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Category : The Writing Craft
Ask the Agent: Children's books, writing coaches, & agents
We had a bunch of questions come in this past week, so let me get to several of them…
This came from a reader in the Midwest: “I’m at the point where I think I’d like to work with a writing coach. How can find someone reputable? Is there some sort of accreditation out there? Do you have any recommendations?”
That’s a wonderful question. I think a writing coach or mentor is a GREAT idea. Getting another set of eyes on your manuscript is always helpful, and finding someone who has experience, who is a little farther down the path, is one of the best ways to move forward in your writing career. I don’t know if there is any accreditation service of note (but I’d love to hear from readers who can suggest such a service), but there are a ton of experienced writers who serve in this capacity part-time, helping other writers who can benefit from their wisdom. I know of several, but it probably wouldn’t be fair to name one or two. Going through a reputable writing organization like RWA or SCBWI or ACFW is one way to find a good writing coach. Exploring some of the people available through Writers Digest or a good conference is another. But you may want to simply start asking around through writing friends or those at the next big conference you’re attending.
This question came in on the website: “I recently read somewhere that you don’t necessarily need an agent if you write for children, and that it might be better use of your time to submit directly to a publisher. Is that true?”
We have our own in-house expert on children’s books. Erin Buterbaugh handles all the chldren’s stuff for MacGregor Literary, so I posed this question to her. Here is Erin’s response:
I wouldn’t say having an agent is any more or less vital for a
The Pros and Cons of Prologues
This week’s post is one I always think about writing after attending a writer’s conference, the reason being that, for every three manuscripts I’m handed at a conference, two of them (on average) begin with a prologue. Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with starting your book with a prologue, but over the past few years, there seems to have been an increase in authors treating a prologue like a required element of a novel. It’s not. The problem with this trend is that, in many cases, these prologues are either boring, unnecessary, or straight-up misnamed, so that, right off the bat, I’m distracted or distanced from the story rather than drawn in the way I want to be by the first page of a manuscript. This doesn’t mean beginning with a prologue is always a bad idea, just that you should be sure you understand the function of a prologue and whether your story is best-served by one.
What is a prologue? A prologue is an introductory part of the story (meaning, it’s fictional– not to be confused with a forward or an introduction, which are written from the point of view of a real person such as an author, as opposed to a character or the narrator) that, for whatever reason, doesn’t “match” the rest of the story. Examples include a piece of the story told from a different perspective, such as when the prologue is told from the point of view of the murder victim while the rest of the story is told from the point of view of the murderer, or taking place in a different time period, such as when the prologue shows a scene which takes place during the Civil War while the rest of the story takes place in 1978. A prologue along these lines is used when an author wants to make sure the reader has a certain piece of information or sees
Ask the Agent: How do you feel about free fiction? (and other topics)
A writing friend sent this: “I need your help. A publicist sent me an email and asked me to review a client’s book. I agreed. Unfortunately, the book is horrible. The publicist has emailed to inquire as to when I would be posting my book review. As a writer, I hate to totally slam a book. What do you suggest?”
This has happened to lot of us. My advice: Send a nice note to the publicist, saying, “You know, I read this, and it didn’t really appeal to me. I don’t want to say anything negative, so could I beg off, and you could ask me to review another book sometime?”
And this came in to the website: “I am writing a book which will be illustrated. What is the industry standard for sharing royalties between authors and illustrators?”
A book that has a few illustrations spread throughout usually doesn’t share royalties with the artist – the illustrations are usually licensed and paid for with a one-time payment. A book that has illustrations throughout (for example, a children’s picture book) will either have the artwork purchased outright, OR they will split the royalties in some way. I’ve seen all sorts of splits, by the way, but the standard is 50/50. Be aware, most children’s publishers don’t purchase the art you’re recommending. They’ll contract the text with you, then find their own illustrator whom they know and trust.
Someone asked this on the blog: “How do you feel about free fiction?”
I think it can work as a marketing strategy. Authors can give away a book to a particular audience, and hope to build readers. (YA author Jenny B Jones talked about that strategy on this blog a couple months ago.) But I also think its effectiveness is diminishing due to the vast amounts of free crap available online. Let’s face it – when you’re
After a Conference: Next Steps
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
It's "Ask an Agent" time!
I’ve got a new book coming out very soon — How can I find an agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers). In celebration of that, I thought we’d take the month of March and just answer the agent questions you’ve got. So if there’s something you’ve always wanted to run by a literary agent, this is your chance. Drop a note in the “comments” section, or send me an email at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. I’ll try to get to as many questions as I can. So let’s get started with some of the questions people have already sent in…
A friend wrote to say, “I’ve noticed that agents at conferences will list several genres they’re interested in, but rarely see any specifications about the exact type of books that interest them. I write YA – can I pitch them ANY YA novel?”
The conference often asks agents to briefly list what we’re looking for. They usually don’t give us room to offer a lot of detail. So, for example, I represent romance novels, but there are some areas of romance I don’t really work with (paranormal, for example). There’s no method for offering much beyond a quick description, so I’m always happy to talk with any romance writer who stops by, and will try to help or steer him or her in the right direction, if I can. From my perspective, if an agent says he or she represents YA, then set up an appointment to go talk through your project and ask questions.
This came in on my Facebook page: “How do I get what’s in my head onto paper in a way that will grab the reader’s attention?”
Great voice… and that’s easier said than done. I’ve never been sure if we can teach an author how to have great voice. We can help writers improve, help them use better
The Perks of Being in a Writing Group (a guest blog)
I posted on Facebook once: “Spending the day with my laptop. I know you all think I’m sipping Dom Perignon and writing the next great American novel from the top of the Eiffel Tower, but I’m actually down at the coffee shop, no make-up, hair tied up, wearing a pair of white sweatpants that are so big you could play a movie on my rear end if I bent over at the drive-in theater.” I added the hashtag #thuglife.
It took all of ten seconds for one of my smart-aleck friends to respond, “What’s playing?”
We writers know that we’re really not having tea and crumpets with JK Rowling every other week. I’ve never even seen a crumpet and have yet to meet Ms. Rowling. But there is one thing I decided to do to bring some bling to my writing career – start a writing group. Crazy, right?
How I ever managed to gather the caliber of writers that so divinely came to me is beyond anything I could have imagined. We call ourselves the Flying M-Inklings (pronounced Minklings), a nod to The Flying M coffee shop where we meet every Saturday as well as to those talented Oxford-lads across the pond.
I had no idea when I put the word out that I was starting this group that these individuals would become my best friends, proverbially greater than the sum of our parts. Of course, we share our writing and critique each other’s work – we’re a writing group after all. But the M-Inklings have evolved into much more than that. Part of what we do as a group is encourage other writing groups to find their own collective identities.
On behalf of my fellow M-Inklings, who believe that all writers should join forces with others, I would love to show here how worthwhile a writing group can be.
Ah, the possibilities…
- Has your manuscript ever
Before You Write: Part 6, Next Steps
I’m wrapping up my “Before You Write” series today with a post that’s a bit of a cheat, since it actually has more to do with the end of the writing process than the beginning; that is, what you’re going to do with the finished manuscript when you’re done. It’s worth mentioning because, as I’ve said once or twice (or seventeen times) during this series, the purpose of pre-writing exercises and plans is to make it easier to sustain your momentum during the actual writing process. To that end, knowing in advance what you’re going to do with your completed novel when it’s finished can help you avoid the post-writing slump and take some meaningful action with the result of all your hard work. Having a plan for your finished novel can also help motivate you to stick with it when you hit those middle-of-the-book doldrums. Here are some suggestions for next steps you may want to have in mind on the front end of the process.
- Take your manuscript to a writers’ conference. Even if it’s not ready to be published, a writers’ conference can be a fabulous place for a manuscript to continue to take shape. Between writing workshops, opportunities for private critique, and chances to pitch your book to agents and editors, you can leave a good writers’ conference with some really helpful feedback and a better sense of what should actually be next for your manuscript. If you’re an experienced writer or a really fantastic first-time writer, you might come away with some good leads as far as editors or agents who might be interested in your book, and if you’re newer to the writing scene, you will most likely get some valuable direction for how to improve your pitch or your manuscript before seriously attempting to get it published. If you have a rough idea of when you’ll be done with a draft of
Writing an Inspirational Memoir (a guest blog)
I remember running down the road by my house one day in fall, the fields ripe with gold, red silos on the horizon and the smell of chaff, the sound of the combines whirring. And I heard God say, “I want you to tell the world what I’ve done for you.”
Later, as I sat in the living room at my laptop, the boys in bed, Trent folding laundry for me in the office while he played a computer game, I looked out the bay window. What qualified me to write this story? All I saw was a very tattered, frayed thread, broken and retied in a number of places. And yet, somehow it wrapped around the entire story.
It was the thread of redemption.
With inspirational memoirs, what qualifies you to tell your story is your experience of redemption. That is the story being told, the journey your readers want to take. And if we can whittle down our lives to reveal how God has brought redemption to us, readers will be inspired to believe it may happen to them.
Show the purpose behind the pain and you may bring hope to many lives.
So what creates a good foundation upon which to build? We see three main considerations: Location, consistency, and solidification.
Location means context for your story. Of course, you are still living it, but to see how “large” your story is, where this portion will begin and end, consider what is the contained, distinct journey of redemption you have seen come about. It may be bold or subtle, but it defines what you share. Find specific words and phrases like “coming to my own faith,” “finding comfort in true love,” or “receiving permission to feel, deal, and heal.”
Then, where did the shift occur? What places? Who did it involve? When did it happen? And what unrelated info can be trimmed? Someone said
Before You Write: Part 4, Assembling a Writing Strategy
Continuing my series on pre-writing techniques that can help position you for a more successful writing experience, I’m talking today about assembling a strategy to help answer the “when,” “how,” and “so what” of your writing process. A lot of the pre-writing exercises I’ve discussed can be used by the savvy writer to put off the actual novel-writing process indefinitely, but if you’re one of those authors who actually wants to write his story instead of just talk/think/brainstorm about it, you’re going to want to put some kind of a plan in place to help you manage your writing time and meet your writing goals.
When are you going to write?
There are lots of people more qualified than I am to tell you how to use your time productively, what time of day/year is ideal for maximum creative synergy, how to arrange your furniture for minimum bad karma, etc., but the fact is that none of those experts is going to be helpful if you don’t start by understanding your specific lifestyle. What works for someone else may not work for you, no matter how much sense it makes on paper. When establishing a writing schedule, start by asking yourself these questions:
- When do I feel the most energized/alert? If you can coordinate your writing time with the time of day you are mentally the most active, your writing time will be more productive.
- When do I have the most free time? (Note: if you would argue that you don’t have any free time, answer the question this way instead: when do I spend the most time on Facebook? When do I watch the most TV? See what I did there?) Is there a way you can arrange your schedule so that your free time and your energized time coincide?
- What can I eliminate/sacrifice in order to create more writing time? If you’re looking at your life and you
5 Things Africa has Taught Me as a Writer (a guest blog from Curt Iles)
Lagniappe. It’s a French word denoting, “A little extra.” And it’s a common expression in Louisiana’s Cajun culture. In the local Lugandan language along Lake Victoria’s northern shore, the word is enyogeza. It means a little extra at the market. Two small potatoes added to the dozen you purchased. This story is lagniappe (or enyogeza.) A little extra for you to ponder from my personal journey in Africa.
My wife DeDe and I have lived in Africa for two years. Often I look around and am shocked at how far I am from my Louisiana piney woods roots. It’s been an eventful time full of growth, frustration, change, disappointment, and joy. Very similar to life back in the good ol’ U.S. of A. I’d like to share five lessons loom large in what these years has taught me as a writer and person:
It’s always a draft.
2013 and 2014 have been years of constant change:
- Selling our home where we’d raised our family and lived thirty years.
- Leaving the Southern rural culture for the red dirt of east Africa.
- Learning Swahili to work in Democratic Congo, then being switched to South Sudan and Arabic. Hatuna matada for sure!
- Our country, South Sudan, descending into chaos and anarchy as we watched our new friends suffer and doors close. The future is poised with more of the same. It seems change is the only constant.
Due to daily change, I’ve learned to live and journal in pencil. Life requires erasers. Our African journey has been similar to the process of writing a novel: sometimes our characters take over and send us in directions we didn’t choose. But the end result is almost always a better novel as well as a richer life.
In spite of the change and uncertainty, I’ve never been more excited about life, our mission, or my writing than today. I’m confident that God is still in