Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Being Honest Sucks

by Mindy McGinnis

Here's the thing about honesty—it makes you take a good hard look at things you'd rather not think about.

I recently started keeping track of my calorie intake, thanks to the smartphone and a handy-dandy app that makes it easy for me. Easy in the sense that it's easy to use, and incredibly difficult in that it tells me exactly what I'm putting in my body. I figured out that I can eat whatever I want ... if I stop eating around 11:00 AM and stick it out 'til the next day.

Which isn't happening.

So, I've been forced to acknowledge that craving processed sugars is not a natural instinct and as a result I've lost six pounds. I run on the treadmill three to four times a week, but that wasn't having much effect until I started being ever-so-slightly more careful about what I was eating.

But I still have those days. Days when co-workers bring in boxes of doughnuts in the morning, days when my mom has just made chocolate chip cookies, days when it's been a long damn week and I just want that apple turnover to wash down the roast beef sandwich.

And you know what? I can lie all I want. Nobody makes me be honest with the calorie counter. Nobody insists that I can't pad my numbers when I input the speed I was going on the treadmill. I'm the only person keeping myself honest, so when I went a full 1,000 calories over my daily limit on Easter Sunday, I punched those numbers in. 

Because I did it, and I needed to own that.

The same is true about writing. Nobody is making you do a second-pass edit, or a third. Or hell, even a fourth and fifth. Nobody forces you to slice through the dialogue tags and learn how to properly us a semi-colon. You are your own boss when it comes to writing and you have to be honest with yourself or you will never, ever improve as a writer. Looking at your first draft and claiming it's a work of art is the same thing as eating a whole pumpkin pie and telling the app that you had one slice.

You're only hurting yourself. So take that hard look and slice the fat off that ms.

Mindy McGinnis is a school librarian and author whose debut Not a Drop to Drink is coming Fall 2013 from Katherine Tegen Books. She also wields a mean editing hatchet. When she's not avoiding writing her own bio, you can find her at her blog and on Twitter.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Keep the 'Memorable' and Lose the 'Meh'

by Matt Sinclair

What’s the difference between a memorable character and ‘meh’? In my opinion, that's a simple answersort of.

Effort and focus.

There are characters that just leap off the page, despite the quality of the story around them. Lisbeth Salandar of Stieg Larrson's Millennium trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, et al.) comes immediately to mind. That's a character who is unlike anyone I'd ever met before in literature and she totally captivated me. While I enjoyed the stories in the trilogy, however, they could have used a bit more editing. Quibble.

How does this affect us? Let me ask a different way.

Who do you write for?

Are you one of the many writers who love writing for the sake of writing and write only to please yourself? That's fine. A lot of great literature starts that way.

But I've come to the opinionand some of you will disagreethat you're unlikely to find any success outside your own home that way in terms of writing a great, memorable character. I'm not talking about financial success. That's beside the point. If you're writing for yourself, after all, you don't care about earning money off your writing. Not really.

But writing a great character, a great story, a great manuscript involves taking risks beyond pleasing yourself, so to speak. You need to see your characters and stories through the eyes of another. In his wonderful book about the craft of writing, Stephen King talks about his Ideal Reader. In his case, he's usually talking about his wife, Tabitha, who is a writer also and from all accounts a fine critic of all things King.

Maybe your significant other is your ideal reader. Maybe it depends on the manuscript. But what I'm ultimately trying to get to is who is your audience? Will they remember you and the characters you write?

I'm working on a short story at the moment that is different from what I usually write: it's a post-apocalyptic tale and so far it is intriguing me: it has tension and interesting characters, a death or two, and a spooky specter who looks like a Neanderthal. Neat!

But I'm not sure where it's going. It remains unfocused. You all know the answer to what I need: revision and more revision. It will take time. What I have right now is fine if I'm just writing for myself, but I'm not simply writing for myself. I'm writing for the thousands of people I want to please. They just don't know me very well yet.

We put the time into our work because we believe it's worthwhile. That our audience is worth fighting off the powers of "meh" and striving for excellence. We may not reach our goal every time. But it's worth the fight. Our readers and future readers will respect the decisions we make to get there.

Happy Memorial Day, fellow writers. Create something memorable!

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, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. 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.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What a Query Is and Isn't

by R.C. Lewis

It's query-writing time!

I hear that groaning. That wailing. That gnashing of teeth. I also know not everyone is having that reaction, but the majority? Yeah, probably.

What is it about writing queries that makes so many writers want to forget they ever set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)? In my time critiquing queries and writing (and revising, and rewriting) my own, I've seen certain reasons come up several times. Often, there seems to be something behind the protest—a misconception of what a query is, what it does, and how it fits our role as writers. I'll try to address some of the common ideas.

But I can't condense my 90k-word novel to 250 words!

Good! You shouldn't. A query is not a summary of your whole novel. Save that for the synopsis. (And even then, you're not going to include everything.)

Our task is not to squish the whole story into one page. It's to entice. A query is bait.

Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor novelist, not a salesman!

A query is not a smarmy, slick, hard-sell sales pitch, so don't try to make it one. Stating in the query that this is the most amazing novel ever written, and if the agent doesn't act now, now, NOW they're going to miss out ... yeah, never a good idea.

At the same time, what's wrong with "selling it"? This book is your baby. Who better to convey its awesomeness? My parents aren't salespeople by any means, but the way they talk me up to people, I look pretty amazing. When you love something, "selling it" should be natural and sincere. A query is a vehicle for us to show the awesome.

I have to include all this background, or the story won't make sense!

No, you don't. A query is not a primer for your novel. Remember what I said above about not condensing the whole story? About how the query is bait? Think fly-fishing. What goes into those fancy little flies-that-don't-look-very-insect-like-to-humans? Someone had to learn how to make them, obtain supplies, actually make them, prick themselves a few times on hooks, and learn how to properly cast the fishing rod. All of that is critical to the desired end-result of catching a fish.

The fish doesn't need to know about all those steps. A query is sleek and efficient, despite the agony, trial-and-error, and days/weeks/months it takes to craft it.

I can't say what it's about without giving away the whole story!

Yes, you can. Have I mentioned yet that a query isn't a summary of the whole thing? That a query is bait to entice?

For my latest manuscript, I made a concerted effort to arrive at a nice high-tension turning point right around page fifty. That way, any agents who read partials first would (hopefully) be dying to see what happened next and request the full. When I went to write the query, I realized that tight first fifty was all I needed to focus on, with just a hint of why that turning point was going to bring a big mess of uh-oh for the rest of the story.

Incidentally, for the synopsis? Yeah, giving it away, baby. No holding back.

Queries are an instrument of the devil and are good for nothing but torturing us!

I know there are times when it certainly feels that way, but I believe there's value in the query-writing process. Even if you plan to self-publish, you'll need to write a book description or jacket copy that does essentially the same job. The more I embraced a positive attitude toward queries, the more cohesive and well-shaped my stories became. The query informs the story just as the story informs the query.

A query is not evil. A query is a tool you can tame, making it work for you.

It's okay if there's a little teeth-gnashing in the midst of the process, though. We're only human, after all.

What's the biggest roadblock you run into when writing queries? How have you gotten around it? What aspects do you continue to struggle with no matter what you try?

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, May 23, 2012

Family Manuscripts Found: Now What?

by Cat Woods

Over the years, I've frequently been asked about old, family manuscripts. Often times, somebody cleans out Great Grandpa's attic and runs across a collection of stories. Most often, they are children's stories. Almost always, the writer in us wants to preserve these memories forever—in the traditional publishing world.

"How do I get them published?" is the question I hear over and over again. But I have a different question. "For whom do you want to publish them?"

Is the intention to get Great Grandpa's words out there into the literary world as a historical reference, is it to make a fortune or is the intention to preserve the memory of Great Grandpa via his words? These are vastly different questions and require careful thought on behalf of the writer in us.

Commercial Considerations
What exactly is the collection of writings and how does that translate into the current market? Stories were written very differently back in the day (think A.A.Milne's wordiness in the Pooh stories compared to the pared down 500 word picture books of today).

  • Consider word count: picture books run about 300-500 words. Chapter books have a sweet spot of 7,500 words and are cohesive stories. Many of the old manuscripts in question run eight to ten handwritten pages—too long for your typical picture book and too short for your average chapter book.
  • Consider the style of writing: long-winded, highly descriptive tales are out. Colorful prose used to be the norm, but todays' kids run on the short and punchy side of writing.
  • Consider the theme/plot/premise: gone are the books as teaching tools. Back in the day, books were blatant, cautionary tales. They had distinct messages that were spelled out in a way that hip readers and editors are no longer interested in. If the entire storyline is a teaching tool, it likely has little place in commercial publishing today. It needs to meet all the criteria of a contemporary story: robust characters, conflict and resolution—in a way that speaks to the kids, not at them.
  • Consider illustrations: often, family-found stories come with hand-drawn pictures—beautiful renditions by Great Grandpa's own hand. Treasures for certain, yet almost guaranteed to be incompatible with current styles and formatting. Picture books average 28 pages with one to two illustrations per double page spread. The manuscripts I get questions about have anywhere from one to ten total illustrations.
  • Consider your openness to editing: no writing is ever ready to commercially publish without some kind of tweaking. It's hard enough to play around with our own words, but changing Great Grandpa's may be next to impossible from the emotional stand point. If you're not willing to edit, commercial publishing will not be your best choice.


There may be some contemporary options for these traditional stories. Depending on word count and writing style, they may make a great collection of board books. Simple, chunky stories with a cohesive theme or character can accommodate those 8-10 pages quite well. And the good news is that some small/niche publishing companies specialize in board books and are open to unsolicited manuscripts.

Another option for a 300-800 word tale may be the magazine market. But before you start shooting off Great Grandpa's words, please carefully research the magazine market. It is very nuanced and each mag is specialized in their needs and/or themes. They also have VERY specific word counts to consider.

Harder for the first-time writer would be publishing the collection in chapter book/novel format. Longer works may be consolidated into one, two or three volumes depending on the cohesiveness of the stories and the targeted age groups. As a caution: the manuscripts would have to be stellar.

Little Golden Books might also be a viable option for really well-written stand-alones. They have a line of stories that maintains the old-fashioned story-telling feel that might match Great Grandpa's words and illustrations.

Otherwise, Consider Self-Publishing
Self-publishing is wide open and can really create a nice edition of stories for close families and friends. It may also fill a regional niche and could potentially be sold at local bookstores, museums, Great Grandpa's church or other stores that support local artists. If money is the motivator, you will need to learn all the marketing skills of a traditional publisher to sell to a broader audience.

  • POD: many print-on-demand companies would be a fabulous option to get a paper copy into the hands of those who knew and loved Great Grandpa. Books could be bought as needed and could even be a fundraiser of sorts for family reunions or organizations that Great Grandpa believed in.
  • Electronic Publishing: Smashwords or Amazon would be a quick and inexpensive way to share Great Grandpa's stories. Potentially, it could also mean an accidental outside sale or two, or if done right, could be a small money maker.
  • Heirloom Binding: some stories are just meant to be preserved naturally. Depending on the paper and ink, these pages could be leather bound into an original story, and preserved for generations to come. I've created several heirloom gift books for families and have found the options infinite and the craftsmanship stunning.

Whatever you decide, don't jump into the project quickly. First, review your motives, then your time commitment, and finally, your options. What do you want to get out of this endeavor and how can you best achieve it? How does the quality of writing compare to the contemporary market?

Have you ever found stories from yesterday in a trunk, attic or basement? If so, what did you do with them? In your mind, what value do old stories have and how best can we preserve them? Or, is there even a need to preserve them? Do you think writing from days gone by has a place in today's market? If so, how can we best get these found manuscripts into the hands of today's readers?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods prefers her stories to be published within her lifetime. However, should they gather dust in the attic until she no longer blogs at Words from the Woods, she would love for her manuscripts to be illustrated by her great grandchildren, bound in leather and shared at future family gatherings.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Online Writer's Toolbox: Wordle

by Jemi Fraser

Today, I want to talk a bit about those online writing tools. We have a lot of new followers here at FTWA, and I'm not sure everyone has had a chance to tour the site. If you haven't, the Online Writer's Toolbox is a great tab to check out!

As you can see, we've listed several sites members of our team find useful.

One of my favourites is Wordle. Wordle analyzes text and creates an interesting collage of words. It ignores 'a, the, an, it...', then sees which words you use most often. The more you use the word, the larger that word appears in the Wordle art.

The main reason I use the site is because my first drafts are littered with words I overuse: looked, seemed, just, really, felt, almost... If any of those pop up in the art, I go back and slash with a vengeance! I do a lot of rewording of sentences during this phase.

Here's an example from one of my drafts. I've deleted character names (just right click over the word and then delete). They're distracting when I want to see what words I'm overusing. As you can see from this example, I had to cut down on several words! I know I overuse 'eyes', 'look', and 'like'—but 'back' was a big surprise to me. The more recent wordle was a lot more balanced!
Wordle: Draft

It's a helpful tool for me—gives me a focus for a revision round. Or two.

Do you use Wordle? Have you used any of the other tools on our list? Do you have any you'd like to add?

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

Friday, May 18, 2012

In an Instant

by Calista Taylor

I find it really is all about first impressions. Though it's unfair to sum anyone or anything up with a simple glance or a few words, it really is the way the world works. As a writer, and someone who will likely need to promote themselves and their works, this becomes even more important. Our readers (whether they be those buying our books, or agents and publishers we're querying) will too often decide in just a few minutes whether or not they'll stick around or move on.

So what are the first impressions you give others? What will others see? Some things are pretty obvious, but I find other aspects are easy to overlook. I'll admit to having a bit of a checklist that I try to run through, and have posted it below, in case it might help.

  • Name—Your name or pen name will be one of the first things a reader notices. Is your name unprofessional or difficult to say/spell/remember? I know this isn't always avoidable, since many write under their real name, but it is something to consider if picking a pen name.
  • Book Covers—A bad book cover or one that looks unprofessional may easily give the impression that the story being told is no better than its cover. With a bad cover, your reader may not even get far enough to bother reading your blurb. Your book will never stand a chance.
  • Your Query—This goes without saying—your query represents your writing.
  • Opening Chapters—Many readers will first read the sample before purchasing. You want your entire manuscript to be well polished and well written, but paying extra attention to your opening chapters certainly can't hurt.
  • Your Writing—an obvious extension of the opening chapters. Do your best to make sure your writing is polished and you've told the best story you can.
  • Your Bio—Readers want to connect with the authors they're reading. Is your bio bland? Is it longer than a few words? Or do you go to the other extreme of listing your entire resume? I recommend keeping it short, pertinent and personable. I think humor is a bonus.
  • Your Bio Picture—I find this doesn't really have to be a picture of you, if you're not comfortable posting an actual picture of yourself. A representative icon/image or painting/portrait works just as well. If using an actual picture of yourself, it should feel fairly professional, even if not taken by a professional. If not using an actual picture of yourself, I recommend NOT using a stock photo of a model. It ends up feeling like you're trying to hide something and you're trying to pass yourself off as someone your not.
  • Your Website and/or Blog—Does it look professional? Does it represent you and your stories? Does it feel/look current?
  • YOU—I've left the most important for last. In the end, it's all about you, so if you do have an online presence, if you're going to conferences or book signings, remember that everyone around you or those you come in contact with, will have a first impression. Try your best to make sure it's a good one and it's one that is professional and personable. Just do your best to play well with others.

This may all be rather obvious, but too often I find there are things that get overlooked. Is there anything you first notice or that immediately stays with you?

Calista Taylor is the author of several romantic mysteries and has a steampunk craft book due out in September 2012.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sitting in the Hot Seat

by MarcyKate Connolly

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Writing conference time—when agents and editors crawl out of their caves to hunt and forage for new, tasty manuscripts.

You know you want in on that action.

There are many reasons to attend a writing conference—the workshops, the camaraderie, the chance to schmooze—but the one I hear most is the opportunity to get your precious manuscript in front of agents and editors. That’s right, the infamous pitch and critique sessions.

I’ve had the good fortune to attend a couple of conferences and each time have opted to pay the extra fee for a manuscript critique. For the pitch sessions, they usually listen to your verbal pitch then ask you questions about the story or explain why it did or did not resonate with them. With the manuscript critiques, they read about 10 pages and your query in advance and provide a mix of written and verbal feedback. Personally, I’ve found the critique sessions to be both valuable and occasionally surprising. These professionals have insights that may never occur to our writing peers and even if their critique stings, it will likely serve you well in the long run.

But rest assured, it is not easy. In fact, it can be downright scary.

So, if you do decide to put yourself in the hot seat at a conference this year, here are some tips to help you avoid the potential pitfalls and to get the most out of your session:

1) Drop your expectations. Yes, it’s easy to get swept up in the lovely day dream that you will meet the perfect agent or editor over the pitch table and s/he will sign you on the spot and you’ll all go and live happily ever after.

Honestly? This is highly unlikely to happen. If you sign up for the crit or pitch sessions at a conference, be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons—namely, to learn something. You can of course hope that you’ll get a request (which does happen frequently), just temper that hope with a healthy dose of reality. Otherwise, you’ll walk away disappointed and you may even end up tuning out valuable advice since your focus is on the wrong thing.

2) Be prepared. Print out the sample the agent or editor is critiquing (or your pitch if you go that route). Have a notebook and a pen that works—test it and be sure (there’s nothing worse than scrambling to write down that brilliant gem of feedback only to find out your pen’s a dud!). Bring business cards with your contact info and, for bonus points, your book title and logline printed on the back. They see so many faces that they may not connect your name after the conference is over, but if they took the time to critique part of your manuscript, they might just remember the title and what it was about.

Also, don’t forget to prepare yourself. Get a good night’s sleep (says the girl who never sleeps)—it will put you in a better, more receptive mood to hear feedback. Wear something nice that makes you feel confident, yet comfortable. And it pains me to say this, but don’t overload on the caffeine. A person twitching badly enough to shake the table could freak out even the nicest editor.

3) Be delightful. Even if you don’t feel delightful, fake it until you make it. Chances are, you’re going to be crazy nervous. You will sweat like you just ran a marathon even though you’ll be sitting the whole time. Your palms will be disgusting. You may even feel dizzy or nauseous. No, this is not a fatal disease—it’s perfectly normal. You will not be the first, nor last, person to give that agent or editor a clammy handshake or a stuttered greeting.

Take it from a fellow introvert—get over it. They don’t bite. Say hi, ask them how they’re enjoying the conference. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you. A little small talk can go a long way.

The best piece of advice I can give here is to stop focusing on yourself and focus on your book. That’s why you’re there in the first place, right? Yes, you are still going to worry, but keeping the focus where it belongs will help.

4) LISTEN. And take notes. These people have taken the time to give you thoughtful feedback, so even if you don’t agree, bite your tongue and listen to what they have to say. They may surprise you.

One of the most common things I’ve noticed when talking to others who had a critique or pitch session was that the second they heard something that made them feel defensive, they shut down. They missed everything else that was said. Writers are always complaining that they don’t know why they get rejected, because agents and editors don’t usually provide feedback in rejections. Now here’s an industry professional handing them reasons on a platter, and it’s wasted. Such a shame. Don’t be that guy, OK?

5) Ask questions. This is your golden opportunity to find out what an industry professional thinks about your pitch or pages. Be sure you have a list of questions prepared and printed out. Sometimes you’ll find they answer most or even all of them as they give you feedback, which is why listening is so important. If you’re paying attention, something they’ve said may spark a new question or two and you won’t be left with nothing to say when it’s your turn to speak.

6) Be enthusiastic. I don’t mean you should gush about what an AMAZINGLY talented writer you are, but more that you should not be afraid to love your story and to let that show. You believe in it, right? Well then act like it. Your attitude about your work speaks volumes to the person across the table. It’s OK to show the love, in fact, it could be infectious. Because if you don’t love it, why should anyone else? But if you do, well, maybe they’ll take a closer look.

7) Be grateful. This is more important than you may think. It can also be more difficult than you expect, especially if the agent or editor in question had particularly critical feedback for you. Connections can take you places, so being unpleasant or clearly unhappy with them at the end is a bad idea. They might remember you—and not in a good way. Don’t burn those bridges. On the flipside, taking a critique or rejection on the chin may actually impress them.

So, have you been to a conference and opted for the critique or pitch sessions? How did it go? Leave your tips 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, May 14, 2012

Be Brave

by Stephen L. Duncan

I’m not going to lie. Preparing for my Debut Post here at From the Write Angle kept me up at night. Literally. It’s 4am as I finally write this.

This is a writing and publishing advice blog, and I’ve got loads of writing and publishing advice to offer, but that Debut Post sets a tone. It sets expectations. And that makes me cry just a little bit.

Okay, not literally on that last bit.

So as I floundered on a topic, I looked back at what I might have needed to hear at the beginning of my own journey and what I needed to say here became obvious. Sure, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of being a writer and publication in my later posts, and I’ve got some good stuff to share (if not only from the lessons learned from the many mistakes I’ve made), but for now I want to reinforce something that you already know if you taken just one step forward on this path to see your work in print.

Be brave.

I’ve tried my hand at many a trade in my life. From grinding metal in a steel factory to trying cases in front of a jury. Writing is the hardest of them all. As an author, you are an exposed nerve, baring your soul for other’s bemusement or contempt, often getting no better than the peel of an apple gets from a knife. Understand: the lows will be crushing sometimes.

Be brave.

You will feel unworthy. You will believe, as we all have many times over, that this pursuit is in vain. That you don’t have The Right Stuff. That you have faultered in your belief that you have something to offer through the written word. You will question your talent. You will question your faith. You will question your taste. And at least once, you will quit this dream of making it in an industry that undervalues talent even at the highest peak of success.

Be brave.

Because the feeling of being rewarded for your effort outweighs all else, whether you self publish or land the big contract. We dream big, us writers. It’s part of the job description. We reach for distant stars and to do that we must have courage. We must be strong. In our way stands gatekeeper after gatekeeper. The Great Wall of No. We share in each other a camaraderie—a kind of common bond that is only forged through mass rejection and constant defeat.

Be brave.

This can be done. You can achieve. The goal can be reached. Even as cries of the end of this industry echo down upon us from the apocalypse du jour publishing journal, people will keep reading. Even as rejection after rejection accumulates like drifts of snow upon your desk, know that you may still become an author. Even as you retire a defeated manuscript only to begin again, determined to better your effort, to sharpen your raw talent, believe that your words may well be read one day by those who love books. And authors will always be needed. You, like me and everyone else that has stood in a bookstore and imagined their name on the shelf, can make the dream happen. It is within our power.

So long as you are brave.

Stephen 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 on Twitter.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Welcome New FTWA Bloggers!

I know! It's the weekend and we're posting on From the Write Angle! Quick! Grab your emergency kits because this is an emergency broadcast.

No, not really. You can relax. This is a good, unexpected call in the middle of the night—kind of like those announcing the birth of a baby. And on this fine Mother's Day, we are announcing the arrival of our bouncing baby ... triplets! Three lovely, baby-faced writers who are joining our FTWA family don't look, act, or behave much like triplets, which is odd don't you think? However, you may just find that these new FTWA family members have enough things in common to give my claim a touch of validity.

Without further ado, I proudly introduce MarcyKate Connolly, Stephen L. Duncan, and Riley Regate!

MarcyKate Connolly

MarcyKate Connolly writes young adult fiction and has a passion for fantasy and sci-fi. She recently made it into The Writer's Voice contest. (If you haven't heard about the contest, don't worry, I hadn't heard about it until just the other day. Making a team in the contest is a pretty big deal from what I can tell—so a huge congrats to MarcyKate.) She also had a smashing story about fleeting moments and how meeting one person can impact your life in the Spring Fevers short story anthology. She composes music and has some surprising marketing and HTML skills.

Her first post will be on the topic of writing conferences and will air here on May 16th.

She also blogs at, and she can also be found on Twitter.

Stephen L. Duncan 

Stephen L. Duncan adds a little more testosterone to the FTWA mix and is also a young adult specialist. His first book in The Revelation Saga is due out in 2014. His stories are inspired by his travels around the world and the characters he’s met. His first book was pitched as "a sweeping adventure with elements of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Harry Potter." Yeah, that gets a person interested! Stephen is a new papa and enjoys playing guitar. (Real guitar—not that Rock Band stuff. Although that's fun too.)

His first post will be on following your dreams, meeting your goals, and reaching that finish line and will air on May 14th. (That's tomorrow!)

When he's not on FTWA you can find him blogging at and also tweeting.

Riley Redgate 

Riley Redgate, the third born of the triplets, also writes young adult science fiction. While she doesn't have a special in with strange worlds (as far as we know), she does have a special in with the YA audience as she recently turned eighteen. While Riley is young, she already knows more about writing than many aspiring writers and is ready to take on the world and prove that if you have what it takes, age is irrelevant. She likes to play piano and is an optimistic kind of gal.

If you missed Riley's first FTWA post about coming of age last week, be sure to pop over and read it.

Riley can also be found blogging in her mighty little jungle, or tweeting.


With thanks to these lovely new members, the From the Write Angle team is back up to a lovely fifteen. (For those less into math it means that you should see each of us roughly once every five weeks or so.) As well, we'd like to mention at this time that the lovely and talented Robert K. Lewis and Darke Conteur are taking a sabbatical of sorts from FTWA, but you can still find them hanging out on their own blogs. Check the About the Team page under "About the Alumni" for more information on how to contact them.

If you are curious about any of our FTWA members, we encourage you to check out our About the Team page where you will learn interesting things about who lives in money pits, the pitfalls of wooing pretty girls, and other surprising facts. Also be sure to RSS our posts using the nice "Posts" button on the right under "Subscribe to" so you won't miss a thing!

As well, we take turns tweeting under the @writeangleblog handle on Twitter and occasionally can be found stumbling around on our Facebook page. Join us! We don't bite—much. (And those of us that do have had their rabies vaccination updated. I checked.)

Only a few short months ago, I (Jean Oram) joined the From the Write Angle blog and it already feels like home. In no time at all, I am sure these folks will feel as at home here as they do thanks to our wonderful and loyal readers.

So, without further ado, welcome to our new members!

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's Here! The Writewell Academy for Wayward Writers

by Lucy Marsden

If you liked the March post on Anchor Scenes for Story Structure, then have I got an announcement for you.

New York Times bestselling authors Jennifer Crusie and Lani Diane Rich, who separately are powerhouses of story craft awesomeness, have come together to offer the Writewell Academy for Wayward Writers, an online series of video-lectures, .mp3 downloads, and printable workbooks for anyone excited about the possibility of developing a really strong foundation for writing Craft “In Your Own Time, In Your Own Home, In Your Pajamas (Or Whatever).”

What a motto. And here’s a clip from Writewell:

The free introductory lecture, which provides an overview of the Academy in a Kenote slideshow download, also allows people to download an .mp3 audio file, and a .pdf Notebook, thereby previewing the course information, the delivery style of Crusie and Rich, and the formats in which the content will be delivered. After that, each 30-minute course (organized at the 100-Level, 200-Level, and 300-Level) is available for $10.

I downloaded both Rich’s Introduction to Discovery, and Crusie’s Introduction to Conflict. The links were available immediately after payment, and all of the downloads went without a hitch. The .pdf workbook includes copies of all of the slides, as well as space in which to take additional notes and record in-the-moment epiphanies, which I appreciated, because it meant that I could just relax and absorb the content from the slideshow.

As for the information itself, it was superb. I’m biased, of course, but I believe that writers at every level will appreciate the clarity and the incisiveness with which the concepts are presented, as well as the detailed examples that are given to illustrate how the concepts play out in story development. At times, it’s like watching Penn and Teller break down one of their illusions so that you can see, step-by-step, how the magic comes together: It’s entertaining, inspiring, and if you’re determined to make magic as a story-teller, empowering as all hell. You’re given concrete tools to use in working with your story, and whether you’re a plotter who will want to use the tools early on in the writing process, or a pantser who will find them helpful as part of the revision process, the techniques are there for you. The fact that the information is available visually, aurally, and in print means that you can access the content in whatever way is most useful to you at the time—at home, in the car, Or Whatever.

For myself, I’m hoping to talk my writing circle into coming to play at Writewell, too. The only thing that would make this experience better for me is the chance to bounce some of the ideas around with other folks, using our own stories to explore the course content. My critique partner and I have a long and enjoyable tradition of getting together to argue about Craft concepts that neither of us totally has a handle on, so Writewell promises to provide hours of fun in that respect, if nothing else.

In closing, I’d love to use this post as a jumping-off point for you wise, wonderful FTWA readers to share links and general suggestions for writing courses of any kind that you’ve found powerful. After all, no one option is going to be a fit for every writer, and the more options we have to play with, the stronger and more enjoyable our development as writers can be. See you in the Comments!

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, May 9, 2012

Coming of Age

by Riley Redgate

Today I turn eighteen.

Today I'm legally allowed to get lottery tickets. And spray paint. And children! I can adopt a child!

Er, perhaps I'll hold off on that for a while.

Anyway. I've long heard about this mysterious age, eighteen. Word has it that at eighteen, protagonists turn into world-weary folk no longer suitable for the YA section. At eighteen, protagonists enter the mysterious realm of New Adult. Heck, at eighteen, protagonists are practically fossilized, you know?

me, as of today.
Regardless. Now that I am a Legal Adult, a Human of Great Weight and Importance in the Eyes of the Government, an Independent Entity ... I am qualified to say that I feel absolutely no different. I almost wish it felt stranger, you know? All this buildup, and ... nada. I expected at least some sort of sonic boom as I entered the realms of adulthood.

Oh, well.

So what is it, exactly, that'll turn me into an adult? Certainly not an arbitrary number of years past the date of birth. By my calculations, approximately eight million coming-of-age stories have been written to try and pin down the moment when the boy becomes the man; when the girl becomes the woman. I believe that almost every YA story has a coming-of-age element—and I have three theories to share about this special moment (or period of time). It's different for every personality, every story, but just as many plots are comparable, I believe many characters' transition to adulthood are similar:


1) When They Lost Their Innocence
In The Hunger Games, exactly when did Katniss lose her innocence—was it the first murder she saw in the Arena, or holding someone she loved in her arms as they died ... or was it the experience as a whole? In Lord of the Flies, when did one certain boy realize that the other boys had turned from young men into beasts? In my opinion, this isn't usually so much a moment as a slow transition. It may take months, or years, but when the character emerges from this transformation, he/she is wise. Before, he/she may have been smart, but now he/she is wise. He/She has knowledge of the world, of its faults, and the maturity to accept it. This is rather depressing at its heart, but hey. Now they get to give sage advice to people! You win some, you lose some.

2) When They Knew What to Do
This transition, unlike the above, is one you can pinpoint; one you can spot at the height of the climax. It's where the plot comes together and the main character realizes, I have to sacrifice myself to save my friends! Or maybe, I have to let go of my memories to move on from the past. Or perhaps, I have to take charge of this army and lead them across a sunny field while raising my sword and crying, "FOR NARNIA!" You know. That type of thing. This is a clearly marked turning point. It's where a young person, who has been led by circumstance, often guided by adults and restrained by his/her own self-doubt, bursts free of adolescent fears. This is a culminating moment, a glorious moment of surety. The moment he/she takes charge, accepts responsibility for his/her actions, and bears the weight of independence and what that entails.

3) When They Changed
Sometimes we aren't the same people at the end of a journey as we were at the beginning. (Hi there, Frodo.) Often, the most fascinating dynamic characters are those who emerge with traits that weren't evident at all at the beginning (Hi there, Harry). Whether that's a sense of bravery, heightened respect for others, or newfound humility, a wonderful way to add a feeling of maturity is to work in a different face to the character, a different type of emotion altogether. A new dimension; another facet. After all, adolescence is about exploration, the discovery of who we really are. Coming out with more self-knowledge will always be the hallmark of a good ol' learning experience.

There you have it—my three categories. Now, having talked about growing up for a while ... I'm off to build a fort out of pillows and blankets, complain about school, and eat unhealthy food. Legal adulthood? Ha! You're only as old as you feel. And I feel positively embryonic! (Ew.)

*clears throat* And on that ... evocative note ...

How old do you feel? And do you have a favorite Bildungsroman?

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

Monday, May 7, 2012

Muse, Marketplace, Masters

by Pete Morin

I spent this past weekend at The Muse & The Marketplace, a very popular writers conference run by Grubb Street, a superb literary non-profit organization here in Boston. This is a sort of “report from the Front.”

I decided to attend my first M&M because of my previously reported travails that arose out of being a pantser. The program offered a number of seminars on plotting and revision, taught by published authors with superb credentials. The signature of M&M.

So I began Saturday morning with “The Organic Outline,” hosted by Josh Weil, a man with quite a resume, including fellowships and awards from the Fulbright Foundation, the Dana Foundation, the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, the James Merrill House, and the MacDowell Colony. When he started quoting Flannery O’Connor about the definition of “organic,” I feared I was in deep water. “Don’t impose the form upon the story,” he urged. “Allow the form to arise out of the material.” He described the organic outline as a “scaffolding or road map,” but with a lot of flexibility.

Josh referred to Stephen King’s mistrust of plot as the enemy of “spontaneity,“ what happens in the moment. A story makes itself, he said.  “The writer’s job is to give it a place to grow.”

This was promising to be a fine weekend, I thought. Josh had accomplished in just one hour what I’d failed to do in four months—he’d given me some reassurance that the process was indeed as mysterious and vexing for him as li’l old me.

Two further seminars on plotting and “writer as entrepreneur” delivered their own valuable nuggets, but the lunch was worth the weekend by itself.

M&M offers its participants a special opportunity on Saturday to share lunch with one of the M&M’s special guests. For an extra $75, one can eat a ginger & soy seared salmon with a star instead of eating dry chicken in the main ballroom.

I’d splurged, and been given my first choice, Barry Eisler (although I would have been thrilled with any of the special guests, who included dozens of published authors, literary agents, in-house and independent editors, publicists, etc.). Barry is a consummate gentleman, generous with his time and attention, and palpably intelligent. His shared some insights into what made a couple of recent films and novels stand above their competition, and was genuinely curious about our own paths.

But all due admiration for Barry, he was not the highlight of the lunch. It was the sudden realization that the man sitting to my right was Jason Ashlock, the founder and President of Moveable Type Management, a very successful (and young!) New York agency that has moved beyond the standard agency model to offer its writers more aggressive strategies and services in the digital marketplace. Jason’s personal interest is in the non-fiction market in history and politics, so we had some common ground there, particularly regarding my old friend Michael Beschloss. Jason asked about my self-publishing experience, why I did it, how it was going, and what I thought the future looked like. Sharp fella, and genuinely curious.

Also at the table, Ben Winter, a multi-published, multi-genre novelist and writing teacher, and Michelle Toth, a Grubb Street Board member and recent debut novelist. Both radiated their passion for fiction and interest in their colleagues.

All I can say is this:

You tend to learn something from hanging around these peeps, doncha think?

Saturday came to an exhilarating post-cocktail crescendo with the keynote address from Richard Eoin Nash. Nash’s resume is too long to recite here. Jet me just tell you that this man induced goosebumps at the three minute mark of his address, and if I mentioned his name ten times today, the goosebumps returned each time. He is a true visionary and boundary pusher, and you should rush off and see what he’s been up to at Small Demons, Red Lemonade and Cursor. You really won’t believe it.

Here was Nash’s preface: As traditional publishing frets about the threat to their loss of control in publishing, we need to be reminded that before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1450, authors were 100% “in control” of publishing their work.[1]

Is my enthusiasm seeping through here?

What could possibly top that, right? Surely, it was all denouement from here.

Eh, wrong.

Sunday began with Stephen McCauley (whose 1988 novel, Object of My Affection, was adapted to movie in 1998) and Alessandro Nivola discussing what makes a novel good fodder for a film. I knew McCaluey from an earlier social occasion, but truth be told, I’d never heard of Nivola before. Dumb me. Man’s got a rezzie. And he went to Exeter and Yale, so he’s smaht, too.

Of course, McCauley asked him, every novelist firmly believes his/her novel is destined to become an Oscar-worthy film. What does Alessandro want to see in a script?

A lovable rogue who’s a total mess, hot blooded and reckless, with a big heart. Sounds like Paul Forte to me!

What can fiction writers learn from screenplay writers?

Economy. Feeling of movement, rhythm. Something changing in every scene.  And subtext. People rarely say what they mean.

After a luncheon keynote address from the incredibly magnetic Julia Alvarez and  some useful tips and talk about marketing and promotion, it was time to get back into the nuts and bolts of the novel revision process. In this  final exercise (for me), I was dumbstruck to watch as Alexander Chee weaved us through his own process, as much tools as magic and mirrors, where I was once again reminded of what Josh Weil had mentioned 30 hours before – that the process of writing fiction is organic, has a life of its own, and if we do it right, we are not totally in control of where our stories go and must trust our characters and Muse to guide us.

I’ve felt since late 2011 that I was slipping into a bit of a funk, unable to complete my second manuscript or market my first with any vigor or enthusiasm. I needed a slap in the face and a pat on the back. Little did I know that M&M was going to give me both, delivered time and again by a roster of amazing and inspiring talent.

[1] Gutenberg was also the inventor of “moveable type,” although Nash credited his successor, Manutius Aldus with the more important inventions of the semi-colon and italics. He also credited the company named after him for the creation of Pagemaker, the first available tool for desktop publishing, as the beginning of the threat to traditional publishing.

Pete Morin is the author of Diary of a Small Fish and can occasionally be found swimming in his own pond.

Friday, May 4, 2012

5 Tips for Holding an Online Contest

by Jean Oram

Hosting an online contest whether it's on your blog, website, Twitter, Facebook, or all of the above is a great way to reward your audience, create buzz, expand your reach, and promote your brand or product (book!).

However, not all contests are created equal. A few weeks ago we held our first contest here on From The Write Angle and while its success may have seemed guaranteed and easy, a lot of time and planning went into the contest to ensure it didn't flop miserably.

If you are considering hosting a contest now, or in the future, here are Five for Friday tips to help you make the most out of your contest.

5 Tips for Holding a contest

Five Ways to Get The Most Out of Your Online Contest:

1. Purpose

It's important to know why you are holding a contest. Is it strictly for fun and a way to reward your loyal readers? It is to expand your reach? Promote your book? Generate more "likes" or followers?

Depending on your purpose, it will change your approach as well as your contest criteria.

2. Criteria

Successful contests take a lot of time. Do you have the time (and desire) to read through a large pile of flash fiction (we did!), or do you simply want to draw a name from a hat? Do you have the time to build buzz before and during your contest as well as draw and announce winners followed by distributing prizes? Don't mess with your contest's schedule—plan ahead!

If you are hoping to generate "likes" on Facebook you might consider holding the contest right on Facebook. (Note: If you are holding a contest on Facebook you will need to use a Facebook app in order to stay within Facebook's contest holding rules—if you don't they could shut down your page and account without warning. Eek!)

When determining your contest's criteria, keep in mind that asking people to do great things for you such as like your Facebook page, follow your blog, follow you on Twitter, Tweet your contest, or whatever else you might come up with, may reduce the number of potential entrants significantly. Some people won't jump through hoops, aren't on social networks, or simply don't have the time to find you and follow you in all these places. Essentially you are asking them to promote you ... but for what? The slim chance they may win. Make it easy for them and make it worth it. Contests are fun. Not work for the entrant.

If your purpose is to gain followers and you really want to make following you a condition of entry, consider this idea: Give every entrant one entry for doing something simple like commenting on your blog. Then give an additional entry for any 'bonus' thing they do such as tweeting your contest. This way those who really desire the prize and don't mind sharing the word and have the time to do so, get more entries. But remember that you will have to keep track of who has jumped through which entry hoop. As well, what do you do for those who are already following you?

3. Details

Details are important and can make or break a contest. Remember to tell people HOW to enter. (You might be surprised how many contests forget this detail). WHERE to enter (especially important if you are talking about your contest on multiple social media platforms). WHEN to enter. (When does the contest open and close? Don't forget timezone info!) WHO can enter. (Can previous winners enter? Is this contest closed to people outside your home country?)

Always, always provide a direct link to your contest page or post. If people have to sift through blog posts, website pages, etc., to find your contest you will lose them. Make it easy and you will gain more entrants.

4. Prizes

Large prizes are wonderful, but keep your costs in mind. Who is going to pay for the prize and its shipping? Is a $50 prize going to be worth the five entries you receive? What about if you had 50 entries? What ROI (Return on Investment) are you hoping for? What will it take to accomplish that?

If you aren't sure, take a look around at networks similar to yours. Based on their contests, guesstimate how many entries you could get.

And when choosing your prizes, don't forget to consider what would appeal to your audience.

Note: You might consider a smaller prize for your first contest—think of it as a trial, risk-free learning contest. Save the big prizes for when you really know what you are doing and can knock your contest right out of the park with its awesomeness.

5. Promotion

If you want to reach new people and expand the reach of your contest, you are probably going to have to publicize your contest until the cows come home. Smart, unique ways to expand your contest's reach is essential. Overall, people retweet funny and unique, not spammy and self-promotional.

When promoting your contest you could do like many do (a.k.a. the lazy way) and rely on the entrants to spread the word. But keep in mind that asking your entrants to publicize your contest is bittersweet for them. Every person they tell who enters decreases their odds of winning—and they know it. It's up to you to make sure you find interesting ways to promote your contest over different networks, on different days, and at different times of the day. Don't expect people to miraculously find you and enter.

Direct links to your contest page/post (as mentioned already) are vital, but so is adding a footnote subsequent blog posts as well as a note or badge on your sidebar or wherever you can add one. Promote, promote, promote! Don't let people come to your site and miss your contest. Most people over promote their books and under promote their contests.

For example, we (the FTWA team) barely promoted our contest for about the first week or so. And we got two entries. Then we gave ourselves a little smack and tweeted, shouted, Facebooked, blogged, and taglined about the contest wherever seemed suitable. That afternoon we got four more entries and it kept growing from there. So do what you need to do to get the word out!

Note: Use hashtags like #free and #contest when promoting on Twitter.

Now that you've looked at five contest tips from the write angle, let us know what you think about contests. What advice would you share? What do you like in a contest? What do you hate? What drives you to enter a contest? Have you ever held a contest? Share with us! We'd love to hear your thoughts and make next year's blogiversary contest even bigger and better! (And yes, we are already planning next year!! We're crazy that way.)

Jean Oram usually wins contests when she is the only entrant. She blogs about writing, and also tweets about it, facebooks, and pins playful kid's play stuff on Pinterest. (She'd feel like a real winner if you followed her.) ;)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Good Thing I Have A Keeper

by Mindy McGinnis

As evidenced on RC's blog, I made a trip to New Mexico this past week to talk to the students at the New Mexico School for the Deaf about reading and writing. The kids were amazing, the campus was beautiful, and I enjoyed Albuquerque.

But I'm not here to talk about that.

Instead, I want to tell you how absolutely awesome it was to meet my crit partner. You might expect me to talk about how relieved we both were to find out that we get along as well in person as we do online (and we did), or how cool it was to be able to pitch the infant WIP aloud and get instant feedback (it was), but I'm not going to. The topic here is how critical RC was to my survival for the past five days.

RC picked me up from the airport upon my arrival (helpful), let me crash on her couch (thank God), and took me through the world of the deaf much like Virgil to my Dante... with the exception that the school didn't resemble hell in any way and it was actually much hotter upon my return to Ohio than it was in New Mexico.

The real adventure for me kicked in on Sunday morning when RC took me to the airport, and my flight out was horribly undeserving of being called a "flight" as it never went into the air. Plenty of others did and I watched them take wing from my precarious stand-by status for a solid 8 hours, at the end of which I texted RC and said, "So, it looks like I need your couch again tonight. And also a ride back to your place. And also can you wake up at 4 AM tomorrow and take me to the airport again?"

To which she emphatically said, "Whatever you need."

I was keeping my nervous mother (who refuses to acknowledge the fact that I'm 33 and fully capable) apprised of the situation. When I told her RC was accommodating me in all capacities she said, "You've gotta be thankful for a friend like that!"

And I am. But I was thankful for RC long before she became a cog in my survival wheel.

As a crit partner, RC hits that fine line of praise and criticism that is crucial to a healthy writing partnership. She tells me when I've done well, but she also calls me out on my shit, including my not so wonderful grasp of the purpose of semicolons. Feedback from RC gets a lot of weight in my book. Any and all of my rewrites based upon her suggestions and tempered with my authorial standpoint have met with praise from my beta readers, and my agent as well. So remember readers, treasure your crit partners that treat you well, and cultivate those relationships.

You never know when you may need a ride to the airport.

Or someone to pack your lunch for you.

Mindy McGinnis is a school librarian and author whose debut Not a Drop to Drink is coming Fall 2013 from Katherine Tegen Books. She's also an aficionado of root beer and really excellent hamburgers. When she's not stuck in airports, you can find her at her blog and on Twitter.