John Corey Whaley: How to Market a First Novel

Wherethingscomebacklogo My first novel, Where Things Come Back, is edited, copyedited, the typeset has been approved, and I’m in the process of reading through what’s called the “first pass” to check for any typos before the book is sent to print. The cover, back cover, and content for the two inside flaps have all been approved as well.

So, now what? The book still doesn’t hit stores for another seven months!!!

Have no fear, there is plenty to do before the novel’s release. The main objective, at this point, is marketing. I’ve recently planned my second trip to New York City, where I will be meeting with the head of publicity for the book. This meeting is for two reasons: to go over the national marketing plan that Simon & Schuster has in mind for my book, and to discuss options for local marketing that can be handled by me. Authors, especially unknown, first-time ones like myself, can decide between letting all of the marketing for their debut be handled by the publisher, or working hard to garner additional interest on their own.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: There isn’t much a first-time novelist can do to promote a book all by himself aside from holding book signings, readings at local libraries, and the like. But, I’ve been considering several different ways of promoting a book in the age of social networking and the internet. Here's what I have so far: 

Idea #1: Facebook/Twitter Campaign. This is done often to promote movies, television shows, and other books. Because these tools are free advertising, it would be silly to exclude them. 

Idea #2:  Viral Marketing. I’m no expert on marketing or anything, but I do know what has always struck my interest. I’ve always been fascinated by the way that movies and television shows, and some products, are able to promote themselves through humor, mystery, and viral videos and websites. I already have a graphic designer friend to help me create some posters and a website for the novel, and, using my connections at local universities and public schools, as well as a connection I have in the Louisiana Public Libraries, I intend on using as many venues as possible to promote the book in this manner. Because it’s a YA novel, meant for ages 14 and up, I feel like a campaign such as this could see some amount of success. 

For now, these are the things I’m working on and thinking about in regards to the upcoming release of Where Things Come Back and it’s all so very exciting and surreal. I’ve also been spending more time working on a second novel and am happy to report that I’ve reached the halfway mark on it. I’m excited to complete a manuscript that I won’t have to wait years and years before getting an agent to read it.  

In fact, Ken Wright is reading the first 100 pages as we speak. 

Happy Writing,


Corey Whaley hails from Shreveport, LA, where he teaches sixth grade english. He signed with Ken Wright, a literary agent at Writers House, last fall using WEbook's AgentInbox query service. His debut novel, Where Things Come Back, was purchased by Simon & Schuster early in 2010.

Read more about Corey's amazing story.


NaNoWriMo Mania: One Month, One Novel

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiRes WEbook veterans will probably remember William Tiernan (penname:TsungChi) who was an editor for WEbook's 101 Things Every Man Should Know, and our community specialist. Anyone who keeps up with writing news is also probably aware that November is The National Novel Writing Month, and it's almost here. 

Well, it just so happens that William will be participating in the NaNoWriMo experience, so we decided to have him document his journey on the WEbook blog. Throughout the month, he'll share his successes, failures, and everything in between via regular blog installments. We also encourage anyone else participating in the NaNoWriMo to contribute their own perspective in the comments section.

The official kick-off is next Monday, but here's a little intro to get everyone warmed up and ready for the long haul.

Take it away, William!

Think you’ve got what it takes to write a 50,000-word novel? Whip up a detailed outline. Write a first draft. Scrap it. Write a second draft. Burn it. Write a third draft. Tolerate it. Rework it. Slash paragraphs and add new ones. Revise and revise and revise until each sentence is perfect. Finally, a polished manuscript. And the entire process only took up a year of your life.

Now imagine writing the same 50,000-word novel in 30 days. No, not 300. 30! Broken down into digestible chunks, that’s 11,627 words per week; or 1,677 words per day; or 70 words per hour; or 1.1574 words per minute. No matter how you type it - PC, Mac, iPad, Netbook, or typewriter - that's a handful of writing.

I'm of course referring to NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. The NaNoWiMo website touts November as “Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon.” The end goal: a 50,000-word novel - or NaNo.  

A literary cheetah would love the NaNo: it transforms the novel writing process from marathon to 100-meter dash. The NaNo won't let you obsess over word choice and sentence structure. It won't let you endlessly revise paragraphs. And it won't let you sleep much. What it will do is silence your internal editor. It will liberate you from writer’s perfectionism. And it just may liberate you from your day job, friends, family members, pets, and significant others. Whether any of this is good or bad is entirely up to you.

Nano_09_winner There are huge benefits for participation. First, it's social. Join me and other WEbookers here in the blog to share NaNo successes and setbacks, swap plots ideas and conflicts, invent creative ways to kill off pesky character, procrastinate, or just keep each other awake. Second, NaNoWriMo awards a winner's certificate to those who cross the finish line. Third, the satisfaction of finishing a novel. Finally, the product. It’s not going to be perfect, but your NaNo may prove to be a perfect springboard to that polished manuscript. Heck, maybe it will lead to an agent down the road! Some quality stuff has to surface from hundreds of hours of concentrated writing, right?  

My 2008 NaNo fizzled out at 30,000 words, but I’m jumping back in for 2010. I just finished the manuscript for my first YA novel; what better time to bang out a sequel? Start formulating your characters and plots. Just 3 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes until November...

WilliamSTiernan William Scott Tiernan will happily respond to “William” or “Scott” or “Tsung Chi” — and he enjoyed being called “Mr. T” by his former middle school students. He doesn’t enjoy being called “Hey, you!” by his 3-year-old daughter. He may be 0-1 on NaNo, but he’s written for
YourTango, The Laurel of Asheville, Western North Carolina Parent, and of course, WEbook. He’s seeking representation for his YA novel, Dornoch Walking.


The Social Network and Narrative Structure

TheSocialNetwork A few weeks ago, we covered a little know fact about The Social Network. That is, the screenplay was actually based off of the book proposal of Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, rather than the manuscript. 

I finally got a chance to see The Social Network over the weekend, and noticed some things that also pertain to our discussion about creating original characters and plot lines from last week, and decided that a follow-up post was in order. 

First and foremost, I thought the movie was very good, and well worth the price of admission. Aaron Sorkin (who also penned A Few Good Men, The West Wing, and Charlie Wilson's War) fills every scene with the witty dialogue for which he's known. Plus, it's a well-told and interesting story that was easy for me to connect with. 

The reason I connected so well with The Social Network was because it operated within a very clean narrative structure. The major thematic question of the film—whether or not Marc Zuckerberg was a bad person—was addressed openly in the first and last scene, while everything in between illuminated the issue. The film developed clear protagonists and antagonists, escalated the conflict in steady increments (using a clever flashback technique), and came to a satisfying conclusion after almost exactly two hours. All things considered, it was a expertly told story. 

This was interesting to me on two levels. First, (and this related to the previous Social Network post) I am virtually positive that the reality of Facebook's creation did not have such a well-defined narrative arc. Part of being a good storyteller (like Mezrich and Sorkin) is molding events so that an audience can connect with them better. I think this is why The Social Network drew some criticism about being inaccurate, but I also think its the main reason I enjoyed watching it.

Second, (and this relates to the original character and plot post) the structure of The Social Network is entirely unoriginal—you could almost call it 'cookie-cutter.' And the plot, while certainly original, is also extremely well-known. I went into the movie knowing how it was going to end. Zuckerberg was going to be sued by his best friend (and a few others) and he was going to make an out of court settlement.  

On paper, this should be a disaster—a familiar story told in a familiar way. However, Sorkin made each main character at least somewhat complex, and he infused every scene with dialogue that left you grinning and giddy. As I said before, richly drawn characters are all a story needs to draw me in. I was sold.

Did anyone else see The Social Network? Do you agree with this assessment? Disagree? If you have't seen the film yet, does this make you more or less inclined to see it now?  If none of these questions interest you, how about just shouting out your favorite Aaron Sorkin script?

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The Character Schedule Writing Challenge: Winners!

20100216writingchallengeblog Wow! There were a TON of amazing submissions to The Character Schedule Writing challenge. If you're new to the challenges (or to WEbook) these are short writing exercises geared towards helping authors improve a specific aspect of their craft and promote a healthy discourse between contestants. 

We were blown away by the inventiveness and energy that populated these entries, it was truly a pleasure and honor to read them all. In a post earlier this week about creating original fictional characters, we stressed the importance of giving characters specific and unique details to them stand out to a reader. Nearly every entry achieved this in one way or another, offering a special quirk or behavior pattern that made the character come alive. Great job everyone!

We picked our usual 3 winners, but have also decided to include another bunch of submissions that caught our eye. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the entries worth reading, and I encourage everyone to peruse the submission pool, if you haven't already.

The Winners:  

A Day in the life of the Repo Man by E_M_Delaney
Working From Home by stuart
Wile E. Coyote by Polti 


Model of Good Behavior by OliverxHenry, Concealed Contraband by WordsAndMusic, Time to Kill by djpr, MIA. by theviolentblue, Ode to a Thursday Schedule by DragonflyGray, A Hunger by Georgehoward, The Nihilist's List of Things To Do by klemenkie8, and Battle of the Drunken Soldier by ShanaPupik

Congratulations to the winners, you will receive your PageToFame coupons soon!

Pumpkin2 The next challenge is already open and Halloween themed: The Pumpkin Challenge. If you have a spooky story in you waiting to get out, this is your chance. The deadline is 11:50 on October 31st, so if you're planning to go trick or treating, better get your submission in early!


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How to Create Original Characters

Seven basic plots There's a saying I've heard writers throw around, "There are no new plots, just new characters." Some writers even argue that there were never that many plots around to begin with (see Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots). 

I agree with both sentiments, and I think the writer's struggle for an "original" story is both futile and unnecessary. In most cases, the characters are what make a narrative feel new and interesting, not the plot.

However, this brings up another issue: there aren't really any new characters, either. Just like Booker's basic plots (Quest, Comedy, Tragedy, Journey and Return, ect.) there are also basic character archetypes (hero, villain, wise-man, mother figure, ect), and they've all been run through the fiction grinder time and time again.

How do you make an old archetype seem fresh? Details. Ever since The Odyssey, people have been telling stories where the hero has a tragic flaw (Macbeth, Jay Gatsby, Don Draper). These characters are still compelling because they are richly drawn— they're given their own quirks, tics, and unique experiences. Without these details, the worn-out and tired nature of this archetype crawls into view.

I feel like this is a subjective topic, though. Different people connect with different parts of stories. For example, I thought Avatar was flat-out boring because the characters were about as unoriginal as humanly possible, and I couldn't get past that. Yet, loads of people didn't care because the world James Cameron created was compelling to them. 

So, which part of a story do you connect with the most? Plot, setting, character, theme, premise? Some other part I didn't mention. It's temping to say a mix of everything, but see if you can nail down a #1. Mine's character, all the way.


How to Market Your Novel, Starting with the Query Letter

6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b I have this fantasy. It goes like this: I’ve published my first novel. Naturally, it receives great critical acclaim followed by brisk sales. My heretofore na├»ve publisher decides that they were horribly wrong about not sending me on a publicity tour, which they correct immediately. I find myself in an NPR studio, probably in D.C. (where I’m about to move!). After we talk for a while about my wild success and limitless talent and potential, the discussion veers towards the writing game and the faith required to do it against such odds.

I’m asked to give advice to the great unwashed masses of struggling writers and I do of course (being magnanimous, and now rich). I mean, I was just one of them after all. More or less, I say the same thing every writer who talks about writing says: You’ve got to write the book you want to write. If you don’t, you’ll never get published. And then I think back to when I was a book editor, and add: But you have to be aware that acquiring editors are hugely concerned with selling to a particular market and marketing in general. Their jobs depend on it sometimes.

This is where my fantasy breaks down, because the interviewer shoots me a confused look. And I don’t blame her. How can you write the book you want to write and be concerned with writing for a particular market while also formulating an erstwhile marketing plan? It’s hard enough just finishing a damn manuscript. Now, in addition to writing something compelling, fully realized, and with an original plot, I’ve got to make sure it’s perfect for a specific target market (Teens? Women? Vampires? Teen Women Vampires?) and I also have to be savvy enough to jumpstart the marketing plan myself?

Here’s why I’m wrestling with this: I’m currently trying to land an agent—not successfully, I might add—and I think it has to do with my lack of attention to the market/marketing part of the book-selling equation. I wrote a literary novel about a guy who goes back to his suburban hometown, which is not exactly a new or obviously marketable trope. But it was the book I absolutely wanted to write, so I got half of the “success” equation nailed, right? Now I just have to figure out how to make it seem timely and market-driven and well, different. And then express that in my query letter.

It took me a while to figure this out. Which is scary, because, as a former book editor, I should know better. But I’ve sent out a dozen query letters and had only a one request for partial and one full read (which led to a very nice “no thank you”). Somewhere between finishing the manuscript and basking in the glory of all the compliments I got from my readers, I figured the thing would sell itself. Wrong. I have to set the “marketing” scene for a potential agent before they even read it. That way, they have an idea how to sell it to an editor, who in turn has to convince his/her publisher or an entire editorial board that the book is worth their investment. But it all starts with me. I have to set the stage. I have to plant the seed about how, and to whom, to sell my project.

Which means: I have to get back to work.

This week’s question: How have you overcome the marketing/write-your-story divide? Or how do you plan to? Who do you see as your target audience?

JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit

Writing Challenges: Non-Dialogue Winners!

20100216writingchallengeblog It's time to announce the winners of the bi-weekly writing challenge. If you're new to the challenges (or to WEbook) these are short writing exercises geared towards helping authors improve a specific aspect of their craft while promoting healthy discourse between contestants.

The Non-Dialogue Challenge was one of the hardest WEbook contests to date. It's difficult to portray specific thoughts and emotions without the help of spoken words, and without sounding cliche. It was nearly impossible to write a passage that wasn't full of character winks, nods, gazes, and shrugs, but the ones that caught our attention also slipped in some extra zest of original action, description, or chemistry between characters.

The winners are:

Bedtime Ritual by Michelle4Laughs
Champagne, Anyone? by CTKevinK
Opposites by Green_Regol

Honorable Mention

The Girl of His Dreams by sigmundsquirrel 

Congratulations to the winners! You will receive your PageToFame coupons in your mailbox shortly.

Schedule The next challenge is still open until 4pm on Friday, October 15th. The Character Schedule Challenge is a fun one with some more room for creative flourishing than the Non-Dialogue Challenge allowed, so if you felt cramped, now's your chance to open up! 

Not a member of WEbook yet? Create and account and join a writing project or rate a PageToFame submission! 

Non-Fiction Essay Writing: What Is Creative Non-Fiction?

Creative non-fiction is a relatively new and somewhat slippery genre. By relatively new, I mean that the term tip-toed it's way into graduate and undergraduate writing programs in the 1970's, and was officially recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983 (up to that point, the NEA only awarded grants to fiction and poetry writers).

But what does it mean, exactly? Is it akin to magical realism—mostly truth with a pinch of "creative" zest thrown in? Is it non-fiction written about creative things, like finger-painting or interpretive dancing? Apparently, the answer is elusive enough that Creative Non-Fiction Magazine includes a big green button on their homepage that asks, "What is Creative Non-Fiction?" and links to an answer.

To be honest, I wasn't exactly sure what definition I would find behind this circular button, but my general idea about the term turned out to be correct. Essentially, creative non-fiction is a written work that accurately describes real people and events, but uses literary techniques and tropes to do so in a "compelling, vivid manner." (that last bit comes directly from Lee Gutkind, father of creative non-fiction and author of the green button answer).

After considering this definition for little while, I decided that the explanation was disappointingly broad, and ultimately nothing more than an umbrella term for most non-fiction outside the realm of textbooks, academic essays, and how-to articles. 

For example, works like John Krakauer's Into Thin Air, Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea could all be considered creative non-fiction because they employ devices that increase the narrative force of the events they describe, but they are better defined in more specific terms (travel memoir, gonzo journalism, and historical non-fiction, respectively). 

To go a step further, controversies over accuracy in works like Men Mezrich's Accidental Billionaires (which was discussed in the post Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network, and Writing Advice) make the definition of creative non-fiction even blurrier. It's unclear to what extent your "literary techniques" can distort the truth before they move  your book into the fiction section.

I'm interested to hear other perspectives on this issue. Do you think creative non-fiction is a useful term? Would you consider yourself a "fan" of it? Do you think there is a substantial difference between creative non-fiction and well-written non-fiction? Was Ben Mezrich a little too creative? Does it damage the integrity of his book?


Where Things Come Back, by Corey Whaley: The Cover Release

Wherethingscomebacklogo I am beside myself with excitement to be presenting to my fellow WeBookers the official cover to my debut novel, Where Things Come Back. I knew right when I saw it that it was the perfect fit for this novel. I will admit that I waited with much anxiety for it to arrive, but had no doubt that my editor and the team at Simon & Schuster would come up with something spectacular.

They knew, for instance, that it was important to me to have the iconic image of the woodpecker, whose role in the novel is a catalyst for much thought, worry, and neuroses from the narrator. I also love how the unique wood grain background speaks very subtly to the novel’s location—small town Arkansas.

Finally, the dramatic lettering of the title and my name not only compliments the artwork, but also draws attention to an already attention-grabbing cover. Here it is:

Where Things Come Back
I want to say that finally seeing a physical embodiment of my novel has really brought it all home for me. I now have a near-correct visual of what my book will look like in stores and on peoples’ bookshelves. I can imagine someone holding it in a coffee shop or sharing it with a friend. These are things that I think all writers hope to one day see to fruition, and being one huge step closer, in my mind, is going to make the next 200 or so days until publication go by much faster. 

I want to thank the people at Simon & Schuster as well as designer Michael McCartney and illustrator Grady McFerrin for managing to somehow climb inside my brain without me ever knowing it and producing such a unique, exciting cover. 

On a side note: The book jacket will be printed on uncoated stock, which will give it a textured, toothy feel.  

Happy Writing, 


Corey Whaley hails from Shreveport, LA, where he teaches seventh and eighth grade English. He signed with Ken Wright, a literary agent at Writers House, last fall using WEbook's AgentInbox query service. His debut novel, Where Things Come Back was purchased by Simon & Schuster early in 2010. Read more about Corey's journey to publication, or pre-order his book!

Literary Agents Representing Science Fiction and Fantasy

From old school greats like William Gibson and J.R.R. Tolkien to modern big names like J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins, Sci Fi and Fantasy have remained two of the most popular categories of genre fiction to date.

If you've written a Science Fiction or Fantasy manuscript, it is crucial that you query literary agents who are seeking submission in those genres. If you send out to an agent who doesn't accept these genres, they'll likely stop reading your query after the first sentence or two, because selling Sci-Fi and Fantasy requires specific contacts that not all agents have. 

WEbook's AgentInbox has 17 agents that specialize in Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. That means they've sold manuscripts in these genres, know tons of editors at different publishing houses, and they're looking for fresh authors to represent.

Here are some details about a few of our Sci-Fi and Fantasy agents, but be sure to check out our full list of literary agents actively seeking submissions.

SaraMegibow Sara Megibow, The Nelson Literary Agency: Sara joined the Nelson Literary Agency in 2006 as an assistant and was promoted to Associate Literary Agent in 2009. Sara accepts queries from a variety of genres—some might even call her eclectic—but check out this little tidbit from her Publishers Marketplace profile:

"Personally, I would love to work on more science fiction and fantasy books. I love complex world building that is tightly woven with intense characters and an exciting story. I loved John Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR and Scott Lynch's THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA as well as everything by Robin McKinley, Carol Berg, Naomi Novik and Stephen Lawhead."

View Sara Megibow's complete WEbook profile.

Ethan Ellenberg, The Ethan Ellenberg Litrary Agency: Ethan is a veteran of the publishing industry, having run his own agency since 1984. In some exciting fantasy fiction news, Ethan's client Karen Miller recently signed a five book deal with Orbit currently title The Tarnished Crown. If there are any Karen Miller fans out there with a similar manuscript, Ethan is the man to see. 

View Ethan Ellenberg's complete WEbook profile. 

ElizabethJote Elizabeth Jote, Object Entertainment: Elizabeth began her career at the Carol Mann Agency before moving to OE, where she has worked for almost four years. For all those writers who feel some anxiety about their manuscript's spot in an agent's slush pile, take note of Elizabeth's comment from an interview at Gumbo Writer:

"It is at [The Carol Mann Agency] that I learned the value of patience in dealing with one’s slush pile. Miracles can happen there."

View Elizabeth Jotes' complete WEbook profile.

Looking for literary agents representing Romance or Young Adult Fiction? Check out our previous posts about AgentInbox agents! You can also sign up for WEbook and get more feedback on your work from our writing community, or try out PageToFame.

Keeping a Character Schedule: A Writing Contest

20100216writingchallengeblog It's time to announce the next bi-weekly writing challenge. If you're new to the challenges (or to WEbook) these are short writing exercises geared towards helping authors improve a specific aspect of their craft and promote a healthy discourse between contestants.  

Submissions to the previous challenge, The Non-Dialogue Challenge are now closed. We'll announce the winners as soon as possible. Onto the next challenge: 

The Character Schedule Challenge

Schedule Write a character's Thursday schedule (max 200 words)

Whether you're a serial killer, a superhero, or a dental technician, everyone has a schedule. You can tell a lot about someone based on how they organize their day, so this can be a fun and effective character development exercise.

You can block your character's time however you'd like (hourly blocks, ect.) but remember, as always, specifics and creativity are highly valued currency.

And a big thanks to Mouse_ , who's suggestion for a diary entry from a character inspired this challenge (we just took it in a slightly different direction). 


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Ben Mezrich: Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network, and Writing Advice

Accidental Billionaires As you probably know, The Social Network is opening today in movie theaters. The film is inspired by Ben Mezrich's non-fiction book, The Accidental Billionaires. Ben has previously offered some golden nuggets of writing advice on the WEbook blog as part of our Bestselling Author Q&A series, and it's great to see him having continued success.

The Social Network has been generating a lot of buzz and controversy over the past few weeks, as many members of the tech community have claimed the movie inaccurately portrays both Mark Zuckerberg and the circumstances in which he created Facebook.

While The Social Network debate is in the foreground, especially after Zuckerberg's $100 Million challenge grant to the Newark school systems (working to bolster that rep, eh Mark?) here's a lesser known fact about the film:

Aaron Sorkin's script for The Social Network isn't actually based off of Ben Mezrich's book, The Accidental Billionaires. Rather, Sorkin based his script off of the book proposal that Mezrich submitted to publishers (and movie studios) prior to writing the actual text. In an article from New York Magazine detailing the movie's production, it is noted that Sorkin and Mezrich compared notes with each other at one point, but the two projects were, for the most part, created independently from one another.

Since Ben Mezrich has gotten so much attention for his non-fiction writing, we thought it would be interesting to quickly re-visit his motivation for switching from fiction to the factual tales for which he's become known. Here's his response, taken from WEbook's Q&A series:  

"I love these true, wild stories that I write now, about young people doing wild things and making fortunes. I switched because I ran into these MIT kids in a bar and they invited me along for the ride. Now I feel like this is my voice, what I want to write. I’ll probably do fiction here and there, but the true stories turn me on."

We hope Ben keeps bumping into interesting people and writing about them. Someone at WEbook might be catching a showing of The Social Network this weekend, so stay tuned for more coverage! 

Question for the weekend: What's your favorite biopic film of all time? 

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