Making the Most of an Editor’s Time

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Max PerkinsThe Writer’s League of Texas has a superior Agents & Editors Conference each year here in Austin. I’ve attended, volunteered, been on faculty, pitched, and exhibited there over the last 10 years. Some writers attend to meet with agents in consulting appointments of 10 minutes. Others submit manuscript samples and synopses in an annual contest. Others just come to learn how the publishing business works and understand their genres better.

But there are probably fewer than 100 writers each year who come to meet with publishers’ editors. This year only three editors are taking consulting meetings, but does a limited number of writers make sense? Wouldn’t you rather talk to an editor, instead of an agent, about your book? You’d think a 10-minute meeting with someone who buys books, instead of an agent who represents and sells them to publishers, would be the smart way to go. There are good reasons why it’s not so simple. The WLT explains them well.

Why would I want to meet with an editor? Aren’t agents the ones who make the deals?”

Our answer: Editors can and do acquire books — but it’s very rarely that they acquire a book (or request materials) from a writer directly; an agent is almost certainly involved in this process.  Regardless, editors can offer valuable insight into agents who represent your type of work, should you need suggestions. What’s more, editors can offer valuable information on how to shape your story for not only agents and publishers, but for readers. They are also often experts on specific genres or categories and can share great advice that’s specific to what you’re writing.  For all of these reasons, and more, we invite editors to the conference and we make one-on-one consultations with them available.

BUT (very important) you should not select a meeting with an editor if your sole goal is having someone request materials or tell you they’d like to consider your work for publication. This is not a realistic goal for a meeting with an editor and you will likely be disappointed. We’re cautioning you here so that you don’t regret it later.

The League’s staff invites the curious author to call and learn more. Good show. Indeed, these editors don’t arrive to buy books. Everyone needs to see a book proposal these days, it seems. Even fiction authors get deals more easily with one. But an editor does a service to a conference attendee who meets with them. They tell them what they think of the book and the idea. It’s pretty much what an agent does at the conference. You pitch. They listen. They tell you what they think. In some cases the agent asks for a sample of the book.

Editor’s requests for a sample are not unheard of at the conference, though. One Workshop writer from my memoirs/nonfiction group said he got a request from a Big Five imprint for his full book after a meeting. Dave’s a worker and following through, but the important thing is that editors want unique, good books as badly as the agents who represent the authors writing those books. Time with an editor is almost always time well spent if you learn something and the book evolves.

The 12 Steps to Creating a Self-Published Book

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First of a Series

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

Everyone dreams of being a published author. However, the definition of published has become broader. It’s within your grasp. Being published is a key goal in a writer’s life, a goal you can take control of — if you follow all of the steps in this series. Being published is a process that involves other artists, readers, professionals, and writers.Your greatest asset to complete that process is to take control of your desire. You’ve must harness desire to deliver the goods for your dream. In this series, I’ll break down each step, so you know how it works. Self-publishing your book follows a pattern classic to publishing.

  1. You create a story, and improve it through revising.
  2. You create one brief, one longer, and one comprehensive summary of the book. It’s your pitch, query, and calling card.
  3. You workshop with other writers to gather responses to your story, using those responses to create your final draft.
  4. You create your platform, before the book is complete, to build an audience
  5. You hire an editor to assess your book, and to guide your revisions to the story.
  6. You revise one last time, before submitting your book to copy-editing and proofreading tasks.
  7. You design your printed book, both the inside pages as well as the covers.
  8. You design and build files for ebooks: Amazon, as well as other outlets such as indie bookstore ebook shelves.
  9. You schedule and specify for production and organize delivery of printed copies, as well as your ebooks.
  10. You register your book with an ISBN number and a UPC code.
  11. You distribute the books in stores of several kinds: book chains, independent stores, and online stores.
  12. You tell the world about your book, encouraging reviews of all varieties. This final and essential step launches you as storyteller into the world, using your platform to introduce your written story, as well as attract an audience.

Steps 1-4 are the same for publishing as for self-publishing. On Step 5, things start to change. The editor in that step is one which you hire — in the same way that a publisher has hired its editor to help an author revise a book.

Like a good Tarentino movie, this series going to look at these out of order, starting with Step 5. We’ll double back to do Steps 1-4. That’s because your first four steps will be the same if you’re going to SelfPub, or Traditional Publish (TradPub). Then we’ll go on to Step 6.

You hire for steps 5-11, but you can do of those some parts yourself, depending on your skills. Step 12 is the same for either kind of publishing. Publicizing is the writer’s work to do for almost the entire life of the book. A publisher helps arrange initial interest, and might be able to schedule reviews. But tools like Amazon, GoodReads, even LibraryThing — these are yours to manage. More

Everybody talks up blogging. Here’s how to start

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Start Writing a Blog

The info-graphic above (click on it to see the full view in my Ron Seybold Pinterest board) shows how you’d work through the steps to get a blog up and running. If you write anything, you need a blog. Non-fiction writers, especially you. It’s a source of content for your product/book. Fiction writers, you will need a blog for a publisher you might gain, attention to get an agent, or your self-publishing project.

Learning to write 150 words at a time, and being helpful in some way, is all it takes. By the way, the advice is “no less than one post a month. Once a week is a better minimum.” You can do 150 words a week.

The value of using agents

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An agent recently posted a blog entry about how much value can be earned by being represented during a book sale. There’s no doubt that a professional negotiator can keep dollars in your checkbook while you arrange a contract with a book company. As good examples, Rachelle Gardner lists e-book payments, frequency of royalty checks, sales threshold for royalties to begin, and size of advance. All, she says in her Why Authors Need Agents posting, provide value in exchange for an agent’s cut.

But there is that cut, since everybody gets a piece of the author’s efforts when a book is sold to a publisher. 15 percent in most cases, making the average first-time author’s $5,000 advance a $4,250 check to deposit. Nobody should quibble over $750 in service to publishing a book. You’d do well to spend that little on an outside professional edit before submitting your work to anybody. Even if you’re publishing it yourself.

There’s another factor in the formula to consider, and that is the sale itself. Agents are paid sales professionals whose primary function is to interest an acquisition editor in your book. What caliber of publishing company, and what treatment your book gets after signing the contract — well, these are benefits whose value varies wildly. The first benefit changes all the time in these days as publishing firms scramble to stay profitable and in business. The second benefit shifts according to who remains in the publisher’s employ. There’s a lot of job shifting going on out there. You can have a good editor and lose her, or get a better replacement who will need to learn your book to be of any help.

Gardner’s most salient point is that a writer who has little interest in participating in the publishing business gets to focus on their creative craft when they employ an agent. Again, it’s true with a caveat: don’t be thinking you’re just going back to the keyboard after the sale for revisions from an editor’s notes, then onward to the next book. Few publishing deals leave the sales effort up to the force entirely. The force may be with you, young writer, but you must practice its ways in any arrangement.

You can get a turnkey deal. A friend of mine is writing a remarkable book under a very nice contract with a publisher well-known for its adept sales force. She’ll do readings, of course, be interviewed and the like. A lot of what she’s earning from the book is either already accomplished — the strength of her work that won the deal — or expected from the publisher.

Many deals are not as fortunate. We write for many reasons, but an important one is to be paid enough to keep writing, to be an author of several books rather than someone who wrote a book. Most of the time that requires continued effort to promote and interest the world in your stories. A great author Web site, Twitter, and to a lesser degree Facebook, are ways I see writers taking the reins in creating a platform for their voice and their work.

An agent might be able to give advice about this platform work, but you would hope they’re working harder on advice about making your manuscript salable, or finding a buyer for your book. Gardner wants us to believe that every standard publishing contract contains benefits from prior work of other agents — sort of like we’re supposed to believe we’re indebted to Louis Pasteur when we get an H1N1 vaccination. It’s a stretch in science and kind of disingenuous in examining agents’ value.

Agents are performing services today that publishers once did. Editing, for example, in the scope of showing a writer how their story could be better, and so sold sooner and at a better price. Publishers with good editors are getting rare. Even my friend’s book is mostly bereft of a close relationship with an editor. Considering that the fee for a good edit and the agent’s cut of your average advance are similar numbers, the value of being agented seems on par with being edited. A well-written book makes everything richer. Sales specialists spin the threads of your work into the gold of folding cash. But you need to ensure your threads are in their best order to even get a reading from an agent.