Archive for the ‘Resources for Writing’ Category

How do I create a great book proposal?

July 1st, 2015 | Agents, Books, Resources for Writing | 0 Comments

Your novel is ready to go. Your nonfiction book is fleshed out. NOW WHAT?

We’ve got a brand new book releasing to help all writers who are trying to create the best book proposal possible. Step by Step Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is the new book from longtime editor Holly Lorincz and me.

Pitch Book CoverThis book uses clear, detailed explanations, work-sheets, and annotated examples to walk you step-by-step through: industry terminology, querying, pitching, creating a proposal, and formatting the whole thing. You’ll find helpful information regarding what to say, who and when to query, and how to find contacts. Suggestions on how to create a pitch are offered, along with sample pitches, as well as advice from a speaking professional on how to deal with a face-to-face pitch.

Inside, there are detailed instructions for building professional, industry-standard proposals, both fiction and nonfiction, using plenty of examples and multiple samples of successful, real proposals. In fact, that’s one of the things that sets this apart from other books on proposals — I went back to authors whose books I had sold, and asked their permission to use the proposals we created. So the text offers real-world examples of proposals from books that actually sold in the market, including a couple bestselling books. There are also worksheets available in each section which readers have found extremely useful, walking the writer through their own material. There is even a section on how to format a manuscript before attaching it to a proposal. Here’s what some people in the industry have said:

“Chip MacGregor was my first literary agent and helped me get my very first book deal. I don’t know if there’s a better possible way for me to answer the question ‘Does Chip MacGregor know what he’s talking about?’ than that!”  – Jon Acuff, New York Times Bestselling author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck
This book is clear, concise and well written. Although one might feel this is just a reference book on proposal writing, it is much more . . . it is also a good basic primer instructing the reader in the art of selling your work and how to handle most any situation that you may encounter along the way.”
– Michael Hingson, New York Times bestselling author

“Chip MacGregor and Holly Lorincz’s Step by Step, Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is a keeper, whether you’re a newbie or multi-published. Fiction and non-fiction proposals are covered in detail – all you need to do is fill in the blanks. I’ll definitely be referring to this power-packed book each time I draft a new proposal!”
– Leslie Gould, Christy Award winning and #1 bestselling author

You can order a print OR a Kindle copy here. Thanks — let me know what you think!

Craft for a Conference: Part 1, Where to Look for Your Hook

May 27th, 2015 | Conferences, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 1 Comment

brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to Erin’s Tuesday blog on craft! After a few weeks off to accommodate back-to-back conferences on my part and an extremely important Bad Poetry Contest, I’m back to blogging and, inspired by my experiences at the aforementioned conferences, am starting a new series on the aspects of your craft you especially need to hone before taking your work to a conference. To kick things off, we’re talking today about finding the “hook” in your project so as to be better prepared to get an agent or an editor interested in seeing more.

You’ll hear a lot of different advice about what pieces and parts you should take to a writer’s conference– one-sheets, proposals, writing samples, your “elevator pitch,” etc.– and there’s really not one right answer as to what’s appropriate. Some agents want to see your one-sheet, others are only interested in the writing; some editors want to see the full proposal, while still others only want to talk about your platform. Whatever you decide to take to a conference, either on paper or as a prepared spoken pitch, the purpose of it should be 1) to gain the interest/curiosity of an agent or editor as quickly as possible and 2) stand out (in a positive way) from the crowd as much as possible. The “hook” of your project isn’t some elusive, magical tagline that you have to get exactly right or else you’re doomed– don’t get distracted by the jargon. When someone says they’re “hooked” on a book or tv show, they mean that they feel compelled to find out more/keep watching that story, so the trick with conference pitches or materials is to highlight all the most compelling/memorable elements of your project in order to gain an editor or agent’s interest to this extent. Hooks are going to be pretty short, sometimes one or two sentences, sometimes a short paragraph, but focus on keeping it tight and purposeful rather than on keeping it to an arbitrary word count or sentence limit. As long as it’s interesting from beginning to end and they can read it or you can speak it in a minute or so, it’s not too long. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes I see people make in their conference materials/pitches.

1. Too much background info. Just like the beginning of your book, the beginning of your one-sheet or proposal or pitch should not be an info-dump of backstory and detail. That’s all old news– you’re trying to sell me the story of what’s happening now, so why would you make me read three or four sentences about what’s happened in the past and risk losing my attention before I get to the really interesting part/what the story’s actually about? The here-and-now of your story needs to be front and center of your conference pitch. A good rule of thumb to finding your “hook” is to find the place the story actually begins by finishing the sentence: “When ___(something happens)____, ____(so what?)____.” “When” pulls us into the story immediately by fast-forwarding directly to your inciting incident.

For example, if I were writing a “hook” paragraph for Toy Story 3, I could start out by summarizing the events leading up to the third movie: “For 18 years, Andy’s faithful toys have stood by his side, helping him navigate the perils of childhood (such as sleepaway camp and moving to a new house) and sticking with him through adolescence, even as his interest turned to other things. Now, though, the toys face their biggest challenge yet as Andy heads off to college. Will he take them with him? Who will be left behind? Can the toys find a way to help their favorite boy one last time?”

The problem with this description is that the first half of it is telling my reader about a different story without saying a word about the actual events of THIS story. If I start out instead with a “when” statement, I can get right to the inciting incident and tell the reader about the action right away. “When Andy’s toys are mistakenly donated to a maximum-security daycare center…”  BAM, right away we know what kicks off the action in this story.

The “so what,”or second half of a “when” sentence gives the reader (who in this case, remember, is an agent or editor) another important element of a “hook” sentence or paragraph, the stakes. Make them care about the outcome of the plot right away by telling them what the danger is/why the struggles of the characters matter. “When Andy’s toys are mistakenly donated to a maximum-security daycare center they have to overcome feral preschoolers, gangs of evil toys, and childproof doorknobs to get back to Andy.

2. Too vague. The hook is not the time to be coy about what happens in your book. You’re trying to convince someone who already has 20 manuscripts to read to add yours to the queue– they’re going to be more interested in reading yours if you tell them about the twists/surprises/major events right off rather than trying to entice their curiosity with vague language and allusions. Tell me what’s interesting about your book, don’t just hint at it.

Continuing with our Toy Story 3 example, the description could continue: “But Andy is going through a crisis of his own, and when the toys finally find their way back to him, both the toys and the boy they love will have to reevaluate everything they thought they knew about their priorities and the future of their relationship.” Yech. This sounds melodramatic and high-stakes without actually telling me anything about what happens, the result being that I read this sentence mostly as “blah blah blah.” “A crisis of his own,” “everything they thought they knew,” “their priorities;” these are all empty words! They pull me out of the action and events of the story and into nebulous territory where each of these phrases raises a question mark in my head, and not in a good, “oh, I can’t wait to see what happens!” way, but in a, “now there are a bunch of blanks where I’d prefer there to be a clear picture of what this book is about and what makes it memorable” kind of way.

Remember, I don’t know your characters or your story yet, so it’s going to be hard to make me curious about internal conflict or personal struggles– you’re better off telling me about the unique events and actions of your story and letting my interest in those draw me in to the extent that I will read your manuscript and discover the rest for myself. “But even if they make it back, Andy is headed off to college, and only a few toys can go with him, if any. An encounter with a daycare girl with a big imagination causes the toys to consider how much more they have to offer to a child than to the man Andy has become. Together, Andy and the toys have to figure out, when is it the right time to say goodbye?” This description gives me the specifics of the personal crises the characters encounter while still framed in the context of the events of the plot, keeping things concrete and interesting.

3. No hint of voice/uniqueness. Now, “voice” and “uniqueness” don’t necessarily speak to the same quality in a manuscript, but both speak very clearly to how memorable a book is, and since one of the questions I’m asking when I read a hook paragraph or listen to a pitch is what makes this book stand out from the other manuscripts I’m reading in this genre, it’s to your advantage to be memorable/stand out right from the hook paragraph by alluding to what’s going to stand out about your manuscript. If you have a really interesting setting, someplace that hasn’t been seen in a lot of books before or that you think readers will find intriguing, I should hear it mentioned in the hook paragraph. If your main character has a crazy, quirky family that features largely into the subplots, introduce me to a few of the most memorable folks in the hook. If your writing is hilarious, there should be some humor in your hook paragraph. If you have a beautiful literary voice, there should be some artistry evident in your hook. Take stock of your story, make a list of all the most memorable or most unique elements of your story– characters with unusual professions, interesting places/hobbies/situations featured, fun or surprising plot twists– and of what elements you believe best define your voice, and make sure your hook paragraph includes several of these.

In our Toy Story 3 example, my reference to a “maximum-security daycare” gives the reader an immediate picture of the kind of setting we’re dealing with– a kid-friendly takeoff on a prison, fairly unique and, I’m hoping, memorable to whoever’s reading the hook. The list of “feral preschoolers, evil toy gangs, and childproof doorknobs” communicates a sense of “my” (in this case, the filmmakers’) voice by making what’s obviously supposed to be a humorous description of preschool children as “feral” and wryly including “doorknobs” in a list of the dangers facing the toys– this communicates the tone of the film, the tongue-in-cheek nature of the “perils” involved, etc. Finally, my last sentence about “the man Andy has become” and “the right time to say goodbye” lets the reader know that there are some deeper themes to this story even though it’s going to be funny and clever along the way, ensuring that I’m not underselling or overemphasizing any one aspect of the book and causing some editor who wanted funny and fluffy from beginning to end to be disappointed when they encounter deeper content upon reading the manuscript.

In the end, your hook paragraph or “elevator pitch” should be dripping with color and driven by action, without wasted or empty words, and should give an editor or agent enough information to know whether or not this is a story they want to read, as well as help them decide right away whether your story is going to stand out in its genre/the market– why an editor or reader is going to buy THIS cozy mystery or historical romance over THAT one. Give them current action, concrete information, and voice/uniqueness, and they’ll be better equipped to know whether they want to read the rest of your book.

As always, this series will last until I run out of material, so if you have a craft question specifically related to conference materials or preparing your writing for a conference, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer it in the next few weeks. Thanks for reading!

How to Ruin a Book at the Last Minute: Part 5, The Bait and Switch Ending

April 29th, 2015 | Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’m nearing the end of my series on how to write great endings, and am talking briefly today about one of the most frustrating types of endings to read, for an agent, editor, or any other reader, the “bait and switch” ending, particularly in terms of the tone of a story.

I’ve talked several times throughout this series about the importance of being fair to your reader in your endings– that you satisfy their sense of justice, that you’ve laid some groundwork for any surprises, etc.– yet I’m constantly surprised by the number of manuscripts I read that end in a way that is completely dissimilar to the tone/story universe/set of expectations the author has spent the entire preceding manuscript establishing. If you’ve spent 200 pages developing a nice, sweet, wholesome romance, don’t try to get all depressing and cynical at the end. If your comedic cozy mystery stayed on mostly “safe” ground for the first 3/4ths of the book, don’t turn it into a chilling, violent crime novel at the end. If you spent the majority of a book developing deeper themes and a more literary voice, don’t just slap a conventional romance ending onto it and call it a day.

I want a book to end with the same “flavor” that compelled me to follow the story through to completion. It’s as if someone ordered a mint-chocolate-chip ice cream cone but the soda jerk decided to put a dollop of lemon sorbet at the bottom– even if the lemon sorbet is good, it’s not what the customer was expecting, and it’s not going to compare favorably to the mint-chocolate-chip, coming as it does when they’re not expecting it and have their mouth all set for something completely different.

There are a number of reasons this happens, even to experienced authors. First, writing is largely a solitary profession. Even if you have a critique partner/group to bounce ideas off of or solicit feedback from on certain scenes, the majority of your writing is done in a vacuum, with no eyes but your own seeing your work until it’s done, and no voices but yours chiming in to offer perspective. This solitude can lead to a bit of tunnel-vision where your story is concerned– after living up close and personal with your story and characters for so long, it’s no wonder that you can lose track of the big-picture arc of your story, especially if you’re the type of writer who prefers to let the story develop organically (i.e., “see where the characters take you,”) as you write rather than plot it out in detail at the beginning of the process. As I’ve said before, there is nothing wrong with this process, but you do have to stay true in the ending to the rules you made/tone you set throughout the rest of the book, otherwise your reader is going to feel cheated when the ending is dramatically different from what they had every reason to expect based on the first 9/10ths of the book. (And no, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have surprises at the end, or that your ending has to be predictable, but readers who pick up a thriller don’t want to read 100,000 words to get to a cozy mystery ending.)

Another reason authors can sometimes struggle with a tone change at the very end of a book is that they’re trying to make their book fit into a segment of the market it doesn’t really fit into, usually in the interest of making the book more commercial or more “timely.” Hey, someone dies at the end of The Fault in Our Stars and that book was a huge success; if I slap a sad ending on my otherwise lighthearted YA, it might sell! This sounds silly, but I’ve definitely seen this phenomenon in my inbox as different trends or themes spend time in the market spotlight and authors attempt to tweak their manuscripts to follow a trend, especially by messing with the endings. It’s a pretty well-established rule that you shouldn’t try to tailor your writing to fit the current trends– trends come and go, and publishers acquire so far out that a trend that’s hot right now might be dead and buried in a year when your book would be coming out, so you’re always better off staying true to your voice and your story and trusting that editors (and, eventually, readers) will appreciate your work for what it is rather than for the mold it fits into.

In the end (pun intended), you want to be true to the story you have to tell, but you also want to be sure that you’ve presented it in such a way that the tone of the ending matches the tone you’ve been writing and rules you’ve been playing by for the majority of the book.

Have you ever read a book in which it felt like the author pulled a “bait and switch” at the end? Are there any other types of disappointing/bad endings I should address before I wrap up the series? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

How to Ruin a Book at the Last Minute: Part 4, The Lukewarm Ending

April 14th, 2015 | Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 2 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’m continuing my conversation on writing great endings today with a look at what makes a weak, or “lukewarm” ending and how to scrub this kind of ending from your writing.

There are few things worse than being in the middle of a great book or movie and having someone spoil the ending for you, right? All the fun of the building tension, the suspense as to who’s going to live or die, the question of which guy the protagonist will choose– I personally feel that you’re totally justified in punching anyone who ruins the ending of a great book for you. Now, imagine someone is reading your book and some jerk decides to spoil the ending for them– and instead of being furious, the reader’s reaction is, “So… that’s it?”  The best endings, the ones that readers can feel the strongest emotional connection to and find the most satisfying, aren’t just a checklist of “resolved the conflict, established the immediate future, wrapped up subplots.” While these elements might meet the “requirements” of an ending, your readers are looking for something more than just mathematical resolution at the end of a story. Our favorite endings are surprising, or complex, or poetic, or even aggravating or sad or cynical, but they’re rarely just “fine.”

The best endings are those that it is impossible for the reader to be ambivalent about. They should love it, or hate it, or be deeply conflicted about it, or be left with lingering questions about it (in a good way, not in a the-author-dropped-four-plot-threads-and-so-the-reader-has-no-clue-what’s-going-on kind of way). Think about some of your favorite books, specifically their endings– if asked to talk about how one of these books ends, you’d probably say things like, “It’s so beautiful!,” or “It’s SO sad,” or “It’s really happy!” Your reaction to the ending of a book isn’t specific to a certain kind of ending– happy, sad, poetic– but to your connection to it– whether you stayed sufficiently emotionally engaged with the characters and the storytelling universe that you felt something at the end of the book other than a sense of technical resolution because all the right boxes were checked. “What I’d really love for my reader to feel at the end of my book is apathy and mild approval,” said no writer ever. So how can you ensure that the reader who has been perfectly willing to follow your characters through their story aren’t left lukewarm after the last page is turned? A few suggestions:

  • Raise the stakes in your conflict. Often, the ending of a book feels bland because it doesn’t contrast sufficiently with the climax– one moment, the main characters are in a disagreement, the next they’ve worked it out in a long conversation over coffee and are happily planning their wedding. Yawn. The more the main conflict and climax disrupt the characters’ lives, the more the conflict affects the world surrounding the main characters, and the harder it is to resolve that conflict, the more deeply we feel for the characters when the do get their happy ending.
  • Surprise the reader (fairly). The reason the ending of “The Sixth Sense” works so well is that, as the viewer is reeling from the shock of the final revelation, we’re frantically playing back certain scenes and relationships in light of that new knowledge and discovering that it actually DOES make sense that (spoiler alert) Bruce Willis was dead the whole time. It’s a twist that makes perfect sense in that story universe but that hooks the viewer anew right at the end, so they’re essentially glued to the screen right until the very end. Last-minute surprises and revelations and twists can certainly be gimmicky, but when the right groundwork has been laid, they stoke the reader’s interest in the story just at the moment when he was ready to skim over the happily-ever-after fluff and leave him energized and more fully connected to the story, which is exactly what you want– you want to end the book on your terms rather than give your reader a nice sleepy chapter in which to detach from the story universe as the last pieces fall neatly into place. These don’t have to be big surprises– you don’t have to end your cute romance with an evil twin showing up at the wedding (and probably shouldn’t)– just fun, clever, or sweet twists or inclusions that make the reader feel more deeply about a character or situation.
  • Make strong choices. Now, I’m the last person to encourage you to kill a character or break up the main couple at the end just for shock value (I personally Hate unhappy, cynical endings), but the truth is, sometimes the stronger writing choice, the choice that stays true to the characters you’ve written or the world you’ve created, IS for the main character to have to make a major sacrifice or hard choice, or for the couple decide NOT to stay together (within the expectations of your genre, that is– no romance reader is going to want to read a book where the couple doesn’t end up together, and no romance editor is going to publish it). There still has to be resolution, and there should still be hope and a sense of justice having been done or potential for something good to come out of the events of the ending, but a strong choice generally makes a more memorable and more polarizing ending than a weak or easy one.

By making every effort to ensure your reader can’t remain neutral about the ending of your book, you guarantee that they’ll remember your book, think about it, have conversations about it, and will be more likely to seek out additional titles from you in the future.

Have you ever been left “lukewarm” by the ending of an otherwise enjoyable book? How could the author have salvaged it? How have you avoided lukewarm endings in your own writing? I love to hear about your experiences in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading!

How to Ruin a Book at the Last Minute: Part 3, Avoiding Anticlimax

April 8th, 2015 | Books, Quick Tips, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 5 Comments

brick green no smile b:wContinuing my series on writing great endings, I’m talking today about how to provide satisfactory resolution without letting the energy of your story run out.

I spent last week talking about all the resolution the reader expects from the denouement– resolve the events of the climax, answer unanswered questions, wrap up subplots, and establish main characters’ immediate futures. Sounds like a lot of content, right? But you as the author have a delicate balancing act to maintain, because while it’s true that the reader is going to be dissatisfied if you leave out the resolution they expect, it’s also true that there’s no better way to make sure your reader’s enthusiasm has flagged by the time they read the words “The End” than by dragging the book out two chapters after the story has actually ended. Ending on an anticlimax leaves a dull taste in the reader’s mouth and causes their last impression of your book to be a less positive one than if you send them out on an emotional high note, and the way to do this is to fit all your resolution in before the excitement of the climax has fully worn off.

The reader’s emotional high point usually coincides with the characters’, which is usually the climax– in a romance, the climax is not the wedding, but the dramatic moment when Slim rescues Peggy Sue from the train tracks and confesses that he always loved her, he just didn’t think a lawman had any right to ask a nice well-bred young lady to marry him and share his dangerous life. This is the moment when tension and emotions are the highest, and this is the moment that readers have been waiting for. Sure, they want to read that the happy couple got off the train tracks in time and know that Salty Sam is going to jail for his crimes, but the story is effectively over when Slim and Sue finally get together. The author then must resist the temptation to spend a lot of time on the new status quo– yes, the reader wants resolution, and glimpses into a character’s future can be fun, but it’s ultimately anticlimactic to spend a lot of time on the “happily ever after.” I’ve been disappointed by book weddings a surprising number of times, not because I’m heartless and cynical (I cry watching those “surprise Disney trip reveal” videos), but because the wedding scene has kept me in the story universe too long after the climax without really continuing the story.

Think about how much time it takes to reach the climax in the average novel– the climax is usually near the end, so the author has about 90% of the book to take the characters from their nice, safe, boring, everyday life into the exciting, different, dangerous, emotional atmosphere of the climax. The reader enjoys the building tension and the changes taking place because of the expectation of a dramatic climactic scene and some significant change/result– the main character will finally find his soulmate, the world will be saved, the murderer will be stopped, etc. Once this has happened, the story is essentially over, and the author who takes the characters all the way back into the nice, safe, everyday life where we found them at the beginning of the book risks the excitement of the climax fading into the background and a reader who’s left feeling like nothing much changed. I definitely don’t want to go from the exciting train tracks rescue scene to three chapters about Slim and Sue planning their wedding and how Sue is afraid Mama won’t want to come out from Boston for the wedding because she hates the west. This is Not part of the story and isn’t vital to its resolution, either. So, how to finish on a high note without sacrificing resolution? Here are some strategies to keep in mind:

  • Resolve the events of the climax quickly. I talked last week about how, if there were loose threads related to the immediate aftermath of the climax, they needed to be at least partially resolved, but this doesn’t have to happen in fully-realized scenes. Think about the end of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy– the various hobbits and dwarves and elves have essentially spent nine hours getting to their various scenes of climax, but do we watch them retrace every step of their journeys after the ring has been destroyed and the battle won? Nnnnno. That would be excruciating. Obviously, the filmmaker couldn’t just jump from Frodo and Sam watching the ring tumble into Mount Doom straight back to Frodo at home in the Shire, but by letting us see a glimpse of approaching eagles and a shot of the ground passing beneath an unconscious Frodo, we’re given enough to connect the dots as to how Frodo and Sam got back to safety without the filmmaker having to spend three hours showing exactly how. Exit your climax scenes the same way, in a fast retreat or select flashes of scenes, picking up scattered characters and dispatching leftover minor villains as needed.
  • Use representative, rather than inclusive, resolution. The problem with packing all your resolution into the denouement is that often, if you try to resolve every single thread/minor character’s story line, it will start to read like the family Christmas letter– “Billy did this, Sally went here, Joe married Lisa, Grandpa died, Bev started a business–” and no one likes to read those Christmas letters. They’re tedious. (Except for mine. They’re hilarious.) Let’s take one of the types of resolution readers typically expect in the denouement– that some kind of justice be done for the characters who were wronged. This doesn’t have to be a matter of “make sure every bad guy is caught and goes to jail and every bully learns her lesson,” which would be tedious and unrealistic, but as long as some restitution is made for the places the reader felt loss or injustice or helplessness, the reader will generally be satisfied. The last Harry Potter book is a great example of this: there are about a million “bad guy” characters and betrayals and wrongs and murders that happen over the course of Deathly Hallows, and it would have been dull, unreasonable, and extremely unwieldy for Rowling to have shown resolution/justice done for ALL of them– we don’t see Harry get a new owl to replace Hedwig, Umbridge isn’t shown being eaten by piranhas like she deserves, Griphook is never confronted on the page for his betrayal– but we are given enough scenes of justice and triumph over evil to satisfy us– Mrs. Weasley’s duel with Bellatrix and Harry’s showdown with Voldemort are cathartic and serve to vindicate many earlier wrongs, and the story is allowed to end very shortly after the climax while still satisfying the reader’s need to see justice done.
  • Layer your resolution. The more information you can impart in a single scene, the quicker you can bring the book to a close after the climax. Consider how you can accomplish resolution through the setting– a scene taking place in the new wing of the hospital tells us that they eventually did raise the million dollars they needed without wasting page space talking about the last three fundraisers they had to do (yawn), a scene taking place at the B couple’s wedding reception answers all the questions about their on-again, off-again relationship without us having to watch their reconciliation, their proposal, etc. Observations on the part of a main character can also serve to provide a lot of resolution– if the main character glimpses his ex across the room, laughing and talking with the friendly lawyer who’s popped up a couple times before in the story and is known by the reader to be a nice guy, we can assume that she’s moved on and won’t be trying to sabotage the main character’s happiness anymore and that the lawyer is not going to be lonely anymore, again without the author having to spell it out for the reader. Readers are pretty good at picking up on clues, don’t be afraid to give them some pieces to put together on their own rather than fitting each one into place for them. A line of dialogue is another way to include resolution in a scene that’s really about something else– a character finishing a phone conversation with, “No, I’m sorry, I’m booked through June of next year” lets the reader know that she did start that photography business after all and it’s a big success without drawing focus from whatever the scene is actually about.
  • Fast-forward. Epilogues are in danger of becoming as overused as prologues, but that doesn’t mean they’re not sometimes the best way to provide a lot of resolution without compromising the momentum of the story. The popular “X years later” format is a good example– it may only be a page or two, just a tiny glimpse of a scene from the future story universe, and it doesn’t have to fill in all the gaps, but that glimpse at the main couple welcoming the B couple to a Christmas party at the family homestead with a baby crying in the background lets the reader know that, yes, they did rebuild after the fire, she was able to have kids after all, the B couple eventually made up and got together, without following the exciting climax scene with ten tame ones to show the resolution for each one of these plot threads. Remember, the reader rarely needs to know everything YOU know about a character– as long as you sow the right bits of information and have laid your foundation well, they’ll connect the dots on their own.

If you need more examples of how to fit a lot of resolution in before the “buzz” of the climax wears off, watch some action-adventure movies or a formulaic mystery show or any movie with a quest-type storyline, paying close attention to how many subplots and plot threads/minor characters are introduced throughout the rising action, and then noting how each is resolved after the climax– through a single shot showing something revealing about a character or a situation, through a line of dialogue, by using a setting, by providing epilogue-type title cards at the end of the film, etc. Hopefully, you’ll get even more ideas for ways to satisfactorily wrap up a story before the reader’s enthusiasm has the chance to lag.

 

 

After a Conference: Next Steps

March 3rd, 2015 | Career, Conferences, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’ve talked before about the value of a good writer’s conference as a place to connect with mentors/writing partners and as a reward/motivating factor in meeting your writing deadlines. Since I just got back from a writer’s conference, I thought I’d talk about some post-conference steps you can take to make sure you get the most out of your experience, because as fun or as encouraging as writer’s conferences can be, you’re not getting the most out of your time and money if you don’t follow up on the new information and contacts you encountered there. Here are a few ways to maximize your conference experience after you get home.

  • Organize new contact info (before you lose it). Save email addresses and phone numbers, make notes about who was who while you still remember– if you’re keeping business cards, write some reminders on the card, such as “French parenting book” or “talked about Star Trek.” This will help you keep all your new acquaintances straight and give you a talking point to start from if you contact them in the future.
  • Compile new information/feedback. Go through your notes from workshops and meetings, look over the comments on any manuscripts you shared for critique, and highlight or copy the pieces of advice that resonated the most, as well as the pieces you have questions about or didn’t understand. This way, you have all your favorite advice in one place to look over and remind yourself of, and you have the things you need to think more about/ask more questions on in one spot for reference if you want to email the workshop teacher for clarification or decide explore a topic more at a future conference.
  • Compare advice. Between workshops, critique groups, and agent/editor meetings, you can come away from a writing conference with a whole bunch of suggestions for your work, and they’re not always going to agree! Before you can decide which advice to take, you’ll need to compare the different feedback you received. Make a list of each general piece of criticism you received– too many adjectives, voice not strong enough, pacing inconsistent, etc.– and add a check to the list for everything you heard more than once (additional checks for additional times). Don’t forget to track your positive feedback, too– if you receive multiple compliments on your characters or voice, make note of it. Anything you have more than one check mark for is probably worth some consideration, either as an area you need to work on, or as a strong point you want to continue to highlight. Consider also the source– if you were told one thing by a beginning writer in a critique group and another by a longtime editor in your genre, you should usually lend more weight to the opinion of the more experienced critic.
  • Take action. Once you’ve identified some areas for improvement or collected some strategies for improving your writing and writing habits, take specific action steps to work on those areas and implement those strategies. If your dialogue needs work, seek out some novels in your genre with great dialogue. If you got some helpful time management tips, buy a planner and revamp your schedule/goal list. If your characters are two-dimensional, find a writing partner who is great with character development.
  • Follow up with new contacts. If an agent or editor requested materials, send them. don’t wuss out! If you met a new friend who you might want to form a critique partnership with, follow up and feel them out on that possibility. If you took an especially helpful class from a faculty member, send them an email thank you– it’s always nice to hear.

Don’t let your conference experience be limited to the time you’re actually on-site. Review your new info, follow up on new connections, and take some steps to apply what you learned!

The Perks of Being in a Writing Group (a guest blog)

February 27th, 2015 | Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 4 Comments

I posted on Facebook once: “Spending the day with my laptop. I know you all think I’m sipping Dom Perignon and writing the next great American novel from the top of the Eiffel Tower, but I’m actually down at the coffee shop, no make-up, hair tied up, wearing a pair of white sweatpants that are so big you could play a movie on my rear end if I bent over at the drive-in theater.” I added the hashtag #thuglife.

It took all of ten seconds for one of my smart-aleck friends to respond, “What’s playing?”

We writers know that we’re really not having tea and crumpets with JK Rowling every other week. I’ve never even seen a crumpet and have yet to meet Ms. Rowling. But there is one thing I decided to do to bring some bling to my writing career – start a writing group. Crazy, right?

How I ever managed to gather the caliber of writers that so divinely came to me is beyond anything I could have imagined. We call ourselves the Flying M-Inklings (pronounced Minklings), a nod to The Flying M coffee shop where we meet every Saturday as well as to those talented Oxford-lads across the pond.

I had no idea when I put the word out that I was starting this group that these individuals would become my best friends, proverbially greater than the sum of our parts. Of course, we share our writing and critique each other’s work – we’re a writing group after all. But the M-Inklings have evolved into much more than that. Part of what we do as a group is encourage other writing groups to find their own collective identities.

On behalf of my fellow M-Inklings, who believe that all writers should join forces with others, I would love to show here how worthwhile a writing group can be.

Ah, the possibilities…

  • Has your manuscript ever been passed over by a big publisher, not because your writing wasn’t good enough – but because your platform wasn’t big enough? In case you don’t know this feeling, it sucks, let me tell you. One of the most compelling perks of being in a writing group is that you are able to share each other’s spheres of influence, which instantly increases your reader base. On social media, my own “friends’ list” more than quadrupled by being part of the M-Inklings. Our friends’ lists increase together exponentially. This is an example of instant gratification in spades. The only thing better than stepping out onto your own platform to be heard is being able to stand on the platforms of others. Do the math. It’s pretty slick.
  • Don’t you wish all you had to do as an author is write? We can’t merely write! We have to know how to market and how to blog. Our tech skills are challenged every day. We need a website. We have publishing questions. We have a business to run. When you are part of a writing group, each individual brings their own area of expertise to the table, and everyone in the group benefits. Among the M-Inklings are syntax warriors and grammar geeks, website-teckie-blogging buffs and structure virtuosos. Your career goals, whatever they are, have an infinitely better chance of becoming reality when you’re working with others than they would if you were working alone. The learning curve shortens right up when you are working in tandem with writers who have similar goals.
  • Here in Boise we are lucky enough to have The Cabin whose mission is “…to inspire and celebrate a love of reading, writing, and discourse throughout Idaho and the region,” which is pretty well what the M-Inklings are all about too. It’s been amazing for The Flying M-Inklings to be able to hook up with The Cabin and participate in some of the events they host. Just recently, we went on one of our field trips to meet Markus Zusak who, we all know, wrote The Book Thief, my current #1 fave (subject to change, of course). Here is Brandon getting his books signed. We had waited in line for three and a half hours to see him. In that time, Brandon and Katie and Nic and I thought of at least a dozen new projects for our group which we will roll out in time. Never a dull moment.
  • Your writing group can become a living, breathing being. In fact, the Flying M-Inklings have become an entity all her own, and she has even launched her own website – flyingminklings.org. The site features our writing but also provides writing tips for other authors and bloggers. Not only do we collaborate with each other, we are also interested in collaborating with other writers who are willing to share their expertise with us and the rest of the world. So if you’d be interested in standing on our platform and guest blogging for us, let us know. We’d love to hook up with other writing groups out there.
  • Finally, check out this place! Our very own Brandon Paul has taken it upon himself to be the events coordinator for the group, and we are thrilled and delighted to let him. (We call him Julie, the Cruise Director, which… he’s probably about to figure out as soon as he reads this. Maybe he won’t read this?) This has got to be one of the best perks of having a writing group. The M-Inklings’ Annual Writing Retreat is the highlight of our entire year. It is a time where each one of us looks back at our own individual accomplishments as well as our achievements as a group. We set new goals, we strategize the best ways to reach those goals, and we provide a support for one another. Additionally, we definitely know how to celebrate ourselves and encourage each other over every hurdle. Priceless.We know that many of you are already in some amazing writing groups who have enjoyed extraordinary success, and we’d love for you to start a thread here on Chip’s blog. The M-Inklings will all be checking in and taking part in the conversation. Also, if you are interested in starting a writing group, let us know what questions you have, and we’ll get them answered for you!

Talk soon!

Daisy Rain

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Daisy Rain Martin is an author, educator, speaker, and advocate for those who have been marginalized by abuse and poverty. Her first book, Juxtaposed: Finding Sanctuary on the Outside, was the #1 top selling book for Christopher Matthews Publishing in 2012. Her second book, If It’s Happened to You, is available for free on her website: www.daisyrainmartin.com. Daisy is Editor in Chief of RAIN Magazine, a small online publication that features new, up-and-coming writers and raises money for three charities: Advocates Against Family Violence in Caldwell, Idaho; The City Impact Center in Las Vegas, Nevada; and Treasures of Africa Children’s Home, an AIDS orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania. Daisy is also one of seven members in the Flying M-Inklingswriting group which works to promote literacy and help other writers and writing groups reach their literary goals. She lives with her husband, Sean-Martin, and their lab, Sofia, near Boise, Idaho, and loves talking to other writers. Please feel free to friend her on social media.

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:

FRONT Business_Card_Vertical

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…