FAQs from the Book Festival

April 28th, 2010

Did I have an amazing time in California at the LA Times Festival of Books?

Why yes, I did . . .

. . . until the tacos I had the other night came back up in the airport security line yesterday morning at LAX.

I had them at a really fancy restaurant so I don’t know what the deal was.

Flying didn’t seem like such a good idea after that (to anyone).

So everyone at Delta deemed it best I check into the nearest airport hotel and stay an extra night.


Pre-Tacos, at the Book Festival. Thanks, Charisse!

Anyway, I feel a lot better today (I can’t tell you how many episodes of Say Yes To The Dress I watched in a daze yesterday while planes took off and landed outside my window) and successfully made it through the security line to my gate today. I’m posting this from the plane (so exciting)!

Thank you to all of you who made my stay in LA such a success!

And thanks to everyone who has been reading/writing and posting about Runaway! It’s so sweet of you to welcome her (I think of the book as a her, I guess) with such open arms.

I worked really hard on the Airhead series, so it’s great people are being so excited about its roller-coaster, page-busting finale. I will admit there were some tense moments bringing all those story lines together.

But I did it! And I’m glad you’re all enjoying it so much! There’s still one last YouTube video to come, so stay tuned.

Anyway, since there seemed to be a lot of aspiring writers (or at least bloggers) at the Book Festival and I kind of feel like at my last event, Ros, Don, Robin and Amy and I left some things unsaid (because we ran out of time, there were so many questions!), I thought I’d answer a few of the FAQs at the Festival in more detail:

What is selling in publishing right now?

Good books. If you write it and it’s good, it will sell. This is true of any genre.

So, teen vampire books?

Don’t write to the market because by the time your book is done and published, whatever is “popular” at the moment may not be popular anymore. Write what you love.

So, teen werewolves.

Write what you feel passionate about. Your belief in your story and characters is what’s going to make it sell, not what the market is asking for. Even something strange and oddly grotesque can be a huge hit if you write about it entertainingly enough, with heart.


Who would think the story of a Parisian rat who loves to cook would be a huge hit? But the author believed in it!

Should I make my werewolf or vampire book third person or first?

What do you feel most comfortable doing? Is your story from multiple points of view or just one? Sometimes a story is more suspenseful if told from one character’s point of view. Sometimes it’s better if told from multiple points of view.

You just have to figure out which feels best for your story, sometimes by trying both and then seeing which works best. Neither is “selling” best.

Can I write with a pen?

Of course you can write with a pen. Don’t send a manuscript written in pen to a publishing house though or they will send it back to you and tell you to type it out.

Does spelling count?

Yes. If you can’t spell, hire a proof reader. If you can’t afford one, barter with your friends. Cook a meal for someone in exchange for her helping you with your spelling.

Should I post my stories online?

Not stories you want to try to get published later. You can copyright words, but not ideas. Ideas are precious jewels. Why would you post them online for other people to steal?

Treasure and guard your ideas to avoid having them stolen by other, less talented authors, who might use them and write their own book or screenplay.

But my fan fiction is super popular.

I loved writing fan fiction too but those characters don’t belong to you. They belong to another writer, such as George Lucas, or me. You can’t publish the stories you are writing about that author’s characters, or you will be sued. Fan fiction is fun, but once you’ve perfected your craft, you’re kind of just wasting your time and talent when you could be making up your own characters in stories you could sell later.

What about self-publishing?

Some writers are going the self-publishing route these days. It’s so easy! With a press of a button and a credit card, you can avoid the heartbreak of rejection and see your manuscript turned into a book right away.

You will have to pay someone to edit, print, market, publicize, sell, and design a cover for your book, as opposed to someone paying YOU for all this (which is how it works in traditional publishing).

But it will be a book!

There are many pitfalls with going the self-publishing route. Vanity-press houses like to market their services by saying things like “Shakespeare was self-published!”

But this isn’t true. Get the facts here.

What is self-publishing? Here’s a good explanation of what self-publishing versus vanity presses versus Print on Demand means.

Personally, I don’t think paying to see your own writing in print is ever a good idea unless you fall into one or more of the following categories:

–You have a collection of family recipes, stories, a self-illustrated picture book, or poems you’d like to see in print that isn’t intended for sale for the general public, but for immediate friends and family only.

–You are promoting a cause or are a professional of some kind, and have written a non-fiction book and its publication will help promote the cause or your business, and no traditional publishers have bitten, and getting the word out there in a timely manner is of the essence.

–It has been a lifelong dream of yours to see a novel of yours in print, and you will probably not live long enough to see your manuscript published by a traditional press because you are very old or have a terminal illness.

If, however, none of the above apply, I believe you should always value your own writing enough to insist on being paid for your work, not pay others to publish it.

But my manuscript has been rejected 12 times! I’m tired of waiting for the traditional publishers/agents to notice me. I’m just going to self-publish, it’s easier.

Is it? Even though that 13th agent might have taken your book if you’d had a little more patience, and you, like Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, which was rejected by 45 agents, might be on top of the bestseller lists now (see Ask E. Jean who addresses this exact topic in the May issue of Elle Magazine)?

If I had gone ahead and given up and self-published my books after they got rejected 12, 45, or even 100 times, my life would be very different than it is today, wouldn’t it?

Mad as those rejections made me, they caused me to put aside that mystery series about a high school basketball coach who solved crimes that no one wanted to publish (and other, worse books I wrote in my twenties) and challenged me to work on something new . . . something that, ultimately, proved to be better, more saleable, more MEG CABOT.

There are many other reasons why, if you’re looking to be a professional writer, you might want to steer clear of self-publishing, and some of the best reasons are listed here, and also here. Do yourself a favor and read these sites before you consider self-publishing. Please.

How DO I get published, then?

I recommend that when your manuscript is finished, edited (a good creative writing workshop is always worth the money. A trusted teacher or good friends who read within your genre can help too), and truly sings, you get an agent.

An agent will get you the best book deal possible. Here’s a site on How to get an agent.

When I was starting out, I used this book.

Flip through it at the bookstore (it’s in most of them) and see if it looks like it could help you before buying it. It’s expensive.

Checking in the front of your favorite author’s books to see who she thanks (she will usually thank her agent) is also a good way of targeting your agent search. Query the agents of authors whose books are like yours.

Be professional in your query letter. Don’t say how many other agents have rejected you. That’s OK between us, but not in your query letter.

If you get rejections with editorial suggestions, INCORPORATE THEM and send the manuscript back (as long as they aren’t crazy suggestions. You can tell the difference between helpful editorial suggestions and crazy ones).

I can’t tell you how many aspiring writers I have heard say they would never change a word of their manuscript because it’s perfect “just the way it is.” No manuscript is perfect. With this attitude, you could come off as hard to work with. That could be why you don’t have an agent or a publisher.

Publishing isn’t just about the writing. It’s also about a working relationship. No one wants to work with a difficult person, no matter how brilliant. I had an editor who once said, “A manuscript is a tapestry. My job is to find the loose threads on that tapestry and pull. If the tapestry falls apart, your job is to weave the threads more tightly.”

This another reason why it’s a bad idea to self-publish something that hasn’t been professionally edited: A writer is usually too close to her tapestry to see the loose threads. That’s the editor’s job.

If an agent says she will give you comments if you pay her, say no. Never pay anyone to read your work unless you’re hiring an experienced editor.

Don’t get discouraged if you get rejected by every agent in America. Never give up . . .

. . . but do be open and flexible. Dreams come true, but sometimes they come true in ways you never expected. By this, I do not mean self-publishing.

By this, I mean I always expected to be famous for my mystery series about a high school basketball coach who solves crimes.

This series now lives under my bed, where it will remain forever. Why? Because when I go back and read these books now, I realize there was a reason they were never published: they were filled with loose threads. If I’d self-published them, I’d have ruined my career before it ever started.

Big Name or Less Big Name Agent?

Many writers make the mistake of thinking they need to be with a Big Name Agent at a Big Name Agency, maybe one who already has some Big Name Authors.

But if Big Name Author is such a big name that she demands all of Big Name Agent’s time, what is the likelihood of you getting any of Big Name Agent’s time? I know authors who are with Big Name Agents at Big Name Agencies who never get their phone calls returned.

So, this is something to think about when you’re targeting your agent search. Maybe you would prefer an agent at a smaller agency who is hungrier and more likely actually to pay attention to you.

But I’m 24! I’m really old! Is it okay for me self-publish NOW?

24 is not old.

Neither is 34.

44 is not old either. Even 54 is not middle-aged these days. I know a lot of 64 year olds who had not yet written their biggest bestseller at 54.

What about a time traveling werewolf who meets a girl vampire who goes to wizard school?

I told you! If it’s good, someone will pay you to publish it.

This concludes the question part of this blog. I hope it helped you.

Now I have to post this so I can catch my next flight.

In conclusion, thank you for all your support of Runaway and of me, value yourself and your writing, and I am never eating tacos again.

More later.

Much love,

Meg