I always enjoy presenting at the Southern California Writers’ Conference in San Diego, in part because it’s a great excuse to travel south from Seattle in February (it was not only sunny but in the 70s!) — and also because it’s an exhilarating, exhausting-in-a-good-way weekend. Even better, I get to see old friends and meet amazing writers.
Among the friends at this year’s SCWC were Clare Meeker, who presented on creating commissioned stories (she’s in San Diego all week promoting her book Charge Ahead, commissioned by KPBS public television in San Diego as part of a national “Raising Readers” grant to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from the U.S. Department of Education). Among the gems of Clare’s presentation were reminders that a writer always needs to be thinking outside the box, and not to take no for an answer: an editor who once told Clare that they only used in-house writers later published two of Clare’s books.
During the banquet I got to catch up with Judy Reeves, whose A Writer’s Book of Days will be reissued this fall; keep an eye out for that, even if you already have a copy — the new edition will have all new prompts and literary quotes. I also had the pleasure of sitting with Tammy Greenwood, whose new novel, The Hungry Season, was published in January. She gave an inspiring keynote that evening, as well as a great session the next morning on creating substantive characters.
I always enjoy the agent/editor panel, and this year, I felt a bit more optimism about publishing in the air. The panel talked about book promotion, making a few important points, among them: Writing and selling a book is half the process, while promotion is the other half; there’s less and less money available for in-house publicity, so this job is falling more and more to authors; authors must be creative with marketing and/or save some of their advance dollars to put toward hiring a publicist.
They also talked about e-formats, and none had any violent thoughts on the subject, which indicates that the non-retail part of industry is becoming more accepting. One editor noted that the e-formats do not affect print runs at her publishing company — they do the same print run they’d do with or without e-books, and adding e-formats only increases readership beyond what they’d be seeing with traditional paper books.
In response to a question from the audience, the panel addressed self-publishing, noting that they don’t normally take on self-published books (the average sales for a self-published book is about 100 copies), but that their interest is piqued whenever a self-published book sells 2,500 copies or more.
And of course, members of the panel talked about their pet peeves — and I always think this is worth noting in detail. The list seems to be the same year after year, but apparently this is because writers are making the same mistakes year after year. So take note: among the most common submission mistakes to avoid are…
– approaching an agent or editor the way he/she does not want to be approached (calling when guidelines specify email contact only, for example)
– sending material the agent doesn’t represent or the editor doesn’t publish
– sending work that has not been edited or proofread
– sending work that is too long (noted one agent: “Anything over 100,000 words is a red flag — it’s hard to sell anything over 90,000 words”)
– sending emails to multiple agents at the same time
– misspelled words in a query letter (including — and especially — misspelling the word query)
– telling agents or editors that they’re going to “miss out” or that the book is “a guaranteed bestseller”
– writing, “here is my fictional novel”
– forsaking professional writing when using email – queries should still be written professionally
Overall, the conference was informative and also inspiring. One of the best things about this conference is that because it’s in February, it’s still early enough to make good on the new year’s writing resolutions. So now, back to work…