Are you on Facebook when you should be writing?

I love Facebook, just love it. My friends and family are there, and I keep adding new friends. I have hundreds. At any moment, I can post something and get reactions within a few minutes. The red numbers keep popping up on my page, and I just have to see what they said.

Every morning after I check my email, I go through Facebook, reading, liking and commenting. I promise myself I’ll only spend a few minutes there before I get to work. I set the timer. But there’s always more. Oh, I have to look at this video, listen to this song, wish this person happy birthday. The timer beeps, I turn it off, and keep clicking through Facebook.

I find some good stuff, articles and links that I can use in my work, but I delay actually getting to my work. Often, the postings get my emotions all in a whirl. This morning, for example, the first thing I saw was a photo of family members at Disneyland—without me. I miss them, I’m homesick, and I want to have fun, too. I read about a friend’s serious medical problem. Then I read that another friend won a big award. Another friend published her book. Another is doing a reading. Me, I have nothing to brag about this week. Hey, I stayed on my diet, sort of, for one more day. I feel bad now. I don’t feel like writing. Let me just watch this puppy video . . .

And the day is ticking away. Does this sound familiar to anyone? I actually get more deep writing done when I’m at my Dad’s, where there is no Internet connection. I do get Facebook on my cell phone, but Dad gives me the look of disapproval every time I pick up my phone.

What I’m saying is, we have to set some limits. Write first. Save Facebook and other social media for dessert. We need them these days for all kinds of reasons, but we shouldn’t let them get in the way of our writing. There’s nothing on there that can’t wait, not a damned thing.

This post was inspired by an article from The Writer Magazine to which I found the link on Facebook. Read “13 Rules to Maximize Writing Productivity,” then disconnect.

Now let’s go write.


How Do I Approach a Literary Agent?

With caution, confidence and consideration.

Caution: A good literary agent combined with a good book can make your career. A bad agent is worse than none at all. And if you annoy that good agent, she won’t want to help you. So be careful about how you approach an agent. Make sure she’s an agent with the ability and experience to sell your book. Make sure she is the right agent for your kind of book. And don’t piss her off with a book that is not ready, that is the wrong genre, or that you have no idea what kind of readers will want to read.

Confidence: If you go in saying it’s not very good and you’ll rewrite it if they want, they’re going to say no. So don’t try to get an agent until you know your novel or your nonfiction book proposal is as good as you can make it and then present it without apologies or excuses.

Consideration: Agents are people. Like you, they have lots of things going in their lives. They get hungry and tired and cranky. So be nice to them, don’t corral them in the bathroom at a conference, don’t call them every day for answers, and if you have the opportunity, offer them a cup of coffee. Best of all, send them the book that will make both of you successful.

Finding agents:

A literary agent’s job is to connect authors to publishers and handle the negotiations. They make sure you get paid and that your rights are protected. For this, they get 15 percent of what you make. If they don’t sell a book, they don’t make any money. So they need you as much you need them.

In these digital days, finding information about agents is easy. Do a Google search for literary agents and you’ll find all kinds of listings and advertisements. But anybody can call himself a literary agent. It’s better to go a reputable source. Most legitimate agents belong to the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR). Members agree to a list of rules and standards that they abide by. You can search on their website for agents by name or genre.You can also find agents by looking in the acknowledgements of books that you enjoy. Authors often thank their agents.

Several books list agents, including Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, Chuck Sambuchino’s 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, and 2014 Writer’s Market, put out by the Writer’s Digest folks. Most magazines for writers, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers, include agents in their market listings.

All of these listings describe what kind of books the agents are looking for and how to approach them. Various agents want mysteries, fantasies, romance, books for children, nonfiction, and other types of writing. None of them want every type of writing. Once you find an agent who likes your kind of book, go beyond the listings to their websites and read everything there. Pay special attention to the titles of books they have already sold. Would your book fit into that group? If not, find a different agent. If it seems like a good fit, then go on to read how they want you to approach them.

Agents’ requirements vary. Some agents ask for just a one-page query while others request longer proposals and/or excerpts of varying lengths sent in varying ways. Some want it all in the body of an email while others want samples sent as email attachments and still others require authors to insert all their information into online forms. Whatever they ask for, send them that, nothing more, nothing less. If your query doesn’t fit on one page, work on it until it does. If you think they should see more than the few pages they request, too bad. Good agents have hundreds of authors approaching them. You want to get their attention with your great writing not with your refusal to obey the rules.

Meeting agents in person

Many writing conferences offer opportunities to meet agents for brief pitch sessions. This can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it can also give you a shortcut to a great agent. Generally authors sign up for five to ten minutes to tell the basics about their books and themselves. Agents give them instant feedback, which can range from “not my kind of book” to “Wow! I’m interested.” If they like the sound of your book, they probably will not accept it on the spot. Instead, they will ask you to send them a query, sample pages or the entire manuscript. As with agents you approach online (or in rare cases, by mail), you should schedule your pitches with agents who represent your kind of books and you need to give them what they’re looking for. You need to be one hundred percent ready to sell your book and confident it’s the best you can make it. And you need to follow all the rules for the pitch sessions. Don’t be late and when it’s time for you to give your chair to the next author, say goodbye. Dress and behave as if this were a job interview. Come in having done some research about the agent and ready to pitch with confidence. If they say no, be gracious, ask questions and thank them for their time. Don’t pitch your book to agents in the restroom or the bar or at meals–unless they ask what you’re working on.

It’s time to wrap up this post. Next week, we’ll talk about how to market your book without an agent. Meanwhile, may all your pitches be successful and your words flow like Oregon rain.

Now go write.

 

 

 


Now that I’m retired, how do I become a writer, part II

Last week we talked about starting a writing career after retirement. It’s something I see a lot of seniors wanting to do. They show up at writing conferences, take my classes or mention it to me at social occasions. After years of thinking about writing, now they’re ready to do it. But what do they actually need to do?

In my Aug. 8 post, I offered some questions would-be writers should ask themselves: Do I need to make money from their writing, what do I want to write, and what do I know a lot about?

Here are three more questions to consider.

How good are you at self-discipline?

If you want to do more than scribble a few words when you feel inspired, you’re going to need to get serious about your writing. That means establishing a regular writing routine that may sometimes feel like you’re not retired after all. On a regular basis, whether it’s every day or every Tuesday afternoon, you’ll need to commit to sitting down and writing for a specific length of time or a minimum number of words. In order to make that work, you’ll need to set up a place to write and acquire the tools to write with and tell the world you’re not available at that time because you’re writing. This is not easy. Some days, you will not want to write, and some days you’ll have a hundred other things calling for your attention, but if you really want to be a writer, you’ll do it anyway. Just like a job.

Are you prepared to market your writing?

If you just want to write for yourself, that’s perfectly fine. Have fun playing with words, maybe writing in your journal or putting together poems or booklets for your friends and family. That’s a wonderful thing to do. But if your goal is to be published and paid for it, you’ll need to learn how to send out your writing to periodicals and websites, pitch your books to agents and editors, and ultimately sell your books to readers via social media, readings, talks, etc. It’s a lot. It’s not writing. It’s scary. But it’s a necessary evil, and it can be lots of fun.

Are you ready to reach out for support and to learn your craft?

Writing can be a lonely business. But we don’t have to be alone all the time. Writing groups can be found everywhere. Join up with other writers to share information, to critique each other’s work, or just to offer sympathy and support. You can take writing workshops in every state and around the world, as well as online. (I offer a few. Check my Classes page above). Tons of books and websites offer advice for writers. See my Resource page (above) for a list. Magazines such as Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers offer tons of information about all kinds of writing and places to publish. You can find online groups in every writing specialty. So reach out.

If you really want to be a writer, you can do it. You’re never too old to begin. All you have to do is start writing.

Please feel free to post questions and comments. I’m here to help.

Now go write.


The Joys of Birthing a Book

(If you read my newsletter, you have already read this. If so, skip to the last paragraph and follow instructions.)

When all I can think about is the book I’m currently producing, it seems logical to write about the birth of that book.Childless by Marriage has been on my desk and in my heart for decades. I started interviewing and researching childlessness about four books ago. It has been so long that some of the people I talked to have died and others have had babies, making them no longer childless. Many of us have gone through menopause.

Why has it taken so long? Selling books is a crazy business. I have submitted variations of this manuscript to agents and editors by mail and e-mail and pitched it at numerous conferences. An agent took it on and offered it to all the major publishing companies. The result was always the same: She writes well and it’s an interesting topic, but I don’t see a market for it. To which I wanted to scream, BUT I DO. I know there are people out there who will read it, and I can tell you where they are.

When I started working on this book, e-books/aka electronic books did not exist. “Vanity” publishing was a shameful option and the fledgling print-on-demand industry, which would house your book as computer files that were only printed as books when orders came in, wasn’t much better. The type of self-publishing where you hired pros to set up and print your books cost too much for ordinary people.

Times have changed. Now readers are walking around with Kindles and iPads, and you can publish an e-book for free. That’s right, free. All it takes is a little time. And, with the advances in digital technology, most of us can afford to publish a print book, either through one of many print-on-demand companies such as Authorhouse, Lulu or CreateSpace, or working with a printer on our own. We can download programs to format our books at our own computers. It’s not free, but it’s doable.

Publishing your own work does not have the same stigma it had even 10 years ago.A little over a century ago, self-publishing was common. With the industrial era, big companies took over publishing books to make a profit, and they became the only acceptable option. But now, with the big publishers refusing to take on anything except guaranteed blockbusters and with so many other options, we can take our careers back into our own hands.

That doesn’t mean we all should. Publishing a book does take a lot of effort—they should have Lamaze classes for author-publishers. Trying to get page numbers where they belong makes me crave an epidural for the brain. If a traditional publishing house wanted to take this job away from me, I’d be happy to let them.

Also, the reason self-publishing has had such a negative reputation for so long is that if anybody can publish a book, there’s no guarantee it’s any good. You have to weed through the garbage to find the good books. But if your book is good and you can get people to read it, the word will spread.

Let me be blunt about self-publishing. If your book isn’t well-written and professionally edited, with an eye-catching cover, and professional-quality layout, don’t do it. If you have no idea where or how to sell it, don’t do it. If you’re not ready to put in a lot of work with details such as headers and footers, ISBNs and platform-building, don’t do it. If you are not sure you can trust the company you’re thinking about working with,  don’t do it.

If you’ve never published anything else before, don’t do it, at least not yet. Spend some time building your career first. I wouldn’t dream of self-publishing a book if I didn’t have a long track record.

That said, if you feel that you’re ready, you can publish your own book.

The publishing world is full of advice for self-publishers these days. I’m not going to repeat it all. Visit the writersdigest.com website. Jane Friedman’s No Rules blog,  is loaded with practical self-publishing advice. There’s more at The Writer and Poets & Writers. Google self-publishing and prepare to be overwhelmed with information.

Or, you can purchase a skinny book that tells it all in plain English. I won Katie Salidas’ Go Publish Yourself! last month in a Goodreads giveaway (www.goodreads.com). It wasn’t the book I really wanted, but it turned out to be the book I really needed. I’ve got a shelf full of fat self-publishing books, but they’re complicated and go out of date before I can read them. Everything I need is in Go Publish Yourself!, with lots of practical advice and links to resources that will help you produce either an e-book or a print book.

Which should you do, e-book or print book? Well, I think one should do both. I don’t plan to publish any more books without making an electronic version available. Amazon is selling more Kindle books than print books these days. Why should we leave out all those readers who have stopped going to bookstores because they’d rather read on the Kindle? Or the Nook? Or their iPad or smartphone?

But what about those people who prefer traditional books? And what are you going to sell at book-signings, talks, festivals, in the stores, or out of the trunk of your car? In my opinion, it’s best to have both. Remember, producing the e-book is free. Also, you can take it offline and revise it anytime you want. So, if nothing else, do that and see what happens.

Again, I don’t want to repeat the advice you can find all over cyberspace and the print world. I’m just saying that with the changing times and countless revisions, I can now present Childless by Marriage to the world. Ten years ago, it wasn’t ready. I’m glad those editors said no. The e-book came out on Mother’s Day. You can get it for $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle reading app on whatever you do have.

Three of my previous books, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, and Stories Grandma Never Told, are also available as Kindle e-books you can download and read today. How cool is that?

The print version of Childless by Marriage is getting a pretty new cover, and I’m almost done wrestling with page numbers, headers, typefaces and such for the inside. I’m thinking it will be out in July, August at the latest.

Come back here for weekly discussions on the various aspects of this book-birthing process and other topics for writers. You can keep up with the latest on the new book at http:/childlessbymarriageblog.com. Blogging is another thing I never dreamed of when this book first started. Who knew? It’s a great new world.

But, beware. All this talk of publishing can distract us from the most important thing. Without the writing, there’s nothing to publish. So, go write. Write now.