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Thinking = Plotting

18 Aug

A Guest Post by Marina Cohen

~~~

I’m often asked how long it took me to write my first novel. It’s an easy enough question. You’d think the response would be fairly straightforward, right? Not so much. In fact, by the time I’m finished I’m sure people wish they hadn’t asked.

I start by saying it took me six months to write my first novel—because that’s how long I spent hammering away at the keys of my old computer to turn the idea floating around my head into pixels. Most smile, satisfied with that response, but then I tell them I’m not finished. I go on to say it took me nine more months to rewrite the exact same story—just to get it right. This is when they begin to nod politely and back away. Hold on, I say. I’m not done yet. I spent another four years editing, revising, submitting, getting rejected, revising some more, editing again, re-submitting, getting truckloads of rejections, before I finally got my very first contract. And then it took another year before I held my novel in my hot little hands. At this point they turn to run but I give chase. Wait! That’s not the whole story! You’re going to miss the most important part! Because before my fingers ever grazed a keyboard, I spent ten years thinking.

Ten years.

Thinking.

Huh.

So what exactly was I thinking about? Well, my plot, of course.

For me thinking is synonymous with plotting. Even now, five novels later, I need to think out my entire story before I can begin to write the first word. There are all sorts of different plotting graphs and styles, but honestly, it all boils down to thinking.

My family has gotten used to it—that glazed look in my eye, the vague responses, the rich scent of burnt toast filling the air when my brain has abandoned the real world and entered the world of my current work-in-progress.

Now, I’m not a meticulous plotter in the sense that I don’t sketch out every chapter, nor do I use charts or configurations. But there are elements I must work out in my mind, or the idea just goes into a folder to revisit at a later date. Here’s what I need to know prior to writing:

  1. What’s the inciting incident?  What propels my MC off their path and spins them in a totally different direction? Of course this incident can be subtle, but I like to make it something quick and dramatic to hook readers.
  2. I must know how my story will end. This is critical, so that I can work toward setting up the climax and ending, building it, moving toward it with every detail. If you don’t know how your story will end, you can plod forward, but I think you may end up doing a fair amount of re-writing. I like to have a twist ending—something readers don’t see coming. And I also like to connect my ending in some significant way to my inciting incident.
  3. I divide my plot into three chunks—that three act structure I’m sure you’ve already come across. And each chunk ends in its own climax, spinning the story in a different direction again, but bringing the reader that much closer to the ultimate climax.
  4. Finally, it’s important to remember that plot does not simply refer to the events of your story. It’s also (and in some ways more importantly) about the emotional journey of your character. Who are they at the start of the story and how they change as a result of the events of the story.

Now, even though I have all this in my mind, when I sit down to actually write my story, more often than not, it takes unexpected turns. Characters I hadn’t imagined muscle their way into my manuscript uninvited—and it’s usually these surprise twists and characters that I end up loving the most.

So I sit. And I think. And I think some more. I think while I cook and clean and shop—but never while I drive, er, ’cause that would be dangerous. Ahem.

I think while I’m awake. I think before I go to sleep. And I even think in my dreams—which, by the way, often provides me with the best answers to my plot problems!

So the next time you’re just sitting there staring off into space and someone asks you what you’re up to—you tell them not to disturb you. Can’t they see you’re busy plotting your next incredible novel?

~~~

Marina Cohen is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for both children and teens, including three middle-grade novels: SHADOW OF THE MOON, TRICK OF THE LIGHT, and CHASING THE WHITE WITCH; and two teen novels: GHOST RIDE and MIND GAP. GHOST RIDE (Dundurn Press, 2009) was voted Honour Book of the 2011 Red Maple Fiction Award.

Digesting the Revision Letter, a pep talk

19 Jul

A Guest Post by Erin Bowman

~~~

You’ve written a book. Your agent has sold it. Your editor (holy cow, you now have an EDITOR) is working on getting you revision notes. They’ll come in the form of a “revision letter,” which will likely be long and single-spaced and full of big picture items that need addressing.

If you are anything like me, you will simultaneously crave and fear this essential document. So without further adieu, some things to keep in perspective as you read through your letter:

Remember that Editor loves your book

She had to love it enough to pitch it in an Acquisitions meeting. She had to get Sales and Marketing and Higher Ups onboard. She had to believe that your story was one the world should see, and then she brokered a deal that would make that possible. Remember this, because a revision letter can come with big and sometimes overwhelming suggestions. Things like: Subplot A should be cut, Character X feels flat, world-building is lacking, and oh, lets switch from first person present to third person past. You might not be prepared for it. So no matter how long your letter is, no matter how many characters are flat or subplots need cutting, remember it in no way correlates to how much (or little) Editor loves your story. She loves it. The end.

These edits will make your book better.

Stronger. Tighter. Un-Put-Downable. Everything Editor points out is done with the end goal of crating a better story. She might even ask a bunch of questions, offering no answers along the way, simply because she wants you to think about what these questions mean for the story and know that readers will be asking the same things as they devour your tale. As you read through your letter, there’s a good chance you’ll be nodding your head in agreement to 99.9% of the things Editor says. I know I did. You might even kick yourself for not seeing them first. Deep down, we know there are flaws in our books, areas that can be strengthened. Editor will find them, document them on paper, and then push you to man-up.

Take some time to digest it all.

There’s a rare chance it works for some people, but I advice against reading your letter and immediately jumping into revisions. I like to sit on my thoughts before any major rewrite. I let ideas marinate. I think about how one change here might affect twenty things there. I brainstorm several different options before I sit down to tackle the right one. I think this is a crucial step. Read your letter. Think about it for a week or two. Make notes. Think some more. Then start.

Ask Questions.

If something is unclear, always, always, always speak up. When I was younger, I never asked questions when I needed clarification. I thought it would make me look dumb, like I had no clue what I was doing. I am a firm believer that you actually look smarter when you say, “Hey, I’m not quite following this. Can we talk it over again?” And here is why I bring this up: Revising is hard. We all know this. You don’t want to spend weeks revising only to take the story down a path opposite of what Editor had in mind. If you don’t follow something in your letter, ask Editor to clarify. If you see what she’s saying but think it will drastically (and detrimentally) alter other points of the story, see if she can hop on the phone to hash it out. I’m pretty sure she’ll be more than happy to discuss things.

You have the answers.

You do. You envisioned the story, dreamed up the world, peopled it with characters. You have the answers even when you fail to see them. Remember this when you are knee deep in a scene, your story’s guts spilled because you’ve hacked it apart, and all you can think is, “I have no clue what I’m doing. How will I ever fix this?” You will. Maybe not that very day – you might need to take a break or go for a walk or come back to it tomorrow – but you will figure it out. You will find the answer and you will stitch your story back together impeccably. It won’t even scar.

Do it your way.

This has been more of a pep talk than an advice-centric post because I truly believe that writing (and editing) is an individual and unique experience. No two people will tackle it the same way. Only you can decide what works for your story, your situation, your process. Find those tactics and stick to them.

Happy Revising!

~~~

Erin Bowman lives in New Hampshire with her husband. When not writing, Erin enjoys hiking, giggling and staring at the stars. She drinks a lot of coffee, buys far too many books and is not terribly skilled at writing about herself in the third person. Her debut THE LAICOS PROJECT will be available Winter 2013 from HarperTeen. She blogs regularly at embowman.com.

Too Close For Comfort?

14 Jul

or

Why you are in love with your first novel

 A Guest Post by Aya Tsintziras

~~~

We’ve all heard the saying “you’re too close to your book, you need someone else to look at it with fresh eyes.” And while getting different opinions on your novel is an integral part of the editing process, no matter what stage of the path to publication you are at, what if being too close to your novel is a good thing?

I believe that it is.

Confession: I don’t have a CP. When I’m finished a draft of a book, I show it to my mom, who I consider my first reader, and she points out little stuff like typos and the bigger stuff like a plot point that doesn’t make total sense, or a secondary character’s boyfriend who has three different names (that happened in my current WIP). Then I revise. Then I send my book off to my agent. (Then more revisions, of course.) That’s it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have CPs. Whatever works for you. I don’t show my early drafts to more than two people, and that makes me very close to my work. In the case of my first novel, with each round of revisions I did with my editor, I started to feel more and more disconnected from my book, like it became something of its own, something that was less of a story I used to write in high school late at night in my bedroom or in my favourite Starbucks after school. It became something more like, well, a novel that would be published. (On August 26, 2011, to be specific.)

But I know the book so well I could basically recite it verbatim if you asked me. And this is a good thing, because if you get some comments on your novel during the editing process, for instance on changing a plot point, you can say, no, my character wouldn’t do that. You know your characters, because my theory is this: the relationship you have with your first novel is the most important relationship you will ever have with any book you write. Feel free to disagree with me on this – I’m not saying you won’t ever enjoy writing another book again. You’re a writer, so you love to write. But the first one is like your first love affair with a potential career, with the idea that you can really pursue the path to publication, with the fact that you are serious about this. And it’s probably true of every writer who makes the transition to author that their first novel is the one they will revise again and again for years upon years. I worked on my own first book for six years, counting before and after my book deal.

I don’t have the same attachment to my current WIP. Not that I don’t love working on it, not that I don’t think it’s another important story to tell. But it’s just not the same. And that doesn’t make me sad, it’s kind of bittersweet. Because my first novel is the only first novel I will ever have, and I feel a sense of real peace that soon it will make its way into the world.

So it’s okay to be “too close” to your novel, at least your first novel. You know the characters like they are your best friends, and you know what they would say and do in certain situations. And eventually, whether you’re sending off queries in the hopes of landing an agent, or waiting for the next round of revisions from your editor or agent, you will have to let go a little bit. And with each round of edits, you will let go a bit more. And when your book is on the shelves, that’s when you will let go the most, I bet. Because you’ve worked hard to make your dream come true, and now it’s time to work on your next book, and to continue living the dream.

~~~

Aya’s first novel, PRETTY BONES, will be published by James Lorimer on August 26, 2011. Aya lives in Toronto, where her days are filled with coffee, pop culture and, of course, writing. She is addicted to television, so it’s probably a good thing that come September, she’s off to grad school to study TV writing and producing. You can follow her on twitter @ayatsintziras and visit her website at www.ayatsintziras.com.

The Seven Stages of Writing a Sequel

12 Jul

or

AAAAAAAGH #*$#&$*#*&%# Sequels!

A Guest Post by Jill Hathaway

~~~

1. Elation – Your editor wants you to write a sequel! Everyone wants to know what happens next. They love your characters. They love the premise. They love you! O happy day!

2. Denial – It can’t really be that hard to write a sequel, right? People do it all the time. Never mind that they usually have an idea of what happens in the long run. You can figure that out as you go. You’ve done it once, and you can do it again. No sweat.

3. Hope – You have an idea. It’s the best idea evar, really. Just take your main character and send them to SPACE. Why didn’t you think of this before? It doesn’t matter that none of the other characters your audience loved from the first one will be in the sequel. Or that it’s a completely different genre from the first one. It’s brilliant, I tell you! BRILLIANT!

4. Grief – Your editor doesn’t think shooting your character into space is such a good idea? Your agent laughed in your face? Your critique partner actually threw rotten tomatoes at you? Well. It was a pretty dumb idea, wasn’t it? I mean, space? What were you thinking? You are so stupid. You’ll never come up with a good idea again. Just grab that tub of Ben & Jerry’s and retreat to your bedroom. Go wallow in your failure, dumbhead.

5. Thunder Bolt of Awesomeness – Wha? What was that? An even better idea kicked you in the head, knocking the Chubby Hubby right out of your mouth? Well, better grab a notebook! Write write write write write! Get so excited that you send your editor, your agent, your crit partner multiple unintelligible emails. WHAT? Everyone loves your idea? Then get your butt started!

6. Realization – Oh, yeah. This is what writing a book is like. The trek to the salt mines every day. The pages of uninspired prose just to get one little golden sentence. Still, you already know the characters. You already know the world. It’s just figuring out how to make something new without changing it TOO much.

7. Hope – WHAT? THERE CAN BE TWO STAGES CALLED THIS. You write “THE END.” You look over the material. It’s raw, but you think the clay is all there. You like it. You kind of love it. Your crit partner kind of loves it. You roll up your sleeves, ready to start the real work of revising. You can do this. You can. You’ve done it before, and you will again.

~~~

Jill Hathaway grew up in Iowa and received her MA in literature from Iowa State University. A high school English teacher, she lives with her husband and young daughter in the Des Moines area. You can visit her online at www.jillscribbles.blogspot.com. SLIDE, her debut, will be released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in 2012.

Reading as a Writer

7 Jul

A Guest Post by Jodi Meadows

~~~

When I was a teen, I read anything I could get my hands on. Books, newspaper, cereal boxes, warning signs. Anything. If there were words, I read them. During this time, I was writing a little–not very well–but mostly I was reading, filling my head with stories from the library and whatever I could afford from a bookstore.

I loved books indiscriminately. I almost never left a book half-finished. I loved big, never-ending series because they were like going to a second home where I knew all the characters, might get introduced to new ones along the way, and I understood the rules of the world. I got to go on adventures without ever leaving school. (Since a lot of my reading time was hiding the book under the desk so the teacher wouldn’t catch me. . . .)

After I got married, I had the opportunity to write full time–so I took it. I joined the Online Writing Workshop and learned a lot about prose, grammar, structure, character development, my utter lack of logic when it came to character motivation . . . Oh, I could go on about everything I needed to learn, but, heh, let’s not. In addition to receiving critiques, the OWW requires members to give critiques. They say you learn just as much–if not more–from identifying and discussing what does and doesn’t work for you in others’ work. Anxious to do well, I did as many crits as I could possibly manage while still writing The Best Fantasy Novel Ever.

Over the next few years, I became sharply aware of all my failings as a writer and, as a result, hypercritical of any other piece of writing I encountered. Every time I picked up a book, the newly awakened editor part of my brain reared up and made me think about how I would have written that sentence differently. Better, in fact. And oh, look at that horrible use of passive voice. Or an adverb! Kill it with fire! (It was pretty dramatic in my brain for a while.)

I stopped being able to read books for enjoyment. I didn’t realize that was what was happening at first, only that there had been a book on my desk, half-read, for months. And I had no desire to pick it up again. It was a sad time. But still I wrote. Still I critiqued. As I grew more confident in my craft, and better able to turn off my internal editor (or at least shove her into the same dirty closet other writers were shoving theirs), I began reaching for books again. Sometimes they were books I’d picked up on my own, and other times they were books a group of friends and I had decided to read at the same time. Either way, I began to enjoy reading again. I had to. I love books, and being without– It was awful.

A lot of writers go through this. It’s normal. It’s easy to start feeling judgy when learning a new skill and someone does exactly what you were taught not to do. How dare they break the rules??? But there are no rules; there’s only what works. What we think of as rules are actually just things that typically work.

Eventually, you claw your way out of the unfun nonreading time. It gets easier to recognize that the story the author is telling may not be the story you wanted to be told, but that doesn’t make it a bad story. It gets easier to stop nitpicking every sentence because you would have written it differently. And it gets easier to remember that you didn’t write the book; someone else did.

Learning to tell the internal editor to shut up is an important skill if you want to be able to read a book without screaming. For writers, reading is an essential part of the job. (And often why writers start writing in the first place.) It’s important to know what books are out there, what’s currently selling, and what’s making readers swoon. Even more important than being able to tell what an author did wrong is being able to tell what they did right.

I wouldn’t want to go back to being able to read indiscriminately; it’s important to know the difference between good books and bad books, and keep a healthy diet of good books. As with food. But mostly, it’s important to read, because how can anyone who’s not feeding their creative brain hope to produce anything?

It doesn’t matter where you are in your writing: reading is part of the job, and great books will open your eyes and change the way you think. They’ll inspire you, entertain you, and stay with you long after The End.

~~~


Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. Her debut, INCARNATE, is coming January 31, 2012 from Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

*A Kippy is a cat.

Don’t Judge a Book by its… Title

23 Dec

Guest Post by Aya Tsintziras

~~~

Aya Tsintziras, 2011 Debut Author

We’ve all heard the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But what about a book’s title? What you choose to call your novel is just as important as the cover image, the story and the writing. Titles can be mysterious or intriguing, drawing the reader in at first glance (Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife or Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games come to mind) or they can be clever, making the reader think and search for the title’s explanation within the plot (like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why or Gayle Forman’s If I Stay). Most importantly, your title should explain something about the book. So, yes, titles matter, just as covers do, and you should definitely judge a title.

What happens when you think you’ve found the perfect title? Or if you query an agency with that title, spend months and months editing that novel under the title, and get a book deal with that title – only to hear your title must be changed?

This is what happened to me. I wrote my novel, formerly known as RAINFALL, at sixteen, started working with a literary agency at eighteen, and got the good news that my novel had been sold this past summer at twenty. I was super excited (and still am!), of course, not only about realizing my dream of becoming a published author, something I had wished for since I was young, but about working with an editor and growing as a writer. I didn’t realize I would learn an important lesson in letting go. But that’s what this journey has turned into – the realization that not everything about your novel will stay exactly the same and always keeping an open mind is the only way to get through the changes.

My YA novel is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl named Raine who suffers from an eating disorder and must learn how to deal in a world where being pretty means being thin. Therefore, my original title, RAINFALL, was a play on words and on the theme of the book – Raine falls, in a sense, and must pick herself back up. I’m lucky to have such a wonderful editor who was incredibly respectful about the title change, telling me that the book needs a title which eludes to the subject. She allowed me to be involved in the decision-making process and I brainstormed a few ideas. In the end, the title that was chosen was PRETTY BONES. On a personal note, I love it as it’s pretty and poetic, but from a business/marketing perspective, it’s perfect. Those two words say everything about the book – it is about beauty and it is about bones. I understand that RAINFALL does not tell you the book is about anorexia, whereas PRETTY BONES does.

My old title will always stay close to my heart. I chose it when I was in high school, a time full of many ups and downs, a time when I learned to believe in myself. I chose to write a novel and to pursue the path to publication, and that is what my old title represents to me. My title change, then, is symbolic of the fact that I have grown up, from a sixteen-year-old dreamer to a twenty-one-year-old college senior who still dreams, of course, but has made her dream into a reality.

If you are faced with the need to change your title, either a personal decision or a suggestion from your agent or editor, it’s fine to be upset – for a little while. You are letting go of something you have been attached to. But think of a title change, like any changes you will have to make during the editing process, as a new beginning. A step in the right direction. A step to making your book more marketable.

After all, if you are brave and believe in yourself as a writer, enough to pursue the crazy ride to publication, that’s what counts.

~~~

Aya Tsintziras is finishing up her degree in Political Science and Media Studies at the University of Toronto. At fifteen, her play, Rainfall, won an Honourable Mention in the Tarragon Theatre’s Under 20 Playwright Competition. Aya turned this play into a novel and it will be published under the name PRETTY BONES on March 1 2011 by James Lorimer in North America. You can follow her on twitter @ayatsintziras.

 

Submission Etiquette

30 Nov

A Guest Post by Rachel Geertsema

~

Have you ever been tempted to reply to someone who rejected you to tell her that she doesn’t know #@%$ about writing? Or have you replied to a rejection with your next work attached? I’m here, on behalf of agents and editors everywhere, to say: “For the love of all that is holy, please STEP AWAY from the computer.”

Submission etiquette is hard.  How do you know what is crossing a line and what is simply asking for another chance?  Some agents are willing to take a look at something else of yours, and even encourage you to resubmit once you’ve worked on your MS a little more.  Some editors may flat out ignore you if you try to do this.  Some interns may laugh a little at your attempts to impress (and on behalf of interns everywhere, I apologize).  However, you CAN improve your chances and gain the appreciation of an agent/editor/intern by learning some etiquette regarding submissions.

The absolute golden rule of submitting is: Find each agency/publisher’s submission policy and follow it exactly. If you learn nothing from what I have to say, please, please at least learn this.  But, aside from following submission policies, there is no hard-and-fast rule for what is or isn’t acceptable when you are submitting queries.  I’m here to guide you through this dark world and help you learn some boundaries.

  1. Don’t harass the agent/editor. Asking him if he has received your partial/full that you emailed is fine.  Emailing her every week to see if she’s looked at your MS is not.  We are busy people with a LOT of queries to wade through.  If you keep asking, a) chances are we don’t even know which is yours and so lie through our teeth, or b) we may lose interest in your MS because we’re so annoyed.
  2. Like I said above, follow the publisher’s/agency’s submission guidelines to a T. I can’t express the outrage that occurs in an editor’s heart at receiving a full MS when the publishing house’s website CLEARLY states “Please send only a query,” or when, after requesting some sample chapters, your submission contains 5 random chapters to give the “full effect” of the book.  It doesn’t.  It only creates confusion, frustration, and anger, and a less than 10% chance that it will be read.
  3. Don’t attach your new MS (or 5 others, “just in case!”) in a reply email to a rejection. At the very least, ASK if you can submit something else. And don’t work your way through the list of everything you’ve written since you were 5.  Sometimes you really do need to accept that it wasn’t meant to be.
  4. Being rejected does not give you license to do any of the following:

a) Write back saying anything aside from “Thank you for taking the time to read my submission.”  If you received a really helpful rejection, ask if you can resubmit after reworking your MS. Do not call the rejecter names, question her reasoning, or threaten him.
b) Find his Facebook/Twitter/phone number on the internet and harass him.
c) Write nasty things about her on any website like Absolute Write, Query Tracker, or any other outlet on the internet that is a cesspool of rejected authors complaining about the unfairness of life. WE READ THESE.

Once you’ve got this down, it’s time to move on to the real show.  Here are some tips and tricks that do not cross any personal or professional boundaries:

  1. For the 5th time in this post, I am begging you to follow submission guidelines exactly as they are laid out on the publisher/agency’s website. They are there for a reason, not to create rules that you are required to creatively break. Editors/agents don’t have time to wade through your creative vomit to figure out what your book is about.
  2. Spell the company’s name right, at least. I’ve lost track of how many submissions I’ve received in the past five months that have my company’s name spelled incorrectly.  If you can’t be bothered to double check that you’ve spelled things right, I can’t be bothered to be interested in your MS.
  3. Be patient, understanding, and gracious. The business of publishing is stressful and editors and agents are often doing the work of two people.
  4. Don’t provide 4 pages of your personal achievements. Unless your personal life relates to your MS, I don’t care.
  5. If you receive a form rejection, you can submit a new MS, but not in reply to that rejection. Start from scratch.  If you’ve received a personal rejection, you can ask in reply if you can resubmit in the future or if you can submit something else. Either way, send a query letter along with your MS as a formality. If you resubmit, send a brand new query letter that mentions your history with the company (as a refresher!). If you are allowed to submit something new, approach it with the same professionalism—provide a query letter or outline of your work.
  6. On the flip side, if you haven’t heard back about a query you submitted months and months ago, forget about it and move on. The publisher/agency just isn’t interested, ok? (I’ve received a number of angry phone calls from authors who say they submitted 5 months ago.  Sorry, but we’ve forgotten about submissions from 5 months ago.)

Remember that on this side of publishing, we want you to succeed as much as you do. Guidelines and policies are in place because we just don’t have the time to wade through the huge variety of submissions we would otherwise get. I can promise you that following a company’s guidelines is always noticed and appreciated by those of us who can get lost in the slush pile for days on end (and yes, I have literally spent days devoted to reading submissions in the slush pile).

Now that you have this insiders’ knowledge, you can query in complete confidence! Happy querying!

~~~

Rachel  has spent the past year wading through slush piles at a variety of publishing companies, including a literary agency (with LTWF contributor Vanessa), academic publisher, and trade publisher. She is also a freelance editor and has nearly completed a publishing certificate at Ryerson University. She can also make the best cupcakes north of the border. You can follow her on Twitter @r_geerts.

How to … Submit a Graphic Novel Proposal!

26 Oct

A Guest Post by Hayleigh Bird

~

What do you think of when you hear the term graphic novel? I’m willing to bet that images of Spiderman, Batman, and Wonder Woman pop in to your head. But graphic novels aren’t just for superheroes and villains anymore. The audience for graphic novels has been expanding rapidly over the past few years. These days you can find graphic novels about space cats, political and philosophical issues, circuses, and yes, even vampires. Graphic novels are no longer targeted only at teenage boys. They are being created for boys and girls alike, for kids as young as six, and for adults too.

So why is this trend interesting to you, the writer? Publishers are very hungry for good graphic novels. That’s good news for anyone aspiring to be published, particularly if you have a fondness for art, sketching, and drawing. This post won’t tell you how to create a graphic novel, because there is really no guideline for that. And if you were to follow a guideline, your graphic novel would likely look the same as your next-door neighbor’s graphic novel, and as such not be as stand-out-fantastic as it could be. The best thing you can do if you’re creating a graphic novel is to create straight from your own head, from your own imagination. Different equals interesting, so go for it.

What you may need a little guidance with, however, is how to create a graphic novel submission, and what to include. Most publishers (and agents) do have a section on their website stating the regulations for submitting to them; however very few tell you what to include in a graphic novel submission. And submitting a graphic novel is very different than submitting a novel. For starters, you will submit a proposal rather than a partial.

What do editors and agents want to see in a proposal? You will need to include a document describing the book’s concept and specs. This means a plot summary, character and setting descriptions, proposed extent (how many pages?), trim (what size of pages?), and colours (full colour? Black and white?). This document should also include a biography, listing previous work. This part of your proposal expands on what you might say in a query letter. There are a few reasons that this document is important. First, an editor or agent wants to know that you have a clear idea of what your graphic novel is going to look like. If you don’t know the extent, trim size, etc, it means you haven’t really planned out what you are going to create. That’s not to say that these numbers won’t change as you continue creating – they might. But you should at least have a clear starting point, and plan.

If you are planning to write and illustrate your graphic novel, you will also need to include some sample spreads of finished, typeset artwork. I would suggest including spreads from your opening scene, and a climactic moment. Whatever you choose should be an important part of your plot, as whoever is reviewing your proposal will be most interested to see how you plan to illustrate and create those moments. In addition to the spreads, you also need to include character designs for each of your main characters. This means a couple pages of that character doing different things. You’ll want to portray them in a variety of poses and situations, so that there is a visible and clear sense of who that character is.

It is possible to submit a graphic novel proposal even if you are not an artist. Your chances of having your proposal accepted are likely lower, but if you have a stellar idea for a graphic novel then there are many agents and editors out there who would want to know about it. Your document containing a plot outline, character and setting descriptions, etc, will look the same as a proposal that includes illustrations. Your proposal, however, won’t include sample spreads, or character designs. What you will need to include is a scene of sample script. Again, it is advisable to choose either your opening scene, or your climax. The script should be just that: a script. It would look similar to a play, or screenplay script.

Lastly, if you are proposing a series, you should include a series outline, so that the editor or agent can see what the overall narrative arc will look like. They will also want to know how many books are being proposed. It is important to have a clear arc in mind, and not to plan to leave it open ended. Editors and agents want to know how you plan on ending your novel or series, not just how it starts.

If creating a graphic novel is something that interests you, I would definitely suggest giving it a try. The market is hot right now, especially with the appeal that graphic novels have for reluctant readers. Even schools are starting to use graphic novels in their curriculum, and their classrooms. Good luck in your endeavors, and as always, post questions or comments if you have them! I will try to answer all of them. :D

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Hayleigh Bird is a children’s book fanatic and enthusiast. She works in the children’s publishing arena as a Sales Assistant at Kids Can Press, and is currently working on several manuscripts for children and young adults. You can find her on Twitter and on her comedic blog, Peculiar Amusement.

Guest Post: Common Query Issues

1 Sep

Guest Post by C.A. Marshall

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Thanks for having me ladies! I <3 the LTWF blog!

When I graduated with my MA two years ago, I had the beginnings of my first novel, a MG about travellers and faeries in the woods behind the house of a kid named Ben. My dissertation included the first 15,000 words and over the next six months I finished writing it. I also started querying it. Widely. At the same time I was writing it.

I remember getting rejection after rejection until I finally got two requests for full’s. Yay, I thought, maybe I’ll get an agent! I was wrong. Both full’s came back with form rejections.  I’ve since learned that querying a book that is unfinished and unpolished is a huge faux pas.  We’ve all got to start somewhere, right?

Fast forward two years and a bit of education that an MA can’t give you and I now know more about the query process, how it works, and what the standards of querying are.

As a query-reading intern, I’ve had many writers ask me to look their query over and give them some pointers. Most want to know if I would forward it if I had seen it in the queries inbox. Over time, I’ve noticed a few things that these queriers have in common.  Here are some of the issues I see most often:

Formulaic personalization. Saying something like, “I saw that you represent _________ and ________ and so I’m querying you.” Anyone can plug in a couple of names. Get more in depth. Read a book that they represented and talk about it for a sentence or two, or at least that you’ve been following their blog/twitter and mention a recent posting. Something that says you actually know who the agent is and that you’ve tried your best to get to know them.

Being too “list-y.” Giving a list of characters or themes that you cover in your novel doesn’t tell us anything about the plot. It’s how those characters interact that make the story, show us that.

Lack of voice. When writing my own query and struggling with voice, I was given the advice to try writing the query in first person from the main characters’ POV. Let a bit of their personality show through. Then, turn it into third person, keeping those bits of voice in.

No plot. Putting in a bunch of hypothetical questions or a list of things that your character worries about doesn’t equal plot.

Lack of cohesion. While chopping down your plot to fit into the available space, watch that you don’t lose the connection between the action and the characters reaction. If they’re happy and shopping in one paragraph and in another they are frightened and in a different country, it pulls the reader right out of the mini “story.”

Third person bios. I don’t know where this comes from, but a bio in a query that you’re writing should not be written in third person.  I think it’s creepy and awkward.  Third person bios go on jacket flaps and on websites, not in queries.

Irrelevancy in bios. It might matter to you if you’ve got six kids, three cats, and a husband named Steve, but it doesn’t matter to us. At least not right now.  There will be plenty of time later to get to know all about you but for now just focus on your book and what you have done to make YOU the best person to write this book. If you’ve got an MA/MFA, list it. If you’re a lawyer and you write about a lawyer, list that. If you’re writing about a teenager though, we don’t need to know that you’ve got three of your own and what their names are.  Why would you want that information out there anyway?

Too long/too short. It’s generally expected that your query will be about three or four paragraphs long. Use that space wisely. Don’t condense it down to one paragraph, use that extra space to show us your characters’ personality. On the other end, if you’ve got an inch, don’t take a mile.

Writing to trends. If you’re writing something that’s trending, be sure to point out what makes your story about vampires different from other stories about vampires. Don’t just say that yours don’t sparkle. That’s not enough. I’ve seen plenty of Twilight knock-offs that have non-sparkly vampires.

Speaking of vampires, try not to use the word vampire at all. Use “undead” or “blood-suckers” or “night hunters” or some other vampire-esque euphemism. The sad truth is that after seeing vampire query after vampire query that are rip-offs of Twilight or True Blood, as soon as interns see the word vampire we’re already looking for hints of which other vampires you’re copying.  The same goes for Angel/demon books with character names like Gabriel and Michael.

If you’ve got a cop story, don’t name your cop Jack. There are a million ways to die, and most of them have been done before. A cop who’s wife has just died, or a detective who didn’t see that his ex was cheating on him, FBI agents for some secret undercover operation… those have been done to death. Get a new angle. Surprise the reader. Make the story truly terrifying, not one I can guess the ending of by reading the flap copy.

If you’re going to write a memoir about your life, make sure you’ve done something interesting. Just because you’ve got a few funny stories to share doesn’t mean that the world will rush out to read them. We’ve all got funny stories and most of them are “you just had to be there” moments. Read other memoirs. Make sure something truly unique has happened to you and you’re not just writing because you like to hear yourself talk.

You can’t control trends, but you can control the quality of your own work. Read lots of your genre/topic and make sure to make your book unique.

The number one biggest mistake that I see is that the author doesn’t follow guidelines. I usually ask for the first 250 words to follow the query and sometimes authors will send the entire first chapter as an attachment. Do your research and make sure to follow each agent’s guidelines exactly.

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C.A. Marshall is a freelance editor, lit agent intern, YA writer, and loves to play with her dog Mollie. She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. She can be found in Emmett, MI and at camarshall.com

Guest Post: Why It’s Good to Step Slowly Towards Publication

21 Aug

Today we’re featuring an excellent personal story about self-publishing from LTWF reader Lincoln Law!

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By Lincoln Law

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We can all remember that moment in the bookstores, looking at the shelves packed thick with books, hoping that one day we will find our own in amongst it.  Heck, I still do it now (going so far as to sneak a self-printed copy onto the shelf, taking a photo, and then putting it back in my bag).  The dream of one day writing full-time is something that I’m sure all writers dream about.  I even use YouTube videos of interviews with successful writers to cut through writer’s block.  This dream, however, will take a lot of work.  The only mistake you can make is to rush into publication—and I am speaking from experience.

But we will get to my experience later.  I would first like to tell you about a thirteen-year-old boy and his dreams.

One day, while reading Harry Potter, this boy decided he wanted to write a book.  He hopped on his computer and began to write his first novel.  This book would be written one-and-a-half times (because he gave up half-way through after realising what he had written was dribble), and when he reached the 90,000th word, he decided it was still dribble, and didn’t even bother to query it.  This was perhaps the best decision he ever made (and you will all understand in due course).

Instead, he moves on to a new shiny idea he’s had.  It is an epic trilogy about a boy who has no shadow in a world where to have no shadows means you are juvenile.  This he writes, edits and with the pride that all young authors have, queries with it as if it’s the next Lord of the Rings.

He queries agents at first, and when the string of rejection letters come rolling in, he moves onto publishers that are open to unsolicited queries.  The experience of querying a publisher was much like querying an agent.  In his naïve understanding of the publishing world, he uses a carbon copy of his agent query, replacing the word ‘representation’ with ‘publication’.

He receives a reply from a big publisher (one of the biggest) requesting the full manuscript, which he promptly posts off.

Six months later, the manuscript arrives on his doorstep with a rejection letter attached.  Heartbroken, but still filled with pride, he decides to self-publish this book, hoping for a kind of instant gratification that many people find in chocolate, coffee or instant loans.  He receives some press, and his school gets him on the local TV news.  There’s a write-up in the newspaper, and bookstores in his town begin to ask him if they can sell his book.  Excited, confused, he says yes and begins printing books with Lulu.com, a print-on-demand company, and passes them onto stores.

He completes the trilogy, and eventually finds all three books on the shelves.  People who have read it love it and congratulate him on something so wonderful from a person his age.  They commend him for the momentous task that a 365,000 word trilogy is, and by age eighteen, he has his first book signing.

By now this boy is eighteen, on the cusp of nineteen, almost a man, and he is coming to realise the grave mistake he has made in self-publishing his work.  While it has provided him some joy in having a wide audience read what he would’ve called at age fifteen, his magnum opus, at eighteen he has come to realise that perhaps he is in too deep, and he wants out now. The book is now published, technically speaking.  It is on the shelves, and a little over a hundred people have read this book, and every one of those people have an opinion on his words—the ramblings of a fifteen-year-old newbie.  However much he wishes to call every book back into his room to be burnt, he cannot possibly erase what people have seen of this unpolished, roughly edited series.  The wakeup call, so to speak, arrived in the form of his English teacher reading his novel, and when asked whether he enjoyed it or not, was responded with an uncertain ‘yeah…’.  It was like he was suddenly aware of the story’s faults, as Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness after eating the apple.  The boy was naked before the world, and everyone was allowed to judge.

That boy is me, and while I soldier on, coming ever-closer to completing the second book my second trilogy (book number 6 since I started at thirteen), I look back at my mistake of my arrogant youth.  I have dived in, when I should’ve stepped slowly.  I was driven by hopes that the grass was greener, when in truth the grass was still growing for me; I just needed to be patient.

People who I’ve met since my mistake tell me I am still young by most standards, still developing.  I have a good 50-60 years ahead of me during which my dreams can come true, and they are absolutely right.  Unlike Christopher Paolini, who struck it lucky at fifteen with a book that was not necessarily of great quality, but of great marketability, and who rejected Colleges’ offers of the chance to study writing courses due to the supposed and self-proclaimed excellence of his developing prose, I have come to realise that only through time, practice and hard work can I eventually achieve my dream.  I may not be able to say I have made millions from my writing, but I can safely say that I have not written a well-disguised piece of Star Wars fan-fic, and that it will be through my integrity and ever-growing skill that I will eventually find a publisher.

So listen to the words of someone who has experienced it.  Work hard and develop your voice.  Read as much as you can, write until you are asleep, and while there, keep writing; keep imagining; keep dreaming.  There is a reason there are other people out there who decide when you are ready to be published, and they will be there when your time comes, as they always have been.  There is no need to rush.  Write not for hopes of publication, but for hopes to become better.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t want to be remembered as the richest author in the world, or the best-selling, or the most generous.  As she once stated, she “wants to be remembered as a woman who did the best she could with the talent she had”, and that is something we can all strive for.  Strive not for infamy, but for quality, and you will go well.

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Contrary to what Lincoln Law wrote here, he is not wracked by the doom and gloom of his past, and can often be found writing to the music of Owl City or OneRepublic.  He is currently spending a year away from school to write while waiting to begin a degree in English Teaching.  Presently he is querying his most recent novel, “The Blood Moon” and has zero intentions of self-publishing it.  You can find out more about him at www.lincolnlaw.livejournal.com

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