Join Me at the BAIPA “Get Published!” Institute March 12, 2011

BAIPA logo

For the first time since its inception, the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association’s annual conference is taking place outside of Marin County. The institute’s new venue is Nile Hall in Preservation Park. That means less of a drive for me as I head over to record it. For those who might be worried about parking in downtown Oakland, don’t. First, you have the option to take BART to 12th Street and not worry about a car at all, and second, there’s free parking at 1250 Martin Luther King Way, across from Preservation Park.

Conference location map

The topic for the 2011 conference is “How To Make Real Money Selling Your Books.” Given that most traditionally-published books don’t earn out their advances and most self-published books sell about 200 copies and net the authors about enough for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, this is guaranteed to be a subject of interest to authors and publishers alike.

There are three morning keynotes, two sets of afternoon breakout sessions, and a closing keynote. The keynote speakers are Jim Horan, Brian Jud, and the team of Jon Tandler and Lloyd Rich.

If you pre-register before February 28th, you also get to attend two webinars with Brian Jud:

February 28, 4:00 PM 

How to Find More Buyers for Your Books in Non-Bookstore Markets

March 7, 4:00 PM 

Preparing a Proposal And Making Presentations For Large-Quantity Sales

Registration is $139 for members and $159 for non-members—a steal by comparison with the cost of other writers’ conferences. And while BAIPA focuses on small publishers and authors who plan to self-publish, there’s a lot of useful information for any author here.

After all, whether you self-publish or go with a traditional publisher, you’re going to need to know about marketing, intellectual property law, the way e-books are revolutionizing the publishing industry, and what an editor can do for you—particularly in light of recent news that many publishing houses are laying off their editors and pushing responsibility for that task onto authors and freelancers.

San Francisco Writers Conference Feb 18-20, 2011


The main 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference has already sold out, but you can still put yourself on the waiting list or sign up for one of the extra sessions before or after the conference. (And you’ll be able to buy recordings after the conference is over.)

On Thursday, February 17th, there’s a pre-conference pitch tutorial led by literary agent Katharine Sands. (6 to 9 pm at The Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco) That’s designed to prepare attendees for the Speed Dating with Agents session on Sunday at the main conference, but it should be equally helpful for pitching on any occasion.

Among the full-day and half-day classes on Monday, February 21st, here are a few of note:

Social Media for Authors

This is especially noteworthy because one of the instructors is my friend Tee Morris. I’ve known Tee since I started listening to his “Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy” podcast in 2005. Tee writes both fiction (fantasy adventure, fantasy/mystery, and steampunk) and non-fiction (Podcasting for Dummies, Sam’s Teach Yourself Twitter in Ten Minutes) and has serious social media chops. Plus he’s a really fun guy and a highly entertaining presenter. He’s also leading at least two sessions at the main conference, so he’s going to be a tired puppy by the time he gets back on the plane to Virginia.

Self-Publishing Boot Camp

Carla King, Alan Rinzler, Joel Friedlander, Mark Petrakis, Alexis Masters, Walter Hardy,  Karen Leland, Mark Coker, and Tammy Nam are a lineup guaranteed to leave no stone unturned in mapping out all the details of self-publishing both print books and e-books. Among the topics covered are book design, manuscript editing, marketing and PR, SEO, and e-book formats from Kindle to Smashwords.

How to Write a Book Proposal

Led by literary agent Michael Larsen (one of the conference’s founders) and editor Alan Rinzler, this half-day class is a good pairing with Thursday’s pitch training. If you’ve read Larsen’s book by the same name, you might prefer one of the other classes, but I suspect there’s going to be more in the class than there was in the book, and not just because of Rinzler’s input. In any case, I do recommend the book, particularly if Michael Larsen is one of the agents you want to send your proposal to!

Read the complete conference schedule.

Does Competition for Publishers Make a Good Market for Ghostwriters?

The Business of Art, by Ellen Cushing

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a reporter for the East Bay Express, a free weekly paper here in the Bay Area. The reporter, a fellow Brown graduate, was writing about careers for creative people.

The Business of Art, by Ellen Cushing
This article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of the East Bay Express

The article, titled “The Business of Art”, focuses mainly on how hard it is to make a living as an artist and how little most art schools do to prepare students to find work. I stand by my quote: ghostwriting provides a more reliable income than writing for magazines or pitching your work to agents and publishers. There’s that old joke: “The difference between a full-time writer and a large pizza is that the pizza can feed a family of four.”

I warn my clients that not many authors make a significant income from book sales. That’s not because I want to drive them off, but because I want them to have realistic expectations. There are many ways besides a six-figure advance and getting on the New York Times best-seller list to measure a book’s success. And many non-fiction books bring their authors considerable indirect revenue by boosting their consulting and speaking businesses.

But any book published today is competing for attention with a shockingly large number of other new books. (It’s hard  to be quite sure just how many, but Bowker reported 764,448 self-published books and 288,355 traditionally published books in 2009.) Though most of these books are not real competition—they are in the wrong genre, or of laughably poor quality, or only produced for family  members—the sheer number of them creates a lot of noise against which you have to make your book marketing signal stand out.

So will all that competition drive hordes of young to become ghostwriters instead of novelists? My guess is, “probably not.” Ghostwriting is definitely more popular as a career than it used to be, but it requires one skill that’s exactly the opposite of the one aspiring Hemingways and Byatts are trying to develop. You have to subsume your own style and personality into that of your client. It’s a better job for a beat reporter than for a columnist. While it’s a highly creative activity, it’s more like translation than like original writing.

Young artists, as I remember from being one, are often taught (by peers, movies, literature, and probably something hormonal) that being an artist involves certain behaviors and personality traits, most of them highly irritating to other people, and all of them egocentric. None of these are useful to a career as a ghostwriter. (They probably aren’t useful to any career, which may be why there’s a stereotype of a starving artist.) Ghostwriters are often legally constrained from walking around saying “Look at me! I’m so talented! See what I did!”

However, if you do have the temperament to become a ghostwriter, and an interest in it, I highly recommend you sign up for Claudia Suzanne’s Ghostwriter Certification Classes. Claudia has ghostwritten more than 100 books and has been teaching others to do so for years, and she’s brilliant. (And no, I don’t get any kickbacks for saying that.)

For many artists, it’s likely to be easier to find an ordinary day job than to retool as a commercial whatever. But don’t rule it out entirely—you might find you enjoy it if you try.

Writing and Publishing News for October 20th through October 21st

Here’s what I’ve tagged for October 20th through October 21st:

Writing and Publishing News for September 29th through October 8th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for September 29th through October 8th:

It’s National Punctuation Day!

Today, September 24th, is National Punctuation Day. My colleague Jeff Rubin founded National Punctuation Day “to draw attention to the importance of proper punctuation. It’s a day for educators, parents, and librarians — people who are interested in teaching and promoting good writing skills to their students and their children. It’s also a day to remind business people that they are often judged by how they present themselves.”

No natural-born pedant can object to such a cause.

What I do object to, having seen Jeff present the grown-up version of the Punctuation Playtime show he does for kids, is the slavish devotion to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and the refusal to acknowledge that once you get out of grade school, a lot of what we once thought of as “grammar rules” turn out to be style questions that depend on whether you’re following the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, or another set of guidelines for how to handle everything from serial commas to apostrophes with the plural “s.”

And let’s not forget that different English-speaking nations have different standards for punctuation. It’s not just that the British use inverted commas instead of quotation marks: they handle commas and apostrophes differently than Americans do. (They also have a habit of saying “different to,” instead of “different from,” but I’m told that’s incorrect even in the UK, no matter how common it is.)

Strunk and White is great for getting you through high school and through basic business communications, but if you’re going to go into the business of communications, you’ll need to invest in a few more style guides, or at least inquire into which one your company bases its house style on.

Meanwhile, for a nuanced approach to these pesky questions of usage, I recommend listening to Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing.


Writing and Publishing News for September 11th through September 20th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for September 11th through September 20th: