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Women’s Writing Guild Conference Offers Valuable Tips

Pub Date: Sep 1, 1997 | Columnist: Jennifer Rampey

"Ultimately, today's authors must toughen up before they begin to crusade for their works."

–Alice Orr, Literary Agent

Women's Writing Guild Conference Offers Valuable Tips

Special Report

By Jennifer Rampey, Authorlink! Georgia Correspondent

These stories were reported during The 20th Annual International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) Conference 1997 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York in August. IWWG is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing. More information is available at www.iwwg.com.

Wake Up Call: New York Agent Says Authors Need Business Savvy For Success

New York literary agent Alice Orr is giving book authors a wake up call.

Citing dipping book sales and large book returns, as well as the increasing influence of large retail chains on publishing houses, Orr said authors who want to be published must pursue an agent and a contract like ambitious corporate executives. The essential hallmarks of this pursuit must include discipline, research, dark suits, professional letterhead and, most importantly, a tough agent.

"This is, by nature, a tough business, and if you want to get a book published, it's like wanting to get in the majors," Orr said. "That's how many kids get picked."

Orr spoke in August at the 20th Annual International Women's Writing Guild Summer Conference 1997 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Orr represents clients for her Manhattan-based literary agency, the Alice Orr Agency, Inc., and has a wide range of experience in writing and publishing including her eleventh popular fiction novel, romantic suspense novel Protect Me, Love, and Acapulco Heat, due out this year.

Orr spoke to a packed audience about how to get an agent and how to get published in the increasingly competitive market. Authors must organize their book campaigns and research the market, educating themselves about the agents who will fight for their works.

"You've got to have a battle strategy," she said. "And you need to pursue the battlefield as a warrior for your career."

Here are suggestions Orr made for pursuing agents: Read Publishers Weekly religiously. Make query letters professional, leaving any personal references out. Invest in letterhead, envelopes and business cards that uniformly give address, e-mail address, fax and phone numbers. Keep the paper white and the ink black, and avoid anything fancy. Get an e-mail address for networking. Understand an agent's guidelines for considering book proposals, and never send a manuscript unless it's been requested. Send a request for guidelines and a self-addressed stamp and envelope. In fiction, a book proposal must include three chapters – about 50 pages- ending with a "cliff-hanger." You want to show you can hook the reader. If an agent responds to you, do what she asks.

Authors should expect an agent who is a warrior, too. She should be a confidante, a truthful advisor, a career counselor, a diplomatic advocate with publishers, and your supporter.

"You need someone who really likes to get in there and kick ass," Orr said.

There are ways that agents can hurt authors: if they sit on a book, let an author languish for a year before figuring out she has been dropped, or if they are not taken seriously by the industry.

"I used to say any agent is better than no agent," Orr said. "I don't believe that anymore. You are your own best agent if you don't have one."

Agent or not, the author is at the bottom of the publishing power pole, and if she is to rise among the ranks, she must make sure she has what it takes.

"Don't kid yourself about what you're doing," Orr said. "It's hard work."

Authors must have a discipline for writing that includes putting pen to paper daily and surrounding themselves with other writers for encouragement.

Orr offered these techniques for reinforcing this discipline: If you don't identify yourself to others as a writer, affirm your commitment by telling everyone you know that you are a writer. Also, tell yourself this 10 times before and after you go to bed every night. Promote yourself shamelessly. Delegate responsibilities in your life to create writing time. Use the word "no." Focus on your writing career. Get an answering machine, and create a message that lets callers know when they can most likely reach you. A lot of time and energy can be wasted on the phone. Don't publish your book on the Web. People still love to read books. Force yourself into a quiet space to write.

There are lots of questions a writer must ask herself to honestly know if writing books is for her. Is she willing to give up certain things about her life to focus on writing? Is she willing to learn and be savvy? Does her book have the bestseller touch?

Market intelligence that will focus a writer's book strategy is indispensable, too. Authors must educate themselves at all levels, Orr said. They must study publishing by reading trade publications, industry primers and spend time in bookstores. Also, they must study the market and find convincing statistics for publishers.

Ultimately, today's authors must toughen up before they begin to crusade for their works.

"Don't take rejection personally; rejection is the rule," Orr said. "Acceptance is the exception."

 

Marketing Voice Essential When Writing The Book Proposal

The best book proposals take on lives of their own, using active verbs to jump off the page and lure book sales.

At least that's what it may take to peak an editor's interest in today's publishing industry. Book proposals are crucial marketing tools that represent a work and illustrate a writer's professional attitude toward the craft.

"I believe it's easier to sell a book with a proposal," said Liz Aleshire, a successful author, editor and teacher. "But you've got to know your book before you write a proposal. If you know your work, the proposal won't be hard."

Aleshire taught a class on book proposals in August at the 20th Annual International Women's Writing Guild Summer Conference 1997 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York in August. She is the author of books including Private Lives Of Ministers' Wives, Bugs: Suckers, Stingers, Sweeties, Swingers, and Willybudkin: A Fireside Tale for Parent and Child.

Before polishing a proposal, a few things need to be in order. Aleshire said fiction manuscripts must be completed. Non-fiction works don't need to be finished, but an author should have about three chapters done. In many cases, Aleshire said, editors like to be able to work with an author to complete a non-fiction book.

Manuscripts should be edited so that they represent your best possible work.

Aleshire listed the following components, in order, for developing a proposal: Format: Several books on the market outline the format of proposals, and Aleshire recommended purchasing one to use as a model. Title page: State who the proposal is for, the name of the work and the author's name. Table of contents: Necessary for fiction and non-fiction. Overview: This is the sales pitch. Use strong verbs and five or six sentences to say how wonderful your book is – not necessarily what the book is about. In non-fiction, tell the editor who would buy this book. Go to the library and collect convincing statistics. Title page for the book. Three sample chapters. Chapter-by-chapter summary: These should summarize every chapter, including the three sample chapters. Each chapter should have one paragraph, and authors should fit at least three chapters on each page, double-spaced. Summaries should be clear, concise, compelling and thematic. Think about what you want the reader to know about that particular chapter.

Perhaps the most important pieces here are the overview and summary, and the overview should be drafted like a 30-second commercial. This may require some authors to shift writing gears.

"Go to a book store and read book jackets in your genre for an hour," she said. "There's a cadence, a rhythm to them you need to learn."

Copyright, Authorlink! 1997