Robert McKee Answers “What Should I Ask Myself Before Writing a Story?”

Robert McKee, the guru of storytelling and author of Story, answers a writer’s question: “What questions should a writer ask herself prior to writing a story?

It’s a good question, but McKee provides a great answer, distilling the thousands of questions that swirl within a writer’s mind into possibly the single most important question to ask yourself before writing any story.

By |December 8th, 2015|Writing|0 Comments

Looking for a Literary Agent? Make Sure They Have These 3 Essential Qualities

In addition to the editing and ghostwriting I do on a full-time basis as part of BA Writing Solutions LLC, I also help authors craft book proposals. Though it’s not always offered as part of the package, I recently helped an author-client find a literary agent.

After being turned down by a few book agents (well, let’s be honest, I never heard back from them), one agent in particular showed keen interest in our proposal. He liked the pitch, the author, the platform, and the presentation. He spoke with my client and they both realized they had mutual connections. Deal done, right?

looking-literary-agent

My client still had reservations, and understandably so. Your book is your baby, and you want to place it in the best hands possible before sending it off into the world without your immediate help.

A few weeks passed and my client emailed me a strange question: “Is this agent in the Top 5?”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. Top 5 ever? Top 5 in his particular field? Top 5 this year? Top 5 in books sold? Top 5 in earnings? Still, I knew what he was getting at. Fortunately, this particular agent had no qualms in claiming his Not-Top-5 status. He was up front and honest about his work—which got me to thinking about what you really want to look for when you’re looking for a literary agent.

Though I’m sure there are more qualities—feel free to add some in the comments—I think a qualified literary agent only needs to show these three:

A Literary Agent Ought to Have Connections

A literary agent’s existence lives or dies on their connections. It’s like Marty McFly in Back to the Future when his future family fades from a photograph. Without connections, an agent just disappears. A book agent has to know people who actually work in publishing houses and are actively looking for new work. At the very least, literary agents have to know how to access the right people at a publishing house. At the very best, a connected agent has active, warm relationships with their publishing contacts so that when an agent sends a book their way, the publisher knows that the agent isn’t just wasting their time with a proposal that may not even fit what they’re currently looking to publish.

A Literary Agent Ought to Have Experience

Connections and experience go hand-in-hand. One bleeds into the other. Of course, a new author wants to land a literary agent with experience, preferably a decade or more. But the problem with this essential trait is that (typically) the more experienced an agent is, the less likely he or she will be open to taking on new and/or unproven authors (especially without a rock-solid referral from someone who’s already a client). You may be able to land an agent who’s sold a few books to a few different publishing houses, but wouldn’t you rather have the book agent who’s sold hundreds of books to dozens of houses?

Depending on where you’re at in your publishing journey, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of seeking an editor with years of experience (and maybe not being chosen) versus seeking an editor with only a few years of experience (and likely being chosen, but possibly having to endure a year or more of rejection as the agent gains more experience—via your book proposal).

A Literary Agent Ought to Have Passion

This may be the essential, essential quality you want to discover in a literary agent. When you speak with a possible agent or read their emails, does their passion for your project come close to matching your own? Of course, no one will be as proud of your baby as you are, but if an agent’s passion for your book can equal at least 70 percent of your zeal, you know you’ll have an agent on your side, championing you to make your book the best it can be before the two of you shove it off into the real world. If they have a clear understanding of why you’re writing a book (that’s your responsibility in the book proposal, by the way) and are behind the message, the method, and the man or woman behind the words, that’s an agent you’ll want to certainly consider.

A Literary Agent Ought to Be a Trusted Guide

The path to publishing that lies before you is long—at least a year or more—so strive to find the right traveling companion. To me, if your agent is connected, experienced, and passionate about you and your book, that’ll make for a much more rewarding journey, even if your first book proposal never graduates to full bookhood.

By |December 2nd, 2015|Books, Publishing, Writing|0 Comments

Do You Know the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing?

5-editors-tackle-the-12 fatal flaws of fiction writingIf you don’t know the 12 fatal flaws of fiction writing, don’t worry. I didn’t either.

In fact, I’m willing to bet there are at least a dozen more (that I’m sure to discover in due time). But, as for the specific 12 fatal flaws of fiction writing I’m currently discussing, five fantastic editors cover them in a book that releases tomorrow, aptly titled 5 Editors Tackle The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing.

Truth be told, I haven’t finished reading it, but gauging from the first three chapters, this is a book I’ll certainly finish before embarking upon my own great novel-writing adventure.

Better Fiction Writing

Of the half-dozen bookshelves in my house, one is solely occupied by books about the writing craft. 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing has earned a high spot on those shelves, and will be a recommended resource to the authors I work with and the writers I know.

C.S. Lakin, Linda S. Clare, Christy Distler, Robin Patchen, and Rachel Starr Thompson all present their own small essays regarding each of the 12 fatal flaws. In other words, that’s five editors’ suggestions on every fatal flaw. At first I thought this rather redundant (especially considering that the first chapter covers overwriting). But as I read through the chapter, I saw how each editor brings her own particular and useful insights to the topic at hand.

They also cover the flaws of:

  • Nothin’ happenin’
  • Weak construction
  • Too much backstory
  • POV violations
  • Telling instead of showing
  • Lack of pacing and tension
  • Flawed dialog construction
  • Underwriting
  • Description deficiencies and excesses
  • Pesky adverbs and ‘weasel words’
  • Flawed writing mechanics

Best of all, the editor-authors offer three utterly practical features throughout the book:

  1. Before and after examples that show how to effectively fix the fatal flaws.
  2. A checklist for each fatal flaw to help the reader-writer find these flaws in their own works.
  3. An example passage that allows the reader-writer to test themselves in discovering these fatal flaws, plus a suggested revision so that the reader-writer can see how closely their changes would have aligned with these editors’ changes.

5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing easily receives a five-star rating from me for its brevity, clarity, and practicality. If you want to get better at novel-writing, be sure to add 5 Editors to your writing library.

Disclaimer: I was offered a free advanced reader copy of 5 Editors from C.S. Lakin, on whose site I’ve previously guest posted: “Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Writers Need Editors.”

By |November 30th, 2015|Self Publishing, Writing|0 Comments

North Texas Giving Day: Why I Support Art House Dallas

art-house-dallas-logoI moved to Dallas in 2010 and lucked into a dream job less than a year later. During my first few months as an editor with FaithVillage.com (may the site rest in peace), we were tasked with forming relationships with Christian organizations across the nation. That’s how I first learned about one particular group that was in my proverbial backyard.

Although FaithVillage and Art House Dallas never connected, I connected with Art House Dallas rather quickly. I attended an event called the Art House Exchange, a casual pub gathering for creatives hosted in downtown Dallas. I met dozens of artists representing a broad swath of creativity: other writers, visual artists, filmmakers, songwriters, and even a chef. I felt like so many do after their first Art House Dallas experience: these are my people.

Soon thereafter, I began to lead some of the small group discussions during the Exchanges. This was simply a set-apart time for ten or so people to gather around a table and talk about the triumphs and tribulations of creating, whether they were working on a new story, a new painting, or a new song. It was fascinating to me (and still is) that despite our very different backgrounds and creative pursuits, many of our core issues (seeking validation, finding time to create, etc.) were similar.

A little over a year ago, Art House Dallas launched its first writers group. I was fortunate to be included in that group and still relish the monthly gathering of our ten or so members. About a month ago, we even had a special event to read excerpts from a collaborative short story project that our group created.

I share all of that to share this: Art House Dallas is many things to many people, but at its core it’s a community that makes you believe in yourself as a creative. 

Without the support of Art House Dallas, I never would have thought myself “worthy” enough to become my own boss last year. I don’t think I would have written the books I did without their accountability. I certainly wouldn’t have met a number of talented artists and writers whom I can now call friends.

There are hundreds of very worthy causes to give to for North Texas Giving Day, and if you’re in this area, I encourage you to find a few that resonate with you and give. But if you’re a creative and you want to support other creatives doing good work in this area, consider giving $25 dollars or more to Art House Dallas on September 17th, 2015.

Give to AHD

In doing so, you will help people find their calling, and that’s an invaluable return on investment.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Art House Dallas created a few promos about the kinds of artists they help. Kate is in my writers group, and it was pretty great to see her finish, publish, and launch her book, Holes in the Plan, over the last year (mostly because our group kept prodding her to do so).

By |September 17th, 2015|Writing|0 Comments

How to Become a Ghostwriter

Earlier this week, TheWriteLife published a recent guest post of mine, “A Lucrative Niche for Writers: How to Become a Ghostwriter.”

the-write-life-logoIt outlines what I think are the three most important skills you need in order to pursue ghostwriting, and none of them are what I would have thought you needed before getting into this rather strange writing world. If this interests you, please consider joining the conversation on their site. Here’s a tease:

Thomas Jefferson might as well have been describing how to break into ghostwriting when he wrote, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

In the summer of 2014, I quit my job to pursue full-time self-employment as an author and editor. Knowing that a majority of my income would likely not come from my books, I focused on seeking editing work. In less than a year, I shifted my focus to ghostwriting, a professional avenue I thought would be forever closed to me because I simply didn’t have the connections. I knew no celebrities, political figures or rich business types, but I did have three key assets …

Read the rest of “A Lucrative Niche for Writers: How to Become a Ghostwriter.”

If you’re in need of a ghostwriter, check out my recently launched Ghostwritefor.me.

 

By |May 8th, 2015|Writing|0 Comments