The Book Doctors at Book Con breaking down presentation tipsas they explain how to pitch your book to get published.
Tag: book editing
The Book Doctors offer a free webinar, where they will give you some of the keys necessary to unlocking the door to the publishing kingdom. How to get a book deal. How to find an agent. Whether to publish traditionally or with a hybrid publisher? Is self-publishing the right path to take? Ask questions! This is your shot. Are you going to take it?
I came away from our workshop inspired, hopeful, informed, and once again in love with writing, writers, and even agents (well, some of them)!
YO BROOKLYN COME FIND AN AGENT!
BROOKLYN BOOK FESTIVAL BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY SEPT 16th 7pm
WHAT: Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder & gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute! Dozens of writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza, including Genn Albin, our KC winner who got a 3-book mid-six figure deal with Farrar Straus & Giroux.
WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for over 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of nine books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His first book has been translated into 10 languages and optioned by HBO, his latest book was featured on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. They’ve taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.
HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.
PRIZE: At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.
PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, you must purchase a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who buys a copy of receives a FREE 20 minute consultation, a $100 value. If you don’t want to pitch, the event is FREE.
WHEN: September 16, 7pm
WHERE: Brooklyn Public Library 10 Grand Army Plaza http://www.bklynlibrary.org/locations/central
Brooklyn Book Festival http://www.brooklynbookfestival.org/BBF/Home
New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.
Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://bit.ly/vm9YSu
Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television
Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapalooza:
“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010
Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published:
“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,
Our absolutely fabulous client Leslie Sorrell, whose amazing memoir just won the Texas Writers League Memoir Contest. Can an absolutely fabulous book deal be far behind?
Texas, come pitch us your books! April 11, 2015.
The Book Doctors met Cari Noga in 2011, when she won our National Novel Writing Month Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books). Her pitch was spectacular, haunting and superbly crafted. Her story is about a 12-year-old boy with autism who witnesses the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash, and how he and other crash witnesses and survivors find their lives intersecting and transformed by the extraordinary event—and by each other. We worked with her on her novel Sparrow Migrations and discovered it was a richly wrought tapestry of human emotion, both beautifully plotted and a delightful read. The novel was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, and the spring 2013 winner of the ForeWord Firsts contest sponsored by ForeWord Reviews. Cari herself was already a published author (Road Biking Michigan with Globe-Pequot Press in 2005). When we sent her book out to our agent and publishing contacts, we were shocked that no one snapped it up. The problem is she’s not famous. There are no zombies or werewolves in her book. No S&M involving rich people. Just a great story with great characters about a world-famous event. So Cari decided to self-publish in April, 2013. Sparrow Migrations was just named a literary fiction category semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s 2014 Kindle Book Awards. So we thought we’d pick her brain and the beauties and terrors of self-publishing literary fiction.
The Book Doctors: The general wisdom is that self-publishing literary fiction is especially difficult. Do you agree with this wisdom? If so, how have you gotten around these difficulties? If not, why not?
Cari Noga: I think publishing anything that isn’t directly aimed at a genre-specific audience is more difficult, whether you go the self-pub route or traditional. The upside is that if you do reach a literary audience, the potential is much wider. I seem to have found a niche with book clubs, starting right in my own community, and rippling outward—I just did a Skype chat with a club in Phoenix. My town has a strong sense of locavorism –people like to buy local, eat local, etc. I think that extends to reading, too. One suggestion to make locavorism work for you: Check whether your library offers book club kits – multiple copies of the same book, available for simultaneous checkout. Mine does, and when I did an appearance, I asked that they create a kit
TBD: What has been the single most difficult thing about self-publishing?
CN: Retail distribution. I was aware that I would have to offer discounts, but I did not appreciate enough the importance of offering returns. My book is available through Ingram & Baker and Taylor, but as a POD book there is no way to return it.
TBD: What has been the single best thing?
CN: Hearing from readers, especially in the book club settings. Free time is my own most prized resource, so to know that people are spending theirs reading my book is incredibly gratifying. Hearing that they like it, that the characters resonate authentically, and that they’ve learned something – whether about autism, birds, or something else – is like having my cake, icing and ice cream, too.
TBD: What marketing strategy has been most successful? What has been least successful?
CN: Most successful by a longshot: Kindle giveaways. I’ve done two (June 2013, 5,400 copies downloaded; Jan. 2014, 33,600 copies downloaded.) Paid sales increased after each and reviews soared. The January one was advertised on Bookbub, which I also recommend.
Least successful: Advertising in trade journals like PW Select. Not because the ads were bad or poorly designed, but the brick-and-mortar bookseller audience that reads them are predisposed against self-published books, especially POD like mine, due to the inability to return unsold copies and the inconvenience of dealing with an individual publisher.
Book clubs are still proving a good audience – I’m a guest at three different live discussions here in town next month and my first by Skype, with a club in Phoenix that somehow latched onto it.
TBD: How have you convinced independent bookstores to carry your book?
CN: Goes back to locavorism. I have two indie stores in my town that are both eager to work with local authors. I had a relationship with one (Horizon Books) going back to a nonfiction book (Road Biking Michigan) I published traditionally ten years ago and was fortunate to have one staff member be a beta reader. They have two other stores in northern Michigan as well. The other newer store is Brilliant Books, a cozy, customer-centric place that hosted my launch. I showed them both copies while in proof stage, asked them to carry it and offered industry standard discounts. Another store contacted me after reading local media coverage. A few other stores have been receptive to cold calls.
TBD: Would you still like to see your book published by a major publisher? If so, why?
CN: I would like to see my book in more bookstores. At the book clubs I visit, more people bring paper copies than Kindle, so I’m concluding there’s more potential for the paper copy than I’m getting in my half-dozen stores and on Amazon. However, I’d be much more cautious about the deal I’d sign than I would have two years ago. More than a publisher, right now I would like an agent who could advise me about the best moves to make not only for this book, but career-wise.
TBD: Are you working on a next book? If so, what is it about? Tentatively titled Tres Vidas, my next novel is, like Sparrow Migrations, a story about relationships. The three lives that intersect are Lucy, a suddenly-orphaned 9-year-old who must leave her NYC home to live on a northern Michigan farm with her prickly aunt Jane, and Miguel, a migrant worker who becomes a bridge between the two.
CN: How did you get 180 reviews of your book on Amazon?
TBD: Reviews spiked after the giveaways. After the initial release in April 2013, when I ran into people who told me they liked the book – in person, by email, on social media –my standard reply was to ask them to write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. A surprising number actually did, and I got up to about 20 reviews that way. That doubled after the first giveaway. After the second giveaway, timed to the fifth anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash, which is the starting incident in the book, they just came pouring in. I’ve not solicited any reviews in months.
TBD: You enrolled in Amazon’s KDP select program. Was the exclusivity they requested worth it?
CN: Yes – see the giveaway results above. I do plan to expand to other platforms (Nook, Kobo) this year.
TBD: We can’t help but ask how you view the Amazon/Hachette tug of war since you used Amazon’s publishing program. Thoughts?
CN: I think there are far more shades of gray to the situation than have emerged in the mainstream narrative (Amazon: evil corporate behemoth; Hachette, guardians and saviors of literature.)
J.A. Konrath http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ says that in this mad, crazy publishing world of the moment, the only two people who matter are the writer and the reader. Everyone else in a middleman who has to prove their value. Right now, Amazon is connecting those two best. They also treat authors better financially (Both my books are priced at $14.95. I get about $4 per novel sold vs. 75 cents for my Road Biking book, which was taken out of print.*) More people are reading, thanks to the Kindle, which has added another revenue stream for authors.
Meanwhile, the ranks of indie bookstores are actually growing as they embrace what they do best: curation and customer service. In my town, Brilliant Books, for example, offers free shipping. At Horizon, membership program fees drop by a dollar every year, encouraging renewals. Healthy marketplaces do generally have more players vs. fewer, so I hope Hachette and the Big Five can survive. But in terms of blame for the situation they’re in, as others have said (See exhibits A was, B and C ) I’d point to the mirror as much as Amazon.
Cari Noga self-published her debut novel, Sparrow Migrations, in April 2013. The novel was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, the spring 2013 winner of the ForeWord Firsts contest sponsored by ForeWord Reviews, and was just named a literary fiction category semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s 2014 Kindle Book Awards. A former journalist, she also traditionally published Road Biking Michigan with Globe-Pequot Press in 2005. Read her blog or sign up for her author newsletter at www.carinoga.com.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).
To read on Huffington post, click here..
After three different people recommend the book to me, I always try to read it. This is the case with Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber. It was one of those rare books that I found literary yet page turning. A work of art but also a work of commerce. So I thought I’d reach out to her, to find out exactly how the heck she does it.
The Book Doctors: What is your writing process from coming up with the idea through writing the first draft and then revising and working with an editor?
Diana Abu-Jaber: The Book Doctors: I write my novels long hand in the first draft. I used to transcribe them myself, which of course is wildly time consuming. These days I hire a typist and then revise on the computer. I try to get several eyes on a manuscript before it goes to my agent–I’m often in some sort of writing group and will inflict hundreds of pages on them, begging for feedback. My agent always has excellent editorial advice, and my editor is–I say this with a smile–extremely involved. She is brilliant and I’m lucky to have her guidance and support.
TBD: Having written memoir and fiction, how do you approach these two forms differently?
DAJ: Novels I understand better. They’re about trying to get the story down–which is never easy, but the process makes more sense to me. Memoirs are more elusive to me. I’m trying to write a new one now and first I wrote it as straight chronological narrative, then I had to go back over the whole thing, bust it into sensory fragments, then pull up the big themes, then try to weave it together again. There must be an easier way, but I haven’t found it yet.
TBD: What kind of training did you get in learning how to be a professional writer?
DAJ: My father was a story-teller and my mother was a reading teacher, they really gave me my foundation. I took a lot of writing classes and workshops in high school and college, but I think they were most valuable in giving me the justification for pursuing this madness and instilling the sense of an audience.
TBD: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?
DAJ: Start with yourself, work out from there.
TBD: I love the way you use food in Birds of Paradise, how did you come up with & implement the idea of weaving food through the narrative?
DAJ: Thank you. I’ve been writing around and about food for a long time. I come from a line of serious cooks and it was something I thought I’d do professionally to support my writing. I used to keep little writing books in my pocket when I worked in kitchens and it naturally became one of the lens through which I saw the world.
TBD: It seems one of the themes in Birds of Paradise is how disconnected Americans are from each other. Family. City. Country. What made you want to write about that?
DAJ: That’s interesting– I hadn’t been conscious of that as I was writing! But it makes sense as it’s a bit of an obsession for me. I think it comes from a lifetime of listening to the Arab side of my family complain about the American side. It’s a real Old / New World divide, the tradition of gathering, talking, cooking, and eating together is still very strong in other countries and I see it getting winnowed away in this country– everything sacrificed to the great American time crunch. I think it’s one of our great and most catastrophic losses.
TBD: What is it like to judge writers for the National Endowment of the Arts?
DAJ: Enormous fun and crazily exhausting. The piles of manuscript boxes that come in before the judging kind of makes you want to weep. But then the actual week of judging is so intense and interesting– the other writers I worked with were so smart and talented, I’m grateful to have done it.
TBD: What advice do you have for writers?
DAJ: As much as you’re able, don’t worry about what others are doing– try to keep your head in the work. Read widely and continually and work on your writing on a daily basis. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
Diana Abu-Jaber’s newest novel, Birds Of Paradise, is the winner of the 2012 Arab-
American National Book Award. It was also an Indiepicks selection, named one of the
top books of the year by National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and the Oregonian,
and a finalist for both the Northwest Bookseller’s Award and the Chautauqua Prize.
Diana was born in Syracuse, New York to an American mother and a Jordanian father.
When she was seven, her family moved to Jordan for two years, and elements of both her
American and Jordanian experiences, as well as cross-cultural issues appear in her work.
Her novel, Origin was named one of the best books of the year by the LA Times, the
Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Her second novel, Crescent, won the PEN
Center Award for Literary fiction and the American Book Award. Her first novel,
Arabian Jazz won the Oregon Book award for Literary Fiction and was a finalist for the
PEN Hemingway Award. The Language of Baklava, her cooking memoir, won the Northwest Booksellers’ Award, was a finalist for a James Beard Award, and has been published in many languages. Diana teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Miami, Florida. She can be found on Twitter at: @dabujaber and on her website www.dianaabujaber.com
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of <a href=”http://www.thebookdoctors.com/” target=”_hplink”>The Book Doctors</a>, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today. Twitter: @thebookdoctors
To read online click here.
Last night, May 22, 6:30 p.m., Word Bookstore in Jersey City was abuzz. People quickly filled up chairs lined up in the back or stood in huddles, shooting the breeze. Taking my seat, I looked around and noticed a woman sitting in the row behind mine. In her hands she clutched The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published and her lips move silently—rehearsing. I say rehearsing, because she was there to pitch her novel.
In fact, most, if not all of the people attending were there to pitch their books. Last night was Pitchapalooza, an event started by David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut—the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published—to give twenty writers, picked at random from a pool, the opportunity to pitch their book ideas. Participants get their pitch critiqued (kindly and constructively), receive a twenty minute consultation from David and Arielle themselves, and for one lucky winner, get a meeting with a publisher or agent who is appropriate for their work.
Some of you may have read my interview a few weeks back with David Henry Sterry about the publishing industry and Pitchapalooza. If you did, you know how difficult it is to navigate the publishing world and what a wonderful resource Pitchapalooza and the guide are for aspiring writers. By demystifying the publishing industry and providing valuable insider advice on how to properly market one’s idea, writers get a fairer shake at publishing.
I got to say, last night’s Pitchapalooza was super impressive and inspiring to watch. The first person to get called up was a seventeen year old. He was actually seated beside me, visibly nervous, his muscles tense, dreading what he so obviously was there to do. The kid nailed it! Did I mention that participants only get one minute to pitch? Well in one minute, this kid laid down an interesting, well-structured, and tight pitch for a Young Adult novel.
The panel, comprised of David, Arielle and Jenn—the Events Director of both Word Bookstores—were impressed, but certainly not without comment. What came up often in the critiques was the importance of addressing what the protagonist of one’s novel is like, which often gets neglected while trying to articulate the plot. It’s also very helpful to give comparable titles, basically describing your book by saying what books it’s similar to. This helps publishers get an idea of how to market your book, which is a great comfort to them.
I can’t say anyone at Pitchapalooza had a bad pitch. I expected more bumbling and awkwardness, but it appeared that everyone was pretty well prepared. Even a ten-year-old girl got up to the podium and blew everyone away with a shy, yet well thought out pitch. A ten year old! It was great being a part of that crowd, among writers who were supportive and respectful of each others’ dreams and ambitions.
In the end, the victor of Pitchapalooza was Val Emmich, a writer, musician and actor based in Jersey City. It was a well deserved victory, but Pitchapalooza did not have the feel of a competition. It was more about sharing one’s ideas with others, learning how to effectively sell a pitch and getting together as a community of writers. In end, everyone left with valuable insight and a card for a free twenty minute consultation with The Book Doctors themselves—David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut.
The Book Doctors talk about publishing, pitching, how to successfully get your book published, & May 22nd Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore Jersey City, in the Digest.
Flop sweat erupts on foreheads. Faces go pale and bloodless. Hands tremor. Eyes widen in terror. These are all symptoms suffered by writers when I tell them that they have to engage in social media. They moan, they groan, I’ve even seen grown men cry. Many are still living under the misguided fantasy that they can sit out in their cabin by the lake and write their magnificent opus, send it off to him Mr. Harper and Mr. Collins, get a book deal, then wait for Oprah to call, and watch the checks roll in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten queries from writers that actually say, “I’d be willing to go on Oprah.” Who wouldn’t be WILLING to go on Opra? Apart from Jonathan Franzen of course. The question is: how are YOU going to get YOURSELF on Oprah? Just the other day, I sent a proposal for a beautiful, moving, touching, well-written memoir to fantastic, cutting edge, alternative independent press. The editor said she wouldn’t even read the proposal because the author didn’t have a Platform. Platform, for those who don’t know, is the new publishing buzzword. It means the method you are going to use to connect with the tribe of people who are passionate enough about you and your ideas to buy your book. I often say that the greatest pitch you could give for a book is in this day and age: “I have 1 million Twitter followers and they all want to buy my book.” It doesn’t matter what your book is. Agents, editors and publishers will line up around the cyber block to be in business with you. But for many authors who don’t have a website, aren’t up on Twitter, and only have a Facebook page where they can post pictures of their kids and/or grandkids, the idea of building a platform, tweeting every day, friending people they don’t know, and spending hours and hours and hours of their one precious life networking socially on the Internet sounds as appealing as getting a root canal from a Nazi without Novocain. That’s why I devised the 7 Minute Rule of Social Media. Every day, spend 7 minutes connecting with your tribe. It’s like brushing your teeth. Washing your face. Make it part of your daily routine. Make it a habit. Habits are incredibly powerful. Bad ones and good ones. If you need to, set the timer on your smart phone for 7 minutes. It’s not much out of your day. Out of your life. But the trick is, you have to do it every day. EVERY DAY. Like a habit. So, how do you get started? The first thing to do is research. Check out the various platforms available to you. The obvious ones are Twitter and Facebook, but as you dig deeper, you’ll find cool sites for writers like Redroomhttp://redroom.com/, Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/, Writers Digest Forumhttp://forum.writersdigest.
1) Befriend a Child Mentor
2) Figure out which Key Words best describe you and your project.
3) Find the online platforms that suit you best.
4) Connect with members of this community. Categorize them by geographic location and interest.
5) Become an active and generous member of that community.
6) Build your own home on your favorite website
7) Connect your website with your Facebook and Twitter feeds.
8) Get other people to put your website up on their website in their resource section.
9) Make sure you have a very good profile picture which shows us her face. Please, don’t put up a baby picture of yourself.
10) Be consistent with the way you describe yourself. Make sure your name is always the same wherever you put it up. And write a great description of your mission statement as a human being and as a writer.
11) Give, give, give, give, give. Giveaway stuff on your website. Spread your time and love all over the cyber world.
12) Only after you’ve given till it hurts should you should you ask gently and politely and persistently for what you need
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages. He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp. He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.
To read on Slashed Reads click here.
We just got a wonderful review for The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published (to buy click on link). Here’s the Essential Guide in SCBWI Bulletin.
Blogs, writing, publishing. Mama plus!
Buy a NEW copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published & Get FREE 20 minute consultation.
1. PICK SOMETHING YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT
DHS: First of all, pick a subject matter that you’re absolutely passionate about.
Don’t try to follow trends. We get this all the time, like people ask me “What’s the hot thing in publishing? What should I be writing about? Werewolves, vampires, unicorns, dwarves?”
No: pick something you’re passionate about, something that has meaning for you, something that makes you excited, something you think about and do in your spare time.
2. PUT SOMETHING UP WITH CREDIBLE REGULARITY
DHS: And then, of course, there’s persistence; to have daily application of the principles involved in success. You’ve got to put something up with credible regularity: if it’s not every day, every couple of days.
You’ve got to keep feeding your blog; it’s like a garden. If you don’t water it, if you don’t weed it, if you don’t plant the right seeds, it’s just going to sit there and be a scrappy patch of weeds.
3. REACH OUT TO PEOPLE
DHS: You’ve got to have people to read it, so you’re going to have to reach out to people.
You want to find those people in your discipline, in your area of interest, and connect with them in meaningful ways. Do nice things for them.
I like to say that the biggest principle of social media is ‘Good Samaritanism’. I get things every day, and I’m sure you do too: “Vote for me!” “Be my friend!” I’m like, “Why am I going to vote for you? I don’t even know you! Why are you sending me this? Why do you want me to do something for you when I don’t even know you?”
Now, if someone emails me and says “Hello, I just wrote a review upon Amazon – which anyone can do – of your book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, I’m going to do something nice for that person. I will put a link to their blog all over my Facebook and my Twitter and, you know, I’ll do something nice for them if they have made themselves a friend of me.
When I’m going after somebody, I put a link to their stuff up on my various platforms. I put a review up. I put a comment up on their blog; it doesn’t take much time to do that. But when I’ve done three or four of those things, then I feel comfortable about asking them to help me in some way.
So I think that’s a really important principle to embrace: to collect your tribe of people. That’s what’s absolutely crucial. You’re writing about something in new and interesting ways, that you’re passionate about, and then to have a group of people who are interested in the same thing.
We first met Virginia Pye at the James River Writers Conference, one of the best writers conferences in America. If you’re a writer, do yourself a favor, get yourself to Richmond, Virginia and go to this conference. It’s filled with warm, generous, talented writers, editors and agents. When we first met Virginia Pye three years ago, she’d been writing and rewriting a novel for a very long time. It’s always exciting when you see a dedicated, talented writer who keeps evolving and changing and working, then finally gets their novel published, and actually gets lauded for it. So we thought we would check in with her to see exactly how it all happened.
The Book Doctors: Congratulations on being named an Indie Next Pick for your new novel, how did you feel when you found out?
Virginia Pye: I felt honored and excited, especially when I learned the other chosen authors, such as Caroline Leavitt, Benjamin Percy, Gail Godwin and Therese Anne Fowler. To be supported and encouraged by IndieBound booksellers means a lot to me. They’re smart and savvy book aficionados whose opinions I value. For years, I’ve read the books they recommend.
TBD: When did you start writing your book and why?
VP: Almost a decade ago as I helped my parents clear out their house, I came upon boxes of yellowed onion-skin pages with faint typescript on it. My grandfather, who was a missionary in northwestern China in the nineteen teens, had recorded his daily experience and impressions of that pre-industrialized, desolate, and yet eerily beautiful landscape. I’d always known about the roads, hospitals and schools that he had built in Shansi Province, but now I found his actual tally book in which he kept track of his converts. I felt both pride about his humanitarian successes and shame at his missionary zeal.
As I read his papers and studied the brown-tinged photographs, I was seated on an Oriental rug in the living room were I’d grown up–a room decorated with Chinese antiques and furniture. I was surrounded by my family’s history in China and I realized that, whether I liked it or not, part of my inheritance was a colonialist perspective on the world. I had not chosen it, nor felt that I shared it, but it was somehow mine to make peace with just the same.
The two main characters in my novel, the Reverend and his wife Grace, are upright, Midwestern missionaries who, over the course of their dramatic story find their faith tested and their world view shattered. It took some years for their story to fully emerge, but the germ for it began when I decided to wrestle with my grandfather’s legacy that I had previously tried to ignore.
TBD: What is your book about?
VP: On the windswept plains of northwestern China, Mongol bandits swoop down on the missionary couple and steal their small child. The Reverend sets out in search of the boy and becomes entangled in the rugged, corrupt landscape of opium dens, sly nomadic warlords and traveling circuses. He develops a following among the Chinese peasants who christen him Ghost Man for what they perceive as his otherworldly powers. Grace, his wife, pregnant with their second child, takes to her sick bed in the mission compound, where visions of her stolen child and lost husband beckon to her from across the plains. The foreign couple’s savvy, elderly Chinese servants, Ahcho and Mai Lin, eventually lead them on an odyssey back to one another and to a truer understanding of the world around them. River of Dust is a story of the clash of cultures and of retribution, and also of redemption. As the young American couple’s search for their child becomes more desperate, their adopted country comes to haunt them, changing not only what they believe but who they are.
TBD: You are involved with the James River Writers Conference, how did that community help you with the writing and selling of your book?
VP: James River Writers is a literary non-profit in Richmond, Virginia with around 400 members. I was chair of JRW for three years and on the board for close to a decade. JRW holds an annual conference each October, which is especially welcoming and friendly to writers of all types. I enjoyed working with everyone involved and made friends with many fellow aspiring writers, as well as the published authors and publishing professionals who came for the conference. Many of them were encouraging and offered to introduce me to their agents or fellow editors. JRW set a supportive and generous tone that I think everyone benefited from.
TBD: Did you hire an editor?
VP: For many years, I had worked on a previous novel that was about three generations of an American family with ties to China and Vietnam. It went through twenty-one drafts and dozens of agents saw it in various stages. They admired the writing and characters, but found that it just wasn’t quite working. Finally, I decided to take my manuscript to The Porches, a writing retreat in rural Virginia where I met author and editor, Nancy Zafris. She offered a different sort of editing experience from anyone else I’d heard of: she works with authors one-on-one over a weekend, discussing and brainstorming about the work. With Nancy’s perceptive questions, I began to see a new book emerging, one that was not a multi-generational story at all, but a compact and dramatic tale set in one year–1910–and in one setting–northwestern China. I left The Porches after that weekend with a new book in mind and a new, carefully conceived outline. I sat down on April 1st and completed a first draft on April 23rd. I had lived with the previous manuscript for so long– had wrestled with its problems and relished its strengths–that when it came time to write an altogether new version, I had enough previous connection to the characters and setting that the story came forth easily. It was both miraculous and not at all.
TBD: How did you find an agent?
VP: After I completed my marathon first draft of River of Dust, I shared it with Nancy who passed it along to her editor at Unbridled Books, Greg Michalson. He liked it and gave me a call. It was then that I realized I needed an agent. Gail Hochman had read the earlier multi-generational manuscript as well as another novel of mine. She had always been kind and thoughtful in her replies to my work, although she hadn’t taken me on as a client. I admired her authors–Michael Cunningham, Julia Glass, Ursula Hegi–so I chose to go back to her with River of Dust when Unbridled made their offer. I’m so glad I did. As everyone knows, Gail is a brilliant agent and an enthusiastic and caring person.
TBD: What are some of the mistakes you made as you wrote and tried to sell your book?
VP: In retrospect, I think that it may have been a mistake to work for so long on that previous novel. If something isn’t working, tinkering with it probably won’t help. To give myself more credit, I did revise–sometimes extensively–but I still wanted that manuscript to be the book I had in mind from the start. I was determined to bend the characters and plot to fit the book I envisioned. Somehow I wasn’t listening well enough to the voices of smart readers, or even my own voice that was whispering that it just wasn’t working. The manuscript was telling me that it needed to be altogether different. I was trying to write a book with a complicated structure before ever truly perfecting a simpler one. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that, too: succeed first at something smaller, before trying to tackle your opus. Come to think of it, I know a number of writers who have been working on big books for years and those projects never seem to come to fruition. Perhaps aiming for something less baroque and yet doing it well is a better way to go with a debut novel.
TBD: How do you plan to promote and market your book?
VP: I’ve written a number of essays about the backstory for my novel. “A Zealot and Poet,” about my grandfather, will appear in May in The Rumpus. I’m excited to be interviewed at Caroline Leavitt and David Abrams’s blogs and in The Nervous Breakdown. Excerpts from River of Dust will also soon appear in The Nervous Breakdown, and in The Collagist and DearReader.com. I had a great time creating a playlist for River of Dust for the Largehearted Boy. Unbridled has done a great job of setting up book events up and down the East Coast: in Richmond, Charlottesville, Alexandria and Norfolk, Virginia; New York, Boston and Western Massachusetts. I’m excited about all my events, but a few in particular stand out for me: a reading in the Lucian W. Pye Room at M.I.T. (named for my father who was a prominent Political Scientist there); a reading at Back Pages Books in Waltham, Massachusetts, at which my four closest high school girlfriends are coming in from around the country to cheer me on; and what I think will be a great evening at the China Institute in NYC, where I’m eager to share my work with China enthusiasts and experts and look forward to learning from my audience.
TBD: What are some of your favorite things about being a writer? And what are some of the things you hate about it?
VP: I am completely biased towards writers and writing. I think there’s nothing better to do with one’s life. OK, being a visual artist or musician is pretty good, too. And my husband is a contemporary art museum curator and that’s not half bad. But, as a writer, you have carte blanche to express your vision of the world, however quirky it may be. You can read voraciously and remain a dilettante. Aleksander Hemon recently said, “Expertise is the enemy of imagination.” As someone who has written a novel set in a country where I have never been, I agree. People ask if I did a lot of research before writing River of Dust. I did only as much as I needed to ignite my mind, which, as it turned out wasn’t a great deal–again, perhaps because I’d grown up with a visceral understanding of China passed down to me through two generations. I think that writers have an obligation to be thoughtful in their work. Good writing needs to offer meaning on several levels at once. A novel that has strong storytelling doesn’t need to sacrifice that goal. I hope that River of Dust is both a page-turner and an intelligent read. I love Philip Roth’s rallying cry to writers at his eightieth birthday and on the occasion of his retirement from writing: “This passion for specificity, for the hypnotic materiality of the world one is in is all but at the heart of the task to which every American novelist has been enjoined since Herman Melville and his whale and Mark Twain and his river: to discover the most arresting, evocative verbal depiction of every last American thing.” The only down side to writing is that it’s no easy task. But who ever wanted easy when trying to live a meaningful life?
TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?
VP: Pay attention to the market: to what agents tell you at conferences and on Twitter; to what your independent bookseller says about the books he or she endorses; to what your most thoughtful and serious readers say about your manuscript. And then, put it all on the backburner while you write. Let it simmer in the back of your mind as you write the book you want to write. If their advice has resonated then it will help shape the next draft. Stick with the manuscript until it’s done and don’t start to shop it around too early. If you’re as eager as I was with numerous manuscripts, most likely you’ll shop it around too early. When you’ve written what you are truly proud of–after listening carefully for any hesitations and heeding them–reach out to agents and published authors with graciousness and gratitude. The publishing world is not waiting for you, but on the other hand, it can’t exist without you. So take up your rightful place, but politely and while keeping in mind that we’re incredibly lucky to be doing this thing that we love. At least, that’s how I try to approach it.
Virginia Pye’s debut novel, River of Dust, is an Indie Next Pick for May, 2013. Her award-winning short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence, taught writing at New York University, and The University of Pennsylvania, and has helped run a literary non-profit in Richmond, Virginia. For more about her, visit: www.virginiapye.com
The Book Doctors have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers develop a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who reads this article and buys the print version of this book gets a FREE 20 MINUTE CONSULTATION with proof of purchase (email: email@example.com). Arielle Eckstut is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of New York City’s most respected and successful agencies. Arielle is not only the author of seven books, but she also co-founded the iconic company, LittleMissMatched, and grew it from a tiny operation into a leading national brand that now has stores from Disneyland to Disney World to 5th Avenue in NYC. David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, and activist. His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, just came out. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Michael Caine, the London Times, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. His new illustrated novel is Mort Morte, a coming-of-age black comedy that’s kind of like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as told by Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls. www.davidhenrysterry To learn how not to pitch your book, click here.