Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why You Should Attend a Writer's Conference - Guest Blog By Heidi Horchler

Having recently attended a regional writer's conference, with the speakers' words still buzzing in my head and the buzz from my Starbuck's French Roast still twitching through my veins, I knew exactly the topic I would choose when Anne so graciously asked me to guest post here at Will Write for Coffee: attending writing conferences.

So, you get this urge every time you walk past the office supply section at Target. A vortex sucks you in and forces you to stand there in front of the notebooks. You don't need a notebook. You have two at home that are half full, and you just bought one last week. It has birds or curlicues or robots on it. It's sitting on your night table, pen uncapped at the ready, just waiting for those middle of the night brainstorm ideas that you know you'll lose if you don't jot them down, RIGHT NOW. But, you think, I'd better grab this one with the kittens on it, to make sure I have a spare. 

You know who you are.

You still have a copy of your first Judy Blume book (Tales of a Fourth Grade NothingAre You There, God? It's Me, Margaret? the racy Forever??) You've saved all of your favorite picture books and now read them to your kids. You have an idea for a story *POP* into your head at the most inopportune times, but you write them down. Maybe you even have a manuscript or two.

Now what?

You open your favorite picture book to the publisher's page, scribble down the address on a manila envelope, shove your story in there along with a cover letter that reads:
"To whom it may concern,
This is an awesome story about a teddy bear who learns to bake cookies and has a friend who is a bullfrog named Jeremiah. My kids love it! My son even drew the pictures!
I hope you like it!
No, I'm not being mean or snarky, because that's pretty close to the same thing I did for my first submission. In return, I received a very concise, polite photocopy of a response they send out to all the hapless wanna-be writers out there which said, in a nutshell,
"Thanks, but no thanks." 
If that's enough to deter you, if it was just a whim, and a Hail Mary shot, then good for you for trying and you can stop reading now. But if that "Thanks, but no thanks" got your hackles up and made you more determined to give it a go, read on.

1) Join a critique group. You can usually find one at your local library, school, or even online.

This is very scary, because now you will have to take all of those great little ideas out of your notebook and share them with about 5-10 strangers who will rip them apart. But that's good. Don't get defensive; rather, be a sponge and absorb what you learn, and don't be afraid to "kill your darlings." Be mature enough to accept critique, and give constructive criticism in return.

2) Always use proper format.

No Futura, no Helvetica (I know, I know), and for sure no Comic Sans. When printing your manuscript, even for your critique group, always, always, always use
Times New Roman*, 12-point font; double-spaced; one-inch margins (left, right, top, bottom).
This is an industry standard, and the sooner you start utilizing it, the better. The reason? While I'm not 100% sure, it's said that the serifs in the font make it easier for the eye to flow from one letter to the other; 12-point double-spaced font is just easier to read, and the one-inch margins are to allow room for editorial comments in the margins.
*The only exception would be Courier font, which is more commonly used in screenplay manuscripts.

3) Get your hands on a copy of The Writer's Market.

The library will usually have a reference copy (one that stays in the library and cannot be checked out), and there will often be a copy that you can check out as well. If your focus is writing for children, or if you are an artist or illustrator, there is the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's MarketI cannot stress the indispensable nature of these books. If you study either or both of them the way your kids study YouTube or Facebook, you will have an amazing head start.

The first half of The Writer's Market books contain information on: how to write a query letter; format; selling to magazines; interviews with authors, including how they sold their first book; and advice from agents, many of whom will speak to what sort of material they currently need. The second half of the guide is a directory of agents, publishers and editors, what they represent or publish, and how to submit your work to them. Current is the key word here−although you will find useful information in second-hand copies, the publishing industry changes so rapidly that you will want to find the newest version available.

4) Attend conferences, and join writer's organizations.

It's worth the drive to your nearest city; it's worth the $150-on up registration fee. Plan ahead and save your money. The knowledge that you will gain and the acquaintances you will make−personal and professional−are worth it. For children's writers or illustrators, find your regional Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) chapter, and attend whatever events you can. (More organizations listed below.)

In the past four years that I have attended our regional conference−and I'm not even talking about the whopper events in L.A. and New York−I have heard and/or met editors from: ScholasticRandom HouseAmulet/AbramsChroniclePenguinFarrar, Straus & GirouxHarper Collins and more. I've had a face-to-face critique with an editor from Roaring Brook. I've heard first-hand advice from agents on what they are looking for and how to submit. I've seen presentations from art directors on how a picture book is made. What catches an editor's eye and will keep them reading the next 20 pages, or make them toss it.

I've also made some very good friends, and seen a few fellow writers go on to publication.

If you offer to volunteer, it will not only give you a chance to help out, you will have the opportunity to meet more people. Remember, it's not only about learning, it's also about networking.

But besides learning about the industry and how to navigate it, the best residual effect of a conference is the motivation. Nothing will light a fire under your butt more than hearing the first-hand story of how a successful book made it from notebook to publisher's auction to print.

This year we were treated to the story of Tom Leveen's YA novel, Party. There to tell the tale were Tom, his agent Jennifer Mattson, and his editor at Random House, Suzy Capozzi. Tom told us the story of how he wrote Party, Jennifer talked about how the two of them worked together on it, the process of presenting it to editors, and Suzy explained what takes the book from a point of interest, to a sale, and the final product. It was incredibly interesting, and brought the entire experience down to a more realistic, maybe even attainable level. By the way, I got a copy of Party at the conference, started reading it that night, and couldn't put it down until I finished it two days later. The last book that did that to me was The Hunger Games. So, bravo, Tom, and thank you.

Attendees were given a workshop on how to pitch a book, and an opportunity to have their manuscript read and critiqued by one of the faculty, among other demonstrations.

More highlights of this year's conference were: a discussion on ideas that stand out from Amulet and Abrams books senior editor Maggie Lehrman, presentation on picture book format, from Simon & Schuster associate art director, Lauren Rille; and a lesson on marketing and publicity for today's writers, by industry pro Tracey Daniels of Media Masters Publicity, who also revealed a new project called Bookigee, a completely new way to look at books, and the movies, music and everything else connected to them.

In short, writing a book isn't just about the writing anymore. Sure, the writing has to be there−and has to be better than ever to compete in the market of today−but the whole experience of a book is changing. Not only to people want to read the book, they want to hear podcasts, read interviews, use interactive apps, go to events, and tweet all about it.

In order to get your awesome idea from scribbled notebook to the bestseller list takes more than just throwing a manila folder in the mailbox. It takes research. Not only in your subject matter, but in the publishing industry, social networking and marketing as a whole.

If it's one thing that stood out to me from the whole day, it was the idea that we, as conference attendees and SCBWI members were one step ahead of Joe Q. Writer, in preparing ourselves for the ultimate goal of publication.

So go, buy that notebook, kittens and all. And put a change jar on your counter with a sign taped to it that says "WRITER'S CONFERENCE." Whenever your kids swear, or forget to do their chores, charge them a dollar - you'll have it saved up in no time.

Sisters in Crime - Mystery writers

Authors I've met through SCBWI:

Authors I've met through library-hosted critique:

Not to mention Anne - but I've known her since way before any of this writing stuff :)

Many of these people are the ones who've taught me what I've learned so far, and what I've attempted o pass on to you. I hope you will find wisdom and inspiration in their lessons, as I have. 
Now get your notebook and start writing!

Heidi can be found online here:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Get a Picture Book Published

I recently sent this email to a friend of mine who is looking to get a picture book published.  I don't think she'll mind if I post it here as well.

Here's the skinny:
You can go about this one of two ways.

Way 1:
1) Create a mock-up of your book, then make copies for submission (color if illustrated)
2) Find a literary agent
Search the web for children's literary agencies (verify it's a legitimate agency on, scroll through their list of agents, find out which ones are accepting picture books, send them a letter or email (it's called a query) according to their specifications (every agent is different). 

Send letters & emails to as many agents as you can (I used to submit in packets of 10) because 99% of them will email or write back with a blanket 'no.'  It's a complete and utter craps shoot.  Eventually, after 100 or so letters, you will pass upon the agent who wants your type of book, with your type of story, and they will ask you to send them a mock-up of your book. Never send them the original!!!! You 
will not get it back, and you will not get your copy back either.  

They will write or email back and say yes or no.  Most will say no. Again, craps shoot.  But keep at it, eventually, you'll find the right agent for you. Never, ever, ever, EVER pay an agent any up-front fee. They should read it for free! No editing fee, no "copy" fee, nada, zip, zilch. They get paid after they sell your book, they take 15% of all sales.

3) Agent notes
The agent will have "notes" on the book (or, they won't have any) and it is 100% up to you if you think the changes they suggest help or hinder your book.

4) Submissions
The agent will submit your book to publishers. You will hear nothing for a long time. Call and check in with your agent at least once every few weeks so they remember you exist.  Technically, they work FOR YOU, so don't let them treat you like they are doing you a favor.

5) Publication
a) The publisher will make you an offer
b) Your agent will argue for you to get you the best deal
c) It will include an advance (anywhere from $1,000 on the low end, to $10,000 on the high end  for children's books). You will receive (standard deal) 10% of hardcover sales and 5% of paperback. For e-pub, it's a bit better, some traditional publishers offer a 25 to 30% royalty. 
d) The publisher will have notes on your manuscript.  These are harder to argue. Make the changes you feel are necessary, but you don't have to make them all.
e) The publisher makes the cover (you have no choice in the matter) - sometimes with picture books they'll use a piece of the art from inside, but that's not a guarantee.
f) The book will come out about nine months to a year after the deal closes (I know, terrible!) The publisher will give you a little marketing push, but after that you are on your own. That means, blog, tweet, FB, and reviews are almost all up to you.
Warning: You will not get rich selling only 1 children's book. You may be able to make a living if you publish 10.

Way 2:
1) Create mock-up and make copies
2) Research publisher submission guidelines
Some publishers will not accept "unsolicited" submissions (submissions they didn't ask for, or ones that did not come from an agent), but some will. This will take a bit of ground work to  see which ones you can submit to, and which ones are closed. If you find one that is open and accepting picture book submissions, write a query as per their specifications and wait for a response. 
3) If they accept your book you will have to negotiate your advance & contract by yourself 
(Personally, I do not recommend this! But I've known some authors who have.)
4) See #5 Above

Please feel free to ask as many questions as you like.
The reason I recommend the SCBWI is because they have periodic "seminars" and "conferences" where agents, editors from publishers, and other published authors give speeches and advice.  Some editors and agents will even accept submissions from attendees of these seminars, and it does carry clout among them if you write in your query you are an SCBWI member. Also, the SCBWI holds contests and if you win one of those, you also win submissions to agents and editors as well.

Hope this helps!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Russell Brand's Blog About Amy Winehouse

I don't normally get all political, or preachy, or anything on this blog.  I mostly whine about stuff, post an occasional review, and write about my writing...But, one of my favorite songs is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, and a friend of mine forwarded me Russell Brand's blog about her and her death, and the power of addiction - and knowing a few addicts myself, I feel compelled to get a little political and a little preachy.

If you'd like to read Russell's blog, which is so poignant, and perfect, here's the link:

Much Love to Everybody,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Current Basic ePublication Time Line

1) Write the book (3 months to 10 years, depending on the book and author)

2) Rewrite the book (because the first draft is never good, believe me)

3) Find an eEditor. 

4) Author (or agent, if represented) negotiates deal with the publisher. With print publishers, authors keep 5% of paperback and 10% of hardcover per book sold, but in ePublication, authors can get anywhere from 35 - 85% of sales price, the distributor (Amazon(Kindle), Barnes and Noble(Nook), Apple(eBook), etc. takes a cut with the ePublication company taking a cut too. 

5) eEditor edits the book - 2 - 3 weeks depending on the word count of the book. More if it's huge.

6) Publisher obtains waivers, and licensing agreements for all photographs and art -- this can take 2 to 3 months because lawyers are slow and never pick up their phones.

7) Final pages are sent to be digitized (takes about 2 weeks)

8) Publisher negotiates fee for book with the distributors, plus the marketing campaign is planned and negotiated with distributors (2 to 3 more weeks)

9) Book launch date picked (holiday season? summer release?) and viola, it's done.

All in all, if my counting serves me correct, from the time the book is given to the eEditor, it takes approximately four months for it to reach the consumer, not bad considering it takes a year for print.  an eBook can also be available on Print on Demand with Amazon, so while your book can be available on eReaders, it can also be purchased on paper. This deal should be negotiated by the ePublisher.

Hope this helps!
It'll all be out of date by next month...Believe me.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Publishers Ripping off Authors on eBook Sales!!!

Here's an Authors Guild report regarding how publishers are ripping
off writers on ebook royalties:
E-Book Royalty Math: The Big Tilt
To mark the one-year anniversary of the Great Blackout, Amazon's week long shut down of e-commerce for nearly all of Macmillan's titles, we’re sending out a series of alerts this week and next on the state of e-books, authorship, and publishing. The first installment (“How
Apple Saved Barnes & Noble. Probably.”) discussed the outcome, one year later, of that battle. Today, we look at the e-royalty debate, which has been simmering for a while, but is likely to soon heat up as the e-book market grows.
E-book royalty rates for major trade publishers have coalesced, for the moment, at 25% of the publisher’s receipts. As we’ve pointed out previously, this is contrary to longstanding tradition in trade book
publishing, in which authors and publishers effectively split the net proceeds of book sales (that's how the industry arrived at the standard hardcover royalty rate of 15% of  list price). Among the ills of this radical pay cut is the distorting effect it has on publishers’
incentives: publishers generally do significantly better on e-book sales than they do on hardcover sales. Authors, on the other hand, always do worse.
How much better for the publisher and how much worse for the author?
Here are examples of author’s royalties compared to publisher’s gross profit (income per copy minus expenses per copy), calculated using industry-standard contract terms:
“The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett
Author’s Standard Royalty: $3.75 hardcover; $2.28 e-book. Author’s
E-Loss = -39%
Publisher’s Margin: $4.75 hardcover; $6.32 e-book. Publisher’s E-Gain = +33%
“Hell’s Corner,” by David Baldacci
Author's Standard Royalty: $4.20 hardcover; $2.63 e-book. Author’s
E-Loss = -37%
Publisher’s Margin: $5.80 hardcover; $7.37 e-book. Publisher’s E-Gain = +27%
“Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand
Author’s Standard Royalty: $4.05 hardcover; $3.38 e-book. Author’s
E-Loss = -17%
Publisher’s Margin: $5.45 hardcover; $9.62 e-book. Publisher’s E-Gain = +77%
So, everything else being equal, publishers will naturally have a strong bias toward e-book sales. It certainly does wonders for cash flow: not only does the publisher net more, but the reduced royalty means that every time an e-book purchase displaces a hardcover purchase, the odds that the author’s advance will earn out -- and the
publisher will have to cut a check for royalties -- diminishes. In more ways than one, the author’s e-loss is the publisher’s e-gain.
Inertia, unfortunately, is embedded in the contractual landscape. If the publisher were to offer more equitable e-royalties in new contracts, it would ripple through much of the publisher’s catalog: most major trade publishers have thousands of contracts that require an automatic adjustment or renegotiation of e-book royalties if the
publisher starts offering better terms. (Some publishers finesse this issue when they amend older contracts, many of which allow e-royalty rates to quickly escalate to 40% of the publisher’s receipts. Amending old contracts to grant the publisher digital rights doesn’t trigger
the automatic adjustment, in the publisher's view.) Given these substantial collateral costs, publishers will continue to strongly resist changes to their e-book royalties for new books.
Resistance, in the long run, will be futile. As the e-book market continues to grow, competitive pressures will almost certainly force publishers to share e-book proceeds fairly. Authors with clout simply won’t put up with junior partner status in an increasingly important
market. New publishers are already willing to share fairly. Once one of those publishers has the capital to pay even a handful of authors meaningful advances, or a major trade publisher decides to take the plunge, the tipping point will likely be at hand.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Query Letter Advice

I know there are several websites and books that give you a formula for how to write the perfect query letter to an agent or publisher.  Let me be clear, I know there are several websites and books that give you DIFFERENT formulas on how to write the perfect query letter to an agent or publisher.

The truth of the matter is, until they write a book saying how to write the perfect query letter for each specific writer and publisher, there is no "right" answer.  It's a craps shoot.  The only advice I can give will seem completely logical, but you may be surprised...So here goes...

1) Spell the person's name right.  Double check it.  Triple check it.

2) Include a one paragraph biography of yourself.  Include past writing credits -- self publishing does not count.  They do not need to know your life story.  Just the highlights.

3) Tell the agent or publisher why you are querying them, and be specific.  This point takes a bit of time.  You can't say, "I found your name in a book and I'm praying you'll love me."  That won't fly.  Google the agent or publisher.  Find out what kinds of books they buy or represent.  If they have one similar to yours, that means they like that kind of work and might be willing to read yours.  If the agent only represents Fantasy, don't send them your Children's Picture Book...They don't care.  Take the time and research and then put evidence of that research into your letter.  That way, you're not just throwing shit against the wall to see if it sticks.  You're throwing strategic darts.  Big difference. Ultimately, it saves you time and heart ache too.
(Ex. Since you represented "The Funniest Book Ever" I hope you will be interested in reading my manuscript, "The Book that Makes Me Laugh.")

4) Include a one paragraph summary of your book.  Think of it as the back book cover.  Be provocative.  Be interesting.  Be grammatically correct.  If the book is funny, the summary should be funny.  If the book is edgy, the paragraph should be edgy.  If the book is...You get the point.

5) Notify the agent or publisher if the book has been submitted (not queried) SUBMITTED to any other agent and/or publisher.

6) Let them know you appreciate their time and that you look forward to their response.

7) Include a Self Stamped Addressed Envelope (SASE) if it is snail mail.  Include your email address for an email query.

What Not to Do:
1) Don't beg.

2) Don't threaten.

3) Don't lie.

4) Double, triple, and quadruple check spelling, punctuation and grammar.

5) Don't submit to the wrong kind of agent and/or publisher.

6) Don't be self-deprecating unless it's a part of the book.  Sell, sell, sell! Why would they want a book if the author is not confident about it?

7) Don't submit manuscripts that are riddled with typos, grammatical errors, consistency problems, and poor editing.  Hire a school teacher during the summer to red pen your book.  Ask your writing buddies for notes and take the best ones.  Ignore the rest.  Make sure the book is in tip top order.  Editors and Agents want a book that is practically ready AS IS.

8) Don't send your manuscript unless they ask you to! Most agents and or publishers want a letter first, then ask for sample chapters if they like the idea.  Some agents want the first fifty pages right off the bat. Look up their website and check to see what their specific submission guidelines are and follow them exactly.  To. The. Letter.

9) Keep querying.  It can take up to 100 letters before you get the hang of querying.  

Good luck!

I hope this helps.