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By: Chuck Sambuchino | June 1, 2015

Because summer is a busy time for people traveling to writers’conferences nationwide, I am re-running this great 2014 post. Enjoy.

—————- I’ll admit: I was scared to death to live-pitch my book the first time, and I almost didn’t. I figured I was better with words on a page, so I’d just query the agents I met at conferences. I am a huge proponent of pitching your book in person to an agent, though, because it’s incredibly beneficial. Here are seven tips to keep in mind:

Tip #1: If you can get a pitch session with an agent/editor, do it!

Agents get tons of queries every single day, and a good 90% of them come from people who haven’t worked very hard to perfect their craft. Agents know that if you go to conferences, you’re likely in the 10% who have. If you go to a conference and pitch, you’re likely a top 10% writer who has a book close to being worthy of representation. It also gives both of you a chance to meet each other, and that’s invaluable.

(Do you need multiple literary agents if you write different genres?)

Tip #2: If you don’t register in time to schedule a pitch session, get on a waiting list.

Pitch sessions fill up quickly. People get nervous, though, or don’t get their book ready in time, so they cancel often. They shouldn’t, but they do, and this is good for anyone who is on the waiting list.

Tip #3: Figure out what you want to cover during your pitch session.

Don’t memorize a script, but do memorize the points you want to cover. Then you can talk like a normal person about it. And definitely practice talking like a normal person about it to everyone who will listen. The more comfortable you feel when talking about your book, the better your pitch session will go.

Tip #4: Go with other questions in mind.

I speed-talked my way through my first pitch session, because when I’m nervous I don’t ramble– I leave things out. So my pitch was done in less than 30 seconds. After asking me a few questions, the agent requested my full. Then she said, “Do you have any questions for me?” I hadn’t thought about questions for her! I sat there, feeling awkward, said, “Um…. Nope?” then shook her hand and left, with seven minutes of our meeting unused.

Don’t do what I did! Use that time to ask about their agenting style. Ask about the industry. Ask about the process. Ask about craft. Ask questions about your plot. Ask about anything writing related. Chat. See how your personalities mesh. Just don’t leave seven minutes early. You paid for that time– use it.

Tip #5: Don’t cancel your pitch if your book isn’t ready.

When you signed up for a pitch, it was five months before the conference and you thought your novel would be ready, but it isn’t. Don’t cancel your pitch! (Unless, of course, you’ve signed with an agent since then.) If your book isn’t ready, but you’re working hard to get it there, pitch it anyway. When you send a query to an agent and they request pages, you should get it to them within about 24 hours. When you pitch, you have a YEAR to get it to them. A year! So don’t stress that it isn’t completely ready– there’s plenty of time to make it shine. You are pitching to see if the story idea fits with them, if they think its a marketable enough idea that they want to see pages, and if it’s a story that they have the right contacts to sell.

(Can writers query multiple agents at the same agency?)

Tip #6: Your pitch session doesn’t have to be used to pitch.

That ten minutes you’ve signed up for is YOUR TIME. Use it wisely. You’ve bought not only that agent’s (or editor’s) time, but their expertise. And it is expertise in an area they are incredibly passionate about. They want to help you. If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to pitch your book, use that ten minutes in non-pitching ways. Some examples:

• Show them your query letter, and ask for a critique.

• Have the agent read the first pages of your manuscript until they would normally stop. Then talk about what stopped them.

• If you’re about to start a new novel and are wondering which of your ideas are most marketable, pitch them to the agent, and ask which they think would be best to focus on.

Tip #7: Don’t be nervous. Really.

The most important thing: remember that they are just people. It may feel like they’re rock stars, but they’re actually completely normal. And because they are, they just might be a little nervous, too. It helps to remember that when you’re sitting across a table from them.

So the next time you get an opportunity to pitch to an agent or editor, make sure you seize it!

Publishing execs need to give metadata more attention than lip service

By Thad McIlroy | Oct 05, 2018 | Publishers Weekly

Let’s make metadata great again. Okay, perhaps that’s not the best slogan for my new campaign, but you get my drift. I want some enthusiasm, folks. Metadata for e-commerce has been sitting in the doldrums for too long now, confined to some kind of bibliographic hell, saddled with the ever-vague concept of discoverability. “Keywords” has been the cry: find the right keywords and you can rule the online universe. Is that all there is? Seven keywords and you’re off to the races?

Metadata has been vastly undervalued. I’m here to tell you that metadata is the most important part of selling books today. Bar none. Its power should change the way you market books. It can measurably increase your sales; this has been proven. Publishers have to start approaching metadata as a strategic weapon, not as the digital equivalent of an old library card catalogue.

Publishers Weekly started covering metadata 16 years ago (the first article I can find is dated 2002). “Accurate Metadata Sells Books” is the title of a PW article from 2010. Why, in late 2018, am I still trying to convince publishers that metadata sells books?

Editorial is at the heart of book publishing: if all other factors are equal, the better book will sell more copies. Of course, few of the factors are ever equal, and, in publishing, sales and marketing is mostly concerned with trying to tip the precariously balanced scales ever-so-slightly in your direction.

In a bricks-and-mortar world, the marketing process is well defined and easy to understand: take a good book, seek to influence the conversation via book reviews and the author’s presence, and, anticipating some interest, buy your way to prominent retail display, so the book is visible when the educated customer comes calling.

In the online world, publishers and authors still seek influence but, for the most part, can’t buy prominent display space. It’s a Gordian knot. A book appears most prominently on Amazon because it’s selling well despite not appearing prominently on Amazon.

We saw a vivid example of the problem earlier this year, when bad metadata appropriated the buzz of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House and turned a 2009 book, Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942–1945, into an overnight bestseller.

And so achieving prominence becomes a far more complex challenge than it was in an exclusively bricks-and-mortar world. Relationships are established digitally; metadata is the grease on the wheel of online connections.

Metadata is left-brained, dry, and analytical, and publishing executives are mostly right-brained, creative, and sensitive. They don’t understand how metadata really works, and they’ll settle for the 30,000-foot view. And, truth be told, from 30,000 feet, metadata does look like a library card catalogue. Up close, it looks complicated. Metadata is standards based, and right-brained people don’t like technical standards. Going deep on metadata takes you into the realm of ePub, HTML, SEO, and Onix. What publishing executive wants to go there?

The other damning thing about metadata is that the #1 reason publishers need great metadata is to compete on Amazon. And if there’s one thing that makes a publishing executive cringe more than complex technology, it’s thinking about ways to more effectively compete on Amazon. The game is brutal and complex, the rules change all the time, and self-published authors and Amazon imprints keep winning.

The unpleasant truth is that, though online book pages may appear reminiscent of the bookshop on Main Street, they are in fact located at the bookshop in the city of Amazon. The cover still matters a lot, as do the jacket copy and blurbs.

But there’s so much more that happens on Amazon. There are reader reviews—good ones and bad ones—that signal a book’s quality from a customer’s perspective, rather than from the perspective of a doting friend of the author. There’s a dynamic sales ranking. There are multiple formats on sale side-by-side. Complementary titles are found below the fold. There’s dynamic pricing. On the author’s page are videos and links to community pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The big hurdle for publishers is understanding that all of this online information is based in metadata. Metadata has depth and breadth. Metadata should be verbose but accurate. Metadata should emanate outward, linking, constantly linking, to every online way station that a book buyer might visit.

Preparing this article in mid-September, I dived into the Publishers Weekly Job Zone, searching for jobs that I was certain would demand a familiarity with metadata. To my surprise, I found several ads seeking marketing managers, publicity coordinators, and the like that did not list any metadata-related skills or knowledge in their applicant requirements. If it’s true that metadata sells books, then why do none of these marketing positions require metadata knowledge?

Until management prioritizes its managers’ knowing how to compete with metadata, metadata will be a good housekeeping afterthought. Metadata is great, and the publishers who embrace its strategic value will thrive.

Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing analyst and author, based on the West Coast and at his website, The Future of Publishing. He is a founding partner of Publishing Technology Partners.

In an open letter this month addressed to members of the Authors Guild, the organization’s vice president, the American author Richard Russo, has warned that tech companies’ operations in the content space may increasingly threaten writers’ livelihoods and recognition.

“Traditional publishers may have underpaid us,” Russo writes, “but at least to them we were poets and painters and songwriters, terms that implied both respect and ownership of what we made, at least until we’ve sold it to them.

“The tech ethos is different. To them, we’re often seen as mere hirelings. And since those who hire us are in the business of business, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to pay us as little as they can get away with and to make certain we understand that we’re mere workers, not partners in the enterprise.”

The commentary is a follow-up to Russo’s 2013 letter to the membership. In this message, he touches on favorite points of criticism, including “the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the ‘information wants to be free’ crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by Internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to online sites that sell pirated (read ‘stolen’) books.”

Clearly, there are many with whom to take umbrage.

Five years later, Russo writes to an author-advocacy trade organization that has grown past the 10,000-member mark and has become the lead response group in many issues authors are encountering, from inappropriate trademark efforts to contractual conflicts with publishers.

Most recently, for example, the guild has written letters in support of the writers of Slate and Thrillist, arguing that they should be allow to unionize. There’s probably a clue to the direction the guild itself is going in representing authors in its posting about the new letters: “Few individual writers have any true bargaining power, but collective bargaining gives writers greater leverage to negotiate the terms of their employment.

“The Authors Guild supports collective bargaining for all staff writers and hopes to one day attain similar benefits for freelance journalists and authors.”

Authors Are ‘Often Seen as Mere Hirelings’

Indeed, collective bargaining—one of modern labor’s oldest strategies—may hold value for authors in the future that Russo is predicting for writers.

“The tech ethos is different. To them, we’re often seen as mere hirelings. And since those who hire us are in the business of business, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to pay us as little as they can get away with.”Richard Russo Russo concedes that in some areas, the arrival of tech platforms as consumers of content holds opportunity or writers: “Tech Giants like Google and Facebook and Apple are all moving into the content business, which means (and what a bitter pill this must be for them to swallow!) they need us ‘content providers.’ That means more book options and, for those of us who want to make the pivot into TV and film writing, more opportunities there.” The sword, however, he writes, has two edges. “The conflict, of course, is as old as art and commerce,” he writes, “but today it’s playing out algorithmically and those algorithms have not been designed for our benefit.”

As part of his message to the membership–designed to encourage members to bring in more authors—Russo joins many in talking about a decline in recent years in author incomes, “here in the US, but also in Canada and much of Europe. … A tiny percentage can make a living through writing alone; the rest have to supplement their income by teaching or taking on other work or marrying people with more lucrative careers, strategies that have been known to lead in the end to exhaustion, writing less, and self-loathing (which many of us suffer from already).”

A Penguin Random House author, Russo doesn’t spare the trade in his criticisms: “Traditional publishing continues to consolidate and contract, and many of the largest houses are part of conglomerates that demand books yield the same profit margins as flat-screen TVs, in effect squeezing out important midlist books that were never designed to be bestsellers.

“Writers are often told that the success of their published books depends on their ability to promote themselves on social media. … Despite Guild efforts to spotlight the problem, some publishers continue to offer writers unfair contracts.”

As a summation of the current reality for authors, Russo writes, “Like our friends in the newspaper and music businesses, we’re still getting our asses kicked.”

His most pointed warning of vulnerability lies in his vision of tech content platforms absorbing huge volumes of writerly work without regard for proper protection of the author or journalist and without regard for the value of the human contribution involved.

“If we creators don’t fight, the massive transfer of wealth from the creative sector to the tech sector that we’ve been witnessing since 2013 will most certainly continue.”

Learn more about the Authors Guild here:https://www.authorsguild.org/member-services/