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7 Steps to Prepare You for Your Next


7 Steps to Prepare You for Your Next

When one season ends and you are looking ahead to the next season, how do you prepare? What happens in the in-between? I don’t know if we spend enough time in that in-between space. Sometimes we were so ready for the last thing to end that we don’t pause to consider the implications and lessons that accompany both seasons.



5 Reasons I Love Working with Agents

The word on the street about editor-agent relationships is muddled at best and negative at worst. But I don’t give that much thought when I am in the trenches with an agent reviewing a proposal and negotiating an author’s contract. I decide how my relationships with agents are going to be—and I like working with agents. 



6 Things Writers Should Not Say to Editors or Agents at Writers Conferences

In light of my going to a couple conferences this month, I figured I would put into writing a few things I hope writers will not say to the editors and agents (or maybe just to me) they schedule one-on-ones with. This may be selfish. It may not be. It may actually help someone more than it saves me from having to smile and say my favorite noncommittal word, "Interesting!" Yes, I am being way more tongue-and-cheek here than I would ever be in person, so don't be scared to come talk to me. :) But this space, this blogspot, is kind of like my home, where you have entered in on me being myself and where you get to be... well, whoever you want to be, I guess.

But here are some things I've heard from writers in the past that I hope to not hear at this year's round of conferences. Although, some of them make for great stories.

1. "This is my first draft, but I just wanted to see what you thought."

Huh? No. Do not bring your first draft to a conference. This could be your one shot. Have you seen the movie 8 Mile, or maybe you've just heard the song by Eminem. If not, go listen to it now and then think again about bringing your rough draft to a conference. Now, if your main reason is to attend a conference for a learning experience, that's a whole other story. But still do not show your first draft to an editor. You can consider counseling with an editor, asking questions about the industry, maybe share your idea, but please do not ask us to read your first draft. We are not attending the conference to review manuscripts or to do any conceptualization or development. We are looking for ideas to publish. Well, at least that's why I want to do one-on-ones.

2. "Before I tell you about my manuscript, I just want you to read the first few pages. No, no, just read..."

Umm... Excuse me? Yes, this has happened to me. The writer practically put their one index finger to my lips as I began to talk and said, "Shhh... Just read this. I know it's going to blow you away." Do I really need to say what's wrong with this? Let's just say this writer is not publishing with me.

3. "I know this isn't the kind of book you are looking for, but I just wanted to talk to you anyway."

Yeah, about that. No. I really need to use the little bit of time I have away from the office (on office time by the way) maximizing on meetings that may have some kind of ROI for me and the company. What happens in these meetings is that, fifteen minutes after the author's spiel, I still end up telling them that this is not the kind of project I am looking for, but perhaps XYZ publisher or agent will be better suited for you.

4. "I have never heard or known of a book like mine. It is so unique."

Really. This seems like a good thing, but it's not. If there are no other books in the market like yours, there may be a reason for that--the market (i.e., readers) does not want a book like yours. So saying this is not a selling point. Perhaps you could show how your book is similar to other books along the same lines (same genre or category) and then you could show how your book is different. Saying that you know of no other book like yours in the market says several things: 1) you don't read much, 2) you don't understand the book market, 3) you don't know the job editors have to do to sell book ideas to their sales and marketing team who sell books to distributors based on comparison, 4) you did not do your research.

5. "I don't have a proposal, but I just wanted to see what you thought about this idea."

Great, but not during the one-on-one. Meet me at a meal. I could be off here, but during one-on-ones I expect to meet with authors who are ready to be published. If you are still just learning and seeing if the author's life is right for you, let's talk over a meal.

6. "You guys publish the weird stuff, right?"

Cute. But no. Try not to say anything about the publisher you are meeting with that could be taken negatively. In this case my thoughts were on my defense, not the author's pitch: We publish verifiable genres and recognized BISAC categories--at least in our minds. So that is a little off-putting to say our stuff is weird, but then again maybe you're also saying your stuff is weird and that we should all get along because we're all weird. I guess that's OK. But come to me showing me that you understand what we are publishing and perhaps what we publish sets us apart from what other publishers are doing in our same market. That would be nicer to hear. I don't want to be working for weirdos (although sometimes I question if I am or not, but only I get to say that).

While I may have been taken aback by many more surprising statements during these wonderful editor-writer encounters, these are the ones that come to mind right now. Maybe more will come later. While I am probably the nicest editor you'll meet at a conference (I will still enjoy our meeting as if you have done nothing wrong even if you come to me with any of the intros listed above), I do think it shows an author's thoughtfulness and seriousness about their career when they take these one-on-one meetings and use them for what they are for--to get a publishing deal. If you are not ready to be published or you've found an editor or agent you'd like to just network with but don't have a manuscript ready, you should plan to share a meal with them--sit at their table. Please sit at my table. I love to have a full table. I am there to be exploited and to have indigestion for those three or four days. I love this business, the readers, the authors, and the whole bit that much. And then if I do request your manuscript, please, please send it to me. If you have problems hitting "send," read this.

That is all. Thank you.

What are some interesting things you've heard people say at writers' conferences?


What Happens to Writers After the Writers' Conference? 7 Things That Should NOT Happen


What Happens to Writers After the Writers' Conference? 7 Things That Should NOT Happen

You finally meet with the editor or agent, and to your surprise, after thinking their favorite word is no, they say they like your concept and would love to see more of it. “Here’s my card,” they say. “Please email me a full proposal.” The words you had practiced to combat any objections are caught in your throat and all you can say is, “Oh! Oh, that’s great. OK! Yes? Really? OK! Thank you!”

Yes, they want you to send them your manuscript (or proposal). But you know what some writers do? OK, wait. This requires a list.



The Secret Life of Acquisitions

There’s one thing I think we all—editors, agents, writers, and published authors—can take for granted from time to time during the submissions and acquisitions process. But I think we can all take it down a notch and recognize this one thing—process breeds relationship. Or, maybe I should say, process can breed relationship.

With all the hustle and bustle and demands of the market, we sometimes forget that we are people involved with connecting to other people at some of the deepest, most intimate levels—our passions.

Over the last year or so, I have found myself involved in acquisitions more and more, and what brings me such joy is that I am connecting with and sharing in people’s dreams. I have the privilege of listening to these very special stories that each impact me in their own special way. It is awesome to see their diversity of expression and the various views many have written—some on the same topic. Then there’s the eating together, the e-mails, the cards, the laughter, the butterflies in my stomach (writers aren’t the only ones a little scared), the Facebook posts, the tweets… I really could go on.

Acquisitions is not only about a publishing house meeting this season’s budget or an author becoming an overnight celebrity, but it is also about a meeting of the minds, opportunities to influence culture, and even a chance to share in someone else’s life journey.

I think we should think about these things more. If we thought more like this, I could see more of a community begin to form where editors and agents are not ogres and writers’ pitches are not time wasters. If you’re a writer, you should read my other post called “Editors Are People Too” and see that editors can closely relate to your struggle with pitching ideas and preparing queries. We have to do the same thing, and we get turned down a lot too.

It’s unfortunate that some of the decision-makers respond to pitches as if they themselves have never been rejected or as if they never were nervous when making a presentation that felt like it could make or break them.

On the flip side, publishing houses are not just there to used by “writers” as a get-rich-quick scheme. While I am not addressing those who do not see publishing this way, I have actually been told by a querying author that if we weren’t going to pay him to do his book so that he didn’t have to work then he saw no value in publishing. All right then, sir with no platform or real passion for writing.

It probably can’t be said enough that publishers are taking a risk by partnering with a new author, and they have a strong vested interest in seeing the author grow and come into his/her own. The goal is not to destroy art and creativity, but to corral it and aim it to benefit as many readers as possible. Consider that what’s behind the “big machine” of publishing are people who use their talents and expertise to pour into the success of the author. They too have an attachment to seeing their efforts take flight.

There are those few authors who see this, and they are some of the favorites amongst the book publishing teams. They understand people power. They are thought of first when opportunities for new book ideas or imprint growth and expansion are discussed.

It’s the editor who connects with an author in a special way, who gets introduced or recommended to that author’s writer friend, and together they produce a best seller.

It’s the writer who was specially gifted and surrounded by this unique awareness but didn’t necessarily fit with this one agent, but they get recommended to another agent who has the perfect place for them. 

Maybe I’m an idealist, but at least there’s something to strive for.

Beyond acquisitions and queries, we’re just people with dreams, with gifts and talents, with a desire to be understood and accepted… And when we connect on that level we are able to help each other leverage the right opportunities that lead to our collective success.

I’ve come to appreciate the relationships I’ve formed with some new writers this year. Perhaps I wasn’t able to sell their idea to the team, but I am in one way or another invested in and rooting for their success. I remember them. I think of them often. I have their thank-you notes posted on my wall and keep a file full of their e-mails. I value them.

Acquisitions is about relationships. Who can I connect with today?



How to Really Make an Editor Mad

This really has very little to do with editorial mechanics, publishing trends, or book queries. What this has to do with is way more important than any of that junk. This is about how other publishing professionals introduce editors to outsiders.

Whoa-ho, does it make me angry when someone brings a guest around to our department and says, “OK, Mr. Johnson, in here we have Jevon Bolden, one of our editors. She makes sure words are spelled correctly and commas are in place…” Instantly, a dark shadow is cast over my genuine friendliness and I am forced to endure the rest of the introduction with a frozen smile. I don't even hear anything else being said.

I do what?!

No, sir or madam, I am much more than a spell-checker and comma-keeper! You don’t even know what I do for you here!

Do you want to know the truth of what I do? Do you? I don’t think you really do. You can’t handle the truth!

Fine. Let me put it to you this way:

We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by people with pens. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg (I mean, sir/madam)? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. And you come in here talking about me keeping commas and spelling words right… Well, I guess you have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. And my existence, while menial and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like libel, permissions, licensingsourcing, consistency, readability, company and author reputation. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very legal and face-saving protection that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way…

*snaps out of raging trance* Oh my gosh, I have no idea where that came from. I guess I had so much resentment built up that it came out in the voice of Jack Nicholas’s character in A Few Good Men. Sorry, little imaginary person I just went off on. I hope I didn’t scare you.

Anyhoo, that’s me being silly…

While editing is certainly not that deep, it really is horribly undervalued. So many times our peers get so concerned with the bottom line and meeting sales goals that they forget that the meat and context of the book matters very much to READERS and to the reputations of the company and authors.

I would love to see what would occur in one book season if editors everywhere took a hiatus. There would be lawsuits, lots more returns, consumers would lose confidence in book publishers, many authors would lose credibility, and people would be putting “freshly ground black people” in their recipes instead freshly ground black pepper. The world would be a scary place.

So here’s the deal: next time you (noneditorial publishing peer) introduce an editor to an outsider, say this: “Mr. Johnson, I’d like to introduce you to Jevon Bolden, one of the editors here. She keeps us looking sharp and helps our authors put their best face forward in the market.” Or if you still don’t have a clue, say, “Mr. Johnson, I’d like you to meet Jevon Bolden, one of the editors here. Jevon, why don’t you tell Mr. Johnson what you do for us?”

Cool? Cool.

OK, I think I’ve said it all. I may have lost some friends, but, man, do I feel better!



How I Prep for My First Writers’ Conference

OK, I’ll admit that I don’t always like to show all my cards amongst my peers (and I am good at cards—well, Spades), but the truth is I’ve never been to a writers’ conference. I’ve spent the last six years in the books—editing, editing, editing. I think I’ve got it down enough to where it’s time for me to look up for a minute and check out the beautiful scenery around me. So I figured a writers’ conference was in order.

I found the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference through a colleague’s mention. I checked it out and saw that it was close and maybe I could afford a last-minute trip a few hours away. I didn’t know how accommodating they would be at my wanting to come at the last minute. (Like I said, I’ve never been to one.) Apparently book editors are well received at these shindigs, and I was asked to be one of the faculty who will review manuscripts and meet with authors/writers one-on-one. A few e-mails up the chain of command at the office, and my attendance is approved as work time out of the office. How awesome!

Since last week my mind has been going a thousand miles an hour trying to make sure all my ducks are in a row, so I won’t look or act like I’ve never actually been to one of these. In other words, credibility, professionalism, and confidence are paramount in my book. And I can’t have any of these without being prepared. Here’s what I’m doing to be on my A-game:

1. Connecting with the writers’ conference community
I found out that this particular conference has a Web site, blog, a Twitter page, and Facebook fan page. I jumped on all four by becoming a fan and follower to keep up with news. I read all the blogs and Twitter and Facebook posts to get a glimpse of who the faculty and other conference attendees are, their areas of expertise, their suggestions on how to get the best out of this conference experience, and why they're coming.

2. Checking out the list of faculty and sessions schedule
To see who’s coming and who I may want to meet (everybody, really), I made notes on the faculty—what classes they’d be teaching and a little about their work history. This way, I’ll be sure not to miss some of the key connections I hope to make. I also made a personal schedule of some of the classes that are about things I need more knowledge in, things that would enhance my own position as an editor, and things that will help me relate better to my authors. I am there not only to advise but also to learn. Since many of the tracks occur simultaneously, I figured this would be a way for me to not be overwhelmed with all the scheduling once I arrive.

3. Making a list of questions or observation of the industry I hope to have answered or discussed
This will help me hone in on some of the things that I wonder about during my daily activities. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, so some of the things I can’t answer within my sphere may be answered amongst a larger pool of professionals. I expect that once I get there, all the excitement and speed of this jam-packed weekend will cause me to forget many of the things I hoped to learn. So I make a list.

4. Contacting attendees in my area or those I know from other networks and letting them know, “I’ll be there!”
Another thing to help me build my network and make new connections is to make it a point to meet my friends in social-network land face-to-face. It takes the relationship from abstract to concrete. Letting people know I will be there and them telling me they will be there, helps us to take time out to meet and greet each other despite all the huff and puff of the conference.

5. Doing a little research about what’s expected of someone in my position at a writers’ conference
I have a little book that I’ve been “eating on” for a few weeks now. It’s called Editors on Editing edited by Gerald Gross. Yes, I know, it’s old, but it is so resourceful. It tells everything about what an editor does. Each chapter is broken down in essays written by well-noted industry professionals. There are three essays I am working through specifically for this conference: (1) “What Editors Look for in a Query, Letter, Proposal, and Manuscript” by Jane von Mehren, (2) “The Editor and Author at the Writers’ Conference: Why They Go, What They Do” by Michael Seidman, and (3) “Editing for the Christian Marketplace” by Janet Hoover Thoma. In addition, I am reviewing blogs and articles by other editors and writers about their experiences at writers’ conferences. This will help me have a gauge of what people expect from me as an editor when they come up to meet me, what kinds of questions I may be asked, and what questions I should ask. I want to be fully engaged with everyone on all sides of the publishing paradigm.

6. Deliberately planning what I will wear
Regardless of what anybody says, I believe without a shadow of a doubt that looks (outside physical appearance) play a huge role in what people initially think of me. Some try to play that aspect down and say that it’s the inside that counts. Yeah, OK. No one gets to your inside until they get past your outside. You have to look the part (whatever your part is). I want to be approachable, welcoming, credible, professional, and teachable, so I am going to dress for that. Comfortable shoes, I hear, is a must at these things. I think I have some three-inch red pumps that are pretty comfortable. The dress is usually casual, some people wear jeans. I think I can ring up some freshly creased, wide-legged, cuffed slacks with a little bling-bling to accessorize the deal. Bottom line: I plan to dress for the reception I want from others. “Comfortable” is relative. Comfortable is confidence. Comfortable is being taken seriously. Comfortable is not being self-conscious. Comfortable is matching my outside with how I feel inside—and like James Brown, “I feel good! Dunna-dunna-dunna-duh.”

7. Remaining open and teachable
Yes, I am going to be a resource to aspiring authors and writers, but I am really going to learn new things and take part in the conversation. I am looking forward to the opportunity to expand beyond the books my company publishes, our publication and submission guidelines, and what goes on in our day-to-day. I know that I will gain so much from every interaction, the classes I attend, the other professionals and how they interact, different ways to do things, new ideas, and on and on. This is going to be a rich experience. I expect to see my perspective broadened and my understanding and relationship to the market increased.

How do you prepare for a writers’ conference? Is there something I should add to my list? Let me hear you!