Author Platform: Done It vs Gonna Do It

July 17, 2017

I read book proposals all day long, and one of the most important parts of the proposal is Author Platform. I need to know is how well I think an author’s book will sell, and that’s where Author Platform comes into play.

Author Platforms are a toughie to explain because everyone has different definitions for what they are. I keep it real simple.

Author Platforms are about who you are and how many people know you in the category for which you write. It’s a measurement we use when figuring out how well your book may sell. For example, if you’re known as the quilting queen among a huge group of quilters, that platform won’t help if your book is about cancer. That’s what I call a misfire. I see lots of those. Conversely, that quilting queen could probably sell a bucket load of quilting books.

Author Platforms are hard to establish and take a LOT of time. You can’t snap your fingers and bamm-o, you wake up one day with a shiny new Author Platform. It’s tons of hard work, and you have to ask yourself if you’re up to the task. Many authors insist they were born ready, which immediately sends the Rescue Beagles into a fit of wheezing laughter, because if you’ve never published before, you have no idea what a time-suck it is.

I’ve seen too many authors who simply give up when they see just how hard promoting their book is. We’ve seen authors who expected their publishers to do it all for them, and the truth is, it’s an unrealistic expectation in today’s publishing world. The world has changed.

There is so much competition for readers’ attention, let alone the media, and at the same time publishers’ publicity departments are shrinking, so publishers have to be very mindful of those they choose to work with.

Publishing. Is. Not. For. The. Faint. Of. Heart. Tattoo this on your forehead. It’s a huge investment of time and money, and no publisher with any juice blithely accepts a new title. They do P&L statements, they talk to their sales teams, they take every precaution they can to stack the deck in their favor. And they consider the Author Platform.

I’ve gotten to where I classify Author Platforms into two groups: Done It and Gonna Do It.

Gonna Do It

These are authors whose platforms consist of things they’re gonna do.

  • I plan on getting involved in speaking engagements at ________ (fill in various venues/groups)
  • I plan on promoting my book through social media.
  • I plan on contacting _________ (insert famous name here)

The problem with these is that they’re in the future. Nothing has been established now. No steps are being taken now. Intentions are lovely, but they take time to establish, so it’s foolhardy for an acquiring editor to put faith in things that haven’t happened yet, because you know what? They may not ever happen. Seen it. Pinky swear.

Done It

This group has already taken steps to establish their Author Platform. They’ve already spoken at those events or are intrinsically involved in those groups. They have a strong social media presence in their field of expertise, and they’ve already contacted those Big Mouth names who can lend a cover blurb or review.

Editors want the Done It group.

I have seen so many great stories fall into the Great Abyss because the authors simply weren’t prepared for the amount of time and energy it takes to promote their book. It proved too hard, so they gave up. Problem is, their publishers are still humping the book, and it blows when the authors give up, because then we’re fighting an uphill battle. So are you in for the long haul, or are you going to fold your tent when it gets tough? Many people suffer when the author gives up or won’t listen to the publisher’s promo team.

We depend on the author’s footprint to help us establish inroads with readers and media. If your book proposal says “gonna do it,” do you think this communicates strength and ambition to a publisher, who is going to spend tens of thousands? Or are you unprepared?

Don’t be a Gonna Do It. It could be the difference between a contract and a rejection.


Using Your Foreword as a Selling Point in Queries

June 5, 2017

There are many ways you can sabotage your query letter – of which I have blabbered about for the past fourteen years (gah! Has it been that long?). But I encountered a new one today; pushing the bio of the person who wrote your Foreword.

Huh?

What concerns me is that authors are putting their focus in all the wrong places. Don’t get me wrong, forewords are lovely things if you can get one from someone noteable in your subject matter. And yes, it’s equally lovely to put that noteable name on the front cover, and any publisher worth their salt capitalize on it.

But to push this while trying to sell your manuscript to an editor is premature, because it gives the appearance that the foreword is the reason I should be interested. It isn’t. The first order of business is selling yourself and your work.

More worrisome is the foreword author who is only known on a small regional basis. This isn’t going to wow me, so you’ve wasted precious query-letter space pimping someone few know.

This is not a selling point.

Your story needs to stand on its own. It shouldn’t need props and puffery. Keep it simple, keep it real.


How to Make an Editor Weep…

March 25, 2017

Writing is such a solitary endeavor that I think writers tend to forget there’s a big wide literary world out there where competition is the game we all play and excellence is the great equalizer. Some are more excellent than others – but I can assure you there’s one way to be considered part of the “less excellent” group…your grammar.

If you’re going to call yourself a professional at anything, one assumes that you’ve taken great strides to be very good at what you do, right? The art of writing is no different. Oh, I know, with the advent of self-publishing, we’ve witnessed all sorts of crimes against humanity and the English language, because now anyone can be a published author.

But in the world of stuffy editing teams, puffy sales people, grouchy accountants, and submissions committees, authors can’t get away with sounding like they’re missing a crucial element of their craft. I can hear the submissions committees now: “Pricey, how DARE you bring this before us! This author doesn’t know how to use pronouns!”

Case in point; an author has been playing coy with me for a few weeks, telling me their manuscript is the “story of a lifetime.” Yah, yah, heard this song and dance a million times. After telling the author twice that they could pound sand unless they actually provided a book proposal that gives me an idea of what the story entails, I finally received an email promising said book proposal. Hurray, thinks I.

Until they wrote this:

“I’m really excited about all the attention me and my cousin are getting in our town about…”

Oh. The agony. The cruelty. Okay, okay, this may seem like a case of, “Really, Pricey? Aren’t you getting just a bit picky?” I ‘spose. But if the author is this comfortable using improper pronouns in an email – and let’s assume they’re trying to impress me – then how great is their writing? Am I potentially facing huge amounts of time correcting every pronoun debacle, every misspelled word, and God knows whatever else? Editing is onerous enough without having to teach someone the basics of English…and I’m not sure this old-timer has it in me to try.

With schools placing less importance on grammar and composition, I fear our future writers may be doomed…and I’m facing more bottles of “Gray No More” on my locks and more dates with Jim Beam.

I’ve said it for many years, and I’ll keep on bleating it until my teeth fall out; if you’re going to take writing seriously, please learn how to write. Save an editor from mainlining good gin.

Save


Avoid the Cat Ass Trophy…

March 24, 2017


More Publishy Humor…

March 16, 2017

…at the expense of my adorable granddaughter. I’m sure my daughter will send out a hit team to hunt me down. In the meantime, yes, dear author…you need to be edited.

File Mar 16, 4 16 51 PM


Always Act Like a Professional

September 12, 2016

Rejection bites. Everyone knows this. It brings out the the worst in some – and I’ve been privy to those “worst times.” I don’t like having to write rejection letters any more than you like receiving them. But once they’re written, that’s the end of it for me, because, well, I have a ton more queries awaiting my attention.

So it’s irritating to receive an email from someone I rejected, informing me that my analysis and reasons for rejection are all wrong, and that I’m an idiot. And furthermore, the manuscript won TWO awards and many readers said how much they LOVED the story…and oh, there is a publisher who has accepted the work. I’m truly happy it won writing awards and that readers enjoyed reading the manuscript and that the author has a contract offer. If the author has gotten that contract, then why bother fanning it in my nose? This confuses me.

The fact that it didn’t work for me isn’t a declaration of any lack of talent or unworthiness. That ain’t my call. My call is this: Can I sell it? If there are elements that make me feel it would be a tough sell, then I have an obligation to those who work for me to reject it.

And really, what is the benefit of an author sending me (or any other editor) a letter like this? Is it supposed to make me curl up and cry because I missed the boat? Am I supposed to feel chastised because I was too thick-headed to understand the story’s fabulosity? None of these things happen at my end, and this second-grade nyah nyah makes the author look less than professional.

And that’s the crux of this business – any business, really. Always act like a professional. Rejection hurts, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to fire off a “you suck” email after receiving a rejection. In fact, emails like this make me breathe a sigh of relief that I did reject them. Who needs a loose cannon who flips out at rejection? Can you imagine the fireworks over a bad review? Yikes.

Lastly, it’s letters like this that make me want to return to sending out form rejection letters. Many times I do offer reasons as to why something didn’t work for me as a way of offering the author objective insight from someone who’s been selling books for almost 14 years. Perhaps I’ve seen something the author didn’t, and they can look at their writing with fresh eyes. Or…they can get hurt and lash back.

Either way, authors who write out of anger diminish themselves in a way they don’t even understand. This industry is filled with rejection and tough love. If authors don’t learn that one lesson of grace under fire, then their career will be decidedly short and filled with angst.

Pissed off at a rejection? Eat chocolate.


Genre: So You Wanna Branch Out…

July 5, 2016

Years ago I had an author whose book was lovely. We all put a ton of effort into marketing and promoting the author and the book. Our efforts were rewarded with some very nice sales and wonderful reviews. We had discussed his next book, and I awaited his outline with glee because I was anxious to ride the wave of publicity we’d already gathered.

Then he told me he wanted to write fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N. Don’t get me wrong, I adore fiction. But that isn’t what we publish. Um, where da outline for your next book that we’d talked about?

Welllll……

He didn’t wanna write that anymore. Sure, it totally sucked for us, but more to the point, it sucked for the author. Tremendous effort and expense had gone into gathering up a solid readership; readers who would happily suck up his next book. Question was, would his memoir readership suck up a novel? I had serious doubts.

It broke my heart because I felt he was sabotaging all of his and our efforts and basically starting from scratch again. Sad to say his efforts to switch genres did a horrific crash and burn.

For Whom Are You Writing?

There are plenty of authors who aren’t pegged in any one genre. They write SF, romance, mainstream, horror. Whatever scratches their itch. And that’s fine as long as they realize their readers aren’t going to follow them to those other genres. So it’s important to ask yourself, for whom am I writing?

If you’re writing for yourself and don’t give a rip about who buys your books, then I applaud your creativity in having so many wonderful ideas in so many genres. I’m such a one-trick pony

However, if your goal is to become known and have a faithful following, then you might want to take a second and third look at how you might be diluting your readership, thus spinning your wheels.

Genre-hopping works is if you’ve already attained a large, faithful readership. Many may follow you over to your new genre book, and that will help create the groundswell. But if you’re still in the process of gaining a foothold in the marketplace, you would be wise to consider genre-hopping with great care.

Now go out and be brilliant!


We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Links…

March 16, 2016

For the love of all that’s holy, don’t include links in your query letter as a means of getting further information about your book. No matter whom you query, know that they’re insanely busy. They’ve made the time to open your query letter to see if your writing is what they’re looking for. If you do little more than say  a few words in your “query letter,”then direct them to a link where you have your bio, full synopsis, and reasons why you think this book is a “gotta have it,” I assure you that those bleary-eyed editors will delete your email without a second thought…because, well, links are rude.

A query letter is a job interview. Would you meet with a potential employer and hand them a link, so they can take even more time out of their day to accommodate your laziness? I assure you they won’t. They’ll move on to the next job applicant who is actually prepared and knows what they’re doing.

I know, I sound like a cranky pants, and I suppose it’s because I’m seeing a downward trend in the niceties of polite society. Everything is self-serve. It’s like the gal working in the shoe dept of my local department store. It was Sunday…the place was empty and you could have shot a canon through the place. I found some shoes I wanted to try on. She got them for me and unceremoniously dumped them on the chair and promptly returned to the cash register where she could talk to her co-worker, thereby completely ignoring me. I guess that was more important than waiting on a paying customer. In a word, she was rude.

Seems few know or care about excelling at their job, yet they scream bloody murder when/if they’re turned down or fired. But I have enough covered-over gray hairs to give a rat’s patootie about good manners and doing things correctly. And there is a correct way to query.

As for Ms. I-Can’t-Be-Bothered in the shoe department, who then wanted my email address for their records, maybe I should have just given her a link…


Writing With Intention is a lot Like Chicken Piccata

February 12, 2016

chicken piccata

Writing with in intention is what keeps a storyline moving in a forward direction. What do I mean by that? It means that you’ve defined exactly what you want/need to say in any particular chapter. It means that you know the elements/scenes that will keep your story moving in a forward direction. This is what separates a great story from one filled with aimless fluff.

Think of it as following a recipe. (Not my recipies – god help us all – but real people who actually know how to cook without calling the fire department) Let’s say you’re cooking chicken piccata – a dish that I actually cook really well (after many do-overs).

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 chopped onion
Garlic
Chicken breasts
Olive oil
Flour
Butter
¼ cup sherry
3 tbs. lemon juice
1 cup chicken stock
Parsley
Capers

Directions

  • Saute onion until just tender – set aside
  • Dredge thoroughly beaten-the-sh*t-out-of-the chickie through flour, and lightly brown on both sides in butter, set aside
  • Add onion and garlic
  • Over high heat, add broth, sherry, and lemon
  • Let thicken
  • Take a little of the juice out and mix with a little flour
  • Pour into sauce and allow to thicken
  • Add chicken
  • Serve over noodles or spaetzle

Easy and straightforward. What you don’t see in the recipe are the copious amounts of wine I drank when I burned the first batch of chicken. You don’t see me pondering whether this would be a good time to order Chinese take-out. You also don’t see me cutting up the burned chicken and feeding it to the dogs.

Why? Because it doesn’t have anything to do with the recipe. It’s filler at this point. A recipe is writing with intent. It’s an outline to keep you on track. The ingredients are the essential elements that make up your story. The directions are the outline. The ingredients and directions support each other. They have to. If they don’t, then you’re writing without intent, and going free-range.

Now let’s re-title the recipe to Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata. Because  the title, ingredients, and directions are clearly set, it’s easy to write about the burning of the chicken, considering Chinese take-out, and feeding the dogs, because it’s forward movement and supports the ingredients and directions…and the overall theme of Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata.

You have to ask yourself with each new chapter, “What do I want to say and do these scenes support the overall theme of Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata?” If not, readers will throw your recipe across the room and say naughty things about you.

In short, the boundaries need to be clearly marked so you don’t go outside of them. How can you do this? Well, let’s say in the example above I include some scenes about taking a phone call from an author excoriating me because I didn’t give them a reason for rejecting their manuscript (really happened). This has nothing to do with Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata, so the story loses its forward movement.

If I include copious scenes about how it snowed and I nearly took a header off the porch stairs; how a huge tree branch fell in during high winds; how The Rescues insisted en masse that 13 degrees was far too cold to go outside – now I’ve lost all cohesiveness to Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata because these scenes have zero to do with the subject matter.

So you can see that writing with intent is vital to keeping your story cohesive, moving forward, and sticking with the theme. If Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata has almost zero to do with the elements of an adventure while cooking, then you know you’re out of your zipcode.

Write with intent. Be brilliant!


Call Me Old-Fashioned…

December 27, 2015

…but the Oxford comma exists to clarify.

oxfordcomma12-27

and here’s why:

oxford comma


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