Books — Coming Soon By Jeff Rivera


The Forever My Lady Series

Forever My Baby

Forever My Girl

Forever My Life

Forever My Papi

Forever My Love

Other Love Stories

Falling in Light

Letters to a Soldier

Across the Sunrise

Ain’t Dead Yet


YA Books

Miami High Book Series

Frontin’ (Co-Written by Pat Tucker)

Middle Grade Books

Tevin Priest is the Spawn of Satan and I’ll Tell You Why

Lit Agent, Michael Murphy: “Writers Do Your Homework”



Michael Murphy, a former publisher of William Morrow books, is a veteran literary agent who is actively seeking writers. In our in-depth interview with him, Murphy discusses why he has to sometimes jump in and do the publishers job, why it sometimes better to go with a small publisher over a major house, why he’s staying away from vampire books and his love for blowing up mailboxes with M-80′s.

Michael, what’s your official title at your company and why do you think you’re one of the best agents in the biz?
I change my official title based on whim and need. Generally, I am Chief Susurrator (translation = director of emitting small noises). But, when I want to seem ‘professional’ in order to lure in a certain kind of writer, I fall back on founder, owner, or director. I am not the best agent in the universe. But, I do think I’m the best agent in New Orleans. Because there is no real training or vetting to become an agent, we all bring different skill sets. I assume ex-lawyers (or current lawyers) like Jeff Klienman or Paul Levine bring a sharper pen to the vetting of a contract. I know uber-agents like Esther Newberg or Binky Urban raise the bar on how a proposal will be received by publishers just based upon the fact that it’s coming from an uber-agent.

With my years on the publishing side and a lot of experience in marketing & sales, I do bring some creativity to the process not as available from all agents. In the process of getting books to the marketplace, I have at times been the primary editor, designed covers, written jacket copy and or the press release, set up my authors at book festivals, conferences, or interviews on-line or on-air. In one case I designed, printed, and paid for a preview sampler for a book where the publisher didn’t want to use their marketing budget in that way. In another case, I actually jumped in and started selling bookstores (I was trying to shame the publisher for what I considered a tepid job). I was six for six in getting orders in bookstores from Los Angeles to Milwaukee, to Miami where the publisher had failed. Except for this last case, I don’t fault the publishers nor do I mind jumping in on what might be considered “not my job.” The staff at most houses has been cut to the bone. People left in marketing, publicity, & sales are often now asked to perform the jobs of 3 or 4 people. If I can help the cause, I’m happy to. I actually love all aspects of publishing. I try (but don’t always succeed) to meld my passions to the publisher’s efforts so I’m not perceived as a nuisance.

Things have changed so rapidly for this business and continue to change. What are you doing to prepare your writers?
I have tried to expand my net from the traditional New York trade houses to include far more small and independent presses. With the pinch being felt by book publishers, advances from The Big Guys have been coming down (unless you’re a Literary Master like Sarah Palin or Keith Richards). So, the difference on an advance from The Big Guys and small houses is not as great as a few years ago. The fact is, a writer can get a book published as well or better by a tiny house located time zones from New York. Gin Phillips (not my author) couldn’t ask for a better job than Rhonda Hughes and her 2-person publisher in Portland, Oregon, Hawthorne Books, did on THE WELL AND THE MINE.

Quite frankly, the other thing I’ve been doing to brace myself has been to try to develop side revenue streams. I love being an agent – more than anything I’ve ever done in the book business, which includes being the Publisher for William Morrow Books. But, it’s damn hard to make livable wages as a certain kind of agent right now. Since moving to New Orleans at the end of last year, I have squeezed in discussions with area universities and writing centers to teach a course on book publishing as I used to do with the NYU Publishing Program. With the Saints Super Bowl victory, its aftermath blending right into Mardi Gras, this hasn’t been easy. I never want to charge writers for one on one book doctoring. That somehow strikes me as sleazy. There are absolute scam artists out there taking the money from aspiring writers to learn their SYSTEM or METHOD to be published successfully in 8 weeks or whatever. Shameful. I have, however, spoken to a few downsized highly placed publishing executives about doing a road show to places like Madison, WI or Lawrence, KS to present to writing groups the publishing landscape (at least as we see it).

Michael, what do you think about all these technological changes happening in the publishing world?
I think anything that makes the connection between a writer and their core readers faster, easier, or sexier is ultimately a wonderful thing. In the short term (and this is just my silly theory), I think the evolution away from a wide sea of book people who cared passionately about good writing and reading (independent booksellers, publishers’ sales reps, and a wealth of book reviewers) to an isolated individual holding a device, their book interests being driven by anything that makes it through the clutter of media and the internet, is a terrible thing. There are vastly fewer book reviewers to advocate books to readers than just a few years ago. The great Susan Larson, an institution in the New Orleans book community, just took her buy out option from The Times-Picayune. There are vastly fewer sales reps to highlight books to booksellers. I just heard Simon & Schuster is down to but seven reps covering the entire country. These changes feed into books that have to sell themselves without this former wide sea of book people. It leads to books driven by profile over content. When I walk into a superstore and see the front tables dominated by books by former sit com stars or current reality TV show performers, my old grizzled heart just seizes up a bit. All those books and nothing I want to read.

I do hope that people smarter than me will learn how to use the promise of the new social media to take a writer without obvious “hooks” (other than the fact that they write beautifully) to find the tens or hundreds of thousands of readers who’d love their work rather than the 2-3,000 that now happen upon the 1 or 2 copies on the shelves of a select number of bookstores.

What would you say editors are hot for?
Probably to my financial detriment, I don’t devote a lot of focus toward what’s hot now. I tend to physically recoil from hot categories. I hope never again to see another memoir about the life lessons learned from the family dog. I love Mark Doty. I think he’s the greatest living American poet. I stuck some of his writing from FIREBIRD into my wedding vows. But I refuse to read his DOG YEARS. In January, I went into the YA section to get some books from my daughter’s school reading list. I nearly passed out from the vapors when I saw that practically EVERY book in the entire section looked like a vampire novel to take advantage of the Twilight craze. Even Jane Austen had been re-packaged to look like a vampire novel. I hate this aspect of publishing (or I guess our culture at large). I choose not to feed this beast. Of course, that probably leads to my needing side revenue streams.

As far as what I’m looking for, I am a sucker for writers like Susan Orlean and Tony Horwitz where their work is extremely personal and infused with the feel of memoir, but the subject matter is outwardly focused so that the reader learns a whole lot of “stuff,” not just the impressions or reflections of the writer. Amy Baker, the marketing manager for Harper Perennial, had a great term for this kind of work that I can’t now recall (I need to call her). In essence it was Intensely Personal Journalism, but less clumsy than that wording.

I’m also willing (and desirous) to have my head turned by something in which I never expected to be involved. Originally, I set out not to handle fiction. But, when I read a short story by Barb Johnson, I felt “But I have to be involved with THIS!” On March 3rd, Barb just won 2nd place as Barnes & Nobles Discovery title of 2009. This was for MORE OF THIS WORLD OR MAYBE ANOTHER, a short story collection by a first time 52 year old writer. I am just now sending out a proposal for a manuscript I don’t even know how to define. I call Anne Ricketts’ BLUE SKIES AHEAD an apercu. It’s a series of nonfiction prose-poem sketches, quick impressions that dip in and out of the characters in her life and in and out of chronological order. Collectively the sort-of-memoir deals with the Big Issues of love, lust, betrayal, fitting in, and sexual orientation but in a style so light in execution that it feels no more weighty than riding around with the top down. I have alternately called Anne’s work “Colette with most the words taken out” or “LOVE LOST & WHAT I WORE for lesbians” or “Kind of like Annie Ernaux, except it’s nothing like Annie Ernaux.” I certainly wasn’t looking for anything like BLUE SKIES AHEAD and I sense it could be really hard to sell in 2010. But, Anne’s writing resisted my every attempt to dismiss it. I even made my wife and two of my writers read it to assure me it wasn’t bad poetry or trite musings but something sneaky that builds up to be subtle and beautiful. Their opinions secured my opinion. I hope Anne Ricketts’ weird little book gains the life it deserves.

What’s the best way for writers to approach you, Michael?
I appreciate cogency (at least in others). A tight email telling me what the book is, why anyone would drop $24 for it, and who you are should accompany 2 or 3 chapters and we’re there. My #1 pet peeve is that so many writers don’t do any homework. Maybe nearing 50% of my queries are for categories I do not represent (Science Fiction, Romance, Self-Help). I know I just replied that I am looking to have my head turned, but I will never represent Science Fiction, Romance, or Self-Help. I don’t read it. I don’t understand why books in those categories work or fail. I have no relationships with editors in those categories. If I wanted to be a Sous Chef, I wouldn’t apply to Jiffy Lube. I really don’t get it.

And finally, what is something about you that very few people know?
Y’know, in these days of FaceBook and just regular old email, confessional chatter is just so easy (and maybe a little addictive). I don’t think there’s anything I have ever done or thought that I have not fed onto somebody’s computer screen. I have a writer-client in Los Angeles whom I have never met, where we footnote our every correspondence with a series of questions. We are up into the thousands. I know her favorite singer is Van Morrison, her favorite cereal Raisin Bran, if given the chance, she would have slept with Helen of Troy, and way way more…and she knows way too much about me.

I guess the average friend or colleague doesn’t know that in high school I loved to blow up mailboxes with M-80′s. My personal record was 28 in one night. Testosterone in a 17-year-old boy is a scary thing.

Literary Agent and Partner at The Talbot Fortune Agency, John Talbot is proud of what he can offer his clients. In this interview he tells us why being an agent is exciting work, why you should always treat each book like it’s your first book, and about



Literary Agent and Partner at The Talbot Fortune Agency, John Talbot is proud of what he can offer his clients. In this interview he tells us why being an agent is exciting work, why you should always treat each book like it’s your first book, and about the single best way to impress an editor.

What is your job title at your agency, and can you tell us why you might be the best agent in the universe?

Literary Agent and Partner, The Talbot Fortune Agency LLC.

Would never claim to be the best in the universe but can claim to be a great match, and yes, sometimes the absolute best representative, for the clients who choose to work with me and with the agency. Why? 20+ years in commercial book publishing, half that time as an editor and half as an agent, give me the experience and vision to help clients manage careers for the long haul. I also share my decision-making responsibilities with partner Gail Fortune and our sub rights representative Eileen Laverty, both of whom have similar publishing backgrounds. The needs of each client are different and I try to be responsive to each on an individual basis. Likewise I enjoy delivering to editors and sub rights contacts books they can fall in love with, written by clients who take pride in their professionalism. Sometimes what a client needs most to thrive is simply highlighted information, good advice, and a connection with the right editor. Sometimes they need more than that, and sometimes less; a good agent should know when to step in and when to back off. My job is to be an advisor and mediator, to be professional and yet personal with my service, to get the best writing out of my clients, and, most importantly, to convey my passion for their work to our friends on the other side of the desk — then get the best deals possible. I have plucked “ready made” bestsellers from the slush pile, and I have developed projects from scratch that have earned large advances and significant royalties for my clients. No day is ever the same in this business: experience, judgment, flexibility, contacts, and long-term relationships are crucial. Yet on any given day a sparkling new discovery can land in my in-box and turn everything deliciously upside down. That’s why I love this business.

Are you psyched about new digital tech like the Kindle and other ebook readers?

I love the new technologies. On any given day I’ll read from a hardcover, a paperback, my computer, my iPhone, my Kindle, and hard copy manuscripts. Multiple platforms expand the overall marketplace, they put words in more places and in front of more eyeballs. As an agent, you just want to make sure your clients are getting compensated properly for these platforms. Unfortunately also, piracy has become a problem that the entire industry must work to address.

What kinds of books are likely to get published? What do editors want to work on right now?

I think I know but I’m keeping it a secret… No, honestly, I only know what’s hot for me and what might be hot for the editors I’m working with and submitting to. For me lately I’ve done very will with big thrillers and with cozy mysteries. I’ve also got some neat literary nonfiction narratives I’m just sending out.

As an editor I published Tom Perrotta’s first three books and would love to find someone similar to work with as a client. I really, really enjoy sports books; also biographies, history, immersive journalism, and current events. Business books and high-concept self-improvement. I could always use more submissions in those categories.

How has your agency tried to prepare for the economic changes in the publishing industry? And what advice do you give your writers to keep them from subsisting only on Ramen noodles?

Focus intensely on growing my own business and that of my clients. This is still a multi-billion dollar industry; if you use good judgment, are perseverant, and a little bit lucky, you can still create wealth for your clients.

I don’t know too many writers who haven’t gone through a Ramen stage at some point or other, and I’m not against counting pennies even if you’ve got a comfortable life. But in terms of what a writer can control — the words on the page — I would say to hold nothing back. Look at the editorial suggestions you’ve been given, whether in a writing workshop, by your agent, or most especially by your editor, and push the ones that resonate with you right to the edge. Go over the top, make it bigger, bolder, more beautiful, and more emotionally felt. No one wants a tepid manuscript; at least I don’t. I do want to laugh, cry, and have the crap scared out of me. Don’t hold back. (That doesn’t mean you have to overwrite, either; Joan Didion is about as bracing a read as can be, yet look for a wasted word or an overstatement and you won’t find one; she pushes the envelope though, doesn’t she?)

Oh, and the single most appreciated trait by an editor? Meet your deadlines. Treat every book as if it’s your first book and your last, put your heart and soul into it, and nail the deadline… Not much to ask, I know.

And finally, if an editor throws a project or an idea your way, do give it your greatest consideration before deciding how to proceed. Sometimes that idea can develop into an author’s best book; sometimes it’ll just pay bills till the next big deal comes along. Either situation could be helpful for you in the long run.

What should writers to (or not do) when they try to get in touch with you?

Via email query as per the guidelines on our Web site.

When my response gets spam-blocked and bounced back to me because the author hasn’t cleared my email address with their mail server. Grrr.

Before we go, could you tell us an interesting fact about yourself?

I love romantic comedies. Also hockey. Not sure if these are mutually exclusive.

John Talbot is a literary agent and former book editor with 20+ years of publishing experience. His clients include several New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, National Book Award Finalist Clarence Major, National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee Bruce Bawer, New England Book Award winner Suzanne Strempek Shea, and Coffeehouse Mystery bestseller Cleo Coyle. He is a member of the AAR. Prior to becoming an agent John spent three years with Pocket Books and seven years with Putnam Berkley (now part of Penguin USA), where he rose to the rank of senior editor and worked with such major bestselling authors as Tom Clancy, W.E.B. Griffin, and Jack Higgins, as well as rising literary stars such as Tom Perrotta. He edited over a dozen national bestsellers and had five New York Times Notable Books for the Putnam, Berkley, and Riverhead imprints. He began his editorial career at Simon & Schuster/Prentice Hall Press. Before getting into publishing he spent a year working for TDK in their Mikumagawa plant in Hita City, Japan. John received his B.A. in English Composition from DePauw University and also spent semesters at Washington University in St. Louis and Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan.

Lit Agent Irene Goodman Might be ‘Living in An Alternative Universe’



Irene Goodman, the President of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, really likes The Godfather. In this interview, she explains why this book is full of great business advice, why being an agent is about passion, and how writers can get a useful critique and help a worthy cause at the same time.

How have your agency and your writers dealt with the economic problems in the publishing industry?

I don’t know. 2009 was our best year ever. We must be living in an alternate universe, but our authors are thriving.

How do you think technology, like ebooks and digital readers, will change publishing?

Technology happens. Reading is still reading.

What’s a little-known fact about yourself?

I think The Godfather is the greatest business book ever written.

Your company has been around for over 30 years. How do you keep from being jaded about this business?

I always do things that are fresh and quirky and different. For example, two books I sold recently are Stuff Parisians Like by a young French sommelier, and Their Last Suppers , which is about famous people in history and their last meals. But at the same time, I love being at the top of my game. Turning down a lot of money because I know I can get more just never gets old.

What advice do you have for young college graduates who are thinking seriously about becoming an agent (besides interning for a literary agency)? Is it worth it any more, or would suggest another career path?

It’s totally worth it because some things never change. The job of book agent didn’t happen because someone once decided to invent it. It started because authors felt a need for it. My first agent mentor was an expert in science fiction and fantasy because he loved it, and he became an agent because so many of the authors in that field persuaded him to do it. No matter how much the technology changes, a great story will never go out of style, and agents are the guardians of the dream.

You have what’s called the Power Summit. Is this offered for all your current clients? Why is it so important?

It’s certainly available to all of our clients, but we try to do it when it’s called for or the time is right. It’s important because it gets everyone together in the same room with a lot of positive energy and a win-win attitude. It’s greater than the sum of its parts.

How could a potential writer get in touch with you? What is the best way?

All queries should be sent to Everything gets looked at, however briefly. If they see anything I might like, they forward it to me. Another way is to participate in one of my eBay auctions, held monthly. I offer critiques of partial manuscripts, with all proceeds going to charity.

Wait a minute: do critiques, even for charity, straddle the line between ethical and non-ethical, and why or why not?

Absolutely everyone, including the Association of Authors Representatives, has embraced and applauded this concept. I cannot even describe what deep satisfaction it gives me to give something back to the business I love and to benefit Hope for Vision and the Deafness Research Foundation at the same time. Anyone who is interested in getting a personal critique from me should go to and check out the auctions. Everything is explained there. Past recipients have said “Extremely worth it. A+!” and “Your review far exceeded my expectations.” I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know my stuff. But I also have to give credit where credit is due. I’m not the first person to do this. A very good author, Brenda Novak, raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation with a huge charity auction every year in May, featuring critiques from many different editors, agents, and authors. Anyone interested should check out her web site.

Having been in the business so long, what mistakes did you make when you were younger that you would never make again?

You know, I don’t really see mistakes as mistakes. We all make them, of course, but everything happens for a reason and we learn as we go along. I could answer you by saying that I used to work like a madwoman and hardly ever took time off. I still work like a madwoman, but now I work smarter.

Why is The Godfather the greatest business book ever written?

Let me answer this by giving you some of my favorite quotes from The Godfather and explaining what they mean:

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
Why is that good business advice? Because no matter what else you’re doing, you should still remember dessert. Remember to celebrate your successes before reaching for the next rung. I’ve seen so many authors who forget how to be happy because there is always some new goal to reach. Goals are great, but so is gratitude. Let the joy in.

“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Yes, well, we all know what that really means. It means that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

“It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
People often forget what Michael says later on in the book, which is that it’s all personal.

“I’ll reason with him.”
The book explains what Don Corleone knows, which is that reasoning with people instead of trying to strong-arm them actually yields much better results. It also creates long-term relationships instead of short-term resentment. And good relationships are the cornerstone of good business. Of course, if reason doesn’t work, it may be necessary to take stronger measures (not so strong as Don Corleone might suggest), but first try reason.


Lit Agent, Harvey Klinger Wants Strong Women’s Fiction



Harvey Klinger has been a staple in the book publishing industry since the mid-70s. When we were thinking of who to interview for agency series, he was one of the first I wanted to reach out to. In our interview with Mr. Klinger, he discusses why he believes his agency has an advantage over others, why he’s looking for a great science project, and what he really thinks of the new technologies coming out .

You’ve been in the business quite some time, Mr. Klinger how did you trek into publishing begin? And secondly, why do you think your agency is one of the best in the biz?
I’m the President of my eponymous agency, Harvey Klinger, Inc., which I began in October, 1977. I think I’m the best agent in the business because 1) I’ve been around since the last glacier hit Manhattan; 2) I come from a family of lawyers, so negotiatating great contracts for my authors is a genetic stroke of luck; 3) I love the creative process of making a good proposal a great one. That, no doubt, comes from the fact that when I got my M.A. in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, I thought I’d get an agent with no problem. Well, that obviously didn’t happen, so I became one!

There’s so much going on in publishing now, and on top of that what is happening to the economy. What have you done to brace yourself for the economic changes to the industry?
I realize that it’s very tough to sell a non-fiction project unless the person already has something of a national forum or platform for his/her work. Many would be authors talk about what they’ll do once their book is published. Publishers want to know what you’re doing now to create a name for yourself in advance of a book’s publication.

It’s so tough for anyone artistic to make a living from their art, what do you suggest authors do to avoid counting pennies?
Get a job in a good restaurant.

Having been an agent since, as you said, “The last glacier hit Manhattan,” you certainly have seen a lot of changes in the way books are published. What do you think about all these technological changes happening such as the Kindle, such as the iPad, etc.?
I think that any form of technology that makes people read books who would otherwise be checking their iPhones or playing video games on their computers is a good thing.

So, Mr. Klinger, what would you say is hot right now, what are editors begging you for?
Strong women’s fiction and great narrative non-fiction on topics of interest.

So, is that what you are looking for now too?
Interesting proposals on science subjects always interest me by experts in their field. I’m always on the look out for a great biography or superb new first novel.

For those aspiring writers out there, what is the best way for writers to approach you?
Check our our website –and if your book sounds like something for me, just email a query.

Need help writing your query letter?  Want to guarantee top agents will read your manuscript? Click here.

My People by Charles R. Smith



I loved this book and I definitely look forward to reading it to my youngest nephews and niece. My People (Ginee Seo Books) is a photo book, more than a picture book, that helps young people appreciate their color and their own beauty.

It brought a smile to my face and, corny as it may sound, made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Words by Langston Hughes and photographs by acclaimed poet Charles R. Smith, Jr. this book should be on every parent’s bookshelf who wants their child to understand and appreciate how beautiful they are inside.

Jeff Rivera is the author of “Forever My Lady” and the founder of

Lit Agent, Bridget Wagner Says “No Room for Mediocrity”



Literary Agent, Bridget Wagner has an interesting background as foreign rights agent for The Sagalyn Agency and Random House India. She is now the head of her own agency called The Wagner Agency and is looking for unique Indian voices.

In our interview with Wagner today, she tells us why there’s far less room for mediocrity now, why she’s more excited than ever about e-publishing opportunities for writers,

You do a lot of work overseas has the U.S. economy affected you any?
The economic crisis was part of the reason I decided to move to India a year ago and look for new talent on this side of the globe. I’ve also put a greater emphasis on finding books that truly matter, game changers and real innovators. That applies to both fiction and non-fiction. And I only go after writing that really wows me, and that I know will wow publishers. I think there’s far less room for mediocrity now, publishers can’t afford to take a chance.

As for authors, developing a platform and selling your own book is more important than ever. Take advantage of every contact and opportunity and encourage your publisher to try new things, like Google’s TV commercial system, etc.

Speaking of Google’s TV commercial system, what do you think of the new technologies like the iPad and the Alex and of course the Kindle?
My view on the changes to the publishing industry are a lot more optimistic than most. Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit younger and have grown up in a more digital age, but I don’t see e-publishing as this catastrophic event. In fact, I’m incredibly, incredibly excited about it. It’s absolutely a challenge, and it needs to be met with very careful planning, but I think it has the potential to catapult books and reading to a whole new level. For one, e-publishing creates an impulse-buy scenario that never existed in the same way before. To hear an NPR interview with an author and immediately be able to pull out your e-reader and buy that book, that’s amazing. Or to be sitting in a stopped subway car and see an ad for the new Grisham, and immediately download the book and start reading it on the train, that’s awesome. I’ve always been a big proponent of options when it comes to publishing. To have a $25+ hardcover as the only option for the first year of a book’s life is crazy to me. I think it assumes a readership of 50-year-old upper middle class readers who are collecting shiny hardcovers for their library and that’s short sighted. I rarely buy hardcovers — they’re too expensive, they weigh a ton and while I absolutely want to read the new Stephanie Meyer, there’s no way it’s going on my shelf next to my hardcopy edition of Pride and Prejudice. Meanwhile, it IS worth $25 to that 17-year-old who is collecting every book in the series. Readers want different options and we’re losing a lot of them by not offering options. If multiple options are available when readers are exposed to the most publicity, during that first year of publication, I think we’d sell far more copies (enough copies to get over that lower price point.) Readers want HC books, but they are also asking for paperback, audio and now e-book versions. I don’t think they should be made to wait for any of those versions. If we listen to the readers and tap this new technology, the marketplace could be more profitable and more exciting than ever.

You have an interesting perspective on what editors want. Don’t you?
I think editors are looking for game changing books — truly brilliant innovators that see the world (business, science, politics, history, etc) in a new way and who can tell stories in the process. And, they’re looking for authors with built-in media connections. As for what I look for but rarely find — I always have trouble finding a voice that grabs me and pulls me in. The voice that won’t let you go is so rare. And of course, I’m searching for non-American writers who can give us fiction and non-fiction in a fresh, eye-opening, more global way.

What’s the best way for writers to approach you?
Emailed submissions only, with a concise pitch and short author bio in the email, a 15-20 pg proposal for non-fiction, and 2-3 chapters for fiction. What peeves me is writers who write too much and can’t cut to the core of the project.

And finally, what is something about you that very few people know?
I’m currently working in India, looking for new writers on this side of the globe and trying to uncover some of the old Indian classics that are just being translated into English for the first time.

Penny Sansevieri Tells Writers: How to Hit the New York Times List



If you ask any aspiring writer what their greatest dream is (besides being on Oprah), many would say they dream of hitting the New York Times list. But how do you do it? Is it possible for an author to hit list without the full support of their publisher? How many copies do you need to sell exactly to hit the list? And where does Twitter, Facebook and YouTube fall into the scheme of things? For these answers, and more we asked, Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Expert, an online book marketing firm whose efforts have resulted in numerous New York Times bestsellers.

Penny, you and I have known each other for a few years and I’ve seen first-hand how you’ve successfully built authors’ campaigns and we even shared a client at one time. You didn’t just wake up and start doing this. How did you go from zero to hero, where did this journey begin?

First off thanks for interviewing me, I’m really honored to be a part of this. How I got started was quite accidental, actually you could call me an accidental entrepreneur. In the space of less than a year I lost my job not once but twice when two companies I worked for were shuttered. I took that as a sign and decided dip my toe in consulting. I figured I’d do it for 3 months and see what happened, that was almost 11 years ago now. While I dreamed of a company this size, I had no real intention of it when I started, in fact I didn’t even have a business plan. I just decided it was time to do what I loved. I also realized early on that there was a keen need for a company that devoted itself to authors who were either just starting out, building their platform, or from small publishers or self-published. That’s where I focused and because of this, we created a company that was wildly different from any PR firm out there. The reason for this is that because of the nature of the author that we managed, we were forced to be super creative. We didn’t have the luxury of books being in bookstores, we had to develop campaigns that drove folks into the stores. As it turns out, this has served us well for all of our authors, not just the small press folks.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve helped quite a few titles hit the New York Times list. Which titles and what did you do specifically to make that happen?

Some of the titles we’ve worked on have been Happy for No Reason, The Answer, The Go-Giver, and the notorious If I Did It all of these books were in our Internet campaigns which as very different from any other programs out there. I say this because first off, I have an amazing team and we are always a step ahead of the curve when it comes to online marketing. We were using Twitter 2 years before anyone knew what it was, that’s how these books succeeded. While we were focused on reviews by bloggers, we quickly realized that reviews don’t always create the inertia that a title needs to soar up a list, they need inbound marketing which we’ve always done, but now thanks to all of the Internet guru’s out there blogging on inbound marketing, it’s becoming a more mainstream term. The idea I think for any author really is getting their book (via their website) to come up in searches, so for example if someone is searching on a particular term the book comes up. It’s really all about getting in front of consumers who are looking for your message. And for some books it’s not about the consumer finding the title. For example, when we worked on The Answer we realized that consumers were looking for the terms “grow any business”. No one was searching for The Answer, well lots of people were but it was for different things that weren’t part of the author’s market. So we branded this campaign to those search terms, that inbound marketing, combined with any reviews we got for the book really helped to position the title for success. That’s the key. Relying on reviews alone to drive the success of a book won’t work, at least not anymore.

People say that hitting the New York Times list or any list is luck but is that true and if not, is it as simple as having everyone buy the book at a certain location within a certain window of time?

Well each list reports differently. For example the New York Times uses reporting bookstores, meaning certain stores (around 30) spread throughout the country. These stores report into the Times with their most successful titles for that week. USA Today is based on sales as is the Wall Street Journal.

While no one knows the secret to hitting a list, there’s a metric involved in this process. The metric is this: books are sold into stores by publishers early on, months in advance. The publisher starts building interest for this title via its sales team and also something called the announced first print (which is often higher than the actual print run). Publishing is about perception, so the first piece of this is the perceived momentum that a publisher is putting behind a title which will encourage bookstores to order it. The second piece to this is having enough copies on hand to surge the list. How many copies? The average changes because the amount of books published but historically it’s been around 30,000. Then comes the magic word: availability. Sometimes self-published or small press authors will associate an Amazon listing with availability. Amazon is neither an indication of availability or distribution. Yes, you should have a book listing on all the online store sites but a listing and distribution are two very different things. So advanced sales, print run, and distribution all factor heavily into a book surging a list. There are, however, always exceptions to this rule. If a book surges suddenly and in a short period of time it can hit a list. Last year I was having lunch with a publisher who said a book they were working on hit the top 10 of the New York Times with little marketing and only a 4,000 print run. How did this happen? The author had done some of their own online marketing and the viral factor kicked in, sending people into bookstores, and it surged up the list.

Authors often know that they should blog, build a fan base on platforms such as Facebook but they can often feel like they’re spinning their wheels. What works and what doesn’t in terms of turning online promotion into actual sales?

That’s a great question and one I get all the time. Authors get so caught up in participating in online promotion they almost always forget one thing: measuring success. It’s easy to get caught up in the Twitter-stream of conversation and dialogging with your Facebook buddies but the numbers don’t lie. Here are some things to ask yourself to determine if your campaign is really paying off, or just a waste of your time:

1) What are your goals for your social media campaign? Before you dive in you should determine why you’re doing this: to build your brand, increase incoming links (and traffic) to your website, increases newsletter sign ups?) Start by determining your goals and then let the campaign unfold to support those goals.
2) Are you increasing traffic online, meaning to your website? If this is one of your objectives then you need to keep a close eye on your analytics.
3) Are you expanding your network to include people who will make a different to your campaign or are you just finding old high school buddies who aren’t really your target audience?

You’ll notice that the one thing I didn’t mention was book sales. Yes, this factors in but there are a lot of other pieces that come before the sale. Getting more traffic to your website, networking with others in your market, increasing the exposure for your brand.

Don’t get into online marketing and say “I want to sell books” yes, that’s (hopefully) the eventual outcome for all of your efforts but there are many steps that come before the sale.

If we’re starting from scratch, what is the fastest and most effective way to build an online platform?

The first and most effective is to launch a website. But not a personal “hey, learn more about me and oh, here’s a picture of my new puppy” website, a real, author-focused site that’s branded to you, your book, your business or your message.

Second, make sure the site includes a blog and start getting into the online conversation. Blogging twice weekly at a minimum will really help your site grow in online exposure and, consequently, grow your platform.

Third, participate on social media that’s right for you and your book. What I mean by this is don’t just jump into the deep end of the social media pool and just because someone in your writing class is on 350 social networking sites (yes, there are that many) doesn’t mean you need to be. I live and breathe social media for a living and I’m only on three. Why? Because it makes sense for me and my market. Do what makes sense for you and your market. The worst thing you can do for your author platform is start up a bunch of online sites only to abandon them. When you abandon a social media site it’s a subliminal message to your reader that you’ve abandoned your market.

The authors that have the greatest challenge in promoting their books online are novelists, what can they do to build their fan base other than blogging?

Interesting that you should ask this question. In my spare time I write fiction and one of the reasons I developed our Internet division was to support the fiction author. There are a *lot* of places to go for a fiction author: sites dedicated to their message, whether it’s mystery, romance, thrillers, or sci-fi, there’s always a market for it online. You just have to dig in and find the community. I don’t know whether this phrase is unique to us but I call them intentional communities: a gathering site for authors looking for everything related to their particular interest. Once you identify these sites, why not pitch them yourself as a guest blogger or pitch them your book for review? Join groups on Facebook that are dedicated to your market and participate in those groups, follow opinion leaders on Twitter in the area you write about and then comment on their tweets. Also, if you have the time and budget, consider doing a book trailer for your novel. Especially for fiction it’s a great way to promote a book and if you’re good on camera consider doing some short video posts. Jeff, you did this and they were great, very impactful and well done.