Citizen Author: Determined, Motivated, Fed-Up Authors: Unite
Literary success is being democratized as it never has been before.
By Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry
Dec 20, 2010
Yes, Virginia, we’ve entered a new digital age in publishing. But there’s another major change afoot.
America was founded by a scrappy bunch of determined, motivated, fed-up citizen soldiers who revolted against an unjust system that benefited the few at the expense of the many. Like them, a new 21st-century group of brave outsiders has decided to revolt against the often unfair elitism of modern publishing. We call them Citizen Authors.
Sure, some of these brave new Citizen Authors are Harvard graduates with megaspeaking careers and fancy titles. But most Citizen Authors aren’t college professors, graduates of M.F.A. programs, or even relatives of someone in the publishing industry. Instead, they are veterinarians, entrepreneurs, schoolteachers, bartenders, soccer moms, firefighters, goth teenagers, and foodies determined to write their way to success.
Citizen Authors have two things in common: (1) a dream of having a book published, and published well, and (2) the will to make it happen by whatever means necessary. Some Citizen Authors self-publish, some e-publish, some partner with small, medium, and megapublishers, and some do all of the above. There’s Seth Godin, who uses his creativity to package, market, and publicize his books in unique and savvy ways that embrace a grassroots methodology. There’s Robert St. John, who depends on his local following to successfully publish and produce gorgeous illustrated books that defy all publishing conventions about the coffee-table book market. There are Patricia Konjoian and Gina Gallagher, mothers with a passion to help other mothers despite no “expertise” in their topic.
What’s perhaps most exciting about Citizen Authors is that some of them have been able to say a big “I told you so!” to Manhattan publishing after having been rejected, mocked, and/or dismissed by that clique’s elitism, solipsism, and/or lack of creative vision. These include people like Zetta Elliott, J.A. Konrath, and Lisa Genova. Zetta wrote about race in a way that didn’t fit into the credo of the mostly white world of publishing, but fit perfectly into libraries all over the country that catered to children of every color; J.A. (aka Joe) took his rejected thrillers and turned them into e-books that his fans—and his pocketbook—couldn’t get enough of; Lisa wrote about Alzheimer’s, one of the many subjects “people don’t want to read about”—a favorite catchphrase of agents and publishers alike.
The irony is, when Citizen Authors prove how valuable they are, all the big guns in the book business come running, throwing money. Even more ironic is that these Citizen Authors saw the marketplace in a clear-eyed, smart way that “big publishing” wouldn’t or couldn’t.
With the plethora of new ways to connect with readers, and with the fantastic formats and platforms that are now available to writers, literary success is being democratized as it never has been before. And yet the same four principles apply to these Citizen Authors as to those who have been published successfully for decades. They do their research; they network their buns off; they write, write and write some more; and they persevere. They also take an entrepreneurial approach to their projects. They get professional help when necessary. They hire excellent editors, top-drawer publicists, and social media gurus. They even buy books about how to get successfully published!
Yes, it remains difficult for writers to achieve any kind of monetization. And successful Citizen Authors know that a good publisher—the right publisher for their book—can offer many services and opportunities that would be tough to manage while working solo. (For example, anyone who has published a book with Workman, as we have, would be an idiot to say that publishers no longer have value!) But most Citizen Authors haven’t been given the chance to work with a top-notch publisher.
So, valiant writer, when you hear the nabobs of negativity spouting doom and gloom, do not despair. In the age of the Citizen Author, any writer with a dream in her heart, grease in her elbows, fire in her belly, generosity in her soul, thickness in her hide, funny in her bones, brains in her head, and a little help from friends and experts, can now be published—and even published successfully.
Workman published Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully last month.
After a month of sleep deprivation, self-medication, and caffeine saturation, you wrote your 50,000-word novel. Now what? Do yourself a favor, before you rush to send that novel out, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and come up with a strategic plan for getting your book successfully published. Because one of us is a writer, and the other is a literary agent, we thought we’d shed some light on this planning stage from both perspectives. Then we’ll give you 10 simple things you can do to increase your chances of success before you send your manuscript out into the cold cruel world.
DAVID, THE WRITER:
Before I shacked up with a literary agent, I had absolutely no idea of the sheer insurmountable massiveness of the Matterhorn Mountain of manuscripts that every agent faces every day. No matter how fast they reject manuscripts, they just keep coming. I always thought that agents would be excited to get my manuscript, would cherish the prospect of being able to get rich from it. But now that I’ve been living with an agent for over a decade, I realize what a fool I truly was. The great agents can barely service the clients they have. Even the bad agents have too many clients. If an agent is already established, they’re not hungry. If the agent is young and ravenous, they may not have the contacts necessary to lure the elusive golden ticket of a publishing contract.
Before I lived with an agent, I used to finish a piece of writing and send it everywhere. The problem, I now realize, was that I kept sending out a faulty product. One that hadn’t been road tested. That wasn’t finished. It’s as if I invited a guest over to my house for some delicious cake, and I only baked it for 40 minutes instead of an hour. All the ingredients would be there, but my guest would be forced to eat something all sloppy, gloppy, drippy and nasty. I’d say for every hundred manuscripts that arrive at our door every week, a good 85% of them are half-baked.
Now that I myself counsel so many writers trying to get published, I realize that many of them think, as I did, that an agent or publisher will help fix their manuscript. With the ever-shrinking publishing business in such turmoil, agents and editors must be absolutely passionate about a book. Or believe in their heart that it will make lots and lots and lots of money. Hopefully both. But because they have so many books to choose from, it only makes sense that they would be most attracted to the cakes that are beautifully baked and frosted. The ones that need no fixing.
ARIELLE, THE AGENT:
While it’s never overtly stated, agents and editors are trained to say “No”. You’re trained to look for reasons to turn a project down. To think of every objection anyone might possibly have. Uncover every reason a book might fail. In fact, because I have so little time as an agent, if a manuscript is just good or if it’s at all sloppy or if the writer doesn’t appear professional, the manuscript will go right in the trash.
But when a writer has done her research and perfected her craft, agents get excited. They can sniff a professional often in the very first paragraph of a query letter. And when they do, the thrill of the potential sale ping pongs through their bodies.
I love helping writers. I love working with writers. But it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, often for very little reward. One of my great frustrations as an agent is that some of the very best books I’ve ever worked on never got published. It breaks my heart! That’s why agents are so very picky. And that’s why you have to anticipate every reason why an agent might say “no” before they can.
Now that you’ve heard both perspectives, here’s our top 10 list of things to do before sending your manuscript out. These tips are writer and agent friendly!
1) READERS & CRITIQUERS. Like a fine bottle of newly opened wine, let your manuscript breathe. While it’s breathing, get people to read it. You absolutely cannot be objective about your own work. Almost everyone thinks that their baby is the cutest, smartest, and most talented. For this reason, don’t depend on your family and/or people who love you as your readers. Look to your NaNoWriMo cohorts. Writer’s groups and workshops. Readers and writers on any of the gazillion websites where they congregate, like Goodreads, RedRoom, and Open Salon. Offer to read other writers’ work in exchange for them reading yours. Yes, of course, take all comments with several grains of salt. But if everyone says your ending sucks, there’s a very good chance that it does.
2) MOUNTING A PLATFORM. Nowadays, publishers don’t just want you to have a following, they expect it. How many eyeballs can you bring to the table? Relentlessly connect with your audience. For example, Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, a novel about Alzheimer’s she originally self-published, hooked up with a major Alzheimer’s website. After much dedicated hard work, Lisa became a keynote speaker at a big annual Alzheimer’s convention. This led to the New York Times bestseller list, which led to a seven-figure two-book deal.
3) IDENTIFYING COMPETITION. Know your marketplace. Frequent your local bookstore. Live in the section where your book will land. Read everything. Befriend booksellers and pick their brains for comparable titles. Assemble a deep and elaborate comp list (this is industry lingo for comparative titles). When you go to an editor or agent, and they ask you about a book similar to yours, you better know that book, and know how yours is different. You also want to compare your book to others that have been successful in the marketplace.
4) FINDING BUYERS. Pinpoint books similar but not exactly like yours. Scour the acknowledgments. See if the agent and/or editor is named. Research these people. Find out everything you can about them. What other books do they represent or edit? Where did they go to high school, college, grad school? Are they horse people, cat people, Jane Austen people? All this will help you find the right buyer for your book when you go to sell it.
5) A PITCH-PERFECT PITCH. 1 minute or less. 1 page. 150 words. That’s all you get for a pitch. Read tons of flap copy of other books in your section of the bookstore. Use your comp titles to develop a 5-second elevator pitch, which will usually either end or begin your pitch. For example, we call our book the What to Expect When You are Expecting…of publishing. In other words, our book, like What To Expect promises to be a one stop shopping guide for everything you’ll need to know about the subject. It may seem cheesy and/or ridiculous, but this shorthand “sales handle” gives agents and editors a quick and easy way to understand and describe exactly what your book is. A pitch is like a poem. Every syllable counts.
6) MASTERFUL QUERY. 1 page. 3 paragraphs. The first paragraph establishes your connection with whomever you’re trying to hook with your book. The second is your pitch, condensed to one paragraph. The third is your bio, again shrink-wrapped so that it’s one short paragraph. This letter needs to establish who you are. If you’re writing a humor book, this letter better be funny. If you’re writing romance, there better be some sizzle. If you’re writing suspense, there better be a great cliffhanger somewhere in sight. Read your query out loud before you send it. Again, get others to read it. Sadly, this one page has a lot to do with your chances of getting successfully published.
7) GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. A great editor can make your book so much better. Our editor improved our book approximately 15,000 times. She kept challenging us to be more precise, to surgically remove unnecessary words, to say things with more clarity and concision. She could, in the words of editor/agent/author Betsy Lerner, see the forest for the trees. If you have the dinero, investing in your book early on in the process may save you time and money in the long run. If you don’t have a lot of spare change, you can ask a local bookseller to just read—not edit—your manuscript for a fee.
Originally posted at The Office of Letters and Light
“Writers now have breathtaking new ways of connecting with and getting their work directly into the hands of readers. And they no longer have to rely on a small group of publishing experts in order to get published. Because there is no barrier to to publishing”, write publishing experts and Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry in their comprehensive and idea packed book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully. The authors set out a blueprint for creating an idea, developing a book on the topic, getting that book published, and delivering it to readers worldwide.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry understand the challenges of writing a book and in getting the final manuscript published and marketed well. The authors point to the importance of passion as one of the most critical elements necessary for publishing success. Without the passion for the book’s idea, a would be author might not have the drive needed to carry the book through to completion and for the marketing effort. Along with the important aspect of being passionate about the book’s subject matter, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry share their four principles of successful publishing:
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (both in photo left) recognize the dramatic and systemic changes that have altered the publishing landscape. As a result, their advice doesn’t cover just traditional book publishing. The authors also share techniques for self publishing a book, and for utilizing the alternate book formats including ebooks, audio books, and even for publishing online. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry offer step by step advice for every facet of the book publishing process, and also include the crucial but often overlooked areas of copyright, contacts, payment, and legal protection. Along with the valuable tips on taking care of business, the book also contains the always vital area of book marketing. While a book may be great, and convey the passion and knowledge of the author, without a marketing plan even the best book will fail to find an audience. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry provide marketing concepts that include both conventional and unconventional channels to promote and sell more copies of the finished product.
For me, the power of the book is how Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry remove the mystery from book publishing, and present a complete handbook for achieving success as an author, from start to finish. The authors leave no stone unturned, and make it clear to the would be author that writing a bestselling book is possible, but requires much work on the part of the writer. Because of the effort involved in writing, contracting, and marketing a book, the authors emphasize that the author must be passionate about the subject or plot of the book. Anything less, and the book is likely to not do as well in any facet of the process.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry present two very important and useful sections on the business of book publishing and on marketing the book through traditional and guerrilla methods. These two critical topics are not always included in books on publishing, making this book even more essential for the serious author. An added bonus feature provided by the authors are the many author resources in the appendix. Overall, the book is a treasure trove of information that will benefit any aspiring or experienced author.
I highly recommend the essential and very practical book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, to anyone seeking a one stop advice book for becoming a successful author. The wealth of information contained in this wonderful book makes it a must for any novice or long time author.
Read the valuable and information filled book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, and discover the insider secrets to becoming the successful published author of your dreams. From idea to sale, this is the book to unleash the bestselling author within you.
Calling all NaNoWriMo Authors! Is your elevator pitch polished? Is it ready to tumble off your lips in an enthusiastic, one-minute explosive description of the next best seller?
If not, then get it ready! For on January 6, 2011, at 7 p.m. “Pitchapalooza!” is coming to Naperville!
Laura Goldberg contacted me from Workman Publishing, excited to discuss this book and the event.
“The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It and Market It … Successfully!”
The authors, book agent Arielle Eckstut and author/book doctor David Henry Sterry are the hosts of Pitchapalooza! Which will be held at Anderson’s Bookshops, 123 W Jefferson Ave. in Naperville, IL.
Laura’s description of the event: “Pitchapalooza!” concept is like “American Idol” for books… Anyone with an idea for a book has the chance to pitch it to a panel of judges consisting of the authors plus guest industry insiders and/or local authors. Each “contestant” gets only one minute. The judges critique everything from idea to style to marketplace potential and more. Authors come away with concrete advice on how to improve their pitch…. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, the judges come together to pick a winner. The winner receives a personal introduction from Ecksut and Sterry to a literary agent who would be appropriate for their book idea.”
Laura, this sounds fantastic! Can anyone walk in and toss their pitch at you? Is there a fee? “It’s a free event and everyone can throw their hat in the ring for a potential pitch, but 20 will be selected from a random draw.”
“If you win at one of these events, it is a leg up on getting published — with, in this case, an introduction to a literary agent. (But) There isn’t a guarantee of a book deal.”
Laura Points out that “Eckstut and Sterry demystify every step of the publishing process, such as how to:
* Come up with a search-engine-friendly, blockbuster title
* Create a selling proposal
* Find the right agent
The book includes interviews with…
* Seth Godin, Neil Gaiman, Amy Bloom, Margaret Atwood, Larry Kirshbaum, and Leonard Lopate
* Plus agents, publicists, editors, booksellers, web wizards, and social networking gurus
* Sample proposals, query letters, and a feature-rich website and community for authors.”
You can follow The Book Doctors on Twitter.
Good luck at, “Pitchapalooza!” Hosted at Anderson’s Bookshops
“A must-have for every aspiring writer.” —Khaled Hosseini, New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner
“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near-six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. . . . This little tome is the quiet secret of rock-star authors.” —Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
Anderson’s Bookshops on Facebook
Excerpt of Chapter 2
See you there!
Monday, December 13, 2010
Do You Need Permission?
I work with a number of first-time authors who ask me about whether they need to gather permissions for their work. While I am not a lawyer (the first thing that I remind them), in most cases they do not need to get permission. Now if it is a poem or a song, then it is likely they do need permission because of how those forms are treated in the marketplace. If they are quoting a few sentences from a full-length book and refer to the source, it is unlikely that they need to get permission from the publisher.
Recently I read Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s new book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! This book is loaded with sound advice on many areas of the publishing process–including permissions. As they write on page 212, “Don’t start getting permissions too soon, because you don’t want to waste your time or money. However, since it often takes a while to track down a pesky permission–and all permissions should be handed in with your finished manuscript–we suggest the following process:
“1. Break your permissions into three piles. Definites, Maybes, Unlikelies. Track down all sourcing and contact information for the Definites as early as possible. Get prices and any necessary forms. This will help you guesstimate total costs and figure out how much you’ll have left over for the Maybes and Unlikelies.”
“2. Don’t pay for a thing until you’re sure what’s going in your book. This way, you won’t wind up spending money on a Definite that turns out to be an Unlikely.”
Then Eckstut and Sterry include a length section about what needs permission. This discussion is tied to the over 30 pages from The Chicago Manual of Style on the topic of fair use (a legal term related to the amount of material you can use from a source without asking permission. Here’s the critical sentences on page 213, “It’s okay for us to quote 122 words from The Chicago Manual because that’s a tiny percentage of its total word count (the book could double as a doorstop). However, if you took 122 words out of a 200-word poem, you must get permission to reprint it–unless, of course, it’s in the public domain. And don’t forget, composers’ and poets’ estates are notorious for going after people who abuse copyright law.”
Also Eckstut and Sterry include a fascinating story called The Pangs of Permissions: Acquiring permissions requires the patience of Job and the persistence of a pit bull. When she began writing A Thousand years over a Hot Stove, a book with more than 100 photographs and illustrations, Laura Schenone was ill-prepared for the amount of work permissions required. Not to mention the pounding her pocketbook took in the process.”
“Laura was presented with an unexpected challenge. Many of the people she was dealing with would sell her rights only for the first printing of her book. ‘My editor told me this would be 7,500 copies,’ she says. ‘When I bought the permissions, I wanted to up this number to 10,000 to 15,000 copies to be sure I was covered. But sometimes the fees as much as doubled.'”
“Laura’s story illustrates the importance of understanding permission costs before signing a deal or developing a project. That said, Laura couldn’t be happier that she wrote her book permissions and all. A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove went on to win a James Beard Award, the Pulitzer Prize of food writing.”
Eckstut and Sterry include a sample permission form in an appendices (page 448). I’ve only shown one little area this book covers many other topics with great depth and valuable insight. I recommend this book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published–and in the process of writing this entry, hopefully I’ve shown you a little bit about the permission process.
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December 10, 2010
For Would-Be Authors, a Chance at a Happy Ending
By AILEEN JACOBSON
SUZANNE WELLS, a slight woman with a careworn face, looked a little shaky as she walked up to the podium and faced a table where four judges sat. To her left was an audience of more than 200 people, ready to listen to her bid to become a published author.
Glancing at her notes, Ms. Wells launched into a description of her life, which started in affluence and comfort and devolved into heroin addiction and poverty, including an excruciating evening “when I took my children to a housing shelter.”
That was one of the more dramatic moments of “Pitchapalooza!” an event at the Book Revue here during which would-be authors pitched book ideas to a panel of publishing experts. All the presenters got advice from the panelists; the winner was to receive an introduction to an agent.
Though only 25 people were chosen at random to make their pitches, 187 had signed up for the opportunity at the Dec. 2 event, which was part of a cross-country promotional tour by David Henry Sterry and his wife, Arielle Eckstut, the authors of “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It and Market It … Successfully!” The crowd in Huntington was the largest yet, they said.
“Who knew how many people on Long Island are looking to write a book?” said Mr. Sterry, of Montclair, N.J., who has written 12 of them. “There were so many different kinds of stories,” said Ms. Eckstut, a literary agent and writer, who said she had signed 97 copies of the book.
Each person who bought one was to receive a free telephone consultation with the authors, whose new book is a substantially revised version of “Putting Your Passion Into Print,” which they published in 2005. Both the number of books sold and the size of the crowd were unusually high for authors who aren’t celebrities, said Julianne Wernersbach, the Book Revue publicist who organized the event.
Each writer making a pitch was limited to one minute — timed and sometimes stopped mid-sentence — followed by comments from the authors and two other panelists, James Levine, founder of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, where Ms. Eckstut works, and Mauro DiPreta, associate publisher of It Books, a HarperCollins imprint, who lives in Port Washington.
“You choked me up,” said Ms. Eckstut after hearing the emotion-packed pitch by Ms. Wells, a former Fortune 500 company executive who is now a yoga teacher and mother of three living in the home where she grew up, in Fort Salonga.
Ms. Wells, who won the competition, said later that she had already written much of her memoir, called, “One Wing — The Book.”
On a decidedly lighter note, Amber Jones, a hotel concierge who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, delivered her idea for “New York, Phew York,” a scratch-and-sniff book for children, in rhyming couplets: “Smells of bagels and lox and stuffed garbage trucks;/because summer to winter these smells are in flux.”
Ms. Jones’s pitch was a close runner-up, Ms. Eckstut said, as was a proposal by Gerald M. Rosen of Lido Beach, who laid out his story of running a marathon in every state, even though he was 51 when he started training.
Melinda Ehrlich of East Norwich had the room in stitches when she started her presentation with a joke about a Jewish boy who tells his mother he’s going to marry a girl named Running Deer and has changed his own name to Sitting Bull. “I’ve taken on a new name, too,” the mother says. “Sitting Shiva.”
Mr. Levine said her book of humorous vignettes about sitting shiva and attending wakes would be “highly promotable on talk radio,” but cautioned that it might be tricky to get people to buy it as a gift.
T. J. Dassau, 18, of Huntington Station stood at the side of a family friend, Janet Murphy, as she explained that Mr. Dassau, who is autistic, had written a set of illustrated stories for children, “The Epic Adventures of Rampion.” The book, she said, looks at the world from the perspective of a tiny imp. “I love this idea,” said Mr. Sterry, who advised Mr. Dassau to start gathering a following by getting some of the stories published on Web sites and building liaisons with autism-related organizations.
Some would-be authors were gently encouraged to consider self-publishing, but no one got negative feedback. “We try to inspire people,” Mr. Sterry said. “We don’t want to step on people’s dreams — and you don’t know what will sell.”
Click here for article.
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published offers authors advice on how to write, sell and market their books successfully.
I really enjoyed this book. The information is offered a in concise and entertaining manner, which not only makes it easy to read, but fun as well. This material could be pedantic and heavy, but it really comes across as interesting and light-hearted in the hands of these authors. Even though I don’t plan to write or publish a book, I found the information fascinating. I’ll never really know how hard authors work, but after going through this book, I have a better idea. They have my upmost respect.
While the book is geared towards helping authors, it contains lots of information regarding the writing and publishing process that others (for example, book lovers) may find interesting. It covers topics such as: submitting the book, self-publishing, working with contracts, touring, selling your book and much, much more. There’s also several appendices with invaluable information for the author, including a list of selected publishers and contact names.
The book was first published in 2005, but this recent edition includes a new chapter on social networking sites and all things online. There’s tons of information for authors as well as others who use those online sites.
For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the Workman Publishing website.
Would you like a peek inside? There are a couple of chapters online: Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.
For more information about the authors and other cool stuff, please visit Eckstut and Sterry’s website.