Lucienne Diver, Holly Root, Nathan Bransford, Caren Johnson, Kim Whalen, Jim McCarthy, Heather Osborn, Chris Keeslar, and Deb Werksman were some of the industry professionals on hand at RWA Nationals in San Francisco.
RWA Nationals is always a prime opportunity to learn more about the business of publishing, including things you didn’t know you didn’t know. In pursuit of knowledge and understanding, I scheduled a round of interviews with agents and editors. During our appointments, we discussed a range of topics from publicity, how many books an author should expect to write a year, the definition of voice, and what authors should do for themselves prior to publication. I’ll tackle a few of the answers in this article. More will come in articles over the coming months.
When asked what defines “fresh new voice”, how authors can know they have it, and if it’s taken into consideration before an offer for representation or a sale is made, there were answers like “it’s something you know when you see it.” Some didn’t stop there.
Deb Werksman with Sourcebooks says that for her it isn’t so much a matter of voice as it is having a story with a relatable heroine, a hero she can fall in love with, a completely and well built world (even if it isn’t paranormal), and a great hook (those 2-3 sentences that sell your story.
Holly Root says voice is the number one attraction. It gives the reader an instant sense of knowing the people in the story and their world. Holly’s caution to writers is to be careful not to lose that something special in the fine-tuning and polishing of the story.
Nathan Bransford, Heather Osborn, and Caren Johnson had similar viewpoints on voice. For them, voice is the telling of a story in a way that it hasn’t been told before, or in a way that no one else can tell it. Caren said voice is “something that makes you sit up and say ‘that’s how it should have been done, they finally got it right’”.
Chris Keeslar followed it up with the advice that authors play to their strengths, doing what no one else is and that you do well.
Another current ‘hot topic’ on chat loops seems to revolve around websites. Should a pre-published author have one? Do agents and editors use them? What should go on one? Most everyone I spoke with was of the same mind. Websites are not necessary. However, if there is a website, and an industry professional goes to check it out, they want to see contest finals or wins and small excerpts from your story, and by small they seemed to think in lines of less than a chapter. Websites are also a good place to chronicle your journey to publication, track your work, and list contests you’re entering. If you’re going to do one, keep it professional.
Kim Whalen says that prior to publication, in regards to her decision making process, websites make no difference. They can be built after a book is sold.
So, unless you have a remarkable platform that pertains to what you’re writing, or maintaining a website is easy for you, feel free to focus your pre-publication efforts on your writing, which leads me to the question that had my interviewees really thinking.
What is one question you don’t get asked that you wish you did?
First up to swing at this question was Nathan Bransford, and he hardly hesitated before answering. “What can people do to learn more about the business?” Now, I couldn’t let him hand me that question without asking him to answer it. His answer was to hit the internet, check out blogging agents and editors, Publishers Marketplace, the Association of Author’s Representatives, AgentQuery.com, Absolute Write, Writers Beware, and utilize RWA tools.
Nathan’s answer is simple in concept, though time consuming if not managed carefully. He suggests using Google Reader to make managing the blogs easier, but his advice was given with a caveat: Don’t lose sight of why you’re writing and don’t lose the focus on telling a great story.
Chris Keeslar gave similar advice in regards to staying focused on the writing. He says too many writers don’t consider what they should focus on as an author. In expansion, he suggests that authors spend more time working out who they are and what they’re writing for.
One potential way of defining what you’re writing toward is to face the debate of whether or not you should have a marketing plan, or a career plan, before selling. This was another question that everyone seemed to agree on.
Marketing plans are generally worked out with an editor once a book is sold, as editors and agents are truly the people who know the shifting market, but don’t discount the importance of considering a plan. Career plans are a little different as they focus on your career rather than a specific book, so they are definitely worth considering.
~ “An early [marketing] plan shows that an author has put thought into their audience and their hook.” Lucienne Diver
~ “A career plan is better as it can show goals, ideas, and possible strategies on how and where you want to go.” Holly Root
~ “Marketing plans can be overwhelming when authors should be thinking about their book and writing a great story.” Jim McCarthy
~ “A career plan. Things to consider in a career plan are how many books a year you can write without suffering quality, what genre/sub-genre, how fast you can work, and what lifestyle do you want to have from your writing.” Deb Werksman
~ “For fiction, it can reveal an author’s excitement and willingness to promote themselves and their books.” Nathan Bransford
Talking with these industry professionals gave me an insight into the publishing business, but more importantly it gave me an insight into agents and editors as people. They are in this business with the goal of finding fantastic stories that demand they sit up and notice. Do yourself the favor of holding out for an agent or editor who is passionate about your story. They will be your first, and most important, fans.
Chris Keeslar is a senior editor with Dorchester. www.dorchesterpub.com
Deb Werksman is an editor with Sourcebooks. www.sourcebooks.com
Heather Osborn is an editor with TOR. www.tor-forge.com
Caren Johnson is an agent with the Caren Johnson Literary Agency. www.carenjohnson.com
Holly Root is an agent with The Waxman Agency. www.waxmanagency.com
Jim McCarthy is an agent with Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. www.dystel.com
Kim Whalen is an agent with Trident Media Group. www.tridentmediagroup.comLucienne Diver is an agent with The Knight Agency. www.knightagency.net
Nathan Bransford is an agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. www.nathanbransford.blogspot.com
Nikki’s a member of RWA, North Texas RWA, Dallas Area Romance Authors, and is a RWA PRO. She is currently working on her fifth manuscript. Nikki’s a contributor to the RWA PROspects Newsletter and her articles have been published in thirty RWA Chapter newsletters and list serves. While seeking publication, Nikki continues creating the stories living vividly in her imagination and studying the publishing industry. More on Nikki can be found by visiting www.nikkiduncan.com.