Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer by Carl Vonderau

This guest post is by Carl Vonderau, who is sharing his Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer.

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer

Do people call you analytical and you know it’s not a compliment? When I reveal that I had a career in banking, I often see several words flash in a person’s eyes: boring, unimaginative, stodgy. Then I tell them I wrote a thriller about a banker who is the son of a serial killer. Is that surprise or fear on their faces? Most of us can be both creative and analytical. I move back and forth from one style of thought to the other, but they both—thankfully—intrude on one another.

Here are a few issues and tips. Because I’m a left-brainer, I’ve numbered them and used bullet points.

1.    You need more time to let your creative juices rise to the surface.
   Actually, the opposite can be true. Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” The trick is to get your internal editor out of the way by forcing your mind to hurry. Some people set up a timer and type like mad for a half hour or less. I write the first draft by hand, which makes me feel as if I’m trying to catch up to the story.

2. Should you solve a problem, find a problem for a solution, or look for a never-before-considered concept?
   Most of us believe we should begin with a problem and move toward the answer. But I know thriller writers who write the ending first then start from the beginning. Bank executives knew that their systems could perform most client operations without people. So what was the problem that solved? Working parents needed to bank after five o’clock.
   Sometimes creativity is just combining two or more ideas that haven’t been put together before. Apple Computer became the largest stock in the world by packaging existing technology into a unique computer and phone. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer by Carl Vonderau
3. How do you get outside of that stodgy, linear self?
   Change your routine. Start the day by reversing the way you eat breakfast.
   Take an idea and remove an essential part. New possibilities will bubble up. Removing a recording mechanism created the Walkman. 
   Think of your product as part of a story in someone’s life. How does it pivot them from disappointment to victory? Then figure out why and who else could be in that story.
   Give your mind a break and wash the dishes. A mindless task provides a slight space in which the idea you’re working on can resonate.
    Stop typing and ask, What if? What would happen if you changed an assumption? How about changing a conclusion? Then what if…

4. When do you let the critics go after you?
    When nurturing an idea, avoid premature evaluation (Hmm). Don’t talk to anyone at first. Your idea will be an easy target because it’s not thought out. Worst of all, you might cede your revolutionary concept to someone else’s more stodgy one.
    Get your idea down in a paragraph. Discuss it with one open-minded, not critical person. Some scientists believe that the most powerful discussion arises in pairs. Think: Watson and Crick.
Build it out. Then whittle and pare it down. Some of your brilliant insights just don’t belong. Mark Twin is credited with saying, “If I had more time, I would have made it shorter.”
    Go to that critical, nitpicking group you’ve avoided. Prepare to be humble. This is where you learn the places where your genius has missed the barn. Try to thank them.
    Embrace your failures. Get used to starting over. Paul Taylor revolutionized dance. At one performance a reviewer said, “Three girls, one named Twyla Tharp, appeared at Albert Hall last evening and threatened to do the same tonight.” Ouch!  
Issue 6. How about the problems that just won’t cooperate?
    Don’t fight them. Toni Morrison says that if you surrender to the wind you can ride it.
    Take a sideways approach and ask how the failure of a product or idea tells you about its strengths.
    Sleep on it. Even daydreaming works. It did for Einstein!
    Put your groundbreaking idea away for a week (or a month). Then: OMG, the solution is so obvious.
    Laugh. Go hang out with colleagues. Watch a sitcom. Listen to a politician. Laughing opens the mind to other connections.
    Get help from someone. Maybe that totally uninformed person who just joined the company, the one who has no choice but to consider the basics of what you’re proposing. The problem just might be more fundamental than you realized.
    Keep grinding. If you have the feeling you’re close but just can’t quite grasp it, continue struggling. Maybe work on it in a different venue.
    Follow the advice of the Simpsons. “You’ve tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: Never try.” All right, you’re not like Homer, are you? Angela Lee Duckworth found something in all great achievers: grit. It allows you stay in a painful place while working hard to improve, again and again.

Issue 8. Executive Summary (We’re left-brainers so we have to have this.).
You’re not hopelessly uncreative, despite what your spouse tells you. In fact, you’re that rare combination of creative and analytical abilities.  

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer by Carl Vonderau
Carl Vonderau grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed that God could heal all illness. He left that behind him when he went to college at Stanford and studied economics. Somehow, after dabbling in classical guitar, he ended up in banking. Carl lived and worked in Latin America, Canada, and North Africa, and conducted business in Spanish, French and Portuguese. He also secretly wrote crime novels. Now, a full-time author, he also helps non profit organizations. He and his wife reside in San Diego, where their two sons live close by. Check out more about him and his upcoming thriller, Murderabilia, at
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Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query

Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query. Guest post by Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

Guest post by Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query

One: The Hook

Having a strong sales pitch for a book can go a long way. We sometimes call this the elevator pitch. I like to work with authors that know how to speak about their book in a concise and interesting way. This is everyone's first impression of a book, so the hook should go right upfront in a query letter in order to draw the reader’s attention in. I like to think of it as the thesis line for a query letter. In a snapshot we should get a sense of what the book is about in movie tagline fashion. Here are a couple of examples of good hooks:

A dark secret born out of World War II lies at the heart of a Sicilian American family in this emotional and sweeping saga of guilt, revenge, and, ultimately, redemption.

They say she’s a murderess. She claims she’s innocent. But Lucy has been known to tell lies…

Two: Comparative/Competitive Titles

Sometimes it is easier to say that a book is “this meets that” than it is to go into a longer description. That’s where the comp title process can be helpful. Dreaming up a good comparative or competitive title can help place a manuscript in the minds of literary agents and book editors trying to figure out where a book might go on their list, or where it might go in a bookstore. This is also helpful to a publisher when they are trying to figure out how much to offer for a book. Publishers will run what is called a profit and loss statement or a “P&L” and the magic numbers they will plug into that sheet are usually the numbers on books they feel are similar. We as author and agent would much rather be the ones to give books with stronger numbers to publishers as comparisons! Bookstores will also eventually ask the book publisher for comps they feel are similar, so a writer that has a few comp titles assembled will be miles ahead in the book publishing process.

Three: The Book

Of course we need to know more about the book and what makes it exciting! I speak more about the urgency of a book's story in this interview. A couple of paragraphs should be devoted to some of the exciting plot details of a manuscript and perhaps speak to some of the development of the characters. Demonstrating some of the plot will be more important to commercial fiction, whereas literary fiction tends to be more concerned with character development. Careful not to spoil too much here the description! This is more so about enticing readers into wanting to know more and taking this opportunity to showcase one's writing abilities. It is helpful to model these paragraphs off of the descriptive copy used on the back of book covers and book product pages. That will lend a comfortable feel for how this information is presented, especially since a lot of strong query letters go on to become jacket copy on published books! That is why writing a knockout query letter is so important.

​Four: Author Bio 

In the last paragraph of the query letter we should see the author bio, along with some more ancillary information such as relevant writing experience and writing credentials. Writing experience can mean many different things. Sometimes this is a matter of having been published in literary magazines or literary journals. Other times this can mean publications online or in papers. Writing credentials can include things such as an MFA, PhD or even attendance at a prestigious writing workshop such as the Yale Writers Workshop, Iowa Writers Workshop, or Breadloaf. A writer should tell us a bit more about themselves too. Info such as how they came or writing, what has influenced them and perhaps where they live and what they do in their day-to-day. After all of that info it might be good to include a link to an author website or author social media pages.​

Five: Personalize the Address 

If an author wants to get the attention of a literary agent, we cannot forget this important point. When opening a letter, it is nice to see that a writer took their time to do their research to know who the literary agent is and what they are about. For how awkward would it be to send a query for a children's picture book to a literary agent that specializes in romance/women's fiction? This is a way to make the query letter attention-grabbing, since this is a writer's chance to make their letter unique to the receiver. For instance, a writer might consider visiting my Facebook​Twitter or LinkedIn pages to learn more about me and the types of books I have been working on and they can mention something they learned in the opening of the letter. It shows that the writer took some time, care and attention to detail.

Surprise: Bonus Content!

​In addition to the five points above, this item is something of a special surprise. A very lucky writer might approach the query letter with some pre-publication blurbs or endorsements in-hand. Having a quote from a bestselling or award-winning author can go a long way. Literary agents love to receive queries with blurbs since that helps make the query more attractive to book publishers. Some authors are only willing to provide endorsements after a manuscript finds a publisher, but others might make an exception. Some authors might provide a blurb based on a sample of the manuscript too. Keep in mind that it is about quality over quantity when receiving such endorsements. 

Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query. Guest post by Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb
Mark Gottlieb
Mark Gottlieb is a prominent literary agent working at book publishing’s leading literary agency Trident Media Group in New York City. He has ranked highly among literary agents across the industry for overall number of deals and other individual categories. While at Trident Media Group, Mark Gottlieb has represented New York Times bestselling authors as well as major award-winning authors. He has optioned and sold numerous books to production companies and studios for film and TV adaptation. Mark Gottlieb greatly enjoys working with authors to help manage and grow their careers with the resources available at Trident Media Group. In addition to having worked at the company’s Foreign Rights Department, he also ran the company’s Audiobook Department. Utilizing his drive and intuition for discovering talented writers, he is currently expanding his client list of authors. As a literary agent he looks forward to bringing authors to the largest possible audience.
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How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.

Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.

How to get the most out of a book fair

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.
Book fairs can be daunting – especially the big, international ones like London and Frankfurt. They are meeting points for thousands of publishing professionals – agents, publishers, booksellers, distributors, licensers and buyers and sellers of rights – and a lot of what they do can seem somewhat remote and arcane to the average author. Having said that, in the twenty odd years that I’ve been going to book fairs, I’ve noticed they’ve become a lot more author-friendly. These days, they can be great places for authors to keep abreast of publishing trends, as well as to meet other authors and network. Here are a few tips on what to do when attending your next book fair.

Come prepared
The last thing you want is to turn up at the fair and wander around aimlessly for hours trying to work out (a) where you are, and (b) who to talk to. Before you arrive, take the time to study the fair’s website. Decide which conferences and seminars are relevant to you and find out where and when are they happening. It’s a good idea to book ahead for the popular ones. Also look at who is exhibiting. The book fair app will contain a map of the hall so you can familiarise yourself with the layout and locate the stands of any publishers of interest. The London Book Fair (LBF) now has an author club, with its own newsletter, discounts for author events at the fair, and a chance to get your book into the hands of agents and publishers.

Listen and learn
Book fairs often host fascinating talks by authors in which they talk about their journey to publishing success, be it through conventional means (getting an agent and then a publisher) or by self-publishing. There are seminars in which industry experts offer authors advice on how to get their work published, as well as panel discussions about trends in the publishing industry. A recent innovation at LBF is ‘The Write Stuff’, a Dragon’s Den-style event in which authors pitch their books to a panel of literary agents in front of an audience, bidding to win a follow-up meeting with an agent.

Take advantage
Book fairs are great places to meet publishers, editors and agents, so don’t be shy about going up to them and introducing yourself. Remember though that most of the people on the stands are rights sellers meeting with other publishers, so they won’t have a lot of time for authors. Occasionally you may be lucky and meet an editor on a stand, but this is unusual. The best time to meet publishing professionals is by booking an agent one-to-one meeting (available at LBF) or at networking drinks after the fair has closed.

Finally, remember that book fairs aren’t all about hard work. They are also great places to socialise and share your successes and woes with fellow authors. Don’t wear yourself out by trying to do too much. Plan ahead and try to be disciplined about what you do and see. At the same time, always expect the unexpected: book fairs are brilliant places for serendipitous meetings, usually in the coffee queues. One final tip: book fairs take place in enormous exhibition halls and entail an awful lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes!

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.
Dan Brotzel
Dan Brotzel (@brotzel_fiction) and Alex Woolf are co-authors of a collection of a new comic novel, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound). To pre-order Kitten on a Fatberg for a 10% discount, quote KITTEN10  

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.
Alex Woolf 

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