All About the Authors

Helping edit, publish, and market your book.

Author: Betsy Thorpe

Learning from the Books We Read

My book group just finished reading and discussing A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. It was loved by everyone in the group. This is a feat not normally pulled off by most of the books we read; usually the split is 60/40 enjoyed the book to not. We laughed about Ove’s misadventures, and all but one of us cried for the last sixty pages of the book (a happy cry).

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Every book you read as an aspiring author should be teaching you something. If not, toss it aside and save it for when you’re truly taking a break from thinking too much. I did not know what lesson A Man Called Ove was going to teach me when I started out, but I happily found many. Ove has adorable chapter titles. Great original characters with background stories. Short chapters that keep the story moving. Chapters that alternate between past and present.

At the beginning of the book the author shows us a thoroughly unlikeable character, and it seemed that Backman’s goal was not only to have him change through inciting events, but also to have the reader realize that our first impressions of Ove were shallowly drawn. My goal as both a reader and writer was to figure out how the author accomplished his tasks, and to learn from him. For instance when I’m writing fiction, I have a tendency to rush my main character’s story out all at once, and Ove teaches that you can take the whole book to get to know a character’s backstory.

When I am stuck with a place in my novel, I do two things. 1) I highlight the area where I’m stuck to return to later and keep going with my writing so I don’t get stuck; 2) I pick up another book to help show me the way out of my problem. For instance, I think my weakest muscles as a writer are conveying the feelings of my protagonists as they work their way through their story, and I find descriptions incredibly hard to write. So when it’s my time off writing, I’ll head to my bookshelf to select a few books that I think might help. Flipping through the pages, I’ll see how the writer had her character react to something frightening, or sad, or loving. For descriptions, I’ll generally turn to some classics. Pre-television/movies, these authors had long passages of description to describe the landscape, a house, a person’s clothing. Although I don’t think we should be writing 19th century descriptions anymore, they are inspiring.

“The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write.”

—Ernest Gaines

Pick up A Man Called Ove and see if you aren’t inspired. (And set your tissues nearby.)

 

The Good News About Audiobooks

One of my clients received what we thought was the golden ticket – an amazing agent agreed to represent his thriller. This agent is one of the top sellers in the business, and he immediately submitted my client’s book to the top editors at all the major publishing houses. Days later, the rejections poured in containing all completely different (and sometimes contradictory) reasons for passing on the book. After many almosts, there were just as quickly no more editors and houses to whom he could submit. The golden ticket was no more.

This is more common than you think. While many think that getting an agent assures a publishing deal, the most successful agents sell only twelve projects a year. That’s a pretty small number when you think about it.

But we could go on and on for years about the state of publishing and the subjectiveness of the business, as my writer/editor/agent friends and I often do. The topic of this piece, however, is not about the heartbreak of all that, but of next steps. My client is self-publishing, and we’re hoping that with a great product will come sales.

61VrXXqyR-L._AA160_What Jim learned in doing his research on the subject was the rise of audiobooks. It turns out that Andy Weir, self-publishing author of the widly successful book The Martian, was discovered thanks to his audio book. A small audio book publisher found Andy’s book online, and acquired the audio rights to his book and produced a great product.

Audiobooks is the fastest growing segment of the book publishing business. I recently have become a convert as well, discovering audible.com through a Groupon. Thanks to smartphones and digital audio files, the days of old books on tape and carrying around packs of cds are no longer necessary, although libraries and other places still offer them. I downloaded a Great Courses twenty-two hour class on Medieval History, and Mindy Kaling’s book Why Not Me? As a person who works all day and is a single parent, I don’t have a lot of time for books until bed, when I can manage about fifteen minutes before I fall into a coma. But with audiobooks, I can take the dog for a walk and listen to a book, make dinner while listening to a book, and do everything else that needs doing around the house and garden. There are free apps too through the library (OverDrive) and other servers including audiobooks.com

According to Marketwatch, some books are selling better in audio than in print, sometimes by as much as four times.
61QXHDkPucL._AA160_To me, the narrator is key. I am a huge Bill Bryson fan, however, as much as I love the man as writer, I found his actual voice, when reading his own audiobooks, grating (sorry Bill!). So when his latest book came out, The Road to Little Dribbling, I checked it out on audio to listen to a sample of the book, and I saw and heard that this book has a narrator named Nathan Osgood. His voice is delightful and he conveys the author’s irascible and grouchy nature charmingly– the perfect match to the author. Another great narrator is Caroline Lee, who reads Kate Morton’s The Lake House.
So now Jim is looking into not only self publishing his book with a print edition, but getting an audiobook as well. I connected him with my former neighbor, and former Charlotte news anchorman Alan Taylor, who now has with a booming business narrating audiobooks through ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange). ACX in an online marketplace that connects authors, narrators, and producers. You can upload portions of your book and narrators can give you a sample. Publishers Weekly 51PAt8O-8CL._AA160_  has a very useful article on how to indie publish an audiobook, associated costs, and royalties.

Check it out, and let us know what you think about audiobooks.

 

 

 

You Can’t Please Everybody

This morning I was taking a look at the recent book publishing deals that have been made on Publisher’s Marketplace. The information listed is very short: title of the book, author name, a one-sentence description, the name of the agent who sold the book, and the editor who bought the book.

You can do a search by genre, and since my women’s fiction/romance book is being submitted this week by my agent, I wanted to see what books had been sold in the last two months, and who some of the editors were who were buying them. What first came to mind is: Who knew Cattlemen were so sexy? It seems like fifty% of the books sold in this genre in the last two months featured cattlemen and Texas. Having spent three years in Houston, TX, I can assure you I have no desire to romanticize anything about living there. However, a bunch of successful romance writers clearly feel differently.

My fear is that an up and coming writer may take a look at that list, and slap herself in the face, moaning, “Oh no! Cattlemen? Why was I writing a sweet romance that takes place in a bakery in Virginia! I’ve missed the boat! Cattlemen are what’s selling now.”

You may remember this phenomenon happening when the Twilight series came out, and suddenly everybody thought: “I must write books about moody vampires!” And then The Hunger Games, “I must write about a dystopian future world with a strong female lead!” This is the wrong road to go down for two reasons:

  • The publishing cycle is long. Unless you write very quickly, all the editors who just bought books on cattlemen have pretty much filled up their lists with these books already. By the time you finish your book, find an agent, and submit, these books are already published and the editors have moved on to another hot topic.
  • Don’t write on trend. Write what you want to write – the book you want to read. Your heart won’t be in it if you are writing for a rapidly moving market. And given that you’re probably writing in your spare time, is this a project you’re really interested in?

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  • You Can’t Please Everybody. I submit this to you if you’re in a book group: How often does everyone love the book that was picked out for that month’s read. I can count a handful of times (in my book group, we all loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Where’d You Go Bernadette? And the list ends there.) People have different tastes. You may love dystopian books, while your best friend loves only realistic literary fiction. Some love history books, and others purely escapist cozy mysteries. The world of books and reading is large, with enough great books to cater to every type of reader.
  • Even agents don’t agree on what works. Agents and editors turn down books all the time that go on to sell a lot of books. My first boss in publishing turned down Like Water for Chocolate, and used to say, “What do I know? I’m the schmuck who turned down Like Water for Chocolate?” But he was also the schmuck who published Hilary Mantel, Reynolds Price, and Isabelle Allende. So you win some, you lose some. It’s all about taking a risk on a project you’re passionate about.

41HGJKFdW3L._AA160_So don’t fall for beating yourself up about what’s hot, what’s selling, what’s marketable. Write the book that’s important to you. Not everyone is going to love it, but for the people who do, it will be something they can spend time with during a long commute, a lazy weekend day, or up late at night, turning the pages. Your work will be a companion, an escape, a glimpse into another world, an eye-opener, and maybe in inspiration.

 

 

 

 

What Do Literary Agents Do for an Author?

 

Many of my clients feel overwhelmed by the prospect of book publishing. How is it possible for an unknown writer to access the big, untouchable editors and publishing houses in New York? They worry that you have to know someone in order to get published. Without good connections, it seems, the process of getting a book contract from an established publisher is unreachable.

That’s where literary agents come in. They are the gatekeepers for publishers. The “Big Five” publishers (Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, Macmillan, and HarperCollins) in New York do not have time to read unsolicited manuscripts from the tens of thousands of authors (if not hundreds of thousands) who are looking to get published every year. Instead they have relationship with trusted literary agents, who are known for their reputation to find great writers and book projects, and match them up with the perfect editor.

Almost every literary agent (except those who are closed to submissions) is accessible to authors through their submissions policies. Query them via email, and if they are interested, they will write you back and ask to see a sample of your manuscript or a whole manuscript. It’s vitally important that your query letter is professional, follows the format the agent is looking for, and is compelling enough for the agent to want to read more.

If you are lucky enough to get an agent, they may or may not help you to tweak your manuscript to get it ready to submit. Most agents prefer books that are “turn-key” – in other words, that are ready to be turned around and sent out the next day. But some agents think that they can improve the manuscript in some small way, and work with you to make the book more marketable (note, this is rare, and more true in the case of nonfiction). Then they will come up with a submissions list of where they will try to sell your book, pitch your book, and hopefully find a home for your book.In my video about this subject to be posted this week, I’ll be discussing many of the ways literary agents help their clients, what to expect out of the relationship, what not to expect, a typical contract they might ask you to sign, and what to do if the relationship is no longer working.

 

 

The Gift of Inspiration

It’s the season of giving. Giving thoughtful gifts to loved ones, friends, and those who make our lives easier.

 

But do you ever give yourself a present? Sometimes I’ll see a pair of gloves or a top I’d like while I’m out shopping for others, and decide to get it for me, wrap it up, and label it: “From Santa.”

This week we’re featuring great books on our Facebook page that are essential reads for aspirin41X1HeR9ZVL._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_g writers. Send the list out to loved ones, or if you happen to be near your favorite independent bookstore, pick one up for yourself and wrap it up in pretty festive paper. After all, what could be more fun than getting advice from some of the best writers in the world on how to do what you want to do?

 

Another gift to give yourself is the gift of inspiration. The inspiration of a new book idea. The inspiration that leads you to figure out how to solve a major plot twist that’s been bugging you for days. The inspiration in finding the right words to show exactly how the protagonist is feeling when the man of her dreams is standing next to her and has no idea she exists. The inspiration that hits just as you’re falling asleep, that gives you the brilliant idea of how to structure your memoir in a way that nobody else has done before. The inspiration of how to find two extra hours in every day that you can devote to writing.

Inspiration is everywhere, but your mind has to be open to it. A writing friend and I just had a wonderful weekend together attending a writers’ conference in Asheville, and were inspired throughout by all the workshops we attended with talented authors. But perhaps the most fun was bringing our laptops down to her parents’ living room (our gracious hosts) and reading passages aloud to each other from our works in progress. My friend couldn’t figure out a plot for her new book, and suddenly, inspiration struck through collaboration, and twenty minutes later we had a really cool plot worked out, and a fun career for one of her protagonists that would provide many laughs. That hour we spent together inspiring one another was priceless.

How can you find inspiration? It can be through tossing ideas together with a friend, but that time is hard to get, especially as a working parent. I find that my most inspiring moments come from:

  • Taking a shower – I can’t tell you how many times a shower has solved a plot problem. I don’t know why hot water and soap helps, but I know I’m not the only one.
  • Going for a drive – You may make fun of me driving around town and singing out loud to Todd Rungren’s “Hello It’s Me,” or Bruno Mars “Grenade,” but there’s something about driving and tunes that will unlock a vault of ideas.

For more eco-friendly ideas,

  • Reading amazing books. If I can’t figure out a way to solve a problem, I’ll turn to the masters. How do they describe their protagonists? How does their dialogue read? How much backstory do they have to start their books?
  • Watching documentaries. There’s nothing like pure facts to get you going. I had the pleasure of speaking once with Debra Dean, who wrot51H8A2ZHIGL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_e the The Madonnas of Leningrad. She was inspired to write her book when she saw a documentary on the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. A book idea was born, and even though she never got to see the actual museum until after she got a book contract, she poured herself into the research of her book thanks to that PBS documentary.
  • Taking a walk. There’s nothing like nature for inspiration. The wonderful humorist/essayist David Sedaris walks many miles a day and writes about his experiences in a journal, which he then turns into brilliant essays. And there’s nothing like a walk in the city for observing human nature and hearing some interesting conversation. I once heard, “Maria, my bikini days are over!” That line still makes me laugh.
  • Spending time with little kids. They have the most amazing imaginations that they have not yet repressed. I once took a walk with my little one when she was about six, and she merrily told me about all the fairies and their special skills, based on what color they were (green, blue, pink, red, white). I wish I’d had a voice recorder to capture what she said that morning, but it was lost to my poor memory and the pine trees around us. But I can tell you that it was amazing, and a morning I’ll never forget.

I hope these ideas help you with trying to nurture your creative gifts. For more inspiration, please subscribe to All About the Authors and watch our videos on subjects like this, and so much more! We hope to inspire you to succeed and fulfill your dreams to be an author.

 

Ghostwriters – Not Just for the Infamous

You might know about ghostwriters from when a famous reality star has her fifteen minutes of fame, and is asked to write a book about her life. Remember Snookie? The naked guy from 51eHkxgZWNL._SX413_BO1,204,203,200_Survivor? A Real Housewife? Most of these people are not writers.57cadcd00ab945ecb4d1722a3518c132.1500

 

How about the football star who is the winning quarterback in the Superbowl? Everyone wants to know his story, how he went from scrawny eight year old to multi-talented (and super-model-esque) to seemingly invincible hero.

Or, you may have heard that when a politician is running for office, he signs a deal to write a feel good story about his all-American upbringing hi51DV+gcn-6L._AA160_s rags to riches tale, his manifesto of how he wants to make America right again. Most politicians are not writers, or they simply don’t have the time to sit down and write it.

What these scenarios have in common is that the “author” needs to hire a ghostwriter. But ghostwriters aren’t just for the famous (or infamous). A lot of my clients are doctors, psychologists, retired professional athletes, nutritionists, people who have overcome adversity and have a tale to tell, or people who have a great idea that they want to share. Many are speakers and businessmen and women who want to share their ideas in book form, and leave the listeners at conferences where they speak a lasting reminder of their day with them.51HvjG7mukL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Many people on the speakers’ circuit actually need a book in order to get bookings. Businesses and charities who book speakers like to have books as a give-away (ensuring sales) and it gives the speaker cache that they are published authors.

So many dream of writing a book, but do not have the time or ability. Enter the ghost-writer. We come from various backgrounds, but many of us come from either journalism, or have always been authors, or are former book publishing editors, like me. We work in a variety of ways, but generally we spend time interviewing the author, read their papers, listen to their speeches. We try to capture the voice and the vision of the author and turn it into the best it can be.

To find out more about the costs of a ghost-writer, the time you need to spend with the ghost-writers, and tricky topics like who gets credit and where, become a subscribing member, and watch my video, which will post this week.

When Do You Know You Need an Editor?

You’ve spent IMG_2233months, perhaps years, writing your manuscript. You’re revised, rewritten, edited, heard criticism from your writers’ group and beta readers. Isn’t your book done? Can’t you send it off to publishers now? How can you tell if you need to hire a professional editor?

One sign of needing an editor is if you feel that the manuscript is “the best I can do.” That’s not the same as knowing it’s great and really a wonderful novel. If you think, “It’s okay, but I don’t know how else to improve it,” that’s a big sign that a professional editor can be of help.

Another sign is if you think it is wonderful but… there’s that one little thing. Maybe it’s a plot hole you’re hoping readers will ignore, or a character you know just isn’t gelling or a climactic scene that falls flat. All of these are issues an editor can help with.

Is the book too long? If you’re considering trying to get a contract with one of the big traditional publishers, your manuscript must be a certain length. If it’s falling short, an editor can suggest more content that she thinks is missing from the plot. But we find the opposite problem to be true for most novelists: the book is running thousands of words long, and the author has tried but can’t find any more cuts to make from the book. A professional editor is not wedded to your each and every word: we are wedded to making the best, most compelling story, and if there is extraneous material, we can find it and excise it.

And of course if you’re planning to self-publish, you definitely need an outside editor. After all, you’ll be missing out on the advice from both a literary agent and a publishing house editor that you would have gotten in the traditional route. But there’s no reason that means you have to put out a book that’s flawed. Independent editors are here to fill that gap. You might not know what it is you need help with—after all everyone has their blind spots—but editors can help with so many concerns, big and small. A fresh pair of eyes can notice things you overlooked or had always planned in your head to include but forgot to actually type in.

After all this book will be out in the world with your name on it. Do you want it to be anything less than perfect?