Category Archives: advice

1

Boost your traffic

Today I bring some smart and simple advice on growing your website or blog traffic from the always entertaining Chuck Sambuchino. In his column for thewritelife.com he offers tips for growing your platform. This has become widely applicable not only for nonfiction authors, for whom a large following is mandatory, but also for writers of fiction who need to engage with their audience as well.

It’s also worth paying attention to the comments section of the piece because there’s some good additional advice scattered throughout there as well, both from the editors at thewritelife.com and from authors who’ve tried things not included in Chuck’s list.

From an agent’s perspective as we are considering a new author, it’s so helpful to be able to confirm that the author has a good sense of social media and how to effectively run a website or blog. Even if the numbers aren’t huge, a successful site is one that’s professional, informative, and provides consistently updated content. Good luck, and let us know if you have any tips not included here.

0

Those other social media websites

Over the last few years I have counseled my clients to build and/or increase their social media presences.  It is, after all, what can really make a difference to the success or lack of success of one’s book.  When I was giving this advice though, I was more often than not talking about Facebook and Twitter.  We have found over time that the more friends and followers an author has, the higher their book sales.

Now though I have discovered the effectiveness of Pinterest.  My client Sarah Kiefer (http://www.pinterest.com/threadedbasil/) has a large following on the site, and it is building.  We are certain this is going to be effective in selling her new book THE VANILLA BEAN BAKING BOOK.  Stacey Glick represents several authors with big Pinterest followings as well, including Jamielyn Nye of I Heart Naptime and Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats.

Last week, I discovered my newest client Derek Krahn on Vine.  Here he is with a sneezing baby lion:

And here he is trying to take a selfie with a tiger named Levi:

His contributions are really effective and they attracted me immediately.  Right now, he has 420,000+ followers and growing, and I am certain this is going to help me sell his upcoming book BIG CAT.

I am sure in the months to come there will be newer and more innovative sites on which potential authors can and should promote themselves.  To that end, I would love to hear from you about any you know of and how effective you believe them to be.

4

Things to think about after your publishing contract is executed

Congratulations!  You’ve sold your book and are about to embark on a new experience.  Recently at a writers’ conference at Sarah Lawrence College, Julie Shoerke provided some tips which I think are extremely valuable and which I would like to pass along here:

  • Save part of your advance towards publicity and promotion.  Generally, I would put this to building your social media as I have found that having a strong presence in this space is incredibly effective in the current publishing climate to publicize your books.
  • Appreciate the people who are working for and with you.  This will make everything during this experience that much more enjoyable and it will increase productivity on all sides.
  • Network with booksellers, librarians and other authors in your category.  I cannot tell you how important this is.  You will stand out to those who will be buying your book and you will undoubtedly learn from others.  Be open to doing this.
  • Stockpile stories/jokes for appearances.  I can’t tell you how difficult that opening anecdote is – I always have to spend lots of time thinking what an effective, attention getting one would be.  This, though, is critically important in getting your audience to listen to the rest of what you have to say.
  • Be realistic about the effort you/your team will put into promoting the book.  Keep in mind how many books you will have to sell to earn back the costs of publicity and try to budget accordingly or you could be in a financial hole.
  • Your name should be across all platforms so people can find you.  Be sure to buy your name.
  • Brand your name not your book’s title – titles can and do change.
  • Team with other authors in the same category to cross-promote.  I have found this to be extremely effective.
  • Be nice!  Understand how lucky you are to be traditionally published—and show your appreciation often.

I hope you will find these tidbits useful and I would be most interested in hearing if you have any others to add.

0

Developing a nonfiction “slam dunk” book concept

We have many ways in which books become books. Each title we sell has its own history and path to print. I thought it might be an interesting exercise for you to hear about a recent project of mine and how it came to be.

I represent Amar’e Stoudemire, best known as an NBA basketball star, but also the co-author of the just-published  COOKING WITH AMAR’E, which he wrote with his personal chef, Maxcel Hardy. Max and I got together initially in February of 2012 to talk about book ideas that he and Amar’e could pursue together, and he was initially thinking about a Kosher cookbook. We went through a list of ideas and the one that seemed most interesting to me had the two of them in the kitchen together doing informal cooking lessons, Max teaching Amar’e how to cook for his family and friends. It felt very commercial to me, and very accessible for a broad audience.

After finding a writer, Rosemary Black, to help them develop the proposal, which was a process that took some time, we sent it to publishers and hosted a lovely cocktail party for interested editors with recipes and cocktails from the proposed book. We sold the book to It Books/HarperCollins just over a year ago and everyone worked tirelessly to produce the book in time for Father’s Day of this year.

The publication was a whirlwind of media events for Amar’e, including appearances on Today and The View, and several book signings in and around NY. A picture from a midtown B&N signing below of yours truly with Amar’e and Chef Max (good thing Amar’e was sitting down or we wouldn’t have fit together in the photo!).

So, what I’m trying to get at with this post in addition to showing you some fun behind-the-scenes insight into the publishing process, is that there are many ways to develop a book and no matter who the author is or what the book concept is, it is a process that can take many turns and a long time from soup to nuts. Being in the business of ideas allows for a lot of creative brainstorming and you never know when that next great one will present itself.

3

Step out of your algorithm.

Did you know I used to work in a bookstore? It’s true, for about four years altogether I worked for Barnes & Noble – two years in a sleepy metro Detroit store, and two years in a huuuuge store here in NYC. And once you’ve been a bookseller, you really never quite stop being one. I still love recommending books to strangers, I’m an absolute whiz with comp titles, and I compulsively neaten stacks when I find myself in a bookstore.

But as many things as I loved about being a bookseller, I also came away from that career with quite a few pet peeves. So when I saw an Esquire article called “How to Shop in a Bookstore” flying around Twitter, I opened it with trepidation. Just what kind of bookstore behavior was being suggested? Then I was pleased to read a quite beautiful little essay on the joys of discovery in bookstores – on going in with an open mind, and letting yourself be guided by the brilliant, hilarious, sophisticated, and elegant bookstore employees. Or the article puts it, “I advise finding the man or woman with the weirdest glasses.”

So now that the readers of Esquire will be storming into bookstores eager for recommendations and serendipity, I decided I should to put a few comple

mentary bookstore Don’ts out there:

  • Are you looking for a specific book? Do your friendly bookseller a favor and try to remember the title or the author. Don’t just say “It was on TV.And it’s orange? Or red?” Though you’d be amazed how good a mind reader you become after a couple of weeks at the info desk. And Google will be your new best friend.
  • Do you see a book you’re interested in? Don’t wait – buy it right now! Bookstores change their displays all the time, often on a regular monthly or weekly schedule, sometimes on the fly in response to hot news topics or emerging trends. We’re BOTH going to be unhappy when you storm up to my counter grumbling “HEY where’s that book I saw on this table the other day.” Buy it when you see it! Or come in happy to discover whatever book took its place, as the Esquire writer suggests.
  • Want to dip into a book before you buy it? Go right ahead! That’s one of the beauties of a bookstore – flipping through the pages (and yes, that bookish smell) will always beat out the LookInside preview. But don’t forget that the book isn’t actually yours yet, and be respectful of its pages, cover corners, and spine.
  • Don’t take off your shoes in the bookstore. Seriously.
  • Don’t dismantle a display to create a computer desk for yourself (yes, this happened).
  • And please, for the love of all, do not use the children’s department for free babysitting. ‘Nuff said.

    Don't forget to appreciate  your hard-working booksellers!!

    Don’t forget to appreciate your hard-working booksellers!!

Okay, so maybe those last couple etiquette points are the kind of outlying horror stories that grizzled booksellers love to swap when they get together,

and not the kind of behavior any reader of THIS blog would engage in. And pet peeves aside, there’s nothing a bookseller loves more than meeting a reader eager for suggestions. No matter how you feel about Amazon, whether it’s your best friend or your Lord Vader, nothing quite matches the experience of wandering through a bookstore. The Esquire article puts it beautifully:

“Somewhere in there is something that’s entirely fresh to you, and will reward your soul by exposure. That’s what good books do, and good bookstores, too. They let you step out of your algorithm.”

Do you have a wonderful bookstore in your area? Or do you have any tips for serendipitous discoveries when shopping for books online? 

4

Counterintuitive advice – what writers should not do

I mentioned a book I sold recently by Amy Morin based on her viral article 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, which resonated with so many people from around the world. One of the things that people mentioned was how she positioned the piece in the negative, from the perspective of things people don’t do, which highlights a different thought process than what we are used to when we think about things we should do to make ourselves better.

When I found this Writer’s Digest piece that offers advice with a similar interpretation, focusing on 15 things writers should not do, I thought it was worth sharing. In fact, there is overlap between Amy’s article and Zachary Petit’s. For example, Morin suggests mentally strong people should not resent other people’s successes, and Petit claims writers should not be spiteful about another writer’s success. Take those positive success stories and use them to motivate you, to try and learn something from them so you can apply them to your own work and eventual success.

Some of these traps are easy to fall into, like not wanting to give up on a particular piece that isn’t working, but if you can think about breaking the patterns, focus your energy on positive thoughts of looking ahead and learning and growing, you will be a better writer, and ultimately one with greater mental strength.

Are there any things in this piece that you struggle with? Personally I think there are many negative ideas in here that we’ve all experienced at one time or another. If you have any thoughts on how to take this advice to heart, please share. I’m sure there are other writers who would benefit not only from knowing what not do to, but learning more about how not to do it (therapists, feel free to chime in)!

2

Why writing and editing are not the same

Full disclosure: I do not claim to have mastered the editorial craft, but this blog post is in response to the many people I’ve spoken to who wish to break into the publishing industry in order to become writers. Many intern applicants have told me that they want to go into publishing because they want to be writers. They, like most, believe that writing and editing go hand in hand. If you are a good writer, you must be a good editor. And vice-a-versa. I don’t blame them. It’s a reasonable assumption, one I even made myself. But I quickly learned that this is not always the case.

Writing and editing require very different skill sets. Among other qualifications, great writers must have a voice, they must have a story to tell and be able to bring it to life. The dialogue must be realistic and the characters vivid, interesting, engaging.

What, then, is the editor’s job? What makes a great editor?

Editors must be able to assemble the writer’s story in a cohesive manner, must clearly see what the finish product should look like and know how to achieve that endgame, like a master watchmaker who sees how all the minuscule, intricate parts of a timepiece should fit together so that each one works in perfect concert with the other, so that the whole mechanism runs smoothly, flawlessly, beautifully. Move a chapter here, dissect some paragraphs there, control the rhythm and pacing of the book as a ship’s captain does the wind.

Yes, great writers can make great editors. And great editors can make great writers. But to confuse the two jobs is a common mistake that we should all try to avoid. Not only does it cheapen the arts of both writing and editing, but publishing houses and literary agencies aren’t looking to hire writers. In fact, it’s often frowned upon and seen as a distraction or conflict of interest.

4

Good music

With apologies to Miriam for shamelessly ripping off her recent blogmy life has revolved around two things recently: work and music. As some of you might know, I used to sing and play guitar in a few bands back in the day, and I spent a couple of summers as a camp music counselor as well. Even majored in music in college, though I think that says more about my school’s lax curriculum than my musical abilities…

Anyway, my musical endeavors these days consist of screwing around on Garageband and playing for two boys who occasionally tolerate Daddy singing weird songs about bowling skinheads and some guy named Alex Chilton. But back in in December, a choice guest spot backing up the Manhattan School for Children’s winter hootenanny rekindled the performance itch, and so tomorrow I’ve got my first real gig in years–I’m playing 4 songs for my oldest’s kindergarten class. Needles to say, I’m terrified!

Okay, what does any of this have to do with books? Well, as I’ve written before, I do love rock bios and other books about music, and I’ve had the good fortune to place a few music-related titles as well. But it’s a tough market, especially for anything not written by or about an aging 60′s rock star. Yes, books about punk, jazz, classical, even hip-hop occasionally end up on the Big Six’s lists, but it’s hard to think of many that have broken out in recent years the way Keith Richard’s LIFE did–the numbers for PLEASE KILL ME, OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE or THE BIG PAYBACK pale in comparison.

So, like non-baseball sports books, is this a case of publishers not knowing or reaching their audience, or are 60s fans the only ones who buy books en masse? Of course the 60s inspire a lot of writers, but to the exclusion of other eras? Does gender play a role? Or is it simply that the music book category is so small that it takes a major celebrity to sell a book in serious numbers?

Well, I’d love to hear thoughts, because I do want to sign more music books across the board. What kinds of music books do you read and why? Are there any subjects, genres, or people you want to read about? What are your all-time favorites?

And if anyone wants to send good vibes my way tomorrow around 8:30 a.m., I’ll take them! I hear these kids today can be a pretty tough crowd…

7

Actors and writers, a mixed breed

I might have mentioned at some point on the blog that I was a child actress. It’s a part of my past I don’t talk about all that much, but I started auditioning when I was eight and worked pretty steadily until I was almost eighteen. Sometimes it feels like another life, it was so long ago now, but I was a professional actress in commercials, films, on stage, and I was even on a soap opera for a year. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with many great actors, some of whom have gone on to write books (I would love to sign up a client from my acting days, and recently had coffee with a woman I auditioned with when we were kids!). One of those actors is Andrew McCarthy. We did a cute television film together called The Beniker Gang. I think you can still occasionally find it on cable somewhere.

I was happy to see that Andrew has gone on to become a prominent and well-regarded travel writer in his older adult years. He also published a critically acclaimed travel memoir in 2012 called The Longest Way Home. So when I saw this article with him doling out writing advice on Writer’s Digest, I thought it was worth sharing.

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to pass this on. First, he offers some solid suggestions for looking at the world through a creative and unique lens. And the advice he dispenses for travel writers is more widely applicable for any genre. Ideas like find your hook in the details, and focus on storytelling, are useful tips.

But more broadly, I like the emphasis on seeing where creativity can take us. Actors and writers have a lot in common. They hone their craft with the intention of engaging an audience, whether it’s a live audience at the theater, or a person curled up on their couch enjoying a good book. The goal is to enlighten, entertain, and elicit a reaction or feeling of engagement from the audience or reader. So, even though it’s been years since Andrew McCarthy and I worked together in a film, we still have a lot in common in our publishing careers. He tells stories, and I sell those stories with the purpose of sharing ideas with others. We’ve found a creative process that works for us.

My takeaway of this is that we should all listen to our inner creative voice, and be willing to go wherever it might lead us. What other outlets do you explore that help to keep your creative juices flowing?

9

“Kill your darlings.” No, really, kill them dead.

A big part of my job involves helping writers develop ideas and then editing their work.   Good agents, Jane taught me a long time ago, send out material in its most polished, ready-for-prime-time form.  Even though an editor brings his/her own vision and expertise to the process of making a book ready for publication, it’s our job to get that editor to buy the thing in the first place.  So, a brilliant but bloated novel of ideas about the robot apocalypse (just a hypothetical, although you never know with Jim’s list), will probably get a long edit memo from us suggesting a lot of slashing and some burning.

Now, after a couple of decades of responses ranging from sobs to name calling, I’ve learned that telling authors to kill their darlings is always a loaded proposition.  Some will argue with you like defense lawyers at the O.J. trial, trying to convince you to recant and let them keep every superfluous line of dialogue, every unnecessary adjective, and every irritating dream sequence (a particular bugaboo of mine).  Some will accept your comments politely and then send back a manuscript with infinitesimal changes.  Some will send you six-page letters refuting everything you’ve suggested and insinuating that you belong in a less think-heavy profession.

Seldom (although not never) do we get a reaction similar to that of the author of this piece in the Times.  For every author who loves cutting and throwing out, there are thousands of hoarders.

Be honest, are you able to cut with gusto (or at least without facing a clinical depression) or do you have the impulse to argue with or rail against anyone who suggests it?