Writing Craft

Conquering Conference Jitters

conference-jitters

Next week the annual American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference is upon us. While this particular conference is one of the largest in our industry (over 700 will be there in St. Louis), writers can become nervous before going to even the most intimate conference. We all want to make a good impression and show other industry professionals our best. You have already prayed and handed the conference over to the Lord, so here are a few more tips based on questions I’ve been asked over the years:

1.) What do I wear? 

Each conference has its own personality and you’ll need to adjust accordingly. For instance, hiking across a college campus during a spring rain shower requires different clothing than staying indoors at a five-star hotel. Visit the conference web site to glean as much information as you can about what you might expect concerning accommodations and weather. For any conference, the best rule is to select clothing that makes you feel great. Comfortable, flattering clothes that show polish are easily available at different price points. No agent or editor I know encourages writers to spend a fortune on conference clothing. Look in your closet. Chances are excellent that you already own clothes that are right for you to wear. If you’re still unsure, it’s hard for women to err with a simple dress or a blouse or sweater with dark slacks or a skirt. Men can’t go wrong with a presentable shirt and trousers. Both men and women can add a blazer according to personal style.

2.) How do I use my one-sheets?

Conference veterans know about one-sheets, through which authors present their stories, photo, bio, and contact information on one page. Editors and agents often take these home with them, but few will accept chapters and full proposals. Imagine toting fifty full proposals back with you on a plane! However, it doesn’t hurt to have a few pages of your manuscript, and even the full proposal, printed for the agent or editor to peruse during the appointment. Having a writing sample available might help the conversation.

3.) What contact information should I take with me?

If you already have an agent put your agent’s contact information on the one-sheets and the sample chapters you use for editors. This is because an editor usually prefers to contact the agent about a manuscript.And talk to your agent before you go to make sure you are both on the same page with what you are pitching to editors, and even deciding which editors you should see.

Make sure you bring a nice stack of business cards…with your picture on it. That will help when meeting other authors and editors in hallways and at meals. This is a good way to help folks remember you. Some authors are even putting their Twitter handle on their business card. And a few published authors will put the cover of their book on the back side of the business card which can be great advertising! Steve Laube says that each night he gathers whatever one sheets and business cards he collected, and along with that day’s schedule he makes notes in his Moleskine notebook so that he can reconstruct the items that need followup and the people he met. This could be one way for you to absorb all that you heard each day.

4.) What should I strive to achieve during my appointments?

Get to know an industry professional. The one-sheet is not your do-or-die document. A one-sheet will give you talking points and something to present to the editor, but really, you are demonstrating a little bit about who you are. You want to convey your business style and show the editor or agent you are easy to work with, professional, and that you are willing to do as the Lord leads to be a successful published author. I highly recommend you read Steve Laube’s advice on “That Conference Appointment” before you go.

I wish you great conference success, fellowship, and fun!

 

 

 

 

 

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More About Book Sales


My post on Monday about average book sales raised a few questions and got me to thinking a little further.

I wondered what the average book sales were for all the titles our agency has represented. Our authors have sold millions of books but I had never thought to “do the math.”

I give this number with the following caveat. Many of the books have not been out for a year and thus we only have numbers for the first few months of sales. And some titles have a more academic orientation which generally means the unit sales are not as good. Also included are titles that were commercial disasters (selling less than 1,500 copies). But that is countered by a few titles that have been on the bestseller’s lists. Thus the “average.”

Across all titles our agency has represented over the last seven years, the average book has sold 20,000 copies. Wow. We are so privileged to be working with such amazing authors!

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What Are Average Book Sales?

by Steve Laube


We recently received the following question:

“What does the average book sell today? An industry veteran at a writers conference recently said 5,000. What??? I know it all depends….but … nowhere near 5K, right?”

My simple answer?

It’s complicated.
It depends.

HAH!

Average is a difficult thing to define. And each house defines success differently. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at one publisher they celebrate and have steak dinners. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at another publisher you find staff members fearing for their jobs and in total despair.

Let me give you some real numbers but not revealing the author name (and there is a wide variety of publishers represented):

Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 8,300

Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. sale = 19,756

Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 7,000

Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. sale = 5,300 (Two different publishers)

Author 5: non-fiction devotional – 5 books – avg. sale 10,900

Author 6: non-fiction – 2 books – avg. sale = 5,300

Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. sale = 29,400

Author 8: non-fiction – 3 books – avg. sale = 18,900

Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. sale = 12,900

Author 10: non-fiction – 5 books – avg. sale = 6,800 (three different publishers)

So you can see it DOES depend. Depends on the author and publisher and topic or genre.

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Saving the World, One Romance at a Time

Often I will receive submissions of novels tying in an element of mystery and suspense with romance. Writers targeting the romantic suspense market will find difficulty in placing this type of story. Why? Because romantic suspense readers have certain expectations that won’t be met with a mere element of mystery and intrigue.

In my experience trying to sell and market romantic suspense, I have found that the readers of this genre want all-out adventure and crime solving along with compelling romance. The suspense is foremost, with the romance being tied in so deeply that the story won’t survive without it.

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Nameless Waterfalls

During a recent vacation we visited a place in Alaska called the Tracy Arm Fjord. The picture was one that I took during that visit.

As we past through these amazing waters it was bitter cold (note the icebergs in the water), in the early morning around 6 a.m., and with a chilly wind to accompany us. But rather than be frozen by the weather I was mesmerized by the number of waterfalls along this 30 mile long fjord. There were hundreds of them. Most did not have a name because there were so many. In the above photo, if you click to make it larger, there are at least three, if not more.

And then it struck me. The words we write and the authors who write them are like these waterfalls.

They are plentiful and beautiful.

But many remain nameless.

And yet, without them the fjord is unfilled and the oceans run dry.

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He Said. She Said.

A blog reader recently left an excellent comment on an earlier post:

Tamela, fiction workshop presenters taught me that the best word for “said” is “said”–that others only tend to slow down the reader’s eye. I’d appreciate a discussion on this.

While I don’t know the workshop presenters in question, what I can guess they meant is to avoid substituting creative verbs for “said” as a tag. For example:

“Cyrus, tell that joke about the tortoise and the hare,” the cowboy chuckled.

“This caviar is not up to my standards,” the dowager sniffed.

These tags aren’t without merit, because they do help convey the emotions and actions of the characters. In fact, they could even be expanded into effective action tags. At the least, simple punctuation would keep these characters from performing the improbable task of sniffing and chuckling words:

“Cyrus, tell that joke about the tortoise and the hare.” The cowboy chuckled.

“This caviar is not up to my standards.” The dowager sniffed.

So why would fiction workshop presenters tell writers to use the word “said” as a tag? I would say that there is a time and place to use a simple tag. In a fast-paced scene, a simple tag will keep the action flowing. For example:

“Get the gun,” Bruce said.

“What?”

“I said, get the gun.”

“Why?”

“Don’t ask questions,” Bruce said. “Just do as I say. Now.”

In a case such as this, complicated action tags could slow down the rhythm and urgency of the scene, distracting the reader rather than adding to the story. The “said” tag is used infrequently to help the reader keep track of the conversation.

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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Three)

Remember that old adage for retailers, “The customer is always right?” Well, for novelists seeking the perfect title, that should be “The audience is always right.”

Tip #4: Remember Your Audience! Novelists do a great job, on the whole, of keeping their audience in mind as they write. But sometimes when trying to come up with a catchy title or cover image, they go a bit far afield of that audience. The result is that readers who would love the story won’t even pick it up. And those who do pick it up may not find what they expected inside. So as you work on your title, remember who your reader is. For example:

Age range. If your book would appeal mostly to Christian women in their 40s and up, then don’t use a trendy title that will appeal to the twenty-somethings. And watch out for technology phrases. Unless your certain your core audience is familiar with both the meaning and use of something technologial, steer clear. For example, using RAM, bits, bytes, and bauds as words in your title may work for a younger audience, or one that’s technologically savvy, but for older readers? Odds are good you’d lose ’em. (Or have them writing you letters scolding you for misspelling bites.)
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A Matter of Perspective

During a recent visit to my local bank, I produced a document bearing the Virginia State seal. The banker commented on how terrible the seal is for men.

What an odd thing to say!

Mrs. Judith Gue taught third grade at the small private school I attended in a bucolic part of Virginia. Mrs. Gue was a plump woman who favored silk dresses, kept a paddle on her desk as an unspoken and ever-present threat, smoked cigarettes like a fiend and had also taught my mother. She relished the first story in the Virginia history book, about how Sir Walter Raleigh covered a mud puddle with his cloak so his queen’s feet would not be sullied. Pride filled her voice when she shows us the seal, speaking of “Victory over Tyrants” for our great state. The woman depicted is the Roman Goddess Virtus, the goddess of virtue, and the defeated man is a tyrant. I have my doubts that the men responsible for the seal, designed in 1776, were raging feminists.

I said to the banker, “You’re not a native, are you?”

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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Two)

First, here are the answers to last week’s questions:

Name That Tone!

The Boneman’s Daughters–chilling

Redeeming Love–romantic

The Shunning–Amish

The Riddlemaster of Hed–fantastical

A Vase of Mistaken Identity–whimsical

Without a Trace–suspensful

Three Weddings & a Giggle—humourous and romantic

Name that Genre!

Kidnapped–adventure

Sister Chicks Down Under—witty women’s fiction

The Lightkeeper’s Ball—historical romance

Deadly Pursuit—suspense

The Twelfth Prophecy, A.D. Chronicles—biblical fiction

Okay, now, on to Tip #3 for crafting strong titles. As USA channel puts it, Characters welcome! Ever and always, Keep Your Characters in Mind. Sometimes the best title for a book focuses on the character.

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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part One)

One of the most difficult—and important—things we did when I worked in the publishing house was come up with titles for our authors’ novels. Sometimes it was a breeze, either because the author’s title was spot-on or because the story lent itself organically to a certain title. But more often than not, it was a long process of back-and-forth with the author, marketing, and sales. So how can you, the author, develop a title that works well? Give the following tips a try.

1. Tone. Be sure your title reflects the tone of your story accurately.

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