George’s January Newsletter

Hello Writing Friends

Trust that this new year finds you scribbling away at your latest writing project, and that whatever you are creating reaches escape velocity and gets out into the world sooner rather than later.

To that end, while you may not be afflicted with this malady, I have it – in spades. When I undertake a book project, whether fiction or non-fiction, I strive to do all the possible due diligence that I can and make sure that I craft the story in the most effective and efficient way possible. Sounds good…but…as you can guess…this often leads to “paralysis by analysis” and slows things down to a crawl. That’s why I keep this pithy quote by Tom Clancy on a Post-It-Note near my computer monitor:

“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”

I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a number of writing seminars in the SOCAL area. They always provide a great opportunity to connect with beginning, emerging and established writers. If you have done this, you can likely guess, the answer to this query: “What question do you get most often from prospective writers?” It is this: “How do you sell your book.”

Each of you likely has a different answer because you have sold your book or other writing. Here’s what I tell people, and it might be something that you want to leverage as well:

There are three primary ways to get your book out into the world. They are: get your book in the hand of a publisher, get it into the hands of an agent, or self-publish.

For self-publishing, there are many success stories of writers who have self-published, done an enormous amount of marketing, and have been successful. Some of these writers have even been discovered by major publishers and offered attractive contracts. The writer Colleen Hoover comes to mind.

That said, with one-and-a-half million books published every year, including hundreds of thousands self-published online, it extraordinarily difficult to get noticed. Therefore, during my seminars I tell people that they should swing for the fences first and look to get their book published by a large or small or publisher.

A question then becomes: how do you get your opus into the hands of a publisher or an agent?

Since you are writers, you know this, but the days of throwing a manuscript over the transom to a publisher and having an eager intern pull it out of the slush pile and get it to an editor are likely gone forever. As you know, the publishing industry has contracted dramatically, and those interns no longer exist.

Today, publishers count on agents to be the filter to bring them projects that they might consider publishing. Therefore, the question becomes. How do you get an agent?

First, it’s important to recognize that other than agents who are brand new and have just hung out their shingle, most agents specialize in various areas. There are manifest reasons for this that I don’t need to get into here. What I recommend to beginning and emerging writers is to write the manuscript, and then go to the library and find books that are like theirs, whether it is a romance novel, a thriller, a young adult book or whatever. Most writers have the courtesy to thank their agent in the book’s acknowledgment section. Armed with that information (likely a short list of agents), I suggest that people go to another section of the library and pull out the reference book that lists all the literary agents in America. There are thousands of them, and that book has the contact information for the relatively small number of agents you want to reach out to.

Now you have found the few needles in the huge haystack. You simply write a query letter to each of these few agents who represent books like yours. This saves you time and energy by not having to reach out to hundreds or thousands of agents who wouldn’t be interested in your work. It also shows those agents that you have done your due diligence and identified them as likely partners.

This may all seem like simple or even oversimplified advice, but I find that people I speak with then go out and do this often get good results. That is why I’m sharing it with you as a tactic you might want to share with those who reach out to you for advice.

Finally, I have no intent to offer you a Tony Robbins “You can do it!” pep talk. But let’s face it, often we find it challenging to find time to write. That is why I keep this missive that Bernard Schaffer offered in Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes nearby:

“Listen, Stephen King used to write in the washroom of his trailer after his kids went to sleep. Harlan Ellison wrote in the stall of a bathroom of his barracks during boot camp. Elmore Leonard got up at 5 AM every morning to write before work. Every time my alarm goes off at 5 AM and I don’t want to get up, or I would rather sit down after work and play a videogame, I think about those guys. Take care of your family. They need you and love you. Make time for them. Then stop screwing around and finish your damn book.”

There is a human condition called “Need to share.” Most of us have it. Whenever I find an article online or in print that I find useful in upping my writing game, I put it on my website:  If you go to the site, you’ll see “Blog” at the top and the pull-down menu takes you to “Writing Tips.” These include these monthly missives. Perhaps you’ll find some of these useful.

Thanks for tuning in. I would love to hear about your latest writing project(s).

All the best – George