The blog for writers

The Book Deal

Market sizzles for debut authors

“Editors still love a chance at debut fiction,” says Manhattan literary agent Michelle Brower. “If the book is unique and meaningful, the debut author doesn’t yet have a bad sales track record so we can look at their book with all of the rosiness of potential rather than reality” Good news That’s some of the good news for first-time authors from agents out there on the front lines. The news is backed up by recent deals with major publishers for first novels, like Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven, an immigrant tale of two women, two cultures, family secrets and the fight to find a new life in America, sold to NAL this year by veteran agent Jill Marsal. Two top dealmakers in debut fiction I … [Read more...]

Writing a memoir: Intersecting memory and story

Writing a memoir is one of the most stimulating but difficult literary challenges an author can undertake. Nevertheless, it’s a hugely popular genre. Five of the top ten hardcover nonfiction books on the NY Times bestseller list this week are memoirs. Aspiring memoir writers can find help in books and by searching online, but there’s nothing like a live workshop with a master teacher. One highly recommended instructor is Tamim Ansary, the Afghan-American author of the critically acclaimed literary memoir West of Kabul, East of New York (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). This spring, Ansary will be conducting a six-week memoir workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I jumped at the … [Read more...]

From spark to story: How books get started

Where do stories come from? Are writers inspired from deep within the unconscious psyche by forces beyond their control? Or are they compelled by external cues that resonate without invitation – unexpected and accidental? As an editor, I’ve seen the muse arrive in surprising and mysterious ways. The creative spark, a blessed event to be sure, can arrive at any moment in time. Whether the source is mundane or magical, the author fans the spark into a fully realized story. From spark to finished story I asked two authors about their original impulses and how they developed into the books that were ultimately published. Kristen Tracy published Lost It (Simon and Schuster) in 2008. It was … [Read more...]

The career-boosting power of your name on a book

Many authors I’ve worked with have written books that promoted and enhanced their professional lives. Some have written a book precisely with this hope in mind: to advertise their special skills and passions. Other writers have enjoyed the surprise of being propelled in their careers with major elevations of their workaday status and financial potential. “Writing books literally changed my life," says author Michele Borba. "The most interesting parts of my career couldn’t have happened without publishing all those titles.” I recently interviewed Michele and two other authors who’ve written both non-fiction and fiction books that gave them the opening to expand their non-writing … [Read more...]

Walking in your character’s shoes: Writing with authenticity

Bestselling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell inhabits and writes from inside the mind of her lead sleuth, Dr.Kay Scarpetta, the medical examiner in a blockbuster series of 20 forensic thrillers and counting. To get the details exactly right, Cornwell has hung out in a coroner’s morgue to study forensic corpse dissection and body decomposition. She’s recreated fictional crime scenes in her home with accurate blood spatter patterns. She overcame her fear of scuba diving so she could write with verisimilitude about a deep sea body search. And when Dr. Scarpetta flew a helicopter, Cornwell became a certified pilot and bought her own $3.5 million Bell 407. We can’t all afford to buy our own … [Read more...]

Why should anyone give a shiitake about your book?

That’s the first question to ask yourself, writes Guy Kawasaki in the opening chapter of a definitive new book on self-publishing, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book, written with co-author Shawn Welch. Kawasaki is passionate about writers creating worthwhile books for principled reasons. To make a difference in people’s lives, to promote great causes, or to tackle intellectual challenges are a few of the bona fide motivations on his list. So if you’ve got a great reason to write a book, and you’re thinking about publishing it yourself, Kawasaki’s guide will take you the rest of the way. It’s the best, most thorough book I’ve seen on self-publishing to date, … [Read more...]

Ask the Editor: Can I become a better writer?

Q: Every rejection letter I get says there’s something wrong with my writing. Can I really get better at this? A: Yes, you can! Having edited hundreds of writers, I know for a fact that even the most seasoned, successful writers read, study, revise and rewrite, use a professional developmental editor, and continue to polish their craft. Tom Robbins: It takes practice, patience and intense focus When I worked with Tom Robbins years ago on Jitterbug Perfume, he told me he rewrote passages as many as 40 times and could take five years to finish a book. Here’s what he sent me recently on the question of becoming a better writer. “I look for a pitch next to madness. A talented writer can, … [Read more...]

Timing your book’s launch date for maximum impact

Strategic timing of your book’s publication date can give it a jet-propelled boost and have a major impact on its long-term success. Commercial publishers and booksellers have known this forever. Christmas and beyond Retailers rack up between 25-35 percent of their annual revenues during the holiday shopping season in November and December. Smart publishers start shipping their big holiday titles as early as August for publication dates in October and November - with the goal of getting those books to the stores by Halloween. This kind of lead time is necessary for the books to build traction with online social network buzz, print and broadcast features. By September, booksellers will … [Read more...]

Great reasons to self-publish: 7 case histories

Writers who self-publish often reap enormous benefits that are personal and unique. This goes way beyond the usual notion of self-publishing as either an alternative or a pathway to a traditional book deal. Writing and publishing a book can strike an emotional chord of meaning and importance for the author that is rewarding beyond expectation. Some experience the profound satisfaction of leaving a family legacy, or finally making sense of life experiences, or raising public awareness about a serious issue. Publishing your own book can also make sense financially and strategically for business purposes, as many writers have found. Here are seven great reasons to self-publish with case … [Read more...]

Ask the editor: An agent said my novel needs emotional glue. Help!

Q. An agent said my novel is missing emotional glue. Like it doesn’t stick together. What is emotional glue and how do I get it into my story? A. Emotional glue reveals a character’s internal reactions, ruminations, and anticipated responses to the dialogue and action of the story. It's the unspoken ideas and feelings that focus and hold together the narrative and keep the reader right there with you, caring and excited about what's gradually evolving. Adding this sticky stuff fuses the narrative with the core combustive material that drives the book forward. It creates a pervasive climate, helps the reader feel the mood that hangs in the air, and compels us to keep turning the … [Read more...]