Posts Tagged ‘novels’

h1

Words on the craft of writing

March 24, 2010

Revision update: On chapter 21/22 out of 30. I got chapter 21 done yesterday but wasn’t truly satisfied with it, nor the beginning of chapter 22. Then at the end of the day, when I was walking our dog (a great time to think), I figured out what I think is a solution. So I’ll be trying that today. I’m not sure it’ll be better, but it can’t hurt to try.

The blogosphere has had some great posts on the craft of writing lately, so I wanted to share some of the ones I’m enjoying.

Writer Anita Nolan has been doing a series on writing in scenes, with part 1 on how to write with scenes, part 2 on the elements of a scene and part 3 on scene endings.

Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole has been giving critiques on novel beginnings on her blog. The Workshop Submission posts are really interesting, as Mary shows the writer’s work and intersperses her analysis. I’ve linked to Mary’s first post, but she has five up, so click forward to read them all. It’s very interesting.

Author Larry Brooks‘ StoryFix.com has been writing a great series on what elevates a story to greatness. In his first post, he discusses empowering ways to think about your story; the second is about the power of “arena;” the third, taking the reader for the ride of their life; fourth, your favorite “vicarious” ride; and five, variables to consider.

Write On!

h1

Andrea Cascardi on getting an agent

February 2, 2010
Andrea Cascardi

Andrea Cascardi

Day two of my reports from the Austin SCBWI conference, and here’s what literary agent Andrea Cascardi from the Transatlantic Literary Agency had to say about getting and working with an agent.

Like fellow speaker Mark McVeigh, Andrea was an editor before she became an agent. She worked in editorial at Houghton Mifflin, Scholastic, Crown/Random House, Hyperion and Knopf. Some of the authors she is now the agent for are Shana Burg and Christine Ford,

As an agent, Andrea said that each author/agent relationship is unique. Agents and authors each have different personalities, tastes, etc., and because of that, authors and agents need to find the person who will be a good match, so they can work together productively for the long term.

Before authors submit to an agent, they should decide what kind of agency they want to be with. Andrea said writers should consider whether they want to be with a big agency or a small boutique, whether they want an agent who likes to communicate by phone or texting, the agent’s experience, whether the agent likes to edit, and what kind of sales the agent has had.

Once writers have decided what kind of agent they want, they can research the agents online, look at blogs and/or Twitter feeds, interviews and deals on Publishers Marketplace.

Andrea also warned that both the agent and author should be passionate about what they’re doing, because in the publishing industry, lows can be extremely low and highs stratospheric. The agent helps the author through both.

She explained that agents are the advocate of their client always, whereas an editor must straddle the needs of the author and the publishing house.

Because of that, authors should trust their agents, because agents have the big picture knowledge of the industry.

With their agent, Andrea said, writers should:

  • Form a plan for submission of the manuscript.
  • Be well informed about contracts.
  • Give agents a heads up before sending in a finished manuscript so the agents can plan.

Honesty is the best policy when working with agents, Andrea said, and if a writer isn’t happy with his or her agent, he or she should talk to the agent about the problems.

Stay positive but realistic, she said.

Great advice.

I talked to Andrea at the conference, and she graciously said she would do an interview or guest post for Day By Day Writer. So, stay tuned for that.

Come back tomorrow to see what Arthur Levine Books editor Cheryl Klein had to say at the conference.

Write On!

h1

More on query letters

January 27, 2010

Manuscript update: Still perfecting my query letter and synopsis. I’m attending the Austin SCBWI conference on Saturday — so excited — and hope to have a fantastic, shiny, brilliant query letter and synopsis ready to start sending out to the conference speakers soon after.

Yesterday, I wrote about why it’s important to write the perfect query letter and synopsis, and then I read a really great article on the subject and wanted to share.

One thought before I do: Your query letter and synopsis are supporting players to your manuscript. Ultimately, it’s your manuscript that will get an agent to sign you as a client, so working hard and as long as it takes to make your manuscript perfect is essential. But once that’s done, don’t short-change this next part. Even though the query letter and synopsis are supporting players, they are the first ones on stage, and if they don’t shine with brilliance, your audience won’t stay for the full show. So, take the time, do the work, no matter how frustrating it can be. If necessary, shelve your query letter and synopsis for a few weeks, just as you would your manuscript, to make sure it’s the best it can be before you send it out.

When I was submitting my first novel to agents, I worked hard on my query letter and synopsis, and my first query letter got a good many requests for the full manuscript — the goal — but it also got many no thank yous. Later in the process, I revised the query letter, and my ratio of requests to no thank yous rose enormously on the side of requests. (Ultimately, my first manuscript got back very positive comments about my writing, the story, characters, etc., but the agents I submitted to said they felt it wasn’t right for them right now. As I had finished my second novel and started revising it, I decided to stop submitting my first book and start again with my second, which is what I’m doing now.)

Ok, now for the sharing part. Writer’s Digest just posted a really great article about query letters by literary agent Ann Rittenberg, Basics of a Solid 3-Paragraph Query Letter. Ann gives an example of a query letter that worked for her and dissects the parts of a query letter and how they should be used.

But what I like best about Ann’s article is the statistics she gives at the beginning. They might be daunting, scary even, but they’re the reality, and the way to look at them is as a challenge. Let’s face it, with these statistics, the odds are against anyone getting a request from a query letter, but people do get requests (see above) and books from debut authors are published every year. There’s nothing to say that it can’t be your book or mine, as long as we put in the work that’s necessary.

Read Ann’s article but don’t feel discouraged. Feel energized, charged up that you are now closer to getting that request, closer to being a debut author, because you have something other writers must not: You have the keys that Ann is giving you about how to write a query that will get a Yes.

Coming next, more on writing a brilliant synopsis.

P.S. You’ve got til the end of this week to enter the contest to win a PDF copy of Laura Cross‘ book Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. Go to my post about ghostwriting and leave a question about this great writing option for Laura. I’ll send all the questions to Laura on Feb. 1 and she’ll fill us in on the details of this lucrative field in an interview on Day By Day Writer on Feb. 12. The person who submits Laura’s favorite question will get a PDF copy of her book. And make sure you come back on Feb. 12 to read Laura’s answers to your questions.

Write On!

h1

What books to read and the ALA winners

January 21, 2010

Revision update: Contrary to my lack of confidence yesterday, I buckled down and just finished my revision! Yay! Now on to beta reads. Fingers crossed.

The 2010 ALSC Award winners were announced earlier this week and with them, they bring an opportunity.

We all know that reading good books is one of the best ways to learn how to write — that and write, write, write, of course. And these best-of lists are a great way to find new books to put in your must-read list.

Now, one thing to keep in mind: The books in these lists cover all different genres, and you generally want to read the best books in the genre you write. So, if you’re writing a young adult coming-of-age novel, it might not help you to read a picture book or middle-grade fantasy. So, before you click over to Amazon and order every book on the American Library Association’s list, do some research and see which ones should make it into your shopping cart — or onto your library card.

On that note, I write middle-grade fantasy and I can’t wait to get my hands on Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. (Here’s a great review by Abby (the) Librarian).

Despite the genre, books with great writing, plot and/or characters are also good to read no matter how well they complement what you write, so load up.

What books are in your wish to read list?

Write On!

h1

Make the most of 2010

January 2, 2010

Revision update: Things have been going well. I’ve been steaming through the chapters, getting about six done in the past few days. It feels good.

Utah Children’s Writers’ Scott Rhoades wrote a fun New Year’s blog post yesterday with some ideas to help writers in this year. I thought I’d share my favorites and add some of my own.

From Scott’s list:

Make more time for writing. I’ve let this slide over the holidays, but I’m renewing my dedication to writing every day. It helps my writing, and makes me much happier. :)

Extend your writing circle. Writing is so solitary, and it’s great to go to conferences, local and far away, and make friends who can broaden your support group. I’ve got two conferences in the first two months, and I’m excited about them.

Make every day an adventure. This is similar to something I read in The Artists Way years ago and have always kept to heart, that to replenish our pool of creativity, we have to get out and inspire ourselves, either by visiting a museum, or going for a walk along a pretty street. It would be great to do it every day, but with work and everything, that can be tough. But do it as often as you can, and when you can’t get out, here’s a tip from me: Take a couple seconds to Google “flowers images” or “architecture images” or whatever inspires you and enjoy what comes up.

Now some of my own:

Set goals. Don’t make them too big or too small. Set goals that you can reasonably attain in a short time and reward yourself when you reach them. There’s nothing more encouraging than a feeling of accomplishment.

Read, read, read. Reading is the best way to learn to write better, and reading the bestseller books in the genre you write, is great research — as well as wonderful entertainment. Seek out the best of the best, classic and new, and read.

Read blogs. No matter where you are in your writing journey, it’s a good idea to keep up with what’s going on in the industry. But blogs also help us see that we’re not alone. The blogosphere is filled with writers at all stages of their amateur and professional writing careers, and we can learn from them, empathise with them, by inspired by them.

Keep your characters in your head. No matter what you’re doing, washing dishes, driving, walking the dog, cooking, laundry, let your characters come into your mind and play around. Listen to them talking. Keep them in your head, and when you sit down at your computer or notebook to write, they’ll be right there waiting for you. And they’ll have figured out the next part of the story already.

Got any tips for making the most of your writing in 2010?

Write On!

h1

New year, new writing goals

December 30, 2009

Pre-Happy New Year!

Just like most people, I’ve been kinda crazy over Christmas and haven’t gotten on here to post. I’m also way behind in my blog reading. But there’s one thing I have been doing: editing!

I’ve been working a lot on my revision, and although I’m no way near making my end-of-year finish goal, I should be able to be done by the end of January. On Jan. 30 and Feb. 20, I have critiques at the Austin and Houston SCBWI conferences, respectively. I’m hoping to have my novel in great shape by then so I can start sending it out.

Quick update on the status of my first novel. You might remember that I started sending it out to agents at the end of last summer. I got a lot of requests for the manuscripts, but the replies were all in the vein of, “This is great, but not right for us right now, even though I know I’ll kick myself later.” Rejections, yes, but all very positive. One agent is still looking over the full manuscript, but, as I had finished my second novel, I decided that instead of continuing to send to other agents, I would concentrate on the revision of the second novel and go back out with that one. So, that’s what I plan to do in the early months of next year.

That’s my first goal for the new year: finish revising my second novel by the end of January and have it going out to agents and the editors at the conferences in February.

Second goal for the year: write my third novel. I’ve got a bunch of ideas stored away, but one that I had around summer has been playing in my head for months. The main character has been talking to me, and I’ve got a rough idea of where the whole story is heading. I wrote my second novel in about three months this year, so hopefully, if I can start my next novel around February or March, I can be finished around early summer.

A new year brings new opportunities to make our writing better and move forward with our manuscripts and dreams.

What are your goals for the new year?

Write On!

h1

Story is key

December 18, 2009

Revision update: Got a bunch of good work in yesterday. Nothing yet today, but I plan to get to work after this post.

I found a great post on Larry Brooks’ Storyfix.com today, Get Published, Part 6–Avoid the Common Pitfalls. Brooks offers up six problems that get a manuscript a quick rejection, but the best part of the post is what he points out is not on the list: “pedestrian writing.” As he says:

Bestsellers abound with writing that is nothing other than pedestrian. Even, on occasion, by unknown writers.

Brooks points out that what these bestsellers have in common is good storytelling.

Sure there are lots of books out there with beautiful writing and fascinating word choices, but if that was all they were, they wouldn’t be published. Because as readers, while we might appreciate a great turn of phrase, we are entertained by developed flawed characters, intruiging plots, conflict, danger, comedy, etc. It’s what the words say that keep us readers turning the page.

Case in point, let’s look at three of the most successful writers right now: Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling. Now, confession, I’ve never read anything by Brown or Meyer, but from reviews I’ve read and what I’ve heard from friends who have read their work, these writers are not considered great writers. BUT, their books are so successful and they’ve earned such a huge group of fans because they can tell a great story. One friend of mine who read Twilight said that Meyer’s writing was ok, but she has an amazing way of drawing readers into her characters.

I have read Rowling’s books, devoured all the Harry Potter novels for multiple readings. I’ve heard some people say they’re written badly. Now, I disagree with this. I don’t think J.K. Rowling is a bad writer. Sure, the last book is better written than the first in the series, but I happen to like her fun and easy style. But I will admit that I don’t love the Harry Potter books because of the way they’re written; I love them because of the stories and the characters and the world Rowling built, filled with yummy food and fun.

Now, I’m not saying that as writers, we shouldn’t worry about how we write in favor of our storytelling skills. In today’s economy, agents and publishers have more reasons to say no to a book, and we must do everything we can to make sure they can’t say no. But what it does mean is that, it’s not enough to make every word count and have beautifully rhythmic sentences. If we want to get published — and especially if we want to be on the bestseller lists — we have to write complex, well drawn characters and a story that grabs a reader and won’t let go. That’s what Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling have in common.

How’s your story coming?

Write On!

h1

Read to write

December 12, 2009

Revision update: I can always tell the parts of my first draft where I was struggling. This morning, I found one of those parts at the beginning of this next chapter I’m working on, and I found a much better way to get into the story.

One of the many — far too many — blogs in my blog reader is Frenetic Reader, and she had a cool post today called I Would Read ___’s Books Just For ___. As she explains, she would read Beth Kephart‘s books just for the writing, Scott Westerfeld‘s books for the plots, Maureen Johnson‘s books for the charters, etc.

I love this. But it also gave me an idea about research for us writers.

If there’s an area we want to work on — plot, characters, word choices — we can read books that excel in those areas. We can learn something new, something good in every book we read. But, like Frenetic Reader points out, writers tend to be strongest in one or two areas, and the rest follows.

If you want to know what books to read for these different areas, read the reviews. Look at what’s on the bestseller lists and honors lists that are in the genre you’re writing and read what reviewers say. If you’re looking for books strong on plot, read the books reviewers say have a strong plot, or Google search review, your genre and plot and see what kind of results you get.

Most of the books in my must-read list I’ve found through reading about them in blogs, but I was only looking for popular books in the genre I write. From now on, I’m going to scour reviews and let them be my guide based on what I’m looking to build on.

h1

What to write next

November 4, 2009

I didn’t get too much done on my revision today, but I think I got some important sticky points figured out in my head. We’ll see if they work on paper. Fingers crossed.

Even though I’m still revising my second novel, a third novel has been playing around in my head lately. The main character has been chatting to me, and I’ve gotten to know her and her story pretty well. The thing is, the novel is a bit different than my first two, and I’ve been wondering if that’s ok or a bad move.

Interestingly, I read a great article today recommended by Editorial Ass on this very subject. Aprilynne Pike, best-selling author of Wings, wrote about firsts and how it’s important when you’re starting out to know where you want to end up. She said that, for most writers, where you start out in your career is often where you stay.

“Most authors tend to spend their careers in the genre they first break out in, and at the level at which they break out at. Bestsellers tend to continue being bestsellers (whether or not it’s justified), mid-listers often talk about how hard it is to break out of the mid-list range, and it is surprisingly difficult to move from a small publisher to a big one,” Aprilynne writes.

She went on to say that this applies to what genre you write in as well. So, knowing what you want out of your career should be a consideration when you’re breaking in.

What I got from Aprilynne’s article is that the first novel you write might not be the best one to start your career with. Aprilynne wrote a few novels before she got her agent, etc. So, instead of looking for an agent as soon as your first novel is ready to go, think about the kind of career you want and target your agent search toward that, even if it means writing a few more novels first.

(Something to consider: At the North Texas SCBWI conference last month, literary agent Lisa Grubka of Foundry said agents are getting more and more specialized in what they represent. So some agents will specialize in commercial middle grade, and others in literary YA, which is what Lisa leans toward.)

My career goals are similar to Aprilynne’s. I want to write commercial children’s fiction. Now, looking at my idea list, I have a two humorous middle-grade urban fantasy/fantasies with boy protagonists, one humorous middle-grade urban fantasy with a girl lead, one more dramatic urban fantasy with a girl lead, one middle-grade drama with no fantasy elements whatsoever and led by a girl, and one story that’s definitely YA but urban fantasy. My two first novels are humorous middle-grade boy urban fantasies, the second with sci-fi elements.

Mostly, I’m writing middle-grade urban fantasies, and I’m guessing that boy or girl lead isn’t going to matter too much. Suzanne Collins‘ follow-up to her Underland Chronicles series (brilliant, by the way; I finished the last in the series this morning), The Hunger Games (which I hear is even more brilliant and I can’t wait to start reading while I’m brushing my teeth tonight), has a female protagonist, and she’s 16, as opposed to Gregor’s 12. Of course, with Collins’ best-selling status, it probably wouldn’t matter too much. Aprilynne does point out that there are exceptions to the rule, with some writers successfully changing genre mid-career.

So, I think I’m on track so far with where I want to go in my career and the books I’ve written so far. The YA in my list is a little different, but it’s still an urban fantasy, and it’s a very personal story, so it might take me a while to write it. And the no fantasy title, hmmm, we’ll see.

But with the new story that has been talking to me lately, I have been wondering about the writing style, because it’s likely to not be too funny. Will that matter? Maybe. I don’t know.

And what if you’re a writer whose ideas are all over the place? How do you choose which to write next?

I always thought the answer was whichever story is talking to you the most. But after reading Aprilynne’s article, there are more things to consider.

How do you decide what to write next?

Write On!

h1

First lines, first impressions

October 28, 2009

I’m behind on my blogging about the North Texas SCBWI conference from this past Saturday. But I have lots of good stuff to tell you about.

Today, I’m starting with first lines. Editor Lisa Yoskowitz, with Penguin’s Dutton Children’s Books imprint, began her presentation by showing a number of first lines from classic books. These first lines introduce the reader to the book and — hopefully — pull them in. The lines Lisa showed were brilliant, and they made me realize something: This is what I’m striving for in my writing.

Here are two of my favorites from Lisa’s presentation:

“Where is Papa going with that ax,” Charlotte asked her mother as they set the table for breakfast. — Charlotte’s Web

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” — Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Both of these are brilliant in different ways, but they both pique interest enough to keep a reader reading.

Here’s what I found so amazing about these two:

Charlotte’s Web:

  • With the ax comment, a reader is immediately interested in what’s going on.
  • Introduces three characters right off the bat and their relationships.
  • Brings the reader smack back into the middle of the action of the story; no need to introduce Charlotte and say she lives on a farm, etc. Just straight to the ax.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

  • Introduces the main character and the type of boy he is swiftly and effectively.
  • Intrigues the reader because we want to know why Eustace deserves his name.

With a book, there are lots of first impressions that encourage a reader to spend their money and take the story home: the cover art, the jacket copy, the authors name. But if readers are like me — and I suspect there are a good many out there who do this — no matter how interesting the front picture and jacket description are, they won’t buy the book unless that first page, sometimes first couple of pages, draw them into the story.

That first page begins with that first line, and it should make a great first impression.

These kind of first lines are what we should be striving for in our own work. And then, of course, the rest of the book should live up to that.

What’s your favorite first line of a book?

Write On!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.