On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Resources for Finding a Literary Agent

You want to find agents that represent works similar to yours. In other words, don't go to an agent who exclusively takes nonfiction if you are trying to sell a novel. Don't go to an agent who has literary-type authors if you're trying to sell a blockbuster adventure story.

Remember that you want to make a list of at least fifty agents to whom you can submit your manuscript. The only way to find this many is doing lots of (mostly) internet research. Fifty is a big number. You should determine competing similar books to yours, then research these books on google and amazon to find agent and other information such as sales. Research the authors. If you can afford it, go to appropriate writer's conferences or seminars to meet like-minded writers, authors, or business people who might have suggestions. Enter contests, especially judged by professionals. Ask, seek, knock.

Do google searches for "literary agents" or literary agencies" or your genre. Also check out blogs about writing, publishing, or by the individuals whom you may be interested in. The following specific websites may also give you a few leads:

www.publisherslunch.com -- this newsletter is offered in both a free and paid version, and gives lots of information about recent deals and the agents who brokered them.

www.publishersweekly.com -- the website for Publishers Weekly has a "Deals" link that describes recent major deals, and also has a free weekly e-newsletter for which you can sign up.

www.writersmarket.com -- they offer a free newsletter that may contain valuable tidbits.

www.writersdigest.com -- this website has a number of good articles and links, including the 101 best annual websites for writers, and provides a free newsletter for which you can sign up.

www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog -- helpful blog.

www.agentquery.com -- a free searchable database of agent and agency information.

http://michaelhyatt.com/literary-agents-who-represent-christian-authors.html -- Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has compiled a list of the 40 top literary agents with whom his company works. Since Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher these listed agents work with Christian works either partially or exclusively, but if your work falls within the "Christian" category by all means check it out.


Now for a few quick don't as you submit your material to literary agent:

1. Short is definitely sweet. Unless specifically requested in submission guidelines, just send a one page query, no matter how good you think your stuff is. If the submission guidelines request other things, send only exactly what is required. Don't put in extra pages just because you think the person is going to *love* it. Instead, be respectful and winsomely entice the person to ask for for.

2. Snail mail is probably better than e-mail. Unless the agent definitely wants e-mail for submissions, snail mail seems more formal and to be taken more seriously, at least to me. REMEMBER TO INCLUDE YOUR SELF-ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE (SASE) and contact information.

3. Don't be a pest. Don't call or drop in to visit the agent -- everything should be done through the postal or internet services. Make sure that your manuscript is in its final version, and don't send updates or modifications until you get an interested response -- then, talk about it.

4. Don't be weird or desperate. This means type your stuff on regular typing paper, with a regular font. Don't hide little gifts or money between the pages of your manuscript, or have sparkly things pop out of the envelope when it's opened-- if your work can't stand on its own, then you shouldn't be doing this.

So there you go. Email me if you have any questions.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Marketing with Blog Book Tours

The internet creates startling opportunities to network and disseminate information. One fabulous twist on the old-fashioned book tour is the Blog Tour, something that you're probably familiar with. Basically, a single book is featured within a short period of time, such as a day or week, on multiple blogs. The goal is to increase the book's exposure, since it's been shown that repeated reminders of a product make it more likely for someone to convert (ie buy the durn thing). Furthermore, since the reviewers usually give honest opinions of the bad as well as the good, a potential buyer can get a reasonable assessment of whether he might actually like the book.

These book-review blogs take a little bit of work to find: use google or other search engines to find blogs that review books, and check them out to see which might be appropriate. You can make a list, then comment or write to the person to see if they might be interested in reviewing your book. Coordinating them will be a challenge, but multiple exposures of a book over a few weeks or months won't necessarily be horrible, providing you can keep other marketing techniques going at the same time to maintain a potential *buzz.*

But wait! There's an easier way.

There are organizations that put blog tours together for authors. Some of these operate out of a publisher's advertising/marketing department, and only work for this company. Some operate from self-pubbing organizations, and you can purchase a package that will help you put together a blog tour. Some are freelance marketers that you can hire.

However, if you have a book that is consistent with a Christian world view, I have an even better option for you to consider: First Wild Card Tours.

First Wild Card Tours (the link is HERE) is a *free* service that puts together blog tours. You the author must provide the books and the postage, but while not inconsequential financially, that's it. (Ebooks also are good if you're willing to do the emailing. If you need help with ebook conversions write to me and I'll give you a brief review of how you can do this). The Wild Card Blog Reviews function like this: You find an open date that works for you, and submit the title, a brief description, the first chapter, and an author photo. You also state how many books you can provide; a good number might be 25. The director makes an announcement on the loop, and then interested bloggers contact you directly. A few weeks later, on your date, the blog tour goes up.

Furthermore, these don't have to be new books, so if you have an older release date you're still good to go. First Wild Card will also tour self-published books.

And by the way, if you have a blog, you like free books, and you don't mind writing reviews, you might want to consider joining this group as well. (Another group for free books/blog reviews is netgalley.com). There are no minimum standards for participation, and you get to choose the books you'd like to read. Not bad.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Hero, the Newbie

One of the best parts of a writing conference is that I get to meet Newbies one-on-one for 15 minutes or so to talk about their writing. I love to hear the writers' life stories, and to encourage them, give them some direction, and help them avoid common pitfalls.

Newbies are brave. Newbies are stubborn (in a good sense), and demonstrate FAITH: trusting that they will finish and publish their book, despite no encouragement, no time, and feeling as if they have no talent. Newbies are unselfish people who work hard taking care of spouses, children and elderly parents, working a job or multiple jobs to financially support their loved ones, spending time cleaning and cooking and running errands and doing yard work and the millions of other things it takes to be a responsible person. Often the Newbie has a physical limitation or emotional loss that can seem unbearable, yet the Newbie works through these things to complete his duties.

And yet, despite all these things, and perhaps without even telling anyone else, the Newbie finds the courage to aspire to one more thing: being a WRITER. Newbies are driven by a dream, the dream to communicate their thoughts to others. They know that no one else sees the world exactly as they do, and that what they know, and do, and are, is valuable and precious. Often the Newbie says that it isn't THEIR dream, but simply a sense that God is leading them to write. This is the epitome of faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

Newbies are my heroes.

It's humbling to sit across from these hopeful, quiet people as they hesitantly offer up pages of carefully formatted text that they've labored over.

I ask how I can help, listen to loglines, glance through pages, discuss a question they ask, and pray that I can give them good guidance. Most of what I see is a long way from being publishable. I must be gentle as I point out problems. I usually see the same problems over and over: too long manuscript (which is almost a guarantee of wordiness), lack of tension, or unclear/stereotyped writing when the story is crying for specifics. These are big problems, and they can't be solved in a 15 minute conference. Furthermore, since I'm the e-pubbing person (ebooklistingservices.com), many who talk to me feel they're ready to put the book up for the Kindle.


These manuscripts are babies: dreamed-about, nurtured, cherished, worthy of endless time and attention. I tell the Newbie that it would be so sad for them to push their baby out of the nest before it's ready to fly. The manuscript needs another draft. Then, try for a traditional publisher first: these publishing houses are going to be much better at marketing. Most of the Newbies I meet don't do Facebook, and don't relish the social marketing necessary for selling a self-published book.

Occasionally, if the Newbie is desperate to publish because they need money I recommend they write a few nonfiction e-books of about 50 pages each on some of their favorite topics. They can e-publish THESE on Kindle. Even if each book only makes, say, $20 or $50 or whatever a month, it's something. But don't put their precious book manuscript out there until it's ready.

My sister once told me it takes about 10,000 hours of practice before someone becomes good at something. Newbies are blind in a way: they haven't put in even close to 10,000, and don't see how far they're going to have to go before they can move to the next stage of having shapely prose. They are under the illusion that what they write is already shapely, because the story in their head is so vibrant. Despite the absent or even negative feedback they still keep working, they still stay up an extra hour when they're dog-tired, or stay inside even though it's a beautiful day, so they can nurture their dream. This is courage.

Yes, Newbies are my heroes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Future Me

What would it be like to talk to your future self? This could be the seed for a great story, but it also happens to be possible.

The site, futureme.org, makes this even easier. You can write an email to yourself, and the site will send it to you on the date you decide.

The possibilities are interesting... I keep an idea file, and this website immediately went into it for *future* reference.

What will you say to yourself?

And this isn't possible, but wouldn't it be cool if your future self could talk to you now?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Great Market for Self-Published Books

An important and often overlooked market for self-published books is public libraries, and you need to prepare for this market before publication.

This market requires a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). An LCCN is a unique identification number for your book in the Library of Congress’ catalog record. Since you’ll be applying before publication you need to get a Preassigned Control Number (PCN) (http://pcn.loc.gov/). The PCN requires cataloging in publication (CIP) data, so you will also need to get your book data, called publisher-generated CIP data. The librarian I chose gave me a good price and fast turnaround of a few days at http://www.cipblock.com. There are other people who do this also; you can compare prices etc. with a google search. The CIP data allows individual libraries to categorize your book for their own shelves.

If you obtain a PCN, you will need to send a copy of your final book to the Library of Congress once it’s published.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Opening Your Story With a Bang

Some writers espouse opening a story that sets the reader or viewer immediately into the middle of a horrific disaster or other spectacular event. While this can work well, especially for films, this is a challenging technique to pull off especially for new writers.

Before the reader can be drawn into the disaster, he needs to understand what is going on (clearly presented descriptions and detail) and to care about the characters. A horrific unfolding disaster may even prevent the reader’s emotional engagement into your story because it’s so painful that he won’t want to become involved.

I would like to suggest, instead of a devastating situation, that you form a relationship between your reader and point of view character. If you must have the exciting fire or other big event, build into it and allow the time for your reader and character to first become acquainted.

Building reader interest in your protagonist can be done in several ways:

1. Create Sympathy. If your protagonist suffers from something, whether an injustice, a physical defect, or a terrible loss of some sort, this will go a long way to create reader identification because the reader will feel sorry for him and therefore, of course, want him to win.

2. Put Your Protagonist in Jeopardy. Any time a character is in real danger, whether by physical or emotional threat, the audience is riveted. Start with a jeopardy small enough so the reader doesn’t automatically disengage from a painful situation, and build up from there.

3. Make Your Protagonist Likeable. We all want to be around pleasant rather than unpleasant people, and this is no different in stories. The person may behave well, or be funny, or be good at his job, or whatever—he has likeable traits that the viewer can appreciate.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dale Carnegie's Inspiration

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Dale Carnegie was a believer in not putting limits on what you might be able to achieve. An intro paragraph from Wikipedia describes him thus:

Dale Breckenridge Carnegie (originally Carnagey until 1922 and possibly somewhat later) (November 24, 1888 – November 1, 1955) was an American writer and lecturer and the developer of famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking and interpersonal skills. Born in poverty on a farm in Missouri, he was the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936, a massive bestseller that remains popular today. He also wrote a biography of Abraham Lincoln, titled Lincoln the Unknown, as well as several other books.

Carnegie was an early proponent of what is now called responsibility assumption, although this only appears minutely in his written work. One of the core ideas in his books is that it is possible to change other people's behavior by changing one's reaction to them.

Below is a clip of some of Carnegie's thoughts: