Publishing

Mary C. MooreJanuary 25, 2017

 

The San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) is hosting an auction with proceeds benefitting both the San Francisco Writers Foundation and the social justice organization EveryLibrary. There are some wonderful items up for grabs including a full manuscript critique by Fuse literary agent Tricia Skinner and and the first 25-50 pages critique by my KC&A colleague Amy Cloughley.

 

I’ve donated a query letter and first 10 pages critique. Literary agents often ask for your first 10 pages when you submit your query. This is why the beginning of your novel is so important. Get in-depth and personalized feedback on your query and first 10 pages if you win this item. It’s already gotten 38 bids! There’s still 24 hours left to bid and donate to this wonderful cause. Visit the SFWC auction page for more information.

Click to bid here.

Diversity vs Marginalized: Writing In Tune With Current Voices

A is for activist by Innosanto NagaraThanks to social media and changing generations, what was once soft protests online have become screams of indignation. Feminism, social justice, diversity equity is being shouted from the rooftops. The true cultural landscape of the United States is demanding to be recognized. And although politicians, Hollywood, and corporations are taking a snail’s approach to catch on, a lot of people, if they are not already marginalized themselves, are at least becoming aware something is bubbling and breaking through the surface.

Part of what makes a great writer, whatever background they have and whatever genre they are writing in, is the ability to capture and reflect on truths in society. To dive beneath the surface of the collective and draw it out in your story. These are the stories that resonate and connect with readers. And those of us representing authors are aware of this, which is why you hear the term “diversity” everywhere, at conferences, online, etc. Even the big offices in NYC are taking notice, albeit at a slower pace than most of us further down in the trenches would like. But an unfortunate result is that “diverse books” is becoming something of a catch phrase. And when something becomes a catch phrase, it loses some of it’s meaning and the truth we are seeking, becomes muddled. Non-marginalized people are writing books from marginalized points of view, which are then published, misrepresenting and further dismissing unheard voices. But diversity is not a trend! It is not something you write simply because you hear it being asked for. Enter the warriors, or in this case, Literary Agent Beth Phelan of the Bent Agency. She has created a fantastic twitter pitch event called #DVPit, “an event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices.”

Non-marginalized writers may have the urge to say, “but I want to be a part of this, I want to support and represent diversity.” That is a great attitude to have, but do so with awareness and modesty, not because you are seeking pats-on-the-back. The first step? Know the difference between writing diversity and writing from a marginalized point of view.

StarWarsDiversity

On representing diversity: The characters in your book should reflect the reality of the world. Anansi-Boys-Neil-Gaiman-coverI am a cis white female married to a Mexican and within my inner circle of friends are multiple bi-racial couples (japanese, jewish, black, latino, white). I have queer friends and disabled. This isn’t something that is intentional or that gives me allowance to be smugly color-blind, it simply is a truth of my generation. We are becoming a global society. So when I start a submission that has a cast of all white cis characters, because it doesn’t reflect my reality, more often than not, I lose interest; or if the writing is really good I begin mental notes on which characters could be changed. I also lose interest when the diversity is just stereotyped personas. My friends may be multi-ethnic and of multi-sexualities, but they are not my friends because of this. They each have their own personalities unique from (although entwined) with their identities. Yes, one might be flamboyantly gay man, but he is also a doctor who has traveled the world helping impoverished villages. Another may be a black woman with some sass, but she is also an incredibly thoughtful Christian who loves Lord of the Rings and to run marathons. So when I say I am looking for a diverse cast, this is what I mean. You can still be a cis white writer and write a diverse cast with depth and truth.Kindred by Octavia ButlerOn representing marginalized voices: If you are writing from the point of view of a marginalized person (POC, queer, disabled etc.) and part of the story development is the experience of inequality, prejudice etc., it is extremely difficult to capture the truth of the voice if you as a writer has not experienced the social injustice personally. As a literary agent, I am keenly aware that I cannot edit a manuscript with a marginalized voice without having someone with experience to show me certain ignorances I have. I know as a woman, when I see female points of view written by men that are stereotypical and offensive, I get angry, so I can only imagine the rage and betrayal someone who is further marginalized feels when their story is told by someone who has no real concept of it. If you are going to go down that path, then please please be sure that you have close friends or advisors who can speak to the experience, read your manuscript and point out the subtleties that you will misrepresent. And I guarantee you will misrepresent, despite how open-minded or educated you may believe yourself to be. When I am considering submissions, I tend to give preference of these stories to writers of the same background as their characters, because I know that is the only way to guarantee the truth behind the voice and the story. So if you are submitting to me something from a marginalized POV, especially in magical realism and historical, please do include your background!

Just some things to keep in mind as you seek to pull more diversity into your writing. Also, being the geek I am, here are some great SFF novels with diverse casts, protagonists, and writers.

.certaindarkthingsMidnight Taxi Tangowho fears deathDissension by Stacey BergSorcerertothecrownhuntressmalindalo

The Author Website: Do You Need One Before Publishing?

Author Website by Mary C. Moore

Remember those days when you so naively believed to be an author all you had to do was write? How I long for that innocence. In the current market, whether traditionally or indie published, authors are expected to be self-promoters, indeed have to be to survive. You hear a lot of buzz at conferences or online around the term “author platform”  and a quick online search will find many great posts explaining what that is from Jane Friedman’s Blog to Writer’s Digest to The Book Designer and so on. However, all that information can be somewhat overwhelming, especially if you are just starting out and/or have a bit of a social media phobia. It’s also a bit of a catch-22; how can you have an online presence if you’ve never been published, but how can you get published without an online presence?

bogus

As I represent mainly fiction, an author’s platform doesn’t make or break my decision when I’m considering a submission. Nonfiction is a different story, more on that here from Rachelle Gardner who does represent a lot of nonfiction and here from Brooke Warner who works with a lot of nonfiction writers. However, I do like to see if the author is online savvy, which means they have the potential to build a good platform in the future. This will help my judgement whether I want to take the time to request and read their full manuscript or even offer them representation. The best way to show you have the chops to make it in this crazy online world? A solid author website. What constitutes a solid author website previous to publication? Basically it’s an online resume for agents, editors, and future readers.

  • A home page that is either an introduction to you and your writing or a blog. If you are a terrible blogger and can’t sustain blogging regularly, do not have a blog. A dead blog is worse than no blog. If you can blog, try to blog about things of interest. Try not to blog about writing, there are millions of those blogs out there. Post about something related to your WIP, e.g. if you’re writing cozy mysteries themed around knitting, blog about knitting. For example, my client Lori Bentley Law blogs about women riding motorcycles and vintage cars, which features a lot in her writing and will pick up fans that might actually read her books. Some good advice about blogging here from Chuck Sambuchino at The Write Life.
  • A visual theme that relates to the type of writer you are. If you write high fantasy, then the website should reflect this. Not that you have to have unicorns farting rainbows over wizards, but the site shouldn’t be hot pink with kisses all over it. Now if you’re writing YA romance, that’s a different story. My client Laura Palmer writes epic fantasy with artistic themes and the artwork on her site brings you straight into that world.
  • Your work-in-progress page. This is where you have a pitch/summary of all your WIPs (that you consider ready or soon-to-be ready for submission). Gives the agent an idea of what more you’ve got under the hood. This isn’t an absolute must, but it’s nice to see. My client Rachelle E. Morrison has two pages dedicated to this and it definitely piqued my interest when I was researching her before our initial phone conversation.
  • A bio page. If you don’t have any writing credentials, than this should have what inspires you to write, who your favorite authors are, why you write in the genre you write, and any real world experience that relates to your writing. My client Stacey Berg has a great example of simple but interesting bio.
  • A professional bio photo next to your bio. No cartoons, avatars, cropped shots, just a simple and clear head shot of you. Does not have to be professionally done, just professionally appearing. See my client Sean Danker’s smirk. Also, this bio photo should be used on all your platforms that are linked to your online author presence.
  • If you are on social media or participate in forums or have any other links relating to your writing and genre of choice these should all be clearly linked to your page. My client G.C. Nash is extremely active online outside just social media. However, most authors aren’t this active, and that’s okay.
  • Should be easy to navigate. These days you have seconds to catch a browser’s attention. If your site is too full of stuff in the navigation bar, side bars, cluttered up pages, it can be distracting and turn the viewer off.

A great example of a simple but effective author website is my client Rati Mehrotra’s at ratiwrites.com. Although it’s not a professionally designed website, it straightforwardly gives all of her information as an author. Her bio, her credentials, her WIP, and a consistent blog, all linked to her other author online presences. And there is a subtle but clear theme that directly relates to her writing. I like to direct new authors there, because her site, in particular, helped me make my decision to represent her, and it’s not a hard site to replicate.

In the end although you don’t need an author website, it does make a difference, at least when I’m considering your submission.

A Career as an Author: The Reality

sparkly eyes

As a literary agent, I see the starry eyes of newbie writers everywhere, their idea of what it means to be a writer skewed from the famous tales of authors who have made it big.

  • Did you know Stephenie Meyer had a dream about sparkling vampires and Twilight was published 6 months later?
  • Amanda Hocking made 2 million dollars self-publishing her series.
  • JK Rowling went from sleeping in her car to becoming a billionaire.

You hear these recycled lines everywhere on forums and in writing groups. The stuff of legends. The writers who did it. These anecdotes give hope with each rejection, fuel the fire, keep the dream alive. It’s like the waiters in Hollywood dreaming of becoming the next Brad Pitt or Halle Berry without the star-studded veneer. We need these stories to inspire us in this highly competitive industry.

The other side of the coin though, is these anecdotes give rise to high expectations. I’ve met so many writers who believe by self-publishing they’ll be the next Amanda Hocking, or by finding a literary agent their series will be the next franchise. It creates an unrealistic perception of what it means to be a career author. And when a literary agent sees that idealism shining through a newbie writer’s pitch, they become wary (and weary). Because, writing is a career. And like any other career it takes time. On average it takes about 10 years to get your first book published. And that’s probably not the first book you’ve written. Following that, it takes about six successfully published books for you to start earning a living as an author. That’s potentially a few decades. Which requires a lot of patience and dedication. An author who doesn’t understand this, will put a lot of unnecessary pressure and unrealistic demands on themselves and their agent, and that is not the type of business relationship we want.

For every legend, there are thousands of writers who haven’t made it, whose rejections litter the pathway, whose debut novel was a dud, who gave up, because the dream was taking too long and was too much work. My favorite response to those who ask how long it takes to become a successful writer is to ask, “if you started a job tomorrow at an entry level position, would you expect to be the CEO within the year?” Not to say that it hasn’t or won’t happen. Just be ready to fight to keep the dream alive for more than a few years. So before you approach your next literary agent or editor or consider self-publishing, ask yourself, are you willing to do the time? Once you know and accept the reality of becoming a career author, the more likely you are to succeed.

And don’t forget to submit to me when you do have it figured out.

Know Your Rights – Publishing Contracts

Most newbie writers believe that you get your book published and that’s where the publishing train ends. So when they seek out an agent or publisher, or they self-publish, they tend to overlook one of the most important aspects of publishing, the subsidiary rights.

Sub-rights are a great way to bring in more money and get more exposure for your book. If you are self-publishing then you have the responsibility to see if these rights can be sold. If you land an agent or a publisher, they should be taking care of these rights for you. An agent will be shopping these with your interests in mind, the publishers in their own interest. There are a bunch of subsidiary rights that you may not know or care to know about, even after you’ve published, but there are 3 major ones that you should be asking about before you sign anything.

Film/Media:

This is the obvious one. Most writers have already dreamed of that actor that will play their characters in a film. Most agencies have connections with film/media agents or have a relationship with a particular agent, which is their subagent. Find out what type of connections your agent has.

Audio:

Audio sales have seen a steady increase over the years, so much so that publishers are more often trying to retain these rights. With the advent of digital content streaming, companies such as Audible are carving out a place in the market. A savvy agent will attempt to keep these rights on your behalf and sell them later. Most agencies either have an in-house audio agent, or the agents handle these rights themselves.

Translation:

Where in the world and in what language your book is being published is determined by which rights you have signed away. Did you give the publisher only North American English or did they retain World English? What about the right to translate and sell it in different countries? Did you know that every year the world’s largest trade fair for books is held in Frankfurt, Germany? A good foreign rights agent attends the Frankfurt Book Fair to pitch the multitudes of international publishers that will attend. The agent may be able to sell your book to multiple markets in multiple languages, meaning more royalties for you.

If an agent has offered you representation, ask what their process is for retaining and selling these important rights. How does the commission percentage break down? Do they have a sub-agent or do they partner with an agency that specializes? If the publisher insists on keeping one or all of these rights, what sort of parameters does the agent set in order to make the deal worth it? Most agents should be able to answer these questions easily and happily.
If you went straight to a publisher, make sure you understand what is happening with these rights. If said publisher is keeping all these rights, there should be a time limit so if the publisher does not doing anything with these rights they revert back to you.

So before you start shopping your manuscript, know your rights.

 

 

Mary C. MooreJune 22, 2015

Interview with Mary C. MooreSee my interview with Geek on Record about the eBook publishing revolution here.

A Career In Books?

An editor in New York recently said to me, “This is one of the last true apprenticeship fields.” Although she meant it as just an interesting aside, the more I thought about it, the more I realized this is both a problem and an unfortunate truth in writing and publishing.

If you’re like me, as many in our field are, you spent your childhood with your nose in a book. Late nights under the covers with a flashlight, sitting on the sidewalk while others did sports, and hours at the local library are the bright, shiny, happy spots in your memory.

Books, books, books. Must read all the books.

Sadly for me, as I got older, reading became less an obsession and more of a hobby. My English class in high school was uninspiring, and few of my peers read like I did. I was from a small town and a child of poverty, so although I had dabbled in writing here and there, there was no concept of being a writer for a living. I was privileged enough to go to college, but there was no way I would waste that opportunity on an English major. I didn’t know taking a literature class was an option, let alone having a career in books. (This belief prevails. Check out this Slate article: Major Exodus: How do post-recession English departments attract students to a field losing popularity?) Thus I got my B.S. and reading was further pushed into the “something I only do for fun,” area of my life.

What am I doing with my life?

Ironically, it was my career in biology that reunited me with my love of books. As a field biologist I got to witness many of the amazing creatures nature has to offer. That being said, I was also twiddling my thumbs, a lot. You do quite a bit of “observing” in the field, which means waiting and watching for something to happen. That’s when the ideas for a novel started crowding my brain. I spent my nights tapping away at the computer, and it rekindled the love and obsession I had as a child. One year later, ta-da! My first complete novel.

Ta da! I will be a famous novelist!

I was going to make a living as a writer! This was what I should have being doing all along! Of course as anyone in the publishing world will tell you, it wasn’t ready. But I didn’t know that. It took 100+ rejections, a MFA in Creative Writing, self-publishing my next novel, and a 2-year unpaid internship at a literary agency for me to understand, six years later, what “ready” meant.

What makes you think your book is special?

All of that experience was my apprenticeship, and it opened my eyes to the world of publishing as a potential career. If you love books, despite what people tell you, teaching English or starving writer are not the only career options. The book industry world needs managing editors, literary agents, book-marketing gurus, book buyers, bookstores, designers, proofreaders, copy editors, ghost writers, book reviewers, writing conference leaders, distributors, publishers, the list goes on.

I only wish someone had pointed this out to the little girl with her nose in a book. I would have started earlier, done the unpaid internship in college, taken the courses in writing/literature, begun my career path sooner, so that the struggle would have been at the age it should have been. The MFA programs are equally as guilty, many of them focus on writing as art, scorning the “commercial” world, which is where most people in the book business make a living.

You write commercial fiction?

Many others who work in the book industry have a similar story to mine. They fell into it later in life, and realized they were in love, but it took some time to get to a moderately successful career and there were many financial sacrifices along the way. And still others don’t make it that far. The path to publishing is littered with ex-editors who couldn’t survive on such low salaries, ex-literary agents who didn’t have financial support in those first few penniless years, ex-interns who had to get a paying job and more.

Why can’t being an author and working within the book industry be a viable career path for everyone? Why can’t more universities offer programs like Columbia’s Publishing Course? Why are we expected to toil away at un-paid/low-wage apprenticeships just to get our foot in the door? Why is it that there is not a career path for novelists the way there are for so many other jobs? Why is there so little money in such an important field? And why is most of it concentrated in NYC, one of the most expensive cities to live in the world?

I don’t have to put up with this, do I?

It was luck and privilege that I was able to follow my dream career at an older age, which included a partner willing and able to support me and an educated mother who taught me to love to read. People say that publishing/writing is a career for trust-fund kids and retirees. This is not true, but it is definitely an uphill battle if you don’t have those advantages. One of the biggest reasons for this is a lack of information/opportunity available to those with less means. There are not many options for the not-so-privileged, the need-to-work-for-a-living, and the few paths to work in books that are viable for us are buried under negative stereotypes of post-English-major lifestyles.

Hey there. I work with books!

Books are considered a luxury commodity, even though reading and writing have proven again and again to be a crucial aspect of human nature. See the Guardian’s Reading Fiction “Improves” Empathy Study Finds, or the New York Times’s Writing Your Way to Happiness or NPR’s How Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ Led a Radical Muslim to Moderation.

Yes, you can work with books.
(And maybe the next doctor will be a POC. Maybe.)
The world needs more (and diverse) people working in books, but how will that happen with the current lack of support in the education system and society in general?

The Art of a Great Book

Alice and The Caterpillar by Joni Harvey-Brown

Often the time and energy and money required to produce a book is under-appreciated. The average reader imagines a scene in which the lonely writer sits atop a far-away mountain, banging away at the keyboard. The writer is often blocked by some outside force, until a flash of inspiration occurs and viola, a masterpiece! And thus the reader holds the masterpiece in their hands, quietly devouring the inked pages.

What is rarely discussed in reader circles, and even in writer circles, is the other half of the puzzle. The multitudes of people and teams that also had a hand in the work, and with whom without, that masterpiece of a book would never have reached the readers. The blood, sweat, and tears that have been shed in the process. In this modern climate of self-publishing and DIY attitudes, people often ask: what is the point of a publisher? Or an agent? Or even, an editor?

This questioning haunts me as a literary agent. I see many writers on forums talk about agents as if we are lowly serpents trolling on the talents of writer. They spew venom about the fat-cat editors in New York (whose salary is probably barely above minimum wage). It’s frustrating as no one would ask that in film. No one would ask why a script needs set-designers, or directors, or producers. As a self-published author I fully support the advent of a new publishing paradigm. But I do believe it is important to acknowledge the amount of work that it takes to produce a beautiful book whichever publishing path one chooses to take.

I do hope this will perhaps change a few minds about the people who work in the field of publishing, because believe it or not, most of us are in this because we love books. 

The Windmill by Joni Harvey-Brown

Everyone in the literary world, from publishers, agents, editors, designers, and writers are all working toward the same goal; to produce a good book. No, to produce a great book. A book that shines on the shelf, calls out to potential readers. A book that captures you with its first sentence, whose story draws you in, and whose plot keeps you up all night reading. A book that makes you excited, anxious, and sad as the amount of pages left gets slimmer and slimmer. A book that makes you sigh with satisfaction with its last sentence. A great book.

The writer spends late nights and early mornings to create a story out of 80,000 words. They edit those words for months. Their beta-readers critique it, each comment a stab to the heart, but the writer bravely endures and edits it again, and again, and again. Then months to years later, when they have what they believe to be a finished project, they send it out to the terrifying gatekeepers, the agents.

The agents read hundreds of email queries, tens of writing samples, 2-5 manuscripts a week. They endure angry authors-rejected suitors and demanding writers whom feel they deserve the agent’s time over all else. They read through the slush of manuscripts, the wanna-be bestsellers, the overwritten literary prose, the un-edited sloppy writing to find that gleam, that rough gem that catches their attention. They find out if the gem is available, comb through it and ask for edits. They edit the second draft, and the third, and the fourth. Finally they take the gem, which now sparkles, and send it out to the impossible judges, the editors. Editors with whom they have spent years developing relationships with, learning their likes and dislikes, so that one day when the right ms for the right editor comes along, they know exactly who to send it to.

The editors slough through the agent queries, requesting too many manuscripts. Their desks are piled with submissions, with current manuscripts, and with books they need to read. They read and read and read. They find a book they want to sign, fight over it with other editors, capture it for their own. They deal with demands of the overbearing agents, and with stubborn, pretentious, or diva authors. They work under deadline from the publisher, the pressure always on. They edit, and edit, and edit some more. Finally it is ready to go to design production.

The designer keeps an eye on every book that gets released, they keep tabs on design trends, they know if Lucinda Grande has gone out of style and that vertical stripes are serious but horizontal are playful. They read the manuscript and have a brilliant concept for the cover. They create a first proof of the cover. They love the cover. The next time they look at it, they hate it. They redesign the font, change the image, adjust the hues. They tweak something a centimeter to the left, something else a half inch up. That one shape should be circular. And blue. No, cobalt blue. They create something beautiful. The author wants something else, the agent doesn’t like it, the editor thinks it’s okay, the publisher doesn’t care. They tweak it some more. This time it is perfect.

The publisher gathers the items needed to publish the book. The ISBN number, the Library of Congress data, the copyright, the price, the mega data, the whole sale price, the royalties, the contracts, the marketing copy, the distribution, the costs of production, the marketing and promotion. They work with book buyers and book stores to get the final book out there on the digital or physical bookshelf. The final push so the book is out there, a book that shines, a book that calls out to potential readers.

And all of these people take a deep collective breath and hope that they have given the potential buyer something special.

A great book.

Pandora’s Box by Joni Harvey-Brown