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1. How to Sell Your Picture Book

jpegPitching a picture book? Things are looking up. Although the Association of American Publishers reports that book sales in the children’s/young adult segment declined from January to October 2013, many agents observed an uptick in picture book acquisitions throughout 2013 and into 2014. By no means a perfect measure, it’s nonetheless telling that approximately 400 picture book deals were announced in Publishers Marketplace in 2013 compared to approximately 300 in 2012. Still, the market is very competitive, and going head-to-head with the classics as well as new work by high-profile authors can be daunting. It needn’t be. As a literary agent specializing in children’s fiction and nonfiction, I’d like to share some observations about the current picture book market and tips for crafting picture books that sell.

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This guest post is by Lara Perkins, an associate agent and digital manager at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She represents all categories of children’s literature, from picture books through young adult. 
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Know the market.

Picture books typically hit the shelves two to five years after acquisition, so predicting current acquisition trends from new releases is difficult—as is trying to capitalize on a perceived hot trend. Yet successful new releases can suggest the larger strengths and reader appeal that publishers are seeking. For example, the success of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld suggests stories that infuse a lulling, dreamy bedtime sweetness into active (building, traveling) daytime play are finding an audience.

The current market also reveals strong interest in character-driven stories that have series potential (Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale and Guy Francis, new classics like Ian Falconer’s Olivia) and capture a universally relatable “kid experience” in a funny, larger-than-life way (Crankenstein by Samantha Berger and Dan Santat, The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen, No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OHora). We’re also seeing interest in off-the-wall, kid-friendly humor (Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers); stories that cleverly turn familiar relationships upside down (Nugget and Fang by Tammi Sauer and Michael Slack, Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish); and books that are seasonal but work year-round (Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown, Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead).

There’s significant interest in beautiful nonfiction picture books, biographies and others (On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky and Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson).

Lovely, lyrical picture books with a hook for parents as well as kids are sought after (Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden and Renata Liwska)—particularly for the younger set—as are innovative storytelling formats that take witty, fun narrative risks (Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett and Matthew Myers). Many of these titles could fit more than one description as well.

Ideally, a new manuscript should share some proven strengths with recent successful picture books, while giving readers something new and fresh.

Begin with a strong idea.

Every picture book needs a plot and story structure. Even young picture books like Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, concept books, and picture books with cumulative structures like Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck or unusual formats like Battle Bunny must have tension, rising and falling action, and a satisfying final resolution.

Any story for young readers must tap into a universal childhood experience, no matter how wacky the premise. With Dragons Love Tacos, for example, hosting taco parties for dragons may not be a universal experience of childhood, but avoiding certain foods and attending parties where shenanigans ensue are. Similarly, John Rocco’s Blackout transforms a commonplace neighborhood blackout into something magical and resonant. This universality is key to winning the hearts of parents, librarians and teachers—the gatekeepers who will share your book with kids.

Childhood experiences like bedtime rituals or the first day of school are evergreen, but a fresh angle with strong kid appeal is a must. For example, many picture books deal with fear of the dark, but The Dark takes an inventive approach, personifying the dark and following the relationship arc between housemates Laszlo and the dark.

To give your story that all-important kid appeal, tell it from a child’s-eye point of view, even if your main character is a shark or President Obama. This is true even for the youngest picture books and nonfiction picture books. For example, Susan B. Katz’s and Alicia Padrón’s board book ABC Baby Me! brings readers directly into the perspective of a baby, and On a Beam of Light focuses on imagination, wonder and curiosity to bring Albert Einstein and his work to life for kids. Your main character or characters must be relatable and approach the world in a way that is recognizable to your audience.

If you’re tackling a more serious subject such as loss or grief, be honest in your treatment of the subject but keep the mood positive and reassuring for this age group. For example, the final phrase in Once Upon a Memory, “Will you remember you once were a child?” is a beautiful nod to the passage of time and inevitable end of childhood, but framed in a gentle and child-friendly way.

Keep in mind that beloved picture books are read again and again by parents and kids. For that reason, successful picture books are filled with pitch-perfect character details that readers can continue to enjoy on the 10th or 20th or 100th reading. For example, every time I read Oliver Jeffers’ This Moose Belongs to Me, I’m newly charmed by another hilarious character detail.

Craft stories that sell.

How you choose to tell your story is as important as the story you tell. Picture book texts must be lean and mean, with exceptionally tight pacing. Although word counts can soar up to 1,200–1,300 words, most picture book texts for ages 3–8 are around 250–600 words. Infant/toddler board books will be even shorter, often with just a few words per page. With no words to spare, picture books must begin in media res, with the central tension and stakes of the story or the central concept clearly evident from the opening page. For example, the first line of This Moose Belongs to Me is “Wilfred owned a moose,” which immediately establishes the central conflict and misunderstanding that drives the story.

Rhyme is understandably a hot-button issue in the picture book world, as it’s no secret that rhyming texts can be a more difficult sell in today’s market. However, skilled, creative rhyme can still sell very well (see Rinker and Lichtenheld’s Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site or Steam Train, Dream Train), and even editors and agents who are hesitant about rhyme may often be swayed by terrific, well-executed stanzas coupled with a strong story and characters.

Unfortunately, rhyme all too often masks larger issues with story, character or voice. If you write in rhyme, I re-commend also composing in prose to make sure the story and characters are compelling and fully drawn independent of the rhyming structure.

Whether you write in prose or rhyme, be thoughtful about rhythm and cadence, the musicality of language and the resulting effect on mood and tone. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, and Once Upon a Memory is just one example of how rhythm and cadence can enhance the mood of a story.

Similarly, because kids have an experimental, whole-hearted way of interacting with the world, having a child’s-eye-view approach to storytelling means employing a creative and playful use of language. For example, in Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer and Scott Magoon, Sauer has fun using the most “monsterly” words possible: lurched, growled and especially the neologism monsterly!

Nothing is more fun for kids than getting the joke and being part of the story, so repeating jokes and phrases makes young readers feel like “insiders” in the best way. The key however is repetition with a difference, so the story remains surprising and forward moving. For example, in The Day the Crayons Quit, each crayon’s letter of complaint follows a similar format but has a different voice and delightfully surprising variations that keep readers hooked and the joke fresh.

Finally, picture books are like jazz collaborations. If the author does her best work and invites the illustrator to do the same, then the whole will be stronger, more surprising and more satisfying than the sum of its parts. For example, in The Dark, the dark gives Laszlo a gift that is never specified in the text, but the glowing illustration says it all. Making a dummy of your work can help you judge the illustration potential and visual rhythm of your story as a whole.

Know the competition—then submit.

If you’ve followed the advice above and done your best to craft a story that sells, look once again at successful new releases. Make sure you (and your beta readers) can articulate both why your picture book is likely to find an audience based on successful recent picture books and how you’re doing something new and different that still has major kid appeal. If you can, then chances are you’ve written a picture book that can sell in today’s upward-moving market.

V9306

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 Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

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brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

 

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2. Jump-Start Your Next Story with Two Truths and a Lie

Macbook Writing" by Håkan Dahlström Photography (Creative Commons)

The only way to be a writer is to write, right? This is the advice we give at WD, online and in the magazine. If you want to write, you must write. But sometimes getting started is difficult. Perhaps you have a fully-formed character but no idea what to do with him. Maybe your idea is a great plot, but you don’t know who the woman who must live it will be. I would argue that getting started—the actual act of sitting down and beginning something new—is the most difficult part of writing. (Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me, this is the hard part.)

Imagine my excitement this morning when I encountered the following paragraph as I read That Would Make a Good Novel by Lily King on The New York Times:

When I teach fiction I often start a workshop with one of my favorite exercises called Two Truths and a Lie. I tell my students to write the first paragraph of a short story. The first sentence of the paragraph must be true (My sister has brown hair.), the second sentence must be true (Her name is Lisa.), but the third sentence must be a lie (Yesterday she went to prison.). … The lie is the steering wheel, the gearshift and the engine. The lie takes your two true sentences and makes a left turn off road and straight into the woods. It slams the story into fifth gear and guns it.

Although this extremely useful exercise is not at all the point of King’s article, I think it deserves its own post here for those of you who, like me, have trouble with beginnings. So let’s do an exercise! This one is three-pronged:

1. Write the beginning of a story—three full sentences—using the Two Truths and a Lie method. The first two sentences must be true, and the third sentence must be a lie.

2. Carry that story out to at least 500 words. Write more if you’d like. Go wherever your lie takes you. Be ridiculous or be introspective. Whatever suits you.

3. Post your story on your blog, and leave a link here (with a title and your first three sentences to avoid being trapped in our spam filters) so that the rest of us can read it. 

BONUS: Tweet a link to your story, too! Use the hashtag #WD2Truths1Lie so we can all see your efforts.


headshotWDAdrienne Crezo is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @a_crezo.

 

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3. Query Question: Plan B


My first book is self published. The publisher I used call themselves a subsidy publisher. They have an acquisitions department, are very selective about the books they choose, and accept submissions without an agent. I had read about the near impossibility of getting noticed by an agent and published by a traditional publisher in multiple articles and blogs. So their claims to be an innovative publisher changing the publishing market were intriguing. While I was deciding the best career path to follow, I sent my manuscript to them. They loved it, and gave me the hard sell to publish with them. It seemed too easy, so I asked a lot of questions. Because they are one of the largest publishing companies, they assured me they could give me more options and exposure than a traditional publisher. Of course, they couldn't predict sales or give statistics, but I understood there's no crystal ball in this business. Since then I have realized, marketing my book was completely my responsibility, noone gets rejected by this publisher, and everyone in the industry considers my book self published.



I've sold close to 900 books from personal book sales, book club discussions, and in the marketplace. That's small scale, but not bad for self publishing. Just not big enough to get attention from anyone in the traditional publishing world. From your blog it seems self publishing is a negative mark against me for future traditional publishing? It's impossible to know if agents are passing because they aren't interested in my second novel or because of my previous publishing faux pas. I just don't want to waste my time. If the vast majority of agents will pass on me, even if they really love my next novel, should I even send query letters to agents? Should I just self publish on my own, use the platform I've already started to build and sidestep all the rejection?


You don't have to mention your previous run in with the brutal reality of a company earning money by selling snake oil to writers. You query as you normally would. You simply don't say "this is my first novel."

Agents are passing because they aren't enticed by your novel.  You must have missed the day when I mentioned that agents are mostly rapacious sharks who will eat their siblings to get ahead in this world, and if we think a book will help us make money we are going to pounce on it like it was a seal in a salty sea.



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4. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 273

There are only a few constants in my life: One of them is that I know I’ll share a prompt and poem on Wednesdays. I hope everyone is ready to let loose this week.

For this week’s prompt, write an outside poem. And I encourage people to actually (physically) get outside if at all possible. Now, the poem itself can be about the great outdoors, but it can also be about other iterations of the outside concept. There’s, of course, thinking outside the box, but maybe just getting outside the cubicle or outside the bedroom, hospital room, depression, addiction, and our own heads. So like I said, I hope everyone’s ready to let loose and get outside their comfort zones. Let’s poem!

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

*****

Pre-order the Latest Poet’s Market!

The 2015 Poet’s Market is now available for pre-order at a discounted price. Get the most up-to-date information for publishing your poetry, including listings for book and chapbook publishers, magazines and journals, contests and awards, and more!

Plus, this edition includes information on poetic forms, poet interviews, articles on the craft and business of poetry, and so much more!

Click to continue.

******

Here’s my attempt at an Outside Poem:

“box”

everything i do must fit inside a box
whether it’s the pictures i download
words i write including my status updates

& then at the store i know the box
records my every movement to make sure
i’m not taking what i haven’t purchased yet

i feel my house wants to be a box
now that i’ve unpacked so many within
its walls releasing books dvds & paper

my poems don’t work well in a box
i tend to write them in notebooks & scribble
new stanzas line breaks & draw arrows

because it’s hard to move in a box

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He loves reading poetry, writing poetry, and studying poetry–but he especially loves sharing poetry and is happy that Poetic Asides is a place that accommodates just that.

Robert thinks Wednesdays, of course, rock, because they help him write at least one poem each week. Everything above and beyond that is gravy, icing, or whatever else floats your boat.

Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic goodness here:

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5. Madrigal: Poetic Form

The madrigal originated as an Italian form, actually as a pastoral song. The Italian madrigal is written in lines of either seven or 11 syllables and is comprised of two or three tercets, followed by one or two rhyming couplets. Just as variable as the lines and line lengths is the rhyme scheme. In fact, there’s so much variability that I’m going to focus more on the “English” madrigal.

For the English-version of the madrigal (developed by Geoffrey Chaucer), the rules are much more defined. Here they are:

  • Usually written in iambic pentameter.
  • Comprised of three stanzas: a tercet, quatrain, and sestet.
  • All three of the lines in the opening tercet are refrains.

The poem follows this rhyme pattern:

Line 1: A
Line 2: B1
Line 3: B2

Line 4: a
Line 5: b
Line 6: A
Line 7: B1

Line 8: a
Line 9: b
Line 10: b
Line 11: A
Line 12: B1
Line 13: B2

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

******

Pre-order the Latest Poet’s Market!

The 2015 Poet’s Market is now available for pre-order at a discounted price. Get the most up-to-date information for publishing your poetry, including listings for book and chapbook publishers, magazines and journals, contests and awards, and more!

Plus, this edition includes information on poetic forms, poet interviews, articles on the craft and business of poetry, and so much more!

Click to continue.

******

I’m no master of meter–by a long shot–but…

Here’s my attempt at an English madrigal:

“dead heat feet”

another gun fired & children are dead
the official claims he’ll turn up the heat
he says the earth will burn beneath their feet

but the gunman shot himself in the head
& those kids still alive avoid the street
another gun fired & children are dead
the official claims he’ll turn up the heat

blame all the guns & the games & the meds
blame the police who are working the beat
try to place blame so they’ll make it all neat
another gun fired & children are dead
the official claims he’ll turn up the heat
he says the earth will burn beneath their feet

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He loves reading poetry, writing poetry, and studying poetry–but he especially loves sharing poetry and is happy that Poetic Asides is a place that accommodates just that.

For those new to the blog, Robert tends to share a new poetic form just before he announces a new WD Poetic Form Challenge, which is a free challenge in which the winning poem and poet are featured in a future issue of Writer’s Digest magazine. The next challenge will probably be announced within the next week.

Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic goodness here:

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6. Never Be Lost for Words

How likely are you to talk to a stranger? Of course, it may be determined by the time of day, where you are, and how relaxed you are. But for some people it’s just not natural for them to be chatty, especially with strangers. The good news is that those who are shy talkers can overcome their fear of speaking. It’s a matter of increasing one’s confidence in the fine art of communicating one-to-one.

Gaining confidence

Gaining confidence is the key to being in one’s comfort zone while sharing verbal thoughts with another person. You should strive to act as natural as possible. You don’t want to memorize what you’re going to say. That would be too artificial. Talking about the weather is always a good icebreaker. Be sure to take an interest in the person who you are talking to, and really listen to what they have to say. Good listeners are as important as good talkers.

Practice Small Talk

You can practice making “small talk” in the mirror until it starts to feel more natural. People enjoy genuine compliments about what they are wear. (So be observant and kind when in the presence of friends or strangers.) We all want to be appreciated. When I was teaching, I used to cut through the library to get to my classroom faster. Invariable I would cross paths with the librarian. She was a very pleasant lady. Periodically I used to compliment her on her smile, new outfit or on having good hair day. When she retired, she said that she always enjoyed running into me because my compliments “made her day.”

Be Yourself 

Be authentic. Be real, and people will like you wherever you go. Look people in the eye when you talk to them. Your eyes speak volumes when you are talking. Be sure to have smiling eyes. It will make everyone feel comfortable and interested in your presence among them. Laugh, if something is truly funny. Just be yourself, and others will want to hear what you have to say, even if it doesn’t spill out as smooth as honey.

Be a Risk-Taker

When I was in college taking my first speech class, I was nervous as heck about giving my first speech. It was an introductory speech, and you had to write your full name on the board. I wondered how I was going to relax my audience, and get them thinking positively about me. I knew that humor is like a gust of fresh air in a stale room. So I went up to the board, and I spelled out my last name in twenty wrong versions. By the time I turned around most students in the class were laughing hysterically, and they did pay keen attention to my speech.

 

 

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7. The Open Window

You had that dream again. The one where the beast with the drooping hands and wicked fangs stares you down from your window. Except the windows open this time—and you’re awake! What happens next?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

Want more creative writing prompts? Pick up a copy of
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8. Question: follow up time frame on full requests



I am wondering how long is appropriate to follow up on a full request. I saw one of your posts that said to absolutely follow up, but you did not specify the appropriate amount of time. I'm hearing 8 weeks, 12 weeks, six months.

Also, when following up with said agent, should I mention that the MS has been requested by other agents in the interim? I have not received offers, but requests. 

The industry standard here is ironclad:
1. Follow up in the time frame suggested by the agent's website or submission guidelines.

2. If there are no guidelines, you follow up in 30 days on a query, and 90 days on a full.  NO sooner.

I actually have a list of what to do if I don't respond to your query in 30 days.  It's here at Query Letter Diagnostics.  You can apply that to most other agents as well since most of us do these same things.


As to the second part of your question, no you don't mention how many requests you have. You DO mention if you get an offer.  In fact, if you get an offer you email everyone who requested a full and tell them. You also mention your time frame: you have a week to reply to the offer; you have ten days to reply to the offer; you have 7 minutes to reply, get out your rocket propelled eyeballs for a quick skim.


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9. How I Found My Literary Agent: Cassandra Dunn

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Cassandra Dunn, author of THE ART OF ADAPTING. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Cassandra is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. 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).

 

cassandra-dunn-author-writer         the-art-of-adapting-novel-cover

Cassandra Dunn is the author of THE ART OF ADAPTING (Touchstone/Simon
& Schuster, July 2014). Kirkus Reviews said of the novel, “Dunn’s debut novel
treats readers to a family in transition. . . . A neatly wrapped, happily-ever-after
tale of a broken family that survives and thrives.” Dunn received her MFA in
creative writing from Mills College. She was a semifinalist for the Amazon
Breakthrough Novel Award and a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story
Award for New Writers. She’s published 12 short stories. She is represented
by Harvey Klinger. Her website is cassandradunn.com, and you can
connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 
I HAVE A MANUSCRIPT WHAT DO I DO NOW?

Like most aspiring authors, I had no idea what I was doing when I started seeking out an agent. I had a completed manuscript, and I was proud to have a finished novel. Was it ready to go out into the world? Not even close. But I didn’t know that at the time.

I finished my MFA program with a memoir that I soon abandoned, got married, had kids, got lost on my writing path, and eventually found my way back to writing, this time focusing on fiction. I wrote some short stories, and managed to get a few published. I chose an unpublished story that had been selected as a Glimmer Train finalist and kept adding to it until I had a novel. A terrible, unbalanced, meandering novel full of rookie mistakes, but a novel just the same. I was hooked. And I knew that I could do better.

I wrote a second novel, a little deeper than the first, full of bigger tragedy and greater risk, and I entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. It survived round after round of cuts, eventually making it to the semifinals. I gave it a brief (too brief) revision based on some of the reviews it had received and on feedback from an online novel workshop. Then I assembled a list of new agents who were actively list-building, and started sending it out. I got enough requests to see more of the novel to know that my query letter was decent, but each agent ultimately passed. I was about 60 failed queries in when I decided to shelve that novel and focus on the next one, which was coming along quickly.

(Can writers query multiple agents at the same agency?)

THE END OF ONE NOVEL, THE BEGINNING OF ANOTHER

That novel, The Art of Adapting, came from my heart — the scenes and characters waking me in the morning, my fingers and wrists cramping each afternoon from not being able to type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. It was personal, inspired by my uncle, and it mattered to me more than anything else I’d written. I finished a draft in three months and sent it to two trusted friends for feedback. As I waited to hear back from them, I worked on more short stories, publishing a handful of them. I wanted agents to see that I was serious about writing, publishing, pushing myself.

I revised The Art of Adapting with the notes from my beta readers, and started compiling a list of agents. This time, I decided not to start with junior agents. I aimed for my dream agents right off the bat, because, why not? I was methodical. I researched, looking for agents who wanted women’s fiction, who had positive feedback from other queriers, who had recent sales and impressive author lists. I made a list of 25 agents, knowing I might need more than 50 eventually, and broke them into groups of 5. Each Monday, I was going to query 5 agents, taking the time to craft a personal letter for each of them. I was not going to check my email every 30 seconds to see if any of them had responded. I was going pass the time working on short stories and attending writing conferences to make connections and conquer my shy nature. But then the unthinkable happened. One of the agents in my very first query group responded right away. Harvey Klinger asked for the first chapters. Then the whole book. And then he offered to represent me.

(Learn why “Keep Moving Forward” may be the best advice for writers everywhere.)

BUT IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE

The book wasn’t ready to go out to publishers. It was still chock full of rookie mistakes that made me cringe (show, don’t tell!). Over the next few months Harvey helped me revise the entire manuscript chapter by chapter. He’s a tough but encouraging critic, and his guidance was one of the best gifts I’ve ever had as a writer. I felt like that revision phase was a test of our relationship, to make sure we were a good fit. For me to see if he really got the heart of my story, and for him to see that I could take criticism and was determined to do the work necessary on a project.

And that’s my best advice for aspiring authors. Be determined to do the work. Not just the fun part of writing that first draft, but the long, heart-wrenching editing passes where you kill your darlings, the awkward networking, the bio-building of getting your name out there in some capacity. And when your work is as ready as you can make it, aim high. And show don’t tell.

GIVEAWAY: Cassandra is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. 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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10. WD Poetic Form Challenge: Golden Shovel Winner

Thank you for all the golden shovels this summer! With more than 700 comments, I felt like I had to “dig out” of a pile of golden shovel amazing-ness. This form seemed to really appeal to everyone, and I can see why, because it’s kind of like a poetic puzzle.

My initial short list included 21 poems, but I’m always stuck having to pick one winner. This time around, the winner is Margie Fuston for her poem “When the Moon Fell,” which uses the opening line of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

Here’s the winning Golden Shovel:

When the Moon Fell, by Margie Fuston

–after Edgar Allan Poe

The moon dropped from the clouds once.
I found her behind my house, lying upon
a patch of dried-up needs. She wore a
frown. I thought she always smiled at midnight,
but up close she looked dull and dreary.
We sat in the dirt in solidarity for a while.
I asked if she ever wished on stars, and I
sighed when she told me no. Together we pondered
what made the air and the clouds too weak
to hold us up. Eventually, we tired and
I tried to lift her back, but I found myself too weary.

*****

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Pre-order the Latest Poet’s Market!

The 2015 Poet’s Market is now available for pre-order at a discounted price. Get the most up-to-date information for publishing your poetry, including listings for book and chapbook publishers, magazines and journals, contests and awards, and more!

Plus, this edition includes information on poetic forms, poet interviews, articles on the craft and business of poetry, and so much more!

Click to continue.

******

Here is the Top 10 list:

  1. “When the Moon Fell,” by Margie Fuston
  2. “Composer,” by William Preston
  3. “A Man With Secrets,” by Daniel Roessler
  4. “Not Everyone Appreciates My Lit Humor,” by Linda Hofke
  5. “Passing,” by James Von Hendy
  6. “Habeas Corpus,” by Daniel Ari
  7. “Things I’ve learned along the wrong path,” by J. Lynn Sheridan
  8. “The Hunt,” by Shethra Jones-Hoopes
  9. “None of These Say What Needs to Be Said,” by Gabrielle Freeman
  10. “Very Funny,” by Naomi Poe

Congratulations to Margie and everyone in the Top 10! And thank you to everyone who took the time to participate and comment on each others’ poems.

The next WD Poetic Form Challenge is likely to go live in the next few days. Meanwhile, click here to check out all 700+ comments for the Golden Shovel challenge.

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He loves reading poetry, writing poetry, and studying poetry–but he especially loves sharing poetry and is happy that Poetic Asides is a place that accommodates just that.

Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Check out other poetic posts:

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11. Writing On the Rails: Survival Tips for Traveling Authors

murderorientexpressAfter years of crisscrossing the country by car, plane, train, bus, and even on foot for stretches, one of my favorite modes of transportation remains the railroad. Yes, it can be a little shabby, but not nearly as bad as some bus stations I’ve seen. Plus, it has a great literary history: Jack Kerouac and his Beat buddy Neal Cassady were both railroad employees, and numerous works taking place on the rails continue to thrill us, such as Christie’s Murder on The Orient Express, Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, and Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hunter S. Thompson once amusingly wrote, “Many fine books have been written in prison,” and I believe that many fine books, stories, poems, and articles have been written on the gently rocking cars of the railway. I’ve enjoyed some excellent writing sessions during my railway jaunts from New York City to destinations far and wide (mostly New England, but I’ve traveled as far as Texas by train), and I’ve picked up a few pointers that might make your own writing-on-the-rails experience a little more enjoyable. Some of these are common sense tips, but hopefully you find one or two items below that help make your trip more productive.

Have a “Bug-Out Bag”

Like most travelers, I stow my non-essential luggage overhead or leave it in the good hands of the porter (if there is one) and I keep my writerly items nearby in my “Bug-Out Bag”: a laptop with power cable, notepad, pens, a couple of books, iPod, phone, phone charger, and any research materials (if needed). I’ll talk food/drinks later, but these are the basics if you’re going to be traveling for more than an hour or two. If you bring just a laptop, you may find yourself in a romper-room of a train unable to concentrate, or if you bring just a book and notepad, you may find yourself in a nice quiet car with all the time in the world to tinker with your novel. Be prepared and bring enough tools and entertainment for any situation.

I try to keep this bag as small and light as possible because it’s going to take up lap or foot space when you’re sitting for hours on end, and it’s going to be the thing you grab first if you need to get off the train in an emergency. Yes, I know they say leave everything behind, but I assure you, I’m not the only writer who would fight flame, flood, war, and famine to rescue an unfinished manuscript.

And make sure your phone and laptop are charged up because not all trains have power outlets. I primarily ride NYC’s Metro-North railway and Amtrak, the former lacking outlets in every seat, the latter having them only by the window seat. Which leads me to…

Seat Selection

When selecting a seat, be aware of where the sun will fall as you travel. Example: If you’re heading due north in the morning, you might want to sit on the left side of the train to avoid the glaring morning light coming through the right side. Traveling due west? Sit on the right side to avoid the southern sun as much as possible. Almost no trains I’ve used in my 34 years have had curtains or draw-down shades like an airplane, so be prepared for sunlight.

As for where on a car to sit…I’d suggest avoiding the bathroom, for obvious reasons.

I always aim for the window seat, and I pick this seat for very specific reasons. The aforementioned power outlet location is one. Nothing is more awkward than having to reach over or around someone to plug in your dying laptop, although you should be prepared for someone to do the same to you when you’ve nabbed the window seat.

Second, the view can be inspiring. Need to describe a town or countryside in your story? Keep your pen handy and take notes. I love all of the little towns along the Hudson River, and you get an up-close view of each station and their waterfront areas on the line between New York City and Albany.

Third, when you’re in the window seat, you only (in theory) have one person you might have to deal with directly—the person beside you. If you’re in the aisle seat, you have the person next to you, the person across the aisle, people walking past you over and over, and those kitty-corner ahead and behind chatting and fumbling and distracting you. This may also happen by the window in a particularly noisy car, but you have a better chance of avoiding most direct contact when you’re by the window. And speaking of noise…

Noise Pollution

Fair warning: I am a childless writer, so I’m a bit biased and narrow-minded when it comes to traveling in the presence of children. I’m not a fan, and I cannot count the number of crying babies and inattentive parents I have imagined exiling from the train in various creative ways. Granted, yes, some poor little kids are starving or sick or frightened, and I sometimes think of my nieces and nephews and take pity, but other cookie crunchers can shout and scream for hours on end for no discernable reason and they will destroy your creative output.

It’s in your best interest to not blow your top and end up serving a nickel in the county pen, so I suggest you:

  • Move your seat to a quieter car, which is possible on many trains, but you may not find an ideal seat once things begin filling up. Some trains, though, have cars specifically designated as no talking/no noise cars. This is also referred to as Heaven.
  • Plug in those ear-buds and play some soothing instrumental music, the sounds of a rainstorm, or heck, even some AC/DC to drown out the noise and crying around you. Remember, “Rock & Roll ain’t noise pollution…”
  • Apply duct-tape to their…no, wait, that’s a surefire way to end up in jail (DON’T do that, although you may want to apply the tape to your own ears…might not be a bad idea). Instead, and if you have a heart of gold, you might want to ask if the parent struggling with the child needs a hand. They may say no, but they might need just a few minutes of help to get things in order, and doing so might rescue them and save the day for everyone else within earshot. You never know.

Usually, when things are too loud for writing, I stick with my iPod, filled to the brim with music and podcasts to get through those bouts of crying kids, young hedge-fund analysts talking to everyone they can about their salary (this happens more than you’d imagine), or people who cannot pry their cell phone from their ear. What, afraid to be alone with your thoughts for more than 10 minutes? Seems like it. Music has brought down my blood pressure more times than I can count, so don’t leave home without it.

Creature Comforts

Some of you may not want to leave home without water and at least one snack. I left this out of my Bug-Out Bag only because many long-distance trains have snack cars with very basic selections of sandwiches and drinks, but not all do (short runs almost never do). Find out ahead of time, because if the train does offer food, that’s one less thing to pack beforehand. And even though it may be more expensive, I’m a buy-on-the-go kind of traveler. I think it adds to the adventure to scrounge from whatever’s available aboard the train (usually meager…this isn’t The Darjeeling Limited) or at the station, but some of you may want to be a little more prepared. Probably wise.

Sleeping on a noisy train may also be impossible, but I find sleeping in a quiet train relaxing and easy to do. Yes, my parents had to drive me around the block to get me to sleep—I was that kid. If it moves, I can sleep in it, but if you have trouble, bring a pillow (most trains do not have them), inflatable neck brace, eye mask, etc. Of course, if you’re sleeping, you’re not writing…then again, on a five-hour trip, you may want a nap. Do what you need to do to get comfy.

I suggested bringing two books because if there are delays and you burn through one, you don’t want to look down and realize you only have the greasy, dog-eared travel magazine to read and re-read over the next three hours when you’re taking a break from your writing. I shiver at the thought.

And if you want to watch a movie, please plug in a headset. Parents, ditto for your kids. No one wants to hear your tots watch Frozen five times in a row from Boston to Chi-Town.

Writing Effectively

Here’s where the wheel meets the rail, so to speak. When the stars align and you get a relatively quiet car, a long stretch of straight track, and you know just what you want to say, you can get a ton of inspired writing done. One of the biggest questions at this point is: How do you prefer to write? I work from a laptop, but the real-world application of writing on one’s lap can get unrealistic really fast. My laptop gets scalding hot over a five-hour trip. Heck, it’s gets toasty after a 90-minute jaunt, too.

Pull down the folding tray, you say? Good idea, but I’ve encountered many a rail rider who plopped down (some quite literally throwing themselves into the seat) and cranked back the seat to recline as if they were trying to tackle the game winner in their glory days back in Pop Warner football. This sends the fold-down tray right into your solar plexus, or at least it does when I ride Amtrak. And I’m not a big dude, just your average-joe-waist-size writer, so if you come in the extra-lovin’ size, this could be a very big problem. I’d move seats if you can. Otherwise, I’d use a pillow, scarf, your Bug-Out Bag, or a jacket so you can to rest the laptop on your lap. It may not be perfect, but if you’re on a roll, don’t stop just because someone needs that 14% more recline in order to catch some Z’s.

You can also find a seat at the end of the car, that area that has two rows facing each other. Those often have fold-out trays that come out of the armrest and no one can shove it around on you. But then you have to stare someone in the face the whole ride. This could either be the most beautiful person in the world or the most frightening, and either could be a distraction.

Also note that you won’t have a lot of extra space no matter where you sit, so if you have a bunch of folders with research papers and notepads, outlines and character studies, you might find yourself juggling a pile of paper while also typing. It can get frustrating. You could stick them in the seat pocket ahead of you, but learn from my mistake: I have twice, TWICE, left a manuscript I printed out to proof or a folder of notes for a novel in the pocket, and Amtrak wasn’t able to find either lost item. No amount Alka-Seltzer (or as book-lover Bernard Black calls them, “Fizzy-Good, Make Feel Nice”) is going to cure that heartburn and heartache. Use those pockets if you must, but be careful.

w8639_500px_72dpi_1I also find that if you plan ahead and you know exactly what you want to work on before you fold down that tray and begin typing, it will help you stay productive. Writing on a train can often come in bursts due to distractions, so if you’re going to wing it, you may just get warmed up when you have to stop and start all over again. Be prepared going in and fire away the first chance you get.

You can find more effective writing tips for authors on the go in You’ve Got a Book In You by Elizabeth Sims and Writer With a Day Job by Aine Greaney. Check them out! They’re both chock full of quick tips and inspirational write-wherever-you-can ideas.

Amtrak Residency

And finally, the Amtrak Writer’s Residency. Most of you have likely heard of this by now, but Amtrak has a program for authors who want to work on the go. I have yet to apply for this, and I don’t know all of the finer points of the residency, but I have friends on both sides of the fence concerning the quality of the program, some saying it’s a wonderful option for the traveling writer, and others telling me that they think it’s a scam and falls well short of promises. I don’t know which is true, but I may yet apply. Two writer friends who applied and were rejected received a 15% discount coupon toward their next ticket. Not a bad consolation prize, considering the price of a ticket isn’t getting any cheaper. I cannot say that will happen every time, though, and I highly advise you to read the fine print. Don’t allow anyone to take advantage of your work just for a free ride to Detroit.

Have any of you participated in the Amtrak Residency? If so, feel free to leave your opinions below, along with any other writing tips you might have for authors on the go!

James Duncan is a content editor for Writer’s Digest Books, and is the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review: Poetry & Prose from the Road. A lover of all things noir, James resides in New York City, dreams of the days of Humphrey Bogart and Edward Hopper, and is the author of the short story collection The Cards We Keep and the upcoming poetry collection Berlin. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.

 

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12. 3 Ways to Save Your Backstory from the Cutting Room Floor

BY SHENNANDOAH DIAZ

Backstory is crucial to the novel writing process. It gives your character substance and drive while adding depth, history and realism to your fiction.  It takes a great deal of hard work to develop your character’s backstory. Unfortunately for the sake of the novel, much of that hard work ends up on the cutting room floor.

That doesn’t mean all that hard work has gone to waste. There are many ways for you to repurpose those backstories into moneymaking and author platform building opportunities.


shannandoah diaz

Shennandoah Diaz is a writer and freelance Branding and Communications expert based out of Austin, Texas. Diaz works with independent publishers, small businesses, experts, and authors to build killer brands and engaging content. Passionate about education, Diaz teaches workshops for the Writer’s League of Texas and other professional organizations that empower writers to take charge of their brand and their writing career. Learn more by visiting shennandoahdiaz.com or follow her on Twitter (@shennandoahdiaz). 


1. Short Stories for Submission

Often our character backstory is centered on a core event that changes the character’s life in a big way. That dramatic event is a great point of focus for a short story. Short stories can range from flash fiction as short as six words to works as long as 5,00020,000 words. There are dozens of contests and outlets, both paying and non-paying, that publish short stories on a continual basis. Some outlets that post these opportunities include Duotrope, local writing groups, area universities, and of course there are several competitions throughout the year hosted by Writer’s Digest. Duotrope also allows you to create an account to track submissions so you know what you sent, where, and when.

Each published piece is more than just a feather in your cap. It helps you prove your characters’ appeal and story premise in a paying market, demonstrates that you are a writer who can deliver, and helps you start getting paid for the work you’re already doing.

 

2. Website Freebies

It is crucial for an author to invest in building his or her platform on an ongoing basis. Digital media requires regular content to attract attention and followers. Backstories packaged as short stories, blog posts and vignettes make great content for author websites and fans. You can wait until after you’ve tried publishing through a paying outlet, or go ahead and offer it as a free download on your website as a way to attract readers and thank your existing fans.

Just remember to edit carefully, and if possible, get a second pair of eyes on your work before you post it for the world to see. There are many freelance editors available who can provide a professional critique of your work for a nominal fee. The expense is worth it when it comes to your website and author platform development. You want to make sure you’re always putting your best foot forward, and don’t want to get caught posting a story that doesn’t flow or that contains improper grammar.

The nonfiction research you did for your story is also great to share. The nonfiction or “truth” side to every story is a major contributor to creating interest for your book. Did you research vintage balloons for your story? Write a blog post about it. Did you visit an old ghost town for the setting of your novel? Share the pictures you took.  Maps, historical information, how-tos, diagrams and other informative pieces bring life and context to your work. Most of all, they draw in readers. Share your research as blog posts, downloads, and images. You’ll be surprised how many people you reach that might not have connected with you otherwise.

 

3. Multimedia

Stories are told through many media, not just the written word. Video, music, photography, and other art forms are also great ways to convey and share your character’s backstory. Pair up with a local aspiring film director to turn your backstory into a screenplay for a short filmt, or take a cue from Scott Sigler and post the screenplay as a competition for your followers. You can even take it a step further and use your backstories for a series of podcasts to drum up interest in your work.

If you have a pile of nonfiction research on a historic place, profession, or some other aspect of your story, you can turn those into interesting how-to videos and informative podcasts. Many fiction authors have become subject matter experts on things like espionage and dead presidents by employing practices such as these. There are several inexpensive tools available.

Camtasia is great for doing professional looking videos that capture images and presentations on your computer screen. The interface is very simple and easy to use, and there are dozens of tutorials available to get you started. Animoto is great for making mini-videos using photos and stock clips, and requires little to no technical expertise. Their existing storehouse of images and music make it easy to create and share book trailers and mini informative videos in a matter of minutes.

Podcasts have become increasingly popular due to iTunes and online media such as BlogTalk Radio. There are several Podcast tools that let you record right from your computer. You can offer podcasts directly on your website or use mass distributors like iTunes and BlogTalk Radio to reach a wider audience based on topics of interests.

 

Really there are no limits as to how you can repackage your stories and research. You already did the work. Now it’s time to make it work for you.

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13. Dodged a bullet!

Last Saturday July 26, 2014 was the 16th Chum Bucket of 2014.

It's been running since July of 2012. In that time span I've received ONE reply that was slightly snotty.

Then Saturday, I got this:

"Why don't you read the inside of my butt, you smartass little cunt."


Okedokey!
Now, you might think this would get me all ruffled and righteously angry.
You'd be wrong.

My first, last and only thought is "whew! Dodged a bullet on this one!'

Part of the query process is sorting out the folks you want to work with from the sort you don't.  Guess where this querier falls? And so nice to know so early in the process.

Can you imagine the querier's response to an editorial rejection? To a "review" on GoodReads? An Amazon one-star review?

Whew indeed!

I really do have to laugh because along with that email I got about eight others that thanked me, either just very politely and simply or much more effusively.  I know this guy is an amusing anomaly in a long run of otherwise amazing interactions.

I will say this though: this is the kind of response that burns bridges forever.  There's absolutely no coming back from this no matter how sincere any kind of follow up might be. 

Queriers are in a tough position. There's absolute no doubt about that. But, you can make it worse, and flying off the handle is one very good way to do it.  Flying off the handle with insulting, invective filled language is a better, faster way. Flying off the handle with insulting, invective filled language when you know you agreed NOT to is the very best, fastest, most thorough way. Please don't find out for yourself.


0 Comments on Dodged a bullet! as of 7/28/2014 11:16:00 AM
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14. New Literary Agent Alert: Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

 

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 12.04.09 AM

 

About Rachel: Before joining the L. Perkins Agency, Rachel worked as an agent apprentice to Louise Fury. In addition to her industry training, Rachel has a business degree and graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English from Texas A&M University-CC. Rachel is actively building her client list. Find her on Twitter: @RachMBrooks.

She is seeking: She is excited about representing all genres of young adult and new adult fiction, as well as adult romance. While she is looking for all sub-genres of romance, she is especially interested in romantic suspense and urban fantasy. She is also on the lookout for fun picture books. She’s a fan of dual POVs, loves both print and ebooks, and has a soft spot for marketing-savvy writers.

How to submit: Send a query letter (with an author bio in it) and the first 5 pages of the manuscript pasted into an email (no attachments) to rachel [at] lperkinsagency.com. Please only query one agent at this agency.

 

2014-guide-to-literary-agents

The 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:

 

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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15. What All Agents Want in a Great Young Adult Novel — July 29 Webinar (With Critique) by Agent Carlie Webber

Teens are discriminating readers with a lot of demands on their time, so what can you do to ensure that your novel is the one they’ll all be dying to read? And does your book stand a chance at getting you an agent if it doesn’t have wizards, vampires, or a dystopian setting?

Literary agent Carlie Webber will share her ideas on what all agents want in a great YA novel, regardless of subject matter. The live webinar on July 29 will open with a presentation on what it means to write authentic YA voices, and will explain why crafting a YA voice is a different challenge from creating one for a tween or adult protagonist. After showing examples of strong voice, Carlie will show how setting, pacing, and tension all work with the voice to create a memorable novel. She’ll also talk about the elements that separate middle grade novels from YA, and YA from adult. Carlie will also address the art of writing controversial content, and the perennial question of how writers should – or shouldn’t – tackle YA literature trends.

This webinar will treat YA as an age range, not a genre, and it will include examples from contemporary and historical fiction, plus science fiction and fantasy written for ages 12-18. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes. Sign up for the webinar here.

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 12.34.34 AM           Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 12.34.05 AM

ABOUT THE CRITIQUE

All registrants are invited to submit the first 500 words of their novel. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Carlie Webber. Carlie reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if she deems the writing excellent.

Please Note: Even if you can’t attend the live webinar, registering for this live version will enable you to receive the On Demand webinar and a personal critique of your material. Purchasing the On Demand version after the live event will not include a critique.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

– The elements of crafting a memorable YA voice
– How setting and plot work to support the voice
– Why a teen protagonist’s voice will sound different than a pre-teen or adult
– How to incorporate great pacing and tension
– How to work in enough technology and slang to sound current, but not so much that your book is dated before it hits shelves
– What you can and can’t present in terms of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll
– Why writing to trends is a double-edged sword. Sign up for the webinar here.

INSTRUCTOR

Carlie Webber refused to major in English in college because no one would let her read Stephen King or R.L. Stine for class. After college, she obtained a Master of Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh and worked as a YA librarian and professional book reviewer for publications including KIRKUS REVIEWS. Wishing to explore her interest in the business side of publishing, she enrolled in the Columbia Publishing Course. After working for the Publish or Perish Agency/New England Publishing Associates and Jane Rotrosen Agency, she has established her own agency, CK Webber Associates. In addition to YA, she is seeking middle grade, mystery, thriller, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. Follow her on Twitter: @carliebeth

Sign up for the webinar here.

 

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16. 5 Essential Tips for Writing Killer Fight Scenes

Fight scenes are dangerous territory for writers. On the surface, they seem as if they’re guaranteed to keep the reader glued to the action in the same way as they often do at the movies. In reality, though, readers tend to skip over fight scenes – skimming the long, tedious, blow-by-blow descriptions in favour of getting back to the dialogue and character-driven drama that truly engages them in the story.

My novel, Traitor’s Blade, is a swashbuckling fantasy in which fight scenes are a crucial part of the storytelling. This means having to ensure that every piece of action is vital and engaging; it means that every duel must draw the reader in and not let them go until the end. So how do you keep the pacing, flow, and more importantly, the drama moving forward with so many fights?

GIVEAWAY: Sebastien is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. 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).

 

Screen shot 2014-07-27 at 11.44.18 PM     Screen shot 2014-07-27 at 11.44.04 PM

Column by Sebastien de Castell, who had just finished a degree in archaeology
when he started work on his first job. Four hours later he realized how much he
hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician,
ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager,
actor, and product strategist. His first novel is TRAITOR’S BLADE (Jo Fletcher
Books, July 2014), which can be found on Amazon or IndieBound. The
swashbuckling fantasy was recently praised by NPR. Connect with the
author on Facebook or Twitter.

1. Make every fight advance the plot

No matter what you might think, violence is actually boring. Watching two hulking brutes bash at each other with clubs isn’t interesting. Only when one of the brutes is smaller, weaker, and trying desperately to stay alive long enough to let his people know that the enemy is coming does the action start to matter to the reader. But don’t just think in terms of climactic battles or killing off enemies. Sometimes the fight provides a crucial piece of information about the antagonist such as a particular type of cut they make that could explain the wounds on a victim the protagonist discovered in the previous chapter. The fight might also wound your protagonist, slowing them down in later scenes and giving you a chance to make their lives harder and therefore increase the suspense.

2. Reveal character through action

The way your protagonist fights – and when they choose to fight or walk away – tells the reader a great deal about them. Your hero might be a skilled but retiscient warrior or they could be an amateur but with a bloodthirsty streak that comes out when confronted with violence. But don’t just stop with your protagonist or their opponents. Think about what the action reveals in those watching the fight. Does the seemingly helpful mentor figure suddenly become enraptured watching the blood flow? Do the innocent bystanders just sit there or do they scramble to help? Fight scenes that reveal character are by far the most compelling ones for readers – they get to investigate your characters by seeing how they deal with violent situations, allowing you to follow that classic dictum of modern writing: show, don’t tell.

(Hear agents get specific and explain what kind of stories they’re looking for.)

3. Your fight scenes must fulfill the promise of your book

Traitor’s Blade is a swashbuckling fantasy so every fight has to give the reader some of that sense of wonder they first encountered watching classic adventures like the old Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks films. But perhaps your genre is gritty historical fiction. If so, the last thing you want to do is break suspension of disbelief. You have to carefully ensure that the weapons and fighting styles are true to your era (note: this doesn’t mean you can’t have a longsword in the 18th Century since they were around for long periods of time after their proper era, but you can’t have King Arthur swinging a rapier around in 6th Century Britain!)

4. Make every fight unique

I read a YA fantasy recently in which almost every fight involved the main character jumping up and spinning in the air to kick opponents in the face (usually two or three.) Regardless of how unrealistic this would be (after all, realism only matters if it’s part of the promise of your book), the fact is you probably couldn’t remember one fight from another. By contrast, think of a movie like The Princess Bride, in which every fight is special – every conflict is resolved using different means, whether trickery or skill or simply iron-willed determination.

(The skinny on why to sign with a new/newer literary agent.)

5. Let the reader choreograph the action

If you describe every action of the fight, not only will you bore the reader but your pacing and flow will fall apart. So think of your job not so much as having to meticulously choreograph the fight but rather to give the reader enough insight into the action that they can build the scene in their minds. Show them early on in the fight how each weapon moves through space—make that vivid and visceral. Make the reader feel as if they could actually pick up that weapon and defend themselves even just a little bit. Then you’re free to focus on the character’s actions and reactions—making them distinct, personal, and emotionally motivated just as you do with their words. The reader will then be able to fill in the action while you describe what your characters are saying, what they’re thinking, and what’s showing on their faces. In other words, help the reader to choreograph the fight so that you can spend your time on the drama. This also lets you vary the length of your fight scenes, which helps to keep them from becoming predictable. In Traitor’s Blade there are fights which span an entire chapter and others which are told in four lines.

Think of it this way: violence is dialogue. Make your fights into a conversation spoken with actions in which the real conflict is happening in the hearts of the characters and in which the reader themselves are helping to tell the story.

GIVEAWAY: Sebastien is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. 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).

 

Need help crafting an awesome plot for your
story? Check out the new acclaimed resource
by Ronald Tobias, 20 Master Plots.

 

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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17. At the Breast Clinic

Picture


                                               At the Breast Clinic

The Breast Clinic is a brick and glass structure designed with women

 in mind, from fancy murals of Italy to free herbal teas in the lobby.

As you pass through the revolving doors there’s no need to wonder

which way to turn or where to ask for directions to your doctor’s suite.

The receptionist’s desk juts out and your questions about doctors,

appointments, procedures and payments can be answered quickly.

“Will my wife, Marilyn, get a clean bill of health?” takes longer.

 

When we travel together I sometime pretend that I am “Charles,” her chauffer,

since she comes from a long line of glitz, glamour and royalty. I don’t mind

being her driver and court jester, but we will be at the medical institute waiting

up to three hours for x-rays to hear good news. I didn’t sleep well last night

worrying about the Queen of my life for 41 years. There were omens in the air.

She has been called back before after a routine screening, but this is different.

 

The receptionist insisted on a speedy return and told her that a doctor

would be present in the office. The receptionist didn’t reduce fears saying,

“Oh, we just want to take a few more pictures. We do this all the time.”

With words unspoken Marilyn let me know that these were sinister omens.

She needed me to hold her hand and scare away any menacing thoughts.

That’s why I was with her with a room full of women waiting for exams.

 

I kept thinking: It has to be very good news. It has to be very good news.

It had to be good news because she had a run of bad luck, a series of medical

problems all piling up—a  fall, broken bones, arm, ribs, a sleep disorder, TMJ,

COPD, heart problems, arthritis, and two knee operations—all in one year.

I knew she couldn’t take much more of  new doctors, medicines, blood tests,

 and appointments. Marilyn was centimeters away from breaking.

 

I prayed for her and bargained with God to spare her this time from pain,

medical intervention and frequent thoughts about her own mortality. 

She deserves better. That’s what I thought again and again, as I waited

for the verdict via x-rays and a doctor. It didn’t seem fair that she had

to deal with more doctors and examinations. Yes, I know that life isn’t

fair and when things get tough, the tough get going, but there’s a limit.

 

Ninety minutes later she popped out from behind door number one

with a sparkling smile and waving thumbs up. I hugged and hugged

my queen, while others waited to see how their story would unfold.

I wished them well in my heart of hearts, and escorted my fair lady

out the door as fast as I could beyond false omens. At the Princess Diner

my beloved Queen and I ate a celebratory lunch and thanked the heavens.

~Joe Sottile

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18. Happy Sunday!


I thought this list of words that have a different meaning if you're a writer on BuzzFeed was pretty funny.


Which one is your favorite?

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19. Question: The currency of queries



I was recently lurking around Twitter when I saw your retweet about your home skillet Brooks Sherman here: Pens for Paws

I had every intention of placing a last-minute 9:59pm bid and winning the whole shebang.
At the last second, I couldn’t click “publish,” and here’s the question that stopped me: am I ruining my chances with an agent by paying (even for a good cause) for them to critique my work? What if he’s my “dream agent,” but hates my first chapter + query after I pay to have him critique both?

The bloated final bid belched in at a staggering $324. Would an agent secretly frown upon the person who paid this amount of money for a query + one-chapter critique should the same person query them later? Or am I taking a really positive, fun, amazing auction and being crazy over-thinking it? Thanks for your time.


Of course you're over thinking this. You're a writer. I've seen writers parse out the hidden meaning of replies to a query received after midnight versus before midnight.  


However, since telling you not to worry is pretty much a non-starter, how about I tell you why you don't have to worry.

For starters, if I like your work I don't care how I find it: query letter stolen from slithery Barbara Poelle under the guise of tidying her desk, Chum Bucket, written missive sent to my office (sans glitter and any other cutsie items), a short story published in a magazine, a drunken brawl at ThrillerFest, or a contest.

If I like your work, I want to read it.

If I don't like your work, it doesn't matter how it found its way to me, I still don't like it.

In other words: the medium is not the message here, all due respect to Marshall McLuhan

And if I'm your dream agent (and you know I hate that very idea right??) I won't even know about it till much later if ever.


And if you think $325 is a lot to pay for a critique, boy have I got a rude surprise for you.  I know several agents who commanded four figures on a ms critique, and of course promptly gave four crits instead of one so as to raise more money for the cause.

I'm actually rather fond of the people who fork over money for my amazingly cogent and pithy opinions.  They're supporting a cause I care about and flattering my already quite robust ego. Win/Win.

So, don't work yourself into a frenzy here. Don't spend money you don't have thinking it's a good way to get special attention; it's not. But also don't think you've closed off an avenue by bidding for a crit
instead of just straight querying.

Gnaw yourself into a frenzy about the rhythm of your sentences, and whether writing in the second person is really a good idea.  You know you can.


PS Yea, I had to look up home skillet. I'm not as with it as I like to think I am.

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20. Call for Submissions: Reject a Hit

RejectAHit_FotorIn each issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, we ask one reader to step into the role of the unconvinced, perhaps even curmudgeonly or fool-hearted editor. What harsh rejection letters might the authors of some of our favorite hit books have had to endure? We need more of those short-sighted rejection letters!

If you’d like to be the one doing the rebuffing, channel the most clueless of editors by humorously rejecting a hit in 300 words or fewer. Then submit your letter via email (no attachments, please!) to wdsubmissions@fwmedia.com with Reject a Hit: [Book Title]” in the subject line.

Reject a Hit is humorous, but not mean-spirited. It is not the place to list all the reasons you hate a particular book. To help you understand the spirit of Reject a Hit, here are some excerpts from spoof rejections we’ve published in the past:

To Margaret Wise Brown regarding Goodnight Moon:

Parents will not like this idea of mush sitting out all night. No wonder a young mouse is running around. By mentioning air you are not lulling children to sleep—just the opposite. Soon they’ll be sitting up in bed and asking, “Is that what’s making the noise? Does it taste like mush? Is that what’s keeping the balloon up?” Parents do not want to answer questions at bedtime.They want their children to quickly fall asleep so they can finally read their own books.

To Washington Irving regarding “Rip Van Winkle”:

We received your short story “Rip Van Winkle.” What a snoozer. A man walks into a forest and falls asleep for 20 YEARS? I’m dozing off just rejecting you.

To George Orwell regarding Animal Farm:

[Y]our work depicts episodes of hen slaughter, horses turned to glue, as well as pigs not only imbibing alcohol, but actually cultivating their own microbrewery? And would you care to explain how a windmill is built by a community composed of claws, wings and hooves? Not one opposable thumb in the bunch. For God’s sake, man!

To Homer regarding The Illiad:

The loose poetic style you have chosen is ancient and outdated. To make a sale, try a rhyming verse. While it’s difficult, some poetry editor out there may be impressed that someone could rhyme Herakles and Agamemnon.

We even convinced Ransom Riggs, author of the bestselling Peculiar Children series, to try his hand at rejecting a hit. He chose the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

It’s so long. It’s in Elvish, whatever that is. Nothing like this has ever been published. And who’s going to be interested in these tiny little hairy, ape-footed beings? This is the time for serious literature, sir, not made-up fairly tales. You take yourself very seriously.

And finally, to further help you decide which hit you’d like to wittily dismantle, here is a mostly-complete list of titles we’ve already sent back to their authors for revision. Please do not send submissions pertaining to any of the following, as they have already been soundly rejected:

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Elements of Style by EB White

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Fun With Dick & Jane by Gray and Sharp

Marley & Me by John Grogan

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

The Odyssey by Homer

Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

My Life at The New York Times by Jayson Blair

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Tulips & Chimneys by e. e. cummings

The Shining by Stephen King

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

 

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21. War Never Changes

During your trip to Turkey, you check into an old hotel. After settling yourself you notice a weathered chest in the corner. Upon opening it, war relics from the First World War and the Ottoman Empire lay before you. What stories do you find?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

Want more creative writing prompts? Pick up a copy of
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Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for
every day of the year and you can start on any day.

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22. 11 Steps to Finding the Agent Who’ll Love Your Book

I was ready. I had an edited manuscript. I had a tiered list of agents. I had a spreadsheet. I’d read every scrap of information about getting an agent, and I was prepared, at last, to submit my novel. The process could take months, maybe years, I’d heard. I was in for the long haul, baby. The good news is it didn’t take years to get an offer of representation. The even better news: That offer came in the form of four magic words, words I’d been told to wait for by all the experts: I love your book.

Not just a Facebook-worthy thumbs up, not a “I think I can sell this.” Love. The reason you wait for true love in publishing is because publishing requires it, and not just from the author. Remember the feverish crush that helped fuel your first draft? Your agent needs that same big-eyed reverence for your book to take it out to editors, hoping for another love connection.

So how do you snag one of these lovey-doveys for yourself?

GIVEAWAY: Lori is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. 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).

 

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.17.09 PM      Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.16.58 PM

Column by Lori Rader-Day, author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh
Street Books, 2014), which received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal
and Publishers Weekly. Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives with her
husband and dog in Chicago. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery
Magazine, Time Out Chicago, The Madison Review, and others. Best-selling
author Jodi Picoult chose one of Lori’s short stories for the grand prize in
Good Housekeeping’s first fiction contest. Lori is a member of Mystery
Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.
Find her on Twitter at @LoriRaderDay.

Revise
You’re not ready until you can bounce a quarter off your manuscript. You’ve already revised, I know. Leave it alone for a month, then go back. Make sure your pages say precisely what you meant. Make your sentences sing.

Read
Meanwhile, the best way to see how it’s done is to read. Read widely. When you don’t like something, figure out why. Apply everything you learn to your draft until further ideas ping off it.

Research
Gather your intelligence. Which books are like yours, not just in subject but in tone and style? Who agented them? Read the Writer’s Digest archives. Use online resources to sort through the known universe of agent submissions. Learn as much as you can, and start a list. Rank agents in order of likelihood of love match.

Package
Learn to write a query letter. Write a synopsis. What’s a log line? Get one. If at any one of these steps you find something lacking in your story, don’t ignore the problem. Every step of this process is a chance to get it right before someone else can tell you you’re getting it wrong. Go back over your draft until your product is perfectly packaged for sale. Did your eye just twitch? Get used to thinking of your baby, your life’s creative work, as a prototype that might yet be tinkered with by other people.

Network
Time for some allies. If you have a writers’ group, they should have already had a swipe at your pages, but having a writing network isn’t just about first readers. What you want is a group of people who can tell you how the road ahead looks. Research writers’ associations in your genre and beyond. Ask at your local library, bookstores, or universities for writing groups or workshops.

Read again
The guidelines, in this case. This is your last chance before you click send to take a look at your list of agents and take note of what they want from your initial query. Getting through the front door is often about playing by the rules. Don’t send anything less—or more—than each agent has asked for.

Submit
Submit to four to eight agents only. Send each a separate email or mailed package (as they requested) with only the information they asked for. Keep things professional. No gimmicks. Save the rest of your list for now.

Write
Start something new. No, really. Go write another book. You need to think about something else and even if everything goes just as you’d like it to on the first book, you’ll still want a new draft in short order.

Track
Keep track of your submission results—and learn from them. If you aren’t getting any page requests, your query letter needs work. If you’re getting partial requests but then nothing, your first pages aren’t snagging the reader. If you’re getting full requests but no nibbles, it’s time to take a look at the full manuscript again. Make note of each reply, give it time, and then—

Submit again
This is why you saved the rest of your list. Submit, again, to four to eight agents only, using every step, every rejection, every encouragement to better prepare your work for the next round (and the next), as long as it takes to find a match.

Commit
Just like in love, things might not always go as planned. Keep writing. Maybe the next book is the one that will put stars in an agent’s eyes. Of course, that’s not really why you write, is it? If you commit to writing for reasons beyond publishing, it won’t take you long to find the love of your life, in the words right there on the page.

GIVEAWAY: Lori is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. 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).

 

2014-guide-to-literary-agents

The 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:

 

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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23. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 272

I’m a little under the weather today, but that won’t stop me from poeming. In fact, I’ll use it as inspiration for this week’s prompt.

For this week’s prompt, write a tough spot poem. The poem can be about your own situation (past, present, or future), someone else’s, or whatever you can conjure up. Think late bills, shootouts, and tough choices.

*****

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Here’s my attempt at a Tough Spot poem:

“Sick Day”

From my desk,
I can see the cars drive to work,
but I won’t be joining them today.

Even though I don’t drive to work,
my time at the desk is limited
while I battle this fever.

I can see the couch from here
and know that soon
I’ll be on it.

From my desk,
I can see the birds dart and sing,
but I won’t be joining them today.

The couch waits
with its pillows and blanket
to comfort me.

I would struggle for a metaphor,
but I’ll save them for when
I once again feel like the birds.

roberttwitterimage*****

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and the author of Solving the World’s Problems.

His collection was recently named an Editor’s Pick by Crab Creek Review, which says the collection is “charming, whimsical and surprisingly romantic. [Brewer's] poems are full of word-play, wit and leaps in logic.”

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic goodies here:

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24. Query: Golden oldies...not so much


In trying to figure out which of my book elements are appropriate for a query, I'm stumbling on how to say "it takes place in the 1970s."  Much easier to say "contemporary" or "historical" romance, but online research is showing different definitions for these (i.e., different time periods as cut-offs). Someone even coined a new word: "retro." Point is, I'm finding few periods for either era that include the 1960s through 1980s. How do you recommend handling this?



oh boy, this is a really tough question.  Since agents come in all ages, you want to be VERY careful about calling something set in the 70's (when they were in high school, or college, or working their first job in publishing!) historical!

I've often heard agents of a certain age grouse that nothing after their birth year better be "historical."

But there's no way to know just exactly how old Barbara Poelle IS (sharks live for years and years) or how young Brooks Sherman isn't.

There was a recent quiz on Buzzfeed to guess one's age, and my result was off by so much it was ludicrous.

So, no "historical."
Retro isn't a word you want to use either since it refers to style, not time frame.

I think you want to be very very plain: my novel is set in the 70's. And you might want to mention why it is as well, given that's always one of the things I wonder about.

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25. Query Question: Should an introvert try for a writing career?

Greetings oh cartilage-finned QOTKU,

I happen to know a young lady who is immensely talented at writing. However, she is also VERY introverted. And by introverted, I mean that she has a minor disability (which is possibly worse to her mind than it really is, but still) which makes it unusually stressful for her to meet new people, speak in public, and sometimes even travel. I can relate to her on a smaller scale – at least I no longer vomit in anticipation of social gatherings; age and the necessity of holding an actual job go a long way toward lessening that kind of thing. Plus, you just learn to fake it. However, it’s one thing to overcome a bad case of shyness and another thing to have a real problem that is sometimes recognized and understood by the general public, and sometimes not.

This woman asked my advice on whether or not she’s wise under these conditions pursue a career at writing. On the one hand I wanted to say HOLY COW, YES (she’s so talented!). On the other hand I wanted to say, DO YOU LIKE GIN? Seriously though, here’s the thing: I’ve been told that promoting your work – regardless of genre – is of vital import. I know that many (most?) writers are introverts, and I imagine that giving readings/doing book signings/ attending release parties is probably difficult for a lot of us. But for my friend, this is the stuff of nightmares.

I know that if anyone can be trusted to deliver the straight poop on this (or any) subject, it’s you. What is your advice to someone who would have a hard time with the social aspect of the writing biz?


Pursue a career in writing? Please, hold my tiara while I gasp for air. I'd sooner advise her to pursue a career in taxi-dancing.

"A career" implies that this is how she will earn her daily bread. That's not something most writers can do. Most writers need a full time day job and a spouse to make ends meet.

However.

If you were to ask me if this woman, lovely and talented as she is, should write with the goal of being published, I give that my rousing support.

Writing is how many people express themselves creatively, how they learn to think clearly and communicate well.  It's one of the most satisfying things in the world to know you've said something with pith and vinegar.

To connect with readers, to have readers write to say they find value, or solace, or entertainment in your words, well...I've never done heroin but I'm thinking that feeling of euphoria might come close.

Of course she should write.  All that other stuff is just an excuse not to sit down, stare at the wall, and commence with "it was a dark and stormy night."



And if her writing requires her to have a public presence, well, we'll solve that problem when we get there.  You won't achieve anything in this life if the only thing you can see are reasons you shouldn't try something.

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