The blog for writers

The Book Deal

Staying connected: You’re not alone

When you're writing in the zone, you feel confident and creative, ready for prime time, readers, agents, and publishers, right? But it doesn’t always come that easily.  When writers get stuck, those good feelings can drop away quickly. A lonely occupation Writing is a solitary business for the most part, with hours spent alone, day after day. You zip forward, then maybe you stall, so you start over, you revise, revise again... It’s not easy. It can take years to write a book you’re proud of. Feelings of isolation and self-doubt are occasionally part of the bargain for any author. They can be intrusive and debilitating, sapping your creative energy. That’s why it’s so important to have … [Read more...]

Prequels build buzz!

Have you heard what some savvy authors are doing to build excitement and attract readers to their upcoming books? They’re writing prequels: tantalizing teasers in short story form that preview the key characters and settings of an upcoming novel. Some prequels predate or provide backstories for the longer books to come. Others are like outtakes from the novel, standalone narratives that add to our knowledge of the characters but don’t appear in the books themselves. Prequels provide readers with the flavor and quality of the forthcoming book in a way that makes them yearn to read more. This technique has had notable successes lately, like propelling a book from obscurity to six-figure … [Read more...]

Too much vertical space in your manuscript?

In filmmaking, vertical space is shorthand for script pages with lots of white and not a lot of words. For scriptwriters it’s the rule. A script has dialogue, brief notes for action on the screen and not much else. It makes for quick reading and ensures a kind of textual scarcity that directors consider a virtue, since in the movie business, directors, not screenwriters, are the storytellers. They’re the ones who bring the action, dialogue, sound, light, color, and music together into a coherent narrative. For a book author, however, a lot of vertical space is usually a sign of trouble. Too much of it shows us there’s something’s missing. Dialogue alone can’t build a whole and complete … [Read more...]

How to grab, delight or shock your readers right from the start

"Every time mama came down on that shabby floor, the bullet lodged in my stomach felt like a hot poker." Claude Brown and I hunted through his manuscript for two days to find that moment and move it to the opening of his classic Harlem memoir Manchild in the Promised Land. We wanted to detail the true grit of getting shot at age 13 while dealing drugs at a fish and chips joint, and to include the emotional drama of his mother jumping up and down in despair. We added the hot poker detail to scorch the reader’s sense of sight, sound, and visceral pain. We hoped this start-up moment would persuade them to buy the book. And if 4 million copies sold in 14 languages is hard evidence, something … [Read more...]

An interview with yours truly about self-publishing

A while ago I sat for an interview with Brian Felsen, CEO of BookBaby, a service provider for self-publishing authors. He asked a lot of good questions for authors about working with an editor, getting published, and effective book promotion. Here’s the video, in which we talk about how the role of the author has changed in both traditional and self-publishing, and how authors can market their books creatively online with Tweeting, YouTube videos, and other social networking. We also get into the importance of good design and editing, the different types of editors (developmental editors, copy editors and proofreaders), what a developmental editor does, and how to choose one. If you'd … [Read more...]

How to find a hungry agent

Here’s a literary agent who’s very specific about the kind of book she'd like to see in her inbox: “I love books with some kind of psychological element, like if the MC has a mental illness or if they can't trust their mind.” Working on anything like that? Or something close? Want to know more about this agent? Well you can find her on Twitter. She’s Annie, of the Annie Bomke Literary Agency, tweeting as @Abliterary Twitter: Start here Commercial publishers, agents, editors and publicists have for years relied on Twitter as an important element in book marketing. It’s also an essential tool for agents looking for new writers to build their client lists. Annie Bomke, for example, is … [Read more...]

Happy Birthday Tom Robbins! Time to revisit your advice to writers

I’ve never known a great author to be more generous with useful advice about the craft of writing than Tom Robbins. If you’ve yet to discover this fabulous author, Robbins has written many bestselling novels including Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Jitterbug Perfume, Skinny Legs and All and others. His funny, surprising and masterful prose is lyrical and rhythmic, with a kind of musical style that disguises his underlying irony and serious intentions. So on the occasion of his birthday July 22nd*, we’re honoring Tom with a collection of his inspiring words for writers, culled from earlier interviews and conversations in my role as his one-time editor and ongoing pal. * Scroll down for an … [Read more...]

Ask the Editor: Memoir or novel for my true story?

Q. I have an amazing true story to tell, but publishing it may step on some toes. Should I write it as a memoir, and tell it exactly like it was? Or should I write it discreetly as a novel, so I can disguise the lurid details and stay out of trouble? If I don’t write this story, the truth will never come out. But I could get sued. Or worse!” A. If you want to stick to the literal truth, write it as a selective memoir and be aware of the legal ramifications. If you want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings or taking on potential legal problems, disguise the reality as imaginative fiction. Whether a book should be memoir or fiction comes up frequently at my seminars, blind-date pitches, and … [Read more...]

How winning a literary prize can change your life

“First, it got my book published,” says Kirstin Scott, whose novel Motherlunge won the 2011 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award. “And with that, the prize gave me readers.” There’s no doubt that winning a well-respected competition can help validate your work with agents and publishers. It proves someone thinks you’re good and helps build a more credible platform. The best of these prizes include cash awards and book publication. I recently interviewed four writers each of whom has won a well-known contest. Here’s who they are and how their prizes changed their lives. Four Winners Lori Ostlund’s first collection of stories, The Bigness of the World received the 2008 … [Read more...]

Having trouble writing? Try this famous author’s technique

“Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall," says Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee. "Blurt out, heave out, babble out something – anything – as a first draft,” he says  in an article called Draft No. 4 now in The New Yorker magazine where he’s been appearing regularly for 48 years. McPhee, the author of 32 books, says he first wrote these words of advice in a letter to his daughter Jenny years ago when she was starting out as a writer herself. “The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once,” he told her. “You work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye. Edit again, top … [Read more...]