Happy New Year!

I had the best of intentions to keep the blog up and running this month. You know how well that worked. I guess half of a month isn't bad.

I could stress out, skip family activities and pump out a few more posts this week. I choose not to do that. Experiences are what make us better writers and readers.

So I'm taking the week off. I'll be back again next Monday with a whole week focused on platform. Yeah! I know you're so excited.

Let me take a minute to say Thank you. When I started this blog two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing or where it would take me. I never imagined I would make new friends or find so much joy in sharing all the random knowledge floating in my head. But I did and I have, thanks to all of you.

Enjoy the rest of your year and join me back here in 2014!

A new breed of scam publishers

It was bound to happen. With the boom of self-publishing and half of America convinced they're the literary genius of our times, scams become plentiful. Most writers have been trained to see these coming a mile away, but a new crop of "publishers" is making it more difficult for writers to sort out legitimate from leery.

It used to be the warning signs were obvious. Publishers asking authors to pay for their own editing, share in the publication costs, and charging them for everything from printing to postage.  There are still folks out there writing these bad deals and you should still stay away from them. But there are some new terms of contract popping up you need to also look out for.

Here's my new list of warning signs.


1. Freelancer beware
Watch out for any contract that suggests your work is done as a freelance writer or work for hire.  Read the contract carefully to make sure the publisher isn't trying to "buy" your work and pay you a set fee. This would basically terminate any rights you have to the work and would exclude you from selling any sub-rights or earning additional royalties. Never a good situation.

2. Long term contracts
First, make sure your contract has a time limit. Then make sure it isn't excessive. If a publisher owns the right to your work for the next 50 years, your hands are tied. This means even if they decide to take it out of print, you can't do anything with it. If your contract has a long term, make sure that there is an escape clause that grants rights back to you if the book goes out of print or sells very few copies.

3. Uneven payment scheme
Advances still happen these days, but they aren't as common as they used to be. The consolation prize of no advance should be higher royalties. Watch out for a contract that doesn't offer an advance, but still forces you to accept a lower royalties (generally below 10%).

4. The rights grab
A publisher asking for sub-rights isn't a bad thing in itself. For example, a publisher with a history of finding homes for audio, translations, film, tv, etc. may be the perfect way for you to maximize your books reach (and revenue). But keep an eye out for a publisher that is just blindly asking for everything with no plan. For example, there is no reason why an ebook only publisher needs your print rights. No Reason. They don't print. If you aren't sure if letting a publisher keep your rights is the right move, add in limits to the contract that protects you if those rights aren't utilized.

5. Hidden costs
It used to be that earning royalties on net was a sure sign that your publisher was a dirty rotten scoundrel, but this is becoming more common. And with the right stipulations, it can be fine. What you want is a clear definition of Net. You need to be certain that Net is limited to what the publisher receives from sales (minus returns). If you don't have this language, the publisher is able to add in any number of other expenses that can be deducted from the revenue before they calculate your royalties. When your payment statement shows up, there might not be enough money left over to send you a check.

These are just a few signs, but contracts have so many intricacies it would be impossible to list them all. Not to toot my professional horn, but this is why you need an agent. And if you decide to accept a contract without going the agent route, make sure you hire an experienced literary contracts lawyer to help you understand all the aspects of the contract. Even one poorly worded line can have a big impact on you and your novel.

Now it's your turn. Have you seen any rotten contract terms or warning signs you wish everyone could see. Share them below and help a writer out.

A friend in need

I hope you don't mind, but today's post has absolutely nothing to do with marketing. Today is actually a plea for  help.

This is my friend, Eric. The one with the mask.
The cutie on the right is his potty mouthed fiance, TJ.

I met Eric in College. He was the first openly gay person I had ever met (this was a while ago and I was sheltered). He was also an amazing friend, funny guy, and good mood bringer.

After college, Eric was diagnosed with brain tumors. Really sucky ones that often are inoperable and can screw with your body. Despite having to take things slow and use a cane to walk, Eric kept going. He is the author of some really fantastic M/M books.

Things were going well. Eric and TJ just got engaged. Then Eric got sick. Really sick.

Now he's in the hospital and from what they can tell, he's going to be there a while. Besides the staggering medical bills, there are also the expenses for TJ and Eric's family to travel to be with him, pay for hotel rooms and take time off work. It shouldn't be any surprise that it's going to get expensive.

And this is where you come in. A fund has been set up to help defray the costs of Eric's care. If you were planning to make any charitable contributions this year, I hope you'll consider donating to Eric's fund. Even if you can't swing a donation right now, I'd like to ask you to please pass this link along to all of your social media contacts.

The writing community is awesome and the love and support being shown to Eric and TJ is heartwarming. Thank you for being the totally awesome people that you are.

Agency Lessons: Professional Courtesy

Today I want to talk about manners in the publishing world. 
During the week, I spend most of my time working with my clients editing their manuscripts, sending pitches, researching editors, reviewing contracts, etc. This means I usually don't have time to read queries or submissions until the weekend. Now, I'm not complaining. If I didn't love what I do, I wouldn't do it. I bring it up to show that reading manuscripts is something I have to make time for. It's what I do instead of cleaning my house or enjoying a good book from my enormous TBR pile.

I don't read many manuscripts during the week, because it's important to me that each one gets the attention it deserves. Sending your work off into the world is a big deal and each author should be given major props for putting themselves out there. I read each one, often making notes as I go. When I respond, I try to give helpful feedback on rejections so the author has something to go on for why their project isn't right for me. All of this takes time.

So you can imagine my aggravation when I take all this time, during my weekend, to respond to manuscripts only to find out from the author that they already signed with another agent, or small press, or decided to self-publish.

Not that an author can't do this. A query isn't a contract. If you decide that you'd rather self-publish or decide to take a small press offer, then by all means, go for it. Good for you. But not letting me know is rude. Because you've just wasted my time. If I don't know you've made other plans for your manuscript, I'm still going to read it. And I'm going to send you comments. And all of this is going to take hours of my time.

I can think of two reasons why someone might decide they don't want to tell me their book is off the market.
1. They think because I haven't responded, I'm not interested.
2. They think I might still want to represent them.

Let's address these.

1. If I've requested your manuscript, I'm interested. I'm not sure how much clearer that can be made. Now, it might be a while before I get to your work. It happens. What isn't happening is that I read your submission and sit on it. I might take a day or two to think about it, but that's the limit. I would never read something, decide it's not for me, and then not respond to the author. That would be rude on my end. So if I haven't responded, and you can probably assume this across the board, I haven't read your manuscript yet.

If you need an answer, let me know. I can't promise I'll be able to rush read your manuscript and I might step aside, but at least I have the option.

2. I represent authors, but each contract is for a specific manuscript. If your manuscript is already sold to a small press or you decide to publish it on your own, I can't sign a contract for that. There isn't anything for me to do. My job is to sell your rights to publishers. No rights, no sale, no need for an agent.

Now, this is different than getting a small press offer that you'd like help with. That I can do. I can work with the publisher to make sure you get a fair deal that protects your rights and gets you the most money and help. But all of that has to be done before you sign on the dotted line. Once you sign, I can't help you.

So do me, and yourself, a favor. If your book is no longer available, let me know. I won't be mad and I won't hold it against you. I will be happy for your success and grateful that you respected my time. 

A lesson on school visits

If you write for kids, you've probably considered the benefits of giving a school talk. The idea sounds nice, but you might have questions about where to start or how to get the most out of the opportunity. Since I've never given a school talk, I decided to reach out and get advice from an author who's been there and done that. Please welcome, Kelly Hashway!


School Visits Can Be an Author’s Best Form of Marketing

School visits are a great way to reach more readers, but how do you go about setting them up? School librarians should be at the top of your list of friends. Put together a press release or one sheet with your book cover, blurb, pertinent information (like publication date, publisher, ISBN), and any endorsements you have for your book. Also, make sure you have your contact information in there. If the school is local, go meet the librarian and bring a copy of your book to donate to the school’s library. If the school isn’t local, you can get the librarian’s email address from the school’s website. Or call the school and ask to speak to the librarian.

If you aren’t a big name author (yet), offering to give your presentation for free is an almost guaranteed way to get your foot in the door. It’s about spreading the word and getting your name out there, so even if you don’t make money from the presentation itself, you can and most likely will gain readers and make sales after the presentation.

When you approach the school about coming to visit, let them know you are open to small group or large group settings. I’ve spoken to individual classes, which makes it easier to interact with the students, and to auditoriums full of students. The key with either setting is to be enthusiastic. If you are excited, the students will feed off of your energy.

A word of advice for big group presentations is not to hide behind a podium. The school will set one up for you, but I wouldn’t stand behind it. It’s screams “I’m going to lecture you for the next hour!” Kids hate that. For one of my presentations, I stood up on the catwalk that was on the stage for the spring play. It was great because I was up high so everyone could see me (I’m only 5’1”) and the kids thought it was awesome that I was up there. They weren’t expecting it, so I grabbed their attention from the moment they entered the auditorium.

Kids are very visual, so you’ll want to have visual aides. A slideshow with lots of images is great, but arrive to your visit early and perform a test run with any technology you are going to use to make sure everything is working properly before you begin. During your presentation, don’t stand in one spot. Move around. Interact with the audience. Keep your energy high. Don’t be afraid to crack a joke and just be yourself. Kids can sniff out fakeness from a mile away. No matter what age they are, kids love to be read to so bring a copy of your book. If your book isn’t out yet, print an excerpt and bring that with you. 

And leave time for questions. They will have them. Just be prepared from some questions about your age. For some reason, they always want to know how old you are and how much money you make. One of the best responses I got from a group of students was after I told them that I sold my first short story for a whopping two dollars. The entire auditorium broke out into applause. Why? Because I was so excited to make money for my writing—no matter how small the amount—and they could see that. They shared in my celebration. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Finally, be prepared to stay longer than you anticipated. I was asked to stick around for lunches so the students could interact with me in a less formal setting. It was so much fun, and I signed everything from agendas to paper plates. 

So go make friends with school librarians, because school visits can be a really fun way to reach a large amount of potential readers.

Great advice, right! As someone who's only 4'10" I can totally relate to the evils of podiums. Be sure to check out Kelly on her blog or Twitter. While you're there, check out all her great books, including her YA paranormal series, TOUCH OF DEATH.

AmazonB&N, or Walmart
Jodi Marshall isn’t sure how she went from normal teenager to walking disaster. One minute she’s in her junior year of high school, spending time with her amazing boyfriend and her best friend. The next she’s being stalked by some guy no one seems to know.

After the stranger, Alex, reveals himself, Jodi learns he’s not a normal teenager and neither is she. With a kiss that kills and a touch that brings the dead back to life, Jodi discovers she’s part of a branch of necromancers born under the 13th sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus. A branch of necromancers that are descendants of Medusa. A branch of necromancers with poisoned blood writhing in their veins.

Jodi’s deadly to the living and even more deadly to the deceased. She has to leave her old, normal life behind before she hurts the people she loves. As if that isn’t difficult enough, Jodi discovers she’s the chosen one who has to save the rest of her kind from perishing at the hands of Hades. If she can’t figure out how to control her power, history will repeat itself, and her race will become extinct.

Already a fan of the Touch of Death series? Be sure to pre-order FACE OF DEATH, releasing January 7th at AmazonB&N, or Walmart!

Are you driving traffic away from your site?

Today is a short post, but an important one. I want to talk about links.

Links are a great way to share content, direct readers to other places they can find you and promote other writers. But they have a dark side. If not used properly, links can actually drive traffic away from your site.

Now, there's a whole SEO aspect to links that has something to do with a magical Google formula taking into account the number of links in correlation to original content, blah, blah, blah. I don't really pay attention to SEO and I have no idea how this aspect of it works. If I have a link I want to share, I share it.

But there is a right way and a wrong way, and it's a simple as one button.

 That's right, the simple "Open this link in a new window" box. You should always, ALWAYS, check this box. I can't think of a single reason not to. When you do, the link opens in a separate window that when closed, lets your reader go right back to the page they were reading. If you don't check it, your page goes away and the link is opened. That means if your reader wants to go back to your content, they have to hit the back button.

That may sound simple enough, but here's the problem. What happens when they get to the new page and want to click on a shiny new link there. And then another. And another. You see the problem. In order to get back to your original content, they have to hit the back button so many times, they'll probably give up. Or worse, forget about your content all together.

So rather than play Russian Roulette with the back button, just adjust all your links to open in a new window. It doesn't take any more time time and can help readers get the most out of your site.

Agency Lessons: Internet Advice

You know that old saying about opinions, and everyone having one...yeah that.

Tis the season for writing contests. They are everywhere right now. My favorite are the ones that let contestants get feedback, because we all know how valuable unbiased feedback is. But there is a dark side to all this internet free love. Not all opinions are equal.

Just because one person thinks your MC is vapid doesn't mean he/she is. I have a beta reader who absolutely hates the ending to one of my manuscripts. But everyone else loves it. So while her opinion is valid, I'm not going to change it. You have to decide which comments work for you.

But I'm seeing a new trend this contest season that sits very uneasy in my agent belly. Folks are broadening their comments outside of ways to improve the manuscript and are commenting on areas such as marketability, what's selling, and copyright. What?

Now, I'm not saying that agents are the only ones who know this information. Anyone can take a look at the deals on Publisher's Marketplace and get a general idea of what editors are buying right now. But unless they are also in regular communication with editors about sub-genres and wish lists, it's unlikely they're really qualified to give advice.

And some comments are just plain wrong. One poster tried to tell a contestant they'd have to change their title because it's similar to a term used in a "popular show". Gah!

Here's my advice to survive this contest season with your sanity intact (or at least not completely destroyed). If you are giving feedback, please stick to what you know. So, if you aren't a copyright lawyer, don't comment on copyright. If you're a contestant, remember that anyone can give feedback. Some will be great, some will be bad and some could be downright wrong. If in doubt, ask around.

And remember that agents don't expect you to know all the current market trends and behind the scenes business of making a book. You're job is to write the best book you can. Don't sweat the rest of it.

Are you entering any contests this year? Share your advice for surviving the contest trenches.

Your goals aren't good enough

You're not going to like hearing this.

You're goals...they probably stink.

Sorry about that, but news like this is better served like ripping off a band-aid. Embrace the pain, rub it off and don't pick the scab.

Here's the deal. It's great to have goals. In Good To Great, Jim Collins advocates BHAGs, or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. A BHAG is a point of focus that is motivational in itself, like the 1960s moon mission.

But Collins is quick to point out that not every goal is a good one. "Bad BHAGs are set with bravado; good BHAGs are set with understanding."

And this understanding is probably what your goals are missing. It encompasses two things: Planning and Purpose.

A goal without a plan is a wish made on a fading star. You can say "It's my goal to be on the NYTs top Ten list in fiction." That's a great BHAG, but if you don't have a plan to get there, you're never going to make it. In order to turn that wish into an actionable goal you need to understand what it takes to make it on that list. Maybe you need to take some writing classes to improve your craft, or how about actually finishing and polishing up that manuscript. If you've got the great book, you might need to work on your marketing plan or make some contacts to get your book to the right readers. No matter what your goal, you need a plan of action. And the follow through to work it.

With a plan, it will be pretty clear that it's going to take a lot of hard work to achieve your BHAG. And that's why purpose is so crucial. If you don't know why you're working toward your goal, it will be easy to let your efforts slack when the work starts piling up. Let's stick with the NYTs example. If you just want to be on the list because it sounds fancy, that's unlikely to keep you motivated when you get piles of "no thank you" letter from the big league reviewers.

But let's say you want to be on the list for a bigger purpose. Maybe you have a killer book of your heart that is just too "out there" right now for editors to take a chance on it. But...if you get on the NYTs with your current book, editors will have to at least consider it. With a purpose, you're more likely to keep at it when faced with set-backs and challenges.

Now take a look at your current goals. Do you have a plan and purpose? If not, take a hard look and figure out what it is you really want to accomplish.

What's your story?

For Stephen King it's a nail in the wall filled with rejection slips.

For J.K. Rowling it's the single mom jotting down notes on a coffee house napkin.

For Stephenie Meyer it's a stay-at-home mom with itchy fingers and a vivid dream.

For Amanda Hocking it's an empty bank account and a dream to see The Muppets.

What is it?

Their Story

The story is what makes each of these authors more than just the novels they write. It's what makes them real people, the kind of people readers can relate to, the kind of people we want to know more about.

We all know that today's average author can't hide in a hole of anonymity. Gone are the days of retreating to a lakeside cabin and mailing a new manuscript in to your agent/editor a few times a year. Authors are expected to be social, engaging, personable.

But the truth is, most of us live just like everyone else. We don't have amazing stories or heartwarming "how I made it" anecdotes. Or do we?

Here's the great thing about all the examples I listed above. None of them were born out of super-human, miraculous circumstances. Not a single one could be attributed to once in a lifetime, fluke moments of serendipity. 

Sure those stories are out there. The waitress/wanna be actress fired from her latest string of jobs walks out of the restaurant head down and bumps into Steven Spielberg who has been wandering aimlessly trying to figure out who to cast in his latest blockbuster.  But if the four authors above are any example, you don't need a freak fate storm to have a great story.

So what makes for a great author story that can set you apart and help readers remember they want to get to know you more? The same things that make up any great story: Be Honest and Be First.

Be Honest
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that readers are wicked smart. They will know if you are making up the story about finding an old 3rd grade essay in your mom's attic and turning it into a debut best seller. And when they find out, they will crucify you. 

Make up all the crazy stories you want and readers will soak them up for hours ... so long as you put them between a book cover. Put it into your bio, and the only thing you'll be writing for the next six months is apology letters.

So please, please, don't make up your story thinking it will make you more marketable, mysterious, memorable, etc. You don't need to do this. Everyone has stories. Don't believe me. Sit down with an old photo album for an hour and try not to tell yourself the story of every other photo you see. Tell your own story, and be honest about who you are.

Be First
This one is harder. Amanda Hocking certainly wasn't the first author to self-publish after years of rejection letters. She probably wasn't the first to throw her book up on Amazon hoping to make a little bit of fast cash for something fun. But she was the first to openly admit to doing it. 

Without shame, she told every interviewer who asked that she was just hoping to make enough money to buy tickets to see The Muppets. Her covers were homemade, her editing was from friends and relatives and her expectations were low.

Of course, in today's market you couldn't do this, but that's not the point. She was the first to write her story as the girl just hoping to earn ticket money. And that persona she created as the "I still don't know what's going on, but anyone want to go see some puppets" girl is still present in her online and social media presence.

This may be you, just trying to earn enough cash to buy a new guitar, cable TV, fill in the blank. That's great, but you're a few years too late to the party. Amanda already has that story. Find your own. Now maybe, your writing to earn money for a specific thing, but the emotional pull is different. Amanda went with fun and whimsy. Maybe you're trying to make money to adopt a child from Russia. Now instead of childlike merriment, you've got a heartwarming struggle. Hey there new story.

Just like in the stories we write for publication, there really aren't any new stories, it's all in how you tell it. So if you're struggling to figure out what makes your story unique, be sure to take the emotional angle of your story into account.

This is getting to be a lot longer than I intended, and by now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with marketing. Well, everything.

Your story is a huge part of your brand. Think about it. JK Rowling still comes across as the nice lady next door even though she's got more cash money than the Queen. Stephenie Meyer owns her own production company, but is still the mom with a dream. Stephen King stopped getting rejection letters a long time ago, but he's still a stick-it-to-the-man kind of guy. Your story is how your readers will see you. And they will read your stories through that lens. 

So what's your story? Who are you? What makes you unique, not just as a writer, but as a person? Now, tell me about it, stud.

Agency Lessons: Winning Nano

The DIY Blog tour is now over so welcome back to our regularly scheduled programming. I hope you guys enjoyed the tips last month and learned at least one new thing. That's always my goal. For today, I want to talk about NaNoWriMo.

I signed up to participate this year, and after a rocky start, marshmallow middle and flailing end to the month, I'm excited to say "I lost". Or at least, I didn't win in the official 50K words in a month goal. However, I have about half of that started toward a story I wasn't sure I wanted to write.

If you participated and won, Congratulations! That's a lot of words in a short period of time and you have a lot to be proud of.

If you participated and lost, Congratulations! Even if you didn't hit 50K, you probably have more words today than you did on Nov. 1st and that's something to be proud of.

If you didn't participated, but wrote something (anything) this month, Congratulations! NaNo isn't for everyone and it certainly isn't the only way to write. If you put words on the page, you should be proud of yourself.

Because here's the deal. I love NaNo. I love it for the community, the motivation, the challenge. I love it because it gets folks who've been on the fence about writing to get off their duff (or rather on their duff) and write.

But there's a reason so many agencies close to submissions starting December 1st. Besides the chance to end the year caught up and spend time with our families, it's also because we want to remove the temptation to submit queries for NaNo projects.

Not that your NaNo novel can't become something glorious. There are plenty of examples of these promptly penned pages going on to greatness. But it's not there yet, because there is an universal rule in writing (and there are very few of them). All first drafts need work. Most of them are rubbish, though that isn't a requirement. But even if yours is "pretty good", there's not a snowball's chance in Hell it's brilliant. And that's what it needs to be before you query with it.

And most writers know this, that you have to edit, revise, rewrite, repeat until you get it right. So do yourself a favor and take a break from your new novel and take a shower. Maybe clean your house. Then go back and get started on the real work of sculpting your baby book into the very best manuscript you can.

Give yourself permission to take your time. NaNoWriMo may have been a sprint to the finish, but the next stage isn't a race. There is no gold star for being the first to query. And when you're ready, I'm opening back up to queries on January 2nd. :)