• March 24, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda: John Steinbeck and the Art of Writing What You Know

    by

    amanda-squareHis grave site wasn’t even under the Steinbeck name—that’s the first thing I noticed.

    The stone obelisk that loomed over John Steinbeck’s final resting place read Hamilton.

    And rightly so. Hamilton was his mother’s name. A name that, I was told, meant many generations of wealth and affluence in the town of Salinas. And yet to me, a fan of Steinbeck, it felt unfair.

    Below the obelisk was a large concrete slab inlaid with small, flat markers. Most of the markers were for various Hamiltons … one passing as recently as ten years go. But the one on the middle right was for John.

    It held his name. His birth year and death. That’s it.

    I’m one of those people who loves to visit old towns and walk in the footsteps of those long gone. I’ve visited James Dean’s gravesite and walked his family’s farm, and I’ve seen where F. Scott Fitzgerald was born, where he lived when he first got word that his book was going to be published, and where his daughter was born.

    And it’s always funny how real it all gets when you see where these famous names came from and how those places and people shaped who they became.

    For Steinbeck, I was blown away by this. In Salinas and in Monterey and in the strawberry farms and cattle ranches in between it was as if I had been transported to a world that I’d always thought of as fake. And yet there it was—real. It had been modernized, no doubt. But the winding coastal streets, the smell of the ocean, the whales in the bay, the ever-pressing presence of the distant ranges surrounding the Salinas Valley were real. And they were just as he had written.

    This is the power of writing what you know. Of taking something that may seem ordinary and plain and boring to you and describing it with such

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  • March 23, 2016

    Literary Devices for the Real World: Point of View

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    Continuing my series on using literary devices outside of the literature classroom, I’m talking today about point of view– what it is, how it’s classified, and how to use it effectively.

    In what may be one of the least necessary definitions in this series, point of view can be defined as the perspective from which a story is told, or the set of knowledge out of which the narrator is speaking. Point of view is most commonly expressed in first person or third person narration (see below) and an author may choose to use multiple points of view within the same novel (IF he’s careful– more to follow). In case you need a refresher, here’s a quick overview of several different points of view.

    First Person (singular): The story is told by a single person using first-person pronouns (I, Me) to refer to himself. This person serves as the narrator and relates the events of the story as he experienced them firsthand, complete with inner dialogue/personal opinions/thoughts.

    Pros: A story told in the first person can engage the reader deeply due to the personal, intimate connection created when she hears the story firsthand from someone who was there. The personality of the narrator can influence the tone of the story, and author voice is often displayed nicely by a first-person narrator.

    Cons: It can be difficult to avoid combining the first-person narrator with your own all-knowing author persona– if not handled with finesse, a first-person narrator can turn into a two-dimensional puppet for you, the author, moralizing and manipulating the reader’s experience of the story (not to be confused with situations in which your first-person narrator character is a manipulative sociopath and you WANT him to come across as preachy and controlling).

     

    Third Person Omniscient: The story is told by an all-knowing narrator using third-person pronouns (he, she, him, her, they). The narrator (not usually an actual character involved

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  • March 22, 2016

    On the loss of a friend

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    My friend and fellow agent Mary Sue Seymour passed away yesterday, after a long and courageous fight with cancer. I just wanted to mention it because Mary Sue was one of the nice people in this business, with a friendly and gentle spirit — something that maybe doesn’t describe a lot of us in the industry. She was friendly to me, even when I was being viewed as a less-than-likable person by some folks. There’s a story that I’ve long wanted to share…

    A few years ago, I used to do a regular post on some of the awful proposals that were sent my way. It was done in the vein of SlushPile Hell, or the late, lamented Miss Snark, with a view toward poking fun, talking about the dopey side of this business, but maybe with a bit of educational content for writers. Still, it was basically a way for me to share funny stuff that I saw and rarely got to talk with anyone about. (I still remember sharing the worst opening line I’ve ever seen in a novel: “Ring! Ring!,” said the telephone. I believe the response I offered on the blog was Barf! Barf!, said the agent.)

    Some people got it in the spirit with which it was intended. Others didn’t. I work in both the general market as well as the religious market, and let’s just say some people on the religious side weren’t terribly enthusiastic about my poking fun at their bad proposals. I’ve long felt too many Christians have become humor impaired; trading in their ability to laugh for a serious countenance because, you know, the-world-is-lost-and-people-are-going-to-hell-so-how-can-you-laugh-in-the-face-of-such-despair?!! I thought it was the dumbest argument I’d ever heard, since laughter is one of our most uniquely human traits. Not everyone agreed with me.

    I got a bunch of cranky emails. At least one group of writers started coming onto my page regularly, just to complain

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  • March 21, 2016

    What’s the tenth step in marketing your book?

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    It’s been said that some people have twenty years of experience; while other people have one year of experience twenty times. The difference? The former keep track of their progress and learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. The latter keep trying something new, and have to re-learn the process every time.

    When it comes to marketing, make it easy on yourself — mark your trail. The last step in creating a marketing plan is to make a point of writing down everything you do, so that you can evaluate it later. Make note of what works and what doesn’t. Which parts you enjoyed and which parts you hated. Who you liked working with, which activities seemed to be effective, and what things actually sold copies (instead of being fun, but not making you any money). As you work through your marketing plan, you want to make notes to yourself. Remind yourself of what people responded to, and what seemed like a waste of time. That will help you focus on the good ideas and eliminate the bad ones the next time you’re doing marketing for a book. Give yourself some evaluations. Figure out if you could do something better next time, or tweak an unsuccessful effort in order to make it successful.

    Here’s an example: I represented an author who spent a bunch of money and time on a video book trailer. She worked on the script, shot scenes, and spent more than a thousand dollars to create an ad for her book. Um… it did nothing. Nada. It looked great, and she enjoyed it, but who chooses to look at book ads? For her, it was a waste of time. But I represent another author who really got into making a trailer that fit her book, used it as more or less an introduction to her concept, made it seem like more of a news

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  • March 18, 2016

    Business Blogging: All the Long Term Benefits That Await You (a guest post)

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    0EFDQKW84DRunning a website can be a hobby for some people, but for others, it is the ultimate source of income. Whatever the case, you’ll need plenty of good content if you want to attract visitors, and this requires some blogging skills. There are several benefits of blogging for your business and I am going to mention a few in the following paragraphs.

    It creates more traffic

    High traffic is one of the factors that directly affects your potential for achieving success online. But, how do blog posts help create more traffic? Search engines constantly index websites and their pages, and by actively creating content, you are telling all search engines that your website is active and focused on providing good information for all visitors.

    This positively affects your website’s ranking in the search result pages, which in turn helps generate more traffic to your website. Creating quality blog posts with valuable information also increases the chances that people are going to share it on social media websites.

    As over a billion people are on social media networks, providing unique engaging content and combining that with various blog promoting techniques can help you drastically increase your website’s traffic.

    It creates more leads

    It’s not just about having high amounts of traffic; placing the right call to action on your website is essential. Not everyone is going to be a lead, but it is not something that should demotivate you. There is no website in the world that generates 100% leads. It is important to stay persistent and focus on creating high quality content and enticing calls to action.  

    The better the content, the higher the chances that you are going to get people to spend more time on your website. This will increase their exposure to various calls to action and offers, while at the same time increasing the visitors faith in your expertise, turning a good deal of them into

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  • March 17, 2016

    What’s the ninth step in marketing your book?

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    Now that you’ve done all your research and planning — you’ve figured out WHAT you need to do, WHERE you need to do it, WHEN you’re going to get it done, WHO you’re going to be reaching, and WHY you’re going to all this trouble — now you need to go do the work. If you created a calendar, this is easy… you simply look at the calendar, figure out what needs to be done, then go get the tasks accomplished. Instead of worrying about what steps you need to take in order to market your book, you can begin working through the plan you’ve spent weeks creating. No more seat-of-the-pants, no more guessing what activities to do. You’ve done all the background work; now you need to put it into practice.

    Authors tend to come in two types when it comes to marketing… Some will want to take several weeks and just market full-time. They’ll set their current writing projects aside, and suddenly become marketers for a season. Others will want to set aside a chunk of time each day for marketing, leaving themselves with a few hours to continue writing. There’s no “right” way to plan this — it depends on what you’re comfortable doing, and what your schedule looks like. But either way, you’ve got to commit to being a marketer for a season, in order to help promote your book.

    I’m frequently asked how much time an author should spend on marketing each day or each week, but of course the answer lies in what your plan calls for. If you do the things that are on your plan, the amount of time required will become clear to you. Some authors set aside an hour or two each day to do some marketing. That time can increase as you have a new book come out — so you might find yourself spending half your time on

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  • March 16, 2016

    What’s the eighth step in marketing your book?

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    At this point, you’re probably wondering what else there is to do with a marketing plan. Take heart — we’re almost to the end of the process…

    Once you’ve written down everything you want to do, you need to tie each activity to a calendar and a budget and a person — or, as I like to say, every activity has a date and a dollar sign and a do-er. So, for example, if you are planning to send out a bunch of copies to a “big mouth” list in order to get people talking about your book, you pick a day when you’re going to write the notes, address the envelopes, and get them in the mail. Then you figure out the cost of envelopes, mailing labels, and postage. If you’re planning to write several freelance articles to support your book, you mark down the days you’re going to write them, the days you’re going to query and send them, and the days you’re going to check back on them. If you’re going to hire a freelance marketing consultant to help you schedule radio interviews, you pick the days you’re going to be available for the interviews, you mark the dates you’re going to talk with the consultant, and you write down the costs involved with hiring him or her.

    Again, for EVERY activity, you choose a date and, if applicable, the dollar amount it will cost you, then figure out who is going to do it. So if you’re going to try and schedule a blog tour, you write down on your calendar the dates you plan to fill up with blogging conversations, as well as the dates you plan to contact bloggers in order to schedule those visits. If you’re hiring or getting a volunteer to do this, you make sure they have clear instructions, and a script, and a plan to follow. There may not be

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  • March 15, 2016

    What’s the seventh step in marketing your book?

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    businssman drawing business concept on white wall

    Okay, you’ve come to the point in the process where you really get into the details… you’ve done a bunch of research. You know who you are, and what it is you want to say. You’ve figured out who your audience is, and done some research on how to reach them. You’ve made choices about the general strategies you’ll use to get your words in front of potential readers, and you’ve decided what your specific plans are — where you’ll go and what you’ll say. Now you’ve got to write it all down. 

    You probably think this is too simple, that you’re waiting for some secret to making marketing work. Well, this is it. Write it down. Put down on paper all the things you want to do. All those tools you were choosing yesterday? Write them down. All those places you want to reach? Write them down. All the audiences you want to stand in front of? Write it down. Get down on paper everything you want to do. Force yourself to get everything in one place, since it will make it much more real (and therefore more likely that you’ll actually DO it).

    So if you’re going to do a blog tour, and visit 30 blogs in 30 days, here is where you write down the goal, then note the actual blogs you intend to target, and make notes on how you’re going to reach out to them and what you’re going to talk about. If you’re going to be focusing on talk radio, here’s where you right down the places you want to hit — the cities, the regions, even the shows and stations if you know what they are. Write down notes about what questions you expect to be asked, and how you plan to answer them. Prepare stories — both long and short stories, that will get your point across and entertain listeners. If you’re

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  • March 14, 2016

    What’s the sixth step in marketing Your book

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    We’ve been talking through the basics of marketing — what you would explore if you were taking an “introduction to marketing” class in college. Recently we covered the first five steps  in the process, and over the next few days we’ll look at the next five. Now that you’ve figured out which basic strategies you’re going to use, you need to select that actual “tools” you’ll use — that is, the actual WORK you will do to help you market your book. For example, if you decided that three of the strategies you were going to use were (1) sending out review copies, (2) writing articles to support your book, and (3) doing blog tours, then in this step you will list…

    1. Who you’re sending those review copies to,

    2. What articles you’re going to write, and who you’re going to send them to, and

    3. The blogs and groups you’re going to reach on your tour.

    In other words, you start to create the details of your marketing plan. Remember, every choice you make at this stage reflects your earlier decisions. The core of marketing is to figure out where your audience is, then go stand in front of them, so you want to go back and remind yourself just where, exactly your audience is going to be. If you’re doing a nonfiction book on lowering cholesterol, you do your research to discover where those interested in the topic go to seek information, then you target those magazines, websites, blogs, e-zines, journals, associations, chat rooms, etc. If you’re writing an Amish novel, you do your research to determine where those interested in Amish culture and Amish stories go, then you make those destinations the focus of your marketing.

    Fortunately, the world wide web has made this process MUCH easier than it used to be. Instead of having to snail mail things, or go to a marketing research company,

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  • March 11, 2016

    Derailed at “Almost There” (a guest blog)

    by Beth White

    This week I have been on vacation. My next book deadline is not until August. So I have taken the opportunity to crack open a bunch of ebooks I’ve downloaded for free through an email reader service. A couple of days ago I started a YA contemporary romance (I’m a fan of the genre) by an author I’d never heard of before. The premise looked interesting—up-and-coming rock star from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with a childhood friend—and the author was touted as “best-selling” (though on what list, I couldn’t discover). I thought I’d at least give it a try.

    I am a prolific reader, have been since I was big enough to sit in my daddy’s lap and read the funny papers with him. I am also a very critical reader, and it has gotten worse since I started
    studying the craft of writing fiction when I was in my late twenties.

    I know this about myself.

    Actually, I guess most people who read a lot consider themselves discriminating. We develop a unique reader’s palate, and even if we read in a wide variety of genres (which I do), we expect a certain level of proficiency in spelling and punctuation, grammar, usage, vocabulary…and the ability to sustain a believable plot with compelling characters and a certain level of accuracy in research. When I discover an author who can meet those basic expectations—and provide that lovely lagniappe called voice—it is a beautiful thing. I want to tell everyone I know that they have to read this book right now!

    As a multi-published author, I also know the deep sting of critical reviews. And so I rarely write and publish reviews anymore unless I absolutely love the book.

    Which is why I’m writing this blog post instead of a review.

    Back to that YA romance I mentioned earlier… There was so much to like about

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