Category Archives: publishing business

Tweet tweet robin joins Twitter

sacramento editor, songbirdsShe rocks in the treetops all the day long

hoppin’ and a boppin’ and a singin’ her song

All the little birdies on Jay Bird Street

Love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet

As any Angie, Sarah, Daniel, Jude, Alison or Mandy knows, if there is a song with your name in it, you’ll hear it sung to you many times during your life. For me, I’ve had to live with “Rockin’ Robin.” I’m sure it was Bobby Day’s original being referenced by the older folks, and Michael Jackson’s rendition by the younger, but it doesn’t really matter; the question was always the same.

“Are you Rockin’, Robin?”

I like to think of myself has having a dry sense of humor (some people will say too dry) and developed a standard reply to anyone who brought up the song.

“Tweet. Tweet.”

Recently, I was working with a client on a experimental-form memoir and helping her get ideas on how to find a potential home for her manuscript. Since I worked with Andrea Hurst Literary Management in 2009, I’ve seen a few transitions in the way calls for submissions/queries are communicated. It used to be that every year we pre-ordered Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers and Agents: A big FAT exhaustive and reliable PRINT guide to who was where and looking for what. We’d find an intriguing listing in the book, then find the website, then cross-reference industry news, then go to the website, and then pick up the phone (gasp) and talk to the editor to make sure what we were trying to sell was indeed what they wanted to buy. Targeted pitching. The right way to do things.

I knew that any printed guide is not relied on heavily anymore, thanks to the up-to-the-minute accuracy of information a publisher can post on the internet, but what I learned this most recent time around is that even the websites are becoming more and more static. Updates aren’t always likely to be posted to the site in a timely manner. How is this information being conveyed? Wait for it.


(I did.)



So I’m one of the last to land on the branch, but I’m going to try to rock it. (Okay, that was bad.)

You can find me @sacramentorobin.

It’s another tool for the #publishingindustry (See what I did there?) Something else that is helping with democratization and accessibility. And, it’s actually kind of fun.

tweet tweet


Bigger isn’t always better

In the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Poets & Writers, there are several essays on community driven publishing, one of which is written by Steve Almond.  In it, he says,

“Bigger is always better in the American imagination. But I am here to tell you–six books and nearly a decade later– that this mind-set is parochial and self-defeating. It’s also complete nonsense.” 

If you aren’t yet familiar with small presses, it’s time.  Here’s Poets &Writers Database of Small Presses. 


San Francisco Writers follow up

After spending the weekend with a wide representation of the writing and publishing community, I am more excited than ever to be a part of it.  The SFWC has changed form even in the short time that I’ve been involved with it. Just a few years ago, the workshops and presentations focused exclusively on writing craft and traditional publishing strategies. This year it felt almost as though the offerings were heavier on alternative publishing routes and social media/self promotion strategies. Perhaps it is the sign of the wind going out of the sails of traditional publishing, or maybe it is a sign of the money and resources that are being funneled into self-publishing platforms.  In any case, it is certainly a very dynamic place to be, with all the change swirling around us.

On the one hand, editors from traditional publishing houses and the agents who are the gatekeepers for them are still treated like movie stars, and getting them to read and acquire your manuscript is still presented as the capstone of the writing process.  Talk of their demise still, too often, largely sounds like sour grapes. Yes, the trad model is being forced to change by digital options. Technology has always forced change. That’s the way it goes.

And, yes, on the other hand, this change is allowing for the democratization of publishing, and it is allowing more great stories to be made available to the public. All the financial benefits, if there are any, fall to the writer. It doesn’t take close to three years for a book to get to an audience. And. And. And.

Here’s one side of what I came away from SFWC with:  Self publishing is still the less-favored stepchild, despite all the popular rhetoric to the contrary. Self-publishers (and the editors who assist them) are still seen as less trustworthy, even by the most outspoken advocates of self-publishing.*

Part of the reason for this is the same reason that so many writers flock to self-publishing.  Anyone can do it. And with no gatekeepers, lots of shit gets through. Agents and editors at publishing houses continue to serve a valuable function when it comes to debut fiction–they filter a lot of stuff that is not ready to be read. They filter first drafts and keep them off of the bookshelves.

If you are a writer intent on publishing on Amazon, the onus is on you to help change the bad reputation of self-published books. I heard a lot of talk about this at the conference, and I loved to hear it, both as an editor (duh) and also as a voracious reader.

If I buy a book I want it to be better than the first drafts I am being paid to edit. I will only buy so many bad self-published books before I decide I won’t waste any more money. I have heard this a lot. Many people still don’t trust self-published authors.

If every wanna-be writer keeps publishing the books they write without the benefit of writing classes or critique groups or editorial services, the quality of the books….  An old rant.

The reason I’m excited to be a part of publishing now is that I believe this is changing.  At SFWC I heard a lot about writers taking responsibility for the publisher role, and this means if you’re going to be a publisher you have to think like a business person.

Publishing is in a state of flux. Traditional publishing has to modify itself and knows it. Self-publishing really has nowhere to go but up. Ride with me on the front of the wave.


*I am basing this on the answer I received to a question I asked Alan Rinzler at the conference.

Editing, writing, digital publishing, from textbooks to fiction, meetings and events…

This has been a wonderfully busy first quarter, with a cornucopia of activities to keep me sharp.

The Nor Cal EFA hosted speaker Judith Horstman in January, and she provided the participants with insider information about writing for magazines and talked a bit about her new book.

I attended the California Writers Club and met Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who confirmed for me the importance of digital publishing and presented a convincing argument regarding the obsolescence of the old publishing model and its gatekeepers. While there, I ran into an author whose debut novel I had just downloaded to my Kindle, at the suggestion of a mutual friend, but had not yet started reading.

Uploading a correctly formatted document into Smashwords was actually more difficult than the founder purported it to be, but getting it to work was a technological learning experience that didn’t kill me and therefore made me stronger.

Completing a substantive edit on a statistics textbook for a non-native English speaker contracted to Wiley allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief, and confidently say that my comprehension of statistics increased tremendously!  It also allowed me to use my APA knowledge, neglected in the fiction world.

San Francisco Writers Conference orientation was held in January and the event is next weekend, February 17-19.  I’ll be there. Will you? Come visit me at the Cafe Ferlinghetti, where I’ll be hanging out early Saturday morning and throughout the afternoon on Friday.

I’ve got fiction manuscripts lined up all quarter; working with a 630 page suspense novel currently, and this will be followed right away by a suspenseful love story, then a contemporary fiction/social justice novel, then Brad’s sequel comes in to me, then a mystery.  Phew!  Gotta love it. Thanks to Mark Coker and others like him, there are a lot of people out there taking the bull by the horns and going for it.  Thankfully, they are embracing the need for an editor before they put it out to the world.

Two recent articles talk about the importance of an editor in the self-publishing process.  This one, in Huff Post, and this, in the San Francisco Book Review.

You keep on writing and I’ll keep on reading. And writing.

Why you need an editor: Professional Read

At this past weekend’s Self Publishing Boot Camp, I was privileged to speak on the topic of editing for self-publishers.  I had only 30 minutes to speak on the topic, and I wanted to cover the nuts and bolts of what an editor can do and how to find an editor who will work best with you and your work (and your budget).  I think I succeeded, but there’s always more to be said. I will focus in this post on the professional evaluation and critique.

As you know, I am a writer and an editor, and in that capacity have taken projects from the idea stage to local celebrity, have helped make good manuscripts better, and bad manuscripts a little less embarrassing for the author. Editing is not just about catching those embarrassing spelling and sentence structure errors.

I framed Saturday’s presentation with my history of working with Brad DeHaven, author of Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey Into his Son’s Oxy Addiction. (Originally titled Beyond the Picket Fence). Brad is a financial planner who brought me a 65 page manuscript, a memoir, that was a chronological telling of his life until that point. He was 50. Everyone kept telling him he should write his story, so he did. He hired me as a professional reader and I provided an evaluation and critique of his manuscript.

 professional reader, editor, developmental editor, Two Songbirds Press, Robin MartinIdeally, you have been receiving critique from readers all along. Ideally, this critique has been free or in exchange for critique on their work, such as in a writing group or a workshop class.

If you were to complete a manuscript to the rave reviews of your beta readers (none of whom you were having sex with or otherwise emotionally attached to) and if you were planning to send it to an agent and go the traditional publishing route, your manuscript just might be ready. The agent, in this case, might be your first professional reader.

You couldn’t expect to receive a personalized letter about why they reject your manuscript, however. You could trust that it was almost there if they request the first fifty and then the rest of the manuscript before refusing to take it on.

When I worked with Andrea Hurst, the agents there often took on manuscripts that they loved but that still needed editing. The agents took on authors with whom they would work to refine and shape the story until it was ready to pitch to publishing houses.  This was a tremendous benefit for the author. The agent knows the audience to which she’ll be trying to sell your manuscript. That knowledge makes an agent a particularly valuable editor. Andrea Hurst Literary Management, The First 50, editor, writer, agent, Robin Martin, Two Songbirds Press

The downside of this is for the agents– who might work on a manuscript for six months or more (as I did on two occasions) on spec, hoping that the financial reimbursement will come when the book sells with a large advance.  Something that ultimately lies with the CFO of large house X.

Now, I understand, agents are feeling the pinch and doing this less and less because they end up working hard without a paycheck.  So even if you were planning to pursue traditional publishing and obtain an agent, it would behoove you to have a professional read/evaluation before querying.

One of the things you give up by electing to go the self publishing route is even the possibility of built in professional readers who will “fix up” your book along the way: the agent, and the editor at the publishing house (who are also doing this less and less according to popular wisdom). When working towards being a self-published author, you need to hire an editor. 

If you self publish a book without an external, objective, professional read, you open yourself to harsh public criticism of your writing via reviews of your book.

The appropriate editor can evaluate and critique your manuscript, revealing shortcomings you didn’t know existed as far as character, plot, narrative voice, point of view, exposition rather than scene.  So you can fix them before you either send it to an agent or publish them to your later dismay.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about common issues that necessitate a substantial edit. For now, I want to leave you with this:

In a prior post I mentioned some blogs I enjoy . Here is another blog I follow. Today Jody talks about why you need an editor.  I enjoy receiving the RSS feed from Jody Hedlund. Check it out, because you might enjoy her insight on the writing process too.

Robin Martin, editor, developmental editor, Two Songbirds Press

What does Success look like?

The big Success, with a capital S is elusive. You do know this, don’t you?  Success a la big time fame and fortune, cover of People magazine, tooling around Nob Hill in a Maserati, that kind of success. Slim chance. I’m saying this not to be cynical or mean, but…yeah, I guess I’m cynical. Or maybe let’s call it incredulous.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was pursuing a career in modeling.  Another long shot career, another long shot to Success with a capital S.  I could pay the best make-up artists and pay the best photographers to do my portfolio. I could pay a personal trainer, starve myself, etc., but when push came to shove, I could not make John Casablancas or Eilene Ford give me that contract. I didn’t have what they were looking for.  It didn’t mean what I had wasn’t fine in its own right, just that it wasn’t seen as marketable right then. Having said that, though, if I had gone to the Madison Ave. agencies carrying 25 extra pounds and a Polaroid shot, I never would have even had a chance with these people. Was I disappointed that I didn’t become the next Linda Evangelista? Heck yes. Was I devastated because I spent my retirement money trying to get there and didn’t? No. I didn’t spend more than I could afford to lose on a long shot.

I just have to say that even if you get the perfect book- you pay for the best cover design, buy the best interior layout, hire the industry’s best editors, there is no guarantee, in fact it is not likely, that you will end up driving a Maserati down California Avenue.

All I ask is that you be truthful with yourself. Have a sit down with a mirror and a cup of coffee. What are your goals? What does success look like to you? How will you know when you are successful? What resources will you reasonably commit to get you there? Don’t set yourself up for devastating disappointment. Do you have the diligence not to quit halfway? Create a business plan or a book proposal.  Who will buy your book? How will you reach them to sell it?

Just go into it with your eyes open and the rose colored glasses off.  And eat healthy, and get regular oil changes for your Toyota.

Feed me see more- the benefits of RSS

I have been thoroughly enjoying receiving the RSS feeds of several blogs lately, and I’d like to share a few of these with you.  Though it is true that a blog is just that, a blog, and shouldn’t ever be taken as the gospel truth, I always appreciate that certain credentialed professionals are willing to share their areas of expertise with others.

I receive a feed from Mark Fowler, a lawyer who is also a freelance writer and editor. He tackles those questions that often come up in discussions with other writers in his blog called Rights of Writers.  This week’s entry is about truth (or fabrication) in memoir, and the legalities around it.  His commentary is never dull and always contains references and sources that can lead his reader on an educational journey where they can get a good solid understanding of the topic at hand.  Add to this the fact that he is a good writer, an entertaining writer, and you’ve got a winning combination in your RSS feed in-box.

Alan Rinzler, a true giant in the publishing industry —I know him from the San Francisco Writers Conference—always has great things to say. He is deep inside the business, and listening to him can’t be a bad thing.  I’ve been sending new clients one of his blog entries that he titled, “Good Day Sunshine for Writers” about the new-publishing trend that allows and even encourages self-publishing as a way to find an agent— unheard of just a few years ago! He is at the forefront of big change at the big houses.

The Behler blog comes from a smaller place than Rinzler’s. Written by Lynn Price, the editorial director for Behler Publications, she writes lots about acquisitions—the contents of which often remind me of my time at Andrea Hurst Literary Management—what not to do in a query letter, etc. She likes margaritas, hawks purses, and has a beagle, who apparently also likes margaritas.  Her blog is quite funny, and provides insight from the perspective of a (very) small publisher.

RSS feeds enable those of us who can’t travel to all of the conferences to grow our networks and gain insights.  I am quite thankful for them.

Separating Publishing Wheat from the Chaff

I’ve been spending a lot of time discussing publishing-on-demand lately. In April, I made a presentation to the NorCal Editorial Freelancers Association chapter about my experiences with four different publish on demand companies.  The information I have that has not been gained from direct personal and professional experience has come from colleagues, conferences, and a handful of indispensable websites for writers.  I thought I’d share two of these sites here with you.

Any writer should be aware of a blog/website called Writer Beware.  You can also find them on Facebook. A marvelous site that isn’t afraid to call names, Writer Beware has a really comprehensive collection of essays that address pitfalls and scams faced by aspiring writers. It was founded in 1998. It also has great links to trustworthy sites.

Any writer considering self-publishing should visit a blog called Book Making. Its author is a real character, and he knows quite a lot about the business.

These are invaluable resources. The publishing business is confusing. You don’t have to figure it out alone.

Wheat from the Chaff

Pollack hits the right keys with “Track Changes”

The March/April Issue of Poets & Writers Magazine includes a piece by Eileen Pollack, the director of the MFA program at the University of Michigan and author of the upcoming novel Breaking and Entering (Four Way Books, 2012). Titled “Track Changes: Ditto Machines to Digital Literature,” the piece tracks the technological changes of the past 50 years on the way writers write.

She tracks these changes with an air of nostalgia, but without a hint of an old-fogey’s bitterness. She does make astute observations and a clear expression of real concern.  She writes:

I worry about the ways in which technology has changed not only the way we write, but also what we write, and how we think about what we have written, and what we do with what we have written after we have finished writing it.  By eliminating the discrete physical activities that used to be required to research, draft, edit, print, copy, publish and market a novel, the digital revolution has created a seamless link between producing a book and selling it.

She is really right on about the juxtaposing of writing and marketing. Even I as a publishing consultant am guilty of advising my clients to set up their author website, start building a fan base, consider reading an excerpt from the as of yet unpolished (but strong) novel for a MP3 player, all in an effort to begin building that all mighty platform.

‘Ugh,’ you thought. ‘Setting up a Web site called is such a crass, self-aggrandizing, commercial thing to do!’ But then you became afraid that if you didn’t set up a Web site, you might get left behind. Didn’t most of your writer friends already have Web sites? Who were you to be a snob?

She goes on to comment, again astutely, on blogging, Facebook and friending people you can’t stand “because if you ever did sell your book, you would be able to direct your six or seven hundred ‘friends’ to click on your Amazon link to buy it.”

Pollack manages to critique these actions gently, not accusing anyone of selling out or corrupting the process. But, while reading her piece, you can’t help but feel a little bit sad about the way its gone. She says, for better or worse, the process has changed, and she illustrates this statement with a few chuckles:

The marketing executives at most publishing houses won’t let an editor acquire a manuscript unless its author demonstrates the ability to cultivate fans on his Web site and to write, produce, and star in a trailer that is catchy enough to go viral on YouTube.

From my time working with Andrea Hurst Literary Management, and talking with my contacts in the business, perhaps the more cynical ones, I know that while this may be funny, all the good jokes are based on the truth.

Defining Moments still accruing

I’d like to pick up where I left off in my February 14 post, as my client, Bradley V. DeHaven has been able to use his print-on-demand book, Defining Moments. A Suburban Father’s Journey Into His Son’s Oxycontin Addiction, to work towards his goal in amazing ways.

His efforts at marketing are not only right on target to sell books, but right on target to meet his primary goal of raising awareness of, and helping people who are struggling with, prescription drug addiction.

He has clearly defined his goals, and he is going for it.  This is exactly the type of writer who should go the route of a Create Space or Kindle platform.

Right up front, he created a website to help sell his book. It has. But, already, it has done so much more than that.  He is affecting people; they are touched by the story of his youth as well as his son’s. They are making comments like, “Couldn’t put this down. I cried through half of it.” Or, my favorite:

“Alternating story lines merge this father’s past with his family’s heartbreaking present. A detailed and page-turning experience of a father’s determination to save his son. Incredible writing and inspirational conclusion.”  🙂

He reached out to charitable organizations that assist people who deal with drug addiction and offered them a portion of his proceeds, something he can do with a lot less red tape than if he had been given an advance by a major traditional publisher.  He has five programs on his drop down menu now.

He contacted local media outlets. After the Sacramento News and Review piece, he was included in a much smaller Granite Bay newspaper, and then appeared, with his son, on Insight, a Capital Public Radio program that is heard in quite a few markets around the US.

He contacted the people on his Christmas card list.  He sent many of them a copy. In return, he received an outpouring of similar stories and support for his decision to publish the book.   He also received more free marketing advice. Which, as you might imagine, might be worth every penny. But, some of it might be worth a lot more.

The moral of this story is this: If you have a good story to tell, and hire a good editor to help you tell it; if you have clear goals, and get good advice regarding your publishing options, you can dive in and go for it.

Brad went for it face first.

So far, no lost teeth.