Feeding Your Writing Addiction

And how to extend your book’s 15-minute shelf life

If you’re currently clutching a half-written manuscript or in possession of the first seven pages of what you’ve deemed the next best-seller, you might have caught yourself daydreaming of that day when your polished novel is presented to the world. And the world rejoices. You kick off your publicity tour with a stop at the Today Show Studio 1A, where Hoda and Jenna can’t get enough of you as you humbly admit that your incredible talent and lovable personality have allowed you to break through the sobering fact that debut novels are rarely commercially successful. While these daydreams are fun, statistics show that debut novels rarely catch fire. Still… can you beat the odds?

The answer is… maybe.  

While a miniscule proportion of talented and well-positioned writers are able to secure a literary agent who eventually leads them to the bliss of publication with one of the traditional publishing giants, the remaining wishful authors often travel down a different path with much heavier traffic. Some may go down the road of self-publication while a growing number of writers are securing publication with the ever-popular hybrid publisher. Working with a hybrid publisher carries the benefit of validation, in that your work is vetted before the company agrees to publish your book. The expenses and sales are then shared between author and publisher. The upside of this collaboration is the book being available online wherever books are sold (Amazon, Barns & Nobel, etc.) and in your local bookstore, just as with books published in the traditional manner. The downside? Lots and lots of money out of your pocket. Let me say it again…

Lots and lots of money.     

The initial investment for the printing of your book is just the start of a well-oiled machine that cranks out invoice after invoice until you’re convinced that you’re never going to make back the money you’ve put into supporting your ridiculous addiction. And you’re probably right. As the publisher of one hybrid publishing company puts it, the path to success for writers is an ongoing process. In other words, the probability of Kim Kardashian being our next President is more likely than you, recouping your money from your first published book.

But that’s not why writers write.

There are several actions you can take to keep your book on the minds of readers and go beyond your allotted 15 minutes of fame before the window shuts on the selling opportunity of your book. Working on these five things will keep your book relevant, and your name top-of-mind with readers…

  1. Don’t blow it all, on the launch of your book – It’s easy to think that you need to come out of the gate screaming, but it’s important to think of your book’s shelf-life in terms of a marathon instead of a sprint. While we all want a successful book launch, there’s a benefit to spacing out your appearances at area libraries and events. By focusing on just a few appearances during the launch period, you allow for the public to warm up to your book, and for you to grow as an author. In fact, by letting a year go by, you will have the luxury of hindsight, allowing the appearances you schedule down the road to bring you real customers, not just the same familiar batch of friends and family.           
  • Understand the difference between publicity and marketing – Knowing what I do now, I would have saved the thousands of dollars spent on publicity that garnered little impact throughout the country. Instead, think about investing in a conservative yet consistent campaign in your niche market on social media. Whether it’s a geographic area (I chose to market myself as a local author, advertising only in the state I live in.), or a particular segment, like travel enthusiasts on the east coast. You may not become a world best-seller (Or you might!), but you can dominate a niche category or geographic area.         
  • Become an expert – By that, I mean, figure out what your schtick is. Librarians and event coordinators are looking for someone who brings something to the table other than, “I wrote a book, and it’s a great story.” While the book I wrote is a novel, it borrows heavily on my childhood with my sisters. By bringing my sisters along for appearances, we have found that we are quite entertaining. It’s quirky and different, and readers love getting to meet the characters in person. 
  • Keep investing in YOU  – Speaking at libraries and other events isn’t just about having books on-hand. It’s also about presenting yourself in the most professional manner and highlighting your attributes. Go a step beyond the basics of bookmarks and signage. Having a mini media-wall not only promotes your presence at events, but it also serves as a wonderful backdrop for fans to take a selfie with their new favorite author. Don’t forget to encourage people to post the photos on social media with your chosen hashtag (#NameOfYourBook).       
  • Above all, keep writing – It’s all about keeping you and your book relevant beyond your allotted 15 minutes. Every article, post, and blog circles back to growing you as an author. Whether you’re penning articles on a favorite topic for online magazines, blogging about current affairs or your journey to publication, or starting your next writing project, the key to successful writing is to keep writing.   

Writing is an addiction that must be fed for it to grow. To ensure your longevity as an author, it’s also helpful to put your earnings from book sales into an account earmarked for marketing your current book and for publishing your next. While you may not make back your initial investment, by feeding your writing addiction, you will not only grow sales, but you will also grow yourself as an author – and the likelihood that your next book will be even more successful is a given. Because there will be a next book!  

Heidi McCrary is a writer and author of Chasing North Star. Keep up with her at https://heidimccrary.net/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

Pitching an Agent – Speed Dating in the Literary World

Pitching Agent.JPGThis past weekend, writers from throughout the region participated  in the Writing Workshop of Chicago – a well-run machine that teams up writers, authors and agents with a series of workshops, panel discussions and pitches. If you’ve never pitched an agent in person, let me explain the process… Dot a hotel conference room with a multitude of little round tables adorned with white linen tablecloths. Add two chairs to each table along with a lone lit candle placed in the center. OK, I’m making up the candle-part but you get the idea. It’s intimate.  Then add one of the 20 or so literary agents at each table, all looking at their smart phones wishing they were anywhere else.

Literally, anywhere.

As a writer partaking in the workshop, you are given the option of pitching your finished manuscript to any one of the attending agents. Paying for the opportunity to talk to an agent in the hope that they will ask you to send them your manuscript or a portion of it, seems a bit like a politician handing you $50, and asking for your vote. But with that said, I’m not at all above the idea of purchasing 10 minutes of precious one-on-one time with a literary agent.

And 10 minutes is exactly the time I got with each agent-purchase at this workshop. As the day continued, I moved around the pitch room like a chess piece looking to topple the King. While I have never participated in speed-dating, I have sat through enough rom-coms to know that this form of pitching an agent is similar to speed-dating, in that you have a short window of time to capture someone’s heart. Only this time, you want them to fall in love with your book.

And the pitching begins…

9:30am                 Agent #1

Fortunately, my very first pitch of the day is with an agent that represents solely Young Adult and Children’s Books. I had been struggling with labeling the genre of my book because while the narrator of CHASING CRAZY is a youngster, the theme is more adult in nature, so labeling it as Young Adult, seemed off. But the Internet told me that my book was YA, and if the Internet says that, it must be true.

But after hearing my initial introduction of CHASING CRAZY, Agent #1 scrunches up her face in thought, and informs me that perhaps I have mislabeled the genre of my book. So while she takes a polite pass on my work, her bit of wisdom is invaluable to me, and certainly worth the investment.

And the buzzer…

9:50am                 Scout #1

A Literary Scout is different from an agent in that their job is to find promising writers for the agents back home. I like the idea of someone who is looking out for others, and I’m looking forward to meeting Scout #1. Maybe it’s the word, Scout, since I love TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but I digress.

With my newfound knowledge that CHASING CRAZY is now Women’s Lit, and Upmarket Fiction (Is my book YA? Hell no!), I present my manuscript with a renewed sense of confidence in knowing who the heck my audience is. Agents do not want to hear, “My book is perfect for everyone!” It’s not. Scout #1 not only listens to my pitch, she asks questions and seems genuinely interested – not looking at her phone even once. At the end of our 10 minute date, I’m asked to send my manuscript to a particular agent at her agency, along with a note that I come highly recommended by her. OK, I added the “highly” but she didn’t say I couldn’t say “highly.”

So far so good. And the bell…

10:50am               Agent #2

With this agent, I did something a little different. Writers at this workshop had an option of purchasing two allotments of time with any agent, meaning that they could buy 20 minutes of time. Not having gone through this process before, this seemed intriguing to me along with being a bit dangerous. I had this vision of the conversation starting with the agent saying, “Oh, your story takes place in 1970? Yeah, I hate stories set in the 70s,” I would be dead in the water, and we would both spend the next 15 minutes discussing the 40 degree weather in Chicago – even though its mid-May (Which, if you’re not familiar with Chicago, is quite normal).

But I shook off this fear and bought my 20 minutes with this rock star of the literary world. Not only do we hit it off, we plow through the 20 minutes like we’re having drinks together at the bar (which I would prefer). As the buzzer goes off, I leave with a request for viewing my whole manuscript.

Bingo! As I soak in the awesomeness of this moment, the next writer comes along and shoves me out of my chair.

4:50pm                 Agent #3

Believe it or not, I actually requested the last slot of the day with this agent – my theory being, that if our date, I mean meeting, went along swimmingly, the agent wouldn’t care when the 10 minute bell went off, and we would simply keep talking and talking like BFFs. Maybe get a drink at the bar.

She cared.

I can now tell you to never request the last time slot of the day for pitching an agent. Their eyes slowly glaze over as the morning turns into day, which crawls into the afternoon. While she smiled at the appropriate times, and requested that I send her the first 20 pages of my manuscript, I don’t think she would have remembered me if we ran into each other 30 seconds later in the hallway.

She was done.

So… if you are a writer looking for a literary agent, and you have the opportunity to purchase pitching time, buy away. And keep in mind that it’s not just about the agent liking you, and wanting to represent your work – it’s a two-way street. You have to like them as well. Just relax and have fun.

But don’t ask for the last time slot!

Heidi McCrary