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The Great Sweepstakes of 1877 by Mark B. Shrager

A Life of Lies and Spies by Alan Trabue

Trained to Kill Castro:CIA Plots against Castro, Kennedy, & Che
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Querying & Writing Tips
by:  Greg Aunapu, The Salkind Literary Agency
June 12, 2019

Traditional vs. Indie publishing

Scroll down for short Q &A debate on Traditional vs. Indie publishing. For example of well-done Indie/Self-Publishing titles check out the free and discounted Speculative Fiction and Mystery titles below:

For Speculative Fiction lovers. Some excellent books here, most are discounted for the month of June, and most are available to read free on Kindle Unlimited.

For Mystery and Thriller readers --  two more weeks to download free short stories, including John Lantigua's Shamus Award nominated story, The Jungle, originally published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  Lantigua shares a Pulitzer Prize in journalism and has won the International Latino Book Award for best Mystery -- twice -- for his Willie Cuesta, private detective books.
Click Below:

While there, look for John Lantigua's entry:


Q. I hear so many success stories about self-published or "indie" authors, but also know a few writers who tried to go their own way with disappointing results. I have a new manuscript, and am wondering which way to go?

A. One thing I see a lot is people self-publish, get no sales, then try to interest agents in a book that's ranked below 1 million on Amazon. There's just not too much anyone can do at that point. The queries often talk about how the authors were just trying to get some reader reviews to interest prospective agents and/or publishers, and did no marketing, so that's the reason it hasn't sold, etc.

This is a huge mistake, because all the author has done is proven to a publisher that they're a poor risk. In reality, self-published books getting picked up by a major publisher are rare, and it's pretty much gotta be a viral bestseller.

But, since you'll probably be more successful in interesting agents if you get your book professionally edited and proofread before sending it out in the first place, you'll be properly prepared to self-publish if you don't find a home for it. Also, if, let's say, 50 agents all mention that the subject doesn't sell, or have suggestions about plot points for you -- for instance, it takes too long to get from point A to B -- that's great advice you can use to strengthen your material.

So, maybe you give yourself six-months to find an agent. If you are unsuccessful, then you go "indie." Whatever time-frame that fits your needs. But, if you do self-publish, try to think like a publisher, and not like the author, and market book to the best of your abilities.

Then, if that title does well, maybe you get your next one picked up by the traditional market.

Importantly, however, it's rare that an author self-publishes the first in a series, then gets the next book in the same series picked up by publishers. Most likely, you'll have to start over with a fresh character. But now you'll have readers, hopefully an email list and Facebook followers to offer as a platform.

As an example here are a bunch of free fantasy books available in May from indie writers promoting their works on Bookfunnel:

Also, one of my successful clients is trying a new genre under a pseudonym and using advice from Kindle gurus like David Gaughran. Check it out:

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December 23, 2018

Some of my Books

Click to check out some of my books on Amazon while I'm writing up a new post:

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October 25, 2018

Get More Productive in 2019 with these Apps!

It’s amazing how many writers still just use Word for everything, even in cases where it doesn’t excel, and resist looking at apps that would increase their productivity. So here are some apps I use on a daily basis that I think will benefit a lot of writers. Instructional videos are available by various hosts on YouTube. BTW, I have no affiliation with any of these companies, except as a user.

1. Groupy from Stardock, $9.99 / free 30-day trial period.

This is the new app that inspired me to write this post. If you find yourself bogged down with multiple windows, especially in Word, where you may have multiple files, chapters and research documents open; perhaps with additional open windows for OneNote, Evernote or Milanote files, now you can organize them all into neat browser-like tabs.

You can even have your browser open as a grouped master tab with additional browser tabs below!

Groupy is user-friendly and intuitive. Drag a program into the file bar and it snaps into place. Reorganize in any order you like. You can enable it to automatically group certain programs or ungroup them by simply drag-and-dropping the tab outside of the group, or by clicking "ungroup" on a dropdown menu. This is a feature that Microsoft has promised in Windows 10, but which has never appeared. Incredibly handy!

(* I use a few other Stardock programs, such as Fences.)

2. Milanote:, basic version free on the web.

So far, I have not exceeded the capacity of the basic/free version of Milanote, often called the "Evernote for creatives." You can more or less duplicate some of its features in Evernote and OneNote with the use of tables, and some other features with Google Keep, but Milanote is such a seamless, easy and convenient experience that I use it as one of my main pages to organize my research.

Just drag and drop a page-link into a box on your board and it expands with a photo (if there is one) and preview. Clip photos and/or documents and keep them all aligned in organized columns. You can write a post in it, as well. Has handy templates for various uses.

Milanote also has a handy webclipper for Chrome and Edge.

3. OneNote and Evernote (free basic versions).

Both apps have associated webclippers.

There are two versions of OneNote: Onenote 2016 is included as part of an Office 365 subscription; and a free version, OneNote for Windows. I prefer the 2016 edition, but Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom has declared that it will stop development of that edition. The free app is okay and I hope they make it as sophisticated as the 2016 version, which becomes even more useful with GemNote and OneCalendar addins.

OneNote and Evernote supercharged my productivity. You can link notes to Word files and Outlook emails and tasks, embed videos, and much more. In a battle of OneNote vs. Evernote, I would take the former, because it integrates better with other Microsoft products. However, I don't need to choose, and happily use both! I use Evernote more for archiving things, and OneNote for everyday activity, but everyone will have different work flows.

Essentially, they (OneNote especially) are mashups of word-processor, note-taker, project-manager, spreadsheet and file cabinet. You can link from one tab, note or document to another inside or outside the program.

Both fiction and non-fiction writers will find them useful for writing books and articles by creating a series of folders, tabs and tables to keep track of research, chapters, characters, plotlines, all of which can be organized with a different colors and tags. In effect, they are both instant databases. Just start inputting your term into the search bar, and all the references will populate underneath.

Believe it or not, few authors or journalists I know are experienced with any of these programs. Generally, I find people are just old-school, using Word to organize everything, and… and…. It’s hard to even say…. paper notebooks! They seem resistant to trying anything else out. But I think most people who give these programs a chance, will find them useful. For me, these are almost as significant a leap as going from a typewriter to a word processor.

Evernote: Making it even more useful for authors, templates exist for creative writing, including 3-Act Structure, Character Profiles, a Story Dashboard and Story Premise Worksheet at the Evernote website: and still more through their blog,, which include the Snowflake method, Story Beats, Story Planning, World Building and more.

4. Scrivener:

For those still uninitiated, Scrivener is a great Content Creating program, that is more than a Word Processor and includes similar features of Evernote and OneNote baked into it to keep track of chapters, e-index cards for your storyline and characters, separate research folders, and more. Export to Word for submission to agents or other formats for indie-authors.

The Mac version is more developed, but the company is working on a 3.0 version for Windows (now in beta) that incorporates some newer features and makes it more compatible with 4k screens.

The program is so feature-rich, that you need to go to a full review or the website to fully understand it. But basically, "In Scrivener, every document is attached to a virtual index card onto which you can jot a synopsis. Moving the cards on Scrivener’s corkboard rearranges their associated text in your draft."

You can create tabs for research, include whole Airtable pages as research, for instance, create index cards that open into bigger files, useful for everything from plotting to keeping track of characters.

Personally, I would use Word, Onenote and Milanote in a Groupy combo for non-fiction writing, but Scrivener, along with the note apps, if I was writing a novel. Don’t ask me for the reasoning behind that dichotomy. It’s a visceral, individual feeling with each appealing to different parts of my creativity.

5. Notion: free basic version, monthly subscription for power users.

I recently discovered Notion. Not sure if it’s going to be similar to the "Where have you been all my life?" eureka-moment I had with OneNote a few years ago, or one of those apps like Trello or Airtable that I know I should get more use out of, but so far do not. It seems to hold enough potential as a life and/or project organization system that I am including it here.

The app features to-do lists, tables, basic word processing, calendars and much more.

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February 16, 2017

Pitching an Agent at a Writer's Conference

I attended last year's Florida Writer's Workshop where I, along with several other agents, listened to 10-minute pitches from both aspiring and veteran authors.

Here are a few takeaways that I hope will benefit attendees of similar workshops.  

Pitching to the Agent:

  • Most conferences give you 10 minutes to make your pitch, and they are pretty militant about keeping time, which goes by really, really fast.   It feels more like 3 minutes than 10.  Authors are also nervous and tend to talk quickly, trying to cram every detail from their novels and memoirs into their short slot. Some people purchased two blocks, giving them 20 minutes, which actually seemed longer than they needed, though.
  • First, don't be nervous!!  We are all just people.  No one is forcing us to be there and we are genuinely interested in hearing your story.  Every agent I spoke to had anecdotes about discovering major talent at a conference!  That's why they attend.
  • Remember to breathe.  Some people nearly passed out from lack of oxygen.    
  • I suppose my one major critique would be that too many people get bogged down in minutia: “Here’s the backstory, then the character does this because of that,  then he or she goes hither and yon, then something or another happens to them…  and, oh, years ago they nearly drowned in a boating accident, so they are afraid of the water….” Often barely hitting on the main points. which could have been described in a few sentences. I would tell most stories in broader strokes.
  • Also, many pitchers describe every character’s name like it’s the gold that will sell their novel. For an example (not a real name someone used) “The main character’s name is… Luke Hunter,” spoken in a dramatic tone, eyebrows rising… (Btw, there are an inordinate number of Lukes and Hunters in the queries I get, and don’t get me started on the names Fiona and Deirdre!) The point is, a name is almost irrelevant unless it has something to do with the story or is symbolic (though that is usually not a great idea).
  • A few authors began with the dreaded rhetorical question.   "Have you ever wondered…?" I would steer clear of that.  As mentioned in other posts, those rhetorical questions are like fingernails scraping a blackboard inside my head! I think most agents will agree.
  • I would personally focus more on the protagonist’s story arc, what they need to achieve,  the major conflicts that he or she will face, who the antagonist is and why they are trying to keep the main character from achieving their goal.   This can be done, as I mentioned, in broader strokes, taking a much shorter time than trying to describe every detail of the story.  
  • I think many authors had fallen in love with a particular plot point, but took too much time describing the backstory to get there -- a  bit like a comedian who takes too long setting up the punch line for a joke – only to see that they barely had time to finish up. 
  • First, tell me the category and word length of the manuscript. "I have a 100 thousand word thriller entitled The Fugitive." Make sure your word length is appropriate for your category. Also mention what category of thriller you have. Is it a "courtroom thriller" like John Grisham or a military thriller like Tom Clancy? Or is it more a combination -- "Imagine 'The Firm' meets 'The DaVinci Code.'"
  • Let's say you had written The Fugitive. Rather than a play by play recitation, I would go with a bigger picture. "A respected doctor is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, but escapes authorities when his prison bus crashes. Vowing to track down the elusive 'one-armed man,'who he saw at the crime scene, and clear his name, the doctor must evade the most dogged, but wryly humorous, U.S. Marshal in existence who vows to catch the fugitive at any cost. To avoid being captured, the doctor ends up stressing himself to human extremes, culminating in a cinematic dive off a dam. Several plot twists later, he uncovers a plan by a former colleague who hired the killer to get rid of the doctor so that he would not discover the deadly side-effects of a drug that will make the colleague a rich man."
  • Even the above is a bit of a mouthful. Shorter is usually better. Practice making your pitch sound conversational, like you're telling a friend about a great book or movie, instead of reading a blurb.
  • Importantly, make sure to leave time for the agent to ask you follow-up questions! They may want to hear more about the characters, or a plot point, how you get from point A to B, or your writing credentials.   Or all of the above.   That’s good.  You’ve piqued their interest!
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    January 1, 2017

    Some Recent Titles...

    Here is a link to a recent interview I did with Chuck Sambuchino for Writers Digest.

    (Folks, they only give you five posts here for your blog, so please scroll down below where I have a window to my main website with blog entries.)

    Some Direct Links to Posts (updated Jan 1, 2017!):

    20 Fatal Query Mistakes

    And in case you don’t feel like clicking, here’s a sample:

    5 MORE QUERY FAILS I HAVE SEEN THIS WEEK (I see these on a continual basis, btw.)

    1. Don’t describe what your cover artwork should be or send cover artwork with your query. While authors have some input into this, and are usually allowed to see and comment on a couple of different versions of the artwork, the publisher has ultimate say.
    2. Self-published works: Agents receive lots of queries where authors say “I have published [pick a number] books.” But they are all self-published ebooks that only have a handful of reader reviews. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing — and I know some writers doing astoundingly well in this field now — but if you do self-publish, you need to do your utmost to market the works. Editors will interpret a book with a handful of reviews and low sales ranks as the author’s lack of platform. They need authors who can sell books no matter what the challenge is.
    3. Please include all the information an agent needs to make a decision to see more of your manuscript. If they ask for a sample on their submission guidelines, don’t forget it. Don’t make me click through to your website for more info. A lot of websites contain drive-by malware, so I just don’t click on anything. Everything needs to be in the query. If I absolutely love what I see, I will do my own online search.
    4. A bit about the Pushcart Prize. I get all sorts of queries from writers who had a story “nominated for a Pushcart Prize,” often years ago. Please understand that every magazine gets to nominate 6 stories per year. That’s hundreds of magazines per year, I would suppose, nominating 6 stories each. Unless the story was shortlisted for the prize, I am very sorry, it just isn’t going to impress that many agents. I’m not saying not to mention it, or if it was nominated from a major magazine that it wouldn’t be important, but if it’s a small magazine, and you base your entire bio around it…. well, just sayin’….
    5. Social media: Sometimes I request a sample or a proposal, and then get bombarded by all these invites to follow the writer on FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, etc. Don’t do this until you have developed a professional relationship with the agent.

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    A R C H I V E / H I G H L I G H T S

    Blogging starts here!
    originally posted: January 14, 2016

    Please allow a few seconds for this page to load, or start by scrolling down... Also, you can scroll down on inside bar on right to see blog posts.

    (This section under reconstruction....)

    Agent bio:

    Before joining the Salkind Agency, I was a freelance journalist for Time magazine and many other major publications.  I am writer/co-author of three non-fiction books, once ran a successful book-editing service and helped or inspired a number of writers to become published authors before I ever thought of becoming an agent.  As a former student of several literary greats, including John Knowles (author of A Separate Peace) and L. Rust Hills (famed Esquire fiction editor), combined with my background in journalism, I am interested in both fiction and nonfiction. 

    As an author who was represented at one time or another by some of the finest NYC literary agencies, I learned what great representation is like from the client's point of view, and try to give a superlative level of service as an agent. 

    The Salkind Agency has placed over 4,500 books, is well known amongst editors and can get your project read by the same editors at the top publishers as any other major agency.   

    As a veteran author and now as an agent, I can help non-fiction authors craft attention-grabbing proposals, and have had more than a few editors tell me a proposal was "one of the best" they'd ever read.  

    Book Preferences

    Nonfiction works: Besides the works that I have sold,  of course, I have also been captivated by popular books such as FreakonomicsGuns, Germs and Steel, and The Tipping Point, which illuminate the reasons why the world works like it does. I also really like narrative history, and memoirs by people who have achieved something significant.   

    Fiction: I love a good thriller or mystery, and prefer material with original thought and straight-forward prose about intriguing characters in remarkable situations.

    Recent sales include:


    Dolphin Drone, by James Grundvig

    Author of two forthcoming non-fiction titles Master Manipulator: The Scientist Who Seduced the CDC and Breaking van Gogh: The $100 Million Fake Masterpiece at the Met James Grundvig's DOLPHIN DRONE, the first in a series featuring conflicted dolphin whisperer, a Navy Seal torn between military code and his love for marine life - who, along with his cherished pod of dolphins in the Marine Mammal program, must disrupt a sophisticated ship-based terrorist plot against New York City by a super-alliance of Gulf-based terrorist organizations, to Alexandra Hess at Skyhorse, in a nice deal, for publication in 2016, by Greg Aunapu at The Salkind Agency (World).

    On Hallowed Ground, by John Lantigua

    Pulitzer Prize and Robert F. Kennedy Award winning journalist, John Lantigua's Willie Cuesta mystery On Hallowed Ground, recipient of a Latino Book Award in 2012.
    Praised by Carl Hiaasen as "fresh" and "authentic," the Edgar Award-nominated novels of John Lantigua present a sizzling slice of Cuban-American life.


    My Secret Life (New Title: Trained to Kill Castro: Confessions of a CIA Recruit), by Antonio Veciana and Carlos Harrison

    Antonio Veciana and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Carlos Harrison's MY SECRET LIFE, detailing Veciana's transformation from asthmatic banker in Cuba to a bomb-making, CIA-backed anti-revolutionary heading multiple assassination attempts on Castro and guerrilla attacks in Havana, later building the infamous Anti-Castro exile group, Alpha-66; the story including important puzzle-pieces connecting Lee Harvey Oswald, a CIA officer and the JFK assassination and other Machiavellian Cold War-era espionage plots and ultimately the personal price he paid, to Tony Lyons at Skyhorse, with David Talbot editing, in a nice deal, for publication in 2017, by Greg Aunapu at The Salkind Agency (World).

    The Great Sweepstakes of 1877: A True Story of Southern Grit, Gilded Age Tycoons, and a Race That Galvanized the Nation, by Mark Shrager

    Mark Shrager's THE GREAT SWEEPSTAKES OF 1877, about an iconic post-Civil War horse race so polarizing that the members of the United States Senate postponed all business for the day so that they might attend; while the press politely described the race as an "East" vs. "West" competition, most people, still recovering from the depredations of the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed, recognized it as a North vs. South encounter, pitting New York's powerful thoroughbred Tom Ochiltree and New Jersey's Parole against the already legendary "Kentucky crack," Ten Broeck, to Keith Wallman at Lyons Press, for publication in Fall 2016, by Greg Aunapu at The Salkind Agency (World).

    A Life of Lies and Spies, by Alan B. Trabue, former director of the CIA's world-wide covert ops polygraph program.

    --- "Like a John LeCarre novel, Al Trabue gives you a unique glimpse into the world of a CIA Covert Ops Polygraph Interrogator. The experiences he has captured and shared are intense. In his book, Al takes you on a journey into the dark world of covert operational polygraph around the world. It is a must read for those who are interested in the complexities of intelligence operations around the world. "(Dr. Barry McManus, VP Global Operations of Patriot Group, retired CIA Chief Polygraph Interrogator and author of Liar: The Art of Detecting Deception and Eliciting Responses)

    The Ghosts of Hero Street, non-fiction by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Carlos Harrison, Named one of the top 10 books on WWII by the Los Angeles Times. Congratulations to Carlos Harrison -- The Ghosts of Hero Street, 2nd place winner in History for the International Latino Book Awards!

    “When our servicemen and women risk their lives for the security of our families and communities, we must stop and reflect on the immensity of their sacrifice. The Ghosts of Hero Street reminds us why we must be appreciative, and teaches us how we should say thank you.”—Former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros

    “The documentation of the incredible stories of real-life heroes of a small neighborhood in America is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the patriotism of Americans of Hispanic origin...At last we get to read about what’s good in America.”—Ambassador Raul Yzaguirre, President Emeritus, National Council of La Raza

    “Versatile journalist and author Harrison explores the moving microcosm of pride and patriotism within a Mexican-American Illinois railroad community. . . . Harrison deftly marshals the intricate details of battle, hardship, and victory.”—Kirkus Reviews

    Please see submission guidelines on my website.

    For current info, please visit or my personal site at

    *The Salkind Agency is a division of Studio B, and is a normal 15% agency (20% foreign and film where we use a sub-agent) without any reading fees, submission fees, critiquing fees, etc.

    Some other Salkind Agency Books:

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    A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R

    Before joining the Salkind Agency, I was a freelance journalist for Time magazine and many other major publications. I am writer/co-author of three non-fiction books, once ran a successful book-editing company. As a former student of several literary greats, including John Knowles (author of A Separate Peace) and L. Rust Hills (famed Esquire fiction editor), combined with my background in journalism, I am interested in both fiction and nonfiction.

    The Salkind Agency has placed over 4,500 books, is well known amongst editors and can get your project read by the same editors at the top publishers as any other major agency.

    As a veteran author and now as an agent, I can help non-fiction authors craft attention-grabbing proposals, and have had more than a few editors tell me a proposal was "one of the best" they'd ever read.