Friday, March 30, 2012

Writing Prompts: 5 Great Ways to Inspire Your Writing

While some of us are blessed with a muse that overwhelms us with ideas, some of us have moments of drought.

And then there are some of us who simply desire to keep our craft's gears well lubed with constant writing. We want to grow, learn, and build our skills.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter which kind of writer you are, sometimes we could all do with a writing prompt or two to boost our creativity, add another element to our writing to freshen it up, or simply to get our creative juices going.

Writing prompts are fabulous for building story muscle. On occasion, I use writing prompts when I can't get to my computer to write. So, as I go about my business I build stories in my head. It's fantastic, error-free, muscle-building practice that keeps me entertained and thinking creatively at times when it would be easy for that side of me to fall out of practice.

Five Awesome Writing Prompts That Build Creative Muscle:

1. Images
If you are a visual type--or even if you aren't--images can be an awesome prompt for starting a story or for fully imaging what you are writing about. If a writer can fully envision their character and the scene they are building, they are much more likely to put meaningful details into the scene and really add that extra oomph to their stories that brings it alive for their readers.

This image really tweaks my imagination and gets the 5 Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) burning rubber in my mind. What is the story behind this church? Where did it come from? How on earth did they get it here? When did it get moved here? Why is it there?

Where can you find good images? Try these:
Deviant Art
Google--search out strange and wonderful things in the image search

Have you stumbled upon (accidental reference to the online service!) some great images online?

2. The Storymatic
I got this game (The Storymatic) for Christmas and LOVE it. My daughter and I regularly use it to amp up our oral storytelling.

How it goes: One of us starts the story and we switch back and forth building on each other's additions to the story, pulling a card to add to the story at each turn. (The game is a series of cards that you mix and match to build a story. For example, you might pull a character card that says: "taxidermist" and a story card that says, "travel agent was wrong." You put them together and suddenly you have a very interesting story.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me reference this story on my casual "finish the story Friday."

Do you have a game you like to play that gets stories rolling?

3. Books
There are some great books out there for inspiring one's writing. For my birthday I got the book "Plotto" which supposedly references every story plotline ever written! Stumped? Add one of the elements listed to juice it up or continue forward. Or how about a book like: 350 Fabulous Writing Prompts.

Do you have a writing prompt book? Which do you/have you used?

4. Online
The Teacher's has a writing prompt for each day of the year. Wondering what today's is? Check it out. (It's about a pencil!)

If you are on Twitter, follow @writingprompt. (Sadly, the prompts have been a bit sporadic lately, but there have been some good ones making it worth the follow.)

Do you know of a good online source?

5. The Five 5 W's
Ask yourself Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.
About what? Look out your window. Go people watching. Channel your inner child--you know the one, he's that little guy who is always asking, "Why?" Channel that little dude and question the world! It's your oyster.

Now that you've looked at writing prompts from the write angle, you have no excuse for writer's block, a lack of story ideas, or general sluffing off. (Sorry!) So let's get down to it and let's get creative!! And… go!

Do you use writing prompts? Where do you get your best prompts? (Yes, in the shower counts.) Share them in the comments!Jean Oram has an inner child who demands to know "why" which works really well with her creative inner child who enjoys making up crazy replies. She tweets inner child stuff as @kidsplay and writing stuff as @jeanoram. So far she's kept the two from having a twittersation online, but it's been a tough battle. When she's not moderating the two inner children, she blogs about writing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

There Are No Writers Without Readers

by J. Lea Lopez

I've been my introvert self lately, and have been doing a lot of thinking. And listening. And observing. I think it's good to reflect once in a while, so today I want to offer you some cautionary words and a bit of perspective.

The ever-changing publishing industry has been, to say the least, interesting for writers to navigate. There are new opportunities, new technologies, new venues for storytelling. Writers are learning to format their own eBooks, slogging through terms and conditions for various eBook commerce sites, designing covers, becoming their own sales and marketing teams. They might be paying others to do these things for them, or maybe they're deciphering legalese before they sign a contract with a small publisher sans agent. They might be sweating blood as they beat their queries, synopses, and sample chapters into submission to get their foot in traditional publishing's door. There are more viable publishing options now than ever before.

It's a great time to be a writer, no doubt.

Now when was the last time you thought—and I mean really thought—about the readers?

Of course we all think about them, on some level, if we're talking about getting published. And we're all readers ourselves. But I believe that as writers, our perception of the reader side of things (in a business sense) can't help but be colored by our own aspirations to be read by others, and to make money doing so.

If you look around the writing community, you might see some signs of writers doing everything in their power to make sure they get the best possible deal. The prettiest cover. The most positive reviews. The most Twitter followers and Facebook likes, which they hope will lead to ... more sales. Bigger royalties.

I'm not saying we're all a greedy bunch of writers, and I know not everyone is guilty of the how do I get mine, and how do I get it as quickly as possible? mentality. But you can't deny it exists. If it didn't, we wouldn't have an endless supply of how NOT to make an ass of yourself on social media posts floating around out there. If there weren't people in a rush to make their money, or even just see their name on a book cover, there would be fewer vanity presses ripping people off. There would be fewer poorly-edited and poorly-formatted books. We'd see fewer books published before they're truly ready.

Even traditional publishing seems to have lost sight of the reader. Barnes & Noble, among others, have refused to stock or sell books from Amazon's imprints. They claim to have the best interests of the reading public in mind, but I think we all (even those who may not think very highly of Amazon) know a big part of the problem is their bottom line. Money. Otherwise why stop selling books their customers want to buy? If the big guys are forgetting the reader, and some of us on this side are forgetting about the reader ... Point is, we can't forget about the reader if we want to survive as writers.

Next time you're faced with a business decision about your writing, try to re-frame it. In addition to looking at how does this benefit me? also consider how does this benefit the reader?

Got an offer from an indie publisher? Look at the contract terms, the royalty split, the marketing help available, and more. Do your research. But don't forget to look at it from the other side. What will the experience be like for the reader? Will your book be professionally edited and designed? Where, and in what formats, will it be sold?

Looking to go the traditional route? Hoping to snag one of the Big Six? Again, do your homework. Research the agents and agencies, editors and publishing houses. Look at the contract offered and see how it fits with your goals and dreams, and again, think of the reader. Will your book be fairly and competitively priced? What is your agent's and publisher's attitude toward the changes in the industry, and how will that affect the reader?

Going it alone and diving into the self-publishing pool? Once again, take the time to do your homework. Decide whether doing it all yourself or paying for certain services makes sense for you, and then look at which will provide the best experience for the reader. Thorough editing and professional-quality formatting. Access to the formats they want to buy. Doesn't the reader deserve that?

In the end, if you ask all the questions necessary to ensure your reader has a pleasant reading experience (all the way from telling a great story down to packaging it nicely and making it conveniently available for them to buy) then you will have also made business decisions that will work in your favor.

Don't rush to jump on any bandwagon. We mostly give this advice in terms of not writing to trends because they're trendy, but it's also true in the sense of not rushing to stake a claim in the latest business horizon. Don't be in a rush to see your name on the cover. Don't be in a rush to get paid. Do be concerned with giving the reader the best possible experience, because if you do, your bottom line will reap the rewards.

J. Lea Lopez 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 Spring Fevers anthology, available as a free download.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Internet is Forever

by Mindy McGinnis

I'm from a small town. And by small I mean that even in the worst shape of my life I could run from one end to the other and not be winded.

As an adult, I love small-town life. As a teenager, I kinda wanted to blow up into a big mushroom cloud of venom every time I heard the phrases, "I heard that you..." or "Is it true that..."

I made a rule for myself in high school. If I was considering doing something, I needed to be sure that it was something I wouldn't care everyone knowing about. Because they would, eventually.

In a lot of ways, small-town life prepped me for using social media as an author. Anything you say is fair game, my friends. It can and will be posted, re-posted, copy-pasted, italicized, CAPS LOCK'ed and attributed to you over, and over, and over again.

And hitting the delete key won't make that go away. There are caches and screencaps to make sure that your words will hang around your neck like a big, fat, stinky albatross for the rest of your life. It's permanent e-gossip and it will haunt you right into your virtual grave only to be resurrected the next time you screw up and say something stupid.

With that in mind, I have three rules for anything I ever say on the internet—

1) I'd say it to my mom.

2) I'd say it about my mom.

3) I wouldn't be embarrassed if my mom knew I said it.

So you're thinking—okay, maybe when I'm published I'll watch what I say, but right now I don't exactly have a huge audience. Doesn't matter. Here's an example: when I was out on submission I wrote a post about not liking to talk on the phone. When my editor (God bless her understanding soul) Googled me, guess what she found out? I don't like to talk on the phone. In fact, I run from the phone when it rings and hide until the voicemail comes through.

My awesome soon-to-be editor (who has a lovely speaking voice, by the way), called up my agent and said, "So I'd really like to talk to Mindy, but I understand she doesn't like using the phone." And my awesome agent (who also has a lovely speaking voice), said, "She'll take your call. Not a problem."

And I did. And boy, am I glad.

Remember that next time you type something. I'm lucky that my little gaffe was innocent enough to be a laughing matter and a great ice-breaker, but I don't know that the same would be true if a Google search had brought up a blog post where I ranted against the establishment or was bad-mouthing a fellow writer.

The Internet is Forever.

And Your Mom is Always Right.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA librarian and author whose debut, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She can be found kicking butt and taking names on both her blog and Twitter.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Writers Should Be Masochists

by R.C. Lewis

Want to be a writer? Prepare for pain. The pain of sleep-deprivation, the pain of rejection, the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome, the pain of a good face-keyboard smack when things just aren't working ... all of this and more is likely in your future.

That's not entirely why I think a touch of masochism is a prerequisite, though. Those things all come with the package, and we have to find ways to deal with them—like power naps and ergonomic office furniture. The masochism comes in with the pain we (should) intentionally seek: the sting of constructive criticism.

Personally, I love getting feedback specifying certain aspects that aren't working for the reader, but that sting still pricks me now and then. Still, I'd rather endure that minor pain than get a inbox-full of, "This is amazing and should be published right now!" While the latter is nice for the ego, it doesn't actually help me improve, and even if I got a publishing contract tomorrow, I would always have room to grow.

A parallel: In my day-job, an administrator observes my class a couple of times a year for evaluation. I've yet to have an administrator with a math teaching background, so the fact I can teach calculus already impresses them. More often than not, the feedback is something like, "You're doing great—keep it up!" Once in a while they remark on a small item they can tell was more because they were in the room than anything else. (My fingerspelling skills take a nosedive when other adults are in the room ... definitely gotta work on that.)

I know I'm a good math teacher, but I also know I'm not perfect. I can identify certain areas for improvement on my own, but for others, I could really use an outside observer to tell me if something works or not, or if I'm doing things I'm not aware of.

Same thing with writing. If a reader isn't feeling my MC's emotion in a certain scene, I need to know. If a particular section is boring, I need to know. When those are areas I've worked on and think are great, finding out they might not work that well can hurt. The biggest hurt is when someone clearly doesn't understand my intention. Those are the moments I doubt myself, wondering if I have any idea what I'm doing, assuming my own failings led the reader to misconstrue the concept. But I will still seek out those opinions, weigh them against each other and against my own instincts, and try to incorporate what I learn into making my writing better.

Turning it around, then, writers should not be sadists (except maybe toward our characters, a little). When we're offering critique, it's important to be honest—as noted above, glossing things over won't help anyone—but not intentionally cruel or derogatory. Telling someone, "This sucks—you're never going to make it," is no more helpful than gushing why-isn't-this-published-yet praise.

Most importantly, we have to make sure we aren't such masochists that we lock ourselves into the editing/revising phase for eternity. At some point, you have to decide that it's good enough to get out there and submit ... and ready yourself for those darts of rejection.

R.C. Lewis teaches math to deaf teenagers by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her at Crossing the Helix and Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You Wrote a Book? Great! Now What?

by Darke Conteur

I recently spent a couple weeks doing book review requests with book bloggers. If there's one thing that brings all writers together, it's the fear of self-promotion. Nothing feels more uncomfortable then knocking on someone's door and asking them to read your book. Yet whether you're SP, Indie, or TP, eventually we all have to suck it up and go forth, but before you wade out into these waters, I want to pass on some knowledge I've acquired. Might save you some embarrassment in the long run.

  • Be prepared for the "no-replies." I thought I was done with that when I stopped querying agents. Apparently not. Out of the thirty or so book blogger sites I sent emails to, only eight have replied so far. Mind you, out of that eight only one turned me down. So not that bad of odds.
  • Like querying agents, know who you're dealing with first. If you write urban fantasy and they say they review fantasy, check out the books they've read. Fantasy has a very wide range of sub-genres and some reviewers might not care for urban fantasy.
  • If you've been through the query process, you already know how confusing sending out multiple emails can be. Who did you send requests to? Who replied? Who didn't? Who's not taking any more subs until later? Mind boggling. Keep yourself organized. I have three folders: one for all the requests sent, one for those who reply, and a folder for the ones who are temporarily shut down. Yes, keep an eye on the ones that are currently closed. I'll discuss more about that below.
  • Read over their Review Policy ON THEIR WEBPAGE. While I was looking over the list of sites, some stated they accepted self-published novels, but their Review Policy page stated otherwise. Remember, this is like querying. There are rules and you must follow them. You are not the exception to the rule. Not following their instructions will get your email request deleted.

I did come across one site which required you to sign up to their mailing list in order for your book to be reviewed. I didn't submit to that one.

Now, what to do in case they aren't doing reviews?

As I stated above, I kept a list of those who weren't taking book requests at this time. Doesn't mean they won't be doing so in the future, they're just bogged down and need to catch up. Go back and visit these sites once a month, or even twice a month, but DON'T send them emails asking if they're open to submission. If they are, they'll put it on their website.

Many bloggers offer to let you do a guest blog in place of a review. Sure they're not talking about your book, but it's exposure and in the end, that's what you're looking for. The guest blogs I've done have posted my cover art and links to my books, so no matter what, doing a guest post is a win/win situation.

Most importantly, have fun. Yes, promoting your work is a serious business, but try to have some fun too. The more relaxed you are, the easier it is to promote yourself.

Good luck!

Darke Conteur is the author of stories from the darker side of life. Blogs here, Tweets here & plays Facebook games here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pro(logue) or Con

by Jemi Fraser

Lately I've heard a lot of authors talking about prologues. While a lot of authors enjoy writing them, the majority of agents and editors seem to be against them. Why? Here are my thoughts ...

Con #1 The voice doesn't match the rest of the novel.

Con #2 The prologue goes on. And on. And on.

Con #3 It's an infodump (sometimes ancient history or world building the author doesn't want to weave into the story)—nothing really happens.

Con #4 Agents expect the first few pages of the ms to match the query. If your prologue is about a different POV character or in a different time frame, you may have a problem.

So, you can see the dangers of the prologue—and why agents and editors probably shudder when they see the word typed in bold at the top of the ms. But can a prologue ever work? I think so.

I've read a few authors who do the prologue very well. How do they do it?

Pro #1 Keep it short. I think a good prologue reads like a short story in many ways—except for the ending. A short story wraps up the ending (mostly). A prologue entices you to read the book and find the resolution to the prologue within the story.

Pro #2 Focus on an event, conversation or thought sequence that is VITAL to the plot—often something that triggers the story itself.

Pro #3 The time frame or the POV character (or both) is different from the rest of the book—necessitating this being a prologue and not Chapter 1. For this to work, Pro #2 must still be in effect and you've got to be aware of Con #4.

Pro #4 Um ... I'm stuck. Any other pros you can think of?

In a story I wrote a few years ago (before I'd even thought of attempting to get published), I wrote a 'wonderful' story with a 'vital' prologue. The story was a contemporary romantic suspense and the prologue flashed back to the death of the main character's father. It was an important part of her family's past, it shaped her life and directly impacted the plot of the story. Many of her adult personality quirks depended on that event. But did I need to include the prologue? Nope. Absolutely not. Once I figured out I needed to weave those details into the actual story itself, my writing made a huge jump forward.

So, have a good look at that prologue. You might decide you really need it, you might decide to dump it, or you might be able to call it Chapter 1 and get on with the story!

What do you think? Are there more pros or cons to a prologue? Any authors you know who do them really well?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of YA steampunk and adult romantic mysteries. She blogs at Just Jemi and tweets @jemifraser.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Five Things The Fiction Query Can Learn From a Nonfiction Query

by Jean Oram

At first glance, you might wonder what on earth can the nonfiction query teach you about your fiction query. Those are completely different kettles of fish. While you may (strangely enough) have fish in your kettle, you should also have elements of the nonfiction query in your fiction query.

Today I'm sharing five vital elements of a successful nonfiction query and showing how these five things can help you focus and market your fiction query. Hopefully this nonfiction angle will help you think about your query from an agent's perspective and will help you sell, sell, sell!

Let's dive in.

Sell your wares! (Source)

Five Vital Ingredients for a Successful Nonfiction Query and How They Can Improve A Fiction Query

Market: This one might seem a bit obvious in that every book must have a market—especially if you are hoping for an agent and/or publisher to pick it up. The story, voice, and style can be utterly amazing, but if the agent and editor don't know who to market it to, good luck. There MUST be a market and in the nonfiction query you have to get very specific about who, what, and where that market is and how big it is. (And no, you can't say there are 54 million moms in North America and your book will appeal to each and every one of them. You have to get more specific than that. Shucks, huh?)

If you know the market for your fiction query, add it in. Seriously. (Unless it is really obvious like with a middle grade adventure novel or chick lit—those two examples are pretty self-explanatory market-wise and you'll look silly saying who will read them. Trust me on that one.) On the other hand, it isn't a bad idea in several fiction situations to mention who your market is. Especially if you are writing slightly off the beaten path—agents and editors may honestly be at a loss on where you fit into the market. So if you know it will appeal to the granny book club market say so. One line. Nice and simple. You just helped them out.

How does this look in your query? Around the closing of your query you can add something to the effect: My commercial fiction (notice this is a HUGE genre) novel, "How to Kill Off Your Husband In Five Easy Steps" will appeal to the growing murder-mystery granny book club* market.

Timing: This ties in with the market. If your timing is off in terms of market, it may, sadly, suck to be you. If 20 books on how to use Facebook were published last year and you want to join the crew, well, you probably missed the timing boat on that one.

Personal example: In the fiction world, I queried my first 'good' chick lit novel at the height of the chick lit flooded market—months before chick lit was declared dead. (At least in terms of acquisitions.)

On the flip side, if you see a trend beginning and there are no books published as of yet, you might be able to get in on the front end. Use your query to share some data convincing the agent/editor that this is an up-and-coming trend. Don't take long—just a quick sentence to help open their eyes. It can be tricky convincing agents and editors that there IS a market for this new to-be trend. However, if the trend is already really obvious and you can't pass a book in the bookstore without spotting one of these, you are most likely way too late as most first time authors can take as long as two years to get to market.

What does this look like in your query? Tap this in right before the line on marketing: MacLean's Magazine recently stated that the largest predicted market for all things entertainment, and particularly books, will be female baby boomers.*

Platform: This can be the bane of the nonfiction writer, and at times, also the bane of the fiction writer. Briefly, in nonfiction circles, a "platform" is your audience reach. If you have a newsletter, write for a newspaper, have a popular blog all dealing with the content you aim to cover in your nonfiction book, that is your platform. And you must, must mention it. This is vital.

If you are a fiction writer, having a platform, or a presence on social media networks can help. It is, however, not essential. As a fiction writer, you can be unknown and still get picked up. However, if you have an audience (platform or social media following) mention it. It might just tip the scales in your favour—especially as more and more publishers are requiring authors to do a lot of their own publicity. (And your numbers have to be significant. If you started a blog last year and had 400 visitors over that time, this does not count. Sorry!)

How does this look in your query? In you bio area say something simple like: I currently tweet humorous murder-mystery related tidbits to my 35,000 Twitter followers and interact with my 8,500 Facebook friends.

Uniqueness: In the nonfiction world, having an unique angle on your proposed book (nonfiction books are queried as a proposal and are not finished—except in the case of memoirs) is a must. You must have an angle that will make you stand out in the market. What are you bringing to this book that will make it different? What'll make it important? How will it stand out? How is it filling a need?

In the fiction world uniqueness is even more vital than writers realize. If you wrote a fantastic, well-written story but agents just can't see what makes it different and how it stands out in a busy market, you are going to find yourself on the wrong side of a reply. Bummer. Majorly. (Soooo heard this one with my women's fiction novel—many compliments on my writing, but … well, you know. Won't stand out enough.) So make sure when you are writing your query that you show, show, show, how your plot, characters, situation, what-have-you is an unique take. (Think Gregory Maguire and his takes on well-known tales.)

Brevity: There is so much we can (and usually want to) say in a query whether it be fiction or nonfiction. There is a lot to cover. However, it is important to keep it under one page. Around 350 words is the sweet spot according to some agents. And while that might not always be easy, it is important. Too many words and your message gets flooded and washed out. If all else fails—keep it under one page!

After looking at your query from the write angle, is there anything you can tweak to make it stand out in a brief and compelling way, show it has a place in the current market, is unique, and that you are the most-awesome-most-perfect person on the planet to write it/have written it?

Let me know what you think. Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Something to add? I love query talk.

That's right, talk query to me, baby.

* Made up examples. I don't recommend using these so-called facts in your queries. :)

Jean Oram is an agented nonfiction writer who also has a passion for writing fiction. She has been rejected many times and has learned all of the above tips the hard way. You can also find her on her blog and on Twitter venting, goofing around, and sharing writing tips

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New York Writers' Workshop, Nonfiction Agent Panel

by Matt Sinclair

If any of you were wondering what Ms. Query Shark, Janet Reid, has been up to lately (she is closed to new queries until July), I met her recently. She was sitting on a panel of nonfiction agents for the New York Writers’ Workshop.

First, let me just say that I really love these NYWW panels. This is the second time I’ve attended one and there’s another coming up in April for fiction that I plan to attend, too. They get top-notch agents like Reid of FinePrint Literary Management, who was joined this day by Rita Rosenkranz of Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency and Regina Brooks, president and lead agent of Serendipity Literary Agency.

NYWW is an interesting organization, and I learned that they don’t cater only to New York-area folks. The agent panels are part of their pitch conferences, where writers from all over come to hone their proposals and pitch to editors. (I was told that they’ve had people fly in from Australia to do these things!) The workshop is the teaching division of an organization called New York Writers’ Resources, and they also have a webzine called Ducts that publishes personal stories – both fiction and nonfiction – and a publishing arm called Greenpoint Press.

Back to the agent panel. I came looking for what’s going on in nonfiction, but a lot of what they talked about pertains to fiction writers, too. In particular, I wanted to hear their thoughts on the brave new world of independent publishing/electronic publishing and what effect it was having in nonfiction. The first question was about whether writers still need agents. Obviously, the panelists have a vested interest in saying yes, but their answers were to the point, and I’d argue that they could have emphasized their value even more than they did.

Rosenkranz said that while writers can be more entrepreneurial these days, there’s more for agents to do with writers. The rights areas alone are changing to say nothing of the markets themselves. You still need strong writing, a hook, and a platform to get anywhere in nonfiction, but if two of the three are strong, a good agent can help you work on the third. Agents also are crucial to helping steer your career in the right direction. Janet Reid said there are lots of tools out there (e.g., Absolute Write, Agent Query, Query Tracker) that can help you find agents who represent what you’re writing.

The trick is finding a good agent for you. Make sure they’ve sold something. Don’t be too concerned if they don’t have a Web site, she said, since there are many excellent agents who don’t. That said, each of these agents recommended writers consider the new, hungry agents who are starting to build their lists. In fact, Reid brought two FinePrint agents with her – and they’re very much open to queries, by the way.

So, how has electronic publishing changed nonfiction? Some of the categories have thinned out, they said. Books on parenting and cooking, for example, aren’t doing so well with agents. Reference books are almost exclusively on the Web these days. What’s still working? History, narrative nonfiction, politics, and science.

Brooks said that with regard to nonfiction e-publishing, they’re all still figuring the market out too. Things like Web-enhanced books and audio books are changing the rights areas – which is another reason why it’s important to have an agent.

How do you break through all the noise? “Never lose sight of your audience,” said Rosenkranz. Communicate with your readers happily and frequently through social media vehicles (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) But she added that you shouldn’t burn yourself out on this. You need to maintain a presence, not be a meteor and fizzle out.

One thing that surprised me was when Brooks said memoir is doing extremely well. “Even stories about overcoming adversity can do well in this market,” she said. “But it needs to be a very well told and interesting story.” There too, you need to be diligent about your promotion.

Reid did a quick overview of how to write a nonfiction book proposal. There were no surprises there. All the usual suspects (writer's platform, table of contents, overview of the marketplace and competing titles, etc.) were there and they are all still important. With the exception of memoir, agents of nonfiction are not looking for completed manuscripts. If they like your query, they would ask for your proposal, not your manuscript. In case you were wondering, they want the proposal ready before you query. For those of you who aren’t aware, proposals are major projects in themselves and often run longer than fifty pages.

One of the messages these agents kept emphasizing was know where to find your audience. Who is going to buy your book? Where are they? “It’s incredibly important to have the platform,” Brooks said, “but if you can’t prove that you know how to get to your audience, it will be very difficult to get a publisher to fund the project.”

Developing the platform, of course, is not a simple thing. I'll circle back on that topic again in the future.

Any questions? I have additional notes from the panel session. Perhaps I can share more of their wisdom.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, recently published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, which is available through Smashwords and Amazon. It includes stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette. He also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Giving Birth To Premies: When Acting Impulsively Can Hurt Your Writing

by Cat Woods

My nephew was born early and the doctors did nothing to stop his delivery. In their defense, he had a large head and weighed nearly seven pounds. Neither his measurements nor his calculated due date gave any indication that he was eight weeks premature.

As the first grandchild in the family, his birth was joyfully anticipated. His struggle to survive was not. Quite simply, the doctors had made a nearly fatal error. Not unlike some writers I've known.

Premies arrive in this world before they are ready. Among other things, they struggle to breathe on their own and eat on their own. They cannot regulate their own body temperatures and their heartbeats can be erratic. Over the first few years, their physical and emotional development can be stunted as they valiantly attempt to catch up to their full-term peers. In short, every day is an effort to survive.

As writers, we often put ourselves in premature situations. We are so certain we are ready for the next step, we jump at the opportunity to query and submit long before we hit our professional due dates. This often ends in rejection ... or worse.

**A Word of Caution**

Creating and sticking to a publishing plan of action is a lot like committing to a pregnancy. A mid-term mind change can effectively destroy all viability. Therefore, it is vital that we understand the ins and outs of the publishing biz long before we embark on our query/submission journeys. Once we have committed to a plan, we must very seriously consider the ramifications of switching gears halfway through. If we decide termination of one plan is in our best interest, we need to act professionally when it comes time to wrapping up all loose ends before moving on.

Mid-Term Writing Risks

  1. Querying Agents After Subbing to Editors: While this doesn't sound like a big deal, it can have a huge effect on an agent's ability to represent a certain manuscript. Agents possess no more power than Joe Writer when it comes to resubmitting a project. If we've submitted our work to editors, agents lose the personal edge to call on their insider knowledge of those editors. And in this business, personal relationships between agents and editors can make the difference between a deal and a rejection.
  2. Querying Agents After a Self-Pubbing Fail: More than a handful of writers have fallen into this trap. After a dozen or so painful rejections, Willa Wanna-be self-pubs believing the masses will LOVE her book ... because, well, because it's dang good. For 1001 reasons Willa Wanna-be decides to go back to the Agent Submission Process. Agent Incredible will very likely shy away from this project for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons being that once a book already has an ISBN, the opportunity for a solid publicity push has decreased exponentially. This translates to a serious loss of sales potential.
  3. Querying Multiple Projects Simultaneously: While this sounds more efficient than detrimental, having several projects in the hands of a handful of agents can really muck up the query process. Nicholas NetCaster grew impatient with the time it took to get a response and figured he'd up his chances by sending several stories into the query world at one time. Having to 'fees up to his faux pas when more than one agent expressed interest turned several on-the-fencers away. They simply did not want to deal with untangling his literary knots. Once a problem, always a problem? Maybe not, but why set yourself up for long explanations and perceived unprofessionalism?
  4. Querying Half-Assed: A favorite editor of mine frequently blogs about this problem. Isabelle Impulsive sends query letters to agents while submitting packages to editors while keeping track of nothing. In time, Polly Publisher and/or Agent Incredible get around to the submission. S/he wants this project, but ... Impulsive Izzy already forgot who she sent packages to. She's already a) signed with an agent, b) signed with an editor or C) self-pubbed and D) failed to let any of the above know about her promiscuity and mid-term abortion. This can make even the most patient agents magic-marker your name on "the list". And trust me, agents and editors have been known to talk.
  5. Marrying the Not-One: After being painfully single for a lifetime, Patrick Premie not only dates the first agent or editor to bat her eyes his way, he goes for the ring exchange. I can't say this enough: Do a background check on your literary love match. Preditors and Editors, baby. Word of mouth. Blogs, book acknowledgements and bad press (or no press). You would never let a proctologist deliver your baby. Why would you sign a contract for your picture book with an agent who only reps erotica? Or hasn't sold anything in three years? Or who really is a scammer in disguise preying on your desire to see your name in print?
  6. Inducing Pre-Term Labor: Worse than signing on with an incompetent book doctor is inducing labor yourself via premature self-publishing. Please, please, please wait until your writing has reached full-term. Wait until you are absolutely certain your manuscript is the best it can be. Wait until you can commit to a full-scale marketing plan. Wait until you hear back from all agents and editors you sent a query to. Wait until you have a doctorate in self-pubbing so you don't end up in a legal battle over minor mistakes. Wait for the right time to do your project justice, and most importantly, wait to self-pub for the right reasons. To do otherwise is to shortchange yourself and your writing career.

How have you ever misjudged your writing due date? How has this changed your writing journey? Please share your premie stories and tips of avoiding them to help other aspiring writers reach full-term with their projects.

After giving birth to four healthy babies, Cat Woods would like to deliver her juvenile fiction to a bookshelf near you. You can follow her writing journey at Words From the Woods.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Keeping Your e-Pubbing Legal

by R.C. Lewis

We all know how easy it's become to digitally self-publish an eBook these days. That means it's become just as easy to get yourself in some real legal trouble. Just as we wouldn't want a so-called "writer" to plagiarize our work, likewise we shouldn't infringe on the copyrights of our fellow artists ... any of them. And some of them, you may never have even thought of.

So here we go. An overview of things to watch out for, and a few tips on doing it right.

Cover Images

Just because you found it on the internet and were able to download it doesn't mean you can use an image (photo, graphic, etc.) for commercial purposes. For that reason ...

DO NOT rely on a Google Images search (or similar under any other search engine). You'll find anything and everything, and often the source site won't have any connection to the original artist. The sites you find may or may not be using that image legally.

DO go to royalty-free stock image sites, such as istockphoto, bigstockphoto, and 123rf. READ THE USAGE AGREEMENTS/LICENSES CAREFULLY. Sometimes their usage depends on whether you "significantly alter" the image (which is often the case with book covers). Sometimes there is a print limit.

Some prohibit the use of images as part of a logo. Some restrict the maximum size (resolution) you can use commercially.

Some of those restrictions can be nullified if you buy an extended use license (usually significantly more expensive). Some of the restrictions are absolute no matter what.


ANOTHER OPTION is a site like deviantART. You'll find a wide variety of artists, from amateur to professional. Whether or not you can use a given image varies on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the artist just requires credit. Sometimes the image is free for use. Sometimes you can't use the image at all, but the artist can be hired to commission an original piece. READ CAREFULLY.


DO NOT assume that because a font is on your computer, it's fair game. Often fonts get added because of programs you installed. The software company had permission to use that font, and by extension, you have permission for personal use of that font. Your commercial use of that font does not always follow.

DO search various specialty font sites (there are about a gazillion) and CAREFULLY note personal/commercial use allowances. Sometimes you need to purchase a license for a font—and they can be expensive in some cases. Sometimes the font artist just asks for a donation, with the amount at your discretion. (Be reasonable, not too cheap.)


If you're doing your own cover design (or even interior design, creating watermarks or something for a POD version), you may be familiar with the multitude of things you can do with special Photoshop brushes. They're available for download, again at many sites.

DO NOT assume no one will ever know you used a particular brush that's not licensed for commercial use.

DO carefully check guidelines on whatever site you download the brushes from. If it doesn't indicate personal vs. commercial use, find someone to ask.


The infamous song lyric bugaboo. Song titles are fair game, so your safest bet is to reference the song that way and let your reader do the singing.

DO NOT assume that quoting just one line, or just two, or just the chorus, or just one paragraph of your favorite book is okay. Big-6 publishers have had to pay big bucks for a single line of lyrics. You don't want the artist to sue you for the same ... or more.

DO check and double-check. Maybe a poem or novel you want to quote from are in the public domain. Maybe you have a connection to the artist and can get permission. Maybe you don't know the artist, but are really persuasive. Fine, go for it, but get a lawyer to draw up some paperwork for you.

When in doubt, leave it out.

Anything I've missed or should elaborate on further? Do you have tips, tricks, and warnings of your own? Please share.

R.C. Lewis teaches math to deaf teenagers by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her at Crossing the Helix and Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

(Un)Healthy Writing 3: Codependency

by Cat Woods

My Dear Daughter + teen drama = great blog fodder.

For the past week, we've been discussing addiction and the difference between healthy behaviors and those not so great for long term success.

DD's newest question, "Can a person be addicted to her boyfriend?" got me thinking and asking a few questions of my own.

Can a writer be addicted to other writers? The psychology-lover in me says no. Humans cannot be addicted to other humans. We can, however, be co-dependent on them.

Co-dependency develops when two individuals form such a strong relationship they forego other healthy alternatives. They feed off each other's fears and insecurities, and often engage in self-destructive behaviors rather than risk severing ties with their significant others (i.e., the only people in the universe who totally understand them).

Teens are notorious for engaging in these all-inclusive relationships.

So are writers.

While some relationships are healthy, others can be devastating. Consider your circle of writing friends. It is very likely that a few individuals lead the way in both expertise and experience. They often become role models or mentors to other members. It is just as likely that your writing group has a handful of known Vivian Venters. These lively individuals rant about the injustices of the publishing business and lend an ear when you need to do the same. And just for filler, every good writing community has a newbie or two waiting in the wings.

At any given point, writers need every kind of writing relationship mentioned above. We need to be led and we need to lead. We also need to rant and rejoice—for ourselves and for others. These key personalities make for a healthy balance.

But what happens when a writer gets sucked down the rabbit hole into a co-dependent relationship with another writer? In short, forward progress will cease.

More importantly, what does a co-dependent relationship look like?

You may be co-dependent on your writing partner if:
  1. You seek out certain individuals in private to complain about the injustice of the business—because your comments to other writers often go unanswered.
  2. You find yourself spending more time complaining than writing.
  3. Your partner complains more often than he writes.
  4. You have been through a half-dozen writing partners and find that all of them are too mean/judgmental/stupid to care about your work. They just don't "get" you.
  5. You seek out critique partners who lavish praise onto your writing, finding a mere typo here and there for you to fix.
  6. You happily point out typos in your Writing Partner's work, but shy away from telling her you don't understand what you just read.
  7. Your writing fears are vast and varied and you're sure you will never get published. Ever. Why don't you just quit now and stick to scrubbing toilets? When you state this to your WP, she tells you how stupid agents and editors are and offers no substantial plan to help you succeed.
  8. When your WP complains of the exact same thing, you know in your heart your WP is right—his writing sucks—but you're afraid to tell him because he's your friend. He listens to you. He knows how mean agents and editors are. He gets that the stars are aligned against you. He is the only one in your corner who truly understands.
  9. You haven't written anything substantial since you've found your writing "soul-mate", and may even have lost your desire to write.
  10. You no longer want to get published because you believe in your work, rather, your desire to publish is motivated by the need to prove the agents and editors wrong. Double points if your critique partner encourages this logic.
  11. Your relationship makes you feel isolated on one hand and cozy and safe on the other.

I know the above list sounds a bit cheeky, but I mean it in the most sincere way. Writing is a tough business. Few of us know exactly what the journey will entail before we decide to become writers. We can easily become disenchanted and blame our sour feelings on agents, editors and their constant rejections.

If this is how you feel, even slightly, please carefully consider your writing relationships. Are they healthy? Do you get positive reinforcement along with a dose of reality from them? Do you give the same in return?

How do you maintain healthy writing relationships? How do you deal with unhealthy ones?

Curious minds want to know.

When she's not separating dust bunnies from plot bunnies, Cat Woods can be found coaching speechies, raising children, mediating custody cases or blogging at Words From the Woods.

P.S. If you'd like more (Un)Healthy Writing tips, you can nab posts 1 and 2 on my blog.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Anchor Scenes for Story Structure

by Lucy Marsden

In my heart of hearts, I am a plotter. The problem is that, in my brain of brains, I have a sadly inconsistent grasp of story structure.

Pure pantsing, in which I attempt to write while having no idea what my characters are moving towards, leaves me floundering and paralyzed; trying to articulate every twist and turn of the story before I start to write, however, makes me break into a sweat as I contemplate the (inevitable) gaping holes in my imagination. I need an approach to story that protects me from the feeling of being in free-fall, while helping me to tolerate (and even embrace) all the stuff I don’t yet know about What Happens Next and Why.

Happily, the folks at Storywonk (AKA author Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens), and author Jenny Crusie, have done a fabulous job of presenting a description of the key scenes that create the foundation of story structure. Lani and Alastair actually did a podcast on this recently, called Improvising Seven Anchor Scenes*, and Jenny has presented her take on this approach in her blog post on Argh Ink, The Basics of Fiction.

Briefly (and with none of their genius), here are the foundational scenes:

1. The Initiating Event / The Inciting Incident / Where The Trouble Begins

This is exactly what it sounds like, the event that brings the protagonist into the central story conflict.

It is amazing how long it can take me to actually nail this down. Sometimes I know very clearly what the event is, it just takes me an exasperating amount of time to actually write my way there. God only knows what I’m doing with myself in the meantime.

2. The First Turning Point / The Trouble Gets Worse

I feel like this is also Crossing The Threshold (if you’re familiar with the mythic structure Vogler talks about in The Writer’s Journey). It’s the point where the protagonist has to commit to dealing with whatever the trouble is, because the stakes have just increased, and Business As Usual isn’t going to cut it.

3. The Midpoint / The Point of No Return / The Reversal of Fortune

This is a big moment for plot AND character. It’s the point at which major discoveries are made that change the game that the characters are playing, and it’s the point at which the characters have changed so much that they can’t go back to the way they were before.

This is the point in my current WIP where the hero discovers that his parents’ accidental deaths were actually murders. I knew that from the very beginning, of course, but it took me a while to understand why I should have my hero arrive at that conclusion at this particular point in the story.

4. The Crisis / The Dark Moment/ All Is Lost

At this point, the protagonists are defeated; they don’t yet possess the knowledge / abilities / head space necessary to defeat the Antagonist, and it seems clear that a Happily Ever After with the love of their life is a complete impossibility.

Unbelievably, this bit is really vague for me right now; I think it’s because I haven’t spent a lot of time with my Antagonist, yet, and so I don’t know exactly how he’s going to be pushing back against my hero’s attempts to uncover the murder of his parents. I have a sense of how my hero’s going to back away from my heroine as a result of the threat posed by the Antagonist, but that’s about it.

5. The Climax / The Final Push

Defeated though the protagonist is at the Crisis, they can’t give up. They are forced to finally integrate the abilities/ self-knowledge / growth they’ve been developing throughout the story, and because they do this, they have what they need to finally defeat the Antagonist.

Thankfully, this point isn’t a total fog for me; I know what the heroine’s relationship with the hero is going to provide for him that will turn out to be pivotal in the final showdown, and I know what the heroine’s arc will be contributing to this scene, so I’m OK with discovering the rest.

6. The Resolution / The Happily Ever After / The New World

The protagonist’s world has changed for the better, and so have they. They’ve grown, and are more authentically themselves than they were at the beginning of the story.

Again, I’ve got at least a general sense of what this will look like, and am happy to fill in the details when I get there, especially since I’ll get hints of this as I continue to move through the book.

(* I can only think of 6 scenes to Lani’s 7; if anyone wants to jump into the Comments section and remind me which bit I’m forgetting, please be my guest! And definitely take a minute to check out Storywonk. Lani and Alastair are two of the smartest, most passionate, most articulate, and most enjoyable writing geeks I have ever encountered, and their podcasts alone are phenomenal.)

What kind of story structure (if any) works best for you? What’s your preferred ratio of Plotting to Discovery?

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.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Necessary, Interchangeable Writer's Masks

by Mindy McGinnis

I'm a first baseman. My job is the under-appreciated task of stopping the ball. I have to catch the ball whether it's in the dirt, over my head, directly in the runner's path, or barreling towards my face at seventy miles an hour. If I don't the runner gets one base, at least. I've been cleated, elbowed in between the shoulder blades by the less sportsmanlike runners, and on one memorable occasion, line-drived in the boob when I turned my head for a split second in acknowledgement of a particularly nasty jeer from the other team's bench.

I kinda think first basemen are under-appreciated, but I love my position, despite the fact that I'm reminded by everyone when there's a lefty in the box to "get ready," as if I couldn't put that together on my own. Although that one might actually be on me due to the boob incident.

In any case, my freshmen year in high school I wanted a varsity letter. Badly. But there was a very talented girl two years older than me who had a claim staked on first base, deservedly. So the coach, after having noticed my trained-dog response to not allowing balls get past me said, "Hey, I know you're 5'9" but how do you feel about catching?"

I didn't feel so good about it.

Catching meant an extra twenty pounds of equipment. Catching meant crouching for long periods of time and ignoring the pain in my thigh muscles. Catching, in fast-pitch softball, meant something flying at me repeatedly at sixty to seventy miles an hour, and a girl in between me and it who had to whip the stick around fast enough to make contact.

And because I was in high school, catching also meant smashed, sweaty hair and frequent breakouts.

But catching was also going to mean a varsity letter, if I wanted it badly enough. And I did. So I shut my mouth, and I was a catcher. I had to learn new tricks, like flipping the mask off quickly enough to make the long throw to second in case of a steal. And I had to unlearn old habits. At first base I had it ingrained in me to cut the distance between the ball and my glove in order to beat the runner. Reach for it. Stretch. Do the splits if necessary.

Yeah. You can't really do that as a catcher. It's called interference. And if the batter decides to swing at that particular pitch, it's called a broken hand. Trust me on that one.

How does this relate to writing?

I know you hate it, but we're past the days where you are just a writer. We can no longer sit happily in isolated homes with a typewriter and mail off our new ms when it's finished.

You are not just a writer. If you want to succeed you are also a social networker, a forum contributer, a self-marketer, a publicist, a blogger, a Facebooker, a tweeter and uh ... a Pinterest ... er. Or something. You have to wear all those masks, and be ready to flip one off and put the other on at any given moment throughout the day in order to get what you want in the end.

Unlearn the old habit of telling yourself you are a writer, and a writer only. If I had insisted on being a first baseman I would not have earned my varsity letter as a freshman. Arguably, I also wouldn't have broken my hand, but it serves as a reminder that there will be pains along the way as you learn your new roles.

It's not easy, it's not always fun. But it's where we are now as writers. Now take the field.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA librarian and author whose debut, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She can be found kicking butt and taking names on both her blog and Twitter.