With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan will be introducing a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
Interview with Author, Editor, Journalist, Playwright and Expert Chuck Sambuchino
Chuck Sambuchino is an editor and a writer. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog) as well as CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK (gnomeattack.com), was released in Sept. 2010 and has been featured by Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times and AOL News. The film rights were recently optioned by Sony and director Robert Zemeckis. His first book was writing-related: the third edition of FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT (2009).
Besides that, he is a produced playwright, magazine freelancer, husband, cover band guitarist, chocolate chip cookie fiend, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.
Chuck is giving away a free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com (value: $50) to one random commenter. Comment on this post within one week to win. Good luck!
1. You’ve been involved in all sorts of writing arts, including newspaper journalism, playwriting, editing, blogging and, of course, authoring a humor book. Do you have a favorite role?
Not really. I’ve always kind of had ADD, which is why my writing career has been something like “I wanna write plays! … Wait, I wanna write articles! … Nope, I wanna be an editor! … Sike! I guess I seriously want to write books! … Sike again. I’m gonna sell this screenplay or bust!”
I would have to say book writing has been the most rewarding because of the reach of books. I mean, if you write a great article, it kind of goes unnoticed and then fades away forever. But people read books and tweet about them and shake your hand at events. It’s great to get out and meet people and get feedback.
2. As editor for the Guide to Literary Agents, what is your best advice on getting an agent?
I’ve blogged more than 1,500 posts for four years on this very question, so it’s tough to boil it down to one point because there are many. But try this one: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Keep writing. A lot of first books don’t sell. I just heard this week from a writer whose first book fell flat on submission, but her second book got her an agent. So, again—keep writing. You get better as you go.
3. With the publishing business in transformation, do you see the role of a literary agent changing as well?
I think we’ve seen agents take a more aggressive approach to selling subsidiary rights like foreign rights and film rights. As book advances (payments) continue to slowly slide downward, agents are adapting to make sure they can make money. Also, I’ve seen an agent recently start a side business formatting e-books; others have started editing manuscripts on the side. I recognize that is all a slippery gray area with the AAR, but agents are simply adapting to a changing market and trying to make money, same as everyone else.
4. You have been to many writers conferences over the years. What are some of the most beneficial things a writer can do at a conference to help their writing career?
Do everything. Attend lots of sessions. Go to every event. Pitch agents. Get up early. Go to bed late. Schmooze and meet friends over drinks. Take notes. There is usually a ton of stuff going on—and it’s all for the taking.
5. What is your view on custom and print on demand publishing? How does a strong social media presence affect this choice?
If you’re talking about self-publishing your book or e-book, I would say my thought is this: If you have the means to get your work out there and promote it, then this can be a very profitable avenue for you. If you have a great platform (social media like Twitter and a blog factor into this), then you can self-publish a book and spread the word easily—getting people to buy your work. Self-publishing can be a great thing, but you have to know what you’re getting into (and it seems most people do not).
That said, I personally am still a fan of traditional publishing. When How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack came out, the book got good placement at Borders as well as Barnes & Noble. It got mentions in USA Today, Reader’s Digest, and more. We recently learned that Sony is going to option the film rights. Italy bought rights to it, as well. I mention all this good news to prove an important point: Methinks none of this would have happened without the work of my publisher and agent. And that says a heck of a lot about traditional publishing.
6. You keep a blog for the site of How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack as well as the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Do you have any advice for an author setting up a new blog?
It takes time to develop a readership—and I’m talking years—so be patient. A blog must have a focus and must have takeaway value for the reader; otherwise, it is more for your sake their theirs (and will not attract many readers). Include art and white space in posts. Invite good guest posts. Write good guest posts for others. Try to maintain some regularity. Have fun. Pay attention to your titles, as that will be what people search for through Google.
7. How did you come up with the idea for a book on surviving a garden gnome attack?
I was thinking about the movie THE FULL MONTY and remembered a quick scene with a garden gnome. I started to think about how tacky and creepy they are, wondering why anyone would actually own one in real life. Then I thought: Certainly if they creep me out, then they must creep out others, as well. That was the genesis.
8. Do you have any upcoming projects or events you can tell us about?
Mwahahahaha. I’m always cooking up humor book concepts, screenplays, and more—but nothing I can share right just now. At the current moment, I am working hard to finish both the 2012 GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as the 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, both of which are out in September, and both of which promise to be super awesome to the millionth degree. (I was not a math major.)
9. What is the best piece of advice someone has given you in the publishing industry, and what do you think is the most important thing a writer today needs to know to succeed?
Again, this is hard to boil down to a single point. How about this one? I once heard a screenwriter say: “If you’re writing a spec and you’re not having fun, something’s wrong.” What they meant was this: In life, you will write some things for love and some things for money. So if you’re writing some fiction for love (as opposed to being commissioned to write a novel), then you should be having fun. Not every minute will be fun (I myself love first drafts but hate rewrites), but most of it should be.
Also, recently, I read something dynamite written by literary agent Mary Kole. See, when I tried my hand at a middle grade novel in 2009, my problem wasn’t plot. I love plot. My problem was character. Mary wrote that if you’re writing a main character in a children’s novel, they can be loved or they can be hated. Both approaches will attract readers. “It’s the mushy middle ground you should be afraid of,” she said. That struck a chord with me, because sometimes my characters enter the mushy middle ground area.
Thank you for interviewing with our blog series.
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope and a reader for Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.