Track 1: Publishing 101

Conference Event: 

Publishing 101

Moderator: Dominique Browning, @slowlovelife

2Amber Qureshi,

3 Danielle Perez,

4 Kate Lee,

5 Linda Cowen,

Moderator: Welcome! I love the energy in the room you can really just feel it. Doesn't matter how many times you have published, you start at the beginning every time. Personally, I have gone backwards because I started a blog after I wrote my book. I wanted to keep going. Almost as soon as I turned in the manuscript, I had started a blog and knew how I wanted to communicate. It is out of this blog that other books will come and other actual assignments have come. I see the books, blogs and magazines as a big circle; jump in any time, there is no one-way to do it. The only one thing that is important is quality. Content is still king.

It’s really these steps:

A) Make sure that there is passion driving the writing.

B) Make sure that the writing is terrific.

C) Have a sense of coherence, a sense of representation not just visually, literarily. I want to feel that the blogger is in control on all fronts.

With that we'll start in the panel, a very nuts and bolts look at publishing.

For our literary agent: I have an idea, I have blog, now I want a book.

Kate: Many writers have questions about how to get an agent. Definitely get one; it is the first thing to do because regardless of how you feel, editors want submissions from agents. There may be legal restrictions for editors going straight with authors. I get blind queries and every single one gets looked at. 

Are you ready for an agent? You'll hear platform a lot, the dreaded P word. The reason it exists is why it’s important, because the having an established presence before going to an agent is key. There is no one size fits all evidence. You blog regularly, you’re active in social media, you have a twitter following. Do you really know what your audience wants from you? Are you an expert in your field? It’s an important piece. Certainly for books dealing with medical nutritional if you aren't a doc or have a higher degree it can be difficult. 

What makes you the best person for funny parenting memoirs? Have you been recognized? Do people see you as a person of note? Do you get linked to? Cookbooks, another popular one, have you been featured on All important things from an agent’s perspective. If you are thinking about querying an agent, lots of ideas are great, but I cannot tell you what book to write. It has to come from you. Writing a query letter is really important, if you can’t write a good one, you can’t write a good book. Don't tell me to check out your blog as the letter. Tell me what book you want to write.

There are online resources on how to do a query letter. Couple pointers—don't compare your book to a famous bestseller book, we can all dream and hope, I mean a lot of what we pitch is hope, but we need to deal in reality. 

Be clear about where you fit in the market, you don't have to be an expert in publishing, you need to know your field. Know where you fit in the scheme of other bloggers, and other bloggers who’ve gotten book deals. If you are novelist and you've been blogging about your fiction, some sense of credentials, brief encapsulation of plot, get me intrigued, but don’t give me the ending, hopefully I’ll be interested enough to ask for that.

Do not send me attachments; if I’m interested I'll request a proposal and manuscript. PROOFREAD! Something to know, we all talk to each other, if you write to all eleven of us we’ll know. You kind of need to go one at a time.

Conduct an agent search,, read guides online on how to find an agent. Most agents have profiles online, you can find out what they are interested in, one guide is what they've sold in the past, not necessarily an indicator of future, but could be helpful. Check acknowledgments, everyone thanks their agents…they should!

Write a query letter, request to send in materials, please don’t call. It is appropriate to follow up after a month’s time. If you are offered representation, it’s ok to follow up with other agents who haven't responded. It can be tempting to take the fastest offer, but sometimes the quick responses are not the best. Speed isn't best indicator. We all work at different speeds. Every project does get looked at. If someone is going to take the time to read your material you should give him or her the courtesy to have a chance to respond.

You get an offer and sign an agreement, you are really excited then it becomes time to develop, fiction or nonfiction. I will do a lot of editorial work before submitting to an editor. You get one chance to submit, to make that first impression. Editors might get 15 projects a week, so how do you makes sure yours stands out? For fiction, I may have to do 3 drafts of a novel, nonfiction I expect that you aren’t used to doing a proposal, so I’ll give successful examples and work as many drafts as necessary. I try to be transparent after submission, I’ll let you know whom I submit it to, and at that point it's my time to make decisions.

Moderator: Think about growing up with your agent; a beginning agent might be better for a beginning author and then you can grow up together. I found my agent by being her secretary.

Danielle Perez: I am with Penguin, previously with Random House. Here are the nuts and bolts of how this happens.

The first thing, an editor needs to fall in love with a project. It’s a lot of work, a lot of reading, shepherding works through. We need to fall in love with something submitted by an agent and then acquire it. The main thing to keep in mind is your editor is your biggest fan and cheerleader in the publishing house through the whole process.

Once an advance has been accepted, your agent and editor negotiate other things, territory, pay out, options, many details behind the scenes. Now the fun can really begin. Non-fiction may have an editor talking about the arc and developmental aspect, even if that is already done in the proposal and table of contents. They’ll work closely together to hone the piece.

Let’s assume in general that a complete novel has been acquired, an editor will edit and offer comments on what can be strengthened. They’ll go over character development, pacing, how clearly you have made your points. The editing and revising can take quite some time, a lot of back and forth, depending upon how much is need to get the project in the best shape possible. We’re your cheerleader; we want it to be the best before we share with publicity, sales, our boss etc.

Once we’re happy with the manuscript it will go to managing editorial for proofing of grammatical and geographical accuracies. The author and editor may have read it 5 times but a copy editor catches things that may have been missed. It’s a critically important job. 

The next step is typesetting, you'll see design layout, sidebars, boxes photos, typesetting produces page proofs. It can be very exciting because his looks how the printed book will look but in loose pages.

Question: You absolutely have to go through an agent, correct? 

Danielle: The slush pile, our assistants actually go through that. Generally agents are the gatekeepers of the initial part of this process. On occasion if an editor comes up with an idea, if they are pursuing a blogger, an editor might approach an author. I met someone once at a party who told me vaguely about a project, it was the one time where I said, wait tell me more. I ended up acquiring the project.

Amber Qureshi: We have had pizza lunches and gone throughout the slush pile. It is in your own best interest to have an agent; they'll have a vision for your career. Editors are not as interested in the length of your career as an agent will be. Where are we? Copy editing, not to galleys, ok. Page breaks. Turning in your

most of substantive chains need to be done before this time. This may seem like a lull, but a lot is happening. You can keep yourself busy, conceptualize your next project, because when the book hits, you'll feel really postpartum, afterwards it can be difficult to start fresh. 

There is literary value to your blog, communicating with the world, your world, the P word, platform: people in your life, out in the world. This is the moment to coalesce those things. Prepare your book, three months out from publishing you’ll be working with a publicist. You should keep a close ready list of people to share with for sending your book out for blurbs. Galleys are sent out to reviewers and media people. Prepare yourself, if you see coverage of something relevant, keep the connection so you can tie in. You really need to see yourself as the main vehicle for promotion of your book. It can be hard; you put things on a page or screen, seeing yourself as a member of a larger community, using that becomes important.

All these things come together on the publish date, publishing house are pulled in all directions, so the more you can do for them, make what you want them to do easy the better. Make it as easy as possible for them.

Moderator: Now that we have gotten through the whole process, we need to talk about lawyers.

Linda Cowen:

The time that you are going to come to me is more around the time of copyediting, if you are writing nonfiction, or even fiction, chances are your book will come across my desk. My job is to read the book before it’s published and make sure it passes legal. It cannot be libelous. Until you get that clearance from legal your book cannot be considered, delivered and accepted, which means you won't be paid.

Copyright means copying, you cannot copy from something. There is fair use, which allows you to use a certain amount of original work. There is no quantity-based permission. That's a myth. It’s more of a percentage, how much of the original are you using in your work. From a reference book you might take a single page legally, but from a song a single line might be all you can do and you may need to get permission and pay. That payment is one you, not the publisher must cover. If you are writing commentary on a work, you may have more leeway. You are not allowed to use someone else's words to convey your opinion, that's your jobs. This is why we dislike epigraphs. 

The truth is that people tend to conveniently forget that you interviewed them. Be very succinct and create documentation that backs up what you are doing, even with family and friends. You'll want to have that later. Buyer's remorse can come into play. Public events are different from life. Not everyone knows what has happened in your life with regard to a memoir. You need to use good judgment. Internet is not open source just because its there doesn't mean that you can use it. 

Wikicommons is a site that is open. Treat websites like you would any written material.

Humor in the sense of parody. You can use a little to make fun of it, to conjure up for the audience what you are doing. The legal term in the court case was "conjure it up."

You are not to harm people's reputation in their community. We divide the world into public and private figures. The standard is if you knew or had reason to know about public figures. As to private figures, you need to be able to go back to notes and tapes, never assume you have it. You really need to make sure that what you say is true. Similar to not being open source, the Internet is not fact checked. You cannot assume. Someone cited a libelous claim about a well-known retailer, I looked at the site that she gave me and it said right up front, "This is a fake news site." 

Who will back you up? Really in memoirs, was anyone else there? Was anyone there to witness the behavior? Would they be willing to put it in writing? You need to know who else was there in case you need some help with that.

Changing identities, sometimes changing names is enough, for the purpose of your memoir, memoir is from memory, and you can change someone's identity. Where are they now? Are they going to recognize themselves? The minor characters are sometimes the most sensitive. Memoirs are like sausage; there is a lot that goes into sausage we don't need to tell everyone about. Composite characters help, but if there is meat you have to say so because it isn't fair for the vegetarians not to.

Never use a rumor. Only use a rumor to dispel it. You can use your opinion.

Tell the truth about yourself. I need to know if the things you say about yourself are true. I may ask for records to prove out your own story. A memoir is what you remember, but it cannot be what you make up about your life. Those are the basics that you should be prepared to answer when they say your books is going to be vetted. Don't forget that I represent the publisher. I am not your lawyer. I want the book to be great, I want to get it to the point of being sold. I just want to keep people from getting in trouble.

Moderator: When you blog you are alone, when you are an author you are not. As a writer of 3 memoirs, mostly about ex boyfriends, you need to be careful. Ask if it's ok, if it isn't strike it.

Danielle: Be transparent with your editor so we can discuss with legal. Also, about Wikipedia, it isn't fact because it's there. You need to get a verifiable source.

Question from Tara- My question is in regard to finding an agent if you want a smaller publisher?

Kate: It comes down to doing research. I know there are agents that sell to smaller publishers. and can be useful. This might be the exception to publishers not wanting to hear directly from authors, they might actually welcome that.

Question from Karen: When publishing a cookbook can I recommend products without asking permission? Is there a process?

Linda: You are allowed to recommend products. It would be in the tone of how you present, at the same time you aren't writing a sponsored book. We often have disclaimers. We want you to source etc; you can mention real things in life. 

Question from Cecily: I am a sober alcoholic who wants to write a memoir. I hate James Frey. I have been sober 15 years, I still have track marks, how do I prove it?

Linda: You and an agent will get to know each other and will be able to do the probing questions to makes sure you are honest. It’s a judgment call on credibility. Our radar is up more than it used to have to be.

Question from Grace: Let’s say Sheryl Crow happens to love my book, would that be something I'd put in my query? 

Kate: I think when you have a name to drop, you drop it. Blurbing is really important, so if Sheryl Crow will blurb it, great. Put it in the query letter. If it’s legitimate than use it.

Question from Heidi: I acquired an agent yesterday. I have an essay collection, memoirs and humor. I work in the entertainment industry. I have celebrity encounters. None of it is dissing, if it’s true can I use it? Also, I have family stories, my grandmother’s suicide, can family members sue me?

Linda: Second question first, there is no law about libeling the dead. Other countries have protection for the dead; we are kind of jaded in the U.S., “Oh good, that person is dead.” If you have real things happen, you can use them. Hurting someone's reputation is not ok. Invasion of privacy, revealing private facts that otherwise would not be known, usually sexual or disease related, that can be dicey. If it is not something anyone else would know that really only close people would know you need to be careful, make sure its ok with them

Question: In a query letter for humor how specific should my letter be? How do I position general memoir, humor fiction in query letter?

Kate: It sounds like you are still working out some of the issues about what the book is in your mind. You need to work those out before you talk to an agent. It has to be about something. It has to have an angle. Everything needs a hook. When you think about movies, every script has a lob line. Not to be reductive, we are selling and pitching if we can't do it in 30 seconds, that’s a problem. How will we champion it in house if we can sum it up in those 30 seconds? You really have to sell yourself. Don't make your work sound like something it isn't, but position and shape it.

Amber: I published a book about food and war. It was beautiful and amazing, but we had so many conversations about where on earth we'd put it. Have a look at what is out there. Know how and who to pitch it to. If you can answer those questions, it may help. This is a more editorial issue than you might think. Every book is a hybrid, but focus is really important.

Kate: Every book is slotted in one category. It has to fit in one category. I want to call and say that I am sending a project from a great new writer and this is what it is. You want them to say great send it over.

Danielle: Related to that, it is so important for you as the author to do research. This is the first book on blank and boom we research and find there are already ten. Do your homework!

Question about patient health- is it an issue what I talk about how my doctors treated me?

Linda: If you are exposing issues in the industry, you can express you opinion, but you have to give the history and be able to back it up. You would have people who have been witness to the treatment. As to confidentially, if you are talking about your case that's one thing, if they are talking to you about a case and you write about it, the doctor may be out of bounds and you need to use caution.

Question from online: What are some things that would get your attention?

Kate: A well-written query letter, it could include having done your research and knowing your category. A first sentence that grabs me. Great traffic numbers. Knowing where you fit in your eco system, for a business blogger that Seth Godin has linked to you. Peers have validated you, Gawker has linked to you, you are blogging for and you do speaking engagements. You tweet regularly. you keep up and maintain in all those areas. You have an MFA, been nominated for awards and prizes.

Moderator: Does being in print matter?

Kate: It's nice, but it’s not realistic to say it’s a necessity. The reality and the great thing is that online there are no barriers to entry. If I can see what you've done with that, if you say “I know you represented x book so I think you may like this,” it might mean I have an interest in that area.

Question: If my book is in a snarky cheeky tone do you think its good or bad to write my query letter in that tone?

Kate: Depends how well you pull it off without seeming obnoxious. I prefer straight forward. 

Question: How much control do we have as an author about typesetting and layout?

Danielle -- In terms of design, particularly nonfiction we'd show you, I think there'd be a back and forth between my vision and yours. Our designers will do a good job, but you won’t have 100% control.

Question from Elaine: Is it oak to send parallel letter to multiple agents? 

Kate -- I don't think we're naive or unreasonable, we don't expect you to go one by one, and different agencies have different policies. Some may actually have an exclusive submission clause. I would generally acknowledge that this is a multiple submission so that the agent knows where they are, do they need to move quickly or do they not.

Moderator- It’s better to get it out there as much as possible. You could spend a year waiting. On something else, have a board of advisors; use your circle to strengthen your piece. Don't work alone. Read your query letter out loud, you often miss errors unless you hear them.

Thanks to everyone!

Please see the enclosed attachment below for the handout from this session! Thank you!

BlogHer-Cowen-10_Things_to_Pass_Legal.doc39.5 KB


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