Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shorts Weather

by Matt Sinclair

Have you noticed the sun setting earlier? Are leaves already starting to turn color in your neck of the woods? It's hard to believe the summer has crept into its final weeks. Soon the seasons will change from baseball to football. Good gravy, it's almost time for NaNoWriMo! But as far as I'm concerned, any time can be shorts weather.

No, I'm not one of those crazy polar bears who swims half naked on New Year's Day. Rather, I'm talking about short stories. I've spent much of my summer vacationing from my work-in-progress by taking week-long trips with new characters. And when I haven't been writing them, I've reading them.

If you haven't written a short story since your high school or college days, do your novel-in-progress a favor and revisit them when you've finished the first draft. They're a great way to hone your character development tools and shape your settings. Indeed, they can make your sentences so sharp, you might get a paper cut.

Of course, there's a difference between writing short stories and writing novels. They're kinda like beer and single malt scotch. They both start from the same basic ingredients, but scotch and short stories are distilled down to their very essence. A short story takes a character, hands him a razor and forces him to shave his beard close. And sometimes the water's dirty from hurricane damage, so he has to boil it first!

Do you suffer from the occasional POV shift? It's a lot harder to get away with when your entire story is only fifteen pages long! Give it a try.

Pacing in short stories is much different, too. Say what you will about the attention span of a twenty-first century novel reader, but she probably allows for fewer mistakes with a short. It's too easy for a reader to decide after fifty words that the story simply isn't worth spending her time reading. I just finished a collection of shorts by Donald Barthelme, who's often regarded as one of the masters of the form, but there were some I just couldn't care less about. I realize that not every story is as good as James Joyce's "The Dead," but when I'm reading shorts these days, I want character and story, not post-modernism. But that's me at this moment in my life. Your existence will likely be different.

I find that a well-crafted sentence or a perfectly placed adjective—careful, not too much!—can serve as the subtle note that arouses a reader's taste buds. Of course, such crafting can take a while. Those week-long trips I mentioned just a few paragraphs ago? Those are first drafts. The hard work is still to come, as I need to shape and polish the stories into something worth reading. But when I'm done with them, I'll be in even better shape to return to that new series of chapters in the new novel that was going nowhere back in the spring. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to reaping a strong harvest this fall!

How about you? Do you use short stories to keep in shape? Feel free to share!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Writing a Synopsis

by Calista Taylor

Boiling down your 80K-100K word manuscript to just a couple of pages is never fun, nor is it easy, but a synopsis is one of those necessary evils if you plan on querying your manuscript.  Matters are only made more difficult by there seemingly being no hard and fast rules with regards to length, and even spacing.

Here are some of the basic rules and guidelines to help you get through writing your synopsis.

  • A synopsis is a summary of your entire manuscript.  Unlike your query which only covers about a third of your manuscript, a synopsis tells the whole story, including the ending.
  • Write two to three different length synopses. Some say you should have one double spaced page of synopsis for every 20 pages of manuscript, but I feel this could result in a fairly long synopsis.  Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast rule to the length, although some agents specify a maximum word count.  I usually have 200, 750 and 1200 word versions of my synopsis, and if an agent doesn't specify, I send them the longest.
  • Make sure you include your manuscript word count, genre and pertinent information in the title area.
  • I usually use double spacing, however, you should check agency guidelines, since this can vary from agent to agent.
  • A synopsis is written in third person and present tense, regardless of the tense and pov your manuscript is written in.
  • Do not flood the synopsis with character names and places.  Stick to the main characters.  
  • When you first use a character's name, put the entire name in caps.This is done for the first time it's used only.  This is not done for place names.
  • Stick with the main plot points.  Though I'm sure there are plenty of sub-plots in your story, including all of them will make it difficult for you to condense your story.
  • Try to hit upon all the key points of your story—the initiating event, the conflicts and what escalates them, the turning points, the climax, and the resolution.
  • Most importantly, make sure the voice of your manuscript comes through.
As for making a synopsis easier to write, I wish I had a magic wand.  Different writers use different techniques.  Some summarize each chapter to just a few sentences, and then smooth it out from there.  I personally start by using my query as a guideline, taking extra care to rephrase things,  That gets me a third of the way through the novel, and then I do my best to add to that.  And just like your query, be prepared to write a dozen or so versions before you get one that works.

Do you have any tips for making synopsis writing easier?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Just DO It (query that is)

by Sophie Perinot

I am a long time member and BIG time fan of AgentQuery Connect. For those aspiring writers who do not know AQ, run don’t walk to the website as it is a fantastic source for information on every step of the road to being repped and published, a very supportive writing community, and (most importantly for the purposes of this post) a good spot to get feedback on a query letter before you send one out.

Now anyone who’s ever drafted a query letter knows it takes time. The letter is a vital sales document. Write it well and you snag the interest of an agent and a coveted request for a partial or full. Write it poorly and you may never even warrant a form rejection. Writing a good query is not easy (there are hundreds if not thousands of articles and blog posts offering advice on how to compose a good letter). BUT should it really take months and drafts in the double-digits?

At the risk of aggravating many I say no. In fact I say, NO, NO, NO. What I’ve noticed, watching query critique threads over the months and years, is that many writers become paralyzed by fear and good intentions. Writing their query becomes a Sisyphean struggle (you remember, the guy who had to push the big rock up the hill over and over) and in the process time, enthusiasm and confidence can be lost. At some point the incremental improvements their letter is arguably making are not worth the agony. More than this, letters can lose voice (see my opinions on this topic in an earlier From the Write Angle post). Looking at critique threads with ten, twenty, thirty, even fifty versions of a single query, I want to scream GET ON WITH IT, or SEND THE DARN THING. But that kind of verbiage in individual critique threads would hardly be appropriate.

So I am saying it here. Just DO it. Query. I am not saying send your first draft. I am not saying don’t seek critique. I am saying all things in moderation. How many drafts of my letter did I do—maybe four. How many people did I show it to for review before it went out? Five (and two of them weren’t even writers). Did it work? More than uncommonly well (I had a very high request rate, snagged an agent I adore and now have a publishing contract). Could my letter have been better? Sure. But if I were still working on polishing it, then my book wouldn’t be coming out in March 2012 would it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Writing 411: Picture Book E-Queries

by Cat Woods

Picture Book Manuscript? Check.

Targeted Agent List? Check.

Query Letter? Heck no!

We all know that writing for very young children is different than penning novels for older kids and adults. Make no mistake, writing a query letter for picture books is an equally unique process. It is also highly nuanced, making it necessary for writers to really research potential agents and their guidelines.

In my experience, more agents are open to receiving a full manuscript for picture books than for any other age group. In part, this is due to short word counts. After all, it is easier to enjoy a book by reading the book rather than by reading a summary of it. With picture books topping out at 500 words, manuscripts can be shorter than the query letters representing them.

Thus, e-querying agents for picture books falls into two distinct categories.

  1. Agents who accept manuscripts along with a query letter.
  2. Agents who do not accept manuscripts with a query letter.

You can figure out your targeted agents' preferences by visiting AgentQuery, Query Tracker, agent websites/blogs and market resources such as those found at and by Writer's Digest. Verla Kay's Blue Boards is another great resource, as is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

For the sake of space, I will address only the first instance (with manuscript), as a cold query letter without a manuscript or sample pages is the same for picture books as it is for older novels. Additionally, the example provided below is not a MUST DO, but rather a guideline that I used when searching for my agent. My method is a conglomeration of info gathered on websites, via magazine articles, at writing conferences and my own personality.

Subject Line: Query: TITLE, picture book, 475 words (Capitalize your title.)

Method to My Madness: all my pertinent information is available at a glance. Agents immediately know I'm sending a query letter for a picture book within the acceptable word count. They should also get a feel for my manuscript based on my title. In this way, I'm not wasting anybody's time.

It also serves a secondary purpose. If an agent were to provide feedback and request a revision, a simple change to my subject line would keep Said Agent up to date on what is coming in, while remaining consistent and keeping my title in the agent's mind. My new subject line would look like this: Requested revision for TITLE.

Dear Mr. Agent Awesome: (Don't forget to double check spellings for names and end with a colon.)

(Very brief bio and/or a relevant blurb on why you chose this agent.)

As a library board member, a child advocate in the court system and a past preschool teacher, I recognized a need for stories about XYZ. I am a member of the SCBWI and a moderator on AgentQuery Connect. I have also presented at Young Writer's Conference across Southwestern Minnesota.

I follow your blog/met you at a conference/etc ... and feel TITLE may address your interest in XYZ (a tie into your bio would be nice). Per your guidelines, I have included the full manuscript for my picture book.

Method to My Madness: The agent will get to read my manuscript. It's pasted into the body of the text, and therefore does not require a blurb. In this instance, I feel it is a good idea to let the agent know who we are and what we're doing. This is our time to connect with the agent and let our personalities shine through.

But be brief. Agents have little time to wade through our backgrounds from infancy to old age. We should provide only those details that lend credence to our ability to write this particular story. Case in point, I said nothing about my pubbed works in the adult arena or that I have four children. Avoid telling the agent about the story. Again, Agent Awesome will have the opportunity to read our text as long as we don't bore him with our life histories first.

I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.

Method to My Madness: I'm a people person. A warm thanks is my style. Some people may argue it lacks professionalism or that it sounds needy. I tend to believe it's a whole lot better than a sterile and abrupt end such as "Thank you" or a rude "Call me". The choice is yours, but know that agents don't reject a manuscript based on this line. And if they do, they're likely not the kind of agent you want.

Cat Woods

Phone number
Words From The Woods

Method to My Madness: with luck an agent will need to contact us. If we fail to provide this information, we may inadvertently slow down the process or fail to make a viable contact with an interested agent altogether. I do add my blog address to my writing correspondence, as an interested agent may google me. If you don't have one, don't fret. Blogs are not necessary to secure an agent.

Next, paste your manuscript into the remainder of the email—never, ever send agents to your website or blog to read it or send it as an attachment unless expressly requested by the agent—and check for the following things:
  • formatting: spaces, line breaks, etc. You want a clean copy for easy reading.
  • white space: you may need to adjust how your manuscript looks to make it easier on the agent's eyes.
  • italics should be capped or underlined, as some email servers don't support fancy schmancy text.
  • likewise, centered titles can be brought to the left margin for a clean look.
Finally, dip your fingernails in Tabasco so you can still answer the phone when it rings! There's no point in chewing your nails when you could be typing your next book.

Writing a query letter is not as difficult as it sounds, particularly when we can submit our manuscripts at the same time. When sending writing samples is not an option, my picture book query letters have two extra paragraphs: one for my hook and the second for my mini-synopsis. I also combine my bio and agent search info to make one small paragraph.

How about you? What tips do you have for writing picture book queries? What do you put in your subject lines and how do you close? Do you include a hook and mini-synopsis when sending your manuscript? If so, why? Do you tailor your manuscripts based on the agents you send to? If so, how? Lastly, where's your go-to resource for agent information?

Curious minds want to know!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Setting the Setting

by Jemi Fraser

Creating a realistic setting is important to your story. Settings ground the reader and help the story make sense. If you don't have enough information, it can frustrate the reader. Inconsistencies in the setting can throw a reader right out of the story. We don't want that!

In some cases, the setting can almost become a character—especially if you're writing fantasy or anything under the speculative fiction umbrella. It influences characters' actions and decisions.

As writers, we must create worlds that are vivid and real in our readers' minds. This doesn't only apply to fantasy. No matter the time frame or the geographical place, we need our readers to feel as if they could step right into the world and interact with the characters.

I'm sure I've mentioned before I'm not a big fan of reading or writing extended descriptive passages. I tend to skim them when I'm reading, skip too many of them when I'm writing. I invariably have to go back into my drafts and add sensory information.

I'm still learning how to do this well with settings, but here's what I've learned so far.

The first time a character sees an important place (whether it's a planet, a city or a house), it's okay to let the reader see it as well, but don't drag it out. Hit the highlights—what makes it special, or horrible, or ordinary. Focus only on what is relevant to your story and to your character. If it's not new to the character, he/she probably won't really notice it, and certainly won't focus on it. So keep it realistic—only see what the character would see and notice.

Instead of always describing the new place, objects in that place can give great clues and hints to setting without making me feel as if I've got to write another description. A lamp sporting a chipped hula dancer base and pom pom fringed shade will tell you what the rest of the hotel room looks like without having to get into too much detail. I've been doing this more with my Steampunk where I can focus on the tinkerings and things that make the setting Steampunk rather than merry old England. Hopefully it gives the reader a visual.

I'm also finding it fun to use the other senses to describe the setting, and not relying completely on what the characters see. That hotel room from the previous paragraph certainly has its own odor—look for a unique way to describe it too. Musty works, but it's an ordinary description—stretch for something better.

In a nighttime forest, it might be scarier to describe the sounds the character hears—or doesn't—than to describe visuals. I'm not great with using taste yet, food hasn't been that important in my stories so far. Texture is a lot of fun to work with though—especially when my characters are hiding in those alleys in Steampunk London or in the horse barn in my romantic suspense.

If you've set your story in a real place, you need to be careful. For me, I don't think I could set a story in a city I didn't know well. The internet is a wonderful invention, but I don't find it enough. I want to know the feel of a place, the rhythm, the pace. I want to know the people. Is this a city where you make eye contact with strangers, where people throw trash in the gutters, or where people don't use blinkers because everyone knows where they're going?

I'm impressed with people who pull this off without knowing the city. I've set one of my contemporary romantic suspense stories in an unnamed US city. I don't name it because I don't know any US cities well enough to set it there, yet it's important to the story that it be in the States. I'm hoping I'm able to pull it off without people saying, "Where in the heck are we???"

In a middle grade idea I've been toying with, the setting is a newly discovered planet. If I go ahead with it, the setting will be vital to the story—and I'm going to have to weave in a lot of details without bogging down the narrative. Should be fun!

So, those are some of the tips I've learned to make the setting real for your readers. What else can you suggest?

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Perfect Martini: The Last Step In Training

by R.S. Mellette

In a previous post, I wrote about an acting rehearsal that changed my approach to life, the arts, and everything, but I only told half the story in that article. Here's the most important part.

My acting partner and I had found what was missing from the Kent/Oswald scene in King Lear by getting back to the basics. Having done that, we worked on our monologues and sonnets. I had been having trouble with the sonnet:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their bodies' force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away and me most wretched make.

The problem was it sounded like a monologue. I talked with my acting partner about it, ending my diatribe with, "I've been talking for more than a few minutes, but why is it that – if I wrote down, word-for-word, what I just said, and repeated it, it wouldn't sound like what I just said?"

In other words, why did acting sound like acting and not real life?

So I continued to talk about the sonnet, then without notice, changed from my words to Shakespeare's. The transition was so seamless that when I was done, my scene partner's eyes were wide with excitement. "Let me try! Let me try," he said.

He did, and it was much better than he'd ever done before, but it wasn't quite perfect.

We worked on this new approach until we had a method for getting rid of everything we'd ever learned. We let every acting lesson we'd ever had slide off of us. We didn't start our monologues until we'd forgotten we were acting – and forgotten we'd forgotten we were acting.

The next week, after we'd nailed piece-after-piece in our semester finals, our teacher looked at me and said, "if you can bottle that, you'll make a fortune."

I'm still waiting for the fortune.

What we had done was take the final step in training—any sort of training.

Today, when I'm asked to speak about acting, I show up with the makings of the perfect martini. I put ice in the glass and pour in vermouth until someone tells me that's too much—which can really backfire if you're teaching kids. I then cover the ice, pour off the vermouth, making a show of how hard I shake out every last drop. Then I add gin or vodka, shake, and pour the perfect martini.

I enjoy a sip while explaining that the tiny amount of vermouth that clings to the ice is the perfect measurement for a dry martini. You have to put in too much in order to reduce it down to the right amount.

Then I turn the bottles around. Vermouth is labeled TRAINING. The gin or vodka is TALENT.

An artist, or a Navy SEAL, or an athlete, must immerse themselves in training. They have to learn everything there is to learn about their specialty—not just in their head, but in their body. They have to become so trained that a reflexive twitch of the knee is a textbook example of movement in their discipline.

That's the first step. At this level, many people think they are done—and most of the world would agree with them. A great number of successful artists work at this level. Plenty of soldiers serve our nation well by relying solely on their training, and locker rooms are full of athletes who play the game exactly as it is meant to be played.

But there is another level beyond the training. There is greatness. There is the perfect martini.

You don't get there on training alone.

You don't get there on talent alone.

It's a three step process. Learn it. Forget it. Do it.

And, yeah. The olives are the balls—which apply to either gender.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Digital Publishing’s PLR Plight

by J. Lea Lopez

In a previous post, I discussed my views on Amazon’s place in the world of publishing, and it would be accurate to say I was skeptical, at the least. Let me make it clear up front that while Amazon will again be the main focus of my post today, it’s not because I necessarily have it out for them, or because I’m angry about something, or because I’m just a big meanie. I (currently) have no dog in this fight, so to speak, and if an author I want to support is only available through Amazon, I’ll certainly support them. That doesn’t mean I agree with all of their policies or practices.

In my last post, I mentioned the ease of plagiarism on Amazon. Plagiarism and piracy are a writer’s nightmare, but there’s another P to beware of: PLR.

Never heard of it? Do me a favor: when you’re done reading this post, type PLR into Google and try not to cry at the results. In short, PLR = spam. Chances are, you’ve noticed PLR ebooks on Amazon, especially when looking for non-fiction. They’re the ones with generic-looking covers, that surprisingly have the same or similar names and covers as dozens of other ebooks on the same subject.

PLR stands for Private Label Rights. For a fee, anyone can purchase a subscription or a chunk of PLR content that they can then compile into an ebook and sell to anyone willing to buy. Oh, and did I mention it’s completely legit? By legit, I mean shady and despicable, but legal. Because anyone can purchase these PLR articles, you can—and if you look at Amazon, we have—run into the serious problem of ebook spam. What’s worse, is that the so-called authors of these books never have to write a word.

The same type of screening that could detect plagiarized content before it hits the shelves could also help detect and eliminate ebook spam. Not even something as blatant as uploading an ebook consisting of 700 pages of repeated song lyrics throws up any red flags at Amazon. Smashwords has strict vetting standards that have kept them seemingly free of the kind of junk currently flooding Amazon’s virtual shelves, and Mark Coker has been outspoken on the issues of PLR and plagiarism. To Amazon’s credit, they have recently begun to crack down on “undifferentiated or barely differentiated versions of e-books.”

But is it too little, too late? How long will it take for them to clear out the thousands of spam ebooks already uploaded, and how many more will be uploaded in the meantime? More importantly, why should you care?

Amazon is a huge retailer, and their name alone lends a sense of legitimacy to the ebooks uploaded there. If PLR ebooks and/or plagiarized content is allowed to clutter the shelves and compete with hard-working authors like you and me, everyone loses. Consumers will get frustrated with the buying experience. Authors—you know, the ones who actually write bona fide content—will lose sales not only to those content-farmed books, but also from those customers who simply give up and stop searching through the spam to find the real deal.

I can only speculate about Amazon’s motivations and tactics (they’ve been rather silent on this—and most—issues affecting us writers) but so far they seem to have taken the approach of damage control rather than taking preventive measures in the first place. Hopefully the developments of the past week or two mark a turning point in their policies and procedures regarding ebook content.

Have you ever had a bad ebook-buying experience as a result of spam PLR ebooks?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Critique Group Case Study: The Critecta

by Mindy McGinnis

Finding the special someone(s) who can complete your writing life is a lot like finding the special someone in your love life—damn hard. Where can you find these excellent people? How do you know when it's a good fit? What should you look for in a critique buddy? And what do you have to offer?

Our little trio met when we serendipitously crossed paths over at AgentQuery Connect, and we quickly discovered that ours was the kind of chemical balance you only find in a room full of professionals wearing white coats. We may all three end up in a room very much like that one day, but that's besides the point. Together, we're going to triple-team the concept of our Critecta—you can see RC's post here, and Caroline's here.

Caroline (Skyval to AQ'ers), Rachel (RC Lewis), and myself form what I like to call our Critecta—a trifecta of critique partners. What makes them the perfect fit for me is that we all write YA but within different genres, which is an important element. We write from where our strengths are, and we also tend to read within our own genres. So when we look at each other's work, we are offering a reader's viewpoint from someone who wouldn't necessarily pick up our book at a bookstore—tough crowd. If we can win each other over, we know we've done something right.

Caroline writes contemporary YA, everything from romance that makes even caustic old me feel a flutter in my tin can of a heart, to gritty issues affecting the real lives of teens today. When I get a crit from Caroline I know that she'll call me out on the relationship aspects—"I need more between these two characters to buy this interaction," or, "Hmm... this dialogue isn't quite conveying what you want here, I don't think." On the flip side, when she LOL's or says, "YES! I knew she liked him!" I know that what I put on the page is conveying what was in my head.

Rachel writes SF, which might seem close to my own area (UrbFan & Dystopian) but to the true genre nerd, it's not. RC's work is more science driven and other-worldly than my own, which means she's an excellent hand at world-building. If I can sell a setting to RC, then I know it's spot on. If she's not feeling it, chances are no one else would either. She's also my DAMMIT MINDY WHEN WILL YOU LEARN TO PROPERLY USE "IT'S AND ITS?" person. Yes, for some reason, I need one of those.

And what do I bring to them? A hatchet, mostly. Yes, the BBC Dialogue Hatchet of Death (it gets renamed periodically) shears down their work with a vengeance. Cutting is one of my talents, and I apply liberally, to myself as well as my partners. I also make sure to let my Critecta—and anyone else I read for—know what's working, what they're doing right, and anything that's clever or amusing. Making someone laugh is the hardest thing to do, I believe, so when someone manages it, I always let them know.

But by far the most important aspect of our relationship, and the one that makes us such good partners, is our honesty. A good critique buddy will tell you when you're rocking, but more importantly tell you when you are not. A compliment circle will gain you nothing but an ego and a manuscript rife with problems. Good crit partners have strengths that balance out your weaknesses, and the ability to point to them without undermining your confidence.

We're no longer limited by geography, and while some people do prefer a "physical" critique group to meet with, there are wonderful online resources where you can perhaps cross paths with that perfect partner. AgentQuery Connect offers a friendly, open forum where you can talk out your fears, discuss the market, and get query reviews. QueryTracker is a free service you can use to track your query rates, and read other users' comments regarding agent response time. Ladies Who Critique is a new service that operates much like, but for women looking for women who read their stuff. And as always, industry and book blogs are great grounds for meeting like-minded individuals.

Do have your own Critecta? (Or duo, or quartet, or whatever...) How did you find them? What’s your process, and why does it work for you?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don’t Want to be a “One Book Wonder”

by Sophie Perinot

Much of our time as newbie writers is spent worrying about breaking in. We work like demons to polish our manuscripts and then to come up with a query letter that will have agents salivating to see pages. (Doesn’t the image if agents salivating make you giddy?) Once we have a trusty agent at our sides we spend weeks on submission with publishers, torn between avoiding our in-boxes (fearing news), and checking them every 30 seconds (hoping for news).

Without for a moment suggesting that any of our efforts to land that debut book deal are wasted (okay, the maniacal email checking IS a waste but most of us simply cannot stop), it is never too early to look beyond our initial deal. If we want our writing to be a career, we need to work towards long term goals. We need to keep this thought on the edge of our mind from the beginning—one is NOT enough.

I know what you are thinking—“gosh darn it she’s greedy.” But seriously, I can’t be the only one who wants to turn this published author gig into a regular thing and not just a fluke. And decisions we make and actions we take NOW, as debut authors, are essential to avoiding the dreaded “one book wonder” syndrome. The key to subsequent book contracts is sales. The key to sales is building an audience who looks forward to you next book and retaining that audience. And the key to that, in my opinion, is disciplining our “author image” (aka our brand), something that requires a good deal of SELF-DISCIPLINE and SELF-CONTROL. We can start by remembering...

The muse works for us, not vice versa. Writing novels may be art but it is also business. We need to plan our brand at the starting line and run a smart race. We should not let “inspiration,” fate, indecision, or anything else push us around. So, before we query our first book, pick up an agent and (hopefully) a book deal we need to ask ourselves, “What type of books do I want to write for the next five years?” Because make no mistake...

A jack of all genres is the master of none. Agent Rachelle Gardner addressed this issue recently in this excellent post. Read it. My favorite quote: “once I’m interested and we’re in conversations about representation, I want to hear about the other books you have ... that would serve the same audience as the first one. I need you to have a ‘brand.’” So if your debut novel is historical fiction (as mine is) you’d better be prepared to work in that genre exclusively (and work hard) for the foreseeable future.

Now you can whine and say, “but that’s not f-a-i-r I have an awesome manuscript for a YA paranormal, and terrific ideas for an adult cozy mystery.” No one (certainly not me) doubts the brilliance of your ideas or your ability to write publishable books in more than one genre. But the truth is, it’s a tough market out there. These are not the old days when you could debut and then spend years building an audience (building a career) while hanging out on your publisher’s mid-list under contract. These are the “sell-through or perish” days. And if you do the social networking and marketing necessary to make your debut novel a solid seller—if you create a veritable “legion of fans”—you would be CRAZY not to capitalize on that by producing another book for that audience. And you aren’t crazy. So tell the muse “I am the boss here,” tuck away all those ideas for projects in other genres and give your fan base what they crave.

And long before you are are writing that second or third novel (building yourself as a top brand in the world of thrillers or YA or, ahem, historical fiction), remember that a disciplined author image is also important. Starting before your first novel debuts. Starting before you send that first query letter. Starting, in point of fact, the moment you post anything, anywhere as the writer you hope to become.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen or heard an author comment “inappropriately” (on Twitter, or Facebook, over drinks at a conference, or in some other public setting) I wouldn’t need to write my next book. Okay, that’s hyperbole, but I see ill-advised comments often—too often. How, you may ask, can a comment be inappropriate or ill-advised if it represents the genuine thought or opinion of said writer? This is America after all. We say what we think. We have First Amendment rights. Sure do. But nothing—not even in the First Amendment—suggests that speech doesn’t have consequences and as a writer you do NOT want one of those consequences to be loss of audience. Remember, to be successful authors with multiple book deals we need to be able to sell books to people who are NOT LIKE US.

You want to argue politics? Ream other writers? Tell someone about yucky or intimate details of your life? Fine, but get a room—or rather keep that stuff in the private sphere of your life (virtual or other). When you have your “author hat” on, think smart and speak smart. Is your publisher going to be thrilled if you badmouth another author in your genre or at your imprint—nope. Is making fun of people from rural settings going to help you sell books in Iowa or Nebraska—nope. Ask yourself, ultimately do you care whether the people who by your novels vote the same way as you do, or practice the same religion, or support the same causes? I don’t.

I want everyone to feel comfortable buying and my work and I want them to judge that work on its own merits, NOT on how they feel about who I am personally when the author hat comes off. Once I’ve built an audience (fingers crossed) I don’t want to lose a single member. So when I am posting a comment on twitter, or sitting next to a fellow author at lunch I practice “dinner party behavior” (as such behavior existed before so many of us forgot our etiquette). Everything I think does not need to come out of my mouth in a professional setting. This is particularly true in the virtual world because remember the internet is forever—those twitter posts we toss out there so lightly are searchable and eventually they are going to the library of Congress.

Bottom line: When you are an author audience is everything—they are the key to making writing a career (and to showing up at signings to find your Aunt Irma has a little company for once). If we start early and exercise a little self-discipline while building our author image we can attract an audience of readers who will be back for more, and MORE IS BETTER.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blurbing, Part Two

Welcome back!

To recap, the first post on blurbing was basically a presentation of the 10 story elements that contribute to a blurb (courtesy of former romance author Suzanne McMinn.)

The Hook
The Conflict
The Hint of Emotion
The Touch of Danger
Who/What is Stopping Them?
Will They Overcome?

Once we’ve nailed these 10 points, our next step is to pull from them to create a blurb. At this juncture, it’s really helpful to look at the structure (and length) of blurbs for best-selling or favorite books in our chosen genres. In Romance, for example, it’s typical to have a 3-paragraph structure:

First paragraph for the lover who the story “belongs” to. You can have equal POV time between the lovers, but a story often (not always!) belongs to one more than the other--usually the MC who we meet first. The paragraph should highlight this MC’s goal, motivation, and conflicts.

Second paragraph to the other lover, again focusing on their goal, motivation, and conflicts.

Third paragraph focusing on their shared romantic arc in the face of whatever the central story conflict is.

Other genres, stories with only one protagonist, or stories told in first person are likely to have a very different structure, so study the variety of blurbs being used for books like yours. Look at new releases for clues about the story elements which have proven eye-catching in the current publishing market. Look also for presentations of stories whose “vibe/ tone” feels similar to yours, or those which seem to be telling the same type of story: road trip, secret baby, Chosen One, fantasy quest, etc. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt exceeds the 100-word limit. More concise is better, but the most important thing is nailing these elements down. You’ll get more fabulous at honing them as you go along, and some books may need more words in order to cover aspects of world-building or plot, anyway.

A last word of advice before we move on: Definitely do this exercise with another writer or group of writers, when possible. As the author of the story, we can often be too close to the plot or characters to do justice to articulating some of these meta elements, and having other people brainstorm with us/ for us can be amazingly illuminating. It also tends to be a blast.

Now for an actual example. I recently finished Kristina Douglas’s 2011 paranormal romance, The Fallen: Demon, and thought I’d break down the story elements, then show how they were combined in Demon’s back-cover blurb. Here we go:


The Hook
A grieving fallen angel must find the legendary siren meant to take his lost lover’s place...and kill her.
An angel falls in love with a demon.

The Conflict
Azazel is forced to betray the memory of his beloved wife with a demon who has been his enemy for centuries. If he refuses, the archangel Uriel will destroy all of mankind.
Azazel struggles to deny his unlikely new bond with Rachel, a bond he’s also going to be forced to betray if he wants to defeat Uriel.
Rachel doesn’t remember her past life as the seductress Lilith, and Azazel’s animosity towards her is at odds with the overwhelming sexual hunger they experience with each other. When Azazel chooses to offer her up for torture at Uriel’s hands, Rachel must struggle to forgive the unforgivable.
The archangel Uriel is bent on destroying the Fallen and their mates, preventing any possibility of resurrecting Lucifer, the only fallen angel who could ever challenge his control of creation. If Uriel can trick Azazel into betraying Rachel to her death, the prophecy of Lucifer’s resurrection will never come to pass.

The Hint of Emotion
true love, desire, grief, carnality, danger, deadly wrath

The Touch of Danger
Azazel’s threat to Rachel’s life and heart; the threat of Uriel’s wrath; the threat to Azazel's self-control

Azazel: fearless, grieving ruler; “a devil of an angel”
Rachel: legendary siren; “an angel of a demon”
Uriel: wrathful destroyer

Sheol, the hidden refuge of the Fallen angels and their mates. Uriel’s Dark City. Australia.

Azazel’s goal is to capture Rachel, and surrender her for information critical to Lucifer’s rescue.
Rachel’s goal is to survive her encounter with Azazel without surrendering her heart or her life.
Uriel’s goal is to trick Azazel into giving Rachel up to torture and death.

Azazel is motivated by his duty to the Fallen and to mankind, and an unwillingness to acknowledge the attraction and the love that he feels for his former enemy.
Rachel is motivated by fear and necessity, and a desire to believe that she can transcend the horrors of her servitude as a demon.
Uriel is motivated by absolute confidence in the rightness of his dominance over Creation, as well as an all-encompassing belief in the innate sinfulness of Creation in general, and the Fallen in particular.

Who/ what is stopping them?
Azazel’s grief and anger interfere with his relationship with Rachel.
Rachel’s amnesia, and her distrust of Azazel interfere with her acceptance of her role in defeating Uriel.
Uriel is bent on Rachel’s death and Azazel’s demoralization; he hopes to destroy their love and prevent the prophecy from coming to pass.

Will They Overcome?
Can Azazel and Rachel overcome grief and betrayal to defeat Uriel and preserve the safety of the Fallen and their mates?

*Note: If some of these elements seem to echo or re-state each other that’s OK. Having different ways to look at or say the same thing is helpful when you’re brainstorming.

OK, here’s the actual back-cover blurb for Demon:

Once the Fallen’s fearless ruler, a grieving Azazel must find the legendary siren meant to take his lost lover’s place...and kill her.


Azazel should have extinguished the deadly Lilith when he had the chance. Now, faced with a prophecy that will force him to betray the memory of his one true love and wed the Demon Queen, he cannot end her life until she leads him to Lucifer. Finding the First is the Fallen’s only hope for protecting mankind from Uriel’s destruction, but Azazel knows that ignoring his simmering desire for the Lilith will be almost as impossible.

Rachel Fitzpatrick wonders how Azazel could confuse her with an evil seductress. She’s never even been interested in sex! At least not before she set eyes on her breathtaking captor. And now she can’t think about anything else--besides escape.


Rachel stirs a carnal need in Azazel that he never thought he’d feel again. Falling for a demon--even if she has no idea she’s the Lilith--means surrendering his very soul. But if he lets her go, he risks abandoning his heart, his dangerous lover, and possibly all of humanity, to Uriel’s deadly wrath.

Aaaand now we’re back.

Note how succinct the hook of Demon is, and how explicitly it’s stated. This is very much Azazel’s story, so it’s his conflict that is front and center. Note, too, that setting isn’t really mentioned; the main characters don’t interact much with their surroundings, because almost everything is about what is happening between Azazel and Rachel. The final paragraph, which is usually about the shared arc of the lovers, underscores the fact that the highest emotional stakes in the book belong to Azazel. Douglas (who also writes as Anne Stuart) tends to write hero-focused romances, so the set up of this blurb is definitely true to the feel of the book.

So what do you think about the back-cover copy for Demon? The art of the blurb is about articulating the emotional ingredients of your story, and combining them in such a way that they give the truest taste of your book--a taste the reader can’t resist. How well did this blurb succeed, in your opinion?

And what do you think you’ll take away from this for the story you’re currently working on? This blurbing exercise is MUCH more dynamic when you’re putting together back-cover copy from scratch, and I’d love to hear what people discover about articulating and honing these emotional story elements. Please share!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Publishers Playing the Social Media Game

by R.C. Lewis

We're in the age of social media. (You all know that, because you're reading a blog right now.) Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+—there are plenty of options for connecting with people all over the world. While the sites I mentioned are general and can be used for just about any purpose, personal to professional, there are also sites that cater to more specialized groups.

There's no shortage of places for writers to connect online—AgentQuery Connect, QueryTracker, Absolute Write, just to name a few. There are also a few communities run by Big 6 publishers, which we'll look at here.

The first site is Authonomy, established in 2008 by HarperCollins (UK-based). Originally conceived as an online slushpile, books are "backed" by other users to move up the ranks, and at the end of each month, the top five books are pulled for review by an editor at HC. Authonomy is open to just about any genre or audience, from kid-lit to erotica (the latter explaining why you must be 18 or older to join). Users must upload a minimum of 10k words, though some choose to upload their entire manuscript.

The Authonomy forums can be rough-and-tumble at times, but a savvy user can avoid trouble ... usually. The site itself has changed relatively little over its three years, adding a few features such as weighting backings based on Talent Spotter Rating (TSR), using star ratings to rank separately from the backing system, and requiring a backing to last at least 24 hours to count. A few books from the site have been published by HC—all pulled long before they reached the top five.

Inkpop is also run by HarperCollins (US-based), but is more specialized. This is the place for writing by teens and for teens. Much of the site works the same as Authonomy, but a major difference is the ability to upload shorter works (poetry and short stories).

After remaining fairly constant after launching in 2009, Inkpop recently underwent a major facelift. Besides changing the look of the site, several features have been added. There are now separate Top Five categories for novels, short work, and poetry (so a total of fifteen works are pulled for review each month). Rather than upload chapters as separate files, a single file is uploaded and viewed using Scribd. Users are ranked not only as Trendsetters (similar to Authonomy's TSR), but also as Critics. And like many other sites (and games) these days, there are 25 different badges users can earn. They're also gearing up for the release of Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon, which made the Top Five last year and will be released by HarperTeen this fall. (Fun fact: I read several chapters of an early draft on Authonomy back in late 2009.)

The latest site to join the party is Book Country, started up by Penguin. They specialize in genre fiction—in fact, take a look at their rather cool Genre Map. Book Country is a little different from the HarperCollins-run sites. The focus is more on reviewing and connecting with other writers, as well as sharing information about the industry.

Reviews are broken down into different areas—Overall Feedback, Point of View, and Pacing. Books are given a star-rating, and like Inkpop, various badges can be earned. Reviews can be marked by others as helpful or not. While there are Book Country Favorites and Buzz Books, there's no promise for a review by an editor.

An interesting note from their site: "Later this year, Book Country will offer a convenient and affordable way to self-publish eBooks and print books. With a variety of services available, we want you to be able to put your book on the map. As Book Country grows, we will continue to offer additional features and services we think you will appreciate." I'm curious to see how this shapes up.

There are many benefits to each of these sites. Connections on Authonomy have given birth to several independent publishing groups. I personally know several writers who've been contacted by literary agents and publishers based on their visibility on both Authonomy and Book Country (and I imagine it's happened on Inkpop, too). And of course, getting feedback on your work is always a plus.

Have you been involved in any of these sites? How have they benefited you? What works and what doesn't? What would you like to see from a publisher-based community?

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Miniature: Writing for Kids

by Cat Woods

Over the weekend, my youngest son played baseball. Usually this isn't a big deal. We've been watching our boys hit the sticks for over a decade. But this went beyond normal. Youngest played in an All Star tourney against other teams. He swung his bat, scooped the ball and donned catcher's gear.

It was big person baseball in miniature. The whole thing was too cute for words and evoked warm fuzzies that are almost too hard to describe. Maybe the picture will help.

Little boys playing in the big league. When Youngest first got invited to be on the team, I scoffed. "They're so little. They don't have the experience or ability to play a real game."

Writers of juvenile literature are guilty of this same thing. We underestimate our target audience. We see picture books with their small word counts and think, "Ha! I can do that."

We pen ridiculous rhymes about Carlos the Croaking Cricket onto a page and call it good. After all, writing for kids is easy, right?


Picture books, chapter books and middle grade literature are not short cuts to getting published. In fact—as a writer who's had short stories, articles and poetry pubbed in the adult market and nada in the juvie field—I'd venture to say that getting a byline in the kidlit arena is more difficult than pubbing for big people.

The reason? Kids are big people in miniature. They can hit the ball, round the base, tag a runner and read a book—or at least listen to one—just like the grownups they hope to someday become.

They are not less worthy of reading a well-crafted story than adults are. Likely, they require far more from their favorite authors than we big leaguers do from our own. Like adults, they demand quality characters and amazing story arcs—in far fewer words than the latest Grisham novel.

  • Characterization: a cutesy name doth not create character connection. Clara the Caterpillar is no more a story than Hannibal Lector. Clara needs strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes and a personality that draws kids in. Kids may be accepting and make friends easily, but they are not shallow. They want a character they can relate to—and since their experiences are limited by time on this earth and not limited by a supressed imagination, this is a tall order for writers.
  • Word Choice: writing a fraction of the words isn't easier. In fact, it is much more difficult. Writers have to say the same thing in a clear and concise way. Every single word counts. Literally. Today's picture book market trends to 500 words, while chapter books top out around 10,000. Writers simply cannot afford to pad their manuscripts with extra words. Verbs must be strong. Adverbs non-existent.
  • Description: so how do we evoke strong images without the padding? A lot of it has to do with illustration. When text pairs with pictures, a fuller story can be told. Writers don't need to describe red shirts with blue stripes. The illustrator can fill in those spaces for young readers. Seems simple, but description goes beyond an adjective or two. Think of how often the gentle fall breeze rustles the leaves as evening dawns against a pinkened sky in your favorite novels. In kidlit, virtually all description is purple prose.
  • Emotional Content: children don't want fluff. They want stories that evoke a full range of emotions. They want to laugh, cry, scream and squeal. They love hiding their faces under the covers or in Daddy's shirt. In other words, they want the good stuff just like you and I.
  • Story Arc: simply telling a story about a night crawler, a pirate or a lost dog isn't enough. Like big people, miniature peeps demand a conflict and a resolution. In 500 words (sometimes less), a story must still have a protagonist, antagonist, character growth and a satisfying climax. Not to mention that kids love plot twists and stories with unexpected endings.
  • Theme: teach, but don't preach. Can you imagine the strike that would follow if authors pumped out novel after novel of moralistic tales? Ones that shove the theme in your face over and over again? Concept books can be a great addition to a child's library, but all books should be pleasurable to read. Kids are not dumb. Their vocabularies may be smaller (maybe), but their ability to comprehend a well-crafted story is the same as ours. Their bull-shit meter is also highly sensitive. They can sniff out and reject moral lessons faster than the Devil himself in Sunday School.
  • Vocabulary: as long as we're on the topic, books are a great place to stretch a child's vocabulary. Instead of a boat, can Clara sail a sloop? Children use context clues to decipher meanings. This skill is invaluable to readers of all age groups—adults included. If writers don't stretch audience vocabularies, readers will never grow in ability and skill. This is a particular loss for kids, as childhood is the window of opportunity for language development.
  • Rhythm: as many picture books and chapter books are read aloud, a certain lyrical cadence must be present. The words must roll off the tongue and not stop the flow. Readers shouldn't stumble all over themselves to spit out a slew of sloppy sentences and poorly penned paragraphs. You've probably heard that writers have an inner ear for great sentence structure and lyrical writing. Books in miniature showcase this fine-tuning. BTW, alliteration can almost always alter an anecdote's rhythm.
  • Rhyme: this is likely the biggest no-no for beginning kidlit writers. I scream this from the housetops: the story comes first. Write the best story you can, with amazing characters and great story arcs that teach subtle lessons. Only then are you allowed to rhyme. If a story lacks any of the above components, end rhymes are not going to save it.

As you can see, writing in miniature is more than cutting word counts and penning tales for tots. It is creating solid, well-crafted stories in fewer words for a discerning audience.

I am happy to admit my assumptions were wrong about our Pint-Sized Players. Who knew seven-year-olds could work as a team and make honest-to-goodness double plays? I didn't, but I do now.

So, fellow scribes, what words of wisdom do you have for writing in miniature? How is writing for children different than writing for adults? What is the same? If you write for kids, what appeals to you about the process? What is the most difficult aspect, in your opinion?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Seven Stages of Querying

by R.S. Mellette

Much the way my old scene partner and I had an epiphany by going back to the basics with Shakespeare, I had one a while back with my query letter.

Like all writers, I'd been through the seven phases of query creation:

Denial: "I'm a novelist, damn it, not a business writer. I can't write a good query letter."
Pain: "Reducing my entire book down to one paragraph? I can't! It hurts too much."
Anger & Bargaining: "These agents are all so stupid. If they would just read my work, I know they would sign me in a second. I'd be doing them a favor by letting them read it."
Depression: "Why do I even bother?"
Resurrection: "Every writer has been where I am now, so maybe it's not that bad."
Reconstruction: "You know, maybe my query letter wasn't perfect. Maybe those people over at AgentQuery Connect had some good ideas."
Acceptance & Hope: "I write because I love to write, and if I never land an agent or get published, that's fine by me. I'll still keep at it, because tomorrow is another day."

And then, of course, the cycle would start all over again.

It was during one of the Reconstruction periods that I had my epiphany. I thought about my query letter the way an actor or writer does a scene. "What is my objective?" "What do I want?"

"I want to get an agent."

But is a query letter going to get me an agent?

No. Never in the history of the universe has a query letter landed an agent for a novelist. Only the manuscript can do that. It's one of the things I love about this business. No one is too old, too ethnic, not ethnic enough, too male or female. Your work is all.

So, yes, I want to get an agent, but that's my super objective. That's what my character wants by the end of the play, or novel, or the next few years. In that case, what is my objective for the query letter?

I want whoever reads this letter to want to read the book. I want the agent to hit the reply button.

That's it. That's all. Anything else is a distraction.

I went back to my letter-in-progress with that mindset. The changes were subtle, but important. I created an exciting build in the last paragraph, ending with an emotional punch. Then, in a cocky (some say stupid) move, I signed off with:

"Wanna read it?"

My request rate went way up. In one case an agent got back to me in minutes saying only, "In a word, yes."

Eventually, of course, it was the manuscript that landed me representation, but without that application of artistic cross training, I'd've never tapped into my inner salesman.

Monday, August 1, 2011

An Artistic Cross-Training SAT with Hilary Graham

by Mindy McGinnis

On my personal blog Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, I've been hosting a series of interviews focused on gleaning the secrets of success from writers who have been there, done that. I call it the SAT—Successful Author Talk.

In the course of my internet wanderings I came across Hilary Graham, a screenwriter turned YA author whose artistic journey fit in so perfectly with our philosophy here at From the Write Angle that I thought I might relocate an SAT to my second blogging home.

Hilary Weisman Graham is a screenwriter, novelist, and director whose work spans nearly two decades. Her debut young adult novel, REUNITED (Simon & Schuster), is due out in June 2012.

Hilary's essays have appeared in The Sun, Utne Reader, and Imagine Magazine. An Emmy-nominated television producer, her broadcast credits include WMUR's Chronicle, the nationally syndicated television show Wild Web (CBS/Eyemark), as well as freelance work for The Discovery Health Channel, Access Hollywood, A&E's Biography, and PBS's Zoom.

In the summer of 2007, Hilary was selected as a contestant on the Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg produced reality series On the Lot: The Search for America's Next Great Director. Out of a pool of 12,000 submissions, Hilary made it onto the show as one of the eighteen finalists and stayed in the competition until only nine contestants remained, making her the longest-standing female director.

MM: What skills do you find come in useful in both screenwriting and novel writing?
HG: One of my most prized skills as a writer is my ability to allow myself to write crappy first drafts. It took me YEARS to learn to do this, but it's really an invaluable part of my process. RARELY do I get it right the first time. As in basically never. So it's nice to be able to let myself off the hook for getting it wrong and so I can give myself the space I need to work it out in rewrites.
I am also a very disciplined writer, a skill that gives me the benefit of creating lots of new material (and occasionally gets in the way of my self-care). i.e, there are times my writing (and my sanity) would probably be better served by stepping AWAY from the computer and going to yoga class. ;)

MM: Are you a Planner or Pantster? Do you find that you use the same approach in both screenwriting and novel writing?
HG: I'm a Planner with Pantster tendencies. I ALWAYS outline my fiction, though in the past, I have written screenplays without outlines. As I've matured as a writer, I've learned that it's crucial for me to know where I'm going plot-wise before delving into a screenplay or a novel. That being said, I view my outlines as malleable things and use them with the assumption that there will be changes. A strong structure also gives me freedom to explore my characters and plot without worrying that I might go off the rails. Some of the best moments in my work are the result of discoveries I've made along the way.

MM: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multitasker? Do you tend to focus on screenwriting all at one time, then novel-length works? Or do you mish-mash?
HG: In a perfect world I'd focus on one project at a time, but since this is reality (sigh) I've learned to live as a multitasker. Luckily, I do it quite well. Of course, there are stretches of time when I'll only work on my book, or a screenplay, and I feel that's the ideal way to work. However, there have been weeks when I've juggled my book, a screenplay, a treatment for a TV show, AND a pitch for a new screenplay. And yes, it was exhausting as it sounds. But if I can get myself into the right frame of mind, it can actually be creatively stimulating to have multiple storylines rolling around in my head, and sometimes, if I'm lucky, the various plots and characters end up informing each other. Though I might not be the most pleasant person to be around when I've got four different projects in my brain. ;)
And I will say that in the screenwriting world, it pays to be a multitasker since the ability to generate new material is so important.

MM: Have you ever quit on a project, and how did you know it was time?
HG: I have a really hard time letting go of a project and I almost never do it. In fact, the only project I can recall giving up on is a recent effort to make a video trailer for a completed script I've written. I wanted the video to be hilarious and have the potential to go viral, but it just wasn't gelling. So I tossed it aside and I haven't looked back.

But typically, I'd rather work myself to the bone to try and fix something I care about and make it great than to give up on it. However, there are TONS of ideas in my filing cabinet that will never even get off the ground, because the concepts don't seem appealing to me anymore, or because they fail to excite me in the way they (presumably) did once. But even then, I still can't bear to throw ANYTHING away.

MM: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? Did you consciously choose an agent who repped both screenwriting and novels?
HG:I signed with my amazing manager—Seth Jaret of Jaret Entertainment—after I was on the FOX reality show ON THE LOT: THE SEARCH FOR AMERICA'S NEXT GREAT DIRECTOR (which aired on FOX the summer of 2007 and was produced by Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg). Seth represents my screenwriting efforts and he hooked me up with my book agent, Steve Malk at Writer's House. I think Steve and Seth share quite a few screenwriter/YA novelist clients.

MM: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog/site/Twitter?
HG: It's funny you should ask because I'm doing it all right now! My website (which currently only details my film career) should be updated in the next couple of weeks. I also have a brand spankin' new blog, an Author Page on Facebook, I'm on YouTube, and of course, I'm on Twitter.

As REUNITED's release date gets closer (June, 2012), I'm planning to do a HUGE online campaign to promote interest in the book. I've already shot a killer BOOK TRAILER (since I'm a filmmaker, too) and it will be released as soon as the book's available for sale. (But watch for teasers on my YouTube page & Blog.) And as June 2012 gets closer, I plan to start doing contests and giveaways on my blog on my blog as well as creating a big web presence for the band in the book, Level3.
Because REUNITED focuses so heavily on music (it's the story of three ex-best friends on a cross-country road trip to see their old favorite band, Level3, in concert) I figured there was a huge opportunity to promote REUNITED using Level3's music.

So, I've actually gone and created the band!

A professionally produced version of Level3's hit single “Parade” is already in the works! This song will be available for download on my website (for free) and possibly even in the e-book version.

I'm really hoping to attract a following for the band, and Level3 Myspace and Facebook pages should be live within the next few weeks.

MM: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
HG: Hmmm. I'm not sure I know the answer to this one. I think these days, it never hurts to “brand” yourself if you've got something to sell.

MM: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
HG: Gosh, after all I'm planning to do, I sure hope so. ;) But going to the Book Bloggers Convention in NYC this past May meeting so many wonderful bloggers really helped me understand the power the internet has to foster a book's success. And on a personal level, I'm really looking forward to being able to connect with my readers online.

A big thanks to Hilary for participating in the SAT here on FTWA!

Do you have other artistic outlets that help inspire your writing? What are they?