Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stop being a tortured artist

There is so much great advice out there today for authors. Seriously, I can't imagine how people navigated this industry before the internet opened up a world of knowledge at our fingertips. But all of that access has a downside. In a single day, the average author is bombarded with too much information.

"Create a funnel with leader projects"
"Reach across audiences with multiple formats"
"Expand your reach by trying new genres with a pen name"
"Pad your income by becoming a speaker, teach workshops and write non-fiction"

And all of this is great advice. Doing all of this will absolutely grow your brand, increase your income and help you find new readers. Perfect.

The problem is when authors try to do all of this at the same time. You end up in a medieval torture device.





So that kinda defeats the purpose of being an author. Because shouldn't all of this be fun. Hard work certainly, but fun.

But writing stops being fun when you feel like you're being pulled in a hundred different directions because of all the ways you think you need to grow yourself as an author. And that's because you can't do all of it at the same time.

Should you write more books so your fans have lots of ways to engage with you? Absolutely. Should you work to get your books out there across multiple formats and try to sell your foreign rights? You betcha. Should you put out a strong marketing launch to give your book the best shot you can? Of course.

Is it realistic to do all of these things all the time? Are you nuts?

I talk about marketing with a passion and I don't apologize for that. The downside is that many authors reach out to me in a state of panic because they can't find enough time in the day between taking care of their families and dying a slow death at their day jobs to actively write their next book and plan the marketing launch they know they need.

And this is where most authors go wrong. They mistakenly believe that they have to do it all, all the time. When I was putting together the launch for Rite of Rejection I took off a full month from writing and closed to queries at the agency so I could reduce my work load. One look at my schedule told me I couldn't do it all and still be successful.

There is a give and take balance to being an entrepreneur, which is what we are as authors. There are times like now when I will spend more of my day writing and much less on marketing. But in a few months that will swing in the other direction. Not only is that crucial to my sanity, it's also a great way to stay fresh.

As much as I love marketing, I don't think I could go full strength in marketing my books 365 days a year. Even I would burn out, and eventually I'd start phoning it in. That doesn't do anyone any good.

So what should you do?

Make a plan. Decide what you want to work on and when. I want to get my book out in audio and look at translations. And that will be awesome. But I can't dedicate the time to that right now because I'm thick in the editing process. So maybe I put that on my schedule for this fall. And that's okay.

You need to be realistic and honest with your schedule. That means knowing that you can't do more than you can fit at any time. It also means being honest with how you spend your time. You can't do it all, but could you possibly do a little more? I give myself time every night before I sit down to edit to play Candy Crush Saga. This is dumb, but I need that time to turn off my brain from everything else. However, sometimes that fifteen minutes stretches into checking my wall, then heading over to Twitter or Tumblr. Then the next thing I know, I've spent and hour and a half goofing off  on the internet. No Bueno.

This post is already long enough so let me close by assuring you that no one expects you to be the Iron Man of publishing. Don't beat yourself up because there are more to-dos than you actually have time for. Instead, plan your goals, prioritize your actions and perform to the best of your ability. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Agency Lessons: nailing the first line

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

Nothing seems to send authors into a tail spin more than the first line of their novel. There are too many horror stories out there of agents who will stop reading after the first sentence if I doesn't scream brilliance.

So let me start by saying that those are rare agents (though they do exist). Most of us will at least read the first several paragraphs before we give up on something. However, that first line is still a big one. It has to encompass the tone you've already set with the blurb and cover, and prepare the reader for the story you're about to tell. It's all too easy for a bad first sentence to derail everything and have readers quickly reaching for a different book.

The talented folks at Adventures in YA Publishing are running a first line contest right now and asked me to be one of their judges. Even though I see first lines on a daily basis, there was something about reading 100 of them in a row that made patterns easier to see. So I figured I'd let you guys know the good, bad and ugly of first lines.

1. No semi-colons
So this isn't a hard and fast rule, but in general, when a first sentence has a semi-colon it is way too long. If I have to stop and think about how the sentence started by the time I get to the end, I'm a lot less likely to keep reading. You don't want to make your reader work too hard to get started.

2. Stop waking up
Okay, this one has been a cliche for forever and you can point to plenty of books that start this way (hello, Hunger Games), but at this point I'm completely over it and I know I'm not alone. Even waking up lines that include other engaging aspects are turn-offs now. You can do better.

3. Be profound
I found myself drawn to the opening lines that had something important to say...so long as the author kept their insight clear and concise. This is where it is important to know what you want to say and figure out how to say it in as few words as possible. The authors that try to do this and fall in love with their own words lose their readers.

4. Avoid jargon
An opening sentence introduces your reader to the world of your novel. But you'll lose your reader if that introduction is convoluted with new phrases that don't hold any meaning yet. You don't have to wait until chapter two to world-build, but I think you should avoid unknown words or phrases in the first sentence.

5. Be unexpected
Creating a juxtaposition in your opening sentence is a fast way to get me engaged. When so many novels start out with 'the usual', I love when the start makes me do a double-take. Keep in mind this is different than a shock effect and should only be used if it matches the tone and content of your story. But when done well, this can be an amazing opening line.

6. Ah, the cliches
Traveling in a car, discussing the weather, arriving at a new location, and the list goes on. Guys, just don't. I can't imagine a scenario in which the only way to open your novel is with one of these cliches. Everyone assumes they are the exception to the rule, and yet the opposite is almost always true. As an agent and a reader, I'm looking for something more.

7. Say something
Maybe this is a simplistic way to think about it, but for me, your opening line should say something. This is the first thing your reader will see, and that automatically makes it important. So make it important. If your opening line describes your character's outfit, then that outfit had better be important. Don't waste your opening line to tell us that your 17-yr-old main character is wearing jeans and a t-shirt to school. That doesn't say anything. 98% of high schoolers are wearing jeans and a t-shirt (I made that stat up, but you get the idea). Your opening sentence should be on purpose and not just because you had to start somewhere.

Regardless of who your audience is, the goal of your first sentence should be to convince the reader to read the second sentence. So on and so forth. It doesn't have to be literary gold, but it should make your book shine.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Don't burn your library


I was talking to a new friend the other day about what I do (you know, write books and sell books) and, as expected, this new friend told me that she has always wanted to write a book and actually has a good start for about three different novels.

Nothing new here. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me they wanted to write a book. They say it the same way someone might mention wanting to try out a new restaurant. "Oh, I've been wanting to try out Vinnie's. I hear the eggplant is amazing. My schedule is just so busy right now."

Nope, I've heard it a million times. Until my new friend said this...


Wow!

We all have stories inside of us. For most people, it's enough to share those stories with our family and friends. But for those of us slightly mad enough to crave a pen, we need to write. We have to get those stories out and we desperately want other people to read them.

Each of us is only given so much time on this earth. While I plan to live so long they put my old lady picture in the paper, there are no guarantees in life. I have to write now, while I can. Because when the day comes that I draw my last breath, a library of books that I never got to write will die with me.

So if this is you, if you are sitting at your computer like my new friend still talking about someday maybe writing a book, stop waiting. Sit down now and put some words on the paper. It doesn't have to be a lot. Even a sentence will get you going.

Because if you don't, the world's libraries will be a little bit smaller.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Headshots

Hey Gang! I don't normally post on Thursday, but I've got something different today.

Last night I posted my new headshots on Facebook and asked for everyone's favorite. The response has been varied and spirited. I don't want you to miss out on the fun, so I thought I'd post the options here to git your opinion. 

Just leave your vote in the comments. I'll be going through all the feedback this weekend and you should see a shiny new pic of yours truly gracing the top of the page starting on Monday!

All pictures taken by the fabulous Deirdre Lewis of Pictures Of Prose Photography



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's NOT the end of the world as we know it

If you're a regular reader here on ye old blog, then you probably noticed something last week. Or rather, you didn't notice anything because I didn't post anything. This wasn't a planned decision on my part. Rather, last Sunday rolled around and I realized I didn't have anything to say. It had been a week of lots of work, but no epiphanies to share. So rather than rehash old news, I simply didn't post. Then along came Wednesday and Friday and I still didn't have anything interesting to share. So...no blog posts.

And the strangest thing happened.

Nothing.

Mobs of pitchfork wielding authors didn't storm the city. No one sent me any angry emails or voice mails. I did not keel over and die. Site visits for the week were down. That makes sense. There wasn't anything new to read.

And then, the strangest thing happened to book sales.

They stayed the same.

Yep. Despite my almost non-existent internet presence last week, the population of America did not boycot my book in protest of my limited exposure. If anything, book sales increased (making me wonder if I should shut up more often).

I'm being a little cheeky here, but I do have a point. As authors, it can often feel as if we need to be constantly on. There's this idea that if we aren't always blogging, tweeting, sharing and posting, our readership with shrivel up and die a slow painful death. Which means too many of us force out new posts and jump online to interact out of some kind of obligation rather than because we have something interesting to say.

And this is a load of horse manure. Your platform is not only as good as your last blog post. If you decide to take a break or just (gasp) don't have anything to say, you will not alienate the planet. Your social interactions online should be fun. If you're only putting out content because you feel like you have to, your readers will know. And then you'll lose them anyway.

Now, before you all run for joy and shut down your blogs and twitter accounts, let me just say that this is a critical mass for absenteeism. If I didn't make any kind of effort for a month or so, I couldn't expect to pop back on and generate the same kind of readership as I had before the break. If you leave your audience alone for too long, they will move on, because there is no shortage of content on the internet. You can't go silent for months and then drop new content on the web in the middle of the night and expect the world to bend over backwards to get it. You are not Beyonce.

But you are you. With a real life to live somewhere out there on the other side of your computer screen. And that life comes with ebbs and flows just like everyone else's. If you don't have something to say, don't feel like you have to put out content. This is not the end of the world.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Agency Lessons: Be nice to the janitor

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

My parents imparted a lot of life lessons to me over the years. They got down the basics like work hard, get an education, share your toys. But there is one lesson my mother told me that has been the most helpful.

As I was leaving for college, my mom handed me some advice. "Be nice to the janitor."

Of course, my parents taught me that I should always be nice, so this one puzzled me until she explained.

You see, in life, there are going to be people who are obviously at the top of the ladder. They are the bosses, the professors, the ones in charge. And, in general, they will see a lot of brown-nosing and butt-kissing in their time.

And then there are people who almost everyone overlooks. The ones in the background who quietly do their jobs with little or no appreciation, and usually about the same amount of respect. People like the kitchen staff and janitors.

The thing is, my mom explained, everyone thinks it's only the people at the top who are worth their time and kindness. They wrongly believe that those are the only people who can give them a hand up in life. But they are missing out on meeting some of life's most interesting people. And forgetting that you don't have to be the boss to have power.

Because when you spill an entire cup of coffee on your term paper at 2am and the computer lab is closed, it's the janitor who will be there to let you get in early the next morning so you aren't late turning it in at your 8am class. But not if you're the kid who regularly kicks his mop bucket. And it's the secretary who makes a comment to your professor after you leave a meeting asking for a favor to say what a polite person you are. But not if you walked in, rudely demanding to see that professor.

You see, people are people. And all people like to be treated with dignity and respect. That goes from the executive editor and senior agent down to the mail room guy and the intern. I'm not saying you have to suck up to everyone you meet. But I am saying you should give everyone the courtesy they deserve as a fellow human being.

If someone can help you, make sure you say thank you. And if someone can't help you, don't harass them until they have to block you. Just saying.

Besides, you never know where that mail room guy and intern are going. You might have just met your future agent and didn't even know it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

How to ask for guest blogs

If you were to ask me (and you're here, so I'm assuming you would want to) what is the most under-used platform building opportunity among authors, I would have to say guest blogging. As much as we keep hearing about how blogging is dead, there are still tons of them out there and they are still driving a lot of traffic, especially in the book community.

Unfortunately, authors seem to see guest blogging as some sort of Bermuda Triangle that they can't navigate. But it doesn't need to be. If you have the opportunity to guest blog for someone else, you can expand your reach to a new platform. If you have a guest blogger, you can provide your current readers with some fresh voice and a new perspective. Plus, with two people promoting the same post, each to their respective networks, you get double the visibility. It's a win-win.

I get asked to guest blog fairly often, so I've developed a bit of a list that I wish everyone would use.

1. Be specific in your request
Most people will be flattered if you ask them to guest post. But panic seeps in if you don't give them some guidance. On several occasions I've been asked to guest post for a blog I'm not familiar with. When asked what topic I should write on, the answer is all too often "whatever you want to do". The problem with this is that a guest blogger doesn't know your audience. They don't know what topics you've covered in the past or if your readers have expressed interest in a specific topic.

I love it when a blogger gives me a list of two or three topics they'd be open to. That way I have some direction and flexibility to talk about something I feel qualified to discuss. 

2. Give a deadline
I'll be honest here, there are guest posts that I've been asked to do that have never happened. All because there was never any time frame. It's not that I don't want to do them, but if a task doesn't have a deadline, it is going to keep falling to the bottom of my priority list until it's the only item on the list (which will never happen). 

I imagine some bloggers are concerned that setting a deadline creates unneeded stress on your guest, but the exact opposite is true. If this bothers you, just ask your guest how a specific date sounds. If that's not enough time, they'll let you know.

3. Specify format
Every blog is set up a bit different. Some bloggers want only certain links, some need photos to be black and white. Certain bloggers like check lists and others prefer bolded sub-headings. Don't expect your guest to do all the guess work. If you have particular formats you'd like all your blog posts to be in, go ahead and tell me. Plus, if you tell me exactly how you want a post formatted, I can go ahead and give you the HTML so all you need to do is copy and paste.

4. Don't be afraid to edit
I always read through, double check and spell check my guest posts. But I'm human and I'm not hiring an editor for my blog posts. That means mistakes might happen and an error might sneak in there. If you see it, please go ahead and fix it. There have been times when I've gone to check on a blog post and cringed at seeing a missed error. Trust me, when I say I will not be offended if you correct my typo before posting my words on the internet, to live forever.

5. Just ask
The biggest issue holding bloggers back from having more guest posts if their fear of asking. If you ask someone to guest post, the absolute worst thing that can happen is they say no. That's it. Your potential guest is not going to run to the internet and start spewing venom about how you dared to ask them to guest post. Whatever monstrous outcome you've imagined is not going to happen. In fact, the much more likely response will be "I'd love to. Thanks for asking."

So go out there and take advantage of this great way to grow your platform, readership and influence in the book world. And if you need a guest blogger, you know where to find me.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Agency Lessons: Safely navigating social media

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

If you pay attention to the social media surrounding YA books, you've probably heard the hub-bub lately about adult YA authors (John Green and Chuck Wendig among them) getting called out for silencing teen voices. I am not linking to any of the articles or blog posts, but a simple Google search will point you in the right direction if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Pair this up with the recent EL James flame-fest that resulted from her live twitter chat and we have a social media landscape that is absolutely loaded with bombs and trip wires, ready to hit unsuspecting authors. Obviously, this makes some authors nervous. Just yesterday I read a blog post by an author who has decided that she is leaving the YA community for fear of one day becoming a target.

I think this is both misguided and reactionary, but every author has to make their own decisions based on what is best for them and their own personal situation. But what should the average author do?

Afterall, we are encouraged to interact with our readers and become a part of the community, yet there are times when we are obviously not a welcome part of the conversation. How do we be transparent and sincere while still holding back a private part of ourselves that was never meant for public consumption?

I don't have all the answers, but I do have three suggestions that I live by. I'm certainly not anywhere even close to the popularity of Green and James, but this strategy has served me well.

1. Understand that you can't control the conversations that happen around/about you
If you write controversial books, don't be surprised when there are heated conversations and strong emotions surrounding any discussion of your book. If you write for teens with impassioned, yet sometimes illogical emotional responses to situations and encourage them to make their voices heard, don't be shocked when they do exactly that.

We all wish that discussions on the internet always stayed civil, logical and on topic, but you might as well wish that celery tasted like chocolate. It's just not gonna happen. I hate that some individuals seem to think that it's okay to personally attack public figures. It sucks and isn't right. But I can't change it and any attempt to control it is an act of futility.

There is no internet police and for the most part, that's a good thing. But it means with the freedom to express ourselves online comes the freedom for others to do the same, regardless of our opinion on that expression.

2. Decide what you are willing to share with the world and draw a line
You are the owner of your personal story and you control how much of that story is shared with the world. Often times, those who are most open are the ones most vulnerable to attack. In other words, those who choose to share the most of themselves with others in an attempt to connect with their tribe are most at risk of being attacked by that tribe, especially if something they share doesn't sit well with a portion (even a small portion) of their tribe.

That's why there are certain topics I don't discuss online. I don't do politics. For one, my political opinions are irrelevant to my works as an author or as an agent. Second, regardless of my opinion, I am 100% guaranteed that anything I post of a political nature will alienate at least a portion of my followers. Because no one has a group of followers that all share the exact same political opinions. Lord, we can't even all agree on who should be cast in movies. I doubt we can all agree on who should be the next president.

I also limit how much I share about my family. I have a family. I have children. They are amazing and being a mom is a big part of who I am. But they are not part of my platform. They are not a part of the public discussion of me. This is why I never accept friend requests on Facebook from readers or people I haven't personally met. Because that is the space I use for sharing pictures of my kids with family and that's my line.

I'm not saying that you have to create a separate online identity that is a shadow of who you are in real life. By all means, talk about what you're writing and reading. Discuss what you're passionate about. Share your thoughts and feelings. But before you go too far, decide how much of your personal life is okay to be public and what needs to stay private.

3. Realize that words have power, regardless of your own personal power
If this controversy has shown me anything, it's that you don't have to be a major player in the social media scene for your words to have a huge, lasting impact. The internet has connected the world in ways we could never have imagined, even ten years ago. This can be wonderful, but it also means that our words go so much further than they ever have. If I put something on this blog, I can't assume it will only be consumed by my followers. I have to understand that those readers might share it with their own network, and then others might share it as well, until the audience is eons outside of my own circle.

Once you put your words online, in any context, be it a blog, twitter, chat board, etc., those words can be shared, screen shot, copied and pasted anywhere. This means taking care with our words. I don't really do controversy here on my blog, because that's not part of my platform. But I do think carefully about the subjects I tackle. I read over my words to make sure my intention is clear.  I remove thoughts that might be taken the wrong way or come across negatively if seen out of context.

Even though my reach is small compared to the grandness of the internet connected world, I understand that even my softly spoken words can have power.

It would be all too easy to see the nastiness that crops up online and decide to skip it all. For some authors, being a part of the online conversation isn't worth the potential baggage. But the internet isn't going anywhere. I imagine it will continue to evolve and grow so that a decade from now we barely recognize the internet of today. As an author and agent, I understand that being a part of the constantly changing social landscape is a crucial part of success. Like any part of your professional course, you will be best served by understanding exactly what you are a part of and understanding your own personal limits.

Thanks to the internet, the world is at our fingertips. Now go out there and enjoy it responsibly.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Publishing insider interview

I'm a blog slacker today, folks.

In case you haven't heard, things got a little crazy on the home front in the past few weeks. Our plan to purchase a home in December got thrown out the window and we are unexpectedly trying to find a new home six months early in a fast hurry so we don't find ourselves homeless. Only half joking about the homeless business.

On the one hand, it's a good thing that we'll be putting down some roots here in Texas and certainly saving on our housing costs. On the other, I have about a million other things to do besides meeting with bankers and real estate agents, including reading manuscripts, sending clients on submission, negotiating contracts and trying like mad to finish editing Rite of Revelation.

You know, the book everyone keeps asking me about.

Getting two real blog posts out this week feels like a minor victory. In celebration, I'm offering you this rather lame blog post of my own, but linking to a much better post over at One Guys Guide to Goodreads

It's actual an interview with yours truly that I, thankfully, did several weeks okay. I'm chatting about the role of an agent, pet peeves, trends and what it's like being an agent now that I'm also an author. You know, good stuff.

So, forgive this sad excuse of a post and go check out my interview.

Then take a break and enjoy a fantastic 4th of July holiday weekend for all my American readers. For the rest of you, feel free to enjoy a run of the mill weekend and insert fireworks as desired.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Making the most of con connections

So you went to a conference and met so many amazing people. Maybe you reconnected with your tribe, came face to face to social media pals, or even discovered new voices you didn't realize you were missing. Making new friends and industry connections is one of the best parts of a conference and a big reason I think we all should attend live conferences.
Opening Ceremonies from UtopYA 2015

But now that you have a stack of business cards and phone full of blurry pictures, what do you do? Because connections don't mean anything unless you keep the conversation going after you've left bleary eyed and craving coffee. Here are a few tips for making the most out of your new connections.

1. Follow
Pull out that stack of business cards, bookmarks, and swag and start following all the new folks you met. The best way to stay connected these days is on social media, but that doesn't work if you aren't actually connected. You don't need to create new accounts to do this, just follow your new friends on whatever platforms you already belong.

2. Share content
Following isn't enough, if you aren't a part of the action. As authors we love it when people share our content and posts. So when your new friends post something great, share it with your tribe. That doesn't mean you want to fill your own feed with nothing but shared posts and retweets. Consider your own audience and then share content that you think they'd enjoy.

3. Engage
Social media is a place for wallflowers to dance in the middle of the room. That means you can't afford to stalk the feeds silently. Remember, social media is meant to be social. When you see your new pals out there chatting it up, say hello and join the conversation. Get to know each other outside of the tequila fueled convention nights.

4. Post about them
Did you read the book of your new pal? Show them a little love with an honest review. Then hit the airwaves with links to your review. Remember, your audience is full of readers who like to read books. That includes books that you didn't write, too. Book recommendations are a great way to provide your audience with a new read and show your connections some book love. Bonus points if you include a picture of yourself reading the book.

5. Make yourself available
You have a platform, now share it with your new friends. Obviously, this means keeping your own platform consistent. If you don't review books on your blog, you don't need to do a book review. But I'm sure there are other ways you can help. Maybe you can invite them to write a guest post or use their book/platform as an example in your own post. Whatever the platform, there are always ways to share.

6. Ask
Hopefully you talked about more than the quality of the hotel rooms and the latest season of OITNB at this convention. Just because the con is over doesn't mean those conversations have to end. Ask your new friends their thoughts on other bookish things. Don't have any questions right now? Ask them about other conferences they are planning to attend. Then you can go together and keep the party going.

You'll notice that none of these tips include asking your new buddies to pimp your own book. Because that is a surefire way to turn your new relationship sour. Focus instead on ways that you can help your new friends. But don't be surprised when they return the favor, because, authors, in general, are awesome.