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Guest Columns

How to get published — read hundreds of helpful Writer’s Digest guest columns from published writers teaching the craft and business of writing.

Agent Michael Larsen On: 4 Reasons You May Want to Transform That Memoir Into a Novel

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If you’re writing a memoir (a me-moir to the cynical), you may wonder whether it would be better to fictionalize elements and release your story as a novel. What reasons might there be for making that decision?
1. Legal Reasons
Publishers are extremely wary about anything that might cause litigation. If you’re going to include unflattering things about living people, they may sue.
2. Personal Reasons
Fictionalizing your past may make it easier to write about. A memoir is constrained by the truth. Writing fiction liberates you to alter your experience as you wish. Read more

Agent Cricket Freeman On: Nonfiction Credentials in a Book Proposal

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No matter what type of nonfiction book you’ve written, if you’re proposing your book for publication you must show you’re prepared. Imagine an editor is considering two book proposals by first-time writers. Both books are equally clever in concept, suited for his house, and he’d be proud publishing either. But he only has budget for one. Reviewing one he sees a tight synopsis, a descriptive table of contents, and a short author bio. Promising.

Cricket Freeman is a literary agent with The August Agency. Read more

Agent Mollie Glick Talks: 7 Things Agents Want to See in a Query, and 9 Things They Don’t

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7 THINGS AGENTS WANT TO SEE IN A QUERY

1. An entertaining but polite and professional tone
2. Multiple forms of contact information
3. Proof that you have researched and hand-picked an agent. (If you’ve got a connection, were referred by a client or met the agent Read more

Agent Chip MacGregor On: Changes in Christian Publishing

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Today much has changed in the Christian book market. In the 80s, the majority of publishers who took up the Christian fiction torch did so with a missionary zeal. Perceiving the new genre as another opportunity to spread the Gospel, some publishers required novelists to declare the tenets of faith in their work. Though a few may still provide specific guidelines for this approach, evangelism has become far less of an expected element when editors consider manuscripts. In fact, a lot has changed.

Chip MacGregor is the founder of MacGregor Literary. Read more

6 Things I Learned At The Frankfurt Book Fair

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Editor’s Note: Guest column by Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos, a two-time breast cancer survivor who penned Surviving Cancerland: The Psychic Aspects of Healing.

When I landed in Frankfurt, Germany, my birthplace as an Army-brat, the same dreary weather greeted me that had left me in Boston, MA. However, when I walked through the doors to the Frankfurt Book Fair, aka FBF, the overall feeling was “contagious excitement.” Read more

Agent Joanna Volpe On: Why Realistic Teen Dialogue Isn’t Necessarily a Good Thing (and a Free Book Giveaway!)

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If you want to write young adult fiction, you need to listen to teens, but not listen to them. Any questions? When it comes to writing YA, everyone focuses on voice. And they’re right. Voice is so, so important to pin down. And when trying to nail down that voice, there is a ton of advice out there on realistic teen dialogue. Read more

Agent Scott Eagan On: Author Branding and Career Planning

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As an agent, one of the responsibilities I have to my clients is to assist them with making healthy and successful choices about their writing careers. In essence, we want to do all in our power to make sure they are doing what it takes to enhance their careers and avoid that infamous “career suicide” by writing something there can be no recovery from. Beginning writers can do the same thing, even before they have signed a contract with an editor or an agent.

This guest column by agent Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary. Read more

Agent Paul S. Levine On: Copyright Basics

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Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. For example, the idea of a play or movie where a boy meets a girl, but both sets of parents are against the boy and the girl “getting together” (think “Romeo and Juliet,” but also think “West Side Story”) is not protected by copyright (or by anything else for that matter).

Paul S. Levine is the founder of The Paul S. Levine Literary Agency. He is also a copyright lawyer. Read more

Agent Tina Wexler On: 6 and 1/2 Ways to Impress an Agent

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1.Write a really amazing query. Which is to say: take your time, try describing your work multiple ways until you find the best approach, read successful queries online and have as many people as possible read yours so that you’re certain it makes sense and is a shiny apple.

2. Demonstrate knowledge of an agent’s list. This doesn’t mean you have to read every book they’ve ever sold—I leave that job to my mom—but by showing them you know a bit about who they represent, you’re telling agents you’ve done your research on who to query. Read more

Agent Miriam Kriss On: The Perfect Pitch

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1. Know Thy Genre (or Sub-Genre)
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to with someone and asked them what they write, only to be faced with confusion. Knowing where your book would live in the bookstore is crucial to making sure the agent can evaluate it properly. Even if you’re writing something that has elements from several genres, it’s important to understand it can only be shelved in one place when in the bookstore, so you need to determine who your audience is and make that clear from the beginning of your pitch.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
This isn’t the moment to go into every intricate plot point. Rather, think of your pitch in terms of cover copy. What’s your log line? A logline, or one sentence pitch, is a phrase borrowed from Hollywood, where as Mamet’s character Charlie Fox said in Speed the Plow, “You can’t tell it to me in one sentence, they can’t put it in TV Guide.” Read more

Agent Dan Lazar On: Query Dos and Don’ts

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1. Be specific, but don’t vomit information. Saying “my novel is about a mom going through some life challenges” is vague, and remember: Vague = boring. However, be careful not to stuff your letter with so many details of your plot that it’s confusing to decipher what’s going on. Reading your pitch letter out loud can often help you identify these flaws.

2. Avoid the “duh” trap.Don’t bog down your writing by overstating the obvious. For example, “I’m writing this letter to tell you about my fictional novel, which I’d like to send you, and it is called TITLE.” That’s an awkward sentence. Read more

Rachelle Gardner On: 5 Reasons Nonfiction Writers Need a Book Proposal

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If you have a completed manuscript, you may be tempted to think that’s enough. It’s not. You still need a proposal. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Publishers usually don’t look at nonfiction manuscripts. The proposal itself provides information publishers need in order to make a purchasing decision. Before they even want to read sample chapters, they will review elements such as the author’s platform, how the book fits into the marketplace, and what titles already exist on your topic.

Guest column by literary agent Rachelle Gardner of Wordserve Literary. Read more

5 Techniques for Managing Group Critiques

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1. Know your group, and tailor your critique sessions accordingly. It’s helpful to begin each reading with a quick introduction, in which the writer is given the opportunity to communicate her needs to the group.

2. Ask each member of the group to read her work aloud, rather than simply giving group members copy to read silently. Reading your work aloud helps you check for awkward phrasing, clumsy dialogue, or a plot point that doesn’t ring true. Read more

How Writers Can Use Twitter for Networking and Success

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While Twitter is useful for writers for a myriad of reasons, networking takes the cake. Using Twitter, we can connect with people who would be out of reach otherwise, people who live far away or are more important or simply uninterested in us. As I sometimes explain to newbies, if Facebook is for connecting with people you know, Twitter is for connecting with people you’d like to know.

Guest column by Alexis Grant, a journalist and social media coach, who’s writing a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa. Read more

At the Root of Writing is Creativity

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These days, with my debut middle grade out in the world, people seem to want to know if I’d always wanted to be a writer. And I did. Ever since I can remember, that’s all wanted to do (except for that year in the fourth grade when I wanted to be a child psychologist). But why? What was it about the written word that attracted me, that attracts some people and not others?

Guest column by Michele Corriel, whose lives in Montana, and is a regional advisor for SCBWI. Her debut middle grade novel, Fairview Felines: A Newspaper Mystery (Blooming Tree/Tire Swing Press) Read more

So You Think You Can Write?

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In the writer’s room, my bosses made quick work of my delusions of brilliance with a peremptory “Maybe that’s funny at Harvard.” Under their guidance, I learned the value of observing in silence, listening to those with more experience and most of all, re-writing.

Guest column by Susan Fales-Hill, who began her career writing for several award-winning TV programs, such as “The Cosby Show.” She has freelanced for national publications, and her memoir, Always Wear Joy, was released in 2003. Her first novel, One Flight Up (S&S, 2010), was praised by as “a dazzling narrative of New York’s social diorama with wit, irony and great humor” by Vogue. Read more

How Live Readings Can Help Your Writing

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Two years ago I began transitioning from my career as a journalist by tapering off my work for The New York Times. I took my debut novel through several edits and began to explore the complicated road to publication. Social Media provided an opportunity to write for others and vastly expand my network of friends and colleagues.

Guest column by Laura Novak. Laura was a television news reporter before writing for The New York Times on business, health and the arts. She is working on the Clari Drake Mystery Series set in Berkeley. Read more

Agents Talk Trends, Platform, eBooks and More at Wrangling With Writing

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This guest column is by Ricki Schultz, freelance writer and coordinator of The Write-Brained Network.

At the 38th annual Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling with Writing conference in Tuscon, the first morning session was a large “Ask Anything” panel of agents, editors, and an author. Read more

4 Factors for Choosing an MFA Program

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Many struggle with the decision to pursue an MFA. Here are some insider opinions from a guy who teaches in both a traditional and low-residency program.

1. LIFESTYLE Many mistakenly believe that writing is an indulgence. Writing is not an indulgence: You give up other indulgences to write. And the low-residency program trains you for the long run as you learn to balance writing with your career and family life.

Guest column by Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding (Sept. 2010, Graywolf), a story about a father and son hunting trip that goes awry. The book received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was named “Best of the Northwest” for fall/winter 2010 by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. Read more

5 Things Working in Business Taught Me About Writing

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Last month I found myself in a little cafe in Brussels with four artists, discussing an upcoming art exhibition at which I was going to do a reading. One of the artists asked me whether I agreed with the view that once a writer has committed creative ideas fresh from his brain to paper, he should leave them in this raw state. It was on the tip of my tongue to retort that my agent would have a heart attack if I did this! I didn’t say it, however, because I was pretty sure that the artists would be shocked at the suggestion that creative work be polished for the marketplace.

Guest column by Helen Grant, who was born in London. Her first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was shortlisted for both the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the Carnegie Medal in the UK. She now lives in Brussels with her family and two cats. Delacorte Press will publish her second novel, The Glass Demon, in 2011. Read more

The Value of Writing for Anthologies

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An anthology offers many authors’ perspectives and styles on the same theme. It is a book of anticipation and readers’ opportunities filled with a variety of choices, colors, meanings and emotions. In one book readers are offered several authors and their work.

Guest column by Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow, founding general manager of WYCC-TV/PBS. She is an author, public speaker, and award-winning educator and broadcaster. Her essays can be found in these upcoming anthologies: This I Believe: On Love(Wiley); Chicken Soup for the Soul Grieving and Recovery (Simon & Schuster); and Thin Threads Anthology – More Real Stories of Life Changing Moments (Kiwi). Read more

How to Stay Objective and Improve Your Main Character

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So how’s your relationship with your significant other going? The one with your heroine or hero, I mean. In a writer’s life, a main character is a very significant other. Now that my first published novel is about to be released, I realize how much I’ve learned about the writer-main character relationship.

Guest column by Judith Rock, whose historical fiction debut, The Rhetoric of Death (Sept. 2010), received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist.
Read more

The 4 Golden Rules of Being a Writer

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1. Start at square one.
The world is full of people who know people who know an agent … but you can save yourself a lot of time and disappointment by ignoring them. Because the truth is, no one really knows anyone, and even if they did, it is probably not going to help your chances one bit.
2. Do your homework. Yes, I’m afraid so. Just as there are no shortcuts when it comes to finding an agent, there are no shortcuts when it comes to your manuscript and query letter.

Guest column by Anne Fortier, author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet, a novel about a young woman who discovers that she is descended from Shakespeare’s Juliet. Read more

A Word to Children’s Writers: Spend Time at Schools

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Upon reflection, I can point to one practical activity that’s been absolutely critical to my work as a children’s author: I spend time in classrooms. Not as a visiting author, but as an observer. I sit in the back, out of the spotlight, and watch.

Guest column by James Preller, who has published a wide variety of books, including three in the past year. Each one included multiple scenes in a school setting: Bystander, set in a middle school; Justin Fisher Declares War!, fifth-grade classroom; and A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, a picture book. Read more

Agent Jon Sternfeld On: 5 Elements of Interesting Narrative Nonfiction (and Memoirs)

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Narrative nonfiction is a difficult and crowded market. Here are some thoughts about distinguishing your work from the pack.

1. Arcs: Like a strong novel, make sure the story and the main character have Narrative Arcs—that is each needs to go somewhere. Finding the arc is key or else the story is a jumble of disjointed vignettes that lead nowhere. Evolution of character and movement of the story make a true story as engaging to read as a novel.

2. Inverse Rule for Nonfiction: The less well known the subject/story, the more blow people out of the water amazing the story needs to be. Read more

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