Thursday, August 16, 2012

Preparing Your Product by Guest Blogger Mia Ross!

Good morning, Seekerville! Mia Ross here, cruising in from Upstate New York, ready for some writing stuff.

With the ACFW Conference coming up, you’re probably all getting LOTS of advice on what to do while you’re there. Don’t approach editors and agents in the bathroom. Don’t talk with your mouth full. And, for goodness’ sake, sit up straight so everyone can read your nametag. As with most things, though, preparation is the key. I’m not talking about practicing your elevator pitch so you can recite it in your sleep, or about making sure you can pronounce the name of the editor or agent you have an appointment with. I’m talking about your product.

Whether you’re an established author or trying to break into the business, there’s a basic idea you have to wrap your head around at some point. Your eventual success (or failure) depends mostly on the quality of what you have to offer. Think of yourself as an inventor who’s come up with a great new idea. The concept isn’t enough. You have to design and make whatever it is, introduce it to consumers, and then hope people want to buy it. Because failure is expensive, companies test the market for their new wingding ahead of time. If it’s not immediately popular, they tweak it to make it more appealing.

For writers, our product has two facets: our book and ourselves. Nobody has a sure-fire formula for making that work, but there are some things we can do to improve the chances that editors, agents, and readers will like what we’ve worked so hard to create.

1.      Before you submit your work to a pro, ask critique partners and writing friends for feedback. Just be careful to take their comments with a grain of salt and blend them with your own instincts. Too many cooks can spoil the unique soup you’ve put together.
2.      Go the contest route to get unbiased input. Brace yourself for this one, because unlike your friends, many anonymous judges won’t try to spare your feelings. But if you consistently get low marks for grammar, figure out why before you send your book to a pro. You’d hate to see your wonderful project get rejected because the manuscript required too much effort to fix its basic grammar.
3.      RWA’s Golden Heart Contest might be perfect for you because you’ll be up against the best unpubbed writers in the business, and only the highest-caliber manuscripts get through to the editors in the final round. You don’t have to worry about judges’ comments because there aren’t any, just a rank of 1 to 9. For these exact same reasons, the Golden Heart might not be your cup of tea. As Obi-Wan told Luke Skywalker, it all depends on your point of view.
4.      Finish your book. I know about the whole 3 chapters and a synopsis thing, but you just might have a stellar interview with an editor who says, “Send me the full when you get home.” So, really, finish your book. You’re going to have to do it eventually--why not now?
5.      Finally, and most importantly: Be nice. Online, in person, on the phone, at the grocery store. In this hyper-connected world, you never know who’s listening or watching or reading what you’ve put out there. A consistently positive message will reflect well on you, now and always. Negative things will come back to bite you at the worst possible time. Follow the Golden Rule while you travel the high road, and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

Okay, I kicked things off, and now it’s your turn. Help us all out by adding your own items to this list, asking questions, whatever. Three commenters will get a free autographed copy of Circle of Family, the second book in my Sawyers series for Love Inspired. If you’d like a peek first, head over to Have a great day!


  1. Hi Mia:

    Thanks for sharing.

    The only thing I can think of to add to this list of plenty of prayer time.

    The coffee pot is set to brew.


  2. I agree with Helen!

    Mia, on the 1k1hr group there was a big discussion of 'one sheets'.

    I'm not going to conferences this eyar, but hearing everyone talk about it, I sort of wondered if preparing these would help distill the plots of my books. Sort of clarify and put a picture to books I'v written.

    If you've done one sheets, what was your experience? Do you think it helped your plotting/writing/structuring?

    I've been known to waste hours and hours making book trailers and playing on Pinterest, so I don't want to pretend it's helping me, when it's really for handing out to agents and editors!

  3. Hi Mia,
    Good advice and some of it applies to other things as well.

    The be nice sure is helpful in many ways. I know here a several years back our phone went out when we needed to make calls for mum to have surgery in a town nearby. I rang and was told it would be about 3 days at the earliest before they could come out. I was nice and accepted that saying how we found it not working and about needing to make the calls but would be ok and would be gone on one of the days for the surgery.(it was cataracts). The guy was nice. We arrived home latish and the phone was ringing. they had come out a couple days early and fixed it and it was because we didn't complain.
    I think the same can be said for writers and unpublished writers. I have seen some negative comments (not here) on public forums complaining about reviewers who disagree with an author and even to the point they have been quite condescending about the reviewer, Also when they feel they are not getting the publicity they want they complain and use the blame game. As a reader this is a real turn off and I am sure for editors this is a turn off also. I know dont frequent a few blogs I use to because of the negative tone.

  4. Hi Mia,

    Thanks for reminding us it all goes back to the writing.

    I was going nuts trying to get my one sheet and synopsis ready and letting Satan steal my joy about attending my 1st writers' conference. So I've been praying and am back to focusing on my writing for a few days to lift my spirits. That and prayer.

    Be nice is great because Jesus tells us to and now days if you're not somebody is ready to tweet about it. Ha! I have a teenager and I know this happens often.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    Jackie L.

  5. Mia, great blog! You nailed it. A positive attitude and preparation. A win-win combination.

    I ditto Virginia's addition of prayer to the mix. (Waving to Virginia!) God picks up the slack for me SO many times! Thank goodness. Ah, maybe I should say, Thank God! :)

    Love your cover. So enticing. So inviting. So making me want to run to the store and buy it right now! Wait, it's too early. The stores are closed. But Amazon isn't. :)

  6. Good morning, Mia! Thanks for the coffee, Helen.

    Great advice, Mia. I'd add: wear comfortable shoes and bring a sweater or light weight jacket. It could be frigid in the hotel. Or not. Be prepared!

  7. Thanks Mia. Hey, one of these days we need to meet. Perhaps with that famous chronicler of rural NY with the initials RLH.

    I would love to offer some feedback to anyone who has a proposal or a couple of chapters they want to take with them. I have no special credentials but I can tell you if something confuses me. I do a lot of critiques and I will give you my honest opinion.

    Same for one-sheets.

    I'm not going to the ACFW conference but I've gone to a few and prepared. Some fresh eyes are usually appreciated.

    You all give so much in posts and comments, so I'd like to help some of the other pre-pubs this way.

  8. HELEN: You're absolutely right--thanks for catching a big miss on my part!

    VIRGINIA: I haven't done one-sheets, so maybe someone else can answer your question about how helpful they are for drafting. I do a synopsis while I'm writing the 1st 3 chapters, but everything changes as I go along because--yes--I'm a pantser. I follow the characters and see where they lead me :)

    JENNY: For the most part, I think you get what you give. I'm glad it worked that way for you :)

    JACKIE: If your first conference is the upcoming ACFW, have fun! There are lots of people to meet and plenty to learn, and there's nothing else like it for a writer.

    DEBBY: The Love Inspired art department gets full credit for this gorgeous cover. They sure know how to make a book grab your attention!

    CARA: Good points on wardrobe. Fancy shoes are no good if you can't stand to wear them after an hour on your feet :)

    DEBRA: I'd love to meet you, too. We'll have to work on Ruthy. It's very generous of you to offer to read material for people. That kind of feedback is priceless!

  9. Welcome, Mia!! Very exciting to see your second book! Congrats.

    Great post. I think your advice about being positive is SO important! Don't vent online. Don't talk about others. Goodness, you won't believe what you can find by googling your name! I've found blog comments that could seem really strange out of context. :) Yes, Google will pull up blog comments!


    You said: "For writers, our product has two facets: our book and ourselves."

    Oh, AMEN TO THAT!! It's not enough today to just write a good story (unless you're Stephanie Meyer or J.K.) -- we have to sell ourselves as well, which is WAY harder!! But being nice online and off is HUGE and, quite frankly, our number one ministry from God -- to love others!! Personally, I love interaction with my reader friends because I'm big on one-on-one rather than groups, but you don't have to be ultra-social to be nice, so it's something everyone can do.

    LOVE your new cover for Circle of Family, and I'm not usually overly fond of landscape covers -- I just like to see who I'm reading about, I guess. But there is something mesmerizing about your cover, kind of an ethereal "If you build it, they will come" type feeling, so it reallly draws the eye. Here's hoping "they will come" in droves to buy it!!


  11. Morning Mia and welcome to Seekerville.

    What a great cover and you must be so excited.

    Thanks for the helpful hints.

    The best part of conferences for me is meeting other folks in the industry. I especially love meeting other Seekerville sisters and friends.

  12. Debra, you and I can commiserate. I'm not going either. RWA cleaned out my pocketbook. smile And what a great gesture to read other people's work. That is a great gift.

  13. Welcome Mia---great post! I agree with Helen too--plenty of prayer time is all I can add to your list. Oh, one other thing (for ladies)--an extra pair of earrings. Seriously, at two conferences I lost an earring (each time the missing earring turned up later, thankfully) but since I don't feel dressed unless I'm wearing earrings, this was really unnerving for me. Might sound silly, but even little distractions can throw us off, I think. Anyway, thanks again to Mia for this post! Blessings, Patti Jo p.s. Since I haven't been able to visit Seekerville lately, I've brought LOTS of Georgia Peach goodies today: Cobbler, muffins, dessert bars, and Georgia Peach punch--Enjoy! ;)

  14. This is wonderful, Mia. Thanks! As a first timer at ACFW this fall, I'm trying to prepare all the things various agents/editors are asking for for appointments (i.e. one sheets, first chapter, proposal, etc). I'm working through revisions on my book, but running out of time for doing everything. Do you have any suggestions for this overwhelmed newbie?

    Debra, I'd love to take you up on your offer. :) How do I do that?

  15. Hi Mia!

    Thanks for the list, especially the reminder to be nice. You never know when a comment you make will come back to haunt you - - and you want to be sure it's the kind you want to hear again!

    ACFW will be my first conference, and I'm going without a completed book to pitch. I know, I know, I just need to finish it. But it's still in the development stage (I'm such a plotter!). I'll be talking to editors about the idea, anyway.

    So here's my question for all you veterans: how do you pitch a fairly well-developed idea that isn't written yet? I might have the first few chapters by then - should I do a one-sheet? Or should I just be prepared to meet the editors, sell myself, and talk about the idea?

    I love your cover, Mia! Can hardly wait for the book to be on our shelves :)

  16. The most important attribute a writer can have is patience, I think. It takes patience to write the story, then polish it. More patience to take the time to seek feedback before submission. More patience to wait on a response after submission. More patience to build a platform and develop sales history. More patience to wait on...

    Well, you get it. The trick seems to be a balance between the necessary patience and having the fire and determination to actively pursue one's dreams.

  17. Hi Mia,

    What a great post. You've really covered all the bases. Thanks for the reminders - even though I'm not going to conference.

    Just an update on the Golden Heart. Info from RWA12 says that the scoring is changing this year for both the GH and RITA. Instead of that 1 - 9, they're doing 4 categories.

    This is from the RWA website:

    Scoring Overview
    The Romance: Between 1 and 20 points, with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 20 being the highest (excellent)

    The Plot/Story: Between 1 and 10 points, with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 10 being the highest (excellent)

    The Writing: Between 1 and 10 points, with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 10 being the highest (excellent)

    The Characters: Between 1 and 10 points with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 10 being the highest (excellent)

    The total possible points for any entry is 50.

    Just wanted to share that for anyone who may be considering entering.

  18. Great tips, Mia! Thanks for joining us today!

    VIRGINIA, my experience with one-sheets is that they are a great icebreaker when you sit down with an editor or agent for your 15-minute appointment. A one-sheet can include your brief bio, photo, contact info, agent info (if you have one), and a few short paragraphs summarizing your story, plus some appropriate artwork. For published authors, you'll also want to include your writing credits.

    If the pub. pro is interested, she just might keep your one-sheet for reference and make notes on it while you chat. THIS IS A GOOD SIGN!

  19. JAN, once you're published, agent/editor appointments take on a slightly different tone. You want to meet them, become a face with a name, and find out whether your future story ideas might be a good fit. So NOT having a completed ms. at this stage is more acceptable.

    However, if you have a proposal ready to send, so much the better. Sometimes it's good to come with two or more ideas to present in case the first one doesn't strike a chord.

    My best advice to published authors if you don't have something immediately ready to submit is to make it a "no pressure, just getting acquainted" meeting and enjoy the visit while you learn about the publishing house and the editor learns about you.

  20. Ah, Helen, thank you for the coffee and the reminder...

    Virginia, I did really nice one-sheets for the North Country series years ago. Dineen Miller added gorgeous graphics to them. I used them at my interviews and that (and a contest win in Genesis General Fiction and second place contemp romance) got me some good notice... I went to committee on one, got an agent, got interest from another agent (their agency had a "no" vote policy, one "no" from the agency group and you didn't get picked up and I got a "no" vote from one of the committee members...)

    So that was GREAT interest... Disappointing to be so close, to be in committee, to have editors loving your stuff and then their groups got bought and shuffled.

    So that was a learning curve on nothing is absolute in this biz.

    I don't do them anymore. Everything goes out on standard proposal, but they were a great tool for learning how to bridge the gap between talkative me and my work and the editor or agent I was meeting.

  21. MISSY: Thanks for stopping in! It's always great to see you :)

    JULIE: I'm so glad you like the new cover--it looks just like where I live. Hugs back to you!

    SANDRA: Meeting the Seekers was the best part of RWA 2010 for me. And it was at Disney, so there was some serious competition from the mouse ;)

    CATMOM: Your earring comment is a great example of planning ahead to help keep you on your game at a conference. Sleeping, eating, hydrating--keep those things as close to normal as possible and you'll avoid problems that can derail you halfway through. Thanks for the yummy Georgia peach goodies!

    JEANNE: Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe for a minute. The first time is SO HARD because you don't know what to expect. First: Connect with some people you already know will be there. Chances are they're nervous too and can sympathize. Second: Unless the agent/editor you're talking to doesn't handle your type of material, chances are they'll ask for a partial. And if not, they'll ask about other ideas. Third: Going to a conference is a fabulous step toward becoming a published author. Pat yourself on the back and stand up straight so everyone can see your name tag. And GOOD LUCK :)

    JAN: Agent and editor appointments don't come around everyday, so it's great that you're taking advantage of the opportunity. I think Ruthy's comment answered most of your questions, so I'll stop now. Good luck at ACFW!

    PATRICIAW: So true! Being patient while still driving forward is a delicate balancing act that I haven't quite mastered yet. Great at the pushing, not so good with the waiting ;)

    MARY CURRY: Thanks for the update on the GH scoring. Obviously, I'm a little behind on my industry news (blushing). I like the changes, though. Hopefully the extra depth will bring more solid stories into the GH spotlight where they belong.

    MYRA: Thanks for coming by and answering questions for me. I owe you!

    RUTHY: Fabulous story about keepin' on keepin' on. For those of you who don't know "before" Ruthy, she heard NO for years but never lost faith in her ability or in God's plan for her work. And look where it's gotten her!

  22. Hi Mia,

    Great advice as usual! Took a peak at your website which is lovely. I really enjoyed your first book and now look forward to two more Sawyer stories!

    I agree with Myra. One sheets are a great device, especially when you're shaking with nerves. It gives you something to hand the agent/editor and provides a nice summary for them. It also shows you are professional and know how to do a bit of marketing for your story. I had a three book series to pitch, so I put a small blurb and picture for each book on the sheet, with my pic and short bio at the bottom. Not sure it gained me a lot but it sure helped my confidence level!

    Interesting about the Golden Heart scoring. Did I dream that they are now accepting electronic entries? If so, hurray!

    Love to be in the draw, Mia! Btw, I've donated your book to our local library so more people can enjoy it!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  23. Mia, no blushing please. I only knew because Anne Barton posted a link to a discussion the Rubies were having about the GH changes.


    Oh good grief, I just figured out why it took me ten years to get published.


  25. Interesting on the one sheets. Never done one in my life.

  26. Patti Jo, I'm all over the peachiness! Yum! Thank you!

    And summer is always so busy. I'm outside a lot and my computer doesn't like being outside, so even working on the picnic table doesn't work for me. That limits time I can blog, scope things out, visit folks. We totally understand!

    I'm reading Circle of Family right now. Loving it, loving Ridge, wanting to CLONE HIM.


    That good looking and daring and nice????

    And good to kids and small animals???

    And a longing in his heart????

    Oh be still MY HEART!!!!!

  27. SUE: Consider yourself entered! Thanks so much for sharing Hometown Family with other readers in your area. That's the best promotion I could ask for :)

    MARY CONNEALY: I really don't know what so say because I'm laughing so hard!!

    TINA: I'm so glad somebody else was honest enough to say that. It just shows you learn something everyday at Seekerville :)

    RUTHY: I'm thrilled to hear you loved Ridge! As the story unfolded, he evolved into way more than I could have hoped for, and I'm more than a little in love with him myself.

  28. Jenny, what a great point. It's easy to forget that a comfortable online gathering place like a blog is public... And while it might feel like you're venting to "friends" for every friend that comments, there are ten or more who don't...

    And all they see is the whining.

    I love how your actions came back to you as a reaction from the phone company. Because that's how we build great stories... Something instigates an action...

    And then there has to be a reaction, good or bad.

    What a great example you gave!

  29. I'm eating grilled swiss and fresh sliced tomato on rye...

    I am in heaven.

    This is my favorite sandwich EVER and I only eat it when fresh tomatoes are on the stands locally. Or in my garden.

    Oh my stars, color me happy!

  30. Hey, Debra and Mia, we're doing the Bedford Falls/Seneca Falls Saturday together, right????

    Anybody local who wants to come is more than welcome, the more the merrier. I can't wait to see this festival in Christmas action!

    We named our farm "Bedford Falls Farm" when we moved here. The original name "McKinney Farm" was for the original settlers... I'm using that in a new book that should be part of my new LI series... Presuming they love it as much as I do!

    It's a Wonderful Life is engraved on our hearts around here. And people that hate the movie don't get what we see in it, but here in Ruthy-land????

    We just love it!

    (Mandy and Lacey are excluded from that blanket endorsement.)

  31. Jeanne, don't worry so much about revisions. You'll have time to polish and primp after conference. Every agent and editor is okay with you taking a few weeks for a last read-through polish.

    I promise, promise, promise that's true!

    My first time at conference (2004 oh my stars, I'm freakin' old) I decided I would just go and learn. I had appointments, got a few requests, but I wanted to soak everything in.

    Including my competition who all became my BFF's, The Seekers!


    Strength in numbers, my friend, which is why we're here for you. It's so much easier if you go into it knowing people you can talk to honestly.... Who will listen to you.... Who've been there, done that... and who long for your success.

    The more readers we inspire, the more slots there are to fill!!!

    That's my policy, and I'm stickin' to it!

  32. Virginia, my opinion on one sheets in regard to your question. I've had them at conferences, they are glanced at and returned, not unless my verbal pitch interested them did they use my one sheet to write themselves a note, so really the author picture and pitch just seemed to be a scratch pad with reference for them to remember you (and if they take it with them with the intent to actually read it you'd want your info to be good. So I really wouldn't go all fancy unless you're good at it normally, but I'd definitely put an author photo on it.

    As to helping with your plotting/restructuring? The pitch part could help you if you are a pantster to know the focus of the story so that if you're lost in your first draft you might have clarity on what to focus on in rewrite (or before you write?) because if you can't make the story sound interesting then maybe your book is lacking somewhere, but if while you're boiling your book down to a 3-4 paragraph pitch and trying to make it sound interesting the parts you focus on in the pitch to try to make it sound interesting is probably what you want to make sure is done well or beefed up in the story?

    I just had to write two pitches for books I haven't written for a proposal and that's the same size pitch approx for a one sheet and I felt that forcing myself to do that and getting agent approval on the story really was beneficial to me because if the series gets bought, I know where I need to go with it prior to writing it and finding out that this character arc was weak, etc and then having to do significant rewrite (or I just hope so anyway :). So I think the pitch could be really worthwhile, the graphics and layout, that's just a fun time waster, Maybe the next one sheet I make will be more of a notepad kind of thing. A title, pitch, author bio/photo and a space for notebook lines to let them write down stuff.....

  33. Gonna try Ruthy! Daughter's college Christmas concert is that weekend though. Hoping timing will work out :)

  34. MIA, RUTHY--Okay, I am b-r-e-a-t-h-i-n-g, mostly. ;) I appreciate your words of encouragement and direction. :) I am clinging to them. :)

    When the kids start back to school next week, I'm going to go into "writing mode." I've already warned my honey that this is the plan, and he's on board.

    MARY CONNEALY--I was laughing out loud. :) I'll learn from your example. Don't talk with food in my mouth......

  35. Jeane T - drop me a line at my email address.
    debraemarvin (at the big yahoo in the sky) and we can make a plan.

    Ruthy and Mia - I'll be there, hoping for a pretty snowfall in Bedford Falls... and will try to work around the concert.

    I finally had my first fresh tomato and mayo sandwich this week. yum-oh. Must try it with rye and swiss. WHAT WAS I THINKING?

    Sandra - will you be watching the live chat during the Genesis and Carol awards? It's almost like being there.
    But not quite.
    But jammies are much more comfy than all those black dresses and heels!

  36. Ruthy, One blog I started supporting for several reasons lost my support when one person put a post about ignorance to books from that region and that readers are brain washed to only read certain books. I took personal offense at the post and after so many agreeing had to comment to say I felt slighted and that I read 100+ books a year from various places and if this area does not produce that many books in a year. I also said I am not brainwashed.
    I know others who have also stopped following the blog due to the same sort of issues. Its sad as it could be a great uplifting blog for authors and readers.

  37. Melissa, I was sort of wondering about that!

    I'm a very visual person AND a pantser, so I wondered if using a one sheet template (with guidelines and pictures) could solidify the work in progress.

    From what you said, I think I'll give it a try even with the books I've already written because it might help with re-writing/revamping them into something smaller. Looking at those hgue books, I wonder where I found the time!

    Then I remember there are three more children between those books and these. :D

    Thanks for info!

  38. Hi Mia,
    Great post. I like that you remind us that we are a component of our product.

    Virginia, once I pitched and showed a photograph of the person who inspired the story and the editor REALLY seemed put off by the photograph. Maybe it was the end of a long day for this editor, but I had the sense that I'd made a big mistake because the body language just disengaged. I never did that again, opting instead to let my pitch sell the story.

  39. LYNDEE: Wow, I never thought of that. Thanks for the warning!

  40. Well, folks, it's 10pm for me so I'll say good night. Thanks for another fabulous day at Seekerville!

  41. Mia, you mentioned one of the most difficult things ... consider the constructive comments from critique partners and judges but balance them against your instincts. Learning to trust instinct so we don't lose our 'voice' is so important. Others may know more but they don't always know better :-)

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    Nancy C

  42. As my Mother always says: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.


  43. Hi Mia,
    Great article. I think I would add - once you've done all you can to prepare - to relax and have fun at the conference.

  44. Enter me!!
    God Bless!
    Sarah Richmond

  45. Please enter me! Thanks!

  46. Mia~

    This is a lovely post. Something to keep in mind for my "someday" since I'm not going to conference this year.

    The two pieces of advice that resonate most with me are 'Finish your book' and 'Be nice.'

    I loved your first, and I definitely want entered for your second!

    andeemarie95 at gmail dot com