Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Are You Opened or Closed?

By Julie Wright

Stephen King wrote a book called On Writing that is a dang good source on--well . . . writing. I recommend getting your own copy so you can use it for reference after you finish it from cover to cover. In this book he talked about writing your first draft, and then your second, and all subsequent drafts.

King said the first time you write a book, you should write with the door closed. This is the draft where you pour out your little scribbling heart with anything and everything. In this draft it's okay to be corny and a little over dramatic. With this draft, the important thing is to just get it down on paper (or on computer). The idea of the door being closed is knowing that you're writing it with no one else looking over your shoulder.

The second draft is where you write with the door open. This means that you edit and rewrite, cut and refine--and all this with the idea that the whole world *is* reading the manuscript over your shoulder. This is where you write for publication.

I have to admit, I write with the door wide open every time. I didn’t used to . . . not until I had my second book published. But now, I write knowing that anyone in the world could be looking over my shoulder at any time. I don’t know if this makes me a better writer or a worse one. But what I do know is that the journey of a writer is tough.

It’s hard to get started because you’re so afraid of what others might think. In the beginning, the concept of writing just for me liberated my writer’s soul. I was able to finish whole books because I wasn't doing it to please anyone else. I wrote to please me . . . with my door firmly shut.

So if you’re having trouble jump starting your writing because you’re afraid of what others might think—don’t worry about it—just kick the door closed, settle into a chair, and get it done. No one's looking--I promise.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Meet PEG

By Josi S. Kilpack If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you have likely picked up on who we are; Precision Editing Group, but you can call us PEG. Not only do we give free advice, reminders, tips, and tricks on writing and editing, but you can send us the first 30 pages of your manuscript and we'll read and evaluate it for free as well. The evaluation consists of our opinion on whether we feel you need a content, line or combination edit and we'll give you a price quote at that time. We'll also give you feedback on those 30 pages, pointing out any problems we see, specifying the type of editing you can expect from the rest of your book. When we send it back to you, you decide if you're ready to have the rest of your manuscript edited. You owe us nothing. If you decide you don't need our services, no problem, if you decide you need to do another rewrite, that's fine too. There are no hard feelings if you don't pursue a full edit, otherwise it would be silly for us to offer the free evaluation.

All that is WHAT we do, but that's only part of the equation. Why do we do it?

Heather Moore is the owner of PEG, she's the business mind and the visionary. She came to each of us and asked us to join her company. I point this out to address any concerns that we all just thought this up together and that it was no based on our own individual skills with editing. We are here because Heather knows us, we've edited for her, and for others, and she wanted us to join her team. I considered it a great compliment and we will likely add other skilled editors as the need increases.
The reason we all agreed to join PEG isn't because we don't have better things to do with our time, some of us are employed full-time, all of us are mother's and wives, and each of us are always writing something. We aren't looking for something to fill our extra moments. But what we are looking for is an opportunity to give other writers what we have given to one another--objective feedback so as to make your book the very best it can be. It has been a priceless gift for each one of us to get that kind of feedback, and we are now able to extend that to other writer's.

Not everyone feels they need to hire an outside editor, some people have friends that will do it for free, some people feel they know enough on their own. They could be right, but if you get 30 pages evaluated for free, why not give it a shot?

I know that I personally HAVE to have someone else read my work. I have not only used friends (like the other contributors to PEG) but I have paid an editor for my last four novels. I want what I hand in to be in it's absolute best dress when it makes it's debut on the publisher's desk.

So, bring em on. Let PEG tell you what she thinks. You don't have to do it, but at least you'll know.

(My apologies for posting early--I'll be driving across the Nevada desert tomorrow)

Friday, July 27, 2007

“Failing Like a Champ”

by Lu Ann Staheli

Several years ago, I attended a conference where author Jerry Spinelli (Eggs, Little Brown Young Readers) recounted his long path to success. He reminded the audience that failure is more common that success in the world of publishing. “It’s how you learn to deal with failure that determines who you are,” he said. “I wrote for twelve years, writing four books before I made my first sale. I was failing like a champ.”

Spinelli continued his advice with, “Never waste your failures. Whether you sell the book or not, what do you do? Write another one. Why doesn’t everyone see that?”

I’m sure many of us feel like we are failing like a champ. Although I’ve had publication success via many venues, there is still that elusive desire to sell a novel that burns deep within me. I could ignore those feelings which have lived with me since I was a child, forcing myself to be satisfied with all the other writing I have sold, but as any of you who are serious about writing careers will understand, quitting the dream is not really an option.

Next year celebrates the twelfth anniversary of when completed my first novel. Since then I’ve finished three more. True—none of them have yet sold, but I’m feeling my time is coming. I’ve had my failures, now it’s time to have my successes.

Maybe Jerry Spinelli and I will have something more in common, and someday having a Newbery of my own would be nice, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Swinging Pendulum: Balancing Your Time

By Heather Moore

“How do you find time to write?” is a question that I hear often. And anyone who isn’t an obsessive compulsive writer will wonder the same thing.

Before I list some ideas, here’s a warning: If writing has already taken over your entire life, don’t read the following list. It will just give you more excuses of why not to take out the garbage.

1. Limit the number of email lists you join. This can take up an incredible amount of time. Join one or two that you feel are very helpful. I have a specific email account that I use for the lists I’m on and they don’t feed into my Outlook. That way I don’t see all the emails unless I specifically go to the list.

2. Are you blogging more than you’re writing? Enough said.

3. Invest in a laptop or a Neo Alphasmart. Annette Lyon swears by hers. You are now portable. Writing can be done in an airport, at the park, a café, or even waiting to see the dentist.

4. Hire a nanny. Just kidding. I read this suggestion once in an article. Maybe if you are able to justify the expense, minus your royalties, and still profit. But, joking aside, you need to treat your writing as a job. Some days you’ll have to force yourself to put in that hour or two—just like any other job.

5. Set word count goals. Stay away from blocking out hours. Well, you can block out time to write, but if you don’t have a word count goal, I can guarantee those email lists you are on will see higher traffic from you during those time blocks. Even if you decide you are writing 500 words a day or 2,000, keep a running total at the bottom of your manuscript and watch the numbers grow.

6. Reward system: I didn’t mean for this blog to turn into a motivation tool, but I just achieved a writing goal that took me nearly 6 months of writing, 2 months of editing, then 3 more months of rewriting. My reward? After I edit the hard copy, I’m going to read Harry Potter Seven and New Moon. And maybe I’ll spring for a pedicure--with the flowers.

7. Choose now. TV or writing?

8. Set wacky hours. With summer in full swing, I usually write from 8:00 p.m. to midnight.

9. Take at least one day off a week from writing anything. Recharge your creativity. Give your poor hands a break. Smell the roses.

10. You do have to shower and clean your house even if you’re a writer. Set the timer for thirty minutes and clean like mad. Julie Wright gets all sorts of inspiration cleaning out her closets. Then make a cup of hot something and you’ll be ready to write when you sit down at your computer.

It's all about the balance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Research Shortcuts

by Annette Lyon

I've heard it a ton of times regarding my historical novels: How can you do so much research?

Well, I have a little secret: I don't do that much.

Sort of. That's not entirely true. I do do research. But what a lot of people don't understand is that you don't have to bury your head in a dusty library for months on end in order to get enough information to write a novel.

Don't get me wrong; as a writer, you do need to get the facts straight. And the more you've researched, the better feel you'll have for an era, the more accurate you'll be. But if you think you need to be a full-fledged historian, think again.

Here are four tips that can help save time so you can get back to what you love most: telling the story.

1) Find What's Been Done.
Assuming you're researching for a historical novel rather than, say, a biography, there's no need for you to do the primary research. Chances are, someone else has done that, and you can then read their findings.

Find the work of the experts and read it, highlight it, make notes. I've had a lot of success digging up graduate theses on topics I need that were written at a university that is located in the area I write about. Likewise, a state historical society provided with me with a gem of a resource, the author of which was the expert I needed for one book.

Search libraries, especially university libraries, for what you need. Ask a professor in the field for ideas on who you should talk to or read.

2) Find official sites.
Granted, a lot online isn't accurate, and you have to tread lightly there, but that doesn't mean the Internet doesn't have a ton of resources at your fingertips.

One of the best things things you can do is find web sites of official organizations on the topic you're looking for, because there's a good chance they're more accurate than some average Joe's ramblings about it. Plus, you can often find additional links and resources there as well.

If you don't have your questions answered at that site, contact the webmaster and pose your question. Pros in various fields have a treasure trove of information, and if they've made a web site about that passion, they're likely eager to share that information with someone who shows interest in what they love.

3) Ask for help doing the dirty work.
Librarians exist to help patrons find what they're looking for. Take advantage of that. Call (or if possible, e-mail) a library and see if someone can look up what you need. These people are trained like dogs to sniff out information that most of us might have trouble locating. Let them spend time in the shelves and have it ready for you (or even better, e-mail it to you, if they can).

Likewise, if you'll be traveling to an area where you'll be doing research, contact the library there ahead of time and see if they can't look things up for you so your time there is better spent.

Don't be shy here; they're hired to help you. Let them!

4) Note bibliographies.
At the back of any resource you find, be sure to read the bibliography. It'll be like a trail of breadcrumbs that can lead you to other resources you can look up, including many you might not be able to find elsewhere, and definitely ones you hadn't heard of before.

Enjoy the research process and don't be afraid of it. While you won't use everything you find in your book, the journey to discovering the nuggets you will use can be extremely rewarding.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Thoughtful Blogger Award

Our blog has received the Thoughtful Blogger Award from LDS Publisher.

LDS Publisher said: "I'm awarding the Thoughtful Blogger Award to: The gals at Writing on the Wall for all their specific help on developing writing as a craft."


We'd like to pass this award onto Maria Zannini who runs a blog with excellent writing and publishing advice.

Know Your Genre

by Heather Moore

Whether you're writing Romance, Fantasy, YA, or Suspense, you must know what works and what doesn't in your chosen genre. Read the bestsellers in the genre you want to be successful in. Ask yourself what makes them successful.

Does this mean if you’re writing a WWII historical, you need to read other WWII novels? Not necessarily. But you should be reading in the historical genre in order to understand the concept of combining fact with fiction, and how much or how little historical information you should put into a scene. You also need to know what’s out there, what’s already been published, and how to make your work take on a unique angle.

If you’re writing Romance, know that there are specific guidelines or formulas to follow. For instance, Romance is always written in 3rd person narrative. Boy and girl have to meet in the first 10 pages. Study the guidelines at the Romance Writers of America website. Attend conferences or download classes on CD. There are also word count guidelines and restrictions on the age of a heroine. These can be quite strict according to the different romance lines. Before you invest months in writing a novel, know your target audience and publishing guidelines in advance.

If you're writing YA, you need to know that most YA is written in First Person. How old should your character be to target the most readership? The older your character, the more age groups will read it. A fifteen-year-old is less likely to read a novel about a thirteen-year old, but a thirteen-year old will definitely read about a fifteen-year old. Your dialogue and themes must also be consistent with the YA readers.

If you’re writing Fantasy, you must decide the target market—YA or Adult? Know the differences. As you create your new world, there must be a reason for everything . . . WHY do the characters have the skills or physical characteristics that they do?

Knowing your genre also helps to prevent cloning--by this I mean reusing plot elements that have already been published and putting them into your own book. You may know someone who's written a novel only to be told that it's similar to another book that's already published. This can happen innocently, but it will prevent you from getting that book contract. Stay educated, read your genre, and write well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Sweet It Is

By Annette Lyon

With all due respect to Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame, I don’t think she can possibly get it. It’s nothing personal; she just can’t, because she’s never been there.

I mean, hurrah to her for having a raging success with her first attempt at a book and her first attempt at publishing (two things that are about as likely as getting hit by a meteor and lightning on the same day). Hurrah for selling insane numbers of books and having a raging successful series.

Sure, I’d love to have her royalty checks, her book tours, her movie options, her fans. Her royalty checks. (Oh—I already said that one.)

But you know what? I don’t think there is any way she can appreciate those things, not really. I read an interview recently where she admitted that she was very lucky, that most writers face lots of rejection and still might never get what she was essentially handed on a silver platter.

Good. I’m glad she’s aware on some level that she won the publishing lottery. But she can’t internalize what that means, because she has never faced the decision of wondering if she’s kidding herself for trying to get published after trying for way too many years—if the nasty note on her last rejection meant she was an idiot for pursuing her dream. She’s never worked and worked at her craft, slaving over every word and rewriting ten drafts to make sure it was the best she could make it—and then having it cut down again.

While I’d surely enjoy all the perks she has, there is a big part of me that doesn’t envy her one bit.


Because I have faced rejection. Lots of it. I’ve had to pick myself up, dig deep to pull out the dream I had of being a writer since I was a little girl and put myself out there—again. I’ve faced harsh criticism from editors and judges alike and managed to dust myself off and try—again. And again. And again.

I’ve learned a lot because of all that. I’ve developed a thick skin. I’ve matured as a writer and as a business person. Heck, I’ve matured as a woman. Another benefit is that rejection doesn’t sting so much as it used to—I know now it’s not personal.

But the best part is that I can bask in the glory of success, because it tastes so much sweeter after experiencing failure.

When I got the call from my publisher saying that they had accepted what became my first published novel, I managed to keep it together on the phone. Then I hung up and burst into tears and shrieks of joy.

Without the tough road behind me, I wouldn’t have had such complete satisfaction, the feeling of “Yes, I finally did it!”

When my first royalty check arrived, I bought a fantastic microwave (not a car or a house, alas). To this day few things are more beautiful to me than that appliance. Not for its “melt chocolate” setting, as much as I love that, but because it represents a long battle and ultimate victory.

Since then, I’ve continued to work hard. I’ve continued to have rejections. But I’ve also had a gradual increase in my successes.

And you know what? I appreciate every scrap of success that much more because it was earned, because I know all too well what it was like to not have success, yet to ache for it.

Meyer can enjoy her millions of copies in print. Meanwhile, I’ll be enjoying myself as I melt chocolate with my microwave—my personal symbol of just how sweet success can taste.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Angst for Teens

By Julie Wright

It is a fact that teenagers have attitudes to some degree or another. It is a fact that angst ridden teenagers are moody, despondent, and irrational.

In your writing, how much is too much?

You want to capture reality and the reality is, you can go as far with angst as you want, but just because you can doesn't always mean you should.

I've read several teen books recently that are filled with angst so that by the time I close the book on the last word, I feel ticked off and want to lash out at something. The fact that I left the book with these emotions is a good clue there was too much angst peppered through the pages. It doesn't leave me feeling very pleased with the author who bestowed such pissy pessimism on me and I've sworn off four authors in the last two weeks.

I know . . . I know. I've heard all the arguments both for and against. I've fought on both sides of being for or against "reality."

I'm thinking of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. How many people still like that book less than any of the others based on Harry's teen-tude? Most people actually.

I'm one of the few defenders. I thought she portrayed him realistically without souring my own personality. And it ended well enough with Harry's rational mind given back to him.

I think that's the key. How do people feel at the end of the book? Has the character grown, developed, morphed into something more noble than angst-ridden sarcasm? If not, you might want to revisit your manuscript, send it off to several readers who you trust to be brutally honest and see what they think. If they believe your characters to be angry, vile sort of people, you might want to try at a little humor to soften them, or give moments where they show a different range of emotion.

Janette Rallison said once that in order to win the Newbery, one must make certain that the angel of death slices his scythe through the pages of the book. But it is far more difficult writing humor than it is to write the flat angst ridden teenager. Anyone can write angst, but it truly takes talent to be funny.

Before you write that book for teens, think of what feeling you'll leave the reader with at the end. It could make the difference as to whether or not you get an encore.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Basic Word helps

By Josi S. Kilpack

If you're using Microsoft Word to write your book, and most people do, here are a few time saving tips:

*To make a hard page break (end of the chapter, need a new page, and yes, you always need a new page at the end of a chapter)=ctrl & enter pressed simultaneously. (or if you are on a mac the apple key & enter pressed simultaneously)

*To make an em-dash, make two hyphens and keep typing. If for some reason they remain as two hyphens, go back to the end of the second hyphen and hit return. You'll get a new line, but it will complete your em-dash and you can then backspace.

*Sometimes when writing dialogue that does not end in a letter or common punctuation, the quotation marks will be backwards. To fix this, go to the ending point of your dialogue and type in a letter, then the ending quotation marks. Delete the letter and you're in proper form.

*To cut and paste without having to go into the edit viewer, use ctrl & X (or apple & X) and to paste it, put your cursor where you want the information to be put and press ctrl & V (or apple & V)--to copy instead of cut, use ctrl & C (or apple & C)

*When editing someone else's work, go to Tools, and click on 'track changes'. Set the parameters to highlight changes and then, as you make changes they show up as edited notes and colored text, allowing the other person to see the changes you make. They can then accept or reject those suggestions.

*Never underestimate the power of the 'undo' option, located under 'edit' on the word tool bar. It can go back several actions and restore things you thought you had lost.

*When I have a detail I need to research, such as the name of a hospital in Chicago, but don't want to take the time to look for it right now, I flag the place I need it with a ###. Then, when I'm ready to do some research, I click on 'edit' and then 'find' and ask it to find all the ### in my document. This takes me from one place, then another, allowing me to fill in the blanks without having to scroll through 300 pages to find the right place.

Do you have any tricks of your own? I'm all ears.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cover letters

by Heather Moore

Last week I blogged about queries and touched a bit on the difference between query letters and cover letters.

When you first send sample chapters of you fiction manuscript to an agent or publisher, you include a query letter. If the agent or publisher requests additional material, whether a partial or full manuscript, you should include a cover letter.

If you're submitting an article or other non-fiction piece, check the submission guidelines. Often with non-fiction material, a cover letter is specifically requested. John Wood, author of Query & Cover Letters , said, “A cover letter is not really a letter; it’s a note whose sole purpose is to briefly introduce yourself and your submission, then get out of the way . . . it should be no more than a half page.”

Basically a good cover letter has three parts:

1. The introductory paragraph: This describes what you're enclosing and why. Be sure to remind the editor that he/she requested the material.
2. The biographical paragraph: This should be brief and explain any relevant writing credentials. Or it might answer any questions that the agent or publisher asked about your prior experience/publications.
3. The concluding paragraph: Close the letter politely. Phrases like, "Thank you for your consideration," "I look forward to hearing from you," and "I appreciate your time," are all appropriate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Confusing Word Pairs

by Annette Lyon

I'm putting on my grammar police hat today in hopes of clarifying some commonly confused word pairs.

Hearing this word pair used incorrectly is one of my personal pet peeves, and it's happening more and more often in casual conversation. But that doesn't mean you have to slip into laziness and do it wrong. Most mistakes use the two words interchangeably, as if both mean imply.

Incorrect example: "I couldn't believe she inferred such rude things when she was talking to me."

Why it's wrong:
Imply and infer are at opposite ends of the same relationship (sort of how a tenant/landlord are in the same relationship, or speaker/listener, but not doing the same thing).

In this case, the speaker IMPLIES something:
"Check out this pair of jeans. They're HUGE on me, so I'm sure they'd fit you."

The listener hears the implication and deduces from it (or infers) the meaning.
"Oh, she thinks I'm fat."

When you tell someone that you love their shoes or that their new glasses sure look great, you're giving them a compliment.

On the other hand, if something completes or enhances an experience, it complements it, such as having just the right chocolate dessert after your favorite meal, a perfect complement to the feast.

This one's easy to remember: something that "completes" has the E in it, hence complement goes with it.

Almost always, one of these words is a VERB and the other is a NOUN.

Affect is the verb form, such as:
"The commerical affected me so deeply I cried."

Effect is the final result of something, such as:
"The commercial had a profound effect on me. I cried."

(An exception applies here, but it's rare, and chances are you'll never use "effect" as a verb. Don't worry about it.)

Easy to mix up, but easy to fix as well.

Then refers to a sequence of events: "I went to the bank and then to the movie."

Than compares two items: "I enjoyed this book much more than the last one I read."

A triple threat! No problem, though; they're still pretty easy.

Ensure: There's a good chance this is the word you're looking for. It means to make sure something will happen. When it doubt, use this one. Example: "To ensure the children's safety, the parents always buckled them in their car seats."

Insure: This is the common mistake form. Avoid using it unless you're referring to protecting your car or home. Only insurance companies insure: "How much would it cost to insure my old heap of a car?"

Assure: Less-often confused than the othe two. This one is used to denote giving confidence over an issue, such as: "She assured her son that she'd be at the concert."

A rising star or talent that stands out from the others would be considered eminent.
"The eminent dancer received a standing ovation for her solo."

Something about to happen at any moment would be imminent:
"I just knew my latest rejection was imminent."

If you refer to something, such as how Shakespeare often dropped in references to mythology into his work, you allude to that reference:

"Steinbeck frequently alludes to portions of the Bible in East of Eden."

If, on the other hand, you're running away from something or trying to avoid an issue, you need the other word: elude:

"The solution to the problem eluded me." OR
"The bank robber eluded the police."

Another pet peeve of mine. This one constantly is messed-up on network commercials.

Fewer belongs to COUNT NOUNS, or things you can actually count, such cars or calories:
"She enjoys the chocolate cake, even though the chocolate mousse has fewer calories."

Less belongs to NON-COUNT NOUNS, or things you cannot count but instead refer to in general quantities, such as flour or time:

"Be sure to use less flour in the cake than you did last time."

"He said it happened three weeks ago, but she was sure less time had passed than that."

If you're saying "cups of flour," you're now using "cups" as the noun, and you can count cups, so you'd use FEWER: "This recipe calls for fewer cups of flour than the other one."

With time, if you're discussing minutes or hours, you're again into count nouns and can use fewer. "It takes fewer hours to drive to Grandma's than to Aunt Marge's." But time by itself is generic and immeasureable, so you'd use less, as in the example above.

Please, please, don't make this mistake, which is how the two are usually messed up:

"Diet Coke has less calories than regular Coke."

NO!!! Diet Coke has fewer calories and is less fattening as a result.

I admit it; I'm a little neurotic when it comes to some of these things. I almost get an eye twitch when I hear "less calories" on TV. But that's because I'm an editor. I've trained myself to know the rules.

And here's the clincher: any editor you submit to will likely know the rules inside and out—and know full well if you've broken them. Don't give editors eye twitches. Make your writing smooth, clean, and seamless.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Attention to Detail

By Josi S. Kilpack

My blog this week is taken from Jack Bickham’s book “The 38 most common fiction writing mistakes (and how to avoid them)”. This is one of my very favorite writing books and one I go back to often. I often send a copy back with manuscripts I’ve edited with specific chapters marked to help the writer understand a point I was trying to make in my edit of their work. The chapter I am highlighting this week is Chapter 21 “Don’t Ever Stop Observing and Making Notes.”

Most writers feel they are good students of the world, keep observers, and attentive life watchers. We view the world around us as writing material and often find inspiration directly through observations we make. However, as years go on we sometimes stop doing this. We no longer listen to conversations around us, we no longer notice the details—or perhaps we were never all that good at it anyway. Bickham points out that attention to detail is the difference between good fiction and great fiction, and I agree. I have read over manuscripts of my own and realized that details are missing. On my pursue of a great plot, I have lost my tight descriptions, or my active voice. He gives a four-step process of honing our observation skills and applying it to our work.

1—Examine your environment. As you look at the world around you, and examine it, you become an active participant in it. The grass isn’t just green, it’s bright, with crisp edges and creates a lush carpet still wet with morning dew. Is it brighter than it was last week? Is it drying out, reflecting the summer heat in it’s dull blades. Pay attention to the details.
2—See out what makes this tree . . . this person . . . this storefront unique. What sets this woman apart from the other? Is it simply her blond hair? Or the fact that her roots have grown out, attesting to her vanity, but procrastination in keeping it up ,which then makes you wonder why she colored her hair in the first place if she wasn’t committed to keep up the charade of being a natural blond. Look for those details, focus on them, compare and contrast items in order to set them apart from one another.
3—Go through the formal process of recording your observations. This means taking notes. Write about the grass, write about the woman’s hair, write about just how fat that cricket was. By writing them down you ensure they will be there when you need them, but you also practice your own ability to translate your observations into actual language.
4—As you practice translating your observations, use deft, brief, evocative writing. Don’t go on and on, keep it tight and to the point—but rich in what it gives the reader. It also keeps you from telling so much, allowing the ability to show a setting or presence. For instance:

Mary ran her fingers through her black hair, wishing the sun was out.


Mary’s hair was black, thick and tangled; details perfectly matched to the dismal morning.

No matter how long you’ve been writing, attention to detail in the world around you will bless your writing and benefit your reader in that the story will be more than something they read, rather it will become something they see, and feel and relate to. You’ll be amazed at how the world wakes up around you when you take the time to listen.

I know many writers read this blog, what have you done? How do you keep your descriptions fresh or work in details to your stories?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Queries Queries Queries

You have a great manuscript that you've taken through the proper channels of editing. You start sending out queries and slowly the rejections start to trickle in. Now what?

John Wood, author of How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover letters, said: “If you’re still stuck at ground level in your writing career, take a hard look at the engine—at the correspondence you’re sending out. Most likely, that’s where the smoke’s coming from.”

Wood also said that your query letter should be as personal, as passionate, and as professional as possible.

But do you really have a chance? Agents receive thousands of queries a year. Not only do you have to impress their assistant, you have to impress them to receive a “call-back”—meaning a request for a partial (i.e. sample chapters).

First of all, it's essential to understand the purpose of a query letter. They are sent to gain the interest of an editor or agent. The all-in-one-submission package should include a Query, a one-page Synopsis, and a sample page of writing—sent at the same time.

This is fine as long as you read the submission guidelines. If the agent’s website says: accepts queries only. Then only send a one-page query. Nothing else.

A good query has these components:

1. Keep tone appropriate: don’t be cheesy or silly

2. Use high quality paper (25 lb bright white)

3. Address query to correct editor or agent: Some agents will throw out a submission if their name is spelled incorrectly

4. First paragraph: Hook sentence and story (see other blogs about writing Hooks)

5. Second Paragraph: Why you are submitting to this publisher—do your homework. Read their blogs, articles, and interviews

6. Third Paragraph: Your Writing Credentials—-if you haven’t been published, you need to have a PLATFORM. Why are you the expert in this subject? OR why is this novel important?

7. Close Simply: “Thank you for considering my manuscript. I look forward to your response.” Sign the letter with “Sincerely”

Email Query

1. Put “query” in the heading so it won’t be seen as spam.
2. Keep professional.
3. Use standard opening and closing as if you were writing a letter.
4. Proofread before sending.
5. Only email a query if the agent has specific guidelines

What's the difference between a query and a cover letter? A cover letter should only be included when additional material is requested. OR sometimes it’s specifically requested with non-fiction material. John Wood says, “A cover letter is not really a letter; it’s a note whose sole purpose is to briefly introduce yourself and your submission, then get out of the way . . . it should be no more than a half page.”

Next Thursday, I'll post some examples for a cover letter.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fiction vs. Reality

by Annette Lyon

There's a reason Tom Clancy said, "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

No kidding. I've heard many, many beginning writers go off on a tangent, demanding, "But that's how it really happened!"

So? That doesn't mean you should write it that way in your fiction. It's very easy to try "writing what you know" in the sense of recreating your own experiences in the pages of a novel. I think all beginning writers are guilty of that to some extent. And yes, it can work.

But here's where the problems creep in:

1) It becomes unbelievable.
This is the most common problem. A beginning writer recently complained that he entered his real war story into a contest, only to be told by the female judge that it was too unbelievable. He dismissed her comments because SHE WAS A WOMAN, so naturally wouldn't "get" a war story.

Hmmm. Maybe he should take a look at how he WROTE the story. I haven't read the piece, and I don't know the judge, so I'm just guessing here, but since I've judged enough of these things, I'm thinking I'm not too far off the mark: He probably didn't show what was going on, explain the situations, put the reader into the moment, make the motivations clear.

Your audience should be able to figure out, believe, and be immersed in your story regardless of gender. If he/she just can't buy it, the problem doesn't rest with the reader. It rests with YOU, the author. It's YOUR job to make the piece believable.

2) You're writing it like a journal entry.
In journals, we usually recount events. We don't recreate the scenes complete with dialogue and descriptions. If you've fallen into this trap, you're TELLING, not SHOWING, and the piece has turned into a boring sequence of events. (This happened and then this happened . . .)

Fiction must be propelled by motivation and conflict. Life isn't always like that. It USUALLY isn't like that. Stuff just happens. But in your story, events must be causally linked, and you must have conflict as the driving force.

If you're adapting a real story to fiction, you've got to be willing to hack it to pieces enough (taking out the boring parts, combining new elements) so that it becomes compelling to a reader and isn't just a bunch of journaled events.

Which leads to:

3) You won't adapt for the sake of the piece.
Sometimes a real-life story is a great springboard for fiction. But since we've established that you are writing FICTION, guess what? You can make it up. You don't have to stick with what really happened, even if you are basing the story on your first boyfriend who was such a jerk. Move things around. Change a plot point. Add a new conflict or subplot over there. Throw in a new minor character here. Clinging to "what really happened" when you're writing fiction is pointless and will result in a flat piece.

We all write from personal experience to some extent; it's inevitable. Just don't get so hung up on keeping what's "real" at the expense of what could be very good if you just shook it up a bit.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Cons of cons

By Julie Wright

I'm doing a sequel to last week's blog. I started thinking about conferences for writers and then cringed at several of my own (and worse, if you can believe it, other's) errors while attending conferences.

The Pros of Cons is that people get to meet you and know who you are.
The Cons of Cons is that people get to meet you and know who you are.

If you have a tendency to shoot off your mouth before your brain is fully loaded, you might want to consider duct taping your mouth shut before entering the conference arena. What you say can and WILL be used against in court of publication decision making.

Some basic rules for cons are:

1. Never bring a manuscript to hand off to an editor or an agent. This isn't just a flippant rule either. No, you are not the exception. Editors and agents do not want to lug your manuscript through airports and taxis along with all their luggage. Agents and editors usually use their travel time to read manuscripts they've asked for. This is valuable time for them and it really, really ticks them off to have someone try to eek into that time.

2. Never try to upstage a panel of authors, agents, and editors when you are in the audience. There is a reason why people are in the audience; it is to listen to the people with the microphone. If no one handed you a microphone, then don't assume anyone wants to hear from you. Honestly. I've been in some conferences where an audience member will tie up ten minutes of time while they pontificate about their half-written manuscript. Don't do this. I was talking to an agent afterward and he said he'd written the name down of the guy who wouldn't shut up, so he knows who to immediately reject. I think the agent was joking, but I think he was being honest too. Make yourself someone who is likable. Agents have so many reasons to reject a manuscript, do not spoon feed them more.

3. Use this time to socialize and network. Don't underestimate the importance of good friends. Even if you didn't get to buddy up with the editor of Scholastic, if you made other writer friends, you had a successful con. Writer friends are immensely valuable when the rest of the world thinks you're insane for trying a career at writing.

4. Feel free to talk ask questions during Q and A. Even if you don't have a microphone, you CAN ask a question. Questions are great to ask so long as they aren't, "Hi, My name is Joe and I just wrote the next Harry Potter. Will you publish it?" or "Why did you reject my manuscript?" Asking a well formed question can get you noticed in a positive way. Asking an off-the-wall-not-pertinent-to-this-discussion question will get you noticed in a negative way. If you aren't sure which side your question might fall on, error on the side of caution and don't ask.

5. Editors and agents are people too. So if you get a chance to be in an elevator with them, feel free to talk to them. Ask about how they like the conference. Talk to them like normal people. I think people get tongue twisted and freaked out because they forget that these guys are human. Even if you don't end up with a professional relationship with the agent or editor, you could end up as a well respected acquaintance, or even a friend, and that is something worth having.

6. This is not the time for off-color jokes and crude humor. We aren't in junior high; let's not act like it. I only mention this because I witnessed a scene that has forever scarred my mind. That guy will never be published.

8. Don't gossip. It's a small world. You never know who knows who and more--who LIKES who. You'd hate to be in need of a surgical procedure to remove the foot in your mouth. Never speak ill of others. It saves you the trouble of needing to apologize later.

7. Respect their time. I cannot tell you how often I see someone who has pounced on an agent or editor in the hallways between classes and panels and cons and they talk and talk and talk and . . . you get the picture? The agents eyes roam desperately for some escape, but they don't want to be rude . . .
Don't be the guy everyone is running from. If the agent looks at a watch or seems to be looking around, understand they likely had somewhere to go. Ask for a business card and shake their hand and leave it at that. Later, when you query them, you can say, "We met at the conference and you gave me your card."

8. If you got the card, send the query. Don't sit on business cards. Publishing is a dynamic business. editors and agents change houses and companies all the time. If you've got the card, you want to query immediately while the Con is still fresh in their mind. If you've got the card, the only thing holding you back is you.