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Thursday
Jan192012

Title Help

Question of the day: I'm about to submit my manuscript to agents but am struggling to come with a catchy title. Everything I think of seems so cliched. I'm not expecting you to come up with a title for me, but I guess I'm curious how you have come up with yours.

Okay.

Deep breath.

Here's a secret: many, many, many titles are changed once a publisher gets hold of them. In fact, every single one of my book titles has changed, if you can believe it. ALmost always by my choice, but with the urging of the publisher as well. So do know that just because you've included something on your query letter doesn't mean that it's etched in stone once it sells.

That said, for me, I obviously refer to songs and song titles, since the last three of my books used song names. I always think that idioms or well-know phrases work well to. What I think you're looking for is something evocative but also resonant - something that's not too hard for readers to recall and that also gives them a feel for what's in store. In the past (before I've settled on my song titles), I will often read famous quotes or go to an idiom dictionary to see what sort of references or plays on words that I can find that also encompass the themes of the book. These usually serve as initial inspiration, and then I'm off from there. So that's my advice. What about you guys? I'm sure that some of you have come up with brilliant titles. Where do they come from?

Tuesday
Jan172012

The First Review

Exhale.

The first major review for THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME came in over the weekend from Library Journal, and it's a good one!

"Readers who appreciate women's fiction that investigates serious themes will enjoy Scotch's fine novel. Reading groups will find much to discuss as well."

I'm so, so, so relieved.

Really? You might be thinking. Four books in, and you still worry about reviews?

The answer is yes, at least at first. There is this weird bubble of time after you've written the book but before anyone other than your team at your publisher has read it, when you can't help but wonder, "What if we're all totally deluding ourselves?" And even if you think you've banged out a truly fantastic book, there is still that seed of doubt (at least for me), that I'm the only one who will think that. :)

After the early reviews, I really do stop paying attention (and more on reviews later this week, as I just got asked a question about them), but for now, this is one less thing to worry about. Because veteran authors still do worry, trust me.

Thursday
Jan122012

Tough Love

I just wanted to put up a quick note of thanks for all the comments, RTs and various tweets about Tuesday's blog post. To be honest, I'd actually hesitated posting it. I didn't want to come off like some cynical jerk, but the truth is that in this industry, sometimes, what you need is tough love. I am so, so, so grateful that I have people on my side who offer me a dose of TL when I need it - my agent who breaks the news when things may not go my way; my editor who insists I go through another revision even when I thought the book was done (of course, she was right!); my critique partner who points out ways that I'm going wrong.

A lot of this career is learning what you can improve upon, how you can keep getting better. And often times, coasting just doesn't get the job done, whether you're an aspiring writer hoping to complete your first manuscript, or a seasoned novelist who is gearing up for another book. Coasting just doesn't cut it. There are too many others out there who refuse to settle for not finishing their book, for not pushing themselves to improve. The question becomes - again, for both newbies and veterans - which catagory you're going to fall into. That's what I was saying on Tuesday, and I'm glad that I didn't come off like a jerk in saying it.

No one is going to helm this career for you. Not your agent, not your editor, not your characters who have yet to be written. You. You alone. It's exhausting but it's also gratifying. So go out there and do it. Or don't. It's totally up to you.

Tuesday
Jan102012

Want to Write a Book? Here's My Tip: WRITE IT

So I hope this doesn't come off like a rant, but lately (maybe it's the New Year's thing where people are assessing what they want out of their lives or whatever), I have been repeatedly asked by aspiring authors how one goes about writing a book. Which in and of itself isn't a bad question (at all). But whenever I suggest some methods for doing the actual writing, i.e., writing every day, setting word counts, setting timers, etc, I'm often met with an eye roll and a shrug and an attitide of "I don't have the discipline, and really, can it be that hard?" And then, the person in question says something along the lines of, "But I still think I can really do it."

Here's a newsflash: A BOOK WILL NOT WRITE ITSELF. When you say, "I know that I have a great book in me, I just have to write it," I internally smirk. BECAUSE WRITING IT IS MUCH HARDER THAN CONCEIVING THE IDEA. Seriously. If you want to write a book, for the love of all things holy, please do! I mean that with all of the love and support that I can offer. Genuinely. But do not expect me (or any writer) to commiserate with you because you don't want to put in the work. Because we ALL put in the work if we're going to get published, and that's where you lose us.

Writing is HARD. It is meant to be hard because not everyone can do it, not everyone has the stomach for the rejection or the discipline to sit down each day and craft something from nothing. It is totally, totally, TOTALLY fine if this is not for you. But don't pretend otherwise. Because the thing is, you don't have a book in you if you don't write it. It's that simple. What you have is an idea.

From there, it's up to you as to whether or not it ever comes to fruition.

Thursday
Jan052012

My Resolution: Write Less (Kind Of)

Like many of you, I'm assessing my goals for the year now that we're into 2012. I find goal-setting really valuable, as it gives me something to aspire to, rather than just vaguely work my way through the year, and this year, I've decided that my goal is to write less.

In a way.

I spent last year being pulled in many, many directions. Too many. I took on too many blogs, I took on too many assignments that I wished I hadn't. I wrote a screenplay and got hired to write another one. The one thing I didn't do? Start my next book. Mostly because I couldn't stomach the idea of writing yet another thing, tackling another project, but also because I couldn't even spare the mental energy to come up with an idea that I was so jazzed about that I couldn't think of doing anything else.

So this year, I've decided to step back. When I was at the height of my freelancing, I was very good at saying "no," and I can't help but feel like I've lost my way a little bit when it comes to that. I have to prioritize what's important to me, what I really want to give up my time for, and if that means turning things down or sacrificing blog posts, so be it. I love writing screenplays and I love writing books. I need to remember that, as welll as remember that when I'm doing other things, I may do them at the expense of what I really love.

So that's my goal for this year. What are yours?

Tuesday
Jan032012

Kayt Sukel's DIRTY MINDS

I am absolutely thrilled to host a guest post from my friend, Kayt Sukel, today. Kayt and I have known each other from our freelancing days (i.e.: years ago), and this week, her book, DIRTY MINDS: HOW OUR BRAINS INFLUENCE LOVE, SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS, hits bookstores to much fanfare. Equally as important, Kayt has managed to pull of that tricky segue from journalist to author, so I asked her to swing by and share her tips on how to successfully navigate the bumpy road to publication.

4 Things that Surprised Me About Landing a Book Deal

Kayt Sukel is a passionate traveler and science writer whose work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Scientist, USA Today, the Washington Post, ISLANDS, Parenting, the Bark, American Baby, and the AARP Bulletin. She is a partner at the Lowell Thomas award-winning family travel website Travel Savvy Mom and is also a frequent contributor to the Dana Foundation’s many science publications (www.dana.org).  Her first book, DIRTY MINDS: HOW OUR BRAINS INFLUENCE LOVE, SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS will be published by the Free Press in January 2012.  This irreverent and funny tome takes on the age-old question, "What is love?" from a neurobiological perspective, examining all the ways our neurons can wreak havoc with our hearts.

There are plenty of people out here who will tell you there is a “right” way to land a book deal.  And that way usually includes something along these lines:  get yourself a killer idea, build up a specific, niche-y platform with reach, get yourself an agent and voila!—you’re on your way to potential New York Times bestsellerdom!  Of course, as most of us who have tried to land a deal can attest, those “right” things are a little hard to pin down.  What, exactly, is a “killer” idea?  How much of (and what kind of) “platform” do you really need?  And how do you find the “right” agent?  The devil is definitely in the details. 

But I’m here to tell you that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the deal process.  Transforming DIRTY MINDS from an idea discussed at a boozy dinner party to a contract took me almost three years.  And I learned a few surprising things along the way. 

1.       Criticism is an opportunity.  Rejection, too.  As I alluded to above, DIRTY MINDS was originally an idea that came up during a dinner party.  I mentioned some hot new research about the neurobiology of love after a few glasses of wine and a friend told me, “You should write a book about that!”  Most people would have left it there.  But her comment stayed with me—I thought it was an interesting idea for a book.  What’s more, it was the kind of book that I wished was already on shelves so I could read it.  So on a lark, I wrote up a brief proposal.  And then I shopped the idea around to a few agents and publishers at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (http://www.asja.org/) annual conference.  One of the benefits of membership is Personal Pitch, a sort of speed-dating event where you get a few minutes of one-on-one time with important folks in the publishing industry.  

It is probably no surprise that not one of those agents threw up their hands in excitement and passed me a contract.  But what they did give me was just as valuable:  sounding boards with experience.  Their questions about the book’s focus, their reservations about my platform, and, in one case, their out-and-out disinterest, helped me hone my elevator pitch about the book—and go back to my proposal with fresh eyes.  I thank each and every rejection for making my proposal stronger.  I wouldn’t have gotten my deal without them.  

2.       Network, network, network.  I’m a huge advocate of regularly attending and participating in writing conferences.  Not only are they a great way to make contact with editors and agents—but you can learn a thing or two from your fellow writers.  How do you learn about the “right” kind of agent?  I’ll tell you—from talking to colleagues about their agents.  A writer/agent relationship is like any other kind of relationship—what works for you isn’t always going to work for everyone else.  But listening carefully to kudos and complaints can offer a lot about whether a particular agent might be the right fit for you.  Now, I’m not suggesting you walk up to a writer you admire and start asking specific and personal questions.  That ain’t going to work.  But if you are genuine and forthcoming with your colleagues, build friendships with like-minded people, and give as good as you get, it will come back to you in spades—and not always in the way that you might think. 

 I can credit my science book deal to a connection made at a travel writing conference.  Yep, a fellow travel writer was kind enough to introduce me to her rock star agent.  I’m happy to say that it’s a match made in heaven.  And now that I have my deal, I’ve paid it forward by introducing some other good writers to my agent.  Never forget that what goes around comes around in the publishing world—it pays to make good, solid connections with people. 

3.       Platform is mutable.  Confession:  I don’t have much in the way of a science platform.  I do most of my science writing for a single foundation—with the occasional piece for bigger outlets.  I have a science background and a genuine enthusiasm—but no big science following.  But I do have some reach in the travel space.  I have several thousand Twitter followers, an award-winning travel blog and some savvy about how to best promote myself online.  You don’t necessarily have to spend time creating some niche-y, book-related blog or unique Twitter handle before you turn in a proposal.  In fact, in seeing others try this tactic, I think it often backfires.  I’ve found that knowing your own personal strengths, networking in your community, understanding your reach (even when not specific to your book’s topic) and learning all you can about how you can help promote your book both while you write it and after its published, goes a lot further than those ol’ platform sticklers would lead you to believe.

4.       A good proposal takes timeand many, many iterations.  You’d think that a good idea would stand on its own merit!  But not so much.  A good agent is going to help you hone that proposal to a razor sharp point.  After hooking up with my agent, we spent 6 months working on my proposal.  There were *a lot* of edits.  And I’m not going to lie—many of them were painful.  But what a difference it made!  I’ve heard more than a few writers complain about agents taking “too long” to send out a proposal.  But, when you think about it, taking that time to create a fantastic proposal is well worth it.   Face it,  if you are serious about writing a book, then you have to be just as serious about crafting the best possible proposal for publishers. 

 

Tuesday
Dec272011

Happy, Happy!

I'm taking this week off of blogging to catch up on some other work (yes, I'm working this week! I've been on vacation last week w/the family, though I'd prewritten some blog posts). I will see you guys in 2012. Wow. 2012! That means that I'll have been blogging for almost six years, which feels like forever!

I'm also thinking hard about making changes to the blog, just to freshen things up, so if you guys have any suggestions or anything else you'd rather read or like me to chat about, I always welcome comments or tips.

In the meantime, I hope that everyone has a wonderful AND SAFE New Year! Maybe on the other side of it, we can talk about goals and expectations and what we hope to ask of ourselves for 2012.

Happy New Year, guys! Thanks for making my 2011 a great one.

Thursday
Dec222011

Book Tour Value

Question of the day: I have a debut novel coming out next year, and I was surprised that my publisher really discouraged a book tour. Is this standard or is it a sign that the book is going to get ignored internally?

Great question and one that raises valid concerns, but concerns that in this case that I think are unfounded. If you'd asked me five years ago, I'd say that book tours matter. But the truth is that they days, they don't matter a whole heck of a lot unless you're a big name who can pull in a good audience (and the buzz that comes with making an appearance) and thus also pull in hearty sales by showing up in person. Instead, what a publisher often will do is invest this money in an online book tour, which is likely to reach many more readers (again, unless you're a true known entity) and other various marketing endeavors.

I'm actually whole-heartedly in support of these new endeavors. There are few things more nerve-wracking than flying to a city where you know, say, five people, and wondering if those five people are going to be the only people showing up. Not to mention the expense and exhaustion that comes with flying to a new city every day or every other day. What I have done in the past (and may do with SONG REMAINS THE SAME) is held readings/signings at markets in which I knew I could bring in a decent audience, and then I did every single thing that my publishers asked me to do within the online world/community. I firmly believe that while a tour appearance may sell some copies (again, I'm taking the BIG names out of this argument, as it makes total sense for them to do a reading, since people attend to see a "celebrity" author), online interviews/etc have the ability to go virtual and sell just as many if not more.

So to answer your question, I don't think this is an indication of anything other than the fact that the world is changing and publishers are trying to adapt to these changes. Good luck with your launch! Have fun!

What do you guys think? How critical are book tours these day?

Tuesday
Dec202011

Sarah Jio's New Year's Resolutions

So I asked my friend, Sarah Jio, to stop by the blog today, and I'm thrilled that she found the time to do so! For those of you who already know Sarah, you know that she is the fastest writer I have ever seen (or read, I should say). Seriously - she is writing two books a year for Plume! (And she has three kids.) I'm tired just thinking of that pace. But she does it and she does it well, and she has a new book out next week, THE BUNGALOW, as proof of this. :)

Please welcome Sarah to the blog! Below, she shares her New Year's resolutions. What are yours?

My second novel, The Bungalow, is out soon (December 27!), and I’m sitting here thinking about what an amazing (and full!) year it’s been. I’m also putting my mind to the future, and because it’s almost New Year’s, I thought I’d share a few of my writing-related New Year’s resolutions and goals for 2012 (please keep me accountable, now!):

*Complete my fourth novel, THE LAST CAMELLIA: Last fall, I sold my next two novels, again to my publisher Penguin/Plume. BLACKBERRY WINTER will be published on September 27, 2012, and THE LAST CAMELLIA will come out in the months to come. The book is nearly halfway complete, and I have some exciting things in store for the ending. 

*Rest: By the latter part of 2012, I will have had three books published in the period of a year and a half (and just to make things even a tad more crazy: I had a baby in 2011), so life has been full, wonderfully so. Still, I want to take a few vacations and have a little more downtime than I did in 2011. On the agenda: Disneyland with the kids (um, wish me luck!).

*Read more: Don’t we all want to do more of this? A funny thing happened after publishing The Violets of March, my inbox exploded with requests to read early copies of novels for blurbs. I was very flattered and excited about this, but I’ve learned that I can’t say yes to everything. Though I will probably always be open to reading new authors’ work (I so appreciated those who did this for me before my first novel was published!), I can’t say yes to everything, and I still want to leave room for reading all the books I’m dying to read (am I the only one with a TBR stack that looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa?) 

*Be open to the new stories that are whispering: There are five, maybe six, new novel ideas—all with their various cast of characters—that are whispering at me right now. Some want to be written so badly, I find myself staying up at night imagining all the twists and turns to their stories and plotting them out on the notebook on my nightstand. Others are quieter, more thoughtful—stories that are just seedlings, waiting to bloom. My process is to gather these ideas and listen to them for a while and see which future novel grabs hold of my heart the strongest. I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

*Write every day, even if it’s just 10 words: I’ve found that writing is a lot like exercise. If I take too many days off, I’m stiff and exhausted when I try to jump back in. I lack the focus and energy to power through a challenging chapter or scene. But when I open my work-in-progress daily, even if it’s only to write a single sentence and to say hi to my characters, I feel as if I’m still in the story, the rhythm of the project. 

What are your New Years resolutions for reading, writing or just life? I’d love to hear. 

 

Thursday
Dec152011

Untraditional Marketing

Question of the day: What's been the most surprising/non-traditional way that you've found to market yourself as an author?

Wow. This is a really good question, and I'll be honest: I can't think of a really good answer! But there may be a reason for that. You see, I have come to believe - four books into this whole publishing thing - that more often than not, there aren't a whole lot of truly unique ways that you are going to sell your book. Are there exceptions to this rule? Undoubtably. Jenna Blum, who was tireless in her advocacy of her fantastic novel, Those Who Save Us, is one such example: she worked for several years, trekking to speaking engagement after speaking engagement, to spread the word of the book, and her efforts paid off with an eventual (and deserved) best-seller. But most of our books take more traditional paths: they're released, our publisher does some amount of work on publicity (varying from basically none to a good amount), and then a few months later, people move on to a newer release.

Which isn't to say that an author can't make a difference. We can. But my pal, Laura Dave and I often talk about that these efforts probably move the needle a teeny-tiny bit. And I don't say this to be discouraging. I still go out there and hustle my butt off when a new book comes out. But the bottom line is that readers either usually respond to your book and spread it via word of mouth, or they don't. That your publisher either lands you a review in People, or they don't. That you either get a great co-op placement, or you don't. And these are generally the things that matter.

Again, PLEASE know that I am NOT discouraging authors from self-promoting. Again: I do it, and I have DEFINITELY made sales from it. I get tweets on Twitter at least once a week saying that so-and-so bought a book because of my feed. But how much of a difference does this make? I dunno. I'm not sure it makes a whole, whole, whole lot of difference. 

So back to your question about untraditional marketing...I can't say that I've done much that's so outside the box. I tweet, I FB, I call into book clubs, I quite obviously blog. I'm sure that there are some brilliant untraditional ideas out there, but I just don't have any! :) And I'd also have to consider how much that effort would pay off...which is what I was trying to say above. (But am now saying more succinctly.) 

I'd love to hear from others though: have you guys found that untraditional methods pay off in terms of sales?