How I Help Authors…and You Should, Too.

It has been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so busy writing, marketing, publishing, book-signing, tutoring, office decorating, and trying hard to ignore the political firestorms, that I’ve hardly had a chance to breathe. The lapse certainly is not because I have nothing to say!

So. Here I am. Finally putting on electronic paper what has been rolling around in my head for a while now: I want to brag a little. Not about my own writing. I’m sick of doing that. But I want to tell you why I go out of my way to shake my pompoms for other writers. Writers I know. Writers who are my friends.

Yes, it is true, I am one of those rare authors who does not feel competitive with my writer friends. Our stories are different. Our styles are nothing alike. Our goals are as varied as our characters. There is always a competitive undercurrent that will forever flow beneath my writing, as there are thousands of writers hoping to achieve the same things I am. But those are people I do not know. They are only known to me by their titles splayed out in banners across Goodreads, or flashing at the bottom of Amazon. When it comes to writers I know, the ones who are close to me, who have read my work, commented on my writing, dropped pieces of grammar advice, followed me on Facebook, came to a book signing, or left a review, I give them the world. Even if they haven’t done any of these things, I feel honored to help them out.

What I mean is, every single author friend who has written a book and asked me to read it, I have obliged. I have also left a review, though not in my real name, for various reasons. But the authors know my reviewer nom de plume. Sometimes the book is stellar. Sometimes mediocre. Sometimes it actually sucks. In the case of the latter, do I tell them my honest opinion if the book is already out there? No way. If they ask my advice before they hit the “publish” button? Then I am all in. But if a writer friend has worked tirelessly to tell a story, has perhaps done years of research, paid to get it edited, made the rounds with a critique group, then who the hell am I to tell them what I think? Who am I to discourage them from continuing on with their journey? My writing has become stronger over the last 20 years of writing. How could it not? So my friends’ works will get stronger, too. I am confident of that.

Writers need to stick together, not ignore one another.

We have a lot of BnB’s in our Civil War town, and a few years ago, my husband and I befriended a woman who owned one. All of the BnB owners work together, either through advertising or by offering a competitor’s address when their own rooms are full. You see, they don’t see this as competition. They see it as helping one another out. Everyone does this. Because what goes around comes around. If a town is known for one BnB, it could draw some tourists. But if it is known for having a dozen? Well, it has established a great reputation. All the BnB’s have always been on board with this idea. Except for this one proprietor. She saw all the other BnB’s as evil back stabbers who were only looking out for themselves. She did not recommend them, nor did she ever get to know the owners. Guess what happened? She rarely kept her rooms full. She ended up flying solo instead of with the flock. And she got shot out of the sky while the other birds flew to safety. Eventually, she sold the house and moved away, perhaps thinking she was leaving behind a band of enemies. Somehow she saw this potential support as a threat.

I’m no psychologist, so I could be wrong about her. But I am using this analogy to show that lying in bed together and sharing a big blanket is way more advantageous than one person getting the bed and blankie, and everyone else sleeping on the floor, shivering, cast out.

Look, it doesn’t require much to do what I do. To pick up a friend’s book and read it. Even if it is boring, or you didn’t like the ending, or it is simply not your “genre” (which is a bullshit excuse as far as I’m concerned…after all how many of us only watch one type of movie, or one type of television show, or listen to only one type of music?), read it anyway. You’re a grownup. You’re not a twelve-year-old boy forced to read Dickens, or a seventeen-year-old girl doing a book report on the pig’s head in Lord of the Flies. So get over it. Read your friends’ works. Maybe offer a little encouragement, a little nicey nice. You aren’t their editor or their agent. You aren’t scouting Amazon for your production company in Hollyweird. You are reading what someone took the time to write. So do it. He or she is your friend. Be theirs, too. You will not be forgotten. And that could come in handy at some point during your own writing career.

You also may find a sweet little gem from time to time.

: )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where will you be when the (book contract!!) call comes in?

Leslie Tall Manning

Fifteen years ago, just after I married, someone handed me Nicholas Sparks’ first book, The Notebook.  I knew it was a romance, and I was a new bride, so I read it.  At the time, I had just finished writing my second novel.  I did not have an agent yet, and like so many writers, I wrote and breathed with the belief that I would soon publish.  I made it a habit to peruse the acknowledgements page of every book I read, since I’d heard that was a great way to find an agent, plus I enjoy seeing who inspires writers.  Sure enough, Nick (I can call him that because he’s a neighbor) thanked his agent, his editor, and so on, just like many other authors who want to express their gratitude.  Then he mentioned something that has stuck with me through the years.  He was talking about specific…

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“New Bern couple doubles up their talents…by publishing their books at the same time!”

What a great article for our local rags! Thanks to New Bern for being so supportive!!!

Here is the article:

His is a children’s book. Hers is women’s fiction. His stars a baby alien, visiting Earth, exploring all of its magical wonders. Hers stars a coming-of-middle-age woman who poses as a groupie to snag an interview with a comeback rock-and-roller.

So, then, what do these two authors have in common, besides being happily married?  They’ve decided to publish at the same time!

“I wrote Beebop’s New World fifteen years ago,” says the husband, Jay Kenton Manning, a graduate of Art Center in Pasadena, California. “It made the rounds to the big publishing houses, which back then were twice as many as today. A few of the editors loved it, but when no one picked it up, I stuck the poor guy in a box and left him there. But he always stayed in the back of my mind. One day, last winter, I woke up and said, ‘Today’s the day. Beebop wants to come back.’”

The wife, Leslie Tall Manning, nods enthusiastically in agreement.

When asked about her own book, she says, “GAGA, although my debut novel, is not my first, or my second. It is number six out of ten.” She says this matter-of-factly, as if everyone has the gumption to write ten books. “I had to give it a more current overhaul. It was originally written in 2006.”

“Yes,” Jay says, “but that’s not as long ago as Beebop.”

“True,” Leslie says, whose backlist includes five young adult five adult titles. “But ten books?” Together they share part sigh, part chuckle.

So why now? Why at the same time?

“Serendipity?” Leslie quips.

“Of course,” Jay says in return.  “What else?”

“We really didn’t plan it this way. It just…sort of…”

“Happened.”

“I guess now you could say we really do—”

“Share everything!”

They finish each others’ sentences, smile like two kids who share a secret, and keep slapping each other playfully on the arm or wrist.

“In all seriousness,” Leslie says.  “Life is short. Now is the time. Something about being over fifty, writing for fifteen years, having a literary agent who supports me, and wanting to share my stories, well, how can this NOT be the right time?”

Jay adds, “‘Now’ always makes sense. We just didn’t know it until now. Does that make sense?”

Again, they laugh.

“We are doing it without the help of a traditional publishing or marketing team, unfortunately, or fortunately,” Leslie says.  “One could look at it both ways. Both Jay and I were overlooked by top editors. In a way, we were forced to go the autonomous route. But there is an amazing flipside: We get to do it however we like. We design the covers. The font. The paper color. The price. We even get to choose where we will do our book tours, and starting in New Bern…well, where else would we start? Here, in New Bern, are the most amazingly supportive people I have ever met. Ever. I can’t imagine our respective book launches starting anywhere else.”

Jay Kenton Manning and Leslie Tall Manning will be signing their books at the Isaac Taylor Garden on June 12th from 5-8.

“Come see me,” Jay says, then gets elbowed by his wife. “I mean, both of us!”

Get to know Jay: www.Beebop.clubGet to know Leslie: www.leslietallmanning.com

Giving Away the Farm

In one day, this is what I saw:

An ad from a plastic surgeon in the newspaper:

“Plastic surgeon, new to the area, offers FREE breast implants

to the first one hundred women who sign up!”

An online article:

“Stockbroker giving away FREE Apple and Google stocks

to the first five hundred people, no strings attached!”

A Walmart sign:

“Free pizzas for thirty days, for everyone, no exceptions!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes! All of these free things being thrown in my direction. I could get a boob job, and some stock, and free pizza, all for doing nothing!!

Wait, now. Just hold on a sec. How was this even possible?

Because, my friends, the above scenarios are entirely fictional.

Does any writer or artist reading this article get what I’m alluding to?

STOP GIVING AWAY THE FARM!

I suspect that, like me, many of you have had a yard sale in your lifetime. On one table you have linens and dishes, on another you have jewelry you don’t wear anymore, or clothes that no longer fit. Towards the end of the day, you lower the price on whatever hasn’t sold. Those cute pearl earrings were $5.00, but you are tired, and you still have to take whatever is left to Goodwill, so you drop the price, say, to half. Oh, here comes a sweet old lady. She hands you two ones a two quarters and tucks the earrings in her purse. Now things are selling again, the yard sale nearly over, the last lookie-loos hoping for a bargain. Still having to do laundry or Swiffer your kitchen floor, you decide enough is enough, so you grab a large box, mark FREE on the side, and toss most of the unsold items inside.

Here is where psychology comes in: Dozens of latecomers show up, peek into the “FREE” box, a few even stoop to pick up the pretty salt & pepper shakers or that silver-plated hand mirror. You think, Hallelujah, it feels so good to unload this stuff, even if it’s free! Less to haul to Goodwill. During the final hour, you ignore the box. After all, there is no money to be had on these items, so who cares if someone comes and takes the whole lot? The goal is to get rid of things, right?

The yard sale ends, and while you are tossing the remaining table items (of which there are few) into the trunk of your car, what do you discover?

The stuff in the FREE box is still in there. The salt & pepper shakers, the silver-plated mirror. All of it.

How can this be? You were giving the stuff away! Who doesn’t want free junk?

Because by attaching the word FREE to the merchandise, you are telling potential customers that those particular items HAVE NO VALUE!

So here we get to my long-winded point: As a writer, don’t you have value? You’ve been writing for years. Honing your craft. Dealing with rejection. Laying the story out in front of critique groups to slice and dice. Hiring an editor. Designing your book cover. Paying to have it formatted. Learning the ropes of self-publishing. And finally, after months or even years of hard work, you upload your awesome book to Amazon: AND GIVE IT AWAY.

But why?  Other professions don’t do this. Doctors do not give away free boob jobs, or hearts, or livers, or Botox. Stockbrokers do not give away free stock from the top NASDAQ sellers; and Walmart, while they may be one of the most affordable mega stores in which to shop, never gives anything away for FREE!

So then, why is it that writers have suddenly become the beggars in the bunch? How is it that you can work so tirelessly, sacrificing potential family and social time, wringing your hands, wiping away tears, and then tell your readers they may have your first-born (or second, or third) for free?

Every time you give away books, you are:

  • telling potential readers that your writing isn’t worth a dime, and so maybe it isn’t worth reading to begin with
  • causing other writers to compete by doing the same thing, creating a collective downward spiral

Believe me, I understand wanting to build a readership. I am spending three to five hours a day handling my own marketing to prepare for my book launch in a few months. The book itself took me eighteen months to write, and I won’t even mention how long to edit. My eyes are bleeding, poring over Amazon stats and articles on how-tos and what-not-to- dos. So I know what it means as a debut author to want to rise above the rest and make your book stand out.

But if you truly believe your work has value, that you as an author have worth, then maybe we should ban together instead of bid against one another.  Here is what you (and I) should be doing:

ADD VALUE to your work: Instead of giving away free books, offer to sign the first hundred print copies. Or offer a free bookmark or bookplate with each purchase. Or a free reading at a school or library or book club in exchange for buying X number of copies. If you have more than one published book, or an author friend has a book written in the same genre as yours, then offer the books together as a bundle. Or raise the price of your first book, and give the second away for half price if they buy the first, instead of the other way around. It may take some time to build your fan base, but there are lots of ways to offer incentives without giving away the farm.

Even Payless Shoesource has their BOGO half-price deals.

Even Goodwill doesn’t give away merchandise.

Even the Depression-era migrant workers soon fought bidding wars by forming unions.

Okay. I am not suggesting unionizing, though this is a future possibility for self-published authors.

Yes, it’s true, I am trading a few ARCs (advanced reader copies) with family members and writer friends in exchange for honest reviews prior to publication. But the second my debut novel is up and running, those freebies stop.

If a potential reader can’t ante up one or two dollars, then perhaps I should find another profession. Maybe I could go to medical school. Become a doctor. Then I’d never give anything away for free.

And no one would expect me to.

Where will you be when the (book contract!!) call comes in?

Fifteen years ago, just after I married, someone handed me Nicholas Sparks’ first book, The Notebook.  I knew it was a romance, and I was a new bride, so I read it.  At the time, I had just finished writing my second novel.  I did not have an agent yet, and like so many writers, I wrote and breathed with the belief that I would soon publish.  I made it a habit to peruse the acknowledgements page of every book I read, since I’d heard that was a great way to find an agent, plus I enjoy seeing who inspires writers.  Sure enough, Nick (I can call him that because he’s a neighbor) thanked his agent, his editor, and so on, just like many other authors who want to express their gratitude.  Then he mentioned something that has stuck with me through the years.  He was talking about specific moments that had led him from point A to point B, from sending out the query, to signing with his agent, to the bidding war that ensued, and then:

“…At that moment, I remember, I was serving fried chicken to a group of nurses.”

Fried chicken?  Nurses?  He had been selling pharmaceuticals at the time, and was standing at a nurse’s station.  That’s where Nick was when the call came that changed his life forever.

We don’t tend to remember where we were when we received all those rejections, since most fledgling writers get so many (I have enough to decorate a graveyard), and who wants to remember those moments anyway?

I recall the moment my now agent called to say he was in love with one of my books.  I recall the exact second a top editor called me on a Friday afternoon and handed me five pages of editing notes. (In the middle of contract negotiations, she moved to another house, my poor book abandoned after three months of grueling changes.)

Whether you are waiting for a call from a prospective agent that she wants to read your entire manuscript, or you are hoping to snag an editor at one of the big houses, don’t you want to be in a really cool place when “it” happens?

I am in the car, driving on a busy highway.  My cell rings.  I nearly crash into a semi in front of me as I grab the phone.  My agent says, “Are you sitting down?”  To which I reply, “How else would I drive?”  Then I laugh and pull into a Walmart parking lot, so he can give me the particulars and I don’t kill myself or others when he hands me the GREAT NEWS, for that kind of irony is not my style.

The above scenario is only in my imagination, of course.

In another daydream, I am standing in the local Mega Bookstore, checking out the latest in “How to become a Hybrid Author” or “Using Magic Spells to Get Published.”  My phone rings, and I go to silence it, embarrassed that the entire room reverberates with tinny acoustic guitar, but I look at the screen and see the word “AGENT.”  And I know.  I KNOW.  It takes all my energy not to run through the store, screaming that my book will soon be on their shelves, right between Debbie Macomber and Cormac McCarthy.  Right here!  HERE!  And that soon I will be signing autographs in their coffee bar on a Saturday night.

But here’s my personal fave: I am tutoring one of my high school students, reviewing the insecurities of Othello, or the hyperbole and its proper usage.  Of course, I have turned off my phone during our session, as has my student.  But my peripheral vision catches the lighted screen, and my agent’s name looks electric.  I glance at my student, who, like all of my students over the years, knows that, although I love her dearly, I would rather be at a book signing than sitting at her sticky kitchen table rehashing Shakespeare plays or grammar, precious though both William and grammar are.  I breathe, “It’s my agent.”  Student says, “OMG, like, you totally need to answer it.”  I obey.  By the time I hang up five minutes later, tears are running down my cheeks and onto her textbook.  My student hugs me and says with adult-like empathy, “You can go if you want to.  I mean…to celebrate.  I really think you should…and I would, like, totally understand…”  Anything to get out of taking a Sparknotes quiz or literary-terms review.

I have had an agent for seven years.  I’ve written eleven novels, six of which we have shopped, the seventh currently in the hands of a prospective publisher (though this has happened before, so I forever remain a hopeful skeptic).  There have been many, many times when my agent’s name has popped up on my cell phone, only to be followed by a conversation where he becomes my therapist, softening the blow before handing me the crushing news: “Not this time….but don’t give up…we are so damn close…”

Why I haven’t given him his own ring tone I have no idea, as he certainly deserves one.  He is the only person who can catapult me through the five stages of grief in one fleeting moment, because there are only three reasons for him to call:  Number One: “Nope.”  Number Two: “Contract in hand!”  Number Three: “Still in acquisitions…so maybe…”  Oh, woops, there is a Number Four, one I’ve been through too many times to forget:  “Yes, we want the book.  BUT…kill the protagonist, make the antagonist male instead of female, and change the ending so the heroine grows wings and flies instead of moves to the mountains to start a commune.”  In which case, refer back to number one.

As of late, I have bound my agent to an agreement: All benign news, or line-editing details, or anything that is NOT related to a publishing deal, must come to me via email.  So when the call finally does come, I will know from the moment I see his name in the neon green letters on my cell’s screen that I will have no choice but to perform a touchdown dance wherever I am.

And yet, since I believe in perseverance as the highest virtue, all I can do is wonder, where will I be WHEN IT DOES FINALLY HAPPEN?

I once had a wonderful and talented writing professor in Orange County, California, where I originally began my writing ventures.  He told our class a story about how one afternoon he heard from his agent that his first book had been sold.  This was pre-cell-phone era.  The news came to him while working in his home office.  His wife was out.  He got a busy signal when he tried his parents.  And he was in the middle of writing another book.  So what did he do?  He didn’t run down to the store for a bottle of champagne.  He didn’t run through the streets like a madman, or do a crazy dance on his front porch.  He didn’t even get up to stretch.  Because he is a writer.  And writers write.  So that’s what he did.  After pinching himself to make sure he hadn’t died of a stroke from sitting so much, and giving himself a tiny well-deserved pat on the back, he looked at his computer screen, sighed, put his fingers to the keys, and resumed typing.  After all, books don’t write themselves.  But chances are good that he smiled for the rest of the day, even if no one was there to see it.

If you are still waiting for that big break, where do you see yourself when the call comes in?  If you have received the call of a lifetime, where were you when it happened?  Is it memorable?  Did it change your life?