Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chocolate-cranberry-pecan dreams come true

It took me a minute to remember my blogger password. I'll admit it. I'm spent. And when I'm spent, I need SUGAR! I made these for my coworkers and now I'm the most popular employee in the building. So if you need a late 2010 energy boost, or you're vying for a raise, or just want to make friends, I'm going to give away my secret.

Cranberry Pecan Crunch (or little bites of ecstasy)
(Recipe from Christmas Together, reprinted by Woman's Day magazine)
Makes: 2 Dozen
Prep: 5 min.
Cook: 25-40 min.

3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp corn syrup
3 Tbsp water
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
(I usually start with whole pecans, seal them in a STURDY freezer bag and pound them to dust with a hammer. A good way to easy holiday stress as well.)

1. Butter an 8x8-inch pan and sprinkle bottom with dried cranberries.
2. Melt the butter with the vanilla in a heavy saucepan. Blend in the sugar, syrup and water. Cook over medium to high heat until mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir constantly. (The magazine says about 25-40 minutes. I don't use a thermometer, and mine took just over 20 minutes. The mixture will reach a fluffy point. As soon as it passes that and takes on a syrupy consistency and a nice golden brown color - it's done. )
3. Quickly stir in chopped pecans and pour mixture over cranberries in pan.
4. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top and spread when soft. Sprinkle with pecan dust. When cool remove from pan. Cool thoroughly and break into pieces.
5. Prepare to hear, "OMG! These are sooo good!" repeatedly.

I can't post a picture for you BECAUSE EVERYONE ATE THEM ALREADY! They're that delicious. And I won't bother adding the nutrition information. No one really wants to know. You can assume they aren't diet snacks by the 2 sticks of buttery goodness inside. ENJOY!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Give Books

My blog has been lacking as of late. That's mostly because I work for a Christmas ornament company, and we get pretty busy during 4th quarter like, tear-my-hair-out-and-scream busy. But it gets me thinking about the holidays sooner than most so I get my shopping done early. I always buy a lot of books. A book isn't just pages full or words and or pictures, it's an idea, an adventure, a laugh or a cry. What better gift to give? Some of my favorite giftable books are below:

This is a great gift for anyone with a sense of humor, especially someone who works in interior design or lived through the seventies. It contains the best of the worst disco-era home decor with hysterical commentary on each photo.

Oh Crap, I'm Having a Baby! by Anna McAllister & Mike Strassburger

I love to give this book to my expecting friends, especially the ones who impart on me all of the glorious aspects of pregnancy and ask when I'm planning to have a baby. Not intended for a woman who can't take a joke, this book lays out all of the ugly truths about pregnancy, delivery and child rearing such as baby poop, never sleeping again, and losing all of your friends.

Once those friends have their babies, I get them Pat the Bunny. I remember this being one of my favorite books because of the soft bunny fluff inside. I'm sure there are more touch and feel books out there now, but Pat is a classic.

This is a great gift for anyone in business, escpecially someone who works in consumer marketing, and I would say, writers. It delves into the psychology of why we buy things. For instance, toothbrushes are kept at eye level because they sell better there. It also shares tricks to improve customer satisfaction and what color to paint your business to evoke certain moods.

Need I say more? I think this is a great gift to give to the friend or family member who doesn't like to read. I can't imagine anyone not being completely absorbed with the trials of Katniss Everdeen as she tries to survive the reality driven death show.

Another great gift for someone who isn't a big reader because Scott Pilgrim is a graphic novel with a hilarious story about a sub-par musician who has to fight his girlfriend's seven evil exes. The conversation is witty and fun and the drawings, albeit somewhat crude, remind me of comics I used to make in high school.

I have a couple of History buffs in my family, and Forever is the perfect gift for them. It's about a man who lives forever, trapped in New York. Through him the reader sees the changing landscape of the city over the years, following Cormac on his quest for love and revenge.

I would give this book to anyone in a creative field, but especially, my writer friends. Pressfield talks about overcoming Resistance in order to channel your creativity and gain success. Mant times when I felt the frustration of writing, I picked this book up and read one short chapter. It gave me the boost to pick up my pen and keep on going.

What about you? What are some of your favorite books to give and share?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Readers

Before I consider a work sub-ready, I pass it around to friends and colleagues. I've used my focus group a few times now and have lovingly given them titles by how they further my writing.

The Plotter:
I have two of these readers in my circle and they are the first eyes on a new work. They tend to point out places where my world is lacking in details, or if a character is underdeveloped. They have no problem telling me a scene sucks, that a line of dialogue sucks, or will scrawl "BORING!" or "REALLY?!" in the margins in bright red pen.

The Ego-Booster:
After my Plotters have devastated all of my bestseller dreams, I go through a period of "This is awful. I should trash it and write something new." But before I drag the paper shredder out of the closet, I give the Ego-Booster a copy.

She is the critique partner everyone says you shouldn't have. When I give her thoughtful questions like, "What pulled you onto the second page?" She replies with, "Everything. I love the characters! I love the idea! I love it all!" I know she's not going to give me any helpful insight, but what she does give me is a renewed love for my manuscript and the strength to pull it out of the trash and go back and work on the Plotters' comments.

The Spell Checker:
Round 3. I've pulled my book apart and put it back together. I can't even look at it anymore. This is when I send it to the Spell Checker, who does so much more than fix the typos Word missed. He's a stickler for details. He points out where I used the wrong name for someone, or put "he" insead of "she". He can spot where I'm missing a comma or a quotation mark is backwards. He doesn't have a lot to add in the way of story, but he keeps me from looking like an idiot.

The Not-My-Types:
I write YA. These are the people who don't write YA, read YA, or even walk through the aisle in the bookstore. They write and read Christian fiction, romance, mystery, crime, women's fiction, short stories and poetry. They would never pay money for one of my books so why in the world am I giving it to them? For an outside perspective.

I don't always agree with what they have to say, but often, they offer plot suggestions that I never would have thought of. They're good, and they're different from YA because they're inspired by another genre.

After the rounds, a vacation in the drawer and one last look, I consider my manuscript ready to submit.

What about you? Who are your readers? Any I should consider adding to my list?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friday Fun with Photoshop: Dream Jobs.

It's not Friday, well not yet. I have an hour to go, but maybe by the time I finish this post it will be closer to midnight. A week or so ago, I had a call with my agent, and we talked about how we both like female heroines who kick ass. I admitted to her, that in the 80's, I dreamed of being on G.L.O.W., which if you didn't live through the eighties stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

Warning: the photoshopped picture is a bit creepy.

That career dream never panned out, and sadly, the show was cancelled. I'm glad I moved on though because the only roles for women in wrestling nowadays are support positions. They stand outside of the ring and hand their beefy boyfriends chairs and shout slurs at their opponents.

Throughout my childhood I had quite a few other aspirations. After I heard Lucky Star, I wanted to be Madonna, and not just a pop star like Madonna, I wanted to BE Madonna. (JEM was my back-up plan) Following a brief obsession with Divorce Court, I thought about becoming a lawyer, but then I wrote a paper in elementary school on manatees and decided oceanography would be my field. When I saw Working Girl, I wanted to be an executive with a big corner office in New York. Doing what? I didn't care, as long as I had penthouse view of the city and a briefcase with my name on it.

My senior year of high school I had an amazing Calculus teacher, and considered majoring in math in college. What you do with a math degree, I'll never know, because once I read the descriptions of the classes required for the degree, I changed my mind yet again.

I DJ-ed at the college radio station and although I made a very poor on-air personality, I was introduced to the business side of music and wanted to go into A&R. That's when I chose Marketing as my major.

I've never worked at a record label. What they don't tell you in college is that a degree won't get you your dream job, but again, I was starting to feel that maybe the music biz wasn't it anyway. I don't know when I decided I wanted to write. I know I thought about it for years before I sat down at my computer. But I'm not the only writer you didn't have a pen in hand at age five. I found this blog post that shares a few of the day jobs famous authors held before they hit the bestseller list.

What about you? What were some of your dream jobs?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everybody Makes Misstakes

I'm generally a stickler for grammar. Among my top pet peeves are using the wrong forms of "there" and "your", but in the umpteenth perusal of my novel, just before it was sent to editors, I found a "you're" where there should have been a "your".

When I'm on a roll, the text is flowing from the tips of my fingers, I don't inhibit inspiration by stopping to check for spelling errors. Last night, I had one of those good writing nights and before I shut down the computer, I did a quick read through. This is what I found: (This isn't the exact copy, but these are my shames)

She knew the earn was buried just below her feet sense she'd watched them dig the whole.

Oy. If any of my former English teachers are reading this, they're probably considering a change in career.

But everybody makes mistakes. The point is to catch them before you submit anything publicly, which is why it is always good to have one, two, or three sets of eyes on your work.

What about you? What are some embarrassing typos and errors you've found in your writing?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Friday Fun with Photoshop!

What five people, dead or alive, fictional or real would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

Mine pictured below:

Jesus: I have a few questions I'd like to ask the man, and who doesn't want the guy who can turn water into wine at their party? He would save me hundreds on alcohol expenditures.

Steve Perry: I love Steve Perry. The only songs I know how to play and sing on guitar are Journey's greatest hits. They are the most epic love ballads of all time and Steve Perry was just the man to sing them. I know he doesn't perform anymore, but maybe if I ply him with enough of J.C.'s wine, he can be persuaded to whisper me a few lines of Open Arms.

Lucille Ball: She was the original comedienne. I Love Lucy is nearly sixty years old, and it's still just as funny as it was the day it first aired. No question she would have everyone in stitches.

Roald Dahl: I had to choose at least one writer to dine with us. It was a tough decision, but Roald Dahl has been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. One summer I devoured all the Dahl books they had at the library, from BFG to Matilda, and when I was done, I read them all again. Just think of the dinner stories he could tell.

Marilyn Monroe: I have a few questions for her as well, and for some odd reason, I really think she and Jesus would hit it off.

How about you? Who would you invite and why?

Boston Book Festival 2010

My first concern when I stepped off the train was, "How are the outdoor booths going to survive in this brutal wind?" But they did because they were surrounded on three sides by white tarp. Just the first example of the superstar planning that went into this event. (link to the site here)


I arrived just before noon and went directly to the Writer Idol session. The description of the session on the site is:

In this freewheeling session, a professional actor will perform the first page of YOUR unpublished manuscript for the audience and a panel of four judges, including Esmond Harmsworth, Sorche Fairbank, Ann Collette and Caroline Zimmerman, all agents and/or editors with years of experience reading unsolicited submissions.

And yes, even though I have an agent, I submitted a page. Why? Well, this is a page of something old I'm trying to edit. Before I send things out, I like to get them into the best shape possible. I figured I would take advantage of the free professional critique, hear how someone else interpreted my writing in a reading, and listen to the critique of the other works.

The process went as follows: the actor randomly selected a page and read it. When he reached a point where an agent would stop reading, he or she would raise his or her hand. Once two hands were raised, the submission was rejected and then the agents gave their reasons why.

The take away. Of the fifty or so pages read, not one made it through without at least one hand. Only three made it to the final. So always query widely because you WILL get rejected by someone.

Comments on Fiction and YA fiction
The biggest problem in the pieces read was too much description or backstory and not enough action. The agents said this can be fixed with heavy-handed editing. You can't be afraid of cutting segments or moving them to later chapters if you want to get published. Also, trust your reader. They can figure things out.

My piece was the opposite. Too much action and the agents didn't care about my character. This can also be fixed. I have to put more in. There was also a part that didn't come across the way I intended, so I need to correct that as well. I have to say it was really helpful to hear someone else read my piece. It gave me a lot of insight into how I want to change my pacing and sentence structure.

Interestingly enough, two of the three pieces that made it to the end were YA fiction pieces, and I think this is because YA writers are more accustomed to the marriage of character and action. The piece that won was an adult mystery that did a great job of blending humor with action. The panel did comment that if this particular piece continued with heavy humor though, it may be too much.

Comments on Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction
There were more of these types of submissions. I admit, I don't read a lot of non-fiction nor do I write it, so I will only relay what the panel said about it. (warning: it wasn't really positive)

Memoir: For the first time I heard the term ME-moir. If you are writing memoir, you need to make your story relatable to others. No one wants to read your personal history...unless, and I quote from one the agents, "You're famous or an extremely talented author, which never happens." (ouch) The other case is if you are writing a medical book (or similar) and happen to be famous in that field, or have a well-established list of credentials.

The other comments were that dating books are overdone, as well as personal journeys through medical illness.

None of this means you shouldn't write it! It just means you'll have a REALLY hard time getting published if you do.


Next, we tried to attend Home & Away with authors Bill Bryson and Tony Hiss. The line stretched about two blocks outside of the theatre after it was already filled. And they say the printed book is dead. I beg to differ.

So instead, we went to Talking about Justice with Nobel Prize-winner, Amartya San, Michael Sandel and Dambisa Moyo. Again, I'm not a big reader of non-fiction, especially politcal non-fiction, but since I had dragged my friend to Writer Idol, I had to make a compromise. If I can get him to weigh in on his thoughts, I will post them here later. As for me, I did manage to stay awake and learned a thing or two.


The last session of the day I went to was, It Books: YA Writers Discuss What’s Hot. (Also packed, I had to stand outside the doors along with fifty other people)

An all-star group of bestselling writers get together to discuss what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to YA fiction. Francisco Stork, author of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors shares the stage with Kathryn Lasky, celebrated author of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, now a major motion picture, Harvard sophomore and writing phenom Noni Carter, author of Good Fortune, and Kristin Cashore, bestselling author of American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults Graceling and Fire.

I am going to get my complaint out of the way first. (And this has nothing to do with the presenters) A better title for the session would have been: YA, What I Wrote and How I Wrote It. Everytime I attend a session called, "What's Hot..." or "Publishing Trends..." I hear the same thing: "You must write the book that needs to be written." So, if you go to one of these sessions, don't expect to take away some profound inside industry information because you're not going to get it.

Of course, they did have some interesting things to say about their writing process. Kristin Cashore admitted she writes her novels by hand and that she usually goes through about four revisions and then copy edit revisions before a book is done. I also loved her quote, "When a writer tells you what they wrote is crap, they're not trying to be modest or humble. It really is crap. It's all of the editing that makes it good."

Those may not be her exact words, as I'm going off memory, but that's the basic idea. It was really good to know that even NYT bestsellers start with the same crap we do.

Will I go again next year? Yes, but I will be very selective about the sessions I attend and make sure I get to them early.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Fun with Photoshop!

I'm too late to write a zombie book based on a Jane Austen classic, but I have my own mash-up ideas.

How many husbands would Scarlett go through if she lived forever? And how long would guilt-ridden Edward be able to keep his "no human blood" vow with a disagreeable Southern belle by his side?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tragedy doesn't always have to be Tragic

I do my best to avoid disaster all together. I am an over-planner, over-thinker, and over-packer. I'm the kind of person who carries a huge handbag so I can stuff it with all kinds of useless things. Remember that one time four years ago when you were on a plane and nearly ran out of chapstick? You had to dig out the little bit around the inside edges with your pinky nail, and it wasn't nearly as soothing as smearing it on from the holder. Now I carry a back up so I never have to worry about running out of lip balm again.

But no matter how much I pack or plan, there are some disasters that even I can't control. I was on my own for the first time after college, living on the other side of the country from my parents. I had a job, albeit, not a good one, an apartment, I was making friends and of course, digging my way into debt. I knew I needed a second job, but I wasn't ready to give up my nights and weekends just yet. My car was paid off, so that was a load off of expenses and my parents still had it under their insurance.


They were working on an intersection downtown and forgot to put up a stop sign. I hit the back end of a truck twice the size of my little car and that was it. (No one was injured thank goodness). Already living beyond my means, I had to add a car payment and insurance to my overtapped budget. It was time to sell my soul for minimum wage.

Since I'd worked as a barista through college, I crawled my way into Starbuck's and filled out an application. I was hired, and had to work nights until twelve and then get up for my day job at seven, and back to Starbuck's right afterward. I also got the priveledge of opening on Saturdays at five-thirty a.m. And it was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me.

I got my finances back in shape and met two of my best friends, one of which introduced me to another friend, and I met my husband at her New Year's party. All of this happened because of a car accident.

Some tragedies are, of course, still tragic and no one wants to get into a car accident, but some things, like having your first or even second manuscript rejected could be that one unfortunate turning point that leads you on to greater things.

The First Draft

There is nothing more satisfying than completing the first draft of a new novel. You did it. 50,000 to 100,000+ of your very own words collected into hundreds of pages. You have characters, a hook, a unique plot, danger lurking in every corner, witty conversation...it's sure to change the literary marketplace forever.

And then you read through your first draft, and there's nothing worse than the feeling that comes after that. Your characters may be one-dimensional, you have spelling errors, plot holes, you changed the name of a character halfway through, or you almost fell asleep reading one of your chapters. You have two choices at this juncture: you can scrap it or fix it.

You should always try to fix it.

I treat my first drafts as a journey. I need to complete it, reach the destination, before I can determine what's wrong. The first trip through, I hit detours, road blocks, bad parts of town...overall, it's a less-than-fabulous experience. But there are some bright spots. Maybe I happen upon that largest ball of twine I've always wanted to see or find a roadside restaurant with the best chicken strips.

The next time I take my trip, it's a bit smoother. I take an alternate route to avoid the road closures and still make my stops at the twine and chicken strip restaurant. Maybe I ask someone else for directions and they point out some other cool places I can go.

Each time I take my journey, it gets better and more interesting. But it wouldn't exist at all without that first unpleasant excursion. The most important thing is to finish the trip.

Writer friends, how would you classify your first drafts? Do they need a lot of work? A little tweaking? Or are they perfection the first time through?

I fall into the "need a lot of work" category.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Art vs. Business

I'm going to say this and probably get reamed for it, but I'm a gambling gal by nature. (I hope you got the John Hughes reference)

Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.

There it's out there. I don't know a whole lot about publishing, but I do know quite a bit about working in a creative field. My day job: Christmas ornament design and marketing. Weird. I know, and I also know that Santa ornaments are a hard sell. (This isn't to say some Santa ornaments aren't successful. The ones we have out there are some of our best sellers.)

But let's suppose I have an idea for a new Santa ornament, the most adorable Santa ornament anyone has ever seen. I can design it, we can make it, and we can present it to our retailers. There are a few things that can happen:

The Santa can get rejected. Then we can choose to shelf the Santa, or if we are so confident this Santa ornament is the one, we can sell it on our website. He may be successful there, but he will never earn as many dollars as he would if he landed in a major retailer. However, if he does perform strongly on our site, we can use his sales figures to try and re-sell him into the retailer for next year.

We can push the Santa. We have pretty good relationships with our retailers and if we feel strongly about him, sometimes we can get him in there. The retailer knows it's a risk, but because our other ornaments are so succesful, they're willing to give our new Santa a try. Our Santa could end up being their number one seller...or he may not. And if he isn't, then trying to sell a different Santa in for next year is going to be impossible.

We can scrap the Santa completely. The retailer could say "No," to Santa but then add, "You know what sells really well for us? Wedding ornaments. Could you make us a new wedding ornament?" Of course we will. If wedding ornaments are what's selling then that's what we're going to make. I may still love my little Santa, but the market's not ready for him. I have to move on.

I decided to write this because of this blog post on Pimp my Novel. In the comments a lot of people complained that there is an oversaturation of paranormal romance, vampire books, etc. etc. That's because those books are their wedding ornaments, and maybe the books you're looking for are their Santas.

You may be saying to yourself, "You know, I haven't seen a really cute Santa ornament in the stores lately. I want more Santa ornaments!" If you don't like what's going on the marketplace, then change it.

-When you do find a Santa ornament, buy it.
-If you're sick of only seeing wedding ornaments, don't buy them.
-Tell all of your friends you just got this really great Santa ornament.
-Put a post up on your blog about the Santa ornament.

If you help increase demand for Santa ornaments and decrease demand for other ornaments, you could create a niche market for Santas and then when I go back to my retailers with a new one, they'll be more willing to give him a chance.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Name Game

This post is somewhat inspired by the lovely Brigid Kemmerer, who reached out to the Twitterverse last week looking for a surname for one of her characters. The names of my main characters are usually carefully selected. I go through the baby name books and look up the deeper meaning of names, choose monikers that complement each other for my love interests, things that are easy to pronouce, or that represent a character's heritage...but for all of the third tier characters who don't come into action all that much, I just need a name.

I'm working on something new that has a lot of these third tier characters. They are more like scenery, populating the world around my heroine. First names are easy, they can be pretty generic: Liz, Ann, Mark, Michael, etc. Last names are a little more difficult. I can't use Smith or Jones for every one.

One of my favorite resources is the obituaries. Yes, it's morbid, but it's a real name and I feel like the person will always live on a little bit in one of my books. I was also inspired to look through my old yearbooks. I can mix and match first and last names from my old schoolmates, and there's a fairly plentiful list. And so I can write off my celeb gossip mags, I sometimes use celebrity names, as long as they aren't too widely recognizable.

What about you? What are some of your name resources? Do you use friends, family members? Make them up? Please share.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

OMG. I'm back in High School

Not really. But in this whole trying-to-get published journey, I am strangely reminded of my relentless High School boy chasing.

Similarity 1: Analyzing Communications
I got a mix CD from a boy once and analyzed the lyrics for every single song, assuming he was sending me subliminal messages about his true feelings for me in music. Since the majority of the songs were focused on the theme of "love", I came to the conclusion that he did in fact, like me. (I was right by the way).

I do the same thing for communications regarding my writing. I obsess over every word, analyze the meaning and look for hidden messages within the text to see if I can figure out the true emotion for my work.

Truth 1: The people sending these things likely do not put as much thought into creating them as you do analyzing them, ie, the boy may have put the love-themed songs on the CD because he likes them and wanted to share them.

Similarity 2: The call
When I got the first call from my agent, I missed it. As soon as I saw a missed call from a 212 area code, I proceeded to shriek loudly, dance around the kitchen for about ten minutes and then spent another ten minutes calming myself down so I wouldn't sound like an absolute spaz when I called her back.

After my ritual was complete, it was after five and I got her voicemail. The brief thought ran through my head, "Should I hang up and call back tomorrow?" Yet with Caller ID, she would know I called and then see I didn't leave a message and I would be a freak. Message was short, sweet and to the point.

The next day while I was waiting for her return call, I kept my phone with me at all times with the ringer turned up high so I wouldn't miss it. I may have also had my husband call me once or twice to make sure my phone was working. When that 212 number came up again, I let it ring twice and then picked it up, so she wouldn't know I had glued the phone to my hand earlier in the day.

I once had a crush on a guy named...we'll call him Brett, and after a very romantic afternoon at Denny's, he said he would call me later that night. I lay down on my rug with my face right next to the phone just staring at it, willing it to ring. Did I pick it up every now and then and check for a dial tone.? You betcha! Then after I hung it back up, I thought to myself, "Oh no, that could have been the exact moment he tried to call me." (my parents didn't have call waiting.)

Truth 2: The call will come if someone likes you (or your work), and if they don't, no amount of obsessing will make it happen.

Similarity 3: It's too perfect

Brett did call that night, just like he said he would, and asked if I wanted to do a repeat of our Denny's outing the next day. Hell yes I did! I hung up, floating on a cloud of teenage hormones, but after the high wore off, I thought, "It's too perfect. There is no way this can possibly be happening to me."

I decided it would never work out. After one or two outings, he would inevitably find something wrong with me and the short-lived relationship would be over. Do I ever wonder if this book may not be the one that gets published? Absolutely.

Truth 3: This is not necessarily a bad thing. A healthy does of reality can bring your head back out from the clouds and enable you to say, "It may not work out with this boy, (book) but it doesn't mean I'll be single (unpublished) forever."

And on the bright side, since I write YA, dredging up this torrent of teenage emotion only gives me more fuel for my writing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Staying Organized

There is no place more terrifying for my husband than my office. There are stacks of books and paper on every available surface, poorly scribbled sticky notes stuck on the top of my desk. If you open the closet, you're likely to be buried under a pile of junk. No one can ever find anything in there, but you know what? If you asked me where I keep the hand puppet I made for the 1992 Arizona State Fair, I'd be entertaining you with a puppet show in less than five minutes.

In his office everything is neatly tucked away. Everything has a place and that place is generally labeled in hand-drawn calligraphy. The contents of the drawers are organized by purpose: pens and paperclips in one, stapler and hole punch in another, and camera cords and iPhone plugs in the bottom; all perfectly coiled of course.

We've had our disputes over the matter. My husband also likes to reorganize, so I'll be trying to cook dinner but not be able to find my pans. He moved the trashcan once and I think it took several months before I quit throwing tissues at the empty spot on the floor.

What is it that makes our organization styles so different?
Memory. I have a good one. He does not.

When he decides the pans would be better off in the larger cabinet (and they are), he moves them. But all I remember is where I put them in the first place and I'll keep going back to their original home because I didn't partake in the relocation or even witness it happening. Of course, he can't stand when I leave piles of old mail on the kitchen table...understandably.

It definitely helps to have both styles of organization. If I forget the date of the show we were supposed to go to, he has it written down on his calendar. When we leave the show, and he has inevitably forgotten where we parked, I'll always remember.

This brings me to the point of this long-winded blog entry. I'm experiencing the same problem in my writing life. After adding new chapters, developing new characters, and changing the order of things in my editing process, all I can remember is how they started. I'm working on the second book and still throwing tissues at the floor.

I painfully have to admit that perhaps my husband's meticulous organization does serve a purpose, and as much as I scoffed at the character bible, I think I'm going to have to make one. I'll still rely on my memory. It comes in handy when a character enters a room and finds the knife that she stashed there eighty pages ago. But by making a bible, I can keep track of the details. It will be like a map to the trashcan in case its location changes.

Do you use a character bible or just write by the seat of your pants? Discuss.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

There's More to Write than Just Novels

I didn't always write novels. In fact, the idea used to petrify me. Three hundred pages of copy? How can someone do that? I recalled a research paper I wrote in college that was seventy-five pages and finishing it on time nearly killed me.

For a long time I wasn't ready to embark on a novel, but I still wrote and keep writing. Business letters, ad copy, email copy, packaging copy, articles, ghost blogs, market reports, trend copy, proposals, press releases and web copy. Each type of writing involves a different skill set...for example web copy.

I've posted before about overusing words, but for web copy, you have to overuse words. A site will rank higher on search engines if the keywords are found organically, but you also want it to read professionally.

When preparing to create copy for a website, I first determine the search terms and write them down on a piece of paper that I keep next to my keyboard. Below is an excerpt I created for Hairspray Salon in Providence.

Dress your tresses in style at Hairspray Salon, a full service hair salon located conveniently on Wickenden Street in Providence's beautiful East Side, Rhode Island. Create bold and chunky highlights, find out if blondes really do have more fun, or lengthen your locks with lavish layers. Our experienced hair designers are well versed in all forms of hair care from foiling, to one press color and perming, extensions, dreads and ethnic hair care. Whatever your hair vision is, we can turn it into a reality.

Can you guess what my keywords were? In order of importance: hair, Providence and Rhode Island.

Below is the excerpt again with the words highlighted.

Dress your tresses in style at Hairspray Salon, a full service hair salon located conveniently on Wickenden Street in Providence's beautiful East Side, Rhode Island. Create bold and chunky highlights, find out if blondes really do have more fun, or lengthen your locks with lavish layers. Our experienced hair designers are well versed in all forms of hair care from foiling, to one press color and perming, extensions, dreads and ethnic hair care. Whatever your hair vision is, we can turn it into a reality.

In one paragraph I managed to get the word "hair" in six times. One way to achieve this is to use the word in different ways. "Hair" is paired with other words so it isn't always "Hairspray" or "hair salon". I have "hair designers", "hair care", and "hair vision" too. This makes it sound like a different word even though it isn't.

Of course a lot more goes into SEO besides well-executed copy, but it's the first stage in getting your site noticed. Do you write other things besides novels? What do you write? And how does the process differ from your creative writing?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Shout Out to the Support Team

The act of writing is thought of as a solitary occupation. You sit alone, at your computer, day after day, night after night with only your imagination and your words to keep you company. And it is, in a sense, but most of us wouldn't even be able to get there if it weren't for our support teams backing us up and pushing us to do our work.

My support team is my husband. He's my first reader. He's the one who listens patiently while I bounce new ideas off of him. He's the one who keeps the house in order when I can't. Tomorrow is his birthday, and in between my day job, getting my manuscript in shape for submission and helping one of my friends with her wedding, I have no time. No cake. One present that is going to show up late. No card....and he's okay with that.

I'm lucky. I know it. I probably don't tell him that enough, so today is a shout out to him, my support team. And if you have someone like that in your life, take time today to thank that person (or persons) and let them know how much their help means to you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Queries, Queries, Queries

There have been a lot of posts this week about queries: request rates, how to write them, how not to write them. I can't see that I would have anything to add, as I didn't get a 75% request rate like this guy. But this girl thinks that's pretty unrealistic, and I agree.

Ignore the numbers (unless they're zero) and write the best damn book you can and an even better query letter. Need some help?

Nathan Bransford - How to Write a Query Letter
Writer Beware - How to Write a Query Letter

Good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gawking Characters

What is a gawking character? I always picture the old cartoon shows. When Bugs Bunny encountered the hot, female robot bunny trap set by Elmer Fudd, his eyes would pop out of his head, the outline of a heart would beat through his chest and his tongue would drop to his knees. But if you want a more technical (and not, in my opinion, as sassy) definition:

A "gawking character" is a narrator who tells the reader what happens in a scene instead of letting the reader experience the action directly. This is called narrator intrusion, and it robs the reader of the full experience, thus distancing him from the story. Inspiration for Writer's, Inc.

A gawking character can ruin a story and is an easy thing to spot. Just look for the words: hear, see, feel, taste and all other variations. Not to say they can never be used, but using them sparingly will boost the quality of your writing. (And do a lot more show, a lot less tell.)

Example of a very bad gawking character:
Jimmy heard the wail of the train whistle as the engine pulled away from the station. He saw Margaret, sitting in the third car next to the window, her broad-rimmed wicker hat with the rose on the front pressed to the glass. Jimmy hated that hat, almost as much as he hated Margaret. He should have been glad she was leaving, yet for some reason, when he could no longer see that stupid hat, he felt sad. He tasted the bitterness of regret on the back of his tongue.

Jimmy managed see, hear, feel and taste all in one short paragraph. No Jimmy, no!

Jimmy's Rewrite:
The train whistle wailed as the engine pulled away from the station. Margaret was on that train, in the third car next to the window, her broad-rimmed wicker hat with the rose on the front pressed to the glass. Jimmy hated that hat, almost as much as he hated Margaret. He should have been glad she was leaving, yet for some reason, when the stupid hat disappeared from view, a weight dropped in his chest. The bitterness of regret washed over his tongue.

Neither one of these excerpts is a work of art, but which one of the two do you think paints a better picture?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

(Not So) Quick Editing Tips

Even when my book was getting rejected, I heard the same things over and over again.
"Because of the quality of your writing."
"It's good, but not right for me."
"This isn't right for me, but I would love to take a look at future works."

A rejection is still a rejection. It hurts, but these hurt a bit less because they all agreed that it was good. It certainly didn't start that way. My first draft was only slightly better than atrocious. A LOT of editing went into it, but these tips below were the first steps to making it good.

That and Just
I tend to use these words quite a bit, and find them in other unpublished works too. Most of the time, they are unnecessary, but we use them so frequently in conversation, they fall from our mouths into our WIP.

My eyes traveled up the white leg and the brown skirt that bunched up along her thigh.

Do we need it? No.

My eyes traveled up the white leg and the brown skirt bunched up along her thigh.

The sentence is more concise without it. You can do a simple word search and look for "that" and "just". Take them out and reread the sentence. If it still makes sense, leave it out.

On a side note: I do leave these words in dialogue pieces. Since we use them in speech, they add realism to the conversation.

Smirk, Laugh, Smile, Nod, etc.
Kate Schafer Testerman posted a blog entry with a note from an editor "...smirking is less common in the world than it appears to be from reading manuscripts." It is a common pitfall of newbie writers.

Search your manuscript for any of these meaningless actions. When you find one, delete it, or if you need to pause, try to replace it with something more original, like "He drummed his fingers on the table." To me, that provides a better picture of boredom than "He yawned."

Along this same vein are "shooting glances", which Mary of Kidlit.com discussed recently as well.

A lot of writers, editors, agents say to get rid of these. For me, yes and no. Pick up HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT and read one page. How many adverbs did you find? Now reread the page and pass over the sentences with adverbs. Did the scene change? Did you feeling you get from the scene change?

I think adverbs have their place, and they really need to be looked at on an individual basis. In our literary arsenal, the adverbs are the grenades. You can still use them, but sparingly, or you'll blow the whole thing up.

He said, She said
I am notorious for this. In my first draft ,every single piece of dialogue has a "he said" or "she said" after it. (I think this may be a surviving remnant from my Arizona Valley Girl days). If there are only two people in the room, you maybe only need it once or twice in the entire conversation. It will be up to your discretion, and your writing buddies will be a good resource. Remove as many as you think you can and ask your critique partners to make note of any conversations that were confusing.

Sentence Structure
"She walked..." "She drove..." "She went..." She. She. She. Identify the paragraphs with the same sentence beginnings and change them. This is honestly the best editing tip I can provide. Because when you start changing these sentences, you think. And when you think, you come up with something far better than before.

She walked to the store.

The cold wind cut through the seams of her jacket as she walked to the store.

Overused Words
In addition to "that" and "just", we all have our personal catch words. We know what they are, and maybe we tell ourselves we don't use them that much. But we do. Search for your words and count them. You might be surprised to find you used the same word over 300 times in your WIP. (or maybe you aren't).

Whatever your words are, change as many as you can. And again, this is a great exercise for adjusting sentence structure. If you can't find a suitable replacement, rework the sentence so the word isn't necessary.

Side note: If you use the thesaurus, be sure to select a word you know. I have a rule when I play Scrabble. If you make a word on the board, you better be able to use it in a sentence. The same goes for your manuscript. If you've never used the word in your life, don't start now.

Do you have any editing tips you follow? Please share them, and if you've already posted them on your blog, send me the link.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Okay...Now What

You wrote a masterpiece, you queried the hell out of it, you managed to snag your dream agent. Your dreams of literary stardom are coming true! Soon your name will be right up there with J.K Rowling's, Dan Brown's and Stephenie Meyer's...right? Wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but not right now.

My novel was on draft four or five before I even let my husband look at it. After he put in his two cents (or more) I made a new draft. Then I submitted a segment to my writer's group, had a manuscript mart session at the Grub Street conference, and made more edits. From my first batch of requests, I got a letter asking for changes. I made those. Now, that I have signed with her, guess what? I made more edits, and although I am new to the process, I would wager there are more to come.

What kinds of changes is she asking for?

1. More world development.
My novel is set in an imagined world, and of course I know everything about it. I made it. If it jumped out of my head and became a real place, I would know where to get the best pizza and the biggest discount on shoes. I would know how to get from point A to point B without directions. I could give you a complete history of the place and tell you exactly who would be coming around the corner at 10:15 am on Saturday.

My readers do not know this. Nor do they need too unless these details are pertinent to the story. But they do need to know enough so they could at least find pizza, even if it isn't the best pizza. As world builders, it is easy to forget that everyone doesn't have GPS into your head, so you need to show them the way.

2. More relationship development
We know in fiction, people fall in love at first sight, run away and elope after three days and live happily ever after. Regardless of how little time it takes our characters to find true love, there still needs to be a reason for it. Why do they connect? What makes them so perfect for each other? (And it has to be more than a hot ass)

3. More character description
I'll admit. I am not a fan of going on and on about every physical detail of my characters. In fact, Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency posted today about not going overboard with description. Well, I go underboard (is that even a word?) She flipped her chocolate brown hair over her shoulder...etc. I just can't bring myself to do it more than a few times. However, in my fight against physical description, my agent envisioned blank faces for half of my characters. That's not good either. So I put in a little more, trying to sneak it in subtlely without having anyone look in a mirror (by the way, don't do that).

3. Cut the Crap
I received my marked up manuscript, thankfully, with more things to add rather than take away... but oh, when I scrolled through the document and saw rows and rows of red lines, sometimes cutting entire paragraphs or pages it was like my wrists had been slashed and my own blood had poured onto my beautifully crafted prose. So many a night had been spent hand-picking each word so the end result would be perfect, and in a moment - they were gone.

What did I do? All I could do. I cut them. I pressed backspace and held down until all of the red lines were gone. I read through the section again, and found the words were completely unnecessary. In one case, cutting the segment made a chapter beginning more compelling. I was excited to read my book again (and folks, I've read it at least a dozen times).

What comes next? How the hell should I know? I'm blogging this as I go through the process, so I'll let you know when I find out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Step Closer

I just signed with an agent! All of the late nights hunched over my computer, the countless hours spent on researching agencies and licking submission envelopes, the missed beach trips because I had to edit...all of these things are paying off. Someone in the publishing world thinks I have potential. I am still having difficulty believing that it's true. In fact, I was afraid to mention it until I had the signed representation agreement in my hand.

The day I received it, I tore open the envelope, clutched it to my chest and called my parents to share the wonderful news.

"Hey Dad, guess what? I have an agent!"
"That's great...so how much money are you going to get?"
"Err, umm, it doesn't really work like that. First I have to edit, then we go on submission and hopefully, a publisher will buy it."
"Then how much money are you going to get?"
"Well, the average debut advance is about $15,000."
"That doesn't seem like much...you know we have a friend who is a writer. She doesn't seem to have any trouble getting published..."

In a few short sentences, my father managed to stomp out my excitement with the steel-toed boots of reality. Thankfully, my mom was a bit more enthusiastic.

I realize though, for those not so heavily immersed in the publishing world, getting an agent or getting published doesn't seem like a big deal. They have no idea how many talented writers are out there, struggling, just to be noticed. They also don't understand how we can write for the love of it, with no promise of receiving any praise or money for our work...but we do.

We are all bound to receive criticism or cynicism in our writing journeys, so always remember why you write and celebrate the milestones: crafting the perfect scene, getting a full request, signing your first agent agreement...even if you are celebrating by yourself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bad Kiddy Books

If you are not following @SlushPileHell on Twitter, you simply must. Today this buried-in-slush agent started a Bad Kiddy Books contest (#badkiddybooks) and the entries are hilarious. Some of my favorites, including my own:

So You Made a Mess: the BP Guide to Dealing with Spills
Pop! Goes the Poodle: 101 Fun Things to Put in a Microwave
The Bipolar Express
Phonetics: Who Gives A Phuck?

There are hundreds more. Contest ends at 5:00 p.m. EST, but the laughs never will.

Top 25 best (of the worst) kiddy books posted here!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Where the Genius Happens

Taking a cue from Le Rejectionist, I am posting photos of my home office, that I recently redecorated, in order to promote the creation of genius.

In my old office, I had my printer sitting on the desk, which did not leave room for my cheese puffs and beer. So I created a workspace off to the side where I could store my printer, extra paper for printing those 300 page manuscripts and of course my full collection of Twilight books and Harry Potter series.

Bookshelf and hanging wall files from Ikea

What writer's den is complete without a quiet area to sit and read and a very ferocious guard dog to protect your written genius?

Fainting couch and pillows from UrbanOutfitters
Mirror from
Invisible bookshelves from

I love, love, love this old vanity I got at a yard sale about 7 years ago for $5. Probably the best $5 I ever spent because I hide all my junk in it. The painting is one a friend made for me for an engagement present, the cat picture is a piece of art I bought in Portland, OR, and the chalkboard is there because I wanted a chalkboard. I don't think I need to explain why Madonna is there.

Dusty Girl Chalkboard from Uncommon Goods

Ahh and this is really where all the magic happens, where I toil night after night writing pages and pages of some of the most beautifully crafted prose and absolutely not watching videos on YouTube or participating in Twitter chats.

Desk and Chair from Target.com
Wallpaper from
Graham & Brown

What about you? Where do you write? Share it here in the comments or share it with Le Rejectionist so the world can see where you make your genius.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Comedy of Querying

My hubby and I have recently started watching Last Comic Standing. We both love it, yet as I was watching it this week, I couldn't help but notice how similar the process is to querying. A huge group of people perform a short audition and they are either rejected immediately or asked to present more.

The ones often rejected in the first round are the ones who wear clown suits, attempt to juggle and drop all of their apples, or just have awful material to begin with. This is similar to the queriers mentioned here or the ones who CC: every agent on the planet in their letter, begin with "Dear Agent" or mention their preferred cast in the movie version of their book.

Weeding these people out is easy, but then what is left is a large group of talented comedians with their own voices, great stage presence, and funny jokes. The sad part is, from this group, only one will win the title.

I think if you take a random sampling of any profession, the results would be the same. Yes, there are some oddballs out there, but there are also a lot of really talented people. And this is the group we often find ourselves in. To stand out from the pack, the only thing we can do is make our work the best it can possibly be, and keep trying. The good news is, unlike Last Comic, where they only have three judges, we have hundreds of agents to submit to, and there will be more than one "yes" in the group.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reading my Mind

When I read my daily agent blogs, sometimes I swear they are reading my mind. Yesterday, Rachelle Gardner uploaded a post about receiving differing opinions from agents. Coincidentally this just happened to me regarding my latest WIP.

Agent A suggested I insert more emotion. Agent B suggested I insert more danger. However, what they both agree on is that it is good and it needs more work. I can handle that.

I am currently working to incorporate Agent A's suggestions because I agree with them. I think they will add to my story and not affect my overall message. Agent B's suggestions, while valid, would change my story. (Although I do appreciate her taking the time to write me back in such detail)

So fellow writers, has this happened to you? What do you do? Move onto a new agent or make the changes? Since Rachelle is dedicating this week to differing opinions, it must happen quite a bit.

And now for your enjoyment, a photo from my recent trip to Clark's Trading Post in beautiful Lincoln, NH. If you're in New England, you should go. They have a trained bear show and a train ride where a crazy person chases you. It doesn't get any kitschier than that (unless you go to Dollywood. )

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bad Blogger

I am a bad blogger. I intended to make my update on Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace conference mere hours after it ended. However, I was so inspired by all the wonderful writers, editors and agents I met over the weekend, I got to work on my novel and abandoned my poor blog. So now, two weeks later, I will provide you with a very brief and bulleted summary:
  • Chuck Palahniuk told us how to eat cheese in France
  • Author Ann Hood gave me editing tips
  • Author Anita Shreve continued the fight against writer's block
  • I failed to hear about the Boston water pipe breaking and drank parasite water all weekend - and survived
  • I met a ton of interesting people
  • Am definitely going again next year and you should too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Muse Frame

When I start a new story, I've already decided certain things about my characters: if they are quiet or boisterous, if they are tall or short, fat or thin, if they like to eat ham sandwiches or turkey. All of those things help bring them to life, but often I am undecided about their exact look. Do they have a short nose or a long nose, do they have high bony cheekbones or soft pudgy jowels? This is where the muse frame comes in handy.

On my desk in a little pink frame where I place a photo ripped from a magazine or printed online, or sometimes a picture of one of my friends. (shown above)

Meet my latest love interest. He's a super hunky Italian with a long straight nose and eyes shadowed in the fold of his brow. When he smiles, the left side of his mouth rises ever-so-slightly higher than the right. It's as if he always has a secret, one he's never told anyone. VOILA!

And sometimes I find the picture first and try to imagine what his or her life is like. It's a great brainstorming exercise and could just spawn the idea for your next novel.

Writer friends, what do you do to help bring your characters to life? Discuss.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the Minds of Boys

Usually a dangerous place for us girls to be. None of it makes any sense. But even if your MC is a girl, she is likely to come in contact with some boys, and they aren't all super-dreamy early 20th century vampires.

So, how do we, as female writers, make convincing male characters?

I reached out into the Twitterverse to get some suggestions of well-written YA books from a male point of view, and this is what I received:

LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctrow
STRUTS & FRETS by Jon Skovron
THE ISLAND by Gary Paulsen
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
I AM THE CHEESE by Robert Cormier
THE CHOCOLATE WAR by Robert Cormier
A SEPARATE PIECE by John Knowles

Notice something? Most of them are written by men. Does this mean there is no hope for us ladies looking to expand our character base? I think not.

Why not try spending time with some boys? Yes, it is torturous at times and a response to a question or statement may often be "That's what she said", but we write best what we know. So go out, get yourself a couple of guy friends, buy tickets to the baseball game or hit the go kart track. But if one of them asks you to "Pull my finger", just say no.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Covered in Red Ink

I haven't posted in a while because *gasp* I've been working on new things. I also joined a writer's group to help improve my craft. My first meeting with them was this past Sunday, and as I had never been to an official writer's group, I took my job of editing seriously. The submission was emailed to me, I read it through several times making notes with my little red pen along the way. It wasn't bad, mind you, in fact the scene descriptions were phenomenal and many of the characters were brought to life in only a few pages. I would say my biggest issue was with the dialogue. It felt more like it was used to tell us things about the characters and less like natural conversation. Just my opinion.

When I arrived, the other members took out their sample pages and looking around I saw only a little comment here or there, and then I peered down at my own pages, covered with so much red ink they looked like a murder scene. I kept them hidden as we discussed the story with the writer, and at the end of the meeting I was tucking them back into my folder when she asked, "Can I please have your notes?"
I froze.
"You want my notes?" I asked.
"Yes, if you don't mind."
My hand was shaking, as I stretched them out across the table, immediately making apologies.
"Well...uh...I really made these notes for myself and...I mean some of them are just my opinion...er, you can take it or leave it."
She smiled graciously, put them in her folder and then it was decided that the group would look at my writing next. I am expecting to receive an equal lashing in return.

Guaranteed, if I had known she was going to take my notes I would have made less of them, and I would have written more clearly. I decided I would be more careful with my comments in the future, but is that really helpful? I suppose I will see how it feels when I am on the chopping block next week, but fellow writers, what do you think? Should I continue to be unscrupulous in my feedback, or tone it down a little? What would you prefer?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I say drinking fountain. You say bubbler

While reading a short excerpt of fiction, I stumbled over a phrase. I had no idea what it meant. Was it a bit of teenage slang? Was it a saying spoken only in remote parts of Wisconsin? No idea. Regardless, I was confused, and a writer shouldn't confuse readers.

So where do we draw the line at using bits of dialect?

I grew up in Arizona, and moved to Rhode Island when I was twenty-two. I thought, hey, it can't be all that different. I'm still in the US...Wrong. I can still hear my roommate's guffaws when I told her I was going to Worcester (Wore-sess-ter). New Englanders say (Woo-stuh). It was merely the tip of the language barrier.

I called the main roads freeways. Here they call them highways (because they aren't free). I also called our freeways THE 202, THE 10, THE 101, but in New England it's just 95. I said hella cool, they say wicked cool. Things of this nature are a preference. If I said freeway, people would laugh, but they understood what I meant. And everyone knows a sub, a grinder and a hoagie are all the same thing. (At least I hope so)

Then there are the terms that everyone doesn't know. Do you know what a quahog is? (And it is NOT a city Family Guy fans) It is a large clam found only in this area. And I'll never forget when a woman asked me, "You gotta bubbler?" The way she spoke made it sound like an infectious disease. However, a New England translator informed me a bubbler is a drinking fountain. I am also embarrassed to admit that I thought the package store, or packie, was a place to mail packages and not purchase liquor.

In writing, you can make your characters more believable by using some regional dialect. In fact, I wouldn't write about a place without knowing some of the local lingo. If your protagonist is a girl from Arizona driving 202, I wouldn't buy it. It just doesn't sound right without THE. On the other hand, when using obscure terms like "quahog", you need to make sure the meaning is explained in context, otherwise your readers will spend the rest of the book trying to figure out what the hell one is and miss your story.

So what are some of your local terms? Please share and state your location. And if anyone is writing a book set in New England or the Southwest, let me know. I would be happy to help.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February is Now Get-Your-Foot-in-the-Door Contest Month

Contests! Contests! Contests!

Miss Snark is holding another Secret Agent contest, and the entries closed fifteen minutes after they opened. (WOW! There are a lot of aspiring writers out there.) If your entry didn't make it, you can still benefit from her contest. Her readers and the Secret Agent leave great comments.

Want to go to Backspace, but can't afford the registration fee? Colleen Lindsay is offering two scholarships to attend. Read the rules carefully. For this contest and this contest only submissions are to be mailed.

And last but certainly not least, Chuck Sambuchino is hosting a Dear Lucky Agent contest on his blog. Authors of Middle Grade and Young Adult novels can enter the first 150-200 words of their work for a chance at a manuscript critique.

Know of any other contests going on this month? Post them in the comments!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Teen Speak

I've seen a few posts floating around the Internet about creating realistic teen dialogue. A teenager today (or ever except perhaps in the 19th century) would not say:

"Perhaps I shall accompany you to the shopping center."

She would say:

"Let's go the mall."

If you really want to know what teens are saying to each other, visit Texts from Last Night. The conversation is vile, rude, riddled with sex and binge drinking, but it is a true portrayal of the lives of young people. It certainly gives me some good ideas. What about you? Do you have other sources for realistic teen speak?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Power of a Period

I'm at work doing some data entry (not the most glorious aspect to marketing, but a necessity. You always have to prove that your hard work produces results.) and whoops - I missed a decimal point. Suddenly $10 turned into $1000. That's a big difference. Do you have 990 spare dollars lying around? I certainly don't.

It got me thinking of the importance of punctuation. Something seemingly so small and insignificant like a period, a comma or an exclamation point can give a sentence entirely new meaning, and turn the cost of a CD into a downpayment on a car.

As they say, the devil is in the details so slay the beast and pay attention to your punctuation, and feel free to point out my excessive use of commas in this post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Things I have learned about queries

Below is a list of query tips I have gathered from agents. I am, of course, going to elaborate on each one, but I have bolded the list so you can skip past my comments if you would like to. I also apologize for not being able to give credit where it is due, but I have read so many query tips that I can't remember where I got each one.

1. Don't query too soon
Make sure your novel is in the best possible shape before sending out your queries. I know, it is exciting, you love your book and you want to get it out there so everyone can love it too, but there is a lot of competition out there, so you need to make yours stand above the rest by making it awesome.

2. Don't put "Imagine if..." in your query
Show don't tell. I don't have to give credit for this one because almost EVERY publishing professional has said it at one time or another. A good writer should be able to paint a picture so readers don't have to imagine.

3. Don't blast everyone at once
This is very important. I send mine in little groups at a time, testing alternate queries and making changes as I go. This is a process and the more you do it, the better you'll get. Besides if you send out one mass blast and everyone rejects you, than that novel is finished.

4. Keep your letter professional
There may be differing opinions on this one. I have seen succesful queries that are creative, witty, funny, etc., but I have received a better response from my letters that are straight up business letters, like a cover letter for a resume. Also, like a resume cover letter, I mention in the first line where I discovered said agent and why I am querying them.

5. Only query agents who represent your work
I have seen differing opinions on this one as well. I think Janet Reid said to query everyone - because you never know, but Nathan Bransford mentioned yesterday that he's experiencing a query deluge, and probably a good chunk of those are for titles he doesn't represent (although from his blog it appears he'll look at anything that tickles his fancy) But not all agents are the same. Best bet is to review their submission guidelines on their website and stick to them. I also wonder, as a querying author, if mine gets lost in the slush pile because agents are just so inundated with proposals. At my job, I have to filter through about 100+ emails of SPAM every day and I've often deleted a relevant email just because it is surrounded by junk. Do you want your email to be classified as junk?

6. Only query agents you want to work with
If you don't feel an agent will be a good match for you, don't query them. Enough said.

7. Don't respond to rejections with something nasty
I don't even know why I have to list this, but I see in a lot of Twitter feeds and blogs that agents still receive ridiculous things from authors: responses trying to change their minds, telling them how they're missing out on a best seller, etc., etc.. NO! The most important thing in business is networking and the first rule of networking is don't burn bridges. You don't want to say something in haste and get labelled as crazy writer, someone difficult to work with, someone unprofessional. Agents talk, and once something is in writing it can be sent from California to China with the click of a mouse. If you are really irked about something, go out with a friend (not associated with the publishing industry) and vent about it over a beer.

Okay, that's all for now, but if anyone has something to add or something to dispute, please feel free to post it in the comments.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Props to my Internet Allies

In my last post, I mentioned that I finished the book and now I'm in the hangover phase of editing (as Mary of kidlit.com calls it) I was starting to think that the book I once loved is total crap. I mean how many times can one use "scowl", "looked", and "smile" in one itsy bitsy novel? Apparently I can - a lot.

Last night I was almost to the point of throwing it in the trash and starting from scratch, but thank goodness hubby stopped me because it is good, it's just not great yet, and the painstaking editing will make it that much closer to excellent.

I don't think I would survive this part of the novel writing process if it weren't for you, my Internet allies. You may not represent me (yet) but you certainly help me in my trials.

So thank you to Mary of kidlit.com for your excellent tips on revising, editing, developing characters and creating plot structure. I may not comment that often, but I am reading. (Good tip I read today: Change the font of your novel to read it from a new perspective)

Thank you Rachelle Gardner, for your brutal honesty and for reminding me that the journey will be tough, but I should keep plugging along. (I don't write Christian fiction, so you won't get my submission, but you're helping me improve it for your fellow agents)

Thank you Rejectionist, for posting all of the crappy submissions you get, making me feel better about my own. I may not be there yet, but at least I know I'm one step ahead of the others because I am NOT insane.

Thank you Nathan Bransford for keeping me up to date on all of the latest publishing news.

Thank you Kristin Nelson for clearing up some of the confusion about the publishing process and for your Friday funnies. (I did send you my query, but you were one of the first agents I sent it to, so it was terrible. That was before I knew better and I apologize)

Thank you Janet Reid for showing me what makes a BAD query, and for your recent post on manuscript requests. It made me depressed to know that I have less than a 2% chance of publication with every manuscript request, but good to know that the odds of getting a manuscript request are even less than that.

And thank you Michelle Wolfson for your many tweets, especially your #queryquotes.

I did not mention everyone on my list, but these are just the people on my mind today. Every blog I have linked on my page is an excellent resource for aspiring and seasoned writers. So pat yourselves on the back Internet friends. You may think you're just posting nonsense out into cyberspace, but people like me are reading it and using your words to preserve our sanity.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A New Year

Over my holiday break, I took a vacation from the Internet as well so I apologize that I have not updated my blog in a while. I did, however, finish the first draft of my second novel during this online hiatus, so I think I am going to try and make social networking avoidance one of my New Year's resolutions. It amazed me how much writing I got done when I wasn't wasting words on Twitter and Facebook.

My second goal is to get an Agent.

And my third is to shed the holiday pounds I gained. Gone are the days of performing a series of squats to squeeze into a pair of freshly washed jeans. I want to be able to slip right into them and be able to bend my knees once my body is tucked inside.

I fell pretty positive about achieving all of them, and I want to know what everyone else's resolutions are. (If you have any)