Wednesday, June 25, 2014

You spoke...I hear you

I'm still in the Midwest for our semi-annual pilgrimage to see family, but I've managed to sneak away for a minute to say hello. Hi.

I also popped over to SurveyMonkey to see what you guys thought about me doing a weekly video. Wow, I was blown away by your enthusiasm and your amazing questions. So this is definitely a go.

I'll need a bit of time to get it set up which means the first video probably won't be available until August. I'll also need to set up the permanent ability to submit questions. In the meantime, feel free to continue sending them through the survey. I'm going to leave this open until I have everything rocking and rolling on the site.
*The survey is closed now. Please click on the purple post it note on the left side bar or click here.

Another item of note: I promised a fun new series in July, but I stink. I do have it all planned out in my notebook. Which I left back in Texas. Where I won't be until most of July is done. So, unfortunately, I'll have to bump that series to August. Since that's a bummer, I've decided to spill the beans on what the series is.

Drum roll, please.

In August I'll be posting a social media clean-up series. This will be a month dedicated to helping you get all your social media platforms cleaned-up and maximized so you can put your best foot forward to agents, editors, bloggers, book reviewers, journalists, etc. I'm really excited about this one because I'm going to play along and give daily updates for how I'm doing on my own quest for a more organized social media presence. Yeah fun!

And there's more goodness to come this summer, so be sure to check back here, or subscribe to get my posts by email, or sign up for the newsletter. Or, you know, all three, because you don't want to miss any of the awesomeness. Thanks for your patience while I'm semi-MIA. I hate that I'm not posting regularly, but I promise it's only temporary. Have a great week!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Q&A Opportunity

So, I was thinking (which is known to be dangerous). I know lots of you from various social media sites which means we interact in places that aren't here. This is great and I love it. I often get really great questions via these other sites which I am happy to answer. However, I often wonder how many other people might have the same question but either 1) they aren't asking it or 2) don't have an safe place to ask it.


Here's the deal. I'm all about getting information out to writers. I happen to know a thing or two about a thing or two and it makes me happy to share it. But not every question makes a great blog post. Sometimes you just need a quick response to something without all the fanfare.

And with all that thinking, I started really pondering video. What if I did a short, weekly video on YouTube that answered your questions? Questions about anything from writing and publishing to marketing and everything in between. And what if I created a form where you could submit your questions anonymously (if you so desired)? Would anyone watch that? Would anyone submit questions?

So before I run off all half-crazed and do this, I thought it best to ask you. Is this something you'd be interested in? Would you tune in to this and, if given the chance to submit anonymous questions, would you send them in? Please take a minute to complete a quick survey to help me determine if this is something you'd like to see. Or just leave me a comment. As always, I want this blog to be a resource for you. Thanks folks!

*I've closed the survey now. Thank you for all your responses. All submitted questions have been added to the queue. You can submit new questions by clicking on the purple post it labeled "Hey Sarah Answer Me This" or click here.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Agency Lessons: the value of being invaluable

I love when people ask me how I became an agent. Not because I have such an interesting story. But because I think my story is pretty typical of how anyone achieves anything. In today's media blitz where it looks like folks become hits overnight, it's important for authors to know that hard work is really the only way to find success.
So for those of you who don't know, I wasn't always an agent. If you read my bio, you'll know that I  have a communication degree with a focus on marketing which I actually used to kick start a career in marketing. Yes, sometimes people really do get jobs in the field of their major.

This was going great until we moved to a tiny little town for my husband's job where no one needed a marketing professional (or rather no one wanted to pay for a marketing professional). Instead, I started looking for online opportunities and came across Corvisiero's posting for a PR intern. The rest is pretty much history.

Except...

All of the hard work that went into the part between becoming an intern and the rest is history. During that in between part I made it my personal mission to become invaluable. I integrated myself into every area of the agency, volunteering for extra duties, finding areas that needed improvement and fixing them instead of waiting to be asked. I wanted to hit the end of my internship and have Marisa know that she absolutely needed me to be a permanent part of the team.

So what does that have to do with you as a writer?

Everything.

As an author you have two groups of people that you want to be invaluable to. Your Readers and Your Publisher!

To become invaluable to your readers you need to deliver the goods. That means regularly writing and publishing new material that meets the high standards you've set for yourself as an author. It means giving your readers the behind the scenes and insider secrets that create a community around you and your work. And it means anticipating what they want to read next without even asking. I realize this is asking a lot, but you don't become invaluable simply by publishing one good story and checking out to play Candy Crush.

To become invaluable to your publisher you need to not just meet their expectations, but exceed them. Editors work with a lot of authors. They expect you to turn in your edits on time, produce clean drafts and put out the marketing efforts you've agreed on. If you do these things it's good, but it doesn't make you invaluable. You need to go above and beyond. Get your manuscripts in early. Spend the extra time to make sure you aren't missing edits, don't just follow through on their marketing plan, go out and create your own opportunities. Do more. Again. This isn't easy, neither is being green, but that's not really the point.

When you become invaluable you will have editors who are not just willing to work with you on your next book, but who are actively asking your agent what else you have to send them. When you become invaluable to readers they don't just read your next book (eventually), they go to the book store at midnight to pick it up with tons of your other fans who can't wait to read your next words.

Being invaluable isn't about finding success. It's about creating success.

So what are you doing to become invaluable?

Friday, June 13, 2014

A dose of my own medicine


I was just sitting here...at 1am on Friday morning...stressing because I didn't have a blog post scheduled for the day. Then I realized that while I have plans for July on the blog, I have no idea what I'm doing for the rest of June. Which is a problem because next week I'm co-teaching a Writer's Digest Boot camp for submissions (less than 50 seats left!) and doing 100 loads of laundry. Because the week after that we are going on our annual pilgrimage to the Midwest for several weeks and I have a marketing project for you guys I'm trying to get finished before the end of the month.

Add to that I have so many fabulous and talented clients that nearly all of them have a project that is either on submission (requiring monitoring, nudging and so on) or about to go on submission (endless hours of spreadsheets).

So...I'm sitting here in this chair while the rest of my family is in bed knowing that I need blog posts, but not willing to stop working on submissions lists to think about blogging for more than a few minutes. And then it hit me.

I've been talking a lot about balance lately.

Yet, here I am stressing, because I am failing to find the balance. So I've decided to follow my own advice. Specifically, tip#3 from Wednesday, "Not everything is on fire".

If I miss a few blog posts, the world will not end. I'm fairly certain that you won't all hate me. I won't destroy the entire platform I've built over the past several years if the blog is a little quieter for a few weeks than it usually is. This is not a fire.

And now I feel better. Just like that.

Yes, the blog will probably be a little light for these last few weeks of June. I'll jump on and add a post, but only if I have something to say and the time to do it justice. If it doesn't happen very often, I'm not going to stress about it. I will be back full time in July with several fun surprises in the pipeline.

Until then I'm going to find some balance and get a little sleep.

This whole balance thing is great. Tell me something you are willing to let go of this week to find better balance in your life?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Finding balance

I apologize for the no-show from Agency Lessons this week. I had a post scheduled (or so I thought), but apparently didn't hit the publish button. Whoops! That's what happens when I'm trying to do too many things at once.

Which is what several of you said last week when I mentioned the need to have balance in your marketing efforts. Ah, balance. This mythical state of being in which we are able to accomplish everything we need to get done without losing our minds.


Jonathan Maberry recently shared his method in a speech I attended. During the day he spends 50 minutes of each hour writing and 10 minutes checking email, social media and other marketing/platform activities.

This is a great method, but I think it leaves out a few crucial details.

The first is that it doesn't address all the platform/marketing activities that can't be done in ten minute increments. If you only plan a blog tour in a few ten-minute increments a day, you should be ready to launch in a year or two. That's probably not going to work. The second missing piece of information is balancing life outside of being an author. We all have obligations that have nothing to do with finishing a draft or writing press releases. Things like our families, our health/fitness, and adequate sleep.

How do we find balance for all these priorities?

Salary.com proposes these 14 steps to achieving work life balance. I didn't get past the title. The idea that someone who is swamped with obligations and overworked has time for 14 steps of anything is ridiculous.

I am not even close to an expert in this area and I fail more than I succeed, but here are three tips I'd like to offer.

1. Accept that you will never be done.
You might finish a book, but you're not done writing. You can wrap up a book launch, but you're not done marketing. You can clean your house from top to bottom, but unless you move out it will need cleaning again tomorrow.

Learn to be okay with the fact that you will never have a moment where you sit down and there isn't a single thing you need to do. That doesn't mean you don't sit down. It means you sit and spend some time not worrying about the never ending to do list. No matter how long you work at it, it'll never really be done.

2. Your health is a linchpin in all of your productivity.
If you work yourself to the point of exhaustion, eat poorly or never leave your chair, your body is going to suffer. And when your body suffers so will your productivity. Don't forget that you need to take time to eat more than coffee during the day and a walk around the block can be a good thing.

And good health isn't limited to physical needs. Stress is a creativity killer. I promise if you take a single day to unplug and step away from your computer the world will not end. If you can't force yourself to give up a whole day, then set aside a no-contact period each week. Pick several hours one day a week that is reserved for activities that will help you manage your mental health. You can take up yoga, read a book or just take a relaxing bath. It doesn't matter what it is so long as it doesn't involve solving plot bunnies or replying to email.

3. Not everything is on fire.
At times when I get behind, it's easy to start seeing every pending task as a five alarm blaze needing my immediate attention. When productivity is down, the perceived priority of my work tends to go up. But the reality is the priority didn't change. Only my perspective.

When this happens (and let's just all admit that some days we wake up and realize that we have got to step it up) you've got to be realistic with your prioritization. Triage your work load and spend your energy on the tasks that are most crucial. That may mean disappointing others who are counting on you for tasks that are lower priority. It happens. Communicate your priorities early and often to avoid hurt feelings or a tarnished reputation.

Finding the balance between being an author, marketer, spouse, parent & regular human can be a challenge. In fact, I think it's a bit of a myth that we'll ever feel completely balanced across all our roles and responsibilities. So cut yourself some slack and try not to sweat the small stuff. After all, we're only human.

Your turn. What are your tips for finding balance in your life?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Marketing like a surfer

Have you ever sat on the beach and watched the surfers. They spend a lot of time sitting out in the ocean waiting for the right wave to come. They've learned patience and how to recognize when the timing is right. They try a lot of different waves because you never know when a wave is going to break just right and be a big one. Surfers also know that you can't wait for the right wave sitting on the beach and then rush out to try to catch it. They know you need to be positioned out in the water, ready to seize the opportunity when it hits.

Marketing is a lot like surfing.  

They try a lot of waves and so should you. What worked for one author may not work for you. At the same time an idea that flopped on your first book might be the key to success for your third. If you only ever go after the waves considered a "sure thing". You might miss the one that rockets your book in the public eye.

Surfers have patience. If they rush at a wave before it's ready it will roll under them. If they wait too late it will roll them. Same goes for a marketing campaign. If you start talking about your book a year before the release, readers will be tired of hearing about it by the time the book comes out. But if you wait too long to contact bloggers, they won't have time to review your book to hit that first week rush. 

They are out there in the water with their board in position. You never know when a new opportunity is going to come along or a message is going to hit just right to catch on. You can't sit on the beach hoping the right wave comes to you. Go out in the water and find it.

You can't just sit out in the ocean, splashing around. You need your board in position. Get your website cleaned up, Have promotional materials written up and ready to be sent to the right people, make yourself easy to contact.  And get your head in the game. Keep your mind open to the unique opportunities that might come your way.

Bonus: Balance

Surfers have amazing balance. While riding a wave they are constantly shifting their center of balance to keep their board flat and their head dry. As an author (and owner of your own small business) you need to find the balance in your life. Make time for marketing, but keep new words flowing. Focus on your business, but don't forget to take time for yourself and your family. No one said being an author would be easy. Then again, nothing worth really having ever is. 

Surf's up, dudes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

GLEEful Lessons: go all in

I took the weekend off from all things writing and agenting to do a little re-charge. So this weekend I mainlined an untold number of GLEE episodes. 

As is true to most new life experiences, I learned a few lessons. Open book and all, I'm sharing them with you today. Here are my GLEEful Lessons.

1. Being in HS Show Choir really was the best thing ever
For photographic evidence I present this picture of me from my senior year of show choir. Our group name was BY REQUEST and I still have the hooded half-zip windbreaker to prove my awesomeness.

2. I am woefully unaware of popculture
I have no idea who most of the celebrity guests are on this show and the only reason I know most of the songs is because they are show choir standards. See lesson #1.

3. GLEE works because they go all in.
Right, I have an actually lesson here.

There are a million reasons why GLEE makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. The cheerleading coach has a budget for European dry cleaning and she physically abuses kids in the hallway, the show choir with no budget has enough budget for a HUGE choir room and for an actual class time instead of just being an extra-curricular. The principal is the most naive man on the planet and hundreds of other over the top examples.

And that's why it works. 

I see a lot of manuscripts that are for the most part believable, except for one or two world-building scenarios or plot lines that are unbelievable. And because of those one or two items, the whole thing feels fake. 

The creators of GLEE realized they wouldn't be able to tip-toe into plot holes or only slightly bend the high school reality. Viewers would call their bluff in a heartbeat. Instead, they took the stereotypes and supercharged scenarios and decided to go big or go home. There is nothing at all realistic about the show and that's why we love it. Right from the start we accept that it isn't real and can enjoy it for the campy awesomeness it is.

For writers, the lesson here is that everything has to be completely above the board believable or nothing should be. Either tell readers this is the real deal or drive home the point that it's not. Roald Dahl is an excellent example of this. His books are over the top in their believability. So as readers we can stop falling into plot holes and just enjoy the beautiful journey of his characters.

This lesson applies to your marketing plan as well. If you've chosen a theme or mode for your campaign, you've got to fully embrace it and never deviate. Cora Carmack is a great example of this for her new release, All Lined Up. The book features a football coach's daughter and so she ran away with the football theme and never looked back. The campaign wouldn't have been as successful if she tried to focus on other areas as well. 

So today's real lesson: Decide your path (in writing, marketing, even in publishing) and go all in.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Agency Lessons: why a contract in hand can hurt you

There appears to be a misconception about what attracts an agent. I've seen some advice out there suggesting authors submit to small presses to get a contract and then hunt down an agent to negotiate for them. To be clear, you can do this. Some agents think this is tacky. I think you need to do what feels right for your career. That said, you need to understand how the business works and the potential advantages and disadvantages of taking this route. Because honestly, a contract in hand is not the golden ticket that many authors think it is. Here's why:

If you come to me with a contract, the first thing I'm going to do is look up the publisher. Chances are, it's a small press that I haven't heard of (there are hundreds of these). Many authors mistakenly believe that this offer for publication gives their book a stamp of approval. And it can, but it can also mean diddly squat.

There are some truly wonderful small and indie presses out there. Seriously, some of these guys put the Big5 to shame with how wonderful they are to work with. And then there are others. Just like anyone can hang a shingle outside and claim the title of agent, anyone can set up a small press. Some of these guys will literally take anyone. They operate on a system of quantity over quality, pumping out hundreds of books a year with very little editing and bad covers. Without investing a lot of time in research, unless I've heard of the publisher, I have no idea which type your offer comes from.

If it's a bad publisher, I'm probably going to pass on representing your manuscript. Keep in mind here, this isn't based on the book at all. I'll pass, because a contract in hand from a bad publisher is a no-win scenario.

If I did sign you, I would have to advise you not to sign the contract. No contract is better than a bad one. I have to assume that isn't the only publisher you submitted your book to, and that seriously limits who I could submit to, hurting our chances to get another contract. Finally, there would be an unnatural pressure to sell the book quickly, because I advised you to turn down a contract in hand. Even though the offer was so bad it would have taken your book nowhere fast.

There is no way to win in a scenario like that.

Now, let's say the contract in hand was from a good publisher. If I signed you, I will spend hours working with the acquisitions editor to negotiate your contract. Even good contracts need to be negotiated. Because this is a small press, there probably isn't an advance or it is very small. Because of this, I probably won't see any compensation for upwards of 18 months. Now, that may seem cold-hearted. In fact, I can hear the shouts of "See, all agents are in it for the money". To that I ask, would you voluntarily go in to your office job without the promise of a paycheck at the end of the week? I love what I do and I adore books and authors, but coffee, liquor and sweatpants are not free.

Yet, despite all these potential negatives, I have taken on clients who come to me with a contract and I will continue to do so. If, and this is a big if, I love their work. Anytime an agent takes on a client, it's with the understanding that we might spend hours (and hours) of work on a manuscript, but not be able to sell it. That's why it's so crucial that I really love someone's work to take them on as a client. If you come to me with a contract, even one that is unlikely to earn me much money, I will sign you if I love your work so much I can't stand the idea of another agent getting their hands on it. 

 And really, that's what you should always want from your agent.