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Category : Conferences
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
Welcome back to Erin’s Tuesday blog on craft! After a few weeks off to accommodate back-to-back conferences on my part and an extremely important Bad Poetry Contest, I’m back to blogging and, inspired by my experiences at the aforementioned conferences, am starting a new series on the aspects of your craft you especially need to hone before taking your work to a conference. To kick things off, we’re talking today about finding the “hook” in your project so as to be better prepared to get an agent or an editor interested in seeing more.
You’ll hear a lot of different advice about what pieces and parts you should take to a writer’s conference– one-sheets, proposals, writing samples, your “elevator pitch,” etc.– and there’s really not one right answer as to what’s appropriate. Some agents want to see your one-sheet, others are only interested in the writing; some editors want to see the full proposal, while still others only want to talk about your platform. Whatever you decide to take to a conference, either on paper or as a prepared spoken pitch, the purpose of it should be 1) to gain the interest/curiosity of an agent or editor as quickly as possible and 2) stand out (in a positive way) from the crowd as much as possible. The “hook” of your project isn’t some elusive, magical tagline that you have to get exactly right or else you’re doomed– don’t get distracted by the jargon. When someone says they’re “hooked” on a book or tv show, they mean that they feel compelled to find out more/keep watching that story, so the trick with conference pitches or materials is to highlight all the most compelling/memorable elements of your project in order to gain an editor or agent’s interest to this extent. Hooks are going to be pretty short, sometimes one or two sentences, sometimes a short paragraph, but focus on keeping it tight
I’ve had a bunch of questions come in recently, as people get ready for the conference season…
I have received a request for pages and a synopsis. However, I have also just went to a conference and had my head crammed full of ideas that I want to apply to my novel. So, how long do I have to polish before I send my work out? I don’t want to lose momentum or attention, but I so want to make sure that I have done my absolute best work.
If you attend a conference and an agent or editor asks to see more of your proposal, you want to get a polished chunk of your work into their hands as quickly as possible – I’d say within 30 days. Longer than that, and you’re running into the problem of the agent moving on. We see dozens of proposals, and it can be hard to remember one (even one that we liked at a conference meeting) for more than a few weeks. I’ve sometimes had emails that started with the words, “You asked to see this at a conference four years ago, but I’ve been polishing and revising my work…” Um, yeah. As though I’m going to remember that project years later. Or as though the market is the same as it was when we talked four years ago. Look, things change. All of us see a lot of projects. If you want to garner the attention of an agent or editor, have your piece ready, show it to them, then follow up fairly quickly after the meeting.
Can you give me your thoughts in regard to how and when authors should use editors vs. writing coaches/mentors as they progress through their writing project?
A mentor or writing coach is normally a long-term relationship, so that person is with you as you think through your stories, write your pieces, and
I’ve had leftover questions from our “ask the agent” segment, so I thought I’d do some housecleaning. Always love it when writers send me interesting questions…
How many books does it take to not be considered a new author?
Probably two. By the time you’re releasing your third book, nobody considers you a newbie any more.
If you’re a writer who gets an award or accolade for your work, is it true that these can be used to the writer’s advantage? If so, what can we do to capitalize on the award?
Absolutely. Publishing houses tend to really like award-winners, since it reveals that the work was judged best at whatever contest it was in. So by all means include that in your cover letter, stick the info in your bio or publishing history, and if there is a logo or sticker they give you, put that somewhere in the proposal so it gets noticed. One warning: There are some contests that aren’t really contests… they will give an “award” to everyone who enters, so long as you can pay the entrance fee. These don’t count. Most agents and editors hate scam awards. But most of them love to hear about genuine award-winning writing.
I currently have three titles with a very small publisher. Is there a sense that until an author has a book with a major house, she is always “unproven”? Perhaps on a par with self-published authors?
Not with me. Some of the best writers in history have remained with small houses. But I think among authors there is more of a pecking order (“You’re with little Coffee House Press? Ah… I’m with Little Brown.”) Listen, don’t buy into the BS. Publishing is hard enough without spending your life comparing the size of your publisher to someone else. My advice? Write what you love and feel called to write, become the best you can at the business
I’ve talked before about the value of a good writer’s conference as a place to connect with mentors/writing partners and as a reward/motivating factor in meeting your writing deadlines. Since I just got back from a writer’s conference, I thought I’d talk about some post-conference steps you can take to make sure you get the most out of your experience, because as fun or as encouraging as writer’s conferences can be, you’re not getting the most out of your time and money if you don’t follow up on the new information and contacts you encountered there. Here are a few ways to maximize your conference experience after you get home.
- Organize new contact info (before you lose it). Save email addresses and phone numbers, make notes about who was who while you still remember– if you’re keeping business cards, write some reminders on the card, such as “French parenting book” or “talked about Star Trek.” This will help you keep all your new acquaintances straight and give you a talking point to start from if you contact them in the future.
- Compile new information/feedback. Go through your notes from workshops and meetings, look over the comments on any manuscripts you shared for critique, and highlight or copy the pieces of advice that resonated the most, as well as the pieces you have questions about or didn’t understand. This way, you have all your favorite advice in one place to look over and remind yourself of, and you have the things you need to think more about/ask more questions on in one spot for reference if you want to email the workshop teacher for clarification or decide explore a topic more at a future conference.
- Compare advice. Between workshops, critique groups, and agent/editor meetings, you can come away from a writing conference with a whole bunch of suggestions for your work, and they’re not always going to agree! Before
People have been asking what conferences I’ll be at this year. I plan to be at the Left Coast Crime conference in Portland, March 12-15. LCC is one of the really fun conferences for fans of mystery and suspense, so if you’re anywhere on the Left Coast, I encourage you to join us. (They’re calling it “Crimelandia” this year, in honor of the TV show that has made Portland famous.) For more info, go here.
Next I’m speaking at the Newport Writers Group out on the Oregon coast Sunday evening, March 15. (Sorry — no link to that one!)
Then I’ll be at the Faith and Culture Conference in Portland, April 10 & 11. I’ve not been before, but I have long heard good things about it. I’m trying to stick to west coast stuff this year, so I thought it was a good time to participate.
In May I will be speaking to the Portland group of Willamette Writers on Tuesday night, May 5, then I’ll be with the Salem group on Wednesday night, May 13. Bestselling author Leslie Gould is going to join me at the Portland gathering, so that will be fun.
Of course, BEA is coming up in New York at the end of May. That’s one of the best events on the publishing calendar, in my view.
Finally, I’ll be at the ACFW conference in Dallas, September 17-20 — one of the few times I’m away from the Pacific Northwest in 2015. I’m teaching a couple of workshops, and I have long said this is and RWA
I’m getting ready to head out to speak at a writing conference at San Diego State this weekend, and someone who is going to be attending wrote to ask, “Can you tell me what you’re looking for in a query?”
That’s easy: Every time I open a query letter, I’m hoping to see something I’ll fall in love with. I want to see a great idea, supported by great writing, from an author with a great platform. I want to read an idea that makes me go, “Fabulous! Why didn’t I think of that?!” I want to see an author platform that shrieks, “I can help support this book!” I want to come across writing that hooks me from the first line. It’s rare, but it happens.
Of course, the one thing that makes sit up and take notice is great voice. If an author sounds unique and has personality on the page, I tend to pay close attention. (Unfortunately, some editors and agents don’t want to see any writing at a conference — they only want the idea. If I like your idea, I’m going to want to see if you can support it with good writing, so I encourage authors to bring some sample pages with them to a conference.) Again, I’m a sucker for great voice, and it’s the one thing we rarely see. Much of what we see isn’t bad, but so much as it’s the same as everything else. It sounds the same, it reads the same, and it could have been written by anybody. Great voice in writing always grabs me.
On the flip side, the thing that makes me immediately plop the query into my “reject” pile is seeing the same old thing — something that’s trying to ride the coattails of a project that’s already been done in a big way. (Examples include, “I’ve created a story about a boy wizard,”
Someone wrote and said, “I’ve been asked to speak at a writing conference next year. What advice would you give to prospective conference teachers?”
Well, I’ve taught at a couple hundred writers’ conferences, and I’d probably say there are a few things to consider…
1. If you’ve only done something once, you may not be an expert. Wait until you’re experienced at your job before giving too much advice on it. My friend and fellow literary agent Steve Laube and I were at a conference once with a brand new agent. I’m sure she was a very bright girl, but her answers on the panel were awful — she was an amateur, and her responses in front of a group made her look that way. The difference between her replies and those of an experienced person like Steve were dramatic. Had she waited a year or so, in order to learn her new job, she’d have done much better. Maybe you don’t have to be in a hurry to teach. (This lesson isn’t just for agents — it’s for anyone working in an area of publishing that would be of interest to conferees.)
2. If somebody is already covering one topic, pick something else. Writing conferences have a tendency to repeat the same information, and much of it is aimed at entry-level writers. Take the time to consider some niche or alternative topics that might be of interest to that group. (Here’s an example: Most conferences these days need someone teaching a “creating an ebook” workshop. Every conference needs something on the changing face of publishing, career paths, and contracts, but few choose to cover those topics.)
3. Give participants the real deal. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s a lot of inspirational hopnoodle at conferences. Too much of the “let’s stand up and cheer” stuff, which gives people a short-term rush, but doesn’t provide them
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
If you love my Thursday posts on marketing, and if you’ve ever wished for an in-person “Thursdays with Amanda-type” event, then you’re in for a treat.
You’re invited to come hang out with me (and Chip, of course!), for a marketing intensive on Sunday, August 24th, in Nashville, Tennessee.
HERE ARE THE DETAILS! And no, this will NOT simply be a rehashing of the info found in my book, The Extroverted Writer. Sure, we’ll touch on that a tiny bit, but we’ll also be bringing to life the content found in my blog posts, as well as new material. Plus, there will be plenty of time for you to ask questions, share your marketing struggles or victories, and learn from others in attendance.
Questions? Sound off in the comments below! And please share with your friends!
Imagine this: You get to sit down to have dinner with the literary agent of your choosing. You can ask anything you want? So… what would you ask? I’ve been taking the entire month of April to let people send in the questions they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. Recent questions include…
A friend of mine in our writers’ group asked me if she can be sued if she uses the name of a real town — i.e., Witch Hazel, Oregon, in her novel. Is that true?
Okay– I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not giving you legal advice. If you need legal advice, go talk to an attorney. What you’re getting is my take as an agent… Sued? For what? No. You can be sued for defaming or libeling someone, but you can’t be sued for simply using the name of a town. Does she think she can’t say, “The plane flew to New York”? (But thanks for the call-out to my hometown of Witch Hazel!)
It’s my understanding that publishers will often pay higher royalties for hardcover than softcover. Why is this?
It’s true. The standard book contracts pays 10% of the retail price on the first 5000 hardcopies sold, 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, and 15% thereafter. A trade paper pays a flat 7.5%. The cost of the hardcover is higher, the production costs are a bit higher, people are willing to pay more, so there is more money to divide. Thus the royalties are higher. (By the way, most CBA publishers pay on net contracts, so it’s a bit different.)
I’d like to know what goes on in a Pub Board meeting, and why does it sometimes take so long for them to make a decision on a book?
The pub board is where a decision is made to publish or not publish a book. Usually it includes the editor presenting the project,