Fiction Readers are Better People

Fiction Readers are Better People The title of this post is a bit exaggerated — but not as much as you might think! I’ve always loved both fiction and non-fiction, and I have a hard time understanding people who say they don’t read novels because they prefer to read things that are “true.” I try to explain that sometimes, fiction gets closer to the truth than non-fiction because of its capacity to tap the emotional side of the reader. Fiction can convey truths straight to the heart that your head might reject from a non-fiction book. But it’s more than that, and many times, I’ve found myself at a loss when trying to describe how edifying I find fiction to be. It sounds too crass to say “I learn from it,” because the learning is of a subtle nature. I’m finally...
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I Didn’t Sign Up For This

I Didn’t Sign Up For This I don’t know a single writer whose publishing dreams included being a full-time marketer for their books.   The writing and publishing dream usually includes visions of spending several hours a day at the laptop, sending manuscripts off to a publisher, receiving big checks, getting fabulous starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, hearing from awe-struck fans who loved your book, being interviewed on the Today Show… and reaching the top of the bestseller lists.   And even for those whose dreams are more modest, the vision usually includes writing books and getting them sold to publishers, going through the editing process, and being available for whatever book promotion the publisher wants to do.   Blogging? Sending out newsletters? Maintaining a huge following on...
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Are You Afraid to Tell the Truth?

Are You Afraid to Tell the Truth? I am a reader of memoirs. I love them as much as I adore good fiction. I love the way great memoirists unflinchingly bare themselves to us, showing the good and the bad, the admirable moments and the shameful ones. I just finished reading an unusual memoir (Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas) which is already one of my favorites for many reasons, the primary one being the author’s honesty. In the book, he takes the reader along as he ventures outside his comfort zone, violates societal norms, faces his own limits, stares down his demons and accomplishes some major personal victories. He shares his thinking all along the way, oftentimes a bit immature or selfish or unenlightened, and brings us with him as his perspectives mature and blossom. He lets us in, even as he knows he might be...
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The One Thing Every Writer Needs

The One Thing Every Writer Needs Guest blogger: Billy Coffey (@BillyCoffey) I’d heard how it sometimes happens—quick and violent, like a spasm that spares the body and strikes the soul. I never really believed it was true. Couldn’t happen, not to me. It was just another myth, on par with writer’s block and the notion that persistence without talent will eventually lead to success. But then it did happen. Last Tuesday afternoon to be exact, though not in the way I’d heard. It wasn’t quick but it was violent, a wave that built with a sense of silent ease before crashing over me. I felt it in my body just as much as my soul: Writing no longer brought me joy. To admit that feels like a confession. Even a week later, I find I cannot not write those six words straight through. My pen stopped between “longer”...
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Letting Go of Scarcity Thinking

Letting Go of Scarcity Thinking I have noticed that our culture is permeated with scarcity thinking, and the world of books and publishing is no exception. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar? ♦ Another author just got a 2-book deal. That’s two less spots for me. ♦ An agent just announced a new client. There goes my shot. ♦ Look how many self-pub authors are making six figures. There’s not enough room for me. ♦ I’m supposed to write my books PLUS do all this social media and marketing? There’s not enough time! ♦ There are too many books out there. How will readers find mine? This kind of thinking has saturated the writing community to such an extent that we hardly recognize it anymore. Author Lynne Twist writes: The first prevailing myth of scarcity is that there’s not...
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What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? Lately I’ve been hearing this question over and over again: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? It’s a good question, meant to inspire us to dream beyond our boundaries, to “think big,” to pursue our goals. But I think we tend to hear it and then brush it off, not really spending time with it. Maybe we think we’re not afraid of much. Or the opposite — thinking about our fears overwhelms us. Maybe we don’t have time for such silly exercises. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the point of the question. And I found myself getting defensive, if only in my mind. I’m doing the best I can. Why must I feel bad for not doing MORE? But then I decided to honestly consider the question. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? Maybe...
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Try “Thinking Negative” for a Change

Try “Thinking Negative” for a Change I’m an optimist by nature — I usually expect things will all work out. But I find that I’m more successful and experience less disappointment when I practice “thinking negative.” What do I mean by that? When I “think negative,” I factor into my habitual “positive thinking” a realistic assessment of the difficulties, challenges or obstacles that may be in front of me. I attempt to understand any potential risks or pitfalls in my path. Wherever I’m headed, whatever my goals might be, I can’t afford to be unreservedly positive. There are several clear advantages to “negative thinking,” including: ♦ When you’re focused on “thinking positive,” you may not be adequately prepared for the challenges of...
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7 Ways to Look Good on Your Webcam

7 Ways to Look Good on Your Webcam Have you been on Skype lately? Had a meeting via Google+ hangout? Done any video-blogging? These days more of us are communicating via video rather than just voice or the written word — and I highly recommend it. People seem to like it because  communication is more effective and memorable when you can see the other person’s face. The downside is that you’ll probably need to get out of your PJ’s and run a comb through your hair for your “phone call” or blog — potentially a big deal for those who work at home. Since it’s important to make the right visual impression, I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learned from experience. First, let me say: Don’t stress out! With a little effort, it’s not difficult to create the right...
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The Lonely Life of the Writer

The Lonely Life of the Writer People often ask me what I do for a living. If I say “I’m a literary agent,” I’m likely to receive a blank stare. I quickly tell them I work with authors to help them get their books published; sometimes I’ll say, “You know how actors and athletes have agents? Well, authors have agents too.” Occasionally (depending on my listener) I might say I’m like Jerry Maguire, but for authors. Show me the money! The point is, most people in the “real world” are pretty clueless about the publishing world. And those who think they know something are quite often wrong. But you can’t explain it to people — if they’re not involved, they just won’t get it. As a writer, you experience the same thing. Much of your energy is...
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Who Should Read Your Unpublished Work?

Who Should Read Your Unpublished Work? One of the most common pieces of advice writers are given is: Get outside feedback. Published or not, writers typically show their work to beta readers, critique partners, friends, family members or anyone who will read it, to get feedback before submitting to an editor, agent or publisher. I’m one of those who frequently gives this advice. But here is a caveat: All readers are not created equal. Getting feedback from the wrong readers can be more than simply unhelpful — it can steer you in the wrong direction. Worse, you may not even realize the input you’re receiving is bad. I can’t tell you how many times authors have lamented about the contradictory, unhelpful or confusing feedback they’re getting from readers, only to unpack it and realize they’re...
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3 Ways to Change Your Thinking Today

3 Ways to Change Your Thinking Today The writing and publishing life can be hard on the equilibrium. It’s full of ups and downs, hopes deferred, dreams dashed, dreams realized, ego strokes and debilitating criticism. We wonder if we’ll ever reach our goals. We swing between high-on-life optimism and crushing pessimism. We decry that this path shouldn’t be so difficult. We rail against systems. We wonder how to write a good book. We despair of ever reaching our readers. But there is another way to think about it. Many of you have probably read Good to Great by Jim Collins, a classic book for business and leadership. In it, he explains what he calls the Stockdale Paradox, a way of thinking that can get anyone through the most harrowing of circumstances. You can click here for a short audio clip of Jim...
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Don’t Feed Your Discontent

Don’t Feed Your Discontent Back when I was in my 20’s, I went through a phase in which I was extremely unhappy with my looks. My hair, my face, my weight, my clothes — nothing was right. I was buying more expensive makeup, going on fad diets, and spending too much money on clothes in the attempt to feel better about myself. One day I had an “aha” moment when I realized I was feeding myself a steady diet of fashion magazines like Glamour, and entertainment magazines like People, that featured an endless array of “beautiful people” who would always be prettier, skinnier, and more fashionable than I (and who, in fact, didn’t really exist except as a product of endless Photoshopping). Deciding to give up my magazine addiction, I noticed a substantial improvement in my self-image...
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The Facts vs. The Story You Tell Yourself

The Facts vs. The Story You Tell Yourself As an agent, I spend a lot of time talking writers through the obstacles and difficulties — both tangible and emotional — of a publishing career. We’re constantly making important decisions together and solving problems. One thing that persistently thwarts a writer’s ability to stay positive and optimistic is the tendency to see a set of facts and then construct a “story” from those facts — a story that isn’t objectively true. Like a set of blocks that can be used to build an infinite number of structures, a set of facts can be interpreted in numerous ways (although with the facts, some interpretations are correct and others aren’t.) Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean: Scenario #1: Fact: An unpublished author has been querying...
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What’s Your 2013 Focus?

What’s Your 2013 Focus? Happy new year! I’ve been on a blogging break, and while it was refreshing, I’m excited to dive back in. Since we just celebrated New Year’s, I decided to start by to discussing our areas of focus for 2013. Many of us have spent time over the holidays evaluating our lives and our work, and coming up with goals, resolutions, thoughts or words to guide us through the new year. Have you done this? In all this thinking and envisioning what I’d like to accomplish this year, I had an epiphany and I wanted to share it with you (in hopes that maybe you’ll share your epiphanies too). I frequently read books and blogs about business and leadership, but I’ve always read the leadership material from a rather distant standpoint, thinking of it as hypothetical...
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