Two Last Thoughts on our Panel

I was on a panel at Nationals. I called it the “Hate me Now” panel, as I literally could not make myself say the title aloud.  But I will type it out now, even though it’s very difficult to do so: “It’s not the Hottest Genre, so How are Debut Historical Authors Getting Six-Figure Deals?”

*cringe* please don’t hate me!

I don’t think we answered that question at the panel.  I’m not even sure we could answer it; as Tessa points out, the panel was essentially about “How to be an Anomaly” and face it, if there were a six-step process, you wouldn’t be an anomaly.  As always, luck and timing play huge parts.  There are people out there who I think should be getting six figure deals (if they aren’t already).  Those may come in time to those authors, or they may never get a six figure deal.  Heck, their career could be ruined by a bad cover on their next book.  Luck.  Timing.  These things play a huge role.  But all the luck and all the timing in the world won’t help you, if you don’t have two other things.  They’re necessary, but not sufficient.

Are you ready?

1. Have a damn good agent. No, really. You’re looking for someone who is the complete package–someone who not only is savvy about editors, but who knows how to sell and who to sell to. You’re also looking for someone who is good at shepherding authors through publication, who will make sure the author is on target for promoting herself, and will make sure that the publishing house knows about the author’s efforts, who will stand up against bad covers or talk the author down off her ledge if the cover isn’t bad–and in fact will sell a ton of books. A good agent makes the publishing process easier for everyone–author and publisher alike. Who wouldn’t want to work with her?

Do not ever sign with an agent you are not excited about, who you don’t think is going to aggressively champion you and your career, on the theory that at least it will get you past the unagented barrier.  If your book is good enough to sell, it’s good enough to get an agent who will do you right.

2. Act like you’re going to get a six-figure deal, even if you don’t think there is any way in hell you can. I wasn’t sure my book would sell. In fact, I basically thought it was unmarketable until I talked to my agent. But in the beginning of 2008, I made a resolution–one of those resolutions you are told never to make, because you have no control over the outcome.  I resolved I was going to sell my book at auction. It was a completely brazen, foolhardy thing to set my sights on, especially since I couldn’t final in half the contests I entered, let alone get an editor to request the manuscript.

I ignored all that boring reality stuff and acted like this was the kind of book I could sell at auction, if I just worked at it enough.  When I didn’t think my sex scenes were working, I picked up an author who wrote damned good sex scenes (that would be Elizabeth Hoyt) and I read hers over and over, with multi-colored highlighter in hand. I deconstructed them until I figured out what worked for me from her scenes.

The whole time I was writing, part of me was screaming, “Just go to sleep! What does it matter if you don’t get this black moment right? Nobody’s going to even get past the first chapter when they find the heroine is a con artist.”

If you find, as you write, that you tell yourself, “It doesn’t matter if I don’t get this right,” you’re selling yourself short.

Huh. Turns out I don’t have two necessary conditions.  I just have one: You can’t sell yourself big if you’re too busy selling yourself short.

Courtney Milan writes historical romances, which might lead people to think that she could be cool. In reality, she's about four different kinds of geeky. At present, this blog is where Courtney applies semi-dormant geek skills to publishing.

10 thoughts on “Two Last Thoughts on our Panel

  1. Awesome blog, Courtney. And it’s exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you so much. I definitely have sunk into the doldrums these past few weeks. Can’t wait to read your book and see just what the heck you got those six figures for.*g* I have no doubt the book’s amazing.:)
    Congrats on all the success you’re enjoying and will continue to enjoy. I know you have a long career ahead of you.

  2. Heh. The whole thing feels like so much jinxing. I cringe when you say “see just what the heck you got those six figures for.”

    Someone’s going to read the book and wonder. 😉

  3. I so wanted to go to that workshop just so I could hate you and Tessa. I at least wanted to meet you two in person so I could really hate you. But things got so crazy in DC I didn’t finish even half my self-imposed tasks. I did, however, pick up the excerpts booklet so I could hate you more knowledgeably… and loved it! I can totally understand why you got six figures.

    I would never have guessed you struggled to perfect your craft; it flows so naturally. Thanks for the reminder that we can all work harder and dream bigger. Can’t wait for the book in its entirety!

  4. Very excited about your novella this fall & debut novel in the winter! And thanks so much for the encouragement & congrats. Missed your workshop in DC – I was somewhere … it’s all sort of a blur now – LOL. And yes, yes, yes to your advice about getting a damn good agent. I just told my agent yesterday that I appreciate her more and more everyday. Truly, I know I hit the jackpot when I signed with her.

  5. For myself, since I read the beginning of your book, and can’t wait for January 2010 to read the rest of it. I have it marked down to buy Proof of Seduction as soon as it comes out.

  6. Truer words were never spoken. Err..written?

    I’m a firm believer in putting out to the Universe exactly what you want. And cases like this always reaffirm my faith that I’m right and it really does work. I’ve been fortunate to read the book early, but I’m still looking forward to picking up the official, in print version. :)

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