Agent Friday: Kate Shafer Testerman

Today's agent is Kate Shafer Testerman, with KT Literary. Kate is Denver-based, and I have had the pleasure of sitting in a workshop with she and Kristin Nelson back in January.

Kate is an avid blogger, which I love. She is also obsessed with shoes, and blogs as "Daphne Unfeasible". In most blog posts, "Daphne" highlights a query letter, then gives her opinion on whether it was effective and why. She also posts a picture of a pair of shoes, that amazingly relates to the query.

A writer learns a great deal by reading the queries of other writers. And Daphne's readers often chime in with comments that further illuminate why a particular query worked, or didn't quite convey what it intended.

If you would like to submit a query for posting on the blog, check out the guidelines here.  

To read her Writer Resources, go here.

And if you're thinking about writing a query, or sending queries out, make sure you read through as many blog posts as you can. Your query will be stronger for it.

If you'd like to know more about Kate, here are some online interviews:

Guide to Literary Agents

Interview by Kay Cassidy

Literary Life

Cool Stuff 4 Writers

Want to see the other agents I've highlighted? Click on the "Agent Friday" label on the right.

My Google Universe: Google Reader

All the pre-published writers I know are in a time crunch. Why? Because writing is not their full-time job. There are bills to pay and kids to feed, and the additional time that can be squeezed out of the day needs to be spent writing, not trolling the internet.

However, writers are told to spend time learning about the publishing business, understanding ways to imiprove their craft, and keeping track of what is being published in their genre. And that takes time.

The Time Crunch
How many times have you clicked on a blog, only to spot an interesting blog title in the author's blog roll? An hour later you wonder how you ended up far from your starting point. Leapfrogging blogs is enjoyable, and can lead to some great blog discoveries, but it's a huge time waster.

The Sporadic Blogger
It's also annoying when you click on your bookmarked blog links for days in a row, only to discover that a particular blogger has not posted anything new for a week. Some bloggers with excellent material only post once a week, or even less, and you feel like you've wasted time checking every day. Put that time to better use.

Last week I highlighted the ways Google Notebook can help a writer. This week, we'll take a look at Google Reader.

Google Reader is another free development from the search engine giant. It allows you to read all your blogs from one easy screen. All the blogs with new posts are hightlighted, so you won't waste time checking on blogs that have no new postings.

Easy
All you do is click the button that says "add a new subscription" (Google Reader does require you to have a free Google account), and you're done. You can group your favorite blogs by type. I have blogs from agents, blogs from authors, miscellaneous writing blogs, and then my friends' blogs.

Organized
As I scroll through each blog, Google Reader automatically marks what I've read, so at a glance I can see which ones are unread. If I'm pressed for time, I can choose to see just a list of a blogs titles, in order to select which ones I'd like to read.

Likeable
If I like a particular post, I can "star" it or "like" it to come back to it. Alternatively, I can share a blog post with friends, or email it to them.

Prophetic
Google Reader takes a look at what I've subscribed to, and makes suggestions based on my preferences. This is a great way to find blogs that I may not have found otherwise.

A few other places to read about Google Reader:

Jane Friedman explains how she uses Google Reader.

The Google Reader blog.

And here's some information about the newest Google Reader toy: Google Play. It uses your prefences to show you fun and interesting things on the web in a slideshow format.

How do you manage your blog reading?

My Favorite Writing Program

When writers write, it's not just about the words on the page. Many of us collect pictures of our characters and storyworlds. We have links to videos and webpages from the research we've done. And we have all kinds of documents to keep track of--previous drafts, already-critiqued chapters, and downloaded research files. No matter if it's fiction or non-fiction, we are trying to keep track of so many pieces of information, that it's sometimes difficult to manage. And then write, of course.


So, I thought I'd tell you about my favorite writing program. It's not free, but it's not expensive, and you get to try it for free for a while. It's called Scrivener. The name comes from a word meaning "scribe", and it has become my favorite way to write.


Sadly, for you PC folks, it's a Mac-only program, but don''t despair. The Scrivener website has a list of PC programs that have some similar features.


Organization
Imagine your writing room has a giant corkboard. You have room to tack up index cards for each of the scenes or chapters in your book. You post all the pictures that inspire you to write, and run strings of yarn between the pictures and the scene in which those characters appear. Use more tacks to attach the various pages of research files and previous drafts, and you might feel inspired--or overwhelmed.


Scrivener does all of this on your computer screen. You've got actual-sized index cards on a virtual corkboard. Give each one a title, and write in a summary of the scene. Is this scene in the point of view of your female protagonist? Change the tack color to pink. If the next scene is in the male protagonist's point of view, you might choose a blue tack. At a glance, you can see if you might have too many scenes in one point of view. I can also drag any card to another spot if I choose to rearrange my scenes.


Inspiration
Since my current novel is set in a real place, I've got many photos of my storyworld (you can see a few of them here). I've also collected photos of my characters. Not only can I keep these images in a file within Scrivener, I can attach any picture to any given scene.


Let's say I'm writing a scene set in a particular castle, with two of my main characters. As I'm writing, those pictures are enlarged on the side of my screen to inspire me.


Memorization
There often is a scene in which I want to make some significant changes. But I'm not really sure they'll work. Scrivener allows me to take a "snapshot" of that version of the scene. Then I go ahead and make all the changes I want without worry, because I can always revert to my earlier snapshot. I can even compare the two versions side-by-side.


And Much More
Scrivener allows you to keep track of your word count, even if you've added words to many different documents in your project. It identifies the words you use, and you'll be able to see at a glance which words you may have overused. Scrivener will estimate how many pages your project will have in paperback and hardback. And to help you focus, you can black out your entire computer screen except for your document and photos.


If you'd like to read testimonials from published authors (both fiction and non-fiction) who use Scrivener, go here.


Check out these video tutorials so you can see how Scrivener looks and works.








Book Review: The Fire in Fiction

I have to confess that I not only haven't read this book, but I don't own it, either. So how can I write a review of it?

Well, yesterday I spent six hours listening to Donald Maass, agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency teaching principles from The Fire in Fiction, and sat through a workshop the day before that delved further into ideas from the book. Maass' agency is a powerhouse, selling more than 150 books per year.

Maass worked us hard during the workshop, asking us to stretch ourselves far beyond what we thought we could do. We wrote and rewrote the same scenes five and six times, each rewrite adding more tension and conflict. Though it was exhausting, it was rewarding as we watched our scenes evolve and become stronger.

So I'm positive that I will buy The Fire in Fiction, and the things I've learned are already changing the way I write and the way I revise what I've already written.

Maass taught that what he calls "micro-tension" needs to be increased on every page. Micro-tension is what keeps the reader turning pages and staying up at night unable to put a book down. Conflict is the key to holding the reader's attention.

The three key areas to work on are dialogue, action, and emotion. If the writer can increase the tension in every snippet of these three areas, it will be hard for a reader to close the book.

One of Maass' suggestions was to print out your entire manuscript, and throw the pages into the air, scattering them around the room. Gather them up in whatever random order they've landed. Then examine each page, in turn, and find if there is tension on the page. If not, add it. If there is, add more. There can never be enough.

If you'd like to hear more about micro-tension, here are some resources:

An excerpt from Maass' book, part of the Micro-Tension chapter.

A Q&A with Donald Maass.

An interview with Donald Maass.

Novel Journey's interview.

Agent Friday: Chip MacGregor

This week's agent is the proudly Scottish (yay!), kilt-wearing Chip MacGregor. He runs MacGregor Literary Agency. His website states that his greatest desire is to help authors create great books that make a difference in the world.

I love agents who blog. For writers journeying toward publication, there's nothing better than getting a peek into the minds of those who choose which books are ready for publishing houses to take a look at. Blogging agents give you their expertise, their interests (and what turns them off), and explain the often mysterious ways of the publishing world.

Chip's blog is in my Google Reader for a good reason--I learn alot. Between his posts, and his associate Sandra Bishop (a lovely person who I've had the pleasure of meeting), it's worth reading.

One of the most interesting categories on Chip's blog are Questions from Beginners. He posts answers to all kinds of questions about agenting and the publishing industry. In this business, the more you know, the less mistakes you make. So make it your business to learn all you can.

The one thing you can do to help you grow as a writer.

Writing a memoir? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Chip MacGregor's best advice.

And because I'm heading to a writer's conference tomorrow (the wonderful Pikes Peak Writer's Conference), I love these posts: Make the Most Out of a Writer's Conference: Part 1 and Part 2.

Book Review: Never Let You Go

After enjoying Kiss, Erin Healy's first collaboration with thriller author Ted Dekker, I anticipated reading her first solo novel. Never Let You Go is a suspense novel for the Christian market.

I love Healy's protagonist. Lexi Solomon is strong, yet vulnerable. Dedicated, yet conflicted. And torn between her intense feelings of love and unforgiveness.

In the space of twenty-four hours, this single mom is confronted with the three people who have caused her the most grief. Their sudden appearance endangers her fragile emotional and financial balance, as well as her young daughter, Molly. Throw in a growing number of unexplainable and uncanny occurances, and Lexi is on the edge.

But Lexi's life is about to go from bad to worse.

Never Let You Go is a novel about the mistakes we hide, even as we train the spotlight on others for lesser offenses. Forgiveness comes at a cost, but the freedom found is worth it.

Healy is talented at placing the reader in the story with the senses she describes--particularly the sense of smell, which many writers tend to skip or touch on lightly. The point-of-view switches from Lexi, to the protagonist and then the ex-husband. Some of these were a little jarring to me, on occasion. I wonder if the sense of suspense might have been even stronger if Healy didn't "explain" some of the supernatural through the antagonist's POV. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to the next book from this talented author.

Erin Healy's Website.

Erin Healy's blog.

Healy is an award-winning editor who has worked with many of the top names in Christian fiction. Here's a few words she posts on her website:

The Irish girl in me has long been fascinated by the concept of thin places, a Celtic name for locations where the veil between physical and spiritual realities is so slim that a person can see through it. For me, thin places are revelations, bridges between the seen and unseen elements of our lives. Read my books and journey with me into the mysterious places where the spiritual world intersects what is familiar to us, and changes it forever.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

My Google Universe: Google Notebook

How many times have you read an article or blog and said: "I need to remember that?" So, you dutifully bookmark the page, and before long, your bookmarks list is longer than Santa's. Not only is that daunting, but if you were trying to find that specific post about, say, proposals, you'd have to patiently scroll through, likely clicking on dozens before you (maybe) found it.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction there is research involved. The sites you travel to create even more links to keep track of. And if your computer ever crashed, you might lose every one of the links you spent so much time gathering.

Enter Google Notebook. Now you can have all your bookmarks saved online, for free. You can give each entry multiple labels, write comments to remind you why you saved them, and organize them in several ways.

Notebooks

You'll set up a "notebook", which is really like a file folder, for anything you collect information on. I have notebooks for writing articles, a notebook for research on a historical novel I'd like to write, and even a notebook for places to visit in New York City.

Notes

Within each notebook, I can paste the link to a web page that I want to remember. Each link is called a "note". I can write comments on each note, reminding myself why this particular article or web page was one I wanted to remember. I can also "tag" each note with one or more labels. If I have an article that mentions both queries and proposals, I just give it both labels. Later, if I'm searching for notes on queries, a click on the "query" label will bring up those articles, no matter what notebook they're stored in.

Sorting

I'm able to sort my notes either by date or by label. If I forgot an important note that I stored last month, but can't remember the label, I'll sort by date. Google Notebook has a search feature, as well.

Sharing

One of the coolest features is being able to share my notebooks if I choose. Say I have a friend traveling to New York City. Instead of copying and pasting all my links, I can just share the notebook with her via an email message. If she doesn't have a Google account, Google will give her info on how to set one up.

Besides email, there are two other ways of sharing notebooks. I can export the notebook through Google Docs. I can even have my notebook published as a web page and send the link to anyone who wants to see it.

Some links to check out:

Frequently Asked Questions

YouTube Video on how to use Google Notebooks

While you may see news online that Google is discontinuing Google Notebook, they are only discontinuing new development. The product, as is, will continue indefinitely. See the explanation on the Google Notebook Blog.

If you'd like to check out some similar services online, here are seven other possibilities, and another site lists seventeen more.

Google, no matter what your opinion is, has many helpful (and free) applications for writers. Next Wednesday, I'll tell you about another of my favorites. How about you?

Time Management: The Pomodoro Technique

Imagine a clock ticking. Tick, tick, tick. Somehow the sound reminds us of time bombs and deadlines. However, an ingenious author has come up with a way to take the stress out, and replace it with productivity.

In the last month, I've posted twice about time management. One technique disables your internet (temporarily), and the other gently threatens you to keep typing. Francesco Cirillo has come up with quite a simple technique, and it's working well for me.

The Pomodoro Technique is not a piece of software, it's an idea. The idea that you can make yourself do even dislikable tasks, if you only have to work for 25 minutes and have a 5-minute break to look forward to. The name comes from the timer he first used when he tried this technique: a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

I first heard about the technique on Susanna Fraser's blog. Carillo is generous enough to give away free downloads of his ebook, which explains the idea in detail, and gives troubleshooting tips (like what to do in the case of internal and external distractions).

Coincidentally, the same week that I read Susanna Fraser's blog, I also received Randy Ingermanson's monthly writing newsletter, where he explains a very similar technique (this one uses 50-minute work blocks and 10-minute breaks). It's in the April issue. Randy has an excellent blog, and if you're not signed up for his newsletter, you might want to find out why over 20,000 other writers have done just that. Randy is also the coauthor of the wonderful Writing Fiction for Dummies book. I own an increasingly dog-eared copy.

When I tried the 50-minute work block, I found I was able to write over one thousand words before the timer went off (Randy Ingermanson shares a link to a free downloadable timer that worked well for me). If I completed only two of these "pomodoros" every day, in one month I will have completed 60,000 words. Think about what the Pomodoro Technique might do for you.

If you try it, leave a comment and share how it worked.

Agent Friday: Kristin Nelson

This week's agent is the very talented and energetic Kristin Nelson, with the Nelson Literary Agency. I attended a workshop with Krisin back in January, where she and agent Kate Schafer Testerman (who will be hightlighted in a future Agent Friday) read through a stack of first pages, and gave their feedback on whether they'd keep reading or not. The workshop was very helpful--we were able to see why one agent might love a writer's style, while another might pass. The only downside of the workshop was that my own writing sample was the next one to be read when the workshop ended. Oh well.

Please do check out Kristin's blog. She has so much information for writers who are preparing for the query process, or trying to understand the business of agenting. With all the information that blogs like this provide, there is no excuse for newbie writers to be uninformed. Part of our job, besides writing, is learning how the business works.

A few posts of note on her blog:

Kristin's Agenting 101 blogs: A crash course (twenty-one posts) on every aspect of agenting. If you've ever thought you could represent yourself, hold off on your decision until you've read these posts. The first one is here.

Krisitn's Queries: Examples of her client's successful queries, with Kristin's comments on what caught her eye and why. Here's one example. Find more on the sidebar of her blog.

Kristin's Submission Pitch Letters: These are examples of letters Kristin writes to the editors at publishing houses where she hopes to place her client's books. Check this one out, then find more on her blog's sidebar.

Beginning Writer Mistakes: A list of sixteen posts detailing things to avoid here.

In case you're located in the Colorado Area, Kristin Nelson will attend the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference in Colorado Springs April 23-25th. I'll be there, too. How about you?

Write or Die By Dr. Wicked

Recently, I wrote about a program that will turn off your internet for a while so you can write. If you missed it, check out Freedom to Write. Today, I'll give you the link to another great program that gives you incentive to get more words on the page.


I first heard about Write or Die by Dr. Wicked when I signed up for Nanowrimo last November. This free application goes by the tag, "Putting the 'Prod' in Productivity". If your output is at an all-time low, Dr. Wicked is happy to help.


With Write or Die, you select a word goal and a time goal. Then you choose the level of consequences (from gentle mode, all the way up to kamikaze and electric shock mode) and the grace period (forgiving, strict, or evil). And then you start typing. 


If you don't stop typing until you've met your word or time goal, you have nothing to worry about. It's when you pause (and fritter away your grace period) that you may break into a sweat.


In "gentle" mode, the consequence is a polite pop-up box, while "normal" mode will play an extremely annoying sound to encourage your fingers to get tapping. For the higher levels, the program will actually begin to delete your writing word by word until you get going again.


The author recommends it for writing on lunch breaks. It will make sure you get something done, after all, no writer can stand to see their words disappear unless they've hit the delete button themselves.


There are two forms of Write or Die: the free online version, and the $10 desktop version which enables you to work offline. The offline version includes several features not available in the online edition, like the ability to disable the backspace and save buttons, until you've met your goal. Talk about motivation!


If you've used Write or Die, leave a comment and tell us what you think about it.

Book Review: Get Known Before the Book Deal

This week's book is one that every aspiring author should own. It will get marked up, sticky-noted, and bookmarked. You'll learn from an author who isn't spouting ideas that she never used. Christina Katz is the real deal. She worked her way into the writing biz the hard way: writing and developing a platform.

Here's Christina Katz telling us why platform is so critical in publishing today:


An Interview with Christina Katz

Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids for Writer’s Digest Books. She has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, presents at literary and publishing events around the country, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. Katz publishes a weekly e-zine, The Prosperous Writer, and hosts The Northwest Author Series. She holds an MFA in writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Dartmouth College. A “gentle taskmaster” to her hundred or so students each year, Katz channels over a decade of professional writing experience into success strategies that help writers get on track and get published.

Q: What is a platform?

CK: Long story short: Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you don’t have to. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform.

A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Get Known explains in plain English, without buzzwords, how any writer can stand out from the crowd of other writers and get the book deal. The book clears an easy-to-follow path through a formerly confusing forest of ideas so that even the most inexperienced platform-builder can get started building a solid platform.


Q: Why is platform development important for writers today?

CK: Learning about and working on a solid platform plan gives writers an edge in selling books. Agents and editors have known this for years and have been looking for platform-strong writers and getting them deals. But from the writer’s point-of-view, there has not been enough information on platform development to help unprepared writers put their best platform forward.

Now suddenly, there is a flood of information on platform, not all necessarily comprehensive, useful or well organized for folks who don’t have a platform yet. Writers can promote themselves in a gradual, grounded manner without feeling like they are selling out. I do it, I teach other writers to do it, I write about it on an ongoing basis, and I encourage all writers to heed the trend. And hopefully, I communicate how in a practical, step-by-step manner that can serve any writer. Something we never hear enough is that platform development is an inside job requiring concentration, thoughtfulness and a consideration of personal values.

Q: Why was a book on platform development needed?

CK: At every conference I presented, I took polls and found that about 50 percent of attendees expressed a desire for a clearer understanding of platform. Some were completely in the dark about it, even though they were attending a conference in hopes of landing a book deal. Writers often underestimate how important platform is and they often don’t leverage the platform they already have as much as they could. Since book deals are granted largely based on the impressiveness of a writer’s platform, I wanted to address the communication gap.

My intention was that Get Known would be the book every writer would want to read before attending a writer’s conference, and that it would increase any writer’s chances of landing a book deal whether they pitched in-person or by query. As I wrote the book, I saw how this type of information was being offered online as “insider secrets” at outrageous prices. No one should have to pay thousands of dollars for the information they can find in my book for the price of a paperback! Seriously. You can even ask your library to order it and read it for free.


Q: What is the key idea behind Get Known Before the Book Deal?

CK: Getting known doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take an understanding of platform, and the investment of time, skills and consistent effort to build one. Marketing experience and technological expertise are also not necessary. I show how to avoid the biggest time and money-waster, which is not understanding who your platform is for and why – and hopefully save writers from the confusion and inertia that can result from either information overload or not taking the big picture into account before they jump into writing for traditional publication.


Q: Why is there so much confusion about platform among writers?

Often writers with weak platforms are over-confident that they can impress agents and editors, while others with decent platforms are under-confident or aren’t stressing their platform-strength enough. Writers have to wear so many hats these days, we can use all the help we can get. Platform development is a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Anyone can do it, but most don’t or won’t because they either don’t understand what is being asked for, or they haven’t overcome their own resistance to the idea. Get Known offers a concrete plan that can help any writer make gains in the rapidly changing and increasingly competitive publishing landscape.


Q: What is the structure of the book and why did you choose it?

CK: Get Known has three sections: section one is mostly stories and cautionary tales, section two has a lot of to-do lists any writer should be able to use, and section three is how to articulate your platform clearly and concisely so you won’t waste a single minute wondering if you are on the right track.

Most of the platform books already out there were for authors, not writers or aspiring authors. To make platform evolution easy to comprehend, I dialed the concepts back to the beginning and talked about what it’s like to try and find your place in the world as an author way before you’ve signed a contract, even before you’ve written a book proposal. No one had done that before in a book for writers. I felt writers needed a context in which to chart a course towards platform development that would not be completely overwhelming.


Q: At the front of Get Known, you discuss four phases of the authoring process. What are they?

CK: First comes the platform development and building phase. In this phase you are developing authority and trust. Second comes the book proposal development phase (or if you are writing fiction, the book-writing phase). In this phase, you are leveraging your expertise and your persuasive writing skills. Third, comes the actual writing of the book (for fiction writers this is likely the re-writing of the book). In this phase, you demonstrate that you are a skilled writer, who understands how to craft polished prose. And finally, once the book is published, comes the book marketing and promoting phase. In this final phase, you leverage all your existing influence and connect with as many readers as you can.

Many first-time authors scramble once they get a book deal if they haven’t done a thorough job on the platform development phase. Writers who already have a platform have influence with a fan base, and they can leverage that influence no matter what kind of book they write. Writing a book is a lot easier if you are not struggling to find readers for the book at the same time. Again, agents and editors have known this for a long time.


Q: What are some common platform mistakes writers make?

CK: Here are a few:

  1. They don’t spend time clarifying who they are to others.
  2. They don’t zoom in specifically on what they offer.
  3. They confuse socializing with platform development.
  4. They think about themselves too much and their audience not enough.
  5. They don’t precisely articulate all they offer so others get it immediately.
  6. They don’t create a plan before they jump online.
  7. They undervalue the platform they already have.
  8. They are overconfident and think they have a solid platform when they have only made a beginning.
  9. They burn out from trying to figure out platform as they go.
  10. They imitate “insider secrets” instead of trusting their own instincts.
  11. They blog like crazy for six months and then look at their bank accounts and abandon the process as going nowhere.


    Suffice it to say that many writers promise publishers they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver.


    Q: You write, teach, speak and blog. What motivates you?

    My mission is to empower writers to be 100 percent responsible for their writing career success and stop looking to others to do their promotional work for them. Get Known shows writers of every stripe how to become the writer who can not only land a book deal, but also influence future readers to plunk down ten or twenty bucks to purchase their book. It all starts with a little preparation and planning. The rest unfolds from there. But you’ve got to start working on your platform today, if you want to become an author some day. Get Known can help anyone get off to a solid start.


    Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids for Writer’s Digest Books. She has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, presents at literary and publishing events around the country, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. Katz publishes a weekly e-zine, The Prosperous Writer, and hosts The Northwest Author Series. She holds an MFA in writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Dartmouth College. A “gentle taskmaster” to her hundred or so students each year, Katz channels over a decade of professional writing experience into success strategies that help writers get on track and get published. Learn more at ChristinaKatz.com.

    Organizing Your Brain

    Don't you wish you had a map of where you stored everything in your brain? Of course it would connect all your random synapse ramblings into a cohesive whole. And you'd be able to access the stuff you needed without slogging through unnecessary information. Well, you can download it today. For free.

    The Brain is a website that claims "visual information management". You download their mind-mapping software, and start organizing your own brain.

    A blurb from their site: "Simply type in your ideas. Drag and drop files and web pages. Any idea can be linked to anything else. Using your digital Brain is like cruising through a Web of your thinking. See new relationships. Discover connections. Go from the big picture of everything to a specific detail in seconds. Accelerate your mind."

    Besides the obvious business applications, this program would be excellent for novelists and freelance writers to gather and view the multiple (and seemingly multiplying) bits of information that we spend so much time gathering.

    Think about all your notes on the characters in your book. Many novelists call this a "character bible". When you add pages of notes on your character's appearance, skills, their history, relationships, likes and dislikes, there's a lot to look at. And that's only scratching the surface. A program like The Brain can organize it all into one place, and connect important points--like the fact that your female lead rescues orphans for a living mainly because she was abandoned by her mother.

    If you're a freelance writer, The Brain can help you organize the information you find in the course of research on a particular topic. You may find some connections you wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

    Like many free online programs, you can upgrade the software for a fee, but if you'd rather not, you can keep using it for free. It works for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Definitely worth a try.






    Robert Louis Stevensen on Writing

    You remember Treasure Island, right? First published in 1883, it's been around for a long time. Wouldn't you love to hear what Stevensen might have to say to you on the topic of writing? Well, you can.

    Robert Louis Stevensen has written an ebook. Nevermind that he died in 1894. You know technology these days. And his ebook is free.

    Did you know that Treasure Island was his first novel? (He had been published previously in non-fiction) He was 30 when he started to write the book, and despite illness wrote at the rate of a chapter a day.

    In the ebook, Stevensen talks about writing in general, but also about how he came up with the idea for Treasure Island. Believe it or not, it all started with a map his stepson began. He also explains how he pulled threads from other books he read to create his characters. Long John Silver is actually based upon a famous person he was close to.

    Go here to download the book. The website offering this resource is the online presence of the esteemed Children's Book Insider Newsletter. While there is a small cost to access all the great information for writers of children's books, here are links to some of the resources they offer for free. If you like it, consider signing up.

    Ebook: The Greatest Children's Writing Success Secret

    Video: What Should I Write About?

    Article: Four Secrets of Great Writers

    Video: Seven Tips for Children's Book Writers

    Article and Video: Five Minutes to Your Own Blog

    Podcast: What Reviews Look for In Children's Books

    Podcast: What Writers Need to Know to Succeed

    Article: Definitions of Children's Writing Genres

    Agent Friday: Nathan Bransford

    Our agent spotlight today is on Nathan Bransford, literary agent and author with Curtis Brown, Ltd.

    Just yesterday, he wrote a compelling post about Dynamic Character Relationships. Did you ever wonder why certain characters grab you, and you can't put the book down until you find out "what happens"? Bransford shows you, through a recent release, why this takes place.

    For a list of essential posts on literary agents, queries, synopses, and how the publishing business works, check out the list on the About Nathan Bransford page.

    A few of my other favorite posts:

    Bransford lets us in on The Secret Strength of Killer Queries.

    Here's a video of Nathan Bransford explaining the importance of the pitch (explaining your book concept in a few sentences).

    Are you writing a series? He explains how to avoid the dreaded Acute Sequelitis.

    The difference between Archetype and Cliche.

    Want to be anonymous? The pros and cons of pen names.

    Check back next Friday for another surprise agent. Any suggestions? Leave a comment.

    Have a great weekend!

    9 Ways to Make More from Your Writing


    Today we have a guest post from Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama and Get Known Before the Book Deal (I’ll review Get Known next week), and the brand-new e-book Author Mama. Christina’s passion is helping writers understand their audience, and get further on the path to publication.

    In this post, she shares practical tips for increasing your bottom line: actually getting paid for your writing. Check out Christina’s website here, and make sure you sign up for her free Prosperous Writer newsletter.


    Prospering in the Gig Economy: Simple Habits for Writers That Pay Off Quickly
    By Christina Katz

    Money is what writers earn for their time and energy. Furthermore, writing careers are built over time not overnight. So don't put your career in jeopardy by paying attention to everything else at the expense of your bottom line.

    Here are nine prosperity-increasing tips that can quickly become habit and put more money in the bank for the same number of hours you already work or maybe even less:

    1. Make a list of paid work vs. unpaid work, if you don't have one already and update it monthly. Add to-dos like upcoming deadlines and prep for future efforts, to make sure you don't have to scramble later.
    2. Prioritize the work you do that is paid over the work you do that is unpaid. This doesn't mean the unpaid work is not important or doesn't need to get done. It simply means that you will get the paid work done first and then tackle the unpaid work.
    3. Spend time with other writers who make money writing. If they are too busy (making money) to spend time with you, sign up for their newsletters, read their blogs or connect with them via social networking whenever possible. When contacting successful writers, keep your expectations realistic. There's a reason they make the big bucks and it's not because they are just hanging out all day. When you are working, whether online or off, be aware of folks who drain your energy or co-opt your time. You simply don't have time for those people when you are supposed to be working.
    4. Don't confuse "nice" people with profitable people. Let's say one writer invests all of his time trying to make sure everyone knows what a great guy he is, while another writer invests his time landing assignments, delivering on deadlines, and landing the next gig. Who is the more successful writer? I'd say it's the more productive writer (the second example). And he's the one I'd be more likely to trust, as well. So go ahead, broadcast your success!
    5. Tackle the types of assignments that pay directly. Forget about any kind of writing job you "might" get paid for. Also don't count writing you do for exposure as "paid." And when someone offers you vague future money for today's actual work, take twice as much time to carefully consider the offer. Why not just take on the sure-thing assignments, which are the projects that pay you directly for your work? If you keep things simple, you are more likely to prosper in both the short run and the long run.
    6. Spend the most time doing whatever you do best even if that means doing a few different things. For example, I don't only write because if I only wrote all day, I'd soon be bored out of my mind, no matter how interesting the topics were that I was writing on. A restless person like me needs to do a variety of things. So I also teach and speak and the three efforts feed each other and increase my overall value as a writer.
    7. However, don't spread yourself too thin. I do a lot of different things but I've noticed that I can only do so many things before I hit overload, especially since I am a busy mom and wife, as well as a working professional. This overload point is going to be different for everyone and can change with your life circumstances, so adjust your expectations accordingly. You want to do everything you do well, not just scrape by.
    8. Capture all of your business expense receipts as the year ticks along so that you can benefit from every deduction available to you when you pay your taxes. I am not the queen of filing things, so I just get a big basket and toss all my receipts in there until I'm ready to sort and report. If you need a primer on the specifics of what you can and can't expense, pick up the March/April issue of Writer's Digest magazine and check out the article, "Taxpertise For Writers" by Bonnie Lee. In fact, the theme of the issue is, "Your Economic Survival Guide," so why not read the whole thing?
    9. Be timely. Seek and adopt the simplest systems to help you meet your deadlines, pay your bills, get your taxes submitted, etc. It doesn't matter which system you use. What matters more is that you make good use of the systems that work best for you and switch when one method stops working for you.

    I bet you want to spend as little of your time as possible being inefficient, so that you can get back to writing. So keep things simple: write, earn and prosper. An efficient writer is a profitable writer.
    And now if you'll excuse me, I have some writing deadlines to meet.

    Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kidsfor Writer’s Digest Books. She has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, presents at literary and publishing events around the country, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. Katz publishes a weekly e-zine, The Prosperous Writer, and hosts The Northwest Author Series. She holds an MFA in writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Dartmouth College. A “gentle taskmaster” to her hundred or so students each year, Katz channels over a decade of professional writing experience into success strategies that help writers get on track and get published.

    Focus on Writing Groups: Critters Workshop

    When you become a writer, one of the things you begin to obsess about is this: is my writing any good? Soon after, you run into another problem: you're afraid to let anyone see your writing, simply because you're afraid it's no good.

    It takes some writers awhile before they're ready for just anyone to read their writing. So, when you read the advice to join a critique group, it may seem intimidating to join a face-to-face group.

    I'm part of a live critique group I joined a few months ago, and it is a great experience. But for some, due to time constraints, a remote location, or just plain reticence, an "in-person" group might not work.

    An online critique group solves all those problems. You can critique when you have time. It doesn't matter if you live in Antartica. And you don't even have to use your real name.

    One such group is Critters Workshop. This is a critique group for writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It's free, and very effective. Critters boasts about 350 members. You'll critique someone's short story or novel chapter about once a week (Don't worry if you hate horror, or one of the other genres. You'll get to choose which story you critique.). And when you receive a critique on your own work, you'll get at least 15-25 separate critiques, averaging 800 words each.

    If you've got a completed novel that you'd like to edit before submitting to agents, Critters Workshop can cover you there. Put in a Request for Dedicated Readers, and a group of Critters members will sign up to read and critique your entire novel.

    Some Critters members are published novelists. Others are published in short fiction, and many are on the road to publication.

    I was a member of Critters Workshop for about a year, and it was a great experience. Mainly, I learned how to do a better job critiquing others. I submitted some of my own work, but that's not a requirement. If you love to read, you may end up doing more than one critique a week.

    The Critters site has testimonials from members who have benefited from the group. One such member is the prolific fantasy author Sherwood Smith. See? You'll be in good company.

    Book Review: Manuscript Makeover

    Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon is my new favorite self-editing book. Even if you're not finished with your first draft, this book will help you deepen your characters and come up with plot twists you might not have thought of otherwise.

    Manuscript Makeover was recommended by the amazing writing teacher Margie Lawson, known for her classes on Deep Editing. I knew that if Margie promoted it, that the book would be worth the money. You can see her interview with Elizabeth Lyon here.

    The subtitle: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, explains the value of the book. I read all of Amazon's sample pages before I made the decision to buy the book, and I'm so glad I did. Elizabeth Lyon has taught writing classes for years, and is well-known as an editor and author. This is her sixth book on writing.

    Each chapter begins with a short paragraph describing what you'll learn, so you can decide whether to read the chapter, or skip it if it's something you feel you've mastered.

    At the end of each chapter you'll find a detailed checklist that covers each of the points from the chapter. I like to make a copy of these and post them on my bulletin board so I don't forget the great ideas I just learned.

    One of my favorite chapters is Character-Driven Scenes and Suspense. By thinking through the questions Lyons poses about character stakes, motivation, strengths and weaknesses, I discovered so much more about my evolving characters. These, in turn, inspired plot points that would not have entered my mind. If you don't know your characters well, or you don't have enough for them to "do", this chapter could solve both problems.

    For those who read yesterday's post on query letters, here's a link to a video where Elizabeth Lyon explains the specifics of a good query letter.

    The Query Letter Demystified

    At some point or another, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, each of us is going to have to ask someone--somewhere--if they're interested in helping to publish what we write. Enter the query letter.

    Essentially, the query is a specific type of business letter, asking an agent or an editor if they would like to take a closer look at your writing. In the case of fiction, you're selling your finished novel. With non-fiction, you're often selling the idea for the article or non-fiction book you'd like to write.

    Even seasoned writers can get jittery when formulating a query letter. The style of writing is far different than for fiction.

    The most important point to remember when writing a query letter, is to follow that particular agent or editor's specifications. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Don't let an agent's first glance at your writing be a letter where you've ignored what they've asked for. They are looking for a reason to say no to you. Don't make it easy. And always have a few writer friends give you feedback before you send it.

    I've collected some great resources for learning the art of the query letter. Even if you are not ready to sell your work to an agent or editor, you may want to bookmark these links for the time when you've got an article or novel ready for primetime.

    Dissection of a Query Letter
    Writer's Digest, an excellent magazine, posts great articles about writing online. This article takes you paragraph by paragraph through the process of formulating your own query letter.

    Writing teacher Elizabeth Lyons explains five parts of a query in this video.

    Email Query Letters
    More and more agents are reducing paper clutter by requesting e-queries, or queries sent by email. The format for these are a little different than a paper query. Nathan Bransford, with Curtis Brown, Ltd., explains the e-query here.

    Keeping Track of Queries You've Sent
    QueryTracker is a site that every writer should bookmark. You'll find a database of literary agents and publishers, with statistics on each one of them. Would you like to know what percentage of queries a particular agent responds positively to? Are you interested in a site that can keep track of the queries you've sent out? QueryTracker is the place to go.

    AgentQuery is another site with a database of agents. They've got an article on how to write a query letter.

    Free Query Ebook
    Noah Lukeman, an agent with Lukeman Literary, has written an 85-page ebook titled How to Write a Great Query Letter, and he gives it away. Click here to get a copy. Noah Lukeman answers questions from aspiring authors here.

    Check What Agents Themselves Have to Say
    Many agents who blog, give away tons of information about what they like and don't like in query letters. Check out the blog tags on your favorite agent's blog, and click on "query" to see what they have to say.

    For example, on Friday, I highlighted literary agent Rachelle Gardner, here. Rachelle has posted forty-one times about query letters. That's a lot of good information. And she's not the only one.

    For the Thick-Skinned
    If you're truly brave, you can post your query letter for critique by actual agents. The downside is that you may discover some major flaws. But isn't that the upside, too?

    Miss Snark has a "mystery agent" critique anonymous queries every month.

    Ask Daphne, at KT Literary, critiques queries on her blog every day.

    If you know of an excellent query article, post a link in the comments. Thanks for reading!

    Agent Friday: Rachelle Gardner

    I'm beginning a new Friday column, titled Agent Friday. Each week, I'll highlight a literary agent that I've researched. I'll begin with agents that keep excellent blogs, so even if you're not looking for an agent, you'll learn something. Today's agent is Rachelle Gardner.

    Rachelle is relatively new to agenting, having been in the business for the last couple of years, but prior to that she worked in publishing for thirteen years. Her agency, where she is one of three agents is WordServe Literary. She hosts a blog, Rants & Ramblings on Life as a Literary Agent, that has garnered a coveted spot in Writers Digests Top 100 Websites for Writers two years running.

    Out of all the writing blogs I could spend my limited time on, I never miss Rachelle's blog. She recently conducted a poll, and found that the majority of her blog readers are unpublished writers of fiction. Her blog posts reflect that, as she writes about encouragment for writers, the waiting process, and many posts on how the publishing business works and what writers can expect.

    Rachelle labels her posts, so if you're looking for something specific, like book proposals or elevator pitches, you'll be able to find them quickly. Here are links to a couple of my favorite posts:

    All about backstory, and how it differs from flashbacks.

    A great post (including the comments) about the basics of learning to write.

    Rachelle's Top Ten Query Mistakes.

    Do you have a favorite agent blog? Leave a comment, and I'll add it to the list.

    History of Words

    Are you a "word nerd"? Do you enjoy the arcane origins of word we use every day? If so, you might enjoy Thomas Nelson's book What's in a Word: Fascinating Stories of More Than 350 Everyday Words and Phrases, by Webb Garrison.

    From Thomas Nelson's book description:

    Have you ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed? Did you make it to that early morning meeting by the skin of your teeth? Was your heart in the right place when you proposed that idea, even though you couldn’t hold a candle to the guy next to you who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth?
    If you’ve ever wondered what that word or phrase you just heard means, What’s in a Word? is just the book for you. If you love words, this fascinating and humorous encyclopedia of more than three hundred fifty words and phrases and how they evolved will keep you entertained for hours.

     The nice folks at Thomas Nelson sent me this book for review. I've had it for a few weeks, and due to my four children, it has migrated into the bathroom. Why? I suppose because it's the perfect read when you only have a few minutes. Most of the word histories are just a couple of paragraphs.

    Though some of the explanations are fairly self-explanatory (i.e. "floppy disk"), other words had sources that I'd never known. Though a person who has studied etymology for years might think of this as light reading, I enjoyed it, and my children found it entertaining.

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