But I don’t wanna write!

How is it that sometimes the very thing we love to do most, we just flat out don’t want to do. This seems impossible, like not wanting chocolate or ice cream. Like waking up one day and just saying, I don’t like coffee anymore. I’m just not going to drink a cup today. But it happens. Sometimes, we just don’t want to write.

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Sometimes we just don’t want to write.

For a host of reasons, we find ourselves just not in the mood. The reasons can range from our mental state to our plot. Here are a few reasons that make it hard for me to write. Sometimes, a lot of times, when I face the problem, I just plain and simple choose not to write, but when I know I’m not going to have time in the future or I have a deadline, I have a few solutions I fall back on to solve the problem.

Problem: A FUZZY HEAD

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A fuzzy head. Get it?

When I can’t think clearly, it’s usually due to fatique. I have the most time to write after I get home from teaching middle school students all day. But after spending my day explaining the kinetic theory to kids who’d rather be playing Clash of Whozits and Snap-a-whating each other on their phones, my head can be a bit fuzzy. I don’t know about you, but I need a clear mind to write.

Solution: A nap and some coffee. Write outside. A nap. A shower. A nap.

Problem: A case of the I-stinks

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Sometimes, I just get down on myself as a writer. It might be from reading my own first draft. It might be from reading a published work that is so phenominal that it makes me realize how pitiful my own work is. It might be from seeing so many other friends succeeding and feeling like I might not ever achieve that. Whatever the reason, this can make it hard to write.

Solution: Get out some of your favorite things you’ve written and read them again to remind yourself that you have written good things. Call a friend. A good friend and talk it out. Read something you love, written by someone else, and identify the things you do that are similar. Also, identify the things you could do that will improve your writing. Finally, identify that knowing that you CAN improve is a sign of a good writer.

Problem: A disconnect from your story

Sometimes I’m just not feeling it anymore. I’ve lost that lovin feeling, and it prevents me from wanting to keep writing.

Solution: Court your characters, get to know them again. Do character developing activities to get to know more about them. Sometimes I even change their names and appearances to help myself think of them from a different angle.

Problem: A better idea

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Changes can feel insurmountable

Every once in a while, I’ll be about half way through my story and I’ll realize that there’s a better way of writing it. Starting over seems so insurmountable that it just makes me want to quit.

Solution: Sleep on the changes. If they still feel right later, then they are worth making. None of us want to put out less than our best work. Take a break. Work on something else and come back with the idea of tackling this as a new book. Tackle it in small chunks and reward yourself for meeting goals.

Do you have other solutions to these problems? Do you have other problems besides these that cause you to stop writing? Please share!

A Formula For Best Sellers?

I’m #blessed. No for real. Thanks to the lovely Natalie C. Parker, author of BEHOLD THE BONES, I’ve been connected with some lovely  FAN-STINKIN-NOMENAL (it’s a word now) authors who are in the same stage of agented writing as myself.

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Novels by the wonderful Natalie C. Parker


This group of girls bonded almost instantly. We now refer to ourselves as the YAAMY Bears — it’s a yam thang — and find ourselves posting yam memes and GIFs at random. But best of all, we are sharing our journeys. This stage of writing can be awkward and lonely because you’re not sharing the same path with authors seeking representation anymore, but you’re not a published author either. Natalie has given us a tribe, shoulders to cry on, people to celebrate with, and I think I can speak for everyone in the group when I say…

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All that being said, I found myself typing out this long message to the girls on one of our many forums at 2:30 in the morning. It’s been on my mind since then, so I thought I’d see what you thought. Is there a formula for a best seller?

Writing the secret formula
I went to MidWest Writers this summer and attended a wonderful session on how to edit a best seller, and here’s what I took away from it:

The conference speaker talked about plot beats which, at the time, I knew nothing about. So, for those of you who were like me, beats are like the rhythm of a song. It’s steady, then it crescendos then it resolves. There is a common rhythm or set of beats found in nearly all the bestseller and blockbuster movies and the formula goes like this:

1. Slice of Life – This is where you start. You give the reader a sense of who the MC is, where they are from and what is meaningful to them. This can happen in the first few words. It can also occur over the course of a few pages. Giving your MC little obstacles to overcome (even big ones, though you don’t generally want to jump in with too much heart pounding action until the reader knows why they should care about the character) helps the reader to get a feel for how they react to things. Do they fume at traffic jams or are they chill? Do they cuss when they stub their toe? That kind of thing.

2. Inciting Incident – What is the thing that starts the sweater to unraveling (Oh Geez! Weezer’s sweater song is in my head now!) But IDENTIFY IT. Call it by name, for your own benefit. This helped me so much just to know what this was, because then I knew where it should fit in my MS.

3. Act 2 – Decision Time: This is when your MC has to make a decision about that Inciting Incident. Are they going to run away from home, get a divorce, find a new job? BUT in most best sellers, the FIRST response to that decision is no. No, I’m not going to do what I should, or what’s hard, or what makes sense. This helps build tension and sets pace! Then give it time and resolve it so your MC can be on his or her merry way with the plot.

4. Establish Flaws – This is where we see that the MC maybe doesn’t have it all together and isn’t quite as perfect as we all thought she was. You don’t have to give everything away, but maybe we start seeing some weaknesses or some unlikable things here. This way we’ve given the reader a chance to fall in love with the MC before we show her butt. Sort of like in dating and marriage. LOL This is also a great place to trickle in clues if you are dealing with an unreliable character.

5. Fun and Games – This is where I struggle, because I write such dark stuff. I don’t know how this bubbly preacher’s kid turned Edgar Allan Poe but whatevs. (P.S. if you write humor PLEASE do a post on that!) Anywho, fun and games doesn’t have to be bubbly or even funny, but this is where your romance typically happens. Your MC discovers they are in love. Or, if there is no romance, some of the lighter things in the novel are happening here. This is all for build and pace. Your chugging up the hill of that roller coaster, about to give your readers that my-stomach-just-fell-into-my-shoes feeling.

6. Mid-Point – This is the middle of your story. I know, deep, right? Things are starting to pull together and come to a head.

7. Bad Guys Close In – This is where your MC is getting backed into a corner by some situation or protagonist. They’re feeling a little hopeless here.

8. All is Lost – Giving your MC a situation they can’t possibly get out of is a pretty big theme in best sellers. There’s no way this can end up good for anyone as far as the reader can tell.

9. Dark Night of Soul – Things are moving quickly now. Your character recognizes that without sacrificing, there is no way out of this situation. Or maybe they don’t recognize it, but the reader does. This takes on all forms. In Jerry MaGuire, his career is on the line, in Twilight (forgive me) it’s Edward or Jacob, or Renesmee, or herself or Edward. Your MC can linger here for a moment to help solidify for the reader the stakes that are at risk. Remember this takes on so many different forms. Your story may be man against nature, or man against community. It still fits.

10. Climax — This is where the volcano explodes. The battle scene, the escape, the divorce, the throw down. The ugly.

11. Closing Image – Here’s your resolution, and my favorite: Bookends. This is where you take a theme that you started the book with, and you end with it. You give your reader a sense of closure with a profound idea, a loose end or a phrase used earlier and trickled throughout the book. In Jerry MaGuire it was a phrase: You complete me. In Twilight it was the theme that Edward could never read Bella’s thoughts and then she allowed him to.

For Pacing: The speaker suggested asking a beta reader to put a note in every place they got pulled away from reading to do something else by anything other than an earthquake or medical emergency. Those are probably your places where the book lulls. She suggested giving the character a minor conflict in those areas that doesn’t muddle up the plot or add too many new elements to the theme. It can be something she is already dealing with that happens to raise it’s ugly head again.

Also another REALLY  interesting resource is the Plot Library. Apparently, there are only like a few plots out there since the beginning of time and every story can fit into one of these plot lines. I thought it was fun to look through them and see which one my book and my favorite books fit into!

Is there really a formula for a best seller? Who knows. Most will agree that, like any art form, there’s no right or wrong way to write a book. But, that being said, even as an artist, I need to know how shading works. I need to know that if I’m trying to paint realism, if that’s my goal, then if the sun is on the right side of an object, the shadows will only be on the left side. This is a guide. It helped me organize my writing and identify the pieces that WERE ALREADY THERE! I don’t necessarily use this until I’m in the editing process. I don’t hold to this formula while I’m writing. I use it to sort it out afterwards. Maybe organized writing is the key to a best seller, maybe it’s something else entirely, but identifying these spots in my writing helps ME better understand it. I hope you can get something out of this too.

Blackwater Literature Festival

3f BW Lit festOn March 11th, 2015 the sun rose over a small rural town in mid-Missouri just as it always did but a certain energy reverberated in the air and it wasn’t the train passing on the all-too-close tracks at the edge of town. It was excitement.

The energy only increased as buses full of students and teachers from five different school districts rumbled past the carved sculpture of an Indian chief on main street and beyond the windmill in the center of the square. The bus doors hissed open and seemingly endless lines of nearly two-hundred and fifty students poured into the halls of Blackwater RII Elementary and Middle School for the Blackwater Literature Festival.

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They filled the bleachers and when they were full, the lunchroom tables and when they were full the floor. This was the day they’d been waiting for. In rooms so close it was unbearable, five authors were waiting to tell their stories, to give hugs, to answer questions and to inspire.

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Two-hundred and fifty students were waiting to meet their role models. Some of them had already read their books, some of them couldn’t wait to start.

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The signal was given and they were off. For the next four hours, they transitioned from room to room visiting , listening to readings from their favorite books, entering writing contests, asking questions and, of course, taking selfies with the authors! As the day progressed, conversations in the halls could be heard. Students were discussing which were their favorites and what books they planned on buying.  Some students even brought activities they’d done while reading the books to show the authors.

When the sessions were finished, the authors hosted book signing tables where students and teachers could purchase the books and have them signed by the authors. Copies of all the author’s books were entered into the Blackwater RII school library where they will be added to the computerized reading program the students participate in. All in all, the Blackwater Literature Festival was a day students won’t soon forget. Authors Ashlee Willis, Casey Wendelton, William Vaughn, Judy Stock and Linda Runnabaum as well as directors of the Marshal Public library, Wicky Slieght and Molly Johnson, will certainly also cherish the memory.









To Comp or not to Comp that is the Question

If you’re a twin or a sibling or a human in general you have probably experienced being compared to someone else. Comparisons can be flattering but, for the most part, people like to stand alone.

We don’t always like being compared. 

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In the writing world, sometimes comparisons are necessary. If you’ve queried for very long, you’ve probably asked your self this question: Should I add a comp to my query? If you haven’t, you may be wondering, what the Hector Zaroni is a comp? A comp is when an author makes a comparison of their work using other familiar works of literature, theater, television or big screen titles. An example would be Spiderman meets PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE (Oooo! I kind of want to write that.) Or modern day David and Goliath (Oh man…I’m going to need more than one Christmas vacation. So many books to write.) Or you can put genre or category twists on common stories like Steam Punk Cinderella or New Adult Charlie Brown. The possibilities are endless.

Batman meets Jurassic Park

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Why create a comp? Because, done well, it’s like a picture for agents. Comps speak a thousand words. Creating a comp can be a risky move because if the agent dislikes the comps, your MS could be discarded before the agent even gets to the sample writing. Another thing that makes comping difficult is choosing your comps. It can be like comparing your child to someone else’s. Obviously, you love yours more so it’s better, right? And what if your story doesn’t seem to fit any other story perfectly and when you meld stories it ends up looking a little like this:

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Or what if your comp titles aren’t really spot on and it ends up like this:

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That’s not really what you were going for was it?

Done well, comps are like a picture for agents. They speak a thousand words.

Many agents say they love comps. I’ve noticed lately that several of the query contest winners I’ve seen used intriguing comps. Comps can be very useful if done correctly. A good rule to live by, however, is if you don’t feel comfortable making the comp, then avoid it. But if you think a comp could beef up your query or perhaps the agent you query asks for comps (there are a few out there) then here are some helpful tips for creating great comps for your query:

Comp Do’s and Don’ts

DO read a lot so that you have more comp options.

DO try to stay away from comparing your writing to hot fad reads like Twilight that agents might be burnt out on.

DON’T compare your writing style to successful writers i.e. “I’m the next Nicholas Sparks.”

DO only make comps that help the agent understand your plot. Comps are not to show the agent your book is as good as the comp title you’re comparing it to. It’s to help them understand the plot.

DO your research. Maybe there are some great comps out there that will do your title justice. Research stories that have elements that compare to yours.

DON’T worry that your comp isn’t identical to your story. The idea is not to find the something exactly the same but something that compares. That’s why finding two stories to comp like Batman meets Jurassic Park helps to cover more of the elements in your story. Make sure the major ingredients of the story are parallel then make the comparison.

What are some comps that you’ve made? Did they work? What are other Do’s and Don’ts you can suggest for making comps?

2 LITTLE WORDS THAT CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR MS: THE END

10488290_10152533971360993_7822460364161932901_nThere comes a point in the life of a manuscript when certain questions must be asked. If a FULL manuscript has lived adventurously, traveling the world through cyber mail, visiting the in-boxes of agents galore only to return to you time and time again, it could be because of ridiculously long sentences like this one or…OR it could be because of the way you’ve ended your story.

It has been said that the most important pages you will ever write are the first and last five pages of your novel. If this is true, and I’m beginning to think it is, we have to learn to write better endings. And being the I-like-to-do-things-backwards type of girl that I am, I have learned this the hard way. So here are some things not to do when writing an ending.

 DO NOT:

1. Tie it into a neat little bow at the end that is all-too-convenient for everyone involved. I know you’ve been writing for eons and you just want the story to end but, don’t do that!

2. Throw your readers off a proverbial plot cliff. Even though things are winding up, your manuscript shouldn’t lose the momentum it had during the rest of the story. It should have the same feel to it even when it’s ending.

3. Be afraid of happy endings. You don’t have to kill your main character to create a twist at the end of your story. Happy endings are still possible. You may just have to think of a funky way for your MC to achieve it.

LOOK TO THE STARS

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An earth shattering ending – how, how, how do we write it? Start by looking to the stars. Is it shameful to look to the work of successful writers for inspiration? I say nay-nay! Let’s face it, there is no new thing under the sun. (A quote from my favorite book BTW.) No story has been written that hasn’t already been told. We just put a new twist on it, spiffed up the characters a little bit, modernize the setting and POOF…“new” story. Recently, I sat down and pinpointed what made an unforgettable ending for me and this is what I came up with:

UNFORGETTABLE ENDINGS ARE MADE OF…

There are  a few different formulas that, for me, produce an unforgettable ending.

1. A magnetic connection to the main character. It might not be the most eventful story I’ve ever read but I am so drawn to the character that I can’t stop reading. I want what he wants and if he gets it in the end then I celebrate with him and if he doesn’t I mourn with him. This type of unforgettable ending is more about the stuff sandwiched in between beginning and end than anything. I KNOW, I KNOW I’m contradicting my earlier statement about the first and last 5 pages. First, shut your snarky face. Second, keep reading and you’ll see that’s still true most of the time. *Sigh* And…I’m sorry I told you to shut your snarky face.

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Moving on. Think about movies like Rudy. Did we really care that he was a scrawny goober who dreamed about fulfilling a destiny that was a size too big for him? I mean come on, isn’t that everyone’s story? Nothing wildly original here. But it was the way Angelo Pizzo wrote Rudy’s character that made us love him, made us want to shout “Rudy!” at the top of our lungs. So when he did make it at the end, which we all saw coming, we felt emotion – not because it was a mind blowing event but because we cared for Rudy.

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Another example is John Green’s Paper Towns. Geek guy falls for popular girl – done a million times over, HOWEVER the sarcastic, irreverent voice of the MC and his cohorts keeps you reading. You want to know what impossibly scornful thing will be said next and before long you are deeply vested in weather Margo will speak to Quentin Jacobsen at school tomorrow or not. I’m a 36 year old educated mother of three…AND I WANT TO KNOW! That, my friends, is the power of an unforgettable ending.

A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

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2. An amazing twist makes for a unforgettable ending. One of my favorite twisted endings is from The Game, starring Micheal Douglas and Sean Pen. The whole time you don’ t know who Nicholas Van Orton can trust. Everyone has turned against him and he can no longer tell the difference between the game and reality. In the end, *spoiler alert*  his brother shoots him and he falls three stories to what should be his death only to find everyone he knows waiting to congratulate him for making it through the game at the bottom, his brother included. They were all in on it and you never knew it the whole time…or I didn’t anyway. A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

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3. Another element that makes for an unforgettable ending is when you are dying to see the villain get theirs. A well developed antagonist can drive your story all the way to the end. Making your reader love to hate the enemy can cause them to hold onto the last drop just to see the villain get what is coming to them. Make it count! Think about it. We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout “I’m melting! I’m melting!” It never gets old.

If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you.

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4. And finally, a romance that makes you fall in love all over again can sear an ending into your mind in a way that makes it unforgettable. When two people have that extra special connection you want to fight for it, because it’s rare. A well written romance can be the momentum for a plot. If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you. Look at endings of classic or popular love stories to see how they worked for other successful writers. Scarlet’s ending wasn’t the sweetest in Gone with the Wind but we all gave a darn. And what about The Notebook? Didn’t it rip our hearts out on a Saturday night right before Easter service? And you cried so hard your eyes swelled shut for church the next morning? No? Just me? All right then. And folks keep your boos and hisses to yourself; book and movie sales say it all. The Twilight series had a grip on our culture for a significant amount of time and left its mark on the Young Adult genre so don’t overlook the ending.

So…what about you? What are some of your favorite endings that you, or I – I’m not ashamed to be selfish here – could be inspired by? Do tell.

 

How NOT to bore your readers.

27182_1366319728277_1326643_nI can never stray far from my first love: Psychology. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of human behavior is the way civilized humans still revert to primitive needs in order to make decisions. We authors can use this information to our advantage. It’s a fact: people don’t pay attention to boring things. So, how can we understand what keeps humanity’s attention so we can write the next novel that reaches across the reader spectrum and pleases a broad group of readers? According to BrainRules.com there are five things that can help us do that. As humans, when we assess anything, we ask ourselves a few basic questions.

 

1. Can it eat me?

downloadWhy are zombie stories so popular? Since the last time you remember being stalked by a higher member of the food chain was oh, let’s see…NEVER, you don’t get to experience the primal fears of being hunted too often. That doesn’t mean these concerns aren’t still innate – a part of our DNA. People like to read stories that make them feel alive and in tune with their human instincts. That’s why stories that have some threatening element which potentially turns the  main character into the main course, are ones that do NOT bore the reader.

2. Can I eat it?

download (1)Let’s face it, we spend a good portion of the day thinking about what we can or can’t eat. Stories that include a strong food element get in touch with a deep rooted constant urge for humans to satisfy hunger. That’s why books like The Hunger Games, which describes food in a way that could make you drool no matter how many calories you just ingested, are novels that do NOT bore their readers.

3. Would it make a good mate?

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Since man was created, he concerned himself with finding a mate. Studies show that qualities thought to be attractive by the opposite sex are all primitive instincts based on the health of an individual for producing healthy offspring. Now, I know that’s not what you’re thinking when you’re on the prowl, “Gee, he’s got nice straight teeth. Our children’s dentist bills should be low.” Maybe not consciously anyway. Regardless, successful books often contain a strong, well written love relationship that does NOT bore the reader.

4. Does it want to be my mate?

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Some of the most riveting, angst filled stories involve a you-want-me-but-I-don’t-want-you element. Many of us have either been on the receiving or the delivering end of a relationship like this so we can identify with the pain in this kind of story. Broken relationships just make good stories and an author that can relay this sort of angst in a way that is real and raw to the reader has created a novel that does NOT bore the reader.

5. Have I seen it before?

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This is the instinct we want to use against our readers. We want to use the primal tendency of fight or flight to excite our target group. When humans encounter something they’ve never seen before they either gawk in amazement or their bodies react to a surge of adrenaline released into the bloodstream. As authors, we’ll take either reaction! Adrenaline junkies fuel an entire industry! If you can give someone that sort of thrill on their couch at home, you have a novel that does NOT bore the reader, my friend. And if your novel is so novel (pardon the pun) that people stand and gawk, well, then you’re the next big thing and you’ve most definitely written something that does NOT bore your readers.

People write books that imitate the great ones. Authors like J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins all had unique stories we’d never seen before or a new approach toward an old concept we never considered. These elements are what made their books interesting to readers that never considered reading Sci-Fi or Dystopian or Fantasy a day in their lives.

Am I saying you have to write a magic filled horror with an obscene love element to be a successful author? NO! Please don’t. I’m suggesting you use the very things that make us human to create a story that holds your reader’s interest and satisfies them on the deepest and most primal of levels. What are some different twists you can put on these 5 basic instincts that could be the next big story?

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’VE GONE MANUSCRIPT BLIND

IMG_20130728_113951Perspective. It’s abstract yet it’s everything. It’s what keeps our writing fresh and makes it relevant. It’s what gives our stories that malleability to conform to whatever we want or need it to be and it’s what causes an agent to fall in love with or instantly disconnect with our work. Perspective is essential, yet if we lose it we are spinning our wheels in the proverbial mud that is our WIP. So how do we get it?

Make sure people are looking at your writing.

Many of us are quiet about our endeavors in writing. We tell ourselves we will be more outward with it when we are finally published. (Mostly because we’re tired of answering the question: “Oh, you write? Where is your book sold?”) But if we want to be able to answer that question with a resounding “BARNES AND NOBLE” then you have to let other people see your work. We lack the perspective as humans to stay objective toward our own work. We need a fresh eye and a different outlook. You might be influencing your characters to act the way you would in a certain situation while others would do it differently. Letting other people read our manuscript, opens us up to a whole new range of scenarios for our characters. Think of other people’s input on your MS as deposits into an idea bank. You don’ t have to spend them if you don’t want to but the ideas are there when you need them.

Contests

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Contests are not for the weak of heart. It can be discouraging when you don’t even make it passed the initial selection rounds, however, many contests come with fantastic (and not so fantastic) feedback from published authors, editors, bloggers and the reading public in general. I have been at the place where I worked so hard on a manuscript that the words didn’t even look like words anymore. I had gone manuscript blind. Perspective from contests (even when we don’t win the contest) give us insight to issues with the MS that we couldn’t see before.

Take Criticism

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If someone told you your baby was ugly you’d punch them in the face. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t but you sure as heck wouldn’t give them roses. Our manuscripts are our babies – our blood, sweat and tears – but we MUST learn to take criticism for them. After all, our readers are why we write and if they don’t “get it” then we aren’t doing our job. I say this with total subjectivity. Of course, we don’t write to please all readers but we must be open to change for the sake of the reader if  it’s not compromising our voice or the integrity of our work.

Take a step back for saturation’s sake!

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I know you would never abandon your child and that’s what it feels like when you walk away from a manuscript but sometimes taking a step back to work on another project for a while – and I mean a while – can bring all the perspective we need. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves and the WIP.

What about you? How do you find perspective? I’d love to try your techniques.

Agent/Author Etiquette

222221_10150272979930993_6771236_nYour phone chimes with that special notification that alerts you an agent has responded to one of your queries. (What? You don’t have an email account set up JUST for agent responses? You should! Just a tidbit: Did you know that there are many agencies that will boot out emails as spam from big free email groups like gmail, Hotmail and yahoo? But I digress…) So where were we? Oh yes the notifying chime! You hesitate to open it, knowing its just another rejection and you’re not in the mood today. After forcing yourself to look, you discover that….Holy Shmuckoly! It’s a full manuscript request.

After the initial lightheadedness and overall flushing of all your body parts you get right to work collecting your manuscript and reading over it one more time at lightening speed for any refining that needs to be done. You resist, with all that is in you, making major changes in the first three chapters and tell yourself now is no time for self doubt. Finally, you hit the SEND button followed by the strong urge to wretch. Oh, Lord was everything perfect?  If it’s not, too late now.

The rush of the whole experience lingers for a day or two and then the questions overtake you like a swarm of killer bees.

Questions1. How long should I wait before nudging?

A nudge is reserved for specific situations. An author should never use a nudge for a query submission. Most agents (if I were more daring I would say all agents) have information on their website that let submitters know how long they can wait for a reply. Some agents state upfront they will not respond to queries which do not interest them and that a no response can be considered a rejection. If an agency states that, after a lack of response within a certain amount of time, you can resubmit then do so but do not nudge.  In my opinion, it’s good practice to send your manuscript with a short respectful note inquiring about what sort of time frame you can expect to hear back from them. Generally they will reply with a time frame of about 6-8 weeks and give permission to follow up after that time period. Nudges should be used only when agents have requested your material and have exceeded the time they initially told you it would take to look at the work or an acceptable amount of time to review the MS.

2.What is the best way to follow up with an agent?

Again, dare I say all agents, prefer email. A simple reply to the initial request is sufficient via email. Then just find something to distract you for the next 6-8 weeks while they do their thing.Many agents have twitter accounts now that you can follow and they often host “Ask The Agent” forums where they answer FAQ’s by authors. Generally though, I wouldn’t inquire with an agent about a query on twitter. Use their email for that. Following agents on twitter can be informative, however. I follow agents on Twitter who post when they have made it through their query piles and that if you haven’t heard back from them to resubmit. So, if you have submitted a query to an agent, it’s a great idea to follow them on Twitter. I said FOLLOW, don’t stalk….that’s just pathetic and creepy.

3. Should I give an exclusive if asked?

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Exclusives should rarely be given. If authors granted exclusives every time we submitted we would be published at the ripe old age of 103. Now if an agent asks for an exclusive while reading your manuscript, and he/she is your DREAM AGENT,  it might be in your best interest if you only granted it for a short time period.  For instance, you might say I’ll grant exclusivity for 2 weeks in which I will not submit to, or make a commitment to, any other agents. This ensures a swift response for you and does not lock up your manuscript so that you miss out on an opportunity for representation by another agent in the process.

4. Why did the agent ask if other agents were considering my work?

Agents want to know if your work is being considered by other agents so they know how to place it in the slush pile. If you are being seriously considered by other agents then the agent might make an effort to look at yours sooner to avoid losing an opportunity to represent the novel. Make sure you don’t tell an agent your novel is being considered unless it truly is though. Integrity is a huge part of the relationship between author and agent and if you are eventually represented by the agent you don’t want that uncomfortable white lie coming between you.

5. Is it a bad thing if more than one agent is looking at my work?

Simple answer. No. Agents don’t hold it against you if your work is being looked at by other agents. That’s the nature of the business and it only shows you have an interesting story. Just be sure to COMMUNICATE WITH THE AGENTS! Tell them that your work is being considered by other agents so they can plan accordingly. And if you receive an offer of representation in the meantime, notify agents so they know to stop looking at your work OR to finish reviewing it so they have a shot at it too. It’s okay for you to tell an agent you need time to think and notify other agents that you are considering them for representation.

6. And finally, what if you send the manuscript along with a short message asking when you might hear back and after a week receive no response? Should you resend?

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What are you looking at me like that for? Oh! You think I have the answer. No, this question is for you! I’ve read  it is important to respond with a bold message in the subject line that says something about REQUESTED MANUSCRIPT. Of course, I read this after I sent the email and merely replied to the initial email. I have a tendency to over think things. Perhaps your thoughts on the issue will ease my mind. So take it away.

DO YOU KNOW YOUR GENRE?

386558_10150591178055993_62231348_nYou are a  door to door salesperson who sells vacuums. Finally, after months of having doors slammed in your face, a potential buyer stands in the doorway long enough to ask you a question. “What kind of vacuum is it?” You hem-haw and squirm because you really don’t know so you just spout off the most popular vacuum type you can think of. “It’s a zero-turn-radius, bagless, cyclone chamber with scented filters.” When really it’s one of those old models that looks like  a set of bagpipes. What does the potential client who you could have made enough off of to not  have to sell another vacuum for a whole month do? He slams the door in your face, of course.

Our manuscripts can be just as difficult to sell (not that any of or work is like a bagpipe vacuum cleaner, I should hope) and finding a genre our manuscripts fit into to market them can be even more difficult. However, without the proper packaging, you can have an amazing product but never move it off the shelf. Face it, most of us buy name brand just because it looks more trustworthy. It would be nice if we could just go without picking a genre and just let our work speak for itself  but in the world of publishing there is no such thing as No Genre Bob.

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The last writer’s conference I attended had a “Read the Slush Pile” event, as many do. Three agents sat on a panel while someone read the first five pages of our manuscripts to them. When they didn’t want to hear anymore they raised their hands and the reader ceased. Then the agents told why they would have stopped reading that particular piece if it were in their slush pile. It was very informative and helped me to better develop my first chapter. But one of the main reasons they stopped reading was when an author incorrectly billed a piece as a certain genre. At first I thought they were just being picky but they explained their reasons for this.

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The first reason was that a writer should know their genre. If they don’t, the agent can already see that working with this author may consume a little more time than they have available. The second reason why agents say writers bill their work as a genre that it is not, is because they are scared their work falls under a dead category and think if they bill it as something else it will seem more appealing. The fact is:

You have a better chance at getting an agent’s attention with your work under its true genre (even if the genre isn’t so hot right now) than you do if they start to read it and find out it’s not what you claimed it was-no matter how good your work is.

That doesn’t mean agents are uppity or snide. It just means that, like you and I, they like to get the product they are told they are getting. So, knowing your genre is the key. I remember flipping out when I heard the agents respond that way because I had pitches scheduled with them the following day and I wasn’t prepared to commit to a genre at that point. What would I do if they put me on the spot? I stayed up for hours in my hotel room researching different genres and comparing my story to others that have already been marketed under certain labels. It was hard because one of the agents I was pitching to wasn’t particularly fond of the category my manuscript seemed to be consistently falling into with my research. I had to be straight forward with her and she asked me to send her a partial!

There are some great resources out there for pinpointing your genre. 

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First, start by reading lists of genres and weed out the ones that don’t apply. Sometimes books fall into multiple categories like YA/Science Fiction/Romance, so  don’t try to narrow it down to just one yet. Make sure the list you are looking at is up-to-date. Some genres are called by different names than they used to be and there are new ones, like NA (New Adult), that are added to the list. Here are a few good lists to start with: List Of Fiction Genres and Bubble Cow’s Genre List. You may have to piece a few lists together to get a complete list. As you can see, NA is not even described on these lists yet because it is so new.

Then once you’ve narrowed it down to a few genres, start looking at books that are similar to yours. This is a good practice anyway because most agents are going to want you to compare your book to something that is already on the market. While most of us would like to think our book is one of a kind that’s not always a good thing. People like to read things similar to what they’ve already enjoyed. We naturally choose by comparison. So look at other books that compare to yours and see what genre they fit into.

It’s not an easy process. It’s like choosing a label for your child. You, young one, will forever be known as a…carpenter or psychologist or mother or construction worker. It’s tough stuff but we can do it! Anybody else out there struggle with labeling your baby?

AN AGENT WANTS TO SEE YOUR WORK! NOW WHAT?

So, you’ve been to a conference. You pitched your manuscript and you didn’t vomit on the agent’s shoes! You actually delivered a decent pitch. Then the agent looks at you and says, “This is an awesome concept. I ‘d like you to send me the whole manuscript.” What do you do?

Celebrate...then be realistic.

Celebrate…then be realistic.

Do you walk out in a dignified manner, acting as though you expected that response or do you throw yourself over the table at the agent, kissing her hand repeatedly, thanking her for a chance and promising her you won’t let her down like those contestants on American Idol who’ve made it through the first round and act as though they’ve won the whole contest? Do you wait until you’ve nearly reached the door and break into a little “I did it” jig? I’m just saying, I may or may not have done a combination of your first and third options. I sort of forgot that old football motto,

“Just hand the ball to the official and  act like you’ve been there before.”

Then as I sat in the waiting room, I watched others as they came out. A few were dejected, others were indifferent and still others were sporting the same look I had minutes ago. Throughout the day at the conference, I asked about the response others had received from certain agents. There were quite a few that were asked to send partials of their manuscripts to the agents. This got me to thinking, are my chances here the same as any slush pile my manuscript has landed in?

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I probably shouldn’t be holding my breath here.

I started to question everything. What was the point of coming here and the months of rehearsing, stressing out and whitening my teeth..MY SENSITIVE TEETH- I shriek internally every time I inhale! I started doing research on how much value these request actually held.

Don’t stress just yet.

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But then again, don’t start taking out loans based on your book sales either. I read a wonderful blog by Wendy Lawton called Books&Such where this situation is put into perspective from the agents point of view. I’ve read articles that speak of agents in a less than positive light about the way they lead authors on by asking for samples when they may not be as eager to represent the author as one might think. The Books&Such article clarifies why agents might ask for a manuscript sample and then not give you the gleaming results you are awaiting OR they may take much longer to respond than you had anticipated.

Here are 5 reasons she noted:

  • It’s most likely a serious request based on liking the initial pitch and being interested in the writer. Whether the agent is being realistic about his ability to manage the additional work he is agreeing to evaluate is the unknown element here.
  • Or it could just be the general giddiness and I-can-do-it-all feeling that comes from letting an overworked agent out of the office. At a writer’s conference we are predisposed to falling in love with ideas and writers. We’re talking with colleagues and brainstorming possibilities. Heady stuff.
  • It can mean the agent has been meeting with writer after writer in fifteen-minute blocks all day long and has finally admitted he is braindead and cannot evaluate anything and the best thing is to just see the work and evaluate later.The danger here is that he knows he is loading himself up with work, not taking into consideration the already critically backed-up workload at the office.
  • It might mean the agent knows he can’t evaluate fiction based on a query. He has to evaluate the writing. Some agents and editors ask to see anything that may hold promise based on the pitch. (Sadly some writers pitch like big leaguers while their writing isn’t even ready for the farm team.)
  • It might mean the agent is drawn to the writer himself and, regardless of the writing, wants to continue to explore. This is the power of meeting in person. These are the not-quite-ready writers that agents sometimes decide to sign, even earlier than normal, in order to mentor them. It’s one of the values of a writing conference–the inexplicable connection that sometimes happens.

So if you’ve received a face to face request CELEBRATE! Then revise as requested, send your manuscript and if you feel comfortable ask about a time frame in your query. Then wait but Heavens to Mergatroid QUERY WHILE YOU WAIT. Don’t put all your tofu in one recycled plastic tote (sorry, I’m vegan.) Keep sending out those queries just as you would, had you never gone to the conference at all. 

Have any of you received partial requests at a conference? How about a full? I received both this weekend and I’d love to hear the outcomes of your requests to give me something to ponder while I wait for my own response!

You Wrote the Last Best Seller…CONGRATULATIONS!

I paid a short visit to the candy store that is Barnes and Noble this week and found myself, of all places, in the Philosophy isle. Okay, it was by accident that I ended up there but none-the-less I thoughtfully chose a book from the shelf with regard to intellectual growth. Yeah, that didn’t happen either. The cover of the Hunger Games did grab my attention though and when I pulled the book from the shelf, thinking that it was in the wrong section, I discovered that it was actually entitled, “The Hunger Games and Philosophy ” As I looked further I discovered that there were other books dedicated to the success of vampire stories and zombie stories. Why in the name of all that is warm and breathing are we so hypnotically drawn to the un-dead?

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Well, it’s nothing new. In fact, one of the first vampire stories, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was written in 1897. The first feature length zombie film was featured in 1936, entitle, White Zombie. So why the resurfacing trend? One word, MONEY. But it’s not what you think. It’s more about the lack of money than the making of it. Society gravitates towards grim tales when times are hard. Basically recessions bring out the monsters. In the 30s monsters and horror films were on the rise and and our stock market was on the fall.

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So why blood sucking vampires and flesh eating zombies? Why not GODZILLA or the BLOB? It’s about meat. Yes, ground chuck, T-bone, drum stick, meat. In the past it’s been hard to come by during recessions and war time, even being rationed at times. People associate meat with strength and feel as though without it they are weak. So we invent immortal monsters that will seek it out for us as we live vicariously through them. It’s also a reason why we’ve seen a recent rise in vegitarianism and veganism (I being the latter.)

Vegitarians and Vegans are, on the whole, not the norm. Meat eaters, lets face it, you don’t get it, right? Why would you give up BACON?! Oh sweet bacon, how I miss thee….eh-hem, sorry about that. Well according to this philosophy, meat eaters seek meat for strength and the Vs seek veggies for the same reason. They abandon the ideas that meat is the only source of power and look for alternatives in hard times. They’re those few strange individuals that like to play against the odds.

So, congratulations! You didn’t know that you were the one’s who decided what the recent Best Sellers would be about ,did you?

The Beast that is Your Query

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I’ve talked before about query resources. Frankly, I couldn’t have developed a query without them.Here is a link that sums up some valuable information for your query letter. It’s a animal all its own and if your pet is like mine it evolves into something a little more civilized with each batch of queries I send out.

What I learned from Query Shark.

Or if you want to go straight to the source you can visit Query Shark yourself at queryshark.blogspot.com/

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites:

Immediately get into the story. Don’t start with an introductory paragraph; don’t put the title and word count in the first paragraph. Put this information in the last paragraph. Agents seem to be split about this, but according to Ms. Reid, “A quick drop into cold water is EXACTLY how you want to start a novel (and thus a query.)” She says the very first word in the query should be the main character’s name. Describe what he/she wants and what is preventing him/her from getting it.

– Don’t start with a log line––aka, a one-sentence summary of the entire plot.

– Don’t start your query with a quote or random fact. (i.e. “Did you know that a thousand elephants turn purple every year?” … Obviously this is just an example, and not actually true.)

– Don’t start with a rhetorical question. (i.e. “Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a purple elephant?”)

– Don’t start with clichés. (i.e. “In a world …”)

What If Your Husband Was A Real Zombie (Part Two of The Land That Ideas Come From)

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You’ve been asked the question, “What are you reading right now?” and you explain that it’s this great story about a young alien prince with super vision who’s vacationing on the moon and out of everyone on earth, he spots one girl that he falls instantly in love with, despite the vast distance that separates them. The inquirer’s eyebrows narrow and a look of confusion overtakes his face. You want to defend the heart warming story that you can’t put down until 2a.m .every night but instead you tell him, “You’ll just have to read it to understand.”

Some of the most inspired and successful novels sound absurd when we try to explain the plot: a vampire falls helplessly for a girl whom he’s just met, a man meets God in the form of a large black woman in a shack where his daughter was murdered, children from the districts are forced yearly to fight to the death for the enjoyment of the colorfully painted and ridiculously dressed, members of the capital. WHERE does the inspiration for these stories come from? Would it be too cliche-ish to say, from all around us? It’s true.

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This sort of inspiration takes a wild imagination and two little words: WHAT IF. What if my husband was a real zombie? What if I fell into a black hole? What if my body could create its own food through chemical processes like a plant? Many times the ‘what if’s’ are inspired by real world events. For example,  weeks ago, Red Bull sponsored a deadly stunt, a free fall from the stratosphere in an attempt to break the sound barrier with a falling human. They sent some dude into space in a little steel pod lifted by a gynormous helium balloon and he jumped….he STINKIN’ jumped!

This is where the opportunity arises for your imagination to go wild. What if. What if traveling at mach-3 somehow rearranged this guy’s atomic structure giving him the super human ability to travel at the speed of sound? What if, while in the stratosphere, he witnessed something, something that shouldn’t be there, a government secret he shouldn’t have seen. It’s the “what ifs” that inspire sensational stories.

Practice what-ifing today and see what you come up with. If anything, it’s entertaining!

My next blog will be about some moving stories that might inspire you to ask some what-if questions of your own.