Pikes Peak Library District Mountain of Authors
Long title for a writers’ conference, but the conference is free. For some reason, I’ve seen ads for it the week before for the past three years—and then I’ve been able to actually go.
The first session’s speakers included an editor from a small local publishing house, a library employee who managed to sell his first book, and his agent. As you might imagine, they talked about the relationship between an author, an agent, and a publisher. Here are some things they said:
- Why get an agent? Because they’ll know where to send your book. After sending out a gazillion query letters, you might be able to get it published by a small house, but agents know the editors in the big houses and who exactly will be interested in it.
- It’s okay to query multiple agents, just make sure each query is written for the specific agency. It’s also good to mention a similar book they’ve represented; it shows you actually looked at their work and that you’d be a good fit for them. [OTOH, I had an editor say he wasn’t interested in Thunderbird because his house already had a book in the works that had a female character with wings. People are strange.]
- Free agent database websites (like agentquery.com) are not up to date. You can use them to find a possibility and then go to that agent’s website for better info. For good agent information, look at:
-- Literary Marketplace—your local library should have it if you don’t want to buy it, or find it online for $20/week or $400/year
-- Similar published books—look at the acknowledgements pages
-- Writers’ conferences—if there’s a session with a potential agent, go to it. Even if their website claims they’re not accepting new clients, they may open up to students that just paid to sit and listen to them talk for an hour.
- Awards and good reviews will get you attention, but new agents and publishers will look at sales.
- You can only sell a self-published book if it sold thousands of copies and if it did so within a short time period.
- New books get 5-6 weeks to ride the marketing wave before they get drowned out by newer titles.
- EPublishing is growing and will probably be the future, but right now it’s only 2-3% of the sales market.
- Agents can tell if you researched their company and their work or if you sent a form letter to a list of hundreds. Know the agent; know what kind of books they like to represent; don’t waste their time if they’re not a good fit. That makes them very angry.
In the second session, four published authors explained how to get published. We met Laura Reeve, a relatively new science fiction writer, Rod Summitt, mystery/romance, MJ Brett, a self-published author of historical fiction [actually, her stuff sounded really interesting], and Nancy Atherton who writes cooking/gardening/mystery books that are so cozy that I’m not sure anyone actually dies.
The first question was how to get published. Reeve said, simply, finish the book and get an agent. Especially for SF/F, there are so few major players out there that an agent is particularly good to have. Summitt said to use the Writers’ Market and expect lots of rejections.
As for biggest surprises, Reeve mentioned cover art. Her MC has short, brown hair. The illustration on the cover has a long-haired blonde. Summitt revealed that having a small publisher and no agent meant a lot of work for him; he is his marketing department. Brett, who started by fictionalizing the story of her mother-in-law’s life in East Germany, gave the quote of the conference: “It’s worth it to tell the truth.”
Opinion on market trends, and the following thereof, seemed to vary by personality, success of the author, and genre. Brett said to forgettaboutit and write what you love. Atherton (the most successful author) said, “Whenever you’re following a trend, you’re following.” Reeve had more practical advice for us hobbittses. Read a lot in your genre. Don’t necessarily write to the market, but aim your queries according to the market. Genre literature is commercial; by definition, it’s driven by popularity. LOCUS Magazine will give you insider information. It is easier to break into urban fantasy, military sci fi, or action/adventure sci fi. True fantasy and hard sci fi readers tend to stick to favorite authors. Oh, and fantasy outsells sci fi twice over.
Advice varied regarding critique groups. A good critique group will be helpful because you read your own writing as it should be read—not as it actually comes across. Critiquers will point out when you’re getting confusing or leaving something out. On the other hand, there’s a difference between good writing and good editing. A writer with a strong personal voice will find it extremely difficult to turn that voice off in order to objectively analyze another’s writing. They can proofread it, but not edit it.
[I find this to be true. I critique for a teenage writers’ forum, and I have a hard time telling when something is intentional due to voice and when it’s immature writing.]
Atherton had good guidance on writing a series—create a rich, flexible, comfortable world and you won’t get sick of sequels. Brett admonished us to get the details right. She mentioned a scene in a book she read to her high school class when she taught at a DoD school in Germany. The kids immediately tore the book apart because the street where the heroine was meeting the hero was, at that time, covered in rubble from the war. Brett also had one last word about self-publishing: only self-publish it if you already have a niche audience. And don’t do it if you’re young. If you’re young enough to wait eight years for Random House, do it.
The keynote speaker was Margaret Coel, a former journalist who has a successful mystery series based in an Arapaho Indian Reservation in Wind River Wyoming. Her talk was interesting, but mostly personal and anecdotal. Instead, I leave you with a recent blog entry from Elizabeth Moon wherein she explains that sometimes even successful authors get about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield.
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