When it comes to writing and publishing, Writer’s Digest books are a writer’s best friend. Today, we’re joined by author and editor Chuck Sambuchino. Chuck is not only an editor for Writer’s Digest, he is the editor for the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents as well as the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Market. In his spare time, Chuck runs a famous blog aptly named the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, where industry professionals and agents come together to give tips and advice. Additionally, more than 600 of his articles have appeared in national and regional newspapers, magazines, and books. Recently, he made his debut as an author with his book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.
1) You’re an editor for Writer’s Digest books and multiple resource books including The Guide to Literary Agents. How did you become an editor for Writer’s Digest?
After college, I was a reporter for a small newspaper and freelanced for magazines a bit. An entry-level editing position with Writer’s Digest (part of F+W Media in Cincinnati) became available, and I got the job. A year later, a position in the books imprint opened up (specifically: editing GLA) and I transitioned to that job. Since then, my job has expanded all over the place. I now edit Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, produce lots of webinars, and blog every day. I also get out to conferences and speak frequently.
2) What was it like being a newspaper reporter?
First of all, as a reporter you are always “on.” News waits for no one, so you always have your radar up. Secondly, by far the worst part of being a reporter is the hours. A lot of stuff happens at night and on the weekend, and you have to cover it. Those two years reporting really wore me out, but I have to say I learned more about writing in two months at that job than I did in all my years beforehand.
With my position today, there is still a bit of “rush,” as I produce one webinar a week, blog all the time, and there is always something to do now-now-now. But most of the time, I am working on the books or our annual writers conference, and those take months to create/organize. It’s a slower pace, and I enjoy that.
3) Your work has appeared in national and regional magazines. What does it take to get published in a magazine?
Any number of things. You have to have a good idea that fits the magazine, and it has to be something they haven’t done before. You have to write a darn good query, and answer their questions before they ask them. For example, I can guess when an editor will ask, “How long will the piece be? Who will you interview? How will you collect photos?” Address their concerns upfront. Also, keep querying. It took me about six queries to break into Cincinnati Magazine, and I even knew editors at the magazine and had connections. In the end, my dedication paid off. I’ve written a dozen pieces for them, and they are great allies to have.
4) What are three things you wished you would have known about the publishing business?
1) Befriend everybody, because we are all in this together—agents, editors, writers, publicists.
2) If possible, find one niche and dive into it. I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades, which is helpful when answering people’s questions, but it also limits me from becoming a master of anything because I spread myself too thin.
3) Get started on your website and blog now! Do not wait! They take years to create and perfect, so you must start way before you ever need them.
5) Tell me what makes the Guide to Literary Agents important for a writer:
To break in to the big publishers in NYC, you need an agent, and GLA has always been and continues to be the biggest database of literary agents. You can search agents by subject or agency. I’ve talked to dozens of people who have used the book to get representation and published. That is really the best pitch I give to people. The book works and the success stories prove it.
6) Recently, you published your own book. How did you become a published author?
I was writing a series for Pennsylvania Magazine on historic theaters around the state. At a writers conference, I overheard an agent (Sorche Fairbank) mention how she “was surprised no one has done a book on old movie houses still in operation.” I e-mailed her after the event and said, “Nice to meet you, etc … By the way, I’m not writing about movie houses, per se, but I am doing this series on old theaters, and I work for WD, and I have a small platform, etc … If you ever wanted to talk about a book about national historic theaters still in operation, please contact me. Thanks.” It took three months, but she called.
We put together a proposal for that book and even got a small offer on it, though we declined the deal in the end. After that, we were back at square one, and she basically said, “What else ya got?” I sent her several ideas for books, and at the bottom was a few sentences for How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack—a kooky idea that had been brushed aside by every friend I’d run it by. Sorche loved the idea and knew immediately that she could sell it. We put together a proposal real quick, and she sent it out. Ten Speed Press called us soonafter in Fall 2009 and said, “We want it!” and that was it. The book came out Sept. 7, 2010, and is doing awesome. A lot of people keep asking me, “What’s next?” And my answer is: Unknown. Working on several things.
7) Was there a big difference being a writer as opposed to an editor? Is one easier than the other?
Being an editor is “easier” because you have a steady paycheck and a list of assigned duties, etc. Writing is much more risk and reward, hit and miss, etc., but, ultimately, it’s more rewarding. I couldn’t live without writing. With writing, you are in control. You decide what you are going to do and it’s your byline. With editing, you are a behind-the-scenes producer.
8 ) What has been your favorite author experience so far?
On the day of my book release party in Cincinnati, just an hour before the event, I was frantically called by my publicist (and BTW, they never call; they always e-mail) who asked if I could be interviewed by AOL News in three minutes. Despite having to get dressed and run out the door, I said yes. And I noticed very quickly, into that interview, that the reporter had actually read the whole book and was actively engaging me in a conversation—trying to branch out, spot contradictions, ask for evidence—stuff like that. I was impressed! And I was also trying to put a sock on with one hand (impossible!) while holding my cell phone with the other. After the interview, I sped down to Joseph Beth Booksellers and signed books. It was quite a night.
9) What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I have way too much advice to give to put here. First of all, I have 3.5 years of advice on my blog (www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog) that I think can help anyone and everyone. But if I had to pick a few quick things, it would be to educate yourself, invest in your writing, and dedicate tons of time to your work.
10) Tell me about your new book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack:
It’s insane. It’s the world’s first book educating people on how to assess, protect, and defend from garden gnome attacks. See, I discovered at a very young age that gnomes were malicious murderers and were secretly killing people with tiny weapons. The book came out a few months and ago and the response has been overwhelming. Evidently, more people than I thought are terrified of gnomes (like me!).
11) When did you 1st start noticing the malicious garden gnome activities?
When I was a wee youngster. They’ve always creeped me out. It was only after talking with deep cover operatives in the CIA, MI6 and Scotland Yard that I discovered gnomes were responsible for up to 1,000 deaths over the decades. It’s very frightening. Gnomes are proliferating are an alarming rate.
12) What are a few tips so I can keep my family safe from a Garden Gnome attack this Christmas?
Great question! That is the question of someone who wants to stay alive. Take precautions inside and outside the house. Dig a moat. Dig some traps outside and bait them with gumdrops. Seal all your air vents inside the house. Buy a big dog. If you see a gnome, kill it first and ask questions later. Trust no one who likes gnomes. Keep a weapon mounted on every wall. Report all close encounters of the gnome kind in a journal. I could go on! PROTECT YOURSELF!!