Claire McKinney PR, is a publicity firm that works with traditional, hybrid, and self-published authors in marketing, branding, and publicizing their books. Claire specializes in campaigns for books, authors, educational programs, websites, art, film, and other intellectual properties. The agency also has a blog on which they share knowledge and experiences with authors who are interested in book marketing and promotion.
Meredith: Is there a different way that the media-shy author/writer can view promoting his or her book when the constant “putting it out there” feels out of line with their inner calling/sense of self?
Claire: If you are a novelist in this position, the best thing to do is rely on the internet and social media outlets. You will have to at least write to bloggers to see if they will review your book, but you don’t have to constantly be on Twitter and Facebook. It would be a good idea to also have a website for the book as a destination for when reviews of your book are posted. Ask family and friends to read your book and post reviews on Amazon, that will help with your profile there. You can also set up an author page on Amazon and Goodreads. For a non-fiction author, you probably need to have an interest in putting yourself out there because in your case, your expertise and credentials are going to help get the book noticed.
Meredith: I’m hearing less outward chatter about “platform building” than I did five years ago. Does that mean it’s really gone? What does it mean?
Claire: I think the reason you are hearing less chatter is because it’s become a part of the promotion process as a whole. Everything people are doing these days online and in other places is helping to build a platform. Individuals and their works have to be recognized “brands” out in the world or at least to their target audiences. So, no the “platform” is here to stay and actually “branding” may be what’s replaced the term.
Meredith: Is bad publicity really good publicity? (As in the adage, there is no such thing as bad publicity)?
Claire: It depends a bit on the kind of publicity you receiving. Negative book reviews are never good, but a public argument or controversy about your subject or a tangential topic can be good for raising awareness about you, the book, and your ideas in general.
Meredith: With so many people using various communication methods (YouTube, Constant Contact, websites, texts, Facebook) what can authors do to set themselves apart? And when should the process begin?
Claire: I think the way to set yourself apart as an author is to decide what it is YOU are sharing with the world with your work no matter the genre. Are you trying to help people? Enlighten? Entertain? Then consider what you feel comfortable doing. You might like writing in 140 character blocks or love to be on camera or writing personal essays, speaking in front of an audience, etc. Pick your media forms and then either feed them content or approach them from a place of integrity–with the work and with yourself. People can tell the difference between someone who is faking it and someone who is real.
As to when the process should start? As soon as you are finished with the book if not before. It depends a bit on which media you choose but no matter what, starting to build yourself and your “brand” will help to set you apart.
Meredith: Has self-promotion interfered with real promotion of books by overexposing a person or a work to the extent that people are sick of receiving word? I think this is a question on the minds of a lot of writers.
Claire: I think again, if you consider your promotion as a way of sharing ideas, you will be perceived less as a salesperson. Keep you and the book a bit separate at first so that the awareness of the subject and/or story can build out from what you’ve started. Don’t start marketing the book specifically, until about four months ahead of publication. Also, if you have a contact list that you are going to enlist to help you get the word out, divide those names into groups: People who will want to know you have a book coming; People who may be interested in the book; People who can help you get media attention; Colleagues/Professionals. The first group will want to know right away; the second and third closer to the book’s publication; and the final may only want to receive a note about the book when it’s finished or even a signed copy with a personal note tucked inside.
[Thank you, Claire!]
[Bringing this piece to the fore…it is, one might say, from the archives. Enjoy.]
Individual tastes and interests in a story vary from person to person, and within that person, from day to day. What remains a constant, however, is the story’s (or essay’s, novel’s, memoir’s) ability to tap into what is real, to mine a buried truth, whether or not the intellect always agrees.
Andrew Tonkovich is the editor of the literary magazine the Santa Monica Review, for which he reads hundreds of submissions each month. He’s also host of the program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK-FM where he speaks with award-winning authors and poets, often about social issues but also about fiction and nonfiction writing.
When I asked Andrew a while what must occur in a work to make it a story that moves other people, to take them to a place where they relate, Andrew suggested that relating to a subject may not actually be the most crucial factor in a work. Here’s what he said:
“I am not sure what moves other people. Lately I feel like moving away from other people or shouting at them, loud, especially those who seem not to relate to the story, as it were, of the collective nightmare we seem to be dreaming just now, the war and the drift to fascism and a president who wants to kill whales in the name of national defense. With that clumsy but important caveat, let’s say that I am not sure that relating is exactly how I’d put it, and why aren’t more people writing about those subjects, huh? Sure, I know what you mean, but instead of relate I’d prefer “be engaged” or something that describes that exquisite condition of not being able to put the story down, of being in on the joke, of hearing the voice of the writer. So that when I pick up a piece of writing and find myself both excited by reading it and despairing at getting to the end of it, I know I am engaged.
“When I look up and find that I am giddy and self-conscious with delight at my own little participation in the project, and see, joyfully, that I have been tricked or seduced into this condition and eager, finally to see the writing succeed and scared that it won’t, well, that’s what has to happen.On these occasions I never have even a doubt and often do not even reread the story, cannot, painfully sweet that is, just think about it lots and congratulate myself for being its lucky reader and, of course, contact the writer immediately to lay a tiny wreath at her feet.
“How does the writer do that? I’ll limit myself here to ‘beginnings.’ By quickly, very quickly,bringing the reader into the experience of the telling, with suspension of disbelief, characterization, voice, a premise elaborated upon, a world quickly made real. All of that, of course. One of my favorite opening lines of a story, this one by Jim Krusoe, titled “A Cowboy’s Story”: “Howdy.” That is voice (funny, droll, self-conscious) and the promise of a story. Perfect. Now somebody out there should write about a whale being tortured by U.S. Navy sonar which begins, ‘Lately my ears hurt.’ ”
“No, I don’t think platform is an overused or abused term.”
The newest member of the BookEnds literary agency team, JESSICA ALVAREZ joined the agency in April 2011. Jessica began her publishing career in 2001 as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Books. There, she had the opportunity to acquire and edit a wide array of women’s fiction, specializing in historical romance, romantic suspense, and inspirational romance. In 2008, she left Harlequin to pursue a freelance editing career, and which included projects for Harlequin, Scholastic Books, Thomas Nelson, and independent writers.
Meredith: How do you know when a creative partnership is going to fly? What seals the deal for you—with an author and, then, the publisher for that author?
JESSICA: For me, a lot of it has to do with having a shared vision for a project and the author’s career. There are some authors (and editors) with whom I automatically click. Charlotte Featherstone, my author, is a great example of this. From the start, we connected and fell into a very easy relationship. She comes up with wonderful ideas that inspire me in turn to come up with great ideas for different directions she could take a project, and it seems like most of the time she’ll send me something, then we’ll both come up with the exact same idea for where the story should go. Loving an author’s writing is the most important thing, but having nice rapport and shared vision are two of the main things I look for when taking on a new client. Ultimately, it’s the author’s name on the cover, not mine, but if we’re not in synch or, even worse, are butting heads, it’s not going to be a productive relationship for either of us. But let me also say that not all relationships begin as smoothly as Charlotte’s and mine did. There usually is a settling in period as the author and I get to know each other, and learn about each other’s style and quirks, and come to trust one another.
As for publishers, a key factor is enthusiasm. How much does the editor want my author? Is the editor willing to go to bat for the author and push her books in-house, or is she going to let it slip through the cracks?
Meredith: As I continually sort out what “Platform” means to me (and maybe what it should mean), can you tell me what it means to you?
JESSICA: Platform is the name recognition and built-in audience a writer brings with them. It’s all about her ability to reach readers and get them to pick up her book.
Meredith: It seems appropriate to ask: has platform become an overused/abused term? Is it something that has always been around or is it indeed something new? Oh, and do agents have platforms (not the shoes) with publishers?
JESSICA: No, I don’t think platform is an overused or abused term. You certainly hear it a lot, but platform is something that is really important, particularly in nonfiction. It definitely still is more important in nonfiction than fiction, but it never hurts for a novelist to have a strong platform as well. If a writer already has a platform, it makes the publisher’s job easier since there’s already a fan base that will pick up the writer’s book.
In a sense, yes, agents have platforms with publishers. Just as we want a nonfiction writer to have name recognition and credibility with his audience, it’s important for an agent to have that with editors and for the editors to know that when a project from an agent lands on her desk, the project is likely going to be worth the editor’s time.
Meredith: Have you ever been let down by a client? Has a client ever asked you for more than you could professionally give?
JESSICA: No, I wouldn’t say that. Of course there are times when a client shows me something they’re working on, and I just don’t think the book is marketable and we need to head in a different direction. I know that’s disappointing for the client, but I never feel let down when that happens. It’s just part of the process.
At this point, I’m still a new agent and I haven’t yet have a client ask me for more than I could give. It has come up, however, with potential clients. Before I make an offer of representation, I like to have a frank discussion with the writer to see what her goals and expectations are. And sometimes, I think her expectations are unrealistic, and I know it’s unlikely I’ll be able to meet them.
Meredith: When you take on a client, does your mind wonder first what you would like, or what editors and publisher would? Do you think about a client’s media appeal? How well they can sell themselves?
JESSICA: It’s a bit of both, though I like to think that what I like is what editors like, too. Occasionally, though, I know a book is marketable (and maybe a publisher has even offered on it), but it isn’t something I personally like. In those cases, I usually pass on the project because I know I won’t be the author’s best advocate for future projects. I really do need to like the authors and books I represent. On the other hand, sometimes there’s a project I love, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to sell it. Sometimes I take a chance on those, sometimes I think the author would be better off with a different agent, so I pass.
As for a client’s media appeal, like platform, that’s something which is much more relevant to nonfiction than fiction. Certainly, media appeal and being able to sell oneself is great, but not strictly necessary for fiction.
[When I asked Jessica to tell me something quirky about herself, she wrote: “One thing I don’t get to work into conversations very often: Despite having inspirational experience, I’m very open-minded when it comes to the projects that cross my desk. I often get pre-query emails from writers who want to make sure it’s okay to query me about a project with graphic language, sexuality, or violence. It’s difficult to offend me. I’m not squeamish and I don’t mind gore, sex, or strong language. So as long as a project fits into one of my areas of interest, please just send it to me.”]
Jessica says she is actively building her list and is currently looking for women’s fiction, erotica, romantic suspense, and single title and category romance submissions. Current clients include Jennifer Delamere, Charlotte Featherstone, Andrea Laurence, Dana Marton, and Sophie Renwick. Please follow Jessica on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AgentJessicaA or by clicking HERE and check out the BookEnds’ website at www.bookends-inc.com or by clicking HERE.
The agent goes into detail about collaboration, the pull inside that makes her say “yes” and the excitement factor in picking and choosing.
Elise Capron is an agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and also assists Sandra with domestic sales and project development. She is most interested in debut fiction, character-driven literary fiction, and short story collections, though she’ll occasionally take on a non-fiction project, too, if it has a particularly strong narrative element (think Devil in the White City). A graduate of Emerson College, Elise has been at the Dijkstra Agency since late 2003. She loves agenting because every day is different, and there’s nothing better than falling in love with a manuscript and helping bring it into the world.
Meredith: Is there a difference between believing in an author’s work and believing you’ll be able to sell it? Can you help us sort this out from your perspective?
ELISE: It does sometimes happen that I will love an author and her work but know it will be a very tough sell. This is when I have to make my most difficult decisions: do I take on that particular project and give it my best shot even if I have reservations about its marketability, or do I pass on it in the hope that another agent will have a stronger vision for it? It can be a really tough call, especially when it comes to fiction, and so it helps for me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I have to ask myself: is this writer developing a CAREER (of which this first project is just a stepping stone), and am I excited to be a potential part of that career, even if the first project might take a lot of work to place? Do I get along well with the writer? Do we share a common vision? Do I like and connect with the writer’s potential future projects? It’s essential for writers to be thinking about all these things when approaching agents. Of course, there are times when I like a project but still end up passing on it because it doesn’t feel “break-out” enough to me, or have a really strong selling point. In those cases, though, I try my best to recommend other people if I can, and feel confident that the writer will find the perfect agent for them.
Meredith: What makes you not ready or unwilling to take on a particular client? Can you tell us in simple, ordinary language?
ELISE: I’m looking to work with authors who have great work, are professional, are part of the writing community, have realistic expectations, and who are looking at building a career. I also want to work with someone who understands that the publishing process is a collaborative effort, and who is excited about the idea of that. If a writer shows a resistance to any of these things or if I get the sense early on that the relationship is going to be unpleasant, I’ll be less likely to get involved. I aim for my relationships with clients to be as productive and rewarding as possible to all parties. Remember that publishing is still an industry based on relationships, so the little stuff matters a lot.
Meredith: Now, backtracking a bit…I’ve asked this question to writers about their writing, but I’d like to frame it a different way and ask about your work as an agent: Does your creative selection process—which authors you’ll sign, which you’ll pass on—come from a left brain, linear thinking place, or a right brain, instinctual spot? Can you describe the internal process?
ELISE: When considering projects, it is certainly important that I make wise decisions and take everything into account. This is a business, after all. However, I have to admit that I initially follow my gut instinct. In fact, for pretty much every project I’ve ever taken on, I’ve KNOWN I had to rep that client from the moment I started reading his or her material, even when it’s still needed work. I do almost all my reading on the weekends, so I start reading manuscripts early Saturday morning, cup of tea in hand, and I’m just waiting to open that proposal or manuscript that will immediately capture my attention and heart, either with an amazing narrative voice, a fabulous concept, or some other undeniably special element. There is something at the core of projects I take on that I recognize from the very beginning of the process. And it’s that “something” that carries a project along from my hands, to the publisher’s, to the public’s. For me, that’s really the heart of this industry.
Meredith: Do you make any promises to yourself—and your client—before you make a sales call or visit an editor?
ELISE: I can’t make any real promises because there are no guarantees in publishing, but I always do my best by presenting projects as well as I can, with all the ammunition we have available (reviews, a great proposal, etc) and by sharing them with the most appropriate editors for that particular work. I also aim to keep things moving along; it’s so important to keep up the momentum.
Meredith: Is rejection an issue for agents—personally? How do you view rejection from publishers? What greater purpose does it serve in the creative process—for the writer and for the agent?
ELISE: It can get really personal! I love my projects and I want to see them do well, so getting rejects—as is inevitable—can be hard sometimes. However, rejects can also be invaluable pieces of the puzzle in terms of reshaping a project, getting a sense of the current market, and finding the right home for the book. Some authors want to see rejects, and some don’t, but in either case I always keep good track of them, collecting all responses at the end of a submission period so that we can analyze problems common to multiple editors, and rethink our approach when we go to another round. It’s a good reality check, and ultimately allows us to get a better product.
Elise aims to work with writers who are getting their work published regularly in literary magazines and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience. Some of Elise’s recent and soon-to-be-published books (to give you an idea of her taste and interest) include Tiphanie Yanique’s How to Escape from a Leper Colony (Graywolf), Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke (Coffee House Press), Jonathon Keats’s The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six (Random House) and upcoming Virtual Words (Oxford University Press), Ali Liebegott’s The IHOP Papers (Carroll & Graf), Peter Plate’s Soon the Rest Will Fall (Seven Stories Press), and Whitney Lyles’s Party Games (Simon Pulse) and First Comes Love (Berkley).
Back by popular demand: First published 5/2010.
The book editor/publisher discusses audience and high-maintenance authors and translates the real meaning of a manuscript being “not ready.”
Sheyna Galyan is the founder and owner of award-winning Yaldah Publishing, which specializes in books written from a Jewish perspective, Sheyna is fascinated by the intersection of tradition and technology. She holds a graduate degree in counseling psychology. Her favorite questions are Why? and Why not?
“Before I started Yaldah Publishing, I was a writer looking for a publisher for my first novel in a Jewish suspense series. Publisher after publisher had the same response: “we love it but….” The reasons were varied: we don’t want to take a chance on a series; we love the series but want to see a track record first; we love the book but we’re moving toward more non-fiction; it’s too religious; it’s not religious enough; and my favorite: we love the book, love the series, love your writing, but can you make the rabbi a minister instead so it can have more mass appeal? Eventually I realized I had the skills I needed to start my own publishing company and contract with freelancers for needed services. I worked with several mentors and today I can say that I really do understand the perspective of an author collecting “we love it but” rejections. And I know that maybe I can help.”
Meredith: With all the manuscripts that cross your desk, what is the internal experience between the one you know is “the one” and all the others—even if all the others are quite good?
SHEYNA: Unfortunately, I have not yet experienced a situation where, in any given period of time, all of the submissions were quite good. As many as 80% of the submis sions I receive are unrelated to Yaldah’s catalog, full of spelling and grammatical errors, or writing that is simply painful to read, and sometimes all three.
Of the remaining 20%, I will admit it is a subjective decision. It could be written really well and fit with our catalog, but I just don’t love it. And I have to love it. As th e owner of a small press, I am intimately involved with every manuscript, and a manuscript that I
love is one that I can market and promote and stand behind. Th e ideal manuscript is one that is in keeping with Yaldah’s vision and catalog, written well and free of errors, unique, with an appealing topic and a strong voice, and one that I can’t put down.
Meredith: What do writers most misunderstand about editors? What don’t they “get?”
SHEYNA: The job of an editor really is not to bring back nightmares of high school English classes and red pens. Nor is it an editor’s job to make writers feel good about their writing, although I prefer editors who highlight the positives as well as the negatives. Ultimately, the job of an editor is to take a writer’s great writing and make it extraordinary.
Editors also have a sense of the audience (readers) when they’re editing, and in my experience that’s probably the biggest thing that writers don’t always quite “get.” Writers often believe that they are writing for themselves and not for some publisher’s marketing machine. Consequently, they see no need to edit, revise, clarify, or otherwise change their creation. Writers who write for themselves, who see their work as art that should not be subjected to an editor’s or publisher’s scrutiny, are often not good candidates to be published, especially by a small press. The best candidates for publishing are writers who understand that publishing—no matter how much editors and publishers love books and respect writers’ art—is still a business, and that theirwork with an editor is the negotiation, the balancing point, between art and business.
Meredith: How do you view rejection? What greater purpose does it serve in the creative process—for the writer?
SHEYNA: As a writer, I used to look at rejection in terms of the adage, “Every no leads you one step closer to a yes.” But since I’ve been in publishing, I realize exactly how unhelpful that is. I didn’t get into publishing to go on a power trip and tell hopeful writers “No” just because I can. In fact, if it weren’t for writers, publishers would go out of business! If I have to say no, I want to let the writer know why. T he most common rejection I give is actually, “Your manuscript is not yet ready to be a book.” And then I give the reasons, which typically include poor character and/or plot development (in fiction), insufficient research/citations (in non-fiction), readability, awkward sentences, and multiple grammatical/spelling errors.
It is my hope that writers will take this “not yet ready” rejection and use it, along with my reasons for rejection, to make it better, whether that means rewriting or working with an editor. I don’t necessarily expect that these writers will resubmit once they’ve reworked their manuscript, but I do believe that treating others the way you’d want to be treated is just as important in business as it is in life. And I’d much rather receive constructive criticism from a publisher than a simple thanks, but no thanks.
Meredith: Who would you rather publish: a high-maintenance author with an exceptional story but who needs lots of attention and praise, or someone who works/plays well with others but whose story needs more direction creatively, and writerly development?
SHEYNA: This is a trick question, isn’t it? Really, there are pros and cons to both. Having an exceptional story could make sales easier, but may require more non-billable work (keeping a high-maintenance author happy). Similarly, an easy-going author would require less hand-holding, but a not-quite-ready story would mean more work on my end, or my paying an editor more to work with the author. From a business standpoint, the high-maintenance author would impact the bottom line less.
I actually have had several submissions that I liked but needed more work than I thought I could provide, and I have recommended that these writers work with an editor on a rewrite and then resubmit. I also have had submissions from writers who included in their query their recommendations for who should play their characters in the Hollywood film, or suggested that they’d like me to send them on an international book tour (at no expense to them). When it became clear that I could not and would not guarantee a film or TV deal, nor would I send them on an all-expenses paid trip to Europe, they were not all that interested in pursuing a contract. I’m just as happy about that.
Meredith: How long does the decision process of what to publish take you? What’s going on internally as the decision is being made—and what should authors know?
SHEYNA: The decision takes longer than most writers might think. I may make an initial intuitive decision based on their query, but just because I like the pitch and it fits with our catalog doesn’t mean an automatic yes. Since I run a royalty house, meaning that authors don’t pay any money to have their books published, I need to consider costs as well as the manuscript itself. [Some of the things] I need to consider and answer before I can make a decision about a submission:
■ Do I have the capital on hand to publish this book, and how many other books are in the pipeline that may need that money?
■ How much editing will this book need?
■ Will this book need illustrations? What kind? What will the price of an illustrator cost me?
■ What kind of cover is required for this type of book, and what will that cost?
■ What can the author do to market and publicize this book, and how willing are they to do it?
■ What is the market for this kind of book? How much are books like this currently selling for? Can I make a profit on this type of book given the costs of printing, the market, and the average retail price?
■ What is the competition for this book?
■ What are the author’s expectations, are they realistic, and can we negotiate a workable agreement?
I need to crunch numbers, look at the competition, and do some projections to see if a submission will be a good business decision. I had a submission, for example, that was intriguing, but had almost no market, which meant a large print run was out of the question. It was a full-color interior, it was going to cost about $5 per copy to print, and the most I could charge for it, given the competition, was about $7.00. And I needed to offer a 40-50% wholesale discount. The math just doesn’t work. I had to say no.
View complete submission information for Yaldah Publishing by clicking here. “We do not require agents, but we will work with them if an author has an agent. We do require a query letter prior to submission,” Sheyna adds.