Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday - online writing talk with Talk Shoe

Visit TalkShoe for a series of live talks on the freelance writing life. Information and instructional. You can listen live or after the fact from their library of past audios. You can call in to join in the talk.

Photo by Chance Agrella

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Are My Queries Being Rejected?



It's something every writer must face, and frequently. Writers are hurt by it, obsess over it and continually cry out, WHY?  Why me?  Why did they reject that piece of writing; MY piece of writing when I know it's very good if not fantastic?

First question often is why are they (editors, agents, publishers) rejecting my writing when my friends and relatives love it so much.

Uh, well, first shot at this is objectivity.  The agent/editor/publisher has it.  Your friends and relatives don't. Editors are looking for something specific in the work they review - relatives and friends not so much.

So you're going to get rejections, probably lots of them, and you're going to have to learn to get over them and learn from them.

Sometimes a rejection is just an error in submission.  At times an error you couldn't even foresee.  For example:

*The publisher/agent you chose to submit to was not appropriate to what you're writing.  It happens. Maybe you didn't do your homework thoroughly enough or maybe they changed what they're looking for. Either way, result = rejection.

*With the economy as it is maybe your timing is just off.  Maybe where you sent it has cut back on their publications. Perhaps an editor who might have been interested left to go with another publication. Perhaps they perceive the market to have changed and your material no longer fits what they're looking for.

*Maybe what you've submitted is eerily similar to something they've already published or contracted for. That happens sometimes too. It's the universal consciousness thing - sometimes you tie into an idea someone else has had as well and that someone else has simply beaten you to it.

*Consider the materials you've submitted.  Are they as professional as possible? Did you address to a named person and not "Dear Sir or Madam"? Did you meet all the submission guidelines down to the last crossed t? Was your submission (if on paper) neat and fresh, not fingerprinted and dog-eared?

*Maybe the genre or area you've chosen is over published.  You might be able to sell it at a later date.

*If you're writing non-fiction - articles or proposing a book, are your credentials up to the job?  Have you  made your credentials clear in your query letter? Are you developing some sort of marketing platform such as a blog, Twitter, or some other avenue you can point to through which you can promote your books?

*If you're lucky enough to get a personal note are you taking it seriously, reading it, deciding if/what might be changed in you writing to make it stronger?

So you're getting rejection slips. How many should you collect before you decide it isn't worth it and give up on that piece of writing? That's something you'll have to figure out it your own gut. If it's something you've put years in on writing, a novel perhaps, giving up quickly would be tragic. Instead consider analyzing those rejection slips for a pattern for something you may need to change in that writing to make it more appealing.

The majority of writers don't sell t heir first novel.  Not a very up-lifiting thought, I know, but the truth.  You may have to give up on it.  But don't get rid of it. There may be parts of it that can be used in another novel or perhaps characters that work there.

Now, there's one last thing I'd like to say, no offense to editors, etc., but well, they're human just like we writers are. They can feel sick, have a bad day, or be served with divorce papers while holding your query on wedding planning in the other hand. What do you suppose would happen next?

There simply are times when it's just the luck of the draw.  Don't take it personally. See what you can learn from it and move on.

So consider all the angles, accept you're going to receive rejections and don't let it get you down. Writers aren't born published. Editors and Agents aren't born all-knowing.

You can feel free to rant and rave privately when you receive a rejection, then get back to work.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday- Query Tracker

Ah, Wednesday.  Here we go. Query Tracker is a great follow-up to the discussion I posted yesterday regarding pondering agents.

It lists well over 1,000 agents (more like over 1,200) and it will also help you track your queries. Free. Just sign up as a member and have at it. You can track queries to publishers as well if you aren't ready for an agent.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thinking About An Agent

This is a question most writers are confronted with whether they want to be or not.  Do I need an agent?  Is now the right time to get an agent? If not an agent, then what?

Well, I could write a book on the subject, but this is a blog post so I'll try to keep it fairly short and clean, give you a few tips and get your thinking started.

To begin you need to determine whether you need or want an agent and if now is the time.

Under that heading, as a new writer, you need to consider:

1. Do you  have a completed manscript?
2. Do you have the patience & ability to read a legal contract all the way through & understand what you've read - or the resources to have that done?
3. Are you thick-skinned and not easy to intimidate?
4. Are you willing to decide to walk away from a deal if it isn't the one you want?
5. Are you sure and comfortable handling business meetings regarding your artistic work?

If those questions are mostly yes, you might want to go it on your own, handling your own marketing for now.  But of course that can change later so....

If you've decided it's time to find yourself an agent here are some basics:

Hit the books.

Libraries are great resources and of course the Web. Check out Publishers Weekly to see which agents make the big deals and ones who represent the sort of work you do along with which may be looking for clients.

Writer's Market  has a great for pay site that can be very helpful.  You can also find a hard copy of Writer's Market (current ed) at your library, or buy a hard copy online.

Check out magazines for writers or ones that are genre-specific. Agents have been known to advertise in such places.  Try checking out your library or local bookstore for magazines that might fill the bill.

There's also a book called "Guide To Literary Agents" put out by Writer's Digest Books.  Also available at libraries or bookstores.

Another approach beyond the books and research is the personal touch.  If you know another author see if he or she can recommend anyone and if so, if that agent represents your genre.  If that is the case and you want to connect, write a very short, professional query letter and send it off.

If you don't know another writer, check with librarians (amazing what they know), or writing instructors at local colleges, etc. Maybe take a course to improve your writing while you're at it.

Even more personal if you have the time and funds, check around and arrange to attend writers' conferences, conventions or seminars. Literary agents often attend, interested in finding new clients and to represent their current clients. 

A few words on professionalism here if you're going to do the personal contact route. Remember to dress nicely.  You don't have to be formal, but don't be raggedy either.  Sorry, first impressions do count. Be polite at all times, not aggressive or demanding. They don't owe you a thing.  Try to have a private meeting if you discover an agent who particularly apeals and who reprsents your kind of work. If you're that lucky, be brief, think in terms of the famous 60 second elevator speech, explain your project (which manuscript should already be finished or so close to it as to effectively be there).  If you connect, don't thrust your manuscript under the agent's nose.  He or she probably doesn't want it right then anyway (how would you like to tote home many weighty manuscripts in a suitcase from a conference?)  Ask if they'd like to see it or a partial and where you can send it. Then be sure to include a cover letter to remind the agent where and how you met.

Remember this is a business arrangement, the agent is not your baby sitter or hand holder no matter what you've seen on TV or in the movies. Check out your potential agent as best you can. Ask what fees are charged. Most agents still charge between 10 and 15% of the income for domestic sales and 25% for foreign sales. An agent shouldn't charge for things like domestic phone calls or his or her own bookkeeping, but they do charge for special expesnses like overseas calls and photocopying unless you have an agreement otherwise. Ask.

One more thing to keep in mind about agents.  Yes, it's true they work for you. And most of them work very hard. BUT, they have to cultivate relationships with editors and remain on their good side in order to sell books. That can make it a situation where loyalties can be a bit confused.

In closing you can check out the Association of Author's Representatives as well.  The website offers info on agents.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday - Resouce for YA & Children's Writers

Yes, it's once again time to tell you about a website for writers.  This time it's Cynsations. Run by New York Times & Publisher's Weekly best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith - a blog - it offers lots of resources including general resources for writers, plenty of editor, agent, publisher and more interviews in a large archive, and more. If you write for children or young adults, check it out.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Elaborating On Story & Plot

What Do You Know About Story?

Aside from the fact that maybe you want to write them? 

Hey, I just got down from a three day kick-back and I'm feeling kind of mellow, so I don't want to write about anything to technical or complicated so I thought I'd give some time to the general idea of writing stories. An extension of what I posted last week about Plot.

Now here's the thing.  People  have been telling stories for thousands of year. Realistically, it's the same story over and over.  People, events and locations will change, but stories basically remain the same. They're based on fear, anger, love and hate. What motivates us humans; kindness, envy greed, ambition, power and lust, will always provide the writer with the fuel needed to hold a mirror up that human condition and create even more variations on stories that have been told many times over.

So, to manipulate all that information you need to have a plan.

Even a simple plan.

As the writer the setting and background needs to be plain in your own mind. You need to think of things like how the weather might affect your story ("It was a dark and stormy night"). Does the story cover some territory or is it set entirely inside an old mansion? Have you decided on a particular genre? Horror? Sci/Fi? Fantasy? Western? Mystery? Romance?

This all goes back to the planning. Some writers plan out every detail of every nuance in the story, some just go ahead with a minimal outline and fill in the meat at they go. Plainly, no matter the amount of planning characters will not always do what they're supposed to, action will change and locations will be adjusted to fit the evolving tale, BUT some preparation is necessary and many authors don't take the time to accomplish that step. This can lead to characters wandering aimlessly, a story that is disorganized and uninteresting and a possessing a number of other ailments.

For myself the best approach has proved to be having a structure - an organization of events I plan to have take place that lead in a path from beginning to end.  One problem solved from the get-go.  Many writers never finish the story they begin telling. It's good to have a horizon line in view - a destination. Of course a horizon is pretty much a moving thing so the writer has to keep tabs on what's happening and keep the horizon evolving. That's where destination comes in handy. You have a goal to reach, but much can change between here and there.

Part of the trick is to begin the story as far in as you can manage. Don't feel you have to pave a road to lead your reader down. He or she will be delighted to jump right in there with you. Readers are always ready to suspend their disbelief and real knowledge of the world, but the skilled writer gives them a reason to read. A hook to get started and a great tale to keep them going.

To accomplish that again, we go back to planning. If you as the writer know where you're going the reader will follow along. If you're rambling and your characters seem to have no purpose you're going to lose them.

So know where you're going, give your hero lots of obstacles to overcome and complications to deal with. Give him dead ends and frustrations, times he has to double-back, but always keep your end in sight and you're going to find no matter how complicated you've made it, no matter how many twists in your story, your hero will find a way forward to a satisfying end.

And now I'm sharpening my own focus, returning to the 'grind' so to speak and I have some great ideas as to where I'm going.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Writers Websites Wednesday - Screenwriting; The Hero's Journey

Screenwriting: The Hero's Journey  Okay right up front I'm going to tell you if you get enthused by this site it could cost you if you buy the Complete Hero's Journey for about $199 US.  On the other hand there's quite a lot of great info right in your face for free.  A couple of videos of instruction, some very clear text on the hero's journey, an offer to sign up for their mailing list of tips of the day and a free sample you can download before even thinking about whether you want to make the $ commitment.

For the record, no, I don't get any kick-back should you decide to buy the Complete Hero's Journey.  Yes, I looked quite closely at the sample and liked what I saw, and I do have a copy of Chris Vogler's The Writer's Journey in my library which I've often referred to.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Do You Know About Plot?

Plot Isn't Just Stuff That Happens

It doesn't matter whether your story is full of action in that things are gonna blow up and people are going to race around in cars or if it's more cerebral and emotional, like are John and Jane going to find true love. The fact of the matter is you as the writer have one imperative job and that is to make sure your reader is compelled to turn that page in order to find out what happens next.

To accomplish that it is essential that you have a plot and like I said, plot isn't just stuff that happens. So, what's the difference between a good plot that leads to publication and large readership and a bad plot that leaves the manuscript of hundreds of pages and hours of blood, sweat and tears, unpublished?

Here are the basics:

The (frankly bad) unpublished novel will usual introduce a 'hero' or 'heroine', then take the reader by the hand and introduce the main character's friends, mother, father, siblings, cat, neighbor's dog, co-workers and the neighborhood spy by putting each one in an interminable scene in which they demonstrate their many flaws and characteristics, one following another in an endless stretch of pages.  That's followed by long and plentiful scenes in which one or the other or multiples of the group interact with each other, react to each other while pacing floors, sitting on porches or driving across town.  Oh, and each element of every location is described in painful detail. The reader  is now nodding off - presuming he or she is even still reading which is highly doubtful. In fact, almost certainly not happening.

The good novel, and one which will have a much more positive chance of publication, begins with the introduction of a sympathetic character who has a truly thorny problem. It may be action oriented, it doesn't have to be. The plot moves forward and details emerge as the protagonist goes to the limit to solve the problem while coping with disturbing, shocking, even confusing information which flows to or is dragged to his attention. He may take action at every turn, may be temporarily paralyzed by events, but eventually the problem is solved - and in a way that hopefully surprises the reader. But, even with surprise, the ending must be satisfying, inevitable.

Basically, writing the novel that begs to be read boils down to the simple adage: cut to the chase. 

In order to do that you, as the writer, need to know what that is. Don't sit down and write, simply grinding out pages, not knowing where the story is going. Don't write pages explaining why you're writing the story you're writing or why the characters are doing what they are doing. 

Begin your story as late into it as you possibly can. Know where you are taking it. You may write an outline or just work it out in your head. Whatever works. Just don't cut off your story-telling momentum by spinning circular tales that may have some background interest but don't move the story forward. Background info necessary to the story must be woven into events as they unfold, not laid out in the beginning like a banquet. Don't give the reader your hero's life story to this point as a prolog to everything that's about to happen.
Instead feed your reader tidbits of information to draw him along, to provide small explanations as to behavior and goals and don't leave things hanging.  An element introduced must be  integrated, explained or tied up by the end.

Read your favorite book again, this time examining for plot. Note the way the author spun the tale, wove in details and finally concluded.

Because, you know, plot isn't just stuff that happens. 

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