• September 25, 2012

    Should I write my friend's memoir?


    After yesterday’s post, I had someone write and say, “I’ve been approached a couple times to collaborate on a book, but I’m not sure I want to go that route with my writing career. Any advice for me?”

    1. Collaborating writers come in four basic packages: COLLABORATORS (they take the miscellaneous meanderings of a smart or interesting person and shape it into coherent text, often finding pertinent material to supplement the content), CO-AUTHORS (they add their own content and generally get some credit for having a mind of their own), GHOST-WRITERS (they create the material, which is often used by a putative “author” with an ego too big to acknowledge the use of a writer), and EDITORS (they simply re-shape or sharpen the cogent thoughts and writings of the author).

    2. What’s most important? Clearly define your roles. No sense writing for someone who really wants you to edit. (This has happened to me on more than one occasion. I do great work…and they toss it out so that they can use their own, lousy wording and feel better about themselves.)

    3. What’s also important? Clearly define your agreement. “I will do THIS for THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY. It should take me THIS much time, so if you give me the material you’ve promised, I should have it for you on THAT date.”

    4. One more thing: Define what “success” is. If they’re paying you for a rough draft, produce it. If they’re paying you for a polished manuscript, produce that. If you don’t define success, you’ll find that YOUR expectations may not match up with the OTHER’S expectations.

    5. Make sure you can do the job. I love writing, and I love learning new things, so I always enjoyed taking on collaborative projects. I learned about guns, about investing in stocks, about fathering, about history — writing collaboratively was as good as any class I ever took

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  • September 24, 2012

    Should I write my cool personal story?


    I frequently get proposals telling me about someone’s cool personal story. Right now, I’m looking at a New York cop who busted several organized crime figures, a guy who spent his life in the bush, the child of an on-the-road professional musician, a former Islamic soldier who came to see the world differently, and a very talented poet and songwriter who survived breast cancer. These are all fairly interesting stories, and I doubt very much I’ll take any of them on. Why? Because there’s very little market for personal story books. 

    Here’s what I consider to be a hard truth: You may have led a fascinating life, seen incredible things, and even had miracles happen to you. But in today’s market, there’s not a ton of interest in publishing this information in book form. And while you may not like that truth, the fact is, it’s where we are in today’s publishing economy. No matter how successful these books used to be, or how interesting your story is to you, publishers just aren’t selling enough copies of personal story books to make it worthwhile anymore. 

    I mention this because I’ve been seeing more and more personal story proposals cross my desk. (In hard economic times, MORE people create proposals, apparently thinking they’re going to cash in and make some easy money. Ha!) But right now network television is filled with reality shows — and these are basically personal stories. There are 20 million blogs — many of them people sharing their stories. In fact, the web is filled with people who want to tell the world about their stories. So there are cool personal stories everywhere, and they’re free. And that’s taken away the incentive people have to purchase a personal story book, unless there is a great sense of celebrity or media associated with the book. I represented Lisa Beamer’s post-9/11 memoir, LET’S ROLL, a few years ago,

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  • September 21, 2012

    What should I ask an agent?


    I’ve had several people write to say, “I don’t know what to ask an agent when I meet one. What should I say?”

    I’ve answered this question a few times on this blog, so let me replay some thoughts…

    How long have you been doing this?

    -How many contracts have you negotiated for authors? 

    -Who do you represent?

    -May I check your references? Are you okay with me asking your authors about you?

    -What publishing houses have you worked with in the past year?

    -Which editorial personnel have you done deals with?

    -How many deal have you done in the past year? 

    -What sort of authors and projects do you represent?

    -What do you like to read?

    -Can you give me a book title you sold that you loved?

    -Can you give me a book idea you sold that you loved?

    How would you define success for an author?

    -What would you say are your best skills?

    -What’s unique about your agency?

    -What percentage do you earn on a book deal?

    -Are there any hidden fees or charges? Any up-front costs?

    -Do you charge back all your expenses?

    -Have you ever worked in publishing or done any editing or writing?

    -How do you approach career planning?

    -Do you work by yourself?

    -Are you full time?

    -Can you help me do my e-books? 

    -Can you share any success stories with me? 

    -What do you do best? 

    -What do you expect from your authors?

    That should at least get you started… 

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  • September 20, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Social Media Critiqutes Part 2


    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.

    You like my new picture?

    If you don’t know, this week is ACFW — the big Christian writers conference. And since we work with both general market fiction and Christian fiction, we’re here in full force.

    To commemorate, I asked my friend, Chris Kolmorgen (@ChrisKolmorgen) to whip up this take on the Christian historical romance book cover. You have me…ahem…I mean some sort of makeup-wearing girl in the foreground, a hunky man’s man lurking in the background, and some sense of setting (Downton Abbey anyone?).

    So wish us luck! It’s going to be a fun week.

    And now, on to your web critiques.

    Quick background: 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. Thrillers & Killers is a blog by Maegan Beaumont

    • It’s very…red 🙂 You’re doing what most bloggers do…you use a pre-made template and you haven’t yet ventured into the territory of creating your own masthead. But I strongly encourage you to do so. Adding a photo or some sort of image to the top part of your blog will make it more inviting, appealing and professional-looking.
    • You really should blog consistently. Even if it’s once per week. Just pick a day and be consistent  on that day. Right now,
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  • September 18, 2012

    How can I improve my writing?


    Someone wrote and asked, “What is the one thing I can do that would most help me grow as a writer?”

    May I offer more than one thing?

    1. Write a lot. Most writers are really wannabes — they talk about writing a lot more than they actually write. But if you wanted to be a better pianist, would you TALK about playing the piano, or would you sit and PRACTICE? The same goes for dance, or painting, or singing, or baseball. Or writing. The best thing you can do to improve is to write more. (You want real-world advice? Set a goal of 1000 words a day, 5000 words a week, and get busy.)

    2. Find experienced writers. For some, that means joining a writing group, in which you all write something and share it with each other every month. The critiques of others will hurt, but they will often help you improve. For others, that means finding a mentor — someone who may not have hit the bestseller lists yet, but he or she is a bit further down the path than you are. A mentor can offer advice, perspective, and wisdom to help you grow. For still others, it means simply making friends with a writer who is more or less on your own level and asking him or her to be your accountability partner, reader, and sometime counselor/shrink/psychic/motivational speaker.

    3. Hang out with writers. We all get better by spending time with a diverse group of people who share our interests. Here’s a suggestion: If you’re a novelist, consider signing up for a good fiction conference (I’m heading of to the  ACFW conference tomorrow). A good conference offers some of the best training in craft outside of personal coaching or college classrooms, and spending a week with good writers is a great investment. If you’re a nonfiction writer, consider going to one of the big

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  • September 17, 2012

    Does a writer need a critique group?


    Someone wrote and asked, “As a beginning writer, is it really important I participate in a critique group?”

    I highly recommend newer writers join a critique group. Often times at writing conferences I’ll have someone come up to me clutching a manuscript to their chest. “Here,” they whisper, looking around furtively. “It’s my manuscript. It’s fantastic. And no one has ever seen it.”

    So I’ll look at them and ask, “And how do you know it’s fantastic?” They invariably answer with something like “I just know” or “people have been encouraging me to write for years” or“my mom loves it.”

    Sorry, not good enough. I don’t trust your personal instincts unless you’ve had at least one bestseller, and your mom loves you too much to view your piece objectively. Every writer needs a critique group. New writer or experienced hand, you gain wisdom when you have other writers looking at your work. A critique group offers you an honest appraisal, and provides an on-going learning experience. The best groups have a nice mix of people, so that your group provides you with a variety of experiences, interests, and personalities commenting on your writing. People get together and offer insight into your work, which will help you improve your writing. It also gives you a place to hang out with like-minded folks — other people who also want to be writers. There is support in the group, and a sense of identity. Get thee to a critique group.

    Now, at the same time, I’ve had a couple dozen people write to ask a related question: “When do I know it’s time to leave my critique group?”

    I suppose it’s time to leave a group when you’ve absorbed what your group has to offer you. This may eventually come when you think you’re experienced enough and confident enough to go it alone — and, in fact, the others in your group

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  • September 13, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: The Free Social Media Critiques Begin!


    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.

    Wow! Lots and lots of takers on my offer last week to give free social media feedback. It’s going to take awhile to get through it all, but I’m up for the challenge.

    Now, for some structure…I think I’m going to go with a 2-1-2 approach. I’ll give blog critiques for two weeks, then one will be spent doing a “normal” post. Two weeks again on critiques and so on until I’ve worked through the list. Sound good?

    I also realize that I should provide some background on who I am and what qualifications I have to do this. So, a bit about me…

    Before becoming an agent, I worked for some years at a marketing agency outside of Chicago. I was a social media marketer for two years, and then a copywriter for one. I quit the job to pursue agenting full time.

    While in marketing, I worked with clients such as Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore and more. I scripted and directed Peg Perego USA’s 2011 collection product videos and was the primary visionary for their Facebook page and blog. For Vera Bradley, my primary achievement was writing sales, ad, descriptions, and store copy for their various 2010 and 2011 collections.

    So that’s my background and why I tend to have a handle on this marketing thing. For me, it’s all about putting yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Giving them what they want. Not  necessarily what you feel most like providing.

    Alright now, without further adieu, here’s some feedback on 5 of your sites:

    1. Let Me Write That Down is a blog by Ruth Stearns.

    • My first thought is that you
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  • September 12, 2012

    Seven Leftover 9/11 Notes…


    Back to the topics of writing and publishing tomorrow, but today I was to share a handful of interesting things about 9/11 I didn’t put in yesterday’s post (and you can feel free to add your own images in the “comments” section at the end)…

    1. Did you know that between the two World Trade Center Buildings, on the west side by the Hudson River, was a Marriott Hotel? When the towers collapsed they fell on it, and the hotel was also destroyed. Nobody really seems to know how many people died in the Marriott, but a group of people (ten firemen and a lawyer who was staying at the hotel) survived when one corner of the building remained standing. I had stayed at that Marriott just months before the attack, and it was lovely.

    2. Jules and Gedeon Naudet, the two French filmmakers who happened to be filming in Manhattan that day and created the riveting documentary 9/11, were the only people who caught the first plane hitting the north tower. If you view it, note what the police officer who happened to be standing in the shot says: “That’s an act of terrorism! He steered that plane right into the building!” To New York’s finest, they knew immediately what had happened.

    3. Three weeks after the attack, I finally took my trip to New York. The scope of Ground Zero was amazing. Television couldn’t capture it. A huge pile, and a huge field of debris — the size of  it took my breath away. 16 acres of rubble. Imagine.

    4.  I got to walk completely around the perimeter of Ground Zero with a friend. I noticed there were dump trucks getting filled with debris from loaders, then heading out to Fresh Kills so investigators could sort through the rubble. We waited at the exit where the trucks were leaving, thinking there would be a break. It never came.

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  • September 11, 2012

    Remembering 9/11


    On September 11th, 2001, I was flying along at 36,000 feet, in a United jet heading from Denver to Chicago, then on to New York. I was working as a literary agent for Alive Communications in Colorado at the time, and flew out of Denver regularly. There wasn’t anything special about the flight — I was in first class, seat 3B, and directly across the aisle from longtime Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy, who had been in Denver to call an NFL game on television.

    We’d been in the air about an hour when I said to the guy next to me, “Something’s wrong. We’re going down.” So I motioned to the flight attendant (a tall, young guy who looked all of 20) and asked him. He clearly didn’t know what was going on either, but said he’d check with the pilots. I watched him knock on the cabin door, enter, stay inside 3 or 4 minutes, then come out, white as sheet. He motioned to me that all was fine, but he was obviously upset, and I knew right away something was deeply wrong. I reached for the phone (in olden days, they had phones in the back of the seat, and you could call home five miles up). The phone didn’t work.

    The captain came on the speakers and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to remain seated. There have been terrorist attacks against the United States of America, and all planes have been ordered out of US airspace. We’re going to make an unscheduled stop. Please do not leave your seats. There’s nothing wrong with the aircraft.”

    I turned to the guy next to me and said, “You know, I fly just about every week, and I’ve never heard anything like that before.” Of course, I was right. Nothing like that had ever been said before. So everybody in first class reached for the phones,

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  • September 10, 2012

    How do I get the most out of my critique group?


    Someone wrote to ask, “How does a critique group work in the real world? What should one of our meetings look like?”

    I love this question, since writers are often encouraged to start a group, but don’t have specifics on how to do so. Some thoughts…  Let’s say you have a group of four to ten people. You agree to meet once per month, somewhere in the middle of the month. On the first of the month (roughly two weeks before your meeting), everybody submits their work to the other members of the group. All the documents are emailed to one another in a Microsoft Word attachment, double-spaced, 12-point font, with plenty of margin space around the words. You may want to limit the page count to five or ten or even fifteen pages (though I know of one group that asks for a chapter per month, leaving the page count to the individual writer’s notion of what a chapter length should be.) There’s a hard and fast rule that you receive it by the first of the month or you ignore it until next month. So you receive everyone’s writing, print it out, read each one, and edit it. You ask questions. You point out things that aren’t clear. You write comments at the end. You try to be polite but honest. If you really want to be professional, you all use the “track changes” feature to make your comments, so that everything is legible.

    Keep in mind that the criticism is of the work, not of the writer. And, as my friend Cecil Murphey likes to say, “Members do not make value judgments — they don’t say ‘this is bad,’ but instead offer suggestions for improving the work.” Participants in a critique group are criticizing your work.They are NOT criticizing you. And on each piece you say at least one nice thing, since everybody needs to hear

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