• amanda-square

    February 4, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda: My Path to Becoming an Agent

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    1People are always curious to know how I became an agent. Did I intern with the agency? Did I apply and get hired? Did I go through a special program? Did Chip owe my dad a favor?

    I’ve found there are usually two paths to working in publishing. One involves getting the right internships and then getting hired on afterward. And the other involves just being in the right place at the right time.

    For me it all happened at a book signing in 2008. In Fort Wayne, Indiana.

    I was working as an admissions counselor at a university at which Chip was a visiting professor. My friend, who happened to be a student there, kept telling me about this big-time agent who was on campus and how I needed to meet him. But despite it being a very small school, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who he was.

    (Now, in retrospect, I had seen him around campus. But with his goatee and pressed dress shirt, I assumed he was the new Pastoral Ministries prof.)

    So the only way to be sure to meet him, my friend decided, was to trap him at an author book signing.

    At the time, I (ashamedly) didn’t recognize the name of the author holding the book signing (Chip tells me it was Lisa Samson), and I honestly didn’t know very much about Chip or the role of an agent. But I DID know that my friend had told me he was epic. And that he had worked with Britney Spears’s mom. Which, let’s be honest, was enough to get me really wanting this to happen.

    I mean, what else could come of it than me being Brit Brit’s bestie?

    So, off we went. We walked in to the store; my friend located Chip; and then I took a breath, walked up, and introduced myself.

    He said something sarcastic.

    I said

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    February 3, 2016

    Literary Devices for the Real World: Foreshadowing

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    Old open book with a vintage library background

    Welcome to week three of Literary Devices for the Real World! I’m talking today about one of those classic high school literary devices teachers and textbooks loved to point out, foreshadowing.

    You may remember learning about foreshadowing from poems like The Highwayman and short stories such as The Lottery or The Tell-Tale Heart, and if so, it might be that you associate foreshadowing chiefly with melodrama and literary horror. The idea that foreshadowing = foreboding, however, or that foreshadowing is a tool of literary writers only is a far too narrow understanding of foreshadowing and its function in storytelling. The fact is that foreshadowing shows up everywhere, in all types of stories, literary or otherwise, chick lit or mystery. It can show up in any genre, adding dimension, helping to catch and hold the reader’s interest, and helping to establish or reinforce the tone of a story. Foreshadowing is a device storytellers instinctively use to heighten their audience’s emotional response to their story— even if you don’t specifically set out to include it, you most likely will do so without a conscious effort. Recognizing the variety of techniques for accomplishing foreshadowing and knowing the ways it can strengthen or heighten your story can help ensure that you’re maximizing its potential to enhance your reader’s experience of your story.

    Let’s first take a look at some foreshadowing basics. Foreshadowing, by definition, is an allusion to or hint at something yet to happen in a story. It can be subtle, such as a sneeze in chapter 1 from the character who’s going to die of pneumonia in chapter 10, or obvious, such as a direct revelation from the author or narrator (Shakespeare starts Romeo and Juliet by telling the reader/audience that in the story, “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life”). Foreshadowing can occur in dialogue (“I forgot you can’t swim. Don’t you get nervous living so close

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    February 1, 2016

    About that million seller…

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    Old BooksSo today I received a proposal that included these words: “This is a sure-fire million seller!”

    Uh-huh. Everybody thinks they’re going to sell a million copies. They hear about Fifty Shades of Gray and Hunger Games, and they think, “My book is just as good as those!”

    Want a dose of reality? The 2015 sales reports are out. Take a look at how many books actually sold a million copies last year…

    Of the hundreds of children’s and YA books that released last year, how many actually sold a million copies? One. That’s right — one. Old School, the tenth book in the Jeff Kenney Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was the only book last year that sold a million copies in print. John Green’s Paper Towns surpassed a million copies if you include print and ebook sales, but in print, there was ONE book. (And by the way, the bestselling print author in this genre last year is a guy who passed away 25 years ago — Dr Seuss sold a half-million copies of Oh the Places You’ll Go, and nearly that many copies of What Pet Should I Get, Green Eggs and Ham, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.) 

    And although there were thousands of nonfiction books released last year, guess how many sold more than a million copies in print? Um, one. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, and aimed at all those slightly-OCD people like me, was the only title to surpass the million mark. To be fair, Chris Kyle’s American Sniper actually sold more than a million copies in print, but half were in a trade size book and half were in mass market, and those are treated as two different books by the crazy reporting system we have in publishing. It’s also a lock that Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Reagan had to have surpassed the million mark if

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    January 28, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda: Your Website Is Your Baby

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    amanda-squareAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. She used to post on this blog every Thursday, but then things got busy and she had to prioritize. So she took a break. Amanda is smart. Be like Amanda.

    There’s one thing I’ve noticed about expectant moms these days (and no, this isn’t a post about pregnancy or motherhood)…Moms will spend weeks visiting various hospitals in their area, looking for the perfect match for their needs and expectations. They consider everything from doctor availability to space to freebies to distance from home to overall comfort level. They weigh each item against the other until a clear winner emerges.

    It makes sense when you think about how important having a baby is.

    But what if I told you that they do the same thing when purchasing a stroller or crib or carseat? What if I told you that moms these days tend to turn every babygear decision into an extensive list of pros and cons?

    Agents and editors frequently mention the need for a professional webpage, website, or blog. But one of the most common mistakes authors (and people in general) make when venturing into a relationship with a web designer is that they don’t view their career as their baby. They fail to ask questions. They fail to vet those that they hire and truly understand what they’re signing up (and paying!) for.

    So, before enlisting some Joe Schmoe designer to do your website, present him with these five questions:

    1. Can you show me examples of your previous work? Just like every author writes with a unique voice, every artist creates with a unique point of view. So before you ever consider hiring anyone to do design work for you, you must connect with their artwork. Ask to see samples (because what you see is oftentimes what you’ll get). If you like what you see, then you may have a
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    January 27, 2016

    Literary Devices for the Real World: Flashbacks

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    Pile of books on a black background

    Hello, class, and welcome to week 1 of “Literary Devices for the Real World.” Over the next several weeks, I’ll be talking about how to best use literary devices in your writing to better serve your story and improve your craft. This week: flashbacks.

    Flashbacks are one of the most commonly used literary devices, and one that can take many forms. Put simply, a flashback is a reference to or depiction of events having occurred before the “present day” of the story. Flashbacks can be external– referencing events from a character’s life before the point at which the current narrative began– or internal– referencing events that happened within the current narrative– and can occur in dreams, recall (“my father used to smoke a pack a day”), or full, immersive scenes from the past incorporated into the present-day narrative.

    Flashbacks serve to provide the reader with background information on a setting or conflict and to increase the reader’s sympathy for and understanding of a character. They can also increase the tension or suspense surrounding the current events of the story by creating curiosity about what happened between the past and the present to change things– if the main character flashes back to standing in her wedding dress at the back of a church yet in present-day the character is unmarried, the reader will know something has happened between the two realities and will want to find out what it was– divorce? Death? Left at the altar? Prologues often take the form of a flashback, starting off the book with an important scene from the past that sets up a conflict or introduces a concept or an object that will be important in the present-day story.

    Most authors use flashbacks extensively in their storytelling. Even if you don’t feel like you’re spending huge amounts of time in the past, you’re most likely constantly making reference to formative events and experiences when writing

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    January 22, 2016

    Lessons from the Diving Board (a guest blog)

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    When I was a kid, my mom signed me up for a diving class. All the beginner classes were full, so she put me in an advanced class. I guess she thought I could learn to dive from the end of a board over the deep end just as well as I could from the side of the pool. I remember doing my fair share of painful dives, and hitting my head a few times. Within six weeks, though, I was doing inwards and back flips with relative ease.
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    Writing a first book about Martin Luther, a man well covered by the most imminent of scholars, was a little like my first inward dive–naïve, driven, and far outside my realm of experience.
    I decided to write a book about Martin Luther while homeschooling. We use a literature-based curriculum, and I just didn’t see a lot of truly great options for older kids to learn about Luther. His story is exciting. I mean, there are knights, war, kidnapping, dramatic escapes, drama, and intrigue. What kid wouldn’t want to read about that? I wanted to write about it–to truly tell his story in a way that communicated all the excitement of Luther’s life and times, without glossing over his character and later life decisions.
    My first attempt at Luther was aimed at lower elementary kids, and I took it to my debut writer’s conference, knowing that if I could just communicate the need for narrative biographies for early readers, I could write a whole line of them. After all, such lines exist for important historical secular figures. I knew I was way out on the end of the diving board, but I figured I would at least try. I’m pretty sure I was shaking all four days.
    I learned a lot that first conference (where I met Chip, whom I really enjoy), and I went home to write a biography about Martin
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    January 21, 2016

    Where I’m going to be…

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    I frequently get writers sending me notes to ask where I’m going to be — which conferences I’ll be at, what industry meetings I might attend. So I thought I’d let people know where I’m going to be, and if you’re in the area, you can say hello.

    bridge

    This weekend, January 22-23, I’m in San Diego, for the 32nd Annual SDSU Writers Conference, talking to authors and teaching a workshop on creating strong non-fiction book proposals. It’s a great lineup, with editors from Hachette, Kensington, St Martins, Tor, Morrow, and other houses, plus a long list of agents. This is always a good conference, with lots of face-time with experienced people, excellent workshops, some nice mixers — and they still have room, if you want to attend!

    On Saturday, January 30, I’m in Portland, for the Write to Publish gathering with the folks at Ooligan Press. This takes place at Portland State University (I’m an alum), and they always have an eclectic gathering of writers and industry people. This year’s workshops include Writing for Comic Books, Working with Freelance Editors, Intellectual Property Rights, and The Future of Writing.

    On Saturday, February 20, I’m on the Oregon coast, doing a half-day workshop on Creating Great Book Proposals at the Hoffman Center in Manzanita. Every month they bring in great writers to speak, and this day they’re hosting Ellen Urbani, author of Landfall (of which novelist Fanny Flagg says, “Ellen Urbani has written an amazing and original piece of literature. If you love family sagas characterized by women holding the generations together via a magical combination of grit and grace, you will love this haunting book!”). I’m teaching in the morning, and Ellen is doing a workshop on creating personal narratives in the afternoon.

    On Saturday, March 19, I’m in Omaha, doing an all-day seminar on Creating the Perfect Book Proposal for the Nebraska Writers Guild. This is my favorite

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    January 20, 2016

    Literary devices for the real world

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    Pile of books on a black background

    Welcome back to my Tuesday blog on craft! Thanks to Aubrey for giving me the idea for my new series by suggesting I post on foreshadowing and flashbacks– when to use them, when to avoid them, etc. I thought I’d use that as a jumping off point for a longer series on recognizing literary devices in your writing and using them effectively, and if that sounds like a nightmare flashback to high school English, that was intentional– hear me out before you click back over to Facebook.

    We all took the same high school and college English classes in which we pointed out allegory and symbolism and foreshadowing in the same twelve pieces of literature, hand-picked because they provided the most blatantly recognizable examples of those symbols. Out in the real world, however, in the absence of the flashing neon lights of the textbook’s prompts and the teacher’s hints, we don’t always recognize those literary devices when they show up in our writing, and so we miss the opportunity to really develop them/use them most effectively. As an agent, I see writing all the time that is “almost there–” if the author just dug a little deeper in the characterizations, if he just developed the point of view a little more clearly, if she just found a little more consistency in tone, this manuscript would be great! But when I give that feedback to these same authors, too often their response is the email equivalent of a blank look– “How would I describe my tone? Um… sad, I guess? Or maybe dark. But it’s funny in places– can a tone be funny and sad? Do you mean tone as in, ‘leave a message after the?'” And so on. Without a clear understanding of tone and what determines it, an author is pretty powerless to evaluate it in his work and to strengthen/improve it if needed, and the same goes for

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    January 13, 2016

    The Most Important Thing You’ll Write in 2016

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    Well, after that shamelessly click-bait title, let me go on record right away that I’m not about to tell you what the next million-dollar-idea is and how to write it– sorry. After taking a break over the holidays (“holiday” being a word which here means “any Tuesday on which I don’t have a good idea for a blog post”), I’m back to blogging weekly about craft, and looking forward to all the good writing discussion to come in the new year on the newly revamped blog!

    Today’s topic is one that will make some of you excited and inspired and others of you rebellious and bad-tempered, and that’s fine– we welcome all kinds of writers here, though obviously, any comments which disagree with me will be deleted immediately. I want to talk about the practice of writing down your writing goals and the role of a written goal/task list in helping you move your writing career forward. This sort of planning or “vision-casting” goes against many writers’ strong belief in spontaneity, in trusting to the creative process, but even the most seat-of-your-pants writer should take a moment to consider how a little thought and a written plan of action can mean the difference between stagnation and momentum as a writer.

    I love making lists. I can’t leave for a trip without making a giant list on my phone of everything I want to remember to bring and then referring to that list every 3 seconds on the morning of departure. If I need more than two things at the grocery store, I make a list.  If I see a pretty notepad in a dollar bin at Michael’s or Target, I will buy four, so I can make more lists. If I run out of notepads, I write “notepads” on a list. You get the idea. Some people are like that– we get immense satisfaction out of organizing our lives on

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    January 11, 2016

    Predictions for Publishing in 2016 — the Year of “More”

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    Behold! Our new-look website. We’ve done a complete revamp of the site, with the goal of making things easier to read, easier to research, and to get back to having a cutting-edge blog that tackles the questions authors have about the world of publishing. Glad you are joining us!  (And if it’s not quite done, or have all the edges squared up yet… well, we’re working on it.)

    Let me start the new year with my The Predictions for Book Publishing in 2016…

    1. We’re going to see more rights sales. I think both traditional and indie publishers are going to push for more global sales, push for more audio books, and push for more variety projects (like coloring books) in 2016, which is good news for authors. It means there are more opportunities to make some income.
    2. We’re going to see more of iBooks. While Amazon is the 800-lb gorilla of ebooks, their shopping experience has always left a lot to be desired. I think this is the year Apple figures out how to improve the shopping experience and makes iBooks a destination spot for readers.
    3. We’re going to see more people reading on mobile devices. I know we keep hearing about the growth of print in 2015, but I think that was tied to the fact that the Big Five simply started charging so much more for ebooks, readers fell back to buying print. I think we’re going to see new technology and new interest from readers who want to go mobile.
    4. We’re going to see more short works. People who like USA Today like short pieces. And if people are reading on their phone or pad, they want short books. I think the rise of the 40k-to-45k novel is upon us.
    5. We’re going to see more interest in China. The country is opening up, and publishers are just now starting to figure out how to get books in
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