Marketing and Writing - Tips and Events

Writing For Your Life Today

Who Are You Aiming For?

In the raw, conceptual phase, it was essential that you had some idea who you were making your work for – an unaimed arrow rarely hits a target.

The intended audience is the final blank in “This is a ____________ that does ________ for _________.”

I’ve asked a lot of people that question over the years, and the list of wrong answers would fill volumes. A few particularly egregious ones are common:

• “Everyone”
• “You know, smart people”
• “The kind of people who read Malcolm Gladwell”
• “Myself”

The problem with those answers is not just that they are vague (“smart people”) or ridiculous (“myself”), it’s that such audiences don’t exist. There is no convention where Malcolm Gladwell fans get together. They don’t all read the same website. Just as every politician has to create his or her own coalition in order to win, no creator can magically inherit the audience of another. Whatever you’re making is not for “everyone” either – not even the Bible is for everyone. For yourself? I know you’re not going to be satisfied selling just one copy.

At least those answers are plainly wrong. The most common response is even more alarming. It’s the creator who answers the audience question with:
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought much about it.”

If you haven’t thought about who you are trying to reach, then what have you thought about? Presumably you have some vision of people purchasing or using this thing you’ve spent all your time making. How could you not know who they are? It’s not going to happen by accident.

– from “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday

How Do I Query a Literary Agent?

– by Christopher Ferebee

 

“How do I query an agent?” is a common question I hear from prospective authors. It is one of the easiest to find the answer to and, to the frustration of many agents, something most authors completely ignore.

query is simply a request to a prospective agent to consider you and your work for representation. It universally entails a single-paged letter and often includes a proposal for your work. Beyond that, the specific agent or agency you are sending your request to often, but not always, has additional information they would like you to submit as well. For an example of this, you can review our Submissions page.

How you craft a query letter is pretty straightforward and a simple Google search of “how to query an agent” will lead you to a multitude of examples. Some of the best, in our opinion, are herehere and here.

Your proposal, likewise, will follow an almost universally agreed upon format. The reason for this is that the majority of publishers your potential agent will work with all require the same information for purposes of considering a project for their publishing program. Hence, regardless of your agent, they will be required to submit the same basic information for the publishers to consider your work, and will require the same from you. Again, this has been covered in a multitude of places, both for free (herehere and here), as well as through highly valuable and worthwhile paid guides (here and here).

The absolute quickest and surest way to entice an agent to reject your query is to ignore the basic guidelines of a good query and proposal, or to ignore the agent or agency’s specific guidelines as laid out on their website. A recent query to our agency involved a hard-copy mailing (even though our submission guidelines clearly indicate that only submissions through our email process will be considered) of a completed manuscript (even though our submission guidelines clearly indicate what to provide, and a completed manuscript is not on the list). The author did include a query letter, wherein they stated that “submitting a small segment of [the manuscript] via e-mail would not provide a proper exposition of its thematic presentation.”

Here’s the deal: All agents face an almost insurmountable “slush pile” of unsolicited author queries. We are all in this business because we love books, we love authors, and we love finding fantastic new ones. But we simply cannot read a complete manuscript from every author who might submit one, even if we wanted to. What’s more, we can’t simply submit a completed manuscript to potential publishers for acquisition. The proposal process is so well defined because it is used by everybody, agents and publishers alike. If you as a potential author cannot adequately describe your manuscript in a proposal, we can’t represent it or sell it.

So if you want to be taken seriously at the query stage, follow the agent or agency’s submission guidelines. Otherwise, you have an almost 100% chance of being completely ignored.

The Healthy Creative Life

The healthy creative life is an intentional life…
• How intentional have I been about my creative development?
• What options are open to me now?
• What opportunities am I looking for?
• What do I perceive as necessary in order to move forward in my creative life?
• What are my desires telling me?
• What choices should I be making at this juncture?

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Screening

In ancient times culture revolved around the spoken word. The oral skills of memorization, recitation, and rhetoric instilled in oral societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate, and the subjective. We were People of the Word. Then, about 500 years ago, orality was overthrown by technology. Gutenberg’s 1450 invention of metallic movable type elevated writing into a central position in the culture. By the means of cheap and perfect copies, printed text became the engine of change and the foundation of stability. From printing came journalism, science, libraries, and law. Printing instilled in society a reverence for precision (of black ink on white paper), an appreciation for linear logic (in a string of sentences), a passion for objectivity (of printed fact), and an allegiance to authority (via authors), whose truth was as fixed and final as a book.

But today more than 5 billion digital screens illuminate our lives. Digital display manufacturers will crank out 3.8 billion new additional screens per year. That’s nearly one new screen each year for every human on earth. We will start putting watchable screens on any flat surface. Words have migrated from wood pulp to pixels on a glass surface in a rainbowof colors as fast as our eyes can blink. Screens fill our pockets, briefcases, dashboards, living room walls, and the sides of buildings. They sit in front of us when we work – regardless of what we do. We are now People of the Screen.

This has set up the current cultural clash between People of the Book and People of the Screen. The People of the Book today are the good hardworking people who make newspapers, magazines, the doctrines of law, the offices of regulation, and the rules of finance. They live by the book, by the authority derived from authors. The foundation of this culture is ultimately housed in texts. They are all on the same page, so to speak.

But today most of us have become People of the Screen. People of the Screen tend to ignore the classic logic of books or the reverence for copies; they prefer the dynamic flux of pixels. They gravitate toward movie screens, TV screens, computer screens, iPhone screens, VR goggle screens, tablet screens, and in the near future massive Day-Glo megapixel screens plastered on every surface. Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts, and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of tweets, headlines, instagrams, casual texts, and floating first impressions. Notions don’t stand alone but are massively interlinked to everything else; truth is not delivered by authors and authorities but is assembled in real time piece by piece by the audience themselves. People of the Screen make their own content and construct their own truth. Fixed copies don’t matter as much as flowing access. Screen culture is fast, like a 30-second movie trailer, and as liquid as and open-ended as a Wikipedia page.

People of the Book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems. Truth is, we are in a transition, and the clash between cultures of books and screens occurs within us as individuals as well. If you are an educated modern person, you are conflicted by these two models.

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

Pay Attention!

by Frederick Buechner

In just the same way faith could be called a kind of whistling in the dark too, of course. The living out of faith. The writing out of fiction. In both you shape, you fashion, you feign. Maybe what they have most richly in common is a way of paying attention. Page by page, chapter by chapter, the story unfolds. Day by day, year by year, your own story unfolds, your life’s story. Things happen. People come and go. The scene shifts. Time runs by, runs out. Maybe it is all utterly meaningless. Maybe it is all unutterably meaningful. If you want to know which, pay attention. What it means to be truly human in a world that half the time we are in love with and half the time scares the hell out of us – any fiction that helps us pay attention to that is as far as I am concerned religious fiction.

The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The odd coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Maybe even the smallest events hold the greatest dues. If it is God we are looking for, as I suspect we all of us are even if we don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet, maybe the reason we haven’t found him is that we are not looking in the right places.

Pay attention. As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that. And as a talisman or motto for that journey in search of a homeland, which is what faith is, I would settle for that too.

Eternally Linked

Creativity activates imagination, and imagination is one of our most valuable spiritual faculties. Every aspect of the spiritual life requires some imagination. When you make a leap of faith, you are imagining as real whatever faith declares as true. When you find wisdom through reading a book or hearing a story or attending a workshop, you must employ imagination in order to visualize how that wisdom can be applied to your own circumstances. When you love another person through forgiveness or a listening ear or helping hand, you must first empathize, which requires the ability to put yourself in that person’s place. When you pray, you imagine the help that you need. When you make plans for the future, you construct a vision of what that future might be. When you must finally forgive yourself and move on, you can do so only by imagining a love that is bigger and more powerful than the normal sort of love of which you are capable.

You might think of the spiritual as intangible reality and of creativity as the means by which the intangible is made concrete so that you can experience it. However you think of spirituality and creativity, practice visualizing them as eternally linked.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Chris Ferebee: “How to Prepare a Non-fiction Book Proposal”

• Chris represents Rob Bell, Shauna Niequist, Jonathan Merritt, and many other popular authors. His clients include several New York Times bestselling authors, winners of various Religion Newswriters Association awards, and a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist.
• This session covers the nuts and bolts of outstanding book proposals. Topics include identifying your match with publishers and agents, title creation, the one-sentence hook, the need and the solution, your uniqueness, audience characterization, platform description, proposal organization and style, and more
• 73 minutes including Q&A
Click here to learn more

When Does A Book Proposal Come in the Writing Process?

– by Angela Scheff

A reader asked: How far along in the book writing process should you be before submitting a book proposal?

The answer to this is in the form of another question: Are you able to articulate the complete book idea in a sentence or two?

While you technically only need a few chapters complete when submitting a nonfiction book proposal, you do need to know exactly what your book is going to be about, including an overview as well as a chapter-by-chapter synopses. Basically, a complete book outline with the big ideas articulated is needed.

And while the proposal describes the book and author, the sample chapters are helpful to evaluate how the author is going to get to the ideas, including the tone and style used. It doesn’t hurt, especially for new authors, to have more than a few chapters written. This way, if a publisher/agent is interested in seeing more from you, you already have additional chapters ready to send.

Also keep in mind that you will need to be able to articulate in your proposal when the book will be completed. This helps the publisher evaluate if they have space in their list for your book.

A good proposal is not easy to put together and is a significant investment in your time, whether you have two chapters or the entire manuscript written.

Art Can’t Be Hurried

I was reading a work by the great writer Stefan Zweig. In it, he recounts a youthful conversation with an older and wiser friend. The friend was encouraging him to travel, believing that the experience would help broaden and deepen Zweig’s writing. Like me, Zweig believed he had to write right now and that he didn’t have the time to wait – he was feeling the urgency of a first-time writer too. “Literature is a wonderful profession,” the friend explained patiently, “because haste is no part of it. Whether a really good book is finished a year earlier or a year later makes no difference.”

Art can’t be hurried. It must be allowed to take its course. It must be given its space – and can’t be rushed or checked off a to-do list on the way to something else.

– from “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday

It Isn’t Easy

Sometimes people say they are not sure they can be creative on paper every day. I tell them with all seriousness I am not sure I can be creative on paper each day either. Most of the time, writing a book more closely resembles digging a ditch then participating in some transcendent creative experience.

A pen and a keyboard and paper and ink are nothing more or less than the tools of a writer. They are to be regarded the way a construction worker regards a well-worn set of boots and a well-loved shovel. The tools simply remind the worker to get up each day and go back to work no matter how much or how little progress was made the day before. I became better at the craft of writing sentences on the day I finally understood I was engaged in a construction project as much as an artistic pursuit.

Writing a book is nowhere near as easy as it looks and heaven knows not as easy as some claim. Writing a book is seldom easy, even for those who have written some of them.

– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson

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