Agent Friday: Jennifer Jackson

Jennifer Jackson has been an agent with the Donald Maass Literary Agency since 1993. Her area of concentration is science fiction and fantasy, though she also represents romance, women's fiction, mystery, suspense, and young adult fiction.

What I like best about Jackson's blog is her weekly post on queries. She shares the number of queries received each day, along with the number of partials requested. Though the numbers may seem discouraging to some, it's a great dose of reality for writers, and encourages me to make sure I keep working on my craft.

If you look at Jackson's latest query post, you'll not only see the small fraction of queries that receive a "yes", but also her notes that will help writers refine their own queries. Things like making sure the agent represents the genre you write. Actually finishing (and polishing) the manuscript before querying. And running your query through a spell check before hitting send. If you want to know more about queries, scroll through all of Jackson's "query wars" posts for a great education on what not to do.

The queries you send should not be dashed off in a few minutes. Though it seems like a simple business letter, remember that this is the first example of your writing an agent will see. Treat your query somewhat like your manuscript. Revise and edit the letter multiple times. Ask your critique group for suggestions and changes. Your query should take weeks (at least) to tweak before sending it off to your carefully targeted agents.

The other part of Jackson's blog I like are her entertaining Agent Manners posts. Jackson holds forth on everything from conference etiquette, to submissions and synopses. 

Most of all, Jackson seems truly excited about being an agent, even after years in the business, and weeding through thousands of queries a year. Read her post, The Pleasure of Agenting, to get a glimpse into the aspects of the business that keep her going.

So here's a question for you: What do you consider to be the pleasures of writing? Something good to think about on the last day of the year.

Writing Groups: Savvy Authors

Our next writing group is Savvy Authors, a group for both published an aspiring writers. The free version of membership allows users to enjoy the forums and articles on the site. Many more options are available for a membership fee.

Whether you join or not, here are a few articles that will give you an idea of the information offered. I'll definitely be back to read more from Savvy Authors.

How to Build a Hero. A great article on how to make your hero easy to sympathize with, yet exciting. It comes with some great lists for must-have qualities in your hero.

Learn to Be a Careful Critic. Learning to critique the writing of others is an important skill. The author gives tips on thoughtful analysis.

Things I've Learned from Writing Contests. Believe it or not, you can learn more about your writing if you "lose" a contest, than if you win.

When Words Get In the Way. Is your manuscript bloated with too many words? Does touching the delete button put you into a cold sweat?

Getting the Joy Back. Have you lost your drive to write? Maybe the break you took over the holidays is threatening to extend into a major writing hiatus. The articles' author details seven ways to get back on track.

It's Not a Competition. Honest. For writers who feel threatened by the success of others, a great perspective.

These articles are just a small sample of what Savvy Authors has available. Check them out. 

Nominate Your Favorite Writing Websites

 I subscribe to Writer's Digest Magazine. The issue I look forward to the most is the May/June issue that features their 101 Best Websites for Writers. I'm usually familiar with many of the websites listed, but there are always a handful I've never heard of before.

And that's where you come in.

Writer's Digest comes up with the list based upon nominations from you, the writers in the trenches. If you'd like a copy of the 2010 list, sign up for the free Writer's Digest newsletter. As you navigate the internet, you've surely come up with a few websites that you seek out again and again. 

It's time to share them with the rest of us.

But you don't have much time. The nominations are due by January 1st. That's Saturday. So do it today. Look through your bookmarks, your blog reader, your lists of not-to-be-forgotten sites, and pick a few to share with others. 

To nominate a website, you'll have to send an email with the web address and a sentence or two about what you like about the site. Send your email to . You can nominate as many sites as you like.

The 2010 list contained the following categories:
-writing advice
-general resources
-jobs & markets
-online writing communities
-everything agents
-publishing & marketing resources
-genres & niches
-just for fun 

Who knows? The one you nominate might make it into the top one hundred and one. It's time for me to nominate a whole bunch. What about you?

I Wrote a Novel. Now What?

So, you accomplished one of your major goals this year. You wrote a novel. 

What do you do next?

Do you send it off to an agent or editor and sit back to wait for a contract? Do you start the sequel? Set up  a fan page on Facebook?

Typing "the end" is really just the beginning. When I began writing several years ago, I mistakenly thought that finishing my novel gave me the right to look for an agent immediately. These days, agents want to see work that is polished, not a first draft. And seasoned writers will tell you that the real writing happens in revision. It's when words are finally out of your head and on the page, that you can actually do something with them.

There are many things you can do once you finish your novel. But I've boiled them down to two essentials.

Revise. Set your manuscript aside for a month before you begin. You need a little distance from it. Writing teacher and author James Scott Bell suggests printing it out and reading it like you would someone else's book. It's surprising how much I miss when I edit on the computer. For more tips on revisions, check this Nanowrimo page.

Books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Manuscript Makeover, and Revision and Self-Editing can help you know what to look for in your manuscript. Once you've combed your manuscript several times, and have improved it to the best of your ability, it's time for the next step.

Other Eyes. This is where you step out (perhaps with fear and trembling) and let other people read your novel. Family and friends do not count. It's important to get honest feedback from people who already know how to write. Your friends will only be impressed that you actually wrote a novel, and most will think it's great, no matter how many problems there are with your plot.

No, what you need are people who are strangers. People who will give you the brutal truth about what works and what needs changing. People who aren't worried about hurting their relationship with you. You'll win in two ways: your manuscript will become stronger, and you'll develop the thick skin you need for the road ahead. If you're looking for a critique group, here are several to choose from.

Where are you at with your novel?

Writing Your Goals for 2011: Make a Plan You Can Follow

The beginning of a new year is a magical time. Twelve blank calendar pages stare back at you, full of possibilities.

This moment of promise is the best time to set goals for the new year. To think about the "big picture" of where you want to be writing-wise at the end of the year. 

One of the reasons for setting goals, is to have something to shoot for. Without goals, we tend to walk in circles--busy, but not making any progress. 

Last December, I wrote out my writing goals for 2010. I used a printable form, and kept that sheet tacked by my computer all year. I tried to review my progress each month to see how I was doing. So far, I've accomplished half my goals for the year. I plan to do better in 2011.

For each of the five Mondays in January, I'll do a post on different kinds of writing goals to set, with resources for each:

Writing: setting aside time to write, and choosing goals for what to write this year.
Financial: this may be the year to set up your writing as a business; keeping track of income and expenses.
Querying: setting goals for how and when to query agents this year.
Workspace: your "office" influences how effectively and how often you write. Get it in shape to help jump start your writing.
Learning: setting goals for educating yourself on the craft of writing, whether reading books and blogs, or attending workshops and conferences.

Are you planning to set goals for 2011?

Christmas Week: Time for Resources and a Rest

 I don't know how many of my readers celebrate Christmas, but I do. Whether it's a special time of year for you or just another day, everyone needs a little downtime. I had considered scheduling blogs for the week, but my computer made the decision for me. It turned itself off on Sunday, and will not restart. 

So as I enjoy a week of family time, baking, cooking, and sledding, I hope each of you take a break from the business of writing. For those of you who can't give it up completely, here are eleven of the year's best articles on writing from Writers Digest. If you're not signed up for their free weekly newsletter, go take care of it right now.

Steve Berry's 8 Rules of Writing

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, and that my computer will be working next week!

Agent Friday: Nancy Coffey

When an agent accumulates nearly 40 years in all aspects of publishing, you expect them to have a few words to say. Nancy Coffey sure does. The founder of Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation maintains a blog giving writers a glimpse into an active literary agency.

Since many of us will be preparing queries for agents at some time, I thought I'd gather Coffey's wisdom on the subject.

Do your research. Even if querying seems years away for you, start compiling a list of agents who are interested in your genre or subject matter. If the agents blog, or are featured in interviews, narrow your list, keeping the names of agents who seem like people you'd love to work with. No matter how awesome an agent sounds, never send them a query for a genre they don't represent. Coffey shares her tips on how to research an agent, noting their "pattern of interest".

Study successful queries. Though a query is basically a one-page business letter, the debut authors who garner the interest of agents are those who spend weeks or months tweaking their queries until they're nearly perfect. Analyzing the elements of queries that got a positive response will help writers improve their own. Coffey shares some examples of great queries that will help.

Learn the parts of a good query. Did you know there's such a thing as the Killer Query Checklist? Find out if your query contains these must-haves. On the other hand, you don't want a query that shares too much. It's a balancing act.

For more on query letters, check out The Query Letter Demystified. Have you found some great resources for query letters?

Writer's Groups: Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Allstory

This is truly fascinating. I recently stumbled upon the website of a filmmaker, who supports the arts in all kinds of ways. Francis Ford Coppola not only makes films and wine, runs restaurants and a travel agency, he also supports a literary magazine and a virtual film studio.

Zoetrope: Allstory is a magazine that publishes short fiction. It is a winner of the National Magazine Award for Fiction. Coppola began the magazine in 1997, "to explore the intersection of story and art, fiction and film", according to the website.

Each year, the magazine holds contests for short fiction and screenplays, and finalists are considered for representation by ten different literary agencies. Not to mention the thousand-dollar prize.

One of the best things about Zoetrope: Allstory, is their commitment to writers. They offer free memberships to Zoetrope Virtual Studio, a community with workshops dedicated to writers of fiction, screenplays, poems, and songs. They also include photographers, storyboard artists, and filmmakers. It sounds like a great place to find a supportive community to critique your work.

The nice thing about the Virtual Studio, is that they create a "virtual private office" for you. In your office, you have ten megabytes of file space, which you can share only with those members you select (or everyone, if you choose).

If you are interested in submitting a story to Zoetrope, read the submission guidelines. You may also want to order a few back issues, or read some of the stories posted online, to get an idea of what they publish.

Interested in more writing groups? Check them out here.

Book Review: The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use

Self-publishing has taken another huge leap forward. With the advent of Google eBooks, independent authors have more options than ever. However, navigating those options can be dizzying. Writers need an experienced guide to avoid the scams and pitfalls that await. 

April L. Hamilton is the guide writers need. Her book, The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use, will give independent authors the confidence to bring their words to the world.

The creator of the self-publishing community Publetariat (a site you must bookmark if you're considering self-publishing), and a member of the board of directors for the Association of Independent Authors, Hamilton has published several books on her own. It's not surprising that Writers Digest Books tapped her to write The Indie Author Guide.

The twelve chapters in the book cover the basics of indie authorship, including common misperceptions and the difference between an independent publisher and a vanity publisher.

Even writers who don't plan on self-publishing will learn from the chapter on "Getting Organized". This is the first writing book I've come across that takes the time to give tips on "hard drive housekeeping" and "email housekeeping". With all the drafts, critiques, and contacts writers generate, keeping track of everything is important.

Other chapters include branding, publishing options, formatting your book, and editing and revising. Hamilton even includes a tutorial for designing your own cover, and the how-tos of uploading your work for print-on-demand or ebooks. She also includes chapters on platform, promotion, and how to go mainstream, if that's part of the writer's plan.

For me, the best part of the book is the worksheets in the appendix. Authors can keep track of every aspect of income and expense. Hamilton includes charts to help writers compare prices from multiple publishing houses. To make it easier for writers, she's posted the worksheets on her Indie Author website for free download. Traditionally published writers will find some of these sheets useful.

To keep up with the latest in self-publishing, check the Publetariat site, and Hamilton's blog. Another great blog is J. A. Konrath's Newbie's Guide to Publishing.

What do you think of your chances of self-publishing success?

No More Cookie-Cutters: Avoiding Cliches to Create Original Fiction

It  poured cats and dogs. Her heart pounded like a drum. Their family was poor as dirt.

Cliche. Cliche. Cliche.

What sounds beautiful and original to the writer, often comes across as tired and hackneyed to agents and editors. Cookie-cutter phrases that make writing sound like something you've heard time and time again.

Cliches come in many forms, besides the obvious. There are cliched characters, cliched emotions, cliched dialogue, cliched settings and descriptions. Even cliched plots.

The best way to steer clear of them is to be aware of what they are. Beyond that, realize your first draft will be full of cliches. That's all right, since your own editing, plus your critique group, should be able to weed them out.

Here are some links I've been collecting to educate myself on cliches:

Cliche Catalogs. Have you wondered if anyone has ever collected cliches in one place? The answer is yes, and you can scroll through, search, or add to the hundreds of cliches at Cliche Site. The cliches are listed alphabetically, but you can also search by category. Check out Cliche Finder for more.

Plot Cliches. Do you fear your plot is just a recycled version of a tired storyline readers have heard before? TV Tropes has an extensive list of plot cliches, but that's not all. There's also cliched dialogue, characters, setting, and more. The site is searchable by genre, as well.

Character Cliches. You may argue that your main character is a classic archetype, not a cliche. Nathan Bransford breaks down the difference between them, and shows how to make your character rise above similar ones.

Emotional Cliches. Agent Mary Kole made me laugh with her insightful comments on the prevalence of certain body parts in writing about emotions. It definitely makes me stop and think before using one of these.

Query Cliches. Yes, even query letters have cliches. For an agent who reads hundreds of queries a month, certain phrases come up with maddening regularity. Would you like to avoid them? Nathan Bransford gives a rundown of the most frequent cliches in queries.

One of the best ways to avoid cliches is to read authors who invent refreshing characters, and unique ways of depicting setting and emotions. The best example I know of is The Book Thief. Any others you'd like to suggest?

Are there any cliche types I've missed? Which cliches bother you the most?

Body Language: Another Way to Show Your Character's Emotions

Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.

After the post last week on facial expression, I was reminded that body language is another big part of sharing character emotion with the reader. There are so many ways to express emotion with the body, I thought I'd collect some great examples here.

As writers, we spend so much time on dialogue, setting, and characterization, but to give readers a true picture of our characters' emotions, they need to see how the character is communicating with the body.

First off, Writing Genre Fiction has a wonderful list of emotions--from anger to unhappiness--with suggested examples of body language for each. You'll find more in body language basics.

If you want to write realistic body language, it stand to reason you should be adept at interpreting body language. WikiHow has a great article to teach how it's done. also has a tutorial on reading body language. Body Language Expert posts many articles on how to understand the signals of body language.

Did you know there are actual terms for different kinds of body language? On Routines for Writers, writing instructor Margie Lawson shares seven terms writers need to know.

Fiction Fix demonstrates how to slip body language into dialogue to make it far more interesting than "he said, she said". Soon, you'll be using body language to create believable characters.

Lastly, don't forget about the amazing Emotion Thesaurus available at The Bookshelf Muse. It's definitely something to bookmark.

Did you miss the post on facial expression?

Agent Friday: Caren Johnson Estesen

Caren Johnson Estesen began agenting in 2002. Five years later, she opened her own agency, Caren Johnson Literary Agency, that now boasts five agents. 

The agency accepts a variety of projects from fiction to non-fiction, and picture books through adult works.  See their submission guidelines for more information.

So, on to the blog posts that might be relevant to your writing life:

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? Whether you finished or not, you likely have a manuscript of questionable value. The question is, do you keep working on it, or discard the thing and hope you can do better? Johnson gives four options in Nanowrimo Manuscripts: What to do with them?

Have you just returned to writing? That was me five years ago. I soon realized I had a lot to learn. Between writing courses, conferences, books, and just plain writing, I saw improvement. As a part-time editor, I see clients who could save money on editing by taking a writing course to "brush up" before they hire an editor. Johnson explains her reasoning why writers ought to consider a writing course.

At some point, you will need to write an author bio (or biography). Johnson shares how to write a bio that will not make an editor's eyes roll.

If you're wondering how long your book should be, find out in Johnson's post, Another Word on Wordcount.

Is it time for you to query an agent? Plan to spend a few weeks perfecting your query letter. You'll probably appreciate Johnson's post, The Science of the Query Letter.

Just last night, the agency hosted a question and answer session on their Facebook page. Check out the great responses they gave. Perhaps someone asked a question you had.

And here's some exciting news: if you have a finished manuscript, you can pitch it to the agency on their Twitter Open Pitch Night. Read through the information, and get ready to pitch on January 6, 2011.  But first, you'll want to read the post on Perfecting Your Pitch.

For more Agent Friday, click here.

Facial Expression: How to Show Your Character's Emotions

The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.  ~Cicero

I've been thinking about facial expressions for some time. It's amazing how much can be conveyed by the look on someones face.

As writers, we need to hone the skill of translating each meaningful look, each scathing glance, each crestfallen countenance--into mere words.

A man finds room in the few square inches of his face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Conduct of Life

For me, the first goal is to have a clear picture of my character's face, along with an intimate knowledge of his or her life. Fears, wants, joys. Past pain, station in life, goals for the future. Soon, I can meld their facial features with the emotions underneath the surface.

Here are some resources that can be used to come up with a composite of your character:

One way is to create an avatar for your character. An avatar is a digital picture, one where you decide the features, hair and eye color, and skin tone. 

Another possibility is to make a police sketch of the character you have in mind. Or, you can search online for modeling agencies, and scan through the pictures they post.

An eye can threaten like a loaded and levelled gun, or it can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance for joy.... One of the most wonderful things in nature is a glance of the eye; it transcends speech; it is the bodily symbol of identity.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The second goal is to understand the various meanings of facial expressions. The Data-Face site offers a complete education on every expressive part of the face. If you want to test if your character can raise his eyebrows while smirking, try the live demonstration on this site. Also, microexpression is a factor for your characters. Read a great explanation here. And if you want to test yourself to see if you are interpreting facial expressions correctly, try this quiz

Author Toni Morrison knows how to describe facial expression. Check out this example"

My daddy's face is a study.  Winter moves into it and presides there.  His eyes become a cliff of snow threatening to avalanche, his eyebrows bend like black limbs of leafless trees.  His skin takes on the pale cheerless yellow of winter sun; for a jaw he has the edges of a snowbound field dotted with stubble; his high forehead is the frozen sweep of the Erie.  ~Toni Morrison

I'll leave you with two more quotes:

The expression a woman wears on her face is far more important than the clothes she wears on her back.
~Dale Carnegie

A man's face is his autobiography.  A woman's face is her work of fiction.  ~Oscar Wilde

How do you manage your character's facial expressions?

Free Resources from Writer Charlotte Dillon

Author websites can go one of two ways. Sometimes they're only about the author and their book. Basically an electronic billboard in the sky. Other author sites recognize that many viewers are not only readers, but writers, too. They share what the author has learned on the journey, and help writers along.

Charlotte Dillon is one of these. And she's not even published yet.

I am so impressed with the links Dillon shares. Besides her blog, she offers pages and pages of helpful information. And although Dillon is a romance writer, most of the resources will be helpful to writers of any genre.

  If you are working on building your characters, Dillon's Character page is bursting with information. She offers her own character chart to download, and a list of books she finds helpful. She shares insights on how to name your characters, along with links to many sites that will help writers find the perfect names. She also links to dozens of articles aimed at helping writers making their characters stronger and more three-dimensional.

For those considering submitting their manuscript, Dillon offers a wealth of information. One page is dedicated to instruction on preparing a manuscript in the proper format. Another page has dozens of articles on writing a synopsis, along with samples of good ones. And if it's time to write a query letter, Dillon offers a page with instructions, samples of effective queries, and a collection of articles on query letter writing.

On her links page, Dillon lists a large number of sites that help with grammar, tax information, and free downloads for writers. There's also a page of articles for writers, and a great list of research books for writers, sorted by genre. And the research links for writers page is chock full of websites to help you write in all kinds of genres.

If you're needing some encouragement, or a jump-start, go to Dillon's writing prompts, or read her collection of inspirational quotes. She also hosts a community forum for romance writers. You may also enjoy her collection of stories from writers who tell about receiving "the call" that their book would be published.

Check out Charlotte Dillon's website. You may want to emulate her one day.

Book Review: Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing

One of the reasons we write is because we have a love affair with words. There are so many from which to choose. On the flip side, there's such a variety of words, it's easy to get confused as to which ones are correct.

Enter Grammar Girl.

Writing as Mignon Fogarty, in Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, the author helps writers wade through panic-inducing dilemmas, like using affect or effect. Who versus whom. And lay versus lie.

She also gives explanations of punctuation, word choice, and style. The book is a culmination of years of posts and podcasts on the Grammar Girl website. Check it out to get a feel for the tips and tricks Grammar Girl comes up with to help writers remember correct usage.

I like that Grammar Girl develops humorous mnemonics to help her tips stick in the mind. Some are accompanied by cartoons that further illustrate her point. She shares information important to writers like the difference between passive voice and active voice, and what it means to end a sentence with a preposition.

I also like her post on How to Write Your First Novel, and the well-explained Dashes Versus Colons.
Since I do editing for others, I like being able to refer to Grammar Girl's site when deciding if a particular usage is correct.

On the website, you can sign up for her free newsletter, or sign up for free podcasts (short audio posts). Her newest book, The Grammar Devotional, is also full of tips and tricks. Click the link to find a free four-week download of a sample from The Grammar Devotional.

You'll also find a sample of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing on the site.

Check out more book reviews here.

What's your grammar reference source?

What's In Your Box? How Your Novel is Like a Time Capsule

If a thousand writers were each given the same very specific story idea, you would end up with a thousand very different stories. A few of those manuscripts could even become bestsellers.


Because each of us brings a unique set of life experiences to the table. We view the world in vastly different ways, have met a variety of people, and incorporate our individual likes and dislikes into the mix.

Just like a time capsule contains tidbits of information relating to a particular society, the things that influence our writing make it individual to each writer.

People. The characters in my book are shaped by the people I know (including myself). Added to those, are individuals who have touched my life via books and media. One of my recent characters is based upon a Jane Austen character who amused me in Pride and Prejudice. Whether the person you create is a positive or negative one, it is likely influenced by someone you know.

Places. The catalogue of locations you've grown up in or visited over the years will inform the settings of your novels. Even if your book is based upon a place you've never been, it is colored by the settings you've known. 

Experiences. The vast array of things that have happened to you, whether by your choice or not, will show up in some way in your fiction. A tragic accident in my town left a mark on many families I knew. That experience ended up becoming a short story named After.

Even if you broadcast your story idea to the world, there is no on on earth who could write it just like you. Sure, someone could "steal" the idea, but their execution of it would not even come close to yours.

So, what's in your box? What people, places, and experiences have made their way into your writing so far?

What is Copywriting? Find Out in a Free Webinar from American Writers & Artists, Inc.

Did you read an email ad this morning? Listen to a radio advertisement or TV commercial? Those words were written by copywriters

Copywriting (not to be confused with copyright, as in the rights to someones words) is basically writing to promote a business, a product, or an idea. It is a type of freelance writing. Copywriting touches us every day in magazine and newspaper ads, website content, brochures, radio and TV scripts, press releases, letters and mass mailings, even billboards. As a writer, you have the opportunity to learn how to earn by copywriting. It's a great way to help pay the bills while you're on the road to publication.

To be a good copywriter, you must work to develop these qualities:

Be creative. Dull copy won't draw in customers. Copywriters must paint a picture of the product or service that catches the consumer's interest.

Be concise. Copywriters usually work within a tight word limit. Being able to get to the point quickly, yet creatively is an art. Not to mention, there is usually a quick deadline.

Aim for conversion. Conversion is the term for action on the part of a consumer. The person who scans a web page, and then clicks the "buy" button, has been "converted", meaning the writer has convinced them to take action. This calls for compelling writing.

Excellent copywriters make large salaries, but even entry-level copywriters can look forward to a paycheck. Sites like Elance and Odesk list companies looking for copywriters.

If you're interested in learning more about whether copywriting is for you, American Writers & Artists, Inc. is hosting a free webinar to give writers more information.

CopyBlogger lists 10 Steps to Effective Copywriting, along with many other resources.

Here's a link to a series of Free Copywriting Tutorials.

And even more resources from

Do you think copywriting might be for you? 

Book Review: Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction, by Jeff Gerke

Which comes first for you when writing a story? The plot or the characters? Author Jeff Gerke believes each writer is stronger in one than the other. How does a writer compensate?

By reading Plot Versus Character: a Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction

If you dream up intricate plot points, with high drama, and perhaps a twist at the end, you'll likely be less adept at creating believable characters. If you invent characters so real you expect to meet them on the street, you might find it hard to give them enough to do.

This newest Writer's Digest book is full of all the information both plot-first and character-first novelists need in order to take advantage of their strengths and sharpen their areas of weakness. Jeff Gerke, himself a novelist, editor, and publisher demonstrates each point with excellent examples.

If you are a plot-first writer, you'll discover that deepening your characters will increase the stakes, and may provide ideas to make your plot elements even more compelling. For the character-first writer, will use the dimensions of their characters to create far more riveting plots.

Part one of the book will educate you on creating characters that are memorable and three-dimensional. Gerke's Character Layers Chart is an amazing addition to a writer's arsenal.

Part two helps writers who struggle with ideas for interesting plots use Gerke's tools for building them. And part three helps to integrate both plot and characters to make a novel that is difficult to put down. You'll probably find Gerke's Plot and Character hard to put down.

For more info on Jeff Gerke:
His personal website, Jefferson Scott.
Gerke's speculative fiction imprint (with fantastic books): Marcher Lord Press.
The speculative fiction website, Where the Map Endsand the Anomaly Forums, where writers and readers can connect.
Don't forget Gerke's other writing book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction.
My list of some great free resources from Jeff Gerke.

Your Writing Career: Are You Waiting Passively or Actively?

Let's face it. Writing involves a lot of waiting. We wish we could hurry up parts of the process, since it took so long to actually write the book. Yet we face waiting for critique group feedback, beta readers, contest results, agent and then editor responses.

It's almost enough to make a writer give up. The dreams of rapid publication vanish like the mist they are. Writers wonder if they should even bother starting another book if they can't interest anyone in the first.

But it's good for each of us to hear a dose of reality. That first books are rarely sold first, if at all. That writers ought to have a "practice" book in the drawer before trying for publication. That at least five years will pass from the moment we really imagined we might become published writers.

Why? Because with reality, comes the decision. Work hard, or give up. And years of waiting is the fertile soil for the hard work of becoming a published writer. Yes, you could sit back and wait passively for someone to recognize the genius of your writing. Or, you can wait actively, improving your writing to the point that the wheels of publication begin to turn in your direction.

Start your next project. Novel, article, short story--it doesn't matter. Start something. Don't be content to rest on the project you've completed, even if you believe it's your best. And if you're worried you don't have what it takes, keep writing anyway. It's the only way to get better. Remember, writing can be learned. They say it takes a million words to become an accomplished writer. How far are you to finishing a million?

Pull out a book. Make it a habit to always have a writing book that you're working through. Leave it on the nightstand, or in the bathroom (for busy moms). Even reading just a page or so a day will help to strengthen your writing. Tackling a few of these books a year is like going to a writing conference. If you need some suggestions, I've got a few.

Find a group. Whether you try an online group, or one that's in-person, joining a critique group is one of the best ways to become a stronger writer. You'll learn to write better from the feedback of others, but giving critique will teach you even more. Not every group will be perfect for you, so try some out before you settle in.

Consider a conference. I can't tell you how much I've learned from each of the conferences I've attended. Learning, in person, from agents, editors, and authors is inspiring, but so is being part of a large group of writers who have the same mindset. Save up, apply for scholarships, and go. There are some free online conferences (check here and here), but if you can manage a live one, go for it.

How many of these are you doing right now? Is there a way you're waiting actively that I haven't listed?


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