Got Plot? Got cover? Get reviews!

By Janet Lane

E-books need public shows of affection

You’ve written the perfect story, and you’ve led your book through a series of hoops – careful revisions, professional editing, a web site, a blog, and a beautiful new cover, complete with book descriptions for the on-line retailers.

Now it’s time to get really brave, and get reviews. Ah, reviews. We love ‘em when they’re good, and hate ‘em when they’re bad, but to effectively market your literary e-babies, they’re as vital as an enticing book description.

So in what rivers can you fish for reviews? I started collecting my reviews by asking my critique partners if they would help me out by reviewing my books when they were first released by Five Star Publishing. Later, my publisher cancelled its Expressions Medieval line, under which my novels were published. Overnight I became an orphan author, and suddenly these early reviews became critical to my new role as epublisher. Even if one publishes traditionally, nothing is certain, and those early reviews of your traditionally published book can (unless you substantially change your novel), carry over to your ebook.

Perhaps you’ve heard some horror stories about Amazon yanking reviews. It can happen. Some authors have visited their Kindle pages, only to learn that some or all of their great reviews are gone. Little can be substantiated, but stories abound that Amazon may pull reviews from published authors . In another incident, a review was pulled from an author’s page because Amazon discovered that there was a close relationship between the author and the reviewer. When pressed for an explanation, it was noted that the reviewer had placed an order with Amazon for products other than books, and the order delivered to the author’s address. This, it was explained, would affect the objectivity of the review.

Other denied review stories include writing a review without a verified purchase, or submitting more than one review from more than one reviewer on the same computer.

Amazon is not the bad guy here. All these stories are examples of Amazon’s attempts to retain the integrity of the book reviews. Simply put, they don’t want your mom – along with any other relatives she can recruit – clogging up their pages with biased reviews.

So here are my suggestions on how to get the dozens of reviews your book will need to get noticed:

1. Ask for reviews in your ebook, in the back matter.

2. Don’t ask for five-star reviews, or ask readers to give you a good review, even if they don’t like the book.

3. Don’t pester your critique partners! If they haven’t responded to your request that they review your book, it could mean they don’t like your book enough to publicly lie about it. Or they might not have the time. Or maybe YOU didn’t respond to THEIR request for a review. Or, even if you have written a strong review for their book, they still might not reciprocate. Don’t strain a great friendship with this issue.

4. Look into review services. I used Choosy Bookworms, and their review process is excellent. I’ve heard horror stories about some review services, so be sure to post a question about a potential review service on RMFW’s yahoogroups site to learn more before you commit.

5. Once you have solicited a review, be civilized. If a review doesn’t materialize and get posted, accept it. (See #3). If the review is negative, wait three days before reacting in ANY way, especially in writing. And if it’s negative, still send a note of thanks to the reviewer, and milk the review for all it can be worth. Are there valid points made among the criticisms? If it’s scathing and deliberately hurtful, lick your wounds and turn to your critique partners for support, so you heal more swiftly. After all, even negative reviews stir interest in a book. And remember, even Stephen King gets negative reviews.

Why all the fuss for reviews? They can become a strong marketing tool. With a hefty collection of reviews, your book has a good chance of being accepted on the bargain-book offerings of such valuable outlets as Book Bub, E-Reader News Today and Book Sends.

Good luck! May you never receive a 1- or 2-star review, and may you enjoy great book sales!

The Basics of List Building

By Liesa Malik

Lists are everywhere—the to-do list, the project task list, and most of all, the illusion of the golden contact list.

Screech! Breaks! Illusion?

That’s right. Many people believe that you can purchase, rent, or find on-line great contact lists for the asking. Unfortunately, in the years I’ve been in marketing, I’ve only found one absolute truth where the golden contact list is concerned—it doesn’t exist. But don’t let that stop you from trying. Even the largest companies continue to search for the golden list.

To me, the best list you can have is the one you develop yourself. Here’s how I’d suggest you get started:

BE COMMITTED TO COMMUNICATION

Photo of Contact List

However you build it, they need to be contacted.

I don’t mean the blast out to the universe kind. I mean reaching into your community (list) and regularly touching people one-on-one. A few weeks back, someone from The Ladders employment agency contacted me and asked for my advice on writing careers. He said he considered me a “thought leader.” Not only did that puff up my ego, but it also gave me a blog post on my personal blog, which the representative asked to use in his work with writers. Very cool. AND he earned a follower to The Ladders.

BUY OR RENT

What’s that you say? Why waste money on a list you know isn’t going to be great? You buy lists or rent them because it gives you a place to start. Just as a detective knows that all clues in a mystery aren’t going to lead straight to a killer, all lists aren’t going to lead you to multiple thousands of sales. But you may find a handful of contacts that eventually become associates and friends.

BUILD ONE OR TWO CONTACTS AT A TIME

Yes, this sounds very inefficient. But the real contacts you make often end up being supporters for years to come, whereas blast recipients remain strangers, and your name can easily become synonymous with the word, “annoying.”

COMMIT TO CONSISTENTLY BUILDING YOUR LIST

Ouch! First there were Facebook and LinkedIn. Shortly thereafter followed Twitter and Pinterest. Today there is Goodreads and a host of other social media. With all this posting and messaging, where’s the time for list building?

My advice is to relax. Social media posts are the same as blasting to a huge mailing list. I suspect more posts are written than read. There are no real connections when someone has 1,000 “friends” or more. Create an editorial budget and schedule, or invest in a multi-media service like Hootsuite, and get back to enjoying your life of writing. But connect, really connect with a handful of true friends a month. Here are some ways to make new friends (i.e. contacts) and keep building your lists:

  • Go to meetings and let people know you’re an author or aspiring novelist. Meetup.com has a bunch of interests listed and ways to get involved with your community.
  • Volunteer—you kill two birds with one stone here—you give back to your community and you build friendships.
  • Speak—Does your church need a witness? Does the cub or brownie troupe down the road need to earn a communication badge? Ask your local librarian if they have a speaker’s program. I’m excited to say I just joined my local chapter of Toastmasters. I have visions of opportunities to come.
  • Never forget family and friends! Haven’t written the Christmas newsletter in a while? Try again. Or better yet, pick up the phone and spend 10 minutes with great aunt Sarah, who is part of that romance book club.

Lastly, while we do sincerely want and need contacts in publishing, we also have to be good contacts back. Know an agent looking for westerns? Promote your friend who writes westerns. Your publisher having a hard time getting writers to do self promo work? Send along ideas that have worked for you.

I’ll be talking more about lists and contacts in my talk “Author Platform 101,” at Colorado Gold. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll join me there.

Keep writing and keep sharing. Book sales are all about the lists and contacts we make.

Respect for the Law…and Copyright…Starts at Home

By Susan Spann

In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless."

For example:

...Copying a photograph or an inspirational piece of art from someone else's website.

...Re-blogging a blog post without obtaining the author's permission in advance.

...Downloading pirated ebooks, songs, or videos off the Internet, because after all...those people make tons of money and surely my single download doesn't hurt.

I've heard the excuses a thousand times. "[The artist or creator] doesn't need my money." "It's only one download." "I'm crediting the original author--(s)he should be glad that I wanted to share the work!"

Excuses are not justifications, and wrongful taking, copying, or even re-blogging of someone else's work without the legal permission to do so constitutes copyright violation...regardless of your motives.

In simpler words: the fact that you didn't intend any harm doesn't make an illegal choice okay.

Few artists get paid even close to "enough" for the time and effort they spend creating their works. If you're reading this, you're probably a writer (or an artist, or both) and you know the previous sentence is true. More importantly: it's not for the consumer to decide "how much is enough."

Bloggers rarely receive any monetary compensation for the work they do. The benefit they receive consists mostly of website traffic--which might, in time, develop into a platform allowing the blogger to sell a nonfiction book or other creative work. When you re-blog an article (a term that normally refers to cutting and pasting a blog or other content onto your own blog or website, usually--though not always--crediting the original author and often linking to the original source), you're depriving the author of much-needed website traffic. In other words: you're using their content to promote your blog or website instead of the author's own.

If you do this without permission, it's illegal--and it's also morally wrong. If you believe an article or blog entry merits reading, it's better (and legal!) to post a sentence or two on your blog, describing the article, along with a link to the original source. For example:

Read a post about respecting copyrights on the RMFW Blog today. Do you know the difference between legal linking and copyright infringement? Susan Spann explains why, "In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless" -- and why it's really not so harmless after all. Check it out: [Insert Link to the post you're reading...]

See what I did there?

Here are some quick tips for sharing content without violating copyright:

1. It's okay to capture a short "pull quote" or teaser to use along with your link. Just make sure it's short, and a "teaser" rather than the heart of the useful content.

2. Links are legal--and the original blogger or author will appreciate you for doing it! Link to the original source, rather than copying the material over to your own blog or website.

3. If you really want to duplicate the entire article, ask permission. Many times, bloggers or writers will gladly grant permission for you to re-post content (sometimes with a few reasonable restrictions). I often grant permission for re-blogging or re-posting of articles (subject to restrictions like my byline, a link to my website, and no alteration of my original content). However, if the author refuses permission, don't be a jerk. The content does belong to its creator.

Don't be afraid that sending people to someone else's website will cost you traffic. "Aggregators" are blogs or websites known for providing links to useful content elsewhere on the web. People who value your opinions will come to you even if you "only" point them to useful content (as opposed to posting it yourself). Respecting others' copyright reveals a professional attitude, and raises your reputation far higher than taking other people's work without permission--whether or not you attribute the source.

The good that we do in this world comes back to us eventually--so do the right thing, and remember: respect for the law, and copyright, starts at home.

How do you handle sharing valuable content you find on the web? Do you link it on social media, or post a "look at this" on your blog? Have you ever asked an author for permission to re-post? If so, how did it go?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

The Sane Writer: Social Media Containment

By Kerry Schafer

Social Media is a wonderful thing. It allows us to connect with others of like mind who live at a distance. It can foster creativity, spur us on to reach our goals, provide both education and entertainment.

It's also chock full of emotional land mines.

The infamous Facebook experiment is a case in point. If you managed to miss the news on this one, Facebook deliberately controlled the positive and negative posts on the feeds of some randomly selected users for a week, as an experiment. This is what happened:

"The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts."

You can read more about it here if you wish.

Really, the results of this experiment aren't surprising. For some reason, we seem to forget that the Internet isn't artificial intelligence. It's created by human beings. And social media, in whatever form, is human beings - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Most of us are pretty aware that if we're hanging out with negative, toxic people we're going to feel the emotional effects of that. If we hang out with supportive, enthusiastic people we're likely to feel better. But for some reason we're surprised that social media can influence our emotions.

And what influences our emotions is going to have an impact on our writing. Maybe it will inspire us, lift us up, increase our creative flow and help us be better writers. Or, maybe, it will make us feel depressed, hopeless, jealous, and all of those other negative things that get between us and our keyboards.

The good news is that it's much easier to control Social Media than the social aspects of our real life worlds. If you've got a co-worker who perpetually rubs your fur the wrong way and makes you wish you could flame like a dragon, chances are you're just going to have to deal with that unless you want to find another job. And family members, unless they are so toxic that you need to take the radical step of severing ties, are there for life.

But social media is a different story. Some virtual friends really are friends in all the ways that matter. But be honest now - how many people on your Twitter and Facebook feeds are you truly connected to? If there is somebody who makes you feel sad, angry, disturbed, or even uncomfortable, is that a person you really need to have in your virtual world?

Most of us don't want to hurt anybody. And we worry about how somebody will feel if we cut them out. I'm not advocating suddenly unfriending somebody you've been virtual friends with for years just because they're going through a bad patch. But that person on your Twitter feed that you never talk to who is irritating you? I believe that any reasonably adjusted adult will be able to weather an unfriending from a stranger.

You have the control. Mute, unfriend, block, whatever you need to do. Life throws enough ugly our way that we have to deal with. What good is served by wading through irritation and negativity when we don't have to? If you are of the persuasion that you want ALL the followers on the chance that maybe some of them will buy your book, you don't have to look at all of their posts. Use Tweetdeck or another app and make lists of the people you do want to see every day.

Even if you carefully control your online environment to include only the people you choose to have in your world, there are still going to be hard times. Because, again, we're all human beings. Every one of us is going to have bad days. We're going to rant. People and pets are going to die. Jobs will be lost. Agents will turn out to be a bad idea, book contracts will go sour. Bad things will happen. Really good things will happen too, and some days it can start to seem like every writer in the world is luckier than you.

And I want to make it clear that I think posting about these things is good and important. I love my online support community and I'm not in any way saying we should try to create a sterile climate that's all sunshine and lollypops.

It's important to support and be supported, to engage in the give and take that makes us compassionate human beings. But there will be days where all of this is just too much. Maybe you have your own grief and just can't shoulder anybody else's right now. Or maybe you're in despair about your own writing and watching a bunch of other writers shouting with glee about the new agent, the new contract, the award nomination, the bestseller ranking or even their latest soaring word count makes you want to take to the streets with a bottle in a brown paper wrapper.

Sometimes a media vacation is in order. It's okay to step away from the internet. We also have control over this with the click of a mouse. If you spend a lot of time online a day or two away might seem daunting at first. You'll be afraid you're going to miss something. And you will, but nothing earth shattering. Anybody really important in your world will know how to find you.

Or, if you really feel the need to check your feeds every day, consider writing before you log on. Meditate first. Journal first. Pet the dog, go for a run, listen to music. Do something to set your mind and your mood before letting all of the other outside influences in.

Experiment and find out what works for you. The best part of the whole social media experience is that you have the control.

 

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast – Episode #3

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast – Episode #3
Gwen Florio on Mysteries & "Missoula;" Podcasting with Jim Heskett

Chapter 1
~with Gwen Florio, starts at 1:30

On the third episode of the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast, mystery writer Gwen Florio calls in from Missoula, Montana where she played a key role in the reporting that led up to Jon Krakauer’s new non-fiction book, “Missoula,” about rape and sexual assault at the University of Montana. Florio also talks about what’s new with her mystery series featuring reporter Lola Wicks.

More about the Gwen Florio: http://www.gwenflorio.net

More about Jon Krakauer: http://www.jonkrakauer.com/

Chapter 2
~with Jim Heskett, starts at 27:30

Also, Jim Heskett, the voice of Indie Author Answers, talks about how his podcast helps find readers. He also talks about his new book, Wounded Animals, the beginning of The Whistleblower Trilogy.

More about Jim Heskett: http://www.jimheskett.com

For suggestions about podcast content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Guest Post – Terri Benson: What’s a Writer to Do?

By Terri Benson

Today’s writers have so many things to think about besides the act of writing. Oh, for the days when you typed up or printed out your book manuscript, boxed it up, sent it to your publisher, then started your next book, certain that the publisher had enough invested in you that they would do their best to get lots of copies sold. I’m pretty sure those days existed at one point – they’re in the movies, anyway, so it must have happened.

These days, the majority of first time writers who traditionally or Indie publish will get a small advance or none at all, and go first to e-book. If you sell enough, they might go ahead with paperback. Publishers have very little invested in new authors. There’s the art for your book cover, but we all know there are thousands of graphic designers out there who can do a nice cover for not a huge amount of money. The quality of printed books isn’t the same as it used to be, especially in paperback. They cram more words on the page to reduce the cost of printing, and you get books that you can’t open the spine far enough to read without breaking the book’s back. And you know there isn’t nearly as much copy editing as there used to be. I rarely find a book—even by the big names—that doesn’t have blatant typos.

Writers are also pretty much required to have a platform with Facebook, Twitter, a good website, maybe a blog, and lots of followers – and they need constant attention to keep them fresh and interesting. We need to attend conferences and workshops to improve our craft and keep up with the ever-changing technology, and network like crazy.

So if you’re doing all that, how are you supposed to find time to write, edit, go to critique meetings, and read? Because you all know good writers read a lot.

If you thought that by the time you got to this point in my blog, I would have answered this question for you, you’re wrong. I don’t think anyone has all, or even a lot of, the answers for this. The state of publishing is evolving on almost a daily basis. There are more and more options for self-publishing, with the result of more books being published. But we all know many of those books shouldn’t have been published, at least not in the condition they appear. But there they are, and our books are mixed in with them, buried within thousands of other books in our genre.

I’d love to hear from those of you who think you might have some answers to the question: What’s a writer to do? For me, I’ll just keep plugging away, putting words on paper, sending queries, self-publishing when I think I’m ready, but still hoping for a call from a traditional publisher (for the simple egotistical reason that I want to say I was traditionally published, even though many writers make more with self-publishing). I’ll work tirelessly to improve my craft, dissect my book covers to see what could make them stand out in the crowd, and keep my on-line persona as visible as I have the time to, and feel comfortable with. And Write On!

 

Terri Benson 2015As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer, she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historical romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story with plenty of suspense, is available from Amazon in both e-book and paperback.

It Ought to be Easier!

By Pamela Nowak

It’s been a frustrating few weeks, starting just after the wonderful high that came when my ARCs arrived. Over the course of these weeks, I’ve discovered a number of databases and lists that need to be created to ease the life of authors. Yet…they haven’t. Or at least I haven’t discovered them.

Mutter, mutter, mutter, sigh.

With my new book being set in Colorado, I knew I wanted to pump up pre-publication marketing. I’d already made my list of things to do. When the ARCs arrived, I hit the internet to find the lists I needed to get them done. And found them woefully inadequate.

First, I needed to get those ARCs sent out to book editors at Colorado newspapers. I thought that would be an easy task. I already knew there was a list of book review editors and contact info for the largest papers in the U.S., but I wanted to target Colorado papers since my publisher was taking care of the national audience. I figured the list I’d located (but hadn’t yet studied in depth) for Colorado newspapers would be the same. Clicking on the link, I opened the list. There are a lot of newspapers in Colorado—154 to be exact.

I skimmed the list. It was a just a list. In order to locate addresses and contacts, I had to click a link for each one of them (or I could purchase a download of all addresses). I got ready to buy the list just as it occurred to me that I didn’t know which of them had book sections. I’d have to click every link on the page, visit individual paper websites, locate the A&E section (if there was one), determine if there were book reviews, and look up the appropriate staff person.

Of course, I made it harder than it had to be. I realize that. I could have narrowed the search to papers in the larger cities. But I figured I might as well be thorough since I would need to target papers for press releases later. I don’t normally do press releases, except in Denver, but my gut says the effort might pay off for this book. So, I went through the entire list, skipping only the business and farm/ranch publications. The process took a huge amount of time and it occurred to me that it ought to be easier.

I’m now looking at my googled list of libraries. It’s pages long—I haven’t counted them but it’s longer than the newspaper list. Since my book is targeted to libraries, an announcement letter advising of the Colorado setting and local author status needs to go out. Again, it’s a list with links for more info (and again, I can purchase a download of them) but it contains few email addresses. I can save time, buy the download, and use snail mail, of course, but that’s an expense I had hoped to avoid by using email. Librarians I know have told me email is considered a desirable way to receive new-release communication. Guess what? The only ways to find that info are to 1) click on every website and look it up or 2) call the central number for each library and ask for it. It ought to be easier.

And, then...Colorado bookstores. I haven't googled for that list yet but none existed two years ago. That would be another worthwhile database.

RMFW is full of authors who use information like this, right? Maybe it’s time to find a volunteer to collect info like this from those who have already done the legwork and set up a resource file that could be accessed by authors. Author Resources, we could call it. Hmmm….

In any case, as I continue working my way through my marketing plan, I anticipate a few more glitches cropping up, a few more cases of muttering, and more time spent than intended on tasks.

It just ought to be easier!

Beta Readers

By Robin D. Owens

Beta Readers are those people who will read your manuscript after you're done, but before you submit it to your publisher.

I have a mentor (Kay Bergstrom) who always reads my work, and I have Beta Readers. Though I try and keep track of people who have read my manuscripts and help me, I tend to cycle through readers (fans) on my blog and facebook, looking for good beta readers.

But I have one guy named Joe (no, that's not his real name, but equally common). Joe started with my futuristic/fantasy romance series and has followed me through my fantasy and my paranormal romance. Joe is good. Since he's been reading my manuscripts, he's gotten better. I don't know whether that's because we've worked together or not. But I can trust Joe.

This morning, before I sent my two month and one week late book due (that's already scheduled for November and being pre-ordered), I wrote a new opening that Kay advised. I worked about three hours on this opening scene so it had enough set up but not too much info dump. Who did I send it to that I knew would get back to me quickly with an honest read? Joe.

Much as I love compliments – and we all need compliments – what we need most is an honest read if we want our manuscripts to be the best. We can get this from critique buddies, we will definitely get it from professional editors (whether we pay them or the publisher pays them), and we should try to find beta readers who do this.

During my recent quest for beta readers, I sent out five rough draft manuscripts to people I thought might be able to help me. Some were familiar with the series, some stated editorial or literary background. All of them said they read fast (because I tend to need a fast turn-around).

One of those never got back to me. This always happens. Often some get back to me too late.

I always ask for OVERALL comments on the story, places of confusion, slow pace, characters not acting reasonably or being stupid or jerks, plot holes, other problems.

I don't care about grammar and punctuation. My publisher's copy editor will take care of that, and I have a good friend I pay to copy edit, too. At this particular point, the rough draft, I need input on the story.

This time I got: Wonderful book, rest assured your fans will love it. Great, that felt great, but was of little help with the story.

I got punctuation, grammar and typo stuff. This also always happens.

Mostly I got continuity errors, which are important and I fix before I turn it in, but I didn't get any comments on characters or plot except from Kay and Joe. So this round wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

Especially since I lay in bed last night knowing something was definitely wrong with my secondary black moment, when the relationship breaks. Joe hadn't said anything about it, so it didn't bother him as a reader (like the lack of stated motivation for the villain had). Kay had a problem with it, and I cut pursuant to her suggestions, but it didn't still didn't work. So I had to go back and forth and around and around (like my ceiling fan), until I came up with the solution. I pretty much returned to the basics of character, craft, and the romance genre rules and figured it out. When I did, I knew it was right.

So, some points of this blog.
1) Beta readers can be extremely helpful.
2) You will have to look to find good ones, if you do, keep them. Be gracious to those who give you what you don't need.
3) The bottom line is that you must also trust yourself.

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson 10 – Common Mistakes

By Jeanne C. Stein

We’ve now covered the nuts and bolts of writing genre fiction. In the last two lessons, we’ll move on to the world of publishing. The first lesson is on ways a writer can sabotage her own career. We’ll divide this into three categories:

Common Mistakes in Writing

Common Mistakes in Submitting to an Editor or Agent

Common Mistakes in Dealing with an Editor or Agent

Mistakes in Writing—some we’ve already discussed:

1. Starting projects and not finishing them. Especially bad if you find yourself hop scotching from one project to another. Remember Heinlen’s rules…you MUST finish what you start.

2. Using passive instead of active verbs.

3. Relying on narration instead of exposition—show don’t tell.

4. Using five words (or sentences or paragraphs) when one will do. Write tight.

5. Losing viewpoint or forgetting the goal of your scene.

6. Interrupting the action with backstory.

7. Ending a chapter on a low note instead of with a hook.

Mistakes in Submitting to an Editor or Agent

1. Not sending out projects when you’ve completed them. Not querying agents and/or editors the minute your story is ready.

2. Not going on to the next project the minute the first is finished. When you make a sale, the first thing the editor or agent is going to want to know is what else you have completed or near completion.

3. Not knowing the market you’re aiming to enter. Read your competition.

4. Not following submission guidelines—seems so obvious, doesn’t it? You’d be surprised how many editors and agents talk about the manuscripts they’ve received on pink or purple paper in an archaic font because the writer thought it would “stand out.” It does, but not in the way intended. It screams amateur. All publishers have websites in which they set out submission guidelines in careful detail. Follow them.

5. Not being professional—see above. Also refers to dog-eared manuscripts that have obviously been seen by more than one editor. ALWAYS send a fresh copy, though in this time of e-submissions, this is no longer always a consideration. Some editors still like the old ways, though, so again, follow submission guidelines. Also, make sure the submission contains NO typos or grammatical errors. If you’re not sure, hire a professional copy editor to go over it with a fine-tooth comb.

Mistakes in Dealing with an Editor or Agent

1. Missing a deadline. Better have a damned good reason. Publication schedules are set up a year or more in advance. If you know you’re not going to make a deadline, let the agent and editor know as soon as possible. If it’s going to be a LONG delay, you may lose your place in the queue which will push back your publication date. Something not to be taken lightly.

2. Calling your editor or agent too often. If it’s your agent, the time he’s wasting talking to you he could be using to talk to an editor about you. Which would you prefer? If it’s your editor, you are not her only writer. You do not want to aggravate her. She’s your champion in the publishing house. If you have a legitimate reason to call, by all means do it. If it’s to see “how things are going”, call your mother instead.

3. Accepting the worse case scenario. One of the hardest things—if your agent calls and says he’s sent your stuff to five or six or ten houses and no one is buying, accept it. Don’t burn your bridges by screaming he didn’t do his job and everyone in the publishing business is an idiot. You can think it. Just don’t say it. Besides, you have that next project waiting, right? Pitch that.

4. Changing agents. Tricky. In fact, I’m going to go into finding an agent later and what the relationship should be.

5. Getting stuck on one idea. Submitting the same basic story four or five different ways. If it hasn’t sold, don’t waste your agent’s time. Move on.

Okay—we’ve got our manuscript completed. We’ve checked it and it’s a perfectly formatted, pristine copy. Now what?

There are two ways to go—agented or unagented. It you choose to submit your book on your own, deciding on a publishing venue will be discussed next chapter. For the rest of this lesson, we’ll look at agents—finding the right fit.

One of the most important questions to ask yourself is what kind of relationship you want to have with your agent. I know plenty of writers who’ve developed a close friendship with their agents. They call to chat. They discuss every bit of business, however minute, with them. They use the agent as a critique partner, letting them read the manuscript before it’s submitted to the editor and rewriting according to the suggestions offered.

The second is strictly a business relationship. Contact is limited to projects to be pitched and deals to be made. If the writer asks for an opinion on a manuscript, the agent will respond. But the agent’s role is to build the writer’s career via contract negotiations.

How can you tell which type of agent you’re querying? Get their client list and ask.

How do you find an agent with a client list? Part of the reward of doing your homework and reading your genre is that at the beginning and end of almost every book, there will be an acknowledgment page. More often than not, a writer’s agent is recognized there. If you read a book that you found similar to yours in tone and content, querying that agent would be a good place to start. Google the agent’s name. With the Internet, you can quickly find out what company he’s with. Checking out the company will provide you with names, addresses, submission guidelines. It will also tell you whether or not an agent is accepting new clients. Sometimes they aren’t. Don’t waste your time querying that agent. Move on to the next.

There is a website: www.agentquery.com that lists acquiring agents and spells out what genres they’re interested in representing. This is a good tool. Use it.

You have your “A” list of agents. You’re ready to start querying. What about the query letter? It should be short, no more than one page, arranged as follows:

First paragraph—introduce your book, the genre, a one or two line “TV Guide” description.

Second paragraph--go into a little more detail about the book. The protagonist, the story question, what makes it unique.

Third paragraph—introduce yourself, list writing credits, any background that makes you marketable. Offer to send a synopsis and the first three chapters at the agent’s request.

Thank the agent for his/her time. Sign off.

Do not send the full manuscript unless the agent asks for it. If you’re sending a snail-mail letter, always include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. Many agents are accepting email queries now. Cuts response time immensely.

But remember—at this point, patience is called for. You may have to wait two weeks to get a reply from an email query, six or eight from a snail-mail query. That’s why it’s to your advantage to send out a half dozen at once. If you get a response requesting an “exclusive” read of your material, you can stop sending out queries. But even then, you should ask for a reasonable response time—say six weeks. After that, if you haven’t heard, start the process again.

If you hire an agent, you may or may not be required to sign a contract. The going commission rate for an agent is 15%. NEVER sign on with an agent if he requests a “reading” fee. On top of commission, however, he may charge you for manuscript copying, postage fees, long distance phone bills etc. It depends on the company and is something you should inquire about before signing.

As your career progresses, other considerations arise. You may at some point want to change agents. This can be traumatic. If you have a valid reason for doing so, by all means make the move. The agent, after all, works for you. But ask yourself first if the problems you’re having are your agent’s doing or your own. Are you producing new material? Are you following his or advice? Are you demanding too much? Are you doing everything you can to further your own career?

It is YOUR career.

I’ve thrown a lot at you in this lesson. If you’ve decided to go it alone, our last lesson will be choosing a publisher…big press, small press, self-pub. I’ll explain the good, the bad and the ugly of each.

Extra Reading:

From a Blog by Chuck Sambuchino reprinted on Writer’s Digest on Agent Pet Peeves

Example of a successful query by agent Jenny Bent

This is just one in a series of successful queries by top notch agents. Here is the complete line-up:

Pamela Vaughan’s:

The Ultimate Online Editing and Proofreading Checklist

Many of you may already be familiar with Writer’s Digest, the book club and website. If you haven’t signed up for their free newsletter, you should. Here is a sample article you can peruse. Some are free, some are by subscription, but all are well done.

How to Write Effective Supporting Characters

An Interview with Agent Emily S. Keyes

Emily S. KeyesBy Jeffe Kennedy

I had the opportunity to chat a bit with Emily S. Keyes, an agent with my agency, Fuse Literary. Read on to learn a bit more about her before you meet her at the Colorado Gold Conference!

Jeffe: Hi from Mountain Time! Are you in NYC?

Emily Keyes: Yes!

Jeffe: Are you a local girl or did you move to the city to be an agent?

Emily Keyes: Sort of both? I am from Connecticut, which is pretty close to NYC. I moved to New York to start the NYU Publishing program. I knew I wanted to work with books. When I was a kid I guess I thought the only book job was author. Or maybe I didn't even think of that as a job. Because I knew Carolyn Keene wasn't a real person and Francine Pascal didn't write the books with her name on them. I vividly remember seeing Ann M. Martin on TV once and I was like, "Oh so some of them are real people!"

Jeffe: That's so fun! I vividly recall that moment of discovering books came from actual people

Emily Keyes: I know - it's weird, right? How did you discover it if you don't mind me asking?

Jeffe: I was a huge fan of Marguerite Henry's horse books. My aunt suggested that I write her a letter, which was an extraordinary thought to me. I did - and she wrote me back!

Emily Keyes: THAT'S SO COOL! I loved horse books. I worked on some of her old contracts a bit at Simon & Schuster.

Emily Keyes: Anyway, I learned more about publishing in college. My university had a publishing class. I was like, "This is what I want to do." But I didn't know how to break into publishing at all. No one in my family had worked in publishing and I didn't know anyone who did. I would send resumes to the internship programs and never hear back. So I decided to take the plunge and go to NYC without a job, but I did the NYU program because they said I could have on campus housing for a semester. I think my mom thought I was going to get stabbed in the face. New York is scary at first.

Jeffe: So did you go to work for Simon & Schuster after NYU?

Emily Keyes: After I moved to NYC I got an internship at the World Almanac. Which was good for my trivia skills. And then about a year after that I started at Simon & Schuster in the contracts department.

Jeffe: And then you moved from publishing to agenting?

Emily Keyes: I left S&S in 2011. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do. I wanted to do more creative/editorial work but I also had this contracts background that I wanted to use. I applied to some agencies. I got hired as a foreign rights and contracts manager at another agency. Then I moved to Fuse!

Jeffe: Why did you pick Fuse? (Besides the fact that it's the best!)

Emily Keyes: It is the best! I started to build my own list at my previous agency and I really wanted to focus on being an agent fulltime. Fuse allowed me to come on as an agent and really go for it! Everyone was very supportive and enthusiastic. The main office is in California, and I was their first hire in NYC. Then Connor Goldsmith (Jeffe’s agent!) and Michelle Richter came aboard so now we're pretty evenly split East vs. West.

We're a virtual agency, which I like. If I could live without paper I would. Well, not paper books, but just loose sheets of paper.

Jeffe: LOL! I'm very much a virtual girl. I totally take eBooks over paper every time, but then my day job is with an environmental consulting firm.

Emily Keyes: I like pop-up books. When they make e-pop-up books I will be set for life.

Jeffe: Ha! I would love that! So what about Fuse do you think makes it a great agency for authors?

Emily Keyes: Fuse is a great agency because everyone is very supportive and collaborative. I think we're very forward-looking compared to some other agencies. We're trying to adapt to the future of publishing. And everyone brings their own knowledge base to the team. It's kind of a Captain Planet-let-our-powers-combine situation.

Jeffe: You have weekly conference calls with all the agents?

Emily Keyes: Yes we have weekly staff meetings, so we know what's going on with everyone and can brainstorm and such. Sometimes we talk for hours and hours.

Jeffe: One thing I really like about Fuse is how you all - not just Connor - make a point of engaging with me and supporting what I'm doing. I feel like you know about me and my books. I love that you all share posts of mine and so forth. Feels very much like being on a team to me.

So, the inevitable question - what are you looking for right now? What kind of authors would you like to add to your list?

Emily Keyes: I still want to add a lot to my list. I'm pretty selective about clients. I don't take on things I don't love (I know everyone says that but not everyone means it--ha!). I've got mostly YA authors right now, and a lot of what I sold was YA contemporary. I still love that area and would like a couple more. But I also want to do YA fantasy, science fiction, mystery, thriller--all the subgenres. I also really, really want middle grade books. Because I remember the books I read when I was 12 way better than the books I read a month ago.

I tend toward contemporary and quirky in MG. But adventure and light fantasy/SF would be fine too.

Jeffe: So people shouldn't pitch you anything older than YA?

Emily Keyes: I do some adult as well. I have a couple adult fantasy clients. I also look for women's fiction right now. I say pitch me stuff that's commercial on the adult side. I'm not really a literary fiction reader. I can always refer you to another agent at my agency if it doesn't feel right for me.

Jeffe: What is Fuse's policy on people pitching more than one agent at the agency? For some agencies, that' s big no-no.

Emily Keyes: Only one at a time. So if you have something with Connor, don't send to me too. but if he passes you could still send to me. Sometimes when more than one of us is at a conference it gets confusing because people don't really look, they just try to talk to all the agents.

Jeffe: Do you believe in the concept of the "dream agent"?

Emily Keyes: I don't know. Things I dream about tend to not go as planned. I think it's about finding someone who you can work with. Obviously, also one who is not a scam artist. I like to say the agent-author relationship is kind of like a coworker relationship. You're the head of the writing department and I'm the head of the selling to publishers department. If we don't see eye-to-eye it's not going to work. Or if you treat me like a servant. So you should talk to an agent to see if you click before deciding that they are "the dream agent."

Jeffe: Good to know! How about a book you love and wish you'd repped?

Emily Keyes: In adult or children's or both?

Jeffe: How about both?

Emily Keyes: Okay. Some recent ones (I won't say I wished I repped books from when I was a kid because I doubt I would've been an effective agent in elementary school) I really loved are NOGGIN by John Corey Whaley. I liked the voice and the realistic feel of the science fiction premise. I also really like accessible fantasy books like Naomi Novik's TEMERAIRE series. And nerdy/fun humor in nonfiction. I wish I'd thought of GEEK GIRL'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.

Jeffe: Your Twitter handle - which I love - is @esc_key - I figure it comes from your initials and last name, but how did that come about?

Emily Keyes: Yes it's my initials. My name is Emily Suzanne. But my sister, Elizabeth, has the same initials as me so I started including my confirmation name which is Catherine. And it was ESCK - and I was like "Hey, wait a minute."

Jeffe: It's such a great metaphor!

How about conference protocol? At Colorado Gold, will you want people to chat you up? Pitch anytime or save it for the official sessions?

Emily Keyes: It's fine to come up to me at pitch sessions if you're scheduled, obviously. Also after any panels or something. Even at networking events if you come up and say, "Hey, do you have a minute?" I probably will. Just don't pitch me in the bathroom or, like, when I'm trying to eat lunch.

Jeffe: This question comes up a lot - what if an author has self-published one or more books and would like to pitch a project to you? What guidelines would you suggest there?

Emily Keyes: For self-published projects, it has to have sold a lot for me to want to take that project on. But if you have self-published and have a new project feel free to come and talk to me. I am going to ask you how it did though.

Jeffe: How much do you like to get your fingers into planning your writers' projects? Do you brainstorm with them? Suggest directions? Edit?

Emily Keyes: I've pretty much always done edits with new clients I sign up. For planning the next project, I like to know what's on an author's mind. I can tell you what might be more marketable at the moment or what genre is a bit over-saturated and all that. So yes I do get my fingers in.

Jeffe: Part of the fun?

Emily Keyes: yes!

Jeffe: Anything else to add?

Emily Keyes: I don't think so? That I'm looking forward to the conference. I've never been to Colorado!

Jeffe: We’re looking forward to your visit!