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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 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.

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.)

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Dom Testa is a radio host in Denver and
an award-winning young adult author
The paperback ofThe 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.)

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