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There are many resources out there for writing nonfiction, which can be confusing for writers trying to decide which one fits their needs. Here, with our new Writer’s Digest How to Write and Publish Nonfiction Premium Collection, you get 11 great writing resources covering everything—from writing better nonfiction to crafting your query letter to getting your nonfiction published—bundled together for one low price. There are details to all the books, webinars and downloads including in this collection below, but this is a limited time offer so click here to order before they are gone.
||Publish Your Nonfiction Book
PAPERBACKThis book collects every resource you need to publish your nonfiction story in one place! Whether you haven’t written your first page or you’re a published author, this book will make the process from idea to publication a painless one. Learn if you have the necessary skillset necessary for nonfiction writing, how to develop your platform and target your audience, and how to navigate the relationship with editors and publishers.
||Writing Creative Nonfiction
This compilation presents more than thirty essays examining every key element of the craft of writing creative nonfiction. Learn from today’s top creative writers how to draw on your own experiences for compelling nonfiction story ideas, how to structure your novel, how to use satire and other forms of humor, and more. This resource also includes a creative nonfiction “reader” featuring pieces from popular authors.
||3 Secrets to Getting Your Nonfiction Book Published
ONDEMAND WEBINARThis presentation will get you from idea to published in three steps. Find out the secrets of a nonfiction story that thrills agents and editors, how to craft a selling handle, the basics of proposal writing, and more. The webinar includes everything you need to know about the publishing process to ensure your story hits the shelves.
||Selling Your Nonfiction Book
EBOOKNot every nonfiction book is picked up by an agent or editor. There’s an art to writing your proposal and finding a publisher. This eBook outlines the seven components to crafting a nonfiction book proposal, what to include in the query letter, and books, websites and organizations that can help you prepare a winning nonfiction story proposal.
||How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal
DIGITAL DOWNLOADDo you know what prescriptive nonfiction is? This tutorial will outline how it can speed up the process to publication. As a nonfiction writer, you have to know how to position yourself as an expert on your topic and how to show editors that there’s a need for your book. This 30-minute video will uncover the best way to sell yourself in your book proposal.
||Nonfiction Books – Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
EBOOK EXCERPTThis eBook excerpt will guide you through the nonfiction story submission process. All components of your book proposal will be addressed: Cover letter, cover page, overview, marketing information or business case, competitive analysis, author information, chapter outline, sample chapters and additional attachments.
||How to Pitch and Publish Your Nonfiction Book
DIGITAL DOWNLOADPublishing nonfiction books is a different ballgame than fiction publishing. You pitch differently, you prepare differently, you write differently, and you get paid differently. This tutorial describes how to pitch your nonfiction book idea, how to complete the book proposal, and how to write your table of contents (TOC). The tutorial also covers authorship, co-authorship, contributing authorship, agents, and publishers.
||Marketing Plan Template for Non-Fiction Authors
DIGITAL DOWNLOADHow strong is your platform? In today’s publishing climate, nothing influences a publisher’s interest more than the strength of an author’s marketing plan. If publishers aren’t sure an author can help sell books, they tend to reject the book proposal and choose someone else. This downloadable template is a concise, four-page, Word document that walks you step-by-step through building your own marketing plan to distinguish yourself from the pack.
||Bestseller Website Tutorial for Non-Fiction Authors
DIGITAL DOWNLOADResearch has shown that websites are the top way readers choose to support their favorite authors. The more people you attract to your website, the more likely your book sales will increase. Sadly, too many authors hinder their success by throwing together a shoddy webpage or never setting up a website at all. Get expert insights from Rob Eagar, and build a website worthy of a bestseller!
||Ask the Editor: Nonfiction 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference Session
DIGITAL DOWNLOADThe market for nonfiction books is thriving and it can be substantially easier to get nonfiction published than fiction. In this Writer’s Digest Conference session, a panel of high-level nonfiction acquisition editors answer a range of important, thought-provoking questions about how books are acquired, what you can do to seal a deal – or kill it – and what they’re looking for, regardless of what the latest “trends” suggest. You’ll also learn about their stance on self-publishing and whether doing so can help or hurt your chances of securing a traditional contract.
||The Five Keys to Selling Your Nonfiction Book or Memoir OnDemand Webinar
ONDEMAND WEBINARIf your submission is going to get any consideration, you have to know what to emphasize and how to prioritize your points to make your book attractive.Your nonfiction book can quickly stand out and get attention if it presents the 5 key aspects of a book project. In this On Demand Webinar, learn how to craft your sales proposition, give good comparative titles, present your marketing platform, build your TOC and choose sample chapters to make agents want to represent you.
A friend of mine is about to sign their first ever book deal with a small press. I am overjoyed for them and they are, quite obviously, over the moon. Question/Problem I have is this: Their agent just suggested that they spend over $10K on a publicist to promote the book. I suspect the advance on this deal will be well south of that amount and that expected sales will probably not generate enough sales to cover that cost. I could be wrong and the publicist could be what pushes them up the bestseller lists. I just worry.First you (and the author) need to understand that what pushes a book onto the bestseller list is not publicity, it's sales. Number of copies ordered, number of copies shipped, number of copies across the cash register in a given day/week/month. (Each list has a different measuring standard.)You can have GREAT publicity but if people can't buy the book, it's all for naught.So, the first question your pal needs to ask the publisher: who's going to sell my book? And by this I don't mean bookstores. I mean who is going to introduce the book to the people who order stock for bookstores. Is there a sales team at the publisher? Is there a sales staff at all? Is it one of the (many) hats the publisher wears?My guess is the latter since small publishers tend not to have sales departments. The next question to ask is how many books the publisher intends to print in the initial print run. If the book is going to be print on demand, that means they're going to print the books to satisfy orders. No running inventory. This is a perfectly acceptable business practice but it means that publicity is almost useless. If the publisher is going to print for inventory, ask how many. Any number UNDER five thousand means the best seller lists are largely out of reach. The ones that are in reach are local stores best seller lists. If you do a signing, and sell 700 copies, you're going to be on that week's store best seller list. But you're not going to be on PW's. Or the NYT's.Publishers Weekly actually prints the number of copies sold in a given week of the 20 top selling books on each of their lists (hardcover, ppbk in both fiction and non-fiction) If you don't subscribe to PW, your library sure does, and they'll let you read back issues. Take a look to see some real numbers.Here's an example:Instead of spending money on publicity, your friend should spend money on marketing advice. There are lots of good ways to market a book from a small press, and many of them can be done by the author.If your friend is determined to hire a publicist, they should spend their money on consulting with one, not hiring a publicist to address envelopes and mail books to radio stations. A good publicist can help you spit polish your web presences, shore up your social media, and give you ten ideas about effective ways to promote yourself to readers. Here at The Reef, we have a publicist on retainer who does that for all my clients. It's damn useful let me tell you. She doesn't do the work, she more of a stern taskmaster who reminds you that tweeting cute baby shark pictures is all well and good, but it's not actually accomplishing what we want our twitter feed to do.
It’s your first day of college and, in your first class, your professor does something unusual—she has you all sit on the floor in a big circle and introduce yourself, as if you were in kindergarten. When it gets to be your turn, you say, “My name is _____. Every day I like to _____ in purple and yellow______.” Amused, the professor asks you to explain. So you do.
Want 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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The Passion of Minerva Mullen, a screenplay by Pamela Schott, is the Grand Prize winner of the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. You can read an extended interview with Pamela here, and view a full list of winners here. For complete coverage of the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, please check out the November/December 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest.
THE PASSION OF MINERVA MULLEN
Whatever you do, please don’t tell my mom about this screenplay. Because if she knew… If she knew that I was laying bare the story of a young girl, circa 1979, on the verge of womanhood, a smart ass middle child who has the unhappy distinction of being the product of 1) Catholic schools; 2) the military; and 3) a family that really knows how to take the “fun” out of dysfunctional, well… Let’s just say that she would wrongly assume that this is about her.
In truth, this story belongs purely, solely, and absolutely to the aforementioned school girl, one so-called Minerva Mullen (named for the Goddess of War; her father had big ideas) who has just about had it up to here with all the things she can’t control. Like nuns with rules (and rulers); a dad with orders that send him to sea with every turn of the tide; a posse of brothers who are left to navigate the road to manhood on their own; and a pill-popping, perpetually pregnant mother with a manic-depressive disorder that makes family life anything but livable. And this is the story of how, having stirred the wrath and ridicule of Holy Name school principal Sister Mary “Battle Axe” Bernard one time too many, Minerva lands in hot holy water and finds herself charged with the impossible task of mounting the school’s annual Christmas pageant to Sister’s satisfaction—complete with a real, live Baby Jesus—or face expulsion. But can Minerva keep the peace at home, the family in Holy Name’s good graces, and her own cool when a secret crush becomes her first true love?
For all the latch-key kids who remember what the world felt like when Iran took American hostages; who found the fun in a Slinky and Pet Rocks and Pong; who yearned for the first kisses, first cars and first place in the Spelling Bee; and who witnessed the advent of the self-help movement—watched, helpless, as their families fell apart, Minerva’s story is a story about what it’s like to go kicking and screaming into an uncertain future.
But it’s definitely, absolutely, and positively not about my mom. So, please. Whatever you do? Don’t tell her about this screenplay.
EXT. MILITARY BASE GATE, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA—MORNING—1979
A bright, early fall morning. Wind rustles EUCALYPTUS TREES and tall, colorless grasses that line the drive to the GUARD GATE.
Too fast, A DATSUN STATION WAGON approaches the GATE, braking at the last moment, tires crunching pavement.
As it stops, the GATE SERGEANT (early 20s) leans out of the guard shack, smartly salutes the COAST GUARD STICKER on the car’s silver bumper.
INT. STATION WAGON—MORNING
The driver, a very pregnant BRENDA MULLEN, early 30s, a pretty bottle blonde just this side of washed up, stubs her cigarette in the ash tray, rolls down her window.
Next to her is MINERVA MULLEN (15). Awkward, gangly, she’s got the bold-faced confidence of girls three times prettier, and a rebellious streak to match.
On Minerva’s lap is blonde, curly-haired PATSY KLINE (2). Patsy Kline munches Zweiback toast, works it through the web of her hands, into her hair. None wear a seat belt.
Good morning, Sergeant.
Sergeant rubs his gloved hands together, blows into them.
Looking good today, Sergeant. Very smart.
Ma’am, yes ma’am, Mrs. Mullen.
Please, Sergeant. Mrs. Mullen is my mother-in-law, the old battle ax.
Sergeant eyes the BAGS of bread in the back of the car.
Commissary out of bread this morning, Ma’am?
Can’t beat the day-old prices at the bakery. Girls, say good morning to the Sergeant.
Good morning, Sergeant.
Patsy Kline extends the mushy cookie, grins.
No cookie for me, Patsy Kline. Still on duty.
(grinding the gears)
Always by the book, eh, Sergeant? That’s what I like about you. Stay
Goodbye, Mrs. Mullen.
Brenda floors it, wipes Patsy Kline’s mouth with the corner of her sleeve, reaches to the dash to shove the CIGARETTE LIGHTER into place.
It’s a well-rehearsed orchestration of movements.
Grab me a cigarette, will you Minerva?
Minerva moves Patsy Kline off of her lap, straddles the seat to reach into the back.
Balance is precarious as Brenda takes the right angles of the base streets, rolling through each stop.
Why doesn’t the Sergeant ever say good morning to me?
You know how it is. The young ones always steal the show.
Brenda slows for another stop, pitching Patsy Kline forward towards the gear shift.
Whoa, there, Patsy Kline!
Minerva finds the SALEMS, climbs back to her seat.
You grow into those knobby knees of yours, that Sergeant’ll be
noticing you soon enough. Mark my words. And ‘Nerve?
Minerva peels the plastic from the pack, expertly smacks it against the heel of her hand, pulls a cigarette out.
Didn’t we have an agreement about those bangs?
Patsy Kline reaches for the cigarette.
No, Patsy Kline.
(to Patsy Kline)
Not till you’re 18, darlin’. 16, if you don’t let your daddy know you’re
The LIGHTER disengages with a crisp, metallic POP! Minerva lights the cigarette, avoids Patsy Kline’s grab.
No, Patsy Kline.
I like my bangs.
The cigarette lit, Brenda takes a long drag, down shifts.
They bounce onto the driveway and into the carport of a one-level, nondescript cinder block medley of grey and greyer, just like every other house on the block.
Brenda exhales as she studies Minerva.
In your eyes, you like them?
Minerva adjusts the rear-view mirror, studies herself.
I’m trying to grow them so they can feather. Laura Cooper? At school?
She has the perfect feather.
She’s got the right hair for it, ‘Nerve. Blonde and thick. Gorgeous hair.
Brenda brushes the bangs from Minerva’s eyes.
We’ll cut these this weekend. Remind me, okay?
Not gonna happen.
Brenda hoists herself out of the car, leaving Minerva to scrutinize in the mirror.
She’s not happy with what she sees, but this isn’t the first time.
Bring those groceries inside, I’ve got a surprise for you.
As Brenda waddles to the kitchen door, Patsy Kline in tow, Minerva dutifully begins unpacking the car.
(calling into the house)
Boys, you better be up and ready. Frankie? Sammy? Let’s go.
Minerva struggles with the bags, kicks the car door closed, moves to the other side where she shoves her hip into Brenda’s door to close it, heads towards the kitchen door.
Remembering something, she moves back to the car, peers into the back passenger window, taps on the glass.
Come on, Sammy.
Momentarily, SAMMY MULLEN (6), HEARING AIDS IN BOTH EARS, emerges from the car, obediently follows Minerva inside.
INT. MULLEN BASE HOUSE, LIVING ROOM—LATER
CLOSE ON three squirming PAIR OF FEET, each sporting identical pairs of DAY-GLO ORANGE AND BLUE ADIDAS TRACK SHOES. Atrocious.
Brenda double-ties Sammy’s shoes, sits back on her heels, scratches her distended belly.
As she does, we get a look at the living room: the tattered FURNITURE, B&W T.V. SET, old UPRIGHT PIANO, PHOTOS crooked on the wall.
ON ONE PHOTO, a recent family portrait, where we see COAST GUARD LIEUTENANT COMMANDER BECK MULLEN, mid-30, surrounded by Brenda and the children, dressed in military WHITES. He is handsome, and proud.
Hey? What do you think?
From her angle, we see Minerva and Sammy, plus FRANKIE (16), all dressed in Catholic school uniforms, and humiliated beyond belief.
Fair like his father, movie star good looks, Frankie is Brenda’s favorite. He’s also a closeted homosexual who’s trying desperately to be straight.
Next to Brenda, Patsy Kline chews on a sponge that has yet to clean the mess on her face.
Got those on close out at Big Five. Adidas, guys! Brand name, right?
No one wears Adidas.
Frankie drops to one knee, cuffs his pants.
They’re not so bad if you know how to wear them.
Isn’t that a little, you know…?
Brenda makes her wrist go limp.
No. Ma, it’s “Grease”!
Anyway. It’s Nikes now.
Brenda takes the sponge from Patsy Kline, wipes faces as Frank wordlessly undoes his cuffs.
When it’s her turn for the sponge, Minerva moves so her face is out of reach. No way.
Then the Mullens get to start a new trend
God, you are so wrong about so many things. Did you even go to
Don’t push my buttons. I’m having a good day so far and I don’t want
you ruining it.
What about my day? Do you know what’s going to happen to me the
minute we set foot on campus?
Leave it, Minerva.
You watch. You wear those Adidas today, everyone’ll be wearing them
tomorrow. Nikes’ll be a thing of the past.
Grab your lunches, let’s go. You know how Sister Mary Joseph
Bernard gets when we’re late.
(to the others)
Do not, under any circumstances, call attention to yourselves. Or
your feet. Especially your feet.
EXT. HOLY NAME ACADEMY, CA—LATER
SR. MARY JOSEPH BERNARD, 50s, full black and white robes—
RULER strapped to her belt, ROSARY hanging at her side—stands at the foot of the school stairs, hands warming under her robes.
Above her is a mammoth-sized STATUE OF JESUS.
Eagle eying all commers, he extends one hand out before him, points the other to his heart. Long hair flows in two plates over each shoulder, as if waiting to be braided.
The Datsun slides to a stop as the LAST BELL RINGS. Brenda gets out, opening car doors to release her brood.
Mullens tumble out, race up the steps past Sister.
Morning, Sister! Looking lovely today! That black and white on you?
Then, spotting his best friend, HENRY (16), handsome in his Clark Kent glasses, Frank hurries up the steps.
Henry! Wait up.
The day-glo ADIDAS catch Sister’s eye as he goes.
Sammy is next to tumble out of the car. When Sister sees the ADIDAS on Sammy’s feet, she has to smother a smile.
Sammy hurries past Sister without a word, but she grabs him by the collar, literally sweeping him off his feet.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD
“Good morning, Sister Mary Joseph Bernard.” Say it. Say it!
(under her breath)
I know you can talk, you little brat.
Blushing furiously, Sammy MUMBLES something incoherent, breaks free of Sister’s grasp, tears up the stairs.
Back at the car, Brenda licks her fingers, wets Minerva’s bangs, slicks them back away from her eyes. Minerva brushes her off.
Now, ‘Nerve, remember…
Brenda thrusts her chest out, wiggles her shoulders.
Oh my God.
Minerva hurries past Sister, who notes Minerva’s day glo ADIDAS.
Just… try. Please? We’ll go bra shopping at the Commissary this
weekend, just so we’re ready. Okay?
Beyond humiliated, Minerva disappears into the CROWD of STUDENTS.
Sister arches an eyebrow at Brenda
Not all of us are called to be Brides of Christ, Sister. Landing a man’s
the next best thing.
Brenda gets in the car, moves Patsy Kline from the window.
ON SISTER as the Datsun pulls away, an idea brewing before she marches up the stairs, garments billowing.
EXT. SCHOOL COURTYARD—LATER
The restless STUDENT BODY, a mass of K through 12 STUDENTS, is assembled outside the Mission-style school for morning prayers. They stamp and paw at the ground against the cold.
At the front of the assembly is a PODIUM on which stands a small AMERICAN FLAG.
Behind this is a LARGE WOODEN CROSS.
Momentarily, Sister emerges from her office, strides up the center aisle as if assessing troops.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD
Francis Mullen, please.
Frankie moves to the podium, takes the FLAG from its stand. This is a familiar routine.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD (cont’d)
Moving noiselessly to avoid attention, Sammy complies.
A PUZZLED WHISPER ripples through the student body as the Mullens line up at the front.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD (cont’d)
Who are we missing? Oh, yes. Minerva Mary? Will you join us?
Minerva emerges from line, reluctantly joins her brothers. She throws Frankie a questioning look, but he shrugs it off.
Nothing from Sister, who watches the assembled students, waiting for what she prays is coming.
Finally, a STIR in the crowd, then SNICKERS and GIGGLES as the students get Sister’s unspoken message.
It’s the shoes.
In the morning grey, with the Mullens shoulder to shoulder, the day glo awfulness of the three pair of ADIDAS is glaringly obvious.
Sister lets the commotion ride, poker faced, a few delicious moments longer, then:
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD (cont’d)
Excuse me, Holy Name students, is this how we behave at morning
SILENCE once again. Sister closes her eyes, is the epitome of reverence.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD (cont’d)
On this, the first day of Advent, we pray… In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
ALL but Minerva bless themselves.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD
Today we begin the season of waiting. Waiting for the Baby Jesus to
be born, in our hearts, and in our world. As we take that first step on
the road to Bethlehem to meet Jesus in the manger, will we walk, sure-
footed in our fine, shiny shoes…
The STUDENTS GIGGLE.
I’m gonna kill her.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD
…or stumble, pitifully, over our own egos. Our inequities. Our shame.
As we ready ourselves for the birth of our Savior, wash us clean of all
our sins, clean as bright, unsoiled new shoes…
So help me God, I’m gonna kill her.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD
…that we may so walk forever in your Grace. In Jesus’ name.
SISTER MARY JOSEPH BERNARD
Now, Minerva, if you would lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance?
Minerva slices Sister a look of pure hatred, steps forward, raises the FLAG.
I pledge allegiance to the flag…
CLOSE ON SISTER as a small smile plays around her lips.
O.S., the CHURCH BELL CHIMES.
EXT. FRONT OF SCHOOL—AFTERNOON
The clock tower BELL CHIMES three times.
Minerva and Frankie huddle on the wall for warmth in front of the school, Sammy on Minerva’s lap.
The last to be picked up, they wait for Brenda, who’s very late. Minerva eyes the CLOCK TOWER, the STATUE of Jesus.
I can’t wait to get the hell out of here.
What’re you gonna do, tell Mom on me? What does she have against
Sister? She knows we can’t afford to be here. Not really. She knows
Sammy gets Minerva’s attention, SIGNS a question.
What Frankie means is, Sister isn’t a good person.
Minerva sees Sammy isn’t understanding.
She’s mean, Sammy.
Minerva eyes the STATUE again, an idea dawning.
Then, she lifts Sammy off her lap, places him on the wall, jumps down, begins untying her shoes.
Mean, and nasty, and so much fun to mess with.
What are you doing?
Minerva takes her shoes off, grins from ear to ear, ties them together with the shoelaces.
Do you remember what the Three Wise Men brought Jesus for his
Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh.
Totally useless gifts. Like, he’s a baby. In a manger. What’s he gonna
do with Myrrh?
I don’t even know what Myrrh is.
Exactly my point.
Frankie and Sammy watch in disbelief as Minerva approaches the STATUE, swings the shoes in a high arc… and lets go.
ON THE SHOES as they fly through the air, catching on Jesus’ outstretched hand, winding around his fingers.
The blue and orange DAY GLO stripes are a bright contrast against the marble statue.
Sammy laughs, thrilled at what Minerva’s done as Frankie stares, wide-eyed.
You are so busted.
She’s gonna know it’s you.
Frankie slips his backpack over his shoulder, grabs Sammy’s, too, gives Minerva a wary shake of the head.
Let’s go, Sammy.
Frankie takes Sammy’s hand, begins walking.
When’re you going to get your own wheels?
Soon as I can, ‘Nerve. Soon as I can
Minerva hangs back, suddenly aware she’s got to walk home without shoes.
Hey, guys? Guys?
Minerva hoists her backpack, gives one last look to Jesus, beams as she considers her handiwork.
Then, hobbling in her stocking feet, she hurries to catch up.
Ow. Ow. Ow.
INT. MULLEN KITCHEN—LATER
Minerva enters the kitchen, drops her backpack on the floor below the row of HOOKS where the family’s book bags hang.
From somewhere in the house, Patsy Kline CRIES.
Frankie enters, a SOBBING Patsy Kline on his hip, gives Minerva a dark look.
Minerva looks past Frankie to the hallway.
MINERVA’S POV: THE CLOSED DOOR at the end of the hall.
ON THE KITCHEN, where BOWLS, CEREAL BOXES, MILK from breakfast crowd the counter. This is not a good sign.
Minerva sighs, moves to take the baby from Frankie.
Writer’s Digest would like to congratulate the 101 winners of the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition! For full coverage of the awards, please check out the November/December 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest.
Pamela Schott, “The Passion of Minerva Mullen” (Television/Movie Script) Read Pamela’s winning entry here. An extended Q&A with our winner is also available.
Children’s/Young Adult Fiction
- Jayne Jenner, “Berty and CL”
- Holly L. Niner, “Chicken Little’s Grade A Idea”
- Peter Gibb, “Big Tom, Little Dog”
- Mary E. Furlong, “The Far Side of Ryan’s Knock”
- Rita Arens, “Bella Eats the Monsters”
- Gay Kamber Seltzer, “The Second Day of School”
- Mary Edith Cerny, “Picasso and Spike (A Cat Tail in Haiku)”
- Laurie Weeks, “Battle on the Home Front”
- James A. Schindler, “One Hell of a Sale”
- Lara O’Brien, “Chesca and Rogue”
Genre Short Story
- Elizabeth English, “Rainbow’s End”
- Stephanie Dockery, “Devil in Disguise”
- Thomas J. Humprhey, “A Hankerin’ for Justice”
- Scotty Williams, “Hitching Devils”
- Kara Pauley, “Min’s Promise”
- Janella Lee, “Swelling with Love”
- N.E. Silver, “The Demerits of Missing Toes”
- Courtney Sikora, “When Young Blood Boils”
- Max Thorgeirson, “Withdrawn”
- Connie Kay Harris, “Redemptive Silver”
- Cassandra Rankin, “Life is Messy and Things Aren’t Always So Little on this Crazy Farm”
- Roy Martin, “The Day That Changed My Life”
- Mandeep Matharu, “Living with Inspiration”
- Elvie Bennett and Lois Grzzard, “Major Illness”
- Jennifer Reinharz, “A Pleasant Passover”
- Samuel Zane Farrell, “Living the Dream with Multiple Sclerosis”
- Christine Gray, “Adding Bleach to Water”
- Bebe Faas Rice, “Grandma and the Angel”
- Soraya Nelson, “A Family Kept”
- Barbara Daniel, “The Miracle of Tough Love”
Magazine Feature Article
- Julie Loar, “Nemesis or Tyche: Does Our Sun Have a Sister?”
- David Sachs, “A Guided Tour of the Spirit World”
- Leslie Hsu Oh, “We Paddle Together, Imitating Our Ancestors. Whoosh teen ayxa’a! Daa naaytee!”
- Cathy Cassinos-Carr, “When Grief Gets Complicated”
- Rebecca L. Rhoades, “The Colors of Bravery”
- Edie A. Clark, “Kachidoki Maru”
- Angela Waldron, “Coffee Comes to the West”
- Marina DelVecchio, “If You Want It, Come and Get It: How Pop Culture Defines Female Sexual Identity”
- Rebecca L. Rhoades, “Swimming with Giants”
- Elaine K. Howley, “Ageless Wonder”
Mainstream/Literary Short Story
- Kara Donadt, “10:03”
- Anthony T. Lagler, “Stalingrad”
- Andy Zembles, “Safe at Home”
- Daniella McGowan, “Forgiven”
- Guy Claudy, “Match Play”
- Z.J. Czupor, “Down in Disappointment Valley”
- Beverly A. Rogers, “Release”
- Jean Blasiar, “A Matter of Who”
- Robert Granader, “Brothers”
- David Meyers, “Derelict: The Curious Voyage of Redemption for a Doubting Thomas”
- Caroline Reichard, “Visiting Henry”
- Emily Byers, “To my grandfather, while eating”
- Kim Garcia, “Tilth of snow”
- Susan Kinney-Riordan, “Ocarina”
- Jayson C. Lynn, “No One Told Me We Could Float Away”
- Johne Richardson, “Generations”
- John E. Simonds, “Friendly Intervention”
- Linda Neal Reising, “Every Little Being”
- Nancy Alvarado, “The Kiss of the Homeless Man”
- Johne Richardson, “Drowning”
- Nancy Freund Bills, “The Myth”
- Tracy Mancuso, “Perfect Husband”
- Flavia Brunetti Proietti, “On sugared ginger, the merits of coffee, and thunderous hoofs over the plaints of the desert”
- Lyz Lenz, “How the World Was Supposed to End”
- Brandon Loran Maxwell, “Notes From an American Superpower”
- Sarah Houssayni, “707 N. Emporia”
- Marguerite Lambrinos, “The Decision”
- Carol Siyahi Hicks, “Wild Things All”
- Colleen K. Penor, “Fearsome Men”
- Bobbye DePaul, “I Bought a Banana”
- George Amabile, “Design After Herakleitos”
- Melissa Cannon, “Mercury Poises On the Pinnacle of Nashville’s Bygone Union Station”
- Clay Fulghum, “The Keening of the Swallows”
- Scott Cyre, “True to Joy”
- Melissa Cannon, “The Returning Dead”
- Robert Daseler, “The Bridesmaids”
- Susan Huppert, “The Wool of the Lamb”
- Erin T. Gunti, “Simply Put”
- Dylan Guy, “It’s a Charade”
- Ronald Miller, “Moses”
- Jennifer E. Pergola, “Change or Death”
- C.M. Webb, “Driver’s Ed”
- Pamela Jamruszka Mencher, “Escape from Eden”
- Michael Reimann, “American Farce”
- Richard Fewell, “Cancer Dreams”
- Michael Balin, “Conversion”
- Augustus Cileone, “Handicapped”
- T.M. Reel, “How I Became an Atheist”
- Lisa Snider, “Motel 101”
- Gerard Marconi, “Absolution”
- Nicholas Kats, “Sweet”
- Tess Clark, “Supernatural: The Webs We Weave”
- Mark Schroeder, “TrainHoppers”
- Sula Miller, “Born Into Hate”
- Sonya Davis-Roberts, “Motivation”
- Alex Knudsen, “Principles of the Past”
- Lynne M. Smelser, “Traunik”
- David Ennocenti, “Sniper Queen”
- Tess Clark, “Hel”
- Michelle Donnelly, “A Golden Moment”
The Passion of Minerva Mullen, by Pamela Schott, is the grand-prize winning manuscript (available here) in the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, besting more than 6,300 entries across the 10 categories. For complete coverage of this year’s awards, check out the November/December 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest. Click here for a complete list of winners from the competition.
Pamela Schott is an award-winning screenwriter and a contributing author to the Amazon.com #1 Bestseller, Speaking Your Truth. A creative executive who got her start in marketing and advertising as a copywriter in San Francisco, Pamela has written for Creative Screenwriting Magazine and was featured in Writer’s Market 2009, the annual New York Times bestseller for aspiring writers. A wife (of one) and mother (of two), Pamela is currently at work on her seventh screenplay and in pre-production on her first major motion picture, Music From a Scorched Earth.
Can you give us a summary of The Passion of Minerva Mullen?
This is the story of a young girl, circa 1979, on the verge of womanhood, a smart-ass middle child who has the unhappy distinction of being the product of 1) Catholic schools; 2) the military; and 3) a family that really knows how to take the “fun” out of dysfunctional.
Although laden with authority figures, this story belongs purely, solely, and absolutely to the aforementioned school girl, one so-called Minerva Mullen (named for the Goddess of War; her father had big ideas) who has just about had it up to here with all the things she can’t control. Like nuns with rules (and rulers); a dad with orders that send him to sea with every turn of the tide; a posse of brothers who are left to navigate the road to manhood on their own; and a pill-popping, perpetually pregnant mother with a manic-depressive disorder that makes family life anything but livable.
And this is the story of how, having stirred the wrath and ridicule of Holy Name school principal Sister Mary “Battle Axe” Bernard one time too many, Minerva lands in hot holy water and finds herself charged with the impossible task of mounting the school’s annual Christmas pageant to Sister’s satisfaction—complete with a real, live Baby Jesus—or face expulsion.
But can Minerva keep the peace at home, the family in Holy Name’s good graces, and her own cool when a secret crush becomes her first true love?
For all the latch-key kids who remember what the world felt like when Iran took American hostages; who found the fun in a Slinky and Pet Rocks and Pong; who yearned for first kisses, first cars and first place in the spelling bee; and who witnessed the advent of the self help movement—watched, helpless, as their families fell apart—Minerva’s is a story about what it’s like to go kicking and screaming into an uncertain future.
Describe your writing process for this piece.
While it’s not accurate to say that Mineva is autobiographical, there are many aspects of the story that were lifted directly from my childhood. I grew up in a very conservative Catholic family with a dad who served as an officer in the Coast Guard, so my life was a constant cycle of confession and upheaval as we followed him around the world from one assignment to the next. I am also one of nine children (insert Catholic joke here), so naturally, our household was a hive of activity—“controlled chaos” might be the best term for it. What resulted was often loud and messy and unsettling, but there was a lot of love there, too.
My husband had long been on my case to write down my experiences, and so when I finally decided to do just that, the pages came quickly. A normal first draft of a screenplay takes about six months for me to complete, but the first act of Minerva was done in about two weeks.
After that, I put it away for a few years (I went through a rough patch in which I considered giving up on a writing career altogether), but then, in the fall of 2013, I decided to see if I could knock out a completed draft by the end of Christmas. I jumped in where I had left off and again, the words just poured out of me. Before long—and in record time—the script was done.
What do you think are the biggest benefits and challenges of writing screenplays?
The biggest benefits of writing screenplays are actually the same benefits that come with any creative endeavor: you get to play, have fun, and let your imagination run free. On this level, you are powerful and unlimited, and there’s nothing more satisfying than experiencing that.
The biggest challenge to screenwriting that I find is getting out of the way of the characters and what they want to say and how they want to behave. I’ve gotten better at this with time, but I remember in the beginning being overly concerned with how my characters behaved or the language they used because I cared about what people I knew would think of me for making those choices. When I finally realized that a good writer knows how to let the characters come in as they are—flaws and f-bombs and all—I started to care less about what people thought about the end product and more about letting my characters be wholly who they are.
How long have you been writing? How did you start?
I started writing screenplays at night after my two babies were in bed (my daughter, Julia, was a newborn at the time, and she would sleep in her bassinet next to my desk in between feedings). With a toddler, a newbie, and a business to run, nights were best because it was quiet and I could think without interruption. That was 16 years ago. But my desire to work in show business dates back to when I was little and dreamed of being a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. In truth, I was more drawn to their cowboys outfits—white leather boots, vests, hats, etc.—than actually being in front of the camera. But writing was always there, and I was always receiving encouragement from teachers to pursue it on a professional level.
After my husband and I got married, I bought a copy of Syd Field’s book, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting and started playing with the idea of writing movies, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I sat down and actually tried it.
Have you published any stories? Won any other competitions?
Since I work in the film industry, I’m not seeking publication. I do have another script that is being made into a major motion picture as we speak, plus an additional screenplay that is being shopped around.
I have placed twice in the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition in the screenwriting category, receiving Honorable Mention for the two scripts I just spoke about.
Who and what has inspired you as a writer?
Nora Ephron has been a big influence in my writing life. I also admire Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento). I wish I could think like he does so that I could write stories that bend the brain as his do, but my mind just doesn’t work like that. Steven Soderbergh and Steven Spielberg are also up there, and I am inspired every day to write something that either of them would want to direct.
For the “what” category, it’s got to be music that inspires me the most. My life has been informed by the music of U2. It’s layered and poetic and original and sexy, and if I can create something on the page that halfway resembles any of that, I will be that much closer to becoming the writer I want to be.
Do you write in any other genres?
I have tried writing dramatic fiction—short and long form—but it’s too hard. Too much work. In novels, you have to paint with a larger brush to communicate to the reader what you see in your mind’s eye. Screenwriting is more dialogue driven—both in terms of what a character says and doesn’t say—which means you get to leave the heavy lifting on all the other stuff to the actors and director and director of photography and set designers and all the other host of professionals who make a script come to life.
As a screenwriter, while I tend towards dramas, I have also written several romantic comedies and coming-of-age stories. Minerva is a coming-of-age script that is both sad and funny all at once, so I guess this one spans what I’m capable of at this point.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your writing life?
My laptop and screenwriting software. Wait, that’s two things.
Where do you get ideas for your writing?
Minerva came from my growing up experiences. My other project, Music From a Scorched Earth, which is now being made into a film, came from an experience I had that sparked a question. Back in high school, I had been inseparable from a friend of mine. We spent every waking hour together, and I loved her and admired her. After we graduated, we took a trip together, and the wheels just fell off the whole relationship. It was very painful for me, and I took the memory of that experience into adulthood and wrestled with it for some time. Finally, when I sat down to write MUSIC, it was with my friend in mind and the question, What is the worst thing that could happen to a friendship that tears it apart, and what would it take to mend that relationship? The script just unfolded from there.
What are some aspects of writing you’ve struggled with? How have you worked to strengthen yourself in these areas?
As I mentioned before, self censoring has been a little bit of a struggle. But, c’mon. Catholic school and the military will do that to the best of us.
Overcoming that censorship has been a process, but when you stop caring what other people think about you, writing gets a whole lot easier. (That’s a good tip for life in general, too.)
What’s your proudest moment as a writer?
Finishing a script is always a proud moment. There’s no feeling like it. But setting up my first motion picture and then winning the Grand Prize in this competition—all within a matter of a few weeks—has topped everything so far. It actually took about two days for the shock to wear off.
What are your goals as a writer?
I’m looking forward to seeing my name on the big screen, to seeing the script embodied by actors, and experiencing the creative collaboration with all of the talented people that will come together to realize that vision. I’m just getting a taste of that right now with MUSIC, and it is an intoxicating cocktail!
Any final thoughts or advice?
Yes. Make up your own mind about the industry that you’ve chosen to create in, and ignore everything that doesn’t fit with that vision. I started writing 16 years ago, and for the majority of that time, I had bought into the whole notion of being a starving artist in a brutal field that’s run by crazy people. And guess what? I made no money, fell flat on my face, and had my share of encounters with lots of questionable individuals.
Over time, I came to realize that the most successful people (successful in all aspects of their lives, not just their careers) don’t think about obstacles or struggle. They keep their eye on what they want, and they refuse to listen to anything that doesn’t match the story that they are telling themselves. They shut out the peanut gallery and go about their business, and we read about them in the trades and hear about them on the news as a result.
If you want to be successful in your field, think like people who have that success. There is a way to get from where you are to where you want to be. Hold firm to your vision, love what you do, and see who turns up to light the path as a result.
As a reader, is there anything I can do to advocate an author's backlist being made available digitally? There are several authors I love (such as Brian Jacques and Robin McKinley) who had some well-known books a decade or two before ebooks were a thing--and these books aren't available digitally. Who's best to talk to--authors, agents, editors, or publishers? Will my begging do any good?
The best person to talk to is the author. Generally the author controls any unexploited rights (which is what you're talking about.) If you and many others clamor for an ebook, the author is the one who can show the demand to a publisher, or see there's a enough market to publish themselves.
Even if the author is sadly dead (as in the case of Brian Jacques) there's generally a way to get in touch via the webpage.
Fire off an email!
I am a traditionally published thriller author. My latest book No Time to Die just hit shelves this week. When I first started writing suspense fiction, though, I had very little idea what I was doing. It took a humble amount of trial and error to get in a groove and overcome basic rookie errors. Now, seven years later, I like to think I’ve figured out some tricks of the trade. I’ve also been extremely lucky to receive the support and mentorship of some of the top names in the biz, like Jack Reacher’s creator Lee Child and the late Michael Palmer. So without further ado, here are some tips for budding thriller writers that I wish I’d known from day one…
GIVEAWAY: Kira 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).
Column by Kira Peikoff, a journalist and novelist in New York who has written
for the New York Times, Psychology Today, Slate, Salon, and Cosmopolitan.com,
among many others. She is the author of LIVING PROOF (Tor, 2012) and
NO TIME TO DIE (Kensington, 2014), which was praised by best-selling
author Lee Child. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
1) Structure Scenes like Mini-Novels: Each one should contain its own narrative arc, with rising action and a climactic moment that signals the end of the chapter. It’s good form to finish most chapters on a cliffhanger—especially the first one. A major dramatic question should be raised in the opening scene, and then resolved in an unexpected or unfavorable way to hurl the main character further into the conflict (and thus drag your readers into the story). Get your protagonist in trouble as soon as possible and never let her get too comfortable or too safe. As far as chapter length, I’ve found that an average of five pages (double-spaced, size 12) works well for keeping up the pace.
2) Plot Strategically to Avoid the Sagging Middle: This rookie error is one I had the misfortune of making early on: I wrote the beginning of a book and then abruptly ran out of steam about sixty pages in. When you’re staring down 240 blank pages without a plan, it’s easy to freeze up. Now I have a method. Once I have the main cast of characters and their conflicts, I conceive a new book in four sections. At the end of each section, I devise a major twist to launch into the next section and keep up the narrative momentum. Once I’ve figured out my four big plot points, I go deeper into plotting the concretes of each individual section, dropping red herrings and hints about the twists to come so that they will be logical without being predictable. This is the most challenging part of the process for me and is apt to change when I actually get to writing. I think of the outline like a highway: you can go off-roading from time to time but you get back on the highway to get to your final destination.
(How many markets should you send your novel out to?)
3) Alternate Character POVs: I love writing in third-person multiple vision, alternating between protagonist, antagonist, and usually another main character who has a stake in the central conflict. Getting into each character’s head increases suspense for the reader, who knows to anticipate the moves of competing characters and either roots for or against them to succeed. It’s the easiest POV choice to use in writing a thriller. When you follow Tip 1 and end each chapter on a cliffhanger, then switch to a new character whose scene also ends on a cliffhanger, the reader will be tearing through the pages to learn what happens. A word to the wise: the hardest POV choice is writing in first person—and keeping with only one character—for the entire story, because then you can’t create dramatic irony. (i.e. when the reader knows more about the stakeholders in the conflict than each character alone knows.)
4) Obscure POV when useful: Say you’re writing a murder scene but you want the killer’s identity to remain a secret. I wanted to pull this off in my new book, since the killer was someone surprising in the story, but I didn’t want readers to know who until way later. The trick is to write the scene from the victim’s perspective. Don’t allow the victim to know or recognize the killer—so you can have a dramatic, intense scene without spoiling the mystery. This is the first chapter of No Time to Die.
(Book Payments and Royalties — Your Questions Answered.)
5) Raise questions and delay the answers: This technique is the absolute key to suspense. Pique people’s curiosity and then make them wait for a resolution. While they’re waiting, introduce a new tantalizing question, and then delay that answer too. Once you can layer these successfully, you’ve got a page-turner. The famous author Pete Hamill told me once that writing suspense is about planting diving boards and then jumping off them later. Best advice I ever got.
Go forth and good luck!
GIVEAWAY: Kira 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).
Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more. Order the book from WD at a discount.
How do you hook an agent right away, keep them hooked, and make the most of your new publishing relationship? In this Boot Camp starting Oct. 1, 2014, “How to Find and Keep a Literary Agent,” you’ll learn how to get a literary agent’s attention through a great submission, and also how to navigate the process of working successfully with an agent. You’ll also work with an agent online to review and refine your all-important query letter and the first five pages of your novel. As always, seats in the boot camp are limited, and many WD camps sell out — so consider signing up sooner rather than later.
This Boot Camp will cover a range of important questions:
– What keeps an agent reading? What makes writing jump off the page?
– What are the most common Chapter 1 mistakes that make them stop reviewing your submission?
– What are the steps you need to give your query and manuscript the best possible shot?
– What are the turn-ons and turn-offs when it comes to queries?
– How do agents make judgment calls?
– And much more.
With real-life examples of queries that do and don’t work, you will learn how you can refine your own query letter and get an agent to request your novel.The world of literary agencies can be an intimidating place. You’ll be lead through the inner-workings of finding the perfect literary agent, working with an agent and how to get the most out of your relationship. See what a day in the life of an agent looks like, and get tips about how to find your perfect author-agent match that will result in a successful partnership.
The best part is that you’ll be working directly with a knowledgeable and experienced agent, who will provide feedback specific to your work.
Here’s how it works:
On October 1, you will gain access to a special 60-minute online tutorial presented by agents at the Dijkstra Literary Agency. It will explain the submission process of submitting to an agent, what they find appealing in a query letter and what an author-agent relationship looks like from the inside. You will also be notified by email which agent you’ll be working with Monday afternoon.
From 10:00 am to 1:00 pm (PT) on October 2, instructors will be available to answer questions and provide additional feedback via the Writer’s Digest University message boards. Only registered students can access these boards. You’ll also be able to ask question of your fellow students. Feel free to share your work and gain support from your peers.
After listening to the presentation and participating in the discussion sessions, you’ll be able to revise your query & first 5 double-spaced pages as necessary. Then, you’ll email those pages directly to Jill Marr, Elise Capron, Thao Le, Jessica Watterson, or Roz Foster, by the end of the day on Thursday. They will spend 10 days reviewing their assigned critiques and providing feedback as to what works and what doesn’t.
Please note that any one of the instructing agents may ask for additional pages if the initial submission shows serious promise.
In addition to feedback from instructing agents, attendees will also receive:
– Download of “An Agent’s Tips on Story Structures that Sell,” an on-demand webinar by Andrea Hurst
1-year subscription to the WritersMarket.com literary agent database
PLEASE NOTE: No Additional discounts are available. All sales are final. If you have a preferred agent you would like to work with, please notify WDU after registering.
RECAP ON DATES:
Wednesday, October 1 – Access to Tutorial
Thursday, October 2 – Blackboard Discussion 10 am to 1 pm (PT)
Friday, October 3 – Materials due to agents
Monday, October 13 – All critiqued materials due back to attendees
About the Instructors:
ELISE CAPRON is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She also manages the SDLA office and works closely with Sandra Dijkstra on author development and management. She is most interested in serious, character-driven literary fiction and well-written narrative non-fiction (particularly serious history with a good story).A graduate of Emerson College, Elise holds a BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing, and served on the editorial staff of the Emerson Review for several years. She interned at Harcourt and the Dijkstra Agency before joining the agency full-time in late 2003.Elise is interested in fiction that has unforgettable writing, a terrific narrative voice/tone, and memorable characters. She loves novels with an unusual or eccentric edge and is drawn to stories she has never heard before. She aims to work with writers who are getting their work published regularly in magazines and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience. Some of Elise’s recent and soon-to-be-published fiction titles include Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead) and How to Escape from a Leper Colony (Graywolf); Rachel Toor’s On The Road to Find Out (FSG); Jonathon Keats’ The Book of the Unknown (Random House); Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke (Coffee House Press); Maureen McHugh’s After the Apocalypse (Small Beer Press), which was picked as a “Top 10 Best of the Year” by Publishers Weekly; Ali Liebegott’s The IHOP Papers (Carroll & Graf); Peter Plate’s Soon the Rest Will Fall (Seven Stories Press); and more.
On the non-fiction front, Elise is looking for fascinating true stories told in a compelling way. Currently, Elise is especially interested in working with up-and-coming scholars (particularly historians) who are looking to transition from the academic market to a trade readership. Some of Elise’s recent and soon-to-be-published non-fiction titles include Jack Shuler’s The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose (Public Affairs) and Blood and Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town (University of South Carolina Press); Leo Braudy’s Haunted; Jane Vandenburgh’s The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance (Counterpoint); Jonathon Keats’ Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age (Oxford University Press); Cynthia Barnett’s Blue Is the New Green: An American Water Ethic (Beacon); Billy Smith’s Ship of Death: The Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World (Yale); and more.
Please note that Elise is specifically not interested in: fantasy, young-adult/middle-grade, picture books, romance, sci-fi, business books, cookbooks, poetry, religious/spiritual books, screenplays, or self-help. And while she is interested in narrative non-fiction, please note that she takes on very little memoir.
JILL MARR is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.She graduated from San Diego State University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in History. She has a strong Internet and media background and nearly 15 years of publishing experience. She wrote features and ads for Pages, the literary magazine for people who love books, and continues to write book ads for publishing houses, magazine pieces, and promotional features for television.After writing ad copy and features for published books for years, she knows how to find the “hook” and sell it.
Jill is interested in commercial fiction, with an emphasis on mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense and horror, women’s commercial fiction and historical fiction. She is also looking for non-fiction by authors who are getting their work published regularly and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience. Jill is looking for non-fiction projects in the areas of history, sports, politics, current events, self-help, cookbooks, memoir, health & nutrition, pop culture, humor and music.
Some of Jill’s recent and soon-to-be-published non-fiction includes the Travel Channel’s Nick Groff’s Chasing Spirits (NAL); Maybe We’ll Have You Back (Skyhorse) by actor Fred Stoller; Get Over It (Seal Press) by Christina Pesoli; Doulas A. Wissing’s Funding Our Enemy (Prometheus Books); Why We Love Serial Killers (Skyhorse) by Scott Bonn; America’s Greatest “Failing” School (Nation Books) by journalist Kristina Rizga; Don’t Lick the Minivan (Skyhorse) by Leanne Shirtliffe; William Jones’ More Than the Dream: The Untold Story of the March on Washington (Norton); Rocking the Pink (Seal Press) by singer-songwriter Laura Roppé; Stop Reading Baby Books (Skyhorse) by JJ Keith; Drunks: America’s Search for Sobriety by Christopher Finan; and Argyle Armada: Life with America’s Top Pro Cycling Team (VeloPress) by Mark Johnson.
Some of Jill’s new and upcoming fiction includes Bloodman andAmerican Woman (Thomas & Mercer) by Robert Pobi; Reckless Disregard (Seven Stories Press) by Robert Rotstein; Three Souls(HarperCollins) by Janie Chang; Madam (Plume) by Cari Lynne and Kellie Martin; The Cordell Logan thriller series (The Permanent Press) by David Freed; Benefit of the Doubt (Tor/Forge) by Neal Griffin;Garbo’s Last Stand (Entranced) by Jon Miller; The Crossroads thriller series (Thomas & Mercer) by Eyre Price; The Dog Year (Berkley) by Ann Garvin; The Change Your Name Store (Sky Pony Press) by Leanne Shirliffe; and the Jaden Terrell series that includes the Shamus Award nominee Racing the Devil and A Cup Full of Midnight (The Permanent Press).
Please note that Jill is specifically not interested in: YA, children’s books, sci-fi, romance or anything involving unicorns.
ROZ FOSTER is an acquiring agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She works from New York. She has a B.A. in English Literature from UC San Diego, studied philosophy for a year at the University of Sheffield, U.K., and earned her M.A. in English, with an emphasis in composition & rhetoric and creative writing, from Portland State University. At PSU, she taught writing in exchange for tuition. She’s been learning French since 2009.Roz spent over five years as a qualitative researcher in high-tech consumer products marketing. In 2008, she co-founded a web design company for which she provided non-profit organizations with audience-focused market research, project planning, and digital design. She joined SDLA in 2013.
Roz is interested in non-fiction in the areas of cultural studies, sociology, business, history, politics, current affairs, science and design. She looks for driven, narrative storytelling and sharp concepts that have the potential to transcend their primary audience. She’s also interested in literary and commercial fiction, literary YA with crossover potential for the adult market, and literary sci-fi. In fiction, she looks for a resonant, lively voice; rich, irresistible language; characters with compelling development arcs; and a mastery of dramatic structure. Across the board, she’s looking for books that make her feel like the author is tuned into a rising revolution — cultural, political, literary, or whatnot — that’s about to burst on the scene.
Please note that Roz is specifically not interested in: sports, cookbooks, screenplays, poetry, romance, fantasy, or children’s books.
THAO LE handles finances and selected contracts at the Dijkstra Agency. She is also an agent. Thao is looking to acquire adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror, New Adult, YA and Middle Grade. She enjoys both gritty, dark narratives and fantastically quirky stories. She is also looking for light-hearted, funny, and moving contemporary YAs with a raw, authentic teen voice. She’s particularly drawn to memorable characters, smart-mouthed dialogue, strong plots, and tight writing. Her favorite books are ones that reimagine familiar tales and tropes in a completely fresh new way and she has a soft spot for multicultural stories and lush settings. Recent sales include: Katherine Harbour’s fantasy, THORN JACK (Harper Voyager), Lisa Freeman’s surf YA, HONEY GIRL (Sky Pony Press), IPPY Award Winning S.K. Falls’ NA (Forever Yours), and James Kendley’s paranormal thriller, THE DROWNING GOD (Harper Voyager Impulse). Thao is NOT looking for: Biographies, business books, cook books, memoirs, picture books, poetry, religious/spiritual books, screenplays, self-help, short stories, travel books.
JESSICA WATTERSON graduated from the University of California at Irvine with a degree in Sociocultural Anthropology and English. Jessica has made books a serious part of her life for many years. Jessica is most interested in all subgenres of adult and new adult romance, and women’s fiction. She is looking for heartfelt and unique romance that will instantly draw a reader in and keep them hooked.
It’s that time again: time for another poetic form challenge. And, as you may have guessed, we’ll focus on the terzanelle this time around. Click here to read the guidelines on writing the terzanelle.
Once you know the rules for the terzanelle, start writing them and sharing here on the blog (this specific post) for a chance to be published in Writer’s Digest magazine–as part of the Poetic Asides column. (Note: You have to log in to the site to post comments/poems; creating an account is free.)
Here’s how the challenge works:
- Challenge is free. No entry fee.
- The winner (and sometimes a runner-up or two) will be featured in a future edition of Writer’s Digest magazine as part of the Poetic Asides column.
- Deadline 11:59 p.m. (Atlanta, GA time) on October 6, 2014.
- Poets can enter as many terzanelles as they wish. The more “work” you make for me the better, but remember: I’m judging on quality, not quantity.
- All poems should be previously unpublished. If you have a specific question about your specific situation, just send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Or just write a new terzanelle.
- I will only consider terzanelles shared in the comments below. It gets too confusing for me to check other posts, go to other blogs, etc.
- Speaking of posting, if this is your first time, your comment may not appear immediately. However, it should appear within a day (or 3–if shared on the weekend). So just hang tight, and it should appear eventually. If not, send me an e-mail at the address above.
- Please include your name as you would like it to appear in print. If you don’t, I’ll be forced to use your user/screen name, which might be something like HaikuPrincess007 or MrLineBreaker. WD has a healthy circulation, so make it easy for me to get your byline correct.
- Finally–and most importantly–be sure to have fun!
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.
The early bird deadline is October 1 and costs $15 for the first poem, $10 for each additional poem. Enter as often as you’d like.
Important note: This is separate from the terzanelle challenge. The Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards is open to all forms, styles, subjects, etc. So enter your haiku, free verse, and so on.
Click here to learn more.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He loves reading poetry, writing poetry, and studying poetry–but he especially loves sharing poetry and is happy that Poetic Asides is a place that accommodates just that.
For the terzanelle, in particular, Robert appreciates its complex structure of rhymes and refrains that when done well make for a really enjoyable poem. He looks forward to reading through this batch.
Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.
Find more poetic posts that rock here:
Few journalists find the level of success that earns a Pulitzer Prize, and few authors can brag that every novel they’ve written has landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Even fewer writers can claim both—but John Sandford can.
Before he began a decades-long career at the top of the thriller charts, the writer born John Roswell Camp was a successful journalist. His career included stints at Southeast Missourian and the Miami Herald, a place on the Pulitzer shortlist in 1980, and the Distinguished Writing Award of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1985. In 1986, Camp was awarded a Pulitzer for Non-Deadline Feature Writing for his St. Paul Pioneer Press article series chronicling the life and work of a Minnesota farm family. Around that time, he tried his hand at long-form nonfiction with two books, one about the paintings of John Stuart Ingle and another about plastic surgery. “Neither,” he says, “will ever be a bestseller.”
In 1989, he wrote and published his first two novels—Rules of Prey and The Fool’s Run. Each would spawn a successful series: Prey, featuring his iconic Lucas Davenport character, a loner detective with a womanizing streak; and the Kidd series, which follows a computer genius who doesn’t mind taking sketchy hacking jobs—as long as the money is good. In 2007, he launched yet another wildly popular series, Virgil Flowers, about a rough-around-the-edges cop who only does “the hard stuff.” To date, Sandford has sold more than 10 million copies of nearly 40 bestselling crime thrillers. This year alone, Sandford released three titles: the 24th Davenport book, Field of Prey; the 8th Virgil Flowers installment, Deadline; and his first young adult thriller, Uncaged, the start of The Singular Menace series co-authored with his wife, fellow journalist-turned-author Michele Cook.
The full WD Interview with John Sandford appears in the November/December 2014 Writer’s Digest. In these online exclusive outtakes, he talks about the series he never wrote, more about writing what you know, and the irritation of printed mistakes.
Have you ever had an idea that just didn’t pan out?
After I had established a career writing fiction, I once had an idea for a series of books that would be based on the idea that a guy—an ex-cop—was a golfer who won a tournament and was invited to the Master’s Tournament. At the Master’s Tournament, a guy gets killed and the people who run the show want to kind of hush things up and find out what’s going on, so they get [this ex-cop, amateur golfer] to do that. So then all these rich golfers find out that this guy can keep his mouth shut, is a good investigator, and so the next thing that happens is that there’s a big scandal involving a Chicago basketball team. And my idea was to have a whole series of sports books.
I never wrote that—another guy did, actually—but the reason I didn’t write that was that I had never covered sports. I didn’t know what the inside of a pro team locker room looks like. I don’t know what jocks act like. I don’t know that stuff, but I know that about cops and judges and courts and detectives and farmers and doctors and medical stuff.
So it’s all about writing what you know.
Yeah, and it’s the same problem young writers face, and that’s that they don’t have that store of images in their head yet. Which they will get, but it takes a while to get that. It’s just a problem that they’ve got to deal with and that’s the thing that journalism gave me. …
One of the benefits, by the way, of being a reporter is that you go to places like courts, and you hear people when they’re testifying. They’re using these great big long sentences, and you’re typing and writing and trying to get it down exact because you’ve got television cameras and you’ve got other people [reporting], too. If you write out a quote, and everyone else picks up that quote and they’re all different from yours, your editor is thinking, You’re an asshole. You’ve screwed this up. So you have to work very carefully to write down the quotes, and that teaches you how people talk and the kind of language they use and when they screw things up.
If a person didn’t want to be a journalist first, how might they go about getting that “store of images” for writing?
When I’ve been asked in the past what I would recommend if a kid’s in college—and no one would ever take this advice—I would tell him to join the army. If you join the army you learn about weapons, you learn about a great swath of society, you learn about all kinds of people doing different kinds of jobs. In the space of two or three years, you get this intense education and learn about a huge variety of things that are useful to writers. An alternative would be to become a social worker or a cop for a couple of years. Any of those things will expose you to the kind of images that you need just simply to write.
Do readers ever send you feedback that you just can’t ignore?
There’s been a little, irritating controversy on my website about my knowledge of guns. I actually have a pretty extensive knowledge of guns because I grew up in the countryside in Iowa and I first shot a gun when I was probably four or five years old. But I made an editing mistake in a novel— I said that a particular kind of gun had a safety, which it does not. It’s a Glock. It does not have a safety on it. And it’s widely used by cops. What happened in that situation was that I was trying to fix a mistake. I had a [scene] where a guy took a Berretta—which does have a safety—from a dead cop. Later, I realized that that cop wouldn’t be carrying a Beretta, he would be carrying a Glock because that was the issue weapon for the Minneapolis Police Department. What I did was I went back through the book and I changed all the Berettas to Glocks. What I didn’t realize was that … I had a guy make sure that the safety was off on the Beretta. And so when I just changed Beretta Beretta Beretta to Glock Glock Glock Glock, I didn’t change the sentence about the safety. So then a lot of people wrote in and said I was an idiot because Glocks don’t have safeties.
I also once made a mistake [in a book] because I went through Arizona in the summertime. And in the book, [my main character] is in Flagstaff, AZ, in the wintertime, and I mentioned that it was hot. Well, Flagstaff has a ski area and it snows like crazy there in the wintertime and it gets very cold. That’s a mistake that I made because I did the location research, but I didn’t do the weather research. And when I shifted time periods from when I was there to when the book was [set], I made a mistake. All of my books, not all them that I know of, but most of them have some kind of mistake that I find really irritating. Usually it’s something very small, but the local people who live in that area will tell me about it.
It’s not usually anger. It’s just, “You know, you didn’t get this quite right.” And I always realize it instantly when they tell me, because I know that they’re telling me the truth! I find it very annoying when I make mistakes. I mean it really, really bothers me.
You have several hobbies. What, aside from art and archaeology, interests you?
I’ve been studying songwriting. … In my music study, I was reading a quote by Metallica. They had a song called “Ride the Lightning,” and it turns out it’s a quote from a Stephen King book about a guy who was about to be sent to ‘ride the lightning’—because he was being sent to the electric chair. So [King] picks up that line from a guy who’s a killer, and then Metallica picks it up [from King] and then puts it in a song, which is completely different from the book. It’s interesting how people are sensitive to language and how it works.
If you enjoyed these outtakes with bestselling novelist Lisa Scottoline, be sure to check out the feature-length interview—full of valuable insights about pulling off plot twists, changing directions with your writing, and much more—in the November/December 2014 Writer’s Digest.
Sometimes it’s a lone writer who’s been putting off a story idea for too long, and decides it’s now or never. Sometimes it’s a pair or a group determined to find out what they can achieve by sharing self-imposed deadlines and strong pots of coffee. Sometimes it’s peer pressure or curiosity about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org), that challenge that rallies ever-increasing numbers of writers around the globe every November to band together in pursuit of a 50,000-word “win.”
Book-in-a-month challenges take all forms, fueled by all stripes of writers with all manner of motivations—make the most of that time alone in a borrowed cabin, hunker down for the winter, stop procrastinating, have something ready to pitch at that conference, prove to yourself you can do it, prove to someone else you can do it, get a fresh start—and in this hyperconnected age of 24-hour fingertip resources and networks, of tiny portable keyboards and glow-in-the-dark screens, they’re more popular than ever.
What do writers really glean from these write-a-thons? What have those who’ve set out to achieve the seemingly impossible learned, good or bad, and what advice would they share with others thinking of setting out with that same single-minded focus? We asked the WD writing community, and responses came in waves—with refreshing honesty, admitted mistakes, tales of redemption, palpable pride, self-deprecating humor and, above all, contagious enthusiasm.
In the November/December 2014 Writer’s Digest, we published an array of the best tips and strategies—one for every day of the month—along with a roundup of resources offering more help along the way. Here, in this bonus online-exclusive companion, we’re delighted to share even more valuable first-hand experiences and lessons learned from the dedicated writers in our readership. Because who knows? It’s so crazy, it just might work.
EMBRACING FRIENDLY COMPETITION
By Heather Gibson, Hartville, Ohio
I first heard about NaNoWriMo in 2012 from my friend who runs the writing group at the library. The name prompted several raised eyebrows and quizzical looks. We were considerably more agreeable toward it after she explained it to us. I mulled it over awhile before deciding it was the perfect forum to get my book out of my head and onto the page. Besides, I’m more than a little competitive so the challenge was welcome rather than daunting.
Unfortunately, I found out about NaNoWriMo right before the contest began. There wasn’t time to outline my book or research various topics in the story. I started writing cold, struggling to create my characters, setting, etc. I barely made it to chapter three before I abandoned the first portion of my book.
Determined not to give up, or “lose,” I picked up with the story where I was sure about what I wanted to write. The pages flowed freely as my story grew. In short, I completed the 50,000-word challenge, and then some, required by NaNoWriMo. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing that felt. Then I realized two horrible things.
First, I did not have a complete novel. Second, I had to edit this mess. Deep breaths were taken and I pressed on. If I can give one small piece of advice, do not quit just because NaNoWriMo is over. December, with all its hectic holiday madness, is the worst time to work on a novel. Do it anyway. I promise this is the point where you will appreciate what you have accomplished. Besides, the balm of January is just around the corner.
Everyone knows how boring January can be once the holidays are over. Use this valuable opportunity to write and/or edit your work. This is also a good time to do research should your novel require it. I found several facts in my writing needed to be clarified and portrayed with more accuracy than I had originally done.
I also took time to decide if I wanted to outline my novel or stay with a more organic approach. At first, I felt as if I was forcing my writing into an outline. I resisted in favor of exploring rabbit trails that led to what I believed was good, old-fashioned storytelling. I also thoroughly developed my characters during this time.
With everything going so well, it was the perfect time to hit another snag. I had absolutely no idea how I wanted my novel to end. I also began to lose interest. My writing habits were hit or miss and the quality of my book suffered. Thank God NaNoWriMo was just around the corner again.
Every NaNoWriMo submission is supposed to be a new novel of at least 50,000 words. I decided that year to instead use it as an editing tool to reignite interest in my own book. It worked. I turned in a 73,000-word combination of well-edited old writing as well as several new chapters.
Since my second experience with NaNoWriMo, I’m continuing to research the best way to convey my story. An outline would be helpful to keep the plot on track, tighten up the structure of my book. I believe this can be done without surrendering the natural flow.
I’m also happy to say that in the months following NaNoWriMo, I actually finished my book. I set it aside for a while before editing one more time. My novel is currently in the hands of four beta readers whose opinions, criticisms and critiques I anxiously await. This year’s NaNoWriMo effort will undoubtedly be another 30-day editing session.
In the meantime, I’m back on the internet researching what comes next. Believe me when I say it looks scarier than blank pages awaiting your 50,000 words. Good thing I’m still too competitive to give up!
CHOOSING THE RIGHT STORY (AND GENRE)
by Ty Unglebower, Knoxville, Md.
I had never “lost” Nanowrimo. That is to say, by the contest’s own definition, (reaching at least 50,000 words by the end of November), I had never failed to win it. I don’t do it every year, but each time I try, I make it. Little certificate and everything. Arrogant as it may sound, I’ve realized that with discipline and persistence I can in theory always compose 50,000 words of coherent fiction in 30 days.
But for years it was incomplete fiction. I’d never finished the entire first draft within the one-month limit of Nanowrimo, or within any other month-long span for that matter. In 2013, as summer dwindled into fall, I decided to undertake what I called “Nanowrimo Plus.” In other words, I wouldn’t declare victory in December unless I’d completed the first draft of the entire story arc within November.
Usually I’m a plotter. I draw up outlines and brief character sketches before starting most of my longer fiction projects. But for Nano I do more pantsing. That works fine for the 50,000-word milestone, but makes finishing an entire novel in 30 days much trickier for someone like me. So I knew I wanted to go with a tight, plot-heavy genre for my experiment, lest I get seized by my literary tendencies or get pulled into sub-plot hell. That’s why I went with the mystery genre—more specifically, the cozy mystery.
A cozy mystery allowed me to keep the action in one central location. It also meant less meticulous research, (as opposed to a hard-boiled procedural, for instance.) Also, by keeping the character count to fewer than 10, I gave myself the chance to play to my strengths in my limited time: character and dialogue.
The tight requirements of a cozy mystery worked in conjunction with the Nano time constraints to act as sort of an enclosed waterslide during that month; I could slip and slide around only so much before being redirected, almost against my will, back into the inevitable flow of things. Flying off too far into another direction was simply not an option if I wanted to attain the goal.
Oh, I could feel the pull of elaboration or extraneous description tugging at my progress as I rounded some of those tight corners. But the tick-tocking of the clock all throughout November compelled me to always move forward, down that slide, pushed by that running water. Plot, plot, plot.
Every page I wrote had to set up some specific fact that would relate to the ultimate solving of the crime, or at least provide temporary misdirection. Even as I did that, I had a tone to set and characters to bring to life and settings to describe. It forced me to tighten my writing.
That isn’t how I work, normally. But I found that during the experience, plot developments presented themselves just a short time before I needed them. I knew point B came after point A in the timeline, but had no clue what was in between the two points until I sat down to write. That came as a surprise to me, but a pleasant one. I wouldn’t want to write that way most of the time, but for my Nanowrimo Plus experience, being pushed along that waterslide was as effective as it was nerve-wracking so far as tightness of writing is concerned.
By the 30th, I’d done it; I’d written my first ever mystery, not to mention my first ever fully formed first draft, all within 30 days. It’s coherent, fast-paced and, for a first draft, better than I expected it to be. I don’t know if I’ll do anything further with it, but it exists, fully formed written totally within 30 days, just as I had wanted.
I wouldn’t want to write like that most of the time; I like my character studies and literary elaborations as I write. The kind of novel I normally write benefits from such things. But they have no doubt also benefited from the lessons I learned on that waterslide in November of 2013.
DISCOVERING THE VALUE OF DEADLINES
by Lisa Doyle, Aurora, Ill.
I’m proud to say that I am a two-time NaNoWriMo Winner! I succeeded on both attempts, in 2008 and 2012. The motivations and outcomes for the novel writing process were different, and have led to some pretty life-changing results.
I’d always wanted to write a novel, and it was one of those things I thought I’d “get around to” one of these years. Then, in the final days of October 2008, I happened to read a blurb in Self magazine about NaNoWriMo. I was intrigued, went to the website, and learned of a local NaNoWriMo group workshop that very night in my town. I left the meeting completely jazzed, wrote my basic outline and downloaded YWriter, and a few days later, I was off and writing.
I had the goal of writing about 1,800 words every night, and for the most part, I achieved it (I took the night off for the presidential election, and one night I was sick). And, on November 30, I finished the story with an excess of 51,000 words, tears streaming down my face, not sure if I’d ever felt so proud before.
Life got busier (I had a baby in 2010) and I wasn’t ready to attempt NaNoWriMo again yet. But in the fall of 2012, I had an idea for a novel that I just couldn’t shake. I again outlined and set a plan of action, and once again completed the 50,000-word goal by deadline.
My book continued to nag at me, though. I knew I had something unique, something marketable, and it wasn’t really complete. In January, a friend alerted me to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, so I checked it out. The deadline was two weeks away, so I got back to work, adding another 25,000 words to the novel, and sent it in on time.
I made it through to the second round (yay!), but not the third (womp womp). I took the judges’ comments seriously and tweaked the novel further. I briefly had the book up on Amazon to share with family and friends, and received more helpful feedback. Then, I finally worked up the nerve to query agents. Not much time passed before I found my agent, who loved the premise, and wanted to work with me on a significant rewrite. Over the next several months, I shaped the novel into a much-improved story—one that I owe in large part to my agent’s expert coaching. It’s now on submission, and all appendages are crossed that it will find a home.
I am truly grateful that NaNoWriMo exists. I’m a very deadline-driven person, and I don’t think I actually would have worked the writing into my schedule without the timeframe, the goals and the structure it provides. I think anyone with a story in them should give it a shot. It could be the greatest favor you ever do for yourself.
by C.L. (Cyndi) Pauwels, Yellow Springs, Ohio
For someone who’s never written a full-length manuscript before, trying to write a book in a month is daunting, to say the least. I completed my first NaNoWriMo attempt in 2005, and the euphoria of typing “The End” shortly before midnight on Nov. 30 was indescribable. That draft—and yes, that’s all NaNo participants should seek to produce is a draft, no matter how many overly eager authors start querying (or hit “publish”) on Dec. 1—served as the basis for my thesis manuscript for a Master of Arts in creative writing, which I completed in 2010. NaNoWriMo showed me that I could, in fact, complete a book-length manuscript, something I had not been able to do up to that point. It gave me the confidence to complete my education and to take my writing seriously.
My 2006 NaNo effort built on the central theme of a short story I published in 1990. After many, many revisions and rewrites, that 50,000-word draft became my police procedural Forty & Out. I started querying it to agents in 2011, and after 39 rejections, that debut novel was released by Deadly Writes Publishing on Sept. 1, 2014.
NaNoWriMo has been good to me and for me—in motivation, in confidence-building, in adding to my support group of fellow writers. Now that I’ve learned the habit of daily writing and regularly produce a decent word count on my own, I may not return to the event. But I’ll continue spreading NaNo joy as I encourage new writers to join the fun.
LEARNING TO EXERCISE DEMONS (misspelling intended)
by Rev. Dr. David McDonald, Jackson, Mich.
Since 2008, I have written in excess of 2 million words: 56 books, 13 position papers and hundreds of explanatory diagrams that translate historical theology into the language of ordinary, everyday people. I started the Teaching Atlas Project to benefit the congregants at my church (westwinds.org), but over the years, the project grew. I used my writing to raise money for local charities, highlight notable people within our community, and dabble in speculative theology—even fictionalizing missionary work in Atlantis.
I have written three books this year, including The Handbook for Hellfighters (a training manual for ministry) and The Church Survival Guide (a resource for people confused by Christianity). Last week, in 118 hours, after seven years of research and three weeks of preparation, I wrote The Garden City Epistles—a 56,487 word devotional on human becoming.
Here’s what I’ve learned through it all:
Passion will get you started, but discipline will see you through. Theology is fascinating, but it’s a lot of work to explain, develop and substantiate. The only way to succeed is to set a schedule, write like mad and never stop, even if you despair. Get your first draft finished before you pay attention to your feelings, since—in the early stages—most of your feelings will steer you off a cliff like a GPS for lemmings.
We require the same disciplined perseverance to begin, also. The first words will rarely be your best, and the fear of bad writing often keeps writers from the initial click on the keys. But writing is a like jumping into a cold lake: You squirm less once you’re all in.
In my case, I know I’m in trouble once the ideas begin to gush from my mind and onto the screen. I don’t try and interrupt the flow, but I know the next 24 hours will likely involve head-shaking, smirking and self-recrimination. Easy means effortless, and good writing is never easy, just as good abs do not result from doughnuts and naps in the afternoon. You may be able to relate, knowing the more the writing flows in the first draft, the more you’ll have to trim it back during revisions.
Revisions are not only essential for clarity and concision, but for argumentation. That which interests us is only interesting to the audience if there’s a payoff. Most people don’t spend their afternoons reading 4th-century African theology. In order for any writing to gain traction, both the reader and the writer have to answer the all-important question, “So what?” The book, after all, is for the audience. In my case, I’m not writing to exorcise demons, but to share about how you, too, can get your demons looking great in a bikini by summer. Your reasons for writing, though probably not like mine, should be obvious and transparent to the reader.
Your work is not the best work on any topic, but it is yours. I knowI’ll never be on a shelf with Meister Eckhart, Athanasius, or Jacques Ellul, but my mission isn’t to compete with the greats. I translate great theology for everyday use. The translation is mine—my voice, my take, my slant—and it’s the only thing I have to offer. In your own writing, be less concerned with greatness and more concerned with faithfulness—to your beliefs and idiosyncrasies—in order to give yourself to your readers.
Finally, I realized not only has publishing changed, but reading has, too. We need shorter chapters, earlier payoffs and more memorable axioms to keep people turning the page. Every story is comprised of smaller tales; every tome is a hundred pamphlets; every dissertation is a dozen arguments working together to make one point. When we forget this, people put down our work and are either dismissive or angry that they wasted 10 bucks.
That’s right—10 bucks. Our therapist-employing, dotage-initiating, profanity-inventing work of desperate passion isn’t worth nine cents an hour. And how do I know this? Because, as my friends are fond of saying, “There isn’t another pastor on the planet that puts out like you do,” and this is the first time you’re seeing my name.
I’ve learned buckets of truth over the last six years, growing so tired of recounting inadequacies to my minister that I became one. I consider it essential training for the future, as I’m only beginning my career as a writer. You may not be ready to dive in like I did, but I still hope you benefit from hearing my confession.
To read the full feature “Plan Your Own Write-a-Thon: 30 Tips, Resources & Strategies for Writing a Book in 30 Days,” plus other articles to help you complete a book in a month, check out the full November/December 2014 Writer’s Digest now.
In this Q&A, Rochelle Melander, author of Write-a-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) (Writer’s Digest Books), discusses how she’s written five books at a marathon pace.
Learning how to write a great query—one that will not only make an agent want to read your book, but pick up the phone and call you the minute he/she reads your query—is essential if you want to be a published author.
In this live 90-minute webinar — titled “Querying 101: Putting Your Best Book Forward” — Literary agent Jennifer De Chiara will guide you, step-by-step, in writing the perfect pitch for your book. She’ll offer do’s and don’ts from her 16+ years of agenting and share queries that got her attention and those that didn’t. De Chiara will also give tips on how to find the right agents to query.If you’ve written a dynamite query, it’s still worthless if you’re not sending it to the right agents. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, September 25, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:
- How to start your query
- How to write the perfect elevator pitch
- Common mistakes that writers make
- How to find the right agent to query
- How to highlight your hook
- How simple and direct can often be the best way to go
Jennifer De Chiara is President and Owner of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, which she founded in 2001. Before forming the agency, she was a literary agent with two established New York agencies, worked in the editorial departments of Simon & Schuster and Random House, and was a writing consultant for several major corporations. A New York City-based writer, she is a frequent guest judge for the WRITER’S DIGEST, WOW! WOMEN ON WRITING, and THAT FIRST LINE writing contests, among others. She is a frequent guest lecturer on publishing and the art of writing at universities and writers’ conferences throughout the country, including New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute, the Penticton, Canada Writers Conference, the San Diego State University Writers Conference, Backspace, the International Women’s Writing Guild, and the Learning Annex. The agency represents both children’s and adult books, fiction and non-fiction, in a wide range of genres. They represent many best-selling, award-winning authors, including: Pen Award-winning author Carol Lynch Williams, Edgar Award-winner and PEN Award-winner Matthew J. Kirby, Newbery Honor Medal-winner Margi Preus, Lambda Award-winning YA novelist Brent Hartinger, best-selling children’s book authors Chanda Bell and Carol Aebersold, best-selling, award-winning Cathie Pelletier (aka K.C. McKinnon), and #1 New York Times’ best-selling author Sylvia Browne. The agency has a strong presence in Hollywood and is affiliated with many of the top film agencies there, with many film and television projects in development, several of which De Chiara has created and/or co-produced.
HOW DOES THE CRITIQUE WORK?
All registrants are invited to submit their query letter for review. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Jennifer De Chiara. Jennifer reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if she deems the query excellent. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, which contains the information you need to access the live webinar AND the Critique Submission Instructions.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND?
- Writers who are unsure about how to craft a query
- Writers currently composing a query who want to make sure their work gets read
- Writers who want to write the perfect elevator pitch
- Writers with a finished novel or proposal who are ready to submit their work to editors and agents
- Writers who have been rejected by agents and editors and wonder if their query letter was at fault
- Writers in need of help with the business side-rather than creative side-of publishing
- Writers who want a professional critique by a literary agent
I have written a YA fiction with a male protagonist/narrator. I don't intend to only write for boys forever but I have two teenage sons who I have homeschooled and it's been 18 years of working hard at taking a walk in young men's shoes, so it felt easy for me. When I research authors of teen boy fiction or when authors recommend teen boy fiction, it's primarily male writers. I do know my sons sort of side with the boy world quite unconsciously, but do agents/publishers also go along those lines. I want to use a pen name, anyhow. Should I consider an androgynous name since my first book is boy oriented? Or do you think I should begin querying without a pseudonym and bring it up if/when it goes that far? I've even wondered if I should specifically target male agents. I feel like getting boys to read, sometimes is harder than girls who read male writers pretty much as effortlessly as women's writers. I guess this is a strange question about gender.
It's a confusing question about gender because it's all over the place. First you're asking if readers think books with male protagonists/narrators have to be written by men. If you're seriously asking that question, you haven't read enough to query. Read enough in your category and read enough over all. In other words I'm telling you that your reading alone should tell you that it doesn't matter if you're a man, a woman, a shark or a nincompoop: the story is what counts. Get your story right and we're off to the races.
And if you're asking if male agents have a preference for male writers, or writers they think are male, well, no, they don't. They have a preference for (all together now) Good Stories!
And if you're asking if it's a truism that getting boys to read is harder than getting girls to read, well, that's not something you as a writer have any control over whatsoever and thus you should not worry about.
What do you have control over? Your story.
Make it fabulous and everyone will want to read it. Make the characters people we want to be, or hang out with, and you've got yourself a book.
I'm chastising you here because you've fallen into a trap that snares many writers at the start of their careers: you're worrying about things you can't control. All that fear keeps you from thinking about writing. Stop it. When your mind starts whirring with these thoughts, say to yourself "Stop worrying about this." You might need to say it out loud. (That will amuse your sons endlessly of course.) And you might need something to think about INSTEAD of these worrisome thoughts. Turn your mind to sitting down and writing. Or scotch. I've found one or the other always works.
Now, quit worrying about this. Back to work.
By: Chuck Sambuchino,
Blog: Guide to Literary Agents
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Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Brent Taylor of Triada US Literary Agency) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.
About Brent: Prior to joining TriadaUS Literary Agency, Inc., he completed numerous internships in publishing, most recently at The Bent Agency. Find Brent on Twitter.
(How many literary agents should a writer send their work to?)
He is seeking: “My tastes are eclectic, but all of my favorite novels are similar in that they have big commercial hooks and fantastic writing. I am seeking smart, fun, and exciting books for readers of middle grade, young adult, new adult, and select mystery/crime and women’s fiction. Middle Grade: for younger readers I am on the hunt for a humorous, intelligent fantasy; a scare-the-pants-off-me ghost or haunting story; fast-paced literary writing similar in style to Jerry Spinelli and Cynthia Lord. I have soft spots for larger-than-life characters and atmospheric setting (creepy and/or quirky). Young Adult: I’m always looking for genre-bending books that can be an exciting puzzlement when thinking about how precisely to market; specifically mystery and crime for teens, the grittier the better; high-concept contemporary stories with addicting romantic tension. I’m a sucker for themes of finding your place in the world, new beginnings, and summer-before-college stories. New Adult: my tastes in New Adult tend to be more darkly skewed but I would love a well-executed story that shares the same excitement, wonder, and invigoration of books like LOSING IT. Although I appreciate any story that’s told well in great language, in New Adult I’m more concerned with being entertained and gripped by the edge of my seat than in being stimulated. Adult: I would love a psychological suspense based on actual events, i.e. CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois which fictionalized the Amanda Knox trial and hooked me from beginning to end. Alternatively, I’d love high-concept women’s fiction; either an exquisitely told story huge in size and scope, or a less ambitious novel that simply warms my heart.”
How to submit: Send your query letter and first ten pages pasted in the body of the message to brent [at] triadaus.com.
(Should You Sign With a New Literary Agent? Know the Pros and Cons.)
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I thought it was strong. The voice in the memory was not as powerful at first but it got there. You made me wonder, then dislike the MC but still think he didn’t deserve what he got. Then at the end I had nothing but sorrow for him even though I was smiling for his simple pleasures. In a quick short work you took me on a roller coaster and I loved it.
Interesting and well written take Noodlebug. In your second to last paragraph you have Jessa watching the blood ooze from her own head rather than her neighbors. Normally I read right past those but that one made me pause and reread. Otherwise, very nicely done.
Man, did I ever laugh picturing this event! These two stupids make me laugh! Thanks k.spicer.
margi33, thanks for your comments. I couldn’t let the given prompt go away without some Tony and Mo mobster humor! Thanks!
Just got back from a wedding and on my way across the country for another one. Funny how folks get exhausted “putting on” the appropriate face at these events. I missed this small community where I know folks by their writing, not by their event appropriate face. I have been reading all week, just no time to respond. Thanks Kerry!
By: Lissa Waller-Carlino,
Blog: Guide to Literary Agents
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This is inspiring. Thank you for sharing! Congratulations! I will be ordering your book.
OT, this was nicely done. I really enjoyed it, it made me smile.
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Nice take Margi, I like science fiction and techno so this was right up my alley, and you did it well.