Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day 8 - Honeymoon is Over/Attorney Amy Cook at Off Campus Writers Workshop

I'm feeling much better, actually. All I needed was going to bed when the girls did and getting 11 hours, two Tylenol and a drink of water brought by Randy sometime in the night, a haircut yesterday and a donut run this morning with the girls and a swing by the salon again to give Janet a twenty cause I only had seven bucks cash that day and the salon won't add tips to your charge and I couldn't use the ATM across the street anyway because Thursday night the driveup machine ate my card while I was out of the car getting a deposit envelope from the machine one lane over.

And this time to write. I needed this time to wrote. Thanks Randy, for taking the girls to Madagascar 2. I would have loved to spend the time with you and the girls but I think my head would have exploded from all the darkness (I have actually had to get up and leave the Chicago Children's Film Fest show AND halftime at the Backyardigans matinee - something difficult and claustrophobic for me about sitting still in the dark during daytime) and the sound of David Schwimmer's voice.

So I'm much better. The two-day headache that took various forms - a cone-shaped drill boring in from one ear, a heavy hand over my left eye and temple, a fine searing line across the skull - has retreated, leaving relief and gratitude. I think it was the symptom of a brief cold I picked up Thursday morning at the otherwise excellent Off Campus Writers Workshop meeting with attorney Amy Cook, former literary agent and writer for the Writer's Digest's "Ask the Lawyer" column.

Amy was funny and wry and had a wealth of information and patience for lots of questions about copyright (People, I wanted to say, it's yours! It belongs to you! Just put your name in the header and you're fine. Save your $35 and send it to Doctors Without Borders instead of! But that's why Amy was answering the question, not me. That and her degree and experience and stuff.)

Amy's tips that I found most helpful/new/surprising:

1) When writing non-fiction for periodicals, consider offering a sidebar of 100 words or so. You could be paid extra.

2) Believe it or not, Amy thought there were good reasons to self-publish. I've always thought this was the impatient or easy way out, but she pointed out that for writers with a built-in audience or who want total control over their work, self-publishing may be the way to go.

3) In a book proposal, offering "special editorial features," such as interviews, sidebars, charts, graphs, maps, indices, glossaries, etc. is a plus.

4) The two most important sections of your book proposal (more important than your chapters!?) are your analyses of the audience/market and the existing marketing and sales opportunities for your book. "This is what the agent/publisher will look at first," said Amy.

In your target audience analysis, agents are actually looking for concrete numbers. You can find specific stats at the library - ask the librarian about fans/users/members/groups connected to your topic. Get subscription numbers from related magazines. "My book will appeal to readers of ..."

Even before target audience numbers, the sales opportunity portion of your proposal is of the utmost importance. How will you sell your book? How will you give talks, write columns on your topic, connect with radio stations and bookstores, create a website, blog, get mentions in media outlets, get endorsements...

5) For fiction manuscripts, be sure to mention in your queries that IT"S DONE.

6) If asked for a synopsis, keep it to one page; write in the present tense and the third person even if the novel is not; smoothly integrate character sketches and their motivations, conflict and the conclusion.

Amy brought along some publishers catalogs that publishing houses will send out with their sales staff to bookstores and libraries. They were a fascinating look at the inside workings of the industry and how book are sold to the people who sell them to the public. The punchy, distilled language used to describe the books for sale was a great lesson in creating hooks.

Also: Duotrope's Digest is a great marketing resource for short fiction and poetry writers. It's "a database of over 2275 current markets" that is updated continuously. You can browse or do sophisticated searches for publishers of your work.

Amy also had some really interesting tips on contracts. I'll add those later here or in another post.