Meet Robin Hoffman! I have been following her on Twitter since last Fall, often finding myself re-tweeting her sage advice. In an effort to bring a full view of the behind-the-scenes action of publishing, I was excited when Robin agreed to join The Red Sofa Chats.
The publishing industry can be a challenging experience, especially if an aspring author isn’t fully prepared. Having turned down many book ideas for a variety of reasons – oftentimes many ideas not being fully ready for an editor’s (or agent’s eyes), I will usually refer a writer find a professional editor; particularly if there seems to be the start of a fantastic book idea. It’s a hard job, and there’s nothing but respect on my end for any person involved this type of publishing role.
Being a literary agent, I don’t have the time or energy to line edit, coach, and assist in the fine-tuning of a book idea with the many writers I meet, as I need to focus my attention on current clients. Plus, literary agents prefer to see the final version of the book idea, vs. the beginning seed of a new book idea, when working with a new client. Hence there are many benefits of working with a professional who knows the ins and outs of the book publishing industry.
So enjoy the newest installment of The Red Sofa Chats! I really loved Robin’s responses!
In her more than 20 years experience publishing, marketing, and coaching, Robin has helped develop award-winning and best-selling books published by Random House, Doubleday, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Morgan James, Tendril Press, and J. Wiley & Sons, as well as self-published authors.
She did a one-year stint as acting Acquisitions Editor for Tendril Press where she evaluated manuscript submissions and cherry picked the best for publication.
Robin has researched and/or written freelance articles for The Washington Post, New York Times Magazine and Newsweek to name a few. She has a BA in Journalism from George Washington University and an MA in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.
1. Why did you choose to be an editor and writing coach?
That’s a funny story, actually, because, really, it chose me. I’ve had a passion for writing ever since I was a little girl. I wrote poetry, parody, and my secret dream was to be a best-selling writer of murder mysteries and/or a sketch writer for Saturday Night Live.
At 17, as I considered my options for college, I chose to major in Journalism as a kind of compromise with my parents “so you can get paid to write.” I attended the George Washington University in D.C., and it was a great environment for Journalism. I worked at The Washington Post as a news aide, and I wrote for our college paper the GW Hatchet. After graduation, I went to work for the investigative journalist and author, David Wise. I helped him complete three books in three years, all published by big houses. The job was immensely fun and stimulating, and David’s work was impeccable. After my tenure with him ended, he helped me get a job as a newspaper reporter in central Florida, and I hated it. Truly a “fish out of water,” I showed up, a 25-year-old Yankee with more experience working on big stories than the entire city desk combined.
The racism and sexism down there was so deeply ingrained, most people didn’t even notice. It just seemed normal to them, but it was painful for me to see African American neighborhoods in 1989 (literally across the train tracks from the white neighborhoods) that had several homes lacking city services such as running water. Although the white neighborhoods had full-service utilities, no one perceived a problem, and my suggestions to report on the social issues in the area were met with a patronizing, negative attitude by my bureau chief.
I can’t say I tried to fit in, although I managed to cloister my social life around some of my co-workers who were also northern transplants struggling to adapt. I so desperately wanted to leave that I quit my job and moved to Denver as soon as my boyfriend at the time was accepted to graduate school at the University of Colorado.
When I got to Denver, I renounced journalism and publishing completely, and, I thought, forever. I started a personal fitness training company with my (new) boyfriend and over the next 10 years, built a successful business with eight employees and a commercial location in an affluent area of Denver.
I started to feel restless. Knowing my destiny was not to be fulfilled holding a clipboard and counting weight lifting reps for clients, but not really sure what it was to be, I sold out my share of the business (in a divorce) and went to graduate school to study Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica.
My general intention was to become a business coach for wellness professionals. I knew from a decade in the business, that most wellness pros (like authors) had a mindset that was closer to an artist’s than an entrepreneur’s, and they (like authors) could use some help viewing their work as a business.
During my coursework, I inadvertently created an art therapy process I later named Heart, Paper, Scissors, An Arts and Crafts Activity for Self-Expression, Healing and Growth. At first, I thought it was destined to be a book, so I set out to get an agent, created a book proposal and went to the SDSU Writer’s Conference to pitch the idea. In the process, I learned two key things. 1) Heart, Paper, Scissors wasn’t a book; it was a product. 2) My book proposal wowed every agent who saw it, including, and especially, Michael Larsen, who became a cheerleader and wrote a blurb endorsing my product when it came out. Apparently, my methods for preparing a book proposal and pitching to agents were on target.
With a generous philanthropic donation, I created Heart, Paper, Scissors® the product and self-published the accompanying Teaching Guide. Over 3,500 units were donated or sold to scores of non-profit organizations and therapists throughout North America.
Meanwhile, I was coaching wellness professionals, and an interesting thing began to happen. My clients started to ask about writing and publishing books.
At first, I looked at these requests as the exception, not the main focus of my coaching, but the authors I coached saw atypical levels of success, so it got me thinking…
I started taking on editing jobs, because I needed the extra money, I’m good at it, and I like it. Then, I met the owner of an independent publishing house, and she asked me to be her acquisitions editor. I not only reviewed submissions and selected books to publish; I edited several award-winning books for her company as well.
In my experience as Acquisitions Editor, I noticed that almost every author who submitted was totally unprepared for the process―sending manuscripts with no book proposal, or a very poorly prepared one, sometimes, manuscripts would arrive with no contact information other than a PO Box. I was flabbergasted! Who knew? I saw literally hundreds of authors with big publishing dreams and absolutely no clue how to make them manifest.
Meanwhile, the authors I coached continued to have success upon success.
It was then I decided I’d found my true calling, or, more precisely, it had found me, and I left her company and committed fully to being The Get Published Coach.
My passion is helping first-time authors publish successfully. My impossible promise is that everyone who wants to can earn a good living using their creativity. I can’t help but wonder if there is some connection to my parents’ concern for me as a 17 year old creative who wanted to write novels and comedy. In their world, it was better to settle for a practical, parallel dream than to struggle.
In my world today, I show authors the steps, so they can successfully express what they want to an audience that is willing to pay to listen.
2. What book projects do you wish you could have worked on?
My favorite books are non-fiction tales that read like fiction, all the better if they include intrigue, political corruption, and bizarre, eccentric characters. With that in mind, I’d have to pick All the President’s Men by the Pulitzer Prize winning Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. I imagine I would have loved to be included in any aspect or stage of that book, from research through editing, and its market success would have given my career quite a boost, especially considering I was only 10 years old when it was published.
3. What are you reading right now (for personal reading)?
Let Love In: Open Your Heart and Mind to Attract the Ideal Partner by Debra Berndt (J. Wiley & Sons)…perhaps for obvious reasons….sigh.
4. How do you utilize Twitter? How do you believe it has changed the way we go about publishing books?
I post writing and publishing tips and follow authors and other professionals in related fields. I use Twitter to connect with potential clients and partners and to promote my classes, newsletter and other offerings.
I think Twitter has made it a lot easier for authors to establish a presence in the marketplace and develop a platform for their work. One great thing about Twitter is it provides a simple way for authors to document their platform growth, get feedback on their message, find out about people’s interests and needs, grow their e-mail list, and test new ideas.
5. If you had a crystal ball, where do you think (or hope) publishing will be in 5 yrs?
It’s clear that the antiquated publishing model that’s been in use the past 130 years is finally meeting its demise and taking its final gasps. My best guess is that publishing companies will abandon the old, “rich daddy” role and create co-creative and co-responsible relationships with authors, perhaps using a model of shared risk, more author creative control, and higher percentage royalties for authors on the backend.
I think a hybrid will emerge, where advances will disappear, except for brand-name authors, vanity presses and self-publishing will lose popularity because of their notorious poor quality, giving way to several small but selective independent presses that require some author investment in production costs, but will have the distribution capability and credibility once reserved for the Six Sisters.
E-Books and audio books will gain market share, maybe up to 50%, and publishers and authors will negotiate spin off rights and licenses for related products, which is where everyone is going to make the most money. For example, for a book that features self-hypnosis techniques, the publisher also will make available a CD set that includes all the recorded processes that may be purchased with the book for an additional $100. These types of product combos will be part of the overall package, so book projects become profitable.
It is my sincere hope that within this model, there will be room for the unknown writer of literary or narrative fiction to emerge purely due to sheer talent and that someone, somewhere, will publish and promote their work just for the love of books.