• June 9, 2015

    Craft for a Conference: Part 3, Common Synopsis Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


    brick green no smile b:wContinuing my series on crafting effective pieces for use at a conference, I’m talking more today about the synopsis and how to make sure it’s doing its job for your proposal. We’ll look briefly at format and then look at ways to avoid several common synopsis mistakes.

    Synopsis format 

    A synopsis is similar to a proposal in that there isn’t one “correct” way to format it. While there are elements that every synopsis should have in common, rarely are you going to be “disqualified” from consideration just because your synopsis isn’t formatted exactly the way that agent or editor prefers. That said, there are still a few fairly standard conventions you should be aware of:

    -Synopses are often single-spaced. This may seem strange, since your sample chapters/manuscript should be double-spaced, but remember, an agent or editor is reading your synopsis to get a complete picture of your story from beginning to end– having all the info contained to a single page (as you should 9 times out of 10 be able to do for any book shorter than 100,000 words– see more below) helps us think of the book as a whole because we literally “see” it all in the same place.

    -Names are often written in all-caps the first time they appear in a synopsis. Again, this is a way for the reader to visually track when a new player enters the story, and tells them to pay attention, they need to know who this person is.

    –Synopses are always written in third-person present tense. Tense discrepancies in a synopsis (such as switching back and forth from past to present) interrupt our experience of the story.

    Common synopsis mistakes and how to avoid them

    I mentioned last week the mistake of being too vague in your synopsis (writing that “tragedy strikes,” rather than “Helen dies of the fever”), but here are a few more repeat offenders from the “synopses

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  • June 5, 2015

    Showing Emotion in Writing (a guest blog by Robin Patchen)


    How do most of us (note—I’m one of the us) show emotions in our stories? Often, we use physiological responses. Here are a few:

    • Sad—eyes filling with tears
    • Angry—fists clenching or slamming stuff
    • Worried—gut twisting
    • Happy—smiling, grinning, laughing, chuckling, giggling

    It works, it’s easy, and it makes the point. It’s perfect.

    Maybe not.

    It has been said that the purpose of fiction is to evoke an emotional reaction. So let me ask you, when you read the words, “Her eyes filled with tears,” do yours? Because mine don’t. And I don’t even know what a twisting gut feels like. Those phrases may show us how your character feels, but they don’t evoke any emotions. So how do we make our readers feel along with our characters?

    I don’t have a step-by-step plan. However, I have recently had an epiphany. Counselors tell us that thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions lead to actions. So what happens if you show us your characters’ thoughts and actions? Seems to me their feelings will be obvious, and you won’t need to tell us about their rumbling guts and teary eyes. And if you do it right, you can make the reader feel what your characters do. An example:

    John hefted his bag and limped down the metal stairs, forcing himself not to rub that sore spot. Plenty of guys had worse injuries than his. He stared across the tarmac. A band played on the left. An array of dignitaries stood in his way. He scanned the crowd. They held signs that read Welcome home and God bless our heroes.

    It was time to be a different kind of hero.

    She stood beyond the suited politicians. His wife had curled her hair that day, just like he liked it. A year had passed since he’d seen her last. A year of dust and death, of protecting the innocent and chasing the guilty. A year

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  • Brian

    June 4, 2015

    Publishing & Technology: Will Facebook Save the Lit Mag Too?


    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be looking at the ongoing struggle of literary magazines to remain profitable, a recent development involving the social media giant Facebook and several news publishers, and pondering a future where literary mags may be distributed via social media. As with several of my past posts, this post picks up on my thoughts following the reading of an article posted elsewhere. To read the full article that got me going down this path click the link below to Vindu Goel and Ravi Somaiya’s May 13th New York Times article Facebook Begins Testing Instant Articles From News Publishers.
    If you read my bio when I first joined MacGregor Literary you might have noticed that I cut my teeth in publishing by working at the literary journals Portland Review (print and digital) and Unshod Quills (digital only) and the online arts and culture magazine Nailed. I can tell you from firsthand experience that running a literary magazine in more often than not both a labor of love and an act of audacity performed in the face of a variety of woes, chief among them lack of money.

    When I worked on Portland Review as an associate editor during my undergrad years we had a robust subscription base in the thousands and a budget that well covered our printing and distribution costs. When I returned to Portland Review a decade later as Editor-in-Chief we were facing our third straight year of budget cuts and our subscription list had dwindled to a number less than twenty. Without the support of Portland State University, budget cuts and near 100% free student labor notwithstanding, the journal would no longer be in print. This shift

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  • June 3, 2015

    Craft for a Conference: Part 2, A Synopsis that Tells, Not Teases


    brick green no smile b:wThis 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

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  • June 2, 2015

    Is it possible to over-edit?


    This question came my way via an email: I’m midway through an edit on a novel manuscript, and find myself wondering if it is possible for an editor to clean up a story to the point that it becomes too clinical and loses the author’s unique voice or writing style. I can appreciate the way the text is getting more fluid and easier to read, but wonder if I am losing something in the process.

    Sure, that’s possible. For all the crud being released via indie publishing these days (and trust me, rsz_9780060545697while there are plenty of good books getting self-pubbed, there is a LOT of crud), there is an argument to be made that books with traditional publishers may in fact be over-edited. I had a discussion with a publisher about this recently. He argued that nobody edited Charles Dickens much at all; that Mark Twain had very little editing; and that more recent novelists like James Michener had only a bit of editing done to their work. He said he believes our desire to edit manuscripts to make them stronger is the result of three things: the big egos involved in publishing that require too much control and therefore demand manuscripts be edited; the rise of an educated populace that wants to believe all errors have been removed from a manuscript; and the inherent need editors have to be editing, and therefore keep their jobs.

    I’m not sure I totally agree, but it’s an interesting thought. Basically he’s arguing that self-published books are under-edited, and traditionally published books tend to be over-edited. To get back to your question, I’ve certainly seen editors take over a manuscript, forgetting that their role is to help the author polish and produce the best book they can. When that happens, the author (and the author’s agent) have to stand up and reject some of the changes.

    I’ve had this happen numerous times.

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  • Brian

    May 28, 2015

    China – no longer an emerging market


    Publishing & Technology: China – no longer an emerging market
    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be looking at China in an effort to debunk some persistent myths about the viability of licensing U.S. titles for Chinese translation while unpacking a few of the items reported by Jim Millot in his Publisher’s Weekly article China at BEA 2015: China Has Ambitious Plans for BEA. To read his article in its entirety please click here.
    When I first set out to establish myself in selling rights for foreign translation, I was warned away from several markets. I was told that certain countries either weren’t “worth my time” or had such rampant ongoing issues that licensing translation rights in such markets was foolish in many cases. China was one such market.

    I found these assertions to be overly simplified, lacking in the nuance afforded by real experience, and unfortunate in a variety of ways that we don’t have the room to go into here.

    I have not been in the business long enough to remember the days before China acceded to the Berne Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention, and the WIPO Copyright Treaty. I cannot say if the sentiments I encountered when I first entered the rights business were holdovers from two decades earlier. Certainly the 2009 formal complaint lodged by the U.S. with the WTO regarding China’s failure to enforce copyright (primarily driven by issues with DVD piracy) didn’t do much to help general feelings in our industry about doing business with Chinese publishers. But if assertions made in a variety of PW articles hold true, that “sales through physical stores (in China) rebounded and online sales continued to rise” in 2014, and “China’s

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  • May 27, 2015

    Craft for a Conference: Part 1, Where to Look for Your Hook


    brick green no smile b:wWelcome 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

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  • May 26, 2015

    Ask the Agent: How long do I have to polish my manuscript after a conference?


    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.Questions Book Cover

    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

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  • May 21, 2015

    Ask the Agent: What's the protocol with agents?


    A bunch of questions recently about author/agent protocol…

    Chip, could you talk about writers who change agents? Many of them seem to think that when they break the relationship, the agent no longer receives royalties on books they brokered.

    Well, they would be mistaken. Your agency is on the contracts for the books they represented. That’s a legal document, that will guide the book for as long as the contract is in force. If you fire the agent, the contract is still in force, so the agent is still paid a commission.

    This question also gets raised when an agent leaves an agency. When I left Alive after all those years, I didn’t get to take the commissions with me – the agency was on the contract, and I was no longer with the agency, so I didn’t get one penny to take with me. (I’m not complaining, by the way. Just explaining the situation.)


    Following a writer’s conference, I sent out proposals to agents as requested. Since I don’t quite trust technology, I followed up the next day with an e-mail asking if my proposals arrived. Most agents/editors responded with a quick “Got it,” and some added a note about when I could expect a response. But one went on to say he didn’t have time to respond to every query that comes in, etc., and he made me feel I was out of order to have checked. Was I?

    I doubt you were out of order. If you sent it, I think it’s fine to check on it. Just be polite about it. And it’s possible you’re reading too much into the response – some agents automatically tell anyone sending them a submission that they just can’t respond to everything. I can’t. I mean, I’d love to, but look at this from my perspective – I’m an agent, who makes his living selling books to publishers. If

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  • Brian

    May 21, 2015

    Publishing & Technology: FBP and the Potential Resurrection of the Independent Book Seller


    brt-headshotBrian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be examining the plight of the independent bookseller, reminiscing about indie bookstores long since gone, and trying to find some hope for the future. For an in-depth examination of the global history, contemporary iterations, and theory and practice of fixed book pricing check out For What It’s Worth: Fixed Book Price in Foreign Book Markets by Moe Nakayama on the Publishing Trends website.

    If you knew me better, you’d know that I make no secret of my love for independent bookstores. I live in Portland, Oregon, home to Powell’s Books, Reading Frenzy, Mother Foucault’s, and a great many other excellent neighborhood and specialty bookstores. I make pilgrimages to bookstores of note whenever I’m in the cities that support them. And. . .I also, somewhat frequently, buy books online from Amazon. I’d prefer not to, but there are times when my schedule can’t argue with convenience and times when my wallet can’t argue with 50% off (and sometimes a great deal more – I’m a bit of a cookbook junkie). But I never feel good about choosing to buy discounted books over the internet because I know that if you can’t get people like me (people who claim to love independent bookstores) to support them, then they are doomed to extinction.

    This is not news: in the years since the dawning of the Information Age the only conventional retail model to suffer greater financial losses than the independent bookstore is the video rental store (record stores may be in a dead heat for second-worst-off with independent booksellers, but for the sake of this post let’s set the widely reported suffering of the music industry aside – if for no other

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