CanWrite! 2013: Day 2 agents’ panel

After another morning of creative writing and lunch, conference-goers again gathered in the academic building for the 1 pm Agents’ Panel Discussion.

James Dewar acted as moderator for the panel, which consisted of: Sam Hiyate, president of The Rights Factory and Carly Watters, agent at the P.S. Literary Agency.

JD: What are you looking for right now?

CW: Picture books; contemporary YA (thriller/mystery, romance); women’s fiction; upmarket; non-fiction; and multi-media.

SH: New agents are looking for new clients. I’m full up myself, right now, but occasionally I do sign the odd author.  For non-fiction, a platform is essential. Most non-fiction sells on proposal alone.

JD: What can a fiction writer do to obtain representation?

CW: Write an amazing novel.  Platform does not matter.

SH: Debut novelists—sometimes even established ones—can fail to sell.  I like a strong voice, someone who can perform acrobatics with a sentence.

CW: I have a more commercial taste, a Book Club book would appeal to me.

JD: How do you move an “almost there” author to “there”?

SH: I’m a different beast than most agents and will work with the writer to edit the work.  Most agents won’t.  Others will set the writer up with a freelance editor.

CW: I’ll write an edit letter to the writer if the good stuff is REALLY GOOD.  Some books are edited seven times before they are sent to a publisher.  If the writer has the ability to turn their MS around quickly, the chances are better.

SH: My best advice is to find an agent who “gets you.”

JD: What should authors NOT do?

SH: Don’t send your MS in too early.

CW: In a pitch session, do not go through your whole synopsis.

SH: Sometimes the pitch or query can be better than the book.

JD: We’ll open the floor to audience questions (AQ) now.

AQ: Do I need an agent first, or can I approach a publisher directly?

CW: Agent first.  Most larger publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.

SH: An agent can say “no,” however.  An editor will refer the author to an agent anyway.  Send it and see what happens.

AQ: What does an agent do?

SH: Our job is to create a competitive situation around your book.

AQ: Can you have more than one agent?

SH: We contract exclusively, much like a real estate agent would.  Your book is the property we’re selling.  Our commission is 15% on domestic and 20% on foreign sales.

AQ: In the context of the “Literary Apocalypse” of self- and ebook publishing, do writers even need publishers anymore?

CW: Some agencies have publishing arms, but it gets complicated.

SH: Self-publishing is a new way for agents to discover talent.  Eventually, all the good material gets scooped up by the publishers.  Cases in point: Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, and Hugh Howey.

CW: These are exceptions to the rule.  Agents can’t turn $10k ebook sales into a traditional deal, but if you sell $200k+, that’s different.

SH: In the future, writers will have more control.

AQ: If an author has published a book but is not happy with the rights (terms) is there anything that can be done?

SH: No, if the rights have already been contracted out, that’s it.  Most agents won’t negotiate a bad contract for you, though.  Publishing houses and agencies start out with really talented, committed, and enthusiastic people who are grossly underpaid, for like ten years.  In that time, the ones who can’t maintain their passion leave for greener pastures.  The ones who can, become successful.

The agents’ panel was great, and both Sam and Carly were professional and up front with their insiders’ looks into the publishing world.

Tomorrow: I’ll cover Day 1 and Day 2 evening events, and Day 2 and 3 afternoons with Andrew Pyper and Cordelia Strube.  That will leave the Awards Gala and wrap-up posts.  So three more days, and it’s all over!

Don’t despair, there will be lots more Writerly Goodness coming your way this summer.  Book reviews and hopefully some more author interviews, pupdates (yes, there’s at least one more coming), and updates regarding the backyard office (interesting things afoot there).  I’ll also have some updates on my work in progress and any other conferences or events that I get to.

I will be returning to my weekends-only posting schedule after this week, though.  Blogging every day, though fun for a short period, takes up a lot of writing time (!)  My goal is to have my current revision done before the summer’s out.

Until tomorrow!

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CanWrite! 2013: Day 1 publicity and marketing sessions

As promised yesterday, I’m going to talk about the good, bad, and downright ugly.

To start with …

The Good

I’ll start with Vikki Vansickle’s Mapping your Market presentation.

Vikki was enthusiastic, energetic, and clearly loves what she does, on both sides of the board.  Vikki is an author and a marketer, recently moving to Penguin Books (congratulations!).

Vikki has published four middle-grade (MG) novels since 2010.

  • So what do you do when you get published?
  • Celebrate!  Tell EVERYONE.  You never know who your champion will be.  Word of mouth is still king.
  • Do some research (yes, it’s important in marketing too).  How do you find the books you like?  Work outward: How does someone like you in Houston, Whitehorse, or Harrison Hot Springs find the books she likes to read?  That’s where you want to go, to get in front of the wave.
  • Who wants to read your book?  Who needs to read your book?
  • Comparative novels (comps) are critical.  It doesn’t even need to be a novel, as long as it’s in popular culture.  “If you like X, you’ll love XXX!”  “It’s Dirty Dancing without the dirty :)”  “It’s Looking at the Moon meets The Summer I Turned Pretty.”
  • Who is your ideal reader?  Define her in every detail.  Who are your potential readers (again work outward)?
  • Your elevator pitch should be about the length of a Tweet.  You have to tell people what your novel is about in pithy, taut, engaging sentences.
  • Be prepared to wear different hats.
  • Instagram is big with kids.  Facebook’s where their parents are (ew!).
  • Goodreads is great for more mature readers.
  • Writers Cafe (dot) org can help you with critique, beta readers, contests, conferences, etc.
  • Find your niche and identify specialized groups that will help you reach your readers.
  • The Ontario Blog Squad will set up blog tours.  6 blogs.  You create the content.
  • Twitter giveaways.  People love free stuff!  Specify Canada only.  Make sure they enter using a Retweet (RT) and including a hashtag specific to you, your book, or blog.  This helps to spread the word to all of your participant’s followers (and so on, and so on).

The Bad

I won’t tell you the guy’s name, or who he works for, but he’s a publicist.  I thought a publicist would be better spoken, honestly.

His session had some good information, but he was almost too relaxed, too casual.  At times I thought he was bored with the topic.  At times he went off on tangents or mumbled.  He decided to wing it.  He didn’t have a plan.

  • Print ads are not an effective use of funds.
  • Look for web magazines that have “up fronts” (= previews) especially if they have a print tie in.
  • A platform is not essential for fiction writers, but is absolutely key for non-fiction.
  • In fiction, the publisher may work with the writer to build the platform.
  • Build your relationship with your publisher.
  • A P/L or profit /loss sheet may determine what will be expected.  Analysis determines what the most appropriate action or angle may be.
  • Do you have a business or profession related to your book?
  • Books = cultural entertainment product.
  • You have to engage your readership on social media (SoMe).
  • Some publishers spend more $$ on authors than others.  This will be different in the States.
  • If a publicist is assigned, it’s usually for 3 months.  On-shelf promotion (during the initial sales period of the book).
  • Marketing is different for every book.
  • Book trailers are too expensive to be effective.
  • Applications (apps) are even more inefficient and more expensive.

The Downright Ugly

One thing that emerged early on in the session and coloured the remainder of it was that this publicist works for a small imprint of a larger publisher and in non-fiction (politics, sports, world events).  His clients are men and of the imprints authors only a third were women.

He made an off-hand remark about the ladies liking their beach reads.  Fatal mistake when speaking to an audience of 90% women.

To be fair, I have to say that I don’t think the young man realized that he’d just insulted his audience unforgivably.  Even after several women from the audience spoke up and made some very salient points, I’m not sure our publicist got it, or if he did, he was so scared, he didn’t know how to save himself with any grace.

I think it has to do with the publishing environment he works in every day, his mentors, his colleagues.  I think the sexism is so ingrained, so rampant in his sector of the industry, that he wasn’t fully conscious of the prejudices he promoted.

For the remainder of the conference, our publicist was the topic of conversation, and not in a good way.

It immediately brought to mind Chuck Wendig’s posts on sexism and misogyny in publishing.

It’s not a problem that has an easy answer.

Tomorrow: I’ll be moving onto the Day 2 panel and session.