Archive for the ‘Resources for Writing’ Category

Thursdays with Amanda: Attend a “Thursdays with Amanda” Workshop!

July 3rd, 2014 | Conferences, Marketing and Platforms, Resources for Writing | 2 Comments

2013amanda2Amanda 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.

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If you love my Thursday posts on marketing, and if you’ve ever wished for an in-person “Thursdays with Amanda-type” event, then you’re in for a treat.

You’re invited to come hang out with me (and Chip, of course!), for a marketing intensive on Sunday, August 24th, in Nashville, Tennessee.

HERE ARE THE DETAILS! And no, this will NOT simply be a rehashing of the info found in my book, The Extroverted Writer. Sure, we’ll touch on that a tiny bit, but we’ll also be bringing to life the content found in my blog posts, as well as new material. Plus, there will be plenty of time for you to ask questions, share your marketing struggles or victories, and learn from others in attendance.

Questions? Sound off in the comments below! And please share with your friends!

 

Thursdays with Amanda: The Extroverted Writer

June 5th, 2014 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Resources for Writing | 0 Comments

2014AmandaAmanda 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.

 

Well, I’m at conference (again!) and so this Thursday, let me leave you with an FYI that The Extroverted Writer is now available in print!! (Not everyone knew this!). 

 

 

And here are some places around the web, worth checking out:

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Estimating Kindle Sales from Amazon Rankings

Are You Boring Your Social Media Followers?

Nine Unconventional Writers Residencies

 

What would you ask a literary agent? (the wrap up)

April 30th, 2014 | Agents, Career, Current Affairs, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing | 10 Comments

A handful of leftover questions from our month of “sitting down with a literary agent” series…

Can a person who does not aspire to fame be a successful writer?

Of course. Some writers are looking for fame, but in my experience most get into writing because they have a story to tell. By the same token, some writers embrace the “fame” aspect of getting published, and love the attention it creates, while others hate it, and just want to write and maintain their privacy. There are plenty of examples of both. Perhaps this is getting skewed today because of social media, which can sometimes make it seem like every author is required to be an extrovert. But my feeling is that there are a lot of introverted writers, who don’t seek to be everywhere, all the time, commenting on everything.

If I have a really well-written book, how can I meet literary agents?

You can go to conferences and meet some agents face to face. You can go to a book show or industry event and get in touch with agents. You can talk to published authors about their current agent. You can look at Chuck Sambucino’s Guide to Literary Agents, or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. You can go to the Association of Author Representatives website, or to AgentResearch.com. You can find out who the busiest agents are, or which agents tend to work in your genre by joining Publishers Marketplace and researching their database. Or I suppose you could do it the old fashioned way and try to get a face-to-face meeting by sending them a fabulous proposal and showing up to talk. No matter what you do, spend some time researching the agent to make sure he or she is a fit, what they require in a proposal, and how they work with authors. You can also go to Predators & Editors and Writer Beware to do some research as to which literary agents have warnings against them from other authors.

I was told at a conference that every fiction genre has “rules.” Is that true? And how would I know what the rules are?

The entire concept of genre fiction holds that each genre has certain rules that most novels must adhere to. So the rules for a traditional romance would include that the hero and heroine must meet early in the book, and that they must get together at the end. The rules for a cozy mystery is that something bad (usually a murder) happens at the start of the story, an amateur sleuth will have some suspicions and start to look into it, and that the mystery will be solved at the end of the story. So, yes, every genre has rules. You can find the rules by doing some research — for example, Harlequin maintains a list of rules for romance writers on their website.

How do you define literary fiction?

Generally speaking, novels that do NOT have rules. More specifically, novels that explore the great questions of life — who am I? why am I here? does my life have meaning? what should I be doing? who is God? why does He allow such pain in the world? Most literary fiction will offer characters I care about who explore the great questions of life and make choices, then examine the ramifications of those choices and their effects on the lives of the characters. It’s a way for me, as a reader, to explore my own life in a deeper way by seeing things through the lives of other people. That’s what great literature does — causes us to think more deeply about life, see things in a new light, and offer some sort of insight into the great questions.

As an author, how do I negotiate a movie option for my novel? Do I give a free option? Do I demand money for the option?

You don’t normally grant an option for free — you negotiate the option for the production company to pay you a certain amount of money, for a certain period of time. What the customer is buying is really the exclusive chance to explore turning your book into a movie. They’ll talk through the idea, figure out if there’s a market for it, how the story might change, who might be possible to direct & star in it, what the costs are, etc. And you normally go through a literary or film agent who has relationships with film and production companies, and who can make sure all the details are done correctly. A note on this: If you think publishing contracts are tricky, just wait until you see a film contract. There are a lot of stories about authors who sold their idea cheaply, then made nothing when the concept moved to the screen. It’s called “Hollywood Accounting,” and if you’re interested in this, just google the horror story of Deborah Gregory, who created The Cheetah Girls for Disney. She made some money on the books, but when they went to the stage, TV, and the big screen, she was promised 4% of net profits… and the accountants have always been able to show there were no net profits. So while Disney has generated millions in cash from the Cheetah Girls, Ms. Gregory has made nothing. Ouch.

What determines if a book is YA or adult?

Normally there are two issues involved: themes and characters. YA novels focus on certain themes — coming of age, the transition to adulthood, exploring sexuality, fostering independence, self-identification, problems at school or with parents, etc. Adult novels focus on more adult themes. In other words, novels have themes that are directly relatable to the intended readership. And YA novels generally have younger characters, so that traditionally the protagonist is the age of the readers. (That’s not always true, since some YA fantasy has very old characters suddenly dealing with independence or self-identity issues, but it’s true more often than not.) Evaluate your novel in light of those two issues, and you can usually figure out where it should land.

Have you run into situations where smaller publishing houses offer very small advances with a higher-than-normal royalty? What’s your take on a deal such as this?

Sure — most of the new micro-publishers that got started doing e-books over the past six or seven years do exactly that. They pay a small advance, or perhaps no advance, but offer a 50% net royalty — twice that of legacy publishers. The risk is that the guarantee is smaller; the reward is that, if the book does well, the author can make more money. Of course, larger publishers will explain that they have an advantage in terms of reach and marketing, while smaller publishers will tout greater author control and a bigger percentage of the take. Every business decision like that is a risk/reward equation. You have to be comfortable with the decision.

There happens to be a lot going on in my family at the moment, and I’m putting together a book of family stories. Can you recommend a self-publishing or POD company that would be good to use for this kind of project? I probably won’t need more than 50 copies.

The easy solution? Go to CreateSpace at Amazon, or to the iBookstore. Both have the capability of creating fun books with lots of photos of your family.

I’ve been at this writing career for a long time, and feel as though I don’t have much to show for it. I’ve done two novels at a small house, then two more at a bigger house, but they didn’t sell well… so now I’m having a hard time landing a contract. I’ve enjoyed myself, but I’m not sure all the time and effort have been worth it. I love my art, but… I wanted more. And I go to conferences and it feels like everyone is having more success than me. Any advice for a writer facing the big question of “Is all this worth it?”

I’ve been agenting a long time, and I’ve had a form of this question thrown at me countless times. An author signs a deal with a small house and does okay, so she signs a deal with a bigger house and, even though she writes good books, those books tank. Maybe the house did no marketing. Maybe the readership couldn’t find her. Maybe the author and publisher didn’t know how to work together. There are a million reasons a book doesn’t work, but suddenly the author finds herself stuck. She has lousy sales numbers, maybe she can’t get a deal, or she CAN get one, but it’s back to SmallTimeVille. Hey, it happens. Does she stick with it? Change her name and start over? Try a new genre? Look for a collaborative job? Go back to the drawing board and try to come up with a blockbuster idea? Self publish? Give up?

There’s no one answer that’s going to fit every situation, of course. And if you hang out at conferences, it will feel like everyone else is going better than you (but they are not — trust me). I love the fact that the writer who emailed me this question was quick to say she had enjoyed the ride and loves to write. Because I think a writer in this situation really needs to look at his or her motivation, and think through goals — what do you want to accomplish? What will constitute success? What will make you happy? Maybe having a good agent to talk with you about career plans could come in handy. So here is some great advice from musician and writer Bill Withers: “One of the things I always tell my kids is that it’s OK to head out for wonderful, but on your way to wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through all right. When you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you’re gonna go.” Amen, Bill. Some wisdom there.

I’ve loved this month of writers sending in anything they wanted to ask. Thanks to everyone for participating. Make sure to check out Amanda’s wonderful marketing blogs every Thursday. And coming up — our annual Bad Poetry Contest. Another reason to go on living…

Hiring a Professional Editor

April 23rd, 2014 | Career, Proposals, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing | 13 Comments

A guest blog from Holly Lorincz -

Many of you know me as the newest agent at MacGregor Literary but I’m writing today from behind my Editor Desk. I was originally hired by the agency as an editing and publishing consultant, having run an editing service for years. Now that I’ve dealt with the publishing industry from a number of angles — from that of a reader, to a writing instructor, to an editor, to a novelist, to an agent — I believe I have some insight that may be helpful to writers at various stages in their career.

WHY YOU SHOULD HIRE A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR

I wish with all my heart I had taken my own advice and hired a professional to do a line edit on my first novel before I published. I’ve learned the hard way I can spot errors, typos, awkward sentences and developmental issues in anyone else’s text but my own. When I read back over my own novels, I know what I meant to say . . . and that’s what my mind sees. So, I’ve relied on my beta readers to help me catch errors. But the problem is, while amazing at feedback, they are not trained, tried-by-fire professionals, paid to dissect my every word and thought. I was cocky when I decided to independently publish without hiring someone else. I’m not saying the book was a mess but there were a handful of homonym errors any paid professional would have spotted in a second. Soooo, yeah. “His voice a horse whisper.” That’s embarrassing. Edit much?

Over the last two years, I have focused on editing novels. My best clients recognize their job is to tell a good story and my job is to help polish that story. There is no ego involved (or, at least, it’s hidden). They recognize that typing out 80,000 words in a short time will lead to typos and inconsistencies, none of which reflects on their writing skill. They know that acquisition editors are looking at dozens of proposals a day and are not very likely to want to work with a book riddled with errors (this is especially true if you are an unpublished author). They also are fully aware editors at publishing houses today do not have the time or resources to comb over and correct a manuscript like they did in the past, so hiring your own editor to do a pre-publication run at the manuscript is self-preservation.

For those of you that go the independent publishing route, the professional editor is a must. Nothing slows down sales more than a bunch of reviews bashing your grammar or typos.

HOW TO WORK WITH A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR

Decide if you need a developmental edit, a copy edit, or a proofreading (or a combination). For instance, it often makes the most sense to start with hiring a professional to do a developmental edit. Then, once you’ve taken their assessment notes and made plot or character or timeline revisions, you can decide if you still need to pay for a close reading (copy edit) or if you are ready to hire an editor for a simple proof (editing only for typos and grammar errors, not for content).

If you are looking for an editor on your own, make sure you talk to them before you sign up. At least chat through email. What is their availability? What is their experience? How long does an edit with your word length generally take? How do they provide feedback? How do they charge? Are there testimonials available from previous clients? Do they edit from a hard copy (old-school) or can you send a Word doc? Do they need to see a sample first? Most importantly, do they work mostly with fiction or non-fiction? Will they be comfortable or open-minded regarding your content?

Once you have settled on an editor, and you’re happy with the time frame of the review, be sure to communicate openly about what you think are problem areas. While a good editor will be reading the manuscript with all the basic novel concepts in mind anyway, it’s good to let him or her know you are particularly concerned with theme, or a minor character’s voice, or a certain subplot, or . . . whatever.

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR PROFESSIONAL EDIT

Okay. You’ve just received your manuscript back, covered in red.

First off, you may totally disagree with the suggested revisions but you still need to pay for the review. Remember, you are hiring for a service — a service that by its very nature is meant to tear apart your baby. When you’ve been handed back your bloody baby, you cradle it and cry and pound your chest in private, but then you sign the check. Now, if the edit is shoddy or unprofessional, by all means go back to the editor and do what you need to do. But if you take issue over their opinion, then you need to take a step back and reconsider. Why did the editor say what they did? If this objective reader misread or found something needing repair, is it not then likely other readers will feel the same way? If so, consider the editor’s suggestions or come up with your own revisions. Assuming your bottom line is to actually sell the book, will the general public agree with your editor or with you?

Once you receive the review, it is totally appropriate to email or call if you do not understand a comment or revision. However, it is not appropriate to make suggested changes and then go back to the editor and expect them to re-assess portions of your manuscript, not unless you’ve contracted them for their time. It’s not that the editor is heartless or doesn’t care about your project but they do have other edits scheduled and need to move on.

A common response from authors is to want to explain their point of view or what they “meant” to the editor. This is totally not necessary. The editor’s job is done the minute they tell you a scene or a phrase didn’t make sense to them. The editor knows you will either see how it could be confusing and fix it or you will choose to ignore their suggestion. Either option is up to you — the editor has already moved on.

When you find a good editor, learn to appreciate their work, even if it’s emotionally hard to read their notes. The majority of us take our role as editor seriously, recognizing how vulnerable most writers are when it comes to having their work critiqued. That’s as it should be. I offer criticism from the point of view of someone who honestly just wants to help authors produce their best work, never to be condescending or argumentative. I believe this is how most professional editors operate, from an innate desire to teach, to be supportive, and to be part of a book’s journey to a bookshelf.

Good luck with your manuscripts!

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Holly Lorincz is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. She is also the owner of Lorincz Literary Services, a very successful editing and publishing consultation business. Among her many clients are New York Times bestselling thriller writer Vincent Zandri and award-winning romance author Gail Gaymer Martin.

For more information regarding Lorincz Literary Services, click here.

 

 

 

Sitting down with a literary agent over a cappuccino…

April 11th, 2014 | Agents, Career, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing, Trends | 16 Comments

So I happen to be sitting at Cafe Greco in North Beach (the Italian section of downtown San Francisco), and thought this was the perfect place to suggest authors sit down to have a cappuccino and talk. This month we’re just inviting authors to send the question they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, if only they could be face to face. I’ve been sent a bunch of questions, and I’m trying to get to each of them…

I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” What does a big platform look like to you?

A platform is a number. You speak? How many people do you speak to over the course of a year? You write a column? What’s your readership? You’re on radio? What’s your listenership? You blog? How many hits do you get? You do a column? How many people read your work? You belong to organizations? How many people are you connected to? All of those are numbers — just add up the numbers, and you’ll know how big your platform is. The bigger the number, the happier a publisher is going to be. More important is how many people you actually have some sort of relationship with — that is, how many of those folks do you speak to or consider an acquaintance? Can you suggest what percentage might actually purchase a book? A small publisher may be happy with a platform of ten to twenty thousand. A medium sized published may be looking for a platform that is at least forty to sixty thousand. A large publisher may not be all that interested if your platform is less than 100,000 — possibly not interested if your platform is less than 250,000, depending on the project.

Is it pointless to seek publication before launching a blog? I have substantial Facebook and growing Twitter followings, but haven’t launched my blog yet.

I’m not sure a blog is as vital as it was a few years ago. Some authors have built a platform using Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Others have really used GoodReads and Amazon in lieu of a blog. I think the important things to consider are (1) the numbers, (2) the connection they have with you, and (3) the content you’re sharing. Here’s what I mean — if you have a bunch of friends on Facebook because you’ve shared a lot of conservative political flamethrower stuff, but you’re writing a contemporary romantic suspense, the content doesn’t connect with the book’s expected readership. You may or may not need a blog, but the important thing with a blog these days is to get noticed, just like in publishing a book. There are currently roughly 20 million blogs available… how is yours going to grow a readership?

I’ve been asked to write a column for an online magazine which sounds good, but they refuse to tell writers what their numbers look like. Also, they pay, but they demand all rights. As an agent, do you think I should participate?

That depends on your expectations. If you need the money, a paid writing gig like this is great. As for demanding rights, lots of magazines these days are moving that direction — you have to be at peace with the fact you are basically using this as a work-for-hire. You could do some research on third party sites to find out some basic numbers for the magazine and make an educated guess at the numbers they’re hitting.

Do writers these days write specifically for the ebook market, or are they really writing for a print market and settling for a digital book?

Love the question, because for all the excitement about dedicated e-book authors, I find most writers are still hoping to land in print. Not all, certainly, but most. Why? Because traditionally that’s where success has come (and yes, that may be changing), and because legacy publishers can get authors into stores around the country. So it’s really a “reach” argument — that legacy publishers offer greater reach. That said, we’re in an era of revolution, and there are plenty of writers who have basically given up on the notion of working with a legacy publisher, and have become focused on creating their own ebooks and taking them to market via Amazon, Nook, and the iBookstore.

I heard you say at a conference that the one thing you look for most in a book proposal is “voice.” What are you really looking for when you say you want to see a strong voice in a proposal?

Voice is personality on the page. I love seeing proposals that offer strong personalities. Too many of the proposals I see are flat — they all sound the same, and could have been written by anyone. So I love seeing a project come in that seems different — big, unique, funny or insightful, with words/grammar/style/thought patterns that reveal your unique personality. If you read writers with great, unique voice, you just don’t confuse them with other writers. Great ideas come and go, but great voice lasts a long time. I see lots of ideas each month; I see very little great voice. And if you’re really interested in this topic, go to Amazon and pick up a copy of Les Edgerton’s FINDING YOUR VOICE. A wonderful book to help beginning writers figure out how to get their personality onto the page.

Do you still teach “proposal” workshops? Does a proposal still matter in these days of self-publishing one’s ebooks?

I do still teach my one-day proposal workshop. (Commercial: If your writing group or regional conference is looking for a cost-effective one-day seminar, you should get in touch.) Proposals continue to be vital for nonfiction books, and the way we usually start the conversation with fiction. I asked a senior editor at a Big Six publishing house about this, and she wrote me back to say, “One thing I think aspiring writers need to know about proposals is that they function as a business plan for a book. That is, they demonstrate why and how a project will be viable because of the idea, the author platform, and the market environment. In nonfiction, as you know, publishing a viable book is not so much about writing as about what will happen (either because of the author or the publisher) in the market to get people to buy it. Most people don’t want to hear that because they want to believe it’s all about writing, but that is very far from the truth these days. New writers need to understand this basic fact and see the proposal as an opportunity, not a chore to be gotten past.” A great proposal can help you find success, in my view. It won’t overcome a lousy idea, but it will certainly help you sell a good idea.

Who puts a manuscript or new book into the running for awards and contests? Does the author seek them out herself and submit her entries? Does the publisher submit completed manuscripts automatically to certain contests? Would an agent make recommendations for contests and/or award to go after?

Most major writing awards are submitted by publishers. Mid-level awards can be submitted by publisher or author. Most smaller writing awards are submitted by author. These usually cost money. And yes, in almost every case the entire completed manuscript is sent (though I know of no publisher who “automatically” submits to contests). An agent will certainly make recommendations for contests and awards, and I encourage authors to have that discussion with their agent. Publishers tend to like manuscripts that proved themselves by winning contests.

I’m working on a non-fiction manuscript for which I have some personal experience, but I don’t really have the full technical expertise to completely address the topic. Would an agent consider my proposal and connect me with an expert in the field? Or do I need to do the legwork myself to find the expert?

I have occasionally connected a writer and an expert, but it’s rare… Much more commonly I’ll just say to the writer, “You know, this would be a much stronger idea if you were to partner with an expert in the field.” An example: I once did a healthy lifestyle book, and encouraged the author to connect with a nutritionist and exercise physiologist, since her personal story was great, but I felt publishers were going to insist on some sort of recognized expertise.

I notice you do a bunch of religious/inspirational fiction. Do you also do fiction for the wider market?

I’ve received this question a hundred times… YES, take a look at my list. I do Christian fiction AND lots of general market fiction. So do Sandra, Amanda, Erin, and Holly, the other agents at MacLit.

I did a book with a smaller publishing house earlier this year, but the information on Amazon is incorrect. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get them to fix it. What do I do?

Talk to someone in the marketing department at your publishing company, tell them EXACTLY what is incorrect and EXACTLY what you would like it to say. Be clear, be polite, don’t blame, and don’t act like your life depends on changing this information. Amazon sometimes gets this stuff wrong, and publishers often try to fix it. I ran this question by a senior editor at a large house, and she replied: “Amazon is an automated system, at least with us, but I suspect with most other publishers. Amazon’s system goes into our system and pulls the data it wants when it wants it and then puts it up on the site, often as long as 4-6 months in advance. That’s why the data are often wrong. Authors get upset when they see incorrect data and copy but that’s because Amazon is pulling the early stuff before it gets polished. Pre-orders are good, but this is what comes of it. And this is Amazon’s doing, for their own mysterious and not-so-mysterious purposes.”

Okay — got a question you’ve always wanted to sit down and ask a literary agent in some face to face setting? Send it my way. Meanwhile, I’ll be here, eyeing the cannoli and ricciarellis. Ciao!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

March 28th, 2014 | Deep Thoughts, Questions from Beginners, Quick Tips, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 34 Comments

So it’s spring break for most people. You might be heading out of town, or driving to the beach, or trying to find a place to relax and dive into that new book you bought. I’m going the same thing — well… I live at the beach, so I’m not heading there, but I am trying to ditch the crowds find some quiet so I can read today. I have a long list of projects I want to get caught up on, so instead of doing emails and taking phone calls, I’m going to try and get away and just read for a while.

And that, of course, means I don’t think I’ll take the time to create a new blog post. Instead, I’ll let you YOU create it. One simple question: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It might be something about craft, or a trick you learned, something about writing quickly or leaving writer’s block behind. It could be advice on creating characters, or raising the stakes, or leaving people with a memorable lesson. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’ve no doubt heard (or read) some great bit of wisdom that you took to heart and you noticed it changed your work. Share it with us. Just click on the “comment” bar below and offer the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received. You’re welcome to give us context, and tell who said it and what the circumstances were, if you want to — but don’t feel you HAVE to. You’re welcome to just offer one sentence with the advice you’ve got.

I do this once each year or so, and I have gleaned some wonderful tips from people over the years. Would love to hear what you have to share with your fellow writers. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

How to Enter a Writing Contest the Right Way

February 5th, 2014 | Resources for Writing | 3 Comments

Tagg6Here’s the thing with writing contests—they’re kind of like gas station pizza: either an incredibly satisfying experience…or HORRIFYING. And sometimes, you just don’t know which it’s gonna be until it’s all over and you’re smiling in cheesy happiness or tossing your cookies…which in this case would be more like tossing your pepperoni.

[Rambling. Revert course]

So writing contests.

Though I’m no contest guru, I do think we can take our contest experience to a much happier place when we enter the right way…as opposed to the way that may drive you and quite possibly your loved ones up to the brink of batty.

(Some signs that you may be entering the latter way: You’ve got a countdown app on your phone noting the days and hours until the date finalists are to be announced. You’re sure if you DO final, it means you will be published in the next couple months. You’re sure if you DON’T final, God is telling you to stop writing. In short, you slip into obsessed territory. Please don’t go there.)

So here are my suggestions for entering a contest the right way:

1) Enter the contests that give GOOD feedback.

Do you homework about the contest you’re considering. Who are the judges? Talk to past entrants. Do the judges do more than stick a number on a page? Good. Do they offer feedback beyond, “Hated your character’s first name.”? Good. These are the contests you want to enter.

2) And then enter FOR the feedback.

This is the thing with contests: It’s your chance to get professional feedback…for super cheap! Seriously, $40 or $50 to have a published author, agent or editor look at your work is a steal. If you can view this contest as a transaction in which you’re getting a great deal with a solid return on your investment (dude, Dave Ramsey would be so proud!), then finaling or not finaling loses a lot of its weight. Either way, you’re getting what you paid for: feedback.

3) Just don’t assume the feedback is, like, God-breathed.

True and initially depressing but ultimately happy story: I once had a judge give me 31/100 on a contest entry. Thirty. One. And she said a lot of, um, unpleasant things about my story. Less than two months later, that same book sold.
In SO many cases, the feedback you get in contests is going to sharpen your writing and improve your story. But once in awhile, it’s not. Sometimes, gasp, the judge might get it wrong.

Remember this is a subjective process—as is all of publishing, really. Contests help you develop thick skin. But they also help you learn to separate the helpful from the unhelpful, the voices you need to listen to versus the voices it might be best to ignore. So if you get some questionable feedback, go to another writer, maybe somebody else who is a little further along the road, someone who can look at both your writing and your contest feedback objectively, and ask for advice.

4) Pay attention to the guidelines

I know, so profound, right? But I’ve been a part of judging a few contests now and several times have come across entries that simply ignored the guidelines. Don’t assume what’s good for one contest is good for another. In short, be smart.

5) Keep writing

Really. After you hit submit and send your entry off into contest-land, just get back to work. Write the next scene or start revising or brainstorm a new book. Because honestly, any wannabe writer can pull off a scene or a chapter or fifteen pages and send it in to a contest. But the writers who are going to make it are the ones who dig in and do the work of finishing and polishing and doing it all over again.

Finally, I can’t help mentioning one of my favorite writing contests. Every year My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for novelists, sponsors the Frasier Contest. (Full disclosure: I’m a MBT core team member.) The Frasier is a bit different than other contests in that it’s a straight storycrafting contest—no categories, no genre divisions, just storytelling. Judges are looking for things like a great hook, storyworld, a compelling inciting incident, stakes that matter, strong voice. This year’s final entries will be judged by MacGregor Literary’s own Amanda Luedeke, as well as Zondervan acquisitions editor Becky Philpott and award-winning author Susan May Warren. You can get all the details here.

- Melissa Tagg is the author of Made to Last and the upcoming May release Here to Stay. 

A Workshop on Getting Published

January 7th, 2014 | Agents, Books, Career, Conferences, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing, The Writing Craft | 0 Comments

BY CHIP MACGREGOR

 

A new writing conference is fast approaching — and you’re invited.

On Saturday, February 15, I will be speaking at the Dallas Writers’ University. It’s a one-day event, with a rather intensive agenda:

  • I’ll speak on “developing a book proposal that sells,” and the focus will be on giving practical, hands-on help to writers who want to create a proposal that will get noticed.
  • I’ll also be speaking on “creating your long-term publishing strategy,” with an emphasis on traditional publishing, niche publishing, self-publishing, and alternative strategies for writers to make a living.
  • Michelle Borquez, bestselling author and entrepreneur, will explore “building a platform around your concept.”
  • There will be a Q&A time, and everybody there will have a face to face meeting with me sometime during the day.
  • Finally, Michelle and I will be talking about the secret to success in contemporary publishing.

I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. I’ve largely taken time away from conferences the past couple years, but I love talking to authors about proposals and strategy. And you’re invited. Again, every participant gets face time with me, where we’ll be reviewing proposals and talking about next steps in a one-on-one setting. That means our space is limited to just 30 people.

Here’s the thing . . . there are a hundred conferences you can go to in order to get some basic information on writing. But if you really want to join a small group and find out how to create a book that will sell, make some money, and gain entry into the world of publishing by talking to some experienced people in the industry, I hope you’ll consider joining us. I don’t do many conferences anymore (and rarely do a writing conference), so I’m excited to be asked to be part of this one.

The event is going to be in the Dallas area, at a church in White Settlement. The cost is $225 and includes lunch – but if you mention this blog when you sign up, you can attend for $199. You can find out all you need to know by clicking here.

If you live anywhere in the area, I would love to have you come and introduce yourself to me.

Feel free to ask me questions — happy to be doing this!

What does a writer need to know about marketing?

December 4th, 2013 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing | 5 Comments

In today’s publishing market, there are a handful of things I think every author needs to know about marketing. These are all things you can think through, and though none of this is going to be earth-shattering or terribly “new” to you (my guess is you’ve heard much of this before), sometimes we can think about choosing certain marketing strategies or ideas, then lose track of the bigger picture. Or we assume the publisher is going to take care of things, when in fact they’re busy worrying about the new 50 Shades novel they’ve just released, and they’re waiting for YOU to market your own book. So let me offer a big-picture look at marketing your book in today’s environment…
First, you have to know yourself. What are your strengths at marketing? What do you do best? What is your message? How do you define your brand? What are the elements of marketing you  love to do? The fact is, if you know your core competencies, know what you do well and what you’re comfortable with, you’re ahead of most authors who are just trying ideas they’ve heard from others. So think back through your history, and make a list of the areas where you were good and comfortable and successful with your marketing. What are the resources you have available to you? Next, make a list of the opportunities you know you’ll have — the people, places, organizations, media, and venues you know you’ll be able to count on.
Second, you have to know your weaknesses. What are the typical problems you have with marketing? What are your struggles? What do you NOT enjoy? What are the roadblocks you face? (Hint: often these include lack of money, lack of time, and lack of expertise.) As you think through the problem areas, you’re trying to clarify both the strengths and the weaknesses, the resources and the roadblocks that are part of every marketing plan. If you can identify these, you’ve got better context for making marketing decisions later.
Third, know your goals. What are you trying to achieve with your marketing? You’re ultimately trying to sell copies, of course, but your marketing is specifically trying to do what — introduce yourself to probable readers? Create brand awareness? Build trust with your audience? Find new markets? Enhance your relationships with media? Educate people? Demonstrate the benefits of your book (more common for a nonfiction title)? Overcome objections? Expand your social network? In my experience, too many authors want to talk about the tools they can use, and not the goals they have in mind. So make a list of what you’re trying to do, and keep in mind that no marketing plan can do everything.
Fourth, know your target audience. No book is for everybody. Who are you trying to reach? What age? What sex? What do they like and dislike? Where do they live? When are they most likely to be available? What do they need? What do they want? Why will they listen to you? An author who knows his or her audience can stop trying to be all things to all people, and start focusing on the most likely readers. Knowing your audience helps you to make better marketing choices.
Fifth, know your strategies. That is, look through your first four answers, then begin to see how you’re going to reach out to people. Will you focus your marketing efforts on your unique differences? On your unique audience? On your unique message? On special events? On some special attribute in your work? Will you focus on your network and associations? On your huge social media footprint? Make some decisions on what basic strategies you’re going to use (and if you need help with this, there’s a ton of information online regarding this topic — check places such as marketingpower.com).
Sixth, know your specific marketing tools. What activities will you actually DO to market your book? This is the place most authors start — they love talking about the crazy activities and wild ideas they have. But without walking carefully through the previous steps, there tends to be a lot of wasted energy. So let me sum up how to select the best marketing tools this way: Spend time figuring out where your potential readers congregate, then determine how you can get in front of them. It might be writing magazine articles, or speaking to groups, or covering controversial topics on your website, or giving helpful stuff away, or throwing yourself into radio chats, or buying ads, or investing your time in blog chats, or… a million other things. But don’t just skip to this part of the plan and begin thinking up cool ideas to try. Instead, spend time figuring out the reasons these ideas will work by walking through the first five steps. And keep in mind one critical bit of wisdom: Most marketing won’t work. That is, most of the marketing you do will fail to move a bunch of copies of your book. That’s okay — take the Babe Ruth approach. The guy struck out more times than any other baseball player in history up to that time, and failed roughly 65% of the time at the plate. But that means he retired with an almost unheard-of .342 batting average, and had more homers, walks, and runs-batted-in than any other player in the first 100 years of the game. Marketing can be like that — you’ll try things and fail a lot, but then be surprised at the little things that work.
Seventh, write down your plan. Don’t just have it floating around in your head as a series of good ideas — write it down, so you’re much more likely to actually DO it. Besides, that helps you keep track of the things you got done, or have yet to do.
Eighth, create a calendar and a budget. When you write something on your calendar, you’re much more apt to do it, and it allows you to be strategic in your thinking. By adding a dollar amount, you’re able to see what your investment is, and figure out what your return on each investment is. (It’s why I encourage you to track your time, assuming you could be paying yourself about $20 per hour to get the work done — you get a better picture of your overall investment in each marketing activity.) This part of the process forces you to think like a publisher, deciding where you’ll spend your hard-earned dollars to market your book.
Ninth, execute your plan. You’ve planned it, mapped it out, and given yourself a time and an activity and a goal. Now go do it. Make sure you keep in mind what “success” is, and remind yourself that the majority of the things you try won’t feel very successful at first.
Tenth, go back and evaluate. Again, most people want to skip this step, but it’s what will help you figure out how to be more effective next time — by repeating the things the worked, and skipping the things that failed. You won’t remember unless you write it down, and you won’t be able to evaluate it if you don’t keep some records of what you did, how much time and money you spent, and what the results were.
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Um… yeah. This sounds like a lot of work. Frankly, it is. But the best, most successful writers I know are the people who do this sort of thing with each book.

Do You Mentor a Writer?

December 2nd, 2013 | Career, Resources for Writing | 19 Comments

by MacGregor Literary award-winning author Jill Williamson

When I started writing I was pretty much on my own. I searched long and hard for local writing groups, but couldn’t find one. I tried a few online groups and eventually started one with another YA author I’d met online. We sort of mentored each other as we went along, the blind leading the blind. It wasn’t the worst way to learn. And we did learn. We’re both traditionally published authors now.

I also attended writers conferences, read books on the craft of writing, and read writing blogs. But I never sought out a mentor. I didn’t know how. I was too shy. And I figured they’d all say no, anyway. But once I was published, I liked helping other writers. So I started blogging for teen writers. I figured that there were plenty of blogs out there for adults, so why not create one for teens?

Blogging for teens was a way to share what I’d learned. And I wasn’t the only one with this idea. At a marketing retreat, I got to know Stephanie Morrill who started www.GoTeenWriters.com. She and I talked and decided to combine forces. She had created an amazing blog for teen writers and graciously took me on as a co-blogger. Blogging for teens allows me to speak to hundreds of teen writers every week.

Later on we also put our various blog posts into a book we co-wrote called Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book. This book has enabled us to mentor in yet another form and had been read by teen writers all over the world. How cool is that?

I officially mentor two writers. I don’t think I could handle mentoring more than two as it can be very time consuming. But mentoring is also very rewarding. It allows me to give another writer the support that I would have liked to have had back when I started out.

If you’re thinking about mentoring a writer, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Define the communication plan.

It’s important to decide from the start how often you’ll talk and how, whether through email or phone or in-person visits at a local coffee shop. If you have some boundaries you want to keep, set those up in the beginning.

2. Be clear on what you will do and what you will not do.

There are authors out there who would send everything they’ve ever written to their mentor to read and send new material whenever they write it. But a mentor is not a personal slave, so be clear up front about what you will read and give feedback on and when you will do it. I tend to work on one project at a time with my mentees. I will also read query letters, pitches, and proposals too when they ask.

3. Help set goals and be sure and follow up.

Part of being a writer is meeting deadlines, so it’s important to help your mentees set goals and follow through. Be sure to put the deadlines on your own calendar so you can send reminders.

4. Give feedback but don’t try and make them into you.

Depending on the writing level of your mentee, it can be hard not to try and fix everything all at once. Some mentees need more work on their craft. Others don’t. It’s wise to work with authors who write things you like to read. That will help you remain impartial. Try not to over critique their stories, either. It’s a delicate balance. Remember that this is their story, not yours, and you are trying to help them grow as a writer.

5. Try to meet.

If you don’t know your writer personally, try to get together and meet. If not at a writer’s conference, than try Skype or Google Hangouts. You don’t have to meet on a regular basis, but there’s something wonderful about sitting and talking together face-to-face.

6. Be positive but honest.

Being honest can be a difficult dance at times. You are the voice of experience, and it can be tempting to be overly honest as we might with a peer. But new writers can be vulnerable, and it’s important to be positive even with criticism or the feasibility of selling a story idea so as not to discourage. Don’t be in a hurry to try and see that your mentee learns everything right away. Learning the craft of writing is a journey that each person must travel. We can help our mentees on that journey, but we can’t walk it for them and we should be wary of offering shortcuts. We mustn’t make our mentees dependent on us. We need to teach them how to go it alone so that someday they can reach out and find a mentee of their own.

Do you mentor a writer or share your expertise with other writers in some way? If so, how? Do you have any tips for mentoring? If you are a writer who would like a mentor, what help do you most seek?

GoTeenWriters_3D Bow 2This week the Go Teen Writers ebook is on sale for .99 in all ebook formats. If you mentor a teen writer, this might be a good gift idea for them. Also, feel free to visit www.GoTeenWriters.com and join in the discussions with teen writers.

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Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms and the award-winning author of several young adult books including By Darkness Hid, Replication, The New Recruit, and Captives. She’s a Whovian, a Photoshop addict, and a recovering fashion design assistant, who was raised in Alaska. She blogs for teen writers at www.goteenwriters.com. You can also visit her online at www.jillwilliamson.com, where adventure comes to life.