Monday, March 24, 2008

Come See Me At

Okay, if you hadn't noticed, I haven't been to this blog for a while. Sorry, but three blogs is just too many. But please come see me at

Find Your Magic (My J Scott Savage Blog for the Farworld Series)


Six LDS Writers and a Frog (With five other cool LDS writers and an amphibian)

Please come on over. I've missed you!!!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ten Tips

Hi all, been awhile I know—illness, travel and a new job, combined with finishing the next Shandra book, has slowed me down a lot. But the good news is, Shandra’s nearing competition, I just mailed out all the contest winners, and we have no sick people at our house. Yahoo! I’m also mailing out my first newsletter today.

Also, just wanted to give you a sneak peek at a presentation I’ll be giving to the League of Utah Writers this Wednesday night, the 25th of January, at the Provo Library on University Ave. It’s free whether you’re a member or not, so if you’re in the neighborhood, come on down, and invite any writers or aspiring writers you know—the more the merrier.

The topic is 10 tips guaranteed to get your work looked at by an agent or editor. I can’t give as much detail in a blog as I can in person, but if you can’t come, this may still give you a few things to think about.

10—Know exactly who you are writing for and research the competition.

I hear it all the time. I write romances. I write mysteries. I write thrillers. Great, but what makes your stories different from the ten-thousand people out there who write the same thing? Does the LDS market really need another romance writer? Maybe, but only if his or her books stand out. Please don’t tell me, “I can’t change my genre just to please some publisher.” That’s bologna, on stale bread, with rancid mayonnaise. If I told you today that Random House would pay you a six-figure contract for a children’s horror novel about man-eating dolphins that terrorize suburban Detroit on gas-powered scooters, you’d have it to me inside of a month. Why waste you time on a novel that’s been done a thousand times over or that has a readership of two including you and your mom?

Figure out what sells well in your chosen genre, come up with a unique twist, and write it well.

9—Make your query letter shine.

Sounds obvious right? And yet I see query letter after query letter that puts me to sleep.

I am writing to you in regards to my partially completed novel, My True Love. This is the story of a boy and a girl and their quest for love against all odds. Despite their family’s disapproval they know that destiny has put them together . . .

I have shown this to twelve different people and they are all lining up to buy it. Everyone thinks it’s great. I have actually had people tell me that I should be a professional writer. It’s THAT good! This is the twelfth novel I’ve written and I’d be happy to show you the others as well. They include SF, Fantasy, Romance, and Mystery, which I understand all sell well.

Agents can receive hundreds of queries a day. Does this query stand out at all? No. It’s full of clichés, it sounds desperate, it sounds weak—it will be thrown in the trash.

There are lots of query packages you can put together, but let me make a simple recommendation for a national agent or publisher.

First page—An exciting ONE PAGE excerpt from your novel. If this page is not so good that the reader must see what happens next, either find a page that does the trick or rewrite your book.

Second Page—A back of the cover blurb. This is a sales pitch. Sell the agent or publisher. I don’t need to know the whole story, just enough to hook me. No more than three brief paragraphs.

In 1962 six second graders disappeared into an abandoned Utah gold mine at an end of school picnic. Five were found alive, but one little boy was never recovered. After three weeks of searching, the mine entrance was sealed closed with the boy’s body still somewhere inside.

Now, over thirty years later, someone is killing off the mine survivors, and clues point to the ghost of the child who was never found. Small, seemingly idyllic, Twin Forks, Utah hides a terrible secret. Police Chief, Cal Hunt, must discover that secret to save the citizens of his town from a something more evil than he has ever faced. But first he’ll have to overcome his disbelief of the supernatural enemy that lurks within Dark Memories.

Third Page—A basic cover letter. Make this very simple and to the point. I don’t care what your profession is unless it directly impacts the story. I don’t care how many things you haven’t published. Only what you have. So if you haven’t published anything, don’t tell me about it. Don’t try to sell me here. Just state the facts and ask if I want to see more. DO provide your phone number and e-mail. Acceptance of novels never comes in your SASE.

Fourth Page—If you have a good, high quality 8x10, include it. If not, don’t spend your money on one now.

Finally, one single typo can get your query rejected. Believe me, it happens. Proof, proof, proof.

8—Use 24# paper and laser quality printing. Use a printer service if need be. Look professional and have a better chance of being viewed as professional.

7—I stress this all the time, but please be aware that the beginning of your book is the most important. You have one sentence to win the right to a second sentence, one paragraph to win a second paragraph. Most submissions are never even read past the first page. Unfair? Of course. But who ever said the publishing biz was fair?

Make your first page/chapter count. See my writing tips on beginnings. Let me give you two quick examples.

Sunlight sparkled like tiny diamonds off the crystal blue water of the lake. The air was fresh with the scents of pine and Aspen. In the distance, the sound of a chattering woodpecker could be heard bouncing through the woods like a forest snare drum. Kathy thought back to the first day she had discovered this cozy nook.


The funny thing about discovering a human head is that it’s always in the last place you look.

Which makes you read on? “But I write romance,” you say. “There are no human heads in my book except the ones that are attached to human torsos.” Okay, how about this.

I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and the reason I’ve never found Mister Right is because he was cruelly crushed to death at the age of eight by a stampede of runaway flamingoes. That, or possibly, he was the guy I ran into at the deli section of Albertsons last week. Could I help it that he stepped in front of my cart? And really, he didn’t need to glare at me just because he spilled his marinara sauce down the front of his khakis. But he did have cute eyes.

Grab me. Hook me. MAKE me read on.

6—I referred to this above in Queries, but do not let any typos slip into at least your first three chapters. Nothing will be mistake free for an entire manuscript, but make sure the first three chaps are clean. Have friends look for typos. Read the chapters from back to front. Read it out loud. Do not assume that the editor will overlook the typos and find the great story inside.

5—Come up with a marketing plan. Small publisher, big publisher it doesn’t matter. I heard from an LDS author who recently signed with Covenant that before signing they asked if she would be willing to maintain a website, do book signings, promotions, etc. They also sent out a similar message to current authors. The competition is hot and heavy these days and the author who has a promotion plan definitely has a leg up. You may want to mention your marketing plan briefly in your cover letter.

Okay, I think that’s long enough for one BLOG. I’ll give you the rest tomorrow. And I also have one tip so out of the norm, so unexpected, so contrary to everything you’ve been told that I will only present it at the event. And I promise that most people will reject it out of hand. See you there.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Why do we write?

The other day I was doing a work project with some people from my ward and a guy asked me how much I make on an average LDS novel. Some people are kind of cautious about answering that, but until I can say, “Well over six figures,” I don’t think I have much to hide.
So I told him that I usually make a little over $10k. He looked at me strangely for a minute, and then asked how long it takes to write a typical book. After some quick mental calculations, he shook his head and asked, “Why even bother?”

Now, being the witty, clear-tongued writer that I am, I came up with a retort that left his brain spinning. He agreed that indeed, I do know exactly what I am doing and that he might even try writing a book himself. So, having straightened out another confused reader, I toddled over to Jerry’s for a big Pastrami Burger and fries.


Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly what happened. Maybe I mumbled something about how I was going to make more money on my next book—it really takes awhile to build up an audience. And hardcover books earn higher royalties. And then there is the whole national market, where people can potentially earn BIG bucks. Although most don’t . But, well, you don’t know if you don’t try . . . Until, he nodded in kind of a confused way and went to talk to someone who actually made sense.

So by way of penance, I’d like to try and explain why I write and maybe find out why you write (if you do.)

The thing is, it’s all a little confusing. I hear people say, “I couldn’t stop writing anymore than I could stop breathing.” At which point I usually think that they must go through a ton of paper. But seriously, I think I could stop writing. Yes, it would be hard to have all that free time—although my kids might wonder who that guy is who used to live upstairs with the desk and computer. But I’d survive. Would I miss it? Yes. Would I turn blue and pass out? I don’t think so.

Is it about the money? Yes and no. I don’t go fishing just to catch fish. I like being with nature. I like the smell and sound of the water. I like the relaxation. And I’m happy fishing even if I don’t catch any fish. But if I knew the lake, pond, or stream had no fish at all, I wouldn’t fish. The chance that I’ll catch something makes it all come together. I feel the same way about writing and money.

Is there any serious writer out there who doesn’t at some point dream about the huge advance? About receiving a foreign royalty check that would pay for a three week vacation in that foreign country? You don’t plan your annual budget around it, but the fact that it is—at least theoretically—possible, makes it exciting. Going back to my fishing analogy, what if a HUGE fish is just about to take my bait? If there was no chance of ever making a dime, I’d probably still write, but not as much, and it wouldn’t be quite as fun.

But it’s not all about money. I know how much a typical LDS novel makes and yet I still write them instead of spending my time selling herbs and vitamins to my neighbors, or guarding some car lot at night, or stocking shelves, or any number of things that would probably make more money.

I love the thrill of writing an especially suspenseful scene. I love hearing my wife laugh when she reads a funny part. I love bringing may family up into my room and having each of them type one of the last five words that finish my book. I love typing THE END. I love holding my book for the first time. I love going into a library and finding that my books are checked out. I love when people tell me I kept them up until two in the morning. I love thinking that in Heaven my grandparents might be reading my books. I love knowing that I do something really well in a way that no one else can. I love thinking that maybe my great, great, grandkids will enjoy my books one day. I love helping new writers discover how talented they are. I love it all.

So that’s my answer. Next time someone asks me I’ll be prepared.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Friends and Family -- Why it's good to share

A friend of mine who is also an author recently complained about families or groups of friends buying one book and sharing it. Her point was that it cuts back on the number of sales an author makes and therefore their income. She compared it to people checking books out of the library instead of buying.

Let me respond quickly and clearly. Share my books. Please. Pass them to your uncle, your aunt, the nephew who showed up to last year’s Thanksgiving bash wearing women’s Lycra pants, flippers, and a pair of lensless ski goggles. Share them with the postman, the garbage man, the grocery store clerk, the barber. In short, pass that thing around until the cover is falling off, the pages sag like a basset hound’s ears, and no one even remembers who it actually belongs to.

Why? I know there are a bunch of author’s shouting, “But think of all the people who are reading your book for free!” That’s exactly what I am thinking about. Every person who reads my book is a prospective customer for the next book I write. They know my name. Hopefully they like my style and characters. It’s the best publicity I could ever ask for.

At least once a week, I go on-line to the local libraries and check to see if my latest release is checked out or on hold. Every time it is, I make a mental checkmark. There’s a person who’s going to be looking for my next book. Will they check it out from the library next time? Maybe. And I’m okay with that. I lived in the library as a kid. I was the only eighth-grader I know who cut school to go to the library—sometimes even the school library, which didn’t always end well. But the authors I discovered in the library back the, I buy now. Often in hardback.

Imagine that for free you could introduce 5, 000 people to your books, or 10, 000, or 100, 000. Tell me that isn’t invaluable. Every time I sell a book to someone who says they are buying it for a friend or family member, I tell them, “Borrow it back when they get done. And then pass it around.” It’s called the family library and it works.

Oh, and by the way, when you borrow or check out one of books, bend the page corners. I know the librarian may give you a look. But I love it. When I go in, I can check the places where you put the story down. It helps me understand how my pacing worked out. The only time it makes me unhappy is if you stopped reading in the last 75 pages or so. That high-intensity real estate. If I wasn’t gripping enough to keep you reading through to the end, I messed up.

Chocolate fingerprints are okay with me too.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Contests and Scene Changes

Wow, too long since my last entry. Too many things going on at once. Work, finishing up the new Shandra book (tentatively titled Dead Again,) writing a new national supernatural thriller, the usual change-of-season family illnesses. You name it.

The good news is that the Mystery writing contest was a resounding success. I've received over 30 entries from 10 different states and one from Germany. And let me tell you, the judging is going to be tough. There are some great entries. I've asked five other authors to help me pick the winners, but I will respond to every entrant personally. I was really amazed at the quality and creativity. (The human heart in the BBQ was quite a surprise!) I'll keep you updated on the entries and the judging right here so stay tuned. Winners will be announced on the 12th and if I get permission, I will post all of the entries.

I expect to post the December contest tonight. I think it will be a lot of fun and definitely a change of pace.

My second item of business is something that I will elaborate on further in my next writing tip, but I thought I'd get your feedback first. The other day I read a comment that really struck home. It was in regards to screenplays, but I think it may fit into writing fiction as well. The comment was, "Enter the scene late and leave it early."

What does that mean? Well let's start with the first part.

How many times have you started a chapter with, "The desert sun pounded like a blowtorch on the deserted Indian village. The smell of sand and sage carried on the air like . . . (more description) Tom pulled into the dirt road in front of the dilapidated hut, got out of his car and knocked on the door. The old man peeked through the window. 'Go away,' he shouted. 'No one wants you here!' "

Is that bad? No. But does it pull you into the chapter? Not as well as it could. What if we tried this?

" 'Go away,' the old man shouted through the window of the dilapidated adobe hut. 'No one wants you here.'

'I need to talk--'Tom stepped out from under the shaded porch. Before he could get to the window the wrinkled face disappeared. He pounded on the door again, but there was no response from inside. Great, he thought, pulling a faded red handkerchief from his pocket and mopping at his face. He'd come over five hundred miles to stand out under the blowtorch sun in the middle of a deserted Indian village like a blasted Gila."

See the difference? In the first example we have to read one or more paragraphs before we get to the meat. As an author, our first thought is to set the stage if you will. We want the reader to see the images unfolding in our heads. But what if you jump right into the scene and then provide the background information (scenery, time of day, characters, etc.) as the scene unfolds? This pulls the reader right in.

Let me give you an example from my own writing. In chapter two of my second national, a man is driving down a twisty mountain road late at night. The chapter ends with him hitting a woman who suddenly appears out of the misty night. I found myself struggling over how to begin the next chapter. It just seemed too slow to have him open the door, look back down the road, get his flashlight, and so forth. But do I really need all that? Instead I began the chapter with:

"The woman was dead. If he hadn’t known by the glazed blue eyes staring up into the beam of his flashlight, the impossible angle of her thin white neck would have left no doubt."

Then I have him step out of the ditch where he found her and look around for help as I fit in the swirls of mists glowing red in the car's taillights etc. The reader understands that he got out of the car and found the body, and I get the immediacy I want.

So what about leaving the scene early? Same concept. Get the biggest bang for your buck. How about this example of the end of a chapter.

"Roy glanced down the side of the sheer cliff. He was over two hundred feet in the air. If he fell . . . He shuttered just thinking about it. Concentrating on the job at hand, he shifted his weight to a large white rock jutting from the side of the mountain. Only twenty more feet and he'd be safe. Just as he reached for the next handhold, the rock he was standing on gave way.

"No!" he screamed.

He scrambled for something to hold onto, but everything around him seemed to be in motion. The cliff face in front of him sped by. Rocks and dirt tumbled past as he picked up speed. (And so on.)"

Not such great writing, but quite a cliff hanger huh? (Sorry I couldn't resist that.) Now try ending the chapter at "the rock he was standing on gave way." You have to turn the page and see what happens. Go ahead and start the next chapter with, "No!"

So what do you think? Does this apply to fiction as much as it does to film or am I up in the night?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Story vs. Marketing

In a recent post to an LDS author's forum, the question was brought up of story vs. marketing. Most authors would prefer to do nothing but write. Why spend what precious little spare time you have attending book signings, doing promotions, worrying over contracts? It's kind of the, "If you build it they will come," philosophy of writing. Just write a good enough story and you won't have to do marketing. This is my response:

In the Pigalle district of France, in the attic apartment of a crumbling brownstone not far from the Moulin Rouge, lived a moderately successful painter. Every morning he gathered his latest works and traveled from gallery to gallery offering his creations to the tourists that browsed the shops.

One day the painter asked himself, Why must I spend my time toiling like a beast of burden? I am an artist. I will spend my time creating. I will paint such a masterpiece that I will never again have to bother with selling my wares.

And so, he locked himself into his apartment. He set up his canvas and began to paint.

But this time he was not merely brushing colored oils onto fabric. He was laying his soul bare for all the world to see. With every ounce of talent and energy he possessed, he applied his lifeblood to the surface in front of him. He wept, and the tears blended with his paints giving them greater clarity. He screamed in despair at his lack of ability to communicate what was inside him and the despair took on a life of its own on his canvas. He imbued his work with every sin, error, and folly of his life, and in doing so gained absolution.

Forgoing sleep, food, or any outside interruptions of any kind, he toiled night and day until, at least, he was finished. Standing back, he looked at what he had created, and beheld . . . a masterpiece. I’ve done it, he said to himself. No one who sees this work will ever question my genius. Years from now, centuries, scholars will study this piece and shake their heads in wonderment.

And so, after carefully wrapping the painting he’d sacrificed so much for, he started toward his door. But a voice spoke up in his head. A voice which asked, Why must you take your creation out to the masses? Does the sun come calling to the planets? Does the ocean beg like a street urchin for others to bathe in it? Do the heavens shout out, “Here am I. Look at me!” No. I will not take my work from the place of its creation.

No longer will I beg the gallery owners to display my work, he decided. My masterpiece will not adorn the side of coffee mugs or be splashed across the covers of calendars. I will stay here with my work and wait for the patrons of the arts to come to me.

Two weeks later, starving and penniless, he wondered out into the street and was run over by a passing bus. Because he was so emaciated, no one recognized him and he was buried in a pauper’s grave.

At the end of the month, when the landlord had not received his rent, the nearly blind old man opened the painter’s apartment and gathered up all the belongings to sell in the market. On top of the linens, pots, pans, easels, and paints he placed the masterpiece. On his way to the market, the old man’s cart hit a bump and the painting slid from the pile to land in a farmer’s field.

A goat quickly discovered the painting there. After giving it careful scrutiny, he took first one bite, then another, and another, until at last he had eaten the entire painting, frame and all. With a loud belch, the goat thought to himself, I may not know art, but I know what I like.

The moral of this overly long story is (to alter one of my favorite sayings): Write as though everything depends on your story and market as though everything depends on you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The LDS Book Market

Something is happening in the LDS book market. No one seems entirely sure how it will shake out and whether it will be good or bad, but it is happening. As an LDS author I have to react to it, but how do you react to something you can't even clearly define.

On the one hand, the number of independent LDS bookstores is decreasing rather dramatically. Also, from everything I've heard, Deseret Book stores are cutting back on the number of LDS novels they carry. This would lead you to believe that fewer people are buying LDS books. But, if anything, the number of LDS readers seems to be going up. There are more LDS books, higher quality writing, and a greater variety of books than ever before. So what gives?

Is it possible that the very increase in available books is hurting LDS bookstores? Imagine there are only twenty LDS novelists cranking out 1 book per year. There are two or three publishers. An LDS bookstore has it pretty easy. Order lots of each of those books, get a good discount, and make money.

But now imagine there are 80 LDS novelists representing a dozen publishers. How do you pick and choose which books to carry? Obviously you focus on the top sellers. But there are only a handful of LDS authors that really guarantee high sales and those titles are heavily discounted by everyone from Wal-Mart to Amazon. The rest of the titles all kind of fall into a mid-list hodgepodge. Instead of ordering twenty of each book, you order four of each.

Now, you don't get the best discount, you need more shelf space to give each book decent exposure, and with more new books coming out each month, the shelf life of the average book is much shorter. Jack Weyland's books stayed on the shelf for decades. The typical new LDS novel may only be available for a year or two now in most stores. That means you may end up taking a loss on the books that don't sell quickly enough.

So what does this mean to me as an LDS author? First and foremost, the increase in variety and quality of fiction is good for everyone. If each new book wins over twenty people who didn't read LDS fiction before, everyone wins. Five years ago I hadn't read an LDS book other than the Work and The Glory. In the last month I've read 6 excellent LDS novels ranging from humor to fantasy. As a reader I have definitely benefited.

On the other hand, with fewer stores I am more dependant than ever on the big chains. It’s also harder to stand out from the crowd. It’s not enough just to be a good writer. You have to be a very good writer, with marketing and sales skill at your disposal. We may very well begin to see the stratification that has taken place in the national market where there are so many titles coming out, but most people have only heard of JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, John Grisham, etc.

As a writer, I have to decide whether I am content being one of the mid-list or if I want to be one of the handful of bestsellers. Obviously I choose the latter. Over the next twenty-four months I will be trying to climb that very slippery slope. I started when I decided on my new mystery series. I am trying a variety of new marketing strategies. I am putting more time into selling this book than I ever have before. I'll keep you updated on how it goes.