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Promo Duties

So a few of you guys asked what makes the lead up to a book release so busy, so I thought I'd answer.

It actually made me evaluate how I've spent my time this past week, and this is what I've realized: it's not that it's ALL promotion all the time, it's that the time that I spend on promotion stuff is time I'd spend on things like blogs, vegging out, turning my brain off and ancillary items like returning non-urgent emails.

This is what I mean: here's a snapshot of my day yesterday:

1) Took son to the doctor, then ran him up to school.

2) Got home around 10ish, ate quick breakfast.

3) Started working feverishly on a screenplay that I've been hired to write. Have set a goal for myself of a certain amount of pages a day to reach my (somewhat self-imposed) deadline, so I try not to waver from that.

4) Took a break for a workout/lunch around 12:30.

5) Back at my desk by 2pm - worked on screenplay until 4:00pm.

6) At this point, I looked at my to-do list and realized that I had a lot of smaller items to deal with: I had to transcribe a celeb interview that was due in two days (ack!), I had three outstanding Q/As for my publicist to manage, I had an interview that I'd done for a blogger that I was asked to read and approve, and I had to pick my daughter up at 5:45 at a tea party.

So...this is where the promotional stuff takes up your time. For the launch of The One That I Want, for example, I probably did about 40-50 Q/As or guests posts or essays (I think I wrote a few essays in one day when they were asked of me)....I write each one of them individually, and that time adds up. Additionally, you have an increase in emails/phone calls with your agent or publicist or editor, and when you have other things to attend to - like the screenplay (I'm actually working on two, so I'm really drowing/juggling) or celebrity interviews (I have four due this month), this extra time means that you can't find a moment of downtime. Not to mention, once the book goes out, you'll spend time traveling or speaking or doing radio interview or, for example, writing a key note address at an event I've been asked to helm.

So that's really where the busy-ness comes in. It's not that you're spending 24/7 on the book promo, it's that the other work doesn't stop in order for you to due that exlusively. Make sense?


Busy, Busy, Busy, Busy, Busy

Or...also known as my excuse as to why I don't have a new blog post for you guys today. Sorry! I have started down that pre-publication crush of work that I always forget about until I run smack into it. Too many articles to write, too many things to reply to, too many...well, too much of everything. (Except sleep. There is never enough of that.) I just realized that THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME is out in just about a month (craaaa-zy!), and so naturally, things have started to amp up. But this also means that I missed writing something for the blog. One thing I'm reminding myself of these days is that sometimes, I'm going to have to let some things slide if I want to stay sane...over the next few weeks, I might have to let a blog post or two slide. I'm going to try not to, but...I might.

Just in case I do. :) You know that it's not that I'm not thinking of you guys.

Anyhoo, I promise I'll have something new next week. In the meantime, this is a good time to post your publishing-related questions below. Whenever I'm procrastinating, I find that the best way to generate new blog posts is to have some really interesting questions to answer. So feel free to lob one in the comments.



Goodreads Giveaway - Last Day!

I can't remember if I posted about this earlier, so apologies if this is a repeat, but if you want to get your hands on an early copy of THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME, my wonderful publisher, Putnam Books, is giving away twenty copies on Goodreads. The only hitch? The contest ends today.

(Don't worry, I'm getting my own copies shortly, so I'll do my own giveaway too.)

Go enter here and now, and if you're feeling game, you can always pre-order it right now, right here too. :)


The Non-Fiction Query

Question of the day: How do you construct a query letter to an agent when you're not trying to sell a novel?  I wrote some children's poems and a couple of stories. The poems can work as picture books, or a collection of poems.  I can't do the hook with the essence of the plot, nor the  synopsis,  that suggests as a tried and true formula. Also, do I paste the poems in the body of the query email, or send them as an an attachment? 

I'm not 100% sure of this answer, but I'm posting it in hopes someone else can answer it. But a few things I can offer: 1) NEVER include attachments, whether you're sending fiction, poetry, etc. NEVER. It is an instant delete from an agent. After he or she has requested pages, then sure, but upon querying, then no. 2) I would discuss why your poems are relevant, whom they'll appeal to and the general themes. Again, I'm not an expert, but I'd assume that agents would want to know who you're targeting in your writing and why. 3) I might open with a stanza from a poem. Why not? It will give agents an idea of what you write and what you're going for.

That's all I got. Anyone else?


Four Things Eleanor Brown Did Right

I am thrilled to host the fantastic Eleanor Brown today on the blog. When I saw that her bestselling novel, THE WEIRD SISTERS, was released this month in paperback, I asked Eleanor to stop by and share some of the secrets to her success. Below, find her fab tips. Then (or now), click over to Facebook for a chance to win a copy of the book! 

I Started Small

Though my ultimate ambition was to write and publish a novel, I started small, both in my writing and in my aspirations. I wrote short stories and essays and articles, and worked to have them published in small literary magazines, local newspapers, small magazines, and anthologies. That process taught me a great deal about how to write an effective query letter, work with editors, and research markets. By the time I had my novel and was ready to search for an agent, I had a series of publishing credits and contest wins to include in my query letter, and the experience to feel confident in what I was doing.

I Was Honest with Myself

Before I wrote The Weird Sisters, I wrote four other complete novels. Learning to write a novel took time and energy, but, despite all that effort - they were terrible. Cliched and awkward, with plots that collapsed in the middle like an undercooked cake (and they weren’t even fun to eat!).

It’s incredibly tempting, in any creative endeavor, to mistake the triumph of finishing for having a finished product. And you should definitely celebrate finishing a draft of a novel – it’s an achievement! But I’m a fan of Stephen King’s advice in On Writing to step away from a project for a while and then return to it with fresh eyes. When I did that, I had to be honest with myself, and admit that the manuscripts were…not good. In each case, I elected not to revise, but I definitely took what I’d learned from writing each one and used that knowledge in the next, until I wrote something I was truly proud of, and that one, I saw all the way through to the end, until it was good enough to share.

Job Interview

I learned far too late in life that a job interview is just as much about your determining whether you want to work with them, as whether they want to hire you. Agents and publishers are no different.

Jennifer Weiner tells a great story about an agent who read the manuscript of Good in Bed, and suggested, while expressing interest, that a better title would be Big Girl. Jennifer wisely recognized that suggestion indicated the agent was not the right person to represent the book. I had some similar experiences – agents or publishers who were interested in the book, but wanted me to make changes that I felt would have robbed the book of something important.

Writers are trained to jump at any attention, but it shouldn’t be that way. We need people on our team who understand and care for our work as much as we do, and we need to remember that we’re interviewing agents and editors too!


Writing, for me at least, is a slow process. The traditional publishing industry is even slower. It took seven years for The Weird Sisters to make it out into the world, and at times it was hard to wait. But I am a believer that things happen when they are supposed to, how they are supposed to. If I had rushed things, I might not have ended up with an agent I adore and trust, an editor who transformed my book into a better story than I ever could have dreamed, and a team of people at my publisher who are so generous and supportive there aren’t enough fruit baskets in the world to thank them. When I wasn’t working on The Weird Sisters, I was working on other things, trying to be patient and working on other projects, and I believe that patience paid off.


From Last Word to First Pub

Question of the day: How long does it take for a book to get published once you're done writing it?

The logistics of this really depend on your publisher, but I think it's safe to say that it's generally about a year.

The book goes through several stages with the marketing and PR teams, and they like to have a hearty lead time (again, usually, though this isn't the case with every author/book) to ensure that it is given its best chance in the marketplace. After you've filed it, you'll go through copy edits, and first and second pass pages, which is when the manuscript is put into book form but still not bound. (I'm not sure how else to describe it...basically, it has the layout of a book - font, page number, etc - but isn't yet printed.) You'll go through, along with several pros, to remove any last mistakes and any last sentences that will drive you crazy for the rest of your days.

Next come galleys/ARCs, which usually come anywhere from 3-6 months before publication. These are essentially paperback versions of the book that haven't been given the final proofread, so you'll find typos and a few mistakes throughout. Those go to long lead reviewers and anyone who tends to get an early peek. And then finally, the finished book.  Amazingly, I filed THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME almost a year and a half ago, if you can believe it. I can't, actually. But the long lead time was due to a variety of logistics, including switching publishers and them wanting to reposition the timing of my pub date, and it's pretty unusual to be held that long.

All you published authors out there - how long from finish to pub for you?


Asking The Right Questions

First off, thanks to all of you who responded on Tuesday's post. I thought that many of your comments were incredibly valuable - much more so than my original post! - and I'm hopeful that others will continue to read both the post and the comments and glean some advice from them.

To that end, because there seems to be a lot to learn on this subject, I thought we could have a bit of a group think today on what to ask of your potential agent and what your expectations should be. As I've said time and time again, landing the RIGHT agent is more important than landing AN agent, and like anything in life, the way to do that (other than really honing your writing skills and writing a great manuscript!) is to ask the right questions.

I'll be honest: I haven't shopped for an agent in seven years, so my question-forming skills may be a bit rusty. But certainly, a few things I'd ask would include:

1) How do you like to communicate with your clients?

2) How often can I expect to be in touch with you? (Please note, however, that I can't imagine many agents would say "rarely," even if this is the case.)

3) How in-depth is your own editing process once we have the ms?

4) Where do you envision submitting this to?

5) Will you inform me as to whom you are submitting and can I offer up suggestions?

6) Who are some other authors whose careers you could (ideally) see me emulating? (This question might be a bit of a stretch, but I think you know what I'm trying to say...basically, who does he/she think you write like.)

7) Can I speak with a current client of yours for a referral? (This last one is hard to ask. Because it really feels like you're vetting the agent instead of being totally euphoric at his/her offer. But to be clear: you ARE vetting the agent. And I cannot tell you how many (okay, probably about 5-10) authors I've spoken to on behalf of my agent...they asked to speak with a client, and she understood this process, and I understood this process, and so I spoke with them. That's how it goes, and everyone knows this.)

So those are a few off the top of my head. Who else wants to add in their own questions that one should pose when deciding on an agent?


Communicating With Your Agent

Question of the day: I just signed with an agent (yay!), but I'm nervous about becoming a pest, in terms of communicating with her. Are there any guidelines about what I should or shouldn't do?

 Great question. And I think there's a different answer for every agent. Some like their authors to be involved every step of the way, and others prefer that they steer the ship and keep their clients posted. I know that you've already signed with your agent, but for others who are involved in their own agent query, I suggest discussing your agent's preference while you're having that initial vetting conversation: it's important that you're both on the same page in terms of communication and participation.

In this case, why not just ask? You can raise it with your agent and find out how he/she likes to proceed, especially when you're going through the submission process, which is an anxious time. You don't want to think that just no news is bad news or no news is good news or whatever. Let her know how you'd like to be involved and see if she's on board. After that, I think you really have to exercise your best judgment. Agents are super-busy people. Check in when you need to, but don't annoy her simply because you have something small to ask/deal with. When in doubt, try to deal with it on your own, and then if you can't - or you'd benefit from her advice - then by all means, reach out. Remember that ideally, an agent-client relationship is supposed to be a partnership, and like any good partnership, this requires balance on all levels.

Any advice from other readers out there? How do you manage your own agent relationships?



Hi guys! I finally figured out how to run giveaways on Facebook again, now that they've implemented all sorts of rules and regulations. And hurrah: I'm giving away my last galley copy of THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME. Click on this link to head over to my page and enter! (If you don't see the post about it, just click on the little clover icon below my profile picture that says "Sweepstakes.") I'll be running a bunch of giveaways between now and the release, so be sure to check back or become a fan (I know, I know, it sounds pretentious but you know what I mean) to stay in the loop.

Good luck!


Is An Agent Also An Editor?

Question of the day (a follow up to last week's post on revising): All the advice we read makes it seem like drafts have be pretty close to complete, utter perfection in order to land an agent. I'm sure your draft was really strong--clearly it kept the agent reading to page 100. But then did she suggest cutting the first 99 pages? Or was that something you arrived at on your own (through subsequent editing)? Or did she pitch it as it was and your editor recommended cutting the first 99 pages?

Well, this is a little bit of a long story, but I'll preface this with the statement that this was my debut, so I was pretty green, and I honestly didn't know how to write a book. I always say here that there is an enormous learning curve in our business (I'm still learning!), and I ascended it in the process of publishing my debut.

To answer your question: my agent (at the time) was the one who suggested cutting those first 99 pages. Increasingly these days, agents also play the role of editor, and they work with you to sharpen your manuscript before taking it out. BUT. But but but but but. BUT do NOT take that statement to mean that you can submit anything less than your absolute best work. I suppose that this agent (who was young and trying to build her list) took a chance on me because she liked my writing enough to support its potential. For every one like her, there are 200 more agents who will not take that chance. The only snag in me telling you this is that back then, I had no clue that my manuscript wasn't up to par. I just hadn't taken that step in the learning curve. And that, of course, is the tricky part of querying...there is so much (often times) to be learned, but you really don't learn a lot of it until you're deeper into your writing career.

Anyhoo, she agreed to roll up her sleeves with me and help edit the ms, and so we did. It was only after we did so that she decided she didn't like the book and didn't want to submit it. We parted ways, I found a new agent, and the book sold at a 4-way auction. But - regardless of this - her editing still made me raise my game. And when it came time to write my next book, Time of My Life, I required a lot less hand-holding because I had just gone through a master class.

So that's the long-winded way of saying that I got lucky that my writing impressed someone enough to want to work with me. This was seven years ago. Agents are now even more swamped, more pressed for time. So I wouldn't count on this happening often. Which is to say: DO NOT SEND OUT YOUR MANUSCRIPT UNTIL IT REALLY IS READY. Just...don't. Your agent should be impressed enough with the finished product to be able to take it from very good to great, so it's your job to get it to very good.