Tag Archives: self publishing verses traditional?

Want to Get Published? Sell More Books? You Need This: Q&A w Mike Larsen

booksheaddown

Feeling a little fatigued or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of publishing advice out there today? There are so many options that it can leave us creative types wanting to bury our heads and surrender. But that’s not an option. Whether you plan to self publish or to garner an agent and secure a publishing deal—small or big house—you need to get on top of your own brand, marketing plan, sales goals, and platform. It’s a new world order demanding that we balance our time between business and creating. It’s not easy for everyone to juggle. Which means that some extremely talented writers may push out a book that fizzles out with low sales, making it more challenging to publish later with traditional houses. If that’s happened to you, don’t give up until you consider all the other areas to your writing career that you may not be on top of yet. For advice, I turned to Mike Larsen, author, agent with Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency since 1972, and currently an author coach.

I met Mike at the San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) this past February. If you don’t know Mike, and you’re a writer, you need to get to know him and his work. He is the author of How to Write a Book Proposal, which is in its fourth edition and has sold more than 100,000 copies. He also wrote How to Get a Literary Agent and coauthored Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work. Mike and wife Elizabeth Pomada also coauthored the six book Painted Ladies series about Victorian houses, selling more than 500,000 copies. As agents from 1972-2015, Larsen-Pomada, sold hundreds of books to hundreds of publishers and imprints, before declining to accept new clients in 2015. As an author coach, and co-founder of the SFWC, Mike speaks at writing conferences across the country and firmly believes writers need to support and network with other writers.

Being on both aisles of publishing as an agent and an author since the 1970s—as well as currently coaching authors—Mike has a wide-range view of the industry and solid, positive advice. Today’s marketplace demands that authors do more than ever to make their books succeed—even when securing a book deal with a publishing house. For many, it’s hard to navigate time spent on business and promotion (and what that looks like or costs), verses time spent on the craft (why we are doing this in the first place). Time spent on promotion can often induce fear, thwarting, or delaying, time spent on creation. This is why inspiring writers conferences where experts such as Mike speak, are so important. (See Mike this June at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.)

 I firmly believe, as Mike does, that writing is a life-long, ever-evolving career. You and I are already a success if we love what we do and have found the way to carve time out every week to create. Control what you can, with a positive mindset, and embrace Mike’s belief that “Now is the best time ever to be a writer.”

         Skeptical? Fearful? Daunted? Then this Q&A is for you!

Q: Friends who self publish and have not broken even financially moan about how much money they invested in marketing, editing, cover art and design, SEO optimization, travel, promotion and printing. I suggested they teach for additional income. What advice do you have for them?  

MIKE: Writers have more ways to earn money from their books than ever: movie, audio and foreign rights; a blog or newsletter that attracts advertising. For nonfiction authors, speaking, coaching, consulting, training for individuals and groups, online or off, may be a possibility. Get to know other authors in your field and see what they are doing. Maybe you can partner with them.

Q: I’m assuming that you are not just suggesting submitting to online writing contests, but are referring to crowdfunding publishing options and Patreon?

MIKE: They may be able to bring in additional funds through those tools. But an author needs to learn who his/her readers are, where they are, and reach them on the platforms were they congregate: video, podcasts, or blogging, and social media.

Writers need to go events. They can give readings or interviews, attend book clubs, in person or by phone or Skype. Whether writers self-publish or sell their books to a publisher, the challenge of promotion will be mostly on their shoulders. Big and midsize publishers expect authors to be on top of their promotion. Being as visible as possible in as many ways and places helps sell books. Writers have to look at building their platform as an investment in their career.

Q: Some of my friends cringe at the idea of using Patreon as an additional revenue stream, as if it is the equivalent of begging.

MIKE: It’s high-tech patronage. Hundreds of years ago, it was fashionable for patrons to support artists whose work they enjoyed. Patrons have a deep appreciation for the arts: for playwrights, authors, painters, musicians. One must build up a following first. Then fans will want to contribute to help you keep writing. I think it is brilliant, especially at a time when writers are often expected to write for free. Writing is a noble endeavor that takes time, skill and effort. It deserves support.

Q: As a former agent and now a coach, where do you see writers most often slipping up? What are the most common mistakes writers make?

MIKE: New writers usually have no platform or promotion plan. They have to know more and do more than ever, including building communities of fans and writers. The moment you decide to write a book, maximize your visibility platform. They need clear writing and publishing goals. How big a house do you want? Do you want to self-publish? How many copies do you want to sell? At what price? Be consistent in how you communicate, building a brand to create your identity as a writer.

Q: It sounds like you’re saying writers need to take charge of their career and treat it like a business and write a business proposal.

MIKE: Yes. And it’s also important for writers to stay visible and accessible. Go to events. Support other writers, network, stay engaged. There are so many opportunities for writers to build communities of fans. But they have to be both writers and merchants, and balance between the yin and the yang of creating and writing with sharing their passion for the value of their books.

Q: Any other advice to budding authors trying to publish traditionally?

MIKE: Agents and editors need to know two recent, successful books that prove that your book is salable. Publishers are relying on authors. Prove that you can promote the book. The bigger the house you want, the more they will expect of you. If you’ll be happy with a small house, platform and promotion aren’t as important.    

Q: Parting words of advice?

MIKE: You can do anything you want. Social media can make any book sell. Be clear about where you want to go and the best way to get there. Assume it will take you five books to build an audience. Find an author to model your career after. Keep turning out books that sell each other. If you love what you do and keep doing it, nothing can stop you.

 

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Rejection Sucks

holdingbaby

I love this picture. You can literally feel this new dad’s love for his newborn can’t you? It’s so precious. As an artist and writer, my books feel like babies to me. They aren’t true stories, but fiction often digs deeper to the underlying feelings and truths within our inner lives. They reveal a bit of our soul’s path. So when an agent rejects our work, even if they didn’t read it, that rejection will sting. It’s just part of the process.

I’ve come to believe that all artists have to feel these emotions, pause, take some time off, then get right back into the arena again. Feel the fear then take baby steps forward anyway. What I don’t agree with, is swallowing the hurt feelings and leapfrogging intellectually into a fake persona of gratitude and bliss. I’ll explain. Yesterday I spoke with a friend who has a degree in spiritual psychology. As I was telling him that the query process deflated me and inflamed my insecurities, he interjected that I needed to explore my judgements based on past experiences. Well, the query process is hard, I replied. Before I could elaborate, he then asked, “Is it hard? Or is that the judgement you choose to live by based on past experiences?”

I SO get where he is coming from as I do believe that most humans live a pseudo Pavlovian life, trying to avoid repeating things that they decided hurt, or is scary from the past. Sometimes it’s tragic, like not dancing or traveling or dating due to past hurts, anxiety created by ‘stories’ or pre-determined outcomes. BUT, and I say this will so much respect, I disagree with this expert when it comes to trying to get my book published.

The query process hurts. There’s no way around that. Am I wrong? Since I finished Between Thoughts of You I’ve received 4 rejections from agents. Now a few others and a publisher are still considering it, but the rejections still give a walloping thump to my confidence as a writer. EVEN if they didn’t read a word of my writing.

For instance, on Thursday the president of publishing agency rejected my synopsis and pitch saying that she was ‘extremely selective’ based on her list of established authors and for that reason she wouldn’t be asking me for a writing sample. Interestingly, she responded to me within a day and thanked me for a great pitch and for doing research about her and thought I was talented, so she strongly encouraged me to pitch one of her junior agents. Ok, ouch. It was a bizarre rejection. I tried not to get into my ego, but I felt as if I was holding my baby in my arms and she had thrown it into the trash before even looking at it. I’m selective too. I didn’t think her junior agents, most just out of college, would have the contacts to help me get published. I wondered why she had told someone at Publishers Weekly that she was open to queries from new voices, as it sounded like she wasn’t, or had changed her mind.

So, I needed to feel the sting of that rejection and then distract myself by taking a day off from pitching. I’m not giving up. And intellectually I know that maybe she and I aren’t in alignment and that I’ll find an agent who will read my writing and who will feel strongly that I do have some talent and have two other novels under my belt with another on the way, so can be pitched easily to publishing houses. Right? Intellectually I understand that I need gratitude for the process. But, stuffing emotions so I can put on a spiritually evolved persona, doesn’t do me any good. One of my friends said, “What a blessing! The Universe is sending you the perfect agent who will be completely in alignment with you. BE HAPPY!” Um ok. But can I at least feel this disappointment first? Why are so many Americans afraid to feel?

Kind of like my other friend last night. He wanted me to call into question all the judgements I hold about the query process, insisting that the mind is powerful and I could just think it into a fun process. Ok, yes the mind is powerful. But so is the heart and our world of emotions where my creativity lives. Let me feel bad for one day regarding this rejection of my baby, I won’t wallow in the sadness, but I think I need to feel it.  I’ll get back into the arena and pitch another agent next week. We really do need to feel and move through the feelings, don’t you think? Not being allowed to feel, like many of us in our childhoods, just builds up a lot of resistance and anxiety that lives in our tissues and demands to come out somehow, someway eventually. It creates an unauthentic existence in my mind. Like a woman smiling and laughing and saying how blessed she feels as she’s burying a child. It just doesn’t work that way. Every rejection calls into question whether I should continue writing and birthing new babies, or just bury the ones I have with the understanding that maybe, just maybe my writing isn’t good enough. And that, my friends, is painful. There’s no way around it.

So today, I feel a bit better after a day off. I’ll take the weekend to just breathe, hang with my boys, teach yoga, I’ll get back at it on Monday. I will take my friend’s advice on this point. When I said I wonder when I’ll get my signs that it’s time to give up on trying to get published traditionally or venture into self publishing, he advised me to pause and not force anything out of fear. I won’t change the course of my goals based on this one rejection. I’ll wait, give myself some time, and then see if I feel any different. Self publishing is daunting for this FT single mom as I feel as if I’d have to give up my paid jobs of teaching and freelancing to dedicate myself solely to it, while also investing to pay for it, and that pulls me out of creativity and into self promotion with less money coming in… which is daunting for me…

Any of you writers out there know what I’m going through? Any advice? How did you navigate this choice? Chime in! I could use some words of advice from experience, instead of criticism for allowing judgements to filter into my statements, lol.

Love & light ~

Laura