Epub Coding: Making that first line small-capped with some CSS-fu

epubsmallcap

 

OR, HOW TO STYLIZE THAT FIRST PARAGRAPH WITHOUT ASSIGNING IT A CLASS

I thought I’d share a little bit of CSS coding I used in my ebook release MUST LOVE BREECHES. This will be a short post, but I thought there might be some who would like to use the code, so I’m sharing :) For those totes familiar with CSS, this won’t be a revelation, just sayin’.

So, on most e-readers, my chapter beginnings look something like this:

ereader2

Today, I’m going to share my code which stylizes that first line without having to wrap any SPAN tags around the first letter or the first line or first couple of words. In fact, the first line always gets stylized no matter how much the reader enlarges or reduces the page. In the example above, if the reader had reduced the type enough to have “truce” on the first line, it would be stylized correctly.

I’m indebted to Carolyn Crane for part of this code. I was reading INTO THE SHADOWS, one of her awesome romantic suspense novels, and it happened to be when I was struggling with stylizing my epub’s first line (I wanted to have some of the words small-capped, etc), and I noticed her whole first line was smallcapped, and I was like, wait, how can she know how many words that would be? So I expanded my text and it was like magic! I probably looked like a doofus at the restaurant as I made this discovery (I was eating dinner at my fave watering hole). So when I got home, I DM’ed Carolyn on twitter and she was gracious enough to share the secret (not really a secret, but it felt that way to me) CSS code that did this witchy magic:

p.firstpara:first-line {
font-variant: small-caps;
}
p.firstpara:first-letter {
font-weight: bold;
font-size: 130%;
}

I then took her code and made some changes to the CSS so that I wouldn’t have to give a class to every opening paragraph. So here’s the HTML for the opening:

<h1 title="Chapter Two"><a class="nolink" href="../Text/contents.xhtml#tocchapter2">Chapter Two</a></h1>
<p class="doodad"><img alt="New Chapter" src="../Images/doodad.png" /></p>
<p class="epigraph">I had a dream which was not all a dream.<br />
Lord Byron, <i>Darkness</i>, 1816</p>
<p>Isabelle slowly opened her eyes and brokered an uneasy truce with her stomach. The colors and shapes seemed overexposed, too sharp. Nearby, French doors led to the balcony.</p>

Notice that I have no class assigned to the opening paragraph, and yet it’s stylized. Here’s how I did it in the CSS stylesheet:

.epigraph + p {
text-indent: 0;
}
.epigraph + p:first-letter {
font-size: 1.2em;
font-weight: bold;
}
.epigraph + p:first-line {
font-variant: small-caps;

}

What I did above was essentially “say” that if there’s a P tag following the EPIGRAPH class (.epigraph + p) then don’t indent it. And then the next bit is telling it that in that paragraph following an epigraph, I want the first letter to be a tad bigger and bolded. And then the next one is telling it to make the first line of that paragraph have small caps.

So, with that bit of coding on the CSS side, I didn’t have to go through all of my chapters and add a specific class to the opening paragraph so that I could control it (or laboriously put span tags around the first three words to small cap them), I instead controlled it through its neighbor, saving me time.

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to mention, that I also have the first line in scene breaks stylized too, and since they’re all preceded by a scene break image, I used that image class (doodadScene) to manipulate that first line:

.doodadScene + p {
text-indent: 0;
}
.doodadScene + p:first-letter {
font-size: 1.2em;
font-weight: bold;
}
.doodadScene + p:first-line {
font-variant: small-caps;

}

And if your opening paragraph simply follows your header, your code would be:

h1 + p {
text-indent: 0;
}
h1 + p:first-letter {
font-size: 1.2em;
font-weight: bold;
}
h1 + p:first-line {
font-variant: small-caps;

}

So where to put all this CSS code? No need to put it at the top of every chapter (if you have separate html pages for each chapter). Just open up your stylesheet.css file and put it in there. You only need to put CSS code at the top of a page if you want that page to be different than other pages; your master stylesheet is the default styling for all of your pages.

Hope this helps! If you have any questions, feel free to ask, or if I could have made the code even leaner, let me know.

Writer Wednesday: Creating an ePub file Using Scrivener + Dreamweaver + Sigil + Kindle Previewer

epub

Having come from a web programming background, I was thrilled when I learned that an epub file is just a zipped HTML website. I’ve also seen enough weirdly formatted ebooks that I wanted to have the cleanest file possible. Since I’d be paying for the size of the download on Amazon, that was another reason to have a clean, lean file. I’d heard that it was easy to export from Scrivener, but that it wasn’t the cleanest, so I experimented until I came up with the following process. I initially had added Calibre in the mix to create my .mobi files, but soon found that it was the one responsible for messing up my coding.

I realize this is extremely specific to people using Scrivener, but I hadn’t found a lot of documentation for a Scrivener to Sigil process; seems like most Scrivener users export their epub and call it done. If you want to get a little fancier with your coding, though, you’ll need to get into the guts of the code. Also, I’m on a PC, so some of this will not apply to Mac users.

What You’ll Need

  1. Compression/Decompression program. I believe this comes already installed on PCs.
  2. Dreamweaver (DW), or another HTML editing program. I happened to already have this installed because of my old career. If you don’t have this, you can skip straight to Sigil, I just found it easier to use DW for some of the heavy lifting in search/replace and creating the styles I wanted, since it’s designed for this.
  3. Sigil, which you can download for free here
  4. Kindle Previewer, which you can download for free here
  5. Some familiarity with HTML already.

Steps to Creating a Clean ePub file

Using this method, I had no problem uploading this file to the various vendors. It validated clean.

  1. Export epub from Scrivener. I found it helpful to make a folder called eBook in my book’s Production folder.
  2. Open file first in Sigil. I found that this created a slightly different folder structure than if I’d just opened it without this step. Save.
  3. Go to the file in Windows Explorer and change file extension from .epub to .zip
  4. Right click on .zip file and unzip it.
  5. Create a project in Dreamweaver and point it to your new unzipped folder. The top level folder structure should contain these two folders: OEBPS and META-INF. It’s the former folder that has all your files you’ll be using (and the one whose name is different if you don’t open first in Sigil. If you don’t open in Sigil, you’ll end up with 3 folders, and it gets confusing. Just open in Sigil first :) )
  6. If you already have your CSS style sheet, go ahead and replace the existing code with it. If not, this is when it’s probably easiest to make your style changes.
  7. Do some site-wide Find/Replace
    1. I wanted to have my Chapter headings hyperlinked and using a header style, so I did a search on whatever style Scrivener had assigned for my chapter headings and replaced with: <h1 title=”Chapter One”><a href=”..Text/contents.xhtml#tocchapter1″>
    2. Find the normal class and replace with <p>. Scrivener will have assigned some kind of class to your regular paragraphs, which you don’t need, so just replace it with a plain <p> tag
    3. Replace <span> with blank. Scrivener inserts a lot of these which are not needed and bloat your code
    4. Replace any blank paragraph spaces
    5. Replace <body class=”scrivener2″> with <body>
    6. Replace <p class=”scrivener3″>****</p> (or whatever the class code is) with <p class=”doodad”><img src=”../Images/doodad.gif” alt=”Scene Break”></p>. I’d set up Scrivener to use **** as my scene breaks and this replace text is specific to me as I wanted an image here instead. But just replace it with whatever you want your scene break to be. If you want to keep it plain, I’d still give it a better class name, like this <p class=”sceneBreak”>****</p> so you can control it via CSS.
    7. Replace any spans that are just italics to <i>
    8. Search for the following quote marks/special characters and replace. I found later that Sigil switched some of these back, and so you might not need to do this, but I was paranoid about having unreadable characters…
      Left double quote= &ldquo;
      Right double quote = &rdquo;
      Right single quote = &rsquo;
      Left single quote = &lsquo;
      Em-dash = &mdash;
      Replace copyright symbol with &copy;
      é = &eacute;
      ê = &ecirc;
      à = &agrave;
      The c in façade, etc = &ccedil;
    9. Open each chapter and Change Chapter title to correct number
    10. Go through and assign classes to any text outside your normal body text. For instance, I had some text messages, letters, and the like, and I wanted them to display differently. So I peeked into the code to see what class Scrivener had assigned it and did a search and replace to a better class name, etc.
    11. Doublecheck links on Thank you page
    12. Insert any images. Easier at this stage. I had a plain title page image and an author photo.
    13. Rezip, and change file extension to .epub
    14. Open in Sigil
      1. It will say it needs to clean it up, and click OK. It will delete all the end tags that didn’t have a start tag (when you went through and deleted all <span> tags, for instance, it left a lot of orphaned </span> tags). It will also add all your closing <i> tags you added.
    15. Add the images to the images directory
    16. Add all the <a id=”tocchapter1″ /> anchor tags to content.xhtml
    17. Open content.opf
      1. In spine, move contents and copyright to the end (if you want it in the backmatter instead), and also make sure rest is in the right order
      2. Add this to guide: <reference href=”Text/body2.xhtml” title=”Dedication” type=”text” /> — this tells Kindle where to open. I wanted mine to open on the dedication page.
      3. Open TOC.ncx and change the order so copyright and toc are at the end
    18. Save and click on the green checkmark and address any issues it might have found.
    19. Save. Now you have an epub file.
    20. To create your .mobi file, do a Save As and call your epub something different. I tacked on ‘_Amazon’ to the end of my file name, so it was MustLoveBreeches_Amazon.epub
    21. Open the content.opf file and in the guide, change your cover code line to point to the image instead of the text file. I found that if I left it as is, Kindle Previewer gave me an error (though it still worked). For instance, my cover guide code was: <reference href=”Text/cover.xhtml” title=”Cover” type=”cover” /> which pointed to the html file where my cover was located. However, if I changed it to point to where I had the cover image instead, my file was error free: <reference href=”Images/cover.jpg” title=”Cover” type=”cover” />. Your file names might not be the same, so change it to reflect your file names, and also pay attention to case, as it’s case sensitive.
    22. Launch Kindle Previewer and open up your Amazon epub and it will automatically create a folder with your mobi file in it. It’s also useful to test here on the various Kindle platforms to see if your code is working great.
    23. Rename your mobi file and move it up into your main Ebook folder.

This will give you a nice clean epub and mobi file. I ended up (after I made sure I had my final version) creating separate epub files for ARe, Nook, and Kobo, so that I could have the links on the Thank you page go specifically to those sites.

You can validate it here, but if you’re doing a lot of validating, you might want to go ahead and download Pagina. It’s free–the site is in German, but you don’t need to know German to use the program, just scroll down until you see the Windows download option.

Note on CSS

Your CSS file is where all the styling action happens. I left that out as it was specific to my book, but that is where I coded it to not indent my first paragraph, make my first line all small caps, gave my chapter headings a different font, etc. I might do some future posts on how I did each of these, if you’re interested.

This is also where Calibre failed me. I had created my CSS and was tearing my hair out trying to figure out why the file on my kindle wasn’t reflecting it. At this stage I didn’t know about Kindle Previewer and I was painstakingly making changes to my epub, pulling it into Calibre and then sideloading it onto my Kindle. I kept thinking my CSS was wrong, until I stumbled on something somewhere in my Google searches that made me think Calibre could be the culprit. That’s when I downloaded Kindle Previewer and breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t my code, it was Calibre messing with it. Since then I’ve heard that Calibre is not a conversion tool (though it does convert). It’s intended use is to manage your digital library, but it’s not meant to be used to create your files.

Do you have any questions? I know I assumed some previous HTML knowledge in order to make this post a reasonable size, so if I skimmed over something, please ask. Have you used a similar process? What tricks and tips do you have?

Writer Wednesday: Report on Using Amazon’s Pre-Order Option for a Debut Author

preorder

Last night ended the first two weeks of my debut novel’s release, and I thought I’d post some of my thoughts and findings on using the new pre-order option at Amazon.

On August 14th, the news hit the various indie loops that Amazon had opened up the pre-order option for indie authors. Before that, it was only available to traditionally published authors, and to those huge indie successes who had the clout to ask for the option and have it specially coded. I’d already had Must Love Breeches up for pre-order on B&N, Kobo, Apple, GooglePlay, and ARe, so it had been frustrating not having it up on Amazon too. So I immediately picked a go-live date and uploaded my nearly ready file that evening. Several hours later, it was in their system, and I began promoting it the next morning. It enjoyed a brief foray into the Top 100 for Time Travel Romance later that day, for about an hour or two, but after that initial burst of sales, it settled down to just a couple of sales a day. But that was cool to see, especially when I could see if it was a result of any pre-release promo.

Anyway, here’s what I found:

Captures impulse buys

It helped to capture any impulse purchases as a result of any pre-release buzz from people who might have forgotten about it by the time it released. I think this is an important point to consider if you’re a no-name like me. I’ve heard some say that having a pre-order option for someone like me isn’t very beneficial because it’s not like I’m going to make one of the big lists when it releases, and so any pre-order sales are a waste because they won’t impact your sales ranking on Amazon on the day of release. While this is true, I think there’s more to consider.

Let me back up though, and explain what is happening with sales for those that are newer to the process. Pre-order sales affect your sales ranking on Amazon on the day they make the pre-order sale, hence why I briefly made that list the first day. However, the orders are accumulated during this period and don’t count as sales until the day before your release date. This is why big authors like doing pre-orders because all those pre-order sales their name can rack up all get dumped onto their record on release week, making it more likely they can hit the USAToday or NYT bestsellers lists.

So while yes it’s true that all my pre-order sales would never come close to putting me on a list, I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t have had even half that number of sales if I hadn’t captured them leading up to it. I’m just not a name where someone would mark it on their calendar or sear it into their brain so they wouldn’t forget my release date. LOL, yeah, no. Instead, what was more likely was ‘huh, cool cover, sounds like a good story-click‘ but they would have forgotten about it probably by the time it released. Of course I can’t scientifically test what percentage of my sales were impulse purchases, but my gut tells me, this was good to do.

Also, if you’re only not doing it because you want all your sales to hit on release day so that your sales ranking catapults you onto a list, remember that Amazon rewards those that have consistent sales. A fast rise up the charts, if not accompanied by steady sales after, will plummet you just as quickly, doing you no good. It took a lot of sales on the day of my release to finally pop me into the Top 100, but it did.  Once I got there though, I’ve been able to stay there with just half that number of sales. So, keep in mind that if you’re looking at your respective category chart and see their ranking and use that to judge how many books they’re selling. You need to double that number, it seems, to get you that same spot. The number you’re calculating based on sales rank is how many it takes to stay there.

Allows you to have a firm release date

It was nice having a firm release date. Before that, I was going to play ‘let’s juggle hitting publish buttons’ hoping they’d all release around the same time. With Amazon allowing this, it allowed me to set a firm date, September 3, and update all my pre-release promo with this date. As it was, I still had to do that a little. I hit publish on the print version on Sep 1, cursing myself for waiting too late (their documentation said 3-5 days to update) but it actually worked out almost perfectly as it popped into Amazon on the afternoon of my release date.  I waited until Sep 2 to hit publish on the German distributor site XinXii, and even today, am still waiting for it to populate!

Allows you more visibility on the Hot New Releases list

If your pre-order sales are strong, you’ll appear in your category’s Hot New Releases list, gaining you more visibility. I forgot to check this, but looking at what’s there now and their rankings, I would have been near the top of page 2 for Time Travel. Since the release, I’ve been bouncing between the #5 slot and #8. The cool thing is, you’re on here for 30 days PLUS however many days you were on pre-order, which gives you more exposure.

Also Boughts

I can’t remember the number I heard, but I think it was like, after 10 sales, books start appearing in your Also Boughts strip. In the past, you had to wait on release day until you got that number of sales, which could be hard for a debut author. However, because I had preorders, on my release day at midnight, boom, those appeared. I wouldn’t be able to tell if my book also appeared in other strips but it was a possibility.

The Process

Some authors have had some horror stories to relate, with reports of glitches in the system. I didn’t have any, and I don’t know if my experience with what happened will be how it plays out in the future, but I thought I’d relate it anyway. When you upload your file, you pick a release date and you have the option of uploading a draft. Amazon then gives you a firm date on which you must upload (and mark) your final. What I mean by ‘mark’ is that there’s a radio button you choose to say whether this is your draft or final. Amazon can’t know that what you’ve uploaded is your final, unless you also click that radio button to tell them this is it. The danger of not doing this in time means you lose your pre-order privileges for a whole year. Just to be safe, I uploaded and marked it as my final two days before the deadline. I found that I was able to keep uploading a new final after that, and it took around 6 hours on average for it to update to the system (they send you an email). But about 4 days prior to my release date, Amazon locked it down and didn’t allow me to make any changes (not even to my description, keywords, or categories). So be sure you have those in final form too.

Sales Weight

This is an unknown for me, so if anyone knows the answer, please pipe up in the comments. I know that some lists on Amazon, like the popularity lists, are weighted by the number of overall sales in a given period, and I wonder if, since the sales all get dumped onto the day prior to release, if this counts in that weight consideration? If so, I had two days in a row with nearly equal sales (my release day sales were almost the same as all the pre-order sales that got dumped onto my record for the day before). Not counting those two days, which are naturally going to be a larger burst of sales for people, I’ve been averaging 23 sales a day, and to me, for a debut author, this is baffling! I’m like, who are these people and how do they know about my book??? The steady sales means I’ve been staying up in the lists, which is getting me more visibility, which generates more sales. It’s like magic. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do a controlled experiment to see if this would’ve happened if I hadn’t done the pre-order option… But I do wonder if that weight is helping me.

Having a Buy Link

It was also nice having a buy link ahead of time to have on promo, and also to be able to go ahead and post my book to some website databases, some of which required an Amazon link in order to submit. It also meant that I could reverse engineer a direct link to my Review page (even though people couldn’t leave reviews yet) so that I could put this link into my back matter ahead of time. In other words, your book, on release day, could already have a direct link to leave reviews. It also means, if you have other books out, that you could update that back matter immediately so that you could capture pre-order sales.

Conclusion

For me, I loved having this option and will do it again without hesitation. However, I know some who experienced glitches. One author I know had uploaded her final and yet Amazon suspended her, saying she hadn’t. Last week, pre-order sales reports were frozen and so authors didn’t know if they had any sales. I’m sure these kinks will work out. But if you had any experiences with it that differ from mine, please feel free to share in the comments! Do you see other benefits or drawbacks that I missed?

Edited to Add (9/23/2014)

Just heard from another author that you CANNOT change the date you set for preorder without repercussions. She has a release well outside the 10-day window and changed it from a Monday to a Tuesday when she realized the pre-orders are counted the day before. There was no warning near that field of what would happen if she changed it. When she changed the date, she got an email from Amazon stating that she lost her pre-order privileges for one year, and that an email had been sent to all who had pre-ordered that the release had been delayed.

A MS Word Macro to Spot Simultaneity Issues in your WIP

macro

Jami Gold recently had two articles on using Macros to help in your editing and polishing phase of your manuscript: MS Word Trick: Using Macros to Edit and Polish and Fix Showing vs. Telling with Macros & Word Lists.

Jami does an excellent job of showing you how to insert and use macros, so I won’t repeat that here. The first link also gives a ton of different macros you can use. Come back here after you’ve read those two, and I’ll share with you another one: SimultaneityCheck.

Why check for Simultaneity Issues?

There are two helpful flags to look for in your WIP that could spell trouble: phrases employing -ing verbs and ‘as’ constructions.

Why can these flag trouble? Because in certain cases, they can mean that the actions are happening at the same time. I say certain cases, because ‘as’ is also used to introduce metaphors, and clearly that’s not implying two events are happening at the same time. Also, there are instances where a word ending in -ing is not kicking off a dependent clause.

But what do I mean?

Examples with ‘as':

As Frank opened the fridge, the leftovers fell onto his feet

Frank opened the door for Sally as she walked up

These don’t happen at the same exact time. In the first instance, he opens the fridge and then the leftovers fall out. So it’s better to write it that way:

Frank opened the fridge and the leftovers spilled onto his feet.

‘As’ constructions can also be a flag that you have your stimulus and response reversed, like in the second instance. Those two actions aren’t happening at that exact same instant. In fact, Sally walking up is the stimulus for Frank opening the door. So this would be clearer written this way:

Sally walked up, hips swaying. Frank grinned and opened the door.

Not the most exciting prose, but you get the idea. While I’m analyzing my ‘as’ constructions, I also check to make sure I don’t have my response before my stimulus.

For more explanation on catching these and similar types of phrases, see Janice Hardy’s post: Don’t Tell Me Why: Words That Often Tell, Not Show

Examples with ‘-ing':

Walking down the sidewalk, Sally winked at Frank as she passed him

I also threw in an ‘as’ construction just to show how easy it is to fall back on these types of constructions. Here, the first clause is a participial phrase, and she can’t be doing the winking and passing of Frank the whole time she’s walking down the sidewalk.

There can be other issues to check for with -ing constructions that comprise a participial phrase, like misplaced modifiers, and using these in action scenes. Generally, these types of phrases suit more quiet, contemplative scenes. When action hits, use simple past tense verbs.

The example could be revised to show like this:

Sally sauntered down the sidewalk, her new silk skirt making her feel like the cutest knees of any bee’s knees. Oh, there’s Frank, the sly dog, looking all sexy leaning against the picnic table. She winked.

Again, the prose I was just having fun with and the metaphor probably doesn’t even make sense, but hey, I need to get this blog posted. You get the idea ;) This draws the reader in more and shows the actions in order.

When I analyze my -ing constructions, I also check to make sure:

  • It’s not a misplaced modifier
  • That I’m not telling instead of showing
  • That I’m not in an action scene
  • That there’s a comma after the participial phrase

For more information and explanation of why this could be a flag that you’re telling and not showing, see #3 at this post by Shirley Jump: Show Not Tell: What the Heck is that Anyway?

So, searching for these can be tedious, and since they’re both flags for the same thing, I combined them into a macro!

The SimultaneityCheck Macro:

Sub SimultaneityCheck()
'
' SimultaneityCheck Macro
'
' Highlights words that might indicate simultaneous actions that aren't possible,
' or that stimulus and response are out of order
' "&chr(10)&"Written by Angela Quarles @angelaquarles
'
 
 Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow
 Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
 Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
 Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True
 
 'Finding as constructions

 With Selection.Find
 .Text = "as"
 .Replacement.Text = "as"
 .Forward = True
 .Wrap = wdFindContinue
 .Format = True
 .MatchCase = False
 .MatchWholeWord = True
 .MatchWildcards = False
 .MatchSoundsLike = False
 .MatchAllWordForms = False
 End With
 Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
 
 'Finding words that end in -ing
 
 With ActiveDocument.range.Find
 .Text = "<[! ][! ]@ing>"
 .Replacement.Highlight = True
 .Replacement.Text = "^&"
 .Forward = True
 .Wrap = wdFindStop
 .Format = True
 .MatchWildcards = True
 .Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
 End With
 
' This will unhighlight certain -ing words

 Dim range As range
 Dim i As Long
 Dim TargetList

 ' list of terms to unhighlight. There's probably a more elegant way to exclude them within the code that highlights, but this works too
 ' be careful of adding a noun like 'meeting' or 'being' (as in human being) which also acts as a verb
 TargetList = Array("something", "nothing", "everything", "anything", "morning", "evening", "ding", "king", "ping", "sing", "wing", "zing", "bing", "thing", "things", "happening", "bring", "sting", "ring", "starling", "seedling", "swing", "annoying", "breeding", "exciting", "stimulating", "interesting", "unflinching", "appalling")

 For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList)

 Set range = ActiveDocument.range

 With range.Find
 .Text = TargetList(i)
 .Format = True
 .MatchCase = False
 .MatchWholeWord = True
 .MatchWildcards = False
 .MatchSoundsLike = False
 .MatchAllWordForms = False

Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
 range.HighlightColorIndex = wdNoHighlight
 Loop

 End With
 Next
End Sub

Revisit Jami’s post to learn how to add a macro to Word and add this one to your arsenal and soon you’ll be fixing those problem areas!

Do you use macros to help with editing and polishing? What do you like to use them for? New to macros and have questions? Ask and I’ll see if I can answer.

Ack! Queries! Part 3 – Query Submission Strategies

queriespart3

Last week we covered Part 2 – Elements of a Successful Query, and the week before Part 1 – Purpose and When to Start. For today, we’ll cover: Query Submission Strategies.

Query Submission Strategies

My advice would be to send queries in blocks of 5 agents at a time; 7-8 at the most.

Why? You want to be able to adjust strategy by response.

To better illustrate my case, here’s how my query process played out back in 2012:

  • On my first round, I submitted to 15 agents (actually 18, but the other 3 were live pitches) and I had 3 requests, which was a 20% success rate, which is pretty good. When those 3, and the 3 pitch agents rejected it, I knew not to continue querying, though I DID know my query worked. I did another Beta round and polished, polished, polished my manuscript.
  • Second and successful round, blow-by-blow:
    • Day 2: 8 queried, 2 requests
    • Day 9: 42 queried, 3 requests, 7 query rejections, 2 MS rejections, and 1 partial converted to a full
    • Day 10: 3 more queried, 1 request, and first offer! (ended with 3)
    • Summary up to First Offer: 53 queried, 6 requests, 7 query rejections=46% success rate

So as you can see, there was a different energy to my second round. I could feel it, that my query was working big time and I was getting requests a lot faster. By this point I was also sick of the MS and so mentally I felt like this was it, if it didn’t work, I was moving onto my next book and would try again, that I’d done everything I knew at that point to make my MS as strong as it could be. Hence, when I saw my query getting a hotter response, I opened the floodgates and queried the rest of my list.

I’m also glad I came late to writing, as I was able to do all of this electronically, with no costs for postage and paper, etc. Can you imagine how expensive it was in the past? Hopefully even more agents accept electronic queries than in 2012, because at that time some good ones still only accepted by snail mail.

Once you have an offer

First, yay!!! After the squeeing has died down, you still have some work to do.

If it’s from your dream agent and you absolutely, positively know you don’t want another agent, you need to send out letters to all the ones you queried and who also have your partials and fulls to let them know you had an offer and are accepting it.  Here’s how I worded it:

Thank you for your interest! Unfortunately I’m going to pull this from consideration as I’ve already had two offers of representation and a third who wants to talk on Monday. With that in mind, I don’t want to ask you to take time to read it as I know you are extremely busy.
Thank you,

If you don’t have a dream agent, but rather a Top 3 or Top 5 list, then you need to go about it a little differently. Send out the emails to the ones you know you wouldn’t want over the one who offered. But for the rest, send them an email to let them know you have an offer (even the ones you’ve only queried but haven’t heard a response from yet) and that you’ve given the first agent a deadline for when you’ll get back to them (typically two weeks) so that the other agents have time to read your MS and respond. This is what happened to me, and it’s why I ended up with three offers, a great place to be!

Here’s how I worded that email. The first offering agent was putting the screws to me and was a little miffed I wanted time to decide and so I had a shorter window, but it’s absolutely all right to ask for two weeks, I just panicked is all :)

I wanted to let you that an agent has made offer of representation for MUST LOVE BREECHES. The offering agent wants my decision by the middle of next week so she can pitch to editors in October, but I also want to give you a chance to read the partial I sent and see if you’re still interested.

Thanks so much, and I look forward to hearing from you,

Resources

To close out this series, here are some resources to help you!

Pre-query
Query Process
  • QueryTracker - an extremely helpful database of agents and editors that will help you keep track of who you submit to, their response, your response, etc. It’s the only reason I was even able to pull the statistics above, because I had it all in there. There’s also a forum where you
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – not free, but worth the cost during this phase at it shows you which agents are selling and which aren’t, what’s selling genre-wise, etc. It’s a great way to get your finger on the pulse, to use a cliché.

What about you? Are you querying yet? What strategies would you add? What trouble are you having with your query or the process?

Ack! Queries! Part 2 – Elements of a Successful Query

queries_pt2

Last week we covered Part 1 – Purpose and When to Start. For today, we’ll cover: Elements of a Successful Query

External Elements

External factors to keep in mind include querying an agent who represents your genre. Seriously. Please. Don’t machine-gun blast agents hoping one will hit. Show you’re a professional and have done your research and aren’t wasting their time. Yes, this takes more time, but the payoff is better.

Also, make sure you’ve read their submission guidelines. I know some writers suggest always appending the first 5 pages, but I didn’t do that. I sent exactly what the agent specified on their website and no more. I liked knowing it was my query they were rejecting (so I could polish it before my next round) and not my first 5 pages.

If you do these two, you’re already doing better than a majority of other writers querying right now. So take a deep breath and internalize that. Now we just need to up your chances even more by focusing on the query itself

Internal Elements

The time you take to craft your query shows the agent you take your writing seriously. Here are some elements you need in the query itself to give you an advantage:

  • Title (in CAPS), genre, word count somewhere
  • Personalized to the agent, if possible, but don’t fake it.
  • List two comps (and pick these well)
  • Short bio. Short. And only keep it relevant to how it affects this book.
  • Thank them
  • Query tone matches the tone of your novel
  • Only concentrate on the first quarter of your novel (up to your Act One Turning Point)
  • Use paragraphs and white space effectively

In addition to these are the two ‘meats’ of the query: hook and story paragraph

What is a Hook?

A hook is one sentence, but no more than 40 words or so, that quickly conveys what your novel is about and makes an agent want to read more. It:

  • Answers the question: What is your book about?
  • Mimics tone of novel
  • Weaves in the protagonist
  • Bonus points if you can infuse it with irony.

Here was mine: Isabelle Rochon, a thoroughly modern American working at the British Museum, has finally met the man of her dreams. There’s one problem: he lives in another century

What is the Story Paragraph?

The Story Paragraph in your query should be only 250-300 words. And it contains:

  • Setup
    • Protagonist, slip in age (if writing YA/NA) or occupation if you can
    • Setting/Story World (essential if sci-fi/fantasy)
    • Catalyst (Inciting Incident) that leads to the conflict
    • What do they want? What’s their quest/goal? Sometimes this is a vague want/wish that then gets sharpened to a specific goal when the conflict comes onto the scene.
  • Conflict (what/who stands in their way)
    • Not all conflicts. What’s the central conflict? A lot of times this is introduced by “but when…”
    • Who stands in the way of their goal/quest?
    • This becomes the Story Question in your novel that propels the reader into Act Two—Will s/he overcome [obstacle] and get/find [goal]? This drives all your scenes in Act Two up until the Climax/Resolution, which then answers the question, i.e. “Yes” “Yes, but”, “No” etc. But all this doesn’t go in your query, I’m just explaining what I mean by Story Question. By correctly stating your main conflict, this Story Question will automatically form in the agent’s/editor’s head when they read the conflict. That’s what you want to have happen, you want this Story Question to form–boom!–right into their heads. But don’t actually state it, let it form mentally.
  • Consequences
    • What’s at Stake? (what happens if they don’t succeed?) “Now she must ___ or ___”
    • You know you’ve got this nailed if you can pair it with your hook and it makes sense. For example, here was my Consequences statement: In the end, she must decide when her true home lies. So Hook + Consequences read like this:Isabelle Rochon, a thoroughly modern American working at the British Museum, has finally met the man of her dreams. There’s one problem: he lives in another century. In the end, she must decide when her true home lies.

      I actually had a little more before my consequences that said what was at stake, but I summed it up with this final ‘hook’

Don’t

  • Address the query to Dear Sir/Madam, or Dear Agent
  • Talk more about yourself than your book
  • Tell the agent they’d be stupid not to represent you
  • Misspell words (or the agent’s name!) or use poor grammar
  • Make your hook a rhetorical question. Why? The answer is obvious to the agent and takes the mystery out of it.
  • Send any email with an attachment unless asked
  • Give away the ending!
  • Talk about how much you’ve wanted to write or tell a cute story about your first story written in first grade. You’re querying, ergo you’re a writer. A trap some fall into if they feel their bio is skimpy.
  • Forget to tell them your title, genre and word count.

Now, Polish Your Query

Spend time doing the same polishing techniques as you would do with your novel.

  • Look for redundant words
  • Look for throwaway words
  • Look for vague/weasel words
  • See if you can use stronger verbs (but don’t get too writerly)
  • Tighten phrasing. Can you get away with one word there instead of two or three.
  • Check your spelling and grammar

Why? If they see stuff like this in your query, they’re going to assume it’s in your MS!

What does this mean for you?

If you do what I talked about above, you’re in the top 10% already. Boom! Nice, huh? Disclaimer: that percentage is not scientific but what I’ve seen bandied about by agents. 9 times out of 10 a query that lands in their inbox is an automatic rejection before they’ve even read the whole query. Mainly, queries get rejected when it’s not a genre they represent, they have no clue what the story’s about (because the writer didn’t tell them), it’s obvious the query was sent out in bulk, poor writing, etc.

It means if you’ve been panicking about seeing statistics from agencies regarding number of requests vs number of queries, keep the previous point in mind! They’re throwing out 90% of queries right off the top, which puts you in a much smaller pool of candidates. Now you just need to find the agent that is a potential match for your book and you. It also means your query letter doesn’t have to be perfect. Get those essentials across in a professional, well-written way, and if it sounds up their alley, they’ll request. Feel better now?

And that’s it for this week. Next week I’ll talk about query strategies.

What about you? Are you querying yet? Do you feel there are other elements that should be in a query?

Ack! Queries! Part 1 – Purpose and When to Start

gavin-query-letter-romanceI’ve been a baaad girl with blogging, so I thought I’d dip my toes back in slowly, with maybe a post a week. So to start off, I thought I’d share a presentation I did recently at my local writer’s group on writing queries, divided into digestible weekly installments.

For today, we’ll cover: Purpose, and When to Start since it seems like most blog topics on the subject of query writing cover the nuts and bolts of the letter itself (which I’ll get to as well).

Purpose of a Query

I know you probably think this is self-evident, but I see a lot of people in forums get hung up on this. It’s ONLY purpose is to make an agent request material. That’s it. It’s not some undertaking where you need to distill the plot of your book, give your life story, show all the cool worldbuilding you came up with, tell them all about your characters, etc.

Just get in and get out.

It’s a marketing tool. You just want to intrigue them! But not by telling them what a great writer you are, etc. Not that kind of marketing/sales pitch. Think Back Cover Blurb

When to Start

If we’re talking about writing the query itself, anytime during the writing process for your novel is a great time to start. For instance:

  • If you’re a plotter, see if you can write one before you start
  • If you’re a pantser, see if you can write it when you start revisions

Why? No better test to see if you have a central conflict, theme and plot! If you can’t get it down into a nutshell, your novel has a problem, not your query. Better to discover this at this stage, than halfway through your query process and you’ve blown through most of your A-list. (And remember, this means you can’t query them again for this MS, even if you do revise it, unless they ask specifically for a revise and resubmit)

Use it as a revision tool and your manuscript will be stronger, and you’ll have a smoother query process.

I began in earnest to study and work on my query several months before my MS was ready. I used the ‘set-aside’ time, between major drafts, to do this.

But when to send it out?

Not until you’ve finished not only revising your novel, but also copy edited and polished and it’s abso-fricking-lutely ready for an agent to see. I had several agents request a FULL the same day I sent the queries! Agents (in general) are acting quicker now if they’re interested. Some are still slooow. But the smart agents (and don’t you want a smart one?) know they have to act quick.

I say this because I’ve had writers tell me they query before they’ve even written the first draft because they want to see if it’s got any interest. Don’t do this. If you’re thinking you’re wasting your time pouring your energy into a book only to have it not picked up, don’t. All that time is time well spent in honing your craft. So it doesn’t work out–move onto the next one with some stronger writing skills under your belt. I’ve also had a writer tell me she was thinking of querying while her book was with the editor she hired because she heard that agents can take a while to answer back so she wanted to telescope the process. That might have been true earlier, but, as I said above, agents are acting faster now. When I landed my agent, that first week I had fulls and partials being requested the same day. By the next week, I had a partial converted to a full, and I think it was only a week and a half after I started that I had my first offer. I ended up with three offers, and one common refrain from all three was how polished it was.

I’d also wait until:

  • You’ve sent your query to a few others (who’ve not read your book) for feedback.
  • You’ve trolled advice sites and read some truly bad ones and some stellar ones and can start critiquing theirs well. When you start to see what works and doesn’t and can articulate it to them, you get better with your own. Just like critiquing manuscripts.
  • You’ve got your list of agents ready and divided up into groups of 5-8. And this is assuming you’ve researched these agents and determined they’d be interested in your book! It also wouldn’t hurt to be following these agents on their blog/twitter a bit before you query. Many blog/tweet about what makes them reject, what they’d like to see, etc.

And that’s it for this week. Next week I’ll talk about elements of a successful query and some do’s and don’ts.

What about you? Are you querying yet? Have you tried writing a query as a revision tool?

Facebook Ads Could be Worth It, But For One Factor, Guest Post by Peter Salomon

facebook

I’d like to welcome not only a fellow writer, but also a college classmate of mine! We reconnected via social media several years ago to share our ups and downs, tips, and other facets of being a writer in today’s world. His debut novel, Henry Franks, debuted in 2012 and was hailed as “the thinking teen’s horror choice of the year!” He has a new release, All Those Broken Angels, due out this fall. As a debut author in this new social media age, he’s been experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. One of these experiments was with Facebook Ads, and he was gracious enough to write up his findings for all of us. It includes some real-time notes he made while the ad was running, so you can see the engagement and costs. So without further ado, Welcome, Peter!

One of the first things I did after officially becoming a published author is to create a Facebook fan page. Well, it was maybe top twenty things. At first it was only friends and family Liking the page, after all I was a debut novelist and not exactly well known. I still remember how thrilled I was when the first actual stranger clicked Like. A Fan!! Oh, wow, I have a fan!

So, as the book came out and the Likes started growing, it never did get old when someone clicked Like on the fan page. Even now, with my second book coming out shortly, I still feel that thrill when a new person clicks Like.

But things have changed in the land of Facebook. And not for the better from the perspective of an author with a Facebook fan page.

How I Got Started With Facebook Ads

When I hit 200 likes on my Facebook fan page I received an email from Facebook Ads offering me a $50 credit for a Facebook Ad. Since I was able to set it up to max out at $50 it wasn’t going to cost me anything to experiment so I figured it was worth seeing what would happen with a Facebook ad.

At this point in the experiment I started keeping track of what was going on (the following text is from my contemporaneous notes while the ad was live):

Contemporaneous Notes & Questions

So far I’ve been ‘charged’ $5 of the $50 and 23 strangers have ‘liked’ my fan page in the 4 days that the ad has been active. If that rate continues I’ll have added 100+ ‘likes’ in a month…which is a lot of new eyeballs viewing my page and my posts and, potentially, buying my books. Of course, that’s a mighty BIG ‘if’ there but so far it’s been fairly positive. I’ve been able to sort of extrapolate to see what those 23 people liking the page have meant by looking at my blog stats on those posts which I linked to from my Facebook page and it does look as though some of those people did click through (of course, there’s not really a great way to verify that but I’m making the assumption here…) and the views of my trailer for the next book on YouTube has been watched a number of times this week so maybe that’s from some of the people clicking the Facebook ad getting to my Facebook page and clicking through to YouTube since that’s the first post on my page. Again, a sizable assumption…
The one thing I do know is the 23 new ‘likes.’ Is that worth $5? It’s DEFINITELY worth ‘free’, which is what I’m currently paying.

This is the data from each of the 3 receipts I’ve received so far:

  • Likes – Ad 1,050 impressions (2 clicks)      $1.59
  • Likes – Sponsored Stories        7 impressions (0 clicks)   $0.06
  • Likes – Ad        1,026 impressions (4 clicks)      $0.85
  • Likes – Sponsored Stories        14 impressions (0 clicks) $0.08
  • Likes – Ad        6.606 impressions (6 clicks)      $1.76
  • Likes – Sponsored Stories        10 impressions (0 clicks) $0.04

Under ‘targeting’ I chose the following:

This ad targets 12,000,000 people:

  • who live in the United States, who like #Psychological thriller, #Mystery fiction, #Supernatural fiction, #Horror fiction, #Ghost story, #Science fiction or #Thriller (genre)
  • who are not already connected to Peter Adam Salomon.

—–

After doing some more research I was able to create a new ‘buy’ ad with a link to Amazon, also being paid for from the original credit. After 6 days with the new ad, I ended up deleting it. Why? Because, for the 6 days it ended up costing over $12 (so probably $13 or so a week). What did I get for that $12? Well, pretty much nothing. 18 strangers clicked on the ad to ‘Like’ the ad. Yes, they didn’t click through to like my page, they merely liked the ad. Which is useless. Only 2 strangers saw the ad and then searched to Like my page. No one clicked through to Amazon. Yes, no one.

I’m up to 32 new likes on my page, so only about 1-2 a day since I started the new ad. Oddly enough, it appears that the more expensive ad (that linked to Amazon) was the main ad that was popping up since the other ad didn’t get much exposure at all. I’ve killed the pricey one and we’ll see what happens now. I also changed the text on the ad to “The thinking teen’s horror choice of the year” (from the Booklist Starred review) so we’ll see if that changes things at all.

—–

2 weeks, $25 spent ($12 of it pretty much wasted on that ad that had people liking the ad), close to 50 new ‘likes’ on my page. If we ignore that $12, it’s pretty much right around $25 a month for (estimating here) 100 Likes. That’s well worth it if I keep that rate for the next 12 months until release of ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS (being over 1000 ‘fans’ would be a great thing for marketing then, no?). Might be worth continuing even after the credit runs dry. Who’d have thunk it?

—–

With 8 days left in ad campaign there was $8 left of the credit (still a little ticked off at the wasted $12 but oh well). 20 more new ‘Likes’ and I’ll be at 100 for the length of the campaign. So it’s going to translate to something close to $0.50 per ‘Like’ (massively estimating here and ignoring the wasted $12). If I keep the campaign going (having to spend my own money for the next 12 months, which would be somewhere in the $500 range, give or take) at that rate I’d be closing in on 2000 Likes by the time ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS comes out.

—–

So, the $64,000.00 question (or, in this case, $500 question) is: Does having ‘Likes’ on a fan page on Facebook lead directly, or indirectly, to actual book sales upon release of a book? 
Other than paying the money and waiting until Fall 2014 for release of ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS I don’t really see any way to actually answer that question (and even after release there’ll be no real way to tell other than to maybe ask those who have ‘Liked’ the page if they bought the book. I can’t see where it can possibly hurt to have more access and more eyeballs seeing posts about the book, no? 
And, in the grand scheme of things, $500 isn’t a TON of money (though it is a bunch…).

—–

At the end of the ad campaign I was at 298 Likes on my page. I began at 202. ‘Spent’ $50 of fake Facebook credit money and ended up with close to 100 new Likes from complete strangers. I’d have easily hit 100 if I hadn’t wasted the $12 on that secondary ad which only collected its own Likes for no reason whatsoever. I’m not 100% sure that 100 new Likes on my fan page will translate to any additional sales.

What does this mean? And the new role of facebook’s algorithm

For the amazing update to all of this: In December 2013, Facebook once again offered me a $50 credit (usable for one month only this time, this is important as I don’t recall their being a time limitation on the first credit). Well, I jumped at the chance. Results? Once again 100 new Likes in less than a month, so I am now over 400 Likes. Unfortunately, the ad credit ran dry before I had spent all $50. I actually ended up only spending about half of that credit. So, $50 would have ended up buying closer to 200 Likes. Which tracks pretty well, all things considered, with the original buy (if you include the wasted money on the first credit).

But, here’s the final kicker:

Now, with the new algorithms that Facebook is using that takes eyeballs away from ‘Fan Pages’ I’m no longer sure how many views each of my posts are getting. I do know that even with more ‘Fans’ I’m getting fewer views due solely to Facebook’s new and improved ‘algorithms.’

To compare, I’m NOT going to spotlight ‘big’ posts (such as announcements or cover reveals, which get more views due to shares, etc), instead, I’m just going to choose a random post: Specifically May 6, 2013. This post was PRIOR to the first credit, so at the time I had somewhere in the range of 200 Likes. The post, linking to a poetry post on my blog has the following text beneath it (added by Facebook): ’68 people saw this post’

For the sake of comparison, here is a poetry post from Jan. 22, 2014, when I was over 400 Likes. Again, the post simply links to a poetry post on my blog: ’22 people saw this post’

In other words, while my Likes DOUBLED, the actual eyeballs seeing my posts was cut down to less than one third.

That is due solely to Facebook’s new algorithms (there are countless articles and posts about that, simply Google it. The easiest way to explain it is that Facebook wants ‘businesses’ which they lump people like me into since I have a fan page, to PAY to boost posts).

My conclusion

Prior to those new rules I was definitely leaning toward buying the Facebook ad with the intention to push the Likes on my fan page over one thousand. Do the math: old rules, 200 Likes, 68 views. 2000 Likes would have been close to 700 views, close enough to 50% to make it worthwhile to have that many Likes.

New rules: 400 Likes, 22 views. 2000 Likes, 100 views? Somewhere in the neighborhood of FIVE PERCENT? And how many of those 5% are ‘friends’ who have liked my page? With the Likes via the Facebook ad, those are strangers. You know, actual fans! People I’d love to be able to communicate with, to connect with.

So, yes, Facebook ads are worth the money if your sole interest is in increasing the number of people Liking your page. However, due to the new algorithms, no matter how many Likes you have, fewer people are actually seeing your posts.

How to correct this? PAY to boost the posts, in addition to paying for the Facebook ad? I think the credits from Facebook are applicable to the ‘Boost Post’ function. If so, and if Facebook gives me another credit, perhaps I’ll test that and update this essay. Until then, however, I’m hesitant to spend money on Facebook ads without knowing if the ‘Boost Post’ function will have a lasting impact (in other words: does boosting one post, or even a couple, increase views going forward or only for those specific posts). I’d be far more likely to spend the money if the effect had staying power.

In my opinion, Facebook has done a great disservice to small businesses and the self-employed by these new algorithms. Worst of all, though, they’ve done themselves a disservice. I was all set to not only buy a Facebook ad to run for the next year but to recommend to other novelists that they do the same. After all, I pretty conclusively proved that their ads do produce Likes.

Instead, I’m left recommending people NOT give Facebook money for their ads solely due to Facebook’s own rules. That’s a poor business model, no?

And then there’s this, which sheds more light on the interplay of Likes and Engagements. Just who is liking your page?

Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions or questions on this topic as I find it fascinating and am always looking for new ways to connect with my readers and to meet new readers!

About Peter Adam Salomon

PeterSalomonPeter Adam Salomon graduated Emory University in Atlanta, GA with a BA in Theater and Film Studies in 1989. He is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Horror Writers Association, the International Thriller Writers, and The Authors Guild and is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. His debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, was published by Flux in September 2012. His next novel, ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS, a ghost story set in Savannah, GA, is scheduled for publication in Fall 2014 by Flux.

His short fiction has appeared in Demonic Visions I and II and he was the featured author for Gothic Blue Book III: The Graveyard Edition. His poem ‘Electricity and Language and Me’ appeared on BBC Radio 6 performed by The Radiophonic Workshop in December 2013.

He was also a Judge for the 2006 Savannah Children’s Book Festival Young Writer’s Contest and served on the Jury for the Poetry Category of the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards.

Peter Adam Salomon lives in St. Petersburg, FL with his wife Anna and their three sons: André Logan, Joshua Kyle and Adin Jeremy.

Upcoming Release ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS

AllThoseBrokenAngelsComforted by a shadow. Haunted by the truth. Richard Anderson was the last person to see his friend Melanie alive. She vanished when they were six and while the police never found Melanie, a part of her remained—a living shadow that is now Richard’s closest friend.

For ten years, Richard has never questioned the shadow that keeps him company . . . until a new girl moves to town, claiming to be Melanie. Desperate to prove the girl is a fake, the shadow leads Richard to the place where her killer buried her bones. But Richard finds skeletons from several different children . . . and evidence suggesting that perhaps the shadow isn’t who she says she is.

More About the Book | Author’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pre-Order

RWA Countdown: A Primer on the Marriott Marquis

Marriott_Marquis_interior (1)Two weeks away, folks! I thought I’d do a quick little tour of the Marriott so that you’ll feel a little more at home there when you arrive. I’ve been attending Dragon*Con since 2005 and this hotel is one of the host hotels so I know it very well. The hitch might be that my observations are going to be based on experiencing the hotel while it is literally wall-to-wall people, which I doubt will be the case this time.

First of all, this is a beautiful hotel. The view upwards from the Atrium level to all the floors is amazing.

Since the room assignments haven’t been made, I won’t be able to get specific, but hopefully I can give you a general idea.

If you enter from the front entrance, you’ll be at the Lobby level, which is, of course, where you’ll check in (see, aren’t you glad you have me to help out?) Seriously though, it’s hard to know whether you’ll need to know this level much more than that. There is a Starbucks here, but the lines could be long, so you might want to pack your own Keurig (though the rooms come with a coffeemaker, I think, can’t remember). Next to it is the M Store, which is kind of like an airport store–I can’t remember all it has, but you’ll find some food there, like pre-made sandwiches, fruit, magazines, incidentals, and the like. Again, the line could be long. If you have time, I suggest using the skybridge to take you to the CVS in the Peachtree Center Food Court. Back at the Lobby level is also the Spa and Health Club.  There are some meeting rooms there, so we may have workshops there, who knows.

Now, from the Lobby level, you can take the escalators up or down. I’m going to guess that a lot of our activities are going to be one level down (Marquis Level) because there’s a concentration of ballrooms and meeting rooms there and it wouldn’t make us all spread out. Hopefully that’s where we’ll mostly be (conference event wise). One thing to note, is that toward the back there is a skybridge that will take you to The Hilton. I mention this, because in the lower level of the Hilton is Trader Vic’s tiki bar, an Atlanta institution. At the back of the Lobby level, there’s also a set of escalators that can take you back up to the Lobby level, or one level down to the International level, but I’d be surprised if we have stuff there, but you never know (watch that this will be where we end up, LOL…) On the International Level, you can also exit to Courtland Street and The Hilton will be directly across the street.

Okay, let’s take the escalators back up to the Lobby level, and then go up one more floor. Near the front entrance, the escalators will spill you out into a nice wide promenade area, which overlooks the entrance. If you take a left, that whole left side is the Atrium ballroom. Hard to know if the awards banquet will be there or in the other ballrooms on the Marquis Level, but there it is, just in case. At the escalators, if you take a right, there’s a large sculpture of a sail sitting on top of their Atrium bar, called Pulse. In front of it are lots of booths and square cushy seats, and this is a great spot to meet for drinks and socialize. But it’s not great for privacy, if that’s what you’re wanting. It’s an open plan, so it’s ideal for said socializing as well as people watching. If you keep heading to the right and then back just a tad, there’s High Velocity, which is their sports bar. It’s a little more private there, and so the energy level will be a little lower here.

Okay, let’s keep heading back, going past High Velocity, and angling back toward the front entrance. From here, you can go up some steps to the Pulse Loft, which overlooks the escalators and the promenade and Pulse bar.

Behind this (so kinda directly over the front entrance) is a set of bathrooms. Also, there are exits here if you need to smoke, and the stairs also take you down to where all the cars pull up to the entrance. Anyway, back at the bathrooms–go past that and on the left and right are entrances to two different skybridges. Before we take those, if you go past that, you’ll find more conference rooms, in case we have some there.

Okay, at the skybridge entrances. The one on the left will take you to Marquis Tower I and from there you can take the skybridge to the Peachtree Center Food Court. Lots and lots of food options here, from regular dining to fast food (as well as the CVS). The right hand entrance will take you to Marquis Tower II and the Suntrust Food Court. I’ve actually never been there, so can’t tell you what it’s like, but I think it’s smaller. But also from there, you can take the skybridge to the Hyatt Regency, if you want, which has a nice sports bar located directly where the skybridge spills you out. This might be a good spot if you need to meet where other conference goers won’t be around you. Also, if you’re a smoker, there’s a balcony right off of there where you can do your business.

Let’s zip back to Pulse bar (yay!) and if you head along the right-hand side you’ll find Sear bar and Sear Restaurant, which will probably be even more low-key. Past that is another set of bathrooms, and then the pool! Also, there’s a set of stairs that will take you down to the Lobby level.

In the center of all this, is the bank of elevators, which are glass-enclosed. The elevators are arranged by floors, so find the bank that services your floor, and you’re in business.

If you want to see floor plans, which oddly can’t be found on their site (except for the International Level), visit this page on Dragon*Con’s website and then click on the tab “Hotel Floor Plans”. It even has a PDF you can download. Handy, huh?

Anyway, hope this helps! Have fun and see you in Atlanta!

Photo source: By dbking (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_9475) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

RWA Countdown: Getting the most out of RWA–Some Tips for Newbies

krlqqghzI’ve only been once, so this is definitely a guide for those new to this conference. Hopefully this will help me provide you with some tips from a newbie’s perspective, since the experience was so recent. But it also means you won’t find veteran tips here, though I do have some location specific tips near the end.

I think Rule Number One to keep in mind is:

Most likely the person standing next to you is new too! At the very least, she (and sometimes he) will be nice or an introvert like most of us writers and won’t bite your head off if you initiate conversation. I’m serious. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself while you’re waiting in line to get that free book from your favorite author. Who knows, that person could be screwing up the nerve to introduce herself to you!  Don’t know what to say as an icebreaker? The easiest one to remember and makes the most sense: So what kind of stories do you write?

Set a goal for the conference

This may sound weird, but this is a huge conference and it’s really easy to become overwhelmed and stand in a corner clutching your conference goody bag, wide eyed. You’ve spent a lot of money to come to it, and it would be a shame to go home and think it was a waste of said money, especially when the success hangs on you. I read this tip before I went to the conference last year, and it’s so true: set achievable goals. Before you head out, think about what would make you smile and feel like it was worth going–and be realistic. Don’t make it ‘come away with an agent contract’ or ‘everyone turns to me in a workshop and remarks how brilliant I am.’ Pitching to an agent? Your goal is to pitch to them without dying. Maybe make it a goal to meet five new people. Needing to hone your craft? Concentrate on the workshops you need. And don’t be distracted by what others are doing–remember, everyone has different goals. If your goal is honing your craft, don’t get distracted by all the people talking about all the free books they got. Sure you got some great free books, but standing in the lines made you miss one of your most-looked-forward-to workshops and you’ll be disappointed later.

Pack with care

Last week I talked about packing, so I won’t get into it too much here, but be aware of your body’s needs and the time constraints of the conference. Do you know that you have to be hydrated, or you’ll drop? Pack a water bottle and fill it at water fountains. It’s such a waste of time to stand in the long lines to get an over-priced bottle of water. Think about what you need to stay focused and happy, and see if there’s a way for you to pack something that will help you. Running around at the conference hotel for it five minutes before your pitch starts is a bad idea.

I also packed flattened boxes that were a good size for holding books, a roll of packing tape, and a sharpie. That way I didn’t need to hunt these down there and was able to ship back all my free books using the US Post Office’s media mail rate (muuuuch cheaper than regular mail, and cheaper than paying the overages airlines charge now).

Free books!

Yep, what you’ve been hearing is true. Books are given away like candy, and most of the time you can get them signed! I think I came away with 80+ books last year. Here’s what’s going on: publishers want to not only market their various imprints, they also want to help educate potential clients on what they look for, so they give them away to us. During various times of the day (printed in the schedule) there will be room(s) dedicated to certain imprints for their authors to sign books. You go in, find the authors you like, and stand in line. But don’t be one of those that goes to the front and just grabs a bunch; not only is it rude, but there are a limited number, and those patiently standing in line will be pissed if they see you do this, especially if there’s no books by the time they get to the table. It’s also disrespectful to the author. They are there to meet you.

Tips re: books

  • I had two of these reusable shopping totes that roll up small and fit in my purse. That way I was ready to snap it open and stuff it with books.
  • Some bring boxes to the signing rooms or snag empty ones in the rooms
  • Mail them back using USPS Media Mail
  • Return often to your room to offload your stack :)

Pitching

I’ve written several posts regarding this, Agent Pitch Prep Tip: Make Dossiers and Pitching at a Conference? Set Fire to the Rain! but one big thing that really helped was getting pitches out of the way first thing in the morning on the first day. Not only will this reduce your anxiety level for the rest of the conference, but you’re also pitching to an agent who’s fresh and hasn’t heard a zillion pitches already. Didn’t get your fave agent or editor? Hang around the pitch room–they post open pitch slots that you can nab.

Also, arrive early! I can’t tell you how many people lost out because they showed up just five minutes beforehand–that’s too late folks. It takes time to corral everyone into their lanes and feed them into the room. You need to be there in time for that. To be safe, get there 20-30 minutes before your pitch starts.

Handouts

This was my only sore point last year. Everything I read and researched online about what to expect said that at previous conferences, they’d handed out a thumb drive of all the workshop handouts, so I knew I’d have those to rely on if the presenter ran out, etc. But last year, they didn’t provide them. And they also didn’t have handouts printed for the attendees. You could go online to print them out, but I didn’t have a printer handy. If, like me, you like to have these during a session, go ahead and print them out before you go. One of my friend’s had done this and I was so envious.

Schedule

Mark not only your first choice, but your second. Sometimes workshops will get cancelled, or it’s not what you were expecting–now you have a backup to go to. (It’s okay to come and go during a session, just be quiet about it).

Food

Put granola bars or the like in your purse to tide you over–believe me, you’ll want these. Also, there are two food courts easily accessible from the Marriott without even having to go outside. There’s the Peachtree Center food court (which is huge, and also has a CVS)–there’s a skybridge from the Atrium level if you go to Marquis Tower I. Also on the Atrium level, if you go toward Marquis Tower II, you can access the SunTrust food court. There’s also PLENTY of dining outside the hotel.

Getting around

Hopefully they’ll provide maps of the hotel in our conference packets, since this is a large hotel with many conference rooms and ballrooms on several levels. If you want to see it beforehand, here’s a link to ones that Dragon*Con provides (I’m a regular attendee, which is why I’m so familiar with this hotel).

Dress

Dress professionally, you are your brand, so be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself, even if you’re not pitching. Even if you are, keep it up even after your pitches, as agents and editors may see you after. Think about what you’d wear to your first book signing and wear that.

Act professional

I love to party and drink with the best of them, but last year I refrained from partying–I had a few beers to relax, but that’s it. My goal wasn’t to party, plus I can start getting silly if I drink too much and I sure didn’t want a potential agent sitting a table over to witness me in that state. I’ve heard horror stories from other agents who’ve seen writers throwing up in hallways, etc.

In conclusion

I honestly think folks get out of an experience what they take into it. If you’re looking for things to be sour about, you’ll find them. But why not go into it with a positive attitude and count up the great things you experience? Go into it with a friendly attitude and everyone else will be friendly too.

What about you? Will this be your first time? If you’re a veteran, do you have any tips? I know I only scraped the surface…