August 31, 2009

How to Submit and Query Agents, Part 1

So, when you've written the best novel you possibly can, all tweaked to perfection, what do you do next? You submit.
My recommendation: query agents. You can query publishers, but it takes forever and you're less likely to get a sale. You can self-publish, but you lose a lot of credibility that way. (Quite frankly, I don't have enough knowledge to help you in these areas anyway.)

So this next series of articles is going to be about submitting your manuscript to agents.

First, an agent is someone who works with you, the writer, and publishers. They can negotiate contracts, they know all about what rights you're selling, they know editors, they know marketing. So where do you find a reputable agent?

The Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) has a (very long) list of agents that are most likely reputable. Check to see if an agent is on their list before you sign anything. (If an agent asks for money from you, s/he's probably not reputable. Check out Writer Beware, a website that closely follows scam artists that target rising authors. This site in particular has a list of red flags to watch out for. ) AAR has a fantastic FAQ. Read it.

There are a number of sites that list good agents. Some more helpful than others. I use QueryTracker. This site has a slew of agents that you can search by genre, but better than that, it lets you tag agents you'd like to query in the future. You'll have your own list of agents you want to query, agents you have queried, and agents that have replied. QueryTracker also has a blog that posts useful information.

Similar sites include Query Shark and AgentQuery.

Seriously, if you haven't already, spend a couple of days on these sites. Get familiar with the basics of a good query letter and what an agent does. The next part of this series will cover how you find the right agent for your book.

August 27, 2009

Moving Right Along in the Novel-Writing Process

I'm done with my hard edit (scribbling in my printed out first draft)! It took me two and a half weeks. The biggest ploblem I had was that there was too much to add. I couldn't write it all in. My muse hates longhand, but she sings when I'm at a keyboard. I have references, hints, action, entire scenes that I want to add to my book, but didn't write in. (Not in any detail, anyway.) So I ask myself: How do I make sure I get everything in?

One thing on my to-do list is to type up a synopsis. Preferably one page, since then I can send that to agents upon request. So, since I've stolen about four days from my work schedule, I'm going to write up that synopsis this weekend (AFTER I get my homework done, of course). I'll type up everything that happens in my book, and in another color, type in everything that I want to happen that's not in my book. (I'll trim it down to one page next month.)

Then, starting September 1, I'll edit my novel on the computer using all the marks and changes I wrote in the hard copy as well as all the additions I put into the synopsis.

Keeping a writing journal has been so helpful. I never realized how many steps are actually involved in writing a novel. So far I'm done with the planning, first draft, and hard edit. Then I have the synopsis, soft edit, quick read-over, query letter, and submitions to agents. And then I'm dependent upon other people to progress much further than that.

It's a tough gig. I only do it because I have to :) (My muse is making me!)

August 25, 2009

How to Cope with a Writing Workshop

I had my first Advanced Fiction Workshop this week, and I think I'll keep going. Our first assignment is people-watching, which I need to do more of. This class will be good for me. Looking at the assignments, I can see that there's a lot that I would never do on my own.

We'll be writing a short short story (2-3 pages--yikes!) every WEEK for the first half of the semester.

I'm intimidated. Getting a full story in three pages is just plain scary. Not to mention the fact that I need to come up with a new story idea on a weekly basis...

ON TOP OF revising and rewriting Shadow Bound AND planning and writing my phantom novel.

Our last day of class is November 30th. How inconvenient. This means crunch time falls right in line with NaNoWriMo. I'll definitely have my hands full.

But it's worth it. I'll grow as a writer and I'll get to use some techniques from Think Sideways. In the first month of the course, we're taught to "summon lightning", or a story idea. I did it, but I wasn't looking for a new story idea at the time. Now I'll get to put it to good use. :)

There's also a later lesson on using "spies" -- basically, people who know more about what you're writing than you do. For example, I ask a doctor about hospital procedures so my writing is more authentic. Well, guess what? One of our assignments is to write a story that requires research and an interview. Nice how that works out.

Revising and Editing Part 3: Fun Quotes from the Masters

Great advice on editing your novel (more or less) from people who know what they're talking about:

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph. ~Mark Twain

The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. ~Mark Twain

An author should
... Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it
... Use the right word, not its second cousin.
~Mark Twain

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

Substitute “d***” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain

Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. ~Ray Bradbury

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. ~Ray Bradbury

Vigorous writing is concise. ~William Strunk Jr.

Parts 1 and 2 on Revising and Editing have more practical resources, if you're interested.

August 24, 2009

Editing and Revising: Part 2

Here are some articles I've found that may help you on your journey through your rough draft:

First and foremost, Holly's one-pass revision. I edit using this method, and tweak it to fit my current project, whatever it may be. I use the articles below to help with specifics, but you may find they're a better fit than Holly's.
(If you like this one, Holly's talking about creating an entire course devoted to revising.)

First, The Blood-Red Pencil has an article on how to see if there are problems with your manuscript without even reading anything. This is a great technique you can use before digging in. I scan each page for the problems listed here, then I get my hands dirty :)

On the same blog, there's a guest post called Top Ten Things I Know About Editing. I can say from personal experience that reading your work aloud is an excellent way to catch pacing problems and echoes.

Deadline Dames is one of my favorite blogs. They have a great article on revising that's entertaining to read. At the bottom, they have a thorough checklist that I use all the time.

Be wary of clichés. They're so easy to use and so difficult to catch and weed out, but if you can find a unique way of describing something, your story will sing. Clichés and Descriptions has a number of examples.

Rachelle Gardner, a well-known literary agent, put together another nice little checklist on things you should cut in order to Tighten Up Your Manuscript.

One of the most important things you can do when you edit is to use powerful verbs. Too often, we as writers litter our work with "to be" verbs, when there's an excellent verb that not only provides the same meaning, but paints a specific picture using fewer words. This article is also from the Blood-Red Pencil.

And finally, if you want a thorough, descriptive list, here's The Ten Mistakes by Holt Uncensored. Like I said, it's thorough.

The first part of this article can be found here.
The third section on editing is really just for fun. I'll post some amusing quotes :)

August 22, 2009

Revising Tips - Everything A Writer Needs to Know About Editing

Revising a manuscript is both fun and tedious. It's fun because you get to transform your manuscript, your baby, into something wonderful. Your story becomes a creative work.

Besides that, going back and editing your manuscript before submission is necessary.

It's mandatory. Trust me.

When an agent says they want a polished, complete novel, they mean it. This means you go through your book (that you've printed out!) and check grammar, spelling, and punctuation ON TOP OF making sure your characters develop nicely, and your secondary characters are really needed, your pacing is spot on, your plot doesn't sag, your story progresses logically.... the list seems endless.

And that's why it's tedious. There's so much you need to worry about.
Some writers go through the manuscript eight or nine times or MORE. Each time, they edit for something different. It works for some people. Not for me. By the time I've read the same story twice, I want to be done with it, and every edit after that point is nearly useless.

I've tried the "edit as you go" method, but I got so sick of reading my first two chapters that I wasn't able to look at them with a critical eye any more. (That's another reason why you don't want to edit more times than you have to -- you tend to read over more mistakes when you know what's coming.)

The fewer times you have to read a paragraph, the more ideas will come and the more mistakes you'll see. I know it doesn't make sense, but it's proven true in my writing countless times. If I read chapter 1 for the first time after writing it (and I haven't seen it for at least a couple of weeks), I catch maybe 85-90% of the mistakes in it. My muse throws out a couple of ideas for better character development and subplots, which I may or may not use. It's also easier for me to step back from the story and see it from a reader's perspective, rather than the creator's perspective.

If I read that same chapter a second time, I may catch 50-60% of the remaining mistakes. After that, I'll be lucky to find any problems with the manuscript. I'm no longer an objective reader. That's where the help comes in. Writing groups, friends, anyone you trust who would be good at editing should find 85-90% of the remaining problems with your work. (Note: they may find "problems" with things that are just fine. Use discretion when accepting help.)

In the second part of my series on revising, I'll give you a variety of opinions on the subject -- a list of articles that I've found helpful.

August 21, 2009

How to Get More Writing Done

I'm back from my little experiment. I took off nearly a week from the internet in order to get more writing done.

First, if you think you might want to do this, you need to realize that if you shut down your internet access (and, as I did, your computer access) that a bunch of other things will try to fill in your time gap. I had no idea how many things I wasn't doing. Seriously.

But, not having the distraction of the computer did help my writing. No question. I revised a huge chunk of my book and wasn't pressured by my goal of fifteen pages a day. I hit the mark with ease :)

I was more focused when I wasn't working, too. If I was doing something else, my mind was a little clearer and I could think about my writing and what I wanted to change, and all that good stuff, so I was more efficient when I did sit down to work.

And when I came back? I turned on my computer and sorted through emails, checked (and read) the blogs I follow, checked and replied to a slew of forum posts, checked facebook, etc... all in about three and a half hours! Over the course of five days, I usually spend closer to ten hours doing all that stuff. An amazing time saver, though I may have missed some stuff.

So, I'm halfway done with the hard copy edit of my ghost novel. My goal is to finish by the end of the month, then do my soft copy edit. (Basically, going back and typing in all the edits and notes I made on the hard copy.) That leaves me with querying agents. I should be done with plenty of time to plan my phantom novel for November.

So, my next post will be on revising a manuscript. I've searched for different methods in preparation for what I'm doing now, and I'll share the best of it with you.

Tomorrow. I'm exhausted.

Hope all is going well with your writing!

August 14, 2009

Finding Time to Write

How much time do you spend on the computer? If you're reading this, odds are quite a bit. I'm guilty of spending hours (yes hours) a day on my computer -- on facebook, following blogs (mostly on writing), reading articles on writing and publishing, and reading and posting on a few writing forums. Then there's email and other everyday stuff.

If I took even half of that computer time and put it toward writing (or in my current case, revising), think how much more work I could get done!

So, I'm going to take the next 5 days off from my computer. I shudder to think of what will be waiting for me when I come back -- piles of emails, alerts, messages, posts, articles... but I think it'll be worth it.

August 12, 2009

Great Place to Revise: Bookstores

Revising is exciting. I keep telling myself that anyway. The first thirty minutes or so are enjoyable, but then I get bogged down in a character issue or weak dialog. I can't seem to keep myself editing for more than an hour and a half straight.

Yesterday I went to Barnes & Noble in the mall to do my revisions. The change of scenery was just what I needed! I browsed some books to get myself in the right place mentally, then sat down at a little table and spread my work out in front of me. I worked for an hour and a half straight. There are a couple of fun little things about doing my work in the bookstore, rather than at home:

1) I'm surrounded by people who love books. I love hearing people comment on what they see on the shelves, or watch how they move from subject to subject. This lady came to collect her husband, telling him she was done and they could go, but when she saw the bookshelf next to him, she became interested in some craft books.

2) The music can be inspiring. When I first arrived, some teeny-pop songs I had never heard before were playing. This is great, since I'm writing young adult.
Then, it gradually changed to some very old-fashioned music. An older gentleman who sat nearby hummed quietly along with "You Are My Sunshine". It was so cute! What's particularly wonderful about this is that the guy was right around the age of a couple of characters I was editing. (Talk about coincidence.) I added "You Are My Sunshine" to my book because of this. I think it adds nice detail to the characters.

3) I can test the markets while I work. A girl (maybe 15 years old) came in with her mom and began sifting through some books on display. She said, "I'm so tired of vampire novels."
Seriously. She said that.

Now, I do my share of research. Not a lot of marketing, but I get bits and pieces. Vampires are still (surprisingly) very popular. I've been under the impression that they'll soon be on the decline. (There are SO many vampire books out right now, the market is flooded.) But, hearing it from a potential future customer was so cool! Think of all the things I might pick up on if I go there regularly. I'll definitely hang out in the teen section more often.

By the way, according to my sources, zombies are going to be the next big thing in teen fiction. (Who knew?) I'll probably shy away from this trend, but it's good to know.

Other conveniences:
It's close, there's food and hot chocolate if I need a break but I'm not ready to go home, I have the whole mall at my disposal, and I can pick up a book if I feel so inclined. (That last one may be a little dangerous to my pocketbook.) :)

August 5, 2009

Preparing to Revise My Novel (aka: Cramming)

This week I'm preparing for my big edit. Yes, the once-over. This involves printing out all my note cards, chapter notes-to-self, and advice from my critique group. I'm also flying through my Think Sideways lessons as fast as I can so I have as much stuffed into my head before I dive in.

The process makes me feel like I'm cramming for a final exam. I have that fuzzy, tired feeling behind my eyes that demands that I stop staring at words on my computer screen.

But it's worth it. I'll get into my manuscript, tear it apart, and come out with a polished draft that's ready for submission.

My biggest problem right now is trying to remember everything I need to edit. Grammar, character, scene, plot, sensory details -- and that's not even half of it. I'm probably forgetting the other half.

I'm guessing it'll take three weeks. We'll see.

August 3, 2009

Endings Are Beginnings - How to Write an Ending for Your Book

I realize that my post about Endings may have been confusing. I found a video that elaborates a little more on how endings should be connected to your beginnings:

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