Tag Archives: agent

Sell More Books: Good Writing vs. Creating Urgency

Writing “well” should be good enough. Good enough to score an agent and a publishing contract. Good enough to entice a potential reader to move past page one, and keep reading, breaking only for food and the uncontrollable urge to refer your book to everyone with an inbox.

Author and mighty story expert and deconstructrix Lisa Cron (read her bio below–be prepared to be impressed) says the goal of learning to write well is a myth. A myth! Phew. (Does that mean I can produce a dungheap and watch it skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list? Assuming I publish it under an anonymous pen name, that is.)

Ms. Cron points out how the myth of “good writing” is perpetuated: “Everyone says it – writing books, professors, writing groups, editors, agents, even readers. It sounds so logical, who’d argue?”

Makes sense to me. However, as Cron states, “The first goal of any story is to anesthetize the part of the reader’s brain that knows it is a story. When we get lost in a good story, it feels like reality–literally. Recent research has shown that when we read about an action, the same areas of the brain light up as when we actually experience that action. We really are there. As a result, the last thing a reader is able to do (or wants to do for that matter) is analyze how, exactly, the story is creating such a perfect rendition of reality. And so when asked what it is that grabs us about a great story, we say it was the luscious language, the intriguingly complex characters, the witty dialogue, the fresh voice. In other words, we say it’s well written when what we really mean is that it felt like life.”

Doesn’t that sound like good writing?

“Writing well is the handmaiden of story,” Cron says. “The real goal of every writer is to learn to create that sense of urgency that makes the reader want to know what happens next. This is not triggered by dazzling wordsmithing, but by mastering story itself, and understanding what people are wired to crave from every story they hear.”

To put it more plainly, “We turn to story to shed light on the thorny internal problems we face. Stories teach us how to make sense of ourselves, others and the world at large by allowing us to vicariously experience myriad “what ifs.” After all, life is tricky and rife with risk, so what better way to prepare to navigate the one place we’re all headed — the future — than story?”

Lisa Cron’s top three tips for creating a sense of urgency:

1. Make sure you know how your story ends; ask yourself, how
does my protagonist’s world view have to shift in order for her to achieve her goal?
What does she have to realize that, most likely, she’s spent her whole
life avoiding? Then don’t hold back — sew this internal conflict into the
story, beginning on the first page, if possible, in the first sentence.

2. Always remember, what draws people into a story is that sense that all is not as it seems. The reader is all too familiar with “business as
usual” (read: ho hum), a story is about what happens when something out of the ordinary bursts through that predictable pattern and forces your protagonist to deal with it or else – even if it begins with something as seemingly mundane as the mail arriving a half hour late.

3. Let us know that something specific is at stake, and don’t be shy about telling us what it is, and how it’s affecting your protagonist. Make us feel it by letting us know what it forces your protagonist to confront. How does it differ from her expectations? What action does it trigger?

After all, stories are about how the unexpected forces us to confront our beliefs about ourselves, the world and others – and find out what we’re really made of.

What’s the last book that swept you away? What did it teach you about life, or better yet, yourself?

Lisa Cron spent a decade in publishing, first at W.W. Norton in New York, then at John Muir Publications in Santa Fe, NM, before turning to TV. She’s worked on shows for Fox, Bravo and Miramax, and has been supervising producer on shows for Court TV and Showtime. She’s been a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency in NYC, and for Village Roadshow, Icon, The Don Buchwald Agency and others in LA. She’s featured in Final Draft’s book, Ask The Pros: Screenwriting. Her personal essays have appeared on Freshyarn.com and the Huffington Post, and she has performed them at the 78th Street Playhouse in NYC, and in LA at Sit ‘n Spin, Spark!, Word-A-Rama, Word Nerd and Melt in Your Mout (a monthly personal essay series she co-produced). For years she’s worked one-on-one with writers, producers and agents developing book and movie projects. Lisa has also been a literary agent and for the past five years, an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where she currently teaches. Her book, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, will be published by Ten Speed Press, Summer 2012.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Manuscript Rejected After Only 20 Pages? What gives?

Ever wonder how an agent can reject a manuscript, having read only the first 20 pages? How can they know a book isn’t something they want to represent with so little to go on?

Before a writer curses all agent-hood while typing the url, Smashwords.com, self-proclaimed Novel Diagnostician (and doesn’t she deserve such a lofty title?) Kristen Lamb says, “There are too many authors who dismiss why agents are rejecting them and run off to self-publish instead of fixing why their manuscript was rejected.” (Not that you shouldn’t self-publish; please do, so we can read your book. But! BUT! Before you do, get that MS polished to perfection by a professional–someone with demonstrated
industry knowledge of storycraft.)

Lamb points out, “Agents know that a writer only has a few pages to hook a reader. That’s the first thing. But agents also know that the first 20 pages are a fairly accurate reflection of the entire book. So let’s explore some common problems with beginnings and look to the problems that they can foreshadow in the rest of the work.” Here are excerpts from her post:

Info-Dump

The beginning of the novel starts the reader off with lengthy history or world-building. The author pores on and on about details of a city or civilization or some alien history all to “set up” the story.

In my experience, this is often the hallmark of a writer who is weak when it comes to characters and even plotting. How can I tell? He begins with his strength…lots of intricate details about a painstakingly crafted world. Although not set in stone, generally, if the author dumps a huge chunk of information at the start of the book, then he is likely to use this tactic throughout.

This type of beginning tells me that author is not yet strong enough to blend information into the narrative in a way that it doesn’t disrupt the story.

Readers read fiction for stories. They read Wikipedia for information. Information does not a plot make. Facts and details are to support the story that will be driven by characters with human wants and
needs. Keep the priorities straight. In twenty years people won’t remember the setting, they will remember people.

Book Starts Right in the Middle of the Action

A lot of new writers are being told to start right in the action, and this tip needs to be clarified. We need some kind of conflict in the beginning to make us (the reader) choose to side with/like the protagonist. This conflict doesn’t necessarily have to do with the main story problem (directly).

For instance, in the Hunger Games we are introduced to Katniss and we get a glimpse of the hell that is her life and the burden she has of feeding her family. We feel for her because she lives in a post-apocalyptic nightmare where life is lived on the brink of starvation.
Nothing terribly earth-shattering happens, but we care about this girl. So,
when Katniss is chosen to participate in The Hunger Games–a brutal gladiator game held by the privileged Capitol–we want her to win, because that means a life of food, shelter and relative safety.

Suzanne Collins didn’t start out with Katniss in the arena fighting the Hunger Games. That is too far in and is too jarring. We need
time with Katniss in her Normal World for The Hunger Games to mean anything or this action would devolve quickly into melodrama. Even though in the beginning, she isn’t per se pitted directly with the Capitol, she is pitted against starvation and depravity…which leads us nicely into the main cause of that starvation and depravity (the Capitol) and the solution to this life (win the Hunger Games).

Yet, many new writers take this notion of “start right in the action” and they dump the reader straight into the arena. There are world-shattering stakes and we are only on page 2.

This shows me that the writer could be weak in a number of areas. First, she may not be clear what the overall story problem is, so she is beginning with a “gimmick” to hook the reader. Secondly, this alerts me that the writer is weak in her understanding of scene and sequel novel structure.

Scenes are structured: Goal-> conflict -> disaster

So when a writer begins her book with Biff hanging over a shark tank surrounded by ninjas, two major steps in a scene have been
skipped. When a writer totally skips some fairly vital parts and thrusts us
straight into disaster, I already know the author will likely rely on melodrama from this point on. Why? Because that was how she began her book.

Book Begins with Internalization

Fiction is driven by conflict. Period. Writing might be therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. When a writer begins with a character thinking and internalizing that is another huge warning flag of a number of problems.

Do you need internalization in a novel? Yes! But it has its place. Most internalization will be part of what is known as the sequel. Sequels transpire as a direct reaction to a scene. When a writer begins the novel with the sequel, that is a huge warning that, again, the writer is weak when it comes to structure. There is a definite purpose for reflection, but kicking off the action is not one of them.

Also, beginning with the protagonist “thinking” is very self-indulgent. Why do we as readers care about this person’s feelings or thoughts about anything? We don’t know this character. The only people who listen attentively to the thoughts, feelings, and disappointments of total
strangers are shrinks, and they are being paid well to do so.

Give us (your readers) time to know your character and become interested in her, and then we will care.

Like people who tell you about their abusive alcoholic father the first 30 seconds after you’ve met them, they likely will keep this trend of rudely dumping too much personal information. When the protagonist begins with all this thinking and more thinking…and more thinking,
it is probably a bad sign for the future. Just sayin’.

Book Begins with a Flashback

We do not need to know why a certain character did this or that or why a bad guy went bad. Again, that’s for therapy.

Did we really need to know why Hannibal Lecter started eating people for Silence of the Lambs to be an awesome book AND movie?
Now I know that there was a later explication of this….but it was an entirely different story (and one that really didn’t do well, I might mention).

Flashbacks often alert me that the writer needs time to grow. She hasn’t yet developed the skill to blend background details with the current conflict in a way that supports the story.

I’ll give you a great example: Watch the J.J. Abrams Star Trek. We find out exactly how Dr. Leonard McCoy gets his nickname, Bones…one line. “Wife got the whole planet in the divorce. All I got left is my bones.” The audience didn’t have to have a flashback to get that McCoy’s divorce was really bad. That is a great example of a writer seamlessly blending
character back story.

Also, sometimes, not knowing why adds to the tension. The Force was more interesting before it was explained.There are three really great books I highly recommend if you want to work on your beginnings (and even learn to fix the problems that bad beginnings foreshadow). Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, Hooked by Les Edgerton, and Scene and Sequel by
Jack Bickham.

Many authors are being rejected by the first 20 pages, and because most agents are overworked, they don’t have time to explain
to each and every rejected author what they saw. Thus, too many writers are
reworking and reworking their beginning and not really seeing that their weak beginning is a symptom of larger issues.

Hopefully, though, today Kristen Lamb gave you some helpful insight into what an editor (or an agent) really sees so you can roll up your sleeves and get to what’s truly going on.

What are some novels you guys can think of that had amazing beginnings?

What hooks you? How long will you give a novel before you buy it? How long will you give a novel you have bought before you put it down?

Kristen Lamb’s best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. Lamb’s methods teach you how to make building your author platform fun. She helps writers change approach, not personality.

Can’t get enough Kristen Lamb? (Me neither!) Check this out: Editing Fiction for Intelligent Readers (No Spoon-feeding Allowed.)

 

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Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier’s Advice on Connecting with Readers

The only thing better than buzz about your new book is PRE buzz resulting in pre-orders. I follow agent Laurie Abkemeier (Brian DeFiore & Co.) on Twitter, and found this blog post by Erin Reel at TheLitCoach.com featuring Abkemeier’s advice about connecting with your audience so that your book sales transcend the frontier of your family and friends.

This advice is especially germaine to me. The Ting Tings have a fabulous song, with lyrics that speak to my heart: “They call me quiet girl, but I’m a riot.” I’m not an attention hog by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love to laugh; I’m social enough and can be a little outrageous. Once, that is, I’ve come out of my shell. Connecting With Your Audience: A Blogshop with Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier gives the required motivation to put away your shell and start building relationships with readers.

Excerpts from Reel’s article: How an author connects with their audience plays a major role in their book’s success and their overall success as an author. If you’ve been following any brand of publishing trade news you already know that the author with the biggest mouth enjoys better sales of their book (in this context, being loud about your book is a good thing). 

A large part of the effort that goes into to selling your book actually happens before your book launches – it’s called building pre-pub buzz. You want people talking about your book before it comes out. You want them anticipating it’s arrival. You want pre-orders! So how do you find your PR voice and connect with your audience before your book launch?

According to Literary Agent, Laurie Abkemeier: “During my years as an editor, and now as a literary agent, I’ve seen countless nonfiction books rise out of relative obscurity and become bestsellers. Some rode a trend, while others created their own categories, but in every case, the key ingredient to success was the author’s commitment to promoting the work. Too often, I see authors who are committed to writing the work, but when it comes time to promote, they lose steam or they have better things to do. They are too busy to contact bloggers or put together a mailing list of organizations. They don’t want to get on Twitter or Facebook or build a website or start a blog. They think that writing the book will be enough, and that people will, perhaps by telepathy, sense that the book is available. Or worse, they think that it’s the publisher’s sole job to get the word out to the largest possible audience. While expending time and energy can’t guarantee a successful publication, it is rare that an author can achieve success while also being a recluse. Even publishers know this. When editors get on the phone with authors, they often ask point-blank, “How are you going to sell this book?”

That’s why, when I work with an author to develop a proposal, a lot of work goes into the publicity and promotion sections. My authors detail their social media and online connections, their contacts at magazines and newspapers, and previous experience with radio and television. They list every friend who might endorse their work. They research the membership numbers of relevant organizations and associations. They build new websites, start a blog, and get on Twitter—long before the proposal goes out the door. Part of this is for the benefit of the editor reading the proposal; it’s important that the editor understands an author’s reach and ability to get the word out. But I also require my authors to go into this level of detail so that they can see what is expected of them, that their role in promotion is going to be critical, and that their responsibility to the publication goes far beyond the last word on the page.

1. Plan to earmark a certain percentage of your advance for promotion—whether it’s a new website, business cards, a freelance publicist, or ads in specialty publications.

2. Schedule a meeting with your agent, editor, publicist, and the marketing staff to discuss the publisher’s promotion plans. A good time for a meeting is six months before publication, when the publisher has a clear idea of what it will do, and it’s not too late for you to fill in the gaps.


3. Once your manuscript has been sent off to a copy editor, turn your former writing time into promotion time. Reach out to people about endorsing your work, keep lists of bloggers and their contact information, pitch original articles to long-lead magazines, continue to build your social media presence, and revamp your website to launch within four months of publication. (And it goes without saying, discuss your plans with your agent and editor.)

Writing a book is a big commitment, but the bigger challenge for most authors is to do the work to promote the book. Commit yourself to the long haul. Your book needs you more than anyone.”

Your action: Yet-to-be-published authors – get organized. Create a budget devoted to your pre-pub buzz efforts, NOW. You’ll be glad you did! Then, connect with your audience. Make friends. Collect emails and subscribers to your newsletter, blog posts. Gain followers to your social media accounts. Most of all, understand this takes a lot of time and focus.

Published authors: Get creative. Get together with other published authors in your area and create an event. Maybe the event has nothing to do about selling a book – maybe it’s a charitable effort, a major donation of your time for a good cause. Make sure you send out a press release…then consider holding a book signing/reading event to celebrate with your community. Have fun with it!

Originally from California, Laurie Abkemeier began her publishing career in 1992 as an editorial assistant in the Touchstone/Fireside division at Simon & Schuster. In 1994, she moved to Hyperion where she was responsible for five New York Times bestsellers and many other national bestsellers. Since 2003, Laurie has worked as a literary agent, exclusively representing nonfiction. Her talented roster of authors includes journalists, bloggers, poets, academics, and artists. You can find Laurie on Twitter (@LaurieAbkemeier) where she posts her AGENT OBVIOUS TIP OF THE DAY—the inspiration for her app, available as a free download for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

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The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents

Generally, I try to spare you overly lengthy blog posts. Most writers work from home and already have enough temptation to procrastinate from our craft with lame excuses such as folding laundry or taking the cat to the vet. This post is worth a sit-down. That is, if you’re serious about writing an excellent query letter for your manuscript.

Written by upcoming author JM Tohlin–whose novel The Great Lenore will be in stores Summer 2011–interviewed 50 agents about mistakes writers make when pitching a book.

The tips he has collected are invaluable. As Tohline comments, “You’ve (presumably) spent hundreds of hours planning, writing, editing and perfecting your manuscript. Now, it is time to treat your query with the same respect.”

He also recommends visits to Janet Reid’s Query Shark page, and to Rachelle Gardner. “Google agents and read every bit of advice they are willing to share. Study, learn, and practice! You already know that writing is an art. Now, it’s time to learn that query-writing is an art as well.”

Ready to be impressed? Here are the superb agents who contributed to this post:

Alice Martell * Amy Boggs * Amy Tipton * Annie Hawkins * Bree Ogden * Brian Defiore * Cameron McClure * Caren Estesen * Daniel Lazar * Danielle Svetcov * Don Maass * Elizabeth Pomada * Farley Chase * Gina Panettieri * Heather Mitchell * Helen Breitwieser * Helen Zimmermann * Janet Kobobel Grant * Jeff Gerecke * Joyce Hart * Kate McKean * Kimberley Cameron * Laney Becker * Liv Blumer * Lucinda Blumenfeld * Lucy Carson * Marietta Zacker * Maura Teitelbaum * Michael Murphy * Michelle Wolfson * Mollie Glick * Pam Ahearn * Rachel Dowen * Richard Curtis * Russell Galen * Sally van Haitsma * Sam Stoloff * Sean McCarthy * Sheree Bykofsky * Stephany Evans * and those who requested to remain anonymous.

In JM Tohline’s words, here are the mistakes these agents mentioned most often:

Mentioned 3x
“Go to my website for a sample of my work…”
“Find my query attached…”
Querying before your manuscript is ready

Note: “Before your manuscript is ready” does not mean “before the first draft is finished.” It means querying before you have written the first draft, allowed the manuscript sit undisturbed for a month, edited it multiple times – during which time you have begun to bleed from the head, due to the number of times you have pounded it against the wall in your pursuit of perfection – and handed it out to people to read, edited it some more, removed about half the manuscript and been tempted to throw the whole thing away, taken another break from it, come back feeling rejuvenated and edited it some more, had some more people read it…and edited it some more. After all this, your manuscript might be ready for querying.

As Donald Maass put it: “Granted, it’s difficult for newer writers to judge when their novels are in final form but I can say this: for first time novelists, 99.99% of the time when they begin querying agents they’re not really done.

Cameron McClure (of the Donald Maass Agency) added this: “Most writers query too soon – either before the book is really ready to be read by an industry professional, or with a book that is a learning book, or a starter book, where the writer is working through the themes that will come out in later books with more clarity, getting things out of their system, making mistakes that most beginners make, finding their voice.

Mentioned 4x
Talking about the book’s sequel, or…
…pitching more than one book at a time
Writing a query that lacks confidence

Mentioned 5x
Writing a query that is overconfident or pompous
Sending a query that has clearly not been proofread

Mentioned 9x
Queries addressed to “Dear Agent” (or anything similar!

Mentioned 10x
Vague query letters!

Mentioned 11x
Queries with more than one agent listed in the “To” field

Mentioned 14x
Queries that have no clue what the agent represents, or…
…that have no clue what the agent’s submission guidelines are

And there you have the basic breakdown. But your pot of coffee is still mostly full. Remember, your query letter is the first (and possibly only) impression you’ll ever make on an agent. Don’t slam the door on yourself – learn everything you can about writing a good query letter.

Jeff Gerecke – who mentioned both writers who send letters to him with a “Dear Agent” salutation and who query him regarding areas he does not represent – told me about a service that generates mass queries to agents. Let’s be honest – if you have not taken the time to find out what an agent represents (let alone to find out anything about them and address them directly!), why would they assume you took the time to write a worthwhile novel? As Jeff said in his email,I do expect writers to submit to lots of agents, but not blindly, so putting my name in the query doesn’t seem too much to ask.” Sally van Haitsma echoed with similar sentiments: “We assume you are sending out queries to multiple agents, and even encourage authors to do so since this is such a subjective business, but as a first impression it’s important to customize queries so they address us by name.

More specific thoughts on this topic came from Sam Stoloff:It might be a silly prejudice on my part, but I automatically discount queries that aren’t addressed to me personally. If the writer hasn’t taken the time to find out a little about me, to make sure that I’d be an appropriate agent for their work, and to put my name at the top of their query as a gesture of professional courtesy, then I am simply less likely to take the query seriously.

Are you starting to get the picture? As Mollie Glick said in regards to the “multiple agents in the subject line” problem:We like to feel special!

Sean McCarthy even took this one step further:I think the biggest mistake that writers make when querying me is not letting me know why I – specifically – would be a great match for their project. I know that it can be time-consuming to customize query letters, but even a simple sentence that references my taste, my background or projects that I’ve worked on will go a long way towards getting your pitch more attention.

After all, writing your novel was time-consuming, right? Editing your novel was time-consuming. Think twice before you send an anonymous query letter; the extra time is worth it.

Incredibly, this generalized sort of approach some writers take stretches itself even thinner than the basic “Dear Agent” letter.

Bree Ogden’s email gave an example of this that was embarrassing even to read (Point 1), and she proceeded to give two more suggestions (Points 2 & 3) that are very important to keep in mind! Her email looked like this:

1. If a writer isn’t going to research the right agents for their project, that’s really mainly hurting them, but at least don’t publicize it to the agent they are querying. For example: When I was a brand new agent, I would get queries that would say, “I am impressed with your sales and recent projects…” It was clear they had no idea who I was. So if you’re not going to do your research (which you absolutely should) at least try to make it look like you did.

2. This may be way more of a personal preference, but I do not like getting queries in which the author bio is the first thing on the page. In my opinion it should be last. I need to be hooked by the premise of the book in order to want to continue reading the query. And frankly, author bios can get a bit insipid. Instant query turn-off.

3. Loooooooong queries. There is an art to writing a query letter. And because the letter is an author’s key to the publishing world, learn that art. Writing extremely lengthy queries is a no-no and I usually stop midway through because I either lose interest or forget where the author was going. Agents have so much going on….an author needs to grab them with a concise, punchy, hard-boiled query.

One of my favorite agents, Michael Murphy (from one of my favorite agencies, Max & Co.) put it like this:
The answer to your question is an easy one.
The single biggest mistake writers make when querying me is sending manuscripts for areas I do not represent. On my website, in all my interviews, and I believe in most websites that list areas of interest for each agent, it is quite clearly stated that I do not represent YA, prescription (How To) nonfiction, nor genre fiction (SF, fantasy, romance, thrillers). Yet almost half the queries I receive are for these very categories.

I am dumbfounded by this. If I were applying for a job as a dental hygienist, I don’t think I’d apply to Jiffy Lube. Writers need to do a bit of research before spewing their query letters to every Tom, Dick, & Harry calling themselves a literary agent.

Normally, I reply with a simple note that I do not represent their kind of work. However, as these queries pile up, I am considering just hitting DELETE. Their lack of effort is wasting my time and their own.

Sorry to come off as a miserly bastard, but in this one area I feel like a miserly bastard.

In other words: If you are going to approach an agent – as Amy Tipton said – quite simply, “Do your homework!

Furthermore, send the query to the agents! Don’t post it on your website and send them the link. Gina Panettieri said,Don’t try to cut corners by simply referring agents to your website rather than writing a well-prepared query. It’s great to let us know about your website and we can check it out to get more info about you and your book, but we’ll only do that IF you’ve intrigued us with your knock-out query!” On this subject, Alice Martell put it like this: “If you’re asking someone to do something for you that they do not have to do, but you really want them to, you should make it as easy as possible for them.

Remember, agents do not have to read your query! In fact, most of them are not especially looking to add new clients. Don’t act like you’re doing them a favor by allowing them a shot at your work – put the query right there where they can read it, and give yourself a chance!

Several of the most in-depth insights came from Helen Zimmermann, who emailed a copy of the “What Not To Do In A Query” section of the lecture she gives at writers’ conferences…. Continue to read this post in its entirety for more excellent, thought-provoking advice, including nine less-obvious mistakes contributed by agent Liv Blumer.

You can  find Mr. Tohline on Twitter @JMTohline. Learn more about him and his new book The Great Lenore here.

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Lit Agent Tina Wexler’s 6.5 Tips for Impressing Agents

Does your heart skip a beat when you come within pitching range of a literary agent? When you eye a coveted agent across the crowded room at the writer’s conference, are you prepared to introduce yourself with confidence? Literary agent Tina Wexler offers a bit of advice to authors anxious to make a memorable first impression.

1. Be nice. Agents, like most everyone, want to work with people who are personable. This does not, however, mean “Fawn over the agent” or “Send a bushel of apples to the agent.”

2. Demonstrate knowledge of an agent’s list. This doesn’t mean you have to read every book they’ve ever soldI leave that job to my mombut by showing them you know a bit about who they represent, you’re telling agents you’ve done your research on who to query.

3. Do your research on who to query. Period.

4. Write a really amazing query. Which is to say: take your time, try describing your work multiple ways until you find the best approach, read successful queries online and have as many people as possible read yours so that you’re certain it makes sense and is a shiny apple.

5. Write a really amazing manuscript. Which is to say: take your time, put your work through multiple revisions, read published works in your genre, and consider joining a critique group or finding a writing partner whom you trust who can help make your manuscript a shiny apple. 

6. Don’t ask me, “Why all the talk about apples?” because if you’ve read my client Donna Gephart’s How to Survive Middle School, you already know it’s because I’m constantly daydreaming about Bubbe’s Jewish Apple Cake. But do ask other questions you may have. Be a part of the conversation. Agents want critical thinkers who take this getting-published thing seriously.

6 ½. Take this getting-published thing seriously. There’s plenty of fun to be had, but remember, this is a business, not a hobby or a get-rich-quick scheme. Agents want hard workers, writers dedicated to their craft who view getting published as the first step of a long journey, writers whom they will want to be with on that journey.

 

Tina Wexler, an agent at ICM, is predominately interested in middle grade/YA fiction and adult nonfiction. Tina currently serves on the board of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature and is an active member of SCBWI.

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Intrepid Insider’s view of E-book Sales – The Real Deal

Opting to self-manage the publication of your book can be highly lucrative–and personally satisfying. For writers clutching a coveted publishing contract with a large publishing house, most of the marketing and promotion is still left to the one who wrote the book, with royalties split among agents, publishers and distributors. To earn more money and maintain control, the option of publishing yourself is worth checking out. But how?

R.S. Gompertz author of No Roads Lead to Rome has let us in on all the juiciest details: how he got started, what programs really work, and what kind of sales to expect. He’s even thrown in a coupon code to collect his E-book at a discounted rate. Now that’s an enterprising writer!

Here is his advice:

After a round of unsuccessful submissions, my first agent left to work on the digital side of a major publishing house. When my second agent suggested I rewrite my novel from her point of view, I realized what every indie rock band had known for years: Given how easy it is to publish and distribute, my success would boil down to talent and grit.

Just as iTunes turned the record industry on its ear, digital editions are transforming the publishing industry. So in October of 2009, I took the leap with a print and digital edition of my novel, “No Roads Lead to Rome.” (For the record, I also invented a new literary genre that derives from the equation: Farce + Satire = Fartire.)

I quickly found that E-books are to new authors what iTunes are to indie rock bands: an easy way to get your message out, generate some buzz, learn how to market and establish a platform for your work.

I use Lightning Source (LSI) for my print editions. They also have an E-book service but finding it fairly weak, I quickly turned to Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla of online book sales. Amazon’s Digital Text Publishing system is easy to work with and very well integrated with their powerful marketing, review, and recommendation engines and affiliate marketing tools. I keep about 25 print editions on hand to maintain stock at a few local stores and sell books at readings, author events and book groups.

LSI handles all print sales through Amazon and other online stores. After an initial surge of a few hundred print sales, I now “ship” mostly E-books, mostly through the Amazon Kindle channel. I can’t tell if this is a trend, but over the last few months, my Kindle edition sales have averaged about 2 per day — not a NYT bestseller, but not a lonely number either!

With Amazon, as long as you price your digital edition above $2.99, you’ll collect a 70% royalty. (It’s 30% if you’re selling your book for less.) Amazon is a “closed shop” in the sense that their E-books can only be sold in their proprietary Kindle format. Since the Kindle device is the market leader, and Amazon distributes free Kindle reading apps for iPads, smart phones and stone tablets, you won’t feel too fenced in.

Right now, Amazon offers Kindle editions in the US and UK. As an exercise, you should download a Kindle app to your device of choice, and then grab Amazon’s free guide book, cleverly titled:  Publish on Amazon Kindle with the Digital Text Platform.

Smashwords is the Swiss army knife of digital publishing platforms. Using a file intake system they call the “meatgrinder,” you can convert your document into most E-book formats including Amazon’s. Being able to port your tome to all formats is a wonderful thing. It means that you, the artist, don’t have to worry about all the competing formats and devices. Given its breadth of formats and channels, Smashwords also puts me in Barnes and Noble who’s oddly named Pubit system for E-book publishing was born after my book shipped.

Much of what I’ve said about Amazon also applies to B&N with their Nook device and online store. I’m currently investigating whether it makes sense for me to set up shop there or just fulfill B&N orders through LSI (print) and Smashwords (E-book). I highly recommend the free Smashwords marketing guide as a general source of good ideas.

Smashwords is also a sales platform that distributes your work out to all the major online E-book vendors. You collect up to 85% royalty as they track sales and collect payment.  They earn their percentage by taking care of all the technical details so you can focus on marketing and writing your sequel. Unlike Amazon, Smashwords allows you to create promotional discount coupons and offer commissions for others who sell your book.

This is so handy, I’ll offer a limited time only coupon right here. Use this code during November at Smashwords checkout for 25% off:  DS89J

In theory, you can restrict yourself to Smashwords because of its wide coverage.  I chose to use both services; Amazon for its dominant market presence and Smashwords to reach all the nooks and crannies that Amazon ignores. I’m not suggesting that anyone set aside their dreams of a traditionally published bestseller. I plan on touting my success as an indie author when I shop my sequel but  I now know that if the traditional path doesn’t yield for me, there are viable alternatives.

R.S. Gompertz is the author of “No Roads Lead to Rome,” a humorous novel set in the ancient world. www.noroadsleadtorome.com is where to find him.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Freelance Writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Impact Your Career: 7 Free-to-Enter Writing Competitions

I love learning about an author’s journey from first word to published book. Wooing an agent and publisher in this industry can be grueling; slush piles grow and opportunities to surprise and intrigue are often slim. Winning a respected national writing competition can propel your manuscript into the right hands, or add a compelling edge to your already superb query.

If you’re frequently or widely entering competitions, fees can add up quickly. Jane Friedman, author of the blog There are No Rules, and  kindly known as “the most progressive media professional you’ll ever meet,” says “there are a handful of national writing competitions—totally free to enter—that can make a huge impact on your writing career.” Here are seven.

Amazon Novel Breakthrough Award
There are two categories: general fiction and young adult. Unpublished OR self-published work is allowed. Entrants must provide a full manuscript, an excerpt from the beginning of the novel, and a novel pitch (plus some other info). The winner receives a publishing contract with Penguin.

Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel
Manuscripts must be between 100-224 typewritten pages. Manuscripts entered in this contest may not be under consideration with another publisher or an agent. The winner gets a publishing contract with Delacorte.

Real Simple Life Lessons Essay Contest
This popular newsstand magazine runs a contest every year looking for a personal essay by a new voice. Max of 1,500 words. The winning piece appears in Real Simple.

First Crime Novel Competition (Minotaur)
Open to any author who has not published a novel (plus self-published authors, though you may not submit your self-published work). Length should be about 60,000 words or at least 220 typewritten pages. The winner gets a publishing contract with Minotaur.

Writers of the Future Contest
All types of fantasy and science fiction work are eligible for this contest founded by L. Ron Hubbard. To be eligible, entries must be works of prose, up to 17,000 words in length. The contest is open only to those who have not professionally published a novel or more than three short stories, in any medium. Winners receive cash prizes.

Harlequin New Voices
Harlequin occasionally runs competitions; the deadline for their next competition is tomorrow! Entries are accepted across 6 different romance subgenres. The first stage of submission requires your first chapter only; subsequent stages require more material.

Iowa Short Fiction Award
The manuscript must be a collection of short stories, at least 150 typewritten pages in length. Any unpublished fiction writer is eligible to enter. Previously entered manuscripts that have been revised may be resubmitted. Writers are still eligible if they have published poetry or self-published a work in a small print run. The winner is published by the University of Iowa Press.

Are there any other contests that don’t require your cash to enter that you know about and recommend?

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts