Tag s | Pitching

Brainstorming: How and With Whom?

Brainstorming is one of the fun parts in the development of your book. There are two keys to making it a productive experience.

Willing to Listen

The key is a willingness to hear other ideas. If someone says “your idea won’t work” the first impulse is to be defensive and take offense. That isn’t brainstorming. Instead look at it as an exercise in creativity. No one is saying you have to accept any of the ideas that come up in the discussion. But there might be something there that can improve your work.

Finding the Right People

The second, and a more critical key, is discovering those with whom you should brainstorm. Those people need to be willing to have their ideas rejected in the discussion and be willing to let an idea they create to be used by someone else. It takes a special person…often a professional…to achieve that.

I’ve heard complaints from some authors who try this in a critique group only to be frustrated. Egos get in the way or the ideas generated are singularly unhelpful. Or the discussion doesn’t move the project forward, instead it gets sidetracked by numerous differing opinions on the direction of the piece. More than once I’ve had an author claim, after I’ve pointed out a structural error in their manuscript, that “this was what my critique group thought should happen.”

That is not to say that critique groups are bad. Hardly. Only that some authors have experienced frustration if the mix in their group is not helpful.

If you have a good relationship with your editor they can be a great sounding board for ideas (but be considerate of that editor’s time). Your agent can also be a safe place to play with concepts. While sometimes the two heads can bump into each other…painfully…the ensuing friction usually creates a spark…the spark of creativity and not contention.

All Genres

This is an exercise for both fiction and non-fiction. Many times a non-fiction writer needs a nudge to redirect the focus of their work to give it strength and a stronger punch.  Or the realization that the book idea is actually a better magazine article. Brainstorming isn’t just an exercise for novelists.


Years ago, at a writers conference, a well known author gathered a number of published writers together in the late evening and declared, “I have a new book contract and need a better plot than what I have, can you guys help?” Over the next couple hours that group created a dynamite storyline (which is now in print!). That is brainstorming with a group at its best.

I once sat in a publisher’s conference room while a novelist and two editors plotted out the storyline for the author’s next book. Words and phrases were thrown on a white board, often striking out ones that no longer fit. When complete, the sequence of events were transferred to notecards and the board was erased to start the next section. At the end of the day the stack of cards was rather thick. The author quickly numbered each card, slapped a rubber band around it, and declared, “Now all I have to do is write it!” (In case you are wondering, this author liked to write from physical note cards. That doesn’t work for everyone.)

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting a client in her home. After a wonderful dinner with her husband we sat in the living room and brainstormed a critical part of her next novel. We created dozens of ideas and discussed what worked and what didn’t. We also thought through the implication of those ideas for the third book in her series. In the end we didn’t necessarily settle on a specific direction, but what it did was unleash her to create freely. I look forward to reading what she comes up with. There may be echoes of our discussion in the final version, but the exercise alone was kindling for the fire of creativity.

Your Turn:

Where do you go for your brainstorming sessions?

Do you have a successful brainstorm session you can describe to us?


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The Ultimate Sound Bite

Can you boil the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea into twenty-five words or less?

This is one of the keys to creating a marketing hook that makes your idea sellable in today’s crowded market.

You have less than a minute to make that hook work.

It is also called creating the “elevator pitch” or the “Hollywood pitch.” The goal is get the marketing department to exclaim, “We can sell that without any problem!” And ultimately to get a consumer to say, “I want that” or “I need that” or “I know someone who should have that.”

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What Does Your Reader Need?

I attend many writers’ conferences, as an author, speaker, and agent. As a result, I meet and become friends with many fine people and outstanding writers. At a recent gathering, I enjoyed a spirited and stimulating conversation with an aspiring author who has a passion for reaching readers with the …

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Author Says / Agent Hears

Many aspiring authors communicate things they think are positive, or at least in the spirit of honesty and transparency, but end up being understood entirely different than the intended message. In an attempt to show commitment, an aspiring author says, “I’ve been working on this book for ten years.” An …

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The Wild Pitch

In honor of the upcoming baseball season I thought it would be fun to explore the art of pitching.

A couple years ago I was watching a Major League baseball game and the pitcher unleashed a horrific throw that sailed about eight feet behind the batter. It floated to the backstop without a bounce and everyone in the stadium wonder what had just happened. It looked like the pitcher lost his grip and could not stop his delivery. In baseball terms this is classified as a wild pitch.

Unfortunately many writers unleash a pitch on an agent or an editor before it is ready to deliver. Let me list a few actual letters I have received.

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Five Ways Getting an Agent is Like Dating

At a recent writers’ conference, I enjoyed my first “speed dating” experience. Maybe I should clarify. “Yes, you should,” says my wife. These were “speed dating for writers” sessions, in which writers sat down for rapid-fire five-minute appointments with editors, agents, and authors (many conferences provide writers with the opportunity …

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The Twelve Statements Before Christmas

I pondered whether I should write this post in verse to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, but since there would be a lot of copy/paste activity involved, I didn’t feel like readers would get their money’s worth. Instead, I’ll do this in simple list form, focusing on …

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