Last week I made it my mission to get my ass out into the community. I’ve lived in Portland just over two years and had my head down for too long, grinding and whatnot. And when you work from home—no matter how terrific and cuddly your pets are—the need to be around humans intensifies.
Besides the array of local bars and coffee shops in my neighborhood, there is another convenient place to be around other humans…MeetUps.
I joined A LOT of them. Hence, the reason I ended up dancing in a Bollywood class, signing up for a marketing conference, and going to church.
Church? I know. They even let me in, can you believe it?
All joking aside, I went to church for this Willamette Writers MeetUp. The topic was all about how to get published…and how not to.
Presented by Tod Davies, Editorial Director of Exterminating Angel Press, Tod is an author herself with a colorful career track record as a radio host, screenwriter, and indie film producer. I’m not ashamed to say it—I was smitten when I discovered she co-wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Yep, that’s pretty damn cool.)
There is a Shit-Ton of Noise
This might be the part where some of you that have known me for years are wondering why I, a devout indie author with three self-published books under her belt, strolled into a MeetUp to learn tips about traditional publishing.
The rest of you probably want me to shut up and talk about the publishing tips, because you were lured here after reading the title of this blog. Don’t get your panties in a bunch, or scroll down if you can’t handle the suspense.
Besides the MeetUp’s promise of writerly camaraderie, I have decided to give traditional publishing another go when I finish my fourth book this year. There are things I love about self-publishing, and things I don’t.
Without diving into a pros and cons moment here, I’ve talked about the struggle of being an indie author many times. When I wrote Why Writing Isn’t Enough—The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Success over at Kristen Lamb’s blog some months ago, I gave other writers the tough love.
We’re running a business. It’s the last thing any creative type wants to hear. But, it’s true—and we have to get our ducks in a row, like these guys.
In today’s publishing world—both indie and traditional—there is a shit-ton of noise. We know that. It’s not like the good ole days, when there were less authors and blogs. The accessibility of technology has opened the flood gates, and the market is…flooded.
Back in 2012, when silly me decided to pursue published author glory after I “finished” my first book, I diligently created a spreadsheet of every literary agent that seemed like a good fit from a hefty publishing book my mom gave me.
During the submission process, I acted personable and professional—hell, I was in my first marketing job at the time, so I knew a little something about PR. Still, I was ignored or rejected again and again and again, until the crazy time when a big shot agent in Manhattan actually considered my manuscript for Beneath the Satin Gloves.
I thought: This is it!
It wasn’t. He passed.
“Spectacular writing is writing that fits the category and fits the need. For example, with pornography you don’t want it to read like Proust.” – Tod Davies
Even though I didn’t get any feedback besides the “this isn’t right for us” pillow talk, I reworked my manuscript to make it stronger and I self-published it. Years later, I revised it again and republished it on Amazon, applying my recent years of writing experience to make it even stronger.
Looking back on it all, I realize I just wasn’t ready. And I think that’s a mistake a lot of writers make, whether they are self-publishing or shopping it around.
That doesn’t mean we have to spend years on a quest for writing perfectionism. That quest will make your life miserable and your book will never see the light of day. And simmer down, because you’re probably breaking it.
We absolutely have to put together the best possible work. But, we also need to consider the “now what?” phase. If you’re self-publishing, how are you going to get people to read it? If you’re going traditional, how are you going to get it picked up?
Here comes the “B” word again. We’re running a business.
We’re All Humans, So Act Like One
So, where was I? Oh, yes. An indie author walks into a church…
I’ll admit I was skeptical about the MeetUp, because it was the first one I ever attended. I sat in one of the back pews, close to the exit in case I needed to bolt. I was pleasantly surprised by not only the educational value, but the entertainment as well.
Tod Davies knows her shit, and she was up front about her goal to create an interactive experience for the crowd.
During the “what NOT to do” part at the beginning there was some tasteful role-playing—with the desperate writer acting out each point to the publisher searching for an escape route.
Though they may all seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how many writers regularly commit these atrocities and become a part of the “guess what this writer did today” discussion when publishers get together for drinks.
What NOT To Do
While I enjoyed the playful approach, the shining moment of the MeetUp happened in the second half, during the “what to do” segment.
This was when Tod went through each point from her publisher’s perspective, inviting the audience to freely ask questions to fuel the discussion. So, here they are:
What To Do
“Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else, Because that’s what you’re bringing to the party.” – Tod Davies
At the beginning of the talk, Tod asked us one no-frills question that stunned the room: How many of you know that publishers are human beings?
I wish I could have been standing where she was, taking in the blank stares. I imagine it was a bittersweet mixture of comedy and frustration for her. When she posed the same question again, cautious hands began to rise from the tattered pews and laughter enveloped the musty space.
So, if thinking about your writing as a business doesn’t resonate with you, then remember humanity. Be human, be yourself. Because there is a human on the other side of every part of this.
Who’s reading your book? A human. Who’s reviewing your book? Oh look, it’s a human. Who’s editing, formatting, designing your book? Still a human. Who’s reading your eager email when you submit your pitch to a publisher or agent? I think you get it.
We’re all humans, so act like one. Interesting concept, eh? See what that does for your success as a writer.
Have you ever been to an amazing MeetUp? Or, do you have any great tips for pitching to publishers?