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1. How to Map Out Your Hero’s Adventure in Your Manuscript

How do the most successful authors of our time construct their stories? If you read them, and if you also read some ancient myths, you will begin to see parallels. You will feel smacked upside the head with parallels. You’ll realize that the top authors of today use storytelling techniques that writers used back when plans were being drawn up for the pyramids.

An excellent book about ancient myths is The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. The title says it all. Across cultures and generations, some variation of a hero figures into every beloved story. And the typical story is about an individual who goes on a quest or a journey. By the end, the individual becomes a hero. This is called the Hero’s Adventure.

elizabeth-simsyouve-got-a-book-in-youThis guest post is by bestselling author and writing authority Elizabeth Sims. She’s the author of seven popular novels in two series, includingThe Rita Farmer Mysteries and TheLillian Byrd Crime series. She’s also the author of the excellent resource for writers, You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams, published by Writer’s Digest Books. Click here to order now.

The Hero’s Adventure is the most archetypal story of all because it’s the basis for more novels than any other kind of story. Novels of all different genres, from romances to thrillers to sci-fi, are based on the Hero’s Adventure.

So what is the Hero’s Adventure? You know it already, and you may even have elements of it in the story you’re working on. But I suspect you haven’t yet methodically and thoroughly appropriated it for yourself.

[Learn important writing lessons from these first-time novelists.]

The Hero’s Adventure Basic Recipe

Here is a basic recipe to demonstrate how the Hero’s Adventure plays out. This is a template you can apply to your own work-in-progress—you might be surprised by how closely it matches elements you already have in play.

  • A messenger comes. The messenger might be human, or a message might come from an experience—like a brush with death or a dream. At any rate, something has gone wrong; the natural order of the world has been disturbed.
  • A problem is presented. Perhaps something has been taken away from the tribe, or some misfortune or malfeasance has occurred.
  • Someone is marked out as the person to solve this problem. She is chosen according to some past deed of her parents or by her own reputation or happenstance. This person, of course, emerges as the hero at the end.
  • A challenge takes shape. The challenge may be refused, at first. “No way, I’m not going to risk my neck for that!”
  • A refusal, often. But eventually the hero decides to accept the challenge. She might even be forced to accept it by circumstances.
  • The challenge is accepted. The adventure begins.
  • The hero leaves the familiar world. And she sets off into another world. It’s dangerous. The hero could use some help, and very often …
  • Helpers materialize. A helper might have special skills the hero doesn’t have, or he might have special insights or wisdom, in which case he takes the form of a mentor.
  • Setbacks occur. The hero is tested, she makes gains, she endures setbacks, she fights for what is right, she resists evil. The going’s tough!
  • The hero regroups and gains some ground again. Maybe she needs another visit to a mentor, or maybe she makes a personal breakthrough and overcomes a great inner obstacle, perhaps her own fear.
  • The foe is vanquished or the elixir is seized. Eventually she defeats the foe or comes into possession of something that will restore the natural order—a cure, or new knowledge that will bring justice or the return of prosperity.
  • The hero returns to the familiar world. And the problem is fixed, or justice is done. The natural order is restored.

The person who accepts the challenge and prevails is elevated to a special position, somewhere above human, somewhere below god. She is the hero.

[Here's a great article on how to structure a killer novel ending.]

The Hero’s Adventure at Work

Famous stories from King Arthur and Excalibur to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to The Little Engine That Could to Harry Potter are based on the Hero’s Adventure. Let’s look at a concrete example from a well-known source: the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • A messenger comes. Holmes and Watson are hanging out in the familiar world of 221B Baker St. when a young lady comes calling.
  • A problem is presented. The young lady tells Holmes that her sister has died under strange circumstances, and she now fears for her own life.
  • Someone is marked out as the person to solve this problem. Knowing of Holmes’ reputation, the young lady asks him for help.
  • A challenge takes shape. Holmes asks many questions, and perceives the seriousness of the situation.
  • A refusal, often. Holmes rarely refuses a challenge, though he has been known to be reluctant at times. In this case, Holmes senses great urgency, so he doesn’t waffle.
  • The challenge is accepted. The adventure begins.
  • The hero leaves the familiar world. Holmes sets off from 221B Baker St. and enters the busy, raucous streets of London, thence to a creepy old mansion in the country. It’s dangerous. The hero could use some assistance.
  • Helpers materialize. And guess what? He’s got Watson at his side! Much investigation occurs, with progress, and then …
  • Setbacks occur. Things go wrong, problems turn out to be more difficult than anticipated.
  • The hero regroups and gains some ground again. After a nail-biting, death-defying climax, Holmes prevails, discovering a deadly plot and a bizarre method of murder. The perpetrator is killed by the very method he had used to kill another.
  • The foe is vanquished or the elixir is seized. Holmes and Watson wrap up the case for the local police and return to their flat in London.
  • the Hero returns to the familiar world. And we feel secure because we know justice has been done; the killer cannot kill again. The natural order
    is restored.

Read practically any good, successful dramatic novel and you will find similar story bones. This is not by accident. Good authors have an instinct for such things. We can sharpen our instincts by studying, as you’re doing right now, and by writing, which you’ve been doing all along.

[Do you underline book titles? Underline them? Put book titles in quotes? Find out here.]

You might be thinking, Must my Hero’s Adventure begin and end in exactly the same place, like the Sherlock Holmes stories?

It can if you want, but no, it doesn’t have to. Many terrific stories end with the natural order being restored but not necessarily in the same physical or psychological location as the beginning. A Hero’s Adventure can begin in Chicago and end up in Los Angeles.

The Hero’s Adventure is a fail-safe model for storytelling. However, it is not the be-all and end-all. As you can see, it’s simply a way of planning, organizing and/or linking your scenes for maximum effect. It was good enough for the ancients, it was good enough for the most memorable authors of recent centuries, and it’s good enough for us.

Best of all, it’s flexible. You can follow it quite literally, or you can use it as a general guide. The template I’ve presented here is simple and stress free. You can use it to make your novel reach deep into your readers’ minds and hearts.

The more I think about it, the more I bet that the story you’ve been working on, however much of it you have, contains elements of the Hero’s Adventure already. Have you been yelling that to me through the time/space continuum?



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


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. ‘New box of crayons’ time…..

Oct Bk to Sch blast

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3. How I Got My Literary Agent: Stephanie Wahlstrom

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Stephanie Wahlstrom, author of THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE. 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.

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


 stephanie-wahlstrom-author-writer       accidental-socialite-cover-wahlstrom

Stephanie Wahlstrom grew up in Edmonton, Canada. A significant amount of her
time was spent making up and acting out stories. She graduated from the University
of Alberta with an English and Sociology degree and I also have a Bachelor of
Motion Picture Arts (that’s a fancy term for Film School) from Red Deer College.
Later, she went back home to write “My Green House,” a factual TV series.
Her debut novel is THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE (Swoon Romance),
humorous women’s fiction. Find her on Twitter.



On January 1st 2013 I made a resolution: I was going to get published by the end of the year. At this point I hadn’t even properly edited The Accidental Socialite, never mind looked into agents or what the publishing process entailed. I polished my ms and started sending it out in February, which was probably too soon as I ended up doing more severe edits after the first round of feedback. I had a few requests, but it was always “I like it, you have a great voice, but I’m not passionate enough to offer representation.” Every. Single. Time.  Then I heard of the PitchMadness contest by Brenda Drake. The request window for agents opened on my birthday and I took it as a sign.

And then I was rejected a further 25 times. It was the end of June when I started to think about self-publishing.  I absolutely could not fail at this goal, and although it wasn’t the way I wanted to go, self-publishing was looking like the only option. I had myself a little cry for my publishing dream that never was, put my big girl pants on and started researching cover designers.

Deep down, I knew I didn’t really want to self publish, so I threw out a Hail Mary at the beginning of July and tried one last contest: PitchMas.


This time the requests weren’t from agents, but from publishers.

I sent the ms out on Thursday night, and by 5am on Friday I had an e-mail with an intent to offer from a publisher. I was supposed to meet my boyfriend in France for a weekend away in six hours, so I quickly let everyone who had the ms know what the deal was. I felt terrible because it didn’t give the publishers who had received the ms the night before any time, but I didn’t know what else to do. The plane landed in Cannes and I totally ignored the “Don’t turn on your phone until you are safely inside the terminal building” (or whatever the equivalent in French was) and turned on my phone to find an offer from publisher two. I’d already told the woman next to me my life story, so I updated her on this development and she very kindly pretended to care and promised to buy the book.

By the end of the day I had two very different offers for multi-book deals from publishers and did not know what to do with myself … so on Monday I went to the Manolo Blahnik sale to celebrate my almost book deal and bought a pair of nude patent Mary Janes for 80% off. I was winning at life that week.

In late 2012 I’d taken a course with Curtis Brown Creative on writing for children taught by agent Stephanie Thwaites and writer Tony Bradman.  I e-mailed Stephanie asking for a cheeky bit of advice because I really felt I needed the help of an agent to choose/negotiate the best deal possible.

(How successful writers are using the Internet and social-media to sell more books.)


To my surprise, Stephanie actually asked to read The Accidental Socialite, so I sent it to her and in a few days she started talking about what “we” could do. I got stupid excited and awkwardly asked if she was my agent, because it would be really cool if she was, or not, you know, playing it cool over here and not like the girl in the corner at prom who finally got asked to dance, and by the most popular boy at school no less. FYI Stephanie isn’t a boy and there wasn’t dancing involved – or at least not on her part – I spent most of the whole month of July and August doing happy dances. Anyway. She said yes and fund me a co-agent in New York at ICM Partners (was Lyndsay Hemphill, now Tina Wexler).

I was all like, EMERGAHD! I have the same agent as Winnie The Pooh! Not only had my dream come true, I’d hit the jackpot when it came to agents with Stephanie and Tina. I sat down with Stephanie and she talked about my career… implying I was going to have one.  This was real!!!

Stephanie worked her magic and in the end I actually had three offers from publishers. Then it was decision time. The first publisher who had shown interest was super passionate about The Accidental Socialite and seemed to really get it which I think is the most important thing you can find when you work creatively with anyone. I felt really comfortable with Georgia McBride and Stephanie agreed, which is how The Accidental Socialite ended up with Swoon Romance in North America. Happy dance!


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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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4. The Board of Education

The fight has been raging for three days. The teachers on their end, toting rulers, eraser canons and textbook grenades, and the students on the other, with only school-approved items found in their bookbags. Both sides have suffered casualties and people are wondering, what happened three days ago at Winston Waters High that started this mess? Start your story three days ago.

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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5. Query Question: How the hell can you know this?

What is this magic future-seer gizmo agents have and where can I get one?
I have the test results and they say "yes".

I have attended a few writing conferences this year and another one is coming up rather quickly in a few weeks 'round my parts of the sea. I always shell out the extra money to have a pitch session/practice with the agents brave enough to sit all day with eager writers. I've swam through the chum, followed The Shark (tm) query letter guidelines for over a year now and practiced, practiced, practiced my pitch along the way. Feeling confident-enough, I sent my letter out to agents. The responses are all over.

I have some replies that tell me "... I'm not sure how these types of books are doing with all the success of the xxx and xxx series out now. It sounds super interesting and I hope you hit on an agent that knows this market well," or , "The concept grabbed me, and you deserve an enthusiastic agent who can champion your work..."

I am not writing anything YA, distopian, Twilight-y at all. I am writing for another, younger, age group that I have at least 3 years of weekly hands-on experience with that equates market research for my book. I have adults in my critique group that try to pry the next scene from my carpel tunnel hands before the next group meeting because they cannot wait.

I'm sorry, but most of these agents I meet in person or have queried cannot possibly have had any interaction with a group of children like this since they were children themselves. Most are fresh off the college circuit (which is completely fine), travel frequently, etc. How do they know what my age group wants if they have no/ limited experience with the end user? Are agents just following trends? I know a variety of books are selling, but many would be selling anyway because that is all that is out there. How is a writer to know which seashell is a good sell down by the seashore?

Snarly Seahorse

Dear SnarlyOne,

You can't conflate the agents who attend writing conferences with the agents who are reading your queries/manuscripts. A lot of us aren't on the conference circuit. And guess who REALLY isn't on the conference circuit: agents with kids.

The other thing you're missing is that agents don't work in a bubble.  We hear from readers via our authors, and we see the feedback from school visits, and we watch what librarians are interested in like hawks. Librarians and teachers make the buying decisions for a lot of middle grade books (which is what I assume you're writing)

In other words, its our job to pay attention to what sells, and we do.

Also you don't have test results.  You have friends and people you know telling you they like the book.  A book they didn't have to pay to read I might add.  There's a world of difference between "did you like my book" and "hey, will you pay me $15 to read this?"

I've recommended the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators before.  You should join and hear from the people who are in the field you're writing in.

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6. Why is my Dummy still a Dummy?!

Writers and artists work so hard at conceiving, then executing wonderful stories and images for potential picture books, only to be left holding rejection letters and wondering “WHY NOT?”

I wish I had answers…it would make an agent’s job much easier!  But I do have some possible reasons to share with you today.  Number one, your manuscript (ms) and your images (dummy) need to be as ready for publication as possible.  Not just a ‘good idea.’  Those are everywhere.  Not just a few sketches, but a well thought out flow of visual story telling.  OK, now you are ready to be ‘snapped up.’

There are good market reasons that even the BEST stories might get missed or rejected by well meaning houses.  First of all keep in mind that picture books are VERY expensive to print!  When the economy is down or slow (!) it’s likely that houses might not do as many.  When the dollar is weak, as it is now, it’s more expensive to print even in China! Fewer books means more care in selection.

PREFERANCES also vary yearly and are very cyclical. “Spunky” over “quiet” etc.  What was ‘hot’ last year, might not be this year.  Your story might have been perfect for last year, but not this.  But remember it might be perfect 3 years from now again! This past year or two, more novels have been published than picture books.  They are all the rage, and without pictures, much cheaper to print. Yet picture book sales have held their own, proving that they ARE worth the expense in the long run.

Speaking of the long run, the Back List effects what they take on new.  Editors need to bring in books to ADD to the bottom line, and which promise to ADD to the strong Back List for the house.  Often they ‘borrow’ from that back list and redo books that are strong. This all means they won’t be able to publish all the new stories they might want to. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a trend these days (which is nice for illustrators!). They are constantly ‘balancing’ their lists as well as adding to the imprints list balance.  A Publisher may have 2-4 lists a year.  Each tries to add balance and income, minimize risk and loss.  The “P & L” (profit and loss) is ALL important these days! They project several years in advance! Your book might not pass that test. They want to add new writers and illustrators, but will they ‘last?’  Will they produce on-going to add value to the imprint? And of course, the bottom line: will they sell well?

Another trend I see is ‘in house’ ideas being developed, particularly for series ideas.  They go through the same scrutiny as other proposals, but that might make it harder for ‘outside’ ideas to be considered.  Often writers worry as well that their ‘ideas’ will be ‘borrowed.’  That is possible of course, but I find it rarely a problem in this honest, supportive industry. That does bring us to another LEGAL point that might mean they do NOT take on your dummy.  Many houses will not accept unsolicited  manuscripts.  One legal reason is that they might find themselves turning down an idea that is actually being developed in-house currently!  This can LOOK like a ‘stealing of ideas’, when it is pure coincidence.  If you look at new lists in stores, you will see how often this does happen even between houses!  Two ‘bird’ books, or three ‘princess’ books etc. that are too close in feel.  Trends happen and it’s like a wave at times!  So houses protect themselves by not taking on ‘outside’ ideas at all.  Therefore, your ‘perfect dummy’ won’t even be looked at by these publishers.

It’s a tight market these days, and the stakes are high. Do your best, understand it’s NOT personal, and keep trying! A good story, well done, will find a publisher at the right time.

and I had to share this ‘artist’s block’ image of my 21 month old granddaughter, Billie….. we all know the feeling! (thanks Christy!)

artist block

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7. A List of Upcoming Online Courses From Writer’s Digest University

WDUInterested in improving your writing skills? Your blogging skills? Want to become a copywriter master to make a good living on the side (to support your creative writing)? It’s time you checked out Writer’s Digest University slate of online courses, designed to help you improve your technique and reach your writing goals.

You’ll get weekly assignments to motivate you to keep your writing on track and you’ll get specific advice from our professional writing instructors, guiding you and making sure you’re making strides in becoming a better writer.

Here’s a list of upcoming courses. Click on the course titles below to sign up for any and all that interest you.

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


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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8. WriteGirl Get Inspired Fundraiser – How You Can Help Support This Great Cause

If you’re a writer and looking to support a good cause that’s focused on giving others (namely teens) the opportunity to learn and become better writers, you’ll want to check out WriteGirl’s Get Inspired Fundraiser.

Launched nearly 13 years ago, WriteGirl is a foundation that focuses on teenage girls who do not have access to creative writing or mentoring programs. The group brings the energy and skill set of professional female writers to these young writers in an attempt to give them all the help they can in achieving their goals of becoming better writers (and getting them in to college).

By donating to the Get Inspired campaign, you’ll receive writing prompts and award-winning anthologies from the teen girls at WriteGirl. Plus, you’ll be supporting a great cause.

For more information, visit WriteGirl.org. The fundraiser ends September 4, 2014.

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9. Have You Successfully Marketed Your Self-Published Book? Then WD Wants to Hear From You!

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 2.33.15 PMCalling all self-published / independent book & e-book authors: Tell us about the promotional strategies that worked for you, and you and your book(s) could get even more visibility in the pages of Writer’s Digest magazine.

We’re looking for the inside stories from indie authors who’ve developed successful strategies for marketing their own books. If you credit your self-made promotional strategy for your book’s popularity, profitability or sales, we’d love to hear the details of what you did, how you did it, and what you’ve learned. Your insights—alongside your bio and information about your book—could appear in the pages of Writer’s Digest magazine.

To be considered for a spotlight in WD, simply answer the questions below and show us why you and your book(s) make a great example for other authors to follow. Email your responses (in the body of the email) to writersdigest@fwmedia.com with “IT WORKED FOR ME” in the subject line. Attach a hi-res cover image(s) of your book(s). In submitting your questionnaire, you are granting permission for your responses and cover image(s) to appear in Writer’s Digest magazine and other WD publications and/or on WritersDigest.com, and acknowledging that responses may be edited for space or clarity. Selected authors may be contacted for additional information.

Book/series title:

Genre (memoir, mystery/thriller, romance, mainstream fiction, etc.):

One-sentence description of the book/series:

Publication date(s):

Publication method(s) (specify print or e-book[s], and printing service or formatting service[s] used):

Distribution method(s):



Brief bio (beyond this particular book/series):


Social media handles:

My promotional strategy/philosophy, in a nutshell:

Why I decided to focus my efforts this way:

How I put my plan into action (specific steps taken, online and/or in person):

Which efforts worked best (including specific pricing, if relevant, and results, such as bursts in rankings or sales):

Other signs that readers were engaged (increased social media numbers, Goodreads buzz, etc.):

How much money and time I estimate to have invested in my promotional efforts:

Copies sold to date:

What I’d do the same with the next book:

What I’d do differently (or skip) with the next book:

Takeaways/lessons for my fellow writers:

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10. An Intimate Look at Working with an Editor


I have been blessed with a mutually respectful and affectionate relationship with the brilliant Jane von Mehren, my editor at Viking/Penguin for The Passion of ArtemisiaThe Forest Lover, and Life Studies, and at Random House for Clara and Mr. Tiffany. Due to the exigencies of publishing company shifts, I have lost her. Let this be a tribute to her guidance and support.

I loved our exploratory discussions of a fictional idea just as it was taking shape, and appreciated her open-mindedness. In talking about Lisette’s List, she encouraged me to think and invent freely, and said the paintings didn’t have to be real, nor did the people. In this way she moved me out of the limitations of tracing a researched portion of a painter’s life, into the realm of pure fiction, the challenge I needed. I was filled with excitement and eagerness.

When she approved of an idea, or gave me a solution to a narrative problem, it was always a thrill. After six months of researching Winslow Homer whose paintings I love, and writing 75 pages, I was still struggling with the framing of the novel. I admitted to her that his life just didn’t lend itself to having sufficient conflict to create the arc of a story. She very gently, in a soft voice, said, “Maybe this isn’t the novel that you should write.” Oh, how relieved I was to hear that! That freed me to conceive of Lisette’s List.

On an earlier occasion, I proposed a novel spun from van Gogh’s powerful but dark (some would say depressing) painting, The Potato Eaters. It would feature his troubled attempts at ministering to miners, his early experiences as a painter, and some unfortunate events with a woman. Jane said she thought it might work. Looking at his painting of a peasant family at their meager dinner, she asked, “But do we have to put these ugly peasants on the cover?” That was enough to dissuade me from that. “Can’t you find a painting that is more colorful and joyful?” she said, and that was when I found Renoir’s glorious Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Normally, I wrote nine drafts before she saw the text. Naturally, the harder part was reading her first critique letter. It generally began with a paragraph or

two of glowing commendations, identifying the strengths of the text, followed by many pages of carefully thought-out constructive criticism together with possible solutions to problems that she perceived, and ended with much needed encouragement.

That was followed by another draft or two on which she wrote abundant marginal notes. When I discovered a word of praise, I rejoiced. When I saw a directive, I either hastened to fix it in order to hide even from myself the foolish error I had made, or I sulked and ruminated until I found a way to resolve the problem.

Discussing a draft of The Passion of Artemisia over the phone, she pointed out that I devoted only one line to Artemisia having a baby, an event that would impact her painting life and thetherefore, the rest of the novel. She said that it deserved a whole chapter, and asked why I hadn’t given it more attention. I answered that I hadn’t written it out of avoidance because I didn’t know a thing about having a baby, never having had one. We laughed together over this obvious omission, and I went to work asking a slew of women what having a baby was like.

In The Forest Lover, I had to contend forcefully for keeping Emily Carr’s quirky expressions and sentence fragments which ran counter to Jane’s linguistic correctness. In fact, I had to write her a lengthy letter defending the voice I had created by citing passages in Carr’s journals, before she retracted this criticism. She never complained about my sentence fragments again. In that experience we both learned something–she, to recognize that an author can be right, I, to stand up for my work.

In each novel, we eventually arrived at a point where we were both contending over some few small things. This is the part I liked the least because I had to conquer my feelings of injury and often had to give up something in the text that I loved for the betterment of the book. For example, in draft 12.1 of Clara and Mr. Tiffany, I included this line very near the end of the novel: “Maybe my real lifework was loving.” She suggested, strongly, I recall, that I delete it because it

was understood. After much back and forth between the two of us, and after recognizing that the chapter title was “Lifework,” I took it out in draft 12.3. She was usually right so I trusted her judgment. I may have grieved a bit when I gave in, but it was Jane who gave in on the line, “I was awash with love for her,” which she agreed to keep in the same passage.

By the time I’m deep at work on another book, I’ve forgotten what all my fussing was about. So it has been a decade-long give-and-take, marked by generous encouragement and–dare I say it?–love. I remain humbled and grateful.

LisettesList_FotorSusan Vreeland (svreeland.com) is the internationally known author of art-related historical fiction. Four of her books are New York Times bestsellers. Lisette’s List presents one woman’s yearning for art at a time when her family’s collection of paintings had to be hidden in the south of France from Nazi art thieves. Clara and Mr. Tiffany reveals the talented woman who conceived of and designed the well-loved Tiffany leaded glass lamps. Luncheon of the Boating Party depicts Renoir’s masterpiece, the personalities involved in its making, and the joie de vivre of late nineteenth century Paris. Life Studies is a collection of stories of Impressionist painters told by people who knew them, as well as contemporary individuals encountering art in meaningful ways. Girl in Hyacinth Blue traces an alleged Vermeer painting through the centuries. The Passion of Artemisia illuminates Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. The Forest Lover follows rebel British Columbia painter Emily Carr in her encounters with native peoples and cultures. What Love Sees, tells the love story of a blind couple who refuse to accept limitations. Four of these books have been winners of the Theodor Geisel Award, the highest honor given by the San Diego Book Awards. Vreeland’s novels have been translated into 26 languages, and have frequently been selected as Book Sense Picks. She was a high school English teacher in San Diego for thirty years.


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11. Query Question: full requests, but no rep

I've been querying agents and have gotten a partial or full request from quite a few, but I seem to get stuck at the last step: an offer of representation. They give the same reasons - they like my writing, my plot, even my characters, but they just don't fall in love with the novel.

As an example, the last agent (who had a partial) said: "You have a great imagination - I love the premise - and you're a good writer, but I'm sad to say that I just wasn't passionate enough about this to ask to see more. I wish I could offer constructive suggestions, but I thought the dialogue was fine, the characters well-crafted, and the plot well-conceived. I think it's the kind of thing that really is subjective - why some people adore the book on the top of the NYTimes bestseller list, and others don't." I've received similar comments from other agents.

What should I do? I don't even know what I'm doing wrong.

You're not doing anything wrong, you're just not doing something that excites agents and gets them to keep reading.

My esteemed colleague Jenny Bent (who knows a thing or ten about good books) once tweeted that pacing was the single biggest problem she found in requested fulls that she didn't offer to represent.

Clearly you need help with something. This is where you find a brutal critique group or enroll in a year long class (Grub Street  offers this kind of workshop.)

You don't mention which novel this is for you: first, second or Nth.  I remember Jenny Milchman saying she wrote something like nine novels before her "first" published novel.

It takes a long time to learn to write a good novel.  Clearly you've got talent if you're getting requests, but maybe you're just not quite there yet.  (Remember the 10,000 hour theory made famous by Malcolm Gladwell)

0 Comments on Query Question: full requests, but no rep as of 8/25/2014 7:29:00 AM
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12. Megan Volpert: Poet Interview

Please welcome Megan Volpert to the Poetic Asides blog! I met Megan earlier this year in Austin as we were both National Feature Poets for the Austin International Poetry Festival and from the Atlanta area. Anyway, I watched her read twice in Texas and enjoyed both readings.

Megan Volpert

Megan Volpert

Volpert is the author of five books on communication and popular culture. She is also the editor of This assignment is so gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching. For the better part of a decade, Volpert has been doing three things: teaching high school English in Atlanta, living with ulcerative colitis, and driving a motorcycle.

Predictably, her website is www.meganvolpert.com.

Volpert’s Only Ride is a wonderful collection of prose poems that can be read in order, out of order, but especially out loud.

Here is a poem I really enjoyed from Only Ride:

We all fight, by Megan Volpert

I think it would be cool to own a switchblade. But that means carrying it around & then that means using it, which seems like no fun. I’m not a violent person. Go ahead & throw me under the bus though, because I can lift it with my tongue. No kid ever bullied me in school. For years, I didn’t understand it was because of my smart mouth. I didn’t even know I had one until my father put soap in it. All people are strong & most don’t know what their strengths are. The life is perfectly salvageable. It’s just the person is not yet interested in getting saved.


What are you currently up to?

Well, I finally watched all of Breaking Bad this summer. But work wise, there are a few things brewing. Most immediately, in May 2015, Gina Myers of Lame House Press is kindly publishing a chapbook of about a dozen weird little language experiments I built based on something Michel Foucault once said. So we are having a blast contemplating design elements for that.

But I’m also knee deep in research for a book of essays I’m writing about punk rhetorics of independence during the American Bicentennial year, which is like holding a seance for Hunter S. Thompson. That will be breaking some new nonfiction ground for Sibling Rivalry Press, though I don’t think there’s anyone left who doubts that SRP is blowing up all kinds of new avenues. Bryan Borland-Pennington is deeply visionary, and moreover, remarkably nice for somebody so successful.

A little further out, I’ve recently begun to collaborate with the amazing and tender performance artist Craig Gingrich-Philbrook. We are investigating the nature of failure, of shows we imagined but then tossed away before they could become realities. That will be CGP’s first book, to which a million people have been looking forward for a very long time, and I’m just proud he wants to make the leap on that with me.

Only Ride is your fifth collection of poems. Do you have a process for assembling poems for a collection of poetry?

Yes, I’ve basically stopped thinking about each piece in isolation. They each have to stand alone, of course, but more and more often I am beginning with the big idea then drilling down to determine its component parts. I know what sort of machines I’m after, so I really proceed more from what the total function of the book will be and then write bits and pieces as I stumble across applications of the project’s main functions in my daily life.

Only Ride, in particular, is based on a series of constraints. It’s all prose poems between 95 and 110 words, with titles that are complete sentences. My previous collection was the Warhol thing, which was so sprawling and research heavy that I really wanted to work on something more compact and minimal next. I typed most of them on my phone, on the train during my morning commute. I’d let a batch sit in my notepad for a month or so, then revise the whole pile over a couple hours on a weekend. I knew my subjects, so when I reached my target of 66 pieces, I laid them all out on the floor and organized first based on chronological order of the events in the poems then for the right emotional arch within each subject or time period.

Other stuff can present itself for more obvious arrangement, for example, the 1976 book will report historical events in a straightforward chronological order, one month per chapter. I do prefer organic methods like that. My first two collections still feel well organized, but I agonized over those little piecemeal frankensteins, which in hindsight seems unnecessary.

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market


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Reserve your copy of the latest (and greatest) copy of Poet’s Market today!

This poetic resource includes hundreds of poetry publishing opportunities, including listings for book and chapbook publishers, literary journals, magazines, contests and awards, grants, conferences, and more! Plus, there are articles on the business of poetry, promotion of poetry, craft of poetry, poet interviews, and contemporary poems.

Click to continue.


One of my favorite moments from this year’s Austin International Poetry Festival was watching you have the audience select random poems from Only Ride to read—kind of like a poetry jukebox. Was that the intention for this collection?

Intention is a strong word, but sure. In the design discussions, I was adamant about no table of contents and no page numbers. Life doesn’t have those, and I like it if the physical product of my books can surprise readers in useful ways like that. It contributes something beyond just the quality of the writing. Fonts choices are also of critical import to me, selecting the weight of the paper, and so on. I’m lucky SRP trusts me to participate in those choices.

But as much as I thought about how each poem would be performed aloud and live, it honestly never once occurred to me that I would have no system for putting together a set list. I think it looks silly to put sticky notes on so many pages, especially with these poems that are all just a minute long. I’d have like 20 tabs hanging out, and still the problem of whether to go through the book in order or not. I considered numbering the pages in my own reading copy for reference, but it really felt like cheating.

So I gave up control to the audience, and the first few times they loved it so profoundly that I just kept doing it. It allows me to be much more in the moment, enjoying the connections we make together. And it sure is nice not to have to sit down ahead of time for a half hour and fool myself into believing I know what those future moments of the reading should hold.

Only Ride, by Megan Volpert

Only Ride, by Megan Volpert

Each spread in Only Ride has a title on one page and a prose poem on the other. What appeals to you about the prose poem?

Ten years ago, I’d have said nothing appeals to me about the prose poem. In grad school, I was notoriously militant about the value of line breaks and could pontificate about the evil vagaries of the prose poem for an hour stretch without breaking a sweat.

But at some point, I gave up on the label of poetry. Truly, I know a lot of people categorize Only Ride as a collection of prose poems, but you could just as easily call them flash or micro-essays. I work in a hybrid kind of area and don’t see a lot of merit in genre classifications beyond their value as marketing tools. The Warhol book was hardly clear cut as poetry either. I don’t feel I’ve lost my capacity for line breaks, but I’m genuinely disinterested in them right now. I expect this trend to continue for awhile on into the future as I expand into making texts that are more easily identifiable as nonfiction, like the 1976 book and the collaboration with CGP.

I realize that doesn’t answer your question, but it does answer for some of the assumptions sliding around under the question.

You teach high school English. Do you find teaching helps or hinders your writing? Or the other way around?

Oh, teaching helps. No question about that. Because I am essentially a manic person, I am terrible at vacationing. After two or three weeks away from my students, I’m quite refreshed and ready to go back. I did just a sick amount of research and writing for the 1976 book during my eight weeks of summer break. It was so gross. I was inside all day, alone, staring at my computer. My back hurt, my vision got weird, and I went into that freaky liminal writing space for just too long too often. I couldn’t be a full time writer, and not because it doesn’t pay well enough. I get great inspiration from my students, plus I need the hamster wheel of the school to keep myself from being so focused on writing that I simply go nuts.

Do you have a writing routine?

It varies from project to project because it emerges out of the needs of each project, but I can at least say that I am more productive in the morning or afternoon and that I type almost everything now. I’ve always enjoyed writing in transit, on airplanes or trains especially, but have no explanation to offer as to why that might be. See also: above discussion of unhealthy manic behaviors.

One poet no one knows but should—who is it?

Brock Guthrie, no relation to Woody. We went to grad school together at LSU. His debut collection, Contemplative Man, is out now from Sibling Rivalry Press. When we would workshop together, I thought most of his comments were kind of dopey but all of his poems made me totally jealous. Envy is actually not an emotion I feel very often toward other writers, but wow, I just wanted to steal everything Brock ever wrote. Brock is still not good at promoting himself, or finding a publisher. I’ve been helping him out on those ugly business fronts, but as a writer, he nails it every time and I’m not going to attempt to encapsulate it for you. Just buy the book. Brock is the type of guy who will go unnoticed for 40 more years, then up and win a Pulitzer on the merit of the work alone. Get in on it while he’s still nobody famous, and later on you can join me in the I-told-you-so fest.

Who (or what) are you currently reading?

I used to be a one book at a time kid of girl, but now I usually have two of three things going. I read tons of monthly pop culture magazines, from Rolling Stone to Esquire. I’ve been checking out a lot of Erma Bombeck, which is a 1976 thing. I just finished Bob Colacello’s excellent old book about the Reagans’ path to the presidency. And I’m steeped in Lester Bangs just for the sound of him. I’ve always kept mainly to nonfiction and don’t read much new poetry, though I did love Bruce Covey’s new book. When I want poetry, I listen to new music. As I type this, I am listening to Tom Petty’s new album, Hypnotic Eye, on loop. When I want fiction, I watch television dramas like Rescue Me or Six Feet Under. Whatever the medium, I pretty much prefer a pile of snark with a dash of morbidity. Surprise.

If you could only share one piece of advice with fellow poets, what would it be?

Fuhgeddaboudit. Stop asking fellow poets for advice and do whatever you damn well know in your heart feels best.


Robert Lee Brewer is an editor with the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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13. Literary Agent Spotlight: Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group

Today’s literary agent spotlight is with Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. Mark is actively building his client list at the moment, and is definitely worth getting to know better. Learn more about him below:




About Mark: From an early age, Mark showed a passionate interest in his father’s work, his founding of Trident with Dan Strone, and the growth of the company. And his father Robert took great pleasure in being “grilled” regularly by Mark.  This focus on publishing continued at Emerson College, where Mark was a founding member of the Publishing Club, then its President, subsequently overseeing its first publication under the Wilde Press imprint. After graduating Emerson with a degree in writing, literature and publishing, Mark began his career as an assistant to the Vice President of the Berkley imprint at Penguin, working with leading editors at the firm.

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

Mark’s first position at Trident was in the foreign rights department, assisting the department’s agents in selling the books of clients around the world. Mark continued to follow the customary Trident development process by next assuming the position of audio rights agent. Since Mark has managed the audio rights business, the annual sales volume has doubled (for more information on audio books, please see the Audio Books page under our Services tab). Now while continuing to head up audio rights, Mark is building his own client list of writers.  Follow Trident Media Group on Twitter or on Facebook.

He is seeking: In fiction, he seeks Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Comics, Graphic novels, Historical, History, Horror, Literary, Middle Grade, Mystery, Thrillers and New adult.

In nonfiction, he seeks Arts, Cinema, Photography, Biography, Memoir, Self-help, Sports, Travel, World cultures, True crime, Mind/Body/Spirit, Narrative Nonfiction, Politics, Current affairs, Pop culture, Entertainment, Relationships, Family, Science, Technology.

How to submit: Use the online submission form here. Make sure you direct your inquiry to Mark.

(Can your query be longer than one page?)



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is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
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14. Have a lovely restful day

0 Comments on Have a lovely restful day as of 8/24/2014 9:03:00 AM
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15. Query Question: I'd like to avoid fame, please

I have a question for you (I have only read so far back on your blog posts, so I apologize if you have addressed this farther back) regarding anonymity. My first novel that I am working on right now is a bit like Grisham, Crichton, and King having an orgy produced love child with Veronica Mars, including Big Themes about free will, power structures, Biblical metaphors, neuropsychogy, feminism and the nature of creative vs destructive genius all wrapped up in the palatable presentation of a suspense novel from a female perspective (with a tiny bit of sarcastic comic relief interspersed throughout to play with the tension - I have been writing/performing stand-up comedy for 2 years).

I would love to write across genres as I have always been a fan of horror, scifi, fantasy, and suspense. I also would like to avoid fame as long as possible so that I may continue to interact with real humans in order to continue widening my reality tunnel so I can understand as many diverse perspectives as possible.

Would a literary agent take on a writer who has the desire to avoid fame under one name, instead preferring to write under a variety of names, or is the publishing industry as such that they rely on the Cult of Personality to sell books?

I have found that people only pay attention to the message for so long before they begin deifying the messenger instead. I would rather people understand the complex scientific and philosophical concepts I am translatong into more common language through metaphor while enjoying the entertainment aspects instead of just blindly worshipping a favorite author. I am aware that it may sound like hubris to imagine myself as a literary rock star, but I have confidence in my wisdom and understanding of humanity and my ability to convey that in various metaphorical languages for wide audiences.

Given that I would like to remain relatively unknown for as long as possible, should I go the literary agent/publishing house or the self publishing route?

Thanks in advance and I hope that wasn't a duplicate question.

I think you're the perfect candidate for self-publishing. Make sure you hire an excellent book designer, a good copy editor and leave your author photo off the dust jacket.

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16. 5 Quick Tips for Writing in Multiple Perspectives

Let's Get Lost coverWriting a novel from one unique perspective can be challenging enough for many writers, but writing a character’s story through multiple perspectives will multiply the challenges, but also the rewards. Adi Alsaid’s new novel, Let’s Get Lost (Harlequin Teen, 2014), is an excellent example of using multiple perspectives to effectively tell the story of one character’s road trip while also keeping the reader enticed and invested for the entire ride. Here, Alsaid offers five quick tips for authors who hope to do the same in their stories.

* * * * *

I’ve always been drawn to multiple perspectives, both as a reader and as a writer. And as a person! I like getting into people’s heads. That’s what I love about fiction, the ease with which we can slip into someone else’s thoughts. So when I write, I like telling a story from as many perspectives as the narrative will allow. With Let’s Get Lost, I thought it would be really interesting to tell a road-trip tale through the eyes of characters who are stationary, who are going through their own issues, their own lives, when a mysterious girl comes crashing in. Here are my tips for writing in multiple perspectives.

  • Differentiate the voices. The easiest way to fail at multiple perspective is to not actually have any. Don’t give characters the same sense of humor, the same vocabulary, the same sense of right and wrong. When in doubt, read the different perspectives aloud.
  • Start small. Instead of trying to encompass an entire character’s persona, zoom in on a detail. A simple desire, one thought, a bite of pasta, even. It’s a lot less intimidating to start with a bite of pasta than with an entire backstory in mind. The rest will build from there, and will probably feel more authentic for it.
  • Explore. If you’re writing from different perspectives, at least one of them is probably wholly different to your own. That’s not a challenge, it’s a chance to explore what it means to be someone else. A parking lot, for example, looks different to a woman walking alone in her twenties than to a woman trying to keep two toddlers from running out into traffic before she reaches the target. What would it be like to be a teenager living in a war-torn region? You probably don’t know for sure, but you have a chance to find out if you start with a small detail and then explore from there.
  • Keep it personal. Just because the characters are not like you doesn’t mean they can’t have pieces of you in them. In some way, they should care about what you care about. Or maybe they have the exact opposite beliefs, or they have courage that you don’t. Whatever it is, consider the personal connection the character has with you as you move forward. If you don’t connect with the characters on a personal level, your readers probably won’t either.
  • Connection. This one may not be for everybody. What I love most about books—reading or writing them—is the chance to connect to others, the idea that people have similar thoughts and experiences, even though they may not know it. Do this in your stories too. Make connections, subtle or otherwise. Make them pass by each other a minute or two apart. Have someone in common in their backstory without them being aware of it. It’s the beauty of multiple perspectives, you can explore human connection in ways that we may miss in real life.

Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City. He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While in class, he mostly read fiction and continuously failed to fill out crossword puzzles, so it’s no surprise that after graduating he packed up his car and escaped to the California coastline to become a writer. He’s now back in his hometown, where he writes, coaches high school and elementary basketball, and has perfected the art of making every dish he eats or cooks as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he has lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas and Monterey, California. A tingly feeling in his feet tells him that more places will eventually be added to the list. For more, visit www.somewhereoverthesun.com.

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17. Query Question: Full request, but did they receive it?

A few months ago I started the querying process for a supernatural thriller of mine. Within the first couple of weeks I received three requests for the full manuscript. About a week later, two of those three agents politely declined. Three months later, and one of them has yet to get back to me. My problem is this: I emailed the manuscript to the agent's assistant as requested. The agent's website indicates response time of 4-6 weeks. It's been well over that, so last week I sent a polite follow up to the assistant just to make sure the manuscript was received, and I have yet to get a response.

Is it considered 'too pushy' to email the agent directly for a follow up? I'm worried that perhaps the assistant isn't receiving my emails. I say this because the other two agents I emailed responded right away with a "thank you! I will get back to you in ____ amount of time," but I didn't receive any confirmation from the assistant what so ever.

Thanks for you time! I hope I'm not being too paranoid.

There's no such thing as too paranoid when you're a writer. You guys can work yourselves into a frenzy over correct punctuation. I've seen it happen:

However in this case you are not paranoid. You are correct to be concerned.  I can think of several things that might have happened:

1. The assistant is no longer employed there and the agency hasn't fixed her email yet.

2. The assistant doesn't know she's supposed to acknowledge receipts of full manuscripts.

3. They didn't get it, the assistant lost it, or some other cataclysmic event that is giving the assistant conniptions.

Therefore, because this is your career, and your manuscript, you politely email the agent and say "I just want to confirm that you received the manuscript you requested from me on DATE.  Thank you for your time and consideration.  Love, You.  PS Your assistant is a slacker.

 Never assume someone got a file.  I've seen this happen, and in fact, wrote a blog post about it.

And the reason I know this is the correct path? It happens with editors too.

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18. A Few Sips Off

You take a sip from your drink and feel different. That may be because your torso has an extra arm protruding from it. Another sip, another arm. Then a wing. What happens if you finish the drink?

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.

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19. Query Question: when is a novella not a novella?

I have a question regarding submitting my work to literary agents. I write juvenile horror novellas for ages 8-14 (I like to think between Goosebumps & Twilight Zone) and what I'm finding is that several agents don't represent novella writers. Is this pretty standard or am I unfortunately finding only those that don't? 

You're confused about what you're writing. You're not writing novellas. You're writing chapter books. Novellas are shorter than novels, but that only applies to adult trade books.

You're writing for kids. That means you look for agents who say they are looking for MG (middle grade) or YA (young adult)

You describe your work as scary chapter books akin to R.L. Stine.

And I'm guessing you don't belong to SCBWI because you didn't know this.  Join. Learn. It's a resource you'll come to value a great deal.

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20. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 276

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out my announcement of the 2015 Poet’s Market. (Click here.)

For this week’s prompt, write a news poem. When I’m really in a creative rut, there’s one constant source of new ideas for me: the news! There are the big headlines; there’s the sports page, the comics, and the advertisements. One of my former professors (James Cummins) would have us read the “News of the Weird” for ideas. There’s always plenty happening in the world to prompt a poem.

Note of caution: Remember that news is (or should be) impartial. The poems inspired by the news need not be. That said, please be respectful of each other’s views and opinions. Even when we don’t all agree on a topic, we should still listen with open minds and hearts.


Publish Your Poetry!

Learn how to get your poetry published with the latest (and greatest) edition of Poet’s Market. The 2015 Poet’s Market is filled with articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry, in addition to poet interviews and original poetry by contemporary poets.

Plus, the book is filled with hundreds of listings for poetry book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, contests, grants, conferences, and more!

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a News Poem:

“5 Things to Start Your Day”

An American journalist
beheaded in a foreign land.

Water bottles provoked police
in demonstrations here at home.

A new Icelandic volcano
threatens to disrupt air travel.

Another patient is tested
for Ebola in the U.S.

Two cardinals and a goldfinch
have visited your bird feeder.


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

A former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, Robert has been a featured poet at events across the country and is married to poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets. He’s written and shared more than 600 original poems on this blog over the years.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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21. Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool – Aug. 21 Webinar With Agent Nephele Tempest

nephele_tempestA strong, compelling synopsis serves as a vital sales tool at every stage of your career. Whether you are a new writer starting to submit to agents or a multi-published author proposing a project to your editor, you need to be able to write a synopsis that meets your needs. That means not only writing an interesting synopsis that shows off your project to its best advantage, but tailoring it to suit different purposes. A synopsis written from a completed manuscript differs from one written as part of a proposal.

In this live 90-minute webinar — titled “Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool” —  literary agent Nephele Tempest will show you how to tackle the task head on, and to generate the right synopsis for your project—and your audience. Shake off your fear and frustration and master the art of writing the synopsis. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, August 21, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.


  • Break down your plot into manageable parts
  • Emphasize the most important details of your project
  • Build interest in your story while remaining concise
  • Maintain a tone consistent with your manuscript
  • Produce a synopsis for a project that is incomplete
  • Adapt the length of your synopsis depending on its intended use


U8059Nephele Tempest joined The Knight Agency in January, 2005, opening the Los Angeles office. She comes from a diverse publishing and finance background, having worked in the editorial department at Simon and Schuster, as a financial advisor at Dean Witter, in the marketing and communications departments of several major New York investment firms, and as a freelance writer. Her experiences in sales, marketing, and writing provide her with insights into multiple aspects of the publishing industry. Nephele belongs to the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). She continues to actively build her client list, and is currently seeking works in the following genres: literary/commercial fiction, women’s fiction, science fiction, fantasy, single-title romance, historical fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction.


  • Writers who have no idea how to start writing a synopsis
  • Writers whose existing synopsis sounds dull and lifeless in comparison to their novel
  • Writers who cannot find a way to cut their synopsis down to an appropriate length
  • Writers who cannot get past the query stage when submitting to agents
  • Writers interested in selling work based on several opening chapters and a synopsis


All registrants are invited to submit their revised synopsis. All submitted synopses are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Nephele Tempest. Nephele reserves the right to request to see a partial or full manuscript by e-mail following the event, if the project interests her. Instructions on how to submit your work are sent after you have purchased the webinar and officially register in Go-to-Webinar. When you have registered in GTW, you will receive a confirmation email from gotowebinar@citrixonline.com, which contains the information you need to access the live webinar AND the Critique Submission Instructions.

Sign up now!

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22. Research Before You Send a Query Letter

Let me first begin by saying I love working as a literary agent. Since opening Greyhaus Literary Agency in 2003, I have had the chance to work with a lot of great writers, agents and publishers. Let’s face it – there are very few jobs out there where we get to do something many consider simply a hobby. However, with all of the great things about the job, the one thing I hate the most (and I know many other agents and editors feel the same way) is the part about writing rejection letters to authors. This is simply not a fun activity.

Now, there are really two different types of rejection letters. The first one I don’t have a big problem with. These are the letters for projects that might not be quite right for what I am looking for, or for stories that might not be ready for publishing yet. With stories like this, we can often take the time to provide a few suggestions for improvement, or to discuss why the story is not right for us. Yes, writing the letters takes time, but when I hit “send” I feel as if this author might be one step closer to publishing.

(How NOT to start your story. Read advice from agents.)


index~~element5Column by Scott Eagan, owner and agent of the Greyhaus Literary Agency.
Scott has made sales to publishers including: Harper Collins, Pocket, New
American Library, Source Books and Harlequin. Scott is currently acquiring
authors in most areas of romance and women’s fiction, but, as the article
states, take the time to visit the website first to make sure that sub-genre
you write is what he is looking for! Authors can also visit scott at
www.scotteagan.blogspot.com, on Twitter @greyhausagency.



It is, however, the second letter of rejection that really gets frustrating to write. These are for authors submitting projects that the agency does not represent. Over the years, the number of these rejection letters has increased significantly. In fact, on one recent day in March, as I was answering submissions, I requested 2 partials, passed on 2-3 because the premise just didn’t work for me, and rejected 30 projects simply because these were not projects Greyhaus Literary Agency represented. What added to the frustration was the number of those submissions that were sent directly from my website.

If receiving rejection letters is as equally as frustrating as what I feel writing the letters, there are some very easy steps authors should take to remedy the situation.

Begin your research with general guides. Books such as Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents are great starting points. Add in websites such as Query Tracker and you have a good list to build your research from.

Go to the source! No matter what resources you use to build your list of potential agents, make sure you visit the websites of the editors and agents. Review their website submission guidelines. Please note this is the most accurate information. Along the same lines, do not send something that is not on their list. Agents and editors will not acquire something that they don’t represent just because they think it might be a great read. Authors need to understand that agents and editors specialize in areas they are knowledgeable in and have the resources available to really help you as an author.

Going to the source is also crucial since many agents and editors will shift what they want, or even close for submissions, depending on the needs of the market or their own work load. Publishing is a constantly shifting market and authors need to take the time to stay up to speed!

(What writing credentials will impress an agent or editor?)

Know your genre. This is a small one but very important. Know what genre you are really writing in. For example, just because you have a romantic relationship in your story does not mean it is a romance. Just because your heroine is the protagonist does not mean it is women’s fiction.

Stalk the editors and agents. Next, if you think you have narrowed your search down to a list of specific editors and agents, start following them on social media. Listen to what they “chat” about. Pay attention to the books they like, the books they hate and the books they acquire. This will guide you in determining if your story is still a right fit.

E-mail and ask first. And finally, if you are still confused. You have read their submission guidelines and when they say, “I do not acquire young adult romance” and you don’t understand what they mean by that, then email and ask. Do not send it as a submission letter; just ask the question – “Hi Mr. Eagan. I am just inquiring if you accept young adult romances? I have reviewed your website submission guidelines and there is not mention that you do or don’t.” A simple word of warning though – Make sure you did read the submission guidelines. It makes you look like an idiot if you ask a question that is clearly stated on the submission guidelines.

I always say that researching the editors is not that hard. It does take time though but in this business, you need to have patience. Taking that time will certainly increase your chances of having an editor or agent read your submission. Getting them to publish it? Well, that depends on the quality of the work.



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:


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23. How I Got My Book Deal (and a Literary Agent): Mary Weber

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Mary Weber, author of STORM SIREN. 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: Mary 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).


STORM-SIREN-COVER-NOVEL-WEBER       mary-weber-author-writer

Mary Weber is a ridiculously uncoordinated girl plotting to take over make-believe
worlds through books, handstands, and imaginary throwing knives. In her spare
time, she feeds unicorns, sings 80’s hairband songs to her three muggle children,
and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. Her YA fantasy
STORM SIREN released August 19, 2014. Jay Asher, New York Times
bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why said of the book, “There are
few things more exciting to discover than a debut novel packed with powerful
storytelling and beautiful language. STORM SIREN is one of those rarities.”
Find Mary on Facebook (MaryWeber, Author), or Twitter (@mchristineweber).

I Needed A Writing Community

Six years ago I showed my mother the beginnings of my earliest book (about vampires, because I may have just read and adored Twilight, ahem). She complimented me. “Here’s a list of all the things I like!” she said (because that’s what mothers are supposed to say). And then promptly handed me five (yes, FIVE) books on writing. “Here, dear. I think these will help you.”

That is my mother. An encourager. An author in her own right. And a mentor.

A few months later she connected me with a freelance editor friend and the three of us added another member and formed a critique group.

Three years went by. The vampire story was replaced by an urban fantasy, and in the course of those years I wrote my busy heart out, critiqued with my group, and researched everything I could on agents and publishing. Basically, I STALKED Chuck’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog. The writers on here were all so encouraging. “Keep going. Keep learning. Keep writing,” they cheered.

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

Then I Began Querying.

The replies started out as silence or “Not for me.” If an agent happened to mercifully slip in an extra snippet of feedback on the note, I would edit and adjust accordingly. Until eventually a few of the rejections became more personalized – emails of “Not interested in this project but feel free to send me another.” Or a couple times requests for rewrites on the urban fantasy story. Followed by rejections of those rewrites. (Holy kracken those ones stung the worst.)

But by the end of that process three things had happened:
1. I’d racked up a sweet total of eighty-seven rejections (and cried more times than I can count).
2. I discovered that, while the urban fantasy really wasn’t going to sell, somehow, amid all the studying and rewriting, I’d actually learned to carve a decent story.
3. A friend paid my way to a writers’ conference with the belief that they are the best way to personally connect with editors and agents.

She Was Right – I Also Needed Connections

You know those manuscript pre-submissions a writer can send in ahead of time to the conference editors and agents? I mailed in my urban fantasy as a sort of last ditch effort. Despite my submission being on brown-inked pages (because my printer broke), two days into the conference I received an invite to chat with the publisher of Thomas Nelson, HarperCollins. “We can’t use this story,” he said, sitting across from me, holding my pages. “But have you ever considered writing YA?”


Six weeks later, he connected me with one of TN’s editors who invited me to meet up at another conference later in the year. I came up with ideas and early chapters for two young adult stories, the first of which she rejected. The second I pitched to her at the conference over a cup of tea.

(What are the BEST writers’ conferences to attend?)

I also pitched it to a number of agents while there, but it was one gentleman by the name of Lee Hough whom a mutual friend introduced me to, that I knew right away I wanted to work with. (I later discovered he was the agent for such NYT bestsellers as Same Kind of Different as Me and Heaven Is For Real.) Unfortunately, Lee wasn’t available (or even necessarily interested) to take on a YA author at the time.

But…we began talking. Which led to more talking over the next few months as he was kind enough to give me career guidance.


Four months later (probably upon finally realizing my annoying self wasn’t going away), Lee called and signed me. Shortly after, Thomas Nelson made an offer on Storm Siren.

I’m grieved to say that seven months after I signed with Lee he passed away from cancer. However, those months of his agent-guidance and kindness made (and continues to make) a heck of a difference on my publishing journey. My agent now is Andrea Heinecke from the same agency (Alive Communications), and I’m so grateful for her incredible guidance as well.

So here I am, thinking it’s a crazy honor to write this post for Guide to Literary Agents. Especially after spending three years pouring over the pages of this blog. Thank you to the authors who said: Keep reading, keep stalking (in a non-creeper way), and keep writing.

And to you, dear writers reading this…I wish you the very best of luck as well. Keep going. Keep stalking. Keep writing. And may your journey rock.

GIVEAWAY: Mary 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).


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


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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24. Querying a second agent after no reply from first

Back in April, I queried an agent at a literary agency where guidelines ask you to requery (with a note to that effect) after one month. After a little over a month, I re-queried, but I never did get any response. 

The agency invites queries to other agents once one has rejected your MS, but they're also clear that they always respond to queries. I'd really like to query another agent at the same agency, but I'm not sure what to do. I don't particularly want to email that first agent yet again with another reminder, as it just feels silly and pushy, and I'm also not sure it would do any good. Should I query a second agent at that agency? And, if I do, do I mention the no-response? I've been ignoring the other agents at the agency until now because of the no-answer, but as I get further down my query list, I can't help wondering and wishing I hadn't emailed this agent to begin with...

You query the second agent and you don't mention the first. If she's not courteous enough to reply to the initial query or the follow up, then either she didn't get either email, or she's so behind she's not even looking at her email.  What this means for you is she doesn't count anymore.  It's not a no, nor is it a yes, it's more like a do-over.

I know there are agents who have hundreds of queries stacked up over many months.  That's not your problem.  If an agent can't get a handle on her inbox and her website says 30 days, you've fulfilled your part of the social contract.

Of course, if the agent you're querying is me, you might want to check Query Letter Diagnostics, cause I'm caught up through yesterday.

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25. Are Subjects Joined by And Singular or Plural?

subjects-joined-by-and-singular-or-pluralQ: I’m writing a letter and am uncertain which sentence is correct: Your passion and commitment to my company HAVE inspired many, or, Your passion and commitment to my company HAS inspired many? —Carrie G.

This kind of thing used to trip me up, too, as a subject with multiple nouns in it seems like it should always be plural. But that isn’t always the case. The way you group the items determines whether it’s a singular subject or a plural subject (and whether you’d use the plural verb have or the singular has). Let me explain.

Sentence subjects that have independent nouns connected by and are plural, thus requiring plural verbs (such as have). One trick to tell if the nouns are independent from each other is to divide the sentence into two sentences and see if the meaning stays the same. For example: The baseball players and the manager were disappointed after losing the big game. When divided, the sentences read: The baseball players were disappointed after losing the big game. The manager was disappointed after losing the game. The meaning is the same and these nouns are thus independent of each other, making the original sentence a plural sentence and requiring a plural verb (were).

Let’s apply this trick to the sentence in question, Your passion and commitment to my company have inspired many. It can be divided into two sentences and keep the same meaning (Your passion to my company has inspired many; your commitment to my company has inspired many), therefore it’s plural and requires the plural verb have.

Not all subjects using and to connect nouns are plural, though. Sentence subjects that have multiple nouns connected by and that refer to a singular thing require singular verbs. Consider, Green eggs and ham was Sam-I-Am’s favorite dish. In this sentence, green eggs and ham is one specific dish in and of itself, so you use the singular verb was. If you divide this sentence (Green eggs was his favorite dish/Ham was his favorite dish) you change the meaning—and Sam-I-Am would be pretty disappointed if you had him over for dinner and served only half of his favorite meal.

When in doubt, divide the sentence to see which verb you need. It will help you on your grammatical quest toward subject/verb agreement.

Want other Grammar Rules? Check out:
Sneaked vs. Snuck
Who vs. Whom
Lay vs. Lie vs. Laid 
Which vs. That
Since vs. Because
Ensure vs. Insure
Home in vs. Hone in
Leaped vs. Leapt

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


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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