Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your Manuscript: Nine Rules to Follow

It's been two crazy weeks! Work, projects, and a few curve balls life threw at me have interrupted my writing and my blogging :(

Don't you just hate it when your writing takes the backseat?

I promise to fill you in regarding my trip to Toronto for the Word on the Street Book Festival. In the meantime, I will share these nine pointers I got from the Writer's Digest on September 28, 2010.

Here’s editor Anica Mrose Rissi’s list of what you can do to increase your book’s chances of making it out of the slush pile and into the spotlight.

1. Revise, revise, revise! I don’t want to read your first draft, ever. (Tip: Your novel isn’t ready to send to me until you can describe it in one sentence.)
2. Start with conflict and tension to raise questions, arouse curiosity and (like musical dissonance) create the need for resolution.
3. Start with the story you’re telling, not with the back story. Throw the reader directly into a conflict and let her get to know your characters through their actions. (Yes, this is another way of saying, “Show, don’t tell.”)
4. Give the reader something to wonder about and a sense of where the story is going—of what’s at stake.
5. Avoid explaining too much too soon. And, don’t be obvious. Trust your readers. Trust your characters. Trust your writing. If you find that chunks of your story need to include long explanations, go back in and write those chunks better, until the story explains itself.
6. Make sure your story has both a plot arc and an emotional arc. Cross internal conflict with external conflict. Give your characters moral dilemmas, and force them to deal with the consequences of their choices.
7. Read your dialogue out loud. When revising, ask yourself, “What is the point of this dialogue?” (Just as you should be asking, “What is the point of this sentence? What is the point of this scene?”)
8. Use adjectives, adverbs and dialogue tags only sparingly. (See “trust your readers,” above.)
9. Make sure your details matter.

Friday, September 24, 2010


While reading some blogs last week, I noticed that two of them mentioned the word failure. An author even asked if not sticking to a goal was a failure. Sometimes we focus too much on this word, thus we forget the end result.

I’ll share an excerpt from the Media Education Foundation transcript, an interview with Peter Elbow, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts. This is what he said about failure:

During that whole time, I was worried about my writing and I kept a kind of a journal. I kept taking notes. I kept writing myself letters about what was going on my writing, especially when things got tricky, when I got stuck, when I wandered into a swamp in my writing and I couldn't figure out how to get going again. I would take out a separate piece of paper and write myself a note. Not a pep talk but an attempt to be perfectly empirical. What happened? When did I first start getting stuck? What led to that? Can I figure out what train of thought got me down a blind alley? What was going on with my language? What was going on with my thinking? What was going on with my feelings? And when I got going again I would try to remember to and write myself another note, how did I get out of here? What was the turning point? Was there something I did that helped me get out of this stuck point? Well I wrote myself those notes for three years and kept slipping them in a folder until that folder got to be very fat and full of notes some of them written on the back of envelopes, but I was getting very interested in what was in there. I didn't have much time to explore it, but that folder of notes to myself is what turned into my first book about writing and turned into my first study of the writing process.

Dr. Elbow’s first book on writing was entitled Writing without Teachers. He is also the author of four other books on writing and the writing process.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ten Changes in Publishing since 2000

Dear writers, readers, fellow bloggers, and everyone in between:
As you already know, my blog is dedicated to giving tips and advice based on my own experience in the writing and publishing industry. I also like doing some research and sharing pertinent articles with you. Well, my latest post is the case. I did some digging and found this great article in the Writer's Digest regarding the changes the publishing industry has gone through.

When started in 2000, the writing industry was different. You'd search the web (on dial-up connections) for new results about your favorite publishers or agencies. The term social media didn't exist - Facebook didn't even start until 2003. Here are a few other things that have changed since launched 10 years ago:

1. Many publications and publishers accept electronic submissions, whether via e-mail or online submission forms.
2. More than ever, writers have to brand themselves.
3. Writers must do the work of marketing and promoting themselves to agents, editors, publishers, and--ultimately--readers. (Wondering how? We recommend Get Known before the Book Deal.)
4. Personal sites and blogs have made it easier than ever for writers to develop an audience.
5. Ad-based print resources (i.e., Magazines and Newspapers) have struggled to adjust to the Internet with new content strategies and pricing models. (Market Watch, exclusively for subscribers gives you insight on the latest changes.)
6. Due to the tough economic times, publications are relying more and more on freelancers. (With over 8000 listings, can help you find these opportunities.)
7. The proliferation of online content has opened up more opportunities than ever for writers from all backgrounds.
8. There are more online tools than ever to help writers research and write more efficiently and knowledgeably.
9. Social media offers easy and ground-breaking ways to network with publishing professionals, other writers, and potential interviewees. (If you're not already a member, join the Writer's Digest Community. You'll become a part of a supportive and creative community dedicated to the art and craft of writing.)
10. Businesses and organizations now rely on great content to attract new customers, sell products, and spread important messages--the trend of content marketing. (Wonder how much you should charge for this content? The "How Much Should I Charge? Rate Card" gives you answers!)

One thing hasn't changed: Great writing is always in demand. You can use to find those opportunities.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Seven Secrets to Getting into Libraries

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free e-zine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.
In an economically challenged climate guess what starts to soar? Libraries. The library market is strong and getting stronger. If you haven't made libraries part of your target market you should. And despite all the book buzz online, it's still nice to get your book onto a library shelf. For most of us, this seems like an exclusive right devoted to an exclusive group of best-selling authors. While some piece of this is true, the reality is that if you have a good book, you can get into the library system. Here's how.
First, why would you care about hitting the library market? Because in a slow book sales season, as we've seen in the past few months, libraries are a great way to get to your reader.

1. What they buy: Each library gets a budget and they can spend it any way they want. Unlike Barnes and Noble, where their book purchases are often dictated by publishers or a sales order from their corporate office, libraries operate independently of each other. Libraries will generally buy hardback and trade books and tend to shy away from mass market paperbacks, but if you're in the latter category, don't let this deter you. There's still a lot of wiggle room when it comes to library orders and a few creative ways to get into their system.

2. Getting to know your local library: If you want to get into your local library it's important to get to know them, so dust off your library card, stop by and introduce yourself. Get to know who you're selling to.

3. Library websites: If your local library has a website, see if there's a place to make book recommendations. If you have local fans, encourage them to do the same on their library websites.

4. Library events: If you've been trying to get into your local bookstore to do an event but haven't gotten much traction, why not consider doing a library event (or two)? It's a great way to get "into" your local library, become acquainted with them, meet your local readers, and well, you know - get more exposure for your book. Many libraries also have reading groups that you might be able to participate in.

5. Reviews: Most libraries look to review sources for their selections as well. Consider submitting your book to the following publications for review: Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Forecast. These publications are largely ready by libraries and often librarians will buy based on a good review in one of these publications. You don't need to get reviews in all of them (though wouldn't that be great?) - getting a review in one of them should be more than sufficient to catch the eye of a ready-to-buy librarian.

6. Popularity: Librarians like to stock what's popular, even locally. So if you're doing a lot of local events, talks, or speaking gigs, make sure and let your local libraries know. Also, if you're going to do TV or radio be sure and alert your library, thus giving them sufficient time to order the book.

7. Distribution: It's important to know how libraries get the titles they stock. First off you'll need to get the right distributor for your book. Both Quality Books and Unique Books have programs that can help you access the library market.

Quality Books Inc.

Unique Books Inc.

Baker & Taylor: (technically they are a wholesaler but can also help you access the library market)

There's also a nifty little site that will help you locate libraries in your neighborhood and around the world: (libraries worldwide)

Libraries might not seem as "glamorous" as the store window of Barnes and Noble, but libraries have considerably more staying power. Once your book is in their system it's in there for as long as your book is in print and the library sees there are readers for it. Also, consider the reorders as your local library will (hopefully) bring in more than one copy. Libraries are a not-to-be-overlooked part of your marketing campaign, and if you missed the review window, don't fret. You might still be able to gain some interest via events and local popularity!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Get out there and promote yourself!

As you already know, writing is only a small part (and the best part) of being writer. Published authors will tell you that you have to do the legwork if you want get published. I decided to write this after a friend asked me to be her agent. I was flattered of course, because that showed her confidence in me. At the same time, it reminded me about the importance of networking.

I’d like to remind aspiring/emerging writers that being a bit more aggressive (audacious) will get you a mile further in your writing career. I’ve known some emerging writers whose writing can lead them to a brilliant career as authors. However, they are shrinking violets. Have you ever seen a shy politician? My point exactly! I’m not saying you should be a braggart or a kowtower; instead be a writer with good public relations (P.R.) skills.

Let me give you the perfect example. Recently, a former mentor and published author (let’s call him Matt) told me he met an emerging writer (let’s call him John) at a literary event. After being introduced, they both talked about their work. John expressed his passion for fiction and poetry. Matt’s curiosity was piqued and immediately asked John to email him a couple of poems. Matt was impressed with the poems and deemed them worthy of publication. The result: Matt asked his publisher if he could also include John’s poems in the anthology where Matt’s work was to appear.

So next time you feel like hiding under a rock at a literary function, think of my tips for Public Relations 101:

• Attend literary events every chance and go out of your way to introduce yourself.

• Participate in writing workshops.

• Befriend your mentors.

• Keep in touch with the people you meet at events, workshops, readings, etc. (they may know an agent or publisher).

• Talk about your work without being arrogant.

• Most importantly, never, never, badmouth or gossip about your peers or mentors. It’s unprofessional and it can only jeopardize your writing career.

• Promote yourself using the available tools such as a business card or press release.

• Remember the importance of an online presence for public relations—a web site, a blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

What P.R. skills do you find work for you?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paperback, Hardcover, or eBook?

When it comes to books, I'm an old-fashioned gal. I like to flip the pages when I'm reading. I like the smell and feel of the book. I know some people love e-books for their convenience and price. I was surprised to learn that a lot of people still love paperbacks. I read in Publishers Weekly that Barnes & Noble recommends paperbacks. Read the article below from September 7, 2010.

Starting this month Barnes & Noble is extending its B&N Recommends program (, which it launched four years ago for bestselling hardcovers like Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, to include trade paperbacks.

“Trade paperbacks are the format of choice for many of our bookstore customers,” said Patricia Bostelman, v-p of marketing for B & N, “and we’re excited to be able to expand the Recommends program and suggest great titles selected by our knowledgeable and passionate booksellers.”

Each month buyers will choose two paperbacks, either reprints or originals, one in fiction and one in nonfiction, which will be featured in B&N stores across the country. The September selections, on sale today, are: Jeannette Walls’s Half Broke Horses and Sue Monk Kidd’s Traveling With Pomegranates.

What about you? Which one do you prefer?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Short and Sweet

It's Labor Day, yet I have a pile of papers on my desk. Nevertheless, I still owe it to my fellow readers to write a new post every so often. I'll keep it short and sweet with this helpful article from G. Miki Hayden that appeared on the Writer's Digest on September 3, 2010.

Half the difference between what works and what doesn’t in fiction has to do with how the words are phrased. If you want to be a polished writer, remember these rules for smoother and more powerful writing.

1. Use appropriate and frequent paragraph breaks.
Readers want breaks. That’s why text is divided into paragraphs to begin with. A skillful writer can always find a spot to put in a hard return. If you can't, look again; you can so.

2. Use only one name for a character.
If the character, Ron Carpenter, is a doorman, call him either Ron or Carpenter, but not both. And be careful about referring to him as ''the doorman.'' Although that seems like a good substitute for the name that has been repeated so often, unless his occupation is more than clear, the alternation between name and job title can be confusing.

3. Choose entirely distinct character names.
Don’t name your two lead characters Stan and Steve. Sure the names are different, but readers can’t always track that fact—especially when they pick up the book three days later to read again.

4. Don’t use slang unless you clarify it.
I’m pretty well-read but when I came across the phrase "seven deadliest" with the assertion that they built to felonies, I thought this was a special law-enforcement phrase and not a way of referring to the Seven Deadly Sins.

5. Limit your use of possibly offensive language.
Reasons exist for characters to swear. But remember that, nowadays, most books are bought by women and many women don’t like swearing for the sake of swearing (even in gritty or naturalistic novels).

Do you have a special method to polish your fiction?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is your prose too “pretty” for your readers?

Last night I met with a friend to discuss the story she’s recently written. We talked about how the misuse of adjectives and adverbs can affect our prose in a negative way. Lucky for me, I kept an article from William Noble, author of Noble’s Book of Writing Blunders (2006). Below you’ll read the abridged version of his article originally published on July 4, 2010 in the Writer’s Digest.

Learn how adjective and adverbs create redundancy and promote lazy writing and see how you can make your writing direct, vivid, and descriptive without making your readers want to get rid of your book.

Raymond Carver acquired a reputation as a short story master due to his attention to detail. Rarely, if ever, was a word or a series of words purposeless and uncertain. His prose was tight and emphatic, and his phrases never dangled or were superfluous. His craftsmanship honed his work to its essence. There aren’t many Raymond Carvers in this world, but each of us can learn some important things from the way he approached his writing. Sentence structure and punctuation were crucial, the proper word was essential, and what was omitted as important as what was inserted.

This brings us to adverbs and adjectives. Clearly, Carver would cast a suspicious eye on these forms of speech because many times they add little to what is already on the page. Frequently, they are not important, and in a short story, that means they have no business there.

Many inexperienced writers throw in “pretty” words to make their prose more dramatic and meaningful. But such cosmetic touch-up often turns out to be redundant or simply uninspiring. Take adverbs such as “lovingly” or “speedily” or “haltingly.” They each point to some circumstance or emotion or movement, yet do they offer solid impact? He whispered to her lovingly… She zoomed around the oval speedily… He stuttered haltingly…

In the last two instances, the verbs themselves provide the acting and the emotion in the sentences; the adverbs merely underscore what the verb has already described. Is it possible to “zoom” without doing so speedily … or to “stutter” without doing it in halting fashion? These are redundancies, and they do little for the prose except to give it an awkward cast.

The stone sank quickly… The fire truck bell clanged loudly… How else would a stone sink but quickly? How else would a fire truck bell clang but loudly? The key is to gauge the relationship of the adverb and the verb it modifies: Are they saying essentially the same thing? If so, there is a redundancy, and the adverb should come out—fast!

It isn’t only redundancies that adverbs can generate. They also encourage lazy writing. Take the earlier example, “he whispered to her lovingly …” I suppose he could whisper many things, including words, which are loving, but somehow the adverbial tail seems a lazy way out. By using “lovingly” the writer is really—and we’ve heard this before—telling instead of showing. Far more dramatic would be to write:

He whispered words of love … my sweet, dear lover, my angel … he purred his contentment, his joy …

No adverb here, and the drama is enhanced. I’ve shown those things that he whispered lovingly, and the reader has to be more involved in the story.

It has become a cliché to use the adverbial tail time and time again. In addition to minimizing the dramatic effect of the action, it grinds on the reader’s ear (remember, readers “hear” as well as read). All those words ending in “-ly,” not doing much for the sentence, not creating much of a word picture … Who could blame readers for wondering why the words were there in the first place?

And who could blame these same readers for laying the book aside? “Most adverbs,” says William Zinsser, “are unnecessary.” He’s right. And when it’s important to prettify your prose, there are better ways to do it.

Are you guilty of prettifying your prose?