Friday, December 21, 2012

Talking the Talk ... on the Phone

by R.C. Lewis

2012 turned out to be an eventful year for me. I signed with an agent in late May, and she sold my book just a couple of months later. The agent-getting part involved five agents offering representation, so I had The Call five times—three of them in one day. With submissions, I talked to two offering editors on the phone.

The phone is not my favorite thing in the world.

It makes me feel awkward, and like I have to really concentrate to catch every word as well as every nuance of tone since I have no body language and facial expression to cue off of. And my agent (bless her!) let me know I had some bad habits.

See, once upon a time (when I was a teenager—no, I won't say how many years ago that was), I had a friend who would talk on the phone for hours. Usually some kind of teenage drama or another that she wanted to rant about. If I didn't say "uh-huh" on a fairly regular basis, she assumed either I wasn't there or didn't agree with her stance of being outraged at the situation. So I got used to a lot of, "Uh-huh, I'm still with you."

I also have a mother who can't always find the word she's looking for. Somehow, I almost always know what that word is, I provide it for her, and we continue the conversation. It's just how conversation works with her.

But you know what? When you do either of those on the phone with strangers, it can be kind of annoying and off-putting.

Not exactly the impression you want to give prospective agents and editors, right?

Honestly, I was always listening and paying attention to what the other party was saying. (How could I not? Agents and editors!) But I learned that it's important to sound like you're listening by not saying anything at all. In my case, I learned to wait until a direct question was asked or there was a full second of silence—more than just taking a breath—to take my turn at talking.

And I'm definitely glad my agent was direct and honest enough to train me up on that before my editor calls.

So, when preparing for The Call at any level, definitely get a list of questions ready, things you need to know by the end of the conversation. But also take a hard look at any bad phone-talking habits you might have.

You know what they say about first impressions.

Do you have any tips or tricks for successful phone conversations for a phone-phobic person like me? Any strategies for handling the inevitable nerves that come with high-pressure phone calls?

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

From the Write Angle will be taking next week off. Happy Holidays to all our readers, and Good Writing in the New Year—break a pencil!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Procrastination

by Riley Redgate

Hello there, FTWA readers!

It's Wednesday. I have two final exams on Thursday. I have another one on Friday. This is a blog post.

Let's talk about procrastination!

Do you know why procrastination is easy? I do.

It's not scary.

The actual writing part of life almost always involves some element of I'm Not Good Enough. Editing, drafting while knowing you'll have to go back and edit 90% of what's coming out of your fingers, querying, synopsizing - the whole deal involves self-criticism. And procrastination, happy activity that it is, does not. It allows you to think of your work in the positive terms of the abstract, even whilst you cheerfully shirk it. Malformed sentences go away. Characterization issues disappear into the ether. And plot holes? What plot holes?

Procrastination happens because we're scared of what could happen in its stead. We could spend hours on a single scene and emotionally exhaust ourselves. Worse, we could spend hours on a single scene and then realize that scene needs deletion. We could rewrite our query four times and still realize it's not good enough.

For example, let's take my current mode of procrastination. I have not looked back over the book that I should have looked over several times by now for Friday's exam. Why? Because I'm scared I'll get to it and realize I need to memorize a million things I don't already know. I'm trusting in what I've already done rather than rediscovering what I've done and what I need to fix. Procrastinating, I can say, hey! You know what? I know a lot of things. Here's what I've learned. A lot of things, right? I'll be fine, eh?

After I finish writing this blog post, I will read the book in question. And, odds are, I shall rapidly discover I have yet some things to brush up on.

So the cure to procrastination? Make it as scary as going back to your unfinished draft.

Here's why you should be scared of procrastination:

1) You'll regret it later. Nothing's less satisfying than going to bed thinking about what you could have done with your day, and what you did instead of what you could have done.

2) You don't have all the time in the world. You have time. But not infinite time. You have people you love and places to go; you have books to read and other activities in which to participate. You do not have a million hours to spend faffing about on Twitter etc. while your WIP languishes in that other window.

3) It makes the writing harder. What if you get out of practice? What if you forget quite how your MC's particular voice sounds? These are problems not-unheard of. Coming back to an unfinished draft after an overlong break is laborious, and disrupts rhythm, and could be disadvantageous for quality itself.

4) It makes writing feel like work. I mean, come on. What other types of things do you put off? Studying for exams. (Ahem. -averts eyes-) And like, emailing your least favorite relative, and filing taxes, probably. But writing? Writing is a joy to you. That's why you do it. Whether you get an adrenaline rush, a deep satisfaction, a further knowledge about the human condition - whatever. You have a reason to be doing what you're doing. What you don't have is a reason to delay it.

Thus concludes another blog post that sounds more like a lecture/chastisement than it probably should. -sigh- Sorry about that. I'll blame it on finals week stress ... and now I'm off to review Aristotle's Poetics!

Bonne chance! Your WIP loves and awaits you!

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spice Up Your Writing Life

by R.S. Mellette

When I was a kid, daytime talk shows were a different animal than they are today. There was this guy, maybe you’ve heard of him, Phil Donahue. He had a little show in Chicago where he went into the audience to have them ask questions. No one screamed or shouted. The guests were intelligent, and for the most part so were the questions. No one took lie detector tests, and the legitimacy of babies was never discussed. Generally, after watching his show one felt pretty good about the state of human evolution.

For some odd reason I remember seeing a Cajun chef on Donahue once. I don’t remember who he was, but I remember something he said.

“In Cajun cooking, we spice at every level.”

What he meant was, when making the chicken stock, or roux, or dry rub, or sauce, every step gets spiced.

I have taken it to mean that every step of any process needs some special attention. If you write from an outline, then make sure you don’t cut corners there. Spice it up. Make it jump off the page, so when you’re stuck in the manuscript, you can take a taste of the outline and remember what had you so excited in the first place.

If you find you have to add a minor character, give him or her some seasoning. Make us remember that tasty little tidbit. When your characters have to go somewhere, make it a more interesting place.

But remember, spice is, by definition, a small ingredient that has a big impact. Don’t confuse it with flowery. You’re not looking to overwhelm a story, just punch it up a little.

When reading through your work for the millionth time, play a game. Get into your kitchen, bring out your spices, and as you read think about which spice might help in the scene you’re reading. Maybe something unexpected—like some sugar in a salty scene. Maybe something hot. Maybe not. Mix it up.

Spice at every level.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers and The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse anthologies.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Five Must Hear Podcasts for Writers

by Jean Oram

I've recently discovered podcasts as a part of my quest to improve my writing. While some of you may be laughing and saying they've been around for ages, it's only recently that two events in my life have conspired to make podcasts something I can sit through.

One is a half decent smart phone that can handle podcasts. And two is (mostly) getting over my Talk Radio ADD. (When I was a kid my parents had CBC (Canadian Public Broadcasting--kind of like NPR) on in every room and every vehicle 24/7. It wasn't until I was a teen that I finally realized there were other radio stations out there. Over time I learned to tune out CBC because it was a lot of talk-talk-talk going on around me all the time. Problem is… my Talk Radio ADD applies to pretty much anything recorded that involves talking whether it happens to be talking books, talk radio, or podcasts. Which means I get a minute or two into a program and slowly, without noticing, I tune out. Welcome to my happy place.)

The podcasts I am recommending here are five that I enjoy and seem to be able to stay tuned into. They are well worth listening to (on your phone or online) and can teach you a lot not only about writing, but about the business side of things as well.

Five Podcasts Worth Listening to for Writers

1. Writing Excuses

Motto: 15 minutes long because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart

Oh my god, what is not to love about that motto? Great, brief, and highly informative podcasts that don't ramble on and waste your time. It's put together by several people and they will often interview others. Seriously great.


2. Copyblogger

Motto: Content marketing advice and solutions that work

If you follow me on Twitter [@jeanoram] (and if you're not, why not?), you've probably seen me tweeting Copyblogger's blog links. Basically, their podcast covers similar content to their blog. Everything from how to write a headline (for your blog, newsletter, press releases and more) to how to market (your books, your blog!) is covered. Their podcasts include interviews and are always informative. It is a painless way to learn how to draw people to your blog, as well as do a little effective book marketing.


3. The Creative Penn

Motto: Helping you write, publish and market your book

Put out by author Joanna Penn, it features interviews with authors, marketers, and pretty much anyone who has a thing to do with publishing and writing. While this podcast can ramble a bit, the variety and content makes it worth it. (Plus you can jump ahead.)


4. DBSA Romance Fiction Podcast

Motto: All of the romance, none of the bullshit

That's right. These are smart broads who happen to read category romance. And while their focus is romance some of their podcasts such as "Book Accessibility for Sight-Impaired Readers" is something ALL authors need to check out. You could be missing out on one of the biggest reading markets out there. Listen to it now!


5. Grammar Girl

Motto: Quick and dirty tips for better writing

Brush up on your grammar in short and sweet segments. If you've ever Googled anything grammar related, this site has has probably popped up on the first page of results. Something I've learned from their podcasts: "burnt" is typically British, and "burned" is typically American.


Now that you've looked at podcasts From the Write Angle which one will you start with first? Are there some must-listen-to podcasts on your list you'd like to share? Let us know in the comment section.

Jean Oram is a fiction and nonfiction writer who writes stuff and is always up for a challenge such as writing post-apocalyptic chick lit such as in her story
Crumbs found in The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse. She also blabs on about writing on her blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Save the Snark (and the Hate)

by R.C. Lewis

I've been on Twitter for a few years now, almost exclusively for the writing/publishing side of my life. If you've been around the Write Angle for a while, you know several of us are big fans of Twitter as part of a writer's social media package. Jemi Fraser recently did three different posts on great Twitter hashtags for writers, and Calista Taylor laid out the basics in Twitter 101.

You can get amazing things from Twitter—camaraderie of other writers, news on industry trends and events, and insider tips straight from agents and editors. Amidst all that, you also get what people are eating for lunch, who's coming down with a cold, and complaints about weather/mass transit/utility companies/anything else that can be annoying. Part and parcel.

Here's a small subset of the tweets out there—writers snarking at those industry insiders, especially agents.

They come in several forms, but the underlying sentiment always seems the same. Agents are evil, money-grubbing, elitist jerks. They only want crap from celebrities anyway. They won't take a chance on anyone new.

Now, hang on.

There's nothing wrong with going it alone, whether by self-publishing or working with publishers who take unagented submissions. Many writers find that's the right course for them. For others, the efforts of querying and securing representation are worth it.

Whichever course we choose to take (or maybe both!), why sling hate at the other?

By and large, agents work hard. They often hold down other jobs to pay the bills, essentially working for free on the hope that the books they believe in will sell. I certainly couldn't do what my agent does (fair enough, since I'm pretty sure she couldn't teach my math classes, either).

I imagine there are some agents who are jerks. After all, you can find a jerk or two in just about any group of people. And yes, we have the right to be ourselves and say what we want.

But what possible good comes from being rude (and even at times downright hateful) toward anyone in an industry we hope to be considered professionals in?

No matter what the industry is doing, and no matter our course within it, behaving like a professional will always be in fashion. The same goes for more than agents—editors, fellow authors, and readers deserve it, too.

There's plenty to be gained by developing a reputation of respect.

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Research Like A Third Grader

by Mindy McGinnis

So, you've got an absolutely fantastic idea to write a romance set during the potato famine in Ireland. Maybe you just like the accent, or are drawn to rolling green hills, but the idea is stuck in your head and you can't get it out. So what's stopping you?

Maybe the fact that the accent and rolling green hills is the sum of what you know on the topic?

I don't think the first step is buying a plane ticket. I'm a thorough researcher and I like to exhibit that in my writing, but I don't start by traveling internationally or finding out the bacterial origination of the black rot that wiped out the potatoes in Ireland all those years ago.

Because that's not what I need to know in order to write this story.

I love non-fiction, but reading a dense book (or two) about the immigration statistics and cultural backlash that arose from the potato famine probably isn't going to fire a lot of creative synapses in the brain. It definitely can inform the story, but you're still on square one and drowning this little seed of an idea with 200 gallons of water isn't the best way to nurture it at the outset.

My advice? Go to the kids section of your library or bookstore. Find a very basic book about the topic you want to learn about in order to start this story. Right now your seed needs simple building blocks of life to get a good start - water, sunlight, soil. It's the Who? What? Where? When? of your story, and a non-fiction book written for children will point you in the right direction without the unnecessary equivalent of chemicals and growth additive type facts that are just going to burn the tender roots of your seedling idea and make your brain switch off.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, a post-apocalyptic survival tale, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter & Facebook.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Morphing Like X-Men

by Lucy Marsden

I try. God knows, I try.

I plot and I plan and I do Goal Motivation and Conflict outlines for them, but are my characters grateful? They are not. Currently, they’re ignoring all the lovely thematic elements I’ve laid out for them, and are morphing like X-Men.

I guess we just can’t have nice things.

Eleven thousand words into this manuscript, it’s looking more like a patchwork quilt than any kind of cohesive narrative, and the people currently in a lip-lock with each other are disdaining any knowledge of the characters who showed up in their first scenes. It’s gotten to the point that I’m grateful to my hero for shifting from the charming con-man I’d originally envisioned, into an irascible Beast—at least I know what he wants and why. But that heroine of mine has regenerated more often than a Time Lord, and if she could find a minute to drop me a post card with the address of her current head-space, I surely would appreciate it.

How is this possible? How is it possible to figure out a forgery plot so good that it synchronistically shows up on an episode of LEVERAGE (Love. That. Show.)—and still be floundering with my heroine? Why won’t that wench just gel, already?

If you, or anyone you know (or anyone you’ve ever even been “Friended” by on Facebook), would like to stop by with a box of tissues, or a stiff drink and an explanation, that would be delightful. Until then, I'm choosing to believe that I am in the process of discovering these characters, and that all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Please, please, please...

Lucy Marsden is a romance writer living in New England. When she’s not backstage at a magic show or crashing a physics picnic, she can be found knee-deep in the occult collection of some old library, or arguing hotly about Story.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

3 NaNo NoNos

by Jemi Fraser

It's easy to get caught up in the euphoria that surrounds a NaNo win. After all, writing 50k words in 30 days is something to be proud of. Go ahead and celebrate!


There's always a 'but', isn't there? Here are a few Nano NoNos to keep in mind.

NaNo NoNo Number 1

Submitting your novel on December 1st. Or any day in December. By and large, this is a very bad idea. Maybe you are Super Drafter and your story is error free, but I have my doubts! I know mine sure isn't. I imagine agents cringe when they see the words, "I've just finished this novel for NaNoWriMo..."

NaNo NoNo Number 2

Revising right away. So you decide to give those agents a break over December, but on January 1st, you're submitting. After all, the agents will be rested and salivating over the thought of a new story. Wait! For most writers, it's a really a good idea to let your first draft sit for several weeks before you go back in and revise it. That way, you've got a bit of distance between you and the story. Your brain will actually see the words you've written instead of the words you THINK you've written.

NaNo NoNo Number 3

Putting your novel aside - forever. This is kind of the opposite of the first two. Don't assume your story is garbage just because you wrote it in a month - or because you're sick of it at the moment. Sure, it might be a hot mess, but the idea sparked enough of your creativity for you to spend 30 days on it. I bet if you give it those weeks I spoke about in #2, you'll find there's a lot to like.

So, give yourself some time away, then go back in and dig into the wonder of that first draft your wrote.  Once it really shines, submit away! And make sure you have some cupcakes to celebrate along the way!

Any more NaNo NoNos you can share?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of romantic mysteries, currently recuperating from her NaNo win. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What “Shopping Locally” This Holiday Season Means to and for Authors

by Sophie Perinot

In the run up to the holidays I’ve been noticing a lot of “shop locally” buzz. I like the idea, really I do, but I’ll admit I am a shop-from-my-desk gal (yet another distraction from the WIP). That started me thinking about putting a desk-chair-potato (oops) writer’s spin on the “shop locally” theme. What if this year, we who love stories and make them, used our holiday shopping to support fellow writers?

Our writer friends are both “local” and a “small business.” Surprised? You shouldn’t be. You just have to think about it the right way. Chances are if you write, then—like me—you have dozens of author friends. They may not be “local” in the geographical sense but they are VERY MUCH part of your creative village. My author friends support me all year long—here at FTWA, online in Facebook groups, on the threads of AgentQuery Connect, with a well-placed tweet when I am ready to lay my head down on my keyboard and give up. I know many of them far better than I know the shop owners in my area and—here’s the kicker—like those shop owners, WRITERS ARE SMALL-BUSINESS PEOPLE.

We forget this sometimes but we (writers) produce a product and bring it to market. Whether their wares are offered through a major publishing house or at Smashwords authors have to sell books or they don’t get paid. And most of your author friends (unless you know JK Rowling or Stephen King) are “mom and pop” sized businesses. Once their writing expenses are subtracted from their earnings they likely have to hold down another job to make ends meet. They are not Amazon or Walmart. They aren’t even 7-Eleven. They are the corner store, whose owner is left at the end of many a day wondering how much longer it makes sense to keep doing this. So when we support our fellow writers we are supporting small, independent businesses. *warm fuzzy glow*

Sounds like giving the books of authors we know as gifts is the right thing to do then—the right thing for us. “But,” you ask, “can I support my fellow authors and still get the people on my gift list something they’ll enjoy?” I know why you are asking—we’ve ALL been victims of a gift that was more about the giver than the receiver (like that time Aunt Irma gave you a llama in Chile in support of her favorite charity, not in support of yours). Yes. Yes we can. I am here to assure you that ...

Books are more than a noble gesture—they actually make awesome gifts. If your gift list resembles mine, the folks on it have a wide variety of interests and personalities, but there is ONE thing they pretty much all have in common—they read. How perfect is it then that my writer friends create in a wide variety of genres? Regency and steampunk romances, literary novels, YA, historical thrillers, a novel of the Iraq war, I know writers who write it ALL. Looking at the output of my author acquaintances, there is literally something literary and appropriate for everyone on my gift list this season. There are also books in every price—from the complete set of the Folger Shakespeare Library editions of the bard’s plays ($6 a pop, more than thirty titles) that my daughter covets to the $0.99 cent e-book that might be a nice holiday “tip” for your pet-sitter.

So shop locally—from your desk or in your neighborhood—buy a book (or ten) by an author you know and send it to someone you love, like, or just owe a Secret-Santa gift. You won’t have to worry about size or color and you’ll support an entrepreneur and the future of your art.

Sophie Perinot's debut novel, THE SISTER QUEENS, tells the story of two 13th century sisters who became the queens of England and France. She wants you to know that it fits conveniently in a Christmas stocking (see picture)! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fake It 'Til You Make It

by R.C. Lewis

Lately I've had several people tell me they were surprised when I mentioned how terrified I am to get up in front of a group of people. "I never would have guessed you're shy."

Well, then, mission accomplished.

Yes, I am shy (and introverted ... see J. Lea Lopez's post on how they aren't the same thing). Always have been, from childhood right up to the moment I composed this post.

I'm also a teacher. That means getting up in front of people every day. So I kind of had to find a way to deal with it. My strategy: Fake it 'til you make it. I pretended I wasn't shy until the non-shy behaviors became a habit. As a result, I'm pretty comfortable in front of forty teenagers. A group of adults, on the other hand ...

Am I still shy? I feel like I am, but it's more like a switch I can turn on and off. I guess I'm "functionally non-shy."

Seems to me this strategy can be useful in a variety of aspects of a writer's life.

The most obvious—getting up in front of people at bookstore appearances, school visits, conference panels, etc. Fake it. Pretend to be an outgoing person, just as I've done in my classrooms over the years. Chances are, you'll fool everyone, and eventually yourself.

Marketing, social media presence, etc. makes you feel inadequate? Fake it. Pretend you're the most interesting version of yourself ever. (You write characters all the time, right?)

What about the writing process itself? Ever feel like a hack writing drivel that isn't worth the electrons in your computer? Fake it. Pretend to be a brilliant author writing fabulous prose. Don't let a conviction that what you're writing is crap keep you from moving forward.

But wait a minute! Faking it doesn't mean lying to yourself. When things need fixing or improvement, do what it takes. Study up, practice, get advice.

In all of the above, I guess the bottom line is to fake your way to confidence, and work your way to excellence. The first will keep you from sabotaging yourself before you get to the second.

Have you ever felt you had to "fake" something in your writer life? What strategies help you "make it"?

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Monday, November 26, 2012

It was a dark and stormy night...

by S. L. Duncan

Not too long ago, I got notes back from my agent on my new manuscript. It’s a weird thing sending your work out to someone who has both the power to crush months of work in a single blow or light the fuse of another possible dream come true.  What follows from the moment we authors hit send is a frozen, panicked state of fear while we wait for the worst.

Well, at least that's what happens to me. Hence my absence from the interwebs.

I’m thankful to report his enthusiasm falls somewhere on the latter end of that spectrum. After some light refocusing of plot, we’ll be submitting in Spring!

So long as the news is mostly good, I love getting notes. I know; that’s a stupid thing to say. It’s sort of like, “I don’t mind playing Monopoly, so long as I win.” But finding the better story in a good story is a blast. Trying to make a broken story work is ... well ... work.

Accompanying my good news was a list of the story’s strengths and weaknesses. As a story that takes place during World War II, atmosphere was an extremely important thing for me to get right. London during the Blitz had a specific feel and look. Its people spoke in a specific manner and rhythm. Somehow, according to my agent, I’ve managed to not screw that up.

So I want to talk a little about atmosphere, inspired in part by this post at my blog over at In the recipe of the narrative, atmosphere is like a stock or base—the foundation for where the world of the story will be built and the characters will (appropriately) live and breathe. Take for example a thriller or horror story, where atmosphere functions to encourage feelings of suspense or fear. It’s not just the dark and stormy night, by why there’s a feeling of fear and suspense. What about the world created by the author makes the characters (and thus the reader) feel fear and suspense?

I recently read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. If this book does anything brilliantly, it’s atmosphere. From the feel of the swamp to the look and attitudes of the characters, you are drawn into the world. Atmosphere is one of Russell’s sharpest tools, creating the sandbox that would inspire these characters and motivations. More than just setting, her atmosphere flavors the story with a specific reality unique to this story.

So how do you get atmosphere right? Well, I suppose that depends. For me, to capture the atmosphere of the Nineteen Forties London Blitz, I had the benefit of looking to a specific time and place in history. Using books, radio programs, war diaries compiled by the BBC, and films, I got a sense of how people lived in their natural environment during this unnatural time. Once you know what it was like to live in their world, in their reality, you can make character decisions that make sense in the context of the time and place of the specific story.

That’s atmosphere.

The trick is making everything connect. Character decisions, motivations, settings—all these things have to feel real and appropriate as they work together to weave the narrative. Atmosphere should be what bridges all these things together and form the reality.

What works for you? Any books out there that you’ve recently read that do it well?

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and Twitter.

Friday, November 23, 2012

ASKgiving: Writing and Publishing Q&A

By the whole From the Write Angle crew (compiled and condensed by Jean Oram so any omissions leave her to blame)

As part of our AskGiving (Happy Thanksgiving weekend!) here on From the Write Angle, we took our reader's burning questions about writing and publishing (there were some good ones!), and put our group brain together to come up with some sage advice from the fifteen of us.

While this is based on our experiences, you may have had (or will have) different experiences. Feel free to weigh in and comment on these questions (and our replies) in the comment section. Power of the crowd!

All righty… Let's talk turkey. (And maybe grab an extra slice of pumpkin pie, we've got lots to say and we don't want you starving while you read.)

Am I Too Late to the Party?: Market & Timing

This reader has a project they first queried three years ago and has recently been drawn back to it. Their project has a male vampire antagonist and neither young adult nor a paranormal romance. "It leans more toward the horror category, or at least dark urban fantasy." Over the past few years, the market has become over-saturated with vampires and this reader wonders if an agent might oval-file their query without even a glance as soon as they see the word "vampire."

In today's market, is it even worth my time to query this story, even though it is different than the "norm?" I know about subjectivity and the "you never know until you try" thing, but I would really appreciate your honest take on this, as far as traditional publishing goes.

Marcy Kate O'Connolly steps to the plate with the real reason vamps are out: It's because of an oversaturation in paranormal romance/urban fantasy novels (both YA and adult categories). Your book sounds (from your description) as though it is more likely to be horror and I've heard that that genre is starting to make a comeback. Agents are actively seeking it out. You'll do best with a fresh plot that is not paranormal romance-y. Be sure to position the book in a way that makes it clear it's horror.

J. Lea Lopez shares some Twitter expertise from #tenqueries and #10queriesin10tweets on why agents pass on queries: Familiar tropes without anything to make them truly stand out. You have something familiar with vampires, so you'll likely need a unique twist and compelling voice/style of writing to grab an agent's interest. Make sure your query pitches the story in a way that emphasizes the horror genre and what's unique about your story so the last thing an agent will think of is any of those other vampire stories.

I Want to Share: Permissions & Copyright

I'm getting ready to self-publish my novel but I need to secure permission to three songs and two poems that I quoted within the text. However, upon conducting research to find the original publishing dates and the publishers of these works, I am stumbling. Is there a particular website that is devoted to helping contact these places to ask permission to quote their work? Or do I have to hunt them down one by one and somehow find the right source to ask permission? I know the easiest thing to do would be to just give up and delete the non-public domain poems, but at least one of the songs I need has to have a quote because that's where the novel takes its title from.

Using her librarian charms, Mindy McGinnis dug up this article which has lots of links and will walk you through it: http://www.copyright...information.htm. She also found this link for your poetry issues: http://www.audensoci.../copyright.html.

Marcy Kate, using her librarian-in-training charms, suggests you start looking here: They have a searchable database, but it only goes back so far digitally.

Meanwhile, J. Lea provides some optimism: We've all seen at least a few books that quote songs or other authors, so it's obviously possible. I'd pursue it as far as you can, and then if you go the traditional publishing route with an agent, they may have additional knowledge or resources on the subject.

Help, I Genre Hop!

What if you have very different books? Should you sacrifice an agent who would be PERFECT for the first book, in exchange for an agent who would be mediocre for both?

The general consensus on this one was best put by Sophie Perinot: You really can't "have your cake and eat it too" right out of the gate. You need to pick a genre, build a brand and THEN branch out.

Jean Oram added: "You never know if an agent is 'perfect' until you have had a conversation with them and they have read your work."

Marcy Kate: Don't rule an agent out based on what they state they rep initially as long as they rep the genre & category of your strongest project. When you get The Call, I can almost guarantee you they will ask about your other projects and where you see your career headed.

Matt Sinclair reminded us that: Some agents might think of writers who genre jump as dilettantes.

Jean says the real issue sounds like you have two very different books. This may actually mean you will need a pen name and have two 'careers' on the go--build two different brands. When you have very different books the issue becomes building an audience. This is the TOUGHEST part of being a new 'unknown' debut author and particularly if you genre hop. If your first book is in one genre and the second book in a different genre, it is going to be difficult to build a loyal audience who buys all your books--publishers like to see an increase in sales between books one and two (which leads to more book deals!).

Sophie Perinot has heard of well-established authors being told by their publishers to set aside some of those genres and get back to basics. "ANYONE who wants 100% control over what book (as in plot) and what genre they write next needs to stick to Indie publishing."

Game plan: Take your 'best' story (or the one you are most likely to be able to write a follow-up story genre-wise) and get an agent for that book. Worry about the other book later. You never know. The agent might be just as pumped about the 'other' book.

As Marcy Kate reminds: Most agents want to represent you for your career, not just one book. And your books may not be as different as you think. For example, if you write children's books (PB/MG/YA), you may have more wiggle room between age levels and genres than say a writer trying to launch a career on chicklit novel and a hard sci-fi space opera.

This Plot's Got it Going On… and Then Some

What if you have too much going, plot wise, in your book, but one event leads to another which leads to another; in other words, it's all connected. How do you pare it down?

Riley Redgate suggests looking for shortcuts. In other words: If you have a plot that goes from A to B to C to D, try looking for a smooth transition from B to D instead. Sometimes that'll involve cutting out plot locations or introductions of new characters - but then again, sometimes you never needed those locations or characters in the first place. I'd say the key to streamlining a twisty, convoluted plot is to think about the straightest logical path from your beginning to your ending. The plot points that deviate the furthest from that path are the things you should consider compromising.

J. Lea adds, See if there are characters or portions of your plot that can do double duty instead of having lots of little things going on. Also, take a long hard look at some of those subplots and twists and ask yourself two things: 1) do they really feel organic to the story, or do you get to a point where it feels like a soap opera, with yet another over-the-top complication before every commercial break? and 2) are they actually important plot points that need to be shown to the reader, or can some of them "disappear" into backstory that is only alluded to after the fact, when necessary?

Marketing My Own Work… Do I Have To? (Two for One)

Our readers realize times have changed in the publishing world and that publishers expect authors to help with marketing and promoting their own books.

What sorts of things do you do to promote? I'm guessing you can't rely only on your own social media. You have to go beyond that to reach out to people who are unknown. How do you get yourself in front of readers?


How important do you think it is to be a worldly, sophisticated, charismatic type of person when you are an author, in order to succeed? Do you think getting published is in the end more about good writing, or about being this charming sort of person?

J. Lea: The writing is always the key.

Marcy Kate warns: Social media is NOT for marketing. It is for engaging with other people and being part of a community.

Sophie says, being visible to the reading public these days means things such as getting reviewed by popular bloggers in your genre and setting up a blog tour, using Google ads, Facebook ads, trying author buzz, or doing a traditional book tour (signing and speaking at numerous indie stores). It can also include blogging and/or guest blogging.

But, she says the keys to whatever marketing you do are: 1) set a budget (minimum is generally suggested as 10% of your advance, but many debut author go higher); 2) make sure you KNOW who your reader is (write out a description of your target reader); 3) don't be scatter-shot in your efforts-- pick marketing outlets (real or virtual) that will expose you to the target reader you have defined (and that means not accepting every blogging invitation and not wasting time on promotion that will largely reach people outside your ideal audience).

And finally, she cautions: DON'T COUNT YOUR PUBLISHER OUT! They can get you reviewed places you likely cannot reach on your own and MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL they can get you coop (paid space on the "New Release" table or an end-cap or window). A lot of authors will tell you that the weeks they spent in a featured location were by far the best selling weeks of their early release period.

MarcyKate throws a little research to back up Sophie's experiences: Studies have shown very little correlation between a social media presence and sales. HOWEVER, those same studies have shown that it is a fantastic tool for building brand awareness which is why having a social media presence is important and recommended. In other words, if you join Twitter, do not repeatedly link to your book on Amazon, or retweet your own blog links all day. Talk to people. Interact with them. Tweet about what matters to you or what you find interesting. In other words, be sure your profile (or timeline if you're on Facebook) isn't all ME ME ME.

Jean chimes in to add: Think of the 80-20 rule. 80% about others and unrelated-to-you stuff, and 20% about you. (It's easier to piss off your audience than to win them over.)

Marcy Kate also suggests you reach out to your local area. If you have local papers that review books or list events, send them (or have your publicist send them if you have one) a press release about the book's release and any local book signings or launch events you might be doing. You never know what might lead to an interview or profile, and that could definitely generate both sales and attendance at those events. Even if you don't have a big budget and don't have the advance funds to reach a national audience in a big way, there are still lots of little things you can do locally that can have a positive impact.

J. Lea: Being brilliantly charming with a mediocre or poor product won't get you very far. If you have a wonderful book but maybe you're a bit shy or introverted, don't worry. Let your words speak for themselves.

Your take-away--as put by Marcy Kate (but definitely echoed by all of us): "The book is the most important thing… That said, you still should keep your public-facing persona respectable and in a positive light."

Look Into Your Crystal Ball: What is the Future of Publishing?

With all the merges/acquisitions going on in the world of publishing, where do you see the literary future? In the hands of megapubs or in the hands of those who march to their own drummer (self-pub)?

J. Lea believes traditional publishing isn't going anywhere. It may change, but it won't go away. Self- and indie publishers are seeing wonderful growth right now, and digital publishing is giving voice to experimental or edgy writing that might have been overlooked in the traditional model.

Jean thinks that those who treat book publishing as an ever-changing business and are willing to change things up are more likely to succeed.

Sophie suggests that the best things a writer can do are: 1) write the best book he/she can; 2) keep up with the industry--developing your craft isn't enough you have to build your knowledge of the business side of things; 3) be flexible and ready to roll with the punches--if you have your mind set as to how things are going to be then chances are they aren't going to be like that at all; 4) know when to walk away--everybody has a point at which the rewards of writing might be outweighed by the hassle. As in any career/profession you are not an indentured servant. Know what your personal limits are and be ready to enforce them (for some this may be a dollars and sense equation for others a satisfaction vs. aggravation balance).

J. Lea also adds: What I think (or hope) will happen is that both the traditional and the indie sides will continue to grow, change, and thrive. I think the traditional model is going to have to learn a few things from the indies, especially concerning time from acceptance to publication. Likewise, there might be something in the gatekeeper model that can benefit readers who love indie books, but would like a better way to easily identify quality. Traditional and self publishing can certainly coexist happily in the same publishing marketplace. It's my hope that we continue to grow together, with each facet of the publishing world learning from the others, and continuing to produce quality books for readers.

To Hire Or Not To Hire: Editors Pre-Queries

If our manuscript has been edited by several critique partners, is it okay to submit to an agent as is (traditional publishing), or should we hire an editor prior to submission? Or would professional editing be handled after agent accepts your manuscript?

Sophie provides the short answer: It is in vogue. But a good editor can cost thousands and less editing is going on at the agent and editor level.

She adds: "If you have the discipline to rewrite and edit then surely you can find some good critique partners and get your manuscript in query-ready shape."

Jean says that if you feel it is strong enough, then submit. But if you get a lot of rejections, looking at your manuscript again might be the thing to do. Some good editors will give you an overall story report/critique ($300 for 90,000 words) which is handy if you feel it is something with the story and not the writing.

Help! I'm a Nobody in my Query Bio

In a query letter, especially in the instance of having no previous publishing experience, should we include a personal paragraph? I.e. What we do for a living, interests, etc. Some agents say they like to get to know the author, whereas, other agents say keep it strictly about the book.

One word that shouted through our conversation about this one: NO.

And a bit of… maybe.

Sophie's rule of thumb: When in doubt leave it out.

Or as Jemi Fraser says: Unless your bio is relevant it's okay to skip it.

Some exceptions:

Marcy Kate says that unless it is directly relevant, no do not worry about it. If you have professional marketing experience in work life, or have worked in publishing in some capacity, that's appropriate.

Jemi says, that if you feel naked without including one, a short one-liner would work - try to use your voice to your advantage.

Sophie: An agent who becomes enthralled with your query and subsequently your manuscript can have his/her curiosity about who you are satisfied when he calls to get acquainted. Bottom line: In fiction the work has to stand on its own. It either captivates or it doesn't.

The End: Should it Be in Your Query?

If the query letter is supposed to hit the main points of the story, does that include the end, or should we save that for the synopsis?

Short answer: No. (Don't include the end.)

R.C. Lewis: First off, I would never say a query letter is supposed to hit the main points of the story. Definitely not the end. A query doesn't summarize the story. It introduces just enough of it—the protagonist, the conflict, what's at stake—to become an enticing bit of agent-bait.

Sophie puts it another way: The query is about piquing interest. Details/events just need to be carefully selected and pithy.

Marcy Kate gives you a formula to help you out: A good rule of thumb is to cover approximately the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the manuscript in the query. By that point the story should have covered the inciting incident, the antagonist and the main conflict. When to give away the farm (the story's ending): In a synopsis.

Short & Sweet Credentials: The Short Story

Can/should writers self-publish a short story on Amazon? (I have this one story I want to put up because I don't want to go though the hurdle of selling it--I want to concentrate on my current work in progress. If I do end up publishing it, I plan on making it free.) Will agents be more attracted or repulsed by this? If its a short story and free, is there a chance they'll read it, find it engaging, and have more interest in your manuscripts?

Jean fires a few questions back to help you figure out what is right for you: "Why do you want to do this? What is your purpose? What do you hope to achieve?"

Our resident short story expert, J. Lea, says, I don't think it's likely to sway an agent. If you continue to publish short stories on Amazon, at least some for actual sale, and have good results, that might be something an agent would look at. A free Amazon story is no different than something you post on your blog, other than having the potential to reach more people. If you're interested in using short stories as a publishing credit to include in query letters, you're better off seeking publication in magazines or literary journals. Checkout for a searchable database.

R.C. adds: Some genres put more weight on having short stories published than others. Whether they care about it being published by a magazine vs. self-published probably varies by individual. I'm not sure not sure how many agents cruise around self-published short fiction—but I doubt it'd hinder, either.

Jean says if you are hoping it will pave the way for your manuscript, it likely won't. (Sorry!) If you hope it will build audience... it could. However by the time you have put out your ms, it is likely that you will have missed the timing in terms of converting the short story readers into novel readers.

She continues, as for impressing agents and publishing editors... it probably won't. Even if you get a ton of downloads they tend to disregard it because you are giving it away. They want to know how many people will pay for your writing. But if you put it up as paid, and it is a short story and you are an unknown... well, chances are you aren't going to get a lot of purchases.

So FTWA (From the Write Angle) readers, what do you think? Did we look at these questions from the write angle? Or are there things to add? Be heard in the comment section.

From the whole From the Write Angle crew, thanks for reading. We hope you've had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A few things I learned during the apocalypse

By Matt Sinclair

I know a lot of Americans are starting to feel the Thanksgiving crunch—that sense of pressure brought on by the beginning of the holiday season. We face the questions of where the meal will be held, who’s showing up where, who’s cooking what, and how do we keep so-and-so from hearing about you-know-what ...

Most years, I feel it also. This year, however, I’m concentrating on being thankful. I’m thinking about the many people and things to be thankful for because it’s more personal to me this year. As a result of Hurricane Sandy, my family and I were without power for eleven days. So I am thankful that heat and full power have been restored to us and to most of those living in my area of New Jersey. I’m eternally grateful to the neighbor who hooked me into his generator so I could heat my house, even when a second storm dropped six inches of snow into the survival equation and threatened the power to both our homes. I’m also torn about feeling grateful that we had no physical damage to our home and guilty that so many people lost everything. In a strange way, I’m also glad to have gained a personal understanding of how frustrating and altogether exhausting such an experience is. I feel like I’ve gained a partial understanding of the apocalypse.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the storm delayed publication of the new anthology from Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse? Yeah, the irony was not lost on me or any of our team.

Indeed, I’m quite thankful for them, too, and the help they provided while I was left literally in the dark. Once I was able to get back online for small snippets of time to file for the copyright and publish the book, they helped spread the word. We’re still spreading that word, of course, because promotion is not a one-day event.

As writers, most of us are painfully aware that promotion is hard work, especially for people like us who tend to focus on the creation rather than the business. I’m sure most of you have heard ad infinitum that writers need to be their own best advocates these days. It’s true. Frankly, I think that’s always been the case, but when the big publishers have cut back or virtually eliminated their support for mid-list writers and small presses are hard-pressed to be noticed in the flooded marketplace, it’s even more imperative for writers to speak up for themselves.

All that said, I also relearned a few obvious things in ways I didn’t expect. These may or may not have direct bearing on writing. Add metaphor where you see fit.

  • Old habits die hard: I couldn’t tell you how many dozens of times I looked toward the digital clock on the stove to see what time it was. It’s worth your time to stop looking at the clock in your writing. Do what you need to do. Also, do your own self-assessment of your writing habits. Do your habits matter? Are they helping you or are they just quirks that might actually be getting in your way?

  • Disaster brings out the worst in people: Want to put your characters in a tense situation? Knock out their power for more than a week. Add a couple relatives or ex-lovers. Stir. In some recipes, include copious amounts of alcohol. Most recipes do not need an outside ignition source.

  • Disaster brings out the best in people: We all need hope in our lives. When writing apocalyptic tales, include at least one person who exudes hope. Kill him if need be. Metaphors and symbols are both powerful and fun.

  • Stupid is as stupid does: It’s great that some people have the means to get a generator and restore some of their amenities, but they should understand how to use the tools. I couldn’t tell you how many new generator owners in my area had to go to the hospital because they ran them in their basement or garage, where the exhaust fumes made them sick. In a similar vein, some writers don’t know what to do with the tools they possess.

  • Buy doughnuts: When a large group of people are stressed beyond reason, comfort food and carbs offer an opportunity to help them regain a sense of normalcy. Caveat: don’t tell everyone you’re bringing doughnuts unless you’re absolutely certain the shop has regained power….

  • Go to a playground: I know this only because I have small children, but a minute or two on a swing or pushing a child on a swing can do wonders for your morale in the face of difficulty.

  • Never let a crisis go to waste: I think Jean Oram, who served capably as the copy editor on The Fall, did this best. That irony thing. Nailed it!

I’m sure there’s more I could add, but the battery is running down on my laptop and I’m about to lose my connection to the modern world. What would you add? What are you most thankful for this year? What can you cut back on to help improve your writing?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published its latest anthology, The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, which is available via Amazon. Earlier this year, EBP published its initial anthology, Spring Fevers, which is still available through Smashwords, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. Both anthologies include stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette; R.C. Lewis and Jean Oram also have stories in The Fall. Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Super Askgiving Publishing and Writing Questions Call Out

By Jean Oram and the whole From the Write Angle crew

Does something have you stumped about writing or publishing? Is there something you've always wondered about, but haven't found anyone to ask?

If you've got questions about writing and publishing this is your moment! (Even if you think you don't have any questions, this is still your moment!)

Details on the Askgiving Super-Mega Thank You to Our Readers Post

As a thank you for reading From the Write Angle, we would like to help you out this Thanksgiving. (Or… Askgiving you may call it from now on.)

Starting today we're asking you to send us your publishing and writing questions. It can be silly, curiosity-driven, deep, secret--whatever! The fifteen of us here at From the Write Angle have a wide variety of writing and publishing experience and would love to share our knowledge, tips, opinions, and expertise.

For example, we have experience in the following areas (as a few examples off the top of my head--you aren't limited to these topics): query letters, synopsis writing, grammar, short story writing, freelance writing, editing and editors, social media, nonfiction platform building, literary agent relationships (not dating them, but getting them, breaking up with them, working with them, communicating with them, etc.), getting The Call, blogging, working with a publishing house editor, handling book reviews, book cover design, starting your own indie publishing/writing business, author website design, Young Adult trends, self-publishing, the erotica market, writing/submitting for magazines/newspapers, balancing writing and 'real' life, NaNoWriMo, research for your novels, the children's market (MG and picture book), conferences, writing your pitch, writing scripts for television and movies, hiring an editor, starting your own author newsletter, the future of publishing, marketing/publicity, and much, much more!

All you have to do to is pop your question in the comment section of THIS POST. Or, if you would rather, you can email us your question at (Please put ASKGIVING in the subject line so we don't miss it.)

You have until midnight Monday, November 19th, 2012 to ask your question.

On Black Friday, the day after American Thanksgiving, i.e. November 23rd, we will publish a new post here on From the Write Angle that will include your questions (anonymously) and our replies.

Thank you. We look forward to hearing your questions. If you have friends who have burning questions about writing and publishing, send them our way. The more the merrier around the From the Write Angle Askgiving table. (Pass the pie!)

Thank you for reading From the Write Angle.

NOTE: Questions and comments are now closed. See you on Friday for our replies.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Twenty-Five Brief Excuses for Not Working on Your WIP Right Freaking Now

1) You're reading this list.

2) You're reading another list about writing. Possibly something meant to be motivational. Possibly something involving the publishing industry, something that relies largely on comforting words like "personal craft" and "unique voice."

3) You're stalking literary agents on Twitter.

4) You're stalking literary agents on their blogs.

5) You're stalking literary agents at their home addresses. (No. Bad. Stop.)

6) You're daydreaming about another idea which sprang into your mind as a fever dream at two in the morning and seemed brilliant, but which you promptly forgot. You think it was about something involving a duck. Maybe.

7) You're re-reading the bits of the WIP that you've already written. (It's initial analysis, okay?)

8) You're writing extensive backstory for your characters because look, it's important, it's part of the psyche.

9) You're on AgentQuery, QueryTracker, Preditors and Editors, or some other website involving other people who also should be working on their WIPs.

10) You're on Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, or some other website involving people who would have no idea what "WIP" meant were you to drop the abbrev in convo. (Their ignorance is comforting. Well, you think to yourself, I am farther along than all these people!)

11) You're debating character quirks with yourself. This character really likes cursing - should you rein him back? Will people judge you as an author or as a human being for his vulgar behavior? Moreover, will they judge you if your main character's second nephew has a penchant for speaking using only words that have the letter X? Or how about that girl you stuck into chapter seventeen who eats condiments without food? Is your book turning into an indie movie? What's even going on? Where are you? Who are you?

12) Okay. You've taken a break to eat. Things seem normal again.

13) You're still eating. You're feeling guilty about eating.

14) You're staring at the last sentence you wrote yesterday, rereading its final words over and over and over, attempting to find an adequate segue to the next scene you have planned, which shall be a Scene of Great Emotional Gravitas.

15) Someone from the Real World texts you and jolts you from your Mindset.

16) Someone from the Real World is talking to you. In person. You can't seem to converse, because all you can think about is how inadequate your dialogue is.

17) You're at work.

18) Just kidding. That's not an excuse. You're at work and the power's out.

19) Scrivener is still installing on your laptop. (It's been seventeen hours. You're considering buying a MacBook. Is this PC really worth the pain?)

20) You're drawing arcs. Character arcs. Plot arcs. Psychological and spiritual arcs. Vaguely parabolic arcs. You always knew Algebra 2 would come in handy at some point.

21) You're making a Writing Playlist on Spotify or iTunes. (You're getting desperate.)

22) You're moving to a location where your "emotional interiority can be the most focused". You're not even entirely sure you know what this means. (Oh, God, this is bad.)

23) You're considering becoming a poet instead. (You write commercial fiction, buddy.)

24) You're still reading a list some girl wrote on a writers' website. But you're about to finish that list. You feel mild panic descending upon you. You have no excuse, now.

25) Go. Write. Do it.

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.



In an upcoming post From The Write Angle contributors will answer your questions. What's it like to "get the call" either from an agent or a publisher? How do I get my MS in to Hollywood? How do historical writers do all of that research?

What are your questions for our contributors? Keep an eye out for our upcoming call for questions.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rude Drunk People & Why You Don't Want Them On Your Team

by Mindy McGinnis

First off, I want to be quite clear that it's very possible to be drunk and not rude, and also to be rude and not drunk. I have nothing against drunk people, but I do dislike rude people. This is just a general, for the record comment before I get to my point. Ahem...

There's been a lot of talk among authors lately about about the usefulness of street teams as a form of marketing and promotion. In theory, I like this idea. It's grassroots, it's out-of-the-box, it's people telling people about books, and hey—that's what I do for a living in the 40/wk.

But there's a drawback to street teams that I want to mention here, as it's relevant to our nation in general at the moment.

I live in a swing state. Anyone in Ohio will tell you that if we took all the political ads in our mailboxes alone and mashed them into paper mache we could have a decent facsimile of the Trojan Horse. It goes without saying that the TV, radio, billboards and yard signs are as clogged with political yeas and nays and Vote This Way Not That Way information than the nose of the average person with a sinus infection.

And then there's the people—the campaign teams of citizens who are donating their time to promote the ideals of someone they believe in, to raise the awareness of their candidate and platform. And good for them, I applaud the people out there who have that kind of conviction and selflessness to do that.

Except for the ones who are kind of assholes about it.

Not that long ago I went out to eat and as I was walking through the parking lot a carload of young political types came roaring through, a big fat sticker on the passenger door of their car loudly proclaiming who they supported. They drove too fast in the parking lot and parked crooked so that whoever was next to them had to slide through about two inches of space in order to get into their own car (no doubt noticing the sticker as they did so). Then the group went into the restaurant, drawing attention to themselves even as they walked by nature of how loud and abrasive they were, particularly their laughter, clearly designed to broadcast exactly how much fun they were having and precisely how clever they all were.

And trust me, they weren't.

And then the behavior continued inside, where they got nice and drunk and everything went up a notch, except of course the cleverness which continued to degrade.

Here's the thing. I'm not a prude. I get drunk. I can be loud. I know that in their minds these people were off the clock and just out being young and awesome. Their goal of having fun had no political agenda—but the car they were driving automatically associated them with someone who needed to make a good impression on the public, and the connections being made by that particular group on that particular night with that particular candidate were not so positive.

I think for authors street teams are open to the same connotations. Especially as debuts, we're excited to have people who want to promote us. It has so many attractions—free labor, word-of-mouth for audiences beyond or below your age range, no geographic limitations, etc. But you can't control the actions of your volunteers. Even your most enthusiastic reader and supporter might make a side comment to her friend that a pedestrian overhears and dislikes. What will they remember? The face of the girl, or her words in connection with the shiny swag with your name on it?

I'm still split on the idea of street teams for this reason.

What are your thoughts?

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, a post-apocalyptic survival tale, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter & Facebook.



In an upcoming post From The Write Angle contributors will answer your questions. What's it like to "get the call" either from an agent or a publisher? How do I get my MS in to Hollywood? How do historical writers do all of that research? 

What are your questions for our contributors? Keep an eye out for our upcoming call for questions. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

And 3 More Twitter Hashtags

by Jemi Fraser

Wow! You folks are amazing. I've learned a lot about hashtags over the past couple of posts! If you'd like to see the first 2 posts in this hashtag series, check them out here and here.

1. #writetip, #editingtips, #pubtip & #querytip

I hadn't thought of leaving TweetDeck columns open for these hashtags, but several of you have mentioned them and they're great! I think their names are self-explanatory - give them a try & see what you find!

2. #nano, #nanowrimo, #wordsprints & @NaNowordsprints

It's November, so these are appropriate right now. If you don't know about National Novel Writing Month, check it out. It's a great place to meet other writers crazy enough to write a first draft of 50k in 30 days. I've participated in NaNo several times now and it's always a lot of fun - and very productive. Most days, you can find people willing to do word sprints with you to boost that word count. These sprints can be for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. Sometimes they'll even throw in a dare to include in your sprint. Last year's "add a wild animal" dare added a great scene to my novel!

3. #mywana

I learned about this from the lovely Darke Conteur. WANA stands for We Are Not Alone. It's similar to the #amwriting hashtag in that it's a conversation place for writers - a great place to find other writers and the support we all need from each other.

I THINK this will be my last hashtag post for a while, but if you've got any further suggestions, let me know! And if you're a fellow NaNo nut, add me as a buddy - we need all the support we can get! I'm jemifraser over there too :)

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of romantic mysteries. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.


In an upcoming post From The Write Angle contributors will answer your questions. What's it like to "get the call" either from an agent or a publisher? How do I get my MS in to Hollywood? How do historical writers do all of that research?

What are your questions for our contributors? Keep an eye out for our upcoming call for questions.

Monday, November 5, 2012

SUBJECTIVE is Not a Dirty Word

by J. Lea López

How many times have you heard this: The publishing industry is so subjective. Probably a lot. Maybe enough to make you want to tear your hair out and wonder if, by subjective, someone is trying to tell you you'll never be published. I know people for whom publishing being a subjective business is a reason for hope, and others for whom it is a reason to despair.

After all, it isn't really that much of a leap from subjective to sheer luck, is it? I'm sure many writers feel that way. The thought that you just have get lucky enough to find the right agent or editor at the right time, with the right manuscript, in the right market can certainly be disheartening.

But I don't think it's quite so random as that, and I really believe that the inherent subjectivity of the publishing industry should be a source of hope more often than not. While I'm still unagented and unpublished as far as my novels go, I recently had an experience in subjectivity that I hope will be as inspiring to you as it is for me.

Last week I received a rejection letter that made me giddy with joy.

Wait a minute. Hold up. Giddy with joy??? From a rejection? Yep, you read that correctly. A small press editor was reading my manuscript as the result of a contest. At first it was a partial, then a full. Naturally, I was pretty damn excited to see where it would go. A week and a half after I sent the full, I got her response. (I was impressed with her response time!) I've already said it was a pass, but it was one of those ones all writers covet and hope to receive - the kind with feedback.

She told me what she loved and didn't love, and the exact part of the manuscript that didn't quite do it for her and ultimately resulted in her passing on it. But she liked my writing and encouraged me to submit again with other projects. How could I not want to frame that letter and hang it on my wall?

It's also important to note that this editor requested the manuscript after reading my query and first 150 words in a contest. This was the same 150 words that was the first page I submitted to an agent and editor panel at the Baltimore Book Festival in September. No one on the panel liked that first page. No one. Including an agent who was on my potential to-query list.

It was that first page that got the interest of an editor, and even though she did pass on it, the positive things she had to say reinforced my faith that there is a good fit for my manuscript out there. As harsh as it may sound, we have to remember that despite striving for our own unique voice and style, putting our own twists on plots and characters, we are still not SO unique that finding an agent or editor to take on our projects is a literal crap shoot. If we were really that unique, finding readers wouldn't be easy either.

The publishing industry is subjective, so make sure you know and love your story and that you can stand by it. It will take work, and sure, it might even take a tiny bit of luck, but there is an agent and/or editor who will fall in love with your writing. Without a bit of subjectivity, publishing would be terribly boring and homogenous, so worry not.  

Subjective is not a dirty word. I know all of those already, trust me. *wink*

J. Lea López is a writer with a penchant for jello and a loathing for writing bios. Find her on Twitter or her blog, Jello World. She has had some short stories published, most recently in the anthologies The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse and Spring Fevers.


In an upcoming post, From The Write Angle contributors will answer your questions. What's it like to "get the call" either from an agent or a publisher? How do I get my MS in to Hollywood? How do historical writers do all of that research?

What are your questions for our contributors? Keep an eye out for our upcoming call for questions.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide

By MarcyKate Connolly

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, November is almost here and that means it’s time to sharpen your pencils, break out a new batch of pens, and clean the crumbs off your keyboard for National Novel Writing Month!

Even if you’re not participating, you may recognize the signs. Do you know someone who:

  • has abnormally large dark circles under their eyes?
  • mutters about motivations?
  • whispers about plots?
  • grumbles about the voices?
  • furtively writes notes to his/herself?

Then you may know a NaNoWriMo-er. But don’t panic. Come December, it will pass, I promise.

If you are participating – good for you! 50,000 words is a long journey, but I’ve got some tips to help you make it through the month alive (and hopefully with all your interpersonal relationships intact).

1. Coffee. Or tea. Or any caffeinated beverage really. Remember that special combination from college that got you through those all-nighters before finals? Well, it’s time to bring out the big guns, baby, because you’re gonna need it!

2. Snacks. And lots of them. You need to write a minimum of 1,667 words per day. You don’t have time to run to the kitchen. You are like a bear hibernating for the winter (albeit, in your office/local cafe/whatever). Be one with the bear. Learn from the bear. Stock up now!

3. More Coffee. Snacks can make you sleepy. Sleep is for the weak. Combat that fatigue with more caffeine.

4. Do Not Get Distracted. By Facebook. Or hilarious Twitter feeds. Or dogs/children/significant others who need attention.

5. Don’t Alienate Everyone. Yes, this contradicts tip #4. But you need someone to bring you meals, don’t you? To refill your water? To cheer on your progress? To celebrate with you when you cross the finish line? Don’t worry, you only need to select one friend or family member to be nice to during the month of November. The rest can wait until December 1st.

6. (You guessed it) Coffee. You may as well attach your coffee maker to an IV drip. That way you don’t have to leave your desk.

So, how do YOU NaNo? Share your secrets for success in the comments!

MarcyKate Connolly writes young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and ferrets out contests on Twitter.

Monday, October 29, 2012

You Might Have a Bad Prologue If ...

by R.C. Lewis

If you lurk around writing/publishing sites or follow such people on Twitter, you'll see a couple (hundred) comments on the evils of prologues. And they can be evil. I used to spend a lot of time on an online slushpile of a site. I've seen a lot of unpublished manuscripts, and I think I only ever saw a handful of prologues where I said, "Oh, yeah. That works. That's a keeper."

People wiser than I have posted on the topic (including FTWA's own Jemi Fraser a few months back), but I never let that stop me. So here's a Jeff Foxworthy-style (but probably not as entertaining) list. Read it over, take a good look at your prologue, and try to be honest about whether it fits any of these criteria.



  • ... you only wrote the prologue because EVERY book in your genre has one. Every single one. Not one out there that doesn't in the whole wide world. Well, except those over there. They don't count.
  • ... you only wrote the prologue because you're completely enamored with the idea of prologues. You love them. The books you worship most and aspire to be like have them, so clearly you must have a prologue so your books can be just like the oh-so-awesome works of [fill in the blank].

  • ... your reader feels like they were walking to an important appointment and got held up by a chatterbox in the hallway who won't let them go until they've heard all about the stapler that keeps disappearing from the copy room. In other words, they feel like they're being held up from the real story. (Even a prologue should feel like part of the 'real' story.)

  • ... your reader feels compelled to take notes on all the names of characters, their vital stats, and how they interrelate, only to find out none of them will show up again in the next 80,000 words.

  • ... your reader learns something through the prologue that the main character is ignorant of until the third-to-last page of the novel, and spends the whole novel screaming, "No, you idiot! He's your FATHER!" (Or equivalent.) Letting the reader be in the know when the MC isn't can be cool. It can also be seriously frustrating. Fine line to tread.

  • ... your reader gets annoyed because they already have a long-winded, boring history teacher, and it's no fun in real life, so even worse during pleasure reading, thank you very much!

  • ... you could avoid all of the above with three well-placed sentences rather than the prologue, but you can't see that because you're utterly certain that your novel REQUIRES a prologue to work.

This doesn't mean all prologues are evil and bad and smelly and gross. Plenty of published books have them. They got past an editor's desk that way for a reason. Are you sure you likewise qualify?

Really sure?

If so, go ahead. Just remember, every time we assume we're one of the exceptions, we're taking a risk.

Can anyone add to the You Might Have a Bad Prologue If... list? I'm sure there are things I missed.

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Being Good Enough

by Riley Redgate

I used to run Cross Country in high school. As such, I can say with authority that it is a painful sport. If you don't feel terrible at some point during your run, odds are you're not running hard enough, or so the coach will tell you. "Pain is weakness leaving the body! Hrrrgh!"

And the fun thing about it is that it never gets easier. Soreness is part of the territory, no matter how fast or slow you are. If you run three straight 8-minute miles and you feel like you're going to drop dead afterward, great. Keep running hard, and maybe soon you'll be able to run three straight 7-minute miles. And then you'll have the privilege of ... still feeling like you're going to drop dead afterward.

Now, although writing rarely involves physical agony (erm, or so one would hope), the process is virtually the same. An eternal uphill battle. How so, you ask? Writers themselves are works in progress. We are never a finished product. We, and our writing styles, are always learning, evolving, transforming. We will always be able to improve, which is one of the reasons the process is so exciting. It's never the same thing twice.

The similarities don't end there. Most writers are constantly barraged with the pressure to measure their success by other people's reactions. Will agents like my book? they wonder. (Heck, will they even like my query letter?) How about publishers? How about reviewers? How about (gulp) the reading public at large?

But the most important question should always be, Do I like my own book? Just as a new PR (personal record) is the thing cross-country runners aim for, as writers, we should first aim for our best possible personal effort. I mean, let's be real: If every runner held him or herself to the standards of an Olympian, 1) there would be a hell of a lot more injuries out there, and 2) they would only ever feel bad about themselves.

I am not Tirunesh Dibaba, the 5k gold medalist. She is shorter than me, lighter than me, and built differently. I will never be her. I will never run three miles in fifteen minutes. Aspiring to be her is pointless. And similarly, writers can't poison their own mindsets by wanting nothing but to be the next Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Bill Shakespeare. That road leads nowhere—and it is a depressing one to run.

We've all heard Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare are "great." But since we won't ever become them—since we can't measure how good we are by other people—how do we know when we're good enough? For each of us, what is "good enough"?

Well, achievement is not a spectrum or a sliding scale for all of humanity. Good enough is and always will be your personal best. Your life. Your PR.

Here's hoping you break your record!

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.

(P.S. Sorry that this post is oddly late in the day, regular FTWA readers! I posted it in the wee hours of the morning and the Blogger gods promptly decided to consume it.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Don’t Turn Being Published Into a Fairy-Tale

by Sophie Perinot

“And they all lived happily ever after.”  How many times have we heard or read those words since childhood?  There is a lively debate about whether traditional fairy-tales are good for kids (and particularly for girls who get demoted to rescuee in many of them), but what about writers, particularly unpublished ones?

It seems to me—and I know A LOT of writers—that many writers walking the trail towards their first book deal (aka the “death march”) idealize being published.  They view the writer who has snagged a contract with a Major House and whose books sit on shelves at Barnes & Noble’s nationwide as Cinderella after the wedding.  No more nasty stepsisters, no more cleaning up after everybody—publication is the tiara, the ball gown, the bright lights, the always-agreeable handsome royal husband.  Talk about a recipe for disappointment.

There is a reason fairy-tales end where they do (as Stephen Sondheim so cleverly illustrated in his musical Into the Woods with an eye-opening second act that begins just after ‘happily ever after”).  Our ideal is just somebody else’s everyday reality with all the work, worry success and failure that entails.  This is true in any profession—no matter how satisfying—and certainly in publishing.  My first novel has been out for seven months.  I am not going to lie, being published is better than not being published and also marks a significant personal goal reached.  BUT my life post-publication has more in common with my life pre-publication than the as-yet-unpublished might like to think; only it is far more hectic.

If you are as yet unrepresented and/or unpublished you are writing a book, polishing it and spit-shining your pitch.  And you are waiting—on tenterhooks—to hear the opinion of agents in the query process (or, if you are repped, your own personal agent in the review process) and/or *gulp* publishers (if you are out on submission).  Well guess what, I am writing a new book and polishing it.  There is no guarantee it will be acceptable to my agent and/or publisher.  Even authors with multi-book deals have to please the gate-keepers again and again.  A second (or third, or fifth) time author doesn’t get to just turn in whatever he/she wants and say “this is my book”—unless he/she has the market power of say JK Rowling.  And on top of getting “what’s next” ready to submit (doubtless to be followed by rounds of edits with both agent and editor in turn) I am promoting book one, putting miles on my car and taking years off my life (hey, those promotion hours have to come from somewhere don’t they).

I am NOT complaining—nobody likes “poor me” especially from the published.  What I am saying is it is a damn good thing I had a realistic view of what publication would and wouldn’t mean in the big picture of my writing career and my life.  If I’d thought I’d wake up as Cinderella post ball I would probably be deeply depressed right now.

Here’s my advice for those who want to face the morning after the ball feeling content and hopeful rather than suicidal:

1) Start your publishing journey with an education and a realistic view—this is a career path not the yellow-brick road.  There is no Emerald City of publishing and if there was the wizard would probably be some shyster from the state fair.  Success in this business is personal and it is a moving target.  If you want hit it you’d better be smart.

So many writers seem to focus their reading and fact gathering nearly exclusively on the step just in front of them (e.g. querying).  But it is important to look ahead, educating yourself about the nuts and bolts of your corner of the industry as they apply to career writers not just newbies.  What kind of print runs are common in your genre? What are the bench marks that need to be met if you want to continue to be published (e.g. 60% sell through is a common one across a number of genres)? What type of money should you personally expect to spend on marketing your work, and what are current authors doing to market themselves successful?  If you don’t know what work is expected of a published author with a book to promote and deadlines to meet on a next book, you will find yourself at the starting line of a marathon (your publishing career) with no training or conditioning. Not good.

If you’ve done your homework then you can set realistic goals and meet them.  Just make sure you never let yourself be fooled into thinking that any one goal means you are done and you’ve “made it.”  Enjoy the journey because the journey is 99% of any career including being a published author.

2) Think of your agent as your partner not your savior.  That’s really how all those heroines should think of the handsome prince if they want their marriages to survive right?  You’ve wanted an agent for so long, and she/he makes you feel so talented (and you are), but after that first burst of post-signing excitement you have to be able to edit together and navigate the mine-field that is the submission process.

So don’t idealize your agent.  Allow her/him to tell you tough truths and be prepared to speak truth back.  Don’t have unrealistic expectations either.  Your agent is not your fairy-godmother because (repeat after me) this is not a fairy-tale.  She believes your book will sell but it might not (a full 50% of agented manuscripts from debut authors don’t).  If it doesn’t, don’t be too quick to blame your agent, bad mouth her, or fire her without some good, hard, rational thought first.  Finally, you do need to be prepared, should the necessity arise, to admit your non-fairy-tale marriage has gone sour.

3) Celebrate getting to the ball in grand style, but recognized the clock will strike midnight.  Whether you’ve just signed with an agent or penned your name on your first publishing contract, cheer, shout, have dinner out, buy yourself something nice.  But remember this is not the end of your journey—there is another act to come and you are going to face new hurdles.  When the clock strikes twelve and you have to take off the gown, put the work clothes back on and get down to business you don’t want to fall to pieces.

Bottomline:  view the publication of your first (or seventh) book as a plot point NOT “the end.”  You may be writing fiction, but your personal story will be anything but a fairy-tale and that’s a good thing.  After all, most fairy-tales have one-dimensional characters and unbelievable plot twists.  In real life, as in good writing, we should strive for more depth.

Sophie Perinot's debut novel, THE SISTER QUEENS, tells the story of two 13th century sisters who became the queens of England and France, but it is no fairy-tale.  You can find Sophie at home here, or on Facebook at her author page or the page for her novel.  She is also active on twitter.