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When coaching my assistants and other agents on how to approach editors I've always been very particular about word choice. The word "just" has been a pet peeve of mine for a number of years. It's a word I've consciously worked to remove from my vocabulary and a word I've encouraged my team to drop.
Imagine my surprise when I came across this article
written about Ellen Petry Leanse and her distaste for the word "just".
I agree with everything she says. Using "just" takes away our power. We're no longer marching into someone's office to tell them we've got something they have to read. We're now slinking in to ask meekly if they think it's worth reading and, frankly, giving them permission to reject it rather than telling them they'd be making a mistake by not reading it.
We are word people, it's our job to embrace the power a single word might have and use it to our advantage. Take a look at some examples of publishing correspondence with or without the word "just." You tell me which is stronger.
I'd like to ask if you have just a few minutes to discuss my very important concerns regarding these edits.
I'd like set up some time to discuss my very important concerns regarding these edits.
I am writing to tell you about the terrific new thriller I've written.
I am just writing to tell you about the terrific new thriller I've written.
I'm following up on the submission I sent back in January.
I'm just following up on the submission I sent in January.
Take a look at your query, at all the professional correspondence you have written. Let's work together to eliminate just
from our professional vocabulary.
Writers and illustrators: Resist constantly comparing yourself to others. Instead, focus on appreciating and enjoying your OWN journey.
(I've been gradually working my way through the panels in my own career, so figured it was about time I repost this comic :-))
I've done posts on this subject before and I will likely do it again, but some things have come up lately that make me think it's time for a refresher course.
That and Sally MacKenzie suggested I write this. Sally knows.
Congratulations! You just got the call. All of your hard work, all of the rewrites, the query rewrites and the angst have paid off. An agent (or possibly an editor) wants to work with you. This is a big deal, a big step in your professional career, so let me give some tips on how you should handle this in a way that helps make it a successful step in your career.
1. If at all possible, be prepared. Hopefully you're not reading this post after the offer came in, but instead you're reading it as a way to prepare and make a plan for when the offer does come in. I'm a planner so I like having plans. They don't have to be rock solid, but when something this important happens to me I like to have some idea of what I'm going to be doing and how I'm going to be handling it.
2. Spend some time talking to the agent making the offer. Don't expect this to happen in the first phone call, you're going to be way too freaked out, but plan to have a second phone call. In other words, thank the agent, listen to what she has to say and ask her if you can set up another time to talk when you're thinking more clearly. And yes, its absolutely acceptable to let the agent know that you're overwhelmed with excitement. In fact, I often tell authors to get off the phone, tell friends and family, and let's set up time to talk the next day when she's more prepared with questions and can absorb the answers.
3. Ask questions. This goes back to #1. There are a lot of places online where you can find lists of questions to ask an agent before signing. There is even a list on this blog (one I should probably update). In all likelihood, if you've done your research before submitting, you'll know the answers to a lot of these questions. The more important questions are those that relate directly to you and your career. Some of this will mean knowing what you want out of an agent or what you expect from an agent. Are you looking for someone who edits, who gives marketing guidance, who talks on the phone a lot or prefers email communication? Thinking about what you want in an agent will help you find the questions you need answered. Also knowing what you want from your career (hybrid, traditional, ebook, hardcover, paperback, which houses, etc) will help you formulate questions.
3. Give a time frame. Assuming you have queries and partials or fulls out with other agents you will need to give that first agent a timeframe for when you'll get back to her. I usually think 7-10 days is more than enough time. Anyone who can't respond in that timeframe isn't enthusiastic enough to want to work with you and, let's face it, you want to get your career started so waiting weeks and weeks isn't advantageous to you. So tell the first agent that you do have other agents considering your work, but will get back to her in the timeframe you've established. One little thing here. I would suggest, if you have the opportunity, to always, always, always use this time to get as many agents interested as possible. The agent offering might have been the top of your list, but that's usually not based on actually meeting and talking to the agent. Talking to other agents will give you some level of comparison to know if, yes, this agent is still the top of my list.
4. Contact all the other agents who have your work. There might be some on that list you definitely want to talk to, there might be some you queried, but already know you aren't interested in any longer (this first agent would beat them hands down). That's fine. Knowing that is great. Either way contact them all. For those agents you'd still love to work with, email (or call) to let them know you have an offer and give them a date by which you need to hear. If you've given the first agent 10 days, you might want to give these agents 7 so you have time to deal with any more offers that come in. If there are agents on that list who you just know you aren't that interested in, let them know that you received an offer and you're pulling your material from consideration. That way they won't read the submission unnecessarily and you've given up your time slot (time the agent spends reading submissions) to another author. If there are agents who you've only queried, but still desperately have on your "A" list, email them. A lot of times agents get behind in queries so giving them a chance to request and read the material only works to your advantage.
5. Wait for the offers to come in, spend some time talking to the agents and enjoy the ride. This is your time as an author, your time to make some smart decisions, enjoy the competition for your time, and find a business partner who is truly best suited for you. Go with your gut. Assuming the agent is reputable and experienced then it doesn't matter who else is with the agent or what your friends think. All that matters is that over the course of a phone call this agent feels like she's the right fit for you and your work. No one else's.
There's a kid chant, "first is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the treasure chest." While obviously first is not likely the worst, I do think this little chant is worth keeping in mind. The first agent will often get the edge just for being first (which makes perfect sense), but in the end the agent you choose, no matter the order she offered, will be the one who is the best fit for you and your work. Her vision for your work, communication style and a general feeling of connection will be what determines who is best for you, no matter the order she came in.
I received this question from a reader. I can't thank you enough for that. I'm clearly running out of ideas and need all the help I can get. That being said, you didn't exactly send me an easy question to answer. ;)
I was wondering if you'd do a post regarding author branding? Specifically, how an author should brand his/herself. How an agent can help this process. And the importance of creating a brand.
Kudos on thinking about this and what it means for your career. Branding is important. Think about some of our most famous brands. In almost any decision, Coke, Rolex and Harlequin make they consider their brand. Sometimes a brand changes or brands shift, but everything you do from your website to your social media, your book covers, the next book you write, and even your presentation at a writers conference should reflect your brand.
When we think of branding let's look at publishers as our guide. Every publisher has an overarching brand--Grand Central for example. Under that brand Grand Central has found a way to distinguish the various things they do. Forever is the line that focuses on romance, Grand Central Life & Style focuses on, well, life and
style books (nonfiction), and Twelve
their specialty imprint (for lack of a better term).
As Jessica Author you need to determine what your brand or brands are. If you want to write in multiple genres then the
best thing to do is create your own "imprints" which would be brands under one brand umbrella. Maybe Jessica Author is where you start so that's also your thrillers, but Jessica Writer is where you want to start your historical romance career. In some cases the areas might crossover so you might be able to stick to one brand (thrillers and romantic suspense or YA thrillers for example). If they don't cross over you might have to start an "imprint."
No matter what you do your brand needs to become so representative of what you write that when someone says Jessica Author people know exactly what you write. Think Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or Sarah Dessen. Authors often get frustrated with agents and publishers who encourage them to write in one genre. But this is why. If you want a brand, you need to stick with something to build it with. Later, once you have that brand name, you can expand and build, maybe add Dassani water to your list ;)
As for how to brand yourself, well there are no easy answers to that and it would depend on what you're writing. How do you want to brand yourself? Would you like to be the author who dispenses writing advice or legal advice? Maybe the one who makes great pies. Whatever you do, make sure it ties in to what you're writing and the person you are. And everything you do should match the tone of your books. Design a website that matches the cover of your books (use the same font even) and use a social media picture that constantly sells your brand (book covers probably).
This is where your agent can help. Together you can talk about the website and social media, your bookmarks, ideas for marketing and new and different ideas for building a brand.
Just like writing a book, there are no tried and true guarantees to what works and what doesn't when it comes to brand building. However, thinking about it is the first step to success.
Note: I did not credit the reader for the question. I wasn't sure if you wanted your name public. If you'd like the credit leave your name and a link to your website (if you have one) in the comments and I'll add it to the post.
By: Caitie-Jane Cook,
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As anyone who has experienced the very best of the British policing profession could attest, high quality policing can contribute to the transformation of a community, laying the foundations for flourishing neighbourhoods and the lives of those who live there. It is Police Now’s overarching aim to contribute to the creation and development of safe, confident communities in which people can thrive. Our Theory of Change is that by attracting Britain’s best graduates to a policing career, training them intensively as community leaders, and then deploying them as police officers in those communities who need us most, we can have a disproportionate impact.
The post Policing – the new graduate career path? appeared first on OUPblog.
With the restructuring at Berkley/NAL I've had a lot of great talks with clients about their careers and publishing careers in general. Unfortunately, in this case, we were forced to have these conversations because with any merger/restructuring, authors are going to feel the impact, good and bad.
When new people are in charge (of anything) things will change and in publishing that usually means the publisher will take a closer look at what's working and what's not and some authors will feel the fallout.
It is always difficult for an author to face the fact that something isn't working or is no longer working. There's nothing worse then putting everything you've got into a book series only to learn that your contract won't be renewed (that you won't be offered to write more books in the series). For every author during a time like this there's always a feeling of loss. I mean face it, I'm not sure there's any author who feels good about not finishing the story.
Sometimes though, that non-renewal might in fact be the smartest business decision anyone ever made for you.
For so many years writers spend all of their time focusing efforts on being published. An incredible goal to have. However, once you are published your goals need to change. No longer is your goal to be published, and it should always be bigger than just staying published. Your goal is now to build a career and continuing to write books that are reaching fewer and fewer readers with each book does not a career make.
In fact, there have been times when I've talked to my clients about ending a series even if the publisher is offering on more. If we can see the writing on the royalty reports and we know numbers are going down why would we want to continue on that road? It's certainly not building anything.
So instead of seeing a non-renewal as a personal insult or as a publisher who doesn't like the kind of thing you write, look at it for what it is, an opportunity to make some career shifts, something every business has to do from time to time. After all, Coca-Cola hasn't had the success it's had by only putting out a cola. When consumers wanted lemon lime they created Sprite and when water became trendy they added Dasani.
While every business owner will mourn the loss of books they love writing, no successful business owner closes the business. Instead she takes a close look at what the market is begging for or wants and checks her back pocket for which ideas fit those needs.
By: Thomas James,
Blog: Illustration Friday Blog
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If you’ve ever wanted to work for Disney, well head on over to this “official website for Disney Television Animation talent and recruitment”. You can use it to view and even apply for a variety of artistic and production-related projects.
Visit the Disney Recruitment site here >>
I think you're going to see a lot of blog posts based on the restructuring of Berkley/NAL. It's when something like this happens that I find myself with a whole slew of new ideas. Usually based on conversations we're having in the office or with clients.
One of these conversations involves the midlist. For those who don't know, the midlist is defined as those books that fall in the middle of a publisher's list. They aren't the top sellers (not always bestsellers, but those books that sell the most) and they aren't at the bottom, those books with sales so low that they just aren't salvageable. You know, books that only sell 2,000 copies. Ever.
Midlist books are those books that are selling moderately well, have solid sales, but just aren't pushing to top selling status. They could be mysteries, romance, nonfiction, paperback, hardcover. They could be anything because it's not about the genre, but about sales.
One of the things the Berkley/NAL conversation has brought up is the death of the midlist. The same death I've been morning since my first day in publishing. I mean, I've been around long enough now that I think I can say that's a freakishly long mourning period.
Here's the truth as I see it where the midlist is concerned. Authors who languish in the midlist are not going to be given contract after contract just to remain midlist authors. That's not what the midlist is about (at least not these days). The midlist is a place for publishers to grow authors from. Its where great books go to grow. A publisher will always have a midlist of some sort because a publisher will always be buying new books from new authors and somewhere along the way someone is going to have numbers that aren't top selling numbers, but aren't at the bottom either. When those authors come along the publisher is going to look at those numbers to see which direction they are going and what can be done to boost that author, those books and those numbers into the top selling range.
When rumors abound that a publisher is cutting the midlist it isn't mean that a publisher is taking out one kind of book over another, it means the publisher is making room for more. Have I ever told you that I'm an eternal optimist?
Books that languish in the midlist, that are selling a little less with every new book (in a series for example) aren't making money for a publisher and aren't growing an author's career. And that is always the goal, whenever an agent takes on a new client, whenever a publisher buys a new book and whenever an author sits down to write the goal is, and should always be, to grow that author's career. Not to languish in any list.
Recently I received a query in which the author seemed embarrassed about the genre she was writing in. Sadly, I see this a lot and not just from querying authors, but from published authors as well. It's discouraging and disheartening.
See, I love the books I represent and I love the authors I represent. I'm proud of each one and excited to introduce them to new readers. Most importantly, I respect every author of every genre, even those I don't represent.
Sitting down to write a book in any genre, of any length is no easy task. I couldn't do it and I know many in publishing who feel the same way. It's why we aren't writers. So don't let someone else tell you that what you're writing isn't a "real book" or isn't important. It is. And if you can't be proud of your book how are you going to convince other people it's something they want to buy and read? Learn to love what you're writing now and it will show later when you're trying to build your brand.
It's no longer news that there have been some dramatic changes at Berkley/NAL, changes that aren't necessarily a complete surprise, but still difficult for everyone involved.
I knew this was something I needed to, and wanted to, address on the blog, but after several starts and restarts I realized I wasn't sure what I wanted to say.
When Random House and Penguin announced the merger in 2013 everyone in publishing knew that change would be coming. At the beginning of 2015 we started to see the first effects of those changes. Appointments were made announcing new names in new positions, contract renewals were slow to come and imprints were consolidated. While I'm not sure any of us foresaw what exactly would happen, it's hard not to look at these changes and see why it did happen. In many cases there was just too much overlap between the many imprints of the new Penguin Random House.
It's been a tough week for a lot of people, including the BookEnds team. We've been in business for over 15 years and we've worked with editors over at Berkley/NAL for 15 years. These are long-standing, trusted relationships. I'm not going to lie, when I hung up the phone with an editor who lost her job I cried. She's good at what she does and a victim of restructuring. I'm going to miss discussing everything from cover copy, to contract negotiations, to cover art, to an author's next idea with her.
While agents and editors are often seen as working on opposing sides, the truth is we work more closely than many realize. I think sometimes even more closely than we realize. Together we are part of an author's team and together we work to try to make each decision in the author's best interest. That means long discussions about the cover art, the cover copy and even the direction an author is taking with her next book or her career. An author's success means success for all of us. Seeing an editor leave, for any reason, is losing a trusted member of my team.
Well if I'm upset, you can imagine the state of many Berkley/NAL authors. The question in almost every author's mind is what's next. What can an author expect during a time of upheaval with their publisher and what should an author do? Of course each author's experience is different. For some everything is status quo and nothing should change. For most, unfortunately, change is inevitable. Even those who are lucky enough to retain the same editor, change is happening within the publisher and that will have an impact on everyone. This could be because of the change in the art department, the copy department or even buying decisions. I'm not saying it's all bad, I'm just saying there will be change.
The first thing to remember is that we can't control the actions of others. The only person you can control is yourself. Panicking isn't going to help, but coming up with a plan might.
Once you've taken a few deep breaths here are some suggestions:
1. Penguin Random House just introduced this wonderful Author Portal where you can see sales, royalty reports and get hints and tips to how to build your brand as an author. Spend some time there and really look things over. Take notes if you need to. Get some perspective on what more you might be able to do to build sales and, most importantly, get perspective on how your brand is doing. A good CEO always has an idea of how well the company is doing at any given moment. As the CEO of your brand you should do the same. Check out your book sales. Are they going up? Going down? Do they seem to be holding strong?
2. Talk with your agent. Once you have an idea of what your numbers look like, give your agent a call to discuss them with her. What concerns do you have and are they valid? Should you continue on the same path or is coming up with something new a good idea? Knowing how to proceed is always smart, plus, as one author once said to me, "it's always good to have something in your back pocket."
3. Ignore the gossip. I can only imagine what the writing loops and discussion boards look like right now. In fact, I think I'd prefer not to imagine it. Watch out for the doom and gloomers, the Chicken Littles with the falling skies. This sucks. It sucks for a lot of people, but as in any good Dystopian YA, those who are prepared to fight and accept change will win. Those who want to sit in a hole and refuse to accept change, will die (probably in some horribly gruesome death). If you are concerned about some of what you're hearing please call your agent. Many times she has an insider's perspective that can be very helpful.
4. And here is the same advice I give in any situation. Keep writing and make your next book even better than the last.
Change is always a frightening thing and it's not going to be an easy road for some people, but those who are willing to pull up their boots and keep walking (love that song) will always see the light at the other side.
I was recently at an event where I was told, rather snidely, that I'd better be out looking for another job since it won't be long before literary agents are obsolete. This isn't the first time in the past few years I've heard a statement like this. It's also ironic since BookEnds has been growing and growing with each coming year.
I'm not a fan of a black and white world. I feel blessed that I can see the blue in the sky and the green in the leaves. I like to look at the world that way as well. There's a lot more than just do it this way or do it that way. There are a lot of other colors to consider.
There are a lot of authors who are having great success self-publishing. I'm thrilled for them and I commend them for the work they're doing because, who are we kidding, it's a hell of a lot of work to self-publish successfully.
There is no doubt in my mind that agents have and will face challenges brought on by the changing face of publishing. That we'll all experience a moment when an author decides that she no longer needs us. Heck, that happened well before self-publishing anyway. That being said, there are just as many authors out there who really don't want to be business owners. That's also why people outside of publishing continue to go to work for corporations. Not everyone wants to deal with all of the details that owning a business entails. Some people just want to crunch numbers or write the book and let someone else deal with payroll, IRS census forms, hiring, firing, and banking.
I feel pretty confident that I'm going to be around for a long time, at this desk, selling these books. Authors will come and go, agents will come and go, publishers will come and go, but in the end we're all shooting for the same goal. We want great books to be read. So let's stop predicting the end of everyone else's career and instead applaud each other for whichever path we've chosen to take.
I'm a big believer in celebrating life. The good, the bad and the ugly. I'm also a big believer in celebrating the many successes we're lucky enough to have at BookEnds. It's one of the things we do really well (successes and celebrations).
Just recently I took my team out to celebrate 15 years as an agency. I also took them for a spa day because we had a damn good month. Occasionally I'll order cupcakes from one of our favorite cupcake bakeries or bring coffee from Starbucks. And when we have another book hit the New York Times list you're going to bet that I'm popping some sort of cork.
Too often we get caught up in the minutia of life and start to think that things like a new contract, hitting a bestseller list, the release of another book, or even finishing a new book are things that just happen or are supposed to happen. We forget how hard we fought to get here. Remember when you were struggling to find an agent and dreaming of getting published? Just because it's your fifth contract doesn't mean it's anything less than your first. In fact, continuing to be published is something to celebrate in and of itself. Sometimes it deserves a bigger celebration than that first contract.
There's a lot in this business worth celebrating and not just for published authors. Have you finished another book? Did an agent request material? Did you just get another rejection, but this one with some really great feedback? Celebrate it all!
I think that it's too easy to focus on the negative or the long-term and we lose what's happening now. We forget that now is what will get us there. No matter what it is you're proud of take some time to celebrate. Buy yourself a coffee, treat yourself to flowers or eat that pint of ice cream that's been calling your name.
Or, if you're like me, keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge at all times and pop it open whenever you deserve that pat on the back. This is a tough career and each step is a milestone worthy of a celebration.
I think the best thing about the blog for me is the taste I've gotten of what it must be like to be an author. Coming back to the blog only accentuated that feeling.
After Monday I can now say that I have a clear understanding of what it must be like to be an author who has taken a hiatus. The one who, for whatever reason, decided to take some time off after having a reasonably successful publishing career. In the blog world I think I'm that author.
In looking at my analytics I see that even though the blog has been closed for over two years we have still had close to 500 visitors or page views daily. That's amazing to me. However, now that I'm back writing, like an author returned from hiatus, I have to accept that those 500 page views, a lot lower than the 1500 hundred I used to get daily, might be all I get. There's no guarantee that my once faithful readers will return. There lives have changed too. Maybe they no longer have time for blogs, maybe they quit writing, or maybe their tastes have changed and my voice is no longer one they want to read. Whatever the reason, I can't count on those past "sales" as any indication of what the future will be. Too much time has passed.
For me, yesterday was like starting over, as if I'd never been here. I need to go out and convince a new audience that I'm worth visiting 3-5 times a week and that they're going to like what they read. Or at least have a strong opinion about what they read.
I also need to convince my once faithful readers that the new me is as good as what they once thought of the old me. We'll see how that goes.
So as I climb back up that ladder on my return, know that I do pretend to have an understanding of what it must be like for all of you.
Thank you, Claire Kirsch, for your fine reportage on my recent visit to Penns Manor Elementary and my collaboration with the students to create the horrible & dreadful Baby Pandasaurus Rex! Read all about it here.
This is going to be the last Work Wednesday. It won’t be the last Wednesday I post, but I’m discovering that creating two blog posts a week—something I have now tried for 4 weeks—means more blog writing and less writing...
Read the rest of this post
By: Darcy Pattison
Blog: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes
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I was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reader Copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, DECISIVE: How to make better choices in Life and Work. You may know the Heath brothers from their previous books, SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard and MADE TO STICK: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. They are adept at taking massive amounts of research on topics with widespread appeal and distilling the information into something that can be used in daily life. In DECISIVE, they discuss decision-making and make it practical. Here, I have applied many of their ideas in a simple checklist: What manuscript should you write next?
Courtesy of the Heath Brothers amazing insights into the applicability of much research, these are practical ideas to help you make the best decision possible. If you want to know more, DECISIVE will be released on March 26, available now for pre-order.
You just wrote, “The End.” And you hit the SEND button. The manuscript is off to the editor.
What now? How do you decide on the next project?
Build a Career
An agent once asked this question: What is the next logical book for you in terms of building an audience that will support your career?
Do you see the criteria embedded in that question:
- Build an audience
- Support your career
Is that what you want? A career with a growing audience? Then, you probably need to stick with the genre of your first book, and turn out a second book that will appeal to the same audience. If you wrote a mystery and it sold well, write another mystery—different, better, but definitely appealing to the same audience.
But it may not be that easy. Maybe several genres interest you and you want to try something new. But that might risk your career, because you aren’t building a consistent following. How do you sort out all your ideas and commit to the next project? Here are 15 questions to ask yourself.
15 What Next Questions
- Don’t Get Trapped in Too Small a Framework. The decision is rarely one like this: Should I do Mss A or not? Instead, try to look at a range of options. Here are ideas that I have, A, B, C, D, and E. Which of these would appeal to the same audience as my first success?
- What else you could write in the same time period. If it takes you six months to write a novel, what else could you get written in that time period? What project deserves that time commitment?
- What if you couldn’t write the Mss you had planned to write next? What would you write then? For example, if you were planning a picture book biography of Shirley Temple and one was just published to great acclaim, maybe it’s not the best time for this story. So, pretend something similar just happened to your pet idea. What would you do then?
- Could you write the openings of several different manuscripts and THEN decide which one excites you the most? Multi-tracking sometimes allows the cream to rise.
- Look at the career of someone you admire and want to emulate. At a similar point in his/her career what was the next book published? Or, look at a musician or actor/actress and find parallels in their careers. For example, Sean Connery could have gotten stuck in the 007 role and never found his way to new projects. Instead, he has regularly “reinvented” himself by taking risky roles that led to an expanded career. Is it time for you to write that “breakout” book you’ve been planning?
Looking over all the possible manuscripts and ideas—what has you the most excited? Which one are you scared to write—and therefore, will push you to write your best?
Ask the opposite question: if you have been writing mysteries, what if your next novel was a romance? Is this the time to make a switch or not? Can you carry any of your audience over to a new genre? Is there a way to work more romance into your next mystery, so the transition isn’t total, but pulls in readers from both genres?
Could you test new waters with a short story or a short ebook? Is there a way to TRY something new, without doing damage to your current audience? Once you decide on a new mss, you’ll have to commit wholeheartedly to write the best possible. But maybe you can take a couple weeks and try out a new market.
Are you too attached to the status-quo? Your publisher wants more and more of this one type story and you get paid. But somehow, you feel your passions are lessened. At what point do you need to shake up the status quo?
What would you tell your best writer friend to do in this situation?
What are you passionate about? What are your core values? Does Mss A or B or C or D allow you to express that passion better?
If you write this book and a year from now it fails(either not published or published to poor reviews), can you think why it would have failed to reach your audience?
If you write this book and it succeeds, can you discuss why it would make your readers excited about your work?
Do you set goals for your books? If this mystery doesn’t sell 10,000 copies, then I’ll try a different genre for my next project. Would a goal like that help you make the next career move?
Are there deadlines for this project, or can you create a deadline? You’ll devote six months to this fantasy story, and then, you must write your next mystery.
You have a choice to make and the choice will affect your future and your career as a writer. What will you write next? There are no right or wrong answers, only answers that please you. You’re in control. I know–that’s scary! But that’s another post.
Hey, Chip and Dan–What will YOU write next?
Reading would be boring, except for the person behind the writing. YOU make it interesting. Your voice.
Even the federal government recognizes the importance of YOU: ideas can’t be copyrighted, rather, the particular expression of an idea. What you copyright is your voice. You.
This means several things:
Voice. As you write, be aware of your particular ways of thinking, of what you notice, of how you express what you notice. Try to foster those interests and expressions. Of course, this isn’t a call to be sloppy in grammar or word usage or sentence structure. Just as a jazz player plays a riff on a song, so you must experiment in your writing, while still making sure the song is recognizable.
Match voice to genre. Your voice–who you are–will also determine the types of writing at which you can excel. Nonfiction or fiction, horror or romance–you need to find a place where your voice fits naturally and allows you to exploit your voice. Experiment with genre, style, length, and venue (online v. print, for example), to find the “highest and best use” of your strengths.
Editors. We all need feedback and early editors. Be careful, though, of line editors, those people who think something must be said their way. Unless they are extremely skilled, line editors mess with voice. And you must not allow that.
Stick with a genre, character, series. If and when you find that sweet spot, stick with it. Careers are built on returning readers, who become fans, who faithfully buy everything you write and furthermore, they tell friends to buy them and they give your books as gifts. Early in your career, don’t worry about bouncing around and writing everything you might want to write. If you are lucky enough to find success in one area, stay there long enough to build a readership that you will take with you to the next step.
You. Your lens, the way you see the world, the way you express what you see–that is what keeps reading from being boring. Let me see the world the way YOU see it. And I’ll keep reading you.
Click on the image to read the photographer's description of the difference in lenses used.
What are you writing that someone will want to read in 10 years? In 50 Years? In 100 Years?
We all write grocery lists for ourselves, trash as soon as our shopping cart is full. To-do lists are crossed off and tossed as soon as you can. A letter or email lasts a bit longer, but the pleasure in these is usually short-lived. The results of our writing can be short-term or long-term. But we hope that something we do is longer lasting. The idea is scary: what could I write that someone would want to read 100 years from now?
Like Ray Brandbury's Fahreint 451, we want our stories to be the ones people choose to keep in their hearts. How do you write for posterity?
Passion. First, find something for which you have passion. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was written over 60 years ago, but today we recognize it as the beginning of the environmental protection movement.
Emotion. Find emotional connections to others that will resonate with the time and period in which we live. Charles Dicken's story, "A Christmas Carol," is about the poverty of his times and how stingy characters can be turned around. But it's also a timeless story of the power of love to change a person. Look for strong emotion in your life or surroundings and trust that those emotions will resonate across the years.
Voice. Most important, be who you are. Write it your way. Who cares that first person POV, present tense apocalyptic stories are popular. If you write in verse, then write in verse. If you write in 3000 word chapters, do it. If you like jargon, dialect, do it. Or, like Hemingway, maybe you tend to write in simple sentences and vocabulary. What tpics do you love, what storytelling techniques turn you on?
Practice. Of course, saying that you need to use your own personality and voice doesn't let you off the hook. You still need to practice and learn and find ways to write stronger. It may modify your working methods and voice some, but hopefully, you'll find ways to satisfy general aesthetics about writing, but with your own twist.
I like watching shows like HGTV's "Design Star"or any of the other competition shows on these days. Because so often, it is about Voice. You'll hear the judges say things like, "Show us more of who you are." "We want your take on things, not just an imitation of other people."
It's a struggle to be original. Judges urge contestants to relax, to be themselves.
If you want to be read a hundred years from now. write something true to only you, something that no one else could have written.
What is that story or piece of writing that you have been scared to write because you didn't think you could ever write? You should do it. No one else can. And it's just possible that it is the one thing that will still be read 100 years from now.
Cartoonist Ivan Brunetti in his studio
Kidd, who says Brunetti’s relative obscurity is due mainly to the fact that he’s not much of a self-promoter, has been badgering the cartoonist to submit a book proposal for more than a decade. “He doesn’t have a defining book. That’s a big moment for a cartoonist,” Kidd said. “And Ivan has a masterpiece in him; it’s just getting him to do it.”
As Grace reported a few weeks ago, I was promoted to the position of Fiction Editorial Director. I've been asked by different people what this means in terms of my day-to-day job, so I thought I'd briefly outline it here.
-I am now overseeing our Middle Grade and Young Adult lists. The "Fiction" in my title is a bit misleading, as technically I would also oversee MG and YA nonfiction, but as we publish very little nonfiction at Little, Brown in general, we thought it was cleaner to just say "Fiction". This means running the novel portion of editorial meeting, approving which projects go to our acquisitions meetings, and then giving my recommendation at that meeting. Overall, I'm tasked to help shape our fiction list in terms of balance of titles (literary vs commercial, MG vs YA, making sure the books we sign up don't compete directly with each other in terms of subject matter, etc.).
-I will still be editing picture books (I couldn't give that up!), but my focus will be on MG and YA.
-Instead of just one person (my assistant) reporting to me, I have three other editors as direct reports. This means approving more paperwork (expense reports, contract requests, etc.), reviewing copy and P&Ls, etc., more annual performance reviews, responding to MG/YA-related requests/questions/emails, and so on.
-In general, I have more meetings, including attending jacket meeting in its entirety (rather than just for my individual titles), list planning meetings, and weekly updates with each editor.
-Because of my increased administrative duties, I may eventually have to tighten my own title list, and potentially acquire fewer books. I haven't passed any of my books on to other editors yet (I love all my books, so it's hard to give any up!), but I may in the near future. I do want to say that when deciding which projects to pass on, I'm mainly looking at which books are a good fit taste-wise with another editor, and which projects I feel another editor could manage as well or better than myself, especially considering my own increased workload.
I'm excited about the challenges of the new position, but I will say that I never really had this job as a career goal (and those of you who know me know how much I love goal setting!). There are some editors who want to be publisher some day. I've never been one of them. To be perfectly honest, I would have been happy being at the Executive Editor level for a long time--maybe for the rest of my publishing career, because the editing part of my job has always been my favorite. But at the same time, when this opportunity presented itself, I weighed my options, and it felt like a good move for me, a job where I could still do the editing I love, but also learn the business side a little more, to mentor more, and to help shape a list.
We'll see what this new position will bring!
I have a friend who runs a retail store, and in the course of a conversation I asked what her bestselling items were. She laughed and said that until recently she would have been convinced it was the red bracelet, but after running reports just the night before she was shocked to learn that not only was she wrong, but so wrong that the biggest seller wasn't even on her radar.
The only thing she could attribute her mistake to was perception v. reality. Because she had recently sold two red bracelets and heard many other customers comment on how lovely it was, she was convinced it had to be a hot item. Thanks to inventory tracking software, however, she's always able to keep on top of the truth about her business, something that makes the difference, a big difference, in success versus failure. If she had ordered based on perception she would have a backlog of red bracelets and hardly enough yellow necklaces, her true bestseller, to meet demand.
Understanding the importance of reality is important for any business owner to be successful, and that means you too, authors. It's so easy to get caught up in the letters we receive from readers and the good reviews for our books. Those are the things that keep you writing and excited about your work, but five people writing to tell you that your series is amazing and asking for more books does not mean your series is a bona fide success. It's simply your perception of how successful the series is, or should be. The reality can only be seen in your numbers. Five people aren't going to make a book a bestseller. Heck, they aren't even going to make it worthwhile to self-publish. However, it is quite possible that five people could write to you, begging for more, and 50,000 more buy your book. Now you have numbers and numbers are reality.
Let's face it, reality is often one of the hardest things to face, but facing it head-on is what will help you achieve the success you want. Facing reality means you know what your career looks like, and knowing the truth can help you make decisions, the right decisions, about your future.
STATUS: I'm feeling this strange desire to belt out Men At Work songs. Wait, that's because I'm jet lagged and actually in Australia!
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK by Sting
Last Thursday, Angie and I got a chance to do informational interviews at the Denver Publishing Institute. As 2002 grads (and I can't believe it's been that long!), we were happy to give back by chatting with the graduating students looking for careers in publishing and specifically those who were interested in agenting.
I did about 15 interviews and during the day, I have to say that something completely crystalized for me.
Q: What does it take to be a good literary agent?
A: The ability to handle conflict.
Q: What does it take be a happy literary agent?
A: The ability to be sanguine about all the conflict you deal with on a daily basis.
I know. This should have been obvious but I had never boiled it down to the above. Ninety percent of agenting is troubleshooting and do conflict resolution.
And I'm not exaggerating.
An agent's job is to be the author's advocate. Plain and simple. And that means it's the agent's job to sometimes be the "bad guy" so the author can have a warm and fuzzy relationship with his/her editor and publisher.
The agent is the person who says the tough things when they need to be said.
So if you are by nature, a conflict avoider, then being a literary agent is not going to be a happy job for you. It's not like anyone loves conflict (or maybe some folks do!) but some folks are more hard wired to deal with it with equanimity.
Definitely something to keep in mind if you want to pursue this particular career.
Amy Lamphere, writer and senior team leader for Jockey Person to Person, was worried she didn't have a retirement plan, as she supported her writing career--waiting for her big break. She had been working retail to "support that habit" when she decided to go for something with more security. This is when she got into "social selling" with a company you've probably heard of before--Jockey. I'll let Amy tell you in her own words about her business, about her writing, and about how you can get super comfy clothes or even a new career to support your writing until it takes off. WOW: Hi Amy, I know that you have a business and a writing career, so we'll talk about both today. First, please share with The Muffin readers about your business, Jockey Person to Person. What is it exactly?Amy: You know the underwear company, right? Person To Person is their leading direct-to-consumer division. We have shaken up the social selling marketplace with a super functional, super fashionable line of clothes that women love to layer on. I am a sales rep and coach for a national team of fabulous women who have found great money and great balance between their Jockey business and their life passion--whether that's family, education, volunteering...or writing!WOW: So, what are some Jockey styles that you can suggest for writers? Do you have any particular pieces that you LOVE to write in?Amy: My blog is The Lady in Leggings, so you know what I like to wear! Jockey P2P's active wear is simply the best, perfect for yoga class, then settling down to the computer. I love our Convertible Wrap Cardigan--it can be worn twenty different ways, and the fabric is delicious. And our Modern Pants--fondly known as The Butt Pants (because they make EVERYONE's butt look good)--and Jacket are my writing "uniform": I put them on when I need to get some serious pages done, and the fact that I FEEL great really comes through in how I approach my work.WOW: Some people think it doesn't matter what they wear when they write. Do you agree with this or do you think the way you look and/or feel makes a difference for your creativity?Amy: I swing a little old school on this topic. I was brought up with "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" mindset, and that sentiment has served me well. I don't think you have to obsess or overdo; but if you are confident in your appearance, it does reflect in your work, whether it's alone with your laptop or at a conference with potential colleagues, readers, or collaborators.WOW: Or what if some of our writers are also speakers? Do you provide some good wardrobe choices for speaking and presenting, too?
2 Comments on Jockey Person to Person for Writers: Wardrobe and Income, last added: 8/31/2011
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A couple of months into myRLF Fellowship at the London College of Fashion, I mentioned to a friend howmuch I was enjoying it. It reminded me of how much I love teaching – the chanceto make a difference in a pupil or student’s life, to share in their learningand help them reach their full potential. Teaching, I declared, was myvocation. She was surprised. To be honest, I surprised myself. Where does mywriting fit into this? Is it just a job; another career I’ve moved into or isit something else entirely? I’ve been thinking about the answer to thisquestion – a lot.
As a bossy little girl,press-ganging my friends into an audience to listen to the poems and stories I’dwritten, I was often told by adults that I would probably grow up to be ateacher. There was certainly never any mention that I might grow up to be awriter. I don’t think that early ‘encouragement’ pushed me towards a teachingcareer, but I did train and work as a teacher for many years. The genuine encouragementcame from a careers advice teacher at the FE college where I was hurtlingtowards a job as a shorthand-typist or, at best, a private secretary. She stoodover me while I filled in the university clearing house forms and – by happy accident– found my vocation as well as a fulfilling and relatively well-paid careerwith great holidays. She was everything a good teacher should be – inspiring,challenging, supportive – and she made a huge impact on my life. I owe her ahuge debt of gratitude, although to my sadness and shame, I no longer rememberher name.
At the risk of soundingconceited, I believe I was a good teacher too. I honed my bossiness into theability to encourage – OK, push – my students to be the best they could be andI hope some of them remember me positively. I remained in education until I was eventuallypromoted to a job for which I was not suited and which I loathed. Budgetmanagement just wasn’t my thing – and I bolted.
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STATUS: Another phone conference in 20 minutes! Must blog quickly.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LOWDOWN by Boz Scaggs
Blog readers, have I got special treat for you today. If you ever wondered what the editor rejections looked like for a book that has shown every sign of coming out of the gate wildly popular, well today is your lucky day.
Today is the official release day for Kristen Callihan's FIRELIGHT.
I've blogged before about the fact that I almost could not sell this book. And today, Kristen has given me special permission to share her rejections.
But let me preface this.
This debut novel has received two starred reviews (Publishers Weekly and Library Journal) and top pick at any number of romance sites, too many to list here.
When we sent the novel out to already established and successful authors to read with an eye for a possible blurb, we had our fingers crossed that maybe we'd get one or two responses.
Every author on our list read and blurbed it:
"Callihan has a great talent for sexual tension and jaw-dropping plots that weave together brilliantly in the end.”
—Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of Outlander
"A sizzling paranormal with dark history and explosive magic! Callihan is an impressive new talent." —Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author of Immortal Rider
"Evocative and deeply romantic, Firelight is a beautiful debut. I was fascinated from the first page." —Nalini Singh, New York Times bestselling author of the Guild Hunter Series
“Passionate and sizzling, beautifully written and dark. This unique paranormal twist on the beauty and the beast tale rocks!”
—Elizabeth Amber, author of Bastian The Lords of Satyr
"Kristen Callihan delivers a dark, lush offering to fans of gothic and paranormal romance. With a deliciously tortured hero, an inventive supernatural mystery, and slow-building heat that simmers on each page, Firelight is a sexy, resplendent debut. I can't wait to see what Kristen Callihan comes up with next!"
—Meljean Brook, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Duke
"This book has everything: sword fights, magic, despair, a heroine with secret strengths, a hero with hidden vulnerability, and best of all, a true love that's hot enough to burn the pages. I couldn't stop reading. This book is utterly phenomenal."
—Courtney Milan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Unraveled