Judy Spiers’ column: Writers’ Salon on Sunday

By Judy Spiers                                                                                    

This Sunday there will be a free writers’ event called Current Publishing Trends this Fall to help emerging authors learn firsthand the tricks and traps lying in the world of commercial book publishing. 

The event is called a “Salon,” and will be the second hosted by Seattle literary agent Sharlene Martin and her partner Anthony Flacco, who is the editorial director of the Martin Literary Management Agency, a firm that has three agents. 

The Martin “Salon” was held in simple but tasteful quarters at the Mercer Island Community Center near Seattle.

 I received an invitation last month to attend the first such salon and wasn’t too convinced it would apply to me – but then, I had joined a writers group last October and have been attending weekly meetings ever since.  I’ve now completed twenty-seven chapters in the book I’m writing on growing up on a farm in Enumclaw that my grandfather homesteaded.  So I decided to go after all. 

 One writer of self-help books drove up from Portland, while another wordsmith, Mary Ann Hayes, drove down from Camano Island.  A woman who is a published illustrator came, too.  About twenty-five writers gathered to meet with these agents, whose job it is to guide writers through the processes involved in connecting with mainstream book publishers. 

 Ms. Martin explained the role of the agent.  “Agents are advocates for authors,” adding that legitimate literary agents do not charge writers up front for representation – or to even read a manuscript.

 One of the objectives of the salons is to learn more about the resources that can illumine the business of writing.  As such, we were directed to an article we might not otherwise have seen.  “How to Create A Literary Star,” by Chad Harbach, in the October issue of Vanity Fair magazine – the one with Angelina Jolie on the cover – describes his journey in reaching a book deal with an established publishing house. 

 According to Sharlene, his story gives readers a good look into the real life experience of an author as he journeys along toward getting published.    

 Martin and Mr. Anthony Flacco, who has had seven books of his own published to date, also gave out information on web sites, online services, and free newsletters and directories.  They urged writers to stay current on trends.   

 “If it was tough getting published in the past,” Martin warned, “it’s far more difficult today.”  That was a bit discouraging when I considered that there are writers groups in every community. 

 But then she held out the proverbial brass ring, “Don’t think that you have to be already published in order to get published.  The movie, ‘The Help,’ was based on the author’s first book.  She wrote that book at the perfect time.” 

 Flacco added, “Do your research.  Be sure you know exactly what the publishers are looking for,” indicating that that there is a high probability that what was in last year, is out now. 

 To those who were so serious about writing that they’d come out on a Sunday afternoon to hear what these agents had to say, Martin had a solid piece of advice and examples on the do’s and don’ts of query letters. 

 “Your query letter is the most important thing you’ll write, next to the book itself,” she cautioned.  

 The other thing that was of particular interest to me was the need for a writer to build a platform – what it is that makes you the expert on what you’re writing. 

 According to Flacco, those who hope to get published need to “Put up a web site, blog, tweet, write articles for newspapers and otherwise get published.” 

 In other words, be prepared to impress. 

 Last month’s salon ran from 3-5 pm, as it will this Sunday, and was packed full of information, such as the useful tidbit that advances to authors have been cut by fifty-percent in the past few years due to the economy. 

When attendees were asked if they would like to have a salon available the last Sunday of every month, every hand in the place went up. 

 Some of those hands belonged to published authors – who are far in advance of my work.  I consider myself in the “unconscious incompetent” stage of learning, where I don’t even know what I don’t know.   

 On the brighter side, I figure that if I attend every month for a year, I’m going to know a whole lot more about publishing than I do today.  And if writing is a true passion, I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than to surround myself with others who share the passion. 

 When the invitation reads, “Find out specific steps you can take to launch your career – or to take it to the next level of success!” I find that irresistible. 

 Everyone is welcome.  If the event is of interest to you, let them know you’re coming.  You can RSVP:  Anthony@MartinLiteraryManagement.com

I think they’re going to need a bigger room this month.

 ©  2011  Judy Spiers

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