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We've heard so often the complaint that publishers never take risks, that agents never take risks, and of course there are some who will say those are the reasons we're seeing the "downfall of publishing" today. I don't necessarily believe that. I think given how many new authors are published each year and how many of those succeed as well as how many fail shows that publishers take risks every day. Every book is a risk, whether it's a debut or not. No matter how much experience we all have we're never quite sure what's going to grab the attention of the reader.
That being said, recently when I heard that lament it made me think back to a publisher I once worked for, and by publisher I mean the individual, not the company. This particular publisher was a dreamer and a believer in all the good ways. The publisher loved the business and was enthusiastic about all the things about it, especially the books. One of the things this publisher charged was that each editor was allowed to buy one "book of the heart" each year. What that meant was that even if everyone in-house had doubts about whether the book would sell or could sell, the editor was given the ability to make a modest go of it, meaning the editor couldn't spend a million dollars for a book no one thought the house could do justice, but the editor could take a chance on something everyone else felt a little on the fence about.
For a young editor like me this was a really exciting opportunity, and while I never was able to buy my "book of the heart" before the publisher went another way, I held that feeling of excitement and carry it with me as an agent today.
I can't begin to tell you how often I've offered representation to an author for a book that I honestly thought would be a challenge to sell, but one I was excited about. And before all of my clients get worried, upon making the offer I've always been up front with the author about my belief that the book might be a long shot, but one that I thought was worth the risk. Some have sold, others have not, but either way I've never regretted taking the chance.
One caveat to all of this is that, as a writer, if you have an agent or publisher taking a chance on your book you still want to make sure it's a place that has some knowledge of where they're taking the chance to. In other words, you probably don't want me to take a chance on your illustrated children's book since that's so outside of my knowledge base that it just wouldn't be a smart move. I wouldn't even begin to know where to sell it to. You probably wouldn't want a business publisher taking a chance on your romance novel. Again, do they have the sales force available to even talk to the right buyers?
We play games on Friday afternoons. My library has a Wii and a Playstation 2, which we set up in our community room. Teens and tweens are welcome, and many come back week after week to play Rock Band, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Wii Sports, Dance Dance Revolution and whatever other games that teens or I have brought in that week. They take turns based on whoever wants to play. Some enjoy just hanging out and watching. It’s a relaxed environment that promotes socializing, conversation, and cooperation.
In the spirit of my relaxed gaming programs, I will share a few things that I love about connecting with teens over video games.
The social aspect of cooperative games. Because we offer a lot of four player games, there are opportunities for teens to play together. It’s an obvious benefit for friends, but it also invites teens who don’t know each other to play together. Someone will hold up a wiimote and ask, “who else wants to play?” And that someone is not always me, the teens invite each other to play and seem to bond quickly over the exchanges of the game. If they all know the game well, they compare strategy, if one does not know the game so well, others teach. I enjoy watching the instruction as one teen shows another how to hold the Rock Band guitar and which buttons to press on the fretboard, or an older teen shows a younger one how to position the character in Wii Bowling and swing the wiimote to bowl a strike.
Talking about games. Games we love, games we hate, we talk about it all. Preferences create common ground. I always enjoy references to old school Nintendo titles and characters like Mario and Link or anything Final Fantasy related. It’s interesting how much these older games or long running series games have held up over the years. As Teens critique the graphics and gameplay, preferences lead to further conversation. I am beginning to buy games to circulate and I took my cues for specific games to buy and which consoles to focus on from these conversations.
Gaming creates safe opportunities for risk. There are few video game related scenes that warm my heart so much as watching boys sing in Rock Band. Maybe this is because most of my gaming teens are boys and I haven’t yet seen too many girls take on the challenge of being the singer. Maybe this is because teenage boys can be awkward, but the ways in which they embrace it or triumph over it are heartening. Rock Band is a mock performance. The only consequence of failure in game is that you can fail a song and have to start over. Socially the consequence of failure is that maybe someone doesn’t like your singing, or maybe you sing the wrong words, or maybe you feel embarrassed. In a larger or more critical group this could be a deterrent, and even in this relaxed environment it is for some. But I know a few boys who just get up and do it. Sometimes they don’t know the song, so they just hum along. Sometimes they can’t carry a tune, but sing out anyway and earn the amusement of the other gamers. Sometimes they know the song perfectly and impress everyone in the room. They risk and succeed, which is a good experience to build on. Maybe someday they’ll play in a real rock band, or have to get up and talk in front of a group of people and the exAdd a Comment
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Today’s confident on the hip high five comes from Edward Stratemeyer.
My guess is you have no idea who this is. Eddie is the brainchild behind Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and boatload of other popular series that have been a mainstay on the entertainment. My favorite will always be the Bobbsey Twins. He wrote about 1300 books for kids. Yes, that is a lot of books.
Perhaps something is stewing in you is going to spring up an entire industry in the children’s book field. Think about being a risk taker as you move forward with your goal. Those who play it safe rarely get what they want. Go ahead, take a leap to day. See where it leads you.
Keep working. Today’s coffee is practically a double of shot of energy.
A quote to consider:
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order to things. - Niccolo Machiavelli
Dropped Dead Stitch
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: June 2009
Agent: Jessica Faust
(Click to Buy)
Author Web/Blog links: www.maggiesefton.com, www.cozychicksblog.com, LinkedIn
Taking risks is a gamble, especially with your career. There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. Some people will work at a job they hate for years rather than “risk” trying a new endeavor, something they don’t know how to do. So, they stay stuck—and unhappy.
I know how that feels. I was published in 1995 in Historical Romance by Berkley Jove with a western romance. It was fun to write, and it became my first published novel. Writing the western was a change for me. Up until then I’d been writing big historical novels set in the 1600s, 1800s, and medieval times. However, those novels weren’t selling. I was stuck. So, I took the risk of doing something different. I wrote the western, and it sold quickly.
That’s a lesson I’ve had to remind myself of several times over my 25+ year writing career. A few years after the western, I decided to take the risk of writing something different once again. This time I started listening to the contemporary mystery characters that were waiting in my “story queue.” They wanted onstage. Once I let them loose, they stormed the stage, chased the historical characters into the bushes, and took over. Later mysteries went on to become a nationally bestselling series—the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries with Berkley Prime Crime.
As writers, we should never stop taking risks. Whether it be through story ideas, characterization, or our craft. We need to stay open to new ideas and different writing styles. That’s how we stay fresh. And every now and then, we need to take risks.
I took a risk with my new release, the 7th in the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries, DROPPED DEAD STITCH, out June 2nd. Amidst all the good times with Kelly and the gang and warm and fuzzies in the knitting shop, something bad happens. A murder, right? Well, yes, someone is murdered, and Kelly has to solve it. But something else occurs before that. Something bad happens to one of Kelly’s close friends.
It’s a sensitive subject, and I did my best to handle it with respect and sensitivity. Why take the risk and include the subject at all? Because I had to. My characters bring the stories, and they expect me to pay attention.
Risky? You bet. I had no idea how it would be received. I’m extremely gratified that reviewers have responded so favorably. DROPPED DEAD STITCH’s cover was even featured in the May 4th Publishers Weekly article on Traditional Mysteries.
All of that is wonderful. But I didn’t take the risk for the reviews. I took it for my characters, because the whole point of what happens is not the trauma, but the transformation that follows. For me—it’s all about the characters. Always has been.