Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tis The Season

By Julie Wright

I bought the book Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins and put it up on my bookshelf above my desk so I had to look at it a lot. I am not allowed to open it.

I really, really, really want to open it. But I'm not allowed to. Why would I buy a book I am not allowed to open? Because it is a present for myself--a reward for when I finish my current work in progress. Since my current work in progress remains incomplete, that book will remain closed on my shelf. It's a wretched sort of torture.

In this season of gift giving, I have set Christmas day as the completion day for the work in progress. That way I can give myself a really cool gift of reading. This is one the few motivational exercises that has ever worked for me and I know I've mentioned it before, but it's a concept that's worth repeating. It wouldn't work if I cheated and "peeked" into my present before I'd actually earned it. And I've found it doesn't work so well if I buy other books and use those as filler in place of the thing I really want. Motivation to write is tricky.

For some, the motivation lies in the carrot of publication. That carrot dangles temptingly before all writers. However, that is a carrot that cannot be counted on--not even for previously published authors. Sure there are the exceptions who can write what they want and know they're going to see it in print, but most of us write and hope. And work and hope. And submit and hope.


In the season of gift giving and perpetual hope, let me offer some motivational advice. Keep hoping. Don't give up on your dreams. But make sure you offer yourself a real gift for the completion of your smaller goals--the goals you can control. Offer yourself a small gift for making it to the hundred page mark, the two hundred page mark, to the words, "the end." Offer yourself a small gift for reaching ten submissions, twenty submissions, one hundred submissions . . .

I gift myself with books because I can afford them, and I really, really, really want them. You know what will motivate you. Make sure it's something you can really give yourself. Reward yourself and know you are moving forward with each reward. Publication is a great goal and a gift with its own rewards, but it's not something you can really control. But you CAN control ALL the steps that lead up to it. You can control your writing habits. You can control your submission habits. You can control whether or not you move forward even if rejection letters come your way, even if your manuscript comes back from critique group looking like a large animal had been sacrificed over the top it with all the red ink dripping from your pages.

And if you keep control of those things and keep moving forward (as Walt Disney says) you'll find one day your phone ringing with the excited voice of an agent or editor on the other end of the line. And that opens up a whole new set of rewards.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0032:

Dear Agent,

Overwhelmed by the paparazzi hanging out in her hedges, twenty-something Abigail Kelly banishes herself to secluded Seaside, Florida for much needed R&R. But her band’s manager wants her back in LA—pronto. She needs to record, and there’s that photo shoot, and those interviews…

Abby ignores him—in search of peace, and the perfect combination of anti-depressant and skinny jeans to take the edge off her crazy life. Instead she finds Todd—who understands her better than anyone…and likes her anyway. As they laugh and swim and fall in love over the summer, Abby remembers life before the spotlight, and is reminded that there is more to life than hollow fame.

Back in LA three months later, Abby manages to balance work and life. But it’s short-lived with a new record deal looming, and an overseas touring schedule into the next millennium. Sensing the oncoming pressure, Todd tries to help, but this only drives them apart. It comes to a head when Todd fights with her manager as Abby stands by. Even after Abby tries to smooth things over, Todd goes home to Florida. Alone. And her manager is thrilled.

Now Abby is really on her own—facing a boss who is taking advantage of her guilt and workaholic tendencies. Pushed to the limit, she finally snaps, and for the first time in her life, she’s determined to stand on her own, and to stand up for what she wants: control of her life.

A work of women’s fiction, ABBY ROAD is complete at 95,000 words. My Bachelors Degree is in English. I belong to the Writers’ Guild of Texas.

Thank you for your generous time. The complete manuscript of ABBY ROAD is available upon request.

Yours, etc...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

Two of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0030:

To The Editor,

Eden has a new, blue umbrella, and its not your average ho-hum, every-day umbrella,this is the kind of umbrella that can sweep a girl off her feet! Which is just what happens to Eden in this adventre story for kids aged about 2 to 5 years old.

I see from my research that you are interested in fresh imaginative picture books,and I hope this manuscript will fit your list well.

My completed manuscript is XXX words, and is enclosed along with an SASE.

Thank you for your consideration,

The Author


Critique Archive 0031:

Dear Agent:

On the game board of Ancient Greece, mortals are despised, but not dispensable, creatures, for it is their worship that is the basis of the Gods’ power. Robbed of this power and stripped of her Godhood by her sister Hera, abandoned by her lover Zeus, Demeter finds herself in the position of a pawn, moved hither and thither by the Gods’ whims.

Living as a mortal, Demeter must bring her child into the world and raise her without all the privilege and power she possessed as one of Olympus' chosen. A mother Goddess who has no desire to be a mother, Demeter grows increasingly bitter under the burden of motherhood and her mortal life. She vents her anger on the one she should love best, her daughter, Persephone.

Persephone seeks solace from her mother’s wrath in the forest surrounding the village in which they live. On one such foray, Persephone plucks a narcissus growing at the mouth of a cavern. The cavern spews out a chariot bearing Persephone’s fate in its basket; Hades, ruler of the dead. He abducts Persephone, carries her to his realm and forces her to share her body and her bed with him.

Frantic at Persephone’s loss, desperate, now that her daughter is beyond her reach, to recompense for all the ways she wronged Persephone, Demeter sets out on a quest for Persephone’s freedom that takes her from Poseidon’s depths to Olympus’s heights. Zeus restores Demeter’s Godhood, but refuses to command Hades to release Persephone.

With a wealth of power once again at her disposal Demeter is free to manipulate the mortal world in any way necessary to gain her daughter’s freedom. Her only consideration is how many mortals it will be necessary to destroy before Zeus feels his throne tilt beneath him and comes to heel.

As Demeter schemes for her release in the Upper World, Persephone formulates plan after plan of escape in the Under; all of which Hades thwarts. However, daily pressed into proximity with this dark God, Persephone finds his impassive exterior hides a kind man, whose need for love and compassion surpass even her own. Unaware of Demeter’s cruel plan and what her continued absence from the Upper World means to the mortals who dwell there, Persephone begins to wonder if escape is truly what she wants.

SEEDS, a historical fantasy, is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0029:

Dear XXXX,

“Waves” is a completed 96,000 word Young Adult novel that shares the emotional story of a young girl as she adjusts to big changes in her life. Alyssa's mother passed away the previous fall and her dad has recently remarried a woman who has two children of her own. Alyssa is having a hard time adjusting to this new family, especially to her attractive step-sister, Jessica, who is just one year older than Alyssa. She is determined, however, not to let jealousy get in her way. She will have the best summer of her life . . . or will she?

Alyssa Chamberlain is determined that this summer will be one filled with romance and fun, unlike summers past, as she returns to her family’s beach house for their annual three-month vacation. But, things will be different this year for other reasons. Alyssa quickly succeeds in her mission to have an amazing summer, hanging out with old friends and falling in love with someone new, Ethan Andrews. But, as Ethan begins to constantly argue with his older brother, Mason, it becomes obvious they are hiding something. Alyssa struggles to understand their tense relationship and swears to herself that she will uncover their family secret. However, what they are hiding goes beyond her wildest imagination and her acceptance of it can only go so far as she tries to comprehend exactly what the two brothers and their dad are up to. It's a mystery that she insists on solving, even if it means losing her first true-love.

She discovers that they have been drugging girls and taking their blood. They then alter it in a way so that, when injected into themselves, it dramatically slows their aging process. Can her relationship with Ethan move past this deception? She isn't sure it can when she learns that Ethan's brother is actually his father, and who she knew as his father is actually his grandpa. The only thread of hope she can cling to is that Ethan himself hasn't been injected with the stolen blood. However, that could change at any time. Vampires aren't the only ones who want your blood.

“Waves” is my first novel, which I have put many hours of writing and research into in order to create an incredible situation and make it become feasible. I am currently working on a sequel so that my readers can continue to follow Alyssa’s journey as she starts her senior year of high school with new self-confidence.

I have enclosed a synopsis (???, the first three chapters???) and a SASE for your reply. If you are interested, I would be happy to send the completed manuscript.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.



Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0028:

Agent Name
Agent Address


Dear _____________,

To most, the word ‘coma’ conveys dreaded images: a living but lifeless body, a trapped, dormant mind. But is the mind trapped and dormant? What if, severed from physical ties, our consciousness migrates to another state—a holding place—a paradise, or purgatory? And do the lies we’ve lived and told ourselves determine which state it is?

In my 90,000 word novel, Where Paradise Lies, brothers David and William Jenner seek redemption. Purpose and peace elude them until a final tragedy strikes, bringing death to one and leaving the other in a coma.

Waking on a transcendental island, unable to remember who he is, the adventure begins. Is it William or David searching for the paradise his physical life never held? Will the arrival of a mysterious woman destroy or mend what is left of his life before the coma ends?

Currently, I have two books in print, Orinoco Intrigue and The Garden Gate, published by Latter Day Specialties. I am a member of the Absolutely Write chapter of the League of Utah Writers, in Ogden, Utah, and have led a critique group for ten years.

Enclosed is the first chapter of my novel, as well as a synopsis and SASE for your convenience. Thank you for your consideration.



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fall 2009 Writers Conference in Utah

They are still going:

SCBWI Conference: November 13-14, 2009

The Annual Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrator's (SCBWI) Conference in Salt Lake City, November 13-14, 2009 at the City Library (210 East 400 South, Salt Lake City). Speakers will include Egmont USA editor Elizabeth Law, Book Stop Literary agent Kendra Marcus, and Simon and Schuster art director Laurent Linn. Guest authors will be Royce Buckingham (Demonkeeper), Bree Despain (The Dark Divine), Bobbie Pyron (The Ring), Jean Reagan (Always My Brother), and Sydney Salter (Jungle Crossing). Plus, a Friday writing intensive with Terri Farley (author of the Phantom Stallion series).

The workshop on Friday will be from 2-4:30pm.
Cost $25/SCBWI members, $35/non-members.

Satuday will be from 9:30am-5:15pm.
Cost $85/SCBWI members, $100/non-members.
To register go to the scbwi website @ www.scbwi-utah-idaho.org or email Sydney Salter Husseman at u.i.scbwi@mindspring.com for a PDF of the brochure.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Mania--Query

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0027:

October 22, 2009

Dear xxxx,

I spoke with you at the BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference where you expressed an interest in mid-grade contemporary fantasy. Most boys dream of being super heroes, but in my 40,000 word novel, Eddie and the Magic Staff, disabled twelve-year-old Eddie Davenport dreams of being normal, until the day he disappears down a sinkhole and finds a magic staff that cures him—while he holds it.

Trapped beneath the earth, Eddie rouses Afvyra, last of the dragons, from centuries of slumber. “Dragons aren’t real,” Eddie said. “It’s a dream, or a really good movie effect.’”

To escape the dragon’s wrath Eddie must choose to keep the staff, or relinquish his new found freedom to buy his sister’s life. Will he discover in time that he is more than his disability, and that true magic lies within?

Eddie and the Magic Staff received an honorable mention in the 2009 League of Utah Writer’s Tween Book competition. My writing has also been published in LDS Living Magazine. I am the Vice President of the Absolutely Write chapter of the League of Utah Writers.

As the mother of two disabled boys I have unique insight into the inner struggle of disabled children and feel this enables me to accurately portray the search for acceptance Eddie experiences in Eddie and the Magic Staff.

I appreciate your consideration and look forward to hearing from you. I have enclosed a SASE and the first three chapters for your review.



Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Mania--Query

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0026:

Dear XXXX,

It’s 1992, you’re in London in the middle of the night, frightened and alone. Who would you call? If you are a brilliant, desperate 11-year-old girl hiding in the Notting Hill library, you call on your favorite literary characters. Why? Because Jane Eyre, Huck Finn, and Sidney Carton are your friends…

The young English girl’s tale is one of two that converge in Charm Bracelet, the first novel in my City of Roses series. Set in Portland, Oregon in 2009, the second storyline revolves around jaded corporate attorney, Simon Phillips. In an alcohol-induced fog, Simon finds himself atop a conference room table at his law firm boldly taking the entire legal profession to task, spouting off the things lawyers sometimes think about but never say. This gutsy stand, and other bad-boy behavior, land Simon with an enforced leave of absence, volunteer work, and stress management classes.

Hoping to avoid anyone he knows, a sober, disgruntled Simon goes to a crumbling community center in Northwest Portland for help, and there, unexpectedly, meets the love of his life. Simon has only to look at Dr. Kate Spencer, a non-profit pediatrician, to know she will change him forever, Accustomed to women falling at his feet, Simon must work hard to become a better person, one worthy of Kate. Will it be enough for him to win her, or is it his turn to have a broken heart? Can Simon help Kate move beyond the tragic past that haunts her? Will Kate risk emotional security or continue burying herself in a life of service? And just how does a dented, battered charm bracelet tie Simon and Kate’s story to the girl in the library?

These questions are all answered in Charm Bracelet. Comparable to the work of Lolly Winston, the 102,000-word story explores the consequences of loving another, showing that relationships can be harrowing as well as redemptive. It’s a smart love story with humor. And a shiny, gold heart.

I have been a passionate reader and writer since childhood, and now that my six children are older, I have adequate time to devote to my vocation. Over the last two years, I have taken as many classes as I could to learn the craft. I participate in two critique groups, have attended writer’s conferences throughout the state of Utah, and I am a member of The League of Utah Writers. As a regular speaker at a local women’s organization, I feel in tune with what women look for in a good story, and I am now working on the third installment for City of Roses. My former instructor, Sharon Jarvis (The Kaleidoscope Season, The Fairhaven Chronicles, Deseret Book Company) suggested that I begin submitting my work.

I have enclosed the first five pages of Charm Bracelet with this query. I hope to hear from you in order to send more. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spilling the Beans

by Heather Moore

This past weekend I attended the League of Utah Writers Conference in Midway, Utah (think Heber or Park City—it’s beautiful up there).

It was one of those full circle moments. In 2002, I attended my first writers conference ever—the LUW conference. There I heard from writers that I had admired for years. I entered the contest with a manuscript and earned a 3rd place award. I used the validation to keep me motivated as I waded through plenty of rejections in the months to come.

This year—2009—I attended the conference as a presenter. Even though I felt that I had a lot of insights to share—especially my own bumpy road to publication—I was there to learn. On the side, I was also there as a fan.

I was excited to meet Sandra Dallas. I also took a workshop from Richard Paul Evans, a local author who has been a NY Times Bestseller most of his career. In Evans’ “former” life he was an advertising executive—a very successful one. Transitioning from an ad ex to a successful author is something to note, and believe me, I was writing down every word he said.

So I decided to spill the beans. Some of it you’ve probably heard before, but when Richard Paul Evans says “When I get up in the morning, I go to work against John Grisham,” you suddenly sit up and take more notice.

Evans said to ask yourselves these questions when writing your book:
-Is there an audience?
-Is that audience big enough to earn success?
-Who will purchase the book (i.e. parents purchase books for their children; women purchase books for their husbands, etc.)
-Can you create perpetual motion with your sales? In other words, will you get more energy (sales) out of the product than what you put into it (marketing)?

He also advised:
Find your unique selling proposition and market to it! He gave the example of a book that was published called Compact Classics. It was a glorified and condensed version of Cliff Notes in which you could read a summary of a classic in just a couple of minutes. Sales lagged. Then it was discovered that people were reading this book in the bathroom . . . and the book was renamed: The Great American Bathroom Book. Sales skyrocketed.

Listen to your reviewers. What are they saying about your book? What is the main theme they restate? This is your unique selling proposition.

And finally:
Take Prisoners! You need to capture your audience by creating a mailing list. Evans shared story after story of authors who had their first books sell like crazy. But they didn’t capture their audience (collect addresses or emails), and they weren’t able to market their next books to the audience that loved the first one. When Rick goes to a signing or event, he hands out sign-up cards where the reader can sign up for his email letter, or be on his postal list. Readers can also go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. He also recommended that as a writer, we should sign up for other authors’ newsletters so that we can learn how they are marketing their books.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Monday Mania--Query

One of our readers submitted 2 query letters for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0025:


A female Prophet. A Transmigrator. A Seeker, a Weaver and a Unifier. These are the elements of reincarnation. When Jane enters her Junior year of High school she's expecting the same old routine: boring classes and continued harassment from the female bullies, the Termies. Little does she know, that's the least of her worries. What Jane will soon learn is that her new love interest, Alexander Anderson, has secrets from his past. As a Transmigrator, he recalls his former lives and has come for Jane in one last attempt to fulfill the prophecy. With the help of the other elements of reincarnation, Jane will discover her own hidden strengths and find her long lost Eden buried beneath the depths of the reservoir. Unfortunately, it all comes at a cost.

This novel, for young adults, is complete at 83,000 words. It should appeal to a broad range of readers, including fans of The Hourglass Door and The Time Traveler's Wife. It combines elements of fantasy, the paranormal and romance.

My writing experience includes a self-help article about advocating for special needs children at www.iser.com and two soon-to-be published religious self-help articles at www.bellaonline.com

May I send you a copy of The Reservoir for your review?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,
Amie Borst


She's a prophet, but is completely unaware. When Jane enters her Junior year of High school she's expecting the same old routine: boring classes and continued harassment from the female bullies, The Termies. Little does she know, that's the least of her worries. What Jane will soon learn is that her new love interest, Alexander Anderson, has secrets. He is a Transmigrator, a reincarnated spirit that recalls his past lives. With the help of the other Elements of Reincarnation, the Seeker, the Weaver and the Unifier, Jane will discover her own hidden strengths and find her long lost Eden buried beneath the depths of the reservoir. Unfortunately, it all comes at a cost.

This novel, for young adults, is complete at 83,000 words. It should appeal to a broad range of readers, including fans of The Hourglass Door and The Time Traveler's Wife. It combines elements of fantasy, the paranormal and romance.

My writing experience includes a self-help article about advocating for special needs children at www.iser.com and two soon-to-be published religious self-help articles at www.bellaonline.com

May I send you a copy of The Reservoir for your review?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,
Amie Borst

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Recent Releases by Editors

As a reminder, if any of our "followers" have a book published, we'd be happy to post the good news here! One thing that is unique about Precision Editing Group is that all of our editors are published writers. So we really understand the challenges of writing, editing, and publishing.

This summer, Julie Wright's book Eyes Like Mine hit shelves. A YA novel about a 17-year old's journey of using the past to meet her present challenges. Congrats, Julie!
Also, Josi Kilpack, had a book released recently. English Trifle is the second in the Sadie Hoffmiller culinary mystery series. Delicious. Congrats, Josi!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fall 2009 Writers Conferences

Writers conferences are a great way to network with writers, agents, editors, and to learn the most up-to-date information about the publishing industry. Not to mention fine-tuning your craft.

Various PEG editors will be teaching workshops at the following Writers' Conferences this fall:

The League of Utah Writers: 2009 Conference
September 18-19, 2009: The Homestead Resort in Heber, Utah
(Lu Ann Staheli and Heather Moore)

The Book Academy: A conference for Writers and Readers
September 24, 2009: Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah
(Annette Lyon, Josi Kilpack, and Heather Moore)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday Mania--Query

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0024:

Dear Agent,

Nick Sanchez has just arrived in hell. And he didn’t have to die toget there; he simply accepted a temporary Bureau assignment in Northern Idaho.

Three women have gone missing from Sprague, Idaho within three consecutive years, and the FBI has sent Special Agent Nick Sanchez to the backwoods burg to investigate. When Nick discovers the common factor in all three cases, he begins to scrutinize dormant white supremacist factions in the area. What he finds is beyond shocking: a prominent author has turned his controversial novels into a doomsday cult promoting beliefs in Nordicism and polygamy.

Nick is about to break the biggest case of his career—if he can prove that the missing women have been inducted into the cult of Nordica. But Nordica mastermind Pierce Crawford seems to outwit and outmaneuver Nick every step of the way. Finding tangible proof becomes an insurmountable quest, extending Nick’s stay in hell indefinitely.

While this prolonged stay in Sprague threatens Nick’s plans for an illustrious career, it proves hazardous to his guarded personal life as well. He finds himself falling for the right girl at the wrong time and in definitely the wrong place. Nick needs to put distance between himself and his personal Delilah, but the resulting separation is both unpredictable and excruciating. Lindy Watson disappears, her name added to the list of missing women. Her abduction will unravel the case against Nordica and will bring Nick to question his instincts, his impartiality, and his future at the Bureau. But even more troubling to Nick than a major career derailment is the fact that his misjudgments may cost the life of the only woman he’s ever loved.

The Saving Race is a 104,000 word romantic mystery. Many of the elements adapted by the cult of Nordica are taken from recurring headlines and are topics which draw abundant curiosity and interest.

The Saving Race is my third novel.

Thank you for your consideration.



Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0024:


I am writing to introdouce Emergence, a 77,000 word work of specualtive fiction.

Killing an innocent man is not on corporate soldier Antony Danic’s list of things to do. Neither is finding out his employer has bugged his home and phone. When his assignments start looking more like political agenda than corporate espionage, he begins to doubt the company he is working for. Add to the list, his doubts of his own abilities, a man in black glasses that seems to be following him, keeping the corporation happy by fulfilling his lifelong—till death do us part—contract, and the unexpected pregnancy of his wife of ten years, and the hit man realizes he is treading in dangerous waters.

Just when Antony thinks the list can’t get any harder, the atheist assassin is called to be a High Elder of the church of Caledonia. His refusal of the call, begins a process of deconstruction, that drags him through the depths of a Hell he doesn’t believe exists.

Emergence is a story of faith, the lack of it, sin and forgiveness, decisions and the ramifications of those decisions. The main character Antony Danic can be likened to Paul in the new testament. An enemy of the church becoming a beloved apostle.

My short story "Broken" took third place at LTUE in 2008. You can learn more about me on my blog, XXXX, my Facebook page, XXXX, and my website, XXXX.

I wrote Emergence as a stand-alone; however, I have ideas for a series involving the characters. Enclosed is the full manuscript.

Thank you for your time.



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teen Writers Conference--Registration deadline May 25

Quick reminder to get registration mailed in for
the Teen Writers Conference.

Deadline is May 25, 2009


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Weber State University
Ogden, Utah

Ages 13-19

Registration Information: http://www.teenwritersconference.com/

Full schedule is posted. Best-selling authors including:
Jessica Day George, James Dashner,
J. Scott Savage, Lisa Mangum,
your PEG editors, and many more!

Conference Chair: Josi S. Kilpack
Contact: info@teenwritersconference.com

Parental Permission form required for ages 13–17

$39.00 Registration fee (includes lunch)

Enter the Writing Contest!

Sponsored by Precision Editing Group

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted two versions of a query letter. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0023:

Query #1
Dear Agent:

I am seeking literary representation for my completed 98,000-word YA historical novel Girl From Gurian, set in 18th century Philippines. Girl From Gurian is the story of a fifteen year old princess who discovers the depths of her inner strength as she survives life in exile.

Juzliza’s life changes the day she meets – and falls in love – with a slave-raider named Rumatag. Her father, however, wants her to marry Rumatag’s uncle, Datu Tungkil, to stave off unrest among his allies who don’t support the sultan’s friendly overtures towards the Spanish colonial government. When she refuses to marry Datu Tungkil and the sultan allows the Spaniards to build a Catholic church on Gurian, Datu Tungkil overthrows the sultan.

Juzliza and her family flee into exile. Enduring hardships, she is haunted by Rumatag’s stinging betrayal, when he did not try to stop his uncle’s insurrection. Eventually, she adjusts to life in exile, learning a trade, finding solace in a new love, and even converting to the Catholic church despite her father’s opposition.

Just as her life begins to settle, a new twist unfolds. The Spanish government arrests her father for treason and agrees to release him if she can free a Spanish hostage held by a kinsman. As Juzliza attempts this daunting task, Rumatag captures her. Will she be able to fight off her feelings for him to accomplish her mission and possibly even reclaim her rightful throne?

I grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to Utah, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Utah State University. Over the last two decades, my articles and essays have been published in magazines and newspapers. I also have worked in marketing and public relations.

I would be happy to send you more material, should you be interested. Thank you for your time.

Query #2
I am seeking representation for my completed, 98,000-word YA historical novel Girl From Gurian, set in 18th century Philippines.

A Philippine Pocahontas meets Pirates of the Carribean in this story of a fifteen-year-old crown princess who sets off an insurrection when she allows the Spanish government to build a Catholic church on her Muslim island.

Her family flees into exile, where she fights off pirates, loneliness, and poverty. But most of all, she fights off the memory of the young man she loved, a slave-raider who supported his uncle in the rebellion because Spaniards killed his parents years before. Piano, eccentric friends, a new vocation and the tender love of a Spanish mercenary help ease her days, until she feels she could be content living the life of an ordinary girl. When her father is arrested for treason and she undertakes a dangerous mission to free him, she has to choose between her new life – and love – and the chance to reclaim her rightful throne.

Girl From Gurian was inspired by true historical events, when Fatima, the daughter of an exiled Philippine sultan, negotiated the release of a hostage in exchange for her father’s freedom.

I grew up in the Philippines and moved to Utah in 1987 where I obtained a bachelors degree in English from Utah State University. Over the last two decades, I have written articles and essays for magazines and newspapers. I also have extensive marketing and public relations experience.

I would be happy to send you more material should you be interested. Thank you for your time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter for critique. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0022:

Dear Agent:

What if the FBI could whittle down their suspect list with the help of a teenager? This is the premise for my young adult fiction novel A Royale Pain: A Draven Atreides, Teenage Informant Novel.

Sixteen-year-old, African American, Draven Atreides (pronounced Dray-ven, Uh-tray-deez) has just started a new gig as an FBI informant. Her To Do list includes: adjust to new life, make new friends, and try not to tell said new friends about her secret job. A French chemist is peddling his “specially formulated” products to high-class spas and his latest target is celeb favorite, The Royale Treatment Day Spa. Unfortunately, his products cause some nasty side effects and the results are so not pretty. Just when Draven’s first assignment seems to be heading south, she receives unwanted assistance in the form of Rader DeChanel. What does he want with Draven? Will she be able to solve her first official case without blowing her cover?

This completed project of approximately 39,000 words is the first in a linked character series that takes place in Phoenix, Arizona. Unlike other YA espionage-type series (Spy High, The Specialists, Gallagher Girls), Draven Atreides, Teenage FBI: A Royale Pain is about one girl bringin' down the bad guys—or girls. No weapons. No special training. No disguises.

I'm a member of National Association of Women’s Writers and Arizona Author’s Association, and I’m a native of Arizona. I'd be happy to send you a partial or complete copy of the manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted two versions of a query letter. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0021:

Version 1

Dear xxxx,

When Samantha Van Skyhawk learns her family secret, her life is in terrible danger—and her unlife may just be beginning.

This is the premise of my young adult paranormal novel, Darkness Within which is completed and is approximately 45,000 words in length.

Samantha’s dad is a vampire and soon her blood will change. She flees with her mom and brother to Shadow Falls to find the spell to kill the fervent vampire blood When Samantha encounters Brent, a human with the most bewitching smile, things get complicated. She doesn’t have time for a romance not with the daunting task of defeating a vampire who has been around for centuries. Then Samantha meets Drake, a totally hot vampire, who claims she belongs with him; the darkness within her completely agrees. She must fight her incredible urge to be with Drake and the yearning within her soul to become what she fears most—a monster that kills. Will she save herself and those she loves or will she embrace the night forever?

I am a member of Romance Writers of America and the League of Utah Writers. I have been honored with being named 2006 Writer of the Year by the League of Utah Writers. Darkness Within was awarded second place in the League of Utah Writer’s YA book category. I have four contemporary romances published by Champagne Books. Each book has been on the Champagne Books best selling book list. All of them have received amazing reviews. I have had articles and short stories published for the young adult market.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this novel. I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript at your request. I have included a SASE for your convenience. I will look forward to hearing from you.



Version 2

Dear xxxx

Samantha Van Skyhawk’s world collapsed when she found out her family secret—her dad is a vampire and soon her blood will change.

This is the premise of my young adult novel, Darkness Within.

Her dad a vampire? Had her mom completely lost it? Vampire didn’t exist outside of Hollywood movies, did they? Not only that but her mom tells her she is a witch which makes her brother, Josh, and her one fourth vampire and one half witch. Up until the night her mom took her and Josh and fled, Samantha had always thought she was just an ordinary teenage girl.

Now they must go to Shadow Falls to find the spell to kill the fervent vampire blood that surges through them before it turns them into the undead When Samantha encounters Brent, a human with the most bewitching smile, things get complicated. As cliché as it sounds he makes her knees go weak, but she doesn’t have time for a romance not with her world crashing down and the daunting task of defeating a vampire who has been around for centuries. Then Samantha meets Drake, a totally hot vampire, who claims she belongs with him; the darkness within her completely agrees. She must fight her incredible urge to be with Drake, the brilliance of the night and the darkness within her soul yearning to become what she fears most. There are also the humans who fear those with “special powers” not to mention the other creatures roaming Shadow Falls; werewolves. And then there is the whole new girl factor at Shadow High School where no one seems to like her. She had once thought surviving her senior year would be hard and keeping up her GPA for college, but now that looks like a cake walk compared to all of this.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America and the League of Utah Writers. I have been honored with being named 2006 Writer of the Year by the League of Utah Writers. Darkness Within was awarded second place in the League of Utah Writer’s YA book category. I have four contemporary romances with Champagne and each one has been on the Champagne Books best selling book list. All have received amazing reviews. I have had articles and short stories published for the young adult market.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this novel. I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript at your request. I have included a SASE for your convenience. I will look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Mania--Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0020:

Re: Book Proposal Request

Dear XXXX:

I am seeking representation for my Christian novel, The Blood Oath complete at 85,000 words. I am enclosing a synopsis and the first three chapters as a sample.

I am a member of the League of Utah Writers and the American Christian Fiction Writers associations. Often God’s most effective form of instruction is our trial. In The Blood Oath, the readers are able to vicariously experience Edwina McCullough’s crash course in Christianity 101.

Edwina is trapped in the despair of her “darkest night” when she is jolted by an angelic visitation from Evangel who persuades her to view her life from the vantage point of potential instead of the avenue of defeat. After the visitation, Edwina is determined to live her life differently.

When Edwina and the members of the Calico Club discover the Lewis/Todd blood oath, they set out on a quest to honor the pledge on behalf of their deceased club member, Karla Lewis. When their car breaks down and they become marooned in the desert town of Fortunado, their two week trip turns into a two month odyssey.

The members of the Calico Club plus one, Gabriel, emerge profoundly changed from their experiences in Fortunado. Unfortunately, only three of them are able to continue the quest and ultimately find Zion, the heir to the promise.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon. The book’s scripture, “Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20)

Writer’s name

3 Chapters

Monday, April 6, 2009

THE Teen Writers Conference

Saturday, June 6, 2009
Weber State University

Ages 13-19

Registration Information:

Conference Chair: Josi S. Kilpack
Contact: info@teenwritersconference.com

Parental Permission form required for ages 13–17
$39.00 Registration fee (includes lunch)
Enter the Writing Contest!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Congrats Josi & Annette!!

To Our BLOG Followers: We'd be happy to post a congrats and a cover of your book when you have a book release! Keep us posted!

With that in mind: Congrats to two of our senior editors, Josi and Annette!

Each of them had a book come out recently.

Josi's Lemon Tart was released January 2009:

Annette's Tower of Strength came out in March 2009:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ghostwriting--Interview with Lu Ann Staheli

by Heather Moore

One of our senior editors, Lu Ann Staheli, has been working for the past several months on ghostwriting a book. I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this process. Many books are ghostwritten—especially those you see with "celebrity authors". Some ghostwriters are acknowledged inside the pages (i.e. Glenn Beck’s book The Christmas Sweater had two ghostwriters). Others are acknowledged on the cover such as When Hearts Conjoin, by Erin Herrin with Lu Ann Staheli. Today, Lu Ann has joined us to share her journey of writing the story of Herrin family and their conjoined twins who were successfully separated.

1. From a ghostwriter’s standpoint, how do you begin a project like this? Of course, because I live in Utah where the Herrins twins were born, I had heard some of their story on the local news so I was at least familiar with who they were and some of what the girls had gone through in their short lives. When I first heard they were doing a book I thought, “Wow! What a great project. I wish that I could have written it.” As things worked out, the universe must have read my mind because last August I found myself in that very position. I was given a book outline, and few sample chapter pages, but I was told that Erin, the girls’ mother, didn’t feel the tone of what had been written was right. She wanted a more personal story instead of sounding like a magazine article. So I set to work, drafting a single chapter to get a feel for the project, choosing to write the book more like one might write a novel, using a first person narrative voice, and that voice had to be Erin’s. I hadn’t met Erin yet when I wrote that first chapter, but we sent it off to her, she loved it, and we were on our way. I met with her in October just to chat. It was a good experience because I was able to hear her true voice, begin to understand a little more about her, and to see first-hand her interaction and relationship with the girls, their sister Courtney, and her husband, Jake. The boys were not at home the day I visited. After that meeting, the real work began.

2. When creating the chapters and the flow of the book, how did you decide what information to use and what not to use? We didn’t want this book to turn into a medical procedural, yet we knew we had to maintain the story’s reason to be told. Erin wanted to insure that nothing in the book would ever delve too deeply into the girls’ privacy, so I had to weigh the information I discovered against making sure we had an accurate portrail of events, yet keeping the book more about the emotion instead of the medicine. Since we wanted to stay in Erin’s point of view, it was important to only share what she experienced, felt, and understood. There were many times I just tried to put myself in her place as I worked on the draft and let my own emotions and questions surface. The interesting thing was when I sent her the drafts she would often reply, “That’s exactly how I felt!”

3. The mother of the conjoined twins, Erin Herrin, is listed as a co-author. How did the writing relationship work between the both of you? After I met with Erin, I came home and started a draft of the book in earnest. A flurry of emails went back and forth between the two of us, details were added, I did online research to support what I was writing, Erin corrected things I hadn’t gotten quite right, sent me tidbits she had remembered, and answered my million questions, until at last we had it right. Sometimes she and I were online at the same time, so answers came quickly. Other times, I had to just write through a section and wait for her response. That meant I had to do rewrites a little more often on those sections, but as a writer, I think we all understand the need to just get words on the page and worry about revision and researching later.

4. What type of research did you find yourself doing to flesh out details? I did a lot of reading about conjoined twins in general, but mostly about Kendra and Maliyah. You’d be amazed at how much is really out there about these two little girls. Jake runs a website for them as well, and I watched several video clips of news reports about their surgery. I found online articles about the girls that even Erin didn’t know were available. I also had to learn about medical procedures and equipment. My husband is an LPN, so I asked him a lot of questions and he was able to explain things to me pretty well. Since I’ve never given birth to a child, I relied on my friends to tell me details about pregnancy, ultrasounds, labor, and nursing. Sometimes I think I heard more than I ever wanted to know.

5. When ghostwriting, what are some of the challenges you faced? And what aspects were easier than you thought? Originally I wanted to tell the story completely in chronological order, but I realized that the hook of this story was the girls, and although the family history played a key role, we needed to start with a dramatic moment, so I had to take their life story and organize it into a plot, just like I would for a novel or screenplay, a process I was already familiar with. I reviewed the chapter outline they had given me, and decided where the real story was found, to insure this didn’t become just a travelogue of events. I worried that Erin wouldn’t agree with me at first, but as the story started to come together and she could review the pages, she relaxed and felt good about where the book was headed. Probably the most difficult thing about this book was that Erin had tried so hard to shut out all the fears and bad memories from the past that she had almost blocked out some of the very details we needed to make this story alive enough to touch the hearts of the readers. Sometimes getting the chronological order just right, or remembering which doctor played what role, or sorting through details was confusing, but we hope anyone who finds an error will forgive us, knowing that revisiting this time in her life and the lives of the girls was not always an easy thing for Erin to do.

6. What types of agreements or contracts were made between you, as the writer, and the Herrin family, as the story source? I was originally approached to do this book as a straight ghost-writer, which means I wouldn’t have had my name on it at all. However, as the book progressed, and as Erin and I got to know each other via email and our in-person meeting, we both came to realize how important it was to work as equals on this project. She couldn’t do the book without me, and I couldn’t write her story without her. Erin’s original contract was with Richard Paul Evans as the publisher, and it’s through his company that all of us are being paid, so we came to an agreement that Erin and I would share the writing credits. The girls have their own share of royalties for their trust fund, so everyone wins. Erin and I have also talked about working together on a screenplay for a movie-of-the week based on the book, so that may come about in the future as well.

7. Most writers don’t have a hard time to write their own books, let alone one for someone else. How did you manage this project with your own personal projects? People often ask me how I manage to do all that I do at any given time. I don’t know. I’m a workaholic? I am always busy on something, and I have a husband who doesn’t mind cleaning house, cooking meals, shopping, and running kids around from this thing to that. (Well, let’s say he doesn’t always mind.) Because I’m an English teacher, there are times when my students are reading or writing that I can too. I don’t watch much television, and I’m usually in my home office for at least a few hours each day. I’ve gotten good at writing fast and using little pieces of time to reach my goals, although sometimes a favorite project gets set aside for something with a more immediate return. As a newspaper columnist, I learned how to write a 500 word piece from scratch to final draft form in under an hour. I’m also great at working on multiple projects at the same time, a talent that certainly came in handy as I wrote When Hearts Conjoin at the same time that I finished the screenplay for Seasons of Salvation.

Thanks, Lu Ann for sharing your ghostwriting journey with us!

Note: When Hearts Conjoin will be out May 2009.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Observation Exercises

By Josi S. Kilpack

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass."

--Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

My father is a teacher of many things artistic--pottery, jewelry making, drawing, oil painting, sculpting, and photography. It's the photography I want to talk about a little bit, and a specific element of photography that I have never heard anyone talk about but my dad. That could very well be due to the fact that my only photography teacher has been my dad, but still :-)

The element is called 'point', and it's rather hard to describe in technical terms. Whereas line and curve and framing are all fairly easy to explain, point is an element that is best shown:

Pepper on a fried egg
A red tomato set within a basket of green peppers
Three black birds sitting on a power line
The steeple of a church
The star on a Christmas tree
The red ornaments on a Christmas tree
Two glowing green eyes peering between stalks of corn on a moonless night
The slight part of a bride's lips just before the groom kisses her

In photography, point is not the main subject, but it's the detail that draws the eye and is often the difference between a nice photo and a photo that you look at a second time. Imagine something as simple as a photo of a fried egg, what exactly does the pepper do for it?

Adds contrast? Breaks up the solid color?
I like the egg 'show' of what point is because the photo is not of pepper, it's definitely a photo of an egg, but you can't help but notice the pepper when it's there. It draws the eye, and yet does not change the subject of the photo.

In writing, the word 'point' is often thought of as the moral or the plot or the main conflict. I think that works pretty well--in most cases the 'point' is seen as the main event. I can talk to my kids for half an hour and then say "The point is . . ." effectively summing it up. So, there are definitely interpretations of the word. But for right now I want you to ponder the details of your current Work in Progress, viewing 'point' within the photography definition of the element. I want you to back up and look at the 'points' in your writing. What is it that makes your book different than others? Not in overall things, but in the detail. Things like:

The smell of freshly cut grass that clings to his skin
Highly polished loafers that catch the light of the ballroom
A nervous habit of shaking the coins in his pocket
The amber glints in her otherwise green eyes
The fact that there are two different colors of shingles on the house
A doorbell that plays the first measure of Bethoven's fifth symphony
A doorbell that plays nothing at all
The barking dog just after two a.m.

I promise that you have them--or better yet, I sincerely hope you have them. My favorite books always do. And yet sometimes I look at my own writing and find that those details are missing, that I've become so caught up in the 'Point' of my story that I've forgotten the 'point'--which is to make it real. To bring fiction--unreal; completely made up things--to life. I submit that it's those details that are the difference between good books and great books.

Look around you right now, where ever you happen to be and find point--a detail that draws your eye. It won't be your computer or your desk, but something small, something that almost goes unnoticed.

For me, it's the silver lettering on the spine of a book on my desk that reflects the light of my computer; it looks like christmas lights set inside the cover. Or perhaps it's the orange highlighter wedged between a hundred other writing utensils in my pen holder. Maybe it's the sheen of the light that catches the scotch tape holding a quote to the wall above my desk, or the smudge of black on the side of my printer that I've never gotten around to cleaning.

Take a minute and notice the details, the points, around you. Then find a way to show them in words, to create them for your reader. Doing this type of exercise on a regular basis will not only make you more aware of the world around you, but will likely make your readers more aware of the world you create in your book--and that, after all, is really the point, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

One of the Many Revisited

by Annette Lyon

Last time I talked about how there are so many aspiring writers out there and how only those few with the inner fire will make it.

As a follow-up, I feel like I need to explain my general writing philosophy.

One commenter said in part:

Everyone should be encouraged to write. It's never a waste of time--even if all they do is write little stories for their children, or blog or letters to missionaries.

I couldn't agree more. But since my two opinions seem to conflict, today I'll clarify my stance.

Writers who think it would be "neat" to publish a book most likely won't get there. That's why I say it's a waste of time to encourage and mentor these folks. They're traveling a path they don't have any intention of seeing the end of (especially when--not if--it takes major ups and down to reach that end).

What's the point of that?

That's what last week's post was about.

What I also believe is that writing as a process should always be encouraged. There is power to putting words together and expressing one's innermost thoughts and feelings.

In a very real way, writing can be a powerful form of meditation and prayer.

Writing can free the mind and heart and even act as a type of therapy, a catharsis.

Writing helps you learn what you really think and really feel about a topic, a situation, an event, or even a person.

Writing out a personal problem can help you solve it.

And writing can do much more.

I believe everyone on the planet should be this kind of writer. Everyone could benefit from the simple act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and making something out of nothing, of putting their souls into words and expressing themselves if this amazing medium.

This need to communicate, this power of writing, I believe, is the reason behind the huge boom in blogging and the increasing number of blogs every single day. Anyone can write and have a readership. It's revolutionary.

People want to write. They want to be heard. They want to express themselves.

And they should do all of those things, whether they are one of the few with the fire of publication inside them . . . or whether they are not.

Because everyone should write. This world might be a happier place if there were more people writing things out, regardless of whether it ever gets published.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is This a Kissing Book?

By Julie Wright

I was a guest speaker at the LTUE symposium a couple of weeks ago and oddly enough, was placed on a panel dealing with romance in the science fiction and fantasy markets.

The room was full. People wanted to know how to include good romance in their novels and what consisted of good romance. I was surprised. I didn't think anyone would show up to that panel.

What made the panel extra cool (aside from the fact that I was on it) was that Tracy and Laura Hickman were on it with me. These are people who are universally acknowledged as brilliant writers. They've won the accolades of generations worth of readers. In short, they know what they're talking about.

And the discussion went to the basic human need to be part of a companionship. Humans need love. They need to give it and receive it. And all things at their core come down to that one amazing word: LOVE.

It is no wonder that an infant deprived of affection will literally perish from a syndrome called "Failure to thrive." At the beginning of the last century, the mortality among children under two years of age, living in orphanages in Europe and in North America, was almost 100%. These children were being well taken care of physically. They had all the food and health care they needed. Yet hundreds of those babies died. At that time, they feared touching the babies would spread germs and infection. That was changed in 1920 by a pediatrician who made a rule that all babies get a certain time allotment for "mothering" every day. The mortality rate dropped dramatically. The babies only needed love in order to survive.

Love is so wired into our basic needs that we will die without it, much like we will die without oxygen and food. So, should your book have an element of romance? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends if you want to relate to your reader at a very basic emotional level or not. Part of your job as a writer is to make certain your readers can relate to the characters. If you have aliens, you can't make them so alien that the reader cannot connect with them, or you fail as a writer.

At the beginning of Princess Bride, the young sick boy interrupts his grandfather and says with a great deal of accusation, "Is this a kissing book?"

When Grandpa gets to the kissing part, he stops reading, but is encouraged to continue by the same child who had already declared he wanted nothing to do with kissing. Why the change?

Because even at his young age, and feeling a little hesitant to step into something that might brand him as a sissy, the child recognized that true love really does conquer all.

And I'm not saying you have to have kissing and sex in your novel--I'm saying you need love. That love can come from a relationship between a man and woman, a mother and daughter, two best friends willing to die to save each other--it can come from any relationship where two humans let go of their own pride long enough to find something worth living for.

You might find yourself saying, "Well, this is a historical book." What? People didn't love each other historically? Or maybe you're writing a war novel. Do you think people give up their basic needs just because they are in a war?

Even the Grinch needed his heart to grow in order to find his happy ending.

No, you don't always have to include romance (in the strict sense of boy meets girl), but if you want your book to strike that perfect chord of poetry where you have spoken to your reader in a language they will always understand, you'd better make certain to remember Love.

Friday, February 27, 2009

You Might be a Writer if . . .

By Josi S. Kilpack

You find using abbreviations when text messaging an offense to your sensibilities.

You sometimes interrupt friends and family during conversation to teach them the correct usage of lay/lie.

You wake up in the morning only to suggest revisions to your subconscious mind for the dream you had during the night.

You accidentally put the name of your current protagonist as a reference on an application--it's the phone number that trips you up.

You have EVER finished a book and thought "I could do better."

Words like characterization, exposition, story arc, resolution and dramatic effect are frequently used even in non-writing conversation.

Your spouse trusts sending you to the mall with a credit card so long as there isn't a bookstore in said mall.

Instead of saving up for a vacation to Disneyland, you have a fund in place so that one day you too might own the Oxford English Dictionary--hard copy and CD.

You ponder the meaning of words like loquacious and rudimentary--how have their definitions changed between the early nineteenth century and today? What is their root language? When was the first usage of such words in modern literature? Can you use them in your current WIP without sounding like a pontificating intellectual?

You have ever read the someones name tag and noted it would be the perfect name for a character. You then asked them to pronounce it for you, pretending you were just curious.

Friends and family hesitate to confide in you for fear a new and improved version of their tragedy or triumph might show up in your current work in progress.

You have an inspiring quote in your house at this very instant by Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thorough or Steven King.

Instead of saying "We'll laugh about this later" you often comfort yourself with "This will make a great scene in a book one day."

AND, last but not least, while reading this, you thought of another one :-) Do share.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One of the Many

by Annette Lyon

Nearly fourteen years ago, I took a university creative writing class from Dr. T, a professor who was himself an award-winning novelist. I looked forward to sitting at his feet and learning from one of the greats.

On one of the very first days of class, however, he announced that the chances of any of us ever getting published was pretty small, and that too many aspiring writers are encouraged. That we really shouldn't be encouraging so many of them, because there's too many already.

Um, thanks? I sat there, stunned. This is what I signed up for? A teacher who didn't think there was a point in encouraging his students?

When my first book came out, I was tempted to send him a note that said, "neener-neener."

But now? I almost (not quite, but almost) agree with him.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if I turned out to be the only student in that class to get published. I had the fire; I wasn't about to be stopped. But did the rest of them have that same need? From what I saw, most of them saw writing as a fun little thing to do.

In the years since, I cannot count how many people have told me that they "want to write a book." But there's always an excuse: they don't have the time (and I magically do?), or they don't know how (and I magically did?) or whatever the excuse of the day might be.

The reality is that these kinds of aspiring writers probably shouldn't be encouraged, because they aren't serious about it. It's a waste of the mentor's time and a waste of the writer's time.

Frankly, Dr. T had a point: there isn't enough room in the publishing business for everyone who wants to be there. Competition is fierce, and unless you're willing to fight the good fight, you won't make it.

If a publishing contract landed the laps of these people, they'd love it. But here's the problem: they aren't willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears that it almost always takes to reach that point.

So here's the question each of us must answer for ourselves: Does the flame of writing burn inside you? Do you have to write? Do you want to be published the way you "want" oxygen?

If yes, then stay on this path. Most people who embark on it eventually fall off it, while those who stay on eventually make it through.

It isn't easy. But the journey is worth it, if you're willing to pay the price.

In a sense, I think that's what Dr. T. meant.

(Oh, and I did send him a postcard announcing my first book. Just to let him know about it. Ya know, just 'cause.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Because I'm Immature, That's Why!

By Julie Wright

I've written nine books. And for reasons I can't explain any better than the title of this blog post, those books all target the under-18 crowd. I get a lot of cross over with adult readers too, but the marketing teams always deem my books as Young Adult and shelve them accordingly in bookstores.

And I won't lie, I feel better there on those shelves. This is the place I fit in whether I mean to or not. This last weekend I went to the Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium where we discussed science fiction and fantasy. There were four panels on the YA market and the differences between young adult and middle grade literature.

First off, I'd like to tackle the one question asked at all four of the panels: What is the difference between young adult and middle grade? A lot of the answers were things like ages of protagonists, maturity level of content, full on boyfriend/girlfriend relationships or just puppy love. My answer is different. I believe that the determining factor of whether or not your book is for the young adult market or the middle grade market is your marketing team. They will pick the place where your book will sell the best and they will shelve that book accordingly. I know a lot of writers who get hung up on how to categorize their books while creating their query letters, but I am telling you right now to pick the best you can and then not worry about it. That is what a marketing team is for. They'll ultimately take care of it for you, so don't let that be a part of the query letter creation stress.

Another interesting question that came up was: how do you avoid the major stereotypical plot point of the child being orphaned? The answer to this wasn't quite so simple and the reason is that in order to write an effective children's book, you have to empower the children to be able to make their own choices. This means you MUST get the parents out of the way.

Seriously, you have to get rid of the parents because no good mother or father will allow their child to take a perilous journey or quest to save the world or whatever. Mom's are the type of people who insist children go outside with scarves on. They are not the sort of people who say, "Oh here, darling, don't forget your sword. Try not to let the evil destroyer slay you." as she smiles and pats her offspring on the head. Mom's are the types of people who will lock the child in their room and bar all the doors and windows to keep evil out.

The easiest way to remove parental authority is to kill them off. This gives your protagonist a sufficient amount of depth and angst because they're now a sad, misunderstood orphan. But precisely because this is an easy and effective way to remove the parents, it is overused to the point of being one of the worst cliches out there. But what other options are there?

  • The child could be an efficient fibber. Mom and Dad don't let you out of the house, so you stretch, yawn, say, "Man am I tired!" as you scamper off to your room and climb out the window. (I'm not endorsing making your protagonists liars. I am simply stating that this is another way to keep from committing literary homicide.)
  • Put the parents in peril so the kids have to save them.
  • Send the parents on vacation and give kids an incompetent babysitter
  • make parents stupid (I personally don't like the idea of the Homer Simpson Parenting Syndrome, but I see how it would work)
  • make parents work-a-holics
  • Do something really bold and give your protagonist parents who TRUST their child enough to believe in them.

The last question from the conference that was hit on was: Why do you write in this market?

For me the answer is complicated. The fan mail's better. The books are more exciting. But what it comes down to is that I am not afraid of wonder. I love the discovery and newness of life that can be found in the under-18 books. Before people turn 20, they live in a heightened state of emotion. Their feelings are unfathomable, un-chartable, undeniable. I remember finding myself in books when I was young. I remember finding characteristics I wanted to have and incorporating them into my own life. I love the idea of being one of those people who sculpt young minds in preparation for the lives they will live and the world they will one day lead.

And yes, maybe I write there because I am like that one boy who never grows up and live in a perpetual state of immaturity. ah well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How NOT to Begin

by Annette Lyon

Okay, okay, I might not be the best person to discuss the delicate art of beginnings, because I always struggle with where and how to launch my books. Inevitably, I end up writing several beginnings before I land on one I like and that I feel works.

But my trouble is generally deciding which moment of perhaps five possibilities is the right one to begin with.

I do know enough to always, always avoid the following ways of killing your story before it has a chance to get off the ground.

Waking Up
It's morning, the sun streams through the window, and your character wakes up.


Where's the action? Where's the dialogue, the conflict, the story?

Your story should begin in medias res, "in the middle of things." In other words, in the middle of action and conflict. Showing a character waking up and brushing their hair in the morning is almost as far away from action and conflict as you could get, short of opening with a scene of a sloth sleeping in a tree.

Wait, you say. We'll have action in a dream sequence, and then the character can wake up. That method usually backfires. If you've managed to get your reader engaged in the dream and its conflict, then they'll feel cheated when they find out it wasn't real.

Worse, you're basically creating two beginnings, because once the dream is over, you still have to start the real story.

Flashing Back
You know this one: a character looks out a window, observes a sunset/sunrise, notes the darkening clouds, hears a familiar song, or has some other emotional trigger and is suddenly transported back in time.

Then the reader gets a massive info-dump flashback.

The trouble here is two-fold: First (you guessed it), we're back to having little-to-no action. We're not starting in medias res.

Second, you're not trusting yourself or the reader. Trust yourself enough to know that you can dole the back story well--and in small pieces--later on. Hold off until the main story is set up and on its way. Then and only then drop a line here and there to show back story.

Also, trust that your reader is smart enough to follow the main story without needing every single detail of what happened in your character's life before now.

Tell, Tell, Tell
Those opening sentences are crucial for hooking an agent, editor, or reader. That means you have to get the reader inside the scene, feeling, sensing, and experiencing it right with the character.

Don't be so worried about getting to the exciting parts that you end up telling the scene, skipping over the chance to show what's happening.

Don't tell us that the character is creeped out. Show us with thoughts, emotions, actions, and other details.

Don't use bland adjectives to tell us what the setting is like (it's an old, rundown house). Instead show details that make the setting pop (the house has peeling paint, broken windows, and a sagging porch).

Start too Late
While you do need to begin with action and conflict, sometimes the place to begin isn't with the biggest conflict.

For example, The Wizard of Oz wouldn't be nearly as engaging if we entered the story after Dorothy ended up in Oz. The big problem? We wouldn't care about Dorothy. She's a girl from a house that blew in on a tornado. So what?

We needed to see her struggles and personality back home so that when the crisis arrived, we could empathize with her.

The movie (rightly) begins with a smaller but relevant conflict: Dorothy tries to run away from home with her dog, Toto. That's enough conflict to get the audience engaged long enough for the major conflict to show up. In this case, that big conflict is a foil to the earlier one: now Dorothy wants nothing more than to go home.

You can't expect a reader to sympathize and connect to a character's plight until they've walked a few pages in their shoes. Having a page one where a character burst into tears, screaming how unfair life is pretty meaningless unless the reader has spent enough time with the character to care.

This is surely why Shakespeare included a brief scene with two very minor characters, a mother and son, in his play Macbeth. The mother and son never show up again.

Why did he bother adding the scene? Because we find out later that they are killed. The audience has a bond of sorts with the mother and son, making for a much more heart-wrenching murder than hearing about a nameless, faceless mother and son would be.

Start with action and conflict, but not so late into the story that the reader is spinning and disoriented. And be sure to connect us to your characters before they're thrown into the fire.

Avoiding these pitfalls certainly won't guarantee a great opening (my constant revisions are proof of that), but they will increase your chances of creating a great first chapter that readers won't be able to put down.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Free Writers Conference in Utah

Life, The Universe, and Everything Symposium on Science Fiction & Fantasy

February 19-21, 2009

BYU--Provo, Utah

Presenters include:
Brandon Mull (Fablehaven series)
Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance series)
Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn trilogy)
Jessica Day George (Dragon Slippers)
James Dashner (The 13th Reality)

and our own Julie Wright will be presenting!

More information here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Subjectivity and Quality

by Annette Lyon

Generally speaking, if you hand over a really bad writing sample to a qualified reader (such as an editor or agent), they'll likely recognize it as trash.

Do the same with a mediocre piece of writing, and the result will be the same.

But what about works that range from pretty good to really great?

Says who?

There's a huge range where opinion and subjectivity step in. It's why agent after agent passed on Harry Potter before someone decided they loved it . . . and it did what no other series has ever done in history.

It's why some people hate Twilight while others are obsessed with the series.

It's why you can find rejection letters out there addressed to some of the best writers the world has ever created.

And it's why some people love Faulkner while others can't stand him.

Once a writer reaches a certain skill level, "quality" becomes a bit vague. Objectivity exists only to a point.

Remember that when submitting your work. I've followed agent blogs where they admit that a writer had the chops, but that the style or topic just wasn't their cup of tea, or they didn't think they personally could sell it.

Recently I've been involved with a published author awards program and the judging involved with it. It's been fascinating to hear different judges' opinions. By and large, certain books had a consensus (this one was really great, that one was really poor). But several titles garnered totally conflicting opinions.

In several cases, judges were stunned that certain titles weren't finalists, while another judge might have seriously disliked the same book.

Each and every judge was extremely qualified. Yet none of them had the exact same opinion, and sometimes they clashed on what was a quality book and what wasn't.

Of course you should constantly try to improve. After a rejection, analyzing your work critically to see if they're right can only help.

But at the same time, remember that sometimes a rejection simply means that you haven't found the right person to look at your work yet. Maybe it is fantastic, and you just need to get it into the hands of someone who "gets" and likes you and your style.

Here's one more evidence that writing can be extremely subjective: personally, I never did see why so many people like Faulkner. Ugh.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are Writing Contests Worth It?

By Heather Moore

You’ve heard of them, and you may have even entered a few of them. But how can you tell which contest is worth the effort of following the submission guidelines to perfection, or if the entry fee will be worth the money?

Here is what you need to look for:

1. Do you already have something written that fits the contest guidelines? You don’t want to create something new on the spur of the moment because if you don’t place or receive decent feedback, you’ll be that much more disappointed.

2. Who are the judges? Are the judges either a) agents or editors who can get you somewhere, or b) authors who are published successfully in that genre who can give you invaluable feedback.

3. Do the entry fees seem compatible for what you are getting back? Be wary of entry fees if the grand prize isn’t something that can further your career, or you aren’t guaranteed judges feedback.

4. Find out if the contest is legitimate. How long has the contest been around for? Do you know anyone who has entered it with favorable results? Can you ask the coordinator a question?

Some blogs, such as Maria Zannini’s, will frequently compile a list of writing contests. Also, agents will posts “hook” or query contests. This is a great way to gain possible notice by an agent and receive honest feedback. You can also learn a lot from the comments made by other writers on the contest blogs.

Often if a contest is associated with a Writers Conference, there will be an award gala to announce the winners. This is a great way to gain some recognition for your bio as well as networking with others.

Just make sure you do your homework. A writing contest can be an important step in your career.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The I's have it

By Julie Wright

I actually have real writing instruction today rather than my usual, "You can do it!" posts that I usually do.

Something horrible when you write in first person--you end up with a disproportionate amount of I's.
  • I wonder if he thought he was clever.
  • I saw him plunge the dagger into her heart.
  • I wished he'd just shut up!
  • I wondered whether or not I'd have the guts to fire him face to face . . . maybe I should just send an email . . .
  • I couldn't help but laugh when she tripped on her strappy heels.
  • I knew I'd end up walking home. He always left me stranded.

In third person, you can mix words around a bit--interchanging the character's name for words like "his" and "he." This allows you to shake it up and keep the reader from going blind by staring at the letter "I" ten times in three sentences. But in first person, you're stuck.

I am part of an online writer's group (several writer's groups actually) where the question was posed, "How do I get rid of all those I's?"

Well . . . you could have the protagonist always referring to him or herself in third person, but that's kinda creepy. Or you could create long and convoluted sentences skirting around the dreaded word. Or you could simplify.

In the world of Julie Wright, where all things are chaos, she simplifies where she can (I told you it was creepy).

I write mainly YA and middle grade. Such writing leans towards the usage of first person. This is because the youth are self absorbed! Just kidding. It's more likely because youth have an easier time reading when they can become the main character. The emotions are sharper, the victory more sweet, the pain more agonizing. And kids, who live in a world of constant shift and discovery, don't mind spending time in other people's shoes. Adults may sometimes find the experiences of another person uncomfortable.

Because my books are mostly first person, I've had to train myself to look for the "I's" when editing. First draft is a free for all--filled with: "was", "I", "that", "were", and all those other dead words that drag a manuscript down to the unpublished hot place.

Here are some quick solutions to a few of those "I" sores.

  • I wonder if he thought he was clever. (Did he think he was clever?)
  • I saw him plunge the dagger into her heart (He plunged the dagger into her heart.)
  • I wished he'd just shut up! (Couldn't that man just shut up?)
  • I wondered whether or not I'd have the guts to fire him face to face . . . maybe I should just send an email . . . (Sending him an email seemed a less confrontational way to fire him. He'd probably appreciate me saving him from the embarrassment of a face to face meeting.)
  • I couldn't help but laugh when she tripped on her strappy heels. (Laughter erupted from my mouth when she tripped on her strappy heels)
  • I knew I'd end up walking home. He always left me stranded. (Of course I ended up walking home. He always left me stranded.)

In most of these sentences, by yanking out the "I", the sentence ends up cleaner, and more immediate. This is a good thing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm Writing . . . Now What?

by Annette Lyon

Today I was asked what turns out to be a pretty common question, basically:

I know I want to write, and I'm working on a book. Now what?

The best advice I figured I could give was to start hanging around places where there are other writers, like conferences, workshops, and local writer groups.

First off, that's where you'll learn the craft better. Every workshop you attend, every lecture you listen to, is a learning experience. Soak it all in. Learn as much as you can.

Second, that's where you'll learn about the business, including how to submit and who to submit to, the etiquette of publishing, and SO much more.

But third, that's also where you'll make writing relationships. These are the supports that will keep you going during rough times, give you critical feedback, and maybe even connect you with industry insiders to help you succeed.

Not in an area where you can hang out in person? Try hanging out with other writers virtually. Writer's Digest is one of many places where you can go online and find forums for writers, writing blogs, articles, online workshops, videos from national conferences, and more.

Many sites offer critique swaps. One relatively new but fast-growing one is Review Fuse. Search online for more.

I can say without qualification that my writing relationships are directly responsible for my being published and for succeeding as far as I have. But I wouldn't have them if I hadn't gone to conferences and the like as much as I did. In many cases, that's where we became friends. In others, a member directory is how we found one another.

Best of all, my writer friends are some of the few people in the world who really "get" me and my bizarre writer brain.

As Mastercard would say, they're priceless.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Keep Moving Forward

I wrote a post over at my own blog and then realized how pertinent it would be to writers everywhere, so decided to let the post do double duty on both blogspots.

My teenage daughter surprised me a few months ago. She went home from our store (where we rent dvd's too) with a few movies: Juno, Sidney White, and Meet The Robinsons.

I had nothing pressing to do and knew that Juno had some pretty grown up themes and figured I ought to watch it with her in case she had any questions. We ended up pulling an all day movie fest watching all three movies. I hadn't seen any of them and it was fun to hang out with her and watch movies until our eyes got sore. (loved Juno BTW. It's a little irreverent, but I loved it)

It surprised me to hear my teenager's favorite movie in the world was Meet the Robinsons. It further surprised me to see her eyes mist over at the end. I mean, the show was cute, endearing, and I truly enjoyed it, but until her declaration and verge-of-tears reaction over the film, I hadn't looked much deeper than the surface.

The story revolves around a very central theme: Keep Moving Forward.

Such a positive approach to life. In the movie our little boy-genius-orphan, Lewis, makes many mistakes, but he learns to keep moving forward--that those mistakes will build him into the man he was meant to be. Is the concept of growth and stumbling blocks oversimplified in this movie? Of course.

But such growth really isn't the kind of concept that bears complicating. The simplicity of the message to keep moving forward is part of what makes it efficient and beautiful.
I finished my first book and hid it away on the harddrive of an old 8088 because I was afraid to keep moving forward. My husband shoved me out of my comfort zone and into the dark and disturbing world of submitting manuscripts, because I simply refused to go out on my own. Did I make mistakes? Of course. I freely admit, I'm published by an unexplainable comedy of errors. Little twists and turns of fate. Every twist and turn, making me the person I am.

Had I not stumbled forward, I would have lived in that place called regret. Always wondering what I might have accomplished if I'd only picked myself up and dusted myself off when things didn't go the way I wanted. Always wondering, and in that wondering, consistently feeding off heaping portions of dissatisfaction.

Writers tend to get hung up on the rejections, the bad reviews and evil comments left by people who simply don't understand our "art." Miss Snark had an entire category called "quit obsessing!" Writers obsess. We obsess over every little thing.

And sometimes all that obsession leaves us wanting because we forget to remember the little twists and turns of fate that bring us joy.

The movie Meet the Robinsons ends with a song that spoke to my soul. Because even as we stumble through our lives, cry over our failed attempts at getting that agent, deal, contract, award--aren't there millions of tiny moments that bring joy as we journey through our lives and become the people we're meant to be?

"Little Wonders"
Let it go,
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know
The hardest part is over
Let it in,
Let your clarity define you
In the end
We will only just remember how it feels

Our lives are madeIn these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain

Let it slide,
Let your troubles fall behind you
Let it shine
Until you feel it all around you
And i don't mind
If it's me you need to turn to
We'll get by,
It's the heart that really matters in the end

Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain

All of my regret
Will wash away some how
But i can not forget
The way i feel right now
In these small hours
These little wonders
These twists & turns of fate
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away but these small hours
These small hours, still remain,
Still remain

These little wonders
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away
But these small hours
These little wonders
still remain
--Rob Thomas