presented or framed… how?

    Thanks for answering questions, it’s always fun to read this kind of Q&A!

    • Stacey says:

      Ah, Melissa. It’s the million dollar question. If only I had the million dollar answer! I would love to see a YA Glee-like series or a modern day version of The Breakfast Club.

  6. Lynn says:

    Thanks, Stacey, for this opportunity to get some questions answered. I know that having a presence on a blog or social media is much more important for non-fiction than fiction. Still, the question of how much to reveal is difficult to measure.

    For example: I have a blog where I write whatever I feel like writing about, so it has nothing to do with my WIP. Well, a few years ago I wrote a couple of posts on a particular subject and little by little I’ve gotten a following (1st on Google, as well as the top 3 on Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines). Now I’m beginning to wonder if I should write a “How To …” book. I know if I start writing more and more on this topic I will get a bigger following. My question is: Is it wise to put all that information on my blog if I want to write a “How To …” book? It’s sort of the question of “Why buy the cow….?”

    Another thing I’m curious about is: In this quickly changing world of publication, are agents still at the stage where they don’t want their authors switching genres and what is your take on that? The reason I ask, of course, is my current WIP is fiction, while the “How To …” book would be non-fiction. Thanks again for your time!

    • Stacey says:

      First, switching genres. I think it can work for some authors to write in different genres in some cases. It’s all very unique to that writer and that situation. I have an author who has published in multiple genres, for both adults and children, all fiction. It’s rare but not impossible.

      I think you need to play to your strengths. If you have a strong nonfiction idea that has gotten traction online maybe it is worth considering a nonfiction book (feel free to email me the idea).

      You can always continue to write fiction, even if you pursue a nonfiction project as well.

  7. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    Thank you so much for being willing to answer questions. Mine has to do with the 1 or 2 sentence hook when querying. Do you believe that it is still a good tool to have or has it made the suicidal leap into gimmick?

    • Kevin A. Lewis says:

      Since I’ve been getting some bites on my queries recently, I can definitely say that a snappy lead-in is essential; the trick is to sound clever without appearing staged or rehearsed-my secret weapon is humorous wit; I connect the buzz from the last big event like the BEA or whatever to what I’m pushing while pointing out that the market I’m competing with is flooded and I point out all the desperate editors waiting for the National Guard to show up or something along those lines. This can all be said in literally 2 sentences, and of course if you’re plugging a book about somebody on life support getting in touch with their feelings about their estranged family or something this advice wouldn’t apply. But the mathematics is the same regardless of the tone you’re striking. Naturally, you’ve got to have a compelling sales pitch that raises more curiousity than it satifies-sell the sizzle, not the steak. And I no longer bother with samples-if you want to eat in my patisserie, you can damn well order from the menu…

      • Stacey says:

        Some good points, Kevin. Although I’m not sure I agree about not sending a sample. I think it’s useful to have at least a brief writing sample with every pitch.

  8. Stacey says:

    I personally like the one or two sentence hook. We live in a “logline”, to borrow a phrase from my book-to-film days, world and a quick pitch that draws the reader in can be very effective.

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