Monday, November 29, 2010

The Best Time of Year to Query Agents

A special welcome to Jeff Rivera, author and entrepreneur. I've known Jeff for a few years and am happy to call him my friend and writing/publishing associate. Jeff has helped many authors find success, either by connecting them to fabulous publishers, agents or editors.

The Best Time of Year to Query Agents
by Jeff Rivera, founder of

As any book publishing professional will tell you, now is the time when the industry goes on hiatus. But guess what? This is one of the best times of the year to pitch agents. Why? Because agents may slow down during the hiatus period but they cannot help but sneak a peek at their email.

I know because I deal with literally hundreds of literary agencies every year.

They're constantly searching for the next hot thing to represent. And if it's sent to them now, they will have enough time to spit polish it before the industry starts back up again in January.

What's so special about January? Editors come back from the holidays with a fresh new perspective. They're also loaded up with their expense accounts all over again so they'll be ready to rock n' roll when they use those accounts to lunch with your new agent.

Expense accounts are often on a "use it or lose it" basis. If the editor didn't use all their "lunch money" last year they'll receive an even less amount this year. It's also around the time when editors and editorial directors have set or about to set their editorial schedules. So, what better time to submit to agents!

If you have something solid and ready, get your query letter together. And it better be good because you only have one shot with these agents. What are agents looking for right now more than ever?

1) Middle grade - If you've written the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid, especially a funny book for boys now's the time to pitch it.

2) Young Adult fiction - Hot, Hot, Hot! If you have a YA book, nothing's hotter in the industry. It's the one genre that has not dipped in sales tremendously. In fact, agencies are adding more agents to their rosters, specifically looking for this genre. More agents means more opportunities for you.

3) Graphic novels - If you're an author who has had a difficult time selling your novel, think about adapting it as a graphic novel. The great thing is, you don't have to be able to draw. Simply align yourself with a great artist. Create a 5-page sample of your work, a detailed summary and presto! That's all you need. 100% of the clients we've done this for have gotten agents.

4) Celebrity Memoirs - If you've got connections to celebrities, even D-List Reality TV star celebrities, this is a sure bet. Submit a solid book proposal "co-written" or ghost written by you and your hot celebrity and two things will happen: 1) The sun will rise tomorrow 2) An agent will request to read your proposal.

5) High Platform Nonfiction - If you have a huge opt-in mailing list, are the president of a large charity or organization, own your own PR firm, or have strong media connections, now's the time to write a book. Remember, if it's a nonfiction book, you only need write a book proposal, not the entire manuscript. With a strong platform, you'll have agents chasing after you instead of the other way around. 100% of the clients we created book proposals for have landed agents and damn good ones within a week or two.

Remember, you only have one shot with these agents. So, make sure your query letter is as solid as possible. If you need help writing a winning query letter, contact: and we'll help you. 100% of the query letters we've ghost written have received at least 10 top agents that have requested to read their manuscripts or proposals.

~Jeff Rivera, and

A special note from bestselling author Cheryl Kaye Tardif:

A few years ago I used Jeff's query service. I was stunned by the response, especially after years of "following the rules" on how to write a query letter. Jeff breaks those antiquated rules and delivers a query that really grabs agents' attention. I had dozens of requests for partial and full manuscripts, and after a couple of weeks I signed with a reputable agency. My agent has been so supportive and a real cheerleader in everything I do. I highly recommend Jeff's query service.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Much Is Too Much?

As every writer knows, book promotion is vital and, happily, much of it can be carried out from the comfort of home, at our convenience. Goodness knows, there are a growing number of venues to promote your books. My favourites are Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Authorsden,, and amazon forums. I try to visit these venues at least once a week, and I type a couple of messages on Twitter everyday because it’s so quick and efficient.

Over the past two years, I’ve seen the same names crop up countless times on the amazon forums. I’ve gotten to know a number of people there, and we share bits of our personal lives, plus our publishing triumphs and tribulations with one another. They’ve become my electronic pen pals, so to speak.

I’ve noticed, though, that two or three people on the forums promote their books over and over again everyday. I see the same plug as much as ten times a day and, frankly, it’s become annoying, even though it takes me only brief seconds to delete their posts.

I’m not the only person who feels this way, as I’ve read muttered complaints before. For me, it’s become a turnoff from wanting to buy these authors’ books. It’s also an important lesson: if we want to promote our books to readers, we should carefully consider what we want to say and how often we plan to say it. Nobody wants to hear from someone who’s worn out his welcome, and wouldn’t the time be better spent working on that next book anyway?

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Two Great Events for Writers and Readers!

Hi everyone,

Before I start with this week's blog, I'd like to thank those kind people who wished me luck and encouragement regarding last week's blog. I really appreciate it. Those longstanding household projects I'd mentioned are now finished. Also, two opportunities for selling at Christmas craft fairs have come up this week. These are actvities I wouldn't have had time to do if I'd kept the day job.

So, I have two wonderful events to tell you about. One is taking place in December, the other will be June 3 to 5, 2011. First, Darcia Helle from Quiet Fury Books has arranged a terrific holiday book giveaway event. So far, she’s gathered 47 independently published authors (including me) who’ve agreed to give away either print or electronic copies of their books. There will be an entry form to complete and a list of rules for participants. The giveaway officially starts on December 1st, however, if you’d like to a sneak peak at what will be offered, go to

And for the second event, as some of you already know, the Bloody Words mystery conference—for writers and fans—is held every June. The conference has agent interviews, manuscript evaluations, a short story contest for registrants, plus lots of panel discussions, and evening entertainment. This three-day event is usually held in Toronto, and occasionally Ottawa, but in 2011, it will be held in Victoria at the Pacific Grand Hotel which is located right by Victoria’s inner harbour. If you register before March 1st, you'll get the early registration fee. Registration is capped at 200, which makes it fun, friendly, and informal. Guests of honour this year will be Michael Slade, William Deverell, and Laurie King. For more information, go to

There you go, something for everybody!

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Jumping on the Bandwagon for NaNoWriMo

Everybody is chattering about National Novel Writing Month this month, since this is it, and why should I be any different?

My advice on how to approach it and how to get through it is the same as my advice for anything involving writing: Do Whatever Works.

Now, the first thing to remember about NaNo is that it isn't a job. It isn't something you have to do, even if you've signed up for it. The purpose of it is to encourage you to sit down and disconnect your inner editor and just write as freely as you can. There isn't a "right" way or a "wrong" way. As far as I'm concerned, there is no "cheating", since the only "prize" is the words you write. Are you starting with a project you got stuck on halfway through? Go ahead! Do you have a detailed outline already? Fine! Do you want to turn a series of unrelated short stories into a coherent storyline? Sounds awesome! Do you have a vague idea and want to use NaNo to rough out a detailed outline? I'm like, "Cheat, schmeat--just write!"

NaNo should be a pleasure and a joy. If it isn't, shrug it off. Maybe it doesn't work for you. November might be a little lonely, while lots of people are all NaNo, NaNo, NaNo, but so what? If that's not the way you roll, set yourself another goal for November:

Friend: I've written 24,000 words so far this month!

You: I've organized my Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes and made out a shopping list.

Come December, they'll have a rough draft, a caffeine crash AND they'll be heading into the Christmas crush, and you'll have your recipes organized and your shopping list made.

If you do NaNo, don't let it become a contest between you and your buddies. It's tempting to feel pressured to write faster, write more words, and that's kind of the point. But if the pressure feels uncomfortable or unpleasant, unplug yourself from that. There's no law that says you have to post your word count publicly. Your words aren't anybody else's words; they're your words.

NaNo is a chance to dedicate some time each day to writing, which you may or may not do anyway. It gives you some leverage with loved ones who may not think to grant you that time ordinarily, a chance to say, "No, I can't do that. I'm doing NaNo, and I pledged to write 1,670 words every day."

People who don't write tend to be impressed by numbers, and they'll go, "Oh! That's a lot of words! I'd better let you get to it, then." That's one thing NaNo can do for you.

NaNo can encourage you to let go and throw yourself through the story without worrying if it hangs together. If you can't do that (and I can't), maybe it can encourage you to throw yourself a little farther into the story than you are and see if it comes together or sparks some ideas for farther along. I write 250 words at a time. That's just the way I roll.

Marian Allen is the author of EEL'S REVERENCE, a fantasy published by Echelon Press.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Living a Writer's Life

A little over two months ago, I quit my day job. I’d been pondering this move for several months, weighing the pros and cons, discussing this with my spouse and a few work and writing colleagues. A number of factors at my job contributed to the decision to leave, but the most important decisions were personal.

You see, I turned fifty-five over the summer and while my birthday wasn’t a particularly big deal to me on the day, over the following weeks I found myself pondering my working future. Did I want to continue with salaried employment? Now that I had a publishing contract with a potential for more books to be published in this series, should I become a full time writer? Would I be happy spending most of my days in front of a computer screen? Would I be productive or grow lazy because I no longer had to account for my time? Would I gain weight??

Well, the short answer is that I am happier and more productive than I was while juggling the day job and family responsibilities with writing and promotion, but I’m not yet as productive as I’d like to be. In some ways, I’m still adjusting to the fulltime writing life. Certainly, I’ve been able to attend more book events. I’ve gone to workshops, given a workshop, participated in the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, done a little more promotion, and consequently have sold more books than I would have if I was still in the day job, but there’s always more to do, more I feel I should be doing. The 37 hours a week not spent at the day job and commuting aren't translating into 37 extra hours of writing and promotion.

So, what am I doing? Well, I’m exercising twice as much and cooking more dinners than I used to. I’m even baking a little. My family likes it, although my daughter, who’s never known me to bake anything except cookies at Christmas, said “What’s up, Mom?” It was a good question. The answer is that I’m giving myself permission to do many of the things I’d been thinking about doing for months. I’ve started a few small household projects and am now purging my bursting filing cabinets of articles, newsletters, and other things I no longer need. It’s a project I thought I’d do when I retired.

The thing is, I’m not really retired at all. I’m self-employed, and now that I’ve distinguished those two things more clearly in my mind, I’m ready to step up my creative output, just as soon as I purge the last four cabinet drawers.

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Crumpled Pages

A few weeks ago, I caught an interview with writer/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on The View. He said something about his writing process that I’ve been mulling over ever since.

He told Barbara Walters that “because he can no longer rip a piece of paper out of his typewriter and crumple it up, he uses the shower as a way to jump start his mental reset button.” In fact, he went on to state that he often takes six to eight showers a day while he’s writing. Watch the entire interview here

This is striking to me for many reasons. The first is that I’d listen to any advice from Sorkin because he is arguably one of the most gifted screen-writers working today. Is his shower jump-start process a good idea? Maybe so. The proof is in the writing and his success. (I would love to conduct a non-scientific experiment on writing and showering - though as the mom of two young children, I'm not guaranteed even ONE shower per day.) I do give myself the luxury of vacuuming after I've finished a scene. Yes, I said vacuuming. I like to do it and it's one of those things that is good for stretching out the body after you've been in the writing position for an hour.

But the second point about his statement speaks to the modern writer's lack of type-rip-crumple-toss ritual. Fifty-plus years ago, writers expressed a physical act between their fingers and the page. You could send a bad page to a trash bin, giving it a defiant “take that you lousy prose. You are not even worthy of remaining on my desk!!”

But with our slim little computers, are we modern writers handicapped by this lack of physical exchange with our bad pages? 

Think of that Seinfeldian scene where Jerry tries to angrily hang up on someone, only to be defeated by the meek gesture of pressing a button. It didn't really send the person on the other end a signal, did it? The same is true for writing on a computer. If you're like me, it's not satisfying to drag a piece of work into your the trash icon on your desktop. It is a very gentile act and you only hear a simulated paper crumpling sound. 

So I ask - what do we do with our bad pages? Where do they go? How do we trash them – even figuratively? Do we still have a ritual for angrily deleting our lesser words? 

When I recognize something isn’t working, I have no problem deleting it, though it has taken me years to get to this point. I cut-paste chunks of writing to another file called “Cuts: Title of Project.” That way, if there was something in it I want to return to, I can search that file. I finally have the courage to prune the work, knowing the branches will grow back if they are needed. For years, I was scared of deleting whole sections. Now, I see it for what it is – making the work healthier by generous use of the delete key. When I get really frustrated with a scene, I have been known to highlight the entire thing and hit delete and yell at my keyboard. 

Still, I haven’t experienced the rip-crumple-toss and can’t help but wonder  - would it make any difference to the quality of writing?

What about you? Do you have a ritual for deleting bad pages? Do you have your own “jump-start” ritual like that of Aaron Sorkin? 

Happy Trails!

karen harrington
author, Janeology 
Nature or nurture? What REALLY drives our impulses?
Read an excerpt of Janeology at 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Do Print Books Still Sell?

What sells, what doesn’t; what works, what doesn’t? I’ve been pondering these issues a fair bit, as I’ve had a number of interesting discussions with fiction writers over the past month who are both self-published and traditionally published, and who sell print and/or ebooks. Clearly, many authors are still looking for the most efficient and productive means to sell books, and while technology and ebooks have certainly evened the playing field in terms of visibility and promotion opportunities for authors, the reality is that about 90% of the fiction listings on amazon probably far sell less than a hundred print copies. Some of the reasons for this are poor attempts at promotion, no reviews, a poorly written book, and the fact that amazon carries millions of titles. But what about the author who promotes everyday, garners a few good reviews, and has written a fine book?

I don’t have all the answers, but here’s what I and others have noticed from our experiences. First, if you want to sell print copies of your novel, then a lot of really good reviews from established reviewers can help. The reviewers don’t have to be connected to newspapers. There are some credible, online reviewers. If even one of them likes your book and posts their review on several different blogs, forums, and websites, this can help boost your sales, or so it did for me in both print and electronic formats.

Second, if you want to sell more print copies, I recommend getting out there and meeting book buyers. Arrange bookstore meet and greets, and attend book festivals; even certain craft markets can be good venues. Two events I took part in this fall sold more print copies than they had in three years of selling through amazon. In fact, when I look at my stats over the past five years, the more events I took part in, the more books I sold that year. Not every event resulted in sales, but 75% of them did. On the other hand, social networking does not generate sales 75% of the time for me, although it has helped with ebook sales.

The bottom line is that a good book, word of mouth, and participation are still effective selling tools. As far as print fiction goes, I don’t see technological advances changing the tried and true methods anytime soon.

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

Friday, November 05, 2010

Vanquishing Villains

While walking in the desert today, I saw a dead rattlesnake. I hesitated to take a photo, not wanting to memorialize death, but it was so beautiful lying there, that I went ahead and snapped an image of it. Although it looked vibrant, as if it were sleeping, I could see that it had been run over. This made me think how even such a fearsome creature as that Mojave green rattler had enemies, though its four-wheeled killer was one it could not even imagine.

And so it is with a story’s villain.

For a hero to overcome her nemesis, she has to come at the villain from a different direction, not go at the villain from his position of strength. If the villain is the strongest person in the world, he cannot be vanquished by the second strongest person, but he can be vanquished by intelligence, perhaps even middling intelligence. If the villain is strong and smart, he can be vanquished by a determination to win at all costs. If the villain is smart, strong, and equally determined, he can be vanquished by esoteric knowledge, something the villain cannot even imagine.

My NaNoWriMo project has no villain. My poor character has to deal with her husband’s death, the loss of her home, the loss of her daughter’s respect. Since he had been the focus of her life, his death left her unfocused. Moreover, she finds out he is not who she thought he was, so to find out who she’s been all those years, she has to find out who he was. I’m wondering if her way out of this conundrum is to do or be something she’s never thought of before, something that until now has been unimaginable to her. Like what? I don’t know, but it will give me a direction to follow.

What about your characters? Do you have a hero/villain situation? What special strengths does your villain have? What special strengths does your hero have?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Anna Kashina, author of Ivan and Marya, a dark fantasy set in the world of Russian myth

Since I'm getting ready to move (and just finished a one month blog tour), I'm hosting some guest authors for the end of October and first week of November. Today's guest is Anna Kashina, author of dark fantasy. Welcome to The Write Type, Anna. ~Cheryl

Thank you, Cheryl, for the opportunity to interview for your blog.  I am very happy to be here.

1. What is “Ivan and Marya” about?

In a few words, it can be called “the dark essence of Russian myth”.  It is a fantasy with elements of romance based on a classical Russian fairy tale. 

The heroine, Marya, is a shapeshifter and the head priestess in her father’s cult of human sacrifice that dominates his kingdom.  Marya aids her father’s cause by luring their enemies into a trap of her beauty, and destroying them.  Ivan, a young man on a quest to defeat Marya’s father, walks straight into the trap and falls in love with her at first sight.  An unlikely hero, who carries no sword and has never killed anyone in his life, Ivan does not seem to be much of a challenge, but as Marya confronts him, she finds him to be a tougher enemy than she imagined.  To face Ivan and achieve her ‘happily ever after’, Marya must first discover the truth about her birth and her father’s true power -- and survive it.

2. So, why Russian myth?

I have always been interested in folklore and mythology.  Russian myth is very rich and distinct, a blend of East and West with many twists that make it truly unique.  This area is under-explored in fiction writing and those few books that use Russian folklore elements rarely make them authentic.  Having grown up in Russia, I feel I can really bring an authentic feel into the story, so that in addition to an adventure and love story it also can have a different flavor compared to other fairy tale fantasies.

3. Is all your story based entirely on folklore?

I carefully research all my books, so I made sure that it was not only an accurate representation of Russian folklore, but consistent with Russian history and real-life traditions.  Russia at that time was a collection of small kingdoms, which have not yet embraced Christianity.  The harvest god was one of the main worshipped deities, and the Solstice celebrations honored him with fertility rites and human sacrifice.

Solstice celebration is one of the oldest traditions in many religions that certainly precedes Christianity.  In Russia it acquired several unique twists.  What is not commonly known is that, in some forms these traditions are still practiced today.  When I was in school, we always went out into the woods on Midsummer eve, sang songs, made flower wreaths and set them floating in the water, drank herb tea that symbolized the ‘drink of love’, and jumped over a bonfire.  We also chose a girl and threw her into the water (not to drown her, of course, just for fun :-).  And, we sang a special Solstice rhyme.  I tried to follow this as closely as I could in my story. 

4. What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

Write what you are passionate about.  And, never give up.

5. Do you have a web site where readers can find out more about yourself and your books?

Yes.  I have an author’s web site and a blog at, where I post writing tips, interviews with authors and publishing professionals, and book information.  Recently I started an ‘author exchange’ web site that highlights recent fiction titles for all tastes.  I always welcome friends and fans on Facebook and Twitter and MySpace. And, I highly recommend my publisher’s web site, home to many great authors and stories:

IVAN AND MARYA is now available from most major e-book retailers (it is still not listed on amazon, but will be soon), as well as on my publisher’s web site.


Anna Kashina, was born in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994. She has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and is a published fantasy novelist in several languages.  Her other English language novel, THE PRINCESS OF DHAGABAD, is a love story between a princess and her djinn, set in the magical world of the Arabian Nights.  She lives in Philadelphia, where she is working hard on combining her career as a scientist and her passion for writing.