Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Remove the Barriers in Fiction

This article, written by literary agent Karen Ball, first appeared on the Steve Laube Agency blog. It's used here with her permission.

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Few things empower fiction better than well-developed characters. Which is why you don’t want to create unintentional barriers between your characters and your readers. What barriers, you ask? Well, here’s one that affects POV characters:

John knew he was about to learn something important.

Do you see it? The barrier? No? How about here…

Sally realized she wasn’t getting it.

This barrier is kind of like those rotten little sugar ants that one day are not to be seen, and the next day are crawling all over your counter. You had no idea they were lurking there, unseen, and suddenly they’re everywhere! This sneaky barrier skitters into our writing when we’re not looking and pushes the reader just a step away from our character.

Still not sure what it is? Then consider this. We’re still in John’s and Sally’s POVs:

He was about to learn something important.

She wasn’t getting it.

Yup, it’s the knew and realized. If you guessed it, congrats! If you didn’t, not to worry. Now you know.

When writing a POV character, don’t tell us he or she has realized, or knows, or sees, or hears something. Just show the realizing, knowing, seeing, and so on. Because the fact is, if the POV character didn’t realize, know, see, or whatever, we couldn’t either since we’re perceiving the story through them. So this is not only a barrier to the characters, but it’s redundant.

So not:

Bill saw the man coming toward him.

But

A man came toward him.

It’s not a big change, but it’s one that removes a layer of distance—a barrier, in essence—between the reader and your character. Rather than being told about something, the reader experiences it with the character. After all, that’s much of the power of fiction, that our readers experience the journey and the story with the characters. And part of our job as writers is to ensure they can do that with as few barriers as possible.

—Karen Ball has worked as an editor for several publishers, including Tyndale, Zondervan, and B&H. She is a literary agent with the Steve Laube Agency.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Do You Want to Write? (Part 5 of 5)

Let your genre choose you. That probably sounds strange, but I believe that each serious writer has potential to do well in at least one area. And there are any number of ways you let the genre choose you. I’ve previously mentioned your passion and asking writer friends.

I’m a serious Christian and I pray daily for my writing. I began to write when I was a pastor and wrote and sold about 100 articles before I wrote my first book. For the first six or seven years, I rewrote my sermons. From there I branched out into other areas. In an earlier blog, I mentioned choosing your rut. But that’s after you’ve begun to establish yourself.

I became a ghostwriter because I wrote a novel and, at the recommendation of a successful author, sent it to her editor. He read it, rejected it, and said, “Too slow for today’s market, but . . .” And that’s where the door opened for me. “But you have the ability to get inside other people,” he said.
“I’d like you to become a ghostwriter for our publishing house.”

Even though I’d never tried it, I agreed and did 35 books for that publishing house. That’s why I say, let the genre choose you.

Because I’m a Christian, I could say that God intervened (and I believe that) or as my Buddhist friend said to me, “You were open to the universe.” My agnostic neighbor likes to refer to circumstances. Regardless of how you phrase it, my advice remains.

Be open to possibilities; 
let your genre choose you.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What Do You Want to Write? (Part 4 of 5)

If you have a narrow focus, be careful. Once you start publishing books in one genre, you’re branded. If you’re a novelist, it’s difficult to move into nonfiction. Your fan base stays with you because you write in the area where they want to read. If you switch, they probably won’t, and it means starting over again.

When I think along that line, I remember our years living in rural Kenya. During the long rains (when it rained day and night), the only way we could travel was to pick a rut and stay with it because our tires sank several inches. Trying to get out of that mired track often meant being stuck and unable to move in any direction.

That’s how I think of specialized writing. It’s easy to follow the same rut, if you enjoy it. Before I specialized in ghostwriting, I wrote articles on marriage—a lot of them—and one publisher asked me to write The Encyclopedia of Christian Marriage, which I did. Afterward, I decided I wanted out of that field.

I chose to generalize as early as 1980, knowing that it would be difficult or nearly impossible to sell in more than one genre. Even now, I make my living as a ghostwriter/collaborator. I write in other nonfiction fields, but none of them sell as well. My brand, my public identity, comes from my specialized field.

If you want to be a successful author, 
choose your rut.

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Are you interested in ghostwriting or collaborating and don't know where to start? Check out Cec's new book, Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method. It'll answer your questions and get you on the right track.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What Do You Want to Write? (Part 3 of 5)

My fourth suggestion is experiment. Try writing in various fields. If you’re serious about fiction, try nonfiction. The idea of attempting a wide variety of writing helped me narrow my focus. I wrote a few children’s stories, and other authors helped me to realize that they were, at best, satisfactory.

Too many writers seem to feel they’ll impress agents and editors if they say, “I want to write historical fiction, health and fitness, and Bible studies.” That doesn’t endear you. It says you’re still a novice and need to decide.

My writing friends can help me figure out 
what I really want to write.

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Are you interested in learning more about ghostwriting and collaborating? Check out Cec's new book, Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What Do You Want to Write? (Part 2 of 5)

You know what you want to write because of your passion for the topic or the genre. Good start. Sometimes we’re blinded by our commitment or zeal and aren’t aware that we might have aptitude for a different field.

My third suggestion is talk with other writers and show them your material. Approach them by asking their help figuring out where you need to focus. Others can see talent in us that we don’t. On my own, I wouldn’t have considered ghostwriting. Or even writing biographies and memoirs.

You may not be aware of your aptitude for genres. 
Your friends can help you.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What Do You Want to Write? (Part 1 of 5)

As we move into writing seriously, we need to answer that question for ourselves. Some individuals know exactly what they want to see in print and don’t deviate or try anything new.

But if you’re like I was when I started, I wanted to write on nine or ten different topics.

If you’re not sure (or even if you are, consider a few suggestions).

First, examine your own areas of interest. What do you enjoy reading? That can be a tricky question because some of us read widely. I read fiction and nonfiction. I’m immensely curious about many things—like many writers. That may not give you an answer, but it causes you to ponder.

Second, look at your heart. Your passion. What topics or genres stir you when you think about writing? That may not be the ultimate answer, but it’s a good place to start.

To figure out what you want to write,
begin by examining your passion.

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Have you wondered what it takes to be a ghostwriter or collaborator and don't know where to go for help? Check out Cec's legacy book, Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Waiting (Part 4 of 4)

Steve Laube wrote this post and gave his permission to use it here. 

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Waiting for Your Money

When I became an agent I didn’t know I’d become a Collections Agent…not just a Literary Agent. Getting paid can take time (i.e. waiting).

Waiting for the “on signing” advance — normally the publisher will take a full 30 days before issuing the check after the contract is counter-signed and officially executed.

Waiting for the “on acceptance of manuscript” advance — this can vary widely. Just because you turned it in doesn’t mean it is acceptable. One publisher we work with will not issue an “acceptance” check until the book has gone through every stage of the editorial process and has been sent to production for typesetting. This can take months. My suggestion is that you take your due date and then add four months…that way you don’t budget for the money to come earlier.

Waiting for the advance to earn out and new royalty earnings to arrive — yes, some books do not earn out their advances. But many do earn out and the royalties eventually start coming, even if in tiny increments. This can take a while, depending on the advance and the book. We recently had a client’s book with a small advance finally earn out five years after it had been published.

Indie Authors Wait Too

For those of you who are publishing independently you may feel like you’ve skipped most of these stages. And that is partially true. But a wise writer won’t put their book out into the market before it is ready. This means taking the time to write the best book possible. Taking the time to have the book edited professionally…not by just anyone who took an English class in school. Taking the time to find the right book cover to represent your book. Taking the time to create and execute a strategic marketing plan (a plan that is more than simply uploading an ebook and charging 99 cents). Taking the risk of investing enough money in the right places for the right results.

At each stage the writer chaffs at the process. This is quite understandable. I once read an author’s angry screed (on their blog) criticizing their publisher for the excruciating process of getting their book out. The problem, as I see it, is that the author’s expectations were not in line with reality. Much of a writer’s angst can be avoided by understanding the process and modifying their expectations to match.

Therefore my encouragement for you is to learn how to wait. (Some scientists even claim that it might be good for you). It is to your benefit to accept the nature of this process and embrace the agony of waiting. Anticipating the result can be as fulfilling as holding the finished product.

—Steve Laube is a literary agent and owner of Christian Writers Institute. http://www.stevelaube.com/

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Are you interested in ghostwriting or collaborating? Check out Cec's new book, Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method. It's now available for purchase.