Tag Archives: self-publishing

5 Secrets About Literary Agents

One of the best things about attending a writers’ conference is it is a great way to meet literary agents…and demystify them a bit. Here are the top 5 secrets I learned about them:

1. They tend to work odd hours. The number one takeaway I got from the conference was to write a query letter as if the reader is half-asleep…because they very well may be. The agents I met were workaholics, ad several admitted to reading queries late into the night, before bed. That makes it a little trickier to grab their attention, so keep it simple!

2. There are bad times to solicit them. Of course, this doesn’t just mean when they’re in the bathroom (but don’t do that!). Certain times of year tend to be trickier to get their attention: in the summer months, they’re taking vacations (along with everyone else!) and many are also out of the office in December. Don’t send your manuscript on January 1! Wait until mid-month, when the flow of queries from authors who didn’t get this advice will have tapered off.

3. Some really like self-publishing. We sometimes imagine that self-publishing and getting a literary agent are entirely opposing ideas, but the agents at the conference really didn’t think so! While not all of them would accept a self-published author, they all admitted that there are some genres, stories, and situations where self-publishing is a better route, and many said they would take on self-published clients.

4. They work really hard. These folks…wow. They are a devoted bunch. They all really seemed to genuinely want to see more books published (and not just because it means a revenue stream for them, too). They are people who like books, at heart. (One woman I met was a member of three different book clubs!) Which is good, because they have to read a lot of books, and queries, and manuscripts to do their jobs right. Sometimes (angry) authors can push the idea that agents are evil, book-hating gatekeepers who just want to keep an author down, but that definitely didn’t seem true.

5. They are all different. Shocking, I know, but there isn’t exactly a literary agent hive mind. There are similarities, because they are all doing the same job, but what appeals to Agent A just may not resonate with agents B, C, and D, and vice versa. That can make our job as writers seeking to court them tricky, but it also means that all those rejections may not at all be personal. So keep trying.

What “secrets” have you learned about literary agents? 

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Your Amazon Author Central Page

Amazon is an excellent tool for selling your book, but it isn’t necessarily intuitive. There are completely different sites for print books (createspace.com) and ebooks (kdp.amazon.com), and then there is a different site to craft your author tools. It took me six months to realize I wasn’t using their author tools! I figured I’d write it up to save y’all the same embarrassment.

Amazon Author page interface

Amazon Author page interface

First, find the site. I had to Google it. You can also click through one of your favorite books, and click on the author name, then scroll down to find the “are you an author?” link. You’re looking for https://authorcentral.amazon.com.

If you are already selling your books through an Amazon platform, it should be easy to connect your name to your book. It’s an easy-to-follow interface, and won’t take very long.

You’ll fill in a short biography, and it’s a good idea to add your author photo. Bonus points if you have other photos or videos that will help readers connect with you as a person, but you have to work within your comfort zone. Connect your blog and Twitter* feed, and it’ll give readers just one more chance to follow you. You may need to look up exactly how to find your blog’s RSS feed, but once again Google is your friend there.

This is what it will look like when you’re done (and it’s been approved by Amazon).

amazon author page

As we know, connection with readers is critical! The author page is a fantastic, free way to connect the dots. Don’t make the same mistake I did!

There are a lot of other tools back in there, including a sales chart, your sales rank against all other books in Amazon’s stock, your current author rank, and an easy snapshot of all the Amazon customer reviews of your books. I mean, seriously, how did I miss the memo on these? They’re great to have access to, finally!

Do you use Amazon’s author page tools? What’s your favorite feature?

*Note: Amazon’s having some kind of dispute with their tweet provider, so tweets aren’t currently uploading, but it’ll resolve sooner than later.

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The Gender Bias in Books

Last week, a coworker left me speechless. I was reading my book at lunch when she asked me what I was reading (I hate when people interrupt me that way, but you’re not allowed to be huffy about it!). I was reading Abaddon’s Gate and was about to start telling her how much I enjoyed it when she asked: “Is that science fiction?” This, honest to goodness, is how that conversation progressed from there:

“Yeah, it is.”

“Oh… Does your husband science fiction?”

“Oh yeah, my husband and I both love it, and–”

“Did you like it before you met him?”

“…uh, well, yeah, I mean, it was practically a requirement for me to–”

“Oh.” (pauses, biting her lip) “Well, it’s lucky you found a husband who liked it. I guess it’s probably easier for a woman to find a man like that than the other way around, though!”

I think I gave her this face:

Apparently being a woman and liking science fiction means I’m basically unmarriable and should be incredibly lucky that I found a forgiving man to marry me.

And if that were it, that would be one thing. I could shrug off one lady as just being kinda crazy.

And then author Catherine Nichols wrote about her query experiment—she sent her exact same book and exact same query letter to agents under a male name. And the male version of her got far, FAR more favorable responses than her real name.

Read about it here.

Here is one of the more salient points:

Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.

And even the rejections she got were more favorable, with more long-form responses and positive reactions.

This article—particularly following those outdated, sexist comments from my coworker—just was a real punch in the gut. I may be getting tanked before a single word is written, all because of unconscious (or perhaps a little bit conscious) bias on the part of the agents, the very first gatekeepers in the traditional publishing journey.

Bias against female authors in sci-fi/horror is part of why I use my initials with my book, Undead Rising. But I thought that was just for the reader who may be wary of a “girly” book…I had no idea that this sort of bias had leeched all the way through the system. But I can’t say I’m truly that surprised. Publishing is one of the most opaque, challenging industries, with a convoluted process and a lot of gut feel on the part of agents and editors in determining who gets in the door. And with the recent events at the Hugo Awards, I think there is a good reason to be concerned.

I used to sign my query letters with my name, thinking it would be more personal and therefore welcoming for the agent on the other end. I thought I was improving my odds by being warm and friendly. But perhaps I need to switch to only using my initials there, too; perhaps that is what it will take for my fiction to get a fair shake (especially as the book I’m querying is either sci-fi or literary fiction…both genres which carry a reputation as a boys’ club).

I’m deeply frustrated by this revelation, and sure, it’s one woman’s experiment with a relatively small sample. But her results are huge. I hope it leads to some careful thought in literary circles.

Do you see a bias in publishing? What should we do about it?

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Top 10 Things I Learned From DFWCon

DFW writers' convention

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending DFW Writers Convention, one of the bigger writers conventions, and after two days of shaking hands and smiling at other writers/editors/agents, early mornings and late nights, and many workshops, I feel obligated to try to sum up the experience. For those of you who have yet to attend a similar convention, I say get out there and find one: it’ll step up your game. In the meantime, read on:

10. Everyone is wary of Amazon. Agents practically felt they had to whisper it in case the shopping ma

gnate somehow overheard, but Amazon is currently the enemy you keep close. They all unanimously said it was essential, but are decidedly concerned about that growing monopoly. Remember: Amazon is useful, but Amazon isn’t your friend…it’s a business.

9. Those who excel at social media are people who already are very open and energetic. Though I did learn some about manipulating Facebook’s algorithm for your favor, my biggest takeaway from the social media conversation was that you have to be willing to tell the world just about everything about yourself…except nothing negative, at all. Remember, you’re selling yourself, and no one wants to hear the bad parts. It was very telling that the agents, who insist everyone must be represented on Twitter/social media, were also th

e first to say their Twitter persona is not the same as their real lives. Hmm…

8. No one has any idea what will sell. Not really. As is probably always true at these kinds of conferences, talk swirled around what was in demand. And depending on who you talked to, it was just about anything. This year sci-fi was the predominant winner, but none of the agents seemed particularly keen on it. (Two years ago it was all romance and some New Adult. This year, New Adult was practically dead.) One agent said something ridiculously specific was on her wishlist. It was all over the place.

7. Agents are not a hive mind. Along the same lines, just because one agent feels strongly about

something doesn’t mean they all will. At more than one panel the agents (politely) disagreed with each other, particularly at the all-important Query Gong Show (a game to suss out when an agent would stop reading a query). It really is about hitting the right mark.

6. It is less important to have an agent than it is to have the right agent. Following in the same train of thought, one lecture from an author who’d made the NYTimes Editor’s Choice list made this point really clear. He’d had a very well-known agent for years…who was completely unable to sell his material. But after he switched, it found a home. As painful as the agent-finding process is (and it is), sometimes having an agent may be worse than not.

5. Agents are really busy people. Keep this in mind while you’re fretting over your email inbox,

wringing your hands while you wait for a response: they have to respond to you and a helluva lot of other people. I’ve mentioned my negative agent experience—I waited nearly a year for a response on a requested manuscript!—so I know the waiting is terrible, but be realistic. One agent had had 10,000 queries the year prior, and had accepted … 6. Agents have a caseload of about 35 books they’re selling at any one time. Plus they’re going to conferences all over the country. That’s plenty for one person.

4. Keep your query letter short. Because agents are so busy, they may be reading your query at 11:30 at night, just before bed. They don’t have time for a long monologue. This was the number one reason letters were rejected at the gong show. Keep your query short—shorter than you think it should be!—and the

agent will open your manuscript if interested. Corollary: start with the genre and the word count to avoid surprises.

3. There is such a thing as “hybrid” publishing, and it may be the most successful option. I heard mixed reviews on this but I’m choosing to accept the positive: agents feel that there is definitely a place for a combination of self- and traditional publishing. Some even said that building an audience with a first, self-published book was a good way to eventually attract an agent. Authors also said that some things a

re not not suitable for the traditional route, making self-publishing some pieces a good idea. So there’s no n

eed to be “all in” one way or the other.

2. “Successful” authors seriously struggle. What seems like the end may just be the beginning of a new phase. I’m perhaps most grateful for the lecture by Dallas author Will Clarke, who had the markers of success—two traditionally published books, coverage in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, the book tour, the works. But his story was shocking: he’s never bought out his advance; the publisher dropped him; his book was optioned for Paramount studios but will never see the light of day; and the continual book tour burned him out creatively, emotionally, and physically. Success has its downsides.

1. Even the most experienced and successful authors are plagued by insecurity about their writing. Superstar author Charlaine Harris was this year’s keynote speaker, and despite being unequivocally a renowned and esteemed author, she admitted that she’s afraid to read Stephen King’s On Writing  or any other “how to write” book for fear of discovering she’s been doing it wrong for more than 30 years. If even someone as relentlessly successful has those fears, it’s ok for us newbies to admit to them, too.

Have you attended a conference? What wisdom can you share?

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Goodreads Giveaway: Was It Worth It?

In an effort to drum up interest in my book, Undead Rising: Decide Your DestinyI took the advice of Writer’s Digest and created a Goodreads Giveaway. People love free stuff, so the idea is that you can let people know about your new book by giving some number away, thus attracting a lot of interest and getting those much-needed early reviews.

I decided to give away 5 copies of my book, and I took the WD advice that the advertising to lesser-served readers outside of America was worth the potential shipping costs and opened the giveaway to readers in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom. Because, really, what are the odds that one of those readers will win?

This was my first giveaway, so I wasn’t entirely sure how long to run it for, but I let it stay up for about 3 weeks (there was a bit of confusion about when it would be posted—hint: it doesn’t go live until Goodreads staff approve it, so the start date is a little fuzzy).

In three weeks’ time, 977 people requested it—with the “peak” entry times at the beginning and end of the contest, no surprise there—and many people put it in their “to-read” category, meaning they’ll hopefully get around to reading it anyway.

Goodreads randomly selected 5 winners out of that pool and sent me their addresses in an easy-to-read CSV.

Oops benedict cumberbatch

That’s right, very British Benedict. Oops is right.

…Out of the 5, one was in London and one was in Canada.

Oops.

All told, shipping cost me about $50 plus a nice lesson from a postal worker about how to fill out customs forms. I used bubble-wrap envelopes–Priority Mail for the U.S. readers and regular old bubble-wrap for the other countries–to ensure the books arrived safely, signed each book with a little note, and included a note thanking them for entering the contest and requesting they consider reviewing the book or otherwise letting me know what they think.

So, would I do it again?

I think so. But I’ll be better prepared next time!

While I really liked the idea of shipping Priority so that readers got their books as quickly as possible, it unnecessarily ratcheted up the price. I think it’ll be regular brown bubble envelopes for everyone from here out.

I’m not sure I’ll still allow entrants from the UK and Canada, though I do love the opportunity to get into that market. I’ll have to consider it carefully.

I think I’ll open the giveaway to more readers next time, which in turn may encourage more people to enter and show more people the book.

I’ll also do a better job of getting a well-targeted Goodreads ad up (again, I had a little confusion with how those worked and when they’d populate) so that more people will know about the Giveaway.

I’m not sure I’d tell authors to expect reviews from a Giveaway. Because the winners are randomized and they have zero obligation to review your book, you may get folks, as I did, who have very few (or no) reviews of books. So it was great to get the book in the hands of new readers, but not necessarily a guarantee of reviews. (Of the 5, only one has reviewed my book so far. But she seemed to like it!)

All in all, a Goodreads Giveaway was a little bit less of a slam-dunk, and shipping was a lot more nerve-wracking than I expected! I think I’ll try again, but I’ll be better prepared for the results (and have a bit more money stashed aside for shipping costs!).

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How NOT to Deal With a Bad Review

Being an author comes with a lot of challenges, but one of the hardest may be managing our own egos. Namely, having the restraint to accept that bad reviews will happen, and the wherewithal to keep yourself from trying to argue.

Because every once in awhile an author comes along, and does that, and serves as a horrific example of what can happen.

It’s like watching a train wreck sliding into the Titanic at the instant it impacts an iceberg. It’s painful to watch but you are so struck that it still is happening that you can’t look away.

His first response to the negative review (which, remember, on Goodreads means “didn’t like it,” not “literally the worst”):

“This review is not good for my business, so unless your desire is to ruin my dreams, it would mean a great deal if you could remove this review from my work and forget about it. But if it’s your desire to hurt me financially and ruin my business, then it’s understandable why you would post such a harmful review.”

In addition to responding to the review at all, this guy really screws up when he implies that this person’s review was posted out of “desire to hurt [him] financially.” What? One bad review certainly won’t be your ruin. But he’s not done. The reviewer politely responded (more politely than I would have) and explained she would not be removing her review, as is her right, and went so far as to compliment aspects of his book. But he came back again:

“Leaving a 1 star review on a book says much more about what kind of person does such a thing, and then attacks it for being “pretentious,” which is an erroneous statement that is defamation at best.”

And then it goes steeply downhill from there. Let’s be clear: a review is about the content, not the author. I mean, no one is leaving a review to just be hurtful to some stranger they’ve never met. I review every book I read; all that says about me as a person is that I read a lot, and that I like to give reviews about it. There’s no moral judgement. Also this guy has no idea what “defamation” is (hint: 100% totally not that).

This schmuck just can’t stop digging a hole, though. He goes on, for another 11 posts, with his rants getting more and more loopy. Worse, he seems to make a bit of a habit of doing this. And may have scared of this (and who knows how many other) readers from ever trying out a new, indie author. That’s just unfortunate.

Now, I commiserate with the author a smidge; I had one one-star review show up on Goodreads. It didn’t even have a review for me to nit-pick and pout over, but it had been created at the same time as like 37 other reviews. I ranted to my husband for 20 minutes, then I closed the page and went to bed and didn’t think about it anymore. And you know what? The next morning, I had two 5-star reviews.

The winds of popularity can change that fast, which is why it’s important to keep perspective. A negative review isn’t the end of the world. And even if it was disastrous for your book, remember, even failure has its values.

But there isn’t anything to be gained from acting out. In fact, it looks like this particular author’s rant lowered his Goodreads rating from a solid 4 stars to a dismal 2 (and falling) in less than two days.

This is one of those lessons it’s good to learn from watching someone else go through it.

Don’t make this guy’s mistake; have some dignity and leave reviews—especially bad ones—alone.

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Warts and All

As if I hadn’t told y’all about 100 times, my book is out now! And that’s awesome and exciting and…really bizarre. I’ve crossed a threshold and yet…nothing is really different–yet.  Most of the differences are in how I’m feeling: jittery and super-overwhelmed.

Does every author feel this way?I’ve worked on this one book for nearly 3 years and yet I still have moments where my heart beats faster and I get all shaky and am just convinced that my book is terrible an no one will ever love me and I’d better just go pick out a nice box under the freeway already. Then I swing to the opposite extreme: my book is the best in the world and I’ll be the funniest guest on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and I’ll have publishers knocking on my door, on their knees.

Of course the truth is nowhere near as dramatic. I’ve sold–actually sold!–a handful of books in a variety of formats and got my shipment of 10 copies to give away to family. I’ve got some great reviews on Amazon and the beginnings of interest on Goodreads. That’s progress.

But there have also been problems: a friend who I’d given the book months ago finally got around to actually reading the book, and she found an error, which was embarrassing. Then my cover artist finally got her copy and noticed a formatting thing that I swear I never saw before… combined, these two things rendered my 10 giveaway copies practically useless. Luckily, CreateSpace’s tools made it easy to fix the error and replace the cover, but it’s still not exactly how I dreamed it would be. It wasn’t perfect.

My husband (rightly) points out that things are often not perfect (hey, I found a blatant typo in my 20-year-old copy of Ender’s Game!) and that I’m being too hard on myself. I’m trying that whole “it’ll work out” ethos.

I’m trying to keep that same tenacity with the marketing stuff. Man do I hate talking about myself–and, it turns out, promoting my book. But of course it’s necessary: even the greatest book won’t be bought if no one knows about it. I just spent about an hour on different social media platforms, just doing simple things–posting about my book, talking with readers–and yet by the end of the hour I was shaking like I’d downed four cups of coffee. My veins were thrumming with “what if they don’t like me? what if? what if?”

Deep breaths. Just keep on keepin’ on.

Those of you who’ve survived this stage, what do you recommend? Help me out here.

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