Advice for Writers from Agent & Publishers at DBW

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We spent our time at DBW soaking up as much wisdom from industry insiders as we could, including insights and advice for writers from the best in biz. Here are some of our favorites.


On the role of the agent and editor….

You want to have a pure relationship with the author. you don’t want to talk about money or anything that can sully it,”—Deb Futter, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Hardcovers, Grand Central Publishing

“The publisher should be the number one biggest fan.”  — Amy Einhorn, Senior Vice President and Publisher, Flatiron Books

“It’s in the author’s best interest to have a literary agent. They play a very important role,”  — Amy Einhorn

 

On what makes a great platform…

“Writers who have an ongoing conversation with readers. “ — Laura Nolan, Aevitas Creative Management

This was something we heard echoed in many sessions and different contexts. You don’t have to have an enormous, nationwide platform if you have a consistent, rich conversation with readers. Many writers do so through Twitter, WattPad, and Facebook. This also means tweeting more than just about YOUR book, but interacting directly with your readers and their conversations, too. 

On writing to fit in a trend…

Don’t do it. 

The overwhelming comment on this was that trends, in an editorial sense, are often conflated with fads. So, just because a lot of vampire novels are coming out right now doesn’t mean the way you will get published is if you write a vampire novel. As Amy Einhorn pointed out, in each success there is nuance.  You get published because your story spoke to something in the publisher or agent, usually a combination of the impact of the story and your marketability, which brings us to advice….

On what makes a great story…

Narratives with conflict, characters and settings filled with specific, concrete details and experiences. 

Collectively the panel of literary agents agreed on these criteria because within specifics lie universal truths and experiences that readers can relate to on a visceral level. 

“All of us are exactly like the consumer–we’re readers. And we want the best product we can give them.” – Deb Futter, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Hardcovers, Grand Central Publishing.

 

On query letters….

“If the love doesn’t come through on the page, it’s a no go,” said Deb Werksman, Publisher of Sourcebooks.

Workman and others echoed phrases like “if you could meet the author, I know you’d love the book” in query letters, but that’s unfortunately not a productive metric. In other words, YOU might be lovely but you need to get that to convey on the page. The consumer doesn’t have the benefit of meeting you and falling in love with you, so the publisher has to act of the same accord. 

Most editors want to see midlist titles for comps, not the book that blew everything out of the water.

Maybe your book is as good or better, but there are too many mitigating factors to say that it is actually a comp title without doing a thorough analysis of the book, audience, and author platform. 

 

On the children’s market…

“Within the children’s market, we want a writer who has at least two out of the following three: compelling writing, a compelling hook, and a compelling platform.” — Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown Literary Agency

On market entry…

“Sometimes it’s not about starting with the book,” commented Regina Brooks, President and Lead Agent of Serendipity Literary Agency  “It starts with the right medium, and then moves to the other lucrative property options.”

Brooks doesn’t always begin with the sale of her client’s book, but instead movie rights, audiobook, merchandising, etc. 

On rights sales and contracts….

“Every division in your publisher isn’t going to have the same enthusiasm for a title,” commented Ginger Clark, agent at Curtis Brown. “You can’t force passion.”

This one requires a bit of context. Part of the benefit of an agent is that they have your back at every juncture of the negotiations process, including the sale or protection of foreign rights to publication. Clark pointed out that the concern over those rights–be they foreign or format-specific–is not simply about money for the agent and writer, but consistently working to find the right home for the book in each market and across each medium.

Picking a Genre: AUTHORS Guide & Definitions

Picking a genre for your work can be really hard, we know. So many stories have plots, characters, and threads that seem to cross different genre categories. As a result, many writers will slap every genre that touches their story to their query. This is a huge mistake.

In certain ways, assigning more than two (maybe three) genres can communicate that the writer may not have the clearest sense of the story they’re trying to tell. Just as importantly, it may also mean the writer doesn’t fully understand who their audience is. That is not to say we recommend writing to an audience instead of writing to the story, but it’s important to understand how your work fits into the larger publishing landscape. The folks at Write to Done made an excellent point when they said, “your ideal audience uses genre to find your book.” Check out their article for a much more in-depth discussion of market research.

In general, it’s easier for an editor or a consumer to wrap their head around something straightforward. Furthermore, when additional genres are ascribed to a manuscript, the less accurate each description becomes. This is because each genre has specific requirements that merit it. These are largely standardized, accepted definitions across the industry.

For example, you may have written a gripping detective caper that includes a whirlwind romance between the detective and his Girl Friday, but that doesn’t mean it’s a romance. It means you wrote a dynamic character in a mystery novel.

So, for your reading pleasure, below are definitions of the genres we have on our forms (so it’s not exhaustive, but applicable). Note: this is only a list of fiction genres. We will cover nonfiction in another post. Much of this information was compiled from the much more exhaustive  Writer’s Digest guide. There is also a very cool “genre map” from the folks at Book Country if you prefer your research to be a little more interactive. We also found some fun quizzes relating to genre, too. However, they’re more about what you should start to write, not what you have written. Might be good for a day when writer’s block has taken hold. Here’s one from Quibblo and another one from Playbuzz

A-Hi

The key element of the Action/Adventure novel is, you guessed it: action! The action overshadows the characters, setting, themes, etc. Primary conflict is often human vs. nature, as opposed to human vs. human or human vs. self.

Stories and novels whose central characters are African American. African American and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

Stories and novels whose central characters are Asian American. Asian American and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

Essentially, a true life story reimagined or expanded on by a writer so much that it has transformed into fiction. Uses biographical and historical research to inform the framework of the traditional novel, including conventions of fiction like dialogue, mood, theme, etc. Similar to historical fiction except that characters in a biographical novel are not fictitious, whereas an historical novel may be comprised entirely of fictitious characters.

Female-centered narratives that focus on the concerns and conflicts of the individual protagonist. Often deals with issues encountered by modern women, including, but not limited to romantic relationships, female friendships, workplace issues, motherhood, and more, but in a jovial or humorous tone. May include romantic relationships, but the plot is not driven by them.

Works whose intended audience is a child between the ages of 2 and 16. Extremely variable, as the writing itself as well as subject matter needs to be appropriate for the reader in question. Usually has a vivid opening, strong central character and deliberate, meaningful action.

Christian fiction novels are driven by and exemplify traditional Christian values through the plot, characters, and conflict.

Coming of Age novels center around the protagonist’s entrance into adulthood and all of the baggage and conflict that goes along with such a transition. Major growth and change must be seen in the central character.

Stories that could or do take place during the time they are being written and published. These stories do not cross with other genres.

A story about a relationship that is driven by sex.

This genre takes the family unit as its driving force. The characters will be related and the conflict driven by their relationships. Often viewed over a long swath of time or even several generations. Often used to portray historical/political/social events and developments. Like most of our families, these stories tend to be pretty dramatic.

Fantasy stories depend on magic, mythological beings and original contrivances to drive conflict, plot and setting. Stories often take place in another world imagined by the author, where the author has to create concrete rules and norms for the universe, including social structures and beings.

Based off of stories passed down generations. Can differ culture to culture. Setting may be real or imaginary. Often driven by a moral imperative or lesson.

Stories and novels whose central characters are Hispanic/Latino.Hispanic/Latino and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

A story set during a real period of human history. May involve political/social events of a specific time period.

Ho-P

Stories whose conflicts and plots center around major holidays and are driven by events prompted by those holidays.

A story whose central themes and plot center around dread, fear, unknown forces, malignant entities. In essence, stories that give you the heeby-jeebies and make you want to sleep with the lights turned on. Think Poe, Lovecraft, King, etc.

Involves a series of comical or humorous events throughout the plot, or a particularly funny or humorous character.

Very close to mystery or thriller genre, but will focus more on the legal proceedings of the crime in question. Think classic Law and Order, Boston Legal, or most anything by John Grisham.

Stories and novels whose central characters are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or of non-binary sexual or gender identification. Often portrays the protagonist in conflict between mainstream American culture and his or her marginalized sexual or gender identity heritage.  

Works where craft, style and technique are as important as plot, character, and subject matter.

Mainstream fiction is somewhere between literary and contemporary fiction. The stories are not focused on one convention as their structure (such as mystery/romance/sci fi, etc.). A mainstream novel will be driven by depth of character, background, etc. and their conflicts. Comparable writers include J ames Michener, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates.

New stories blending the worlds/characters/events of other fictions.

Stories where the main characters work in the medical profession and the plot is driven by the relationships and conflict found within that work setting.

Mysteries involve strong characters with strong motivations in conflict with physical, psychological or societal obstacles in a plot in which one or more pieces remain unseen until the end.

Stories and novels whose central characters are Native American/Aboriginal/First Nations. Native American/Aboriginal/First Nations and other ethnic fiction genres often portray a protagonist of color in conflict with mainstream American culture and his or her ethnic heritage.  

A story driven by elements of the paranormal, including ghosts, vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc. Often, but not always, also considered horror.

A story modeled after a well-known story or convention with the goal to satirize or point out ironies within a given situation.

A story whose central characters are politicians or work with politicians and whose conflict is driven by elements of lawmaking, diplomacy, or international relations.

R-W

Religious fiction novels are driven by and exemplify a religion’s beliefs tenets  and values through the plot, characters, and conflict.

In a romance novel, the entire plot is driven by a romantic relationship. There is almost always a happy ending. In many cases, a sexual awakening or revelation is a driving force in character development. Sex scenes are present, but not overly graphic (which would take the text into erotica).

Science Fiction positions science and technology as the bedrock of the central conflict or setting. Often set in the future and may involve speculations about scientific advancement. Often crosses paths with fantasy, but the two genres are distinct.

Spiritual fiction novels are driven by spiritual discovery/awakening through the plot, characters, and conflict. May or may not involve an organized religion.

A story whose central characters are athletes or work with athletes and whose conflict is driven by competition and sport.

A story whose main objective is to incite a feeling of suspense in the reader. The plots are often sensational, involving crimes, violence, espionage, etc. Often a detective story with high stakes and moral certainties.

Urban fiction (street lit/street fiction), is set in a city landscape and often defined by the socio-economic realities and culture of its characters.

Stories set in the old American West (c. 1800s)

Stories set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, often set in England.

Stories that involve Witches, Wizards and magic. Often overlaps with Fantasy. depend on magic, mythological beings and original contrivances to drive conflict, plot and setting. Stories may take place in the contemporary world, with the presence of magic being real.

Similar to chick lit in that it is a female-centered narrative dealing with issues relevant to women, but not told in a jovial or humorous tone (necessarily). The Romance Writers of America define it as “a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others, and includes a hopeful/upbeat ending with regard to her romantic relationship.”

Literally just books written for people between the ages of twelve and seventeen.

First get good, then get lucky: One writer’s advice on getting published

BY ROD RADLIN, AUTHORS.me USER 

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time you’ve no doubt read many books that tell you how to write bestselling fiction. You’ve also no doubt been assailed with at least as many marketing experts telling you the best way to market your novel so it will become a bestseller.

I’ve been writing all my life. My first attempt at fiction was e-published in 2010. For five years now I’ve been actively honing my fiction writing and marketing skills in pursuit of ever-elusive success. I’ve read a lot of books and investigated a lot of book marketing programs.

Here’s what I know for sure – nothing.

Most what I’ve learned is what doesn’t work. Here’s a few of them:

  • social media
  • giveaways
  • blogs
  • free books – as in zero price point
  • contests
  • email lists
  • social media – yes, I know I’ve already mentioned it, but social media deserves to be reinforced because not only does it not sell books, but for the delusional among us (myself included) it’s seductive, addictive, and a huge time waster – time that could be better spent actually writing something worthwhile instead of responding to virtual fans in the internet void.

So how do you become a bestselling author?

You get lucky.

According to Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, The Story of Success, success follows a predictable pattern. It’s not the brightest who succeed, nor is it the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf.

Success is bestowed upon those who have been given opportunities – and have the strength and the presence of mind to seize them – plus accidents of time, birth and place matter greatly.

Let me repeat that; success is less about talent and more about opportunity plus it’s greatly influenced by accidents of time, birth and place.

In a word, luck.

There’s no master plan, no formula, it’s all a fluke, pure and simple serendipity.

So, is luck all it takes to be a success?

No, you also have to be prepared so if you do get lucky and get invited to the ball you actually know how to dance.

There’s this little thing about having to do 10,000 hours (ten years) of practice to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything. According to neurologist Daniel Levitin,  “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, etc., this number comes up again and again.”

Excellence at performing a complex task, like writing a good novel, requires a critical minimum level of practice and that’s all there is to it.

You first must get good, then get lucky.

So if you’re an indie author about to self-publish your first novel and you haven’t logged 10,000 hours of practice your chance at success is negligible, nil, nada.

Worse yet, if by a fluke you do get lucky without being good you’ve likely blown your big chance.

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs


ROD RAGLIN is a writer and AUTHORS.me user. He can be found on twitter at @rodraglin. Check out his blog and his website for more ruminations and insights on writing and publishing.

Beyond the First Draft: The Dangers of Rushing to Publication

AUTHORS user and contributor Rod Raglin discusses the dangers rushing to seek publication upon finishing a first draft can pose to writers and the importance of editing, insight and patience.

by Rod Raglin, AUTHORS user, and contributor

So you’ve finally finished your novel.

Congratulations.

What you’ve accomplished is significant and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. How many people do you know who have spent countless hours by themselves sitting in front of a keyboard creating an imaginary world?

It’s only a matter of time before your creation changes your life, and that can’t happen too soon. What are you waiting for? It’s time to start submitting it to all those fortunate agents and publishers you’ve selected, right?

Wrong.

I was once like you, full of enthusiasm and hubris upon completing my first novel. To get my masterpiece published I pulled in all my favors, two actually. I had an acquaintance who knew Jeffery Archer personally (yes, that Jeffery Archer), and I had a business associate who was an editor in a well-respected publishing firm.

The first response came from Archer’s agent. She suggested I take some writing courses. A little while later the editor returned my that first draft. She’d taken the time to line-edit the first chapter complete with margin notes. Suffice to say the editing notes all but obscured the original text.

At the time I didn’t realize it, but I had just blown two really good opportunities in my rush to get published.  That manuscript is still buried somewhere in my filing cabinet. I’m too embarrassed to look at it.

Most recently I’ve taken on writing and doing video book reviews of the work of new, self-published authors. I’ve written a lot of book reviews, but in this category–new, self-published authors–the average star rating is 2.8, which is a bit better than “I didn’t like it,” but not quite as good as “I liked it.”

A few of these authors are brilliant, but most–though they have potential–are hampered by a lack of craft. If they continue writing and reading I know they’ll improve. Writing is like most things – the more you do it the better you get.

I have to add a caveat to that statement. Your writing will improve if you continue to do it while seeking out constructive criticism and taking it to heart.

Most of the novels I’m giving two stars to have been rushed into publication. They’re obvious first drafts. I know you’re excited, but remember – it’s never as good as you think it is, and it can always be better. Yes, always.

Here are some suggestions you might want to consider when you’ve completed your first draft. It’s what I do and though it hasn’t garnered me success, it’s at least saved me further embarrassment.

  • I revise the manuscript a minimum three times or until I feel it’s finished.
  • I read it out loud (it drives my cat crazy).
  • Then I put it away for at least three months or however long it takes to get it out of my system.
  • While I’m waiting to be purged, I work on something completely different.
  • Once I’ve put some distance between my ego and the book, I’m ready. I take out the manuscript and send it to as many beta readers for comment as I can. If you don’t have a stable of readers who are free from conflict of interest – that means no family and no friends, join a writing group, online or otherwise, and workshop the novel.

Once I’ve decided it’s time for the final rewrite I gather all the comments and criticisms together and begin.

When I’m finished I have another decision to make. Do I begin the traditional submission process or save myself a lot of time and frustration and go directly to self-publishing?

If you follow this method I guarantee your final version will be different and better than your first draft. And if by some small miracle The New York Times decides to review it, it will be perfect – or as perfect as you could make it.

Keep writing and remember what Nietzsche said:

The doer alone learneth.


ROD RAGLIN is a writer and AUTHORS.me user. He can be found on twitter at @rodraglin. Check out his blog and his website for more ruminations and insights on writing and publishing.

What is AUTHORS.me? A Guide to What We Do & Why We Do It

So what, exactly, is AUTHORS.me?

AUTHORS.me is an online platform that connects writers to publishers and agents seeking new content. We accomplish this through technology which streamlines and standardizes submissions. Our platform lets your work shine. Through intelligent machine learning,  we deliver efficient, accurate editorial snapshots to agents and publisher who are likely to be a good fit. The whole platform is built to help eliminate the guess work of the traditional query process without losing the valuable information that is conveyed in an ideal query letter. We connect writers to publishers and agents by using technology to simplify the whole process; so that editors and agents can do what they do best and technology can handle the rest.

Let’s start off by addressing what it is AUTHORS.me does and what it is we definitely do NOT do.

We DO:

Simplify Submissions & Queries

If you’ve ever written a query letter—or a cover letter or resume for that matter—you know just how exciting the idea of a “streamlined submission” is for writers. For kicks, Google “Query Letter template.” I’ll wait.

Did you catch that? 311,000 results. Literally thousands of options and opinions on what the “perfect” query is. And it’s all completely subjective. Some talk about making sure to personalize. Others mention describing your audience while others leave that out and just want to know more about your qualifications. With all of this guesswork, it’s easy to understand how discouraged writers, publishers, and agents can get with this part of the process.

But with our platform, that’s gone. If you complete every field for your project and writer details, and complete it with thought, consideration and detail, you will not have missed anything. Even better, you won’t have added too much. We deliver the information  in such an easy-to-read format that our partners know just where to send their eyes for the details they care about. Yes, it will take time. But it’s time well spent. It’s your virtual pitch for why an editor or agent should invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into you and your book, and why they should want to. Why they should beg to spend that money on you.

Level the Playing Field

How often have you heard a story about a how someone met their agent because of a cousin or a friend? It can sometimes feel like the only way to get published is to know someone in publishing, regardless of your talent or work ethic. But through our platform, the work is allowed to shine, and the agents and publishers are able to evaluate not just on the subjective word of a trusted friend, but by objective, empirical information we deliver on the suitability of your manuscript to their needs (which, by the way, they tell us).

We Do NOT:

Publish your Book

AUTHORS.me is not a publisher, plain and simple. We work with publishers, and we like them very much…we just aren’t one of them.

Use, Sell, or Distribute your Book

AUTHORS.me has never and will never take our authors’ content and sell it, give it away or even show it to anyone who did not have permission to view it  or was not a publisher or agent we work with. Likewise, we have no interest in working with anyone who has a less than stellar reputation. We’ve actually denied account requests by agents and publishers who do not have upstanding reputations, which means we’ve turned down money. We take copyright and intellectual property very seriously (more on that here) and would never jeopardize that integrity. The only people who can view your work are people with logins, and no other writer can view your work. The site is secure and encrypted.

Promise you a book deal

This might sound harsh, but it’s the reality of it. We’re not going to say we guarantee you any kind of deal or attention, because we work with publishers and agents who are making decisions about their business. We can’t—and wouldn’t venture to—make those decisions for them. What we’re interested in doing is giving everyone involved the tools and data they need to make good, efficient  decisions for their business.

 

“So that’s what you do, but why do you do it?”

 

 

The traditional submissions process is a pretty fraught ordeal. Every year, 2 million people submit proposals to agents and publishers, trying to make the case for their book. Every year, about 350,000 trade books are published. Is that difference because there is a lack of quality, or because the editors, agents and scouts finding the projects are finite? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but we saw the latter as a very solvable problem. We talked with acquisitions editors, agents, and publishers, and asked them what they loved about their jobs and what they wished they could change. Almost universally, they loved the stories, and the process of bringing a book to life, but hated the drudgery that can come along with finding those stories.

 

“So much of what is sent to me just isn’t right. I want trade romance, not sci-fi mystery. I feel bad, especially when it’s really good stuff, but it’s just not right for me.”

“We get proposals in all shapes and sizes. Some have the things we want, but so many just have the manuscript or are missing a big chunk of vital information. And even figuring out what is missing takes time. When you need to review 100 submissions a week, seemingly little things like  the wrong subject line or a missing CV will get a project rejected before it’s read. There just isn’t enough time.”

 

We heard concerns like these and saw two very solvable problems: the need for standardized submissions that shows the publisher and agents the things they need in addition to the manuscript, and a way to easily navigate through submissions. So, we built just that.

Reinvigorating Tradition

In addition to this, we have developed a proprietary technology that looks beyond genre and word count to match elements of your manuscript with the publisher who is most likely to make it a success. Our technology is able to review entire manuscripts to look at story arc, character development, scene location, and more to further showcase manuscripts that might otherwise not make it past the 2-sentence hook. This has resulted in an acceptance rate that is almost 10 times faster than the traditional model of an email sent into the ether, perhaps never to return. And we’re talking about first-time authors for the most part!

About fifteen years ago, the self-publishing movement started to answer the call of authors frustrated with the traditional publishing industry. Some self-published authors have thrived in that environment, but it’s not for everyone. To be a successful self-published author, you not only have to have a great book, but you have to have business acumen, design and sales experience, money to pay an editor or a knowledge of copyediting and proofreading, experience with events planning, marketing, distribution, and more. In short, you have to be either: a superhero, have deep enough pockets to hire someone every step of the way, or be really, really lucky. It’s not a bad thing to admit you need help and the benefit of professional expertise to make your book happen. It’s logical. And the publishers and agents are in the same boat. They need you, too. And they want to find you. And we want to help.  

The 12 Apps You Need to Increase Productivty

https-%2F%2Fcdn.evbuc.com%2Fimages%2F20775902%2F174572866457%2F1%2ForiginalAUTHORS.me teams up with Womens Media Group in New York City to swap the best productivity tips

One of the few things we all have in common is limited time. No matter who you are, what you do or where you go, we all only still only get the same 24 hours per day–and some of that is hopefully spent sleeping.  My time was well-spent in New York last week when AUTHORS.me teamed up with the local Womens Media Group for Appy Hour: Productivity Edition for a night of networking and app sharing–and we want to share them with you! We compiled the 12 apps that were universally agreed to be essential for productivity, and included another 30+ that were crowd favorites across different modes. 

I could not believe the amazing conversations we had! For one night only, a delightfully diverse group of publishing professionals and industry folk descended upon the downtown manhattan space in pursuit of the same thing: the hope to find the next app or tool for their arsenal in the battle against time and its attention-diverting minions. 

Together, we shared the tools that make bits of our chaotic lives a little more manageable, from email and project management tools to web conferences and list making apps and more. This list of apps curated by publishing and tech professionals will help you get everything in order.

Over a veritable (but reputable) technological bacchanalia and loads of conversations, we learned about new apps and some member favorites that I just could not wait to share.

Up first I’ve compiled a list of the Favorite Apps that those in attendance mentioned. At the bottom of the page you’ll find the full selection of apps and tools mentioned throughout the evening. And if I’ve missed one of your favorite apps, please share!

Since the common theme at the end was that it was such a “fun and informative event,” we’ll be doing a follow-up sometime soon so stay tuned.

EVENT PHOTOS

[vcex_image_galleryslider image_ids=”842,841,840,844″]

FAVORITE APPS

Zoom — the Number One web conferencing app is the top dog for a reason. Powerful (paid) tool featuring full cloud-based collaboration tools, screen sharing, HD streaming, dial-in options and more. 

Doodle  — allows you to send attendees a poll of what times you’re free to eliminate all the usual back and forth.

Sococo — complete with virtual “rooms,” your remote team members can be in one place and visualized, complete with screen sharing and options for voice, audio, and video sharing.

 Trello — a visual project management tool that uses cards to organize projects. “Trello’s boards, lists and cards enable your whole team to prioritize projects in a fun, flexible, and rewarding way.”

Asana — a great tool to use for collaborative projects or solo ones. Includes timelines, notes, tags, categories, ability to upload files and various third party app integrations. 

 Flow — Similar to Asana, flow is a highly organized, visual took optimized for collaboration. “Flow is a team task manager that makes it easy to delegate tasks, prioritize to-do lists, and make sure nothing gets missed.”

Evernote — Workhorse note keeping. Has multiple levels of use (paid and free) that allow for in-depth note taking including images, to-do lists and more. 

Google’s Keep — If you use other Google products often, then this is the app for you. Includes a Chrome extension (of course!)

Cozi — Cozi is also a great way to share notes, lists, and calendars with family (e.g., shared grocery list).

Google’s Inbox —  allows you to easily organize and group messages, as well as schedule reminders.

MixMax  — allows you to schedule emails to be sent later, to see when your messages are opened, and to include polls and more within your message.

Gmelius — fully customize the look of your inbox to help you increase productivity and efficiency. Schedule emails, take notes, avoid phishing and more with this gmail extension.  

Honorable Mentions

Why an Elevator

Often times we are told to condense a business proposal, a company service, a new product idea, and yes, your new novel into a short ‘elevator pitch’ and nothing more. Even marriage proposals should be elevator pitches. In the literary world, we know this abbreviated proposal as The Hook of your story.

Well, let’s look at the elevator pitch a little deeper than, or should that be higher?

I’ll begin with a fun factoid: The fastest elevator in the world is in the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre skyscraper in Guangzhou, China. It climbs about 95 floors (1,443 feet) in 43 seconds at a speed of 45 miles per hour. It would take a person (in decent shape) 30 minutes to climb that height in steps. Unless you suffer from elevataphobia (my word for a mix of claustrophobia and agoraphobia), you would certainly prefer a 43 second ride to the dulcet sounds of Kenny G than a heart pounding 30-minute stairwell climb.

Let’s dial it back to the average elevator. Elevators today travel at around 10 miles per hour or 14 feet per second. A 20-story climb takes about 22 seconds. That is your typical time frame for the elevator pitch. Step into the elevator with me. “Okay, kid, you have twenty stories to tell me your idea.”

Let’s translate that into a literary Hook. 22 seconds is about 50 words. Yes, 50 words to convince someone you have a promising manuscript. Wait, my book is 410 pages. Nobody said it was going to be easy. Maybe I can help.

Unlike a business, product or service that needs to be sold, a literary Hook is not the time to ‘sell’ your idea. It is the time you are given to inspire, move and even seduce the listener/reader with your idea, your passion, and your enthusiasm. Convince them that you see the world in a most fabulous and different way that they need to know about. And you need to do this with beautifully written and captivating words. Well, that sounds easy. No, it sounds harder than climbing the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stairwell. If you want to learn anything from this blog, read this paragraph about six more times.

I’ve written television shows, cartoon strips, screenplays, novels and stage plays and every one of those projects required a short, very short synopsis, i.e., Hook, to convince the producer or publisher is was worthy. Here’s how I approach it.

I said that 410-page novel (about 102,000 words) needs to go down into 50 words? I say start by bringing it down to one word. Yes, one. Finish this phrase with just one word: My book is about __________________. Revenge. Lust. Quest. Pain. Companionship. War. Conquest. Protection. Redemption. Recovery. Let the essence of your manuscript birth the word. Then add to the one word the character(s) who execute that word and why. Next, add the counterparts to whom or for whom the character(s) are executing the word. Finish by adding the why and how (and the where if necessary) the word is executed. As you build this one word into 4, 8, 20 words and so forth, you’ll find yourself doing an act of addition or building instead of one of subtraction and attrition of your 410 pages. I find it to be a much easier process.

I wrote and produced a musical stage production (for puppets) called 7, 8, 9 and 10. It is a story about a child who cared only about how many presents he was getting for Christmas. When he discovers his parents had hidden away ten presents for his brother, but only 6 for himself, he embarks on an adventure to procure the ‘missing’ four presents. Here’s how I would build the hook.

My one word: Greed.

My character: Selfish 8-year old Petey Blankenship wants more.

Counterparts: Parents who mistakenly shortchanged their son of presents

Why the Greed: It’s only right that Petey should get his fair share.

How: Petey will beg, borrow and steal to make things right, risking soul and sanity.

The Hook: Petulant Petey Blankenship turns Christmas upside-down when he discovers his parents’ hideaway of pending presents with his name on four less gifts than his brother. The eight-year-old embarks on a madcap mission of mischief to right the imbalance, only to discover he didn’t know what the season is about.

50 words.

What was a two-hour musical production has been boiled down into 50 words. I probably only need 18 of those 20 floors to get this one out. Try it with your manuscript. Find the word. Read the aforementioned paragraph another few times and make it a quick trip to greater heights for your listener/reader.