What Writers Need to Do Besides Write

As writers, we tend to focus entirely on the manuscript. We sweat over it, we curse it, and we pace the floor worrying over one sentence, or even one casual phrase. Because of this obsession, we often believe that our Dream Agent, the one who is patiently sifting through the slush pile, will instantly connect with us when she spots that brilliant string of words.

Well, maybe. But it’s more likely that Ms Dream Agent will be wowed by the ancillary items in your arsenal. Sure, your writing needs to knock her socks off, but today it takes more than that.

Dom is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Cynthia won.)


Dom Testa is a radio host in Denver and
an award-winning young adult author
The paperback of The Comet’s Curse,
the first book in his sci-fi series, is available
now. See his series website here.

Ancillary is one of those words that I hate to speak aloud but don’t mind in print. In this case it refers to all of the supplemental tools that you bring to the table, along with your manuscript. They just might be the tools that alert an agent to your ability to help sell the work.

I come bearing examples. For my Young Adult science fiction series, I created a fan page/website called Club Galahad. That in itself isn’t groundbreaking. However, within those pages I made sure to incorporate tools that my publisher (Tor/Macmillan) can use to impress the market most likely to gravitate to my books: the education market.

First of all, not a week goes by that you won’t find on the site helpful articles and links embracing the world of science. It might be video of the latest shuttle launch, or news about the discovery of Super Earths in our galactic neighborhood.

Additionally, I’ve developed a classroom study aid called The Science Behind Galahad. Each of these three-page, downloadable units is a quick synopsis of a real element of science that is mentioned in the book series. One includes a fun peek at the world of Artificial Intelligence; another explores the fuzzy snowballs we know as comets. Teachers are able to print these mini-lessons and immediately use them in their classrooms.

On top of that, my lead character writes journal entries not just within the books, but for the website, too. Students can create a bond with her, and contribute their own comments.

These are all ancillary items that go beyond the manuscript. They cost me nothing but a little bit of time and research, but go a long way in providing helpful material for my publisher. Are you doing the same for your work?

Currently I’m writing a nonfiction book that will have a unique piece of ancillary ammunition. The book covers the workings of my non-profit education foundation, The Big Brain Club, which helps students embrace the notion that Smart Is Cool. When the time comes to shop this manuscript to a hard-working agent, I’ll be able to show them that there’s a platform attached to the book. Not only do I write on the subject, but I regularly speak on it, and take the message into schools. There are Big Brain Club T-shirts, and I’m personally publishing the creative writing of students in middle schools. Yes, I’m turning THEM into published authors.

This is a form of ancillary support that is valuable to a prospective agent. Their job is to sell your work, and to them it’s more than just your ability to craft a sentence. What else do you bring to the table that will assist them when they pitch your talents to a publisher? I’ve mentioned but a tiny handful of examples; there are countless more.

I recommend that you use this annual time of introspection to look up from your rough draft and decide what other tools will make you – and your work – attractive to an agent. Besides that spectacular phrase, of course.

Dom is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Cynthia won.)

The 2011 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 
offers more than 650 listings for publishers,
magazines, agents, art reps and more.



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17 thoughts on “What Writers Need to Do Besides Write

  1. Kristin Barrett

    Wonderful idea! I love it when I find a website for a book that has extras, and a weekly entry by one of your beloved characters, what a great idea. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Carrie Aquiningoc

    I’m not a writer yet, but I’m dancing with the idea. I’ve got a lot of questions that need answering before I commit. Your website suggestions address one of my louder concerns – how to get a publisher to take me seriously with nothing but a high school education and a manuscript. You provided an excellent solution. If I make a go of this, I’ll be sure to make a website that will enhance the reader’s experience.
    You’re a great help. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

  3. John L. Gibson

    Ancillary. That is a cool word. At first clance I thought about Achilles. Then I recalled a letter that I once wrote to Rodney Dangerfield, requesting words of wisdom on how to become a stand up comedian. He wrote back, much to my suprise, "You have to walk the plank." I guess that advice can be applied to writing as well. Capture an audience. It can began with writing classes or reading to kids at the library

  4. Danielle Pederson

    I’ve heard this reiterated a lot and I think it makes sense. The educational aspect is something I haven’t thought of before and I’m most assuredly going to ‘steal’ the series website idea. I even just thought of a name for the site seconds after finishing this article. Thanks!

  5. Rasana Atreya

    I’m not sure how to make it work for me. I do have a blog, a good number of visitors of the course of a week (I post mostly about fee-less contests around the world) as well as subscribers, but not sure if these people will translate to book buyers if I ever end up getting a publisher (or I finally give in and self-publish).

  6. Pamela

    Brilliant ideas. I’ve just launched the womenthrillerwriters.com website. That first step is intimidating, but I’m learning as I go. I hope to add short, informationative advice from guest bloggers, tips for writing thrillers, and now I’ll start looking to add relevant news stories. Thanks!

  7. Tami Veldura

    I love taking my characters out of their novels and continuing with them in other fields (like websites or outtakes etc.) In fact, my writing buddy once made twitter accounts for each major character in her novel and had them chatting with one another as she wrote the book to get deeper into their heads.

    Extras are awesome to find on a book’s website, I love looking through them so I’ve always been interested in making somethings similar for my own novels.

  8. Michelle

    Good article and great ideas. Like many writers, it’s been a struggle to mentally adapt from a "let the publisher take care of it" attitude to a "I’ve got to get out and promote myself" one. Personal, interactive, online PR is one of the best ways to kick start and maintain a steady viewership– but working up the dedication to commit to it is difficult.

    Your educational materials plan sounds like an excellent idea; the character blogs even better.

    Thanks for the insight. It’s much appreciated.


  9. Doreen

    First of all, you intrigued me with the use of "ancillary". I rarely hear this used and when I do, it stands out and grabs my attention. What you have described here is clever layering, such a smart way to continually weave new threads of interest to your story. Of course stories have a beginning and end but what you describe here shows that there is and always will be another dimension to these creative works. All we have to do is seek it, create it and voila!

  10. Kristine

    Writing nowadays seems to require a lot more in the "self-marketing" department, and you have a great idea with gearing items towards teachers as well as the readers.

    It seems like doing websites and articles and learning material would make writing even more challenging, but with the creativity inherent in a writer, I think it would feel less like "work" and more like flexing the imagination muscle.

    I wonder how successful the ancillary bits have been? How many teachers have used the extra material?

  11. Cynthia L. Moyer

    I have been thinking about this a lot, even though it would mean more websites to keep track of! LOL

    BUT–I love it when I find a website connected to a book that is full of all kinds of fun things, so I know I will be doing this soon for my middle-grade novel. It will fun to design and fill with all kinds of cool things about bubbles and magic!

  12. Kristan

    I call this stuff "the extras" that you sometimes see on writer’s websites, and I love it. I love when writers are so invested in their stories — and in their *readers* — that they put in this effort. I don’t see all that many that do it… but I agree with you, we should definitely be thinking about it!

    And I confess, I hadn’t thought of doing educational extras for my own stories. I was thinking more along the lines of supplemental scenes — like outtakes on a DVD. But you’ve got my wheels turning in this direction now too. Thanks!


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