Winner of my Bradford Lit book giveaway!

Thank you so much to everyone who stopped by to help me celebrate signing with Laura Bradford! I really, really appreciate all of your support and lovely comments.

The winner of her choice of books represented by the Bradford Literary Agency is…Caryn Caldwell!

Congrats, Caryn! Browse the books listed on the Agency Bookshelf and the Our Authors page and let me know which one you’d like, and in what format (print, Kindle, Nook – depending on availability, obviously). As long as the book is available for under $15, it’s yours!

Here are just a few of your choices:

Bradford Lit books

Everyone, this week you can win a $10 gift certificate for you AND for a contemporary romance author who has a book coming out in November. Check out my post on Contemporaries to Covet for details.

I have an agent!

I’ve wanted to write a blog post with that headline for a loooong time.

Even better, my new agent (*squee!*) is someone who was on my A-list, someone I consider myself very lucky to have as a representative.

Ready for it? My new agent is…Laura Bradford of the Bradford Agency.

*faints*

Laura Bradford

Aside from the pure joy I felt at hearing Laura talk about why she wanted to represent my work, there’s an unexpected bonus here: no more filling in spreadsheets of whom I’ve queried and submitted my manuscripts to, no more using QueryTracker and obsessing about response times and when to follow up.

Hallelujah!

And here’s how it happened…
Continue reading “I have an agent!”

Questions to ask yourself before entering a romance writing contest

The first year I started writing romance, I entered shed-loads of writing contests. The next year, I was more selective and had learned that not all writing contests are equal.

This weekend I spent some time looking through dozens of romance writing contests that have their deadlines over the next few months, and I found myself judging the contests themselves based on several criteria.

For those of you thinking about entering romance writing contests, my best advice would be this: First decide what you want out of the contest.

That will help you select the best contests for you.

Winner's Circle
The place to be

Here are some of the criteria I use to decide which contests to enter. I’ll also mention a couple of contests that I think are good examples of meeting these criteria, but please note that that doesn’t mean that I have personal experience of or endorse those particular contests. Also, some of these contest deadlines have passed for 2012, but you may want to know about them for the future.

You can find a really helpful list of upcoming romance writing contests on Stephie Smith’s website.

Continue reading “Questions to ask yourself before entering a romance writing contest”

Why does an agent have to love your novel before they can sell it?

(Warning: long post ahoy! Get yourself some chamomile and find a comfy chair. I hope you’ll stick with me till the end, even if it’s because you think I’m full of dookie.)

Broken heartThere are all kinds of rejections in the writing world, but for writers the most frustrating may be: “I just didn’t love it enough.”

Especially when it’s followed by the phrase: “This is a subjective business, and I’m sure someone else will love it.”

There are a few reasons these are frustrating things to hear. First, publishing isn’t really a subjective business. Sure, groundbreaking books can be discovered by an agent or editor’s instinct, or a gut feeling. But a wealth of hard data available in the publishing industry helps professionals assess a book’s chances of being successful.

Second, and much more importantly, “I just didn’t love it” is frustrating because I don’t know how to fix that. Writers improve their stories by receiving feedback from readers—whether those readers are also editors, agents, writers, or someone who just loves to read. If someone can’t tell me why they didn’t love my story, then I don’t know what to change or how to improve it.

But writers have to be fair to agents. I’ve seen many comments online where writers complain that agents won’t give them feedback. Personally, as frustrating as I know those rejections are, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these writers would think an agent owes it to them—and to the thousand other people they reject in a month—to give personal feedback.

Every business has its frustrations, and in the writing business one of the biggies is unexplained rejection.

I’ve also seen several posts lately where agents talk about only taking on projects they love, and writers challenge them. The commenters’ position seems to be: “Agents are basically salespeople, and good salespeople should be able to sell anything, no matter how they feel about it.”

In any business where people from different disciplines have to work together to bring a product to market, it’s vital that everyone takes time to think about difficult issues from other perspectives. I’m not an agent; I don’t have an agent; and I’ve never talked to an agent about this subject. Excuse me if I’m being naïve, but I’d like to defend agents here.

So why does an agent have to love your novel before they can sell it?

1. Because they’re more likely to be successful if they’re selling something they love.

Like/ Dislike stampsBottom line: agents want projects they can sell. This is their career, and that’s what puts food on the table.

A good agent will work her or his ass off to sell their clients’ books. That includes putting in effort to make it more likely to sell; for example, by giving editorial advice to an author.

Any salesperson who says feeling passionate about a product makes no difference is full of it. Writers, have you ever tried to pitch a novel you felt *meh* about? Have you tried to fake enthusiasm for one of your projects? How did it go?

2. Because why shouldn’t they only choose projects they love, if they have the choice?

Let me shift the focus away from agents and onto myself for a second. For five years now, I’ve worked in digital marketing for non-profits. The nitty-gritty of my job can sometimes amount to a big ball of annoyance, as anyone who spends all day working with websites, social media and large organizations can understand.

But at the end of my day, I absolutely love what I do, not because I’m passionate about the internet (though I usually am), but because I’m passionate about the charities I work for.

At this point in my career, I’m lucky that I can choose who I ply my trade for. Could I conceivably do the same thing for a corporation? Sure. Why not? But if I have the choice of getting paid to do something I’m passionate about versus doing something just for the money, passion wins.

If an agent is successful enough that they can choose the projects they want to represent, why the hell shouldn’t they?

3. Because “salesperson” is only one of the hats they wear.

Editor, career advisor, therapist, negotiator…and if they own their own agency, then all of the skills that come with being a small business owner and manager, too.

A good agent will spend a lot of time dealing with each book, and if they’re not passionate about it in the beginning, then how likely will it be that they grow to loathe it by the time they finish dealing with it?

4. Because books are not refrigerators.

Agent Jenny Bent has a great post on her blog where she has a conversation with author Mike Wells about what it means to love a book you’re selling, and why it’s important. Here’s Mike Wells’ original post: What literary agents could learn from the Girl Scouts.

In her post, Jenny says:

I’m not selling a refrigerator, after all. If I’m selling refrigerators, I don’t have to love them: they’re pretty impersonal—I can judge them on objective criteria. And pretty much everyone needs to buy a refrigerator at some point. Everyone likes them. And with girl scout cookies, you don’t have to like them to know there’s a huge market. But the only way I can even guess if other people will like a novel is if I like it too. It’s completely subjective. Unless, of course, there has been market research in the shape of self-publishing.

There are lots of interesting things to pull out here, but for me the difference between a refrigerator and a novel isn’t one of objectivity vs. subjectivity. It’s one of necessity vs luxury.

It would be difficult for most of us to live without a refrigerator anymore. Refrigerator design might change a bit, but if your fridge dies then you’re going to bite the bullet and do your best to buy a new one.

Paper heart
http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1342891

Let’s face it: unless you stick it under a broken table leg, a novel is not a practical item. Passionate readers consider them a necessity, but our food won’t spoil without them. What agents are selling to publishers is a luxury item.

Jenny mentions having to guess what other people want to read. In other words, readers are not just the end of the publishing process—they’re the beginning. Their desires are what agents and editors are trying to fulfill (since that’s how the industry makes money), and if an agent doesn’t love a story how can they convince an editor that enough readers will want to buy it?

5. Because it’s a myth that a good salesperson can sell anything.

Like I said earlier, this seems to be the basis for many writers’ frustrations. “I don’t care if you love my work, I just want you to sell it.”

Sure, lots of salespeople have to sell things they’re not passionate about and end up having to fake enthusiasm over and over.

But I think there’s a pervasive myth that a good salesperson could “sell ice to the Eskimos” and other crappy clichés.

Anyone who’s seen The Apprentice will know that people who say things like “Everything I touch turns to sold” end up looking like twits.

So what can writers do about it?

Keep your passion.

Simple, right?

I don’t know about you, but by the time I query an agent, I’ve probably read my novel a dozen times from start to finish. It can be tough to keep the love alive. So do whatever you have to do to reignite your love for your story—whether that’s by starting a different book, or taking a break, or sending it off to a trusted reader for feedback.

Above all else, remember that you are the first person who has to sell the book. And if you don’t love it, why should an agent?

What do you think? If you’re a writer, does this kind of rejection frustrate you? How do you deal with it? How do you keep your own passion for your work alive, and show your passion when you’re trying to sell your work to agents and editors?

Becoming pitch perfect

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up to take part in Savvy Authors‘ Pitch Practice Week (seriously, if you’re not a savvy author already, go join now! So many fantastic resources and opportunities).

We were invited over to Pitch University, a site dedicated to helping authors learn how to pitch. The amazing Diane Holmes, founder of Pitch University, chose six of us to make examples out of – in the most pleasant way possible.

I learned loads from Diane, and hope this post showing the different steps we went through together will help you get over any fears you have. (And, if you make it to the end, I’ll show you my practice pitch video.)

I’ve never pitched anything before. The only pitches I’d ever seen were on The Apprentice and, let’s face it, pitches like this one are more likely to fill me with fear of crashing and burning. (Aside: isn’t it great how the guys in this video assume the wife should do the cleaning, and create a product so she’ll have time and energy left over to pleasure her husband? Lovely.)

These are the steps I went through with Diane.

1. Figure out the expectations you ‘re setting with your query or pitch.

For me, it was easier to start with my query because I had no idea what a successful pitch looked like (hint: Diane has loads of pitch videos on her site, so I’ll link to them later in this post).

Diane made a fantastic point that your query can be beautifully written, but if it doesn’t match the story then you’ve just hooked an agent or editor on something that doesn’t exist.

She read my query and made notes about what she expected the characters to be like and what she thought happened. You can read my query and her expectations here. Then you can read my responses where I realize that some of the expectations I set don’t fit my story.

I can’t tell you how useful this was, and I’ve never seen anyone else suggest it before. My advice to you: do this with someone who doesn’t know your story at all.

2. Correct the wrong expectations you’ve set and figure out where to focus your pitch/query.

Through working with Diane (you can read our back-and-forth conversation about my story) I was able to see which parts of the story I should emphasize more.

3. Write your pitch.

Diane gives some very helpful guidance on writing a pitch. You can also find her series on Pitching 101 on the right-hand side of that page. There’s too much advice for me to replicate it here, but go read it.

4. Watch yourself pitch.

This can be really awful. When I took a public speaking class in college, the professor videoed every one of our speeches and made us watch them. Excruciating. But also pretty useful for forcing you to see what kinds of strange mannerisms you have when you’re nervous, and hear the places where you need to put more oomph into your voice.

Here are some great pitch videos from other Savvy Authors.

You can record your own video directly onto YouTube – you don’t have to show it to anyone. Just get used to the sound of yourself pitching, and make note of where you should trim your sentences because they’re difficult to say out loud.

Okay, moment of truth. I’m sharing my pitch practice video with you. It’s way too long – I’ll never remember all those words when I’m pitching for real. So I still have work to do. But at least now I’m more confident I can deliver.

A few words of warning before you hit play: My mic sucks, and so does my voice. This is what I sound like with a stuffy nose and a sore throat (which is why you’ll see me grimace and swallow hard whenever I try to put more enthusiasm into my voice). The main thing going through my head was “Whatever you do, DON’T sneeze on the camera!” By the end, my throat was killing me.

So yeah, pity me.

BONUS! Helpful info from super-agent Sara Megibow!

Sara Megibow hosted an #askagent session on Twitter the other day, and I asked her what some of her favorite follow-up questions are if someone’s hooked her in a pitch – because you don’t want to nail your pitch and then fluff the rest of the meeting.

She said, “I like to ask, ‘have you queried this?’ ‘Do you have a website?’ ‘What’s your vision for your career?’ I also ask, ‘what other authors in your genre do you love?’ ‘Do you know any of them personally?’

Hope that’s helpful to all of you heading to RWA Nationals next week! I’ll see you there!

Have you ever pitched before? What kind of experience did you have? What follow-up questions did the agent or editor ask?