We met up with our dear friend Grant Faulkner, executive director of National Novel Writing Month, at BookCon. Grant talks about fostering the right creative mindset, building a writing community, and his writing advice.
Filmed at BookCon 2019.
WHAT WE COVER
0:15 What is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)?
2:14 NaNoWriMo success stories & NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winners
3:43 Opening up the publishing gates: NaNoWriMo crashes through the gatekeepers and encourages everyone to embrace their identity as a writer.
5:58 Writing advice: writing is about persistence and practice, not natural talent.
6:42 What is the editing process after NaNoWriMo?
10:30 Why should writers connect with other writers?
12:49 Should writers be envious of other writers?
13:10 Grant shares his advice for writers.
Author Wayétu Moore on Publishing | When Art & Commerce Meet
Author Brad Parks on Journalism, Literary Agents, and Publishing Award-Winning Thrillers
Joshua Mohr on Writing and How to Publish a Book
NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel. Find out more at http://nanowrimo.org
As a boy, Grant spent his allowance on all sorts of pens and paper, so there was never much question that he would become a writer. He received his B.A. from Grinnell College in English and his M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He’s also the co-founder of the journal 100 Word Story.
He has published short stories in dozens of lit mags and placed essays on creativity in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. He recently published a collection of one hundred 100-word stories, Fissures, two of which are included in The Best Small Fictions 2016. His book of essays on creativity, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Prompts to Boost Your Creative Mojo, is out from Chronicle Books.
SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel for tips on how to successfully publish your book.
Our book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, takes you through the entire process of conceiving, writing, selling, marketing and promoting your book.
Wayétu Moore, author of SHE WOULD BE KING and founder of the nonprofit One Moore Book, shares the publication journey for her debut novel and reflects on art, writing craft, commerce, and more.
Filmed at Succeed2gether’s Montclair Literary Festival 2019.
WHAT WE COVER
0:35 Writing a draft of SHE WOULD BE KING and exploring identity as an African in America and as an African-American
2:19 Pressures writers put on themselves, writing craft, and not resenting your art
3:26 Writing discipline and respecting your art
4:01 Publishing industry trends
4:23 Wayétu Moore’s next novel is about mermaids
5:32 Publishing SHE WOULD BE KING
6:00 Meeting literary agents at conferences
7:06 Editing a manuscript with a literary agent and making a book as strong as possible
7:54 “If you’re writing for yourself, keep a journal, but if you do commit to writing for others and being mindful and considerate to the sensibilities of others, then you do need to be conscious of what readers would be in to, how they would process your work. . .”
8:23 Shopping a manuscript to publishers, dealing with rejections, and the reality of when art meets commerce
9:14 Publishing SHE WOULD BE KING through Graywolf and the benefits of being with an indie press
12:00 Cover design and avoiding cliches designers use for African, Islamic, and Indian narratives
15:04 The meeting of art and commerce as well as time and capacity in Big Five publishing
15:59 Versify, an imprint by Kwame Alexander, and One Moore Book, a nonprofit serving children who rarely see themselves in print
Author Brad Parks on Journalism, Literary Agents, and Publishing Award-Winning Thrillers
Versify: an Imprint from Kwame Alexander
Joshua Mohr on Writing and How to Publish a Book
Wayétu Moore is the author of She Would Be King, released by Graywolf Press in September, 2018. Her memoir is also forthcoming with Graywolf.
Moore is the founder of One Moore Book. One Moore Book is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that encourages reading among children of countries with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures by publishing culturally relevant books that speak to their truths, and by creating bookstores and reading corners that serve their communities. Her first bookstore opened in Monrovia, Liberia in 2015.
Her writing can be found in The Paris Review, Frieze Magazine, Guernica, The Atlantic Magazine and other publications. She has been featured in The Economist Magazine, NPR, NBC, BET and ABC, among others, for her work in advocacy for diversity in children’s literature.
She’s a graduate of Howard University and the University of Southern California, and is currently a Margaret Mead Fellow at Columbia University Teachers College, where she’s researching the impact of culturally relevant curriculum and learning aids in elementary classrooms of underrepresented groups. Moore is an Africana Studies lecturer at City University of New York’s John Jay College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel for tips on how to successfully publish your book.
Our book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, takes you through the entire process of conceiving, writing, selling, marketing and promoting your book.
We sat down with award-winning thriller author Brad Parks at Succeed2gether’s Montclair Literary Festival. We picked his brain about how being a journalist influenced his fiction writing, the mistakes he made on the path to publication, and how he found the right literary agent and set himself on the road to publishing success.
Watch the video or read the transcript below.
David: Hello. We’re the Book Doctors.
Brad: I’m not a Book Doctor.
D: No. We’re talking to Brad Parks, who just told us that he has all his own teeth, and I think that’s important as a writer. Not that you can’t be a writer if you’re missing teeth. . .
B: No. It’s not necessary to the writing process. I’ve never tried to type with my teeth, but it’s good to know I could if I wanted.
How Being a Journalist Helps Brad Parks Write Novels
D: We were just talking about journalism, and you were a journalist first. I always tell people when they’re young and out of school that it’s a great way to learn how to be a writer because you’ve got to pump out the words in a small space.
Arielle: And on a deadline.
Finding a Story
D: Will you talk about how that helped you?
B: How did it not help me? For starters, I was a sports writer starting out, and in modern day sports, everybody knows the score already, like they’ve seen the stats, and so you’re going to the ballpark every day and it’s find a story, tell a story. Find a story, tell a story. That’s a great muscle.
And then there’s the discipline. You don’t say, “I don’t feel like making a deadline today. I’m not inspired.”
D: The muse hasn’t struck.
B: We were just talking off-camera–not that they would know–about my young days as a reporter for The Star-Ledger. I’d just gotten hired at the paper and our Yankees beat writer left, so suddenly they threw me onto the Yankees beat in a temporary situation. So big pressure.
The sports editor sat me down and explained that sometimes they would hold an entire edition of the newspaper waiting on the Yankees score. And you have to hit the button as soon as the game ends. He said for every minute the trucks and presses are waiting, it costs $15,000. “And what do you make a year, young man?” That’s a deadline, my friends.
D: We always say, “What are the stakes in the story?” The stakes are high.
B: The stakes are very high. And you can’t sit there going, “Is that really the word? I’m just, I’m not sure that has the right shading.” No, you’re just jamming it out.
Debut Novel Writing Mistakes
A: Before you sold your first novel and you were writing it, did you set your own deadlines?
B: No. So before I sold my first novel, I did everything wrong.
Lack of Discipline
I am the poster child for writing discipline because I would make excuses for myself, like I had this full-time job that involved writing and so I would do the worst thing you can possibly do, which is I would write really dedicated for a month or two and then something would happen, news would break at work or something would happen in the family, and two months later I’d be coming back to this going, “Wait, what? Aunt Ellie? Who the hell is Aunt Ellie? What was I doing with her?”
And then a beautiful thing happened. I sold a novel and signed a contract. Now I’m a journalist so deadlines are meaningful to me. I signed this contract in July that said the second book in the contract was due in January, and it was like, “Whoa!”
A: And you hadn’t written it?
B: I had not written a word.
We were offered a two-book contract and my agent was like, “Oh, you have a second book, right?”
And I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Of course I do. I just want to polish it a little bit.”
How Brad Got His Discipline Back
So I did a thing where I’m a nerd and I did a spreadsheet, and I figured a thousand words a day, that’s a newspaper article plus a little padding, and I can do that. What a difference it makes when it’s a thousand words every day and you’re into the story. I always say it maximizes your bottle-washing time. I call it bottle-washing time because we had small kids at the time so I was washing a lot of bottles. While you’re doing this monotonous thing, your brain is always churning on the story and you’re just staying in touch with it. So even now, I’m a thousand-words-a-day writer. That is my thing. That is my jam. That’s my discipline.
D: There’s some one, one of those old writers, Somerset Maugham or somebody, who would write 500 words in the morning when he woke up, and no matter where he was in the sentence at the 500th word, he’d put the pen down and say, “Time for a martini! That’s a good day’s work done.” You crank out 500 or a thousand words every single day, you’re going to have a book very quickly.
B: If you do a thousand words a day, you’re going to have a draft three months later.
And, of course, that Somerset Maugham reminds me of my favorite Somerset Maugham quote, which is: “There are three things that make a great novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”
A: We have that quote in our book, actually. It’s a wonderful quote. We want to always know the publishing breakthrough side of your story because we are here to help people get published successfully. We’ve already heard something you didn’t do right.
D: And something you did do right.
Debut Publishing Mistakes
A: So in terms of the “I got my novel published,” what was something that really got you to that point that you think you did well?
The Wrong Agent
B: How much camera film do you have there? I’m gonna break the cloud if I’m talking about everything I did wrong. I did everything wrong, absolutely everything, because I did it like a newspaper reporter. I figured out I need to get an agent, and what I did was I said, “Who do I know?” “Who do I know” is not the way to go about it. I have become an evangelist for the query process and for actually doing it correctly because “who do I know” is not necessarily going to lead you to the right agent.
It led me to a woman who was very wonderful and very smart, I can say nothing bad about her, except she wasn’t truly a mystery/thriller agent. So when she would walk into those publishing houses and be pitching those editors, they were like “who is this lady?” because she didn’t have anybody else in the genre. That kind of led me to a spot where I wasn’t being taken as seriously.
A: Did you sell a novel with her?
B: I sold a novel with her. But did I sell it well, Arielle?
Before you publish, you think, “If I could just be published, that’s the mountaintop. There it is.” And then you realize it’s the base camp, and there’s this whole other thing you have to climb. I mean, it took a number of years for me to undo the mistakes I made early on in my career.
D: We always tell people to research when you try to find an agent because if you’re a mystery writer you don’t want to get a romance agent or a nonfiction agent.
B: That is very, very true. The wrong agent is worse than no agent.
D: It kind of is in a way.
B: That’s very true.
Making a Weak First Impression
A: Also it can be very hard to sell a second book if the first book doesn’t do as well as everybody had hoped.
B: I always say that you only get one chance to make a first impression in this business, and your debut novel is like this capital that you get to spend once. And everybody is going to be looking at the new kid in town. They’re going to be looking at Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. And suddenly, Reese Witherspoon likes it. And by the way, Reese, you would love my books. Let’s talk.
You have that one time you get to be that debut novelist that everybody’s going to be checking out. Man, hit that one time right and everything else is smooth.
A: You’re saying you didn’t; yet, you have had prolific–
B: Here I am.
D: You’re the only writer who won the three awards that nobody ever has. . .
B: That is true.
D: What are they?
B: They are the Seamus, Nero, and Lefty awards, which is a little bit like saying, you know, nobody’s ever skied down a ski slope in Florida while making French fries. It’s an odd miss of awards because the Seamus Award is for hard-boiled PI, and the Lefty Award is for humor, and the Nero Award is, like, books written in the tradition of Nero Wolfe.
D: That’s a cool thing. It’s kind of a weird Triple Crown.
A: I think nobody does it exactly right.
D: Stephen King.
B: No. Stephen King struggled at first. David Baldacci did it right. He sold his first book for a million dollars and the movie rights for two million dollars. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
A: Sometimes luck and doing it right come together. I mean, most people who are novelists aren’t even making a living at it. They are doing other full-time jobs.
B: Right. Making a living . . . (knocks) as I knock on this faux wood . . .
How Brad Found an Agent, Lost an Agent, Then Found the Right Agent
A: I’m going to take exception to you saying you didn’t do it right because you’ve done many things right. So at a certain point you said, this is not the right agent for me, and then what happened?
B: Oh boy, are you sure you have enough film footage? You know, so really, I had at that point launched a series, and it’s very hard to move a series as we all know, so we kind of formulated that, all right, you’re going to have to do a stand alone.
A: With the new agent?
B: With the new agent.
A Series of Rejections
So I have to do a stand alone with the new agent. I’m going to cut to the chase on this. I wrote one, threw it away. I wrote another, threw it away. I wrote another–
A: Wait, I have to interrupt you. When you say, “throw it away,” had you sent each of these to the agent?
A: And the agent said?
B: This is good but . . .
Then we got to the fourth one, the one I really thought was it, he fired me. He said, “Look, I can’t do this anymore. You know, he got to a point where he felt like . . . I’d made a bad storytelling choice, admittedly, and I think the weight of the previous three novels, he just felt like he couldn’t.
It was a wonderful and devastating thing to have happen, but it really made me go back and I actually did the query process right for the first time. I actually said, “Okay, really, truly who do I want? What am I looking for?” I talked with a number of agents. I spent five months looking for an agent, which by that point, as a guy with my track record, I could have called somebody and said, “Will you represent me?” They would have said yes. Done. But I really wanted to make sure I did it right.
Benefits of Having the Right Agent
I found a woman named Alice Martell, who really worked the book with me in a rigorous way. It’s like that one person who can force you to dig deeper and say, “Nope, that wasn’t good enough.” And like, “Right here, you need to step on the gas pedal for about a paragraph or two.” I do? What? You want more? Okay, there’s more there, I’m sure. Somewhere.
D: The funny thing is when the person is right, you always go back and say, “How did I not see that?”
B: It’s so funny. Publishing moves so fast sometimes editors don’t really have time to edit. This is where being an ex-newspaper guy is a bit of a curse. If you write clean copy, they kind of go, “Okay, well, that’s good enough.” Here was somebody finally in my life saying this is not good enough. We went back and forth for about another five months doing, I think, three more rounds of edits. She finally said, “Okay, it’s time.” Within a week, she had two major houses bidding against each other, and that novel, Say Nothing, has since sold in 15 countries. It was a best seller in Germany.
It’s a wonderful story but it only took about seven years to get to that point.
How Brad Dealt with Rejection
A: One last question. When you had the agent, how did you deal with that form of negative feedback around your work? Did you go into a hole? Did you say, “I’m going to come and kill you during the night?”
B: All of those things. Actually, the first book I was okay. The second book . . . I always say that the first time I ever saw my father cry was when his dad died. The first time my kids saw me cry was when that book died. The third one, I felt I dealt with it in a much more mature way. I snapped at my kids for no reason, stormed out of the house, went to the local grocery store, bought a box of cookies, and ate them in the car with tears streaming down my face. That’s how you’re supposed to deal with your feelings. (Laughter.)
D: That’s a wonderful image.
B: Man, we don’t talk about this enough as writers, but it’s grit. You’ve got to have grit.
I’m fortunate in that I have no other marketable skills so it’s not like I had anything to fall back on. But man, you’re going to get knocked down so much, and you got to get up off the mat and try a different way.
A: Many people would have given up after the first one. And this is the thing that we tell people all the time is the perseverance.
B: It is.
A: That’s a beautiful story. Thank you.
JOIN THE BOOK REPORT TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED!
International bestselling author Brad Parks is the only writer to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His novels have been translated into 15 languages and have won critical acclaim across the globe, including stars from every major pre-publication review outlet. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks is a former journalist with The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. He is now a full-time novelist living in Virginia with his wife and two school-aged children. Learn more at BradParksBooks.com.
The Montclair Literary Festival is a community-wide event that aims to exchange ideas, inspire future literary works and engage with different points of view. Working closely with the Montclair Public Library, Watchung Booksellers and a team of local volunteers, the festival will also generate lasting connections between arts institutions, the schools and the community, benefiting a broad cross-section of participants and attendees.
UPDATE: Congratulations to our 2019 winners!
The 2019 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winner is Polyglot by Devyn Fussman.
Fan Favorite goes to Solving for X by Bob Luckett.
You can watch NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza 2019 below.
Nano Nation Wrimos from all over the world graced us with our ninth straight pack of pulse-pounding pitches for NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza 2019! A lawyer who could melt your face with her mind, a teacher trying to make world peace using West Side Story, glittery ducks, a cat on a leash, a chameleon confessing, a homeless boy sleeping in his run-down car, Vincent van Gogh eating yellow paint, a serial arsonist, and a polyglot. As ever, we were jaw-dropped and gobsmacked by the vast volume and undeniable awesomeness of the writing that poured forth from Wrimos from this planet and we suspect, from several others… And yet, we were not in the least bit surprised. It was pure pleasure and privilege for the Book Doctors to breathe in the rare air of NaNo Nation. We can’t wait to do it again next year.
Now for the 411: The 20 pitches were selected randomly. You can watch the recording of NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza to hear our feedback. It’s our mission to try to help all you amazing writers not just get published, but get published successfully. That’s why we’ve told you what works, but also what needs to be improved.
But don’t let our opinion sway your vote. What story intrigues you? What pitch would prod you from the couch to the bookstore (or, if you’re really lazy, to buy it online)? The pitch that receives the most votes by 11:59 p.m. PDT on April 1, 2019 will be awarded the Fan Favorite, and the author will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250). We’ll announce the Fan Favorite on April 2, 2019.
But please note: YOU CAN ONLY VOTE ONCE! So please choose carefully. Don’t just read the first couple of pitches — read them all. You owe it to your fellow Wrimos. Encourage your friends, family and random strangers to vote for you via the link to the poll. Connecting with your future readers is a vital part of being a successfully published author today. And this is a great way to get some practice.
We will also be posting these pitches—a couple a day–on social media. We encourage anyone to like your entry but only poll votes from the webpage will count toward the Fan Favorite.
Finally, through April 2, 2019, we are still offering a free webinar (worth $75) to anyone who buys a copy of our book The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Just email a copy of your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be in touch to set up a webinar.
Write on, Wrimos!
NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza 2019 Voting
Click the writers' names to read their pitches. Then vote for your favorite.
- Solving for X by Bob Luckett (34%, 1,298 Votes)
- Revenge Prose by Beth Burnett (27%, 1,007 Votes)
- Hear Our Voices! by Michele LeNoir (22%, 826 Votes)
- The Fire Under the Mountain by Kirstie Ellen (5%, 196 Votes)
- East Side Story by Elizabeth Wilder (3%, 113 Votes)
- Untitled by Brianna Bolduc (2%, 69 Votes)
- Polyglot by Devyn Fussman (2%, 57 Votes)
- Amelia Raglan and the Haunted Barn by S. A. Sinclair (1%, 53 Votes)
- All the Yellow Suns by Malavika Kannan (1%, 53 Votes)
- Library Hell by Kristina Cooper (1%, 26 Votes)
- Girls Break Things by Amren Ortega (1%, 20 Votes)
- Meritocracy by Michael Sherrin (0%, 14 Votes)
- Love, Lust and Romance in the Age of #MeToo by Veronica Monet (0%, 14 Votes)
- Northern Souls by Georgiana Derwent (0%, 12 Votes)
- Confessions of a Chameleon by Becky Ances (0%, 10 Votes)
- More Than Meets the Eye by Tonya Preece (0%, 9 Votes)
- Love Boy by Margarita Maldonado (0%, 5 Votes)
- Untitled by SShea (0%, 2 Votes)
- Expect the Unexpected by Denisa Stefania Stoian (0%, 2 Votes)
- The Twilight Stone by Fiona Kehoe (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 3,788
Roxanna Elden is one of our favorite authors. We met her in a class at Miami Dade College where we were teaching. From the very first time she raised her hand and opened her mouth, we knew she was something special. One of the consistent things we’ve found in our years of teaching and doing Pitchapaloozas is that teachers make the best public speakers. Anybody who can wrangle a class full of kids and live to tell the tale is prepared for anything. With the publication of her debut novel, Adequate Yearly Progress, we thought we’d check in with Roxana and see what it was like to go from nonfiction to novel, from novice to fighting-sophomore-slump author, from wide-eyed debutante to grizzled veteran.
The Book Doctors: Congratulations on your debut novel. Tell us about Adequate Yearly Progress.
Roxanna Elden: Adequate Yearly Progress is a workplace novel that captures teaching with humor, insight, and heart. It switches perspectives among a diverse group of educators as their professional lives impact their personal lives and vice versa. As an elevator pitch, I often describe it as being, “like the TV show The Office, but set in an urban high school.”
TBD: Your first book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, was non-fiction. Is it different taking your experience as a teacher and writing fiction instead of nonfiction?
RE: I started writing See Me After Class during my sister’s first year as a teacher. The specific goal of that book was to help teachers make it through their first years with a mix of humor, honesty, and practical advice. As an unexpected side effect of trying to spread the word about the book, I ended up in situations I might not otherwise have seen as a classroom teacher: Silicon Valley ed-entrepreneur conferences, television panels, and schools around the country where I got to talk to thousands of fellow educators. During all this, I was still spending most of my time doing daily high school teacher things, like grading essays and watching students play with their phones underneath their desks. It felt like there had to be a way to capture this panoramic view of the education world, with all its colliding ideas and interest groups, and how all of this played out at the school level. A novel told from many different points of view turned out to be my best answer.
TBD: Tell us how you used the Miami Writers Institute to find an agent and start your publishing career.
RE: The idea for my first book hit me in 2005. This also happened to be the first year of the Miami Writers Institute, which brings well-known authors and publishing industry people to Miami. The first class I ever took was The Book Doctors’ course on the process of getting a book published. That class provided a roadmap through the whole process of finding an agent and publisher for the book that became See Me After Class. Over the following years, I went on to write a children’s book and, most recently, a novel. I also continued to take classes at the Miami Writers Institute every year, and found that each year’s class corresponded to specific events in my writing life. Recently, I distilled the notes from the classes and the lessons learned from twelve years as an author into a twelve-day email series. The result is part creative writing crash course, part mobile-friendly memoir of what it takes to build a writing career.
TBD: What did you learn as a teacher that helped you in your publishing career?
RE: Teaching builds the type of thick skin that helps in the writing world. Agents and editors might not return your emails, but at least they don’t fall asleep on their desks right in front of you. As an English teacher, I also taught a lot of the skills that improve writing at any level. Constantly discussing the qualities of good writing helped in writing the book. And writing the book made me feel like the advice I’d been repeating to students actually worked outside of the classroom.
TBD: Do you approach promoting and marketing fiction differently then nonfiction?
RE: The common wisdom about marketing nonfiction books is that they should have a specific target audience. Literary fiction is expected to have a wider appeal, with authors that seemingly rise from the ether as debut talent. Adequate Yearly Progress, however, always felt like it was somewhere in between. My goal was to write a page-turning story that anyone would enjoy, but it was especially important to me that all the details rang true to teachers. The audience for my first book also included many teachers frustrated by Hollywood versions of the profession, which made it a natural fit to spread the word to teachers first. Their enthusiasm has helped spread the word about the book to a wider audience.
TBD: How did you get such great blurbs?
RE: I was thrilled to have a front cover blurb from Steve Almond for Adequate Yearly Progress, and from Dave Barry for See Me After Class. Additionally, there have been some great recent write-ups for Adequate Yearly Progress, including in The Washington Post and Forbes. The most helpful takeaway from all of these experiences is less of a specific trick and more of a general mindset: most authors are our own publicists most of the time. We might as well take the job seriously. If you were paying a professional publicist upwards of $5K a month to represent you, you’d want them to at least try to approach some of your favorite authors and publications. If you do this yourself over time, you’ll get better at the job. And hopefully, you’ll get a few lucky breaks along the way.
TBD: Tell us about the comedian you’ve been following who interviews behavioral scientists wherever he goes.
RE: About halfway through writing the novel, I stumbled on a podcast called Here We Are, in which stand-up comic Shane Mauss interviews behavioral scientists in each of the cities on his comedy tours. One of my biggest goals while writing AYP was to make sure the characters rang true as people, and the scientists on Here We Are provided a constant stream of insight into why humans do what we do. Many of these insights found their way into the novel. Naturally, I was pretty thrilled to have a chance to do an episode of the Here We Are podcast about Adequate Yearly Progress. This ended up being one of the funniest conversations I’ve ever had about teacher movies. It also reinforced my theory that teachers and stand-up comics have a lot in common.
TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers? And teachers for that matter?
RE: As a writer, you try 100 things and only two of them work. It’s tempting to wish you could go back and skip the other 98 attempts. But the truth is, it’s notjust the two things that worked. It’s the fact that you tried 100 things, learning along the way, laying the tracks as you drove the train. That’s probably good advice for teachers, too. Your trial-and-error efforts add up over time.
Roxanna Elden combines eleven years of experience as a public school teacher with a decade of speaking to audiences around the country about education issues. Her first book, See Me After Class, is a staple in school districts and educator training programs, and her work has been featured on NPR as well as in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Education Week, and many other outlets. You can learn more about her work at www.roxannaelden.com.
The Book Doctors first met May Cobb at the 2011 Texas Book Festival in a town that is one of our all-time favorites: Austin. For those of you who haven’t been, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. It’s one of the great book festivals, in one of the great cities in America. May was one of the brave souls who pitched her book to us in front of a packed house at our Pitchapalooza . Think American Idol for books … only kinder and gentler. She dazzled us with her idea for a book about the great jazz musician, Rashaan Roland Kirk. We could tell from the moment she stepped up to the microphone that she had the nerve, skills, talent, and that indefinable je ne sais quoi that makes one think: Yes, this woman knows how to get things done. In fact, we liked her pitch so much that she won! As often happens, this idea was not the one that became her debut book. In fact, as she honed and refined the book she pitched us, she wrote a novel, Big Woods and got it published. One of the things that we love about being book doctors is helping a talented writer become a published author. So now that her debut novel is finally out in the world, we thought we’d pick her brain about writing, rejection, and how she navigated the stormy seas of the publishing world to get successfully published.
The Book Doctors: Congratulations on publishing your first novel. Tell us about Big Woods.
May Cobb: Thank you so much! BIG WOODS is a thriller set against the backdrop of 1980s small-town Texas and delves into the paranoia surrounding satanic cults. It revolves around the disappearance of a young girl, whom everyone presumes is dead except her older sister who begins having dreams about her, insisting she is still alive.
It’s based on a true, eerie story my mom told me while growing up in East Texas, where Big Woods is set. For two years, my mother, a nurse, worked in the psychiatric unit of our small town’s hospital. It was located in the basement and she worked the graveyard shift. One night, a young woman in ripped clothing appeared at the unit and begged to be taken into hiding. She kept saying, over and over again, “You have to hide me. They are going to find me and they are going to kill me.” I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving away the plot, but that story was the genesis for BIG WOODS.
TBD: How was the process of trying to find the right agent for your book, then finding a publisher of your own? Did it help that you found a publisher who does books that match up so well with Big Woods?
MC: Arielle helped me a great deal with my agent search (in addition to everything else!) After approaching a handful of agents who passed — some whom I’d met at conferences, others, referrals — Arielle had me write up a list of thirty agents I’d like to approach. She carefully reviewed this list and dropped a few names and suggested a few others. Next, Arielle helped fine-tune my query letter so that it was in tip-top shape and within 48 hours, I had an offer! Within a week of that initial offer, I had two additional offers and then had a very big decision to make!
My agents, Ellen Levine and Alexa Stark, found a warm and welcoming home for Big Woods. While the novel was out on submission, I was as cool as a cucumber and so much fun to be around! And I was wildly productive writing-wise. I’m kidding, of course, I was a bundle of nerves, developed insomnia, and couldn’t write a lick. But my pot at the end of the rainbow came in the form of getting the “yes” from Midnight Ink. I knew the minute I spoke with Terri Bischoff, my editor, over the phone that Big Woods had found the home it was meant to find.
TBD: What was it like getting published by a wonderful independent publisher, Midnight Ink?
MC: It’s been absolutely incredible, ever since that first phone call with Terri. Terri had fantastic notes for the novel and is so warm and brilliant — just a delight to work with, as is the entire Midnight Ink Team (waving at you Jake and Anna), as well as my publicist Dana Kaye of Kaye Publicity. Everyone is so talented and dedicated and collaborative!
TBD: How did you know about getting your Book Launch Party at one of the greatest bookstores in America: Book People in Austin, Texas?
MC: I’ve lived in Austin for the past twenty years and Book People is hands-down one of my favorite places in Austin as well as my favorite bookstore ever. Of course I’ve gone to tons of readings and signings there, and it has been a long-held dream of mine to have a book party there, so I was thrilled when they gave me the green light. And the literary community in Austin on the whole is so wonderfully supportive, I feel damn lucky to be living here.
TBD: Tell us about your relationship with National Novel Writing Month. How do writers benefit from NaNoWriMo?
MC: I shadow NaNoWriMo every November! I wrote a big chunk of Big Woods during a NaNoWriMo and while it sounds daunting to try and complete a novel in one month, I think the time crunch really helps silence the inner critic that is always, always lurking. It does for me anyway.
TBD: How did you go about winning the online Nanowrimo Pitchapalooza?
MC: I was aware of the contest from having the absolute privilege of working with you guys on my nonfiction project and was excited by the challenge of crafting a pitch to enter the contest. But I could not believe that my pitch actually won, and it gave me such a boost during a time I needed it most. Not to mention, your feedback was exquisite!
TBD: What did you get to start writing for the Washington Post?
MC: This literally came out of the blue. One day, while my husband, mother, and I took our young son to a park in Austin, the police were called on us because (gasp!) my son’s hair was a bit messy and his pants were a bit short. He is six and autistic, and the responding officers were so gracious when they arrived and questioned us because they could instantly tell that nothing was amiss, and that our son has special needs. I came home and immediately reached out to the editor of that particular column and she responded that she was very interested, but suggested that I sit with the story for a while. She didn’t want a vent piece and could tell that I was still upset by the incident.
So I did as she suggested and mulled it over for several weeks. Then one evening, the essay came together rather quickly and she accepted it. I did not anticipate the flurry of responses we would receive (both negative and positive) — the piece generated over 2k comments and the Post ran it on their homepage the following Sunday. Ana Navarro of CNN tweeted in solidarity of the essay, which, in turn, made my twitter feed explode, mostly with other parents in our same situation reaching out, which was so gratifying and I’m grateful for Ana for tweeting about it.
TBD: How did you get this great blurb?
“Stephen King’s Stand by Me collides with Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects in this exceptional thriller. Gutsy, gripping―and pitch-perfect in its resurrection of an era long gone.”
―A. J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
MC: I approached authors whose work I deeply admired and had been inspired by. In the case of A.J. Finn, I reached out to Finn before THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was published. I was aware of it, namely because it had been such a spectacular deal with the film rights selling instantly to Fox, and also, I absolutely loved the premise of a woman who is shut in her apartment but believes she’s witnessed a murder across the street. Also, the title reminded me so much of one of my favorite novels from my graduate studies, Wilkie Collin’s famed, Victorian-era detective novel, THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
While I was waiting to hear if Finn would indeed blurb BIG WOODS, I read (devoured) THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW the day it was published and was completely gobsmacked by it. His prose is just astonishing — just so gorgeous and lyrical — and his gift of suspense and propulsion is unparalleled. And also, there’s this great wit in the novel. It’s one of my top favorite novels of all time. So, while I was reading THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, I was inwardly wincing, thinking, “He’s going to be so bored if he gets around to reading BIG WOODS.” And when I followed up with him and heard back that he was blurbing BIG WOODS (and comparing it to King and Flynn) my head spun! I had to read the email three times before I could believe it and I cried, I was so happy and so moved.
TBD: How did you get to be a finalist in the 2015 Writers League of Texas Manuscript? Did it help your career?
MC: As you guys know, BIG WOODS interrupted a twenty year nonfiction project which I’m currently finishing up. It’s the story of the late, jazz great, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and in 2015, I submitted a portion of the book to the Writers League of Texas Manuscript Contest. I was so thrilled to find it was named a finalist. I do feel it helped me get my query noticed by agents and editors and, also, the Writers League of Texas has just been instrumental all the way around with nurturing my writing path — such a fantastic organization.
And in 2016, BIG WOODS was chosen as the Winner in the same contest and I feel like that was very instrumental in my having the confidence to finish the novel!
TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?
MC: Surround yourself with people who believe in you and shut out the chorus of voices that tell you writing is an impossible career choice. Also, keep your overhead low and find a good mechanic! And more than anything, realize that you can write in 15-minute bursts of time. Even if it’s a sentence or a single paragraph. It all adds up. Most of BIG WOODS was written in stolen moments — while my husband was bathing our son, while I could’ve checked into Facebook but didn’t — and I was able to hammer out the first draft in a year. And finally, it must be said: if you’re able to, work with the Book Doctors! I would not still be writing today if it weren’t for you guys.
May Cobb grew up in the piney woods of East Texas where her debut thriller, Big Woods, is set. After college, she moved to San Francisco, where she studied Victorian Literature for her Master’s, and then lived in Los Angeles for a few years where she worked for filmmaker/writer Ron Shelton and his wife, the actress Lolita Davidovich. For the past twenty years, she’s been working on a nonfiction book about the late, great, jazz artist, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, Austin Monthly, and Edible Austin. Cobb now lives in Austin with her husband and son.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Get publishing tips delivered to your inbox every month.
We first met Jane Friedman online, which is where she is a lot. And quite brilliantly, she’s carved out a very cool corner of the publishing world by taking deep dives into analytics and numbers revolving around the Internet and books. We subsequently got to hang out with her in person recently at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Conference — which is, in fact, one of the great writers’ conferences in America! She was a panelist on our event, Pitchapalooza, and as always, was a font of wisdom. Yet another reason to go to great writers’ conferences: You meet the most amazing people. So we thought now that her new book The Business of Being a Writer is out, we’d pick her brain about writing, publishing, and what it takes to flourish in the brave new world of books.
Nano Nation: You are all WINNERS! We had such a blast with this year’s National Novel Writing Month Pitchapalooza. So many pitches with AWESOME imagination and an ASTOUNDING display of talent. Thank you so much to all the writers who participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza!
AND THE WINNER IS …
This year’s Fan Favorite is CLARE VATERLAUS BIRD for her book The Cost of Silence! Her pitch is timely, full of stakes, and has a terrific title. She gets a free one-hour consultation with us (worth $250). Congratulations, Clare!
Kudos again to MARY JO TALBOT, NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winner for Watching Wilhemina, a middle grade novel about a rock-guitar loving girl, her diagnosis with type 1 diabetes, and her discipline-challenged service dog. Mary Jo will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for her manuscript.
We hope you’ll keep in touch. If you’d like to receive monthly publishing tips delivered to your inbox, click here to let us know. We’ll also share info about our live Pitchapaloozas and workshops around the country. Get publishing tips on our YouTube channel, and chat with us on Facebook and Twitter.
We’re hosting a live Pitchapalooza in Brielle, New Jersey on May 1. We’ll announce our special guest judges soon. Come pitch us at the Brielle Public Library.
Starting April 18, we’re leading an eight-week master class that’ll teach you how to get your book successfully published in today’s ridiculously competitive marketplace. We hope you can join us. Learn more here.
Congratulations again to Clare, Mary Jo, and all the Wrimos who bravely shared their awesome pitches.
So many writers, unpublished to bestselling, are networking-phobic. They didn’t become writers to schmooze, mingle, and hobnob. If this is you, and you want to NOT get published, and NOT find readers, by all means, continue to ignore this seemingly heinous but totally essential part of the publishing business. Lucky for you, dear friends and writers, we have a new Book Doctors video to help you stop being allergic to promoting and marketing.
When David first comes up with a book idea, he writes a pitch. He starts memorizing that pitch, and whenever anyone asks him what he’s up to, he says, “I’m writing a book.” Now, he’s not one of those people who gets right in your face and goes, “I’ll tell you about my book!” No, someone has to ask what the book is about. Then he has one minute to answer what his book is about. One minute. That’s his pitch. Networking makes you understand what a pitch is and how to make it better.
Why networking is important
While you’re at a party, talking about your book is important because you never know who people know. It turns out, your cousin’s best friend from college is now an editor at Simon & Schuster. Who knew? Talking about your book, while difficult for many people, is essential to getting this book out into the world. Networking could get your name in the subject line of an email to an agent, which will put you at the top of the slush pile. There’s no way to make these connections without opening your mouth.
Writers’ objections to networking
People are shy about their work, nervous about sharing it. They’re afraid. It’s time to confront those fears.
“I’m afraid someone will steal my idea.”
No one is going to steal your idea. Arielle has been working as an agent for twenty-five years, and she’s never seen that happen.
“I don’t want to brag.”
You don’t have to brag to tell someone about your book idea. Talking about your book is part of your job as a writer.
Perfecting your pitch and asking questions
Networking allows you to practice and refine your pitch. You’ll notice as you talk about your book that people might glaze over at certain points. Those are the parts you should cut. You’ll notice when they perk up and when they’re excited, parts you’ll want to accentuate.
Networking is also about being interested in others and asking them questions. Try questions like these the next time you’re at a party or a conference:
- What are you working on?
- What’s your book about?
- Oh, you work at ______, what do you do there? How did you get started?
What if you’re shy?
If you’re nervous about one-on-one, face-to-face networking, turn your attention to social media. You can share where you are in your writing process so others can get involved with the making of your book. Ask other authors about their books. Friend or follow other writers or people in the industry on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. See what they’re talking about and how they’re talking about it.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a book about dogs, and you see all these editors and agents who post about their dogs. That’s important information to know as you network and query your book.
David’s networking story
When David wrote his first book, he didn’t know anyone in the publishing business so he asked everyone he knew if they’d read his book. Turns out, his former commercial acting agent knew someone. She said, “Oh, my goddaughter is a literary agent. Would you mind if I gave her your book?” Well, it turns out that literary agent was Arielle. Not only did David get an agent out of networking, he got a wife.
Read author Kate Forest’s advice for writers, including her thoughts on networking. Need a little more help with networking? We’re here to provide coaching, support, and marketing advice.
You wrote your 50,000 words (or got pretty close!). You’re a winner. You felt the high. Now what are you going to do with your precious manuscript? That’s where we, The Book Doctors, come in.
For those of you not familiar with Pitchapalooza, here’s the skinny: You get 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. We will then critique the pitches during a live webinar on March 15, 2018 at 5PM PST, so you get to see what makes a great pitch. At the end of the webinar, we will choose one winner from the group.
The winner will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her manuscript.
Beginning February 1, 2018, you can email your pitch to email@example.com. PLEASE DO NOT ATTACH YOUR PITCH, JUST EMBED IT IN THE EMAIL. Include your title and your name at the top of your pitch. All pitches must be received by 11:59PM PST on February 28, 2018.
We will also crown a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250). On March 16, 2018, the 20 random pitches will be posted on our website, www.thebookdoctors.com. Anyone can vote for a fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up! Connecting with your future readers is a vital part of being a successfully published author today. And this is a great way to get some practice. Voting closes at 11:59PM PST on April 1, 2018. The fan favorite will be announced on April 2, 2018.
If you purchase a copy of our book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, by April 2, 2018, we’re offering an exclusive one-hour webinar where you’ll get the chance to pitch your book. Just attach a copy of your sales receipt to your email and we’ll send the link to the webinar dates.
Important NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza dates
February 1, 2018–Pitch submission opens
February 28, 2018–Final day to submit pitches
March 15, 2018–NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza live on YouTube
March 16, 2018–Voting for fan favorite begins
April 1, 2018–Final day to vote for fan favorite
April 2, 2018–Fan favorite announced
NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza success stories
It’s been a great year for past NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winners. Gloria Chao’s novel, American Panda (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) will be published in February. Read Gloria’s winning NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza pitch.
“Winning Pitchapalooza gave me confidence and the courage to keep fighting. It also helped bring my manuscript to the next level.”
Are you feeling a little unsure about exactly how to craft your pitch?
10 tips for pitching your novel
- A great pitch is like a poem. Every word counts.
- Make us fall in love with your hero. Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
- Make us hate your villain. Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
- Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
- If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
- Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, so it has to be the very best of your writing.
- Don’t make your pitch a book report. Make it sing and soar and amaze.
- A pitch is like a movie trailer. You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
- Leave us with a cliffhanger. The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
- Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.
NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza FAQs
Q: May I submit more than one pitch?
A: Yes, you may submit multiple pitches. Please include your book’s title and your name at the top of each pitch.
Q: How are the 20 pitches selected?
A: The 20 pitches are randomly selected; however, we read all the pitches.
Q: Are the choices for fan favorite also randomly selected?
A: Yes. They are the same 20 pitches that we read during the webinar.
Q: If I buy a copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, how does the one-hour webinar work?
A: We limit each webinar to 20 people, which gives everyone the chance to pitch and get feedback.
Q: Where can I learn more about writing my pitch?
A: We offer resources on our YouTube channel. We recommend that you watch “The Art of the Book Pitch” and last year’s NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. Hungry for more examples? Check out our Pitchapalooza playlist.