Sunday, November 28, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Learn From the Master
When Steven Spielberg graduated high school, he took an unpaid job as an assistant at Universal Studios. Fueled by passion and the realization he better get the most out of his time on the set, Spielberg left his outlined sphere and ventured to each and every lot on the set every day for several months. Wearing an understated dark suit with briefcase in tow, he got to know people, absorbed techniques and felt what it was like to make movies. This was what he had most wanted since he was a child. He dressed the part, thought the part and felt the part. The rest is Hollywood history.
Some would call Spielberg’s moves ballsy; you gotta pay your dues to make it to the next echelon. I say he had a level of audacious confidence anyone aspiring to make it in the arts and letters needs to have. This is the confidence you need to possess in order to create, to complete and to sell. And to sell and sell, sell, sell, making your passion for writing a viable career. It takes work. It takes acting as though you already have what you most want.
Attract Through Action!
This isn’t the law of attraction. This isn’t about wishing really hard for something to happen and then following up those wishes with a few good weeks worth of positive thinking only to be left with an occasional good parking space and a shorter wait in line at the bank. If that were the case, I’d have been living my super fabulous pink life in my Barbie Penthouse when I was 7. This is about immersing yourself, mind, soul and even body into the thing you want most – the successful writer’s life. What does that look like? It looks like you acting on your intentions. I recently advised a brilliant writer to quit grabbing snatches of time to jot down good ideas and write, already! She left our conversation with palpable excitement and committed to me she was going to do it! That night, she forwarded me her work, which was an inspired first draft of a beautiful children’s story. Step one, finished. Yes!
Make IT Happen!
Without action, your dream will stay a dream. Without confidence, someone else will show up in their suit and briefcase looking and feeling the part until they are. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bon mots to go around. Plenty of success to be shared, but I want YOU to make it happen. Nothing would make me happier.
Your exercise this week:
Think of how you will feel when you get picked up by the agent of your dreams. Think of how awesome it’ll be when you connect with your inspired editor at the fabulous publishing house that just acquired your novel or nonfiction book. Imagine how thrilled you’ll be when a magazine or newspaper offers you a regular column, syndicated even! Why not? Let these gooey, happy thoughts sink in. Let this energy move you into action fueled by audacious confidence so that feeling will one day be reality.
Have a great, productive week, writers!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Read this one? Pass it on to your friends - it's a great story! This would be the perfect book to give for the holidays.
Oftentimes the best way to learn how to get your book published is by listening to those who've already walked the path successfully. And Janna Cawrse Esarey's story is an extraordinary one. I became familiar with Janna through her fabulous editor at Simon and Schuster, Michelle Howry. When I invited Michelle onto this blog to talk about Confidence in a writer's life a few months ago, she focused on her author Janna and how Janna confidently approached her market to sell her book, The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers & a Woman's Search for The Meaning of Wife. After hearing this and reading through Janna's website, I had to know more about her path, because let's face it - writing a book, finding an agent and publisher is not for the faint of heart. Doing most of that on a small boat in the middle of an ocean takes an absolute belief in self and iron clad persistence - both of which are must-have necessities along your path to publication.
TLC: Janna gives us lots of great learning points here, but most importantly she points out that over time and failed pieces, she discovered who her true audience was and how to reach them. This is key, writers. Before you sit down to write your heart out, know who you want to connect with. Who is your audience? How do you identify with them and what will they learn from you? Is your work so compelling/thoughtful/entertaining/informative that thousands will want to read it?
I recently attended a lit festival in my city and listened to a very successful author suggest "the word 'genre' is all marketing." I know as a writer and literature lover some of you may hate to be forced to classify the books you love and write under certain categories. Categorizing your audience may seem even more ridiculous. It may seem limiting...but look at it this way, we've been cataloging "stuff" to make sense of whatever it is for a very long time. We put a name on this stuff so we can identify it. Become familiar with it. It's not just about a group of overworked publishing marketing execs sitting high above the hustle of Manhattan plotting how they're going to diminish the true breadth of your literary masterpiece by pigeonholing it.
When you write, listen to your heart. Be passionate about your story or information you wish to impart. Craft it like a true artisan. But also consider your audience. Knowing WHO they are and WHAT they like is your first step toward creating something truly viable in a sea of commercial fiction and nonfiction published annually.
Your Exercise This Week: Janna mentions pitching her book at writers' conferences was key to her success. Pitching your novel at conferences to real, live agents and emailing your pitch letter from the safety of your own home are two totally different experiences. Take the anxiety you may feel out of the conference situation by knowing you're there to make friends. Agents will remember the personable writers...those who are relaxed yet professional...and most of all, confident! Sure, you're going to come across prickly agents who will totally unnerve you despite your best efforts...don't take their character flaws personally, my dears. Move on.
Do you have your in-person pitch ready? Is it under a minute? Does it hook the listener? Think of lit agent, Kristin Nelson's spot on pitch paragraph advice from last week...can you translate that into a comfortable, confident in-person pitch? Try it!
Of course, let me know how it goes!
Any pitch success stories you want to share? Do tell!
Have an enlightening week, writers! Thank you for joining us.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Today, I repost a prior blogshop featuring the absolutely wonderful literary agent, Kristin Nelson.
Here's to your agent luring success!
Despite the many resources available online and on the shelves, I'm still asked "Ok, so how do I find an agent? Really, what's the secret?" When I was an agent, I contributed to two books on the subject, Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye by Katharine Sands and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents by Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman. There are several books like these out there with equally great advice and most of what you read from all those agents is accurate: there is a certain formula to pitching an agent and you must stick to the formula. Knowing the right people certainly helps get you in the door, but successfully landing the right agent boils down you possessing or exhibiting three things:
You have to nail the pitch paragraph in the query letter. If you do that, I guarantee an agent will request sample pages. [Insider secret: When agents read query letters, we automatically skip down to the pitch paragraph. If that grabs our attention, then we go back and read the rest of the letter. If it doesn’t, we might glance at the author creds but most often, we just hit the button to send our standard rejection. Here at NLA, we get 150 query letters a day. We don’t have time to do anything else but read the pitch first.]
It would be if that was what you actually had to do but here’s the secret. You don’t have to take 300 pages and cram it into one paragraph. All you really need is the first 30 or 40 pages of your manuscript. The core of your pitch paragraph is right there in the beginning of your story. And another secret to writing the pitch? Make it read like the jacket flap or back cover copy you see on an already published book.
See, your pitch paragraph is the jacket or back cover copy of your unpublished novel. If you want to master your pitch, start at your local bookstore or library or go online and grab copy from similar books in your genre. Analyze those paragraphs. You’ll get the rhythm and a sense of how many sentences it actually takes. For the record, most cover copy is anywhere from 8 to 10 sentences long. That’s it. Don’t believe me? Grab the nearest book and check it out for yourself.
That’s it. If you look at the back cover copy for this novel, it will highlight this event. Without it, Henry Lee wouldn’t be forced to confront his past and there would be no story to tell. That parasol has to be discovered first.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
But others seem to do it. Others seem to have the ability to actually make time - create more of it from just the 24 hours guaranteed us on a daily basis! They're living busy, productive lives where brilliance seems to flow effortlessly from one project to the next. They're inspired, connected to a higher creative source, at peace when all around them their peers are hustling to barely make a deadline. What's the secret?
Ok, so as a writer you know brilliance doesn't just happen - it takes work, and yes, time. Lots of it. The others, from whom all brilliance and zen seem to flow, just manage their time better. They don't have any more of it than you do. The difference is, they put a premium value on their time as they see it directly impacting their overall productivity and quality of life. And they expect others to respect their time as well, or they simply remove themselves from the equation. It's a non-negotiable. People, not just writers, who respect their worth and their talent develop a system of dos and dont's - their own set of non-negotiables that keep them from steering too far off path. The beauty is, anyone can do this. You can start doing this today. Here's how.
The first step of developing your own time management non-negotiables, is being truly aware of how you spend your minutes. Aside from your major responsibilities and obligations, where do you spend your free time? What's the first thing you do after you've come home from a busy day, connected with your family/pets/parents, prepared dinner, wrap up some general housekeeping, etc. Plop exhausted in front of one screen or another to unwind? Or chat with friends? Hang out at a bar? Shop? Change all your status updates? Some of these activities don't seem like huge time vacuums, but over time, the minutes add up to real hours. Time that could be spent writing or reading (which I also consider writing). Good writers know the importance of every word they put on the page. It has a purpose. If they have too many words or not the right kind of words, they edit. Your time has meaning and purpose, too. Edit your time as you would your writing.
This may sound totally anti-creative to some of you, but to really get the most out of your week, plan it out before the week begins; Sunday is ideal. First, think about what you want to accomplish. What do you need to do to achieve a goal, complete your work, make an important connection, finish piece - the actions that will move your writing/writing career forward. Next, list everything you must do day to day. School, work, kids' activities, etc., fall into this category. Your second level of must dos are things like cooking and maintenance/housekeeping. These things take up a lot of time, so if you can manage hiring someone to clean house a few times a month, do it. Or delegate household responsibilities, if there's more than one of you able to share the workload (my husband is truly awesome in sharing the heft with me, but cooking is my gig). Create a daily plan at the beginning of the week clearly outlining who is responsible for completing what task and make sure they're sticking to it. This frees up hours of your time during the week.
Ok, so getting past the major responsibilities and must-dos, that leaves you with your free time to plan. Plan your family time, spouse/partner time, pet time, parent time, friend time, you get the picture. And make the most of that time you're spending with your loved ones! Next, plan your writing time. Why did I put this behind connecting with people? Because community is important. It feeds you and you learn from it. It's also important for you to participate in a community, even if your community consists of just you, your neighbor and your pet. Whatever community you're a part of, engage fully...then come back to your work focused and ready to rock!
Last, plan your writing time. By writing time I mean, writing, reading and researching. The best writers...the prize-winning ones, the ones that land on the best-seller list, read. They read the work of their peers, and they read books in genres that may have nothing to do with what they're writing. By reading, you're learning more about writing by appreciating or not appreciating how others do it. This is ESPECIALLY important if you're writing within a genre because you must know what else is out there, know the formula.
Plan your TV and screen (this doesn't include writing on your computer) time wisely. I rarely watch TV and limit my online time to blogging, updating my Lit Coach Facebook page and updating my other online sources when my blogs are up. Or, I'm researching the trades and other publishing news and a few blogs I regularly check. I don't check email every five minutes. That's about it. "Just a few minutes" often turns into a whole hour (or more) in front of a screen, plan this empty calorie time wisely.
NOW. While it's important to be flexible in your planning as life does love to throw a curve ball once in a while (for example, my son has pneumonia this week), this to-do list becomes your non-negotiable weekly schedule. The best thing you can do for yourself, for your creative mind, is stick to it, or as closely as possible. When others come into your picture and demand your time in some form or another, it's your decision to give them that time or not. Whatever you decide, you own that decision.
Your Action: Plan out your week as discussed above and try your new non-negotiable system for one week. See where it takes you. Don't forget to share this plan with those you live with so everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
Bonus Points: Aim to be on time: to work; to school; to lunches; to meetings; to scheduled phone calls. Not only does this keep you on track, it boosts your credibility.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Ok, so for the sake of this post, let's swap qualities for talent.
There is a lament shared by those of us who work with writers (teachers; consultants(me); agents(used to be me); editors; and publishers (please forgive if I've left out a group)). It is the one that usually starts with: He was such a brilliant writer but couldn't get out of his own way! or She has the potential of becoming the next [insert name of favorite brilliant author here] but she always misses her deadline!
This lament ends with the reality that the brilliant writer will never fully realize their potential because they lack the clarity of mind and desire to order their lives in such a way that only their best will flow from them. The best effort. The best success. The best writing career they could have ever imaged for themselves. All because they couldn't make good choices. Couldn't manage their time well. Couldn't manage their talent.
This is why I do what I do - consult writers; not just about the business of publishing - that's just the half of it! I also talk with writers about the challenges in their lives and help them find ways through them so they can realize their own success to the fullest. I was so tired of seeing brilliant writers fail in their careers or not fully enjoy their potential because they couldn't manage their time, their attitude, their choices, their life! There were so many excuses! Here's the most popular; I'm having a crazy day/week/month/life! I'm crazy busy! Oh, to hang with it, as my grandma would say! I've really begun to dislike that word, crazy. It's a bad word. Crazy has been the culprit of missed deadlines, lost contracts, beyond rude tardiness or no shows to important meetings/lunches/phone calls/signings, etc. (And yes, some of this has to do with integrity and choices, but we'll get to that another post.) So, you'd think crazy means things are out of control right? As in, too many things out of your control. It's crazy's fault! Well. There are 10 definitions of the word crazy (as found on dictionary.com) and not one of them define or allude to crazy as a definite or general loss of control.
The root of too much "crazy" is a general lack of organization. You could also be making better choices that keep you on a positive path toward producing your best work and/or finding your way toward publication. Pain and simple, my dears. Yep, it's time for the mama talk.
Ok, let's break this down. Let's look at organization first. If you're totally type A and a minimalist, you can skip the rest. If, on the contrary, you're like me, you'd rather watch a Hannah Montana marathon than organize your desk space, clean out your email inbox, and put stuff away where you can, you know, find it when you need it. Sigh. I know. You'd rather be writing, researching or connecting - the fun part of creativity! But writers, you've got to strive to become more organized. Because when you are, my dears, life just clicks into place almost effortlessly. It's a beautiful thing. And the benefit of having a place for everything and managing what comes in and out is that you're not wasting time searching for whatever it is you've lost...which usually dominoes into you being late or feeling frazzled, which tumbles into you having a "crazy" totally less than brilliantly productive day. What a waste!
So, if you can control something that would streamline your entire life, wouldn't you? Or do you like the feeling of being out of control...which does nothing for your writing, FYI. A disorganized life show up in your prose. Most agents can spot this dead on.
Your Action: Take a day or at least a few hours to totally organize your working space and email inbox. Today, if possible. Toss or donate what you don't need or haven't used. Keep what you always need or use and find a permanent home for those things. Keep them there and put them back when you've used them! My mom is the queen of this. Aren't all moms?
This is a totally messy process and that's ok. So is editing. You'll eventually find the right clean, organized workspace (major extra credit if you tackle the rest of your house). When you do, strive to keep it clean and let that positive, clutter-free energy flow into your writing. And music is important. Listen to music while you're doing this. Mondays are my organizing days. I think I'll stream in some Stevie Wonder...
And, hey, wield the word crazy only when truly appropriate.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at how making the right choices positively affect your writing and your writer's life.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
If you've learned anything from the several best-selling or award-winning authors I've brought on to blogshop, their main message has been - becoming a good writer takes time, unrelenting dedication and persistence. None of which happens without some form of discipline. Whether you want to call it discipline or something else is up to you. But IT must be present in your writer's life if you want to enjoy any level of success. Think of the D word as your own daily practices that keep you on a good path...you know, that one where you're creatively productive, mostly organized, punctual and content, no HAPPY with the direction you're headed! That sounds awesome, doesn't it? Yeah, I'll take more of that stuff!
Sounds ideal right? It is and it can be your reality, but it takes time and focus. Getting good at anything does.
Let's take a look at a more common scenario. After reading a few good 'how-to' articles about pitching an agent or writing a bullet proof synopsis you plunk down in front of your computer ready to set the literary world a'blaze with your bon mots and can-do attitude until...something happens. You get a phone call/email/text that brings some kind of negativity your way; you start doubting that this book thing is really going to take off, leaving you forever in a job you hate; the baby wakes up - great, there goes your writing time. Whoa! What happened to all that good mojo you started out with?
My dears, if you want success as a writer, as a human on this green earth, you must learn to productively deal with what life brings to your table. No excuses. Your actions determine your success - not your education, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic situation. How you were raised does not determine your success. What side of the tracks you grew up on does not determine your success. Your lack of emotional/financial/parental/spousal support does not determine your success.
You do. I believe in responsible free will. You have choice in this life and you make choices every day that either keep you from succeeding or move you toward success. Let's take that negative call/email/text you received. How did you deal with it? Did you let it derail you? Will we find you plopped in front of the T.V. with a bag of chips watching some mindless reality show? Or did you deal with it as productively as possible and move on to your more important task at hand? How about your own doubts about this writing gig and your current less-than-fabulous job situation? I know many of you would rather be writing than having to clock in full time to a job that isn't "you." What can I say about this? Until your writing pays the bills, you'll have to either continue to clock in to your job or find one that better suits you and your talents while you build your writing platform. And don't let self-doubt keep you from moving forward. If you're constantly striving to be a better writer, then you're succeeding in real time! Writing around your kids' nap times? Honey, this is the story of most my adult life! I understand totally how difficult it is to work around your children's schedules, whatever they are, but realize this - you don't get a do-over with your kids. Choose to be present and engaged in their lives. That may mean for now, you write at night or early in the morning before they wake up. Let that be your sacred writing time and let nothing get in the way of it.
What does choice have to do with Discipline? Everything! If you want success as a writer, you must choose writing over T.V.; choose reading over hanging out at the bar; workshopping over self-loathing; and connecting with other got-it-goin'-on writers over fretting about the economy. And yes you'll have to plan your life around this. Once you totally realize your actions determine your success, that you have a choice in most everything you do, you'll understand the value of your precious writer's time...and your life! Accountability is the foundation of Discipline.
Your Action: This is long winded, bear with me. We've all heard inspiring stories where the underdog overcomes great obstacles to become successful in their own way. I love these stories! It's what keeps me keeping on. Hearing these triumph over every obstacle stories reminds me there are no excuses in this life if you want something badly enough. I draw inspiration from my grandfather who grew up in a coal mining family in the North of England (Tow Law, Co. Durham, if you're interested) during the first half of the 20th century. Rather than let his socio-economic history determine his fate, he let his passion guide him toward a master's degree in philosophy and Doctor of Divinity. He enjoyed a long, fulfilling career as an Episcopalian minister and later Bishop in the United States. His story keeps me stretching myself, my ability every day.
How about you? What keeps you inspired? What no excuses story real or imagined keeps you moving forward?
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
This month is all about the D word. Discipline. I can almost see some of you cringing, but alas, here we are. There's a reason I didn't bang out my first blogs with this virtue because it takes time to appreciate and develop. The most successful writers learn discipline is their best friend if they want to succeed in getting their book published; their poetry or short stories placed in literary journals and magazines. A disciplined writer knows in order to be recognized, they must strive for mastery of craft no matter how long or hard the revision process, among other aspects of the writing business.
That's our focus for this post - it's all about the writing. And it needs to "get good" on page one!
I invited John Parsley to share his perspective on what gets the green light not only as an editorial director for the amazing online e-zine LOST, but as an editor with Little, Brown - a highly selective traditional publishing company in New York.
Here's what John had to say:
It is July first and fifty-one degrees above zero.
The explosion must have been second only to the A-bomb.
My first meal as a luxury editor was Tuscan boar, shot in the vineyards that once served as the front lines of the wars between Sienna and Florence.
It's two below this morning, but there's no wind.
If you want to read more, it's not because of anything I've written. These are the first lines from two books I’ve acquired and from two essays in the fall 2010 issue of LOST Magazine—all of which I started reading in proposal and never put down once.
I acquire nonfiction books, but I’m the second person your first sentence needs to hook. After it’s sold a literary agent, who’s sold me on a proposal, I need to sell our sales, publicity, and marketing teams; they need to sell bookstores and the media; and we all need to sell readers. The best publishing scenarios have readers selling, too—to their friends and family, when they love a book. There are no less than five major sales pitches that helped bring any book to your local bookstore.
Each of those readers is buried in other submissions, pitches, and possibilities. Their attentions are under siege, so book proposals and manuscripts don’t have time to “get really good" in chapter two, or on page 40, or once you can really tell what's going on. No—they already have to be good by then, from the first words on the first page.
We're all looking for first lines that give energy, rather than taking it. That show a writer in control of language, and of the proposal's direction. That place us in the book and “do” something, making us want to read another sentence in the hope it meets the promise of the first.
I've acquired books by emerging writers and accomplished authors. I've acquired serious journalism, narrative, memoir, biography, history, humor, and fiction. The only thing these very different book proposals shared was a great opening.
And that, perhaps, is the point: whether it’s a book proposal or a finished book, there's no stronger selling tool for me than a first sentence that lets me pitch it in the most honest, easiest way: by saying, "it's good from the very start." In that sense, it’s the sentences that did the hard work, and the proposals that sold themselves.
TLC: My most popular blog post is A Writer's Education: Luring An Agent and The Not-So-Secret Handshake with fab lit agent, Kristin Nelson. This blog post is all about capturing the attention of an agent...how to get your foot in the door with a well crafted pitch (assuming the product is totally polished and ready to go). As a former agent, 98% of the writing that came my way was not fully developed despite the promises they made in their pitch. The WHOLE package must be great: pitch and product. My dears, please spend less time worrying about agents. Take the time you need to make your writing "get good" from page one so an agent can't possibly refuse you!
Have a fruitful week, writers!
Any NaNoWriMos reading? Stay focused and good luck!
About the Contributor:
John Parsley is an editor at Little, Brown and the editorial director of LOST Magazine.