Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday morning thought.

The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday CONTEST! New critique opportunity!

I had a great time on the last critique contest, and with things winding down for the year, this seems like a great opportunity to do it again. Here's the deal. Second verse, same as the first.

What's the prize?  I will critique the first two pages of your manuscript (maximum of 750 words), here on the blog. All genres welcome, though you might have a look at my submission guidelines to see what I'd say are my areas of expertise. In other words, I'll happily critique your military thriller, but I'm not as well-versed in how it fits into its genre.

How do I enter? Leave a comment on this post. You've got till Friday, December 21 to enter. I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner. One entry per person, please!

What's the catch? If you enter and are chosen as the winner, you agree to let me post your pages here on the blog; this is a public critique. You needn't use your real name if you'd prefer to stay anonymous, but if you'd like me to I will include a link to your website as part of the post.

Who's eligible to enter? Everybody except my clients and the clients of my SJGA colleagues. Sorry, guys. I think this will be most useful to those writers who are as-yet unpublished, but I'm not going to make that decision for you.

What's the deadline again? Friday, December 21-- the contest is open till I close comments on this post.

Spread the word, and don't forget to leave a comment to enter. Good luck!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

GUEST POST: The Care and Feeding of Your NaNoWriMo Draft

A nice surprise on this rainy Thursday (well, it's rainy here): a guest post from the wonderful Brenna Aubrey. (Memorize her name: it's going to be all over the historical romance section in a year or two, if I have anything to say about it.) 

The Care and Feeding of Your NaNoWriMo Draft

November has faded to a blurry memory of sleep deprivation and word count angst.  Thanksgiving leftovers have vanished and, with luck, you’ve had a chance to recuperate some of your lost sleep and reconnect with those strangers you used to call friends and family.

And you have 50,000 words of a vomit draft sitting on your hard drive.  What on earth do you do with the mess you’ve created and how can it grow up to become a pretty manuscript that readers will want to pet and love and name “George”?

Here are some tips and tricks for the care and feeding of your brand new baby draft:

1) Put it to bed:   And by that I mean tuck it away somewhere safe, don’t look at it and TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT for at least a week or two, more, if you can spare the time.  Read a good book, plan your next project, do some research.  Consider it your writing sorbet, palate cleanser for the brain.

2) A loving note to your draft will let it know you are thinking of it:  After your rest period, but before you do a read-through, sit down and write out a BRIEF synopsis of what the story is about.  This is the bare-bones skeleton of your story, the structure upon which it will hang.  

3) Spend quality time together: Once steps 1 and 2 are complete, mark out a block of time, preferably a day or two, where you can sit undisturbed for hours at a time (hard trick for you parents, I know!) and read through the draft.

4) Spare the rod, spoil the draft: Make heavy use of your red (or whatever color you prefer) pen.  Or, if you edit electronically, make notes as you read.  DO NOT make the additions/edits needed on this first read-through, though.  You are reading and noting what needs to stay, what needs to go, and what is missing.  

5) Make it pretty:  Now that you’ve made all those ugly edit notes, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.  Bite the bullet and hit the delete key on the scenes that aren’t working.  If it’s too hard to kiss them goodbye, then make a “deleted scenes” file and stick them there.  Telling yourself that no delete is 100% permanent will help you murder the requisite darlings.

6) Socialization: NOW is the time to show off the draft to your trusted circle of critique partners.  New sets of eyes going over your draft is a MUST!   They aren’t just correcting punctuation, typos and word-choices, however.  Ask your critique partner for observations on overall structural issues such as characterization, plot development and emotional realism.  At this stage, those overall observations can be far more valuable than line critiques.

7) More Grooming: Once you have your notes back from your cps, it’s time to get back to that draft, yet again.  Take their notes, assimilate their observations and apply them to the draft.  

8) Expand the circle of friends:  Your draft is up and coming and on its way to becoming a real manuscript!  Now find some friends, real readers who like the genre you are writing, and ask them to take a look.  In the “biz” we call them beta-readers.  They are beta-testing your story to see if it’s ready for the real world.

9) Spit shine and fine-tooth comb:  Fix the issues your betas have pointed out, if any. Then do passes for tightening language, clip out those troublesome adverbs, edit for word choice, subtext and voice.  Untangle those overwritten passages and clunky sentences.  Get down to the nitty gritty.

10) Take it out on the town!  Your draft has grown up to a manuscript now!  And though you won’t be shaking your head fondly, wiping away the tears (unless they are tears of relief) and asking yourself “Where has the time gone?” you won’t regret any of the hard work you’ve put into it.  

My NaNoWriMo draft from 2010 took a lot of care and feeding.  By the time it went out on submission to agents, only about 20% of the original structure remained.  But in the end, it was worth it and I’m please to say that I have a fantastic agent now!

Best of luck with the care and feeding of your NaNoWriMo draft.

Brenna is an aspiring author of Regency Historical Romance and Fantasy fiction.  When not dreaming up people and worlds and writing them down, she is also a mom, wife, teacher, avid reader, French-speaking Francophile, and lover of nature.

Twitter: @BrennaAubrey

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday morning thought.

If I owe you the song Tuesday, Monday night I really get to work on it.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Fridaydream: the nicest compliment you've ever received

What's the nicest compliment you've ever received?

I'm not sure it's THE NICEST, and I'm not sure he really meant it as a compliment, but my dad (hi Dad!) once told me that I'd make a good lawyer. We were in the midst of a "discussion" about something at the time, of course.

I think about that every time I'm working on a contract negotiation that's gotten a little strained, and it never fails to toughen me up for at least one more round. Because what he really meant by that is that sometimes, I like to be in a fight. And he was right.

What's the nicest-- or maybe the strangest?-- compliment you've ever received? Got any good stories?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Contest winner critique


At long last, I'm very pleased to say that today's the day: I'm posting my critique of our contest winner's first two pages. Commenter slingsomeink bravely agreed to let me critique the first two pages of her historical romance novel here on the blog.

Blogger is really fighting me on the format of this-- or maybe I'm just doing battle with my own technological ineptness today?-- but keep scrolling down, please, for the annotated pages. I've got a summary of my critique at the bottom.

page 1

page 2

slingsomeink is doing a lot of things here that I really like, not least that she's catapulted her heroine into an unfamiliar and unexpected situation. Emily Starling seems to be a well-bred young lady, at least middle-class (and possibly a member of the ton) based on her education level and memories of "back home," not the sort of woman we expect to see herded onto a prison ship, bound somewhere that's five months' journey from England. The author takes pains, even in these two pages, to draw distinctions between the heroine and her fellow inmates. The former cellmate doesn't seem to like Emily much, for example; I doubt "Duchess" is a term of endearment. Yet there's nothing in this segment that suggests that Emily is wrongfully imprisoned...and I love that we don't yet know what she's imprisoned for. This mystery will keep me reading, and a smart writer will keep me on the hook for a while, till I'm more thoroughly invested in the story.

I also like that slingsomeink wastes no time introducing us to the man I assume will be the hero, this sea-god officer on the prison ship. If Emily's biting back a sharp retort, I'm guessing sparks will fly between these two.

As a number of my comments point to, there are a few clunky bits in here, too; in particular, I'd like slingsomeink to give us a bit more background on what's going on here, as this feels a little disorienting in the first couple of paragraphs. Watch out for cliches, and be mindful that word choice is appropriate to the character whose "head" we're in at that moment.

Overall, this is promising. I'd keep reading.

Thanks, slingsomeink, for being a great sport. What did the rest of you think? (compliments and constructive criticism only, please.) Any questions about any of my terminology, etc.?  

Should we do this again soon?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Greatest hits.

Welcome, Writer Unboxed readers! Make yourselves comfortable; have a look around.

Here's a list of some of my most popular posts, if you'd like to start there.

On professionalism and communication

As you know, Bob.

How to write a bio paragraph in your query letter

Don't do this in your query letter

Eyes the color of the ocean 

Five tips for revising your novel

And come back tomorrow, when I will (drumroll!) finally post my critique of the winner of our most recent critique contest.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"If you want to be a writer, than be a writer, for god’s sake. It’s not that hard, and it doesn’t require that much effort on a day to day basis. Find the time or make the time. Sit down, shut up and put your words together. Work at it and keep working at it. And if you need inspiration, think of yourself on your deathbed saying “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.” If saying such a thing as your life ebbs away fills you with existential horror, well, then. I think you know what to do."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fridaydream: an extra hour

'Tis the season where, no matter your religious affiliations or lack thereof, you find yourself wishing for extra time. More daylight. More quiet time to power through that one project that needs your full attention. More time to deal with all the holiday-related errands. A little more sleep.

What would you do with an extra hour?

It's also NaNo check in day-- and the end of the marathon. How'd you do?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Plot bank.

I'm running around today (and posting very late!) but this looks handy:

Has anyone ever made use of this kind of thing? What's your experience been? A good jump-start to creativity?

Where do you get your ideas?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Updated list of my sales.


This won't be of interest to everyone, but because we are in the midst of a major overhaul of the main agency website, my list of sales has not been updated there in some time, with the result that a lot of my clients' deals don't appear anywhere on the site at all.

As a substitute, here's a list of my deals. Because this is primarily a placeholder post, I've closed comments for this post. Thanks!

Allison Ann Aller

Michael Alvear
NOT TONIGHT DEAR, I FEEL FAT (Sourcebooks, 2013)

Jessica Brockmole
LETTERS FROM SKYE (Ballantine Books, 2013)

Benj Clews and Michael Onesi
FOUR WORD FILM REVIEWS (Adams Media Corporation)

Erin Rooney Doland

Delphine Dryden
THE THEORY OF ATTRACTION (Carina Press/Harlequin)
THE THEORY OF ATTRACTION 2 (Carina Press, 2013)
THE THEORY OF ATTRACTION 3 (Carina Press, 2013)
GOSSAMER WING (Berkley Books, 2013)
GOSSAMER WING 2 (Berkley Books, 2013)
GOSSAMER WING 3 (Berkley Books, 2013)

Elizabeth O. Dulemba
SOAP, SOAP, SOAP! (¡JABON, JABON!) (author and illustrator) (Raven Tree Publishers)
THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA (illustrator) (Sterling Children’s Books)
READY TO PLAY and READY TO TRY AGAIN (illustrator) (Free Spirit Publishing)

Shoshanna Evers
ENSLAVED (Pocket Star/S&S, 2013)
ENAMORED (Pocket Star, 2013)
ENTWINED (Pocket Star, 2013)
THE PULSE (Pocket Star, 2013)
THE PULSE 2 (Pocket Star, 2013)
THE PULSE 3 (Pocket Star, 2013)

Alison Ashley Formento
THIS TREE COUNTS! (author) (Albert Whitman & Co.)
THIS TREE, ONE, TWO, THREE! (author) (Albert Whitman & Co.)
THESE BEES COUNT! (author) (Albert Whitman & Co.)
THESE SEAS COUNT! (author) (Albert Whitman & Co., 2013)

Jason Good
UNTITLED PICTURE BOOK (author) (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2014)

Tim Gordon and Casey Rand

Gail Langer Karwoski
THANK YOU, TREES! (with Marilyn E. Gootman, authors) (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013)

Jennifer Kloester
THE CINDERELLA MOMENT (Penguin Group Australia, 2013)

Catherine LaRoche
MASTER OF LOVE (Pocket Star/S&S, 2013)
KNIGHT OF LOVE (Pocket Star/S&S, 2013)

Laurie Perry

Kathreen Ricketson
WHIP-UP’S MINI QUILTS (Chronicle Books)
MODERN ART QUILTS (C&T Publishing, 2013)
FAMILY ROAD TRIP (Roost Books/Shambhala, 2013)

Scott Rigby, Ph.D. and Richard Ryan, Ph.D.

Pamela Schoenewaldt
SWIMMING IN THE MOON (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2013)

Vicky Alvear Shecter
CLEOPATRA’S MOON (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books)
UNTITLED YA ON POMPEII (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014)
ANUBIS’S GUIDE TO THE DEAD (Boyds Mills Press, 2013)

Martha Sielman

Dan Wilbur
HOW NOT TO READ (Perigee/Penguin)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NaNoWriMo GUEST POST: one step at a time.

All, I'm pleased to share another guest post from my client Jessica Brockmole, who is a NaNoWriMo veteran and one of the best "NaNo cheerleaders" I know. Her debut novel LETTERS FROM SKYE will be published by Ballantine Books in summer 2013. Follow her on Twitter at

One November, I decided to take advantage of the discipline I was already imposing on myself for NaNoWriMo. I decided to take up running. 

Now, even though I’ve never done anything more strenuous than a brisk walk (I’ve never been what you’d consider an athlete), I had high hopes for my new venture. It sounded perfect! I had it all worked out: I would head out after dinner every night and get in an invigorating run, while clearing my mind and planning for the night’s writing. I plotted a mile course through my neighborhood, charged up my iPod, and, November 1st, I set off on my route.

I made it about an eighth of the way along the route before I collapsed, gasping. 

I walked the rest of the way home, cursing and vowing that I’d never go running again.

But I was out again the next night. This time, I cut myself a little slack. I probably wouldn’t get all the way around; I knew that now. Maybe I just wasn’t a runner. But surely I could go at least as far as I had the night before. And you know what? I did. Once I got to that point, I said to myself that surely I could go just a little bit further, to that lamppost. And, amazingly, I made it that far. To that crooked tree? There. To that house with the weird mailbox? I did it. To that…wait, wasn’t that my house? By setting little goals, I had made it the whole mile without even realizing it.

As you’re trying to get those last words, set small goals for yourself. Don’t think about the looming final word count you’re hoping to get. Just try to get another 500. Got that? Why not try to make it an even 1000? Well, since you’re already in the groove, just get another couple of pages down. Heck, since you’re this far, you might as well finish the scene. And, without even realizing it, you’re that much closer to your goal. 

Little steps. Little steps add up to a whole mile in the end.

Whether you've already crossed that finish line, whether you're still sprinting towards it, or whether you switched from a run to a very vigorous walk days ago, we’re all in this race together. Go, go, go!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday morning thought.

" I can always tell when you’re reading somewhere in the house, my mother used to say. There’s a special silence, a reading silence. "

--Francis Spufford, The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading 

(via Eat Sleep Read)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers; the rest of you, hope you're having a pleasant Thursday.

I'll see you back here on Monday. Get lots of writing done!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nicholas Carr and Michael Clarke: how hardcovers are like vinyl records

Two smart and, I think, pretty innovative arguments for how book publishers can learn from the music industry-- specifically from how indie artists appeal to vinyl fans. This surprised me: 2012 is on track to have more vinyl sales than any year since 1991.

Nicholas Carr: Why publishers should give away ebooks

Michael Clarke: What can publishers learn from indie rock? 

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Do you buy music on vinyl? Would you pay a couple of dollars more for a book if you could buy the print and ebook version as a package deal? Or do you think the "bonus" format should be free?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fridaydream: armchair travel

Where have you always wished you could visit, but haven't (yet)?

This is a favorite website of mine-- it's also, I think, a really charming example of how efficiently one can craft a character "voice."

Iceland wants to be your friend.

It's also check-in day for NaNo: how's it coming?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo GUEST POST: Don't get derailed!

I'm delighted to post another fantastic guest post in honor of NaNoWriMo.  Kara Bietz writes contemporary YA fiction from her home in North Georgia. Kara does not miss her job as a preschool teacher, where she was not allowed to say the F word even once. You can find her online at or on Twitter @KaraMB75. (Proud to say she's also an Agent Courtney client!) 

You’ve decided to NaNo this year! Good for you! Making the commitment to this kind of adventure should not go without recognition. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back a little, I’ll wait here.

All set? Feeling good? Okay, now let’s get down to business! Writing 50K in thirty days means that you will have to average just over 1,666 words each day, or six pages of solid text, give or take. 

On November 1st,  you might feel GREAT about this. All cylinders are firing and your fingers scramble over the keyboard like magic. Your ideas are all over the place. You write them all down. It’s wonderful. 

By November 15th, you may be struggling with the mucky middle of your manuscript, where characters have fascinating conversations about the weather, or debate the merits of apple juice vs. orange juice. But! You are still writing with gusto, easily clocking your 1,666 words. 

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, though, you wonder why in heaven’s name you ever agreed to such torture and wonder if you can just kill off all of your characters just so that you can write that ever satisfying THE END at the bottom of your Word document. 

Here are a few tips if you feel yourself getting derailed by your NaNo project:

1. Don’t sweat it. I know that’s hard to hear, especially if it is November 28th and you have put in a few hours of work each day, not to mention ignored your kids,let the Thanksgiving dishes get crusty in the sink and skipped Black Friday shopping with your husband. Any kind of project you undertake with this kind of extreme deadline is likely to wear on you after a number of days. Give yourself permission to fall down. Then get up and plow forward. If you miss a day of writing, try to be super productive tomorrow. Readjust your goals. Get out your abacus and recalculate how many words you will have to write each day in order to get that shiny “I Won NaNo” sticker for your blog.

2. Take a walk. Some of the best ideas come when you remove yourself from your work and give yourself a little bit of space to breathe.

3. Remember why you signed up in the first place. There are many reasons to sign up for NaNoWriMo. Some do it just to see if they can actually manage to write 50K words in 30 days and look forward to that sense of accomplishment when they finish. Some writers, such as myself, use it as a tool to begin the first draft of a new novel. The daily goals can help keep a first-draft-writer focused on the task at hand and give the ever-present internal editor a month off. And still others do it for the social aspect, the meet-ups and the feeling of camaraderie. 

If you’re feeling lost, sit down and decide WHY you decided to NaNo in the first place. If you did it as a personal challenge, then sit back in the chair and do your very best to finish. Channel your inner Bela Karolyi and remember the ’96 Olympics…”You can DO IT, Kerri. You can DO IT.” Then hobble over to that vault on one foot and fling yourself over. 

If you are first drafting, take a look at what you have written so far. Is it enough for you to know where your next draft should begin? Do you know your core story? If you feel confident that you can begin again and take your time, then don’t stress about not finishing NaNo. Begin again, with a deep breath, and know that NaNo served its purpose for you this year. If you are participating in the social aspect of NaNo, look for support and encouragement from your fellow NaNoers. There are online bulletin boards, regional meetups and several other ways to reach out to your fellow fast-fingered novel writers. Use the resources available to you.

4. Remember the number one rule. Even people who write for a living will tell you: this is supposed to be fun. Creating a world and letting pretend people run around in it all day long is The Best Thing about being a writer. Write a kissing scene. Add a road trip. A meteor shower. Writing a novel is the ultimate game of “What if…”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Critique contest: announcing the WINNER!

At long last, I'm delighted to announce a winner from the Critique Contest! 

We had 23 entries altogether, so I plugged that into the Random Number Generator and here was the result: 

Lucky number 13 was slingsomeink, who posted said thirteenth comment on Halloween. Delicious, don't you think?

Congratulations, slingsomeink, send me an email and we'll talk about the details!

Thanks to everyone who entered. This was a lot of fun and we'll do it again soon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NaNoWriMo GUEST POST: The terrible twos

All, I'm very pleased to bring you a guest post today from my client Jessica Brockmole, who is a NaNoWriMo veteran and one of the best "NaNo cheerleaders" I know. Her debut novel LETTERS FROM SKYE will be published by Ballantine Books in summer 2013. Follow her on Twitter at

I’m not only a writer, I’m also a mommy. On the NaNo forums, I’m “Past_Midnight”, as this is prime writing time. After everyone has been tucked in and re-tucked in and brought a drink of water and tucked in yet again and calmed down after a nightmare and then, naturally, re-tucked in, then I can get a bit of writing done.

Just like writing a novel, parenthood has its challenges and pitfalls, as well as its delights. There’s the initial falling in love, whether with a brand new baby or a brand new story idea. And infants really aren’t that hard to take care of (sleepless nights aside). You just watch and cheer them on as they grow and change on their own. The first year of life, like the first week of NaNoWriMo, is full of excitement as you wait to see what happens next.

Then come the Terrible Twos. And this is where the challenges really begin. Like a stubborn toddler, novels can dig in their heels in Week Two and Three, and refuse to budge. No amount of coaxing, bribing or, yes, threatening can convince the story to move forward. You begin to wonder (as I do all the time), whether you can do this, whether you’re really the best person for this job.

And then you wake up one morning and realize that, while you were mired in self-doubt, your little one was busy growing up. Whether child or novel, they all do move forward eventually. It’s hard to look at a group of wet-nosed, marginally potty-trained toddlers and imagine them as fully-functioning members of adult society. It’s also hard to look at 20,000 assorted words on the page and imagine them as the beginnings of a rollicking good tale.

You give everyone a good beginning, you keep at it even on days where you’d rather hide in the back of a closet with a bottle of whisky or a handful of Pixy Stix, and one day you realize that everything is working out. That character briefly mentioned in Chapter One suddenly becomes vitally important in Chapter Six. That child who never knew how to do more than draw an elaborate circle suddenly discovers she can write her own name. Everything falls into place.

So take heart! The Terrible Twos are over (or soon to be, I promise!). Although there will always be challenges ahead, things are going to get easier. Your little novel is growing up and showing you that it has a mind of its own.  So just relax and see what your baby can do. And cross your fingers that it’s potty trained.

- Jessica, who gets through both NaNo and the Terrible Twos with patience, sleeplessness, and a lot of whisky

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"When you're stuck, those aren't the worst parts, those are the best parts - they're your chance to be creative."
-Po Bronson

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday check-in; abstainers and moderators, Write or Die

REMINDER: today is the last day to enter the critique contest. Get over there and post a comment, if you haven't already done so! 

How did you guys do this week? I'm embarrassed to admit that I fell off the NaNo wagon, badly; my word count is days and days behind schedule. I'm not going to admit just how bad it is here, as I write this on Thursday, because I have hopes of rectifying it (somewhat) before I go to bed tonight. I need to get my head back in the game.

Gretchen Rubin, who I've talked about here before, argues that when it comes to facing temptations and exercising self-control, there are two basic techniques: you can be an Abstainer, where you just give up the temptation entirely (this is the model for all twelve-step programs, at their heart), or you can be a Moderator, where you keep the temptation in check without resorting to strict rules.

Here's her most recent post on the subject. Gretchen is an Abstainer-- and I'm starting to think that might be the best fit for me, too, at least in certain things. How about you?

For the rest of NaNoWriMo, I'm going to do everything I can to get at least a few words written, every single day. I still want to hit that magic 50,000 words, if I can, but perhaps a better, more achievable goal would just be to write daily. No days off.

But what if you find yourself just staring at the screen, or constantly toggling between browser tabs, losing hours on the internet?

My client Shoshanna Evers is a big fan of an app called Write or Die. This is a program that, as their tagline says, "puts the prod in productivity." In the utterly brutal Kamikaze mode, which I think is what Shoshanna uses, if you stop writing for too long (a few minutes of no activity, or however you set the program), the program literally starts deleting words. By her account, it really seems to work; her daily word count would blow most people's minds. Every month is a NaNo month, let's put it that way.

I'm going to give it a shot and report back. Care to join me?

Also, it's Friday: time to brag or complain about your NaNo word count, if you're so inclined. Tell me how it's going.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday cop-out: two giant round ups of NaNo advice.

I'm writing this a couple of days early, as I often do my posts, and agonizing over the US election details even though it's hours before we'll know anything. (I hope it's only hours, and not 2000 reprised.)  I'm hoping to get a post done before week's end on my own NaNo progress, but I am not sure I can concentrate enough to write a real blog post today, let alone actually work on said NaNo project.

Here are two rabbit-hole links for you, to keep you busy till I get my head back on. As always, I'd love to hear which tips are your favorites.

Galleycat: sixty NaNoWriMo tips in one post

Nathan Bransford: NaNoWriMo Resources

And did you see that Avon Impulse is soliciting NaNo romance manuscripts in December? I adore Avon, but are they really looking for unrevised work? What do you guys think?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NaNoWriMo GUEST POST: A head start on a great story.

All: I'm delighted to share another guest post with you today, this one from frequent commenter Cathy C. Hall, who blogs at In her post, Cathy argues that you should think of NaNo as a starting point, a chance to get the words on the page-- and be proud of your efforts, even as you know you'll have lots more work to do later. 

The Tale of the NaNo Story 

By Cathy C. Hall

Like thousands of writers, I got sucked into National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo, as the veterans call it. And it was one of the best writing tools I ever used.

I don’t know if other writers would call churning out a complete novel in a month a tool. A challenge, a chore, a pain in the butt?  Yes, yes, and definitely yes. A tool? Maybe not so much. But for me, NaNo came in pretty handy. Here’s how.

I had an Idea for a story. I couldn’t say I had an Idea for an entire book because I didn’t exactly have an ending. Or much of a middle. But I had an Idea. And this Idea rattled around in my head for months. The months turned into a year, and still, I hadn’t written a single word about the Idea.

Then along came National Novel Writing Month, as it does every year in November. So I pulled on my big girl writing britches and decided that November 2009 would be the NaNo of my Idea. I told all my friends that I was “doing NaNo.” I told my family, too, even though they had no idea what I was talking about. I officially signed up, so there was no going back.

Now, I realize that many writers can go on and on and on and get those 50,000 words easily. But I come from a journalist/copywriting background. I like my writing short (and speculative). Flash fiction was made for me. Writing a novel—Come on. 50,000 words?! —seemed daunting.

Well, more than daunting. Impossible. But as you may recall, I had my big girl writing britches on. And I’d been writing bits and pieces of my Idea for quite a while. Mostly in my head, but still. I had a semi-outline floating around in the gray cells. On November 1st, I slugged through 1600 words. And thought, holy NaNo. I have to do this every day?

Pride dragged me to the desk, forced me to come up with sentence after sentence. I mulled over my Idea in the tub, I created characters watching a high school play, I figured out a plot while slapping food on the table. And in the end, I had a novel. It was 32,560 words but I was okay with that. I mean, honestly, I was thrilled.

Even knowing that only 1723 words were any good. That there were holes bigger than Black Holes in it. That characters sounded alarmingly like the kids from West Side Story. But, by NaNo, I had a manuscript in my hot little hands. I had something I could work on!

I did NaNo because I had an Idea I loved and wanted to develop. NaNo gave me the impetus to take the book out of my head and put it on paper. Now, three years later, after all the revisions, drafts, and rewrites, I think I have a pretty good story.

So if there’s a moral to my NaNo tale, maybe it’s this: Don’t be a tool. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to do NaNo, make that novel worth it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The 20 minute win.

The wonderful Jessica Brockmole sent me this a few days ago: The 20 Minute Win. Barbara O'Neal argues that if you can carve out a twenty-minute window in which to write, and guard that twenty minutes against all intrusions, you can make substantial progress.

It's a great piece, and a great idea. I'm going to try the technique today.

How about you? Do you ever set a timer when you sit down to write?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your 
headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." 
-- E.L. Doctorow

(via @chrisbaty on Twitter)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fridaydream: eight strange rituals of productive writers.

Love this list of strange writing rituals. I'm definitely going to try #8 this month. (Okay, probably not. I am a terrible lightweight.)

Which one is your favorite? Any to add?

Also, for the duration of NaNo, the Friday post comments section will be your chance to show off about your word count. How's it going so far?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo GUEST POST: A Plotter's Guide to Pantsing

Delighted to announce my first NaNo guest poster today: romance author and writer of the super-popular blog, Sonja Foust. (Pintester is hilarious but NSFW.) Sonja gave me permission to reprint a post from her blog, on how the planners among us can cope with the chaos that comes with NaNoWriMo.

In the fiction writing world, we tend to divide ourselves up into two distinct groups: the plotters and the pantsers. The plotters, well, plot. They outline, they plan, they do all the anal-retentive things you might expect. The pantsers write by the seat of their pants, hence the term. They often say, “If I know how the book ends, I’m not interested in writing it anymore.”

Nanowrimo cometh. Inherently, Nanowrimo tends to foster the pantsing school of thought. Chris Baty’s guide to all things Nanowrimo is even called No Plot? No Problem! It’s a great book, and pantsing really does work for some people… but not all of us.

I am, by nature, a plotter. I plan pretty much every aspect of my life, including what I write. That’s not to say that everything always goes according to plan, but I’m paralyzed without some idea of where to go and what to do. So how do I swing Nanowrimo?

I plot like a pantser.

If you’re a plotter, too, and the idea of Nanowrimo scares you crapless, here are my tips for getting started:

1. Outline in October. It’s not cheating to start your outline early. In fact, it’s encouraged! You can plan as much as you want, as long as you’re not writing.

2. If you happen to get to November without a plot, go day by day. Plan what you’re going to write in the morning when you start, or plan the next day’s writing the evening before.

3. Decide how serious you’re going to be about this. If you’re doing it just for fun, give pantsing a try! You might find that you like it, and that the freedom produces an altogether different (maybe better) result. If you know you’re a plotter, and you can’t stand the thought of not having a well-plotted novel done at the end of the month, you’ll have to be more proactive about plotting ahead of time.

4. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your plot. In the fast and furious pace of banging out 50,000 words in 30 days, you will find that you don’t have time to sit and mull things over as soon as you hit a plot snag. Be creative, get through it, and get writing again! You can always modify your outline.

5. Engage the community. Nano-ers are great at helping each other out with plot problems. Try the forums or the chat room.

Thanks, Sonja! Everybody share your own tips in the comment section. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo: tips for a quick first draft.

Here's a post from Rachelle Gardner with four tips for writing a fast first draft. 

I suspect my biggest struggles are going to be not editing as I go along, and finding uninterrupted stretches of time in which to write. How about you?

I'm nervous, you guys. Give me a pep talk in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Critique contest!

I'm writing this on Monday, from my West Coast home, while the East Coast hunkers down waiting for Hurricane Sandy. Hang in there and stay safe, guys. I'm sending lots of good thoughts your way.

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to do a critique contest when the comments on this post hit 25-- which I'm delighted to say they have. Thanks for spreading the word, and for leaving a comment, too!

So here's the deal on the contest:

What's the prize?  I will critique the first two pages of your manuscript (maximum of 750 words), here on the blog. All genres welcome, though you might have a look at my submission guidelines to see what I'd say are my areas of expertise. In other words, I'll happily critique your military thriller, but I'm not as well-versed in how it fits into its genre.

How do I enter? Leave a comment on this post. You've got till Friday, November 9 to enter. I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner. One entry per person, please!

What's the catch? If you enter and are chosen as the winner, you agree to let me post your pages here on the blog; this is a public critique. You needn't use your real name if you'd prefer to stay anonymous, but if you'd like me to I will include a link to your website as part of the post.

Who's eligible to enter? Everybody except my clients and the clients of my SJGA colleagues. Sorry, guys. I think this will be most useful to those writers who are as-yet unpublished, but I'm not going to make that decision for you.

What's the deadline again? Friday, November 9-- the contest is open till I close comments on this post. I'm giving you a bunch of time because I'm guessing many people are a little distracted by the hurricane/the election/the impending NaNoWriMo start date.

Spread the word, and don't forget to leave a comment to enter. Good luck!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday morning thought.

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Fridaydream: your Sunday project.

I almost never talk about it here, but I am a total nerd about craft stuff-- most recently quilting. I read a lot of quilt blogs, which I recommend for the pretty pretty pictures even if you have no interest whatsoever in making your own quilts.

A blogger I've been reading for a while had a fantastic post last week about "planning for someday," and told  a great, funny story that I don't want to spoil here. Go read the post and come back.

It really struck a chord with me. How about you? What's your Sunday project?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Age-appropriateness and children's books.

Here's a lovely, thoughtful article from the Horn Book on the pros and cons of "reading up," i.e. when a precocious reader gets into books that may be beyond her, content-wise.

Are you a fan of age recommendations for books?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


We're up to 22 comments on last week's post about lies writers tell themselves-- only three more comments to go before we hit the magic 25 and do a critique contest.

Spread the word, and don't forget to comment on that post, if you haven't already done so!

NaNoWriMo: call for guest posts!

So we talked about NaNoWriMo a lot here last year-- but I admitted publicly then that I've never actually participated, myself!

Well, a number of my clients are dedicated NaNo-ers and have been pressuring me to try it.

Deep breath.

I'm not going to formally sign up (I don't think?) but... I'm in.

In the poll we did last week, about two-thirds of you said you were planning to participate in NaNoWriMo (hooray!), either formally or informally. I'm going to use that 2/3 split as a guide for November's blog posts: we'll do about two days of NaNo content, then one day of other stuff, and so on.

I need help with this, though, for two reasons.

1) Trying to write almost 1700 words a day of fiction is going to keep me pretty busy-- and I can't exactly quit the day job, can I?  So give me some ideas (NaNo-related or not) for posts I can pre-schedule, so I don't have a blog post AND my word count hanging over my head every day. What's a topic you wish I would cover? Maybe an advice column would be fun? Give me your best ideas for keeping the blog fed.

2) I'd also like to try doing guest posts for the first time. Let's keep them NaNo-related for now, but if you've got a great idea for a non-NaNo post you'd like to do, let me know that too. I'd love to hear from NaNo veterans, maybe with some words of advice or funny anecdotes, and from NaNo n00bs too, on the experience of participating for the first time.

I'll write some here about my own experience too, I imagine, but I'd rather hear from you.

I'll accept guest posts of most any length, but probably keeping it under 750 words is best. I'll link to your blog or your Twitter or whatever else you like. Email me if you'd like to participate!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Mad Libs query letter.

Any formula tends to get tiresome after a while, but one could do a lot worse than to follow the step-by-step query letter plan from this post on Writer Beware.

Fun fact: when I sell a book to a publisher, parts of my original submission letter to editors often end up as part of the flap copy or the back-of-the-book copy.

Even funner fact: particularly when I'm selling an author's first book-- the one that author originally queried me on?-- I often "borrow" large chunks of the original query when I'm putting together said submission letter. It got my attention, didn't it?

In other words, there's a decent chance that your query letter could end up on the cover of your book. But, y'know, no pressure to make it good or anything! Hah.

Can you give an example of cover copy that works? What sorts of descriptions make you want to buy a book, or check it out from the library? Can you learn anything from those examples?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday morning thought.

“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, 
what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” 
― Joan Didion

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fridaydream: the book you read again and again

This is a long-running joke in my house, though I've mis-remembered it for years as a Kids in the Hall sketch:   

better than Cats

I think a lot of "book people" take a lot of comfort in rereading a book they love. Gretchen Rubin talks about this a lot on The Happiness Project. Benjamin Disraeli famously read Pride and Prejudice seventeen times. My parents once bought me a new box set of the Little House books, because I read my first copies so often that the pages came unstuck from the bindings.

Do you have a book that you read over and over? What makes a book worthy of the reread?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

NaNoWriMo Poll

Quick poll: how many of you are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo next month?

EDITED Friday 19 October: the blog poll was doing something weird and yucky to the formatting, so I've deleted it (about 2/3 of you are planning to participate, in case you were interested!), but I'd still love to hear in the comments about your NaNoWriMo plans or lack thereof.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An editor's pet peeves.

The marvelous Lucia Macro of Avon has a guest post up on Romance University today, detailing her top five pet peeves.

Because Lucia edits mainly romance and women's fiction, some of her points are specific to those genres, but there's a lot of universal truth to what she has to say. Here's my favorite:

 Stop overthinking!  Because here is what I’m not thinking about:   your formatting (just double space and have page numbers and we’re good to go); shifting pov (if it’s jarring, it’s wrong; if it’s not jarring, I don’t care); your font (just don’t use this); the number of times your characters have sexytimes (make it right for the plot);  the ‘dark moment’ (I don’t even know what that means);  what your betareader (don’t know what that means either) says.

Notice that these are not really "pet peeves" at all; they're suggestions for how you as the writer can find more success.

Which of these do you need to paste to your computer monitor?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lies writers tell themselves.

There's advice in this Alexander Chee piece on The Awl for writers at every stage of their careers.

I worry that you guys worry about #21, for reasons that are perhaps obvious.

Which one of these are you guiltiest of?

I vacillate between #16 and #17, personally, so now is as good a time as any to do a shameless plug: tell your friends about this blog! If we can get to 25 comments on this post, I'll do a critique contest later this month.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday morning thought.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, 
the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fridaydream: the perfect fall day.

Is there anything like a crisp fall day, to a writerly or readerly type?

I live in Southern California, and "crisp" is a relative term, but I've got my slippers on this morning and am starting to think about hot apple cider and getting the sweaters out of storage. Delicious.

Does the cooler weather make you want to write? What's your favorite autumnal tradition?

For our Australian pals: are you feeling reinvigorated by the signs of spring?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On big advances and publishing math.

The always thoughtful Jason Pinter on why a big advance, like the rumored $3.7 million Lena Dunham will receive for her book with Random House, is often a good bet for a publisher. (Hint: if the book sells reasonably well, the publisher can make money even if the advance will never, ever be earned out.)

You guys are a sharp bunch, I know, but are there any publishing terms (like "earn out") you'd like to see me explain in a future post? Let me know...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More rules of writing!

Today we're continuing the fun from last week's post on rules of writing from twenty-nine different writers.

Here are some more of my favorites. I'd love to hear yours!

Hilary Mantel: Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? Don't write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book's ready.

Michael Moorcock: Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).

Michael Morpurgo: Ted Hughes gave me this advice and it works wonders: record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys.

Andrew Motion: Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly.

Joyce Carol Oates: Don't try to anticipate an "ideal reader" – except for yourself perhaps, sometime in the future.

Annie Proulx: Proceed slowly and take care.

Ian Rankin: Stay lucky.

Will Self: You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Zadie Smith: Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

Colm Tóibin: Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.

Rose Tremain: In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.

Sarah Waters: Respect your characters, even the ­minor ones. In art, as in life, everyone is the hero of their own particular story; it is worth thinking about what your minor characters' stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist's.

Jeanette Winterson: Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

And the winner is...

Last week we had a CONTEST, for the first time in a long time. I had fun and hope you guys did too. 

Everyone who participated had great tips on dealing with procrastination, and you should definitely read all the comments on that post, but my very favorite was Kaye Draper's:

I don't know that this is an amazing secret tip or anything... but my way of avoiding procrastination is similar to what you just mentioned above. I have a list of projects lined up. If I feel "stuck" on something, then rather than sit and wait for inspiration to hit, I move on to the next thing on the list. Usually once I've let the "stuck" thing sit for a while it will come unstuck all by itself. 
In terms of writing, this means never getting writer's block. If you aren't making progress on a project (or even just a certain aspect of the project) then make good use of your time by getting something else done. Move on to another story for a day or so until something gets jarred loose and you can come back to what you were working on. I've found this to be very effective when I feel like I'm losing momentum on a project.
Congratulations, Kaye! Email me with your mailing address and I'll get that fancy notepad in the mail to you. :)

Meanwhile, should we make contests a "regular thing" around here? What sorts of "prizes" would you like to see?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday morning thought.

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, 
and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” 
― Neil Gaiman

Friday, October 5, 2012


Today's the last day to enter the contest for the super-cool notepad that I got for free.

Even if you don't like notepads, you should come check out the entries-- maybe someone's procrastination tip will strike a chord with you.

I'm certainly taking notes. Ha, ha.

Enter the contest here!

Fridaydream: your writing soundtrack.

I am sure lots of writers have a "soundtrack" for their writing time: a collection of musical pieces you listen to when you sit down to work (or, y'know, get on your treadmill desk.) I don't remember ever seeing anyone specifically mention it in their acknowledgments page, though, until Stephenie Meyer's acknowledgments for the Twilight books, where she lists the band Muse as an important influence on her writing. 

How about you? What's on your soundtrack? Do you create a specific playlist? Do you write to the same music all the time, or does each work get its own "album?" 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ten rules of writing, from twenty-nine different writers.

Via, here's a great article from The Guardian in which  prominent writers each give their rules for writing. Some favorites: 

Elmore Leonard: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." 

Margaret Atwood: "Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page." 

Roddy Doyle: "Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy."

Helen Dunmore: "Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue."

Geoff Dyer: "Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire."

Anne Enright: "Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand."

Richard Ford: "Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself."

Jonathan Franzen: "Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting."

Esther Freud: "Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too."

Neil Gaiman: "Laugh at your own jokes." 

PD James: "Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ­people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted."

AL Kennedy: "Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go."

I'll detail my favorites from "part 2" of the article in another post. 

Which ones are your favorites? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Productive procrastination, and a contest!

I'm getting a lot of hits on last week's post about procrastination , so I thought I'd share a little more about the technique I'm most fond of right now.

There's a lot of talk in productivity circles lately about "productive procrastination," which basically just means that you stall on one task by working on something else instead. There's a new book out called The Art of Procrastination (not one of mine), which offers some clever advice on this tactic. It's worth checking out, if procrastination is something that you struggle with.

My personal favorite system at the moment is called the Autofocus System (PDF link), in which you basically write up one very long to-do list, and then when it's time to start a new task, you scan the list for something that appeals to you. You work on that task for as long as you feel like, then cross it off the list and, if it's not complete, write it again at the bottom of the list. Just making progress on something is often enough to break my procrastination streak. I find that when I'm using the system diligently, I really do get a lot more done.

But how, you may ask, does this work for writers? Shouldn't there be only one item on your list:
"write the &*^%&* book?"

Well, yes and no. I think any large task (like, uh, a manuscript) is made up of smaller tasks (this is the wisdom of David Allen's bestselling Getting Things Done), and those smaller tasks tend to feel a lot less daunting, especially if you can break them into pieces that you know how to tackle.

How about a novel set in the American Civil War, as an example? This author's list might include:
-research Confederate soldiers' rations in 1864
-brainstorm plot arc for [secondary character]
-revise opening scene to put us more in [protagonist]'s head
-select an excerpt to take to critique group this week
-do a book map of Cold Mountain to analyze story structure
-consult a linguist about rural West Virginia dialect

And so on. Do you see how much more manageable each of those items looks than "write a novel about the American Civil War?" Completing this list is not the same as finishing the novel, true, but it's quite a bit of progress in the right direction, and sometimes that's enough.

It's been way too long since we've had a CONTEST, so let's do this. At BEA this year I picked up a great promo item from the publisher of The Art of Procrastination: a "to-do list for procrastinators." Look!

So leave me a comment on this post with your best-ever tip on how to beat procrastination, no later than Friday, October 5, and I'll  pick my favorite. If yours is the best tip, I'll send you the notepad and feature your suggestion in a future post. Enter as often as you like.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"You have to write the book that wants to be written.
And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, 
then you write it for children."
--Madeleine L'Engle

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How to write an acknowledgments page.

And I really do mean "page," and not "chapter!"

We'd talked in the comments section of last week's Friday post about people's acknowledgments, and a lot of you admitted that you've already written yours, whether or not the manuscript is actually finished.

There's been a lot of discussion recently about acknowledgment etiquette, with a general consensus being that acknowledgment sections are getting out of hand. A few links:

The New Yorker (August 2012)

The Guardian (2010)

The Paris Review (2011)

I tend to agree with a lot of what all three of these writers have to say: acknowledgments that run on for pages and pages and pages are rather tedious.

Here are a few pointers on people I think should be thanked in your acknowledgments. Note that I think this applies mainly to first books, as there may well be people on this list who don't merit a mention in each subsequent work.

1) Your family, especially your parents, your significant other, and your children. Siblings and extended family should be thanked if they directly contributed to the book's production in some way (read drafts, came up with the original idea, watched the kids while you wrote). Don't include them just because they're related to you, and please, please do not include pets. I have seen acknowledgment sections where the author's dogs received a more lavish thank-you than the book's editor. True story.

2) Your professional publishing "team:" your editor, your agent, and probably anyone else you've been in direct contact with at the publishing house. It's nice to thank the agent's and editor's assistants, if they made significant contributions, but whenever possible, try to err on the side of "and everyone else on the Publishing Imprint team."

3) Your non-professional* publishing "team:" your writing group (just call them your writing group rather than listing them individually by name, if possible), the volunteer at the small-town historical society who devoted hours of her time to answering your incredibly specific question, the endlessly kind man at the British Museum who always took your phonecalls. (*non-professional meaning they don't make their living in book publishing)

4) Anyone else who was directly involved in the book's production. I leave this a little open-ended, because some people will want to list everyone who read an early draft, and others will already be worried that the acknowledgments are getting too long. Err on the side of vague, if you can, and remember that the shorter you can make the acknowledgments, the less room there is for casual friends to be offended if they don't get a mention.

5) That's basically it. Don't rattle off your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, the names of all of your elementary school teachers, or the members of your fantasy football league. If someone will be horribly offended not to be included by name, or if you'd feel really badly were you to leave them off the list, then go ahead and include them. If you think they would be placated by receiving a signed copy of the book, with a personalized note from you, I encourage you to go that route instead.

What did I leave out? Do you like reading acknowledgments? What's the weirdest thing you've ever seen in an acknowledgment section?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to overcome procrastination

Fun fact: if I didn't deliberately self-limit, about 80% of my blog posts would be on the topic of procrastination. (Armchair psychologists, please leave this alone! hah)

But I can't resist this one, which helped me knock out a big task yesterday:

(Link via Andrew Sullivan, who is, to his credit and my detriment, one of my regular procrastination stops.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." 
--Thomas Edison

(and yes, Internet, I know about this!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fridaydream: who gets thanked in your acknowledgments?

OK, fess up: how early in your current WIP's life did you start drafting the acknowledgments section? Have you already decided to whom you will dedicate Book 2, 3, 4, 5?

Would a future post on acknowledgment do's and don'ts be well-received, do you think?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Conflict avoidance, fighting on Facebook, and character development.

I'm spending a lot of time right now trying not to get into politics-related fights on Facebook; I bet a lot of you are too. (Let's not rehash here!)

What's been especially striking to me, lately, is that people seem to fall into three major camps when it comes to public arguments about deeply-held beliefs:

1) the fighters, who start out argumentative and get feistier from there. Sometimes this means posting a link, pseudo-innocuously, to Slate or the New York Times or the National Review or the latest incendiary Newsweek cover story, and just letting the fireworks happen. Other times it means a deliberately confrontational status update, along the lines of "HOW can these bozos actually BELIEVE [whatever it is these bozos believe]".

2) The conflict-avoiders, who have their own cherished beliefs but find that their love for some of their friends and family is being eroded by too much information about said friends and family members' political preferences. This group would rather everyone made a pact not to talk about religion or politics on Facebook, please!

3) The popcorn-eaters, who may not want to participate in the drama but are enjoying the hell out of watching it unfold.

Which category are you in? I think this year I'm a #1, trying really hard to be a #2 but mostly settling for #3.

Which category are your characters in? What great fictional characters can you think of that are not #1s, or at least don't start that way?

I'll name one: Bilbo Baggins, in The Hobbit, starts out as a classic #2.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dan Wilbur's advice on book clubs.

The celebrated book expert Dan Wilbur, who's been saving us all lots of time since 2010 by giving books more accurate titles at, has a new book out, called How Not to Read. 

Here's a video he did to help promote the book, with tips on surviving a book club. 

And yes, of course he's a client!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Five tools for outlining your next novel

Via Galleycat, here are five tools for outlining your next novel. Some of these are really inventive!

What's your favorite technique? Anything from this list you're planning to try?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fridaydream: writing implements.

Lately I've been wanting a fountain pen. I had one in college; they're much more common in England, where I was studying at the time, and I found a Waterford at the "Everything's a Pound!" store. (Really!) I loved it, even if it did take a while to get the hang of not smearing my hand through the wet ink. I'm right-handed, or I probably would have mastered this by second grade.

But ages ago the nib dried up and I couldn't get it to write again, no matter what I did, though I think I still have it somewhere. I'm thinking about getting another one, but I don't actually NEED another pen.

Still, there's something different about writing with a fountain pen; the thoughts seem to flow differently.

What's your writing implement of choice? It's okay to say "my computer."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stakes Motivation Turns Escalation

The New York Magazine cover story this week about Mindy Kaling is delightful, and segues nicely into my (still-to-come) post about likeable heroines. The title of my post is from a sign Kaling apparently puts up everywhere: the four pillars of a good comedy story, according to The Office creator Greg Daniels.

Will you be watching The Mindy Project? Do you like sitcoms? I tend to eschew the laugh-track variety myself, but there's something very "comfort food"-y about the genre as a whole.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Three things I mean when I say no, and why you should be glad I did.

Like most literary agents I know, I use a form rejection letter for most of the queries I receive. It's not unusual to receive 50 or 100 queries a day-- some agents receive many more!-- and it's just not possible for me to respond personally to each one. I do try to respond to each one, so at least the writer knows the query didn't get lost in the ether, but if I didn't use the form letter, I would never get anything else done. 

Every so often, someone will respond to a form rejection requesting more information: feedback on the manuscript pages, more detail about why I didn't want it, maybe referral to another agent who might be interested. I don't reply to these requests (see: never get anything else done, above), because, in the coldest of terms, I don't make any money on things I've already said no to. 

It's human nature to want to know why, though. Here are the three things I most commonly mean when I use the dreaded form letter, "this isn't right for my list." 

1. This is not a genre I represent. As an agent, I have a tremendous amount of freedom in terms of the projects I take on; if I see something I like and I want to sell it, I am free to do so. My website bio gives a list of the genres I am most interested in, both for fiction and for non-fiction, and while I occasionally do take on something outside of my stated preferences, it doesn't happen very often. The "interests" on my website are a pretty complete list of the sorts of things I like to read. It's hard to be well-versed in absolutely every genre being published, and I find I have more than enough to keep me busy as it is. 

Why this is a good thing for you: Editors, like agents, tend to specialize a bit; there are editors who only do business books, and editors who only do thrillers. An agent who specializes in the sort of books you write will, one hopes, have a good relationship with the editors who specialize in the sort of books you write. 

2. This is too much like something else already on my list. This one's kind of the inverse of #1, isn't it? Let me give you an example: my client Pamela Schoenewaldt's marvelous first novel When We Were Strangers tells the story of a young Italian seamstress who immigrates to America in the late 19th century. I love immigration stories, and I love stories about Italy, so I'd happily consider taking on more of those-- but another seamstress-immigrant story is going to be much too similar. Again, I don't have time to personalize all my rejection letters, and I'm sorry to say it, but I don't owe you an explanation of why it's wrong for me-- but if you query me on a book I basically already have, it's going to be wrong for me. 

Why this is a good thing for you: Publishing is a fairly small world. Pamela's editor is not going to want another seamstress-immigrant story either, so already that's one less editor in the relatively limited pool of "historical women's fiction editors" I can try. Plus you don't want to run into a "mom likes you best!" scenario, where you feel competitive with one of your agent's other clients. Better for everyone to have a fresh start with something that feels really new. 

3. I didn't love it. I know how you guys think: you get a rejection letter and you think, "She HATED it!" And, okay, sometimes I really did. But just as often, I felt lukewarm about it: I liked it but I didn't love it. Sometimes the writing isn't good enough. Sometimes I take an instant dislike to one of the characters. Sometimes it's pretty good but I just don't see a sales angle for it. 

Why this is a good thing for you: This is a tough business, and it's much better for you if you have an agent who feels just as passionately about your work as you do, who will really go to bat for you.  Taking on a client is a significant investment of time, and I don't make any money on things I can't sell. My job is a lot more fun-- and I'm a lot more effective at my job!-- when I'm working on something that I love. Maybe I didn't love your work. So what. Go find an agent who does. You deserve nothing less. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fridaydream: what does it look like to have "made it?"

When you think about your goals for your writing career, what's the Big Goal?

I have three big "dreams" as an agent:

1) a #1 New York Times bestseller

2) a Big Hollywood Movie based on one of my books

3) a book on the "Banned Book list."

What does it look like to have "made it?" Do you find that your goals shift over time?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Writing Life: Kurt Vonnegut's chore list.

This is an incredibly evocative (and funny) portrait of a marriage: Kurt Vonnegut's chore list.

What goes neglected at your house when you're in the midst of a writing project?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writing Advice Wednesday: Read.

This feels like a real "duh doy" thing to talk about, but it really matters: are you reading enough?

One of the most important and difficult parts of my job is to make sure I'm keeping up with books that are being published. I need to know not just which editors are looking for specific kinds of books (for romance, for example, I have a list of people who have told me they love cowboy books), but what people are buying, and what's selling. My regular "reading" for work includes trade publications like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, bestseller lists like The New York Times and USA Today, and the lists of recent book deals on Publishers Marketplace. (login required)

But I also have to make it a point to actually read the books that are selling particularly well, to make sure I have a good handle on the genres I represent. I also try to read anything "zeitgeisty," whether it's my cup of tea or not, because the American public tends to get really excited about just one or two books a year, and the subsequent sales of those books blow everything else out of the water. I believe that it's part of my job as an agent to have at minimum a passing familiarity with those popular books, if nothing else because if I tried to sell a children's book series set in a magical boarding school in Britain, I would embarrass the hell out of myself.

This goes for writers too. Whatever your feelings about Amazon, the site is full of great resources for writers, including an at-your-fingertips list of the books that are selling well in your genre, no matter how narrow. Amazon can quickly tell you what your competition is, and (roughly) how well it's doing, relative to all the other books available. Here is a link to the current Amazon bestsellers in the category "Women's Fiction."

Here's where I take a strong stance: if you're not familiar with at least 75% of the big sellers in your category, you are not reading enough-- and you are not doing your job as an author.

What are some of the benefits of reading other writers?

1) Reading other writers will help teach you the tropes of your genre. You can absorb a lot of information about what elements must be included in your story...and maybe what elements have become cliche' and should be avoided.

2) Reading other writers will give you a sense of others' writing style. Read too much of one author and your writing can start to sound like mimicry; read deeply and widely across the whole genre and you begin to develop your own voice. 

3) Reading other writers will help you market your own work when it comes time to query agents and/or publishers. I can say from experience that when I get a query for historical romance that says the manuscript has "the wit of Julia Quinn and the sexiness of Stephanie Laurens," I sit up and pay attention. Doing your homework can really pay off.

4) Reading other writers supports the publishing industry: bookstores, libraries, publishers, and agents. If you want in on the publishing ecosystem, you have a vested interest in keeping the whole thing afloat. The best writers are fans first.

What are some other reasons to read?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday morning thought.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." 

-Anton Chekhov

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fridaydream: the movie version

If (when) they make a Hollywood blockbuster or cool indie film of your book, who's going to be the star?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday wishlist

This is one of the quietest weeks of the year in publishing; when I can concentrate, I'm trying to work my way through the backlog of queries. Here are some of the categories I'm actively looking for right now:

-commercial women's fiction, or literary/commercial women's fiction (also sometimes called "book club books")

-multi-generational family sagas

-stories about female friendships (I'd especially love a book that traces a group of friends over a couple of decades)

-historical romance, especially a Regency romance series with a great sales hook

-paranormal romance, especially shapeshifters

-contemporary romance, especially a series with lots of quirky secondary characters (think Gilmore Girls)

-character-driven historical fiction

-stories with a crafty angle, especially knit/crochet, quilting, or a character who makes his or her own clothes

-likeable heroines (I'll have much, much more to say on this soon)

Any terms you'd like me to explain in a future post? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Writing Advice Wednesday: turn your novel into a short story.

(I am seeing how many silly "day of the week" themes I can come up with before someone objects. Maybe you guys are not paying attention because it's August. Maybe you like the silly.) 

The fabulous Charlie Jane Anders at has an unusual suggestion on how to revise your novel: once you've finished your first draft, try rewriting the novel as a short story

Why would you want to do this? There are a few reasons. For one thing, this allows you to see more clearly what the main arc of your story is. For another, it's a great way to make sure that the things you've decided are subplots are actually subplots — and that you haven't somehow elevated a subplot to "main plot" status while keeping the main plot squished into the space of a subplot. Paring away all the subplots, more or less completely, lets you see what's left. But most of all, this is a way to convince yourself that your protagonist(s) and your story are really epic and perfect as they are — and convincing yourself is half the battle, when it comes to revision.

I'm intrigued. Anyone out there want to give this a shot and report back? I'd be glad to host a guest post on the subject.

What other revision techniques have you tried? Here are some favorites of mine:

-Go through the manuscript and highlight all the dialogue tags ("she said"). Delete as many as you can without sacrificing clarity. 

-Read it out loud, to yourself, to your pets, to your partner. To a tape recorder if you're really brave. If it sounds clunky, fix it till it doesn't sound clunky any more.

-Storyboard the entire arc of the novel, scene by scene. What's getting too much "screen time"? What's not getting enough? Does anything feel repetitive, viewed through this "lens?"