Thor's Thoughts on Conferences

Greetings, mortals.

Before I begin, allow me to invite you to join me for a #YAvengers Twitter chat this evening at 7pm Pacific Daylight Time. (That is 10pm Eastern.) Come with your questions about publishing, agents, editors, self-pub, and what have you. We will do our best to answer your questions and direct you to appropriate research in whatever regard you require.

Now, being that is it conference season, and my alter-ego had the privilege of attending one recently, I thought it would be beneficial to all if we speak on this topic.

With regards to conferences, you, as writers, should be aware of the differences between various types. There are conferences with classes to help you improve your craft, panels to give you perspective or advice from published authors/agents/editors, classes geared toward librarians, booksellers, agents, editors, etc.

If you are unpublished, you should be focused on your writing craft. Some conferences are geared more toward the sellers (bookstores, libraries, publishers, reviewers) but until you have a book to sell, you should learn as much as you can about what you are doing. Always seek to grow and improve.

Side note - always bring snacks.
This month, my alter-ego went to the LDStorymakers conference in Provo, Utah. She had the opportunity to see agents' and editors' first-responses to queries, she was able to pitch to an editor, and even chatted in a group with an agent. All of these opportunities made her nervous (she gets shaken quite easily, though she refuses to admit it). However, it was through these experiences that she saw how much agents and editors truly love what they do.

There are many lists of tips and tricks for meeting agents and editors, do's and do-not's, and the truth is, there is no hidden secret to doing this. However, through her experience, my alter-ego has one simple rule for you to follow:

Be Yourself.

You're either going to be nervous, or you're not. There's not much you can do to change that. What you can do, is let yourself behave the way you would with any other random stranger. Be polite, (don't shove your manuscript in their face) and don't pause what you're doing just because an agent or editor is in your vicinity or even talking to you. They love books as much as you do. They do this because they love authors and stories. They love working with words.

The first time you meet an agent, you'll probably freeze. If you're anything like my alter-ego. But if you push through it and be yourself, you'll showcase your personality in the best way. And you never know, you just might draw someone's attention.

Good luck,


#Connections in Publishing

#ThingsWritersSay: "I wish I could meet an agent or editor in real life; that way I'd have a foot in the door for traditional publishing."

Did I fool you with my use of a hashtag above?  Apparently they're useful, and I'm doing my best to learn how they work.  I think I've got it down.  I love how modern I sound.  (According to others, use of a semicolon destroyed the modernity of the hashtag.  Oops.)  Hashtags aside, we're talking about publishing this month.  I'd like to talk about the above statement.  It's now below as well.

"I wish I could meet an agent or editor in real life; that way I'd have a foot in the door for traditional publishing."

Let's split it into two parts: the wish and the reason.  The wish, I think, is good-- and because of that, I'd like to share a couple of ways to befriend agents and editors without coming across as the slobbering amateur.  The reason, I think, is bad-- not because putting your foot in a door really hurts (which it does), but because connections do not a book deal make.

I wish I could meet an agent or editor.

Good wish.  Agents are experts in the business of publishing as well as reading, and they often have interesting takes on books and things they'd like to see in their to-read pile.  It's important not to focus on their to-read desires and try to write for the market, of course-- that makes a lot of stress for you without much promise.  The market can and does change over the course of a week, and even the best of us can't write, edit, submit, and publish novels in that space of time.  Trying to mold your WIP to whatever genre or form an agent thinks is selling well, that doesn't work.

But agents are more than their to-read piles.  A relationship with an agent is a long-term thing-- it's very seldom insta-love-your-book-I'll-buy-it.  Don't see an agent as a direct, quick path to publication that you have to seize in the next five minutes.  Through talking with an agent, you'll realize how agents work; how their enthusiasm drives their business, how queries and pitches catch or lose their interest, and how the agent/author relationship works.  Also, when an agent raves about a book they just read?  Read it now.

Editors are slightly different, but the same rules apply.  You don't walk up and shove your book in their face.  Don't expect them to buy your book immediately.  Keep it simple.  Learn about the things they look to fix in manuscripts, so you can fix them yourself.  Learn what makes them excited and why.  Learn from them, don't see them as one of those slot machines where you put in a pitch and get out a book deal.  That's always when things get...

#Awkward!  (Nope?  Okay.  I'll keep trying.)

Here's a great rule of thumb for talking to people in the business without shoving yourself down their throat (it also works for talking to anyone, if you struggle with that sort of thing): start the conversation by asking, "What are you excited about?"

Usually they're excited about books, but you never know.
This opens an enormous door.  Agents and editors will be most excited about the book they just found, or the book they worked on that's about to be published, or the book that just got published that's getting them money.  They're going to start talking about themselves, the books they like, and the business they have running.  That is exactly your goal.  Be interested in what they have to say, because all of it is important.  Eventually, they'll ask you about your stuff.  Time for your pitch.

Wrap up the conversation by focusing again on them.  Ask for advice, or ask about a book that hits shelves soon, or whatever you want-- just don't push them.  You've made your pitch, they've said something nice about it (hopefully they've asked for something more), and that's all they can do for now.  Your goal is to finish the conversation as their new friend, not as the writer who tried to negotiate a ten-book series before their sushi arrived.

#ThatsHalfOfThePost!  (I'm not getting better at this.)

I'll have a foot in the door.

Now we see the reason for wanting to know an agent or an editor.  If I know one or both, it's basically a free pass to publication, right?  Inside tips, query-free submissions, and if they reject me, I can pout at them for not being a good friend!  Right?  ...Right?

That is not the relationship you want to cultivate.  When you meet an agent or an editor, you're doing something many amateurs never get a chance to do-- you're lucky.  Don't destroy that fragile thing with READ MY BOOK PUBLISH MY BOOK DO IT DO IT.  Yes, you now have an acquaintance that makes things happen in the publishing world, but it's like any other business.  Bribery doesn't work.  Blackmail doesn't work.  And would you want someone to publish a manuscript of yours that still had glaring mistakes in it?  It's not fun, but rejection does have a refining effect.  Although you have a happy new friendship, it's wise to think of the business side of that as any other business relationship.  You won't get a handout, and you don't need one.  You're good enough to get published without charity.  A little independence and pride in this area won't hurt.

Now, that doesn't mean ignore the business aspect.  But knowing an agent or an editor does not equal getting published.  It does not mean you're eventually going to get published.  I met an agent briefly back before the army-- then I ate my spinach, crashed a plane, and woke up with one Hydra of a hangover.

#IUnderstoodThatPopeyeReference!  (Yes, he was around in those days, although I only found out about the spinach thing recently.  Also, hashtags working?  No?  Okay.)

It takes a bigger superhero than I to track down a publishing contact ninety years after I last saw him.  Also, you can probably tell I didn't get anything published back then.  I'm trying again now, but although I've met an agent or two, I'll say it again: knowing an agent/editor does not mean instant publication.  It doesn't mean eventual publication.  It is no guarantee of anything.

That sounds harsh.  I apologize.  Knowing an agent/editor has incredible value to someone just learning about the market, revision strategies, and networking.  It teaches lessons you can't learn anywhere else.  It just doesn't guarantee publication.  Having a connection in the publishing world is valuable, but your writing is far more important.

That's what I want you to take away from this.  If you want a career as an author, writing will get you much farther than anything else.  I keep saying it, but here it is again: practice.  If you know thirty agents but haven't finished a story, it doesn't help.  If you've written fifteen separate novels, revised four, and queried three, you have more of a chance of publication than someone who wrote one novel and refuses to query unless her agent/editor contacts request it in person.  If you're good at chatting people up but can't deliver on paper, you need more practice.  If you're good at your job and persistent, you will get published.

Connections are useful, but they aren't everything.  Make sure you focus on your writing, and make your connections count as relationships rather than as name-dropping opportunities.  You'll be great.  I believe in you.  I'll leave you with a final hashtag as a hint.



The Inscrutable Science of Book Covers

 You could say that as a scientist, I know a lot about a lot of things. I've even successfully explained string theory to Hawkeye - sort of. He glazed over at one point but didn't ask any questions so I assume that he understood it.

But the very real and very mysterious science behind the choosing of cover images for books, in print and electronic form, still eludes me. Maybe you feel this way, too. Maybe you've picked up a book with a striking cover image of - I don't know, let's say the silhouette of a tiger - and you read the whole book wondering when the tiger was going to show up. And you think about all the ways a tiger could be a metaphor for what happened in the book, but the book was about Inuit people fishing so you're left scratching your head and thinking that some editor somewhere must have heard that tiger silhouettes sell books. Or you've read a book with a blonde blue-eyed girl on the cover and been annoyed by the middle of the book because the main character has brown hair and, furthermore, it is very important to the overall meaning of the story that she has brown hair. You're not irritated because you bought the book only because you like books about blonde people. You're irritated because the cover image doesn't match the content. It's not quite false advertising, you admit, but you still feel some sacred trust between author and reader has been violated.

I have a friend who has released five YA contemporary romances and she's gotten cover approval on some of them. The first tine around, she couldn't wait to see what the publisher put together, and her first set of choices struck her as all wrong. It wasn't just that the couple on the prospective covers didn't look like her couple - though that was important to her, as I bet it is for lots of writers who get to know and love their characters as much as parents must know and love their children. It was that some of them just seemed so wrong. One of the cover boys was balding, which doesn't exactly scream "seventeen-year-old cutie pie" to most YA readers. This chapter in the saga ended well, though, as they found the perfect couple and the perfect image. But with each book, despite it being about the same couple depicted in each book, it was always a different pair on the cover. My friend didn't want to be a pill and knew that her publisher knew a heck of a lot more than she did about selling books, so she but her tongue when one of the covers featured a girl in tight jeans and high heels but privately wailed to me, "Bruce, my MC would never wear, those shoes! She wears beat up Chuck Taylors!" She worried that readers would expect the book to be a whole lot racier than it is and be disappointed. She takes these things seriously. Still, she trusted her publisher to know what they're doing, and all of the books have sold well.

But if you're the kind of person and writer who likes to control things,
 then self-publishing may be the best option for you, so you can get precisely the image you want. You can make your own art or scour stock photos or images at places like or or or for photos and clip art. (They're also useful for making promotional material images, like photo collages). Just read the fine print on the site about what rights you actually have for use - even if you are purchasing an image, you're not always allowed to use it in any way you want to, so check the licensing.

You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, they say, but  a book cover design is chosen carefully, using some sort of science or algorithm I have not yet cracked, precisely to sell that book. Which book covers have been your favorites, the ones that drew you to pull that book off the shelf and dive in? Were there any books you liked despite their covers? Drop he team a line and let us know. I'm at an undisclosed location right now, but I can still get email. 

And if you see Natasha. tell her I'm okay, please.

Banner out.
P.S. If Stark tells you he knows the formula 
for the perfect book cover, 
be skeptical.

Punk Rock Publishing: Do It Yourself

I propose a motion: let’s change the name of self-publishing or indie publishing to ‘punk rock publishing’, and recognise its ideology of doing it yourself and rejecting the establishment and all of those glorious punk rock traditions. Right? Way cooler. A hundred times cooler.

Now that’s out of the way, I’m going to talk a bit about punk rock publishing, because it’s something I’ve a bit of experience in. There are a lot of reasons people choose to do it themselves, and also a lot of misconceptions about it, so let’s debunk the latter while discussing the former, all at once. Multitasking.

random computer gif

Misconception #1: People self-publish because they can’t go the traditional route.

For some people, self-publishing is a route that they pursue because they’re fed up of rejections from agents and editors. That’s true. That doesn’t mean they’re not good enough for ‘traditional publishing’. People do choose to self-publish because the traditional publish route isn’t a viable option, but that’s for all sorts of reasons. 

1) They don’t follow genre, so their book is hard to categorise. A lot of publishers are wary about taking on books like this, so it can be a reason to self-publish.

2) They’re writing in a genre or category that’s difficult to market because it has a small audience. Case in point: poetry. It’s exceedingly hard to get a poetry collection published traditionally, but very easy to do yourself.

3) They don’t want to hang around. Self-publishing is a lot quicker, and while it can still take time for one’s efforts to pay off, it’s still faster than the traditional route, which has a lot of waiting around.

Misconception #2: Self-published books are lower quality

This isn’t entirely wrong. Writers who go to the punk rock route by definition don’t have the benefits of the publishing house, which has editors, cover designers, formatters, proof readers and the like. But that doesn’t mean what they’re churning out is rubbish.

The writer needs to write well, that’s true. They need to proof-read their work. They should ideally have a cover created professionally, not by a friend using MS Paint. It might be worth hiring an editor, rather than relying on critique partners who may not be very experienced.

At the end of all that? It’s a book. The one you buy from the shop with the publisher’s mark on the spine is also a book. Look really hard, and tell me if you can tell them apart.

how bout that

Misconception #3: Traditional publishing is the only way to make your name as an author.

It’s not. There are benefits to it, absolutely. It’s far easier to get your books into libraries and bookshops if it’s being churned out by Penguin than if you did it all yourself. But doing it yourself can allow you to build up a dedicated reader base, and that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? In fact, they might even be glad you’re not traditionally published if that cuts the waiting time between books.

The way to make your name as an author is to write good books and to encourage word-of-mouth to sell them. That’s basically it. It helps if you’re famous like me, of course, because I’m pretty sure people would buy anything I wrote without questioning it too much, but I’m Tony Stark. Not everybody gets that chance.

arrive with crowdsthere are boring book launches and then
there are Stark book launches

Misconception #4: Self-publishing means you can only publish e-books.

Absolutely not true. Seriously. Where are you getting this information from? It is easier to publish e-books by yourself, sure. You upload a Word document (how quaint) to Kindle Direct Publishing, it sorts out the formatting, you upload a cover and you’re done. You don’t even know how to format stuff, although it helps if you do.

Print copies are more complicated. You need to choose a distributor. Are you gonna go with CreateSpace and sell your soul to Amazon? What about Blurb, or Stark On-Demand Books?

Depending on which you choose, formatting will be easier or harder. You may need to design a wraparound cover, which can be more difficult, although sometimes using your Kindle front cover and a plain coloured back cover can work (quick tip for you). You might have to worry about mirrored margins and page numbers and contents pages.

But ultimately, print-on-demand makes it just as cheap to produce print books than e-books, so you can start selling paperbacks like the most traditionally published of all traditionally published folks.

Side note: here’s the kid who has been disturbing the Twittersphere by pretending to be me, which is absolutely absurd and unbelievable (we’re dealing with it) with a paperback copy of her third poetry collection, printed by Blurb:


Therefore, friends, if you think your best option is to go it alone and do it your way, I encourage you to go forth and be punk rock publishers.

Just don’t tell Pepper I’m egging you on, because she thinks I’m a bad influence. -- Iron Man

The YAvengers Twitter account saw activity this week from JARVIS as well as the rest of the team. You’re missing out if you’re not following it.

'Diverse' Isn't Something to Yell at Poetry

Ladies!  Gentlemen!  Fluffy beings who don't fit into those two categories!  I'd like to claim that I ran out of wrapping paper, but the truth is I forgot about the wrap-up.  For an entire 24 hours.  I'm kind of mad at my memory right now.

Luckily, I have a month lined up for you that is sure to cheer up both of us.  It's all about diversity, all full of fun, and all empty of Spider-Man.  Okay, not completely empty of Spider-Man, but the sooner we forget he had anything to do with this blog, the better.  Thanks.

(For my complete thoughts on the Wrap-Up-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named, please refer to the above gif.)

Hulk threw us into the topic, and Dr. Banner explained why it had to happen: sometimes we fear diversity, leading to tokenism or a complete lack of it.  For those of us who are not, technically, a minority-- as both an elderly and youthful white male, I fit most of those criteria-- we fear getting things wrong and offending someone.  For those of us who are part of a minority, we can get crushed under the same fears, or fear of not being accepted because we aren't writing what people want to read.  It's hard from any angle, but it's worthwhile.  Take some time to overcome that fear and really dig into diversity.

Thor played the divinity card, encouraging diversity in religion.  How does belief affect a character's actions?  How does it affect their relationships, if someone believes something different?  In real-world stories, Christianity and atheism get a lot of air time.  In fantasies, we tend to lean toward pantheons like the ancients, or no religion at all.  Creating a belief system, and acknowledging different religions, simultaneously create depth and potential conflicts for your characters-- nothing to sneeze at in either case.

Stark never shrinks from a tough topic.  While all parts of diversity are difficult to explain and promote, LGBTQ+ representation might be the hardest.  He covers it unflinchingly and masterfully.  It's silly to ignore LGBTQ+ existence just because it's difficult.  Include more of these types of characters.  Give them friends.  And above all else, treat them normally.  It isn't as if a person comes out and ceases to be human.  A person's sexuality doesn't negate their need to do taxes, or get a job, or eat.  People are people, no matter how oriented.

It's a lot of fun to mess with diversity in our own world, but have you thought about making it up yourself?  I talked about that in my post on diversity in SF/F.  Because you have control over the culture of your world, you have control over what it considers diverse-- therefore, you can make absolutely anyone a minority.  You can turn the tables.  You can make a direct Earth analogue.  Whatever you decide, you can make it happen.  It's up to you.

To round out the month, Hawkeye interviewed the wonderful Marieke Nijkamp, YA author and founder of DiversifYA.  She has been a longtime advocate for all things YA and diverse, and her interview was spectacular.  From tips on writing with diversity in mind, to good diverse books to read, she gave an excellent overview of the solution.  If you read nothing else this month, read this interview.

Did we cover it all?  Pfft, no.  Thor couldn't benchpress the amount of things we left out.  What about gender?  What about race?  Disability and mental illness?  Poverty?  Countries other than the USA?  We barely scratched the surface of diversity in YA, but I hope we got you thinking about it.  Don't settle for normal.  You can do so much more.

Ahaha, but that's not the end of the month-- merely the end of our diversity topic.  We attempted a Twitter chat once again, but once again managed to miss it.  We'll try again with next month's topic on the 27th, unless you see another message via Twitter.  Other than that, however, we had enormous fun with an Avengers livetweet on April 30th, using #YAvengers to gather our tweets.  I had to sit with Spider-Man for three hours straight, but after seeing that movie, I have to say it was worth it.  You can read through everything we said if you don't mind Spider-Man being a large part of it.

May is here!  This month we're talking about publishing, everything we can hit.  Querying, agents, self-publishing, connections, whatever we can put on the table.  We'll do our best to get your staggeringly diverse books (wink wink, nudge nudge) on the shelves.  Or at least, we'll tell you what you need to know so you can do it yourself.

As always, thank you for a wonderful month.  We love it when you read our posts, we love it when you comment, and we love it when you laugh rather than cry at strange things such as Spider-Man.  (No, I will not let that go.  I will live with that mistake for the rest of my life.)  Thanks for sticking with us (my word, I accidentally made a 'stick' pun), and we'll do our best to keep writing for you.  In the meantime, keep writing your own masterpieces.