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The 6 Keys to Your Success as a Writer: Judith Curr Sunday Morn Keynote #SFWC15


#judithcurr @judithcurr

San Francisco Writer’s Conference 2015

photo of Judith Curr

Judith Curr

Judith talked about her background in the cosmetics industry. Came to US is 1996, a tumultous time. This was a time of consolidation. (She’s with Atria Publishing Group Now). Atria was founded with 2002, a new Imprint. Enliven is a holistic house.

Another imprint is Keywords, a digital imprint. New imprint for a new kind of storyteller.

“It’s always important to say one’s intentions.” Your imprint or any of the names you want to come with should speak to your intention. Atria is plural for atrium, a place for our staff to grow and flourish, and the books should enrich and nourish. The goal is to connect authors with readers.

Also, you want to make sure your name is at the top of the list… so it starts with “A”.

She projects a list of books.

Questions to ask:

Why this book? It will take time and energy to get it out. Are you willing to go the distance?

Story – Is it compelling? Does it have a good resolution? Do you love/hate characters? Is there a narrative arc?

Slide of sample books and reviews. Can’t read the small text. Wonders… The Well Confessions of an Awkward Black Girl…

Who will read the book? Is is a large audience or a niche? (The sayings of Rod Serling).

There are many ways to be able to judge this.

Third question. How will you tell them about it? The publishers are the curators. It’s like an art collection. They decide what to put their time and energy behind.

Techniques – eg author with a following is to let audience know a new book is for sale. This won’t work with a new author.

Outdoor advertising. Brad’s creation Scott Harbor. Latest book is Act of War. Atria bought billboards outside Jacksonville military base.

Mobile ads increasingly more important and people have phones on them 24/7. People will be reading more as screens get larger.

Online ads – click through. You then you know where the orders came from.

Physical book tours – Very important. Last year they did a fall-in-love tour. Each alone didn’t have enough, but they put them together. They have a shared audience. They put a requested RSVP in the area of the bookstore, this allows them to tell the bookstore to order more books.

Social media – YouTube, Facebook, etc – you have to decide where to put your energy.

Give things away  – When all else fails. But usually this is a reward or a valued added. Eg, a short story with an ad on the back of the book. Be careful how you get people used to giving things away.

Charting and responding to online chatter.

What works for some won’t work for all. Be sure to look at the analytics. Judith shared a chart and talked about knowing when you did something verses results.

We live in a cirular world. Online informs the physical world which is then reflected in an online response.

Book Signings, Conferences, and Marriage Proposals

“Book boyfriend” some people will go to an event and meet kindred spirits because not all their peers read what they do.

Many other opportuninies. Goodreads seems to create more physical books sales than ebook sales. Look at Goodreads and make friends there. Pay attention to the reviews.

There are thousands of bloggers. Atria says “we make the news and you report the news.” They have a password protected space for top bloggers to get exclusive breaks.

Wattpad – interesting writers site. Some do it chapter by chapter. It’s free and mobilized as well.

Sometimes people send you cake. That’s nice.

Fourth question is setting your expectations. This is about money and what success looks like for you. There’s no point in saying my book will be a NY Times bestseller. What is the expectation? Publication? Four, five-star reviews with the NY Times?

Think about your goals for sales, by type – hardcover, softcover, ebook

Where will you sell? Remember your goal is to sell many of one kind of book (yours) book sellers want to sell many books of any type.

What do you want?

What are your skills?

What activities should you assign to others?

What publishing model is best for you?

Do you enjoy collaboration?

What are your financial expectations?

Is this a hobby or a career? Somewhere in between? A legacy? A marketing tool for other businesses?


Price points important. Doesn’t mean lowest is best?

Days of Facebook marketing are coming to an end.

Must constantly look at innovations

Publishing not just an art, it’s a business

Some things only an author can do. To hear, see and speak.

It not the answers you have but the questions you ask.

Have you answered them all?

Told a story where a friend was about to be given a suprise gift. A cake. It was covered, awaiting her arrival. She wasn’t due to arrive until the end. After a while, someone asked: “What kind of cake is it?” The answer, becoming increasingly obvious (slide of a melting cake) is that it was an ice cream cake.

So now, the last question she asks is “do I have all the information I need?” In other words, what kind of cake is it?

Judith Curr, President and Publisher, ATria Publishing Group



facebook /JudithCurr

Q and A –

Q – What are the characteristics of good fiction?

A- Well, it should be readable?

Q-Should ebooks stay at $9.99

A-I don’t want to go to jail. The Dept of Justice has regulations about publishers speaking in public about price and pricing.

Judith got Celestine Prophecy published in Australia. It’s a book about values and synchroncity.

Here is Judith’s bio from the Corporate Website:

Judith Curr

Executive Vice President and Publisher

Atria Books

Judith Curr is currently Executive Vice President, Publisher and founder of Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.  She is responsible for all the editorial and publishing activities of the imprint, which includes Washington Square Press, Strebor Books, Atria/Beyond Words, and Atria Books Español

Atria Books is the publishing home of many major bestselling authors including Vince Flynn, T.D. Jakes, Shirley MacLaine, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Maria Celeste Arraras, Daisy Martinez, Brad Thor, Zane, and Rhonda Byrne’s international bestselling phenomenon The Secret.

Ms. Curr has led the Atria imprint since it was launched in 2002. Prior to Atria, Ms. Curr had been President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books since 1999.

Ms. Curr began her publishing career in 1981 as part of the team that founded Transworld Publishers, the Australian subsidiary of Bertelsmann. Initially responsible for publicity and marketing,  she was promoted to Publisher and Executive Director in 1986, and oversaw the publications of an international and local list of authors including Paul Barry’sThe Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer and by John Bertrand’s Born to Win.  Ms. Curr came to America in 1996 to be Senior Vice President and Editor in Chief of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House Inc.  Prior to joining the publishing industry she held marketing positions at Christian Dior Perfumes

A native of Australia, Ms. Curr grew up as one of seven children, on a farm in the southern highlands of New South Wales. She has been chair of the cultural advisory committee for the Council of the City of Sydney, and a board member of the New South Wales Craft Council and the New South Wales Law Society.  Ms. Curr and her husband live in New York City and Long Island, New York where she is on the board of the Women’s Media Group and advisory committee to Girls Learn International Inc.

#sfwc14 Success and #writing – Terry Whalin

@robblightfoot #lightfootznotes

If They Can Do It So Can You: The 8 habits of Successful Writers- Terry Whalin

Photo of Terry Whalin by Robb Lightfoot

Morgan James acquisition editor – works remote – lives in Orange County

Morgan James publishes guerrilla marketing titles 30

Has had a number of NY Times Booklist books

They do primarily non-fiction. Recent title: “Get Out of the Dumps: 8 Steps to clear your mind and jump-start your life.”

Do some novels, some children’s books.

Morgan James believes in giving back – Habitat For Humanity – not just something they say. They build 6 houses in Virgina last year.

His book on publishing, from the inside, has helped people. That’s his goal.

He wrote over 50 books before he went to the inside and learned how it works, contracts and the business end.

In this book, he talks about 12 successful characteristics… today he’ll talk about 8. It’s not just what he has done. He has interviewed more than 150 best-selling authors. They told him how they have practiced their craft.

Success does have characteristics and can model. He has a goal—to help you come away with actionable ideas.

He wants this hour to be one of the best.

8 Characteristics of Successful authors

  1. Rise to the challenge in your life. We all have things that keep us from getting our writing done. The successful writers have figured out how to get around this. Example: Best selling novelist Frank Peritti. Had a book with modest sales. “This Present Darkness.” It took off when a successful speaker began to mention “Present Darkness” until it took off. What people don’t know is that he was a failed screenwriter making skiis. He was injured at birth, had cystic Hydronium, his tongue hung out and oozed bloody, black residue. It took multiple surgeries, but his childhood was affected. This has informed his writing life.
  2. Understand and practice the pain of discipline. Bill Myers interview (screenwriter and novelist), Terry asked how he got all his work done. “He said it’s 5. Not anything religious.” He writes 5 pages a day. The convention was busy, and had many meetings, but Bill had a unbreakable goal. Now, you may not do 5 a day, but even if it’s ½ page a day.. it adds up. Successful writers have a word count. They shoot for that. One of his friends Bodie Thoene, (my first creative writing teacher! She taught me to write leads… and that got me my first writing job). Bodie says that no little elves come out and write. So she sits there and writes every day.
  3. Persistance is related to perseverance – Andy Andrews story. Great speaker, but could not get his book published. He would have people come up after his speeches and asked for a book. Once, a woman came up and praised him, and Andy said “Your husband (a big CEO) rejected the idea.” Andy also gave his book to Good Morning America. Back then they had a book club, and Robin Roberts chose it. That made it jump on the NY Times book list, and it has been there ever since. Andy had to keep at it to make this connection. Much of his effort didn’t go anywhere. Remember Mark Victor Hansen’s story of “Chicken Soup For The Soul.”
  4. Willing to learn from every possible source. They go to conferences and take notes. Terry told his experience at Woodlet Bible Translators. Back then, they had an author-at-large. Terry’s task was to supervise his books and budget. This created some conflict. Terry asked if he ever went to a writer’s conference, an the guy said: “Yeah, if they invite me to teach.” Terry said that he repeated the question and asked if he ever went to grow. This author said no. Don’t be that guy. You want to continually grow He’s been on Twitter for 8 years and has tens of thousands of Twitter followers. This is what you need to do. Social media – Terry has a 2 hour presentation, go to and get a free handout on this.
  5. Embrace their professional colleagues. This is their editors, agents. These writers are always wanting to improve their manuscript. Invite criticism. Be willing to rewrite. Don’t fight over every single word change. Do stand up for your voice and perspective. But most good editors want to improve your work without killing your voice.
  6. Understand the power of information. Exchanging cards… What do you do with these cards? Do you store them? Do you USE this information? Put them in your system in a way you can understand it. Card munch on Iphone – take a picture and it gets saved into text. Use these free tools.  Honor your commitments – Make your deadlines. It’s amazing how many miss deadlines and then don’t get in catalogs. Schedule your production to turn it in early. No matter what it is.
  7. Network – make and develop relationships. Help one another. You have to figure out how to get beyond the natural introversion. Great opportunities are out there.
  8. Great writers are always looking for the next great opportunity to practice their craft. All of us have ideas. But how do you convert ideas into action?

What should you NOT do?

Authors that irritate – forget mailing address and phone number.

#sfwc14 Ransom Stephens From Wage Slave to a Fulltime #Writer

Ransom Stephens, Novelist, science writer, physicist, and …

Breaking the Chains that Bind: The Transformation from Wage Slave to Full-time Writer

From Wage Slave to Full-time Writer

From Wage Slave to Full-time Writer

Title is pure Michael Larsen

Will provide a copy with this. Give him a business card. Will send PDF and Kindle.

He will put people on his distribution list. Please unsubscribe, don’t mark it as “Spam.” It gets sent back to the Internet Gods and they will hide emails from you.

Two assumptions:

First assumption: You’ve decided that you’re ready to do this. Put yourself in this frame of mind.

Second assumption: You can’t afford to do it.


Sterling Hayden – Life must live on a foundation of financial unrest.

People say I want to write full-time, but can’t afford it. These people are enmeshed in security, and the wheels of life thunder on and they’ve thrown their dreams under its wheels.

That said. Ransom does not want to encourage you to make this choice. He does not want to be responsible. It does not make common sense.

Two points – A lesson about prioritizing this part of your life. This is the key.

Second – Some observations about the temporal and spacial nature of life and how people accept changes.

His handout is inspired by the Hero’s Journey in Joseph Campbell. He filters this through the analysis of a physicist. He doesn’t treat it as a religious event. Campbell was onto the core something essential in human nature. We think it is harder today, but it’s not true. Otherwise you end up with a statement like “Those cavepeople, they had it made.”

For Ransom, the first thing he did was quitting his job and write fiction. Before he found anything to make money was taking this step. The first thing he did was to make this decision.

The first decision is the call. Then you need mentors and colleagues. We are social animals. We can’t do this alone.

By doing this, you are entering a different world. It’s a metaphor. Where you were will be a different world, but this place you are entering are different. Many of your preconceived notions are wrong.

“But never underestimate the power of inspiration born of ignorance.”

The next thing that happens when you do this, you meet ogres. You meet gate-keepers. These are people who send stuff back. This is a part of the process. A few meet with early success, but this comes at a price.

Then, through this initiation as rejection=pats on the back. These are visceral indications you’re doing it. Yes, it’s annoying and inconvenient.

It would have been useful to know this, he doesn’t know if his ego is small enough to accept it, but it would be interesting to know this.

But keep in mind that you’ve come through a world where you’ve been initiated. You may feel that you’ve been through a lot and paid your dues. You did, but that was another world. Your prior success will matter eventually, but not yet. It’s better to just go through the initiation process.

Great artists who didn’t suffer through initiation, they tend to flame out. When you have it later, its harder. Elvis, Curt Cobain, Michael Jackson. This can happen to authors, too.

It’s worth going through the initiation process.

Pay your dues, then you become a full-time writer. You get an agent. You get short-stories in periodicals of reasonable acclaim.

This is when you look around and see what it’s really like.

This is what he calls hanging with Groucho. He wrote to cancel his membership because he didn’t want to belong like anyone who would have him as a member.

But don’t underestimate that you can have an effect, that you can change that world. At that point, you start to realize that you will have an effect on this world. This is when success really starts to happen. You start to get citizenship in the world of professional writers.

You reach the fork in the road – do you sell out or by in? In our case, do you self-publish or go with the conventional model. Or what mix do you do.?

Now you have your book. It’s published and you have to take it back. This is when you return to your old world. This is when you’ll market your book to the people who know you. This is the return.

Finally you’re in it, you’re making your living. And you look around and ask yourself ‘what’s next?’

When they were finished, they would change the subject. “What’s next?” This is when you change it up.

But what does this mean in the context of being a writer.

So, you’re not in paradise yet. You’re between delivering the goods and ‘is this paradise.’ We’ve all had a pattern of success in life. We’ve been on this path. The trick is translating it into writing.

Questions before we look at the fractal nature of this.

This steps break down into sub-steps that also have this structure. There are circles within circles.

Writing a novel is hard. They’re wily. They can get away from you. You’re writing, you sit there alone with characters. There’s nothing more self-absorbed than this.

Because you go through this every day, you’ve internalized this. You know this. Each challenge is built on a set of micro-challenges.

Going back and looking –

First, let’s look at walking on the moon. It’s in a different world. People look at you like you’re crazy. “Don’t quit your day job.” This can come in many forms. And it’s not that they are mean or that jealous. They care about you. It’s that they can’t see this world. You are experience a social deviance box. Our culture has them, but they are relative. So, in the Bay Area, you have to be pretty weird to stand out. But in places like Texas or Redding, being a moderate Democrat will make you stand out.

This brings us to safety nets.

This talk. You’re pursuit of greatness, came from a 1999 talk to undergraduate physics majors.

He went and gave this talk to a broad career. The message is to do whatever you want, screw what people think, you’re going to be fine.

Exercise 2.3 well worth our time.

“When you make this decision, you will have many doubts. You should ask yourself what your safety nets are, what do you need? Financial? Emotional? Relational?

Write them down… “Permission of my significant other…”

Then, come back in a day or two, look at them again and ask yourself what you’ll really use. You’re not going to starve to death.

How many times have you seen someone get hurt in the circus.

Be honest with yourself, if you won’t need it, then you’ll find it easier to move forward.

The platform – is that artifice upon which you build your audience. The reason that people care about you and your work.

This is the trick. Building a life from the life you were to this writer thing. When you graduated from high school, if you decided to become an attorney or accountant, there’s a clear path. But becoming a writer is not like that. There is a path, but most have a different way through. The way it usually happens is that you experience massive rejection. They you get picked up by prestigious literary presses that no one reads, and then publishers finally agree to read your first 10 pages. Ransom knows one person who has done it traditionally. He knows many others who have not gone the traditional route.

This is the trick—who and what are you now. How do you get over to the next part.

Research Physicist – High Tech – To now

So, he promotes his book by talking to high tech and writing for high-tech magazines. So, one way to visualize this is to have two websites. You have your consulting website and then you have your author website. You must look at the overlap where it won’t push them away.

Merging those two is a trick, but it happens. People do it.

Ransom started with 4 windows – Author, scientist, think-tank, and …

So, what do you do?

You find your bridge.

Ransom has you list your top 10 all-time greatest successes.

Goal/problems/degrees/illnesses you’ve survived.

You can use this trick. Think back to your earliest memory, and then move forward year by year. Walk up your life from your earliest memory. Anything you’ve made, performances, anything you’ve survived.  He did organized baseball for 9 years, and he was pretty good at the end. But the first year he batted 0. This sucked.

And finally networking…. Building is building collegial relationships. Network at your own pay grade. It’s nice to go up to the CEO, but this is usually not going to get you anywhere. But when those of us interact, some of us will move up faster than others. It’s a lot easier to ask or get granted favors with people at your level. Ransom said that one of the people in his first writing group started her own publishing company.

Finally, making it as a writer is like winning the lottery. Have you heard this bullshit? It’s not true. Being a successful writer is nothing like playing the lottery. This is the law of large numbers. With writing, the odds get better each time. Buying another lottery ticket does nothing for you.

On human time scale. If you dedicate to something for 10 years, the odds are better than 50-50.

Last thing – Paradise is easier to find than it is to recognize. Enjoy the process, because in 100 years you’ll be dead.