My definition of success is pretty simple. Every day I wake up is a success. Really. I have an extreme food allergy and carry an Epi-pen. One mistaken bite of my nemesis could be my last. And it’s not just me. All humans are at risk of the grim reaper, all the time.
Last month, as I trolled through the garage sale listings of Craigslist I saw the estate of Cynthia Black advertised. What, she died!?! A Google search ensued.
I was shocked.
For those who don’t know of Cynthia Black, she was part of the dynamic force behind Beyond Words Publishing, a spiritual press in Hillsboro, Oregon. I knew Cindy and her husband Richard via my work with a local publishing conference.
While the estate sale listing detailed the life of a beautiful, well-traveled, and powerful woman (Cindy was all of these and more), my memory of her is more entrepreneurial. A risk taker with an all-consuming belief in the message of her press, she’d faced the prospect of closing her business on more than one occasion. Failure slowed her down, but it never stopped her. Eventually, she happened upon a manuscript titled The Secret.
Yeah, that book. International bestseller. The rest is history.
My point: Though Cynthia Black is no longer with us, she defined success through sheer grit, determination and focus. Because publishing is not a business for the faint-hearted.
In three other non-related March moments of success…
After months of searching for the lost battery charger to my digital camera (missing since Christmas), it suddenly showed up! Among a crashed-down pile of stuff that tumbled out of my office closet, it sat atop a book I’d been looking for, Buddhist Acts of Compassion. Coincidence? I think not.
Next, my husband and I began teaching again. March’s story pitching class received rave reviews from students. More classes to come this month, next, and through the summer. See Windtree Press newsletter for details.
And finally, after a terribly sad end to 2014, I have a puppy again. Angus.
He is the cause of the above-mentioned crashed-down pile of closet stuff. A re-homed Christmas present discovered on Craigslist, and he is full of life like only a 7-month old Bloodhound can be. And sometimes, like just now when he ran by with a screwdriver in his mouth, I need to remind myself to just breath…
He’ll be an adult someday. In the meantime, I need to go clean up the toolbox massacre by the back door and pull a screwdriver out of his gaping maw.
May each and every day of your life be filled with success, however you define it!
This month at See Jane Publish, we’re talking about defining success. Success is such a subjective standard, I’m not even sure what conclusions we’ll come to — except maybe “We’ll know it when we feel it.”
Recently on my author blog, I posted about feeling like a failure because I hadn’t been writing. While I’m back on the writing chain gang, I’m still not up to speed so I’m feeling like less of a failure, but I’m still not feeling like a success. As a member of the maker/creative class, if I’m not creating and making, I don’t feel good.
But spring has come early to my few square feet of Oregon soil, so it’s gardening time. Which is a great place to remind myself of how things grow in their time, of ebbs and flows, of productive and fallow seasons.
We planted some early greens in a repurposed fire pit. They are small and tender now, and I’ll have to be diligent about slug protection, but given some time, they’ll provide salad for months until they go to seed in the heat of summer.
We also built a new strawberry bed out of some old lumber. Half Hood strawberries (which are only June bearing but supremely tasty) and half everbearing, this one bed will need a few years to fill out. Once the plants are established, it will provide a winter’s worth of frozen fruit — smoothies! waffles! ice cream! — to tide us over to future springs.
I’m not a patient gardener (did I mention how if I’m not creating, I’m not happy?) but for strawberries, I’ll wait.
Before spreading some fresh straw for mulch, we pulled out the last of last year’s parsnips. Some will get fried up like french fries (actually tastier than you might imagine — ah, the power of oil and salt) but after a year in the dirt, some had gotten woody and went straight into the compost bin. Still, they were not entirely wasted. They’ll break down and feed some future crop.
A weekend of grubbing in the dirt reminded me that there are many paths to “making it”. Some — like salad greens — are faster than others — like strawberry beds. Some might not seem successful at all — like old parsnips. But we’ll keep plowing away at it. And as the sun set on our 2015 garden, I am reminded that tomorrow is another day, to make of it what I will.
Making a pitch to an agent is a rite of passage for all authors. It’s with excitement, hope, and lots of adrenaline that we walk into our pitch appointment and try to express to the other person why we love our story and why they should take a chance on us. At the recent Power of the Pen Conference, I scored a pitch appointment with Nephele Tempest from the Knight Agency. It was such a positive experience that I found the courage to ask her to come to See Jane Publish and share with everyone her experiences about the pitching process.
What advice would you give to writers who are nervous about their pitches?
Keep in mind that agents and editors are just people who love books and who have chosen their careers because of that fact. They’re looking to find wonderful stories they can represent and get out into the world. They also know that writers are not necessarily good public speakers, so you don’t need to feel like you must perform in order to get your pitch across. Feel free to bring notes, take deep breaths, and tell them why you love the story you’ve written.
What was the first conference you attended? What was the first pitch session experience like for you?
The first conference I attended was a New England RWA chapter conference, and I was very nervous. I had been an agent for all of four months, so I felt a little unsure and like all the other professionals there knew so much more than I did. Pitches were hard for me because I am, in general, a soft touch. I hate to tell someone no. But I focused on putting the people pitching at ease and asking questions to draw them out and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I had anticipated.
Are agents and editors just as nervous about pitches as the writers?
I don’t think so, not once they’ve gone through it a few times. You need to remember that if the average writer pitches at maybe half a dozen conferences over the course of their career before signing an agent (I don’t know if that’s accurate; I’m just guessing), the average agent will hear anywhere from ten to thirty pitches at a single conference. It’s kind of old hat. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still go in hoping to hear something great.
What are the elements of a successful pitch?
Depends how you measure success. No pitch will work if you’re pitching something the agent or editor isn’t interested in taking on. We know if something doesn’t sound to our taste or if it’s not going to work in our section of the market. But in terms of hitting your marks, make sure to be specific. Too often I hear pitches where the first sentence out of the author’s mouth — their elevator pitch or log line — is so general that it could apply to any number of books. Figure out what makes your story, your character, stand out, and include that in your pitch. Also, be prepared to go past that one-to-three sentence pitch so many writers practice. Have additional details and plot points you want to share given time and interest.
Is it true that a large portion of authors who agents/editors request information never send in their work?
Yes, it’s true. It varies from conference to conference. I think sometimes writers go home and start editing or polishing based on things they’ve learned at the conference and then so much time has gone by they feel they’ve missed their window. If an agent or editor asks to see something, there’s not typically an expiration date with that request. Do follow up, even if a few months have passed. We remember what we’ve requested to see.
What would be your ideal way/environment to engage with authors and find out if they are a good fit with your agency?
The Knight Agency has a website, a newsletter, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, and then as individual agents we also have various social media outlets. I blog and have a fairly busy Twitter feed, for instance, but limit my Facebook page to real life friends, family, and colleagues. I’m on Tumblr and Instagram, both of which are more personal than business, but can give anyone who looks through them a better fix on my personality and interests. But engaging with us through social media and reading things we’ve written for blogs or the agency newsletter are great ways of finding out who we all are and what interests us. We also all do periodic conferences, and love meeting writers in person. I’m always happy to answer questions on my blog or through Twitter, or obviously to chat at a conference, etc. Just remember to follow our agency’s submission guidelines if you’re interested in taking the next step. No random Tweet pitches or anything of that sort, please.
What is your take is on romance writing in general? Do you feel the genre gets a fair treatment or is it belittled for being written by women for women?
We go through this periodically, where you have people looking down on romance for being “less serious” or being for/by women. Right now feminism in general seems to be a very hot topic, above and beyond the single genre. I think it’s ridiculous to segregate work by gender or by genre, beyond making it easier to find what you’re looking for in a bookstore. You can have a terribly written, boring literary novel, or a beautifully written, fascinating romance novel. Work should stand on its individual merits. People should read what they want, what interests them, and be open minded. I’m in favor of readers experimenting with new authors and genres, because how else do you discover something new you might love? But it’s unfair to read one book in a genre and label that genre based on a single experience, or worse, to assume you won’t like something you’ve never tried. That’s true of all things, not just books.
Since you live in the LA area, does this influence how you work with publishers in NYC vs film and TV rights in LA?
This used to be more of a thing when I first started agenting. Email for business was still pretty new and attachments were frowned upon. Editors still wanted paper manuscripts, so I spent a lot of time running to Fed Ex to send out submissions overnight. But eventually one or two editors would agree to an attachment, and then I could generally talk the others into it because the ones accepting by email were getting manuscripts a day sooner than those waiting for Fed Ex to show up. Now almost all business is over the phone and email, wherever you’re located. I do visit NYC periodically and have in-person meetings with editors, but those are more catch-up sessions or getting to know new editors rather than occasions to make actual sales.
On the flip side, I did more in-person networking on the film/TV side when I first moved to LA. A lot of that has also shifted to phone and email — sending electronic ARCs to production people, etc. The shifts in technology have had a huge effect on the industry across the board.
Authors often try to write to the market. Since the paranormal market is saturated, what genre or theme do you think will be the next big thing?
I discourage writers from trying to write to the market because by the time you’ve finished writing, the market might very well have shifted again. So it’s difficult to say “write this or that” with any sort of accuracy. That said, Scottish highlander historicals seem to be perennial. Contemporary romance with a bit of edge to it is doing pretty well. I think the key is still to write something you love, that excites you. Take something old and find a new spin on it. Be passionate in your writing. A really good book will sell even in a tired sub-genre. (Though you might still want to steer clear of vampires for a bit.)
About the Agent: Nephele Tempest joined The Knight Agency in January, 2005, opening the Los Angeles office. As an agent, she works with a number of talented writers, assisting them to hone their skills and build their careers. Nephele comes from a diverse publishing and finance background. She has worked in the editorial department at Simon and Schuster, as a financial advisor for Dean Witter, in the marketing and communications departments of several major New York investment firms, and as a freelance writer. Her experiences in sales, marketing, and writing provide her with insights into multiple aspects of the publishing industry.
Nephele belongs to the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). She continues to actively build her client list, and is currently seeking works in the following genres: literary/commercial fiction, women’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporary romance, historical fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction.
When Tammie King launched her website, Night Owl Reviews, in 2004, she was thrilled to get 10 pageviews a day. Now in March 2015, her site gets around 500,000 pageviews a month. As Over this past decade, she has learned a lot, about herself as she has become a successful woman entrepreneur, about her website as she navigates to sustain a thriving book review site, and about authors as some have latched on to online opportunities while others get lost in the World Wide Web.
During her journey, Night Owl has worked with thousands of authors, producing over 22,000 online reviews. Today she is here at See Jane Publish to share five tips with authors about being smart with their resources.
1. Brand Your Author Name and Stay Consistent
Building a well known author name is really important to future sales for an author. Readers who find an author they love will start looking for similar books by that author to buy.
Don’t be an author who is so quick to market that he/she misses the mark and gets low reviews.
a. Inferior Material: Don’t jump the gun and start putting out inferior material just because it’s easy to get a book up on Amazon / Barnes and Noble. Make sure you have taken the time to get a good editor who doesn’t just fix your grammar, but also knows how a story needs to be put together. They need to know how to make the story engaging from the start to the end and let you know when you’re going in a direction that is too boring.
b. Newsletter = Authors who don’t have a newsletter are losing follow-up sales. A newsletter that just lets readers know when a new book is out is perfect. It keeps readers in the know and isn’t hitting their inboxes excessively.
c. Genre – Stick to a genre for at least your first 5 books. Most readers are genre readers. After they read a book by you they will be on the hunt for something similar by you. If they read a paranormal…they will want another paranormal. If you don’t have another in the same vein you will lose the reader that you just hooked.
d. Also make sure to get an awesome cover designer as readers do buy with their eyes.
e. Reviews – Focus on getting reviews on Amazon as well as with well known review sites.
f. Follows – Make sure readers are using the “Follow” button on your Amazon profile page. It’s free and keeps readers engaged with your books as new stuff comes out.
2. Know Your Numbers –
When a website gives you their stats, make sure you know what their stats mean:
– (Not Important) Hits – Don’t even look at this number as being important when purchasing advertising. This number doesn’t mean much in the gist of stats that mean anything for advertising. Hits includes any page and image that gets downloaded. So say a webpage has 50 images on it. Each of those images is includes as a hit…but you only had one person come to the site. That one person visiting could equal out at hundreds of hits.
– (Important) Unique Page Views – This is a great number to find out about when inquiring about advertising. Page Views are tallied by how many pages are viewed on a site over all the users.
– (Important) Unique Users – This is also a good number to ask about when purchasing advertising. This number is tallied by how many unique computers / people have accessed the site.
3. Make Your Time Online Useful and Productive
You can’t spend so much time online that you are no longer writing. Instead of a writer, you’re a social network guru. You can social network so much that it has no return on your investment. It’s more important that you are developing your author branding instead of one more tweet. High reviews will lead to additional sales over another tweet. Getting quality reviews is far more important. Seek them out from readers and book review websites. Your goal is to keep your Amazon review score high as well as your amount of reviews. You want to get over 50 reviews. People are more likely to buy the book with 50 reviews versus the book with five 5-star reviews. Quantity is important.
4. Tech Opportunities and Limits
An author is limited by their knowledge of the Web. An author doesn’t have to be a tech guru to do it well but they must get educated. We are not longer in the days of authors sending manuscripts to the publisher and that is it. To score readers authors need to use opportunities that are out there and provided by other companies, such as advertizing, Amazon author follow button, contests, the digital word-of-mouth and incentives such as free first book. This is all limited by who you know and creating a marketing plan. Seek out friendships with people who know digital marketing and are willing to help but also be willing to give of yourself in exchange. It must be a two-way street.
5. Promo Ads / Return on Investment
In regards to promotions, your return on investment doesn’t pay off very quickly. Authors have to have a quality product as well as visibility to readers. Advertising is essential to getting your book viewed by many but advertizing must be part of an overall marketing plan. Adverting by itself it’s enough. If you don’t have a good story, good cover, and something that draws the reader’s eyes, they are not going to reach your purchase page.
Purchasing one ad on one website won’t always get a return on investment right away.
They might not buy the book off of one website. They have to see it many places before it will start to cement in their minds and begin the possibility that they will purchase it, provided that it’s in the genre and style that they enjoy to read. Big companies have learned this so they have to advertise far and wide. Billboards are a good example. A person is not going to buy a product cruising by or walking thru the mall or while watching it on TV but each of these times they saw it, it created an imprint that it might be something that they are interested in. A week later, they might see it on their Amazon side bar and buy it. Each of those incidents were crucial in the overall buying experience. The same goes for purchasing a book cover ad. It might not be a one-click-buy but the ad was crucial in buying the book in the future.
Author Opportunity: May Scavenger Hunt
With those tips in mind, I invite you to take advantage of an opportunity to participate in the May Scavenger Hunt at Night Owl Reviews. This event is niche social networking, very specific to people who enjoy books. This is where authors come together, share their readerships, and build with each other(s) reach to more readers. During the Scavenger Hunt, authors send readers to the Night Owl Reviews website, readers get prizes from participating authors, which leads readers to find new books and new authors that they might not have come into contact with on their own. If you want more details please follow this link.
Thank you Jessie and See Jane Publish for giving me the opportunity to share some insights into the book industry.