Agent Friday: Brian J. Wood

As you can see, this is not an actual image of Brian J. Wood, but as he says on his website, it's close. Wood is a Vancouver-based agent, which is great news for my Canadian readers, though he and his associate will soon be working in the US market.

Wood accepts mostly non-fiction, but when great fiction comes along, he passes it to associate, author Rachel Sentes. Sentes is a publicist in her own right, which gives an added benefit to authors who sign with the agency.

If you have a manuscript, and you're wondering if it's ready to send out, ask yourself Woods questions in Tips for Manuscript Submissions to see if it's ready for prime time.

A few posts from Wood and Sentes:

Authors deal with rejection all the time. But realize that agents get rejected, too. And many times, they don't see a big return on all the hours they put in.

It's been said many times that signing with an agent is like getting married (and that finally getting an offer of representation is like a proposal). But you wouldn't marry the first person that asked you. Wood posts a list of questions to ask yourself before tying the knot.

Can authors and agents really be objective about their work?

Is there such a thing as a perfect manuscript?

You may wonder what goes into a publicity platform. Sentes spells it out.

For more Agent Friday posts, click here.

Writer's Group: Poets & Writers

Poets & Writers is a magazine I hadn't come across before, and it's too bad. I found a wonderful magazine. Though I don't do a lot of poetry, leaning more to fiction, I found quite a bit of helpful information on the Poets & Writers website.

The organization that publishes the magazine and maintains the site bills itself as "the nation's largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers". They've been operating for 40 years.

The website offers a large array of information, which helps writers to discover if the magazine is a good fit for them. Some magazines give tidbits of articles to non-subscribers. Not so with Poets & Writers. Of the 15 articles listed in the latest issue, 10 are available for reading online.

My favorite section is the Tools for Writers page. Here, you'll find all kinds of links to great information. There's a list of grants and awards, in order of deadline, including writing contests. A database of literary magazines who might publish your work, with their contact information. A listing of small presses, publishers who are more nimble and open to new writers. Interested in pursuing further education? Poets & Writers has posted a list of MFA programs for you to check into. And they have links to articles on the "top ten topics for writers". There's even a link for job listings.

Besides all the articles and links they offer, Poets & Writers has a forum, the Speakeasy, where you can join other poets and writers to talk about the craft. With nearly 40,000 users, the conversations are varied and lively.

Check the P&W site also, for breaking news in the writing world, and to sign up for their free newsletter. There's also a multimedia page, where you can view or listen to video interviews, slide shows, and pod casts.

Here are a few Poets & Writers articles to get started:

Digital Digest: The Changing Economics of E-books

Literary New Orleans, Post-Katrina

Everything you need to know about Literary Magazines, from selection to submissions.

A crash course in Publishing a Book.

Book Review: The Secret of Indigo Moon

The Secret of Indigo Moon is the second book in a new middle grade series, designed especially for reluctant readers. Combining elements of both illustrated novels and graphic novels keeps the word count low, and interest high.

Author G.P. Taylor may be familiar to you. The motorcycle-riding Anglican minister is the author of several novels, the first of which was Shadowmancer, which reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list in 2004.

The Doppleganger Chronicles stars Erik Morrissey Ganger, and twins Sadie and Saskia Dopple, all residents of the Isambard Dunstan's School for Wayward Children. The Dopples and Ganger solved a mystery in book one, and a new and dangerous one has been revealed via a secret tunnel under the school, as they encounter thieves and killers in their search for the former school matron.

No less than three artists contributed to the illustrations in the book. There is seldom a page without some kind of picture. It takes a little while to get over the transitions between the "novel" pages and the "graphic novel" sections, but for kids who seldom gravitate toward books, this should hold their interest.

It's difficult to find books that boys enjoy, but main character Erik is likable and full of self-doubts. Saskia and Sadie are mischievous and plucky, always finding ways to get into trouble. My own boys enjoyed the book, and even my daughter devoured it (although she's above the middle grade age).

For more about G.P. Taylor, check out his official website, the Doppleganger Chronicles website (where you can watch the short book trailer), and his page where you can download the first chapter.

Note: Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book, in exchange for my honest review.

Free Writer's Conference--Two Weeks Away

As promised, I'm posting a reminder about WriteOnCon, the free writing conference. It begins in just two weeks, running from August 10th-12th.

Although it is advertised as an online children's writer's conference, you do not have to write for children to attend. Nearly all the workshops will contain information useful to any writers.

The conference runs over a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The way most online workshops run, is that the presenter posts a "lecture", and attendees give feedback through their comments. The presenter ususally joins in the "conversation". This way, you can check in at any time during the day, and not feel like you've missed the workshops. If you can't check in during the day, or even any of those days, don't worry. Transcripts will be made available of the entire conference, and you'll be able to access them when it's convenient for you.

Each evening, there will be live workshops beginning at 9pm Eastern Time. The schedule of workshops and webinars will be posted on the site next week.

 Right now, there's a great opportunity. One of the literary agents will present a workshop on improving the first five pages of your manuscript. If you would like your manuscript evaluated during this workshop, you'll need to send your pages by tomorrow, Wednesday, July 28th. More details here.

If you are interested in attending WriteOnCon, check out the quick registration guidelines. It only takes a minute, and then you'll be able to enter the WriteOnCon forums to introduce yourself and meet other writers before the conference starts. There is a good chance that the forums will remain open all year, so this is another writing group that you can join.

Hope to see you there!

How Do You Write a Book Proposal, by Rachelle Gardner

There are several great books available on writing book proposals. My favorites for non-fiction are:

a Book Proposals That Sell by W. Terry Whalin

a Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff Herman. I like this one because it contains ten real-life proposals that sold.

A good book for fiction proposals is:

Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook

If you send us a query and we request a proposal from you, we’ll send you the WordServe Literary book proposal template. Meanwhile, here are bare-bones outlines of what a book proposal looks like.

For Non-Fiction

Title page: Title, authors’ names, phone numbers, email addresses.

One sentence summary: It captures your book. It should be morehook than description.

Brief overview: This should read similar to back-cover copy. It should be exciting, informative, and make someone want to read your book. It tells the publisher in a succinct form what the book is about and who the market is. Three to four paragraphs.

Felt need: What needs will your book fulfill that your audience isalready aware of? What questions are they asking that your book will answer? What do they want that you can give them?

About the authors: Half page to a full page on each author. Why are you qualified to write this book? List any previously published books or articles along with sales figures. Make a good case for YOU as the best possible author for a book on this topic.

The market: Whom do you see as the audience for the book? Why would somebody buy this book? How is this audience reached? Do youhave any special relationships to the market? What books and magazines does this audience already read? What radio and TV programs do they tune into? Demonstrate an understanding of exactly who will buy your book and why.

Author marketing: This is where you'll talk about your platform. How are YOU able to reach your target audience to market your book? This is NOT the place for expressing your "willingness" to participate in marketing, or your "great ideas" for marketing. This is the place to tell what you've already done, what contacts you already have, and what plans you've already made to help market your book. A list of speaking engagements already booked is great; radio or television programs you're scheduled to appear on or have in the past; a newsletter you're already sending out regularly; a blog that gets an impressive number of daily hits. This is NOT the place to say that your book would be terrific on Oprah, unless you have documented proof that Oprah's people havealready contacted you.

The competition: What other books are in print on the same subject? How is your book different and better? (There is always competition.) First, give a general discussion of the state of the marketplace as regards books of this topic. Then do a list of 4 to 8 books that could be considered most comparable to yours. List the title, author, year of publication. (Only books in the last five years are relevant, unless they’re still bestsellers.) Then write a couple of sentences explaining what that book is about, and how yours is different, better, and/or a good complement to it.

Details: How many words will your book be? (Words, not pages.) How long after the signing of a contract will it take you to complete the book? (This is usually 2 to 6 months.)

Chapter outline: This is where it becomes crucial that your book is well organized and completely thought-through. You will need chapter titles, and a couple of sentences capturing each chapter’s theme.

Sample chapters: This is usually the Introduction, plus one or two chapters. Make sure they’re polished and perfect!

Those are the basics, but I highly recommend you get a good book on proposals before writing yours. Mary DeMuth has a 50-page book proposal tutorial available for $10. Click here to go to her website and order it. (Mary writes incredible book proposals and she knows what she's talking about.)

What about fiction?
If you've written a novel, you still need a book proposal but it will look slightly different. The most important thing with fiction is the writing itself, so your sample chapters must truly shine to capture an agent or editor's attention.

However, just like with non-fiction, the author's involvement in marketing is of utmost importance. So, much of your proposal will look similar to a non-fiction proposal because it's about YOU and how you can help market your own book.

In a fiction proposal, you'll be most successful at capturing attention if your first page includes a killer "hook" and a concise synopsis that doesn't necessarily tell the whole story, but intrigues the reader enough that they feel they MUST read your book.

(Jeff Gerke has a great post on writing a fiction proposal HERE.)

Here's a rundown of a great fiction proposal:
Title page: Title, authors’ names, phone numbers, email addresses.

One sentence hook: This is more of a tagline, one sentence that creates interest in the book.

Brief overview: This should read similar to back-cover copy. It should be exciting and make someone want to read your book. It tells the publisher in a succinct form what the book is about. Two to four paragraphs.

The market: Whom do you see as the audience for the book? Why would somebody buy this book? How is this audience reached? Do you have any special relationships to the market? What books and magazines does this audience already read? What radio and TV programs do they tune into? Demonstrate an understanding of exactly who will buy your book and why.

About the authors: Half page to a full page on yourself. Why are you qualified to write this book? List any previously published books or articles along with sales figures. Any awards or special degrees or certificates in creative writing? Anything that helps establish you as a novelist goes in this section.

Author marketing: This is where you'll talk about your platform. How are YOU able to reach your target audience to market your book? This is NOT the place for expressing your "willingness" to participate in marketing, or your "great ideas" for marketing. This is the place to tell what you've already done, what contacts you already have, and what plans you've already made to help market your book. A list of speaking engagements already booked is great; radio or television programs you're scheduled to appear on or have in the past; a newsletter you're already sending out regularly; a blog that gets an impressive number of daily hits. This is NOT the place to say that your book would be terrific on Oprah, unless you have documented proof that Oprah's people havealready contacted you.

Comparable books: Instead of a "competition" section, you'll want to include four to five novels that you see as similar to yours in some way. It helps the editor develop a big-picture understanding of your book. It's best not to include blockbuster bestsellers (The DaVinci Code, Left Behind) but do include well-known books with solid sales. Include title, author, release year, and a couple of sentences about the book and how yours is similar and would appeal to the same audience.

Details: How many words will your book be? (Words, not pages.) How many chapters? Have you included book club discussion questions? Is your manuscript complete? (Note: Unless you're a multi-published novelist, you must have a completed novel before approaching agents and editors.)

Longer synopsis: In several pages (2 to 6 is a good guideline) describe the story. In this part, don't worry about preserving the "surprise" factor. This is where you have to explain the story, start to finish.

Sample chapters: Include the first 40 to 50 pages of your manuscript (ending at a natural chapter break). Don't include random chapters - you need the FIRST few chapters. Make sure they’re polished and perfect! THIS is what will determine whether you get a request for a full manuscript or not.

For other posts I've written about book proposals, CLICK HERE.

*Please note that you normally only send a full proposal if requestedby an agent or editor based on your written query or a face-to-face meeting at a conference.

This guest post comes courtesy of Wordserve Literary agent, Rachelle Gardner. If you're not reading her blog daily, you might want to consider adding Rants & Ramblings to your reader. 

Agent Friday: Joelle Delbourgo

 Joelle Delbourgo Associates, Inc. is a boutique agency that has been going since 1999. Headed by Joelle Delbourgo, the agency handles both fiction and nonfiction. The team of six contribute to a blog that covers new releases, and important information for aspiring authors.

Delbourgo spent 25 years at publishing houses before starting her agency. She knows what editors are looking for, having been one herself.

Find out more about the New Jersey-based agency at their website, and check out their blog. A couple of posts that caught my eye:

10 Publishing Truths and 7 Strategies. The latest news in publishing is depressing. Book sales declining. Publishers printing fewer books. This post gives tips for responding to the current economic challenges of publishing.

Writing a Query Letter. Eight do's and eight don'ts, to help you check if your query will get read.

What Do Agents Want? Joelle Delbourgo explains what she looks for in a writer's work, and in the writer themselves. Even though she's representing you, in one sense you are representing her--her reputation as an agent who can spot quality writing.

For more query tips, and why the very first sentence of your query is so important, check out this interview.

Have a great weekend!

Free Online Magazine: Querypolitan

OK, this one's just for fun. As writers, there's so much stress over revision, writer's block, and querying, that we need a laugh now and then. So here it is: Querypolitan. The tongue-in-cheek writer's magazine that pokes fun at writing, while it copies the style of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Editor Taherah Mafi, began the free online magazine as a joke, but somehow it took on a life of it's own. Taherah, a 22 year-old graphic designer and writer, has stormed the blogosphere with her acerbic wit on TH.Mafi. If you like sarcasm, you're in for a treat.

Here's a rundown of a few of the articles (and remember, they are not to be taken completely seriously):

5 Things Agents Notice Instantly

4 Signs the Rejectionist is into You and/or Your Novel

What You Can Tell From a Novel's First Line

The Five Stages of Querying

50 Query Tricks (Are You Brave Enough to Try #43?)

What 81% of Agents Expect on the First Page

Did you laugh? See yourself in some of the articles? Don't worry, I didn't post all of them. There are more for you to check out.

So, every month when you're pounding your forehead against the keyboard, and you need to laugh at yourself, click on over to Querypolitan and take a break from taking yourself so seriously.

Book Review: Revision & Self-Editing

Last month, I reviewed James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure. Just as with his previous book on writing, Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel is a volume filled with tips and illustrations that particularly help the visual writer, this time focused on polishing your novel for submission.

Maybe it's the trial lawyer in Bell that encourages exhibits. With diagrams that show three-act structure, and mythic structure, layers of the story and character conflict, intensity scales and character arc templates, writers will be able to visualize what they're learning. There are even diagrams for each type of point of view.

Each of Bell's points are backed up by real-life examples from books or movies. These help the reader "see" what they've learned in "3D".

The book is divided into two parts. First, self-editing, where twelve chapters cover each of the key aspects of a novel that must be examined. This half of the book is like an intensive course in fiction writing, and a great overview if you can't afford a book on each of the topics.

The second half of the book focuses on revision. Bell explains the how, the why, and the when of revision, and includes The Ultimate Revisions Checklist in the book. Each chapter, in part one and part two, ends with exercises that will help writers apply what they've learned. Bell provides the exercise answers in the back.

Check out Bell's website, where you can download a sample of his newest book, The Art of War for Writers (click the News tab). Bell blogs at The Kill Zone with six other mystery and thriller writers. His latest post was excellent, titled Just Go, where he talks about how he learned to write (and no, he wasn't a gifted writer out of the gate). Having read a few of his novels, that's encouraging.

Extreme Makeover, Manuscript Edition

Have you ever seen a girl who has just discovered makeup? She imagines that since a little makes her look good, a lot will make her gorgeous. In the end, it's just comical.

That's how it is when writers begin to toss in adjectives and adverbs. After all, we've read books where they're used, and it sounded lovely. So a couple of adjectives and adverbs are added. And then some more. Soon, all the beautiful, stark prose is clogged by a forest of fancy words.

And the voice is lost somewhere deep inside.

Pick up a bestselling book today, and read the first page. You can even make a photocopy of it, and highlight the adjectives and adverbs. These days, you'll find only a few. Compelling writing is far more spare than it used to be, and writers today must learn to strip themselves of unnecessary words.

I remember attending a workshop given by fantasy writer Donita K. Paul. She showed a paragraph on the screen. Paul talked about how adjectives and adverbs can be distracting. After a moment, large circles slid onto the screen, each one covering an adjective or adverb. Before long, the entire screen looked like it had the measles.

As readers, we somehow believe that the more flowery the writing, the better it is. Not so. Here are some articles to help you get rid of what is often called "purple prose".

Writer's Digest tells writers: Don't Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose

Need to see an example of purple prose? Check out this one on Mary DeMuth's site. For more of her examples, click the "free critique per week" label.

Jane Friedman explains The Much-Maligned Adverb.

And author Maree Giles warns: Dead Boring--Don't Let Pesky Adverbs, Dull Adjectives, and Passive Voice Drain Your Writing!

So just remember: for adjectives and adverbs, just like makeup, a little goes a long way.

Titling Your Book

At some point in time you will have to write a title. Whether your manuscript is fiction or nonfiction, titles are important. They spark a reader's interest, give a sense of what the story is about, and suggest a genre. Your title is one of your best marketing tools.

Think about the last time you stood in a bookstore, scanning the spines of the volumes on the shelves. If a title jumped out at you, you porbably paused, and might have pulled the book out for a closer look. That's the power of a title.

Titles come in all shapes and sizes, and even wildly different ones can be effective. Let's take a look at this week's New York Times Bestseller List to see what they are:

Minimalist. These are one-word titles, which jump out at the reader. Some examples: PRIVATE, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, WHIPLASH, by Catherine Coulter, and INNOCENT, by Scott Turow. Without even reading a blurb about them, can you make a guess at their genre? Which one sounds like an interesting read?

The Duo. Two-word titles are all over the list. Think John Grisham. THE SEARCH, by Nora Roberts (currently #1 in hardback), THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett, THE PASSAGE, by Justin Cronin, THE LION, by Nelson DeMille, THE ISLAND, by Elin Hilderbrand (all of these were in just the top ten).

Alliteration. It can be appealing to start all the words with the same letter, but keep it short, or your title will sound like a tongue-twister. SIZZLING SIXTEEN, by Janet Evanovich (Evanovich has made a career from alliterated titles), THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR, by Allegra Goodman .

Descriptive. These titles use more words, and tend to suggest something that piques your interest. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson, THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET, by David Mitchell, THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, by Aimee Bender. 

Phraseology. Other titles might be phrases pulled from the book, or from a poem or quote that is connected to the story. Or the title is an abstract phrase meant to capture your attention. UNDEAD AND UNFINISHED, by MaryJanice Davidson, HEART OF THE MATTER, by Emily Giffin, AS HUSBANDS GO, by Susan Isaacs.

When you brainstorm your title, do a search for the ones you come up with. You may be surprised at how many books have been published with the same (or a similar) title. That doesn't mean you can't use it. If it was on the bestseller list, you'd probably want to choose something else, but for books that didn't sell well, a publisher might not mind.

And if you want to pit your title ideas against the New York Times Bestseller List from the last fifty years, you can do it for free.

Agent Friday: Mandy Hubbard

Being an author is hard work. Ditto for being an agent. Not many hardy souls attempt both. Mandy Hubbard is one of them.

Mandy Hubbard has been writing for seven years (she started at age 20). It took five years of hard work before she sold her first book, Prada and Prejudice. That span of time falls right in line with Randy Ingermanson's article, Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior, Author.

And though her second book (You Wish--both with Razorbill) is realeasing next month, and she is busy writing more, Mandy Hubbard joined the D4EO Literary Agency this year. As if she doesn't have enough to do (did I mention she's a wife and mother?).

Figuring that I, at least could learn something from such a hard-working woman, I checked out her blog and website. I love the quote at the top of her blog:
A published author is an amateur who didn't quit. Don't quit.

Mandy sure didn't quit. Some great posts from Mandy, who though she live in Washington, is even now pounding the steamy streets of New York City (my hometown) working magic as an agent:

Why pre-published authors should treasure their time before publication (and why it's ok to hate it, too).

The process of a book (a primer for newbies), explained from writing to holding a finished book in your hands.

How agent Mandy ponders whether to take on a manuscript. Important points every writer should think through.

Mandy shares her brainstorming process, and how ideas are like snowballs.

For more about Mandy Hubbard, check out her submission guidelines, and this interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith. Can't get enough Agent Friday posts. There are lots more here.

How Many Books Do You Need?

If your answer is "just a few more", then listen up. For the next several weeks, you can download 3.5 million ebooks--for free.

The World eBook Fair has been going on for several years, and this, their fifth is the biggest year yet. The open access to the books began on July 4th, 2010, and runs until Agust 4, 2010.

So it's time to start browsing.

The books offered by the fair have been contributed by more than one hundred eLibraries worldwide. The largest collections include:
2,324,842 from The Internet Archive
750,000 from the World Public Library
250,000 from Wattpad
112,000 from  Project Gutenberg
62,000 from the International Music Score Library Project

Your first stop should be the collections page. There, you'll find an alphabetical list of specific collections offered, from childrens to chinese, military to medical, and poetry to prose. Fiction, Victorian literature, sheet music, and books from all kinds of cultures can be found.

If all that overwhelms you, simply go to the search page, and look for the kinds of books that make you smile.

Don't forget. The World eBook Fair ends on August 4th, so bookmark the page and do some browsing.

And if you need something to help you keep track of all your free books, check out Calibre. It's a free software download that helps you organize your ebooks. You can search for them in several ways, convert your own files into ebooks, and comes with a built-in book viewer so you can read different versions of ebooks.

Have fun!

Book Review: Getting Into Character

With all the books made into movies, and movies made into books, actors have quite a bit to do with novels. Just like writers, actors must learn their craft in order to portray a character well. We've all seen badly acted movies--and poorly written books.

Enter Brandilyn Collins. Before becoming a writer, Collins studied drama for a lengthy time, particularly Method acting. During Collins long wait to be published, she wrote a book applying Method acting to novelists.

Method acting is believed to be developed by the Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavsky. He held that actors should know the characters they represent to such a degree, that they assume the  characters' lives. This is accomplished through a discovery of what motivates the character, and the characters' emotions.

Since getting to know a character in order to act out the character is not so different from understanding a character in order to write about the character, Collins has a winner in this book. She examines seven major aspects of Method acting, and breaks them down for writers.

The chapter I appreciate most is the one on subtexting. I've read about it, and understand it, but sometimes have a difficult time applying it (If you're not familiar with subtexting, it is the technique of showing the underlying meaning of the dialogue we speak). Collins spend two dozen pages on subtexting alone. She begins by stating the actor's technique of subtexting, then translates that into what writers need to know.

In the chapter, she begins with an introduction, and moves into a deeper look at subtexting, including numerous examples to help the writer identify the technique. Next, Collins explains when to use subtexting, and when to avoid it, and spends several pages showing how to write subtext.

The chapter finishes with several book excerpts, where the writer can practice finding the subtext within a passage. After the excerpt, Collins breaks down the passage in her well-explained "exploration points".

This book will not be your only book on writing. But if you'd like your readers to truly "believe" your characters, it belongs on your shelf.

For more about Brandilyn Collins, check out her website and blog.

To read my other book reviews, click here.

Color Wheel Characters by Wendy Paine Miller

Did you get your fill of red, white & blue this weekend? If not, I’m going to discuss the trio, in addition to an entire color wheel of hues. I’ve noticed more and more lately authors are getting gutsy with increasing POV’s. I enjoy reading a book fashioned with several strong voices…that is if it’s done right.

Today I’d like to share the importance of making color wheel characters. Do colors blend into one another on a color wheel? Nope. In nature, absolutely. When painting, sure. But when you look at a primary color wheel one thing you’ll notice is the separation of one color from the next. They are distinct. You can tell which color is which.

This is imperative to accomplish as you write characters. Few things can be more frustrating than reading and experiencing confusion about which character you are reading about.

Even when you’re not writing in multiple POV’s, but are hoping to delineate one character from the next it’s essential to pay attention to the behavior, quirks and defense mechanisms of each character you write. Do you have a hot-headed red character quick to spit angry words? Or how about a cool-tempered blue one, slow to speak, a lip-licking wise soul? Do you have a feisty orange or a mellow yellow? There are so many ways to have fun with individualizing the people in your neighborhood (scratch that—I mean novel).

Perception is one of my favorite modes of tackling this. Take one instance and play with how each of your characters would respond. How would they perceive the event? For example: A player in the World Cup match wrongly receives a red card.

Does one character get up from the couch, arm flailing, swears flying while another sits cross-armed, hmphing while shaking their head? Does one insist, “He deserved it” while another starts to cry? Is one character sleeping, missing all the action? Are you aware why they react the way they do?

Can you calculate how your characters would respond to that?

Off the top of my head I can think of three books that handle multiple POV’s with skill.

The Help. The Poisonwood Bible. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.

As a reader, do you enjoy when you can easily tell the characters apart? What books do this well?

If you’re a writer, what are some ways you like toSkittle your characters?
*photos by flickr
**check out my articles in
Exemplify and Sage this month
Wendy Paine Miller and I connected through an anthology in which we were both published. Take a few minutes to check out her wonderful blog, All In a Day's Thought.

When an Agent Asks for Your Manuscript

When I highlighted agent Rachel Zurakowski on Friday, I mentioned that I pitched my first novel to her.

And she asked me to send it.

I didn't send it.

Why not?

I wrote "the end" on my first novel at 11:30 pm the night before my first writer's conference, and proceeded to pitch it to three agents over the next couple of days. They all asked for it based on the pitch, but it was far from ready for prime time--a fact I discovered as I sat through all the excellent workshops at the conference. The more workshops I attended, the more I learned that needed to be applied to my manuscript.

I foolishly thought that being "finished" was the most important thing in order for a writer to query or pitch to an agent. But there are two important things to complete before querying: being finished and polished. Needless to say, I never did send my manuscript to the three agents that asked for it, and I'm so glad. I've continued to go to conferences, read books on the craft, and write, write, write. 

If someone had told me (while I wrote my first novel) that this was a "practice" novel, I think I might have given up and cried. After all, my kids loved it. It placed third in a large writing contest. My creative writing students begged to read more than the first three chapters. A winner, right?

It's difficult for those starting out in writing, getting excited about the possibilities of publication, to hear about how long it takes (most) writers to see their book in print. Many writers discover the average tme necessary, and give up on publication right there.

I believe that of the individuals who eventually get published, some are naturally good writers, and others worked hard to become good writers. But what they both have in common is that they didn't give up. They kept on learning, and kept on writing. They went to conferences. Read good books on writing. Joined a critique group. Kept up with what was published in their genre. And it finally happened.

Author Randy Ingermanson says that most writers take about 5 years from the time they begin to write seriously before they're published. For some writers, the process is much longer,  and for just a few it's  blindingly fast (for the story of one author's very long road to publication, check out thriller writer Brandilyn Collins). If you're trying to figure out where you are in the process, read Ingeramanson's article, titled Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Author!

So all you pre-published authors, hang in there with me!

Agent Friday: Rachel Zurakowski

Today's blogging agent is Rachel Zurakowski of Books and Such Literary Agency. I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel (actually, pitching to her) back in 2008.

Let me pause for a moment to share a tip I've learned. When you finish your first novel, never, never, never query an agent until you've had time to revise it through a good critique group. Which is exactly what I did with Rachel. (sorry!) Come back on Monday for the full and sordid story.

What does Rachel have going for her? She's a young agent with energy, and a great head for young adult and post-college age literature. She especially enjoys working with authors in their twenties and thirties, who write for their peers. Along with three fellow agents (one of them the famed Janet Kobobel Grant), she contributes to a blog called Between the Lines.

Some blog posts from Rachel that I especially like:

Tagging on Monday's post about a day in the life of an agent, Rachel shares what Mondays are like.

Are you in a writing rut? Can you even tell? Rachel talks about some writing ruts that authors are not aware of.

Has your manuscript been rejected? Or are you afraid it will be? Read Rachel's post of amazing success stories to see authors who didn't give up (and they didn't sit still, either).

For more about Rachel, check out the Books and Such website, and these interviews.

Interview on Seekerville.

Interview on Story Senei.

To read more Agent Friday posts, click here.

Tips for Genre Writers

If you've never heard of Locus Magazine, it's the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field. If you write in these genres, then you need to be keeping up with the publishing news Locus provides. If you write something other than sci-fi or fantasy, don't stop reading. No matter what genre you write in, here are some tips about what you need to keep up with.

Read in your genre. Each writer should read widely, but especially in their genre. It keeps you up to date with what is selling, which authors are publishing again, and lets you be aware of debut authors coming on the scene. Reading reviews of new books helps to narrow your choices, and improves your skill as a reviewer yourself. The Locus Online site posts a list of new books published in sci-fi and fantasy, along with book reviews.

Be aware of the news. Who has received the top awards in your genre this year? Do you even know what the awards are? Is there a new magazine (online or in print) published in the area you write? Is there an online forum for writers in the same field as you? These questions are important for writers as they work to become more professional members of the writing community. Locus Online lists all these things for the sci-fi and fantasy community, including a comprehensive list of awards, and an up to date monitor of news in the field.

Join a community. No writer should be a lone ranger. We need each other for encouragement, critique, and to share the excitement of publication. Not to mention help with marketing. Each of us needs to find other writers in our genre who "get" what we write.

This can include attending a convention, going to author events, and gathering like-minded writers for a local or online critique group (here's a great one for sci-fi and fantasy writers).

What else does Locus Online provide? A great blog for up-to-the-minute information. A huge list of links to web pages of interest for sci-fi and fantasy writers. And editorial perspectives from giants in the field like Cory Doctorow.

So, even if sci-fi and fantasy is not your thing, find out how you can keep up with your genre.

Book Review: Love is a Flame

This is a special book for me, because it represents my first publishing credit. Love is a Flame: Stories of What Happens When Love is Rekindled is an anthology, and the first one I ever tried submitting to.

I nearly didn't. The deadline was back in January. I was swamped with preparations for a writer's conference I was heading to in New York City. The little voice in my head said, "It's time to take some things off your plate, and this is one of them."

But one day, I came across something I had written to myself last year. Our family had been going through some difficult times, and I jotted a note telling myself not to forget everything that had happened, and how it all worked out. I realized that writing down the story would, at the very least, be a record for my family and I.

So I spent an hour or two writing the manuscript. Edited the next morning, and sent it off. I was more than surprised to get the email that my story was one of those selected.

Here is the summary of the book from Bethany House Publishers:
Happily ever after. Does it only happen in fairy tales, or in real life? Over the years love may burn strong and steady, but sometimes it grows cold. However, it can be rekindled--and these stories show how. Be inspired by true accounts of how love was revived and renewed.

You'll discover that love can grow stronger and burn brighter through the years as you read more than forty stories from everyday people like
  • Jan, whose marriage was restored despite adultery.
  • Marsha, who fought pornography and won.
  • Bryan, who realized his family, not his career, was his most important responsibility.
  • Emily, who learned that real love overcomes unrealistic expectations.
  • Jeff, who went from dissatisfaction and boredom to falling in love all over again.
    The true stories in Love Is a Flame will warm your heart and show you how to create a new spark in your marriage and build it into a glowing flame.

    I can't give a comprehensive review yet, since I haven't received the book. But once it comes, I'll give you a more detailed review.

    You can find out more about writing for anthologies here. The editor of Love is a Flame is no stranger to anthologies. James Stuart Bell has edited quite a few collections of stories, including Cup of Comfort. He  also coauthored many books in the Complete Idiot's Guide series.

    So think about trying an anthology. The worst that can happen is ending up with a story you can sell elsewhere, like a magazine. And you'll still end up with a publishing credit.

    A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent

    What in the world do agents do all day long? Is it worth a cut of your book proceeds? You might picture an agent having lunch with editors, or reading submissions with a "rejection" rubber stamp in one hand.

    When I decided to find out a little more about what agents do, I discovered incredibly hard-working people, who love the written word. A literary agent's best day is when they discover a new author (yes, a debut author), and get excited about helping to bring another book into the world.

    Literary agents do not get paid unless you, the author make money. That is a definite motivator to work! In other words, an agent needs to help your book sell, and encourage a successful career for you in order to keep their office lights on. And their percentage is not that large, considering all the work they do.

    As agent Rachelle Gardner points out, agents' tasks can be divided up into four general categories: keeping track of contracts and payments, submitting projects to publishers, other client-related work, and finding new clients. Rachelle explains each of these in her blog post.

    An agent needs to be a person comfortable with multitasking. They jump from phone calls to emails to face-to-face meetings. They comb through the indecipherable legal language of contracts, making sure it is favorable to the author. And with all the added complications of e-rights, this is a formidable task!

    The different jobs agents do consume more than the average workday. But there is little time for agents to read the dozens-to-hundreds of queries they get each day. An agent often reads some on the way home (if they commute), and may spend a few hours on queries in the evenings, as well. And this doesn't even include the time and money they spend attending writing conferences.

    Each agent handles the multitude of tasks differently.  Here are a few other agents who share a little of what their day is like:

    The Rejectionist (a hysterical glimpse into the life of an agent)

    Two agents at Bookends share what it takes to be an agent.

    The ins and outs of negotiating contracts with Rachel Zurakowski.

    Two very different days described by Annette Green and Lucienne Diver.

    Happy 4th of July!

    Due to the holiday weekend, I won't be posting today. Come back tomorrow for a look at a typical day for an agent. Have a great day!

    Agent Friday: Bookends LLC

    This week, I'm highlighting the Bookends Literary Agency.  The team of Jessica Faust, Kim Lionetti, and Katelynn Lacopo work together as agents, and as blogging partners.

    The Bookends blog is a great place to spend some time if you want to learn more about publishing and the submission process.

    For instance, they keep a new and updated publishing dictionary. Are there terms you read about on agent blogs, but you're afraid to ask what they mean? This is the place to find the answers.

    If you check the right side of the blog, you'll find the team's most popular posts. Things like The Way I Read, Why I Reject, and I Stop Reading When. These kinds of articles are important for writers crafting a query letter. There are also sample query letters to read.

    Did you ever wonder about the differences between a synopsis and a proposal? The Bookends blog gives you the answers. There's a post about synopsis, and separate articles for fiction proposals and nonfiction proposals.

    I could go on and list their posts on book contracts, word counts, and many articles on craft that I'm planning to read, but this post would get too long. You'll find lots more information about Bookends on their website, with lists of recent deals and a page of frequently asked questions.

    To read about the other agents I've highlighted, go here.

    Free Resources from Marilynn Byerly

    The current advice for new fiction authors is to pick a genre and stick to it, in order to build an audience. Author Marilynn Byerly began her career by writing romance, suspense, thriller, paranormal, fantasy and science fiction. I was curious enough to find out more about her.

    In for the long haul. She's been at this for years. Byerly began writing in 1981 after her dad passed away. Realizing the brevity of life, she started to write down the ideas floating around in her head.

    An endurance writer. In this interview with Byerly, I discovered that the first novel she sold was the seventh novel she wrote. That's dedication. To keep on writing despite months and years of rejection. Byerly mentions a quote a friend sent her upon her first sale:

    Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck--but most of all, endurance.   -James Baldwin

    Paying it forward. Byerly has paid her dues, but she hasn't forgotten what it was like to be prepublished, and hungry to learn more about the writing craft and the business of publishing. On her website, she has an index of several dozen helpful articles on writing, publishing, marketing, and copyright.

    Two articles that caught my attention were How to Finish a Novel, and a piece on how to keep from using the word 'suddenly' in your writing.

    Marilynn blogs about twice per week, on all kinds of topics of interest to writers. My favorites are her link posts. About once a week, she posts a list of links to helpful articles she's found around the web.

    If you're curious about Byerly's books, take a look at her website. She offers free chapters, and free short stories she's written.

    So if you're a writer who is interested in more than one genre, take a page from Marilynn Byerly's book, and get writing.


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