Tips from Muse and the Marketplace

In couple months ago, I attended Muse and the Marketplace in Boston. As is becoming my tradition with conferences, I'm passing on a few helpful tips below.

But first, I shall reenact for you my first conference critique.  It went something like this.

Livia enters dimly lit dungeo conference room,clutching manuscript and scanning different tables for her agent.  Finally spies Agent at very end of room and crosses over, bravely ignoring the tortured screams, cackles, and tongues of flame that burst occasionally from neighboring tables.

Agent:  Hello.

Livia:  Hello. (Kicks at enormous rat, which hisses but promptly get eaten by an even bigger cockroach)

Agent:  I have a question.  Was this the first thing you've written?

Livia:   Uhhh.... (madly brainstorming ways to appear less dumb) Oh, uh... this little thing?  Uh, yeah, of course.  I mean. OH YEAH, it's not like I consider this a REAL manuscript or something.  Just a little bit 'o fun on the side, in case you were wondering why it sucked -- I mean not that I'm saying that you're saying that it sucked but yeah, totally, if it read like a first manuscript it's just cuz ...... (Keeps digging grave for a few more minutes.  Vultures circle overhead.)

Agent:  Oh okay.  I was just wondering, cuz this was actually my favorite submission.  I actually didn't have much to say because I just wanted to keep reading.

Livia: (Blank stare)

Dungeon transforms into hotel conference room.  Carrion eaters disappear.  Screams from neighboring tables transform into polite conversation.  Tongues of flame turn out to be smartphone LCD displays.

Hehe, yeah, so the first few minutes took a few days off my life, but the encouraging feedback afterwards counteracted that, for (hopefully)  no let loss of lifespan.   And after I stopped pscyhing myself out, I realized that Agent was very nice.

But anyways, on to the conference tips.

Writing Tips (On writing children, but applicable to other characters)

Observe kids in the age range you're writing. How do they move? How do they interact? For example, ever noticed that toddlers have a bow legged stance and a stomach-forward way of moving? Even if you don't write that out, it will show through in your writing.
 -- Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family

In the same way, listen to them talk. Listen to their patterns of speech.
-- Lauren Grodstein
[Note from Livia: Alan Rinzler also has a good article on eavesdropping for dialogue on his blog]

If your research is thorough and people still aren't believing your character, then it's a writing problem, not a research problem. Make your writing strong and authoritative enough that the readers have to believe it.
-- Lauren Grodstein

Generally speaking, the YA market responds to big drama. A girl reconciling with mom? Maybe. A girl reconciling with mom after Dad dies in a space shuttle explosion? More marketable.
--Lauren Grodstein

On Platform and Publicity

If you're an aspiring fiction writer, focus your time on making your book better rather than on blogging. Unless your numbers are huge, blog followings won't help you get published.
– Julie Barer, Barer Literary
[Note from Livia: The other panelists agreed with this, and I've also been seeing this advice elsewhere  -- it seems like there is a  backlash against the recent push for aspiring writers to build up their internet presence. What do you think?]

Five years ago, writers were beholden to their publicists to make their book known. Now you have much more control. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Allison Winn Scotch, author of The One That I Want

On Self Publishing
There isn't as much of a stigma anymore to self publishing. Agents and editors watch self published books to see if they do well (Upwards of 15-20,000 copies sold).
– Julie Barer

While it's true that in self publishing, you get a higher percentage of the cover price, you're also taking all the financial risk of publishing the book upon yourself. In traditional publishing, you share the risk with the publisher. Remember that most books don’t earn out their advance.
Sanj Kharbanda, VP Digital Marketing Strategy for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Do you need a publisher? There are parallels to the music industry. If you want to be Lady Gaga, you need a traditional publisher. But just as recording technology has made it possible for indie bands to put out cds, self publishing now makes it possible for indie authors to put out their own books.
 – Joshua Benton, director of Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University

On Ebooks and the Digital Marketplace

On a family vacation, Julie Barer's mother started chatting with another woman on the beach.  They were both reading on their kindles, and Julie's mom thought the other woman’s book was interesting. Four seconds later, Julie's mother also owned the book.
– Julie Barer

In the digital marketplace, you get a small number of extreme blockbusters and a long tail. It’s easier than ever to get a book out, but it’s getting harder to make a lot of money from it.
– Joshua Benton

In digital formats, books are no longer limited by length. You don't have to add filler or cut out content to make a book fit the expected word count for the genre. A digital book can be just as long as it needs to be.
 – Joshua Benton

Hope you found these useful!  Let me know your thoughts.


  1. When I buy an ereader, it's going to be dangerous! I'll be just like that lady - snapping up everything right then and there. I might need another job... :)

  2. I really quite preferred the dungeon. I think that could be expanded rather nicely into some flash fiction or even a short story. Mind if I appropriate it? Okay, thanks. :D

  3. Gee, Simon didn't even wait for a yes. Us guys, huh?

    I enjoyed your post today. I wish you only happy surprises this upcoming weekend, Roland

  4. Brilliant conference experience. I really loved that bit.

    As for building a platform via blogging, I have heard different things on that. At the writer's conference I just attended last month the editor I heard speak said that it was actually a good idea. But I also share the belief that it can take up too much time that could be spent on writing or revising instead.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Hehe, glad you folks enjoyed the reenactment. Just needed a bit of silly today. Simon -- please acknowledge me in any pieces of fiction that use the dungeon.

  6. Thanks again for sharing your notes! In return I'll carry your books for you, if you want. :)

  7. Great post. Glad for your wonderful interaction with the agent, and interesting about the self-pub and e-books.

  8. That is a really cool post. I like the way you revealed the horrors of approaching an agent for the first time. I could feel the fear! Kind of makes me glad there's no writing conferences close enough to me in Australia. I can neatly and guiltlessly side step the fear.

  9. I wish I felt there was a backlash to authors building up their internet presence. I have seen lit agents and publishers that both say you need a huge amount of hits on your blog, but they make you feel like if you don't, you should quit. I recently had a big house tell me they loved the concept, that I'm a good writer, but while I was doing good things with blogging and speaking, my reach wasn't enough for them to capitalize on. I appreciated the honesty, but it's so hard to know that good writing and strong premise count for less than the number of visitors to my blog.

  10. Hi Livia, thanks for sharing - just a comment on this
    "Unless your numbers are huge, blog followings won't help you get published"

    Blogging is not primarily about getting published, it's about a SALES platform. Once you get published, or publish yourself, people need to know about you in order to buy your book. Blogging (in my opinion!) is the best way of building up influence and connecting with people online, so that when you do have something to sell, you have an audience to approach.

    So that just seems like the wrong angle to look at it from - but then I guess that's more a self-pub angle than trad pub?!

    Thanks, Joanna

  11. Audra -- I believe the backlash is not so much deciding that authors don't need to build a presence, but more acknowledging that most unpublished authors do not build large enough of the platform to help them. Therefore people are now saying not to bother. On the plus side, those same people are saying that a strong story and good writing are much better than a blog.

    Joanna - I think they are looking at it from the sales angle. The line of reasoning would be that blogging doesn't give you enough of a sales platform to help you in the eyes of a publisher, and therefore it doesn't help you get published.

  12. Great post, Livia. And congrats on the good feedback from the Agent!

  13. Nice post Livia, I enjoyed your conversation. :) Especially the Quote "In the digital marketplace, you get a small number of extreme blockbusters and a long tail. It’s easier than ever to get a book out, but it’s getting harder to make a lot of money from it.
    – Joshua Benton"