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April 20, 2015

Get That Novel Written!

Patti.Enjoys.Jeanette's.MM.Class.7.20.14

 One of the workshops at MCWC (2014)

Of course, it’s the dream of every writer to have a best-selling novel on the shelves of every book store in the country sometime in their writing career. And most writers have great ideas that would make super novels. But the reality is that most of us don’t have three to six months to lock ourselves up in a bedroom with our computer or get that brilliant idea down on paper in a form of the English language that can be read without an interpreter.

Here are a few suggestions for you would-be novelists to help get motivated to start and finish a manuscript that just might land you a contract with a leading publishing company. These simple steps worked for me not once, but 10 times, enabling me to publish that many juvenile fiction novels at an average of three-months writing time a piece:

  1. Analyze your time and budget it. Prioritize so that you have time to write “regularly.” Yes, I know it’s impossible to write every day, but if you have this at the top of your priority list, you’ll get it done more often than if you just haphazardly decide, “Oh, it’s Monday. I have two extra hours today. I think I’ll write.” Your novel will never happen this way.
  2. Write a short outline or synopsis of where you’re going with your story and characters. I know of authors who have written their same novel over and over, sometimes hundreds and hundreds of pages in length, and to this day they still haven’t finished it because they’ve never resolved the ending. Their characters seem to be lost forever in some kind of word time warp, never to “live happily ever after.”
  3. Don’t worry about perfect English the first time you write. Just get your brilliant idea down on paper. Worry about the PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, spelling) later.
  4. Let your finished manuscript sit a few weeks then get back to it. You’ll read parts of it and wonder who in the world wrote that junk? This is a great time to start revising. Go through each scene with a fine-toothed comb, making sure your characters move the plot and/or subplot forward.
  5. When you finish revising your manuscript, print the entire thing on paper, read it aloud, and get it into the hands of a critique group or other writers who will tell you the truth. Aunt Susie or Brother Bill will only tell you how wonderful you are, but that won’t get your manuscript ready for a trip to the editor’s desk at the publishing house.
  6. While you’re revising again and perfecting your work, send out your queries, at least five at a time. It might take up to three or four months for you to get a response from the editors (if at all). In that framework of time, you can hone your manuscript and shape it into something that any editor would want.

So there you have it. Get the computer turned on, get your brain tuned in, and get going. You just might be the next great American novelist!

*************************************************************************

Want a professional opinion of your work-in-progress (WIP)?

Come to the Montrose Christian Writers Conference and meet editors and an agent

who just might want your manuscript!

July 19th-24th

Beth, Tim, and Ed (Regulars at MCWC) with faculty member, Cindy Sproles (2013)

Beth, Tim, and Ed (Regulars at MCWC) with faculty member, Cindy Sproles (2013)

April 13, 2015

Working with an Editor

 

When it finally happens, you know, the phone call or e-mail that says, “Congratulations! You’ve got a contract with our company,” prepare yourself for the exciting adventure of seeing your name in print. There’s nothing quite like it after you’ve been trying for years to do so. Have a party or go to McDonald’s for a latte or buy your dog a big box of treats. Celebrate somehow. Then prepare yourself for the next step in your writing life.

As you enter this new phase of writing/publishing, determine in your heart to do the best job you can with the editor to whom you are assigned. The editor is your friend, not your arch enemy who is set on destroying every clever phrase you’ve ever penned.

Here are a few tips that I learned along the way that might help you in your “strange encounter of the first kind” with the person who has been hired to make you look real good:

  1. Before you ever submit your first draft to your editor, revise, revise, revise your manuscript. Have a critique group edit it; have another writer friend or two critique it, and send the best possible manuscript to the editor after you’ve rewritten it at least seven or eight times. Your editor is NOT your high school English teacher. He/she expects you to know how to use commas, quotation marks, and colons.
  2. Be on time with assignments; editors are on a very tight schedule. Don’t give them deadline headaches. If you have excuses for not meeting those deadlines, you won’t be invited back for another contract.
  3. Divorce yourself from your manuscript and analyze it objectively. Your editor is going to suggest changes you won’t like. The words you wrote are not written in stone, and, as much as you think your manuscript is your newborn baby, it is not. Accept with a learning spirit the changes the editor wants.
  4. If you are set on keeping your words, discuss the matter with your editor. Explain your reasoning but be willing to listen to his/her explanation. Your editor is a hired professional who knows the ins and outs of publishing. He/she KNOWS what will work 99% of the time.
  5. Thank your editor often. When the project is done, send him/her a card of gratitude, at least. (A small gift as a token of your appreciation would be well received.) When my Keystone Stables Series had been finished, I sent my editor a Breyers horse model with a heartfelt thank you. If you follow through with a note of appreciation, your editor just might remember you the next time the publishing company is looking for an author in your genre specialty.

So, there you have the basics of working with that editor, who wants you to succeed as much as you do. Remember, you’re on the same team. Just let the editor be the quarterback.

Speaking of editors, make plans to come to the Montrose Christian Writers Conference this July 19th -24th. We have editors and an agent on faculty, all who are eager to sit down with you and discuss your projects.

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

Conferees.on.Porch

 

April 6, 2015

 THE EDITOR CONNECTION

 

As a beginner about 20 years ago, I didn’t have a clue about connecting with editors. I thought all I had to do was look up a publishing company’s address in the Writers’ Market Guide, send off my manuscript (after I wrote it and revised it once), and then wait for the check to arrive in the mail.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn! Over the years, I’ve accumulated some wisdom I’d like to pass on to you. Each of these “talking points” could be developed into an essay of sorts, but for convenience’s sake, we’ll just make a quickie list for you to ponder and then, in turn, to analyze your own progress in becoming a published author:

  1. Study the market and make sure your manuscript matches what the publishing company is looking for. This is the number one reason that writers are rejected. A story about your favorite pet cow won’t make it in a horse magazine!
  2. Follow the submission guidelines to the “T” if you even want to be considered. If the editor wants a proposal or a query letter first, then learn how to do those two “writing projects” well and submit them first.
  3. Have your manuscript critiqued several times by other writers you know (like in a critique group). If you have the financial means, hire a freelance editor to refine your copy. If you don’t do this, the editor at the publishing company might read only one or two paragraphs of your submission and go no farther because of poor writing. “Duh, shure eye kin spel; did eye miss sumpthun?”
  4. If you have an editor who is interested in your work, send it to him/her immediately. The longer you wait, the fuzzier his/her mind will become about your query or proposal.
  5. Be patient. These days it can take anywhere from three months to six months, maybe longer, to hear from an editor. The sad thing of late is that some publishing companies are not responding to writers’ queries or manuscripts unless they’ve been accepted. This can become a frustrating waiting game with no end. Therefore, find companies that accept multiple submissions, and send five or six out at a time. If you’ve heard nothing after six months, I suggest emailing or calling the editor (if an elusive phone number is available), but not before.
  6. The best way to “connect” with editors is to attend writers’ conferences. Yes, you have to dig deep into your starving author pocket to pay the conferees’ fee and other expenses, but in this business, it takes money to earn money. Meeting an editor face-to-face can change your writing life for the better. Believe me. Of the four book contracts I’ve acquired, three of them came from meeting editors at writers conferences. I’ve also had poetry, children’s short stories, and articles published in magazines by meeting the editors at conferences. Editors love to “connect” writers’ names with their faces. It’s a big plus for you and them alike.

So there you have a few tips to help you get started on the road to publication. Next time, I’ll address the topic of working with an editor once you get that acceptance letter or phone call.

I remember my very first phone conversation with an editor who wanted to do my Keystone Stables series (14 years ago already), and it was a thrill which I shall never forget.

P.S. Please make plans to attend the Montrose Christian Writers Conference this July. We have about a half dozen editors and an agent on faculty, who will be eager to meet one-on-one with conferees and their works-in-progress. (WIP)

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

Marshas.Class.Wk.in.Progress.2013

March 30, 2015

Let’s Go for the Book First! Huh?

Don't.Stop.Believing

In my twenty-some years of trying to get a book published and then finally doing so, I’ve met dozens of other writers who have had the ultimate goal of having a book published. And they’ve thought that’s the way to start and jump in with all fours into this fickle business.

However, I’ve often found that the vast majority of those folks who’ve had that worthy goal of being a published book author had never been published at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with striving to have your book published. I remember when I first started out, that was my goal, too. But, alas, in my file cabinet here next to me rest (in peace) three complete book manuscripts that never made it beyond the editor’s slush pile at numerous companies. I’ve allowed those three manuscripts to stay snuggled in their little file folders all these years to remind me of how stupid I was to think, “I’m going to write a book and get it published.” My heavens, is there a LOT to learn about writing before ever trying to write a book!

Now, over two decades later I realize that I “knew nuttin'” about the writing/publishing business when I launched those first three book projects. It was only after I started attending writers conferences that I discovered writing a book and having it published would come AFTER I learned how to write a good short story or article and would have those genres published first.

Critique.Group.No.Two.8.7.14So, writer friends, if you’re just launching out on the Good Ship Publish Me, then do your homework. Learn the craft by doing two of the most important activities you could ever do in this business:MCWC.Duck.Welcome.Sign.on.Porch.7.22.14

  1. Join or start a local critique group or one online
  2. Attend writers conferences

Then to improve your skills, study a high school English textbook and start trying to be published by writing Letters to the Editor for your local newspaper, dabble in some poetry, and write some short stories and articles from 1200 to 5000 words. After you’ve mastered those works, then you’ll be ready to sail off into the Ocean of Published Book Authors.

P.S. Make plans to attend the Montrose Christian Writers Conference July 19th to the 24th and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to be published, whether it’s for an article, a short story, or a book. Guaranteed!

The Porch

http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

March 23, 2015

Science Fiction, Anyone?

These days, fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels are flooding the market, and they’re flying off the book shelves.

Science fiction or fantasy is always a good bet for an experienced writer to try because the versatility of the genre affords the writer the opportunity to create new worlds far beyond our wildest imaginations and go “where man has never gone before.”

But to write good science fiction, a genre which I have not tackled yet except in a few short stories, you need to know five basic rules that will help you create a winner that your readers will love.

Is SF all rockets and ray guns? Far from it. Here are some ideas that you need to incorporate into your manuscript to write a best-selling thriller:

1. Pick contemporary themes and/or take off for the future: readers are always interested in what might happen next year, next decade, next century. Show them what might just happen a hundred years from now, good or bad.
2. Read, read, read: consume all the science fiction you can and learn the lingo. Words like “dilithium crystals” and “flux matrices” will captivate your audience far beyond a vocabulary that uses words like “salt” or “swinging doors,” a vocabulary that comes from the 18th Century.
3. Study the subgenres: there isn’t just one SF genre. You’ll discover that when you go to the library and start your research. You’ll find space travel, genies in magic worlds, time travel, and the like, and ALL of them are interwoven with scientific facts that make the story plausible.
4. Add the “what if” factor to your plot: do you want your readers on the edge of their seat and turning the next page at the end of each chapter? Then use the “what if” factor. What if the sun would stop shining? What if San Francisco would disappear? What if clocks started ticking backwards? It’s your call to develop a wild plot with impossible situations that your characters must face, and they’ll not always be on a spaceship!
5. Study and write scientifically: of course, you don’t need a degree in astronomy, but you should know basic facts about your subject matter. To make your story believable and keep your reader with you, you must have cause-and-effect connections between actions and relationships. Things happen for a reason, even if your new world rotates vertically and snowflakes are blue. You’ve got to have a reason why and be convincing about it.

So, there you have it. Get your wild idea on paper and take off for the other end of the universe!

 

March 18, 2015

Color Code Editing

When you decide to write anything longer than one sentence, you’ll find that it’s very easy to use the same words again and again. (Like the word “again!”) Or perhaps you’re the kind of writer who just loves to use flowery, complicated, jubilant, explanatory adjectives…like flowery, complicated, jubilant, and explanatory.

This habit not only will make your writing flat and boring, but it will also do nothing to increase your desire to learn new words and use them cleverly and effectively.

There are two nifty ways to track down overused words. One way is to use the FIND tool in your word processing program on your computer, type in a certain word, highlight it for another stunning effect, and study how often you’ve used that word in your manuscript. You’ll be more than surprised at what you find.

Another way to track down those pesky words that keep reappearing and announce to the world that you’re a beginner is to print your manuscript and get a set of colored markers. Why bother to print it out? I’ve found that the pages take on an entirely new “look,” one that for some strange reason reveals a much stronger need for revision. And, if you use the markers to formulate a color code to find certain words, your revision could border on the professional level. Here’s what to do:

Make yourself a color code with the colored markers. Here’s a suggestion how you can color code your manuscript by either circling or highlighting the words in said color:

1. RED – adjectives

2. BLUE – adverbs

3. GREEN – being verbs, such as “am,” “is,” “was,” “were,” etc. (These words are passive voice; pitch them out and use stronger verbs for the active voice)

4. PINK – commas; many commas are unnecessary and/or misplaced

5. ORANGE – fancy vocabulary words; throw the rascals out and use clear, simple words

6. BROWN – metaphors and similes; yes, sometimes they’re cute and clever, but mostly they’re as boring as a sleeping dog and don’t add anything to your writing

7. YELLOW – clichés and trite expressions; these rascals only reveal lazy writing; be creative with your words and phrases, and you’ll soon have a contract for that “next great American novel.”

If you’re brave enough, go ahead and try this exercise, if only for five or six pages. I believe when you’re done, you’ll have a visual picture of your own writing habits that will probably shock you into becoming a better writer and editor. You might want to tackle the entire manuscript. If you take the time to do it, that publishing contract might be right around the corner.

P.S. Make plans to attend the Montrose Christian Writers Conference July 19th to the 24th. Faculty sketches are at the MCWC’s website http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx    The brochure and more details online are forthcoming. We’d love to have you join us!

    March 9, 2015

Tips for the Beginner and the Rest of Us

So, you’ve got your blank screen before you, you’ve got a tremendous idea for the “next great American novel,” you’ve got your dictionary, thesaurus, Elements of Style, and your Chicago Manual of Style ready. You rub your hands together, blow on your fingernails, and say, “Look out, world. Here comes brilliance!”

If you’ve never tried writing anything but eight-line poems or a letter to the newspaper’s editor once in a while, there are a few tips I’d like to share with you to help you not only write well but also get published. You might not be ready for a novel; perhaps, a 1200-word fiction story or article would be the best way to start.

Whether you’re determined to write a novel or start with shorter stuff, the tips I want to share will help. They’ll also be brief and to the point. In other words, I will not expound with long, convoluted sentences, which is one of the tips I have for you.

Tips to Help You Write Well:

1.  Don’t write long, convoluted sentences. Write short, poignant sentences with very few flowery words and long descriptive paragraphs. Today’s readers won’t stand for your showing off for pages of narration that will bore them to death and cause them to set a match to your work.

2.  Avoid the exclamation mark! One per page is often too many! Use clever words to emphasize emotion and action! Stay away from the exclamation mark! Get the point?

3.  Even if you’re writing fiction, be accurate. Do your homework. If you’re describing a fire scene, make sure you visit your local fire company and get all the details of what fire fighting is all about. For WHISPERING HOPE, the seventh volume of my Keystone Stables Series, I did just that. I had a barn fire scene, so I went to a local fireman and interviewed him, asking for all the details I needed to write the scene accurately.

4.  Stay away from fancy words. Go for simple active verbs, not descriptive adverbs and impressive adjectives. Instead of “The thin and tired old woman in her seventies walked limply and lazily” try “The haggard senior citizen hobbled.”

5.  Avoid figures of speech or overused clichés. They often distract your readers from the real core meaning of your sentence or paragraph. It just makes your reader think you were too lazy to put your own words together to write a clever line. So don’t put the cart before the horse or your readers will think your writing stinks like a skunk, and they’ll abandon ship. The only thought they’ll have concerning your story is “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

6.  Try to stay in the background, like, invisible. A skillful writer will “show” not “tell” his story and have his/her readers engrossed in the plot, identifying with the character or theme and will not give the author a second thought. Not until the last page. Then the readers are free to exclaim, “Wow! What a story!” (And with the exclamation marks!)

With these few basic points in mind, go ahead, tiger. Tackle that keyboard and crank out that manuscript. Who knows? You might just be working on a best seller!

 

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