Book Marketing, Getting Published, Writing Tips

Improve your odds and get published!

paperback-books-background (1)For the past few years, I’ve been attending a great writers’ conference in Raleigh, NC, hosted by the Triangle Association of Freelancers called Write Now! It’s a day-long event and includes an exceptional keynote speaker, great sessions, and lunch (not to mention a raffle) — all for only $69. These people really understand the concept of the “starving artist”!

Last year, the keynote speaker at Write Now! was author David Morrell (you can see my write-up here), author of countless thrillers and a fabulous speaker. This year, Brian Klems, the online editor of WritersDigest.com, gave us all great advice to help win over literary agents. He gave us a whole list of practical tips to help stack the deck in our favor. As well as working for Writer’s Digest, Klems also edits books for a living and has had his own book published (Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters), so he knows a thing or two…

Here are a few of my favorite tips that Klems shared in his keynote speech and also in his workshop about “writing like a pro”:

  • Make sure your manuscript is typo-free. This sounds obvious, right? But according to Brian, spelling your character’s name three different ways and getting “they’re, their, and there” mixed up are signs to an agent that you’re unprofessional, lazy, and not in it for the long haul. Yikes!
  • Get to know agents by doing your research first. Before he started pitching his book, Klems first made a list of traits he wanted in an agent. He or she would have to have children because the book was about being a parent, the ability to purchase TV rights, represent his book’s genre, and have a similar sense of humor as Klems. He thoroughly researched three agents (THREE!!), getting to know their interests and who their clients were. The third one he queried took on his book. The moral of the story? Quality not quantity!
  • Have more than one idea. Agents love lots of ideas, Klems said. If you get the opportunity to talk to an agent or editor, make the most of it. If he or she doesn’t like your first pitch, try another. Come prepared to pitch any ideas you have when you have the chance.
  • Hire an editor to help you with your query letter. You only get one chance to impress an agent, so give the query everything you’ve got, Klems said. (Especially if you only send out three!)

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  • Be kind, useful, and network. Never badmouth an agent or author online; the publishing world isn’t that big, and who wants to work with a writer they perceive as being negative? Be useful by following agents and authors on social networks like Twitter and sharing their Tweets and other valuable information. Be an advocate for writers you admire — write positive reviews for them — and network with other writers. You may find your next beta readers, and maybe they’ll have a connection with magazines or agents.

I’ll post more great tips I learned at the conference in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned! And feel free to share any advice you’ve learned about improving your odds of getting published.

 

Embracing Creativity, Fiction

A short-short with no name!

I found this story scribbled on two sheets of paper while I was going through old notebooks, etc… I think it pretty clearly shows my state of mind during my graduate school creative writing classes! Not sure what to call it — any suggestions welcome!

All day, I couldn’t get the image of someone chopping down a tree out of my head. I was sitting at Servio’s Pizza with Mack, scribbling in my notebook while he lectured me on the proper way to write a cover letter. He thought I was taking notes; I was drawing a picture of Professor Wheeler wielding an axe, his sleeves rolled up past his elbows.

Tree split in two

“Are you listening?” Mack cocked his ear toward the door “That’s the sound of your career options floating out the window.”

“Oh, whatever.” I closed my notebook. “I’m going to be late for class. Better go face the music.”

Mack’s lips were pinched together. He patted my arm. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Professor Wheeler sat in the square desk at the front of the room, while the rest of us faced him in a horseshoe formation. Faces were blank. My story was up.

“Harhum! Who wants to start?” Wheeler let his straight eye roam over each of us in turn, his wobbly eye rolling up toward the ceiling, as though trying to escape out of the socket. When he got to me, I looked down at my desk.

Lucretia raised her hand. She was a freshman with two jet-black braids that she purposely wore at each side of her head. At the end of each braid was a purple bow. She liked to wear black shiny shoes with little straps across the ankles.

Wheeler waited a few moments, letting his eye shift around the room before finally settling on Lucretia.

“Yes?” He never said her name unless he had to.

“I liked Janice’s story, her use of the strong male protagonist. I thought he was very believable in his weakness, his fears about writing. He was just like one of us.” She swept her arm around the room. “He wasn’t snobby or pretentious when it really came down to it. It was all an act.”

She stopped and looked at the manuscript on her desk. Wheeler waited. I clenched my hands in my lap.

“I disagree.” It was Benny; he always sat on the left side of the room, always wrote with a red pencil, sometimes combed his thick hair while others spoke.

“I didn’t like the narrator. I thought he was arrogant and overbearing.”

I bit my lip. Slowly, I raised my eyes to Wheeler. His cheeks were pink under the spokes of hair on his chin, and he was staring at Benny. Benny shrugged and began combing his hair.

Wheeler put both his hands flat on the desk, big pink fingers like rolls of unbaked dough. He looked at me suddenly, and I lowered my eyes quickly, studying the cartoon I’d scribbled at lunch.

Wheeler was smiling as he chopped down the tree, a big willow with graceful drooping branches that dripped around his shoulders and head. I’d drawn beads of sweat popping out of his forehead, surrounding his face like little flies.

“Well, come on. What does everyone else have to say about the story?”

Beatrice, an Ecuador woman with a kind smile, stared out of the window. Mike, a sports fanatic who wore his soccer cleats to class, sat looking straight ahead, a fake smile etched in place. I held my breath and prayed that I would suddenly wake up and find myself in bed in my small apartment. What had I been thinking, writing a story like that?

“I suppose I could add something to the conversation,” Wheeler said, cracking his knuckles. He rested his chin on his hand and tilted his head at me.

“A very unusual approach, Janice. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student do this before.”

I sucked in my breath, looking straight at him. In my drawing, my arms and limbs stretched into the sky, reaching out to the air as he crashed through me, toppling me over into the rough, dry grass.

“I applaud your honesty, your attention to detail.”

I blinked.

“Finally, you’re writing about what you know.” He tapped his forehead. “You’ve stopped writing clichés, plastic, polystyrene. Now you’re playing with fire. Now you have the power to inspire.” He stood up. “And to hurt.”

I covered my mouth with my hands as he walked out of the room.

Book Marketing

How to make an easy book trailer!

I’ve been experimenting with Windows Movie Maker again and created a book trailer for my mini-collection of short stories, Rocky Road. It’s not exactly Spielberg, but it gets the message across!

It’s easy to make your own simple book trailer. With Movie Maker, I combined some free clip art (the turtle at the beginning) from Microsoft Office with a movie my daughter made on my phone while we were driving home from the beach! Then I added the picture of my book cover at the end. The background music I got from http://www.freemusicarchive.org

Movie Maker is free, and it’s easy to use. You just click on the icons/buttons to add video or photos, background music, and captions for your “scenes.” Then you can choose different transitions between each scene — for example, my turtle photo fades in gradually, and the cover picture at the end “pans” out slowly. That way, I kept the images moving, rather than having clunky jerks and stops between the still photos and the moving video.

If you’re interested in making your own book trailer, try downloading Movie Maker and experimenting with some videos and photos you already have on your computer. Add some background music, and try out different features to see how it works!

Writing Tips

Another connection…

Because I am still behind on everything…except drinking coffee… I am sharing a link to the wonderful blog for Southern Writers’ Magazine. It has some really thoughtful and inspiring posts for all writers — you definitely don’t need to be from the South! Here’s a great one on how we often worry about “Opportunities Passing Me By” and why we probably don’t need to worry at all…