Writing Awards – Somethin’ You Oughta Know…

June 9, 2015

winner

Many of the queries that drop into my inbox talk about the lovely awards they’ve won. It feels awesome to have your work sporting a gold medal. Sometimes there’s an added bonus of having an agent or editor take a look at the winner with the idea of representation or publication. Woot!! You stand out as being a talented writer, and that should give you confidence in your talents. But you’ve only just begun the journey. The biggest hurdle is whether your story is marketable.

I’ve been on many judging panels over the years, and I’ve never seen anything in any of the judging guidelines about marketability…which is the cornerstone of the publishing industry. I’ve put my little gold stamp of approval on many entrees, knowing full well they would be very tough to sell. Which sucks stale Twinkie cream.

Many of these stories (since I’m Memoir/Biography) focus on overcoming/dealing with devastating diseases/addiction/life changes…the list goes on forever. The problem is that these stories have been done to death, and there’s often nothing unique in these stories to set them apart from what’s already on store shelves. So unless the author has a huge platform that can gather national attention, that award winner could gather dust.

Many look at writing awards as helping to establish a platform, and this is worrisome. See, readers, on average, don’t follow writing awards. They look for content and a great plot…and maybe a really cool cover. With the gajillions of books on the marketplace, a writing competition win isn’t enough to help a book swim upstream because readers have a huge amount of reading options. A publisher can advertise, screech from bartops, hire airplanes to lug banners, and thrust free copies into hands of anyone with a heartbeat…and they still may not sell. It’s a crapshoot, which is why publishers are very choosy about the projects they accept for publication. Which takes us right back to, “Can I market this book?”

I still think writing competitions are cool, and I think it does a lot of good for a writer’s self-esteem to win one. But don’t rest on your laurels. Ask yourself if your book is marketable. And the only way to know that is to be keenly aware of your competition.

Happy writing!


Books That Blow My “Mother” Doors Off

May 19, 2015

Even though Mother’s Day has recently come and gone, I spent some time looking at our wonderful list of books that made me think of how amazing mothers are, and three instantly came to mind.

heart-warriors-smHEART WARRIORS by Amanda Adams blew my “mother” doors off the first time I read it because of the dedication and sacrifice Amanda made for her son, Liam. Let’s face it, moms are the heart and soul of most families. When we fumble and flail, so does the family. We have to be stronger than the sum of our parts, and Amanda’s brave and terrifying story highlights the guts and love it takes to be a mom by standing up to doctors, asshat observers, and anyone who failed to help Liam get better. Brava, Amanda, you’re one helluva Momma Bear.

 

Amy-TimesUnionFSO - lo RESFIGURING SH!T OUT by Amy Biancolli made me sit back and take stock of what it’s like to deliver tough news, be strong, and have all the answers. My life has been pretty gilded, but one flaw (of the many) is that I always felt I had to have all the answers for my kids when they were younger. And sometimes there aren’t any answers, and the only thing you can do is hug them and admit that you’re floundering just like they are.

We would do anything for our kids not to hurt, and a piece of us dies when we see them suffering. One poignant scene in Amy’s raucous, tender, brilliantly written book is when one of Amy’s daughters is so bereft over losing her father that her own thoughts turn fairly dark. Amy fervently prays for her husband to visit her daughter. Next morning, the daughter awakens with a whole new perspective, saying her father came to her in a dream and told her he was happy and that he loved her. Niagra Falls…went through a box of Kleenex. But what Amy’s book also did for me is show the power of not being afraid to redefine oneself through losing a cherished love. It made her a better person and mom. That has my mom-o-meter quivering over Achingly Stunning.

 

Cockpit-smA CHICK IN THE COCKPIT by Erika Armstrong is an upcoming release (Nov. 2015). Erika’s book, in a nutshell is “A brilliant career in the sky brings aching despair on the ground.” What mother doesn’t become a Bitch-Bear-From-Hell when her kids are at risk? Erika’s skyrocketing career as an airline captain is seriously damaged when her abusive husband threatens her life and the welfare of her two daughters. The lengths of what she endures is stuff you just can’t make up, and I cheer and screech every time I think of her journey to protect her life and her kids. The angst and fabulously amusing humor popped my #1 Mom of the Century cork. And who doesn’t love a plucky book club who comes to Erika’s rescue at a hugely critical time? I salute them and bow before Erika’s incredible fortitude, MamaBear-itude, and brilliance.

Definitely put this on your To Be Read list. In fact, go buy all three. They’re feel-good-in-the-face-of-shit-odds stories that make all the cells in me vibrate at a different frequency. And that’s a good thing!


Upstaged…

April 30, 2015

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It’s a fact…so write about your dog with great care. The Rescue Beagles insist they’re far cuter than their owner…


Mainlining Drano

March 31, 2015

There are a number of things that make me want to drink/mainline Drano. I’ve talked about them over the years…and wouldn’t you know, but I have a new batch of goodies.

  • Font color: Write your query letter in light gray, so that my weary eyes strain to the point of crossing.
  • Begin your query by admitting your work probably doesn’t fit our guidelines: (actually, this is a benefit of sorts, because I can delete that much faster without having to read the entire query). For crying out loud. If your work doesn’t fit a publisher’s guidelines, then why in the name of all that’s holy are you querying them? Editors are busy folks, and they’ll simply delete without replying – so you’ve wasted not only your time, but the editor’s as well. Not a smart idea.
  • Word Count: Make sure your manuscript is miles under the minimum word count. For example, the sweet spot for most mainstream publishers is between 50k – 100k words. They will usually specify that they publish shorts. But if you’ve written something that clocks in at about 30,000 words, it becomes more of a pamphlet than a book. This is especially irritating with nonfiction because, really? A nonfiction pamphlet on how to survive getting laid off/leaving a cult/dealing with falling in love with your best friend’s boyfriend…How much depth can you attain with 30,000 words? Puhleeze.
  • Request Help: Ask me for help in directing you to a publisher who does publish your kind of work. Um. Yah. Nothing would excite me more than to do your work for you.
  • Query Length: Just today I had a query that went on for six pages. SIX. Deleted without reply.

After thirteen years in this business, I still remain gobsmacked at the ability of authors to shoot themselves in their own feet and guarantee instant, sudden death rejection…especially since it takes so little research to understand how this crazy business works and the most beneficial ways to approach an editor or agent in a professional manner.

Okay, pass me the Drano…

 


Burden of Proof – Does Your Pitch Match the Content?

March 23, 2015

I see a lot of fabulous query letters that show oodles of promise, but what invariably happens is that the manuscript fails to deliver, and here are a couple reasons why:

  1. The bells and whistles elements are only a small part of the story
  2. The author fails to recognize the marketable, mouth-watery aspects.

The bells and whistles elements are only a small part of the story

Let’s say your story is about suffering a tragic car accident right before striking it big in Hollywood. The stars are all in alignment, and you’ve been cast in the movie role of a lifetime. Your receiving an Oscar is all but assured, until you’re t-boned by a drunk driver that shatters about every bone in your body. You spend the next seven years healing, learning to walk again, and clawing your way back to Hollyweird.

Naturally, I expect the story to be built around this struggle and triumph. But what I invariably run into is a lack of sufficient red meat to sustain the story because the author feels it’s important to write huge chunks of backstory. And here’s the problem with that:

  • Unless your college experiences are germane to the story arc, then I don’t care.
  • Unless your dating and ultimate marriage to your spouse is germane to the story arc, then I don’t care.
  • Unless your family issues are germane to the story arc, then I don’t care.
  • Even the backstory of getting into acting isn’t germane to the story, so I don’t care.

You’ve pitched a very narrow experience, so all the backstory reduces your main selling feature in the part of bit player. And why does this happen?

A) That narrow experience may not have enough red meat to sustain a book-length manuscript (and may be better     as a magazine article)
B) You haven’t outlined your story carefully enough to know what’s important. And this can depend on your readership. Depending on who will read your book can influence the elements you focus on. For example, if your readers will be other acting wannabe’s, you might bring out more narrative about how hard it is to be a “used-to-be” who’s trying to break back into the biz. There are all kinds of ways to develop your story depending on your audience.

A story filled mostly with backstory instead of red mean is not a marketable story. Rejection is inevitable…and this is because:

The author fails to focus solely on the marketable, mouth-watery aspects

Here’s the easiest way to ensure your story matches your query letter: Does your pitch accurately explain the guts and red meat of your manuscript, or do you have a ton of other elements that have nothing to do with the pitch?

I know it sounds dreadfully simple, but I’m amazed at the number of manuscripts I reject because the pitch (which is mouth-watery) plays second fiddle to what’s actually written in the manuscript. It feels like bait and switch. If I’m pitching a story about unicorns that take over the world by farting rainbows then I’m going to infuriate editors when they see that my story focuses more on the gremlins who corralled and rode the unicorns in order to raid the camps of local hoodlum elves.

The pitch MUST match the content of your book, or I’ll have a hissy fit and stamp my little feet.

Another problem is that the author doesn’t recognize the marketable elements of their story. Let’s use an example. A woman mentions being part of the first female firefighters ever hired, but her pitch is more about growing up on the mean streets of Detroit, a child of divorce whose parent suffered from chemical dependency and prostitution, and discovers she suffers from PTSD over her childhood issues.

Here’s my problem: There are a million books on growing up poor; children of divorce and whose parents were less than stellar; and PTSD over childhood issues. HOWEVER, there are zippo books about being a part of the first female firefighters. That, I can sell. The other issues would send my sales guys after me with a sharpened blade.

So while I’ll definitely ask for pages in order to see the quality of writing, and to see where the focus really is, I’ll probably hit a crossroad. If the writing is really good, I’ll probably suggest a major rewrite that focuses on the one thing I know I can sell – the firefighter bit. Or I’ll reject it because it’s too big a misfire for me to take on.

It’s frightfully easy to misfire, but only if you aren’t doing conscious writing and lack a clear intent on the marketable elements of your story. You’re the captain of your writing ship, and the burden of proof about communicating your story in a query letter rests squarely on your shoulders.

Your query MUST match your manuscript, and you need to know exactly what makes your story a “gotta have it.” In order to know if you have a “gotta have it” story, you need to be well-versed in the genre you write and be aware of what sells well vs. what’s been overdone.

Hey, if it were easy, everyone would be a best-selling author, right? Go forth and be brilliant!


How To Get an Editor to Hit the Delete Button

March 23, 2015

confused1

  1. Send two proposals for two different manuscripts, because we love playing “hey, if this one doesn’t work for us, maybe the other will.”
  2. Pull the ultimate laziness factor by not removing the little > marks in your email, so I can tell that your email has been sent to others – like this:

> I would be interested in publishing my book with you because I want to impact the world by bringing >important facts to the audience…

…because nothing says lovin’ like knowing I’m reading a retread query.


Your Manuscript Should Do a Striptease

March 11, 2015

No, no, I’m not talking about you…but your manuscript. Naked is the only way to go. I can hear you now: “What the hellfire are you talking about, Pricey?”

When you submit your manuscript – whether it’s an editor request, or you’re a contracted author handing over your darling to begin the editing process – it’s tempting to want to “help” your editor by formatting your manuscript. This is different from the standard formatting – 12 pt. Times New Roman, standard paragraphs, double-spaced. THIS is all editors want. Keep it simple. Keep it as naked as the day it was born.

No, the make-me-scream-like-a-banshee “helpful”formatting I’m talking about is the stuff that makes editors want to scream for a quick death:

  • Formatting the chapter headings, maybe doing about 10 carriage returns, so the new chapter begins about halfway down the page.
  • Formatting chapter breaks into sections (this one alone has been responsible for my drinking late into the night).
  • Formatting the page numbers, inserting your name on one page, and the book title on the next page.
  • Formatting the first letter in every new chapter so that it’s twice the size of the regular font.
  • Doing artsy fartsy line spacing.

Three words: DON’T DO IT. Don’t do any of this. All that formatting adds a ton of code into the file, and it wreaks havoc when some poor shlub (me) has to go in and undo all of it. Instead, submit your manuscript naked as a jaybird. Bare-assed. In the buff. Sans clothing.

You may think your manuscript looks all pretty, but all publishing houses have a standard way of formatting. And it all has to be undone before editing begins. Wasting precious time removing all the unwanted clothing makes me want to mainline engine grease. If you want to be helpful, send a box of Twinkies. Or Girl Scout cookies (those coconutty caramel things are to die for). But leave your mitts off da manuscript. Your finished product will look really pretty. Scouts honor.

You can keep your clothes on, but let your manuscript go skinny-dipping.

 


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