I get a slew of new clients at the beginning of the year. In fact, this morning, I opened my email and had 31 requests between New Years Eve and New Year’s night. I had 13 more this morning. I obviously can’t work with that many people one on one. I referred them all to my new Query Letter Bootcamp class starting February, but I don’t think anyone of them has signed up.
Some wanted complete one on one attention. A few even forbid me from working with others while they worked with me. Something about a conflict of interest? Yeah, sorry. I wouldn’t work with you anyway.
Others said that February was too late to query agents. They wanted to get to agents NOW. Guess what? Agents are just getting back to the office and their submissions are still closed. They’ve got a very long backup of emails from their vacation, and your query will get sent to either auto spam filter because they are closed or lost in the shuffle.
The last group will just never sign up for anything. I know this because it’s January first. It’s New Year’s resolutions. They hopped on the bandwagon, and said, “This year is the year I write my book!” It’s like gym memberships. They make themselves feel good by taking the first steps, but when they find out how much work it really is, the willpower fails, and the resolution peters out.
Most of these writers probably won’t listen to me and be those much-maligned wannabes who still send an oddly worded two sentence query letter that says, “I have a fantastic idea! When can I call to discuss it with you? Please sign this NDA before we proceed.” Or the exhausting 5-page manifesto about their dystopian world and how they want a $100,000 advance to start writing.
You might think, given how annoying I find these New Year’s Resolutions, that I’m not a fan of them. I like goals. I like big goals. Resolutions are important. And for many people, the start of a new year, a fresh year, makes sense to start new goals. Personally, I make my goals and reevaluate quarterly.
But people often make grand, vague, or not well planned out goals for New Years. Write a book may be too vague and ambitious if you’ve never written one before. Maybe your goal should be to take a class on creative writing and outline your book. Or, if you really want to write that book this year, that should be your big goal for the entire year. I kid you not.
So, if you set a goal for writing your book this year, or if you’ve written it and want to get it published, here are some basic ideas to help you follow through, so you aren’t one of hundreds emailing me for help, but never get passed emailing me.
If you’ve written your book and are trying to find an agent, but you’re floundering with your query letter, can’t decipher agent feedback, have no idea where to find decent agents, or are terrified of the nit picky process, check out my Agent Query Bootcamp Class starting in February. It’s more affordable than working with me one on one, and you’ll have life time access to all the information there, so you can use it again and again for new batches of queries or even your next book.
And, as always, I’m always available for consultations on books. Writer’s block happens, or sometimes we can’t clearly see the next steps to writing a book. I’m always here to help!
I apologize for the silence on the blog over the last couple of weeks; y’all have just been running me ragged helping with your query letters. First off, thank you so much for trusting me with this critical phase of your book baby.
Secondly, I’ve realized that I can’t help everyone who wants to work with me. I’m just one person. However, I really want to help everyone. So, while I will still offer the one-on-one packages, I’m also going to be offering, with the help of my wonderful editorial staff, a course on query letter writing.
The Agent Query Boot Camp will be an intensive, week-long course with videos, worksheets, and standardized formats for query letters and synopses. We’ll also throw in a consultation with me, editing, proofreading, and critiquing of your sample chapters.
We’ve got some great content being developed with topics on finding agents, common query pitfalls, how to write a synopsis that wows agents and ticks their boxes, how to pull agents in with your sample chapters, and much more.
While the course itself with the edits and the consultations will only last a week, you’ll have lifelong access to all the videos, letter formats, and worksheets.
Separately, the services would be worth $700, but I want to make sure it’s affordable for everyone who wants it, so I’m going to offer it at only $250 for the first class, which will start on January 7th. So, if you’ve been on the fence, now is the time to sign up! Next time I offer the class in February, the price will increase.
It used to be that self-published authors and publishing houses had a bad name, and I’m so glad that it’s changing, and part of that reason is the influx of technology that allows people to easily and cheaply publish their work. I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I think most self-published authors do. But my love or hate of Amazon is not why I am writing this post. I am writing it because I am so tired of vanity publishers ripping off self-published writers. We’ll cover in other posts about self-publishing options.
Hiring a ghostwriter can save you money and can most certainly save you time.
I have a client who should have had me write his book from scratch instead of editing it. It certainly would have been cheaper. By about half. I love all the mentality that everyone can write a book. It’s true: Everyone can write a book. Behind all this hullabaloo, though, is an understanding: you have to hire a good editor.
I like to think that I don’t have prejudices about people groups, but as much as I try not to, I do. I’m not talking about plain old American racism here; I just have ideas from my experiences and the culture I belong to about the way certain groups behave. Sometimes they're positive prejudices, sometimes negative, and sometimes neither, really.
You might have grown up thinking that there are about 50 genres of books, but really, there are 3. We’ll call the rest of the genres, like sci-fi and mystery, sub-genres. So what are the three types?
In less than 24 hours, Ana, our new exchange student from Brazil, will be here. When Chuck and I first got Joop, we were a little naïve and didn’t know what we were getting into. By now, we’ve got more of a handle on things, but teens always find a way to throw you for a loop.
Initially, we believed there were some rules we thought were kind of stupid, but have since decided were pretty amazing ideas. Some, we still think are stupid…
The biggest rule we allowed Joop to break, ended up being the rule that he wished he had been given. He says it’s one of his biggest regrets for the year.
Most exchange agencies suggest that you don’t allow your student to call home more than once a week and that they don’t talk to friends at home. As millennials, Chuck and I didn’t understand how this would even work with social media and technology.
To remove the temptation to call home more often, the agencies suggest that tech usage is strongly monitored and that phones, ipad’s, etc are confiscated at night. At first, this seemed really strict! I mean I get monitoring your kids internet, but keeping them off social media, or preventing them from calling their significant other, or snapchatting with friend groups, and then removing all tech from their rooms at night seemed mean.
Now that I’ve been doing this for a couple years, I realize the wisdom behind this rule, which has less to do with internet safety than it does with helping the students acclimate faster to the American culture.
As my community rep, Amy Ovalle, says, you can’t fully integrate into American culture if your mind is back at home. One of the biggest problems early on with exchange students is them staying up most of the night talking to friends and family back home.
I had no problem at first with Joop talking to his then Dutch girlfriend almost every day. And often every day. But it wasn’t till after they broke up and he was no longer calling home all the time, that his year here took off. He started football, made friends at the local school, felt better about America, and all around got better acclimated to American culture.
He now says he wishes he had tried to get into American culture quicker and that he had spent less time talking with people back home. So, I decided that the next time we had a student, I’d take their phones and not let them call home.
Because Leonie was sick, I never took her phone. Though, I fear I still should have taken it. I’m not sure how much time she spent talking with people back home, adding to her mono with extreme home sickness. I fear the homesickness may have made the mono worse, and laying in bed texting her boyfriend may have been part of what reset her equilibrium to horizontal, so that whenever she stood up she’d get dizzy.
Our third teen was an Americanl student, and she wasn’t allowed to have social media or her own technology. And the quick ease that she fit in with us proved my point. I know she was an American, but without access to social media or friends from home, she had to talk with us. She had to make friends here.
So when Ana comes, her phone will be mine at night. And lucky for her, she doesn’t have a boyfriend back at home either.
Side note: I know this seems harsh, but exchange students, just break it off with your boyfriend or girlfriend at home. Your heart will always be back home, and you won’t get the most out of your year. Live fully in the moment at in America. In 10 months, you’ll go back home, so don’t waste a moment of it.
Smart phones and social media can quickly rob an exchange student of their time here. Most, almost all of the students, that come really do want to really get into the American culture. They are here to become bi-cultural. As a social media loving, tech savvy millennial, I know the near addictive draw of it all.
I’m an ambitious, self-retrained 34-year-old woman, and I have a hard time putting my phone down, quite often. I know I shouldn’t be on my phone just before bed because it disrupts sleep patterns, but so often I find myself scrolling through Instagram or playing some mindless game 30 minutes after I should be asleep.
If I was 16, living in a new country, and homesick with the means to talk to those I miss the most in my hands 24/7, you bet I’d use it. Even if I knew it wasn’t good for me.
Some rules will still be bent, but this one will be strictly enforced this year. Y’all didn’t really believe I’d follow the letter of every, single rule? Nah
When Joop and I started our adventure, we tongue and cheek called it #JoopDoesAmerica. And it kind of stuck. Joop was doing all kinds of American stuff, trying American foods, and it was a funny hashtag. It was amusing.
It wasn’t until we came out with the book that someone pointed out the infamous – and what some would consider classic, if you can consider anything pornographic a classic – adult film called Debbie Does Dallas. Debbie never once crossed my mind when I was writing the book, filming the videos, or posting on Facebook. And because most of our audience was either conservative, young, or international, the link to her was never explored.
However, it became quite clear that most Americans over 30 did have that immediate reaction to the book. When it was videos staring an underage foreigner drinking mountain dew or eating potato chips, it was quite obvious nothing kinky was going on. But in the absence of videos or pictures, most Americans minds went straight to the gutter.
Since everything was branded #JoopDoesAmerica, Joop and I made the decision to keep the name for the book. Initial sales were fine, but most of the sales were not in the US. Sales in the US, despite following marketing that almost always worked, plummeted after our initial fans bought it. Then they stopped altogether.
Then, about a month ago, I was flagged – by an American – for adult content. It was dismissed after a very brief inquiry, but I got the message: Joop Does America was too racy of a title for the American audience I was seeking to reach.
So, I’ve spent the last couple weeks coming up with a new title and book cover that will convey the message of the book better to an American audience. I decided to use the catch phrase those of us who work exchange students use…daily.
It’s not better or worse, just different.
So here’s the new book cover and title: Just Different! The Art of Cultural Exchange.
To keep the #JoopDoesAmerica brand intact, I changed authors from me and Joop to #JoopDoesAmerica, which is me and Joop together. We’ll still be listed as the authors on Amazon, but the cover will have the brand instead of the people. Though, Joop will argue that he is the brand.
The new cover with the new title will be available only on ebook later this week.
My family loves salads, which means we have about 15 different types of salad dressing. Greek dressing. Italian dressing. French Dressing. Ranch Dressing. I also love a good dipping sauce, like Chic-Fil-A’s Polynesian sauce.
If you notice, with one exception, all of the dressings I had use a country’s name in it. Or a region, like Polynesia. However, have you ever thought what an Italian would say if you showed them Italian dressing?
“What? You call that Italian? That’s just an herby vinaigrette!”
And for the life of it, I can’t figure out how that red goop is attributed to France, or sometimes Russia, maybe even Catalina. What American came up with these ideas?
In case you’re wondering, I think Dutch Dressing would be just plain mayonnaise.
Ranch dressing, my one exception, is not called by anything in America other than ranch, just like Italian dressing would just be called vinaigrette in Italy. Ranch dressing, believe it or not, was not invented until the late 1950’s in America, where it was only sold at one Ranch until 1973, when they started selling dried mixes. It was until 1983, the year before I was born, that you could buy ranch dressing on a shelf. By the 1990’s, ranch dressing had cemented its place as America’s favorite dressing.
But, many places in the world don’t have it!
A former exchange student I met in the Netherlands asked me if I had brought any ranch dressing with me, because she couldn’t get anywhere in the Netherlands, and really missed it.
I thought, when I come back I should bring some ranch with me. Or at least some dried packets to mix with the fabulous Dutch mayonnaise. Bring ranch, funky M&M’s and Chic-Fil-A sauce to the Netherlands; bring home mayo, stroop waffles, and licorice. But, that was about the extent I thought about it.
However, last week a friend of mine sent me that photo of a specialty flavor Doritos. For Americans, we call them Cool Ranch Doritos. But apparently, elsewhere, ranch dressing is known as American dressing. So, the Dutch call them Cool American Flavor Doritos.
I guess I was wrong when I said that there was no food or flavor that was uniquely American. Ranch. We are ranch flavor.
This all reminded me of one time when I was at a conference on diversity and immigration issues, and a speaker actually talked about ranch dressing. He said we accept people from all countries and backgrounds into this country, but then we just end up pouring Ranch Dressing on their traditions.
We do this metaphorically, but we also literally do it as well. Cilantro Lime Ranch? Ginger Miso Ranch? Curry Ranch? Basically, Mexican American dressing, Japanese American dressing, and Indian American dressing. Let’s take these ethnic flavors and mix it with bland, white goop. Cool American Doritos have me thinking about this on a whole different level.
You never knew salad dressing could be so political, did you?
As a developmental editor and literary consulant, I work with a lot of aspiring writers. And aspiring writers are often a mess, let me tell you. I know that some of the no-no’s they commit simply stem from not knowing any better, but some things they do make me want to throw their stories into the burning pits of Hell. These mistakes generally have little to do with grammar or plot. I do have peeves related to those too, but I can work with you if those are your only issues.
If you are an aspiring writer, try to avoid these mistakes:
This is the worst writing sin that you can ever commit. If you are a writer, then you are also a reader. I can tell if you don’t read. It’s very obvious.
Recently a piece came across my desk, and I just knew its writer didn’t read. I felt sure that he had never read anything other than the signs on the road. His whole novel was written in all caps, bold, and italics. Not to mention that almost every single word was misspelled – but that’s a grammar issue, and I’ll deal.
I asked this writer why on earth he thought that this formatting was okay. He didn’t have an answer. So I pushed further.
“Who are your writing inspirations?” I asked.
“I don’t have any,” he replied. “I don’t really read. I just had this idea in my head.”
Let me say it again: if you write, you must read. If you aren’t a reader, then you can’t be a writer. This is the #1 rule of writing: Read first, then write.
Not taking criticism
I try to be polite and not directly tell people their work sucks. I really do. I’m kind of a give-it-to-you-like-it-is girl, but I understand that being a first-time writer is hard, so I am nice. I don’t come right out and say it sucks, even though it probably does. But that’s why you’ve sought me out, right? You want to get better.
It’s hard for me to be nice, trust me. So when I tell you that your story needs some work, please be nice back to me and don’t flip out.
Flipping out usually comes in one of two ways:
You’ve never had anyone other than your mother look at your work before, but you feel you have written the next Twilight because she said your work was great.
Narcissism. Writers don’t have time for it. This industry is cutthroat. You hear of a story now and then about someone like Stephenie Meyer who just sends one copy of her book to one big-name agency and voila, it’s a bestseller. Oh, wait, that’s the only story I know like that. It doesn’t happen. Your mother is not a good critic, which is why you have come to me. I don’t love you or care about your feelings.
Willful Ignorance of writing basics
Not knowing the difference between an outline/background/summary and an actual story
Okay, this one is a little bit of a grammar issue, but it’s tied so closely with the other bad habits that I must mention it. This is the problem that I often see with narcissistic writers, suicidal writers, writers who don’t read, and writers who don’t write. In fact, I see it in almost all of them. (Non-readers being the worst, though.)
I get lots of manuscripts across my desk that the writers claim are finished, but all I see in front of me is a summary/outline/background for a story. It takes me hours to just force myself to sit down and read what is going on. They read like this: “MC did this, and then she thought this, and then she did this, and then this happened.”
There are several problems that go into this. First off, 97% of the time, books are written in past tense. Unless you are a literary genius, don’t use present. It makes the book sound like a summary. Problem two: not using dialogue. How can you have an entire novel without one line of dialogue? These books have no scenes, no dramatic presence, very little drama, and I don’t care a flip about anyone and anything happening in the book. There is nothing other than description going on. Books aren’t descriptions of what is going on; books are lively, make you cry and laugh, throw the book across the room because you hate a character so much, pieces of art.
Willful Ignorance of publishing
Will you write/edit/polish my query for an agent even though I haven’t written more than the first ten pages of the story? (Because that’s all agents require, right?)
So far your query letter looks good, which means that you have Googled how to write a query letter. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that those pages you Googled gave you a certain piece of advice. The #1 rule for new authors about querying agents: have your manuscript finished. So I assume you must think that you are the exception. But, honey, you aren’t. Stephen King wasn’t the exception either. For fiction, you must, must, must (can I say it again?), must have your manuscript finished and polished to the best of your ability before sending it to an agent. I’m not going to help you query an agent if you haven’t finished your book. It really is a waste of my time.
Now, if you are an Important Person, someone with a following, platform, etc., and you want to write a non-fiction book, that’s a different deal.
Being a writer without writing
I’m a writer…but I’ve never finished a writing project before.
This one usually goes along with asking me to write a query for an unfinished book. Having an agent doesn’t make you a writer. Writing a book makes you a writer. Or a short story. Or an article. Go finish something. Once that is finished, go finish something longer.
And the unfortunate part of this: I get job applications for ghostwriters who haven’t completed a full-length book. My ghostwriting company (www.theghostwriting agency.com) only works on full length works. It says that upfront on the website. I don’t do blogs or content. My ghostwriters are expected, if necessary, to complete a full length rough draft in 1-2 weeks. If you haven’t been able to complete a full-length work in your 10-year writing career, what makes you believe you can do one in 10 weeks?
I live in Athens, Georgia, with my son, my husband, and an ever-revolving list of exchange students, who are a never-ending source of entertainment and writing material.