Tuesday, July 10, 2012

5 Tips and Tidbits from the Book Publishing Today Panel

by Jacqueline Fauni

We had a fantastic time at The Junction's first book publishing panel, which was moderated by the lovely Colette Sartor, and featured one of our own members, Panio Gianopoulos, co-founder of Palindrome Media and Backlit Fiction, as well as literary agents Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, Jennifer Rofe of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, BJ Robbins of the BJ Robbins Literary Agency, and Wendy Rohm of the Rohm Agency. For those of you who missed out, here are some of the insightful tips and tidbits we picked up from the panel:

1. First and foremost, you must finish your manuscript. Sure, it's standard practice for most agencies to require only a sample chapter when you query and then (if you hit that sweet spot of luck, talent, and preparedness) to request a partial, but before you send off that query letter, make sure you have a complete manuscript to back it up! And while most agents will work with you in an editorial capacity, you should do everything in your power to whip your manuscript into the best shape it can be before you approach them. Get feedback from people you trust to give you honest, constructive criticism (no, your pets don't count, no matter how remarkably intelligent they are), and rewrite, rewrite, and -- this is key -- rewrite until you're confident and ready to submit. That being said, you still need to be open to feedback from the agents you're contacting. Of course, getting any feedback at all is promising!

2. Do your research. Your goal is to find an agent who will be your greatest advocate. Don't know where to begin? Almost everything you need to know to write the best query letter to your dream agent will most likely be found on his or her agency's website. Read up on the submissions guidelines for each of your prospective agencies, and look into which agents might be the best fit for you and your story. Here's a nifty tip from Panio that can get you started on pinpointing those agents: Pick up one of your favorite books, or a book that's related to yours, and check the acknowledgments for the author's agent, who will (hopefully) be thanked in there. Keep doing this with more books and you can start to get a sense of which agents tend to have long-term and particularly fruitful relationships with their authors. Then go ahead and Google them!

3. Be proactive in building your platform. So often we hear about how authors can't solely depend on their publishing houses to promote their books. Nowadays, it's not enough to just write the next great American novel -- you have to market it yourself! What is the publishing world coming to?! However, if we stop being such Debbie Downers about it, we'd see the fountain of fun and potential in this reality. In an age where social media is the norm, connecting with an audience has become a real time phenomenon -- one that is more direct and can feel more personal. Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Figment, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. have made it possible for authors to find themselves just a click/tweet/wall post away from their readers. And today, according to the ever-reliable source of my own experience, most consumers will do their research before buying your book. Get yourself social media and SEO savvy so the first results they come across are what you want them to find about you and your book -- like your official website or fan page featuring sterling reviews, rather than mortifying videos of you doing God-knows-what seven years ago.

4. Amazon is your biggest frenemy. Amazon's got lovers and haters, and some that are on the fence, but there's one undeniable truth -- everybody knows about it. Whether you're a proud Prime member and see Amazon users' book reviews as a go-to resource, or refuse to buy any books from Amazon because they're responsible for putting a lot of bookstores out of business and you're disgusted by news of them taking over with all their acquisitions and new imprints, you have to (at least reluctantly) acknowledge that Amazon is a formidable contender in the book market. There are two things that mainly account for Amazon's tremendous success: (1) it's cheap, and (2) it's convenient -- two things that top the list of priorities for most consumers. What does this mean for authors? The success of your listing on Amazon can make or break your sales. And on another note, with Kindle Direct Publishing, self-publishing has become more accessible to both first-time and seasoned authors, but of course, any success from it is relative. In any case, Amazon can be an author's best friend or worst nightmare (or both).

5. Miracles happen in publishing, too. For those of you who marvel at how Fifty Shades of Grey ever became mainstream, let alone optioned by Universal, you may be enlightened to know that such publishing phenomena have occurred in the past (e.g. The Bridges of Madison County -- according to one of our panelists who I will leave unnamed in case there are any die-hard Bridges-of-Madison-County fans out there that may want his blood), with no other conceivable explanation than that it just happened. Seeing these distasteful things that shouldn't even be called novels at the top of the bestseller list can be frustrating, but for those of us who see these strange occurrences as miracles rather than blasphemies, it can be a pretty encouraging sign. We know the chances of making it big in the publishing world are rather slim, and we can be depressed by the winding, fickle road of publishing trends and how it's paved with downtrodden books that never see the light of day, but here's another way to look at it: If magic can happen for that book, who says it can't happen for my incredibly awesome, life-changing, out-of-this-world, beyond-the-scope-of-anybody-else's-imagination novel?

And with those humble (and arguably self-delusional) thoughts, I will leave you. Many thanks to our wonderful panelists, moderator, and attendees for making it such a fun night!

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