Many Ways to Skin a Cat | Denise Grover Swank

Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at all the ways “to skin a cat” in publishing. I am going to interview and feature guest posts with different authors from different publishing options. So if, like me, you are at that painful and exciting point of trying to make the most informed choice…stick around and watch this space. Perhaps one of the options will stand out for you and perhaps one of these authors that I interview or who guest-post will inspire you down the same path.

I am coming at this with a completely open mind and non-judgmental attitude. I am doing this series as much to get more information for myself and educate myself as I am any reader whom finds this interesting or useful.

Open Call

Also if you want to be one of the authors to be interviewed or guest post on this topic in this series, please shout out.

*My Guarantee: No Cats will be harmed or skinned in the writing of this series!*

😼   😼   😼   😼   😼

Today I am very pleased to have the pleasure of Denise Grover Swank’s company on the blog. It is especially a pleasure because today is Denise’s Birthday – So Happy Birthday Denise!

Denise is not someone to be pegged into a square. She has written across genres, has been a self-publishing success and has just been signed to a top literary agency. As Denise will tell you in this interview, she did not go searching for the accolades, she writes for the love of writing. Her fans fell in love with her writing and she has proven what I have always believed that no matter what genre an author writes in – whether they stick to one genre or one market or diversify and cross genres and markets – the readers will continue reading your books. Once you have turned a reader into a fan, your success as an author is guaranteed.

1. Can you tell us what “being Indie” means to you? 

Denise >> I know there’s a big controversy about what “Indie” means.  Some consider Indie to be published with a small press. Others consider it to include self-published authors. I typically call myself a self-published author. I used to say defensively, now I’m proud of it. I’ve also begun to interchange the words “Indie” and “self-published.”
2. Nowadays there are so many options for authors but the sheer amount of publishing options can create confusion. 
Why did you decide to go the Indie route of self-publishing? 
Denise >>  I started out wanting a traditional book deal. I wrote three books in three different genres and actively queried them with agents but never got an offer of representation. Then Nathan Bransford wrote a post saying he thought there were valid reasons for self-publishing and it was the approval I needed to pursue it. I plan to write a series for my agent, Amanda Luedeke  with MacGregor Literary, to shop to traditional publishers, but even if I sell to a Big 6 publisher, I will continue to self-publish.
3. You hear of authors switching methods of publication from seeking traditional representation from agents & the Big6 to small press to self-publishing. Did you try any other route in publishing before settling on Indie Publishing and can you tell us what these routes were? 
Denise >>  I was very close to acquiring an agent with my YA Here. She was also reading Chosen, my urban fantasy. I knew the agent liked darker manuscripts and wouldn’t be interested in my rom com mystery, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. But I loved that story and the characters so the thought of the book dying on my hard drive upset me. I decided to self-publish it. During the process to prepare it, the agent rejected Here and I decided to self-publish Chosen. I’ve self-published five books and plan on a sixth in June. I’ve never regretted my decision. I am planning to write a new urban fantasy series for my agent to shop in NY, but I’m doing that to widen my reader base. It’s a business decision.
4. You have just recently been signed by a literary agent. Congratulations!
Can you tell us how this came about?
Denise >> Amanda found me. Chosen had climbed to the top 100 on the Kindle list and hovered in the 20’s for several days and Amanda emailed me and asked if I was seeking representation and said she’d love to chat with me. I really liked Amanda’s forward thinking and loved that she wasn’t threatened by my self-published works. During our conversation, she offered unsolicited career advice with no sign that I would sign with her. That spoke volumes to me. She was the one who suggested I write a new urban fantasy/paranormal romance series. She believes the success of The Chosen series will make me more appealing to New York.
5.  You have already gained huge success as an Indie author.
How will having a literary agent now change things for you as an author? 
Denise >> I’ve had foreign rights and production rights inquiries. I’ve handed all of those over to Amanda to take care of, which has been a huge relief. She’s going to actively pursue other foreign rights sales She also plans to try to sell my new series to a traditional publisher. But my self-published books are mine, and at this point, I’m deciding all my career options.
6. Do you plan on continuing to release books yourself now that you have an agent, or will you be looking mainly at the traditional publishing houses?
Denise >> Yes, I fully intend to continue to self-publish even if I get a traditional book deal. I love the control.
7. Being Indie means that you have to be your own Marketing guru and Public Relations expert:
What have you learnt about marketing your own books as an Indie Author?
Do you also feel you are now more savvy about the Publishing Industry because of your Indie experience?
Denise >>  I think one benefit to being an indie author is that I can make immediate changes. If I want to change the price of my book or change the cover, I can do it. I don’t have to seek anyone’s permission. I can change the price within hours. I can put a book on sale or set up a free promo. I can decide where I sell my books or if I make them exclusive somewhere. That being said, I really don’t play with prices other than when I raised the price of Chosen and Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes from $0.99 to $2.99. I’m also raising the price of Here to $3.99 after it goes off its $0.99 sale.  (Here is on sale on Barnes & Noble and Amazon until June 1.) Still, I change the price with strategy in mind. I’ve also made both ebooks free for several days but all three times were carefully thought out and calculated.
I feel like I’m very much more savvy about the publishing industry. Amazon distributes 98% of my books, so I’m constantly keeping up on the theories behind current algorithms. I also study pricing in my genres, rankings, the rise and fall of similar book’s sales. I read multiple articles and blog posts a day to keep on top of the latest news and theories. I spend one to four hours a day on research and marketing.
8. Everyone keeps on about the importance of developing “your own brand” as an author.
Do you agree and how have you built “your own brand”? 
Denise >> Yes, I think I have a brand even if it’s not really an actual written concept. I think my “brand” is that I’m somewhat sarcastic and funny (even if in my own mind LOL) I hope people see me as a usually positive person and that I’m generous to my readers. Romance authors typically have a “tag line” or brand for themselves. If I have one it’s: I keep my sanity by creating characters to talk to and worlds to live in. What did I say about my sanity?
9. Nowadays the world is a smaller place through social media and the internet.
How important a tool do you believe social media is to an author today and what tips would you give an author in how to use it effectively? 
Denise >> I don’t think I’d be here right now without social media. Social media sold my first 200 books when I released Twenty-Eight last July. I was told to expect to sell around 20 books the first month, if I was lucky. But I’d stopped writing my family blog, There’s Always Room for One More, to write novels. I had encouraged all my readers to friend me on Facebook. So when I released my book last year, several people bought it to see what in the world I’d been done for the last two years. Thankfully, most loved it and recommended it to their friends. I watched the book sell in ripples. My friends bought it, then their friends bought it. By last August and September, I was getting reviews on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads from people I didn’t know.(Confession: That actually kind of freaked me out at first. People I didn’t know were reading my book!!!)
As you know, Kim, I’m a big Facebook user. I usually make multiple updates a day. I encourage readers to friend me. I talk to them. I’m forever amazed at the authors who never interact with people on Facebook and Twitter. It’s social media. That’s the point of it. I love talking to my readers and anyone who friends me is “fair game.”  If you’re my friend on Facebook, I’ll comment on your status update if I have something to say. I want readers to know I’m a real person, just like them.
I also use Twitter, but less so than I used to. Most of my readers seem to be on Facebook and I like that we can carry on a “conversation” with relative ease. On Twitter, I have to scroll down MULTIPLE tweets to keep up with a conversation unless it’s in real time.
I have a Tumblr account but haven’t used it in ages. I have a Pintrest account but usually use it to pin pictures associated with my books, like characters and locations.
I try to answer every email, Facebook message, post on my Facebook timeline and tweet. If someone took their valuable time to reach out to me, I want to let them know I appreciate it.
Thank you so much, Kim!
Thank you Denise for taking the time to talk to me and my readers about Publishing Options and the routes you have chosen. You will soon straggle the worlds of both NY Publishing and Self-Publishing and definitely have a unique perspective on the options open to authors today. I especially love the fact that you are a writer who has stuck to your guns on writing the stories you way to and need to write regardless of whether they are in the same genre or different genres than your others. I knew the agent liked darker manuscripts and wouldn’t be interested in my rom com mystery, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. But I loved that story and the characters so the thought of the book dying on my hard drive upset me. I decided to self-publish it.” – I love that you refused to let your story die on your hard drive and decided to self-publish anyway. I wish you even greater success with all your next books.  – Kim

Author Notes

Denise Grover Swank lives in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. She has six children, three dogs, and an overactive imagination. She can be found dancing in her kitchen with her children, reading or writing her next book. You will rarely find her cleaning.

 

You can find out more about Denise and her other books at www.denisegroverswank.com or email her at denisegroverswank@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deniseswank

Twitter: @DeniseMSwank

Book links:
The Chosen Series:
Rose Gardner Mysteries:
On the Otherside Series:
Denise Grover Swank
Author of The Chosen series: Chosen , Hunted and Sacrifice (The Chosen Series) adult urban fantasy, Redemption, (The Chosen #4) October 2012
Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishesa humorous southern mystery, Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons release June 29, 2012
and Here (On the Otherside, #1) a young adult science fiction/romance, There (#2) Late December 2012

The Many Ways to Skin a Cat | Maria V. Snyder

 

Blog Series: Researching “The Many Ways to Skin a Cat” in Publishing

Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at all the ways “to skin a cat” in publishing. I am going to interview and feature guest posts with different authors from different publishing options. So if, like me, you are at that painful and exciting point of trying to make the most informed choice…stick around and watch this space. Perhaps one of the options will stand out for you and perhaps one of these authors that I interview or who guest-post will inspire you down the same path.

I am coming at this with a completely open mind and non-judgmental attitude. I am doing this series as much to get more information for myself and educate myself as I am any reader whom finds this interesting or useful.

Open Call

Also if you want to be one of the authors to be interviewed or guest post on this topic in this series, please shout out.

*My Guarantee: No Cats will be harmed or skinned in the writing of this series!*

😼   😼   😼   😼   😼

Today I have the pleasure of a well-known author’s company. I have been a fan of her’s for just almost 3 years now. When I picked up her book, Sea Glass, I was captured by her writing style, her incredible world building and her exquisitely crafted characters. I couldn’t get enough of her other books. If you are a teen or have a teen in your house, you will know exactly who I am talking about. If you love reading books written by story-weavers then you will know her too. She has carved a niche in readers’ hearts all over the world. She has written 3 successful series of books and many short stories. From when her first novel, Poison Study, was published in 2005, nothing has held her back from creating new worlds and weaving new stories. 

So make yourselves comfortable as the talented Maria V. Snyder and I have a conversation about Publishing.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about you as a beginning author and can you tell us the best advice you ever received before being a published author?

Maria >>  I started writing because I was bored at work (shhh…don’t tell!).  I’ve always enjoyed reading and being creative and I had dabbled with painting, acting, and dancing, but lacked the confidence to pursue any of those for my career.  The best advice I received was to be persistent – to keep writing and submitting.  Truthfully, when I first heard it, I thought it was one of those “eat an apple a day” type of advice – something you say that doesn’t mean anything.  But it proved 100 % true in my case – persistence paid off!

2. Nowadays there are so many options for authors but the sheer amount of publishing options can create confusion.
If you were starting out now as an author, would you still have made the same choices in publishing that you have made?

Maria >> Good question!  At the time I was sending my first book, Poison Study around there were other options like self-publishing, digital formats, and print on demand available, but I really wanted to be published by a traditional publisher and if I hadn’t sold the book, I wouldn’t have pursued those other options.  In today’s market, e-publishing is more popular, but I think it’s very difficult for a new author to stand out without spending lots of time and energy on marketing.  If I was just starting out, I think I would still try to find a traditional publisher first before looking into e-publishing, but I wouldn’t rule it out like before.

3. How long did you spend in the pre-publishing trenches before you got an agent?

Maria >>About four years.

4. Rejection comes with the territory in the publishing industry.
Did you receive many rejections before signing with your agent? How did you persist submitting in spite of the rejections?

Maria >> I received 40 rejections from agents for Poison Study.  After I exhausted all the agents who represented fantasy, I submitted the book directly to the publishers.  I had a list of 20 publishers and I was determined to send the book to all of them before putting it away.  While all this was going on, I wrote another book, Storm Watcher for kids ages 8 to 12.  When I finished that book, I sent it to 20 agents and actually found one who wanted to represent me.  When Poison Study found a publisher (#18 of 20), I called my agent and asked her to negotiate the contract.  She asked me why I didn’t send her Poison Study when I was searching for an agent. I told her she hadn’t listed fantasy as one of the genres she represents and she said, “Oh, I take anything I like.”  Sigh!  This was back in 2003 – she never did sell Storm Watcher, however, I recently sold it to a small publisher (Leap Books).  Even after 9 years, I didn’t give up on it.  It is hard to persist when the rejections keep rolling in, but I was determined to exhaust all the publishers before giving up.

5. Many unpublished authors believe that the golden ticket to success is signing with a top literary agent. Would you agree and why/why not?

Maria >>In my case, I sold Poison Study on my own and my agent helped with the contract. However that was 9 years ago and many publishers were still accepting unagented submissions – I found 20, but today a writer might only find 5 as editors are relying on agents to pick the gems from the slush pile.  An agent is very helpful and I always suggest you try to find one first, but if no one is interested, then to go ahead and submit on your own.  Be careful about which agents you query – not all are reputable.  I’ve an article about finding agents on my website here: http://www.mariavsnyder.com/advice/findingL.php

6. Do you get nervous when a book submission and a new contract is under way, worrying whether it will be accepted or not?

Maria >>Yes!  During contract negotiations, I’m always so thankful to have my agent.  He (my second as my first passed away) loves to negotiate and I can hear the glee in his voice as he reports to me on how it’s going.  He also gives me feedback on my novels as I working on them so I know if I’m in the ballpark or not – since he’s been in publishing forever, he knows if one of my projects won’t fly with my editor.

7. Can you share with us the process you go through once you have finished writing your book up until the time it is published?

Maria >>After I send off my book, both my agent and editor read it and send me comments.  I revise based on their comments and re-submit.  Then I get the copy edits and a few more comments from my editor (or her assistant).  I revise again, and either agree or disagree with the copy edits then re-submit.  Then I get the galley proofs and I have to go through every single line, looking for errors and typos (not fun) and then type up ALL the changes on the Author Alterations (AA) form (which is hell on earth) and send in the form and the pages with the changes.  About six weeks before publication, I receive a box of books in the mail (always fun!).  During this time, I’m also making up bookmarks with the cover art of the new book, updating my website, writing newsletters, preparing for blog tours, sending out review copies to bloggers and media, and doing a ton of other marketing and promotion.  With Touch of Power, I had two blog tours (one in the US and one in the UK) and did a number of events for the Australian release.

8. Nowadays the world is a smaller place through social media and the internet and readers/fans can now have and often demand to have more direct access to authors. How important a tool do you believe social media is to an author today and what tips would you give an author in how to use it effectively?

Maria >>Social media is wonderful!  I always encouraged my readers to contact me through email, but I noticed once I had a Facebook page, the number of emails I received went down.  The trap is spending too much time on these sites and not enough writing your book.  I’ve fallen into that one many times.  If you’re a new author, I’d suggest that before your book is released, that you set up a website, blog and make a Facebook page at the least.  Some authors also do Twitter and Goodreads and other sites, but I think if you have too many, it’ll suck up all your time.  I use Facebook, Goodreads, my blog and website and I’m barely keeping my head above water (and I have a quarterly e-newsletter, too).  The nice thing about my blog is – it will automatically show up on my Facebook and Goodreads pages, saving me time.  I’d suggest you set aside a certain amount of time each day for social media and stick to it so it doesn’t dominate your life.

9. What would you say has been the biggest learning curve for you in the Publishing Industry, and what has been the greatest challenge for you?

Maria >> The biggest lesson was that not all books/authors in a publishing house are equal.  Certain titles and certain authors get more support and more marketing dollars because their books sell like crazy.  It’s not personal, it’s business.  The greatest challenge for me is to say no.  I really enjoy marketing and promotion and visiting schools and answering emails, and doing Q&As, that I don’t write as much as I should.  Plus my children are teenagers and will soon be off to college and I want to spend time with them – so juggling all my commitments is a constant challenge.

10. One of the most important relationships any author has is the one with your editor.
Have you had one trusted editor for the length of your writing career or have you had a few different editors?

Maria >> My very first editor, the one who called me to offer my first contract left the company six months later.  I’ve heard horror stories about orphaned authors and I would have had a heart attack, except my new editor called and told me not to worry since she was going to take me on.  And I’ve had the same editor at Harlequin since!  Love you Matrice!

11. There is a lot of talk about how Indie Publishing and Traditional Publishing are at loggerheads with one another.
What are your feelings about the rise of Indie Publishing and the digital book format?
Do you believe it can work alongside traditional publishing or is it a threat to traditional publishing?

Maria >> I believe the rise of Indie Publishing is great for authors.  It gives authors more options and greater control over their stories and more control over what type of stories they write.  I think it will also lead to changes to the traditional publishers’ contracts that will be better for authors.  They’ve always been the gate keepers and authors had to agree to their terms in order to see their books published.  This isn’t the case anymore.  I think most publishers are adapting to the changing climate and both Indie and Traditional will exist together in the future.

12. If an unpublished writer came to you to get advice on whether they should go the Indie route or a more Traditional route in publishing, what 3 tips would you give that writer?

Maria >>

  1. I’d tell her to do lots and lots of research – there are a few success stories about self-published books hitting big like Amanda Hocking and E. L. James, but there are far more stories about low sales.  
  2. I’d also recommend he hire a professional artist – book covers are still important no matter the format.  
  3. And I’d suggest no matter what the format, that she give away copies of her books to book bloggers/reviewers – that’s the best way to generate interest and buzz about a book.
Maria, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and chat with me about Publishing and your writing journey. Thank you for the many generous tips and advice you gave. I know, that you made the Traditional Publishing process much more transparent for me and many others. I think we can all relate to you when you tell us “It is hard to persist when the rejections keep rolling in, but
I was determined to exhaust all the publishers before giving up.”. Rejection is a really difficult pill to swallow and the literary world is such a subjective world that it is hard to know what the perfect formula is for acceptance. “The best advice I received was to be persistent – to keep writing and submitting.  Truthfully, when I first heard it, I thought it was one of those “eat an apple a day” type of advice – something you say that doesn’t mean anything.  But it proved 100 % true in my case – persistence paid off!” – I have to agree that is Brilliant advice. Persistence in writing and determination in seeing your book published is key. Thank you again Maria. It was a true pleasure to hear your views on the “many ways to skin a cat” in Publishing. ~ Kim

Author Notes

Maria V. Snyder switched careers from meteorologist to fantasy novelist when she began writing the New York Times best-selling Study Series (Poison Study, Magic Study and Fire Study) about a young woman who becomes a poison taster.  Born in Philadelphia, Maria dreamed of chasing tornadoes and even earned a BS degree in Meteorology from Penn State University.  Unfortunately, she lacked the necessary forecasting  skills. Writing, however, lets Maria control the weather, which she gleefully does in her Glass Series (Storm Glass, Sea Glass, and Spy Glass). Maria returned to school and earned a MA in Writing from Seton Hill University where she is currently one of the teachers and mentors for the MFA program. Her published young adult novels include Inside Out, and its sequel, Outside In, both are about the dystopian and fully-contained world of Inside.  Her latest release is Touch of Power, which is about healer dealing with a plague stricken world.

You can find her at:

Her Website: http://www.MariaVSnyder.com

Her Blog: http://officialmariavsnyder.blogspot.com

Hook that Agent!

Hooks

(Image by lovestruck. via Flickr)

On Tuesday I posted on The Writer’s Achilles’ Heel where I told you there were two words that struck fear into a writer’s stalwart heart: Synopsis and Query. I posted on how I write up a synopsis and promised you that today I would post on the second part of that post.

Query 101

This brings me back to knowing your peers. Your WIP is finished and is perfectly edited. It is submission time. First you look for an agent. Do you approach any agent? Do you hold a lucky draw for the agent that will love your work? If you submitted your YA fantasy to an agent that specialised in medical thrillers, do you think your bait would take? In all probability, even if the agent is intrigued, the agent will reject your WIP. So how do you know which agent to submit to?

 

 You research. You compare. You do your homework. It is safe to be said that the largest accomplishment of actually finishing your WIP is the hardest part of writing. Suffice to say, the creative end of the process is basically complete but now the business end of the process begins. Your precious WIP that you have spent hours of grueling energy over is now just a “product” in the “shop of publishing“.

 

 You have made a choice on which agent you will be pitching to. Now comes the query letter and the submission. 

 

This query letter is your first rung on the sales game. You have to consider that your prospective agent has very little time to waste on reading every submission on the “slush – or unknown writer’s – pile”. So this is your chance to sell your novel.

 

  In this query letter it is important that you not think like a writer but that you think like a salesman

 

 

If you are planning on securing a literary agent for your work, you will need to know the ins and outs of queries. Agencies are very helpful in that they put up submission guidelines on their website telling you how they want you to submit to them. Each agency has an individual approach to submissions but one thing they all share in common is they want to be hooked by a great query.

So the question is: How do you Hook that Agent?

or should the question rather be:

How NOT to Hook that Agent?

  • Don’t ignore the submission guidelines on the agent’s website.

  • Do not submit the incorrect genre to an agent.

  • Do not query a manuscript that you have not completed and polished.

  • Do not address your letter with: Dear Sir/Madam / To whom it may concern / Dear Agent

  • Don’t bribe the agent with food/alcohol/vouchers/money.

  • Don’t tell the agent your life story starting when you were four and started reading.

  • Don’t tell the agent that your family and your friends think you have the next bestseller in your hands.

  • Don’t “pretty” your query email by inserting pictures, font colours and/or emoticons.

  • If it is a manual query: don’t send on pretty pink paper with stickers on.

  • Do not write a 10 page essay as a query letter.

  • Do not include attachments or links to Dropbox (or any other online storage facility) where they can download your novel.

Now: How do I HOOK that Agent?

  • Do your homework by checking out the agent’s website/blog.

  • Always follow the Agent’s submission guidelines.

  • In an email query: In the subject write – Query: (insert your ms title)

  • Use the standardized 12 point for font size.

  • Personalise your query letter by addressing the Agent by their name.

  • Write a strong first sentence hook.

  • Always include your title / word count / genre.

  • Write 1-2 paragraphs on the main premise of your manuscript.

  • Write 1-2 paragraphs on yourself: Give only the relevant writing credits/background that is pertinent to the story you are submitting.

  • End by thanking them for their time and consideration.

  • If indicated by their submission guidelines, include your 1 page synopsis.

  • Always check your grammar and use spell-check.

  • Keep the letter professional, clear and concise.

    If your query is not successful. No matter what response you receive: Do not take it personally. Respond professionally and courteously.


Remember, you are using this query letter as a cover letter, not as a resume or a short story on yourself, to sell the Agent on your Manuscript. This is not an opportunity that you want to miss because you have not done your homework on either the Agent or how to write queries. I like to think of a query letter like a short advertisement.

It must entice, intrigue and grab the Agent.

The query is important because within the first few lines the Agent will decide if they want to know more about either the manuscript or the writer or not. 

This is your first impression. No matter what you think, First Impressions can happen only ONCE and it is ALWAYS the first impression that counts.

Make this First Impression be the BEST Selling tool for your manuscript. 


Related articles

The Writer’s Achilles’ Heel | Part 1 (kimkoning.wordpress.com)

Synopsis: Are you in or out of Sync? (dragonflyscrolls.wordpress.com)

Publishing your book: Be market savvy. Be reader savvy. (dragonflyscrolls.wordpress.com)