Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Quickie

Remember when I said I was introducing a new posting theme to my blog called:

The Quickie

(Shock value intentional)

This is where I  post a QUICK WRITING TIP. A writing skill everyone should know. Whether it be technical or creative, useful or not, I'm gonna give it to you! You're gonna be singing the Def Leppard song: "Pour some sugar on me!"

Okay, maybe not.

Here's the Quickie for today:

BUY books. 

I'm sure we all do our share of borrowing books from friends, relatives, libraries, etc. It's become a little more difficult in the age of e-books, but I think it still happens quite a lot. And there is 100% nothing wrong with this in my opinion, so no one send me hate comments. I borrow books a ton. In fact, I have at least a half dozen borrowed books on my nightstand. But the point I am trying to make is that it is still important to support the authors we know and love, and BUY their books.

You might say, "That's easy for that B-Word to say! Books are expensive!"

But I'm telling you, there are deals if you look! They go on sale for $2.99 or less all the time, and a ton of best selling e-books are very reasonably priced anyway. You don't always have to buy the hardcover, though some books are definitely worth the investment in my opinion. 

Not only does this act of purchasing books help the publishing world go round, these books you own will be a permanent resource to help you in your own writing. Study and reread the books you love, in whole or in part. Their style and flare just might rub off on you. 

So...was the Quickie good for you?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How To Write a Book Fast

I'm sure we've all heard the swirling stories of authors who wrote their book in a few days or weeks, signed with their agent shortly thereafter, and sold it at whiplash speed!

I sure have. And every time that I've heard a version of this Fantasy-like story, I want to B-slap myself in the face. Or run full speed into a brick wall. Or some other really fabulous way to hurt myself.

The fact of the matter is that up until recently I have been a rather slow and steady writer. I took my time plotting, "brushing my cat" (see Blake Snyder's book on writing called SAVE THE CAT), and thinking things through. It could've been that I write thrillers which take a lot of planning...or it could be that I just plain sucked at writing fast!
At the LTUE Writing Conference, which I attended last weekend, I had an Oprah-esque "aha moment." I learned from presenter, L.L. Muir, that it is possible to write a complete 60,000 word manuscript (first draft) in three days. Of course possible and probable are two different things. But even if the goal is to write a manuscript in a month, it's good to have some guidelines and strategies. L.L. Muir gave me some, which I shall now freely share:
  • Research Michael Moorcock's helpful advice on the matter
  • Download Dr. Wicked's Write or Die program. It only costs $10 and it will help you keep track of your word count and time productivity. It's amazing how easily distracted we can be. A little punishment and/or prodding can help.
  • Get a hotel room or go away somewhere you can lock yourself away with as little distractions as possible.
  • Set goals. Hourly (1,200 words/minute is a good pace), daily (from 2,000 words to 20,000 words), and so on. 
  • Rally the troops. Have a "write day." On Monday of this week, my two CP's and I (Peggy Eddleman and Erin Summerill, locked all the children (and spouses) out of Erin's house and wrote for 8 hours. At a 1,200 word/hour pace, we should have written 10,000 words. Well, it was really hard and I only made it to 7,500 words before steam started escaping out of my overheated brain! But that's better than a kick in the groin, right? 

Monday, February 18, 2013

LTUE Conference & Getting Picked Up in Beaver

This last weekend I attended the LTUE Conference (Life, the Universe, and Everything) in Provo, Utah. It was pretty sweet. I got to hang with some awesome writers, and meet some new amazing ones. There were tons of noteworthy moments while participating in the three day conference (men in capes, strange smells, dancing to Justin Bieber with a Yukon XL full of normally introverted writers, and listening to Megan Whalen Turner's keynote speech while my friend draws explicit images on the suede of my Ugg boots).

But I have to say the highlight of my weekend happened a few hours before the conference even started, while I was still driving the six hours from Las Vegas to Provo. Half way through the trip I needed to pull over and get some caffeine. I was getting tired and a bit hungry, and could use some stretching of the legs. So I go into the convenience store, get myself some Diet Cokey, and start wandering around aimlessly for something healthy to eat. I stop in front of the pretzels and start over-thinking things (as usual). The back of my leg feels tight so I bend over for a little stretch. When I raise back up I catch the eye of someone whose eyes aren't on my face. It's a woman and I think she is totally offended at my mid-aisle Yoga posing, until her eyes light up and she smiles at me in a way that makes do a double take. 

I give her an awkward smile back and bolt to the counter with the pretzels I didn't even remember grabbing. I'm standing in line and the dude in front of me thinks its a pharmacy because he's asking the clerk which kind of cold medicine she thinks is best for his symptoms! Gah! As I am (im)patiently waiting, I look around at the quaint local memorabilia. Hats, shirts, shot glasses that all say "I Heart Beaver." Like this:

I sort of giggle out loud, and then I hear another laugh behind me. Like really close behind me. I turn and it's the girl with the smile from the pretzel aisle. Of course it is. There are like four people at this truck stop.

It's finally my turn to pay and the clerk starts to make small talk with me. There's a bumper sticker with the same beaver loving heart...and I start to think it would be a really funny present for my husband, or one of my rowdy writer friends at the conference. So I grab it and hand it to the cashier and say sheepishly, "Hah...Beaver! It's so funny. I love it."

That's when the girl behind me chimes in, "Not as much as I do."

And yes, with the overt raise and her eyebrow, and the un-subtle ear to ear grin, I realized she was picking up on me. At a gas station in Beaver, Utah.

I smiled graciously as I pointed to my ring finger and excused myself from the city of Beaver. I was very flattered.

How was your weekend?

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Great Opportunity!

As we trudge along this winding path we call "The Road to Publication," I think we are always on the lookout for opportunities to bypass the slush pile situation.

A very small amount of research on my part revealed that less than 1% of what is submitted via slush pile will ever be published. (This data is only for a smaller regional press, see see here.) I'd imagine it to be far worse odds for the Big Five Publishing Houses. (I'm not trying to bum anyone out. There are still plenty of people who are lucky enough to be picked out of the slush, myself included :)

But are there ways to avoid the slush piles of agents or small presses?

The answer is YES!!! How, you ask? Here are some ideas:
  • Go to conferences and pitch to agents/editors (if they request pages then they usually tell you to put "REQUESTED MATERIAL" in the subject line of your query and that will effectively pull you out of the slush pile)
  • Participate in fellow writer's blog contests where agents or editors are requesting pages based on pitches or pages.
  • Follow agents or editors on Twitter and establish a rapport with them so that when they see your name pop up in their inbox, they might take special note. 
  • Submit to the Query Shark and let her rip your head off before she asks for pages! Good luck with that one.
  • Or...participate in agent sponsored contests. Like my agent, Sarah Davies' Greenhouse Funny Prize, for example! 
The details on the Funny Prize:

Last year Greenhouse ran the first Funny Prize, a competition to find new funny writing talent. They had over 700 entries and Pip Jones was the winner. Pip’s book, SQUISHY McFLUFF, THE INVISIBLE CAT, sold quickly to Faber Children’s Books in a 4 book pre-empt!

Greenhouse had such a great time working on the prize that they decided to do it again. And bigger. This year they've opened it up to the world, so if you’re American or Canadian, or writing from anywhere on the planet (as long as your work is in the English language) then you should enter.

The judging criteria is very simple. Funny, and open children's books of all ages. The deadline for submissions is Monday, 29 July. 

Any other ideas/links on how to jump out of the slush pile?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

One of the Most Important Parts of Your Query

I feel like every time I post any kind of advice on this blog I should include a legal disclaimer. Making sure everyone understands that I am no expert and that I am not holding myself out as such. I'm just a girl who has been there, waded in the deep, and made it to shore. Tis' all.

The opinions contained in this post are not to be misconstrued as expert advice. The thoughts and ideas expressed herein are limited to personal experience and research and as such should be interpreted with careful consideration. However, any disagreement shall be discussed in the comments section,  and thereafter binding arbitration.

Having said that, I firmly believe there is one very often overlooked part of the query which is abundantly helpful to your success:

What is the COMP Sentence? It's the one line of your query in which you compare your book to 1-2 other books or authors. It usually fits it neatly after the title, genre, and word count sentence, but you can drop it in anywhere.

  • "Think Amy Tan, but with a sweeter aftertaste."--This is the comp that author Jamie Ford used for his book HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.
  • "If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it."--This is the comp that agent Kristin Nelson wrote for her client Gail Carriger when she pitched the book SOULLESS.
  • "If you searched for a book that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike THE BOOK THIEF (which I absolutely loved), you might just have JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle-grade-and-up science fiction novel that I just completed. Still fun! But no one dies - Mr. Death would be lonely." This is the comp that Nathan Bransford used to solicit an agent of his own. Very voicey. 
  • "It’s HEIST SOCIETY meets DEXTER."--This is is from my query for KILLING RUBY ROSE. 

  • DON'T use grandiose comp titles like TWILIGHT, HARRY POTTER, OR HUNGER GAMES. Unless you are trying to make the agents simultaneously roll their eyes and click rejection button.
  • DON'T use titles that no one has ever heard of either. Comparing your work to some author an agent would be entirely unfamiliar with doesn't help at all. Shoot for the well-known titles which have sold well. Even if the agents haven't read all the popular books, they are familiar enough with the market to understand the comp. 
  • DON'T use titles that you haven't read. Even if you think that the Goodreads blurb sounds a lot like yours. It could end up making you look stupid. My agent and I have discussed several times how my book is stylistically similar to the comps I used in my query.
  • DO choose books that exhibit your understanding of the publishing market. For example, it is abundantly clear at the moment that agents are now shying away from all things vampire (unless it's so unique it must be read), so citing an older paranormal romance may not be to your advantage.
  • DO choose a book that is not only similar to yours in genre, but in style as well. If your voice is snarky and lighthearted, don't choose a book that is poetic or literary. 
  • DO choose a book that conveys that you are well-read. Agents like writers who read. Agents love writers who read their clients' books. And agents adore writers who read books across all genres. So if you can use one comp is your genre, plus a comp in another genre that is stylistically similar, it shows you know books.
  • DON'T use a comp from one of their client's list unless you differentiate it. Because agents will never cannibalize their authors, it is unwise to say your manuscript is exactly like one of their previously published works. 
Basically, what I am trying to say is: if you use your COMP SENTENCE right, you are giving yourself a huge advantage. You are showing the agents that you understand the publishing market, you are well-read, and you have done the research it takes to become a published author. It helps them very quickly ascertain whether or not your style, writing level, and personality would fit well with their client list. 

Just sayin'.

Any more Do's or Don'ts you can think of?

Friday, February 1, 2013

10 Things Every Aspiring Author Should Know

Today I am being interviewed by my good friend Leigh Covington over at her group blog Falling For Fiction. And if there is anything I love more than a B-Word, it's an F-Word! So head on over to FFF and check it one time.

But as for my little Friday "Quickie" post, I am going to jaunt out a quick list of 10 Things Every Aspiring Author Should Know:
  1. Finish your dang book. Simple but true.
  2. Have someone read it who isn't your mom, or a butt-kisser.
  3. Delete crap. Lots of it.
  4. Re-write the sucky parts. 
  5. Brush your cat. And by that I mean, read Blake Snyder's book called SAVE THE CAT, and make sure you have all your important "beats." Just read it.
  6. Have another person read it. Still not your mom. 
  7. Read through it yourself OUT LOUD! Or have your computer read it back to you (this is a fairly revelatory thing for me and I love it).
  8. Research agents. Like stalk them. Go to conferences to pitch to them. Follow their blogs and their twitter tweety things. Read as much as you can about them. 
  9. Have at least 100 people critique your query letter. Just kidding. More like 50. Still sound ridiculous? Just get as many people to read it as possible!
  10. Be brave. You'll probably get rejected. You'll probably get berated for your ridiculous stupidity in front of a group of people at a conference. You'll probably feel like dying of humiliation and despair. Or not. Actually, most likely not. But you will still need a bucket load of courage.
 What would you add to this list?