Lessons Learned from Folks in the Biz

Besides sitting in front of my computer or emailing my crit partners, I don’t get to do “writerly” things very often.  But yesterday (as my last hurrah before creature No.3 arrives), one of my published friends, Lezlie Evans, invited me to join the Children’s Book Guild for lunch.  

Former children’s book editor and publisher, Emma Dryden was the speaker. In addition to listening to her awesome speech about publishing in the digital age (which she’ll be sharing at writing conferences throughout the summer), Lezlie and I picked Emma up from the train station and held her hostage as we drove around D.C.  Yeah…I had one-on-one time with an editor and publisher! Awesome.

You know those stereotypical, abrasive New Yorkers?  Emma is not one of them.  She’s warm, friendly and so easy to talk to.  I wish I would have made a list of questions to ask her before hand! Oh well…next time I’ll be more prepared.  That was the first lesson I learned yesterday, and here are the rest:
  1. When you have an opportunity to meet people in the business, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Editors, publishers, agents, published authors are people — real people!  They have kids and dogs and likes and dislikes (not that you should ask about those things).  They are willing to give advice or direct you to someone who can.
  2. If you are serious about writing, you should join SCBWI or another professional group that reflects/represents writers in your genre.  Why, you ask?  Resources!  Groups like SCBWI provide access to authors, agents, editors, conferences, and tons and tons of information.  They host conferences (some paid, some free to members), offer website links, articles, and opportunities to network with people in similar career stages.  If you are going to spend money to help your dreams come true, SCBWI is the place to start. 
  3. Writers wear glasses.  Okay, this is totally not important.  Every member of the Children’s Book Guild is a published author or bookseller, and 80 percent of them wore glasses yesterday.  If you are a superstitious person, take out your contacts…or pour over manuscripts until you go blind. 
  4. The most important thing a writer can do to launch their career is to write a great story.   Emma talked a little bit about this subject in her speech, and it was a great reminder.  If you are blogging, twetting, or FB-ing, and it’s taking time away from your work, then you will never get anywhere. If you can’t write a story that feels real or resonates with a reader, wasting time with social network is just that — a big waste of time!
  5. If you have to narrow your social networking to one element, your focus should be on a blog or a website.  Twitter is not a marketing tool. More than likely your readers (especially children’s books and YA) are not going to follow you (I think Emma said that only 8 percent of Twitter users fall into the ‘teen’ category).  You can build a fan following on Facebook, and some authors do that successfully.  But having a website or blog devoted to your book — especially one that is interactive, offers an ‘experience’ or freebie to readers (sneak peeks, free chapters, etc) — will be the best use of your time and marketing dollar. 
  6. Legacy publishing houses will expect you to do more of your own marketing than smaller firms.  This point is actually pretty obvious.  Bigger publishing house may give you a larger advance.  But, they will expect a return on their investment.  Why would you want to go with a smaller publisher?  Selling 5,000 books with a small company is a success. Those figures may garner you a second book deal. 
  7. If you want to get published and stay published, you really need an agent.  I know this is ‘no-duh’ statement to most of you.  But the number of people getting published without an agent is abysmal. Some of the authors I met yesterday have been published numerous times in the past, but are having a hard time finding a publisher for their new work.  They are focusing on getting an agent so they can continue publishing…the days of slushpile publishing are over. 
  8. When you put a group of authors in one room, it gets really loud, really fast. Writing is a solitary venture.  Look for ways to meet other authors to both improve your work and your social interactions.  Plus, they are really fun, quirky people! 
Well…that’s about everything I can think of that wouldn’t be redundant or Internet regurge.  If you have any questions about anything I posted, let me know! 

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