Friday, March 30, 2012

Top 20 from the last round

First of all, we had 82 entries last round - wow! I was particularly impressed because it seemed like a harder prompt to me.

Also, I have sent out all the emails with feedback for those whose names are not in this list. A couple came back to me, so if you did not make the top 20, and you haven't received anything from me yet, please send me an email at Stephanie(at), and I'll dig up your feedback for you.

Listed in alpha order:

Abigail Hartman
Alison (no last name given)
Allison Young
Amy Young
Emily Claire
Gretchen S.
Jessica Staricka
Jordan (no last name given)
Julie-Anne Hepfner
Jyllenna Wilke
Katelyn Marie Whitley
Laurie J. Curtis
Lydia Hart
P.R. Golden
Rachelle Rea
RaeAnn (no last name given)
Rebecca Pennefather
Rebekah Hart
Richard B.
Whitney Stephens

Congratulations everyone!

When should you give up on a story?

These are three questions from three different writers, all of which I received in the last couple weeks:

I've been working on a story for over half a year now and I'm committed to it, but I feel like I don't "love" it enough. I think about my plot and my characters all the time, but not in the same way that I think about my favorite books. I kind of think that if I don't love it, other people won't, either. Should I give it up and start some other story? Or is there any way to fix this lack of enthusiasm?

Are there signs for when you need to set a story aside? 

How do you know if you need to give up (at least temporarily) on one book and concentrate on another. I know sometimes its finding the right publisher for your book, but other times its the book itself. Especially with teen authors when our writing hasn't matured. How do you know if you need to move on? Rather than plowing through another revision...

In my 8 years of writing full time, I've been in this situation - is this book worth it? - more often than I'd like. I'll share my thoughts and experiences with you all, but ultimately as the writer, you are the one who gets to make that call.

Rejection is part of the writing business, as I'm sure we all know. Just because an agent reads your book and chooses not to represent you, or just because an editor reads it and decides it's not for them, doesn't mean it's a bad book. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected by 12 editors before it found a home. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was, according to the author, rejected 60 times.

The initial print run for this book was 1,000 copies. Amazing!
So your book may be The Next Big Thing, but still go through a season of rejection.

The first thing you may want to ask yourself is, "Does my idea have potential to be a great book?" Ideally you ask yourself this before you ever start it, but I had already been pursuing publication for 3 or 4 years before I figured that out. Of course this begs the question what makes a book great?

Does it:

  1. Have a main character in a sympathetic situation? (Using the examples of Harry Potter and The Help, Harry is an orphan being raised by a horrid family, and Skeeter is a white girl in the south in the 1960s who wants to help black maids tell their stories)
  2. Have a main character who is a hero in some way? (As a baby, Harry somehow defeated the darkest, most powerful wizard, though he's not sure how, and Skeeter is risking her life to tell an important story and provide social justice.)
  3. Provide a unique storyworld for the reader? (Hogwarts School, and tumultuous Mississippi in the 1960s)
  4. Have a theme or takeaway message that will impact readers? (Harry is capable of so much more greatness than he had ever imagined, or in The Help, equality for people of all races.)
  5. Have a great ending? (Don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't yet enjoyed Harry Potter or The Help, but the endings are great!)

Now, a book doesn't have to have all these things to be a good, entertaining story. Gossip Girl doesn't really have a heroic main character or a great theme, but it's still an engrossing read and addictive series. The unique storyworld (a peek at the life of unbelievably rich and spoiled teenagers from old money families in NYC) makes up for it.

Another thing I ask myself now is "Does it work structurally?" Sometimes good story structure happens naturally when I'm writing. Other times, when I can't get the book to take off, I realize it's because my structure is flimsy. My character is lingering too long in the "home world" instead of accepting the invitation to move into the story, or I haven't given her a strong enough opponent. That's one of the reasons why understanding good story structure can really help.

After I've asked myself some questions like the above, I have to ask, "Am I excited enough about this idea to invest time in it?" Sometimes I am. I rewrote Me, Just Different FOUR times because I just could not let the idea go. There were times that I shelved it, convinced it was unfixable, but I kept coming back to it. Ultimately it paid off.

Holding my first copy of Me, Just Different!

If you're questioning moving forward with your story, the first thing I'd recommend is putting it away for a period of time. A month or so. Either work on another project you're feeling excited about, or take a break from writing in general.

After you've gotten some space, pull the manuscript back out and read through it. When I've done this, I've had times where I think, "Yep. This is just as horrible as I thought." Then I put it away again, often forever.

Other times I've thought, "You know ... this isn't so bad. It's kinda good, actually. Maybe if I added this or that, it could work."

Another thing to try is having a friend look at it. Someone who will not only be honest but knows what they're talking about. Someone who at least reads a lot. Ideally someone who is a writer too.

Or if you suspect that your idea is good, that you have the elements of a potentially great novel, only you've been working on it so long it's starting to feel dull or stale, try flipping through a craft book like Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass or Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren. The exercises in there will encourage you to think differently about characters and plot, and they might help breathe some new life into your story. Because sometimes my story isn't the problem - sometimes I'm just being lazy.

While you're the only one who can decide if the story merits perseverance or if it's time to move on, I hope this has helped provide direction for a next step.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dealing with rejection

Don't forget - today is the today your 100 word entries are due! Don't miss the chance to get feedback from published authors Roseanna M. White and Christa Banister. Not sure what I'm talking about? Click here for details about the current Go Teen Writers' writing contest.

When I asked the Go Teen Writer's Facebook group about writing fears of theirs, one of the prominent ones was "rejection." Rejection from publishing houses, even though they've worked so hard to make their novel strong.

Rejection is part of the writing life. Really, it's just part of LIFE. But since writing is a choice we make, when the rejection (or the fear of rejection) grows intense and strong, it's easy to think, "Why am I even doing this?!

This is normal. All writers go through it. Even those writers you love and admire.

Since the majority of those in the Go Teen Writer community are unpublished, I'll focus on dealing with rejection then.

First, I encourage you to accept rejection is part of this path. The rejections you get from agents and editors, consider those preparation for mean-spirited Amazon reviews or bloggers who bash books for sport. Or for the really tough ones - the ones that offer criticism that you maybe, sorta, if-you're-being-100% honest agree with.

When rejection comes - especially when you're just starting out - it's completely normal that you feel like the victim of a drive-by shooting. The first time I queried literary agents, I lived in an apartment by myself. It's not too far from where I live now, and when I drive by there I always think about standing in the little mail room, ripping open the responses. Trying to race back to my apartment before I burst into tears.

In the beginning, I put a lot of pressure on myself to take rejection like a pro. To not let it bother me. Don't do that. It's okay to cry and be upset. Thick skin takes time to build and even now I'm not so sure how thick mine is.

I started querying agents in 2001/2002. Most agents still preferred snail mail to email, and social networking didn't exist. (Groan- I'm old!) So this isn't something I struggled with when I was in the early stages of my career, but do not, whatever you do, write a nasty blog post about who rejected you or vent about it on Facebook. It's a bad, bad, bad idea. I hear rumors that one of the first things an agent or editor does after they decide they like your book is they Google you. You do not want to be caught writing something nasty like that.

Instead, have a friend you can call when you hear bad news. They don't have to be a writer, they just need to "get it." Roseanna is the person I make those kinds of phone calls to, and I'm the one she calls too. We've never discussed this, but we both have an understanding that in that initial conversation, WE are not the problem, nor is our book. THEY have the problem. THEY are short sighted. THEY just passed up a huge opportunity.

After whichever of us was rejected as cooled off a bit, then we might allow that maybe - just maybe - the person was right about this particular thing they said. But only that! The rest is hogwash! Oh, well, they did make kind of a good point when they said such-and-such ... and how could we incorporate this suggestion of their's into the manuscript, because that's really not a bad idea. In fact, hadn't we already decided that this character was a bit flat..?

Those conversations are the best. I encourage you to build that kind of relationship with someone.

So if you can't blast them on the internet, how should you respond when you get a rejection letter from an agent or editor? You write them a thank you note.

On real paper, with a real stamp, and all that good stuff. You tell them thank you for taking the time to look at your submission, thank you for the feedback (if they provided any),  and you stick it in the mail within a day of the initial rejection.

This won't change their mind, of course, but it does take away the power the rejection has over you. I don't know what the science is behind that statement, but when I write my "Thanks for that great rejection!" notes, it feels like closure. I can breathe better after I drop it in the box.

Of course your rejection might be coming from a contest rather than an agent/editor. Back in 2008, I entered the first chapter of Me, Just Different in ACFW's Genesis contest. I'm sure I've mentioned this on here before, how I entered "knowing" the chapter would final. Uh, no. It did not. My judges were kind, but they were also honest. The biggest complaint was they hated Skylar. (Had I been on the phone with Roseanna, I would have said to her, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard! You're supposed to! What's the point of a reinvention if she doesn't need to be reinvented?!?")

But they were right-on with their criticism, and without it, I wouldn't have done my rewrite, and Me, Just Different never would have been published. I can see that now, but at the time, all I felt was the rejection.

This isn't to say that everything you read in a rejection letter is going to be good advice. I also had someone suggest to me that instead of dating, Skylar and Connor should become prayer partners. Maybe another writer could pull that kind of ending off, but not me.

And something to remember as you wrestle with rejection is agents, editors, contest judges, etc. are not rejecting you, just your book. I know how personal your projects feel because mine feel the same way. It's important to regularly remind yourself that they aren't calling you a self-absorbed brat, just your character.

When you get a rejection, or a particularly harsh critique from your writing group, don't be afraid to step back, and indulge in something that recharges you. For me, it's cooking something fun (read: time-consuming and messy) and having a movie night with my husband. What about you?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to get requests from agents and editors

I'm spending my morning speaking at  my old middle school's Career Day. This is my third year doing it, and I always go in feeling a bit queasy. Of course I once wore pleather pants in those hallways, so maybe the nausea is unrelated to public speaking. And Tweety Bird shoes. And-

Let's shift the conversation away from my bad fashion choices. Filling in for me today is a writer from our community, Leah Good, who... Okay, I'll just let her tell it:

Hello! My name is Leah Good, and I’m a seventeen year old author. I recently attended the 2012 Writing for the Soul conference where I had the opportunity to pitch my story to an editor and an agent. Stephanie has graciously agreed to let me share a bit of what I learned about getting ready for a conference and pitching.

Conferences are a great place to learn, network, and make contact with editors you would never be able to reach with a query letter. For the learning side of things, all you need to do is pack a notebook, pens, and a teachable spirit. Getting ready to pitch your book to an editor or agent takes a little more work.

Know Your Editors and Agents
There should be a list of attending editors and agents on the conference website. Start researching them by looking up each editor or agent’s submission guidelines. You will be limited in how many appointments you can have (my max was three), so this should help you weed out the editors and agents who don’t fit your book. When you finish this step, start learning as much as you can about the remaining professionals. If they have a blog, read as much of it as you can and take notes. Surf the web for interviews, and professional profiles. Try to make contact with authors the editor or agent has worked with.

When I decided on the agent I wanted to pitch to, I started reading through the last three years of her blog posts. It was a gold mine. In her posts she outlined what she wanted to hear in a pitch, what questions she was likely to ask, what her favorite books were, who her favorite characters were, and even when she got married! When I sat down to talk with her, it was exciting and satisfying when she asked one of the questions she had mentioned on the blog.

There wasn’t as much information available for the editor I pitched to. So instead of sifting through old blog posts, I started reading books she had edited. When I arrived at the conference I still didn’t know much about her personally, but I knew what writing style and themes she and her publisher were interested in.

Know What to Bring and What to Have Ready
Before you leave for a conference, know what the editors and agents you plan on pitching to want in a proposal. They probably won’t be ready to take a partial, synopsis, etc. at the conference, but if they ask you to send one you’ll want to do so as soon as you get home. Create your proposal and have it ready to go before you leave. (And bring a copy with you too. Just in case.) If they ask you to send them a proposal, you’ll probably have to tweak it based on what they tell you, but having it put together will save you a lot of time and stress.
A picture of the room where I pitched. This shows about half of it.
What editors and agents will take during an appointment is a one-sheet. A one-sheet is a single sheet of paper containing a synopsis of your story, a brief bio, and a picture that represents your story. Rachelle Gardner’s blog post on one-sheets helped me a lot.

And the Pitch
At the conference, I was lucky enough to have a session with a pitching coach before my editor/agent appointments.

(Stephanie cannot resist interjecting. Pitching coaches exist?!?! I had no idea! Okay, back to Leah.)

McNair Wilson taught me several important things. When you pitch, sit on the edge of your chair and make eye contact. You want to appear alert and professional, not bored. Don’t speak too quickly. You’re going to be nervous and nerves make you speed up. Concentrate on slowing down and speaking clearly.

Give your elevator pitch first and try to get the editor interested enough to ask questions about your story. In that elevator pitch, don’t give your characters names. At this point, names won’t mean anything to the editor. Instead, focus on the character’s relationship.

My pitch (post-coaching version) is, “What would happen if a childhood friendship between a slave and his master’s son continued into their teen years despite being forbidden? My story, Forever Freed, explores this question and shows what happens when friends are separated by an auction block.” Instead of using my main characters names, I called them “the master’s son” and “the friends”. Finally, pause before and after saying your title for the first time. Give the editor time to absorb it.

Getting ready to pitch is a lot of work, but it pays off. When you are waiting for your appointment, knowing that you have prepared to the best of your ability will help give you the confidence you need.

If you have questions, leave them below or feel free to pop over to my blog!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lisa T. Bergren is here!

I'm super excited to host Lisa T. Bergren today!  Ms. Bergren has authored many books, but it's her River of Time series I want to highlight today. It's a teen time travel series in which two girls go from modern times to medieval Italy. I love how it combines the wonderful I-can-do-anything-I-put-my-mind-to mentality of the modern girl with the chivalry and honor of the men of history. A really captivating series.

And if you've already finished the first three, make sure you check out Bourne, a novella that continues the story. (I just received a copy - super excited to dive in!)

It was Rachelle Rea and Katie McCurdy who introduced me to the River of Time series, so I invited them to ask Ms. Bergren some questions as well:

From Rachelle, "Are you a plotter or pantser? Can you give us some insights into your writing process (what's unique about it, etc.)?"

I have a general idea on both plot and character arcs--"I want them to arrive here having accomplished/learned this"; the rest is a total pantser process, which I love, because it gives the story room to evolve along with the characters and plot. (But it makes writing a synopsis for my publisher really, really hard. I pretty much guess and send it in with the caveat, "Subject to change!")

Also from Rachelle, "If you could meet any writer, alive or dead, who would you meet and what would you ask them?"

Stephanie Meyer. "Can you read WATERFALL and consider telling your legion of fans what you thought?" But that might be more self-serving than what you were really after with this question... :-)

Most of the time, when I've read a book, I wonder about specifics--why they chose a certain setting, what they intended with a certain scene, if I understood a particular metaphor...I'd like to know what made C.S. Lewis turn the corner and become a believer, why Stephen King is so drawn to horror, what Dean R. Koontz really believes about God. But I don't really idolize any author enough to have a burning need to talk to them. Maybe it's because I'm an author myself, and I take another's story as an influence on me for the moment, and potentially longer, but it's not huge for me. Books and author fame have kind of settled into a "this is my work life" thing for me. I'm more intrigued with the people in my real, day-to-day life. :-)

From Stephanie - You are stranded on a deserted island and can bring only one book with you. What do you bring? (Aside from the Bible, let's assume the Gideons have been there and covered that).

See my response above. I've never been enamored enough with a book to read it more than once (there are always so many others in my stacks!), so I have no idea what I'd bring for the long haul. Perhaps some sort of heady theological volume, since I'd have all kinds of time and high need to entertain my brain. Or maybe something as simple as a daily devotional like Jesus Calling or My Utmost for His Highest, to help keep me focused.

I had never heard of My Utmost for His Highest until I started asking this question in interviews. Clearly, I need to get my hands on this book.

Lisa, I loved the River of Time series, but I gotta say ... the idea of choosing to be in the middle ages forever kinda skeeves me out. (I'm a big fan of flush toilets. And toothpaste.And Chinese food.) As Gabi wrestles with the decision (true love but no deoderant versus the safety of being a woman in the 21st century but no hunky knight) what kind of thoughts were going on in your mind?

I agree! Those thoughts that she was having were my own. It'd be really, really difficult to give up on modern conveniences--my comfort foam mattress, hot water, grocery stores, medicine.

Must be why Gabi's struggle felt so real! If you could somehow found a portal and could communicate to your newbie writer self (this isn't such a stretch for you to imagine, is it?) what are 3 nuggets of wisdom you've learned during your writing career that you wish you knew when you started writing?

(1) It takes tenacity. You have to stick with it, day in and day out, to get a manuscript done. Even if you're writing 250-500 words a day, you can get a novel done, in time. But you have to be determined and make yourself return to it.

(2) It's good to keep learning, and studying the craft of writing is always valuable. Writer's Digest, writers' conferences, even taking a class on writing. Good stuff.

(3) Don't take it so seriously. Just enjoy the process. If you get to publish, cool. If not, hopefully it's still grown you and entertained you in some way.

This question comes from Katie, "You know how crazy I am about Lord Rodolfo Greco, so I just have to ask...was he a character you planned to take such a central role in Torrent, or did he just suddenly make himself a main character?"

He totally shocked me by how he arrived, stayed, and grew. That's part of my pantser process that I loved. I got to the section where they're tracking Gabi and Lia and I thought, "Hmm. Wouldn't it be interesting to have him be handsome and irritatingly good at his task?" I wanted to humanize the villain--I already had an evil through-and-through character in Paratore. I wanted Greco to be more complex. And good grief, he pretty much stole the show!

Also from Katie, "Out of the three guys in the series -- Marcello, Luca, and Rodolfo -- which guy do you like the most?"

Marcello. He's so steadfast and loyal and sacrificial in his love. But Luca's charming humor and Rodolfo's intensity are certainly attractive in their own right!

Again from Katie, "You've written a variety of books, of different time periods. Which is your favorite to write? Medieval? Historical? Contemporary?

I like the historical context of any period. It gives me good fodder for the plot--what was happening at that time in history and how might it have affected my characters? It gets the wheels turning...What I adored most about River of Time was the combination of historical and contemporary. It just flowed out of me, it was so easy to write. Definitely a sweet spot that has me thinking about other time travel romances...

Which I'm sure your fans would welcome! Thanks so much for being with us, Lisa!

Question for you guys - if you could live in any time period, when would you pick? Or if your answer is like mine (I'm happy where I am, thank you!) what would be the hardest modern convenience for you to give up? I think Target might be a tough one for me. Though "epidurals" keep popping to mind too...

Lisa said she could pop in from time to time today, so when you leave your answer, feel free to tell her hello!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Seamless Setting Descriptions

One of the things I've noticed in my early manuscripts is I have practically zero details about the setting.

Part of this is because I've read books that (I felt) had waaaaay too many details about the draperies and the wallpaper and such. I knew I didn't want to be that kind of writer.

But I know the main reason I don't talk about settings much in early drafts is because it's hard work to pause, imagine the setting, and seamlessly weave in those details. Taking a paragraph to pause the story and describe a room? No biggie. But that "seamless" business....

When I think about seams, the thought that pops into my head is the nylons women used to wear with seams down the back.

'Back in Business.' photo (c) 2010, Lauren Hammond - license:

(For those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, yes - that's why the internet search for nylons with seams!)

My grandmother once told me that during the war when women had to do without nylons, her and her friends would draw seams on their legs to make it look like they still wore them. (As a modern girl this makes no sense to me, but I'm sure it seemed natural at the time.)

This is not the effect you want in your novels. You don't want any blocks or "seams" of description about the setting. You want it to be woven in so fluidly the reader doesn't even realize you're describing the setting to them.

I'm puling an example from a historical novel, Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland by Roseanna M. White, because not-overdoing-details seems trickiest for historical and sci fi/fantasy writers.

This comes from chapter one, the opening of the second scene:

Emerson scraped the tavern chair across the wooden floor, fell into its hard seat, and, for the first time in his memory wished Wiley Benton would hold his tongue for five blasted minutes. He barely saw the familiar whitewashed walls, the wainscoting, the multitude of friendly faces. His mind still reeled, wrestling with images of those blinding diamonds - and the equally blinding tears in Lark's eyes.

Ms. White does a couple of great things here. First, she establishes the setting within the first couple lines, but she doesn't linger there. She keeps the action moving ("Emerson scraped" or "his mind still reeled") yet still she manages to slip in details about their location.

Another great thing is Ms. White picks specific nouns and verbs. We talked about this in regards to description in general, and it applies to your setting details as well. We don't need to see every crack in the wall and every speck of dust. Be intentional with what you pick. Ms. White starts us off here with some general details about where her characters are, but those words work hard. It's not just a chair, it's a tavern chair. And the combination of Emerson "scraping" it and his frustration with Wiley's chatter tells us this is a noisy place.

Also, make sure you're describing the setting through your character's eyes. This is extra tricky when your character is somewhere familiar to them, like their home, or in this situation, the coffeehouse Emerson frequents. The most natural way to achieve this, I've found, is to tie an emotion to whatever they are describing. The lace curtains they've never liked. The scratched up table your heroine bought ages ago with her good-for-nothing college boyfriend.

In the example we've been looking at, Ms. White does this with, "He barely saw the familiar whitewashed walls, the wainscoting, the multitude of friendly faces." Emerson's mind is whirling from the encounter he just had with his betrothed, so he's not paying attention to specifics, just the blur of his surroundings.

Jill Williamson did this fabulously in Replication. One of her POV characters, Martyr, is a clone who has never been in the outside world. The descriptions in his POV are wonderful. Because of his background of living in an underground facility with no windows (duh) and hardly any color, when he's finally moving around in the real world, he calls houses facilities, bedrooms cells, and attaches color to everything. Makes for a wonderful reading experience.

And don't overlook dialogue's role in establishing your setting, particularly for you historical writers. Observe this exchange between Emerson and Wiley, which happens a few paragraphs down from the first example:

As the proprietor stalked off, Wiley lifted his brows in that particular way that bespoke both humor and confusion. "What plagues you, man? You have been playing the dunderhead ever since we left Endover."
"I played it while there too." Indulging in a mild oath, he swept his tricorn off his head and plopped it onto the table between them. "I upset your sister."

What plagues you? Dunderhead? Even before we get to the tricorn part, this dialogue roots us well in the time period (Williamsburg 1783) and in the man cave of R. Charlton's Coffeehouse.

I know something I need to work on is being more mindful of where my characters are. Especially in the first draft, I tend to focus on dialogue and action, and I don't take the time to think about where I've plopped my characters and how to make that place come alive for readers.

What about you? What part of your writing comes naturally, and what part do you have to be intentional about?

(By the way, Roseanna M. White is one of our judges for this round's contest. Don't forget to enter!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ask an Editor: 5 Ways to Keep an Editor from Deleting You

By Roseanna White, acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing

Getting an editor’s attention—and keeping it all the way through a proposal—is tough. Pinpointing the “right way” to do this is also tough. But you know what’s pretty easy? Pinpointing the wrong way to do something. ;-) So that’s what we’re going to cover today—those things that will get your proposal sent to the trash bin before an editor even opens it.

Let’s assume you’re doing cold calls, just sending out queries to publishers or agents you see online. Resist the urge to send out a query that sounds like this (and for reference, this is based on actual queries I’ve received, yes. Don’t laugh. Okay, laugh. I did.)

Hello Mrs. Rossana Black of WhiteBlaze Publishing,

Do you want to publish the next bestseller? Well, I’m coming to you today with an opportunity to do just that! My fictional novel is destined to be the next Harry Potter and will appeal to everyone from age 9 to 90.

The Story of a Truly Great Lady is an epic historical fantasy love story based on a true story that God revealed to me in a dream, in which He told me I must write this book and that it would save souls for Him. I know you want to obey the Lord, so please find attached the complete manuscript of Truly Great Lady as well as three chapters of the third book in the series, though I haven’t written the second yet. TGL is 400,000 words and is completed. I realize this is long, but I’m sure you’ll agree that nothing can be changed without losing the essence of the story God Himself gave me.

Please respond promptly, as if you don’t jump on this opportunity, I feel certain another publisher will.

Your Servant,
Jack Benimble

Ahem. Now, where do I start? Oh yeah—at the salutation.

Avoidable #1 – Get Your Info Right

Please, for the love of macaroni, do not misspell an editor’s name or, even worse, send them a letter made out to someone else! Sounds basic, I know, but it’s happened to me. Several times. Needless to say, I didn’t request anything from those people. If you don’t know the editor’s name, that’s okay—a “Dear Sir or Madam” works fine, as does “To Whom it May Concern” or even “Dear Acquisitions Editor” or “Dear WhiteFire” (in the case of my house). But let’s note that my name is Roseanna, not Rossana. White, not Black. And it’s Fire in my publisher’s name, not Blaze or Rose or House. (Catch that one? White House? Tee hee hee)

Avoidable #2 – Do Not Be Presumptuous

Again this might sound basic, but there are a lot of people who think that to sell their book, they have to make it out to be the best thing ever. Resist the urge—humility goes much farther than pride. Do not liken your book to an all-time bestseller. Do not claim your book will be the next one. And for goodness sake, do not make it sound as if you’re doing the publisher a favor by submitting to them. That won’t gain you any points. And this applies to later parts of the sample query there, too. Don’t try to tell me this is what God wants—it may be, but that’s something we have to decide through prayer, not just because a query tells us so. And one of the biggest presumptions—don’t say your book is perfect as is! It’s not, I can promise you that. We all have to change things, and saying up front you’re unwilling to do so will have an editor hitting that delete button before you can say, “But it’ll make you millions!”

Avoidable #3 – Know Your Target Audience

By telling an editor your book will appeal to everyone, you’re basically telling them you don’t know who you actually intend it for. Narrow it down. This doesn’t mean people outside your target won’t read it and like it, but you’re trying to tell the publisher to whom they should aim their marketing. Men or women? Kids or adults? Baby-boomers of Gen-Xers? When I submit a proposal (this is writer-me talking), I always say it’s aimed at women, the standard readership of 35-50, but that it will also appeal to 20somethings. This tells the publisher that it’s a romance with a traditional readership, but that I bring a younger voice to it, so they can market it to the new generation of adult readers.

Avoidable #4 – Messing Up Your Book Description

I know Stephanie has covered on here how to define your book’s genre. (Oh wait, I think I actually guest-posted something on that, LOL.) Know it, and know it well. Don’t ever, ever call it a “fictional novel.” The redundancy makes us cringe. ;-) Also don’t try to cover every possible genre in your description. I got a query a couple months ago that left me uncertain whether the book was fiction or non-fiction. Not a good thing. Keep it simple, concise, and accurate.

Avoidable #5 – Not Reading the Guidelines

My last point is this—each publisher has very specific submissions guidelines, both in the kind of books they want and how you can send them. Read them. If they say to send a query first, don’t attach anything. If they ask for a proposal, send the correct elements—don’t assume you know better what they want to see than they do. Pay attention to the particular things they’re looking for, and in what format they should be. I, for instance, growl when an attachment is a docx. I have to save them, let my computer reformat them, then hunt down the folder and open them. In the two minutes that process takes, I could have opened up a regular doc file, read the first two pages, and made a decision about whether I wanted to read more or not.

So there you have your 5 simple steps to avoid getting deleted. Now, as for how to get a request . . . that’s another post. ;-) Have questions? I’m happy to answer them here or to dedicate a future post to them!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing Contest: The Type of Person Who

I'm really excited about this round's contest, and I hope you guys will be too. I'll share what the prompt is, and then for the first time I'll give a sample. This is a different type of prompt, so I hope an example will help clarify:

NAME was the type of person (girl, boy, man, woman, etc.) who

So here's an example of how this might look when the sentence is completed:

Skylar was the type of girl who never asked her friends what they thought of her clothes. She knew she looked perfect.

I've never offered examples before because I feared limiting your creativity. But this is a prompt I saw in a writing textbook (What if? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter) and I didn't fully understand what they meant until I read the samples, so I thought I would provide one to show you guys what the intention is. If you still have questions, feel free to either email me or leave them in the comments section.

Your word limit is 108 words (prompt sentence + 100 words) and is due Wednesday, March 28th by 11:59pm Kansas City time.

Think of the prompt sentence as the opening of a novel. Your job is to draw the reader in, and give them a hint of your story world and the action to come.

You may email your entry to me by clicking here or at Stephanie(at) Include your name as you would want it to appear on the website, and no attachments please!

I always send confirmation emails, so if it's been 48 hours and you haven't heard from me, feel free to check back.

The contest is for those age 21 and under. One entry per person please.

For more details and a sample winning entry, click here.

The judges this round are:

Christa Banister (I told Christa that my goal for 2012 was to correctly spell her last name in every post. I'm 1 for 1, Christa!)

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog. For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website. 

Roseanna M. White, author of two Biblical love stories and LOVE FINDS YOU IN ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND makes her home in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, two small children, and the colony of dust bunnies living under her couch. After graduating from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD, she and her husband founded the Christian Review of Books, where she is the editor. She is a member of ACFW, HisWriters, Biblical Fiction Writers, and HEWN Marketing. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Q&A: My Story is Happening Too Fast!

A writer asked me, "How do you keep stories from unfolding too quickly? I feel like my stories move too fast."

When I first started writing, my stories always moved too fast as well. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those elements of story writing where I can just say, "Oh, do this and this and that'll fix it." Every story is different and pacing is one of those trial and error, doing-it-by-feel kind of things.

In a way it reminds me of when I was a kid and I would ask my mom, "How do you know when you're in love?" and she would say, "I don't know, you just ... do. You just know."

Finding the right pace for your story is kinda like falling in love. When you've found it, you know.

But same as you can find a thousand books on finding the right guy or girl for you, learning to love, etc., I do have some thoughts about why your stories could be unfolding too quickly.

First of all, your story might be unfolding too quickly (or not quickly enough) because it's your first draft. My first drafts are very stripped down, so I have to do a lot of adding to them. I have to slow down the story. Many other writers write too much in their first draft and have to take stuff out.  So if you're noticing that your story is moving at the wrong pace, it doesn't mean you've done a bad job. It just means you haven't edited for pacing yet.

When I look back on my too-much-too-quick stories, I often notice missing elements. "Hey, there's no black moment. That's why the ending feels rushed." What I'm noticing is poor story structure.

I know we're all creatives and we don't really like to think about our stories needing a structure. It's art! It's free expression! It doesn't need rules!

Studies have shown that when kids know the rules, they feel safer and are able to thrive. The same is true for your story. To work properly it needs structure. Can some rules be bent or broken? Of course. But to be an effective story, it's always going to need a few things. Like a beginning, middle, and end.

A quick search on Go Teen Writers tells me that I haven't talked about story structure very much. Hmm. Let me add that to my list. Angela Hunt has a great tool she calls the "plot skeleton." There used to be a link on her blog, but after an extensive search in her archives, I can't find it. Grr. I know it's been published now in Novel Idea, so maybe she took it down. There's a bit of it here, anyway. My teaching on story structure won't be nearly as good as Ms. Hunt's (I would not be a published writer had I not taken Angela Hunt's class) but I'll see what I can do.

Another thing that can make my stories  move way too quickly is telling the story instead of showing it. We talked about this some in tips for writing good sentences. It's a lot easier and faster to write stuff like:

Stephanie poured herself another cup of coffee and sat with her book. She liked coffee a lot, which wasn't a surprise because she had been raised by two coffee enthusiasts.

But it's a lot better to show how much Stephanie likes coffee:

Stephanie poured the remaining drops of coffee into her cup and curled into a chair. All seemed right with the world when she had a paperback in one hand and a hot cup of coffee in the other. If they could see her now, Mom and Dad would be proud.

Stephanie really does love coffee. This is me enjoying a French press with my parents right before their coffee house opened.

It's easier for me to tell the story rather than show it, because that keeps me from feeling it so much. When I hold the story out at a distance like that, I don't have to feel my characters' hurts and sorrows. Of course it also keeps the reader from experiencing the book the way they would like to, which is why ultimately you have to learn to suck it up and jump down in the trenches with your characters.

When you're telling your story rather than showing it, it causes your story to lack depth. Let's go back to Stephanie and her coffee. In the second example, it's much easier to deepen the roots of the character's activities.

Let's try adding a little something to our original sentences:

All seemed right with the world when she had a paperback in one hand and a hot cup of coffee in the other. If they could see her now, Mom and Dad would be proud. For once.

But if you're telling the story, you're reduced to something like, "Her parents had never approved of her lifestyle." It lacks, doesn't it?

(And for the record, my parents are wonderful!)

Something else that might be causing your story to unfold too quickly is you aren't allowing your characters to experience consequences or go through the five stages of grief. This is a big thing I notice in my early stories. My characters zip from emotion to emotion during arguments and they bounce back from tragedies (big and little) far too quickly. When your character experiences a set back, they need to grieve.

Hope this is helpful! If you have writing questions, feel free to voice them on the Go Teen Writers Facebook page or send me an email.

Next contest opens on Monday. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to Get Adults to Take You Seriously

by Rachel Coker, teen writer extraordinaire (Stephanie added that part.)

Hey kids! How’s it going, pip-squeaks? Wassup, youngstas? Argh, don’t you just hate it when people (grown-ups) say things like that to you? They may think they’re being funny or endearing or (shiver) hip, but it doesn’t always come across that way.

Nothing is harder than earning respect from adults. Especially if you are a teenage author.

I think there are a lot of different reasons why adults, specifically in the professional field, tend to dismiss teenagers as not being capable of the same responsibilities and opportunities as those twenty-one and older. I’m not sure what it’s like to view the youth of America from the eyes of a fifty-two year old male, but I’m pretty sure all the bubble-gum snapping girls with ponytails run together.

And no matter how loudly you protest, “But I’m different! I’m, like, responsible!”, all they’ll hear is the unnecessary verb in your second sentence. Sad, but true.

When I first set out on my quest to be published, my age was very clearly one of the biggest obstacles facing me. Because, to be honest, I was just a fifteen-year-old kid. What did I know about life or writing great works of literature? What was there about me that would make a big company like Zondervan turn around and take notice?

The more I thought about that question, the more I realized the answer was nothing. I was another one of those ponytail-rocking teenage girls who uses the word “like” way too much and calls everyone over the age of eighteen “sir” and “ma’am” when she gets nervous. But, even though I realized this about myself, I knew that I had to do better. I had to come across as someone professional and adult-like. Someone that the adults in the publishing world could be comfortable working with.

While I am the first to admit that I am anything but a well-articulated, impressive young woman, I do have some tips to share about how to fake it pretty well. I’ve only been working with adults for less than a year, but here are some pointers I’ve picked up about how to get them to take you seriously:

Learn How to Express Yourself Well Through Writing

I am definitely not the best public speaker in the world (although I’m working on it!), but one of the few things I am good at is writing. If you’re good at writing as well, congratulations! You’ve probably got it made. Because ninety percent of the work I do is through emails. So I’ve learned to express my thoughts to my contacts at Zondervan through short, concise emails. If I don’t like something, I’ve discovered how to politely tell them so. If I have another idea or concept for how something should look, I describe it as best I can. The better you are at explaining your thoughts and feelings through (short!) emails, the more the adults you are working with will grow to respect and value you.

One other free tip: Always use spellcheck. Always.

If You Are Supposed to Do Something, Do It

This may seem totally, smack-your-forehead obvious, but it is something that took me a while to learn. If someone from Zondervan asks me to do something, I have learned to do it, and to do it fast. It’s embarrassing to get emails asking why things haven’t been turned in days after their deadlines. Not only is it embarrassing to me to have to explain why I didn’t do what they wanted me to, but it makes me look bad. It lowers their trust in me. If an agent, publisher, or any other adult you may be working with asks you for something, get it to them ASAP. You will come across as pulled-together, prompt, and dependable.

Try To Cut Back on the Teen-Lingo

I tend to be very sarcastic and youthful on my blog, but that is mostly because I know that my primary audience is teenagers. I try to keep a very different tone when interacting with agents, publicists, or editors. Throwing around words like “totally sweet”, “awesome”, or “epic” just doesn’t look good in work-related emails. No matter how much I overuse those words in my everyday life, they don’t have a place in my professional vocabulary.

Obviously, no teenager is perfect and you may slip up every now and then (I certainly have—especially when I get excited—I’m pretty sure I have abused exclamation points on several occasions). Hopefully the people you are working with will remember that you are a teenager and have a right to exclamation points, but for the most part try to keep it professional.

React to Criticisms With Graciousness

There’s a reason why people call complainers “cry-babies”. It’s because there is nothing professional or adult-like about someone throwing a hissy fit. If someone in the publishing or writing world has some criticism to offer about your book, you should listen to them and respond graciously. Whether or not you agree with what they have to say really doesn’t matter. Instead, listen with an open ear and be willing to make changes if it means improving their work.

Maintaining a gracious tone when someone criticizes or even bashes your writing can be extremely difficult, but it can also make you look like someone who is mature and ready to take on the responsibilities of an adult.

Well, that’s about all I have to say about that. On this topic at least. Hopefully, you’ve either learned something about achieving a professional mystique, or you’ve just been totally humiliating over the memory of an email you sent with about seventeen exclamation points. Either one is an appropriate response.

I love answering questions, so if you have any, feel free to ask them here or hop on over to my blog! You may want to order my book while you’re at it, since it’s finally available!)

Note from Stephanie: Rachel is away from her computer for a bit, so it may take her a couple days to respond.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Facing the Fear of Wasting Opportunities

One of the writing fears that was brought up on the Go Teen Writers Facebook page is of blowing opportunities - a request to send a full manuscript, fumbling a verbal pitch with an editor - and not receiving a second chance.

I always get nervous before pitching or teaching, and it's because I recognize that it's an opportunity and that there's a chance I'll blow it.

This is no fun to say or think, but let's be honest. Sometimes I have completely failed. I have received requests for a full manuscript that is still full of first draft ickiness. I once gave a talk in front of 200 high school students that I completely botched. I've walked away from editor appointments and thought, "That didn't go well at all."

I have completely failed, and if you're human, I'm guessing you will to sometimes. It sucks, but it's the way things are.

Some pep talk, huh?

Here are a couple things I've learned from my failures:

Before you start knocking on doors, make sure you've done your research

When I was 16 and had finished my first full-length manuscript (or so I thought - the "book" is actually 17k, which I think is somewhere between a short story and a novella) I hopped on the websites of some publishing houses to find their address.

I discovered an odd phrase during my address hunt - "unsolicited manuscripts." The big houses did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. But some smaller ones did.

So without any regards for what quality these houses were or what books they published, I jotted down their address. I printed my manuscript, filled out an SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope - also a new term to me), and dropped her in the mail. I think I submitted to four. Two of them ignored me, one jotted some kind of "no thanks" on the first page of my manuscript and mailed it back to me. The fourth wrote an incredibly nice note to me saying I seemed very talented for my age but my manuscript didn't fit in with their current needs. They even offered advice about my poor ending. (The further in this business I go, the more I'm amazed they even read it.)

After that experience, I decided - gasp! - maybe I should do a little research and figure out how exactly one goes from being an aspiring writer to a novelist.

Wait until the manuscript is "done" before sending out queries

This was the next big mistake I made. So I had discovered there were these people called "literary agents," and that I needed one of them first if I wanted a shot with a big publishing house. And that I should determine what "genre" I wrote. And that instead of printing off my manuscript and just mailing it to people, I should instead write a "query letter" and include an SASE. I think discovering all that took me about 10 minutes.

The book listing literary agents suggested I pick out five, send them my query letter, and then wait for my rejections before sending out more. It sounded like the whole process might take some serious time. So, practically the moment I typed The End, I perfected my query letter and mailed it to 5 agents.

Shockingly, within a week two of them requested full manuscripts.

I was at least smart enough to realize that my manuscript (this time a respectable 61k) was in serious need of revisions. I also knew I should get back to those agents as quick as possible.

I allowed myself a week to revise and take care of the other strange requests the agents had (what should go in a n author bio? And what's a synopsis???) and then I put everything in the mail and just hoped for the best.

They were rejections, as you might guess. But I learned I did not want to experience that particular brand of stress again. Before I sent out query letters next time - I vowed - that manuscript would be pristine.

Accept where you are writing-wise

This was hard for me. Because I wanted to be publishable, and I wanted to be publishable now. Here I'd had two agents ask for my full manuscript, and if only I had been smarter about when I sent my query letter, I might already be published! I definitely viewed it as a blown opportunity.

But I still had so much to learn. I wasn't even close to being ready to be published. I didn't know about POV or action beats or showing rather than telling. AND THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Every writer starts somewhere. It's okay to not be ready yet.

I didn't get second chances with those agents. But everything has still worked out just fine.

Be prepared

As I'm typing this it seems obvious, yet it's advice I  tend to neglect. If you have an opportunity on the horizon - a writer's conference, a chance to pitch your novel, a request for a book proposal - be as prepared as you can.

If we're talking about something written, like a book proposal or back cover copy, the good thing is you don't have to get it right the first time, you can edit. Just make sure you're not putting off edits, that you're giving yourself plenty of time to polish your prose.

But if it's something verbal, sadly there's no editor. Freaked out about your "elevator pitch," the 30 second spiel that will hopefully entice an agent or editor to ask to hear more? Then practice it! Fine tune it on paper and recite it whenever you can. Practice it on anyone who is willing to listen and give constructive feedback. Recite it when you're driving or showering. 

If you've been given a fifteen minute appointment with an editor, make the most of it. At a conference, I had pitched my project and the editor had requested I submit it to her ... and we still had ten minutes left before my time was up. Fortunately I had prepared a list of questions about the writing market. We chatted casually about writing and publishing for the next 10 minutes. I learned a lot about her house's views and needs, plus we developed a deeper relationship.

We all tend to put off tasks that are unpleasant, or at least I do. But whatever it is I'm nervous about - that class I agreed to teach or that dreaded question "what's your book about?" - is gonna happen whether or not I'm prepared.

Know your limits

There are some parts of my job that I don't like but that must be done. Like elevator pitches.

But after failing a few times at some publicity opportunities, I have learned a lot about what I can handle and what I can't. Like that vague motivational speeches to 200+ teenagers is not a good scenario for me. Nor should I agree to six 45-minute classes (back to back) in which I talk to English classes about my life as a writer. Turns out my mind gets mushy around class number four, my voice gives out in the middle of class five, and my stress headache lasts until the next morning.

It's great to say yes to opportunities that come your way. It's also okay to say no if you figure out something isn't your thing.

So those are my thoughts. Be prepared for the opportunities you can predict and learn from your mistakes. 

This is me headed to my first real writer's conference. I am unprepared, terrified, and wearing jeans. But I learned a lot!
Tomorrow Rachel Coker is here talking about earning respect from adults and then on Friday I'm going to attempt to answer a question about plots that unfold too quickly or too slowly. Yikes.

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Free Write Contest Winning Entries

Here are the winner's from last round's 100 word free write:

First Place
Madison Hines (received 2 votes)

Second Place
Samuel LaRue
Jessica Staricka

Third Place
Jessica Staricka (also placed 2nd)
Alyssa Liljequist

Honorable Mention
Lindsey Bradford
JT Valun

And for your reading pleasure, here are some of the winning entries and a note from the judges about why these pieces stood out.

By Madison Hines, first place

I walk down the hall, my uniform skirt swishing around my knees, and I can hear the whispers. They rasp against my ears like leaves on a sidewalk in autumn. They crawl into my brain, whispering things like "slut", "easy", "tramp". They hole up in my heart and slither down my throat into my stomach. The squirm under my skin and wedge beneath my fingernails like bamboo slivers. I can feel them in every breathe I take, every time I place my foot on the yellow tiles of St. Claire's Academy for the Excellent, which I most certainly am not.

The judges say: If there was a place higher than first, this belongs there. I hope this writer nurtures and treasures her gift of creating such powerful prose. Sometimes, these schoolgirl pieces tend toward high drama or over-indulgence. This one avoids relying on the cliched. The piece is fluid, the figurative language/sensory detail vivid, and the structure controlled. Loved the closing sentence with the play on the school name. Bravo! / Powerful! This sucked me in. I feel for her and that’s hard to do in just 100 words. FANTASTIC job and great description.

By Jessica Staricka, second/third place

Something heavy and cold rushed away from me, and I forced my eyes open. I could still feel a weak echo of its weight on my body: fear, betrayal, making a horrible mistake... The feelings weren't mine, but they didn't seem unfamiliar. Panting, I stared at the slim man kneeling before me. “I'm so sorry,” he said, looking sympathetic and concerned. “I passed right through you. That was entirely my fault.” I just kept staring at him, opening and closing my mouth like an idiot. Why could I see the stars in the sky...through his head? 

The judges say: Ack! I want to read more! That is a great set up and hook. So unique and suspenseful and fun. I want to know what happens!! I love the proper, formal speech of the slim man, and the main character’s shock and reaction. Just great!/ I confess that I skimmed past this entry on my first read as the opener didn't entice me. But the second time, I "got it," and now I want to read the rest of the story!

By Alyssa Liljequist, third place

I pressed my fingertips into the splintered log until my blood began to darken the wood. Evangeline waited with strips of linen. “Why didn’t you like my embers idea, Katherine?”I shook my head. I would take the sharp pain of wood slicing flesh over smoldering embers any day. My fear of fire ran deep. Even my best friend didn’t know how deep. It had left scars no one could see. Evangeline bandaged my bleeding fingers as the memories closed in on me. The stinging pain was nothing compared to what would happen if this ruse did not work.

The judge says: Wow! Intense. Very powerful and emotional. I definitely was drawn in and want to know what is going on and why she is in the position to have to choose between such painful options. Very good job!  

By JT Valun, Honorable Mention

The wind was stinging my raw and already frozen hands. I had been scaling this perfectly vertical tower since dusk of this moonless night, trusting my life to two thick ropes and hooks. They had brought me a hundred feet; only fifty now remained, but that stretch was known to be the sheerest of all. I flung one rope and my hopes upward. Shattering glass soon interrupted my prayers, prompting five whispered words from me: "Please don't cut the rope." My two targets and my current client were mutual enemies. I was now working for all of them at once.

The judge says: Great ending hook! Very impressive. I liked this a lot – very unique and suspenseful. Love the double agent implication at the end.

By Lindsey Bradford, Honorable Mention

Ian looked up at the sky. The tree swayed gently beneath him, the only thing in the world willing to hold him. How could his plan have gone so horribly wrong? He had planned for everything, and they had thrown it in his face. He could still see them… His father recoiling in disgust… his sister backing slowly away from him… his mother’s hollow “This doesn’t change anything, Ian,” that he knew to be a lie… They saw him as a freak. They might never love him again. Ian pulled his wings around himself and tried desperately not to cry. I almost cried with that line about “the only thing in the world willing to hold him”.

The judge says: Very powerful. I also love that we don’t discover what was wrong until the very end, with the subtle mention of the wings. Very X-Men-ish. Love it!

Monday, March 12, 2012

8 Tips for Getting What You Want

Practically the moment my author site went live - which was months before my debut novel, Me, Just Different, released - I started receiving requests for favors. Including complete strangers who wanted to know if I would read their manuscripts. I found this shocking since my book wasn't even available yet. How would they know if my opinion should matter to them?

I don't mind being asked favors. After all, I frequently ask favors of others too. I rely on many other writers to make Go Teen Writers possible, from guest posts to giveaways to judging contests. So I don't mind when people ask if I can read something for them or write an endorsement, but there's a good way to ask a favor and a not-so-good way.

The following advice can also be applied to finding an agent and writing query letters as well.

1. Grammar Matters

Maybe this seems basic (I hope it seems basic) but I'm shocked by how often I receive emails that say something like this:

I have always really like too right. Would you read the first chapter of my fictional novel?

You know what goes on my head? If you can't manage to write a few decent sentences, I'm guessing your manuscript is in horrible shape.

Maybe that's an incorrect assumption ... but I have no way of knowing because I've never said yes to a request that looks like that.

Look, we're all people. I can never remember if I should use effect or affect and typos happen. But I'm pretty sure I can tell the difference between a typo and pure laziness. If you're too lazy to proofread your emails, that communicates to me that you're too lazy to pour energy into your manuscript. And if you're too lazy to write a decent email/manuscript, why on earth would I invest my time in it?

2. Why me?

I don't have exact stats on this, but I would say I'm 75% more likely to do a writing favor for someone if they establish why I am being asked. Is it because of Go Teen Writers? Did a personal friend recommend me? Have they read the Skylar books?

I don't need to be flattered, though heartfelt compliments certainly help. Especially unique ones, like, "I had a friendship exactly like Skylar and Jodi's and reading So Over It gave me hope that we could repair the damage we had done to each other." If that person asks me to read the first chapter of their manuscript, I am way more likely to say yes. Not because I feel flattered or obligated, but because they've established a connection with me. They are soliciting my opinion for this specific reason.

This is valuable for agents as well. Why are you querying them, they want to know. So you might say, "Dear Mr. Agent, I really enjoyed speaking with you and the such-and-such conference." Or if you haven't had the good fortune of meeting them, you can say, "Dear Mr. Agent, I notice you represent this author, who's one of my favorites." Or, "Dear Mr. Agent, I've read on your blog that you're looking for vampire dystopian chick lit set in an Amish community, and that's what I write!"

After all, if you received a random email from someone you didn't know and they were asking you for something, wouldn't your first question be, "Um, who is this person? Why are they emailing me?"

3. Be specific

When I'm asking an author to endorse a project of mine, I'm as specific as I can get. I provide a description of the book and offer to send them a portion or all of it if they're interested.

Or if I'm trying to get them to come on the blog or judge one of our writing contests, I get as specific as I can. I clearly lay out what kind of time it will take and what will be expected of them. Then I tell them what the benefits will be.

Yet I regularly get emails that are incredibly vague.
  • "Can you read my book?" Well ... how long is it? What's the genre? What's it about? 
  • "Can you do an interview?" I don't know. What's the blog? What kind of traffic do you get? How long will the interview be? What are my expectations the day it posts?

Being specific makes it clear that you are professional, courteous, and that you...

4. Understand the value of time

Time isn't like money, where if you spend it all you can just earn more. There are only so many hours in the day. I am instantly fond of anyone who expresses in their favor-asking-email, "I know you're very busy." Referencing my two little kids earns bonus points. (They've obviously taken time to research me, and honestly it feels like a validation of my feelings anytime someone expresses, "You have two little kids to take care of - you are busy.")

Look, if you hang out on Go Teen Writers, I automatically wish I could read your book. I wish I had time to brainstorm with you and critique your query letters and visit your blog everyday. I want to, but I have my own books to write and (as mentioned above) two little kids.

I used to close all my query letters to agents with, "Thank you for your time." It's a nice way to recognize that someone is using their valuable time just to read your email.

And, while we're on the subject, thank you for taking the time to regularly read Go Teen Writers.

5. Don't include your "stuff"

By which I mean, don't attach your first couple chapters without an invitation to do so. Or copy and paste them into the author's contact form. It's presumptuous.

6. Don't close with "write me back!"

This is also presumptuous and really grates on me. It's kinda like when someone send you an email and everything is in capital letters. I have a cousin who inexplicably wrote in all caps all the time. I assume she just didn't understand that all caps = yelling in cyberworld, but I still found it grating.

7. Make it look nice

And I'm not talkin' about spritzing perfume on your query letters or using pink text. Regardless of what Legally Blonde would have you believe, the best choice is always white paper, black text, and a simple font. Let your words do the work for you.

8. Don't send "but" emails

I've had this happen to me a couple times where I respond with a "thanks, but no" and I receive a "but" email back. Like, "Okay, but could you just look at the first chapter?" Which then forces me to send yet another "thanks, but no."

I know it's tempting to give it another go - I know that because I'm completely guilty of sending "but" emails - but it puts the person in an awkward position.

It is nice, however, to send a response of some kind. A simple, "I understand. Thank you for your time" kind of email will suffice.

If you're worried about making a good impression on agents, editors, and other professionals in the writing world, these eight rules will take you far. This is an industry that not only relies heavily on email, but that also values words. Developing good email etiquette is key to success.