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Category : Conferences
We’re doing a month of “Ask the Agent” here on the blog — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to discuss with a literary agent. Last week someone asked, “If I go to a conference and get to meet with an agent or editor, what’s the best way to prepare?”
1. Do some research before you sign up. If you write westerns, for example, you don’t want to meet with an editor who is going to open with the words, “Um… we don’t do westerns.” Spend a few moments online, trying to find the agents and editors who might be a match for your writing.
2. Think carefully about your expectations before you sit down to the meeting. If you’re expecting an editor is going to hear your idea and announce, “You’re the most brilliant writer since Tom Pynchon! Sign this contract immediately!” then you may be setting the bar too high.
3. Remember that it’s perfectly all right to have a meeting and just ask the editor/agent, “What do you think of my idea?” or “What suggestions do you have for me improving my work?” A face-to-face meeting isn’t just to find an agent or get a publishing deal. I never mind having people set up appointments just to talk through ideas, explore career stuff, lay down a bet, etc.
4. If you’re hoping to get an editor to pay serious attention to your novel, make sure what you show them is 100% done. Most of the things we reject just aren’t ready to be shown yet — the author has brought in something that’s 80% done, or maybe 50% done… but it’s not 100% ready. If you bring in something to show to an agent and you want to discuss representation, it should be so strong that I have no reason to turn it down. (If you’re just coming to discuss it, then you can
Have you ever wanted to choose a specific reader for your book? A reader who would be enthusiastic about your fiction? A reader who would talk about your books, or leave reviews? A reader who would be so excited about your writing they would buy your backlist?
The Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award is a unique contest for authors who are published in Inspirational Fiction. Growing out of the Romance Writers of America, the judges for the IRCA are readers of Christian fiction, but are not involved in the publishing industry. They don’t write, edit, or do book reviews professionally. These judges simply love Inspirational fiction. They like to share their newly discovered books and authors with friends and family. And they are the readers we as authors want to reach.
Our judges come from across the United States and as far away as Australia and Puerto Rico. Most are Christians involved with a church, but some of our readers are simply people who appreciate a wholesome, well-told story. When reading a title, they will often think of someone your book might benefit.
For the past seventeen years I have coordinated the IRCA. I read many comments from the judges — comments that we promised to keep private, but are often so exciting I want to send them to the author as encouragement. I’ll share a few of those comments anonymously:
—Tremendously wonderful read!…I had to have [the author’s] other books, so I ran out and bought them.
—Wow!…A book God put in my hands to uplift me…
—I would definitely recommend this book, and will be looking into other books by this author…
–This was a new author for me to read, but I will look for more of her books.
New authors may wonder about the advantages of entering a contest like this, so just know that your blog host, longtime literary
On Saturday, March 19, I’m going to be spending the day with a bunch of writers at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center in Omaha, Nebraska. I’m being hosted by the Nebraska Writers Guild, and I’m really excited because I’m going to be spending the day talking about how to create the perfect book proposal.
The fact is, I love talking about this topic, since I think a lot of writers who have spent years learning how to craft their manuscripts begin to struggle when they have to shift from “writing my book” to “selling my book to a publisher.” So if you’re wondering how to create a great book proposal that will get noticed by editors and agents, come join us.
I take the time to make sure everyone knows the purpose behind proposals, and then we go through the details of crafting both a nonfiction book proposal (with all the section-by-section notes that are needed of make it complete) as well as a novel proposal (and the importance of pre-telling your story to the editor). One of the things that makes this workshop unique is that I share some real-world examples of proposals that I actually represented, and that landed book deals at publishing houses. Then, after going through the details, we spend some time on refining the proposal — exploring the little keys that will make your book stand out in a crowd.
We’ll also take some time to talk about how to write a query letter and how to pitch a book face-to-face, so you’ll be ready the next time you go to a writers’ conference and have to sit down across the table from some famous editor. And we’ll talk about today’s market — what’s working, what’s not, and what questions you have about the publishing business.
I love this topic, and really appreciate the chance to spend a day just focused on creating and
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.
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
I’ve been trying to catch up on all the questions people have sent in, so let me share a handful of queries: “When speaking with an editor at a conference, what is the best way to approach the allotted 15 minutes? Do I focus on the editor and the titles she’s worked on? Do I focus on my novel? Do I bring a one sheet?”
The best way to approach your time at an editorial appointment is to do some research and practice. Check to make sure the editor you’re meeting actually acquires books in your genre. Find out what you can about the editor’s likes and dislikes. Then practice what you’re going to say — sharing your name, your book idea, the conflict, theme, genre,and hook. Be clear and succinct, and rehearse your talk out loud, so you know what it feels like to say the words. Be ready to engage in dialogue with the editor. Dress professionally, and bring some words to show them (many like a one-sheet; I prefer the first five pages). In my view, the focus of a successful editorial appointment is your book, so think through how to talk about your book in an engaging way without sounding like just another pitch.
Another person wrote to ask, “Should I pay more attention to a literary agent’s list of authors they represent, or to their agency’s list of authors? In other words, if a Big Deal Agency has bestselling authors, how much does that mean if the agent I’m talking to doesn’t represent any of those writers?”
That’s an interesting question, since every agency tries to promote their bestselling authors. I was at Alive Communications when we represented the Left Behind series that sold 70 million copies worldwide — and while I didn’t have much of anything to do with that series, I certainly mentioned that we represented it when I was a young
Welcome to what will probably be the conclusion of my “Craft for a Conference” series (unless someone asks a question about an aspect of conference materials that I haven’t addressed already). Through my last four posts on conference craft, I repeated one mantra: that the purpose of any material you take to a conference (including spoken pitches) should be to gain the interest of the person you’re talking to as quickly as possible and to make yourself stand out from the crowd (in a positive way) as much as you can. When I meet with authors at conferences, the thing I see missing from pitches/conference materials more than anything else is that memorability factor– I read a lot of good hooks, some nice one-sheets, but at the end of a day where I’ve taken 20 appointments plus heard pitches at lunch and dinner, I’m often hard-pressed to recall ONE story idea without looking at my notes.
Now, obviously, there’s an element of information fatigue at play there; even a great, memorable story can get lost in the annals of memory if I heard ten forgettable pitches after it, and that’s what my notes are for. But when I read those notes, I want to go, “OH yeah, this one!” because I recognize the unique elements that stood out for me when you pitched it. I want you to have made it easy for me to remember it by pulling out everything that is most unique and most characteristic of that story in your one-sheet or your pitch. The fact that this doesn’t happen more often tells me not that authors aren’t writing memorable stories, but that they don’t always know how to make themselves/their pitches or materials memorable, that they don’t know what elements of their book stand out from the crowd and how to highlight those.
With that in mind, here are some places to start in your quest
I’m frequently asked where people can meet us and talk books, so if you’re traveling and want to chat sometime, look us up.
Amanda Luedeke is speaking at the Realm Makers Conference, July 7 & 8 in St Louis. For people who like science fiction and fantasy, this is a popular conference to attend. It’s held on the campus of the University of Missouri, and this year’s keynote is our good buddy Robert Liparulo.
Chip MacGregor will be at the 60th annual Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle July 16-19. We’re meeting at the SeaTac Hilton, and this year’s conference offers a a robust line up of workshops to benefit writers at all levels, from specific instruction on elements of craft to sessions on the business of writing for those writers ready to publish. A sampling of topics range from crafting a memorable villain to developing an author platform and marketing your book. (You can find the full schedule here.) There’s also a long list of agents and editors coming, plus keynotes from authors like Andre Dubus III, J.A. Jance, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Boyle, and Kevin O’Brien.
He will also be speaking at the Willamette Writers Conference, August 7 to 9 in Portland, Oregon. One of the great writing conferences on the left coast, you’ll find a long list of agents and editors, a very strong list of workshops to attend, and one of the most creative schedules of any conference. Chip even gets to moderate a panel with New York Times bestsellers Jennifer Lauck, Philip Margolin, April Henry, Laurie Notaro, and Daniel H. Wilson.
If you write for the CBA market, we’ll go right from there to the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, August 10 to 13, also in Portland. Several CBA-focused editors and agents will be there, as well as teaching sessions with such bestselling authors as Susan May Warren, Jane Kirkpatrick, Leslie Gould, Jim Rubart,
Welcome back to my series on crafting effective pieces for use at a conference. Today, I’m discussing the value of bringing a writing sample with you to a conference and how to make sure it represents you effectively.
Like I said the first week of the series, there isn’t one hard-and-fast rule as to what you should bring to your editor and agent meetings at a conference. Some editors are happy to glance through a full proposal, some agents love to see a one-sheet on your project, and some people don’t want to look at anything on paper, preferring to hear you talk about your project and ask you questions instead. NONE of us wants to leave with a big stack of papers, and word is starting to get around that it’s increasingly difficult to get us to leave with any printed materials you bring us, so the practice of authors carrying around their sample chapters or first 50 pages or, heaven forbid, their full manuscript, has become much less common at conferences.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad fewer authors are trying to send me home with ten extra pounds of paper, but I have been disappointed, on many occasions, when meeting with an author who’s done a good job of hooking me with their story or concept through their one-sheet or pitch, to ask if the author has a writing sample with him and be met with a blank, slightly panicked stare and the stammered apology, “I– I didn’t know– I’ve heard you don’t want– I don’t have–” by which they mean, “No, I don’t have a writing sample, either because I didn’t expect to get this far, or because I’ve been told not to bring a big stack of paper to a meeting like this, or because I thought you would only be interested in hearing about my platform, and now I’m having a heart attack
Continuing my series on crafting effective pieces for use at a conference, I’m talking more today about the synopsis and how to make sure it’s doing its job for your proposal. We’ll look briefly at format and then look at ways to avoid several common synopsis mistakes.
A synopsis is similar to a proposal in that there isn’t one “correct” way to format it. While there are elements that every synopsis should have in common, rarely are you going to be “disqualified” from consideration just because your synopsis isn’t formatted exactly the way that agent or editor prefers. That said, there are still a few fairly standard conventions you should be aware of:
-Synopses are often single-spaced. This may seem strange, since your sample chapters/manuscript should be double-spaced, but remember, an agent or editor is reading your synopsis to get a complete picture of your story from beginning to end– having all the info contained to a single page (as you should 9 times out of 10 be able to do for any book shorter than 100,000 words– see more below) helps us think of the book as a whole because we literally “see” it all in the same place.
-Names are often written in all-caps the first time they appear in a synopsis. Again, this is a way for the reader to visually track when a new player enters the story, and tells them to pay attention, they need to know who this person is.
–Synopses are always written in third-person present tense. Tense discrepancies in a synopsis (such as switching back and forth from past to present) interrupt our experience of the story.
Common synopsis mistakes and how to avoid them
I mentioned last week the mistake of being too vague in your synopsis (writing that “tragedy strikes,” rather than “Helen dies of the fever”), but here are a few more repeat offenders from the “synopses
This week, I’m continuing my series on how to best channel your craft in your conference materials by talking about your novel’s synopsis. A synopsis is an important part of any proposal– sometimes an agent or editor will read it at the conference when taking a look at your proposal, other times they won’t see it until you send them the requested sample chapters or full manuscript, but whenever they get around to looking at it, they’ll be expecting certain things from the synopsis, and if yours doesn’t deliver, you risk frustrating or confusing that important reader. Remember, agents and editors are looking for reasons to say “no” to a project– not in a jerky, we-can’t-wait-to-stomp-on-your-dreams kind of way (well, not most of us…), but in a realistic, we-hear-pitches-all-the-time-and-have-trained-ourselves-to-listen-for-certain-dealbreakers-so-as-not-to-waste-our-or-an-author’s-time-by-pursuing-a-project-that-doesn’t-fit-our-guidelines/preferences/areas-of-interest kind of way. A synopsis that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to creates a potential place for us to say “no,” so make sure you understand the function of a synopsis in a proposal and how to make sure it provides what an agent or editor is looking for in a synopsis.
What is the purpose of a synopsis? When an agent or editor looks at a synopsis, they’re looking to get a feel for the WHOLE book, beginning to end. If they’re reading the synopsis, you’ve most likely already “hooked” them with a dynamite paragraph or pitch giving the main idea of the story– “some particular big thing or big problem happens to a main character or two in a particular setting and hijinks ensue as colorful secondary character’s arc or additional subplot unfolds in tandem with the main character’s journey to learning something.” This hook paragraph has given them the basic premise, a hint of your voice, and a feel for the most unique elements of the book, but now they want to find out more. Sometimes, they’ll read the synopsis first; sometimes, they’ll want to look at the