It Turns Out, All You Need to do is Write a Great Book

It turns out that all you need to do is write a great book. That’s right, you can skip social media, bookstore events, publicity, giveaways, and other complicated marketing plans. All you need to do is write a great book.

Then wait.

Wait for an agent to find you. Oh, so I suppose you will want to send out a query letter. I mean, that’s okay, right? So you have to write a great book, then send out query letters.

Then the agent will find a great publisher for you! I mean, chances are, in that process the agent or an editor may ask for changes to the book, to help ensure that it meets the needs of that partner – the publisher. So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, and make edits to your great book based on the needs of other partners.

Then the publisher will ensure your book gets published and shared with readers! But of course, you’re wise to negotiate that contract really well. Your agent is absolutely a key partner in this process, but let’s face it, every small decision may be fraught with a sense of ‘do or die’ because after all, you wrote this amazing book! Film rights? You want those, don’t you? So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, and negotiate a contract.

It is happening – your book is being readied for publication! Your publisher has taken the reins to guarantee this book gets out in to the world! Wait, they want to go right to paperback? They chose a cover you aren’t sure about? There is yet another round of edits? You are beginning to get nervous about what the marketing plan is? You wonder which bookstores it may be in?

Lots of questions, right? And of course, this is a partnership, likely with many others involved Not just your editor, but designers, marketers, the sales team, and so many others. So all you have to do is write a great book, send query letters, make edits based on your partners’ input, negotiate a contract, and be a team player in all aspects of publishing a book.

Continue Reading »


We Are What We Write?

Flickr Creative Commons: art of imagined reality

Flickr Creative Commons: art of imagined reality

Kim here to welcome and introduce WU’s latest contributor, Therese Anne Fowler. Therese is the author of the New York Times bestselller Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and three other novels. She has a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology, an MFA in creative writing, and occasionally teaches writing workshops at North Carolina State University. Therese lives in Raleigh, NC with her partner and their (mostly) agreeable cats.

In early 2008, Therese Walsh emailed me with an interview request. She was a regular visitor to my blog (as I was to WU) and knew my debut novel was about to launch. With characteristic generosity, she wanted to help me get the word out, and we ended up producing a two-part interview (that you can read here and here). It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that has seen us through the promise and perils of this publishing life—four books for me, two for her, in seven years so far.

We were on retreat together in the North Carolina mountains last September when “the other Therese,” as she first referred to herself, mentioned there was an opening at WU for a new contributor. Might I be interested? I said, “Absolutely! Count me in.” The novel I was trying to configure during the retreat would surely be well underway by the time my first post came due in March.

Alas. I’m no closer to having a completed manuscript today than I was last fall—or, in fact, the previous fall. Which just goes to show that you can think you know something, can believe you know it, can foresee a path ahead, and even then can be mistaken. This is true for a lot of things, but nowhere more so than in publishing.

Note that in the above paragraphs I’m saying “publishing” as opposed to “writing.” I referred to the perils of the publishing life, the mistaken beliefs I had about publishing. It’s an important distinction. Writing has its own very different perils and paths.

In re-reading the 2008 interview, I had two prevailing reactions: I thought I sounded pretty competent, which made me happy. I certainly don’t always feel so competent. And I thought Wow, was I ever naïve. Continue Reading »


Becoming a Better Writer in 2015, part 2

In December, I wrote about setting goals for being a better writer in 2015. As it is now March and we’ve hadCrazy Train three months, it seemed a good time to check in. How are you doing? (If you want to check what you wrote, go to the comments here.)

Leaving out my usual quantitative goals, which are particular to my own writing style and won’t be interesting or inspiring to others, I wrote that my goals this year were:

–to do something that scares me, take a chance on the work in a way I haven’t done before
–to choose a particular aspect of writing to study
–to find writers I haven’t read and classics I haven’t explored
–come up with new ways to fill the well, “maybe take a class in watercolors or something.
–think about what would make my work more joyful, stronger, exciting to me

[W]e as creators are born to take things apart and blow them up and play with new visions and see what makes our own souls sing.

One thing worth mentioning is the fact that my output has been quite slow. We traveled in early January and I’m still healing from two knee surgeries, so my brain is not functioning at full power just yet. This is part of life, too, that we are not always writing under perfect conditions. I was happy to have written 13000 words in February, mostly in short stints sitting in my chair with my leg propped up and piled with ice. It’s not enough to meet my goals for the year, but it’s okay for a month when life was compromised.

–That book is fulfilling one of my goals—to take a chance, to try something that scares me. I have no idea where it will go from here, or how, but I’m glad to be leaping off the ledge again. It’s exhilarating.

–I haven’t chosen any particular thing to study this year. Continue Reading »


Interview: Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt

johnny 3Photographic Artist

Today’s treat at WU has two faces—I wouldn’t be able to show you their hands, because they are typing too fast. Welcome to Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt of Sterling and Stone, the wide website umbrella that houses their “story studio” of fiction imprints, blogs and podcast. Together, along with their other partner David Wright, they have produced an astonishing array of novels and stories over the past few years, averaging over a million and a half words a year. And popular words, from looking at their Amazon pages. Their genres run the gamut from westerns, horror, fantasy, and thrillers to children’s books. (And naughty stuff too, for large children.)

Their 2014 Write, Publish, Repeat self-publishing guide has hundreds of positive reviews; I’m one of the happy readers that regards it highly. Today we’ll discuss with Sean and Johnny how they work as writing collaborators, their remarkable productivity, and how they promote their work. And whether Sean will open up a winery. From now on I’m going to sit under their keyboards and just catch the discards—should be worth at least three novels.

Jumping right in, you call your main site, the Sterling and Stone site, a “story studio.” Will you explain that for the Writer Unboxed audience in terms of your imprints and the fact that you guys write in various genres, from horror, fantasy, to even children’s stuff. Continue Reading »


A Trove of Trivial One Liners

treasure chestMy hard drive is kind of a treasure chest. I have so many half-developed ideas and stillborn stories (and such a bad memory for them) that every time I poke around in there I find something unexpected, surprising, and fun. That most of this has seen no commercial light of day is a natural function of a long and productive writing life, and a realistic consequence of the good ol’ wheat-to-chaff ratio. Young writers, I think, cling to the fantasy that every word they write is gold – sellable gold – and that none of it will go to waste. Young friends, I tell you from my heart, most of it goes to waste (see above: wheat-to-chaff ratio). That’s not a good thing and it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing that is. Writing is messy and writing is inefficient. That’s why writing is rewriting, and why every level of development is merely the platform upon which we stand to reach the next level.

I never had the expectation that I would exploit every word I wrote, except in the sense that every word I write – wheat and chaff alike – helps me raise my game. But when you have a hard drive as hoary as mine, some of it is bound to find a second life some time, as for example the list you will find below of words and phrases that define certain conditions of the writing life.  Continue Reading »


How To Love Our Readers and Our Art: A Call For Author Ethics

kgrubbOur guest today is Katharine Grubb—a mommy, homeschooler, novelist, baker, comedian wanna be, former running coward, author of a novel (Falling for Your Madness) and a book about how to write in very small increments: Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day will be released on March 26.

For more information about author ethics in relation to self publishing, please see this excellent post by WU writer Porter Anderson, where he discusses 8 Issues in Author Ethics. Porter was actively involved with ALLi in bringing attention to the issues of author ethics.

Katharine was introduced to the topic of author ethics by friend Jane Steen, the author of the Authors Code of Ethics published by ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors). In 2014, she created the Facebook group called 10 Minute Novelists and during the month of February, author ethics were discussed. Katharine believes that not enough attention is given to good practices for writers. Independent publishing is rather new and has never been easier for authors, and she believes writers need to take their online presence seriously, love their readers, respect their art and hold themselves to an honorable standard as they promote themselves and their books.

Connect with Katharine on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

How To Love Our Readers and Our Art: A Call For Author Ethics

Why do we write?

We write to wade through the chaos of the world and find a clear path. We write because the pain we’ve faced in the world is so great that we need to see the truth of it on paper so it no longer has any hold on us. We write so that we can explain to others that exact feeling, that heart breaking conflict or that comforting truth. We write because if we didn’t our own misery would consume us. We write because we love to have written, we love to have someone read our words and smile. We write because we know words wielded well are powerful and change minds, hearts and lives.

We retaliate against bad reviews. We make shady deals to have our friends review our books in dishonest terms. We manipulate our numbers to make it appear that we’ve sold more books than we actually have. 

Because we hold words and our art so dearly, we may find it difficult to release our words into the world. Our words and our reputation (what some of us call platform or brand) are closely tied to our words. We’ve precisely controlled the words so letting them go can be frustrating.

Admittedly, some of us have no confidence in our readers. They are notorious for glossing over the important parts, for ignoring the nuances and for missing the point. At times, we may believe that we are superior to our readers because we were once gods. We created the world that they hold in their hands. That our reader can read completely in a few hours what it took years for us to create galls us. That our reader can find another book cheaply and easily infuriates us. We use this, perhaps, to cloak ourselves in artistic and moral superiority. When we do that, when we taint what was once meant to be a gift to the world. When we slip into anything less than love for our reader we turn the beautiful into the ugly.

When we are ugly, we are very ugly. Continue Reading »


How to Win a Literary Feud

HfHWarning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Every author strives for greatness. You’ll have to invest thousands of hours honing your craft and dealing with rejection, though, if you want to be mentioned among the immortals. Or just find one of the immortals and punch them.

Ernest Hemingway vs. Wallace Stevens. John Updike vs. Salman Rushdie. Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman. A good literary feud can be as exciting as the authors’ books. You may think you already need to be a famous author to have a noteworthy spat. This is the twenty-first century, bub. Between cons, book tours, and social media, it’s never been easier to harass your idols in public.

Step 1: Choose Your Opponent

Feuds occasionally happen over innocent misunderstandings, but you’ll have a better success rate with willful misunderstandings.

If you already have author enemies, this will be easy. If you don’t have enemies, make some. With a personality like yours, trust me, you’re waaaaaay ahead of the game on this one, pal.

Many a feud has resulted from personal slights; Paul Theroux fantasized daily about V.S. Naipaul dying in a fire because Naipaul auctioned off a personalized copy of Theroux’s book. Think back to when an author offended you. Did a famous author once flag your blog comment for spam  just because it was blatant advertising for your self-published memoir? Sounds to me like Mr. Famous has let fame go to his head. The Internet has expedited personal slights the way the Panama Canal sped up international shipping. Somewhere, my special little snowflake, there’s a writer who irritates you in ways you never thought possible. When you find them, you’ll know your mutual loathing was meant to be.

Step 2: Get Ready to Rumble

You’ve got your target, but it’s not a feud until both parties attack. You need to provoke a response. Start with a snarky review of their book. It is not necessary to have read the book beforehand. In fact, the more incoherent the review, the more likely you’ll goad them into battle. The Faulkner estate was very quick to respond when I said “A Rose for Emily” would’ve been better if the zombies had won.

Feuds occasionally happen over innocent misunderstandings, but you’ll have a better success rate with willful misunderstandings. Go ahead and read sinister intent into your opponent’s behavior; you can safely assume their protagonist’s love of peanut butter crackers alludes to severe flaws in the author’s character. It’s hard to properly antagonize a person of letters over a difference of opinion. It’s much easier when you realize they’re really a crypto-fascist baby-eater. Continue Reading »


‘Take Charge of Your Own Book': Writing a Personal God

Image from the book trailer for Amish Tripathi's The Shiva Trilogy

Image from the book trailer for Amish Tripathi’s The Shiva Trilogy

‘One of those guys who refused to enter temples’

Bear with me, I want to quote an author to you at a little length:

My books are historicals. They’re set in the India of 4,000 years ago…My books are based on a premise that Lord Shiva was a real historical man, who lived 4,000 years ago, and his grand adventures gave rise to the myth of the god. So I’ve written on a Hindu god. But I was an atheist, eight or nine years ago. Today, I’m a very devoted Shiva worshipper. But eight or nine years ago, I was a committed atheist. I was one of those guys who refused to enter temples. It’s been a really long and strange journey.

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

On Wednesday, the London Book Fair’s opening conference — called Publishing for Digital Minds (#PDMC15) — held an advance event. Conference Director Orna O’Brien and her staff in London, supported by Midas PR’s Chris McCrudden, staged an eight-hour series of events, a “Virtual  Stream” that included events via Google Hangout, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. Here’s the full list of events. The day started at 5 a.m. Eastern and was finished by 1 p.m.

I was asked to handle the 90-minute India segment on Twitter. We started with a 45-minute interview with Hachette India’s Managing Director Thomas Abraham and with Penguin Random House India’s Children’s Publisher Hemali Sodhi. These were terrific interviewees, beautifully prepared, firing off tantalizing details of one of the most vast and complex books markets on Earth.

  • Sodhi, for example, knew precisely how to tell me the reach of the young readers’ market in India: “More than half our population,” she said, “is under 25 years old.”
  • And Abraham nailed the promise of mobile reading on smartphones in India: “Look at the potential, Porter: The number of telephone subscribers in India rose to 970.97 million at the end of December 2014.”

I would interview Sodhi and Abraham again in a heartbeat. They were efficient, personable, fascinating, and they were all that in what is actually a difficult format, the live Twitter interview with two simultaneous guests and a host.

But it was yet another of those nearly-one-billion Indian phone subscribers whose chat with me was even more compelling. And for a very different reason. At its heart — maybe in his heart — lies my provocation for you today.

‘An earthy and frankly rather cool God’

Amish Tripathi

Amish Tripathi

The second 45-minute segment of my India section was a Twitter interview with an Indian author named Amish Tripathi. If you’re Indian, you know him simply as Amish. On Twitter, he is @AuthorAmish with more than 90,000 followers and not even 5,000 tweets on record. I probably made him tweet more than he’s ever done in 45 minutes.

I want to bullet out for you the technical facts of this man’s writerly success quickly, so you have the context.

  • Amish Tripathi is 40, based in Mumbai, married and a father.
  • He has three books to his name: The Immortals of MeluhaThe Secret of the NagasThe Oath of the Vayuputras.
  • These three books form his Shiva Trilogy. The first book in his new Ram Chandra series is to be out later this year, The Scion of Ikshvaku.
  • The Shiva Trilogy has sold more than 2.2 million copies, bringing in more than US$9.4 million to date.
  • Film projects are in the works on The Shiva Trilogy both in India and in Hollywood.

Tripathi and his agent self-published his first book, The Immortals of Meluha. Reports say it was rejected as many as 40 times by publishers. “I stopped counting after 20,” he tells me in our interview. With a lot of inventive presentational marketing — high-end physical publication of a sample chapter given away free in bookstores, etc. — Tripathi and his agent leveraged the 5,000 self-published copies enough to draw the eye of the publisher Westland, which now has bragging rights on a very smart move.

For the record, Tripathi isn’t really a self-publishing story, by which I mean he’s not about self-publishing and doesn’t want to be. Self-publishing 5,000 copies to draw the attention he needed to Book 1 with some aggressive, smart marketing was the way to what he wanted, a contract: the means, not the end. This is something I wish more of our authors today could consider instead of falling into the distraction of self-publishing as some sort of crusade. But that’s for another provocation. Suffice it to say that when I referred to his self-publishing phase, he made it clear that it was just that: a phase: Continue Reading »


Flog a Pro: would you turn this bestselling author’s first page?


Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

The challenge: does this narrative compel you to turn the page?

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn’t deal with five of the things in the checklist.

This novel was number two on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for March 15, 2015. How strong is the opening page—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Do you think it’s compelling? Reminder: “compelling” is much different than “interesting”—it means that you are irresistibly urged to turn the page by what you’ve read. Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines of the prologue.


Brendan didn’t knock on the cabin door, just turned the handle and slipped inside, looking back as he did so to be sure no one had seen him. He didn’t want to have to explain what a young man from cabin class was doing in an elderly peer’s room at that time of night. Not that anyone would have commented.

“Are we likely to be interrupted?” asked Brendan once he had closed the door.

“No one will disturb us before seven tomorrow morning, and by then there will be nothing left to disturb.”

“Good,” said Brendan. He dropped on his knees, unlocked the large trunk, pulled open its lid, and studied the complex piece of machinery that had taken him over a month to construct. He spent the next half hour checking that there were no loose wires, that every dial was at its correct setting, and that the clock started at the flick of a switch. Not until he was satisfied that everything was in perfect working order did he get back off his knees.

“It’s ready,” he said. “When do you want it activated?”

“Three a.m. And I’ll need thirty minutes to remove all this,” the elderly peer added, touching his double chin, “if I’m to have enough time to get to my other cabin.”

Brendan returned to the trunk and set the timer for three o’clock. “All you have to do is flick the switch just before you leave, and double-check that the second hand is moving, then (snip)

My vote and editorial notes after the fold.
Continue Reading »


The Wide and Wonderful World of O.P.B. (Other People’s Brains): On Giving Critique

photo by Derrick Tyson

photo by Derrick Tyson

I just finished doing something that I’m certain has nudged me a step closer to writerly competence. As I mull its effect, I find myself wondering how many others consider its value. You may have guessed by the title that I’m talking about reading and critiquing a fellow writer’s work in progress.

I’ve seen a few threads on the WU Group page asking for members’ most valued tools or best craft advice. It seems, beyond the “butt-in-chair/just-do-it” layer of advice, having your work critiqued and learning to accept criticism are high on most writers’ lists. But I don’t recall anyone advising reciprocation. It’s understandable. Early on, having my work read, coming to terms with feedback, and utilizing it, were at the top of my own list. I’ve even written an homage to my beta readers. And of course I still consider having my work read and critiqued to be important. In spite of its importance, my appreciation for being on the giving side of critique continues to grow. So in the spirit of giving, I thought I’d share my growing appreciation with my community.

Prudent Pairings (A Caveat): Reading for others is time-consuming and can be taxing. Finding good matches for beta-reading can dramatically enhance the value of the critique, for both the giver and receiver. I’ve found the best reader-writer relationships are built on an existing foundation of trust and respect. Asking someone you don’t know well to read your work is a risky proposition. You may get lucky, and find a generous and insightful soul. But you may also never hear from them again, or find someone who has absolutely no interest in your genre. In the case of the latter, their feedback is not likely to provide much utility. The same logic holds true for agreeing to read. It’s prudent to choose to read those you trust to be dedicated to growth. And choosing someone who writes the types of fiction that you enjoy reading is likely to enhance the value of the experience for both writer and reader.

The Wide and Wonderful World of O.P.B. (Other People’s Brains): Continue Reading »