The Care and Feeding of a Muse (a guest blog)
Three years ago, I was at the end of a multi-book contract. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write next. I only knew I wanted to write something different. I didn’t feel lost; I felt blank. My muse was restless. If I wasn’t going to write another book immediately, I needed a plan.
My dear friend, author and radio host Michelle Phillips, says: “When you don’t know what to do, go serve someone else.” I took her advice, and decided to serve young adults who dreamed of becoming working writers. Working with a public middle school in Atlanta, I founded a Young Authors program. My goal was to teach them everything I knew about writing. (After that first class, I’d have to wing it.)
Walking into middle school for our first meeting, I felt slightly nauseas. Middle school was not a season of my life I wanted to revisit. Yet here I was, about to enter that world again. I feared I still wouldn’t be cool. I feared the kids would dismiss everything I said. Or worse, that I wouldn’t say the right thing at all.
Within five minutes, I realized that they were far less interested in what I had to say, than in my willingness to listen. I ditched my lesson plan and followed their lead.
Now, every week, I listen to their stories. I listen to their dreams and nightmares. I get to be the adult who says, “There is beauty and power and truth in your story. No one can tell it but you. Ignore the critics. Ignore the bullies. Tell the world what you see.” What an incredible privilege. And my muse? She’s never happier than when a kid dares to read a deeply personal tale. Witnessing an act of courage is powerful stuff.
I don’t worry about whether any of these kids will go on to write professionally. I am sinking an anchor
When is an agent query like a party? (a guest blog)
Think about approaching an agent to talk about your book. You see the agent over there, holding a glass of wine. You approach. You make an introduction. There’s some small talk. You start to chat about your story. But there are some things you want to be aware of…
When you ask the agent to meet too many characters in the space of one page, it’s a problem. It’s like getting introduced to a dozen people at a party all at once, trying to remember their names, what they do for a living, and how they relate to the host. When approaching an agent, stick to your POV characters. Use their names. But for everyone else, refer to them in the manner they relate to the POV character; i.e.: husband, daughter, boss, etc.
And you want to make sure you have the right directions to the party. Before racing off to meet the agent, check into their website in order to know what he or she is looking for. If they only want romance and suspense, don’t send your YA sci-fi. That’s the shortest route to getting escorted out the back door.
At a party, if you’re the one writing those nametags everyone has to wear, be sure you spell their names right. Oh, and for pity sake give the right one to the right guest. Slapping Brandilyn Collis on Chip MacGregor’s chest is just wrong on so many levels. If you use the same query email, make darn sure you’ve replaced the previous agent’s name. Sending Chip a query with Steve Laube’s name on it will guaranty your email is deleted before it’s read. And showing that you’ve sent the same note to fifteen agents will get you banned from any future parties.
When the guests don’t know when to leave, the host can begin to get a bit grumpy. So know how long to take, and when it’s
Thursdays with Amanda: My Favorite Authors and Books
Amanda 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.
(I’m taking a break from all-things-marketing for the rest of 2013…so if you’re here for posts on platforms and promotions, stay tuned…they’ll come with the new year).
They say (okay, maybe ‘they’ don’t say it, but I’ve heard it on occasion) that the best way to get to know what an agent or editor likes is to find out what they read. What books they cherish. What authors they drool over. The thought is that if you can find an agent or editor who loves books and authors that are similar to what you write, you’re that much closer to getting picked up.
I don’t know how much truth there is in this. Fact is, most industry professionals tend to enjoy literary fiction…and yet as an agent I’m lucky if I get to sell one lit fiction book a year. I think I had somewhere around twenty books come out last year that I had agented. None of them were literary fiction. In fact in my three-year career, I’ve sold one literary fiction title. One.
BUT still. The idea stands. I love literary fiction. I love great speculative fiction. I love gothic fiction. Show me a book that fits these categories and I’m that much more likely to consider it.
So with that being said, I thought I’d take today and go over my favorite authors and books of all time. These are the best of the best, in my humble opinion. And if what you write matches them…well, then. I’d suggest you introduce yourself the next
Big news: Mindy Starns Clark will be the featured guest on the talk show Lifestyle Magazine this Thursday, Dec. 5th, 2013 (tomorrow!). The episode will feature a lively and humorous discussion between Mindy and hosts Mike and Gayle Tucker about her bestselling book The House That Cleans Itself. The show will air at 10:30am Pacific Time (11:30 am MT, 12:30 pm CT, and 1:30 pm ET) on TBN. You may also be able to view it on alternate stations and times, depending on your location, as well as via webcast, satellite, radio, or your mobile device. Visit Mindy’s blog, www.thehousethatcleansitself.com, for links and more info about all of the various ways you can tune in.
The Pareto Principle
Vilfredo Pareto was a Paris-born Italian, from a prominent exiled Genoese family, famous in his own day as a social economist. He is often referred to as the first modern economics professor, and he more or less developed microeconomics as a discipline. But what he’s best known for is the principle of factor sparsity — what we usually refer to as “the 80/20 rule.” Pareto noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from about 20% of the pea pods. He determined that 80% of the wealth in Italy was held by roughly 20% of the population. And, when looking at the Italian tax structure, he noticed that 80% of the government’s income came from just 20% of the taxpayers.
Sometimes referred to as “the law of the vital few,” the Pareto Principle is found in many of the organizations you belong to. For example, 80% of the work done at your church is performed by about 20% of the members. 80% of the money raised by the non-profit you belong to is donated by 20% of the givers. And, if you work in publishing, 80% of the income your publisher makes comes from 20% of the books. (Which, if you think about it, means there is significant factor sparsity in book publishing, since 80% of the titles released this year will produce very little income for publisher and author.) Pareto noted that most every element tied to finances is ruled by a vital few (which he referred to as “the elite,” thus popularizing the term), and that it’s the success of those vital few that allows the rest of the category to persist.
Here’s why you need to understand that as an author: Your publisher is going to release a LOT of books this year. A mere 20% of them are going to generate 80% of the publisher’s income, so of course your publisher is going to
Do You Mentor a Writer?
by MacGregor Literary award-winning author Jill Williamson
When I started writing I was pretty much on my own. I searched long and hard for local writing groups, but couldn’t find one. I tried a few online groups and eventually started one with another YA author I’d met online. We sort of mentored each other as we went along, the blind leading the blind. It wasn’t the worst way to learn. And we did learn. We’re both traditionally published authors now.
I also attended writers conferences, read books on the craft of writing, and read writing blogs. But I never sought out a mentor. I didn’t know how. I was too shy. And I figured they’d all say no, anyway. But once I was published, I liked helping other writers. So I started blogging for teen writers. I figured that there were plenty of blogs out there for adults, so why not create one for teens?
Blogging for teens was a way to share what I’d learned. And I wasn’t the only one with this idea. At a marketing retreat, I got to know Stephanie Morrill who started www.GoTeenWriters.com. She and I talked and decided to combine forces. She had created an amazing blog for teen writers and graciously took me on as a co-blogger. Blogging for teens allows me to speak to hundreds of teen writers every week.
Later on we also put our various blog posts into a book we co-wrote called Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book. This book has enabled us to mentor in yet another form and had been read by teen writers all over the world. How cool is that?
I officially mentor two writers. I don’t think I could handle mentoring more than two as it can be very time consuming. But mentoring is also very rewarding. It allows me to give another writer the
What's your best advice for making a living at writing?
Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about “making a living at writing.” In addition to the advice I’ve doled out, I’ve heard from several people with wisdom to add to the discussion, and I have a few other tips to share, so I thought for the Thanksgiving weekend, we could share the best advice we all have for those looking to make a living at writing. Some of my thoughts:
—Keep your mornings protected for writing.Â Move the other work to the afternoon, but write every morning.
—Group similar activities.Â If you do all your phone calls back to back, you’ll get through them faster. Ditto emails, snail mail, project planning, looking over proposals, etc.
—Organize your day first thing every morning. If you have a plan, you’re much more apt to stay focused. Having a “to do” list helps most writers immensely.
—Take a day off one each week.Â Getting away from writing one day each week allows you to recharge your batteries and get your mind refreshed. Hey – even God rested.
—Kill the muse.Â That is, forget the concept that you have to be in a certain mood to write, or find exactly the right space to create words. Just sit and write. I’ve long appreciated Ernest Hemingway’s writing idea that you end each day in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down the next morning, you don’t have to figure where you are, or get yourself into a certain moody, or work up to it. All you have to do is to finish the incomplete sentence you’d left yourself, and you’re off and writing.
—See the value of shitty first drafts.Â Too many writers tie themselves in knots because they think they need to make their manuscript perfect. But for most novelists, what they really need is to
Thursdays with Amanda: Happy Thanksgiving!
In the midst of food and family, don’t forget that the holidays are a great time to promote your books! Keep an eye on how your favorite stores and products promote during the season, and consider how you may duplicate their ideas. Last year, one of my favorite clothing stores ran a gimmick in which you could be entered to win a huge shopping spree…all you had to do was create a Pinterest board of items from their holiday collection that you wanted.
While I didn’t come close to winning the grand prize, you bet I got about three of those wishlist items as gifts that year. Meaning they made money on my participation in their promotion.
I call that “gimmick” a ridiculous success.
See what you can come up with, and have fun with it!
And if you happen to be putting together a holiday wishlist, don’t forget to add to it The Extroverted Writer! It’s a great stocking stuffer, if I do say so myself.
Writers: Learn to Think Quarterly
We’ve been talking about making a living at writing, and I’ve talked about the importance of having a place, a time, a project, a writing goal, and a calendar (among other things). Let me suggest there’s one other thing you’re going to have to learn to do if you are to take the next step in your writing career: think quarterly.
It can be daunting to think you need to earn $1000 this month. It’s much less daunting to think you need to earn $3000 in a quarter. The fact that you have the extra time allows you to shift your priorities around, and give yourself enough breathing room that you can earn the money. So don’t think the pressure is on you to make all the money NOW — assume you’ve got a three-month goal.
The federal government already thinks that way — it’s why they ask self-employed writers and editors to pay quarterly taxes instead of monthly. Writing income never arrives on a monthly basis anyway, though it’s fair for a writer to plan for a decent paycheck four times per year. So you move your income into quarterly groupings, lowering the pressure and giving yourself a better big-picture view of your budget.
In essence, I’m suggesting the conversation with yourself becomes something like this: “I’m going to make $3000 this quarter. It’s going to come from three sources — my completion money, my royalty check, and those magazine articles I’m completing. And the money is going to go toward these things…” (because part of having a budget is determining where the money goes, not just where it will come from).
When I was given this idea from an experienced freelance writer, I found it took a bunch of pressure of my shoulders. LOTS of writers and other self-employed people have based their budgets on this model over the years. Thinking quarterly will help you survive as a
Why you need a Writing Calendar
If you’re going to make a living at writing, you’re going to need to consider creating a writing calendar. This is, you need to have a document that details what you’re going to write each day. Think about buying a big paper calendar, and jotting down a writing goal for each day of the month. For example, perhaps on Monday you’re working on chapter five of your book, Tuesday you’re completing the chapter, Wednesday you are creating that article you’ve wanted to do for the writing magazine, Thursday and Friday you are doing a paid edit. In each day on your calendar you’ve got something that focuses you on the task at hand.
To figure out what you put into each day, you look at your “to do” list and do some prioritizing. If you’re one of those writers who has been stuck at “writing 1000 words each day,” but not ever feeling like you’re actually moving forward in your career, you should try this. There’s nothing wrong with having a word count goal, of course, but sometimes it’s better to know which project you’re working on, and how long it’s going to take you. You’re going to have plenty of other things to do, of course — there will be phone calls related to your work, and seemingly endless emails, and forms to fill out, a friend’s piece to critique, some social media to participate in… but at some point you just want your writing life to have a focus — getting these pieces written so I can make some money.
And that’s why you don’t just write down the goal for each day and stop. You then go back and add in a dollar figure, so each project is seen as contributing to your budget. For example, that article you’re writing for the writing magazine? How much is that paying you? Let’s say it’s $150 — you write