Keller Media Blog

By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent

This is a continuation in a series of columns about mistakes that even the greatest writers make.  If you’d like to check out that the earlier posts, please click here:

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part I

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part II

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part III

voice#10: They Hide Their Voice

You will never be Ernest Hemingway, J.K. Rowling, Anthony Doerr, Maya Angelou, Stephen King or Patricia Highsmith (and neither will I, unfortunately!).  Their gifts are and were unique and all their own.  You will, however, be YOU.  And that can be an even better thing.  You’re not just telling a story, you are illustrating your mastery of the craft.  It is not just the information that you are presenting, it is HOW you are presenting it.  If you have been writing for long enough, even if you are influenced by other authors (who isn’t?), you will have likely developed a style all your own.  Don’t be afraid to show it!  Also, please make sure that your voice shines through your query letter as well.  Don’t drown us in metaphors and flowery prose, but a basic form letter will not entice us to request your manuscript from you.


#11: They Lose the Momentum

It doesn’t matter what type of book you are writing – fiction or nonfiction – when it comes to keeping a reader’s attention.  Most people don’t even read past the third chapter in a book.  You want to make sure that you are keeping them reading until that very last page.  You may ask yourself why – they have purchased your book, after all.  What other purpose can they serve?  They can recommend it to their friends and family (who will then, in turn buy their own copies), and they can become interested in what else you have to offer.  They will buy your next books (or your previous ones), they will want to attend your lectures, buy your products, etc.

So how do you keep them interested?  Do not try to do too many things at once.  Creating a new world and interesting characters is intoxicating, and it can be tempting to do as much as you possibly can in the pages that you are given.  However, things can get very muddled.

For instance, if you have a zillion characters, it will be hard for a reader to form at attachment to any one in particular, which in turn will lessen their desire to follow them on whatever journey they might be on.  If you are trying to do a romance-suspense-fantasy-self help-biblical tale, that might be too much for a reader to wrap their head around.

Aside from the confusion, the most common thing that happens is the writing just peters out toward the end.  Frankly, the author seems exhausted from having to try and twist out every single different character, plot choice, or chunk of information they can come up with.  Stick with your areas of strength and nurture them through the end of your book.


#12: They Forget to Show Instead of Tell

This is another common occurrence.  You may have a clear image of your content in your mind, but that does not mean that your readers do as well.  You need to paint that picture for them.  You need to make them see what you see, so they can experience your story as you are intending them to.   You don’t need to describe everything (sometimes a leaf can just be a leaf), but you need to make your world come alive for whomever you are sharing it with.

Also, you want to make sure that your characters are dynamic.  If they can act instead of react, let them.  Show us that they are angry, don’t tell us that they are.  Let us discover that they are brave or psychotic or shy.  If you are writing a self-help book, use success stories to illustrate how your methods work.  If you are writing a book on the battle at Gettysburg, don’t just tell your readers that there were 51,000 casualties; help them see and feel the scale of the loss.

pennyBy Wendy Keller, Senior Literary Agent


If you’ve been thinking about becoming an author because you know how much it will catapult you, your business and your profits into the big time, you need to know which option will give you the best results.

Deciding to write and market a book is likely the best marketing decision you’ll ever make. It will bring you opportunities for leverage, prestige, advertising, co-branding, customer attraction, visibility, market distinction and more.

But stepping onto the path to publication places you at a fork in the road. Should you self-publish, create an ebook, or seek out a traditional publisher?  What are reasonable expectations from each option?

In the old days, self-publishing was considered the loser’s choice – the only one for people whose ideas had no chance in the “real” publishing industry.  That’s not true anymore. Self-publishing means you pay someone to produce your book. Because you’re a customer to them, there is usually no or poor editorial development.  It may be produced in e-book format; created POD (print-on-demand, which means that no actual copies are printed until they are ordered); or the traditional method where you get cases of books to distribute. You keep the profits, minus production and marketing costs. There are over 1 million new books created every year in the USA, the majority self-published. To distinguish your book from this tsunami of words, you will need to market the heck out of it, just to rise above the din.

A self-published book is reasonably fast to produce. If you do it right, it can look as real as a traditionally published book (although usually, people skimp on the cover design to their detriment).  You can have your book in your hands in about four months.  If you work hard on the marketing at least three months before and six months after it releases, it may be successful.  Because my company designs and implements a lot of marketing plans for self-publishing authors, I know that a self-published book usually won’t get reviewed in the papers or get you any real media, but it makes a fantastic business card to impress your clients and can be leveraged (with effort) into a lucrative lead generator for your business.

The fastest option is creating an ebook. Write it, edit it, design it, edit it, edit again, .pdf it, and post it. You could have it up in 48 hours! You keep all the profits. Market the heck out of it and voila!  You’ll likely make some sales, perhaps generate some ongoing passive income and learn a lot about Google Adwords and SEO.  This method is best if you’re great at copywriting and you want to become an infopreneur.  There are plenty of people who claim to be making a fortune doing exactly this.  It will not have been vetted by any third party, but that may suit your purposes just fine.

If you choose to go after a traditional publishing deal, where an established publisher pays for the honor of printing and distributing your book, then you will need to get yourself a literary agent.  The agent is the person who acts as the broker between you and the publishers.  It’s almost impossible to sell a book to a publisher without an agent.  The process of getting an agent begins with looking up a list online of agents who handle the kind of book you’re writing, or getting a recent edition of my friend Jeff Herman’s book “The Insider’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents.”  Collect a list of at least 50.

Next, write a “query” letter to the agents.  This is where you succinctly entice us to believe your book will be profitable. Most agents accept queries by email or have a form on their website to facilitate your approach.  (  Send it to all of us simultaneously.  Some agents will ask for the proposal, the document you created to show off how marketable and valuable your book will be. The majority will decline.  (That doesn’t mean much unless everyone says no).  One or more might offer you a contract, especially if you are known already in your field or have a large social or other media following.

Once you have an agent representing you, that person will shepherd the process, editing your proposal, showing it to the appropriate publishers and negotiating a deal for you with the best one.  When the book comes out about a year later, you will earn about 10% of the book’s cover price, but their name on your content means you are “worthy” in the minds of the media and some consumers. Your profit comes when you implement a marketing plan that will force the book to grow your business.

These three options should be weighed carefully.  Each one creates its own type of following, revenues and customer perception.  The core principle is this:  a book builds your business, can catapult your career, anchors your brand identity and will be the single greatest marketing decision you’ve ever made if you do it right.

color brainBy Wendy Keller, Senior Literary Agent

There were about 160 people crowded into the room, some forced to stand, all waiting for my presentation to begin.  I felt flattered. It was Day Three of the writer’s conference and this was my third and final presentation at this event.

Suddenly, an idea struck me.  I decided to change my opening as I walked toward the platform.  I smiled at the crowd. I asked “Please stand up if you are attending your very first writer’s conference.”  About 40 people stood. I led the audience in wild applause for these brave folks.  So many people just talk about writing a book “someday” and never do anything about it.  They never attend a writer’s conference, never attempt to learn the craft or the business.  First timers deserve a round of applause, and frankly, so do you.  Congratulations on reading this article. It will help you understand how to train your mind to overcome the inevitable barriers, speed bumps and obstacles on the path to publication.

Back to the conference.  The applause died down and these brave souls settled into their chairs. I said, “Now, if you’ve attended two or more, stand up.”  The rest of the room stood.

“Remain standing if you’ve attended three or more.”  Some sat.

“Remain standing if you’ve attended four or more.”  Many sat.

“Remain standing if you have attended five or more writers’ conferences.”  About 25 people were left.  You could see them looking around, smiling broadly.  They were certain I was going to walk right up to each of them and hand them contracts from Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins.

Instead I asked, “Remain standing if in all this time, attending five or more conferences, you have completed a fiction book manuscript or a nonfiction book proposal, and shown it to any agents or editors.”

Every single person sat down!

I was as shocked as they were.  I wanted to yell, “How can you put all this energy into learning and no energy into doing?”  Wishing won’t make you a published author.  Writing, writing, writing and never submitting won’t make you a published author.  Only completing your project, submitting, learning from rejections (if they come) and trying again will make you a published author.

Are you somewhere in that cycle?  Wherever you are, I believe this book will help you.  After the conference, I became fascinated with the reluctance to finish, the hesitation to submit, the discouragement of rejections from the writer’s perspective.  The research I’ve done and observations I made have resulted in this book.  My sincere goal is to help muster the inner fortitude it’s going to take to go from a great idea all the way to Barnes & Noble.

You may well ask, “What does an agent know about rejections?”  After all, we’re the Evil Gatekeepers who prevent brilliant ideas like yours from even being seen by publishers, right?  I myself reject at least 95% of everything I’m offered, which is about the same percentage as most agents who don’t charge reading fees. I mean, c’mon. We’re the enemy, right?

I guess the difference is this: I’m an author, too.  At this moment, I have 28 published books to my credit, under six pseudonyms.  I write as a hobby, because I enjoy it.  I have no desire to do it full time. I’m not your competition; I’m a cheerleader for writers. I’ve been an agent since 1989, and sold hundreds of book rights all over the world.  I like selling other people’s work.  In fact,  the three most exciting moments of a book’s life while I’m in charge of it are:

1) When editors start saying yes, they want to see it.

2) When I get to call the author and say, “Guess what?  Your book is sold!”

3) (My most favorite) when the check clears.

Before I was an author, I was an award-winning journalist. I love to represent journalists, because we’ve been trained specifically in skills useful for every writer. I believe the journalist’s mindset will serve you well if you want to become an author.  The most important part is this: we’ve been trained to be unattached to the material.  That lack of emotional attachment is probably the single biggest skill I’d like you to learn.    If it were as easy as telling you that you should unattach from your material in all aspects, you could stop reading right here.  But for most writers, learning how to unattach, and what attachment looks like, is a slow process. Failure to do so is how they create their own stagnation as writers.

Let me explain what I mean by detachment and then we’ll get into specifics a little further on in the book.  When I was about 17 years old and a college freshman, I was an intern at the local newspaper.  I had graduated from high school a little early, and I felt I had to work extra hard to prove myself to my peers who were mostly older than me. The newspaper had me “cub” under a salty reporter from New York, Joel Millman, who had landed in this podunk town in Arizona for no reason ever apparent to me.  I thought he was a journalism god. Joel had me writing obituaries (boring!) and doing the weekly “man-on-the-street” interviews (stagnation personified).  That took about as much talent as it takes to color inside the lines.  I was chomping at the bit, so Joel finally let me have a story assignment. I was thrilled!

I selected and interviewed the people.  I took meticulous notes, trying to capture every word they said verbatim.  Then I began assembling my article the way my journalism professor had taught us.  I worked on that article, not counting interviews, for probably upwards of nine hours.  I wrote, rewrote, edited and rewrote.  I barely slept for two days.  It was my entire focus, my quick path to the precious Pulitzer.

Finally, I was ready to turn it in to Joel.  I crouched over his esteemed shoulder as he read it onscreen.  He shooed me away.  I crept back.  I watched him scroll down.  He finished reading my fabulous article.  It didn’t take long, since my entire allowance was just 500 words!

In his gruff New York accent, he yelled out “Keller!”  I was right behind him, and I said yes so enthusiastically I made him jump.  That was my last happy moment before I became a real writer.

He asked how long it had taken me and I told him.  He said, “This is…”  He began to highlight and scroll down the screen. “This, and this…” he scrolled. The suspense built. “This, this and this…”  I held my breath.  I was about to bask in his well-deserved praise.  I was so excited.  He kept highlighting.

“This is all %$#!.” He deleted the whole article!  The whole thing!  Not one measly word blinked on the monitor.  Nothing. Zero. Zilch.

He stood up. “It’s crap. You wrote this from your perspective, not the reader’s.  No one gives a %^$# about this (#@$. Do it over.”

He stood up and walked away.  Me, my notes, my pride, we all sat together in a crumbled heap.  It was over.  I had been deleted.

But I was not defeated.

After a few minutes, I felt rage – at myself, him, the unfair world. I re-wrote furiously. This time, I wrote it solely, overly, too much from the perspective of the citizens who would read the stupid thing later.  I was blistering with fury. I jabbed at the keyboard. I rewrote it in record time, spinning through my notes, papers whirling.  When I finished, Joel came to look.

He read the whole thing. I chewed hard on my lower lip.

He said one word, “Better.”

It got printed the next day!  I was a real journalist!

So what does that story have to do with you?  The two most important things you can learn as a writer are hidden in this anecdote from my early career:

  • No one cares what you want to write. They care about what they want to read.
  • If the people who control its publication say it’s not good, fix it. Period. No whining.

Remember those two things and you’ve got it made.

Let’s get started on working on your beliefs, attitudes, goals, dreams, aspirations and obstacles to becoming a successful published writer.  Because frankly, you don’t want to write just one book, do you?  No. Let’s be honest. You want to have publishers fighting over the rights to your second and third best-sellers.

The Gumption of Getting Started…or getting started again

So let’s begin.  How do you get through the “I want to write” stage to “I’m writing”?  How do you resume working on a manuscript that’s lost its steam?  What if your precious masterpiece has been rejected indiscriminately by a bunch of unconscious morons who don’t see its brilliance? (I’m an agent. Thus I claim the right to make fun of my colleagues and myself, and also to express the words I’ve heard from writers who didn’t know what I do for a living before they spoke.)

Motivating yourself takes two things: faith and guts, generally called “gumption” in certain parts of the country.  First, there’s the faith that what you are writing is worth your while – whatever that means to you – and then that you have the guts to see it through to its conclusion.

Some people tell me they write because they “have a burning story to tell.” Or they “don’t know how not to write” or the story just “percolates up inside them.”  The characters wake them up while they sleep. Others write by more logical choice, because it will spread their message, tell their story of heroism, inspire others, grow their business or speaking career, etc.  I even know a few people who are writing exclusively to pursue the dream of getting on Oprah.

Whatever your purpose, I think you need to be honest about it.  There are plenty of old folks out there who are writing to tell their life story to their kin before they die. They are writing from a position of legacy and if it gets published or if, like my first husband’s late grandmother did, they self-publish, the point is their life is recorded for posterity.

There are people who are writing for the express purpose of making the best seller list, starting a career as a full time writer, making money, whatever. I have written several pseudonymous books because I wanted to take a specific trip to Europe or remodel a certain room in my house. Whatever your reason, I strongly suggest you consider it carefully, write it down and use that goal as a motivator for the inevitable rough times ahead.

They will come.

Isolating your goal is Step One in how you overcome them.  Let’s isolate your ideal outcome as a writer right here and now.  On paper.  Please get a notebook, a scrap of paper, a paper napkin or a used tissue.  Doesn’t matter at all. The result does.

Take a few moments to visualize what success as a writer looks like for you. Be honest with yourself.  No one else is looking over your shoulder.  If you dream about being a best seller, why?  Do you want the TV appearances?  The money?  The screenplay optioned?  What is your actual, real, basic goal? What do you think you will gain by doing this work, perfecting your craft and achieving your goal?

Ponder this for a moment.

What about being on Oprah do you want?  Is it meeting her?  Proving to your mother she was wrong about you?  Your fifth grade English teacher who gave you that F?  Your lying’ cheatin’ ex spouse that you are worthy? It’s always a personal thing to write a book, because a book is like having open-heart surgery – you are bare for all to see.

Now that you’ve scribbled something down, distill it.  Break it into smaller pieces.  How much money do you think you’d make?  What opportunities do you think that would give you?  What would it say about you as a person – to yourself and those you wish to impress?


I want to see my book in the bookstore.

That’s a fine reason to write.  But why do you want to see it in the bookstore? Which bookstore?

I want to feel proud of my book when I see it at Barnes & Noble.

What about it makes you proud?  If all you want is to see it in the store, you can self-publish, sneak in, put a copy on the shelf and stare at it for a few hours.

I want my friends and family to see my book at Barnes & Noble.

Who cares what they think? Why do you care? Let’s get down to the truth.

I want to prove to my older sister Judy, the PhD, that I am as smart as she is after all.

Now we’re getting somewhere.  Now we’re closer to a real reason.  You want to get published to prove something to someone else.  This is a remarkably common reason to seek publication in my experience.  It also opens the playing field rather dramatically. If proving you’re as smart as Judy is your goal, then there are about 200 little “tricks” you can use to determine what to write that will show Judy once and for all that you’re smart enough to work the inside track of publishing.  In fact, if that’s your goal and it is your primary goal – and if you are flexible (like I had to be when Joel deleted my whole first article) – then I can almost guarantee you a book sale within 12 months if you have even a modicum of talent.

How’s that for a promise? But, instead of your great American novel, you may need to write “The Bartender’s Guide To Creative, Colorful Cocktails” even though you’ve been in AA for twenty years. But heck, Judy will see your name on that book at her local Barnes and Noble and voila!  You’ve accomplished your goal.  (Hey, that’s a pretty good idea.  Anyone want to send me a proposal on it?)

Restate your goal until you know from the bottom of your heart you’ve gotten to the bottom of your real reason to write.

Got it? Good. Now, using your favorite method, write it down several more times.  Make it your marquee screensaver.  Use felt and cut out little letters and paste them on cardboard.  Get crayons and write in on construction paper.  WordArt it in Microsoft and print it in four colors.  Paste it everywhere you will be in a day. Everywhere. On the inside lid of your toilet if you must.

Here’s why:  If you know WHY you want to write, the how will come much easier. I promise you that.

Secret Trick of Published Writers: Know Your Goal

Knowing why you really want to write is half the recipe for Gumption.  Not to be confused with Gumbo. The other half, of course, is guts.  You need the guts to overcome all the hurdles ahead. I promise you only this: their name will be Legion.

The Why you wrote down (and you did do it, didn’t you?  If you aren’t going to follow directions, stop reading this article and give it to someone who actually does want to get published.  I’m not making this stuff up and how many other people giving you advice have been responsible for the success of hundreds and hundreds of other writers?  Exactly. Not many.) OK.  The Why you wrote down and pasted all over your world is meant to give you the faith internally, but you’re also going to need to develop a thick skin externally – the outer shell. You can keep your soft, gentle artsy writer’s heart inside, your attachment to your work, your love for language, blah, blah, blah.  All that stuff.  But externally, you’re going to have to toughen up a little bit.

That’s guts. And that’s the next chapter.

By Wendy Keller, Senior Literary Agent


marketHow would your business grow if journalists were calling to interview you?  What difference would it make to your stature in your industry if you were to become the third-party verified expert?  How many more qualified customers would you attract if you gave the world a sneak peek into the depths of what you know so well?


The most expedient way to achieve all the above and even more customer-attracting benefits is to write a book.  There are many publishing models to leverage, and writing skills aren’t even necessary. (We got people for that!)  Becoming an author may be the most impactful, valuable, income-generating single marketing step you will ever take in the life of your business or career.


A client whose book I sold a few years back reported that his business profited an additional $800,000 the year after it released. Another client, a financial advisor to the ultra-wealthy, told me 9 months after his book released that his “business has tripled – I don’t have time to sleep anymore.”  (He wasn’t complaining!)  What could the almost-free publicity and prestige a book generates do for you?


Your specialized knowledge – what you know that few others do – is valuable.  Don’t believe it?  Then you’re probably suffering from “expert blindness”, a term coined by marketing genius George Silverman ( Expert blindness is what happens to someone like you who knows everything there is to know on a subject…except what it is like to know absolutely nothing about it at all.


The first step is to decide what your book will be about.  While your life story may be fascinating to you and your mother, book buyers only pay $20 for something that will give them a solution to a problem they have. The solution you should offer in your book is the same one your business provides.  From preparing taxes to lawn care tips, from consulting business owners to hiring the best attorney (you!), there’s a strong chance that you know something the world doesn’t – and is willing to pay for.  Even if there’s some similar content available online, gathering it all in a book gives you the “expert stamp of approval” and grants your perspective validity in the minds of the public.


Now go to and type in the keywords that relate to your topic.  “Sales, selling, salesperson, sell”, for instance.  See what else is out there.  If what you want to write is almost identical to one of those books, you might end up choosing to self-publish unless you can alter your content to create something new, different, better or which offers the consumer something more than those books.


Decide if you have the time, inclination or ability to write well. This one decision trips up most people, but like everything else in your business, it’s better to delegate your non-key strengths to competent people. Here’s a secret: most of the business books you see on the shelves were written by someone other than the person listed as the author.


The first thing that needs to be written is called a “book proposal”.  Never write a whole book until you’ve got a publisher’s check in your bank account already.  A proposal is the tool you will use to attract a literary agent.  Then, the agent will take that nonfiction proposal and use it to entice a publisher. In the US, it is almost impossible to sell a book without an agent. Once you get an agent, you will trot down the well-worn path to success pretty fast.


You will have about a six month window to capitalize on your book. Done right, it will bring you unimaginable opportunities for publicity, marketing, advertising, co-venturing, and helping your company and your career grow.  A book is as a fabulously impressive business card and can help grab market domination or just astronomically increase your revenues. Compared to other marketing strategies, “writing” a book may be the best investment of your time and knowledge that you’ve ever made.

If you want to get your book published by a real publisher, you may be making a crucial error that will cost you your dream. Every single aspect of how books are bought and published in the US has changed in the last 36 months.  Few would-be authors have access to the information they must know to succeed. Until now.

brainBy Wendy Keller, Literary Agent

The statistics are scary. More than 1 million new books were cataloged last year. The explosion of ebooks and the closure of the Borders chain skewed the numbers that publishers have relied on for 75+ years when making decisions about which books to publish.

Massive industry-wide layoffs and the closure of many literary agencies have dried up opportunities for new authors like never before.  Books that would have received a six figure advance just a few years ago are now lucky to get $25,000. Books that might have gotten $25,000 are lucky to be published at all.

Agents are forced to screen potential new projects much more carefully because publishers screen potential new projects much more carefully.


The publishing industry has chickened out.  Even while I am disappointed by my industry’s new methods, I also realize their absolute economic necessity.  Now, publishers insist on the “sure bet”.  With every editor capable of losing his or her job over the next flop, they want to be certain your book is going to be a profit center for their publishing house.

There’s just one way to assure them your book is worthy: “Platform”.  A platform is a large, growing group of fans who are following you, trusting you, buying from you, and who consider you a thought leader in your subject area.

These days, the first question every editor asks every agent when we pitch them on a new book is, “What’s the author’s platform?”

Lucky for you, there’s a loophole.


The loophole may well surprise you.  Smart would-be authors overcome their initial resistance to the need to build a platform before the book is published or even CAN be published, so your next question is, “OK, how do I build a platform fast?”

The loophole is: size doesn’t matter.  Growth does.  That’s right.  While of course it’s  fabulous if you have 200,000 fans, that’s hard to achieve in a reasonable amount of time.  But if you have, say, 5,000 this month (a very doable number) and you have 5,500 next month (10% growth) then you’re going to get attention.   The growth percentage is appealing because…



If you do the right things, the ones that will prove you’ve got a winner, publishers will be all over you! And if there’s even a whiff that publishers will like what you’re doing, agents will clamber for the chance to represent you, especially now.

Turns out, somewhere along the path of my life as an award-winning journalist, PR Newswire employee, selling scripts in Hollywood and now over twenty years as a literary agent, I’ve learned how to quickly get to the bottom of “What’s sexy?” What angle in your book is most likely to get the public to pay attention and buy? How do authors like you attract that attention, leveraging the time, talent and other resources at your disposal now?

I can answer those questions.  For fun, I’m the author of 31 published books under 9 pseudonyms.  I’ve been featured in all kinds of media including Dateline NBC, Hannity & Colmes, Politically Incorrect, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Glamour UK, Playboy, Dr Phil, and hundreds more. I know how to get you media attention before and after your book is published – and I can teach you.

Given my unusually well-suited background, I may be the most qualified person in the publishing industry who can advise would-be authors like you on exactly what to do and how to get the platform you need, so you can get a publishing contract.

I invite you to invest in a consultation with me. I will dedicate an hour of my time.  We will focus on precisely determining what has kept you from success so far and how to fix it. You will discover how to make your specific project attractive to a great agent (maybe me) and then a great publisher, so you come a successful published author.


Let me explain something: I won’t let you waste your time.  And I never waste my time.  Not on stubborn unpublished writers; not on projects that have no future; and not on people who are unwilling to carefully consider expert advice. (I’d make a crummy therapist.  I expect results too fast.)

The way it works is you sign up for an hour with me now.  You’ll be offered a selection of appointment times.  You can send in written questions for me to review if you wish and I’ll review your proposal (again) too.

Most people who consult with me say it was “a huge turning point” or “a mind-opening experience”.  Some of them are published now, others will be.  When we, you’ll see things the way a publishing insider views them – a whole new perspective.

People are always stunned that the hour flew by so fast.

You will emerge with a crystal clear game plan for What To Do Next to get your book on track for publication – customized to your specific content, your goals and who you really are as a person.

There are an estimated 1,782 proposals sloshing around the industry at any given time for every one that gets a deal.  Are you The One?  Do you want to leap over the competition, attract an agent, get a publisher and finally become a real author? Then take the first step. Click the button below to get your game-changing hour with me.  It’s even guaranteed or your money back!  That’s how sure I am that we can transform your publishing journey in just sixty fast minutes.  Give your book a fighting chance – get an expert on your side today.

Rent Wendy’s Brain

By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent

This is a continuation in a series of columns about mistakes that even the greatest writers make.  If you’d like to check out that the earlier posts, please click here:

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part I

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part II


#7: They Procrastinate

I am without a doubt guilty of doing this myself.  It is amazing how many unimportant tasks that I feel the need to work on instead of the main one at hand.  You are emotionally attached to your book project; likely you are not so invested in your distractions.  Your motivation (or lack thereof!) is understandable.  I hear you.  But now I’m telling you to STOP IT.

If you have a proposal you need to put together, some sample chapters, a whole manuscript or even a query letter, it is time to finally check this off of your list.  You need to be honest with yourself and determine what time of day works best for you.  Are you a morning person?  Are you only able to write at night after your spouse and children have gone to bed?  ONLY write at that time!  This will minimize the likelihood of getting distracted.  Also, choose a place that allows you to focus.  Are you a Starbucks regular?  Can you shut the door to a particular room in your hose?  Are you able to write at your desk at your day job?  Finally, find an accountability buddy.  This is a person who is trying to accomplish a similar goal to yours.  Agree to certain goals and then call each other twice a week to check in on one another’s progress.  Encourage each other and help yourself to stay on task!

Also, one of the areas that authors procrastinate with the most is that of platform.  Whether you are a fiction or a nonfiction author, there is no time like the present to get started!  Even if it is taking baby steps.  It can take a while to establish an audience, and you want your platform to be as strong as possible when you start pitching agents.


#8: They Have Too Much and/or Unrealistic Dialogue

While some writers struggle with writing dialogue, many writers find this part of your book the most fun to do.  Dialogue is a great way to establish rapport between your characters, while also conveying theme, mood, and emotions.  With that being said, there is such a thing as too much dialogue.  Conversations between your characters need to serve a purpose – if the exchange doesn’t establish something about the story, plot or character development, edit it down or out completely.  If the conversation simply rehashes events that have happened in earlier scenes, consider taking it out.  The more dialogue you have, the more likely it is that the readers’ eyes will start to wander and the real verbal jewels you’ve created will get lost in the shuffle.

Also, please consider reading your dialogue aloud.  It can be you by yourself at your desk, it can be you and your girlfriend, it can be you and a group of friends.  Either way, try reading some of the exchanges between your characters aloud.  If a character sounds unrealistic, readers will have a harder time relating to them and wanting to continue alongside them on their journey.


#9: They Have a Protagonist Named Jake

This is a personal pet peeve of mine.  I was at a writers’ conference recently and had to laugh out loud when the agent doing the keynote brought up this very idea.  I thought I must have been the only one who was tired of reading about dozens of young, good-looking guys named Jake!  (Jake is almost always a writer, too, which I’m sure is not coincidental.)  I have nothing against the name itself, but rarely does anything set these guys apart from one another – they just aren’t interesting and don’t bring anything new to the table.

Other examples of this include women in science fiction books described only as having red hair and “voluptuous chests” or collections of essays about people the author has dated.  You are not like every other person on this planet – why shouldn’t your protagonist or book idea get the same chance?



Dear Literary Agent,

I submitted queries to ten different agents over the past few weeks and I have only heard back from one – a rejection.  Why have the other nine not responded?  Should I consider their lack of response as a rejection, too?  Should I call them to follow up?



Holding Out Hope


Dear Holding Out Hope,

Waiting for that fateful email or phone call is hard, isn’t it?  I can understand your impatience.  Even the busiest writer will find it difficult to lie back and relax when their publishing future is waiting for them out there somewhere.

So why hasn’t the agency responded?  There are a few reasons.

  • They are flooded with queries. This is more likely than not the case.  We get a minimum of 12 queries a day, meaning we have at least 60 queries a week – that’s 3,120 queries a year!  And that is just the bare minimum.  Many larger agencies will have double or triple that many – maybe more!
  • They are not accepting new submissions. This should be indicated on their website.
  • You did not follow the submission guidelines. Make sure that you do your research for each agent/agency.  Does your book fall into a genre they are looking for?  Did you send the query as an attachment (we prefer attachments, other agents won’t open them)?
  • Your submission got caught in a spam filter. Less likely, but it happens.
  • They are lazy or mean. Also less likely.

What can you do?

  • Be patient. Allow at least one month to pass before hassling anyone.
  • If you have not heard anything after one month, you can email the agency. You may not get a response, but email is more likely to be replied to than a phone call.  If you still do not get a response, let it go.  It may seem rude, but you should use this lack of attention as inspiration to seek attention elsewhere.
  • Meanwhile, keep pitching your project! We recommend sending it to at least 30 agents – three times the number you have submitted to so far!  Do your research and choose agencies that are actively looking for books like yours and have a track record in selling them.
  • Keep tweaking – perhaps you need a stronger query letter? Maybe you need to think outside the box when it come to choosing agents.

No matter what, don’t give up!  If publishing a book is truly your dream, stay strong and keep doing with it.

We wish you the very best of luck with your book!

Megan Close Zavala and the Team at Keller Media


Want to submit a question to be answered here?  Email your question to



Dear Literary Agent,

I live in southern California and have noticed that there are several writing conferences that are held throughout the state each year.  I have been looking into attending some of the events, but sometimes the registration fees are a bit expensive.

Is it worth it for me to go to conferences like these?  What would the main benefits be?  Do you think I could definitely find an agent at one?


A Writer without a Conference


Dear Writer without a Conference,

This is a great question.  I speak at writers conferences all over the country, and I enjoy doing it quite a bit.  So let me begin by telling you why I attend conferences:

  • I enjoy meeting writers. So much of my job is done via email and telephone, with very little face-to-face interaction.  I enjoy putting a face to a name and talking to authors in person.  Whether or not it is a project I will represent, I enjoy giving advice and helping writers work on their pitches, figure out their next steps, etc.
  • I get to chat with colleagues. Again, so much of the business is done via email that I don’t get to see other agents or editors as often as I would like to.
  • I love sitting in on workshops and classes. I often present at these conferences, but I also love hearing what other folks have to say.  At the last conference, I learned so many Twitter tricks from another agent speaking about social media!
  • I love meeting potential clients!

Why shouldn’t you go?  Going to a writers conference doesn’t guarantee you a book deal.  You run the risk of hearing the same thing you have been hearing for years and know all ready – make sure your characters are well-rounded, make sure you spell check your work, make sure you build your platform.

Why should you go?  Because it’s a lot of fun.  Also:

  • It will be beneficial for you to meet other writers, even ones who are writing in different genres. You can network and share advice.  You can laugh over (or cry over) horror stories.  You can encourage one another.
  • You are frequently given opportunities to pitch agents and editors, or have them do an advance critique of your work. Even if you do not “get a deal,” you will still receive valuable feedback.
  • You will likely have a delicious buffet of courses and workshops to attend. Maybe you want to work on your dialogue skills.  Maybe you need some help putting your elevator pitch together.  The instructors are folks who are motivated to help you – not out of the kindness of their hearts, necessarily, but because they hope you will be an author they can work with someday.
  • You may just get that life-changing deal!

All the best to you on your writing journey – we hope to meet you at a conference one of these days!



Megan Close Zavala and the Team at Keller Media


Want to submit a question to be answered here?  Email your question to

By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent

overviewThis is a continuation of an earlier column that I wrote on mistakes that even the greatest writers make.  If you’d like to check out that post, please click here: What Good Writers Do Badly, Part I


#4: They Don’t Understand Their Book’s Place in the Marketplace

Do your research!  Look at other books in your genre and ask yourself what those authors did right and what they didn’t do so hot with.  What makes your book better?  In a nonfiction book proposal, there is a section that is titled the Competitive Analysis.  This is where an author will list five or so books that are similar to theirs and say what each book does well and what they don’t do as well as the author’s.  This demonstrates that people are currently buying books like yours and that yours provides something better than what is already out there.


#5: They Don’t Offer Something N.D.B.M.

N.D.B.M. is an acronym created by my colleague Wendy Keller.  It very simply stands for New, Different Better, or More.  This is another way of zeroing in on your book’s uniqueness in the world.  Has there been a book like yours before?  Does your book touch on previously written about material, but from a different angle (perhaps Gone with the Wind from Rhett Butler’s point of view)?  Is your book clearly better than what is currently out there (maybe you have greater expertise in the subject matter)?  Does your book provide the reader with something more than they have had before (perhaps your book educates readers about the new miracle diet AND includes a workbook)?  Fiction or nonfiction, this is one of the first things that any agent or editor looks for.


#6: They Have Difficulty Focusing

What is your book about?  That sounds like a very basic question, but it is the most important one that you will need to ask yourself during the writing process.  You need to choose the main thesis or storyline and then structure your book or book proposal around that.  You are (hopefully!) extremely passionate about your book and its’ subject matter.  You want to share your wisdom or your intricately drawn characters with the world.  You want to inspire or inform or entertain.  Your excitement is, more often than not, a strength.  However, if you start doing too many things with your book (too many subplots, trying to please too many people, not knowing which direction you are going in), this can become a major weakness.  Your book’s momentum will suffer, and you risk the chance of confusing your readers.  Readers need to know what they are getting and be pleasantly surprised when they get it – don’t lose them along the way.

By Wendy Keller

voiceYou have surely heard that people make a decision about whether they like and trust you within seconds of first meeting you.  The same is true when you send a query to a literary agency…the first few sentences make a huge difference in what happens next.

The following sentences will grab attention right away.

#1 Best First Sentence:  Your Ability to Reach Your Audience

“I am a professional speaker…” tied with “I have a Facebook following of 45,000….” Or “I am the host of my own podcast, reaching 134,000 people every 2 weeks.” Or something else that identifies you as someone who already reaches a large number of people with your content.

Why? Because publishers and agents are greedy. We actually expect the products we create (books) to make a profit so we can all stay in business.  People who have even a slight ability to reach others (blogging, speaking, podcasting, media, whatever) are valuable to us because we know you can be groomed to sell more books than someone who has been sitting on their backside waiting for the Attention Fairy to make them interesting, motivated and famous enough to get some attention on their topic.

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