Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Twelve Days of Bookmas Giveaway

Because it was so much fun last year, we have decided to bring back the Twelve Days of Bookmas Giveaway, a book giveaway just in time for holiday gift-giving or as a little treat for yourself.

Since we close over the holidays and we want to make sure you receive your prizes in plenty of time to place under the tree, the contest will actually be held the first twelve days of December, beginning on December 1 and ending on December 16 (posts will run Monday through Friday only). And in an effort to involve as many people across the country as possible, we won't be posting the blogs until noon EST.

On each day we’ll post a clue, riddle, or quiz for readers to answer. The first reader to post the correct answer in the comment section will win the prize of the day, although unlike last year we won't be telling you who the winner is until the next day when we make the announcement. Just like last year, these aren’t going to be simple quizzes. They’re going to take a little research on your part, because finding the perfect gift always means a bit of a hunt.

In order to bring everyone into the fun, we’ve asked our clients to participate. They’ll know the answer (and no, they will not give in to bribes) and will be posting clues all over the Internet, clues that can be found through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, websites, or any other social media outlet we haven’t thought of. Participating clients and their contact information (where their clues can be found) will be listed on each day’s post.

A few rules and extra hints:

If you’re a Twitter follower, note that we’ll be using the hashtag #bookmas

There will only be one winner each day and each person/address is only eligible to win once throughout the course of the contest.

Prizes will be at the discretion of BookEnds.

Winners will be announced on the following day’s blog.

And to make things extra special, a number of our clients will be running side contests, so don’t just go to one or two links, check them all out to double your prize.

And finally, a sneak preview of where clues can be found (in no particular order):

Krista Davis
Heather Blake
Paige Shelton
Sharla Lovelace
Janet Bolin
Snarky Mommy
Monica Marlowe
Amy Eller Lewis
Ellery Adams
Erin Kellison
Peg Cochran
Elizabeth Buzzelli
Laura Alden
Sally MacKenzie
Stacey Kennedy
Charlotte Featherstone
Jennifer Delamere
Avery Aames
Molly Cannon
Erika Chase
Bill Crider
C. C. Hunter
Sofie Kelly
Annie Knox

Kim Lenox
Hannah Reed
Gina Robinson


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Breaking the Rules

I'm a rule breaker. I believe there's a purpose to rules and I also believe there's a time and place to break them. As you know, I was closed to queries for some time, and yet I still got queries. Which was fine, because if you follow the guidelines you'd get my automatic reply that I was closed to queries and the query was dropped in my trash. I never saw it.

During that time, though, an author received an offer for publication through a contest. It was a decent offer, and even though I was closed to queries, with the encouragement of a friend she queried me by putting "offer from publisher" in the subject line. I was intrigued. I got back to her immediately and told her to send me the full manuscript. My thought was that I would take a look and see if it was decent. If it was I'd pass it along to either Jessica or Lauren, who are also looking for this particular type of book. Fortunately for me, I couldn't put the book down, and I definitely couldn't give it away. A day and a half later I eagerly offered representation, the author accepted, and we went on to sell the book for a deal we were both really happy with.

So see, sometimes rules really are meant to be broken.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing Tense

I would love to hear your thoughts on tense in a novel. Recently, I've read quite a bit of criticism regarding writing in the present tense. If any of you receive a novel written in the present tense, what is your immediate reaction?

I struggle with this because I find it most natural and liberating to write in present tense. However, I don't want to discourage agents right off the bat.

Frequently I hear from writers that they've been told by others that something can't be done or agents won't like something, and while that might be the case, what I'd rather writers told other writers was whether something was working or not working. See, anything can be done if it's done well, but are people telling you agents won't like this because it's not working or are they coming from a place of fear, a place where they are regurgitating everything they've ever heard agents say to try to create the perfect formula for getting published?

Present tense is tough and while yes, it can be done, it's not often done well. I find that a present tense story, as with first person, is sometimes easier for the author to write, "liberating" as you say, but doesn't necessarily make for a good story to read. It doesn't always allow the reader to immerse herself into the story as she would like.

So I think you need to worry less about what an agent might or might not think and worry more about how this is working for the story, not for you as the writer, but for the story.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

It's one of my favorite holidays—Thanksgiving here in the U.S.—so don't expect anyone to respond to your emails this afternoon, tomorrow, or Friday. We'll be cooking, eating, and shopping, all in that order.

I think it's fair to start by saying what a crazy year it's been. So much turmoil, so much drama, so many people turning on each other, and yet, so much excitement, so many opportunities, and such a great time to be in publishing if you're allowed to stop and catch your breath.

When I sit down to my lentil roulade, gluten-free stuffing, and bottle of red wine (I'll share, I promise), I am so grateful to see how much I have to be thankful for. There's no doubt that at the top of that list are the family and friends who will be joining my feast this year, as well as those who have seats at other tables. I am thankful for the BookEnds team and the successes each of them are having in building their own client bases and in the sales they've made. I'm thankful for the huge number of successes BookEnds and our clients have had this year. At last count I believe we had six books hit the New York Times bestseller list and a large handful of others hit various other lists. We've made a record number of deals this year for both debut authors as well as brand-name authors and we've added close to twenty new clients to our roster.

I fear that too often I get caught in the daily minutia of life and sucked in by the bad news, forgetting to take time to rejoice in the good. Well, this weekend, for the entire weekend, I'm going to do nothing but rejoice in all that has been good this year, all I have to look forward to, and all that I have to be thankful for.

And at my table on Thursday I'm going to raise my glass in a special toast to all of those who have joined me over the years to build an agency I'm truly proud of; I'm going to toast my fellow agents at BookEnds who have been my right hand, my left, and sometimes my brain; I'm going to toast the editors we've worked with who have the same passion we do for books, especially our books; and most especially I'm going to toast the clients old and new who have climbed on to this ride with us, challenged us, and brought us books we love and are proud of.


Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Query Bio

I am working on my query letter for a YA novel and have a question about what to include in my writing bio. In the past three years I've been published in five 'feel-good' anthologies and paid for each story. I've won several awards in writing contests, including a first in fiction and the overall "best in show" award. I've been accepted to a prestigious writing program. I spent the first 25 years of my career as a business writer in marketing and advertising. Will any of this information prompt a busy agent to read the first ten pages?

I can't guarantee that the information you provided will "prompt a busy agent to read the first ten pages" since only your blurb will really do that, but I think all of that is great information for the bio, information that shows you are serious about your writing career and that you've already had some success.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Cutting Down My Novel

I know I'm years too late too, but I have a question about my latest novel, which is very long. It's called "Broken Family Portrait, and it's an unbelievable 303,400 words long. My character is a severe cerebral palsic who, among other things, cannot censor things he says in speeches due to a malfunctioning brain tumor.

Between all the drama between his family, the bullying he endures in his childhood/school years, and dealing with his own dysfunctional marriage, putting up with his sisters and their husbands who are abusive parents, and battling a pro-spanking society that seems to favour including children with severe physical and mental disabilities and retardation, etc., he sure has been through a lot.

I really don't know how to get it down to 100,000 words or so without losing any plot elements or any part of my protagonist Robin's sarcastic and witty nature. Yet, now I'm worried that no publisher will take it, and this is a novel I'm most proud of.

Some advice would be most appreciated. Thanks

It's long and it's not just long because it's 300,000 words plus, it's long because from your description you're trying to include everything and the kitchen sink in there. I haven't read your book so I have no idea if it reads long. Length based on word count is one thing, and it can be a problem not just for publishers but for readers too, but one of the reasons agents can get hung up on length is because it tends to be a symptom of an overwritten book, a book that isn't concise and interesting, but starts to drag. I mean, frankly, and I realize it's only a blurb, but what does a character with cerebral palsy who can't sensor speech have to do with a pro-spanking society?

I'll defer to my readers who have actually had to trim their own books, but my guess is that it can be done.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Understanding Women's Fiction

I've been trying to wrap the basic marketing language around the book I'm close to finishing, and am having a tough time classifying it. My main character is a tough, no-nonsense, middle-aged woman who kidnaps her granddaughter, and the story takes place in large part on the road in rural Alaska. It's edgy and stark, a little frightening in places, though it isn't horror/crime/mystery, and while the heart-warming moments are few and far between, it DOES revolve around this woman's relationship with her son and daughter-in-law and the tough choices we make as parents.

As I get ready to query, would calling this women's fiction, since the primary market would most likely be women, throw an agent off since it seems to depart from the loose definitions of women's fiction I'm seeing? Is there a better way to wrap it?

As I often say, it's all about the voice. Women's fiction is not simply a book whose target audience is women. It's also a book about a woman's personal growth and change and it tends to be strongly emotional. It sounds like your book is women's fiction, but without reading it I have a hard time judging.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Ms. Faust,

Noah Pressman has survived the IRA, the Taliban, and both Gulf Wars. Now the documentary filmmaker faces something far more threatening – old age. Retirement means only one thing; he’ll finally have to deal with the traumatic death of his son. Desperate to escape the painful memories, Noah accepts a job over the Christmas holidays - direct a TV show about the strangest places in America. When he arrives at the abandoned Fairy Tale Forest, Noah glimpses a startling apparition of his son – alive, and soon unearths a cryptic message: HIDE THE KIDS.

I love this opening. I think you've given us a clear description of Noah and his demons and I'm fascinated by where this might be going. The only thing I might add is how long his son has been dead and if he was a child when he died. In other words, something like "death of his son over 15 years ago" or something like that. If you give us a long time frame we can figure he was probably a child. The only thing I might delete is the retirement forcing him to deal with the death of his son. That rings a tad forced to me, but I get where you're going with it and I don't think it hurts the query.

After discovering video evidence linking the property to a wave of mysterious child abductions, Noah is determined to unlock the secret buried inside crumbling wonderland. Aided by Caleb Rafferty, the teenage host burdened with an alcoholic father, Noah uncovers a plot orchestrated by Professor Dominic Ballard. Obsessed with gaining immortality, Ballard has found the key in ancient Druid lore and its long-forgotten but profound association with Christmas.

Let's clarify in this paragraph that, I assume, Fairy Tale Forest is some former amusement park or something like that. I think we need a better image of where the character is. I'm still liking this; my concern at this point is that it starts to feel a little too over the top, and that might just mean the book isn't for me, or it might be your query. I really like the fact that he's aided by a teenager. I find that appealing and I like that the teen definitely has his own demons. I wonder if it's best if we don't get into the specifics of who orchestrates the plot or what it is, but instead simply say a plot to use children in an attempt to gain immortality. In other words, keep the plot vague and continue to focus most closely on the characters.

By performing a ritual sacrifice on midnight of Christmas Eve, Ballard will trigger the deaths of children everywhere, ensuring himself never-ending life. For Caleb, it means the grave. For Noah, it means suffering the unbearable pain of losing a surrogate son. They must stop Ballard before the stroke of midnight, but standing in their way is a sadistic creature with powers of illusion, a creature that has just found some new toys to play with.

I think this is too specific again. It seems pretty obvious that they need to stop this guy. Even if children everywhere won't die, he's presumably abducted children. I think you'd be better off bringing it back to his son somehow. Since that's how the query started, I'm curious to see a little of how that's going to play into the book.

A paranormal thriller, FEAR THE UNKNOWN is complete at 100,000-words. It’s my first novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I love how this query started, but I wonder if it gets a little too "out there" for me. I'd skip the mention of this being your first novel. To be honest, if I'm on the fence that will push me toward a rejection. If I have concerns, based on the query, about your book, the fact that it's a "first novel" will make me feel that it's probably not as sharp as I need it to be or that my concerns will probably be founded. A bias? Maybe, but aren't we doing this to get a sense of what might bias agents?


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Understanding Genre

I'm trying to determine the genre of a fantasy series I'm working on (fantasy or YA fantasy). I tweeted Jessica in response to a tweet about YA last week. The protagonist of my first novel is 17, and her boyfriend is 20. By the time the series ends, most of the main characters will be in their early twenties.

The first book deals with issues the MC is having with her abusive father. I'm having a lot of difficulty determining the genre for the series. It's clearly fantasy, but it also deals with YA issues. Because of the ages of the characters, I don't know if YA is the most appropriate.

Can you offer any advice on this?

My advice is to read the genres. It's all about voice. There's no doubt that age makes a difference when it comes to YA, and writing about characters in their 20s is a little difficult if you're targeting a YA market; however, writing a 16-year-old isn't going to guarantee that your book is YA if the voice isn't a YA voice, just like including a romance in your book doesn't guarantee your book is a romance if you don't have a romance voice.


Monday, November 14, 2011

From Digital to Traditional . . . or Not

Hello! I am an indie author that published my YA paranormal romance through Amazon's KDP service. The novel has done remarkably well; I sold over one thousand copies its first month (April), and it is on track to sell about five thousand copies this month. It ranks 165 in the overall Kindle store and #4 in it's subgenre, behind only Amanda Hocking's uber-popular Trylle trilogy. My question is this: Do I pursue a literary agent and traditonal book deal, or should I wait it out for the sales explosion that occurs during November, December, and January? (Amanda Hocking reportedly sold 80% of her million plus copies during this period last year) Thanks for taking the time to read this!

There's no right answer to this question. You have to do what you want to do, and you also need to be aware that Amanda Hocking's success in that period is in no way indicative of a publishing trend; it's one year that she's looking at, and that one year also saw a breakout in digital books overall (a lot of people received Kindles for Christmas last year).

I think you have to do what you want to do for your career and to pursue your career goals. Just as sales could spike in November of this year, they could also begin to drop. Like anything in life it's a gamble, so what you do has to be what your gut tells you to do. My advice, if you want to eventually get an agent, is to use your next book to do so. Leave your current book on Kindle for now and find an agent for you next work.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Thought for the Day

Just because your agent tells you, realistically, that your expectations from your publisher might be more than they're willing to pay or give up on doesn't mean she can't negotiate fairly for you. Part of having an agent is having someone who can tell you, from experience, what you might expect from a publisher. Sometimes that means revealing the hard truths whether you want to hear them or not.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Stages of an Edit

When signing the first contract, authors will always ask what's next, what's the next step in the publishing process, and usually it's edits. While certainly every publisher and every editor is different, here's what you can typically expect.

Revisions: These usually come from your acquisitions editor, the editor who made the offer and "bought" your book. Revisions can be as intense or as simple as the editor feels is needed, and how revisions come can differ from editor to editor. Some might print out a copy of the manuscript and make marks all over the page, while others could send a simple two-paragraph email explaining what needs to be done. Personally, I always fear the shorter revisions, they usually contain the most work. Things like "The entire second half of the book isn't working," instead of specifics like "Tone down the character in this scene."

Line Edits: Once revisions are turned in, and the editor finds them acceptable, she'll do line edits. This is where she scrolls through the manuscript to make sure there are no other problems or inconsistencies. She'll look for things like a change in dress color and make sure that a plot change is carried through. Sometimes line edits will be sent back to the author, but more often they'll simply be made and sent to the copyeditor so that you can look at line edits and copyedits at one time.

Copyedits: These are done by a freelance copyeditor. This is when the nitty-gritty of the book is taken care of. The copyeditor's job is to check grammar, punctuation, spelling, and consistency. If you have a lot of odd spellings or characters in your book, I would always recommend a style sheet be submitted with your manuscript to the copyeditor so that she knows the spelling of names, or the spelling you choose, and can keep things consistent from book to book.

Proofreading: This is when the book has been taken to the printer and designed into final pages. You have one final chance to review the book, to proofread, and make sure no errors were made in the printing, layout, and design. At this point you cannot make major plot changes, but simply correct small, minor errors.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Ms. Faust,

Prepare to give audience to the amazingly dim-witted account of one girl’s misadventures. Readers of all ages can identify with my heartwarming tales of pushing my sister down a steep cobblestone hill in a wheelchair, having my head rolled up in a car window, wanting to stab my boss in the face with a Samurai sword, my traitorous ovaries launching Jihad against me, and having to listen to my parents have sex in our shared motel room because they thought I was asleep.

I'm not too keen on this opening paragraph. It sounds a little like the circus ringmaster calling the audience into the show. In other words, it sounds a little forced.

Humor is a tough thing, which is why comedians are some of the most respected professionals in my eye; what one finds funny others will not. I'm afraid I didn't connect with the "heartwarming tales" that sounded less than heartwarming. I get after reading on that you're trying to be funny, but for me it didn't work. Others might disagree.

“Ray of F***ing Sunshine” is a collection of humorous non-fiction essays that comes in at 60,000 words. Authors of similar works doing well in today's market are Chelsea Handler, Jill Connor Browne, and Laurie Notaro. I feel that in today’s world of crashed economies and ADHD, my book would be welcomed for the brevity of the stories as well as the laugh factor. To break up the monotony of hilarity, I’ve also included pieces that shed light on my struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a violent robbery. This disorder is becoming better known but there are very few personal accounts of how it affects the victim.

I like your title. I think that's actually very striking. What I don't get from your first paragraph is how the title connects with the stories. Do you have a humorously bitter take on these stories? I didn't get that.

Since Chelsea Handler's success in publishing I get a lot of queries from people comparing themselves to her. The problem is that Chelsea Handler was a celebrity in her own right well before she ever put pen to paper. The comparison doesn't work. I'm also completely thrown by the PTSD tie-in. I'm not sure how that connects or will work.

I have worked at and maintained a headlining blog for a major Gannet publication, the Asheville Citizen-Times, home of Pulitzer nominated writer Susan Reinhardt. This blog lives on today on my personal page, being pushed on by a band of loyal followers, famous and otherwise. When I’m not embroiled in a passionate affair with a back massager named Burt, a 64 pack of Crayola crayons with built-in sharpener, and a Cinderella coloring book, I am working on a novel that draws off of the experiences detailed in “Ray of F***ing Sunshine”.

This is a fun bio and works for me.

Thanks in advance,


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Submissions 101

I was reviewing the analytics on our blog to see what some of the most popular posts have been. The top of the list was Submissions 101, a post I wrote in 2009, and since a lot happens in two years, especially in the past two years of publishing, I decided it was time to update this post.

Many of our regular readers are experts in the submission process, but daily new readers and new writers are finding this blog, looking for where to begin. Welcome. I hope you learn a lot here and I hope we can gently guide you into the world of publishing without scaring you off.

Presumably you've found this post because you've just finished a book you feel you want to get published. It could be your first book, it could be your tenth, either way you're ready to take the plunge. Congratulations! The first step in the submission process is celebrating that moment because, as many others here will tell you, celebration is good and we should always take it when we can.

The second step in the submission process is making sure that manuscript is ready to go and sitting down to write the second. What?! Yep. You heard me. One of the mistakes I often see beginning writers make is taking the plunge too early. Unless you're writing a timely nonfiction piece there's no reason to jump into the submission fray until you're sure your book is ready. That means all writing, rewriting, editing and revisions are done. That means you're ready to move on to your next book. My reasoning for this is twofold. By moving on you have something else to focus on (obsess over) other than just submissions. If you've moved on you also know this book is ready to go out.

These days most agents require a query letter submission. Read the guidelines and do your research and remember, the query letter is the most important piece of your manuscript right now. It's not something you whip together and send out in ten minutes. It's something you work hard on to perfect. I've done close to a bazillion (maybe a slight exaggeration) blog posts on queries, so read up. Read samples, read the critiques, read my thoughts, but most important, know what a good query is and know that it's not about you, it's not about your kids, it's all about your book and what makes your book stand out from all other books.

I always suggest that authors consider forming a query critique group of people who have not yet read the book, but who you want to entice with the query (just like an agent). I know that online groups like Absolute Write, Writers Net, and Backspace will definitely help hone queries. You also can’t go wrong, as a fiction writer, by joining groups and local chapters of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, or Science Fiction, Fantasy Writers of America.

Research is essential to finding an agent, but I think research also needs to be done in moderation. There are a number of fabulous websites and books available that will guide an author through the agent maze and list hundreds of agents and what they are acquiring. There are three places that I recommend you definitely look. The first is Preditors & Editors; this amazing author advocacy group vets agents to make sure you are submitting to only those that are reputable. Do not submit to any agent until you’ve checked this site. The second are agent websites themselves; this is the best place to find the most up-to-date information on what agents are looking for and an agent’s guidelines. Granted, not all agents have websites, but it’s important to check. And finally, if you don’t become a subscriber to Publishers Marketplace, you should, at the very least, sign up for their free deal notifications so you can keep up on the news of some (not all) of the publishing deals that are being made. After you’ve checked those sites, sending out queries is a bit of an act of faith. Do enough research to know that the agent you are submitting to represents (or is at least listed as having represented) books in the genre or area you’re writing in. There’s no need to double- and triple-check this with every single listing ever written. One reliable source should be enough. Remember, when querying it’s really easy to get bogged down in things like research or editing your book and at some point you just have to decide that it’s time to make that next step.

Now that you’ve written your query and done your research, it’s time to take that leap and send the query out. This is where I’m hoping veteran readers will pop in with their own advice. I think it’s probably best to send a few out (maybe ten) at a time to some agents on your A list, some on your B list, and some on your C list. Get a feel for if the query is working, and a few weeks later (whether you’ve received responses or not) send out ten more queries. Whether or not you get a response will depend on the agent and her guidelines. This is one of those issues that stresses submitting writers out more than anything and, as we learned in Agentfail, causes more than a little anger and frustration. My advice is that if the agency has a “no response means no" policy, note that on your query-tracking sheet and move on the minute the query goes out. If an agency does post that they respond to all queries, note that on your tracking sheet and also when you should check in (I think 4 to 6 weeks is more than reasonable).

Hopefully you’ve written a strong enough query that you’ll immediately start receiving requests for proposals. If not, you might discover that you need to go back to the drawing board and revamp that query before making any new submissions. I believe there’s an evolutionary process to rejection and almost every writer goes through it. If you have revamped the query, are you allowed to requery those same agents who might have already rejected the work? I don’t necessarily advocate you do this. On the other hand, I don’t see a lot wrong with doing it. I don’t love the idea and I suspect most other agents feel the same way. Ultimately, it’s a decision you need to make on your own based on your own feelings about your query and passion for a particular agent. To read more of my thoughts on how to make that decision, I suggest you read Resubmissions and ReQueries.

Once proposals are being requested I can’t promise anything on timing. Again, it’s up to each individual agent how she responds. You might receive constructive feedback, you might receive little more than a form. Some agents might respond within days, others months. My best advice at this point is to stay the course. Continue querying, continue sending out proposals and hopefully full manuscripts, and, when that offer does come in, please, please use it to your advantage to make sure you are getting the best offer with the best agent for you, because not every agent is right for every author.


Monday, November 07, 2011

How I Edit

We've been having a discussion in the office about how we edit our clients' work and, not surprisingly, we all have different techniques.

Since I just recently sent a 17-page revision letter to a client (yes, Jessica gasped as well) let me start by explaining how I edit manuscripts. I really like reading on my Kindle. It's easy and I don't have to print any pages out, but more important, it gives me a book-like reading experience, which I find is helpful to editing. The experience keeps me in a place where I read for pleasure, but with an editorial eye. In other words, I tend not to cross that line into forgetting the pleasure part and simply reading for editorial mistakes.

So typically I sit either at my desk on the couch, or wherever I happen to be, and read on the Kindle, but with my computer by my side. This way I can take notes as I go along. I typically take the notes right in the body of an email, and really, it's a giant editorial vomit. My clients will attest to this. As I'm reading, I jot down every thought I have and I send every thought to the author. The thoughts could be major, "This prologue is really just confusing and I don't think it's needed," to minor, "What if she actually wears the necklace in this scene?" They can be things like, "Check your commas, they seem a little scattered," to "Don't forget to build the world more, I think it will make this stronger." They can be simple like, "I love this chapter" to "I really think this character is useless and could go."

And I expand on things. In other words, you won't just get "I think this character can go." You'll get my thoughts on why the character isn't working and how she doesn't add anything to the story. You'll also get my own suggestions for how you can change or strengthen the story. In other words, could you make someone else the killer, or what if character Jack and character Frank are really one and the same? And as far as I'm concerned you can run with my suggestions or you can ignore them altogether and go off in your own way. I don't care how you want to fix the problems I see, I just care that when I read it the next time those problems/my concerns are gone.

For me anyway, and for my authors, I find that jotting down every thought helps my clients see not just what I'm thinking, but why I'm thinking what I'm thinking. I also find that it helps us, hopefully, solve any major problems the book might have as well as smaller ones, and that by building both at the same time we're creating, overall, a stronger book. And keep in mind that in 17 pages you might hear me repeat myself a lot. In other words, if I think a certain character isn't working I might repeat over and over each time that character appears why that character isn't working for me in that particular scene. Because, as you know, it's an editorial vomit.

This year alone I've sent two massive revision letters like that and I'm happy to report both authors embraced them. I think, unless they lied to me, they saw much of what I was saying and enjoyed the back-and-forth the letter created. At least I hope they did.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Finding Your Middle Editor

I learn so much from my interns—when I'm teaching them I often find I'm also teaching myself. Recently I asked one of my interns to write up a revision letter on a proposal for a client of mine. Part of the job was an exercise in revision letters and part of the job was to have yet another eye on the material so I could incorporate some of her thoughts in my letter.

After looking at her letter I realized that she made a common mistake for young editors (something I'm positive I was victim of)—she over-edited. I strongly believe it's something all editors do at one point or another. It's not hard and it usually happens when you forget to read the book and let things jump out at you, and instead you read the book with the intent to find things, picky little things.

I think we can all agree that editing and reading are two different things, two different "heads," let's say. And I think there's a place in the middle, a place I call the Middle Editor. It's in between the editor who is looking hard for errors and the reader who avoids seeing the errors so she can just enjoy the story. A good editor finds that central spot (and remembers to go back there when she accidentally leaves) where the enjoyment of the book hasn’t left, but the editor brain is still on. Instead of searching for things to tell the author to fix, she waits for them to jump out at her. There might be many, there might be a few, and, yes, some of them might be picky, but she also learns to enjoy the story as she goes so she can ignore some of those things that are probably personal issues and not real editorial issues.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Query Workshop,

Thirteen-year-old Cody hasn’t planned on running away, but when his mother refuses to tell her new boyfriend about him and his father is moving to California with his giggly girlfriend, Cody runs to the woods to think.

Interesting . . . I’ll continue reading.

He soon finds out why the woods are forbidden [They are? Says who?] when he meets two kids with ESP who talk about their fantastic city hidden deep underground. With only an empty sense of family to go back to, Cody follows his friends into the darkened tunnel to begin a whole new life in Larimar. With his new friends, Cody explores crystal caves, climbs giant rock walls, and hears legends of ancient artifacts.

And he discovers Larimar’s dark secret – the city’s leaders are scared to death. Despite their paranormal abilities, they have no idea how and why their people are disappearing.

A better sense of this world would be beneficial here. What paranormal abilities? What can they do? What kind of people live in Larimar? How long is Cody there? Does he develop deep relationships with the people there? Are there quirky and fun characters living there?

Cody can’t even juggle let alone do anything paranormal, but with his new home in a crisis, he tries anything to uncover clues to the missing people.

I want to get a better sense of Cody just as much as I want a better sense of Larimar. Is he quiet and watchful? Precocious and razor-smart? In this query, he appears to me as just four letters in a row who can’t juggle and I need more than that, even if just a few adjectives, to get a taste of him. And that’s what a query should be—an accurate taste of the real thing.

What he discovers is his freaky ‘accidents’ are no accident – someone is trying to kill him.

Whoa. You’ve lost me. What “accidents”? Who would have reason to kill him? Because there’s no description of the threat, someone trying to kill Cody seems outlandish and there’s no immediacy to it.

But just when Cody suspects he's getting close to the truth, he learns that his mother’s health is declining fast.

How would he learn this? He lives underground.

Cody rushes to the surface to reunite with his mother and meets a future stepfather he actually likes. As his mother’s health improves, Cody finally enjoys a loving family life.

Then a vision of Larimar’s destruction invades his dreams. Now Cody struggles between staying with the real family he’s always wanted and risking his life and his mom’s health to go back and save the friends he left behind, before his nightmare comes true.

Why would his mother’s health be dependent on him not going to Larimar? I think there are two major problems with this query, in addition to the ones I’ve written above. The first is that there is some information left out, such as why Cody’s mom is sick, and who might be trying to kill Cody.

The larger problem is that there is no hint of Cody taking an emotional journey of growth. This is middle grade, so the conflict in the story needs to be largely internal, just like conflict in the lives of middle-graders. Does Cody develop a stronger identity? A feeling of belonging to a family? It sounds like there are traces of a conflict when Cody is torn between staying with his real family and returning to help Larimar, but this is not explained fully, so I’m left wondering if that’s just my own supposition and expectation, or if it's actually in the manuscript.

LARIMAR – THE HIDDEN CITY is my middle grade manuscript complete at 59,000 words. The sequel, RETURN TO LARIMAR, is complete at 41,000 words.

I work in the medical field and I enjoy mixing science facts with myths and legends to create my stories. May I send you the full manuscript, LARIMAR – THE HIDDEN CITY?

This is a multiple submission. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

It is helpful to know that a sequel is complete and that it is a multiple submission.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Gina Robinson on the Creative Spark

Gina Robinson
The Spy Who Left Me
Publisher: St. Martin's
Pub date: November 2011
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

The Creative Spark—How Do You Get Your Ideas? And Where Do They Come From?

As a published author, the number-one question I'm asked by people who aren't writers is a variation of "How do you get your ideas? Where do your ideas come from?" Think this question is easy to answer? Give it your best shot. But be warned—proceed with caution.

Greater minds than mine have been trying to come up with a satisfying response for more than three thousand years. The ancient Greeks of Socrates's time believed ideas and inspiration came from being possessed by the gods and blessed by Zeus's nine daughters, the Muses. Later, during their Renaissance, the Italians tied the idea of genio to pazzia, the thought that inspiration was linked to madness. Neither claiming divine possession nor creative craziness work for today's writer.

The honest answer, "Uh, I don't know. From everywhere?" doesn't satisfy. People revere creativity and inspiration. And most want to be told how to capture it for themselves. They expect a more detailed answer from a fiction-writing professional than a vague, "everywhere." And to be honest, they think you're holding out on them and keeping the secret handshake to yourself.

"From life" seems like another good response. But on inspection, that doesn't fly either. I write humorous romantic suspense novels about spies. Tell people I get my ideas from life and they look at me funny. No, I've never garroted someone with a lei or been chased by a bike-pump-wielding assassin like my heroine in The Spy Who Left Me. And, no, I'm not a secret agent like my heroes are. Though you'll just have to take my word for it, because if I were a secret agent, would I tell you here?

Truthfully, I've been stumped for years, stammering an answer when asked. Until my husband pointed me to an excellent book, The Riddle, Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones by Andrew Razeghi. The book is geared toward building conceptual creativity for innovation in business, but much of what Razeghi says applies to artistic creativity. He posits that curiosity begets creativity. When I read that, I had an aha moment—that's where my ideas come from, my insatiable curiosity! For years, I've been taking this question too literally.

Where do my ideas come from? From pondering questions like, "What would it be like to be married to a spy in the vein of James Bond?" "How would I escape from an assassin?" "Would it be fun to lie for a living?" "How does it feel to love a dangerous man?"
Feel free to claim my answer as your own. By telling people curiosity inspires your ideas, you're giving them the secret to finding their inspiration. Anyone can be curious. It's a big relief to people that creativity doesn't take genius. And it preserves the real top-secret source of a writer's ideas—the Internet ;-)

Where do you tell people your ideas come from? I'd love to hear.


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