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What I learned at KY Writing Workshop

Friday I attended a day-long writing conference in Louisville hosted by Writers Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino.  In addition to his talks on agents, publishing (self vs traditional), author platform and marketing, we also had a fun session called “Writers’ Got Talent,” a first page-a-thon where three agents and an acquiring editor heard anonymous first pages aloud, raising their hands when they would stop reading if it were a submission.  Then they’d tell us why they did or did not raise the hand; what they loved, and what they hated.

I pitched two agents.  For those of you smart enough to never try getting a book published, this is where you get ten minutes to sit down with an actual literary agent.  You halt and stammer your way through a bad community theater-esque memorized speech (which you totally had NAILED last night, but now, sitting there facing a perfectly nice human who only wants the best for you, all you can do is mumble, “so I have this mystery…there’s this guy…he got murdered…there’s this other guy…he’s trying to, um, you know, like, solve it?), then spend the rest of your ten minutes answering the questions that the agent kindly asks to try to get your brain out of mashed-potato mode so she can tell if there’s any chance in hell she might be interested in your book.

It’s a lot scarier than I make it sound.

I pitched two agents, and whether out of kindness or true interest, both made requests.  One asked for queries and first pages from two of my books, the other asked for the FULL!!!! of the mystery.  Full requests are fairly rare, and really encouraging.  I might not be able to string three words together on a page, but at least she likes my idea.

So you send in the requested material, and you wait.  I’ve had agents get back to me within a week.  I had one who ignored me for eleven months, then when politely nudged, said she would read my submission that week and get back to me.  That was three weeks ago.  You just never know what else they have going on, and how fast they’ll even pick your stuff up.  Agents get between 100 and 500 query letters (that’s the letter you write telling them about your book, and asking if they want to read any of it) a WEEK.  Most take on maybe 5-10 new clients a YEAR.  Not good odds.  But it’s the way the game is played, so I’m playing.

That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about Chuck’s advice in the “author platform” speech.  An author’s platform is their reach…the number of people they’re connected with that they can easily contact with book news.  It’s your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends, your blog followers, etc.  If you’re a celebrity, that’s huge, because lots of people care what you have to say about stuff you probably know nothing about.  If you’re a small town vet, it’s kinda limited.  But since even the largest publishers have axed most of their PR teams over the last few years, most of an author’s publicity comes from their own networks now.  Unless your last name is King or Coben or Koontz, you’re mostly on your own, even if one of the big five publishers picks you up.

So what you need to do is get a lot of people to follow your site.  You do not do this by writing about what you’re writing.  Because until you’re somebody, nobody cares what you’re writing.

The secret is content.

Write something so people will find you when they Google something.  It doesn’t have to have anything at all to do with your book.  If there’s a tie-in (like you’re writing cozy mysteries about a chef who solves crimes, and your blog is recipes) that’s cool, but it doesn’t have to.   It just needs to get people to find you, and come back to you.  And then when you DO have a book, you can end your recipe post with, “hey, like my recipes?  Buy my book!”

I thought about what I could blog on.  What do people want from the interwebs that I’m in a good position to blog about every week?

So this post marks the transition from “DrWendy’s Writing Site,” about which maybe twelve people gave a crap, and they’re all related to me, to “DrWendy’s Writing and Pet Care Site,” about which hopefully lots of folks will care.

None of my books have anything to do with pet care, unless you count dinosaurs as pets.

But lots of folks look for pet advice, and once I get you, I’ll keep you.

And when it’s book time, I’ll have you.  And maybe enough of you will think, “Gee, I really like her post about cat litter, let’s check out her epic fantasy,” and then we’ll have something.

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