If Publishing Advice is Yesterday’s advice, Keep it to Youself.

OMG, I just got a query letter from a guy who says he does nothing before checking the Absolute Write board. Wow! Yet when we give advice it’s ignored, overlooked or deleted. Wow again! For those of you who don’t know what Absolute Write is, you’re much better off not knowing.

Let’s dwell on this a money. Seems the average new writer on this board is still looking for an agent to represent them and launch their publishing career. Why? Because they get their advice from supposed publishing experts who are the board’s voice. Ahem. Just a little research off of Absolute Write and onto Amazon shows that these so –called experts haven’t published much since the 1990’s.

I hate to burst bubbles here, but publishing is not, I repeat, NOT the same as it was in the 1990’s. How do I know this? I became as a literary agent in 1999 and ran, according to Absolute Write, a very successful literary agency. Oh, you say, what made you leave? That’s very simple: Publishing is not the same as in the 1990’s. If you have to ask what’s different, then maybe you need to stay on Absolute Write.

What’s in a Name?

We at Martin Brown Publishers, LLC require that authors we publish have a marketing plan. Your marketing plan must show us you understand how to reach your reading audience. A marketing plan begins by having a thorough understanding of what you’ve written and who will buy it.

Some authors wait until a book is in their hands before even beginning to think of who might buy and read a copy. If you wait until your book is published, you’re too late to get any buzz started—way too late. So waiting until you’re published is not an option with us. You must begin marketing YOUR AUTHOR SELF as soon as possible.

Selling your author self should begin when you first seriously begin to craft a salable work. It probably wouldn’t hurt to think about who might buy something you’ve written when the muse first hits. Getting a blog and a Web address is not a bad idea even if you never finish the novel. Getting known doesn’t hurt no matter what profession you are in. Writing content to put on your blog and learning how to promote it teaches you invaluable and necessary internet marketing skills. These skill are a must when you try to sell your book.

It is a necessity to be known if you are planning to become a successful author. Why? Because books are entertainment. A book’s creator is an entertainer. Have you ever thought of yourself this way? To be successful, you must.

Entertainers, to be successful, must be known. Can you imagine a comedian, for instance, even considering a successful career without working very hard to get known? How about a rock musician or an actor? Can you imagine these entertainers not having a following? We can’t. Authors are no different. Many, many authors throw a novel together and self-publish the results. Then they sit on their hands and wait. As time passes, most are sadly disappointed when few readers buy a copy. Why? Because books are like falling leaves on an October day. There are so many of them. Can you imagine your reader sifting through a huge pile of leaves and picking your book. Your reader must know YOU first.

It holds that if authors are in the entertainment business, he or she must build a name and a following to be successful. Also, if this is a given, then it’s way, way too late to begin building your author name after your novel is published.


Critique Groups

I follow Write Me a Book John’s blog. yesterday he wrote about critique groups and so I thought I’d chime in with my take on this subject.

I belonged to a critique group for many years. The one I joined did me no good. Yes I made some friends, a few of whom I still have today. But friendship wasn’t the reason I attended. I needed someone to help me see things that I couldn’t see. But that never happened.  

I think some critique groups work, but most don’t work as well as they could. The ones that do work usually have a good mix of published and unpublished authors in attendance. Mine was a great mix of wanabees. Great critique groups also have participants writing in many genres. Mine was made up of children’s authors, a category in which I didn’t write.

My perfect critique group would be one peopled by those who look for faults in substance rather than just grammar errors. The perfect critique partner should be one who can tell you your work sucks and not be afraid you’ll get angry or cry.

So I guess there aren’t many perfect critique groups or partners, are there? Most authors don’t want that kind of criticism. But in most cases, that’s what’s needed. Novels and books must be read and thoroughly analyzed by someone who can spot structure problems and explain how to fix them. The unseasoned author should seek out this type of critique if he or she is going to move from writing awful stuff to writing something that has a chance of being successful in this very crowded marketplace. It’s very rare that a beginner can write perfect prose. Even when beginners do understand the fundamentals, most still need a good critique partner.

The critique group I belonged to was made up of nice people who always wanted to please. This is why no successful authors emerged from this group.

Even in Success, You Somehow Failed

After we were very successful and had sold enough projects to qualify for AAR membership (be a full-time agent for at least one year, sold 10 properties in 18 months and have 2 AAR members vouch for you), we dropped off the watchdog’s radar. Although there were still a few negative comments on Absolute Write’s Beware, et al about us, most of the prior bullying stopped, for a while.

We took on another full-time agent who was also an attorney. This was a business decision. New York based literary agencies do this all the time and, of course, no one on Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks challenges their decision or their right to do so. If they say anything it might be a note of congratulations to the new agent. However, because we were small, not located in NYC and because they are bullies, their Head Bully believed it her duty to question our decision and thus check our ability to make a business decision. She, this head bully, asked what our new agents qualifications were to be a literary agent. Unbelievable.
In an ordinary world, who would think of doing such a thing? But this was, and still is, a bully’s paradise.

Our new agent, being a smart and gracious lady, answered the challenge by stating she Princeton graduate, finished law school, was an author, had taken courses in intellectual properties law, had handled contracts and had been a practicing trial lawyer. In typical bully fashion, all comments ceased. This usually happens when someone more powerful enters the fray. Could it be they feared reprisal if they said more? There was no doubt. It was that close.

This, however, was not the case when we took on an agent trainee. He made the bad mistake of going on AW and announcing himself. And let’s just say he was pounced upon, challenged by every howling watch dog on their Beware et al pages specially dedicated to us. When they challenged him, he tried to stand up to them—tried to explain that he just a trainee, which again was none of their business. The poor guy actually thought he was dealing with reasonable people instead of packs of slobbering, howling idiots.

From this first encounter, he was continually harassed. Before its end, it had even boiled over onto our blog. Finally, he’d had enough and resigned his agent training because he felt he had brought us harm.

The bottom line in all of this is you don’t go into a mad dog’s yard and think you’re doing to win. Mad dogs do what bullies always do. One of their dogs will piss on the hydrant by cutting a part or parts of what you write, out of context of course, then make you look silly by misrepresenting its meaning. Then other dogs will join what has now become a dog fight and will verbally rip anything you say to defend yourself to shreds. This is a typical junk yard dog and bully tactic used on every school playground around the world. But these are children. It would seem that adults, actually supposed educated, cultured writers, would not stood dog level, would have a little more control—but they don’t.

They set a trap. Someone, usually an insider, puts the name of a professional editor, new literary agent, or a new publishing house on Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks. It normally read, quite innocently like this: “Does anyone know anything about blank, blank, blank?” Then one of the other bullies answers, usually with something derogatory like: “Yes, they’re a small startup with not much of a record. I wouldn’t send them anything until they’re better established.”

So how in the world is a new anything going to get established if almost immediately you’re being bashed online? Not only that. If you search on this new establishment, guess what comes up first? Absolute Write!!

If you happen to best them, if you’re better at their game than they, you still don’t win because one of their site monitors will ban you from the site, shut you down. This way THEY always win and YOU always lose. The bad part is your words are a permeate record of your disgrace and defeat for literally the world to see, for ever and ever. Guilty? You are always guilty on Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks. You’re always guilty, always a scumbag, always a scammer, always suspected of doing something because of the negative connotation of the word BEWARE.

After being very successful, after launching many, many fabulous authors into writing careers, we gave up fighting and closed shop on January 1, 2012. The day we announced our closing, some on Absolute Write stated they didn’t understand why a successful agency like ours had decided to close. Give me a break, please. No, Absolute Write didn’t run us out of business. We decided we could help writers more by actually publishing their works. And, of course, almost immediately, it all began again.

The Biggest Mouth Wins

Part VI

The Pikes Peak writer’s conference we attended was in April, 2004. In June, Sharene and I married and honeymooned in Florida.

As is usual, when returning to any job, there were miles and miles of emails to work through. One particular email was from a client informing us a group trying to make trouble for us. One of her critique partners mentioned that her agency (us) was now “Not Recommended” by Preditors and Editors.

Since I didn’t know who Preditors and Editors were, I called her. From our conversation I learned there were these “writer advocacy groups” and somehow we were now on their radar for charging fees. It seemed that any agency charging fees of any kind were taking advantage of unsuspecting clients and thus were labeled as scammer. This was true even though reimbursing is not a fee but technically repayment of money loaned.

Puritanical outrage is an awesome thing to behold.

What a wonderful thing to come home to after a week of wedded bliss. Anyone can open a used car lot and sell flood damaged cars but asking people to repay money spent for copying and postage considered awful? When you order an item doesn’t the company you buy from make you pay postage and shipping charges? Do they defer that charge until you feel like paying it? Of course not.

Who is setting the rules here? Does a Web site run by an individual dictate how legitimate businesses should conduct business or does the industry govern itself? Agents have a governing body in the AAR and the AAR states that asking clients repay costs incurred in copying and shipping documents is okay. What gives anyone the right to make rules that counter this? Life is so funny.

Bullies now have a cause? What’s hilarious is their cause is protecting adults who never asked for their protection in the first place. If this whole idea hadn’t been so lame-brained I’d have laughed. In fact I did laugh and immediately swept it from my mind as too dumb to even consider. Bully protection. Ha-ha. Surely this person couldn’t be taken serious. Surely authors wouldn’t get caught up in witch hunts run by a bullies. The day is gone when the bully with the fastest gun ran the town. Authors are too intelligent to fall for that, aren’t they? Surely they would know that we were only asking that money we spent be repaid. It’s not a fee. But the internet at that time was the wild west. There is no one controlling the town so the fastest mouth wins.

Two days later, I called an author whose manuscript I’d been interested in representing. She answered and as soon as I announced who I was, she hung up on me. What the fuck?

Later that day, I got an email from her saying she was removing her work from consideration—no reason, just removing it.

Queries slowed from a rush to a trickle. It seems I was wrong. Authors believed this crap.

War had been declared and we were now the enemy.

I’ve always been a conspiracy theorist. I don’t know why, I just am. I guess I became one the day a president I loved was shot and killed for no reason except his nation, and the world, loved him.

It seemed very odd that not two months ago I had sat on a panel with two bitches, one of whom had accused me of robbing my clients. And here we are on the “bully radar.” Coincidence? I think not.

We’re Alive

Part III

The Internet really hadn’t caught on strongly as a sales mechanism in 1999. The only place we felt would help us find authors was—you guess it—Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents. We wrote them requesting their listing form and within a week we received it back. Some of the questions on the form were, “Do you charge reading fees?” No. “Are you a member of the AAR?” No.

We also decided we would handle works in the Children’s book category only. This included picture books, middle-grade fiction and young adult.

I already had a great middle-grade novel and since I wouldn’t be an agent—just an assistant until later—it would be okay for me to be the agency’s first client to test the waters so-to-speak before getting in over our heads And so we began sending out our first work of fiction.

It got great review. Editors really liked it, but no one offered a contract. We sent it everywhere. We had learned from other experiences with editors that if a work got a canned rejection it probably wouldn’t go far. But this one kept getting hand written notes from editors or phone calls, so we’d revise and resubmit and get more good comments.

At this time, all correspondence with editors was done by phone. Sharene called and made contact and made more friends. We found that editors were working stiffs just like us and most were really nice.

Soon our agency appeared in The Writer’s Guide to Literary Agents. This kind of made us official. The other side of this relationship now knew we existed and very soon after, query letters begin arriving—first a few then more and more. I was the slush guy. I’d read and then Sharene and I would decide which writers to request raw manuscripts from.

At first, I wanted to request them all; however, Sharene saw a problem with this. She taught me how read for quality from how a query was written—if the query’s structure was sound, the odds were good the book would also be structurally sound and well written.

I’m a hard-head and so had to test this theory. After getting some works literally written in crayon on a paper sack (this is not a joke), I began to appreciate my agent’s knowledge of this subject. She had, after all, taught me how to write a query letter, as she had done for her students for years.

Our second client had huge interest from TOR, which at that time was considered THE place for science fiction and fantasy. This author later (not as our client) went on to win a Newbery for one of her later books.

Our third client hit pay dirt and was published by Roaring Brook, a New York House later bought by Millbrook Press. To make a major sale with just three clients isn’t too bad for a little agency.