Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Link Special #5, Plus!

I think it was a slow blogging week all around. Not as many links to share this week but here's what I've got for you:

Agent Janet Reid passes on this bit of advice from Ira Glass for new writers. Agent Mary Kole wrote about Time Period Settings and the appropriate use of. Highly recommended post. Author C.C. Hunter shares 5 Pieces of Well-Meaning Writing Advice That I'm Glad I Didn't Take. 'Nuff said.

For those on the prowl for agents or who are compiling their agent research:

Literary Rambles spotlights agent Jennifer Jackson from the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She represents and is looking for: Commercial Fiction, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Crime, Thrillers / Suspense, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Romance, Multicultural, and Young Adult.

Guide to Literary Agents has posted a spotlight on new agent, Kathleen Rushall of Waterside Productions. She's looking for: YA and MG fiction across the board (historical fiction, science fiction, mystery, humor, fantasy, romance, thriller, and horror), picture books, and adult nonfiction (business, parenting, how-to, women's interest, humor, health, crafts).

GLA also has an interview with agent Sandy Lu of the L. Perkins Agency. She represents and is looking for: In fiction, she is looking for dark literary and commercial fiction, mystery, thriller, psychological horror, paranormal/urban fantasy, historical fiction, and YA. In particular, she is looking for historical thrillers or mysteries set in Victorian times, and she has recently fallen in love with steampunk. Her nonfiction areas of interest include narrative nonfiction, history, biography, memoir, science, psychology, pop culture, and food writing. She also has a particular interest in Asian or Asian-American writing, both original and in translation, in both fiction and nonfiction. She does not represent: romance, high fantasy, children’s picture books, how-to/self-help, parenting, religion/spirituality, and sports.

And agent Weronika Janczuk of D4E0 Literary has put out a call for manuscripts! You can find out what she's looking for here.

On a more personal note, my friend Cherie from Ready. Write. Go.was passing around blogging awards and gave Yesternight's Voyage a mention. Thank you, Cherie!

The rules that go along with the award are as follows:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated me.
2. Share seven random facts about myself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them. fulfill #2...
Random fact #1:
I'm not really from anywhere. My family moved constantly while I was growing up. And no, my dad wasn't in the military. Even as an adult, I've continued to move around and haven't put down roots anyplace special yet.

Random fact #2:
I get mushroom cravings. And not of the magic kind.

Random fact #3:
I can paper the walls of my office with the maps I've drawn for one made-up world. Mapmaking relaxes me and helps me work on writing without actually playing with words--unless I'm naming places.

Random fact #4:
I went to travel school and had a career as a tour wholesaler. Basically, I put together travel packages for travel agents to sell. The people in my office did all the deal searching, communication with suppliers, and made the actual bookings. Lots of research, hee hee.

Random fact #5:
I'm an old movie nut. Grew up on the likes of Cary Grant, Danny Kaye, Fred Astaire, Deanna Durbin, Audrey Hepburn, and many more. Many conversations in my family were half-comprised of bantering movie quotes.

Random fact #6:
I play two instruments and dabble in music composition. Love listening to music too.

Random fact #7:
The smell of coffee makes me nauseous and for several years I didn't like chocolate. How's that for bucking stereotypes? Oh, and I also don't have a dog or a cat.

*wipes hands* Well, that's done. Now to pass on the award/mention:

Have a great weekend everyone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Savvy Writer: Organized and Educated

The query process is daunting. Research, writing the query letter, finding agents, more research, rewriting that query letter a few more times, getting feedback from others on the query letter, etc. When it comes to the research and finding agents part, I think I might have some valuable input. (For good input on the actual query letter, you might want to start here or here.)

Where to begin? Finding literary agents is kind of like a game of hide-and-seek. There is no one all-encompassing reference, especially as agents come and go, switch agencies, or start up their own. There are many literary agent lists found in publications and online. Putting all that information down and keeping tabs on everything is a chore in itself.

You may already have a system for storing and maintaining a list of possible literary agents to query. How do you do it? Or you might rely solely on some writer websites to do the work for you.

I like to use an Excel spreadsheet. It's offline, can easily be added to, and has all the information I've gathered on one page. Whether you use a program like Excel or even just a simple notebook, it's important to keep organized and gather up as much information as you can in order to pinpoint the agents most likely to represent your type of fiction or nonfiction and to personalize those query letters.

What kind of information should you look for and record?
1) Full name of the agent and the agency she works for. Double check for things like spelling and gender.
2) The agency's address and website.
3) The agent's submission e-mail, website, or blog url. (Once you have this info use it. Follow their blog, check in regularly on their website when getting ready to query, keep tabs on submission guidelines.)
4) What the agent represents or is looking for.
5) Is this particular agent open to new submissions? Are they interested in previously published writers only or will they take on the unpublished? Sometimes agents become closed to submissions for a period of time. It's something to check into before you send out that next batch of queries.
6) How do they prefer they to get query letters? E-mail? Snail mail only? Any particular words needed in the subject line? What do they want included in the query letter? Do they want sample pages? A synopsis? Attachments or no attachments for an e-mail?
7) Tracking record of the agent. This can be membership in AAR, listings in notable databases like AgentQuery or QueryTracker, Publisher's Marketplace to see what the agent has recently sold, online interviews, etc. Can this agent be easily found? What sort of feedback and reputation does this agent have? How old or new is this agent as far as experience is concerned?
8) Who does this agent represent? Part of the query research is knowing where your novel might be shelved in bookstores. Who else writes your type of fiction or nonfiction? Who represents those authors? I always check the acknowledgement section of a book to see if the author has listed their literary agent. That little piece of information can tell you more than a dozen blog interviews.

I do recommend gathering this kind of information right away, even if you're not ready to actively query yet. In fact, if your not ready, this is the perfect time to do the research. If you're chomping at the bit to send out those query letters, scrambling to get all of the information listed above will seem even more daunting. It does take time. Is it worth it? Yes.

When we send out those query letters, we don't want to simply snag any old agent. We want an agent who loves the type of stories (or subject matter for nonfiction) that we write. We want an agent that we can work well with as a business partner. Sending out queries blindly handicaps writers. When an offer of representation is made, are you prepared to make an educated decision?

On the flip side, agents like writers who do their homework. Writers who follow submission guidelines and personalize their query letters to the agent show professionalism. Writers who know what a particular agent represents and likes are more likely to query the right agents for their work, saving time and frustration for both sides.

On Thursday I'll share a great blog dedicated to rounding up information on literary agents so be sure to check in then.

If anyone has other great tips for organizing agent research, please share it. There are some online writer services that allow writers to gather and list agents. I've yet to find any that compile everything on the list above, though. The fewer places one has to look for gathered info, the less hassle, in my opinion.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Link Special #4

Hello and thank you to those who pop in to check on the blog. Sorry I forgo providing a bunch of useful links last week. I was out for medical reasons and am recuperating fine. I took some time to dive further into the world of Twitter to see what I could see, and learn what it was all about. I may share my conclusions at a later date. Had fun coming up with a new writing project to work on that channels my inner villain which ate up some of the long recuperation hours as well. But for now, here are this week's batch of goodies:

To kick things off, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good leveler of a post on The 5 Myths About the "Information" Age. There's some good perspective in this one no matter what side of the debate you support or want to believe.

The Intern socks it to our inhibitions and inadequacies regarding our own writing compared to other people. All I can say, is thank you, Intern.

Jan O'Hara shares some insight into query letters through the process of selecting a good high school. Some good, solid advice to be read.

In the middle of Synopsis Hell? Agent Jim McCarthy dives right in and lays out what needs to go into one and what you can leave out. The leaving out part had me silently exhaling in relief.

In regards to writing craft:
Cherie Tucker tackles pronoun usage over at Author Magazine. Toni McGee Causey discusses The Art and Soul of POV at Murder She Writes. Fellow AQCer Cherie posts a good case for rule breaking On Dialogue and Comma Splices at Ready. Write. Go. And the Intern shows the Top Ten Reasons You Should Rewrite That Scene.

And if you write dystopian, steampunk, fantasy, dark fantasy, paranormal, or cozy mysteries you might want to pop over to look at GLA's agent advice post from Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management, to see if she might be a good fit for your query list.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Outlining: The Simple Version

There are typically two types of writers: outliners and pantsers. I'm both, though I tend to favor the former over the latter, more so the older I get.

An outline is a tool, a very valuable tool, especially if you want to finish a story or revise one. You pull back from your intimate perspective of the story and contemplate the big picture. Today, I'd like to share a very easy and basic outline (there are several different ways to outline so this is by no means the only way to go.) It came in handy for me for National Novel Writing Month a couple of years ago, and is easy enough, yet vague enough, for a pantser to use. You may have heard of it before or some variation of it. I compiled suggestions from three other writers to come up with this. Bear in mind, this primarily works for genre fiction.

1) Write down in one or two sentences what the main plot or storyline is. Whether it's a thread of romance, a mystery, a goal, a natural disaster, an internal or external conflict. What is the main story of the book?
2) Write down in a sentence or two what the subplot(s) is/are.
3) Follow the outline guidelines for each plot thread. Put a star by parts where one or more of these threads join or boomerang off each other. (Hint: these are your nodes of conjunction, powerful places in the story that give readers an “A-ha!” moment.)

Title the outline: Main Plot, Subplot A, Subplot B, etc.
Part I or Act I:
1) Write down the inciting event of that plotline briefly. What gets this plotline moving?
     a) What's the problem?
     b) How is the protagonist embarking on change?
2) Write down the protagonist's first attempt to fix the problem or achieve his goal.
     a) Failure & consequences.
     b) What new insights does the protagonist gain?
     c) What is his new plan to tackle the problem or goal?
     d) Create a doorway of no return to the way he was at the beginning.
Part II or Act II:
1) Write down the protagonist's second attempt to fix the problem or achieve his goal.
     a) Failure & consequences.
     b) What new insights does the protagonist gain?
2) The Worst Happens.
     a) Reaction & inner development.
     b) What is his new plan to tackle the problem or goal?
     c) Create another doorway of no return with ultimate stakes involved.
Part III or Act III:
1) Climax--third attempt to fix the problem or achieve the protagonist's goal.
2) Resolution--the change in the protagonist is completed and promises are fulfilled. They've either reached their goal and solved the problem or found a way to deal with not having done so.

What I think this outline does best is give some direction to the story, helps keep a focus on the key beats of the story, and yet leaves plenty wide open for new developments, surprises, and all the other little things that may creep in that make the story unique and fresh. Taking an hour or so to write out this simple outline adds focus to the writing process. One thing to always keep in mind with an outline: it's not set in stone. If you reach a point and find something doesn't work, rip it out, or put something new in. An outline is a basic set of directions aimed at getting you, the writer, to the end of the story without missing any of the key happenings or developments. Outlines help stories reach conclusions and not get filed away in the Started But Didn't Finish File.

Also of note, you may add extra sections if the story is more complex. If there is more than one doorway of no return, or more than one major development in any Part/Act of the story. Specific genres do have certain formulas or beats to follow, and readers expect these. How you write the story, the voice, and the unpredictability of plot twists are some of the ways you can stand out from predictable formulaic fiction.

I have plenty more types of outlines to share in the future. This one is the simplest and in some ways the most straight-to-the-heart of them all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blog Spotlight #4: Writer Unboxed

Today I'd like to share one of my favorite blogs of all time, Writer Unboxed. It's a collaborative blog made up of several contributors whose experience encompasses unpublished and published writers, an agent, a professor, screenwriters, industry professionals, and editors. And those are just the regulars. The blog also features interviews with industry movers and shakers, guests posts from the published and unpublished alike. The blog has been in existence since 2006 and the archives are well worth perusal. Blogposts come up Mon. through Fri. giving readers a steady diet.

They hold special theme months, contests, news posts, and heavily promote the work of others. I think what makes them stand out the most from other blogs is their positive attitude toward everyone and the inclusion factor. They actively invite conversation through the comments section and contributors do take the time to respond to the people who interact with the blog. Writer Unboxed is warm, welcoming, and helpful. They continue to add to their number of contributors too as time goes on.

So a huge shout-out to them. If you haven't discovered them yet, you're in for a treat.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Writing Love and Saying Goodbye

Sometimes you come across a question like this out in the internet: Why do you write?

It's not a trick question and there are several possible answers. I think the question is meant to be more introspective than anything, allowing a writer to take stock of their priorities and to realize what motivates them.

Like thousands of other people, I fell in love with storytelling and writing as a child. There's nothing special or even remarkable about that. Children are taught and influenced heavily by stories. Growing up, I had vague notions of attempting to publish someday. It wasn't a driving force for me though. I loved the storytelling process. I have suffered from insomnia since a young age and rather than make a big deal out of it, I found a way to take care of the issue on my own. I make up stories at night to silence all the other voices in my head and allow me to relax and fall asleep. I've always loved to read. I love to watch movies. I love talking with other people and hearing the stories of their lives. I love the way stories affect my emotions, my thought processes, and especially when I can find the hidden subtext or theme within them. Yes, I even like morality plays and stories with obvious or hidden morals to them.

So I didn't put a lot of pressure on myself as I wrote during my childhood and teen years. I explored, experimented, and had a lot of fun. I kept an index card file of my ideas, had official notebooks where I listed my titles, and took great pleasure in putting a check mark beside each title I'd completed a draft for. My writing was prolific. I'd get up earlier than anyone else in my family to enjoy the quiet in order to write. I think I spent more of my free time writing than in pursuing anything else. I loved the writing process.

Zooming ahead to today, I'm getting ready to file away the manuscript I've labored over for the past five years. I'd written the first draft back when I was seventeen, completed a second draft months later and even started a third before I needed a break and went on to work on other stories. The serious contemplation of publication hit me five years ago. I pulled out my title list and chose the story I thought would work best to break into the publishing process with. I started my research into the industry while working on the latest few drafts of the story. Quickly I realized that my two book idea wouldn't work. There was such a creature as word count limit. I'd have to chop my two books into four. That isn't easy. Then I discovered my first book would have to work as a standalone if I wanted the chance to publish the other books that would finish the story. Okay, I would work hard to do that.

I studied, I read up on craft and guidelines, I wrote and rewrote, outlined, and slaved over the first half of the original book to make it a separate and standalone entity. It grew into a monster. It needed necessary filler in places to make a standalone plot work but the characters which were allowed to be enlarged and the subplots that came into being threatened the main line of the story. I stubbornly held on and kept at it. What was the point of all this time and effort if this wasn't to be my first published book?

This book, it turns out, was my learning book. I can smile with relief now as I prepare to file it away. The beast grew too frustrating towards the end and many days I didn't even want to look at it. All the time and effort put into it certainly wasn't wasted. I've learned a lot, especially about my weak points. I also learned that I'd grown to despise the writing process rather than love it, and no one should continue with a book if it makes them hate writing.

Maybe someday down the road I'll unearth this story again along with the original, sit down, strip away the two characters who took it over (even though they are favorites with my beta readers) and take the time to approach the story from its founding viewpoints. I'll dismantle huge chunks of plot and subplot without cringing. Or, I may just read through the story and feel the echo of my relief when I decided I was done with it.

I'm going to take a week or two break from writing. My internal editor needs time to power down. I've got a manuscript to critique for someone else, two books to read before they're due back at the library, and I want to take the time to read through some of my other completed story drafts. I have nineteen to choose from. Or I might rekindle my interest in one of the half completed stories. Who knows? I need to get my love for writing back. Focusing too much on publication and revision killed the experience for me and it showed.

My questions for you this week: have you ever filed away or trunked a novel? How hard was it for you realize it wasn't going to be the one? Do you use a filing system for ideas or stories?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Link Special #3

Oh, so much good stuff going on every week. Some of it you may have already read or linked up to, others you might not know about yet. I found tons to read and digest and here are the links I chose to pass on:

Alison Janssen wrote about 8 Fiddly Things You Can Do To Your Manuscript  To Make Your Editor's Day. There's some gems in there even for the unpublished writer working on revisions.

Author Magazine had some great articles this week. One that really stood out for me was Laura Munson's Advice From the Now Writer the Then Writer Me about how there really is no arrival point or measure of success. And Dori Jones Yang's article on How to Get Past Failure.

Agent Jenny Bent delivers a passionate view on traditional and e-publishing and how things are going to have to be shaken up and changed in the entire industry.

Jessica at BookEnds tackles writing sequels and, yes, even if you're already published you still need to deliver a well edited manuscript for the next book.

Agent Mary Kole gets into Description Issues. Too much, too little, and misdirection--great post.

Literary Rambles has an agent spotlight up on Sara LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd. If she's on your list to query or if you're buildling your list (and write: general fiction, literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, pop culture, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, literary horror, magic realism, young adult fiction) you might want to zip over and get some researching edge to personalize that query letter.

Wondering where you stand in writing experience and competence? Here's an easy breakdown courtesy of Miss Snark's First Victim.

At The Awl, Six Writers Tell All About Covers and Blurbs (as in review blurbs used for book promotion.)

David Baboulene guest posts at Write Anything regarding Subtext. Here's a good opportunity to hone some writing-craft knowledge.

Nathan (you should all know who I mean) gets lots of loud applause for his blogpost on Virtual Witch Hunts. Reacting online to a bad review, in poor taste. Joining a mob to beat down someone who's made a stupid mistake like that, very bad form.

Fellow AQCer, Rob Grindstaff, has begun a series of posts on POV, starting with distinction and choosing a point of view.

And just for fun, totally tongue-in-cheek, here's a video from the Onion News Network regarding Facebook.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wisdom from the Past

At ten years old I attended my first writer's conference. I was a delegate from my elementary school, chosen by my teacher, and I felt like I'd stepped into a sort of Wonderland. Granted, my teacher chose me because no one else in my class enjoyed creative writing, but I considered it a prize nevertheless. I carried a freshly printed copy of my "winning" manuscript with me, was given a nametag sticker, and was then herded into a controlled mob of elementary age children on a large university campus.

I remember my nerves when placed in a small group and asked to share part of my story out loud, in turn. What seemed so fun and brilliant before now came into a new perspective, that of not being alone in my pursuit of telling a story. I can't remember any of the other kids' stories in detail but I do recall getting my first taste of inadequacy with my own talents. I learned then that I needed to work hard at improving my craft and I needed to take the time to consider what I wrote about.

In one of the workshop classes I felt my first thrill: a real author had come to speak to us. I can't remember who she was now or what she wrote; at the time that didn't seem important. She was one of the inititated, a professional who had her story printed by a publisher and sitting on bookstore and library shelves. I am grateful to this now nameless author, for dispelling one myth to me that day. She looked us all in the eye and said, "There are no new ideas. Everything that is thought of has come from something else already told or written."

My young heart rejected this at first. How could this be? I'd never read anything like my story before. (I can still feel justified in thinking this at that age because I was already a voracious reader.) Over the years that author's words have stuck with me. I understood them better each year. Now, I'm no longer ruffled by them. It's alright that there are no new ideas. There are endless ways to twist them around, reinvent them, or combine them. Kind of like music. There are only seven notes. With those seven notes, musicians are able to create new works of music every year. Fascinating concept.

This one piece of my past resurfaced with those grains of wisdom. What bits of wisdom do you remember first learning in regards to writing?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday Link Special #2

More linkable goodies:

At, Laura Miller brings up the two-headed beast of being both an author and a marketer and how the two together are seldom found. Then over at Dystel &Goderich, agent Jessica Papin states her rebuttal. The long and short of it: writers have to evolve as marketers if they want to stay alive. Editor Alan Rinzler shares a great blogpost on using the social media platform of Twitter.

There are some extra good blogposts on revising to be found on Rants & Rambling and author Jessica Day George's blog. Agent Rachel Gardner breaks it down regarding what turns off fiction editors from a manuscript here, here, and here.

The Gatekeeper posts about checking in with agents and acceptable protocol. The Behler Blog gives a scathing run down on the differences between POD, digital, vanity, and indie publishing.

The 7 R's of Positivity for Unpublished Writers gives an uplift to the weekly collection. Which also includes this link to Christi Corbett's blog on creating a "You Don't Suck" file. Great idea!