Author Solutions, authors, Editing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

The 4 most important elements of a great novel

The Author Learning Center was created with the purpose to help authors learn from other authors to improve their craft, understand their publishing options, plus gain insights on marketing and bookselling. I have made the statement before that I think it is the most comprehensive resource on the web for aspiring authors to learn about writing, publishing and marketing. The latest example that supports my case is this interview with Meg Waite Clayton, author of Wednesday’s Daughter’s among others.

Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. If you don’t have those, you don’t have a story

In this interview, which was filmed at The San Francisco Writers Conference, Meg shares some practical advice on the key elements to include in a novel that is well written. The interview is only three minutes long and definitely worth the watch, but in case you don’t hit play, here are her recommendations.

  1. Focus on the plot–Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. If you don’t have those, you don’t have a story
  2. Let your characters have flaws–Perfection is not that interesting according to Meg. Anger, frustration, shortcomings–these are the things that make characters interesting and help the reader relate to them.
  3. Deliver the details in an interesting way–Don’t just say the person has blue eyes. Describe the eyes as “dirty blue eyes” which tells you something about the person making the observation as well as the person being described
  4. Pay attention to your word choices— She quotes Mark Twain who says the difference between lightning and lightning bug is one word, but the addition of that one little word makes a huge difference.
Author Solutions, authors, book marketing, Editing, helpful hints, Publishing, self publishing

Best-selling author Robert Dugoni shares how rejection can actually help you become a better writer.

I have written many times about how much I respect the way the San Francisco Writers Conference runs their event. The sessions are always quite diverse and the keynote addresses are always top-notch. The other thing I really enjoy is meeting and hearing from authors who have been commercially successful. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, I have found these authors to be humble and encouraging to writers.

Take for example this interview with Robert Dugoni. He is the author of a number of best-sellers, including Bodily Harm, Murder One and The Cyanide Canary. He shares how to turn rejection into motivation to be a better writer.

authors, book selling, helpful hints, self publishing

Bestselling and prolific Goosebumps author, R.L. Stine shares how he comes up with ideas.

At the San Francisco Writer’s conference this past year, R.L. Stine, bestselling author of the Goosebumps series gave an amazing keynote address. He had some great insights for all authors, but the thing I was most interested in was his discussion of how he comes up with ideas.  What I have said for quite some time is that authors have to find their own way and  method for writing. In this interview, which is featured on the Author Learning Center, Stine informs and inspires and affirms the idea that there is no formula for every writer to use. Enjoy.

Author Solutions, authors, iuniverse, Publishing, self publishing, writing

A interview with author Leda Sanford about her book Pure Moxie.

Pure MoxieOne of the great joys of my job is having the opportunity to speak to a wide variety of authors. Their experiences and stories are always inspiring to me. At the San Francisco Writers Conference, I had the opportunity to meet Leda Sanford. Leda, was a very successful executive who broke the glass ceiling and wrote a book to chronicle her experiences. I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about her book. My questions and her answers are below.

  • What inspired you to write your book?

I was inspired by a desire to share with other  women my story of re-invention and success at a time when women were just beginning to examine the adequacy  of their roles as wives and homemakers.  In 1998 when I moved from Manhattan to California   I was constantly asked by women to tell them the story of my life…about ” how I did it” ..and how at 59 I had the courage to leave everything behind and move to California.  This always led to the other question of how did I have the courage to break up my marriage at age 33, and with two children age 5 and 11, get a job in a field I was not educated for  ( magazine business) and within 5 brief years break the glass ceiling in 1975 and become the first female publisher and president of a major American publishing company, and American Home magazine.

How I did it and what were the steps that I took along the way?

What was the “secret” of my survival and success and the continuing response to the age barrier as well as the gender discrimination ?

My  answer at a dinner party when asked this question now is : BUY MY BOOK!

Even though I was “famous” in my field and have many articles to prove it including my Wikipedia listing…  there is the validation that comes from being “an author”…,

  • What do you hope readers will gain from reading the book?

 I hope that readers will draw from my book the courage to explore the dimensions pf their unique destiny while not negating their designated roles and wives ,  mothers and caregivers because there is no better preparation for aging than the power that comes from being a multidimensional person . I hope that the readers will see the importance of having courage rooted in determination and a willingness to accept the possibility of failure without being crushed by it. 

  • You have had extensive experience in publishing. How do you think that helped you in your writing and publishing process?

My many years of writing for magazines and directing and developing the writers ,  editors and art directors who reported to me cultivated  in me the ability to “communicate” through writing, editing and the ability to be brief. Get to the point …Grab the reader..

  •  What tips would you give to aspiring writers who are thinking about publishing?

Read the new York Times especially the Sunday Book Review section.

Avoid critique groups of amateur writers. You can’t learn from these people.

 Submit your writing to the scrutiny of accomplished professionals that you have to pay.

Would you go to a free “doctor.?”

 My best teacher taught me that “Writing is Rewriting.”

Watch C-SPan Book TV on Sat. & Sunday  channel 109

  • What has been the most satisfying thing about publishing a book?

For me he most satisfying thing about publishing a book is the feeling of immortality.

Even though I was “famous” in my field and have many articles to prove it including my Wikipedia listing…  there is the validation that comes from being “an author”…,someone who dedicated  time and energy to sharing their soul with other people . And there is the ego gratification that I enjoy when giving my book to someone or when people come to hear me speak about it..

Author Solutions, authors, book marketing, Ebooks, Editing, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

4 great tips for every writer from Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki speaking at the San Francisco Writers Conference,

Guy Kawasaki speaking at the San Francisco Writers Conference,

In my last post, I mentioned my attendance again this year at the San Francisco Writer’s conference, which took place back in February. One of the keynote addresses at the conference was given by Guy Kawasaki. Guy has published a dozen books using both traditional publishers and by self-publishing. He most recently self-published a book titled, APE, Author, Publisher, Entrepeneur. As he was researching the book, I had conversations with him about the services offered by Author Solutions  and other topics related to self-publishing.  I had never met him till the conference, but in our conversations I always found him to be a very reasonable and insightful person. His keynote only reinforced my opinion. He shared ten tips for authors today. With his permission, I am sharing a few with you in this post and in a  post to come.

  1. Write for the right reasons-According to Guy, writing for money is the wrong reason. Money is a consequence of writing a good book, but it should not be the primary motivation. He suggested there are others, such as enriching people’s lives, furtherng a cause or meeting an intellectual challenge. Could not agree more.
  2. Write everyday-I thought this was interesting challenge, but his point was writing is a skill and the more you practice  it, the better you get at it.  For a busy person, this can be hard to do, but it is a worthy goal.
  3. Build your marketing platform-This is not a new thought. Many have said it, but I thought he had some insights that bear repeating. The first point he made is you should build a platform so that you can “earn the right” to share your book with potential readers. That means you have to give to your audience before you ask them to buy your book.  One of the best ways to do that is “curate” content about the topic your potential book buyers are interested in.  Become a “sector expert” as Guy suggests, offering content that is of interest to your readers. In other words, become the go-t0 person for a particular topic.
  4. Tap the crowd-Seth Godin called this building a tribe, but it is the same idea. Use social media to build a following long before you publish your book. Use them for input on your title and your cover and even as beta readers. Their input will likely improve your book and give you a base of potential customers. Writing is a solo sport, but publishing should be a group activity.

Writing is a solo sport, but publishing should be a group activity.

Author Solutions, authors, book marketing, book selling, Ebooks, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

3 key takeaways from the San Francisco Writer’s Conference-2013 edition

sfwcLogoThis past weekend, I attended and spoke at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. I would contend it is one of the best, if not the best writer’s conference, in the country. The variety of speakers and panels and the keynote speeches are quite good. This past year was no different. Keynotes were delivered by:

  1. Bella Andre, the most recent self-published author who has garnered signifcant sales and press recognition. While her story was inspiring, it was interesting that she referenced how many people she has working for her to make sure her books are edited and formatted. I.t reinforced the need to find service providers who can help you.
  2. Guy Kawasaki, who has authored 12 books. Ten were traditionally published. Two were self published. His keynote was exceptional. I plan to do another blog post on the content he shared. Stay tuned. It will be coming shortly.
  3. R.L Stine, author of the best-selling Goosebumps series focused on where ideas come from and his presentation was hilarious and inspiring.

I believe you can order these presentations on the web site and I would encourage you do so. They are all worth the time. However, as I listened to the various presentations, the questions posed to me in my presentation, The Four Paths to Publishing and the conversations I had with many authors, I heard some common themes.

  1. Self publishing was the talk of the conference–Actually that isn’t that surprising given the events of the past year, but it still is amazing to see how quickly the conversation has changed from avoiding self-publishing to embracing it.
  2. Publishing is not an individual sport–No matter what path an author choses to publish, it still requires help from professional resources. There is an illusion that you can do this all by yourself for free, but the reality is you are going to need to either source help or work with an individual or company that helps you find the resources you need to get your book published.
  3. The quality of the writing in the book is still the most important thing–Over and over again, I heard presenters reinforce no matter what path you chose to use for publishing, the most important thing is the book. It should still be the focus of any author. So continue to work on your craft and the vision you have for your book.
agents, authors, book selling, Editing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

Agent Laurie McLean answers MORE key questions about authors and agents.

Recently I did a post on the agent/author relationshipas described by agent Laurie McLean. Readers found her insights and perspective very helpful, so I thought I would ask her some additional questions that authors often have regarding agents.

Laurie is the senior agent at Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco and represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, nouveau westerns, mysteries, suspense, thrillers) as well as middle-grade and young-adult children’s books. In addition, Laurie is the dean of the new San Francisco Writers University and is on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Here are some additional thoughts from Laurie that I think you will find helpful.

Agent Laurie McLean gives you more insight on how to work with an agent.

Do agents and editors have personal relationships? What I love about the publishing industry is that the writing trumps everything. I can be an editor’s best friend, but he or she will still not buy a property from me if it isn’t superbly written and just exactly right for their list. Agents and authors need each other. This means they must work together, and the closer, the better. Since we all love books, it’s easy to form a friendship based on a common bond; so yes, agents and editors have both personal and professional relationships of varying degrees, but if a book isn’t right for a particular editor, it is assumed that they will reject it and the friendship remains intact.

How important is it that an agent knows where a manuscript fits? Knowing where a manuscript fits should be part of any good agent’s knowledge base. A good agent knows which editors want what material, and even better, a good agent knows what they don’t want. Like relationship-building in any industry, information sharing and mutual respect are keys to getting the job accomplished.

When an agent recognizes the perfect storm of excellent writing skills, exceptional storytelling talent and a direct fit into the market, a tingle goes up the spine. I myself get giddy. I love it when I know exactly which four editors will go ape over a particular romance novel or fantasy novel or horror story.

What is a query? A query is a brief request for consideration of your work. My colleague Michael Larson says that queries should have the hook, the book and the cook, and I like that.  It’s simple to remember and a great way to structure a query.

The hook is the brief tantalizing phrase about your book that will excite the reader enough to want it and read it. If you go to a movie, for example, the trailers that they show before the feature film starts give you a visceral decision to make by the end of a 30-second period: I’m definitely going to go see that movie, or I’d never see a movie like that. That’s what you’re trying to achieve in your hook — not the latter, obviously. You want the editor or the agent to say, ‘Wow, I want to read more of this.’ That’s the goal of the hook.

The bookis an expansion of the hook that gives more depth and builds on the promise of the hook, so the agent knows there is a story behind the hype.

The cook is about you, the author. Hit the highlights of your writing credentials. Mention any famous author endorsements or awards you’ve won, and put it last in your query letter, not as the lead. Agents want to know about the book first, then the author, and please, leave out details such as your marital status, how many children you have or that your kids love your writing. It just doesn’t matter to the agent or the editor at this point in the conversation, and you’re wasting valuable space.

How does a submission differ from a query? A submission is the first few pages of your manuscript and a brief synopsis of the plot and major turning points.

How long does it take for an agent to reply to my query? The length of time between receipt of a query, reading of a query and reply to the author depends heavily on an agent’s style and his or her workload at any given moment. It can be anywhere from minutes for an email query to six months or more in extreme cases. Some agents don’t reply at all unless they want to request more to read or offer representation. My best advice is to check the website of each agent you submit to and discover their usual response time. If you can’t find the information there, you can also email or call and ask, or check,, or for such information.

I try to reply to queries within four to six weeks, although when I get super busy with client deals, unsolicited submissions take a big backseat, and my reply time lengthens accordingly. If an agent hasn’t replied within eight weeks, it is perfectly acceptable to drop them a line, an email, using whatever process you used to query them originally and inquire about your submission. Sometimes queries get lost in the mail or in cyberspace, so don’t assume anything. Submit, wait eight weeks, then inquire.

One further point: At the query stage of the process, it is not necessary to grant any agent exclusivity. The idea at this point is to spread your query far and wide, to an appropriately targeted list of agents. If an agent asks to read the full manuscript, then you might consider offering them an exclusive, but only if the agent requests it and only for a month or less. You don’t want to be hung up. How can you create a query that leads to further reading? Make it personal. Make it interesting. Make it brief and powerful. Edit it to eliminate all grammatical errors — you’d be surprised at how many there are in the queries that I read. A referral from one of the agent’s clients would definitely bump you up to the head of the line, so those are the things you can work into your query that will make you stand out.