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I’m sitting in the fifteenth floor lounge of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel drinking vodka on the rocks. It’s only six o’clock in the evening, a little early even for me for straight alcohol, but I’m in need of a little buffer because in twenty minutes I’ll be sitting across the table from an editor who will be holding the first twenty pages of the manuscript of my novel. I had already been through the drill earlier in the day (Muse & The Marketplace Writer’s Conference) with a different editor whose unenthusiasm for my writing (and/or story) was deafening.

I think I’m done, finished with the whole process of submitting to agents and meeting with editors. I can’t take anymore of the nonsense. One editor says they like that I don’t overwrite while another states, rather dismissively, that one of the problems with my work is that I overwrite. Another doesn’t like the name of the main character and a fourth editor thinks I should “strongly consider” turning my literary novel about a couple falling in love into an espionage thriller.

I’m not even sure if the vodka I’m drinking is to bolster my courage to endure the session with the next editor or to just not show up for the meeting at all.

Sitting at the bar to my right (there are only two chairs at the bar of this tiny lounge) is another gentleman nursing a tall glass of clear liquid. For some reason I believe that it’s tonic water or some other non-alcoholic beverage. Unlike me, he seems to be killing time instead of brain cells.

Now, I am not one to talk to strangers, and my drink isn’t even half finished so I know it’s not lubrication that prompts it, but I turn to the gentleman, and, surprising myself with my audacity, ask, “How do you know when to quit?” As I wait for his response, not really sure he will even entertain my question, I wonder if he senses the exasperation in my voice.

The gray haired man seems to ponder my question for a moment before answering, which he does, with an analogy of an aging rock group, a reference I’m not exactly thrilled about. But his point is well taken. After ten years of being on the road and playing every dive along the eastern seaboard, you come to the realization that you are (probably) never going to make it. It’s at that point that you realize that you do what you do (that you CONTINUE to do what you do) for the “love of it.” And with that, the gentleman finishes his drink and leaves.

But that was no ordinary gentleman. That was Ron Carlson, the brilliant writer who would be giving the keynote speech the next day to an audience of eight hundred people. And while his advice wasn’t exactly “novel,” it was honest, it was considered, and it seemed heartfelt. He was kind enough and generous enough to indulge this struggling writer and give a thoughtful answer to a somewhat ridiculous question.

I don’t write with the hope of being rich. I don’t write with the hope of being famous. I write because I love to and because it’s the best way I know of (sometimes the only way I know of) to be engaged in the world. And I will continue to write (but not submit to agents and editors) because of that love and because of the community of wonderful, extraordinary people (like Ron Carlson) that I get to meet in the process.

Sorry to all of the wonderful readers out there for disappearing for so long. See, I’ve been working on this thing called a novel, and, well…you know!

And it seems that I don’t have enough stress in my life, so I’m off to another writer’s conference in Boston: Muse & The Marketplace.

I will write (and Tweet) about the things I learn and the people I meet there. But until then, I’ve been fortunate enough to hoodwink and cajole a truly great person and a wonderful agent to “guest blog” for me. My very first. So be kind to her. Here goes:

So, I’m headed to Boston this weekend for Muse and the Marketplace, aka the Grub Street Conference. Of the 15 or 20 conferences that I participate in each year, I really look forward to this one. And this year in particular has all the signs of being HOT: great organization, high-quality manuscripts (I’m already reading lots of top-notch manuscripts in preparation,) and some of the nicest agents around.

A few thoughts if you’ll be pitching to agents/editors at M&M. These also apply to any other pitch session you might be attending:

1) We (the agents and editors) want to meet you as much as you want to meet us. So please don’t be nervous. Smile, extend your hand, and know that we’re dying to be beguiled by your tale. (But no pressure!)

2) If you need to read your pitch, that’s okay too. This isn’t a spelling bee or some other kind of memorization test. We want to hear your story — tell it to us however you can, the best way you can.

3) Try not to be too general in your pitch. For instance, “This is a story of redemption, healing and forgiveness.” That doesn’t tell us very much. Better to say, “Cameron Crawford is lost — physically and metaphorically. She awakens in a strange bed in an unknown city, wearing pajamas that are not hers, and is suddenly uncertain of even her own name.”

4) Try not to be too specific either. For example, “When Cameron opens her eyes, which are blue, but also a little green, she looks out the window, which is open halfway, and sees a brown building just across the light well. Well, it really isn’t a light well, it’s just the space between one building and the next. But anyway…”

5) Life is fast, and good fiction faster. Start your story quickly and keep up the pace. Extra points to s/he who finishes the novel beginning with the line, “By the time you read this, I will have taken a flying leap off the Golden Gate Bridge.”

I hope to see you in Boston — can’t wait to meet you and to be drawn into the word-world you have wrought. And if not Boston, look for me at one of the many other gatherings of literary folk throughout the year, and, oh yeah, don’t be shy.

April Eberhardt

About April: April Eberhardt Literary specializes in high-quality women’s fiction: thoughtful, carefully crafted narratives by, for and about women, the kind of books that generate interest and insights among women’s book club members. The agency also represents selected Young Adult works, particularly those aimed at prompting meaningful discussion between mothers and daughters about relationships, values and decision-making. As readers and publishers choose among the many ways literature is being delivered in the new millennium, authors need a literary agent who understands both the traditional and electronic marketplaces, along with the evolving role of self-publishing, done right. April founded her own agency in order to assist and advise authors as they navigate the increasingly complex world of publishing. After 25 years as a corporate strategist and consultant, April Eberhardt joined the literary world as head reader for Zoetrope: All-Story, a literary magazine, followed by five years as an agent with two San Francisco-based literary agencies. She holds an MBA from Boston University in Marketing and Finance, a BA from Hamilton (Kirkland) College in Anthropology and French, and a CPLF degree from the University of Paris. She divides her time between San Francisco, New York and Paris.

http://www.aprileberhardt.com/

It's not like I'm asking for a standing ovation.

Why do you write? Blog? Participate in social networks? Do you even know? Or is it just automatic; is it something that you think you should be doing because it seems like everyone else is?

The sad thing about our new society, this plugged in, connected, “look-at-me” world is that there is so much wasted time, so much wasted content.

As writers we want to communicate, to express ourselves, and so we produce novels, memoirs, screenplays, etc. But now we are told that in order to get anyone else interested in our art we need to first build an audience, a platform. We need Facebook and Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts and URL’s bearing our names (or our brands in some cases). We have to be on YouTube and Tumblr and Flickr and all of those other sites wandering around out there looking for their missing vowels.

It’s like building a car, drilling for oil, processing the oil to make the car run, and then circling the block over and over again looking for passengers, just so we can drive them to our apple farm in order to sell them that Gravenstein or Granny Smith we so diligently nurtured and polished.

Why produce content if the only goal of that content is to get someone to buy different content?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t love blogging. Or Facebook. Although I am beginning to get the whole Twitter thing.

I don’t want to have to produce something I’m not particularly passionate about in order to build an audience that might one-day purchase a product I am passionate about.

And I don’t. Not really. I am not interested in adding any more information to the heap just for the sake of self-promotion. While this blog might seem that way to some, it’s not to me. I’m not that vain and I’m not that ambitious. Otherwise I would post more often and try to monetize it, sell tee shirts and…you get the picture. I put these words out there as my way of contributing to the conversation, or to starting a new one. Quite frankly I prefer dialogue to monologue, so anything you have to add (agree or disagree) is welcome.

And that’s what I have come to like about Twitter. I don’t feel too guilty about adding 140 characters to the chatter, and the response is immediate. Today one my posts got retweeted many times. There’s no vanity there because they weren’t my words. I was quoting someone else. I shared something that had value for me, and I was rewarded almost instantaneously by seeing how many other people saw value in those words by sharing them with others.

Three points I am trying to make.

1)   Only offer something that has real value to you (because you can’t determine if it will have any value to someone else).

2)   Invest the bulk of your energy in the real work (novel, memoir, etc.). If it’s good enough your audience will find it. If it’s not, all your blogging and tweeting won’t make a difference anyway.

3)   Comment. Content creators rely on your feedback. Let people know what’s of value to you and what isn’t (in a nice way).

Believe me, if I could have condensed those thoughts down to tweetsize I would have. But I’m not that good of an editor.

Marco

The Pitching Post

I’ve been observing the tweets written by authors nervous about the Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam who were asking for advice. I’ve been hesitant to offer any words of wisdom I might have because I haven’t been to a WDC before. BUT, I have attended many other seminars, workshops and conferences, as well as an MFA program in writing, so I hope I have at least a few intelligent things to share.

The following comments are not about “how to pitch.” There are numerous websites, books, magazine articles, blogs, etc., that can give you the rundown on what agents/editors expect. My focus here is more psychological:

  1. Take a chill pill. Try to relax & have fun (easier said than done). If you’re nervous it’s probably because you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. While it’s natural to be a little nervous any time you put yourself on the line like that, it’s not about succeeding or failing. It’s about showing up and participating. The rest of it is out of your control.
  2. Realize that you have no control over anything; even if, (especially if) you think you do. All you can do is give it your best shot.
  3. It’s not about YOU; it’s about the work. Unless of course you’re famous for something or other and have a huge fan base that is certain to buy your book, THEN it’s about you.
  4. I believe that agents & editors (to a certain degree) don’t really care about your story. They only care if they can SELL your story to an editor or to their publisher. So, while you want to communicate what your story is about, also try to give them some insight as to why you think there’s a market for your particular book.
  5. Your time is limited, so give them the essence. Of the story, and of YOU. Yes, I said it wasn’t about you, but here I’m referring to the reason behind the book. While you don’t want to give them a detailed history of the project, you should try to communicate your enthusiasm for the book. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re not excited about the project, how do you expect to entice someone else into buying it? If you can express that enthusiasm, (without going over the top) you will not only excite the agent/editor, but your nervousness will be replaced by your passion.
  6. It’s not about YOU. Yeah, I already said that, but it bears repeating. It’s a conference and it’s about community. The less you focus on yourself and the more you engage with others, the less nervous you’ll be, I guarantee it. I was in a seminar this past weekend, taught by my friend, the author of “How to Buy a Love of Reading, “Tanya Egan Gibson, and she made a very good point: “You are not in competition with other writers. Your book/idea doesn’t succeed because someone else’s fails. It stands alone.” I’m paraphrasing, but it was a good reminder, because it’s easy to forget that when you see a room full of people all vying for the attention of YOUR agent/editor.
  7. I’m not sure how they set up the Pitch Slam, but I believe you have to line up to pitch the agent/editor you most want to meet, then go to the back of the line of the second one you want to pitch. In other similar sessions (San Francisco Writer’s Conference) I’ve seen writers waste valuable time waiting to pitch some “big” agent, the one who “writes” the books, the one who reps the big names. Personally, I’d rather have the opportunity to get in front of ten agents instead of three or four. I believe it’s better to cast a wide net, because as you know, it’s all subjective, so it’s about finding the representative who, for whatever reason, is excited about your particular story or concept. So think about how long that line is and what it’s potentially costing you.
  8. Finally, the best advice I have to offer is: Leave your ego at home (or in the hotel room). That goes for those who tend to dominate conversations as well as those afraid to start them. Put that Blackberry or iPhone in your pocket and talk to the person sitting next to you. Ask them what they’re working on. Who knows, in a few years that very same person just might refer you to the agent they secured at this conference. Will your Android do that for you?

Have a great time. Good luck, and I hope to see you there, Marco

For a while today I was on shaky ground. For some reason I couldn’t get the image of Snooki out of my head, and mind you, I’ve never even seen an episode of Jersey Shore. I’ve seen enough clips on news & entertainment shows to know that it’s not for me.

Invade TV if you want, fine, there’s not much left to ruin anyway. 500 channels and still I have to resort to Netflix. But venture into the realm of, dare I say, literature, and that bothers me.

It’s not so much that anyone with a pen (and a platform) shouldn’t have a voice, but this chick, who claims to have read only two books in her lifetime, seems to be making a mockery of it (as well as a few bucks).

Perhaps it didn’t help that the words of Michael Cunningham were roaming around in my head all morning, standing in sharp contrast to those “penned” by Ms. JS.

Mr. Cunningham writes: “He can feel something, roiling at the edges of the world. Some skittery attentiveness, a dark gold nimbus studded with living lights like fish in the deep black ocean; a hybrid of galaxy and sultans’ treasure and chaotic, inscrutable deity.”

Snooki writes: “He had an okay body. Not fat at all. And naturally toned abs. She could pour a shot of tequila down his belly and slurp it out of his navel without getting splashed in the face.”

Mr. Cunningham writes: “The bedroom is full of the gray semilight particular to New York, an effusion, seemingly sourceless; a steady shadowless illumination that might just as well be emanating up from the streets as falling down from the sky.

Snooki writes: “Yum. Johnny Hulk tasted like fresh gorilla.”


Can’t you just see the fires burning in the distance after that last one? I know I did. Until I remembered that this is nothing new. Celebrities (and I use the term loosely) have always wandered into the realm of the book.

I don’t mind James Franco tossing his short stories (Palo Alto) into the ring; at least he had the good sense and respect for the discipline to study the craft. But what about the others? Pamela Anderson (The Star), Adrienne Barbeau (Vampyres of Hollywood), Courtney Thorne-Smith (Outside In), and that other (un)reality star, Lauren Conrad (LA Candy)? Lest we forget to add Willie Nelson to the list (A Tale of Luck), but he only co-wrote that treasure. And what about Blair Underwood’s foray into authorship, with a cover stating he “Presents” (From Cape Town with Love), whatever that means?

Perhaps those other actor-authors didn’t bother me so much at the time because there were still a few bookstores around where one could find great writing and like-minded people. But seeing photos of all that beehive and cleavage in one of the few remaining book bazaars, was, well, bizarre.

I mean no offense. To each his own. I can live in a world where the majority of people find “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “A Shore Thing” entertaining, but I know I can’t survive in a world where that’s all there is.

 

Well, this is the first of what I hope will be many posts as I explore the literary world.

I am off next week to a couple of conferences in New York: The Writer’s Digest Conference and Digital Book World.

Based on the seminars/sessions being offered, it looks like it’s going to be a fun-filled informative week.

I hope to run into/meet a few of you while I am there. I find those who attend those kind of events to be the most interesting, curious, and determined people on the planet. I look forward to hearing your questions and your pitches and to being encouraged and inspired by you.

I do have one burning question that I hope someone can answer in one of the many classes offered, either during their speech/panel or in a Q&A afterwards. That is: What is going to take the place of the author’s inscription in this new digital/E – world?

I don’t know about you, but it’s an honor and a thrill for me to be able to have a quick conversation with an author I admire and then have them sign my (their) book. A book is a book, but one with an inscription is a memory. (And worth a few more bucks on E-Bay.) Kidding!

I have a Kindle and an iPad, so I’m all for this new frontier, as long as we can figure out how to make it profitable for all concerned. But while e-books are great for traveling, etc., I still prefer the real thing when I’m lounging at home. Nothing can replace the experience of holding a “real” book in your hands, one that has your name in it, handwritten by a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Be well, Marco

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