Tag Archives: How to Publish Your Novel

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass

Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL is a compendium of advice honed from Maass’ 30 plus years as an agent. This book is designed to help the novelist at any stage of her career write a breakout novel, by which Maass means a novel that gets onto the bestseller lists.

Even though this is a book written by a successful agent, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like a book written for writers by a writer. Organized into eleven chapters, nine of those chapters are solid advice on craft. And the advice is intelligent and thoughtful. In a random flip through the book, I discovered this gem about the psychology of story telling:

“When an author pitches a great story premise, almost always the first question that spring to my mind (and I will bet to yours, too) is this: Could that really happen? It is an odd question. Fiction is not life. And yet for some reason most readers, me included, need to feel that the story we are being presented has some basis in reality. Why? The answer to that question lies in part in the psychology of storytelling, or rather story receiving. A work of fiction grips our imaginations because we care, both about the characters in the tale and about ourselves. To put it another way, we are concerned about the outcome of the story because what is happening to the characters could happen to us.”

This book is full of such gems. The best endorsement I can give of it is that my copy bristles with post-it flags. If you are a writer, or even an aspiring one, buy this book. Five stars.

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Websites to watch: HISTORICAL NOVELS and THE WORLD OF THE BLUE BELL TRILOGY

Today, I am showcasing two blogs that in their different ways show authors how to promote their work.

HISTORICAL NOVELS  has FIVE THOUSAND historical novels on its site, organized by time and place.  It is also a wonderful resource for aspiring writers of historical novels. At the bottom of the sidebar are links to the resources page with links to useful websites, and the writing tips pages with links to useful articles that discuss the special problems inherent in writing an historical novel.

THE WORLD OF THE BLUE BELLS TRILOGY is a website devoted to just one novel (THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND by Laura Vosika, the first in the trilogy). I picked this website because the author has done a wonderful job of blending background and foreground in her design of the website that conveys a feeling of the beauty and wildness of Scotland in the Middle Ages. I like this idea so much I am going to try it out on my new website.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN  is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear.FAMILY SPLINTERS is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Why joining Toastmasters might be important for a new writer

If you want to sell books nowadays, the sad reality is that you, the author, has to be prepared to do most of the heavy lifting.  You have to have a platform (people following you on Twitter & Facebook), a marketing plan, and yes, a video.

We all know that many writers are introverts. They like being by themselves, creating their stories out of thin air. But now, they have to wear a public face to market their novels. Standing up in front of a crowd, describing your novel, let alone reading it, is not for everyone. Many suffer from stage fright.

If you are one of those people who cringe at the thought of speaking before an audience, then the best thing you can do is to join Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a group of people who get together to hone their public speaking skills. Typically, their meetings are an hour long, and follow a structured format. There are the introductions, then everyone listens to 3 or 4 people give a 5-7 minute speech. Other members evaluate these speeches. Then there is Table Topics, in which anyone can be asked a question about current events, and has to reply, off the cuff, in a 2-3 minute speech. The meeting ends with reports from the Timekeeper and Grammarian.

As you can tell, I belong to Toastmasters. My club meets in an elegant mansion just north of Dupont Circle in Washington DC. Known to be maverick, Cap 2 meetings last an hour and a half, so that we can enjoy lunch together. People do not always give manual speeches, but there is a lot of fun and laughter at our club.

There are so many Toastmasters clubs, that if you live in a big city, you will be spoiled for choice. All of them are committed to help people become comfortable at public speaking. Don’t worry about making mistakes, everyone does. Take an hour out of your day, go, and enjoy yourself. You will find a warm and supportive environment, perfect for making new friends.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN  is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. FAMILY SPLINTERS is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Dan Poynter’s SELF-PUBLISHING MANUAL

I was going to write about something else today, but I’ve just finished reading Dan Poynter’s THE SELF-PUBLISHING MANUAL, and I think this is such an important book for an aspiring writer, that I’ve decided to share my observations.

The history of publishing in the last 100 years, has been one of increasing difficulty for writers. (And I’m not even talking about the insultingly low royalties that writers are expected to put up with! ) Up to the 1980s, it was not unreasonable to hope that an editor might take you on, even though you were an aspiring writer with a flawed first manuscript. Then editors got too busy to do that, so agents took over that role, and found publishing houses whose job it was to sell your books.

As many of you know, the new reality of publishing is that traditional publishers no longer see it as their job to sell your book, unless they think it is going to be a blockbuster. Too many authors have assumed that publishers will market their books, only to find out too late that very little effort was expended in that direction.

This is why Dan Poynter’s book is so valuable, both for those who choose to publish with a traditional publisher and those who choose to self publish. Why? Because I have never met an author who was so thorough and conscientious at explaining all the ins and outs of something.

You want a marketing plan for selling your novel? Buy this book, and flip through it. The chapter outlines will tell you exactly what to do. If you’re still unsure, Appendix 1 gives you a calendar of what to do, while Appendix 2 gives an exhaustive list of resources. Need more help? Go to his website, www.parapublishing.com, and you will find more articles, some free, some for a modest price.

If you do nothing else, buy this book. No-one else is going to care as much about selling your novel as you are.

I know. You would much rather be writing than selling, and thinking about selling gives you indigestion. But if you want people to read your books, you are going to have to do something to make them more visible.

Best of luck, and feel free to share your experiences by commenting below.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.


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Websites for workshopping your manuscripts

It is so hard to get quality feedback these days. Editors and agents are too busy to give it to you, and so you are forced to rely on the good nature of friends or relatives, or the people you happen to run into when attending a writing group.

My experience with writing groups has been mixed. In the beginning, when i was a brand-new writer, I found them enormously helpful, because I had so much to learn. Now that I have 2 novel-length MSS under my belt, I find them less helpful, because most of the people who show up are typically beginners with an incomplete first draft that needs some TLC. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you are a more advanced writer, you need more help than that kind of person is typically able to give you.

I’ve written before about joining book clubs, and how helpful that can be. I now want to mention a couple of sites that are designed to help writers workshop MSS.

The first one is Critters, which is for “serious writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror” to quote their website. To read more, click here.

The second one is Historical-Fiction-Writers-Critique-Group, which is a Yahoo! group. To belong to this group, you have to be extremely dedicated, because you are required to critique 3 MSS a month. This is a group I would love to belong to, but don’t because I can’t make this commitment. However, if you are in a position to do this, and you have a completed MSS that is ready for feedback that is a historical, you should definitely check it out. Click here to find out more.

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–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Jane Friedman’s blog THERE ARE NO RULES

This Friday, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to start a series of Friday posts that will highlight a blog or website that I think is particularly interesting.

Today, I’m going to talk about THERE ARE NO RULES, a blog owned and operated by Jane Friedman. Jane is the former publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest. She is currently visiting professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati and contributing editor to Writer’s Digest. Jane is very generous in passing on information via free webinars and blog posts, and I have learned a great deal from her on the changing nature of the publishing industry.

On Wednesday, Jane posted a blog from guest blogger John Rember, who wrote on the relationship between authors, agents and publishers.  Here is an excerpt from his blog:

But my troubles with my agent were never her fault. They were inherent to the relationship between agents and writers, which is a predator-prey kind of deal. Agents are not hoping to find, in you the writer, a diamond in the rough, a talent to be nurtured, a friend to be encouraged. They’re looking for the next John Grisham and they’re looking for 15% of a multi-million dollar advance. They are cold and hard businesspeople—if they aren’t, they end up living under bridges, and not the bridges in the Hamptons—so your talent or niceness is not their first consideration.

Many writers assume that with the big houses, a few bestsellers subsidize midlist writers. That’s the way it used to work. Now the CFOs of publishing houses demand that every book be a money-maker. In practice, this means editors are told to look for the next bestseller, and they, not being psychic, think that it looks like the last bestseller. Hence John Grisham, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and the dead Swedish guy.

To read more, click here.

To read Jane Friedman’s blog, THERE ARE NO RULES, click here.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Indie Presses

For those of you who would like to have the pleasure of hefting your novel in your hand as a codex of weight, extension and form, but don’t want to get sucked into the clanking machinery of big publishing conglomerates, Indies presses are the way to go. You might be surprised by how many of them there are. Because of the nature of the business, Indie presses tend to be niche enterprises. Some only publish poetry. Some want short stories or novellas. But there are some that do novels.

If you have written a novel that is set in a particular geographic region, you might want to consider contacting an Indie press in that region, because Indie presses like to cultivate local authors. For example, when I mentioned that my second novel HE MUST BE SOMEONE is set in Georgetown, Washington D. C., Ed Perlman, the owner of Entasis Press which is based in Washington D. C., visibly brightened.

You might wonder what is going to happen to Indie presses in light of recent turmoil in the publishing industry. I mean, aren’t books going the way of the dodo? And doesn’t that mean that their days are numbered? Not according to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) whose annual conference I attended at the beginning of February. Several small presses showed interest in digital apps such as Ampersand that display poetry on digital readers with the correct line breaks.

To read more, click here.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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How to freelance for magazines

It is so hard to get the attentions of an agent these days, anything you can do to help yourself should be pursued. One thing that is frequently recommended is selling articles to magazines to convince your agent that you actually have the skills to write at a high enough level to be published.

I took a webinar recently on this subject. Perhaps the most important thing that was said was this simple little question: WHY? Why do you want to pitch to a magazine? Is it for money? Or to meet interesting people? Or to get more work?

Here are some tips for how to get out of the slush pile:

  1. Write to the Managing Editor or Acquisitions Editor, and if you can find their names on the masthead of the magazine, use them.
  2. Ask for small assignments first. Assume that you’ll be writing the 300-word fillers until they get to know you better.
  3. Don’t sign a contract before checking out the magazine. Use Google, Preditors  & Editors, and Mr. Magazine.
  4. Take some time to find out how to write a good query letter. You could do worse than look at The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters.
  5. Last but not least, have fun! Write about things that you enjoy doing.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: Who are the Iowa Book Doctors?

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Publisher’s Marketplace

If you are seriously interested in publishing your novel, you should join Publisher’s Marketplace. For only $20 a month, you get daily listings of deals that agents make to sell forthcoming novels, as well as industry news and useful links.  You can use their website to track book sales, find agents, and read reviews. You can find reviewers, bookstores and bestsellers. (And, if you are an agent, you can use their recently unveiled Nielsen BookScan to track book sales.)

But for the unpublished author, the real benefit is that Publisher’s Marketplace opens the door into the publishing industry. And these days, it pays – literally – for writers to be savvy about book sales.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: How to freelance for magazines.

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