How to Build a Blog that Markets for You: a Guest Post by Stephanie Morrill
Stephanie Morrill writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
When my debut novel hit shelves in 2009, words like marketing, platform, and tribe put me in a bad mood. I was convinced that I didn’t possess the skillset I needed for being a good marketer, and that my best bet was to just write good books and hope for the best.
But then I fell in love with blogging. During the last three years, I’ve invested a portion of my writing time into a blog for teen writers called Go Teen Writers. At first it felt like I was on a stage and talking to an audience. As months passed, the audience slowly-but-surely grew. But instead of just looking at me, listening to me, talking to me…they turned toward each other. They looked, listened, and talked.
No longer was Go Teen Writers just me typing and scheduling posts, a drain on precious writing time. Once the teens began connecting to each other, the blog became a place of conversation, community, and friendship.
And a marketing tool beyond my imagination.
Here’s an example of what can happen when your audience starts chatting with each other instead of just talking to you:
In March, my publisher was generous enough to offer my debut novel, Me, Just Different, as a free ebook for six weeks. And, of course, the campaign launched during the one trip I had planned all spring.
I told myself that I had six weeks to promote the book and didn’t need to panic, but I was excited and decided to at least mention the
Where does depth in fiction come from?
Someone wrote to ask, “Put simply, where does depth in fiction come from?”
Depth is found when multidimensional characters who I can relate to, who I care about, face the timeless questions of life in the midst of complex circumstances, then make decisions that are open to interpretation. Their choices may not be right, but as a reader, I get to go through the experience with the characters. I see people in your story I have come to care about facing big decisions, making choices that I may or may not agree with, and I get to go through that season with them, and see the results of their choices, then measure them against my own life. THAT’S what causes me to learn, helps me to understand myself, and leaves me thinking about your book. And this can’t be faked – any bright reader will figure out when you’re faking depth or artificially trying to gin up emotion. So you can’t write with an agenda. Nothing is more boring than to read a polemic masquerading as a novel.
One novelist sent me this: “Writers of historical fiction seem to be interested in knowing what time period editors might be looking for. Is there a ‘hot’ time period you would like to see a book set in or any to avoid?”
Well, it’s changing all the time. Publishing is a tidal business– the tide comes in, the tide goes out. So Amish fiction doesn’t exist, then we’re awash in All Things Amish, then there are considerably fewer of those titles. And there’s nothing wrong with that — the culture embraces some topics or periods for a season. Some have more staying power than others (so “westerns” became their own genre, “Amish fiction” has become it’s own sub-genre in Christian fiction, and Chick Lit disappeared as a relative flash in the pan).Watching the trends can be fun, just to see what publishers
The Christy Awards make another major mistake…
So, if you haven’t heard the news, I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Christy Awards. Yes — me. Chip MacGregor, literary agent. I’m fairly certain this was a clerical error, but it’s exactly this sort of thing that causes people to shake their heads at the decline of Solid American Values in publishing. Next thing you know, they’ll be having an agent serve as the Master of Ceremonies…
Oh, wait. It turns out they also asked my good buddy Steve Laube to serve as the emcee. He is also a longtime literary agent. Um… Well this just goes to show that anyone can make a mistake. I mean, first they forgot to give Jerry Jenkins a Christy Award, now they hire a couple of agents to man the microphone. I’m telling you, we need a blue-ribbon panel to check into this. (Heads will roll.)
If you’re not familiar, the Christy Awards are really the premier award for those who write inspirational fiction. They’ve been around about 15 years, and are named after Catherine Marshall’s seminal novel, Christy. Originally created by a dozen CBA publishers, the awards intended to honor Ms Marshall’s contribution to the field of faith-infused fiction, as well as providing opportunities to recognize the best novels and novelists in the genre. I’ve long been a fan of the Christy Awards, and have represented dozens of finalists and several Christy winners (including last year’s winners Mindy Starns Clark, Leslie Gould, and Ann Tatlock). We have several finalists again this year in the different categories — which you can find by going to www.christyawards.com .
So I’m completely surprised and flattered that they’d invite me to speak, even if the person on the other end of the line MEANT to call Chip Kelly, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and, like me, a former Oregon Duck. (Don’t worry — I get that a
How long before I hear about my query?
Someone asked, “How do you feel about writers following up on a query or proposal submission? What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up?”
Let me set some ground rules. First, if I didn’t ask for your proposal, I don’t owe the author a response. (I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but look at this from my perspective: If I had to respond to every proposal that comes in cold, I’d have a full-time job just responding to proposals… and I’d never make a dime.) So if I read it and give a response, even if it’s a “no thanks,” I’m doing the author a favor. Second, I’m going to try and get to it quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will be immediate. I’m the type of person who hates having a bunch of stuff sitting around the desk, so I’m bound to get to the proposals as soon as I can. But I can get busy with travel or meetings or simply working on projects for the authors I already represent — so sometimes things can slow down considerably. Third, I understand this is a business on the writing side, so if an author needs info, I want to be fair about it; if she decides she needs to go elsewhere, I’ll probably be understanding.
When an author sends me a proposal I’ve asked for, I try to get back to people within four to six weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. But I’ll admit something: I hate having people send me short notes in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). I think perhaps they’ve forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. (Okay, sorry if I sound cranky, but I got one of these today, from a woman I’ve
Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Questions to Ask a Web Designer
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor 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 andBarnes & Noble.
There’s one thing I’ve noticed about expectant moms these days (and no, this isn’t a post about pregnancy or motherhood)…Moms will spend weeks visiting various hospitals in their area, looking for the perfect match for their needs and expectations. They consider everything from doctor availability to space to freebies to distance from home to overall comfort level. They weigh each item against the other until a clear winner emerges.
It makes sense when you think about how important having a baby is.
But what if I told you that they do the same thing when purchasing a stroller or crib or carseat? What if I told you that moms these days tend to turn every babygear decision into an extensive list of pros and cons?
We always talk marketing here on Thursdays with Amanda, and we’ve frequently mentioned the need for a professional webpage, website, or blog. But one of the most common mistakes authors (and people in general) make when venturing into a relationship with a web designer is that they don’t view their career as their baby. They fail to ask questions. They fail to vet those that they hire and truly understand what they’re signing up (and paying!) for.
So, before enlisting some Joe Schmoe designer to do your website, present him with these five questions:
- 1. Can you show me examples of your previous work? Just like every author writes with a unique voice, every artist creates with a unique point of view. So before you ever consider hiring anyone
What's the best method to query an agent?
Someone wrote and wanted to know, “What advice do you have for authors regarding querying? What is the best method (e-mail, snail mail)? Is there a particular format the query should follow?”
The BEST method is to get face-to-face, of course, so by all means consider attending a conference where you can meet the agents and editors with whom you want to work. Research them ahead of time, find out who they are, what they represent, and who might be a fit. Then try to get in front of them. That’s best… But in today’s publishing world, that’s harder than it used to be. Many agents are staying away from conferences because they’re dominated by beginning writers. In publishing today, most people have become email people, and thus I expect most of the queries you’re going to write are going to be without a face to face introduction (even though that would be best).
I much prefer a query via email than a printed letter (save the trees, save the gas delivering it). A query should be short, to the point, and most of all is should give me a reason for wanting to see your proposal. It should help me to be interested in our topic or story. Remember, the goal of the query isn’t to sell your book; it’s to get an agent or editor to agree to take the next step. That’s all. Nobody decides to acquire a book based solely on the query. So the query should briefly give me a reason for wanting to see more, it should be written extremely well in order to show off your talent, and it should tell me exactly what you want me to do.
The first paragraph of your query letter introduces your topic — just give it one or two sentences. Your second reveals the basic idea or focus of your book in two or three sentences.
Do I need to be done with an experience to write about it?
Someone wrote to note, “My critique partner told me I need to put aside my nonfiction manuscript, since he doesn’t think I’m really healed from the incident I’m writing about. Is that good advice?”
Hmmm… Okay, let me think about how to answer this question politely, but clearly. I don’t know you. You may be a mess. You may need counseling. You may not be ready to write a book. And I suppose there’s something to be said for the fact that a nonfiction book is a tool that offers a solution to a question – so maybe if you haven’t worked all the way through it, you don’t have the solutions to offer yet. And that would mean you probably don’t have a book yet.
Having said that, I don’t universally agree on the “wait until you understand it before you write about it” theory. The fact is, some of the best writing we have comes from people struggling IN THE MIDST OF pain. Take a look at James Agee’s Death in the Family or Brennan Mannings Ragamuffin Gospel or Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God. One of the reasons we like those books, one of the reasons they resonate so well with readers, is because they don’t have all the answers. They are people struggling to find answers and, sometimes, coming up short. We live in a world that has questions and brokenness and pain — one that often doesn’t even believe in the notion of there being an “answer.” Letting others see the process we’re going through can prove helpful. So maybe you don’t really need to have all the answers to do a good book.
I hesitate to make that argument, of course, because I’m afraid it will lead to me seeing more reflective poetry, angst-filled books on bad relationships, and screeds against groups who have hurt you. But while it’s always nice to see somebody
What do you look for in historical fiction?
Someone wrote to ask, “Should an author who writes historical fiction stick only to fiction? Since so much historical research has to be conducted, how do you feel about authors using their novel research to also pen nonfiction?”
I think it depends on the author’s preference, or maybe their gifting. I don’t have any problem representing authors who write both fiction and nonfiction. However, it’s really tough for a writer to succeed at both. In my view, a novel requires a different set of writing skills than a nonfiction book — novelists require the ability to show, not tell, while nonfiction is all about telling. There are very few examples of writers who have excelled at both. (Yes, there are some, but not many.) And readers simply don’t cross over – most tend to be either fiction readers or nonfiction readers. And historical fiction readers aren’t generally that interested in reading a nonfiction book from a favorite writer, so even a bestselling novelist will find her nonfiction book to be a hard sell in the marketplace. For those very practical reasons, most historical fiction writers tend to stay with the fiction genre.
Another writer wants to know, “What particular skills do you look for in a writer of historical fiction?”
A strong voice, first of all. The one thing that makes a novel unique is not so much the setting or the characters so much as the voice of the writer. Too many historical novels feel the same — the setting has changed, but the book could have been written by anyone. So what really sets it apart, and the first thing I look for, is a strong author voice. That being said, a strong sense of history and adequate research so that the story feels genuine are essential, of course. I want a story that’s unique and interesting, so it’s best if the writer has a passion for
When does an author need an agent?
Someone sent this to me: “To get a book published, do I need an agent or do any publishers still take authors without agents? If I feel like I need an agent, don’t I need to have a publishing record to catch an agent’s attention? What I’m really asking, I guess, is when does an author NEED an agent and when does an author NOT need an agent?”
WARNING: This answer is coming from an agent. Discount all numbers by half and throw out the rest. He is totally biased and opinionated. And make sure you’ve got your pipe and slippers, ‘cause this guy goes on and on and on…
I’m a literary agent. I’ve been in the publishing business in one role or another for decades now, a full time agent for the last 15, and started my own agency about seven years ago. I made my living as an author and, later, as an editor and publisher before I fell away from the Lord and became an agent. I’m pretty successful at what I do, in a business where many people call themselves “agent” but don’t know what they’re doing (and, consequently, don’t last very long), I’m fairly well known in the industry and, by and large, have developed a pretty good reputation for the business (more evidence of the mercy of God, no doubt). Feel free to ask around and see what others say. Most people who know me will tell you that I’m not an “agent evangelist.” I’ll be the first one to tell you that not everybody needs an agent. And I’m fairly safe in talking about this stuff because I’m fairly full-up with clients. That is, I’m not looking to add a bunch of authors (however, if James Patterson is reading this, FEEL FREE TO CALL). With that said, I’m going to give this one man’s opinion…
Agents are more important than ever
How can I improve my dialogue? (A guest post)
Recently, I received a call from my publisher. “You’re saving us a lot of money,” he said.
My response was instinctive. “Add it to my next royalty check.”
“I’m serious, man. We hired a scriptwriter to convert your novel to a script for an audio book. She had it back to us in three days. She said your dialogue was so natural, she pretty much just transcribed it.”
“You know what they say: ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.’”
“Well,” he said, “yours is on the page, so we’re puttin’ it on the stage.”
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE
Although novels, short stories, and works of narrative nonfiction are venues of the mind, I try to write dialogue as though my readers will be in an audience listening to a performance. It forces me to keep the dialogue crisp, witty, poignant, and supported by the right stage business. Let me share with you some tips from scriptwriting that will enhance your prose.
Begin by reading and studying other writers’ scripts. And by that, I mean reading them aloud. When I was in graduate school as an English major, one of my profs made us read out loud in class. We read long passages from plays by George Bernard Shaw, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, Samuel Beckett, and Agatha Christie. I was amazed at how this approach to understanding literature also served to sharpen my ear in regard to writing dialogue for my short stories. I still do this today with TV and movie scripts, musicals, and stage dramas. You can do likewise by obtaining play collections from the library or downloading public domain scripts from the Internet.
If you’re not confident about how to make a scene dramatic enough, you can surprise readers by doing a flip-flop. In scriptwriting this is called role reversal. A “normal” scene would have a mother