Agents Talk Trends, Platform, eBooks and More at Wrangling With Writing

This guest column is by Ricki Schultz, freelance writer and coordinator of The Write-Brained Network. At the 38th annual Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling with Writing conference in Tuscon, the first morning session was a large “Ask Anything” panel of agents, editors, and an author.
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At the 38th annual Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling with Writing conference in Tuscon, the first morning session was a large “Ask Anything” panel of agents, editors, and an author, featuring:

  • Maxwell Alexander Drake (Sci-fi/fantasy author)
  • Paul Burt (Pen & Publish, Inc.)
  • Rita Rosencranz (Rita Rosenkranz Literary)
  • Pam Strickler (Pam Strickler Author Mngt)
  • Mingsu Chang (BookStop Literary)
  • Claire Gerus (Claire Gerus Literary)
  • Natalie Fischer (Sandra Dijkstra Literary)
  • Martin Biro (Kensington Publishing)
  • Jill Marr (Sandra Dijkstra Literary)

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Here is what the group had to say during the Q&A:

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This guest column is by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
The Write-Brained Network. You can
Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

What are your feelings on trends?

JM: Writing toward trends is not the kind of writing you want to do—it’s a dangerous game.

MB: You should invent the trends because, by the time they have identified something as a trend, it’s too late to start writing it.

CG: Stay away from being a trend follower—be a trendsetter. Write what is meaningful to you at the time.

What’s hot right now?

MC: Paranormal and dystopian in kids’ lit.

PS: Vampire romances are hot, and have always been hot—but can you write something fresh in this area?

What is platform?

RR: Platform is like building a résumé for the work you’ve written. It allows an audience to recognize you instantly. If you are a specialist of some kind (i.e., a medical professional and you’ve written a medical thriller or a medical-related nonfiction book, etc.), publishers want to know you have ability to speak in front of an audience—virtual or otherwise.

How important is it? What do writers starting out need to have in terms of platform?

RR: For nonfiction, you need to have it already in place, or it collapses. It is difficult to get a book deal without it. She wants to know the author can establish it and sustain it.

PS: For fiction, you’re more dealing with more “publicity” and not so much “platform.”

JM: She likes to see fiction writers blogging and submitting work to magazines, etc. She’s more interested if you’ve been published and have won awards—anything that shows someone else has seen merit in your work.

Are queries read by the person writers send them to?

JM: At her agency, they go directly to the agents.

MB: At Kensington, assistants usually read the queries first.

NF
: It usually depends on to whom you’re submitting. If it’s the head of the agency, assistants generally read them first. Newer agents usually read theirs first.

RR: Everyone at her agency reads everything.

What are your thoughts on the economy, print-on-demand publishing, e-books, and the future of publishing?

MD: He notices publishers are not spending the money they once were.

PB: It’s ever more challenging. He suggests you become a student of all these things and do your homework.

PS: She says it expands your chances if you follow submission guidelines. This is how they streamline many many many submissions. It only shows your ignorance if you don’t.

RR: Business models are changing. She thinks e-books will become more predominant. Authors who treat writing like a business are in the front line for making it work—i.e., garnering new audiences with every book, out and about speaking and signing, etc. She relies on those kinds of authors to help preserve her bottom line.

PS: There’s good and bad news. It’s kind of like the paperback revolution, she says. Also, there are less houses to which they can submit work because so many are combining.

MC: She sees publishing houses basing future sales on past sales. Debut authors often get only one shot to get their names out there.

CG: She strongly suggests you hire a publicist to help you get your book out—have a sustained effort from a professional—because you are tied into the fate of that first book. You have to do a good percentage of the marketing yourself these days.

NF: She says you can say it’s grim, but it’s about looking at the positive. She says she’s getting lower offers, but she’s getting really excited editors who really want the books. Smaller presses are “life savers” now, and this is not a bad thing to her. Things are still happening.

JM: She sees e-books like television, when it first came out. People freaked out and said it would be the end of radio. She said she sees the success of e-books as good news because more people are reading—it’s just in a different format. Money is still being spent.

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