Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Writing Effective Dialogue: Unnecessary Quotation Marks

July 22nd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’m traveling today, so I’m postponing part three in my dialogue series for next week. I’ll probably talk more about correct use of quotation marks at some point in the future, but today I wanted to quickly warn you once and for all against using quotation marks for “emphasis.” You’ve all seen it on signage, a use of quotation marks that makes you “strongly” question the author’s “meaning.” If you don’t know what I mean, take a look at this fine collection of examples, courtesy of Distractify.


What’s the worst example of misused quotation marks you’ve seen?

Writing Effective Dialogue: Part 2, The Sooner the Better?

July 15th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

brick green no smile b:wIf you caught last Tuesday’s post, you’ll know I’m spending a few weeks talking about good dialogue in fiction– how to write it, how not to write it, how to recognize it, and who does it well.

One of the suggestions I often make when reading manuscripts is for the author to use dialogue earlier. In general, the more pages that pass without hearing a character speak, the more distanced I feel from her and the longer it takes for me to engage with/care about her. The most common source of this problem seems to be the author’s compulsion to tell the reader EVERYTHING he knows about a character right away. I’ve lost track of how many manuscripts I’ve read that started out with a literal biography of the main character from childhood to the events of the story– what she was like in high school, how many relationships she’s been in, what her friends are like, what her work history is, etc . While it’s important for the author to know all this so he can write intelligently about the character, the reader doesn’t need to find out all the background info at once (or ever, in some cases). My favorite way to get to know a character is to hear him talk and to see how he interacts with other characters and his environment; to be dropped in the middle of this character living and breathing rather than shown his baby album and medical records, and so I frequently encourage authors to examine whether they need to pare down their opening content in order to get to the first “live” scene sooner. Now, obviously I’m not saying there’s a hard-and-fast rule for how early in a manuscript dialogue should appear, or that you should manufacture some if it’s not a natural place for it, but how do you make that call? Though by no means a comprehensive list, here are some scenarios I’ve encountered where I don’t miss early dialogue.

  • First-person narration. In a book written in first-person, we get to hear one of the characters speak right off the bat– he’s talking to us even if we don’t hear him converse with other characters immediately, and we start to pick up on his voice and personality right away. Even in a first-person novel, however, it can get boring to be listening to a single character’s thoughts and voice for too long, so be careful not to get stuck in narration mode. A first-person narrator shouldn’t be used as an excuse to info-dump for ten pages. Examples of books which do this well include A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier. In each book, we spend pages, or even chapters, with the narrator before the first line of dialogue appears.
  • Vital description/background information. I’m not talking about the “Mary was popular in high school but never had a steady boyfriend” kind of background info, or the hair color/eye color/outfit of your main character, but description/background that immediately lets your reader know what kind of universe your story is taking place in and how to interpret the events that are about to take place. The opening chapter of The Scarlet Pimpernel comes to mind, in which five pages of third-person description and background info on the events taking place in Paris in September of 1792 precede the first line of dialogue. We don’t miss the dialogue, however, because the information we’re given is calculated to excite our interest in the plight of the aristos and make us aware of the dangerous world the story takes place in. A novel in which the context of the historical or geographical setting is vital to understanding the stakes of the opening events or the motivation of the main character may be better served beginning with compelling description or well-chosen history rather than a conversation manufactured for the sake of getting dialogue in early.
  • Establishing tone/author voice. Certain genres of fiction lend themselves to long dialogue droughts better than others. Suspense and mystery novels often open with a third-person account of a sinister event or a foreboding setting, and humorous novels can get away with pages and pages of even trivial description or meandering background info if the delivery is funny and helps establish the author’s voice and sense of humor. These tone-setting openings serve the same purpose as vital geographical or historical description; they help the reader to understand the universe in which the story takes place and what rules the author is going to be playing by which helps us connect to the characters more quickly when we do get to see/hear them.

Even though these exceptions to the “rule” of early dialogue are obviously used extremely effectively by many authors, the essentials of storytelling I referenced last week remain true: stories are told in action and dialogue. More specifically, characters are revealed through dialogue, and readers connect with characters through dialogue. If your novel starts with three or four pages of dialogue drought that don’t fall into one of the categories discussed above, you may want to consider weeding out the excess set-up and letting the reader see your characters in action a little sooner. It may keep an agent or editor reading longer!

I’ll talk more next week about naturally occurring and natural-vs.-realistic dialogue, but if you have examples of authors who do a good job drawing the reader into a story by using dialogue up front, or of authors who successfully delay dialogue use, share them in the comments.

Writing Effective Dialogue: Part 1

July 8th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

brick green no smile b:w“Stories are told in action and dialogue.”

I don’t remember a whole lot from my fiction writing classes in college– judging by the notes I scribbled in the margins of my carefully-preserved notebooks from that era, my attention during these classes was mainly focused on what items I needed from the grocery store and the correct ear-to-head ratio of a classic Mickey Mouse outline. That being the case, it stands to reason that my various professors must have all hit the “action and dialogue” rule pretty hard for it to have broken through the hungry-doodling haze and stuck with me all these years. While all the poets reading this are already clamoring that I’ve forgotten narrative/description, let’s run with this simplified definition of story for a few weeks while we talk about crafting effective dialogue. I’ll be talking about the role of dialogue in storytelling, achieving balance between action and dialogue, and common dialogue problems and how to avoid them, but today, I thought I’d tackle one specific element of dialogue which has the potential to derail even the most eloquent exchanges of dialogue: attribution.

Attribution is the means by which a writer informs the reader who said what and (sometimes) how they said it. What I’ve noticed after reading millions (more or less) of manuscripts is that someone can actually be pretty good at writing dialogue and still be lousy at attribution; the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. The good news for these writers is that bad attribution habits are pretty easy to recognize and to break, once you’re aware of them. Most attribution offenses I see fall into one of three camps:

1. The “said” synonyms. Answered, retorted, chortled, whispered, exclaimed, muttered, queried, replied, agreed, voiced, uttered, pronounced, laughed, joked, lamented, groaned, mourned, insisted, demanded, raged, fumed– there are literally dozens of synonyms for “said,” and yes, sometimes one of them is just the tool you need to establish the tone of a scene or the delivery of a line of dialogue perfectly. Characters are perfectly free to mutter, demand, and groan from time to time. The synonym syndrome becomes problematic, however, when you decide that every use of the word “said” is a missed opportunity for telling the reader exactly how a character delivered a line– why would I settle for telling someone that the witch “said” something when I could tell them that she “cackled” it? You can almost see the evil glint that comes into my eye as I imagine the possibilities for controlling my readers’ imaginations– after all, I’m supposed to be painting a picture, right? Why wouldn’t I tell a reader exactly which shade of blue I’m using and exactly how thick my brushstrokes are? The problem is that these evocative verbs can start to overwhelm the actual dialogue when used excessively. Consider the following exchange:

“Did you follow me here?” he demanded.

“Yes, but only because I love you!” she quavered.

“Ha! You don’t know the meaning of the word,” he scoffed.

“I never thought you could be so cruel,” she whimpered.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t cry!” he groaned.

Now, ignoring the fact that this soap-opera dialogue is TERRIBLE and obviously created solely to serve as an illustration, what you notice as you read this exchange is that the longer it goes on, the louder the attribution verbs shout for attention. The kind of picture-painting done by these words is lazy and melodramatic– demand, scoff, quaver, groan! These poor characters sound like they belong on a music hall stage with a campy piano underscore and boo-hiss cue cards for the audience. Much better to put a little more effort into making the speaker’s tone clear via the actual words he’s speaking than to take the shortcut of trying to over-control the reader’s experience of the dialogue.

Now, if you’re like me, at some point in your English education a teacher gave you a writing exercise in which you were instructed to “add color” to your writing by replacing every instance of “said” with a more descriptive verb, and this was fine for 6th grade when we were all learning the power of words to paint a picture, but I think the lingering effect of that exercise has been to scare some writers away from using “he/she said” too frequently. While you certainly can overuse it, it’s also true that “he/she said” has become nearly invisible to readers because of how frequently it appears in writing, with the result that writers can use “he said” pretty freely to provide necessary attribution which won’t interrupt or distract the reader.

2. The adverb addiction. This one is similar to the “said” synonym problem in that it’s a habit authors fall into when they’re attempting to hyper-regulate the reader’s experience of the dialogue. I blame our “screenplay consciousness” for this one– people in this culture tend to watch a lot of TV and movies, and the trickle-down effect is that many writers tend toward describing exactly how a line is delivered rather than letting the content of a line connote the tone and delivery. This tendency is even more distracting than the evocative-verb habit, and can really interrupt the flow of a scene. Consider our star-crossed lovers:

“Did you follow me here?” he asked angrily.

“Yes, but only because I love you!” she said urgently.

“Ha! You don’t know the meaning of the word,” he said derisively.

“I never thought you could be so cruel,” she said brokenly.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t cry!” he said impatiently.

Now, obviously, in this rapid-fire exchange, the repeated use of adverbs is pretty conspicuous and you might be rolling your eyes at the idea that anyone would seriously write like this, but that’s the thing with a habit: one becomes less and less aware of it as it becomes more and more ingrained. I read plenty of manuscripts in which the author’s otherwise solid dialogue is weighed down with all kinds of superfluous adverbs in the attribution, slightly less obvious than my example though they may be. Like the “said” synonyms, the adverbs in the attribution are often unnecessary if the content of the dialogue is well-written. I don’t have to tell my readers that, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t cry!” was said impatiently, or was “groaned;” even without knowing anything about this character apart from what is revealed in his earlier two lines of dialogue, we know that he’s not super happy with the person he’s talking to, he’s not feeling a whole lot of compassion for her (he laughs when she tells him she loves him), and that the “for heaven’s sake” idiom is generally used to communicate impatience or exasperation. The reader has already been given plenty of clues as to how to interpret his delivery, and is most likely going to interpret it as “impatient” without my having to label it as such. My general advice to adverb junkies is to go back through their manuscripts and ruthlessly slaughter nine out of every ten adverbs and take their chances with the reader interpreting the dialogue delivery for herself.

3. Accumulated attribution, or: the “said” better left unsaid. Authors who write long dialogue scenes or rapid-fire exchanges between two characters encounter this problem much more frequently than the author who uses dialogue sparingly. You don’t have to write too many page-long dialogue scenes before you get sick of attributing every line, and for good reason: it’s not necessary! If you begin a scene by clearly establishing the two speakers, there’s absolutely no reason to rudely interrupt your characters to throw in “he saids” and “she saids” when it’s perfectly obvious to your reader who said what. We’ll take my horrible example scene first: note how I can get rid of the majority of the attribution if I set up the scene properly.

Lucy drew back as Frederick spun to face her. His tone was sharp, hate etched in every line of his face. “Did you follow me here?” he asked.

“Yes, but only because I love you!”

“Ha! You don’t know the meaning of the word.”

“I never thought you could be so cruel.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t cry!”

Because I establish clearly who’s present and who starts the exchange, there isn’t any confusion as to who’s speaking for the rest of the scene. As you can see, when the attribution disappears, the truly terrible nature of the dialogue stands out significantly more than it did when I was pulling the puppet strings of fancy verbs and bossy adverbs. Good dialogue, however, will function just as (or more) effectively without attribution, which brings us to your homework assignment for the week: if you were still reading at the end of last week’s post, I encouraged you to read some P. G. Wodehouse in preparation for today’s dialogue discussion. The Girl in Blue was the first Wodehouse book I ever read, and I still remember marveling at the PAGES of unattributed, brilliant dialogue filling that novel. Wodehouse’s characters are far too quick-witted to wait for some lumbering author to attribute everything they say, and so they don’t, the result being lightning-quick exchanges of banter, fast-paced arguments, and the unmistakable Wodehouse voice jumping off every page unmuffled by boring “he saids” and “she muttereds.” So if you want to read an example of how to do unattributed dialogue really well (or just want some hilarious, fabulously clever summer reading) hunt up a Wodehouse novel.

That’s it for this week! Which of these attribution issues bothers you most? Which one do you struggle with the most in your own writing?

You’re invited to a LIVE version of “Thursdays with Amanda”

July 2nd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

On SUNDAY, August 24, we’re going to try something new… a LIVE version of Amanda’s wonderful marketing information, set into a seminar format. Amanda and I will be in Nashville, at the Airport Embassy Suites, from 9 to 4, talking with authors about how to create a marketing plan for their books. Here’s what our outline looks like:

— The New World of Author Marketing — What’s Working (and not working) in Today’s Market
— Finding Your Audience and Reaching Your Readers
— Choosing the Tools You’ll Use to Promote Your Book
— Creating Your Own Personalized Marketing Plan
— Building Your Author Platform (we are bringing in a specialist to offer some advice and direction)
— Marketing with a Traditional Publisher vs Marketing Your Indie-Published Book

We’ll also be spending some time talking about working effectively with your publicist, and how to work with a freelance publicist, and we’ll get into a bunch of discussions on related topics — one of the most fun aspects of doing this type of seminar is the chance to talk with other authors who are going through the marketing process. But that’s our basic outline for the day, and we’d love to have you join us!

The cost is just $99 for the entire day, if you register in July (it will go up on August 1). Again, the focus of this day will be on doing something PRACTICAL — not on theory or on promoting a product. We just wanted to get authors together and have time to explore how an author can create his or her own marketing plan by focusing on ideas that actually work, so the emphasis will on on what an author can take and do, rather than on theory or philosophy. We hope you’ll join us. Please let me know if you plan to come by RSVPing me. Thanks, and we hope to see you in Nashville on August 24.

-Chip MacGregor

8 Common Usage Errors, or: How to Make Me Judge You, part 1.

June 24th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 21 Comments

brick green no smile b:w(Erin here again this week, still working on getting my own blog credentials so I can stop using Amanda’s.) I have a superpower. Most agents do, actually. It’s not super useful unless you’re trying to decide whether or not to stake a large amount of time and energy on a person’s potential as a writer, but it comes in real handy then. It’s this: we can pass judgement on a person’s writing after reading just a few pages. A few paragraphs, in some cases. Heck, I’ve read some opening sentences that have deterred me from reading any further (see last Tuesday’s post for the discussion on effective opening lines), and generally, the criteria that make it easiest to say no to a project are recurring errors in how words are used or spelled and a complete “spray and pray” approach to punctuation (in which the author loads a machine gun with commas, apostrophes, and quotation marks, sprays the manuscript with them, and prays everything lands in approximately the right place). That doesn’t seem fair, the general public may cry, my writing gets really good in chapter two! Or, my story is so compelling, you won’t even notice the mistakes once you get hooked.
People, people.
I got my degree in English. In case you don’t know, English majors basically do two things in college: read and write. This means that we not only become very familiar with the rules of grammar and mechanics that some of the rest of the world forgets after middle school, but we SEE those rules in action in book after assigned book, and the main result of that language-based education is an inability to read anything– books, cereal boxes, instruction manuals, the birth announcement for our best friend’s baby (“Its a boy?” Really?)– without an internal red pencil circling errors and crossing viciously through incorrect word usage. We can’t turn it off. And yes, we realize that your writing is more than your punctuation, and that a good story can be told with less than perfect grammar, but the problem for a lot of authors who query me is that I can’t get INTO that good story if usage errors and punctuation mistakes keep yanking me out.
Now, no one is perfect, obviously, and I understand making mistakes by accident, but when I read a manuscript with certain errors in it, it tells me two things right off: 1. You’re not a member of a writing group, or if you are, you aren’t surrounded by very good writers, because if you were, they would have caught some of these errors. 2. You don’t read a lot– you haven’t developed your craft by reading extensively, because if you had, you would have unconsciously learned the correct usage for most of these words simply through seeing them used correctly time and again. Both of these are red flags when it comes to choosing whether or not to work with an author because they indicate that the author may not respond well to feedback (or think he needs it) and that the author hasn’t spent a lot of time getting to know good story and writing by READING good story and writing. That said, here are the first four of eight common usage errors that will instantly lower my opinion of you.
1. Should of/would of. I truly don’t understand how anyone ever decides this is correct. “Should” and “would” qualify verbs– I should DO something, she would DO something– and the contraction “should’ve” which sounds like “should of” is actually a contraction of that conditional “should have,” which either implies or is followed by an action, such as “should have run” or “would have answered.” It’s never, ever “should of.”
2. Lose/loose. I seriously doubt many people who confuse these in writing would have trouble defining “lose” or “loose” correctly if quizzed orally, but for some reason, a lot of people don’t seem to have the sound of each word paired mentally with the appropriate spelling. Long story short, “Loose” rhymes with “noose.” Memorize that.
3. Hear/here. I see this one all the time! “Hear” has an “ear” in it and references the sound processing you do with your EARS. “Here” is a location.
4. Who’s/whose. I know an apostrophe usually signals possession– her’s, John’s, etc.– but in this case, the apostrohphe marks a contraction. If you have trouble with keeping these two straight, always replace an “apostrophe s” with the word “is” and see if it still makes sense– “You are one who’s music I really love” vs. “You are one who is music I really love” doesn’t make any sense, so it must require the possessive, “whose.”

Those are the first four, and I’ll finish the list next week! What are some of your mechanics/usage pet peeves? Do you think an agent is overreacting if they reject a manuscript after three or four of these issues show up?

What makes a great first line?

June 17th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

brick green no smile b:wWell, I’ve been hiding out from the Internet as long as I could, but all good things must come to an end. Starting today, I’ll be showing up here on Tuesdays to blog about the craft of writing. Most Tuesdays, anyway. When there’s nothing good on TV.

If you’re not familiar with me from my previous blog posts here (all two of them) or my wildly popular Twitter account (where I’ve tweeted exactly six times in the past two years), my name is Erin Buterbaugh and I’m an agent at MacGregor Literary working out of beautiful Denver, Colorado. My favorite piece of the agenting process, apart from the vast cash payouts, of course, is the editing/story development aspect of the job—I love helping my authors make sure their manuscripts are in the best possible shape for showing, so the craft/mechanics side of writing seemed like the perfect area to focus my blog efforts on. First lesson—never end a sentence with a preposition, the way I just did. (Second lesson—once you know the rules, do whatever the heck you want, the way I just did!) I’ll try to split my time pretty evenly between the mechanics side and the story/writing side of things so this doesn’t become “just” a grammar series, but until people stop sending me submissions in which the commas are outside of the quotation marks, I’m going to carry on reminding people of the rules Miss Stinson tried to teach them in 9th grade.

Since this is the first post of my new blog presence, I thought it would be fitting to look at what makes a great first line of a book. I’m sure you’ve read the same lists I have on Buzzfeed of the “21 Greatest First Lines in Fiction” or “The 100 Best Opening Lines of All Time,” etc., so rather than re-print all of those tired old “It is a truth universally acknowledged that it was the best of times and the clocks were striking thirteen” lines that everybody picks for their lists, I thought I’d pull some on my favorite first lines from children’s literature and look at some of the lessons they teach about great first lines.

“All children, except one, grow up.”

This simple first line from James Barrie’s Peter Pan is only six words long, yet it accomplishes what some would argue is the most important function of a first line: hooking the reader. Barrie immediately establishes a scenario that incites curiosity in the reader about this one child that doesn’t grow up. That simple, tiny parenthetical phrase sets up the entire story that follows– this is going to be about an extraordinary child (the “except one”) who doesn’t grow up. No dragging in pixie dust, Neverland, pirates, clapping as a method of fairy first aid, or even any names– in fact, none of the specifics of this story’s universe are included in this first sentence, yet it immediately presents the main premise of the story. Fantasy writers in particular should take note of this wild and subversive idea of right away hooking the reader with the black and white of what’s happening/going to happen rather than starting with four names in a made-up language and an immediate sighting of a strange creature– I’ve seen a bunch of opening sentences on fantasy manuscripts that are so clogged with details and names and fantasy-scenarios that, rather than feeling drawn into the story, I feel very distanced from it, and that’s not how you want your readers feeling at this stage in the game. You have plenty of time for world-building; invite them into the story right away with your opening sentence.

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.”

The first line from Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, doesn’t do much in the way of drawing the reader into the action– it actually goes out of its way to describe a notable lack of activity– but it serves as an example of another effective function of an opening sentence: laying a foundation. The kind of first line I referenced above, with all the details about a story’s setting or time period dumped on the reader right up front, often reads as info-packed and overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean you can’t leave a few clues about the setting or a character right away– this gives the reader a foundation to build on as you gradually reveal more details. Natalie Babbitt paints a quick picture of a certain time of year, evoking the weather (probably hot) and the pace of life (slow) at the moment the story opens, and we absorb these details and are primed to interpret the characters and events to come in the context the author intended without her having to explain everything about this story world to us right up front.

“Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild.”

First, if you have children and haven’t read Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories to them yet, you have some work to do. The above line is the opening line to the story “The Cat that Walked by Himself,” and though Kipling teaches the third lesson in just about every story in this collection, this one is my favorite example of setting the tone of a story in the first line. These stories are exotic and elaborate and told in a grand storytelling style that that evokes the Arabian Nights, and that rich language and style of delivery, as if to one favored listener rather than a reader, shines from every syllable of Kipling’s first line (and if it doesn’t make you want to read that story aloud, we can’t be friends). The first line of a manuscript can often clue the reader in right away as to the type of story he’s about to read and even what the author’s writing voice is like– a chilling or sinister first line can clue me in that I’m about to read a suspense novel, while a funny first line primes me to recognize the author’s sense of humor and look for it throughout a memoir or rom-com novel.

That’s all for the books I pulled at random from my overstuffed bookshelves, so the next time you’re composing an opening sentence, take a look at some of your favorite books in that genre and see how other authors have crafted effective opening sentences that hook the reader, lay a foundation, or set the tone. If you have a favorite opening line from a book of any genre, or requests/suggestions for craft and mechanics-related topics for future blog posts, leave them in the comments!

Stay Tuned!

May 22nd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

I’ve been at a conference all week and will be back next week. We’ll pick up where we left off and talk more about Pay Per Clicks (PPC).



May 20th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

By Guest Writer CYNTHIA HICKEY, bestselling author of mystery and romance

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Or: Why I Love Being a Hybrid Author

When I started writing seriously, I had the notion that reaching 100,000 copies of total works sold meant I’d reached success. Imagine my glee when I surpassed that number in only two years of serious writing and tracking sales. I’d met a personal milestone of success.

The writing journey has been an exciting battle. In 2007, I received a contract for my first cozy mystery, followed by two more. Then, for more than two years, my writing career went stagnant. Figuring I could give my career a needed jumpstart, I put two old stories onto Amazon and Barnes and Noble . Sales climbed slowly, but each sale validated my decision. After I acquired my current agent, Chip MacGregor, he guided and encouraged me into re-releasing my cozies onto the new mystery line he was creating. The books began selling in dizzifying numbers .

I continued to write for Chip’s mystery line while putting other stories independently on Kindle and Nook. Those sales, along with my traditional book contracts, enabled me to quit my day job in May of 2013. By the end of 2013, I’d sold more than 150,000 copies of my total works. I’ve been asked many times how I’ve accomplished this in a two-year time span. What’s my secret? I’m not sure there is any sure-fire approach to achieving success, but I focus mainly on two things:

Discipline and flexibility.

1) Discipline: I set up regular writing hours and daily word count goals, often writing seven days a week to meet those goals. My writing is my job. It’s a business; it’s like breathing. Not only am I writing on publishing deadlines, but I’m striving to meet my self-appointed deadlines. My “boss” is a tough cookie, working me harder than I’ve ever worked before, but we get along just fine. I focus on contracted works Monday through Friday, writing on my indie stuff after meeting daily word count and on the weekends as time permits. Getting out a lot of “stuff” is the key, folks. But that “stuff” has to be the best you can make it. Sure, you can tell a difference between my first novels and the ones I’m putting out now, but the fact is, even those first novels are still selling. Why? Because I’m constantly following them up with more.

2) Flexibility: Many times, that “story of my heart” is actually the latest thing a publisher is looking for. Because I know I can insert the theme of my heart into what publishers want, I write in more than one genre. Note: Don’t spread yourself too thin. Two genres, three max. Otherwise, you’re spending way too much time building a readership in each of those genres. Write in genres that are similar where readers are more likely to cross over.

My works include full-length novels, novellas, and novelettes, allowing me to price my works at varying prices. The cheaper books draw readers to the higher-priced subsequent ones in the series. Writing series is the key. While some stand-alones do well, readers love a series. Note: Don’t let too much time lapse between books in the series. Readers are a fickle bunch.

Not only am I spending the majority of my time writing, but I allocate time for marketing and social networking. Everything I do has links that lead readers to my website. I can’t stress enough the importance of a well-designed website and a strong media presence. While what works for one author may not work for another, I tend to concentrate mostly on Twitter, Facebook, and blogging. I contribute to three separate blogs, one for each of the genres I write in. Everything I do links together, shortening the amount of time I need to spend on one form of social media. If I spend too much time marketing, I can’t write. If I don’t allocate time to market and build relationships, I can’t sell. It’s a huge circle.

Yes, I’m busy. Yes, “free” time is not in my dictionary. But I don’t mind. I love my job!

Multi-published and Best-Selling author Cynthia Hickey has three cozy mysteries and two novellas published through Barbour Publishing. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the co-op publishing lines facilitated by MacGregor Literary, along with a new cozy series, all of which stay in the top 50 of Amazon’s ebooks for their genre. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013 and 2014 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents, and has sold more than 160,000 copies of her works. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at

Why Publishing Articles and Short Stories is Still a Good Marketing Idea

May 19th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Guest blog  by BETH JUSINO, a marketing consultant, editor, writer, and former literary agent.


“Writers are like farmers: The harvest comes, but only after you toil for a few seasons.”              – Cheryl Strayed

Back in the day—that is, before Amazon—we used to tell writers that the best way to get a publisher’s attention and build their credentials was by publishing articles in magazines, short stories in literary journals, and (best of all) land regular magazine or newspaper columns. Publishing short pieces, after all, offered direct exposure to new audiences, and the two or three-line bio at the end of a piece introduced readers to an author’s website (if they had one) and any already-published books.

And that’s all still true. Writing articles and short stories to market yourself as an author is an idea that’s gotten a little lost in the online onslaught of blogs and pins and tweets. But whether you’re in the process of building your platform or marketing your already-released book, a single essay in or Trout & Stream will expose you to more readers than most books reach in their lifetime. And that list of “has also published in” references in your author’s bio adds credibility to your future work. Readers trust authors with a track record.

Like all useful things, it’s not easy. In the grand scheme of platform building exercises, publishing short pieces is a time consuming and often frustrating process. If you’ve never tackled article or short story writing, be prepared for a cycle of querying that’s similar to the agent or publisher hunt (though usually, at least, faster). Every outlet has its own guidelines for how they consider essays or ideas. And every outlet has its own voice and style. You’ll need to do some homework to understand the specific voice of a publication (do they like humor? Do their articles use a lot of statistics? Are their short stories all about the same length?).

If that was all you got from your articles and short stories, you might be tempted to look for a different way. But there’s something else that makes publishing short pieces a valuable piece of your marketing puzzle:

It introduces you to the influencers who manage those outlets.

Influencers are the people who have gone into your chosen community before you and built substantial platforms of their own. They’re the magazine and journal editors, as well as radio hosts, popular authors, respected book reviewers, bloggers, community managers, journalists, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and anyone else who has a voice with your reader. Influencers matter, because building a relationship with a single influencer is often more valuable than acquiring the names of a hundred average readers. Every good author platform is supported by a few influencers, who can multiply a message and introduce it to even more people.

Influencers are people, too. If you build a positive relationship with an editor, meeting their deadlines and showing that you understand their audience and can relate to their issues, then you’ve earned the right to ask that editor to support your new book release with a review, an endorsement, or other coverage. And those personal requests matter. When I was a magazine editor for a fairly niche magazine, I received dozens of books every week from publishers, publicists, and authors. I couldn’t cover them in the magazine. Heck, I usually couldn’t even unpack them all from the boxes. So I triaged, and paid the most attention to the books that came from writers I’d worked with before, who’d written for me and my audience and who I liked.

So if you’re trying to build your platform and name recognition, don’t write off the tried-and-true articles. The opportunities here are more extensive than ever. Not only can you write for magazines, newsletters, and community papers, but the Internet is full of websites and blogs often eager for a (donated) submission.

Be strategic about this. Like everything else in marketing, start with the most important question: who is your reader? It doesn’t make sense to write for your local community paper—even if they ask you to—if it’s primarily read by senior citizens and you’re writing Young Adult romances. Or to write for a literary agent’s blog unless you’re publishing a book specifically for authors.

Oh, wait….

Yep. Write for the publications that reach your ideal reader. And maintain your relationships with the influencers who know how to reach them.


Beth Jusino is a marketing consultant, editor, writer, and former literary agent (she actually worked with Chip at Alive Communications for about six weeks before he left; she swears those two events weren’t related).

Her new book, The Author’s Guide to Marketing, releases in June 2014. You can pre-order your copy and get unique early-adopter rewards at Find Beth online at or on Twitter @bethjusino.


Thursdays with Amanda: The Future of Literary Agents in a Digital World

May 1st, 2014 | Career, Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 52 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.


All this talk about hybrid authors and self-publishing, and there’s one question that is bound to surface:

Are agents a dying breed?

Maybe. I mean some freakish thing could happen that changes everything and puts the final set of nails in the Literary Agent coffin, but the way things are shaping up, my answer would be “no.” We aren’t a dying breed, and here’s why…


I’m no expert on the history of the literary agent, but it’s quite clear that the role was developed out of necessity. The typewriter, and later email, made it ridiculously easy for anyone to pound out a terrible novel and send it to the best editors the industry had to offer. Those terrible novels would fill up the queue, thus suffocating the really great publishable novels. Editors, whose time is valuable and limited…and who also have a tendency to spend much more time analyzing a manuscript than an agent does…eventually turned to agents to help weed through the bad and find the good.

While we tend to think that indie and small houses are there for the unagented, the fact of the matter is that these publishers are more than willing to work with agents. In fact, they many times welcome it. They love when someone else has vetted the material before they even have to give it a look. And consequently, an agent can many times get a faster response from them than your typical unagented author. Why? Because there is a sense of professional responsibility. The small house is usually thrilled that the agent considered them, and they want to respond in kind by offering a speedy decision.

We also tend to think that small houses have the author’s best interests in mind. While this is generally true, and they many times offer friendlier rates and terms, there are ALWAYS a few sticky points within the contract that are different than anything you’d see from a big house. This is because it’s usually a mom and pop operation and they don’t have the sea of legal advisors there to make sure that their contracts hold up against contracts from other houses. An agent comes in handy at this point, and while yes, you could just as easily hire a lawyer to review the contract, here’s a truth that I’ve discovered…

Every contract that I’ve seen that has been analyzed by a separately paid lawyer comes to us with not much changed except the wording. Nothing is ready to be negotiated. Clauses aren’t flagged and suggestions aren’t made. Nope. Instead, the lawyer has focused his/her time on striking out words and phrases here and there and occasionally adding in a few new ones. They approach is as if the contract will one day need to hold up in court, and they want the terms to be either ridiculously clear or very vague. Agents, on the other hand, approach it as if the contract is the author’s livelihood, and we need to get him/her the best deal possible. We don’t worry about the specific words used so much as we worry about what the author will come away with.  (EDIT: It’s come to my attention that I need to clarify what I mean here…First, my experience does not reflect every lawyer in publishing. Second, lawyers can add value to a contract because they do care so much about the wording. Agents add value because they care about the terms. This doesn’t mean that I completely ignore wording, neither does it mean that all lawyers completely ignore terms. Third, if you decide to work with a lawyer, make sure they are knowledgable in publishing/IP law).


I think most agents are willing to work with authors who publish both traditionally and independently…so long as the author is consistent about giving the agent projects to shop. So in that sense, we bring the same qualities to the table that we do in a more traditional agent/author relationship.

But is that all? I can’t speak for other agents, but at MacGregor Literary, we have a vested interest in helping our authors become hybrid authors, if that’s what they want. While some of our authors go about this on their own (we don’t take any commission in those instances), others want our help. To earn our share, we’ve launched a number of book lines (Spyglass Lane Mysteries, Playlist YA Fiction, Dusty Trail Books, Forget-Me-Not Romances), and made the process easy for our authors by helping them through step-by-step, taking on some of the more tedious tasks (such as formatting), and teaming them up so that their marketing efforts go farther.

We also are able to help with any subrights deals that may come from their self-publishing ventures. Foreign rights, movie rights, audio rights, and unique digital rights opportunities are all deals that we’ve done for some of our authors’ self-pubbed projects in the past year.


Many feel that the self-pub business model is the one that needs agents the least. But I wholly disagree.

There are a number of successful indie authors out there, telling everyone else that indie publishing is the best and that they should go it alone and forego agents and professionals altogether. But I’d like to offer a reality check…

Being a self-published indie author is like running a business. You’re in charge of accounting and marketing and publicity and packaging and design and editing and writing and formatting and sales and EVERYTHING. Ask any successful indie author how they spend their time, and they’re likely to tell you that managing their business takes up a majority of their day. Writing, then, is done at night or squeezed into the wee hours of the morning. It’s exhausting. But moreover, there’s a big piece of truth here that the overly anti-agent folks fail to tell you…

It requires an entrepreneurial mind and attitude to make something like this work. And most authors don’t have that. Most authors are creatives, who can’t tell you the first thing about marketing and publicity and bookkeeping and managing  and … taxes. They just want to create. And when it comes to figuring everything else out, they need help.

For those who are business-minded, self-publishing and managing that business can be a great option. But for everyone else…for everyone who doesn’t have the time or the skills or the natural ability to keep such a machine going, this is where help becomes essential. (EDIT: An author could choose to learn these skills on their own, and many do. However, there are also many authors who don’t really know where to begin with taking their business to the next level. This is where professional help can become invaluable, whether it’s for the long- or short-term).

And this is also where the role of an agent will change. Some agents may take on the role of bookkeeper and project manager. Others may take on stronger admin roles or marketing roles. Some may be in charge of getting the manuscripts in shape and typeset and uploaded.

While they do these things, they’ll also be shopping rights and looking for opportunities to expand the author’s career. It all depends on the agent, their skills, and the amount of work that they can take on on behalf of the client.


I’ve rambled enough (and please excuse any typos…I’m knocking this out as I’m waiting for a flight), so I’ll leave you with this…

While, yes, the agent’s role will change (we will have to adapt!), and yes you may see fewer of us in the business, I do believe that we’ll continue to be part of authors’ careers. I believe we will continue to offer value, whether it be career advice, deal negotiations, or even just bookkeeping. And I believe that we will be able to help many authors achieve their publishing goals…just like we’re doing now.