Read, Eat, Drink: William Zinsser on Nonfiction and a Wild Feast

Literary Agent Advice


How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal by Self-Publishing (Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed): “It’s not any easier to interest an agent or publisher when you’re self-published, and since new authors are more likely to put out a low-quality effort (they rush, they don’t sufficiently invest, they don’t know their audience), chances are even lower their book will get picked up.” As Jane puts it, “we have a serious epidemic of impatience.” The truth is that publishing a book is easy, but finding readers for a book is hard. More here on how to decide if self-publishing is right for you.

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include (Maggie Langrick on The Write Life): “I now counsel all of our authors to build a relationship directly with their readers.” The wonderful thing about this Internet age is that no one can keep you from your readers but you. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also a lot of opportunity.

The Biggest Business Mistake I Ever Made (Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer): “My big mistake was ignoring my email list. I just didn’t understand why it was crucially important until a friend showed me the light.” From my data, there are tons of bloggers and aspiring authors who are making this same mistake. In fact, of the last 10 calls I had with aspiring authors over the past few weeks, exactly ONE understood the importance of building an email list. Guess which one I offered to represent.

The Art of Science Communication: William Zinsser on How to Write Well About Science (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings): The day William Zinsser passed away, I picked up my old yellowed copy of On Writing Well, and it pulled me back to my journalism days in college. I didn’t realize it then, but Zinsser, McPhee, Mitchell, and the whole crowd from my Literary Journalism class are the ones who dragged me, happily, into making a career in nonfiction. I remember picking up The New Yorker sometime in high school, spotting an article about UPS, and being so riveted I couldn’t stop reading. Good nonfiction makes even the most dense and mundane subject fascinating. As Zinsser says: “Writing is not a special language owned by the English teacher. Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all. Science, demystified, is just another nonfiction subject. Writing, demystified, is just another way for scientists to transmit what they know.”

Eat & Drink:

Before I jump into this week’s Eat & Drink, an important question: Does your diet consist almost entirely of chicken tenders, mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and other delicacies from the kids’ menu? If so, please avert your eyes. Things are going to get what you would consider “gross.”

Read More

How to Measure Engagement and Why It Matters for Your Platform

How to measure engagement

A few weeks ago I was asked about how to measure engagement, and I gave a quick answer in a comment thread. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I spend a lot of time talking about how crucial engagement is, and not enough time talking about how to measure it.

When I was an editor at a New York publisher, I would have anywhere from 7-15 meetings a week. Mostly that was because I had to be at meetings for two different teams, but it still meant anywhere from 1-2 full work days a week spent sitting around a conference room with a group of people.

Some of the meetings were awesome and energizing and full of smart people brainstorming about our books. But some of them were painful. If anyone has ever been in a production meeting where you’re reviewing deadlines title-by-title, you’re probably as accomplished of a doodler as I am. I can now draw quite a menagerie of miniature animals. This is in no way a life skill.

But the point is that it was the content of the meeting that determined whether I was an active or inactive participant. If we were talking about one of my books, or about marketing strategies, or about titles, I was usually giving my full attention and input to the meeting. If we were talking about production dates that had nothing to do with me, it was giraffe-drawing time.

If you had put a two-way mirror in that conference room and placed a randomly selected group of people on the other side, they could have easily told you which people in the meeting were engaged, simply by looking at who was interacting with the meeting content—by offering opinions, asking questions, or expressing emotion.

The meeting of the minds that is your blog/vlog/website is no different. Some people are just popping their head into the room and leaving, some people are present but not engaged, and some people are all in. The people who are all in will be interacting with your content in one way or another. So measuring engagement is really about measuring action.

How, exactly, to measure engagement on different platforms:

Read More

Read, Eat, Drink: The Best Publishing, Writing, and Platform Links plus a Memorial Day Menu


neil degrasse tyson quote

5 Smart Content Strategies from a Stellar Marketer of Ideas (Sonia Simone on Copyblogger): If you haven’t heard of Neil deGrasse Tyson, he will be your new favorite nerd. “He talks about the value in having a passion for all kinds of things, not just your specific area of study. (Tyson has pursued serious interests in wrestling, rowing, wine collecting, and ballroom dancing, so he practices what he preaches.)” In a world where we’re all honed in on acquiring ultimate knowledge in our fields, it’s such a relief to be encouraged to intellectually roam .

Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age (Maria Popova/On Being with Krista Tippett): I listened to this podcast on Tuesday, and it absolutely changed the trajectory of my whole week. I’ve always been an obsessive fan of Popova, but it’s particularly inspiring to hear her talk about the things few people talk about–meaning, fulfillment, intellectual curiosity–in a fresh, accessible way. Dream dinner party: Me, Maria Popova, Krista Tippett, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and an XL pot of soup.

Osama Bin Laden’s Bookshelf Reflects His Fixation with the West (Michiko Kakutani for The New York Times): “His bookshelf is a weird hodgepodge. It’s hard to know how complete a list it is, and whether he requested certain books from aides, or if aides sent him works they thought he might like or that might influence his thinking.” A fascinating look at how the books we read shape our world view.

The 5 Simple Strategies That Grew Our Social Traffic by 350% (Madhav Bhandari on BufferSocial): Spoiler alert! The 5 strategies are: schedule the reposting of evergreen content, figure out your optimal timing, have great content to begin with, write headlines that draw people in, and include others in the conversation. But this is still worth a read, because each of those strategies needs to be unpacked before it can be implemented.

The Best Typography, Colors, and Templates Used in the Highest-Converting Social Media Images (James Johnson on BufferSocial): “Turns out, there’s tons of actionable, research-backed advice on how to create social media images that get shared—the ideal colors, fonts, text, and more, all leveraging what we know about design, psychology and the Internet to get more shares and engagement.”

10 Steps to Overcome Writer’s Block (Carly Watters): Step #2 is to “Forgive yourself a perfect draft: No one writes a clean first draft. It’s called a ‘Shitty First Draft‘ for a reason. Read some Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird is a must!) and learn that perfect doesn’t exist. Especially in art.” Writers, agents, and editors are always saying this because it’s one of the truest truths out there. But it’s so, so easy to forget. My favorite visual reminder: this free Anne Lamott art print to hang in your office and look at every time you’re battling perfectionism.

Read More

Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish? The One Thing That Matters.


self publishing vs traditional publishing

When you work in a coaching role like literary agents do, you tend to get a lot of the same questions. This is one of the big ones.

So, in the interest of efficiency, let’s hash it out right here. Should you self-publish or traditionally publish?

Read More