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Results 26 - 50 of 14,668
26. Book Review: Bev Stowe McClure's STAR OF THE TEAM

Right from the title, I had a hunch that this would be an excellent book. Why? Haven’t most of us while growing up daydreamed about being “the star of the team”? It’s a universal desire. Then I read the dedication, which I always do to find out where the author’s heart is. After I read Beverly Stowe McClure’s dedication, I knew this would be one of her best efforts as a writer ever. I wasn’t wrong.

Because the basketball action was described perfectly—plenty of action, and no needless words, I knew that I was on the right path for a good read. Right on that first page I was introduced to many of the important characters, and one of the book’s major conflicts. One line stood out showing how well the author knows kids and how to appeal to their reading taste: “She looked as if she’d swallowed up a bug and was about to puke the thing up.” Now, I knew my granddaughter, Megan, would love this book because a little grossness goes a long way with young readers.

Good writing goes a long way, too. This novel is action-packed from the get-go. I think that Beverly Stowe McClure is half author, half sportscaster, and half star basketball player, (I hope you caught a little humor there.) But what I said is absolutely true. The author really knows the game of basketball, and kids. Those are two elements that really make this book a fun-read,

Speaking of humor, that’s another quality of the book: it is laced with humor along the way to the championship game.  And Kate struggles with staying true to her good values or being narrow-minded and negative. We are never sure how it’s all going to turn out, especially after she has a major setback. And the author provides us with a number of surprises before we sit down for the final game of the season.

I liked all of the characters, especially Kate, Emily, Coach Mom and Ray. They always talk like real people, thus creating very believable characters and a story to remember. There are lessons to be gathered from this novel. They reveal themselves in a subtle way as you read the book, lessons that I hope all my grandchildren know such as: life is a team sport.

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27. 3 Tips For a Better First Revision

The first revision is probably the most important factor in sculpting your novel. One of my favorite quotes to express this idea is by Shannon Hale who wrote: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” The first revision is the building of those sand castles. There are numerous tips to a successful rewrite, but I’ve found three that I’ve put at the top of my list to make my novel better.

Conflict check.

On my rewrite, I first do a conflict check. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that every character in a scene should want something, even if it’s only a drink of water. On my first draft, I will usually focus on the main plot point of the scene. In doing so, I miss opportunities to add tension, great and small, to a chapter. On the rewrite, I ask myself: what does every character in that scene want, and what obstacles are standing in his or her way.

(Classifying Your Book: How to Research & Target Literary Agents.)


                        — Screen shot 2014-10-10 at 10.50.45 PM      Screen shot 2014-10-10 at 10.56.57 PM

Column by Allen Eskens, author of THE LIFE WE BURY (Seventh Street Books Oct.
2014), a debut thriller that Publishers Weekly called a “masterful debut” in a starred
review. Allen has been a criminal defense attorney for twenty years. He honed his
creative writing skills through the MFA program at Minnesota State University as well
as classes at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in
Minneapolis. He is a member of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime. Find him on Twitter.



I have an equation taped to my computer; it reads: “The greater the want + the greater the obstacle = greater conflict. Conflict = suspense.”

Suspense is a state of mental uncertainty. Readers have a need to resolve that uncertainty and will forge ahead to find resolution. Adding more tension and conflict creates page-turning prose. Rarely does my first draft take advantage of all of the opportunities for tension and conflict.


Another aspect of a first draft that I skimp on is my transition from one scene to another. In the haste to get the first draft on paper, I tend to jump abruptly from one plot point to the next. During the rewrite, I remind myself that transition paragraphs need to do more than move the reader from plot point to plot point. They should be eloquent and have a weight of their own.

Reading a novel is like kayaking down a river. Sometimes you shoot through rapids, bound up in the excitement of the action. Other times you float along admiring the beauty of the hills and wildlife. The pace of a novel is the balance between those two competing forces (between plot and scene). As I revise, I ask myself, do I want this paragraph to float through the valley or dive over rapids? If I am floating, I spend time on it, maybe go off on a tangent that deepens the character or enriches the scene. If I am heading for rapids, my focus should be on a shorter transition.

This is an opportunity to show your writing skill. The transition doesn’t have to be long, but it should be fresh. Take for example, the opening line from chapter four of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. She writes, “At seven the next morning the telephone rang. Slowly I swam up from the bottom of a black sleep.” A simple transition, beautifully written. In a first draft she might have written: “the phone woke me up at seven the next morning.” The small addition of “I swam up from the bottom of a black sleep” turns it from a standard transition to something enjoyable to read.

(Headed to a conference? Learn how to approach an agent.)

The “was” edit.

The third thing I include in my first revision is what I call my “was” edit. I use my word-find function to locate every time I used the word “was.” On my first draft, I tend to be lazy and describe things using “was.” “He was taller than me.” “She was standing on the porch, waiting for him.” These are passive voice, and they violate the “show, don’t tell” rule. But in the haste of the first draft, I will type “was” and move on.

In the rewrite, I revisit each time I use the word “was” and ask myself if there’s a better way to write the sentence. It could be as simple as changing “he was taller than me” to “he stood three inches taller than me.” Or it could be more elaborate, like changing “She was standing on the porch, waiting for him” to “She found herself pacing back and forth across the same porch planks that her mother walked thirty years earlier, waiting for a man to return from the war.” I could go even further and write a tangent about the mother that gives the reader insight into the daughter’s character. But, then again, sometimes “was” fits just right and no change is needed. At least by doing a “was” edit, I’ve forced myself to examine my choice.

There are so many other considerations to a first revision, and every writer should have their own method, but these three tips have helped me in my writing.



This guest column is a supplement to the
“Breaking In” (debut authors) feature of this author
in Writer’s Digest magazine. Are you a subscriber
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.


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28. October 13th, 2014


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29. Meet Jessica Faust

The first in a five part series introducing the BookEnds team.

Jessica Faust
President & Founder, BookEnds Literary Agency 

Tagline: I'm part Vampire, part Beast, all professional pain in the ass. 
**credit to Janet Reid and Kim Lionetti for helping create this tagline.

Book Concepts you can't resist: dark, creepy and different serial killers, magical realism ala Sarah Addison Allen, a never-seen-before cozy hook

Book Concepts you never really want to see in your inbox: anything to do with the mob/mafia, vampires, rockstar/muscian/actor heroes (or heroines)

If you're going all out, calories don't count, what's your Starbucks treat of choice? Definitely a decaf venti, 2 pump salted caramel mocha with whipped cream (iced if it's warm out) and since calories don't count I'd probably go for a cinnamon roll, chocolate croissant or, when in season, a cranberry bliss bar. Just reading this over gives me a stomach ache.

Name five things on your desk right now: royalty statements, a pint glass of water, L'Occitane hand cream, Publisher's Weekly, and my purple Montblanc pen.

If you could move your office anywhere in the world where would you like to work from? I love Sweden and Southern California and could happily live in both, but I think my dream office/home would be a cabin on a lake in Minnesota. I'm a Nice Viking Girl at heart.

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30. Think you're the first and only?

A recent query in my inbox laid claim to being "the first" of a certain kind of memoir. As it happened, I knew that was not the case.  I wrote back drawing her attention to the earlier book.  As you might imagine, the querier did not fall on this information with effusive thanks, return emails of kitten pictures or even silence.  Oh no, unasked for advice, particularly of the unwelcome sort generally get replies steeped in sulfur and singed at the edges.

Oh well.

The problem here of course is that if I know about the earlier book,  it's a good chance that most other agents will too.  And a quick search of the Amazon data base turns it up as well.

When you claim to be first or only, and I'm interested in your book, I dig around before I reply "yes, please send me your manuscript."

It's not so much it's a problem that you're NOT first, as that you are clearly sloppy in your thinking and research. Frankly, that's death for me in non-fiction. Non-fiction requires meticulous research and documentation.

I remember hearing the utterly amazing Robert Caro speak several years back and he just casually mentioned he'd checked with the Historian of the Senate six different times on a single fact, as he got more information about an event.  I would have stood up and screamed "that's how it's done" as if he'd hit a home run at Yankee Stadium, but we were in a library and librarians always have me on my best behavior.

So, what does this mean for you in your queries and writing?

Obviously it means do your research.  If you can't find books in your category, are you using the right category? And are you skimming rather than digging deep? And have you gone to your local library and found the reference librarian and asked for help?

If you're not sure you're the first or only, don't say you are.  Find another aspect of your story that distinguishes you from the pack. 

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31. New Literary Agent Alert: Cassie Hanjian of Waxman Leavell Literary

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Cassie Hanjian of Waxman Leavell Literary) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.




About Cassie: Prior to joining Waxman Leavell as an acquiring agent this year, Cassie held positions at the Park Literary Group, where she specialized in author support and foreign rights, and at Aram Fox, Inc. as an international literary scout for publishers based outside the United States. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Follow her on Twitter: @Cjhanjian

Cassie is seeking: page-turning New Adult novels, plot-driven commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, historical fiction, psychological suspense, cozy mysteries and contemporary romance. In nonfiction, she’s looking for projects in the categories of parenting, mind/body/spirit, inspirational memoir, narrative nonfiction focusing on food-related topics and a limited number of accessible cookbooks. Cassie does not accept submissions in the following categories: science-fiction, fantasy, paranormal, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Children’s, literary fiction, poetry, and screenplays.

How to submit: Send a query letter only to cassiesubmit [at] waxmanleavell.com. Do not send attachments, though for fiction, you may include five to 10 pages of your manuscript in the body of the email.

2015-GLA-smallThe biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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32. To Text or Not to Text: How Much Should Technology Show Up in Fiction?

It’s obvious that technology in the last ten years or so has changed our daily lives to an extreme. Cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, texting…on and on the list goes, and it’s growing every day.  The way we communicate has been utterly transformed. Face-to-face interactions have decreased, while gadget-to-gadget interactions have increased. What does all this mean for the writer? Especially regarding our characters, and the way they communicate with each other inside our stories?

First, I think writers have to learn to walk the tightrope of not letting technology interfere too greatly with characters or plot, while at the same time being realistic with it.  For instance, it would be unthinkable not to have a single mention of a character using a cell phone in a contemporary story.  But how much technology is too much? Two main points worth considering, when it comes to characters and technology:

(Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings — see them all here.)


Screen shot 2014-10-12 at 1.10.26 PMColumn by Traci Borum, writing teacher and native Texan who’s an avid reader of
women’s fiction. She also adores all things British and even owns a British dog (Corgi).
She’s also completely addicted to Masterpiece Theater–must be all those dreamy
accents!  Traci’s first novel, a romantic mystery titled PAINTING THE MOON, will be
published by Red Adept Publishing in June of 2014. (See the book trailer here.) It’s
the first book in her “Chilton Crosse” series. Connect with her on FB.


1) Character interaction is still better in person.

In real life: Let’s face it. Technology has created a new level of social rudeness. People tapping on phones in movie theaters or libraries, talking as loudly as they please, ignoring the scowls around them. I went out to dinner with an old friend last year, and he spent about eighty percent of the meal texting someone else!  I was too nice to call him out, but honestly, it was just plain rude. He was having at least three different conversations with people.  But I was the last one on the totem pole, even though I was right there in front of him, live, and in person!

In fiction: When I have two characters out to dinner, I’m probably going to forgo the sad reality of people texting at the table and ignoring each other, and instead allow my characters an actual conversation, face-to-face. (The exception, of course, is if I want to show that a character is rude, and therefore, I might have him/her texting the entire time. But unless there’s a purpose to technology being at that table, I’m going to push technology aside, to favor actual character interaction, no matter how old-fashioned it might feel).

2) Technology may hamper your plot choices and suspense.

In real life: Looking up a long-lost friend or sweetheart is as quick and easy as spending two minutes on an internet search or hopping on Facebook. Want to find that old boyfriend? Search for that long lost best friend you quit talking to in 1988? Just get online, do some quick searching, and voila!

In fiction: But what if I want a character’s search for someone to be slow? What if I want to let it simmer over 200 pages, have a character wonder and wait and second-guess herself as she tries—in vain—to find that lost love? It’s not realistic, in a contemporary story, to have her be out of touch with technology to the point that she doesn’t even attempt an internet search. So, I have to get creative. Draw out the search. Have her look for that person online, but come up empty (that still happens, so it’s in the realm of realism). Or, have her try and chicken out altogether.  In order to create tension, to have the reader wonder if/when a reunion will ever occur, I might even have that lost love be untraceable.

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

Funny thing is, the inspiration for this blog post came from an old episode of Seinfeld. I watched an entire episode devoted to a movie theater fiasco. Elaine, Jerry, George, and Kramer were supposed to meet at the movies, but things got in the way. In a comedy of errors, cabs got stuck in traffic, movies sold out, and everyone ended up missing each other (and the movie!).

Of course, it took place in the early 90’s, when cell phones weren’t attached to everyone’s ear. And as I watched the episode, what cracked me up more than the episode itself was that I kept thinking, “If the characters could just whip out a cell phone and call each other, they could’ve all met up at the right time and the episode would be over in about thirty seconds.” In that case, a cell phone would’ve changed the course of the plot entirely!

Bottom line:  Using technology or not using it in your novels is completely up to you. There’s definitely a time and place for it in modern fiction (and, if it’s ignored completely, it can make the story feel unrealistic). Even better, writers can use technology to their advantage, to make a plot more compelling and suspenseful.  But that’s a blog entry for another day…


Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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33. Have a purrfect Sunday

It's getting cold, time for a nice cozy muffler!

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34. More on graphing words and sentences

Why does one graph look more bouncy? BECAUSE YOU CHANGED THE UNITS ON THE Y-AXIS. If you graph all the data with the y-axis (the vertical axis) having the same units, lets say 60 words, both graphs will have similar bounciness. Ms Reid, I'm sorry to have to tell you like this: Your post is meaningless stupid crap. Please issue a correction.

I can appreciate you're probably annoyed as hell by people who get math wrong. There are a LOT of them these days. And people who use charts badly (more of them too..and sometimes  for nefarious purposes.) I myself have been driven to madness by "safety deposit box."  Thus I can appreciate that you saw those graphs, saw the "wrong" y-axis and briefly (we hope) lost your mind.

But, rather than respond to your vitriol, let me take a moment here to say it's clear that your email means I wasn't clear enough about the purpose of using the graphs.

The point of graphing your words per sentence is to see NOT to compare one book to another (ie one chart to another)  but to compare your sentences to each other. Thus, whatever number you put on the Y-axis (for you non-math types, that's the vertical one, the one that measures number of words) for your paragraphs is the right scale.

Here's the graph you would have preferred I use:

You can still see the point I was trying to make here, but it's a little more difficult. The blue lines
clearly show a much less rhythmic array than does the red line.

And remember, this is intended as a tool for declunking your sentences. It's not intended to show you right and wrong, it's designed to help you figure out if you're clunking.

If your sentences work, don't use it. If you're getting a lot of form rejections, try it.

And the next time you want to tell me I'm wrong about something, feel free. I'd prefer you not call my posts meaningless, stupid crap, particularly since you seem to be reading them too, but that's your choice. 

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35. Literary Agent Spotlight: Tina Schwartz of The Purcell Agency

Read below to see an Agent Spotlight on Tina Schwartz of The Purcell Agency. She is actively seeking new clients who write children’s books.




About Tina: Literary Agent Tina P. Schwartz is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), and is the Co-Rep for her local chapter. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Columbia College (Chicago) in Marketing Communications. After a long career in Radio Sales and Marketing, she turned to her true passion, selling manuscripts. Schwartz started The Purcell Agency in July of 2012 after spending twelve years writing and marketing her own work, along with helping several others get published. She sold her first book contract in 2004, and sold ten nonfiction titles for one author to traditional publishers in the Teen and Youth markets. Since opening the agency, she has sold several middle grade and young adult novels, along with some nonfiction works for teens. You can read her blog here.

(What does that one word mean? Read definitions of unique & unusual literary words.)

She is seeking: Chapter books (all kinds except fantasy); Middle Grade (contemporary/realistic, sports, mystery, humor, multicultural, issue driven [no fantasy]); Young Adult (edgy, issues, contemporary/realistic, light romance, sports, mystery [no fantasy]). Tina is also seeking nonfiction Chapter books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult – all topics. She is not seeking: Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Paranormal or Picture Books submissions at this time.

How to submit: TPAqueries [at] gmail.com. Mention if you are a member of SCBWI. 

To submit nonfiction for a teen or grade school audience: Table of Contents + Intro and sample chapter, author’s credentials. To submit fiction: Query, 1st three chapters + synopsis. No attachments. Include sample work in body of e-mail.

(What query letter mistakes will sink your submission chances?)


2015-CWIM-smallWriting books/novels for kids & teens? There are hundreds
of publishers, agents and other markets listed in the
latest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market.
Buy it online at a discount.


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36. Enter WD’s PopFiciton Competition – 4,000 Words Could Get You $2,500 & a Trip

9182-Popfic-125x125Short story writers, listen up: We’re giving away $2,500, a trip to NYC to attend next year’s Writer’s Digest Conference, a chance to get your name on the cover of WD and more! All you have to do is write a short story of 4,000 words or fewer and enter it into any one of six categories (Thriller, Sci-Fi, Young Adult, Crime, Horror or Romance) in our Writer’s Digest Annual Popular Fiction Awards. One grand-prize winner will receive all the prizes above, though other winners will receive prizes too.

You could write a short story that short this weekend—and still have time to submit!

Here are the details:

Deadline:  October 15, 2014
Wondering what’s in it for you?

  • A chance to win the Popular Fiction Awards Grand Prize including $2,500 and a trip to the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference
  • An announcement of the winner on the cover of Writer’s Digest*
  • A chance to win the $500 Category First Prize
  • Get your story promoted in Writer’s Digest and on WritersDigest.com
  • Win $100 off a purchase at www.writersdigestshop.com
  • Receive a copy of the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market

*The cover announcement is being made on subscriber issues only.

How to enter: register and pay online or download a printable entry form. Regular entry fees are $25 per entry.)


Deadline: October 15, 2014

One Grand Prize Winner will receive:

One First Place Winner in each category will receive:

Honorable Mentions will:




Writer's Digest Romance CompetitionWriter's Digest Thriller CompetitionWriter's Digest Young AdultWriter's Digest Crime CompetitionWriter's Digest Horror Competition





Writer's Digest Science Fiction Competition








Crime: Crime fiction is a genre of fiction that focuses on the dramatization of crimes, the detective work and procedures in solving said crimes, and the criminal motivations behind them. Mystery and detective fiction may also fit into this genre.

Horror: Horror fiction is a genre which intends, and/or has the capacity, to frighten, scare or startle readers. This genre may induce feelings of creepiness, horror and terror, and is generally unsettling for the audience. Horror can be supernatural or non-supernatural.

Romance: Romance fiction can encompass and draw themes, ideas and premises from other genres and can vary widely in setting, dialogue, characters, etc. Generally, however, romance fiction should include a love story involving two individuals struggling to make their relationship work and an emotionally satisfying ending.

Science Fiction: Science Fiction (and Fantasy) are genres that explore imaginative content, primarily related to science. This can include a variety of elements, often involving futuristic settings, science and technology, as well as space travel, time travel, extraterrestrial life, and parallel universes. Fantasy fiction often crosses over with this category, touching on similar elements such as world building and magical creatures, but it generally does not include the scientific themes.

Thriller: Thriller fiction is a genre of fiction that uses suspense and tension to dramatically affect the reader. A thriller can provide surprise, anxiety, terror, anticipation, etc., in order to provide a rush of emotions and excitement that progress a story. It should generally be based around the strength of the villain and the protagonist, as well as their struggle against each other. This category might encompass several other genres, including horror, science fiction, and crime.

Young Adult: Young Adult fiction is generally fiction meant for readers age 12-18.

Click here to enter now!

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37. 15 Years

Today, for lack of any really official date, BookEnds is celebrating 15 years. While I never doubted we'd make it this far and this long, I can't believe it's already here. It feels like just last week I was riding the subway in Brooklyn hashing a scheme to get out of the rat race and do things the way I wanted to do them. Thankfully Jacky Sach was a big enough sucker to think I had a good idea.

When we first dreamed up BookEnds we had the idea to start a packager. In many ways it was what I was already doing as an editor for The Complete Idiot's Guides series. I was dreaming up ideas, finding authors and selling the book to the Publisher. By starting BookEnds I would be able to do that on my own with a bigger canvas. 

BookEnds was first conceived on that subway ride in May 1999, but it wasn't until October that I officially walked out of a publishing house office for the last time (as an employee). I have to confess, never once was I afraid. Never once did I doubt that we'd have success. 

It was in the Spring of 2001 that we decided that packaging wasn't enough for us. We felt confined by what we could do and frankly, really missed working closely with authors and their ideas. It was at that time that we transitioned our business model to an agency and never once did we look back. I can still remember a mailbox stuffed full of partials and manuscripts. In fact, I can still remember receiving the manuscript for some of our first clients, many who we're still working with today.

I always say that my best team members bamboozled me into a job. Kim Lionetti was the first. She had heard through the grapevine that I was vaguely considering hiring another agent, so wise woman that she is she called me up to "schedule a lunch date" where we talked business and she very slyly asked if we would ever consider expanding. In 2005 Kim joined BookEnds. 

2010 was a time of big transition for BookEnds. It was the year Jacky Sach officially stepped down to forge another path for herself. It was a bittersweet ending. Certainly I was sad to see my partner in business and crime go, but I was also thrilled that she was moving on to do something she was truly passionate about. I'm a big believer in following your passions. I am not sure I could have started BookEnds without Jacky by my side and, yes, we are still very close to this day.

Jessica Alvarez, sensing that I would never advertise a position, sent a very flattering email out of the blue (we had never met before). She must have been reading the blog and knew what a sucker I am for flattery. After putting her through a tortuous series of interviews (I have a rule that since we're a very close team everyone has input into any hiring), Jessica joined the team in 2011.

And actually, I'm not sure Beth knows this, but I give Jessica most of the credit for Beth Campbell's hiring in 2012. Beth was one of the smartest interns we've ever had. She also made it a point to "check in" with us regularly, filling us in on her job search and just checking to see how we were doing. Naturally when it came to hiring a new assistant Beth was the first on our list (well on Jessica's list). 

Tonight I will be taking my team out and toasting them. It is because they have stuck by me, called me crazy, and went along with my madcap ideas that I've gotten this company where it is today. There's no way I could have done it without them.

I'll also toast the authors who put their faith in me when I was fledging agency and now that we're established, who have taught me so much about writing, editing and myself.

Thank you to all. Here's to many, many more years!


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38. Writing with an eye on rhythm

I've been reading queries for the Chris Eldin Fellowship fundraiser this week. A crit means figuring out what's wrong and how to fix it.  It's akin to QueryShark,  but it's not something I do on my normal incoming queries.   (When I read incoming queries, I don't do any analytical work usually. It's just yes/no/holymoly) It's been interesting to figure out the "how to fix it" part.

One querier had gotten all the right info on the page but there was still something wrong. The query didn't feel smooth. It felt off kilter somehow.

Off kilter means the rhythm is off.  But, it's one thing to say that, and another thing for the reader/writer to understand what your point is. And another thing all together to figure out how to fix it.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

This is a graph of how many words are in each sentence.
When the words per sentence are 0, that's the place where there's a new paragraph.

You can see here that her first paragraph is all over the place, and ENDS with the longest sentence of the paragraph.

The next paragraph has the longest sentence right before the last sentence.

The third paragraph opens with the longest sentence and closes with the shortest.

If this were music it would be disjointed.  Good writing is like music: there's a flow to it.

There's no rule about how many words per sentence, how many sentences per paragraph.  It just has to sound smooth to your ear.

If it doesn't, graph your words and sentences. See if it bounces too much.

By way of example, here's the graph from Patrick Lee's second novel (coming July 2015).

There's no right and wrong here, but you can see that his graph is much less bouncy.

If you want to test the theory, graph a book you love that you think is well written.
Then see if your book looks like that graph.

Is this the One True Secret of Great Writing? No. But it is a tool you can use to analyze why something isn't working. And it's a very useful tool for analyzing pacing

Any questions?

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39. Conference Spotlight: The 2014 Arizona Writing Conference (Nov. 21-22)

If you read my blog, you know I am constantly traveling to be part of awesome writers’ conferences across the country. On that note, I am very exciting to be a part of the 2014 Arizona Writing Conferences — two full-day “How to Get Published” conference events in Arizona coordinated by the SSA (Society of Southwestern Authors). On Friday, Nov. 21, there is an all-day event in Phoenix; and on Saturday, Nov. 22, there is a separate all-day event in Tucson. (The one-day schedules are both the same.)

These writing events are a chance to get intense instruction over the course of one day, pitch an agent or editor (optional), get your questions answered, and more. There is even a “Writers’ Got Talent” event in the middle where registrants bring their first pages and get them read aloud. Faculty (literary agents) give their thoughts on what was working or not working with the writing.


These are separate-yet-identical one-day “How to Get Published” writing workshops on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, 2014, with Friday’s event in Phoenix and Saturday’s event in Tucson. In other words, either workshop is one day full of classes and advice designed to give you instruction concerning how to get your writing & books published. We’ll discuss your publishing opportunities today, how to write queries & pitches, how to market yourself and your books, what makes an agent/editor stop reading your manuscript, and more. No matter what you’re writing — fiction or nonfiction — the day’s classes will help point you in the right direction. Writers of all genres are welcome. The events are designed to squeeze as much into one day of learning as possible.

Literary agents in attendance include Adriann Ranta (Wolf Literary), Patricia Nelson (Marsal Lyon Literary), and Steve Laube (The Steve Laube Agency). Agents will be onsite at both events to give feedback and meet with writers for pitching, as well. You can ask any questions you like during the sessions, and get your specific concerns addressed.

(Please note that the workshops are separate and the class schedules are identical. Writers will likely want to attend one workshop or the other, not both.) Learn more and sign up at the official website here.


PHOENIX: Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, at the downtown Phoenix library. TUCSON: Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, at the downtown Pima Community College campus.


Please learn more and sign up at the official website here.

There is limited space at both events. The Friday event in Phoenix can only hold 70 attendees. The Saturday event in Tucson can only hold 100 attendees.

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40. Site Surfing

Surfing through the Internet you find a strange pop-up: “Click now to receive three million dollars! Just press the link! … You have 30 seconds.” The lights immediately turn off and a timer begins on your screen. What happens next? What do you do?

writing-promptsWant more creative writing prompts?

Pick up a copy of A Year of Writing Prompts: 365 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for every day of the year and you can start on any day.

Order now from our shop.






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41. 7 Best-Paying Projects for Writers in 2015

Editor’s Note: The following content is provided to Writer’s Digest by a writing community partner. This content is sponsored by American Writers & Artists Inc. www.awaionline.com.

Layout 1If you’ve been daydreaming about making a comfortable living as a writer, 2015 will definitely be the year you make it a reality.

There have never been more legitimate freelance opportunities for professional writers than there are right now – especially when the assignments are aimed at helping companies build their businesses.

Marketing forecasts from Ad Age show that marketers are expected to spend $52.8 billion on digital marketing alone in 2014.

And the Direct Marketing Association predicts all direct marketing expenditures will surpass $190 billion per year by 2016.

That’s great news for you as a writer. It means the demand for professional-quality writing is going to skyrocket across all industries – which means companies will expect to pay you a lot more.

But of all the potential paths, seven of them really stand out to us at AWAI

#1: Direct-Response Sales Letters

You simply can’t have a list of writing opportunities that doesn’t include writing promotional letters for the $2.3 trillion direct-response industry.

Ideal writer: Isn’t intimidated by writing a lot of words and can persuade someone to take an action: click, sign up, buy, donate, etc.

  • Fees: $2,000 to $10,000 (and more)
  • Royalties: Possibly 2% to 10% of sales

#2: E-newsletters

E-newsletters provide an inexpensive way for a company to develop a relationship with prospects, and position itself as an industry expert.

Ideal writer: Enjoys researching and learning about new things.

  • Fees: $900 to $2,000 per issue
  • Length: Typically between 1,200 to 1,500 words

#3: Case Studies

Case studies are short “before-and-after” stories that describe how a company solved a challenge with a product or service.

Ideal writer: Storytellers.

  • Fees: $1,250 to $2,000
  • Length: 800 to 1,200 words

#4: Online Content

Businesses use online content to educate their customers and prospects with stories, metaphors and simple advice in the form of new articles, blog posts, emails, and so on.

Ideal writer: Strong interest in a particular area or topic.

  • Fees: $100 to $500 per piece (plus much more if you also develop the content marketing plan)

#5: Social Media

From crafting Facebook posts and tweets to writing engaging LinkedIn articles and replying to comments, social media gives writers a lot of variety.

Ideal writer: Enjoys engaging with readers.

  • Fees: Typically up to $2,000 per month (depending on your involvement)

#6: Emails

The budget for consumer email marketing will be up to $1.1 billion by 2016, adding up to one incredible opportunity to make money as an expert email copywriter.

Ideal writer: An idea machine.

  • Fees: $100 to $1,000 per email
  • Length: 500 to 2,000 words

#7: Video Scripts

A video script is simply a blog that’s meant to be read out loud. By incorporating visuals and voice, companies are able to share information and build an even deeper relationship with their readers.

Ideal writer: Screen writers.

  • Fees: $100-$500 per minute (per page)
  • Length: Most scripts are 3-to-5 minutes long

rebecca_matter-150Make a Living as a Writer in 2015 …

No matter what opportunity you choose, the most important thing is to do something. The field of opportunity has never been wider — and the demand for quality professional writers like you has never been higher.

And I’m going to help you take full advantage of these opportunities in the coming weeks on this blog – as well as learn how to build a successful writing business, land high-paying assignments, and a whole lot more. So stay tuned!


(Editor’s Note: To learn more about these opportunities, including where to find and land clients, visit www.awaionline.com/top7 today.)

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42. Writing New Adult Fiction Blog Tour

9781599638003_5inch_300dpiFrom Sylvia Day’s Bared to You to Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, new adult fiction has arrived—and it’s hotter than ever. But there’s more to this category than its 18- to 26-year-old characters: The success of your story depends on authentically depicting the transition of your young protagonists from teenhood into adulthood.

With Deborah Halverson’s Writing New Adult Fiction, you’ll learn how to capture the spirit of freedom, self-discovery, and romance that defines the new adult experience. To celebrate the book’s release, Deborah has organized a blog tour that runs through the end of the month—complete with book giveaways and prizes! If you’re curious about writing a novel for the new adult category, you’ll want to join in on the fun and learn more about crafting a story that’s fresh, unique, and wholly new adult!

Here’s what authors and reviewers are saying:

“This book is more than a marketing guide, more than a writing manual, more than a compilation of stories about successful authors. For the writer who wants to become a new adult author, or the new adult author who seeks to enrich her craftsmanship and stand out from the herd, this book has an abundance of information.”Tammara Webber, New York Times best-selling author of Easy and Breakable

With her conversational, engaging style, Halverson demystifies the process of plotting, writing, and marketing a NA novel…. If you’re serious about writing a NA novel you can be proud of, one that is also marketable, you’ll add this indispensable title to your permanent reference shelf.” —Blogcritics

Deborah is offering a FREE FULL MANUSCRIPT EDIT to one lucky blog tour participant. The more stops you make on the tour, the more chances to win! 

October 6: Christy Herself!

October 7: Country Gals Sexy Reads

October 8: Writing Belle

October 9: Book Bumblings

October 10: Prone to Crushes on Boys in Books

October 13: My Book Fairy

October 14: A One-click Addict’s Book Blog

October 15: A Book Addict’s Delight

October 16: The Phantom Paragrapher

October 17: deal sharing aunt

October 20: Hot Guys in Books

October 21: Julie Hedlund

October 22: Short and Sassy Book Blurbs

October 23: NA Alley

October 24: akiiKOMORI reading

October 27: KIDLIT411

October 28: eBook Addict

October 29: Pretty Girls Read Books

October 30: Coffee and characters

October 31: Quirk And Quill

October 31: Book Worms and Couch Potatoes

Rachel Randall is the managing editor for Writer’s Digest Books.

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43. The Problem with Feedback on Rejections

I've seen a lot of agents write blogs on the problem with giving feedback on rejections, or the answer to why they don't give feedback. Primarily it's a consideration for time with most agents. One I completely understand. 

That being said, I do make an effort to give some sort of feedback on every partial or manuscript that I've requested and am subsequently rejecting. The problem with that is that the feedback I'm giving is usually not going to be nearly as comprehensive as what you need.

I've got a few form letters I use when giving feedback. I tend to tweak them to fit each manuscript so that what I'm saying still fits each manuscript personally. My concern with that, always, is that I think too often the feedback comes across as simplistic, giving the author the misunderstanding that it's an easy fix and therefore the road to an easy agent.

Usually an agent's feedback is the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be changed. In other words, you're going to have to read between the lines a bit to see what the agent is saying specifically and what that could mean globally to your manuscript. And, of course, before you ever make any changes you need to make sure that what the agent is saying actually resonates with you because I guarantee you won't be able to successfully revise your book unless you believe, in your heart, in the changes.


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44. “No, Thank You” — On Rejection & Writing

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” – Bruce Lee

Think of rejection and writing and you likely think of publishing. An author submits their work and receives a resounding no thanks. This, however, is only one form of rejection that writers face during their career. Bad reviews and paltry sales are also forms of rejection. Authors must also prepare themselves for these hits to their ego.


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Column by Elene Sallinger, who hails from Washington, DC and first caught the
writing bug in 2004 after writing and illustrating several stories for her then four-
year-old daughter. Her writing career has encompassed two award-winning
children’s stories, a stint as a consumer-education advocate, as well as writing
The Chrysalis Series (romance/erotica). Her debut novel, AWAKENING, won
the New Writing Competition at the Festival of Romance 2011. Book 3 in her
Chrysalis series, UNSETTLED, was released July 2014. Connect with her on Twitter.

Will You Publish Me?

The most commonly acknowledged form of rejection for a writer is the rejection of one’s work by a publishing house. After spending months, if not years, shaping a story, you submit it hoping for acceptance and publication. Sadly, this is the exception, not the rule. The average writer is more likely to have a story rejected—often multiple times—rather than published immediately.

It’s important to note that this does not immediately translate to fault on the writer’s part. The acquisition process is subjective. A writer is at the mercy of the preferences of the editor and the publisher’s existing catalog. In other words, it may be that the story isn’t right for that publisher, not that the story isn’t worthy of publication. Hand-in-hand with this is the preference of the acquiring editor. As much as we all want to believe we are 100 percent objective, this isn’t so. Bias always exists and your story may not resonate with the editor leading them to reject it.

Many international bestsellers were rejected multiple times before finding the nirvana of fit and preference that launched their success. Twilight was rejected fourteen times. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected twelve times before the insistence of the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter convinced him to take a minimal risk on the book. The list goes on. Finding a publisher is like finding your mate, the first person you date is rarely the one you marry.

(What should you do after rejection?)

They Don’t Like Me, They Really Don’t Like Me

Here is a basic fact: You can’t please everyone, and the moment you try, you cease to write anything interesting. When asked why they write, most writers will say it’s because they have stories to tell; they can do nothing else. However, this fails to answer why a writer shares their work. One can write indefinitely without ever sharing a single word. I believe that writers share their work, because at our deepest psychological level, we seek to move people emotionally.

Like with publishing, most of us fantasize about this in a positive way. In our minds, our work resonates with readers leading to public acclaim and praise of our story. In truth, no book goes without negative reviews. Even the classics had their detractors. Publishers Weekly ran a hilarious article about famous authors trashing books now considered classics. Reading it certainly puts bad reviews in perspective.

You got a bad review, so what! The very fact that a person was moved enough to write that review means you did your job, you sparked an emotional reaction. Shake the negativity off. Unless they are pointing out functional errors like poor proofing or continuity errors ignore them. They represent one person’s individual opinion. Don’t make mountains out of molehills, and, above all else, don’t reply!

They’re Not Buying It

When a book doesn’t sell, or fails to sell in quantity, the immediate conclusion tends to be that the problem lies in the story. However, there is a fundamental difference between writing a book and selling a book. Clearly, writing a book is a function of plot, character development, etc. However, selling a book is a function of packaging and promotion with emphasis on the former. All the promotion in the world won’t help a poorly packaged book.

If you’ve released a book and it’s just sitting there rotting, before scrapping the book consider your promotion efforts. Are you getting the word out effectively? If you can comfortably answer yes, or you make changes with no effect, you need to reevaluate how the book is packaged. By this, I mean the cover and the blurb. Test your blurb with friends and colleagues. Would they read that story? Once you’re satisfied with your blurb, consider changing the cover.

(11 Frequently Asked Questions About Book Royalties, Advances and Money.)

Book cover design is an art that is rooted in psychology. Typeface, color choice, and imagery all spark autonomic emotional reactions. A bad cover on a good book can impact sales dramatically. Always consider changing a book’s packaging before turning to the story itself.

In the end, the thing to remember is that rejection, in any form, is subjective. Once you eliminate the functional, or the technical from the publishing process, what you’re left with is strictly subjective opinion. What you do with that is up to you.

What could be better than one guide on crafting
fiction from wise agent Donald Maass? Two books!
We bundle them together at a discount in our shop.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

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45. NaNoWriMo Prep Work: To Edit or Not Edit While Writing First Draft

nanowrimoBY TED BOONE NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which is November) is a brilliant way to jumpstart an aspiring writer’s progress towards completing a novel manuscript. Its goals are clear and straightforward: 50,000 words in 30 days. That goal, while certainly challenging, is manageable for most participants, and the end result is twofold: a solid start to a novel, and the invaluable feeling of accomplishment for “winning” the NaNo challenge.

Given NaNoWriMo’s simple but stringent requirements, many participants adopt some fairly draconian methods to accomplishing their goal. Over the last decade of participation, I’ve observed self-imposed rules like: zero backspace usage, absolute “pantsing” (writing without an outline or plan), stream-of-consciousness-typing, no food/drink/television/whatever before daily word count is achieved (!), etc. The techniques NaNo participants employ to achieve their word-count goal are as diverse as the participants themselves. (For more great tips on National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo], download the November/December issue of Writer’s Digest now!)

The most common technique that experienced WriMos will propose for newbies is the “zero editing” approach. That is, during the month of November, you must resist the urge to edit your novel. The advice is based upon the idea that NaNo participants should always be increasing their word count, regardless of the quality of the words that are appearing on the page.

It’s not a bad plan. Turning off your inner editor during the month of November is often what aspiring novelists need. Getting bogged down in editing can often result in never finishing the manuscript in the first place. Editing is the bane of momentum.

Except, of course, when it’s not.

My confession?

I edit during NaNoWriMo.

T1255Get prepared to write an entire novel in November with
a little help for our October 9 webinar: How to Pre-Plot & Complete
a Novel or Memoir in a Month (comes with a bonus ebook).
Register here

I edit every single day. Sometimes more than once. I probably spend as much time editing during November as I do writing. There. I said it. Now, let me explain.

I have tried, over the last nine years, to adhere to the mantra, “DO NOT EDIT.” The reasoning behind this mantra is that your inner editor always has its hand on the brake lever, ready at any moment to pull a Full Stop on your writing progress and, in the process, scream epithets in your ear about the utter uselessness of your writing efforts during November.

To wit: your inner editor is an asshole.

So, during NaNo, many writers make the conscious effort to lock their inner editors away, in deep vaults under heavy mountains on distant planets, and throw the keys into the fiery furnace of the local star.

No editing = no brakes, and no internal monologue of self-loathing.

Does this work? For many people: yes, absolutely.

For me? Nope. No way.

My stopping mechanism is different. It’s not a set of brakes being applied by a hypercritical inner child whose parents never showed any affection or approval. It’s the natural function of my rusty gears of thought, which need constant and lavish lubrication to allow the machine to even function, let alone move forward.

What’s my manuscript-writing-machine lubricant of choice? My WD-40?

During November, I write for a few minutes. Then I stop. I ponder. I reconsider. I go backwards. I tweak. I add words. I rearrange paragraphs. I interject conversations.

I edit. Line by line. And while, on occasion, that results in the deletion of words, the net effect is always, always, an increase in word count.

Unfortunately, this line-editing process does mean that I move slowly. Sometimes embarrassingly slowly. A few years ago (much to the perverse delight of my local Wrimos) I wrote 67 words during a 15-minute sprint. That’s… not fast. That’s the opposite of fast. Writing 1,667 words a day–words I’m willing to live with–takes me forever. So, when people say they’re busy during November, I tend to roll my eyes. Busy? You have no idea.

It’s my own fault, but every day of November is an exercise in iteration. I have no idea what “linear writing” means. I prefer loop-de-loops and spiralling detours. A self-inflicted molasses-slow meandering path to my daily word count.

And then, the next day, when I first open my manuscript? That’s when I get truly masochistic. Before I type a single new word, I reread my scenes from the previous day. I kickstart my complacent characters. Then I stand back and see how they react to my poking and prodding. If it’s boring, I go back in and do it again. With flair and panache. Rinse and repeat, until my re-re-re-read elicits a grin.

Once I’m happy with my new, revised scene, I rinse and repeat.

Write. Line edit. Sleep. Kickstart.

ted booneThe end result has been, historically, a manuscript that’s passable. Not necessarily a first draft, but not exactly a zero draft either. Zero point five. Zero point seven, if I let my ego speak its mind.

So, yeah. I edit. It’s part of my process, and for me, it works.

Don’t agree with me? Cool. Have your own process that works? More power to you. And if anyone tells you your approach is wrong?

Write them into your novel for a little prodding of their own.

Ted Boone was born in Wilmington, Delaware. An avid fan of National Novel Writer’s Month, Ted has authored numerous SF manuscripts during the month of November, but not yet pursued publication for his novels. Ted currently works as an Instructor for the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.


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46. And sometimes it's just bad writing


I enjoy diving in to the query pile. There are a lot of good writers out there, sadly many of them working in categories I don't take on, and it's a pleasure to read a finely honed sentence and see a skilled writer at work.

But sometimes, splat.

Sometimes, it's just plain bad writing.

How do you know if you're in that category?

Here are a couple recent examples:

"Terror overtook her body"
"A scream escaped her throat"
"The story is located in New York City"
"We have spoken once when you called"
Without reading further, can you see what's wrong in each of these sentences??

"Terror overtook her body" versus "she was terrified"
"A scream escaped her throat" versus "she screamed"
"The story is located in New York City" versus "the story is set in New York City
"We have spoken once when you telephoned" versus "we spoke once when you telephoned"

If you can see the difference, make sure you look for it in your writing and pluck it out.
If you CAN'T see the difference, you could be in that second group. You probably need more practice before querying or publishing.
It's true that bad writing sells. I've seen it, you've seen it. But do you want it to be your book that we see it in?  If so, have at it. Just don't query me!
And if you see it, here's how to fix it:
Look at each sentence individually and think "is there a better, tighter way to say this?"  Ask "does this make physical sense?" A scream doesn't escape. A scream is what someone does.  If you use "a scream escaped her throat" use it on purpose, not because you didn't consider and discard "she screamed." You can break every rule in the book, including "write well" but you really need to do it on purpose, not in error.

It's ok to write these crappy sentences, don't get me wrong. Bad first drafts are the part of the process. It's not revising, not fixing the bad stuff that leads to problems.

Any questions?

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47. Saying It Loud, But Not Proud

I suck at grammar and punctuation.

There you have it.

I said it.

Grammar rules are like algebra to me. I get the basic concepts, but for whatever reason I can't really grasp them. I'm so bad in fact, that an old high school teacher of mine once cornered me at a cocktail party (I actually think it might have been my own bridal shower) to ask how I could possibly have success in publishing if my grades in HS grammar were always so poor. Sigh.

I'm not a copyeditor, I've never pretended to be. When I look at books I look at the larger picture. Does this book grab me, is it compelling and will it sell? I'll leave the details to the experts.

So I ask you to be kind when reading the blog. I don't have an editor and sometimes I only have time to skim each post before it runs. There will be errors, probably a lot. If it's really bothersome, you might just want to stop reading.

There. Phew. I got that out. I'm not proud of it, but I've come to accept it.


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48. Tips on World Building for Writers — How to Make Your Imaginary World Real

There isn’t a certified qualification or course on world-building (well, not in my neighborhood), but every story requires it. Whether your tale is set in a real place or an imagined one, you need to establish your characters’ world so that the reader can suspend disbelief and fully engage with their story.

Of course, the more differences to our own world you introduce, the more you need to focus on getting those details absolutely right – but you need to do it in such a way that they almost fade into the background so the reader is instead focusing on the characters and the story. You don’t need to explicitly create and explain all aspects of your world in the first couple of chapters. Without some story developing in these chapters your reader may not persevere further into the book.

GIVEAWAY: David is excited to give away a free copy of his latest novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Otherwise you will receive an e-book.) You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


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Column by David Hair, a New Zealand-based author of three fantasy series.
The Aotearoa Series is a YA series published by HarperCollins in New Zealand.
The first novel, THE BONE TIKI, won Best First Book at the 2010 NZ Post
Children’s Book Awards. The series is built around the concept of two parallel
New Zealands — the modern world, and another magical world peopled by
legends, historical personages, and the ghosts of ordinary New Zealanders.
Hair has also written a four book YA series, The Return of Ravana, set in India
and published by Penguin India. Book One, PYRE OF QUEENS, won the
LIANZA award for Best YA Novel in 2012. The series is set to be re-released
in the UK in 2015 through Jo Fletcher Books. SCARLET TIDES, published
in October 2014 by Jo Fletcher Books (an imprint of Quercus), will be the
second book in his fantasy series The Moontide Quartet. Four books are
planned for the series. David currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand with
his wife Kerry. See more info about all his books here.


Personally, as a fantasy writer, I’m primarily interested in worlds where there are different rules to our own, changes which require the reader to go on a journey: to take on board a bunch of unlikely and/or impossible things. That could be an urban fantasy or horror story, where we’re dealing with our world plus, for example, adding some magic or supernatural elements) or it could be fantasy set in a completely imagined world (where everything from physical appearance to personal values, from languages to landscapes, are different).

So these are the things I think about:

1. What’s important in this place?

At its heart, a story is about conflict. Without that, there’s really little to tell. This could be two people or two nations, or even one person or group of people against society or the environment or nature. It might even be one person in conflict with themselves: that’s up to you: but once you’ve worked out what it is, you need a world for that conflict to inhabit:

  • What sort of place best showcases this conflict?
  • Who are the protagonists in the conflict and where do they reside in respect of each other?
  • How do they differ from the everyday people we all know, or do they differ at all?
  • What role can the environment play in that conflict, both directly and symbolically?

For example, in the Moontide Quartet, I wanted to tell a story of intercontinental conflict in a fantasy world. The idea of a bridge linking the two continents sprang to mind, and thereafter the world-building for the Moontide world became about creating and justifying that bridge. Of course, the bridge has nice symbolic connotations about uniting and joining. To justify the intermittent nature of that bridge required tidal factors, and that had impacts upon the nature of the landscapes, and from there, the world began to take shape.

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to think about the protagonists in the conflict, and how the landscape might impact on them. Drawing a picture showing these groups, and even a proto-map, is often useful now, as we populate our story (I love maps!).

(Would your story make a great movie? Here are 7 tips on writing a film script.)

2. Put the pieces on the board

If you think about what you’ve just done as setting up the game board, the next step is to lay out the pieces. Societies are not amorphous blobs: they are made up of people who are all trying to do their best to survive and perpetuate themselves and those they care about. Start with the basics:

  • How do people live here? Where does the food come? What about cloth, timber, metal? What flora and fauna are present and integrated into the society? How technologically advanced are the people here?
  • What is their history and how might this have shaped them as a people, their beliefs, attitudes and identity?
  • What races are present? How much migration is there from other places? How integrated are the migrants? How do the locals regard the migrants and vice versa? What languages are spoken, and by whom?
  • What social classes are present, and how do they interact? What creates and sustains their division (e.g. if there are a few very wealthy and many poor, how do the wealthy preserve that wealth and prevent insurrection)? How do the leaders gain, preserve and relinquish power? How do other potential leaders view the current leaders?

This is where you have the opportunity to impart your own worldview: the things you hold to be true in the nature of the society you are creating. How is the society organized, what do they emphasize, what is their relationship with the environment and each other. Yours might be completely different, but the principles I apply to this are:

  1. Wealth is never distributed equally: there are always a few rich and lots of poor;
  2. Men are usually advantaged over women;
  3. Power corrupts, so the people in charge are more likely to be unscrupulous;
  4. Majorities are silent, minorities aren’t: much conflict revolves around the treatment of minorities by elites (with the majority either complicit or unaware);
  5. Superstition is powerful and pervasively influential;
  6. How minorities are treated is a measure of the collective tolerance of the society;
  7. Ideals are constantly being compromised;
  8. Good people can do bad things and (vice versa);
  9. Complex solutions are hard to sell, but simple solutions rarely work
  10. Even absolute rulers require some form of consent from those who control the tools by which they hold power. So they must constantly seek to influence the military, the politicians, the economy and the intellectual debate;
  11. Advancement is related to: drive, skill, connections, wealth and philosophy. People are always completing for advancement;
  12. Human needs MUST be met and will find a way. Food and shelter. Security. Procreation. Happiness. A society that fails to deliver on these to all people will become unstable until the will to restore delivery of these needs across the society (though seldom equally) is regained;
  13. There are tipping points to human tolerance of what they are prepared to put up with before acting. These vary between individuals and groups within society. So an injustice can persist for a long time, then be washed away in moments;

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

You have to think about how the society you are creating actually functions. What are the lines of disagreement between groups? I like to think of society as being divided up into groups whose primary (but not exclusive) concerns are:

  • Economic: production of the means to live
  • Security: protection of society and its members
  • Political: the organization of the society, it’s governance and laws
  • Philosophical: the ideas and concepts that influence behaviors. (Note that these groups will each have their own economic, security, political and philosophical “wings”, and their own factions.)

3. The Past

You don’t want to give the impression that your story world winked into existence just before Chapter One. How long has it been here? How did it get here? What are the big events that shape people’s behavior today? What are people’s beliefs about their creation, their purpose, their past and their futures? What divergent interpretations of these real or imagined events are present in society?

The more credible these things are, the more real your world will feel. But you have to build rationally, even in a fantasy setting. ‘Fantasy’ is not a synonym for illogical behavior!

4. Do the detail

Having created the big stuff, now you’ve got to think about the small stuff. It’s often the little details that make the world you’ve created real: tiny customs of dress or behavior that make a group of people come alive. I found inspiration in my observations of our world, partly because I wanted Urte to resemble Earth, but also because we have so much variety, so many fascinating people and places that it I think they’re worth celebrating.

So do some research into other cultures and think about how you might use variants of what you learn in your creation – always taking care to fit it all together seamlessly so that it feels right. Create cultures with their own speech patterns, dress codes and belief systems. How do the people relax? How do they express themselves creatively? To what do they aspire?

The thing to remember is that all of this needs to serve the story, not the other way round. Don’t lose sight of your central premise. If something looks like it is taking over, you need to pare back its importance, but still have it make sense.

5. The People Factor

Now, having set up the board and laid out the pieces, you need to personalize it. Each grouping will have opinion leaders and powerful people with needs and desires. They need to be fully rounded people, with positive points as well as flaws – people are always flawed, even someone who’s apparently perfect. And even if they’re almost ideal, you can bet their family or friends won’t be. Use them to move the conflicts along. And you need to keep in mind that if they’ve achieved a degree of success, despite their flaws, they must also have strengths: they must be worthy of the role (or at least capable of gaining it and holding it,) and they must fulfil it to the satisfaction of a powerful portion of those they lead (or have intimidated those they lead into letting them keep the role), or their time at the top will be short-lived. Give them a back-story, and think about their goals, in particular, what they think about the big issues, especially the conflict that is the heart of your story. In the Moontide Quartet the big conflict is the proposed crusade, and every important figure and group has a view.
As the events of your story unfold, you will find that the reactions of these opinion leaders to the latest events in your story will help to drive it forward, so stay on top of what they are thinking and doing, even if it is off-screen.
Next, having built your house of cards, prepare the wrecking ball . . .

(Hear from authors who are marketing themselves and selling books online.)

6. The Chaos Factor

So far, our goal has been to create a dynamic but mostly stable society. The important factor in that last sentence is ‘stable’. Society is always changing as it adapts to new things, but most of the time it does so in an incremental way.

But conflicts are inherently destabilizing, and that new factor could throw everything into chaos. This ‘chaos factor’ might be ultimately beneficial for most (like a revolt against a tyrant), or not (like a plague virus), but that’s up to you. The important thing for the story is that your world and the people in it react in a credible way to the disruption. Work toward a resolution:

– either the change leaves the world altered, or
– the change is averted and your society continues (relatively) unchanged.

As you can see, you can slice and dice your imaginary society in lots of ways, and what you get is COMPLEXITY. This is good: a complex world is believable, while a simplistic one isn’t. As a storyteller, you need think about how much complexity you want to show; never forget that all of this is to support the story, not be the story. You need to know all this stuff, but you don’t need to show it all. Often just making reference to your world-building (local jargon and customs, oblique references to past events, etc.) can be enough in the early chapters to let the action hook the reader; you can let the back-story seep out bit by bit as the plot develops.

Never forget the world-building is the backdrop and the props; the story close-ups should always be on your characters.

Finally, a couple of books I’ve found useful:
•    Jared Diamond: Gun, Germs and Steel, for its brilliant explanation of how and why our world has evolved anthropologically the way it has; and
•    Robert Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography, for its clear explanation of how the shape and nature of land shapes politics in our world.

GIVEAWAY: David is excited to give away a free copy of his latest novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Otherwise you will receive an e-book.) You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.



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49. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 283

For this week’s prompt, write a natural poem. Some poems just come more naturally than others, and maybe you’re already furiously scribbling. However, here are a few ideas for everyone else: write about the natural world (plants, animals, etc.); write about all-natural foods or diet; write about human nature or animal nature; or write about nature vs. nurture. Those are just a few ideas. Go with whatever feels natural.


Write a poem for a chance at $1,000!

Writer’s Digest is offering a contest strictly for poets with a top prize of $1,000, publication in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a copy of the 2015 Poet’s Market. There are cash prizes for Second ($250) and Third ($100) Prizes, as well as prizes for the Top 25 poems.

The deadline is October 31.

Click here to learn more.


Here’s my attempt at a Natural Poem:

“The Natural”

When I was a boy, sports informed
everything I did. I played most
of them. Football, basketball, and
soccer, of course, but baseball was

the big one. My favorite book
was Little Lefty, and I loved
The Natural film with Robert
Redford who, as Roy Hobbs, never

used his natural talent as
a baseball player until it
was nearly too late, but he did
on the last pitch with a new bat

and he found success the right way
by doing what came natural,
and there was hope in that movie,
because I could fail as often

as I needed, but if I tried,
things would eventually turn
out right. I’m no longer a boy,
but I still believe that message,

and I don’t care if people need
cars or books or a simple game
to hear it: that everyone can
find a path that feels natural.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

He does not usually ramble in his poems, but when he does it feels pretty natural.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


Here are some more poetic posts:

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50. Can I rant about how evil pitch sessions are again?

Recently I gave away query letter critiques as part of a fundraiser.  I said "send your query, get a critique, then send it back with revisions, get another."

It was very gratifying to see how fast those query crits got snapped up.

And once we started working, it was clear, yet again, that most writers need only two or three revisions to get a good solid query.  And I don't mean little tinkering changes here and there, I mean, tear down to the floor boards and start again revisions.  TWO or THREE!

So, why the hell aren't writers conferences offering this instead of pitch sessions? It boggles my mind.

First: getting your query, your WRITTEN query, in front of an agent is 100% more effective than pitching.

Second: pitch sessions are one and done. You get ONE shot to entice an agent. With query revisions, you've got a chance to revise, and try again. Moreover, I can explain why something doesn't work, suggest an alternative, or ask a question that helps you clarify your plot.  With pitch sessions all I can say is "yes" or "no" and you have no idea what went in to either answer.

Even if there's a chance to say more like "this doesn't work" you're not in any kind of headspace to hear and consider it. You're focused on keeping your self pulled together for the next pitch.

Third: if you revise your query with one agent, you've got a MUCH better shot at enticing another agent. With pitch sessions, you simply repeat your pitch on and on with no sense of whether it's effective.

I've been ranting about this for YEARS. I don't seem to be making much headway which really just breaks my heart and fills the oceans with salty shark tears. It's damn hard to get ahead in publishing, and writers conferences are the one place that should give you the tools and the practice to get better.

I've seen this over and over: helping authors revise queries WORKS.  It's EFFECTIVE.***  Why the hell aren't writers DEMANDING this??

**here's a writer talking about her experience with crit donation mentioned above.

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