Books & Such Literary Management http://www.booksandsuch.com Fri, 29 Jul 2016 07:09:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Just a little update… http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/just-little-update/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/just-little-update/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 07:09:43 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27438 Blogger: Rachel Kent

I know some of you already know this, but I had my baby boy on June 25. He’s now a month old and is such a delight.

I’m out camping today, so I thought it would be …

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Blogger: Rachel Kent

I know some of you already know this, but I had my baby boy on June 25. He’s now a month old and is such a delight.

I’m out camping today, so I thought it would be a good day to share a picture of him since I won’t be around to comment on your thoughts. Have a wonderful weekend!

Here is Gavin!

Brand new: 8 lbs. 9 oz. 21 inches long. IMG_2111

 

And 1 month! 12 lbs. 5 oz. and 22 inches long.

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Pitch Appointment Angst http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/pitch-appointment-angst/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/pitch-appointment-angst/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 07:01:18 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27443 Blogger: Mary Keeley

Pitch appointments can be stomach-churning, nerve-wracking moments of angst and brain freeze, which seem to last forever in too little time. It’s understandable when you view them as do-or-die verdicts on your career as a writer. Let’s …

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Blogger: Mary Keeley

Pitch appointments can be stomach-churning, nerve-wracking moments of angst and brain freeze, which seem to last forever in too little time. It’s understandable when you view them as do-or-die verdicts on your career as a writer. Let’s observe a pitch appointment through an agent’s lens. Hopefully, it will minimize your apprehension that your whole career is in the balance.

But first, I’ll set the scene for a pitch appointment. I witness authors at every conference I’m at, and it’s pretty easy to spot writers who already have had an appointment and came away with regrets on your performance or lackluster interest in your book.

If your debut novel isn’t completed, it may be more worthwhile for you to schedule appointments with editors to get advice on the marketability of your book. It’s best to wait until your novel is finished and polished before scheduling an agent appointment. Nonfiction authors may be tempted to pitch your book as soon as you have the chapter descriptions and first three chapters completed. However, if your platform is weak, you won’t serve yourself well in terms of getting an agent’s interest until you grow it further.

The point is to be prepared.Pitch Appointment

Believe it or not, agents I know in the industry try hard to put authors at ease so you can give it your best shot. With this perspective in mind, peek into a typical agent’s inner thoughts during a pitch appointment with an author.

“Welcome. I’m happy to meet you. In a sentence or two, tell me a little about yourself.”

Note to self: friendly handshake, direct eye contact, relaxed smile, and confidant. My first impression is that she would be enjoyable to work with. Good start.

If you are an unpublished author, the agent will likely ask something like this: “When did you decide you want to be an author, and how have you been learning your craft?”

Note: She has invested time to learn craft and the industry and belongs to a critique group. She goes on to list books on craft she has read and industry blogs she follows. I see enthusiasm in her eyes. So far, so good.

“Describe your audience and what you are doing to connect with these readers.” 

She is ready with a clear description. Next, she details how she connects with them via social media networks in which they are most active, newsletter, speaking events, and by hanging out where they hang out. She gives examples of how they connect with her and what she writes. Looking better yet.

“Tell me about your book and how you came to write it.” 

I note her passion and excitement as she begins with her elevator pitch. The book sounds marketable. I’m interested in hearing more as she continues. Good, she isn’t getting bogged down in too much detail, which I couldn’t possibly follow since I haven’t read any samples yet. She sticks to the main plot and the main characters’ struggles and motivations (or developing the main theme for nonfiction) as the book progresses. Obviously, she has spent plenty of time practicing. I’m impressed.

One minute left.

“I’d like to see a formal proposal and the first three chapters of your book. Here is my business card.” 

Her easy smile broadens as she respects her time limit, stands, and shakes my hand. I write on my notes: “Promising!”

Pitch complete and ended on time.

If your previous pitch meetings haven’t gone so well, this little peek will help you to know where to improve for next time. Like I said, agents are rooting for you because we love authors and we’re hoping to find a gem.

How does this little glimpse help you to know how you need to ready mentally and emotionally for your pitch meetings? What do you need to work on to be fully prepared for your next 15-minute meeting with an agent? What made your best agent meeting a good one?

TWEETABLES:

Here is a peek into what the agent is thinking during your pitch appointment at a conference? Click to Tweet.

Here is what gets an agent’s attention during your pitch at a conference. Click to Tweet.

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Finding Comparable Books http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/finding-comparable-books/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/finding-comparable-books/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 05:52:51 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27432 Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

When you’re trying to interest an agent or publisher in your book, you’re often asked to provide “comps” — other books that could be compared to yours, or books that might compete with yours. A good book …

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

When you’re trying to interest an agent or publisher in your book, you’re often asked to provide “comps” — other books that could be compared to yours, or books that might compete with yours. A good book proposal always has a “Competition” or “Comparable Books” section.

One of the most common questions I’m regularly asked is, “How do I figure out what books to include in my comps?” Do I look for books with the same premise or plot? Same time period? Same writing style? How do I know what to include?

compare apple to orangeI’m going to make it easy for you.

Ask yourself, “Who are my readers? What are they reading right now?” Those are your comparable books.

Keep this in mind:

“People who enjoy the following books are likely to enjoy my book.”

 
You can use that line in a proposal, then follow it with the comparable books, and for each one, a brief explanation of why your book would appeal to those same readers. This approach frees you from trying to decipher what an agent is looking for, and instead, use those comps to identify your audience.

If you can’t readily identify six to ten books or authors whom your potential readers are already reading, then you might want to stop what you’re doing and learn what’s already out in the marketplace, and who your potential audience is. If you can’t identify your audience, then how will you or a publisher sell your book to them?

Providing “comps” is all about helping your agent, your editors, your marketing team, and your readers to capture a vision for your book.

Too often, writers tell me, “I’ve looked and looked, and I can’t find anything quite like my book.” That may be true, but you can think about your potential readers, and figure out what they are already reading.

To read a little more about how to create a strong Competition section for your book proposal, click HERE.

Do you know what books your potential readers are already enjoying? How do you research this?

 

Image copyright: dgilder / 123RF Stock Photo

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Reality Check: Author Tours http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/reality-check-author-tours/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/reality-check-author-tours/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2016 04:26:34 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27431 Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m packing my bags once again to accompany Lauraine Snelling on her Faith Words Book Tour for the launch of The Second Half.  I wrote the first part of this blog last year after Lauraine’s tour. I …

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Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m packing my bags once again to accompany Lauraine Snelling on her Faith Words Book Tour for the launch of The Second Half.  I wrote the first part of this blog last year after Lauraine’s tour. I thought I’d repeat it in advance, so that you’ll be keeping us in your prayers and maybe be able to stop and visit us on the way.

A multi-state book tour sounds like a dream come true to those just embarking on a writing career, right? A whistle stop trip through the countryside, stopping at stores, book clubs, libraries and literary venues along the way. Rooms crowded with readers all hoping to get their books signed and listen to their favorite author.  Food, laughs, fascinating people to meet along the way. What could be better?

Reality Check #1: I’ve been on a number of tours with clients and friends. All those things can be true but there is a far different side to the author tour as well. Debbie Macomber undertook a twenty-day, twenty-city tour to celebrate the release of her book, Twenty Wishes. I talked to her near the end of the tour. She was exhausted. Each day would find her signing books long after the store should have closed for the night. Trying to find something to eat at 11:00 P.M. Falling into bed after midnight only to have the alarm go off at 4:00 A.M. in order to catch the flight to the next city. Doing rounds of drive-time media first thing in the morning. As Debbie said with her trademark humor, “If I knew how grueling this would be, I’d have called the book Five Wishes.”

dreamstime_xs_40439628Lauraine Snelling’s ten-day, twelve-event Someday Home tour was equally challenging even though it was a road trip– no airports  thankfully. One particular day we had three events. The first session was a forty participant writer’s workshop sponsored by a bookstore. The next event was a talk and signing at the bookstore adjacent to the writers’ event. Then driving to a new city a couple of hours away, followed by dinner, a talk and book signing at a Sons of Norway lodge.  That’s a lot of people to talk to in one day. And don’t forget, packing, changing hotels and unpacking more times than one cares to count.

Reality Check #2. Both Debbie and Lauraine invariably have successful tours– standing room only crowds at most stops and book signings that last long past the allotted hours. Will that be the case for most authors? No. In fact, few authors can even get a respectable crowd at a local book signing. So what does it take to have a successful author tour?

  • An outgoing author who loves meeting readers and considers this more fun than anything else he or she can imagine. If the author is just going through the motions, it shows. Readers are simply not willing to drop everything in their busy lives to come meet an author who is not as interested in them as they are in her. Most successful author tours see many loyal readers who’ve attended other events in the past.
  • An experienced venue. The store, library or literary gathering needs to understand how to host a successful event. It takes work and planning. We’ve observed that it is nearly impossible to hold a successful appearance in a big city. Chicago, San Francisco, New York– there’s just too much going on to allow for the kind of crowd that builds synergy. Small towns are the best. Lauraine visited Ulen, Minnesota. The tiny town of 549 souls combined Lauraine’s talk and book signing with a silent auction and wine tasting fundraiser for their historical society. (The wine tasting offered two different wines to try– Sutter Home Red and Sutter Home White.) 105 townspeople came. That’s 20% of the whole town. One of Lauraine’s readers couldn’t believe the success of the event. I scribbled down her words so I wouldn’t forget them. She shook her head in wonder, saying, “This is the biggest thing to happen to Ulen. Authors don’t come to Ulen. And a wine tasting! We’ve never had wine.” I love small towns. An author event in a small town can generate excitement.
  • An author with enough books published to have made a blip on the screen of the reading public. Debbie has written more than a hundred books with 170 million books in print. Lauraine has eighty-nine books under her belt and also tallies copies in the multiple millions. This is a big country. Too few books spread out over too large an area and it will be impossible to gather enough potential readers in any one area to create the crowd that is needed for an exciting event.
  • A regional or special interest following. One of the reasons Lauraine has been so successful with tours and events is that she knows who her readers are. Most of her books are set in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. A good portion of her novels are about Norwegian immigrants. Lauraine’s readers are easy to find in large numbers. Give her a Sons of Norway lodge or a Scandinavian festival, and she will pack a room. Every year at North Dakota’s famous Norsk Høstfest, Lauraine sets up a whole bookstore and sells and signs more than a thousand books. Julie Klassen, who writes hugely popular historical regencies, has long been involved in all things Jane Austen. Fellow Jane-ites support her and flock to her events. Julie always packs out a Barnes & Noble Store for the launch of a new book. I accompanied her on her author tour to Utah, and we were delighted with the fellow regency aficionados who came to see her– a great special interest following.
  • Something to say. Both Lauraine Snelling and Julie Klassen speak at each event. Julie has done some interesting behind-the-scenes presentations on things like how the covers came to be. At her launch last year she even brought the cover models with her. Lauraine speaks for about an hour at each event, telling the stories behind the books. She generally has her readers laughing and connecting with the antics of her Norwegian characters. Book sales are always brisk for the books highlighted in a talk.

Reality Check #3: Unless the author has a significant mailing list that can be separated regionally, there is no way to easily connect the author’s readers to the specific events. This is one of the reasons we stress that our clients religiously maintain their reader database. If this is the kind of career you hope to build, a vigorous reader database is a must.

Reality Check #4: Few publishers are sending authors on tour these days unless they meet the criteria above. It’s just too expensive and uses up way too much of the marketing budget. Unless there is a significant return on that investment, it’s not a good use of resources. On this last Lauraine Snelling tour, just the airfare and car rental with gas came close to $3000.00. Then add in food and ten hotel nights. Happily, when it’s a success, the lift it gives the book and the author’s career is more than worth the expense.

And, you might ask, why does an agent accompany an author on tour? I have a number of reasons. Let me quickly jot them for you:

  • Lauraine and I have been friends since long before I became her agent. Same with Julie Klassen. Before I became her agent I had read every single book she’d written. So, in part, it’s about the relationship.
  • While the author is busy signing and talking to her readers, I’m often talking to the front liners– those salespeople in the store– walking through the stacks with them telling them all about my great authors… sharing inside stories. I know that they sell what they love. I want to help them fall in love.
  • Many other writers come to signings in their area. It gives me the opportunity to meet them and talk with them. The first time I met Gabrielle Meyer was at a Snelling signing in tiny Upsala, MN. I met Lori, from our blog community in… was it Ohio? I’m posting our itinerary here with an invitation to come see us. I’d love to meet you and talk about your writing.
  • An agent needs to get out in the bookstores and see what is on the shelves, what is selling and what readers are saying. If we stay cloistered in our offices, it’s too easy to become out of touch.

So, here’s where we’ll be:

July 28  (7pm)  Barnes & Noble • 1201 12th St SW #425 • Rochester, MN 55902 • (507) 281-7950

July 29  (7pm) • Books a Million • 4030 Commonwealth Ave • Eau Claire, WI 54701 • (715) 831-4431

July 30 (9am-11am, 12pm-3pm) Nordic Fest-Vesterheim Museum • 523 West Water Street • Decorah, IA 52101 • (563) 382-9681

July 31 (7pm) Barnes and Noble- Madison West • 7433 Mineral Point Road • Madison, WI • (608) 827-0809

August 1 (7pm) Stoughton Library @ Stoughton Village Players • 255 E Main St • Stoughton, WI 53589 • (608) 873-6281

August 2  (5pm-7pm) Annie’s Fountain City Café • 72 S Main St • Fond du Lac, WI 54935 • (920) 933-5337

August 3 (6pm-7:30) Appleton Public Library • 225 N. Oneida St. • Appleton, WI  54911 • (920) 832-6173

August 4 (6pm-8pm) Stephenson Public Library • 1700 Hall Ave • Marinette, WI 54143 • (715) 732-7570

August 5 (2pm-4pm) Unalaska PL • 741 Oak Ave S • Onalaska, WI 54650 • (608) 781-9568

August 6  (12pm-3pm) Fair Trade Books • 320 Bush St • Red Wing, MN 55066 • (651) 800-2030

I’ve only scratched the surface but this may well be the longest blog in Books & Such history. It’s your turn to chime in. What have you observed in successful author events you’ve attended? Do you have other questions? Got any ideas for the perfect event? Coming to see us?

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Endorsements: Lend Me Your Name http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/endorsements-lend-name/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/endorsements-lend-name/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 01:48:54 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27303 Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

To endorse or not to endorse–that is the trickiest question of all. Many authors think of themselves as being between the proverbial rock and a hard place when a writing colleague asks for a book endorsement.…

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Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

To endorse or not to endorse–that is the trickiest question of all. Many authors think of themselves as being between the proverbial rock and a hard place when a writing colleague asks for a book endorsement.

To the not-yet-published writer, that might seem an odd way to view the request. But well-known authors receive so many such requests that they can’t possibly say yes to all of them–nor should they.

Why endorse?

Because of the flood of endorsement requests, an author needs to establish criteria in how to respond. I  think every author realizes being asked to lend his or her name to help to sell or promote someone else’s book is a compliment. Newly published authors almost invariably will agree to the first few requests without regard as to whether the request made sense in the first place.breaking piggy bank

You should think about saying yes if:

  • It makes sense with your brand. When you write historical romance and your best friend writes sci-fi, your two reading bases are about as far apart as first base is from third. Your name is unlikely to strike a chord with your friend’s potential readers. But if your friend also writes historical romance, your fans are huddled around the same base. Should they already enjoy your books, they’re likely to enjoy your friend’s.
  • You truly want to connect your reputation with the writing. This is where things can get awkward. Let’s say you met someone at a writers conference, and he’s the nicest person ever. You enjoyed talking about all things writing with him. But now he’s asked if you’ll endorse his book, and in your opinion, the writing is sub-par. You can hardly attach your reading sensibility to the book. But if his writing is compelling, and the story powerful…well, that’s a different story entirely. You’d be proud to introduce his book to your fans.
  • You haven’t exceeded your endorsement quota for the year. You do have a quota, don’t you? If your name appears on 10, 12, 15 back covers in a given year, pretty soon readers will think you’ll endorse a grocery bag. Make sure your endorsement holds its value by limiting the number of times you connect your name to other authors’ books. Think of it as having a set amount of money in a piggy bank; you can break the bank…
  • For newer authors, this is a way to establish yourself as an authority regarding a certain topic, or as a writer whose opinion is important. No, you aren’t offering your endorsement solely to build your reputation, but it is a hidden benefit to doing endorsements.

When should you refrain from endorsing?

In addition to the reasons listed above, do NOT offer an endorsement solely because:

  • The person is a friend. Awkward as it might be, if the book is in a different category from the one you write in; if the writing isn’t all that good; or you’ve committed to the maximum number of endorsements for the year, you must say no to your friend. Really. You aren’t doing your friend a favor–or yourself–by offering an endorsement based on friendship alone.
  • You feel obligated to. Let’s say you asked a colleague to endorse your last release, and now that person is asking for your endorsement. Of course you want to say yes. But if it doesn’t make sense to do so, by all means, say no.
  • You feel guilty saying no. After all, other people have helped to promote your books, isn’t it your turn to help others? Yes, but not if it isn’t a heartfelt endorsement. Your name has value because you’re protecting its use. Don’t let guilt dictate your decisions.

How do you say no?

Some of my clients who receive multiple requests for endorsements each year let me say no for them. We always discuss whether to agree to an endorsement, but ultimately it’s my job to deliver the answer. This helps my clients to remain objective and thoughtful about each decision. And when I turn down a request on their behalf, I suspect it doesn’t hurt quite as much, plus I’m playing the bad guy, which is part of my job sometimes.

Keep these guidelines in mind:

  • If you choose to read the manuscript as a first step in considering the use of your endorsement, always stipulate that you won’t be able to make a final decision until you’ve completed the book. Should you ascertain that the manuscript is disappointing, you’ll need to go back to the writer and communicate that you had hoped to enjoy it more than you did, but that you won’t be able to endorse it. That kind of honesty hurts, but you do need to be honest. I would cushion it with, “this is just my opinion,” “my thoughts are subjective, and someone else might see the book completely differently,” etc. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into a critique of the work. Keep coming back to that being your opinion, and that the writer should seek further evaluation from a writing coach, editor, etc.
  • Keep a list of how many of your endorsements will appear on the jackets of books in a given year. Do not let yourself exceed the limit you have set (and keep that limit to 5 or less). When someone asks, don’t re-evaluate your limit; stick to it.
  • Check your schedule carefully and critically: Do you really have time to read a manuscript and write a lucid endorsement? Yes, you should read every manuscript you endorse. To skip that step is to blindly lend your name to a work “you’re sure” is wonderful. Don’t sacrifice needed time to write your own manuscript to read and endorse someone else’s. That’s not what your publisher is paying you an advance to do.

What’s the hardest part about asking for an endorsement? What tips have you learned about asking for endorsements? About responding to requests?

TWEETABLES

When should an author offer to endorse a book? Click to tweet.

Authors: How to handle endorsement requests. Click to tweet.

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Where do you get your book ideas? http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/get-book-ideas/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/get-book-ideas/#comments Fri, 22 Jul 2016 16:36:41 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27413 Blogger: Rachel Kent

I would like to know where you get your book ideas. Here are some of the scenarios I’ve heard, but please weigh in with yours.

1) Dreams–I have three clients who have written books that they …

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Blogger: Rachel Kent

I would like to know where you get your book ideas. Here are some of the scenarios I’ve heard, but please weigh in with yours.

1) Dreams–I have three clients who have written books that they dreamed about first, and I’ve heard that this is how Stephenie Meyer was inspired to write Twilight. My dreams never make enough sense to become a story. My last memorable dream involved an overweight homeless man who broke into my house and forced me to make him grilled cheese sandwiches. It freaked me out, but I don’t think that it would inspire a very good book. Some people are blessed to dream in detail. Do you have creative dreams?

2) Articles/Current Events–Many authors get ideas for books from current events in the media. This includes newspaper articles, online articles, television news and even some TV programs. One Books & Such client writes mystery/suspense, and she read of a murder in her area and imagined the details to create her own story. Have you been inspired by a current event to write either a novel or a nonfiction book?

3) Historical Stories/Family History–Other writers are inspired to write by historical events or family history. They might come across these stories in a genealogy, in a textbook, or while doing research at a library. Michelle Ule’s novella, The Dogtrot Christmas (part of The Log Cabin Christmas Collection, Barbour, 2011) was partially inspired by the story of her great-great-great grandfather. Michelle blogged about the details here, so feel free to check it out. Sometimes history inspires nonfiction, too. Biographies, church history, or theological permutations can use history as a springboard into a book.  Has history ever inspired you to write?

5) Life Experiences–Many nonfiction books are inspired by experiences that the author has gone through. Fiction can also be inspired by these types of experiences. Robin Jones Gunn and Tricia Goyer’s nonfiction book, Praying for Your Future Husband (Zondervan, 2011), is a good example of a book that’s inspired by real-life experiences. Tricia and Robin share their own stories of praying for and finding a spouse, and many other women weigh in with their experiences as well. Have you ever written a book based on your life experiences?

Do you have any others to add? Please share the story of how you were inspired to write your current work in progress.

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Voice Quiz http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/voice-quiz/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/voice-quiz/#comments Thu, 21 Jul 2016 07:01:14 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27405 Blogger: Mary Keeley

An author’s unique voice is a big part of his or her brand identity. While reviewing a client’s new manuscript this week, I was struck by how well this author has mastered this area of craft. It …

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Blogger: Mary Keeley

An author’s unique voice is a big part of his or her brand identity. While reviewing a client’s new manuscript this week, I was struck by how well this author has mastered this area of craft. It might be helpful and fun to do a little voice quiz today so you can determine for yourself how well you know your author voice and how consistent you are with it in your writing.

I’m not going to give you suggestions from which to choose in these voice quiz questions because that would be too easy and probably not helpful ultimately.

Relax, have fun with this, and you might have an epiphany in the process. I can’t wait to learn what you either confirm or discover for yourself.

Here we go.

Quiz question #1: If you had to define your author voice in three words, what would they be?Voice1

Quiz question #2: What characteristics distinguish your voice from other authors in your genre? (Refer to my blog post, “An Author’s Unique Voice” for characteristics.)

Quiz question #3: How did you arrive at recognizing your author voice? Or, are you still in the process of discovering it?

Quiz question #4: Is your voice consistent in everything you write: blog, social media comments, articles, proposals?

Quiz question #5: How does your voice affect your characters or your handling of your nonfiction topic?

What three words describe your voice? Did you discover a nuance you hadn’t recognized before? How will your answers help to solidify your voice?

TWEETABLES:

Can you describe your author voice? Take this short quiz. Click to Tweet.

Your author voice distinguishes you from others in your genre. Take this voice quiz to confirm or discover yours. Click to Tweet.

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Recognizing Our Limits http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/recognizing-our-limits/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/recognizing-our-limits/#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2016 05:04:13 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27396 Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Throughout the month of June, Facebook kept sending me “memories” from 2012 and 2013, when our area in Colorado was swept with devastating fires. It reminded me of how awful those summers were, with evacuations and fear …

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Throughout the month of June, Facebook kept sending me “memories” from 2012 and 2013, when our area in Colorado was swept with devastating fires. It reminded me of how awful those summers were, with evacuations and fear and horrible ash-filled air and hundreds of homes destroyed and even some fatalities.

I remember struggling with work, and feeling emotionally hijacked, and completely drained during those weeks. My husband was off fighting the fires and I was in charge of the homefront, packing up for possible evacuation, while trying really hard to keep up with my work.

My work is so meaningful to me. Working with authors and helping them to bring their messages and stories to readers is, I think, important. Literature, information, the flow of ideas, contributing to our cultural conversation, these are valuable to our culture and society. I enjoy having a part in it.

Black Forest fire - KOAA news photoBut those weeks, when fear and uncertainty were all around, and we witnessed things we’d never expected to see… those weeks I had a really hard time concentrating on my work. As important as it is to live up to my responsibility to my authors, I had to take some time off.

I kept telling myself I should be able to get more work done. But I bumped up against my very human weakness, and had to admit I had limits, and that sometimes, things just don’t go according to plan. It is humbling, to say the least.

So let’s talk about that.

Have you experienced times like this — times when, despite your best efforts, you just couldn’t get anything done? Times when you thought you should be able to “rise above” and yet you found it impossible? What was that like? Did you learn anything?

 

 

 

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Some Good News? http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/some-good-news/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/some-good-news/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 06:38:09 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27391 Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Don’t you think it’s time for a dose of good news? I’ve been thinking a lot about the industry lately and I think there’s more good news than bad these days. So many long for the “good …

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Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Don’t you think it’s time for a dose of good news? I’ve been thinking a lot about the industry lately and I think there’s more good news than bad these days. So many long for the “good old days,” but when is that last time you handwrote a whole manuscript? Or typed it on an old Underwood?

During the last century, in order to be published, an author would have to type his manuscript with a carbon copy, or in the pre-carbon copy days re-type his whole manuscript, and deliver it to one mysterious editor at a time. And wait. You’ve heard us use the term “over the transom” submissions referring to unsolicited manuscripts but in those days, the bundled manuscript was sometimes literally launched over an open transom into the cramped editorial office of a publisher.IMG_6874

Business etiquette was of a more genteel nature so most likely the hopeful author would have received a personal hand-typed reply. Washington Irving received the following rejection letter when he asked a long-silent editor if he could have his materials back. (Taken from the preface to The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.)

My Dear Sir,
I entreat you to believe that I feel truly obliged by your kind intentions toward me, and that I entertain the most unfeigned respect for your most tasteful talents. My house is completely filled with work people at this time, and I have only an office to transact business in; and yesterday I was wholly occupied, or I should have done myself the pleasure of seeing you.
If it would not suit me to engage in the publication of your present work it is only because I do not see that scope in the nature of it which would enable me to make those satisfactory accounts between us, without which I really feel no satisfaction in engaging–but I will do all I can to promote their circulation, and shall be most ready to attend to any future plan of yours.
With much regard, I remain, dear sir,
Your faithful servant,
John Murray

Translation: Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. I’ve been swamped. No matter how I crunch the numbers the bottom line on the proforma doesn’t work for our house. 

Much has changed over the years. Although, looking at the letter above, much has stayed the same. But let’s talk about the changes. . .

IMG_6404Since the advent of the home computer manuscripts can be printed with one keystroke and sent to legions of agents or editors at one time. For those of us on the receiving end this has exponentially increased our submissions to the point of not even being able to personally respond. They say the age of gentility ended in 1910 but in publishing, it ended with the age of the home computer.

But here’s the good news: The computer ushered in a world where the agent or editor is no longer an ominous figure locked away in a shabby walnut-panelled office somewhere in Manhattan or London. The publishing world is now transparent via the internet. Publishers, editors and agents are blogging daily, revealing all– insider secrets, systems, work-arounds and preferences. It’s all there for the taking! Can you imagine the choices Washington Irving could have made with information like this?

And there’s more good news: With social media, finding an agent is no longer a one-way street. We are constantly connecting and observing writers online. It wasn’t too long ago I commented to Janet Kobobel Grant that I was impressed by everything written in the comments section of our blog by a certain writer. I told her I was thinking of contacting the writer because if her book was half as good as her ability to connect, she’d be a great success. Janet just laughed. One of my colleagues at Books & Such had already snatched this writer up.

I can’t imagine anything like this happening a century ago unless you met an agent or an editor in person at a soiree, a salon or a dinner party. It’s an exciting new world filled with opportunities to connect in fresh ways.

Even more good news: A century ago, people didn’t travel like we do today. Writers, agents & editors gather together in person more than ever before. Forget the dinner party, you can now spend an entire week with your favorite publishing professionals, practice the craft and learn about the business of writing. Agents and editors are committed to making ourselves available at writer’s conferences. It’s my favorite way to meet writers who are willing to invest time, energy and fiscal resources in their careers.

Your turn to offer some good news. What changes have you seen that make connecting to agents and editors easier? As we become more transparent, more human hopefully, do you feel more comfortable approaching us? Do you follow any good editor or agent blogs or twitterers you’d like to recommend? Please comment below.

And yes, the first photo is my own Underwood typewriter and the second photo, my new kitty, Molly, playing on her kitty-sized typewriter.

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First Line Winners and Losers http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/first-line-winners-losers/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/first-line-winners-losers/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 01:39:34 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=27378 Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

“You had me at the first line.” Every author dreams of hearing readers proclaim that the first line of a book grabbed them by the lapels and wouldn’t let them go. Rest assured that not only …

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Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

“You had me at the first line.” Every author dreams of hearing readers proclaim that the first line of a book grabbed them by the lapels and wouldn’t let them go. Rest assured that not only readers but also agents and editors are suckers for a great first line.

Let’s look at some winners and some sleepers and see if we can figure out what makes one beginning work and another makes the reader work to wedge his or her way into the book.

Here’s one I like: “Anybody reared on Sesame Street remembers Oscar the Grouch. How can you not love a furry green monster that lives in a garbage can and breaks into a chorus of ‘I Love Trash’ at the drop of a hat? He would be the perfect mascot for this book, and, I suggest, for our lives. Every one of us has an Oscar within, eager to muck up our world. That’s what this book is all about.” –Bill Giovannetti’s How to Keep Your Inner Mess from Trashing Your Outer World.

Bill draws us into his book by providing us with an image that we resonate doors to choose fromwith from our childhood. And the author helps us to recall Oscar by engaging our senses with words like “furry,” “green” “breaks into a chorus of.” Then we’re told that Oscar resides within us–and that’s the problem the book discusses.

Just think about all the ways this opening draws us in and sets the stage for the rest of the book. We grasp that while the topic is heavy, the writing won’t be. This will be an easy book to read, even though the content might make us squirm.

Next up: “I was sitting in a taxi wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.”

Jeannette Walls, in her masterful memoir The Glass Castle, made my eyes pop at this opening sentence. Turns out Jeannette is living a perfectly normal, successful like in New York City, but her parents are homeless in the same city–and happy to be so. This opening line, like a sharp knife, cuts to the quick of the struggle Jeannette faced in figuring out where to put all that parents, who viewed having children with the casualness of buying a banana, had put her through as a child–and as an adult.

Here’s the opening from one of my favorite novel, The Help, which depicts life for African American women in the South in the ’60s, when many of them worked in white folks’ homes, raising white babies, who would grow up to hate the black women who were like mothers to them as children.

“Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

“But I ain’t never seen a baby yell like Mae Mobley Leefolt. First day I walk in the door, there she be, red-hot and hollering with the colic, fighting that bottle like it’s a rotten turnip. Miss Leefolt, she look terrified a her own child. ‘What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I stop it?’

“It? That was my first hint: something is wrong with this situation.”

The author, Kathryn Stockett, has, in the matter of a few sentences, established the voice of one of the book’s protagonists, introduced us to her life, and shown us a conflict that weaves its way through the book–a child not loved by her mother but by the black “help.”

Now, here’s an opening that didn’t work especially well for me. It’s from Water for Elephants, a book that I came to adore, but it took time to grow on me.

“Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. Grady and I sat at a battered wooden table, each facing a burger on a dented tin plate. The cook was behind the counter, scraping his griddle with the edge of a spatula. He had turned off the fryer some time ago, but the odor of grease lingered.”

No tension exists in this opening paragraph. It sets the stage for life in the circus during the depression, but I’m not finding anything to hook me and pull me in.

The second paragraph begins to do that work, but I’m still not wowwed: “The rest of the midway–so recently writhing with people–was empty but for a handful of employees and a small group of men waiting to be led to the cooch tent. They glanced nervously from side to side, with hats pulled low and hands thrust deep in their pockets. They wouldn’t be disappointed: somewhere in the back Barbara and her ample charms awaited.”

Just as I evaluate openings in books I’m reading, so too I gauge how long it takes for me to be pulled into a manuscript. And I’m not alone in putting lots of weight on a project’s beginning; many a book lived or died based on its first page.

What openings have grabbed you by the lapels and insisted you read on? What books did you have to persist in getting involved with–or didn’t push you into the content fast enough so you abandoned reading them?

TWEETABLES

What makes a book’s first line work–or not? Click to tweet.

A book lives or dies based on its first page. Click to tweet.

How to write an eye-popping first line. Click to tweet.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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