I’ve had quite the eventful day, filled with many panels and sessions. Some were very interesting and informative, some less so, as is the way of these things. But I’ve met a lot of fabulous people, and that’s always fun. Worth the price of admission, as they say.
The theme of the conference is: “Craft, Commerce, Community.” Some of the most useful opening remarks came from Kevin Smokler who pointed out that you can always do something to help yourself, something to move forward rather than standing still. Identify your obstacles and realize that you can be your own worst enemy, whether through procrastination, doubt, being overly sensitive, or feeling like you’re entitled to something. He noted that in television and movies, writers are often portrayed as temperamental geniuses, brats of a sort . . . And that writers are the ones portraying themselves as such! Food for thought.
The first session I attended was about building your platform as an author. I thought Elisa Sasa Southard and Teresa LeYung-Ryan made a great team as presenters. What I really took away from the whole thing was what they call a “talking tagline”: Basically, what do you say if/when approached by someone and they ask what you do. Now, they wanted me to start with the phrase, “Through my book,” but I find that somewhat unnatural as a segue. But the value of the session came from being able to distill my work to a 10-second essence that hopefully makes someone want to know more. So while I wouldn’t (and won’t) do it exactly as they prescribe, it was a useful exercise on the whole.
Then I went to Linda Lee’s website session. She recommended WordPress, and she recommended owning a domain name instead of going with the free option (though free is good if you want to test it out). Well, check and check. Though I’d consider hiring Linda to help me optimize my site (if I could afford to)! Interesting to note that most people only read the first 250-350 words of an online article or blog post. So keep it short and break it up into installments to keep them coming back.
Rayhané’s Sanders’ session on writing query letters was insanely packed. She read a few successful queries—by which I mean queries that succeeded in getting her to request the manuscript—and one that was a big DON’T. It was helpful in giving me an idea of how to do queries, but the ones I’ve written are already very similar to her “successful” models and still I get rejected . . . And it all seems very vague, where the lines are drawn. As in: Flatter, but not too much . . . Cite your publication history, education, hobbies/experience if relevant to the text, but don’t do literary magazine and undergrad stuff or talk about colleges no one’s ever heard of . . . Describe the book, kind of in detail but not too much detail (and never end with a question, as in: Can she beat the clock and save her son?) . . . I think I may have been guilty of that last one, so it’s good to know that’s mostly considered obnoxious. But it’s all so subjective, too. And though I’ve sent queries to agents whose sites say they’re interested in my kind of story, they say “no” . . . And then other agents say they don’t read my kind of book, so . . . What’s a girl to do?
Lunch was lovely; I met a lot of interesting people at my table, and Anne Perry was amazing. I’ve never read any of her books, but she seems like such a wonderful person, now I kind of want to go look at her stuff. Though she has so much I wouldn’t know where to begin.
And then I went to Dan Poynter’s talk on book promotion but didn’t find it all that helpful. He suggested things like hiring some guy to put up a Wikipedia article for you (I’d LOVE to be on Wiki, for sure, but . . .) and hiring some other guy to do a sizzle reel/book trailer . . . And joining lots of forums that are related to your book in some way so you can get known and then get the other people on the forum to buy your book. I think a lot of what he had to say, too, related more to nonfiction (like about working with journalists who need experts). Shrug.
Finally there was a big panel with a bunch of fiction editors from various publishing houses. The bottom line with them was: Get an agent. We trust agents to sift out the bad stuff and only present us with gems. But even then, the gems are likely to be rough. The idea is: You write and rewrite until you think your manuscript is perfect. Then an agent sees potential and suggests more edits. And after you’ve done that, a publishing editor will want you to rewrite some more. So, in short, don’t send it out until it’s exactly right and then there will be more work to make it exactly right. They were also decidedly anti e-readers because they feel Amazon selling books at $.99 makes readers on the whole less willing to pay for books so content gets undervalued AND the quality of the product is less as well. And yet there was some middle ground in the editors saying they do look at what self-published authors are doing and have accomplished, just in case they find something good. (In other words, if you’ve proven yourself out on your own, maybe they’ll throw you a bone?)
I don’t know. Some conflicting information, since some presenters were saying you MUST have an author site/blog and others were saying DON’T run your own site, just guest post on other people’s sites because having your own will never generate enough traffic or interest. I get so-so traffic here (much more over on spooklights, which has broader appeal), but I don’t think I’ll ditch this site any time soon anyway.
So my question really is: how does a moderately successful self-pubbed author get the interest and attention of an agent? That remains to be seen. No one seems willing to talk numbers. My sales are above the average for self-published authors, especially considering I have zero marketing. So . . . Shouldn’t that be worth something? But finding the one person who will value my work is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. We’ll see what I can accomplish over the remainder of the weekend.