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Thursday
Sep012011

One Indie Author's Journey to the Big 6 and Back Again (a publishing saga as illustrated by my hair)

From Diane, Founder of Pitch U:  This profound essay appeared a few weeks ago at one of my favorite sites: Boxing The Octopus. I’m re-posting it here with the author’s permission.

This post is both a call to action and an echo from the far distant universe about what it means to live and write, and live some more.

If you’re been writing for a while, this post will likely "sing the song” that lives in your own DNA as well as Joni’s.  I know it does mine.  I’m terribly grateful she wrote this, because it’s a doorway welcoming me home when I get lost in the struggle and can no longer remember why I write.  Thanks, Joni.

A Publishing Saga as Illustrated by My Hair

by Joni Rodgers

This is me at the time of my first professional writing gig. In 1976, I was an 8th grade misfit at an academically boffo but ideologically stifling Evangelical school.

Girls in my class consumed True Confessions Magazine every month. (Who loves porn more than Puritans, right?) Reading the stories typically titled "My Father Sold Me" or "A Sophomore's Secret" or some such, I thought, "Heck, I can do that." Because I knew virtually nothing about sex beyond the vague "pulsing" and "engorging" alluded to in True Confessions and the "manroot" physiology of my book-a-day Gothic romance novel habit, my erotic tragedies relied heavily on witty dialogue and lush descriptions of locations, current pop music and fast food.

For $1/page, I wrote customized stories starring a classmate and her made-to-order crush. In cases where the crush was a real boy who failed to live up to expectations, a brief epilogue featuring his untimely death could be had for a quarter.

Word spread, and I expanded my business to a local roller skating rink, passing off the folded pages in the privacy of the grimy girls' bathroom like a drug dealer. On the first day of 9th grade, I was ironing my hair on the ironing board and branded a broad stripe down the front of my nose. This pretty much set the tone for my high school years.

Here's me at the time I started writing my first novel, originally titled MacPeter's Midlife Crisis. I'd given up ironing my hair, and apparently, it was particularly humid the day this photo was taken.

In 1981, I was a late night DJ at a rock station in Helena, Montana, crazy in love with a brilliant but damaged Vietnam vet, and supplementing my income busing at bars and tourist attractions.

The novel started as a script I intended to enter in a playwright competition. During my super-useful college career as a theatre major, part of my Stanislavsky acting training included writing character studies, and mine usually ran about 12 times the recommended length, spinning out elaborate backstory and imagining offstage scenes.

I was still reading a book a day, but had moved on to Tom Robbins, Irving Stone, Eudora Welty and all things Bronte. I worshiped authors, and it never occurred to me that I could have a book published. I was writing this story purely for the love of laying words in a row, and needless to say, it was about a late night DJ and the brilliant, damaged Vietnam vet with whom she was crazy in love.

Here's me when I started writing my second novel, Sugarland. I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1994, shortly after my husband and I moved to Houston with our two small children.

After years of dabbling, I'd finished my first novel, now titled Last Chance Gulch, queried it to six dozen agents and publishers and collected six dozen rejections. I had zero hope of ever being published, but in the crucible of chemo, I suddenly understood why I was writing: because I'm a writer. So I wrote.

Here's me when I got my first book contract in 1996. Gary started shaving his head to be in solidarity with me during chemo. And no we're not on the same cricket team; the sweats were 3/$10 at Walgreen's, and we were flat broke. And that's not a wig; my hair came back jet black and kinky a la Shaft.

The amazing Fred Ramey (now at Unbridled Books) pulled my first novel from the slush pile, masterfully edited it from a 124K word swampland to a lean, mean 93K word fiction machine, and literally saved my life. Fred gets the credit for the most fitting book title of my career: Crazy For Trying. The advance was $4,000.

We promptly took the kids to Disney World. While Crazy For Trying was in the pipeline, I lost my remission and turned to adjunct therapies to supplement the chemo. Above my desk was posted Isaac Asimov's famous two-word answer to being asked what he would do if he knew he had one year to live: "Type faster!"

Here's me in Good Housekeeping Magazine in 2001, when they featured a Book Bonus excerpt from my memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair, which got my name on the bestseller lists for the first time.

My second batch of re-grown hair was straight and mostly gray, so I was a different shade of red almost every month. I was also exploring my new publishing career, which was wide open, because I'd stumbled into it with no preconceptions, expectations or plans. And nothing to fall back on.

Marjorie Braman, my fabulous editor at HarperCollins, encouraged me to write a syndicated newspaper column while I got busy on another novel. That led to an advice column for a national magazine.

In 2004, I was invited to do my first collaboration at Simon & Schuster, which led to a collaboration at Random House, which led to a whole lot of other stuff, but I did eventually finish my third novel, The Secret Sisters, which was pubbed by HarperCollins in 2006. Ghostwriting was something I'd never really thought about until I started doing it, but these great stories came along, and I'm a writer, so I wrote them.

And here's me today. I've done more than a dozen books, several of them NYT bestsellers, and worked with fantastic editors at five of the Big 6. I've learned that publishing, like personal style, is a process of constant reinvention, adaptation and a whole lotta get over yourself.

The decision to indie pub my backlist ebooks and forthcoming fiction has opened a thrilling new chapter. I'm not leaving traditional publishing behind. I plan to work hand in hand with my agent and transition my indie pubbed ebooks to print deals with standing houses.

But I've grown up a lot. I've been to the puppet show and seen the strings, as they say. I began my writing career delivering stories directly into the hands of readers, so indie publishing feels like coming full circle. On roller skates.

I've given up trying to color my hair dark. The few strands that aren't white are bleached blonde to blend in. The only thing that hasn't changed is that daily longing to find the right words, the compulsion to set them down on paper. And so I write.

---

Joni Rodgers, brilliant person and amazing storyteller, has released her first Independently Published novel, The Hurricane Lover.  You can read an excerpt here.

You’ll be seeing more of Joni here at Pitch U, and we just can’t wait!

Thursday
Aug252011

The Long Pitch: Your Platform as Credibility, Character, and Expertise (for fiction writers, too)

by Erin Reel

Erin Reel, The Lit Coach, is a publishing and editorial consultant and writer’s life coach.  She is the host of The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writer’s Life, a popular resource blog featuring stories, tips and fresh perspective from bestselling, award-winning and notable authors, literary agents, editors, publishers and other industry insiders. 

Communicating Professional and Artistic Credibility

Hooking your audience in a limited amount of time is important. It’s what I call the short pitch.

While a short pitch is that shiny piece that captures an agent’s attention (or editor, or reader), it must be backed by substance. There is also something called “the long pitch.”

The long pitch is all about preparation – essentially, it’s your platform.

The long pitch adds value and integrity to your work by adding depth to your foundation. It comes under the category of what Aristotle called Ethos or your character and image as a writer.

In other words it’s about perfecting your craft - becoming an expert, advocate or specialist in your area of interest.

You’ve heard it before, and if you haven’t you’ve got some catching up to do, your platform is not only the most important element in really grabbing the attention of an agent, producer, or editorial board, it is the foundation from which all professional and/or artistic credibility is built.

It’s not fast and it’s not easy.

It is your investment in education, experience, polish and depth. It is the reason in which we should pay attention to you as a writer, and it’s got to be in print.

Fiction Authors

It might help, but you don’t need an MFA to write a brilliant, compelling, thoughtful, kick-butt novel. However, you do need a track record.

It could be built on the shoulders of a career in journalism as with Tom Wolfe. It could be built in the wordsmithing operation of an advertising firm, or it could be built on nothing but the natural ability of being a keen observer.

The point is that you have to start somewhere, baby steps if you like, but you’ve got to get your work out there. It needs to be seen, critically evaluated and someone other than your mother needs to see its value.

If you’re not building on a track record, you are nowhere as a writer.

I’ve seen writers without any talent go on for years deluding themselves, believing all they needed was a break, and what they really needed was someone to tell them the truth.

You need to be part of a writing community that speaks to your genre and supports your ongoing education as a writer.

For literary writers…

Many literary writers submit their work to literary magazines or journals. Some enjoy contests and the vigor of competition. This work is all very time consuming and emotionally taxing. You’re earning your spurs. For most it’s a fulltime commitment beyond eating and sleeping indoors, but no one ever said your passion was going to be easy.

Agents and editors expect to see a track record of previous publishing success from newly acquired writers.

Does that mean you need to be published in The Iowa or Paris Review? It doesn’t hurt, but there are many reputable literary journals, magazines or other outlets to place your work. What about a blog with ten thousand subscribes? As with anything, you’re only limited by your own imagination.

You need an outlet that suits your genre and voice. That’s a beginning. Join organizations that support literary authors and their work. Build your community - learn, contribute, share and submit. Work the process but most importantly, get it in print. Your track record will not only help you get your foot in the door. It will help you assure you have something to offer once you do.

For commercial fiction writers…

The same generally holds true – find the outlets and contests that best suit your work and start submitting.

If you’re a hard-core genre writer, joining appropriate writers’ organizational chapters is a must! There you will find the resources to help you fortify your craft, thereby strengthening your platform and approach to publishing.

Another good platform builder that helps put food on the table is the freelance article.

  • Can you find an outlet to showcase the subject matter in your fiction?
  • Is there a newspaper or magazine hook that will fit your needs?
  • What topics or concepts are explored in your novel?

Consider developing an article about those elements. Did you learn anything in your process? Do you have advice for someone? Most magazines for writers offer a section for authors to share a little bit about what they know about writing.

How about personal essays? How did you find an agent? What do you have to offer? What do you care about? I know one author who built a reputation writing letters to the editor and was asked by the paper to write a weekly column. Get creative, it’s your stock in trade.

Blogging is not right for everyone, but if you feel you have the time to develop a solid blog that will serve as a showcase for your writing, it’s an effective way to build a fan base and community.

If you can demonstrate numbers to a publisher, there’s nothing more persuasive.

Nonfiction Writers

Memoir and Essayists: Blog, contribute to blogs, submit to literary journals and magazines, develop your own column and pitch to appropriate newspapers, magazines, websites, etc. Let your perspective be known – find your voice and sell it!

Prescriptive “how to” experts/advocates/specialists: Consider blogging as a feature to your website. People come to you for advice – you’re the expert – so open the lines of communication and develop your faithful following - extra credit if you offer your community an opportunity to submit material to you - questions, pictures and their on-topic experiences).

Build value in your platform and fortify your base. Keep a regular blogging schedule and you will underscore your credibility and professional integrity.

Freelancing is a great experience builder for prescriptive writers. Submit to appropriate journals, magazines, websites, blogs, etc.

Put your short pitch game to work by constantly pitching to editors, television and radio segment producers and anyone who might have interest in your services. Hold workshops and seminars. Get noticed and find success.

Special Topic Writers: The same rules apply if you write about specialized areas of interest like sports, military, religious, history, pop culture and so on. Blog when and if appropriate; submit your work to journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, other blogs; develop new story ideas; pitch to segment producers; pitch to radio; sit on event/lecture panels, etc. Be seen, be heard and be read.

Social Media

I could spend an entire article or two on the opportunities that social media has brought. Suffice it to say in brief, social media is here to stay.

It is in its infancy and the creative will find a way to make it work for them. It speeds the process and provides unbelievable opportunities to those who are paying attention. Embrace it and it will embrace you.

Remember: The Long Pitch is all about preparation. If you’re truly passionate about what you do, there will never be enough time in the day and before you know it, you’ll have a platform worth cheering about.

---

Erin Reel, The Lit Coach, is a platform, publishing and editorial consultant, columnist and blog host of The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writer’s Life.

Monday
Aug222011

J. Keller Ford: Of Dragon Shadows and Query Success in the Pitch U Forums!

Member Spotlight Interview by Minion Heather Webb.

Our Member Spotlight this week features J. Keller Ford.

jkellerford Jenny is a young adult writer and content editor, in addition to the chapter director of the International Association of Aspiring Authors Largo/Seminole, Florida group.

She specializes in young adult/new adult novels, novellas and short stories and has recently completed IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING, the first novel in her Fallhollow series.

Tell us a little bit about your writing passion.

I have been writing ever since I could hold a crayon, it seems. I write anything that comes to mind in any genre, however, my primary writing stems around Young Adult fantasy. I try to push the envelope every now and then and write something out of my comfort zone.

My most recent genre victim is Cyberpunk. It wasn’t pretty, but I tried, and to me, that’s important. We must always keep trying to reinvent ourselves and our writing.

How do you participate in the industry?

In addition to writing, I manage my own blogsite, the Dreamweaver’s Cottage, and I’m a member of several online critique groups. I am also a chapter director of the International Association of Aspiring Authors, and I follow and participate in many writers’ and agents’ websites. I’ve also been known to edit a novel or two for other writers.

How did you discover Pitch University?

I found out about Pitch University on Twitter. The plug sounded so interesting, I had to jump on over and take a look. I was amazed at what I found. There are so many articles from so many authorities on writing that my head did a 360.

 

What’s your favorite part of what we do?  

My favorite part of Pitch University is the forums and all the helpful advice from all its members. It is a rare sight to watch a piece of coal turn into a shiny little diamond, and that’s exactly what happens when a member posts their raw, unedited versions of queries, pitches and synopses. Some of the transformations have been nothing short of spectacular. I’ve met some amazing authors and made a few friends at Pitch University, and I hope to continue the trend.

We love that you’re making friends and connections at PitchU! That’s a big part of what it means to belong to our community of writers.

To join our FREE query/pitch forum click HERE.

 

Tell us the truth…. How do you feel about pitching? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I have to say I stink at pitching.

I get so nervous when it comes to talking about myself and my work. I was always taught to not brag about myself and let my work speak for itself. Writing is a whole different beast.

We HAVE to pitch ourselves and our works because if we don’t believe in it, no one else will. It is definitely a learning process and one that gets easier the more you do it.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned by participating in Pitch U’s PitchFests?

An author must learn to make every word, every emotion count. We have to learn to move from ‘tell’ mode to ‘show’ mode, and do it in as few words as possible. For longwinded folks like myself, it is a valuable lesson to learn.

I have had great success after perfecting my query. I’ve received requests for partials and full manuscripts and my novel is currently being considered by a publisher as we speak.

I owe it all to the help and advice I received at Pitch University.

That’s fantastic, Jenny. Please keep us posted on your success. We love to collect success stories at PitchU.

Do you think pitching is a different skill from writing a query letter?

Pitching in person is way different than writing a query letter. Pitching is verbal. It requires nerves of steel, determination, and controlled enthusiasm. It also requires the author to be concise and to-the-point, as well as knowing when to stop talking.

Have you made a pitch video?

I haven’t made a pitch video yet. I’m very shy when it comes to cameras. We aren’t the best of friends. I’m working through it. *smile*. My biggest fear in making a video is the same I have when I write: will it be good enough? I’m a perfectionist. In my mind, it will never be good enough. At some point, though, I’ll have to learn to just ‘go for it’.

What’s your motto?

Never, ever give up. I don’t care if it takes me years, even a lifetime, to accomplish my goal, never, ever give up. The accomplishment in reaching the goal is in many ways worth more than the fame and/or glory that may come afterwards.

And your personal pitching motto, what would it be?

Think of pitching your novel as speed-dating an agent or publisher. You only have a split second in time to make a lasting impression. Keep it short, keep it sweet, keep it interesting and most of all - be yourself.

Love the analogy, Jenny! Thank you for sharing your writing journey with us at Pitch University.

---

by Heather Webb

Heather is a historical fiction writer, but dabbles occasionally in YA. When she’s not writing by the glow of her coffee pot light, she’s chasing her gremlins, ogling kitchen gadgets, sampling wine, or on an airplane to her next destination. Her “real” job is the Executive Director of New England Virtual High School, an online school for teens.

After discovering Pitch U, Heather became hooked to its invaluable columns and wonderfully supportive staff.  When asked to become part of the team, she was thrilled! This is THE PLACE to be. You can also find her on the web at her BLOG for writing tips, recipes, and pop culture rants or follow her on Twitter.

Sunday
Aug212011

The Story Master’s Journey by Christopher Vogler (free bonus chapter!)

From Diane - Founder of Pitch U:

Q: What happens when 3 of the best writing instructors in the GALAXY get together? 

A: The Story Masters 4-day workshop!  (It’s November 3 – 6, 2011.  See you there!)

We’ve heard from Literary Agent Donald Maass and plot expert James Scott Bell.

Today is all about Christopher Vogler (blog), the man who took Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces and gave writers access to its power in The Writer’s Journey, now in its 3rd edition.

Diane’s Story:  Back in the mid-80’s, before there was even a 1st edition of Chris’ book, there was a much-photocopied, faded, sideways and stapled “paper” by some guy named Vogler. 

Writers passed it to each other, person-to-person, one bad copy after another, because that’s how profound his initial work on the Writer’s Journey was to us.

I have this paper.  I was one of the people who passed it along. 

It changed my writing and the way I think.  And it helped me understand, finally, why the power of story seemed more important than anything else in the whole world when I was growing up.  Still does.

Because of Chris Vogler, when people ask what I do, I tell them, “I am a Maker of Myth.”   I’m proud to write popular fiction and I love accessing hundreds and thousands of years of storytelling.

I’m on the Writer’s Journey. 

Story Masters Cropped

First: A Brief Look at How Chris Keeps Himself Busy

Christopher Vogler, founder of StoryTech consulting, has worked in Hollywood story departments as a story consultant since the 1980s and is recognized the world over for his ground-breaking work on the timeless mythic patterns still providing structure for modern novels and screenplays.

His first book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, now in its 3rd edition, has been translated into a dozen languages and has influenced generations of filmmakers and storytellers in all media, from plays and novels to Broadway shows, TV commercials, political campaigns, and computer game scenarios.

His latest book, Memo from the Story Department: Secrets of Structure and Character, co-written with Columbia University film professor David McKenna, continues his efforts to excavate useful information from the storytellers and thinkers of the past.

He also brings to the table a wealth of practical knowledge from decades in the rigorous school of Hollywood studio story departments. DreamWorks, the Disney studios, and top talents like Will Smith and Darren Aronofsky seek out his counsel on their projects and he enjoys sharing his experience with all screenwriters and novelists.

“Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey is the Bible for screenwriters. I think it’s the best book on how to write a screenplay ever written.”
Darren Aronofsky (director of THE WRESTLER, Oscar-nominated director of BLACK SWAN) 

About Memo from the Story Department: “Just read this and it’s already saved my ass. No sh-t, I needed a pitch for a rewrite and this book helped me crack it.”
Scott Silver (screenwriter of 8 Mile and Oscar-0nominated for THE FIGHTER)

Diane: This is the debut of Story Masters. How did it come about?

Chris: I’ve known and admired Donald Maass for years as we crossed paths at writing conferences across the country.

Turns out we have a mutual friend, New York-based story consultant David McKenna, with whom I co-authored my latest book, Memo from the Story Department. Don and David played poker together for years.

I was thrilled when Don suggested doing a three-person seminar with James Scott Bell. I met James a few months ago and we really hit it off, talking for hours about our shared interests and approaches to writing.

Lately I’ve seen the benefits of seminars where several experts come at the same subject from different perspectives.

Diane: Give us a taste of what to expect at Story Masters.

Chris: I’ll be presenting my myth-inspired “Hero’s Journey” framework for outlining stories, drawn from my first book, The Writer’s Journey, but there will be plenty of fresh material from my latest, Memo from the Story Department.

I pulled in concepts from early Greek theories about character and from a ground-breaking study of fairy-tale structure.

I get a kick out of talking about good old-fashioned showmanship and the rich tradition of vaudeville, which offers many practical lessons for designing an entertaining experience.

Diane: What do you like most about teaching writers?

Chris: Writers tend to be life-long learners and they just eat up information.

I enjoyed helping one author get published by showing him a couple of simple techniques for streamlining his writing and putting intriguing “buttons” at the ends of his chapters. He got the idea from one or two examples and exported it throughout the manuscript.

Diane:  How should writers prepare in order to get the most out of Story Masters?

Chris: Prepare by reviewing your current project, maybe something you’re stuck on.

What to bring? An open mind. I figure we will all be swimming around in the warm currents of writerly enthusiasm day and night.

Diane: Is there anything you can share with us right now? An exercise, maybe?

Chris: Here’s a version of a short chapter from Memo from the Story Department on the question of “What is a scene?”

Download your FREE chapter from Chris!

Diane: Why should writers take advantage of the optional freelance editor appointments?

 

Chris: A good rule is “Never turn down a chance to interview,” and I would add, never miss a chance to practice pitching yourself and your ideas. You’ll learn a lot by just watching the facial expressions and body language of the editors or agents.

Diane: BONUS PITCH QUESTION: Is pitching easy or hard for you?

Chris: Pitching is a pretty natural activity for me – after all, it’s story-telling!

I like to start by making it personal, either relating something that happened to me and started me on the road to the project, or by asking some question to draw in the listener, like “Have you ever…?” (wished you could fly, looked for a lost love on the Internet, hoped for a second chance at life, found yourself in an airport wondering who around you could be a terrorist, wondered what happens when we die?) T

his approach makes the story in some way about the listener, inviting them to plug themselves into my story.

Diane: Thanks, Chris! Can’t wait to finally meet you in person.

 

---

Previously in this series:

Sunday
Aug212011

Journey to the Heart at the Story Masters Workshop

From Diane - Founder of Pitch U:

It’s Story Masters week!  I’m spotlighting an advanced, craft-of-writing conference that I’ll be attending in November, 2011.  (My squeal of delight is like this... but more dignified and writerly. See minute 1:03)

Story Masters = Three of the best teachers in the nation PLUS access to four freelance editors in ONE rockin’ workshop. 

Today is all about Brenda Windberg, freelance editor who believes in journeying to the heart of you and your story.

Story Masters Cropped

Previously in this series:

Diane: Why are you excited about Story Masters?

Brenda WindbergBrenda: For the past several years, I’ve been thrilled and privileged to work with Donald Maass, offering writing seminars all over the country. He’s such an amazing teacher, truly generous and inspiring.

And now, at our first ever StoryMasters Workshop, it feels as though we’ve been able to assemble a ‘Dream Team’ of literary brilliance with the addition of James Scott Bell and Christopher Vogler.

I simply can’t wait to see what happens!

Diane: What do you do, who do you do it for, and why is it effective?

Journey to the Heart 2: Music for MeditationBrenda: As mentioned in my bio (see below), I work as an independent editor and staff writer for Free Expressions Seminars and Literary Services. In a nutshell, I strive to help writers define their vision, develop their voice and strengthen their writing skills.

My work is effective because I believe in journeying to the heart—the heart of story, of character psychology, of authorial purpose—in order to help authors craft the most authentic and engaging version of the story they long to tell.

Diane: What’s the highlight of your work?

Brenda: I’m tempted to answer this one by saying ‘see above,’ simply because the process of discovery, of glimpsing the truth and beauty at the core of each writer’s work and then collaborating to shape that essence into its final form is what I love most about what I do.

There is so much joy when that lightbulb goes off, when, together, we see what’s possible and then craft a plan to make it real.

Diane: What happens in a workshop appointment?

Brenda: In my workshop appointments, I am always prepared to give my impressions of the work and offer suggestions, but I also work to make sure the time is used in a way that is most helpful for the writer.

I don’t want to talk simply to fill space, but rather I want to say things that will resonate and clarify.

I want writers to leave my appointments with their minds on fire. I want them to race back to their manuscripts, itching to get to work. For that reason, I love when writers come to the appointment with specific questions, when they let me know exactly where they would like to focus.

From there, I’ll ask questions of my own, questions about goals and motivations for both characters and author, about language and structure and tension. As I said above, it’s all about truth for me—I believe that’s why we write—and I do everything I can to get there with every writer I speak to.

Diane: Can writers continue working with you after the workshop.

Brenda: Writers can absolutely continue working with any of our editors after the workshop, in basically any form they feel effective.

At Free Expressions, we pride ourselves on customizing our offerings so that we make the most of each writer’s time, abilities, and preferences. Whether that means a chapter line-edit, a full manuscript evaluation, or a story development weekend, we’re happy to find the most effective approach.

Diane: BONUS PITCH QUESTION: Is pitching easy or hard for you?

Brenda: Pitching is tough, there’s no getting around it.

In my early years, I tried too hard and talked too much and, just like when novice writers rush to fill in all the blanks in their novels instead of leaving space for the reader to wonder, I made my story less intriguing with my chatter.

My best advice is to keep it simple but enticing. Focus on what’s different about your story, figure out the most potent and active descriptors, and have the confidence NOT to babble like you’ll never have another two minutes in front of an agent or editor.

Just breathe and connect. You’ll be great.

---

Brenda Windberg, Program Coordinator and Staff Editor, has been on the staff of Free Expressions since 2002. An accomplished writer and editor, Brenda has worked in publishing for more than fifteen years.

She has served as editor for Free Expressions' WRITE LINE newsletter and worked as a staff writer for several newspapers, in addition to freelancing and ghostwriting. Her articles have been featured in such publications as PARENT GUIDE, HARTFORD TIMES PRESS, and others. Currently at work on her third novel, her work is represented by Matt Bialer of The Sanford Greenburger Agency.

Saturday
Aug202011

Coaching You to Be a Story Master Apprentice

From Diane - Founder of Pitch U:

Today is all about Jason Sitzes, one of the totally rockin’ freelance editors available at the Story Masters, 4-day workshop, November 3 – 6, 2011, in Houston, TX.

If you’ve ever met him in person, you know him as a wonderful combination of (a) larger than life and (b) the quiet guy at the back of the room. Plus he’s the brainstorming king.

To know Jason is to love him. Today, I’m sharing the love.

Story Masters Cropped

Previously in this series:

Before we begin, here’s a bit of background on Jason:

Jason Sitzes has a creative writing degree from the University of Tennessee and is the author of award-winning short fiction, as well as the director of the internationally acclaimed ten day Writers Retreat Workshop.

Always working on some sort of personal project (novel, short story, watching basketball), Jason has edited hundreds of full or partial manuscripts for award-winning, published and not-yet-published writers, and has also worked one-on-one with hundreds of writers over the past ten years through workshops and classes (including serving as staff editor for dozens of other Donald Maass Breakout Novel Intensive—BONI--workshops).

(Want to know which NYT Bestselling authors Jason has taught with?  There’s more at the bottom.)

Diane: Why are you excited about Story Masters?

Jason SitzesJason: First, it’s always an inspirational weekend or week for this group of core staff to come together in whatever city we find ourselves.

We’ve worked together at various points of the year for almost a decade now. There is a real sense of family among us, and the writers who attend feel us reaching to them as well.

Then, of course, there is the teaching.

  • Don Maass is working on a new book project and some of that material will be presented at Story Masters.
  • Christopher Vogler is renowned for his books and teaching.
  • And James Scott Bell brings the nuts and bolts, working in the trenches of daily fiction writing, to us.

It’s a nice combination of ideas and challenges for what promises to be an inspiring weekend. Then, there’s the extra opportunity, lagniappe if you will, to meet with us, the writer/editors, and get solid 1-1 feedback on works-in-progress. Those meetings alone we hope will make the time and money spent exceed expectations.

I believe, I know, without question there are teachers who are flat brilliant when it comes to issues of craft and story. These folk are in that group. However, I also fully believe what Hemmingway once wrote:

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

(I’m pretty certain that’s fully attributable to Hemingway… if it is not, Erika Shephard Robuck may punish me in whatever way I’ve deserved.)

I look at these weekends as an opportunity for us all to improve at what we do: to gain understanding, to find inspiration. We get a little closer to that goal we’ll never reach. But that’s the excitement of the journey.

If your goal is to get published, then we believe with work and patience that will happen for you. My personal goal is beyond publication. For you, I want you to find the writer and storyteller slumbering inside who wakes on occasion and scratches at your throat for release.

Diane: What do you do, who do you do it for, and why is it effective?

Jason: What I do is pretty much outlined in that enormous bio attached. But in a nutshell, I am a fanatic about story.

I believe the key to great story is finding the nugget of originality within you and getting it effectively onto the page. There is something only you as an individual on this planet and within this Universe can bring to this particular story you’ve created. And many, many writers don’t get their originality on the page. Most aren’t even aware of what makes them unique.

Nobody else writes like Lee Child. Nobody else writes like Stephen King or Barbara Kingsolver. Nobody will ever again write like Dickens. Have you set your work apart unique to you? If so, you’ll be noticed. You can’t help but be noticed.

I try to help writers find what is original about their voice and story. From there, we study story, pace, narrative flow, right down to scene structure, description effectiveness, paragraph strength, and, as my mentor (whom I never met) Gary Provost taught, making certain every word works.

Diane: What’s the highlight of your work?

Jason: The highlight of my work is looking forward to the next project. I don’t look back. I frankly can’t remember much of what is back there.

What I love about what I do is that there is always a new story that catches me by surprise.

I recently saw an early screening of an indie film titled Another Earth. I spent the three months before its release telling everyone I knew about the film. It was original. It was tragic. It was beautiful. It had an ending you could talk about for hours. It was made on a shoestring budget.

That’s what I love about what I do… with enough care and attention to story, we can move the emotions of readers and viewers. It takes hard work. In a world where vanity-publishing isn’t considered vanity, we lose track of how much work goes into story.

I enjoy reminding writers of this by digging into the potential of their ‘finished’ manuscripts, watching their frustration as an awareness of great work ahead dawns on them (yes, I do enjoy watching your frustration), and then the excitement of seeing their breakthrough to a new creative level and the hard work becomes joy again.

I have been beyond lucky to work with terrific writers; powerful-yet-giving agents/editors; sit with, talk with and drink (coffee or wine) with NYT bestsellers and soon-to-be published authors; and I’ve appeared in more acknowledgement pages than I know. But what I love most about what I do is the promise we each have for our next highlight just through that door.

Diane: What happens in a workshop appointment?

Jason: If a writer isn’t sure they want to work with me, then we’re probably on the same page. It takes maturity and willingness to be able to sit and brainstorm with a stranger. Or to have someone break apart a story you thought was finished.

Fact is, your story might be finished. But what if one of my ideas leads you to an even better idea? What if a gaping hole in plot stares you between your eyes and you missed it? What if you haven’t considered the true motivation of a character because in your own life you’re blinded to your own motivation(s)?

We’ll find those elements. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we’ll cheer. We both win, the story wins, and the reader wins.

That’s what happens in a meeting. You’re challenged and you grow; but only if you’re ready and willing. If you aren’t, let’s just have a beer and talk baseball.

And on the critique group issue… a great critique group can be like having professionals around. If you’re very lucky. My critique group has consisted of Lorin Oberweger and Donald Maass. I know, right!? I would never say your critique group can’t take you to an amazing level. It can. And sometimes it’s all you need.

Diane: Can writers continue working with you after the workshop?

Jason: No. I leave the planet when a workshop isn’t in session.

Of course they can work with me. Email me (wrw04@netscape.net), write me (Writers Retreat Workshop / PO Box 4236 / Louisville KY, 40204), hit our website, meet me by the pool and we’ll figure out what works best for your needs. I have many options: from manuscript markups with written and audio feedback (plus phone consultation) to our meeting 1-1 where you live or where I live or someplace in between. We’ll figure out what you need and we’ll make it happen.

"My book was a consistent start-stop project for three years. In less than four months I went from not knowing him to trusting his judgment based on great communication, creativity and wonderful writing skills. I give Jason the highest marks and recommendation possible."
Edward DuCoin, Wharton Grad, Entrepreneur, NASCAR team owner, Member of Philadelphia Business Journal Hall of Fame, featured in Success Magazine and other business publications.

“When I was looking for someone to help me with editing my book, I called Ms. Gail Provost, the wife of the late Gary Provost… she highly recommended Jason. It didn't take long for me to decide I wanted Jason to assist me with my project. My project was almost complete, but missing something.  I told Jason that I wanted pizzazz.  Jason not only gave it pizzazz, he made it even more personal.  And he did this in less than a month.  I highly, highly recommend Jason to be your editor, ghostwriter, or at the very least, your mentor. Thank you again, Jason.”
W. Smith, CA (‘11)

“We cannot recommend Jason highly enough. Talk about value for money! As writers this is the best investment in our career we could have made. Jason has taken our writing to a whole new level. It is one thing to read the theory, it is another thing to have someone critique your words and show you how to put it into practice.”
Robyn & Wendy (co-authors) Australia

“Our session was a great investment for me. My only regret is that I didn't take the leap earlier. I've observed that many 'organic,' in this case meaning formally untrained, writers like myself are unaware that there is a template for getting one's thoughts on paper. The words come to us instinctively, but the rhythm and form often need to be learned with the help of someone like Jason. It reminds me of attempting to cook using only conjecture and your imagination and then finding out there's actually a recipe for the dish. And I thank you, Jason, for the recipe!” 
Lee Ann R., FLA

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Jason mentioned the following advanced, craft-of-fiction workshops, in addition to Story Masters:

Writers Retreat Workshop is a 10-day retreat and writing intensive founded by the late Gary Provost, who wrote across genres and pioneered novel-writing courses.  The next one is June, 2012.

The Breakout Novel Intensive is Donald Maass’ 7-day workshop/retreat that builds on his books: Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009) and The Breakout Novelist (2011). The next Intensives are September 19-25, 2011, in Louisville, KY and April 19 - 25, 2012, Hood River, OR.

---

More about Jason:

Jason’s ghostwriting projects of both fiction and nonfiction include: GLASS HALF FULL AND FROZEN, with entrepreneur Ed DuCoin; SET ‘EM UP JOE, with Dino Pavlou ; MY LIFE AS SINATRA, with Cary Hoffman (currently an off-Broadway NYC production), and a current work-in-progress based in New England surrounding a young man who suffered severe debilitating brain trauma while doctors believed he was dead, and he rehabbed to a point where he now devotes his life to improving the lives of many.

Other non-fiction projects include work with Alt Weekly newspapers interviewing and writing about local leaders, film-makers, educators and performers such as Louis CK, Paula Poundstone and Robert Kline.

At the Writers Retreat Workshop, Jason has worked on ‘stage’ and behind the scenes with more NYC agents, editors, and bestselling writers than can be listed. Agencies include Writers House, Foundry, Donald Maass Agency, Sanford J Greenburger, Folio, and many others. Publishers include Random House, Penguin, Tor/Forge and others.

His interviews and co-teaching with writers include NYT bestsellers Michael Palmer, Dean Koontz, Janet Chapman, Jennifer Crusie, TJ MacGregor, Nancy Pickard, Will Lavender, Brett Witter… writers and instructors Elizabeth Lyon, Les Edgerton… and again, too many to remember or list.

Jason’s work spans the globe from 1-1 intensives in Sydney, Australia to an early 2012 writing retreat and editorial meeting opportunity in gorgeous Cuernavaca, Mexico. And of course, working with Lorin Oberweger, Donald Maass, Brenda Windberg, the BONI group, and whatever else the future holds.

Friday
Aug192011

A Story Master Where Narrative is King

From Diane - Founder of Pitch U:

Roman White is one of the 4 freelance editors offering optional appointments at the brand new, 4-day Story Masters workshop in Houston, this November.  But Roman has a rather unique background….

Story Masters CroppedHe’s won a few Emmys.  No kidding.

So after you’ve learned from Literary Agent Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, and Christopher Vogler during the day; you have the chance to optionally work with Roman in the evenings. 

What Revolution Pictures says about Roman:

To Roman White, narrative is king.

His passion for powerful visual storytelling has propelled him to direct music’s top artists, including Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood, and Reba McIntire, among others. Winner of numerous awards and accolades–including an MTV Video Music Award, a CMT Award, an Academy of Country Music Award, and numerous Emmys (not to mention countless award nominations)–artists, audiences, and peers alike all agree:

Roman’s talent and passion for creating stunning visuals and memorable narratives make him one of the elite creative talents in the industry.

Diane: Why are you excited about Story Masters?

Roman WhiteRoman: I always LOVE attending these workshops because it’s a great opportunity to meet new writers and also catch up with people I’ve met in the past. I also REALLY enjoy helping people out with their stories and novels whether they are close to finishing or just starting out.

I think Story Masters is unique because you’re getting to spend time with a group of different teachers, writers, editors and yes, even a director! Hehe. It’s also incredibly cool to just hang out with a bunch of writers and shoot the crap about all things writerly!

Diane: What do you do, who do you do it for, and why is it effective?

Roman: I have been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, and I LOVE it. I started out working on novels, and in the last few years I've moved into the Hollywood world of screenplays.

I’m also a director and have been for over 12 years and, through all this, my mutant power seems to have become PLOTTING. I see the holes and the lack of character motivation and can even figure out why things just aren’t as big or working as well as they should. As I said, it’s like a weird mutant ability that would not come in handy during a big fight against super villains, but it’s helped me out a lot in my career, and I’ve been fortunate enough to help TONS of writers!

I’ve been a part of literary agent Donald Maass’ Breakout Novel Workshop since its inception and have also been on staff at the Writers Retreat Workshop for twelve years and simply love writing and writers and doing what I can to help them.  (See below for workshop details.)

I pretty much want to HELP people when I meet with them. It’s their time, and I truly want to make it worth their while whether they want to talk about the industry or their book or even rip their plot apart and try to pop it back together! It’s a lot of fun for me, and my end goal is to HELP people become better writers and make their stories even bigger than they could have imagined. That’s what we all want at the end of the day, right? A better story? I definitely can’t shoot lasers out of my eyes, but I can help people with that!

Diane: What’s the highlight of your work?

Roman: Oh, man! I LOVE what I do. I am so fortunate and have had MANY wonderful moments to count and have a BLAST almost every day. I guess this is where I have to talk about what I’ve accomplished, which is always hard because my mom taught me not to brag! LOL.

But, since you asked, here are a few highlights: I’ve been nominated for 11 EMMYS and have won three. I won an MTV Music Video Award for the infamous Taylor Swift video “You Belong With Me,” which Kanye West interrupted, etc. YEAH, that one! Hehe. (But, the moon man is INSANELY COOL).

I’ve been nominated three times for MTV Music Awards. I’ve been CMT Director of the Year three times and have also won numerous other CMT Music Awards for Video of the Year.

The music video I wrote and directed for Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” was named Video of the Decade recently. I have received three ACM awards for Director of the Year. Long story short, I have been crazy blessed, but I do truly work my butt off . . . even though it’s also A LOT of fun!

Most recently, I am writing and directing in HOLLYWOODland.

I’m working on films, writing screenplays and someday soon you’ll be seeing my name on the big screen . . . but this hasn’t been an easy journey at all. Like anything worth doing, it has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change anything. I think, when all is said and done (and as cheesy as it sounds), I really love helping other writers because I want them to experience their dreams and get their stories out into the world.

Diane: What happens in a workshop appointment? 

(Most writers think working with a professional editor is the same as talking with their critique partners, or they may have misconceptions, such as editing is punctuation only!)

Roman: I think I went on and on about this a bit earlier, but here goes again!

I really want the writer to get from me what THEY need. I read their material and am always ready to pounce on any topic, but everyone is different. Some people want plotting help and some want to talk about the industry and some simply want to hear your thoughts on their work, etc.

Like I said, I am game for anything because it’s their time, and I want them to walk away with what they need. That said, I usually edit the pages and give plot notes on the manuscript itself as well as normal editing, but I also like for people to give me an idea (in advance) of what they’d like me to focus on when they give me their pages. I think having a target in mind helps you hit the bulls-eye and really give writers what they want most.

As far as editing being ONLY punctuation . . . well, that’s just crazy talk!

Most editors are great writers in their own right and truly understand the craft of writing, which expands far beyond punctuation. I’m talking character development, plotting, structure, flow, description, etc. It’s all in there and I think punctuation kind of ends up at the bottom of the barrel.

When I go into a meeting about a film or any project, everything I know and have learned about writing is in play. I have to be able to talk about it all and I have to be ON every day of the week.

So, I think for all editors, it’s about their experience and what they bring to the table as a professional. Oh, and did I mention that it’s SO NOT all about punctuation???

Diane: Can writers continue working with you after the workshop. How does that work?

Roman: I absolutely love to stay in contact with writers after workshops, but I’m not a full-time editor like Lorin. She’s incredible at what she does and breaks down stories and edits like you wouldn’t believe! Both Lorin and Brenda have BOTH been incredible assets to me in the past for my own writing . . . and I kind of love them a little too! Hehe.

So, if you were looking for somebody to really dig in and edit your entire manuscript, I’d go that route, but I’m definitely open to helping you in any way I can and am also starting to help people develop and work on screenplays, if that’s an interest of yours.

Diane: BONUS PITCH QUESTION: Is pitching easy or hard for you?

Roman: OH GOD! I think pitching is hard for everybody. One of the hardest things for me, and I hope it’s not just me, has always been talking about my own work. BUT, you kind of have to get over it in order to SELL your work.

I think the biggest key in pitching is confidence in what you’re bringing to the table . . .even if you have to fake it!

My family actually came up with a nickname for me, and they lovingly but mostly jokingly refer to me sometimes as ROMANELLI. Romanelli isn’t the geek kid they all grew up with . . . Romanelli is the more “famous” version of me.

He came about when I was backstage at a concert with some family members and a few people came up to me wanting me to sign stuff and take pictures with me . . . I KNOW, CRAZY! And my family stood there with gaping mouths of horror like WHAT THE CRAP IS GOING ON HERE? WHY THE HELL DO THEY WANT A PICTURE WITH HIM?

It was insanely funny, and that was the night Romanelli was born.

So, I kind of think of Romanelli as the smarter, better, more confident, all-around better version of that geek kid from Nashville. Hehe. I let him handle the big meetings and do the big talks and all that stuff because he’s more confident than regular old Roman.

So, sometimes, when it comes to pitching, it’s easier to create a character . . . a jacked up version of yourself to really sell your work and let people know how great you are because let’s be real . . . you’re awesome!

---

Previously in this series:

Roman mentioned the following advanced, craft-of-fiction workshops, in addition to Story Masters:

Writers Retreat Workshop is a 10-day retreat and writing intensive founded by the late Gary Provost, who wrote across genres and pioneered novel-writing courses.  The next one is June, 2012.

The Breakout Novel Intensive is Donald Maass’ 7-day workshop/retreat that builds on his books: Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009) and The Breakout Novelist (2011). The next Intensives are September 19-25, 2011, in Louisville, KY and April 19 - 25, 2012, Hood River, OR.

Thursday
Aug182011

How to Have a Story Master In Your Court

From Diane, Pitch U Founder:

It’s Story Masters week here at Pitch U. 

At Pitch U we focus on becoming awesome at pitching and (with Indie U) your career.  There’s nothing that contributes more to Awesomeness than writing an awesome book to begin with.  That’s why I’m going to (dum dum DUM) this advanced craft-of-writing workshop.

Story Masters Cropped

We’ve already heard this week from…

And now I want to celebrate the woman who runs this conference and all the Donald Mass Breakout Novel Intensives around the country:  Lorin Oberweger.  She’s a freelance editor/wizard, and you have a chance to work with her at the conference.

Yes, I’ve personally worked with her.  And yes, she is so skilled that her client list includes multi-published authors.   (Nope, I’m not an affiliate nor do I make money on doing this.  I just do it because I love it.  Isn’t that why we write to begin with?)

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Who is that talented woman?

LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with more than twenty years experience in publishing.

(Lorin’s students and clients have millions of books in print and have been published by HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Scholastic, and other mainstream and independent presses. They have also gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.)

Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass, as well as the new 4-day Story Masters Workshop featured this week.

She’s been a friend to Pitch U since the beginning, contributing two amazing articles: Writer’s Miranda Rights (When You Pitch Your Book) and EXPERT PITCH CLASS: Pitch Your Character’s Emotional Arc (CONTEST!) 

Diane: Why are you excited about Story Masters?

Lorin: As a writer myself, I’m thrilled to be able to bring together three incredibly talented writing instructors. I have the pleasure of working with Don regularly, and never cease to be amazed by his brilliance. Adding Jim Bell and Chris Vogler to the mix is incredible icing on the cake.

I have to confess to being a bit geeked out at the opportunity to sit and learn from them for four days!

  • Christopher Vogler: THE WISDOM OF THE BODY: How the Hero's Journey Triggers the Emotions of the Audience.  Vogler is the  author of THE WRITER'S JOURNEY: Mythic Structure for Writers and co-author of MEMO FROM THE STORY DEPARTMENT, has helped major filmmakers and studios find the mythic dimension in their work, and he can do the same for your screenplay or novel manuscript.
  • Literary Agent Donald Maass: 21st Century Story: In this hands-on, immersive workshop, Mr. Maass demonstrates advanced methods for creating strong story events, plot layers, parallels, reversals, symbols and gripping themes. Coupled with those are techniques for constructing depth of character and sweeping character arcs.
  • James Scott Bell: Beyond Nuts and Bolts: Learn the essentials of bestselling fiction, what agents, editors and readers are looking for – and how you can give it to them. You’ll learn everything from The LOCK System for your novel to a system for revision so you don't miss a trick.

Diane:  But you’re also working during the conference.

Lorin: I am! I’m excited by the opportunity to add value to that experience for writers by offering really in-depth one-on-one consultations with wonderful editors and brainstorming gurus like Brenda Windberg, Jason Sitzes, and Roman White.

I hope people will avail themselves of the opportunity to get specific feedback on their work while being filled up with an amazing amount of writing knowledge.

Diane: Many writers don’t really know what a freelance story editor can offer them.

Lorin: The long and short of it is that I help writers succeed, artistically and professionally. That can take the form of personal story development weekends, where a writer and I construct (or deconstruct and rebuild) his or her novel over the course of a few days, or it can take the form of developmental and line-editing on a completed manuscript or work in progress.

I offer other services as well, but my overall goal is to be responsive to what each individual client needs to move toward publishing success (or to broaden the success he/she already enjoys).

As to why it’s effective, my fundamental belief is that it’s my job to get down on the page with the author, to really FEEL what he or she is trying to say, to help preserve and bolster the voice of the story, to delve deep into character psychology and motivations, to create a taut and effective overall structure, and so on.

I like to say I just have a “knowin’” where these things are concerned and am able to communicate that to clients, I hope, in a way that leaves them feeling motivated and empowered to do the hard work of making their novel all it can be.

That said, it’s also effective because my clients DO that work.

They’re the ones who go home after our weekends together and write and write and write. They’re the ones who go through my edits page-by-page and respond to my concerns, consider and implement my suggestions, and sometimes take a much tougher but ultimately more rewarding route to elevating their work.

They’re the real stars; I’m just a facilitator of their success.

Diane: What’s the highlight of your work?

Lorin: The highlight of my work is that I get to do something I absolutely love, something that aligns my particular skill set with my values and passions.

Not everyone gets to say that about her professional life, and I don’t for a moment forget my good fortune in being as sought after as I am and having the successes I’ve had.

More specifically, though, I love those amazing breakthrough moments I have with clients, moments where I’m able to unlock pieces of the puzzle with which they’ve sometimes been struggling for months—or years! I love helping them elevate not just their prose but their stories, from character to setting to scene structure and overall plot. I love to push writers because, generally, I only work folks I feel are not only skilled but capable of doing great things.

Some recent client comments, which also constitute recent successes!:

“Lorin was instrumental in helping to develop and then polish my debut novel. From larger story concepts to crafting elegant prose, Lorin is a brilliant mentor. I look forward to working with her for many projects to come.”
-- Veronica Rossi, author of the upcoming UNDER THE NEVER SKY, HarperCollins

“I highly recommend Lorin's services to anyone who wants to take his or her writing to a new level. Lorin's expert advice and editorial comments pushed my manuscript from good to sellable. With her meticulous line edits, I submitted a polished manuscript that quickly attracted the attention of multiple agents and publishers. The result? A two-book deal at auction to Scholastic!”
-- Donna Cooner, author of the upcoming SKINNY, Scholastic

“If you are looking for writing help, Lorin is it. She’s got the experience, she’s got the confidence, but most of all she has the eye. She can look at your manuscript and tell you exactly what it needs.”
-- Lissa Price, debut author of STARTERS, lead title for Spring 2012, Random House, Delacorte

This year, my clients have done amazing things, with more people signing not just contracts but multiple book contracts (yay, career longevity!), finding agents with great agencies, and being not just published but extremely well-published.

Every client’s project is personal to me, and every publishing success story feels like a fresh new thrill!

Diane: So, what happens in a workshop appointment? How is it different than working with your critique partners?

Lorin: In terms of how it differs from working with critique partners… Well, some people have excellent critique partners, but for the most part, those folks haven’t been in the industry for a couple of decades and don’t have a track record of client successes.

They don’t have the same understanding of what books need to be not just enjoyable but publishable—and really not just publishable but to be the kinds of books that will create excitement in agents, editors, and—the most important audience—readers.

Most critique partners also haven’t had the good fortune I’ve had to constantly enhance my knowledge through repeated attendance at two of the best writing workshops in the country (she says, modestly), either one of which has been equated to a full-on Masters Degree program in writing—presented in a week or ten days!

When I sit down with a student (or when Brenda, Jason, or Roman does), my goals for that session are the same as my overall goals for a client—help the writer to do better work. I read (and edit) the first fifteen or so pages, plus a synopsis and other notes on a student’s project, so that when we talk I’m responding not just to those pages, to whether the writer has crafted a compelling opening, using characters with whom one can identify, employing sufficient tension and effective scene structure, etc., but to the story as a whole.

So, it’s far more than line-editing or proofreading, which is a very small part of what we do. It’s about identifying large and small problem areas and helping the writer build strength where they might currently evince weakness.

It’s a very practical, THOROUGH, but I hope, supportive process for writers.

Diane: Can writers continue working with you after the workshop. How does that work?

Lorin: Sure, if we both feel we’d be a good match, I certainly welcome it! It can work in any number of ways, but it generally starts with an email exchange or phone call to determine the best course of action. Then we design a personalized “plan of attack” together and go from there!

Diane’s BONUS PITCH QUESTION: Okay, I have to ask… Is pitching easy or hard for you? What technique and/or approach do you rely on when pitching books?

Lorin: Generally, I don’t pitch client novels directly, though I’ve certainly helped to craft MANY pitches—and, of course, passed on client work from time to time to agents I trust and admire.

One of the most critical things, which I think a lot of writers leave unexpressed, is the emotional arc of the story. It can be captured in just a few words within the pitch, but without that texture, a pitch tends to feel a bit empty and formulaic in my experience.

Whether it’s easy for me to do where my own work is concerned…Hmm. It’s certainly gotten easier over the years, but I’ve tended to detach from the outcome while I still have a work-in-progress. In other words, it’s just practice until the book is ready and I’m pitching in earnest.

Also, I’m fortunate enough to have friends in the industry, with whom I can “vet” certain concepts, to whom I can show pages and talk over plot points, etc., so it’s a little bit less of a white knuckle experience for me. I’m sure when my own novel is complete, and I’m waiting for responses from some of those folks—or others I may contact, I may want to revise this answer!

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LORIN OBERWEGER also offers her acclaimed Personal Novel Crafting Retreats--intensive story development weekends for writers in all genres of fiction. In addition, she serves as Editor-in-Residence/Class Instructor for the renowned Writers Retreat Workshop.

An award-winning author, Lorin’s poetry, short fiction, and articles have appeared in well over one-hundred periodicals, including THE MONTSERRAT REVIEW, STORYQUARTERLY, and the bestselling regional anthology FRENCH QUARTER FICTION. Recently, an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, ITCH, was awarded “Best of Workshop” at Writers in Paradise, co-founded by author Dennis Lehane.

Tuesday
Aug162011

How Writers Learn to be Story Masters by James Scott Bell

From Diane, Pitch U Founder:

This week is devoted to the 4-day workshop, Story Masters, of which James Scott Bell most certainly is one! 

As you know, I’m on a personal mission to tell the world about Story Masters so that Houston, TX becomes the destination for Awesome Workshops.  (I’m a simple writer with simple world-domination goals.)

So far this week, we’ve spoken with Donald Maass about How to Be a Story Master

James Scott Bell Kicks Story Butt

JSB crop JAMES SCOTT BELL is the bestselling author of Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back and several other thrillers. Writing under the name K. Bennett, he is also the author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series. The first title, Pay Me in Flesh, is now available wherever books are sold.

Jim served as fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine, to which he frequently contributes, and has written three bestselling craft books for Writers Digest, including the #1 writing book of the decade, Plot & Structure.

First, Tell Us About Story Masters…

Story Masters Cropped

Diane: This is the debut of Story Masters. How did it come about?

Jim: I was asked by my agent and fellow Writer's Digest Books author, Don Maass, if I'd like to participate with him and Chris Vogler on this program. It took my half a second to say Yes. I greatly admire Don and Chris as teachers of the craft and was honored to be included.

Diane: What is your part of the Story Master’s experience?

Jim: We each bring our own approaches, which will be hugely beneficial for the writers who attend. Because we each have some unique insights but also many areas of overlap.

But because we each have our own way to view those commonalities, the attendees will get them deeply ingrained. It will be like a triple shot of espresso as opposed to a single cup of drip.

My expertise is plot and structure, and translating the most important concepts into usable techniques. I came up with a system I call LOCK (Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knock out) that has proved extremely valuable to writers over the years.

It guarantees a solid novel every time out. Then the author is free to add those things that elevate the story to the next level and lets the original voice roam free.

How Writers Learn to be Story Masters

Diane: What do you like about teaching writers?

Jim: I'd been told in college that writers are born, not made. That you either had it or you didn't. I did not get any coaching in the actual craft of writing and got frustrated not being able to pull of what I wanted to pull off.

When I woke up a decade later needing to try again, I found you could actually learn if you were dogged and persistent and wrote constantly. When I discovered that I got so juiced I had to start helping other writers.

I teach them what I wish I'd been taught back in college.

I've had dozens of people pass through my workshops over the years who have gone on to be published. But this one stands out. I was at a conference and after lunch saw a woman sitting off by herself, looking rather sad.

I went over to ask her what the problem was. Here eyes teared up and she said she looked around at all the writers there and wondered if she had a chance, if she was good enough, if this was all just too much of a long shot.

I grabbed a napkin and drew a pyramid diagram. I divided the pyramid into six sections. Inside the pyramid are writers, I explained, with each section representing a different level of achievement.

The bottom, where most of the people are, is the realm of the “want to.” Or “I think I have a book inside me.” But outside of some scribblings, maybe a short story or two, perhaps an unfinished novel, these people never move on to the next level…

…which is where people like you are (I told her). Those who actually try to learn something about writing. Who buy writing books, go to conferences, take classes…and write.

Above that is the level for those who actually finish a full length novel. This is a great place to be. This is where real writers come from.

The next level holds those who write another novel, because the first one is probably going to be rejected. They do this because they are novelists, not just someone who happened to write a novel.

Next are those who get published. Above that those who are published multiple times.

Sitting on top of the pyramid is a Wheel of Fortune. This is where the breakout hits come from. The wheel goes around and lands on a book like Cold Mountain. Or The Da Vinci Code. Or Harry Potter.

No one can control this. No one know how to guarantee a hit, or it would be done every time out.

Your job, I told the young writer, is to keep moving up the pyramid. Each level presents its own challenges, so concentrate on those. As you move up, you’ll notice there are fewer people, not more. People drop out of the pyramid all the time. But if you work hard, you might get a novel on the wheel, and that’s as far as you can go on your own. After that it’s not up to you anymore.

The conference went on and I forgot all about this incident.

A couple of years later I bumped into her at another conference. She told me that this conversation and the diagram had a profound effect on her, and that she was going to keep going, and was finishing her first novel.

Two years after that she wrote to tell me she had landed a book deal. She is now a published author.

Back to  Story Masters…

Diane: How should writers prepare in order to get the most out of it?

Jim: This is all new to me as well! All I can say is, come prepared to take a lot of notes. I'm sure there will be ample opportunity to ask questions as well. I don't know what the schedule holds yet, but I will be around in the evenings.

Diane: Will there be groovy handouts?

Jim: There will be some handouts. The groovy part will be decided by the recipients!

One of my favorite exercises is the "chair through the window." Imagine your Lead alone in a room with a big bay window. Now she picks up a chair and throws it through the glass. What would make her do that? Write for five minutes and justify the action.

More about Jim:

Jim attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver. He graduated with honors from the University of Southern California law school, and has written over 300 articles and numerous books for the legal profession.

A former trial lawyer, Jim now writes and speaks full time. He lives in Los Angeles. His website is www.JamesScottBell.com.

You can follow him at Twitter.com/jamesscottbell.

And you can find him blogging at the Kill Zone.

Monday
Aug152011

How to Be a Story Master by Literary Agent Donald Maass

From Diane, Evil Genius of Pitch U: Mwahahaha!  (This entire week is brought to you by my maniacal delight in all things Awesome.  Plus I'm going to this workshop.  More below.)

The Workshop to End All Workshops

by Donald Maass, Founder Donald Maass Literary Agency 

I have for some years been dreaming of bringing together top teachers of story for a workshop to end all workshops.  I’m thrilled that Chris Vogler and Jim Bell said yes. 

What’s exciting is that participants will get three mind-blowing days of story development (plus a 4th day of us together), each different, all empowering. I’ll be sitting in and avidly participating as Chris and Jim teach, I can tell you.

Story Masters Cropped

21st Century Fiction and The Story Master

My own day of teaching will be all new, based on my upcoming book Writing 21st Century Fiction. 

Using scores of story development prompts, I’ll be pushing participants to create detailed inner and outer journeys for their characters, with many enhancements.  Character arc by itself becomes vastly more absorbing and emotional when it’s broken down as I plan to do.  Plot twists, turns and surprises become not just serendipity, but techniques you can use whenever you like.

I have a pretty big collection of letters and e-mail from writers who’ve told me that my books and workshops got them published, broke them out, led to award nominations and more. I’m proud of that.

Two Teaching Strategies for Success

  • First, I don’t teach theory but rather practical techniques that novelists use immediately on their work-in-progress. 
  • Second, I push authors deeper, deeper, deeper into their characters, stories and intentions (themes). 

Story Masters participants should bring a work-in-progress, writing materials and lots of energy.  I look forward to mingling and talking, too.  Should be plenty of opportunities for that, provided anyone’s got any brain power left at the end of each day.

We’re discussing handouts now.  I may put together a selection of my story and character prompts—but they’ll be handed out only after folks have already used them!  There’s nothing like a handout to make you feel like you’ve learned something when, actually, it’s useless until you apply it and make it part of your daily practice.

And take advantage of the optional editorial appointments with various Freelance, Story-Development editors.  You should always  take advantage of an opportunity to get feedback from industry pros.  I say that even though I know that no one will come away from this workshop with a manuscript they still regard as “finished”

Diane:  You can also learn from Don at his next week-long, Breakout Novel Intensive in Louisville, KY, September 19 – 25, 2011.

Don’s Current Craft-of-Writing Books

The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction WritersWriting the Breakout NovelWriting the Breakout Novel Workbook

From Diane, Pitch U Chief Alchemist (and evil genius):

Back in June, when I was wallowing (let’s face it, wallowing isn’t pretty) because all my friends were either at ThrillerFest nor RWA’s national conference (and I was not, which was the point), I found the ultimate consolation.

With a SQUEE OF DELIGHT I announced I’d be heading to the brand-y new Story Masters Conference in November 3 – 6, 2011. Donald Maass. Christopher Vogler. James Scott Bell. In one place. (Squee.)

But you need to understand why I’m excited. They teach advanced craft-of-writing, and there aren’t many teachers who do that. Most books, most workshops, they’re pretty basic. Maybe intermediate. But few are advanced.

This week, I bring you all 3 kick-ass, advanced teachers (Maass, Vogler, Bell legends in my bookshelf), plus some of the freelance editors who will also be present in Houston, this November.

(and pssst. You’re invited.)

Saturday
Aug132011

Celebration Day: Creating a Writing Business Plan

FREE!!!  Creating a Business Plan for the Indie Writer

This FREE 20-Page E-Book, a gift from Suzan Harden to you, includes all  7 articles + added content & resources.  This is a GREAT places to start for all Indie Authors.  --> Scroll down for coupon code.  

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From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

It’s the last day of our series with Suzan Harden, and it’s time to celebrate! We’ve covered quite a bit of ground over the past few days, and we’ve kicked Indie U off to a great start. So do a happy dance. It’s okay — we already know you’re as weird as we are.

If you’re just joining us, we’ll forgive you. On one condition: check out the articles you missed under our fabulous Indie U tab. And now to Suzan’s rockin’ post.

Retailers and Income

By Suzan Harden

Yep, we’re finally to the part we’ve all been waiting for . . . income projections.

Normally at this point in drafting a business plan, I’d have income projections based on similar businesses in the area. I’d also have an analysis of rivals in the same field and how I’d differentiate my business from those rivals. The expenses you’ve already listed plus your projected income becomes your profit/loss (P&L) statement for writing.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Do you know how the big publishing companies calculate their profits? THEY GUESS!

Yes, that’s right. They guess. Are you going to have to do the same?

Yes and no. Indie writers are a little freer about their numbers than traditional publishers. A good place to start is Victorine Lieske’s blog. Victorine breaks down the numbers for herself and 44 other indie writers.

The average I’ve been hearing from several independent authors is 10 copies of the first book in the first month the book is for sale. As you will see from Victorine’s blog post, some folks sold ZERO copies. Some folks sold a couple of hundred copies.

Another thing to consider is the price of your books. On that point, the indie community has a wide variety of opinion on the price point for the average 90,000-word novel.

  • John Locke sets his a $0.99.

  • Amanda Hocking sets the first book in a series at $0.99 and the rest at $2.99.

  • J.A. Konrath likes playing with his price points, but he’s firmly set that the price shouldn’t be above $2.99.

  • Dean Wesley Smith vehemently disagrees with Konrath and states $4.99 is a more reasonable price.

Indie publishers need to consider which retailers they use. Each retailer has a different royalty rate for different price points. For example, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble pay the writer 70 percent for books with a list price between $2.99 and $9.99. But, Barnes & Noble will pay 40 percent royalties for books $2.98 and under while Amazon pays 35 percent.

PLEASE NOTE: I use the rate differences as an example in calculating potential income. I STRONGLY advocate you place your product with as many legitimate retailers as possible to maximize your exposure to the buying public.

Subtract your estimated expenses from your estimated income for the first year’s estimated profit. You now have an official business plan. Don’t be alarmed if the number is negative. That’s not unusual for a new business. Normally, I would project income and expenses for the next three to five years, but at the rate the publishing industry in changing, that would be an exercise in futility.

Remember, your business plan is a fluid document. If circumstances change, then you need to roll with the changes and re-examine your business objectives and needs.

Indie publishing is not the instant riches touted by much of the media, but it can be a satisfying, lucrative career if you have patience. As Dean Wesley Smith says, you need to keep the “long tail” in mind. No longer do books need to be warehoused. Your books will literally be “on the virtual bookshelf forever.”

With that, I’ll leave with J.A. Konrath’s six steps for indie success:

  1. Good book

  2. Good cover

  3. Good format

  4. Good description

  5. Good price

  6. Good Luck!

If you have questions, leave them in the comments or feel free to e-mail me at suzan@suzanharden.com.

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

This entire blog series along with some extra resources will be available to you on Smashwords, including a PDF version that you can print. To get a free copy, enter the coupon code EW59P.

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Now for the really fun part! Suzan has agreed to give away a gift set that will include the following things:

  • The preloaded flash drive will have three of her titles (Seasons of Magick: Spring, Blood Magick, and Zombie Love) in the format of your choice.

  • Copies of Donald Maas’s Writing the Break-Out Novel and Bob Mayer’s Writing Warrior.

  • A 10.00 gift card to your choice of Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

To enter to win this, you have to send me a copy of your business plan at the despicablemuse@taramcclendon.com. One winner will be drawn at random. If you want an extra chance to win, make sure you leave a comment on today’s post.

Finally, I want to thank Suzan for all her work on this topic. She did an amazing job! Be sure to show your support for this talented indie writer. Sign up to follow her blog, buy one (or all of her books) or spread the love with word-of-mouth marketing about how great she is. 

Friday
Aug122011

Day Six: Creating a Writing Business Plan

Indie U Banner

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Did you notice our new nifty little tab? The one that says, “Indie U”? The Evil Genius put it at the top of the page. Know what the means? It means you can find all the great posts you missed from this week under the tab. Try it. You’ll like it. And now on to Suzan’s topic of the day.

Marketing and Promotion

By Suzan Harden

Book LoveThere are many myths out there about marketing and promotion (M&P). Here’s one truth:

NO ONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD HAS A GREATER STAKE IN THE SUCCESS OF YOUR BOOK THAN YOU!

Now, you’ll hear people witch about how much of the entire M&P falls on the writer’s shoulders. It doesn’t matter if you’re with a major publisher, a small house or going it alone, the bulk of pushing your book is on you. Why? Because it’s your freakin’ book!

The publishing houses, no matter the size, have a million other writers in line wanting their shot. If your book fails, they shrug their shoulders, say ‘Meh,’ and move on to the next sap in line.

If you’re indie publishing, guess what? There’s no one else behind you to make money from if your book fails.

And please, PLEASE realize that “failure” means different things in different environments. If my critique partner only sold 5,000 copies of her book for Grand Central in three months, her contract would probably be dropped. If I sold 5,000 copies of Zombie Love in the same time period, I’d be a roaring indie success!

Anyway, you all want the secret marketing technique that will make you a multi-millionaire like overnight wunderkind Amanda Hocking, right?

IT’S CALLED WORD-OF-MOUTH.

Courtesy of YouTube

Word-of-mouth publicity is an elusive, rare bird. Kind of like the phoenix, except that word-of-mouth is not mythological. Word-of-mouth is shy. You cannot force it into the open. You cannot bribe it into showing itself. You must coax it, gently and sweetly by writing the best freakin’ book that you can!

Place your book in an accessible place. If word-of-mouth scents your book and approaches, resist the urge to force the tome down its throat. I assure you that word-of-mouth will vomit the words and you’ll never see word-of-mouth again for a long, long time. But if word-of-mouth nibbles your story and finds it appetizing, she will tell all her friends. You will soon have an entire flock waiting for your next hand-out.

Three Ways to Market and Promote Your Book

Okay, in all seriousness, most indie marketing and promotion can be done cheaply and effectively. Here are three popular things every writer can do.

  1. Social Networking
    We’re talking about Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, Twitter, Google+, etc. Don’t try to do everything! I can guarantee you won’t be able to keep up (and may possibly give yourself a brain aneurysm in the process). Pick out the two or three methods that you feel most comfortable with, use those methods on a regular schedule, and interact with your readers.

  2. Book Reviews
    There are many book reviewers who are happy to look at indie books. Make sure you target a reviewer who loves your genre/sub-genre for maximum effect.

    Whatever you do, don’t pay for a review! Giving any reviewer a free review copy of your book is one thing, but readers find paid reviews suspect. In fact, New York Times Bestselling Author Joni Rodgers recently quoted an indie author on Twitter stating that the idea was “akin to paying a Mafia enforcer for the privilege of breaking your legs.” (Yes, I was quoted by a NYT author.)

  3. Blog Tours
    Visiting other blogs as a guest blogger is a great way to meet new people and expand your reader base. Most bloggers are happy to host you. Just make sure you return the favor.

Traditional Advertising

But what about traditional advertising (i.e. television, radio, newspaper?

Paying for traditional ads is certainly an option if you have the moola. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, a consumer needs to see an ad seven times before the message sticks.

Let’s say you write romance and place an ad in RWA’s Romance Sells, which is $200.00 an issue. (Hate to tell you folks, but that this is relatively cheap.) The cost can quickly add up, especially if you place multiple ads. If you don’t target to the right audience, your efforts may be a total waste. (This is why you don’t see ads for feminine products during the Super Bowl.)

Similar methods, like commenting on other blogs, can be just as effective as traditional book marketing. Providing thoughtful commentary and intelligent questions will get you a lot farther than you realize. By the same token, acting like a troll and throwing about personal insults is a good way to alienate your potential buyers.

Finding Balance

The real trick for new indie authors is finding the balance between producing new work and the M&P for the last work published. Back in November of 2010, Jon F. Merz called J.A. Konrath out on Konrath’s blog. Jon admitted, “I’m jealous as hell that I’m not selling thousands of dollars worth of ebooks on a monthly basis.”

When Jon’s traditional publisher rejected his novel Parallax, he decided to put it up on Amazon himself. At first, sales were great, but then they crashed. After that, Jon made a common mistake. He spent way too much time analyzing why Parallax and its follow-up, Vicarious, lost momentum. What he didn’t do was continue to put out new novels.

Keep your eyes on that ball, folks. Yes, you need to promote, but you also need the next book ready for your fans to read.

By now, you should have a page or two of expenses for your new publishing venture. Tomorrow, we’ll hit the income side of the equation.

If you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’re too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at suzan@suzanharden.com.

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Indie writers can make money in a variety of ways as they try to get a growing list of titles under their brand. You may even have a day job to pay the bills. Well, if you’re looking at your business expenses and wondering how long it will take for you to get started, then it’s time for you to pay attention to a cool idea a writing buddy of mine is trying.

Lina Rivera is trying to raise the funds she needs to produce her first independent novel, Vizcaya. She’s using KickStarter, which is a way to fund and follow creativity. Check out her listing. Who knows? You may find a way to start your indie publishing adventure by doing something similar. 

Thursday
Aug112011

Day Five: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing

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From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Today is the day you can admit a truth that most readers know: you do judge a book by its cover. Sure, you may read the blurb. You might even flip through a few of the pages. But, if the cover is as dull as beige, you most likely won’t do either.

If you’re just joining us, take a minute to visit Suzan’s previous posts:

Making Your Book Pretty

By Suzan Harden

Blood Magick book coverThere’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. For an indie writer, a cover can be worth a thousand or more sales. This is the one area where you really don’t want to skimp on costs.

Cover art is an expense you’ll need to add to your business plan for writers, so grab your sheet and let’s take a look at what this can cost you.

 

If you choose to do your own covers, have the skills and already have a copy of Photoshop or another photo-editing program, more power to you!

Otherwise, you’re looking at shelling out some bucks. A basic copy of Photoshop Elements starts at $100. The commercial edition, Photoshop CS5 runs between $600 and $1200, depending on extension packs and rebates at the time you’re shopping.

Also, if you’ve had no training, you’ll need to factor in the time it will take you to learn and how much training will cost you. Fortunately, you can find some freeware alternatives, such as www.paint.net or GIMP, but you’re looking at a steep learning curve if you have no experience.

Once you have a software program, you need to find images to create the covers. If you’re a decent photographer (or know someone who is), you can create your own base photograph.

Legal warning! If you or your photographer use a live model, you’ll need a release from your model to use her image. If someone else takes the photo, you’ll need a release from the photographer since she owns the copyright as the creator of the image.

If you don’t have your own photos, another option is to use stock images. There are tons of sites online that sell images. Prices range from a couple of dollars to a couple of hundred dollars. Just read the licensing agreement very carefully so you know what licenses you are purchasing.

Zombie Love book coverFor example, I purchased two images from www.istockphoto.com for my cover artist to create the cover of Zombie Love. The cost for the two images was $40.00. The basic license allows me to use the images on up to 499,999 book covers before purchasing an extended license. (And if I sell a half million books, I’m going to be effing ecstatic!)

Which brings us to the subject of having someone else create the cover. Again, there’s lots of folks hawking their services these days. Some are fabulous; some are just looking to take your money. Always check references! Ask other independent writers who they used and what their experience was like. A decent cover artist can cost between $50 and $500, so make sure you add that to your indie publishing business plan.

Tips for Dealing with a Cover Artist

1) Have a cover concept in mind when you first talk to your artist. If you need help, some artists will read your book to get a better feel for the imagery that will best promote your story.

2) Communicate, communicate, communicate! You may have a difference of opinion on the elements in the cover, but generally the artist will bring up good points relating to design. (Like when my cover artist said one cherub was plenty!)

3) Watch for red flags. If the cover artist isn’t answering your e-mails, phone calls or texts, that’s a HUGE problem.

4) Pay your cover artist promptly!

Tips on Creating your Cover (Learn from the Experts)

Back in February 2011, Jenni Holbrook-Talty talked about some of the mistakes she and Bob Mayer made when they first released the e-book version of Bob’s Atlantis series. Talty bluntly said of the first version, “This cover sucks.” With that in mind, here’s some advice from the pair.

  1. Don’t make the cover “too dark.” You can use a black cover, as long as you have contrast.
  2. “…you want letters to pop.” The reader needs to be able to read the title when the cover is as small as the thumbnail size. This is especially important when the cover is in grayscale on the Kindle.
  3. Make objects on the cover obvious and consistent with the story. Otherwise, the cover says, “pass me by.”

Jennifer goes on to say, “If you were in traditional publishing, it would be too bad, suck it up, go promote. It’s the cover you’re going to get.” The joy of indie publishing is you can fix cover problems!

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about marketing and promoting your products.

If you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’re too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at suzan@suzanharden.com.

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Didn’t Suzan do a great job with the cover art for her books? You can click on the photos to visit Suzan’s site, where you can find more information on Zombie Love and Blood Magick. 

If you’re like me, then working through a business plan for writing is similar to cleaning out the garage: I find more things to evaluate the deeper I dig into boxes. Cover art may be the main category, but you need to add several expenses under it. To help you organize your plan, make sure you list out each item you need. 

That wraps us up for today, but we’ll be back tomorrow with more from the talented Suzan. 

Wednesday
Aug102011

Day Four: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

So, we’re back with Suzan Harden, who I’ve decided is a business plan marathoner. By the end of the week, we might just be calling her an indie writing guru. Oh, what the hay. Let’s just give her that title anyway.

Quick Recap:

Day 1: Why Go Indie?

Day 2: Writing as a Business

Day 3: Having Product

And now, on to today! Tally-ho!

Editing and Formatting Your Product

By Suzan Harden

Printing PressYesterday, we talked about things that take you away from your writing. For the next three days, we’ll be discussing aspects the indie writer can farm out or do herself, depending on her time and money constraints. (And you’ll be adding these to your writing business plan.)

BUT THERE’S ONE THING YOU MUST NEVER ALLOW SOMEONE ELSE TO DO FOR YOU: Never, EVER, have someone else control your money!

Your financials are the one job you should always do yourself. There’s a reason Oprah Winfrey signs EVERY FREAKIN’ CHECK cut by her company, Harpo Productions, Inc.

Think money problems won’t happen to you? Go ask Danielle Steele about the $400,000 her assistant embezzled.

Please realize I don’t mean that you shouldn’t seek out appropriate advice from your tax accountant or financial planner. But that doesn’t mean turn over your credit cards and bank account numbers to them.

Now, let’s move on to what you’re going to need to do to produce a book.

Time to get out your proto-business plan and pen!

Remember that list of expenses we started? Let’s add to it.

Resources and Equipment

Most writers have some resources and equipment on hand. If you don’t, you may need to add to the amount of cash you’ll need to start indie publishing. Here are some common things you’ll need:

A. Yourself

As we covered extensively yesterday, you are the most valuable asset of your new publishing company. It would take a whole ‘nother post series on protecting this asset, so I’ll leave it at exercise, eat your veggies and get a good night’s sleep.

B. Computer

An absolute necessity in the new world order. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you’ve probably got access to one. (If you’ve bought a new one this year, talk to your tax preparer about possible depreciation.)

C. Internet Access and E-mail Address

Again, an absolute necessity. Whatever you do, create a professional appearance! For the love of Murphy, don’t use fuzzepu$$y23@gmail.com. Remember that your access fees are tax deductible if used for business. 

D. Software

I strongly recommend buying a legitimate copy of Microsoft Word to use as your word processor. It’s not that I’m a huge Bill Gates fan, but Word has become the de facto manuscript file standard for most of the publishing industry. 

Production

Producing a book takes more than words on a page. Remember the list you made yesterday (the one where you probably put your own name in each slot)? Well, it’s time to look at some of those roles.

A. Copyediting, Line Editing and/or Proofreading

Most writers don’t realize that there’s a big difference between these three, even though many of the duties overlap.

  • A copyeditor looks at the big picture, such as the overall structure of your story. Do you have a beginning, middle and end? Does your heroine go through a radical personality shift midway through the book? Do you have a gaping plot hole that’s not explained or resolved?

  • A line editor looks at the word flow and continuity. Is the grammar correct? Are you using words correctly? Did your heroine’s eyes change color three times in the course of the story?

  • The proofreader looks at the spelling and punctuation. She makes sure you haven’t left out words, accidentally used the same word twice or used a question mark instead of a period.

Should you hire someone for these jobs? That depends. A quality freelance copyeditor will run you about $2,000 for a standard 80-90K novel. A proofreader will start around $500.

ALWAYS get recommendations and check references! There are some fabulous editors worth the big bucks. And there are a few stinkers looking to take you for a ride.

Or, you can do the J.A. Konrath method of trading edits with other writers. In Joe’s case, he and his buddies have over a century of experience between them.

I understand this isn’t an easy decision when you don’t have bundles of Ben Franklins lying around the house. If you can’t afford a professional editor, I definitely recommend having critique partners and a couple of beta readers look at your book before you proceed.

B. Formatting for E-Publishing

There’s lots of other things you should and shouldn’t do to have a clean master copy. Here are some basic formatting tips for the word-processing stage: 

1) Set up a Word template for an e-publishing file. Go into “Format” and then select “Paragraph.” Set the “Indentation” to “First line” at “0.3.”

2) DO NOT use the TAB key!

3) Make sure you don’t have stray spaces at the beginning or end of paragraphs.

4) Have only one space between sentences.

5) Insert page breaks for new chapters instead of excessive paragraph returns.

6) Make sure you TURN OFF the smart tags. Go to “Format,” select “Auto format" and then click on “Smart tags.” Make sure you uncheck the box next to this option or switch it to “Off.”

7) DO NOT put page numbers in your document at this point!

Now, you’re ready to have the file formatted into an e-book file. If you feel comfortable with computers, this is something you can easily do yourself to save a bit of dough. Otherwise, you can hire someone to convert the file for you. Conversions start at $100 and quickly move up.

WARNING! There are a lot of companies jumping on the e-book conversion bandwagon. Some of them have NO FREAKIN’ CLUE for what they are doing.

Want to do it yourself? Save your manuscript into an HTML file. Download CALIBRE, which is a freeware program that can convert your HTML into almost any e-reader format. (Even though Calibre’s free, please, PLEASE, donate a few dollars to the guys who write it!) Load your HTML file into Calibre and then convert to MOBI (i.e. the format Amazon uses for the Kindle) or EPUB (the format Barnes & Noble use for the NOOK). If you don’t have either device, you can download free apps for the PC. Check your file (seriously, you NEED to look at the WHOLE thing) and make sure it looks fabulous!

If your new e-reader file looks funky on the device or in the app, there’s probably a problem with the master file. You’ll need to fix it and start the process over again.

The first couple of times you convert your DOC file into an e-reader file will be time consuming. It’s a learning experience, but one well worth it if money is tight.

C. Formatting for Print

Formatting for print is a whole ‘nother animal that I really don’t have space to cover in-depth since it’s a little (okay, a lot) more complex than digital. For more information, I strongly recommend Karen McQuestion’s blog.

Well, that’s enough for today. If you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’re too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at suzan@suzanharden.com.

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Is your head swimming yet? Making a business plan can be a challenging task, but I guarantee you’ll be farther ahead on the path to success as an indie writer if you consider all the wonderful things Suzan is throwing at you. We’ll be back tomorrow, so bring your business plan for writing and your catcher’s mitt.

Tuesday
Aug092011

Day Three: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U:

Happy day, folks. Today's post is a continuation of our business plan series by the talented Suzan Harden. If you missed the first and second posts, what's wrong with you? Just kidding. Review Why Go Indie? and Treat Writing Like a Business and then join us for today's topic.

You've Got to Have Product

By Suzan Harden

Time ClockYesterday, we started talking about business expenses. But, to run any business, an owner needs to account for time spent, as well, especially her own!

Get out your pens and paper!

Under your business plan, write all the job/roles needed to produce a book, any book. When you finish, your list should look something like this:

  • Author

  • Copyeditor

  • Proofreader

  • Cover Artist

  • Blurb Writer

  • Formatting and Interior Design

  • Salesperson

  • Bookkeeper

  • Distribution

Now, go back through your list and write down who will perform each job. If you're the typical indie publisher, your name will be in every slot. If it is, your new business is already in trouble.

Going Out of BusinessIn fact, one of the reasons the SBA says 4 out 5 businesses shut their doors within three years of start-up is that the new small business owner "fails to adequately consider all capitalization costs and business expenditures."

If You, the Publisher does not give You, the Writer time to actually write, your new indie publishing venture is going to FAIL!

A business must have product to sell. Period. End of story.

Indie publishing guru J.A. "Joe" Konrath recently started his blog with the following:

Right now, you're reading one of the most relevant, controversial, popular, and opinionated blogs about the world of publishing, and it is an epic fail on your part. . . Because this blog is a time suck. There are hundreds of entries to read, and tens of thousands of comments. It's easy to get pulled in and waste hours, days, weeks. Here's the bottom line: every minute you spend here is a minute you aren't spending on your writing.

Yes, you need to do your research, but limit your time.

Remember, no product = no sales.

Grab that pen and paper again!

Write down the amount of time you can spend each day on the writing business as a whole. Be realistic! If you've got a spouse and kids (and you actually want to keep them in your life), you'll need to account for date nights and soccer games. Schedule the time spent on the day job if you have one, the commute, chores at home, religious activities, etc.

Now, take a hard look at the time sucks in your life.

  • Can you ditch the WoW or Halo nights with your college buds?

  • Do you really need to watch Real Housewives of Fresno?

  • Must you post puppy or grandchildren pictures every five seconds on your Facebook wall?

Once you have the amount of time you can spend on writing each day, it's time for some calculations. Let's use two hours per day as an example. How are you going to divide that time? If you're a slow writer like me, you're going to need an hour and a half just to produce 1,000 words. In reality, a 3 to 1 ratio between writing and publishing activities is more than adequate when you first start indie publishing. Anything more and you start entering the Land of Diminishing Returns.

Speaking of time management, remember back on Day 1 when I said my husband started researching indie publishing before I did? He noted something regarding Amanda Hockings, Jon F. Merzes, and Selena Kitts. Two points actually. They all had multiple books for sale, and the tripping point for self-sustaining regular sales averaged at 10 books.

Before everyone goes crazy on me, you should realize three things:

  1. Mr. Practical is a computer whiz who's been working with accounting software for 20 years,

  2. This was not a scientific survey by any stretch of imagination, and

  3. Ten is the average! Some writers did it with more; some with less.

NO ONE has been an indie publishing success with just one book!

One more time, folks: You've got to write; you've got to have product.

Product = Sales

Tomorrow, we'll start looking at some areas where indie writers can find a balance between time and monetary costs.

If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them. If you're too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at suzan@suzanharden.com.

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U:

Suzan will be covering more on the costs of running a self-publishing business, but here's my helpful tip for the day: You can often outsource portions of production to one individual or company. For example, an editor may be willing to copy edit, proofread and pump up your cover copy. You may be able to get a discount for the bundled services.

Monday
Aug082011

Day Two: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing

 

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U:

We're back with the delightful Suzan Harden, an independent author who is sharing information on creating a writing business plan. If you missed the first post, Why Go Indie?, take a moment to catch up with us.

While Suzan has some great information to share, she'd like to cover her tush inform you that she is no longer a licensed attorney. That means you should not construe the following information as legal advice. Like any good ex-attorney, she recommends consulting a licensed attorney if you have any legal concerns.

Quick Recap: Yesterday, You, the Publisher wrote the first draft of your Executive Summary. Today, we'll be going over business housekeeping and starting a business costs list. 

Day 2 – It's a Business; Treat It Like One

By Suzan Harden

For writers who go the traditional publishing route, the concept of becoming a business is foreign. The publisher takes care of registrations and licenses, sales-related taxes and so on.

When You, the Writer becomes You, the Publisher, you have to take care of all this (or at least have a clue whether you need to worry about it). Let's take a look at some common factors indie writers need to consider.

1. Business Formation for Indie Writers

Open for Business SignMost writers, whether traditional or indie-published, form a sole proprietorship. This means one person owns and is totally responsible for all the business debts and legal obligations. Usually, you don't have to do anything fancy to start a business as a sole proprietorship. You can even use your own social security number as your business ID for IRS purposes. If you want to work under a pen name, that's okay, too.

Some counties may require you to file a form for a home-based business license. You may need to file another form if you want to work under a pen name or a business name. In the county where I live, I can file an Assumed Name form (also known as a DBA, which stands for Doing Business As) for my publishing company for $15.00. The rules in your local jurisdiction may be different.

You may need to look at a business structure that is more sophisticated, such as a corporation, if you have significant assets you wish to protect. If you are in this position, I strongly suggest putting your business plan together first and then making an appointment with your attorney. By seeing the entire breakdown of what you hope to accomplish, your attorney can better advise you on how to protect yourself.

2. Accounting for Writers

Accounting for WritersEvery writer needs to maintain accurate records. You can track your business expenses and income in many different ways. I use Quickbooks, but you can use a spreadsheet, a notebook or any other accounting software you want.

Having a DBA filed will allow you to open a business checking account in your business's name. Even if you don't file a DBA, you should have a separate bank account, because some retailers, like Amazon, deposit your money directly into your account. Should some hacker get a hold of your bank information through Amazon, it could be disastrous for you personally if you are only using one account.

Money Saving Tip: With the financial meltdown, quite a few reputable banks are offering free checking. Take them up on it!

Save ALL your business receipts. Even better, have them organized. (Personally, I scan mine to keep from having zillions of bits of paper cluttering my office.) A good system will save you and/or your accountant headaches in April.

Again, I STRONGLY advise you to keep you business accounts separate from your personal accounts and document EVERYTHING. It'll save you a lot of grief if the IRS comes knocking.

3. Insurance Needs for Independent Writers

Does a single writer publishing her own works need business liability insurance? That's a maybe/maybe not question. A traditional publishing company usually covers its writers under a company policy.

As an indie, it's your call whether you need it. If you're writing biographies or memoirs, I'd say yes — there's a greater likelihood that someone may sue you if he or she doesn't like how you portrayed events in your book. Otherwise, you could skip it for now.

You may need to consider other insurance needs. One type of insurance I strongly suggest you update is your homeowner's/renter's policy. A few writers I know lost their home offices and equipment when Hurricane Ike slammed into Houston back in 2008.

Talk with your insurance agent (or find one) and make sure you have coverage. This may mean getting a separate rider, depending on your insurance company, but it'll be worth the money if you lose your laptop in a disaster or someone steals your equipment.

Making a Writing Business Plan Part 2: Business Expenses

What do the aforementioned items have to do with a business plan for writers? You may need to factor in certain business expenses related to each item.

Time to get out your pens and paper again! You're going to make three columns. 

  • Use column one for one-time-only or occasional costs. This should include consulting your attorney, paying to register your website's domain name, etc. 
  • Place yearly costs in column two. This may include paying for website hosting, maintaining your business license, paying self-employment taxes, or hiring a tax accountant. 
  • Add monthly costs to column three. This is where you'll put things like your insurance premium (if you pay it on a monthly basis), the cost of Internet for your business, office supplies, and the percentage of the utilities that you use for your business.

You'll need to itemize the expenses you know you'll incur as an indie publisher. If you're not going to do a particular item, then simply list zero; you may add that expense later.

Note: If you looked at the SBA template  I mentioned yesterday, you'll notice marketing under this section. Frankly, I don't agree with that placement. For writers, marketing must include your brand, which goes more toward your personality than slapping a cool logo on a product. Therefore, marketing and promotion will get its own post on Saturday.

After you tally your expenses, hang on to this sheet. We'll be adding to it during the rest of the week. Tomorrow, we'll discuss the one thing every new business owner forgets to add to her business plan.

If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them. If you're too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at suzan@suzanharden.com.

Sunday
Aug072011

You Mean Writing's a Business....

      

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

You've been hearing about Indie U; now it's time for the goodies. Our first guest series is going to walk you through the process of creating a business plan for writing. Joining us this week is Suzan Harden, author of Blood Magick, Zombie Love and other great books. (Did we mention that she used to be an attorney?)

Suzan originally wrote a guest post about creating a business plan for writers for Joan Reeves's blog, Slingwords. The lovely Diane Holmes thought it needed expansion and invited the talented Suzan to discuss it further.

The goal: Helping You, the Writer become You, the Publisher.

Why Go Indie?

by Suzan Harden

In a word — money.

Have you ever asked yourself why you should pursue independent publishing? This is exactly what happened to me. My husband started researching the business side of things in the fall of 2010. (What can I say? He's the supportive type.) He asked me pointblank what a traditionally-published critique partner was making in terms of royalties. 

For reality's sake, let's look at a typical mid-list author, i.e. NOT Stephen King. The simple breakdown goes like this:

Traditional Publishing: Writer sells first book to traditional publishing company (TPC) and contracts for 8 percent royalties. (This is actually high for a first novel, but let's roll with it.) TPC sells book for $7.99. This mean Writer gets eight cents out of every dollar, or in this case, $0.64 for every book sold.

Indie Writer: Writer publishes her own book on Amazon, which takes a 30 percent cut to cover its overhead. Writer sells her book for $2.99. Now, Writer gets $2.09 for every book sold.

Light Bulb Moment

 

Then Mr. Practical stared at me like I'd grown a second head and said, "Why the hell don't you indie publish? You'll be farther ahead."

 

Sometimes you can't argue with common sense.

If you want a more extensive take on numbers, check out Dean Wesley Smith's blog post The Math of It All. This breakdown shows what it takes to make money with indie publishing. (For those who may not know, Dean is an award-winning author, former editor with Simon and Schuster, and a publisher who's been in this business for 20+ years.)

The point is that on a per book basis, you may be ahead of the game if you indie publish, but there are many things to consider. 

  • Do you have the time and energy to run your own publishing business?

  • Are you willing to educate yourself on aspects other than writing in order to succeed as an indie publisher?

  • Do you have the seed money to get your business started?

You, As the Publisher — No Guarantees

"Wait!" y’all are shouting. "Money? What about Yog's Law?"

Courtesy of mikekorn, stock.xchng

Yes, money should flow to the writer, but guess what, folks? If you decide to indie publish, you're now the publisher, not just the writer. And, You, the Publisher will be in the prime position to make sure that You, the Writer doesn't get screwed.

BUT (and this is a very big "but" as shown by the capital letters) there are no guarantees that You, the Publisher will be able to make money for You, the Writer. As an independent publisher, you will definitely have to cough up some dough to cover some production costs.

One of the major pluses of indie publishing is that you can do many things yourself if you're willing to learn. That brings us to the reason for this week's posts on creating a business plan. Every business, even a publishing company, should have a business plan. It should cover the following things: 

  • What you hope to accomplish as an independent writer,

  • How you will do your daily business, and

  • What the business is looking at in terms of profit and losses. 

A business plan is a living, breathing document. It will need to change as external factors and your own desires change. So get out your pen and paper (or your laptop) and let's get started!

A Business Plan for Writing Part I:  The Executive Summary

Courtesy of Dixidito, stock.xchngThis a fancy name for "What I Plan to Do." Most business plan guides suggest doing this last and working on financials first. To me, that's like a New Yorker putting all her time into planning a car trip, then deciding to go to Hawaii. A little back-ass-wards, right? That doesn't mean you shouldn't refine your plan later when you get the details down, but for now, start with what you want to do.

Here's an example from my own business plan:

Original Version: I will publish my fiction in both e-format and print format through multiple retailers, with the ultimate goal of making a living from my fiction. 

Current version: Angry Sheep Publishing will publish approximately four new urban fantasy and/or erotica books in both e-format and print per year with the goal of making X dollars per year.

See what's the same and what's different?

When I practiced law, I used the Small Business Administration's business plan template, but you'll see from looking at it, it's geared more toward a manufacturing or service industry. Over the next six days, I will discuss the tweaks I made to make it a usable outline for an indie start-up and give you some resources to check out.

If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them. If you're too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at suzan@suzanharden.com (though, I can guarantee that you won't be the only one with that question).

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

I've owned several businesses, and I know the value of a business plan. The first step to making money as a writer is looking at writing as more than a hobby. The incredible Suzan has some great information to help you do just that, so stay tuned all week long. Work through the steps with us and get ready for a surprise on Saturday. 

Friday
Aug052011

Despicable Tara

From Diane, Founder of Pitch U and Resident Evil Genius:

Yesterday we introduced you to Despicable Tara, who looks so sweet, yet she’s got some wicked plans for our very new Indie U!!!

Indie U is the place for Independent Authors to cut through the millions of publishing details and career choices, make wise choices, and embrace quality.

Tara brings AWESOME experiences to her role as Despicable Muse.  She’s not only written (and published) thousands of articles, she owns her own business as a Freelance Editor.   Today, we’ll find out how she works with authors as a Freelance Editor.

Tara, Freelance Editor to the Stars (a.k.a. writers just like us)clip_image002

Evil Genius Diane: Okay, Despicable Muse, tell us about being a Freelance Editor.  Some writers are blessed to have savvy, advanced critique partners, and others are not. They get rejected and don’t know why.  How can you help?

Despicable Tara: Let me tell you about a recent experience.  I had the chance to sit down and talk with a writer who needs a professional critique. She needs someone who can read her entire manuscript and provide detailed notes as to what works and what doesn't. The process is more intense than working with critique partners because it looks at things from an editing standpoint.

For example, I'll be looking at the voice to determine whether it is consistent throughout the novel, I'll be making sure she doesn't break any of the "rules" she's set up for her story, and I'll be checking the pacing for the story, as well as for each character.

In addition to providing her with a professional critique of her work, I'll be focusing on a list of questions she has about the novel, and I'll provide her with a complete analysis of the work. It's much more detailed than she would get with a critique partner or a Beta reader. Plus, I can have the entire thing back to her within a week.

genius

As for editing, I believe that an author needs to celebrate at every stage of the writing process. I respect anyone who completes the first draft of a novel. I admire individuals who take their work to the next step by allowing me to help them find ways to make their work even better. That said, I don't sugar coat problems.

I worked with an author who needed to cut her entire first chapter. I gave her my professional opinion and provided several reasons why the chapter wasn't working. She wasn't sure she wanted to cut it, and I respected her decision. After she had received several rejections, she cut the first chapter — she got a request for a full.

To wrap up, I'm all about the writing. My goal is to make a book so real that readers will feel as though they stepped into the story. That, my friends, goes well beyond mere correction of grammar.

Evil Diane: Can writers continue working with you after your feedback? How does that work?

Tara The Despicable and Wise: I always follow up with my writers. If they are local, I schedule a half-hour conference. I also offer this for non-local clients; however, the meeting is by phone.

Additionally, I will answer any question that a writer has about my suggestions. I've had writers contact me six months to a year after I worked with them. And, of course, writers can always hire me to do follow-on work.

But does she Pitch?

Diane, laughs, “mwahahaha”: Okay, you know you can’t escape without confessing your pitching sins. 

Tara, fluttering her despicable eyelashes in an evil flirt: I find pitching easy to do if I start a project with a pitch in mind.

It is harder for me to try to find a pitch if I wait until the end of a project. I am a huge fan of "Save the Cat," by Blake Snyder. I try to incorporate conflict and primal responses in all my pitches.

Diane pauses amid her secret evil deeds:  Conflict?  Primal  responses?  Oh, you are despicable!

Everyone, please welcome Tara and spread the word. 

Indie U is going to tackle new ground.  There are a lot of sites about self-publishing.  We’ll be the first site to talk about strong authors making wise decisions, no matter which route they choose. 

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