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/

* * * * *

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Waiting (Part 3 of 4)

This post is written by Steve Laube and is reprinted with his permission.
* * * * *

Waiting for Your Editor

You met your deadline. And then you wait.

Months.

And you begin wondering if anyone is reading the manuscript at all!

This is actually quite typical. The publisher needs to have the manuscript in hand to know that it actually has been written. But don’t think the editor is sitting at their inbox, on the due date, with rapt anticipation of receiving your contracted manuscript. They manage their time in order to keep things in the queue and moving along. It can be very frustrating to wait. The key here is to be in communication with your editor. It is okay to ask! Or talk to your agent to see if they know if there is anything going on that is preventing that editor from working on your book.

Waiting for Your Marketing and Publicity to Kick In

The new author is so excited about their new book that they want to start chatting about it the day after they turn in the manuscript. A great athlete or sports team wants to peak at the right time, never too early. The same with book promotion. If you begin tweeting and creating Facebook posts, without inventory online or in stores to back it up, the window of sales opportunity closes.

“But e-books solve that issue because they can be ready today!” you shout. True. But don’t forget that a lot of people still buy physical books in stores, online, and off your back table at an event. The physical book is still alive and well and must be available if your publicity and marketing is to be effective.

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

Do you have questions about ghostwriting or collaborating? Cec's legacy book, Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method, is now available for pre-order.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Waiting (Part 2 of 4)

This post is written by Steve Laube and is reprinted with his permission.
* * * * *

Waiting for a Publisher

After working hard to get your proposal just right, we send it out to a select list of publishers. Then we all sit back and wait. It can take 3-6 months to hear an answer from a publisher. The longest our agency waited was 22 months before we received a contract offer. No kidding. Just shy of two years. [Both my client and I had already moved on, thinking the project was dead.] But that is truly the exception. I believe that if we don’t receive some sort of answer within four months it is probably not going to connect.

That record was recently surpassed by a client who was contacted by a magazine asking to publish a poem she submitted twenty-six years ago… in 1990. You read that right. Evidently this magazine keeps great files and a new editor must have been going through the archives!

Waiting for Your Contract

Once terms are agreed upon, it can take quite a while to get the actual contract issued by some publishers. Many can take as long as two months to generate the paperwork. We once had to change the date of the contract because it had taken so long to create the paperwork that the due date for the manuscript was earlier than the actual date on the contract! This delay can be excruciating. Ask your agent what is typical for the specific publisher you are working with. That way your expectations will be set.


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

* * * * *

Do you have questions about ghostwriting or collaborating? Cec's legacy book, Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method, is now available for pre-order.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Waiting (Part 1 of 4)

This post is by Steve Laube and is reprinted with his permission.

* * * * *

Good publishing takes time. Time to write well. Time to edit well. Time to find the right agent. Time to find the right publisher. Time to edit again and re-write. Time to design well. Time to market well.

While there can be a lot of activity, it still feels like “time” is another word for “wait.” No one likes to wait for anything. Our instant society (everything from Twitter to a drive-thru burger) is training us to want things to happen faster. Business experts claim faster is better (see Charles Duhigg’s book on productivity Smarter, Faster, Better). Many years ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published, which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved in traditional publishing. Reviewing that post from half a decade ago reveals that nothing has changed!

A successful author learns how to wait well.

Waiting for the Agent

Why can’t agents respond faster? Don’t we just sit around all day and read? We try our best to reply to submissions within eight weeks and are relatively good about that. But if your project passes the first review stage and we are now reviewing your entire manuscript, remember that reading a full manuscript is much more demanding than reading a few pages in a proposal.

If you are already represented, all I can say is that agents do their best to be responsive to your questions and phone calls. Crisis Management is part of our job description. Remember that one of the first things a First Responder must do is triage. Some issues are more critical than others, which can create consternation if yours is next in line instead of first.

But if your agent is unresponsive that is a conversation for another blog post.


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

* * * * *

Are you interested in ghostwriting or collaborative writing? Cec's newest book for writers--Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method--is now available for preorder.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

10 Marketing Do's and Don'ts for the Year (Part 3 of 3)

--By Rob Eagar (used with his permission)

8. Don’t Burn Yourself Out
The typical author, business owner, and non-profit director works a tireless schedule. Downtime can get pushed to the backburner, which leads to exhaustion, stress, and lowered creativity. Plan vacations now and make them sacrosanct. You’ll face this year feeling more relaxed knowing a vacation is on the books.

9. Do Pursue Bulk Sales
Bulk sales provide more revenue with less effort. For example, if you speak at conferences, encourage the director to buy your book for every attendee. Provide volume discounts as the quantity goes up, or create a special version of your product unique to the customer, such as custom covers, exclusive content, bonuses, etc.

10. Don’t Skip Your Professional Growth
Don’t view professional development or hiring outside expertise as an expense. View it as investing money today to make more money tomorrow. But, only take advice from someone who has succeeded at achieving your intended goal. If you want to increase your business acumen, you must increase your skills.

As you read these 10 Marketing Do’s and Don’ts, pick two or three issues and work on them this week.


Rob Eagar is the founder of WildFire Marketing and a broad-based marketing consultant who helps authors, publishers, and organizations spread their message like wildfire. http://www.startawildfire.com/

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

10 Marketing Do's and Don'ts for the Year (Part 2 of 3)

--By Rob Eagar (used with his permission)

4. Do Launch New Products
For every good book, product, or service, there are usually three or more spin-off opportunities. For instance, turn a printed book into an e-book, live event, or video curriculum. Take your top-selling products and offer them into larger or smaller sizes. Doing so helps you attract a wider audience and expand sales more efficiently.

5. Don’t Let Your Website Get Stale
Are you guilty of going through last year without updating your website? If so, you’re implying that your business is stagnant. This year, add new content on a monthly basis, such as new articles, stories, samples, testimonials, products, case studies, etc.

6. Do Raise Your Fees
When was the last time you raised the prices on your products or services? Inflation is always going up, and if your fees don’t rise with it, you’ll fall behind. You should be smarter than a year ago, so you should be worth more. Raise your fees.

7. Do Attend Major Conferences in Your Field
Where do influential leaders gather? At major conferences and events. If you want to meet them, you’ve got be in the same room rubbing shoulders together. Pick at least one new conference to attend and put it in your budget.

As you read these 10 Marketing Do’s and Don’ts, pick two or three issues and work on them this week.

Rob Eagar is the founder of WildFire Marketing and a broad-based marketing consultant who helps authors, publishers, and organizations spread their message like wildfire. http://www.startawildfire.com/

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

10 Marketing Do's and Don'ts for the Year (Part 1 of 3)

--By Rob Eagar (used with his permission)


1. Do Grow Your Email Newsletter List
My most successful clients all have large e-newsletter lists with at least 50,000 subscribers. If you don’t have a newsletter, start one today. If you do, maintain consistency and focus on growing your database. Encourage signups by offering an exclusive resource to attract new subscribers. Set a goal to add at least 100 new subscribers per month.

2. Don’t Stop Asking For Referrals
Last year, over 50 percent of my revenue came via referrals. Obtaining referrals is the most efficient and cost-effective way to increase your business. Generating referrals is simply asking current customers, “Who else do you know who needs my value?” or “Could you introduce me to _____?”

3. Do Enhance Your Brand
There are so many voices competing for America’s attention that it’s imperative to be seen as an object of interest. If you have no brand, or your brand is bland, make this your year to resolve the problem. For expert advice on this topic, see Chapter 3 in my book, Sell Your Book Like Wildfire.

As you read these 10 Marketing Do’s and Don’ts, pick two or three issues and work on them this week.

--Rob Eagar is the founder of WildFire Marketing and a broad-based marketing consultant who helps authors, publishers, and organizations spread their message like wildfire. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Write Tight (Part 7 of 7)

Rid your writing of clichés. Although I've mentioned it previously in my blogs, writers don't seem to grasp the banality of hackneyed phrases. I can easily provide a list of 50 tired, overworked statements, but the better way is to point to the principle.

Think of it this way: If the phrase or term we use is something we've heard or read before, revise it. Careful, creative writers find new expressions for old ideas.

In most pieces of advice by writers on clichés, they usually write, "Avoid clichés like the plague." Someone said it, others found it humorous, and copied it. By the time writers have encountered the phrase 900 times, the humor has been sucked out of it.

Here's an exercise I devised for myself early in my writing career. I looked for clichés in my writing and in what I read. I copied them and tried to devise a better, sharper way of making the same point.

Don't we want readers to think of us as clever? Original? If our writing is like everyone else's, why do we write?

I am a growing writer;
I learn new ways to say old things.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Write Tight (Part 6 of 7)

We are authorities. When our articles or books appear in print, we are the know-it-person on that topic. Once we recognize that we are authorities, we tend to write tight. That's why we're published.

Therefore, we can write, knowing our words carry weight. Too often I see limp phrases such as I thinkI feelperhapsprobablymaybein my opinion, or even IMHO. If we're unsure about what we want to say, avoid such statements. We don't want to end up as looking ignorant or foolish.

At times, we need to express an opinion, but we do that to state a conclusion based on our expertise that we can't prove.

When my words appear in print, 
readers consider me an authority.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Write Tight (Part 5 of 7)

Words slip into our language in casual conversation and before long, they weaken our prose. And weaken is correct. The best writing keeps readers moving from sentence to sentence without stumbling over needless words.

Awesome! Absolutely! Those two expressions have sneaked into our writing. In fact, (I used those two words as a transition to the next sentence) I deleted both words as I reread an email this morning. Awesome, when used properly, refers to an overwhelming emotion, which can be negative or positive. Too often it means only that is good or I'm impressed—but not overpowered.

Absolutely means without restriction or condition. In casual conversation, it's usually meant for emphasis—but it sounds as if we've misused a powerful word.

If we ask ourselves what we want to communicate,
we can excise meaningless words.