Newsletter Update

When Marcy and I decided to stop blogging at GWP and only blog at our own sites, we offered everyone here the chance to subscribe to a GWP style newsletter we planned to write.

Plans change.

Because I miss hanging out with my writer peeps here, beginning Monday May 28 I am launching The Candid Writer, a weekly newsletter that will bring you GWP style articles with a few extras. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Marcy is unable to join me in this venture.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have decided not to automagically subscribe everyone who thought they had signed up for a newsletter from GWP. I have been blogging about writing weekly, but after this week my writing posts will appear in The Candid Writer only. Half of the great articles here at GWP are mine, so I hope you make the switch and subscribe for content available exclusively through this weekly newsletter especially for new and emerging writers that will always be free.

If you enjoyed GWP, I encourage you to subscribe to The Candid Writer.

Lisa

Don’t forget you can subscribe to our blogs too!

Marcy Kennedy’s blog

Lisa Hall-Wilson’s blog

Tagged by Lucky 7

So – who wants an excerpt from the much talked-about WIP we’ve been trying to sell to agents?

There’s this fun little blogging blitz called Lucky 7 Meme or 777 going around where writers are tagging other writers in a virtual game of IT. I was tagged by CC MacKenzie over at Fizz and Fangs (that’s an awesome name for a blog btw), but since all I’ve worked on for the last few months is my co-written WIP with Marcy I thought I’d share here.

The rules:

  • Go to page 77 of your current MSS/WIP
  • Go to line 7
  • Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written
  • Tag 7 other authors

OK – Confession: I had to cheat a little because following these rules exactly would have lifted an excerpt that didn’t really make any sense.

Zerynthia glanced at Kaduis where he stood conversing with the man she presumed to be his commander. The man had at least two dozen scalps at his belt, and the skin on his face was black with tattoos.

Zerynthia smiled. “The queens of Amazonia will show Scythia we are not their submissive slaves, shall we. In Greek, so they have no doubts.”

They reared up their horses in unison and had them take two hops on their hind legs. The horses came down on all four legs facing the Red. The Red stared ahead, faces stone-hard. Zerynthia’s nerves sang with the thrill of the moment.

Marpesia lifted her left arm, the white binding that wound from her shoulder to her wrist blinding as it reflected the sun. “We are free. We are equal.”

Zerynthia lifted her right arm, bound in white like Marpesia’s, spear in hand. “Death to men.”

Every Amazon assembled joined in the war cry.

Hope you enjoyed it!

Who’s IT now?

Tiffany White – Ooooh Factor

David Walker – at Where The Heart Is

Melinda VanLone – at Demons and Dark Chocolate

Jessica O’Neal – The Sexy Little Nerd

Debra Kristi – at Sparks In The Fire

Leanne Shirtliffe – The Ironic Mom

Kourtney Heintz

Make sure you check out our own blogs this week:

Marcy – Life At Warp 10

One Thing Magneto Got Right – What Magneto got right in the latest X-Men movie.

Dealing with Fairies – Does Forgiving Mean We Forget – Careful what you say to a fairy…

Lisa blogging Through The Fire

Sounds of Spring – What spring sound like at your house? My neighbors leave their windows open at night…

I Can’t Believe I Said That – Yes…Yes, I actually said all these things. I can laugh about it now.

Just a reminder – only one week left of GWP goodness as it exists. We’re making the switch to a monthly online ezine – and we want all of our followers here (even those who lurk – we love you too) to join us. We’ll still write the same great writing tips and publishing news articles – but we’ll also feature interviews with published authors and writers that you just don’t want to miss!

Lisa

Sign up for our NEW free Girls With Pens newsletter!

Subscribe to Marcy Kennedy’s Blog by Email

Subscribe to Lisa Hall-Wilson’s Blog

Seeking Inspiration

Writers have active imaginations – fiction writers at any rate. It’s a job hazard. We call it a muse, creative juices, inspiration…

We seem to have been writing a lot of posts about the business of writing, so I thought it might be a good place for a bit of a break. When we go to conferences, we are often asked where we get our ideas.

I can’t speak for Marcy about where she gets her ideas, though I’m sure she’ll jump in. (She probably would have contributed more if I had thought to write this post more than 6 hours ahead of posting it…. yeah – I know. If I had ‘planned’ I wouldn’t be behind. I work better under pressure!) Me, I get my inspiration from a lot of different places.

The thing about inspiration is that it’s a starting place. I think a lot of people get caught up in the beginning idea and never work to develop the idea. My English teacher in high school used to say that every writer had a glass ceiling over their heads. All your initial ideas happen beneath the glass ceiling, but when you work on them, develop them, you can get past the big easy, the over-done, the unoriginal, to where new unique stories happen above the glass ceiling.

Movies

I love a good story in almost any form (though radio dramas tend to put me to sleep). I love to watch movies. I’ve had many story ideas come to me by watching movies – a twist on this concept or that, or how it should have ended, etc.

Books

Of course. Enough said? Whether it’s a encyclopedia, a biography, a fiction story – anything can be a jumping off point for a story.

People Watching

I get lots of great story ideas watching people at the park, at the mall, stopped at red lights, waiting in lines. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation, maybe the body language, a gesture or expression. It’s the seed of an idea.

News

I’m a news junkie. I’m constantly scanning the trending headlines on yahoo or whereever. I have this crazy story inspired by the Robert Picton story that happened out in British Columbia. I should get back to that story… 😛 Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

Walking

When I’m stuck for new ideas, I go for a walk. CJ, my black lab, and I have taken walks at all hours of the day and night because I was stuck on a story. There’s something about the mix of getting active, new scenery, and fresh air that rejuvenates my creativity.

Take a break

Sometimes the best thing I can do is shut down the laptop and go do something else. I will do laundry, wash dishes, make cookies, take a nap (never underestimate the power of a good nap), or play with my kids. When I stop working so hard to find an idea, that’s when something pops into my head I can use.

But don’t stop with the idea…

Then you take that kernel, that seed of an idea, and you play with it. You noodle it for a bit. Maybe you write a few things down. One writer described the process (yes, he’s a planner – I’m surrounded) like working a ball of clay in his hands, shaping the idea, working with new angles and shapes until it begins to take form in his mind.

Where do you get your ideas? What do you do when you’re ‘stuck’ for a new idea?

Lisa

Reminder: As of the end of this month, Marcy and Lisa won’t be posting full blog articles here at Girls With Pens. Instead we’ll still be writing the posts on writing and social media that you’ve come to expect on our own blogs, and we’ll be creating a monthly Girls With Pens newsletter to bring you amazing interviews with industry professionals.

Sign up for our NEW free Girls With Pens newsletter!

Subscribe to Marcy Kennedy’s Blog by Email

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Facebook Timeline Mashup

Timeline got you down? Don’t have time to learn all the new tips and tricks? I can’t beam the info into your brain, but since I appreciate you all so much I’m sharing my research. I’m sure there a few more articles published in the last couple of days, but this is a good start regarding Facebook’s Timeline for pages.

Don’t let Facebook Timeline leave you bloodied and defeated – rise up!

Timeline Brand Guide from Mashable – Quick overview. Did you know you can only fill out your page’s milestones until 1800?

Have a social media plan for Facebook. Excellent idea, Mashable. Great resource.

Hats off to Mashable, they were all over this! Read why you need to pay attention to the newsfeed!!

If you don’t know what Edgerank is – read this. Learn about Edgerank – it’s important! This wasn’t changed by Timeline – but it’s a foundational kind of building block you should know about Facebook.

Mashable again – I’m beginning to think I should be getting paid for this (I’m so NOT getting paid to do this – I wish) Learn about Timeline’s real-time analytics. Yes, your Facebook page has built-in analytics that give you fan demographics, interaction graphs, etc. Important tool. (Only the analytics still haven’t hit the real-time part they promised…but that’s another post.)

Here we go – Hubspot jumps into the ring with this fabulous post about getting started on Timeline. Lots of great practical tips here – if you only read one of these – make it this one.

Techcrunch weighs in on the death of the custom landing tab. This may be for more advance Facebook page users – good stuff though. Jump in.

Another great post about how the newsfeed works from Techcrunch. Did you know on average you’re only reaching 16% of your page’s fans? That’s not great. Read this to find out how to do better at reaching more of your fans – and their friends.

A great post from Author Media about 10 ways to increase the number of Facebook Fans you have – the right way (which is not the quick and easy way – be warned). This is a less technical look at the topic from the article linked directly above.

Author Media rounds out this mashup with a great post on what these changes mean to authors, and how authors can best make use of them.

So what? I can read all these posts – doesn’t help me. I want to see this in action. I thought you might say that. There are a number of authors using Facebook to reach large audiences, and have active Facebook communities. I’ve listed a few here. Lurk their page (you don’t have to like what they write) and see how they’re connecting with fans. I’ve tried to have a number of different genres reflected in the list.

Paulo Coelho – 7.7m fans

Neil Gaiman – 477k fans

Frank Delaney 1,187 fans

Karin Slaughter 27k fans

Ted Dekker 157k fans

Laurell K Hamilton 238k fans

Kelley Armstrong 15k fans

Finally…

A behind the scenes interview with author and Snowflake method creator Randy Ingermanson about his new book Oxygen

The Most Underestimated Key to Success from The Matrix – “There Is No Spoon”

Ever wished for a do-over? What moments in life would you really want to live again?

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Have a question about Timeline? Leave it in the comments, or start a discussion on our Facebook page. Still  hating Timeline – tell us why. 🙂

Lisa

6 Reasons Authors Should Love Timeline

I’ll admit, Facebook’s changes are hard to keep up with, but I’m excited about Timeline and have 6 reasons why authors should be happy about some of the new changes.

We have a BIG announcement to make regarding GWP. It’s at the bottom – make sure you read (or skip) to the bottom to get all the details.

I spent the weekend tweaking 3 of the Facebook pages I’m responsible for, and there are some cool new features writers and authors should be embracing not cursing. Yes, it’s an investment of time, but an overhaul this big is only going to happen…once a year? lol Not my point – this change is worth the effort.

Plus – here’s the kicker. Reportedly, Timeline will be offloaded on your page whether you want it or not March 30 so you’re better to learn about the changes and take advantage of them.

A screenshot of a few of the new Timeline features

1. When creating a new Facebook page, you no longer have to bow down to the 25. Previously, I had to beg family and friends to please Like this new page for me so I could hit that magic 25 fans number to get a custom url. Don’t have to anymore. You can get a custom url with only one follower – you! Yay!! (Don’t know if this is due to Timeline or not – but still awesome)

2. The custom landing tabs game has changed. Previously, you could go to a site like Wildfire, Lujure, Tabsite or others, and drag and drop a free or paid upgrade custom landing page – you know, that page you first land on before you like a page that says “Like” with a giant arrow or offers a free download of a song or ebook for ‘Liking’ our page. Gone! Sort of.

Timeline makes the wall the default landing page. Boo. That’s disappointing because landing tabs were said to exponentially increase the number of likes on a page. Tabs are still there, but you can’t make anyone look at them anymore. We changed our custom welcome tab into a Meet Marcy and Lisa tab that’s more of a visual bio page. Experiment to see what works for you. Timeline now allows you to change the thumbnail for the landing page – so those of you with Mailchimp subscription forms no longer have to stare at the chimp (eep eep – I don’t want your monkey face on my Facebook page!).

The new design makes your photos and fan counter the top two tabs by default – you can’t change those. There is room for 2 more on that first line. Users now have an extra click to access any additional tabs so think through which ones you want front and center.

3. Facebook is apparently the largest photo sharing site on the web. Everyone posts photos of all sorts on Facebook. Timeline taps into all that photo sharing goodness by making everything more visual.

Utilize this visual nature. People love to share photos and funny pics. If you want to post a quote – make a quick jpeg of it with a non-copyrighted photo (there’s a variety of programs that will let you do this – you don’t need expensive Photoshop software – Paint, Powerpoint, etc.). Consider telling your author story in pictures. Post a photo often because a huge majority of fans never visit your page – they interact with your posts as they appear on their newsfeeds. Make use of the extra real-estate photos are given to get noticed.

4. The cover photo. There are rules for cover photos for pages – learn them. I don’t always understand Facebook’s rules, but if you want a turn on their playground you have to play their way.

Cover photos may NOT include:

  • Price or purchase info (no discount offers or buy this here or there stuff)
  • No contact info like websites, email addy, mailing info, etc. Put it in your About section
  • No ‘Like’, ‘Share’, ‘Get It Now’, or ‘Tell Your Friends’ call to action stuff – OR an arrow pointing to any of those features.
  • Cover photos can’t be false, misleading, or infringe on 3rd party rights (duh)

The best cover photos employ powerful images that pull people in. Use a portion of your book cover, a shot of you at a book signing or speaking, a promotional photo. But follow the rules.

5. Milestones. Timeline is a lurker’s dream – indulge your fans and give them some fun milestones to nose through using compelling or interesting photos. On your personal profile this is called a life event. This isn’t required, but seems to me like a valuable tool. Some companies have documented their entire history – like Manchester United. I found out Coca Cola first became known as Coke in 1941. It was fun browsing the classic Coke ads, and learning a bit about the company history.

I’m pretty annoyed that you have to publish your Timeline before it lets you add your Milestones – but there it is. Tell your fans about your publishing or writing journey in a visual way with photos.

Customized content from personal profile now appears on pages you visit

6. I didn’t post that on my page! Moment of panic – where did that post in the right-hand column come from? Well, Facebook put it there. Timeline will now pull statuses you or your friends have posted about whatever page you’re visiting and place it on pages so it appears like a built-in recommendation. At a glance, you can see how you or your friends have interacted or commented about this page. Cool – right? I think this is great.

7. This is a bonus afterthought. Timeline for pages allows fans to message you, like a friend would message you on your personal profile. The default setting for this is ON. It’s a simple box to uncheck in the admin panel (now found above the cover photo), but think through whether you want fans to be able to send you personal messages on Facebook or not. For companies, this could be a great way to deal with customer complaints or other issues they don’t want to plaster on the wall – but authors generally don’t have an HR department so I’m on the fence about the functionality of this feature for writers right now.

What do you think about Timeline? Do you think any of these features will be helpful on your author page? What other features are you excited about?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Marcy and Lisa

The death of genre?

New writers and authors are told to know what genre they’re writing when querying agents or editors, but how many of the recent mega-bestsellers lately seem to defy genre categorization?

When Marcy and I were at the recent Writer’s Digest Conference, super-agent, author, and writing teacher Donald Maass gave a short talk promoting his soon to be released book Writing in the 21st Century. Maass made 2 primary statements that had me sitting up straighter.

1. There’s a significant rise in cross-genre fiction

2. There’s a decline in straight genre fiction

One claim logically seems to follow the other, but I hadn’t really thought about it. Maass pointed out the enormous surge of novels that seem to defy genre categorization. Is it literary fiction, women’s lit, romance, popular fiction – maybe a little of two or three.

I haven’t personally done the legwork of verifying this (feel free – let me know what you find out) but Maass claims that historically books were lucky to spend a month or 6 weeks on the bestseller list. That was a phenomenal showing as far as publishers were concerned. But within the last 2 years or so, there’s been these blips on the list – books lasting weeks and months at the top. Now, Hollywood has long poached the bestseller list for books to turn into screenplays, but being turned into a movie later doesn’t explain how debut books immediately shot to the top of the list, and stayed there long after the movie was released.

The following stats were taken from the USA Today’s Bestselling Books site:

Water For Elephants – 194 weeks

Twilight – 220 weeks

The Help – 144 weeks

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 145 weeks

The Hunger Games – 130 weeks

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 273 weeks

The Lovely Bones – 223 weeks

The Notebook – 215 weeks

And you contrast those numbers against well-known bestselling authors:

44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel – 12 weeks

The 9th Judgment by James Patterson – 25 weeks

11/22/63 by Stephen King – 15 weeks

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks – 55 weeks

Now – don’t get me wrong. If I had a novel on the bestseller list at all I’d be doing a happy dance right now. Maass’ point was to look at what made books last so long on readers’ lists and minds? He drew 2 conclusions:

1. In the 21st century, the concept of genre is dying

2. Genre is being replaced by high impact fiction – beautiful storytelling and powerful writing that touches your heart and changes how you think about things.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a thriller about a reporter and his assistant chasing a grisly serial killer. It’s about a girl who’s gotten the short stick all her life, but has managed to survive and live life by her own rules despite what society says. It’s about one man’s integrity and his stand against a bully.

The Help isn’t just a period novel about racial inequality, it’s about Skeeter taking the biggest risk of her life to achieve her dream, about Minny breaking free of an abusive husband.

Harry Potter isn’t just about a boy training to be a wizard.

According to Maass, that’s what sets these novels apart. I’m eager to read his new book and see what else he has to say.

Do you agree with Maass? Have you read any of those mega best-sellers? What do you think?

Some great posts this week from around the web:

Amazon-Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Kristen Lamb

13 Ways To Impress An Agent by Rachelle Gardner

Author Websites – Layering yours with sticky extras by Roni Loren

Share some writerly love with Book Pregnant

Lisa

Subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

Those Who Can’t – Self-Publish. Really?

A lot of people put ‘write a book’ on their bucket list. Thanks to Amazon, Smashwords, and fee-based publishing companies, having a book with your name on the spine is easier than ever. There’s never been a better time to be an author, never been more options, but simply being published means very little now.

When everyone is special, then no one is.

The Author Is Now In Control
Authors are entrepreneurs. Gone are the days of the solitary writer holed up in a writing cave never interacting with readers. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing, the stigma is attached to books that do poorly. Your book must earn respect now with sales and Amazon rankings determining value, not the name of the publisher on the spine. Indie and self-publishing avenues (digital especially) have leveled the playing field. But with privilege comes responsibility. For the first time writers have choices – you can traditionally publish or self publish or both, but either way the burden of responsibility for success rests with the author.

A Leveled Playing Field
Traditional publishers have always offered distribution, something authors couldn’t get anywhere else. The cover art, editing, interior design are all services that many publishers are outsourcing anyway, but with digital there’s no longer any need for distribution. Barry Eisler made publishing news a few months ago when he turned down a BIG (I mean, never have to write again big) deal from St. Martin’s Press. He was then approached by Amazon to publish with them first digitally and then in paper at a much higher royalty rate. He didn’t need either St. Martin’s or Amazon for distribution – he already has a substantial platform, but Amazon offered direct to consumer marketing he could tap into. At the Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) in New York, Eisler claimed he’s made more on the book published with Amazon, than on any of his traditionally published books. Self-publishing was the smart business decision for him.

Writing Is A Business
Traditional publishers typically offer 17.5% royalty rates, but with self-publishing authors keep upwards of 75% royalties. Writing is a business and the business is connecting with readers. Traditional or self-published doesn’t matter because the self-published or indie author can hire an editor and the same cover designer as the big publishers, and put out a comparably packaged product. But not all books are created equal – and whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, failing to connect with readers will be reflected in customer reviews and sales numbers. Just putting a book out there doesn’t mean anyone will buy it – or find it in this crowded marketplace.

Read more about The Business of Writing with this exclusive GWP interview with author and writing teacher James Scott Bell.

A New Business Model
A new business model is emerging. Previously, a traditionally published author would put out 1 new title a year (or less than that), and then build a speaking and teaching career beneath the writing career. Indie publishers are telling new writers to publish 3-5 books a year to keep readers coming back. Writers must be entrepreneurs. Many of the successful independent authors have a team of writers writing for them – their name has become a brand – almost like a fashion label. But this also opens up markets where previously there were none – like short stories and poetry.

In Summary
If you don’t have a top-notch product (book), don’t have great packaging (interior design, cover art, binding, cover copy), and a social network who will share and recommend your work – you’re playing the author lotto (and the odds aren’t in your favor).

The average self-published title sells 80 copies. You can’t live off that. But the good news is that those are all things you can control through hard work. It’s a lot of trial and error, learning from what didn’t work as much as what did. These authors spoke of testing titles with Facebook ads, and monopolizing a word through Google ads. It’s a serious, purposeful business model being planned up to two years in advance.

Being traditionally published gives you instant credibility with retailers and to a certain extent readers, but that’s overcome with reader reviews, blogger reviews, Amazon rankings, etc. This is a really exciting time to be a writer. Authors no longer need the brick&mortar bookstore, the agent or New York publisher to be a success (whether publishing digitally or not) and that’s changed a lot of things.

Read more about self-publishing from these successful authors:

Debora Geary – paranormal author
LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author

Lisa

Subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

Much More Than A Writer

Make sure you join Girls With Pens on Facebook where we search out the best writing links from around the web every day so you don’t have to.

Check out Lisa’s post today: Fish Stories and Amazons – that crazy phenomenon and rite of passage for women surrounding the retelling of birth stories.

Check out Marcy’s post today: The Lie of Helen of Troy – Have you bought into the lie that beauty is purely physical and matters more than character, honor, or intelligence?

Gone are the days of writers sitting in their writing cave and never interacting with their readers, or having to promote themselves. Learning a variety of related skills is necessary today to be a successful income-earning writer/author. As a full-time freelance writer, a lot of work I take is writing-related, but not writing-only. But, through these various jobs, I’ve learned a number of valuable pre and post publication skills.

On the heels of my interview with James Scott Bell, I thought it would be beneficial to look at what kinds of skills, programs, etc. are valuable to have or work towards.

Some of the writing-related things I’ve been hired to do (and had to learn on the fly):

Write and submit event press releases for a large non-profit intended to get pre-event coverage in newspapers.

-related skills: researching editors/reporters, coordinating interviews, learning to catch reporters interest to get coverage, timing press releases to get timely coverage, collecting contacts

Value: Submitting press releases is mind-numbing a little boring, but every author needs to be able to get coverage about their book’s release and know how to catch a reader’s eye. Being able to write a compelling and news-worthy press release AND have it picked up by the media is invaluable.

Hired to write web copy.

-related skills:

  • learned to enter content and images to the back end of Joomla, Business Catalyst, and WordPress
  • learned about SEO (search engine optimization), web writing best practices, importance of backlinks, currency of content, cross-promotion across platforms, key word searches, naming photos, etc.
  • continuing to learn how to manipulate an e newsletter in mailchimp, creating lists, creating new templates, etc.
  • learned to focus on audience
  • continue to learn basic html coding
  • administration of social media accounts forces me to stay on top of all changes, keep my ear to the ground of how to best use various platforms, and build an audience

Value: Becoming an intermediate creator of web content gives the necessary skills to successfully keep up a blog/website. Eventually, building up an email list and sending out newsletters may become a valuable marketing tool.

Hired to ghostwrite books, speeches, and do research.

related skills: research and fact verification, adjusting your voice, writing within specific guidelines, interviewing skills, being flexible

Value: Ability to write for different mediums, outcomes, and audiences, adjusting the message accordingly.

Continue To Search For Work

To be a freelancer means that for tax purposes (in Canada at any rate) you have to prove you work for different employers, not just one. Plus, putting all your eggs in one basket (only taking work from one source) is risky because freelancers are easy to hire and easy to let go. Lots of turnover. This means continually searching out work, putting yourself out there, selling yourself. Taking several months off from finding work can leave you in an income lurch for months if you lose a contract for any reason.

Value: Learn your strengths and weaknesses, make insider contacts, gather recommendations, learn rejection isn’t personal – all kinds of great things.

Can you think of any other skills it would be valuable to learn or acquire to help your book’s success?

Lisa

Subscribe to Marcy’s blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s blog Through the Fire.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or follow her Pin Boards on Pinterest where she’s pinned all kind of photos used as inspiration for our co-written novel.

The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell

Marcy and I had the privilege of meeting James Scott Bell at the Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference in California last year. He gave us a free critique (part of the conference) and helped set us on a new path to publication that landed us in New York at the Writer’s Digest Conference. And who did we find there? James Scott Bell. He was a guest speaker, so we had a chance to reconnect. Much to our great delight he remembered us. He graciously agreed to give this interview on the business of writing.

Thank you so much, Jim! And to our readers, enjoy. 🙂

Lisa

LHW: You’re a successful author who’s sold a lot of books, but in support of the writing career you speak and teach at conferences, tweet, blog, give interviews <grin>. What myth would you most like to dispel for new writers about the successful writer’s life?

JSB: That it ever gets easier. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. Or should. Your standards go up with each book. You know more, you set the bar higher. And you want it to, if you’re a real writer. I have a number of bestselling author friends, and they all feel this way. It’s nice to have a career doing this, certainly. But it’s work, too. Don’t think it’s ever a fluffy ride on a cloud.

LHW: You’ve stated elsewhere that new writers need to focus on craft first – without a good book the rest doesn’t matter. But, at what point in an author’s early career should they begin thinking about the business behind the writing? How does one plan for that? What are the key items to think through, and consider?

JSB: A writer should think about this being a business from the very start. Know how the business runs, what publishers and agents and readers look for, what sells and does not sell. Learn how to plan at least two years ahead. Set goals for finishing projects and getting them out there. Learn about production–editing, cover design, copywriting and copyrighting. This approach establishes its own momentum. You can be doing things every day toward your goals, and there’s a power in that.

At the same time, never think that business knowledge and marketing can cover a multitude of writing sins. One still has to be able to consistently deliver the goods, and that means learning the craft by writing, revising, studying, getting feedback, and more writing.

LHW: You have a wide range of new ‘products’ being offered through ebooks, traditionally published fiction and non-fiction books (at my count you released 9 books in different formats on Amazon in 2011). You’re speaking and teaching at writers conferences, and Donald Maas just announced that the two of you will be doing a new workshop together in the fall. There’s been a lot of doom and gloom talk about publishing lately. In your opinion, is this a good time to be a new writer/author?

JSB: Never a better time to be an author! Ever. Period. Because of choices. It’s always been hard to get published traditionally. And yes, it’s harder at this moment because of the shakeups in the industry. Not impossible. New authors are getting deals. But we have the independent route now that means there’s a real alternative. There wasn’t before. Yes, you could pay a lot of money to self-publish in print, but 99% of the time you couldn’t sell enough to make any real dough. Not only has indie publishing been a boon for books, but also for short stories and novellas. The latter market was virtually non-existant. Now it’s back, better than ever.

Yes, it’s a great time to be a writer.

LHW: A lot of indie authors are telling new writers they must be prolific and produce new content often, 3-5books a year, to be successful. Not many traditionally published authors can manage that kind of output. Looking ahead, what do you predict will be the key factors for a successful writing career? Being prolific? A wide range of ‘products’? Social media clout?

JSB: I love being prolific, but I don’t think you need to put a number on the speed of production. Consistency is a better word. A writer who wants to succeed at this needs to establish a consistent rate of production (I always use a weekly quota of words), and plan projects out in advance (I have enough for at least five years hence). The “keys” to success are quality and consistency, which is why I advocate a systematic studying of the craft of writing for the rest of your life. Some writers sniff at craft study, but they are fooling themselves and others. Would you want your brain operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t keep up with the medical journals? Make craft study a part of the “quality control” of your business–and all writers are in business for themselves.

Social media certainly has a role to play, but if one gets obsessive about it, the ROE (Return on Energy) just doesn’t add up. Recent studies have shown that books are not sold in great numbers via social media. Create relationships with readers in social media, but always remember the best thing to do is write excellent books and let word of mouth take over. Concentrate your energy there.

LHW: Any advice for emerging authors about the business of writing?

JSB: Learn business principles: goal setting, time management, marketing fundamentals, quality control, pricing, copywriting, sales. You can get good books on all of these and study them when you can. I wrote a book, The Art of War for Writers, which covers a lot of this territory, but you can go deeper into each area.

The most important things a writer can do are, in order of importance:

1. Write

2. Keep improving what you write (study craft, get critiques)

3. Sell what you write (via marketing and business principles)

And try to enjoy the ride. I blogged about a new definition of success for writers, where freedom is the operative word. Freedom and responsibility. It’s exhilarating to hold them in your own hands.

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Deceived, Try Dying, Try Darkness, Try Fear, One More Lie and Watch Your Back. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writers Digest Books, including: Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. Under the pen name K. Bennett he has written the zombie legal thrillers Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously. He lives and writes in L.A. His website is www.jamesscottbell.com

What do you think? Is this a doom and gloom time for writers, or a world of new opportunities?

Results From Writers Digest Conference 2012

Many people have asked us to tell them about our experience at the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference. (WDC12) Here are a few observations and of course, the results of our trip.

First, keep in mind that there are different kinds of writer’s conferences. Some conferences focus on learning craft, others are geared more to the business aspect of writing, still others are geared for fans of writers or the hobbyist. Some conferences work hard to foster networking and relationship building and provide lots of opportunities for attendees to mingle with faculty, others don’t worry so much about that.

We went to Times Square to rework our pitch the night before

I’ve been to several different kinds of conferences geared to both the Christian and general market, and have found value in all of these experiences. Know what kind of conference you want, and what that conference offers so you aren’t disappointed.

My impressions:

A Conference For Professionals

This conference is meant for professionals, not beginning writers. I met more than a few people completely overwhelmed because they had just begun to start writing – which is OK if you knew what you were getting into. This conference was planned with the professional in mind, and focused a lot of the sessions on the business of writing, the career behind the writing. Loved that.

What became very clear was how much this industry is changing. Barry Eisler was a keynote speaker this weekend, and if you follow publishing news you might recognize his name because he recently turned down a 2.5million dollar two book deal from St. Martin’s Press to self-publish – and then accepted an offer from Amazon. He claims the book published electronically with Amazon has done better than any of his other books by a large margin. That’s astounding. I’ll be blogging more about that in the weeks ahead.

Writers come to this conference to pitch their work, and agents come expecting you to have something worth their time. Agents were not paid to come, they are there only to find new talent. It’s your chance to skip the cold query process that can last from 3-6 months, and the inevitable agency slush-pile jockey. It’s a chance to meet the person face-to-face, which is such a valuable opportunity in this digital age.

There are no meals really to socialize over. There are no editors or publishers, all the agents were from New York and just arrived for the 3hour Pitch Slam on Saturday afternoon and left again. Everyone is there to sell their book – get out of their way.

The Pitch Slam

You all want to know how the pitch slam works. As we waited in line for the doors to open, people clutched their pitch sheets, recited their pitches to themselves, forced the people around them to listen to their pitches. Not many people laughed or joked, and they defended their place in line with quiet ferocity. Many people dressed in business casual – others wore suits, a few came in jeans and t-shirts. The agents were all dressed in business casual.

The agents sat behind a table with one chair in front of them, and a small pile of much-coveted business cards at their elbow. You had 3 minutes to interest them enough to get their business card. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the goal – to get a business card. You’re not going to get signed in 3 minutes, no one’s going to jump out of the chair and declare, “I want to represent you.” It felt a bit like being lowered into a shark tank – only our intent was to look interesting enough to get snagged by a shark or two out of the hundreds swimming (or floundering) around us.

Generally the agents were intent, focused, and very business-like. They weren’t interested in small talk or chit chat – just your pitch.

Chuck Sambuchino gave a fabulous run-down of how to master the 3minute pitch. It’s different than writing a query letter, there’s just not enough time. You have to boil down your whole novel to a 90 second pitch, 3-10 sentences. It’s like Survivor Elevator Pitch. Marcy will be blogging about this process next week.

Line-ups became very long very fast. Even though we had 3 hours, I was only able to speak with 5 agents, Marcy reached 6. You can estimate how long the line is – 10 people in front of you that’s a 30 minute wait. It adds up fast. I waited in line for more than an hour for just one agent (and yes – she liked us. She asked for a full manuscript.)

Bring a notebook and a pen in case the agent has run out of cards, and to write down what the agent has asked for. We were asked for material from 7 agents, and every one asked for something slightly different.

I was very thankful for my iPod. Playing Bejeweled Blitz while waiting in line helped calm my nerves – my scores were embarrassing though.

How to Prepare

We read every agent’s bio weeks ahead of time and continued to check the website right up until the day before the conference to select those agents who were interested in acquiring our genre – this was a rather broad list. We stalked each agent on social media – what kind of person were they – was this someone we could see ourselves working with? We looked up their recent deals on publisher’s weekly, and checked the absolutewrite watercooler site to see what other writers said about them. This further cut down our list. Then we took that list and prioritized them, and there were a few last-minute cancellations. We found some of the bios were a little outdated,  vague, or conflicted with what their agency website said so we had a couple of agents tell us they don’t represent what we were writing which was disappointing.

What Surprised Us

Not one agent asked us about prior writing experience or publishing credits. There wasn’t time. The questions from the agents who were interested were more intense than we’d expected. We were asked about character arcs, the history behind the story, what aspects were fantasy, how we started working together, is there a mythological tie. I was surprised by how tiring the whole experience was. All we wanted to do afterwards was leave the hotel for a bit and not talk about our book at all – just revel in our success for an evening.

Results

The majority of the people we spoke to only received one business card. I saw at least 3 people out in the hallway crying afterwards, and they didn’t look like happy tears. Marcy spoke with one lady who got requests from all 5 agents she spoke with. Results seemed to vary. We split up to pitch twice as many agents. So, we spoke with 11 agents, and got requests for more material from 7 of them. We are very pleased with this result.

We micro-blogged our way through the conference on the GWP Facebook page. If you missed it, it’s easy enough to scroll down the wall on the page and see all the updates from the sessions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more of the information we gleaned from the sessions and the experience in general. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, leave it in the comments.

Are you planning to go to any conferences this year? What investments are you making in your writing career?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.