Category Archives: publishing

This is dedicated to the one…

I’m dedicating this music video to the lovely and poised young woman who introduced herself to me at a writers’ conference. I fear I broke her heart when I told her that Author Solutions, Inc., is sometimes referred to as a vanity press. If I’m lucky, she’ll remember me in the same favorable light as the older woman in this video.

Enjoy “Oopsie Daisy.” It’s cute.

Looking for a writers’ conference in the Carolinas?

I’ll be participating in two writers’ conferences next month: one in Columbia, South Carolina, and one in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sponsored by the organizer of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop (SCWW) and the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop, the day-long events in the Carolinas will provide an overview of your book publishing options today, with an emphasis on traditional publishing.

Also scheduled to meet with authors on April 17 and 18 during the 2015 Carolina Writing Workshops:

Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary Agency

Diana Flegal, Hartline Literary

Kristy Huddle, Comfort Publishing (only in Charlotte)

Melissa Jeglinski, The Knight Agency

Sam Morgan, Jabberwocky Literary Agency

Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino

The star of the show will be workshop instructor, editor, author, and playwright Chuck Sambuchino, the man who knows how to bring out the best in aspiring authors who are learning to present their ideas to agents and publishers. For years, Chuck has been keeping writers informed with his Guide to Literary Agents Blog and directory.

My favorite part of the upcoming workshops is the Chapter One Critique-Fest, which actually will be a first-page critique of anonymously submitted writing. I’m always pleasantly surprised by agents’ and editors’ concurrence of opinions during these sessions. The manuscript samples that are read aloud can give writers a valuable sense of the competition they face even at beginning levels.

I’m looking forward to meeting you in Columbia or Charlotte. Come prepared to talk about yourself and your writing. I’ll be more than happy to answer your questions about my work as a literary agent, too. See you next month!

Writers who take the initiative gain an advantage

It’s difficult for new writers to comprehend that having a literary agent doesn’t mean the end of all rejections. When I’m able to persuade an acquiring editor to read a manuscript, the writer continues to face considerable competition. At the major U.S. publishing houses, each acquiring editor opts to read perhaps fifty or more manuscripts per year and selects from them maybe five or fewer that are published.

Lately, when manuscripts of equal quality are being evaluated, one factor that tends to tip the scales in favor of an acquisition is the author’s ability to help promote the title before and after it’s published. Publishers aren’t impressed with earnest promises; before investing, they look at what an author already has done to become familiar and interesting to readers.

Six years ago, when I started my agency, consideration of an author’s platform wasn’t as prevalent among publishers, but aspiring authors were learning how to use social media to their advantage. Now that a good percentage of creative writers are entrepreneurial, many editors view the absence of a platform (or the lack of an established readership, or name recognition, or whatever you choose to call it) as an additional reason to disqualify a manuscript and move on to those that have more potential to be profitable.

Some writers simply aren’t good at self-promotion, and it’s not something anyone can do for them. On the other hand, when a publicist at a publishing house and an author are able to collaborate easily—when they’re on the same page, so to speak, and the publicist doesn’t need to do much explaining—a successful book marketing campaign is far more likely.

Some writers excel at self-promotion, but their manuscripts aren’t superlative. What then? Is it easier and more cost-effective to fix an imperfect manuscript or to teach a writer how to make connections with readers? The jury’s still out on that question. I suspect that by the time I’m reading a query from an aspiring author, the individual already has reached his or her peak performance in both arenas and won’t be able to show much improvement. In other words, earnest promises don’t impress me. Evidence of self-initiative does.

Walt Whitman

(Detail of the entrance to the Detroit Public Library)

The value of memoir

Favorit typewriter

(Photograph courtesy of Florian Klauer)

Sherrey Meyer gets extra credit for calling it what it is: “Healing life’s hurts through writing.” Her genre is memoir, and her website is a wonderful resource for writers who are working on their life stories.

Celebrity memoirs will find publishers. And a truly talented writer can entertain readers by recounting even an ordinary existence. But to be perfectly honest, when memoir writers contact me about representation because they believe publishers might be interested in their manuscripts, usually they haven’t dealt with three major areas of concern:

  1. Their author platforms
  2. Commercial appeal—that is, having written something of significant interest to a large number of readers
  3. Legal liabilities, including libel, copyright infringement, privacy rights violations, and breach of another’s right of publicity

Sometimes writers can be too emotionally invested in the creative process to recognize that the value of putting their thoughts on paper has been mostly therapeutic. Sherrey Meyer is showing them that memoir writing is worthwhile when shared with just a handful of readers. Turning the finished work into a commercial product is by no means necessary.

Others with generous advice for memoirists

Two sharp criticisms of contemporary memoir

Hyper-motivated, sales-obsessed, brand-conscious novelists are nothing new

Shrewdly self-promoting authors may seem like a new phenomenon, but only because we now have instant access to the details of many of our favorite authors’ lives and work habits, even their thoughts.

In past centuries, famous authors’ working and private lives wouldn’t have been exposed, dissected, and discussed in such excruciatingly minute, factual detail until and unless their biographies or letters were published, perhaps posthumously. Today, we can read online not only the daily diaries of bestselling celebrity novelists but the blow-by-blow accounts of many, if not most, aspiring authors—an exponentially larger group. It’s not exactly like watching a biopic. It’s more like observing the making of a documentary about the making of a reality television series. Hmmm…

These days, it’s easy for new writers to get a fairly accurate perspective of the challenging business of earning a living as a book author.

Back in 2007, when transparency was still just a buzzword, Eric Konigsberg profiled crime novelist Harlan Coben for the Atlantic, describing him as someone who “approaches being a novelist the way a businessman or a lawyer—or for that matter an athlete—approaches his craft: as a series of finite and solvable problems.” Konigsberg noticed:

The roots of Coben’s work ethic seem to lie not in perfectionism, or in a relationship with an inner muse, but in his determination to rise to the top of the heap. “When I was just starting out, I hated signing in local malls, because no one was there,” he says. “It made me write so hard. I didn’t want to be there anymore. The same thing at Bouchercon”—a convention for crime novelists, their publishers, and their fans. “All the writers there were so bitter. I didn’t like being in that boat. I would just go home and write”—he curled his fists and appeared to press down, almost as though he had an imaginary jackhammer in front of him—“so much harder and harder.”

Writing for pay can turn a creative hobby or therapeutic outlet into an endeavor that bears no resemblance to a cherished daydream involving nothing more than a quiet woodland cabin furnished with desk, reading lamp, sheaves of paper, and a quill pen (or a Remington, depending on your genre). Old fantasies die painfully, but think about it. What profession doesn’t seem ridiculously alluring and glamorous when fictionalized? We can thank all those successful novelists and screenwriters for our misconceptions about real jobs that entail demanding, often dreadfully tedious work.

Konigsburg’s article is candid, revealing, and worth reading. If you’re unfamiliar with Coben, this video offers a glimpse. He’s represented, if you’re even more curious, by Lisa Erbach Vance of the Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency.

Trouble deciding whether to self-publish?

Henry Herz just shared this lovely flowchart as a guide for writers who are—or should be—weighing their publishing options. I want to start showing it to every prospective client before I offer representation. The effect, I hope, might be akin to getting a second opinion before undergoing surgery.

Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing: Which Should You Choose?
(Reprinted courtesy of The Write Life)

 

My thanks to Herz and The Write Life for authorizing the dissemination of their infographic. Five years from now, people will look at this chart and wonder why it wasn’t always common knowledge. Right now, it’s still breaking news to most people.

Should authors seek agents for their book-length collections of short stories?

I’ll bet you thought there could be a yes or no answer to this question. Reality is much more complicated and ever changing.

It’s possible, but rare, for a creative writer to be so talented that, even though his or her first book is a collection of short stories, an agent would find it logical and worthwhile to begin working with the person in anticipation of future, more commercially viable, creative output. By “commercially viable,” I mean desired by big trade book publishers. In almost six years of agenting, I’ve encountered only one such writer, and I asked the person to get back in touch with me when a novel-in-progress is completed. However, there are quite a few literary agents in the U.S. who happily take bigger risks than I do. Every agency is different, as a look at each of our websites will reveal.

Almost every time I receive a query from a short-story writer looking for an agent, the letter I’ve copied and pasted below is the basic form of my response. Of course, my form reply doesn’t cover everything I’m looking for in a client, which is what the guidelines on my website are intended to convey to writers.

My form response is designed to encourage novice writers of short stories to begin learning about the business aspects of a professional writer’s career. Some eventually will decide that they don’t want their writing to be more than a hobby, because turning it into work isn’t pleasurable for them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, except when hobbyists are unfortunately misguided into believing they’re entitled to demand that literary agents invest time and money to assist them as a courtesy, pro bono. Most writers are smart enough to catch on to business realities very quickly. There are many terrific publishing options for hobbyists.

My agency’s form reply to queries from short-story writers

It’s nice of you to contact me about representation. Please note that detailed query guidelines are posted on my website.

For an author of short fiction, accumulated writing credits are an important part of a query. Major book publishers in the U.S. typically prefer to acquire book-length collections of short stories only if the authors already have had a considerable number of the stories published in reputable literary magazines or anthologies. If you’re not sure which literary journals are the most prestigious, then you can find out where some prizewinning short stories first appeared by taking a look at these books, which should be available at your local library:

Pushcart Prize

Best American Short Stories & Best American Nonrequired Reading

The O. Henry Prize Stories

More of these types of anthologies are listed at:

Treated & Released

You can learn about submitting your work to literary journals and magazines by reading:

Poets & Writers

The Writer‘s Guide to Publishing in Literary Magazines and Entering Contests
by Ayelet Tsabari

The Review Review

I wish you the best of luck with your writing career.

isolated pen

© Geotrac | Dreamstime Stock Photos

For writers who have succeeded at having short stories published individually, a few agencies actively call for submissions of book-length collections of short stories. As of October 2014, two of them are the Renée Zuckerbot Literary Agency and the Waverly Place Literary Agency. An agent’s submission guidelines are subject to change at any time, so please alert me if I fail to notice when the current information about these agencies becomes obsolete. If I see it’s no longer true, I’ll cross it out.

There is hope that ebook publishing will permit a short-story renaissance. In all honesty, it’s more likely that the ease of self-publishing ebooks and POD books, coupled with the increased numbers of free online literary journals, will make many more short stories available to readers at little or no cost, and then the supply will outpace the demand from readers. At the same time, it’s interesting to note that more online literary journals are paying their contributors a modest amount, perhaps to attract better stories to publish, because they have lots of competition for submissions these days.

Dynamic, isn’t it?

Please feel free to share in the comments section the links to or names of any literary agents asking to see short-story collections. I hope this information is helpful.

Litmags: the new breeds

Three years ago, I posted a list of ten literary magazines with good-looking websites. Only four of them are still in business. Maybe it’s time for a new list, but now that every other litmag is using the free Arcade Basic blog theme from WordPress, or something similar, there are lots of attractive clones.

365 tomorrowsBeauty’s only skin deep anyway. A better list might be based on popularity, except that the big magazines with the very largest circulations tend to maintain their show-dog status for years or even decades at a time. Zzzzzzzz.

More interesting are the Silken Windhounds, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, and Catahoula Leopard Dogs in my database of literary publications. Some already are being fetishized by readers. Have you heard of them?

365 tomorrows – speculative flash fiction

The Awl – longform essays, humor, and some fiction

Bust – erotic fiction and female perspectives on pop culture

The Bygone Bureau – personal essays, cultural criticism, humor, and comics

The Collagist – progressive short fiction, poetry, essays, and novel excerpts

Conduit – poetry, fiction, and nonfictionEscape Into Life

Escape Into Life – poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and comics

Esopus – short plays, essays, poetry, and fiction

Guernica – essays, poetry, and fiction

Hobart – short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry

Joyland – fiction and essays

The Morning News – essays, humor, and cultural criticism

n+1 – fiction, essays, criticism, and translation

NOWNESS – digital storytelling

[out of nothing] – digital textBust

The Rumpus – essays that intersect culture

Strange Horizons – speculative fiction

Teen Ink – poetry, fiction, and nonfiction

Thought Catalog – literary journalism

Untoward Magazine – humorous fiction

Given that this list is twice as long as the previous one, maybe a handful of these publications will exist three years from now. Submit or subscribe or take them for a walk if you want to keep them healthy.