Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sell That Book!

Image source: wikihow.com

Do you dream of selling your book to a big New York publisher? 

I’ve done that, but the market is ever-changing, and so it’s always nice to get an update on what counts most in today’s acquisition decisions.

Here, a few items of note from a recent session on the subject with literary agent Jeff Kleinman:
  • A manuscript must deliver. That means an agent or editor can’t put it down. It’s gush-worthy.
  • Want to impress a big publisher with your social media presence? You’ll need at least 25,000 followers—and that’s just in one spot, not combined across platforms.
  • Publishers want big books, the ones that will generate big sales.
  • If you write fiction, agents and publishers most want your first novel.
  • If you write fiction or memoir, your manuscript must have narrative urgency.
  • If an agent or editor tells you that she didn’t fall in love with your manuscript, that generally means the characters aren’t strong enough.
  • Your log line, or sales handle, is crucial. It should represent your core understanding of your book. Drill it down. It has to travel, meaning that it’s pithy and repeatable.
  • You should know exactly where your book would be shelved in a bookstore.
  • You should know the audience for your book, not in general (i.e. middle-aged women) but in terms of clearly delineated groups.
  • When your book goes before a publisher’s sales team, it’s good to have two noteworthy authors lined up endorse it—not at the meeting, but in cover blurbs if the book is accepted.
  • A huge problem: authors send out their work before it’s ready.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, her views here are her own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Writing Zone

Every now and then, my husband catches me staring off into the distance, paying no attention at all to what’s going on around me. The Vanasse Zone, he calls it.

Actually, it’s the Writing Zone, where we writers yield to the creative happenings inside our heads. When you’re a writer, the Writing Zone is the place you most want to be. Ideally, it happens while you’re at the keyboard, putting words on the page. Ways you’ll know you’re in the Zone:

·         Words flow so quickly your fingers have a hard time catching up. You don’t second guess every line. You simply write
·         As you go with the flow, you’re excited about the discoveries that are unfolding in your work. But you don’t stop to laud them. You keep writing.
·         Unintended inspiration shows itself. Snippets of what you’ve read and experienced make their way into your project without any sort of planning.
·         After your writing session has ended, the ideas keep coming. You run back again and again to your notebook to jot them down.
·         When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you’re wearing a goofy grin. You’re in the Zone. What could be better?

Our best work happens in the Zone. How to get there? It’s not all that hard:

·         A short opening ritual helps. Prolific novelist Alexander McCall Smith plays background music of a different type for each of the series he writes. You can read about my ritual here.
·         Quit trying to sound writerly or brilliant or important. Let the authentic voice for your project lead the way.
·         Nix the perfectionist. There will be time later to assess and revise. For now, just write.
·         Ditch your linear expectations. If you get stuck in the middle, jump ahead and write a scene or section. Write a few. Then go back and connect them.
·         Once you reach altitude, find your cruising speed and stick with it. It’s all about the words on the page—in the end, that’s the only way to get and keep momentum.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Writing Advice to Ignore

Many years ago, I went bowling with a big group, all of us related in one way or another. I love to recreate as much as the next person, but in general, bowling isn’t my idea of a good time, and this particular outing became especially fraught as one by one, nearly everyone in our group—fortified by beer—tried to turn me into a bowling superstar with his or her advice.

Hold the ball this way. No, that way. Pivot here. No, like this. Slide. Don’t slide. Swing back more. Swing back less.

Not a fun night.

Advice is lovely, as long as it’s measured and proven and consistent. But in our eagerness to help, we often fail to consider how contradictory and even potentially damaging a bit of oversimplified advice may be.

Here, some common writing advice worth ignoring (or at least thinking through):

§  Focus on the main character: While it’s true that readers will want to empathize with your protagonist, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your secondary characters. Even minor characters should be memorable.

§  If your work is literary, emphasize character; if you write genre fiction, emphasize plot: Character and plot are too deeply intertwined to be separated. No matter what the genre, readers expect engaging characters and riveting stories.

§  Show, don’t tell: A common beginner’s mistake is to substitute exposition for scenes that show rather than tell. But don’t overcorrect. If you eliminate all telling, you’re missing out on opportunities for reflection, emotional depth, and narrative distance.

§  Reveal what you know: In some ways, good writing is like a comedy act—it’s all in the timing. Knowing when and where to withhold is essential to creating narrative tension.

§  You’re either a pantser or a plotter: These are fun, handy terms for describing a writer’s process. A pantser writes by the seat of her pants; as words spill onto the page, she watches her work find its shape. A plotter plans out her book, then writes to the plan. But while some of us may lean in one direction or the other, our best writing often comes from a combination of pantsing and plotting.