Debut      One of L.A. Weekly’s “Most Fascinating People of 2013” and PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow Natashia Deon’s SWEET TEA AND HONEY, following the daughter of a murdered runaway slave through 25 years of sweeping changes in the Antebellum South—and narrated from the point of view of the deceased mother, who cannot let go of the living, to Counterpoint, by Rachel Sussman at Chalberg & Sussman.

Nathan Hill’s THE NIX, centering on a son and the mother who left him twenty years before, as he uncovers her story and relearns his own, taking the reader through World War II Norway, the Chicago Riots of 1968, a 1980s suburban teenage love triangle, the Gulf War, Occupy Wall Street, and the multi-player online world of “Elfquest”, to Knopf, by Emily Forland at Brandt & Hochman.

Inspirational         Beth White’s MAJOR JERNIGAN’S MISSION, five years after the final shot in the Civil War is fired, the three Daughtry sisters are forced to hand over the family plantation to the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, but a retired Union General steps in to assist them, falling in love with one of the sisters as he does so, to Revell, by Chip MacGregor at MacGregor Literary.

Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark’s AN AMISH CHRISTMAS, to WaterBrook Multnomah, by Chip MacGregor at MacGregor Literary.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy          Alex White’s EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW, about an autistic girl from the poorest depths of a subterranean factory city who must communicate with dangerous spirits to avenge the murder of her only friend, to Solaris, by Connor Goldsmith at Fuse Literary.

Thriller        Andrew Buckley writing under a yet unnamed pseudonym’s DOUBLE-O, a serialized spy adventure, specifically the story of James Bond’s daughter, to Curiosity Quills Press, by Mark Gottlieb at Trident Media Group

Children’s: Middle grade         Vicki Cobb’s CHEMICALLY ACTIVE, in which the principles of chemistry are clearly explained and illustrated including what bubbles in soda pop are and how we collect and identify the gas that creates them, what is electroplating and how to make a galvanometer, now to test materials for the presence of sugar, starch or vitamin C and at the same time learn the chemical principles behind these processes, all to help kids discover that chemistry isn’t just a science, it’s an adventure, to Inquisicorp, by Susan Schulman at Susan Schulman Literary Agency

Author of the Joshua Dread series, Lee Bacon’s LEGENDTOPIA, an action-packed and humorous series about a 12-year-old, who, while visiting the cheesy fantasy-themed restaurant Legendtopia, stumbles through a magic door in a walk-in refrigerator to another kingdom, meeting a young, bored prince and an evil sorceress, who follows them back to her town, and the chaos that ensues when dark magic comes to suburbia, Legendtopia becomes a real fortress, and they must overcome spells, ogres and a dragon to save the world, to Delacorte, by Sarah Burnes of The Gernert Company

Children’s: Young Adult         Renee Collins’s UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN, pitched as a YA SOMEWHERE IN TIME, in which a headstrong, seventeen-year-old girl, stuck in a snooty Massachusetts shore town for the summer, meets a dreamy stranger on a private beach who claims that the year is 1925 and sweeps them both into a mystery a hundred years in the making, to Sourcebooks, at auction, by Mollie Glick at Foundry Literary + Media

Blogger and freelance copywriter Kathy Parks’s THE LIFEBOAT CLIQUE, pitched as MEAN GIRLS meets LIFE OF PI, to Katherine Tegen Books, by Mollie Glick at Foundry Literary + Media


message in a bottle

What makes a good synopsis?

How is a synopsis used and by whom?

What’s the most efficient way to “build it”?

Most writers agree that writing the whole novel is easier than writing the synopsis for the novel. But it doesn’t have to be this hard. Once you understand who uses it and how, you can get your arms around it.

The synopsis is a selling tool—traditionally for the writer to an agent, then agent to editors, editors to colleagues in-house, and to varying extents for use in the copy writing for your book. Indie publishers use the synopsis for creating short blurbs about the book online, marketing copy, press releases, and the like.

The synopsis has a lot of jobs to do because outside of the agent and editor, most other people involved in marketing or selling the book will never get to read the actual book. Even if they do, the synopsis helps break it down into quick, usable pieces of information.

But doesn’t it have to be short, like 1-2 pages, you ask? Yes, ideally it is short. Remember, you are creating “blurb” – snippets—that provide over-arching themes and character sketches. Broad strokes that convey the main characters, the situation, the dramatic tension(s) and plot around which the novel revolves, the arc of the story line, including resolution. You are conveying what we care about in the story.

Arrow for Note    The synopsis is not the place to be mysterious. Do tell us what happens and how it happens.

book secret

Jane Friedman writes in her excellent blog post about writing-the-synopsis: “The synopsis ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. A synopsis will reveal any big problems in your story—e.g., the whole thing was a dream, ridiculous acts of god, a genre romance ending in divorce. A synopsis will reveal plot flaws, serious gaps in character motivation, or a lack of structure. A synopsis also can reveal how fresh your story is; if there’s nothing surprising or unique, your manuscript may not get read.”  She lists these basic principles:

  • Tell what happens in an energetic, compelling way
  • Use active voice, not passive
  • Use third person, present tense
  • Clarity, clarity, clarity
  • Less is more


Arrow for Note  A synopsis is not an outline.

British author Graeme Shimmin writes a terrific post on the “Synopsis of Power” and quotes “If I wanted to tell my story in one page I wouldn’t have written the other three hundred.”   🙂

  Use the Killogator™ Formula

“One trick to try when cutting chapters down to size is the same one we used in Writing a Killer Logline. In the same way we can cut the story to a single sentence we can cut each chapter to a sentence.  So, try using the Killogator™ formula on each chapter:

In a (SETTING) a (PROTAGONIST) has a (PROBLEM) (caused by an ANTAGONIST) and (faces CONFLICT) as they try to (achieve a GOAL).”

Logo ABC.Tiny Susan Dennard offers a fill-in-the-blank checklist that she created, with examples:

1. Opening image

An image/setting/concept that sets the stage for the story to come.

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, a controlling government called the Empire takes control of planets, systems, and people. Anyone who resists is obliterated.

2. Protagonist Intro

Who is the main character? Give 1-2 descriptive words and say what he/she wants.

Luke Skywalker, a naïve farm boy with a knack for robotics, dreams of one day escaping his desert homeland.

3. Inciting incident

What event/decision/change prompts the main character to take initial action.

When he buys two robots, he finds one has a message on it – a message from a princess begging for help. She has plans to defeat the Empire, and she begs someone to deliver these plans to a distant planet. Luke goes to his friend and mentor, the loner Ben Kenobi, for help.


So you are not without tools. There is plenty of help, and you DO need to master it. So start today.





In an ideal scenario you, the author, have edited your manuscript and had it professionally edited before submitting it to agents or publishers. This is the most efficient approach you can take. The more common scenario, however, is that the author personally edits a gazillion times, and when no longer able to read it again, he or she begins sending it to agents.

Understandably not every writer has $7500-$15000 lying around to spend on a professional editor (fees range depending on many factors of course). In lieu of this, authors will join (or create) writing groups and use beta readers to get objective feedback and critique. This is a good strategy, though it takes longer and is not as sure a bet- editorially speaking.

The less professional editing a manuscript has, the more disparate feedback you are going to get once you begin sending the proposal or manuscript out to agents or publishers. You are submitting your work to people with vast experience who regularly see an unfathomable number of manuscripts. All of their feedback is valuable, yet no two agents or editors will express the same concerns or point to the same problem that prevented them from falling in love with your book.

One might say, “I love the concept but your characters are not sufficiently developed” while another says, “The plot doesn’t work for me” and yet another says, “Your dialogue needs to be more focused and voice driven.” And so on. With nonfiction you can get one saying they’d love a big book on this topic but yours would need a different focus, while another says this topic is saturated, and yet another agent or editor says it needs to include more research.

It is human nature to feel you should respond to each criticism. The natural thought is to jump and fix everything to make them love it. But what do you think will happen if you make every single change that each person wants? It will be a mess and you risk losing the book you set out to write.

 revision angst

What advice do others have for making sound decisions in response to disparate feedback?

Author Eleanor Vincent says:

“As an author faced with conflicting feedback from respected sources, the temptation is to knuckle under and do what the market wants, or ‘what will sell’. A better strategy, in my experience, is to trust your gut. Remember that anyone with an actual or potential economic interest in your work is no more objective – and likely less so – than Joe or Jane reader. My touchstones while writing Swimming with Maya were my writing partner and my writing group. I trust reader feedback. But even then, you may get varied responses. What to do?

“If I think a piece of feedback makes sense, even if I don’t totally agree, I’ll experiment by rewriting in a way that answers the question or overcomes the objection. In the process of revision, I often discover something new or not fully developed in the work. By your willingness to revise and dive deeper into the work, you’ll often find buried treasure.

“So my advice is to be flexible enough to listen to feedback, respond in a way that improves the work, and then stand firm in your own inner knowing.”

Eleanor Vincent’s memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and was reissued in paperback and e-book in 2013. It has twice appeared on The New York Times e-book bestseller list.

Agent Bob Fleck of the Robert Fleck Agency says:

“If the responses from editors aren’t jibing at all, I tell the author that the responses most likely have little to do with the actual work and more to do with each editor’s preferences. Only if something from the editors connects with issues the author or I have previously considered ourselves would I suggest taking a deeper look. Otherwise, it’s just the process and often editors don’t really know why something doesn’t connect for them. It just doesn’t, so they pass.”

 Agent Wendy Sherman of Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. Literary Management says:

“This is something we often have to deal with. It’s always so challenging to take away from editors’ “decline” letters what to change.  If I see a clearly consistent comment, then I urge the writer to make changes accordingly.   When there is no pattern or consensus it is tough to know. But the trick is NOT to try to please everyone. Don’t become a slave to the comments, which are opinions from people NOT buying the book.”

Pencil editing

Staying true to yourself while addressing legitimate reader issues means learning to trust your gut after giving the feedback its due consideration. My own advice to authors when I was an agent followed this path, with the final caveat, “When in legitimate doubt, don’t.”

Can you resubmit to these agents or editors when their comments have been addressed? Only if that agent or editor has said they would consider it again with revisions. They will tell you up front if they want to see it again. Very often they don’t love it enough to look again, considering that every hour they have is precious and their time to judiciously allocated. You really want fresh eyes and enthusiasm for your book, but if there is a particular agent you strongly believe is right for you, you can always ask him or her, in light of your revisions, to look again. The worst they can say is “No thank you.”




How to Know a Scam from a Legitimate Service


There is a lot of buzz on Twitter and online about all the “scam services” for authors. It’s an historic problem that I first encountered as an agent in the early ‘80s. The current buzz says “Don’t pay someone else to help you do what you can do yourself,” i.e. don’t hire someone to help you get to publishers and agents.

Of course I understand there are companies that take money to email blitz editors and agents indiscriminately. Many in the industry say, “Do it yourself,” that you have all the data in an easily purchased directory.

Professionals in the know DON’T recommend this approach—it’s not how most books are sold. Agents and editors tend to delete these “spamming” pitches.

But I have to take issue with a massive “judgment” that lumps all author services into one category. Younger and less experienced agents sometimes get their dander up, feeling “WE ARE THE GATEKEEPERS and YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW OUR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES! “And they love to Twitter-blast their snarky comments.

There are services for hire for virtually every phase and aspect of your writing, including ghostwriting, down to the perfecting of queries and proposals and all the self-publishing tools.  Among all these companies and individuals across the country there are certainly scam artists, but there are also a vast number of experienced professional publishing people who offer significant skills and know-how that can make a new writer’s progress smoother, faster, and more successful. Not every writer has the time or money to go to class after class in order to master particular aspects of editing or selling their book. Not every working author has the time or will live long enough to query agents blindly on their own and just WAITING.

Offering services to authors is a legitimate business, whether or not the individuals offering such services are or not.

It is precisely because of the low response rate and the endless SILENCE from agents that authors go for help. If more agents showed the professional courtesy of acknowledging each query with an answer, even if it is a form letter saying they read it, authors would not be so quick to look for help. And it is because of all the form letters that authors have to hire other people for editorial evaluation and guidance as to how to proceed and get better results. Who else will tell them if editors and agents don’t respond or offer any feedback?

Agents can’t have it both ways; demanding that authors only come to them via their individual submission requirements, and then ignore them.

In recent years many people in publishing have adopted the “No answer is your answer” approach to queries. This is unprofessional and the epitome of bad taste. As I have said often, if publishers and agents want authors to behave professionally, then they must also behave professionally.

The agents’ and editors’ common excuse is that the sheer volume makes individual responses impossible. As an agent for 29 years I can tell you that while I didn’t enjoy having my weekends spent on the slush pile, or taking the slush pile with me on vacation, it is part of the job and every author who follows the guidelines to submit to the agency deserves the respect of a professional response. Professional courtesy and manners alone separate the agent pack pretty quickly.

Here is where I draw the line between LEGIT or SCAM for author services of any kind, including self-publishing companies:

If the person or company offering the service(s) has years of experience in publishing and has the “pedigree” that proves they offer valuable help and experience to you, their price is reasonable, and they offer realistic and specific services without exaggerated claims, then it may well be an efficient and cost-effective choice for you. It is not a scam if they have what it takes to help you. You will be able to:

  • check references and see endorsements with real names
  • see verifiable identity and background of each person in the company
  • see a track record of success with authors you can contact

When I call an agent I know or an editor I have long worked with  for nearly three decades in publishing, they are happy to hear about a client I have been working with who might be of interest to them. What agent or editor of any professional standing does not want quality referrals? In my experience, only the inexperienced agents take personal offense at anyone behaving outside of their control or being contacted by a freelance professional referring a client.

Classy, well-mannered agents and editors say “Thank you for thinking of me” even if they are ultimately not interested. If they might be interested, they say “Thank you – please have the author contact me.” It’s that simple. The difference is that while I can’t make an agent or editor interested in a project, I have an established professional reputation that allows me to ask them and get an answer for the author in a matter of days for an author whose work is ready and of publishing value. This is a helpful service to authors. It is not a scam, just as freelance editors are not a scam, author coaches are not a scam if that coach has the background and expertise for it and has proven successful with authors.

Each author’s needs are different. Some have more time or money than others for anything beyond writing the book. Only you can decide which professionals are the right ones for you if you have decided that you need help.

Think for yourself and listen to your own gut.



Making Good Author Decisions

IN ADDITION TO BEING A BRILLIANT WRITER, you want to be an author who makes smart decisions


Your publishing career will be full of fairly constant decision-making, each decision leading to your next options and each with consequences. What is a good decision? It should be based on:

  • knowing your goals, so your direction is clear
  • full information about the choices in front of you
  • perspective on the part of the process you are in at the moment, and what is next
  • recommendations from knowledgeable peers and professionals
  • understanding the consequences if you choose A or B
  • seeing how the decision will impact a future opportunity or choice

If you’re writing your first book, some early decisions are:

  • Is this being written for you or to be published for the public?
  • How will writing this book affect your life (family, work, hobbies, play time?)
  • Do you know enough about the craft of writing to do this well or should you take come classes and study the craft?
  • How much are you willing and able to invest, time-wise and cost-wise?
  • How much do you need to understand about publishing before you start down this path?

On a later book, with some publishing experience under your belt, your decisions shift to:

  • Should you have an agent (or change agents)?
  • Is it worth it to hire a marketing expert or publicist?
  • What happens if you change publishers?
  • Do you have to keep writing within the genre of your previous book(s)
  • Will extra marketing investment translate to higher royalty earnings?
  • Does it cost more to pursue licensing opportunities than you can make back?

 Depending on how complex your decision is, a Decision Tree is helpful. Seeing how A affects B and B affects C will help you look down the road a bit before making your decision, sure that it will keep your career and writing going the right direction. 


     Picking Your Battles

There is a good reason to not “fight every fight” with your publisher as you try to make good decisions:  Your publishing team will quickly tire of you, which will sabotage their efforts on your behalf. It is critical to pick your battles from the beginning. Figure out what is most important to you.

With all the editorial decisions to be made, you can’t disagree with everything your editor suggests though you should make a strong case for anything that offends the book or fundamentally alters it.

Title battles are infamous in publishing:  You can pretty much bet that your publisher will suggest changing it (according to what Marketing and Sales believe is best at that time in the market), so do not get attached to it or weave the concept so thoroughly into the manuscript that it’s a disaster to change it. Be prepared going in with alternate titles.

When it comes to cover design, figure out early on what kind of covers you like and make color samples to show the designer right up front in the process. Don’t wait until the publisher, freelancer, or designer is locked onto something before you say “This is not what I had in mind.” 

Ask questions ahead of time, get as much perspective and information from your publishing team as you can, then buy yourself time to research, call some peers, and THINK it through. Not weeks, just a few days. 

The Fastest Way to Resolution of a Conflict

When you find yourselves at a stalemate–the publishing team wants X and your strongly want Y–ask this question: “What in this is most important to you? What are we trying to solve with this change?” Once you now this, you can almost always come up with an alternative that you can live with, which also solves their problem.

Go forth and DECIDE,





What The Editors Recently Bought: Nonfiction Highlights

Pub Contract

This is always a popular item — seeing a few of the recent deals. Be inspired.

Journalist and author of biographies of Huguette Clark (THE PHANTOM OF FIFTH AVENUE) and Brooke Astor (MRS. ASTOR REGRETS), Meryl Gordon’s biography of the philanthropist and White House Rose Garden designer Bunny Mellon, to Gretchen Young at Grand Central, by agent Gail Hochman of Brandt & Hochman.

Founder of Atsby New York Vermouth Adam Ford’s VERMOUTH: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture, the first-ever look into the history and recent revival of this aromatized, fortified wine, including photos and cocktail recipes, to Ann Treistman at Countryman Press, by agent Jessica Regel at Foundry Literary + Media.

History/Politics/Current Affairs
Former Fortune magazine writer Christopher Knowlton’s RISE AND FALL OF THE CATTLE KINGDOM, a revelatory history of the American West that shows how 19th-century beef bonanzas and range wars shaped world economy and culture, to Eamon Dolan for Eamon Dolan Books, byagent Jeff Ourvan at Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

Blogger for porn4jews.tumblr.com Sarah Rosen’s KOSHER PORN, a collection of tongue-in-cheek memes that marries humor with Jewish traditions and values in a modern-day, humorous way, to Jordana Tusman at Running Press, by Lydia Blyfield and Myrsini Stephanides at the Carol Mann Agency.

Author of PERFECT GIRLS, STARVING DAUGHTERS, journalist, TED speaker, and Feministing.com Editor Emeritus Courtney E. Martin’s THE NEW BETTER OFF, an account of how young Americans are reinventing success and redefining “better off,” through lives that reject status in lieu of fulfillment and value relationships over money, to Stephanie Knapp at Seal Press, by Tracy Brown at the Tracy Brown Literary Agency.

Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair’s AMON, which recounts Teege’s discovery, in her late 30s, of an appalling ancestry unknown to her, the Nigerian-German granddaughter of Amon Goth, the notorious commandant of Plaszow concentration camp (who was depicted in Schindler’s List by Ralph Fiennes), which encompasses a wider exploration of the guilt and shame experienced by the descendants of Nazi perpetrators, to Matthew Lore at The Experiment, by Gertje Berger-Maass at Rowohlt.

Leon Logothetis’s THE KINDNESS DIARIES: One Man’s Quest to Ignite Goodwill and Transform Lives Around the World, the journey of one man who sets out from Los Angeles to circumnavigate the globe on a vintage yellow motorbike fueled by kindness, to Fiona Hallowell at Reader’s Digest, for publication in December 2014.

Trent Gillaspie’s JUDGMENTAL MAPS, based on his viral Tumblr with over one million views of satirical maps of the great cities of America, created by natives with a special understanding of the stereotypes of each locale, to Colin Dickerman at Flatiron Books, in a pre-empt, by agent Daniel Greenberg at Levine Greenberg Rostan.

Author of EDISON’S CONCRETE PIANO Judy Wearing’s FRINGE BENEFITS, which combs through our tangled relationship with our body hair, looking at it from both biological and cultural perspectives, with a healthy dose of Mary Roach-esque humor, to Christie Henry at University of Chicago Press, byagent  Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky Literary Agency.



Defining Your Own “Success” As An Author

As an agent I always wanted to know an author’s expectations and goals for their writing, and now as an author’s consultant my conversation begins with “What are you trying to do?” There are usually layers to the answer.

  • Layer 1:  “I want to finish what I have long wanted to write, and I want it published.”
  • Layer 2:  “I want to publish something of value to people, to pass on what I have learned in my life.”
  • Layer 3:  “I want to transition from my current work and profession into writing full-time, and I want this to include books and speaking.”

Logo ABC.Tiny

And so it goes, digging until we figure out what the book in front of us is really all about.  Until you know why you are writing, you cannot answer the next questions like:

           Who is this book for?  What is the take-away message for the reader (nonfiction) or What is the experience for the reader (fiction)? What is the correct structure?  What is the best point of view? The right voice? etc.

How you will eventually define SUCCESS for yourself has to do with knowing your goals and motivations, as well as being able to articulate your dream and hopes.

“Success” in publishing is always possible, although less likely if your goal is “To be published by Random House and sell one million copies of my book.” If that is, in fact, your dream and goal, then there is a way to achieve it; just not while having a full-time job, family, other obligations, and so on. If this is your goal, it will need to be the single focus of your life, much like an athlete setting out to win Gold at the Olympics.


Your  publishing options today are (1) Traditional, (2) Independent self-publishing, or (3) Combination hybrid publishing. There are many ways to reach your goal although the strategies and processes have changed over the last several years. The marketing aspects have shifted such that the author needs to look at his or her part in it slightly differently now. The marketing “tool kit” for the author includes  mastering the myriad skills of Social Media. It isn’t enough to write a good book, and it hasn’t been since corporate publishing took over decades ago. Now, however, social media has actually replaced all publishing marketing as we ever knew in the ’90s.

And yet, you can simply decide that all this marketing, social media, learning a gazillion new things is just not how you want to spend your life; you simply want to finish your book and publish it well. Then decide this earlier rather than later. There are perfectly good options in self-publishing to accomplish this, and talented freelancers to help you with editing, final formatting, conversion for publishing online, and getting your book listed on Amazon. You can do as much or as little as you like if you have a budget for the freelancers to do the parts you don’t want.

For those who aspire to have an agent and publish with a respected publisher, you are committing to learning a lot of things besides how to write a damned good manuscript. And you are committing to the time (years), patience, and multifacted efforts it requires to build this future career one brick at a time. Learn to use Social Media as an efficient “calling card” to draw the people you want to you instead of having to hunt for them.

building_blocksIt is one thing to want to write a book. It is another thing to want to be published.

Define your goal(s) as specifically as you can, and the next steps will become clear. Success will follow.

To your success–




How Much Information is Too Much?

I laugh when someone covers up their ears saying “TMI” – too much information.  Okay – more than you want to know, I get it.

I wish more authors knew how to shout TMI! early in their careers. I wish you would stop PP’s (Publishing Professionals) from telling you too much too soon when you’re asking what seem to be simple questions:

How hard is it to publish a book?  How much can I make if I get a book published? How do I go about learning how to write a book? Where do I find a writer to write my story? How can I convince a publisher my book is a bestseller and will become a film?

These are all absolutely normal questions for someone who is not in the business. You don’t know what you don’t know.wading into the ocean

It’s a great temptation for a PP to launch into a lengthy far-reaching response, both to demonstrate how much the PP knows and to emphasize to the you how little you know.

This is not helpful.

In fact, it’s usually quite damaging to you, as you are dipping a toe in the publishing pool.

  • It can paralyze you, overwhelming you with new information that usually aims at the broad overall picture, far from where you are at that moment.
  • It can confuse you because now you start to know how much you don’t know, setting you off on a research binge to try to learn it all. In the process, you run the risk of becoming completely discouraged, losing all inspiration, or giving up.
  • It can undermine your intuitive understanding of what you are writing because now the PP adds labels and categories and piece by piece boxes you into a niche that is possibly not where you were going with your concept at all.  You will only later realize you just wrote  a book that was not the one you set out to write.

So when is an answer just enough information, not too much?

When you have enough information to make an informed decision for the next step or two in the publishing process, not beyond. Incremental information is the easiest way to learn and the way you are most likely to remember it. So never hesitate to hold up your hand and say, “Thank you – that is all I want to know right now.”

To your success–




Storyboard, Notebooks, or Software Program? Building Your Book

I know. Your whole book idea is in your head. “I’ve got it all up here” you say.

the book is in my headThis is not a good place for your book.

Writing a book is an organic process. You start with what you know, with what you think your idea is. But along the way as you write and test out your ideas, they change and morph, and it is in the process of actually writing it that you usually FIND the book you set out to write.

There are a number of tools writers use to keep track of the ideas, changes, plans, research, background reading, notes, pieces of dialogue, parts of scenes, flashes of things that occur in the writer’s dreams or daydreams, the eavesdropping in coffee shops or something you heard on the radio.

Lisa Catherine Harper writes about Using the Writer’s Notebook:

Stack of Notebooks

She says: “Notebooks illuminate the mysterious correspondence between a writer’s particular vision of the world and their narrative art. Gordimer writes of fictional character, ‘Imagined: Yes. Taken from life: yes.’ Notebooks help reveal how this looting of life transpires. All my students have found the practice and study of notebooks revelatory. And because many of them begin notebooks as journals, and aren’t sure how to get started, or why, below follows the more useful advice developed in seminar, inspired by our reading list and the students’ own ideas about how notebooks work best for them.”

storyboard ideaYou can also use Online storyboards or use your wall to create one using large index cards and pins that move around. I am a visual, hands-on person so I need to pin ideas on cards and move them around, stand back, think, walk, come back, move them again.That’s how my ideas build. You have to find what works best for you.

sample storyboard





Watch this you Tube video on storyboarding for making videos — it applies to drafting a novel or book trailer as well.

 If you have found something helpful to share with other writers, tell us!  Here’s to building your book smartly!




What the Editors Bought Recently: Nonfiction

Here are some book proposals that got editors to jump, make an offer, buy, and put into their production schedules:


 Kim John Payne’s THE COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE, a powerful meditative method for changing the negative ways we communicate with and react to the important people in our lives — our children, colleagues, partners, friends, and other family members; showing us how to shift negative emotional habits into new ways of working with social tension, differences and other conflicts, to Jonathan Green at Shambhala, by Carol Mann at the Carol Mann Agency.

 Sam Horn’s ARE YOU INTRIGUING? a guide from an intrigue expert teaches how to capture and hold attention, be memorable and be intriguing, to Steven Piersanti at Berrett-Koehler for publication on 3/2/2015.

 World class ultra endurance athlete, public speaker and high school English teacher Travis Macy’s THE ULTRA MINDSET, in which the record holding winner of the Leadman, a combination trail running marathon and 100-mile mountain bike race set at over 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, boils down the principles of an elite adventure athlete and offers them to anyone looking for an edge in their own athletic, professional, or personal life, to Dan Ambrosio at Da Capo, for publication in Spring 2015, by Daniel Greenberg at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency.coaching

 Oprah Winfrey’s WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE, a collection of the monthly essays she has written for O, the Oprah Magazine over the past 14 years, organized around themes including joy, gratitude and possibility, with a new introduction, to Flatiron Books, for publication September 2, 2014.

 Dr. George Everly, Jr., Ph.D, Douglas Strouse, Ph.D, and Dennis McCormack, Ph.D’s THE RESILIENCY ADVANTAGE: Secrets of Mastering Adversity from the Original Navy Seals and Other Extraordinary People, a self-empowerment book authored by three doctors whose lives, while taking three very different paths, converged in an insatiable quest to learn what makes remarkable success possible amidst extraordinary adversity, to Ellen Kadin of Amacom for publication in 2015, by Leticia Gomez of Savvy Literary Services in association with Ascendant Group.

 Psychoanalyst and author Stephen Grosz’s THE SEVEN OBSTACLES TO LOVE: And Other Stories, about the most compelling, bedeviling question at the center of every life: how do we find and keep love, to Susan Kamil at Random House, by Melanie Jackson.


 Wealth management expert and president and CEO of Trilogy Financial Services Jeff Motske’s WE NEED TO TALK, based on the author’s War of the Wallets financial compatibility quiz, offering a guide for couples to remain financially fit, avoid the common fights regarding spending and saving, and build a happy, financially secure future, to Dan Ambrosio at Da Capo, for publication in Spring 2015, by Kirsten Neuhaus at Foundry Literary + Media.

 Milo and Thuy Sindell’s THE MIDDLE PATH OF LEADERSHIP: Discovering the Latent Strengths That Drive True Performance, a fresh take on how to uncover new hidden strengths in every leader, to Neal Maillet at Berrett-Koehler, by Kimberley Cameron at Kimberley Cameron & Associates.

 John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen’s THE BILLIONAIRE EFFECT, a systematic study through PricewaterhouseCoopers of self-made billionaires that provides fresh insight into the key personality traits and practices of massive wealth creators, an actionable plan for developing their habits, and a look at how these “producers” work strategically with the more common “performer” personality to generate enormous wealth, to to Emily Angell at Portfolio, by Jacqueline Murphy at Inkwell Management.

 Neuropsychologist Theo Tsaousides’s READY, SET, GOAL, a practical guide to overcoming the mental blocks that get in the way of achieving success, to Marian Lizzi at Perigee, with Jeanette Shaw editing, by Jeff Herman at the Jeff Herman Agency .

 Director of Search at BIng/Microsoft, Stefan Weitz’s SEARCH: HOW THE DATA EXPLOSION GOVERNS WHAT WE THINK AND DO, a trade business title and the first in the Insight Labs Library that explores the origins of search in the digital age and how this tool has evolved through customer demands, business constraints, and the sheer volume of data being collected — with predictions on where search will take us next, to Erika Heilman at Bibliomotion, for publication in November 2014.

 Founder of the Women’s Institute of Negotiation (W.I.N.) Yasmin Davidds, PsyD, with Ann Bidou’s OWN YOUR GAME, teaching women how they can negotiate with power and grace to get what they deserve, in and out of the office, to Ellen Kadin at Amacom, by Linda Konner at Linda Konner Literary Agency.


 Alan Trabue’s A LIFE OF LIES AND SPIES: Tales of a CIA Covert Ops Polygraph Interrogator, about the author’s 38-year career testing foreign agents in 40 countries, including five years directing the CIA’s world-wide covert ops polygraph program, revealing the CIA’s use of polygraph and interrogation to validate recruited spies’ bona fides and information obtained through their acts of espionage, to Rob Kirkpatrick at Thomas Dunne Books, by Greg Aunapu at The Salkind Agency.

 Former U.S. Congressman and mental health advocate Patrick J. Kennedy, co-written with award-winning journalist Stephen Fried’s A COMMON STRUGGLE: A Very Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction, about his personal and political struggle with mental illness and addiction, including the real drama of passing the 2008 parity act amid his father Senator Edward Kennedy’s cancer, the collapse of the economy, and Obama’s victory, to David Rosenthal at Blue Rider Press, to be published in late 2015, by David Black of the David Black Literary Agency.

 Photographer, activist, and TED speaker iO Tillett Wright’s DARLING DAYS, the story of her coming of age in New York’s Lower East Side in the Eighties and Nineties – a place and time captured in the photographs of her godmother Nan Goldin — and an odyssey of identity, from living as a boy from the age of six to fourteen, to breaking free from her fiercely protective yet wildly negligent mother, and beyond, to Daniel Halpern at Ecco, by Bill Clegg at William Morris Endeavor.

 Head football coach of the Baylor Bears Art Briles with Don Yaeger’s BEATING GOLIATH, about the hottest and most creative coaches in the sport, to Marc Resnick at St. Martin’s, by Ian Kleinert at Objective Entertainment.

 ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas’s memoir, a no-holds-barred account of growing up with crippling anxiety and of turning to alcohol for relief, describing “the burden and the loneliness of the secret drinker,” with personal stories of her despair, her time in rehab, and, ultimately, her recovery process, to Gretchen Young at Grand Central, for publication in spring 2016, by CAA.

 13-time Grammy winning singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris’s memoirs, with the publisher calling here “life and music a fundamental part of American culture,” to David Rosenthal at Blue Rider Press, with Sarah Hochman editing, for publication in fall 2015, by Ken Levitan of Vector Management.

 Manal Al-Sharif’s DARING TO DRIVE: Growing Up Female in A Men-Only Kingdom, A Memoir of Saudi Arabia, about growing-up female in Saudi Arabia, describing how even the smallest aspects of everyday life are influenced by the country’s male guardianship system by one of the leaders of the movement to allow women to drive in the kingdom who was awarded the first Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World; it covers her arrest and imprisonment for driving as well as hitherto unknown details of her coming of age and her assessment of the kingdom’s future, to Priscilla Painton at Simon & Schuster, for publication in Fall 2015, by Peter Bernstein and Amy Bernstein at Bernstein Literary Agency.

 Author of A Thread of Sky Deanna Fei’s GIRL IN GLASS, about the mother-child bond at its most elemental, about her daughter born four months prematurely and the national controversy that erupted when her husband’s employer publicly blamed the cost of “distressed babies” for a cut in employee benefits, to Nancy Miller at Bloomsbury, by Lisa Bankoff at ICM.

 Former Vogue Editor, founder of OrphanAid Africa, and winner of 2012’s Clarins Most Dynamic Woman Prize Lisa Lovatt-Smith’s SOMEBODY’S CHILD, detailing her rise from poverty to the upper echelons of European fashion, her fateful trip to Ghana on a volunteer vacation with her adopted daughter, and her subsequent decision to give up her fabulous lifestyle to remain in Ghana and fight to reform a corrupt orphanage and care system, to Amanda Murray at Weinstein Books, for publication in October 2014, by Elizabeth Evans at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.


Blaire Briody’s THE NEW WILD WEST: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown, a narrative account of a once-quiet Midwestern town which has suddenly become the new frontier of U.S. energy independence, told through the experiences of the families that have lived there for generations and the migrant laborers desperate to make a living, to Hannah Braaten at St. Martin’s, by Laura Yorke at Carol Mann Agency.

 NYT reporter Nathaniel Popper’s MAKING MONEY: Bitcoin and the Digital Gold Rush, a narrative account of the rise of the controversial digital currency, featuring an international cast of characters and their complicated relationships with Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and governments and prosecutors around the world, to Tim Duggan at Harper, by Andrew Wylie at The Wylie Agency.

 Michelle Kuo’s READING WITH PATRICK, about her years with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta and the special bond she formed through books with one of her most promising students who would be arrested for murder not long after Michelle left the Delta to attend Harvard Law School; Michelle eventually returned to the Delta for more than half a year to visit Patrick in county jail almost daily to continue to read books and poetry together, an experience that would point both toward their futures, to David Ebershoff at Random House, by Sam Stoloff of the Frances Goldin Literary Agency (NA).



Family therapist and author of Pills Are Not For Preschoolers Marilyn Wedge’s expose of the ADHD epidemic in the United States — through the lenses of the DSM, the psychiatric community, the education system and other countries — for a full picture of what this diagnosis means in a larger context, including tools for parents, based on her Psychology Today article “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” to Lauren Marino at Avery, by Susan Lee Cohen of Riverside Literary Agency.

 Psychotherapist, parent, and former stand-up comedian Sean Grover’s THE BULLIED PARENT, a guide that gives parents tools necessary for successful relationships — uniquely addressing the behavior of both child and parent(s), since bullying actually stems from the insecurities of both, to Ellen Kadin at Amacom, by Carol Mann at the Carol Mann Agency.


Brandon Stanton’s follow-up to his New York Times bestseller HUMANS OF NEW YORK, a collection of striking photographs and heartfelt, funny, and inspiring stories, to Yaniv Soha at St. Martin’s, for publication in Fall 2015, by Brian DeFiore of DeFiore and Company.

 Elijah Wald’s DARKNESS AT THE BREAK OF NOON: Bob Dylan at Newport, putting the moment Bob Dylan “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in a context significantly broader than a simple declaration of rock ‘n’ roll independence, explaining why that moment became instantly iconic and still has such resonance today, to Denise Oswald at Dey Street Books, by Sarah Lazin at Sarah Lazin Books.

 Shea Serrano’s THE HISTORY OF RAP, an in-depth look at the songs that have changed rap music over the last 35 years, to Samantha Weiner at Abrams Image, for publication in Fall 2015, by Marc Gerald at The Agency Group.


 Emma Mildon’s THE SOUL SEARCHER’S HANDBOOK, a modern day bohemian’s guide to spiritual and soulful living, to Anna Noak at Beyond Words, for publication in 2015, by Marilyn Allen on Allen O’Shea Literary Agency.

 Keith Miller’s SUBURBAN CHRISTIANITY: Finding Faithfulness Amidst NcMansions and Minivans, an Evangelical defense of suburban churches, to Randall Payleitner at Moody, in a nice deal, for publication in Spring 2015.

 President of American Atheists David Silverman’s untitled look at why public discourse about Atheism must remain vocal and aggressive, referencing his own personal experiences and that of other atheists, to Rob Kirkpatrick at Thomas Dunne Books, by Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

 Be inspired!