Thursdays with Amanda: A Pinterest-y Placeholder for Next Week’s Post

September 25, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

literary agentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.



Looks like I’ll have to postpone my promised analysis of website tools. Sorry! I’m at a conference, and haven’t had time to do the intended research.

Next week we’ll be back on track, but in the meantime, if you haven’t done so already and are really in the mood to read about marketing, check out this post I did some time ago on Jane Friedman’s blog.

5 Ideas for Using Pinterest as an Author

How do YOU use Pinterest? Is it worth your time?


Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 1 Comment »

Quick and Dirty Tips: Formatting Your Manuscript

September 24, 2014 | Written by admin

Guest writer Holly Lorincz is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary, but she is also a  professional editor and owner of
Lorincz Literary Services
. New York Times Bestselling author Vincent Zandri says of her, “A great editor not only points out the gaffs in a manuscript, but also helps you, as a writer, realize the enormous possibilities that exist within the text. That is Holly Lorincz.”


Are you getting ready to send a query?
Attending a conference?
Has a literary agent or acquisition editor asked to see your book? 

Here’s a list of tips on how to whip your manuscript into the right shape.

Agents and acquisition editors often have specific format settings they require on manuscript submissions. Sometimes these paradigms are listed, but, more often, the editors expect you to have ESP, assuming you will magically know what they want (just like you should already know what is expected in query letters and proposals). There are a ton of websites and books devoted to formatting advice, including how to make those changes, so I’m just going to give you a quick and dirty list of things I know, from experience, will be helpful. Please note, these are not the same settings you use when formatting an ebook—just one more example of the war between publishing houses and Amazon.

And, boy, have these settings evolved. This is not the double-spaced, stretched justification from your (technological) youth. Of course, it’s best to set up your document before you begin . . . but who really does that? You usually hammer out least forty-five pages before you realize you forgot to set chapter headings or change the font from Cambria. So, let’s say you’re a good chunk of the way into your masterpiece, or you’re done. Just “select-all” and make the following changes to your Microsoft Word doc., which you will be sending as an email attachment. One attachment. Meaning, do NOT send the chapters as individual attachments, nor mess around with anything other than Word. Automatic death sentence. And, for the love of our dwindling carbon-sucking trees, do not send a paper version.

This is not a list set on a stone tablet. Always be sure to check for quirky requests on submission forms. For instance, there are probably still two people out there, somewhere, who prefer pdf’s over doc’s, and you know there’s some old guy hunched over a press, demanding 14 point Garmond font. So do what your teachers told you to do, read the instructions. And here’s mine:


• Use 1″ margins. Word comes preset with 1.25″ margins, a programmer’s revenge against Ms. Habernathy and her weekly five page English essays.

• Double-space your text, including the Chapter Headings.

• Single Space and indent block material like letters or speeches, or, in non-fiction only, direct quotes longer than five lines.

• Indent with paragraph returns only; absolutely no tabbing and (grrrr) space-barring to create paragrah indents.

• No extra spaces between paragraphs. Sometimes Word’s default automatically adds the extra line, so you’ll need to re-set that feature.

• Change multiple fonts to one: Times New Roman, 12 point, black. Some editors don’t care about mixed fonts or sizes, but most do. And all editors hate colored, curlicued, specialty fonts for chapter headings, title pages, or, especially, the text. Seriously. All of them. That’s because the hodge-podge of fonts, sizes, colors and random text boxes remind them of their middle school newspaper . . . and editors were book nerds even then, thus they do not have fond memories of the lonely, bruised middle school years.

• At the end of each chapter, insert a page break. Do not tab or space down until the cursor is forced to the next page. This screams, “Hi, I’ve never written a book before.” Unless you’re John Grisham, then it screams, “Hi, that’s what my editor is for.” Are you John Grisham?

• Only one space between sentences. This is a tough one for those of us who grew up with the typing teacher crying out, “The cat ran through the door (period) (space) (space),” as your clumsy fingers clacked away on the typewriter. But, now, the computer  automatically adjusts stuff (my technical term for it), so editors only want one space.

• Chapter titles should be bold, and best if they are in caps and centered. You can increase the size from 12 to 14 point, but totally not necessary. You can create a setting that will automatically do this with your headings after a page break.

• Header: Times New Roman, 12 point, centered: your last name / title

• Footer: page number, bottom center, don’t show on the first page

• Use italics, never underline, not for emphasis or titles.

Some publishing houses have even more specific requests. Knowing houses want these settings, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and apply them anyway. Frankly, they are only asking that we straighten up, get our act together, and adhere to The Chicago Manual of Style.

• The first line of every chapter (or after an internal transition) must be flush left, with no indent. I’m not a big fan of this requirement, but there ya’ go.

• Transitioning within a chapter (i.e. to show a shift in point of view or time) should not have a bunch of forced spaces, instead there should be a centered string of bold asterisks (******), with no extra line spacing.

• All numbers used within dialogue must be spelled out, and numbers under one hundred used elsewhere should also be spelled out.

• Sticklers will want only the em-dash, with no spaces on either side: ebook—just

• Sticklers will also want you to use the Chicago ellipse: he looked up . . . smoke. Notice it is: (space) period (space) period (space) period(space)

• Quoting/dialogue: I’m not going to get into the various dialogue punctuation rules (see the online Chicago Manual), but your basic dialogue, and dialogue within dialogue, should look like this (pay attention to the spacing): Bob turned to me, continuing his story. “And then I yelled, ‘You are one ignorant fool!’ ” Jennifer interrupted him, saying, “He said you called him a genius at least fourteen times, that you even claimed, ‘I wish I was half as smart as you.’ So, which one of you is the liar?”

• Consider paying for a professional proofreader. If some editors or agents catch one whiff of extra lines, tabs instead of paragraph returns, mixed fonts … well, they may send your manuscript back and ask for it to be formatted properly, but most likely they will set it aside and pick up the next ms from the huge pile in front of them.

• MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: you are not designing a book. You are submitting the equivalent of a very long essay or paper. The content is the focus, which is why the formatting has become standardized. Designing fancy art for the first letter in each chapter of a suspense novel is a waste of time on a manuscript.

Finally, yes, you can hire a service, like my own Lorincz Literary Services, to create a professionally formatted document . . . but it’s probably not necessary for most writers who’ve used Word for awhile. Most of the above suggestions can be figured out, fairly intuitively, by dinking around in your menus. And don’t forget to use the online Chicago Manual to answer style questions; the search option on their site is a thing of beauty.

You can ignore me, or you can assume you’ve made all the correct setting modifications, or you can get on board the reality train, and recognize that demons live in your computer and will mess with at least one paragraph, somewhere—it’s probably in the first fifty pages, and it will look just fine on your screen.

Holly Lorincz, Editor
Lorincz Literary Services

Posted in Proposals, Questions from Beginners, Quick Tips | 2 Comments »

Voice Lessons: Part 1, Defining Author Voice

September 23, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wHere at the Chip MacGregor blog, we receive thousands of questions from readers every week. Okay, maybe more like dozens. At least ten. While a majority of those questions have to do with the publishing side of writing– the editorial process, finding an agent, understanding contracts/rights/etc.,– someone occasionally sends in a question related to craft, and probably a fourth of those questions have to do with author voice and how to define/develop it.

Most frequently, readers’ questions on voice are very similar to this one:

“I would find it helpful if you would say more about ‘voice.’ What does that look like? How does one develop and improve ‘voice?'”

I understand the frustration some authors have with the lack of definitive answers about voice– I’m as guilty as the next agent or editor who rhapsodizes about a “great writing voice” or fantasizes about finding the next great “voice” without spending a lot of time talking about this seemingly indefinable quality. That’s probably because author voice is a tricky quality to talk about without being too prescriptive– one of the best definitions of voice in a piece of writing is “the personality of the author as revealed through the writing.” That said, it’s hard for an agent to give specific advice about voice beyond general comments like “your voice seems inconsistent” or “your voice doesn’t come across very strong” without sounding like we’re suggesting you change your personality/writing style. In reality, all we really want is for it to present more clearly and strongly on the page.

What great voice “looks like” is a book that tells me in the first couple of paragraphs what the author’s style of humor is, how intellectual his writing is, how whimsical he is, how seriously she takes herself, how “safe” she is (does she write camera-fade-to-black fight scenes or no-one-under-17-admitted-without-a-parent fight scenes?)– regardless of the type of book being written, the answers to these questions about the author’s personality can be found on virtually any page of one of his books; it shines through the narration, the dialogue, and the description.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll talk about the way that writing style, syntax, word choice, and atmosphere affect an author’s voice and how to use these elements to develop and improve your own voice, as well as look at examples of some great voices already in print. If you have any questions about voice you’d like addressed in the series, leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Posted in The Writing Craft | 5 Comments »

Ask the Agent: How do I prepare to meet an agent at a conference?

September 22, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

In a few days I’m going to be off to the ACFW conference in St Louis, where I’ll be spending two days listening to authors pitch their ideas. ACFW is a wonderful conference, with workshops aimed at both newbies and experienced types. All sorts of people will sign up to talk with me (I don’t have any say over who they schedule me to meet), and they’ll have a variety of questions: “Will you look at my proposal?” “Is this salable?” “What advice do you have for me in my current situation?” “Which houses might be interested in my story?” “How could I improve this proposal?” “Would you be interested in representing my book?” I never know what I’m going to see or who I’m going to talk with, so I was interested when someone sent me this question:

I’m getting ready for a writing conference, and while I think I have some great ideas for books, I find I always panic right before a pitch. I lose my train of thought (and my confidence), and have embarrassed myself more than once with rambling replies to agent & editor questions. What advice would you have for those of us who nerve out at key moments?

Happy to do this. Here are my ten keys to pitching an agent at a writing conference…

1. Review your book. I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel, since nobody is really taking on new fiction projects unless they are complete (or, if it’s a nonfiction book you’re working on, you’ve at least written a good chunk of it). So go back and look it over. Remind yourself what it is you want to say about your book. Be ready to give me a quick overview at the start of our conversation  (“This is an inside look at the biggest crime spree in Nevada history, told by the detective who cracked the case” or “I’ve got an edgy suspense novel — Fifty Shades of Grey meets James Bond” or “Imagine if there was a way you could reduce your chance of getting cancer by 50%, and all it took was a simple change in your breakfast habits?”). In other words, be able to give me something interesting about your book in a sentence or two.

2. Create your script. Write out what you’re going to say about your book, word for word, so that you’re sure you cover all the essential elements in as few words as possible. Some conferences only give you three minutes to do this, though many give you ten minutes — which means you want to get through the book’s description in order to engage the agent or editor in conversation. So give me a quick fly-over of your story. Hit the major plot themes, say something about your lead characters, and reveal why it’s unique. Use specific images in your wording to make it stand out. And have an ending, so it’s clearly time to engage in conversation.

3. Practice your pitch. That is, you’re going to want to sit down with your script, and say it, out loud, as though I was already sitting across the table from you. Don’t skip this part — it’s what will make your pitch better and give you confidence. It’s what will best help you prepare, so you don’t get tongue-tied once we’re actually face to face. (Sure, when you go into the bathroom to practice out loud, your family will think you’ve lost your mind. Don’t worry! When you told them you wanted to be a writer, they already determined you had lost your mind.) I think knowing what you’re going to say and having already practiced it out loud is the single best thing you can do to develop confidence. You don’t really want to sit and read it to me. You want to sit and say it to me, which means you’ll want to go over this enough times that it just feels natural. You may bring your entire script with you to the meeting, or you may just bring an outline with your bullet points. But practice saying it before you sit down and start talking with me.

4. Find the highlights. Think through how you’re going to make your book stand out to an agent who is going to hear 50 pitches at the conference. Maybe you have a great opening line. Perhaps your story is related to today’s news. Maybe you have unique qualifications for writing this book, or a huge platform to support it, or an endorsement from someone fabulous. Include that in your pitch. Don’t oversell the book (I don’t want to hear that this is the best fantasy since The Lord of the Rings), but let me hear something that will make me remember it. As my mentor once said to me, “Don’t tell me your novel is funny — read me a line that makes me laugh.”

5. Research the agents and editors. I don’t represent children’s books or poetry or gift books. Yet I know somebody is bound to make an appointment with me and start by saying, “I’ve got this wonderful gift book of poems for children that I want to tell you about.” (Then, when I explain that this might be a fabulous project, but it’s not going to be a fit for me, they’ll looked hurt and panicked, and they’ll turn in a critical comment about me to the conference director. Sigh…) Look, what I represent is on my website. The books I’ve represented are listed on Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly. I have a blog where I talk about authors and projects. Anyone who can’t figure out what I do and don’t represent simply isn’t trying very hard. So spend some time researching, to make sure you approach the right people.

6. Know what you want. I will often say to writers, “What’s your expectation for this meeting?” Do they want career advice? Do they want to talk about the salability of their story? Do they want to ask questions about creating a better proposal? Knowing what you want from the person you’re meeting is critical. And if it’s simply, “I want to find an agent to represent my work,” then have realistic expectations. You’re not going to get signed by an agent at a conference. (And if you get offered representation by somebody who hasn’t so much as read your work, be aware that you’re about to sign with a bozo.) A more realistic expectation would be, “This agent agreed my story sounds interesting, and he/she is going to go back, read my proposal, and engage me in a conversation of some kind.” This is a business, and you don’t race to say YES to the first guy who expresses random interest in your work. You do your due diligence.

7. Have something with you. I differ from a lot of agents in that I think you’re always best to have a short overview and some sample pages with you at the meeting. You may not get to them, but what if you tell me something and I say, “Holy cow — that sounds amazing! Can you show me some writing?” Publishers aren’t buying ideas, they’re buying writing. So having some with you is a good idea. I realize some conferences will dissuade authors from bringing any writing, since the fact is most of us won’t take pages with us — too bulky for a carry-on, the pages will just get bent, and we really just want to read it on a laptop anyway. Still, I like talking with an author, then having him or her show me the first couple pages of the book. That tends to reveal if this person is actually a writer, or just someone with a cool idea.

8. Look good. You’re meeting with a professional. Dress like one.

9. Be polite. Everybody likes meeting nice, interesting writers who can talk naturally about their books. Nobody likes meeting an arrogant know-it-all. (On more than one occasion I’ve had authors ask me to sign a non-compete before talking. Good grief… I decline, and start looking at my watch.) So have a conversation. Don’t stalk me. Show me you’re a real person. If you’re nervous, take a deep breath and tell me you’re nervous (I’ll say to you, “then forget the speech, and just tell me about the book you wrote”). Editors and agents are simply people working in the industry, the way you work in your field. Most are pretty good at what they do. You really don’t have to fear them, or act like you’re meeting the Royal Family. They are there to talk with you about your writing.

10. Listen to the response you receive.  Don’t be surprised if an editor doesn’t like your idea, or if an agent suggests changes. They could be all wet, but they’re trying to do their job by offering you some experienced perspective. So listen, take the criticism, and reflect later on whether or not you’ll implement their idea. But don’t use your small bit of time to argue. I think my least favorite part of one-on-one meetings is having an author argue with me — not because I’m always right, but because they paid money to come hear what I have to say, and now they want to haggle with me over it. (But, if you’re taking notes, I am always right.)

Let me know if you found this helpful, or if you have other questions about pitching agents and editors at conferences. Hope to run into you at a conference soon!


Posted in Agents, Conferences, Questions from Beginners | 15 Comments »

Happy Jack and the Value of Books (a guest blog)

September 19, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

A few months ago, my wife and I took a weekend vacation to Ruidoso, New Mexico. At the outskirts of the small town of Roswell, we drove past a plain sign declaring Happy Jack’s, Beads—Books in front of a solitary building a hundred yards from the highway. My pulse quickened, my hands grew sweaty. I blurted, in the cracking voice of a thirteen-year-old, “Hey, is that a used book store?”

My wife gave me one of Those Looks. She knows me well.

“Do we have time to check it out?” I asked.

She sweetly mentioned that it would be nice to reach Ruidoso before twilight. Or midnight. Or Thanksgiving.

“We won’t stay long,” I insisted, turning the car around. “I promise.”

My wife is a trooper, a team player, an accommodating woman whose enjoyment of used book stores dissipates, on the average, about a hour and a half before I’m ready to leave.

I skidded to a stop in front of the building. “You stay here,” I commanded, using my Band of Brothers scout voice. “I’ll check it out. If it doesn’t smell like cat litter, the Dust Bowl, or the inside of a Marlboro, I’ll sound the all-clear.”

Flanking the building commando-style, I slipped through a side-door, eyes alert, nose sniffing.

And found Paradise.

The floors were clean, the aisles well-lighted. The cool breeze from a swamp-cooler wafted through the air. And everywhere stood rows and rows of paperback books, seen through the reflected, prismatic light of thousands of beads on display at the store’s front. Sublime joy suffused me.

I write and read Science Fiction and Fantasy. Unlike some genres, SF has traditionally been a collectors’ market; fans tend to seek out and keep specific volumes. For me, the time spent at Happy Jack’s (only an hour, I swear) was like stepping into the past, finding titles I had never seen before, studying the cover art, looking for one or two special books. I left triumphant and happy, a bag of books in hand; my wife came away with a couple novels and a sack of beads. I made her drive so I could study my new finds. Life was good.

But Happy Jack’s Trading Post got me thinking about the value of books. (And beads, but that’s another story.) Originally copied by hand, books were practically priceless, and in the early days of printing were so costly thieves would murder to steal them. Thomas Jefferson, seeing the need for a national library, sold many of his own precious volumes to the U. S. government—they were far too expensive for him to give away.

Decades later, with the advent of mass-market production and inexpensive paperback editions, books became more affordable. Reading soared; authors could sell not just hundreds, but thousands of copies. This was a Good Thing. It was also, unrealized at the time, the first devaluation of books as a medium.

Before the internet, I kept a want-list of SF books in my wallet. When we traveled, I visited used book stores, looking for specific editions of certain paperbacks. It was like a treasure hunt, sometimes in vain, sometimes rewarded with the discovery of a long-sought volume. Once, thinking I would never find a particular book, I used a Book Search Service, paying what I considered an astronomical price so I could read the story.

Ah, the glory of the past. (Sigh.) With the advent of internet sites such as, all but the most scarce books became available, often for less than ten dollars. Amazon’s decision to release hundreds of public-domain works as free ebooks, while nice for the consumer, undoubtedly affected the reprinting of classic novels and reinforced the message that some books have no monetary value. On websites such as, you can post books by ISBN number and trade them to other members for the price of postage. (Full disclosure: I joined paperbackswap several years ago. I use it as a marketing tool, including a printed bookmark about my own novels with any book I send.) But these transactions pay nothing to the authors or publishers, and whereas finding used books used to require diligent search, it’s now effortless to locate current editions of many novels. Used bookstores disappear; traditional bookstores struggle to survive. The world has moved on, far from Happy Jack’s Trading Post.

Such reflections made me ponder my own collection. Because I keep a list, I know I read about fifty books a year. I counted my books and found I owned a little over five-hundred. If I reread them all, it would take ten years. I realized I had been living under the old assumption that I had to retain anything I “might” read again because books were hard to find. So I started weeding through them, seeing which ones I could buy as ebooks whenever I wished, which could be had on the net for five or six dollars, and which ones I just couldn’t part with. I gradually gave books away to libraries and friends, sold some on ebay and put some on paperbackswap. I’m down to about two-hundred. It’s been a process, parting with old friends.

Did the loss of book value make me question my value as a writer? A little. I fear change. But paradoxically, though individual books can be had for pennies, trade book sales in 2012 were at 15 billion dollars. 15 . . . Billion. Not bad for a valueless commodity. I’m only looking for a tiny slice of that, and for readers who are touched by my work. So for those of us who love writing, the rules of the game haven’t really changed. Writers write for the art of writing, for love of the process, for the joy (and hard work) of creating a story, of crafting something all our own. The medium doesn’t matter. Only the words. Writers write. We put our fictional worlds out to be read.

And occasionally, we stumble into a Happy Jack’s Trading Post, where we remember why we loved reading books so much that we wanted to write them.


James Stoddard’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; and Lightspeed Magazine. His fantasy novel, The High House, won the Compton Crook Award, and was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, given to books that best exemplify “the spirit of the Inklings.” His latest novel is: The Night Land, A Story Retold. His website is at

James Stoddard photo



Posted in Deep Thoughts | 4 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: Helpful Tools for Building, Hosting, and Designing Author Websites

September 18, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

literary agentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.



A funny thing happened the moment I joined MacGregor Literary. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the moment I joined. Could have been a moment or two later.

Anyway, I became the “tech person.”

Due to what was probably a massive dose of ageism and the fact that I knew how to blog on WordPress (whoopty-do), I was soon the de facto knower of all things tech. So, whenever our website broke, the solution was to call Amanda. Or the posts weren’t showing up like they should–call Amanda. Or we needed to set up some kind of new account or change something on our site or figure out why in the world Twitter was being crazy–call Amanda.

Eventually, this responsibility was shared with another within our company, and rightfully so. Because here’s the truth…

I know little-to-nothing about tech stuff. I can’t write or read HTML. I have no idea what “Nameservers” actually means. Or if I’ve even spelled it correctly. I can barely navigate GoDaddy (in my defense, it’s the least intuitive, clunkiest website ever), and I’ve just now gotten the hang of a few website building tools through WordPress…and only because I painstakingly replicated what I saw a REAL webmaster do.

And yet…I’m one of the go-to tech people.

Yay me.

My husband always gets a kick out of this, because when setting up electronics or the like, I’m the type to refer to wires as “the blue one” and “the spirally short one,” whereas he says “input” and “output” or something of the sort. Or for the longest time I thought the universal hyperlink icon was a paperclip. A PAPERCLIP, PEOPLE! It didn’t dawn on me that the icon for “linking things” was a chain link (duuurr). So there I was, telling people to “click on the paperclip.”


I feel that on this blog I tend to come across as someone who knows a lot about the tech side of things. But clearly from the stories I’ve shared above, I don’t. What I do know has been the result of me forcing myself to learn. I didn’t grow up with the Internet or even a computer. But I’ve adapted. And I can now pose as a tech person even though what I really do is poke around and try things until I either figure out (*cough* Google *cough*) a solution or realize I’m in over my head.

Here are a few of my not-so-secret secrets:

1. I’m really really really good at Google searches

2. I’m great at following directions

3. I don’t have this mindset that I’ll “break” the Internet or whichever program I’m using

4. I’m not afraid to ask for help

5. I realize that this can be learned…but I won’t be an expert right away. I allow myself time and I go at my own pace.


Okay, all this to say that I’ve been working on setting up a website for awhile, but again…since I know almost NOTHING, and since I want my site to be AWESOME, I figured I’d start at the beginning.

I need to figure out what program I’m going to use for my site (WordPress? or something else?). And where I’m going to host it (apparently, hosting outside of WordPress is cheaper and better for IT problems, and other reasons that I don’t really know right now). AND I need to figure out where to get a template (pretty design) so that I don’t have to conform to pre-made templates and can ensure my site has what I want it to have.

To get started, I rallied the troops.

I posed the question on Facebook, and here are some of the recommended sites, hosting services, etc. Just in case you too are in the market for a website and don’t know anything about anything.

Suggestions for Website Hosting – Despite the many recommendations, I’ve used them before and don’t like them. They’re tricky to navigate. Not intuitive at all, so I won’t be using them. – This got a few mentions – This one also was mentioned more than once


Suggestions for Web Hosting and Building (or just site building/maintenance) – Seems to be a site for those who like to be cutting edge, but we’ll see – This was the most-mentioned for website management and creation, though many self-hosted elsewhere (list above) – apparently good for ecommerce, this seemed to be the second most popular format


Suggestions for Web Themes WordPress Theme site) – Lots of recommendations for this one – Many used the free themes and tweaked them. In fact, quite a few people said that at some point they have used WordPress all the way for hosting, templates, and maintaining their site. (a WordPress Theme site) – This also had many recommendations (a WordPress Theme site) – he has a theme service called Get Noticed that someone recommended


So…that’s a lot to wade through. But we’re going to do it together! Over the next few weeks, I’m going to research these suggestions and present my findings on this blog (Thursdays). Then, I’ll let you know what I end up going with! And if you want to help and do some research of your own, all the better. Share your results here. I’m going to start by researching the hosting sites, since that’s usually step 1 (along with figuring out where you’re going to buy your domain…my plan is to buy from the hosting site).

Are you in the market for an author website or maybe a new design? Or a new hosting service? Tell me about it!

author website book

Posted in Marketing and Platforms, Web/Tech | 7 Comments »

Ask the Agent: What are the new companies making a mark in publishing?

September 17, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

My recent blog posts on trends shaping the publishing industry has led to a number of people writing to as about other new companies that are doing significant things in the world of books. Several people simply asked, “Who are the new companies I need to know about in publishing?” I can think of several…

BookBub — This is a site that offers a daily deal for certain ebooks, and they have a huge database of readers they market to. Publishers and authors suggest titles and pay a fee to BookBub, and the company has an editorial team that selects the titles they want to offer. The price is usually very low (sometimes free), they send out an email advertisement to a couple million followers, and authors have been raving about the results. Another company, Riffle, is trying to do the same thing, only by offering more choices by letting the readers select the books they want to see discounted.

Oyster — A company that is the ebook version of NetFlix. You pay them a monthly fee, and you can read all the ebooks you want. They’ve recently signed a couple of deals with publishers, and their popularity is growing. (So much that recently Amazon created Kindle Unlimited, which does the same thing, only with a larger number of self-published books.) And, if you’re not familiar, Entitle is another company that does something similar. Right now these two and the company below are leading the way with ebook subscription services.

Scribd — They also offer a monthly subscription service to ebook titles, but they’re best known for document sharing and digital distribution. What you may not know is that Scribd does a nice job of working with authors, offering a bunch of analytics on who is reading what, which ebook device they’re using, which genres are most popular, etc. In my view, this is one of the key companies to watch. They think creatively, are nimble, and seem determined to make an impact on the world of books.

Librify — Just started a year ago, they’re basically a “Book of the Month Club” for ebook readers, and they are partnering with Target to sign up people and get them reading. I keep hearing they’re right on the verge of breaking out.

Atavist — I’m always surprised I don’t hear more from authors about this fabulous site. Started by a journalist, they offer great writing that is shorter form than books — most frequently journalistic pieces in the 10,000 to 20,000 word range, often including video and other visual elements. If you’re like me and enjoy great nonfiction writing, you should check them out. A similar company is Byliner, which has done short-form fiction as well as nonfiction projects, and has teamed with some headliner authors in the past year.

DailyLit — Almost ten years old, this company got started by emailing chapters of Pride and Prejudice to people who wanted to read great books in bite-sized chunks, but needed someone to help them stay on track. Now they have their own serialized fiction projects that they send out to subscribers. I mention them because I know several authors who love their dose of daily literature arriving via email or app.

Zola Books — This is another one of those companies that may or not may survive, but has an interesting place in the business. They’re a combination ebook store and social media network, and they take the unique approach of working with large independent bookstores (The Tattered Cover in Denver is one example), small indie presses, as well as working directly with some authors (such as Audrey Niffenegger, of The Time Traveler’s Wife) to create and sell exclusive titles. Readers can comment on them and interact with the authors. It’s a fascinating site. A company that’s similar is Bilbary, which sells ebooks that can be read on any device.

Wattpad — One of the earliest fan-fiction sites, this is aimed at letting people come on to post their thoughts, poems, stories, and articles on the site, then letting others respond to it all. They started out focusing on young writers, ran into trouble when people started posting copyrighted material, and have said they’re making an effort to stop the stealing. But they’re one of the most well-funded of the newer companies, have signed deals with most of the major publishers, have done book launches for significant authors, and now offer their own crowdfunding plans. In my view, it’s turned into a promotional site with some social media built in.

SliceBooks — Remember when you used to put together a playlist of your favorite songs on a CD? This company does the same thing, only with chapters of books, to try and create marketing pieces for publishers and libraries. And, if you’re an author looking for new companies that offer helpful content, by all means check out BiblioCrunch, which is sort of a combination do-it-yourself publishing site and an Angie’s List. You can visit the site to find cover designers, freelance editors, publicists, ebook consultants, and the like. Some people like them, others find they tend to push a bit hard, but they certainly have become a leader in the field of DIY indie publishing.

There you go… Fourteen companies that are becoming movers and shakers in publishing. What companies have you worked with that the rest of the folks in publishing should know about? 



Posted in Current Affairs, The Business of Writing, Trends | 3 Comments »

How to End Up on a Facebook List

September 16, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wIf you use Facebook with any regularity, you’ve seen a number of trends take over your news feed in the past few years. We’ve had “change your profile picture to a picture of your celebrity lookalike” week, “change your status to the fruit that corresponds to your relationship status in a bizarre and completely non-effective attempt to raise awareness for breast cancer” month, and the recent ALS ice bucket challenge during which we all enjoyed the sight of our employers, friends, and celebrity crushes being doused in ice water to raise money for ALS research.

Trending now on Facebook is a status which challenges users to post a list of the 10 most influential books they’ve ever read. Not their favorite books, necessarily, just the first 10 books that come to mind when thinking about the books that shaped their thinking, their attitude toward reading, or their taste in literature. When 130,000 people’s lists were compared and studied, a list of the 20 most frequently listed titles was revealed.

Now, obviously, this isn’t a scientifically perfect list– everyone’s definition of “books that stayed with you” is different– but it’s obvious that the authors who ended up on this list managed to connect with readers in a way that left an impression. As any good writing resource will tell you, there isn’t one way to write a great book (or a memorable one, or a significant one, or… etc.), but as we see from this list, there are factors that several of these influential authors have in common that are worth thinking about if you aspire to join them on this list when this trend resurfaces in 50 years or so.

  • Write more than one book. Almost none of the works in the top 20 titles were the author’s first novel. Jane Austen wrote drafts of Lady Susan, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey before Pride and Prejudice was completed, Margaret Mitchell wrote at least three (unpublished) novels before beginning Gone with the Wind, and Suzanne Collins wrote and published an entire separate series before finding insane fame as the author of The Hunger Games. The takeaway here is, if you’ve worked and slaved over your first manuscript for years and still haven’t found huge publishing or sales success, don’t give up on that first work entirely, but for heaven’s sake, start writing something else! Novel-writing is like any other art; the more you do it, the better at it you get.
  • Write the story you want to write. If C. S. Lewis were writing today, he’d probably be told that his Christian themes were too strong for a general market children’s series. Tolkien might have been discouraged from writing fantasy because it’s not currently “trending.” Harper Lee might have been advised to use an adult protagonist if she wanted adults to read her book. If you have a story you want to write, write THAT story without worrying about which box it might or might not fit into. You can let an agent/editor worry about that down the road, but you’ll write a better book if you let the story and not the market drive your writing.
  • Write for children. Of the top 20, seven of the titles that were most often cited as staying with the reader are books which are classified as children’s or young adult. The books a person reads when he is young shape his view of reading, his taste, his worldview, his beliefs, and the likelihood that he will continue to read as an adult. As evidenced by this not-so-scientific list, a book that connects to a young readership will be remembered long after the flavor-of-the-week erotica-disguised-as-romance or suspense thriller on the “adult” bestseller list.
  • Write books that are just fun to read, period. Two words: Harry Potter.

As always, these elements should be taken as more descriptive of influential writing than prescriptive– obviously, if your story is a depression-era family saga, you shouldn’t re-work it to make it “fun to read” (see: “write the story you want to write”), but it’s interesting to look at these titles and see what elements they have in common that you may be able to harness in your own writing.

Have you posted your list of “10 books that have stayed with you?” What titles were on yours that were missed from the “top 100?” Were any of your titles books for children/young adults?

Posted in The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Ask the Agent: Which e-book publisher should I choose?

September 15, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve been one of those agents encouraging writers to consider becoming hybrid authors (that is, publishing with traditional publishers, as well as self-publishing some titles). That has brought me this question from several people: Which e-book publishers do I need to consider? 

There are a number of choices for authors who want to indie-publish a book. Everybody tends to immediately think, “I’ll just post it myself on Amazon,” but we’ve seen countless error-filled books done on Amazon, so if you want to take a step forward, there are some options to consider. Of course, you need to know what you want in a publisher. For example, do you want to pay extra for marketing help? Does your non-fiction book need photos or maps in the text? Will you want the capability of adding an audio version of your novel? There are a bunch of choices, so let me suggest some places to consider checking out.

1. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (you’ll find them at This can be a great choice, since it’s quick, easy, and fast. KDP will make sure your book is available on every Kindle and every computer or phone with the Kindle app, it allows you to be part of their unlimited lending program, and has some special features such as their “countdown” deal and their free book program. KDP pays you a royalty of 35% of the list price on most sales, with the opportunity of a 70% royalty if you follow some pricing guidelines. They pay monthly, and can do direct deposits. It’s a great way to go for many authors… but the big drawback is that they will have some Amazon-only restrictions. That means people who don’t own a Kindle won’t even be seeing your book. Still, KDP is great for reaching the Kindle crowd, which is roughly 60% of all ebook readers.

2. Smashwords ( This is who we almost always recommend to authors who want to reach beyond Amazon. Kindle is great, but Smashwords will get you into the iBookstore (for readers with iPads), the Nook bookstore (for Barnes & Noble devotees), the Kobo bookstore (which works with indie bookstores in this country, but is a big deal overseas), and Scribd. So instead of having to upload your titles to every company independently, Smashwords takes care of all the non-Amazon e-tailers, and converts your text into the various formats you’ll need. They also have nice extras such as free marketing help, and they’ll even suggest who can help you with the required formatting. They pay 70%, will send you checks quarterly, and we’ve never had a problem with the accounting at Smashwords. This is a company we trust, and if you do both Smashwords and self-publish a book on Amazon, you’re reaching all the major markets.

3. BookBaby ( This is a fast-growing company that makes it easy for authors. They offer three packages, charge you a flat fee, and take care of everything — formatting, distributing to all the e-tailers, and even helping with marketing. They have some great extra features (like an author bookstore page, or good cover design assistance) that cost more, but the authors I’ve spoken with have been very happy with their experiences at BookBaby. This is more of a one-stop shopping — so while posting your book on Amazon is free, the convenience of using BookBaby will cost you, but it might be worth it to you. They pay 85% of net. BookBaby isn’t as fast as the others, but they have good customer service, and offer some really nice extra features (that you’ll have to pay for, of course). We think they’re a good option for the right authors.

4. Kobo’s Writing Life ( This one might be new to you, but I mention it because it’s huge in other countries. Kobo currently says they are the world’s second-largest e-bookstore, and that they’re doing book in nearly 70 languages, reaching into almost 200 countries (that’s from their website, so I’m taking their word for it). I’ve known authors who have worked with them, and they rave about how easy it is — you upload a file, Kobo converts it, they pay you 70%, and they’re now starting to offer some marketing helps. But the big news is that they’re working closely with ABA bookstores, which means all those indie bookstores will be helping you to sell your titles. This is one of those companies you might be overlooking, so make sure to check them out.

There are certainly others. Apple has iBook Author (which people have complained is cumbersome to use, but can be great for children’s books, cookbooks, and projects with a lot of photos), NookPress (which replaced PubIt, and is easy to use, but only for those who own the floundering Nook), Vook (which can work with all the e-tailers, but works on a different economic model than the others), eBookIt (the competitor to BookBaby in terms of being a one-stop shop), and BookTango, iUniverse, Trafford, and Lulu, who are all owned or in partnership with the folks at AuthorSolutions. To anyone looking at an AuthorSolutions company, I always say, “Do your research.” There are good programs and bad programs, but understand that AuthorSolutions is too often accused of being there to sell services to you, as the author, not to necessarily sell books to consumers. 

My question to you: Which of these have you worked with, and what are your impressions?  Leave a note in the “comments” section for who you liked and why (or who you didn’t, and why not).

Posted in Career, Current Affairs, Publishing | 18 Comments »

Real Life Characters (a guest blog)

September 12, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

What are you afraid of? This was the question I pondered several years ago as I considered giving writing another shot. I’d been writing stories all of my life, but never shared them. One of my worries was that I would offend someone—especially someone in my family. But I also knew that to write a great story, I must be willing to take a stand. If I tried to please everyone, I’d end up with a mushy mess.women's fiction

Recently I heard New York Times best-selling author Elizabeth Berg address this same fear. When she wrote her novel, DURABLE GOODS, about a child afraid of her dad, she worried how her father would react. She asked her mother to serve as a buffer and remind her dad that “This is fiction.” Well, her father didn’t see it that way. Elizabeth Berg admits things were a little stilted between them for a while. But in the end, they had a frank discussion about her childhood and they grew much closer.

This is probably the best case scenario for an author. Personally, I’m not that brave. To err on the side of caution, I decided to create characters so different from my family that no one could be hurt. In my first series, the main character’s parents are no longer alive. And instead of a brother, she has a sister.

But I’ve also found that when I base a character on a real-life person, they tend to become three-dimensional so much easier. Sometimes I think of someone I know, write the character, then change the physical attributes, quirks and of course, the name. In the end, I’m the only one who knows who inspired me.

So, I figure I’ve played it safe. No one can accuse me of slander or misrepresentation. Right? Yet my mother-in-law asked if the mother-in-law in my books is nice or mean. Wait a minute. I wasn’t thinking of her when I wrote those characters. (Let me just say that I have a kind mother-in-law no matter what my books represent.) But this was a scary reminder of what I risk every time I publish something.

women's fictionWhat happens when my daughter is old enough to read my novels? I have to admit she has influenced the children in my stories. The fact that she wanted a telescope for Christmas (which made me so proud) or the fact that she said she swims not like a fish, but like a mermaid (which made me laugh) or the fact that she needed special tutoring to overcome her dyslexia (which broke my heart). In one ironic twist of fate, I wrote of a child who fell asleep chewing gum and woke up with it stuck in her hair. A few weeks later, my daughter actually did this. Once I got over my case of deja-vu, I re-wrote the scene and had the mother work much harder to try and remove the goo before resorting to cutting it out.

Will my daughter someday be mad that I wrote about her misdeeds? I hope not. The truth is I’m a better writer because of her. I owe her so much for opening my eyes to the struggles and joys that motherhood entails. Were it not for her, I wouldn’t be able to relate to a large part of my audience. Were it not for her, I wouldn’t realize what a crazy, emotional roller coaster parenthood is. I used to lean heavily toward the “nurture” camp, but now realize what a wild card DNA is. Who really knows if they’re making the right decisions when it comes to their kids? It takes eighteen years to see the results and even then, are they a finished product? I think not. Oh, this motherhood thing is a challenge! Fortunately, struggle is what makes a good story.

So, if you’re afraid to write because you think you’ll offend someone, just start writing. There’s no guarantee that even if you produce the most innocuous story, you won’t bother someone. Do your best to alter names and any other obvious identifiers, but then go for it. The truth is, the point of literature is to evoke emotion. Some people will love your work and some people will hate it. C’est la vie.

For all of my efforts to write about people that were not at all like my family, here is what my mom said when she finished reading my novel, A SISTER’S PROMISE: “OK, which sister was you and which one was your brother?”

Neither. Both. I’m not saying.


Karen LenfesteyKaren Lenfestey, a Midwest Writer’s Fellowship winner, writes “happy endings with a twist.” She has just published her fourth novel, A WEEKEND GETAWAY, which begs the question, “Should Bethany track down the daughter she’s never known just to give her bad news?” To receive a free copy of the prequel, FRIDAY A LA MODE, visit


Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »