Up The Creek Without A Paddle – But Not Really

To an unpublished author, thoughts of marketing your book once it’s published might not be front and center of your mind. You’re more focused on finishing that manuscript, acquiring an agent, polishing your proposal. That’s as it should be. But what if you’re agented, and have several editors showing interest in your completed project?

Now is the time to start your engines and put some wheels on your marketing strategies. Sure, your book may not sell right away, but you’ll want to be prepared when it does. And even if you’re still in the early stages of your writing journey, it’s never too early to start thinking about it.

Last week on my blog I shared a few of the things I’ve been doing since my book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, released in March. The prospect of marketing can seem daunting to a new author. At first I felt as though someone had pushed me upstream with no paddle, no compass, no directions at all. I soon learned the world of marketing has many places to explore. Today I’m going to focus on one.

Networking.

Your network is where you hang out; it’s who you talk to, share life with. It’s your community. At this point, published or not, you should be working hard to establish an online presence through blogging, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google+, etc…the Internet is by far the cheapest and fastest marketing tool at your disposal. Learn to use it wisely.

Then there’s your real-life community. We all have family, friends, co-workers, right? These are the folks you want in your network, people who know you, love you and have supported your writing efforts over the past few years. They’re going to want to tell everyone they know about your book, this is great! Make sure they’re kept up to date in the process and send them a copy or two when your book comes out. The more people you can get saying wonderful things about your writing, the easier your job gets. And don’t forget to thank them for their efforts.

But what if you don’t have a supportive family? What if the people in your immediate circles just don’t get it or just don’t care? All is not lost here. While I’d like to advise you to have a good heart-to-heart with these folks, I’m no family therapist. Focus your networking efforts elsewhere.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If you don’t, you should. This is the next best thing to having all your cousins in Nebraska hauling boxes of books around in the back of their trucks and selling them at every pit stop.

I’ve recently finished reading an excellent book on social networking by Kristen Lamb, We Are Not Alone  – The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, (Who Dares Wins Publishing, 2010). I highly recommend this book and I know quite a few of my fellow WordServers do too. One thing Kristen said that I love is this: “Fish where the fish are.”  Your writer’s group will not only provide support and encouragement in your writing journey, but when your baby is finally born, they’ll be the first to send flowers and start handing out the chocolate cigars. Most writers have a blog. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t like to read. Combine the two, and you have instant reviewers, influencers and endorsers.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for an interview or to ask someone to review your novel. Yes, you may have to send a few copies here and there, but if it’s going to help get the word out about your book, it’s a great investment. And always offer to reciprocate by featuring fellow authors on your own blog and helping them spread the word about their new baby when the time comes.

Networking has been the most fun for me so far in this gig as a newly published author. I’ve expanded my network considerably, met a lot of wonderful people who have been more than gracious with their words, time and endeavors to get my book ‘out there’,  and I’m looking forward to doing it all over again when my next novel comes out!

What about you? Have you started networking? If you’re already published, tell us about your experiences.

Becoming a Nationally Syndicated Columnist

I am fortunate enough to be both a national columnist on politics and world events through Cagle Cartoons, Inc. and a blogger at www.marthacarr.com on writing, faith, and whatever wild adventure is going on in my life. This weekend that means a 5K followed by a second jump out of a plane. Don’t tell my agent. I’m celebrating learning to walk, and then run again after a whopper of a bout with cancer.

However, there has to be a question in everyone’s mind these days whether it’s worthwhile for writers to still strive to become nationally syndicated columnists. The decline of newspapers and the rise of blogs (like this fabulous one) must make people wonder if there’s a place for the journalist who provides content through a clearing house.

Both a column and a blog can become a source of income and it takes time for that to be true in both instances. There’s really no shortcuts, so that’s the same.

But despite all of the advantages to having a blog, and there are many, there are still some pretty big benefits to writing for others for a living.

  • Accountability – there’s a constant weekly deadline with a required word count. No longer and no shorter than 700 to 750 words. The grammar has to be correct, which means AP Style and the facts have to be checked and sourced. An occasional mistake is okay – it’s bound to happen – like the time I mistakenly wrote interred instead of interned. Just one letter off and I accidentally buried two people.
  • Editor – my column appears in about a thousand small town newspapers and some pretty big websites such as MSNBC, Politicus and Moderate Voice and so that means about a thousand editors are combing through the piece to make sure I’m not going to make them look bad. There’s also an editor at Cagle Cartoons that is reading the piece as well. Occasionally that means a conversation about a statement I’ve made, to make sure it’s correct and can I back it up with facts. That’s always in the back of my mind and keeps me rigorously honest. It also means I’m not going to reprint something I heard from friends, saw on the internet or even read in another publication if I can’t find original, reliable sources. Great training for every other kind of writing as well, including fiction. As writers, we want to get it right but knowing when to even ask a question or where to go takes practice.
  • Size of the Audience – These days a lot of syndicates, like Cagle, are going to a subscriber format instead of making their customers, the newspapers and websites, pay for each piece individually. They pay one flat fee and can use as much of the content as they want on any given day. That means I’m under someone else’s established banner and it immediately translated to a million new readers for me when I started three years ago, and now translates to four million readers a month in four different countries. I’m very big in India. Also at the bottom of every column, every week there sits my web address, an email address and the name of any recent book. It’s even better than a paid ad because all of these people already know me.
  • More Profitable Book Tour – Unlike a blog, my audiences are concentrated in large numbers in specific towns and I can design a book tour around that information. I choose to speak as fundraisers for nonprofits such as United Way and sell books afterward in partnership with a local bookstore as a way to raise funds. That also gives the newspaper that runs my column an opportunity to promote it for free, for me, and do some good work for their community as well.

If you are interested in getting started as a columnist, start by going local. That’s how I got started, at the Brunswick Times-Gazette, home of the world famous Brunswick Stew in Virginia. I still get the paper here in Chicago. They need your content and you in turn, can learn how to tell a concise story on a wide variety of topics while getting used to a constant deadline. Then after a year or more, take all of those clippings and start shopping larger newspapers individually and at the same time the big syndicates. Those clippings will tell them you can handle the basics and that you have a few things to say that are worth reading. If you want to know more on the topic, send me your questions at martha@marthacarr.com and let’s talk.

Q: Do you still read newspapers? If so, do you read a print copy or view the paper online?
Have you ever considered writing for your local paper? If so, what topics might you cover?

How to Find the Perfect Publisher

When I was getting ready to attend my first writer’s conference, I had a difficult time trying to figure out which publisher to pick for my editor appointment. I was absolutely overwhelmed. I didn’t know who would be the best match for my book, much less who would provide the type of professional working relationship that I needed.

I’ve learned a lot since then about what goes into finding the perfect publisher. In fact, the first thing I’ve come to understand is that there is no perfect publisher. Publishing houses are staffed with regular people like you and me. They’re not perfect. And as we all know, traditional publication is in flux. Changes are never easy on writers or publishing house staff.

All that to say, we have to go into the publishing experience with realistic expectations. We won’t find one perfect publisher. But we can work at finding the best match possible. And here are three ways we can do that:

1. Get an agent’s help.

Yes, you might be thinking. This is a no-brainer. Many writers want to hook up with an agent because an agent is usually the expert on the various publishing houses and what types of books they’re looking for.

However, there are times when an unagented writer catches the attention of a publisher or editor. In such cases, if a writer seeks out an agent before making any decisions with the publisher, the agent can offer advice, send the manuscript to other houses, and work at getting the best deal.

Agents are often more willing to consider writers who are garnering publisher interest. Let the agent know and follow up with them if they already have your manuscript. If you’re not getting through to the agent, enlist the help of a current client.

2. Research, research, research.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of learning about various publishers you’re planning to target. And if you’re planning to publish without the help of an agent, then the research is even more crucial. I’ve talked with too many writers who’ve gone with small or subsidy presses and have had disappointing experiences.

There’s no shortcut to immersing yourself in the industry and learning all you can about publishers. Here are several ways to research:

  • Read books by the publisher(s) you hope to target.
  • Study different publishers and look at what most of their books have in common.
  • Check with authors who work with that publisher. Save this step until you’ve garnered interest from a specific publisher. Then you can email the author(s) to ask a few questions like: Were you satisfied with the editing? How much marketing do they offer? How well do they communicate?
  • Investigate the Preditors & Editors list. Google the publisher. Ask other writers on twitter or facebook their opinions.

3. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Some publishers are coveted more than others.Without naming names, we all know which publishers are bigger, more prestigious, and can do more for their authors in terms of advances, editing, marketing, and sales.

However, we can’t automatically assume that we should target the biggest houses. And we shouldn’t resort to smaller house only if the big deals don’t pan out. Our books are individuals and need personalized plans of action. There is no one-size-fits-all for publishing. We need to find the “hole” that matches our book.

What do you think? What are some other ways writers can find the best possible publisher for them? If you’re a published author, is your publisher a good fit? And if so, what did you do make sure you were a good match?

Post Author: Jody Hedlund

Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling book, The Preacher’s Bride, a Carol Award finalist. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children. Her latest book, The Doctor’s Lady, released in September 2011.

Preparing for an Interview

Writers pursuing publication should learn how to speak well.

I know what some of you are thinking.

Hey lady, I’m a writer. Not a speaker. 

Here’s the thing. If you are pursuing publication and your goal is to be a successful author, chances are, at some point, you’ll need to use your voice. And I mean your actual voice, not your writing one.

Radio interviews. Workshop presentations. Speaking to your platform. Pitching to editors and agents. I’m sure the list doesn’t end there.

My debut novel will release in May, 2012 with Waterbrook Multnomah (a division of Random House) and although it’s still ten months away, the marketing department is already discussing ways to promote my book.

Recently, I did an audio recording, or an interview conducted over the phone which will be shared with sales reps and retailers. It also might be used for promotional purposes later down the road.

The questions were deep. And I was nervous. I’d never done anything like this before and usually, when I get nervous, my voice gets shaky. And the shakier my voice gets, the more nervous I get. It turns into this whole vicious cycle.

But you know what?

It ended up being a really cool experience.

Here are some tips that helped me prepare, relax, and have fun:

  • Find out what you have to talk about and let the topic soak. I had to answer some pretty deep questions. Questions I didn’t know how to answer at first. Letting them percolate for a while helped when it came time to brainstorm.
  • Type your answers in a bullet point format instead of paragraph format. I wanted to sound conversational, not like I was reading. But the idea of answering from memory terrified me. I needed something to help me stay focused and avoid rabbit trails. So for each answer, I had a short list of bullets to reference.
  • Practice. This is key. Practice alone. But even more important, practice with an actual person. My husband was kind enough to ask me the questions, listen and offer feedback.
  • Time yourself. Attention spans only last for so long. The more concise we can be, the better.
  • The day of the interview, don’t obsess about it. Practice one more time. Then do something to distract yourself. For me, playing some good old-fashioned spider solitaire helped keep the nerves at bay.
  • When the time comes, take a deep breath, smile, and do your best! 
You can use these same tips for almost any speaking engagement. I know I went through a similar process when I prepared to pitch to Rachelle, my agent, and Shannon, my editor, at the 2009 ACFW conference.
• • •

How do you feel about this kind of stuff? Do you enjoy speaking, doing interviews, pitching to agents and editors? Have you ever had to do it? If so, how did you prepare? 

Tips for Landing an Agent

Why hello, there. Welcome to the official launch of our blog, The WordServe Water Cooler. A place where WordServe clients gather to build community and help writers move forward in their careers.

Let’s get this party started, shall we?

For our first post, we wanted to offer some tangible tips for anyone searching for an agent. Here’s what helped us. We hope it helps you!

Seek professional feedback on your work before submitting.

Rosslyn Elliott – After I finished my first novel, I had a funny feeling there might be a technical flaw in the novel’s opening. Instead of wondering, I hired a pro editor to look over my first three chapters. Sure enough, the queasy feeling was justified. I fixed the problem, and Rachelle signed me that summer.

Jordyn Redwood – I met Greg during an agent appointment at ACFW in 2009. I had a polished one sheet and the first three chapters of my novel. Next step, he wanted a book proposal. I asked for examples from other authors and paid to have it freelance edited. Keeping my word and presenting professional work tipped the scales in my favor. Greg might say it was my use of dialogue but everything you do counts.

A pass on one project doesn’t mean you can’t try again with others.

Olivia Newport – Years ago I was invited to join a brand new book group. When the dust settled, a group of freelance writers and editors were the core. A couple years later, one of them invited Rachelle to join. We got to know each other long before she became an agent. Three other agents took a pass on what I was pitching. So did Rachelle! But we had a good basis for deciding we wanted to work together and just needed the right project.

The road to representation and publication isn’t usually a fast one.

Anne Lang Bundy – 25 years of composing documents, lessons, and essays developed my writing gift. A passion for all things Bible turned my pen to biblical fiction. After several months of connecting with Rachelle via “Rants and Ramblings” comments, I crafted individual queries for just two agents and obtained representation from WordServe. Three years’ study of fiction craft, five conferences, Rachelle’s encouragement, and the Lord’s grace now bring me to publication’s threshold.

Persevere through rejections.

Deborah Vogts – After a year of representation, my first agent dropped me as a client. Months later, I found the courage to submit my proposal to three more agents. Two doors closed, and Rachelle was Door #3. She liked my work and signed me as a client. Two months after that, we had an offer from Zondervan on my Seasons of the Tallgrass series. I like to think perseverance paid off, but it was also God’s timing.

If you mess up, all is not lost. But even so, learning how to query is good.

Lucille Zimmerman – I wanted to send my book idea to an agent but I didn’t know where to start. I Googled a writer’s conference and found a list of agents to contact. Greg Johnson wrote back and said he passed my email on to Rachelle. I did everything the wrong way, but she still wrote back and told me how to do a real query. Months later we met in person and she agreed to represent me.

Erin MacPherson – If there were an award for the worst query letter ever, I’d win it. When I decided to query, I had no clue what I was doing and no knowledge of the publishing world and it showed. Even worse, when Rachelle wrote me back and asked for a proposal, my response was “What’s a proposal?” Yikes. The good news? God is bigger than my stupidity. After some (okay, a lot of) coaching, Rachelle was nice enough to overlook my terrible first impression and sign me as a client anyway.

When it comes to representation, the right fit is of utmost importance.

Sandie Bricker – All the lunch tables in all the world, and she had to sit down at mine! I’ve had some awesome agents in the past, but I never seemed to find that right fit. Sitting down with Rachelle over lunch at the ACFW conference in Denver cemented the idea that it’s so important to have that “right fit” with your agent. Before they poured the coffee, I knew she and I were on the same page.

Erica Vetsch – At a workshop I attended, Rachelle presented her take on agent-author relationships and described exactly what I was looking for. At that time, I wrote only category romance, something Rachelle didn’t represent, but only a few weeks after that workshop she opened her client list to category romance authors looking to grow their careers. I contacted her, we agreed to work together, and since then we’ve sold several projects.

Marla Taviano – I already had four books traditionally published, then hit a wall. I reached out to Rachelle, and bless her wonderful heart, she threw me a lifeline. I can’t wait to be worth her while! Soon!

Attend a conference when you’re ready and when you’re stuck.

Maureen Lang – Conferences are helpful to writers at all levels, but if finances are an issue it’s wise to attend after you have a fully developed project. I met Greg at an ACFW conference, where we talked about my writing aspirations, our faith, and which publishers would be a good fit for me. It was quickly obvious he knew so much about the industry and that I could trust him.

Katie Ganshert – After devouring every craft book known to man, I reached a point where I couldn’t go any further on my own. I needed an agent. The query system wasn’t working for me, so I saved the money and went to the ACFW conference in 2009 where I pitched to Rachelle, garnered her interest, promptly submitted my manuscript, and received The Call two months later.

Amy K. Sorrells – Oozing with self-confidence after receiving 30+ rejection letters, I hopped on a plane and traveled the farthest I’d ever gone from home on my own, to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2009. After learning volumes from my “Leave it to Chance” roomate and WordServe client, Sherri Sand, as well as spending a week under the tutelage of Mary DeMuth, it’s no accident I came home, revised my manuscript (again), submitted three more proposals, and received “The Call” from Rachelle in January, 2010.

Enter contests. Finals are a great way to get an agent’s attention.

Keli Gwyn – Rachelle served as a final-round judge in a Romance Writers of America® chapter-level contest and requested my full. After completing my self-edit two weeks later, I sent the manuscript. The following day she emailed saying she wanted to “discuss the possibility of representation.” Four days later I was her client.

Jody Hedlund – While we don’t want to be obnoxious, we should be savvy in staying connected to agents who have our manuscripts. Rachelle had my full in her slush pile. After I finaled in a contest, I contacted her to update her. That email spurred her to pull my manuscript out and read it. She offered me representation a couple days later.

Richard Mabry – A door isn’t closed until God closes it. I’d given up writing when, on a whim, I entered a contest on Rachelle’s blog. I won a critique of the first chapter of my book, and when I sent my chapter, she emailed back, “Send me something that needs editing.” That led to a query, representation, and eventually a publishing contract. I thought I was through. God didn’t.

Take advantage of requests from editors.

Karen Witemeyer – At the 2007 ACFW conference, I met with a Bethany House editor who invited me to submit. That manuscript was rejected, but I was encouraged to submit another project. At ACFW in 2008, I visited with editors from Bethany House again, and they showed interest. I also met with Rachelle. Being able to say I had a nibble from a publisher was huge. Rachelle offered representation following that conference and negotiated my deal with Bethany House three months later.

Lisa Jordan – When I met Rachelle at ACFW, I wanted her as an agent. I pitched, but didn’t follow through on her invite to submit. After finaling in the Genesis and receiving a full request from an editor, I pitched to Rachelle again. She asked to see the full first. Once I submitted, she offered representation a week later. Don’t give up on pitching to a specific agent, even if you pitched to him or her in the past.

Ramp it up and embrace the 3 C’s – Conferences, Contacts, and Contests

Camille Eide – Conferences, Contacts and Contests all contributed to landing my agent. At a writing conference, I was encouraged to seek representation. I asked a writing mentor (contact) for a referral. She sent an intro letter and my query to Rachelle, who requested the full. While I waited, I entered a novel contest. The book placed as a finalist, sending it to the top of Rachelle’s pile. She read the full and called to offer representation.

Dineen Miller – I knew of Rachelle by her amazing reputation as an editor, so when I heard she’d become an agent, I put her on my list as one of two top picks. I made an appointment with her at the 2008 ACFW Conference and showed her my work. We clicked. Later I found out that two colleagues had recommended me too. The week after the conference, I happily signed on and am so glad I did!

Network. Participate in the publishing community. Relationships matter.

Alexis Grant – I connected over Twitter with a writer who, unbeknownst to me, was friends with Rachelle. My Twitter friend knew I was working on a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa, and she happened to hear Rachelle say she wanted to rep a book about Africa. That Twitter friend — who had by then become an email-and-phone friend — called me and asked, “Have you thought about querying Rachelle Gardner?”

Katy McKenna – For several years, while writing my first novel, I got to know many wonderful authors (and soon-to-be authors) through blogging. We’d exchange comments on each other’s sites and I happily hosted many author interviews on my blog. When one dear friend learned my novel was complete, she forwarded my proposal (without me asking) to Rachelle with a note of recommendation. That was on a Friday. Four days later, I had an agent.

Megan DiMaria – It’s important to participate in the publishing community and attend gatherings of writers, agents, and publishers. In July of 2009 the ICRS was in Denver, where I live. My publisher got me a pass to attend, but there was a problem at the front desk. Rachelle saw my dilemma and kindly escorted me to the publisher’s office. We struck up a conversation and decided to meet to discuss representation. Obviously, it worked out!

Catherine West – I first ‘met’ Rachelle in 2008. She was a blogging mom who loved books and dogs. She became one of my ‘blogging buddies’ and I enjoyed her posts. I then learned she was a freelance editor. I had a new story idea brewing, asked for her opinion, and when the manuscript was finished, she asked to read it. Around that time she became a literary agent, and a few months afterward, I became her client.

Michelle DeRusha – I connected with writers online, not simply to attract more blog readers but to create mutually beneficial online friendships. One author read my book proposal and then graciously offered to refer me to her agent, Rachelle, who emailed me within a day to request my manuscript. I hope to be able to pass on the favor to another new writer someday.

Martha Carr – I was working on a true story about a possessed house in Pittsburgh and a mutual writer friend, who was represented by Greg, introduced me to Rachelle. I sent her a sample of my work and in less than a day I got a return email asking if I wanted to talk about representation.

Krista Phillips – I’m very new to the Wordserve Group. I signed with Rachelle about a month ago! And really, it came down to the fruits of networking. When an editor was potentially interested in my book (from my networking)  I contacted two friends I’d networked with (clients of Rachelle’s) and one of them e-mailed Rachelle a referral. Spoke with Rachelle, who noted she was familiar with me because of my networking on Twitter, and she offered representation!

Beth Vogt – My first book about late-in-life motherhood partly resulted from my established relationships at MOPS International. I was not represented by an agent at that time. I’d connected with Beth Jusino, first as the editor of MomSense, and then as friends when she was an agent at Alive Communications. She gave me invaluable advice as I wrote my book. When Beth suggested I contact Rachelle, I knew I could trust her judgment and endorsement.

Joanne Kraft – Sharing my contract news with a writer-friend, she said, “Now you need an agent. And I know just the perfect fit for you…Rachelle Gardner!”

“Oh yeah? There’s just one problem, I don’t know Rachelle Gardner.”

“No, but I do.” She laughed.

Within minutes, three chapters of my manuscript launched into cyberspace. My girlfriend, who I’d originally met through blogging, became mine and Rachelle’s matchmaker.

Never underestimate the power of girlfriends, blogging, or networking!

Above all else, write well.

In the wise words of Camille Eide, you can do all these things we offer plus stand on your head and gargle, but if you aren’t writing well, following these tips won’t get you agented. So make sure to give attention where attention is due. Good writing must come first.

Do you have an agent? If so, what advice do you have for those who are looking? If not, where are you in the process? Please join in the conversation! Introduce yourself. We’d love to get to know you. 

The WordServe Water Cooler Hits Cyberspace!

Welcome to WordServe Water Cooler.

A number of WordServe Literary clients are working hard to prepare this blog for its debut. You can look forward to a wide array of posts geared to help you with your writing.

Our awesome header image was designed by talented WordServe client Dineen Miller.