Every year, a group of volunteers in Western Massachusetts organises the Write Angles Conference at Mt Holyoke College in South Hadley. I was there for the 2019 edition of the conference, which took place on October 5. Yes, I took notes. Here are some of the things I learnt:
1. One million books
There are over 1 million books published in the United States alone every year. About a quarter of these are by traditional publishers. This is both daunting and inspiring, depending on how you want to look at it. From one point of view, it’s daunting because how on earth do you get noticed when there are a million titles vying for the attention of readers? And yet, at the same time, if 250,000 books can find space among traditional publishers, so can you! If that pathway doesn’t work out, your manuscript can join the 750,000 books that are published in other ways; self-publishing, smaller presses, etc.
2. First-time writers welcome
Being a first-time writer is NOT a disadvantage if you do the work. Agents and publishers are looking for new voices all the time. Your BIG advantage as a first-time writer is that you have no reputation (The obvious temptation is to see this as a disadvantage). If you have published before, everyone in the industry is looking to see how your previous books have done. If they have done well, then that’s a leg-up for you. If not, bad news. If you’ve never published, it’s a wide-open sky.
3. Be creative, even off the page
If you are determined enough, there are workarounds for most things. Following on from the tip above, James McGinniss, one of the Agents present, told the story of a prolific writer who had two books in a row do badly. The manuscript she submitted after that was not picked up because publishers doubted that any subsequent books she put out would sell. Her agent suggested that she submit the manuscript under a pseudonym. She agreed and that did the trick. It was picked up by a publisher who gave her a hefty advance (5 figure/ 6 figure – can’t remember). As writers, we are called to be creative in every aspect of our careers.
4. Trunk manuscripts
If you’ve been knocking on doors forever and no one will publish your manuscript, do one of two things; One is to put it away in a folder – or wherever you store your ‘for-later’ work and start on your next book. Apparently, having a manuscript stored away in a figurative trunk can be a good thing. If your second manuscript gets published and does well, agents will come calling for a second book and you can say, Voila! Here it is! All ready to go. This was the first time hearing the term ‘trunk manuscript.’ The other thing that happens is that if you get published you find renewed energy to attack your old manuscripts and breathe life into them.
Don’t want to trunk it? The second thing you can do is self-publish – and then start on your next book (notice a trend here?). Self-publishing is becoming more viable all the time. You can do it for free on Amazon. The important thing is to do it right. Get your manuscript edited professionally (Ya, this probably means paying someone). Get a cover done professionally (More money. It’s not really free but on websites like Fiverr.com you can get it done quite cheap). Do at least some basic marketing for your book (Even more money – or some serious social media). The most amazing thing about doing this is the lifting of the psychological pressure that comes from completing a project. Once it’s published, you can move on completely to new things. Sky again!
6. Beware of the book advance
One of the things many authors dream of is hefty book advances. At one panel, I learnt that it sometimes helps to ask for less money as an advance. Say what? Here’s how it works; there is a limited budget for most things, so if you get more money as an advance, it may mean the publishers may spend less promoting your book. What does book promotion by a publisher look like? This includes things like airport placement of your book (which costs in the US costs $3,500 to $8,500 a month), having your book placed close to the door in Barnes & Noble, organising book tours, etc. One publisher at the conference gave an example of a writer who actually returned some of their advance money so the publisher could commit to doing more promotional work. How good are you at delayed gratification?
7. Sometimes publishers give you a book and not much else
Following on from the point above, it’s not enough to just get published. Many writers have found themselves stranded after they’ve been published by big publishing houses and not given much support after that. So while you want to get published, keep your eyes on the prize; you want exposure to potential readers. How will the publisher do that for you? If they won’t do anything and you know from the get-go, fine. You can prepare your own campaign. Just don’t get caught flat-footed.
8. Networking makes things real
I’ve been in Western Massachusetts for a year now. I’m establishing contacts and networks from scratch. When you attend a conference like this and meet so many people in your field all at the same time, it turbocharges your awareness of the community and vice versa. Now I email people and say, “We met at Write Angles” and that makes a world of a difference. Wherever you can, get away from your laptop and go and meet some other writers.
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.