A Formula For Best Sellers?

I’m #blessed. No for real. Thanks to the lovely Natalie C. Parker, author of BEHOLD THE BONES, I’ve been connected with some lovely  FAN-STINKIN-NOMENAL (it’s a word now) authors who are in the same stage of agented writing as myself.

Novels by the wonderful Natalie C. Parker

This group of girls bonded almost instantly. We now refer to ourselves as the YAAMY Bears — it’s a yam thang — and find ourselves posting yam memes and GIFs at random. But best of all, we are sharing our journeys. This stage of writing can be awkward and lonely because you’re not sharing the same path with authors seeking representation anymore, but you’re not a published author either. Natalie has given us a tribe, shoulders to cry on, people to celebrate with, and I think I can speak for everyone in the group when I say…

All that being said, I found myself typing out this long message to the girls on one of our many forums at 2:30 in the morning. It’s been on my mind since then, so I thought I’d see what you thought. Is there a formula for a best seller?

Writing the secret formula
I went to MidWest Writers this summer and attended a wonderful session on how to edit a best seller, and here’s what I took away from it:

The conference speaker talked about plot beats which, at the time, I knew nothing about. So, for those of you who were like me, beats are like the rhythm of a song. It’s steady, then it crescendos then it resolves. There is a common rhythm or set of beats found in nearly all the bestseller and blockbuster movies and the formula goes like this:

1. Slice of Life – This is where you start. You give the reader a sense of who the MC is, where they are from and what is meaningful to them. This can happen in the first few words. It can also occur over the course of a few pages. Giving your MC little obstacles to overcome (even big ones, though you don’t generally want to jump in with too much heart pounding action until the reader knows why they should care about the character) helps the reader to get a feel for how they react to things. Do they fume at traffic jams or are they chill? Do they cuss when they stub their toe? That kind of thing.

2. Inciting Incident – What is the thing that starts the sweater to unraveling (Oh Geez! Weezer’s sweater song is in my head now!) But IDENTIFY IT. Call it by name, for your own benefit. This helped me so much just to know what this was, because then I knew where it should fit in my MS.

3. Act 2 – Decision Time: This is when your MC has to make a decision about that Inciting Incident. Are they going to run away from home, get a divorce, find a new job? BUT in most best sellers, the FIRST response to that decision is no. No, I’m not going to do what I should, or what’s hard, or what makes sense. This helps build tension and sets pace! Then give it time and resolve it so your MC can be on his or her merry way with the plot.

4. Establish Flaws – This is where we see that the MC maybe doesn’t have it all together and isn’t quite as perfect as we all thought she was. You don’t have to give everything away, but maybe we start seeing some weaknesses or some unlikable things here. This way we’ve given the reader a chance to fall in love with the MC before we show her butt. Sort of like in dating and marriage. LOL This is also a great place to trickle in clues if you are dealing with an unreliable character.

5. Fun and Games – This is where I struggle, because I write such dark stuff. I don’t know how this bubbly preacher’s kid turned Edgar Allan Poe but whatevs. (P.S. if you write humor PLEASE do a post on that!) Anywho, fun and games doesn’t have to be bubbly or even funny, but this is where your romance typically happens. Your MC discovers they are in love. Or, if there is no romance, some of the lighter things in the novel are happening here. This is all for build and pace. Your chugging up the hill of that roller coaster, about to give your readers that my-stomach-just-fell-into-my-shoes feeling.

6. Mid-Point – This is the middle of your story. I know, deep, right? Things are starting to pull together and come to a head.

7. Bad Guys Close In – This is where your MC is getting backed into a corner by some situation or protagonist. They’re feeling a little hopeless here.

8. All is Lost – Giving your MC a situation they can’t possibly get out of is a pretty big theme in best sellers. There’s no way this can end up good for anyone as far as the reader can tell.

9. Dark Night of Soul – Things are moving quickly now. Your character recognizes that without sacrificing, there is no way out of this situation. Or maybe they don’t recognize it, but the reader does. This takes on all forms. In Jerry MaGuire, his career is on the line, in Twilight (forgive me) it’s Edward or Jacob, or Renesmee, or herself or Edward. Your MC can linger here for a moment to help solidify for the reader the stakes that are at risk. Remember this takes on so many different forms. Your story may be man against nature, or man against community. It still fits.

10. Climax — This is where the volcano explodes. The battle scene, the escape, the divorce, the throw down. The ugly.

11. Closing Image – Here’s your resolution, and my favorite: Bookends. This is where you take a theme that you started the book with, and you end with it. You give your reader a sense of closure with a profound idea, a loose end or a phrase used earlier and trickled throughout the book. In Jerry MaGuire it was a phrase: You complete me. In Twilight it was the theme that Edward could never read Bella’s thoughts and then she allowed him to.

For Pacing: The speaker suggested asking a beta reader to put a note in every place they got pulled away from reading to do something else by anything other than an earthquake or medical emergency. Those are probably your places where the book lulls. She suggested giving the character a minor conflict in those areas that doesn’t muddle up the plot or add too many new elements to the theme. It can be something she is already dealing with that happens to raise it’s ugly head again.

Also another REALLY  interesting resource is the Plot Library. Apparently, there are only like a few plots out there since the beginning of time and every story can fit into one of these plot lines. I thought it was fun to look through them and see which one my book and my favorite books fit into!

Is there really a formula for a best seller? Who knows. Most will agree that, like any art form, there’s no right or wrong way to write a book. But, that being said, even as an artist, I need to know how shading works. I need to know that if I’m trying to paint realism, if that’s my goal, then if the sun is on the right side of an object, the shadows will only be on the left side. This is a guide. It helped me organize my writing and identify the pieces that WERE ALREADY THERE! I don’t necessarily use this until I’m in the editing process. I don’t hold to this formula while I’m writing. I use it to sort it out afterwards. Maybe organized writing is the key to a best seller, maybe it’s something else entirely, but identifying these spots in my writing helps ME better understand it. I hope you can get something out of this too.

To Comp or not to Comp that is the Question

If you’re a twin or a sibling or a human in general you have probably experienced being compared to someone else. Comparisons can be flattering but, for the most part, people like to stand alone.

We don’t always like being compared. 


In the writing world, sometimes comparisons are necessary. If you’ve queried for very long, you’ve probably asked your self this question: Should I add a comp to my query? If you haven’t, you may be wondering, what the Hector Zaroni is a comp? A comp is when an author makes a comparison of their work using other familiar works of literature, theater, television or big screen titles. An example would be Spiderman meets PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE (Oooo! I kind of want to write that.) Or modern day David and Goliath (Oh man…I’m going to need more than one Christmas vacation. So many books to write.) Or you can put genre or category twists on common stories like Steam Punk Cinderella or New Adult Charlie Brown. The possibilities are endless.

Batman meets Jurassic Park


Why create a comp? Because, done well, it’s like a picture for agents. Comps speak a thousand words. Creating a comp can be a risky move because if the agent dislikes the comps, your MS could be discarded before the agent even gets to the sample writing. Another thing that makes comping difficult is choosing your comps. It can be like comparing your child to someone else’s. Obviously, you love yours more so it’s better, right? And what if your story doesn’t seem to fit any other story perfectly and when you meld stories it ends up looking a little like this:


Or what if your comp titles aren’t really spot on and it ends up like this:


That’s not really what you were going for was it?

Done well, comps are like a picture for agents. They speak a thousand words.

Many agents say they love comps. I’ve noticed lately that several of the query contest winners I’ve seen used intriguing comps. Comps can be very useful if done correctly. A good rule to live by, however, is if you don’t feel comfortable making the comp, then avoid it. But if you think a comp could beef up your query or perhaps the agent you query asks for comps (there are a few out there) then here are some helpful tips for creating great comps for your query:

Comp Do’s and Don’ts

DO read a lot so that you have more comp options.

DO try to stay away from comparing your writing to hot fad reads like Twilight that agents might be burnt out on.

DON’T compare your writing style to successful writers i.e. “I’m the next Nicholas Sparks.”

DO only make comps that help the agent understand your plot. Comps are not to show the agent your book is as good as the comp title you’re comparing it to. It’s to help them understand the plot.

DO your research. Maybe there are some great comps out there that will do your title justice. Research stories that have elements that compare to yours.

DON’T worry that your comp isn’t identical to your story. The idea is not to find the something exactly the same but something that compares. That’s why finding two stories to comp like Batman meets Jurassic Park helps to cover more of the elements in your story. Make sure the major ingredients of the story are parallel then make the comparison.

What are some comps that you’ve made? Did they work? What are other Do’s and Don’ts you can suggest for making comps?


10488290_10152533971360993_7822460364161932901_nThere comes a point in the life of a manuscript when certain questions must be asked. If a FULL manuscript has lived adventurously, traveling the world through cyber mail, visiting the in-boxes of agents galore only to return to you time and time again, it could be because of ridiculously long sentences like this one or…OR it could be because of the way you’ve ended your story.

It has been said that the most important pages you will ever write are the first and last five pages of your novel. If this is true, and I’m beginning to think it is, we have to learn to write better endings. And being the I-like-to-do-things-backwards type of girl that I am, I have learned this the hard way. So here are some things not to do when writing an ending.


1. Tie it into a neat little bow at the end that is all-too-convenient for everyone involved. I know you’ve been writing for eons and you just want the story to end but, don’t do that!

2. Throw your readers off a proverbial plot cliff. Even though things are winding up, your manuscript shouldn’t lose the momentum it had during the rest of the story. It should have the same feel to it even when it’s ending.

3. Be afraid of happy endings. You don’t have to kill your main character to create a twist at the end of your story. Happy endings are still possible. You may just have to think of a funky way for your MC to achieve it.



An earth shattering ending – how, how, how do we write it? Start by looking to the stars. Is it shameful to look to the work of successful writers for inspiration? I say nay-nay! Let’s face it, there is no new thing under the sun. (A quote from my favorite book BTW.) No story has been written that hasn’t already been told. We just put a new twist on it, spiffed up the characters a little bit, modernize the setting and POOF…“new” story. Recently, I sat down and pinpointed what made an unforgettable ending for me and this is what I came up with:


There are  a few different formulas that, for me, produce an unforgettable ending.

1. A magnetic connection to the main character. It might not be the most eventful story I’ve ever read but I am so drawn to the character that I can’t stop reading. I want what he wants and if he gets it in the end then I celebrate with him and if he doesn’t I mourn with him. This type of unforgettable ending is more about the stuff sandwiched in between beginning and end than anything. I KNOW, I KNOW I’m contradicting my earlier statement about the first and last 5 pages. First, shut your snarky face. Second, keep reading and you’ll see that’s still true most of the time. *Sigh* And…I’m sorry I told you to shut your snarky face.

download (1)

Moving on. Think about movies like Rudy. Did we really care that he was a scrawny goober who dreamed about fulfilling a destiny that was a size too big for him? I mean come on, isn’t that everyone’s story? Nothing wildly original here. But it was the way Angelo Pizzo wrote Rudy’s character that made us love him, made us want to shout “Rudy!” at the top of our lungs. So when he did make it at the end, which we all saw coming, we felt emotion – not because it was a mind blowing event but because we cared for Rudy.

download (2)


Another example is John Green’s Paper Towns. Geek guy falls for popular girl – done a million times over, HOWEVER the sarcastic, irreverent voice of the MC and his cohorts keeps you reading. You want to know what impossibly scornful thing will be said next and before long you are deeply vested in weather Margo will speak to Quentin Jacobsen at school tomorrow or not. I’m a 36 year old educated mother of three…AND I WANT TO KNOW! That, my friends, is the power of an unforgettable ending.

A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.


2. An amazing twist makes for a unforgettable ending. One of my favorite twisted endings is from The Game, starring Micheal Douglas and Sean Pen. The whole time you don’ t know who Nicholas Van Orton can trust. Everyone has turned against him and he can no longer tell the difference between the game and reality. In the end, *spoiler alert*  his brother shoots him and he falls three stories to what should be his death only to find everyone he knows waiting to congratulate him for making it through the game at the bottom, his brother included. They were all in on it and you never knew it the whole time…or I didn’t anyway. A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

download (3)

3. Another element that makes for an unforgettable ending is when you are dying to see the villain get theirs. A well developed antagonist can drive your story all the way to the end. Making your reader love to hate the enemy can cause them to hold onto the last drop just to see the villain get what is coming to them. Make it count! Think about it. We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout “I’m melting! I’m melting!” It never gets old.

If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you.


4. And finally, a romance that makes you fall in love all over again can sear an ending into your mind in a way that makes it unforgettable. When two people have that extra special connection you want to fight for it, because it’s rare. A well written romance can be the momentum for a plot. If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you. Look at endings of classic or popular love stories to see how they worked for other successful writers. Scarlet’s ending wasn’t the sweetest in Gone with the Wind but we all gave a darn. And what about The Notebook? Didn’t it rip our hearts out on a Saturday night right before Easter service? And you cried so hard your eyes swelled shut for church the next morning? No? Just me? All right then. And folks keep your boos and hisses to yourself; book and movie sales say it all. The Twilight series had a grip on our culture for a significant amount of time and left its mark on the Young Adult genre so don’t overlook the ending.

So…what about you? What are some of your favorite endings that you, or I – I’m not ashamed to be selfish here – could be inspired by? Do tell.



BlEJtsaCMAA7os9“I didn’t connect with your MC.” I’ve heard it so many times. In one of my more recent rejections the agent doted, saying she “absolutely loved” my concept and that my take on the setting was “genius.” She used the word genius! Ultimately though, she rejected me because she did not connect with my character. After reading this my mind was filled with questions. What was it about my main character that caused you not to connect with her? Is this something agents just say when they know the novel is not for them  but they just can’t pin-point why? If not then how, how, how can I make you connect with my character?

I have one of three reactions to rejection: 1.) A short pouting session where I turn my back on all things literary. 2.) A ravenous search for knowledge where I tear through every piece of advice ever written to improve the fault the agent has exposed. 3.) Both one and two combined in that order. This time I experienced the latter.

So, after completing step one, I did a little research on what can make the reader connect with the main character of a story and here’s what I came up with.

Make your MC Suffer

images (4)

We are a sick species who can’t seem to turn our eyes away from tragedy. It twists our insides to watch but we have to see the outcome. Capturing this element creates intrigue and ultimately a story that can’t be put down. One of my earliest mistakes in writing was giving my MC what she wanted too soon without enough trial and tribulation. I loved my main character, providing for her like a spoiled child. The problem with this is that it’s just not an interesting read. We understand more through empathetic and sympathetic communications than any other method. It’s important to put your MC through the cheese grater and then put them back together on the other side before you conclude your story. Sick as it is, it’s what people want to read.

Tap Into Your MC’s Emotions


From fleeting emotions to the more grounded ones that make your character unique, the reader needs to understand, know and feel your MC’s emotions for themselves. Showing not telling is key.  Her stomach roils, his skin prickles, her blood speeds up creating torrents in her veins. Stressful situations expose the true character of a human in real life. It should do the same in your story. No matter the action or the cleverness of the writing, regardless of the fascinating twists, if the main character’s reactions are not identifiable then the reader will not make a connection and will be left with that “meh – it was all right” feeling at the end of the story. We’ve all been to that movie. The special effects were mind blowing. The character’s were hot, the plot was riveting but you never got to know the character on that deep level of human connection. Those stories are the ones we forget because we didn’t feel anything.

Another essential element of writing emotions is making sure your MC is growing emotionally through the journey. They should not be the same person at the end of the story as they were in the beginning. Maybe they are less  of a person: broken, weak, lonely. Maybe they have grown stronger, realizing their purpose and finding confidence. Whatever the case, it should be a gradual growth the reader can track from start to finish. Though the reader may not realize it, the outer journey should be the subsequent one. The real odyssey should be the inner transformation that is taking place.  It is easy for authors to miss this because we have so much work to do putting the intricate details of a believable plot together. Creating an emotional tracker for your main character and describing his or her state of emotions as they progress can help make sure this development is occurring and provide the dramatic action that makes a story a page turner.

The Reader Needs to Care about the Goal

untitled (7)

Dramatic action revolves around the characters goal and, while the character may not be aware of it, their methods of achieving that goal develops their emotions. Their reactions to the successes and failures that occur while achieving that goal reveals even more and the goal itself helps to define the character.  But here’s the kicker: if your reader doesn’t care about the goal then you’ve lost them. Writing the goal  isn’t the real obstacle though. The goal doesn’t have to be this big flashy thing. Your character doesn’t have to aspire to save the world. It could be something as simple as being a good writer or understanding themselves (Eat Love Pray). The trick is making the reader care about the character’s goals because they care about the character. We can do this by showing (not telling) the MC’s reactions to setbacks and failures and success. Another way to do this is by creating tensions and obstacles for our character to prevent them from achieving this goal too soon in the story.

Now, it’s your turn. How do you get your reader to connect with your characters? I’m a sponge. Fill me!




IMG_20130728_113951Perspective. It’s abstract yet it’s everything. It’s what keeps our writing fresh and makes it relevant. It’s what gives our stories that malleability to conform to whatever we want or need it to be and it’s what causes an agent to fall in love with or instantly disconnect with our work. Perspective is essential, yet if we lose it we are spinning our wheels in the proverbial mud that is our WIP. So how do we get it?

Make sure people are looking at your writing.

Many of us are quiet about our endeavors in writing. We tell ourselves we will be more outward with it when we are finally published. (Mostly because we’re tired of answering the question: “Oh, you write? Where is your book sold?”) But if we want to be able to answer that question with a resounding “BARNES AND NOBLE” then you have to let other people see your work. We lack the perspective as humans to stay objective toward our own work. We need a fresh eye and a different outlook. You might be influencing your characters to act the way you would in a certain situation while others would do it differently. Letting other people read our manuscript, opens us up to a whole new range of scenarios for our characters. Think of other people’s input on your MS as deposits into an idea bank. You don’ t have to spend them if you don’t want to but the ideas are there when you need them.



Contests are not for the weak of heart. It can be discouraging when you don’t even make it passed the initial selection rounds, however, many contests come with fantastic (and not so fantastic) feedback from published authors, editors, bloggers and the reading public in general. I have been at the place where I worked so hard on a manuscript that the words didn’t even look like words anymore. I had gone manuscript blind. Perspective from contests (even when we don’t win the contest) give us insight to issues with the MS that we couldn’t see before.

Take Criticism


If someone told you your baby was ugly you’d punch them in the face. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t but you sure as heck wouldn’t give them roses. Our manuscripts are our babies – our blood, sweat and tears – but we MUST learn to take criticism for them. After all, our readers are why we write and if they don’t “get it” then we aren’t doing our job. I say this with total subjectivity. Of course, we don’t write to please all readers but we must be open to change for the sake of the reader if  it’s not compromising our voice or the integrity of our work.

Take a step back for saturation’s sake!


I know you would never abandon your child and that’s what it feels like when you walk away from a manuscript but sometimes taking a step back to work on another project for a while – and I mean a while – can bring all the perspective we need. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves and the WIP.

What about you? How do you find perspective? I’d love to try your techniques.

Beta you wish you were better at self editing.


I’m a writer for gosh sake. Grammatical blunders stand out to me like turds in a punch bowl. I can spot formatting errors on a manuscript on the sidewalk from the roof of the Willis Tower. (For your information, that’s the tallest building in the U.S.) I can detect a homophone misuse better than a shark smells blood in the water…UNLESS it’s in my own writing. Dadgum, this chaps my chassy! I just wish I could write something and edit it myself.

Don’t get me wrong I love, love, love my beta readers and the valuable criticism they give. Even if I wrote a squeaky clean novel, I would still give it to them for their input. However, the times I wish I didn’t need them are for the edits that don’t require a full rewrite. Any time I want to clean up some dialogue, add a scene or give a few more details I have to give puppy dog eyes to my betas so they’ll give it another look or in a perfect world give it to a whole new set so the MS is new and fresh to their eyes. That’s what it’s all about really – fresh eyes.


The reason we are the worst editors for our manuscripts is we are saying the words before we even read them.

We know what it’s supposed to say. Heck, we have it memorized. Taking a month or two break from your MS can help with editing but that is so much harder to do than people think. The only way I can do that is by writing something else and putting it out of my mind for awhile.


I’m guilty of it. I’ve made a few small changes before sending to an agent. I read it over. I had my husband read it over and it looked great. WHY….why oh why do we not see our typos until after we’ve hit the send button? Is it because we have to psych ourselves out to hit it in the first place? Don’t think just do, we say. Hit send. HIT IT NOW! Once it’s out there I think I’d rather not see the blasted blunders at all because I’m on the verge of vomiting for about three days after I realize I’ve launched my own personal blooper reel into someone’s slush pile.

The moral of the story is, sending a manuscript quickly never feels as good as sending a pristine one. Besides, we all know the turn around rate. It’s not like sending your MS quickly will merit you a thirty minute response.


Do breathing exercises, have someone talk you down, relive nightmares from the past, whatever you have to do to make yourself send only when your manuscript is ready. Preachin’ to the choir here.

How about you? Have you ever sent too soon? Has mercy and grace abounded to you and you actually got a request from it? Please tell me it’s possible. Tell me your horror stories too! (Horror is one of the typos I sent in a query recently. Guhh!! Two R’s in horror. Finger slipped, spell correct failed me and I was too eager to hit send. Caught it seconds afterwards.)

Agent/Author Etiquette

222221_10150272979930993_6771236_nYour phone chimes with that special notification that alerts you an agent has responded to one of your queries. (What? You don’t have an email account set up JUST for agent responses? You should! Just a tidbit: Did you know that there are many agencies that will boot out emails as spam from big free email groups like gmail, Hotmail and yahoo? But I digress…) So where were we? Oh yes the notifying chime! You hesitate to open it, knowing its just another rejection and you’re not in the mood today. After forcing yourself to look, you discover that….Holy Shmuckoly! It’s a full manuscript request.

After the initial lightheadedness and overall flushing of all your body parts you get right to work collecting your manuscript and reading over it one more time at lightening speed for any refining that needs to be done. You resist, with all that is in you, making major changes in the first three chapters and tell yourself now is no time for self doubt. Finally, you hit the SEND button followed by the strong urge to wretch. Oh, Lord was everything perfect?  If it’s not, too late now.

The rush of the whole experience lingers for a day or two and then the questions overtake you like a swarm of killer bees.

Questions1. How long should I wait before nudging?

A nudge is reserved for specific situations. An author should never use a nudge for a query submission. Most agents (if I were more daring I would say all agents) have information on their website that let submitters know how long they can wait for a reply. Some agents state upfront they will not respond to queries which do not interest them and that a no response can be considered a rejection. If an agency states that, after a lack of response within a certain amount of time, you can resubmit then do so but do not nudge.  In my opinion, it’s good practice to send your manuscript with a short respectful note inquiring about what sort of time frame you can expect to hear back from them. Generally they will reply with a time frame of about 6-8 weeks and give permission to follow up after that time period. Nudges should be used only when agents have requested your material and have exceeded the time they initially told you it would take to look at the work or an acceptable amount of time to review the MS.

2.What is the best way to follow up with an agent?

Again, dare I say all agents, prefer email. A simple reply to the initial request is sufficient via email. Then just find something to distract you for the next 6-8 weeks while they do their thing.Many agents have twitter accounts now that you can follow and they often host “Ask The Agent” forums where they answer FAQ’s by authors. Generally though, I wouldn’t inquire with an agent about a query on twitter. Use their email for that. Following agents on twitter can be informative, however. I follow agents on Twitter who post when they have made it through their query piles and that if you haven’t heard back from them to resubmit. So, if you have submitted a query to an agent, it’s a great idea to follow them on Twitter. I said FOLLOW, don’t stalk….that’s just pathetic and creepy.

3. Should I give an exclusive if asked?


Exclusives should rarely be given. If authors granted exclusives every time we submitted we would be published at the ripe old age of 103. Now if an agent asks for an exclusive while reading your manuscript, and he/she is your DREAM AGENT,  it might be in your best interest if you only granted it for a short time period.  For instance, you might say I’ll grant exclusivity for 2 weeks in which I will not submit to, or make a commitment to, any other agents. This ensures a swift response for you and does not lock up your manuscript so that you miss out on an opportunity for representation by another agent in the process.

4. Why did the agent ask if other agents were considering my work?

Agents want to know if your work is being considered by other agents so they know how to place it in the slush pile. If you are being seriously considered by other agents then the agent might make an effort to look at yours sooner to avoid losing an opportunity to represent the novel. Make sure you don’t tell an agent your novel is being considered unless it truly is though. Integrity is a huge part of the relationship between author and agent and if you are eventually represented by the agent you don’t want that uncomfortable white lie coming between you.

5. Is it a bad thing if more than one agent is looking at my work?

Simple answer. No. Agents don’t hold it against you if your work is being looked at by other agents. That’s the nature of the business and it only shows you have an interesting story. Just be sure to COMMUNICATE WITH THE AGENTS! Tell them that your work is being considered by other agents so they can plan accordingly. And if you receive an offer of representation in the meantime, notify agents so they know to stop looking at your work OR to finish reviewing it so they have a shot at it too. It’s okay for you to tell an agent you need time to think and notify other agents that you are considering them for representation.

6. And finally, what if you send the manuscript along with a short message asking when you might hear back and after a week receive no response? Should you resend?


What are you looking at me like that for? Oh! You think I have the answer. No, this question is for you! I’ve read  it is important to respond with a bold message in the subject line that says something about REQUESTED MANUSCRIPT. Of course, I read this after I sent the email and merely replied to the initial email. I have a tendency to over think things. Perhaps your thoughts on the issue will ease my mind. So take it away.


386558_10150591178055993_62231348_nYou are a  door to door salesperson who sells vacuums. Finally, after months of having doors slammed in your face, a potential buyer stands in the doorway long enough to ask you a question. “What kind of vacuum is it?” You hem-haw and squirm because you really don’t know so you just spout off the most popular vacuum type you can think of. “It’s a zero-turn-radius, bagless, cyclone chamber with scented filters.” When really it’s one of those old models that looks like  a set of bagpipes. What does the potential client who you could have made enough off of to not  have to sell another vacuum for a whole month do? He slams the door in your face, of course.

Our manuscripts can be just as difficult to sell (not that any of or work is like a bagpipe vacuum cleaner, I should hope) and finding a genre our manuscripts fit into to market them can be even more difficult. However, without the proper packaging, you can have an amazing product but never move it off the shelf. Face it, most of us buy name brand just because it looks more trustworthy. It would be nice if we could just go without picking a genre and just let our work speak for itself  but in the world of publishing there is no such thing as No Genre Bob.


The last writer’s conference I attended had a “Read the Slush Pile” event, as many do. Three agents sat on a panel while someone read the first five pages of our manuscripts to them. When they didn’t want to hear anymore they raised their hands and the reader ceased. Then the agents told why they would have stopped reading that particular piece if it were in their slush pile. It was very informative and helped me to better develop my first chapter. But one of the main reasons they stopped reading was when an author incorrectly billed a piece as a certain genre. At first I thought they were just being picky but they explained their reasons for this.


The first reason was that a writer should know their genre. If they don’t, the agent can already see that working with this author may consume a little more time than they have available. The second reason why agents say writers bill their work as a genre that it is not, is because they are scared their work falls under a dead category and think if they bill it as something else it will seem more appealing. The fact is:

You have a better chance at getting an agent’s attention with your work under its true genre (even if the genre isn’t so hot right now) than you do if they start to read it and find out it’s not what you claimed it was-no matter how good your work is.

That doesn’t mean agents are uppity or snide. It just means that, like you and I, they like to get the product they are told they are getting. So, knowing your genre is the key. I remember flipping out when I heard the agents respond that way because I had pitches scheduled with them the following day and I wasn’t prepared to commit to a genre at that point. What would I do if they put me on the spot? I stayed up for hours in my hotel room researching different genres and comparing my story to others that have already been marketed under certain labels. It was hard because one of the agents I was pitching to wasn’t particularly fond of the category my manuscript seemed to be consistently falling into with my research. I had to be straight forward with her and she asked me to send her a partial!

There are some great resources out there for pinpointing your genre. 


First, start by reading lists of genres and weed out the ones that don’t apply. Sometimes books fall into multiple categories like YA/Science Fiction/Romance, so  don’t try to narrow it down to just one yet. Make sure the list you are looking at is up-to-date. Some genres are called by different names than they used to be and there are new ones, like NA (New Adult), that are added to the list. Here are a few good lists to start with: List Of Fiction Genres and Bubble Cow’s Genre List. You may have to piece a few lists together to get a complete list. As you can see, NA is not even described on these lists yet because it is so new.

Then once you’ve narrowed it down to a few genres, start looking at books that are similar to yours. This is a good practice anyway because most agents are going to want you to compare your book to something that is already on the market. While most of us would like to think our book is one of a kind that’s not always a good thing. People like to read things similar to what they’ve already enjoyed. We naturally choose by comparison. So look at other books that compare to yours and see what genre they fit into.

It’s not an easy process. It’s like choosing a label for your child. You, young one, will forever be known as a…carpenter or psychologist or mother or construction worker. It’s tough stuff but we can do it! Anybody else out there struggle with labeling your baby?



So, I’m just going to write a book, find an agent and live happily every after. Bwahahahaha!

When I first started this journey, over a year ago, I spent half my time writing and the other half researching how to be a writer. I remember the first time I read about platform I thought, I’ve got a lot of work to do! Wait, back up a little bit. First I thought, what the Hector Zaroni is a platform? The first visual I received was something you jump off of before landing in the water. I was close.

Our platforms are how people know us. If you were to walk into the mall or into the world dominating franchise that is Wal-mart, what would people be whispering? “Oh, I know him, he’s that guy on face book who had his photo taken, kissing a komodo dragon.” Or, “That’s the guy who rocks the base at the Blue Note on Saturday nights.” Or maybe, “She’s the chick who won the head cheese eating contest at the last Heritage Days Festival!” The methods we use to get people to recognize us are our platforms.

I realize that writers don’t often want to bring attention to themselves, however, the ugly part of writing is marketing; but it doesn’t have to be that way if  you change the way you think about it.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of marketing yourself, think of it as marketing your work instead.

Platform has changed. It used to be you had a good platform if you’d: ever been on television, you were previously published, you made it big in some other industry like Country Music or NASCAR, you won the lottery or your parents were famous. Today, we are lucky because we can build our own platforms.

Tools to build your platform are plentiful.

Your gonna need a hammer, a level, some screws…Naw I’m just kiddin’. You don’t need any of that stuff. What you will need, however, is a laptop, willingness to learn new things and time. There are so many websites today that help us put ourselves out there like Facebook, Twitter (which I just recently caved and became a twit. FOLLOW ME! @MargieBrimer #shameless plug), Tumbler and the beloved WordPress. These sights make us visible to thousands of people who we could have never have been exposed to otherwise but there is a strategy to networking. You have to be active and responsive and authentic and RESEARCH your butt off on effective ways to format and communicate. Be creative and bold and real.

Don’t wait until you’re famous to build a platform. If you build it they will come.

 These days, many agents are looking for authors who have already put in the work to build a strong platform. It’s an exciting process really because the whole time you’re making relationships and maintaining those relationships and staying on top of posts, it is for a purpose. It’s for the day when it finally happens and when it does your platform will be there for you to step up on….and jump off of.

What other platforms do you use besides our dear WordPress? Can somebody expound on Tumbler and how Pintrest can be used to promote an author’s work? I’m excited to learn.


So, you’ve been to a conference. You pitched your manuscript and you didn’t vomit on the agent’s shoes! You actually delivered a decent pitch. Then the agent looks at you and says, “This is an awesome concept. I ‘d like you to send me the whole manuscript.” What do you do?

Celebrate...then be realistic.

Celebrate…then be realistic.

Do you walk out in a dignified manner, acting as though you expected that response or do you throw yourself over the table at the agent, kissing her hand repeatedly, thanking her for a chance and promising her you won’t let her down like those contestants on American Idol who’ve made it through the first round and act as though they’ve won the whole contest? Do you wait until you’ve nearly reached the door and break into a little “I did it” jig? I’m just saying, I may or may not have done a combination of your first and third options. I sort of forgot that old football motto,

“Just hand the ball to the official and  act like you’ve been there before.”

Then as I sat in the waiting room, I watched others as they came out. A few were dejected, others were indifferent and still others were sporting the same look I had minutes ago. Throughout the day at the conference, I asked about the response others had received from certain agents. There were quite a few that were asked to send partials of their manuscripts to the agents. This got me to thinking, are my chances here the same as any slush pile my manuscript has landed in?

dont hold your breath

I probably shouldn’t be holding my breath here.

I started to question everything. What was the point of coming here and the months of rehearsing, stressing out and whitening my teeth..MY SENSITIVE TEETH- I shriek internally every time I inhale! I started doing research on how much value these request actually held.

Don’t stress just yet.


But then again, don’t start taking out loans based on your book sales either. I read a wonderful blog by Wendy Lawton called Books&Such where this situation is put into perspective from the agents point of view. I’ve read articles that speak of agents in a less than positive light about the way they lead authors on by asking for samples when they may not be as eager to represent the author as one might think. The Books&Such article clarifies why agents might ask for a manuscript sample and then not give you the gleaming results you are awaiting OR they may take much longer to respond than you had anticipated.

Here are 5 reasons she noted:

  • It’s most likely a serious request based on liking the initial pitch and being interested in the writer. Whether the agent is being realistic about his ability to manage the additional work he is agreeing to evaluate is the unknown element here.
  • Or it could just be the general giddiness and I-can-do-it-all feeling that comes from letting an overworked agent out of the office. At a writer’s conference we are predisposed to falling in love with ideas and writers. We’re talking with colleagues and brainstorming possibilities. Heady stuff.
  • It can mean the agent has been meeting with writer after writer in fifteen-minute blocks all day long and has finally admitted he is braindead and cannot evaluate anything and the best thing is to just see the work and evaluate later.The danger here is that he knows he is loading himself up with work, not taking into consideration the already critically backed-up workload at the office.
  • It might mean the agent knows he can’t evaluate fiction based on a query. He has to evaluate the writing. Some agents and editors ask to see anything that may hold promise based on the pitch. (Sadly some writers pitch like big leaguers while their writing isn’t even ready for the farm team.)
  • It might mean the agent is drawn to the writer himself and, regardless of the writing, wants to continue to explore. This is the power of meeting in person. These are the not-quite-ready writers that agents sometimes decide to sign, even earlier than normal, in order to mentor them. It’s one of the values of a writing conference–the inexplicable connection that sometimes happens.

So if you’ve received a face to face request CELEBRATE! Then revise as requested, send your manuscript and if you feel comfortable ask about a time frame in your query. Then wait but Heavens to Mergatroid QUERY WHILE YOU WAIT. Don’t put all your tofu in one recycled plastic tote (sorry, I’m vegan.) Keep sending out those queries just as you would, had you never gone to the conference at all. 

Have any of you received partial requests at a conference? How about a full? I received both this weekend and I’d love to hear the outcomes of your requests to give me something to ponder while I wait for my own response!

It’s Not What You Know It’s Who You Know


First, let me start by saying that I am officially a dud. I am, at this very moment, sitting in a crowd of people at an Outlaws arena football game (who my brother-n-laws play for professionally) with my lap top, editing my manuscript and thinking only of my blog followers! I asked my husband if he could do something about the ridiculously loud music they are playing between the plays because it is distracting me but he said I’m just being sensitive. Hmpf!

Now that I’ve vented, let us get to the topic at hand. Whether you are self published or on the path to finding an agent, as an author, we all want the same thing – for our work to be noticed. For over a year now, I’ve been sitting quietly in my living room in small town USA screaming into cyberspace for someone to give me a chance, sending out queries, writing revision after revision of my synopsis, trying out new hooks on different agents and hoping to somehow stand out from the rest of the layers in the slush pile. Maybe that’s you too?

Representation is the golden egg to writers, for many have written yet few are published. To quote Alexandria LaFaye, an author I met recently,  “less than 2% of the world is published!”  This leads me to believe one thing, there is some truth in one of those old cliche’s we writers try so hard to avoid.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

I’ve been blessed and honored to meet many published authors, either through conferences or festivals and each time I do, I ask them the same question. “How did you find representation?”  Nearly every author I have asked tells me they secured an agent or editor through a meeting, conference, pitch session, contest or through a connection they made with another author. Not with a query.

It’s the unfortunate truth. Trying to find an agent can start to feel a bit like playing the lottery. I’m not saying it’s impossible but writers have to be realistic about the chances. Your manuscript is in a pile with many other talented pieces.  So what is the solution? 

Get to know people!

You’ll be surprised to find that authors and agents are -gasp– people too! I know, I know; writers are introverts by nature and face time just isn’t our thing (sorry if this stereo type doesn’t fit) but it’s time to get crazy and take a risk. Time to get out there and meet people that can teach us the things we need to know, point us in the right direction and sometimes even help us make career changing connections.

How you ask?

You have to leave your house and your comfort zone and probably your zip code. I’m talking conferences, literature festivals, writer’s groups, contests! Grab that paper bag and breathe in and out. It’s going to be okay! And here’s another thing, don’t be afraid to talk to them! What’s the worst that can happen? They might not have the time to talk. Maybe they won’t email you back if you take their card. But….WHAT IF THEY DO! It’s worth that chance isn’t it?

We have a whole summer of conferences ahead of us. Pick one and go! Make a family trip out of it. Make connections while you are there and challenge yourself to know and be known!

Hey Batta-Batta Shwing! The Dreaded Pitch

The Agent Pitch

The Agent Pitch

Do you ever have those moments where you’re going about every day life and then it’s like you’re awakened to reality? I was driving down the road the other day and I looked through the rear view mirror into the back seat and I was like- WOE! There are three kids back there! When the Fuzzy French Fried Fritters did that happen? How did I get here? It’s like I woke up one morning and….BANG- fifteen years of marriage, three pregnancies, a couple of houses, a college education and two career changes just happened in a blur of fast forward motion. That’s sort of the way I feel about this whole writing thing. It’s like I woke up in a pile of manuscripts one day and realized I’d written two novels and don’t even remember doing it.  

The time has come in this strange and rapid journey to take the next step. I’ve queried my little heart out and attended some small writing conferences – all good steps toward building confidence as a writer- but now it’s time for something a little bigger….THE AGENT PITCH. That’s right, five minutes with a real live agent, make that three agents, to pitch my latest novel.     Am I nervous? Um, yeah, I’m nervous! I’m also giddy, excited and slightly nauseous – all the feelings one might get from bungee jumping. My biggest concern is that I don’t want to waste this opportunity. I want to be prepared. So I have been researching my average sized, slightly curvaceous fanny off to be prepared for what could possibly be five of the most important little minutes in my career as a writer. No pressure.

Here’s what I’ve done to be prepared: I’ve consulted with two very successful published authors about my pitch. One had me re-write it several times to make sure it was concise, SHORT, in close third person and that it remained in that tone throughout. Did I mention that it was short? One paragraph, that’s it. The other author recommended a short pitch line that compares the story to something the agent may be familiar with to catch their attention. Something like, The Titanic meets Twilight. Also, I’m holding a dinner party where I will pitch my book to random strangers, invited by a mutual friend. Finally, I’ve read pitches of familiar stories so I understand what information a pitch should include.

One great resource I found was found on Wow-womenwriting.com. It talks about how agents are people with dreams of making it big too. They come to writer’s conferences with the same hopes that we do: selling books. This site explains what agents dislike about the way author’s handle themselves at conferences. They realize that not all writers are good speakers but become very uncomfortable when someone shakes and cries while trying to pitch a book. Oh, please don’t let me shake and cry…PLEASE! They suggest heavily that authors practice their pitch and don’t decide to change it at the last minute. One of my favorite quotes from the blog was this:

“I wish writers would see the agents more as an equal—when there’s too much desperation in the writer’s eyes, agents tend to de-value them. If a writer is confident, I know that they don’t need me so much as we need each other.”

Maybe you’ve attended a pitch session recently. How did it go? Did you get positive feed back? Representation? Do you have advice for this bungee jumper on her first decent? I’d love to hear from you.