Saturday, September 29, 2012

100 for 100 writing challenge update

For those of you who are participating in the 100 for 100 challenge, I wanted to let you guys know we've had a slight change to the rules. We're implementing a "grace week." Which means if one week you only write 500 words or 200 words or even 0 words, you just plug the number into your slot on the spreadsheet and we'll count it as your grace week. Because sometimes life happens and there's just no point in beating yourself up over it.

We're almost to the end of week three! Happy writing!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rhetoric, Part Three: Polysyndeton & Simile

by Jill Williamson

Here is my conclusion on rhetoric. I wrote two other posts on the subject. In case you missed them, we first talked about anaphora and amplificationrhetoric. Then we talked about asyndeton, climax, and metaphors. Rhetoric can add a lot of fun to your writing. There are so many more types of rhetoric than I covered.
Click here for a more in-depth list.

Polysyndeton is the use of conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. It is the opposite of asyndeton; however the effect of polysyndeton shares a feeling of multiplicity, a never ending list, and a building up with that of asyndeton.

Here are some examples:

I said, 'Who killed him?' and he said, 'I don’t know who killed him but he’s dead all right,' and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights and windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was all right only she was full of water. –Ernest Hemingway, After the Storm.
I wanted to help him when he fell, but I couldn’t see, but I couldn’t hear, but I couldn’t feel.
Not only that, but for my sake, for your sake, for the sake of the others like us, and for the sake of every living creature on earth.
The sunset, like an artist’s palette, was a mix of yellow and orange and red and pink and purple and blue.
“Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war—not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government—not any other thing. We are the killers.” –Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.
Simile is a comparison between to unlike things that resemble each other in at least one way. A simile can use ‘like’ or ‘as’ to compare.
He strode past Lady Tara and pulled open the door. Carmack framed the doorway like a second gate. Achan patted Carmack’s shoulder as he slipped by. 'Good man.'” –Jill Williamson, To Darkness Fled.
Uncle Vernon sat back down, breathing like a winded rhinoceros –J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
After such long exposure to the direct sun, Mrs. McKennwick’s skin was wrinkled and dry, as a raisin becomes when all the life has left the grape.
Similes can also be used like adjectives:
The girl had a coconut-like smell.

Or to convey what something is not like:
She was nothing like the kind of friend a girl always dreams of having, the kind who will do anything for you and keep any secret.
Your turn! Share one of your own similes or give ploysyndeton a try.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Should you set writing goals?

by Stephanie Morrill

Once a month on Go Teen Writers, we're lucky enough to have a group of authors take the time to answer a writing question. This month's question is:

Do you ever make writing goals for yourself? What kind of goals do you make and how often?

When I'm nearing deadline, a have a minimum word count number per day, and try to do 1000 words before I do anything else (email, Facebook, shower). That jump-starts me and sets the tone for the whole day's productivity.

When I’m drafting, I have a goal of 2,000 words per day, five days a week. I don’t always meet that goal, but having it in place helps me know if I’m ahead or behind. When you’re working on a deadline you can’t afford to be behind for too long.

Absolutely! Without goals, I'm not sure I'd ever get anything done! I'm a big fan of checklists, too. There's something so satisfying about checking something off a list. Done! I set a daily goal of 1,000 words. If I'm on deadline and I miss that goal, I know I have to make up for it in the days to come. I also set reading goals because I believe continuing to read is an important part of being a writer. My goal is to read at least 24 books a year. I've fallen short the last few years, as I've written more than one novel during that year, but I get close. I also set goals to attend a certain number of conferences each year (I teach at several writers conferences throughout the year). I also set goals for other projects––volunteering at a homeless shelter, antique/flea market shopping and decorating projects, traveling to different parts of the country (and hopefully world!) These are fun things, but I consider them work-related because they broaden my horizons and hopefully make me a more interesting person, which in turn, makes my novels more diverse and more interesting.

I usually make writing goals when I'm on a deadline. I figure out how many weeks I have until my deadline and divide that into the amount of word count that I have left. That tells me how many words a week I need to write to meet my word count by deadline.

All the time. They are like New Year's resolutions. I never keep them.

I lost motivation while writing my most recent chapter. I had to say to myself, "Ok, write two more pages, and then you can hold the pet bunny." My soft, cuddly rabbit is a great motivator.

Sometimes I set a monthy goal -- either word count or page count -- or a far-off-in-the-distance completion date. Mostly I don't pay any mind to personal deadlines, unless it's for an obligated assignment. I tend to write as it comes to me and finish up, well, when I'm done.

What about you? Do you set writing goals for yourself?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

News Teen Writers Can Use

by Stephanie Morrill

I'm back home from Dallas, where I attended the annual American Christian Fiction Writers conference. It delighted me to meet several girls who I knew through Go Teen Writers and to hear how well their meetings with editors and agents went.

Jill Williamson, Roseanna White, and me heading into the awards dinner
Here's the great news. Editors - at least in the Christian market - are excited to meet with young writers who are talented storytellers. One of girls had requests from Harvest House and Bethany to see more of her historical manuscript. Another had a request from AMG and the editor was so excited that an agent took notice of her as well.
Gillian Adams (how darling is she???) and me at the awards dinner

Roseanna White, Amanda Barritt (teen writer extraordinaire!), and me in the book store
I have a couple potential publishing opportunities I want to bring to your attention. Jill Williamson came acrossa Publisher's Weekly article which talked about YA in the Christian market. OakTara, apparently, is specifically looking for teen writers:

Ramona Cramer Tucker, cofounder and editorial director, OakTara
Looking for: fantasy, sci-fi, realistic fiction; medieval fantasy series aimed at boys; issues fiction; teen writers. “One reason we launched OakTara in 2007 is because there was very little Christian YA fiction being published; sci-fi and fantasy especially were missing. Our passion is to go where the readers go and offer fiction that will tantalize their interest. We aim at the mainstream reader but from a Christian worldview.”
Details: Especially looking for teens who are really good writers, and for fiction that will attract male readers. “We’re looking for fresh, unique novels with the broadest audience, and we are passionate about meeting the needs of the writer as well as the reader.”

And at the conference I sat in on a "spotlight session" for Zondervan where the editors talked about what they're looking for, what they're excited about, new things at the company, etc. One of the things they talked about is Zondervan First, a digital imprint "dedicated to publishing new e-books each month, rapidly delivering the best in Christian content to today's e-savvy readers."

How it works is you submit your manuscript - your entire manuscript - on their website. They stressed that they're looking for very clean manuscripts that don't require much editing. Their editorial staff will still be copyediting and all that, but they don't want to have to invest a lot of time in tightening the story. Right now they're looking for adult fiction (though they eventually want to do a YA line as well) in the following genres: Contemporary, Historical, Suspense, Romance. And any combination of those, I would assume. (Like "Historical Romance")

Honestly, I think it looks like a really good opportunity to break in. There's no advance, but you do get 50% royalties on all sales. You get the Zondervan name and the prestige that's tied to it. You have an editor and cover designer and all that. They say they'll market them, though it looks to me from the literature I'm reading on it, that they're really going to marketing the digital imprint as a whole rather than specific books. It looks like they'll feature totals on the homepage and stuff, but that the bulk of the marketing responsibilities would fall to you. Which these days is true regardless of how you choose to publish.

Anyway, you can find tons more details on the Zondervan First website. Their launching the line with Dina Sleiman who's a friend of Go Teen Writers, and I'm sure will be happy to share her experiences with us.

I tried to squeeze these pictures into the post, but it just wasn't working well, so I'll just post them at the bottom.

Me, fellow YA writer Betsy St. Amant, and my new bud, Lori Chally
Jill and me in a Friday night class ... trying to stay awake.
Erica Vetsch and me, heading into breakfast

Monday, September 24, 2012

Examples of Query Letters for Novels that Sold

by Jill Williamson

This past summer, Roseanna White wrote a great post called, What does the perfect queryletter look like? This is an excellent post with an excellent example. I like examples. And I think you do too. So I scavenged up some more examples of query letters to post here today. These are three letters that worked. The books were published. I cut off the names and addresses here for privacy, but make sure to include those in your own letters.

First is the query from Melanie Dickerson’s The Woodcutter’s Daughter, which became the novel, The Healer’s Apprentice. Melanie was an unpublished author when she submitted this letter to agent Mary Beth Chappell, who agreed to represent her as a result of this submission.

 Dear Ms. Chappell,

The Woodcutter’s Daughter is an 88,000-word historical romance. Sleeping Beauty meets Pride and Prejudice when a betrothed prince falls for a woodcutter’s daughter whose secret identity endangers both their lives.

Rose’s status in fourteenth century Germany is low, so when the town healer asks her to be her apprentice, she is determined not to ruin her chance at respectability. The problem is, she gets sick at the sight of blood and is more suited to making up stories than sewing up a gash. Lord Hamlin is honor-bound to wed his betrothed, but when he is wounded by a wild boar, Rose is the only person available to tend his injury. Against his will, Lord Hamlin is drawn to her beauty and integrity, so much so that he devises a plan to end his betrothal so he can marry Rose. In the end Lord Hamlin defeats Moncore, his betrothed's enemy, and (... I [Jill] cut out the spoiler in case you haven't read the book!) 

The Woodcutter’s Daughter won first place in the 2007 Fiction From the Heartland Contest, finaled in the Dixie First Chapter Contest, and won fourth place in the Gotcha! Contest's Inspirational category.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and the assistant coordinator for the ACFW book club, which reaches over 500 Christian fiction readers. My short stories and articles have appeared in national children and teen publications. I have an active blog,

Please allow me to send a synopsis and the first three chapters of The Woodcutter’s Daughter for your consideration. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Melanie Dickerson

Melanie did a great job. She gave the title and length right up front. Then she gave a great hook. "Sleeping Beauty meets Pride and Prejudice." Brilliant. She also gives a tight one-paragraph synopsis, mentions that the story finaled in a contest, then ends with her professional writing affiliations and that she's published some articles and short stories. She also says what she wants at the end: "Please allow me to..." That's important. This was a great letter.

Second is my query letter for Prince Gidon, which became By Darkness Hid. I was, technically, an unpublished writer when I submitted this letter to Jeff. I had been planning to publish Jason Farms, which became Replication, with a small press. (So glad I waited!) I did write an early reader missionary book for my church, which isn’t exactly a novel. And I had published several articles.

Dear Mr. Gerke:

Bloodvoicing is a gift, an endowment to communicate from one gifted mind to another. For a slave to have the gift is unheard of, yet one slave has more power than all the rest combined.

A young adult fantasy novel, Prince Gidon tells the story of two young people with a unique, ancestral ability to speak to, and hear, the minds of others: a slave forced to serve a prince who wants him dead and a young woman masquerading as a boy to avoid a forced marriage. The novel alternates between their points of view until their stories collide on the battlefield.

Judging from the steady stream of medieval fantasy novels on the bestseller lists, young adult readers remain fascinated by epic fantasy adventures. Projects similar to mine like Eragon, Dragonspell, Chosen, and The Bark of the Bog Owl bring a fun mixture of fantasy and faith to the Christian market.
I have two books contracted. Jason Farms will be released in spring 2009 (a young adult suspense novel from The Wild Rose Press), and A Mango and a Mud Church will be released in 2010 (an “all reader” book from Beacon Hill Press). My articles have appeared in Brio, Brio & Beyond, Shine Brightly, and Devo’Zine. My husband and I have worked with teens in the youth pastor role for nine years. I researched medieval life and swordsmanship for three months before I started to write this novel and can provide a works cited page.

If the premise appeals to you, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the project. My agent, Terry Burns at Hartline Literary Agency, can provide a marketing proposal and the complete 96,000-word manuscript.


Jill Williamson

Enc. Synopsis, One Sample Chapter

Jeff told me that this was one of the best letters he'd seen. What impressed him was my opening hook paragraph. He also liked the "...until their stories collide on the battlefield" line. In my letter, I tell very little about the actual plot. But it was enough to bait Jeff to want to see more. I mentioned the market and some successful titles from the time. I also gave my publishing credits paragraph and ended with what I wanted from him.

Finally, Cara Putman’s letter for A Fort Robinson Summer, which became Sandhill Dreams, book two in her series with Heartsong Presents. This letter is a little different because it is for a book two. Cara was already published when she submitted this letter.

 Dear JoAnne,

Enclosed please find three sample chapters for A Fort Robinson Summer as well as a detailed synopsis and chapter by chapter summary.

A Fort Robinson Summer is the story of Lainie Gardner and Thomas Beckner and the challenges they experience on the home front during World War II. Lainie is Audrey’s best friend in Canteen Dreams, and a year has passed from the end of that book and the beginning of this one. Lainie and Tom’s story is told with the K-9 Training Camp at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, serving as the backdrop. During World War II half of the K-9s used in the army during the war were trained at Ft. Robinson, a quartermaster post tucked in the northwestern corner of Nebraska near South Dakota and Wyoming.

From the moment Lainie and Tom meet, sparks hot enough to light the prairie on fire fly between the two. Tom is assigned to train the dogs that have been sent to the army by a patriotic public. The only problem is he’s deathly afraid of dogs after being bit by one as a child. Lainie travels to Fort Robinson to find a civilian job at the post after her plan to ship overseas with the Army Nurses Corp. is ended by illness. A Fort Robinson Summer tells the story of their romance.

It is my pleasure to submit this proposal for your consideration. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Have a blessed day!

Cara C. Putman

Because Cara didn't have to sell herself as a writer, she didn't need to mention word count, give a premise hook, or publishing credits. She was simply able to focus on the plot. She gave two paragraphs about the story and ended with her request.

What do you guys think? Any questions?

Friday, September 21, 2012


Go Teen Writers is closed Friday and Monday because we're living it up in Dallas for the ACFW conference. We'll be back Tuesday, September 25th. See you guys then!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Avoiding Stereotypes

by Rachel Coker

Rachel Coker is a homeschool student who lives in Virginia with her parents and two sisters. She has a passion for great books and has been surrounded by them all her life. When she is not writing or playing the piano, Rachel enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Interrupted is her first novel.

I think we've all been in this situation before. You're starting out on a new book, and you have a fantastic cast of characters all lined up. You're all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with all the optimism in the world. Everyone is going to just love your book about an orphaned princess who never knew who her mother was and is trying to escape the clutches of a jealous stepmother. There's a wise old wizard helping her along her quest and an adorable, sweet mannered little sister by her side. Then, somewhere along page 127 of your masterpiece, you pass your story along to a friend and ask for her opinion. The news she returns couldn't be more sobering:

 She's heard it all before.

Because you, my friend, have fallen into a dangerous pit. It's called the "stereotype", and I've been there before. It's not a fun place to be. You started off with high hopes of a fresh, new story of an orphaned princess, but failed to realize that just about every author has been there and done that and there's not much room for uniqueness anymore. The same goes with wise wizards, jealous evil queens, and sweet little sisters. They're all overdone and if you're not careful, they have the potential to turn your precious story into a boring, predictable mush.

But never fear, because I'm here to help you! As someone who's debut novel was the story of a bitter orphan girl, I know a lot about the danger of stereotypes, but I also know how to bust them. I'm not going to tell you that you can never write about an orphan, or an evil queen, or a sweet little girl. Because you most definitely can. I'm just here to suggest some ways to take the same old dreary ideas and make them fresh and exciting. It's all about adding the right kind of twist, and turning your story from boring and predictable to new and amusing!

So let's talk about the first stereotype. I'm referring to the mopey, depressing orphan girl. Some of you may remember Allie, from my book Interrupted: Life Beyond Words. She's a great example of fitting into the orphan genre, without being stuck in the orphan stereotype. Because Allie was far from mopey and boring. True, she was sad at times, and she still held on to a great deal of bitterness, but the girl had extreme spunk. She was sassy, and sarcastic, and had so many interesting mood swings. At times she could be happy and almost sweet, then the next minute she's throwing shoes and hurling insults. ;) The point is, she's interesting to read about. You never really know what she's going to do next. One minute she's optimistic and then the next she's cynical. She keeps the reader on an emotional rollercoaster that's always entertaining.

Another great example of a unique orphan would have to be Ella from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. (Let's pause for a brief second to also talk about how much better the book is than the movie. Seriously.) True, Ella only lost one parent instead of two, but since her father is never around, her life is very similar to an orphan. And she's about as un-interesting as could be! She's feisty and witty and funny and makes life brighter for everyone around her. You never see her moping around or romanticising her lonely life. Instead she's out learning how to talk to ogres and save herself from a fairy's curse. That's interesting, people.

Wise old people are also overly stereotyped all the time. Probably because there are so many wise older people in real life. Whatever the case, it's getting annoying to read about it. Why are all these old chaps the same? Quiet, poetical, always speaking in condensed sentences brimming with wisdom and philosophy. It can add a lot to a book, but it can also make it boring. If you must have an older character in your book, why does he or she have to be quiet and wise? Why not short-tempered and sardonic or long-winded and vain? Why not an older man who shouts German curse words when he's mad or an older woman who constantly starts every sentence with a sigh and, "Well, when I was a young belle in Georgia..." That would be much more entertaining to read. Or if you must have a wise character at all (I mean, if your story really demands it and you're going to be that way), why does it have to be an old person anyway? Why not a smart-cracking little boy who's wise beyond his years or a pushy aunt who always seems to know the right thing to do and doesn't mind telling everyone else about it?

The last stereotype I'm going to address (mostly because I'm running out of room--I'm really on a roll and could do this forever), is the evil, jealous woman. Why do people always assume that evil-ness and jealousy go hand-in-hand? I wonder how many people in real life try to murder princesses because they're jealous of their gorgeous hair? Think outside the box. I think that people usually commit murder for other, much more psychologically disturbing reasons. Be creative.

So there you have it, young writers! Three examples of over-used stereotypes and a few ideas of how you can bust them. I've probably offended just about everyone still reading by now, but that's okay since I can criticize myself, too. I do tend to stereotype sometimes, and it's something I'm always working on. In my opinion, one of the hardest parts of writing any book is staying unique and fresh, and I'm always looking for ways to improve that. So hopefully this helped some of you in any way. Don't be afraid to think of your own ideas, or to attack other stereotypes that I didn't even mention here.

As always, you can read more of my overly sarcastic, sometimes helpful advice at my blog, and go ahead and like me on Facebook! My seventeenth birthday's tomorrow--it can be your early gift to me. ;)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to Get Your Novel Published Part II

by Stephanie Morrill

On Monday I posted the full list of steps for getting your novel published, so today I'll start breaking them down.

1. Write a full length book.

Often new writers know they want to get published or find an agent long before they know a thing about story structure or what genre they write. There's nothing wrong with wanting that, but before anyone in the publishing industry will take you seriously, you'll need to prove yourself. And one of the things you'll need to prove is that you can write a full length book.

Nonfiction writers can often sell on a partial manuscript and detailed outline, and published fiction writers can sell on a partial, but I rarely hear of new writers who sell a book without having written the full.

Which means learning to write a great, full-length book is your highest priority as an unpublished writer.

Here are some resources that can help you along the way:



2. Educate Yourself on The Industry

This is something you can be doing while you're writing that amazing novel of yours. Here are some things you should consider looking into:

  • What responsibilities are involved in being a published writer?
  • What part of the job would I like? What would I not?
  • How much will I make?
  • What is the process of a book going from a manuscript to a finish product?
  • Who is publishing books like mine?
  • What is already on the shelves, and do I see any gaps that I could fill? How is my stuff unique from what's already being done?
  • Are there writing groups in my area that I could join?
  • Are there on-line writing groups for me?
  • Is there a writer's conference near me that I could attend?
  • What are literary agents? Acquisitions editors?
  • What is involved in self-publishing? What are the pros and cons? What about traditional publishing?

Fortunately, tons of people in the industry have industry-focused blogs. Here's a

Pub Rants: Literary agent Kristin Nelson runs this one. It's described as, "A very nice literary agent indulges in polite rants about queries, writers, and the publishing industry." She has a bunch of helpful links under her "Cool Blogs and stuff" sidebar. Including this one that I'm particularly fond of:

Brooklyn Arden by Cheryl Klein, who's the editor at Arthur A. Levine. Her editor's site is great too:

MacGregor Literary is one I refer to often on here. It's primarily agents Chip and Amanda who blog on there, but they have great stuff to say about marketing, the industry, and writing in general.

I also love literary agent Rachelle Gardner's blog. Very popular and lots of great information.

I said this on Monday as well, but you don't need to know everything about publishing before you start submitting queries, but regularly reading blogs likes those listed above can help prevent you from making naive mistakes.

Next we'll cover identifying your genre, growing your audience, and putting together a book proposal.

Have questions? Leave 'em below!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Punctuation 101: The Comma

By Jill Williamson

Punctuation had never been my favorite thing. But I needed to learn the rules to look like a professional author. So do you! Trust me. One mistake here or there won’t get you rejected. But it your manuscript is filled with punctuation errors and misspellings, an agent or editor won’t keep reading.

I’ll try to explain this as simply as possible without boring you to death, but I highly recommend picking up a grammar book for your own reference. The Chicago Manual of Style is the reference for the publishing industry. Add a used copy to your wish list. It’s a great tool to have on your shelf.

I’m also not going to give you every comma rule. But here are a few that I see misused often.

Commas with Coordinating Conjunctions
There are seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet. Basically, these are words that connect two clauses in a sentence. If you have a sentence that has one of those seven words in the middle, how do you now when you need a comma before the conjunction or not?

Simple. If the words on both sides of the conjunction are complete sentences by themselves, you need the comma to avoid having a run on sentence.

Ex: “Almost everyone on earth likes chocolate, but I can’t live without it.”
(You need the comma before ‘but’ because “Almost everyone on earth likes chocolate” is a complete sentence and so is “I can’t live without it.”)

If the sentence had one side that wasn’t a complete sentence on its own, a comma would be wrong. “Almost everyone on earth likes chocolate but my Aunt Sue who lives in Charlotte.” Since “My Aunt Sue who lives in Charlotte” is not a complete sentence, therefore a comma is not needed.

NOTE: For a very short sentence, you can omit the comma.
Ex: The bus departed and we were on our way.

Commas After an Introductory Word Group
When you start a sentence with an introductory word group, you need to separate it from the rest of the sentence with a comma.

Ex: When Martin was ready to eat, the waiter brought him a salad to start with.

NOTE: The comma can be omitted here in a very short sentence.
Ex: In no time we were in a different state.

Commas Between Items in a Series
When three or more items are listed in a series, those items should all be separated with commas. This applies to single words, phrases, or clauses. Note that a comma goes before the conjunction at the end of the sentence.

Ex: My favorite candy is M&M’s, Skittles, and Gummi Bears.
Ex: You can choose from going on a hike up the mountain, playing paintball in the field, going on a canoe ride, or swimming in the pool.

Commas Between Coordinating Adjectives vs. No Commas Between Cumulative Adjectives
Adjectives are coordinate if they can be joined with ‘and’ or if they can be scrambled and still make sense. Commas are required between coordinate adjectives.

Ex: Michael is a strong, tall, talented basketball player.

To test this example we first see if we can join the adjectives with ‘and’ and keep the same meaning.

Ex:  Michael is a strong and tall and talented basketball player.

Next we scramble the adjectives to see if this has an effect. Ex: Michael is a talented, strong, tall basketball player. Same meaning? Yep!

Cumulative adjectives lean on one another, with each modifying a larger word group. They do not require commas in between.

Ex: Four small white doves flew toward me.

When we test this sample joining the adjectives with ‘and’ is doesn’t work. Ex: Four and small and white and doves flew toward me.

When we scramble them, it also changes the meaning. Ex: “Small four white doves flew toward me.” This doesn’t work nor does, “White small four doves flew toward me.”

Thus ends this lesson on the comma. May you treat the little fellows well. And avoid mistakes like this:
How about you? What's the funniest comma mistake sentence you've seen?

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to Get Your Novel Published

by Stephanie Morrill

Recently I've had a few questions from teen writers that go something like, "I really want to get my book published. What should I do?"

And I usually just kinda stare at the screen for awhile, trying to pick which response I should given them.

Do I talk about finding a publishing house that's a good fit? Because really, getting an editor practically requires a literary agent these days. So maybe that's how I should respond. Well, but that leads to query letters and writers conferences. And, gosh, before querying you should really make sure you have a good proposal put together with the right genre and target audience and such, or you're likely just wasting your time. Oh, and you should also have written the book ... is it insulting to start there?

And as fun as it is to fumble through a response every week when I receive that question - picture me rolling my eyes - I thought maybe I'd put together a somewhat comprehensive blog post on what a writer needs in order to get published.

Everybody wants to be published long before their skill level merits it. And there's no shame in that. Just like there's no shame in a pre-med student wanting to someday be a doctor. In fact it seems rather obvious, doesn't it? Of course they want to be a doctor, they're a pre-med student!

But while a pre-med student has a clearly trodden path to follow to becoming a doctor, the correct path for a newbie writer to grow into a novelist can be tougher to discern.

Every writer's path is different, but I've attempted to break down some general, tangible steps with brief explanations. I'll go into more detail on each of these later in the week:

1. Write a good, full-length book

This one surprises a lot of people, but until you're an established author, no literary agent or editor will sign you until they've seen a full manuscript. Having a great idea for a book and writing a great book are two different things - they want to be sure you can do both.

2. Educate yourself on the industry

Before your print off your 90 page manuscript and mail it to Random House like I did as a 17-year-old, take some time to learn about the industry. What houses are publishing new writers? What ideas are already on the market? What conferences are good? What kind of writing groups are in your area? What's the difference between self-publishing and traditional? What's the job description of a novelist, or an agent, or an acquisitions editor? 

You don't have to know everything about the industry, of course, but it's good to be sure you actually want this job before you invest so much time pursuing it.

3. Work to identify your genre, target audience, and brand.

This is tough for creative types who don't like to box themselves in, but these are details agents and editors need before they'll take a risk on a new writer.

4. Grow your audience (also known as "build a platform.")

Again, I'm just giving a brief overview of all of these, but the more people who are energized about you and the book you're writing, the better. This is more true for those who write non-fiction, but it won't hurt you as a fiction writer either.

5. Use the above results to create a book proposal.

This is what an agent will be asking you for when evaluating if you're a writer they want to work with.

6. Acquire a good literary agent

7. Work hard to make connections and build your presence.

Even if you have an agent, you can't just sit back and let them score you a big deal. Though that is part of their job (my agent, I'm guessing, would also list "anxiety management" in her description of working with me...) you can make their lives easier by continuing to write books, grow your presence, and make industry contacts.

We're going to talk through all those steps over the next couple weeks. If you have a particular question (or if the published authors among us have a step they think should be added to the list) post it below and I'll be sure to address it!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Winning Entries from the 500 Word Free Write Part 2

Below are the other three winning entries from the 500 word free write, for your reading pleasure. (If you missed the three from yesterday, they are MUST READS and you can do that here.)

Also, I'm super embarrassed to say that I left one of the honorable mentions off the list the first time I posted! I'm reposting the correct list here:

First Place
Rachelle Rea
Deborah Rocheleau

Second Place
Clare Kolenda
Julie Potrykus

Third Place
Nicole Godard
Anna Schaeffer

Honorable Mentions
Deborah Rocheleau (also placed first)
Julie Potrykus (also placed second)
MacKenzie Pauline
Rebekah Hart
Caitlin Hensley
Katie Scheidhauer

By Julie Potrykus, second place

Trouble to me was like southern honey: it was impossible to get rid of, I always got stung
by the things that follow (bees, boys in ripped jeans, people who want to see me dead) and large doses made me sick to my stomach.
If I was smarter than a pack of peanuts, I probably would plan how to ease Mama's mood
instead of something stupid like comparing honey to trouble. Mama stirred her tea with her
southern belle smile, but Mama wouldn’t be Mama if she didn’t accessorize her smile with her
famous glare.
Her glare and smile combination is one of those looks her mama should have told her not
to make or else her face would get stuck like that. Whether Mama’s face was stuck or not, her
face always resembled a murderous clown. Her thick application of makeup didn’t help her any.
Mama wasn’t exactly subtle about anything. Not her makeup, smile/glare or use of chamomile
tea. Chamomile tea and that creepy, crawly clown look meant one thing: trouble. Sticky, icky
I gave my dress a little twirl in front of the mirror while taking a peek at the bottle of
honey Mama had set down on my nightstand. Some fluffy biscuits with honey sounded
downright heavenly right ‘bout now, but the last thing I need was Mama having a heart attack
over the unnecessary calories even if they melted in my mouth like cotton candy. Mama glared
at the flabby belly like I was a cow at the rodeo. I crossed my arms over my stomach.
I sat down on the bed next to her, trying to ignore how my belly scrunched up when I sat
down. No biscuits and honey for me any time soon. “You could come too, Mama. Faith would
like that.” Faith already had a ticket reserved for her in case she decided to come even though
everyone knew Mama wouldn’t come. Mama never came to Faith’s events anymore.
Mama gave me her “how cute” eyes that every little girl in south knew from years of
getting it from their mama and their mama’s friends with she said something stupid. “Annie
baby, you know I have a pottery class tonight. I’m carpooling with Mrs. Smith. I can’t just
cancel on her now. That would be rude.”
Not as rude as abandoning your daughter.
Sometimes Mama didn’t make any sense. Daddy said it’s Mama’s right as a woman not
to make a damn bit of sense, but that was no excuse. ‘Course they both spent their fair share of
time making up excuses now a days.
I faked a smile before checking the mirror for wandering hair. I pinned a few stubborn
bangs back with some bobby pins.
“You look beautiful.” Mama stroked my hair with my brush to flatten any flying hairs.
The brush nudged the bobby pins too much, sending the bangs stubbornly back in front of my
eyes. Some things were just not worth fighting over.

The judge says: You have a lovely narrative voice. I was drawn in immediately. Nice work!

By Anna Schaeffer, third place

“You smell like a camel.”
“Man, I was going for cow pie, but I guess camel isn’t too bad.” My eyes survey the ceiling as I shove past my best friend’s brother and invite myself into the house.
“If you’re going to hang around, you need to at least be a gracious guest. I have the power to
evict you, you know.”
Commence eye-roll. I grit my teeth as I march toward the stairs.
“Don’t bother being a considerate host, then. I’ll show myself to Kari’s room.” I sense Brant’s eyes resting on my back as I ascend the steps, but I don’t dare turn around. Instead, I deliberately let out a loud sigh and feign annoyance. Actually, my irritation isn’t all fake. I’m not mad because he acts like I’m something my parents scraped off the bottom of Pecan Creek —which he does—but for other reasons, too.
Once my sneakers are firmly planted on the carpeted landing, I sneak a peek behind me. Brant’s reclining against the wall, staring me down, one mocha eyebrow cocked above those bottomless blues. I lift my hand and do a little wave with my fingers, then pretend to gag.
Okay, so I don’t exactly act like a sophisticated, seventeen-year-old Southern belle when I’m around Brant. But in my defense, he’s a solid two years older than me, and he still treats me like I’m a weevil in his cotton patch. I’m told guys mature more slowly than girls, but he’s a sophomore in college, for Pete’s I inhale and count to ten as I head for Kari’s room. Ugh, why do I let him get to me? I try to swallow my anger. Anger aimed at myself. My fingers tap-dance across the bedroom door before I let myself in. Kari and I have been best friends practically since kindergarten, so any concepts of privacy and personal space are long gone.
I find Kari sitting cross-legged on her bed. She glances up at me from her English assignment and grins. “Oh, hey Lena! How’s it goin’?” Her twang is thicker than the Georgia humidity and as syrupy as sweet tea, but it’s one of the things I love most about her. It’s just so friendly.
“I’m fine,” I say, quickly biting my lip before adding, and so is your brother. Just because we’re
totally comfortable barging into each other’s room doesn’t mean I’m always one-hundred-percent honest with my BFF. I usually am, but think about it: would it really be wise to spill the beans and say, I just pretend I hate your brother to hide my crazy-big crush on him, but I don’t want that to affect our friendship? Um, I think not. As it is, I feel like hacking up everything I’ve eaten in the past week whenever I think about Kari or Brant discovering my nutty secret. Besides, as far as they know, Lena Marie Collin doesn’t even have crushes. And I refuse to let them believe differently.

The judge says: I knew from the opening line this was going to be a piece with spunk and voice - great job!

By Nicole Godard, third place

The wind smelled faintly of smoke, carrying the truth of the sky through the window,
rustling the papers strewn across the oversized cedar desk. One scroll slipped silently to the
floor, unnoticed by its owner. The words scrawled across the parchment did little but reflect the
smoke in the wind and the shadow in the sky - and it was far less boring to gaze through the
window and breathe, even if the air was thick with the fumes of accomplishment.
"My lady, you could at least pretend to pay attention…" The voice pulled Alexis from
her musings as she reluctantly shifted her attention from what lay beyond the study's window to
the gently exasperated - and resigned - gaze of her tutor. She flashed him an unapologetic smile
and propped her chin up on her hand, tilting her head slightly to the side.
"'Pretend', Janus?" she repeated, sniffing disdainfully at the idea. "You should know I
respect you far too much to stoop to such petty deceit." Janus pinched the bridge of his nose,
struggling to remain disapproving.
"Please, Alexis… you know that your father demands I go over this each year." He
gestured helplessly to the sea of scrolls littering the desk. Alexis only rolled her eyes and
returned her gaze to the window.
"I am very well aware of my father's ridiculous preoccupation with this particular part
of history," she muttered. "As well as his hopes that constant revision of it will quell whatever
rebellious inclinations I may have." Crimson eyes slid back to her tutor's ice blue gaze and she
shook her head. "All it does is serve to bore me. You know I know this. Can we not move on?"
Janus sighed heavily, willing himself to not give in yet again.
"Your father will test you on this, you know," he reminded her. "We are nearing the Day
of Separation, and you know how patriotic he gets." Alexis snorted.
"Patriotic…" She sighed. "Yes, I suppose that is one word for it. We must be the only
race behind the Walls who celebrate losing a war."
"We are celebrating the advent of peace," Janus corrected. Alexis simply shook her
head again and shifted her attention away once more. Janus stroked his beard and gazed at
her thoughtfully. She was a terribly smart girl - probably too smart for her own good. Far too
beautiful, as well, with her raven-black hair framing an ivory-pale face and eyes the color of
fresh blood. She had all the makings of clan Matriarch - a role for which he was ultimately trying to prepare her. Emphasis on ‘trying’.
"A deal, then," he said at last. "Recite to me what you will recite for your father - and if
you do satisfactorily, I will take you outside to spar."
Alexis' eyes widened. Spar with Janus? Her tutor he may be, but she knew well enough his reputation. He’d leave her bruised and bloodied.
She grinned.
It would be completely worth it.

The judge says: A very strong voice and intriguing premise!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Winning Entries from the 500 Word Free Write Part 1

By Deborah Rocheleau, first place

"Assurance is peace. Assurance is resolve. And it starts at an affordable $600. If your loved one is suffering from a life-threatening illness or facing a major decision, give them the gift of a definitive future. A qualified researcher will create a custom forecast using the latest time-bending technology, giving you the peace of mind to enjoy your life. Because a life Assured is a life lived.”
     The commercial, coming through fuzzy on the hospital TV, switched to testimonials by terminally-ill children, depressed teens, and jittery brides. Sandy pressed the button that administered another dose of pain-killer, desperate to escape the sappiness of the ad, as well as the embarrassing reality that, despite its gags, it worked. She needed Assurance if she wanted to keep herself alive.
     Kay continued to hum the maddening theme song, even after Sandy muted the TV and buried her head under the covers to block the noise. Her arms gave up halfway through the action, too weak to compress the stiff pillow.
     “884-303-NOW,” Kay sang, probably unaware of her own voice. The illness didn’t drive you crazy, Sandy decided. The boredom of the hospital room did. Glancing at the peeling paint on the walls, she tried to forget about the phone with the curlicue phone next to her. She could pick it up and call the number, going against every unspoken protocol of Assurance Agencies. You couldn’t buy Assurance, at least not for yourself. Because no matter the price, you could never be sure the answer would come back the way you wanted. Even after future forecasting had been perfected as a science, the custom arose that no one bought it for themselves. No, your loved one had to buy it for you. Then, whatever the outcome, you could rest assured that someone at least cared what happened to you.
      Kay sobered right up when the nurse announced a visitor. Patrick, her boyfriend, or maybe a young, commitment-challenged husband, entered with a dominating bouquet of roses, their perfume-laced fragrance stuffing Sandy’s already itchy nose. He offered them to Kay, and the gift gave her the miraculous strength to sit up and bury her face in the blossoms.
     “Well,” Patrick said, hovering over her as she lay in the bed. She met his eyes, smiling.
     “A bouquet of flowers won’t get you off the hook, mister,” She said.
     He didn’t answer, but nodded his head at the blooms. Glancing down, she pried an envelope out from among the thorns, its familiar telescope emblem glinting.
     “Oh, Patrick,” she gasped, stopped up by tears.
     “I had to know,” he said, cradling her head. “I couldn’t live with this fear anymore.”
     “And?” she twisted in his arms.
     “Yes,” he said, “You’re going to live, baby. We’re gonna get married.”
     Patrick pulled the card out of the envelope and read the official letter within.
     “This letter is to assure that Michaela Alexandria will recover from her cancer in the year 2210.”
The judge says: This is…wow! What a Pandora’s box you’ve opened up here. A really nice beginning to what should prove to be an intriguing story.

By Clare Kolenda, second place

When you’re the pastor’s daughter, there are some assumptions that people naturally
draw. One is that I always carry my Bible around. The second one is I have a great relationship
with my family and God. And thirdly, that I’d never do anything that would land me in the police station.
Unfortunately, none of those are true.
I sat in the lobby at the police officers station, swinging my feet. I’m wondering how old
she is or how short she is. If she’s sitting on a chair or bench, wouldn’t her feet touch the ground?
I stared at the clock, watching the clock slowly tick by the minutes until my mother picked me
up. After my father had died our relationship had been strained at best. And my recent trips
downtown hadn’t helped.
What would my father have said? I swallowed past the lump in my throat and ignored
the sudden burning in my eyes. Now was not the time to think about my dad. I folded my arms
across my chest, weariness crashing against me so hard I had to close my eyes. Dread covered
me like a heavy wool blanket, slowly suffocating me.
The whir of activity in the room distracted me for a moment. Frazzled interns scurried
around while they pulled different files out of the dozens of file cabinets that stood in the room.
The fluorescent lights hummed in the background, while a fly buzzed near my face. I swished it
away, almost hitting myself in the process.
“Hey, Trouble, long time no-see,”
Devon, one of the newest recruits to the force walked toward me with a little too much
bounce to his step for my liking. For some reason he decided to befriend me after the—ahem—third time I’d landed at the station. Not that I minded. He always snuck me coffee when I needed it, and made me laugh when I craved it most.
“I came here just to see you, Dev,”
He plopped down next to me. “Now, Darlin’, I can think of a few better ways to meet up
than like this.”
I chuckled softly, studying the crinkles that appeared around his eyes when he grinned.
Devon looked like a gangster with his large muscles, square forehead and strong jaw. His nose
had been broken too many times to be straight again, and the scar by his temple made him look
even scarier. Yet once he smiled it contradicted the tough guy fa├žade that he exuded.
His dark brown eyes, the ones that intimidated thugs and drunks, now warmed with
amusement as they swept up and down me. “You going for a new look?”
I looked down at myself and knew I must have looked like a mess, covered in spray paint
and smelling like my friend’s old musty car. I grimaced.
Devon laughed, “You always were a trendsetter, Trouble.” He nudged me. “And you’re
too smart to keep playing this same sad song over and over.”
I looked down. Dev wouldn’t understand. What else would help fill the hole that had
been gnawing at me since my father died?

The judge says: Love this beginning! This is a character I would want to read about.

The other three winners will be posted tomorrow!