Category: For authors


Meet our Smith & Corona

By Midge Raymond,

We so enjoyed creating our Remington Rand notecards that we’ve created a new card featuring our 1929 Smith & Corona. (Now our worry is that the other typewriters will be jealous, though frankly, not all of them are ready for their close-ups just yet…)

Here’s an image of the new cards, now available:

And, if you’ve got a soft spot for antique typewriters, check out our public service announcement and join the campaign to save the typewriters.

Ask the Editor: DOs and DON’Ts for query letters

By Midge Raymond,

Q: What do you look for in a query letter?

A: A good query letter (in our case, that’s the cover letter that accompanies submissions) should be professional and to the point (“to the point” meaning it should be no more than one page long); it should tell us about your book and a little bit about yourself. It should also tell us why you chose to submit to Ashland Creek Press (i.e., it should reveal that you’ve done enough research to know what we publish, which takes about two minutes on our web site) and show passion for your work.

Easy, right?

Here are a few more general details, for writers looking for either an editor or an agent…

 Have a hook. You’ll need to be able to describe your book in one or two sentences, which can be as challenging as writing the book itself. Yet this is essential for selling your book to an agent or editor — and for your publisher to sell your book to the rest of the world. For example, Blair Richmond’s book Out of Breath was described as “a vampire novel with an environmental twist.”

– Include a short bio. The key word here is short — two to three sentences at most. Include your best publishing credits (not all of them) and any awards you may have received. If you don’t yet have a publishing history, include something about your unique experience and/or qualifications for writing the book, i.e., “I am a park ranger at Yellowstone, where my novel is set.”

– Note why you’re choosing a particular agent or editor. This helps a lot, as agents, editors, and publishers usually specialize; it’s not a one-size-fits-all industry. Even if you read that an agent accepts “general fiction,” take a look at what he or she represents (is it mostly mystery or mostly romance?) to get an idea of whether your book will be appropriate; it’ll save everyone’s time in the end.

– Be polite and professional. This should go without saying, but we’re always surprised by how many letters we get that aren’t. Check your spelling and punctuation, of course, and know that your query letter gives agents and editors that all-important first impression — if your tone is cranky, unprofessional, or entitled, it could affect how your proposal gets viewed.

And, finally, here are some DOs and DON’Ts, which come from a long mental list I’ve kept of queries I’ve received over many years as an editor.

DOs

  • Use an agent’s or editor’s name rather than “Dear Agent/Editor.” It’s more personal and shows that you’ve spent at least a little time researching before querying. (We are always charmed when writers include our General Manager, Theo, in their query letters.)
  • Let a publisher know if your book has been self-published. Many publishers (including us) will gladly take a look, but they need to be aware of potential rights issues for authors using vanity presses.
  • If you mention a famous writer you claim to have studied with extensively, be sure to spell this author’s name correctly.
  • Make sure there are no pages missing in your manuscript, particularly those very important pages at the beginning or end.
  • Include word count, but recognize that anything over 100,000 words is often viewed as too long; while there are exceptions to every rule, most editors/agents prefer a word count between 70,000 and 90,000 for novels.

DON’Ts

  • Do not refer to an editor as “yo.” (Yes, this actually happened to us.)
  • Don’t send poetry if the publisher does not publish poetry; don’t send short stories if an agent doesn’t accept short stories, etc.
  • Don’t bad-mouth your previous editor/publisher/agent. We might think you’re not very friendly.
  • Don’t threaten to self-publish your novel if we don’t take it on. (We don’t need to know this, and it doesn’t really help your case.)
  • While we appreciate knowing whether yours is a simultaneous submission, it is not necessary to list every single editor/agent/publisher to which you have simultaneously submitted your book.
  • Don’t refer to your book a “fictional novel.”
  • While comparing your book to a similar title or two is helpful, you don’t need to list a dozen famous authors whose books all resemble the one you’re submitting.

For additional info, check out these tips from author, editor, and agent Betsy Lerner … agent Nathan Bransford has a comprehensive post on queries as well. And for helpful, hands-on tips, visit literary agent Kristin Nelson’s website for detailed notes on how to write a good query letter.

And in case any of the above sounds a little fussy — well, anyone who gets a lot of queries gets a little jaded after a while. But when we say “we look forward to reading your work,” we really mean it. No agent or editor or publisher can get by without authors — we all know this and embrace it. So…we look forward to reading your work. Truly.

Tips for authors: A new year of writing

By Midge Raymond,

With another new year having arrived, my new list of writing goals now reads: Writing Goals of 2011 2012.

Sometimes we don’t accomplish everything we hope to — but that doesn’t mean we can’t re-evaluate and move on. So I thought I’d offer a few writing tips as we welcome 2012 (though I admit I probably need them more than you do).

It wasn’t even two years ago that I discovered Priscilla Long’s List of Works, and I still find that it’s among the best tools I have for keeping track of what I’m doing (or not doing) as a writer. In brief, a List of Works allows you to note what projects you’ve begun (and when), at what stage they are (published or circulating), and what you need to revise, finish, and/or send out.

In all, 2011 was a great writing year. Forgetting English, which went briefly out of print, has a fabulous new life thanks to Kevin Morgan Watson and Press 53. I did a book tour with my dear friend and writing buddy Wendy Call, the award-winning author of No Word for Welcome. I published five stories, won a fiction contest, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Then, of course, there’s the rest of it. I’m still working to complete three unfinished stories (two of which I began back in 2010), and I have a half-dozen ideas for stories that are still waiting for attention (and again, some of these ideas have been sitting there, half-baked, for at least a year…or more). I have half of a new story collection that I’d hoped to finish last year — and then there’s that novel I’ve been working on for the past two years.

But this is what it’s all about: accepting both the good and the less-than-good. Finding the balance. Celebrating the great news and resolving to make great news from the rest…eventually.

So if you’re like me — juggling storylines and submissions — here are a few tips for 2012…

Create a List of Works. Whether you’re just beginning to write or whether you’ve been writing for years, you should have a List of Works. Create it in whatever way works for you … just make sure you write down every single project you begin, and be sure you create one for every calendar year. Most important, go back through your ancient files and list every writing project you’ve ever begun…you never know what might happen when you rediscover these “old” ideas.

Take a close look at unfinished projects. I’ve found many a gem in a long-abandoned project. Even when I have only a vague idea for a story, I’ll jot down a few notes, file it as a “story in progress,” come back to it at least once a year. Often it just sits there for another year, but sometimes I’ll find it at just the right time, and it’ll come to life in new and surprising ways. Never abandon old ideas; you never know when they’ll suddenly be relevant.

Track all your submissions. This may seem incredibly obvious, but I’m always surprised by how many writers don’t keep track of submissions. Thanks to many magazines and publishers accepting online submissions, it’s easier now than ever — but you’ll still want to have some sort of system for whatever you submit in print. I use an Excel spreadsheet; one writer I know keeps a loose-leaf binder; other writers keep simple lists. It’s helpful for many reasons (among them, making sure you don’t submit the same piece to the same publication twice, or forget what you sent when a form rejection arrives) — but most of all, it’ll remind you to keep sending work out there. It can take dozens of rejections before you get an acceptance, and you’ll want to be sure you keep your work circulating.

Take stock of your progress at least twice a year. And quarterly is even better. Taking inventory will help you see what you’ve begun and how far you’ve come — and how far you still need to go. And keep in mind this isn’t meant to stress you out about what you’re not writing but to inspire you to stay on course. You may find that you haven’t gotten anywhere with the novel you’d hoped to write but that you found the perfect ending for a short story you’ve been working on for years. Or you may find that the poem you started isn’t coming together but that it would make a better personal essay anyway. Be open to taking things in new directions.

– See how you can use your new work to better promote the work that’s already out there. When Forgetting English was reissued by Press 53 in April of this year, it was in an expanded version with two new stories. One of the stories, “Lost Art,” hadn’t yet appeared outside the collection, so I thought it would be great to find it a home of its own, which would in turn help promote the new edition of my book. I found the story a home in a beautiful online journal, Escape Into Life, and it was a win-win all around. (Note that you may need to check your publishing contract before embarking on such a venture.) If you’re working on a novel, see if you can send a stand-alone excerpt to a literary magazine to start building buzz as early as you can. And think about how you can use what you know and do best to highlight your own work — for example, this year I’ve also done interviews, Q&As, guest blogs, and magazine articles about the writing process and the writing life, all of which I hope are useful to readers but also bring new attention to Forgetting English.

Happy new year! May 2012 be your best writing year ever.

 

Tips for authors: On getting (or not getting) reviews

By Midge Raymond,

When Forgetting English was first published by Eastern Washington University Press in 2009, I learned — after the fact and much to my dismay — that it had never been sent out for reviews. It wasn’t long before I also learned that half of the press’s staff had been laid off and that the press would close within the year, which answered the question of why — but I still had to deal with the fact that I had a short story collection to promote without a single review.

And that was a little depressing.

Authors (rightly) expect their publishers to send out review copies (if there’s ever any doubt, they should ask), but of course this doesn’t guarantee that their books will actually be reviewed. With some 200,000 books being published in the U.S. annually, it’s a challenge, particularly for new and emerging authors, to get reviewed by the major media outlets that can get your book the attention you want and need. So what can an author do to help create some publication buzz when the reviews aren’t coming in?

Among the best advice I got from authors when Forgetting English was published was to use my author copies for promotion purposes. I’d been planning to give them all away — what could be more fun than to shower friends and family with free books? — but then I realized that my fellow authors had very good reasons behind their advice.

First, if anyone’s going to buy your book with great joy and pride, it’ll be your friends and family — so let them. It doesn’t cost them all that much, and it’ll support either their indie bookstores or your Amazon ranking, and that’s nice, too. Second, you’ll need to send complimentary copies to those who were instrumental in the writing or publishing process, from those who helped you with research to those who offered blurbs; anyone who donated time and energy to you without asking anything in return certainly deserves a signed copy of your book. And, finally, whatever copies you have left are best used to help promote it — given today’s challenges, from the economy to dwindling attention spans, we authors need all the help we can get.  And I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way, just a realistic one: As anyone who’s published a book will tell you, promotion makes writing look like the easy part.

Whether you’ve gotten those PW and NYT reviews or not, you’ll still want to take advantage of the myriad options for generating buzz and/or keeping it going. So here are a few tips for getting reviews and making the most of them…

– About six months before your book comes out, research book review blogs to see which ones might be a good fit for your book as well as receptive to reviewing it. You’ll want to approach bloggers with a good number of followers (these are your potential readers) as well as comments (which shows that the reviews are being read and responded to). Also be sure they read and review in your genre and that the reviews are of the quality and sensibility you hope for in a review. It’s best to query first so that you don’t send a copy that may end up in recycling; if a blogger is interested, he or she will get back to you. Because publishers often offer advance copies to book bloggers as well as more traditional media, check your list against the review list of your publisher so that you don’t send duplicates.

– If for any reason your book doesn’t get sent out for reviews, don’t give up: Send copies out yourself. You won’t get anywhere with Publishers Weekly, which requires copies months in advance, but your local newspaper will probably pay attention, and may even do a feature article along with a review. Target any publication you think would be receptive and a good fit. Alumni magazines and newsletters are a great resource, as are literary magazines, especially if they’ve published your work in the past.

Think outside the box: Don’t limit yourself to traditional book review sections of publications but also look at other possibilities, from travel columns to cooking editions. Target radio stations, university publications, community newsletters — any venue or publication that might offer a good audience for your book and/or topic.

– If you are fortunate enough to get good press, add reviews to your web site, your Facebook page, etc. — get the good news out there. At the same time, avoid becoming tediously self-promotional; if you get several reviews at once, you might space them out a bit. I often link to reviews on Facebook by expressing gratitude toward the reviewer or publication, which always seems a bit softer than shamelessly showing off my book (even if that really is the point). It truly is a tough job … but someone’s got to do it.

– Remember that every day is book promotion day: Don’t give up on getting reviews  six months past your publication date. When Forgetting English was reissued by Press 53, I reached out to new bloggers and even did another book tour — all of which led to many new readers, even though the book by then was two years old. Always keep an eye out for publications that might be a good fit, or for a local news story that you may be able to contribute to. There’s never any reason to stop promoting your book; there will always be someone out there for whom it’s brand-new.

– If readers tell you how much they love your book, ask for an Amazon/Goodreads/LibraryThing/Barnes & Noble reader review. Having good reviews on these sites will get the attention of online shoppers, and though it feels awkward to ask, you’ll get over it once you see a few nice reviews up there. You don’t have to beg or plead; simply let people know how much a nice review will help get the word out about your book and how much you’d appreciate it.

– And, finally, if you do happen to get a bad review, try to remember how subjective the process of reviewing is. This is especially true with book blogs, many of which are very informal — yet even professional book reviewers are human beings with personal tastes that may not align with what you’ve written. Recognize that no writer or book can satisfy every reader, and, because the book is out there and there’s nothing you can do to change it anyway, do your best to ignore anything negative. And don’t attempt to respond to bad reviews, even if you feel the reviewer was sloppy or missed the whole point of the book; this approach never goes anywhere good. Just let it go.

And keep in mind that, in the end, while reviews are wonderful and helpful, they won’t necessarily make or break your book. Many bestsellers have been made by word of mouth alone, so always remember what you can do for your book, focusing on what is in your power to accomplish rather than what’s not.

A music blog that every writer should read

By John Yunker,

I’ve recently become acquainted with The Lefsetz Letter, a blog by — who else? — Bob Lefsetz.

It’s a blog about the music industry.

And yet there are so many parallels between the music industry and the publishing industry that I recommend this blog to any writer out there who wants to get a feel for where we’re all headed.

There are differences, to be sure, between the two industries. There’s no American Idol for writers, for example (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Both industries are undergoing massive change, both due primarily to the digitization of content.

And as Bob wrote, the music industry can’t get away with overcharging for music any longer. The same might be said for the publishing industry, which sowed the seeds for its own disruption when hardcovers began costing north of $25 (and giving people a very good reason to migrate to the Kindle).

But what I most appreciate about Bob’s writing (and boy, is he prolific) is that he always comes back around to the importance of the art itself. Because despite all the Kindles and iPads and Nooks that are making headlines these days, despite all social networking success stories, it is the art itself that matters most.

A Kindle is worthless without a great book.

And I would argue that there is still a dearth of great books out there.

Here’s what Bob wrote recently:

No one wants to hear this. Especially a generation brought up getting trophies for last place. Music is more cutthroat and competitive than ever before. The public is right there, on the other side of the computer, but it’s almost impossible to get people to care.

If you’re a great marketer, good at Facebook and Twitter, hire yourself out as such. Just because you can promote a product, that does not mean it’s going to sell. Social media only works if the music is great.

Good is not good enough.

We’re talking great. One listen great. Fifteen seconds great. Or something so left field that our friends tell us to give it five times through and we think it’s the new “Dark Side Of The Moon”.

Music is like America at large. There’s the 1% and everybody else. You may think you can make it, but you can’t. You’re part of the 99%. You’re a fan.

You could swap out “music” and insert “publishing” and “book” and this excerpt would be just as relevant to writers.

There are more books being published today than ever before, more books competing for reviews and for “follows” and “likes.”  It’s the natural evolution of an industry that no longer has gatekeepers. It’s chaotic. It’s noisy. And now the focus is on how many friends you have, how many followers. Writers are all expected to have a “platform” so they can guarantee a certain number of sales, a certain amount of publicity.

But I agree with what Bob notes: Social media only works if the music [book] is great.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. I wonder how a writer who has been toiling for years (usually nights and weekends) writing his or her Great American Novel is also expected to have a few thousand followers and friends?

My advice echoes Bob’s: You’re far better off worrying less about how many friends you have and focusing more on writing the best book possible. A book that people tell their friends and family about not because you asked them to — because they want to.

Far too often, publishers make acquisitions based on how many friends or likes or Twitter followers an author has. And that is a mistake. Yet it’s a mistake that will ultimately benefits smaller presses — those of us still focused on the work itself. In a world with no gatekeepers at the top, it is the gatekeepers at the bottom who matter most — the readers. Write for them and them only, and the rest will fall into place.

And don’t forget to check out Bob’s blog.