Writing Craft

The Story We Bring to the Story

With all the discussion about the craft of fiction and the need to write a great story, there is one thing missing in the equation. The one thing that is the secret to great fiction. And it is the one thing the writer cannot control.

That one thing is the story the reader brings with them to their reading experience. As a reader, I have the life I have lived, the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, and the places I’ve been that I bring with me into the world your novel has created. This makes the reading of every story unique. No two people can read the same story the same way. This is why one person’s favorite book is another’s thrift-store giveaway.

In the memoir The End of Your Life Book Club, author Will Schwable writes about the books he read with his mom during the last years of her life. In his introduction, he wrote something profound:

We all have a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.

This is the secret to the greatest novels of all time. They were written so my story, the essence of who I am, merged with that story and became something new. Something unique. Something inexplicable. A new story. And then became a part of who I am and a part of what I bring to the next story I read.

That’s the story I want to read. Can you write it? I can’t wait to read it.

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A Literary Agent’s Wish List

People often ask me, “What are you looking for?” It’s a natural question to ask a literary agent, even when the questioner knows that the agent has offered a detailed answer on the agency website (here, for example). After all, something could’ve changed. I may, since updating my interests, have …

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Ancient Wisdom from an Ancient Editor

by Steve Laube

I came across a remarkable section in a book written around 124 B.C. The editor of the book wrote the following preface to help the reader understand his methodology and purpose. It shows the concern a good editor has for the ultimate reader. His job was to abridge a massive five volume work into an abbreviated 16,00 word document. Can anyone tell me where this comes from and the name of the editor? (Without googling the text!) I’ll reveal the answer in the comments later in the day.

The number of details and the bulk of material can be overwhelming for anyone who wants to read an account of the events. But I have attempted to simplify it for all readers; those who read for sheer pleasure will find enjoyment and those who want to memorize the facts will not find it difficult.

Writing such a summary is a difficult task, demanding hard work and sleepless nights. It is as difficult as preparing a banquet that people of different tastes will enjoy. But I am happy to undergo this hardship in order to please my readers. I will leave the matter of details to the original author and attempt to give only a summary of the events.

I am not the builder of a new house who is concerned with every detail of the structure, but simply a painter whose only concern is to make the house look attractive. The historian must master his subject, examine every detail, and then explain it carefully, but whoever is merely writing a summary should be permitted to give a brief account without going into a detailed discussion. So then, without any further comment, I will begin my story. It would be foolish to write such a long introduction that the story itself would have to be cut short.

Note a few pearls of eternal wisdom from this ancient editor:

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When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

by Steve Laube

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are a few examples of projects that I represented in past years that did not sell to a major publisher.

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Success

I am using the 20th year remembrance of the death of Clifton Hillegass as inspiration to make a larger point about the direction an author’s life can take. Clifton (pictured above is his statue in Kearney, NE) was the creator of CliffsNotes and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the …

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Bookstore Economics 101

by Steve Laube

Understanding the economics of your local brick-and-mortar bookstore should help you understand the upheaval that is happening in our industry. So put on your math cap and let’s take a ride.

This article focuses on the bookstore not the publisher or the writer. I spent over a decade in the Christian bookstore business, and while that was a long time ago the economic principles are the same.

Let’s start with a $10 book (retail price). I’m using $10 because it will make the math a little easier to follow.

The bookstore buys the book for $6 (or 40% discount off the retail price) from the publisher (who calls that $6 the net price). Note that this discount varies between 40% and 50%.

When the books sells to a customer the store then makes a $4 profit ($10 – $6 = $4).

If the store discounts the book during a 20% off promotion they have to sell two copies to make that same $4 profit. But often a 20% off sale is not enough to double the sales volume. Why? Because a high-volume operation like Amazon.com is happy to sell that $10 book for $6.50 (35% off). They can do this because they plan on selling 10 copies at the discounted price and clear $5 in profit. This pricing strategy has a chilling effect on the ability of the local store to compete.

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Testing the Truth

Years ago, after a class on taxes at a writers conference, an attendee shook her head. “That teacher’s going to get a lot of people in trouble.” I couldn’t deny that some of the suggestions offered seemed risky. I disregarded most of what I’d heard as I made my way …

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When the Outlook Is Bleak

by Steve Laube

In the constant ebb and flow of this industry we have authors celebrating and authors in tears. Ask any agent and you will hear the same. For every author excited about their new contract there is another experiencing bitter disappointment.

And I wish I could fix it.

To hear the anguish is difficult, but to be the one who delivers the bad news is heart-wrenching. Why is it that they seem to come in bunches? So what do you do when you run into the inevitable disappointments the writing experience throws at you?

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Your Words Can Be More Powerful Than Technology

Today’s guest post is by Laura L. Smith. She is a best-selling author and speaker who lives in the picturesque college town of Oxford, Ohio, where you’ll find her running the wooded trails, strolling the brick streets, teaching Bible study at her local church, shopping at the Saturday morning farmer’s …

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Age Is Just a Number

by Steve Laube

Last Friday in the comments Dr. Richard Mabry wrote, “Tired after doing a few household chores that never used to leave me dragging. Now I’m ready to be up and dancing. Age is just a number, isn’t it?”

Then on Saturday I spoke at the Christian Writes of the West mini-conference where one of the writers asked “Do older writers have a chance? Especially if agents and publishers are looking for a long career investment?”

It is a great question. Does it matter how old you are? No it doesn’t. When your proposal lands on our desk or on an editor’s desk it is the words on the page that speak to us. I rarely even think about the writer’s age, ethnicity, economic status, or any other non-writing ability classification while I’m reading the sample chapters. Of course there are exceptions. A few times I could tell the author was very young by the way they were writing a romance scene…they simply had not yet “fallen in love” and couldn’t quite express it in a full way.

We have a number of clients who are in their 20s we also have a number who are in their 70s. What matters is whether they’ve written a great book and have a platform (for non-fiction) to sell it from.

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