• October 12, 2012

    What's your best writing advice?


    Someone just wrote to me and asked, “What’s your best advice for writing fiction?”

    I’ll offer mine if you’ll share yours…

    Here is my best writing advice: Write with verbs and nouns. I read that in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style back in high school, and it’s still the best writing advice I know. Too many new novelists think they’re going to flower things up with lots of adjectives and adverbs. That’s a trap. Just tell your story, stick to verbs and nouns, and spend enough time selecting the right word that you don’t have to prop it up with extraneous verbiage.

    That’s my wisdom. (And it’s brief, since I’m pulling jury duty all week.) What’s your best writing advice?

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  • October 11, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Social Media Critiques Part 4


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda 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.

    A few weeks ago, I offered free social media critiques to those who replied before the 14th. You see, social media is a specialty of mine. Before becoming an agent, I worked for some years as a social media marketer at a marketing agency outside of Chicago. I worked with clients such as Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore and more. A somewhat longer description of what I did can be found in the first critique post.

    1. Back Porch Reflections is a blog by Jackie

    • I don’t really know what this blog is trying to achieve. It seems like a sports or news blog with a mommy twist, but the title of the blog indicates it’s a personal journey type of thing. :/
    • I also struggle with the goal behind each post. Clearly, you’re into sports. But jumping from a very journalistic post on 10/05 to what starts as a journalistic post but ends more like a food-for-thought post on 09/30 to another journalistic-type/info-sharing post on 09/19 to further down the page where you have very personal posts. Clearly, you need to identify both your writing style and your theme for the blog.
    • Content aside, the design is a bit cluttered on the right nav, and the masthead is pretty lacking. Really be intentional about where you place things and how it looks (for example, in my browser there’s an Amazon ad that is kind of hanging in no-man’s land).
    • Get rid of ads.

    RECOMMENDATIONS: Choose a theme and a writing style to go along with that theme. Remember, if you go with a journalistic approach, you aren’t going to be followed for your

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  • October 9, 2012

    Does an author need to have a big ego?


    I’ve often talked at writing conferences about the motivation we have as writers — some people have a story they need to tell, others have advice they want to share, and still others simply want to be a star and get noticed. There’s something about that issue of “being a star” that becomes part of the writing business. So I was interested when someone wrote to ask, “As an agent, do you find yourself having to deal with ego issues a lot?” (His question came in within 24 hours of someone else asking, “Do you have to have an ego to survive in publishing?”)

    My perspective is that struggling with ego issues is part of any art form. If you’re a musician or actor or dancer, there’s a rush in getting on stage, in front of an audience, and basically shouting, “Look at me!” At the same time, that’s not the only motivation — the opportunity to express yourself, to tell your story, or reveal your vision is just as important. For a writer that same struggle exists. You’ve got to find a balance between expressing yourself in your writing and making this “all about me.”

    So, to make this easy, let me talk about myself rather than my authors, since the whole ego issue is something I have to battle. First, I’m not a star. I have no intentions of ever becoming a star. I’ve written books, but I’m in no way a celebrity author. And the funny thing is that I don’t really want to be a celebrity author, even though I enjoy doing a good job , and doing a good job in public. However…

    Second, I suppose if there is any place I’ve got a small measure of celebrity, it’s with the extremely small population of people who attend writers’ conferences — a group small enough that most people don’t even know it exists. In

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  • October 5, 2012

    Is there a career path for an editor?


    An author wrote and asked, “Is there some sort of career path to become an editor?”

    Of course there is a career path for most editors. You normally start as an Editorial Assistant, spending one to three years learning the book process. Generally you work with an editor, sometimes more than one, and your job is to fill in the gaps. It’s one of those unglamorous jobs — filing, letters, P&L forms, reading crummy proposals, cleaning up messy issues, talking to authors on the phone, and doing your best to make the editor look good. Most of the editors you see these days began as Editorial Assistants. The focus of the job is “process” — that is, learn the process of how books are done.

    The next step is to rise to the level of Assistant Editor. You’re still doing all the same crummy stuff as an EA, but you begin to focus on the word side — how do you edit a manuscript? That often means doing a shadow edit behind an editor. Many Assistant Editors are asked to work in one particular area — business books, or health books, or perhaps to help with one A-level author. The focus of the job is usually learning to edit words (unless you’re on the production side).

    For many, the next step is that of Associate Editor, though at some houses this isn’t cut and dried. An Associate Editor generally has a specialty, and it is most often defined as “working with words in some way.” That is, they spend their day editing actual manuscripts. Maybe they do copy-editing, some developmental editing, they do some reading and reviewing. I had an Associate Editor at Time-Warner who ran our “copy” procedure. There were Associate Editors who tracked cover copy, catalog copy, front matter, etc. At most houses, an Associate Editor is somebody who just focuses on the word side and doesn’t acquire

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  • October 4, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Social Media Critiques Part 3


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda 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.

    A few weeks ago, I offered free social media critiques to those who replied before the 14th. You see, social media is a specialty of mine. Before becoming an agent, I worked for some years as a social media marketer at a marketing agency outside of Chicago. I worked with clients such as Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore and more. A somewhat longer description of what I did can be found in the first critique post.

    1. The Messy Middle is a blog by Amy Young

    • I’m not sure the aesthetics of the site complement the goal. When I first brought it up, I almost expected it to be a site on architecture or interior design. There’s just not much color, and so it has a very cold feel (lots of grays). Your font tries to warm things up, but the masthead is so overpowering with its stark image and cold color scheme that it just doesn’t feel like a place “where grace and truth reside”
    • Your “about” page, though creative, is a bit too meandering. When faced with the issue noted above, I had to rely on this page to give me a clear picture of what I should expect from the blog. It took awhile to get that picture, and I’m afraid you’re going to lose potential readers as a result.
    • You’ve tapped into a subject matter that could result in a good following (woman is transplanted into foreign culture; must make a way). But there’s a delicate balance between journaling your experience and making the reader feel as though they’re part of it. Because that’s why people read blogs like yours…they
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  • October 3, 2012

    How can I make a living at writing?


    When you look at writers who are making a living at their writing, you find they come in two basic types:

    TYPE 1 is the writer who writes all over the map. There are plenty of examples of this in publishing – writers who do kids books, teen books, women’s fiction, romance, thrillers, study guides, and the occasional novella. They publish with multiple publishers, self-publish some titles, do some work-for-hire or collaborative writing, and cobble together a living. This author has good years and bad, makes decent money, is certainly out there a lot. On the nonfiction side, you find this much more with journalistic types — they’re taking on a variety of projects in order to make a living. 

    TYPE 2 is the writer who figures out what she wants to write, then writes it. She focuses on a genre, figures out her voice, and writes to that audience. An example of this is Terry Blackstock (there are plenty of others). Terry is writing suspense novels, everybody recognizes her voice, and she’s focused on that one audience. Another is an author I represent, Lisa Samson. Lisa writes literary fiction, knows who she is and what her style is, and focuses on it. 

    I’ll tell you right now that TYPE 1 writers rarely hit it big. She might make a good living, but it’s tough to really hit the big time when you move around in categories. You know that feeling of being overwhelmed because you’re doing six books in four different genres? Well, that’s the sort of life a TYPE 1 author is going to lead forever, because she finds it tough build an audience. Readers have trouble following her. Bookstore owners have a hard time getting behind her because they don’t know what her next book is going to be. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do this — frankly, it may be the only way to make

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  • October 2, 2012

    Why does an agent accept or reject an author?


    A prospective author wrote me a note and asked, “What is the main reason you choose to accept or reject an author?”

    An interesting question. The “rejection” part is easy: Most of the people whose projects I reject are NOT turned down because I don’t like them, or because they’re unknowns, or even because I dislike their ideas. Most authors are turned down because they can’t write. Simple as that. Not all, of course. I just saw a very good nonfiction idea, but I’m already trying to sell a similar project and felt it would be unfair to take on something so similar. And with the advent of so many good writing resources, I’m often seeing novels that are well-done, but not of the knock-my-socks-off quality. So a bunch of things I see aren’t bad, but they aren’t great. Or they are 70% done, and they need to be 100% done. I’d say under-writing and under-finishing and under-editing are the reasons so many projects with some merit don’t get picked up. The author gets started, but can’t get finished — or perhaps he or she doesn’t know now to finish. That’s why having a critique group or writing partner can help offer you perspective on your work. Another set of eyes can really make a difference on a manuscript.

    Still, I do get sent some really crummy stuff. Bad ideas. Projects where the author doesn’t speak English. Proposals written in crayon (presumably because the wardens won’t let them play with anything sharp). I hesitate sharing some of them, since I’m always afraid I’m going to really tick off someone who sent me an idea they thought was brilliant, and I found laugh-out-loud bad. But…

    A while back I got in a proposal for a book called “How to Make Out With Chicks.” The author was apparently thirteen, or at least stopped growing emotionally and intellectually at thirteen. (From the tenor

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  • September 28, 2012

    A Guest Post: Missed Marketing Opportunities—Word of Mouth


    Today’s post is by guest JP Jones, author of Market Yourself: A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media and 31 Days of Marketing, which will release on October 20, 2012. 


    Marketing is one of the industry terms that often leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Seth Godin sums up our feelings about marketers in his book, “All Marketers Are Liars” (a great read by the way), but if you truly want to promote your work and yourself as a writer it’s important to come to terms with the dreaded marketing monster.

    What you probably don’t realize is that there are marketing opportunities around you everyday. Marketing does NOT mean boasting, bragging and generally being obnoxious about your work or your successes. What it DOES mean however, is being ever ready to put your brand in front of others and seizing the opportunities for promotion that would otherwise be overlooked. Granted, that definition won’t be found in Webster’s, but it’s a good rule of thumb for you to keep in mind as you work to increase your marketing platform.

    Let’s look at one of the top word-of-mouth marketing opportunities that we accidentally overlook.

    Friends and Family

    You might be thinking, Well of course I don’t overlook them. They know all about my writing endeavors. But think for a moment. Do they really? Have you provided your friends and family with the tools to really help you spread the word about your book or availability as a writer? To this date, word of mouth marketing still results in more sales than any other marketing venue. Why? Because we innately trust what a friend or colleague recommends to us over that of what we see on advertisements or other traditional channels of marketing. It’s the basic principle of six degrees of separation. As you pass along your book to your immediate circle, they pass it to their circle etc. Before long, you

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  • September 27, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: How to Create Your Own Masthead


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda 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.

    One of the things I’ve noticed when going through your blogs is that many of you rely solely on pre-made templates for your blog design. You may type a few words as a header, but for the most part, you’ve done nothing to customize the space and make it your own. I’m guessing this is because many of you don’t know how easy creating your own masthead can be! I mean, I CREATED MINE USING MICROSOFT PAINT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

    Here’s my personal blog, Swedish Pankakes. (Remember! My blog is NOT a shining example of what to do. I’m not trying to grow a platform with it or gain attention, so I don’t implement many of my own tips). If you visit my blog, you’ll see that it looks very personalized and maybe even a smidge professional. But I use a free template with very little customization options. So what makes it look so unique? My masthead!

    This little doo-dad can make a world of difference in getting your blog to look more professional. And I’m going to show you how I did it.

    1. You must find a picture that not only fits your blog/website’s vibe, but one that is visually appealing, clean (you don’t want it too busy) and full of colors that you can build your site around. So, let’s say that I was going to create an agent blog. I’d select this picture I took that showcases the first four books I did as an agent:

    2. Open the picture in whatever design program you have or know how to use. All I have is Microsoft Paint (this comes standard with any

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  • September 27, 2012

    What do I need to know about writing my memoir?


    Someone wrote to ask, “So what do we need to keep in mind when creating memoir?”

    Fist, keep in mind there’s a difference between “memoir” and “autobiography.” An autobiography is a straight retelling of one’s life — what happened, what were the events/decisions, what did those result in. A memoir is a more personal narrative of the significant change points in one’s life. It doesn’t have to be linear, whereas an autobiography is almost always linear. And the focus of a memoir can be more on the effects in your personal life — what you were feeling, what you learned, how you changed. The end result is almost always on a catharsis of some kind. So while the goal of autobiography is to get the facts straight, the goal of memoir is something more akin to “revealing myself and my story, in order to reveal principles that will help others live more effectively.” (This isn’t a dictionary definition, it’s a MacGregor Definition.)

    Second, people understand the world best through story, so that’s how you have to think. What are the stories that reveal your life and your character? What stories happened to you that changed you?  You see, if you’re not a celebrity, nobody really cares about your everyday life (and, to tell you the truth, I’ve never cared to read celebrity biographies very much because…well, I don’t care about THEIR everyday life either). If someone wanted to understand my life, to see who I am and why, they wouldn’t care about a cold retelling of the facts. They’d rather hear some of my story — my dad’s conversation with me one morning just before he committed suicide, the person who told me I could write, my success as a writer, my failure as a publisher, my mom’s ugly death, the miracle that occurred in my car, the fact that people have stayed with me when I was a jerk,

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