The 2023 Women in Publishing Summit featured what's known as a slush fest. The word slush refers to the slush pile of submitted manuscripts on an editor or agent's desk, usually sorted through by an assistant, with the most promising ones forwarded for further consideration.
What is a slush fest, anyway? It’s an opportunity to have a first page read and critiqued by agents! Slush Fest at the 2023 Women in Publishing Summit was a rare gift for writers in attendance.
When an editor looks at a manuscript to critique, the focus is on the positive aspects of it with suggestions for improvement. It’s a work in progress.
When a literary agent looks at a manuscript to decide if a traditional publishing house will take up the book, the criteria is different. This is important for a writer to know. The standard process is to submit to a literary agent and either receive interest or a standard rejection, similar to “This book is not something I can represent.” Most times there’s no feedback beyond that, leaving the writer to try again pitching to someone else.
In a perfect world with unlimited time, feedback on the writing from the literary agent would be golden. The writer would learn what improvement their writing needs for it to be a better fit with what publishers want. This is what the Slush Fest gave to those whose pages were read, but all of us learned from the feedback given to others, and by witnessing each agent’s process while listening to their advice.
Prior to the session those who wanted to take part sent the first page of a manuscript they intend to pitch to an agent or publisher without identification on it to allow for a blind read.
At the Slush Fest, Women in Publishing Summit founder Alexa Bigwarfe read aloud as many first page submissions as time permitted to the four agents.
Kelly Thomas, Serendipity Literary Agency; Amy Collins, Talcott Notch Literary Services; Michelle Lazurek, WordWise Media Services; and Quantrilla Ard, Embolden Media Group would raise their hand to stop reading if not interested. Once all four hands were raised, Alexa would stop reading, regardless of whether she was finished with the page.
What a valuable insight into the reality of the writing profession!
If a writer loses an agent’s interest after a few lines, the agent won’t represent that manuscript. It’s not nasty. It’s the nature of the business with so little time, and so many manuscripts.
What was so spectacular about this slush fest was the honesty each agent shared about each page! Sometimes they all agreed. Sometimes they didn’t. That’s what happens when sending to agents, and why one rejection doesn’t stop us from writing. We submit to different agents until the author, manuscript, and agent connect to find that perfect fit.
Yes, it’s subjective, however, the feedback at the slush fest was exceptional and served to help us better understand the publishing industry. One agent asking to connect later with one author gave confirmation that literary agents do not reject everyone, providing a testament to the need for persistence.
An important point I learned early in my writing career is that a rejection of my writing is not a rejection of me as a writer. We need to keep our ego out of it, learn what needs improvement, and work on our craft to incorporate any feedback we’re fortunate to get. We keep on writing.
Too much gatekeeping? Probably, but that’s the reality of traditional publishing.
The option to do it on your own, hiring the professionals you need to self-publish a quality book, is always there to choose to reach your audience. It took years of my taking part at conferences in their “speed dating” version of meeting with literary agents to help me decide. One-on-one with enough of them giving me the same feedback confirmed to me that my book idea wasn’t big enough from its regional perspective to generate the amount of sales traditional publishing expected.
No one even looked at the writing, dismissing it on concept alone. With a local audience asking for the book, a passion project of mine, I determined it would never happen if I continued on the traditional route, so I self-published. I believed it could go beyond a local history audience with its conversational approach to the history tied to what was going on in the world that interacted with Tottenville.
Two reviews on Amazon from sales in the United Kingdom that showed interest in looking at the 17th Century from an American point of view confirmed that for me.
So much for only people living in Tottenville being able to find value in my book!
Thank you, Alexa Bigwarfe, for giving us this valuable peek inside the making of these gatekeeping decisions not easily accessible to writers, and to the participating agents for giving of their time to share such valuable feedback.
Angie Mangino is the author of 17th Century Tottenville History Comes Alive, the first in a series on the history of Tottenville. Having lived in Tottenville since 1978, the Council on the Arts & Humanities Staten Island awarded a grant to her in 1999 to research the history of Tottenville to conduct an interactive workshop in the community. Her book series on Tottenville History stems from this research and information garnered from the community to offer a conversational look at the history and its wider reaching significance. https://angiemangino.com/
The Women in Publishing Summit is a place where writers, authors, and publishing enthusiasts gather to learn and grow. With workshops led by industry leaders and experts, this event offers a wealth of knowledge and opportunities for those looking to improve their skills and advance their careers. This year, several members of the Women in Publishing Summit team are excited about attending a number of workshops that will help them to achieve their goals and gain valuable insights.
Raewyn says “I am always on the lookout for ways to help my children navigate the world and understand some of the more challenging and difficult topics.” That's why she is excited for “Writing Scary Topics for Fiction In Ways That Educate and Empower Children” workshop. As a marketing expert, she understands the power of storytelling and believes that by learning from published authors who specialize in writing about these topics for children, she can gain valuable insights on how to use books to help her own children grow and develop. She is eager to discover new resources and strategies for educating her children in a way that is both informative and empowering.
Mandi, one of our expert social media managers, is looking forward to attending Julie Broad's workshop “5 Tips To Write A Book With Marketing In Mind.” She hopes to be able to learn how to sell her book before even starting to write it, making it appealing to readers and increasing the chances of book sales and landing speaking gigs. She is confident that this workshop will provide her with the necessary tools and knowledge to weave marketing into her initial planning stages. Previously, she has struggled with the marketing aspect of her projects and books but is optimistic that this workshop will help her overcome this obstacle.
Lauren Udoh is eager to attend the workshop “Working Together: The Ghostwriting and Collaborative Writing Process.”. As an Executive Assistant, she is fascinated by the process of bringing a story to life through collaboration and is interested in learning more about how the relationship between the author and the ghostwriter works. Lauren believes that ghostwriters play a crucial role in helping people share their stories and is excited to hear all the details of this dynamic collaboration from E. Danielle, who has worked with numerous authors to bring their stories to life. She is eager to learn more about the behind-the-scenes process and how this relationship can help bring stories to life.
Pam is excited about attending Emily Enger’s session on “Minimalist Marketing”. This session aligns perfectly with Pam's goal of simplifying things this year, and she's eager to learn more about the minimalist approach to marketing. Pam believes that quality is more important than quantity, and she's looking forward to learning how to apply this principle to her marketing efforts.
Whether you are a seasoned writer or just starting out, the Women in Publishing Summit offers something for everyone. From workshops on writing scary topics for children to marketing and ghostwriting, there is no shortage of opportunities for growth and learning. Join the Women in Publishing Summit team and attend the workshops that interest you.
Get your ticket today and start your journey towards becoming a better writer and publishing professional.
Get ready for the ultimate networking experience at the Women in Publishing Summit!
We are thrilled to announce that the Women in Publishing Summit is back for another year, and this time, we have made sure to pack the event with even more opportunities for networking and connection! Our past attendees have raved about the benefits of having a writing team of friends, accountability partners, and co-commiserators. Writing can be a lonely journey, but with the Women in Publishing Summit, you will never have to go it alone.
Many of our past participants have formed lasting relationships and even continue to meet regularly via zoom. With the Summit, you'll have the chance to connect with a community of authors, writers, editors, graphic designers, and more in your specific genre. We heard your feedback, and this year we've built in even more opportunities for you to network and connect with others in the industry.
The Women in Publishing Summit is the first online conference dedicated to women in the publishing industry, and it's the biggest event of its kind. Over the course of four days, you'll have access to over 40 workshops covering a wide range of topics, including writing craft, editing, production, marketing, and the business of being an author. With expert speakers and panel discussions, you'll leave the Summit feeling inspired, empowered, and ready to take your publishing journey to the next level.
With Day 1 dedicated to writing craft, Day 2 to editing and production, Day 3 to marketing, and Day 4 to tools for business growth, the Women in Publishing Summit has you covered. And with the event held completely online, you can attend from the comfort of your own home or office. All workshops and events will be recorded, and you'll receive access to everything, so you never have to miss a moment.
Here's what some of our past attendees have to say about the Women in Publishing Summit:
“Fabulous! (I probably shouldn't say this out loud, but based on what I've seen so far, and what I know is coming, I would have easily paid double!) 😁” – Amy T., Writer
“Such an amazing conference. So impressed with the content. By far the most comprehensive collection for a writing/publishing conference. Great job!” – Stephanie Victoria Anderson, Cover Designer & Book Formatter, Alt 19 Creative
Join us March 1-4, 2023, and see what all the buzz is about!
Book launch days can be stressful which is why I want to bring you some of my favorite book launch tips from my recent launch of my book, 4 Days in Paris.
Book launch days are so much fun, and yet, nail biting may be occurring as I'm refreshing the screen to check for new reviews and rank advancement. If you know, you know, right?
If you've been in our workshops, trainings, or listening to the podcast, you've heard me talk about my first novel,4 Days in Paris by Lexi Haddock (my pen name). My book launched on December 6th!
In honor of the big day, I wanted to share some of my book launch tips and the lessons I learned from my launh. This includes marketing tools that have helped make book launch day extra special. But if you want to help me out, please at least click on the link to my Amazon page – which may or may not help the rankings increase. Obviously a sale is the biggest rank mover. Reviews right behind that. But it's been said that even activity on an Amazon page can raise the ranking. And I'm in some pretty competitive categories.
And now… here's some info to help you as you plan for your next book launch, or work to re-energize a book you've already launched.
If you haven't listened to episode 75 of the PublishHer podcast yet, from Paris with Love, you should listen! I go through my entire process. One of our listeners, Kay, said it's the most comprehensive podcast episode on the entire book writing process she's ever heard. Thanks Kay, I appreciate that. I talk about writing, editing, and a little on the launch process.Listen to episode 75 now!
I was super thrilled to be featured as the Book of the Day on the BookyCall app on December 6th! This is an app you should absolutely be using as an author and reader – it's a growing community of readers who are “matched” to books that all have really fun “dating” profiles. It's a really cute concept and authors are getting a ton of new readers from it. BookyCall is one of our Session Sponsors for the 2023 Women in Publishing Summit, and they'll be doing a webinar with us next year. We will also have a special discount for our conference attendees if you're interested in marketing your book through them. For now, go download the app on your phone (it looks like a little ghost with a hat) and find out which books are a match for you! Pro tip: I set my ebook to $0.99 for launch day and have it in Kindle Unlimited in the attempt to lure in new readers who are unfamiliar with me. This is very helpful since it takes time for reviews to trickle in.
Love Book Toursis an amazing company to run an Instagram tour with! I've had a review tour and blitz happening the last 11 days and it's been awesome! The LBT organizes the tour, and you get to watch them post away. You can check out @LexiHaddock_author on Instagram to see some of the wonderful posts. I'm trying to convince the owner, Kelly, to come talk to us in the conference as well. If not, we'll get her in a webinar or podcast interview. These review tours may not always result in immediate sales, but it does create a lot of buzz and I've seen many people comment they are adding the book to their to be read list.
Time is your friend, not your foe. Unless you make it your foe by not giving enough time in your launch preps! There just isn't enough time to do all the things. I had millions of other activities lined up I wanted to do, and just could not get to it all. Because… work, life, all of the things that compete for our time. It's absolutely critical that you work on growing your platform as early as you can and have a plan that will allow you to get to as much as you can.
What was my plan?
My plan was focused on getting the book into the hands of as many readers as possible. We did this through listing the book on Netgalley and Booksirens, the LBT virtual tour on IG, the Featured book of the day with BookyCall, running a giveaway on GoodReads (at last check, over 2700 people had requested it!), and running launch day giveaways on all of our Instagram Accounts. Additionally, I've been making it my mission to spend as much time engaging with readers and reviewers on Instagram.
What I did NOT get to:
Sharing more pics from my time in Paris
Getting on more podcasts – I did get on a couple, including a great interview on the TufFish Podcast with Jen Milius in which we discussed using pen names and book marketing –check it out here!
Creating relationships with other closed door romcom or holiday romance authors to do group promos with.
Get my BookBub account running and run a promo with LitRing.
About five million other things I would do if I had more time!
But the cool part is, that while you want to create as much as buzz as possible prior to launch, which I think we did reasonably well with, the rest can continue after the launch. So, I'll keep at it. The biggest piece of this will be finishing book 2, so I can launch it and cross promote both books.
Book launch day is important but you can continue to build buzz after the big day too.
I'm so grateful to my entire community for your love, encouragement, and support as I launch this book. You've been awesome.
How many newsletters did you delete from your inbox this morning? No judgement. We all do it. You subscribe to someone’s newsletter and then…eh.
It’s a vital part of marketing in almost any industry, and it’s a massive sales driver for most authors.
But did you know that there are writers out there who are making an actual living from writing newsletters, separate from any book revenue?
It got even more popular during the pandemic, when a lot of writers felt pressured to hustle and the publishing industry slowed. I’ve heard from a lot of you over the last year or so: what about Substack?
So let’s get into it! What about Substack for authors?
What’s Substack anyway?
Substack is simply an email list platform, but it’s built specifically as a monetized subscription model. It has all the traditional things a decent email platform has – analytics, list management tools. And yes, you can have a free newsletter on Substack. But the model is built to make taking payment easier.
Writers set the price, but most subscriptions run about $5 per month, or $50 per year if you pay at once. But there’s also quite a few niche topics (investment advice, etc.) that command higher subscription costs. It’s not a huge amount of money on its face, but the most successful people on the platform – most of whom aren’t exactly Kardashian-level famous, but more cultural figures, academics, authors and journalists – have thousands of subscribers, so it does add up, even after Substack takes about 10% of the revenue for their fees.
There are other services that do similar things like Ghost (an open-source, nonprofit version that’s very interesting to me), Patreon, Campaignzee (part of MailChimp’s products) and Buy Me a Coffee. But right now, Substack has a lot of momentum with authors.
I polled my team to see if they were Substack subscribers.
Nancy: I have been reading Roxanne Gay’s newsletter for a long time, and I get it on Substack. She’s amazing, and it’s one of my very favorite emails to open. I also subscribe to Book Post, which is a really smart book review account.
Sarah: I’m a longtime subscriber to author/The Toast co-founder Daniel Lavery’s content, and he recently moved from Patreon (another subscription service that isn’t specifically for writers) to Substack. I also get Agents and Books, which is about publishing and working with agents.
Why are writers using it?
The idea here is that monetizing a newsletter is an attractive option for folks who want to produce content that is wholly independent.
For journalists, it’s become a refuge from the corporatized newsrooms with low salaries and overwhelming workloads. A newsperson can do longform reporting in an environment that isn’t worried about appealing to broad audiences or offending advertisers…and they can also write with a strong point of view.
For authors, it’s a place to share work that’s personal, outside your usual genre, bonus scenes you’ve worked on, character sketches. It could even be a place to try out serialized writing. In a team chat about the serialized opportunities presented by Amazon Vella (read our blog post about that here), Nancy pointed out that author Katie Conrad has been using Substack to write a cozy story about a witch and her cat, Saffron and Bear.
Plus, you’ve probably noticed that social media has gotten a whole lot noisier lately. People are tuning out, and passive reach has been declining for years. You have to pay to get people to look at your content, and when you spend the money on an ad, you want to know that ad is going to a place that’s going to contribute to your bottom line. So why not send your ad to a paid product like Substack?
What does it take to do well on Substack?
The biggest challenge for anyone who’s interested in making Substack a true revenue stream is that it requires a huge amount of list building, just like any other email marketing you’d do.
Sure, the reward is more direct here – getting subscribers is going to immediately pay off, you don’t need to wait for them to buy your book! – but if you’re not known to your audience, they’re not going to pay $5 a month to get to know you.
Even if you already have a good email list with engaged readers, stats suggest that about 10% of them will convert to paying subscribers. And Substack doesn’t really help you find new subscribers through the platform unless you are already a top performer.
So my advice to anyone looking to try Substack out is:
Keep offering your free newsletter because it remains one of your best marketing tools; these folks already love you. Consistently messaging the fun you’re having on Substack with your subscribers, but also continuing to provide value to your free subscribers is a great way to convert more and more to your paid model. You can do both on the Substack platform.
Develop a strategy to promote your Substack on social media. This model doesn’t let you step away from social media, friends – in fact, it's one of the best ways to grow your audience. Think of social media as being a customer funnel bringing folks into your subscription.
Make this work your best. When you ask people to pay for your newsletter, it needs to be as good as a newsletter as your book is as a book.
Even though your work needs to be “worth it,” one of the main things people like about paid content like this is that it’s giving them access to something special. Being personal or casual is something many subscribers enjoy and look forward to seeing in their Substack subscriptions.
Make sure you’re publishing regularly. Weekly is ideal, but some writers do a few short pieces a week.
So should I start a Substack?
If you already have a big email list OR if you’re willing to spend the time, effort and money (especially ad spend) towards growing your email list, go for it!
If you’re looking to Substack to be a supplemental income at most, and you’d like to connect with your readers in a new way or with new material, go for it!
There’s really no downside…unless it takes you away from your other writing goal of publishing your books, of course!
It can be a challenge to spread the news about your book, especially once the thrill of the launch is done. It takes a bit of recalibration for authors to figure out how to develop a long term strategy to ensure continued success.
Our friend Mardine Perrins published Expiration Date, her dystopian medical thriller,this winter. Now, she is taking charge of her book’s post-launch marketing strategy by kicking off her very first book blog tour on June 21! If you love to read, or if you just want to find out more about how it’s done, check it out here.
What’s a book blog tour?
A blog tour is a set period of time where authors strategically partner with book bloggers to post about their work. The bloggers write about their real experience with the book, they’re not just using author swipe copy. The author provides a review copy (an ebook is okay!), and any images that they think might help.
The actual content is easy since you’re relying on expert book lovers to create it! So finding book bloggers can be the biggest challenge. You can research reviewers who work in your genre and who love books similar to yours. Spend time building a relationship with these folks. Comment on their posts. Share their work on socials and follow them. Sign up for their newsletter. This takes time, so start this research early.
Alternatively, you can employ a company that will organize your blog tour and connect to the right folks, if it’s not something you have the bandwidth to do.
What will you need for your tour?
You’ll need a few things in place before you begin your book blog tour.
A ready-to-go, formatted, well edited ebook or advance review copy – this can be as simple as a PDF, or you can provide a .mobi or .epub file, if you have one, to make it easier for your reviewers. If you want to have reviewers provide their own flat lay photos for social media and their page, you can also provide a physical copy of your book, if it’s in your budget. It’s good to splurge on a few physical copies for when a blogger is a big name or has a community that’s perfect for reaching your target reader.
It’s also best practice to offer bloggers a giveaway of your book. It helps them grow their own audience, which helps you, too, and offers you the chance to organically grow the profile of your blog tour. Mardine’s blog tour is using Rafflecopter for her giveaway – check it out here.
A clear email with all the info a blogger will need to be part of your blog tour. Include all your links – socials, website, places to buy – as well as information about you. A short bio, author photo and a cover image.
Clear goals: what do you want to ask the blogger to do? Be very clear on your ask, expectations and timetable. You can encourage content like an interview, a review, a guest blog post you provide, or even a link to your lead magnet!
Once your book blog tour is launched, be sure to promote it as the bloggers make their posts. Share links on social media and let your own newsletter readers know about all this great new content about your work happening. You’ll also want to send thank yous via email to everyone who took the time to promote your book – and express the hope that you’ll be able to work together again!