Thursday, June 4, 2015

Plowed Over!

Now six months into this effort “to take up an Odyssey - my quest to market my books and build a brand” and I am either running out of energy or I am only turning up stones in my field. 

Anne was off walking the Camino de Santiago (which she finished,
200 miles in 15 days) and our friend took pity on me so he organized a dinner party.

I discovered his point was to connect me with a lady who, by way of introduction, said, “Walter tells me you need help marketing your books.”
Recovery from that startling intro began with my asking her name.  “Maura.  I’m starting a new business.  Walter tells me you can help me with it.”

What psychology!  Pierce my already deflated ego and blow hot air into my already inflated ego.

Maura had been an actress (although not her real name, you may have seen her), an author of three books (first, self-published, second, best-seller, third, six-figure advance from New York publishing house, sold six copies), and now she is going into the internet based wellness business.

The best I could do was stammer out a suggestion we barter our mutual services and expertise.

By the time we made our first scheduled telephone call to exchange information and help each other, I had convinced myself I was about to waste my time in a painful conversation with someone for whom it all came too easily and all I had to do was build a platform, blah, blah, blah.

Before that call, Maura sent me an e-mail of suggestions. “Here are two good places to start: Rick Frishman is the best in the business for helping folks market their book. Go to this seminar in L.A. and meet other authors, which is where you find out what is really going on. I have been to many of his events:  Another, on the web,  The best PR firm in NYC I know is  Expensive but they will cut thru everything for you.”

(I have been to the websites, but not yet used the services.)

Our call:  Painful, yes, but not a waste of time and certainly not preaching from one for whom it all came too easily.  Her basic message was that I had not worked hard enough at marketing.  “You have to be 20% production, 80% marketing.”
I accepted her point, though I’m not and never will be 20/80, when the 80 is marketing.  Assuming 100% is a real boundary, I am about 50% production (well, on a bad week, maybe 30-40%). I am never 50% marketing, not even 30% on most weeks.  Why not?  Because there is always 20-50% friction.  You know things like the dentist or working to pay the dentist’s bills.  That sort of friction.

So, her basic assertion rang true, hit me hard, and, while it felt like being plowed over, motivated me.

Because?  Because I knew she was right. Although I work like a normal beast of burden on the weekdays, my bargain with Anne is that only writing gets done on the weekend.  That means my now re-set goal of 30% of my time on marketing is about 15 hours in a five day week.  I have not yet reached it.   My issue is friction control.  And it’s a battle.


I told you I subscribed to Writer's Relief.  The process requires submitting a writing sample and being selected by them.  That’s always psychologically nice, although I am skeptical that the selection process is nothing more than a marketing ploy.
Once accepted, there is a set-up stage with a $225 set-up fee.  Before I paid the set-up fee, I attempted to do some due diligence.  The website (here) is not overwhelmingly conducive to this, but the best I could tell from the testimonials  I back-checked, they are legitimate.  I registered and paid.
There is a cycle fee for submitting query letters (or short stories or poetry).  First cycle, $449, each subsequent cycle, every 60 days, $389.  If you skip a cycle there is a $169 fee.  The promise is 25 – 29 query letters sent out each cycle.
The set-up is a little cumbersome with some annoying questions, but I am sensitive to the human habit of disliking the people you need the most, so I observed the annoyance but didn’t let it stop me.  (Annoying question: “List all the agents you have queried.” Answer: “That’s why I’m hiring you.”  In honesty, it may be a fair question.  As I had mentioned in an earlier blog, I have only queried one agent and I was not going to tell them that.) The purpose of the set-up is to create a query packet: letter, synopsis, and first 15 pages of your novel.
I finished my initial cycle in the middle of April.  True to their word, 29 of my initial queries are out doing their work for me.  Well, 15 are still at work, I have already received nine  “unfortunately, this one doesn’t sound like it’s right for us.” (And five have auto-replied they simply won’t answer if they are not interested.)
The second cycle came around immediately and I signed up.  On this group of 29 submissions I note I am more carefully researching each agent they have identified for me to query.  I processed my first cycle, all 29, in about four days, in a kind of hunger to get it done.  So far, I have been at work on the second cycle for 11 days and I have a dozen left to finish.  I discover I can only query two a day, given the amount of research I now find myself doing on each agent.  Most of the submission information is the same, though I have loosened up my query letter with some personalization for each agent, based on my research.
In the two cycles, I have received five personal responses.  Fast turn-downs to be sure, but there is something about having a solicited agent use your name and refer to your actual letter that is energizing.  I’ll be finished with all 29 the week this blog is posted.

If I stick with this service for six cycles, it will add up to $2,619 for a year of 150 – 174 queries.  I am not entirely sure that 150 – 174 queries to agents is a realistic idea.  Even a half-year’s effort amounts to $1,959 if you don’t drop out entirely until the twelfth month.  I cannot honestly say that I know this is money well spent.  I (maybe we) often spend money on some pro forma activity that I “should” do when I do not have any realistic expectation that it will benefit me. 

On the other hand, I have never been through this.  I’m not yet fully confident that I know what the meaning of benefit is.  I was pleased with Writer’s Relief’s efficiency and helpfulness in the first cycle.  I risked a second.  I am pleased with the internal skill development it is forcing on me.  I am also discovering inadequacies that I thought I had covered.  (For example, someone asked for more than a one-sentence bio.  Horrors!)

While I have succeeded in getting a consistent query letter effort going, it may not be possible to get an agent, ever, from a query letter, no matter what we are told.  (I love Rod Miller’s blog, The Lies They Tell Writers.)   The effort to get in front of people and meet them (conferences, etc.) is the next challenge.

E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.


  1. Edward, when it comes to westerns there are not 29 agents in the country worth having, You are going about this like a businessman not a writer. Keep in mind that 'they' are supposed to pay you, not the other way around. Besides which, the expenditure that will return benefits to you is the purchase price of a current copy of WRITER'S MARKETS, available at any good book store. Anything beyond that, in fees or dues or whatever, is a waste.

  2. Frank, Thank you. I agree with you about 29 agents when it comes to westerns and I will take your advice about the current copy of WRITER"S MARKET. I have been jaundiced about what they really offer, but your recommendation carries a lot of weight. I'll let you know.

    1. I wish you well with your venture, Edward.

  3. Edward,

    Your post is full of hard truth and a lot of humor. I am with you on the friction control challenge. The petty things in life grab us by the ankles. Sometimes I feel I'm defying all laws of physics just by getting a few paragraphs written.

    I have to agree with Frank. I'm always suspicious when a company asks for substantial money to "market" your creative works. Of course, they will send letters to everyone who calls himself/herself an agent, knowing that the chances for acceptance are virtually nil.

    Hang in there, buddy. My own strategy has been to write to the very best of my ability and get it in front of as many people as I can. There is a "kismet" element to writing success that we do not control.

  4. NEVER NEVER NEVER PAY for services other than editing, proofreading, a decent book cover (and ALL of these you can learn to do yourself). But first start with learning to write - and that's 100% of your time. Once you have a polished product to sell, then worry about marketing. There are "leeches" everywhere, in all professions, art, writing, theater, film. Best wishes.