Literary Business Road Trip

June 25, 2012
Notes from a Freelance Editor
June 17, 2012
City of Dreams
September 9, 2012

I t was going to be a road trip down the California coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back again. I decided to make the most of the fact that my agent and editor both live on the coast. A few tweaks to the travel route, a few emails, a few jokes about Thelma and Louise, and we were on our way. 

My travel companion, hereafter known as Wingman, graciously vanished into a café with her Kindle while I had lunch with Jill Marr. But first, Jill gave me a quick tour of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency office. There are bookcases everywhere, filled with copies of books by the authors the agency represents, every edition and in every language. In the boardroom there is an entire wall dedicated to Amy Tan’s books. Wow. The office feels more like a library with desks incidentally tucked here and there. Jill and I went for lunch and she provided feedback on the marketing plan I had written for my novel. She also gave me a rundown of how she works with publishers, which was really helpful because I’m such a control freak and want to know how the process works.

 
 

(I met Jill last year at the Surrey International Writer's Conference, but it's doubtful I came across as articulate or intelligent because mostly I burbled like a stunned fish when she said "I'll read your manuscript". You really want to amend first impressions like that)

Evening - dinner with my freelance editor, Jennifer Pooley and Wingman. Jen was bubbly, enthusiastic, and full of encouragement. I feel so fortunate to have the benefit of her advice as well as Jill’s. In the end, as she emphasized, revisions to the novel are my decision. But it sure helps to be able to triangulate.

Here are a few things to share, compiled from lunch and dinner:

  • Yes, newbie authors hear a lot about how hard it is to break into the business, but here’s the thing: editors and agents WANT to fall in love with a book. They put up with the slush pile because they hope to find a little gem of a needle in that haystack. So write the best book possible and don’t give them any reason to discard your query.
  • It’s easier for an agent to sell a new author. You have a clean track record. You represent hope. If your first book tanks, however, it will be really tough for your agent to sell your second book, even if it’s the next Catcher in the Rye.
  • Keep writing. It could take months and months before your book sells. Avoid brooding, get to work on your second novel. For one thing, it helps your agent when she can say “… and the author is writing her second novel now.” It shows you’re not planning to be a one-trick pony. Publishers want to know their investment has some longevity.
  • What if the book doesn’t sell on the first go-around? Wail, wail, gnashing of teeth. That’s when your agent will confer with you and recommend tweaks to (a) your book marketing plan, (b) the book, or (c) both. Then she contacts another round of editors (a different group than the first time around) and tries again. Repeat until the book sells or until it becomes obvious the book needs an overhaul.
  • What do you mean “book marketing plan”? Remember various comments on other blog posts about how the publishing industry is in turmoil? In-house editors and publicists in short supply? More of the burden and cost of editing and promotion falling on authors? In addition to powering through a set of revisions to the novel, I am also making changes to my book marketing plan. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself at the thought of forcing yourself to get out there on Facebook and Twitter, read this blog post by author Sue Harrison. With the Internet, we have it easy. I may get on a soap box about this in a later post. 

It isn’t always possible to meet up with the people who are part of your journey to getting published, so I'm lucky I was able to adjust travel plans to meet Jill and Jennifer. In any business relationship, a live meeting goes a long way towards building understanding.  

NOTE: This blog was migrated from an older website and comments didn't survive the trip. Feel free to add new comments!

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