• December 29, 2014

    What was the best book you read in 2014?

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    So it’s the end of the year, and I always try to ask readers to participate in a couple of conversations with me. My question for you: What was the best book you read in 2014? 

    It doesn’t have to be new, but I’m interested in what you read this past year. My list was pretty long — longer than normal, I think. I read through Abraham Erghese’s Cutting for Stone, Robert Kolker’s haunting Lost Girls, Ben Mezrich’s interesting Bringing Down the House, Douglas Preston’s fascinating The Monster of Florence, Robert Wittman’s Priceless (a fascinating book about the FBI’s art theft team), John Schiffman’s Operation Shakespeare (about the US government going after illegal arms traders), Les Edgerton’s The Genuine Imitation Plastic Kidnapping  (perhaps my favorite comic read this year), Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Karen Prior’s Fierce Convictions, four books from Malcolm Gladwell, two from Bill Bryson, and two from thriller writer Joshua Graham. All of these would make my “suggested reading list.” I also re-read two from Charles Dickens, two by Mark Twain, two from Henry Nouwen, two from personal favorite Lauren Winner, and Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August (a favorite of mine).

    Authors I represent also had several good titles release — and while it’s not fair to name all of them, a handful of favorites were Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds, Lisa Samson’s Runaway Saint, Maegan Beaumont’s Sacrificial Muse, Bonnie Gray’s Finding Whitespace, Emily Wierenga’s Atlas Girl, and Vince Zandri’s The Shroud Key. Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice came out in a special edition on Snippet, and it’s one of the best writing books I’ve ever read (plus you get to listen to Les telling stories in video clips). And Rob Brunet’s Stinking Rich is a hoot, if you like crime capers.

    There were others I really liked. Anything from Jessica Dotta is going to be good, and her most recent,

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  • December 22, 2014

    Ask the Agent: What do I need to know to speak at a conference?

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    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

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  • December 19, 2014

    Flip Your Creative Switch (a guest post)

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    Any writer who has ever stared at a blank screen or sheet of paper, unable to come up with a story idea, knows the feeling of being creatively comatose. Try as you may, nothing comes to mind.

    If that is ever you, don’t blow your brains out in frustration. Instead, feed in new ideas and have some laughs along the way. Here is an idea from childhood that will help you put the creativity back into creative writing.

    As a youngster, you may have had a fold-over book that was divided into three sections. For example, the first scene shows a normal-looking man. Then you flip over a new top third section, and the man is wearing a pirate hat and an eye patch and has a parrot on his shoulder. You then flip over a new bottom third; and the man is dressed in policeman’s trousers with handcuffs, a billy club, and a pistol hanging from his belt.

    Creative writers can play a mental version of this game. Imagine a business executive in a suit and holding a briefcase. Now, flip a new bottom section on him, and suddenly he’s wearing jogging shorts. Why? Well, maybe it’s because he’s actually a model on his way to a photo shoot for men’s sports gear. Or he’s an avid jogger who runs every day during lunch hour. Or he’s a bachelor and is so far behind on his laundry, he wore jogging shorts under his suit. Jot down all those ideas.

    Now flip over the top section. Suddenly he’s wearing the upturned collar of a clergyman, has a neatly trimmed gray beard, and is wearing conservative wire-rimmed glasses. Why? Well, maybe he’s a reservist with the Army and serves part-time as a chaplain, or he’s a seminary professor who teaches ancient languages. Or perhaps he’s a con artist who travels from city to city posing as an evangelist. Write down all

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  • December 18, 2014

    Thursdays with Amanda: Should You Take a Holiday Break from Marketing?

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    Amanda LuedekeAmanda 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.

    Disclaimer!!! I apologize for any typos! I have a blinding migraine today (yes, those are real things!), but I wanted to get the post out. 🙂

    Every year, around this time, I struggle to figure out what to blog about. I’m so very tempted to slap a Christmas meme up for my Thursday post, or do something easy and less informative like last week’s list of author marketing books. This desire to cop out is INTENSE. And I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

    After Thanksgiving, that weekly column you do seems like busywork. Those individuals who have Tweeted you, expecting a response, come across as more things to add to your to-do list. That sale that your publisher is doing on your book doesn’t have the full marketing push behind it that your previous sales have had.

    Basically, you’ve run out of steam because your life is just so full of so many other things.

    This can happen at any time of year; not just the holiday season. The difference, however, is that December is a month of spending. And gift-giving. And things. It’s a retail rush, not only in the weeks leading up to major holidays, but in the weeks following (you gotta spend those gift cards!). So where am I going with this?

    I do believe wholeheartedly in taking time off during the holiday season. I believe in focusing on family and friends and others. But I also think it’s important to have some kind of a marketing strategy in place during

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  • December 17, 2014

    Favorite Books, Christmas Edition: “A Christmas Carol”

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    brick green no smile b:wLast week, in between hurriedly throwing a few Christmas decorations at my walls and attending “The Nutcracker” for approximately the 1,247th time, I managed to keep my yearly date with A Christmas Carol. I always caution myself that it cannot possibly be as good as I remember, but every year it’s better. With each successive reading, the charm and earnestness and pure skill of the writing is more apparent, and if you doubt this book’s place in a blog on the writing craft, you probably haven’t read it in awhile. This book was a labor of love for Dickens rather than a serial written to pay the bills, and it shows. Free from the need to sustain a story for months/years on end in order to keep the paychecks coming, Dickens demonstrates a previously unsuspected ability to tell a story taking place over a time span of less than twenty years (I’m looking at you, David Copperfield), and he lets himself go on description and characterization in way he was unable to do in a serial installment expected to advance the plot each week. We see him revel in this independence in the gleeful abandon with which he describes the riches of London shop windows at Christmas time, the passionate cries of the narrator which interrupt the story from time to time, and the flights of whimsy he indulges in in a book not expressly written for children.

    Basically, Dickens wrote the story he wanted to write in the way he wanted to write it, regardless of how well it fit the mold he’d found most of his success with, and 160 years later, it’s still his most popular work. The longevity of the book (it’s never been out of print) should serve as a lesson to those authors who are navigating the tricky issue of how to balance profitability and passion–  writing to pay the bills is all

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  • December 12, 2014

    What's New about "Faith Happenings" (a guest blog)

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    One of the key questions everyone is asking throughout publishing is, “How do consumers find out about books in order make a buying decision?” They used to wander the aisles at bookstores and make that impulse buy. With CBA stores down to about 1000 (from nearly 6500 when I first started as an agent), that’s not happening to any great degree. Some publishers are starting their own direct-to-consumer etail sites. But will a consumer go to 20 different sites to find products? Would you? Will Goodreads or Amazon service the less-than-avid reader to get them to find and buy books? Not likely. Can authors and their friends Tweet, Facebook and blog ENOUGH to find anyone but their own tribes to market to over and over again? Most authors know the answer to that one. All of this is part of the puzzle to create awareness and move books, but will it be enough over time to move the needle on our sales numbers as retail continues to decrease and the noise on the web continues to increase?

    Greg Johnson, a friend and colleague of mine for nearly 20 years, has taken a bold move to help authors (traditional and indy), speakers, bloggers… get noticed. He’s started a new “one-stop resource for people of faith” called www.faithhappenings.com. It’s a first-of-its-kind local and national resource. It has area events (speakers, concerts, author events, fundraisers); serving opportunities; area church and ministry listings; camps, schools, family fun, marriage getaways. Basically, Greg says anything that is “soul-, marriage-, parenting- and church-enriching can be on our site.”

    It just launched in June, so out of the 454 local websites active, only about 20 have a broad array of local content. But they ALL have national content like books, music, video, etc. How will it help authors, speakers and bloggers? Um, wow. Here’s his list:

    • When people sign up (free to do so), they can select
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  • December 11, 2014

    Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Author Marketing Books That Won’t Disappoint

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    Amanda LuedekeAmanda 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.

    Need author-y gift ideas for yourself or your friends? How about gifting some marketing help?!

    No, I’m not talking about buying your writer friends a phone chat with a publicist or sending them an AdSense gift card. I’m talking about books! Marketing books, to be exact. The kinds of books that every author wants, because they know them to be helpful, but may not want to shell out money for (because come on…if they’re going to choose between the latest novel from their favorite author or a book that tells them how to work harder, the choice is obvious).

    Here are five books that I’d recommend gifting to your author friends or yourself:

    1. The Extroverted Writer: An Authors Guide to Marketing and Building a Platform by Amanda Luedeke (Currently $8.09 for a print copy from Amazon and $2.99 for digital)

    I figured I’d get my book out of the way, since OBVIOUSLY I’m going to include it in this list. But before you brush this off as shameless self-promotion (which it is), take a look at the reviews. I don’t know many of those people. I didn’t solicit their two cents. But feedback has been very positive! I like books that are practical and fun, and that’s what I tried to write.

     

    2. The Naked Truth about Self-Publishing by various NYT bestselling authors (Currently $11.11 for a print copy from Amazon and $4.99 for digital)

    I haven’t read the whole thing, but from what I have read, I love how chock-full it is of links, ideas,

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  • December 9, 2014

    Choose Your Own Final Draft: Applying Reader Feedback

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    brick green no smile b:wIf you caught the last couple of Tuesday posts, you’ll know I’ve been talking about the final stages of manuscript preparation– knowing when to stop polishing a manuscript, finding beta readers, etc. I pointed out that finding beta readers who are a good fit for your skill level and your genre is an important step in ensuring that the feedback you get from them is worthwhile and relevant so you don’t go crazy trying to apply conflicting or uninformed advice. Even when you’ve selected your beta readers wisely, however, it can still be overwhelming to revisit your manuscript with three or four different sets of feedback from three or four unique readers– even if all your readers are published sci-fi authors, each one is going to have a slightly different reaction to your book, and deciding which advice to apply and which to ignore can feel like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, in which every decision you make will result in a different outcome. (The good news here is that the editing decisions you make are highly unlikely to result in being thrown into a volcano or trampled by elephants, unlike CYOA.)

    So, how do you decide what feedback, and how much, to apply? Here are a few guidelines to help you as you CYOFD– Choose Your Own Final Draft!

    • Decide in advance how much rewriting you’re willing to do. If you don’t have the time and the fortitude to make major plot changes, or to rewrite the entire book from a different character’s perspective, you can cross off suggestions on this scale right away. Don’t waste time agonizing over whether or not a large-scale change would be a good idea if you know realistically that you’re not in a place to make a change like that. Turn your attention to smaller-scale suggestions and don’t drive yourself crazy with “but what it…?”.
    • Create a plan
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  • December 8, 2014

    Ask the Agent: How do I determine page count?

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    I got this question in my in-box: “An agent just requested my novel proposal, and asked about the word count. I told him it’s roughly 150,000 words, but that I’ll be cutting it to perhaps 120,000 by the time I’m done. He asked me how many pages it is… But is there an appropriate way to estimate a book’s size?”
    Sure there is. The rule of thumb with most publishers is to average about 300 words per page. So a 100,000-word novel will run about 300 pages. (That’s not exactly true, but it’s a good general guideline.)
    That said, let me speak to a couple other things you mentioned…
    First, while it could generally be said that most books run between 240 and 300 pages, most NOVELS tend to run toward the longer side. Frankly, nobody is buying 40,000-word novels. The shortest that routinely gets contracted is the category romance, which runs about 55,000 words. Historical romances at Harlequin will run to 75,000 words, but everywhere else they’re longer. Most stand-alone novels run between 80,000 and 95,000 words. And now we’re seeing some publishers produce book that run from 100,000 to 120,000 words.
    I frequently get authors sending me 150,000 word novels (they always seem to be scifi & fantasy writers, who must all be longwinded), and once received a 180,000-word tome. Could it get published? Maybe. Occasionally somebody puts out a huge novel on a chunk of dead trees, but it’s rare. My thought? Unless you’re writing for a category publisher, shoot for the 90,000 word mark with your novel. People in a bad economy want value for their money — which means a big, thick book for their cash.
    Second, while most books from new authors tend to be shorter, that’s not a hard and fast rule. When I was an associate publisher with Time-Warner, we released Elizabeth Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN, which was a huge book… and, to

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