Bedrock for Writers: What You Can’t Help Believe

What and how you write, how long it is, and the medium you choose to use express your ideas in reveal your relationship to your beliefs. Every time you sit down to write is an opportunity for you to use your beliefs to inspire your best work. As part of the human family, we share many truths. How we express them depends on nature and nurture, the family and culture we grow up in, our vision, our personalities, our creative gifts, and how we see our mission.

The Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes believed that truth is what we can’t help believe. People made tools 1.7 million years ago, painted caves and invented the flute 35,000 years ago, and built religious sites 9,000 years ago. Like us, they were born to be free and to create tools to communicate their truths in words, music and art.

Truths I Can’t Help Believe

Seven decades have brought me these irreducible truths:

  • Pain may be an early warning sign. It helps us learn and grow, but most of the time, it only hurts.
  • Injustice and unjustified suffering are obscene.
  • Human needs, fears, desires, and aspirations unite the human family more than money, power, culture, history, resources, religion, and politics divide them.
  • To be born gives one the right to food, clothing, shelter, health care, a healthy environment, freedom, an education that prepares one for the work that’s available, jobs that sustain those who do them, and the chance to develop all of one’s potential. These needs aren’t gifts; they are as essential to the health of a community as they are to the individual. Providing them is a test of government; if it fails, the people must replace it.
  • Systems can’t work. Why?

–They were created imperfectly with compromises, lack of foresight, and by the same committee that was asked to create a horse but produced a camel.

–They can’t encompass or respond well to all of the possibilities they encounter.

–The world is changing faster than they can change the system to cope with it.

–They are run by bureaucrats who try to justify their existence, shift responsibility, and resist change.

–There are people who try to undermine them and take advantage of them.

Increasingly ineffective systems become part of the problems they were created to solve. They magnify our burden, because we have to fix both the problem and the systems, which resist change. What would the founding fathers think about how their inability to end slavery led to the Civil War? How would they respond to the challenges we face?

  • Decisions generate trade-offs, so the challenge is to make the decision with the best set of tradeoffs.
  • Morality is a luxury of peace and prosperity. If people’s identity, beliefs, or well-being is threatened, they will fight to preserve them.
  • Nobody has a monopoly on truth, wisdom, or virtue.
  • Being a multicultural country will be an essential source of strength for our future.
  • Whether in art or politics, it’s easy to mistake technique for content.

The Effect of Technology

The rate at which the technology business is relentlessly transforming civilization is accelerating yet

  • No one understands it
  • No one is in charge of it
  • No one knows where it’s going
  • No one can control it.

But we still have to keep coming to terms with technology at home and at work. Author Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2045, computing power will be greater than the collective human intellect. What could go wrong with that?

Technology helped bring about the miraculous changes in the Arab Spring that led to the Occupy Movement. But how do we balance technology’s potential for helping to create change with its potential for political and economic control?

The Laws of Power

  • Power corrupts. What individuals and institutions need is enough power to be effective but not enough to be corrupted.
  • Nobody who wants power should be allowed to have it without controls, including time limits.
  • The first job of those with economic and political power is to maintain the status quo so they can keep it. It takes a quarter of a mile for an oil tanker to make a right turn. The larger and older businesses and institutions are, and the larger–and newer the challenges they face–the harder it is for them to respond effectively, even if they want to.
  • The Golden Rule of Politics: He who has the money makes the rules. Contributions force politicians to favor those who provide them, which is why we have the best government money can buy.
  • People and institutions don’t yield power willingly.
  • If a society must choose between order and freedom, it will choose order.

The Greatest Opportunity Writers Have Ever Had

When Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, immolated himself in a Tunisian marketplace, he set the world ablaze with the unstoppable urge to do whatever it takes to be free, because being human creates the need for freedom. Part of that freedom is the need to learn and share the truth.

Thanks to freedom and technology–writers of prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction–have the greatest opportunity writers have ever had to express their truths. In the void left by government, business, and religion, they can use their wisdom, guidance, and inspiration to push humanity in the right direction by helping people to understand what’s in their best interests, and to act on it. Not to do so, in what may become one of the most important years of the century, is to leave the world at the mercy of those whose words and actions benefit themselves, not the human family or the planet.

IBOR: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Two suggestions that will help from Kirk Boyd, a client I met at the conference and author of the regional bestseller, 2048: Humanity’s Written Agreement to Live Together (Berrett-Koehler):

  • Fostering a global consciousness based on what all of us have in common
  • Having an online forum so anyone connected to the Web can express and discuss their ideas with links to different subjects and countries.
  • Having an enforceable International Bill of Rights (IBOR) that’s posted on www.internationalbillofrights.com that you can sign and share. Kirk and I are collaborating on a book about the IBOR.

Another suggestion: Continuing online international groups of representatives, dedicated to the public good, discussing, mediating, and adjudicating issues. Have these discussions streamed live on the Web, so the public can comment and vote on them.

Three Questions That Will Determine Your Future

What’s bedrock for you?

What beliefs sustain you?

What is the best way for you to use your beliefs to serve your readers, your community, and yourself?

Your life will be the answer to these questions. Not to ask them and answer them honestly is to deny the only person and the writer you were born to be.

 

I will be moderating a panel about writing for change at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and we will be organizing a Writing for Change Conference this year.

I write the blog to help you and me understand writing and publishing. Did I get this post right? Rants, comments, suggestions for changes, questions (or answers) are most appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference/A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community/February 16-20, 2012/www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog /@SFWC/ www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/www.sfwritersu.com/[email protected]/@SFWritersU

What Editors Really Want

Want to make editors love you and be devoted to you? Here’s how to do it. All editors (and agents) really want is writers who

  • write books with enduring value  that keep getting better
  • love and live to write and serve their readers
  • write as much as they can without sacrificing quality
  • use books and authors they admire as models
  • have literary and publishing goals they are committed to achieving and a plan for doing it
  • are passionate about communicating about their work and themselves
  • have a lifetime’s worth of books they are eager to write and promote
  • have continuing visibility with their fans
  • test-market their work in as many ways as they can
  • are professional in their relationships
  • understand how publishers work and how to work with them
  • submit their work on time and as ready to be published as they can make it
  • know the stars in their field who help them with advice, feedback, quotes, and promotion
  • keep building communities of fans and publishing people
  • take advantage of technology to accelerate their progress
  • assume responsibility for the quality of their work and its success
  • have an agent who mentors them and helps solve problems

If this is too much to ask, just come as close as you can and add the rest later. 

Editors hope that they will love everything they start reading. They love finding new writers they can publish with pride and passion. That’s the best part of their job, because it justifies their existence.

If I left anything out of the list, many thanks in advance in for letting me know.

 

I write the blog to help you and me understand writing and publishing. Rants, comments, questions, and answers most appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference/A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community/February 16-20, 2012/www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog /@SFWC/ www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference

415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean/free classes/www.sfwritersu.com/[email protected]/@SFWritersU

 

The Perfect Pitch for a Nonfiction Book: 11 Ways to Excite Me About Reading Your Proposal

The role of the writer is to make bouillon cubes out of chicken soup.

–Susan Sontag

Whether you’re talking about your book to a friend or an editor, the content of your book has to be scalable: You have to be able to capture the essence of it about it in a tweet, a one-paragraph pitch, a one-page query letter, and a proposal.

Pitching your book will take less than thirty seconds. How can you generate maximum excitement for your book in as few words as possible? Without being self-serving, the perfect pitch describes the essence of your book, why it will excite book buyers, and what’s most impressive about your platform, promotion plan, and credentials.

Six of the eleven parts of a pitch are optional; you may not need them. A pitch for a narrative nonfiction book, such as a memoir, will need two or three sentence about the setting, the subject, and the story.

Platform and promotion won’t be as important for certain kinds of books such as reference books, or for small or for midsize houses outside of New York. Here are eleven possible parts of a pitch that will excite me because it will arouse the interest of  editors in the Big Apple:

1. A sentence with the title and the selling handle for the book, up to fifteen words that show why it’s unique or commercial.

2. The model(s) for your book: One or two books, movies, or authors–“It’s The Tipping Point meets The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

3. (Optional) The length of your proposal. Proposals have an overview about the book and author, an outline, and sample text, usually about ten percent of the manuscript. They usually range between 35 and 50 pages. The right time to pitch your book is when your proposal is ready to sell. But if you have the chance to pitch your book before your proposal is ready, take advantage of it.

4. (Optional) The length of your manuscript, if it’s ready to submit.

5. (Optional) The names of people who will provide a foreword and cover quotes, if they’re impressive.

6. (Optional) Mention if you’re proposing a series.

7. (Optional) Information about a self-published edition that will help sell it.

8. The most important thing about your platform: what you are doing to give yourself continuing visibility on the subject, online or off, with potential book buyers, and if the number is impressive, how many of them. Wrong: “I give talks.” Right: “I give X talks a year to Y people.”

9. The most effective thing you will do to promote your book, online or off, and if the number is impressive and appropriate, how many of them. Wrong: “I will sell books.” Right: “I will sell X books a year.” Your promotion plan must be a believable extension of your platform.

10. What is most impressive about your credentials: your track record; experience in your field; years of research; prizes; contests; awards in your field.

11. (Optional) Anything else that will convince agents or editors to ask for your proposal.

For another approach to pitches, read agent Katharine Sands’ excellent book, Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye. Elizabeth and I have chapters in it. Katharine will be doing a breakout session on pitching, and a two-hour intensive, open to the public, at the San Francisco Writers Conference, February 16-20, www.sfwriters.org. There’s more about platform, promotion, and proposals in the fourth edition of How to Write a Book Proposal.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community
February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / Mike’s blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference
San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

 

The Royal Flush of Content: Story Rules—Part 3

All three of the conferences I wrote about in the previous two posts agreed on one idea: story is all. The success of writing depends on the ability of writers to create stories that make readers raving fans. If you start out with only one reader on Facebook who tells her or her friends that they must read your work, and other readers have the same response, the word of mouse will go viral. Your success will be unstoppable and will happen faster than it has for any generation of writers.

That’s why self-published books like The Shack and The Christmas Box became bestsellers and why Amanda Hocking’s e-books made her a millionaire. They deliver. Story trumps craft. It’s not about good or bad, literary or commercial; it’s about writing that delivers what it promises so well that readers become big-mouths on social media.

But not all readers respond to stories the same way, so you have to test-market your work and use feedback to build a community of readers who love your work.  Relationships are media. If your work delivers, your readers’ praise, amplified online and off, will make you as successful as you want to be. So build your fan base while you write; your career depends on content and connection.

Creating your future boils downs to three challenges:

  • content: putting the right words in the right order
  • character: building the personal strengths you need to succeed
  • connection: creating win-win relationships

I’ve written about most aspects of them already but will discuss them again in unified new approach to becoming a successful writer in a bottom-up world. Devote yourself to these three Cs, and you’ll never have to wonder where your next app is coming from.

I write the blog to help us both understand what we need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. I hope you find it worth reading and sharing. Rants, comments, questions, corrections, and ideas for posts greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

The Royal Flush of Content: The Writer as Queen—Part 1

Went to three conferences last week, which is why you haven’t heard from me.  Storyworld which was about transmedia–telling the same story across different media platforms; the PublishersLaunch conference about E-books; and the New Media Festival. They were all excellent, and I will tell you more about them. But in this post and the next two, my overall
impressions and takeaways with great news for writers.

The accelerating revolution in communication made possible by technology in the hands of the growing number of people around the world is transforming the world. Intel CEO Paul Otellini says that “Computing is undergoing the most remarkable transformation since the inventions of the PC. The innovation of the next decade is going to outstrip the innovation of the last three combined.” By 2020, there will be 15 billion mobile Web-enabled devices. Anywhere, anytime access to all information and entertainment, along with the ability to communicate about content and collaborate on it are a writer’s dream.

Mike Shatzkin, the visionary co-founder of Publishers Launch, writes “The Shatzkin File,” a blog that’s essential reading. Mike believes that the age of top-down broadcasting, whether
it’s four television networks or six publishing conglomerates, is dying. The creation and success of content will be bottom up. Audiences will help create content and share what they love. Content will be Queen.

But because of word of mouse that can go viral, community will be King. Crowdsourcing ideas and responses to your work will help ensure you write what your fans want to read. You will still have to trust your instincts and common sense, and use what works and forget the rest. But your success will depend on your readers’ fingertips and the tips of their tongues. Engaging your community by connecting with them as often and in as many ways as you can will be essential to building your career. Writing helps build community; maintaining your community helps builds a career.

Are you ready for an easy-to-use smart TV that has all of the stations in the world? It was Steve Jobs’ vision, and it’s in the works. Theater attendance is declining, in part because we’re already starting to live with three screens: a computer/tablet, a smart phone, and a television. MTV viewers watch all three simultaneously, so MTV is providing three screens with different content about the same show. Viewers can use split screens if they wish and will soon able to move what’s on one screen to another.

Adapting stories you can tell in movies and on television, computers/tablets, and smartphones as well as in books, games, and three-minute webisodes is the promise of transmedia, and it’s starting to happen. Audiences want great stories, but they use different media to enjoy them. The challenge is to create scalable stories that can be repurposed in as many ways as possible. But you can still write that first draft with a No. 2 Ticonderoga, so have at it!

The rest of the Royal Flush of Information: Marketing will be the Jack, and passion will be the Ten. The Ace? Control of Content. More about that and why all you need is an audience of one in the next post. I’m thinking about the rest of the deck, but the cards are stacked in your favor.

[Formatting anomalies not in draft. Suggestions welcome.]

I write the blog to help us both understand what we need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. I hope you find it worth reading and sharing. Rants, comments, questions, corrections, and ideas for posts greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 / San
Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

A Nonfiction Writer’s Audition for Our Agency

Every word in a nonfiction proposal has to be right. The sample chapter has to be as enjoyable to read as it is informative. The proposal has to generate as much excitement as possible
in as few words as possible. But even that may be a small part of the challenge for arousing the interest of agents.

Here is what I email to new nonfiction writers who want to submit a proposal to our agency. I hope it gives you a perspective on what it takes to excite New York publishers about books from new writers:

A book is like an iceberg: Writing is 10%; marketing is 90%. –Chicken Souperman Jack Canfield

Many thanks for writing about your book. Somebody is going to publish it. Out of necessity, our goal is to sell books to New York houses, and they want writers with a platform and a strong promotion plan. So the challenge is to maximize the value of your book before you sell it. Because it’s harder for publishers to launch new authors, publishers want authors who are ready to launch themselves. As agent Rita Rosenkranz says, publishers aren’t buying promise, they’re buying proof. Because we can usually tell from a platform and a plan if we can help a writer, that’s where we like to start.

The plan in your proposal will follow “The Author’s Platform,” a list in descending order of impressiveness of what you have done and are doing, online and off–including numbers when
possible–to give yourself and the subject of your book continuing visibility with potential book buyers. A plan shows how you will use your platform to sell books. Editors won’t believe a plan unless it makes sense based on what the author is already doing.

Your plan starts under the subhead “Promotion” and begins like this: “To promote the book, the author will:…” This is followed by a bulleted list of what you will do, online and off, in
descending order of impressiveness, and when appropriate, how many of them. Begin each part of the list with a verb.

Numbers are very important to publishers. For example, having a blog and writing “Will give talks” won’t help. Publishers will want to know how many people read your blog and how many talks you’ll give and to how many people, which, again, has to be based on what you’re already doing.

If one of your goals is being published by a New York house, you’re welcome to email me just your title followed by your platform and promotion plan, written
as I’ve suggested, in the body of a letter, not as an attachment,
followed by your query letter, whenever they’re ready. Regard your ability to follow these suggestions is a compatability test. Please call me at 415-673-0939, Monday to Thursday, 11 AM-4 PM, California time, if you have questions.

If you haven’t already done so already, please check the helpful information www.larsenpomada.com. My book, How to Write a Book Proposal has more information about promotion and building a platform.

If I can’t help you as an agent now, our site describes how I may be able to help you as a consultant.

Hope we can help.

Mike Larsen

 

If your goal is to be bpublished by a small or midsized house outside of New York, you may not need this ammunition to sell your book, and these publishers buy books directly from writers.  But it’s important for you to find books and authors to use as models for your literary and financial goals. Go for it!

I write the blog to help us both understand what we need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. I hope you find it worth reading and sharing. Rants, comments, questions, corrections, and ideas for posts greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU