Saturday, December 22, 2012

Robin Colucci Hoffman, Get Published Coach, Speaks About Nonfiction Writing

Robin Colucci Hoffman is the Get Published Coach, and she's coming to the April 2013 Missouri Writers Guild Conference in St. Louis to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with you! Her bio from LinkedIn states that she "helps coaches, speakers, and consultants write their books and get published (by Random House, Doubleday, J. Wiley & Sons, Hay House, and others), many of which won awards and/or became bestsellers.

Robin worked as journalist and has researched and/or written freelance articles for The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine and Newsweek to name a few. She has a BA in journalism from the George Washington University and an MA in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica. Look for her book: From Expert to Author: How to Write a Book that Sells, coming soon. For more information about Robin, you can visit: .

MWG: Hi Robin, thanks for taking time to talk with us today. What are two or three mistakes you see writers make when they are on their road to publication?

Robin:  One of the biggest mistakes I see is failing to properly position the book. This is especially important for nonfiction writers. If you are an expert in your field and want to write a book, you probably have a ton of valuable information. The key is knowing how to frame it to be interesting, compelling even, to your target audience. Another mistake, which is related to the first, is making the leap from idea to writing. I know it seems like the right thing to do--make up your mind and get in action--but the problem I see when people do that, they get confused, stuck, and stop, or they finish a manuscript but have no idea who the book is for, what role the book will play in their own career, or why anyone would read it. The third mistake is trusting their own judgment. I've never met a writer who can evaluate her own work objectively. They are either too harsh, too forgiving, or both. Professional feedback is a must.

MWG: I'm sure many people are nodding their heads in agreement with you right now. Just your answer here makes me want to pick your brain and everything you know while you are at the conference! In today's publishing world, if an author's goal is publication, what MUST he or she make sure to do?

Robin:  I tell my clients it's about removing question marks. When you approach an agent, imagine they are seeing you surrounded by question marks: Can I work with this person? Is the work any good? Can they pull off a full manuscript? Can they sell books? Do they know anything about the industry? The aspiring author's job is to remove the question marks--the faster the better. What that means: Start to build your author platform as soon as you commit to write the book or sooner. Create a track record of success with sales. Be prepared. Know the industry. Approach agents the way they ask to be approached with the best product possible. Have a completed, edited manuscript, ready to present at a moment's notice. Only pitch agents who represent works in your genre. Show up to conferences.Pitch in person. Be polite and professional. Deliver a compelling one-sentence pitch, and shut up. Wait for a response. Don't blather on. Listen. Carry yourself with confidence. Some of these things may seem small, but they will set you apart every time.

MWG: Great, great advice! You are leading two workshops at the conference. The first is called, "Bestseller Blueprints." Who should attend this workshop and what will you cover?

Robin:  Bestseller Blueprints is perfect for writers who are struggling with the decision of how they should structure their book. No need to invent your own or wonder what to do. I've studied current bestsellers as well as the bestselling books of all time, and every one of them fits into one of four basic blueprints. In this workshop, attendees will learn what the four blueprints are and how to determine which is the best fit for their "author personality" and their book concept (see my other session). We will do some fun exercises to figure it out, and attendees will learn how to work with their blueprint "skeleton" and add their own content "meat" on the bones.

MWG:  That sounds fascinating and very helpful! You are also leading a workshop titled, "An Idea is Not a Concept." Who should attend this and what will be covered? 

Robin:  Honestly, I feel every nonfiction author should attend this one. This is a "make-or-break" conversation for many. A book idea is a spark, a flash of inspiration when you say, "I should write a book on that!" It's a great motivational moment, but it alone does not make a salable book. A concept, on the other hand, is the result of answering 10 key questions. Five about you, your audience, and your business or writing career, and five about your book and the marketplace. During this workshop, we will go over each of the 10 questions and how to answer them for yourself. If you answer these 10 questions thoroughly and thoughtfully, you will be well-positioned to write a book that is 100 percent in alignment with you and what you want, gives your reader what they want, and is absolutely unique in the marketplace.

MWG: WOW! I wish I could take that class today--seriously, I am currently working on a nonfiction book proposal. Anything else you'd like to add to let conference attendees know more about you and/or your presentations?

Robin:  I'm transparent, direct, I like to keep it fun, and I look forward to seeing you.

MWG: Thanks, Robin, for giving us insight into you and your work. I can't wait to meet you in person. Readers, registration for the MWG conference, where Robin will be, is now open. Go here for more details. 

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill

Margo is a former MWG conference chair and president, who now lives in St. Louis, MO and is busy marketing her first children's middle-grade historical fiction novel, FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL'S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG.  Check out more about Margo, her book, and her blog at her website. 

She hopes to see you at the 2013 conference. It's going to be great!  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Ten Reasons To Register for The 2013 MWG Conference

by Pink Sherbert Photography (Flickr)
I hope you've had a chance to check out some of the speaker interviews we've done so far. If not, just scroll on down after you read this post, and you will find interviews with authors, editors, and agents who will be attending the MWG Conference April 26 through 28 in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Registration is open, and you can save money if you register BEFORE December 31. (Does your spouse need to buy you a Christmas present? This is the perfect one!) You can find all you need to register on this page

If you are not convinced that you need to attend, then here are ten reasons to consider:
1. You get at least ONE FREE pitch with an agent or editor--this could be the IN you need to get your manuscript published.

2. Meet with writers from all over the Midwest (really the country) and network. Where else can you find a room full of people who actually understand what it feels like to get a personal rejection?

3. The hotel bar--Not that we advocate drinking, but drinking with agents, editors, writers, and publishers is better than drinking with anyone else. (SMILES)

4. You can claim the expenses from this conference on your taxes.

5. Have you seen the speaker line-up? WOW! If you haven't, scroll down to see interviews with some and go here to see the complete list! 

Reason #11--the hotel!
6. It is important to stay up on the latest industry trends and to always improve your writing craft. At the MWG conference, you can do both.

7. Buy authors' books and support authors and talk to published authors. There are several chances to do this at the conference. Let's call it: writers supporting writers.

8. St. Louis is a great city--stay a couple extra days and take in a ballgame, visit the Arch, walk in historic Laclede's Landing, and see a ghost at the Lemp Mansion.

9. You can enter some of the conference contests and win prizes for your writing. Full details on the contests will be up in January here. 

10. You are a writer. Writers go to conferences to learn, network, and have fun. Other professions go to conferences all the time--you should, too!

Stay tuned for more interviews with speakers. I TRY to post one every week! If you are pitching to an agent, check here first for information on that agent.

post by Margo L. Dill 

Margo is the author of FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL'S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG. For more information, please see:


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Steve Yates and University Presses

Born and reared in Springfield, Missouri, Steve Yates is an M.F.A. graduate from the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas. He is the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction; and his collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, will be published by University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013. His fiction has won two fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission and one from the Arkansas Arts Council. Yates has published short stories in TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, Turnstile, Western Humanities Review, Laurel Review, Chariton Review, Valley Voices, Harrington Gay Men's Literary Quarterly, Nebraska Review, Texas Review, and many other journals. In Best American Short Stories 2010, one of his stories was honored among the “Other Notable Stories of 2009.” His first novel, Morkan’s Quarry, was published in May 2010 by Moon City Press. Portions of the novel were published first in Missouri Review, Ontario Review, and South Carolina Review. He is assistant director / marketing director at University Press of Mississippi in Jackson and lives in Flowood with his wife, Tammy.  

MWG: Welcome, Steve, thank you for talking with us today about what you are offering at the MWG Conference in 2013. You are going to be speaking about working with university presses. So, what's your experience working with a university press?  

Steve: My collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, is the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction and will be published by the University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013, right about when we meet. So you can read more about my working with UMASS Press at , and my impressions about entering fiction contests are at .

 But I don’t just work with university presses. I work at a university press, since 1998 at the University Press of Mississippi, where I am now assistant director and marketing director, and before that from 1994 to 1998 at the University of Arkansas Press, where I was publicist and then assistant marketing manager.

MWG: What types of books do university presses generally publish?

Steve: That question is exactly what I am hoping to help your writers answer. “How to Parse a Press” is a presentation I have been honing at University Press of Mississippi’s eight supporting state universities, helping scholars, writers, and faculty to understand better the many ways to divine what a university press is looking for and what it does well. Each of the 134 university presses in the Association of American University Presses is a niche publisher with often very different core competencies. I want to show seekers in the Missouri Writers Guild ways to determine what those core disciplines and competencies are at a press, and how to perceive the right working fit for a manuscript.

MWG: That sounds great and very useful! Do you submit to a university press in the same way you would submit to an agent or mainstream publisher--in other words--find guidelines online and follow them? DO they generally accept submissions year round or only while the university is in session?

Steve: Our submission guidelines at University Press of Mississippi are posted at ; and many other university presses post them similarly at a press website. But we’ll slow down a bit in my talk. Pounding out submissions without care and thought damages the writer’s reputation and sours editors. Writers can save a lot of time, postage, and heartache if they will plan, research, read books from a prospective publisher, and then submit in a targeted fashion. Improving the aim of MWG writers is what I hope to do. University Presses are different all over, but most accept submissions of nonfiction and scholarship within the press’s core disciplines pretty much year round. And not all university presses are tied to one university. University Press of Mississippi, headquartered in Jackson, is supported by Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi University for Women, University of Mississippi, and University of Southern Mississippi. This makes UPM very affordable to support, and doesn’t tie us to the schedule of any one campus. Similarly at other university presses, the students and faculty may be on break, but somewhere in the McIlroy House or in the Paul B. Johnson Building, there’s a light on, and a university press publisher at the desk working hard to deliver great content to the world.

MWG: I think conference attendees are in for a real treat, and for something different than we've heard before! What are the benefits of working with a university press?

Steve: Commitment. University Presses operate with a committed passion and understanding: the books we publish are the best scholarship and writing in our core disciplines or about our state or region. And often no other publisher will touch them. Take this biography, the first biography of Mississippi John Hurt . Now serious blues fans and scholars of the blues, they know who John Hurt was. But no large publishing house in New York could afford to publish this book. The scale of a big New York publishing firm means that sales of 3,000 or fewer copies of a book—that’s a death knell; that writer is written off! But university presses have a small, niche scale, and an expertise that can bring this United Kingdom scholar’s book to the world, to Mississippi and well beyond, successfully for all parties, I might add. There’s a great interview with the author at . And if we have time, I’ll tell you a story he told about his first book signing, one that propels me any time I get weary. Commitment, like pilgrims on a great journey, sharing knowledge, that’s the advantage. Anywhere else can often be just spreadsheets, units, bottom lines, and dollar signs.

MWG: Any disadvantages?

Steve: Most of the disadvantages occur when the marriage between the author and the publisher lacks communication. Publishing is a marriage in which all parties recognize the value and pursue the mutual goal of developing and exporting a body of content to the widest possible market. It very much involves communication and agreement upon expectations. I work hard and our editors at UPM work very hard to help keep an author grounded in reality and focused, while we collectively, author and publisher, make the very most of each author creation. Yet, and understandably, authors dream at a scale that is sometimes profoundly make believe. Since 2008 and the great recession, publishing has changed more in those few years than in all the years (since 1994) that I’ve been in it. Borders is gone. The Kindle is a massive force. When I came to Mississippi in 1998, there was a journalist called a book editor at 13 major southern, metropolitan newspapers. Now there is only one, Greg Langley, at the Baton Rouge Advocate. And yet, sometimes authors still want to get a spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show (also gone, by the way), or want to do something advised by a daughter, brother, or friend who is an author, even though that author/friend published with Random House in 2001. 2007 is a thousand years ago in publishing years! And we’re not Random House, thank God, and Random House, is not UPM. Yet, it’s very understandable. We all rely on our loved ones and peers to guide us when we enter new territory. As a writer who has published two books now, I deeply identify with the struggle to understand a new realm, manage dreams, and recognize that the world has a scale. Publishing may be very different than you or your peers ever conceived. I’m from the Missouri Ozarks, though. So conquer the holler, take the hill, spy what’s beyond, and then decide what real and happy success can be. All the disadvantages come when the partners, author and publisher, never see eye to eye on the scale of reality.

MWG: I can see that I need to attend your talk. Just your interview is inspirational! So, what will you cover in your talk at the MWG conference?

Steve: “How to Parse a Press” is really about perceiving what a university press is, what it wants, and what it can do. I’ll be showing MWG writers some tips on the ways in which university presses communicate what matters to them and what they seek.

MWG: Anything else you want to add?

Steve: I’m just really honored that Steve Wiegenstein, author of such a great novel, Slant of Light, would even think about asking me home to Missouri to talk with Missouri writers. I love helping scholars and writers down here in Mississippi and all over the country and world. But to help someone from my home state, in any small way, I’ll travel a long, hard road for the chance to do that for a Missouri writer.

MWG: Thank you for your time. We look forward to seeing you in April.

Steve: Sure, I can hardly wait to be on home turf. Thank you.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg: Literary Agent at the 2013 Conference

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg is another one of the literary agents coming to the 2013 Missouri Writers Guild conference. (Did you know registration is now open?) I had a chance to ask Pam some questions about what she represents, how to pitch to her, and her workshop. Pam is an associate agent at the Larsen Pomada Agency in San Francisco.  

MWG: Hi Pam, welcome to the conference blog. Thank you for taking the time out to talk with us today. Let's start with a few things about you as an agent. How long have you been an agent and who are some of your clients?

Pam: I have only been an agent since April of this year. But I've kicked off fast, selling 15 books so far these seven months! Some of my clients include Sarah Eden and Golden Heart Winner Lorenda Christensen in adult romance. Rhonda Helms and Cecily White in young adult.

MWG: WOW! That's great. You are off to a terrific start. What are you currently looking for? 

Pam: I'm always looking for great middle-grade, romance, and adult genre fiction.

MWG: What should authors know about pitching to you?

Pam: I'm probably the most laid back agent ever. But I'm also the most blunt.

MWG: What are you NOT interested in--no matter how well-written it is?

Pam: Nonfiction.

MWG: Thanks! You are also going to be leading a workshop in social networking. Why is it important for authors to learn about social networking?

Pam: Even in fiction, it is important to be social with your peers and build a network. Great writing always matters first, but networking comes soon after.

MWG: Yes, I think all published authors soon learn this! What will you cover in your workshop and who should attend?

Pam: I'll cover blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook pages vs. profile and lots of how tos. People who want to get the most out of social media or are just beginning [should attend].

MWG: Anything else you'd like to add about your workshop or pitch sessions?

Pam: Just that I am super excited to visit your fair state for the first time! And I can't wait to meet everyone.

MWG: And we can't wait to meet you either!  Thanks, Pam! 

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill; Margo is the author of the new historical-fiction, middle-grade novel, Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg.