I am pleased to announce the return of two exciting classes I will be teaching this summer: Launch Your Writing or Editing Business Now and Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path. Both are hosted by The Writer’s Center in Bethesda and will be held via Zoom.
With online classes, your location no longer holds you back! These classes are fun and interactive and will set you on the path to achieving your next big goal. (You can even attend from your favorite vacation spot.)
Details for each class follow. Feel free to email me with any questions. Just reply to this email. More information is also available through the Writer’s Center website.
Launch Your Writing or Editing Business Now, The Writer’s Center, May 15 – June 12
Prepare for business success with this four-week class. Together we will explore the seven steps you need to take to launch a writing or editing business that thrives. Topics include getting the right training, growing your network, choosing your business model, managing business finances, and maintaining your business once launched. Plenty of in-class and at-home exercises will spur the momentum and excitement of building a business from scratch. By the end of this class, you will be well on your way to realizing your dream of working for yourself. Note: No meeting on May 29. Presented online. Register via the Writer’s Center website.
Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path, The Writer’s Center, June 22 and June 29
In this two-week online class, we will explore what you get with each publishing route, what it takes to succeed, and the financial side of publishing. Be prepared for lots of personal exploration and hands-on investigation. After this class, you will know what your options are and be on your way to determining which book-publishing path will lead to your success. Presented online. Register via the Writer’s Center website.
In this guest post, first-time author F.M. Deemyad shares her experience with traditional publishing. Her book, The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests, tells the story of the brave women taken captive by the Mongols and how they influenced them from within. The book is available now on NetGalley for viewers and bloggers to download. The print book will be in bookstores on March 2, 2021.
Facing the World of Traditional Publishing
The publishing process is quite intimidating for the first-time novelist who has spent months, and in my case, years trying to complete a work worth reading. Suddenly one feels outside one’s reclusive shell, forced to attend conferences, reach out to agents, and give short speeches to impress them. There is a need to learn the skills necessary to market one’s work, not just remain focused on accomplishing a voluminous manuscript. Marketing is an entirely different world from the world of writing and editing, and most writers find the process intimidating if not downright frightening.
The Agent Search
Finding the right agent/representative is similar to traditional marriage. The parents (here the publishing company, market forces, etc.) have to give their consent for what can turn into a lifelong commitment. Also, the agent and the writer have to be the right match, or the relationship will never take shape or be short-lived.
During the face-to-face conversations, the agents I encountered were mostly young and focused on specific genres. One has a few minutes to convince the agent about the positive outcome of a longtime struggle to accomplish one’s goal. They call it an elevator pitch. That is if one shares the ride when ascending or descending two floors.
Before meeting one agent at a conference last year, I wondered if Shakespeare was alive and had to meet the agent about publishing Romeo and Juliet, what would his pitch sound like?
“My novel is about two young lovers from two feuding families who are left with no choice but to commit suicide at the end.”
The agent would probably politely refuse the work and say, “We don’t do tragedies.”
Considering the magnitude of the novel I had written, which encompassed the entire Mongol era of the thirteenth century and the women taken captive during that time, only two or three agents out of a dozen who interviewed me during numerous conferences requested the first few pages of my work.
Most agents wanted to see the full manuscript, not just a few pages, and they showed interest in my work except for what they called “too much historical fact.” I was reluctant to turn the narrative into a mere novel, void of the details that made it historically authentic.
The other issue was that the process was excruciatingly slow. One publisher reached out to me and accepted my work almost one year after submission. By then, I was already under contract with another publisher.
I found recordkeeping to be of utmost importance. Having the name of the agent, pertinent publishing company, date of submission, and other details handy prevented me from reaching out to them more than once. There are online resources available that are also good for recordkeeping but I generally handle matters the old-fashioned way.
Two resource books that I bought at a conference namely,—“Novel and Short Story Writers Market” and “Guide to Literary Agents”—were useful in finally allowing me to find the right match for my novel.
What Developmental Editors Can Do
I must mention here that utilizing the services of great developmental editors, who understand your work and appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, is helpful not only because they elevate your work but also because they give you the confidence you need before embarking on this journey.
My editor was well versed in classic literature and had studied at the University of Oxford. She also did the line editing of my work and was extremely helpful in identifying modern terminology that did not belong in a book written by a narrator who lived in the thirteenth century. For example, I had used the term “global” when in fact this was an era long before Galileo, and people considered the earth to be flat.
I am glad that I chose the same person for developmental editing as well as the line editing of my work. This allowed my editor to read the work more than once, and even during line-editing after the corrections she had asked for were implemented; she did point out, on more than one occasion, areas that needed further development.
Writers Helping Writers
I must add that attendance at writers’ conferences had its merits, for it allowed me to learn about the publishing process and the choices available to writers. These conferences also are great venues for getting the word out about one’s upcoming novel, poetry book, or other work in progress. Also, reaching out to other writers and book enthusiasts via social media allowed me to learn from their experiences and set the stage for presenting my work when published.
Another benefit of attending conferences for most of us who are introverts is finding and developing relationships with other writers and even established authors. When the time came to find individuals to write blurbs for me, I had a list of outstanding authors to reach out to and ask if they were willing to read nearly 400 pages and evaluate my work. Several authors agreed, and their evaluation certainly helped to make the work more appealing to potential readers.
Finding the right group to workshop with is another important factor in succeeding in this path. At least three individuals in a workshop group that I had joined had their work published, and they provided me with valuable lessons on how to navigate this process. In addition, the workshop placed the right amount of pressure on me to accomplish the work within a limited time frame.
Last but not least are comps. Comps are works that are comparable to your novel or nonfiction book that have sold well and have been written in recent years. Finding the right comps, usually two or three books, will help the agent identify the status of your work. However, you must avoid comparing your work with the most outstanding authors who have sold thousands of books, especially if you are a first-time author. The comps have to be reasonably close to the work you have accomplished if you want to increase your chances of success.
In conclusion, I must mention that as in any serious endeavor in life, obtaining valuable information is the key to success. Whether you are in the habit of doing online research, or you prefer to obtain your information through books and in conferences, diligence, tireless effort, and remaining committed to your goal of becoming a published author pays off. Like gardening, writing is a profession that requires long-term commitment. One cannot expect a tree to grow overnight and bear fruit.
About the Author
F.M. Deemyad is the author of The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests. Born in Kermanshah, Iran, she grew up in the capital, Tehran, attending bilingual schools run by Christian and Jewish minorities. Her father, born and raised in India, had come to Iran when he was in his late twenties. Being the son of a linguist who had taught English Literature in India for a number of years, he exposed the author in her preschool years to the English language, and she learned to love classic literature under her father’s instructions. She received a B.A. in Biophysics from the University of Houston and a Master’s degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She currently resides with her husband in Maryland.
Nearly every event I had planned for 2020 was either cancelled or moved online. For 2021, we have all hopped on to the virtual bandwagon, and that’s a good thing.
I have a number of speaking engagements and workshops planned for January to April on a range of topics. I hope you will be able to attend at least one. Most are free and open to the public, and all are virtual.
January 21, 2021: Nonfiction Authors Panel with Valarie Austin (moderator), Phil Padget, and myself. Howard County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association. 7-9 p.m. Find out what it’s like to be a published nonfiction author. You must register on the MWA-HoCo website to receive the link.
February 9, 2021: Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, or Hybrid?: A discussion of pros and cons. Midwest Publishers Association. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Learn more about MiPA here.
February 20, 2021: Is Your Writing Mojo MIA? Panel discussion with Valarie Austin, B. Morrison, and myself (moderator). Montgomery and Frederick County chapters of the MWA. 1-3 p.m. Get innovative strategies for restarting your writing. You must register on the MWA-Montgomery website to receive the link.
March 20, 2021: Crafting a Marketable Manuscript. Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. 10:30-11:30 a.m. Learn more about CAPA here.
April 15, 2021: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process (a perennial favorite). Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. 7-8:30 p.m. Learn more about UPPAA here.
Want to know more? You will find descriptions and all the details on the Events page on my website.
In June 2019 I had a poem published in a neat little online poetry mag that specializes in women’s poetry. It is the first poem I wrote as an adult, and getting it published was a real treat—but also a total fluke. See, I’m not a poet. I’m not even a writer. I’m an editor, born and raised, and that’s that.
At least, that’s what I have been telling myself.
As an editor, I have worked with great writers and terrible writers. Based on that, I thought I knew what it took to be a writer. I also knew I didn’t have it. When I put pen to paper, everything I did seemed to fall just short of making me a full-fledged writer. And the closer I got to meeting my perception of a writer, the higher my expectations became.
For example, I began keeping a journal at age 17 and haven’t stopped. But I rarely revise, and it has never been published, so in my mind, that doesn’t make me a writer. Anyone can keep a journal.
In my twenties, I had some personal essays published on a friend’s ezine. Yes, I wrote and refined the essays, and they were published, but it wasn’t like my friend was not going to publish them. She said so herself. Again, not a writer.
In 2010, the now-acclaimed Lowestoft Chronicle accepted my humorous essay “Dented”—another fluke!—and then selected it for its anthology. I was thrilled. Maybe I was a writer after all.
But no. That was the first year of publication for Lowestoft, so I could be pretty sure they threw me in because they needed material.
Then December 2012 rolled around. I had been freelance editing for about 8 years by then, and my work had been steady for most of that time. But wouldn’t you know it, two big editing projects were postponed for December and January. At the same time, I had been tossing around the idea of writing a book (still not a writer!) based on the workshops I had been leading. I thought it would be a good business move. Now that I had the time, why not see what I could do?
Twenty months later, I self-published a two-time book-of-the-year award winner. I knew in my heart I still wasn’t a writer, however, because I had published it myself. Real writers are published by strangers. But I felt I was getting closer. (To celebrate the book launch, my husband gave me an engraved business card case. It reads: “Katherine Pickett, Editor and Author.” He said he ordered it that way because he knew I identified as an editor first.)
For several months surrounding the release of my book, I pitched
about a dozen articles that were published across the internet and in print. This time strangers were publishing my work, and not first-year publications like I was used to. Some were blogs I had read and admired for a while.
Hey,I may be on to something, I thought. My confidence was building.
I went on to do some journalistic writing—I was assigned a topic, interviewed some folks, wrote it up. This time I was being paid to write. That makes me a professional writer, doesn’t it? But here I stumbled again. Ask anybody: You’re not a real writer if it isn’t a creative work.
Notice how I keep moving the goal posts?
But now—now I have this poem, a lyrical creative work published by strangers. It fits. I fit! So this is it. I’m officially an editor and a writer. And it only took 20 publications for me to get here.
Of course, I’m not alone in my angst. Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”1
Although imposter syndrome is not considered a real illness, it does affect our lives and our livelihoods. Because of the multitude of job descriptions for “writer,” I think writers may be particularly susceptible to it. It is precisely what I experienced over the course of my writing life.
In fact, you can find evidence of my insecurity in the first sentence of this essay.
Did you notice the way I diminished the significance of the magazine that published my poem, calling it “little” and “neat”? Apparently it doesn’t even deserve the full name of “magazine.” It’s an “online mag.” I don’t want anyone to think I am taking myself too seriously. It takes much more than one publication to make a person a writer.
Or does it? Does it require publication at all?
Looking back at my struggle, I believe I have been missing a larger point about who gets to call themselves a writer. I’m not a writer just because I finally reached the highest bar I set for myself. I have always had the drive to write down my thoughts and share them with the people around me, and to me, that drive to write is the definition of a writer.
So, no, publication is not required. The writing—that’s what makes a person a writer. If you also have a drive to write, I invite you to claim the title. It is yours for the taking.
I recently had an email exchange with someone who is making the switch from writing feature articles to blogging for his company. He asked me to read his latest blog post before he published it. I was happy to oblige. After I read it, I had some advice about his writing tone.
Me: “I think you are missing an opportunity to engage your readers more by talking directly to them.”
Blogger: “Well, this is important, so how do I do this?”
He’s right, this is very important. Striking the right tone is an essential part of marketing. It can be the difference between reaching your target audience with your blog and reaching no one at all.
As to his second point — how to engage readers with a blog — I can think of several ways. Continue reading →
A friend said, “Never write chapter summaries. They suck the life out of the story.” I believe that’s only true if you hold yourself hostage to the summaries. In fact, I believe they are crucial. Let me tell you why.
This fall and winter I began writing a chapter book with my six-year-old. It’s called Carla and Lola Go to School, But Where Is Miss Quimby?, which gives you a good idea of what it’s about. As with many books, the concept is sound. It’s the execution that will make the difference.
Before we attempted to write the book, I made sure we did what I tell all of my authors they must do:
First we jotted down general ideas about what we wanted our book to be about, who the characters would be, and what the setting would be. We also set down what the four main obstacles would be, the general structure of the book, and how it would end. (Spoiler alert: They find Miss Quimby.)
At that point, my daughter was ready to dive in. We opened a new document and started to type. And that’s when I truly learned why writers need chapter summaries.
Amending the Plan
In our initial plan, we had agreed on one opening for the book, but once that first paragraph was written, we didn’t know where to go. My daughter, being six, forgot what we had planned and wanted Miss Quimby to be at school. To my daughter’s dismay, I put on the brakes. We had forgotten to write our chapter summaries!
Using paper and pen, we jotted down who the characters were in each chapter, what the obstacle or action would be, and how they would overcome it or carry it out. We also noted the setting for that chapter and made sure the timeline worked with what would come before and after.
Team Writing vs. Going It Alone
Because we were writing as a team, the summaries were even more important than for a solo writer. We needed to agree on what would happen before it was written or we would spend all of our writing time arguing it out. We would never finish.
However, even a solo writer needs to know where they want their story to go. And if you are like many writers, you might have to take a few days or even weeks away from your writing. How do you remember where you wanted to go if you didn’t record it somewhere? Based on what I’ve seen in my editing, writers’ memories may not be as good as they think.
In the case of my daughter’s book, as we were writing the summary for chapter 9, we realized chapters 8 and 9 needed to come sooner. That would tie the story line together much more neatly. How much easier it was to make that change when the “chapters” were only a paragraph instead of the full shebang! How much time and heartache we saved by making this decision now rather than after we had sweated over the writing!
The book has a long way to go. The chapter summaries are going to guide us on the journey.
Check out these resources to help you find your own way with chapter summaries:
You as a writer can draw in your readers by demonstrating that you have given your book the thought, time, and care it deserves. When readers see that you respect your own work, they are more likely to return the feeling.
Indeed, this thoughtfulness shows you respect your readers, and that can go miles in building the trust needed to win over a reader.
One way you can demonstrate this respect is by putting forth a complete package. By that I mean you have not simply written the bare bones of a book. You have put meat on those bones through front matter, back matter, multiple formats, and more.
How It Works
Building a complete package for a nonfiction book begins with crafting a solid preface and introduction. These are what is known as front matter, and they set the tone for the book. They also serve as important marketing copy.
Back matter includes reference sections, resource list, and appendixes. These can establish your reputation as a thorough and careful researcher.
In the case of memoir, the goal for these pieces may be to share a deeper understanding of the context of your story.
Other elements that enhance a nonfiction book include:
Photos or illustrations
Charts and graphs
Sidebars that present case studies, tips, or further information
Nonfiction books also benefit from well-developed ancillary materials—workbooks, videos, websites, and so on—as appropriate for the book. All of these pieces together allow your reader to get inside the topic you are writing about and learn more.
Fiction requires a different approach to the idea of a complete package. Nevertheless, you have likely experienced the novel that implemented this concept to its fullest. For example, a complete fiction package may include:
A note to the reader
A note to parents
A call to action
A glossary of terms
Maps and illustrations
Audiobooks, videos, and other ancillaries also appeal to readers and encourage them to buy your book as well as these additional materials.
Did the video cause the consumer to buy the book, or did they watch the video because they had read the book?
In either case, you are building a relationship with that reader that can lead to further sales and readership.
As you plan your book, you must study the competition and think through your reader’s needs and desires. When you create a complete package around your book, you have, to the best of your ability, filled those needs and desires.
As I was working with a self-publishing author recently, we started to discuss the publication date for his book and just how long it would be before he had a bound book ready to sell. It looked like he might not have his books in time for the start of his ideal selling period. Anxious to get his book on the market, this author had an idea:
Why not put the ebook out now, since that takes very little time, and continue with the editing for the printed book!
Here’s why not:
You only have one chance to make a first impression. If you put out a book that still has a lot of errors in it, you have burned bridges with all the people who bought the inferior product. Particularly as a self-publisher, you can’t afford to risk your reputation.
Creating an ebook has become so easy, many authors are tempted to jump right in before completing the editing process. In fact, some traditional publishers do the same thing; although the printed book receives a proofread, the e-book may not. However, if it is up to you, do not succumb to this temptation.
For years I didn’t believe that bad editing would sink a book (this from a committed and passionate editor), but with the advent of reader reviews on Amazon and other online sites, I have learned that lesson. And once those bad reviews are up, they don’t come down and you have to work twice as hard to get your reputation back.
Traditional authors may be able to negotiate this point in their contracts. For self-publishers, the decision is theirs to make. Whatever path you choose, don’t waste your money and all your hard work by taking shortcuts.
In this post, Tom answers that question and many more about what it means to have an expert marketer in your corner.
Do You Really Need a Marketing Expert on Your Team?
By Dr. Thomas M. Caulfield
Do you need a marketing expert on your publishing team? This was a looming question for me as an author. That is, until I began to better understand the multitude of elements that contribute favorably to the book-publishing process. For me, there was a baseline theme, if you will, continuously swirling in my head, and that was this notion of always working with the most competent professionals you can to get your book published.
Always work with the most competent professionals you can.
It seemed that the workshops, seminars, and publication guidebooks were loaded with examples of why not to go with a novice for all the critical aspects of your book. Rather, authors should isolate those distinct pros or an esoteric group that understands this area most completely.
My experience might be unique in that I toiled away for two decades keeping a secret journal chronicling the journey of our only son, who was born profoundly Deaf. Applying the esoteric group selection theory, I immediately sought out a meeting with a friend, the president of a nationally known and highly respected book-publishing company.
I suppose working with a friend was a violation of the esoteric theory in that there was a chance, given our relationship, that he had no choice but to help me. My question was simple, though. Who was the best independent editor he knew of?
My question was simple: Who was the best independent editor he knew of?
What came back was the name of an editor working in the Washington, DC, area: Katherine Pickett. One call to her and a lunch meeting was arranged. The bottom line for me again was clear. It’s probably not a good idea to go with the neighbor down the block who may have been an English major in college with no other credentials, but instead, get with a seasoned professional for sure.
It only took that one lunch meeting for me to learn that the esoteric theory was valid. Katherine had forgotten more than I would ever know about editing – and I graduated from grade 20.
I made an important decision that day to get a critical, unbiased evaluation of the merit of our book. If it weighed in at the “great” level – and it did – then I would be foolish not to match it with the best ongoing service support.
From there I was fortunate to be able to select a Dream Team in the areas of interior design, video presentation, audiobook narration, and website production.
With all those professionals working like a combine going through the Midwest during harvest season, the question of our need for a marketing expert remained. After a thorough literature review, it became clear that these services were not inexpensive. Further, questions remained regarding whether this service would actually be worth the money.
Questions remained regarding whether this service would actually be worth the money.
Given the costs, I elected to research a half dozen reputable groups and then interviewed three. Candidly, I thought I would be the one doing the interviewing, but in reality they were trying to figure out our potential as well. It all seemed like asking someone to the Homecoming dance, as I hoped our top pick would accept.
To be clear, I believe the good author marketing groups really have this concept of a campaign down, with the main goal being quality targeted exposure. The best ones also have the area of pitching to the media figured out as a science.
Who would have thought there were so many levels to pitching?
We had the prepublication pitching to reviewers, bloggers, and the media.
Then there was the local and national media group pitching.
The marketing team also surfaced numerous opportunities for speaking engagements.
Finally, I received thorough guidance regarding advertising with Amazon.
I would have to say it was worth it.
In the end, being fortunate to have an award-winning book on my hands, I would have to say hiring a marketing firm was worth it. I would hate to have not selected a marketing expert and then always look back wondering if we could have done better.
Essentially, it takes me back to all the chatter regarding, do you select the friend down the street to do what really is work in an esoteric domain? It seems easy and definitely less expensive to do just that. But you never want to look back and say, “What if?”