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1. Query Question: does the query have to be about the main character?


Dear QOTKU

Does the MC of a query have to be the MC of a book? The direction my query is heading, I’m learning to build the book around the query, is maybe fifth on the list of characters. The query is going that way because his story is the easiest to clarify in 250 words.

The query MC is in the beginning, middle and end of the book so I could not say I was misleading anyone. The reason I say that is that the story morphs from a floating body into much more and the query MC bypasses some of the leads the cops have to investigate.



I'm not sure why you think you have to "clarify a story" in the query. You don't. You have to tell me what choice the main character faces and what's at stake for him/her with that choice.  By default, that means the main character of the book, not the fifth guy on the cast of characters.

What you're proposing here is to query a Harry Potter novel by talking about Ron Weasley.

Let's take this to the next step: I'm reading the query and I am expecting a book about Ron Weasley. All of a sudden, here's this Harry Potter guy with all the page time.  I'm confused. Confused is NOT what you want your reader to be, whether it's agent or book buyer or anyone in between.

The first rule of queries is to entice the agent to read on. The second is to tell what the book is about and by definition that's the main character.


I had a very similar situation in a recent query.  It was a terrific query, one of the best I've ever seen, but the pages opened with a character who was clearly not the protagonist or the antagonist.

Here's my reply to the query:


This is probably one of the best query letters I've ever gotten.

But the pages start with a person I thought was a secondary
character, and you've really buried the hook deep in that fifth paragraph.
And it's a pretty subtle hook too.

My taste runs to starting the book where the story begins.
From the query it sounds like the story starts when (X happens.)

Of course, other agents may have different opinions and finding
out what those are before revising is a smart strategy.

IF you do think I'm right, I'll be glad to hear from you again.

And that's a GREAT query. If you don't get a lot of positive
replies, I'll eat my hat.

Hat:


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2. How to Choose the Right Age Category for Your KidLit Work-in-Progress

2014 was a busy year—I released my first middle grade book, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, and my third young adult, FERAL. Both books actually started out in younger age categories: the first draft of THE JUNCTION was a picture book, and the first draft of FERAL was an MG. Having been through the process of changing manuscripts’ age categories, I’ve learned a few tricks for better understanding, at an early drafting stage, which category is right for a juvenile WIP:

1. Don’t forget your overarching concept. My MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, is about a young girl who becomes a folk artist; with her grandfather’s help, they turn their home into a folk art environment.  My initial idea was to write a picture book—the illustrations, I imagined, would grow increasingly wilder as the property became covered in sculptures and whirligigs.  Consistently, though, early editorial response was that the concept of folk art was just too advanced for the picture book readership—teaching me not to get so caught up in ideas external to the text that I lose sight of the main concept that the book is built around.

GIVEAWAY: Holly is excited to give away a free copy of either one of her two most recent novels 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 2014-10-29 at 4.04.41 PM   Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 4.04.21 PM   Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 4.00.33 PM

Column by Holly Schindler, author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs). Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, released in 2014, was called by Kirkus Reviews as “…a heartwarming and uplifting story…[that] shines…with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.” FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller.  Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.” Find Holly online with her blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

——-

2. Listen to your character’s voice. Auggie, the protagonist of JUNCTION, speaks in frequent simile and metaphor—her poetic worldview is the reason she’s able to become an artist using found items or “junk.”  (Metaphors compare two dissimilar objects—which is much like the process of Auggie seeing a potential flower in a broken toaster or wind chimes in a rusted old car.)  Many of the same poetic phrases from the original picture book are included in the final MG version—a sure sign that the book should have been MG all along.

(Is it best to query all your target agents at once? — or just a few to start?) 

3. Try your hand at description. FERAL was originally drafted as an MG mystery.  During the revision process, the description began to take on a much darker tone—so much so, I began to suspect the book needed to be a YA.

I know now that rather than working all the way through a draft, focusing primarily on plot development, it’s best to take some time to write several passages of solid description.  What kind of details do you find yourself gravitating toward?  Would you call your passages gritty or sweet?  Simple or complicated?  This will give you a better idea of whether your book is trending younger (MG) or older (YA).

4. Examine your character’s life experiences. We aren’t the same people at seventeen that we are at thirteen.  In fact, when I got the inkling that FERAL needed to be a YA, I realized that my original protagonist would no longer work.  I had to brainstorm a new, older main character.  When I explored this new protagonist’s backstory, I discovered that she’d endured a brutal beating.  That was when I knew that my theme (or overarching concept) would actually be recovering from violence—and the genre would be psychological thriller.  All of this only confirmed my suspicion that the book needed to be YA.

(When can you refer to yourself as “a writer”? The answer is NOW, and here’s why.)

Your own main character can help you early on, as well—long before the revision process.  Brainstorm your character’s likes and dislikes, his or her attitudes.  Of importance here is not only the attitudes themselves, but the reason(s) why your character has these views or beliefs.  What experiences has this character had?  And, of equal importance in juvenile lit, what has your character not yet done?  This will give you a glimpse into how old your protagonist is (and, as a result, what age category your book should be).

I still believe in the power of successive rewrites; going over a book multiple times allows an author to include subplots and to tie together themes, making a book richer and stronger.  But bumping a draft up (or down) to a new age category can result in a complete overhaul—it’s far better to nail the age category right from the start.

GIVEAWAY: Holly is excited to give away a free copy of either one of her two most recent novels 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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3. Successful Queries: Agent Kate Testerman and “Steering Toward Normal”

This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 70th installment in this series is with agent Kate Testerman (KT Literary) for Rebecca Petruck‘s middle grade novel, STEERING TOWARD NOVEL (Abrams/Amulet, May 13, 2014). The book was chosen as a American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection as well as a Spring 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List selection. It was among Vanity Fair’s Hollywood’s “10 Books We’d Like to See Made Into Films.”

(16 things to do prior to sending your work out to agents & editors.)

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 2.40.59 PM

 

Ms. Testerman,

I’ve been “attending” WriteOnCon the last few days and appreciated your frank and funny advice about query letters. I hope you will be interested in my middle grade novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL.

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is a 56,000-word coming-of-age story set in the world of 4-H steer competitions. (I’m from Minnesota–we know cows.) It begins when eighth-graders Diggy Lawson and Wayne Schley discover they have the same father. STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is the tale of how the boys go from being related to being brothers.

Diggy’s life may not be typical, but he’s content. He hangs out with Pop and the county’s farmers, raises steers to compete, and daydreams about July Johnston, high school senior and girl of his dreams. Hardly anyone teases him anymore about how his mom abandoned him on Pop’s doorstep and skipped town on a tractor.

Then Wayne gets dumped at Pop’s, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother messing things up. Wayne rattles Diggy’s easy relationship with Pop, threatens his chances at the state fair, and horns in on his girl. Diggy believes family is everything, but he’s pretty sure Wayne doesn’t count.

The first ten pages of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL won first place in the SCBWI Carolinas Writing Contest, judged by Sarah Shumway, Senior Editor at Katherine Tegan Books.

I am a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program at UNC Wilmington, editor of the SCBWI Carolinas quarterly newsletter, and member of the NC Writer’s Network. My work has appeared in Our State magazine.

My professional background is in PR and marketing, having promoted new fiction and nonfiction authors with [redacted] and marketed magazines online for [redacted]. Additionally, I was president of my 4-H chapter in fifth grade. This is a multiple submission.

I look forward to hearing from you about BLUE MOO.

Sincerely,
Rebecca Petruck

 

Commentary from Kate Testerman

Rebecca got off to a great start by referencing a conference where I’d spoken, and her query showed she’d taken my advice to heart. The first paragraph of the book’s description does a great job of setting the story in a specific place (with a fun parenthetical that shows the author’s sense of humor). The hook line of “BLUE MOO is the tale of how the boys go from being related to being brothers” is something we’re still using to describe the story, many steps later on the publishing road.

Rebecca goes deeper in the next two paragraphs, showing me what Diggy’s life had been, and how it changes when Wayne comes to live with him and Pop. The line “Diggy believes family is everything, but he’s pretty sure Wayne doesn’t count” is an almost perfect example of the voice that so hooked me on my first reading of the partial, through my reading of the full, and why I offered representation.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Rebecca had won a writing contest with this material, judged by an editor I knew and respected, and was a member of the SCBWI, as well as a past member of 4-H herself!

As with all great queries, though, this one also touched a personal note for me, as my husband was a 4-H member and farm boy in his youth, and reading about these two boys helped me better understand his childhood.

(Learn how you can support and help a new author with their book release.)

 

2015-CWIM-small

Writing 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.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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4. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 286

This will be our final Wednesday Poetry Prompt until December. Beginning on Saturday, the November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge will provide a prompt and poem each day of the month. Click here for the guidelines.

For today’s prompt, write an emerging poem. Some things emerge out of the shadows or the darkness. Some things emerge from the water. Others emerge in broad daylight, whether we’re talking monsters, athletes, politicians, or what have you. Poems themselves emerge from the blank page and/or screen.

*****

Win $1,000 for Your Poetry!

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 an Emerging Poem:

“suburban coyote”

we stood together
with the rising sun
for the camera

when Simon saw it
and asked what is it
and without looking

we said it must be
a deer but he said
no that’s not a deer

it’s a coyote
we followed his eyes
and watched it emerge

from beneath a bush
and it was bigger
than I thought they got

and I worried for
the kids as it ran
one end of the yard

to the other like
lightning but under
that speed was a fear

of the chain link fence
and questioning eyes
as sun revealed all

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert 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.

This will be his seventh year of hosting and participating in the November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge. As much as he loves the hustle and bustle of the April PAD Challenges, November is nice for a few reasons, including the focus on creating a chapbook and just the laid back feel. Some of his favorite poems have come out of the November challenges, and he can’t wait to get started again.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic posts here:

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5. Fan Girl Confessional

This Tweet from John Green the other day made my day:


Taylor Swift reblogged me on tumblr and called me her favorite author. Trying not to freak out.

I absolutely LOVE that someone with 3+ million followers still has fan boy moments. I mean how amazing is it to see that someone you would totally fan freakout over fan freakouts over someone else?

I'm a Top Chef junky and tend to freakout over chefs. If that's not weird I don't know what is. A few years ago I tweeted something about being in GA and missing a trip to FlipBurger, one of Richard Blais's restaurants. Richard Blais himself Tweeted me back and I'm not kidding when I tell you I thought I was going to pass out. I really did start to get light-headed it was so exciting.

There's no accounting for why we become a fan girl of someone, but I think it's important that we have those little freakout moments in life. I mean, they're fun.


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6. Crystal Clear

Entering the “Oracles Den” at the fair with your significant other seemed novel at first. When the oracle had you gaze in her crystal ball though and you see yourself five years down the road with someone you’ve never met, well things just got interesting. The real problem: Your significant other knows who the person is. Write this scene.

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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7. 4 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)When I started reading Gone Girl, I’ll admit I had high expectations. “It’s incredible,” one friend told me after recommending it and praising it profusely. “You just won’t even believe what happens …” She stopped short, looking guilty. “I can’t say any more,” she said, almost at a whisper. “I don’t want to give anything away.”

If you haven’t read the novel, I don’t want to give anything away either. But suffice it to say (and you’ve probably heard it already) that Gone Girl contains some killer plot twists. The narrative builds and builds, and then—boom—a major revelation is revealed. And then another. And another. It makes for a delicious, tense, uncomfortable, and incredibly thrilling ride.

And here’s the thing: As implausible as some of the occurrences in Gone Girl are, they’re also set up in such a way that I embraced each of them, one right after the other. They felt organic. They felt natural. They didn’t feel forced.

How do we do that when writing fiction? How do we write plot twists and turns into our stories without seeming overly obvious? How do we surprise readers without coming completely out of left field?

In this excerpt from Story Trumps Structure, Steven James presents four ways to craft plot twists that readers will never see coming.

PLOT TWISTS: PRACTICAL STEPS TO PULLING THE RUG OUT

1. Eliminate the obvious

When coming up with the climax to your story, discard every possible solution you can think of for your protagonist to succeed.

Then think of some more.

And discard those, too.

You’re trying to create an ending that’s so unforeseen that if a million people read your book, not one of them would guess how it ends (or how it will get to the end), but when they finally come to it, every one of those people would think, Yes! That makes perfect sense! Why didn’t I see that coming?

The more impossible the climax is for your protagonist to overcome, the more believable and inevitable the escape or solution needs to be. No reader should anticipate it, but everyone should nod and smile when it happens. No one guesses, everyone nods. That’s what you’re shooting for.

While writing, ask yourself:  

What do I need to change to create a more believable world for each separate twist I’m including?

How can I drop the gimmicks and depend more on the strength of the narrative to build my twist?

Will readers have to “put up with” the story that’s being told in anticipation of a twist ending, or will they enjoy it even more because of the twist? How can I improve the pretwist story?

How can I make better use of the clues that prove the logic of the surface story to create the twist and bring more continuity to the story—but only after the twist is revealed?

2. Redirect suspicion

When you work on your narrative, constantly ask yourself what readers are expecting and hoping for at this moment in the story. Then keep twisting the story into new directions that both shock and delight them.

To keep readers from noticing clues, bury them in the emotion or action of another section. For example, in an adventure novel, offhandedly mention something during a chase scene, while readers’ attention is on the action, not the revelation. Use red herrings, dead ends, and foils. Bury clues in discussions of something else.

While writing, ask yourself: 

How can I do a better job of burying the clues readers need to have in order to accept the ending? Where do I need to bring those clues to the surface?

How can I play expectations based on genre conventions against readers to get them to suspect the wrong person as the villain or antagonist?

3. Avoid gimmicks

Readers want their emotional investment to pay off. The twist should never occur in a way that makes them feel tricked, deceived, or insulted. Great twists always deepen, never cheapen, readers’ investment in the story.

This is why dream sequences typically don’t work—the protagonist thinks she’s in a terrible mess, then wakes up and realizes it was all just a dream. These aren’t twists because they almost never escalate the story but often do the very opposite, revealing to readers that things weren’t really that bad after all (de-escalation). Showing a character experiencing a harrowing or frightening experience and then having him wake up from a dream is not a twist; it’s a tired cliché.

How do you solve this? Simply tell the reader it’s a dream beforehand. It can be just as frightening without de-escalating the story’s tension, and it can also end in a way that’s not predictable.

While writing, ask yourself:

Will readers feel tricked, deceived, or insulted by this twist? If so, how can I better respect their ability to guess the ending of my story?

Have I inadvertently relied on clichés or on any plot turning points that have appeared in other books or movies? How can I recast the story so it’s fresh and original?

4. Write toward your readers’ reaction.

The way you want your readers to respond will determine the way you set up your twist. Three different types of twists all result in different reactions by readers: (1) “No way!” (2) “Huh. Nice!” and (3) “Oh, yeah!”

When aiming for the “No way!” response, you’ll want to lead readers into certainty. You want them to think that there’s only one possible solution to the story.

The more you can convince them that the story world you’ve portrayed is exactly as it appears to be—that only one outcome to the novel is possible—the more you’ll make their jaws drop when you show them that things were not as they appeared to be at all. If the twist is satisfying, credible, and inevitable based on what has preceded it, readers will gasp and exclaim, “No way! That’s awesome! I can’t believe he got that one past me.”

With the “Huh. Nice!” ending, you want to lead readers into uncertainty. Basically, they’ll be thinking, “Man, I have no idea where this is going.” When writing for this response, you’ll create an unbalanced, uncertain world. You don’t want readers to suspect only one person as the villain but many people. Only when the true villain is revealed will readers see that everything was pointing in that direction all along.

Finally, if you’re shooting for the “Oh, yeah!” reaction, you’ll want to emphasize the cleverness with which the main character gets out of the seemingly impossible-to-escape-from climax. Often we do that by allowing him to use a special gift, skill, or emblem that has been shown to readers earlier but that they aren’t thinking about when they reach the climax. Then, when the protagonist pulls it out, readers remember: “Yes! That’s right! He carries a can of shark repellent in his wetsuit! I forgot all about that!”

Relentlessly escalate your story while keeping it believable, surprising, and deeper than it appears.

While writing, ask yourself:

If I want to shock readers with the twist, have I led them into certainty as they try to predict the ending?

If I want readers to suspect a number of different endings, have I satisfactorily built up all the potential outcomes?

If I want readers to cheer at the ending, have I (1) created a seemingly impossible situation for the protagonist to escape from or conquer or (2) allowed the protagonist to persevere through wit or grit rather than with the help of someone else (that is, deus ex machina)?

9781599636511_5inch_300dpi

Story Trumps Structure shows you how to shed the “rules” of writing—about three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and more—to craft your most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories. For Steven’s insights on ditching your outline, writing organically, crafting a satisfying climax, and escalating tension, be sure to check it out.


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

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8. Do we need a refresher course on queries?

My inbox is showing signs that you guys have forgotten some of the fundamentals.

Here's a quick rundown:

1. You absolutely must tell me what the book is about.  The easiest way to do to this is set up the precipitating incident. What gets the plot moving? What's at stake?

If you spend 720 words (a recent example) telling me what you want to say in the book, and I have no idea of the main character's name, you've got a problem.



2.  You should not use the word "review" when talking about what you want to have happen with a query.  Review means someone is reading your published book with an eye toward blogging/reporting/writing an opinion piece on it.  You want me to "consider" your book, or simply "read" your book.

Think this sounds nit picky? You bet it is. And I am ok with that. Words are your tools. When you don't use them well in the damn subject line of a query, I don't have much confidence in your novel.


3. Querying under a "clever" pseudonym.  I don't care if you want to use a pseudonym. Pick a name and use it. Do NOT use "You Know Who" or "An Author."  A query is a business letter, and this is not 1780.  Sign your damn name...whichever name you choose. Felix Buttonweazer works just fine.

4. Please do not quote blurbs for previously published books in your query for a new book. The place for those accolades is on your website. The place for your website URL in a query is underneath your name (see #3)

5. Understand the correct use of ellipses. It is NOT to create a compound sentence of too many clauses. Not now. Not ever. Never. EVER.  Need an example of what that horror looks like? Ok, here ya go:  Understand the correct use of ellipses is NOT to create a compound sentence of too many clauses ...not now ... not ever ...  never ...EVER...not even if you can't bear to use a full stop...as they say in the UK, ok?


6. Homonyms. If you don't know the difference between who's and whose, you need a beta reader who does.  Other points that get you: it's/its; should of/should have; there/they're/their; and my all time hair raising favorite lie/lay/lays.  If you have a character laying on the counter, I stop reading. If you don't know why, time for some refreshers in grammar.


*snarl*

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9. What Halloween Can Teach Us About Character Development

http://photos.jasondunn.com/Logan/Logans-First-Halloween/10187418_RKHXSx#!i=701471756&k=ZMKnkbp

Photo by Jason Dunn, courtesy of a Creative Commons 2.5 License (http://photos.jasondunn.com/Logan/Logans-First-Halloween/10187418_RKHXSx#!i=701471756&k=ZMKnkbp)

This is the first year my 3-year-old has really gotten Halloween, so we’ve spent October seeking out any excuse for him to wear his costume and spend the day yelling “Boo!” As a result, at an array of fall festivals, we’ve collected a countertop full of pumpkins of assorted shapes and sizes; a small glow-in-the-dark bucket of unhealthy snacks; and, for the writer in the household (that would be me), one great reminder about developing characters.

The lesson came at a children’s Halloween parade at a local park. Costumed kids and their parents congregated by the gazebo waiting for the festivities to start. An announcement was made that the kids were to march behind a giant basketball character named “Hoopster” (how or why Hoopster became the recipient of this honor remains unclear) into the center of town, where storefronts were offering trick or treating.

We were surrounded by princesses and Power Rangers, scarecrows and jungle animals. Many of the costumes were homemade, some looking a little haggard or missing accessories, but the kids wearing them were playing their parts. The ballerinas twirled and curtseyed. The transformers stomped and zoomed. The superheroes posed, karate chopped and kicked. My little guy beamed at all of them, his fire chief’s hat on his head and bullhorn in his hand, ready to come to the rescue at the first sign of smoke or a cat stuck in a tree.

And then, at last, the moment we’d been waiting for: Hoopster appeared.

The parade couldn’t start yet, though. The ball portion of his costume was still deflated, and he stood off to the side fiddling with the thing while the kids milled around restlessly. Hoopster couldn’t get his inflating tool to work, and began tapping parents on their shoulders asking if anyone had a coin to help get the thing going. Apparently Hoopster had not done a practice run before game time.

Finally, the giant basketball took its place at the front of the pack, and the children fell into line, excited for the parade. Then, my son looked up at me, frowning for the first time all day. He seemed skeptical.

“Basketballs don’t have legs,” he said.

“True,” I said slowly, looking around. What else was there to say? It hadn’t bothered him that transformers don’t wear sneakers or lions don’t carry blankies or scarecrows don’t lick lollypops. So what had changed?

 http://www.writersdigestshop.com/creating-characters-grouped?lid=wdjsnorule102814The best instruction from Writer’s Digest on character development
is now available in a single book! Preview, order or download
Creating Characters: The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction now.

 

Developing Character So Readers Can Suspend Disbelief

Hoopster wasn’t really selling his costume, was he? He’d spent a pretty penny on an outfit that was actually a lot more over-the-top than anyone else’s. He’d probably felt like that was enough. But it wasn’t.

The problem wasn’t so much that Hoopster was having issues—most costumes have issues at some point, right? If he’d made a wisecrack about being left in the garage too long or even half-heartedly called out, “Oh no, how will I bounce now?” he probably could have saved face. But by letting the kids see that he was just a guy who couldn’t figure out how to direct the airflow into a big nylon sphere, he was inhibiting their ability to suspend their disbelief. His legs didn’t kill the authenticity; his lack of commitment to his character did.

What does this teach us about how to develop character? Well, a lot. Your character needs to be comfortable in his outfit from the very first scene. He needs to know how it fits, how it works, and who it makes him look like to everyone around him. And in order for him to pull that off, we as our characters’ creators need to know who they are, inside and out, from Page 1. We can’t let our own voices show through where we’re supposed to be writing as our characters. We need to commit to them, fully. We need them to commit to the story, fully. And only then can our readers commit fully, too.

Whether you’re writing a first draft or revising a complete story, as you work through scene by scene, make sure that your superhero has her mask tied tightly into place. Chapter 1 can’t show her off-kilter to the point that she hasn’t yet figured out that trick to keeping her cape from coming untied. And Chapter 10 can’t catch your cowboy without his hat or spurs because he got tired of messing with them and tossed them aside somewhere along the way.

You don’t want to let readers arrive for the parade to find that you haven’t yet fully inflated your lead characters. Make your characters sell the reality behind those costumes, however flawed they may be. If your characters truly believe that they are princesses, and behave as such, then your readers will be a lot less likely to notice—or care—that they’re wearing the wrong shoes or have lost the rhinestones out of their tiaras.

Happy Halloween!

Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @jessicastrawser

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10. Out of the Office

I wanted to let you all know that I'll be out of the office today. I have an appointment to have my ta-ta's checked.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, not that I probably need to tell you that, and coincidentally it's also the month for my annual mammogram. This is not normally something I'd share with my readers, but it's important. Really important.

If you're not getting exams or doing exams please add it to what I'm sure is already a very busy list of things you need to do. Make sure your mother, your daughter, your best friend, your wife, and your neighbor are getting them. Ask them. And men, this isn't just a woman's disease. Ask your doctor about breast cancer too.

We can save lives by getting an exam. Let's do it.

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11. Contest results for real this time

This weekend's blog contest was a real barn burner. You guys took to your prompts with gusto and mayhem (well, metaphorical mayhem) ensued.

I picked six finalists but couldn't decide among them so I asked you for help.

Here are the six finalists again:


(1)Colin Smith 10:29am
 Jessica picked up the bottle of baby oil, one of six in a gift box. The card attached read: "From one mother to another. Congratulations! Love, Mom." A flip of her thumb released the top and she inhaled deeply the scent of newborn, flooding her with memories. The heartbeat booming through the ultrasound device. Grainy images on the screen. The kicks.

Jessica wiped her eyes and replaced the bottle with the other shower gifts: diapers, onesies, toys, all carefully arranged on the dining room table. In the middle, a pair of booties. A reminder of the day the kicking stopped.





(2)Alice Witten 1:55pm
"Hurry up," Callie whined as Penny doused her with more fake blood. "It's cold in here."

"The scene's in a goddamn freezer," Steve snapped. "You should be cold."

I adjusted the boom mike, letting it slip and thunk onto Callie's head.

"Ow! I'm telling mother." Any minute Nancy would waltz in to showerpraise on her spoiled, entitled princess. And then rip me a new one. This shoot sucked, but I needed money.

Steve took a drink of his soda, crunching the ice as he handed me a folded note. I opened it.

"Another $100 to hit Nancy."

Worth it.


(3) Christina Seine 2:54pm
I am in the shower when our mother leaves. There are no goodbyes, only the eventual whistle of the teakettle boiling in the kitchen, an alarm we don’t yet know to panic by.

“Turn it off!” my brother yells.

“You do it,” I yell back, stepping onto the mat.

He yells, “Mom. MOM!”

Hair dripping, I come into the kitchen. The TV is on; Schoolhouse Rock tells us three is the magic number. An orange pekoe spice tea bag sits near an empty mug. The keys are missing.

The kettle steams.

Three minus one equals two. Boom, just like that.


(4) Amy Schaefer 3:35pm
I eased back my lid. Dark, and quiet except for the generators. The warehouse was ice-cold after the stuffy heat of the oil-drum.

I whistled. Boomer burst out of his drum.

“Simmer down, motherfucker!” I hissed. God, every time we robbed a place.

“Claustrophobic,” he gasped.

“If you know a better way inside than getting delivered, speak up.” I crept through the gloom. “Freckles said the Rolexes were this way.”

The ground lurched. Soot showered down.

Boomer grabbed me. “Earthquake!”

A long, loud note blared. What the...? Shit. Fucking Freckles.

“We’re on a cargo ship, Boomer. Hope you like Chinese.”


(5) Steve Forti 8:23pm
“No, no.” Betty snickered. “It’s… nice.

“What can I say? I’m a grower, not a shower. Besides, do you know how cold it is today?”

Betty fidgeted. “I can’t do this.”

“Sure you can. Just give me a minute, and boom! I promise.”

“It’s more than that, Todd. The gifts, the late night texts. It’s too much.”

“I like to spoil my gal.”

“It feels more like smothering.”

“But…”

“Goodbye Todd.”

As she swam away and out of his life,
FWOOMP!

Figures.
Now he looked a proper puffer fish.



(6) TheOneWriting 8:06am
“Pass the turkey already!” demanded the figure at the head of the table.

He sliced the turkey, while at the same time he sliced open her throat,showering the table in her blood, soiling the fine linen.

As he passed the slice of turkey along to her, before her irritating voice could boom out another command, he imagined stopping it by pushing her face into the mashed potatoes, smothering her as she flailed wildly.

“And what are we thankful for this year?” asked his daughter.

He shuddered a little, banishing the thoughts once more, slower every time.

“Self control.”




Each of entries are brilliant in their own way. They all evoke emotion, albeit very different ones. They all play with words beautifully.  The sentences are lovely.

You'll pardon me if I pause to insert a brief note here that this is the kind of choice I face in query letters every week.  Yes I get hundreds, but winnowing out the ones that aren't a fit, or the writing isn't up to par, or are in categories I don't generally take on, and I still have five or six a week that are really good.

And sadly, none of you are around to read and vote when I'm looking at those queries!

Four of those six remaining queries get a pass usually. One might get a more personalized note or a suggestion MAYBE. But generally I only request one novel every week or so.

It doesn't mean those other five aren't good, or publishable. They're just not right for ME. But since I'm not the only fish in the ocean, that's good news. Bait your hook, and go trawling for the next set of snappers.



Oh? This week's contest winner?

By pretty much a landslide, it's Colin Smith.
Here's his entry:


(1)Colin Smith 10:29am
 Jessica picked up the bottle of baby oil, one of six in a gift box. The card attached read: "From one mother to another. Congratulations! Love, Mom." A flip of her thumb released the top and she inhaled deeply the scent of newborn, flooding her with memories. The heartbeat booming through the ultrasound device. Grainy images on the screen. The kicks.

Jessica wiped her eyes and replaced the bottle with the other shower gifts: diapers, onesies, toys, all carefully arranged on the dining room table. In the middle, a pair of booties. A reminder of the day the kicking stopped.





Colin, send me your mailing address and I'll get you a copy of Sophie Littlefield's engrossing new book THE MISSING PLACE.  I can't say enough good things about this book, so how about I just quote from the Boston Globe:


The setting for Sophie Littlefield’s “The Missing Place’’is closer to home but just as exotic. It’s the dead of winter in a stretch of North Dakota where truck stops, Walmarts, and four-lane highways frame a landscape pockmarked with oil rigs and populated by the men who work them. Into this no-woman’s land ventures Colleen Mitchell, a wealthy, cosseted suburban mother from Boston, desperate to find her estranged son, Paul, who disappeared days earlier.

Colleen has no car; hotels are full up; and in short order she finds herself marooned at the tiny airport, relying on the kindness of strangers. The first airport worker she encounters takes her to the door of a trailer where she meets Shay Capparelli, the scrappy single mother of another young man who is missing. Their sons were friends — Colleen’s son a volatile loner, Shay’s a popular peacemaker — who’d found jobs working on rigs and were living in the oil company’s shantytown.

Shay and Colleen are a study in opposites, too, and Littlefield makes good use of narrative viewpoint to show each of them from the other’s perspective. Despite their shared determination to find their sons their personalities collide.

With its bleak setting and compelling premise, the novel starts out great guns as they encounter dead ends wherever they search for information. Oil giant Hunter-Cole, their sons’ employer and the region’s main landowner, seems to have local law enforcement, media, and OSHA in its back pocket. ...   Littlefield’s writing shines.


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12. New Literary Agent Alert: Monika Woods of InkWell Management

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Monika Woods of InkWell Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.09.07 AM

 

About Monika: Monika Woods began her publishing career working for Ellen Levine at Trident Media Group after graduating from the Columbia Publishing Course, where she worked with authors such as Marilynne Robinson, Ayana Mathis, Russell Banks, and Paul Harding. She joined InkWell Management in the Spring of 2013 to work with Kimberly Witherspoon and start building her own client list. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two cats and can be found writing about the book she just finished at www.booksijustread.com or on Twitter at @booksijustread.

(Before you send out your query, look over a submission checklist.)

Monika is seeking: Her interests include literary and commercial fiction, memoir, and compelling non-fiction in food, popular culture, science, and current affairs. Some of her dream projects include historical fiction about feminists, the Roma, and Maxim Lieber, darkly suspenseful stories (both true and made-up) with unreliable narrators, anything about Poland and its history, nonfiction that is creatively critical, and above all, novels written in a singular voice.

How to submit: Query Monika at monika [at] inkwellmanagement.com. Please send both a query letter along with a short writing sample (1-2 chapters) in the body of your email, and she’ll be in touch if she would like to read more!

(If an agent rejects you, are they open to reviewing your revised submission?)

Are you open to representing all writers? (please specify if US/UK only): Yes, Monika is very interested in representing writers from all over the world.

 

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:

 

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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13. Use Word Choice to Set the Mood

No matter what the genre, a good writer needs to set the mood for readers. Whether it’s a creaky old house or the tense moments leading up to a final confrontation, atmosphere can make or break the experience in any piece of writing. It makes the story believable.

The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction

In the following excerpt from The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, author Jeff Gerke walks us through (withexamples) using specific word choice and description to paint the kind of picture that keeps readers turning the page or glancing over their shoulder. Moreover, he shows us how we can use the same setting for three different places, but, by adding and changing detail, create drastically different moods. In this sense, the settings become different because the mood and atmosphere have changed.

*     *     *     *     *

Here’s an example in setting mood through word choice. I’m going to describe the same place three times but set three different moods. The place: a house in the suburbs. 

Example 1

A shadow lay over the yard like a grave cloth. The grass was long and unkempt. Against the bole of a withered oak lay a child’s ball shrouded by the creeping Bermuda. The features of the house shimmered in the blaze of the afternoon, blurred beyond recognition to the unwary stranger.

Okay, a bit cheesy, maybe, but you get the point. Not a fun place to go.

Example 2

Zinnias blossomed against the cherry tree beside the front porch, their sun-kissed inner circles wreathed in bashful pink. At the base of the grand oak, a mother rabbit led her furry litter out from the shade of a rhododendron’s lacy leaves. She sniffed the breeze with delicate nostrils, brushed her eye with a paw, and bounded into the sun.

Ah, a more pleasant place, yes? A Disney moment.

Example 3

The dirt showed through the grass in brown scars. The grass that remained was brittle and sharp, like a smoker’s eyebrows. Signs remained of the home’s luxuriant past—the garden path, the children’s toys, the “Home of the Week” sign out front—but they lay wasted. An American flag still fluttered on its pole, but the sun had washed it out to a milky translucence, and its trailing edge was shredded. It hung from only one tether, twisting in the wind like a castaway’s last cry for rescue.

Depressed yet?

I was describing the same place in all three passages: A yard, grass, some trees, and stuff on the lawn. But I created vastly different feelings for the scene that could then take place there.

I did this by means of three tricks. First, I selected different details to point out each time. All the things I mentioned could be there in the yard each time—the flag, the bunny, the child’s ball—but by plucking out specific details that supported the mood I was after, I was able to construct different images in your mind.

Second, I made heavy use of word pictures and comparisons. You’ll notice I never resorted to personification, in which I could’ve brought inanimate objects to life (“the weeds tried to choke the joy from the yard,” that sort of thing). The similes were sufficient.

Third, I chose my vocabulary carefully. In the first one, I used words like grave cloth, bole, shrouded, withered, and creeping. In the second, I used blossomed, furry, bashful, and bounded. (Plus a bunny—you can never go wrong with a furry bunny if you want to paint a happy mood.) In the third, I used wasted, brittle, and cry, plus images of regret and loneliness.

Actually, I did a fourth thing to create the mood I was after. This one’s so subtle I didn’t realize I was doing it until I stepped back and took a look. I used words that “sounded to the eye” like other words that helped paint the picture I was going for. For instance, I used shimmered when I was thinking shivered. I used cherry to sound close to cheery. And I used lacy to sound like lazy, as in relaxed.

Pretty cool, huh? I’ve gone a bit overboard to illustrate, but you can achieve the same effect with a less heavy hand simply by being mindful of the mood you’re trying to create.

You can do this to convey the narrator’s mood, too. Indeed, you could combine both advanced techniques in this book into one. You’ve got a viewpoint character who is the narrator, and now you want to illustrate his mood, so you do so by having him describe things in ways that reveal his inner state. Now we’re really at heady altitude.

The same house and yard might look all three of these ways at different points in the story depending on how the viewpoint character is feeling at the moment. We all see things we want to see—or fear—and your characters are no different.

So try it. Do you have a scene you want your reader to perceive as happy, frightening, or sad? Do you want the reader to arrive at the scene feeling wary, disarmed, or flush with young love? Then take out your paint kit (your thesaurus) and begin selecting your palette.

It should work the other way around, too. If you’re about to write a scene that is supposed to be scary, be mindful of the images and vocabulary you use to describe the setting. You should probably remove the happy family of bunnies, in other words.

Your words are setting a mood for your scenes, whether you think about them or not. I’m just asking you to think about them. You want your descriptions to help set the mood you’re after, not work against you.

Descriptions are like paintings. An artist will choose her tools carefully. The brushes, the canvas, the paints, the colors, and more. All of these help her convey the image and feeling she wants to create in the painting.

So it is in your fiction. It’s the words and images you choose in your description that convey the mood you want to create for your scenes. Be mindful of your tools, and paint away!

*     *     *     *     *

For more useful tips and instruction, Jeff Gerke’s The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction is available now! And with instruction on the hero’s inner journey, flashbacks, showing vs. telling, POV, and dialogue, it’s more than just a book for the writer of Christian fiction. There’s something in this book for everyone.

Cris Freese is the associate editor of Writer’s Digest Books.

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14. Life is Short, Celebrate


I'm a big believer in celebrating life. The good, the bad and the ugly. I'm also a big believer in celebrating the many successes we're lucky enough to have at BookEnds. It's one of the things we do really well (successes and celebrations).


Just recently I took my team out to celebrate 15 years as an agency. I also took them for a spa day because we had a damn good month. Occasionally I'll order cupcakes from one of our favorite cupcake bakeries or bring coffee from Starbucks. And when we have another book hit the New York Times list you're going to bet that I'm popping some sort of cork.

Too often we get caught up in the minutia of life and start to think that things like a new contract, hitting a bestseller list, the release of another book, or even finishing a new book are things that just happen or are supposed to happen. We forget how hard we fought to get here. Remember when you were struggling to find an agent and dreaming of getting published? Just because it's your fifth contract doesn't mean it's anything less than your first. In fact, continuing to be published is something to celebrate in and of itself. Sometimes it deserves a bigger celebration than that first contract.

There's a lot in this business worth celebrating and not just for published authors. Have you finished another book? Did an agent request material? Did you just get another rejection, but this one with some really great feedback? Celebrate it all! 

I think that it's too easy to focus on the negative or the long-term and we lose what's happening now. We forget that now is what will get us there. No matter what it is you're proud of take some time to celebrate. Buy yourself a coffee, treat yourself to flowers or eat that pint of ice cream that's been calling your name.

Or, if you're like me, keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge at all times and pop it open whenever you deserve that pat on the back. This is a tough career and each step is a milestone worthy of a celebration.

--jhf

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15. Contest results....sort of

A very nice turnout for THE MISSING PLACE writing contest this weekend. Way too many of you were killing moms...very unsettling!

And many of you really took to the challenge of converting the prompt words! Very nice job on that. I had to go through and bold the words just to make sure they were all there!

 
-->

Herewith the results


Special recognition for an entry that was not quite a story, but very intriguing
french sojourn 10:06am



Andrea van der Wilt 10:21am

Suzanne 11:09am

Brig 12:55am
Angela Shortt 2:40am


Special recognition for an entry that was the soul of succinct
Roslyn Reid 10:45


Special recogniton for utilizing this past summer's most entertaining fundraising strategy
Liz 9:39pm

I loved this phrase, and think it should appear more often
Pharosian 11:09pm
"three pounds of nickel-plated comfort."

Flying turkeys always make me laugh
Just Jan 8:12am



These stories made the semi-final list
Christine Sarmel 2:31pm

Lobo 2:41am

BonnieShaljean 5:43pm

Lisa Armosino-Morris 1:06pm


Here are the six finalists:

(1)Colin Smith 10:29am
 Jessica picked up the bottle of baby oil, one of six in a gift box. The card attached read: "From one mother to another. Congratulations! Love, Mom." A flip of her thumb released the top and she inhaled deeply the scent of newborn, flooding her with memories. The heartbeat booming through the ultrasound device. Grainy images on the screen. The kicks.

Jessica wiped her eyes and replaced the bottle with the other shower gifts: diapers, onesies, toys, all carefully arranged on the dining room table. In the middle, a pair of booties. A reminder of the day the kicking stopped.





(2)Alice Witten 1:55pm
"Hurry up," Callie whined as Penny doused her with more fake blood. "It's cold in here."

"The scene's in a goddamn freezer," Steve snapped. "You should be cold."

I adjusted the boom mike, letting it slip and thunk onto Callie's head.

"Ow! I'm telling mother." Any minute Nancy would waltz in to showerpraise on her spoiled, entitled princess. And then rip me a new one. This shoot sucked, but I needed money.

Steve took a drink of his soda, crunching the ice as he handed me a folded note. I opened it.

"Another $100 to hit Nancy."

Worth it.


(3) Christina Seine 2:54pm
I am in the shower when our mother leaves. There are no goodbyes, only the eventual whistle of the teakettle boiling in the kitchen, an alarm we don’t yet know to panic by.

“Turn it off!” my brother yells.

“You do it,” I yell back, stepping onto the mat.

He yells, “Mom. MOM!”

Hair dripping, I come into the kitchen. The TV is on; Schoolhouse Rock tells us three is the magic number. An orange pekoe spice tea bag sits near an empty mug. The keys are missing.

The kettle steams.

Three minus one equals two. Boom, just like that.


(4) Amy Schaefer 3:35pm
I eased back my lid. Dark, and quiet except for the generators. The warehouse was ice-cold after the stuffy heat of the oil-drum.

I whistled. Boomer burst out of his drum.

“Simmer down, motherfucker!” I hissed. God, every time we robbed a place.

“Claustrophobic,” he gasped.

“If you know a better way inside than getting delivered, speak up.” I crept through the gloom. “Freckles said the Rolexes were this way.”

The ground lurched. Soot showered down.

Boomer grabbed me. “Earthquake!”

A long, loud note blared. What the...? Shit. Fucking Freckles.

“We’re on a cargo ship, Boomer. Hope you like Chinese.”


(5) Steve Forti 8:23pm
“No, no.” Betty snickered. “It’s… nice.

“What can I say? I’m a grower, not a shower. Besides, do you know how cold it is today?”

Betty fidgeted. “I can’t do this.”

“Sure you can. Just give me a minute, and boom! I promise.”

“It’s more than that, Todd. The gifts, the late night texts. It’s too much.”

“I like to spoil my gal.”

“It feels more like smothering.”

“But…”

“Goodbye Todd.”

As she swam away and out of his life,
FWOOMP!

Figures.
Now he looked a proper puffer fish.



(6) TheOneWriting 8:06am
“Pass the turkey already!” demanded the figure at the head of the table.

He sliced the turkey, while at the same time he sliced open her throat,showering the table in her blood, soiling the fine linen.

As he passed the slice of turkey along to her, before her irritating voice could boom out another command, he imagined stopping it by pushing her face into the mashed potatoes, smothering her as she flailed wildly.

“And what are we thankful for this year?” asked his daughter.

He shuddered a little, banishing the thoughts once more, slower every time.

“Self control.”




I can't decide who the winner is. How about you weigh in on the choice in the comments section?

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16. Have a dillydally day!




For more info and/or to  buy copies of this anthology click here

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17. They’re So Good, It’s Scary: 13 Quotes From Horror, Thriller and Suspense Writers

432054-wrote-1916With Halloween just one week away, we’re getting into the spirit of the season with these 13 quotes on the writing life from famous authors of horror, thriller and suspense:

1. “So where do the ideas—the salable ideas—come from? They come from my nightmares. Not the night-time variety, as a rule, but the ones that hide just beyond the doorway that separates the conscious from the unconscious.”
—Stephen King, “The Horror Writer Market and the Ten Bears,” November 1973, WD

2. “The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do everyday. There are two reasons for this rule: Getting the work done and connecting with your unconscious mind.”
—Walter Mosley

3. “I hope people are reading my work in the future. I hope I have done more than frightened a couple of generations. I hope I’ve inspired a few people one way or another.”
—Richard Matheson

4. “When one is writing a novel in the first person, one must be that person.”
—Daphne du Maurier

5. “When I write, I try to think back to what I was afraid of or what was scary to me, and try to put those feelings into books.”
R.L. Stine

6. “[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”
—Clive Barker

7. “Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem.”
Edgar Allan Poe

8. “I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there.”
Shirley Jackson

9. “Writing is writing, and stories are stories. Perhaps the only true genres are fiction and nonfiction. And even there, who can be sure?”
—Tanith Lee

10. “I always wanted to be in the world of entertainment. I just love the idea of an audience being happy with what I am doing. Writing is showbusiness for shy people. That’s how I see it.”
—Lee Child

11. I don’t think there is enough respect in general for the time it takes to write consistently good fiction. Too many people think they will master writing overnight, or that they are as good as they will ever be.”
—Tananarive Due

12. “What I love about the thriller form is that it makes you write a story. You can’t get lost in your own genius, which is a dangerous place for writers. You don’t want to ever get complacent. If a book starts going too well, I usually know there’s a problem. I need to struggle. I need that self-doubt. I need to think it’s not the best thing ever.”
—Harlan Coben, WD Interview, January 2011

13. “My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature.”
—H.P. Lovecraft 

Want to write your own horror, thriller or suspense novel? Then learn from a master with The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic: Dracula.

___________

Headshot_Tiffany LuckeyTiffany Luckey is the associate editor of Writer’s Digest. She also writes about TV and pop culture at AnotherTVBlog.com. Follow Tiffany on Twitter @TiffanyElle.

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18. The Art and Craft of Wasting Time in 20 Quotes

CC license Flickr user Earls37aWriters are notorious procrastinators, and the trend is not limited to hobbyists or young, aspiring authors. We talk a lot about procrastination indirectly—setting personal deadlines, how to schedule writing time around life and family, how to write a draft—and fast!, how to write an outline for anything.

We also discuss wasting time rather frankly in our forum, and occasionally offer assistance to writers who don’t want to work, necessarily, but in a productive way. Sometimes we give direct examples of how to not procrastinate.

Famous time-wasters tend to fall into two camps: There’s the hedonistic band of enthusiastic lollygaggers, and there’s the anti-dillydallying brigade of outputters. The logic follows that non-famous writers follow the same pattern. For both sides, here are some thoughts and advice from the greats on the art and craft of wasting time—or not.

Pro-Procrastination

Mark Twain: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”

Marthe Troly-Curtain: “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

Rita Mae Brown: “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.”

Herodotus: “Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal, while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.”

Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. Especially the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”

Ellen Degeneres: “Procrastination isn’t the problem. It’s the solution. It’s the universe’s way of saying stop, slow down, you move too fast.”

Dorothy Parker: “Live, drink, be merry, love the reeling midnight through, For tomorrow ye may die, but alas we never do.”

Jerome K. Jerome: “Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.”

Susan Orlean: I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.”

Auguste Rodin: “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.”


 

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 10.53.57 AMThe Writer’s Digest Retreat on the Water is your chance to escape the demands of everyday life and immerse yourself in your craft for a few purposeful and peaceful days. Enrollment at this Retreat is limited—you’ll enjoy the close mentorship of the instructors and the attention to your individual manuscript that only an event this small and exclusive can provide.


 

Pro-Productivity

Pablo Picasso: “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”

Benjamin Franklin: “You may delay, but time will not.”

Charles Dickens: “Procrastination is the thief of time; collar him.”

Abraham Lincoln: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

George Bernard Shaw: “If you take too long in deciding what to do with your life, you’ll find you’ve done it.”

Oscar Wilde: “Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old.”

Victor Hugo: “Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.”

J.R.R. Tolkien: “It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “How soon ‘not now’ become ‘never.’”

Henry Ford: “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.”

 

Which camp do you fall into? For myself, I’ll only say that this post was supposed to run yesterday.


headshotWD

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

 

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19. Query Question: "petite novels"



Are there agents who are willing to represent 100-ish page women’s fiction manuscripts these days? And if so, what is the market? I see the petite novels in self-publish eBook formats but I am uncertain of the global mainstream market.


Generally agents are looking for books that publishers want to print. That means 80-100K words, not 25K. (100 pages =25K approximately)

I'm sure there's a market for shorter novels in ebook format where the writer/publisher can offer it for sale at a low price.  Publishers have overhead that generally preclude offering books at that price unless it's a special, time-limited, discount.

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20. Creating a Vision Board


I just learned about vision boards. I'm assuming I'm far behind on this trend, but I'm excited about it nonetheless


A vision board is just that, a board with pictures, phrases and bits of inspiration. Your vision for what you want to achieve in life, in your career or just personally. I have my vision board on the wall behind my desk. It's really just a giant cork board that I've hung some things that inspire me. Of course it also includes other things like pub dates and book lists, but ultimately when I find a bit of inspiration, a picture or something that shows what I'm seeking I clip it out or print it out and hang it on my board.

My vision board is pretty rough. I've seen people create some wonderful collages and artwork for their vision. I'd love to do that, but that seems like it would take a lot of time. However you want to create your board (on your wall, in a notebook, post-its around your computer, on Pinterest....) I think it's a great way to remind you of what your striving for or inspiration when you're feeling down.

A peek of some of what's on my vision board. Thanks Dr. Seuss!

--jhf

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21. The Difference Between Dreamers and Achievers

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.

Bootcamp2014Last week was our annual FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair

Over the last 17 years, it has become THE copywriting event of the year. And this year, 400+ aspiring and professional writers joined us in Delray Beach, Florida to have industry legends teach them how to build successful copywriting businesses — and to meet with over 75 marketers looking to hire AWAI-trained copywriters.

A lot happened in those 4 days … too much to cover in a simple blog. But I do plan to bring you some of the best ideas you can use on your journey to making a very good living as a writer.

Today I want to share with you something my partner Katie Yeakle — one of the Founders of AWAI — shared during her opening remarks …

She started by asking the audience a simple question:

         How do you explain why some people are able to achieve things    that seem impossible — while others only dream about changing    their lives?

And then followed it up with some of the popular examples of AWAI members who have achieved real success …

How does someone like AWAI member Joshua Boswell go from being over $200,000 in debt, with creditors knocking at his door and 7 children to feed — to making $20,000 a month working 20-30 hours a week?

         How does AWAI member Sean McCool go from being a guy who    failed English in both 7th and 10th grades to being a highly-respected writer who contributes directly to the bottom line of multimillion-dollar companies?

         How does AWAI member Starr Daubenmire go from being down-sized at age 60 … to a brand-new career that let her live her dream of spending 3 months in Italy … writing in the mornings, painting and exploring in the afternoons?

         How does AWAI member Cindy Cyr go from being in a job where   she couldn’t take time off to be with her sick sister … to today   where she spends half her time traveling the country with her 14-year old recording artist son, while still earning six-figures?

         Why is that some people succeed at copywriting … yet so many others don’t?

         What accounts for the difference?

         Is it education?

         Sean would deny that. So would million-dollar copywriters Clayton Makepeace and Dan Kennedy. Those guys didn’t go to college.

         Is it a natural talent for copywriting? 

         Cindy liked to write. But she didn’t even know what copywriting was.

         Is it sales experience? Not for Starr. She was a quality control  coordinator in an office. No selling going on there.

Master Copywriter Will Newman was a math teacher for kids with special needs; Krista Jones, AWAI’s very first $10K Challenge winner was an engineer …

         So what is it?

         The real answer to that question is right here in this room …

         The answer is: they took decisive action to change their lives

And then what Katie talked about next is what I’d like to talk to you about now. And, that’s the decisions that need to be made before you can successfully move forward towards living the writer’s life.

Before any of the people Katie mentioned took action, they had to make the very first decision of all … and that was if they truly wanted a change in their lives.

They all answered yes.

Next, they needed to decide how they were going to accomplish it.

Joshua, Sean, Starr, and Cindy all wanted to make a living writing and decided the best way for them to accomplish that was to pursue copywriting.

So they decided how they’d learn the skills …

They decided what support they needed …

And they decided what changes they’d need to make in their current lives to make that happen.

Next, they decided to follow through.

At every stage it was the same — a decision followed by action.

So today, I want you to give some more thought to what your version of the writer’s life looks like … what will your life look like when you’re making a living as a writer?

And then start making decisions and taking action …

If you’re just starting out, the first decision you may need to make is whether or not you want to make a change in your life. Is now the time?

rebecca_matter-150Or it may be deciding which path you want to take … whether it’s copywriting, content writing, web writing, or something else. (Check out my recent post on the top 7 opportunities for writers.)

And then comes the critical (and exciting!) part: taking action.

I’ll help you with that in the coming weeks!

 

Until then …
Rebecca

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22. How Did I Find My Clients?

I read a forum post this morning quizzing agented authors on where they found their agents. The authors were very nicely answering, but most of the answers were the same: "I did my research and then sent a query letter."

Why was this the most likely way they answered? Because it's the most likely way to get an agent.  It just IS. I know the myth is that you have to "know somebody" but that really isn't true. Which got me to thinking about how my clients found ME (or, vice-versa). And I decided to bust out the chart-making tools again because I know you like that.

So let's break it down:

56% of my clients came to me because of straight up query letters, from the slush. They didn't know anybody, they didn't drop names, they weren't published before, they didn't go to conferences, they didn't meet me first - some of them I still haven't met in person, because they live thousands of miles away!

24% of my clients were people that I'd met somewhere before they queried me. These are people I met at conferences, in a couple of cases, or published authors that I met in my capacity as a bookseller. (There's also a former co-worker in the mix, an SCBWI RA, and one of my neighbors. What can I say, she's a great writer!). The thing is: All these people STILL HAD TO QUERY. It's not like I said, oh, I know you, so sure... they still had to show me something I thought I could sell.

16% of my clients were referrals. This means that somebody I really trust - like an editor who knows my taste, or an existing client - thought this would be a good fit for me, and e-introduced us. But, you guessed it: These people STILL HAD TO QUERY, and show me something I thought I could sell.

4% of my clients were inherited from other agents at my agency. They actually are the only people who were kinda "grandfathered in," and did not have to show me something new to be taken on. However, I also trusted that they could write, that they had great stories in them, and that we'd gel well - and we spoke before I took them on. Still, this does not always work out, so I feel very lucky that these have!


Moral of this story? 

96% OF AUTHORS NEED TO 
WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER.

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23. The Missing Place Writing Contest!

If you haven't read all of Sophie Littlefield's books I urge you to ameliorate this dreadful state of affairs at once.

If all the copies are on reserve at your library, here's a chance to win her most recent book THE MISSING PLACE.  (Let's just say my sox were knocked off so often while reading this I finally just abandoned them completely and stuck with flip flops)


Usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer

2. Use each of these words in the story:

oil
boom
mother
ice
shower


You can use the word as part of a larger word but it must be appear in whole form:

oil/spoil is ok but ice/icicle is not.

3. Post your entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

4. If you need a do over, delete your entry and post another.  [It helps to compose on a word .doc then paste to the comment box when done]

5. Entries outside the US are ok.

6. Contest opens Saturday (10/25/14) at 10am and closes on Sunday (10/26/14) at 10am.  That gives you a whole extra hour since daylight savings time ends this weekend!

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready?
Set?
NOT YET!

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24. TGIF

It's Friday and it's been another great week at BookEnds. To celebrate I'm going to share the recipe for one of my favorite drinks . The Moscow Mule. I discovered this quite a number of years ago and it's my go-to. I've also managed to make it a favorite for a number of friends.

The Moscow Mule

1 oz vodka--whatever your favorite brand works
1/2 oz lime juice--I always recommend fresh squeezed
Ginger Beer--for those who don't know this amazing drink, ginger beer is not in fact a beer but a soda. More along the lines of root beer. Depending on what brand you buy it can be very tangy and spicy. You might want to try a few different brands to find your favorite. We prefer Fever Tree.

Traditionally the Moscow Mule is served in a copper mug. We use rocks glasses. Add all the ingredients over ice, stir, finish off with a lime wedge and enjoy. I think you'll like this one.

Skol!

--jhf

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25. 8 Ways to Prepare to Write Your Nonfiction Book in a Month

As a nonfiction writer, you might feel a bit left out during November. Everyone is talking about NaNoWriMo this and NaNoWriMo that. All the while, you want to write a nonfiction book in a month not a novel.

Well, you can, and you should. I have news for you, though. You don’t have to do it as a NaNoRebel or as part of an event created for novelists. You can write your nonfiction book in 30 days during an event for writers just like you—nonfiction writers.

During National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo) you can start and finish the draft of your nonfiction book in a month. Just take the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge (WNFIN). No need to even restrict your self to a full-length book; you can finish the final draft of a short book, an article, an essay, a series of blog posts, or your manifesto. As long as you embrace the goal of completing a work of nonfiction, this event is for you.

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nina-amir-2014nina-authortrainingmanual500This guest post is by Nina Amir, the bestselling author of How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual. She is a speaker, a blogger, and an author, book, and blog-to-book coach. Known as the Inspiration to Creation Coach, she helps creative people combine their passion and purpose so they move from idea to inspired action and positively and meaningfully impact the world as writers, bloggers, authorpreneurs, and blogpreneurs. Some of Nina’s clients have sold 300,000+ copies of their books, landed deals with major publishing houses and created thriving businesses around their books. She is the founder of National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge, and the Nonfiction Writers’ University. www.ninaamir.com

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Let’s say, however, that you do, indeed, want to write a nonfiction book in a month. There’s nothing like a challenge to get your creative juices flowing and to heighten your sense of commitment to completing your project and doing it fast. To meet that goal, though, you need to be prepared before the month starts.

While there are similarities between how fiction and nonfiction writers prepare for a book-in-a-month event, differences exists as well. What you need to do to be ready to get quickly from first to last page of you manuscript by the end of November also has a lot to do with the type of nonfiction book you choose to write.

Let’s take a look at the eight preparatory steps necessary to successfully write a nonfiction book in a month.

1. Choose your topic.

The first thing you want to do as you prepare for a month-long nonfiction book-writing challenge is choose a topic for your project carefully. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really isn’t. Remember, you must finish your book in 30 days. (Now, NaNonFiWriMo is not a contest. No one counts your words to see if you won, and you don’t submit anything at the end to prove you finished your project. It’s a personal challenge. Still…you know if you succeed or fail.) Therefore, you don’t want to choose a subject that requires 150,000 words. That would mean you need to complete 5,000 words per day. That’s a tall order to fill for any writer, especially if he or she has a day job.

It’s better to select a topic you can cover in 50,000 words or less. You can write 1,667 words per day over the course of 30 days. If that still feels like a lot, then opt to write a guide, tip book or booklet. Many ebooks sold on Amazon today have only 5,000 to 20,000 words.

Who knows…you might end up with a longer book by month’s end. But don’t start with an unattainable goal. Begin with a topic that lends itself to a word-count that feels doable to you. That gives you a higher chance of success.

2. Create a Content Plan

While you can write a nonfiction book by the seat of your pants, it’s best to have a plan. (Yes, the seatsers vs. planners debate pertains to nonfiction as well as to fiction.) That plan helps you know where you are going so you write in a straight line rather than taking many detours. As you know, the need to make a lot of u-turns takes up a lot of time. When it comes to writing, that means cutting, rewriting and revising. You don’t want to do that if you are going to finish a good first draft or a final draft in a month.

Create an outline or a table of contents for you book. I like to start by brainstorming my topic and then taking all the different topics and organizing them into a book structure. (I use a mind map.) This ends up looking like a table of contents—actually a rather detailed table of contents with chapter titles and subheading titles. You might prefer to just create a simple outline or a bulleted list.

Whatever your method of choice, create something that looks like the structure of a book—a table of contents. And know what content will fill that structure as you create your manuscript. That’s your map.

Then, when you sit down to write each day, you know exactly what to write. In fact, the more detailed you make this plan, the more quickly and easily you will write your book. You will spend little time staring at your computer screen wondering what to write or what comes next. You will know. It will be right there in your writing plan. You’ll just follow the map—your tale of contents—to your destination.

3. Determine What Research You Need

You might think you can write your book “off the top of your head” because you are the expert on the topic. Inevitably, though, you will discover a need to search for something—a URL, a quote, the title of a book. These things can slow down your process. This is where preparation can help keep your fingers on the keyboard typing rather than perusing the Internet.

For each item in your plan—or your detailed table of contents, brainstorm the possible research you need and make note of it.

As you write, if you discover you need more research or interviews, don’t stop writing. Instead, create brackets in your manuscript that say [research here] and highlight them in yellow. Later, do a search for the term “research,” and fill in the gaps. In fact, you can even leave a certain amount of time per week for this activity if you think you will need to do so; this ensures you don’t come to the end of November with a manuscript filled with research holes.

4. Create a To-Do List

Look over your content plan. Take all the research items you listed and put them on a to-do list.

Make a list of URLs, books and articles to find. Look for anything you need to do. For instance, does your research require that you visit a certain location? If so, put “Visit XX” on the to do list.

Don’t forget to put interviews on this list. You want to conduct your interviews now, not during November, if at all possible.

5. Gather and Organize Your Materials

Gather as much of your research and other necessary material as you can prior to the end of October. Purchase the books, copy the articles into Evernote.com, copy and past the URLs into a Word doc, or drag them into Scrivener’s research folder, for instance. Get your interviews transcribed as well—and read through them with a highlighter, marking the quotes you think you want to use.

If you are writing memoir, you might want to gather photos, journals and other memorabilia. If you are repurposing blog posts, or reusing any other previously published or written material, you want to put all of this in one place—an online folder, a Scrivener file or a Word file.

Generally, get as much of what you need to write your book in an easily accessible format and location so you aren’t searching for it when you should be writing. Use piles, boxes, hanging folders, computer folders, cloud storage…whatever works best for you.

6. Determine How Much Time You Need

Each nonfiction book is different and requires a different amount of time to write. A research based book takes longer to write, for example, because you have to study, evaluate and determine your opinion of the studies. You have to read the interviews you conducted, choose appropriate quotes and then work those quotes into your manuscript.

If, on the other hand, you write from your own experiences, this take less time. With the exception of drawing on anecdotes, an occasional quote or bit of information from a book, the material all comes from your head. You need only sit down and write about a process you created, your own life story or your area of expertise.

You might normally write 750 words per hour, but the type of book you’ve chosen to write could slow you down to just 500 per hour. Or you might speed up to 1,000 words per hour. Determine how long it will take you on average to compose the number of words you must compete per day to meet your final word-count goal. Then, figure out how many hours per week you need to set aside during November to finish your manuscript. Allow more hours than you think necessary for “unforeseen circumstances,” slow days and a general need for extra time to complete the project the last week of the month.

7. Create a Writing Schedule

Last, create a writing schedule. You now know how much time you need to write your book. Now find those hours in your calendar and block them off.

Make those hours sacred. Nothing other than an emergency should take you away from writing your book during those scheduled writing blocks.

You’ve heard the advice that goes with this:

  • Find a quite place to write.
  • Limit distractions.
  • Get an accountability partner.
  • Keep your appointments with yourself.

8. Put a Back-Up System in Place.

Yes…this is my last tip, because you just never know what happens. Your computer crashes or dies. You accidentally delete your whole manuscript. Your child dumps milk all over your keyboard.

You want a back up of your NaNonFiWriMo project. Always save it to your computer’s drive and onto a thumb drive or, better yet, into the cloud, for safe keeping! Make these plans in advance as well. You can use Evernote.com, Dropbox.com or Google Drive, for example.

The other thing you need to has little to do with planning. During your 30-day nonfiction writing challenge, you must posses an attitude that supports meeting your goal. You must:

  • Be willing to do what it takes
  • Remain optimistic about meeting your goal.
  • Stay objective about your work.
  • Be tenacious and not let anything get in the way of finishing your project.

Those four qualities—Willingness, Optimism, Objectivity and Tenacity—constitute an Author Attitude. With that you will finish your nonfiction book in a month with no problem. Woot!

To learn more about National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge, or to register, click here.

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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