Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quote of the Week: Montesquieu, on Happiness

"If one only wished to be happy, this could be easily accomplished; but we wish to be happier than other people, and this is always difficult, for we believe others to be happier than they are."

Wednesday Writing Exercise
Write a short scene (<300 words) in which a character exhibits this type of jealousy.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Welcome back from Tryptophan land.

There's just a couple of days left in November, so if you're doing a NaNoWriMo, it's crunch time. And I'm not talking about the Snap-Crackle-Pop kind of crunch, either.

If you're not doing NaNoWriMo, you're preparing for December holidays, and possibly trying to figure out how to fit writing between all those holiday parties. Here's a hint or two:

*Vary your writing time. There's nothing wrong with waking up and writing to the sunrise. An extra 30 minutes in the morning has the added bonus of having that "deadline" feel - I have to go to work in 30 minutes, so I'd better get my writing done now. And if you can't get up in the mornings, don't be afraid to squish a little writing in mid-afternoon, or over lunch hour.

*Schedule yourself a day to write. It's okay not to accept every invitation - the brain needs downtime, and if you're always pushing yourself, you'll be tired. If you're like me, writing is rejuvenating, so make time for it.

*Take advantage of the minutes. Got a few minutes before meeting a client? Instead of FB, jot down a sentence or two.

*Don't be afraid to vacation - but make plans for coming back. It's okay to take a day or two off writing, as long as you make plans to start writing again. Not good intentions, not promises. Plans. If you're serious about writing, then writing is your second job (or first, if you're lucky.) You can't just not go back to work. So treat writing the same. Schedule your vacations ahead of time, on days you specifically know you won't be able to make time to write. And just like going back to work after a vacation, go back to writing when the scheduled days off are over.

Hope you enjoy your leftovers!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be in a tryptophan overload this coming Friday, so
please accept this picture instead of any further blogging for the week:

If you close your eyes, you can pretend you were here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Elements of a Good Query

I've had a few people ask me about queries lately, so I thought I'd give a summary of things I've learned about crafting a query.

First, what is a query for? A query letter is a short, one-page (250 word) reason for an agent (or a publisher) to look at your manuscript and consider it for publication. The agent reads the letter, decides if he or she is interested enough to ask for more, and sends back either a request for a partial manuscript (the first few chapters,) a request for a full manuscript (the whole thing), or, most commonly, a rejection letter regrettably informing you that the agent will pass.

It is better to have an agent pass a work in which she is only mildly interested, than to have her accept a work in which she is not interested. If she isn't excited about it, she won't be able to sell it. So there is a good reason to get rejection letters, and although they may sting, better a little pain now than an unsold manuscript later. Remember, only about 60% of agented words actually make it all the way to being published. And many publishers will only accept agented works.

Okay, now you know what a query letter is, let's cover the parts of a good query letter (tips and tricks I've picked up from published authors, classes, and feedback on my own query):

1. Write it in a standard font (New Times Roman or Courier New), size 12.

2. You need to include your title (in ALL CAPS is standard), wordcount, and genre in your opening statement. Include any important 'elements': romantic elements, time-travel elements, etc., because agents frequently have specific tastes, and they should know up front if they don't like your specific genre. This will save both of you time.

3. Your manuscript should be complete (only exception: nonfiction).

4. The purpose of a letter is only to get an agent to request more. It is not to tell your entire story. Therefore, include your hook, the name of one or two of your main characters, and a short glimpse of the plot.

5. Don't use questions. Most agents I've seen have reported hating questions in a query as a rhetorical device. "Can she save him?" Sure, it looks suspenseful. But of course the heroine is going to save the hero, duh. So don't end the plot summary with a question mark.

6. Use short sentences. They keep the query flowing, and a query needs to have a quick pace. Yep, that's right - just like in your novel, pace is important in your query.

7. Make sure the hook is included in your query. It might be awesome that bats swoop down and steal the hero's sword, but the hook is that the heroine, in refusing to be rescued, ends up having to rescue the hero instead. So make the hook the central plot point of the query, and not the sidequests.

8. Make sure your query is clearly in the genre you stated. Is it science-fiction? Then make sure to mention the science fiction element. Is it romance? Then make sure to mention the romantic element, and not just the adventure that goes on in the background.

9. Include your credentials (e.g., other published works). If you don't have any writing credentials, then don't pad your query letter with "how long you've been writing" or "I work in such-and-such unrelated field and am raising two kids as a widower while juggling bowling balls for cash on the side." (Unless your main character is a widower with two kids and juggles bowling balls for cash on the side.) If it's not related, cut it out.

10. Don't go into details on the subchapters of your writers' organization you're in. "Two subchapters" is sufficient detail.

11. Don't mention that you've paid an editor to edit your work. It should be edited and polished already, so mentioning that it's been professionally edited is redundant (doesn't matter who has edited it.)

12. Do not ask the agent to edit for you, or imply that your work needs more editing. If it does, start editing, and don't query until it's ready to go.

13. Query one manuscript at a time. Just one. Write a different query letter for each manuscript.

14. Do not reply to rejection letters. The agent doesn't want to try to sell your work. That's okay. Everyone has different tastes, and if the agent only likes your query, it's better that she doesn't agent it, because someone else can do a better job. Most agents easily acknowledge that they've passed on brilliant books, just because the plot didn't resonate right with them, so they didn't feel like they could do it justice. And who knows - one day, you might want to query them with something else. Don't burn bridges. After all, agents do talk to each other.

I highly recommend searching the Internet for query formats, and also checking the agency's website for information on their specific preferences. Also look through QueryShark and other query websites to get ideas on how to improve your own query, and if you can, take a query-writing class. You'll probably go through multitudes of query drafts - one good reason to send your queries out in batches of five or less, because that gives you a chance to fix your errors based on feedback.

What tips have you learned about query letters?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Publishing News

Turkey Day is approaching. It's only fair that you start the feast by gobbling down the most recent industry news, right?

Major News:

Amazon has sparked big debates with their Kindle lending library, available to Amazon Prime members as part of the bundle. Not all publishers even knew their books would be included - some publishers even flatly refused to participate in Amazon's original offer. Yet Amazon use legal technicalities to include their books. Some readers love the move; others hate it.
Barnes & Nobles is starting to sell simultaneous versions of hardback and e-books, if you buy the hardcover in a retail store. It doesn't appear to be store-wide yet, but I'd be flummoxed if it doesn't quickly become so. Also, this makes me insanely happy, because I like having physical books on my pretty bookshelves.

Agents and editors of children's books are increasingly adopting the "no-response-means-no" policy. If you're writing for a children's market, don't expect a response to your queries unless the agent specifically mentions that he or she will respond - this means not even a form rejection letter.

Being in the Business:

Rachelle Gardner offers advice on what not to blog about, in interest of not accidentally crippling your own career. Highlights: Don't talk about your contract details or the fact that your manuscript is (or isn't) being shopped around.

She also hosts a guest post from Kristen Laughtin, who states that libraries are good for authors.

Jessica Faust over at Bookends discusses the submission process for those new to the field. It explains the steps you take after finishing a manuscript.

QueryTracker once again provides its weekly Publishing Pulse, more news of what's going on in the industry.

Rachel Stark notes the disturbing trend in YA covers of depicting beautiful girls - dead beautiful girls. Are YA covers glorifying death to young women? Disturbing, but if you're in the YA market - you really need to read this. Or, you know, if you have daughters who are reading or might one day read.

And Nathan Bransford's This Week In Books will catch you up on some links I've not included (and is, in fact, where I snagged the Amazon lending library link).

Improving Your Craft:

On QueryTracker, there's a lesson in types of explosives for your action scenes. If something's going to explode, take a look at this link and get it right.

Agent Suzie Townsend reminds us of the importance of titles. Does your title alone make your agent want to read more? No? Go back to the drawing board.

What major news have you encountered in the past couple of weeks?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quote of the Week: Gill Robb Wilson

The Constitution of America only guarantees pursuit of happiness-you have to catch up with it yourself. Fortunately, happiness is something that depends not on position but on disposition, and life is what you make it.
-Gill Robb Wilson


Wednesday Writing Exercise
Write a short spoof (<300 words) on what happens when you catch up with happiness.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Social Networking: How do you do it?

Today, I don't want to talk. I want you to talk.

Tell me what forms of social networking you use, which is your current favorite, and which you find the most helpful.

For example:
I use Google+, Facebook, and run this blog. No Twitter for me - not yet, anyway. The rest of my social networking is through non-technological sources (you know, actually going out and meeting people. Scary, huh?)

Right now, I'm loving the huge writers' network I've found on Google+. Other writers post all the time about the things they're going through, and it's usually things I've been through, too. It kicks me in the rear and keeps me writing. Oh, and I keep answering questions for people I don't actually know - Look, I'm smart! Really! (Just don't look too closely...) I've made a couple of new writing acquaintances that way.

Most of my close friends are still on FB, though. We usually organize there. My close-to-home writers' group has a FB page, too, so I can keep up with their lives and meetings. On the whole, I probably get more effective use out of FB. Even if my spellcheck doesn't actually recognize 'Facebook' as a word...

Okay, your turn!

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo or Not?

I'm doing NaNoWriMo, but I'm not officially on NaNoWriMo. Why? Because NaNoWriMo is all about writing - but writing isn't.

Besides which, I've got a full-time job that I love and want to keep, and I can't just drop my other manuscripts.

What do I do? I assign 'word count' values to related tasks such as editing, querying, and critiquing my critique partners' works, based on time spent compared to the time it takes me to write.

Example: it takes me about 2 continuous hours, on average, to write 1.667K (the average word count if you divide 50K words by 30 days). So if I spend 1 hour on revisions, I've 'written' about 800 words. This way, I'm never overwhelmed with an insurmountable amount of work for a single day, and thus I don't face getting burnt out in the career I'd like to one day retire from.

I do not count social-media activities such as blogging or posting as writing word counts, because that is what I consider publicity-related business. I need to know what portion of my time those will take on their own, because that's a time investment of its own and I would like to see what the return is per time invested. Nor do I count extra-curricular writing on projects I have no intention of publishing.

The downside is that I always feel like I'd be cheating to add that to an official NaNoWriMo wordcount, so I don't sign up. Yet to me, NaNoWriMo is about encouraging productivity, creating good writing habits, and cheering other writers on. That's why I still say I'm doing NaNoWriMo, just not officially - because I really support the NaNoWriMo spirit.

What about you? How do you deal with revisions and editing during your NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quote of the Week: George Bernard Shaw, on Happiness

We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.
-George Bernard Shaw


Wednesday Writing Exercise
Give a short summary (<300 words) of a modern-day example of this concept: either producing more than consuming, or consuming more than producing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo: An exercise in endurance

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

Still writing?

It's Day 7. Almost everyone I know will, by this point, have had at least one day of not making her or his word count. There will have been panic, freaking out, heart attacks, furious writing, and relief as the word count is made up.

But what is NaNoWriMo? It's an exercise in writing 50,000 words by the end of November. I would like to point out that most published works are longer than 50K. Which means that, if you intend your novel for traditional publication, you'll probably extend NaNoWriMo into December and perhaps even January, depending on the story and the genre. And then, you'll begin the editing.

Writing is an endurance sport. If you don't make count today, don't freak - you can catch up. But if you miss tomorrow, and the next day, because grandma insists you drive out to Hicksville where there's no electricity to power your laptop for Thanksgiving - still don't freak. Maybe you won't be able to officially make 50K in November. Don't burn yourself out trying to make up for it. Just keep writing.

If you have to, subtract the total from your goal (3 days of the standard 1.67K is about 5K words), and make that your new goal. Can't make 50,000? No prob. Your goal is 45,000 anyway. You can do that. No excuses.

Think of NaNoWriMo as endurance training. It's not the marathon - it's the preparation. Because if you're serious about writing, it's something you'll do every single day for the rest of your publishing life. As soon as you finish one book, you need to start on another. (Yes, there will be days spent just editing and planning. That's part of writing.) The joy of NaNoWriMo is that, by forcing yourself to have a goal, you force yourself to keep writing. You make a habit. And you keep that habit.

So it's Day 7 of NaNoWriMo. Still writing? Good. Don't stop. In fact, instead of commenting, just paste the last sentence you wrote as a comment.

Now drop and give me 500 (new words).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Publishing News

Publishing news for the past couple of weeks! There's a bunch of noteworthy links this week, so be prepared for a lot of reading (or, you know, just read the ones most pertinent to you, or read a couple and then come back tomorrow and Sunday and Monday for the rest, or make the go-fer read it all and give you a brief book report. Whichever floats your boat.) To make it easier, I've broken the types of news down into three sections: Major News, Being in the Business, and Improving Your Craft.

Major News:

Breaking news over the past few days, HarperCollins acquires Thomas Nelson, combining the number one and number two publishers of the religious-themed works. If you're trying to publish inspirational fiction or nonfiction, keep a close eye on this merger - that's the two largest publishers of your market, which may very well have an effect on bidding for advances.

Berkley Publishing group will be launching an e-book imprint called InterMix. That means, a line of books exclusively for e-sales ('Imprints' are books released under the same line name. Publishers frequently have several imprints, or line names, to appeal to different audiences; in this case, the line consists of numerous re-releases of old books and some new books, all done as mass-market for a price of about $6.99).

Publishers Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Hachette Book Group are all launching websites to allow authors to directly access sales figures. This is a big step, and addresses the losses traditional publishers took when Amazon began giving that information to authors through Neilsen BookScan (which tracks 75% of print sales). Of course, the publishers state that their decision is a response to author requests for direct access to sales figures, and not a reply to Amazon.

After Google's failed settlement about the digitization of orphan works (works whose authors cannot be found), Congress is taking an in-depth look at copyright law for publishing as it applies to modern technology. Some of the things under priority discussion are "orphan works, preservation for libraries, mass digitization, and fighting digital piracy."

Being in the Business:

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the advantages of self-publishing... and the differences in sales trends based on duration of sales.

Sara D.  talks about the benefits of being labeled 'controversial,' since being banned frequently turns into free advertising. She encourages writers to write what they want - if it's controversial, well, that will just get readers talking.

Are you a novelist? Rachelle Gardner points out that branding is for nonfiction, not fiction. Your brand is your name and your genre. And no, writing isn't going to get easier. It's not just you - writing is tough, and everyone goes through that.

Jessica Faust, over at Bookends, LLC, tells us that as authors, we are responsible for paying our own taxes - our agents don't take the taxes out for us. Save up a portion of your advance to pay taxes on it! Also, save your receipts and find out what's a tax write-off and what's not. You can probably bank a lot more than you expect.

Nathan Bransford has his This Week in the News posted as well, covering a few weeks' worth of news and including some links I missed.

Improving Your Craft:

Querying nonfiction? Agent Janet Reid reminds you to Google your subject. She also points out the importance of communication and explanation - also, the importance of not implying that the agent you are querying is stupid. If you think you've already answered her question, ask her for clarification instead, because you're probably not understanding the question.

Lisa Jordan  prepares writers for NaNoWriMo by encouraging them to find time for writing - even if it's just a few minutes a day.

 Rachelle Gardner also suggests educating yourself on how to be a published author by networking with other authors, keeping up with industry news, and reading up about publishing life. And if you're having doubts about your agent, she offers advice on when and how to end your contract and go looking for a new agent.

Jessica Faust also shares the uses (not how to use, but why to use) Facebook and Twitter, and how the two platforms serve different audiences. Twitter is good for making yourself known to new readers; Facebook is for connecting with those who are already your fans.

Suzie Townsend has taken many pitches at conferences, and she suggests having comparison titles ready for your pitch.

And Querytracker offers several different forms of rhetoric for use in writing - including a brief mention of when to use them.

Emlyn Chand, novelist, shares the 10 things she wished she knew before she began writing and publishing.

And Marcy Kennedy & Lisa Hall-Wilson talk about how to scare your readers, for writers looking to write horror stories.

Adventures in Agentland supplies tips for marketing, including pre-sale, pre-publishing and post-publishing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quote of the Week: Publilius Syrus, on Happiness

No man is happy unless he believes he is.
-Publilius Syrus


Wednesday Writing Exercise
Write a short scene (<300 words) introducing a character who should be happy, but obviously isn't.