"Raymond’s eye for telling detail is very fine, as one expects of an accomplished writer, but to this she adds the informing eye of a natural historian of place.”
— John Keeble, author of Nocturnal America
Midge Raymond
Midge's blog about writing . . . reading . . . and everything in between

Category — On Publishing

Mini Q&A with library manager Amy Blossom

This is an excerpt of Ashland library manager Amy Blossom’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how to approach libraries for events. For more book promo information, and to read Amy’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.

And save the date! I’ll be doing a book marketing event at the Ashland library on Wednesday, October 9, at 7 p.m. Click here for more info.

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Amy Blossom is the manager at the Ashland Branch Library in Ashland, Oregon, and serves on the board of Friends of the Ashland Public Library. She is the host of Open Books, Open Minds, a local television program featuring interviews with authors from the Southern Oregon community and beyond.

Q: What is the best way for a local author to approach his or her local or regional library?


A: A personal approach is much better than a cold e-mail. It’s so easy to dismiss an e-mail, whereas a phone call or even stopping in allows for a personal connection. Then, after an initial conversation, I like to get a follow-up e-mail with all the details.

Also, authors should be sure to have a hook—a way to let us know what the book is about and why it would be of interest. We get a lot of requests, and it helps if your book or presentation has a fascinating angle to it.

If you’re a new, unknown author or a self-published author, show that you are prepared to help bring in your own audience—if no one knows who you are, it’s hard to get people to show up for an event. Joint events or group events have the potential to bring in more attendees, so you may want to team up with someone, not only to be sure you get enough people but also to broaden the exposure you’ll get for your own book.

Q: What are some of the ways in which authors can support their local libraries?


A: Offering an event is in itself a great way to support the library. We also appreciate it when authors donate a copy of their book. Donating a copy along with ordering information, especially for self-published authors, is a wise idea because most libraries like to have local authors in their collections.

Keep in mind that most libraries require that self-published books meet the same criteria as other books; for example, there needs to be a strong local interest, or the book should have received at least two professional media or industry reviews. So it’s a good idea to ask about such requirements when you consider donating a book to your local library.

I recently read a study noting that library users buy more books than any other type of book buyers. People often don’t think of library users as big buyers, but being big readers in general, they are. So even if you may not sell a lot of books at an event, just by being there, you can still gain readers down the road.

To read Amy’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing. And Amy is also featured in this article in the Ashland Daily Tidings.

October 2, 2013   No Comments

Mini Q&A with photographer Rosanne Olson

This is an excerpt of photographer and essayist Rosanne Olson’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about author photos. For more book promo information, and to read Rosanne’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.

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Rosanne Olson began her career as a photojournalist after receiving her master’s degree in journalism. Since starting Rosanne Olson Photography, she has photographed portraits as well as advertising campaigns for the New York City Ballet, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, and Children’s Hospital. Her award-winning work has been featured in Communication Arts and More magazine, among others, and she is the author of the book This is Who I Am.

Q: What do you think makes a good author photo?

A: The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos?
Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.

To read Rosanne’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing. Click here to visit Rosanne’s website.

September 26, 2013   No Comments

Everyday Book Marketing in the news…

I’m thankful to Vickie Aldous at Ashland Daily Tidings for her wonderful column on Everyday Book Marketing — check it out for info about the book, as well as insights from L.J. Sellers, Jenna Blum, and Zoe Ghahremani.

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Thanks, too, to Ed Battistella at Literary Ashland, for this lovely review.

And Bill Kenower has published an excerpt of Everyday Book Marketing in Author Magazine — check it out for tips on how to create a great author website.

September 24, 2013   No Comments

Mini Q&A with author Wendy Call

This is an excerpt of author Wendy Call’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about creating a budget, doing a book tour, and how to put yourself out there as an author. For more book promo information, and to read Wendy’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.

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Wendy Call is a writer, editor, translator, and teacher of creative writing. Her narrative nonfiction book, No Word for Welcome, won Grub Street’s 2011 National Book Prize for Nonfiction and the 2012 International Book Award for Best History/Political Book. She is co-editor, with Mark Kramer, of Telling True Stories, and her nonfiction, translations (from Spanish) of poetry and fiction, and photography have appeared in more than fifty magazines and literary journals.

Q: Tell us about how your book came into the world.

A: My book began as a series of twenty essays and narrative nonfiction pieces that I wrote while living and working in southern Mexico. I had received a two-year fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs, and they published my writing. I returned to the U.S. in the summer of 2002 and began to put together a book proposal, to seek an agent, and to learn the deep difference between a collection of five-thousand-word narratives and a single ninety-thousand-word book—as well as the difference between writing a book and publishing a book.

On the publishing side: I approached nearly fifty agents before I found two—in the same month, after nearly five years of sending queries—who were interested in representing my book. I chose the agent who had more experience selling narrative nonfiction. She circulated the proposal (and later, the full manuscript) for about a year, and was on the verge of giving up when the University of Nebraska Press tentatively offered me a contract. The contract, contingent on a significant revision, included no advance. Because of the peer review process (common at university presses), a year elapsed between my agent sending UNP the proposal and the press sending me a contract.

Q: What aspect of book promotion surprised you the most?

A: As naïve as it sounds, the sheer quantity of work shocked me. I began working on promotion part-time six months before my publication date, and full-time about three months in advance, and that was not soon enough. Other than my hometown Elliott Bay Book Company, the first six bookstores I approached turned me down. Even those “No, thanks…” replies came only after many, many hours of figuring out whom to contact, crafting personal query letters, sending review copies, seeking a local co-sponsor, answering detailed questions, or trying (over and over) to get the right person on the phone.

Q: What advice do you have to offer new authors?

A: This is no time to be shy. Nor humble. Put yourself out there; push yourself a bit past your comfort zone. When this seems impossible, ask an extroverted friend to coach you. (I have a quote from Sandra Cisneros—who is deeply generous as well as brilliant—on the cover of No Word for Welcome only because a fearless friend talked me through composing the e-mail to her and then pressing “send.”)

Make sure to let everyone you have ever met, and have an e-mail address for, know about your new book. I found that I couldn’t predict with any accuracy which friends and colleagues would be interested in No Word for Welcome and happy to lend a hand in its promotion.

Devote as much time and money as you can possibly afford— but only what you can afford—to promotion. Set priorities, but try a variety of strategies. For example, I devoted $500 of my budget to submitting my book for awards. My publisher offered book copies for six award submissions. I wanted to submit to a dozen different awards, so I bought the book copies for the other six awards, and I paid all the submission fees. It seemed like a strange way to spend five hundred bucks, but it was worth it. I won two awards, bringing a bit of renewed media attention to No Word for Welcome nearly a year after its publication date. (One award came with a $1,000 check, so you might say I doubled my investment.) Even if I’d not won either award, the submission process put my book in front of movers and shakers in the literary world.

To read Wendy’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing. And click here to visit Wendy online.

September 17, 2013   1 Comment

Mini Q&A with author Jackie Bouchard

This is an excerpt of Jackie Bouchard’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about e-book publishing and promotion. For more book promo information, and to read Jackie’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.

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Jackie Bouchard
is the author of What the Dog Ate, first published as an e-book and later in paperback, and the forthcoming novel Rescue Me, Maybe. Jackie has lived in Bermuda, Canada, and the east coast of the U.S. and now lives in San Diego with her husband and her rescue pup, Rita. Her work has been published in San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Writers Ink anthology, A Year in Ink, Vol. 3. Visit her online at www.jackiebouchard.com.

Q: What made you decide to publish in e-book format?

A: Way back in the spring of 2008 when my manuscript was “finished” (I say that in quotes because I was too much of a writing/publishing virgin at the time to realize how much work it still needed), I sent it off to an agent I really liked whom I’d met at a writing conference the previous year. I’d read a key scene in a session she led, and she’d invited me to submit it to her when it was done. She rejected it, but sent me some great suggestions. So I worked hard, sent it back to her in the fall of 2008, and she signed me! Oh, what exciting times … and then, the market crashed. By the time we finished putting the final tweaks on the manuscript, we were pitching it in early 2009. Not great timing in any industry, let alone publishing. Even though I got good rejections, they were still rejections. I tried to put the book out of my head and get on with the next one. Then, in January of 2012, I had dinner with my agent, and she encouraged me to self-publish it. Another author she represented had self-published his first book, so with his guidance I was on my way to formatting and self-publishing my first e-book.

Q: What aspect of book promotion has surprised you the most?


A: The aspect that surprised me the most is that it really can be as simple as making new connections. I’m not a good salesperson, especially when it comes to selling myself. I thought I would really hate this whole marketing/promo part of the writing “biz.” Sometimes I do start to get down about the business side of writing, but then I remember to just try to get out there and connect with people—other writers, other book lovers, and other dog lovers. If I approach it with that mindset, it makes me feel that it’s something I can accomplish, and actually enjoy doing.

To read Jackie’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing. Click here to visit Jackie’s website…and check out her new novel, Rescue Me, Maybe, which launches on Monday, September 16!

September 12, 2013   2 Comments

Win a copy of EVERYDAY BOOK MARKETING!

Authors: If you don’t already have a copy of Everyday Book Marketing, win a copy from this Goodreads giveaway!

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Everyday Book Marketing by Midge Raymond

Everyday Book Marketing

by Midge Raymond

Giveaway ends September 25, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

September 6, 2013   No Comments

Q&A with author Tom Lombardo

Today I’m very happy to post my Q&A with Tom Lombardo, a poet, essayist, and freelance medical writer who lives in Midtown Atlanta. Tom’s poems have appeared in journals in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and India (translated to Hindi and Mayalayam), including Southern Poetry Review, Ambit, Subtropics, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature, Atlanta Review, New York Quarterly, and many others. He is also editor of the anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life Shattering Events, and he  runs the Poetry of Recovery blog.

Tom’s new book, What Bends Us Blue, has been praised as “remarkable” (Thomas Lux) and “exquisite” (Cathy Smith Bowers). Clifford Garstang recently reviewed the book on his blog, calling it “a lovely collection of poems…both sad and hopeful…and there’s also a great deal of humor.”

Cover.Front.

 

Q: Congratulations on your new poetry collection, What Bends Us Blue, whose title I immediately fell in love with. Can you tell the story behind it?

A: Thank you, Midge. In music, especially in blues and jazz, notes may be bent upward or downward, on guitars or other stringed instruments or on harmonicas, saxophones, clarinets, and other reed instruments. It’s a way of taking the note up or down a half-step or more without changing the string or the holes. The musician will bend the string with a finger or bend the reed with the embouchure of the mouth and the speed of exhale or inhale. This technique was popularized by the Mississippi blues men of the early 20th century, so it is associated with blues, but it has crossed over into jazz and other genres. So…what bends us blue, literally, is bending a note to achieve a bluesy sound. What bends us blue, figuratively, is what What Bends Us Blue is about.

In 1992, at a table in a two-room flat in Prague, I wrote the first poem that became part of What Bends Us Blue. It was seven years after the death of my first wife, Lana, in a car accident. The poem was about her death, and some of it was in her voice. It was an awful poem, much worse than a rough draft, but that poem, scores of drafts later, entitled “Elegy on a Visitation,” has been published in a journal, is in What Bends Us Blue.

Over the next several years, I wrote a few more poems, some of them about Lana and her death and my recovery, some not. Then, a creative burst between 2001 and 2011 when I wrote hundreds of poems, many of which appear in What Bends Us Blue. The collection centers emotionally on loss and recovery, but it also looks at What Comes Next. As I was a young widower, the course of my life changed dramatically. It’s not unlike experiencing a divorce, I would imagine. You think you’re going in one direction, then Bam!, you’re not, and you’re lost for a while. When your life is shattered by an event, you come to a point like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” You face a choice. A new direction. You can sit at that fork your entire life, or you can move on. That is a key theme of What Bends Us Blue, the moving on. Life wants to live. In my case, I remarried, had two children (who are now teenagers), and some poems of What Bends Us Blue give the reader a view of redemption.

Q: The collection has been praised for, among many things, the diversity of the poems — which range from satire to irony to heartbreak. What were the challenges of putting together a collection with such emotional breadth? 

A: Let’s put aside for now the challenges of writing the poems themselves. Once I had the poems in hand, I built a collection. I had been submitting this manuscript for several years to contests and open submissions, and it was rejected over and over and over. Then, I turned to April Ossmann, former executive director and editor at Alice James Books, which awards the prestigious Beatrice Hawley Award each year to a book of poetry. April became my editor. The first thing she did was cut one-third of the poems I had included. Like most poets, I found it difficult arranging my poems into a coherent collection, even though I’ve been an editor for more than thirty years. But I’m smart enough to listen to a good editor. The poems April cut were good poems, had been published in good journals, but they were clotting the collection, disrupting the flow, distracting the reader. In this case, less was more. April also did some rearranging of the poems, creating an interesting arc that I had not considered. My arrangement was linear, telling a story from A to Z. Hers maintained the story arc but was somewhat less linear, becoming more impressionistic, which fed the emotions. And achieved better balance of heartbreak and humor and fantasy. The collection succeeds because of its humor and flights of fancy, which offer readers some relief from the sadness and grief, and the balance was the beauty of April’s arrangement. She found exactly the right pacing. What’s ironic is that I do this kind of editing in my work with other poets as a poetry series editor for Press 53 (Winston-Salem, NC). It’s difficult to do it with your own poems. But that’s what good editors do—step back, objectively view the collection, suggest cuts and new arrangements that make sense for the whole.

Q: Speaking of being the poetry series editor for Press 53, can you tell us about your process of acquiring new work. What makes a poem or selection of poems stand out among the rest?

A: I’m always looking for new poets for Press 53. Journals—paper or online—and submissions and recommendations from trusted sources. I will probably read 300 submissions each year, maybe more. We received more than 100 during our open submissions last year (we ask for a 10-poem sample), from which I selected two. I also solicit samples or full manuscripts from poets I read in journals or who have been recommended. In addition to selecting poets from Press 53’s home base in the Carolinas, I make a concerted effort to build Press 53’s poetry catalog across the U.S. I’ve selected poets from Portland, OR; the San Francisco Bay Area; Los Angeles;, Houston; Louisiana; Atlanta.

In my reading of submissions for Press 53, I reject a lot of poetry because it contains no figurations. It’s prose with line breaks, and it fails to elevate from prose. That’s an important lesson for all poets to understand. Poetry is essentially figurative language. Metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, irony, synesthesia, imagery, intensity of senses are the keys to authentic poetry. So to answer your questions, submissions that use figurations stand out. Submissions without figurations—rejection.

Author 1

Q: How does editing poetry affect your own writing?

 A: I’ve been editing for a long, long time: newspapers, magazines, Internet. My career has been editing. Many of my professional skills transfer over to poetry editing, though the forms obviously are different. I feel like I was born to edit. My tombstone will read: I edit, therefore I am.

The most important thing I’ve learned as an editor that has transferred to my own writing is that I must write for an audience. A reader. What I write must be understood by someone else. Poetry is a form of communication. That is so fundamental that you would think it’s obvious. But I see too many manuscripts in which the poetry is written for the poet himself or herself, the reader ignored. Only the best poets and writers do it well, some of them may just do it naturally, a gift from the gods. Another important editorial skill: I fully understand and embrace the revision process. I write in order to revise. Good writing is the result of good revisions. Some poems of mine are published in their hundredth  draft. To me, revisions are fun. I love to revise. Love it, love it, love it. The writing opens itself up to me as I revise. Being an editor, I’ve spent my life revising the work of others, so I truly enjoy revising my own work.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a novel. I’m about half finished. Soon, I’ll query agents and publishers.

I’m also producing frequent items for the Poetry of Recovery blog, which is an offshoot of an anthology I edited in 2007. After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events comprised 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 nations. The poets wrote of recovery from grief, war, exile, divorce, abuse, bigotry, illness, injury, addiction. The Poetry of Recovery blog presents poems from the anthology along with an interview with the poet. I also feature new collections or readings by the After Shocks poets.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a chapbook due out next year from Kattywompus Press (Ohio) entitled The Name of This Game. It’s based on my experience playing football for eight years in high school and college, during which I experienced a number of concussions. The poems capture the violence of the sport and the damage it may cause to a young brain. The concussions fuzzed up mine through my early twenties, and I drifted a bit. My brain clarified in my mid-twenties, and I found direction to my life. Now, I’m waiting for dementia to kick in. The title of this short collection is from a quote from one of my coaches: “The name of this game is to hurt someone.” Indeed, coaches actually speak in luscious metaphor and simile. “Charge to this spot like a dog on a porkchop.” “Cover this guy like a cheap suit, like dirty shirt.” That coach got me a college scholarship as well as some great lines of poetry, so I can’t complain too much about football, though the injuries concern me enough that I encouraged my son’s early interest in tennis. He’s quite athletic, but he ain’t goin’ anywhere near a football.

I’ve also spent a lot of time lately arranging readings and workshops to promote What Bends Us Blue. The book’s Facebook page will list the specific details, places, and times of my readings. But note that I’ll be reading this fall in Atlanta on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12; in Charleston, SC, on Oct. 14; in Asheville, NC, on Nov. 3; and in Cary, NC, on Nov. 17. I’ll also be reading at the Press 53 offices at the Community Arts Café in Winston-Salem, NC, as soon as I can arrange that. I also have a radio interview scheduled for Oct. 28, 9 p.m. Eastern, on RN.FM. You can listen here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rnfmradio.

 

Keep an eye on Tom’s book’s Facebook page for more details and future events. 

 

September 5, 2013   2 Comments

Mini Q&A with events manager Susan McBeth

This is an excerpt of Susan McBeth’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how authors can connect with readers through nontraditional book events, and how authors can plan the perfect event to promote their books. For more book promo information, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.

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Susan McBeth is the founder and owner of Adventures By the Book, which provides opportunities for readers to connect with authors through events and worldwide travels. She has worked as an event coordinator for more than twenty years, including as director of events and marketing at an independent bookstore, and has hosted events ranging from small, intimate gatherings for debut authors to large-scale events with high-profile and bestselling authors. Susan is also hosting the Southern California Author Academy, a monthly series of interactive workshops on book promotion for authors, beginning September 29, 2013, in San Diego.

Q: In what ways can nontraditional book events be good for sales and exposure?


A: Nontraditional book events are a fabulous way to increase sales and exposure for a variety of reasons. Keep in mind that the most successful events are those in which the author and the reader make a connection on some level. And when that magical connection occurs, you are more likely to generate increased book sales and exposure, as these readers will want to share with others the “experience” they just had.

Q: What are a few examples of non-bookstore events an author might try?


A: The best kind of nontraditional book event is one that is a good fit for an author’s particular book, keeping in mind that the primary goal is to make a connection with the reader.

For example, say you have written a lighthearted, fun piece of fiction. Since the best way to connect is to envision what it is you want your readers to feel or experience when they read your book, try to anticipate your demographic. In this case, your audience will likely consist of women who want to laugh and be entertained. A happy hour event would be a great fit, then, because it has the same goals in mind. And if you are not an experienced or naturally gifted speaker, sipping a glass of wine and sitting informally amongst a group of readers is much less intimidating and more natural than lecturing in a more formal setting, and allows you an opportunity to chat one-on-one with readers. And when readers share a glass of wine and some appetizers, they already start off an event having a good time and possessing a mindset that the fun will continue, so your connection has begun even before you start speaking.

For more advice from Susan, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.

Click here to visit Susan’s website. 

To learn more about the Author Academy, click here. And for more details about this series of workshops, see this blog post by Susan on what’s to come.

September 4, 2013   No Comments

Q&A on Everyday Book Marketing with Erika Dreifus

I am absolutely delighted to be featured on Erika Dreifus’s website in this Q&A, in which we chat about Everyday Book Marketing, my own adventures in book promotion, and what new authors need to know about marketing.

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Check out the Q&A here, and if you haven’t already subscribed to Erika’s newsletter, The Practicing Writer, click here for the current issue and to sign up — this resource is a must for all writers!

September 3, 2013   No Comments

Calls for submissions!

There are a few great opportunities for fiction writers coming up, so I wanted to mention a few upcoming awards and deadlines…

The submission deadline for the 2013-14 Bear Deluxe Magazine Doug Fir Fiction Award is September 3!

The Bear Deluxe Magazine welcomes submissions of previously unpublished short stories up to 5,000 words, relating to a sense of place or the natural world, interpreted as broadly or narrowly as the author defines.

Details:
Entry Fee: $15
Word limit: 5,000
Grand Prize: $1,000, writer’s residency at Sitka Center for Art & Ecology, national publication, and manuscript review
Finalists: Manuscript review, recognition, publication consideration

Click here for more information and complete details.

 

The Press 53 Award for Short Fiction opens September 1!

The Press 53 Award for Short Fiction will be awarded annually to an outstanding, unpublished collection of short stories. This contest is open to any writer, regardless of his or her publication history, provided the manuscript is written in English and the author lives in the United States. The winner of this contest will receive publication, a $1,000 cash advance, travel expenses and lodging for a special reading and book signing party at Press 53 headquarters at the Community Arts Café in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina, attendance to the 2014 Press 53/Prime Number Magazine Gathering of Writers, and ten copies of the book. Click here for full details.

 

Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet seeks submissions until December 31!

Editor Cliff Garstang seeks submissions for a new anthology titled Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, to be published by Press 53 in Fall 2014. This is an anthology of short fiction (short stories of any length, including short shorts and flash) set around the globe, including the United States. Click here for full details and how to submit.

September 1, 2013   No Comments

Springtime writing

For all of you who may have missed my spring newsletter, click here to read it online. And click here if you’d like to subscribe.

You’ll find out about upcoming events, a few great resources for writers, calls for submissions, and have a new writing tip and prompt to keep your writing going.

Happy spring!

wildflowers

 

April 23, 2013   No Comments

Writers’ most common submission mistakes — and how to avoid them

I remember learning years ago that the  average short story is rejected 25 times before finding a home. (Now, I’m guessing this number is much higher.) This made me feel a lot better — some of my stories were above average in terms of how long it took to publish, some were below, and many were right on track.

Half the battle, I’ve come to learn, is just sticking with it — sending out that story over and over again even when the rejections keep coming in. But the other half of the battle is even more important: making sure you not only have a terrific story (or novel, or poem, or whatever it may be) but that you follow editorial guidelines and send a professional submission, whether you’re targeting a literary journal editor or an agent. Time-strapped editors and agents have little patience for sloppy work, and it’s worth paying a little extra attention to detail when it could mean the difference between getting a fair read or being tossed in the reject pile.

As both a writer and editor, I’ve learned (often the hard way) how to put together a submission that gets a fair read. While every editor is different, below are a few of the most common submission mistakes that writers make and how you can avoid them yourself.

Sending out work before it’s ready. Keep in mind that it’s the writing that is most important — always. If your story or novel isn’t ready, don’t send it out. Period. I’ve done this many times, of course — it’s hard not to be eager to send out something brand-new, especially if you’ve spent months or years working on it — but it never turns out well. What editors and agents look for more than anything else is great writing. So wait until your project reaches that level before you even consider sending it out.

Submitting a sloppy cover letter or query. If a cover letter is riddled with typos and grammatical errors, an editor will assume your writing is the same — this will not encourage a thoughtful read. Many writers have their manuscripts professionally copyedited before sending them out — and if you’re a writer who needs this, be sure your cover letter is edited as well, as it’s the first thing an editor/agent will see. By “sloppy” I also mean not researching the publication, agency, or publisher — writers who submit a literary novel to an agent who only reads mysteries, or a science fiction story to a poetry journal (and yes, these things happen all the time) will not get read; it’s simply a waste of everyone’s time. Be sure your submission is appropriate to where you’re submitting.

Overselling yourself. You do want to be confident about your work, but in a professional way, not a desperate-salesperson sort of way. Keep your cover letters and queries short and to the point, and if guidelines are available, follow them exactly. Don’t compare your work to that of other authors (unless the guidelines specifically require this); I’ve seen letters for everything from short stories to novels in which writers compare themselves to famous writers (often misspelling these famous writers’ names, no less), and it’s no surprise that there is, in fact, no comparison whatsoever. For a literary magazine submission, don’t describe the story, essay, or poem — let it speak for itself; your cover letter need only contain a bio, contact information, and whatever the guidelines may ask for. For an agent query, follow guidelines exactly (this usually means a one-page query with a little about the book and a little about you).

Don’t get ahead of yourself. Many writers include a copyright symbol with their work, or they include a dedication or acknowledgments page with a manuscript — unfortunately, including these things at such an early stage reveals a lack of awareness about publishing and may get in the way of your getting a fair read. If you’ve been writing and think you’re ready to submit but don’t know anything about publishing (whether you’re submitting to literary magazines or agents), take the time to learn before submitting — it will save you a lot of time, energy, and rejection. (For example, you’ll learn that your work is automatically copyrighted as soon as you write it; there is no need to register it or do anything else — and you’ll also learn that you submit a dedication and acknowledgments to your editor only after you’re under contract, with the final version of your manuscript.)

Less is more. Simplicity is key here — again, it’s the writing that is important; let it speak for itself. The less you include with your submission, the more quickly the reader will get to your writing, and this is exactly what you want.

 

November 1, 2012   2 Comments

Think like a writer every day, even if you can’t write every day…

A million thanks to Joanna Penn for hosting me this week on the brilliant The Creative Penn blog, where you’ll find my post “Think Like A Writer Every Day, Even If You Can’t Write Every Day.”

Best of all, Joanna’s wonderful readers have chimed in with fantastic tips and ideas for how to stay inspired and creative, even when you’re unable to sit in the chair and write — I so enjoyed hearing about so many different processes and learning a few new tips.

For those of you not yet familiar with The Creative Penn, do check it out — you’ll find a wealth of information on writing, publishing, and marketing. In addition to Joanna’s own expertise as a writer, her website features guest posts and interviews with other authors on everything from finding time to write to editing and revising to how best to publish your work.

October 23, 2012   No Comments

How important is your book’s cover?

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a book cover’s got to be worth at least forty to a hundred times that, if it’s going to sell what’s inside.

According to Para Publishing, “everyone judges a book by its cover,” and their statistics cite a Wall St. Journal study that reveals that bookstore browsers spend eight seconds looking at the front cover and fifteen seconds looking at the back. Yet the trick is usually getting readers interested enough to pick up the book in the first place.

As many of you know, Forgetting English was reissued last year with a gorgeous new cover.

What most of you don’t know is that I was madly in love with another cover image before falling in love with this one. That first cover was exotic and mysterious and beautiful, in a way completely different from the one above. But we ran into a permissions issue and had to let it go.

Naturally, I thought I’d never fall in love again. My kind and patient publisher, Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53, assured me that I would.

And I did. Now, I can’t imagine my book having a cover other than the one above.

Below is the first edition of Forgetting English, the cover of which went through several dramatic makeovers (different type styles, different colors, different layouts, with the Gauguin painting the only thing that didn’t change) before turning out like this.

While I’m partial to my new book cover, I’ll always have a fondness for this one — my ex-book, if you will. Going through this process not once but twice was interesting; I think authors (not to mention readers) react to a cover much the way they do to people they meet: There’s an instant connection, or there’s not. A good publisher and book designer understands that and looks for an image conveys what’s beneath the cover as best it possibly can.

Check out this book design case study, featuring Erika Dreifus’s wonderful book, Quiet Americans, which takes us through the steps a book designer goes through in preparing not only a cover but the interior design.

Most authors, unless they publish with a small press, don’t have a say in what their book covers look like (or, they attempt to have a say and are ignored or overruled). For my first book, while the Gauguin painting featured on the cover is one of my favorites, its South Pacific feel evokes only one story in the collection, and I didn’t feel it was a good fit. While I’d already sent along a few cover ideas and even several images, someone had already secured permission to use the art, and there was no room for debate.

When my book was reissued, I was thrilled to work closely with Kevin at Press 53 to find a cover that we both thought was perfect for the book. He understands, as good editors, agents, and publishers to, that while the publisher knows how to best market its books (and is footing the bill for book design, no less),  the author also has a valuable contribution to make — and an author who loves his or her book cover will be all the happier to promote it.

For more insights on authors and their book covers, check out this piece in The Awl featuring six writers on book covers and marketing; it’s fascinating to hear from authors who either love or hate their covers, who were consulted or not, and how they approach the strange process of getting blurbs.

When all is said and done, when it comes to our book covers, we authors have to be flexible. If our books are our “children,” as the comparison often goes, we have to let go just as parents do: Parents, after all, never know exactly how their kids are going to turn out. And they love them all the same.

October 3, 2012   No Comments

Ask Midge: How do you know when a story is finished?

Q: How do you know when a story, or even a novel, is truly finished?

A: This is, of course, among the most challenging questions to answer because writing (and being finished with a piece) is such a uniquely personal thing. I was talking with an artist friend recently about this: She said that it must be difficult to be a writer because you actually have to finish a story or book, whereas she can always go back and rework a painting. I pointed out that writers, too, rework things a zillion times — and that even once something is “finished,” i.e., published, we often still feel as though we’d like to rewrite it. (At least, I do…and I’m sure I’m not the only one! I talked a little about this in a recent interview with Brenda Miller, c0-author (with Holly Hughes) of The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.)

In short, whatever type of artist we may be, we probably all feel that we’re never quite done. Yet eventually paintings get sold, and stories and poems and novels get published — at that point, we have to let go. But how do we know we’re ready to send the work out into the world in the first place?

Here are a few tips (and while I use the word “story” below, the tips, of course, apply to anything from poems to essays to novels):

  • First, ask yourself a few important questions: Does this story reveal what I planned to say? Are the characters well developed and portrayed? Do I offer a sense of setting and detail that not only enhance but complete the piece? Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?
  • Next, give the project some space. You’ll need to step back and come back to your story fresh in order to see what it really needs, if anything; when we’ve been working hard on a piece, it’s impossible to get the necessary distance to know whether it’s working or not. Try a week or two; see if you’re able to look at it objectively and determine what needs fine-tuning or even complete reworking. If that’s not enough time, let it sit for a month or more. This is one step that is important not to rush.
  • Find a trusted reader. Most writers aren’t able to see their own work completely objectively — while we may be able to take it far, we all need at least one (or several) outside opinions to make sure we’re on the right track. Find one or two trusted people to read and respond to your story, answering the following questions: What have you gained/learned from reading this? What are your favorite parts of it? What, if anything, isn’t working for you? What do you feel is the point of this piece? Would you recommend it to others? Basically, you want to discover whether the reader has figured out what you’d hoped to say with your piece — as well as enjoyed the journey.
  • Send it out and gauge reactions. Once you feel it’s ready to go, send it out into the world! If you’ve finished your novel, send queries to a few agents; if you’ve finished a short story, send it to a few literary magazine editors. You’ll either get personal, detailed responses, or you may get form rejections that don’t tell you much. Keep in mind that a pile of form rejections can mean a lot of things: It can mean that your piece simply wasn’t the right fit for these particular agents or editors, or it could mean that it still needs some work. If the form rejections continue to pile up without any positive feedback at all, move on to the next step, which is…
  • Return to the beginning. Re-read the piece again after even more time and space and see what it might need. Be as objective if you can (and, if you have gotten some feedback, see whether it resonates with you and whether you might want to incorporate these suggestions). Then, after you’ve done another appraisal of the piece, find another reader to give you an objective opinion.

Clearly you could repeat this cycle endlessly, and no one wants to do that. At some point you will have to decide on one of the following:

1) The story is finished, and it’s publishable, and you’ll keep sending it out until it finds a home.

2) The story is finished, and it’s not publishable, and you’ll let it rest in peace.

3) The story is finished, it’s not publishable as is, and you’ll take it apart, recycle was is salvageable, and begin again.

In the end — and most important — you must ask yourself this key question: Am I proud of this? The one (and only) reader you must satisfy unconditionally is yourself. Not everyone will like what you write, but if you love it, then that’s something you can live with…and it’s the only opinion that counts.

September 5, 2012   4 Comments