Archive | August, 2011

Industry Trends

31 Aug

By Sammy Bina

~~~

We live in a crazy time. The publishing industry is constantly changing, adapting to its readers and the technology they use. But where are things now, and where are they going? I had the opportunity to attend a lecture at NYU last night that covered exactly that. Libby Jordan, president of Misubu Inc., and Jay Ehrlich, executive director of online editorial for Women’s Health, put into words all the things I’ve wanted to tell you guys. And then some! (For the record, I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee lately. My brain’s a little bit whack. I apologize.)

Libby really delved into current industry trends. Did you guys know there’s been a triple-digit growth in self-publishing in the last few years? And to accommodate all these new writers and their audience, 3000 new publishers were registered in 2010 alone (95% of which were created strictly to serve  self-published authors). Crazy, right?

Nowadays we have sites like smashwords.com, lulu.com, authorhouse.com, and createspace.com that are there to help people who think they have a story to tell (another fun fact for you guys: 81% of the population wants to write a book). If you want to write a book, and you don’t want to spend the time looking for an agent, and consequently an editor, you’ve got loads of options. Some are better than others, so like any other major venture, you need to do your research. But the option is out there if you want it.

And how about that Amazon, ey? They recently announced that they, too, were planning to dive into the world of publishing. Which only makes sense when you consider the fact that they are responsible for roughly 80-90% of all print sales, and that they sell more ebooks than they do every form of print combined.

But with these new and expanding markets, there’s also some major competition. As a seasoned publisher, Libby spent some time talking to us about marketing, and what she’s found that works. And this information is relevant for any of you — published, or hoping to!

The first thing she told us was to remember that you can’t be wrong. Things change so quickly that you need to be willing to try new things. Best case scenario, you stumble upon something great. Worst? You don’t do whatever you did again. But there are proven methods…

– Sampling. More and more authors are posting the first chapter of their novels online, free of charge. The beauty of this is that we all like to try things before we buy them (For example, shoes!). And who doesn’t love free things? Sampling also creates buzz. Say you read the first chapter of someone’s novel online five months before the book came out. In those coming months, you tell a bunch of your writer friends about this great book you heard about, and they, in turn, check out the sample and then tell their friends. Everybody wins!

– Net galleys. Netgalley.com is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a book blogger. Once you sign up, you can download galleys (ARCs) of upcoming books. It’s another great way to create buzz for books that are coming out.

– Promoted tweets and facebook ads. Annoying at times, but worth their wait in gold. Both of these offer extensive analysis on the people clicking on your link. If you want to know that your key demographic is 14-year-old girls from Alabama, you can. So if you want to promote your book, twitter and facebook are great tools to utilize.

I tend to reiterate this a lot, but the more involved I get in publishing, the more useful twitter becomes. So this is just another service announcement telling you that, if you want to network, twitter is a great tool.

So many people these days are worried about publishing and where it’s going. Are books dying? The answer, my friends, is no! I truly believe there will always be print books. However, the shift toward digital publishing is obvious, and it’s moving fast. I think we all need to accept the fact that ebooks are here to stay, and in a big way. But publishing will continue to provide jobs, along with books (in multiple forms) to those who are looking. Libby and Jay especially noted SEO writing, video editing, design, coding, and social media as jobs that are definitely on the up and up.

But what about you guys? How are you feeling about the publishing industry as it continues to change?

~~~

Sammy Bina is the literary assistant at N.S. Bienstock in New York City. In her free time she’s busy overhauling her adult dystopian novel, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, for the YA market. She tweets a bunch and blogs every once and a while.

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Where Do You Live Your Life?

29 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

In July I was lucky enough to be able to go on a retreat with some of the girls here at the blog. We talked constantly for five days about writing and writers, and this is something I’d been thinking about for a while that I finally voiced to Kat Zhang:

Don’t you think it’s funny that huge-name authors, like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins, have humongous fan bases and best-selling works, and practically zero web presence?

Stephenie Meyer hasn’t updated her website with any sort of personal note since May 17th. In 2010.

J. K. Rowling did just launch Pottermore, but before that her most recent update was from 2008. She also has a barely-used Twitter account where so far all she has done is confirm that it is actually her official twitter.

Suzanne Collins’ website looks like it’s from the 90’s and has zero personal update information.

Why?

Why would these megastars of the writing world NOT utilize all the social media applications we’ve been told will make or break us? Here’s why I think it is:

They are living their lives in the real wold, not the virtual one.

And that made me wonder… where am I living my life? I was slightly disturbed to realize that most of my life is entirely virtual. I don’t have any friends in town; all of them are online. LTWF takes up a lot of my thoughts and energy, and I’m an active member of several online communities. I wasn’t disturbed from an anti-technology perspective, and actually I’m in the camp that believes all this technology has brought all of us closer together. But it’s a different sort of mind space, and it made me realize that… I love my virtual life, but I miss my life in the real world, too.

Here’s my issue with cutting off all my social media, though: I pride myself on being available. I have my gmail up constantly. I see everything the instant it comes in. On one hand, this is great; through gmail I get to chat with my boyfriend and my writing friends all day long. I’ve gotten some wonderful opportunities just by being able to instantly respond to something. But it’s also a big distraction. Every time something pops up I leave whatever I’m doing to see what it is.

The other weekend I tried writing with the internet closed down. No gmail. No Twitter. No Facebook. It felt good. It felt like the old days when I wrote in my room because I loved it, because I couldn’t stay away from my stories.

But could I live like that? Could I be like Joanne, Stephenie, and Suzanne, and not tell the internet at large what I’m up to?

I grew up posting to Fictionpress and FanFiction.net. I’ve always written ‘publicly’. I’ve heard some writers say they have to feel like what they’re working on is ‘private’ or they get too stressed and can’t perform. But I love thinking about my audience while I’m writing. I get so excited, and can’t wait to share it with you (though these days all I can do is tell you how awesome it is on Twitter, lol). I enjoy updating my word counts every day, and posting on Facebook about the awesome thing my character just did (like cutting off a zombie’s head with a circular saw).

I can take breaks and not check my media accounts, and it feels nice, but I don’t think I could ever go fully private. The internet is too much a part of my life. But I do sometimes think it would be nice to be completely unplugged, or to never have plugged in at all. Life would consist of my family, my town, my pets, and my writing, and that’s it.

But this also ties into something else I’ve been worrying about… social media and ‘branding’. During the retreat, Susan relayed a story about a writer who emailed her to ask if she really, really needed to have a website like everyone said? Susan gave a great answer: Only get one if you really want it.

Yes, publishers will probably want you to have a website, but that doesn’t mean you have to blog or update it constantly. It can just be a landing place for people who want to know more about you and your books.

Here’s the thing about blogging: Everyone is doing it, and it’s hard to do it right. I’ve struggled with blogging for a long time, because I’m not a social media guru, and I don’t particularly want to be an ‘expert’ on any one thing. I do love writers and helping out writers, but there are already so many awesome websites devoted to teaching about writing and publishing (like this one) that starting my own on the side would be pointless, and redundant.

Instead I decided I would just blog about me and my projects. After all, if you’re coming to my website that’s what you’re interested in, right? And it doesn’t matter if I don’t have a million comments or a fan club or 5,000 Twitter followers. If J.K, Stephenie, and Suzanne have taught us anything (from a social media perspective), it’s that you don’t need to do all that in order to have readers. All you have to do is write a great book.

And that’s where I want to live my life. Offline or not, I want to make sure that I’m giving enough dedicated, distraction-free time to my writing. So while I’m not going to unplug completely, I will cut down a bit, and accept that I don’t have to be ‘available’ constantly. I will allow myself to be busy.

Busy living. 🙂

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

Your Characters Should Exist in Time

26 Aug

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books with characters that have felt ever-so-slightly flat. On the surface it seems as if these characters have been constructed perfectly — they have likes and dislikes, flaws and strengths. My poor brain has been working overtime trying to figure out what’s wrong, what crucial element has been missing in these characters.

I think I’ve finally figured it out. The missing element, the thing that’s holding these characters back from truly popping on the page? Time. These characters were defined purely through their relationships to the things around them. They seemed to have near non-existent histories and were unaware that such a thing as the future existed.

I think one of the easiest traps to fall into with characterization, especially of protagonists, is to view their identity through a purely material lens. “Oh,” the clever author says, “he/she is intelligent, and must therefore own a lot of books about quantum physics!” I actually think that this kind of material characterization is okay, and in fact really good in most cases. It’s active, it involves the character doing something. Namely, reading books about quantum physics.

Characters who have material interests in the present are not necessarily bad or poorly developed. On the other hand, if the material crutch that an author leans on is, say, the kind of clothes or make up the character chooses to wear — I get a little bit more leery.

If clothing, and buying clothing is a big part of the story then that’s a-okay. It’s exactly like the earlier quantum physics example — it involves the protagonist doing something. But. If clothing is simply used as lazy characterization — a way to slot the character into a certain archetypal mold — then as a reader? I get annoyed.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t describe your characters’ clothing. It can add to characterization, can set up that initial archetype — I think for instance, Harry Potter’s skinny frame along with the baggy t-shirts and sellotaped glasses was a good initial character set up. What I am saying is that this shouldn’t be where your characterization ENDS.

I’m saying that you need to move beyond the material.

It’s hard to stop defining your character by the things that they possess, and to start defining them by the things that they do. It’s even harder to get beyond the things that they do, and hit at who they truly are. When asked, “Who is that woman?” A standard answer in our society would be, “Oh, that’s Nancy. She’s a nurse”. The conflation between what we do — job wise especially — and who we are is there on a lot of levels.

And of course, what we do does feed into who we are.

But I think there is a certain fabric beneath that exterior, a fabric of self that is defined in time rather than in things-done or things-owned. A character is not just the sum of all their parts. They’re the sum of all their parts, and all the parts they used to have but are no longer in their possession.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Say a character is presently a very, very confident person. Perhaps over confident. But when they were younger, they were a shy, self-conscious, overweight boy. That element of their past will be taken with them through their life.

It’s the same for less defining moments. Childhood trips, lame inside jokes with friends, ways of texting or speaking that seem so embarrassing to you when you’re older, modes of thinking that you outgrow. Sometimes, it’s the most insignificant things that stick with people, lingering ‘ghost’ parts of their sum.

So you need to weave your character’s past not necessarily into the story, but into your character, into the way that they approach and respond to their world.

And it’s the same with the future. The character needs to have some kind of expectation for the future — it doesn’t need to be a complex plan of any kind, it can just be a feeling “bleak” or “happy” or “bittersweet” or “messy”. Or it can be more specific like “wedded bliss” or “career security” or “ten kids” or “first woman on Saturn”.

Humans are decoders. We’re constantly trying to work this life out, constantly making both minor and major plans — not having a character be aware that there *is* a future would seem odd, to me. Let your character guess at the future, as if trying to predict an upcoming plot twist in a novel. Let what they see or predict influence them, whether for good or ill.

This doesn’t mean that your characters need to spend a lot of time obsessing about their past, present and future and how all three relate to each other. Good, rounded characters seem to display awareness of this dynamic very naturally.

For instance, in the last book I read, Hannah Moskowitz’s Invincible Summer, the main character’s story story is structured around four summers. You don’t see the time that passes between those summers, but that time bumps over into Chase, the protagonist. The pull of the past on him– those idyllic summers from when he was younger — and his absolute terror of a future  and where it will take him, and his falling-apart family, adds a lot of weight to his characterization. For me, more so than if he’d been given a whole slew of hobbies.

So, this is a post to say that our characters are dynamic beings who exist in time, who are constantly changing. I think that acknowledging this dynamic is one of the keys to creating a well-rounded, compelling character.

What do you guys think? Is time an important element of characterisation? If so,  how do you incorporate it into your stories?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Staying Motivated with Word Count

24 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

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I’ve had some good writing weekends. Weekends where I write 10,000 words. And I’ve had some bad ones, where I get maybe 200 words. Every single time I sit down to write, I’m always amazed by how much text it actually takes to make even 100 words. For example, in Times New Roman sized 12, double-spaced, an average page from one of my books has 350 words on it. This paragraph only has 89, and look at all of the ideas I’ve expressed so far.

So even though numbers like 100, 200, or 300 seem low in comparison to what I get on a good weeknight (2,000), that’s actually quite a bit of writing.

And I’m obsessed with word count. Here’s a picture of the spreadsheet I keep open in Google docs when I’m working on my books (the word counts are from the zombie book I have going on the side) (click to see it bigger!):


I got into word counts when I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, and made the foundation of the above chart at that point. (At the time I originally wrote this post, I was the only one I knew of who kept charts like this, but then Susan came up with the awesome idea of us at LTWF sharing our daily goals/achievements with each other. For the past week we’ve updated our word counts in a shared google docs, and it’s been incredibly motivational, as Susan mentioned yesterday, but I still maintain this chart on my own!)

These days, whenever I’m writing and hit a pause (you know the kind. The one where your brain interjects and says, “HEY! Let’s go check email! Or Twitter! Or Facebook! Or Google+!”) I do a word count check and update the word count chart. I know when I’m really hitting my stride because 500 words will go by and I’ve been so engrossed in my story I didn’t even think to stop and check. I’ve gotten really good at estimating how many words I just wrote by the time it took. On average I can do 1,000 an hour (Yes, I also maintain complicated hour-by-hour charts as well. What can I say, I love charts!)

Yes, this behavior is obsessive. But it has also taught me something about writing and motivation:

Writing takes a long time. A long, long, long, long time. From conception to actualization on my last book it took 9 months. In actual writing time it took 3 months. That’s faster than some, slower than others, but still, when you think about it, a really freaking long time.

9 months of staying motivated about a story. 3 months about showing up and making it happen (Or as Susan calls it, BICHOK). 90 nights of going home with the intention of working on this huuuuuuge project, and sometimes not even getting started. This past weekend, I spent 8 solid hours over two different days, and got almost 9k out of it. But that was 8 hours of my weekend dedicated to doing nothing but writing. That’s an entire work day! And I only added about three scenes.

If you let yourself think about how much work and time goes into making a novel, it’s very easy to become demotivated. That’s why I like word counts. It compartmentalizes my goal for the day, and makes it attainable. I don’t think about having to write 70,000 words. Instead, I usually shoot for about 1,500 per night. That’s doable. It takes about two hours, but I’m lucky in that I have that time every evening.

During the day, I do spare some thought to the eventualities of the novel, but mostly I focus on the upcoming scene. I use all spare time to think about what I’m going to write that night, and then when I get in front of the computer I know exactly what I’m doing.

By the end of the novel, I’ve spent about 90 full days with my characters. Thinking about them, talking to them, exploring their worlds in my mind. They become friends. And that’s something else to look forward to during the process; it’s not a race to the finish, but a stroll with good company and an exciting reward at the end.

In other words, “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” And the satisfaction of every small goal along the way.

~~~

How do you stay motivated when working on a novel?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

Holding Yourself (and Your Writing) Accountable

22 Aug

 

by Susan Dennard

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I’ve talked about productivity before. About how BICHOK is one sure-fire way to get your writing where it needs to be. About how focused practice is the only way to get better.

But what about those times when your self-motivation (if you even have it to begin with!) starts to flag?

What about those days where you spend four hours at the computer and write all of 4 words?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

On those days, my friend, it’s time to seek help elsewhere. It’s time to find SOMEONE ELSE to hold you accountable.

I mean, think about it: when you were in high school, you got your work done (or I hope you did…). Maybe it was at the last minute or maybe it wasn’t always your best work, but you finished. Why? Because someone else expected you to.

So why not put a dose of SOMEONE ELSE in your writing life?

It’s easy. Find another writer (or as many as you want!) and agree to talk regularly, share your goals, and check in often to make sure you’re staying on track.

For example, right now, the Let the Words Flow ladies are sharing their daily word count goals. In the morning, we all email how many words we want to type out before night…and then that night, we email to say how much we actually wrote.

I can assure you that simply knowing the other ladies are gonna see my daily progress really pushes me to keep TYPING! And, if for whatever reason one of us is flagging, we all shoot out upbeat emails–and when I’m the one behind, that support REALLY helps me get back on track.

So if you’re finding you need a bit more motivation in your life, I challenge you to find another writer who’ll hold you accountable and send you lots of smiley faces when you need ’em.

Is this something you would ever do? Or do you already have someone like this in your writing life?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

QOTW! Describing Characters

19 Aug

Last night Hannah Celina emailed us with this question:

What is the best way to describe the main character with 3rd person limited point of view? If I am telling the story from the point of view of Viola, I want the reader to know what she looks like. Yet, I want to avoid the cliche look-in-a-mirror trick. What do you recommend?

~~~

I think describing physical characteristics of the MC in third person limited is slightly easier than doing so in first person. Even with a very close third, there’s still that extra layer of “distance” there, so things like “Viola fidgeted with her hair, running her fingers through the coarse blonde curls” sounds better than “I fidgeted with my hair, running my fingers through the coarse blonde curls”…though in my opinion, the second isn’t so bad, either.

The most important thing, I believe, is creating a situation where it makes sense for the character to be noticing things about her own body. This is why the mirror trick works–when a person looks in the mirror, they’re examining themselves, so it only makes sense that they think about their physical appearance. However, this trick has been used so much in literature that it does annoy some people.

Try thinking of other situations in which someone would note their own looks. Say, if they say someone related to them and thought “Viola imagined her mother was the carbon copy of how she herself would look in thirty years, when her blonde hair started showing streaks of gray.” Or maybe compare and contrast Viola to someone else: “The man was barely taller than Viola, and that was saying something.” (we get the hint that Viola isn’t exactly statuesque).

Tying physical description with physical movement is also a good trick. The fidgeting with hair line is one example. Tall characters can have to duck through low doorways. Short ones might have trouble reaching something high up. Things like that 🙂

-Kat Zhang

~~~

Also, there’s a recent post from Janice Hardy answering the same thing!

What tricks do you use to describe your characters?

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.

The Lightning Thief: a book recommendation

17 Aug

by Susan Dennard

~~

I have to say, I’m not usually a middle grade reader. I typically pick up YA, and if it weren’t for recent forays into writing MG, I wouldn’t have probably ever started the Percy Jackson series.

And oh how tragic that would have been.

Yes, this is a repeat review from my blog, but no, it’s not because I’m being lazy. It’s because you NEED to read this. As writers, you need to pick this up and observe how well Rick Riordan controls his craft.  From voice to plot to characterization, this book does it all REALLY well.

And come on, what’s not to love about modern day Greek myths and fish-out-of-water (quite literally) heroes?

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

As hinted above, the voice had me hooked on page 1. Percy is just so compelling and so entertaining. I love his sarcasm and the way you feel like he’s just a regular dude telling you his very non-regular story.  He feels twelve, but he also feels like an adult (read: CROSS-OVER APPEAL!).

If the voice hadn’t gotten me so thoroughly, then the characters would’ve been the thing to draw me in. I loved Annabeth (kick butt secondary females unite!) and Grover–not to mention all the gods and demi-gods and monsters. Yeah, Riordan did an amazing job bringing this world to very vivid life before my eyes. I loved how he dropped in all the Greek myths–and I had so much fun identifying things before Percy sorted it all out.

What really got me (in a good way), though, was that it had so many nice twists and turns! Figuring out who the bad guys were, what the prophecy referred to, and seeing it all set up for Major Epic-ness in later novels made this one un-put-down-able book!

If you’re looking for some great adventure, the sort of lovable hero who just barely scrapes by, or a world of gods and goddesses, be sure to read The Lightning Thief!

Have you read The Lightning Thief? What did you think?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

The Great Big Post of Querying

12 Aug

So, recently, a reader emailed me asking me how I went about querying and finding my agent. I’d actually meant to put up a post about this a long time ago, but the old post included my actual query, which, now that I look at it, is rather spoilery…

I will, however, go through some of the tools I found most helpful and give a basic outline of how the process went.

I started writing my query letter literally a month or so before I sent out my first email (I didn’t snail mail any queries), and then I revised and revised and revised and revised some more. I sent it to critique partners, read it to friends, etc, until I’d whittled it down to about three paragraphs that made sense, got to the heart of the conflict, and gave the reader just enough world building. 

During this time, I was collecting a list of agents I’d like to work with, too. Many of these names I got from blogs, since I’d spent so much time reading agent blogs to figure out how to put together a query letter in the first place. Some I got from contests (I got my agent Emmanuelle’s name from Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest!).

 Wherever I got the names from, I checked to see if they had blogs or twitter or anything like that. Not everyone does, and that’s fine if they don’t, but if they do tweet or whatever, sometimes you can get an idea of what they’re looking for. I know the internet’s not the best way to make a judge of character or anything, but sometimes you can get a sense of how someone’s like to work with.                                                      .
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Also, a check on querytracker (I did a whole long post about that here) never hurt, either. There’s also www.agentquery.com, but I didn’t use that as much. However, they usually list a number of links to interviews and such that the agent has done, and those can be really helpful. 

Publisher’s Marketplace does require a subscription fee, but it’s not too bad and if you have a membership, you can see what’s been sold by whom and to whom. Which is handy if you’re looking to see who has, say, a really good track record in cozy mysteries or something. Not all sales get reported to PM, though, and some are reported late, so it’s not an end all be all source. 

The Absolute Write forum (or water cooler, as they call it) can be very helpful, too. Many agencies have their own thread in the Writers Beware subforum, and you can search a particular agent’s name to see what sort of experience other writers have had with them in the past. Often, you’ll even see a few people announce that they’ve recently signed on with said agent. The smaller agencies sometimes have rather lackluster, seldom-visited threads, though…which doesn’t at all reflect on the quality of the agency. 

Finally, I got a TON of help from just other writers. The girls at LTWF were an enormous help, as were other friends I made online, who gave me advice about everything from manuscript formatting to query-letter-writing.

I sent out queries in really small batches, since my overall list was pretty small. I ended up signing with Emmanuelle after about two months (longest two months of my life. Truly, lol), but I suppose if I hadn’t gotten any offers after a long while, I would have had to widen my search a little. 

In the end, everybody talks so much about query, and there’s a ton of advice out there (even about the best day of the week or the best time of day to send a query—as a literary intern, I’m just going to say…at least at the agency where I work, this is not going to matter in the least), but in the end, there’s only so much you can do. And writing a really strong story trumps most of the other stuff anyway 🙂

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.

Writing a Saleable Book

10 Aug

by Susan Dennard

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Recently, someone asked me:

What is required to make a book saleable?

That is a rather large-in-scope question, and as such, I’m afraid my answer will be kinda vague. All the same, I thought it was worth taking the time to answer for everyone.

🙂

My super broad response is the:

The most important thing in writing a saleable book is writing a good book.

I am 100% convinced that if you have a well-written, compelling story, your novel will eventually find an agent/editor. Period.

That said, there are a few critical things that define a “good book”. Again, these answers are vague, and I’d be more than happy to get specific for anyone with questions (ask in the comments, please!).

Parts of a Good Book

1. First and foremost, the story absolutely most flow. Stilted dialogue, poor pacing, or unreadable grammar/syntax will kill a manuscript. A reader can put up with slow scenes if it all flows beautifully, and a reader can put up with a less-than-compelling plot if it’s smooth.

The way to ensure your novel flows is to revise-revise-revise. Learning to master the written word is absolutely critical. Few people write stunning first drafts, but give them a red pen, and they can line-edit their words into perfect prose.

2. Secondly, a book needs a compelling plot with tension on every page. The story builds, the tension builds, and everything ends in an explosive climax (and this applies to any genre—by explosive I simply mean all aspects of the story finally come together).

This is something you can learn by reading about writing, taking workshops, or simply reading heavily in the genre you write. There are structure to stories (three-act is the most common), and your job is to practice until these are second nature when you write/revise.

Again, my first drafts are rarely good examples of compelling plot, but I can revise them until they shine and all the subplots weave into the main plot.

3. Third, a book needs a cast of characters that readers care about. The best way to achieve this is to ensure the MC has a desperate need—secondary characters too. This is also something you have to learn by doing/practicing.

4. Fourth, the book must have high stakes. “High stakes” simply means we are invested in whether or not the MC achieves his/her goal. What will she lose if she fails to reach her goal? And why does that matter? A common reason a book fails to compel readers is low stakes—if we don’t care about the MC’s failure, we don’t care about reading the book.

Finding Problems

My biggest suggestion in terms of how to address these 4 components is to start critiquing and getting your work critiqued. Either find a critique partner, join a critique group, or stay active in a critiquing community. This is no doubt something everyone here already knows, but it’s so important (in my opinion) that I just have to emphasize it!

When you see others make mistakes, you learn to spot them in your own writing. Additionally, we, the writers, are often too close to our novels to see them “as a whole”. CPs and betas have the needed distance to spot problems

When I got an agent, Something Strange and Deadly had been through 4 crit partners and 2 betas. Did I always listen to my CPs’/betas’ comments? No—you must decide and filter feedback—but it was thanks to my CPs/betas that I caught some of my biggest mistakes (character inconsistencies, flat climax, plot holes, etc.).

What do you think? Are there any other components you think a saleable book needs? And how do you feel about critique partners or beta readers?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.