Tag Archives: publishing

It’s The End of the World As We Know It

Writers, are you sitting down?

Okay, here’s the bad news:

Amazon has discontinued their Breakthrough Novel Contest. So if you’ve spent the last eighteen months polishing your novel in anticipation of competing along with 9,999 others for that $50,000 prize, well—it ain’t happening.

More bad news? They are replacing it with the Kindle Scout program. Okay, maybe it’s not bad news, I guess that all depends on what you want to write. And what you want to read.

What is Kindle Scout?

You can learn all about it here, but to sum-up, writers are invited to submit their unpublished novels for nomination for review by a Kindle Scout Team. If the Kindle Scout Team selects your book, you win an Amazon publishing contract. Authors will know within 45 days whether or not they’ve been selected, and winners receive a $1,500 advance.

By submitting, writers agree to Amazon’s contract terms which offer 50% royalties (yay!) and the option to back out of the deal if the book hasn’t sold $25,000 in 5 years. Even after a careful reading of the publishing terms, I’m not clear if one can ever escape Amazon’s clutches if the title proves popular (boo).  Amazon captures all rights to the book, with the exception of print, which stay with the author.

Books need to pass muster with their gatekeeper, and they strongly suggest professional editing and cover design. I don’t know if you’ve priced either of these things, but done right, it will easily eat up that advance.

Still, it may be hard to resist the opportunity to earn -.27 cents an hour. On the plus-side, copy editors, cover designers, and of course Amazon, will profit.

Jane Austen, you can go home now

Writers of historical literary YA fiction need not apply. Neither should Faulkner, Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, JK Rowling or even Stephen King. Because as of now, Kindle Scout seeks only submissions in the following categories: Mystery/Thriller, Romance or Sci Fi/Fantasy.

It’s no coincidence that those categories constitute their greatest share of ebook sales.

Why did Amazon do this?

What Amazon has accomplished is to recruit their customer to filter the slush pile. And there is a lot of logic to that—who better to tell you what the customer wants than the customer themselves?

But will it work? Amazon selects candidates based upon customer nominations. So if you are a social media darling or promotional guru, you have a chance of getting elevated to a Kindle Scout Reviewer without anyone reading a single word of your work.

I can’t help but wonder if this came up because they found that books that garnered the best editorial reviews didn’t necessarily sell. Publishers Weekly reviews factored heavily in later rounds of the last ABNC.

Instead, Amazon is quite frankly asking the customer: what will you buy? And, when you’re in business to make money, I guess that is the most important question.

Perfect Pitch

As promised, here is a piece on crafting that query (or blurb) to get agents, editors, reviewers and (most importantly!) book buyers excited about your book.

Writing the Badass Query

stack of papers

By Niklas Bildhauer (who also is User gerolsteiner91. (originally posted to Flickr as folder) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Your book is done. You’ve written it, rewritten it, had it critiqued and maybe even edited professionally.

You’ve printed it out and read the whole thing aloud: to your mother, your cat, and your toughest crit buddies–not to mention the Philodendron. You’re at the point where you’re just pushing commas around.

You know what that means?

You’re ready.

The Hook


By Parrot of Doom (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you remember the last book you bought at the bookstore? I’m not talking about the one you thought you wanted to buy.  I’m talking the one you had to buy. You wanted something fresh. You were sauntering along the aisle, picking up books one by one, studying the covers, running your finger along the spines. And then you turned one over to read: the book jacket.

How long did it take you to decide?

It started with a sentence, a handful of words. Maybe it was enough to make you catch your breath. It was at least enough to make you read the next line. And the next, and the next, until before you know it, you were standing at the checkout holding out your debit card.

Now that, my friends, is a proper hook.

Pitch Perfect

As writers, we all know you’ve got to show and not tell. But a pitch is different, right? After all, you’ve only got a page. If there was ever a case for telling, now is the time, right? Wrong.

Now is when you absolutely must show. Don’t tell them your protagonist struggles with loneliness and can’t find the right guy. Show her in the checkout line, juggling four pints of Ben & Jerry’s while eyeing the douchebag with the $200 haircut. Meanwhile the cinnamon-sweet cashier can’t catch her eye.

That’s all there is to it. Build a collage: a sketch of character, a shadow of scene. Arrange a few powerful verbs around one glistening metaphor. Sculpt the shape of your story like that—the first third of it at least—and leave the reader with a breath of hint of what’s to come.

Now, finally. Make it sound like you and make it match the tone of the book. Funny book? Funny pitch. Scary book? Scary pitch. You’d be surprised how many people miss this.

All right, got all that? Great. Now do it in 300 words. Easy-peasy, right?

The Shameless(?) Self-Promotion

If you’re doing a query letter as opposed to crafting a pitch for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest, you’ll also need to talk about you, the writer. The same rules apply—don’t tell them about your immense talent, your sparkling prose or that your characters are thoughtfully crafted. You should have shown them that in the preceding 300 words or so.

Awards and writing credits, if you have them, are a fair brag. But don’t tell them your story is impossible to put down; make your query impossible to put down.

The Final Dos and Don’ts

Did you ever wonder why literary agents hate rhetorical questions? Don’t.

Do you think your novel is so ground-breaking it merits a two-page query? Don’t.

The Dos?

Proofread your query 1,001 times. Once you’re convinced it’s perfect, have it proofread by someone else. Lots of someone elses.

You only get one chance. One single chance. C’mon, you busted your behind to write that book, it deserves the best pitch you can give it. Write one so good it blows their hair back.

I’m counting on you.

2015. It’s more than just the square root of 4,060,225.

Magic 8 ball says: My sources say no

Well how else do you make decisions? Magic 8 Ball says: My sources say no.

So I was reflecting on the year to come and contemplating how to fit it all in. I had paralyzing fear penciled in for the first few months, followed by a six-week self-pity retreat, and I was keeping the summer open for raging self-doubt.

And then I thought: No.

Oh my dearies.

It’s not just that I’ve been keeping secrets from you. Turns out I spend most of my time tharn in the middle of life’s headlights. But enough of that sorry behavior.

Galley copy of HitList

View from the desktop with a galley copy of HitList

This year, I’m going to tell all: about my dream-date query experience with HitList, what Random House said about my book and about those next two novels in the queue.

Look for juicy tell-all posts, good advice on badass queries and how to make agents fight over you. Plus, tips on how to blow it all because you’re going through an ugly divorce.

What’s after that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll even update my Facebook status.

Here’s hoping you are in the midst of your own brave plans for 2015.

Unparalled Feedback, Great Price

As writers, we all know how important feedback is. Maybe you belong to a critique group or have a few trusted beta readers. This sort of criticism is crucial to the process. But there’s one thing they probably can’t tell you—no matter how valuable their advice.

They can’t tell you about The Agent.

stack of papers

By Niklas Bildhauer (who also is User gerolsteiner91. (originally posted to Flickr as folder) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Agent sits at an enormous polished desk, wearing Jimmy Choos, with trendy maroon glasses perched at the end of her nose. “Trash! Trash! Trash. Ahhh…. Garbage. Tripe.” To one side there’s a wounded writer, half-buried under a mountain of charred submissions, his glassy eyes staring at the ceiling.

The Agent holds your fate.

She picks up a letter. Her eyes make tiny movements across the page and Then—something in the shape of the writer’s words connects with her. She adjusts her glasses and lets out a sigh. Leaning back in her chair, she reads the submission in its entirety, nodding to herself. “Becky,” she shouts, “Request a partial on this.”

Some lucky writer is going to send a partial, and then a full. And then, the phone call–and The Dream realized.

But what, why, how? You need to know… What happens in that hallowed place? Your friends all love your book–but how, how does one get to that fabled Land Of Representation?

If only you had insight to that mystical office: what sets the agent’s teeth on edge, what are they are sick of, what sort of magic can you weave that will leave them nodding, sighing, shouting, yes, Yes, YES–send me more pages!

Well, you can get this information.

Blatant commercial—but I came across one such person. I sent ten pages and $25. The advice and feedback I got back in return was thoughtful, comprehensive and invaluable.

Kate Brauning works the trenches for a NY Literary Agency. She screens the submissions and she can tell you if your concept is original or if she’s seen it a hundred times this week. She can point out that teeny incidental thing you did that will make an agent run for the hills. And she can tell you your greatest strengths, so you know what to capitalize on.

For $25 (hurry, cause her price may go up), she offers a 10-page critique and for $35 she’ll do 50 pages. She’s honest, fair, and offers an amazing perspective into all those things you wondered as your query letter vanished into cyberspace. She also offers editing services and I will say, I think she’s got the finest hand around.

Maybe you’ve only been tossing around an idea in your head. Your friends love it. But you want to know if the market is overrun with rabid-vampire-zombie-hedgehog stories before you invest a whole summer writing it. Kate’s your gal.

She also works with writers in reviewing and refining their submission packages. She’ll go up to three rounds of edits on your query and synopsis. Then, she throws in a round of edits of the first 7,500 words of your manuscript. All this, for a mere $40. You know I won’t pass that up.

It’s a golden opportunity.

The Beast

I have a new WIP – aka Work In Progress. It is not the book I carefully plotted and planned to write.

img_9579.jpgThis book is a beast that shoved my planned book aside … or possibly ate it. I’m not sure.

When I woke up, it was sitting in my family room, smoking a cigarette and tapping ashes on the carpet.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m your new book,” the Beast said.

“We don’t smoke in the house.”

He exhaled a thick cloud at me. I looked him up and down — the bad skin, the folds of flesh, the greasy hair. He burped or maybe farted, I wasn’t sure which.

“You’re hideous,” I said.

He grinned, revealing a mouthful of jagged yellow teeth. “You’re stalling. Get busy. I’ve got alot to say.”

I shook my head. Maybe he would settle for a short story. I sat down and began to take dictation.

To be continued…

How to become a published fiction author

Many people would have you think that becoming a successful published author is difficult. In truth, it’s easy and if you follow these simple steps, you may soon find yourself at the top of the bestseller list.

Monkey typing

1. Read a lot. Reading is critical. You should read both books in your chosen genre as well as books that can help you improve your craft. Try to read at least three books a day.

2. Write, revise, repeat. Writing is a skill and just like any other skill, you must practice. Set goals for yourself. Start with 10,000 words a day on your manuscript and work up from there. Depending on how fast you can type, this should take less than three hours. Then, do writing exercises for an additional couple of hours to hone your craft.

3. Promote yourself. Start a blog. Create a website. You should also be reading books on internet marketing and effective use of social media. Devise a comprehensive self-marketing strategy and plan on spending at least six hours a day promoting yourself.

4. Take time to learn and hone your abilities. Take classes and join a critique group or two. Four classes or sessions a day should be sufficient. Try to bring homemade treats to each meeting to share with your fellow participants.

5. Make writing a priority. If you have work, kids, social life or hobbies, you must remember what’s important and put your writing first. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid distractions, but use them to advance your goals. For example, if your house is on fire, your first priority should be to get out. However, while you’re waiting for the firefighters, use the opportunity to write down your observations. Fictionalizing real events is a wonderful way to add dimension to your work.

6. Research. Well-written fiction demands research – so whether your characters are skydiving or street luging, take the time to become intimately acquainted with these things. Better yet, experience them yourself. Spend three or four days a week doing this.

7. Get recognized for your work. Find, research and enter writing contests. You should try to enter only those contests you will win. Plan to enter and win five to seven a week.

8. Meticulously research literary agents, their preferences and submission guidelines. Set aside several hours a day to target appropriate agents for your work and draft query letters.

9. Be well balanced. You can’t let your life revolve around writing. The best writers fill their lives with other interests. Learn Russian, perfect origami, master calligraphy. Get some physical activity while you’re at it, you can’t be a lump sitting at a desk all the time. Consider doing marathons or endurance swimming.

10. Get plenty of rest. You can’t write if you’re all tired and stressed out, now can you?

As you do these things, keep in mind that if you aren’t willing to invest this degree of effort, you must not want it enough. Best of luck in your publishing endeavors!

One Hundred Opening Lines

What’s the best opening line you ever heard? For me it was in New Orleans. I was standing at a stoplight in the French Quarter with two girlfriends when a young man weaved his way in our direction. He was probably ten years too young for me, daddy-long-leg proportions, sporting baggy pants with a good five inches of underwear sticking out the top. A dozen or more strands of oversized beads hung around his neck.

The guy stopped, turned and favored me with a once-over so comic it was like a scene from Roger Rabbit. I waited for what he might say only because the whole venture seemed so improbable. I was not disappointed.

“If I be yo bread, will you be my buttah?”

I was speechless, not just at the words but at his vast, swaggering optimism. As if nerdish professional tourist moms often jumped at the opportunity to bed underweight hip-hop wannabes who lived in their cars.

I never found out what else he had to say. My friend grabbed my elbow and steered me across the street, perhaps concerned that I was considering the proposition, which of course, I wasn’t.

But my point is, he had my attention. I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to say next. There I was, head cocked to the side like a dog hearing a high-pitched sound, jaw gaping. I wasn’t going anywhere; this was going to be good.

And so it is, or should be, with your opening line for your book. That is my challenge for the day – for myself – and you too, if you’re up for it: write one hundred opening lines. Heck, you can write one or a hundred, but if you’re game, post your favorite in the comments.

Something brilliant is bound to turn up, right? Maybe not as good as “If I be yo bread will you be my buttah” but you never know.


Caution: This post contains hazardous amounts of self-absorbed whininess. Read at your own risk.

I need to tell you something.

The poop query failed. I know – it’s hard for me to believe too. So did another, more thoughtfully crafted query I imagined finely tuned to the agent’s likes and dislikes.

At least the poop query earned a personal response. The latest query – born of over twenty-four hours of research, revising and feedback – got a knee-jerk-lightning-fast-form-letter rejection. Ouch.

I spent the rest of the week contemplating a bonfire with the lot of it. Everything. I was ready to burn things that even reminded me of the book, including my crappy desk chair.

I know, for example, editors rejected Stephen King’s Carrie thirty times and I don’t possess a fraction of the talent the man has in his pinkie fingernail.  Rejection is a part of writing. I must embrace it as a vocation-affirming victory or some happy bullshit. Some writers are rejected hundreds of times and still go on to publish.

Yes, I know it’s only five measly rejections and that’s nothing – and two of them were with a crappy query letter. From a logical standpoint, I understand rejection is not personal and I need to learn and move on. Grow from the experience, right?  I’m aware of the overwhelming odds and the thin rewards of publishing.

The entire prospect of writing – of taking time away from family and friends to do something so vain and self-indulgent is hard to justify. So many times I thought (and think) of walking away.

Not that writing and pursuing publishing is inherently selfish or vain – I’m not talking about you or the other 99.9% of writers. Me, I’m a different story. I’m astonished at my hubris for contemplating the thing to begin with.

On this journey, I got positive feedback from some professionals on Panacea – that it was publishable and full of promise.  I thought … maybe I should do this. And my characters, aka my imaginary friends, nagged and cajoled.

But I don’t think I’m cut out for this … I can barely post a blog entry without feeling like a tremendous gasbag. Look at me! I’m writing! You’re reading the words of a woman incapable of updating her Facebook status.  Every aspect of this is so contrary to my fly-under-the-radar nature.  

Here I am posting on the subject. My blog-voice prattles on. I can’t stand to be in the same room as myself and the sad thing is – I can’t leave.  Gah, if you’ve read this far, my apologies. But think how awful it is for me, I listen to this crap continuously.

Three kinds of literary agents

Querytracker, for those who don’t know, is a website where writers can peruse data on query submissions. By studying the data for any given agent, you can get a sense of when and if you’ll hear back. It’s ideal for the obsessive.

I haven’t been at this long. I’ve only sent out a few queries, and given my talent for inappropriateness, that’s probably for the best. However, in that time, I’ve noticed three kinds of agents:

The Mysterious: Like cryptic deep-water creatures, they might not stir for weeks or months. No rejections, no requests for manuscripts … silent dead calm. Suddenly – they break the surface and take a full manuscript in their jaws. Turns out they were listening all along. They just didn’t like you.

The Methodical: When they are prowling their query boxes, you can tell – you tremble as if a giant roamed the streets. They’re systematic, reliable. Rejections pop up for writers who submitted the same day as you – now it’s a matter of time. Better check your inbox again.

The Madcap: Random and enigmatic – some writers get rejections within hours. Meanwhile, others sit for days … maybe forever. Did the agent get your query? Did your letter pass the assistant’s scrutiny and get lost on the agent’s desk? Did some clever hacker intercept your email due to the subversive nature of your book? You don’t know. Crickets chirping in your inbox … did their reply get lost in cyberspace? Oh, the agony.

Are there more? Feel free to share…

I Opened With Poop

I can’t believe I opened with poop. Seriously, what is wrong with me?

Okay, so when you’re an aspiring author, here’s what you do – you write a query letter and in that letter you put forth your very best face. You don’t send a manuscript – well depending on the agent maybe the first 5-10 pages, but your query letter can make or break you.

And let’s be honest, it’s not even your whole letter: You’ve got maybe ten seconds, if you’re lucky, to capture the attention of the prospective agent. Show them your mad skilz as it were. Represent.

So what do I do? Well of course, I open with poop. In my defense, the agent in question mentioned poop in a recent blog post, so I was trying to be relevant.  And since my book opens with a flabby expanse of a man’s backside, maybe it’s only appropriate.

I can hardly wait to see what I do for my next trick.