Please welcome guest Jenny Milchman to Writer Unboxed! Jenny’s short fiction has been published and reviewed online and her novel of literary suspense is currently on submission. She’s the founder of the series Writing Matters, which draws authors and publishing folk from as far away as Seattle to standing-room-only events at a local independent bookstore in Montclair, N.J. Last year she began Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, a holiday that quickly went viral, enlisting over 80 booksellers in 30 states.
She also teaches for New York Writers Workshop, and led a workshop in February called “I Wrote a Book…Now What? 10 Things You Need to Know to Get Published.” She graciously offered to share some of the questions asked in that class with WU readers–along with her answers. Take it away, Jenny.
“I Wrote a Book…Then What?” A Follow-up
As WU readers may (or of course, may not) remember, last Sunday I led a workshop on writing called I Wrote a Book, Now What? 10 Things You Need to Know to Get Published. With many thanks due to Therese and Kathleen, I am back today to share with you some of the topics we discussed.
So without further ado [queue David Letterman voice] here are the Top 5 Questions asked by emerging writers seeking publication during this changing time in publishing.
Q: What’s the difference between a pitch and a query letter?
A: If you consider a pitch to be something like the flap copy that will go on your novel’s book jacket, then a pitch certainly belongs *in* a query letter. But a query also contains other ingredients, such as why you’re querying this particular agent, some biographical details, where your book would be positioned in the marketplace or comparable titles, and your credentials (if important) or qualifications (if relevant).
Q: If so-called cold querying can work to get an agent, why would a writers conference be worth the money?
A: Quite frankly, agents get so many queries that not all of the ones they receive can be read, or read with great thoroughness. If you attend a writing conference that offers an agent panel or two, you will have the advantage of getting to hear agents speak and interact–possibly even gaining a little face-to-face time yourself–which can really help assess fit. You also will be able to note in your query that you heard or met this agent at such and such conference, thereby upping your chances–not of winning representation, but of getting a serious read.
Q: If self-published (or as they are nowadays known, independently published) authors like Karen McQuestion are finding great sales and success via Kindle, while other well-established ones, such as Joe Konrath, are leaving the majors to publish themselves, why should I work so hard to find an agent?
A: The short answer is, maybe you shouldn’t. The longer answer is that the majors will do some things for you that even great success with the “indie” route simply won’t…bookstore exposure being one. If you are happy with the admitted wealth of book buyers you can reach over the net, then putting your–well-edited and thoroughly vetted–manuscript into digital format yourself may make a lot of sense. Just know that there are elements of an author’s career that don’t marry so well with this route.
Q: What if I don’t like marketing?
A: If you like writing, you probably like marketing…the problem is the definition you’re using. Plenty of writers aren’t comfortable on Facebook or Tweeting six times a week. Some of them will grow to become more comfortable, but others never will. They still can market their books. Say you wrote a novel set during WWI because you are a big war and history buff. There are probably dozens of chat rooms focused on this time period where you can go to talk over your favored epoch, offer information that will be valuable to others, all while building a group of future readers. Marketing doesn’t have to mean trumpety self-promotion. And it doesn’t have to be faceless or impersonal. The key to good marketing is identifying what compelled you to write this book in the first place–and finding a way to share it with others.
And the # 1 question asked in a workshop full of emerging writers was…
Q: I wrote a book. Yeah. So…now what?
A: Now you get someone to read that book. More than one someone. And make sure they’re all people you can trust to give you good, hard, honest feedback. Before you start querying, before we talk publishing (and which sort), before you do much more than think about how to market, make sure you have a group of trusty readers who will read your whole manuscript and neither pat you on the back nor rip it to shreds (unless, of course, it deserves either). Find people who will be able to clue into what this book wants to be, and where it’s currently falling short. Such readers are worth their weight in whatever you particularly value, and they sometimes take a long process of trial and error to cull. But if you’ve written a book, you need a few of them in your corner.
Best of luck to all the emerging, and established, writers out there!
Thanks for sharing your Q&A gems with us, Jenny! Readers, you can learn more about Jenny on her website and blog, where she features international bestsellers as well as authors published by micro presses in the Made It Moments forum. You can follow her, too, on Facebook and Twitter. Write on.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Eleaf.