The AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Chuck Sambuchino PLUS a FREE Giveaway!

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.)

http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Literary-Agents-Chuck-Sambuchino/dp/1599632292

http://www.amazon.com/2012-Childrens-Writers-Illustrators-Market/dp/1599632314/ref=pd_sim_b_3

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.

 

68 Comments:

  1. Love his blog. Always good things on it.

  2. great post. i’m a fan of the guide to literary agents, of course, so I’m biased.

  3. Thanks for the great info! I agree on your thoughts about traditional publishing, and I also seem to have ADD. I go from graphics artist, to YA writer, to editor, back to writer, etc. Currently I edit accounting documents and daydream of writing until I get home, haha.

    Also, in case I need to mention this, I’d love to be entered into the Writer’s Digest drawing. Thank you!

  4. I’ve been to your guide fairly often, and its a very useful website. Thanks for putting it up. Good luck with your endeavors and thanks for the advice!

  5. Maybe not ADD.
    I think highly creative people are born with a deep well of curiosity inside and are always excited and energized by the challenge of creating something new in as many venues as they can! Time seems to be the unfortunate harness however…
    Good article with wise advice. Thanks for sharing and thanks for enticing me to read it!

  6. Great interview, gotta support anyone to cops to having ADD 🙂

  7. I’m so happy I can now blame my scatterbrained creative approach (Plays, Screenplays, Novels, Short Stories and Stand-Up Comedy)to ADD. Thanks, Chuck. I’m just a victim of a mental disporder, not a bloody fool!

  8. Great interview! Very helpful. Specifically, what was said about the “murky middle ground” for likable vs unlikable MG protagonists made me rethink parts of the next story I’m planning.

  9. Very helpful. Thanks!

  10. Delphine Boswell

    I appreciate your advice to keep writing as a writer does get better with each manuscript written. I view each attempt as an independent study in which one learns a little more each time. It’s an incredibly exciting journey.

  11. I’m happy to admit that when it comes to any advice on writing publishing and so on, I’m first to mention both Chuck Sambuchino’s GLA and Andrea Hurst’s Agency to any struggling Writer.
    PS) (thank you Andrea for referring me to Vickie, “it was close,” she said, but not quite right for her . . . but her advice was valuable to me)

    Alissa T. Hunter

  12. I’m on my fifth novel now, writing solely for love, and would do so for the rest of my life, if necessary. The idea of making money at this still seems little more than a vague dream. Having experimented with POD self-publishing, I can say that his comments are spot-on: making the artifact is for me attainable, getting it on front of others and gaining their interest another story entirely.

  13. Glad to hear so many people of the ADD sort coming out in the comments. Enjoyed the interview very much. You sound like you are completely yourself in your work and enjoy what you do. I like that.

  14. Always glad to hear from a professional’s point of view what writer can expect to find to further their success, expecially from someone with his feet on both sides of the trench as a writer and in the publishing side of things.

  15. As a new writer just getting my feet wet, this interview gave me some good insight and also served as a wonderful pep talk! Thanks, Chuck!

  16. I write for the passion of writing. I think of my passion as an itch that no matter how hard or often I scratch, it just won’t go away. So, I write…and write…and write some more. My goal is to make money at it, but in spite of all the money that could be made or lost, I write for the love of it. You’re right, it isn’t always fun, but for me, it’s an addiction.

  17. I’m still trying to get the query letter right. Oh well. This too shall pass.

  18. Very informative interview and I agree with chuck’s point # 4 about, “It takes time to develop a readership—and I’m talking years—so be patient.” It’s taken me two years to grow my audience and I finally hired a professional web-designer to promote my Gutsy Living theme and switch to a WordPress blog and author website. These are things that take time to figure out, as Chuck mentioned. Congratulations on your book, “How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.”

  19. I found the blog advice especially helpful. Sometimes managing a blog seems harder than writing, querying, or pitching! I’m going to try to narrow down to a theme, like writing tips or interviews with other YA authors.

  20. Thanks for a helpful and informative article. I agree with the advice, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Keep writing.” I also enjoyed the comments about self-publishing and blogging. I think if you’re writing for the right reasons and are able to write about your passions (or at least topics that interest you), you’ll be more fired up about writing day in and day out. Writing magazine articles and submitting a story as a contributing author for someone else’s book are other ways to get your foot in the publishing door.

  21. 2 pieces of advice I particularly agree with are: 1) You have to love what you do
    2) Do everything

    I think you have to have a passion for what you do in order to get through hardships. Also being proactive and consistent opens up possibilities. There are so many opportunities nowadays, it’s just having the tenacity to plow on and stop complaining. Great interview.

  22. Chuck, Thanks for the description of yourself as ADD. It makes me feel okay that I can’t seem to focus in on just ONE thing I like to do. I’ve never considered that I, too, may have ADD. Can you recommend a good doctor?

  23. Chuck has some great points here: how to take advantage of writer’s conference, the need to keep writing and at least enjoy what you’re doing and use social media.

    Though I continue to write and query, I did self-publish this year, sort of to see what the fuss was all about. It takes a lot of energy, but I do have a marketing plan and a platform. I believe that the novel’s acceptances by several book clubs and local libraries is just a start. Social media helps as well. I’ll continue to submit my other novels as well as the non-fiction book I’m researching.

    Thanks for the wonderful guide over the years.

  24. Thank you for the great interview with Chuck. He shared lots of good ideas and information. Having just finished my first draft of a MG novel, I plan to go back and make sure my character is not in the “mushy” middle ground!

  25. Julia A. Ergovich

    Looking forward to the 2012 Edition of Guide to Literary Agents. Plan to buy your Fomatting and Submitting Book next month. Always interested in what you have to say.

    Julie E.

  26. Very interesting points. I particularly enjoyed the part about self publishing. I’ve been trying to find an agent for some time, but have a marketing and sales background so I’m seriously considering the self publish route. Interesting to see you agree that it can be a successful venture if understood. I will say, however, that unlike the great seller John Locke, my ultimate goal would be to find the right agent and write full time!

    Nice blog!

  27. Great info about writing conferences. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Thanks for the ideas on blogs, and writing conferences.
    Heather

  29. Excellent interview! Thanks for the great info.

  30. Thanks so much! Great info.

  31. This advice comes at a great time for me, when I’m considering working on several books that are already partially written, but range widely in subject and genre. Good to know a writer does not have to stick to one thing. Also good to hear encouragement for traditional publishing. Good luck in all your endeavors.

  32. I am an editor and publishing consultant, so of course I have copies of Formatting & Submitting your manuscript and Guide to Lit Agents on my shelf, and recommend them to my DIY clients. An interesting interview, Andrea. Thanks for sharing.

  33. I am random – but not too random. I am also a writer – still trying to find an agent – thanks for the good info here and on Writer’s Digest. I’ve done many things – worked on a medical blog – getting readers really does take consistency and a long time.

  34. Every writer needs good, honest and hard-earned advice. Thanks.

  35. Always good advice to keep plugging. Seems agents are very subjective and so with constant attention you know you’ll hit on one that’s right for you.

  36. I am not an editor or publisher but I appreciate your work. Is there a specific characer in your stories, that you most identify with??

  37. Thank you for the advice on starting a new blog. I will take that advice to heart and be more consistent with keeping my keyboard keys clicking.

  38. It is hard to get good placement in stores when they are closed. Borders closed in Santa Monica, Village Books in Palisades, and so on!

  39. Great information- thanks so much!

  40. I’ve been working on my memoir for 3 years and I agree that the more time I spend, and the more I learn at writer’s conferences, the better it gets. I’m headed off in a couple weeks to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference and can’t wait to get more motivation there on how to improve it and find the agent that’s a perfect fit for me and my manuscript. Thanks for the inspiration!

  41. Hi Chuck! I always love the energy in your ‘voice’ when you answer questions. Guess we could say YOUR energy creates energy in me. 🙂 Great interview!

  42. What an awesome interview! Nice surprise to see you here, Chuck. As always love to hear what you have to say. Keep up the good work and congrats on ur film rights! Whoo hoo!!

  43. Were we supposed to leave email?
    Just in case: martzbookz(@)sbcglobal (dot)net

  44. Great information, but then I expect nothing less after being a faithful follower of his blog 🙂

  45. Thanks for an interesting interview. The reasons for the traditional agent reinforce my views. One slight difference. Writing is more than fun. It is something one is driven to do.

  46. Super interview! Thanks for sharing those great tips with us, Chuck.

  47. Informative, charming, practical, entertaining…. When Chuck comments, it is always worth listening.

  48. I have a question for your next AUTHORNOMICS interview, if it’s relevant to the interviewee’s area of expertise:

    How do agents and/or agencies fund their attendance at conferences? Does the agency pay for that? Does the individual agent have to pay for everything? Does the conference lure the agent with money up front, to help pay for their expenses?

    Okay, so that wasn’t a question; it was questionS. 😀

    • Most conferences will pay for an agent’s transportation and lodging for the conference. Conference meals are provided as well.
      Any other costs are usually covered by the agent. If an agent gives a class their is sometimes a small stipend. Agents on the whole
      attend to find new clients.

  49. This was a fun and enjoyable interview to read. Chuck’s “kind of like had ADD” made me smile. There is takeaway value from his words. Thanks for the interview.

  50. What a fun and informative interview. I have some great takeaway value from this. Thanks.

  51. Just goes to show writers (and agents) can have a wide collection of talents and interests and be successful in multiple areas. Thanks Andrea, Katie and Chuck!

  52. i am writing a book title the the concept of psychology with art in science(BASE ON MIND MINDSET OF AN INDIVIDUAL). I am very sure that this book am writing will be useful to student of higher school, secondary schools and even more in the universities.my main motive of writing this book is to improve the mindset of people positively.
    Jeremiah Adamu Tanko

  53. I like the idea of bringing in others to post to your blog (like this blog!) – For a new writer trying to establish a platform, one of the things that is daunting about starting a blog is the commitment (as he said, it can take YEARS to develop a readership) – inviting others to participate and contribute seems like a great way to ease some of the pressure AND build relationships and community.

  54. Thanks, Chuck! In one interview you hit several topics on my mind just today. I always appreciate the clarity that comes from reading what you share.

  55. Great way to finish or start my week (according to how one see the week :). Thanks for this great interview.

  56. Wonderful insights! Thanks Chuck. I got three great takeaways from your post 1)avoid the mushy middle ground! 2)Ideas can come from anywhere – I remember that scene in the Full Monty! 3)Keep blogging because it takes time to develop a readership. Definitely found that one to be true. Thanks again.

  57. Jennifer Diamond

    Thanks for the interview, and your advice at PNWA! Yes, that’s Seattle, where we DO stop for pedestrians! Lol

  58. Great advice & the literary guide is a great help to me. Looking forward to more great interviews.

  59. Thanks, Chuck, especially for the information on e-publishing, platform, and blogging. Good luck with all your endeavours. Your “kinda having ADD” seems to be propelling you forward.

  60. I lik how Chuuck reminds us that, “if you’re writing a spec and you’re not having fun, something’s wrong.” Of course good writing will attract readers, but ultimately, writing is for the writer.

  61. It should be about having fun! Thanks for the words of encouragement- and the quote from Mary Kole- very true! Thanks for an interesting interview.

  62. Chuck, your interviews are a regular on my reading list. Jobs well done – thanks.

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