August 30, 2011

It's 3am. Do you know where your email is?

I just realized my last-straw-moment of submitting to agents. And since it's 3am, I thought it might be a humorous time to write about it.

My last writers' conferences was this past February. At a conference like this, you generally have several hundred writers and a handful of agents. The agents range in experience from those who've just begun their careers to those with twenty or thirty years of experience - some of whom used to be editors at Big Publishing Houses and decided they wanted in on the ground floor of publication for whatever reason.

Agents have, for some time, seen themselves as Gatekeepers to Publication. In most cases, they still do. For years, I had nothing against this idea, as daunting as it was to be a writer who wanted nothing more than to be an author (if a writer is someone who writes and an author is someone who gets paid to write). If that was how the game was played, I was determined to play by the rules.

Assume there are 300 writers-who-want-to-be-authors at a conference. Most of them have written a manuscript that they believe to be worthy of publication. At this conference, there are 10-12 agents. Agents are the most sought-after item in attendance, with a ratio of around 30:1 in their favor. The main attraction at a conference is the 10 minute appointment to "pitch" to one of these agents - which is pretty much what it sounds like: the would-be author talks about his/her manuscript with the agent, and hopes that something said during this 10 minutes causes that agent to want to read a few pages of the manuscript.

At a conference, there are also sessions presided over by all sorts of publication people/experts - agents, other writers, e-pub specialists, etc. As you might imagine, the agent sessions are packed.

The conference I attended in February had a YA Agent Panel session - three agents sitting behind a table facing a room full of hopeful writers. There was a lot of information given; I even wrote some of it down. But somewhere during this talk, there was something said by one of the agents (actual agent experience ranging from a few months to six years) that I couldn't quite get past.

They gave us their lists of "pet peeves when dealing with writers." Yes, much of it was condescending: Don't address the email to someone else (duh?). Don't write us back a week after you query, furious because we haven't responded yet and demanding to know what we thought of your brilliant idea (duh?). I watched other writers scribbling down every word they were saying, ah la Moses and the burning bush handing out commandments, and that bothered me a bit.

But here's the one that got me: "Don't send us an email at 3am, because that's just a weird time for anyone to be emailing, and it makes us wonder about you."

Huh?

Okay, wait. We're not talking about calling someone at 3am... we're talking about emailing. The glory of emailing has always been that you can send it whenever... and your recipient can reply to it whenever. For those of us who hate talking on the phone, email is like a gift from heaven.

They were speaking to writers. Writers are artists. We sometimes have bills that need to be paid, which means we have jobs outside of working on our manuscripts. I had a job at a radiology call center not long ago, and my hours were 6pm-2am. I was always a little wired when I got off, especially if it had been a particularly traumatic or stressful night. So a 3am email from me wouldn't be nuts.

Point: Jobs can happen any time. Free time to write and email can happen at any time.

Unless, apparently, you're emailing an agent in NYC who has a vast year of agenting experience.

We were told not only not to send emails at 3am... we were told to send them "between 10am and 3pm, Tuesday through Thursday." I kept waiting for one of them to say, "J/K! Gotcha!" or something, but no.

When I pitched Between the Lines, it was to one of those panelists. She seemed interested and asked me to send pages of the manuscript (at conferences, you're much more likely to be asked to send pages than you are when querying agents, btw). After sending, I waited six weeks or so and then followed up with a polite, non-furious email (within her above time/day parameters) to see if she'd had a chance to read over the pages I'd sent.

She sent a very nice "this project is not for me" rejection within two days. Here's something I think she would be shocked to know: I was relieved when I got her answer. Against all common sense, by that point, I wanted her to say no.

That night, I told my husband, "Okay baby, let's do this thing," and he began programming BTL for Kindle that weekend.

(In case you're curious, I send emails and write posts and update my Facebook and work on my book whenever the hell I want to. Yes. Even at 3am, if I am so inclined.)

August 17, 2011

For What It's Worth

I appreciate every book blogger/reviewer who's taken the time to read and review my novel. The bloggers who helped me jump-start sales waaaaaay back in May are particularly dear to my heart. They were going on nothing but instinct as readers, and were willing to take the chance to read an indie-published book and give it an honest review. (And yes, the words "honest review" are words that make most authors quake, at least a little bit, if they have any sense!)

Karen of For What It's Worth was one of my early requests, and she is a busy, busy lady. She's also the blogger I had been following for quite some time as a reader. I've discovered many books through her that I'd have never found, or never tried. To me, that's the essence of a reviewer. There are so many books out there, and most of us don't have time to read them all! A trusted book reviewer can be your best reading friend, and to be trusted, they're going to have to review honestly.

So when Karen said yes, I did a happy dance for a few minutes... and then I sat down hard and thought Ohmygosh, Karen is going to read and review my book. It wasn't just that her many followers would know her opinion of it, it's that I would know her opinion of it.

I'm doing another happy dance this morning, and the reason is so simple that my marketing team* thinks I'm crazy. Karen liked it. That's pretty much what I care about right now.

Review of Between the Lines on For What It's Worth.

*That would be Paul -- but you already knew that, right?

August 6, 2011

Art for Art's Sake

Tuesday, I sat at my local Starbucks with my oldest son, who heads back to LA on Monday to film his first feature length film. It's extremely indie -- his pay will be his flight out there and back and food/housing while filming (the latter is likely to be someone's sofa), but he's excited enough over the opportunity that you'd think they were providing a bungalow at Chateau Marmont and a stipend to match. He's standing at the precipice of a career he's dreamed of for years.

Zach tagged along for my meeting with a photographer who'll be doing the cover for my third book. As much as I love the first two covers, they weren't custom made, and I don't own any rights to them. So I'm hiring Brandon Lyon to do a cover photo for book three that will be all mine. Brandon attended HS with Zach, and I've been watching him get better and better as a photographer for the last year or two, doing headshots and moving into fashion photography. I'm really freaking excited to have him do this.

We're three different types of artists, but we realized as we talked how alike we felt about some things, given how diverse our lives and aspirations are. We discussed how important it is to keep working towards your goals, how imperative it is to never give up. Your dream may need to be reshaped, and it may take unanticipated turns, and that's okay. It's great, in fact. We don't always know what we're capable of, after all, until we get out there and try. But if you give up, you lose the chance to do something you love and get paid to do it.

And speaking of pay, no, I'm not making a fortune on Between the Lines. I can't yet quit my job (which makes keeping up with my writing schedule really challenging at times!). I'm driving a very, very paid off car, and a high electric bill can still throw my budget off kilter (oh hi, August bill that bitchslapped me right into next month). I'm choosing to reinvest what I'm making on book one to make future books better. Hence, Brandon and the professional book cover. My dream deserves my support, after all.

Someday, I'll be a full-time writer. Brandon and I will hire professional models and stylists for the covers. Zach will call to make sure I got the tickets to his awards show. And maybe we'll all get coffee again one day, and talk about how cute and poor and full of dreams we were way back when. I'm good with that. I'm so good with that.

Now, I must disassemble my living room, then texturize and paint the wallboard* that Zach and my daughter's boyfriend picked up at Home Depot earlier this week. Brandon will be using it as the backdrop to the photos he's taking. This may be the closest I come to doing art for art's sake! Luckily, the wallboard is supposed to be a wall. So there's only so much "art" (of the painting variety) involved.

* Wallboard (aka sheet rock) is incredibly heavy, btw. When they carried it in, bitching about how much it weighed, I made the mistake of sounding, um, less than sympathetic. I mean come on, guys -- look at the muscles on you two! Then Zach said, "It's called sheet rock, not sheet air." This is the sort of thing that makes me snort soda through my nose.

August 1, 2011

Three Months Today!

Amazon lists my publication date as April 29, which is weird because we uploaded the thing around noon on April 30. And then it didn't have a photo or a description for a day or so. (Oddly enough, getting sales without a book cover or description of the book is kind of difficult.) The first time someone bought my book was May 1. So today is the three-month anniversary of my first official book sale.

It's also the first day in my life that I've ever received actual payment for something I wrote.

(I'm sorry, Mrs. Kluck, but I'm not counting that $25 I won for the forced entry into the VFW "Why I'm Proud to be an American" citywide essay contest, which you masqueraded as a graded assignment in 7th grade History. Because of the cash, I would have forgiven you immediately, had I not been required to come to the podium and read the entire thing aloud in front of a few hundred people.)

I've learned a lot on this first leg of the journey. For instance, having a Facebook page has been great, but Twitter is confusing. (Both can be distracting and time-sucking - not good for someone who sits at a computer to work.) I've discovered that I love interacting with book bloggers and readers, and with other authors, as long as this latter interaction is all about emotional support and the exchange of what-works-and-what-doesn't ideas.

Three months ago, I couldn't call myself an author. I definitely still have a problem with doing so, because somewhere in my head sits the traditional mindset - that going through an agent and a publishing house is the only way to "be" an author. A few years ago, this was true. Now, it isn't. It's called a marketplace. Readers will buy what looks interesting to them, and what looks worth the price charged. I'm happy that they're learning to hit the "sample" button on their Kindles before buying. I'm happy that they backcheck reviews to make sure they're legit. I honestly don't want anyone to buy my book who'll dislike it.

Everyone is different, so every writer is going to feel like a "real author" at a different point in the game. For some, it's the moment they put words to paper or screen. For others, it has to do with representation or a certain number of sales. It might even have to do with a certain dollar amount of income - maybe even that point where the writer can write full-time and make a living doing so.

Personally, I'm just waiting for the moment when it all feels real.

I'm getting there.