Archives: writing

You’ve been back and forth with your agent for months creating the perfect book proposal—making sure every argument you’ve made is unassailable, that every indent, line break, and page break is perfectly positioned, and that every t is crossed and i dotted. Your interactions are so frequent that when your phone alerts you to a new voicemail or email, it’s more likely to be your agent than anyone else.

Or perhaps you haven’t been working with an agent, but you’ve been toiling away on a novel, and after months (or years) of developing it, you’ve decided to try your chances with publishers directly. You’ve sent your baby out into the world.

The waiting is HARD. For some, the hardest stage. Below are some useful activities that will help you, and/or your agent, as you await the verdict.

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Marketing begins with an immediately accessible concept. As more books go digital and jacket art becomes a less important draw to readers, your title becomes your best (or worst) marketer. Look at the New York Times Bestsellers list each week: you’ll see common words repeating almost formulaically by category. How can one tap this formula? Simply by paying careful attention, even just looking at your own bookshelf or Kindle queue. Here are some of the top-selling titles we found to guide you in the right direction. Some might surprise you!

1. Guide to, Ways to, How to: 1,638,764 / 194,230/ 584,472

Practical titles caught us as the most prevalent: promising to fulfill something you need. But you don’t necessarily need to have written a self-help book to use these phrases.  Toby Young’s memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, a spin-off of the famous prescriptive business title: How to Win Friends and Influence People picks up on these buzzwords. Even fiction authors can take advantage: think of Melissa Bank’s breakout book, The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

Get creative with nonfiction help titles too by remixing classics like “What to Do When…” (119,112 in Search Results on Amazon) or calls to action, like: “How to Start…” (107,615 in Search). Readers browsing for particular information, whether for personal or professional interest, will respond to both the authority of a “How to” title and the originality of your spin on it.

2. Lives/Life: 1,665,413/1,665,455

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: A Novel, Life Beyond Words, My Horizontal Life, The Secret Life of Violet Grant… We were surprised by the number of books on bestseller lists containing these words. Three possible reasons: the word “life” implicitly suggests an arc, or progression, or wholeness to a story; it caters to voyeurism, an intimate look at someone else’s life; and finally, it brings a kind of drama through that voyeuristic lens. Many readers appear to respond to a title that feels both honest and sensational.

3. Children: 1,649,100

Everyone love talking about kids: Their kids, other kids, genius kids, and “those darn kids!” So it’s no surprise “children” is a popular search title. There are plenty of self-help books on how to raise a child (The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children). However, other popular fiction writers are also quick to play to our parenting sensibilities, like bestselling YA author Ransom Riggs’ novel Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, or Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

4. House/Home: 1,124,405/481,749

A house: one of the most basic units of life. Houses and homes are close to our hearts as well as our wallets. A self-help or style book focused on the house or home would do well to include these keywords, but even fiction books like House of Leaves by  Mark Z. Danielewski and Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch can capitalize on the ubiquitous and comforting nature of these words.

5. Perfect: 1,057,687

Are we more perfectionist than ever? Apparently so! Popular book titles reveal a lot about human psychology. Using the word “perfect” seems to automatically guarantee a better shot at bestsellerdom, from the book-to-film, A Perfect Storm, to self-help (and in this case self-published) bestsellers, like Creating Your Perfect Lifestyle.

5. You/Your: 776,534  / 486,158

Frame the topic of your book around a well-placed “you” or “your” and you have immediately established a connection with potential readers. You can go the more traditional route: Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company, or… Welcome to Your Brain and Don’t Look Behind You are playful takes on this tactic.

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If you’re a fiction or memoir lover, you have probably, at some point, fallen in love with a 20-Something title. Three favorites of ours: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, J.R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar and one hilariously well-written debut, Girls in White Dresses.

Even if a 20-Something book is written by a 40-Something, it’s still perhaps one of the hardest genres to sell—maybe because its primary audience increasingly reads content on Facebook and blogs, which offer so much dishing-all that, well, why would you need to read it elsewhere? (Ironically, according to this report, Gen Y seems to be leading in terms of overall book buying.)

Do readers want a story that is aspirational but characters who are not always? Very possibly. If the heroine of the novel is too precious, polished, or perfect, makes no blunders, has only happy endings—well, they’re just not so likeable, are they? The best 20-Something characters can be down-on-their-luck and still, with exquisite wry humor, make us laugh. And they’re usually tough, not wallowing in pain the way our 20-Something selves may be.

Agents, receiving more submissions in the history of books than ever before, are seeing more and more proposals and manuscripts written by, or about, 20-Somethings. Before you seek representation, here are a few pointers that might be helpful to consider.

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Lately, I’ve been admiring the craft of representation in my friends and colleagues. One agent with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work has been particularly inspiring. Like many agents, she’s witty, charming, and able to make wise decisions and thoughtfully field questions at an impressively fast page. There’s a subtlety to her manner that I can’t quite describe, except to say that her emails never jar me; never rub the wrong way. Remarkable, because being an agent requires both delivering good news and bad, and often disproportionately. This person has achieved a certain delicacy with both – never over-promising, nor glossing or muddying her words. But what I admire most in said mysterious agent? Read more »

We asked, you answered.

We’re happy to host Todd Aaron Jensen, author of a collection of celebrity essays called On Gratitude, Chris Semal, author of mystery/noir Trial of Tears, and Rebecca Regnier, author of humor/diet/social media book, Your Twitter Diet in a virtual conversation on the ups and downs and tricks of the trade in today’s “new school” of publishing.

1) With over 3 million people wanting to write books, why did you feel yours needed to be written, or would stand above the rest?
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There’s a first rule in becoming an agent: “learn how to manage your client.” This is true of any entertainment agent: when you are invested in someone’s longterm career, you need to allow your client to dream big in the creation process but moderate expectations in the fulfillment of that dream with conservatism, and guide clients to detach themselves from their work as more parties are involved. And encourage that they detach themselves again when they become, as so many artists, the subject of criticism or enjoy the celebrity of fandom–the majority of well-recognized authors experience both, in equal part.

But what about managing your agent or your editor?  Read more »

This week has been a revelation on the power of Twitter. Broadcast journalists looked to Twitter to predict the final vote for the first primary based on mentions of competing candidates. Ed Burns, the famous-in-certain-circles rom-com filmmaker, created a low-budget movie, Newlyweds (9k? No way…) crowdsourced by his Twitter followers. Who else can direct a director but Twitter?

Even white-shoe finance firms aren’t above the trend. The real-time aspect of Twitter gives it a newsbreaking advantage in reporting earnings, and thereby could even decide important trading decisions. It’s opinion, not always credibly so, that seems to matter most to Twitter’s 225 million, and clearly diversely interested, members.

I am no Twitter junkie. I’m still learning best practices for Twitter just like everyone else. I started out hating it on principle alone, and then fast realized that, as a marketer, it was a fight ’em or join ’em, crush or be crushed situation. Now, I struggle to create my own persona: a mix of pop cultural addictions observed with dry humor, a proclivity for being controversial…all of which can misfire. And then there’s the publishing and author promotional part — my job — which I try to balance with personal commentary. And risk either navel-gazing or overshare. (You can witness my hapless daring, stumblings, and book cheerleading @lucindablu and attempts to follow industry news at the company account @lucindalitNYC. Tell me what I’m doing right or wrong, by all means.)

Last, I keep abreast of all those I follow in hopes there’s an interesting fact to be learned or conversation to be had. It’s time-sucking, but it isn’t mindless. I’m devoted to seeing value in Twitter myself, so I can more authentically advise my authors.

It’s an art, in progress. And no doubt, after Twitter, there’s another boiling pot.

But getting to authors…and back to Ed Burns. There’s something he’s done in conceiving “Newlyweds” that should be noted among the writing community. Read more »