Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to Find an Agent

Now, this is a hard proposition. With agents having rejection stats of 90%-99.9%, you have to catch their attention. This is harder to do than you might think. Like everything else, it depends on a number of factors.

1. Timing- Just because something is current today, will it be current two years from now...on average that's the amount of time it takes to publish a book. Understand that agents have their own time table.Do your homework. Make a list of possible agents who represent your work.

2. Complete you story. Let the agent have something finished he/she can hold in their hands to show a publisher. After that is his/her job...to sell your story. Perfect your story. Polish it until it shines like the sun. Even so the agent has probably seen a dozen just like it.

3. Write an outstanding query letter. One that will peak the interest of the agent to want him/her to see more. This in itself is a difficult proposition. The slush pile is HUGE even for solicited material.

4. Frequent workshops and conferences. Make personal contact with agents you target. Get their card, find something unique in your conversation with them to add to your query letter that will jog their memory. Most likely an agent will request a synposis with a query from everyone they meet because it's easier. Understand on average an agent will meet hundreds of authors at these events and may have several in a row before going back to their offices.

5. Don't give up. So what if fifteen agents rejected your work and you are tired of rejection letters. I'm the queen of rejections according to one of the writer's forums I frequent. To date I have a file of 263 rejection form letters in a file...yes, I keep them all. Of course this is for more than one work and I'm a published author! Take a look at the rejection. Yes, there are different types of rejections. It's probably because...

  • They don't handle what you've written...look closer at who you are submitting to.

  • They can't sell it...this is very bad. You may want to rewrite or rethink your approach.

  • Poor writing...this you can fix.

  • They are not taking on new clients...this is probably the best type of rejection.

    Good Luck!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ideas & More Ideas

So many people ask me where I get my ideas from to write about. The answer is complicated and simple at the same time. It comes from your imagination, your life experiences, and your dreams.

If you do not have an imagination, give up writing fiction and stick to nonfiction. Writing fiction is all about imagination. If you can't tell a story, joke without botching the punch line, or don't have a rhythm...then writing fiction is going to be rough for you. But then, you would not have come here if you didn't want to be a better writer.

How would you describe pain, if you had never been in pain. The same is true for happiness, sadness, and all the emotions. Job one is experience life. By experiencing life, you grow as a person. You dream, you feel emotions, and that's what comes across on paper. If you are writing nonfiction a lot of this will not apply to you.

My ideas come from innocent and not so innocent sources. Growing up I lived in some pretty desperate countries. I've experienced bombing, shootings, and people otherwise trying to kill me. My father worked in intelligence, my mother was recruited by the pre-CIA. So for me it was only natural to write espionage stories...I lived bits and pieces of it my whole life.
I was out shopping with my grandchildren and they wanted candy. I started looking at the names of the candy...BOOM! A children's story with candy as characters. With names like mr. Goodbar, Whatchacallit, Baby Ruth, Reeses Pieces...who could resist?

Sometimes, you write a writing exercise and the character just won't shut up. They have a story to tell. They keep chatting away until you get tired of hearing their voices in your head...so you keep writing. I love when that happens. I guess you could call me lucky. I've lived a full life fulfilling my goals, dreams and desires in the name of experience. Even when Murphy's Law hits, it's grist for the writing mill. I never know when that experience will come in handy.

I mentioned dreams. Yes, those run of the mill dreams. Have you ever had a dream so twisted and vivid that it woke you up? What did you do? Did you grab your pen and pad, by the bed and jot it down? Or did you just roll over and go back to sleep? I always keep a pad by my bed. In several cases, the answer to dialog or scenes I struggled over while awake solved themselves in my dreams. Open you mind. Keep your eyes open and let the juices flow. And above all...Write On!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Down Time~Well Sort of...

It's been a few days since I've posted. From previous posts, you know I've been tripping the light fantastic over at the Southeastern Writers Association Conference. I picked up a few things that I had not thought about before. As usual, the queue for the "fifteen minutes of fame" otherwise known as the agent interviews were long.

I had lunch with the agent although I didn't know he was the agent at the time. A couple of author friends of mine were having lunch and he was at the table. We were discussing my new children's series of books. Jimmy, a fellow author, asked me if getting trademark infringement rights waived took a long time. I told him it took about as much time as an agent takes reviewing your query or partial. This received a laugh from fellow authors and a tap on the shoulder from the agent who was sitting on my left. Yes, I actually had my back turned to him instead of hanging on his every word. I guess it could have been an open-mouth-inset-foot moment, but he looked at me quizzically then laughed when he realized I wouldn't be hitting him up as an agent.

I did pick up a couple of new books at the bookstore. "Port to Nowhere" is an anthology of science fiction short stories...ISBN-0-9752542-2-7, published by Mystic Toad Press. Several stories are written by the SWA webmaster. A great read for those who have a little time to read in. I also picked up a copy of "The Dreaded Synopsis" by Elizabeth Sinclair...ISBN 1-892718-25-1, published by R. Smith Publishing. I can always use another reference book. This one is small but packed with information. A whirlwind of a conference!

Then I packed my bags and drove to Warm Springs, Georgia. I had two reasons for going. One for a public appearance and two to take my daughter up there for school. There is no easy way to get there. It's all back country roads. There's not much to that little town except the warm spring, the rehabilitation center, and a quaint, little town. One of the biggest draws is the "Little White House," FDR days.

Five hours of driving would not have been such a big thing except for the rain and twenty-one miles of road construction. Those miles felt like a thousand! Along the way around Baxley, my darling spouse complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. So it was a mad shuffle to find his nitroglycerin, aspirin, inhalers, his oxygen, etc. before we dash to the local emergency room. He is fine. My five-hour jaunt to my public appearance turned into a fifteen hour trip. This is one the main reasons I don't do too many public appearances these days, and settle for emails and blogging. Unfortunately, my cell phone and my wireless Internet would not work up in the mountains so I'm playing catch-up now. The return trip was uneventful other than rain again and logging trucks trying to take up the same space I was occupying on the road. You can't say my life is dull!

I'll post some more on writing techniques after I take my husband to his cardiologist and rest up a bit. This old body and mind just doesn't spring back as quickly as it once did.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Point of View & Shifts

  1. According to Wikipedia- "Point of view (literature), the perspective of the narrative voice; the pronoun used in narration."

    Here in the States, shifting point of view or POV shifts is a big deal when writing. It's also known as head hopping. It's when you write in one person's point of view...what that person hears, sees, feels, smells and switching it to another person's. I'm not saying multiple points of view is bad. It's just difficult to write and worse to read. After a while you don't know who's thoughts are who's and you end up lost.

An example of POV shift...

Johnny and Cathy were having a huge argument. Cathy was in tears. She felt like her world was coming to an end. It seemed like the only thing they could agree on was divorce. Johnny felt like he was losing his mind. He didn't want a divorce. Cathy had to be crazy. He must think I'm crazy. He's crazy too if he thinks I think I want a divorce.

Okay, this a fast example of a switch. As you read the above did your mind go...who's on first, what's on second...I dunno where is. The problem with writing is you as the writer knows what is going on in every character's head and you tend to write it that way.

The easiest way to write is in one point of view. What one person thinks, feels, smells, touches, etc.

Cathy felt like she was losing her mind as she and Johnny fought. The fight itself was insignificant in the beginning but blew out of proportion as it continued. She wiped a warm tear away as it made its downward trail along her cheek. I don't want a divorce.

This way it's almost like a one-sided argument. You know she''s upset. You know a lot of things about Cathy. Who's point of view is your story written in. Who's telling your story? Who's your main character? That's the point of view you want to stay in.

In point of view you also first person. Same example, but written in first person... I, me, my etc.

I felt like I was losing my mind as Johnny and I fought. The fight itself was insignificant in the beginning but blew out of proportion as it continued. I wiped a warm tear away as it made its downward trail along my cheek. I don't really want a divorce.

Same example in third person is the first way I wrote it above without the POV shift...he, she, they, hers, his, etc

Omnipotent point of view is probably the hardest to right. That's when you have a narrator who is not a character, but the narrator knows all. The narrator is godlike.

Cathy and Johnny were fighting again. Their fight started insignificantly, but soon blew out of proportion. She wiped a tear which traveled down her cheek away. Neither one of them wanted a divorce, but neither knew how each other felt.

Sound complicated? It can be. If you must change POV in your story here's a fix...

1. Start a new chapter in the new POV.

2. Push "enter" twice to indicate a POV shift. By double double spacing, it reads as a break in the scene.

Pick up any book you've read recently and look at how POV shifts are handled by the writer. Sometimes the shift is so subtle it is overlooked. This is where careful proof reading comes into play.

I'm off to my evening critique session. On the agenda tonight is murder by the numbers. A lot of technical discussions, but the role playing is fun...Y'all Write On!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

5 Steps to Tighter Writing

So all of you writers have started writing your story, the "Great American Novel," or "My Life According to Me." You may have even completed the first draft. Congrats! You've done something many people who start a novel do not...complete a first draft. It's time to pat yourself on the back, party and celebrate, but not too much. The first draft is only your base line. More work is needed.

The second draft is waiting. Never consider your first draft a publishable work. It rarely is even if you made each line perfect before you went on to the next. You may have edited your story into so many versions you can't remember what the first version looked like...been there, done that...still doing that.

1. Take a look at your manuscript on the screen. If you used MS Word to write it, does it have those red or green squiggly lines on it? If so the grammar program you are using has found an exception in grammar (green) or misspellings (red). Correct those first. This is the easy step. The almost no-brainer thanks to computer programming.

2. Then comes the harder part. What I like to do is print off my novel chapter by chapter. Read each, and redline the daylights out of it. What am I looking for?

  • You want to check for continuity. Not sure what that is? It means certain things stay the same from beginning to end...like hair and eye color, dialog is consistent with your character, etc.

  • Take a look at all the words like "that," "to be or to (verb)," and endings like "-ing" and "ly." I circle these words in the text. They are the easy finds. Figure out how to replace these words and delete them. They are considered fluff words...they fill in spaces rather than you actively searching for more complex or descriptive words.

3. Make your changes onto your computer version and I print it out again. I use the back side of the previously printed chapter for this phase of the first draft editing. I draw a diagonal line through the old print so I can easily see which is the text I'm supposed to be reading. I'm a tactile type person, but cheap...I don't buy more paper unless I HAVE to. My friends working for Georgia Pulp and Paper may not agree with my tactics, but even money is made out of paper and I won't waste that either.

4. Read the story again. This time aloud... Word for word with colored pen in hand. I make tick marks where I stumble in reading. For me, having the pages in my hand is easier than doing this on the computer screen.

5. Cutting is not a fun thing to do...matter of fact, I hate it. But just doing these simple things, the writing flows better, it's tighter without additional words tripping you up. Now, look at the story while you are reading it. Does the action seem to bog down in places? You have a fast paced action scene and you fell back into retrospective, flashback, or back story...eight out of ten times this is the reason for lag in your story. Is there another way you could piece meal this in dialog discussion? Can you cut this out without affecting base the story? Is there any other way to present it? You get the idea.

I've said before that my first novel was over 1,000 pages. By the time I followed these five steps, my novel was down to 800 pages. By the time I completed my third editing pass, I was down to 550 double spaced pages...respectable for a novel.

I'm off to the cliche pillow fight. What is a cliche pillow fight? It's when we read each other's excerpt and when we run across a cliche, the author gets hit with a pillow.Y'all Write On...

Wohooo! Internet!

I arrived, checked in and found some of my writer friends. It didn't take long. If y'all have never been to St. Simons Island, Georgia before, I have to tell you it's gorgeous!

Low and behold, this old plantation has wi-fi! Lucky me. The conference starts at 3PM. I can hardly wait. I decided to try Windows Live Writer while here to see how it works.

My fellow authors decided to go out to Cheers, a local bar, for drinks. For once I wasn't asked to help someone write something. After all, we are seasoned veterans in the writing game. We got busy on the catch-up from last year. Poor old Verne and Jack were outnumbered and surrounded by a rowdy bunch of females who had not seen each other in a year.

We are already planning a pillow fight at ten paces for later tomorrow night after the night's activities finish. I know Mary, my partner in crime, will want to know things like the feasibility of things like killing a man with stiletto heels or some such.

More later, I've got a nice buzz on and want to curl up with my copy of "Eragon" by Christopher Paolini. I finally bought a copy. Just another way to play hookie until the work starts tomorrow.

The rest of you...write on! I'm reading. smile_wink