Cool tools and a new project

I've got some exciting news to share today. Since good news comes in threes, I've got three for you.

1. New web address!
So this one isn't really excited (except to me). I have a new address This shouldn't impact any of your subscriptions or blog readers since everything should point back to the original blog. That said, you might want to take a second just to check that you aren't missing posts. This is important because of announcement number two...

2. New blog series!
Starting on Friday, August 1st, we'll have the Platform Pick-Up series.
Every weekday during the month of August I'll post a new action item designed to help you do a little tidy up of your online platform. Even the most diligent among us need to go through and double check how we project ourselves (and our brands) to the public. Each day's task is simple enough that you should have no problem completing it in under an hour and there is plenty to do for authors at every stage. I'm exciting about this one because I've needed to do a platform update for a while. No more excuses...let's do this.

3. Free eBook!
If you are signed up for my newsletter then you already know about this one (lucky dog). Last November I ran a DIY Blog Tour series. The feedback was amazing and I realized what an important topic this is for authors. So, I decided to compile the series into an eBook, but I didn't want to just spit out the same information. This new guide has all the posts from the blog series along with expanded and updated information, tips from some of my favorite book bloggers and links to tons of templates. Wohoo! To get your copy, just sign-up for my newsletter. You'll get the handbook, be the first to know about announcements and get insider info.

So that's it for today. Rest up and I'll meet you back here bright and early Friday morning for some hardcore cleaning. 

Agency Lessons: What do you need to get published

I ran across this guest post on LiveHacked recently titled Indie publishing versus Traditional publishing.

Naturally, I want to talk about it.

I like reading posts like this because it helps me to see what writers are thinking. I also get a taste of the misinformation being shared and then I can help to dispel any myths. I was about to leave a comment on this blog about those myths, when I realized I had too much to say and I'd be better off writing a post instead.

The author suggests that while you used to just need 1. a query letter, 2. synopsis and 3. a stunning book, that's not enough anymore. Here is what he now suggests you need (in his own words) to get an agent's attention.

4. Other books and/or published work. (He suggests mentioning everything, relevant or not.)
5. A Blog.
6. Social Media Presence.
7. (And I’m reading between the lines here but) an Indie Published attempt.

My first reaction was to shake my head in resigned disappointment. No, you don't need any of these things. I have authors on my list with no previous publication, no blog, zero social media and certainly no indie publications.

So let's go through these one by one.

If you  have other publications, by all means mention them. However, having your poem published in your college monthly literary journal is not relevant to your YA fantasy novel. Neither is any non-fiction publications, journals, freelance work, or really anything that isn't a fiction publication. I wrote a non-fiction short story for a charity anthology about quilting. Is it relevant to my goal of a YA fiction publication? Nope, so I don't mention it.

Let's skip down to any indie publications. First, if you have one, don't hide it. You need to list it (if it is fiction). Your agent can't tout you as a debut if you aren't and they will not be happy if this information is hidden from them. You want to start this relationship out on the right foot. If you don't have one, then please, for the love of all that is holy, please don't rush out a book into the marketplace thinking you need an indie pub to get attention. There is not a single good part of that idea. If you have a book out, you are no longer debut. Debut is a powerful word for publishers. While low sales won't kill you with traditional publishers, they certainly aren't going to help. If you have a great book you want to put out, then go for it. But don't put out a book that isn't ready in the misguided hopes that it will help you get an agent.

I'm going to talk about blogs and social media together since they basically tick off the same box. It's the 'how are you going to connect to your readers' box. I have two responses for this so stick with me.

First, no, no, no, no, no. I can help you create a social media presence. If you want to blog, I can help you with that, too. Once you've signed with me, we can discuss which areas would be the best use of your time and go from there. I can't write your novel for you. Period. So which do you think I need for you to bring to the table? A stunning novel or a killer social media presence?

Second, I want to refer back to the original blog post. The author said this about the burden of social media:
I want to make writing my career. I am ready to invest the time and dedication because I know in the long term I will get the payout.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Do you need to have an awesome platform walking in the door? No. But shouldn't you want one. A platform shows an agent that you are dedicated to being a career author. Agents want clients who are going to write lots of books. I want clients who are in it for the long haul, because I am, too. This book that we both love may not sell. I want to know that you're going to write another book and another. A platform is a bit of insurance that we are on the same page.

It also says you know that no one gets to crawl into their hole and only do what they love.  No one. My dad is an electrician. He loves the wires and current of it all. But that's not all he does. Over the course of his career he's had to learn computer systems, new diagnostic tools and the intricacies of wind turbines. Not to mention all the non-electrician related skills like supervising others, dealing with management, giving oral instructions, crafting clear written instructions, and driving company trucks. He'd much rather be installing junction boxes than any of that other stuff, but he had to invest some of his time learning those other skills for his career.

I could give you examples for every job out there. It's why I say that every job needs math. No one is able to only do exactly what they love and nothing else. And that includes writers.

I think the author of the LiveHacked post get most suggestions wrong. All the extras he mentioned are optional icing on what needs to be a rocking cake (your manuscript). Sadly, misinformation happens a lot in the free information age. Anyone can put anything on the internet. It's one of the reasons I still have Agency Lessons every Monday. But he did get this last point right. If you want to be a career author, you need to act like it.

Marketing without a product

Here's the problem: You know you need a platform (though if you're honest with yourself, you're only about 50% sure you know what a platform is), but you don't know how to get one or what you're supposed to do with it because you don't actually have a novel out there yet.

Sound about right?

I have three things to say about the early years of building your platform, so stick with me.

1. I feel you.
Honestly, I do. While I am an agent, I'm also a pre-published author (in the fact that I don't yet have a book published, but come hell or high water, I will one of these days). If you go back to the beginning of this humble little blog, you'll see a lot of bumbling about, almost no comments, and very few visitors.

Like many in my shoes, I decided to create a blog with little to no thought as to what I wanted it to be. So I dabbled in this and that for about a year before I saw the light. I figured out what it was that I had that other people wanted. For me, it was a background in marketing that let me help other writers learn how to be more strategic in their marketing efforts. For you, it's probably something else and you may not know what that is yet. 

I don't have an answer for you, since only you know what you have to offer. Just know that you're not alone. Most authors struggle with how to focus their platform. Just keep at it.

2. No, you don't have to have a massive platform
If given the choice between a good manuscript with an amazing platform or an outstanding manuscript with absolutely zero platform, I'll take the amazing manuscript every day and twice on Sunday.

I can help you create a platform when the time comes for you to really need one. Trust me when I say that some of my clients probably wish I didn't offer so many tips. And I'm not the only agent who can do this. Most agents who've been in the business a while know what an author needs when it really comes time to get your name out there.

What I can't do is rework your book to superior levels. First, even though I consider myself an editorial agent, I'm not all that and a Jamocha shake (seriously, those things are awesome). Second, I don't have enough hours in the day to commit that much effort into every manuscript from all of my clients. I need you to have the awesome product, with or without a platform.

3. Everyone has a platform unless you live in a cave (and even then...)
In really basic terms, your platform is just the sum total of all the ways you present yourself to the general public. So unless you never answer emails, avoid all social media, and rarely interact with people in person, you have a platform. But if you've never sat down and actually thought through what your focus is, your platform is probably a little scattered.

To reiterate, this is okay (before your books sells). But if you are going to do the whole social media, blogging, human interaction thing, shouldn't you make it work to your advantage?

I'm not saying you need to hire a publicist and a marketing analyst to decide what your platform message is. You're not running for congress, here. All I'm saying is, if you are going to spend a significant amount of time interacting with other writers and readers, it would behoove you to come up with some kind of strategy or focus that starts to create the brand of you. 

This can be as basic as the tone of your tweets or wall posts. Are you funny, sarcastic, info driven, silly, etc. Are you the kind of person who shares cat vines or pie charts? Figure out who you are and how you want to be seen (hint: these should be the same) and then consistently be that person when you interact with others. 

I hope this helps alleviate some of your "I don't have a platform so no one will ever publish me" fears.

For more info on creating your pre-published platform, I really like this article from Rate Your Story on the DOs and DON'Ts of it all.

Getting it all done

I'm officially back from vacation which means I now have a backlog of tasks to complete in addition to the regular day to day items that always need to be done. I'm often asked about how I handle my workload, so I thought I'd share my process.

I've tried apps for my phone, online tasks programs and a fancy Franklin Covey planner. None of those systems worked for me. They might for you though, so if you are using one of these with success, that's great.

For me, I use a composition book. A regular notebook would work too, but I like that the pages of a composition book are hard to pull out. Everything goes in this book. Everything. Tasks to complete, notes from a workshop, random ideas that pop into my head. All of it.

Here's how it works. I always have one page that is dedicated to all the current tasks I need to work on. I cross these items off as they are done until they are all complete or the page gets too messy. If that happens, I copy over the incomplete tasks to a new page and fold over the old page. I never tear out a page just in case something gets missed. Folding the page is my visual indication that there is nothing active on that page and I can skip it. This makes it easier to find my list.

For the list, items are written down in their most broken down version. Here's an example for you. I need to buy a plane ticket for an upcoming conference, but I'll be reimbursed for the cost. So I could just write "buy plan ticket", but that's not really all I need to do. I need to buy the ticket, send the purchase info to the right person for my reimbursement, and send my flight info to the person coordinating transportation. So I write each of those steps down on my list.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, I like to cross items off the list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, so the more little lines across the page, the better I feel. Second, I often work in snippets of time. So I might be able to book my flight, but then have to run somewhere else before I can send my information to the right people. If I only have "buy ticket" on my list I either don't cross it off which can cause confusion later or cross it off and forget about the other associated tasks. Neither of those is a good outcome.

I keep everything else in my notebook as well. It's easy for me to take notes during a meeting in my book. When the meeting is done, I flip over to my task list and add in my new items from the meeting. Once I've got everything transferred, I can fold that page over. Easy.

Same thing goes for conference notes. At the end of a seminar or conference, I add "Type conference notes" to my task list. I keep all these in a handy file on my computer for later reference. Once the notes are typed, the pages get folded and the item gets crossed off my list.

Is this a perfect system? No. One time I left my notebook at a thrift store. It had my list of items I needed for my kids. There were several hours of panic until I tracked it down and had it back in my hot little hands. Of course, I've misplaced my cell phone a number of times, too. And my glasses...and my keys...this could be just a getting older issue.

Anyway, this is what works for me, but I'd love to hear how you keep all your tasks organized.

Agency Lessons: Not right for my list

I've been sending this rejection a lot lately so I thought now would be a good time to explain what this means.

For me, this is not a form rejection. I try really hard not to send those. What this means is that I didn't find anything wrong with your submission. The query was intriguing, the pages read well, the synopsis shows you have a well-developed plot. In essence, you get an A+ on your submission.

But...I'm not requesting more pages. Why?

Because a big part of the projects an agent takes on is personal taste. I see a lot of good queries. In fact, I see a lot of great queries. But I only request pages from a small percentage of them. Not because there is anything wrong with them, but because it simply isn't a story I want to read.

It's like browsing the shelves at the library when you really aren't looking for anything in particular. Or maybe you've narrowed it down to one topic, like Alien SciFi. Do you have any idea how many of those there are at any given library? A lot. You can't read all of them. There aren't enough hours in the day. You still have to go to work, do the laundry, talk to your family. So you pick only one or two that sound the best to you.

Does that mean the ones you don't take home didn't sound good? No, they could have really piqued your interest. You probably read the back cover and thought "Hey, this could be good." You might have flipped to the front pages, read a paragraph or two, and still thought "Yep, sounds interesting". But you still put the tentacle alien story down and opted for the alien pirate book.


Because on that day, at that moment, you wanted to read about alien pirates.

I'd love to take on all the projects that sound great, but I have to be realistic. I have to keep in mind what I have going on with my current clients. How many of them are on submission? How many have projects that will be ready soon? What releases are coming up that will need my attention? All of this factors into the number of new clients I take on each year. This year my clients have been sending me tons of wonderful new projects, so I've only taken on a couple new clients. It's a constant game of see-saw where I'm measuring how much time I have against how much I need to do.

And let's be honest, it doesn't do you any good to have an agent who doesn't have time for you.

So, I'll continue to send out rejections where my only feedback is that the project just isn't quite right for me. If you get one, know that I'm not brushing you off. Keep going and you will find an agent who wants what you're selling.

Marketing to a captive audience

I'm still on the road, but all the new scenery has been great for firing up my marketing brain. Today's post is courtesy of my forgetful brain. While making a brief side trip to a hotel in Chicago, I realized I forgot my razor. The hotel gave me a free generic one that got me thinking.

Obviously I'm not the first to forget this essential item and I'm certainly not the last. Some razor manufacturer is missing out on an opportunity by not supplying these. I was a captive audience with a need and no opportunity for choice. I had to use whatever product they gave me. If Gillette or Bic had their razor as the only option, they could introduce their brand to someone who had never used them before and possibly gained a new customer.

Those companies missed an opportunity, but you don't have to. Time to think about all the places where your readers are a captive audience. Where are they sitting, waiting, passing time that could be spent reading your book. It doesn't have to be a long enough wait for them to read the whole book, just enough to grab their attention and hook them in.

Not sure where these places are? Here are a few ideas to get your brain juices flowing:

* School reading programs
* OBGYN waiting rooms (I'm looking at you, 6 hour glucose test)
* Maternity wards
* Nursing stations
* Surgery waiting rooms
* Firehouses
* Nursing homes

You can make your book a permanent item or add a sticker that tells readers they are welcome to take the book with them and then share it with a friend. Either way is fine since the main point is exposure for you and your work.

Always make sure you are asking permission before dropping off your books. Not only is this just good manners, it also gives you a chance to talk to the person in charge about your book. If you make an impression with your professionalism, you might create a new advocate willing to "hand sell" your book by pointing it out to your potential readers.

So what do you think? I'd love to hear if you've done something like this before.

Also, this is my last week of vacation so I should be back to my regular schedule next week. :)