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1. The Brave New World of Publishing

Technology(This is a re-post from one year ago.)

Here’s the deal: I don’t like the fact that you have to “build a platform” these days, any more than you do. But I get weary of writers complaining about it. I get frustrated by hearing that publishers are “abandoning writers” and “bringing nothing to the table.” I know it’s hard to market your books — I feel your pain — and yet I dislike it that people saying that publishers are shirking their duties by “leaving it all up to the author.”

REALITY CHECK:

Publishers did not create this brave new techno-world we live in.

It is not the publishing industry that has created this society of ubiquitous electronics, Internet noise, YouTube, X-Box, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, and the decline of reading. It is not the publishing industry who put a computer in more than half of all American households, allowing millions of folks just like yourself to write books they want to sell.

It is not the publishers who brought our society to a place where it’s no longer possible to “market” books the old-fashioned way. It’s not the publishers’ fault that average human beings everywhere are being bombarded with literally thousands of pieces of information every day, making it more challenging than ever to draw a person’s attention to one little book.

The fact is, publishers are doing everything they can dream up, and everything they can afford, when it comes to marketing books. They have the same limitations you do: Time and Money. But they’re coming up with new ideas and innovations all the time.

Publishing is an “old world” industry, figuring out, day by day, how to thrive in this “new world.” We all face these challenges together. We all have to figure out how to get people to want to read our words… to want to PAY to read our words. We all have to figure out how to get our books to rise above the “clutter” and get the attention of readers who are willing to pay for them.

Those of you who find yourself bemoaning that “writers are expected to do everything” and concluding “we might as well self-publish” — perhaps the self-publishing route will work out better for you. For certain kinds of books and certain authors, it’s working out great. Give it a try!

But I want to point out that publishers are still in business because of the value they bring to the table — not just in marketing but in every aspect of the editing, production, and selling of books. It is harder these days to sell books than ever before, yes, but publishers are more than just a business selling widgets, they’re entities who take seriously the responsibility of preserving and disseminating the written word. And so publishing persists, despite the challenges, despite our changing world.

Part of the value publishers bring is a sense of history, a sense of tradition and permanence. Many authors still want to be a part of that. It’s about great stories and important thoughts. It’s about legacy. It’s about a dream. People in publishing still see this dream as worth it. They’re willing to swim against the tide because publishing isn’t just a business, it’s a life, it’s a calling, it’s a passion.

To all writers who believe in the dream, who have the passion, who feel called to the legacy — I’m right there with you, and so is everyone else who has staked their livelihood on this crazy, unpredictable, totally unrealistic business called publishing. Thanks for being here, and hanging on for the ride. To those who are frustrated by the ways it seems publishing can’t meet your expectations, I commiserate with you and I apologize that things aren’t the way we wish they could be.

To each and every author, I sincerely wish the very best for you as you seek your own way of getting your book to its intended audience. I am doing my best to be a positive and helpful part of this process.

Are you in it for the legacy? Or something else?

Comment below or by clicking: HERE.

 

TWEETABLES

Publishing is an old world industry, figuring out how to thrive in this new world. Click to Tweet.

Publishing isn’t just a business, it’s a life, it’s a calling, it’s a passion. Click to Tweet.

To all writers who believe in the dream, the passion, the legacy – I’m with you.  Click to Tweet.

 

 

 

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2. Find Me Online

Books & SuchI blog every Wednesday at our agency site, Books & Such. To read my posts and participate in the comments, click HERE.

I have an agent page on Facebook. You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my Pinterest boards. Or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Scroll down for the latest posts here at my blog.

 

 

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3. How to Respond to Alarming Changes

bookshelvesThis week I read a couple of online articles about the plight of the contemporary writer. In “Farewell to the Golden Age,” legendary author Philip Yancey summarizes the changes in publishing, both from his personal perspective and that of the industry as a whole. He notes, “Every year my royalties go down,” and notes that the reason he can still pay the bills as a full-time writer is because of his extensive backlist.

Yancey laments, “I do worry, though, about new authors who don’t have a backlist to depend on.  As readers are trained to pay less (or nothing) for books, how can authors survive?”

He has a good point, as underscored in The Guardian (UK). The article, “Authors’ incomes collapse to abject levels” is a review of a survey in the UK that indicated 11.5% of “professional writers” — those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing — earn their income solely from writing. It discusses the decrease in advances, the drop in royalties for established authors, and the fact that a few writers make a lot of money while the majority don’t. It put the median annual income of professional authors in the UK at less than $19,000. Not enough to support a family.

These two articles are simply highlighting a new reality — publishing is in flux and no one is quite sure what the future looks like. Everyday we’re faced with difficult truths:

• Publishers are merging, resulting in fewer places to submit manuscripts.

• Many authors who have published numerous books are finding their advances going down, not up.

• With self-published books now plentiful, there are more books than ever for readers to choose from.

• It is difficult figuring out how to effectively market books.

• A book’s potential sales are highly unpredictable.

• Many authors’ books don’t live up to the publisher’s sales expectations, meaning the publisher might not want to renew their contract.

• Poor sales figures can make it difficult or impossible to get another traditional book deal.

• The publishing journey often doesn’t live up to an author’s expectations.

In the midst of these truths, writers may experience moments of disappointment and dejection. They might be anxious that a series of speed-bumps could signal the end of their writing career, sometimes before it has even started. Often they are questioning whether it’s time to give up. Some are sad, thinking their lifelong dream is dying. A few are wondering how they are going to pay the bills.

While I understand that everyone has to deal in their own way with disappointment, I also want to encourage everyone to avoid getting bogged down in despair. Because here are some other truths:

• Being a published author is still an amazing experience even if it’s not your primary source of income.

• Publishing setbacks are not “failures” but necessary and expected rites of passage in this business.

• Just because things didn’t go the way you envisioned doesn’t mean things can’t still go well — possibly after re-envisioning your goals.

• People are still reading, meaning we still need writers.

• There are more options than ever before for getting your work in front of readers. You might have to adjust your expectations regarding how much you’ll get paid for it.

• You can embrace your identity as a writer, and refuse to let external circumstances change that.

• The best way to deal with this new reality is to stand up and fight. Don’t let yourself settle in to the despair. You’re not a quitter — pull out that fighting spirit and decide to be a writer regardless of the obstacles.

• Write your books. Share them with people.

Don’t ignore reality. But also, don’t let yourself get trapped in despair. You can’t afford the time. Better get back to work!

Have you experienced moments of despair over the state of publishing? How did you handle it? How do you recommend we all move forward?

 

 This post originally appeared at Books & Such.

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4. 11 Questions for Crafting a Pitch

baseball pitcherI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:

As a writer, you’re always going to find it necessary to “sell your stuff.” To do that, you need to create those all important sales materials for your book: The one-sentence summary. The query. The pitch paragraph. The elevator pitch. The proposal.

I want to focus on fiction here today (since our blog survey revealed 78% of you are writing fiction!) So, how do you create those sales materials for a novel? The main elements of a fiction pitch are:

The main character
Their choice, conflict, or goal
What’s at stake (may be implied)
Action
Setting

But it’s still hard figuring out exactly the right way to pitch. You have to simplify your story and pitch a single plot thread and as few characters as possible. You have to be precise, and use specific (not vague) language. And you have to make it interesting, which means you need to find the most unique and special aspect of your story and make sure it’s covered in the pitch.

So I’ve come up with a set of 11 questions that I recommend novelists work through before even starting to craft a pitch or summary. If you think about the answers to these questions, and write them down, you’ll be more equipped to find the right elements of your story to include in the pitch.

Click HERE to read the post at Books & Such.

 

 

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5. When Editing Goes Wrong

red pen 2I’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:

A couple of weeks ago I told you what the editorial process typically looks like inside a publishing house. Sometimes the editing is smooth and wonderful, but not always. Today I wanted to talk about what to do when it gets rocky.

As a writer, you care deeply about your words and you’ve tried to get them just right. Hence your first encounter with an editor might be a little daunting. When they send you pages and pages of notes for revisions, you might be overwhelmed, depressed, and demoralized. Take heart… this is normal!

I recommend you enter the editorial process with a humble and teachable spirit. The editing process is a terrific opportunity to learn how to improve your writing.

But what if your editor requests changes with which you disagree? How you handle it may depend on who you are—a bestselling author versus a first-timer. (Guess who has more leverage?)

My advice, in a situation where you don’t understand the editorial request or you disagree with it:

  • Ask a lot of questions of your editor. Try to get their perspective.

Click here to read the entire post at Books & Such.

 

 

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6. Take Our Reader Poll

starbucksOver at Books & Such, we’re running the 2014 Books & Such Reader Survey. If you’d like to chime in, please click through to share your thoughts.

Click here to take the survey.

The survey is anonymous, but if you leave a comment on today’s post on the Books & Such blog, you’ll be entered in a random drawing for a $25 Starbucks gift card. Just our way of saying thank you for participating. When you comment, please feel free to share additional thoughts or suggestions about our blog.

The survey will be open for 7 days so please respond by Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Thank you for letting us hear your voice!

~Click the Starbucks logo to take the survey.~

Click HERE to get to today’s post at Books & Such to leave a comment.

 

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7. OMG! What if B&N Closes?

Man freaking out“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” So said Mark Twain in 1897, and I’m wondering if Barnes & Noble might be saying the same thing right about now.
 
Over the last week, an article by Michael Levin has been making the rounds, causing fear and trembling among certain groups of authors and publishing folks.  Syndicated on news websites all over the U.S., Levin’s article predicts that Barnes & Noble may close all the rest of their stores by the end of the year. It proposes five reasons for B&N’s demise, and goes on to lament the awful tragedy this would be. (You can read a version of the article HERE.)
 
I just want to add my two cents to the pot:
 

Everybody, get a grip.

 
1. We’ve known for a long time that B&N’s position was—and is—precarious. This is not news. (Forecasting “B&N closing by the end of the year” is, however, a great way to get lots of clicks and shares.)
 
2. While it could happen, we haven’t seen any evidence that B&N will be dead before 2015. This business is always rampant with rumors, and what good does it do? I prefer to ignore attention-seeking prognostications and wait for the real news.
 
Now, let’s say Mr. Levin’s prediction is correct. What then?
 
I daresay the world won’t end. Things will change for publishers and readers and everyone in between—but things have already been changing and we ought to be used to it by now. It’s not as if publishers are unaware that this could happen. And it’s not as if readers are clinging to B&N as their last and only hope for access to books.
 
Let’s take a few of the statements in this article and expose them to the light.
 
“Literary agent David Vigliano says that the disappearance of bookstores, and the move to buying books on Amazon, represents the death of browsing.”
 
No offense to either Mr. Levin or Mr. Vigliano, but this is categorically untrue. Millions of readers are browsing just fine, thank you very much, online and in (gasp) libraries. Why do you think B&N is having so much trouble? Not just because of showrooming (people browsing in the store, then buying online.) But because many, many readers have already made the switch to online browsing and are having no trouble finding the reading material they want.
 
“Serendipity – the sweet surprise of happening upon an unexpected book – is an experience that can happen only in a bookstore.”
 
This feels to me like the ranting of Luddites who can’t get used to this thing called the Internet. They can’t believe that it actually WORKS. Again, this statement is so untrue as to be almost ridiculous. Millions of readers are experiencing “serendipitous” sweet surprises much more often nowadays via the Internet than they ever could from walking into a bookstore.
 
“Yes, Amazon’s algorithms can point you to books you may like, but there’s no substitute for wandering the aisles of a bookstore, looking into a section you might never have visited before, and finding a new author or subject you had never considered.”
 
Oh, brother. I regularly find new authors and subjects I’d never considered—by tuning in to NPR and the Wall Street Journal, by following smart bloggers, by checking Facebook every now and then, by belonging to a book group, by browsing on Goodreads, and by having actual conversations with actual people. I have probably been in B&N five times in the last five years—and I read as many books as almost anyone I know.
 
“Barnes & Noble killed privately owned bookstores, and Amazon and technology are killing B&N. It’s downright Darwinian.”
 
It took a lot more than B&N to drive many privately-owned bookstores out of business—it was the advent of digital books, and it was all the big stores (Borders, Walmart, Costco, etc), and it was Amazon. But think about it. If B&N folds, it might be exactly what we need to bring back the privately-owned local bookstore that knows how to serve its own community.
 
Could B&N close this year? Sure. Would it be a tragedy of epic proportions? No, except for the fact that many would lose their jobs because of it. My heart goes out to those people.
 
Publishers (and writers, and agents, and everyone else in the book food chain) will figure out how to rally. We’ve been adjusting to massive changes for half a decade already, and there’s more to come. I understand it’s difficult to deal with uncertainty (you have no idea how well I understand this). But I’m so over the drama, and the fear, and the hand-wringing.
 
Let’s keep looking ahead at the possible changes in our industry, and asking ourselves: What’s good about this change? How does it bring us into the future? What do I need to do to adjust to this change? Does it offer any opportunity for me? 
 
I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Comment below, or by clicking: HERE.

 

Tweetables

Barnes & Noble closing? Agent @RachelleGardner says: Everybody get a grip. Click to Tweet.
 
Could B&N close this year? Sure. A tragedy of epic proportions? No, says agent @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.
 
“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Mark Twain–and Barnes & Noble? Click to Tweet.
 
Image credit: twindesign / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

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8. Is It Important Who You Know?

helping handI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:

Earlier this month at PubSmart, I co-taught a workshop on “setting yourself up for success” at the conference. I offered the idea that the participants’ most important connections would be with their fellow writers, not the agents, editors, or other professionals.

Other writers are your fellow pilgrims on the writing-and-publishing journey—the ones who can still be there for you five or ten years into your writing career. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of building genuine relationships with writers who are in a similar place as you on the writing path.

We in the publishing world spend a lot of time talking about things like:

• The best thing you can do for your platform is write a great book.

• Publishing isn’t about who you know, but what you write.

For the most part, these are true statements. Nevertheless, networking with other authors can be tremendously valuable.

CLICK HERE to read the complete post at Books & Such.

 

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9. Write the Whole Book Before Pitching?

4679004_sI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview.

Classic wisdom for unpublished authors seeking traditional publication has been that if you’re writing a novel (fiction), you need a complete manuscript. If you’re writing non-fiction, you need a book proposal plus two or three sample chapters. If you’re writing a memoir, who knows — everybody has a different opinion.

Here’s what is true and will always be true: unpublished fiction authors MUST have a complete novel before trying to get an agent or publisher. No question, no exceptions.

But things are changing in publishing, especially when it comes to non-fiction. In some ways, the standards are higher. It’s more of a risk for a publisher to say “yes” to an unproven author. And in light of this reality, I’m going to make a bold and probably controversial suggestion.

No matter what you’re writing, even if you’re already published, even if it’s non-fiction or memoir:

Consider writing the whole book before you search for a publisher.

Why would I say such a thing? A few reasons:

1. It lowers the risk for the publisher.

Click here to read the whole post at Books & Such.

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10. What’s Changed in Publishing?

TransformationI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:
 
I began blogging as an agent in January of 2008, and it’s remarkable to look back over my past posts and notice how much has changed in six years. When I started, I didn’t even have a Kindle. Now my family owns five Kindles plus iPads and various other electronic devices, and I wouldn’t want to do this job without them.
 
I wrote posts back then about how there was a stigma to self-publishing and I warned writers against it— if they wanted to be taken seriously. Now self-publishing is a normal and accepted option for writers.
 
I wrote about how e-books were a minuscule percentage of any author’s total books sold.
 
I was not even on Twitter until a year after I started the blog (January, 2009). Facebook and Twitter were still optional and sort of curiosities.
 

What else has changed in the book business?

 

  • The closing of Borders was an epic blow to the industry, many independent bookstores have closed, and pundits frequently discuss the future of Barnes & Noble.

 
Click HERE to read the post at Books & Such.

 

 

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11. What’s Your Book About?

PubSmartI have a post up at PubSmart today. In case you haven’t heard, PubSmart is a new writers’ conference debuting this April in Charleston, SC, with the goal of bringing together self publishing, traditional, small press and hybrid. PubSmart is about introducing new models that lead to smart decisions about how to seize opportunities in today’s transformed book marketplace. I’m thrilled to be on the faculty of this terrific new conference! Keynote speakers are Hugh Howey and Jane Friedman, and the faculty includes heavy hitters from all walks of today’s expanded publishing world.Learn more on the PubSmartCon website.
 
Here’s a preview of my post:
 

What’s Your Book About?

 
Everyone attends conference for their own reasons—to learn, to network, to get a break from home. One of the primary advantages of a conference is the opportunity to talk to people, including fellow writers and others in the industry. Naturally, one thing you’ll want to talk about is your work, whether you’re in a formal pitch session or just hanging out having drinks. But talking about our work is sometimes challenging! So here are seven tips for discussing your book(s) effectively.
 
1. Be prepared. You never know when you’re going to come across someone who will ask, “So what’s your book about?” Mealtimes, hallway chatting, elevator rides, and designated pitch sessions. Prepare ahead of time so you’ll never be caught stammering, “Well, it’s um… it’s kind of an… uh…”
 
2. While preparing, remember that you’re going to be talking to someone. There are differences between verbal and written pitches. Your speaking voice is different from your writing voice. Make sure you don’t prepare something that sounds too “canned” i.e. written.
 
Click HERE to read the complete post.
 
→And don’t forget our special Facebook event today! Books for writers specially priced at 99 cents, plus all-day chats happening with the authors of these books. Click here for more info.

 

 

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12. A Facebook + Amazon Event for Writers

Tomorrow (Friday 2/28) I’m participating in a fun online event in which authors of 16 e-books specifically for writers are discounting their books to 99 cents, and will be hanging out on a special Facebook page to chat and answer questions from writers. The graphic below shows all the books available, and each one is individually clickable.

This is a great opportunity to expand your library of writer resources (dirt cheap!) and get some questions answered. The authors involved will be on Facebook at different times. I’ll be there 3 to 6pm EST.

Click HERE to join the Facebook event, and then on Friday you can show up, hang out, chat, ask questions and enjoy talking books with your colleagues in the business!

Each of these books is going to be 99 cents for Friday only, and then return to their regular prices.

Join us!



 

 

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13. A Typical Day for an Agent

circus-jugglerI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:
 
I enjoyed Wendy’s post yesterday about how agents spend their time. She did a great job of describing how agents work on their clients’ behalf, and I wanted to add my own two cents to further explain how we organize our days.
 
People frequently ask me about a typical day for an agent. I think most agents will tell you — there are no typical days!  With a large number of clients, working on a variety of projects, all in various stages of writing or publication, the days provide endlessly changing excitement.
 
While agents always have a long to-do list, our most important job is to be responsive to our clients’ needs, as Wendy explained. The email box is always full, and fires erupt and need dousing with alarming regularity. So we begin each day with a “plan” and an awareness that we could end the day having not accomplished anything we’d planned. 
 
I try to be aware of what’s important, what’s urgent, what’s both and what’s neither. (Remember those categories when you email your agent. Your situation will be prioritized along with everything else on her desk!) Whenever possible, I organize my days according to my priority list:
 
1. Contracts and Payments.
Fielding offers, negotiating deals, scrutinizing contracts, discussing clauses and terms with publishers, walking clients through their contracts, making sure the contract gets executed properly. Following up on advance and royalty payments, making sure publishers pay clients in a timely manner, examining royalty statements for accuracy.
 
Click HERE to read the full post at Books & Such.

 

 

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14. Will the Book Biz Follow the Way of Music?

I’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:
 
One of the recurring themes of this blog is how publishing is evolving, and you probably know that for the last few years, people have been comparing our current situation to the music industry’s revolutionary changes over the last fifteen years. If we’re smart, the wisdom goes, we’ll carefully study how things have gone in that medium and see what we can learn from it. I’ve read many articles that astutely point to things that have worked and things that didn’t for the big record labels; analysis of mistakes that were made; and how that industry has adapted to changing technology which has in turn changed consumers’ buying patterns.
 
There is much that can be learned and applied to the book business, but I’ve been concerned lately that some people seem to be taking the analogy too far. There are too many ways that books are not like music, and if we slavishly try to incorporate the lessons the music biz has learned, we’re going to end up in big trouble. Many of the strategies that are now working in music won’t work in books—we need to creatively think up our own solutions!
 
Here are a few of my thoughts:
 
The music business has always been driven by live events.
For thousands of years before recording even existed, music was performed and enjoyed live. It makes sense that many of the answers for the music industry lie in the better exploitation of live music; not so in books. The book business has never been driven by live events, and I doubt it ever could be.
 
CLICK HERE to read the rest of the post at Books & Such.

 

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15. 7 Ways the Writer’s Life is Like American Idol

American IdolI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:
 
I’m often struck by the similarities between the competition reality shows on TV these days, and life in the publishing environment. The programs bring together hopefuls in an endeavor—baking, fashion, business, movie makeup, singing—and pit them against each other. Along the way, the competitors make friends, make enemies, learn more about their chosen endeavor, and learn about themselves.
 
The shows are not only fun, they’re full of insights. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking lately as I watch the new season of American Idol.
 

1. Some people are more talented than they know. Others are less talented than they think they are.

 
Some contestants come in with beautiful voices that are unpolished; some have hopeless voices but they’re trying really hard. Some have so much enthusiasm you can’t help but like them, and some are so dull that they could have the most accomplished voice in the world but no one would want to hear it. Some have a sense of entitlement (How could you NOT pick ME?) and others are beautifully humble, surprised that the judges would give them a smile and a kind word. In singing, as in writing, it’s difficult to know how good you are without outside, objective input. And the first time you receive it can be a shock—in either a positive or negative way.
 

2. The judges know more than you realize.

 
It’s surprising how much the judges can tell from such a small amount of information. You think—how could they possibly make a decision so quickly? They stop the singer after 16 bars; they take one small taste of the cake; barely a glance at the elaborate costume design—and pronounce their verdict. It’s just like when an experienced agent or editor forms an opinion about a written piece from the first page. You wonder how they can possibly have enough information to reach a conclusion, and it can feel a little harsh. But those who have spent years working in a field—learning, studying, honing their instincts—can quickly form an opinion that wouldn’t change even with much more information.
 

Click HERE to read the full article at Books & Such.

 

 

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16. Puppy Training Techniques for Writers

puppy Reagan

The adorable and very well-trained Reagan

I’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:
 
One of the difficult things about being a writer is having those days when you’re lacking inspiration, the words aren’t flowing, and you feel stuck. Pile enough days like that on top of one another and pretty soon you have the dreaded writer’s block. Ugh.
 
But that never has to happen to you…because you can train your muse to perform on command. The secret is to think of it like a puppy. You know — cute, rambunctious, frustrating and surprisingly teachable. Like a puppy, your muse only seems unmanageable. Here are some tips on how to get your creativity to show up when you need it.
 

5 Puppy-Training Basics for a Muse That Behaves

 
1. Develop desirable habits.
 
The secret to puppy training is getting your adorable fluffy friend to develop routine behaviors he can perform without even thinking. To help him develop good habits, repetition is key—doing the same thing over and over again. That’s the number one way to train your muse, too. Keep to a schedule; have a routine that works for you. Have certain “cues” that signal to your muse that it’s time to work: sit in a certain place, turn on certain music, get your favorite drink, whatever you need to do. Schedule + repetition = habit.
 
Click HERE to read the whole post at Books & Such.

 

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17. Nobody Writes Good First Drafts

Crumpled paperI spend a lot of time working with my clients to edit and revise their proposals and manuscripts. I give notes and suggestions for improvements. Sometimes I take them through draft after draft, until everything seems just right.
 
I know it’s tiring for them, and sometimes frustrating to be pushed to go over it again and again, especially when they know they’ll go through more edits with their publisher. I admire every writer who does whatever is necessary, who keeps pushing through, who remains dedicated to making the work the best it can be.
 
This is what it takes to be good. When an editor pushes you to be your best, or when you push yourself, you’re doing exactly what’s necessary to rise above the hordes of regular writers to become a good writer. Along those lines, I read this powerful piece in the book Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.*
 

No one, not even the greatest writers, creates good first drafts. “I have to write crap before I can write anything that is not crap,” says Walt Harrington, who has been writing well for thirty years. “Writing is thinking. It is an extension of the reporting process.” A first draft might have promising sentences or paragraphs, a brilliant conceptualization, a few surprising turns of phrase, or a sturdy framework. All that, however, will probably be barely visible, entangled in the general messiness of half-formed ideas. Those promising elements will reveal themselves as the writer begins to tease apart the mess with the next draft and the one after that.
 
Still, as you read through a flawed first draft, remember that the hardest work is behind you. You have moved closer to defining the topic and developed strategies for explaining it…. You have stared down the blank page and begun building something on it.
 
Good writing is far too complex to get right in one draft or two or five. Good writers are most often plain ol’ writers who go the extra mile and then a few more.

 
If you are struggling through draft after draft, trying to get it right, take heart. You’re going the extra mile, and then a few more. Keep putting in the work, and you will become a good writer.
 

Are you pushing yourself hard enough? Are you going through enough drafts to push yourself to be a good writer?

 
Tweet this: “Good writers go the extra mile.” Some encouragement from @RachelleGardner.
 
*Quote from Telling True Stories, p. 97, by Mark Kramer & Wendy Call.
 
Image credit: stocksnapper / 123RF Stock Photo
 

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18. What if Someone Steals Your Idea?

top secretI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:

Last week I wrote about two ways your work can be used without your permission: plagiarism and piracy. But questions have come up about another kind of problem that worries writers:

What if someone steals your idea, and writes a book on the same topic as you?

Angela Mills wrote:

I’m finishing up my first novel and I feel it’s a pretty timely, unique idea. I have scoured Christian fiction bookstores and catalogs and haven’t found any book with this kind of plot/setting. Should I keep the idea to myself until I find an agent and get it sold? I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to talk about what I’m writing anyway, but I’m trying to figure out how to answer when other writers ask what my book is about. 

The best way to deal with this particular situation is simply to be vague when discussing your book. Don’t give details about your plot or subject matter. “It’s a romance set against the backdrop of a modern day reality show,” or “It’s a story about life in Auschwitz during World War II.”

The bigger question on many writers’ minds seems to be, what if other authors are writing books on the same idea as mine?

My philosophy has always been that you can give 100 writers the same book idea, and you’d end up with 100 different books. While there are some really great ideas out there, and some ideas are better than others, the execution is what matters and determines whether readers enjoy the book. The “same idea” isn’t going to result in the “same book.” Additionally, many readers don’t mind reading multiple books with similar ideas, and may even seek them out. So it’s usually not a problem.

→ Click HERE to get to Books & Such to read the post, in which we touch on the collective consciousness and questionable disclaimers on publisher websites.

 

 

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19. Why is Publishing So Slow?

One of the most common complaints about traditional publishing is how long everything seems to take. We’ve heard these grumblings for as long as I’ve been in this business, but it’s certainly increased in this digital age where immediate gratification rules.

To the author it seems like publishers do everything at a glacial pace. The funny thing is, when you work in a publishing house, you’re always moving at top speed, overwhelmed by how much needs to get done in a short amount of time. Things actually move very quickly for the editors, designers, marketing and sales people. The days fly by. Each person has dozens of projects in play at any given time, and it’s crazy managing them. They can’t do much but chuckle and shake their heads when everyone accuses them of being slow.

So why is there such a disconnect between publisher realities and author perceptions? Let’s look at a couple of different aspects.

“Publishers are SO Slow to Make Offers”

To authors, it seems like publishers (and agents) often take forever to make yes/no decisions on acquiring projects. And that makes it seem like publishing “moves slowly.” But the reason it seems slow is because your project is just one amongst dozens or hundreds on each agent/editor’s desk at any given moment. It may be taking a long time to get to yours… but it’s just because of the volume everyone is dealing with. In reality, everyone is making decisions at exactly the speed they need to, in order to fill their lists. Sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it’s fast. But you can be sure that no matter where in the pile your project is, this process isn’t all about you. Don’t take the perceived slowness personally.

“Publishers Have SUCH Long Lead Times”

These days, you can get your book up for sale on Kindle within a matter of days after you finish writing it. So authors have less patience for publisher lead times, which are still often 12 to 18 months from contract to book release. Writers want to know why it’s so slow, and they’re constantly asking why publishers can’t speed it up.

Well, they could speed it up if they wanted to, and for certain (“fast track”) books, they do. But what you’re getting in that longer lead time is an editorial process to help your book shine; professional interior and exterior book design; and obviously your book gets printed and shipped to stores. That all takes time.

However, that’s not even the biggest reason for the long lead times. The fact is that even in this digital age, it’s the sales and marketing aspect that requires long lead times. This is where all those things you get with a traditional publisher that you don’t get with digital self-pub comes into play. There’s a whole marketing team that needs to read some or all of your book and plan their strategy. Even if their marketing efforts aren’t visible to you, they’re still sending your galleys out for review; contacting appropriate media outlets; and placing your book in the right retailer, wholesaler and trade catalogs, all of which require long lead times. Then there’s an entire sales team that also needs to read some or all or your book, and go out on the road to visit their accounts. This is all happening months before your book release.

So because of these very real marketing and sales realities, publishers are usually wary about a contract-to-pub span of less than 12 months.

Take It or Leave It

Of course, sometimes your long lead time is just a matter of scheduling. The publisher may want to acquire your book, but there’s no slot open until 18 months from now. Or 24 months. You have a choice to make. Sign the contract and deal with the long

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20. The Changing Publishing Landscape

Yesterday we talked about how slow everything seems to go in traditional publishing, and how it can be tempting to think of “quick” e-book publishing as better simply because it’s faster. I have a couple of things to add today about how this industry is changing.

Shorter Lead Times?

I do think that with new technologies affecting everything from printing to distribution to marketing and sales practices, plus pressures from the marketplace, publishers might be moving toward progressively shorter lead times, even on their books that need to be printed and shipped. Ironically, this change will be slow, as many publishers already have books in the pipeline for release through 2013 and 2014, so it will take a while to turn this ship.

How Timely is Your Book?

In this Internet and digital age, it’s increasingly necessary to think about each potential book in terms of the timeliness of the material and whether it’s more suited to a digital (i.e. immediate) treatment or it’s more timeless. Does the topic really need to be covered in 50,000 to 100,00 words or more, or is it best digested in smaller bits? Some non-fiction topics lend themselves best to being covered on blogs and websites; many how-to and self-help categories are already so well-covered on blogs and websites that consumers have far less demand for books. In considering certain book proposals, a publisher is less likely to say “We’d need to publish this one quickly” and more likely to say ”This looks like it would be a great article or blog post,” or “This should be an e-book.” (Whether or not the publisher wants to do the e-book is another story.) In any case, when you’re trying to sell your non-fiction topic, be aware that agents and editors are assessing whether your book should even be a book.

Legacy Publishing

The great thing about a printed paper-and-ink book is its permanence. The very physicality of an old-fashioned book is something that often gets overlooked in the mad dash to go digital. There’s something undeniably special about the physical presence of a book that you can hold in your hand, and it can’t be matched by being able to show someone how it looks on your Kindle or iPad screen. Seeing the spines of all your favorite books on the bookshelves in your home is somehow much more satisfying to most of us than looking at a list of titles on a screen. This has led many people to start talking about the “legacy” aspect of print publishing—referring to the idea that physical books are collected and treasured by scores of readers.

I think this “legacy” idea helps us to think of printed books in a different way. Rather than being in such a hurry to get our books out there (as we discussed yesterday), we can allow the process to take the time it takes, exercising our patience and cultivating peace in the process. The end result can be a product of excellence and quality, something you can be proud of, something you can hold in your hand for years to come.

Decisions, Decisions

As publishing changes, you’ll be faced with these choices yourself. Is my book “of-the-moment” and timely, or is it more suited to permanence and timelessness? Do I want my book to exist as pixels on a screen or is it important for me to feel the weight and heft of it in my hand? Should my book even be a book, or is it a blog, website, or newsletter?

These are just a few of my random thoughts on how the landscape is changing. What are your thoughts on timeliness vs. permanence?

Tomorrow… we address whether or not publishers really are editing books anymore.

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21. Negative thinking? Give it a try.

Thumbs DownI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:
 
I’m an optimist by nature — I usually expect things will all work out. But for the new year, I plan to maintain a more realistic mindset by “thinking negative.” What do I mean by that?
 
When I “think negative,” I factor into my habitual positive thinking an assessment of the difficulties, challenges or obstacles that may be in front of me. I attempt to understand any potential risks or pitfalls in my path. Wherever I’m headed, whatever my goals might be, I can’t afford to be unreservedly positive.
 
There are several clear advantages to “negative thinking,” including:
 
♦ When you’re focused on “thinking positive,” you may not be adequately prepared for the challenges of your journey, and therefore fail to meet them successfully.
 
♦ Thinking through the negatives keeps you from being overly surprised or disappointed when things don’t go as you’d hoped or planned.
 
→ Click HERE to read the rest of the post and leave your comments at Books & Such. 

 

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22. Books Covers and My Experience with 99 Designs

How Do I DecideWhether you’re self-publishing or working with a publisher, creating an effective book cover is extremely important. I’ve worked with publishers on hundreds of covers, and now I have the experience of working with designers on the cover of my own first e-book. From my perspective, the single most important thing to understand about book covers is:
 
Getting a powerful, appealing, and appropriate cover design is vital, and it’s more difficult than you might think.
 
Why is it so hard? First, it’s so subjective. One person’s great design is another’s “fail.” Second, it’s more than just creating an image you like—you should take into account the psychology behind what makes a cover appealing to the intended audience. Third, you (the author) may have been living with a particular image in your mind for months or years, but your publisher may disagree and/or your designer may be unable to capture it. Fourth, the book cover can be a highly emotional element of the publishing process, and it’s supremely disappointing if you don’t love the finished product.
 
You’re going to deal with this whether you’re working with the publisher’s designer, or you’ve hired a designer on your own. The harrowing cover-design process is all-too-common. And my latest experience with my own self-pub book only reinforced this.
 

What I Learned by Using 99 Designs 

 
Authors frequently ask me where they can find a good designer for their self-pub books. I’d been hearing of 99 Designs for the last few years, and didn’t want to keep recommending them until I’d tried them myself. So I signed up to see if I could improve upon the original cover of my e-book, How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing.
 
How Do I Decide?How it works:
 
With 99 Designs you pay a flat fee ranging from about $300 to $1200. Numerous designers submit designs, and you go through a process of feedback and eliminations until you (theoretically) end up with the design you want.
 
My original cover is here to the right, and the final winning design from 99 Designs is above. Here’s my experience and what I learned:
 
→ I opted for the least expensive package, which costs $299 and predicts you’ll receive 30 designs.
 
→ Thirty designs sounds like a lot and seems like it should be plenty from which to find a good one. Reality check: it’s not. A majority of the designs submitted weren’t even close to being right.
 
→ 99 Designs offers a money-back guarantee, so that if the process doesn’t yield a design you can use, you can get a refund. However, one way you can get more designs submitted is to turn down the possibility of a refund and guarantee you’ll pick a winner. Since this means a designer will definitely win and get paid, more designers will submit, and work hard to adjust their designs according to your specifications so they can win the contest. I chose this option and it definitely seemed to increase the action on my page.
 
→ A 99 Designs contest runs seven days, and it’s crucial for you to set aside ample time during that week to devote to the contest. If you want to end up with a design you love, you’ll need to interact constantly with the designers who are submitting.
 
→ When you set up your contest, it’s important to give the designers detailed instructions, making your requirements as clear as possible. Explain what your book is about, and the tone you want to convey with the cover. What is the feeling you want to evoke? Do you have specific images in mind? Mention anything you wish to avoid.
 
→ Once you begin receiving designs, take the time to give detailed feedback to each designer. This can vastly improve your chances of getting a final product you like.
 
→ Once you have several designs you like, 99 Designs makes it easy for you to run a poll among your Facebook or Twitter friends, or on your blog. Your friends can vote on the ones they like, and leave feedback on each design. This can be confusing (as people’s opinions can be so varied) yet also illuminating and helpful.
 
→ 99 Designs also makes it possible for you to work one-on-one with individual designers. If you run a contest and find a designer you like, then in the future you can choose to work specifically with that person. Or, you can browse the work of the designers on the site and choose to work with one designer without ever having run a contest.
 
By the time my contest was over, I’d received 104 entries, but I honestly couldn’t say I loved any of them. I may not have given enough instructions and feedback, and I probably didn’t explain my book well enough, so I take responsibility for it. I have seen some terrific book covers come from 99 Designs, especially for fiction.
 
I’d definitely use 99 Designs again, following my own advice (above) to increase my odds of success. And I definitely recommend the service to authors and others looking for any kind of design.
 
Anything to add from your own experience with 99 Designs or hiring a freelance designer? Any comments or questions about this process?

Comment below, or by clicking: HERE.

 
TWEET THIS: Agent @RachelleGardner discusses book covers and using “99 Designs.” 
 
 

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23. Somebody Stole My Words!

ThiefI’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:
 
If you write and publish books or blog posts (or submit to agents, editors and publishers), you may worry someone might steal your work. I have two things to say about this:
 
1. Yes, at some point there is a good chance somebody will steal your work.
 
2. Try not to spend too much time or energy worrying about it.
 
Why do I say this? Let’s look at a couple of ways the written word is stolen.
 

Book Pirating

 
Every so often, I receive an alarmed email from one of my authors who has just stumbled upon their book offered – free! – on one of the “free e-book” websites. The author wants to know… “What do I do?! How do I stop them?!”
 
Click HERE to read the post at Books & Such.

 

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24. Trust Me, You Need a Good Editor

red pen spilling inkI just finished reading a self-published book on a topic I’m passionate about, by an author whose blog I occasionally read. As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly read self-pubbed books, and the fact that I work in traditional publishing doesn’t mean I’m biased against them.
 
It does, however, mean I’m aware of the ways a book could have been better, had the author availed themselves of the best assistance available, whether in design, writing, editing, cover, or even title.
 
I was excited to read this book—a memoir—and it started out promising. But it quickly devolved into a self-focused, rambling hodgepodge of preaching interspersed with bragging. I did finish the book (luckily it was rather short) but I ended up with strongly negative feelings toward the author. Since this was a memoir, I doubt that’s what the author was going for.
 
I think the author got some friends to edit the book, maybe even somebody with writing experience. But it’s clear he never consulted a professional book editor, especially not one with expertise in memoir. This is a genre that is notoriously difficult to pull off. The author needed a strong memoir editor, but since he didn’t have one, I can’t recommend the book to anyone.
 
So, how could an editor have improved the book? Here are my thoughts:
 
A good editor would have coached the author to find his main theme, and to focus tightly on it, cutting out rabbit trails and eliminating entertaining stories that didn’t fit in this book. The editor could have helped decide which stories should stay and which should go (often difficult for a memoirist, because they’re so close to the material).
 
An editor would have conveyed that teaching and preaching don’t belong in a memoir. Save that for another book — a how-to or self-help. The memoir is your story and your reflections on your story, but should avoid the self-help vibe.
 
An editor would have eliminated bragging, and suggested ways to convey moments of success or triumph without sounding arrogant.
 
An editor would have brought out the importance of a humble tone, of admitting the journey isn’t over and you’re still learning, a sort of “fellow pilgrim” approach. When your story is nothing but triumph and “look what a great thing I did,” real people don’t tend to relate to your message.
 
An editor would have challenged the author to truly let the reader in. Authenticity and vulnerability are hallmarks of powerful memoirs, and this one has neither. I had the feeling of skimming over the surface, never quite being allowed in.
 
An editor would have ensured readers didn’t feel like complete losers if they don’t currently share the author’s lifestyle.
 
An editor would have protected the author’s reputation.  The author conveyed a message he may not have intended by including certain observations and behaviors unrelated to the theme of the book, but which made him seem like a womanizer and a bit of a sexist. A savvy editor would have gently inquired if this was really what the author wanted readers to take away.

* * *

With regard to editors, it boils down to the importance of objective, qualified feedback. Businesses spent over $1oo billion on leadership development last year. Why? Because it’s really hard to see yourself clearly and commit to change. Authors are no different. A good editor has the courage to give you the feedback your buddies won’t. It’s their job. And they make your writing better as a result.
 
Have you ever had the experience of working with an editor who improved your work and helped you say exactly what you wanted to say?
 

Comment below, or by clicking: HERE.

 

TWEETABLES

 
How an editor could have improved a book – a case study from agent @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.
 
A self-pub book misses the mark for lack of an editor - case study via agent @RachelleGardner.  Click to Tweet.
 
We all need objective, qualified feedback on our work – even writers. Click to Tweet.
 
Image credit: vclements / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

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25. You’re Too Good to Quit

gold medalIn our house, we’re getting ready for competition season in gymnastics to begin this weekend. My daughter is a USAG level 7 gymnast with some pretty ambitious goals and it takes a lot of the family’s time and focus.
 
But recently my daughter was convinced she needed to quit gymnastics (after seven years and thousands of hours in the gym). Her coach and I were asking her why and she told us:
 
She didn’t feel like she was doing well and didn’t feel successful.
 
She’d had some setbacks (injuries) and was finding it hard to recover.
 
It felt like it was taking forever to improve.
 
Her coach just looked at her and flat-out said, “You’re too good to quit. I need you on my team.”
 
After that, the coach began asking questions. What do you feel like you’re not doing well? What’s your definition of being “successful”?
 
My daughter felt like she should be coming in first place in every event at every meet. She’s had her share of medals, but nobody can win ‘em all. Her coach asked her if maybe she could reframe her definition of success, and together they came up with a more workable definition.
 
The coach helped her see that it’s normal for recovery from setbacks to take time and be painful; and also reminded her that gymnastics is a sport that takes years to learn; that slow progress is the only way; and that nobody ever really masters it.
 
My daughter came up with some new goals and embraced a more realistic view of the time and effort her sport requires. She decided to go back to basics — to focus on having fun, and to be consistently improving.
 
She decided not to quit.
 
Have you had those moments when you felt like you weren’t successful enough to continue? When you were frustrated at how long it’s taking? When the setbacks (rejections) felt so painful you just didn’t know if you could keep going?
 
Have you ever felt like quitting?
 
What made you continue?
 

Comment below, or by clicking: HERE.

 
TWEETABLES
 
In writing, like many sports – progress is slow, and nobody ever really masters it. Click to Tweet.
 
Have you ever felt like quitting? What made you continue? Click to Tweet.
 
Suffering setbacks? Taking forever to make progress? You’re not alone. Click to Tweet.
 
Image credit: eskay / 123RF Stock Photo

 

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