Category Archives: novels

How to Query–and More

My last writers’ group meeting included a long discussion about the book market triggered by an article from Vox that one of my colleagues had brought in. The discussion branched off into familiar territory for aspiring authors: how to get published.

Books leading to a door in a brick wall

I often feel like a Grinch when I respond to these discussions and questions by saying, “Go online. Google ‘How to.’ There are many wonderful people out there providing solid advice and authoritative, expert guidelines.” Yes, there are also scammers, but if you follow the admonition not to pay anyone anything until you have investigated a wide range of options—and to take the same basic precautions you’d take buying any product—you won’t fall into any serious traps.

My point is often that a thirty-minute conversation can’t cover nearly enough ground to do more than point a new author in the right direction. In these groups, I recommend specific sources for follow up, such as Jane Friedman or Victoria Strauss or, for formatting issues as well as other self-publishing help, The Book Designer. For those convinced that formatting their own e-book is an overwhelming challenge, I recommend Smashwords and Mark Coker’s free e-book formating guide, as well as his list of formatters and cover designers.

book with butterflies taking flight from its pages

Sites like these include links to dozens of helpful articles. Obviously, there are many others; these are just the ones that pop into my head on short notice, because they’re stellar.

Today, my feed included a post from yet another site just brimming with the kind of information the people in my group were craving: Anne R. Allen’s Blog . . . with Ruth Harris. So I’m linking here with advice to anyone starting out on this journey: Once you’ve read Anne R. Allen’s clear, direct instructions on how to write a professional query, browse the site. Click on the links. Subscribe.

I found sources like these the way I suspect anyone builds a personal knowledge base, by clicking on intriguing articles and subscribing to bloggers whose advice seemed relevant to my goals. Compilers like Chris the Story Reading Ape have also given me lots of trails to follow.

Comment and turn all of us on to your favorites. To whom do you go for expert advice on the many aspects of publishing, both traditional and indie? I am always up for learning more!

question mark adorned with flowers

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Filed under business of writing, ebooks, Finding agents, indie publishing, looking for editors, Marketing books, novels, Publishing, Self-publishing, Smashwords

A Small Riff on Handwritten Drafts

Pen and notebook: The tools for writing by hand.

This morning I was reading an article for my other blog, College Composition Weekly, where I summarize selected articles from the scholarly journals on teaching writing (if you teach writing, check  out my archives). This sentence caught my eye:

In fact, [Maryanne] Wolf advocates that students write by hand, which “encourages them to explore their own thoughts at closer to a snail’s pace than a hare’s” . . . which can only help them think more deeply about the texts they both write and read.*

This claim resonates because I always compose my fiction and my own research articles in longhand and have advocated, including as a writing teacher, for this practice.

Why?

The simplest reason is that writing in longhand gives you an extra edit. Keyboarding makes you scrutinize all that text you have to transfer and, in my experience, encourages sharpening as well as re-evaluating structure. You’d be amazed at what you suddenly don’t need when you have to go to the trouble to type it all in.

But there are other reasons. I owe the next two points to an essay from the late 1970s, Janet Emig’s “Writing as a Mode of Learning.” I used to walk my students through an outline of this piece in an effort to persuade them of the value of writing not just to recall but to engage with their reading in all their classes. Two of Emig’s points are especially salient here:

  • Writing is a bodily activity. It doesn’t just happen in the mind.

Emig argues that humans learn better and make better connections when the body echoes what the mind is doing. That’s one reason you remember points better if you rehearse them aloud to yourself.

True, typing is also bodily, but handwriting magnifies the bodily engagement. I remember writing in high school with cartridge pens and just loving the process of shaping the black-ink letters on the white page. A written sentence was almost like a painting, merging visual, palpable, and mental into one.

  • Writing slows down thought; slower thought allows new connections and ideas to bubble up.

I’ve become deeply appreciative of my subconscious. Of how, even in the few instances when I’m white-hot and pouring out text, it’s in the middle of one sentence that the next few start to bloom, as do memories of how this sentence ties to sentences I wrote pages before. Typing can work this way, too, but the extra time to lay out the hand-shaped words allows more of that latent understanding to find its way into the light.

Other advantages of writing by hand

  • Margins! They’re repositories for all those adjunct thoughts that pop up, as well as for brainstorming word choices or for trailing revisions up the side and across the top with arrows showing the way. The Word comment function just doesn’t provide this same looseness, this same ability to explore all the relationships among ideas and sentences. I star things, circle things, even draw pictures. A handwritten page is a landscape, not a Lego tower.
  • A handwritten draft is a real draft! Its impermanence invites the scribbling that calls out inspiration. It never says, “There, finished,” which word-processed pages want to say even when we know they’re wrong.

Of course, my sense that handwriting is better is more a matter of my personal preference than a provable claim. I’m writing this on the screen, will edit it on the screen, as I do most of my blog posts. And these days, I risk not being able to decipher my handwriting if I wait too long to come back.

All the same, if I get stuck when I’m writing, I pick up the pen and the notebook and head for a comfortable chair to recover the slow, free sense of living words that writing in longhand offers. The words just loosen up there.

*Smith, Cheryl Hogue. “”Fractured Reading: Experiencing Students’ Thinking Habits.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47/1 (2019): 22-35.

 

 

 

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Filed under Editing, indie publishing, Inspiration, novels, self editing, Self-publishing

“Show, Don’t Tell”: What the &%(#$@ Does That Mean?

close up of hand over white background

Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

Here’s another excellent post from Writers in the Storm, this one by guest blogger @LoriAnnFreeland. Freeland shows both graphically and verbally how to apply “Show, Don’t Tell” in our writing–she calls these “The Three Most Misunderstood Words in a Writer’s Vocabulary.” One good tip: watch out for “emotion words.” They often mean you’re not using “showing” to best advantage. (Been there!)

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Filed under indie publishing, Learning to write, novels, Self-publishing

Writing in “Deep Point of View”

Big word "book" in "lettepress."Here’s some great help with a difficult concept:

What is “Deep point of view” and how do you achieve it?

Thanks to Lisa Hall-Wilson at Writers in the Storm. Big green smiley

 

 

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Filed under Learning to write, novels, self editing, style

Sigh. Yes, We Have to Write Those &(%%$# Queries and Synopses.

Sad that InDesign is not working rightI’ve given up fighting. I’m doing it, I’m doing it!

I wonder how many creative writing classes and MFA programs include a course in query-writing. I guess if you’re a superbly outgoing person capable of making such a stunning impression in an elevator that you get an automatic request for your fulls, you don’t have to.

Where can I find a class in how to be that person?

Sigh.

Doing the Things You Don’t Love to Get to Where You Want to Be

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Filed under business of writing, Finding agents, looking for editors, novels, Publishing

Power Cutting from Someone Who Had To!

Pair of scissors for cutting text.

Bad news.

The very first line of your query has to tell the agent or editor how long your book is.

The execrable fact is that they expect certain genres to fall within certain limits.

When you’re an overwriter, like me, always able to stroke out one more metaphor, one more lilting phrase, one more neat character detail, hitting those word limits can be a challenge.

The problem intensifies when your writing groups and betas want “More! More!” Or when they push you to look at issues in your story that you glossed over before but now can’t leave unresolved.

So I faced querying a psychological-suspense manuscript at 107,000+ words and an accidental-detective mystery at 106,000+. I’m here to report that both books are now under 100,000 words.

Victory lap after cutting 6000+ words from my manuscript!
Victory Lap!

I’ve read enough submissions in writing groups to know that I’m not the only one in need of a repertoire of tricks (okay, strategies) for corralling a manuscript that has bolted for the hills. I needed “Power Cutting” skills.

I know what a lot of us would say: Cut 7,000 words?!? That will destroy my book! My brilliant writing will win over readers no matter how long it is.

Maybe, but you have to get an agent or editor to read your brilliant writing instead of thinking, “That sounds way too long.”

In fact, my efforts taught me strategies, many of them simple fixes, that actually improved my books rather than devastating them.

Not only will these strategies help you catch bad habits, they’ll force you to think hard about your story: What is it about, what belongs and what doesn’t? At least, that’s what Power Cutting did for me.

Here are some of the big-ticket things I learned.

Have a word-count goal. Until you make up your mind that you MUST cut, you won’t. Watching that number at the bottom of the screen sink and sink inspires!

Start, obviously, with familiar “fillers” like “very” and “really.” Read up on advice for recognizing useless words.

Cut hard now, reconsider later. You might cut too hard and scrape off too much voice, but storing your cuts in a separate, renamed file saves your original language, ready to reinstate after you’ve exceeded your goal.

Remember that no one but you knows what you took out. No one else will miss your golden imagery or your delicate dialogue exchange.

Cut via a complete read-through. You’ll spot problems like repetition that would not show up if you dove in at random, and you’ll maintain the continuity of your story.

Throughout, remember that clarity comes first. Always make sure, for example, that it’s clear who’s speaking before you cut a dialogue tag.

Ask first and last, what does this scene/paragraph/line add? Three cuts to look for:

  • Work you’ve already done. Yes, certain themes and events should be kept before your readers, but when you find yourself thinking, “Didn’t he already say this?”, he probably did. If there’s no new twist to a scene or interior monologue, it can go.
  • Dialogue exchanges that don’t further the plot. Banter for banter’s sake, no matter how scintillating, takes up real estate. Dialogue cuts better when it’s sharp.
  • Piled up details/metaphors/images. In literary fiction, you can interweave whole pages of lyrical description with luscious introspection. In commercial fiction, most paragraphs drag after more than one detail or image, no matter how powerful. Pick the one that does the most work in the fewest and/or most evocative words.

I found some more specific strategies as I progressed with my cutting. I’ll share some of those in an upcoming post.

Some colored pencils for cutting!
You’ll need a few of these.

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Filed under Editing, Finding agents, indie publishing, looking for editors, novels, Plot Development

The Pros and Cons of Prologues

Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for making this visible! I’m of the “do what serves the story school,” and I hate hard-and-fast rules (“Agents hate prologues”). What about you? Weigh in!

Uninspired Writers

Prologues can be a contentious issue. Everybody has a different opinion on them. I’ve known of readers who love them, agents who hate them, and everything in between! The last novel I wrote started with a prologue, even though as a reader I’m not a huge fan of them. Sometimes you just have to do what works for your novel. But for anyone who’s not sure, I’ve listed some of the pros and cons of prologues below.

The Pros:

You can hook the reader
Prologues tend to be short and sweet, and so it gives you the opportunity to really hook the reader with a gritty opening. You don’t need to introduce the characters involved in any depth, which gives you the chance to create a real air of mystery.

Chance to use a different POV
The prologue doesn’t have to follow the pattern of the rest of your story…

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Filed under Myths and Truths, novels, Plot Development