Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)—a month-long novel-writing frenzy? Thousands of coffee-fueled writers are pounding their keys to reach their goal of producing 50 thousand words before the stroke of midnight on November 30. Read more on the Los Angeles Editors and Writers blog.
Well, yeah, maybe it is. . . . But not as hard as it used to be. Why? Because the bestseller lists—of which there used to be only a handful, a small handful if you count only the ones that counted—are proliferating. The New York Times Book Review recently announced that their own collection of bestseller lists will be expanding. They are adding a gaggle of lists, including Travel, Humor, Family, Animals, Politics, Celebrities, Graphic Novels, and more.
Keeping up with the Joneses? Or maybe the Amazons? It’s possible; we’re in an age of copycatism . . . Like, for instance, the fact that every humongous website or email host now wants to move their cyber-furniture around when you leave the room. “Facebook did it, it must be good! Quick, let’s reconstruct the menus and tabs while the user goes to the potty! They won’t even recognize their Facebook Wall—oh wait, we’re going to reconstruct the Wall and call it a Timeline . . .”
Change is good, right? (I don’t know, sometimes change makes me want to take a nap.)
Perhaps having more bestseller lists will make that prized BESTSELLER honor more accessible . . . and yet, won’t that make it simultaneously less meaningful? You be the judge . . .
Oh, and you can go to a boot camp, too, to learn how to work the system to get your bestseller badge. I can’t tell you how many “bestselling” writers I’ve met that I’ve never heard of; nor have you; nor has anyone. Because they bought or boot-camped their way into bestseller status and were on an Amazon list for a week. Presto! “Bestselling Author!”
Ah, but I seem to be on a rant. Too glum for you? Try this instead, it’ll make you laugh: 18 New Bestseller Lists
There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s best to try for a publishing deal with one of the big houses . . . or go with self-publishing (sometimes called independent publishing). Many authors I work with still yearn for the prestige of being published by one of the Big 6—Penguin, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Georg von Holtzbrinck/Macmillan (soon to be the Big 5 because Penguin and Random House are merging).
But are emerging authors yearning for what they’ll get from these big houses, or for what they would have gotten some twenty years ago? Just as everything on the planet is in constant change, so is the face of publishing. Big advances, book tours, publicity? If you’re a celebrity maybe.
The thing is, whether you self-publish or get picked up by a publisher, the responsible party for getting your book out there is . . . YOU (or your publicist if you hire one, and I recommend you do). Whichever route you choose, you are the one who has to set up your book tour, your author page, and any other publicity that will help the world know you’ve written a book. Oh, and don’t forget your platform (that thing you’ve got to stand on to reach a publisher in the first place! . . . or to sell your book to all those followers you’ve cultivated).
What is a platform? It’s your visibility and authority to reach your chosen audience. Platform includes: your web presence, your engaged blog or Twitter following, your email list, your speaking circuit, your media appearances, and so on. In a nutshell, it’s the readership you’ve cultivated for your book before you’ve finished (or, even better, before you’ve started) writing it.
Overwhelming? Not if you take it one step at a time. . . . Just like writing a book!
Still not sure whether you should try for a publisher or go the route of self-publishing? Renowned ghostwriter Michael Levin has a very definite opinion about this in his July 16 blog post. One benefit to self-publishing is that you don’t have to write a book proposal.
I invite you to share your own experiences and opinions about publishing (or self-publishing). Just leave a comment!
So, you’ve written your book manuscript and you think it’s amazing. Or maybe you just have an idea for a book that you think is amazing. What do you do next?
Back in the day of the renowned editor Max Perkins, you could throw your rough pile of brilliance over the transom of the publishing house, and your in-house editor would make it into an equally brilliant published book.
Times are different. Now your brilliant manuscript (or proposal) has to be polished-perfect to even be considered. And . . . if you want to get anywhere near one of the big publishers, you have to go through a literary agent.
So, once you’ve gotten the feedback and guidance of a professional freelance editor or writing coach and you’ve rewritten your manuscript and/or proposal (as many times as necessary), the next step is to search for potential agents. (Where and how to search is for another post.) But once you are ready to make your submission, what do agents want to see?
This article in the online Writer’s Digest does a pretty good job of covering the basics. (The one important piece that’s not covered, other than a passing mention, is how to prepare a proposal. But there are plenty of other resources for that online.)
Also, be sure to read each agent’s submission guidelines on their website. Every agent has a different set of requirements for what they’d like to receive from you (e.g., query letter first, synopsis, first ten pages, first fifty pages, etc.). And be sure you’re pitching to an agent who has interest in the type of work you’ve written.
I invite any of you to share your own wisdom and experiences (or pitfalls and pratfalls) in submitting work to a literary agent. Just add a comment!
“Will you review my manuscript and tell me whether it’s publishable?”
This is a common request I get from prospective clients.
My short answer is: Every manuscript, no matter how good it is, needs a critique (also known as “constructive feedback”) to become publishable.
In response to the critique, the author then does rewrites. Fewer rewrites if the manuscript is close; more rewrites if the writing needs more help. The final step, when you’ve done your last rewrite and addressed all the bigger-picture stuff, is to have your manuscript copyedited (also called “line editing”).
In light of that, it may not make sense to pay for a review to see if your manuscript is publishable, because unless you’ve already received a critique, done your rewrites, and had the manuscript edited, the answer is: it’s not publishable (yet).
It’s more cost-effective for you to go straight into having a critique, since you will need one anyway. In a critique, I give you feedback on the bigger picture—the developmental issues (e.g., plot, character development, themes, dialogue, description, etc.). I make comments directly in the manuscript, at the spots where something catches my attention. I also do a write-up summarizing the salient points.
What you end up with is a custom-made “user’s manual” for rewriting your book. A step-by-step guide created just for you.
So, start with a critique. It’s not as scary as it sounds!
Very funny video that shows you exactly how (not) to pitch a book:
Some of you know that I was writing a book with Ellie Laks (her memoir about starting The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita). It was an amazing, deeply fulfilling project for both of us. Her stories never stopped touching my heart and soul, and I also never stopped laughing (pretty great way to spend a year).
Well, the fruits of that labor are just about ripe. The book, My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope, is due out March 25, 2014.
Check out this great interview with twenty-one successful authors about the experience of writing their first book—from how they made a living before they sold their first book to the nuts and bolts of getting the words onto the page.
If you’re being asked to write—anything—for free, I just hope the person asking is your mother or your kid (or the person who shares your bed). Because if the asker doesn’t fit into one of these categories, he or she is no different from someone in a dental chair saying to the dentist: “Oh, and I just want to confirm that you’re not going to charge for this crown, right? I’ll show it to everyone; it’ll give you great exposure.”
Tim Kreider has published an exceptional essay in the New York Times that tells why it’s wrong to write for nothing: Slaves of the Internet, Unite!
You owe it to yourself (and to every writer who ever hopes to make a living writing) to read this article.