Friday, August 28, 2009

Approaching Literary Agents

An aspiring writer asked if I had any hints at approaching an agent.

Yes, I have a few routes I've taken on the path to eventually landing a literary agent.

Plan A: The best way I would approach agents is send them a one-page query letter, synopsis, and the first twenty pages of your manuscript. When I was first trying to publish my novel, SHADOWS IN THE MIST, I submitted to several agents. I offer a sample template of one of my query letters at this link:

Essentially, a query letter should briefly describe your book, why you have chosen this particular agency, describe you as a writer, and any publishing accomplishments you have. Or if you have a good marketing platform--like you are a TV personality or have a blog with 5,000 readers. Or if you are an expert in a niche field that relates to your book include that information.

If you are where I started, which was totally unknown with no platform, then your book has to be good enough to grab an agent's interest. So, first write the best damn book you can, and get lots of feedback on it from friends, a writer's group, and even hire a professional editor to clean up the grammar and work out any kinks in the book's structure. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, the book needs to flow nicely and engage the reader. It used to be that you had to mail query letters through snail mail. These days many agencies accept email. If that's the case, take check out the sample query template letter I included at the link above.

Do your research. Not all agents represent the same types of books. Every year Literary Market Place publishes a book (LMP) that lists all current information about agents, their contact info, and details about what types of books they represent. You can also search for agents at Literary Marketplace online.

In my case, I searched for every agency that represented horror fiction. I narrowed several hundred agents down to about twenty. Then I went to each of their websites to gain more insight into what they are looking for. This helped me narrow down the list to around fifteen. I wrote each of them and played the waiting game. Expect anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks for a response. If you haven't heard back in 6 weeks, send a brief, polite email saying you are just following up to see if they received your query letter.

Expect a good number of your submissions to be answered back with rejection letters. Any rejections only mean you've eliminated the agents who are not a good fit for your book and you've narrowed down your search. So what happens if every agent on your list rejects your manuscript? This actually happened to me! First, don't panic. Take a few deep breaths. Once calm, ask yourself this question: "Where's the opportunity?"

Plan B: Another alternative to querying an agent is to go to a writer's convention and pitch your story to one. Every year, agents attend conferences in hopes of finding fresh talent. The Hawaii Writers conference (Every Labor Day weekend) is a perfect venue for this. They have a set up there that's kind of like speed dating with agents and editors. You sit down with the agent/editor face to face, and you have 15 minutes to pitch your story. If they like the idea, they'll tell you to mail them the manuscript. That's how I got an agent to finally read a copy of SHADOWS IN THE MIST. If you can find a way to afford the trip, I highly recommend the Hawaii Writers Conference. You get to meet other aspiring writers, celebrity authors, attend workshops about writing, publishing, and promoting, and pitch your stories to agents. It's well worth the investment.

Plan C: Enter your manuscript or self-published book into a contest and win an award. This is a long shot, but I've met writers who won awards and landed a book deal afterwards. Self-published books can enter into the Independent Book Publishers Awards ( For unpublished writers, there are countless contests. Just Google writing contests. If you win an award, resubmit to agents and tell them the good news. They may take more interest this time.

So to recap:

1. Write a damn good book or have a unique idea that's marketable

2. Get friends, writers, and hire an editor to provide constructive feedback - polish the manuscript until it's the best you can deliver

3. Read up on how to write a great query letter or book proposal. Feel free to use my sample query letter as a template.

4. Research literary agencies on the web or in the Literary Market Book and see who's publishing your kind of book

5. Contact them with a query letter. Check their guidelines on their site to see if they prefer email or snail mail submissions

6. Submit to several agents at once, unless one specifically asks you to give them the first chance to look at your work

7. Wait patiently. It may take a few weeks or months for them to get back with you.

8. When you receive rejection letters - and you may get a few - keep having faith - not every agent is right for you. You want to cherry pick the agent that has the most passion for your book. Remember, they are your rep. They are selling your book. You want an agent who's fired up about pitching your story to publishing houses. So be willing to see rejection letters as only a sign that they aren't the right fit for you. It's nothing personal.

9. If the agents provide any constructive feedback, seriously consider it and get second opinions from any writers you know. Your manuscript may need a little tweeking. Some of my earlier manuscripts weren't good enough to be published yet, and some agents gave me so valuable advice on how to improve my manuscript and as a writer.

10. Attend the Hawaii Writers Conference or one closer to home - there's nothing like getting face to face with an agent and getting instant feedback. It might be what saves you from months of waiting in the slush pile. I know people who have signed with agents on the spot. It can be very exciting.

11. Shop for a literary agent for a year or so. Finding the right one takes time. While you wait, keep writing on your next manuscript. Keep churning out manuscripts. An agent may like your writing, but not the story you submitted. They might ask if you have anything else you can read.

12. If after a couple years pass without landing an agent, explore self-publishing. That's the route I took and finally landed my literary agent and first book deal a year after I self-published.

Dream big and make it happen!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Podcast Interview

I recently did an interview about publishing and social media marketing. You can listen to it at this link.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Overcoming Writer's Block

Several writers have written me asking how to overcome writer's block.

If you're struggling with writer's block, don't get discouraged. I get stuck many times in the middle of a book and don't feel like writing. I'm not always in the creative flow, but I make myself write anyway. Here are a few ways I get back into the creative flow of writing:

1.) Do anything that's creative. Paint pictures, write poetry, work in Photoshop, make a scrapbook, edit a video. Then go back to writing. When I'm stuck, I paint paintings on canvass. It really activates my creativity. The key is to keep exercising the creative part of your brain.

2). Do freewriting. This is where you spend 15 minutes or more a day writing whatever comes off the top of your head. Ignore punctuation. Just write freely. Allow it to be totally random. You might change subjects many times. You might mix fiction with journalling or vent frustrations. The process trains your brain to tap into the words inside your head and gives them a place to live on your computer screen.

3.) Get your body into flow. Dance or do yoga. This may sound funny, but when you get your body into flow, your mind follows. Meditate and take long, deep breaths. A relaxed mind is more open. An open mind is more imaginative. And you can focus longer when you are in a peaceful state.

4.) Carve out some time in your schedule just for writing. At least 3 to 4 hours. Turn off the phone. Tell your loved ones to honor your space so you can write without distractions. Clean up your work space. A cluttered desk puts the mind in a state of confusion.

5.) Write really early in the morning. When you first wake up, your brain is still in Theta mode, the brainwave pattern that you are in when you have dreams. Some of my best writing happens at 4 or 5 a.m. when I'm still half asleep.

6.) The Glass-of-Water Technique. This is my best technique for overcoming writer's block. Before bed, fill up a glass of water. Hold it up and speak an intention. (Example: My intent is to tap into my creative source and write brilliantly tomorrow). Then drink half the water and set the other half on your nightstand. Go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning drink the rest of the water immediately. Then go straight to your computer and write at least an hour without distraction. This may seem a bit woo-woo, but give it a try. Do this technique for three nights straight. It gets me out of my writer's block every time.

I offer coaching and consulting to writers. To see my coaching packages visit:

Monday, August 17, 2009

What to Do When Your Muse Is Missing

An aspiring writer wrote: Dear Mr. Moreland, For the longest time I enjoyed writing short stories. I found it fun. But now it seems as if I can't produce anything. For many months now I have been at a loss for words, nothing seems to come to me. And there is no more energy in my writing. I think maybe I'm starting to give up, but yet the other part of me doesn't want me to. I was wondering if you could give me any advice.

First question I would ask is what's important to you about writing? Are you doing it just for fun? An emotional outlet like a journal or blog? Or are you wanting to publish and be a career author?

List the top 10 reasons why you are driven to write. This will remind you why you chose to become a writer in the first place and give you a greater sense of purpose.

If writing really isn't that important to you, let it go and find another hobby. It takes a lot of discipline to churn out short stories and manuscripts on a regular basis. If, on the other hand, writing is an inner calling, a voice that won't quit, keep looking for ways to motivate yourself. You may just have something brilliant in you that will inspire a lot of people once you sit down and write it.

Your challenge could be that you are locked into one mode of thinking. I use two types of writing modes:

1.) Right Brain Writing - When you are in this mode, you are highly creative and your imagination is very active. It's easy to invent fictional characters, stories, or essays that come from the heart. All emotional writing happens in "Right Brain" mode. In this mode, I can write non-stop for hours. It's the best time to write new chapters and have the most fun.

2.) Left Brain Writing - When I'm not in the creative flow, my mind is typically more left-brained. I do not feel connected to my muse. However, I am very organized and can work on other aspects of my book, like outlining and editing. This is a good time to look at your manuscript from the big picture. When I'm outlining, I catch problems with the story flow that I don't catch when I'm in my creative writing mode.

If you're a published author, "Left-Brain" mode is also a great time to handle the business side of writing. Schedule book signings and market books. Surf the net for book reviewers and blogs that interview authors. Deposit royalty checks in the bank and negotiate movie deals with Hollywood producers. So it's great to be left-brained part of the time. You just don't want to stay in this mode or it's difficult to feel inspired to create anything from your imagination.

Writing is a discipline. If you are a serious writer, you will make time to write something even when it's not flowing so well. Explore training your right brain to be more creative and discover at what time of day you write the best. If writing is truly your calling, never give up.

In the next post I'll offer some tips for overcoming writer's block ...

I offer coaching and consulting to writers. To see my coaching packages visit:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Descriptive Writing

My friend DJ from Facebook asked for some tips on being a more descriptive writer.

First, read a lot of books from various authors. When you come across a descriptive passage you really like, read it again, study it. Notice what verbs and adjectives they used. Write that passage in a journal or type it. I've written passages from other books, from Stephen King to Dean Koontz, and that helped put me in the mindset of that author. It impacted my writing.

Learn to write poetry. Even if it's bad poetry. It teaches you about the rhythm of language. I spent some time writing a number of poems, some good, some not so good, but I trained my brain to write more descriptively. When you write flowery poetry for awhile and then go back to writing prose, you'll discover your writing has become naturally more descriptive.

Learn a plethora of new vocabulary. Play some vocabulary games. Challenge yourself to use words you don't normally use. I keep a Thesaurus handy, and when I'm revising a draft, I swap out plain words for more descriptive words.

Learn to use figurative language such as hyperbole, simile, metaphor, symbolism and personification. Knowing these gives you a great foundation for descriptive writing. And for the most part it is better to show than tell. Rather than narrate what's happening from the author's point of view, play the scene out from the character's point of view.

And remember that descriptions are also visual details of what's happening in your scene. I'll often write a first draft that doesn't have a lot of description. Just some basic action and dialogue. But then I'll re-read the chapter over and over, visualizing what's happening, and that's when I add more visual details.

I describe in ways that invoke the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. My goal is for the reader to feel like they are in the scene, experiencing it through multiple senses. For instance, in the war scenes in my novel I described what my character Lt. Jack Chambers is seeing--the battlefield, the fog seeping through the war-torn forest, enemy soldiers charging between the trees. Then I added in some sound effects, like gunshots and explosions, soldiers yelling, the metallic crunch of tank tracks rolling over rubble. Then touch: the heat of the blast scorching the soldier's skin. Then taste: his mouth filling with dust and grit. And smell: the stench of death all around him. When you combine descriptions of all five senses, you create a visceral experience for your readers.

Keep challenging yourself to improve your craft and your descriptions will get better over time.