TRW’s Northern Hearts Conference

Northern Hearts conference, hosted by Toronto Romance Writers, September 2019I’ll be attending the Northern Hearts conference hosted by Toronto Romance Writers, which will be held at the North York Novotel from September 20 – 21, 2019.

There’s a booksigning on Friday night to launch the conference and I’ll be signing there.

I’ll also be teaching a workshop on Saturday (time TBD) called “Ten Reasons Why Traditionally-Published Authors Stumble When They Go Indie.”

I hope to see you there!

Writers Making Connections – June Event

WMCI’m organizing three events for writers this summer in Stratford Ontario, and the first one is just over a week away. The first Writers Making Connections event focuses on the editorial process. We have a freelance editor, Laura Shin, speaking to us first about what an editor can do for your book, then a panel of published authors talking about their respective editorial process. Registration includes both lunch and a snack on the break.

Here’s a bit about our guest speaker, Laura Shin:
Laura Shin is an editor who specializes in commercial fiction. After graduating from Centennial College’s Book and Magazine Program and having interned at the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, she began her career at Harlequin, working as an Assistant Editor. By the time she left the company in 2007, she had worked on almost every line and imprint published out of the company’s Toronto office (short, long, traditional, contemporary, historical, sweet, sexy, women’s fiction, and the mystery imprint) and was the Senior Editor of the Superromance line. From there she joined Penguin Canada as the first Commercial Fiction Editor the company had ever had, acquiring and editing books from all genres. Close to twenty of the books she edited have been nominated for the prestigious RITA award, and many others have been nominated or won regional awards. She was also the editor of the RITA-award winning book in the long contemporary category in 2008. Freelancing became the best option for her when she decided to return to school to pursue a lifelong ambition to work in complementary and alternative healthcare. When not working with authors to create and hone wonderful stories, she has a thriving acupuncture and Chinese Medicine practice in the Annex area of Toronto.

If you plan to attend, please register in advance so we can finalize the food!

Saturday, June 27
12 – 5PM
Location: the Community Room at Zehr’s, 865 Ontario St, Stratford ON, N5A 7Y2
Cost: $35 + HST paid in advance

Focus on Editing and the Editorial Process

12:00-1:00 – buffet lunch, with tea, coffee and water
1:00 – 2:30 – What An Editor Can Do for You and Your Books
Laura Shin, freelance editor (Laura has extensive editorial experience at Harlequin and Penguin Canada.)
2:30 – 3:00 – sweets and fruit with tea and coffee
3:00 – 4:30 – Comparing Editorial Processes: Kate Bridges, Maureen McGowan, Suzanna Medeiros and Juliana Stone.
Authors share their editorial processes, followed by Q&A from attendees.

BOOK June 27 NOW

Like and follow the Facebook Group for Writers Making Connections to keep up to date on this and future events.

Home Again

Well, I’m back from Atlanta and the RWA National conference. As always, it was wonderful to see so many friends and to make some new acquaintances. I’m excited to have a list of authors-new-to-me to read, as well as a reminder to check back with my favourites. (There was, for example, an advanced reading copy of Mary Balogh’s August release, The Arrangement, which I inhaled one night. It’s a wonderful book and was a treat to read. I’ll leave a Goodreads review for it this week.) I’ll introduce you to those authors on my Facebook pages over the next few days.

First, though, I thought I’d share some impressions and observations with you. The tone of the conference this year struck me as subdued. This is probably a mirror of a very tough market, especially for debut authors. (It’s been a tough market for midlist authors for a while.) Writers seemed to be fairly emotional, and the sharing of war stories was a popular choice of topic in the bar. Fewer champagne corks were popping, and many writers seemed uncertain as to their futures. I had the sense that the majority of published authors in attendance were still working with traditional publishers but feeling a lack of enthusiasm from the house, and seeing tepid sales.

Given that, here are a few trends and focal points that stood out for me:

• the forging of new relationships
It was exciting to see new connections being made in the bar. There’s always some of this, of course, but it was more emphatic this year. A number of authors were talking about creating anthologies and collaborative series, about doing cross-marketing and cross-promotion, about sharing resources to gain visibility.

• the reassertion of existing relationships
To define the way forward, many authors are looking at their history. There was a great deal of discussion about the changing roles of agents, and how authors with good agent relationships can use that relationship to mutual benefit in future. There were similar discussions about editors and authors in good partnerships, and changing balances in their respective roles. I met a great bookseller from Florida who has a lot of Dragonfire fans amongst her customers (quite possibly because one of her employees loves the series and handsells it). We’re working on figuring out how to get my self-published Dragonfire novels (beginning with the Dragon Legion Collection) into her store. I know there’s a way to do this, but haven’t walked through it with anyone before. Once we have, I’ll have a pat answer for other indie stores. Since she sells Kobo readers, we will also be able to ensure that she benefits from her customers buying my digital books from Kobo, through Kobo’s program with the ABA. I’m excited about ensuring that the bookstores who have supported me in the past can be part of my future.

• the notion that print book sales are recovering
This was interesting to me. The indie bookseller I mentioned above has expanded to a second store. She sees uptick in print sales, and sees an increase in the number of indie booksellers in ABA which convinces her that her sales data isn’t unusual. She’s encouraged by the restructuring of B&N and sees print coming back. That was an exciting conversation.

• the disappearance of opportunity for debut authors in traditional publishing
The options for new authors in traditional publishing appear to have dwindled almost to nothing, particularly outside of hot genres like New Adult. There was a lot of talk about rejection and commiseration over ways to survive it. As I anticipated last year, new authors will need to prove themselves in digital-first, either in digital-first programs run by traditional houses (like Carina, Impulse or a host of others) or by self-publishing in digital and using indie success as a stepping stone to traditional publishing (if that’s the goal of the author in question). There’s an interesting twist on that strategy, though, which is my next point.

• the emergence of contracts for projects instead of contracts for authors
Once upon a time (i.e. two years ago, in the dark ages of digital-first) an author who found success in digital self-publishing could expect editors at traditional publishing houses to come knocking. That author could also expect those editors to want to buy not just the successful work in question but the next work(s). Essentially, the house would want to build the author from that point. About a year ago, we heard about the first splitting of rights, with print-only deals negotiated by several successful authors with traditional publishers, giving those authors’ books print distribution. At this conference, I heard about deals for specific projects—i.e. the title sells well in indie, so the house buys that title for digital and print distribution, and encourages the author to continue self-publishing. I’m not sure what exactly the house is contributing in these deals beyond print distribution, and I’m less sure why authors go for it, but it’s a strong trend.

• less acceptance of rebranding
It’s a typical strategy for midlist authors to rebrand themselves, at the request of the publisher, in order to continue to do business with the house. So, the author of one kind of work who hasn’t achieved success by the time that subgenre fades from popularity might be asked to try something different. This only happens if the house likes the author’s work or feels the author has missed their chance. Once upon a time, it was very common for authors to comply, probably because there were no other choices in terms of going forward. The assumption was that the current house was the only one likely to give the author another chance (and it wasn’t an unjustified assumption.) But this year, I met more authors at this conference who had declined to be rebranded and chosen to become indie authors instead.

• the language of collaboration
Editors said “we” when they talked about the process of bringing a book to market, even going so far as to say “we write”. Authors who are successful in traditional publishing talked about their “team” at the respective publishing house and the house’s support. I was interested by how quiet editors were overall, and how much they stood back from authors. They’ve always done that to a certain extent, but the postures were more pronounced this time.

• increased acceptance of self-publishing as a viable option
Previously “vanity press” was very much outside of the definition of “publication” for RWA. This year, self-published books could be ordered for the literacy signing, there was a new self-publishing track of workshops and there was an indie booksigning. On the upside, these workshops were standing room only and the booksigning was very well attended. On the downside, the fact that self-publishing was an option was such a revelation for so many attendees that the workshops tended to get bogged down with very basic questions. I didn’t find them as helpful as I’d hoped—even though the presenters had tremendous expertise, they had little opportunity to share more than the essentials. These writers who found the notion of self-publishing a revelation were excited by what they learned. Unfortunately, the over-riding talk was that they would “toss up some content and see what happened”  which is exactly how digital self-publishing does NOT work. (The even more unfortunate choice of verb was “throw up a book”. Ewwww.) I suspect we will see a little explosion of DIY covers, edits and formatting in the near future, and then these authors will give up indie publishing.

• increased opportunities for some self-published authors at various portals
The various self-publishing portals are listening to requests from authors and have exciting tools in beta. (They didn’t get a lot of chance to talk about this, unfortunately.) Pre-ordering tools and merchandising options are going to proliferate over the next year, even for indie authors, and this is a good thing. Overall, I have a sense that digital-first publishing is becoming more like traditional publishing every day.

• changing role of RWA
RWA is in the midst of a number of bylaw changes which redefine their relationship with the individual local chapters. Of primary interest to me in all of this is the fact that Canadian chapters may not be acknowledged by the national organization in future, due to one particular suite of changes. Those of us from north of the border had a number of casual chats about this, but there’s not yet consensus as to how we will go forward. Will there be a new organization, Romance Writers of Canada? Or will we simply become local writers’ groups unaffiliated with any larger organization? Will we become cross-genre writers’ groups organized locally? And if our local chapters can’t be RWA chapters any longer, will we individually remain RWA members? At this point, it’s tough to say how it will shake out.

• changing role of writers’ groups and writers’ conferences
At the airport, another writer asked me if I would attend RWA’s National conference next year in Texas. My reply was an immediate no. I actually doubt that I will ever attend another RWA National conference. That got me to thinking about why. I have never found the workshops at RWA’s conference very helpful. There is a tendency to reduce strategies to a recipe “Easy as 1-2-3” which never made as much sense as people believed it did, and makes less sense in our current market. What worked yesterday is not going to work tomorrow in the rapidly changing digital-first market, so there’s no point in deriving a formula. RWA National is expensive to attend, because it is long and there are costly events included in the program. The most valuable thing to me is always the five minute conversations – but this time, those chats weren’t with editors and agents. I was most interested in talking to various vendors, booksellers, service providers, and other authors. Granted, they were available because they attended the conference, but I believe that in future, authors like me will be more likely to go to smaller conferences that facilitate this kind of networking instead of a large track of workshops and gala events. (No more convention hotel chicken!) Such conferences would also be shorter, I’d expect, as no one can spare an entire week. They also will have complementary WIFI for all registrants.

How’s that for a preliminary round of impressions? There’s a whole lot of laundry calling my name today as I play catch-up. In addition, Aura made a very interesting observation when I was working on hers and Thad’s story one day in my lovely hotel room. She stopped me cold, because I had to think about the implications, but now I have writing to do. Finishing Kiss of Destiny, #3 of the Dragon Legion novellas, is on the agenda for this week, even if the dustbunnies have to wait.

They’ve waited this long, so another couple of days won’t let them get that much bigger.

Did you attend RWA National this year in Atlanta? What were your impressions? What did you learn? Will you attend again?


I received some incredible news this weekend. I won the RWA PRO Mentor of the year award! This is a pretty amazing thing, and I’m quite overwhelmed by it all. Here’s part of the notification letter from Maura Troy:

“…I am pleased to tell you that, based on a wonderful nomination letter received from Kim Chin-Sam, you have been selected as the recipient of this year’s award. Congratulations!

As evidenced by the letter, your dedication and assistance to PROs, both in your own chapter and beyond, is exactly the sort of networking and camaraderie that makes RWA such a wonderful organization. We are delighted to present you with this award as a token of recognition and thanks for all of those you have helped along the way…”

Kim Chin-Sam, who nominated me, is a fellow member of Toronto Romance Writers. Her letter of commendation was attached and made me blush.

The award will be presented at the RWA National conference in Anaheim in July, at the PRO Retreat. Unfortunately, I’m not attending National this year, so will have a friend accept the award for me.

Many thanks to Kim and to everyone else who made this happen. I am very honoured. 🙂

Six Tasks Part 3 – Agents

What do agents do?

At the most basic level, agents negotiate publishing contracts for authors. As we  discussed earlier today, it’s characteristic for the agent or agency to have an agency boilerplate with any given publishing house, which is a better level at which to begin negotiations. In an ideal universe, the agent will negotiate the best terms possible for the individual author, based upon his or her knowledge of the market and what is standard and customary. In exchange for this, the author will pay the agent a 15% commission of the monies paid by the publishing house as a result of that deal.

The mechanism for this is traditional – the house pays the entire sum to the agent, who then deducts his or her fee and sends the balance to the author. Alternatively, an author can request to have cheques split at source, which means that the publisher cuts two cheques, one for 85% and one for 15%, of each payment and mails them to the appropriate party. Some agents find this worrisome, as they feel it indicates to the house that the author has a lack of trust in them. Publishing is very much a business of appearances and perceptions, so don’t dismiss this idea too quickly.

What else do agents do? Agents submit work to publishers for consideration and the work that comes in from agents is always given precedence for editorial review. Why is that? Because agents are the only ones who can multiple-submit work – that is, send it to more than one editor at a time – because agents are the only ones who can set up an auction for a given work.

An auction means that more than one editor wants to buy the work, and essentially they bid against each other. High bid wins. This is not the same as having multiple offers. When a work generates multiple simultaneous offers, there are other variables to consider than the money. One house might guarantee a large promotion budget but a smaller advance, and the author might find this appealing. Auctions are purely about the advance money.

A pre-empt can also only go through an agent. This means that one editor wants the project enough to pay a premium before anyone else offers, which will essentially take the book off the market. Agent and author have to decide if the offer is good enough, or if they should wait to hear from the other editors. If you’re interested in these mechanisms, there’s a women’s fiction book called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY by Marion Keyes which has one of the best portrayals of publishing I’ve read in fiction.

Also, historically, the big publishing houses only accepted agented submissions. That means that they would only consider work from agented authors. The challenge has always been that it was difficult for an author to get an agent without any publishing credits, yet it was impossible to submit to the big houses without representation. Many writers, like me, started in category or at smaller presses as a result. This allows the author to build an audience and some experience, and maybe that was the intent of the strategy all along. Submission policies are changing at some big houses, so check the house’s website for their submission requirements.

Agents also can sell subsidiary rights and foreign rights for the author. This morning we talked about foreign sales. These can be handled by the publisher or the agency, depending upon how the rights were assigned in the contract. If the house buys world rights, then the publisher will try to sell foreign rights though its subsidiary rights department. Subsidiary rights also include things like audio editions of books, action figures, calendars – it’s kind of fun to read the list of possibilities. Any rights retained by the author can be sold by the agent or agency. Some larger agencies have subsidiary rights departments very similar to those at publishing houses. Smaller agencies often make alliances with sub-rights agents who specialize in specific markets.

These are all the roles traditionally performed by agents and agencies. Even within this specific range of responsibilities, there is a lot of variation between agencies. There are big agencies with many agents working there, and there are agencies which have only one agent working usually with an assistant.

When you sign an agency contract – and I strongly suggest that you do not do business without signing an agency contract, although some agents like to do business on a handshake – there should be a list of additional charges that can be posted against your balance, charges which are not included under the umbrella of the commission. Historically, these have been things like copying manuscripts or sending books by courier to foreign publishers or agents. Courier service within NYC is generally not an allocated expense, nor is rent or internet services etc. I seldom see any of these charges anymore, because we’re not sending physical books around. Submissions to foreign markets are usually made digitally.

You should also be aware that when you sign with an agent that your contract will be with the agency, not the agent. With a small single-person agency, this isn’t an issue as he or she is unlikely to leave the company. But if your agent at a big agency leaves that agency – maybe to go to another agency or maybe to set up shop on his or her own – you will be reassigned to another agent inhouse. (This is similar to a publishing contract – you sign with the house, not the specific editor, and if your editor leaves the house, you will be reassigned to another editor.) If you wish to follow your agent to his or her new digs, you will have to terminate that agency relationship and create another one, even though you’ll still be working with the same agent.

What difference does it make? Remember that all money resulting from a contract flows to the agent or agency from the publisher. This will continue, even if you break off your relationship with that agent or agency. You can guess that you might not be that agent or agency’s number one priority if you’re doing business elsewhere. Also, your agent will be named in the contract as the agent of record for the deal. This means that in addition to the flow of cash, any disputes or questions about the contract must go through that agent. Many houses will only deal with the agent of record when discussing a contract. This can become an issue when, for example, there are addenda to the contract, perhaps in the form of changing digital royalty rates. If you want to change from the traditional payment structure to payments split at source, most houses will only accept that change if it comes from the agent of record. This protocol also comes into play with rights reversions. It’s quite common for the house to only accept a request for rights reversion from the agent of record. It’s also quite common for the agent of record, if he or she is no longer the agent of the author, to not hurry to make the reversion request. When you think about it, this isn’t unreasonable – if the rights revert, thanks to the paperwork done by the former agent, the new agent will sell them for possibly more money and make a commission off the former agent’s efforts.

The bottom line is that you don’t want to change agents a lot. It will add too many jobs into the Administrator section of your pie chart. You want to be careful and strategic about choosing an agent who fits your needs well. Which brings us neatly to the nature of the agent.

Some agents are what is known as “handholders”. This means that they provide emotional encouragement to their authors. I know one author whose agent calls her every week, just to check on how things are going and address any questions or doubts. This agent is not her friend – she’s ensuring that the author’s productivity isn’t compromised by anything, at least not anything the agent can fix. This would drive me bananas, but this other author loves it. We’re all different and thanks to your pie chart, you can think about what it is that you need. Some agents are known as tough negotiators. Some agents are known as “editing agents” – they give their author clients extensive revisions to make the work more marketable before they’ll even take it out. Some agents are known for their diplomacy. Some agents are known for their connections, and all are known for their connections in certain niches. And there are agents who are packagers. This means that they have a lot of connections for work-for-hire. If you see your path as including a lot of that kind of work, at least in the near future, those would be good agents to query. The bottom line is that you want an agent who knows how to sell what you write, and has the connections to get it done.

What has changed in recent years – maybe just the last year – is that there has been an addition to the role of agents. There now are agents and agencies who offer either services to help an author digitally self-publish or which have become digital publishers themselves. This is a really interesting change. On the one hand, you can see that in offering these services, the agent is ensuring that the author gets back to the business of writing as soon as possible. On the other hand, there is a clear conflict of interest here. Historically, the one person who always had the author’s back and whose advice could always be completely trusted was the agent. This was because the agent’s income was derived solely from the author’s income. This change introduces another revenue stream for agents and one that could make clients wonder about the integrity of their advice. So, this is another variable to consider when you shop for representation.

Many authors believe that agents assume control of their careers, that as soon as they hire an agent, they can just focus on writing and let the agent manage everything. This is the worst possible assumption you can make. In a market in which there are dozens of definitions of success, it is imperative that you tell your agent what it is that you want, and keep control of your career.

If you don’t want an agent, or you can’t get one, you still shouldn’t sign a publishing contract without understanding what it says and means. You can hire a literary lawyer to review your contract for you – probably the best known one in our genre is Elaine English, who will explain your contract to you for a flat fee. You can also have your contract reviewed by the Authors Guild, if you’re a member, or by the Writers’ Union of Canada, again if you’re a member.

Read your contract! Understand it before you sign it. You don’t get to wiggle out of this part no matter what alliances you make.

Six Tasks Part 2 – Forming Alliances

N.B. – This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, both from a workshop I taught in January to Toronto Romance Writers. Please read Six Tasks before continuing with today’s post.

The other option I mentioned for balancing your pie chart is that of working with other professionals. Historically, this was what authors did. If we look at the chart again, we could say that the author was traditionally responsible for the pie sections Storyteller and Writer, the editor and the publishing house were responsible for Editor and Marketer, and the agent was responsible for Negotiator. Depending upon the author-agent relationship and the character of the two persons involved, the task of Administrator might be divided between author and agent, evenly or unevenly.

I have said in the past that publishing – by which I mean traditional print publishing – is structured upon a triumvirate. There are three parties at the table in this model, and there are checks and balances between them. You have the writer, who is the creative one at the table. You have the editor, who represents the business of selling books and could be said to be the pragmatic one. And you have the agent who negotiates the contracts and mediates disputes between these two very different perspectives.

In a real sense, that world was much simpler. There was only one marketing model for selling books – print books, although the print format could vary. There was only one group of publishers who marketed fiction, and the vast majority of them were in New York. There were agents who had connections within certain genres or at certain houses. There might have been some variation in the skill set of agents – there are always some known to be tough negotiators, for example, or some known to be “handholders” – but I’ll suggest to you that the range of variation was much smaller than it is now.

Authors wrote. The majority of authors were consistently published in the midlist, where they made a living. They did this for years, writing their books at a steady rate, being consistently published. There were a few superstar authors, and the rules changed for them, but we don’t need to worry too much about superstars. They have more demands put upon them, but they also have more money paid to them, and it’s better for their tax rates to hire people to do things. My point here is that there were very few choices that could be made, so people’s roles were very strictly defined. If an author became a superstar, it was like being hit by lightning. It happened. The market spoke. The earth moved and everything changed. You couldn’t predict it.

In a changing market and one with a wider range of possibilities, responsibilities and expectations shift. We’re working in a market in which promotion is a huge influence and the cult of personality can make a big difference in people’s buying habits. The focus in marketing has shifted from the book to the author. In fact, many responsibilities have shifted to the author. We don’t live in that nice neat world anymore, which means you need to decide what kind of partners you need, as well as whether you need such partners at all.

First let’s look at the changes in our pie chart. As writers, we are still responsible for the tasks of writing and storytelling. That, I suspect, will never change.

Depending upon the house and the schedule, however, we might have more responsibility for editing our own work. Editors now tend to be very overloaded – for the sake of the work, many authors are in the habit of sending their books to a beta reader, a critique partner or even a freelance editor before making delivery. Many agents and agencies are what is called “editing agents” – they also edit the work before delivery as part of their service, sometimes for an additional fee. So, depending upon the house and the editor in question, the author might be responsible for half of that wedge called Editor. I would suggest that even in the best case scenario, you will be responsible for 20% of it.

The marketing of a work begins with the package. The title is part of the marketing of the work, as is the image on the cover. The cover copy is part of it, along with the front matter – those are the pages before the book begins, which typically include an excerpt and/or review quotes for the author’s work. The end matter is also part of the marketing. It can include an excerpt for the author’s next work, a bio of the author, as well as ads for other books by the author. The graphical branding which is echoed on linked books and identifies them as such to readers is also part of the package. This entire realm has traditionally been the domain of publishers and remains primarily so. Most authors, however, are given an early peek at what’s being done so that corrections and suggestions can be integrated.

The distribution of the book includes a number of marketing choices, which have historically been made by the house. If you’ve taken marketing classes, you’re aware of the distinction between supply-push marketing and demand-pull marketing. Supply-push means that the product, in this case the book, is presented in so many locations and so prevalently to the consumer that consumers buy it. Demand-pull means that a demand is created among consumers for the book, who ask after it or order it if it isn’t available, compelling the publisher to create more copies of the book. In a raw sense, supply-push remains the market force managed by publishers, while demand-pull is the realm of authors – and it’s increasingly important.

Supply-push includes publishers discounting a book to get more physical copies into bricks-and-mortar stores. It involves all displays of physical books – like dumps, or paid position in a bookstore. You might not realize that most shelving positions in physical bookstores are paid space. If the publisher declines to pay for premium position, the book goes in the appropriate section, spine out, alphabetical by author, probably one or two copies per store. Similarly, there are premium positions that can be purchased on online bookstores. Some are essentially ads, others are ‘better together’ deals in which buying two similar books gets the consumer a discount, others include free shipping. What’s interesting about these programs on Amazon is that authors can book and pay for them, too. Advertising – in magazines, on websites, on review sites – is something that can be done by either the publisher or the author.

Demand-pull has always been the author’s domain, but traditionally it’s involved writing books in succession that will appeal to a similar audience. You would write two mysteries with romantic elements in a row – not a mystery followed by a cookbook. This has also included booksignings and book tours and still does. In genre fiction, it is uncommon for the house to arrange and pay for a book tour – this happens in literary fiction but not so often in romance. Advertising in the genre publications, like Romantic Times, and on genre-specific sites has and continues to be mostly done by authors. Author websites and blogs fall into demand-pull marketing – where once they were optional, they are now obligatory. The utilization of social media is also an expectation many publishers have of authors. Public appearances are a way of generating interest in your books, by teaching workshops or doing media interviews or participating in a blog tour or attending conferences. I think of reviews as demand-pull – ideally the reader seeks out the book as a result of the review –  so it makes sense that this is a bit of a squishy area. The house may or may not produce advance reading copies (called ARC’s) or make the book available for review before publication through sites like NetGalley. You may end up providing all of your own review copies or augmenting the publisher’s publicity efforts.

So, when we take a hard look at the Marketer segment of the pie, I think you can reasonably say that 50% of it your responsibility. It might be as much as 90% or as low as 10% if you’re publishing in category and disinterested in doing promotion.

There are a couple of ways of allocating this. As long as I’ve been in the business, there have been freelance publicists willing to take on the obligation of doing many of these tasks. Their prices are all over the map. The thing you have to remember with publicity is that there are no guarantees. You could spend $10,000 and land on the NYT, or you could spend the same money and end up with just an invoice. If you do hire a publicist to make a big push for your book, I strongly suggest engaging your publisher in your discussions and your plans. There is no point in generating a demand-pull for additional copies of your book if your publisher has no plan or inclination to print them. What frequently happens when newer authors hire a publicist or embark on an aggressive self-promotion campaign is their sell-through percentage is higher than it might have been otherwise. This is good, but you might be expecting more. Talk to the house before you spend a lot of money. The good news is that digital editions can take up some of the slack here. As e-books become more popular, the interest you generate can be exploited with digital editions instead of lost completely.

Another newish role – or at least one that has become more popular in recent years – is that of the personal assistant or virtual assistant. Historically, a personal assistant to a writer was more of a secretary and assumed much of the administrator’s burden. Many personal assistants now do a lot of the legwork involved with promotion. They can manage contacts with reviewers and the delivery of review copies; they can sort and answer email directed to the author; they can decide upon updates and changes to websites and blogs; they can administer your Facebook fan page. The terrific thing about the emergence of this service sector is that you can pay them by the hour or increments of an hour, so you don’t need to hire one full time and keep him or her busy all year around. They work freelance, so you don’t have to do payroll taxes and benefits. And the internet means that they can be anywhere. You can hire a virtual assistant on the other side of the world, instead of needing to locate one where you live or make office space in your writing environment for another person.

A final way to delegate marketing responsibility is to hire a website designer or administrator. This means that you don’t have to muck with the code or the software or the images to create the site in the first place. It also means that you will have to go back to the designer for all upgrades to the site and pay on an incremental basis for that work. You’ll want to check those rates before you sign on, and also ensure that your designer has been around for a while and will continue to be around. One issue that most people don’t think about is that the code that creates your website remains the intellectual property of the web designer. If you have a designer create your site and then fire that person, intending to have someone cheaper do the maintenance or even to do it yourself, think again. unless you have a specific agreement upfront with the designer that that’s the plan, your scheme might not work as you anticipate.

Okay. Administrators. Authors have always had to manage their time, just as everyone else does in this world. There are more things to juggle now, but again, I suspect that most people have this issue. What I’ve noticed in terms of changes is that you must be more vigilant in double-checking things. A lot of people in this industry are maxed out in terms of time, which means that mistakes are being made. Even when they’re supposed to be corrected, sometimes they aren’t. You need to keep a calendar and chase things down. This is particularly true with payments. They come more slowly than they used to. We could have a talk about the changes in the issuance of payments, but it’ll just depress you. The same is true of the shipping of contracts and the shipping of review copies and any arrangements made for promotional events. Generally, there’s a lot of crosschecking to do – when in doubt, confirm.

Again, some authors hire personal assistants to keep track of all of these things. We talked about personal assistants in the preceding section – in this arena, the personal assistant might ensure that you have office supplies, manage your IT, answer the phone, make you lunch, do whatever you need on a daily basis to get those words on the page. Historically, a personal assistant for a writer was both a secretary and threshold guardian, and worked in the writer’s home or office. That’s a fantasy for a lot of writers. The notion of having anyone else in the house checking on everything gives me the heebie jeebies, but we are all different.

Our last section of the pie is the negotiator. Traditionally, authors have hired an agent to take responsibility for this bit. Tomorrow we’ll look at what agents do.

Six Tasks Part 1 – The Chart

Several weeks ago, I taught a full day workshop on writing and publishing. I’ve decided to post some excerpts from the workshop here on the blog – although attendance at the workshop was really good, everyone in the world was not there. You might have missed it.

This segment – Six Tasks – was really popular. (Maybe people just like to colour.) If you weren’t there, you didn’t get the handout, but you can create one yourself. Take a sheet of paper and draw a circle on it. Now divide the circle into six wedges. Presto – you’re ready to go.

And here we go:

Defining What You Do Well

It could be said that a career in publishing is about partnerships and alliances. None of us are good at everything, and all of us have our individual inclinations and preferences. That said, we can all learn – or we can compensate.

I’m going to suggest to you that a successful writer is good at six tasks. Incredibly, you have a handout with a pie chart on it, one that has six wedges.

Go ahead and write each skill on one wedge:

• storyteller
• writer
• editor
• marketer
• administrator
• negotiator

There are probably a few items on that list that surprise you. Let’s walk through the list and define my terms.

Storytelling is the art of constructing a story. A storyteller knows how to include conflict, and how to raise the stakes. A storyteller knows to resolve the main conflict last. A storyteller knows how to balance the internal conflicts so that the middle doesn’t sag. A storyteller knows how to keep the pacing crisp. A storyteller knows how to give a subplot or secondary character just enough dimensionality to be interesting and complement the primary story and characters, but keeps either from overwhelming the main show. A storyteller beguiles and enchants, grabs the reader on line one page one and doesn’t let him or her go until the last page is turned. A storyteller instinctively finds the plot holes in movies or synopses.

Go to the wedge of the pie chart that you’ve marked Storyteller and grade your skills by shading in part of that triangle – a little teeny tip of pie means you need work here; a fully shaded triangle is for a master storyteller.

Writing is the craft of presenting a story. A writer has a strong voice, and knows when to wield it. A writer knows the right word to use in any situation, and is sufficiently adept with a dictionary to find it. A writer knows that grammar is a tool and uses it with competence. A writer chooses point of view with deliberation and always ensures that the POV character is the one with the most to win or lose. A writer makes each character’s voice distinct. A writer instinctively finds a line that doesn’t say what it means, or notices a character speaking out of his or her voice, or the implication of a sentence.

Go ahead and shade in your level of skill as a Writer on your pie chart.

Editing is the ability to ensure that the right words are in the right places. This is similar to writing, but at a more molecular level. An editor ensures parallel verb structure, for example, the proper use of the conditional, the appropriate usage of who/whom. An editor defends the distinction between British and American spelling, the continuity of story threads and of characters’ perspectives. An editor cross-checks everything that both the writer and the storyteller do. An editor instinctively red-lines a book or manuscript or really anything in writing, making corrections.

Again, rank yourself as an editor in that section of the pie.

Marketing is the art of drawing attention to the book, an increasingly complicated task in a crowded market. A marketer is more than a sales person: a true promoter infects the world with his or her enthusiasm. The marketing of a book begins before you might think it does. It begins with the title. It can even include the author name or brand. Marketing is certainly the driving force behind the cover art. Marketing includes web site creation, blog design, graphical branding for the author and/or series, slogans, tag lines, blog tours, advertising, positioning of the book in the store, and reviews.

A successful marketer often appears to be motivated more by enthusiasm than money. A marketer is gregarious and easily approaches strangers. A marketer has a tremendous amount of energy and an abundance of fresh new ideas. A marketer understands the market for the given book, as well as the nuances of its genre or subgenre and knows how to communicate effectively with potential readers. A marketer is innovative and optimistic. A marketer instinctively tweaks slogans, taglines and press releases, then shares them with everyone.

You know what comes next – rank yourself as a marketer.

Trick question here – what did I miss? Those of you who wondered why I didn’t mention authors marketing themselves to editors and agents should colour another big bonus chunk of that Marketer wedge.

Administrating is the necessary evil of time management and detail-juggling. In the long and complicated process of getting a book to market, each task not only has to happen but it has to happen on time and within budget. An administrator has one eye on the clock and another on the calendar. If he or she had a third eye, it would be on the bank account. An administrator ensures that deliveries are made on time, that forms are filled out, that tasks are completed and that other people can fulfill their commitments based on that. An administrator is alert to time and cost over-runs, and to the effective management of time. An administrator takes care of software and hardware upgrades, as well as ensuring version control on revised manuscripts, back-ups and archived copies. An administrator double-checks that everyone else is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, in a sufficiently timely fashion that oversights can be corrected. An administrator is caught in a love triangle, equally smitten with her Day-Timer and her watch. An administrator instinctively creates a spreadsheet to compare options and possibilities or tabulate results.

Rank yourself as an administrator.

The final task managed by successful authors is that of a negotiator. A negotiator negotiates terms for new business and new contracts. A negotiator reads the fine print – in contracts and other agreements – as well as ensuring that those terms are fulfilled in a timely fashion. A negotiator polices rights reversions and the timely payment of monies owed. A negotiator is also a mediator, the one who smooths troubled waters or negotiates compromises. And a negotiator is a strategist. This includes deciding when to say no to contract offers, when to rebrand the author name, and when to move to other ponds, perhaps because of changing market conditions. A good negotiator listens, is always up for a bit of scuttlebutt, and is constantly trying to assess the changing direction of the wind in the marketplace. A good negotiator knows what is fair to expect, when to push and when to cede.

Rank yourself as a negotiator.

Take a look at your pie chart. Chances are pretty good that yours is as lopsided as mine. None of us can do everything, and that’s okay. This exercise is similar to an exercise proposed in The Artist’s Way for ensuring your life balance – the wonderful thing is that doing this chart almost automatically gives you an action plan.

I love action plans. Maybe you’ve picked that up already.

You can make this chart more balanced in two ways:

1/ by learning new skills yourself;
2/ by forming alliances with others who possess skills you do not. Ideally, you will learn from these people instead of becoming reliant upon them. Be a student, not a parasite.

For example, if you see a deficit in your storytelling skills, you can take workshops on heightening conflict, on adding high stakes to your story, on using high concepts, on improving your pacing, etc. etc. You can also join a critique group or get a critique partner to help you build those skills. To learn better how to construct stories, you might learn to deconstruct them – a screenwriting workshop could help, as could a course on modern film. You might take an English Lit class that focuses on analyzing the classics, or read a book on the archetypes of storytelling. My point is that once you recognize that there’s an issue, you can work on minimizing its influence.

So, your take-home assignment is to create an action plan from your pie-chart for the year ahead. Your goal is to have a more evenly rounded chart a year from now. This is a perpetual project – as you learn and grow, that chart will become lopsided in new ways, giving you new action plans forever and ever.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about alliances that authors often form to deal with all of these tasks.


Home again, after teaching a full day workshop at Toronto Romance Writers on Saturday. I think it went well – I had fun, anyways – but now it’s back to my regular writing schedule.

I like to teach and interact with people. It gets me out of my little writing cave and always gives me lots of new ideas. Plus the act of teaching – or preparing a workshop – gives me the chance to see things in new ways, usually in order to explain them more clearly. I examined a lot of trends for this workshop, and that was thought-provoking, too.

On the other hand, I also like routine. I like regular schedules – routine makes me a more productive writer.

Either one makes me appreciate the other.

How about you? Would you rather do something different every day, stick to routine, or mix it up a bit?