Monday, February 28, 2011

Literary Neighbors - An interview with cartoonist and author Jeffrey Koterba

This month on The Lit Coach's Guide, the focus is getting out to know and support your literary neighbors. Like I said last month when our focus was connecting, writers have far more opportunity to connect via social media and good old email. My God, how much time to we actually spend checking twitter, facebook, blogs and all the other sites for the latest updates and status changes of all the people we follow? Yet how many of you make it a point to get to know your literary neighbors? As in, writers in your own city? Face time. (My friends in Portland and Seattle, you don't count because just about all of you are writers and I'm sure you live next door to eachother and share your writing tips and secrets across your back fence...right? Kidding.)

When I moved from Los Angeles to Omaha, Nebraska, I didn't think finding writers would be tough. (Long story...because my mother is from Iowa, I grew up for a time across the river from Omaha where I eventually met my husband...then we moved back to LA, where I'm originally from...and then 10 years later, we moved to Omaha. Exhausted?) So what that I moved away from a city that thrived on creativity in all forms...Omaha was a totally thriving city, too! After all, it's the city in the center famous for producing Warren Buffett, 311, The Counting Crows (among many other great bands), and now The Grey Plume (touted by Time Magazine as "The Greenest Restaurant in America). Heck, even Bono's been here! I even spotted Ron Howard in The Old Market shortly after we arrived.

Despite all the cool stuff Omaha has going for itself, finding writers in the area was a challenge for me. My emails to university professors went unanswered, the local booksellers wanted to help but provided me with a very short list of local authors. All I was asking these folks was, "Hey, would you mind sharing with me a little about the local writing community?" Crickets. What?! How could this be?! I was entirely frustrated.

But I was determined to find the writers. I met people and asked questions. And then, after some more digging, I heard about Jeffrey Koterba, Omaha's own brilliant cartoon artist and author of Inklings, a memoir about his childhood navigating his eccentric father's Tourette's Syndrome, his inheritance of the syndrome and how he escaped into the comic strips as a way of coping with the chaos that surrounded him. Loved the book and I'm excited about the memoir genre as a whole, so of course, I asked him if he wouldn't mind coming on TLCG to share a little about his experiences as an author.

What inspired you to share your story?

JK: All the individual stories that make up the larger story are pieces of me that I’ve been carrying around for so long, replaying them in my head, attempting to make sense of them. It was a relief to get them down on paper. In retrospect, I suppose it wasn’t absolutely necessary that I publish my book. Just the getting down on paper was therapy. However, if someone can be inspired by my story, then I’m thrilled.

Also, aside from the spiritual and emotional or whatever reasons I needed to write it, in a strictly artistic way, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a book. And, I believed that my story was unique and interesting. That I had something to say.

How did you decide the voice in which you delivered your memoir?

JK: I knew pretty early on that I wanted to write my memoir in the present tense, allowing me to write from the perspective or my little kid self, teenage self, etc. I really allowed myself to be in the moment, write in the moment, to go back into the events that helped shape my life.

How did you find your agent and how long did it take you? What’s your best advice for new writers going through this process?

JK: I put in quite a bit of time researching agents and the world of publishing, reading, studying the industry as much as possible. I then queried agents with a previous book—a novel—and received some very positive responses. I also attended a writer’s conference and met an agent there who liked my work. I didn’t get picked up that time around but eventually, one of the agents who looked at my novel took me on when she read the proposal for my memoir. As it turned out, she was also the agent of a writer I know, but I can assure you, an agent isn’t going to take on a client just because she represents someone you know. Agents are always on the lookout for great books. I really believe that it’s not who you know—it’s can you write?

My best advice is to write, write, write and don’t be afraid to revise, revise, revise. And read up as much as you can on agents. There is such a wealth of material out there, from magazines to books on agents. It’s all invaluable.

Tell us a little about what it’s like to work with an editor in shaping your personal story. Where they receptive to your overall vision or was there a fair amount of creative give and take with the process?

JK: I really did a lot of this before an editor ever saw my work. My agent was always there for me to bounce ideas off of and I had a couple of close friends whom I trusted to be my first readers. So by the time an editor actually saw my work, I might have revised my book, thirty or forty times. When I did work with an editor—two editors, actually—I was really fortunate, because they both very much understood what I was going for. To be honest, there was very little that was suggested that I didn’t agree with. The suggestions that were made were made out of deference to the overall story.

As a mother bear, I admit, reading about some of your more painful childhood memories was tough for me. Were they difficult for you to write?

JK: To some degree, yes. But not as much as you might think. My hope for people reading my book is that they’ll understand that most of us have had some awful stuff to deal with and that sometimes those obstacles can inspire you. And again, it was sort of cathartic just getting this stuff down on paper. To finally rid myself of all those stories I had been carrying around. I feel much lighter now for having done so.

What’s next for Jeffrey Koterba?

JK: I hope to keep writing. My first work of fiction—a short story about children capturing small tornadoes with butterfly nets—has just been published in a wonderful new literary magazine called Parcel. I’m also working on an animated TV show concept with a friend of mine. And, of course, I continue to draw cartoons.

Thanks, Jeffrey, for sharing a bit about your process.

Writers, especially those of you who think there couldn't possibly be another writer within miles of where you sit, get out there and dig around to find your literary neighbors. Writing is a solitary endeavor; being part of a larger writing community will support your efforts (and keep you sane) in so many ways.

Your Action: Tell me who your literary neighbors are! Have you met them? No? Reach out by attending events, readings, signings, etc.

About Jeffrey Koterba:

Jeffrey is the author of Inklings (Houghton Mifflin, 2009) and Editorial Cartoonist for The Omaha World Herald. His cartoons are distributed through King Features Syndicate to 400 newspapers nationwide, and have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, and on CNN. One of his cartoons can also be spotted in the Alexander Payne film, Election, but you have to look quickly. Additionally, his original cartoons have been collected by notables such as Warren Buffett and Oprah. In 2010, two of Koterba’s cartoons flew aboard space shuttle Discovery.

Koterba has written for The Huffington Post, ABC News and The Daily Beast and in 2009, he was named a finalist for a three-part essay written for The World-Herald, “Ink and Ash,” in the Great Plains Journalism Awards. He has also received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train in the Short-Story Award for new writers. His first piece of fiction, Little Twisters, will be published this spring in Parcel.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blogs That Work: "Writing in the Margins," by Maria Clara Paulino

Welcome to the first installment of Blogs That Work! As I mentioned in an earlier post, this monthly segment is meant to highlight blogs from unpublished authors who focus on bringing their readers compelling, focused content, consistently. What's compelling content? Writing that's crisp, thoughtful, and delivers to the reader an interesting perspective.

So let's dig in!

Clara Paulino and I met last summer through She Writes. I became familiar with her creative work and was immediately drawn to a few stories in her blog, Writing in the Margins. I was intrigued by her "musings on a home in-between places, languages, ways of seeing" because it alluded to me that Clara picked up those delicious details from everyday life most people leave behind corners and under the rug. I was not disappointed.

The first blog I read, I think, was "Atmospheric adventures and the fate of the cucumber," where Clara introduced me to her seaside home in Porto, Portugal, where she is from and is a visiting professor at the university (she's spent years in the US and throughout Europe). She also introduced me to Ms. Maria, a local 80-something vegetable peddler who has worn nothing but all black from head to foot for the past thirty years and blames what's going on up in space (due to the USA space program) for the change in her cucumbers. Through rich imagery, expert photography and near perfect use of dialog, Clara captures the essence of a life in-between in Porto.

I've considered breaking up the dialog Paulino uses in her post to illustrate what I mean, but it's impossible for me to find a good place to break in - the scene is seamless, which is the mark of a blog that works.

I fell in love with Ms. Maria and Clara's seaside city, but Clara was unsure of what else to write, how else to direct her blog. Sometimes she liked to post poetry and other times thoughts on the creative life. I advised her to keep bringing us stories just like Ms. Maria because she clearly had a brilliant way of capturing her city and its people.

Since I began reading this blog, I've learned a lot about Portugal's not-so-distant fascist history and how passports and an education could get you in trouble; why the Portuguese don't take the word LOVE lightly and how a daughter could learn more about her mother through how she is remembered and presented by others.

Why does this blog work? As I said, some of the best dialog economically written; rich material; and though Clara is the author and it's through her perspective that we're able to experience the story, it's not "ME" driven. She is a generous, brilliant storyteller who considers her audience.

Success! Clara's nonfiction piece, Twice The River Flows is featured in the March issue of LOST Magazine (another must-read online creative writing source). Her piece, Blue Sunday was an editor's pick on Open Salon and A British Melody in Portugal was featured on Krista Tippet's On Being blog.

In the words of one of my friends who follows the blog as well, "I feel my life is richer for having read it." I couldn't agree more!

I hope you love it, too! Dig in and enjoy.


Introducing, Blogs That Work!

Blogs That Work is a new monthly segment on The Lit Coach's Guide that will feature one must-read blog from an unpublished writer. The goal of this segment is to spotlight compelling, thoughtful content with a clear direction from writers who are seeking publication (regardless of format or routes to get there).

Here's what I'm looking for:

CONSISTENCY of voice and posting
VISUAL elements that enhance the material

Here's a list of elements that are great blog features but don't factor into my decision of what blogs are worth reading:

HUGE following
ZILLIONS of links
AWARDS bestowed

Again, having an interactive blog with a big following is great and important to your platform building, but this is an effort to focus on clarity and consistency of content and the blog's overall value to the writing community. It's about a writer's creative discipline and focus.

I welcome all suggestions through email as long as the content is clean (I'll allow a few naughty words); and your attempt to promote your blog is in earnest (not spammy). I can't guarantee I'll showcase every blog that's suggested to me, but I'll consider it. And of course, every blog highlighted will have the author's permission.

Look for the new Blogs That Work post this weekend! I've got a few great ones lined up.

Have a great weekend, writers!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Q&A with The Lit Coach: Plot Structure

So here we are, the last installment of Q&A with The Lit Coach for the week. Monday I addressed a reader's question about author websites; Wednesday I answered a question about knowing when to stop reading books about writing and start writing to find voice.

Here's today's question:

"Do you believe in a three act, 4 plot point structure?"

Yes, I do, Laura. I think especially for beginning authors a three act structure - beginning, middle and end/starting point, rise in action, resolution - offers a stable base structure for storytelling. Some will tell you three is an arbitrary number and screenwriters commonly favor five or seven act structure (which works well within their medium).

Plot points are occurrences within the rise in action where the character is faced with a decision or turning point...usually these show up as character crises. I don't feel four is a hard and fast rule, though; if three plot points creates enough drama and tension in your novel, then go with it!

For a valuable, in-depth fiction crafting resource, check out author, and creative writing instructor at Boston University and Grub Street, Michelle Hoover's recent blog posting on the topic - there are several and I provided the link to the first in the series.

Good luck, Laura, and thanks for your question!

Have an inspired weekend, writers! Stay warm...winter has decided to dig in and stay awhile.

Stay tuned this weekend for a special look into blogs that work...


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Q&A with The Lit Coach: Finding Voice

Welcome to part two of three of Q&A with The Lit Coach! Today I'll address the issue of finding the best voice for your fiction.

Q: I'm revising a novel and was lucky enough to stumble upon Stephen Koch's incredible book, THE MODERN LIBRARY WRITER'S WORKSHOP: A GUIDE TO THE CRAFT OF WRITING. I love his chapters on storytelling and most of all on voice.

Can you recommend any other works - chapters, essays, books that focus on voice for those of us trying to sort out this issue in our own fiction?

A: While I highly recommend investing a substantial amount of time learning everything you can about the craft of writing through workshops and from great books like the one you suggested, there comes a time when you must face your characters and allow them to show you what they're made of. While I'm sure Koch's book is no doubt inspiring and thought provoking (and I'm being totally sincere about that), you will learn more by reading lots of fiction within the genre you see yourself best fitting (to start, then expand to other genres for an advanced study) and studying how THOSE authors developed their characters' voices through careful detail and dialog.

But this issue isn't about voice, really. Voice is what shines through from knowing your characters. You having total clarity about your characters is how you achieve voice. So let's take a step back and examine your main protag/antag: What's their history, their passions, their motivations, their challenges, heck, their DNA? What makes them unique? Why do we care about them? You should know your characters as well as you know yourself (and I hope you know yourself pretty well by now) BEFORE you write the first sentence. Knowing your plot before you start is great, you should, but knowing your characters just as well will help you determine how those characters are going to navigate that plot structure. Side note: you may collect lots of fun data about your characters that will never make it into the book and that's fine - we'll get the impression through your storytelling.

What can you do now? If you're just beginning to write your novel, get to know your characters. Sketch them out in detail. Know what excites them, what sets them off, what turns them on, what challenges them, what they fear, love, loathe. What do they want more/less of in their lives? Have fun with it! What kind of music do they listen to? Clothes? Pets? Weird habits? You get the picture.

Step Two: Once you know them (and your plot), then start writing. You'll be amazed how easily you'll slip into the voice you created for them through character detail. Go with it! It may sound like hiccups at first; you're just warming up. Keep writing. It will begin to flow.

What if you're already mid-way or finished with a novel and your/your character's voice is still flat? This is a tough decision to make, but one that you will ultimately need to follow through with if you want any real change. Rebuild your characters. Go back to square one and draw up those character sketches. Get to really know them. Sometimes beginning writers are afraid to change something they've worked so hard on and I totally understand the "I gotta save this because this took me forever to write" mentality but honey, if it ain't workin', it ain't workin' and no amount of cut and paste editing is going to do the trick.

I've taken a few of my clients through this tear down and re-build exercise. It's intense and it's a lot of work, but they are finally seeing the light shining through their characters and best of all, they're having FUN with them! They actually LOVE them now! They let go of what they thought their characters should be (the ones that weren't going anywhere), got to really know them by rebuilding them yet keeping a few good attributes, and are letting them loose in their plot maze, which they will navigate expertly with distinct voice.

So, writers, to recap: To achieve a compelling voice for your characters, you have to know them. Draw out your characters through a detailed character sketch so you know everything about them. For inspiration and education, read fiction (your genre to start) to study how other authors have developed their three-dimensional, colorful, life-sized characters. Then start writing.

Hope that helps, Kay! I wish you loads of success!

Friday, I'll address plot structure.

Happy Writing!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Q&A with The Lit Coach

Welcome to another session of Q&A with The Lit Coach! Thanks to those who submitted.

I'm changing the delivery structure of the Q&A sessions a bit. Usually this is a once weekly updated blog, but since I feel these questions need more meat than a quick paragraph or so, I'm going to expand my answers. So, you'll get my responses to a question submitted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When we're not in Q&A week (unless there's a special occasion), you can expect only one blog post from me during the week.

Ok, so let's get this show on the road!

Q: "I realize it's up to the authors to arrange their publicity but what about websites (not social media sites like Twitter or Facebook) - who creates them? The publisher? The author? What role does the agent play in this?"

A: Just as it's up to the author to take responsibility for the majority of their publicity efforts, it's up to the author to create their own author website, or hire a branding/website company to create and coordinate your whole online image. Your publisher will expect this. An agent may be open to helping you shape your you ideas and examples of what they'd like to see, what best represents you and your book/work, but it's not their job, per se.

If you're just starting out as a fiction writer, say, and you really have no platform or previous successes but are beginning to query agents with your novel, I don't feel a website is necessary. You can wait until your book is sold to begin thinking about creating a website to support your book.

Websites need to serve a distinct purpose for you and your audience. Depending on what kind of an author you are and how cozy you'd like to get with your readers, they must do one of the three: inform; inform and sell; inform, sell and interact.

Let's take a look at some examples.

Inform: This type of website, much like my own right now, is only for informative purposes. It's considered your flagship, your online bricks and mortar. Its function is to simply let people know who you are and what services you provide (if applicable), contact info, where people can find your work (links highly recommended), professional endorsements, dates of workshops and appearances (again, with links), blog, links to your social media, press info, anything else that lets people know about who you are and what you're doing. Let this online space represent your personality, but keep it crisp and frequently updated as necessary.

Inform and Sell: This type of site will include everything from above, when/if applicable, but will provide an opportunity for your viewer to buy your book or other products (other book-related merchandise, webinar, workshop, professional services, etc.) via your site. Check out NYT Bestselling author (and TLCG contributor), Chelsea Cain's website for a great example of an Inform and Sell site. I also love what author Michelle Hoover is doing with her site (her blog is fabulous). And Inkygirl. I LOVE this site because I feel it's authentic to who she is...and it has cartoons!

Inform, Sell, Interact: This type of site will usually always include everything from above AND provide an opportunity for the author/expert to interact with their audience via an open invitation or login only online community. This is for an author who can either hire an assistant or two to monitor the site, manage updates and keep the online community well informed and validated or for the author who is a master and commander of their own time management. Stephen King's site is an awesome example of this, Neil Gaiman is another.

For nonfiction, I love what my former client, Cheryl Lage has done with her twins support site since I signed her on so many moons ago. She's grown from a writer with a great idea for a book about raising twins through the first year to a nationally recognized twins expert whose blogsite serves as a hub for those seeking any supportive info about raising twins (side note: a producer from one of the VERY popular morning shows contacted Cheryl through her site to seek her assistance in rounding up twins for a twins segment they had). Cheryl's site is a great example of how to use your blogsite as your website...and it's free!

Somewhat related in topic - blogs. Are they for every writer? Stay tuned. Next week I'll show you some examples of blogs that work and tell you why.

Hope this helps, Anon!

On tap for Wednesday - The best resource for finding your authentic voice.

Have a productive week, writers!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Next on The Lit Coach's Guide

Monday on The Lit Coach's Guide, I'll answer your questions with another installment of Q&A with The Lit Coach!

The week's topics: Who is in charge of your book publicity; How to find your authentic writing voice; and What makes a good blog.

Wishing you an inspiring weekend!


Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Connect and Collect to Broaden Your Social Media Base" - A Blogshop with Robert Lee Brewer

Nothing excites this former literary agent more than seeing new, confident and enterprising authors capture their audience by being savvy about how to use social media. Not only are they attracting readers, they're connecting with other writers and publishing industry professionals who inevitably bring more awareness and opportunity their way.

Yet there are those writers who are reluctant to dip their toe into the vast social media waters. The idea of spending time online, twittering and updating status (stati?) bars, connecting with others, pimping their novel/blog/website/services seems self-centered, conceited or disingenuous.

Writers, to sell books, to make a living with this writing thing you've got going on, you MUST connect by any means necessary. The good news is, using the most basic social media is free and totally effective, depending how you use it. If the act of writing is about self-expression, let the act of telling the world about it (and making lots of friends along the way) be an extension of your expression and passion behind what you do! All you have to do is create a profile and start connecting.

I asked Robert Lee Brewer, blogger, poet and Senior Content Editor for The Writer's Digest Writing Community, to share his thoughts on the importance of social media in a writer's life. Here's what he submitted.

"Writing is the most important thing a writer can be doing. After all, writing is what makes a writer a writer, right? But let’s forget about the whole writing side of things for a moment, because many writers also long to share their writing and/or make some form of income from their writing eventually.

One of the most cost effective ways to find an audience now is through the use of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, etc. After giving my own social media strategy some thought, I’ve realized that it can best be summed up as a “connect and collect” strategy.


Social media sites make connecting with other people online easier than ever. In literally seconds, I can “friend” other writers on Facebook and “follow” other people on Twitter. This is a connection, but it’s not a strong one, which is why I advise communicating with people on these sites.

There are many ways to communicate. Update your status on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, make a new post on your blog. However, the more personal your communication the more meaningful it is to your audience.

Of course, there may come a point when you have to balance your quantity of connections with your quality of connections. This post by Jane Friedman helps illustrate the price of popularity.



Of course, popularity is the name of the game when you’re trying to develop a readership. If your writing is great, then popularity should follow, right? Well, yes, if you have advocates pushing others to read your work. The smart use of social media strategies can help you find these “grassroots” readers who will spread the word when you do something great—like publish a book or speak at an event.

In a way, you’ll be collecting these people as friends and followers on sites like Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, you should be collecting valuable information from these followers and those who you follow. In other words, social media isn’t a one-way street and shouldn’t be approached as if it is.

I doubt many think of it as collecting—even I didn’t before I sat down to write this guest post, and it still kind of sounds icky—but that’s exactly what we’re doing. At the same time, we are being collected by others. If our tweets and blog posts are interesting and insightful, our information will also be collected by our readership and distributed to their friends and followers.

If you’re able to collect information such as e-mail addresses and/or physical addresses, you’ll have an even stronger platform for reaching these potential readers when you have really big news to report.

So which comes first?

Do you collect friends and followers first, and then connect? Or do you connect first? Actually, you should be doing both at the same time—always.

If you’re collecting friends and followers, many will not be advocates for your work if you don’t make meaningful connections with them—either personally or through the information you provide (and no, an automated message when they first follow you on Twitter does not count as a meaningful connection). If you’re connecting with people but not collecting them as friends or followers, how are you going to let them know that you just released your novel?

By collecting and connecting, you should be able to build a solid foundation for your social media platform that also gives you time to do what’s most important. Ahem, the actual writing!"

Robert touches on a feeling I know many of you have - feeling "icky" about marketing your work, essentially. Let's finally put an end to this brand of thinking. Consider collecting data in these terms: when you submit your novel or nonfiction proposal to an agent or editor, especially in these times, where the volume of your pre-pub audience plays a major role in their decision making, they want to see numbers. Sure, an agent or editor wants the work to be GREAT, but they want to be assured you have the platform, the audience to support the sale of your book and the stamina to keep it up after the book pubs. Even if you were to self-publish, you'll still need to connect and collect to sell your book. I cannot underscore this message enough, writers.

That said, connecting and collecting should come into balance with your writing life. If your writing isn't there, the chances of you getting published are pretty close to zero. If you decide to self-pub, the chances of you selling your book are just as slim.

So, keep it in balance, folks.

Your Action: Check out the sites Robert suggests and consider which are best suited for you. Write, connect, collect, repeat. Embrace it!

For those of you already connecting and collecting, is your writing life in balance or do you need to spend a little time on the craft?

Here's to a productive week!


About the Contributor:

Robert Lee Brewer is a Senior Content Editor for the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, focusing mainly on Writer’s Market, Poet’s Market, and He also maintains the Poetic Asides ( and My Name Is Not Bob ( blogs. He is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their four boys. Robert welcomes contacts via e-mail at or via Twitter @robertleebrewer (

Friday, February 11, 2011

Q&A with The Lit Coach

Calling out for your questions for another segment of Q&A with the Lit Coach! Ask me anything about the writer's life, the ins and outs of publishing, how to hold successful events, selling your book, proposal crafting, pitch honing, author platform building...just about anything related to your writer's life.

I will only answer those who submit ONE question to my email. Questions submitted directly to the blog will not be addressed (use the link above to email me). Questions due Friday, Feb. 19th.

If you have submitted several questions in the past, let's set you up for some in-depth, one-on-one coaching and get you headed in the right direction! ( : Please see my services page...scroll down to Personal and Platform Development.

Thanks and have a great weekend, writers!


Monday, February 7, 2011

Connecting With Your Audience: A Blogshop with Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier

This month we're focusing on Connecting in The Writer's Life. How an author connects with their audience plays a major role in their book's success and their overall success as an author. If you've been following any brand of publishing trade news you already know that the author with the biggest mouth enjoys better sales of their book (in this context, being loud about your book is a good thing). And while I don't feel it's necessary for every author to be a big mouth, to be constantly present and available on Twitter, Facebook, etc., the fact remains that once your book hits the (e)shelves, you have a responsibility to sell it. To a lot of people other than your family and friends.

Nonfiction authors must indicate in their book proposal just how they're going to do this - reach their target audience to sell books. But now fiction authors also must consider how they're going to reach out and connect with their audience as well.

A large part of the effort that goes into to selling your book actually happens before your book launches - it's called building pre-pub buzz. You want people talking about your book before it comes out. You want them anticipating it's arrival. You want pre-orders!

So how do you find your PR voice and connect with your audience before your book launch? Literary Agent, Laurie Abkemeier of Brian DeFiore & Co. shows you:

"During my years as an editor, and now as a literary agent, I’ve seen countless nonfiction books rise out of relative obscurity and become bestsellers. Some rode a trend, while others created their own categories, but in every case, the key ingredient to success was the author’s commitment to promoting the work. Too often, I see authors who are committed to writing the work, but when it comes time to promote, they lose steam or they have better things to do. They are too busy to contact bloggers or put together a mailing list of organizations. They don’t want to get on Twitter or Facebook or build a website or start a blog. They think that writing the book will be enough, and that people will, perhaps by telepathy, sense that the book is available. Or worse, they think that it’s the publisher’s sole job to get the word out to the largest possible audience. While expending time and energy can’t guarantee a successful publication, it is rare that an author can achieve success while also being a recluse. Even publishers know this. When editors get on the phone with authors, they often ask point-blank, “How are you going to sell this book?”

That’s why, when I work with an author to develop a proposal, a lot of work goes into the publicity and promotion sections. My authors detail their social media and online connections, their contacts at magazines and newspapers, and previous experience with radio and television. They list every friend who might endorse their work. They research the membership numbers of relevant organizations and associations. They build new websites, start a blog, and get on Twitter—long before the proposal goes out the door. Part of this is for the benefit of the editor reading the proposal; it’s important that the editor understands an author’s reach and ability to get the word out. But I also require my authors to go into this level of detail so that they can see what is expected of them, that their role in promotion is going to be critical, and that their responsibility to the publication goes far beyond the last word on the page.

Assuming most of you visiting this blog are anticipating the publication of your first book, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Plan to earmark a certain percentage of your advance for promotion—whether it’s a new website, business cards, a freelance publicist, or ads in specialty publications.

2. Schedule a meeting with your agent, editor, publicist, and the marketing staff to discuss the publisher’s promotion plans. A good time for a meeting is six months before publication, when the publisher has a clear idea of what it will do, and it’s not too later for you to fill in the gaps.

3. Once your manuscript has been sent off to a copy editor, turn your former writing time into promotion time. Reach out to people about endorsing your work, keep lists of bloggers and their contact information, pitch original articles to long-lead magazines, continue to build your social media presence, and revamp your website to launch within four months of publication. (And it goes without saying, discuss your plans with your agent and editor.)

Writing a book is a big commitment, but the bigger challenge for most authors is to do the work to promote the book. Commit yourself to the long haul. Your book needs you more than anyone."

While Laurie's focus is more geared toward nonfiction authors, I would urge fiction authors to take heed and begin considering how they might begin building their author platforms and pre-pub buzz just as a nonfiction author would.

Your action: Yet-to-be-published authors - get organized. Create a budget devoted to your pre-pub buzz efforts, NOW. You'll be glad you did! Then, connect with your audience. Make friends. Collect emails and subscribers to your newsletter, blog posts. Gain followers to your social media accounts. Most of all, understand this takes a lot of time and focus. You're building your foundation a block at a time.

Published authors: Get creative. Get together with other published authors in your area and create an event. Maybe the event has nothing to do about selling a book - maybe it's a charitable effort, a major donation of your time for a good cause. Make sure you send out a press release...then consider holding a book signing/reading event to celebrate with your community. Have fun with it!

You've got a full plate, writers! Have a fruitful week.


About the Contributor:

Originally from California, Laurie Abkemeier began her publishing career in 1992 as an editorial assistant in the Touchstone/Fireside division at Simon & Schuster. In 1994, she moved to Hyperion where she was responsible for five New York Times bestsellers and many other national bestsellers. Since 2003, Laurie has worked as a literary agent, exclusively representing nonfiction. Her talented roster of authors includes journalists, bloggers, poets, academics, and artists. You can find Laurie on Twitter (@LaurieAbkemeier) where she posts her AGENT OBVIOUS TIP OF THE DAY—the inspiration for her app, available as a free download for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How to Untangle Your Plot Knot

I've always loved untangling knots. Slinkies, necklaces, shoe laces, you name it, I can untangle it. The secret is patience, seeing where one strand got caught up with the other and not making it harder than it is.

Naturally, I love untangling my clients' most difficult plot points. It is oddly therapeutic and terribly exciting for me.

As promised on Monday, here are a few steps I lead writers through in detangling their most gnarly plot knots.

Step One: When considering your story in broad terms, think of a few major milestones you see your character passing through. These are the big events that are pivotal to the movement of your novel as well as the development of your character(s). These big milestones become your major plot points.

Step Two: Car crashes, break-ups and happily ever afters don't just happen - there are a series of events that lead up to these major plot points. Now's the time to fill in the spaces. What made your protag collide their car with another, head on? It takes two to end a relationship, whether the one who was dumped knows it or not - where did it all go wrong? And we all want to know the secret path to happily ever after - don't skimp on the details!

Step Three: Don't make it harder than it is. While writing a commercial novel is no paint by numbers project, the process need not be fraught with riddles and dead-ends...which ultimately lead you to wondering about your talent and reason for being. Writing a novel is all about cause and effect. It's human nature unfolding. You're already an expert in the study. How you choose to capture that human nature is your artistic signature.

Step Four: Avoid cliches. Yes, it's true, there's no such thing as an original plot. However, you can make your novel fresh by avoiding a few over-used plot points: characters spurred into action due to major life-altering events like death, divorce or break-ups; a protag who deals with "The Man" the only way they know how - with street smarts or their feminine prowess!; anything about the life and times of a misunderstood, starving artist...unless you plan to be one.

For more detailed lessons on plot development, I urge you to check out author and past TLCG contributor Michelle Hoover's blog on plot structure and development. Michelle teaches writing at Boston University and Grub Street. A must read, especially if you've yet to check out a writing program or workshop in your area or online.

Here's to untangling your plot knots!