Voice Lessons: Part 3, Word Choice

October 21, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wNo, you’re not hallucinating, I really have returned to my Tuesday blog space. No, I did not forget that I was in the middle of a blog series on voice; I simply chose to be in Ireland the last two Tuesdays instead of here writing blogs on voice, and of course I would have gladly devoted some of my precious vacation time to blogging instead of gazing at those boring ol’ Cliffs of Moher, but wouldn’t you know it, Ireland hasn’t installed the Internet yet, so I couldn’t. Very sad. But happily, I’m back in the USA where the Internet is alive and well and so today I’m resuming my blog series on how to define, identify, and develop your voice as a writer. And Ireland was lovely, thanks for asking.

In looking at how word choice affects/reflects an author’s voice, the biggest question you should be asking is, are your words a fit for your voice? It’s natural for a writer starting out to be a bit self-conscious of his words on the page, much like someone at a new job or on a first date is hyper-aware of how he’s coming across to others. You might tend to check and re-check your responses in order to be sure you’re making the impression you want to make, you’re probably going to dress with a little more care than you ordinarily would in the hopes of coming across the way you want to, and you might find yourself agreeing with opinions or laughing politely at jokes that you don’t actually identify with, all in the interest of being perceived as a pleasant, reasonable person, regardless of what kind of lunatic you actually are.

Around your own friends and family, however, the filters slip, and you’re much less conscious of the image you’re projecting; instead, your actions and words and demeanor reflect your actual views and personality much more faithfully. This version of you might not be as politically correct or as polished as the version that your new colleagues or your blind date see, but it’s much more genuine, and while not everyone is going to love the “real” version of you, the people who WILL like you for who you are will have a much easier time recognizing what makes you unique.

In the same way, newer writers can sometimes write with a consciousness that someone– an agent, a peer group, an editor– is going to read their work that can sabotage or smother the writer’s true personality coming out on the page, especially where word choice is concerned. Authors may choose words to make them come across as more intellectual or more relevant when they should instead be primarily concerned with getting their stories on the page with as much honesty and authenticity as possible, and the words they choose in their attempts to project rather than reveal themselves can be extremely distracting to the reader and create distance between the reader and an author who comes across as inauthentic or faceless.

For example, I often read manuscripts in which it would appear that the author has painstakingly consulted a thesaurus for each and every word on the page, with the result that their meaning, and the heart of the author’s story, is almost completely obscured. If you aren’t using long, complex words naturally, they’re going to be jarring to the reader when we come up against them strewn awkwardly along your story. If your voice/writing style is very informal, more formal language is going to stick out. Your words are those that come fairly naturally to you, not those you choose because you want to sound more “writer-y” or intellectual. The reverse is also true; if your writing style is naturally very cerebral or formal, conscious decisions to try and “dumb down” your word choice or syntax aren’t going to ring true, and prevent the reader who would love your natural voice and word choice from getting a clear picture of that voice.

Consider also the audience that will most likely be reading your book. If you’re writing for children, you’re going to make difference word choices than if you were writing for adults, and vice-versa. If you’re writing a legal thriller that will most likely be read by white-collar men from the baby boomer generation, you’re going to make different choices than if you’re writing chick lit that will most likely be read by 30-something moms.

You also need to consider whether your words are a fit for the time period you’re writing in. If modern slang isn’t a fit for an otherwise very formal historical setting and characters, it’s going to be distracting to the reader when you choose to use it, and if your 1940s characters speak with mostly modern syntax and vocabulary because that’s the voice you naturally write in, period-appropriate slang will probably feel very conspicuous. Your story and your writing are king. Let those elements drive your word choice instead of conscious efforts to be historically accurate or intellectual or accessible or age-appropriate.

Sometimes when you examine your word choice and start to recognize the patterns that naturally occur in your writing, you come to the realization that you haven’t written the book you thought you had, and find yourself reexamining the genre or age group you write for. You may start out thinking you’re writing YA but discover after the fact that your voice is naturally much better suited to an older reader, or you may think you’ve written a thriller but what you’ve really written is romantic suspense. Obviously, there are some other factors in genre-identification, but word choice and the way it reveals your natural voice is a big part of it.

I’ve seen dozens of projects that were pitched as once thing but that were really a much better fit, voice-wise, for  different genre or age group– picture book writers whose word choices and syntax were much better suited for middle-grade, middle-grade authors who were actually writing easy-readers, adult fantasy novels that were a perfect fit for a YA readership, historical fiction with a great voice that was really a better fit for contemporary fiction– the list goes on. I know it seems overwhelming to consider that the genre or readership you’ve worked towards and identified with might not be the best fit for your voice/writing style, but you’ll meet with a lot less resistance on your writing path, long-term, if you figure out where your strengths and the market align, rather than trying to apply your strengths to an area of the market where they’re not the greatest fit.

It’s important, in these discussions on voice, that you don’t let some of the finer points of voice distract you from the big picture; that is, that voice is the personality of the author as revealed through the writing. The takeaway from a discussion about word choice should not be to go back and second-guess each of your word choices and agonize over every adjective use, but to help you to notice the word choice patterns you naturally fall into as a writer and get you started thinking about how those patterns and habits can help you zero in on your unique voice and the unique audience you’re writing for.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 0 Comments »

Ask the Agent: If I have a deal, do I need an agent?

October 20, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to say, “I’ve been offered a contract on my novel. Since I don’t have an agent, should I seek one at this point? And if the agent accepts, should he or she still receive 15% of the deal, even if they didn’t market my book or secure the deal for me? Would it be better to have the agent simply review the contract for a fee?”

There’s quite a debate about this issue. I suppose many agents would say, “Sure — call me!” They’d be happy to get 15% for a deal they’ve done no work on. But my advice would be to think long term. Is there an agent you like and trust — someone you want to work with in the long term? If so, call him or her. Talk about the situation. They may be willing to take less in order to work with you. They may review the contract for a fee. If, for example, you’ve got a $10,000 advance coming, make sure it’s worth the $1500 to have the agent assist with this contract. (It may be worth it — a complex situation, or a novel that is going to be made into a movie, or a potential bestseller probably call for a good agent to get involved).

That said, it doesn’t really seem fair to me to take the full comission for a book I didn’t sell, though not everyone in the industry agrees with me. You can always talk with a contract-review specialist, who will review your contract for a flat fee (usually somewhere in the $300-to-$500 range). You can also talk with an intellectual property rights attorney, but be careful — they’re generally paid by the six-minute increment, and their goal is to keep the clock moving. The longer it takes them, the more they are paid. Make sure you’re talking with a lawyer who knows publishing contracts, not someone who issued to doing home sale contracts or Grandma’s will. I know of at least one author who paid more to have a top-flight entertainment lawyer review the contract than they were paid in advance dollars. Generally speaking, your family lawyer won’t have enough experience to really help you with a publishing contract. Congratulations on getting the book deal, by the way.

Another writer asked, “Should I worry about a literary agent who turned me down, but suggested I work with his editorial service?

Absolutely you should worry. Here’s how this commonly works — you send a manuscript to an agent, who says, “I really like this, but it’s not ready. However, we have an editorial service here who can help you. For just $500, they’ll get this proposal ready for us to represent…” The agent sends you to his editor friend, then pockets half of that “editorial fee,” so he or she is making money off the author. That’s a total violation of ethics for literary agents (and I’d argue the reason we’re seeing some agents do this is because we’ve had a group of people jump into agenting who don’t really know what they’re doing). The Association of Author Representatives has a clear canon of ethics printed on their opening web page which precludes an agent from doing this very thing. It’s ripe with potential for abuse. My advice: If an agent tries to cross-sell you some other literary service that charges you a fee, stand up and walk away. You can find a better agent. There are too many scam agents who are basically trying to sell editorial or marketing services for a fee, rather than trying to help you place your book.

And another author  had this situation: “I signed with an agent, but wasn’t happy. I fired that agent, and moved on to another. But now my first agent is claiming that anything I ever talked with her about is her responsibility! She claims that if I ever get a publishing deal for the projects she represented, she is to be paid the agent’s commission. Is that legal?”

This is another one I can’t fathom. I understand getting paid if I’ve done the legwork — let’s say that I’ve worked with an author to develop a project, showed it to publishers, and started to get some interest. If the author hears about it, fires me, then approaches the same publishers to try and get the deal and save themselves the 15% commission, I should still get paid. I state in my agency agreement that if I’m working with a publisher on your behalf, I’ll still get paid even if you fire me and do a deal with them within a year.

But I’ve seen this a few times lately — an agent claiming that if you EVER sell the book they represented, they’ll still get paid. I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice, but I would think this would be awfully tough to have stand up in court. My advice: read any agreement carefully before you sign it. If the agent has a clause that’s incredibly restrictive like this, ask to have it altered.

What have you always wanted to ask an agent? 

Posted in Career | 0 Comments »

The Writing Road: Inspiration from East to West (a guest blog)

October 17, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Other cultures fascinate me. I love traveling. But when I married a member of the U.S. Foreign Service, I knew I was signing on for an unconventional life-path. The day we learned our first overseas assignment was China, that unconventionality turned sharply real.

I braced myself for a lot of “news” — new food, new language, new security concerns…. The only thing I didn’t anticipate changing was my work situation. I’m a writer. I work from home. How far could things alter?

How naïve! For someone whose literary endeavors involve history and folklore, research is critical. My introduction to China’s expansive Internet censorship system, the Great Firewall (I wish I’d invented that clever term. Alas, that’s the official moniker.), was not a cordial one. Suddenly, it took ten minutes to load every site I tried accessing. Google—and everything to which it was a gateway—was entirely inaccessible. Progress on my 1920’s novel ground to a halt.

Those first weeks before we installed our VPN, I was not a happy camper. Or writer. Or anything else.

Until it was pointed out that as an author, I couldn’t receive a better gift. Not only was it much harder to anesthetize writer’s block (i.e., procrastinate) via YouTube, but my mind was refreshed and my imagination electrified every time I stepped beyond my Chinese-character embellished welcome mat. When everything around is unfamiliar, life becomes sharper, more vibrant. And for a writer, an energetically buzzing mind is invaluable.

And I discovered The Bookworm, a Western literature themed café that somehow exists in central China. Part restaurant/bar, part library/bookshop, it’s literally wall-to-wall and (ceiling-to-floor) with books. The drink menu is styled like a newspaper, the food menu like a book. Drink specials boast names like “Crime and Peppermint.” Walking into The Bookworm was like wandering into a breathing dream. It’s the place I’ve always dreamed existed in the States but never found. The masters of Western literature had preceded me to China, a reminder that writing is one of the few truly global endeavors, whatever language it adopts. If Austen and Dickinson can flourish here alongside Li Bo and Du Fu, then so can I.

And really, what writer wouldn’t consider forfeiting an appendage for the chance to carry home the research and inspiration only adventure provides?

 

What/where has provided unexpected inspiration for you? When the muse doesn’t sing so loudly, how do you jumpstart your creativity?

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Lauren Peltier

Lauren Peltier is a novelist living overseas. A graduate of Taylor University’s Professional Writing Program, she is working on a novel based on the Irish selkie myth.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

Thursdays with Amanda: Should I Have a Book Website?

October 16, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Amanda LuedekeAmanda 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.

Last week I identified some web options for authors looking to create a website. Shortly after, I received an email, asking me if I would consider talking about book websites. And I’m happy to oblige.

THE PROBLEM WITH A BOOK WEBSITE

Many authors wrongly assume that by creating a site dedicated to their book, they will generate sales. But I’ve never ever seen this work. Sure, it may feel like you’re really nailing the marketing thing by having a book site, and it may look impressive and make you seem like you’ve got things under control.

But a book site is no different than an author website or a blog or anything else that you create and then put up on the Internet. NO ONE WILL VISIT THE SITE UNLESS THEY KNOW THAT IT EXISTS.

And furthermore, for those who DO visit the site, they certainly won’t revisit if they don’t have a reason to.  Why? Content on these sites is very stagnant. There is usually one draw to get people there (maybe they clicked on an ad or were promised a quiz or a download), but once that bait has been taken, there is no reason for them to return. I know that certainly don’t spend my time visiting book websites. Do you?

So the mentality that a book site is a great option is false, in my opinion. You are spending time and energy pushing people to a site that will not keep them. Will not engage them. Will offer them a simple YES or NO option (do you want to buy the book?) and once they have made their decision, they’re gone forever.

BUT WHAT ABOUT POTTERMORE?!

Sure if you have billions of dollars, a site like Pottermore is great! But 99.9% of authors, however, don’t have billions of dollars. So my example of a stagnant book site is the norm.

DOES A BOOK WEBSITE EVER WORK?!

As with all marketing, there is always an exception to the rule. So the answer is yes, there are times when a book site does really well.

A book website has a chance at doing well when:

  1. There is a marketing plan in place to drive traffic to the book website (ads are big here, social media campaigns, etc.)
  2. The author is a speaker/blogger/person with platform and can easily direct an audience to the page to buy the featured book
  3. The site presents some kind of takeaway that appeals to a large audience. Most book sites are all about buying the book. But when a site also features a free download or some kind of incentive to visit repeatedly, that’s when it can take the hard-sell-strategy and turn it into a softer sell.

A book website would do BEST when all three of the above are implemented.

My two cents? If you don’t have a reason for creating a book site (as opposed to a blog or a tumblr or something else that is more frequently updated and encourages returning visitors), then don’t create one. But if you have a vision for how you could truly benefit from a book site–for how you can get out there and drive people to your site–then by all means give it a shot.

BookLaunch as a Book Website Option

A really neat option is to go through BookLaunch.com. In fifteen minutes, I set up a web page for my book, The Extroverted Writer. No joke. And it was free. They do have a Premium version that you can use to showcase all of your books (now THAT could be a really cool tool), but if you’re iffy on whether or not a book site is for you, then this may be a great first step. Set it up. Put your marketing plan in motion, and see if it’s worth it (they have an analytics tool that makes tracking the numbers easy!).

REMEMBER! What works for one author, won’t work for another. So while I may say that book sites are typically a bad idea, that doesn’t mean that you won’t see great success with one! It’s all about the plan BEHIND the product. How will you market your site? How will you ensure visitors do what you want them to do? How will you engage with them beyond the site? If you have answers to these questions, then give a book website a whirl!

What do YOU think about book websites? And if you try the BookLaunch feature, I want to hear about it!

Posted in Marketing and Platforms, Web/Tech | 0 Comments »

The Lulu Tree Boutique (a guest post)

October 14, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

She walked for four hours just to meet me.

Her soles were red from Uganda’s earth and she didn’t break a sweat in the high heat. Her eyes shone but she lowered them, looked at her sandals, even as I reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, and I could feel the strength in this peasant farmer’s arm.

She’d lost her husband just weeks earlier to HIV/Aids, an illness people still talk about in hushed tones because of the shame associated with it.

She’d lost her children long before that to this children’s home I was visiting–because she had a sick husband to care for and a farm that wasn’t bringing in money and no way to feed her sons or daughters.

And here I was, able to pay for her kids’ clothes and education while she wasn’t. And not because I worked harder. No, she worked sun-up to sundown and had callouses across her hands and feet. No, it was because I came from a first class country overflowing with food and privilege while the rest of the world is forced to feed from our trash cans.

I smiled at her, but I felt sick.

I am a mother. Every night I walk into my boys’ room and ache for them lying there in their beds, because they’re tucked deep in my womb. I cannot imagine how humbling, or humiliating, it would be, to have to ask someone else to take care of my children. To not be able to give them food or water, to not be able to keep them under your own roof — and THEN, to walk four hours to meet the woman who can?

This woman (me) who flies over in her airplane with her suitcase full of clothes and her bag full of lipstick and her wallet full of money, and says it’s all in the name of Jesus–a God this farmer worships more reverently each day than I ever have in my life?

Our Father weeps. He anguishes over every single mother–because there are hundreds of thousands of them across Uganda in the same situation–who has to lose her child, who cannot take care of her children.

And He’s asking us to do something about it.

Sponsoring a child is good, don’t get me wrong. I sponsor as many children as I am able.

But standing there with this beautiful woman in her brown hat and her downcast gaze, her son’s eyes shining as he looked at me, I thought, No. Enough. There has to be more.

I want this son to look at his MOTHER with adoration, not me–a stranger.

I want him to look at HER to provide his needs, not me–an outsider who didn’t birth him without an epidural, who didn’t weep and pray over him every night of his childhood, who didn’t spend every minute of every day trying to earn enough money to buy him a bowl of Matoke (cooked banana) so he wouldn’t starve to death.

So, I went home and founded a non-profit called The Lulu Tree. I didn’t intend to found a non-profit. I didn’t–and still don’t–feel qualified to start one, I just wanted to partner with someone who was doing what I wanted to do. But no one was.

Our vision at The Lulu Tree is to work with HIV mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda (the worst of Kampala’s eight slums), equipping them to be care for their own kids. Our slogan is “Preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers.” Lofty, I know. But you have to dream big, right? Shoot for the moon and you’ll land somewhere among the stars?

So we’re shooting for the moon.

We’ve hired a beautiful Ugandan social worker named Esther Natakunda Tendo (Esther–is there more anointed a name? She has been called to free her people from captivity). Esther is a 29-year-old married mother of two who has received education in Sex and Gender Based Violence, computer application and project planning and management from the African  Population Management. She has volunteered for years through the children’s home where she was raised, and has extensive work experience both in banking and in communications. Esther speaks several dialects, and is a strong believer in Jesus Christ. Her heart beats passionately for women and children suffering from AIDS,  and it is her heart’s desire to help those who are impoverished find hope. As her name suggests, Esther has responded to the call to set her people free from poverty and despair.

We’ve also hired a national coordinator named Carol Masaba. Carol is the national coordinator both for The Lulu Tree and for the African Evangelistic Enterprise in Uganda. She partners with churches across the country to bring hope to various parts of the nation. Carol has over 20 years experience in integrated community development work, during which she has worked with poor and marginalized communities to improve the well-being of children and youth. She is in charge of hiring and mentoring Lulu staff and volunteers and overseeing the ministry as a whole.

Both Carol and Esther will be working with the mothers in the slum of Katwe. Our goal is to equip them holistically–spiritually, emotionally, and physically. This involves connecting them with the local church, providing HIV treatment for the mothers and children, and teaching the mamas a trade–to how to sew, or cook, so that after two years of being sponsored, these mamas will be self-sufficient.

And … we’ve got some EXCITING NEWS! If you have Christmas shopping to do, and want to help people at the same time, look no further! We’re launching THE LULU TREE BOUTIQUE, with the ultimate goal of creating a market for these precious mamas to selling their beautiful work through, once they’ve been trained. SHIPPING IS INCLUDED IN THE PRICES. All proceeds go towards The Lulu Tree.

A friend of mine, dear Jodie Vanderzwaag, HAS GIVEN UP her very successful business a few months ago to run this boutique. Pretty amazing. We are also partnering with The House of Belonging, Funky Fish Designs, Krafty Kash, and Little Dragonfly Boutique, as well as a number of individual artisans who have donated their products to this shop. My dear sister Christy Stewart Halsell of Sandy Feet Media has volunteered long hours to set up this website and boutique (I HIGHLY recommend her web services!), and countless others including photographer Leanne Doell have donated time and energy to Lulu. To see a full list of everyone who’s helping us, please visit www.thelulutree.com.

So, let’s get shopping! We’ve got cozy slipper boots, slouchy beanies for kids and adults, little girl dresses, cowls and jackets, infinity scarves, dolls, darling Lulu headbands and artwork, jewelry, and more.

Emily and friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Emily Wierenga, author of Atlas Girl

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Ask the Agent: Is a speaker’s bureau worth it?

October 13, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve recently had a couple people write to ask me about speaker bureaus — How do they work? What do they make? Are they worth it? 

Over the last sixteen years, I’ve worked with numerous speaker bureaus to try and get speaking engagements for authors. Like any other business, the quality varies greatly. Some have been good; others have been terrible. Let me offer some thoughts…

First, a good speaker’s bureau is pro-active, not re-active. This is really the biggest complaint people have about most speaker bureaus. An author will sign with them, give them permission to get them engagements, then wait. A good bureau will make calls, and try to find new places for an author to speak. A bad bureau sits and waits for the phone to ring. (And if that’s all your speaker’s bureau is doing, you can simply have your own phone ring.)

Second, a good speaker’s bureau provides support, not just basic information. A good bureau captures all the details. They tell the author where they are needed, when, how they’ll get there, and where they’ll be staying. They’ll offer to help with travel, offer details on how many times the author is expected to speak, on what topics, under what circumstances, and to how many people. A bad bureau simply gives the date and time.

Third, a good speaker’s bureau will work for their money. Most bureaus take 20% of the speaker fees. So if you’re being paid $1000 to speak at a conference, the speaker’s bureau will want $200 of it… and for that sort of money, you’d expect they would work hard for it, try hard to land new engagements, make sure the proposed gigs were a good fit, and spend some time negotiating the deal to try and maximize it. For the record, I rarely find that to be the case. Many wait for the phone to ring, tend to always give the engagements to the same small group of speakers, and provide minimal assistance to authors who are speaking. Twenty per cent is a steep price to pay for lazy service.

Fourth, a good speaker’s bureau will help build an author’s platform. That means they will take the time to figure out what the author does best, and try to find engagements where the author can shine. A bad agency simply looks for available dates. Several of the legacy publishers have set up their own in-house speaker bureaus, to try and boost the platforms of their A-level authors. That’s a good sign, since it means the publisher is trying to get their authors noticed. And, of course, I’d argue that author website have usurped most speaker bureaus, since those looking for speakers can often find authors who are writing on the topic they need.

Fifth, a good speaker’s bureau will focus on what they do best. I’m a literary agent, so I tend to spend my time on books and writing careers. But since we do a lot of work in the Christian market, I should note that nearly all the speaker bureaus working in CBA have also begun calling themselves literary agents — even if they don’t know anything about the publishing market, haven’t worked at a publishing house, or have any background for offering editorial or career advice. This is why I’ve lost all faith in most of the CBA speaker bureaus. They don’t know what they’re doing with books, yet they want to compete with me for authors. (And yes, on several occasions I’ve had people at speaker bureaus suddenly announce to an author that they’re becoming literary agents, and try to poach authors from me.)

So… is a speaker’s bureau worth it? Perhaps, if you can find someone who will take the time to understand what you do best, and pro-actively seek to place you in speaking engagements that will generate you income and boost your platform. So focus on that when evaluating anybody who invites you to join a speaker’s bureau. For some authors, I think a speaker’s bureau may not be that helpful. Before you sign with one, make sure to ask some hard questions: Who do they work with? What services do they offer? How many speakers do they work with? How many engagements did they place speakers with last year? What were the venues? What sort of marketing will they do? How often will they place you? How do they negotiate contracts? What do they do for their 20%? Getting answers to questions like that will help you figure out if the speaker bureau is a fit for you.

Posted in Career, Current Affairs | 1 Comment »

What the Bible Teaches Me about Fiction (a guest post)

October 10, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Most of what I’ve learned about fiction I’ve learned from the Bible. That’s not to say I think the Bible is myth. Rather, the way Moses, Jesus, and its other storytellers craft their narratives has taught me a lot about fiction. Here’s a sampling:

Use limited point-of-view to capitalize on reader identification. Did Bathsheba flirt with David? Bat her eyelashes? Seduce him? There’s a reason the author does not answer such questions. We’re supposed to see the story completely from David’s point of view. And David is 100 percent responsible for his choices, no matter what Bathsheba’s doing.

Use setting to communicate something greater than the place itself. I’m not saying a writer must make the setting exotic. Rather, use the setting almost as you would do a character. Where is Jezebel when she kills the owner of the vineyard she covets? In Jezreel. Where is Jezebel more than 17 years later when dogs snarf her up? Back in Jezreel. Where is Peter when he denies the Lord three times? By a charcoal fire. Where is Peter when Jesus gives him three chances to declare his love? By a charcoal fire.

Give the “good guys” weaknesses. Nobody’s perfect, so use imperfections to make characters believable. Peter is spirited but impulsive—just ask Malchus. Consider what’s often called “The Faith Chapter.” It lists heroes of the faith. Yet with only a few exceptions, Hebrews 11 could just as easily be called “The Foul-Up Chapter.” There we find murderers, adulterers, liars, and hookers. Despite their flaws, however, they have one thing in common: faith. Moses is humble, but he has an anger management problem.

The foundation for the western canon of literature, the Bible is filled with narratives written by some of the best storytellers and communicators the world has ever known. Studying its pages can make us better writers.

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Sandra Glahn, a Christy Award finalist, is the author or coauthor of eighteen books. Her most recent work of fiction is Informed Consent (Cook). You can read her blog at www.aspire2.blogspot.com.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

Thursdays with Amanda: Web Hosting Analysis for Authors, COMPLETE LIST

October 9, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Amanda Luedeke 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.

We are continuing our analysis of various website services, keeping authors in mind as we review! I have the WHOLE LIST HERE. So this is it, folks. My subpar analysis of all of these options…from one person who doesn’t speak geek, to another:

WEB HOSTING ANALYSIS FOR AUTHORS

Hostgator.com

  • PLANS: for an author website, you would probably only need the Hatchling or Baby plans.
  • PERKS: Compatible with WordPress; Unlimited usage space; 24/7 support; weekly backups; Free website transfer (not totally sure about this one)
  • COST: Hatchling is $3.96/month when you order 36 months. Baby is $6.36/month. They also try to sell you other things like web backup, SEO help, and site security. The domain is roughly $12.95/yr should you purchase it from them.

BlueHost.com

  • PLANS: shared hosting plans: for an author website, you’d want  the Plus Plan or the Business Pro plan. WordPress hosting plan: for an author website, the Blogger plan looks great.
  • PERKS: $29.99 for 45-minute 1-on-1 help session; Free domain name; $99 website migration
  • COST: $5.95/mo for 36 months for the Plus Plan; $13.95/mo for 36 months for Business Pro plan; $24.99/month for WordPress Plan

TigerTech.com –

  • PLANS: Gold and Platinum
  • PERKS: A set monthly cost that doesn’t seem to fluctuate; Free domain; No outsourced support
  • CONS: they have limits on usage, and they tout free setup, but most companies also offer this
  • COST: Gold Plan $9.95/mo; Platinum plan $19.95/mo

iPage.com –

  • PLANS: Essential Hosting; WordPress Hosting
  • PERKS: Seems SUPER cheap, but beware of how prices may skyrocket when you renew; US customer service; Free domain; Free space; lots of free stuff; on the WordPress end they seem to have lots of tools for making the most of your WP site
  • COST:  Essential – $1.68/mo for 36 months; WordPress – $6.95/mo for 36 months

DreamHost.com –

  • PLANS: Shared Hosting; WordPress Hosting
  • PERKS: Free domain; “Unlimited” lots of stuff; 24/7 support; automatic updates for WordPress
  • COST: Shared – $8.95/mo; WordPress – $19.95-$24.95/mo

HostMonster.com

  • PLANS: Plus Plan ; Business Pro  (in pro you get more security)
  • PERKS: Access to lots of free scripts (make your site fancy); an actual demo site so you can try before you buy; WordPress web building; Free Domain
  • COST: Plus Plan – $6.49-9.99/mo ; Business Pro – $14.49-19.99/mo

GreenGeeks.com

 

  • PLANS: Web Hosting
  • PERKS: Uses renewable energy; Free website migration; Free domain; 24/7 North American support; online chat; Free nightly backups
  • CONS: there are other plans they offer but I can’t seem to find them…leading me to believe they will probably press for upgrades once you sign up
  • COST: $3.96/mo for 3 years

WEB BUILDING FOR AUTHORS

Squarespace.com –  Clearly trying to hit a hipster demographic here. Hmm…I signed up and tried it and even though they say it’s easy to use I still ran into issues. Maybe I’m just THAT inept. It is sleek looking, and I love how they show you some examples of how users have used their templates, but it’s not like you can be an average joe and get those kinds of results. So without really great stock photography on hand, I’m afraid any site created here will look either really bad or really plain. $8/mo for basic; $16/mo for mid-level package. A focus seems to be on ecommerce…which isn’t really a thing an author site needs.

WordPress.com – This was the most-mentioned for website management and creation. Lots of options for customization, but it can be tricky to get the hang of and most end up hiring out anyway. Most also self-host (which is why hosting plans are above). Here are their packages and pricing.

Weebly.com – apparently good for ecommerce, this seemed to be the second most popular format. The plan packages are here and seem inexpensive, though I assume you will want to host elsewhere.

Wix.com – The cool thing with this option is they actually have some writer templates. Prices seem bit high, considering what you get. So maybe you’re paying for their great designs? I assume they can be highly customized if you know what you’re doing.

Medium.com – This strikes me as a new Tumblr. So a really cool option for microblogging (or whatever you want to call it).

 

WEB DESIGN OPTIONS

ElegantThemes.com(a WordPress Theme site) – Lots of recommendations for this one

WordPress.com – Many use the free themes and tweaked them. In fact, quite a few people have said that at some point they have used WordPress all the way for hosting, templates, and maintaining their site.

StudioPress.com (a WordPress Theme site) – This also had many recommendations

MichaelHyatt.com (a WordPress Theme site) – he has a theme service called Get Noticed that someone recommended

 

TAKEAWAY

At the end of the day, it feels like choosing a phone carrier. All are pretty much the same. And you don’t have strong feelings either way until you try one and run into problems. All use fancy words to say things that really don’t matter to think you’re getting a steal of a deal. So it all come down to basic needs, and finding a host that isn’t going to crash or cause your site to run slowly.

Because SO MANY PEOPLE recommended HostGator, I imagine it has a pretty good track record. I will probably be using them. I also liked what I saw from GreenGeeks because I felt like I understood what they were telling me.

I plan on going with WordPress simply because that s what most web builders recommend…and I’m not above asking for help. But if I were totally flying solo, I’d be very interested in Weebly and Wix. Squarespace not so much. Its look was too…Vogue magazine.

HAVE YOU HAD NEGATIVE OR POSITIVE EXPERIENCES WITH ANY OF THESE WEBSITE OPTIONS?

Posted in Marketing and Platforms, Web/Tech | 4 Comments »

Ask the Agent: What do you look for in a query?

October 8, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I recently had an online discussion with a writers’ group, and they had several questions for me…

What are the three most important things you look for in a query?

A strong writing voice, clarity of argument (if nonfiction) or story (if fiction), and author platform.

How important are queries to your agency? 

I use them as ways to look for talent. Of the queries that come in cold (that is, not introduced by authors I already represent, and not someone I met and spoke with at a conference), the percentage of queries that turn into clients is very low.

What experience is worth mentioning in a query?

Anything you’ve had published is worth mentioning. Anything that reveals a big platform is worth mentioning.

Do you think going to conferences and making connections is a better way to meet agents than querying them?

Absolutely. Being face to face with someone, in order to gauge personality and likability and trust, is far more important than choosing someone off the web. I think going to conferences is a GREAT way to connect with agents and editors.

What subjects and genres are currently overdone in the queries you see?

I don’t know that anything is overdone at the moment. Tastes change. Every generation needs its own voices. We see new ideas break out, and we’re always surprised. I know some people will say “dystopian is overdone,” or “Amish fiction is overdone.” They might be… until somebody creates one that sells well. (Having noted this, I’ll admit I hate the question, which get frequently. The fact is, we’re always surprised at the latest breakout hit.)

Which genres do you deserve a comeback? What genres would you like to see in queries?

Beats me what deserves a comeback. Chick-lit is making a comeback as romantic comedy. I suppose I’d like to see westerns and spy novels make a comeback.

Which genres will the public never tire of?

We love romance. We love redemption stories. We love justice. We love seeing characters we like grapple with powers greater than themselves and win against long odds. We love a great, pulse-pounding thriller. We love mysteries getting solved, whether by smart amateurs or methodical types. We love people making sacrifices for something greater than themselves. We love people facing the great questions of life and making choices, then exploring the ramifications of those choices.

So when thinking about queries coming across your desk, should we follow the trends or write what we want to write?

I think authors are given stories, and must write the stories they are given. That said, I think authors who read widely, and who read great writing of others, are given more and greater stories. Following trends might get you a deal sometime, but writing what you want to write will help you create a career. My two cents.

What five things do you consider “must haves” when you are reviewing a query or manuscript?

Great, unique voice. Interesting characters that I like. A story structure I can follow. A significant plot or conflict. A great theme.

What five things guarantee a trip to the trash bin?

Grammar/spelling/punctuation errors. Guaranteeing me this will be a blockbuster, or that God told you to write to me. Weird fonts and formats. An arrogant attitude (particularly people who don’t want to listen to advice). Sending me poetry and other stuff I don’t represent. (true story: I just got an email that read, “While I know you don’t normally represent poetry, I thought you might be interested in my epic poem about…” — yeah, because making it longer will get me to love it.)

How much does a killer first line matter to you? Is it a deal breaker?

It’s not a deal breaker, but I LOVE a great opening line. I collect great opening lines. I think that’s one of the hallmarks of great writing. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” “It was bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (I could go on.)

What do you recommend for a writer who wants to improve his or her craft?

Write more. (I find most writers write a bit, but the best writers tend to have written a LOT.) Read more. (I find most every writer reads some, but the best writers tend to have read a LOT, and have read WIDELY and not just in their genre.) Shut up and listen to advice. Learn to mimmic others, just to see what it’s like to be someone else. (Great art tends to be derivative.) Study great writers, to see what you can glean from them.

What inner qualities do you see in your most successful authors?

What a fabulous question. Um…. a longing for truth. A willingness to work hard. A desire to improve. An attitude that listens and doesn’t get whiny every time somebody suggests an editorial change. A desire to explore the big questions. A boldness to be brave and try something new.

What attitudes are career killers for writers?

I know it all. I don’t have to listen. I can write now so I’ll wait for my muse. My work is better than all those schmucks selling books because it’s Great Art.

Do you ever tell anyone they do not possess talent for writing?

Not often. But yes, I have, and it’s always hard. And sometimes I just have to say, “There’s nothing I can really do with this. It’s not a fit for me. Sorry.” Think of this as singing — if the person really can’t carry a tune, or has no sense of rhythm, at some point they need to hear, “You can’t sing — there’s no career here. There’s not even a hobby here. Let me suggest you get off the stage and look for something else.”

Do you believe that writing skills taught are more important than raw talent?

Sure. Raw talent puts you ahead in high school. After that it won’t get you very far. You write more, you train, you improve, you develop your skills. Who wants to be 40 and still a fine high school writer?

How much does an author platform play into your decision to represent an author?

For nonfiction, it’s the first question I’ll be asked, so it matters. And now I’m starting to be asked that question of fiction authors. So platform matters to novelists as well. You have to mention it in your nonfiction query — you may or may not in a fiction query. And a “platform” is just a number — how many people read your blog? how many read your articles? your newspaper column? how many hear you speak at conferences? how many listen to you on the radio? how many are you connected to through Pinterest? through your organizations? through [fill in the blank]? Those are all numbers. Add them up, and you have your platform. (And here’s a hint: the bigger the number; the happier the publisher will be.)

If I have a growing platform and a number of 5-star Amazon reviews, how do I make the leap from a small, internet-based publisher to a larger, traditional publisher?

That’s a very fair question, but you may or may not like my response… You either sell a boatload of books and say to a publisher, “See? I can sell a lot of books!” (which may mean you don’t need the publisher anyway; that you can just self-pub and make the money you need), OR you put together a great book and proposal, get an agent who believes in you, and approach publishers with it. But, um, I have to tell you that publishers and agents tend to be less than impressed with five-star reviews on Amazon these days. Too many have been generated by the author (or the author’s best buddies), so that they aren’t genuine. They’re nice, of course, but no publisher buys your next book because your last one got a pile of five star reviews. They need THIS book to be great. (And, of course, the first thing they’ll ask is, “Can you tell us about that growing platform you mentioned?”)

If there are no new ideas for writers, how do we come up with original stories?

Who said there are no new ideas? For that matter, who says we need new ideas? Every romance is about two people meeting, getting pulled apart by something, but needing to be together because… geez, because we ALL want to have a magical romantic story like that. Every health book is about eating less and moving more. Every finance book is about spending less and saving more. I think chasing after the latest idea is a trap. You’ll all be better off becoming great writers, and writing the best story you have, in my view. I hope this helps.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask an agent? 

Posted in Agents, Career, Proposals, The Writing Craft | 3 Comments »

Ask the Agent: How has the role of an agent changed?

October 6, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve had several people write me to ask, “How has the role of a literary agent changed in the new world of publishing?” 

I was happy to get this question (and several similar questions), because I was at a conference a while back, and someone asked it of a panel I was on. As soon as it was asked, I was thinking the agents would jump in and start talking about the changes to our role… but then I realized that, on this particular panel, I was sitting with several newer agents, and I don’t know if they had the work experience to offer a good response. The microphone was at the far end of the stage, and I listened to four people say, “I think the role of the agent is still the same as it always was.”

I just sat there, shocked. But after four people had responded, I didn’t feel I could jump in and say, “Everyone here is wrong! They don’t know what they’re doing!” In retrospect, I should have found a way to say something. You see, I’ve been agenting for sixteen years now, and my role has changed completely. The job isn’t at all the same as it was when I started. I think every aspect of publishing is in a state of evolution (perhaps a state of revolution) at the moment. The role of authors has changed — they are now marketers and business persons. The roles of the bookseller, the editor, and the publisher have all been changing. So it would only make sense that the role of the agent would also have been significantly changed.

I spend a lot of my time talking with authors about marketing and platforms. I spend a fair bit of time talking with authors their careers, their indie or hybrid publishing plans. Career and list management, marketing and platform development, are all things that take up a lot of my day – and things we rarely discussed fifteen years ago. Sure, I still have to sharpen proposals, meet with editors, show them projects I think are a fit, and negotiate deals, but the role has changed considerably.

Remember, there’s no one correct way to agent (just as there’s no one correct way to edit or sell or write), but I’d say any good agent these days should be able to do several things:

-recognize good, salable writing (and help the author focus his or her time on those projects),

-know the market and have relationships with the people who are decision makers in the industry,

-be able to develop and package a proposal and manuscript,

-assist with the overall planning of a career, and offer guidance on career management (including branding and strategic direction),

-offer input into marketing and brand management,

-know contracts and be able to negotiate effectively,

-be able to sell sub rights, dramatic rights, and foreign rights,

-and step in and handle disagreements or say the hard things.

 

Of course, not all agents do everything (or do everything well). And not all authors need the same thing. One author needs an agent to be a coach and encourager; another needs an agent to be a business manager.

And yes, to answer the question that’s the elephant in the room, I think there are times an author doesn’t need an agent at all. I’m not an Agent Evangelist. Some people can manage this without an agent, though they will probably want marketing, career, and technical help at time. (And I think it’s only fair to note that nearly every big, successful author has an agent. Even today, in the age of hybrid authors, and with stories of authors making piles of cash on Amazon.) So for some writers, I’m becoming the indie-publishing career assistant and sometime-consultant. Amanda, who works with me, fulfills that same role with authors. I’m not afraid of it – I just think that’s the way the role of literary agent has moved.

 

What question do YOU have of literary agents?

 

 

Posted in Agents | 9 Comments »