Liesa Malik is a freelance writer & marketing consultant living in Littleton, CO, with her husband and two pets. Liesa has built on her writing interest with a long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website: LiesaMalik.Wordpress.com. More about Liesa on her website.
So. Here we are, six months into the “New Year.” How are your writing resolutions going? Are you getting 2,000, or 10,000, or whatever daily word counts you aspired to complete? Me either.
Have you finished that first novel and started in on your second? I’m right with you on missing that one too.
In fact, like 92% of the people who make resolutions, I have failed to meet my 2016 reading and writing goals.
And the start of my year hasn’t been all that much to celebrate either. I entered two writing contests only to fail making it past the first round of judging. I had one of those decade birthdays, and sometimes I feel every minute of how ancient my bones have become. Just lock me up in the museum and throw away the key. And while I started and love a new job, guess what that does to my writing time. Anybody have cheese to go with my wine-ing? Hearts bleeding peanut butter yet?
To me, there are always clouds for the silver linings in a writer’s life. We work alone, and are sometimes lonely. We’re introverted in an extrovert world. We’re creative in a nuts and bolts kind of society. If I focus hard enough, there are always things that give me the excuses for feeling bad, procrastinating too much, and generally leave me asking why I want to be a writer. Hint: if you’re in it for the big bucks, there are a whole lot of other ways to get that goal accomplished.
Then, for me, this past month happened and I have to push those gloomy clouds back. The silver linings refuse to stay closeted.
Someone told me that they liked my work. Liked. My. Work. Really?
In fact, this generous person said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your book! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days.” This from a total stranger to me. Well shut my mouth and give me a keyboard. I think I can try this writing thing again.
And then a friend said to me, “My mom adores your books and wants to know when the next one is coming out.” For the first time in months, the question, “how’s the writing?” hasn’t left me feeling guilty and defeated. My friend’s face shone with being able to share this great review, and we’re talking about writing a short story just for mom for Christmas.
And this past Tuesday, Lindsay Woods of KRFC Radio in Fort Collins, replayed an interview she did with me a year ago on her Tuesday Talk Show. What an ego boost! One full hour with no commercials (KRFC is a nonprofit organization), talking about a favorite subject—books and writing. Lindsay read out loud some of the reviews both writer friends and professional reviewers gave my latest book. I had forgotten them long ago.
I have a clipping file of reviews, and when I take the time to look through them, I always feel energized for writing projects. I also like Aaron Ritchey’s advice from yesterday’s column, “write every day, as much as you can.” I like how there isn’t a specific number of words. Just write.
So here’s my tip of the day – keep your compliments. Whether or not you’re published, or a contest winner, you receive writing compliments from time to time. Save that critique group note that says you’ve mastered the use of ellipses. Hold onto the thank you note that says it’s no wonder you’re a writer; your last letter home was terrific. Cherish the rejection that’s accompanied with a personal note from an agent or editor.
I have a bright blue binder where I keep print out of reviews – on friends’ blogs, from the press, notes from loved ones. Now I know where I need to look to build the kind of positive energy that makes writing what it was always meant to be – a joy.
Hey! I just realized the New Year is only 6 months old – I can get some writing done. Hope you do too.
Happy Memorial Weekend! So many things to celebrate—the beginning of summer, the joy of family, our gratitude to veterans and those who lost their lives in war.
Like most of us, I hate the idea of war. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one suddenly, and to have my child killed in action in a place far away under conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy would be a trauma I don’t think I could endure. It all seems so senseless. But wars have been fought since humankind first began to gather in tribes across our world. We are a violent species, and our children of 18, 19, 20 years pay the price for this.
What soldiers do, though, is bring you and I as writers a solemn and precious gift—the gift of a free press. The gift of being able to say and write what we feel is important. The US Constitution in the first amendment recorded under our Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of expression. Our military personnel protect that freedom in a very real way.
I don’t know if my uncle worried about the specifics of a free press when he went to war in the 1940s, or when he had to shoot or be shot in the South Pacific. He was just a kid who did what he was told. In all the years I “knew” him, Uncle Jack only talked of his military service once. That was just a year or two before he died, but the stories he told were frighteningly vivid even after almost 70 years had passed. Uncle Jack’s service and the service of his buddies in WWII guaranteed that a book like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible would be published and not burned as so many books were by the Nazis. Thank you, Uncle Jack.
And even when journalists and soldiers come in principled conflict as happened in the 1960’s, our freedom to write, to challenge our mores and common thinking are protected. While young men and women sailed across to Vietnam to, as the posters said at the time, “meet new people – and then shoot them,” our journalists at home and in the rice paddies far away were protected and even encouraged to write, to discover, to unearth the important stories. That’s how we ended up with such classic writing as the Watergate investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, published in the Washington Post, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, and the television show, M.A.S.H. that criticized American involvement in foreign wars.
Today, journalists travel with armies, report in countries about political and human rights violations, cover our world with information. According to the website cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists), there were 73 journalists killed in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 10 killed as they did their jobs of writing. Today, people still sacrifice their lives so that crucial truths have the chance to thrive.
This leaves you and me with an important role in the story of human history. If we have the freedom to write whatever we want, we have the obligation to write and reflect our world passionately in our stories. Whether we write romance, or crime, fantasy or creative non-fiction, let our writing be from our hearts, and be as honest as possible.
This Memorial weekend, as we acknowledge our fallen soldiers who protect our freedom of expression, perhaps we can also spare a moment for the journalists who exercise that protected freedom. And in the process of remembrance and gratitude we can encourage our own growth as humans and writers.
The blank page is to many authors what a large audience is to a shy and introverted soul asked to give a speech. Terrifying. And it doesn’t help when writing friends are completing that next chapter, submitting another short story to an anthology, or simply garnering another 50 readers to their blog.
Before succumbing to the terror of the blank page, know that there are things you can do to bolster your writing confidence and hopefully increase your productivity at the same time. Here are some ideas you might try and some thoughts for your own writing journey:
WRITE BADLY - Yep, go out and enjoy using redundant phrases, sloppy attributions in dialog, or poetic and superfluous adjectives to your heart’s content. Make a game of it. Try starting a story with one of these clichés and see if a spirit of fun doesn’t just take over your creative time:
“She looked into the mirror admiring her glossy brown tresses . . .”
“He wore his disappointment like a badge of honor. . .”
Remember: not every piece of writing you do has to be publishable or profitable.
MAKE A MESS – I used to try to buy pretty notebooks with kittens and puppies and happy sayings on them, but I found I never wanted to write in them. I feared writing the “wrong thing,” and messing up the perfect bound books. Now I buy cheap-o notebooks and often intentionally slop up a page or two. Kind of like breaking in a new pair of sneakers—what’s a little mud-slinging among friends? If you only write on a computer, try hand writing sometime--very freeing, and confidence building.
WRITE NEW – Stuck in a rut with your romance writing? Try taking some of your favorite characters and putting them into a horror story. Or try writing a poem (I once wrote one about my Jeep—still have and enjoy it). Or a blog post for the RMFW blog. Or a real love letter. Sometimes taking a "vacation" from what we normally do, increases our ability to focus and be productive when we return to our work.
WRITE SHORT – Think in terms of filler articles for your favorite magazines or e-zines, or maybe enter a flash fiction contest. You probably know a lot more than you think you do. The competition is fierce for these articles today, as the filler is a disappearing form of writing (a filler is a tiny article, joke, anecdote, or other copy that used to "fill" print space in the old days of typeset layouts), but more and more companies' websites need short blog posts, Twitter tweets, and other "content" for their social media. It's opportunity for the flexible writer, may give you some ego-boosting clips and maybe even put a few bucks in your pocket.
WRITE DAILY – Okay, no guilt here. I don’t count words completed in a day. Tried that. Led to increased guilt over the time I wasted counting and tracking words “completed” instead of writing something I could call commercial fiction. Instead, I try to keep that cheap spiral notebook with me for when an idea jumps to mind. There’s a notebook on my nightstand and one at my desk. I have notecards in my purse for emergency moments of brilliance, and there’s always my dictation function on my phone if all else fails. Jot down fun stuff like character names, titles of books you’ll write, a run-in with a nasty total stranger (did I ever tell you about the guy at the dog park I almost punched?) and, of course, a plot twist that will go into your next novel nicely.
And here’s a bonus tip—most of us write because we simply cannot go without writing. But when we get caught up in the “business” of writing, we lose both our fresh voice, and the thing that brings us to the writing table—our creativity. Deep breath. Relax. Write.
If you have ideas to share, please do! I’m always on the lookout for a great motivational tip.
ON ANOTHER NOTE:
Tomorrow, Saturday April 23, RMFW will host its quarterly board meeting. If you’re interested in how our all-volunteer organization gets things done, or want to get more involved yourself, please join us at the Sam Gary Branch Library, 2961 Roslyn St, Denver, CO 80238. The meeting starts at 1:00.
A couple of weeks ago, some RMFW author friends and I were discussing book promotion, and the topic of public speaking came up. Public speaking. As in one of the most fearsome activities a person can do. These brave souls are willing to think about taking heart and book in hand to stand up in front of total strangers. They’ll speak with microphones or just more loudly than normal, they’ll gesture, they’ll change voices with each new character, all in hopes of selling more books. How cool is that!
I decided to look into what it would take to join or form a speakers’ bureau. To do so, I interviewed Karen Loucks Rinedollar of the Denver Speakers Bureau. I also joined Toastmasters last May, and have found public speaking a fascinating subject.
JOINING/FORMING A SPEAKER’S BUREAU
Karen was generous with her time and she shared both some thoughts on speaking and on forming a bureau, or place where those looking for speakers can find talent to fill their needs.
“To sell more books?” asked Karen. “To sell more books, write more. Become a New York Times best-selling author before trying to join a speakers’ bureau.” While kindly said, Karen left no doubt that people wanting to get involved with public speaking need to have credentials that make them more desirable as “draws” to a public speaking event.
But writing more doesn’t necessarily mean writing more books. She suggested developing a great and actively read blog (I understand RMFW’s blog is always looking for contributors), or writing article in your area of expertise. If your main character is a mad scientist, is it possible to build credibility by writing scientific articles for Popular Science?
“Establish yourself as a professional,” said Karen. “That makes you more attractive as a speaker.” And more likely to be picked up by speakers’ bureaus.
Absolute speaker musts? According to Karen, there are two big items:
Have a good website. Event planners look for speakers on-line as much as anywhere else, and you should have a portion of your site dedicated to enticing them.
Post great samples of your work—Yes, you can use an iPhone recording as you get started, but be sure to show samples of how you interact with your audience and use your best video clips to do so.
As a parting thought, Karen expressed some caution. “When you work on public speaking part-time, you’ll get part-time success.”
TIPS FROM TOASTMASTERS
When I joined Toastmasters, I had visions of being coached and growing to be the next Steven Colbert. Now I spend a couple of hours each week with people who talk both extemporaneously and in prepared speeches. Colbert? Not so much, but as with a critique group, Toastmasters offers a great opportunity to test your speaking skills, as well as developing other leadership qualities. This organization is well worth the investment. Here are some tips for public speaking from my time spent among my public speaking friends:
Choose a good topic to speak on. Yes, even in a book signing, you’ll want to have something interesting to talk about. Do you write mysteries? Maybe you can research and talk about local cold cases or what it’s like to ride along with the police as a Citizen’s Academy member. There are four purposes to public speaking: entertain, educate, inform and persuade. Oh, and the persuading doesn’t include, “buy my book” talks.
Respect the clock. This one is a very difficult challenge, but I’ve seen speakers who go on five, ten, twenty minutes overtime, and their audiences become uncomfortable and antsy. Practice, practice, practice, with a timer!
Be prepared to speak extemporaneously. At many writers’ conferences I have heard speakers talk about how boring it is to be asked things like, “where do you get your ideas?” or “how long does it take to write a whole book?” But, as a librarian friend told me, “These are the questions that readers really want to hear answers to.” So be prepared. Write the story of writing a story. Buy into it, and I think you’ll find some good material for public speaking there.
Are you public speaking to promote your book? Maybe you can share some tips with the rest of us. Would you like to see “Public Speaking for Authors” at Colorado Gold? Please let me know.
In this year of politics we are likely to hear the common complaint, “Oh, that’s just the candidate’s rhetoric. Wait until they’re in office and we’ll see what really happens.”
Rhetoric definitely has a bad reputation. The first definition in the dictionary implies that rhetoric allows people to use language for influence and persuasion, but without honesty.
I had a class once in rhetoric. Took it because someone said it was practically an automatic A, and heck, who wouldn’t go for that? Unfortunately, a new teacher took over, and I never worked harder. We had to read Aristotle and discuss the importance and forms of arguments and logic. Guess what? Aristotle didn't use rhetoric to lie. I barely survived the course.
Today, as a writer, I wish I’d paid more attention. Rhetoric was a good class, and the influence of an articulate speaker (or author) has maintained an important part of my writing aspirations since. If I could come up with phrases like, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” I think I would be a happy writer indeed. President Kennedy apparently borrowed the structure of that comment from a school headmaster, but you have to admit, he used it well. That phrase inspired a generation to launch the Peace Corps, go to the moon, and march for peace and equal rights. Rhetoric. Good words.
So, how can we use rhetoric, or more precisely, rhetorical devices to enhance our writing experience? There are whole lists of devices on the Internet that can add emotion, lyrical rhythms, and resonance to our writing. Here are a few:
Alliteration is the recurrence of initial consonant sounds. These sounds can be easy or harsh on the ear, and will draw attention to themselves by their repetition. What if you were writing a story was set in a florist shop? You could name the store, “Moe’s Flowers,” and be done with the job, or you could play with the beginning F sound and create something like “Flo’s Fantastic Flowers,” giving your readers a sense of Flo and her pride in her business without expending a lot of page real estate on that thought.
Wow. What an interesting word that simply means to repeat for emphasis. Can you imagine a child who wants the sucker in your hand? What does she say? “May I have that please?” or “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” Can you use that epizeuxis rhetorical tool to enrich some of your characters’ dialog?
Similar to epizeuxis, is amplification. This is repeating a word within a phrase to emphasize its importance. In Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, he used “of the people, by the people, for the people,” to emphasize the importance of those who died on the battlefield, who mourned the lost souls, and who had to rebuild our nation after the great Civil War. When used in a conscious effort, amplification can truly hammer home a point. Maybe you could use it to underscore the theme of your story, as in, “Love is gentle, love is kind,” she said, and kissed the soldier good-bye.
Rhetorical devices are worth studying as you work on your next story. As you engage in rewriting a chapter, maybe play consciously to make a thought stand out using a rhetorical device. Or hide a thought by making it as mundane as possible, sandwiched between phrases that sparkle with their rhetoric.
Do you have a favorite rhetorical device? Please share. Beyond our annual Simile Contest at Colorado Gold, do you indulge in a regular rhetorical device?
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has opened up two selection committees for great Writers of the Year this year. For the first time not only will we have a traditionally published WOTY, but also an independently published, or I-WOTY as well.
If you’ve been experiencing some publishing success please check out the website (rmfw.org) and look for the guidelines and entry forms. You may be the next representative for our great writing community. Here’s how the process works:
January 22 (that’s today), the entry period begins. Any member who has had a book published recently is eligible to enter their work for consideration. Or, if you have a favorite RMFW author too shy to enter for him or herself, please feel free to nominate your colleague. Entries are open from January 22 through February 24.
And here are a couple of tips:
If you’re a traditionally published author who entered a book last year, and have a new book this year, you can simply update your information to re-submit. This should save you a good deal of time.
If you’re an independently published author whose book originally published between January 2014 and December 2015 (that’s the past two years), you can enter your work for consideration for the I-WOTY. This may change in the future, so now is the time to enter your work.
Each work is reviewed a couple of times before three finalists for each recognition are selected. After you have submitted your work, a quick review is made to be sure you’ve entered for the appropriate vetting committee. As all basics have been checked, your application will be forwarded to a panel of judges. Each judge on the panel is responsible for reviewing your application and reading a couple of sample chapters from the work you submit. Every entry will receive approximately one hour of evaluation by each judge (for a minimum of five hours of review on your work). The judges will keep a tally of the works and candidates they think represent the best in RMFW writing.
In March, the vetting committees will meet and select three finalists for each award. You can be sure that these judges have several years experience writing and working with RMFW writers, and are well-qualified volunteers with your best interests at heart. Still, only three finalists are allowed for each recognition, so please remember that whether or not your name is selected this is not a reflection on you or your talent as much as it is an effort to find an author to best represent the writing values of our organization. Over all, we are very proud of the incomparable talents of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.
Starting soon after April 15th open voting begins among the finalists. This is the opportunity of our whole member community to voice their opinions on who our WOTY and I-WOTY should be. We try to give everyone plenty of time (and reminders) to select the two writers they think should be recognized as RMFW’s Writer and Independent Writer of the Year. Voting lasts until mid June.
The Summer Party
Each summer RMFW gets together to enjoy a summer party, and part of that celebration includes the announcement of recognition for our writers of the year. There will be announcements for this event in our newsletter, on our blog, and on the Yahoo groups set up for RMFW members. Keep an eye out and be sure to join us.
WOTY & I-WOTY Panel
One of the highlights of the WOTY & I-WOTY selections is the chance to visit with all of our finalists at the Tattered Cover bookstore. This annual event kicks off the Colorado Gold celebrations and is a fun evening of interviews, prizes, and a chance to socialize with writing friends. You’ll want to be sure to mark your calendars for this event.
If you’re thinking of entering your work for consideration, please do! The vibrancy of our community remains because of the participation of everyone of our 700 plus members. Wishing you great luck on this, and always, continued writing success.
My friend, Laurence MacNaughton, shared an interesting article with me not long ago called 30 Fresh and Fun Ideas For Your Newsletter. As marketing people, Laurence and I are all over anything that helps generate valuable content for our readers, and we thought that some of the principles in the article would work for authors too. With this in mind, here are 12 blog post ideas for authors interested in strengthening their platforms in 2016. If you post monthly, your year is set. Weekly writer? Generate four articles from each base idea and you’ll never run out of great content.
1. Create and use top 10 lists
This one is so fun and easy that I’m using a form of it for this article. Commit to a number and fill in the points. If you write mysteries, how about naming 10 of Agatha Christie’s best works? Romance Writer? Ten best (or worst) bodice rippers you’ve read. Take informative, silly, or thoughtful approaches and you’ll have your readers clamoring for more.
This idea is great because you can use it to keep up with industry events to satisfy your own needs, and advertise where you’ll be for book signings, etc. Your readers will know where the next best events are and will be there to learn as well. This is community service at its finest. Just remember to add links and acknowledgements as appropriate.
3. Produce an “Author’s Studio” video tour
Even though our main focus as authors is on the written word, our world revolves around the visual. And with so many phones equipped with video cameras this can be a fun project. Tour your studio, or go to the inspiration place you’ve selected for building a new world in your next novel. Photos make great illustrations for your writing work, and readers love them.
4. Getting social? ASK for followers!
Yes, a lot of authors claim to be introverts. And when you’re working on a new story it’s understandable that you need your alone time, but when you’re blogging, tweeting, and otherwise community or readership building, get social. ASKING for followers is one of the best ways to get them. We are in business after all. And the subject will help you write in a new style--persuasion as opposed to entertainment.
We’ve all played the “where’s Waldo?” and “Flat Stanley” games. Why not do the same with your book? Visit libraries and bookstores that carry your work and snap a picture. Only one copy on the shelf? Turn it into a puzzle to find. If readers and friends send snaps of your book? Post it online. This is great fun, and a subtle way to self-promote.
7. How-To articles with a twist
Go ahead. Right now, before the New Year hits, think of a list of writing skills you have or want to acquire in the year ahead, and turn your research into valuable web content. Think outside the box. Everyone’s written an article on creating big characters. What about writing a how-to on the walk-on or cameo character? Have you come up with a great acronym for warding off writer’s block? Go further. How To sharpen six pencils in 30 seconds or less. Play with this and have fun. Whether or not it turns into a blog post, you almost always benefit from explaining how something works.
8. Tell the story of writing your stories
If your career was focused on a brick-and-mortar business you owned and not a book you wrote, writing a corporate history would be important and valuable. As an author your own writing biography is equally important. You can write current articles on your travels, personal experiences, and most of all, lessons you’re learning on the road to publishing that next great book.
9. Refer-A-Friend promotions
Like asking for followers, it’s important to grow your readership continually by getting others to talk about you. Incent your current fans to invite a friend by offering a piece of SWAG (stuff we all get) to anyone who refers a friend and that friend signs up to get your newsletter or to follow your blog. Do a profile on your biggest fans to keep the excitement going (and produce more valuable content for your blog).
10. Advice columns work for you
According to the New Yorker, the first advice column was published in 1691. As you can imagine, this kind of writing has gone under many changes since then, but remains a popular form of writing. Start by making up readers with questions and before long, your advice column may become as popular as Conan the Grammarian.
11. Reader Research & Results
There are a few ways to create surveys and polls on line. Why not satisfy your curiosity about your readers as well as giving away some fun information? We all participate when someone asks a question like, "If you could eat dinner with 10 dead people, who would they be?" Find out popular names for heroes and villains, places people always wanted to go, favorite character flaws, and soon you'll have a treasure trove of information to inspire your next story. Meanwhile, your blog readers have fun participating in the world of creative writing.
12. Talk about the weather
Really! Believe it or not, when all else fails, weather remains a popular subject just about anywhere. In England, apparently three quarters of the population talk about it more than anything else. According to the PinPoint article referenced earlier, "At some point, the crazy weather will impact your area. Consider writing about it."
This past weekend some writing friends and I were discussing why we need business cards and how to use them. The business card, after all, seems like an outdated concept in our world of electronic everything.
As a marketing person from way back, I’m not ready to chalk off this ubiquitous form of personal branding just yet. Business cards have been around since the 17th century, after all, and are a handy form of advertising that meet some pretty hefty requirements. Business cards tell others about who you are as a writer, how to best reach you, and what social media you can be found on. Well duh! But did you know that you can use business cards to build your readership, impress the editors and agents you meet, and build great business relationships?
Lately, I've had the chance to dive into a fun read by Bob Popyk, called Here's My Card. He has some terrific examples of how to use your card that you can add to your own experience. I've used some of his tips, and generated some of my own to put together a solid marketing effort when meeting other people in the publishing industry.
Here are five ways you may not have known about, or forgotten to use, in employing your business card to enhance your writing business:
Collect new readers
You’ve heard it before. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store, bagel shop, movies and more, talk with people. Even introverted writers can do this one-on-one activity. Almost inevitably, people will ask what you do. If you’re prepared with a card, not only will you make someone’s day by meeting a “real author” or “real writer,” but you’ll have them following you on Facebook or liking you on LinkedIn. Just ask. When you bring out your card to hand to them, bring a second one, flip it over, write “Important” on the back, and ask your new friend if they’d like to be on your mailing list. Ask for their email address. Presto! A new fan for you.
Connect with total strangers
This tip is so simple it’s hard to understand why more authors don’t use it. You’re stuck on that first weekend of the month paying your bills. Blah, blah, blah. No one enjoys this task. How ‘bout adding a little fun to the process by stapling your card to the check you write? Yes, this means spending about three cents more on your bill, but it’s a very low cost advertisement for people you might otherwise not ever reach. If you send this card to the same vendor every month, again, flip your card and jot a note like, “This month’s recommended reading is . . . (a book you just finished reading).” Great community service on your part.
Support your writing community
The next time you’re at a conference and talk to someone who has business cards, ask your friend for two or even three of their cards. Let them know you like their work and want to spread the word about them. Talk about making someone’s day! Just be sure to try to follow up and actually hand out those cards. This works especially well when your friend writes in a different genre from you.
Public exposure for your work
We’ve all seen those bulletin boards at the grocery store, at the library, sometimes at church. People post business cards in hopes that they’ll get a call about their service. Here’s what I’d suggest. Cut a piece of colored paper a little larger than your business card, and write across the top of it, “Read a good book lately?” Pin your business cards (3 or 4) in the center of this sheet and onto the bulletin board. Check your stock every few weeks. You may not add to your mailing list, but you’ll add to your readers.
Make friends with librarians
My neighbor is a retired librarian and she told me that these wonderful people are not in the habit of using their business cards either. If you go into a library and meet a librarian there, start to hand out your card. But then pull back and point something out on your card that the librarian needs to know. “Sometimes people have a hard time with my email. It is dot net and not dot com.” Don’t be obnoxious about this tease, but when you use it effectively, the librarian is going to read your card more carefully when he or she gets it. Then, be sure to ask for their card. When you get home, write them a note and perhaps suggest a display that just so happens to have your book in it.
Business cards continue to be the individual artist’s best advertising friend. Do you have your cards ready?
I recently had the chance to ask Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Magazine a few questions about two of his most recent publications, the Writer’s Digest 2016 Guide to Literary Agents and a humorous book called When Clowns Attack. This popular author, public speaker and columnist had a lot to share, and I’m thrilled to post his thoughts here . . .
Chuck, why do you think authors should seek agent representation?
There are a bunch of reasons, but I'll just explain one: The biggest/bigger publishing houses and publishing imprints out there usually do not take unagented submissions. We're talking about dozens of imprints that will be off limits to you without an agent. And these medium-sized and large imprints are the places that can afford to pay you a decent advance, that can try and sell your rights overseas and to Hollywood, that can distribute your work all over for sale. Agents open all doors, and can get your work considered anywhere. Ruling out these many large, powerful imprints is not a good idea.
What new material will this guide offer compared to previous editions?
I've always called the GLA "a yellow pages of literary agents." So, like a phone book, it updates its info every year. Previous buyers will just be buying a more up-to-date resource that includes new/newer agencies that we added. Each edition also spotlights different new agents who are seeking clients right now. Every new addition adds new/newer agents that just joined an agency. This is key because it's those new/newer agents at established agencies who are building their client lists and look for writers just like you.
When should a writer seek a new agent, or ask hard questions of the one he or she is already working with? Some of our people have had agents for years without nibbles from the publishers.
You want an agent to be communicating with you, and submitting your projects, and passionate about your work. Those are all important steps. And you want them to be selling books. If these publishers haven't nibbled, it's hard to say if that is the agent's fault or perhaps the fault of the writing. There was a period of time in my writing life where my agent & I pitched 7 nonfiction books in a row and none sold. But the whole time, she believed in me, and was submitting, and liked what I pitched. Plus, she had other clients that were selling books. That last point is key. If your books aren't selling, make sure that the agent is selling the books of others. That proves that your agent has skill; she just hasn't found a publisher match for you yet.
If you sell to midlist publishers or smaller presses, the advances and royalties are quite small. Is that worth investing an agent fee in?
Typically, agents do not aim for these small markets. They're not financially worthwhile. For example, if you were only getting a $2,000 advance, their cut is only $300. It isn't worth weeks of time for $300. So they don't aim for the smaller markets.
When Clowns Attack. Hmm. Guessing this is for readers with a funny bone waiting to be banged.
That sounds dirty. I like it.
Okay, Chuck, are you secretly a wannabe clown or do you just like to pick on creatures most of us love (first gnomes and now clowns)?
I know plenty of people like garden gnomes (though I have no idea why), but the truth is I have heard very, very few people in life say "I love clowns!!" Clowns are the creepiest, and I am now keeping my distance from you, Liesa, for saying those words. I am not a wannabe clown, and the fact that you called these people "creatures" says, I think, everything one needs to know. Clowns will hit you in the head with cotton candy; they will spray seltzer in your spouse's face; they will kidnap your toddler when you're not looking. They're roaming the world, unchecked and untraceable, and they must be contained.
Who will be your next target, dinosaurs?
No no no. Don't be silly. (*Writes down "next book idea: dinosaurs" on pad*)
When do you think the next major clown attack will occur, and will it be covered by CNN?
Clowns pop up out of the woodwork around Halloween each year with haunted houses and pranks and weirdos standing on street corners. That's the reason we wanted to release this prior to Halloween. This is peak season for clown weirdos harassing and attacking people. And as far as CNN goes, I hope so, but the mainstream media has yet to realize the true danger of these red-nosed bozos. Sadly, it will take a few more legit clown assaults before people walk up to the danger of jokers with big shoes.
On the Writing Business
WD has been in the business of encouraging aspiring authors and copywriters since 1920. With all that history, is there really hope for successful writing careers “out there?” (Stats here would be great, if you have them. Most of us live in the world of bad news, little to no profit from our efforts, and a changing publishing world that makes our prospects of traditional publishing dim more all the time)
This is hard to answer, but let me address a few key things. One, to say the word "career" makes it sound like you want all your money to come from writing. That is a fine goal, but not necessarily one many will achieve. I always say that writers need to diversify themselves and make money any way they can (ransom notes work the best). When you're writing novels, short stories and poetry, you need to take money out of the equation. You have to do this for love, because you never know when you will create something great that someone will pay you for. Plenty of debuts still come out every year. You have to enjoy writing and enjoy the process. Let's look at Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer's Digest magazine. She wrote a women's fiction novel a while back. She got an agent, but they failed to sell the novel. Her and her agent amicably parted ways. A month ago, she got a new agent (Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary) and this week she got a two-book deal from St. Martin's. That is a big, big deal. She is a debut with no other books under her belt. She is a grand success story, and if she would have bought into the point of view of "There is no hope; The publishing world is dim," then she wouldn't have this amazing news this week. Yeah, most novels don't sell. But some do. So keep writing.
Your Author Platform book was focused for the main part on non-fiction writers. In it, you said an author platform for novelists and fiction writers isn’t so important. Why do you believe that?
If you’re writing fiction, the top priority is excellent writing. That is what makes books sell through word of mouth, and that is what gets them into book clubs. Platform is great because it helps you sell more copies and make money. I’m not saying platform is unimportant for novelists. I’m saying that for nonfiction writers (like myself), it is a massive priority and absolutely necessary. I cannot query an agent or publisher for a book without platform on my side. A novelist can. So while you want platform (money, control, sales), you do not need it to query.
You seem to be on the road a lot. Is this a requisite for becoming a successful author, or is it simply something you enjoy?
It's all for platform. You meet a lot of people on the road and sell plenty of books. The more I'm on the road, the more money I can make and more books I can sell. And in terms of enjoying it, I would say that I used to enjoy it more when the trips were relaxed. But then I had a daughter, so the last three years have been filled with faster trips, and that makes them more hectic. After a conference, while everyone is meeting up at the bar for drinks, I'm hightailing it in a rental car to the airport to catch an evening flight home. I don't enjoy the rush, but I cherish the smile of my toddler when I get home. So it all works out.
Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) of Writer's Digest Books edits theGUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. His latest humor book, WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK: A SURVIVAL GUIDE (Sept. 29 2015), will protect people everywhere from malicious bozos and jokers who haunt our lives. His books have been mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Variety, New York Magazine, and more.
Carol Caverly said recently that she’s the kind of person who goes from being interested in something to becoming almost obsessed once she’s had a chance to see what’s going on. It’s no wonder then, that when she borrowed her first Writer’s Digest magazine as a young Wyoming mother in the 1980’s, both the magazine and creative writing in general sucked her in. Soon she was writing more and more, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers benefited as a result.
“It was all so much fun!” said Carol. Over the years she’s written three books and several short stories, was a founding member of Wyoming Writers and then Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She participated in Mystery Writers of America as a chapter president and is a long-standing member of Sisters in Crime.
The death of her first husband resulted in Carol moving from Wyoming to Colorado, where she met among others, Kay Bergstrom, Pat Dalton, and Jasmine Cresswell, and helped to set-up RMFW.
“I found the three or four gals, and we started getting together to discuss writing. The group kept getting bigger and bigger and we added critiques as well as meetings,” said Carol. “Our first RMFW Colorado Gold conference was held at the Aurora Public Library where I worked. I remember we had sack lunches and donuts for food, and Rex Burns was our keynote speaker.” The meeting was quite a bit different from the 400 member strong Colorado Gold conference held these days.
Carol seems to have fun wherever she’s involved, and writing has been a big part of it all. She’s been an avid reader since her childhood just outside of Chicago, Illinois. There, she enjoyed Nancy Drew books from the library, and shared that interest in mysteries with her mom. Years later, when her books won recognition as Detective Book Club selections and local best sellers, she was filled with nostalgia for those times spent reading with her mother.
While in Wyoming, Carol subscribed to Writer’s Digest and read every issue for 20 years. She also read every book she could get her hands on with regard to writing and still has a copy of Dean Koontz’s How To Write Best Selling Fiction which she pointed out currently sells for over $50 on Amazon.com (a check in August revealed the book is now worth $72).
“His books are excellent,” said Carol. “Of course, I love his writing.” She said that Donald Maass is also her guru, and she keeps a copy of his book handy too.
One of the best things about talking to Carol is the story of all the people she’s met and shared writing memories with.
“At one of the first conferences we held in Colorado Springs, Clive Cussler was a speaker,” said Carol. “He was a nut when we were signing books together. I remember he signed a book for a woman who didn’t know him at all. He wrote, ‘I’ll never forget that wonderful evening we had here.’ That woman about died! What would her husband say?”
“But when my first novel came out and I was at a signing in Cherry Creek, Clive came in with his wife and bought one of my books because I was a new author.”
Carol also is good friends with Deni Dietz, one of the visiting editors to Colorado Gold this year.
“We used to carpool to critique in Colorado Springs together,” said Carol. “She’d tell me her plots as we went. I’ve been so proud of what Deni’s done. She works hard to this day, and is very diligent. I’m really happy for her.
“The first time Deni came to conference to hear pitches, I signed up for a session with her, even though I had nothing to sell. I sat down and said, ‘So you’re an agent now. Good for you!”
Carol said that she has had fun watching everyone’s careers take off, that she soaked it all up, and has enjoyed the entire writing community, from dear friends like Christine Jorgenson to Sharon Mignerly to Kay Bergstrom.
“Kay is an inspiration,” said Carol. “She’s one of the few who earns a living with their writing. She’s so knowledgeable, and she’s funny—just delightful.”
Carol will be one of the celebrated Guiding Members at Colorado Gold in September and left with this last piece of wisdom:
“I suppose it’s most important when you want to write, is to write right now. So many say they’re working on a novel or a thriller, and will probably write them when they retire. I say, do it now.”
And one more thing. If you’re Carol Caverly, be sure you’re having fun.