Monday, November 25, 2013

Writer's Block

I was sitting at my computer for a good long while trying to figure out what I wanted to write about this week.  And I came up with nothing.  

All the editors that I'm waiting to hear back from are still in the "waiting" box (which is a box that lives in my mind and also in a Word document), I'm still super psyched for Thanksgiving, I'm still working away trying to read lots of editor revisions.  

But then I came up with a brilliant way to keep myself from thinking too hard and hopefully provide some great insights for you.  Tom!  You may or may not remember, but Tom is one of my new roommates and he works in the marketing department of NYU Press.  Given that Dan was talking about the some of the social media and self-promotion he's involved in when I interviewed him on his pub day, and that this is something that is becoming more and more relevant for authors today, I figured what could be better than banging on the next bedroom door and getting some insider information?

Have you met Tom?

First off, can you tell me a little bit about what you do at NYU Press?

I'm the Marketing Associate/Exhibits Coordinator/Awards Coordinator. I have a few different hats. I manage all of our awards submissions for each season, as well as booking conferences, designing promotional materials, organizing receptions, and other related conference-related details. On the marketing side of things, I help develop marketing plans for each of our books, create promotional materials for authors, and act as a liaison between authors and the various members of the press. 

Do you think its important for authors to take marketing and publicity into their own hands in addition to what is done for them by their publisher?  Why?

Yes, definitely. While we're absolutely here to help, if you're a ruthless self promoter in every regard your book will only become more widely recognized. One of our authors, for example, hand mailed over 1,200 postcards for her book. The more ways you can get your work out there, the better! 

What are some essential things that you think authors should do in terms of marketing themselves/their works?

Kind of related to the postcard story above is the idea of promoting yourself wherever you go. Authors regularly ask for materials for various conferences and other events that they're going to, which is really key. Having your book on display (if possible) is one thing, but having something to show people that you're talking to is awesome too. We develop postcards and flyers (with discount codes and order info), so potential customers can easily get back to our website and order from there if they'd like to.

What is the best way to spread the word about yourself and your book online?

Facebook, Twitter, and blogging platforms! If you have a fairly large social media following, there's almost nothing more direct than reaching out to people via whatever platform is best for you. Blogging is great, too. We have a press blog on our website which our authors regularly contribute pieces to, many of which tie into their books or related subject matter. It's a really quick and easy way to get your name and your work out there, especially if something you write gets widely shared.

How useful is it to use programs like Google Analytics or to know about SEO when being involved in social media to promote your book?

I think that both of those are great assets to have regardless (I need to brush up on it myself...), but not entirely necessary. When it comes to social media, it's more a question of eye catching and concise as opposed to certain buzzwords. Getting your book to come up in search results, however, is an entirely different game which I am not very familiar with.

There you have it.  If you can think of any other questions you wish I had asked Tom, let me know in the comments section and I'll corner him in the kitchen and ask!

Also, Jane Friedman has a great post about marketing and publicity on her blog that you should check out, too.  And please, please, please check out my +1 More Thing post on Google+ this week.  It's worth it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

(Popular) Historical Fiction

Ever wondered why historical fiction authors only ever seem to write about Queen Elizabeth or Marie Antoinette?  Me too.  I have a fantastic historical fiction author (well, two really, but this post primarily applies to one of them) named Meghan who has written an amazing manuscript about Blackbeard and has another work-in-progress about famed dancer and courtesan Carolina Otero.  Editors have been incredibly enthusiastic about her writing style - in particular my good friend Laura Fazio over at NAL.

She shared some advice about writing historical fiction with Meghan and me that I found interesting.  Laura said that for books in that genre to do really well, they need to be about a popular person, either told from that person's perspective or through about that person through another character's story or set in a popular time period with recognizable characters.  If its in an era that reader don't know much about or about a person that isn't well known, it's a much harder sell.  Oh, and also the narrator should be female, ideally.

Because Meghan's book about Carolina Otero takes place during La Belle Epoque, she is working on it to make it more commercial, and we are currently giving her book about Blackbeard, RED SKY IN THE MORNING, a rest because it has a male narrator and yet is not a swashbuckling manly man story, which makes it difficult to categorize.

I've found myself reading a lot of historical fiction lately, and the titles I've been drawn to confirm all of Laura's statements.  I just finished CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran, which tells the story of Kleopatra Selene and her twin brother, who are raised in Rome by Octavian's family after their parents' suicide, and am getting ready to follow it up with another book of Moran's: THE SECOND EMPRESS, about Napoleon's second wife, Princess Marie-Louise.  Both books examine the lives of famous people through the lens of another character and both take place in well-known times.  I can think of plenty of other historical fiction books that also follow this recipe: MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER for example.

Meghan is trying to rework her novel and ideas for subsequent ones to fit this mold and my other historical fiction author, Jane Ann, has a manuscript that she is getting ready for submission that takes place in medieval France that has already gotten some interest.  While a big part of me understand and agrees with these "requirements" for historical fiction, another part of me wonders why readers aren't interested in being taken to periods and introduced to people that they've never heard of.  Then I think to myself, "Well, would I, for instance, be interested in reading about a key figure from the history of Belarus?"  Probably not, but maybe if it was a great story!  What do you think?

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Do You Think About MFAs?

First off, I have to announce that I have two FANTASTIC new authors!  Congrats to Nicole Trilivas and Kara Tatelbaum!  Very excited about them and their books.  Nicole is my first New Adult author and Kara came to me through a mutual friend, editor Kendra Levin from Viking, and has a great dance memoir.

They are very talented and decided to write for the thrill of it, which brings me to my topic of the day: MFAs.  Some people have them; some people don't.  Some can't stop raving about them; some people think they are useless.  What do you think?

I'm really interested to hear peoples' opinions on this.  An advanced degree in creative writing doesn't necessarily mean that you can write well, but it is certainly helpful in learning to craft a story.  It's like having a big, professional critique group.  As it says on DIY MFA (for whom I did an interview a long time ago that I don't think was ever posted), all you need is to write, read, and have a community.  And if you're going to have these things, why not have them come with a Master's Degree?

I've been to a mixer hosted by Columbia's MFA program and met some interesting people there, and I can see the potential benefit of involving yourself in those kinds of programs, but as an agent, I don't automatically go "OOOOH, shiny!" when I receive a query from someone who has an MFA.  It's an indicator that the writing will probably be good, but I still want to judge that for myself.

I have, however, recently learned that having an MFA is a necessity if you want to do something like work as a professor of creative writing at a university.  Makes sense.  So then: is the purpose of an MFA in creative writing to give you the tools necessary to teach creative writing or is it to make you a writer?

Monday, November 4, 2013


Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is coming, which means one thing: PIES.

Sarah and I had an exploring-the-city day last week and discovered a cute pie shop in Brooklyn called Four & Twenty Blackbirds.  If you live in the city, you should definitely check it out. 

If you don't, they recently published a cookbook and also have some recipes online.  I found one for Salty Honey Pie on a DailyCandyemail and am thinking about amazing all my relatives this year and making it for the holiday.

In case you want to impress and dazzle anyone, too, here is the recipe!

Salty Honey Pie 
Serves eight to ten
For the 9-inch double crust
1¼ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
1½ tsp. granulated sugar
¼ lb. (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ c. ice water
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
½ c. ice
1. Stir the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula.
2. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).
3. Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a bowl or large measuring cup.
4. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated.
5. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tbsp. at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.
6. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine. Shape dough into a flat disc.
7. Flour a flat surface, then roll out dough into a 12- to 13-inch circle. Carefully place dough in 9-inch pie pan, trim hanging edges, and crimp. Wrap pan in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give crust time to mellow. (Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.)
For the filling
¼ lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
¾ c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. white cornmeal
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla paste (Nielsen-Massey makes a readily available one)
¾ c. honey
3 lg. eggs
½ c. heavy cream
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 to 2 tsp. flake sea salt, for finishing
1. Have ready the frozen or refrigerated pastry-lined 9-inch pie pan.
2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°.
3. In a medium bowl, stir the melted butter, sugar, cornmeal, salt, and vanilla paste.
4. Stir in the honey and the eggs one at a time, followed by the heavy cream and vinegar.
5. Remove the pie shell from the refrigerator or freezer, place on a rimmed baking sheet, and strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell (or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell).
6. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45-50 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30-35 minutes through baking.
7. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed up high and the center is no longer liquid but looks set like gelatin and is golden brown on top.
8. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2-3 hours.
9. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
10. Reheat or serve at room temperature. (The pie will keep for 4 days in the refrigerator or at room temperature for 2 days.)
P.S.  Happy birthday to my wonderful mom on Thursday!!