Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Handful of Writing ''Don’ts''

Jon Sternfeld, an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing literary fiction, says that even though these are not his personal query pet peeves, he knows they’re basic red flags that all agents he knows despise.

1. Formality
—you’d be surprised to hear that simply how the query looks hugely affects the reader’s opinion of whether or not the project is worthy. Besides just basic letter formatting, even in e-mail it should be formatted properly, there’s a tone a writer must strike. Avoid the three C’s: too casual, too colloquial, too cute and anything else that tries too hard to "stand out." The material itself should be what stands out and no agent wants you be cute about it.

2. Opening lines of the MS
—Work like mad on that first paragraph of your manuscript. Sadly 98% of the queries don’t get read past that. I’m not a fan of dialogue as the opener (though my more commercial fiction colleagues say this isn’t such a no-no). Nevertheless, I tend to delete manuscripts that open with a line of dialogue (esp. one with an exclamation point) and those whose opening line “dumps” exposition. Both of these let me know that you don’t quite have the hang of en media res or of disguising exposition.

3. Clich├ęs in plot summary
—Argh. These are way more common that you’d think in query pitches: "thought she had it all," "will stop at nothing," "must risk everything"—these should be reserved forpopcorn flick trailers. When I spot them, I recognize a lazy writer at work and delete. Beware.

Of course, there are more, but these three are sure-fire ways to get your query deleted before you’re even given a chance. With email querying now the norm, agents are more saturated than ever with pitches. Avoid these and at least you’ll get a fair shake.

Excerpt from an article posted by Chuck in the Writer’s Digest, February 2, 2011.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Metamorphosis: When the student becomes the teacher

We take writing classes/workshops to hone our craft in order to make us better writers, and perhaps, (secretly hoping) to become the next Steinbeck, Poe, or Hemingway. We trust our professors and mentors because they’re knowledgeable, but most importantly because they were students once. Who better to understand what we’ve been through but them? But what happens when the student becomes the teacher? I’ve asked myself this question, especially lately, at my writing class. Let me explain. I've taken quite a few writing workshops and at a recent writing course the material covered in class was something that I've already studied. The teacher was helpful, approachable, and made the students feel at ease. All my mentors have taught me something but the mechanics of writing are always the same but with a different spin. So I wonder, how many times can you paraphrase the basics without sounding redundant?

I shared my concern with a fellow writer and she said, “You should be teaching a writing class.” Her kind words strengthened my shaky confidence. Like most writers, I am my own worst critic. I sometimes doubt my editing skills even after I hear praises from my fellow writers. I may not feel ready to teach a writing class, but I am certain of the knowledge I’ve acquired thanks to all my mentors.

Is my friend right? Can I take a leap of faith? Have my teachers passed on the torch without me being aware? Have I metamorphosed into a teacher?

How about you? Have you ever been in a similar situation?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Creating Powerful Content That Will Help You Sell Books

Dear Bloggie friends,
Last week was a bit crazy for me so I had no chance to write a post. I got this interesting article via e-mail.

These days it's a must that every marketer create fresh, enticing content. While not everyone uses the term "content," it still comes down to creating words, tweets, blog posts, etc. - and whatever content you create, it means extra work for you. How can you keep up with your marketing, social media, and your content creation? More importantly, how can you create compelling content that readers will not only want to read, but that will also encourage them to buy your book?
For years, I've been creating all sorts of content. Whether it's blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, white papers, or HuffPo posts, it's all about crafting helpful information people can use and messages that will drive users back to our website. The idea isn't just to push something out there, but to push it out consistently. The best way to generate content is to stay in close touch with your industry. Keep apprised of your marketplace, industry news, and changes to your field because all of this can help to spark ideas. If you're scratching your head wondering how to do this, here are some quick tips to help turn you into a content machine.

1) Networking: You should be networking with other experts in your market. Getting to know other voices is very important not just for networking, but also for idea generation. Ideas and inspiration come from everywhere; sometimes they come from tweets you've seen, other times they might come from blog posts you subscribe to, or Facebook accounts you are a fan of.

2) RSS Feeds: Once you identify your network of experts, subscribe to their blogs. I find that staying immersed in your industry will help to percolate ideas.

3) Tweets: As I mentioned above, following experts in your market will really help not only for networking, but also as you're building your knowledge base.

4) Newsletters: Many experts have newsletters. You should be subscribing to all of them. Newsletters are also a great way to gather fresh, new content ideas.

5) Guest blog posts: Inviting other experts as guest bloggers on your website is a great way to generate content. Not only that, but it's a fantastic way to connect to new people in your industry. Guest blog posts also help to bring in fresh readers, especially when the guest blogger helps promote the blog to his or her community of readers.

6) Your book: If you've written non-fiction (and even to some degree with fiction) you should be able to excerpt pieces or portions of it and syndicate it online. In some form or fashion, Red Hot Internet Publicity has been pushed online. Whether it's in blog form, a tweet, syndicated article, or a Facebook update, I have broken this book into a million little pieces all being used as content.

Once you have a good content strategy, now it's time to plan for your content. I recommend that you take time once a week to do this. Sometimes I'll skip a week, but I always make it up. If you're new to this, treat your content strategy like your new workout routine. At first it won't be easy, but you have to keep up a regular pace until it becomes part of your marketing regimen.

Keep your content organized by collecting this valuable content in a folder, either electronically or in a paper file. If you're gathering information electronically, I would suggest using something like Evernote (which I love!) or OneNote. Evernote has a great app for both iPhones and Android so if you see something or get content inspiration while you're away from your computer, you can add it to Evernote and it will sync up to your main file. Tres cool - that way you can get to it quickly and easily. Once you have identified various ways to gather content and you've started building this content, you'll start to see your platform really growing. The more you push out there in the way of information, the more will come back to you in the way of readers and buyers.

How does content help you sell books? The more of an authority you are, the more eyes you will get to your message - and the more eyes you get, generally the more buyers you get. Also, I believe that information builds trust and these days, whether you're buying a book or something else, consumers want to buy from people they trust. Building trust is a big piece of what we do, and content creation is a part of this strategy.
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.