Writers Coffeehouse: March 2019

Henry Herz was kind enough to take on hosting duties this month, giving us more insight into both the children’s book markets and indie (adult) publishing.

My notes from the meeting are below. Thanks again to Mysterious Galaxy for the space, and to Henry for hosting a lively and informative meeting!

Notes:

  • san diego writers and editors guild: around 40 yrs, offers manuscript review service, meets fourth monday each month, next meeting will be from sd zoo publishing house, also has a marketing support group
  • upcoming events:
    • charlotte huck children’s book festival (all the way up to ya): march 9-10, university of redlands
    • henry teaching class about writing picture books, san diego writers ink, march 10 and 17
    • wondercon in anaheim end of march
    • april 13th: san diego writers festival, downtown library
    • san diego writing workshop: may 11th
    • nebula conference in LA later this year
    • san diego comic fest is next weekend
  • tips for being more efficient in using your limited writing time?
    • david morel (writer of rambo) got up at 4:30 every morning and wrote for two hours before work
    • henry uses spreadsheet to track writing pieces and where he’s submitted them to (or queried, etc)
    • using google calendar to set deadlines and reminders
    • managed flitter: lets you schedule social media posts ahead of time
    • 4thewords.com: gamified rpg that you play by writing (250 words in 15 min to fight a monster, for example)
    • another trick: when stopping for the day, stop mid-paragraph so it’s easier to get back into it the next day
  • scbwi (society of childrens book writers and illustrators) has ad-hoc critique groups that form at their monthly meetings
  • indie author found personal appearances took a lot of time but yielded fewer sales than putting same time in to online marketing (10s of books vs 1,000s of books)
  • indie author uses service to do all the formatting for him, makes it easier but he spends $4,000-$5,000 per book to publish it
  • how do you find an editor?
    • san diego professional editors network
    • reedsy: website with professional editors that have struck out on their own
  • agents don’t usually expect exclusivity when querying, check their guidelines, but usually can send out queries to as many agents as you want at a time
  • if you don’t hear anything after three months, ping them, if still don’t hear back, assume it’s dead
  • another short story marketplace site: “entropy: where to submit”; will show contests, etc coming up for the month
  • childrens books: advice is to avoid inanimate objects as characters, because they’re harder for children to empathize with
  • authors guild: join, if you get a contract but no agent you can hire lawyers through them to review it for you
  • henry’s editing process: edits on own, then sends out to four different critique groups for feedback, multiple iterations with each one, polish off the rough edges

Writers Coffeehouse: December 2018

Another great coffeehouse! Since it’s December, we had a bit of a holiday pot-luck: people brought EggNog (spiked and not-spiked), cookies, candy canes, and wine. They also collected Toys for Tots, and even lit the first two candles of a menorah in honor of the first night (upcoming) of Hanukkah.

Lots of people had just wrapped up NaNoWriMo, so there was a lot of good news to go around. Biggest news was probably Henry Herz getting published in Highlights for Children, which is (apparently) a wickedly hard market to crack.

My notes are below. Congrats to Henry and all the NaNoWriMo winners! And, as always, many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting us, and Jonathan Maberry for running the Coffeehouse!

  • the one golden rule: no writer bashing; like or dislike the twilight books or da vinci code, but they opened doors for thousands of other writers and injected billions into the books industry
  • san diego writer’s festival: april 13th, central library, similar folks to the festival of books
  • option prices have dropped a lot since the recession; standard is now $5K, but can include lots of extras, like five-star treatment to get to set, executive producer credit (paycheck per episode), royalties per tv episode, etc
  • remember that your agent is a business partner; don’t be afraid to contact them, but don’t think they’re your best friends, they work for you, and you can learn a lot from them; agents love writers that are business savvy
  • nov and dec used to be a bad time for agents, but since it’s the slow season, it’s a good time to submit to them; ditto pitches to editors of magazines for articles to write
  • “we’re looking for original stories, not original submission practices”
  • when selling anthology to publisher, need a few big names on there so they feel that it’ll definitely sell
  • maberry: budgets 10 min out of every hour for social media; has a lot of pages and has to manage them, and manage his time on them
  • henry herz: got article accepted into highlights magazine! very hard market to crack
  • january coffeehouse will be about pitching; will also do sample panel
  • on a panel: they’re looking for a celebrity, need people to be a little larger-than-life; sometimes audience will ask questions they know the answers to, just to hear a celebrity say it
  • being a panelist is a skill; you need to be a slightly different version of yourself that the public will accept as “writer”
  • neil gaiman is naturally very awkward; had to hire an acting coach to script out appearances so people will get to see the “neil gaiman” they come to see
  • pitching, being on a panel, these are all skills you need to practice, but they *are* skills you can develop and improve, even if you’re a complete introvert
  • exercise: pick your favorite novel (or movie), and pitch it as if you wrote it; something you know well enough to do without notes
  • need to be good at it and comfortable with friends so that when in front of agents you aren’t so scared and vulnerable
  • people are more comfortable with peers than with people that put them on a pedestal
  • recommends using donald maas’ workbook on writing the breakout novel; the way it’s intended is after a first draft is done, makes you drill deeper into the book
  • also: don’t revise until after you’ve waited a month and then also read the whole thing through again
  • finally: do revising in waves; handle one change at a time, to make them manageable
  • unsure whether to make book a mystery or fantasy? write the book you’d have the most fun writing; if unsure of audience, pick the one you’d have fun writing for and go all in

Patience

Sent the novel out to my first pick agent this weekend. I know it’ll most likely be rejected — it’s my first real stab at a query letter — but I’ve got to start somewhere.

Also got back another rejection of one of the stories I’ve been circulating. I didn’t waste any time worrying about it, though. I picked another market, and sent it right back out.

While waiting for rejections, I’m rewriting one of the stories I wrote last month. The feedback I got on it was positive, but in fixing the problems the reviewers pointed out, I discovered a different story sitting under the one I was writing.

Same characters, same themes, but a different plot.

I have a feeling this version will turn out much better than the first two, but the only way to find out is to write it 🙂

Writer’s Coffeehouse Notes, Aug 2017

Attended the Writer’s Coffeehouse at Mysterious Galaxy yesterday. As always, I came away with lots of great advice 🙂

Many thanks to Jonathan Maberry for running these, and to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting!

My Notes from the Coffeehouse

Dangerous to be a one-trick pony; if you put something out that doesn’t succeed, don’t take it personally, instead ask what you can do that will sell

Sometimes you have to pick one idea over another because it’ll be easier to sell

Negativity never helps. Da Vinci Code got slammed by so many people, and yet it was responsible for thrillers becoming the dominant genre on the bestseller lists (which they still are)

Lot of business discussions happen at comic-con, behind the scenes; he had meetings with agents, game devs, editors, etc.

If you have a published work in a genre, post on fb page and ask around about getting on a panel at one of these cons

Science people can be a big draw at these events

Got to get involved in these things, put yourself out there, to have these opportunities happen

Henry: started out with small cons, like ComicFest and ConDor, volunteered to put together panels, those smaller cons always need help, another author gave contact info for comiccon organizers, he did the same thing there, volunteered to put together panels, etc

One thing about moderating: try to come up with questions they haven’t had asked before, avoid the “where do you get your ideas?”, try to ask things that get into the personality of the panelists

Other writer noticed Henry asks questions that gets debate flowing among the panelists; respectful, but not all agreeing with each other

Henry: can write in a closet, but might not ever become popular, takes energy and work to get the connections and opportunities for a career in publishing

Suggestion: if you’re in a writing group, hold fake panels; have one person moderate, two or more be fake panelists, others watch and rotate; it’s great practice for later

Some writers will ask questions of the audience to get comfortable at signings

Handle interviews by focusing on what’s fun about it for you; the fun will show and the audience will love it

More practice: get group together, have one person go up and answer the same question over and over again in different ways

If you get on a panel, bring something to share out at the end

La jolla writer’s conference coming up
Southern california writer’s conference coming up

Good advice: a pitch is telling someone how to sell your book

Maberry: writer’s conferences made him fall in live with writing again, would not be a fiction writer without them

Queries: never make absurd claims (this will be as big as harry potter!), or slam other books (this is so much better than harry potter!)

Don’t take pot shots at other books or series

Round the word count to the nearest 5,000. No need to give the exact word count

Most novels, they don’t want more than 100,000 words, because of the extra printing costs for a book of that size

Important to know the right length for your genre; epic fantasy tilts long (150K), westerns tilt short (65K)

DON’T QUERY UNTIL THE NOVEL IS COMPLETE AND POLISHED

Henry: timing of query and font doesn’t matter so much

Maberry: disagree; when you’re querying, getting this stuff right separates you out from amateurs

Maberry: prefers verbal queries; lots of writers’ conferences, find which ones your target agents are going to

Don’t listen to the myth that agents who have sold X numbers of Y genre are no longer looking for more; it’s bunk; you want the agents that are known for selling your genre

Intern here from march fourth publishing house, she confirms everything (and suggests checking them out!)

Pitching in person: the agents there might not be right for you, but it’s good practice, hones your skills, and the agents that are there often come prepared with other agents they can recommend; if nothing else you can get feedback on the pitch

Keep in mind: the agents are just as nervous about this as you are

Jim Butcher: queried jennifer jackson and rejected by her, then met her at a conference, and she agreed to pick him up

Verbal pitches: don’t necessarily have to be pitching a finished book

#mswishlist twitter tag where editors and agents tweet about what they’re looking for

ALWAYS HAVE BUSINESS CARDS WITH YOU AND PUT YOUR FACE ON IT SO THEY CAN REMEMBER YOU

When doing verbal pitch, do not read your pitch, or stick to a script; pitch to the agent, change how you talk about it based on how they react to what you say

Elements of a good pitch: hook them, give them a sense of characters and the stakes, link it to other books and explain why people will want to read it (best to connect it to what you like as a reader, and show how other readers also like that thing)

Another good exercise: take a book you know, and pitch it to your writing group, see if you can get to the essential points

Don’t land too hard on the market piece, becomes too much of a sales pitch; connect it to readers who are real people, and yourself as a writer and someone you want them to want to work with for years

Pitch practice: genre, subgenre, demographic, main character’s name, and a crisis

Don’t think in terms of good or bad for your own writing. Think of “publishable” and “not yet publishable.” Take the latter parts and change what needs to be changed in order to make it publishable.

 

First Novel Done!

It’s done!

Finished the final editing pass for the last few chapters of my first novel early this week.

So now it’s time to build a list of agents to look at, and start querying.

I’ve been going to Publisher’s Marketplace every morning, researching another agent to add to the list. This weekend I’ll pick one, get my query letter in order for them, and send it off.

It’ll feel good to get the book out there. Even if every agent rejects it. True, the rejections will hurt…but there’s no way to get published without getting some.

And, now that the first book’s done, I can turn my attention to the second novel I wrote, and start putting together an editing plan for it. There’s also the short stories I wrote over the last month to edit (one may need a complete rewrite).

So much to do, and thank goodness!

Best Book Forward?

At the Writer’s Coffeehouse this weekend, another writer asked what they should do when they have four novels, all finished, each in a different genre, that they want to pitch to agents. Should they target each book’s query to a different agent? Should they mention they have other novels when querying one of them?

The answer — which surprised me — was no to both.

Don’t mention the other novels when first querying. Save that for later, if they want to talk more.

And instead of sending out queries based on the book, pick the agents you’d like to represent you, and send them the book you think has the greatest commercial potential.

Agents will want to represent everything you have. But by querying with the book that will likely sell the best, it’ll be easier for them to imagine selling your book to a publisher, which will increase your chances of convincing them to represent you.

So now I’m confronted with the question: have I been editing the wrong book?

A frustrating question to have, when I’m only one editing pass away from being totally done. And I’ve already written the synopsis. And the query letter. And have agents picked out.

But maybe I’d be querying the wrong book? Of the three, I think my most recent one’s the strongest draft. The second one’s the best story, though, and my beta readers’ favorite. The first one is, of course, the only one that’s actually done, in the sense of being a final draft.

So which one do I query with?

NaNoWriMo is Coming

I really want to do NaNoWriMo again this year. Last time, it helped me finally dig in and start a novel, pushing me to get 50,000 words in before the end of November, and then finish it over the following months.

That same novel is now edited and ready for querying. I’ve spent this week drafting a query letter, one I’ll be editing this next week before starting to send out.

At the same time, I need to prep for NaNoWriMo, so I’ve also begun writing a new short story. It’s from an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a few years. I think there may be a novel’s worth of story in there, but I don’t want to dive in to one without some prep work.

So I’m writing a short story set in that world first, to see if it has legs. It’s something I did (without knowing it) for my first novel, and skipped — because I didn’t know it was something you could deliberately do — for the second.

Since I found the first novel much easier to write, and I’ve heard other writers mention using the short story as a way to explore a novel idea, I’m going to try it out.

If it works, I’ll have something solid to work with as I build my outline for NaNoWriMo. If it doesn’t, then at least I’ve only invested a week or two (instead of months).

Query Time

Opened the novel this week to continue my edits. Flipped open my notes, looked for the next thing that needed to be fixed.

There wasn’t one.

Which means: the edits are done, hooray!

But also means: it’s time to query agents. And suddenly I have the urge to hold onto the manuscript just a bit longer, to do just one more editing pass, before letting anyone in the publishing world see it.

That won’t do. So I’ve been researching agents open to submissions in my genre, compiling a list of five to start with. I’ll find more once I’ve heard back from these five.

I’m already steeling myself for the rejections, but there’s really no choice here: it’s either face rejection, or never have a chance of it getting picked up by a publishing house.