Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Insider's Takeaway From the 2010 Writer's League of Texas Conference

June 25-27, Austin played host to the annual Writer's League of Texas Agents Conference. I attended the event last year as a newbie writer. This year, I attended the event as a publisher and moderator. My position at the publishing firm gave me the opportunity to partake in insider conversations and glean information most writers weren't privy to. Much of this information didn't fit in my recaps I did for the Big Bad Book Blog or Reflection's Edge Magazine, leaving me with a ton of tips to share with you lovely folks.

My first round of tips relates to agents. I spent a great deal of time hanging out with agents, listening to them vent their agitation at certain behaviors that frankly came down to a lack of education and not (for the most part) a blatant disregard for decorum on behalf of the writer. Here are the main points the agent's hit on:
  1. Don't pitch to an agent who doesn't represent your work. Too many writers went around blanket pitching every agent listed in the guide. Agents represent works they are passionate about and that they know how to sell. Pitching something outside of their expertise is a waste of time for you and them. 
  2. Speak in brief talking points. You have less than sixty seconds to peak the agent's interest. Lead with a brief, one sentence hook. If they're interested, they will ask questions. For every question answer with a quick sound bite. Long narratives about your motivation for writing and character backstory makes them loose interest and hurts you cause. Clear and concise is best.
  3. When they say send it to me, stop talking! You've won, you sold them on your idea enough to warrant a review. droning on and on about the process and details in the book just wastes their time. Plus, there is usually a long line of hopefuls standing behind you hoping for a moment of their time. Accept your accomplishment and get out of the way.
The next series of takeaways revolves around publishing options. As writers we are trained to chase the big house dream. It has merit, and is often the best and sometimes only way for writers (like me) to get published. Still, publishing is not a one-size fits all venture. Writers do have options.
  1. There are options beyond the big house. The rise of self-publishing, independent publishers, and new technology have changed the playing field. Which option is best is different for each writer. I have developed a white paper that goes into greater detail about this, but essentially writers should research the industry and choose which direction best fits their goals.
  2. Quick doesn't mean better. Just because a writer can go an pay someone to publish their book, doesn't mean its a good book. Oftentimes, self-publishing and new technology publish every work that comes their way, regardless of quality. This can hinder a writer's chances of getting national distribution and media coverage. Again, do your homework. 
  3. Marketing falls to the writer regardless which option they choose. Its important that writers understand that their publishing success falls largely in their hands. Writers are responsible for marketing themselves, which leads me to the next section.
Marketing is key to a writer's success. To truly be effective, an author's marketing strategy must include both online and offline activities. Publishing is a business, and writers should treat it as one. The marketing panels also hit on some other key points:
  1. Start marketing now. Even if you don't have a a published book you need to be marketing yourself as a writer. Publishers are looking for authors who are actively building a community of potential readers. The further along your are in the game, the better your chances of selling through.
  2. Don't overextend yourself. Although your marketing efforts need to be divers, don't think you have to be involved with every social media tool and group out there. Your marketing message may not be conducive to every outlet. experiment, find whats best for you, and stick with.
  3. Quality and consistency over quantity. You don't need to be marketing 24/7. You do need to be sharing quality content on a consistent basis.
  4. Video rocks. Panelists agreed that video content is powerful. You don't have to buy an expensive camera to do the job right. There are many free options out there including muvee, animoto, and AuthorStream.
  5. Be authentic and sociable. Yes its marketing and the goal is to eventually sell books, but people turn off when they feel like there's a dollar sign hanging over their head. Be authentic and natural and engage people in conversations. Share information and tips. Be willing to support other people and they will return the favor.
I'll have even more items to share from the conference in the coming weeks,  plus other great insider tips as I learn more from inside the publishing house. If anyone has questions, I am more than happy to help any way I can, so leave them in the comments section and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Happy Writing!

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