Pub Rants

Category: conferences

The Best “What Not To Do At A Conference” Story Ever

STATUS: I don’t know what it is about Mondays but I seem to rarely accomplish anything that’s on my list and every Monday seems this way. The real work can’t happen until Tuesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONELY NO MORE by Rob Thomas

If this were a contest, I think I would win hands down. I defy any other agent to come up with a story as good as this one but if you have one, feel free to post it in the comments section.

I was doing a panel at one of my recent conferences when this happened (and as you know I’ve done several already this year so I’ll just let you guess which conference this was because it’s no reflection on the conference organizers if one of their attendees is a clueless boob).

One of the participants stood up to ask a question, which I, and the other members of the panel, were happy to answer, when his cell phone went off. He asked us to wait until he finished the conversation for us to answer his question. I’m not making this up.

But it gets better.

I wasn’t too inclined to be all that helpful by answering the posed question but hey, it’s not the rest of the audience’s fault if there is a rude person in their midst so I begin my answer. Cell phone rings again. Participant, still standing, answers it. I don’t stop to wait and finish my response.

The guy finishes the call and asks me to repeat my answer. I decline. Next question please.

I probably don’t have to tell you what was running through the panelists minds but it goes without saying that this person could have written the best book in the entire universe and I would have refused to represent it.

On Publishing—Michael Cader Style

STATUS: Tired and ready for bed. Pardon any typos. I’ll proofread and fix tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Jewel

Today I was at the Backspace conference—which was a blast. Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace did the keynote and I have to say that I felt like leaping out of my chair at several points in the speech just to say “Amen” but thought that might sound too much like a revival meeting.

Let’s just say he was singing my song. Preaching to the choir. Well, you get the picture.

So here are some of my notes on some of the great points he made today (and these are just quick paraphrases since I wrote in shorthand and even I can’t read my own handwriting sometimes).

The keynote was entitled “Things No one Understands About Publishing, and the Internet, Featuring the Most Important Thing No One Ever Tells Authors, and The Most Important Thing Publishers Don’t Know.”

In short, Mr. Cader discussed what he felt where principles that the publishing world has been reluctant to embrace because of being entrenched in the old way of doing things.

1. Even if you never self-publish, have no intention to, and pursue traditional publishing venues, go forward and market your book as if it was self published and getting the marketing and the distribution was all on you.

2. You know your material and you know your readership and how best to reach them. Don’t think of readers as only a dollar sign (as in they are there to buy your book and that’s there only purpose). What is important to you as a reader? Answer that question. You have to think about what’s going to grab attention. What’s compelling? What’s passionate about your work? What ignites reader imagination? That’s how you sell your book.

3. You can create readership outside of your book. Internet is the great equalizer. Readers don’t want to be told what to get excited about and it drives marketers crazy. Word of mouth is simply readers talking about what they are passionate about and that’s the most trusted way to create buzz about a book. (And ultimately, that does lead to dollar signs). But that’s not the trade publishing model. They always begin a book campaign by thinking about how to get readers to part with their money rather than how to give readers what content they have to have. Blogs work because they are intimate and personal. Corporate blogs don’t because they can’t capture that authentic and personal feel because it’s about marketing and the bottom line.

4. If you want readers, what do you give away for free? There is the idea that if you give away too much for free, readers won’t buy the printed copy but that hasn’t proven to be true.

5. Genuine interest drives bloggers and they know when they are being marketed to and thus they ignore you. When you participate in the blog world, it’s because you have a genuine interest to make connections—not unlike how we develop relationships with people. It’s non-marketing.

6. Publishing often has it backward. They keep a big book a secret until the release day and then there is a big publicity push. But that’s not how the internet works effectively. The internet is a slow build. Buzz over time. People talking about what interests them about a topic or a book. The internet values what’s old, what can be found in a search, what is repeated over time.

Tips From A Borders Buyer

STATUS: I put another project out on submission this week. That’s always exciting.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NO SURRENDER by Bruce Springsteen

When I was at the CRW conference this weekend, I had a chance to hear Sue Grimshaw give a talk to a room of already published authors. Sue is the Romance buyer for Borders and has the inside scoop on buying for that industry but I think some of her tips can cross over to other genres.

First, some interesting general factoids:

1. Readers do pay attention to author quotes on the cover.
(Good to know so going after those blurbs can be worthwhile)

2. On the Borders e-newsletter, readers have more click-throughs on author letters to the reader than on the Borders coupons.
(I don’t know what this means but it sounds like readers like to hear from authors and feel personally connected).

Some interesting romance-specific factoids:

1. Sexy covers continue to sell well
(so take that shirt off…but only if you are a guy)

2. Paranormal is still selling well. Readers like tortured heroes. Vampires are in abundance so think outside the box.

3. Sales for historicals are still flat.
(So if you are a fan and want this to reignite, go out and buy more books. Editors, however, are asking for historicals—as long as they are sexy).

Some marketing hints:

1. Have a website but also have something that brings people back to that site time and time again.

2. Interview your own characters. Readers love to know the hidden back story that might not be in the novel itself.

3. Post an excerpt on your website but not necessarily the opening chapters. (Sometimes readers might mistake that for having already read the book). Use a tension-building, exciting, or slightly sexy excerpt instead.

4. Get thinking about Book Trailers. Borders does feature them on their site and in their e-newsletters.
(Professionally done folks. 1 Minute or less. And if in romance, shadow the hero. )

5. Get to know your local booksellers. Sign stock (and yes, it’s just a myth that book stores can’t return those copies because they can). Have your own autograph stickers on hand though.

6. Ask your editor/publisher about a pre-sale tools such as Shelf talkers.

7. Advertise in industry publications.

Post-Conference Onslaught

STATUS: I’m good actually. Tackled some things on my To Do list. Have two new submissions going out very soon. That’s always exciting.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONG COOL WOMAN IN A BLACK DRESS by The Hollies

I’m off to another conference this weekend. I’m refraining from smacking myself in the head. Every year I promise myself that I will only commit to doing 3 (and if pushed) maybe 4 a year—if that.

This year I ended up with 6. How the heck did that happen? But when New Zealand Romance Writers came a-calling to invite me down under, I just couldn’t say no. Do you blame me?

So this weekend is another romance conference (but don’t worry, I’m also going to be attending the Surrey International in Vancouver and that encompasses everything—including literary and commercial mainstream—which I’m always looking for more of.)

Not to mention, I was just recently invited to the World Horror 2008 Convention. I had to ring them back up to make sure they had the right person. After all, I don’t really represent “horror” per se. They said that they did indeed mean to contact me and that I was one of their top choices. Tickle me pink. It’s not a done deal yet but it’s a possibility that’s out there.

But this weekend is a local conference (which means I’m usually game to go because I don’t have to travel). It’s the Romancing The Rockies conference, and my author Linnea Sinclair is one of the keynote speakers.

And yes, there is a point to this blog and I’m getting to it.

My agency always gets a large slew of submissions right after a conference because I got a chance to meet and chat with a bunch of wonderful folks and of course I’ll look at sample pages. That’s the point of the conference after all.

But here’s a secret. Most folks send in their sample pages within a day or two so we get buried quickly.

My suggestion? Wait about 7-10 days, then send. That way we’ve mastered the onslaught and might just have a little more time for a more leisurely read.

One of those agency insider helpful hints.

Been There Done That?

STATUS: Busy day continuing all my negotiations.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SO IN LOVE by Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark

On Saturday morning (way too bright and early for my taste), I spoke on a women’s fiction panel at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

I decided to tackle the theme of overdone story ideas that we’ve been seeing lately. I promised to share it with the blog readers but I do have to add one caveat.

You have to know that there actually isn’t anything wrong with any of these story ideas. What I’m trying to point out by sharing this list is that if you highlight the story idea as being what’s original about your query, you’re probably going to get a pass because these themes are so common, they don’t come across as fresh.

So if you have tackled one of these story ideas for the basis of your novel, you have to not only focus on that idea but what else that makes the story original or a story that readers will want to read above all other novels with the same theme. Does that make sense?

For example, a couple of months ago I blogged that we had received numerous queries about a main protagonist winning the lottery. People read into that statement by thinking that our agency would never be interested in any story if the lottery theme were present. I just want to say that wouldn’t be true.

That theme IN AND OF ITSELF wasn’t enough to capture our interest because it had been done and done again. However, a lottery theme coupled with some other interesting and original element could potentially capture our attention.

There’s a big difference. So don’t assume, after I share this list, that we would never take on a story with one of these themes. We would. I’m just sharing that the theme alone won’t sell us on reading sample pages.

Overdone Themes In Women’s Fiction

1. 40-something woman discovers her husband is cheating with younger woman and decides to divorce and remake her life

2. Trying too much to be like THE JOY LUCK CLUB – 4 women, who are friends, and we “discover” how they are dealing with the various issues in their lives.

3. Breast cancer – a woman who finds out she has it

4. A heroine in her 40s or 50s who wants to remake herself and does so by moving, or starting a new career, or having plastic surgery, and the impact of that on family

5. A heroine who finds out she is adopted and goes on a hunt to find her birth parents

6. A heroine who wants some sort of change in life and goes about remodeling a house (sometimes with her husband and sometimes alone). Usually if this is done alone it’s because her husband has just passed away.

7. A heroine who is invited to her high school class reunion and the emotional upheaval that creates. Sometimes it revolves around an old boyfriend or crush, and sometimes it’s just the simple dealing-with-aging-and-time.

Pikes Peak Conference

STATUS: Gorgeous day in Denver. Spring!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WICHITA LINEMAN by Glen Campbell

I’m off to the Pikes Peak Conference in Colorado Springs in about 15 minutes. Sorry, no time to blog.

But I’ll be participating on a women’s fiction panel come Saturday so I’ll have tidbits to share on Monday.

Not to mention I’ll be hanging with a couple of editors: Anne Sowards (who is the editor for my fantasy MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND), Mary-Theresa Hussey (Harlequin), and Krista Marino (Delacorte Children’s). I’m sure there will be other editors there but I’m not thinking of them right now off the top of my head.

As for my comment yesterday about when to start negotiations, if you are faced with that, I would look to your agent for an answer more so than my blog.

It depends on a lot of factors but the main one is if you are soon to break-out as an author. If that’s the case, then waiting until numbers is usually the path to take.

The Glaze Effect

STATUS: First day back in the office is always a mess of paperwork that needs to be handled. And aren’t we supposed to be a paper-free office? Ah, the irony

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OUR LIPS ARE SEALED by The Fun Boy Three

As many of you know, I was at the New England Chapter of RWA writers’ conference this weekend. What a good time. I got to hang out with four of my clients (two of which I met for the very first time) and my good agent pal Deidre Knight (whose terrific third book in her series comes out tomorrow—PARALLEL SEDUCTION. I’ve got my copy. Can you say the same?)

Also managed to live through a whole morning of pitches! Actually, I’m kidding. One of the things I love about RWA is how well they educate and help new writers. Our queries from RWA members are always pretty top-notch.

But I did glean one insight I wouldn’t mind sharing with the general populace when it comes to pitching in person at a conference.

Some writers would like to have their written pitch in front of them because the whole concept (and the doing of) the pitch can be nerve-wracking—despite my best efforts to put the writers at ease.

So, here’s my tip. I’m fine with the written pitch if that’s what makes you comfortable. My only suggestion? Make it short and sweet. It shouldn’t be the whole query letter—just a short pitch paragraph that shouldn’t take you more than a minute (maybe 2) tops.

Why? Because of the Glaze Effect. Despite my best efforts, it can be hard to concentrate when someone is reading to me—especially after the tenth pitch of the morning. My eyes get that glazed expression. I’m sure I’m not the only agent to start daydreaming by accident during a pitch—and that’s not what you want.

So it’s okay to read. Just make your pitch paragraph a short and punchy one. I’ll still ask questions and get more details about the story; I promise.

Now for some fun shots.

Here I am with my authors. From left: Marianne Mancusi, Becky Motew, Me, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Jennifer O’Connell

At then at the Costume party! Jennifer is her character Lauren from DRESS REHEARSAL, then there is the lame me as a character from ENCHANTED, INC. who wore Shanna’s frog prince brooch and claimed that nobody could see my fairy wings, Hank in a Tiara, and Marianne as goth girl Rayne from her young adult novel STAKE THAT!

Conferences On My Mind

STATUS: I’m good but I can’t figure out why. I managed to just cross one thing of my list. It should have been a more productive day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT by Nirvana

I have conferences on the mind. I’m doing two in March out on the East Coast around a New York trip and then, of course, you have to prepare for RWA months in advance. Even though the conference isn’t until July, everything has to be done now for the registration/hotel and the workshops.

I’m so proud of myself though. I even updated my handouts and got those sent in. Mark that off my list.

But this put me in mind of my announcement yesterday that I signed a new client because I met her at a conference.

It’s the second client I’ve signed via that medium. And yes I realize that’s not an impressive sign-a-client-from-a-conference record but I do think that number will rise in the future.

I’m already impressed with the number of queries I receive where the writer mentions he/she met me a conference.

I also pay closer attention to those queries. Honest truth and even if the project isn’t a perfect fit for me, I’ll often give that writer a chance and ask for sample pages.

Call it a benefit of taking the time, effort, and spending the money to attend a conference. Not to mention, having the guts to come up and meet me… As long as I don’t have any horrible memory of that meeting (and trust me that has happened and I do take notes), then I’m usually game to be a little more flexible and open to seeing pages.

So if you have conferences on your mind and plan to attend one, take the time to go and meet the agents. If you can swing a social situation, all the better.

The client I signed yesterday came out with a group of authors and agents for an après conference aperitif (translation: a drink).

She was fun, normal, social, and didn’t push her work. She remembered me and I remembered her and boom, she is now a client.

Either way, you might learn more about the biz, about agents as people, and just how to be more comfortable in a publishing but social environment,

So go for it.