If you want different results, DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY

So last fall, I introduced you to a fellow blogger I admire, not the least because he’s a killer writer. He also happens to know what reporters and agents want (which is helpful when you have a book to launch).

Yeah, Guy Bergstrom. He guest posts here from time to time. But now, he’s hanging out a shingle. Because I asked him to help YOU.

Pitch sheets, blurbs, synopses – the things that make authors tremble, mostly because we don’t know where to start.

Ah, but Guy does. And he’s here to tell you how he can help.


Unless you have a big budget for marketing, earning free ink and airtime is your best way to break through all the noise.

But instead, most people are ignoring “old media” to focus on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, partly because everybody tells them to do it, including publishers, and partly because it’s the trendy new thing to do.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: spending your time and energy on social networking instead of mass media is an achy breaky big mistakey.

Is earning free ink and airtime easy? No. But it’s definitely worthwhile.

I cashed checks from The New York Times as about.com’s expert on publicity and scandals. Before that, I was an award-winning journalist who graduated No. 1 in my class. In my day job as a speechwriter, I work with reporters and editors all the time.

So I can tell you why 99 percent of the books sent to newsrooms wind up in the recycle barrel.

Here’s the thing that will drive you crazy: it has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

Though my silly blog doesn’t have anything about hiring me for freelance work, people randomly ask me and I’ve taken clients.

Editing is insanely fun, and by the time our son is in college, I expect tuition to cost $859,032 a semester. So when Becky asked to partner up and get serious about doing more freelance work, it made sense.

What the hell is a Pitch Sheet?

Ever hear of these? Me neither, until I got an agent. Before you get one, everything is plain text: query, synopsis, manuscript. After you get an agent, they want full color and actual layout and design. It’s like the switch in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy lands the house on the witch and the world switches from boring black and white to crazy full color.

Editors and reporters want pitch sheets, too. They are far more handy and useful than a press release, which journalists used to get by mail or fax and turn into three-point shots. During especially cold winters, we rolled them up into Presto-Logs, and now that releases get emailed, they simply get deleted. So pitch sheets are smarter.

Note: is there a limit to the number of revisions you can do, even if you’re richer than Bill Gates? Maybe. Seven might be excessive. Seventeen would be entering The Land of Boiled Bunnies.

Back cover blurb and synopsis

Two different animals. But you need both, and it’s a mistake to write these yourself.

Because you know the novel too well and will throw in far, far more detail about nine different characters when the blurb is only six sentences long.

Ground floor

It’s incredibly hard to fix a finished novel – even one with writing so beautiful it makes you cry and puts you in therapy – if there are no hooks that can break through and get free ink and airtime.

Boosting the quality of words doesn’t change the bones, the premise and structure. A cheap paint job can’t turn Ford Focus into a Ferrari.

So let’s talk about how to build a Ferrari in the first place. Because it’s a helluva lot easier to bring a gimpy piece of Italian supercar into the garage for a tune-up than to pretend we can transmogrify a wounded Focus into a sexy machine that’ll hit 200 miles an hour.

And chances are, you wrote a book and want it to sell 5.82 bazillion copies, but you’re also writing a different book while the other one goes through the process.

I’d rather work with you on that second book, the baby, and help build it from the ground up.

What’s this look like?

1) Tagline, headline and pitch (four words apiece)

2) Back cover blurb

3) Outline of the novel (two pages, with major turning points, reversals and revelations)

4) First page of the novel

Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

I have a lot of experience with writing.


We writers need to tear down the impression among many of our peers that having an editor is a sign of weakness. I’ve always had editors, starting out in newspapers, so this aversion to getting red penned wasn’t on my radar until I made friends with a lot of authors.

The thing is first drafts are full of soul, energy and bad judgment. It’s like your first date in high school: exciting, sure, but chances are this is not going to last past Homecoming, much less lead to a 50 year anniversary party. That’s okay. We shouldn’t maintain the myth that the first date should lead to wedding bells and grandkids, or that the first draft will lead to a bestseller which will give Stephen King a heart attack.

Because in the end, it’s not really a competition with other writers. If you want a bigger house and nicer car than your arch-enemy, Peggy the Cozy Mystery Queen, then sell stocks or become a dentist and live it up.

The fun part about writing isn’t banging away on the keyboard twelve hours a day all by yourself. It’s is the journey, the partnership with others, the connection with fellow writers and, yes, readers. That’s the magic.


This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.Guy Bergstrom is a reformed journalist. Now a scribbler of speeches and whatnot. He wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Need a hand with pitch sheets, blurbs or synopses? Email Becky@rebeccatdickson.com.

How weird news teaches us great storytelling

by Guy Bergstrom

Every day, real stories are in the morning newspaper that make you snort coffee out your nose or choke on a blueberry muffin. Note: This is why journalists call such pieces “muffin chokers.”

Yet the daily weirdness is more than funny. If you dissect these stories, you can learn deep storytelling lessons from the shallow end of the journalism pool.

Here’s a real story that just happened in my state: Man steals RV from Wal-Mart parking lot, leads police on wild chase. Swerves into sleepy little town where he knocks cars into front yards and such, then blasts through a house and crashes. Runs out, strips down to his underwear and invades a home to steal girl clothes. Cops catch him and haul him off.


This is pretty typical of a weird news story, and not simply because it started in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart — and yeah, go ahead, google “Wal-Mart parking lot” and “weird news.”

While you’re at it, google “7-Eleven robbery” and “trailer park ninjas.” It’s a thing, especially in Florida, though in Colorado somebody robbed a 7-Eleven with some kind of Klingon sword, and yeah, the clerk who got robbed knew exactly what to call that sword when the cops took the police report.

Great storytelling comes from the gap between expectation and result. Audiences, like kittehs, love surprises.


Your normal day is not a great story because there’s no gap. It is what you expect, and what your neighbor expects. There’s nothing shocking.

So let’s dissect the RV thief story and the rash of 7-Eleven robberies involving trailer park ninjas, to see why those short little stories pack so much punch. The gaps between expectation and result are all over these stories.

First, it’s a surprise for a criminal to prowl the parking lot of a Wal-Mart, or steal an RV, because as a smart person, you think, “If I were unemployed and desperate, and forced into a life of crime, maybe I’d steal a new Mercedes convertible, something I could sell for real money and drive crazy fast if the police chased me.”

You would not think to yourself, “Let’s go to a Wal-Mart parking lot, full of witnesses, and steal a ginormous RV that (a) could be seen from space, much less a police helicopter, (b) would be crazy hard to sell or hide and (c) is slower and less maneuverable than anything short of a logging truck.”

So there are tremendous gaps there on multiple fronts. You’re surprised again and again.

The same thing is true for trailer park ninjas robbing 7-Elevens in Florida, because smart, normal people think the only time they could imagine dressing up like a ninja is if they were an actual trained ninja, you know, in Japan, knocking off something worthy of their skill and trouble. Say, stealing $30 million in diamonds from a jewelry store in downtown Tokyo, then retiring from a life of crime.

Nobody with working brain cells thinks sure, let’s dress all in black, grab a cheap sword-like object and risk insane amounts of prison time for $186 in the till and a carton of Marlboro Lights.

There are similar gaps in stories like “Two men wounded in gunfight over Wal-Mart parking spot.” True story.

It’s a question of risk vs. reward. Would you risk your life over a parking spot at a bargain store? No, because you’re smart. Who cares? Get a different parking spot. This is like challenging a man to a duel in the alley because he cut in front of you in the line for Taco Bell.


The Darwin Awards are staples of the weird news business for the same giant gap between expectation and result.

A classic example: man tries to get rid of a mouse at his house (yes, it rhymes!) and throws it onto a burning pile of leaves. Mouse, on fire, jumps off the pile and runs under his house … burning it down.

Now, this story may not be true. Doesn’t matter. It lives on, as a fable, because of the huge gap between expectation (mouse dies in fire) and result (even in death, mouse gets revenge on homeowner).

The bigger the gap, the better the story. This is true not only in weird news, but any sort of storytelling: a novel, a play, a movie, whatever.

Another lesson from weird news: The Darwin Awards almost always involve the same elements, just about every time, yet those ingredients get mixed up endless ways and still continue to surprise us. The ingredients for a Darwin Award story are: (a) men, usually in groups, (b) generous amounts of alcohol, (c) firearms, explosives or dangerous wild animals, (d) vehicles and (e) famous last words, quite often, “Watch this.”

It is exceedingly rare to see Darwin Award stories involved women. Maybe because they’re smarter, or because the IQ of a group of men goes down by half every time you add another bro bringing a six-pack of Molson to the “let’s make a flamethrower to roast this nest of yellowjackets nest” party.

So the next time you see a weird story in the news, don’t skip it, even if it’s only three sentences. There is gold to be mined, and lessons learned. It’s no accident that Elmore Leonard, Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen made a living basically writing about weird news and dumb criminals in Florida.

It’s great storytelling, and always will be.


This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Guy Bergstrom is a reformed journalist. Now a scribbler of speeches and whatnot. He wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.