• April 27, 2015

    Ask the Agent: How can I get ready for my conference pitch?


    I’ve had leftover questions from our “ask the agent” segment, so I thought I’d do some housecleaning. Always love it when writers send me interesting questions…

    How many books does it take to not be considered a new author?

    Probably two. By the time you’re releasing your third book, nobody considers you a newbie any more.

    If you’re a writer who gets an award or accolade for your work, is it true that these can be used to the writer’s advantage? If so, what can we do to capitalize on the award?

    Absolutely. Publishing houses tend to really like award-winners, since it reveals that the work was judged best at whatever contest it was in. So by all means include that in your cover letter, stick the info in your bio or publishing history, and if there is a logo or sticker they give you, put that somewhere in the proposal so it gets noticed. One warning: There are some contests that aren’t really contests… they will give an “award” to everyone who enters, so long as you can pay the entrance fee. These don’t count. Most agents and editors hate scam awards. But most of them love to hear about genuine award-winning writing.

    I currently have three titles with a very small publisher. Is there a sense that until an author has a book with a major house, she is always “unproven”? Perhaps on a par with self-published authors? 

    Not with me. Some of the best writers in history have remained with small houses. But I think among authors there is more of a pecking order (“You’re with little Coffee House Press? Ah… I’m with Little Brown.”) Listen, don’t buy into the BS. Publishing is hard enough without spending your life comparing the size of your publisher to someone else. My advice? Write what you love and feel called to write, become the best you can at the business

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  • April 24, 2015

    How do I clean up my writing voice?


    Someone sent in this question: “How do I clean up my writing voice? My critique partner just sent her feedback and said, ‘There are times when the writing is very formal and sophisticated, and then suddenly a slang word or colloquialism is thrown in, and it can be a bit jarring… there needs to be more uniformity in the voice of your writing.’ The fact is, I never studied literature and could only put this vocal difference down to writing on different days, in different moods, and often in between family members pestering me (er… seeking my attention). How do I find these differences and tidy up?”


    The fact that you sound different at different times or under different circumstances isn’t unusual – most writers experience that. It’s possibly you just need to spend more time writing in order to determine what your voice is, or how it sounds the most true. But there are a few suggestions for cleaning up your writing voice.

    –First, go back a day or two after you created something, and read it out loud. Your ear will tell you if it sounds correct or not.

    –Second, read a long passage of your work, not just a few pages (or even just one chapter). A longer body of work will help you see how your voice changes from one passage to another.

    –Third, see if you can make a list of the way your voice changes. Is it attitude? Word choice? Sentence length? Emotional content? Seeing how it shifts over time will help you know what to watch for.

    –Fourth, ask your proofie friend to read your work specifically for consistency – what is it that changes? What is it doesn’t seem right to him or her?

    –Fifth, consider hiring an experienced outside editor to read your work and comment on the voice sometime. Sometimes an outsider who doesn’t know your voice or personality

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  • Brian

    April 22, 2015

    Publishing & Technology


    The Persistent Cultural Need for Publishersbrt-headshot


    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 talking about how the ongoing expansion of independent (or self-) publishing is driving the need for publishers, now more than ever.

    Last year I had the good fortune to attend a talk given by Smashword’s founder Mark Coker at Portland State University. I say “good fortune” not because I found the argument he presented to be anything short of a self-serving apologist’s attack on traditional publishing and the culture of gate-keeping that discouraged Mr. Coker (by his own acknowledgement) and many millions of other aspiring authors in their attempts to gain the industry’s seal of approval. I say “good fortune” because his presentation infuriated me to such a point that I was forced to stay with many of the uneasy thoughts I’d attempted to hold at bay for some time regarding the rebranding of self-publishing as “independent publishing” by those who would profit from the aspirations of the aforementioned millions. The general gist of his talk, I’m paraphrasing Mr. Coker here, is that it has been the publishers who have been holding writers back for all these years, trampling the aspirations of millions of deserving authors in the name of abstractions such as a manuscript’s marketability and the potential for a return on the investment it would take to bring any manuscript to publication.

    Don’t misunderstand me. The democratization of publishing has some inherent good in it. As it levels the playing field for authors from groups that have been egregiously underrepresented in traditional publishing, it is a good thing. As it provides writers whose work doesn’t fit established, “salable” molds (the novella author, the poet, and, increasingly, the writer

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  • April 20, 2015

    Ask the Agent: What do I need to know about author platforms?


    We’ve had a bunch of questions come in on the topic of author platforms…

    What is the magic platform number publishers are looking for?

    In my view, there is not magical number. Every project has its own goals. But it might help to keep two things in mind… First, that publishers are on an economy of scale. So a large house might need to see an author platform of more than 100,000 names, but a small house might only need to see a platform of 30,000 names. Second, remember that the potential readership of your book will be influenced by your platform. A literary novel needs a much broader platform to succeed than, say, a book of quilting patterns, which will sell to a very specific audience.

    Is a platform basically a list of who I can reach via personal appearances?

    No – a platform is simply the number of people you can reach with your words, whether that is via speaking, personal appearances, your blog, articles or columns you write, organizations you belong to, television or radio time you have, etc. All of those are points of contact with potential readers. It’s why I like to say a platform is simply a number – you add up the audiences for all the ways in which you reach out, and that’s your platform.

    Does the number of impressions I get with my online writing count as part of my platform? Does my Facebook and Twitter feed count?

    Yes on both counts. If you reach people with your words, it’s part of your platform as a writer.

    My Christian publisher told me that the number of books I can be expected to sell is directly related to my platform. Do you find that to be true? And if so, what number are they looking for?

    I think there’s a lot of debate over how your platform relates to your sales. I

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  • April 17, 2015

    What's going on with Family Christian Stores?


    I’ve had a number of people write to ask about the bankruptcy of Family Christian Stores, and specifically if it will affect writers who publish in CBA. A bit of background: FCS has 266 stores, did $230M in business last year, and were the largest purveyor of religious books, bibles, t-shirts, and inspirational ephemera in the country. They were originally part of Zondervan, but were bought out by Richard Jackson (remember that name — it will come up often) and his partners a few years ago. Jackson and his buddies said they were going to use the stores to sell products, make money, and use the profits to fund other ministries around the world. Certainly a noble idea. The only problem? They didn’t know what they were doing.Old Books

    Sales dropped. Bookselling turned into a tough business. Profits were slim. So a few weeks ago, the chain filed for Chapter 11, a reorganization bankruptcy. They have huge debts — close to $127M. They owe $7M to HarperCollins alone, largely for bibles, which is an expensive (and lucrative) business. They owe another $2M to Tyndale, and a half million each to Baker, B&H, Harvest House, Crossway, Barbour, Presbyterian & Reformed, etc. Their debts to publishers total roughly $14M. They owe greeting card and gift companies about another $13M.

    In the world of Wall Street finance, that may not look like much. (Borders had nearly a thousand stores, and owed publishers much more.) But in the world of Christian publishing, this is huge. Imagine you’re Harvest House — a very well run, medium-sized publishing house that is privately owned, and trying to compete with the Random Houses and Simon & Schusters of the world. If a giant corporation is suddenly told they won’t be paid a half million dollars, you can bet they won’t be happy, but they’ll weather the storm because they have the financial resources to get through the rough patches.

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  • April 14, 2015

    How to Ruin a Book at the Last Minute: Part 4, The Lukewarm Ending


    brick green no smile b:wI’m continuing my conversation on writing great endings today with a look at what makes a weak, or “lukewarm” ending and how to scrub this kind of ending from your writing.

    There are few things worse than being in the middle of a great book or movie and having someone spoil the ending for you, right? All the fun of the building tension, the suspense as to who’s going to live or die, the question of which guy the protagonist will choose– I personally feel that you’re totally justified in punching anyone who ruins the ending of a great book for you. Now, imagine someone is reading your book and some jerk decides to spoil the ending for them– and instead of being furious, the reader’s reaction is, “So… that’s it?”  The best endings, the ones that readers can feel the strongest emotional connection to and find the most satisfying, aren’t just a checklist of “resolved the conflict, established the immediate future, wrapped up subplots.” While these elements might meet the “requirements” of an ending, your readers are looking for something more than just mathematical resolution at the end of a story. Our favorite endings are surprising, or complex, or poetic, or even aggravating or sad or cynical, but they’re rarely just “fine.”

    The best endings are those that it is impossible for the reader to be ambivalent about. They should love it, or hate it, or be deeply conflicted about it, or be left with lingering questions about it (in a good way, not in a the-author-dropped-four-plot-threads-and-so-the-reader-has-no-clue-what’s-going-on kind of way). Think about some of your favorite books, specifically their endings– if asked to talk about how one of these books ends, you’d probably say things like, “It’s so beautiful!,” or “It’s SO sad,” or “It’s really happy!” Your reaction to the ending of a book isn’t specific to a certain kind of ending– happy, sad, poetic– but to your

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  • April 9, 2015

    The Thrill of the Journey (a guest blog)



    As a fresh kid rounding the bend on the second half of life, and after a series of challenging events, I’d determined again to dive into a childhood calling of becoming a writer.

    A trip to the Oregon Coast never failed to give me the much needed kick in the aft, so off I went. I strolled the docks at Newport, admiring the wizened characters of assorted commercial fishing boats, and recalled one summer of my first youth when I considered donning a flannel shirt and chest waders to become a commercial fisherwoman in pursuit of romance and valiant endeavor. But my goals, while no less valiant and only slightly more realistic, had since changed course.

    I moved along, skirting tackle and dock debris, and shooting portraits of the more experienced, therefore more aesthetically interesting vessels, until there before me, requiring an entire length of dock, I saw an imposing black giant of a boat, moored with the others but not of their ilk. It arrested my attention for its sheer mass and for her name. Her hull was free of rust and barnacles, like they scrubbed her clean after each run and added a freshen-up of marine paint as needed. Ropes as thick as my wrist tethered her close, while trios of fat, orange fenders cushioned her side. Rigged for success with high-powered lights, radar equipment, and the most rubbish-free deck of the lot, this lady floated high for action. And her name in bold gold against the black read, PERSISTENCE.

    I wondered what kind of struggles and disappointments her skipper and crew had overcome, with a handle like that. I was curious about how long the owner had sweat and waited to save enough for a boat of his own. How many legal hassles or personal setbacks? How much waiting.

    Suspecting I’d have need of it along the course I’d chosen late in life, so-called, I snapped

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  • April 8, 2015

    Publishing & Technology


    Narrative-Based Mobile Games: Inconceivable?

    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 using the recent ios release of Gameblend Studio’s The Princess Bride: The Official Game as a jumping off point to discuss the adaptation of books and stories for mobile games.

    Earlier this year the industry newsletter newser.com reported on the release of the $20 flash-animated game and its merits as an entertainment. Let me pause here to say that I have not downloaded the game. I do not have any interest in it beyond its value as another example of the blurring of the boundaries between story and game through the integration of narrative elements from an existing work of fiction into new and emerging technologies.

    From my perspective, the adapting of written works to new technological modes of delivery is primarily interesting as it represents a potential revenue stream for those of us that make a living from the written word. But how much of that $20 price tag for the game will eventually end up in the William Goldman’s pocket? I am not privy to the details of Goldman’s initial publishing contract for the book, nor of any renegotiations of that contract in light of technological developments since 1987. But, if I had to wager, I would probably put my money on his royalty for the mobile game being somewhere between nothing and negligible.

    While the potential for developing written works for mobile games may hold some promise as a side stream of income for writers already working in more traditional story modes, it remains to be seen if authors may ever be able to rely on it as a significant portion of their living. The practice is still infrequent and the

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  • April 8, 2015

    How to Ruin a Book at the Last Minute: Part 3, Avoiding Anticlimax


    brick green no smile b:wContinuing my series on writing great endings, I’m talking today about how to provide satisfactory resolution without letting the energy of your story run out.

    I spent last week talking about all the resolution the reader expects from the denouement– resolve the events of the climax, answer unanswered questions, wrap up subplots, and establish main characters’ immediate futures. Sounds like a lot of content, right? But you as the author have a delicate balancing act to maintain, because while it’s true that the reader is going to be dissatisfied if you leave out the resolution they expect, it’s also true that there’s no better way to make sure your reader’s enthusiasm has flagged by the time they read the words “The End” than by dragging the book out two chapters after the story has actually ended. Ending on an anticlimax leaves a dull taste in the reader’s mouth and causes their last impression of your book to be a less positive one than if you send them out on an emotional high note, and the way to do this is to fit all your resolution in before the excitement of the climax has fully worn off.

    The reader’s emotional high point usually coincides with the characters’, which is usually the climax– in a romance, the climax is not the wedding, but the dramatic moment when Slim rescues Peggy Sue from the train tracks and confesses that he always loved her, he just didn’t think a lawman had any right to ask a nice well-bred young lady to marry him and share his dangerous life. This is the moment when tension and emotions are the highest, and this is the moment that readers have been waiting for. Sure, they want to read that the happy couple got off the train tracks in time and know that Salty Sam is going to jail for his crimes, but the story is effectively over

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  • April 3, 2015

    Five Lessons I've Learned About Writing (a guest blog)


    1. Have something worth saying.In his book Culture Care, artist Makoto Fujimura tells a story he confesses may be legendary about a Yale student taking Hebrew from the great Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs. The student, discontent with his grades, asked the scholar how he could raise them. Childs’s answer: “Become a deeper person.”

    Peggy Noonan writer of seven books on politics, religion, and culture, and weekly columnist forThe Wall Street Journal, was at one time the speech writer for the man considered The Great Communicator. In her book Simply Speaking, she says that what moves people in a speech is the logic. The words “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev” are not all that poetic when taken at face value. But they express something that resonates in the human heart. In the words of Robert Frost, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
    In the same way that logic is what moves people in a speech, logic is what moves people in writing.  And to have logic, to move people, we must have something worth saying. In fact, probably about 90% of writing is having something worth saying. And how do we get something worth saying? By expanding the world of ideas to which we expose ourselves and by cultivating a rich inner life.

    1. Decrease your vision. That is, “think local.” Start with your family. Doug Bender, the bestselling author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. wrote a book for an audience of one. When Doug’s wife had a miscarriage, it grieved the Bender’s little girl. So Doug wrote a child’s book about death and loss just for her.

      My husband’s favorite seminary professor told his students, “Stop thinking you will go out and save the world, and instead become the best family member you can be, the most grateful child of your parents, the greatest and most dependable encourager in your church, the

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