Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Happy New Year Blog Post Where I Ramble On About Digging Deep In Your Writing

I'm sort of a sentimental nerd when it comes to New Year's Eve. Whereas for some it's a cause to celebrate, to toast, to party with friends, to eat Chinese food and curl up with a stack of movies - for me, it's a time of reflection and often sadness. Weird, but true. It's as if we are tethered somehow to all that happens to us in that particular year and when that clock strikes midnight, that tether is broken and it all becomes a part of our past in a different way. There is a marker of distance between us and these events. For some reason, this makes me an emotional mess.

What is it about the past that makes us hold on so tight? Do we somehow believe that as long as we cling to it, a piece of it is still with us somehow in the present? And I'm certainly not alone in feeling this way. How many of you are thrown head-first into a memory, painful or positive, just by hearing a song, or seeing a scene from a movie, or even driving down a certain street? I honestly believe there is no place more powerful or raw to dig in for deep, emotional, real writing than in the treasure troves of our pasts. Those events, people and places that have left a lasting imprint on our hearts and lives. Why? What's the story there?

This year, dig deep. Look at what's inside you, what hurts to let go of, what feels GOOD to let go of, and let it come out to play. Mold it like clay and let it be your muse, guiding your words honestly and ferociously on to the page and see where it takes you.

I send New Years blessings to my writer friends, and hope you have a healthy, happy New Year filled with much laughter and happiness and that the words flow. Don't stress the whole I-have-to-get-an-agent-I-must-be-published-I-have-to-sell-a-ton-of-books-or-I'm-nothing thing. It's meaningless in the scope of the universe, really. Write for you. Write because you must. Write because you need it like you need oxygen in your lungs. Everything else is just a bonus, and you should never look to others to validate yourself in that way. Writing a book, or a blog, or whatever you write, is a huge endeavor and accomplishment of its own - one that many say they'd like to do but never actually accomplish. What's important is the journey - the dream, the persistence, the discipline, the dedication, the passion. The rest will come in it's own time.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Never Judge A Book By It's Cover

As a writer, I try and read every single new release within the genre I write in (contemporary YA for those following along at home) to best understand what is being published and why. Some of them are straightforward and obvious fun, and others make me scratch my head and say "Really?", but that's what makes this business subjective. When I came across one of the latest offerings, "The Summer of Skinny Dipping" by Amanda Howells, at my local library, I picked it up off the shelf and immediately dubbed it a frothy beach read I'd skim when I had the chance. Lesson learned: Never judge a book by it's cover.

Admittedly, the cover shows a seascape and an impossibly thin teen in a gauzy flowing wrap skirt and bikini top skittering amongst the waves, and the back offers up a stereotypical summer romance about the girl who falls in love with the boy renting the summer house next door the summer of her sixteenth year. Been there, read that, right? I thought so too. But that's the problem - the cover, and the brief description on the back, don't even begin to touch on the magic that lies on the pages within.

Although the book starts predictably in a light way, it quickly delves beneath the surface and deals with dark topics, deep emotions and makes your heart catch in your throat on more than one occasion. The writing is lyrical and beautiful, evoking all senses, and allowing the reader to crawl into the main character Mia's skin in a way that truly took me back to being sixteen again. Further, what took me most by surprise is that the ending had a twist I never saw coming - something you don't usually find in what I would have normally judged as a "lightweight" novel. Sure, there are seeds planted along the way, as any good writer should do to get the reader thinking, but this was so not what I expected that I literally found myself emotionally reactive at the end and had to sit with the story for a few moments after finishing it. I don't want to give anything away, because it's well worth a read to enjoy Amanda Howell's beautiful writing and sensitive love story, but I have to say she did an excellent job as a writer of taking the reader fully on her character's journey and immersing them in her world and her heart.

A lot of teen novels today have similar covers. It's the publisher that chooses these, not the writer, and my guess is it's based on sales of similar novels. If you liked x novel and it had x cover, you are likely to pick up this novel off the shelf and check it out. However, take that extra step and read the inside flap. Better yet, if you can, sit and read the first chapter or two, because what you see on the cover may not be what you get. If you pass on something because of a lackluster or even misleading cover, you may miss out on a gem of a story.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

When is your novel ready to submit?

I am so happy for a writer friend of mine. She has been working on her novel for five years - yep! that's right - five years - and FINALLY got it to that sweet spot where she knew it was ready to start querying. She'd queried it before in another form and generated interest, even did a full rewrite for an agent at their request, only to have them pass. However, instead of that destroying her confidence, she dove back into the manuscript and kept what advice she found useful and brought it back to the story she wanted to tell, not the story somebody else was looking to hear.

Several years and many rewrites later, she sent out ten queries in her first week and instantly got three requests for the full from three top agents. This is the amazing stuff every writer wishes would happen to them. However, when you hear of someone's insta-success, or a huge amount of interest in their book straight out of the gate, there's usually a story behind it. There's usually years of hard work, agonizing rewrites, painful hours of cut and paste and spell check and tears, moments of wanting to give it up, moments of thinking it's there only to realize it's not. Sure, instant successes happen, but it's important to remember that nothing worth having in life comes without hard work. Writing is hard work, and although sometimes it's hard to keep the optimism level high and the words flowing, the only way to get your novel to where you want it to be is by doing the work.

So how do you know when it's done? The truth is - it's never done. There is always something, upon reflection, that you find that you wish you could tweak or change. For a novel to be ready, it must undergo many revisions. When I get feedback, I read it through and see if I honestly agree with it. If just one person says it, I mull it over and see if it feels right. However, if two or more people say it, I change it without hesitation. Then it's no longer a subjective thing; it's an identifiable problem.

If you send your book out in the world when the feedback coming back is still saying something needs attention in one way or another, you are only short-changing yourself opportunity. You only get to query an agent once with a project, unless they request changes or you've made a substantial revision and they initially expressed strong interest, in which case you can certainly contact them and see if they would be open and willing to reconsider your work.

When you feel your book is truly done, be honest with yourself. Are you just sick and tired of working on it and it is what it is? Have all previous concerns from feedback you've received been addressed? Were there things you received feedback on that you stubbornly refused to change, and if so, why? Are you just anxious to get it out there already? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, do yourself a favor - take a step back. Because guess what? Your novel probably isn't ready. And the beautiful thing is - at this stage in the game, time is on your side. There are no deadlines save the self-imposed ones. You have the luxury of being able to take all the time you need to make it right, and in the end, it will have been worth it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What's Your Story?

Yesterday was one of those magical life moments. I celebrated my 20th anniversary with my husband.

We met in college, in our junior year. He was sitting in front of me in a class and I thought he was cute so I passed him a note. We ended up passing notes back and forth for three days without ever actually speaking a single word to each other. On the fourth day, it was a freezing, stormy Boston day, and I asked him if he'd like to come over and have some hot chocolate and a real conversation. He did, and drank the whole mug, left to go to his 6 p.m. class, came back at 9, and basically never left. Now that I've been married to him for 20 years, I know that he absolutely hates hot chocolate.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because everyone has a story. The story of their relationships, the story of their friendships, the story of their career, the story of the moment of greatest joy or deepest grief, the story of the roads taken and not taken. These stories are the real fabric of life, the universal truths that we can write about that readers can dive in and relate to that make our stories more personal and believable.

If you're stuck in your writing, or you want to flesh out a relationship between your characters more fully, take a few minutes and pick a story or two from your own life and write about it in detail as if it were happening to the characters in your story. Chances are, when writing from your own personal treasure trove of memories, you will tend to remember little details that set the mood and propel the story. Things like: a song that was playing, if it was the most beautiful day ever or driving rain, the look on someone's face, how you felt inside, etc. Though you may never actually incorporate this story into your own, it will help you reach in and find the honesty in the piece you want to work on.




Friday, December 2, 2011

Finding An Agent

You've written the book, you've spent hours perfecting your query and synopsis, and now the time has come to get your baby out into the world. Where do you start? There are, literally, hundreds of literary agents out there. How can you possibly know who they are, what they like, and which one would be the best fit for your work?

The best place to start is by making your own personal agent "wish list", i.e. what factors are the most important to you in a working relationship. Remember, your relationship with your agent is a partnership akin to a marriage. You have to be able to feel comfortable to approach them with questions and issues, there needs to be clear communication, and that person has to "get" you and your work. Are you more comfortable working with a man or a woman? Huge established agency or a smaller boutique agency with a smaller client list? A newer agent or someone who has more experience? Someone who communicates to you every step of the way or someone who just checks in when there's something important to say? Based in New York or based somewhere else? (By the way, the latter point does not seem to matter much these days with the advent of the internet, Skype and whatnot - they all are well connected to the primarily New York-based publishing houses.) Written contract or verbal agreement? Only you can answer these questions as to what works best for you, and will help you hone in on select people as you begin your search.

The next step is to become familiar with several key websites that are a tremendous asset in helping research what each agent is looking for. Hands down, the best one I've found is Literary Rambles, which is literally a one-stop shop for finding the low-down on some of the top agents in the business. The site has specific submission guidelines for each agent, their interests as far as requested materials, and an abundance of links to further research anyone who catches your eye. You can branch off and read interviews on blogs, or see their listings on Publishers Marketplace, and so on.

Also excellent are sites like AgentQuery.com, which allows you to perform searches in a specific genre and also has information like comments from other writers, response times and request percentages, contact information, and much more. This site will also tell you if the agent likes to see queries by email or snail mail.

There are also many invaluable blogs, which I have mentioned in previous posts, and books like Writers Market and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents. These books are updated annually because editors and agents move around a lot, so it is always best to check the agency's website directly to make sure that particular agent is still there. Writer's Digest also has an online component with the most current listings if you purchase the deluxe edition. They also have a smaller resource guide that is specific just for literary agents, which can be found here.

Start small and send out queries to just a few at a time. Hopefully, someone bites with interest right away, but if not, you can take the feedback you get to help you tweak the query or hone your focus differently. For example,Agent A that works for mega-huge agency that you'd sell your first-born to work with may state specifically she loves paranormal and sci fi and you're sending her your contemporary romance. Show them you've done your homework. Know who they represent, especially if they rep writers similar to how you write.

And most of all, have patience. This process takes a loooooong time, unless you're one of the super lucky ones who gets an agent right out of the gate, but remember, they are the exception, not the rule, so don't feel like giving up if it doesn't happen on the timetable you've envisioned. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Afterglow

It seems fitting to put up this post on the last day of November, a month generally associated with being thankful for the people and blessings and opportunities in our lives. I have so much to be thankful for this year I cannot even begin to tell you. As I bask in the afterglow of the last few days' events, I would like to take a moment to give thanks and reflect on what I've come to know as truth.

BE THANKFUL FOR FRIENDS AND FAMILY
My family, and many of my friends, were there when my journey as a writer began, and they will be there with me until the end. It began with my Mom, who at age three, helped me write the words that I dictated for my very first book, "The Cat and the Mouse Who Were Friends." I supplied the illustrations, and went on from there to spend many a play-date, forcing my friends to sit at the table in my room with a stack of paper and pens "writing books." My oldest friend Ilene and I used to have sleepovers where we would stay up late and play a game called "Book Titles," where we would make lists of titles and essentially pitch the stories to each other. My classmates in elementary school were some of my earliest cheerleaders, listening with rapt attention as I read my stories aloud in Creative Writing, or "ordering" the books I'd write from my handmade catalogs that mimicked the ones we would get from Scholastic book orders. My parents, who gave me my first typewriter, and later, a computer. And in the years since, my cheerleading squad has grown to include new friends who tirelessly read my work with red pen in hand, brought me baked goods, chocolate bars and took me out for coffee when I was feeling like it would never happen, and some whom I have never met in person but no matter because they knew just the right things to say, and meant them sincerely. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Shelli Cornelison!) Remember who was there in the beginning, before "the call", before "the deal", and cherish them. People who continue to believe in you, even when you are filled with self-doubt as is par for the course, are worth gold.

HAVE FAITH IN THE UNIVERSE
You can't have a dream come true if you don't have a dream. Words and thoughts have power, and if you hold fast to your dream and persevere with patience and determination, you can reach your goal. The end result may be different than what you envisioned, or even on a different timeline than you'd hoped, but I do believe everything happens for a reason. Often, when we reflect, all the pieces and speed bumps of the past make sense in retrospect. Be grateful and thankful for every speed bump, hiccup, criticism, road block, detour and failure. They helped shape who you are right this very moment, and have faith that these things are ultimately responsible for making you a stronger and better writer and human being.

PAY IT FORWARD
Everyone would like to be successful and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Too many, however, when they feel that first glimmer of success, forget that not that long ago, they were also someone struggling to make it all come together and happen. If you find yourself fortunate enough to be in the position of achieving success in your chosen venture, always remember the importance of paying it forward. Mentoring and being there for someone else is the greatest reward of all (see first paragraph about the importance of cheerleaders!). I am eternally grateful and thankful to every single person I have met since the day I first put pen to paper who took the time to give me feedback, criticism, referrals, and the time of day. I know, without question, that what happened for me the other day would NEVER have happened without that. Besides, it's good karma :)

BE PATIENT
Good things come to those who wait. The delay is never the denial. All that good stuff. Annoying as hell, yes, but true nonetheless.

BREATHE
It's so easy to get so caught up in the whole process of making it happen that it's easy to forget to exhale. Writing, while exhilarating, can be stressful. What's my word count? Is there enough plot/action? And then querying and writing a synopsis. And then waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. Enjoy it. Enjoy every moment, every piece, for each has its own unique experience to savor. If this is what you feel you were born to do, then know and have faith this is part of the process. Everything in its due time. Breathe in, breathe out.

Hope you take a moment to give thanks to those who are supporting you along your way, and to the universe for everything you experience. And thanks to you for taking the time to follow my journey!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The post where I get to announce I have an AGENT!!!!

Wow. I would be lying if I told you I haven't dreamed about writing this post. The thrill of actually finding a person that champions my story and my writing with as much passion as my mother does is, quite honestly, one of the most incredible feelings on Earth.

Two years. 9 revisions. Lots o'queries, the bulk of which were long before the book was truly ready to query. 16 Fulls, 3 partials, many rejections. I truly felt, at times, like I was on a roller-coaster. After all this time, and so many mistakes, the book was FINALLY ready and where I wanted it to be. But was it too late? And then, something happened that changed everything.

Do you ever meet someone and just know that they were brought into your life for a reason? Something about the moment you meet seems super-charged, as if the universe were orchestrating this moment into play for a very specific reason? I felt like that when I met YA author Jessica Brody at a writing workshop she led this past November. Our instant banter led to an easy friendship, and she was kind enough to pay it forward and offer me up a referral to her agent, Bill Contardi at Brandt and Hochman. She couldn't sing his praises enough, and she was also honest in saying that he had never once signed anyone she'd referred, but she encouraged me to go for it. I did, and Bill responded instantly, requesting the full, and then, last night, I got "the email", the one I'd read about on so many blogs where the agent says they loved your book and would like to set up a time to talk to you.

I have to be honest and say that I had to read the email three times at least before I screamed and called my family downstairs, because I'd grown accustomed to seeing, "I read BAND GEEK and I really liked it BUT . . ." This one said that too, but there was no BUT. Bill is an unbelievable agent. He not only represents Jessica, but Alyson Noel, who is one of my favorite YA authors, like, EVER! He's well respected and has worked in publishing for close to 30 years, including having a background in film and handling the film rights for clients like Meg Cabot and Ursula LeGuin. Holy cow!

The feelings racing through my brain and body were indescribable. How can you put words to that moment where suddenly everything you've worked for and dreamed of might possibly be one step closer to fruition?

Five minutes on the phone with Bill the next day, and I knew he was the right one for me. He loved the book, the voice, the character, and is as passionate about the project as I am. He has vision for where to send it and what it's future potential might be. In that moment, I got what all those blogs are saying. You shouldn't just sign with someone because they are interested in your project, nor should you mourn the ones that said no because you thought they seemed so perfect. You should go with your gut. The person you say yes to should be as excited as you are about your work, and not one iota less. And you can hope that when they send your work out into the world, their excitement can't help but be contagious. The "no's" are a gift, because they are clearing the path for the right one.

So the journey continues, and now the road merges in a new direction. I've never been so excited to hurry up and wait anew.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaNoWriMo Pressure

It's everywhere, on every blog, all over Facebook, on Twitter, in your inbox. Excited updates from fellow writers getting down and dirty in the trenches with their NaNoWriMo projects. Some are at the halfway mark, some have already exceeded it. Some burst out of the gate with nearly 10,000 words their first day. Truth it, it makes me feel slightly queasy and break a sweat.

No month makes me feel more pressured that I have to keep up, that I must write, that I'm slacking in some way if I'm not keeping up than November. The truth is, I'm not wholly sure how I feel about NaNoWriMo. I think it's a fantastic idea to force writers to get their butts in chairs and start writing, and give them an excuse to write daily. They are given license to write utter crap and not stress it - it's about quantity and not quality, after all. Best of all, you can connect with other writers as a support system to keep egging each other on. However, for me, it adds an element to my writing that doesn't sit well with me and makes it feel less organic all around.

I know myself better than anyone, and one of the biggest pieces of advice I ever received that gave me comfort was when I read on someone's blog that writing is not a race, nor a competition. The business inherently moves slowly. NaNoWriMo makes me feel like the tortoise surrounded by a pack of hares. I believe in just getting the words out on the page, but I can't just literally stream-of-consciousness utter crap to simply get words on a page. My instinct remains to edit and make sense of it all, and I find it hard to move forward if there isn't something linear and substantial to build off of.

I admire greatly the perseverance and determination of those that can sit daily and pump out the words and in the end feel the sense of accomplishment from having met your goal. I just know it's not for me. So I cheer you from the sidelines, but respectfully step off the track, and embrace every month as NaNoWriMo, hoping I will find myself with my butt in a chair, writing, and remembering that it's not a race.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Choosing The Right Tense For Your Novel

When I write, I tend to immediately lapse into past tense. That would be fine, except for my tendency to then occasionally slip into present tense, then back into past tense, and so on and so forth. Do you do this too? How do you choose which tense is best for your story?

There are many schools of thought on which is the most pleasant tense to read. I've heard writers argue that writing in the present tense allows your reader to experience events along with your main character, so they are in no way ahead of him, and therefore feel everything as he/she feels it. It creates suspense effectively because the events are unfolding in real-time. However, the downside to using present tense is it can make flashbacks or back story feel a little less flowy because it demands a shifting of tenses. Also, for some, reading in the present tense can get annoying in a long story.

There seems to be a growing trend in novels of late to write in the present tense, but because this is not the conventional choice, you should carefully decide if there is a strong reason to.

When you choose to write in the past tense, the events of the story have already occurred, and it allows for the MC to have had time to sit with their experience and perhaps have learned something from it or grown from it in some way, let alone survived it, etc. This can help provide greater overshadowing at the beginning of a story and create suspense.

Sometimes, the only way to know what the right tense for your story is is to write it both ways. Which sounds more natural? Which makes the reader feel more involved in the story and wanting to know what happens next? The tense you choose to write in can change the entire feel of the whole book. And above all, when you've completed your manuscript and made your choice, go back over it (more than once!) to make sure all your tenses agree. Nothing is more jarring than being pulled in and out of the past and present in a story unless the device is intentional (i.e. a flashback.)

As you read, take note of the tense the writer is using and think about how the story would change if it were written in the past vs. the present and vice-versa. Do you agree with the author's choice? I'd love to hear about some books you've read recently where the tense made the difference for you in making the story great!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The post where I write about the book I started writing when I'm supposed to be writing a different one...

I sat down to work on my WIP today, and suddenly found myself writing another story entirely. It's a whole new novel, one much darker and edgier than anything I've ever written before. However, it came to me last night in a burst, whole, complete with a beginning, an end, some semblance of a middle, and a very clear main character who spoke to me and outright told me his name. When I didn't really like the name he offered me, he argued with me that that was his name, and I could give him another if I liked that other people could call him by to add depth to his character, but that that was his name. Who was I to argue? It actually made sense with the story I'd been given, so I decided to sit down this morning and see where it went.

It was one of those writing experiences that is truly a gift - where you sit down in front of the computer and the book just begins to write itself. The words flowed freely and I knew where the story was going, which is not always the case for me. I know I should be working on my other WIP, but this story is demanding my attention. It wants to be written, and now. Has this happened to you?

The truth is, I'd reached the dreaded murky middle of my WIP, and I was not as excited to dive into it because I wasn't sure what I wanted to have happen next. Therefore, writing something else entirely might, in fact, be the best thing I could do to save my other story. Sometimes, it really can be a good thing to take a break from a work that starts to feel forced and is not flowing naturally and work on something completely different. You're still writing, still being creative, and you can always come back to the work later with a fresh eye.

I love that this project is not my normal style of writing. It feels refreshing and inspiring to write more dramatically. It allows me to draw richer characters that don't rely on humor and dialogue as much to move them through their story. It allows me to work on my description and emotional interplay between the characters and the intensity of the world around them. It feels like what I should be working on, as evidenced by the fact that I sat down and wrote over 20 pages today, which is unheard of for me.

When it comes to writing, go with your gut. Don't be locked into one story, whatever you might be working on, and feel like you can't work on something else if the muse strikes you. Go with the flow. There's nothing wrong with having several stories going at once, and having the option of working on wherever your head and your heart takes you that day, especially if the pieces are drastically different.

If you're not comfortable with completely switching gears, take time to jot down notes of what comes to you. Write out whole scenes, even if they're out of context. You can always come back to them later. Stay with the idea while it's fresh in your mind, even if you need to back burner it for awhile, but you won't be scratching your head trying to remember the details later. Good luck!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Writing the Dreaded Query Letter

Just seeing the words 'Query Letter' give me an involuntary shudder. Admittedly, I hate them. How is it possible to take several hundred pages and sum them up succinctly, flavor them with the voice and tone of your story, and put them into one to two paragraphs to relay the entire essence of your book? And further, how do you pitch yourself as an author worth taking seriously when you do not have a long list of writing credits?

The truth is, I don't have the answer. I struggle with it myself. The best place to start is by reading other query letters. Very often, agents will offer up ones from their published clients that show what worked for them and why they were hooked. What do theirs have that yours don't?

One of the biggest mistakes that can be found in a query is that it is too wordy. I speak from personal experience. Back when I started querying my novel, before it was truly ready to be queried, I might add, my query was nothing short of an epic. Too much detail, too many character names - in short, it was utterly craptastic. That summer, I attended an amazing online writing conference called WriteOnCon, and they offered up a Query contest which was to be judged by agent Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary. You can imagine how thrilled and excited I was that she chose mine as the first one to break down. (You can read her comments here.) Although it was unnerving to put myself out there like that and have all my newbie mistakes on display, Joanna gave me an incredible gift - she actually told me what I was doing wrong (and peppered it with what I was doing right, thankfully.) For must of us, we send our query out and when we get no response, we either tweak it or continue to send another round. I actually had new direction now, and from the comments, other writers were helped by it too because they had made similar mistakes. If you have the opportunity to enter your query in a contest, or get feedback from other writers on it, do so, preferably before you submit it to half of New York City. After making these changes, interest in my book jumped.

Shortly after, I befriended YA author Eileen Cook online, and in our banter, she was kind enough to offer to take a look at it for me and sent further comments and revisions my way, helping me turn it into the query it is today. Ever since that further change, the interest spiked again. It underscored the truth that a great, tight query is everything. You have an agent's attention for approximately 45 seconds or less. If you can't hook them and get that idea across, they are on to the next one. They literally get hundreds every week, so yours must stand out.

As for pitching yourself as a writer with limited credits, look into your history and see what parlays as experience. For me, I had a history in motion picture development as a reader, as well as writing Outreach materials for a PBS station in Seattle, specifically for a popular children's television show. I'd graduated from the Screenwriting program at UCLA extension, and of course, maintain this writing blog. Not as effective were the countless hours of my childhood spent in front of a typewriter fancying myself the next Judy Blume, or the meeting I got to have with the Editor-in-Chief of Putnam Publishing when I was thirteen based on a submission, or the interest I'd had from the Disney Channel in a script I'd written when I was a teenager. Nothing ever happened with those things, so they aren't useful, except to me to reassure myself that this has always been in my blood and been my passion for as long as I can remember. You don't need to spell out "I've never been published." Saying "This is my first novel" can be enough. But don't overdo it. Less is more.

For some great tips on query letter writing, check out YA author Elana Johnson's blog entry, and even better, her free eBook "From The Query To The Call." For an excellent list of 10 query no-no's, check out this link. AgentQuery.com has a great how-to list that gives you great structure and tips. Another great resource is The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters. A quick Google search will bring up countless more.

What are some great tips you use to make your query stand out? Good luck, and may the force be with you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's Original Anymore?

One of the biggest challenges in creating a new work is making it original. There will always be a market for romances, thrillers, a good cozy mystery, and a road trip novel, but what makes yours stand out? Agents and publishers want to see that spark of something they haven't seen before, so how do you catch their eye when everything has been done before? Living proof of that is the plethora of novels out there right now on zombies, vampires, angels and mermaids. Not to say they aren't good - many of them absolutely are - but isn't one zombie or vampire the same as the next? It absolutely can be, and can ensure your book stays in the proverbial drawer, unless you do the work to make sure it has that extra somethin' somethin'.

When I am writing something new, i.e. a road trip novel, for example, the first thing I do is try and read every novel I can get my hands on that falls in that vein. I also watch any movie I can that fits that subject too. I do this first for inspiration, that it may spark some ideas of my own. I do it second because I want to make sure I don't duplicate what someone else has already successfully done. However, here's the reality: We know in every good road trip novel, there are a series of mishaps that keep the pacing going and keep the reader turning the page. Will our MC get from point A to point B? What obstacles will she encounter along the way that keep him/her from getting there? Will he/she find romance along the way? The answer is: Most likely, yes. This is what is known as a formulaic plot. (Think of the movie "The Sure Thing" with John Cusack). However, let's give that a spike. Yes, it's a road trip of sorts, but so much more: Think "Thelma and Louise" with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis and a young, shirtless Brad Pitt. They face a lot of choices that determine what happens next and an unexpected twist at the end. THAT'S what you want to aim for. Another great example is the recent YA novel "Au Revoir Crazy European Chick" by Jon Schreiber, which is best described as Ferris Bueller meets La Femme Nikita. Perry, the main character, is forced to take his European exchange student to the prom, which ends up to be a night on the run through the underbelly of New York City when she actually turns out to be an assassin. The twists are surprising, and the author successfully manages to have the reader suspend their disbelief and take the wild ride along with the MC. Just driving from point A to point B, running out of gas and falling in love is not enough to engage the sophisticated teen literary tastes of today. Think out of the box.

Here's an exercise to make yourself feel better when you feel like your writing feels "un-sparkly": Pull out 20 of your favorite books and see if you can break them down into a simple formula. You can bet each one has one. Then try and discover what gives each one their "spark." If you need a little extra help in coming up with some great plot ideas, check out Martha Alderson's new book "The Plot Whisperer" and watch her video series on Yahoo.

Most of all, if it doesn't come to you all initially, don't despair. That's what revisions are for. Additionally, sometimes real life will surprise you and throw an idea in your path. For example, just the other night I went to a writing workshop and found myself lost in downtown Los Angeles at 11 p.m. with some pretty interesting peple on every corner. Though I was not quite so into it at the time, that's the kind of stuff you want to save up and channel for later, and you can write it honestly because you've experienced it. You know what it felt like to have that adrenaline pumping through your body, the panic setting in as eyes are on you alone at a stop light, praying for it to change so you can peel out of there and find that freeway on-ramp. Don't worry about getting it all in in that first draft. Think sparkly!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pity Party of One

Ever have one of those weeks where everything seems to happen at once? Rejection after rejection? Even people who you queried six months ago decide that NOW would be an excellent time to let you know that your work is not for them? Seriously? Other than throw a pity party of one to celebrate an utterly craptastic week, what's a girl to do? (Other than eat chocolate, duh!)

Well, here's what I did. First, I sat on the couch and cried. Crying is actually really good. I'm a cryer. I believe it's important to get out what's inside instead of letting it bottle up, and it had been as bottled up as the genie in Aladdin's lamp, I assure you. Then I talked to my mother, my friends, the barista at Starbucks, whomever knows me, knows how hard I've been working, the endless hours of revisions I've put in, letting them build me up by reminding me I really am a good writer, that this is so subjective, that all it takes is one, etc. It wasn't enough. I still felt craptastic.

Two rejections followed by two new requests for the full. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. But I kept reminding myself - I believe in this book. I know it's a great, fun story. People have told me, at the minimum, numerous times, the film potential this book has - and that is what brought me back.

Although I believe in this story as a novel, I must consider that there are many mediums in which to tell a story. It's important for you to consider too (Not my book, yours, silly!) If it feels like the response is not what you want it to be, try reworking your story in another medium and see if that helps it find its more organic voice. At the minimum, putting a novel into screenplay form demands a certain structure that your novel may be lacking. Certain things need to happen at certain points in the story in order for a screenplay to flow. Are those things happening in your novel at certain points? If not, that may be part of the problem. How often have you watched a movie with great actors and a fun storyline, but NOTHING HAPPENS for too long a stretch. Characters walk, talk, sleep, eat and canoodle, sure, but what else happens? When you translate things to a visual medium, it's hard to get away with that and it may underscore what is hard to see in the pacing of your novel.

After my burst of inspiration that my novel was far from dead - it is still actively garnering interest and holds much potential to be reworked into another medium if necessary - I decided to be brave and dive into the stack of recent rejections. Of course, I made coffee first and grabbed more chocolate. And something salty. Salty and chocolate together . . . yeah. But anyhow, when I took the time to really read the rejections, the biggest thing that I saw that came through on every single one was the validation that I could indeed write. Perhaps what I had written was not for that person, but they all told me I had great talent, they loved the story, they loved the characters, parts made them laugh out loud. So, in fact, I was doing something right. It was the missing piece that was where the subjectivity came in, and what is one man's trash is another man's treasure, right? For example, I just finished reading a current bestselling adult novel this past week, and at the end I wanted to claw my eyes out with a spoon. Up until the end, it had been fantastic, and then it utterly fell apart and was completely unsatisfying. How could that get by the gatekeepers of publishing? And how could readers scoop it up like candy? And how could Hollywood then embrace it as a movie? The ending STUNK!!! But...that's just MY opinion. Just one in a sea of opinions.

And so it is for me...continuing to look for the one soul that connects to the whole package because they see all the other stuff AND see the further potential. I have no doubt it will happen. Just a matter of when. So when I'm feeling discouraged, I have to remember one very important thing. I really do believe in myself and my ability to write. And above all else, it has to start there. If I can't believe in myself and my story, why should I expect anyone else to?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing Down The Bones

Author Natalie Goldberg offers up some amazing advice in her tried and true book, "Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within": Keep your hand moving, lose control, and don't think. It's great advice, if you can fight the urge to resist it, because it takes so much pressure off the creation process in the early stages of writing your novel.

If you liken your work in progress to a body, the core structure is the skeleton, or the bones. Everything is built upon that foundation. You add the muscles, the nerves, the flesh, etc. until you have an entire being. Therefore, if you work on first creating that skeleton and not worrying about anything beyond that, you will free yourself to create the basic template of your story. Admittedly, it's hard for me to write and not want to edit as I go. I want to feel that when I finish that first draft, that it will be all downhill from there. But truthfully, that's where the hard work begins.

Don't worry about the details. Write your story, even if it includes long rambling passages of description and dialogue. You will go back and change it later, but in the meantime, you are getting the words on the page. Don't let others read your novel at this stage, even though you may want direction and feedback, because it may veer you off course. You know you're going to make changes, you know it needs work, so it can be equally frustrating for a beta reader to give you feedback knowing that it's all likely to be changed up anyhow. This is the part where you write for YOU - no rules, just free-form writing,

When you have finished draft one of your ultimate epic masterpiece, read it out loud. Make notes in the margins. Does it need more action? Is there enough suspense? Are the characters three-dimensional? Is there a discernible plot? How is the pacing? Author Jessica Brody had a great suggestion - she uses color-coded note cards to write the information about what each character is doing throughout the story. After all, each character has their own arc and purpose. Are there way too many note cards of the same color? Does your story need more balance? Try and break the story down to its natural chapter breaks, making sure each one ends in a place that keeps the reader hungry to find out what happens in the next chapter. Once you have completed this first pass, you will have added your muscles. Stir and repeat and you'll have your nerves. NOW would be a great time to give it to some writer beta friends to see what they think.

Once you get legitimate feedback about what's working and what's not, you can know where to focus your revisions from there. When you have finished (if a novel can ever be truly finished) you will have the whole body, with all it's parts working in concert with each other.

Be careful not to rush any part of this process. It takes work, patience and perseverance. When you send your novel out, you want it to be the absolute best it can be. Further, as you've probably learned by now, the world of publishing takes a loooong time. I've read it articulated many places to remember it's not a race. If you attract interest from an agent but they want some changes, don't feel pressured to pull a week of all-nighters to turn it around to them. They want to see you put in the time to make it right too, and there are few things in life that come out perfect if we rush them. It just ups the ante for oversights and mistakes.





Monday, October 24, 2011

How To Keep Your Readers Turning The Page

I went to a fantastic writing workshop last night taught by bestselling YA author Jessica Brody that offered some fantastic nuggets of wisdom about how to keep your readers turning the page and hungering for more. The fact that I got lost coming home in the streets of downtown Los Angeles at 11 p.m. and felt like I was in a bad Corey Haim movie is a whole other story for another day, but I digress . . . These simple techniques can be applied to any type of story in any genre, and can make all the difference in making your book one that they can't put down.

HIDING THE BALL AND CREATING SUSPENSE
Jessica said that one of the best ways to get your reader engaged right away is to "hide the ball" - that is, to start in the middle of an action and write around it, but never actually reveal to the reader what is actually going on. It keeps them guessing. You plant the seeds of what is going on all around them - what they are seeing, smelling, small pieces of backstory that led to what has occurred, etc. If you can write your entire first chapter this way, the reader will be anxious to read the next because now they are dying to know what has happened, and if they guessed correctly.

CLIFFHANGER ENDINGS
It's always best to cut in the middle of the scene so that it ends before the resolution. This way, the reader continues to be propelled forth along with the character to find out what happens next. She often likes to end with a line of dialogue that sets you up for the next scene, whether it be in the MC's interior monologue or another character speaking. Sometimes she will not even say who says that line of dialogue, which adds further intrigue. Ending with a character's dilemma or the character figuring out something about themselves or the situation they are in allows the reader to be in sync with the MC, because you don't want your reader to be ahead of them or your story can become predictable.

SHORTER CHAPTERS
Ever read a book that seemed like a fast read that you just couldn't put down? The length of your chapters can make a huge difference in the pacing. Short chapters lasting 4-6 pages in length can create the illusion of speed, especially if each one ends with a cliffhanger.

PEPPERING YOUR STORY WITH LITTLE MYSTERIES
Adding mystery to your story keeps the reader going even through the slower parts. The "A" story is your character's story (i.e. the logline of your book). The "B" & "C" stories are the secondary stories that involve who your character meets, their relationships, the subplots, etc. All of these stories should converge with your "A" story, showing us your character's world. For example, in Jessica's book "My Life, Undecided", her MC is volunteering at an old age home and meets a crotchety old lady. Uncovering the mystery of why this woman is so bitter keeps the reader not only intrigued in that "B" story, but also serves to showcase to the MC what she will turn out like if she doesn't make some changes in her own life. Plant seeds along the way of things that will show up later and prove to be important.

Pick up a few of your favorite novels and see if you can find these techniques applied throughout!



Thursday, October 20, 2011

What's Another Word To Describe.....?

I'm in love.

With a blog.

It's true. And I'm giddy beyond belief that I've found it because I can't tell you how much I've needed this in my life, and I want to share the love. I've just discovered my savior, The Bookshelf Muse. Run by two fabulous writers, Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman, they offer a tremendous resource to writers scratching their heads for how to find just the right description to capture a mood, an emotion, the weather, shapes and colors, character traits, setting and symbolism - you name it. Check it out. Bookmark it. Keep it open on another screen while you write. No more Googling thesauruses and scrambling through tons of irrelevant entries - it's as if they've climbed into the writer's mind and they KNOW what you're trying to say! It's kismet, I tell you.

And most of all, give thanks to these two great ladies who put so much time and energy into creating this amazing resource for the rest of us!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Immerse Your Senses and Jump Start Your Writing

I tend to be a very visual person. Perhaps it's from my film background, but I have to envision the whole picture when I write. In a film, one of the biggest contributors to mood setting is music. Can you hear "If You Were Here" by the Thompson Twins and not think of Molly Ringwald sitting on the dining room table with Jake Ryan and a birthday cake? Or "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds and not think of all things "Breakfast Club"?

I cannot suggest enough that when you write, you create a playlist that echoes the different scenes and voices in your story. For example, when I wrote my novel BAND GEEK, I listened to "I've Got A Feelin'" by the Black Eyed Peas the entire time I wrote the Homecoming scene. It was perfect. It was loud and fun and noisy and made me picture a dark gymnasium awash with crepe paper and overly-hormonal teens dancing. It set the mood. And because I tend to write visually, the scene played out in my head much like a movie. The music alone can inspire images and ideas to spring forth. Often, I will hear a song and add it to my playlist for a particular book because I know it will be the perfect thing to listen to when I write the breakup scene, or a kissing scene, or a road trip scene. I try and create a separate playlist for each book I work on, and often I listen to it when I'm driving (since I'm probably schlepping my kids in the car when I'm not writing) in the hopes that it might spark something then too.

Another useful device for setting the writing mood and bringing you deeper into your story is any kind of aromatherapy. For me, it's scented candles. I have an, er, slight addiction to Bath and Body Works scented candles, I confess. Yankee Candle is pretty darn good too. They offer such a variety of unique scents like Winter Night, Mountain Leaves, Sand and Sea, Storm Watch, etc. If you are writing a scene that takes place in the forest, burning a Fresh Balsam candle can make you feel like you're there. And if that doesn't work for you, at least your house is going to smell really really good.

If your story takes place in an environment that is locally accessible to you, go take some pictures of the places you are writing about. Tack them up on a bulletin board and have them around you while you write. If you can't get there but the images you need are available on the internet, Google them and print them out.

In other words, immerse your senses fully in the experience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sky Diving, Eating Pumpkin Cupcakes for Breakfast, And Other Things You Might Not Do But Your Characters Should


Okay, so admittedly, I have eaten pumpkin cupcakes for breakfast. Really, how are they that different from a donut? Or a muffin? Everyone knows muffins are just ugly cupcakes anyway. But, there are plenty of things I don't do because, truthfully, I'm not a hugely adventurous sort. I have great admiration for those that do, regularly branching free, fearless, from their comfort zones and launching themselves into new experiences.

There is no better place to take chances and live the life you've only wished you had the courage, means or resources to live than through your characters. While we search for universal truths when writing so that people can relate to our characters, it's also that special spike of a unique experience or a quirky trait that can transport us from our realities into another world. Not to mention, it's just plain fun to write.

Another great reason to write characters that are not flat (everyone does laundry, takes a walk now and then, goes on the occasional trip, whether it be to the Bahamas or Grandma's) is because it gives you a great chance to dive in and research. You can drive across country nowadays without ever leaving your chair via Google Earth and numerous websites. Your characters can bungee jump, fly on trapezes, climb Mt. Everest, run a marathon, etc., and finding out the terrain and what you can expect is also all at your fingertips. And best of all, it might inspire YOU to move out of your comfort zone and try something new yourself.

A great example of writing about something with total authenticity despite it not being an actual part of your life is C.J. Omolulu's amazing YA novel DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. The novel is about a young girl forced to hide her mother's secret hoarding habit, until one day she comes home to find her mother dead and has to decide how far she'll go to keep the family secrets safe. I asked C.J. about her book at SCBWI LA this summer because I was so blown away by it, and she shared with me that neither she nor anyone else in her inner circle is a hoarder; she culled all that information purely from people sharing their stories and doing extensive research. It shows the power of how one can write so convincingly about something they have not experienced, and helps remove the stigma that you can only write what you have experienced firsthand. (P.S. If you haven't read this amazing novel yet - buy it today! It's six kinds of awesome!)

Putting your character in a life polar to your own makes the writing more fun and challenging. What reader wants to escape from their life by just simply reading about a character just moving through their day to day with no depth or dimension? We all long for that extra something something that allows us to tune everything else out and get lost. This doesn't mean if you're writing a contemporary YA novel that your character shouldn't be dealing with traditional high school problems and issues. But look for that spike - what if they had to deal with vampires too? (Think Twilight) Or ghosts of dead cheerleaders that only they can see/hear? (Think The Ghost and the Goth) or even something like THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY, by Jenny Han, where the main character must choose between the love of two brothers, but the setting plays as much of a role as the characters do, and you are swept up in the romance and the eloquence of her words.

So whether you're writing late at night because you're working or shuttling kids or whatever during the day, or you have the luxury of devoting yourself full time to your craft, get out and live a little. Take chances. Do new things. And know that it's all risk-free, because your characters are doing all the work! Besides, the worst that happens is you write a killer story, right? Now get writing!

Monday, October 17, 2011

HOW BETA READING MAKES YOU A BETTER WRITER

We all tend to fall in love with our words when we write. C'mon, admit it. You've done it too - refused to cut that one line because it was just so snarky and clever, or waxed poetic about the character's surroundings even though they in no way truly furthered the story by the end but . . . but . . . it was so perfectly written!!! In short, editing is like butchering babies, and although butchering babies is never an easy task, it's even harder when it's your own. When we are so close to our work, the best thing we can do to see what's REALLY working (and what's totally not), along with catching all those pesky punctuation errors we've flown by a million times and the repetition of words and phrases, is to have a few trusty beta readers.

Beta readers are other fellow writers (your Mom and best friend and the 10th grader down the street who loves all things paranormal don't count) who can read your work for you and objectively give you such feedback. But where to find them? By networking. Go to local writing events and conferences and get to know fellow writers in your area. If you are a member of SCBWI, there is usually a regional coordinator who can hook you into other writers looking for beta readers and critique partners. You can also go online to various writing websites and often there will be forums for people looking for other writers to do just this.

Granted, it seems hard to build that trust with another writer you don't really know. Will they know what they're talking about? Does it matter if they are published or unpublished? How often do we need to send material back and forth? The best thing to do is to exchange the first ten pages of what you're working on. Just like agents who want to read those critical first ten pages, it will give you a feel for the writer's style. If it seems like quality writing, and something you could connect with, fantastic! Hopefully, the feeling is mutual! Published or unpublished is truly no matter. Writers that today are unpublished may one day be published, and writers that are now published were once in the trenches waiting for their big break. Both are fully capable of providing different levels of insight based on their knowledge of writing and their place on the journey.

When I read other writers' work-in-progress, it is a fantastic opportunity for me to really break apart the mechanics of the story and see what works, what doesn't and why. In turn, I can apply that to similar sections of my own writing. I pay special attention to dialogue transitions, because I tend to write dialogue-heavy stories. Dialogue, while engaging, is boring if every other sentence just ends in "she said" or "he told me." I learn to eliminate that sometimes entirely to put in a small descriptive action that helps keep the action moving on the page. I am also able to discern much easier in someone else's work when there are huge passages where nothing is happening. Again, when we are in love with our words, it's much harder to do that with our own work. I learn about style and voice, description and how to convey action and emotion effectively. The insight and detailed feedback my critique partners and beta readers have offered me has been absolutely invaluable.

Just as our stories are never truly "done," we are also never "done" learning from others. The writing community is incredibly supportive in that way. It is such a welcoming group, eager to pay-it-forward. So if you're not connecting with other writers to help make your work stronger, start now!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Turning The Mundane Into A Masterpiece

We all find ourselves in those moments in life where we are forced to endure the mundane: standing in line at the bank, grocery shopping, waiting for our kids in the pickup lane at school, etc. But these moments can actually be fantastic opportunities to sharpen those descriptive writing skills and save you from slipping into a coma.

For example: Today, I am boarding a giant yellow school bus filled with 119 marching band kids and parent chaperones, weaving our way through perpetual Los Angeles traffic to a high school nearly two hours away. There they will perform their first competition of the year. The bus ride is usually hot, slow and relatively boring (unless you have an iPod loaded with good tunes or another adult to sit and chat with), but it's also an amazing opportunity to "observe." For most of us, it's been a long time since we've ridden a school bus, but our characters often do. What does it feel like as it bumps up and down on the highway? What do the seats look like? Rips? Gum stuck to the floor? Sticky green vinyl? What does it sound like? What does it feel like as the windows open and your hair gets whipped about? And, grosser but true, what does it smell like? You will no doubt overhear snippets of conversation. What are they talking about? What are the kids doing as they travel? Playing on portable gaming systems? Watching movies on iPads? Texting? Talking? Is it hot? Cold? You get where I'm going....

And at the destination, there's a lot of hurry-up-and-wait in the marching band world. (Hey, kinda like publishing!) What a great chance to people watch! Sit with a notebook and pen and pick 5 random people and describe them fully, head to toe. Describe their clothes, their hair, their complexion, their vocal tone or dialect, their energy level (overzealous band parent or bored sibling that's been dragged along for the ride), what they eat. Look around and describe everything you see. The field, the way the sun looks as it is in the sky at different points of the day and how that affects your comfort in sitting there, what food options are available to you, etc.

And on the ride home, how does your body feel? Are you tired? Energized? How do those bus seats feel on your back now?

You can apply this to every mundane situation there is, because these are all situations we encounter in our day-to-day lives. They can otherwise be boring to read about, but rich description, or something funny or unique you can add as a spike, can make the mundane a masterpiece. Try it! At the minimum, you won't be bored because you'll be writing!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Got A Writing Question? Bet There's A Blog To Answer It!

I know . . . don't rupture an aorta from the shock of me putting up two blog posts in as many days, but this seemed like a good add-on to what I blogged about yesterday. I mentioned there are several fantastic writing blogs and websites out there that provide a plethora of informative, insightful and amazing advice. And best of all, you don't need to change out of those grungy sweats you wouldn't dare be caught dead in, nor abandon your favorite writing chair or let your morning coffee grow cold on the counter. You can garner all this info., free of charge, right from your computer. So sit down, get your mouse clicker finger ready, and be prepared to be enlightened.


GOT GRAMMAR ISSUES?
First off, does your grammar suck? Are you like me and abandoned your basic grammar skills after 10th grade, only to have that come back and bite you in the butt when you decided to become a writer? Well, guess what. Have I got a lifesaver site for you! http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ Grammar Girl is my new best friend. Unfortunately, we can't go have a latte together now and again or paint each other's nails, but she does give me the skinny on what I'm doing wrong and how to fix it. You can even subscribe to her newsletter and get great grammar tips daily. Another great grammar site is http://grammar.net Grammar.Net has a lot of the same stuff as Grammar Girl, as well as a section where you can actually cut and paste chunks of text to analyze it for errors. It catches things even my Word Grammar checker did not. They also have a newsletter you can subscribe to, and I find the tips in it very helpful.

WONDER HOW TO WRITE A QUERY? OR *shudder* A SYNOPSIS? AND HOW THE HECK SHOULD I FORMAT THIS DOCUMENT?
Glad you asked! There are soooo many great blogs out there, many run by agents or writers, that give the insider scoop on the way things should be done. Some will give you examples of great query letters, formatting tips, do's and dont's, and answers to just about every publishing question you can think of. Here are some of the best ones I've found:

http://nathanbransford.com
Nathan Bransford is an ex-agent from Curtis Brown, Ltd., who is now a self-described publishing civilian working in the tech industry. He is also an author, and holds my current personal record for fastest rejection ever - a mere 43 minutes from query to pass, but I still love his blog anyway. To me, he is THE go-to source if I want answers.

http://kidlit.com
Mary Kole from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency also provides an incredibly insightful blog, including resources for writers and information about upcoming events and conferences. Mary is a highly respected agent, a YA and middle grade author, has a strong web presence, and knows her stuff. She encourages readers to send her questions directly that she can address on the site. You can get lost for hours on there.

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents
Chuck Sambuchino's Guide To Literary Agents blog features fantastic articles and interviews, as well as a platform for writers to share with other writers how they got their agents. He spotlights new agents, providing a great opportunity to approach someone new. You can spend hours going through the back archives and garnering great insight from industry professionals.

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/
Jessica Faust at BookEnds LLC has probably answered more "when in doubt" questions for me than she knows. There are so many great entries here. The information is shared with humor and heart.

www.rachellegardner.com
Rachelle Garner at WordServe Literary also has an amazing blog. Her information is spot-on, short and to-the-point. QueryTracker often includes links to her blog. She talks about everything from author platforms to query advice and beyond.

/www.greenhouseliterary.com/index.php/site/sarahs_blog
Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary offers up a wealth of advice on every topic under the sun. She is honest and forthright, and tells it like it is. She has a great sense of humor and I guarantee if you follow her tips, you will improve your writing.

http://jennybent.blogspot.com
Jenny Bent of the Bent Agency has a fantastic blog called Bent on Books. In fact, I was once writing back and forth with one of her clients and he told me, as I was describing my time in the trenches of query hell, to check out her blog, that it was one of the best he'd seen. I agree. She makes you laugh and offers up gems that are invaluable.


This is just a small sampling of what's out there, and should keep you busy for a while. There are also countless blogs written by authors from every genre, and often they will have links to other blogs you may enjoy in the same vein. We are fortunate to live in a time where so much knowledge is available to us with a simple click. Take advantage of it. And keep on writing!!!



Thursday, October 13, 2011

Things To Do While You're Waiting To Hear Back From The Publishing World

I might, possibly, be one of the most impatient people in the world. I admit it. So, it's obviously completely ironic that I've chosen to be a writer and enter the world of publishing, which far surpasses the world of "Hurry up and wait" that the film industry is. But I survived that, and I'll survive this too, because there are many lessons to learn from the tortoise rather than the hare.

First and foremost, when things are moving at the speed of molasses, it offers a great opportunity to work on your craft, and it might give you the spark that you've been looking for. Here are some great things you can do while waiting:

READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON IN YOUR GENRE
When I'm not writing (or packing lunches, shuttling kids, squeezing in time for a shower or doing laundry), I try and read everything I can in my genre. It's great to know what is selling and why. Further, it allows you the opportunity to learn from published writers that write in a style similar to your own. When I read, I will often sit with a notebook and pen and write down key phrases or lines of dialogue or things that caught my eye as well written. I may have written, or will write, similar things, but I study the eloquence with how they crafted those sentences and break them down to see why they worked so well. It's like a free master class. Further, as I query agents, I can use an example of an author they may know (or represent) to give them a sense of what to expect from my writing. Authors will often thank their agents in the acknowledgements, and it becomes a perfect way to target someone who might be an appropriate fit for your work.

USE WRITING PROMPTS
Many authors (like Laurie Halse Anderson, who does this often on her blog) will offer up writing prompts to help inspire you to write. If you have a day where you are simply looking at the blinking cursor on the page, this is a great way to get inspired. Who knows what it can bring forth story-wise? At the minimum, it means you are writing, and whether or not you trash every word or write something amazing, the key is to aim to get words on a page daily, to make it a habit like brushing your teeth or drinking your coffee.

READ WRITING BLOGS
There is such a wealth of free, insanely good writing advice out there on numerous blogs, many from agents and writers themselves. These tips can help you ask yourself the right questions when revising, hear their personal experiences to help you know you're not alone, etc. Often, agents will even put up stats like where they are in their query letters or slush pile, which can help you calm down and refrain from biting your fingernails to nubs, wondering why you haven't heard anything.

SUBSCRIBE TO PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE
For just $20 a month, you can get a daily email elivered to your inbox that tells you what is selling, in what genre, who is representing it and what publisher bought it. This may also help you hone your focus and know if the work you are trying to get out there is something that certain agents/houses might be interested in. You can also track Agent Deals and find out what agents represent what authors.

ATTEND WORKSHOPS AND CONFERENCES
Workshops and conferences are excellent networking oppportunities - you never know who you will meet! Often, they have manuscript critiques available for that critical first ten pages, and it can be extremely helpful to get that insight from a variety of industry professionals, even if you've had it done previously. I have yet to go to a conference or workshop where I didn't leave with some new nugget that I carry forth and incorporate, and I can't find enough words to describe, at the minimum, how inspiring it feels to be in the company of fellow writers. You can't help but leave this environment and not want to go home and get busy. It doesn't matter if it's an SCBWI event, or something at your local community college. Get yourself out there and get involved. It will help keep up your momentum.

BLOG
If you don't have one, start one. You're helping establish your presence in the marketplace, getting your name out there, and offering yourself another outlet to write. See? I'm procrastinating today's writing by writing this blog right now!! Just kidding. (sorta)

And above all, keep on keepin' on. Don't give up!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What I've Learned Thus Far

So, here I am, two years in to this journey, and I do feel slightly farther down the path than when I started. Although I still have not found that perfect agent, nor had the thrill of holding my published book in my hand, I have learned so much, and in the end, it can only stand to make me a stronger, better writer.
JUST BECAUSE YOU'VE FOUND THE PERFECT AGENT DOESN'T MEAN THEY'RE PERFECT FOR YOU These past few weeks, a couple of friends of mine have taught me a lot about the realities of having an agent. When we're new, we query everyone we can in the hopes that someone will bite. Admittedly, we are just so excited to see our words in print and our dream realized that we are not truly as selective as we should be. Finding the perfect agent has been likened to a marriage - you want to be in this relationship a long time, so you should be able to look at the world the same way, to communicate effectively, to get along well and mutually get what you need from one another. You would not pick a guy to date simply because he's the next guy to walk through the door, so why should you pick an agent simply because they are the next name on the list? Take the time to research them, to know what kinds of books they like, to hear feedback on their personalities and the ways they communicate (or don't), and assess if they would truly be the right fit for you. THEN query. And what if you find your dream agent and they don't want YOU? That's the part that's the toughest of all - to remember that it may not be THIS project that brings you together, and that you must keep writing, and with each book comes a new opportunity to connect.
YOU MUST KEEP WRITING It's hard to let go of a project, or put it on the shelf, when you've invested so much time and energy into it. But sometimes it's necessary. The reality is, if you do not keep writing and have something new, when you get "the call," an agent is going to know what else you've got and if you have nothing, that may not be what they're okay with hearing. After all, at the end of the day, publishing is a business, and they can't make money if they don't have a project to sell. Nor can you. So, although some days I just want to dive in and re-tweak just one more scene, or just query, or not write at all, I remind myself of the harsh reality that THIS book may or may not be the one, and I need to keep moving. I currently have two books I'm working on, and we'll see which one makes it to the finish line first.
IT'S IMPORTANT TO SURROUND YOURSELF WITH WRITERS I cannot stress enough the importance of having writer friends and surrounding yourself with them, whether in person at the local coffee shop to write together, at a conference, or online in forums, on blogs, or any other social media site. We are a strange breed, and can understand each other and it often helps to have that extra boost of support when we need it most. They are a wonderful resource to find out about upcoming events, promotion of your work when it's ready, information about agents, publishers, and the industry in general. And when you're talking about writing or sitting and actually doing it together, you're much more likely to feel inspired and keep on keeping on. Writing is a solitary business, and it's easy to let the self-doubt creep in, especially in an industry where things move at a snail's pace and you might not hear a peep for months.
WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE If you write what you love, chances are, it will show in your writing. There is something authentic and true that shines through when a writer is passionate about their subject matter. Although I enjoy reading a well-written paranormal now and then, I write (and love) contemporary romantic/humorous YA. I like characters I can relate to, situations that I may have been in or would love to be in, young romance that makes me swoon like I was sixteen years old all over again. For many teens, a good book is an escape, and if I can make someone laugh or look at their world in a different way, I have done all I set out to do as a writer. I know where my strengths are. That said, it's not that I don't advocate moving out of your comfort zone to challenge yourself by writing something that isn't your norm - I think that's a GREAT exercise to do - but write for YOU. Write what you love. Don't worry about getting agented and getting published for now, or what the latest trends are and how to meet them. Like fashion, everything comes around again in its own time, so write what moves you.
DON'T GIVE UP One of my most prized possessions is the signed title page from Laurie Halse Anderson's novel TWISTED. Laurie did a one-on-one critique for me at the SCBWI LA conference, and she told me she absolutely loved my book and I should have no problem selling it. She told me I'd nailed the voice and the writing was nearly flawless. I laughed and told her from her mouth to an agent's ears. She made me promise I would never give up, that I clearly had talent as a writer and must remember this is a process, and a long one at that. And she signed her book for me "To Robin: Who is not allowed to stop writing Love, Laurie". Every time I feel that niggling self-doubt filling up the silence and the dead space, every time I stare at that blinking cursor and wonder what the heck I'm going to write next, every time I stare at that inbox longingly in the hopes it will light up with great news, I think about that. It may well be one of the greatest gifts anyone has unknowingly given me in my lifetime, and it is truly then that I realize how subjective it all is and press on.
Me with Laurie Halse Anderson, amazing writer and fellow band Mom, who continues to inspire me daily.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My summer vacation...writer style

Although my summer has been deprived of writerly events thus far like ALA and ComiCon, I have been able to live vicariously through the blogs of fellow writer friends who were there, and am excited for SCBWI LA, which is right around the corner. That event changed my life last year, introducing me to wonderful people and instilling me with confidence and strength I didn't even know I had to press forward and pursue this crazy dream.

I have spent this summer tweaking, revising, querying like a madwoman, working on not one but two WIP, and above all, reading. I have probably read close to 75 YA novels this summer, and while part of it was just to know what is popular, what is getting published and why, it has been the best education in writing I could ever hope for. There is much to be learned from both good AND bad writing. When I read, I will often sit there with spiral notebook and pen in hand, scribbling down passages where the author described something so perfectly, or wrote a witty comment that made me snort out loud. When I see how someone does something well, when faced with a similar situation in my writing, I can refer back to that and see how to incorporate those descriptions and word choices into my own to make it stronger. One of the biggest things I've learned is about showing, not just telling. Writing a line of dialogue followed by "he said" is far less effective than writing the line of dialogue preceeded or followed by a description of the expression on the character's face or what was in his/her head at the moment. The reader can still tell who is doing the talking but they are drawn deeper into the story and the emotions of the moment by this one small change. (Thank you Stephanie Perkins, especially, for that one!)

The agent search still continues, and this summer has shown a flurry of interest, which has been equally exciting and nerve-wracking. It's hard to keep in perspective sometimes just how long this road is, and that you need to keep the three P's in mind: Positivity, Persistence and Patience. I think the last one might be the hardest for me. I'm from a long line of impatient women. :)

Summer is winding down, and soon my kids will be back at school and quiet will return again, restoring my house to my writing sanctuary where I can blast my playlist and write uninterrupted by the strains of Disney Channel or Xbox or making lunches. I'm trying to savor the moments in between with my kids, because truly I learn so much from them and infuse it into my writing as well. They are ten and almost sixteen, and I am blessed with the rich opportunity of being able to re-live those ages again daily through their stories and experiences (minus the acne and the bitchy girls).

I am savoring every minute of the journey, and eagerly await the next chapter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans....

So it's been forever and then some since I've updated this blog. In that time, I revised the novel completely and then re-entered query hell. I tried to embrace it as a process rather than something to be dreaded or feared. This was an essential step - putting the book (and myself) out there, knowing that just as in life, some people would think it's terrific and want to hang out more and others would decide it's not for them and move on. I keep reminding myself that I have yet to meet an author who wasn't rejected hundreds of times before landing their agent or their first book deal, and this is part of the journey.

And at the end of the day, all it takes is one yes.

And then, a blip occurred. I lost a close friend of mine, and suddenly my proverbial snow globe was shaken up. I couldn't even begin to think about querying, let alone working on the new novel I'd started, and with each passing day, I lost the resolve I'd worked so hard to build.

Then, a light bulb went off.

It's okay. It's important to take time to grieve, to take in all these feelings, to fully feel this experience, and somehow know that one day, this will be useful. Because the truth is, we write best what we know. And as painful as this experience has been, it can only ultimately add depth to my writing, to make it more authentic, and provide me with yet another topic which I can write about with authority and honesty. I'd rather it wasn't in my list of life experiences, granted, but I knew that I was starting to feel better when suddenly what I was feeling was also sparking ideas of how to exorcise that pain through my writing. The story is not fully formed, but it lays in it's embryonic state, waiting to be fleshed out when I am ready. I know that there will be healing in writing it, and ultimately, it too may move or touch someone.

It's hard not to feel discouraged when you're on a linear path pursuing what you want and life throws you detours and roadblocks, but the most important thing is to realize that sometimes your story can actually lie in the detours and roadblocks even more than on the path you originally envisioned. Be open to the world around you and take in your experiences, big and small. You never know where your story lives and only you can tell it.