Interview with Author Nancy Christie


Nancy Christie is the author of the fiction collection, Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories, and two short story e-books, Annabelle and Alice in Wonderland (all published by Pixel Hall Press). Her short stories can also be found in literary publications such as EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Red Fez, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal and others. The founder of “Celebrate Short Fiction” Day, Christie is currently working on several other book projects, including a novel and a book for writers. Charles Weinblatt interviews for Author Publishing and Book Marketing:

CW: Tell us about yourself. NC: I wish I had an unusual childhood or had spent my adult years in some exotic locale but the fact is I am living in the same area where I was born, have lived in the same house for about 35 years now and although I have a passport, I have only pulled it out for domestic travel. I am a writer—plain and simple. I’ve been writing for 50 years now—that’s because I started in second grade!—and can’t imagine not writing. I’m a professional writer by trade (marketing and corporate work primarily with some magazine articles thrown in) and a fiction writer by preference, which means that there isn’t a snippet of conversation overheard or a physical contact witnessed that doesn’t get stuck somewhere in my fiction writer’s brain to be pulled out and used in one way or another.  

CW: Give us an overview of your writing/books. NC: My first book, The Gifts of Change, is an inspirational book about making the most of the changes that come into your life—even if you didn’t want them. That book was inspired by my mother’s cancer diagnosis and a number of other changes and challenges that came into my life—some desired, others, not so much. My second and current book, Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories, is a short fiction collection about characters who, whether by accident or design, find themselves traveling left of center. Unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results. So, in a way, both books deal with change—just from different perspectives.

CW: Who/what was your biggest inspiration? NC: I don’t know that I could point to any one person or event. I was always a bit of a loner and loved to read, and fortunately my parents indulged me in that. I had wonderful teachers who emphasized writing skills—spelling, grammar, and punctuation—as well as content. And then there are authors whose work is so compelling and creative that I can’t help wanting to write as well as they do, and give to others what they have given to me: journeys to places—some real, some imagined—full of fascinating characters.

CW: What has been your greatest challenge? NC: Time, for one thing. In addition to my professional work, I am caregiving for my father, and that takes up a fair bit of time, although I am glad to be able to do it and even happier that, at 92, he is still so vibrant and in good spirits. And of course, the self-doubt, the inevitable comparisons with other writers, the fear that I won’t be able to live up to the good reviews with my next project—or worse, that the good reviews I have already received are all the good reviews that I am going to get!

CW: What do you most want readers to take from your book(s)? NC: A sense of sympathy and understanding for those who are struggling through life.  It’s so easy to sit in judgment or say that we would never make the choices that others have made that led them down that path of destruction but we don’t really know that for certain, do we?So rather than be afflicted with that most dangerous of all viruses—superiority—we should instead be compassionate. It’s that whole “there but for the grace of God” thing…

CW: Are you actively trying to have your books made into a play or a movie? NC: That is my plan for 2015. I have heard about certain actors who are buying movie rights to books and so intend to pursue that possibility.

CW: What’s next for you as an author? NC: I’m working on a second collection as well as a novel that I want to pitch. But my first goal is to find an agent. (Don’t all writers say that?) My first two books were un-agented, but I think it’s time to get an expert on board and take over that part of my career.

CW: How did you pick a publisher or decide to self-publish? Do you have an agent? NC: I didn’t want to self-publish—I have neither the time nor funds to purse that path and know full well that there is more to self-publishing than just getting the book printed. For my first book, I was encouraged by the comments I received from agents—they loved the book but since I was an unknown, passed on representing me—so I researched publishers who handled first-time un-agented authors, and found my publisher relatively quickly. With Traveling Left of Center, I had already connected with Pixel Hall Press who published two of the short stories in e-book format, and so it was a natural step to work with them to publish the entire collection.

CW: Do you have suggestions to other writers about the writing process and publishing? NC: It’s a business. Treat it like one. Yes, you need to be a good writer but if you plan on being published, you also have to be a good business owner. Your book is your product. Know how to market it. Do your advance work. Expect to spend time and money doing what you need to do to get it out there. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

CW: How do you market yourself and your books? NC: I have done some in-person events—not as many as with my first book simply because I can’t travel as much with my other obligations. I blog, I do the whole social media thing, did some virtual tours and plan to do more, participate in interviews, request reviews and then, when I get them, make sure I get the word out. I send out press releases, update my book’s web page every time there is something interesting to share—basically, I do everything I can think of, and then read articles and blog posts to find even more suggestions that I need to incorporate in my marketing.

CW: Where can someone buy your books? NC: Everywhere and anywhere—from bricks-and-mortar stores like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Powell’s and other indie booksellers to online retailers like Amazon.

CW: What would you like your Writer’s Epitaph to say? NC: Fiction writer.

CW: I’m pretty sure that’s already been accomplished exceedingly well.

You can read my reviews of Nancy Christie books at The New York Journal of Books, here:

Agent Queries and Publisher Proposals – Why You Should Use Links, Not Attachments


By Charles S. Weinblatt

Copyright © 2014

Abstract: Agents and publishers do not accept unsolicited letters, proposals or manuscripts from a novice author. Nor will they open an e-mail attachment from an author unknown to them. A well-connected literary agent is your access to major publishers and major publishers can shower you with a hefty advance and place the efforts of the best editors, graphic artists, printers, marketers and publicists at your doorstep, to make your book a market success. So, how do we, as unknown (or little known) authors, get agents and publishers to deliver contract offers?

This series of articles will help new or unknown authors understand how to create desired proposals and what literary agents and publishers will accept or reject. It offers a structural framework for distributing vast amounts of positive author information (platform) in a safe and protected manner that agents and publishers will feel good about opening without a malevolent result. Using a variety of embedded live Internet links, your author’s platform will be instantly available and with significant depth of data. This includes opportunities to sample different kinds of writing, writing awards, major newspaper, magazine and journal articles, TV, radio and broadcast news about you and reviews for your books from the most compelling and persuasive review organizations. This method will deliver the greatest amount of positive platform data in the most benign and viable manner.

Would you open an e-mail attachment from someone you’ve never heard of, who lacks any connection with you personally or by way of business? When someone you’ve never known sends you a poorly-worded e-mail informing you of their desire to share $20 million that their poor dead father left in some obscure bank account in Ghana just for you, do you give them your personal information? If a stranger via e-mail offers a free roof on your house if you will only open the attachment, do you open it? Well guess what? Neither will agents or publishers open your attachment. They don’t know you and now that you’ve contacted them in this manner, they never want to know you.

First, read the submission rules on each and every agent and publisher web site. Some agencies and publishers are closed to submissions or proposals. Sometimes this is only temporary, or for one or two genres. Those that will accept a proposal typically have solid rules for submission. Sometimes they even embed a strange or unusual rule, just to make sure that applicants are obeying. They own the game. Disobey their submission rules at your own risk. But remember, unless you’re a very well-known celebrity, you need them much more than they need you.

Never send a literary agent or a publisher an e-mail proposal in which the most important information has been added as an ATTACHMENT. This might sound like something everyone should already know, but then you might be surprised with the number of neophyte authors who don’t comprehend or who or won’t obey the rules. A number of small publishers and literary agents have regaled me with stories about how rookie authors ignore both submission rules and common sense.

In the past, we wrote manuscripts upon metal typewriters or by hand, paid to have it professionally edited and then we mailed the entire manuscript on paper to a literary agent or a SMALL independent publisher. Major publishers rarely opened or responded to unsolicited proposals then, let alone now.

Today, agents and publishers do NOT want to read your manuscript. Nor do they want your snail mail. If they desire you to hear from you at all, it must be in an e-mail with a brief description of who you are, why you have contacted them and why they should have any interest in your writing. All platform data should be in links, not attachments. If your platform measures up and if the topic is of any remote interest, then they will want to know more about your talent. And they will not open an attachment, period. If you send one anyway, your wonderfully-crafted e-mail and its attachment will be unceremoniously dumped into the e-trash pile.

Nor does an agent or publisher want to read a ten page electronic document that explains in great detail who you are and why you are making this contact. They desire your platform, but only in an electronic format that allows then to pick and choose which aspects to access in detail, with no attachment to open. Think about how Wikipedia encodes a vast amount of information about a person through a combination of headings, narrative and links. This is what you need to accomplish, but in an even more concise manner, via your e-mail message and embedded links. Your goal in submission should be three or four paragraphs, filled with LINKS and NO attachments.

That’s a lot about what not to do when contacting an agent or a publisher. So, how does a novice author win this contest?

First, and most obviously, you must have talent. No dashing protagonist or wondrous topic can make up for a lack of writing talent. Second, you must have a marketable book. James Michener could not have sold a book about how to drink a glass of water, regardless of how eloquent the prose or how deep the characters. Finally, you must be willing to spend a great deal of time marketing, show that you understand how to effectively promote books and demonstrate that you have already done so with other published books. All of this is part of your author platform. You can and must be able to prove that you have done this with other books. If you simply haven’t had the time to write a number of books and have then trade-published, then consider that your best years are ahead. You won’t be making the same mistakes as others. But there is no substitute for the time it takes to write, read, write some more and gradually use the learned aspects for future platform enhancement. The more you read, the more you’ll incorporate the best aspects of those author’s talents into your new books. I’m sorry if this does not coincide with our society’s value for instant success. The best authors spend decades reading the best authors and incorporating their winning attributes into their own books. If you are unwilling or unable to devote years toward learning how to be a great writer, then SP or vanity publish and best of luck to you.

For the rest of us, the answer lies in creating a relatively short (three to four paragraph) e-mail narrative that contains all of your platform and writing qualifications opened with LINKS, not attachments. While almost no one will open an attachment from a stranger, most of us will open a link. Why? They’re safer. Your computer might be wide open to attack if you expose a dangerous attachment; but chances are your browser will detect a threatening link and stop it before it opens. Add to that the protection derived from your firewall and anti-virus programs. Attachments are DANGEROUS, while links are much more benign. This article is about how to pass along positive aspects and details of your author platform via links that are live and safe, rather than via potentially-dangerous attachments.

Since your only real shot at an agent or publisher lies in placing all of your critical platform information in links, you will obviously need to put the data on commonly-used formats, such as You Tube, Facebook, Goodreads, book landing pages, major Internet interview sites, publisher sites and retailers, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. I love using two major free frameworks. One is BlogSpot. The other is WordPress. Both platforms are easy to use and are globally recognized. An important criteria in this decision is how well you can understand and use analytics. Analytics provide the reason for the season. They show us who is paying attention, where they discovered us and how much of our message is received.

Contacting an agent or a publisher is not simple or free of risk. As your author platform constitutes everything positive about you as an author, the way you deliver that platform is absolutely critical. In essence, you have a few sentences to sell yourself. The paragraph below elicits how I might contact an agent or a publisher.

I was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1952. I am a retired university administrator. I’m also the author of published fiction and non-fiction. My biography appears in Wikipedia,the Marquis Who’s Who in America, and I am a long-time reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. I write novels, short stories and articles. I’ve received many positive reviews for my recently published novel Jacob’s Courage, including by Jewish Book World and The Association of Jewish Libraries, which you can review here.  Additional information is available on LinkedIn, Goodreads and a Facebook fan page for my novel.

This one paragraph opens almost every aspect of my author platform. The Wikipedia page alone reveals most of my recent writing achievements. But it goes one important step further. It reveals my ability and my desire to heavily market and promote my books. Today, virtually all authors must market – self-published, subsidy-published and trade-published. If agents and authors do not see proof that you are willing and able to market, they are going to be less interested in you. But if they see you working very hard to market, they will give your book and talent a closer look.

When I decided to find a publisher for my debut novel, I understood nothing of how unknown authors are published or how to acquire a literary agent. As the years passed, I read a great deal more about the process. More recently, I’ve interviewed dozens of writers, agents and publishers. I gradually made fewer mistakes. While I remain a relatively unknown author, I have a decent author platform, my recent books have been trade-published, I have a well-connected literary agent and a major university will be publishing me for fiction later this year. That’s not a career in writing; nor do I desire one. But I’m happy to share what has worked and what industry leaders accept as the bare necessity of acquiring an agent or publisher.

Technology marches on and the publishing industry continues to adapt. This serves the interest of both sides. Authors can waste far less time on proposal and query generation. Agents and publishers can access multiple layers of information about an unknown or poorly-known writer electronically. The deeper they want to delve, the more links they decide to open.

NEXT: What to put into your literary agent query and your small publisher proposal.

 

THE ROAD TO BEING PUBLISHED


Virtually all of you reading this want to have a best-selling book with a major global publisher on your resume. I’m also guessing that most, if not all of you, consider your writing talent appropriate for this level of success. Of course, accomplishing this is another story altogether. So this article is about how to go from hell to HarperCollins as a novice author.

As a young or novice author, when should we self-publish? When should we use a trade publisher? And when should we use a subsidy publisher?

Having been self-published and having been trade published several times, I’ve been immersed in the issue of which way to publish for the past eighteen years. Having a literary agent makes an enormous difference. Yet, it can be even more difficult to find an agent as it is for a publisher.

Before I continue, know this… if a person, company or alleged-publisher asks you for money, beware. Be very, very careful. Sometimes this can be a terrific opportunity; or, you’ll become another scam victim. Real publishers never ask an author for money, or attempt to extort money from you, “if you will only be willing to pay to have your writing ability measured,” or any number of other scams that make victims out of novice authors.

I recommend that ALMOST NO ONE subsidy-publish (also called, “vanity” publishing), unless you really don’t care if anyone buys your book. That’s because almost no one will know it exists, much less purchase and read it. Subsidy/Vanity publishers earn a profit from the author, from you. The moment they have your money, they are done helping you. They might post your book on their own web site, along with other books by novice authors left unread and unsold. Why should they lift a finger for you, once they have your money? They earn nothing from sales. Remember, they already have your money. Oh they might post an interview with you, if you ply them with additional cash. Sadly, almost no one will read that interview either, because subsidy publishers don’t care if anyone reads their web site. And while some vanity publishers deliver exactly what they promise, others are scam artists and they propagate fraud upon well-meaning authors who failed to conduct due diligence. These so-called publishers jump from state to state, just ahead of the attorney general. I recommend a subsidy publisher ONLY when the author does not care if anyone will read it.

Recognize a scam (subsidy) publisher by their greed and pitfalls. They charge you for each and every production cost, while they retain all major attributes, including the ISBN and all major sales opportunities and legal rights. They require you to sell a certain number of books or to pay for all unsold copies. They offer no royalty or a very insignificant royalty, and/or demand that you pay for an “evaluation of your writing ability,” or that you hire the company’s staff for a variety of existing or imagined services, including graphic design and printing. Before you sign a contract and pay one of these so-called subsidy publishers, research them carefully. Look for current and past lawsuits litigated by disenfranchised authors. Contact authors who have gone this route and ask them about satisfaction and sales. Order a few of these books and judge the quality. You’ll find that in most cases, you would rather have your finger and toenails pulled out before associating your literary reputation with scammers and authors devoid of talent.

Self-publishing is often a viable option for an unknown author. I’m including POD in this category. You’ll still need to pay for most production and promotional costs. You’ll need to find a way to post your book with the web sites of dozens of major book distributors and retailers. You’ll need to attract newspaper, journal and magazine articles about you and your book. You must obtain Internet interviews with the biggest and most widely-read blogs and web sites. You will need to arrange for book tours, bookstore signings, public speaking events and submissions for major book awards. It will be up to you to pay for a winning book trailer and then to market it with hundreds of the best blogs frequented by readers in your book’s genre. There are dozens of other ways that you must promote and market your self-published book. I’ve elicited many of them here in this blog, including this post: https://cweinblatt.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/book-marketing-101-2/.

The differences between self-publishing and subsidy publishing are very real and very dangerous. With self-publishing, you own the ISBN. You retain the copyright. You own all major privileges. And you are in control over every aspect of pre and post-production events. With self-publishing, the author should retain all major opportunities for screenplay and movie rights, translation rights, cover and interior design, typesetting, printing, marketing, distribution, etc. If a “publisher” retains these rights in a contract, flee.

If you write non-fiction and you are a subject matter expert, self-publishing is a very attractive opportunity. Many years ago, while recovering from spine surgery, I wrote a non-fiction “how to” book about job seeking skills. A major textbook publisher offered a contract with an attractive advance. In the early 1980s no one was discussing self-publishing. But if I had it to do over again, I would have turned down the contract and self-published. Why? Because I could sell almost as many copies as I desired through my consulting practice, with regional companies who were closing or laying off workers; and because I saw to it that my book became required reading for graduate students at my university. Why share the profit if you don’t have to? This is a perfect example of why a novice author should self-publish.

Many of us write fiction, as I do almost exclusively now. In that case, your professional expertise means little and your success is accomplished via reputation and significant book sales. As is the case with most aspects of success, authors earn it one book at a time. With each successful book, we demonstrate incremental improvements in talent, distribution, promotion, sales and marketing. Before you can successfully sign a contract with a well-connected literary agent, you’ll need to demonstrate a string of increasingly successful books and reputational enhancement. This takes a lot of time, research, practice and effort. If you expect to become a best-selling author on your first or second try, dream on. It won’t happen and you’ll just become more frustrated. Be patient, produce one book after another, read voraciously (especially in your preferred genre) and learn from the best authors.

Many small publishers today ask the author to pay some or all of the publishing production costs. At first blush, this seems outrageous. The publisher acquires almost no risks and the author must dig into her or his bank account, often to the tune of several thousand dollars or even more. Plus the author must accept responsibility for marketing and promotion (and associated costs) – but with one major exception.

Almost all publishers attend a variety of global book fairs, conferences and conventions each year. There, they listen, learn and, they promote their books and authors to the entire world. This is one major reason to use a trade-publisher, even if you must front the cost of production. Attendees include large publishers, well-known and admired screenplay artists, movie producers and a variety of additional marketing opportunities. Although you might despise paying several thousand dollars to put your book into print (and an e-book), you would probably spend even more on travel costs to reach all of these global book fairs, conventions and conferences. Consider this investment a loss lead. If you really believe in your book’s quality and marketability, go for it with a small publisher who regularly attends the world’s biggest and best conferences and conventions. It’s a question worth asking before you sign a contract. In fact, you have every reason to add it to the contract before signing it.

When you can acquire a well-connected literary agent, then you have a real chance to become a noted author and attract millions of readers. Of course, agents only take a chance on obvious talent. With that in mind, you may need to produce several moderately-successful books before an agent will have the confidence to acquire you on contract. That seems unfair and very time-consuming. However, put yourself in the agent’s shoes. What would it take to put your reputation on the line with major publishers? Remember, the only way for an agent to be successful is to develop a trusting and mutually rewarding relationship with acquisition editors at the biggest and best publishers in the world. If the agent lets the big publishing house down by promoting a poorly-written book, then you and the agent are in trouble.

I do not consider myself to be a very talented author. At the same time, I believe that I can write interesting books. By the time I had completed my first full-length novel, I had produced two other books in different genres and I was well on my way to completing two more. My agent liked my writing and I trusted the agency to promote my books globally, where it would be cost-prohibitive for me to do it. After I had a few successfully-published books under my belt, that literary agent began to take me seriously. That’s time and effort… before a contract for success. There are very few free rides in acquiring a talented and well-connected agent.

The difference in having an agent was like night and day. Where I had struggled for years to convince small, insignificant publishers to examine my offerings, my agent suddenly had acquisitions editors reading my manuscripts at HarperCollins, Penguin, Prometheus, and many other famous publishing houses. This almost NEVER occurs when authors contact a major publisher on our own.

Here lies our conundrum. Almost all best-selling authors have a wonderful and pervasive author platform and publish through the biggest and best publishing houses. But, before we can attract major publishing houses, we must devote years to creating books that demonstrate our aptitude and insure that the marketability of our efforts is obvious. Only after that can we hope to attract the most well-connected and talented literary agents in our genres. Sometimes, we must pay to have our books published (subsidy or vanity publishing) in order to start this process. More often, we decide to self-publish, in a way that allows us to control all major aspects of the publishing process. Either way, the road to becoming a best-selling author is filled with potholes.

The more we learn about being published, the more reachable will be our success. This is why I blog and how I hope to provide some insight in this blog. For more information about fraud in publishing, as well as the differences between real publishers and scam artists, see Writer Beware (http://www.sfwa.org/) and Predators & Editors ( ). My writing and publishing web site is here: https://cweinblatt.wordpress.com

The Best Way to Publish Fiction


I have been trade-published and self-published several times. I now have a talented literary agent. Although I have self-published three books, I feel more comfortable publishing fiction with a traditional publisher, especially a large, distinguished publisher. I realize that this is not an author decision. Publishers require talent and a marketable book. If you have both, it can still take months or even years to obtain the best publishing offer. You need to know how to construct a winning publishing proposal and agent query; and you might need to submit well over a hundred proposals to obtain the best publishing contract. It’s true that the top level of publishers will only accept a proposal from a trusted agent. HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Shuster, etc. will not open your submission unless it comes from a well-connected literary agent. The good news is that there are now literally thousands of small, independent publishers. Many of them have learned how to be successful within one or two genres. They might be small, but they often have a talented and motivated staff. Plus they can be well-situated to garner reviews from the most compelling and persuasive sources – just like their full-size publishing kin.

A TP author does not need to worry about hiring the best editor, graphic designer, printer and promotion/marketing specialist. The publisher will do it for you, while they proffer a nice advance. Your publisher will also obtain powerful and compelling reviews from the best organizations in your genre, because they already have deep connections with those reviewers. It’s not likely that a novice author could obtain reviews of that caliber. Nor does the TP author need to worry about distribution, sales, stocking and restocking bookstores. We can devoted that time to producing new books.

I have never felt compelled by my publishers to accept editorial changes. I think that’s a myth – an urban legend. In each case, my publisher’s editing changes made perfect sense and enhanced marketing potential. But the decision to accept those changes has always been mine. My publishers have never told me what to write; nor does my agent.

That being said, there will always be a time and place to self-publish, especially when testing a new market, when you write non-fiction as a subject matter expert and when you have a large fan base to shift to your SP books. However, you can count best-selling self-published fiction authors on your fingers and toes. As of 2-3 years ago, the average SP author spent about $2K and sold a few dozen copies (could never recover expenses with sales), while the average TP author spent nothing and sold several hundred copies. Self-published books are almost never reviewed by the most compelling and persuasive review organizations. Maybe it’s not fair, but as a reviewer for two major review organizations, I know this is true. Nor do SP books appear on many retail store shelves. That is a huge sales market to give up, just to SP your book. Many retail and on-line stores are making money hand over fist with print books, including Walmart, Target, Amazon and B&N.

With an even distribution of my TP and SP books, I have a foot in each market. I’ve discovered that at least for fiction, I’m much happier with a major publisher or a small, independent publisher. I’m happy to let their team of professionals handle all aspects of editing, graphic design, printing, distribution, marketing, sales and stocking retailers and buyers. This gives me more time to write which is, of course, the fun part. For that, my publisher can reap most of the profits and my agent can acquire her 15%. Doing their job in a professional manner allows me to write, rather than publish, distribute and market.

Finally, if you’re serious about earning a living as an author, you’ll need an accomplished and impressive author profile. That means you’ll need to produce several books that have either been trade-published or SP with high sales volume. You will need to write published articles and appear on the best Internet interview sites and blogs. You will need newspaper and magazine articles supportive of your books. And when a publisher decides to Google your name, several pages of professional writing accomplishments must appear. Being trade-published is likely the best anchor for your platform, especially for fiction.