Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 1 of 10)

We can cite many reasons for rejection, such as poor quality of writing, but one of the major problems is that too many people simply didn’t understand the nature of an article. (I use the word article, but the principle applies to chapters of a nonfiction book, a fiction book, or a scene in a novel.)

Focus on one idea.

Let’s start with a definition. An article is a short piece that focuses on one idea. A chapter is a short piece that focuses on one idea. In the chapter of a novel, several things may happen, but the chapter has a single purpose and stays with it. It's also true with a chapter of a nonfiction book in which you may explain five ways to avoid a heart attack. But all five methods stay with the same theme.

Here’s an easy way to see how this works. Pick out two magazines. (I suggest you avoid ezines. Many of them are badly written and poorly edited.) Read three articles in each magazine.

As you read, ask yourself: What is the one point the author makes? The title should help. If it’s a how-to article called "Three Ways to Lose Weight," that points the direction. If it’s something such as "The Day Dad Cried," everything in that piece needs to point to a single, poignant event with no distracting information about where Dad lived when he was fifteen (unless it’s relevant) or the fact that he went to school with Brad Pitt's mother's younger brother.

Open a novel at the beginning of any chapter, and the principle works. Books from 100 years ago often had a table of contents for fiction that told readers what they were about to read in each chapter.

"It's not portable," an editor said about an article I wrote 30 years ago. He meant it wasn't focused. You don't want to get a similar message, do you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How to Avoid Publishing Potholes

This article is used with permission from Rob Eagar of Wildfire Marketing. Visit www.robeagar.com for more good articles for authors, and sign up for his newsletter to receive three free e-books.

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One of my favorite hobbies is cycling, which means flying down the road at speeds of 30–45 mph. To stay safe when riding a bike, you must always look ahead at least 20 yards. If you look right in front of you, that's when a wreck will occur.

If you look ahead into the distance where you are going, your brain has the uncanny ability to process upcoming obstacles, determine the safest route, and maintain smooth progress.

However, if you put your focus on your front tire, your brain will concentrate on what you see and pull you in that direction. If there's a pothole in your path and you keep looking at it, you will be drawn right into the hole.

The same dynamic of riding a bike applies to your career as an author. Wherever you choose to place your concentration will determine your destination.

Some of you reading this article are getting drawn into potholes, because you are focusing too much on current obstacles. For example, you may be struggling with a recent problem or past mistake, such as:
  • Your book got a negative review on Amazon. 
  • Someone turned down your request for an endorsement. 
  • Your last book launch didn't go well. 
  • A publisher or agent rejected your book proposal. 
  • Your Facebook ads didn't produce the desired results. 
You might be so focused on a past mistake or a missed opportunity that you’re living like someone trying to ride a bike while looking backward. That's dangerous.

The more you focus on negative issues, the more you will head in that direction and wreck your progress. Instead, keep your focus on where you want to go. Give your brain the freedom to see into the future and chart a safe course. Concentrate your thoughts on looking down the road ahead of you, such as:
  • I will get my book published. 
  • My next book launch is going to be better. 
  • I will ask three other people for an endorsement. 
  • Look at all of the positive reviews I have on Amazon. 
  • I will learn to use online advertising and reach new readers. 
This week, take a moment to ask yourself, "Where am I looking?" Are you focused on the future or stuck looking down at the circumstances?

Then, go ride a bike. It's quite fun . . . as long as you look ahead.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

How to Ruin an Interview

This article is adapted from Don Otis’s MediaWise blog and is used with his permission. Don is president of Veritas Communications, a publicity agency that has scheduled more than 30,000 interviews since 1991. (www.veritasincorporated.com)
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In a world where the loudest (or stupidest) voices seem to garner the most attention, few people have the sense to let their reason and civility prevail. Christian pastor and writer Steve Brown says, “Wise and successful communicators will always realize they aren’t half as good as those who applaud are implying, aren’t half as bad as those who criticize might suggest.” 

I agree. Humility is always a greater strength than is arrogance.

If you’re a writer who wants to ruin an interview, here’s what you should do:

Try to impress the host or audience rather than communicate. A college English teacher once told me the idea of good writing is not to impress with big words (intellectualize) but to help people understand what you want to say.

Be stoic and show little or no emotion. If you aren’t excited about your book or topic, I guarantee no else will be either.

Quote the Bible often to show how biblically literate you are. There are times this may be helpful, but these times are rare during any interview. As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Don’t listen to the questions. By the way, this happens in marriages all the time. That’s why a good therapist will ask couples to repeat what they just heard a spouse say. You can’t do this in interviews, but you can be “others-directed” and listen well.

Disrespect the host or audience. We use the word rapport to describe good communication between people or groups. This is simply a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well. Disrespect inevitably destroys rapport.

Be unprepared. Show up late or forget to have your book or notes ready for an interview. Some authors I know are proud to say they “wing it.” Avoid this attitude.

Be inflexible. This means staying so focused on your needs that you fail to recognize the needs of the host or audience. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Choosing the Best Agent

(This post is written by literary agent Tamela Hancock Murray and is shared here with permission of The Steve Laube Agency.) 

Selecting the best agent is pivotal to the career of any author seeking a traditional publisher. A few traditional publishers accept unsolicited (read: unagented) proposals, but as submissions increase thanks to efficient technology and the growing number of aspiring authors, those publishers are becoming fewer. Most traditional publishers prefer agented submissions. In fact, at many conferences, editors advise new authors to find an agent before submitting to them.

Here are a few tips for how to do that:

1. Keep reading our blog. Being here helps you get to know us and gives you a chance to interact with us. Thank you for being part of our blog community.

2. Interact with us on social media. This is another excellent way to see what we’re like.

3. Visit the agency’s website. Would you like to be listed as a client there? Why or why not?

4. Consider what type of books the agent represents. Most agents seek work across the spectrum, but you may want to consider if an agent specializes in your category of project. What is the agent’s brand? Also, some agencies (like The Steve Laube Agency) represent only Christian and clean general market books, while others represent both inspirational and erotic works.

5. Attend top conferences. Conference directors strive to maintain their events’ reputation and tend to vet publishing professionals they invite to be on faculty.

6. Ask friends. Asking your friends about their agents is another excellent way to find out information. But be aware that everyone has both advocates and enemies. Don’t let one negative review, particularly if the author seems quite angry and emotional, ward you off a good agent forever. And listen to the adverse reviews to hear what they really mean. There’s a huge difference between, “That agent ripped me off” and “That agent and I didn’t agree on strategy.” See if you can find a number of people who genuinely like the agent. When the agent is otherwise well-respected and honest, his strategy may be wrong for your friend but perfect for you!

7. Consult The Christian Writers Market Guide. This book is the definitive resource for accurate and up to date listings of reputable agents. It’s also full of other great information.

Finding an agent can be a scary process but we’re on your team. Talk to us and let’s get your career moving! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Literary Agent: How Does This Work?

(Steve Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency, gave us permission to reprint this article from his blog.)

The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) began in 1991 as a professional organization representing literary agents, mostly in the broader general publishing world. Their Canon of Ethics are a solid foundation for anyone in the profession.

So, why are agents needed?

For authors, an agent is the professional voice of experience and insight on everything from the contract to the relationship with a publisher. Without agents, authors need to depend on their own knowledge and experience, which for many is limited, but not an issue for others who know how things work.

For publishers, agents perform a valuable service.

First, agents curate proposals from thousands of aspiring authors, locating those who have the best chance for success and present them to appropriate editors. This saves the publisher time and money.

Second, agents are a good liaison between the author and publisher, often handling difficult issues and serving as mediator between them. Publishers’ staff might say something to an agent they wouldn’t say to an author.

How are agents paid?

Agents are paid when an author is paid and for nothing else. They are not employed by an individual or group of publishers.

The AAR Canon of Ethics discusses the problems with agents charging for proposal review or other fees. It would be widely agreed in the agent community that agents would only be paid their commission (usually 15%) whenever the author is paid.

This is why agents are less likely to be interested in an author who is “more interested in getting a book published than making money.” You need to forgive the agent community if we lose interest in representation when you declare your disdain for earning money from publishing. It is how we earn a living and we won’t apologize for it.

However, if your only motivation is money, I can suggest a wide variety of professions and positions which earn far more than book-writing for a large percentage of authors.

It’s all about balance and respect for what each party brings to the table.

What do agents do for an author?
  • Find a path for an author with a greater chance to be published “well.” Believe it or not, there is a difference between being “published” and “published well.”
  • Make sure an author is treated fairly in the contracting process and they are aware of potential difficult issues with it.
  • Give authors advice regarding the business and emotion of publishing. Believe it or not, publishing is an emotional business.
  • Give a perspective on the industry. An agent should know how things work.
  • Communicate good and bad news with perspective. Good things and not-so-good things happen to authors in the past, and they survived. It might be nice to know how others handled the same situation.
  • Translate negatives into positive action. While I’ve know some people to translate positives into some kind of negative, agents know how to make lemonade from lemons and turn what might be a discouragement into a series of positive experiences.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 7 of 7)

When I create an illustration or story inside my head, it's always wonderful and oozing with emotion and action. When I put it on the page, it's never as powerful as it was in my imagination.

That's probably true of all writers.

However, some writers carry those images, write a few words, and they feel they've created a picture with which readers resonate.

"My crystal ball refuses to function," I told one writer. "I can't see inside your head, no matter how wonderful your prose." It took her several weeks of struggle before she was able to move the images to her computer screen.

My assumption is that introverted and introspective authors have the biggest struggles in this area. Because they have what I call a rich interior life, they have to learn how to translate those mental pictures to the page. It may be difficult, but they can learn.

Inside my head, my words are always wonderful; 
I seek to match that with the words on the screen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 6 of 7)

You work hard and learn to write descriptively. What are the payoffs for you? The first and most obvious answer is that you feel you've written something worthwhile—that's the intrinsic reward.

You also create the illusion of reality. You subtly invite readers to keep reading. As one of my friends said, "It's the proof that supports and sustains the story."

When done well, the sensory details penetrate layers of consciousness by grabbing readers both intellectually and emotionally.

Descriptive writing establishes characters and settings quickly and efficiently. Well-placed phrases move your prose along and act as a transitional device by linking scenes or changing of time and place.

I'm an artist and my words create pictures for readers.