Saturday, September 26, 2009

NOTES: Second Meeting, 9-21-09

by Jason

Re: Required Word Count for Books
— It varies somewhat, depending on the genre
— Most books today are about 100,000 words
— 60,000 words equals approximately 300 pages
— Nonfiction books are typically around 400 pages

Fred’s Notes From the Patricia Harman Lecture:
— Harman received 85 rejection letters. (I heard in President Obama’s recent speech that J.K. Rowling only received something like 12 rejection letters for “Harry Potter.”) When we start getting hand-written rejection letters, then we know that we’re getting close and that we’ve arrived as writers.

— Nonfiction writers will get rejected on the basis of query letters and proposals. That’s why those must be perfect.

— In the publishing world, these are the steps for fiction writers:
1. write the book
2. query an agent
3. send synopsis and three chapters
4. agent sells book
5. the publisher buys

—These are the steps for nonfiction writers:
1. query an agent
2. write a book proposal
3. the publisher pays you for the book up front, and you finish writing it with a set deadline

— Writing a good query letter is essential. Must be perfect. Last month’s Writer’s Digest has sample query letters “that worked.”

— Fred says if we’re serious about writing, he recommends that we attend writers’ conferences.

— As strange as it sounds, we might consider hiring a writing coach to assist us with our proposals. Their services cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $130-$150.

— When our books sell to a publishing company, we should expect a significant amount of editing from multiple editors: writing editor, marketing department, copy editors, etc.

Feature Presentation:
Rich and His Adventures in Self-Publishing “Talking ‘bout the relatives”

Note: Rich gave a wonderful presentation at our last meeting. I tried to take good notes, but I’m not much of a reporter (ask Fred). Rich shared some personal financial details about his publishing ventures that I won’t publish here on the Internet. Despite all the above, I’ll try to do it justice. If I get anything wrong, Rich, please feel free to correct me or contribute necessary addenda.

Rich has been a storyteller for years. He has lots of original stories. He’s sent them to magazines, giving their editors permission to cut and edit however they saw fit, and they’d accept his writing. Rich said magazines are nice, but they don’t pay much, if at all.

He went to storyteller conferences and attended a workshop on getting published. Soon he met up with an editor, who assisted him on his journey.

Rich said even if you get your book on the shelves of a major bookstore chain, you face very tough odds that anybody will even pick your book up, amid a sea of competition and better-known authors. He said distribution is the key and a big challenge.

Rich learned that his collection of stories needed to have a unifying theme. This is how he started sorting his material into tall tales, ghost stories, etc.

He learned to rewrite and revise very well, because working with an editor who’s paid by the hour is quite expensive and therefore motivating.

Rich noted that being a writer is a professional endeavor — a business whose expenses could be written off against your taxes. Rich emphasized the importance of paying your taxes and keeping receipts and good records of all your publishing and book-related expenditures.

He said book stores insist on having the bar code on the book’s cover (and the price???) He said in self-publishing, you need to give away as few free copies as possible, because you lose money on each unsold book. Inevitably, Rich said, there are at least 10 copies that must be given away, such as two copies to; two to the Library of Congress; a couple of autographed copies for your editor, illustrator; and then a few promotional copies for the sales reps, etc.

Rich used the West Virginia Book Company . He said it has a good Web site. This company will edit, copyright, help with building a Web site, etc.

Rich got his book into several sales venues, but Tamarack has been one of his best places for sales. He said he made his money back that he spent on his publishing venture in 8 or 9 months.

Rich said in order to get your book on a big chain’s shelves, such as Books-A-Million, there’s lots of paperwork that must be filled out every time you submit a shipment of books (which are very few). He decided it just wasn’t worth his time to fill out the submission forms each time for two or three book sales.

Another important comment that Rich made was that he initially began this publishing investment already having the extra money to spend. He said he had money set aside for a big, model train set, but he decided to pay for self-publishing, instead. What it seemed like he was suggesting, or at least, the point I took from this, was that Rich wasn’t betting the farm, so to speak, on the success of his book sales. Smart.

Fred said now that Rich has proven himself as a salable author, he might have a lot of success with pursuing the traditional agent/publishing-company route. Rich has already built a platform.


Items We Reviewed From Our Previous Meeting:
— In the writing industry, always remember that money flows to the author, not from the author.
— Two big objectives of our writers’ “support group” are to inspire one another and be motivated to write more.

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