Your Editor is not the Bad Guy

 

Red ink bleeds across the page. Hard questions scrawled down the margins. Rewrite this whole passage? Really? Sometimes confronting your work after a thorough edit can be as daunting as running into Darth Vader in a dark alley.

 

“Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too.” – Blake Morrison

 

Your Han Solo self might not think your beloved Millennium Falcon is in any need of repair, but you can’t see the entire ship from the cockpit. Here’s the thing: our minds see and feel the whole picture, and it’s incredibly important to recognize the many mini-jumps your brain makes when reading your own text that will be impossible for the reader to replicate. You know the protagonist inside and out, and it can be challenging to see where you’ve misled readers by providing incomplete or inaccurate information. You know it’s supposed to say, “He dashed over the log…” and your brain may not flag you that it actually says, “He dashes over the leg…” because it already knows what it should be. That’s what your editor is there for! Even the best of the best need editors, which is why the acknowledgements of practically every book published are practically gushing with gratitude for their editors!

 

Patrick Ness advises, “Learn to take criticism. Your first draft won’t be perfect, and it’s damaging to the book to think that it is. Every great book you’ve ever read has been rewritten a dozen times. This is the hardest thing to learn (trust me), but very, very important.”

 

A good editor will jump at light speed on issues with story arc and continuity in a developmental edit, or search with the uncanny precision of a Jedi for errant language in a line edit. The purpose of it all is to make your work the best it can be. At The LetterWorks you’ll find some of the most encouraging and gentle editing services out there, but they also strive for a letter-perfect edit. All the editors are authors themselves and fully understand the incredible honor it is to be entrusted with your younglings! It is precisely for that reason a manuscript may come back with some serious work to be thoughtfully considered and executed.

To reach publication, sometimes to even be considered for publication, your manuscript needs to reach a certain caliber. Even a vigorous plant is sometimes in need of some pruning to really let it shine and flourish. So take courage, and take up that pen. Let your editor be your ally.

May the “fourth” be with you.

 

 

Shame on Who? Taking the Shame Out of Self-Promotion

“Shameless self-promotion.” The phrase alone inspires dread in some, and often for good reason. Around every corner of the web, from social media to your favorite podcast, someone’s got something to shill, but does it always have to be such a cringe-worthy endeavor?

Let’s start by exploring where shame enters the picture. Does this shamelessness imply that you are incessantly slapping everyone in the face with your work regardless of interest or context? If so, it’s time for a new approach. No one wants to invest in a friendship or working relationship with a perpetual solicitor.

There’s also this lingering perception that creators should be ashamed of themselves for promoting their work. If you find yourself feeling this way, take a step back and ask yourself why you embarked on the project in the first place. Ask yourself why you followed it through to completion. Are you proud of the work you’ve done, or do you think it was all a big waste of time and energy? Was it a labor of love, or a financial necessity? Most writers take on less-than-glamorous gigs to pay the bills, and no one here will judge you for that, but it may be a better use of energy to save the sharing for projects that better represent you. If you can hold your work up proudly, then your promotion should be shame-free as long as you don’t overdo it.

While it can certainly be beneficial to plug your work online, your posts can quickly become tiresome, and the people you’re hoping to engage with will scroll right on by as soon as they see your name. Many creators view social media sites as nothing more than free advertising platforms, but without the genuine connectivity that keeps social networks going, your profile will not draw readers. Don’t assume people aren’t buying your thing explicitly because they are unaware of it. Writers tend to see a bump in sales when they mention their books about once a week online, but these are also people who already have a following, post frequently on multiple topics and engage in various conversations. There is no set scale for how much to self-promote, but less is more here. If you are able to curate interesting discussions, people will explore your other posts, find your books, and either buy them outright or at least ask you about them! Whether you’re worried about posting too much or not enough, a pinned post can serve as a passive billboard that can take some of that pressure off.

One approach that I see frequently is using a separate “author” page in addition to your main social media profile. I understand the attractiveness of keeping everything neatly compartmentalized, but I have my doubts as to whether or not this method is very effective. Writing is intensely personal, so even if you’re not writing memoirs, you are putting yourself on the page. Readers are often as interested in the writer as they are the story, which means you’re often selling yourself as much as the book, so this dissociation seems counterproductive. I feel similarly about adding the word “Author” to your name on social media accounts. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, but it comes off as performative, and like Amanda said, “Stop Aspiring to Be an Author and Just Be One!” Though the blogosphere is not as prominent these days, an alternative is to keep a blog or a Tumblr (a hybrid blog/social media site) to contain all your writing news and info that you can occasionally link to on your main social media profiles.

What about face-to-face promotion in the real world? Can you talk to people about your books without coming off like a pretentious ass? It’s possible as long as it’s not forced. No matter how incredible and life-changing your book may be, you can’t generate interest by shoehorning it into every conversation. What you can do is be conscious. It’s your book, you know it inside and out, so if a legitimate opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to discuss it. Always put the conversation first and never try to steer it towards a sale, people can sense that, and nothing puts them off faster. Once again, having confidence in your work without being arrogant will take you a long way!

Author Spotlight: Jeff Wheeler by Amanda Wayne

Jeff Wheeler is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of several fantasy novels. Among them are the Kingfountain and Muirwood series. His books are a blend of legend, history, and theology. He worked for many years at Intel before deciding to pursue his writing career fulltime. After dozens of rejections from traditional publishing houses, he opted to self-publish his books. This captured the attention of 47North, an Amazon publishing house. Four years after his early retirement from the IT world, Jeff Wheeler is quickly becoming a force in the literary world. He revived Deep Magic, a clean fantasy e-zine, to give writers in the subgenre a place to submit their works. Jeff’s unorthodox rise from rejection to success is an example to writers of how to overcome adversity and forging their own path to become a bestselling author. He is a devoted husband and father and a devout member of his LDS congregation. Jeff was kind enough to answer some questions for us today! (No spoilers!)

 

TLW: One of the many things I admire about your fantasy novels is the way in which you portray women. Your ladies are more Buffy than the “damsel in distress” trope. You take care to avoid writing female characters as powerless victims in a largely patriarchal society. Even your female villains are strong and powerful. What made you decide to go this much more female empowering route?

JW: It probably started with Princess Leia. I was in elementary school when the first Star Wars film came out; I still remember seeing it in the theater, and it made a huge impression on me. I grew up with mostly brothers, but then my mom had two girls and both were powerful (they needed to be when so outnumbered by us!) I’ve never liked writing stereotypes, so I’m not deliberately trying to make one sex stronger or weaker than the other. What I want is for my characters to feel realistic and human. I married a very strong woman, and she’s been an inspiration to me since we knew each other as teenagers. When I create characters, I want them to feel like real people. Many of them are actually inspired by real people—especially the girls.

 

You manage to marry historical fiction, Arthurian legend, and an undercurrent of theology into a fantasy series. This is quite an accomplishment. What made you think that a recreation of Richard III’s timeline into your fantasy world could work? How did you meld the genres so seamlessly?

I’ve always had a love of history and a love of fantasy, and it’s very natural for me to blend them together. I did my master’s thesis on an aspect of Richard III and have read many books and documents about that era. It’s part of my personal history, too—one of my ancestors died fighting in the same battle that killed Richard III. Like so many creative people, I often get my inspiration by mashing together ideas to form something new. I know a lot about the War of the Roses and thought that the setting would be an interesting era to write in. I mixed in some Arthurian legends and a trip to Yosemite, and voilà!

 

 

On the subject of theology, the Fountain magic has been compared to The Force. The Virtus concept is Roman based, but also carries some connotations of the Jedi code of honor. Your protagonists are self-sacrificing and honorable almost to a fault. In order to create tension, their adherence to their faith and their sense of nobility is constantly being tested. Were you ever tempted to have one of them fail their oaths and be destroyed by it?

Most people are inspired by inspiring stories. It sells a lot of Chicken Soup for the Soul books! There are so many examples in the world today of people who let others down or about those who are driven by greed and self-interest. I’m not interested in telling those kinds of stories. What I’ve always loved are those examples of people who gave it all for a higher cause. Those are the people I admire. Will I ever write a story about someone who doesn’t live up to that ideal? You never know. I like to surprise my readers.

 

One of the most poignant themes in your novels is that of the choice between free will and destiny. Did you find, in your research, that stories in our own history seem to repeat? Are we doomed to relive them until we learn from our mistakes?

It’s amazing to me how much history repeats itself. Take the Oath Maidens, for example, from the second half of the Kingfountain series. After coming up with that idea, I began to look for examples of more ‘Shield Maidens of Rohan’ (a nod to Tolkien) in history. I found so many. Yes, sometimes I think we are doomed to repeat mistakes if we don’t learn from them, but I also believe that every individual is capable of getting out of their cycle and doing better. History proves that is possible, too. But it’s always hard and many don’t try.

 

Your novels are in the subgenre of clean fantasy. The violence, while overt and necessary, is much more muted than in other literature. The human interactions are sweet and chaste. While there are some hints in your books of people engaging in activities that are unbecoming, your main characters are never put in positions that are untoward. Is it difficult to write in this genre and not fall into the modern trend of gory, explicit violence and oversexualization?

Let me put it this way: I think it is more difficult to write without those things than it is to include them. It’s easy to rely on the sensational or the sordid for its shock value. For years I worried that the audience for “clean fantasy” was shrinking and that no one would want to read the kind of stories I was interested in telling. But I made a commitment to myself and my family and God that I would write counter to the trend because I believe in it so strongly. It’s what motivated me to love the genre to begin with. When I started having success with my Muirwood books, it proved to myself (and my publisher) that the market for cleaner fare was ready for a change. It’s not a small niche, either. As a result of the success of my books, I re-started my old e-zine, Deep Magic, to encourage and provide a venue for other authors who share similar values and a market for readers who want more. I think the pendulum swung too far toward the darker fare. It’s gratifying seeing more and more family friendly fantasy in the market these days.

 

On the subject of writing as a craft, you managed to write three whole novels in six months. NaNoWriMo is considered an extreme, even insane, challenge for authors. Writing and editing three books in such a short time is incredible! You quit a successful IT career to become a fulltime author, but how did you stay motivated? What helped you keep writing?

I have the best job in the world—for me. Even when I was in school, I dreamed of being a fulltime author someday. I’m also grateful that I was given the chance to do what I love. Like with any job, it takes a certain amount of self-discipline not to be distracted by social media, cat videos, or the like and to knuckle down and get to work. But I love what I do and it’s not hard to stay motivated. I have a wife and five kids to support, after all! While I don’t miss the cubicle life, I’m grateful for all that I learned working for Intel. Some of it has even inspired my writing.

 

Do you have any advice for authors who are still trying to get a foot in the door?

Persistence and practice. I’ve studied the lives of successful people from all disciplines and the one thing they all have in common in uncommon persistence. That’s especially true in a field where there is so much rejection. I had 42 agents tell me no. I still don’t have an agent. But I refused to quit. What I didn’t realize was that my publisher hadn’t even been born yet. Timing is everything. And about practice, I heard from Terry Brooks (the man who inspired me to write), who attributed the quote to Stephen King, that after you’ve written your first million words, then you’re ready to start being an author. A million of anything is a lot. So practice. And keep practicing.

 

You have nothing but praise for your developmental editor. Many authors don’t know what developmental editors are or how they can help. Why did you decide that the Whispers of Mirrowen books needed a structural edit? What have you learned about the process that you can share with our readers?

I didn’t even realize that developmental editors existed until I landed my first publishing deal. My publisher, 47North, assigned a dev editor to work with me on the Mirrowen series. They didn’t do that with Muirwood because it was already on the market and already doing quite well with readers! So they re-packaged it, did some general grammatical fixing, and then recorded the audio and boom, it was ready. But I’ve found having a dev editor to be an incredibly beneficial part of my writing process. If I had known what they were and what they did, I would have used them back when I started. Even when I self-publish books, I use my team. Their input is incredibly valuable to me.

 

You went from a dedicated cubicle professional to a WSJ bestseller in just a few short years. How does it feel to be such a successful author and do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to writers hoping for success like yours?

Sometimes I do pinch myself to make sure it’s not all a dream. But to be honest, it feels very normal now. I try to foster an attitude of gratitude and appreciation every single day. It is an enormous blessing to do for a living what you love, and I certainly haven’t gotten tired of it at all. It’s a privilege having fans, impacting them in some small way, and an honor hearing from them. I try to be responsive because I remember what it felt like to hear back from authors I admired. Back in the day  you had to mail them letters! That’s one of the reasons I said yes to this interview.

 

You just revealed that you are halfway through writing a new series. What can we expect from this new series? Can you give us any hints?

I never do spoilers! The pre-order page is live along with the stunning cover art for STORM GLASS. This series will be longer than my normal ones (5 books instead of the usual 3) and will feature two main characters who see the world and the plot from very different points of view. Both characters are fun to write and sometimes I struggle as to which POV I want to focus on next. The setting will be sort of Dickensian. That’s it. No more teasers!

In Bed with Jill Hamilton by Amanda Wayne

When I started researching Jill Hamilton for this interview, I ran into a rather unique problem. Every site I visited had her essays and tips. I kept getting sucked into them and forgetting that I was there to do actual work. I wasn’t there to learn about the weirdest sex inventions, seminars for vagina meditation, or octopus fetishes. I just wanted to find out about her degree from the University of Michigan and any random tidbits on her personal life that I could. I used every millennial surfing trick I possessed. I was all over social media, scouring website “about me” blurbs, and lurking on professional networking sites. I was this close to paying one of those stalker sites to get some good info on her. I knew super intimate details about her, but not the boring surface stuff that I knew about my neighbor’s sister. Jill manages to make it feel perfectly ordinary to read about things I only talk about with my best friend after we split one of the really big bottles of cheap wine.  It turns out that reading all of Jill’s entire anthology of essays was all the research I needed on this enigmatic lady. Jill has written for major magazines such as Rolling Stone and Cosmo and Entertainment Weekly. Her blog, www.inbedwithmarriedwomen.com, is hilarious and full of useful information. She agreed to answer a few questions for me and it was every bit as entertaining as I had hoped.

You have built this persona as a sexpert, writing for Cosmo, Salon, Alternet, Jezebel and many others. How did you fall into this crazy line of work where you make money talking about sex? 

My first Cosmo story was about 10 Weirdest Sex Devices or something like that. One of the things was a 70s-era bra with built-in nipples. The joke was about would happen if your actual nipples decided to make an appearance.  That is, 2 nipples = sexy, yet 4 nipples = not so much.

It mutated into me doing a stint as a sexual guinea pig, testing out Ye Olde Cosmo Tips–Use a scrunchie during a BJ! Smear food all over yourselves!  I have literally taken money for having sex (with my husband, for a Cosmo story, but still.) Whorish? Best job ever? Answer unclear.

What was the first big break you got as a writer?

I found out (long story) that there was a concert at a local nudist park in Michigan featuring Foreigner, Eric Burdon and others of that ilk. I sent a query to the delightful Jancee Dunn at Rolling Stone and she sent me to cover it. In case you were wondering, no one in Foreigner got naked, but everyone around me–who were exactly the age and demographic you could expect of older, not especially-toned nudists in Michigan– were butt naked, but for, incongruously, shoes and socks.

At what point did you decide to just embrace the baser side of humanity and write about the kinds of things people read in an incognito window?

Short answer:  Why bother with anything else?

Longer answer: I was sitting at the friggin’ Chuck E. Cheese with my friend, and we were discussing our moribund sex lives. What were the other preschool mothers doing about this? Was that one lady who looked like a grandma still banging her grandpa-looking husband? Were people having affairs? Did people just let their sex lives die, chalking it up to “maturity” and focusing really really hard on something like scrap booking?

I decided to start a blog In Bed With Married Women to ask people just this. (I am alarmingly nosy.) The idea was going to be a sociology study, with women just telling their stories. Like Studs Terkel but with more nudity.  The thing was, stories about marital sex are about as interesting as actual marital sex.

About the same time I saw an ad for something called Anal Ring Toss and I kind of veered in a whole different direction. This is still the central tension in the blog today–between a serious look at sex and what the hell it even is vs. the immature joy of finding a Japanese sex spray that smells like “secretary.”

What advice do you have for moms trying to live both lives?

My kids are kind of like Stepford children and are bizarrely good and smart. Advice for others:  just do the parts you want. Like I don’t really fold clothes as much as bend them into smaller shapes.

Do you ever have trouble making those pieces work together? “Lift your left leg on to your partner’s right shoulder and- Hey! Don’t eat with scissors!”

I actually have said “Don’t eat with scissors.”  They were safety scissors, but still.  My kids are older now and they know way too much about what I do. I think it’s good though. Knowledge is power and all that. My sixteen-year-old, Maddie, is cheeky as hell and makes up fake positions that I should be sending to Cosmo.  I think the most recent one was the New Year’s themed “The Ball Drop” for the older gentleman.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get their first set of words in print? 

Write something. If you don’t, maybe you aren’t actually a writer. Maybe you’re a chef or something.

Do you ever get tired of writing about sex? 

Positions, yes. So yes. But sex, not yet.

Does anyone ever recognize you and ask for sex advice?

People ask me about sex toys. If you’re asking, I am currently going steady with an iRock by Doc Johnson.

You have a very intimate writing style. It is unapologetically frank and quite charismatic. Did this come naturally to you or did you develop it over time?

This sounds so ick and pretentious, but if you’re not talking about something real, what’s the point?

You seem to go to a lot of sex seminars and workshops, is it usually a sausage fest? Or are the sexes equally represented?

Both; people are generally earnest.  They want to be decent lovers, have good sex lives and are open to learning something new.

In the 60s, America had a sexual revolution and women came out of the kitchen burning bras and marching for rights. Women have started to march again. What do you think the future generations will have to say about what women accomplished now?

I think they will think it’s ridiculous that we were so backwards.

Do you think we have gone too far? America’s modern mother is a bread winner, bacon cooker, house maid, PTA president, soccer mom, 5k runner who also is forward thinking enough to want to be on top when the lights go down. Is this equality?

Equality is when we all can feel comfortable and able to be whoever we are. Men women, black, white, whatever.

If you could have a one minute Superbowl ad to impart your wisdom to the masses of men and women in America, what would you say?

Science is real, you fucking morons.  Hmmm, maybe should tone that down a little. (Nah!)

You interact with your readers a lot. Are you ever afraid an overzealous fan will use internet skills to find you and show up at your door? 

Eighty-five percent of my readers are exactly who I hoped–super smart, funny and curious. I adore them. The weirdest people were a group of Nazis on Twitter who got all roused/riled up by a piece on pegging I did. They were super furious, yet oddly obsessed. They were like “Are you a Jew? Cause you write like one.” I said “No, but thank you!” and they got even madder.

What’s next for Jill Hamilton? Your own sex toy line? Lingerie? A book? Directing female friendly adult films? Parenting books? Cooking show?

I’m eternally working on a book, though by “working” I mean thinking about it, then playing Words With Friends.

The Big Book Proposal Post (part 3) by Catherine Foster

Welcome to the final edition of the Book Proposal post. In part one, we defined a book proposal and clarified the differences between a proposal and a summary of your book. In part two, we broke down the first ten headers that a successful proposal might include and discussed them in detail. In this post, we’ll tackle the remaining twelve sections that comprise a thorough proposal. Let’s get started!

Competing Books/Competitive Title Analysis
It may seem counterintuitive to list your competition, but it would be a mistake to omit this category. A common refrain from a new author is “There’s nothing like my book out there! This is the only thing out there of its kind!” First of all, that is simply not true. There are more books in print now than are able to be read by a person in their lifetime, even if they spent every moment doing nothing except reading. You are now trying to add to that enormous stack of published works. Given that fact, agents have seen, read and have been exposed to an astonishing variety of ideas. This need not distress you, however; the savvy author should view this as an opportunity. Your agent needs assurance that there is a market for your book. If your book is, indeed, so niche that there is truly “nothing else like it” out there, then agents typically have no interest in pursuing it. As an author, you are conditioned to think of originality as something positive, but agents/publishers tend to shy away from the unproven and untested ideas. It would be better to come forward with a list of competitors in your field and show how you can improve on what they have done, list how you differ, or point out in what ways you are better. The key is to angle yourself into a trend that will be a safe bet for your agent, but to also show how your book differs from what is currently available on the market. You do not want to skimp on this research; a list of five to ten titles would be necessary to establish a strong foothold in your genre. In each case, list your competitors’ title, subtitle, author, publisher, year of publication, page count, price, format, and the ISBN. Then take the time to write a 100-200 summary of their book and how yours differs, fills a gap, offers more, etc. It is imperative that 1) you remain respectful of their work and resist the urge to criticize it and 2) always have in mind the need to reveal that evidence of need we first discussed in section one. This is critical for the success of your acceptance, and if you can prove that your book provides a need for readers or society, it will make it easier and easier for your agent to say yes to you. Every opportunity you have to provide evidence of need is valuable, and this section is one of the most important ones to help your case.

Proposed Back Cover Copy
Your imagination gets a workout in this section as you get to visualize the ideal back cover for your book. What is the layout that showcases your book to its best advantage? This can vary quite a bit from genre to genre: nonfiction covers may ask a few questions and follow up with a list of bullet-points that are covered inside. This style breaks up some heavier topics that will snag the reader’s interest without bogging them down in technicalities. Short fiction or anthologies may provide a list of titles on the back. Novels might prefer to summarize the plot with a blurb. This is a chance to have fun and be creative. The more you take interest in your own book and every part of it, the less the agent will have to do. They will see you as an active participant in your own product, and they will want to have you for a client.

Marketing and Promotion
Perhaps the most crucial section of the entire proposal, this relies on your careful preparation of facts and figures. Your agent/publisher is going to be looking for you to provide a history of connections. It is imperative that you do not use words like “hope”, “would like to” or “goal” here. Your agent is seeking someone who is strong, confident and determined—a person who is going to follow through on their plans, with or without [an agent’s] help. They are not only looking for sings that you have what it takes, without hesitation, but that you have a history of this kind of behavior. You are going to need to provide clear statements here, such as:

-I have blogged every week for the past year, and every post receives [insert page views]. I have current invitations to guest blog [here] and [here], and those sites each reach [give stats].

-Do not say: I plan to reach out to different sites and try to guest blog in the future.

-Say: Within six months of launch, my website reaches [insert statistic].

-Do not say: I am going to try to register for a website and start blogging soon to increase hits.

The more concrete evidence you can give that you are reaching an established audience and that you bring fans with you that are eager to read your work, the easier it will be for your agent to say yes. If you sound unsure, unmotivated and uneducated, they will pass. Fast. Do your research beforehand and make it impossible for them to say no. Now is the time to bring it all home and provide that evidence that you have connections and readers that are ready and waiting for this book. All this agent has to do is sign on the line and it’s a go. Make it sound so easy. Now is the section to persuade them that you have done all the work, there is a readership waiting … just sign it into being. Provide the facts, and it will happen.

Potential Endorsers
Not a strictly necessary section, it is just an extra. It helps to have a list of important, relevant or famous people who are willing to vouch for you. Of course, not everyone has a list of celebrities who are willing to sign for them, and that’s all right. If you are writing a book about gynecology, and you have a colleague or two who is willing to put their name and credentials in, it helps to lend legitimacy to your material. If you don’t have an endorser, though—and many of us don’t—it is perfectly fine to skip this section. If you add it in, just list your names in any order you feel shows to your best advantage. It is usually best to include how they are relevant in parentheses or with a comma after their name. This list may be as long or as short as you like.

Other Details
This includes miscellanea such as the format (hard or soft cover, dustjacket or none), the wordcount, page count and deadline. You may choose to include some or all of these details—or perhaps none—depending on how close you are to completion of the book. This is optional, of course, and merely a guideline.

About the Author
Somewhat self explanatory, you can make this section as long or short and as personal as is your preference.

Sales History of Previously Published Books By Author
If you have a great track record, now’s the time to shine. Show ’em off here!!!

Proposed Outline
Break it all down here. You have some leeway—you can propose the number of pages you want to spend. Dedication: 1 page. Acknowledgements: 1 page, Title page: 1 page. Table of Contents: 2 pages, Introduction: 9 pages. Etc. You can also give a more in-depth summary of your book here. It would be appropriate for the agent to finally get to the meat of what they are trying to say “yes” to: here is where that starts to happen.

Table of Contents
If you are including a Table of Contents in your book, you may choose to list that here.

List of Chapters/Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
If you have chapters in your book, particularly if they have names, you may want to give a list of those and include the number of pages within each chapter. I would be a good idea to give a brief thirty-fifty word description of each individual chapter.

Sample Chapters
Choose one or two sample chapters to copy here, or include a portion of your book. Make sure you note for the agent which chapters or sections your are attaching. Make it your best work! This is what your agent is going to be judging you on, so be sure to select carefully.

It is important to remember that this is merely a template for a book proposal. You may want to select different sections that meet your individual needs. Of course, you may highlight, add, rearrange or completely omit sections that do not work for your needs. The most important aspect to remember is to elevate the evidence of need for your manuscript when you are crafting your proposal; there are many ways to do that. Agents and publishers are difficult to secure, but they are not above wanting to profit. If you can successfully highlight evidence of need, you are sure to be in print someday. It may not be the first or the second proposal you submit, but someone will be able to see the worth, and you will be a (monetarily) successful author before you know it. But this post shows that this is a side to writing that may not appeal to everyone, and if you find that dealing with proposals and agents and writing business plans is crushing your creative spirit, that’s important to recognize, too. Whatever path you choose as an author, I wish you much luck and success. If you have any questions or concerns, I’m here to help! Please e-mail me at catherine@theletterworks.com. Happy writing!

The Big Book Proposal Post (part 2) by Catherine Foster

Welcome to the second edition of the Book Proposal post. In the previous post, we defined a book proposal and clarified the differences between a proposal and a summary of your book. In this post, we’ll begin to detail some of the sections you may want to include in a thorough proposal. Let’s get started!

Information

            This belongs at the top of the document and contains your identifying information, such as name, address, phone number and e-mail address.

Proposed Title

            This is self-explanatory. You need to provide a title here, and this is the title you will use throughout the rest of the document when you refer to your manuscript. Don’t worry, however, if you haven’t quite settled on a name for your story yet. This is not a legal document and it doesn’t bind you to a commitment to name your book. It is exactly what it says it is: a proposed title. You can change it later at any time. The purpose here is to show your investor that you have a vision and an understanding of your finished product.

Author

            You only need to put your name (or pseudonym) in here.

Once Sentence Description

            While this might seem self-explanatory, it can be tricky. It is often difficult for authors to boil down their novels to a single thesis, and sometimes the sentence that they might choose is not the idea that is most advantageous to them in terms of marketing. Think carefully when you construct this sentence: it is, in essence your “elevator speech” for your book: it is your one chance to distill the idea for what you’ve written into one, single clear and cohesive sentence. You are trying to aim for clarity and totality. It is a bit of a tall order, so you need to take some care to craft this part. Try to stay general and less focused on details or plot here. It can be done, but it will take some careful thought.

Category

            This is simply the category under which you might label your book, such as: science fiction, psychology, romance, etc.

Audience

            In this section, it is necessary to identify an audience for your book. This is where it is pivotal to  focus on who you are specifically targeting and avoid general statements about readership. This section is where you will begin to implement evidence of need to your investor. It is of dire consequence that you are able to demonstrate who this book is for and why they need this book. In this section, a savvy author would begin to provide a clear portrait of exactly who will be purchasing this book. Do not think that terming groups as “book buyers” and “readers” will suffice as an identifier. Including statistics that are meaningless or irrelevant would also be a mistake—make sure to include hard facts in this section, but make them consistent to your book or topic:

People who read [your genre] account for 30% of book sales last year.

Recent polls of [your genre] indicate that people want more books in this genre.

[Your genre] has the fastest-growing number of readers in the young-adult demographic.

Readers Say

            This is a nice place to include reviews and blurbs from friends, family or beta readers, if you have any. If you are an author with a larger following, you may also include anything of note that includes statements about you and your website or blog or possibly other books and articles. This is your time to promote yourself and your writing through the words of your fans! A few statements are sufficient—between thee to five individual testimonies are enough. Make sure each statement is a few sentences long at most.

Purpose and Need

            This is another important section. It can be a paragraph or two, and it should illustrate exactly what it asks in the header: the purpose and need it brings. What are the bigger questions it addresses or answers? Why do people want to read this? What it is style in which it is written: conversational, humorous, serious, academic? This is the time to discuss the current climate, how your book fits into that, why it is timely and what it has to offer. While this section need not be overly lengthy, it should offer some thoughtful insight on why it is necessary and highlight that evidence of need that will make it ever-more-difficult for your agent to turn down your proposal.

Unique Angles

            While similar in some ways to “purpose and need”, this section can be skipped for some shorter novels or some genres that do not lend themselves to exhaustive categorization. If you have a firm grasp on the concept and you feel you have something to add, however, or if the subject is applicable to it, this is a chance to shine. A nice choice for this section might be the bullet-point format.  You may choose several points to highlight in a list. This will break up the tedium and allow the agent to see some items of interest that stand out about your writing. A list of between five and eight items is acceptable here, and you can include anything that you deem noteworthy about your book or writing style.

Current Interest

            As with the previous sections, this may seem like more of the same. This difference between this section and the “purpose and need” one is that you are defining the current climate and why the time is not just right but perfect for your particular book to be released. There may be many books out there on your topic, but sometimes current events, political or religious developments can change the landscape for authors. This can and should be used to your advantage. Every time you submit your proposal you should update this section. It may not need to be rewritten at all, but you should have this section in mind and keep it fresh.

            We’re about halfway through! In my next post we’ll wrap up how to write a successful book proposal with the final eleven headers. Thank you for sticking with me, and as always, if you have any questions about this topic or any other writing questions, please address them to me at catherine@theletterworks.com. Thank you, and happy writing!

 

Author Spotlight: Nelson Lauver by Amanda Wayne

Nelson Lauver is a man of extensive talents. An advocate for dyslexics, author, motivational speaker, and syndicated radio storyteller, he has made his life about words. As a child with undiagnosed dyslexia, he struggled with words. Nelson is a successful businessman, having learned outside the classroom how to work the world around him.  He hired people to handle the reading and writing aspects of his various businesses. He didn’t become literate until his late twenties, and then he made up for lost time by making words his life, his living, and his calling. He speaks to audiences around the globe, even to NASA! His acclaimed book is given away for free to parents and teachers in the hope that his personal story of successes and failures can help adults engage with dyslexic children and spare them some of the hardships he overcame. You can find your free copy of his memoir at https://www.nelsonsbook.com.

 

You have written extensively about your life with dyslexia and how you overcame those challenges to become a successful author. To what do you attribute your success in moving past those obstacles? 

N — Constant curiosity, especially about people and the desire to learn something new from them, and then share what I have learned.

 

What advice do you have for other authors struggling with learning disabilities?

N — I don’t think of myself as having a learning disability.  I certainly respect the opinions of others who feel they have a learning disability.  I think of myself as having a learning difference (I learn differently from others).  With that said, there are upsides and downsides regardless of what label one puts on it. Tech has changed everything!  There are many tech options for every individual reading and writing style. For instance, I prefer to read with my ears and write with my voice.

 

You have made a name for yourself doing motivational and comedic performances in front of audiences across the country. Is there any venue or audience that really stood out for you? 

N — Yes, those who know my story know that I was an academic failure.  I just couldn’t learn in the traditional brick and mortar schoolhouse, and the punishments at school were brutal, archaic, and downright criminal.  My local school district couldn’t wait to purge me from the system. Eventually, new administrators replaced retiring ones, and things slowly started to change. Imagine my delight when I received the invitation to appear at my old school to discuss achievement and success with the students.

 

You have said that you believe dyslexics make excellent problem solvers because they learn to read society as a way around learning to read and write. Do you think this unique learning experience aided you in being a successful businessman and entrepreneur? 

N — A study by the Cass School of Business found that 35% of American Entrepreneurs identify as dyslexic.  This fact plays out over and over again in discussions as researchers try to discern why.

The “why” is pretty simple; by the time we finish with all things educational, we’ve had our bellies full of people telling us how to do things that don’t work for us.  It’s good to be king — It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What do you think non-dyslexics can learn from the dyslexic way of learning? 

N— That everyone learns best when they learn in the style that is best for them.

 

You have an impressive online presence. Do you have any marketing tips for writers looking to improve their sales or recognition?

N– It’s a business and nothing happens in business until someone sells something.  My dad always said, “Selling is like shaving, you have to do it every day.”  Sell!

 

You provide your memoir free to parents and teachers. What do you most hope your book teaches those interacting with struggling dyslexics? 

N– That the only reason people with the dyslexic mind struggle to learn is because society struggles to teach them. After I broke even on my Memoir (10,000 or so copies), I simply started giving books away (at cost) in service of the true mission of the book.  The e-book is 100% free.  I owned a broadcast media company and because of the similarities, it was very easy and suited my needs better than using an outside source for publishing.

To date, I have sold, provided at cost, and given away somewhere north of 250,000 copies of my original book.

 

As an author of a memoir, is it difficult to put your private life out into the world? Do you ever find it unsettling to run into someone you have never met who knows such personal things about you?

N– What I find unsettling is not what I have shared, and always happy to discuss with a stranger, but what questions a reader may have but finds themselves afraid to ask… and moreover, why are they afraid to ask.

 

What was the moment when you decided that your life was interesting enough that other people would actually want to read about it? Were you just brushing your teeth one day and thought, “Wow, I am just a really fascinating person. I should write a book about my life”?

N– I never wrote a book thinking my life was interesting.  I knew for a dozen or so years that I needed to write a book regarding my early life.  Finally, I could no longer turn away; I had a duty to tell my story as a way of helping others. I gave it a great deal of thought and decided that if I were to undertake a book, It would be necessary do it right. If you want to write a book to become famous or because you are famous and you just want to hear yourself talk; best of luck to you.  If you need to write a book because you feel compelled to help others, it will be necessary to cut yourself open and bleed onto every page of every chapter.  Your blood must saturate your book if you truly wish for change.  As hard as it is you must relive the experience to tell your story; best of luck to this type of author, as well.

 

What accomplishment or accolade makes you proudest?

I have a lot of plaques, awards, and citations for my “achievements.”

What I don’t have is even one award for any of my many miserable “failures.” Almost everything I do well is a direct result of learning by screwing up. I would be so happy to hang an award for “failure” as it has been my greatest teacher.

 

What can you tell us about speaking for NASA? Did you do any special research before that performance?

N– I have been a keynoter for NASA twice. They are lovely people, as I find all my audiences to be.  The thing that struck me most about the folks at NASA came during my tour of the space station assembly area.  I got to walk through a space station unit that had returned to earth, AND it had the same identical $39 microwave in it that I had at home.  I figured the rocket scientist at NASA were either as down to earth as I am OR I’M AS SMART AS A ROCKET SCIENTIST!

 

Your book is ironically entitled “Most Unlikely to Succeed.” Why did you decide on this title versus others you may have considered? 

N– The raw honesty that comes with adversity and the fact that we should never negatively speculate on the outcome of anyone’s life.

 

Do you have any advice for new authors hoping to become published?

N– Your best chance to become published is to become a publisher. It’s never been easier.  Read “The Well-Fed Self Publisher.”  As I said earlier, it’s good to be king; It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What’s your latest or next project? 

N– I’m wrapping up another book about dyslexia and then moving on to a highly curious subject: the female soul.  Stay tuned!

 

Advice From My Publisher: Being a Better Writer by Amanda Wayne

Being a writer is easy. You just sit down and write. Being a good writer is much harder. For a time, I worked at The Indiana Review, and I was always eavesdropping on the editors, trying to find that one little nugget of truth that made a “yes” piece. Was it something about the language? The characters? The plot? What was missing from my work that would take it from mediocre to good? So, I asked one of the editors, Tessa Yang, what she sought. She replied, “Freshness and risk will capture my attention. I’m looking for something that dares in the first few pages. It needs to have difficult and new language, character, or concept. At the same time, what keeps me reading to the end—and what ultimately convinces me to vote for a piece—is earnestness and vulnerability. I’ve become less and less interested in emotional withholding. If you’re brave enough to reach for honesty and feeling, no matter concerns about sentimentality or mawkishness, I’ll want to take the plunge with you.”

Freshness? Risk? I tried to square this idea with “write what you know.” It’s that adage that every author knows. What I knew was everyone else’s work. I had decades of reading other people’s words. Everything I wrote read like my favorite authors. When I finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I wrote a short story about a man trying to find his son in a post-apocalyptic world. It wasn’t half bad, but there was nothing new in it. During my Stephen King phase, I wrote macabre pieces about the baser side of mankind. They were mediocre at best. My poems had bits of Frost and Dickinson, slapped together with a touch of Whitman and a dash of Poe. It was only later that I found a place where my work was my own. Somewhere along the way, I found a voice that was only mine. Sure, it echoes with reverberations of the millions of words I have read. It stands on the shoulders of the authors whose work I relished. That doesn’t make it less mine.  Writing what you know doesn’t have to be boring. It just starts emotionally, physically, or aesthetically in a place you are familiar.

The other half of the advice concerned emotional vulnerability. That process of letting your characters show your own emotion. This is even harder. Modern society doesn’t have much place for emotional vulnerability. We love it in our romantic comedies. We love that moment when the plucky but underappreciated woman convinces the emotionally absent male lead to open his heart to a chance at love. We like to see a hint of it in politicians because it makes them seem like real people. We wait for that moment when they swear, or slip up, or stumble. In everyday life, though, no one wants to see the innermost emotions of your local barista, the man walking his dog, or the neighbor you barely know. However, it is important to your character because without seeing their emotional vulnerability, the reader cannot grasp why they behave the way they do. A story needs this in order to engage the reader. Each piece of emotion lays bare a piece of the author’s soul. Not every character is like me or does what I would do, but each character is a part of me. To send those little pieces out into the world, to allow someone else to see them, is to put those vulnerable Horcruxes of my soul in danger of discovery and critique.  It was my own vulnerability that is needed, my own willingness to be open and available.

In short, what I learned was that the easiest way to get an answer is to ask the question. And being a better writer is hard. It takes writing more, reading more, and editing more. It requires that I be willing to part with pieces of my soul and be vulnerable. It is this last piece that I have struggled to overcome. I have the language, the vocabulary, even the imagination. Letting a stranger, let alone a multitude of them, into the private recesses of your being is what a writer does. Anything short of that isn’t worth my time or my reader’s time. Good writing begins with emotion and is propelled by prose and plot. Whether we like or dislike a character is immaterial; we must believe in their humanity in order to care what happens to them. A writer puts a piece of her own humanity into her characters, breathing life in where before there only existed form. Becoming a better writer is a lifelong journey, not a destination. At no point does the learning and editing stop. I can try every day to improve my craft and so, too, can you. It requires taking risks and creating emotional vulnerability. Both of those are tasks which even seasoned and published authors struggle to accomplish. By writing every day and actively seeking to better ourselves as artists, we become better each day.

They Said WHAT about My Piece?! Navigating the Critical World by Josh Smith

Criticism is inescapable in the Internet age. In addition to the myriad news outlets, magazines, blogs, and personal pages that feature reviews, the distance and anonymity afforded by the web has turned criticizing one another on social media into some kind of national pastime. This, combined with so many websites requesting reviews and ratings for everything we purchase, see, eat, and experience, “everyone’s a critic” has transitioned from an old adage to an element of modern life.

While this “review everything” landscape has mostly been curated as a customer service tool, people often get caught up in the rush of trashing something publicly, which is usually less a result of something actually being bad and more related to a particular perception, bias, or trend. Full disclosure: I dabbled in album reviews that were predominantly snarky and negative from the outset, but I eventually realized that cracking jokes at the expense of someone’s creations was a lazy approach that did nothing for an art form that I truly love. It turns out that it’s so much more rewarding to sit down with something, whether it’s initially appealing or not, and give it a chance to affect you on the artist’s terms. Unfortunately, there’s still an audience for those scathing “cheap thrill” reviews, and anything we create that winds up in a public space is a potential target for some hack with a chip on his shoulder. It’s a difficult task, but it’s important not to let this permeating negativity crush you, especially when it comes to your creative endeavors. That’s not to say that all unfavorable criticism of your work will be inherently wrong, but identifying the difference between trolling and actual critique will save you a lot of sleepless nights.

No matter the source, intent, or validity, nearly all criticism is accompanied by the sting of failure. That sting never disappears completely, but you can learn to temper it. It becomes a challenge in this age of constant commenting, and there is a real threat that you can become so callous that you are unable to find merit in insightful critiques when they do arrive. The opposite can also occur—when your work is so close to you, you may feel personally attacked by every bit of judgment coming your way, making it next to impossible to get anything positive out of even the most gentle and constructive criticism. Both of these responses develop over time if left unchecked, so be mindful of your emotional response to critiques, whether they come from friends, family, writing groups, or randos on Twitter.

For many writers, the worst form of criticism is also the most common: indifference. Indifference in a review can be devastating, but when your work doesn’t even reach a platform upon which it can be judged, you start asking dreaded questions like, “should I even be doing this?” and “what if no one ever cares?” These crossroads are the ones that define you, and when you approach them, you must do so with complete honesty. If you can see a way onward without requisite praise or even much acknowledgement, hang in there, put in the work and pave your own roads. If critical reception, fame, and wealth are your primary writing goals, maybe it’s time to take some time off and consider a career path with a more realistic pathway to grand success. If you can’t help but work through the debilitating indifference that most writers experience early on, then you will develop the fortitude to handle any criticism that comes your way, and the poise to  allow it to improve your work.

One of the most important lessons in receiving criticism is giving it time to sink in. Quick reactions to tough observations can increase anxiety, causing you to overlook any helpful elements populating the critique. In writing groups, editor’s reviews, or other professional situations, this can lead to overreactions or outbursts that won’t advance your writing or your career. When you feel that sting, slow down, take a step back and ask yourself why it hurt and what comment struck the hardest. Oftentimes, it is because something has hit close to home. Specific pieces of advice might suggest things about your work or even your personality that are tough to face, but hard truths are often the ones we need to hear the most. Do your best to not be dismissive in these situations, as difficult as that may be. Sometimes you’ll learn important life lessons, and other times you’ll discover that the reader merely missed the point. That said, if you find that people frequently misunderstand what you are trying to do, you may need to reconfigure your approach. Use the results of past critiques, reviews, and comments to zero in on where you’re losing people and find a way to clarify what you want them to see. The subjective nature of art and perception will ensure that someone, somewhere will certainly receive different signals than you intended to send, but if you have made yourself as clear as possible without insulting the intelligence of your core readers, then you can rest easy.

You may not think much of every opinion about your work, but you can learn something from almost any critique. Even a cheap jab can train you to shake off thin attacks and can show you how to more thoughtfully respond if you are asked to chime in on the works of your peers. Take your time, keep an open mind, and prepare to get a bit uncomfortable. Being under the microscope is a stressful endeavor, but the quality of your work is sure to improve if you can allow yourself to see it from new perspectives.

The Smallest Winner Contest

At the LetterWorks, we believe writing is a very personal and important matter, and sharing it with the world is the one of best ways to hone your craft.  Many of our customers are submitting their writings to publications and even contests.

Winning a contest isn’t always about having the best story, format or editing.  Sometimes your work just doesn’t mesh with the publisher’s theme.  It could also be that your competition is very strong.

We think you should be rewarded for your efforts, even if you don’t come in first place.  So the LetterWorks is holding our own contest!

In the spirit of being positive, we are calling it “The Smallest Winner!” contest.  We will have multiple prizes:

  • First place will be awarded to a contest winner with the smallest monetary amount won that wasn’t a first place win.  First prize will be a $25 Visa gift card!
  • Second place will be awarded to a contest winner for the largest monetary amount won that wasn’t a first place win.  Second prize will be a free edit from theletterworks.com, up to 2500 words!
  • We will have up to three honorable mentions.  These will win a 50% discount off any edit up to 2500 words.

Winners will also have the option to have their publication link posted on the LetterWorks homepage!

To enter you can choose one of the following options:

  • Like Us” on Facebook and make a quick post on your page including the hashtag #theletterworks and mention the amount you won and where you submitted your work.
  • Follow Us” on Twitter @theletterworks for the amount you won, where you submitted your work, and include the hashtag: #theletterworks.
  • Send an email to contest@theletterworks.com letting us know the amount you won and where you submitted your work.  Please include “The Smallest Winner” in the email subject.

Submissions should be received by November 10th, 2017.  We will have the results of the contest by November 17th, 2017.

We will tally up the results, and if you win we will contact you in the same way entered the contest.  You may enter as many times as you like, but your odds of winning depend upon the number of total entries and the value of those winnings.  If we contact you, we will ask you for evidence of your winning (a published link or forwarded email, for example).

That’s it!  Get writing and submitting.  Good Luck!