Friday, December 31, 2010

Deadline is today

There's still time to enter the Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers Yearling Contest for a first young adult novel. But be advised, there's not much time left. Your entry must be postmarked by midnight tonight, December 31, 2010. If you'd like to enter it, here's the LINK with all the scoop.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The 2011 Kindle Giveaway

As you may know, I have published an eBook on Amazon and, more recently, also uploaded it to Smashwords. It's selling a few copies so far. Nothing great. But I'm quite appreciative to those who ponied up the 99 cents for a copy. And I'm also grateful to the trio who took the time to write a review.

When I woke up this morning an idea popped into my head. (No, not to stop by IHOP before going to work, although that doesn't sound like a bad idea right now.) It was a different idea, and one that I thought might be beneficial in getting more copies of my book out there and more reviews.

I decided to give away a brand new Kindle. Wow! What a great idea, I thought. And I figured I could select the winner from a random drawing from reviews on my book. It seemed like a really good idea. However, I got to thinking that in order for anyone to write a review on my book, they would have to purchase it. That didn't seem right, even though the price was only 99 cents. (Amazon won't let me price it for free.) So, I'm going back to the drawing board and trying to come up with another idea that would get a Kindle into the mix and help add some reviews to my Amazon listing.

If you have any ideas, let me know.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I spent a little time this evening uploading Scary Night Music to Smashwords. I decided to add them to the distribution channels because they add some value to the distribution chain. Amazon only converts your book to the .mobi format which is what their Kindle reader uses. Smashwords takes it a few steps further and converts to .mobi as well as the required formats for the iPad, the Sony reader and the Nook, as well as most other eReaders on the market today. They also distribute the eBook to Apple iBooks, Amazon, and Barnes&Noble. So i seemed like a good option since it was free and they even furnished an ISBN at no charge.

It required a little digital manipulation of the file formatting, but it wasn't too time consuming. If you'd like to take a look at the page they furnish, HERE it is. If you'd like to add Smashwords to your potential distribution list for eBooks, it's relatively painless. If you have any questions I can help with, let me know.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Illustrate your own book

In addition to being a writer, I'm also an artist. And I don't want artists or illustrators who read this post to think I'm trying to encourage others to bypass their services. Not at all. But if you're a writer and you're on a tight budget for production, here's an option that might fit the bill until you can afford to enlist the help of a professional illustrator. Take a look at this:

The image on the left is a a sketch I created from a photograph of my granddaughter. You might notice the resemblance to the girl on the cover of Scary Night Music. (Coincidence? Not hardly.) You can click that link to see an actual photo of the cover model and check the resemblance.

This software is from a company called Akvis. They have a complete line of art and photo manipulation software. The software I used for this example can be downloaded for free (trial version) for either Mac or PC platform.

There are a lot of variables you can change that will allow you to create the type of illustrations you're wanting to put into your published book.

Now that I've experimented with it, I need to do some more photos for the interior pages and then transform them into line drawings. After that, I'll need to import them into the Word document and upload them to Amazon again. Whew. What a lot of work. And what a lot of fun.

Here's another example.

If you'd like to give it a try yourself, here's the LINK to the site where you can download it. Be creative and enjoy yourself with this one.

I'm also embedding a video from YouTube that has some basic instruction (which I should have watched PRIOR TO experimenting.) I'll embed that video at the bottom.

Meanwhile, if you've found another program that works for you, let us know. Just leave a comment below.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Random House Contest

If you write for the young adult market, and if you're unpublished, here's a contest you may wish to enter. It's the Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. I'm not certain how they're affiliated, but Random House is involved somehow in the mix.

I'm providing a LINK HERE to give you the details. You will have to submit your contest entry by snail mail, along with a SASE. (Remember the old days when we did it that way for every submission? If you're not old enough to remember that, we don't want to hear it.)

I will mention there's a $1,500 cash prize and a $7,500 advance against royalties. There is a maximum of two entries allowed. And, you only have until the end of the year to submit. You entry must be postmarked by December 31, 2010 to be eligible.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bestseller List!

The Case of the Scary Night Music was uploaded yesterday to for distribution as an e-book. One reader found a typo and notified me, which I've fixed but haven't been able to upload the corrected file yet.

The book is currently on the Amazon Bestseller List. It's presently occupying the 37,174th place. That sounds pretty low on the list to me, so I'm sending out a shout out for help in getting it up a little higher. We don't have to shoot for the stratosphere or anything, but maybe get somewhere close to number 2? I'd even be happy with the number 3 position. I wish I could have made it a freebie, but Amazon wouldn't allow that. So, it's up to you.

If you have an e-book you've written and published, leave us a comment and a link to it. Also, tell us a little bit about the story, like the readers it's aimed at.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010




Uploaded... but...

Well, as a first-time e-booker, I'm still waiting. I reckon it takes some time for the uploaded files to get through the "review" process. Whatever that means. I uploaded my first attempt at ebook publishing last night. I'm still waiting for it to appear on Amazon.

I was hoping the ebook would be available today, since today is the birthday of the cover model, upon whom this story was based. (My granddaughter, if you didn't know.)

So, we wait. We twiddle our thumbs and check the status every few minutes with high hope in our hearts that it will appear. I wanted to make it free for all my readers and fellow writers, but Amazon automatically makes it 99 cents if you don't select a price. So, that was the only option.

As soon as it's available, I'll try to let all you dear readers know on this site, on Facebook, Twitter, Absolute Write, and Goodreads. And a big and sincere thank you to all who have expressed an interest in it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

E-Book Published

I've been threatening to do it for some time. I've finally uploaded my test book to It will be transformed into an e-book for anyone to read. Anyone who wants to part with 99 cents, that is. I couldn't do it for free, although that was what I wanted to do.

This is a simple chapter book of only 6,000 words. It's designed for early readers who enjoy a bit of mystery and a spunky female main character. I've promised my granddaughter (the model for the protagonist and the cover) that I'll share any profits with her, provided there are any with the additional requirement that she read the book and give me a book report. (She doesn't like to read and she dislikes writing even more.) But she likes to earn money, so I'm hoping there will be a nice carrot to dangle in front of her to convince her to read it.

If you'd like to contribute to the cause, the title is SCARY NIGHT MUSIC. It's not loaded up yet from Amazon, but it should be before too long. Once it is, I'll probably come back here and add a link to make it easier.

Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have you published an e-book?

I'm going to try something here and see if it works. It may. And then again, it may not. If you're reading this, chances are that it worked, otherwise, I would have deleted it. Duh!

Okay. Here's the deal. The Linky below will allow you to enter information. If you've published an e-book, and you'd like to advertise it here, just enter your information. On the line where it says: NAME, just enter one of the following categories:

Picture Book / Chapter Book / Middle Grade / Young Adult / Adult

After that, put a hyphen, and add another descriptor of your choice, such as:

Urban Fantasy / Thriller / Mystery / Literary / Whatever

Finally, give us the link to it. If your book is available on, or Smashwords, or Xlibris, or wherever, go to your book page on that site and copy the web address. You can paste that in and it will take us there when we click on your listing.

We'll see if it works. If not, I'll make some modifications until we get it right. I'm excited! Maybe some of you can network and purchase either other's work. What do you think?


We've discussed e-publishing several times on this blog. If you'd like to catch up, just visit the archives and see what you might have missed.

Now it's time to take a look at the other side of the coin. The e-readers that people will use to download and access your work. There are several options from which to choose. The top four (according to my research) include, in no specific order of popularity:

1. Kindle
2. iPad
3. Nook
4. Sony

Kindle is probably the oldest in this group, having more or less started the e-book reader industry several years ago. iPad may be the most recent entry into the field. I know the iPad is a great product, but it has way more features than most people are looking for in an e-reader. The backlighting is also an issue that apparently causes eye strain. This blog wasn't created as a technology review site, so I feel like I've said enough about that already.

However, since my wife recently mentioned that she'd like to have a Kindle for Christmas, I'm beginning to look at the options. I received an email this morning from Kindle regarding their $139 price tag. Tempting, it is. But before jumping at the offer, I wanted to get some input from my readers. So, here's the question of the day:

Do any of you have e-readers? If so, what brand? Do you like them? Would you recommend them? And does any know what features Amazon has taken away from the Kindle in order to price it at half of what they typically sell for?

I'm listening.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Aiming for December 1st Release Date

In a concentrated and complex effort to encourage a reluctant reader (and test the ebook market) I've just written a 5,000-word chapter book. I've checked the reading level and it returns a 2.5 grade level. I'm thinking that's close to what I was aiming at.

The cover on the left is one I created last night. The model is my nine-year-old granddaughter (Samantha Brooke, the reluctant reader who I'm trying to encourage.)

So, when I finish editing it, and sending it to my beta readers, I will upload it and publish it as an e-book. Just to see what happens. We're shooting for a December 1 release date. We'll see how it fares at the .99 price point. I've told Brooke I'll split the money with her if she reads the book and gives me a book report. (And a review.)

So, don't get upset if I keep reminding all of you to get your very own e-copy. By the way, you can download a free Kindle for PC or Kindle for MAC on the Internet and enjoy any ebooks you'd like to acquire.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More on e-publishing

My good friend and fantabulus editor, Jodie Renner, emailed me a great link to a very informative article over at Blood Red Pencil. It involves everything you ever wanted to know about e-publishing. It also contains a great list of publishers who pay royalties for e-published books. Good stuff.

Check it out. Here's the LINK.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

I went to the library yesterday and picked up a couple of new items. One of them was titled Maximum Ride by James Patterson. The reason I selected it was because of the prologue which pretty well captured my attention. After getting it home and starting to read it, I noticed the first chapter was much shorter than I imagined it would be. Same with the second chapter. It turns out this is a Chapter Book—a 420-page chapter book with 134 chapters. I found that quite unusual and very different from most of the chapter books I have read, based on it's overall length. I've found out recently that Mr. Patterson is one of the most successful ebook publishers in the industry.

Has anyone run across other examples of this? Is there a standard length for chapter books? Your input would be educational.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All around the web

Things are going on, here and there, as usual. Over at Authoress's site, tomorrow is the day to enter your logline and first 250 words of your YA or MG novel. It's a pretty big deal, and a pretty good opportunity to get your work in front of agents. Of course, Authoress always has something good going on. You should check it out. On a regular basis.

Nathan Bransford is still writing his blog, although he has given up his agent hat and moved on to the tech world at CNET. I've always found his writing to be top notch and his blog topics quite timely. In fact, if your interest has been piqued by the posts on this blog the last few days, i.e. ebooks and POD options, Nathan has a ton of posts on those very subject. Check them out.

Mary Kole has a new wish list, or at least one I hadn't seen yet. I may have to query her. Check it out if you're a MG or YA writer.

And if you're somewhat confused, or just interested, in what the differences are between MG and YA, this article from Upstart Crow will be most informative.

Now, since I have little else to lay upon you this day, leave a comment and let me know what type of writing contest you'd like to be involved in. It's time we did another one. Perhaps a query letter? Maybe a 250-word opening (with a great establishing shot like we discussed earlier this week?). What about a contest for the scariest paragraph, or most emotional paragraph, or funniest paragraph? You decide.

After I review your comment, I'll put up a poll in the right sidebar, perhaps tomorrow, and we can have a little voting on that. And if there is a particular agent you'd like to have judge it, indicate that in your comment as well. It will be much easier to talk them into it if I can say "Hey, all my readers asked you to judge this." You have to be a little creative sometimes. Didn't we have a blog post about creativity a few days ago?

I'm waiting to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Agents, Editors, and Publishers

Please feel free to comment on the previous post. Everything written in that narrative is merely opinion based on history. Your comments and predictions are welcome. We'd love to hear the news from the inside.

The Shape of Things to Come?

Today's post is somewhat of a follow up to yesterday's. But before I propose the question that's burning in my mind, let's hop into the Wayback Machine and take a trip back to the early 1970s. I want to start there and come forward. We're going to pass through two additional environments before we make it back to today.


Ah, the 70s. Things were quite different back then. Leisure suits. Platform shoes. AMC Pacers. (Who came up with that design?). And the publishing industry was a bit different back then as well. Jackie Kennedy was working as an editor at Doubleday. I know that only because, somewhere, I have a rejection letter with her signature on it.

During what I will call Phase 1, writers typically used either an IBM Selectric typewriter. After you had printed a final copy of your opus, you could mail it to your publisher of choice. The great thing was that in those days most publishers were much more open to unagented solicitations and would willingly accept manuscripts from anyone who could write one and mail it to them. The query letter wasn't that big a deal or a hard-and-fast requirement in those days either. You just mailed the manuscript, along with a SASE, and waited to hear back.

Time passed, and somewhere along the way we entered Phase 2. Things changed. The Personal Computer (PC) became popular. Bill Gates became famous and ended up rich. Or the other way around. Steve Jobs developed the Apple, and our word processing and desktop publishing programs improved to provide us significantly more power and higher quality. Formatting became simpler. Text could be copied and pasted effortlessly.

Agents arrived on the scene and, somehow, mysteriously, became a necessity if you were ever going to become a published author. Publishing houses all but stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Some even began nixing query letters from unagented writers. But we stopped using the postal service at some point when email came into our lives and became the primary delivery method for our work.

Then Phase 3 arrived when someone was smart enough to take the vanity press idea and merge that need with the new digital printing technology. The days of costly typesetting of manuscripts, creating page dummies, keylining multiple-page layouts, shooting film and burning metal plates, (and the exorbitant cost involved in each of those services) ended.

POD was born. It offered writers a new and marvelous opportunity to bypass the agents, the editors, the publishers, and even the offset printer. An eager author could get their manuscript transformed into a printed, bound book and into the hands of their reader in a very short time span with little or no upfront cost. What a concept!

And that's where we find ourselves today. So let me play the Devil's Advocate in my conclusion. Are the days of the literary agent numbered? Are the brick and mortar publishing houses going to crumble and disappear as technology moves us further into the digital domain? Would writers and readers prefer to have their book on the shelves in two weeks rather than waiting 18 months? Possibly. And it's highly probable that is the direction in which things are going. But it's not going to happen overnight.

My crystal ball is in the repair shop right now, so I can't predict the future with any degree of certainty. But, what is likely to occur during the transition to the Next Phase is that savvy entrepreneurs will step in to fill the roles previously held by publishing company employees. And that's already begun.

Editing and proofreading services have been available on the Internet for some time now. (I offer that service myself, as do many others.) In addition, you can easily find a design firm that will take your Word document and import it into Quark or Adobe InDesign and create a beautiful, professional document, along with a custom cover, that you can forward to Lulu or CreateSpace and have your book for sale within 24 hours. These digital POD services can also furnish you an ISBN, a bar code, and a Library of Congress listing number as well as distribute your books to Ingram's, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. What's missing? Other than the traditional advance on royalties (which I understand is still continuing to decrease) not much, really.

At the same time, ebooks continue to grow in popularity. In fact, you can download a free Kindle for Mac from the Amazon site. It takes less than a minute and you can then download free books or buy anything that's available from their ever-expanding digital library. It's all instantaneous in today's fast-paced world of high technology, and it's extremely affordable.

So where will we be a year from now? It's really anyone's guess. But I'm betting the self-publishing and POD market segment is going to increase dramatically during that span of time. In fact, I'm thinking about looking into the POD option for a couple of manuscripts. Or maybe buying some stock in one of those POD companies. What are you thinking about?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another avenue to self-publishing

The publishing industry is a business. Traditional publishing has been around for many years, and recently those iconic houses have been forced to examine their business models. It's an economic issue. So, while the publishers figure out what they're doing, others involved directly and indirectly in the publishing industry are offering other options to the authors and the readers of their work.

The experts at those brick and mortar houses consider your submission and try to make an informed guess on whether they can make a significantly generous profit on their efforts to put your work in the hands of the readers. Many fine submissions are turned away, passed on, simply because of the numbers and the database predictions. Many of those writers who have been shunned by agents and editors have decided to turn to other outlets to get their work published.

For some time now, companies with recognizable names like Lulu, CreateSpace, and Smashwords, to name a few of the most prolific, have provided a needed service and have offered writers an alternative to traditional publishing. Borders has now joined the bandwagon as an additional route to self-publishing and POD for those writers who wish to pursue that option.

So, if you're looking into the possibilities of self-publishing or POD, here's a LINK that will take you to the Borders Bookbrewer site where you can read all about it.

If any dear readers have actually jumped on the POD or self-publishing train, please leave a comment and tell us how it went. Also, if you're considering it, and you have some additional info the rest of need to know, comment on that, too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Those Pesky Characters

You've come up with a fabulous idea for your new book. You're excited. It's an absoluetely wonderful story with great characters. And you know them well. You can rattle off their age, their hair color, birthdays, favorite colors, where they live, what's in the middle drawer of their dresser, and the names of their best friends. But something is dreadfully wrong. The readers in your crit group aren't seeing them the way you do. They don't get them. They're giving you feedback that includes words like "flat" "cardboard" and "one-dimensional." Are they just idiots, or what?

Obviously not, if you're getting this type of feedback. They're not just jealous or trying to be mean or discouraging. There's a problem and you need to fix it. So, how do you exhale the breath of life into your characters? How do make them jump off the page and into the mind of the reader as a vivid, colorful, real character?

Well, if you really want to know, Jessica Page Morrell has a fabulously informative article on just that subject. Click HERE. She offers some great answers to those difficult questions that writers often face. Things like:
  • How do I make my character unique
  • Ingredients of a great character
  • Using action to reveal character
  • Larger-than-life characters
  • Naming your characters
  • Showing off your characters
  • Creating emotional impact
So carry on. Write on. And keep tapping out those words. If you have any tricks to share on how you create your characters, let us know. Just leave a comment below. We'd love to read it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Plotters and Pantsers

Ok. It's time we got this debate underway. Or under weigh, as we say in the Navy, or as Richie Armstrong said when he boarded the Seahorse for the first time and he and Kuko and Angus Callahan headed for Cannibal Island. (An upper middle grade steampunk adventure yet to be assigned to an agent. Hint. Hint.) But I digress yet again.

Back to the subject for today in which we will explore the opposite ends of the spectrum for the novel writing modus operandi. It's an old battle and it continues today with the same vigor it always has. It's the Plotters vs. the Pantsers.

So into which group would you place yourself? Are you a Plotter? Do you have to know exactly what's going to happen before you begin writing that opening scene? Do you have an outline containing every scene in the entire story? Do you have a character sheet with details on your cast, down to their birthdays and favorite colors?

Or do you write by the seat of your pants, i.e., a Pantser? Do you just start typing and thoroughly enjoy whichever direction the story goes. Do you allow your characters to determine their own fate and simply type in what they tell you? Do you have to check back to a previous chapter (where was that?) to make sure you've given the correct address for your character's apartment, and placed them behind the steering wheel of the same car? And was that scar on his his left or his right hand?

So tell us. Which are you? And why? Try to convert us to your style of writing by giving us the details on why it's the best option. Go ahead. It's your turn now.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm a movie lover. Always have been. Perhaps my love affair with film is the reason I write the way I do. When I write, I visualize my scenes and my characters. In fact, when I start a new project, one of the first things I do is to search the Internet for photos of actors that I feel would be perfect for the characters’ roles in the film. Before acquiring my Macbook and Scrivener, I used to print the photos out and tape them to the wall in my writing area. Life has become simpler with new technology and now I’m able to import them into my Scrivener resources folder so I can look at them any time I wish. It’s kind of handy and inspiring to gaze into my character’s eyes when I’m wondering how he or she would react to certain situation.

In addition, at the very beginning I try to create an “establishing shot.” Just like they do in Hollywood! This is like the opening scene in the movie version of your book. It provides a description that will help to put the reader into the scene by offering all the sensory input they need in order to be right there with the characters involved in the scene. Filmmakers did this much better back in the 40s and 50s than they do today, in my opinion. But, as a writer, if you can create a dramatic and dynamic establishing shot, you can pull the reader into the scene rather than leaving them on the sidelines as a casual observer. (And this is directly related to our earlier discussion on opening lines from some time ago.)

Admittedly, creating a perfect establishing shot is sometimes not the easiest thing to do, and it requires practice. A lot of writers want to give the reader a lot of backstory. Film directors don't typically fall into this trap. In film, it's all about action. So take off your storyteller's hat at the opening and put on your director's hat. If you can create a dynamic establishing shot, your writing will come alive from the very start and grab the attention of your readers. True, it's not easy, but it's actually easier for a writer than it is for a film director. As a writer you have the ability to bring in not only the visual images and the sounds, like in film, but you can also add the senses of smell, taste, and touch.

Once you've created the establishing shot, you still need to play the film director when you're switching scenes. Transitions are critical in keeping the reader’s attention — especially at chapter endings. And doing them well is the difference between a good writer and a great one. If you can leave your spunky character with a bit of a sticky wicket at the ending of a scene (chapter) it will encourage page turning. Which is exactly what we're striving for, isn't it?

As a final thought, I'll leave you with this. Sometimes it's helpful to listen to some audio. If you're writing a spooky scene, the right orchestral arrangement can add to your creativity. If it's a love story, violins usually do the trick for me. So keep that in mind as you write. If you add a little sensory input, it can help create a little more sensory output. 

I hope I've inspired at least one of you to think like a film director and try to create a dramatic establishing shot. Let me know what you think and what works for you. Other readers would like to hear your tips, tricks and (ssshhhh!) secrets. We're all in this together.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Creativity and Observation

Writers, along with musicians, artists and actors, fall into the category that most people classify as "creative." How wonderful for us that we're placed in such a special category. But before we start feeling so very special, we need to remember that creativity is not dished out only to those who work in those fields. Mothers can be creative when they come up with a new game to play with their children, or a new recipe to share with their family. Fathers can utilize creativity when they figure out a way to stretch the income to cover the bills. Even children can be creative, and sometimes quite quickly, when questioned about a broken vase or a spilled drink.

Whatever creativity is, it's floating through the universe at this very moment and landing on everyone in varying degrees at various times. It's a bit like the "Dust" that Lyra Silvertongue was obsessed with in The Golden Compass. And even though it may be everywhere, like money, some people just seem to have more of it than others.

So how does one go about tapping into that well of creativity? How do you get some of it? Maybe those with a large amount of it have had some experiences that the rest of us haven't had. Perhaps some event in the life of Suzanne Collins, something that may now be no more than a faded memory to her, provided the basis for The Hunger Games. What did Stephen King experience that gave him the embryonic idea that resulted in the creation of Needful Things? And where did that lightning bolt scar on Harry Potter's forehead have its basis for J.K. Rowling? I could go on with more examples, but you get the point.

Perhaps everything that happens in our lives leaves a footprint in our memory. Some prints may be deeper than others. Many may be fleeting things, events or thoughts that leave little or no impact and a very shallow mark in the sand of our gray matter. But even the lightest footprints leave a mark. At least temporarily, and sometimes permanently. Most of those events might never be called upon for future use, but one of them may be a catalyst that causes other thoughts to rearrange and finally gel into a unique combination that results in a best-selling novel.

Life goes on. Things are happening around us. Some of them happen to us, and have an impact, either good or bad. Other events are merely changes in the landscape we're passing through, and we are nothing more than observers of the action as it unfolds. We're witnesses to small snapshots of life as it continues. Those snapshots are like pages in a family album, each a single frame in time and in a life that goes on after the event, usually.

There are stories behind those snapshots. Some are frightening. Some are funny. Others are heart-warming and bring tears of joy. And any one of those may be a story that someone with a little creative talent can write. The great news is that the shutter is clicking continually, every second of the day, everywhere. We're all on a level playing field as far as the input is concerned. The only variant is in how observant we are and how creative we can be in putting the story together.

We need to be watchful. Look at that child, sitting in the grocery cart and crying as her angry young mother pushes the cart down the aisle. What's the story behind that? See that older man leaving the office building and loosening his tie as he shuffles toward his car? Did he just get fired? What will he do this evening? Is that dog running across the highway going to get hit before he makes it to the other side? Did someone dump him? Why is that police car sitting in front of my neighbor's house? Have they had another fight? And why is the ambulance there?

There are a million stories out there, and they're happening every day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And on we go - at the one-third mark.

By now, those of you who have joined in on the Nanowrimo project are probably nearing the 10,000-word mark. If so, that's fabulous! Truly. If not, that's still okay. You have ample time to pull it together before the final bell sounds. And even if you don't manage to write those 50,000 words by the deadline, that's STILL okay, because you're writing, and that's the important part of the whole project. Obviously.

So, let's take a brief respite and relax for a few minutes. I mean, really. You can't pound those pesky keys every minute of every day. Seriously. This little break will hopefully recharge your batteries and give you the will to go on (just in case you're starting to waiver and your original enthusiasm is beginning to fade like an old bleeding Madras shirt from the sixties. Remember those? But I digress.)

Here's what I'd like you to do —
Write a comment to this post and answer one of the following questions:

1. My Nano project is going great, and the next thing my MC is going to do is . . .
2. My Nano project is sucking right now because I can't figure out what to do about . . .
3. I'm not sure how my Nano project is going because I just keep writing. I'll figure it out later. But I am a little concerned about . . .

There you go. Leave a comment and tell us where you are on day 10.

Happy writing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Macbook Acquisition

Okay. I considered it for months, not wanting to spend the money but knowing that, in the end, that gorgeous aluminum clad laptop was going to come home with me. So, on the way home from work last night my car turned into the parking lot and parked itself in front of the Apple Store in Leawood, KS. An hour later I was driving home with a beautiful new Macbook Pro sitting in the passenger seat. And so far, I'm loving it. It's quite obvious that Apple builds quality into their products.

I opted for the iWork software rather than spending the money on Microsoft Office. The Apple word processor is called Pages, and it seems like this is going to be a better option than Word, actually. Apple has built a ton more features into their word processor than MS did with Word. Plus, you can still save your documents as .doc or .rtf or .pdf files.

The next phase is going to be to download Scrivener. That's probably a task for tomorrow. There are a great many video tutorials on this product online, and I've been spending some time this evening listening to a lot of them.

So, being a new user on both the Mac and the iWork Pages software, I'd love to hear comments from fellow users. Any tips, tricks, secret things you've discovered? I'm all ears.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Update after Day One!

How did it go? How did you do? Do you have an idea? Do you have a story? Do you have a first chapter, or a first paragraph?

I'll begin. I have an idea. Not a complete idea, but a start. An idea that takes off and gives us a setting and two characters and something that's going to happen. Nothing is etched in stone yet, but it's a starting point. I missed the required number of words for today, but I didn't get started until late, so I'll try to make it up in the next couple of days and get back on track. Currently at 1,015 for day one.

Unfortunately, I'm one of those who can't help but edit as he goes. It's a habit and it's my writing style. I've always done it that way. I did it that way last year, but still had my 50,000 words by day 10. That probably won't happen this year unless this idea takes off during my sleep and points me in the right direction.

So what's your story. Leave a comment and tell us what's going on with your Nano entry. We want to know.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What's your story?

It has begun. Nanowrimo is underway.

If you've signed up, you're probably too busy writing right now to read this, but if you've taken a break, let us know what your story is about. Talking about it might spark other ideas of where to take it, in case you don't know.

We'd love to hear the details.

And if you haven't signed up, here's the LINK.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Novel You're Going to Write

It's almost November! And anyone who's familiar with the old writing calendar knows that November means NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It's an annual event, and if you've never participated, and you've always wanted to write that great American novel, this is the time to do it.

You can join thousands of other writers all across the world in creating those individual works of fiction. As a matter of fact, someone may be writing the next bestseller in November of this year. So screw up your courage and give it a try. Rather than regurgitate all the facts, I think I'll just type the link here and you can get it straight from the horse's mouth.

Nathan Bransford, our good buddy and agent over at Curtis Brown, has been posting about the event this week on his excellent blog. If you're not a follower, you really should be. Check it out HERE and plan to visit often, because he always has some great stuff.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Must pass this along...

Editor extraordinaire, Jodie Renner, has posted a very informative article on her blog regarding style. Before reading it, I would have said, "In my opinion, I feel it would behoove every aspiring writer to journey to her blog and spend some time reading the words she's written."

However, after reading it, I'm just going to say, "Here's the LINK! Go there and pay attention."

Why are you still here? Click it.

Friday, September 10, 2010


My Facebook friend, Jill Corcoran, a literary agent with The Herman Agency, hooked me up with Martha Alderson. Martha is known in the industry as "The Plot Whisperer," and she knows what she's talking about.

I'm going to keep my comments short here, and just provide a link to her instructional videos. I would highly recommend watching them. There are currently only four of them so far, but a new one should be coming up next week. Check it out HERE!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Since we last posted about the topic of sharing, let's continue in that direction. We all want to know what you've been up to. I'll begin.

1. Got an encouraging rejection from one of my favorite literary agents.
2. Followed her suggestion and did a major revision and rewrite, adding 15K words.
3. Just sent the final draft to my editor for copyediting.
4. Will resubmit to my dream agent when completed.

And that's about the size of it. Now. What about you?

Have you finished a new WIP? Have you got a request for a partial or full? Has an agent made an offer? Is your book being released soon? Share.

Also, if you'd like to "friend" me on Facebook, I'll friend you right back.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Here's a query...

Today I wanted to share my query letter with you. I've made a major revision on this story, thanks to an agent's suggestion, and I'm getting ready to send out some query letters. I know we all hate the old query letter, but any suggestions would be appreciated. Here's where we are so far.

Dear Agent:

People disappear in the bayou. And that’s exactly what thirteen-year-old Robin Sherwood needs to do — before her Uncle Conrad snips her toes off with his trusty rusty garden nippers. Forget tetanus. Getting to the bayou is going to be a real challenge if that happens.

When her parents’ private plane disappears in the swamp, Robin’s uncle moves in as trustee of the multi-million dollar Sherwood Estate. It doesn’t take long for Robin to figure out there’s something not quite right about Uncle Conrad — besides having a metal claw where his left hand used to be. But his obsession with The Lone Ranger and the fact that he knows every episode by number? That’s just weird.

Weird changes to crazy when he explains the bizarre game he has planned — a game that will leave Robin dead and Uncle Conrad the sole heir to the Sherwood fortune. In order to escape his devious plan and its deadly consequences, the bayou may be Robin’s only chance. It’s a risky choice, but becoming alligator bait seems a lot less terrifying right now than what’s waiting for her in the cellar.

LOST IN THE BAYOU is a 46,000-word upper MG thriller. It comes complete with a younger brother, a rusty lunchbox, and little bag of blueberries. I would be happy to send the full manuscript for your consideration.

Thank you, and I look forward to your reply.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sharing Your Work

Today I'm going to list a couple of sites that I've found very helpful and exciting. Both of them can provide you, the writer, with a good vehicle for sharing your work and getting feedback and encouragement.

The first site is called Authonomy. It's sponsored by Harper Collins. Here's how it works:

You upload your book, or however much of it you wish to upload. Readers (I'm guessing most of them are also writers) judge what you've submitted and either put it on their "bookshelf," add it to their "watchlist," or "back it." There's some type of mysterious mathematical process that takes place behind the scenes that moves your book ranking up or down based on the reader responses. If your submission does well, it will move to the "editor's desk" where Harper Collins agents take a look. I'm not familiar with the complex details of how things actually work, but it's been fun watching the progress of my beloved Star Wishes. In fact, I've enjoyed it so much that I just uploaded a few chapters from Cannibal Island. It's especially encouraging to read the comments from the reviewers.

The other site is called WeBook. It works a little differently, but it seems to be based on the same principle of popularity among readers. I'll mention first off that there's a $3.95 fee for submission at the WeBook site. If that's not a problem, the area you want to go to is called PageToFame. The first round involves uploading your hook (like your one-sentence pitch), plus the first 250 words (or less, depending on where 250 words ends up.) The whole idea is to hook the reader. (Remember our drawn out discussions on that in the past?)

Readers rate the submissions. It's random, and there's no way to send your friends to the site to give you good ratings. It's the luck of the draw as to what excerpts come up for rating. If you do well, you move to the second round, where you go from 250 words to submitting a five-page sample. The same rating process takes place and, eventually, you may be asked to submit the entire manuscript. Many agents (most of whom you're probably familiar with) have volunteered to work with writers on this site.

Check both sites out and see what you think. You might enjoy the excitement of watching your work move up in the rankings on both sites. As always, any comments are always welcome here. Feel free to chime in below.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Give up? No way.

Since last posting on this blog, I've received a nice email from Linda at The McVeigh Agency on Death in the Bayou. It wasn't quite right for them. That's fine, and I'm dealing with it. We've all learned that rejections are not personal attacks on our writing ability, and one size does not necessarily fit all. Besides, there are still a couple of partials and at least two fulls out to other agents. So, hope remains that one of those agents will find enough interest to offer representation. What about you? We'd love to hear your story and your current situation in the submission game.

I'm sure you're wondering what I plan on doing if the other submissions wind up with the same result? Funny you should ask. I've been thinking lately about turning my attention and efforts into an even better novel that's waiting to be written. It's getting anxious, actually. I may just let it sit on the back burner and simmer a bit for a few months. In November, Nanowrimo is coming up again. If you've never been involved with that program, you should check it out this year. Don't put it off any longer.

That's about it for this time. Leave a comment and tell us what's going on in your writing career. We'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On quitting

We've all been there. We write, we revise, we query, we get the email rejection. At some point we finally admit that we've been kidding ourselves and that we actually suck at writing. Even though we don't think that's true. We think about giving up. But, as writers, we can't. Because we love writing.

I wanted to pass along a GREAT POST from Jodie Meadows that says the whole thing a lot better than I can. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wow! It's been a while.

One of the main problems with alien abduction is that you lose all sense of time. Relatively speaking. My apologies for being gone so long, but there was a great deal the aliens wanted to show me. I'm not at liberty to discuss any of it now, but perhaps in the future I'll spill a few of the beans. Maybe I won't, though. Perhaps I'll save it for my next middle grade adventure. We'll see.

Seriously, though, in my trip through the universe, I've been searching for publishers who accept manuscripts directly from writers. Directly from writers translates to writers without an agent. I've discovered there are a lot of indie publishers who do this. Most of the ones I've found specialize in the romance genre, erotica, general fiction, and non-fiction. Here's a GREAT SITE, with bunches and bunches of indie publishers listed. It has info on the genres they publish as well as links to their websites. You may want to bookmark it.

In the children's and young adult arena, I've only found one so far: Milkweed Editions. So if juvenile fiction is your cuppa tea, you might wish to check them out. You can submit your manuscript online, quick and easy, with the form on their site. I actually decided to upload STAR WISHES to see what their response would be.

As always, if you find a publisher you're interested in contacting, be sure to check the Preditors and Editors site first just to check things out and make certain who you're dealing with. I'm confident there are readers out there who are aware of other indie publishers. If you're one of those readers, feel free to add any info in the comment section below. I'm sure other readers would be appreciative. So, comment away.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Young Writers – Listen up and pay attention!

Once upon a time there was a publishing company. A company that was somehow associated with the Wrigley fortune. A company known as Medallion Press.

From what I’ve read, they are somewhat new as publishing companies go (4 years), but appear to be reputable. Absolute Write has a long THREAD about them going back to July 2006. According to Victoria Strauss, the quality of their product is reportedly good, although their marketing activities are a bit weak. So, a little good, a little bad. But here's the newsworthy part of this story: Medallion has announced that they will be venturing into unfamiliar territory with the launch of a new line of fiction and nonfiction for young adult readers ages 13-18. The new line is called Ya-Ya.

The cleverness of the name becomes obvious when you understand what it is: The products of this new line are not only intended for teen readers — the titles in the imprint will actually be written by teen authors. Helen Rosburg, Medallion’s publisher, wants to provide a platform for young adults to tell their stories to others in their age range.

At first blush it sounds like a novel idea. But let's think about it. When you consider an 80,000-word manuscript written by an inexperienced writer, the potential for significant revisions and editing seem overwhelming. Naturally, it will probably be done by experienced editors — experienced adult editors. So what is Medallion going to end up with? I'm thinking the finished book isn't going to be significantly different from a novel written by an adult writer. Of course, they could always utilize teen editors to keep things fresh and true to the original feel without adult intervention. Provided they can find experienced teen editors. It should be interesting to see how this idea plays out and what they end up with.

But the plot thickens! (Don’t you love a thickening plot?) There’s more to it. Do you recall our recent posts regarding agents and the value they bring to the party? Well, here’s an opportunity for a neophyte writer to venture boldly into negotiations with the publisher and take their chances on their own. I'm not certain how that's going to work either if the writer is under legal age to sign a contract.

Medallion is currently accepting submissions for its new Ya-Ya line. The guidelines are posted on the company’s Website. No announcement has been made at this time regarding how many Ya-Ya titles are planned each year or when the first book will be released. I'd be willing to wager that the first book's release date will be after December 21, 2012. Medallion may be hoping that the Mayan calendar is correct and they won't have to bring this idea to its ultimate conclusion.

But the Mayas could be wrong. So, if you're a teen writer, check out the Medallion site. Polish up your query letter. And send your work to them (according to the instruction on their site) if you'd like it considered for their new Ya-Ya line. He who hesitates is lost. This could be your golden opportunity!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book Publishing

Since we have been talking about the future of publishing and the always-available-option of self-publishing, I thought we might dig a little deeper into that subject and take a look at the journey your darling manuscript takes when you hand it over to a traditional publishing house. Although a lot of the steps involved in traditional publishing can be eliminated if you decide to self-publish, some of them need to be included in order to produce the highest quality product that will compete favorably with a traditionally printed book.

The processes and procedures listed below are merely an overview. Typically, there are additional steps and many more people involved (sometimes gumming up things more than helping), but the steps listed are closely related to similar steps required in self-publishing. So, let’s send your middle grade fiction manuscript off to the traditional publisher and follow it through the major production phases.

We’re striving for perfection, and long before the pages of your book are printed, there are several steps required to make certain it’s perfect in every way. During that metamorphosis from manuscript draft to print-ready copy, your work must undergo some severe scrutiny and modification before the ink hits the paper. Here’s a typical flow that your work might take before your words get into your reader’s hands.

Developmental Editing (Recommended for Self-publishers, too.)
You’ve given the publisher the best you have to offer. It’s been edited to death and read to pieces by your beta readers. Everything has been corrected and altered until it’s as perfect as you can make it. But it’s not ready to print yet. It’s now in the publisher’s control, and developmental editing is the first step. This involves making certain the concept and scope of the book are properly developed for the intended audience. It also involves checking the plotting and the way the elements of the book are arranged so the story unfolds for the reader in the right manner with no plot holes and no consistency and flow issues. Self-publishers who make use of this type of editing will hire freelance editors to help with the development of their project.

Copy Editing (Recommended for Self-publishers, too.)
When the developmental editor and the author have finished organizing the manuscript during the developmental editing phase, it will pass on to a copy editor. A copy editor is like a Buzz Lightyear version of an uber spellcheck program - with a turbocharger. This editor will peruse the manuscript, line by line and word by word. Nothing escapes their laser vision. Copy editors have an excellent familiarity with the English language, vocabulary, and usage. Their job is to examine the manuscript, paying particular attention to correcting any errors involving punctuation, capitalization, spelling, grammar, usage, consistency, style, formatting, ambiguity, and any other areas that require correcting. If your infinitives are split or your participles are dangling, they will catch it. They are the final word in accuracy and perfection. When the copy editor’s work is finished, the manuscript goes back to the author for clarification or approval, and the revisions are edited into the manuscript.

Production Editing
The manuscript’s next stop is the production editor. Typically performing the role of a project manager, this person schedules the project and tracks its progress. They typically assign the book designers, illustrators, proofreaders and other professionals needed to produce the book. This is the stage in which the overall format of the book is determined, along with the typography, folio style (page numbers), and any other repeating graphic elements. In addition, the production editor may be responsible for requesting estimates from printers or print brokers for the print production and bindery processes.

Proofreading (Recommended for Self-publishers, too.)
The last stage in the editorial process is proofreading. In addition to checking for typographical errors, the proofreaders are also watching for inconsistent line, word or page spacing, improper word breaks, widows and orphans, page numbers, and correct abbreviations and acronyms.

Print Ready
After the final proofing and correction of any errors, the book is ready to go to press.

Obviously, if you decide to self-publish, you won’t need to utilize all of the human resources listed, although the services of a good developmental editor, copy editor and proofreader would be money well spent prior to publishing.

Regardless of the direction you take, be sure to investigate the legitimacy of any individual or organization you deal with in your journey toward publication. Here is a great site that provides a valuable service to writers in steering them away from those who might take advantage of them. WRITER BEWARE.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The numbers are worse than I realized.

I don't have a crystal ball or a Ouija Board, but I’ve been doing some additional research regarding the trend of traditional publishing and the growth of the POD industry. What I'm finding isn't boding too well for the former, but the latter seems to be sitting in the "catbird seat" as James Thurber would say. It’s no wonder literary agents are perhaps getting a bit worried about their future. Of course, writers may need to be a bit nervous as well, since we're all in this together. One hand clapping makes no sound.

Here's the skinny: According to a May 19, 2009, report from Bowker (the global leader in bibliographical information management solutions) the statistics are as follows for U.S. book publishing for 2008, compiled from its Books In Print® database. Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that title output in 2008 decreased by 3.2%, with 275,232 new titles and editions, down from the 284,370 that were published in 2007.

Interestingly, this decline in traditional book publishing is offset by another extraordinary year of growth in the reported number of “On Demand” and short-run books produced in 2008.  Bowker projects that 285,394 On Demand books were produced last year, a staggering 132% increase over last year’s final total of 123,276 titles.  This is the second consecutive year of triple-digit growth in the On Demand segment, which in 2008 was 462% above levels seen as recently as 2006.

Those numbers are not promising for traditional publishing, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to extrapolate those percentages and determine the ultimate result when the lines cross on the X-Y axes chart.

According to Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services for Bowker, “Our statistics for 2008 benchmark an historic development in the U.S. book publishing industry as we crossed a point last year in which On Demand and short-run books exceeded the number of traditional books entering the marketplace. It remains to be seen how this trend will unfold in the coming years before we know if we just experienced a watershed year in the book publishing industry, fueled by the changing dynamics of the marketplace and the proliferation of sophisticated publishing technologies, or an anomaly that caused the major industry trade publishers to retrench. If you look beyond the numbers, you begin to see that 2008 was a pivotal year that benchmarks the changing face of publishing.”

I must agree with Ms. Gallagher that it looks like On Demand printing is, indeed, changing the face of publishing from the traditional publishing model. A few more years with the numbers continuing in the same direction may result in a huge consolidation of the remaining traditional publishers or a complete revision of the business model that will incorporate the POD technologies. We've already seen some of this change by the decisions of traditional publishers to offer digital versions. But that's a can of worms I'm not going to address in this post.

Retrenching, as Ms. Gallagher calls it, is not uncommon when technology changes the playing field. A similar consolidation took place a few years ago in the commercial printing industry. Digital printing and CTP (computer-to-plate) capabilities opened new markets for the larger commercial printers. Consolidation resulted, making the large printers larger, and the smaller ones were either absorbed or driven out of the business. Could this happen with traditional book publishing? Unfortunately, yes, it can. And it may be heading in that direction at lightspeed. With today’s ever-changing technology and the ability of any writer to take advantage of those services, traditional publishers, editors and literary agents are no longer necessary in order to get a writer's work to market and to the end user in either a hard copy or a digital copy format. It could happen. It's happening right this moment.

So there you have it. It appears that things are changing. What do you think?

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Publishing Universe

Scientists tell us the universe is expanding. And that's especially true in the world of publishing. At the core of this expansion, there are well-known, ancient planets that have been governed forever by powerful agents, answering to editors at publishing companies. They are the leaders of the old world that has long been ruled by tradition and protocol, where everyone marches to the same drum beat. These are the entities that determine what will be published and what we will be allowed to read.

Many of the old publishing houses are still around. They will probably remain for a while longer, continuing to provide their services in their present capacity. In time, they will pass into history like buggy whips and vinyl recordings. Nothing lasts forever.

New worlds are evolving and challenging the tradition long thought to be the only route to publication. These outlying planets are new — rogue empires that are a haven for rebel writers. All are welcome and none are turned away. I'm referring to the world of self-publishing, also known as POD (print on demand). This new route to publishing is actually not as new as it may appear. Evolution and consumer demand have morphed the old vanity press industry into something much more desirable, respectable, and viable for today's writers. Although some may consider the POD destination to be a black hole that an aspiring author should avoid at all costs, others see it as a way to achieve their publishing goal. As the publishing world cuts costs and becomes increasingly more digital, the options offered by POD are becoming even more feasible for writers. In fact, more light is escaping from these black holes every year and illuminating new publishing success.

Some literary agents don't appear too fond of self-publishing or the value of self-published books. Perhaps it's because of the freedom it gives writers, or the control it takes away from agents. In fact, some recent posts on agent blogs have been quite enlightening, as are the many comments they've received, a large portion of which disagree with the opinions of those agents. Obviously, agents need to justify their existence as the gatekeepers for what material will be printed and passed along to the readers of the world. I don't devalue that duty in the least. I'm just not certain that's working out very well these days, because I've read a lot of published material lately that I would consider inferior to the excerpts that have been submitted to this blog by unpublished authors.

But aside from the control issue, there is another obvious reason that agents are not keen on the self-publishing option. If writers suddenly decided to take publishing into their own hands and stop submitting their work to literary agencies, more than a few agents would be looking for new jobs. So, it isn't surprising to hear an agent denounce self-publishing.

However, more and more writers are deciding that an agent's opinion is not the only opinion, or the final opinion, or the opinion that should determine the fate of their manuscript. Some writers have become weary with the rejection, have changed course, and have taken the self-publishing route. Many have gained more success with this new approach than their years of determined effort in traditional publishing ever brought them. It's a whole new world out there, and writers now have options other than turning their future over to an agent with no vested interest in their success.

But as a writer, you must determine the final fate of your story. If you decide to set your course for the POD Galaxy, the better-known outposts include Create Space, Lulu, Xlibris, and iUniverse, to name a few. These options allow a writer to bypass the traditional routes to publishing and just get on with it under their own direction and control. Your book can be published with generally no, or very little, upfront cost. It can be available to your readers in a short time in printed form on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or it can be downloaded in seconds to a Kindle or other digital reader. And if you think digital publishing is just a flash in the pan that's going to disappear, just ask literary agent Nathan Bransford.

If you haven't investigated this option for publishing your work, you might want to take a look, just so you know what is currently available in today's high-tech world. And if any of you have gone that route, please leave a comment and let us know how your journey went and whether you returned home safely or not.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Quitting? Will you? Can you?

I just finished reading Authoress's wonderful blog post today about giving up on writing. Her words really hit home with me, and perhaps they will with you when you read them. I must admit that I've considered writing a post on this very subject, but she has done a much better job of it than I could ever do.

As she says, writing is an addiction. It fills us with wonderful expectations of what might happen. And, at the same time, it pushes us down to the very depths of our soul when the things we hope for don't occur.

If you've ever considered giving up, putting your muse to rest forever, and never writing another opening line, you owe it to yourself to read her words today. Click here: Miss Snark's First Victim.

Thanks Authoress for bringing it home and sharing what we've all felt. Feel free to leave a comment here, and on her blog as well if you'd like to share your own story.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spreading Some Agent Love

Some of you may be published or represented by a literary agent. If that's the case, and if you'd like to share some info about your agent or what drove you to them, please feel free to share the love and give them the credit they deserve.

Or, if you're an agent seeking new authors, feel free to comment and let us know your wish list.

We'd love to hear the story.

Monday, June 28, 2010

One of these days...

Writing is a lonely business.

You write your query letters and send them off to your agents-of-choice. Then you wait. It's horrible. The excitement and frustration is difficult to explain to your non-writing friends.

You check you email every day, multiple times, hoping to see something encouraging from one of those agents. Occasionally, something shows up, but it's usually not very encouraging.

But the sun does break through the dark clouds every so often. Every once in a while, there's a request for samples, and that's when your heart races with new hope. So you send off the samples and go back to waiting. Yes. It's a lonely business.

So what do you do to fill the time? Do you go back to your WIP and continue writing it or editng it? Do you return to your recently completed novel and tweak it a bit more, even though you have fulls and partials out to agents who've requested them. Do you start thinking about a new story?

I know I'm going to get lots of different answers on this one. So type away and tell us what you do to fill the waiting time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Can you say "Pissed off?"

My breath rushed in when I realized what she was planning. “Oh, my goodness!” I said.

What? Oh, my goodness? How bland. How boring. You would have to work pretty hard to write that with any less emotion or tension. Have you ever had one of your characters say something like that? Or something equally innocuous? Sometimes it works. Other times it’s really painful, and it feels totally wrong to have to resort to something so weak. You know, and your reader knows, what the character should be saying. And sometimes it ain’t, “Oh, my goodness!” Sometimes it’s more like:  

My breath rushed in when I realized what the crazy bitch was planning. “Holy Jesus on a treadmill!" I yelled. "Have you lost what's left of your fucking mind?”

Obviously, it’s a little tricky saying what we really want to say in a middle grade manuscript. And, we’ve all been middle grade students in the past. If I remember correctly, we had a different vocabulary we used among ourselves when there were no grown ups around. Didn’t we? So how do you stay true to your character? How do you clearly convey what the character is feeling when you have some genre-imposed restrictions on your vocabulary? What's permissible? What's forbidden? And should those restrictions be lifted occasionally? You tell me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Characters

Today I wanted to offer some personal info about my writing style. Perhaps you have similar stories to share, and I hope you will leave a comment if that's the case. I wanted to speak about my characters and how I get to know them as the story unfolds, and how I make sure they continue to inspire me with their words and actions.

When I get far enough into the story to know what my characters are like, I print out a picture of each one and tape it to my wall. In Cannibal Island, Brad Pitt seemed like the ideal person to become Richie Armstrong. Jackie Chan was perfect for the role of Kuko, and Sean Penn filled the villain's spot as Hans Von Hisle. Naturally, Angus Callahan could be played by none other than Sean Connery, and Sandra Bullock was the only choice for Wren Remington. I usually cast the entire character list with the actors I feel would best reflect my image of the story characters. Having them looking at me while I'm working tends to keep me honest to their actions and dialogue.

So what do you do? Surely you have a few little secrets you can share with us. We won't laugh. Well, not loud enough for you to hear us.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What would you do?

You've finished your book. You've edited until you're blue in the face, or maybe indigo. Beta readers have added their suggestions, and you're ready to query it to agents. So you do.

Excitement fills your heart when you get a request for a full. You send it off right away. Time crawls by while you're waiting to hear how much they love your work. Then the email finally arrives. Your heart jumps a little when you see it in your inbox, and you get rid of all the other emails, saving that one for last.

Unfortunately, it not exactly what you were hoping for. There are some nice words complimenting your writing and your plotting, etc., but there was something that prevented the agent from falling head over heels in love with it.

So what do you do? Do you chalk it up to personal preference and move on? Or do you write back to the agent and offer to revise those things that were mentioned and ask if you can submit it again?

You tell me. I'd love to hear your input.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Strange Query Tale

Our story begins the first week in May of this year. At that point in time, I had created a query letter for my most recent manuscript. I mailed that query to an agent who will remain anonymous. Within two days, I received a form rejection. Nothing too unusual about that, and I appreciate it when agents are quick to reply, even if it's a negative response.

The plot thickens now. (Eerie music builds in the background.) I rewrote the query a few times. I think it was in its fourth of fifth iteration when I sent it out again the first week in June. Now, I was either having a senior moment, or I temporarily and totally lost what's left of my mind, because I sent this new query to the same agent that had rejected my original query. And a strange thing happened a week later. The only thing I can deduce is that the new query was so unlike the original that it didn't sound even vaguely familiar to the agent. She requested a partial.

So, I guess the point of this narrative is that, if you get rejected with your original query, you might want to consider rewriting it and sending it out again, even to the same recipients. It was a complete accident on my part, but it had a surprising result. I hope that's a good sign.

That's it. Feel free to leave your comments.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Great post at Query Tracker today!

Since we've been talking so much about query letters, there's a great post on Query Tracker today. If you want to read what twenty agents have to say about how to put together the perfect query, read HERE!

And if you're not a subscriber to Query Tracker, I would highly recommend it. There's always new and fresh info on writing, publishing, new agents, etc. It's a good thing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

There are no new story ideas.

I read an interesting post on Nathan Bransford's blog back in March. It's stuck with me, and I wanted to devote today's post to further exploration and get your opinions on it. Nathan sez there's an old saw that we only have a dozen or fewer stories that just keep getting rewritten with new characters in new settings. (My apologies if I'm paraphrasing it incorrectly, but that seemed to be the gist of it to me.)

If that old saw is true, then there are no new stories in the world of literature. Every possible plot, or outcome, or chain of events, except for some potential twists and turns, has already been created and printed. I'm not certain I agree with that. Are we not creative enough as writers to come up with something completely original?

What do you think? Is your finished novel, or your WIP, a copy of someone else's plot? Chime in and tell us what you think. Do you agree or disagree that all the story ideas have already been written?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

No Dumping Allowed

First of all, my sincere apologies for not posting yesterday. Google was experiencing some type of glitch in their technology, and I was unable to post anything. Apparently, that's been fixed now and we're back on track. So, let's get on with it.

A recurring question, and one that continues to plague writers, is as old as the craft itself: Where do I start? Today we're going to look at that question and provide some examples on how other writers have done it. Before we get to those, I want to discuss one habit that's quite common to new writers. It's called info dumping. As writers, we're very generous. We want to provide our readers with all the background information ahead of time so everything works out in a neatly choreographed narrative and makes sense from the first word. That's not always necessary, and many times it's not what you need to do.

From our previous posts, you'll possibly remember the importance of that first sentence and first paragraph. So, if the recommendations in this post sound slightly familiar, it's because that idea is still valid. It's very important to hook the reader as soon as possible. Many times, we begin before the action does with what's referred to as "backstory." The reader starts reading, and they'll continue reading until one of two things happens. Either you finally give them something interesting, or you take too long to get there and the reader's patience runs out and they close the cover.

Let's look at a couple of examples that will better explain what we're talking about. We'll start with Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which he begins with:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

He doesn't tell us that it was a dark and stormy night, or that the house was two stories with a long staircase leading upward. He doesn't tell us who lives there, what kind of furniture is in the living room, or what color the house is painted or that the cars are driving past the house and the water is splashing from their tires. We don't need to know that the story is taking place in Cleveland, or Seattle, or New Brunwick. With a mere dozen words, he's pulled us in and the story has begun. We're on board from that point on.

Stephen King also uses very few words as he lures us into Cujo:

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine.

Again, there's no info dumping before that grabber sentence. He doesn't say what year it was, what the weather was like, or where Castle Rock is located. We don't care that there are lobsters just offshore that the fisherman go after every morning in their wooden boats as the gulls squawk above them, hoping the fishermen will toss them a morsel. He just tells us what happened and challenges us to read on and find out. And we do.

George Orwell entices the reader to continue with this opening line from 1984:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

This is one of my favorites. It's from Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz:
When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news.

These are but a few gems that I've collected today, specifically for this post. There have been many great books published that don't captivate the reader so completely in so few words, but the purpose of this post is to repeat an earlier suggestion to be frugal and choose wisely the words you use for your opening. It can make a big difference in getting a request for more material.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Punctuation? Punctuation!

In addition to spelling and grammar, punctuation continues to be a thorn in the side of many writers. There are so many rules that it's hard to keep them straight at times. Especially for those pesky commas.

Here's a great site I just found that has all the rules you could ever ask for. In addition, it has more interactive quizzes on punctuation, usage, and grammar than you can imagine. When you get to the site, you'll see a drop down menu at the top. Just click it to see the extent of the contents. It has everything you could ask for. Bookmark it so you can find it and get a quick answer to your question when you're stumped.

Excellent resource.

 CLICK HERE and bookmark.

Picture Book Checklist

From Guest Blogger Laura Backes —

A big Thank You to John Bard, Managing Editor at CBIClubhouse, for providing this info when I requested it. Since some of you write picture books, and we haven't really discussed that very much so far, I thought it would be good to pass this along to those of you who write those great early book that we all remember.

Writing picture book fiction is quite possibly the hardest type of writing there is, and yet editors receive more picture book manuscripts than any other genre. To make your work stand out from the crowd, you need to do more than study how to devise a winning plot and create believable, unique characters. You need to polish your prose until it sparkles. Here’s a checklist to help with the editing process:

* Check the pacing. Picture books are generally 32 pages long, which means you’ll have about 28 pages of text and illustration. So break your text into 28 chunks and place each on a separate piece of paper. Staple the pages together to look like a book and read your story as you turn the pages. Notice the pacing and how the action unfolds. Does the story flow evenly, or are there several pages where nothing special happens? Does something occur on the right hand page or each two-page spread–a rise in action, a recurring phrase, a funny moment– that makes the reader want to turn the page and see what happens next?

* Note the illustration potential. Since you’ve made your manuscript into a "book," think about what the illustrations might look like. Are there enough changing scenes to inspire a different illustration on each page, or at least every two-page spread? Is the story told with a lot of visual elements (actions and events the reader can see)? Are there long scenes of dialogue that go on for more than one book page? (Note: Making your manuscript into a dummy book and thinking about the illustrations are for your benefit only. When you submit the manuscript to a publisher, you’d type it double spaced without identifying where the page breaks would go. You’d also refrain from discussing any illustration ideas until the editor asks for your thoughts.)

* Cut words. If you use two words to describe a character, try to find one more exact word to do the trick. Eliminate verbal clutter– words like "big," "little," "very," "almost"– that don’t add any real meaning to the sentence, and instead choose strong, active nouns and verbs. Strike any sentences or scenes that don’t directly advance the plot.

* Use concrete images. Be sure to convey the story through concrete visual images the reader can see and the illustrator can draw. Describe abstract concepts such as feelings with sensory details the character (and the reader) can smell, hear, touch, see and taste.

* Craft a satisfying ending. Does your plot have an identifiable yet surprising climax in which all the action comes together and the main character solves his or her problem? Is this climax contained within one book page? After the climax, is the story resolved (wrapped up) quickly? The resolution must feel complete and satisfying for the reader, but shouldn’t be drawn out. Make it a book page or less, and your readers won’t hesitate to revisit your story many times over.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nary a Brave Soul Answered the Call

Which leads me to believe that you avoid the dreaded query letter at every opportunity. Like the plague. Or the license bureau. Or your dentist's office. So, it's time for me to speak to you like a Dutch uncle. You're going to have to get over that fear if you're going to get published.

Without a good query letter, that jewel of a manuscript you've written is never going to see the bookstore shelves. Readers are never going to savor your perfectly chosen words and rejoice with your characters as they overcome the odds to reach their goal. They're never going to experience the fear your hero has rushing through him as the villain gets closer and there's no way out, or feel the tears stinging their eyes when they read the emotional and perfect ending you've labored over. And that's just wrong. The story you've put your heart and soul into needs to be shared and enjoyed. You know it does.

Perhaps this exercise was more work than you had time for. That's understandable. If you've got a WIP (and I hope you do), you need to devote the time to it. But someday soon you're going to have to write that query letter for your opus, and this exercise is one that could have proven extremely valuable in that endeavor. And I'm not going to let you miss that opportunity for improvement without giving it another try. You'll thank me someday.

The driving force behind writing this blog is to help writers realize their dream of becoming authors. Nothing would give me more pleasure than knowing I had been of some help in your journey. It's very important to me that you gain something from this site. So, let me dangle a carrot. It's so important that you make an effort to do this exercise that I'm willing to cough up ten bucks for a Barnes & Noble gift certificate. Even if you don't win, the experience and the effort you put into it will be worth it in the long run. I promise.

So I want you to write the query for the story I posted yesterday (just below this one.) In order to get maximum participation, I'm not going to pick the winner until we have at least 25 entries. There will be no maximum number, but the entry window will close at 11:59 p.m. CST this Sunday, June 6, 2010. I will be judging this one (for the first time ever) so dazzle me. Read the previous post again. Watch the video trailer and get the feel for what the story is about. If you've never seen the movie, you can watch the whole thing in ten installments on YouTube. Just search for Stand by Me. It's all there. Or rent it if you'd prefer. When you're ready, put together that sparkling query and paste it into the comment section directly below this post. I know you don't want to, but you need to do this. And I know you can, because you're a writer. It's what you do.

NOTE: Although you all know that a properly written query includes "Dear Agent Name" and, perhaps, a reason you're submitting your query to them, that's not necessary this time. Also, the title and word count and genre aren't needed on this query. Just start in with the first sentence (and grab me with it) and end before all that closing business about "I would happy to send, blah blah blah." Just give me the body of the query.

Finally, if we don't get 25 entries, I'll let it go. Reluctantly, but I will. I'm climbing down from my soapbox now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Becoming Stephen King

If you haven't seen this movie, I've included the video trailer to give you an overview so you can participate along with those who've seen it. And, aside from entertainment value, there's a reason I've added it. It will make sense as you read on.

Today we are going to look at the dreaded query letter. I know you hate them. But they’re a necessary stop on your journey from writer to author. We've done some exercises on queries in the past, but today we’re going to discuss them in detail and learn a little more about how to make them effective.

There’s an old saying that form follows function, and that is especially true with the query. I'm going to give you a form that will work effectively a bit later. But first, let's look at the function. The purpose — the only purpose — of your query letter is to create enough interest in the agent’s mind for them to request a sample of your writing. That’s it. It’s a sales tool, nothing more. Nothing less. It must be written in such a compelling manner that it will create interest and sell your product (sample chapters or a full manuscript). And the quicker it does that, the better.

We did an exercise a while back regarding opening paragraphs. We did another writing session on one-sentence pitches. The purpose of those posts was to encourage you to start out with something intriguing, something that made the reader want more. That same tactic is critical when crafting your query. This captivating opening is often referred to as "the hook." If the great writing in your query doesn’t occur until the second paragraph, chances are the agent isn’t going to read it unless the first paragraph makes them want to continue. If your first paragraph is weak or boring, you’re slush pile bound.

After you create that wonderful, grabbing, intriguing, enticing first sentence or first paragraph, you can continue to weave your query and give the reader more info. There are specific things that need to be included in an effective query.You should address these four questions.

1. INCITING INCIDENT: What happens to change the MC’s life?
2. SOLUTION: What can the MC do to fix it, to make things better, or solve the problem?
3. OBSTACLES: What’s standing in the way? What’s stopping him/her?
4. STAKES: What is the MC risking? What happens if the problem isn’t solved or the goal isn’t achieved?

Let’s look at an example. In The Body, by Stephen King, Gordie LaChance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp and Vern Tessio take off on a hike to find Ray Brower. If you’ve seen Stand by Me, that’s the movie this novella was based on, and you know the story. If we were to write a query for it, we could answer those four questions as follows:

1. INCITING INCIDENT: Vern is under the porch, still trying to find the pennies he buried, when he overhears his brother and a friend discussing Ray Brower. He runs to the tree house to tell his friends, and the boys decide to hike to Back Hollow Road and find the body. If they discover where he is, they might get their names in the newspaper.

2. SOLUTION: They come up with a plan to tell their parents they’re tenting in the back yard so they can be gone without being missed.

3. OBSTACLES: There are many along the way: Miles Pressman and his killer dog, Chopper (Sic. Balls.), a train that almost runs over them as they’re running across the trestle, the leeches in the pond, and the frightening sounds in the woods when they camp that night. And finally, Ace Merrill and his gang show up and tell the four adventurers that they’re taking the body and claiming the fame. Above it all, is their fear of seeing a dead body and the uncertainty of whether they really should be doing this.

4. STAKES: This is a coming of age story, so the emotional level is high. The boys are afraid, but they’re determined to carry out their plan despite their fear. If they don’t continue and achieve what they've set out to do, they’ll have to live with the shame of their failure. This is especially obvious in the confrontation with Ace when the boys refuse to back down.

So, now that we know the elements, here’s an exercise for you to complete. Pretend you’re Stephen King. You've just finished your final edit on this story and it's ready to send out. Write the query. Be sure to include a dynamic opening paragraph and the four elements listed above. You can either write it directly into the comment section or create it in Word, do a little editing, and paste it in. Make me want to read the book.

It will be interesting to see the different results in each one. Spend some time with that most important opening sentence. I’m looking forward to seeing how you write it.