Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tricia Lawrence Interview

On a beautiful, sunny, July day I had the pleasure of welcoming Tricia Lawrence, Associate Agent and Social Media Strategist for Erin Murphy Literary to my table.
Tricia, welcome and thank you for agreeing to this interview.

1. A question I’m sure many beginning and fledgling authors have is what can a literary agent do for an author? And why would it be good to work with an agent instead of going it alone?

A literary agent is not an absolute necessity, especially in this publishing environment. If an author plans to self-publish, plans to go with a small press first, wants to publish digital only (either with a press, or self-pub), those situations usually do not require an agent’s assistance.
But if I can press the pro-agent side for those who are interested in the trade market, want to submit their work to publishers that utilize agent relationships, and want a partner in this publishing game, please do consider finding an agent.
An agent can rescue an already published author who finds his/her career has stalled midlist, an agent can take a prepublished author and set them on a path with a book a year, two books a year, a mix of small press and large trade publishers. With an agent, an author finds more exposure, introductions to people and publishers, which can work for them. I often sign clients who want to have an agent so they can focus on the writing and let me focus on the selling and strategizing.

2. With all the changes in publishing in the past 5 to 10 years, from mega-mergers to the growth of E-books and Indie E-publishers, how has that changed an agent’s role?

It’s definitely changed a lot. We see a lot of contract terms being altered, evolving, and some of it’s good and some of it is not so good. I also see power returning to authors in so many ways. There are growing opportunities to be seen and to prove your writing skill and what used to not ever mix now mixes. Traditionally published authors self-pub and then find a publisher for their next book. Authors do both self-pub and trade pub at the same time. Authors start with digital only and then get a print-only deal.
We also see a lot of not-quite-ready-for-primetime manuscripts. Just because there is a fast way to get pubbed does not mean a manuscript doesn’t need critique partners and beta readers and editors. ;)

3. How has social media changed the way an author interacts with an audience?

Everything you say and do online is held up as you. I caution all writers to be careful about responding to rejections or bad reviews without first taking a deep breath and thinking about what those mean in the long term. A bad review or rejection is quickly forgotten (once we’ve all had chocolate!), but responding in an emotional state publicly keeps it alive and keeps you focused on the negative.
I find social media to be good in small doses. A little bit in the morning and a little bit in the afternoon and then get off the social media and go write.
I also advocate for authors to find out who they are and who their audience is and to actively work to talk to that audience with their authentic message, otherwise, social media can get overwhelming very quickly.

4. What gets you excited as an agent? 

A wonderful manuscript that won’t let me put it down and a professional author who is open to revision and can handle waiting (and waiting and waiting) and oftentimes rejection after rejection after rejection. Because I know that the author and oftentimes that manuscript will succeed. Eventually. Reminder: This is not an industry for those who are in a hurry.

5. E-books vs traditional publishing?

Both. I buy both. I read both. I encourage my clients to do both, as long as we’re balancing it so that their career is enhanced, not inhibited. ;) I think we’ve seen that traditional publishing is still there and e-books are growing. We’ll see what it looks like in six months to a year. So much changes every single week!

6. What is the most important thing an author can do, aside from write well, to further their career?

To be aware of the realities of the industry they are in. Publishing does not owe you, an agent does not have to respond, an editor does not have to buy your book, readers don’t have to give you starred reviews, book buyers don’t have to stock your book . . . To write and to be agented and edited and published and reviewed is part of a great and wonderful tradition. It’s an honor.

And it’s also a business. Pay attention to what’s going on in the industry, read piles of books in your chosen genre, find out who edits your favorites, make this work your passion, the love of your life. If writing is (channeling Heather Sellers, author of PAGE AFTER PAGE) the love of your life, it will be the center of your life and you will adore it and cherish it and find no fault with it. Those authors inspire me. As an author myself, this is what I aspire to. Love is patient, love is kind . . . as the old saying goes.

7. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret, and does it help in your work as an agent? Or, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done to get an author published? 

My secret talent is attention to detail. My curse is that I was raised to be a perfectionist, which I am learning to live with, but with that comes an incredible noticing of every significant or not significant detail. Perhaps because I was born on Martha Stewart’s birthday? But no, alas, I do not have drawers of organized trinkets neatly labeled. I wish! My office is a disaster.

Tricia, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview, you've given some wonderful advice that I, for one, will take to heart!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Perils of Research

I always thought I would be writing science fiction, even though my knowledge of science is limited. My fountain pen collection would be my one-off foray into historical fiction, or so I thought.

Admittedly, there are some minor elements of magic realism in the Fountain Pen stories, you could even call it science fiction elements, if you like; the pen being the portal into the past.

In planning my next book I happened to ask an old friend in France a simple question which touched off a flurry of emails racing back and forth across the continent and the Atlantic Ocean. Historical fiction seems be my niche after all. The combination of science fiction and historical fiction seems to working well for author Connie Willis, so why not me?

I have stacks of emails with more information than I could possibly cram into one book. My friend, too, is finding out much more about the Alsace region of France during WWII than he imagined. It’s a complicated and very human history, deeply entangled with the land, culture and the past. Much of what happened in 1940 was set in motion after WWI and the Treaty of Versailles.

But in between the interesting, the shocking, the surprising and down-right fascinating exploration of individual stories we’ve been collecting, there is also the occasional buried secret. A secret so dark and so unpleasant that it has been buried in the very fibers of the individuals tasked with keeping it. To reveal it would cost too much and do too much damage, even now, so very many years later.

Relentless digging, following trails that lead to dead-ends and then suddenly open onto side roads nobody really wanted to walk on. In order to protect some very good people we have now become the keepers of this particular secret.

Not to worry though, I have more than enough research to fill at least two books and I will continue to throw in tiny bits of magic realism where I can. My first chapter has already been rewritten three times, but that is the nature of historical fiction. How else can I make my characters seem alive and true?

What started as an idea for a ‘simple’ ghost story has grown into quite a bit more!

Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

July Book Review

World War Z
By: Max Brooks

I wasn’t at all sure I’d like this book. Zombies are not really my thing, but at the urging of my offspring I took up the challenge of reading it; reading only during daylight hours and steeling myself for the gruesome bits.

Much to my surprise, though, World War Z is actually a very good book. Yes, there are gruesome bits, but they are in context, not gratuitous. The format of first person accounts as related to the narrator is inspired, and I marvel at the author’s in-depth knowledge of the history and socio-political state of the many regions his narrator visits to collect these stories.

What strikes me most of all is the seemingly very accurate descriptions of how easily a society unravels when faced with a threat on the scale of the Zombie epidemic. That humanity prevailed in the end is in no small part due to individuals who step up and go outside established the rules of society, some willingly, some under orders.

Societies are in essence nothing more than groups of people who have chosen to live together for economic and security reasons. These groups agree to abide by certain rules in order to enjoy the benefits of the group, and they know the consequences of breaking the rules. The concept of how and why societies form is a theme that shows up in many of the early books by Robert Heinlein, “Tunnel in the Sky” in particular comes to mind.

What happens when that group agreement faces an extraordinary threat, in this case Zombies, is something we’ve seen at various points in history. It unravels. Panic ensues, and the social niceties disappear. The majority of humans seem to revert to some dormant character trait stored deep in the lizard brain, the home of the fight-or flight response.

All this is what Max Brooks describes in eloquent vignettes of ‘real‘ people who have survived the horrors of the Zombie epidemic. Many of these characters stayed with me longer after I finished the book, along with an inkling of how truly fragile is our society... 

And, a bonus book review from a teen.
Here are Spencer's impressions of World War Z

It was a quick read, you can get into it easily and it reads quickly. It was super-realistic, you feel like you were there with the survivors, and not just with the military types but also with the people who made no contribution at all but just tried to survive. Or those who did the seemingly unimportant jobs that needed to be done too.

It didn’t focus too much on the horror that most zombie materials focus on, instead it focused on the human element. It felt like it was a real chronicled history instead of a fictional what-if. It also had a lot of realism and emotion in it. You could get a good sense of the feelings of the interviewees, and how they thought and reacted to everything.

The book made you think how things would play out if this really happened and how much it would follow what happened in the book; the reactions of governments and people. In the book it really comes down to people.