• December 5, 2014

    So… what's up with the Christian Writers Guild?

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    Recently the Christian Writers Guild has been much in the news. I’ve heard rumors about problems and threats; there have been questions about new leadership and new directions; and then we got news that the whole thing was being shut down. It seemed odd, since the Guild was purchased and funded by mega-selling author Jerry Jenkins, who wrote the Left Behind series and sold more than seventy million books — at the time it was the best-selling fiction series in history, later eclipsed by Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and, um, Fifty Shades of Grey (proving that H.L. Mencken was right).

    Jerry is not a friend, but he’s certainly a friendly acquaintance (I worked at the agency that represented the Left Behind books), and I knew he had invested his own money into the CWG, and had really built it up. Their annual conference was very good, they were moving into publishing, and for a long time I couldn’t go to speak anywhere without running into writers who had been mentored through their excellent writer training system. So I asked Dr. Dennis Hensley, who is Chairman of the Professional Writing Program at Taylor University, and a longtime insider at CWG, if he could tell me what was happening with them closing up shop. His response follows…
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    I have been a close friend and business associate of Jerry B. Jenkins for more than 30 years. During that time I have observed how he and his wife Dianna have anonymously, humbly, and graciously used their personal funds to provide major support for worthy efforts. They have bought automobiles for missionaries, funded college scholarships for needy students, underwritten building projects in third world countries, and provided jobs for writers, editors, and teachers.

    A mission close to Jerry’s heart for many years has been to develop a new generation of competent writers who can share the Christian worldview by way of journalism,

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  • December 4, 2014

    Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Steps to Create an Author Brand

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    literary agentAmanda 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.

    The past few Thursdays we’ve been talking about creating an author brand. The main points of the posts have been:

    1. Your books are not your brand. YOU are your brand. Your brand infuses your books and not the other way around.

    2. You can be the one to determine what your brand is.

    3. If you don’t determine your brand, others will do it for you…and you probably won’t like the result (after all, most of us want to be known for more than physical traits such as “blond” or “tall” or “old” or … you get the picture).

    We touched on a few of the questions that you need to ask in order to discover what kind of an author brand will work for you, such as:

    – What are my hobbies?

    – What is my personality? Am I sassy? Contemplative? Old-fashioned? Radical?

    – In what areas am I an expert? What are things that I know more of or do better than others?

    – What life experiences have I had that stand out?

    Once you’ve identified what kind of a brand you want to give yourself, how do you implement it? How do you go from being an author, to a brand?

    1. Look your brand. Let’s say that you have skills in refurbishing and decorating vintage pieces. Your fiction always tends to be set in vintage eras (or it focuses on characters who appreciate that style) and so you feel having a vintage brand will carry throughout your career. Now, you could go around

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  • December 2, 2014

    Finding Beta Readers

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    brick green no smile b:wIn last week’s post on knowing when to stop polishing a manuscript, one of the strategies I suggested was to solicit feedback wisely and sparingly. Reader Laura asked this question in the comments: “How do I find beta readers? I don’t have a writers’ group, I don’t know know any serious writers in my ‘real’ life… the local universities don’t offer [many] creative writing classes… I don’t have a lot of money to spend on a professional editor or to go to conferences… I’m at the point where I need quality feedback on my third novel, but I’m baffled as to where I’d find it.”

    Great question, Laura, and thanks for providing the topic for this week’s blog post!

    Location, contacts, and limited budget can definitely be some challenges to finding quality beta readers. Not everyone lives in a mecca of artistic fellowship or can spend $400 to attend a conference once a month to meet other writers and writing professionals. So how DOES one find quality beta readers under these conditions? Here are a few ideas.

    Local universities— Laura mentioned that the colleges in her area don’t offer a lot of creative writing classes. Even when that’s the case, any community college or liberal arts school has at least a few faculty members who are (hopefully) qualified to give you feedback on your writing, even if they’re not experts in your genre, so even when there isn’t a writing class available for you to enroll in and connect that way with other writers, you can still try to connect with the adjunct or full-time faculty members who teach the literature and composition classes, and you at least know that these readers have a lot of experience in reading and editing. You can usually find contact info for these faculty members on the college’s website, so consider sending a polite email explaining that you’re a writer looking for quality feedback

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  • December 1, 2014

    Is giving away free books a good strategy?

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    An author in the UK wrote to ask this: “I see a bunch of books on Amazon selling for almost nothing (and sometimes being given away for nothing). How does an author make money with that sort of thing?” 

    And several people have written to ask, “If a used book is selling for a penny online, is anyone making money?” 

    A note on giveaway books: You’re not making anything. You are trying to use free giveaways as a means of building a readership. In other words, you’re hoping that having the publisher give away copies of your novel will make them fall in love with your story, your characters, or your voice, and that those readers will go purchase copies of other books that will earn you something. So a giveaway is really a marketing strategy — a bonus, introducing your work to readers.

    Brazilian author Paulo Coelho used this strategy effectively in the early day of the Kindle, and found thousands willing to download his book. That built a readership that continues to buy his works, and it’s a strategy others have used effectively. BUT it’s not a magic formula. Giving away free books is no guarantee that readers will buy your other works — in fact, there’s a growing sentiment among publishers that readers with kindles often have dozens of free books downloaded that they may never read. The books were simply downloaded because they were free, and “free” is something people like to see. They’ll pick up a free book and let it hang around, though they may or may not ever read it.

    The problem is one of value — If you get something for free, does it have any value to you? I see a lot of authors who give away free books on the web but don’t seem to have any sort of strategy to use that to their advantage. More than selling books,

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  • November 25, 2014

    Polishing a Manuscript: When to Give it a Rest

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    brick green no smile b:wI’ve gotten several versions of this question in the past couple of months. This one came from an author at a recent conference: “How long is too long to spend perfecting my novel? My first page and first three chapters, especially? It seems like every time I show them to someone new, I get more suggestions for changes and improvements. At what point should I stop asking for input?”

    Great question! Several of them, in fact. Your question actually raises several different issues to consider when polishing a manuscript.

    1. You’ve spent too long perfecting a manuscript when you’re not doing anything else to move your writing career forward. I’ve met many writers who have spent years working on a single manuscript, and they generally fall into one of two camps– either they’ve spent those years staring exclusively at that one project, writing and rewriting it and picking it apart and patching it back together, or they’ve spent those years revisiting their idea/novel in between improving their craft by taking classes, attending conferences, writing additional books, soliciting trustworthy feedback, and reading widely.

    If you’re not doing any of these things between rewrites, you’re going to hit a plateau pretty quickly in terms of how much you can actually improve with no resources except your own judgment. So if you’ve already re-worked a manuscript a few times and aren’t currently involved in any of these methods of improving your craft, you’re probably at a stopping point in the polishing process. Go ahead and send it out or take it to some conferences and see what the response is.

    2. Solicit feedback wisely. You are entirely right when you observe that “every time [you] show [your pages] to someone new, [you] get more suggestions for changes and improvements.” Every person who reads your pages is going to bring a unique combination of education, taste, and experience to the manuscript, and so

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  • November 24, 2014

    ASK THE AGENT: How can I make radio interviews effective?

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    I recently had an author ask me about radio interviews. He’s working with a publishing house that has a great relationship with a couple of radio networks, and tends to push its authors to do a lot of talk radio. He wrote to ask me, “What advice would you offer a speaker who is suddenly being asked to do a bunch of radio interviews?”

    I’ve got six principles to suggest…

    First, learn to tell your stories briefly. Radio is fast-moving, and they aren’t going to let you tell a five-minute story. Listeners want stories, but they want them quick and to-the-point. So practice beforehand, and have several stories that illustrate your points to share with listeners.

    Second, no matter what the host asks, tell your stories. Look, if you’ve done a book on “saving money to pay for your child’s college education,” you pretty much know what the host is going to ask. With every interview, the hosts are going to ask questions about two things: YOU and YOUR BOOK. So a lot of media trainers will give you this advice: Ignore the question and tell your story.

    Third, don’t expect the host to have read your book. Either you or your publisher will have sent the host a series of seven to ten questions to ask in the interview. Some will just go down the list of questions. Others will take it and make it their own. But always remember this bit of advice: There are two kinds of hosts – those who haven’t read your book, and those who don’t know how to read. None of them will have actually read your book.

    Fourth, be friendly, even if the host is a jerk. Some hosts like to spend all the time talking about themselves. Some want to be shock-jocks and challenge you. I once had a terrible experience with a very popular radio talk show host who wanted

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  • November 21, 2014

    What is Truly Passionate? A Defense of Inspirational Romance (a guest blog)

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    5_025Guest blog by Anita Higman

    When a man kisses a woman—and the two care about each other in an amorous way—well, we’re most likely guaranteed some sweet magic. Maybe even some bolts of lightning. And we women never tire of experiencing or watching or reading about those dreamy moments when a man and woman feel those first stirrings of attraction, affection, and then love. However, in many of today’s modern novels, the romantic scenes go far behind an ardent kiss.

    So, what sets the inspirational romance apart from the others when it comes to those scenes of passion? First of all, writers and readers of inspirational romances are not saying that these fiery feelings aren’t being played out in their own marital beds. However, they are saying they don’t want to be peeping toms in someone else’s boudoir. They have discernment for what is meant to be enjoyed and a healthy respect for what is meant to be private.

    These same readers know their minds and hearts—they are more satisfied when the hero and heroine struggle toward real love, rather than merely give in to temporary passion. Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece, Jane Eyre, is one of the most wildly passionate love stories ever written, and yet we never read about anything more intimate than a kiss.

    Also, like in the novel, Jane Eyre, the story encourages readers to consider the whole of a person—which includes the soul rather than just mere flesh. This novel reminds us that we are not only in great need of human affection and love, but that we also desire to be connected to something greater than ourselves—the One true source of all of that love.

    On the other hand, if a story revolves around a hero and heroine who are consumed by nothing more than lust and erotic behaviors, well, let’s just say, these kinds of mental images aren’t going raise the reader to

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  • November 20, 2014

    Thursdays with Amanda: How to Change Your Author Brand

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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.

    Last week, we had some great discussion on author brand and how to get started with creating one. The driving idea behind the post was to think about who you are, your likes, interests, hobbies, experiences, etc. and to turn that into a brand. We will eventually talk about HOW to turn that into a brand, but in the meantime I want to address an issue that was raised by fellow literary agent…I don’t know if she wants to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Agent Example.

    Agent Example said that she has suddenly realized she is being thought of as the “Picture Book Agent”…which really really really isn’t what you want if you’re hoping to make money at this any time soon. It’s like a career death sentence. Especially if you work in CBA.

    How does this happen?! How do you end up with an author brand that you don’t want?

    Remember, you give yourself a brand. You don’t sit back and wait for brand to happen. In Agent Example’s case, she probably wasn’t as aggressive as she could have been about her brand, and before she knew it, she was the picture book agent. Here’s how this works:

    1. When you are a person of interest, the very group that is interested in you will look for ways to differentiate you from others like you. So when there’s a panel of agents on stage, authors in the audience are looking for ways to label each one so that they can process things, tell others about the

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  • November 19, 2014

    ASK THE AGENT: How can I make a book signing successful?

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    I just had an author friend write to say, “I’ve been asked to do a book signing party at our local bookstore. It seems like most booksignings I’ve been part of were a disaster. Do you have any tips for making a book signing successful?”

    Anyone who has spent time in this industry has been to a dud of a book signing party. The author shows up, sits at a table by herself, and fidgets while a couple people wander by, ignoring her. Eventually an older woman hesitantly approaches, looking furtively around, and asks, “Hey… can you tell me where the ladies’ room is?”

    Nothing is as deflating to an author as throwing a party and having nobody show up. The fact is, if you want to do a book signing, the first rule is simple: Don’t rely on the bookseller to get people there. They might send out a flyer, or put it on the company website… or they might now. (I remember one A-level author who showed up with me for a book signing only to find the staff hadn’t been told, there was no signage, and her boxes of books were actually locked in the manager’s office, and he was away on vacation. True story.) So, like in everything else in marketing, don’t rely on someone else to do the work – YOU do it, and have a plan for succeeding. Some tips…

    1. Invite people. Again, don’t sit and wait for people to show up. Go out and invite them. Make it a party. Tell your family they need to show up. Personally invite all your friends – call them, send them notes, check back with them and get some commitments to be there. Focus on inviting some groups, since groups of people will make it feel like more of an event. (So invite your co-workers, your neighbors, the people at church, the people at the

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  • November 18, 2014

    Know the Competition: Why You Should Be Reading in Your Genre

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    brick green no smile b:wA reader sent in this question: “I’ve been told more than once that I need to be reading new releases in my genre (Young Adult), but I have a really hard time justifying spending time on something that doesn’t help my platform or my publishing efforts. Where is the value in reading books similar to mine?”

    If you’re a repeat visitor to the MacGregor Literary blog, you know we’re fans of reading around here. I mean, besides the fact that our jobs ultimately depend on people buying books, we have counseled writers time and again to read as a means of learning their craft– to learn how to write dialogue, read someone who does dialogue really well, to develop an ear for voice , read authors with great voice, etc.  Reading to improve in specific areas of your craft is easy in that you can pick up craft insight from any author, regardless of genre, e.g., a thriller writer can glean voice tips by reading literary fiction.

    Now, leaving aside the whole “you can always learn from other writers” argument, it’s fair to say that there might be some unpublished writers out there who are writing at the same skill level as a lot of published authors in their genre– folks who don’t really stand to learn a lot about writing by reading their peers’/competitors’ works. And yes, if you don’t have a strong need to improve in a certain area, it can be hard to justify spending your limited time reading authors whose only claim to superiority is that they’ve been published. The key word here, however, is writing— it’s my guess that the people recommending you read in your genre aren’t making the recommendation because they think you need to learn about writing, but because they want you to learn about the current publishing scene for your genre.

    Regardless of criticisms that can be leveled at any

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