Squawk Radio

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Okay, J. Perry Stone, this entire series is your fault because you made the enormous mistake of telling Christina she has business savvy and now she's pestering all the Squawkers to let her business savvy SHINE. All I can say is "Honey, don't expect a tan."
First question: What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Lisa Kleypas:
The best advice I can give is to treat your writing as a business even before you get published, by setting goals. In any successful business, you have to set goals for your production schedule, as well as establishing financial goals, and incentives for doing something well and early. So if you can only write for two hours a day, try to ensure that nothing interferes with that time, and don't let other people chip away at it. (Let the answering machine help you) Figure out what a reasonable production output you can accomplish in that time, and expect yourself to accomplish that. (My day is not done unless I've written at least a thousand words) Reward yourself periodically when your goals are met, i.e. when I reach the halfway point in my book, I'll get a massage or a pedicure, and when I finish it, another treat. I have learned that other people don't respect your writing time unless they see how much you respect it, and if you regard it as a legitimate business, they will too.
Connie Brockway:
It's not a competition. No one ever takes your place. You would NOT have been bought if that that no-talent, sell-for-peanuts author hadn't somehow slid her manuscript in on top of yours thereby fulfilling that editor's yearly quota for dynamic, fabulous stories. Nor would you have gotten that fabulous promotional package that that no-talent, why-are-they-paying-her-so-much? author got if only you had lost ten pounds and not spilled wine all over the publisher at the last RWA. Well, maybe that last part. Yes, there are elements which are definitely enormous factors in your career that are perversely and completely out of your control, but at least the one thing you can stop worrying about is "her." the other author. If "she" wasn't getting the things you want, someone else would be. The point I'm trying to make is that it begins and ends with your work. Yours.
Okay, Christina, you can put your hand down now.
Christina Dodd:
Marry money.
If it's too late for that, you need to define yourself and your work clearly. When you sit down with an agent or an editor, you should be able to tell them specifically what you write and why your fiction will fill a need in the marketplace. For instance, I write women's fiction filled with the warmth and conflicts of family life. As the large number of chick lit readers raise their own families, they'll want more depth about relationships lightened by humor, and they're my market. Or, I write historical romance with a Gothic twist, and as the paranormal market grows, the Gothic will fill the gap for those readers who like a darker edge and human characters. Agents and editors are more likely to take a chance on you as a writer if you point out the direction you intend to go. Don't brag. Don't be modest. Analyze what you do and be factual. Remember, if you don't toot your own horn, someone will use it for a spittoon.
When you get The Call, hang up the phone.
You've waited what seems like your entire life for an editor to call and make you an offer on your first book. So when she does, your first instinct is to 1) shriek with glee 2) start to babble 3) offer to give them the book (and your first born child) for next to nothing. Only the shrieking is acceptable. Once you're done with that, CALMLY and GENTLY say, "I am absolutely thrilled to hear from you and SO excited about the possibility of working with you. I need 24 hours to consider your offer. Could we set up a second phone appointment tomorrow to discuss it?" (Keep this speech on a notepad by your phone if necessary.) Don't forget that this is a BUSINESS and one of the editor's jobs is to secure the most manuscripts for the least amount of money. That doesn't make her a bad person. That makes her a smart business woman. They are always going to give you their lowest offer first (especially if you're unagented at the time). But you CAN ask for more money and if you do, you will be sending a signal that you are a professional and that you understand the way this business works. She will NOT withdraw her original offer and the worst that can happen is that she tells you there is no more money available in the budget to purchase your book and you'll still be able to accept the original offer.

Listen to Your Heart

Critique groups can be helpful. Though I'm not in one myself. Significant others can be helpful. Though I never show my stuff to my husband. Writer friends can offer valuable input. Though I VERY rarely share my stuff with writer friends. Input from the RWR can be helpful. Though I routinely skip all those "How to Write Great [fill in the blank]" articles. Only YOU can write your book the way it needs to be written. It's YOUR story, YOUR characters, YOUR voice and YOUR name on the manuscript. When you sell the book, if your editor takes exception to something, MAYBE you should rethink it. But not before explaining to your editor why you wrote it that way. Many times, she'll say, "Oooooohhhhhh." And then you can work toward a compromise. Maybe. There's been much said over the last several years about the homogenization of the genre, and everyone blames the publishers for that. But RWA has to shoulder some of the responsibility, because those of us who are members keep hearing the same things. "No one wants Westerns." "Paranormal is hot." "Artist/athlete/environmental activist heroes don't sell." "Stay away from exotic locales." As a result, we have people writing (and not writing) the same things over and over. Yet we also have wonderful books that break these rules and do very, very well. Be true to yourself. To your story. To your characters. All it takes is one wonderful book to start a new trend. And if you're writing it with the passion YOU feel for the story and characters, that wonderful book could be yours.

Don't be afraid of being plagiarized, or having your idea stolen. I've met so many unpublished writers who hug their ideas so tightly to their chests that they don't seek a critique partner, or submit to an agent,because "someone will steal their idea." They won't. There's only about four ideas in the whole world, and we're busy writing those over and over. There's one thing that no one can steal: your voice. That same thing, your voice, is the ONLY thing that will sell your manuscript. So seek help and advice wherever you can find it...and don't worry about guarding your "idea" or your manuscript -- guard your voice instead. Don't let a critique group dilute it, but let a critique partner (or group) help you sharpen it and make it even more of your own.
Kitty Kuttlestone, 10:13 AM