Love at First Sight?: Agents Look at the First Page

Yesterday, we looked at how your first page is like a handshake. Today we're going to watch some of those handshakes in action.

First up is Agent Kathleen Ortiz, who ran a workshop called The First Five Pages for the amazing WriteOnCon (a free online conference earlier this month--if you missed it, you can read the archives).

On each of the three conference days, Kathleen read first pages sent in by conference attendees. She marks the point at which she stops reading and begins skimming, and gives a few comments at the end of each entry as to why she would or would not keep reading. 

The fun part of these is to read the first few paragraphs without scrolling down, and try to give your own evaluation. Did the characters intrigue you? Is the voice original? Do you care what happens next?

After you identify your opinion, check out what Kathleen thought. Sometimes, the two of you might agree, sometimes not. And that gives you a clue as to how subjective this process is. What one agent dislikes, another one loves. So don't give up early in the query process. Learn from what agents comment on, and apply it to your own manuscript.

Here are the links to Kathleen Ortiz' three workshop sessions:

Agent Nathan Bransford does this weekly. You can look at the page critique archives on his blog, or follow the new critiques every Friday on his forums (you don't need to register to read the forums, only if you'd like to comment). Bransford gives the details about how you can submit your first page for review, as well. 

If you missed yesterday's post, check out How Your First Page is Like a Handshake and find ways to make your first page even better.

How Your First Page is Like a Handshake

The first page of your manuscript contains the words that can make you a published author. Why? Because if these sentences make an agent or editor keep reading, you've got a shot at convincing them a reader will be hooked, as well. If your first paragraphs cause them to yawn, you just wasted your chance at a great first impression.

And while your query needs to shine, so do your first pages. Bestselling author Marcus Sakey advises writers to always paste the first page of your novel into your query email. Why? You want to hook an agent. If they're intrigued (even if your query wasn't perfect), you have a shot at a manuscript request.

So how can you make your first pages the best they can be?

Work on Your Craft.

Read books on writing, attend conferences and workshops, write and rewrite. Try several ways to do your first page, starting in a different place in your story each time. Many agents say the stories they see usually begin in the wrong place. Find out if yours does.

Read Good Fiction.

Spend an hour in a bookstore reading only the first page of a stack of books (don't read the back cover). Make two piles: one containing books where you'd like to turn the page and see what happens, and another stack where you couldn't care less. Reread the great first pages and try to identify why you wanted to keep reading.

Was it a great first line? An intriguing character? A unique voice? Or a heart-pounding situation you have to discover the end of? The possibilities are endless.

Get Critiqued.

Before you send off a query, get as much feedback as possible on your query and your first pages. If you're in a critique group (which I highly recommend), start there. But don't stop there.

Writing conferences and workshops often have agents reading first pages. Try to get yours in, but even if you don't, listen carefully to what the agent(s) like and don't like, and where they stop reading.

I like what literary agent Nat Sobel says, "Like the right handshake, neither too limp nor too hearty, the opening paragraph must extend a warm and encouraging hand to the reader." (You can read Sobel's comments as he reads the first paragraph of writer's stories in his free ebook)

Pimp My Novel has a great post on What Makes a Good First Sentence?

You can also get queries and first pages critiqued on many agent blogs. Here are a few:

Daphne Unfeasible

Nathan Bransford

Query Shark

The Public Query Slushpile

Tomorrow, I'll have some real life examples of agents reading writer's first pages. Then on Wednesday, I'll review a book that helps writers with these critical paragraphs. See you then!

Agent Friday: Authoress

Last Friday, I highlighted the amazingly sarcastic agent, Miss Snark. And while the person I focus on today is not an agent, she is the first person Miss Snark ripped to pieces. This first victim decided to begin an anonymous blog of her own, entitled Miss Snark's First Victim.

I introduce to you--Authoress.

In case you're curious about the whole story of her shredding, Authoress tells all in The History, including a link to Miss Snark's actual comments.

Secret Agent Contest
Authoress has built her blog with an interesting twist. She has wonderful, humorous posts on the craft of writing and the business of publishing. However, there's more. Though she is not an agent, she connects writers to agents, through her monthly Secret Agent Contests.

It works like this: at the monthly call for submissions, writers with a completed manuscript submit the first 250 words of their manuscript (each contest is limited to the first 75 entries). All entries are posted on the blog for the blog readers to post feedback on the entries. Authoress has already lined up an unnamed agent to also give feedback on each submission, and at the end of the contest, the agent chooses a winner (or winners), and the agent reveals him or herself. The agent often considers several entries for representation.

If you look at the left-hand side of the blog, you'll see the Secret Agent Hall of Fame, which boasts big-name agents like Nathan Bransford, Rachelle Gardner, and Kristin Nelson. So, although you won't know who you're going to be critiqued by, it will be someone good.

Check out the rules if you'd like to enter the Secret Agent Contest.

And here's a link to the many success stories from the Secret Agent Contest.

Other Contests
In case you are despairing of ever finishing your manuscript and being able to enter, Authoress has some other opportunities for you. 

There's the Are You Hooked? contest, where you submit your first 250 words, and blog readers comment on whether they were hooked (or not), and why.

Then there's Drop the Needle, where you submit a 400 word snippet of an emotion-filled scene, and readers try to identify the emotion you were trying to evoke.

There are other random contests, like First Sentences, First Kiss, etc. Put the blog in your blog reader, so you won't miss any call for entries.

Don't Miss These Posts

On writing every day: is a tiny bit enough?

Free Resources from Author J. A. Konrath

I can't tell you how impressed I am with author J. A. Konrath. He is a best-selling, multi-published author, who gives back to new writers in huge ways. Want to benefit from his generosity?

Konrath's website is so chock-full of great information, I won't be able to cover it all here. But we'll at least get started. The author of the popular Jack Daniels series is a master at combining crime, comedy, and suspense. He also writes horror under the name Jack Kilborn.

He also happens to be starting a revolution in the publishing world. Konrath is shunning a traditional publisher for his next novel, and is releasing it through Amazon as a self-published title.

Sure, he's already got a large fan-base, but he's thought through the decision, and is already making far more money through Kindle versions of his books that traditional publishing brought in. Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, often has posts explaining the very latest news in the publishing world. His article on why he's releasing his next book on Amazon is must-reading for any of you that are considering the self-publishing route.

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing should find its way into your blog reader. This is valuable information. Konrath has even gathered 1000 pages of his best posts from the blog into a Kindle book that you can download for $2.99. Alternatively, you can check out a huge amount of his advice on his Tips on Writing page.

Also on Konrath's website:

An active forum, Joe's Place, where writers and readers can talk about Konrath's books, enter contests, and share with each other about writing and publishing.

A tremendous page of links to Korath's interviews, articles, and essays, plus links to great writing sites and author sites.

A page of freebies, and links to his inexpensive ebooks for sale.

Konrath received over 500 rejection letters from agents and publishers before he sold his first book, Whiskey Sour. So the words on his blog are true: "There's a word for a writer who never gives up . . . published."

Book Review: The Weekend Novelist

This week's book is The Weekend Novelist: a dynamic 52-week program to help you produce a finished novel  . . .  one weekend at a time. Author Robert J. Ray has published eight acclaimed novels with this method, including the Matt Murdock Mystery Series. He also teaches it in his fiction writing classes.

My first novel was written in 15 weeks. The second? On and off for ten months--and it's not done yet. So I'm always open to new ways of tackling this huge job.

Ray divides his book into (naturally) 52 sections, with steps to complete every weekend of the year. First, the assignments cover character work, scene building and plotting, and then they dive into the actual writing of the novel.

The author suggests figuring out the key scenes in your book, then writing those first. These would include the opening scene, the two pivotal points at the end of Act 1 and Act 2, the midpoint, and the catharsis. He helps you identify these scenes through writing a scenario, basically a one-paragraph summary of the plot.

After you write the key scenes, you'll write the first draft, which Ray calls the "discovery draft". I kind of like that terminology. Next comes the "meditation draft" that you mull over, and rework, deepening conflict and characterization. This naturally leads into the final draft.

I like that Ray includes very specific (and creative) exercises for each weekend's work. He explains each point well, with examples from actual books. There are also reading assignments and things to think about during the week, to keep your brain in the game.

Ray uses "Aristotle's Incline" as the model for plotting your story in the 1994 edition that I reviewed. In 2005 he came out with a new edition that also explains the hero's journey and mythic structure. On the Amazon page, several reviewers who loved the earlier edition were disappointed with the second.

Here's a quote I like from Ray, on the seduction of writing:

"Once you try your hand at writing deep, once you feel the glow of the words, once you feel their power, you won't want to do anything else. Words will wake you from your sleep. Words you never noticed before will amaze you as they shimmer in a new way, as they change shape, as they take you deeper. Because of the words and the joy of writing, you'll steal time from family and friends so you can practice your writer's craft. The Weekend Novelist will help you make the best use of the time that you steal for writing."

If you plan on participating in Nanowrimo this year, I think this could be a great book to help you assign tasks to each day of the month. If you'd like to see if the book is a good fit for you, check out this outline of The Weekend Novelist that a writer posted online.

Whodunit? Great Links for Mystery Writers

I'm sure you've never heard of Lesa Holstine but if you're a mystery, crime, or suspense writer, you'll want to get to know her. This Library Manager in Glendale, Arizona has quite a following on her blog, Lesa's Book Critiques. She reviews (mainly) mysteries, but also has some great articles and guest posts essential to writing in this genre.

First of all, you'll keep up-to-date on what's being published in your genre. That's not an easy feat on your own. It's just not possible to keep up with all the new releases, while getting your own writing done. That's why Lesa's blog is so effective. You can read reviews of everything that's new, and just select a few to read yourself. If you write in another genre, do a search for blogs that review your particular interest area.

Have you ever wanted to pick the brain of a forensic artist? (not literally)  How about consulting with a handwriting analyst? These are the things that mystery and crime writers salivate over. Give them a book of poisons, or a list of ten ways to kill someone with a ballpoint pen, and they're happy.

Besides reviews, Lesa post frequent interviews with top authors, like women who killand links for those who write in her favorite genres

Would you like to join some like-minded writers? Check out these groups:

Mystery Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

International Thriller Writers

Suspense Romance Writers

American Crime Writers League

The Crime Writer's Association

Agent Friday: Miss Snark

Once upon a time, deep in the vibrant heart of New York City, a busy literary agent decided to write a blog. But not just any blog.

You see, this agent was tired of poorly-written queries, and writers with wildly unrealistic expectations of the publishing world. These writers needed someone to lay out the truth, in all its un-sugar-coated glory.

And Miss Snark was born.

Who is Miss Snark? For 2 years (and with 2.5 million hits and counting), the witty and wise-cracking remarks by this anonymous agent shocked, stung--and made writers stop and think before shooting off a half-baked query. 

She improved the query world.

Sadly, as of May 2010, Miss Snark's blog went dark. It was a blow to writers everywhere. Here's a quote from Miss Snark herself (whose profile lists herself as Satan's literary agent):

"Yes, Miss Snark has run out of new things to say. Yes, the blog will stay up cause I'm pretty proud of what we did here. And by "we" I don't mean just me and Killer Yapp, I mean you too. You sent me questions, trusted me to snark your work, made "crapometer" an industry term and most of all, you gave me perspective on what it's like to be on the other side of the slush pile.

Where Miss Snark vented her wrath on the hapless world of writers and crushed them to sand beneath her T.Rexual heels of stiletto snark. The blog is dark--no further updates after 5/20/2007."

Thankfully, those of us who came late to the party can still join in. Miss Snark's blog is preserved for all to peruse, though the comments feature is no longer active.

Miss Snark was a prolific blogger. After 4000 posts, it can be daunting for a new visitor to find what they need among all those entries. Fortunately for us, there is a site where Miss Snark's posts have been organized and indexed in The Snarkives.

Who was Miss Snark really? Only a few people know. But you can read about Chuch Sambuchino's clandestine meeting with the Snark herself.

Many writers have lamented her disappearance from the blogging world. There are odes to Miss Snark all over the web.

She will be missed, but she will live on in the blogosphere.

And writers will write better queries ever after.

The End

Writer's Groups:

How would you like to be part of a writer's group nearing 100,000 members? A place to find writing tools and like-minded folks who are willing to give you feedback on your work? has been in existence for ten years, and continues to grow. Unlike many other writing groups, it's free to join and use, and geared for fiction writers and poets of every genre.

You'll be able to establish a free online portfolio, if you choose. Other writers and readers can give you feedback on the pieces you post. There's a free email account, free newsletters for specific genres, and links to all kinds of contests you can enter. And there is an active message forum for connecting with other writers.

Once you join, you'll set up a "workspace", decorating it however you like. It's up to you whether you post some of your writing, or just take advantage of the forums where you can talk writing with people all over the world.

You can spend some time reading what others have posted (there's a rating system, so you can identify which pieces are more to your liking), and comments are welcome. There are even interactive stories that you can add to.

After you are a member, you'll be able to access all the writing resources available on Just a few of the pages available: links for editing your work, literary agent recommendations, links to resources on marketing, publishing (and self-publishing), and links to writing classes in all kinds of genres.

Most of these links can only be seen if you do the free sign up, but if you don't care for it, you can always drop your membership. Definitely check it out.

Book Review: The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction

I'm back. Exhausted after driving 2300 miles to take my daughter to college, but it was a wonderful trip. Girls only. And she's studying Creative Writing at an awesome school. So, back to brand new posts!

If you don't write "inspirational" or "Christian" fiction, don't be put off by the title of this book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction. Jeff Gerke is an accomplished author, editor, and owner of his own publishing company. After writing six novels, editing thousands, and acquiring many, he knows much about writing fiction in general, and Christian fiction in particular.

Gerke's book was born from a popular blog column he maintained for years: Fiction Tip of the Week (it's still up, if you'd like to check it out). He expanded and added to the compilation of advice, and then wrote a companion workbook with my local friend and fellow homeschooling mom, Mary Agius.

Art & Craft reads like a conversation with the warm and funny author. Being that his company publishes speculative fiction, there are plenty of examples that will particularly resonate with sci-fi and fantasy fans (like the section titled "Build Your Own Light Saber").

The book is divided into three sections: The Spiritual Heart of Writing Christian Fiction (a six-part examination of the writer's goals & motivations to write for the inspirational market), Strategizing Yourself, Strategizing Your Novel (how to look at yourself as a novelist, what to write, and everything you need to know about character), and the third part, Writing Your Novel (with sections on topics like point of view, description, and dialogue).

Each of the main sections is divided into Mastery points, and Mega-Mastery Clusters. I like how the chapters are short, and easy to read when you have a few minutes.  And the workbook is chock-full of practical exercises to put each Mastery point into practice.

For more on Gerke and his cutting-edge publishing company, or his amazing site for fantasy & sci-fi writers, click here.

Time Management: The Pomodoro Technique

I'm driving right now from Colorado to Mississippi, taking my oldest daughter to college for her first year. Her major? Creative writing, of course! Today's entry is a repost of a popular post from several months ago.

Imagine a clock ticking. Tick, tick, tick. Somehow the sound reminds us of time bombs and deadlines. However, an ingenious author has come up with a way to take the stress out, and replace it with productivity.

In the last month, I've posted twice about time management. One technique disables your internet (temporarily), and the other gently threatens you to keep typing. Francesco Cirillo has come up with quite a simple technique, and it's working well for me.

The Pomodoro Technique is not a piece of software, it's an idea. The idea that you can make yourself do even dislikable tasks, if you only have to work for 25 minutes and have a 5-minute break to look forward to. The name comes from the timer he first used when he tried this technique: a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

I first heard about the technique on Susanna Fraser's blog. Carillo is generous enough to give away free downloads of his ebook, which explains the idea in detail, and gives troubleshooting tips (like what to do in the case of internal and external distractions).

Coincidentally, the same week that I read Susanna Fraser's blog, I also received Randy Ingermanson's monthly writing newsletter, where he explains a very similar technique (this one uses 50-minute work blocks and 10-minute breaks). It's in the April issue. Randy has an excellent blog, and if you're not signed up for his newsletter, you might want to find out why over 20,000 other writers have done just that. Randy is also the coauthor of the wonderful Writing Fiction for Dummies book. I own an increasingly dog-eared copy.

When I tried the 50-minute work block, I found I was able to write over one thousand words before the timer went off (Randy Ingermanson shares a link to a free downloadable timer that worked well for me). If I completed only two of these "pomodoros" every day, in one month I will have completed 60,000 words. Think about what the Pomodoro Technique might do for you.

If you try it, leave a comment and share how it worked.

Making Money from Your Writing

I'm driving right now from Colorado to Mississippi, taking my oldest daughter to college for her first year. Her major? Creative writing, of course! Today's entry is a repost of a popular post from several months ago.

 One of the most frustrating things about being a writer is that you spend hours and hours at your computer, and you feel like you have nothing to show for it. It's hard to justify time away from your family and friends when there's no paycheck waiting, and no boss looking over your shoulder.

In the years leading up to publication, you want to leverage your writing in to something that pays, even if it's not much. And it can't hurt to collect some publishing credits. Here are a few ideas you can try.

Online Freelance Writing
Several sites allow you to sign up as a freelance writer. A buyer posts a project, and writers bid on it. Whoever wins the bid does the job. I've worked for Elance for a year, and it's been a good experience. Elance holds the money in escrow, and when the job is done, the payment is made immediately. I can't speak personally about the other companies, but Elance is very professional.

Magazine Writing
There is a periodical for every niche in the world. Do you like fly-fishing, and sometimes fish in Canada? There's a magazine for that. Do you know anything about cheerleading in the USA? There's a magazine for that, too.

How do you find out what they need? Start with the magazines you already subscribe to. The big ones, like Woman's Day, or Better Homes and Gardens, are tough to get into without a track record. But smaller, regional or specialty publications need a steady flow of articles all year long. Check out the website of the magazines you get, and look for "writer's guidelines" or "submission guidelines".

If you have expertise in any area--from your career or you hobbies--do a search to find which publications cater to others with that interest. Look for regional publications like parent magazines and local tourist "newspapers".

Subscribe to free newsletters that post lists of freelance opportunities. Here are a few that I receive:

Check out my earlier post with more freelancing ideas here.
Terry Whalin has an article on 7 Ways to Write for Profit on the Internehere.

How have you made money from your writing? Post a comment to let us know. And check out 9 Ways to Make Money From Your Writing.

Agent Friday: Rachelle Gardner

I'm driving right now from Colorado to Mississippi, taking my oldest daughter to college for her first year. Her major? Creative writing, of course! Today's entry is a repost of a popular post from several months ago. 

Rachelle is relatively new to agenting, having been in the business for the last couple of years, but prior to that she worked in publishing for thirteen years. Her agency, where she is one of three agents is WordServe Literary. She hosts a blog, Rants & Ramblings on Life as a Literary Agent, that has garnered a coveted spot in Writers Digests Top 100 Websites for Writers two years running.

Out of all the writing blogs I could spend my limited time on, I never miss Rachelle's blog. She recently conducted a poll, and found that the majority of her blog readers are unpublished writers of fiction. Her blog posts reflect that, as she writes about encouragment for writers, the waiting process, and many posts on how the publishing business works and what writers can expect.

Rachelle labels her posts, so if you're looking for something specific, like book proposals or elevator pitches, you'll be able to find them quickly. Here are links to a couple of my favorite posts:

All about backstory, and how it differs from flashbacks.

A great post (including the comments) about the basics of learning to write.

Do you have a favorite agent blog? Leave a comment, and I'll add it to the list.

How Maps Can Help You Write Your Novel

I'm driving right now from Colorado to Mississippi, taking my oldest daughter to college for her first year. Her major? Creative writing, of course! Today's entry is a repost of a popular post from several months ago. 

Some of us write historical fiction, while others, like myself, write fantasy set in historical places. Still others write contemporary fiction, or stories set in the near future. No matter where your story is set (unless it's in a completely fabricated place, current or historical maps can mean a great deal in how well you describe the storyworld for your reader.

By strange circumstances, I decided to set my current novel in medieval Croatia--an unbelievably beautiful place that I must visit before I die. In order to learn more about the area in which I'm setting my story, I've used a few different tools.

Google Earth was my first stop. If you've never tried it, this software visually flies you around the world to the place you've selected. You can then zoom in fairly closely, depending on the satellite photos available for the area. Try your own address for a bird's-eye view of your neighborhood.

Google Maps will give you a map of the area you're researching. Click on the little man icon on the zoom bar, and you can place him on any street. If photos have been taken on street-level, you'll be able to "walk" along the street, looking around like any other pedestrian. This is a great tool to use if you have a novel set in say, San Francisco, but you don't have the money to actually visit.

For historical maps, I've discovered an excellent site, The David Rumsey Map Collection . Here, you can view over 21,000 historical maps from around the world. Due to the sophisticated scanning technology used, you can blow them up and drag them around to view them in great detail. The maps of your choice can be purchased, as well, but there is no charge for viewing these incredible documents.

Many universities and other organizations have online map collections. Here are a few I've found:

Though I'd love to travel to a hundred of these places, I'm content for now, to let my fingers do the clicking.

Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

Last week I reviewed Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel. This week, we'll take a look at the companion workbook.
After you read  Writing the Breakout Novel to learn the specific concepts Maass has pulled from authors' breakout novels. Then, grab Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, a pad and pen, and start working through the exercises.

The exercises are grouped into three categories: Character Development, Plot Development, and General Story Techniques. You can pay about a thousand dollars to attend one of Maass' week long workshops, or use the book, which contains all 34 writing exercises used in the class.

Here's a quote from Maass' motivational introduction.
"On the following pages you will learn how to read a novel like a writer, understanding the technique and motivation behind every choice an author makes. You will find help in making your characters more memorable, adding layers of plot and weaving them together, discovering the themes hidden in your work, using time and place more effectively, and much more. There is also a first-line brainstorming session, a pitch factory, and a tension tune up--probably the most difficult yet necessary section of the book Do not skip that one."

Maass read more than 100 breakout novels and compared them to discover what made them stand out. His tips will make your fiction stronger, no matter what the genre.

Having Issues With WriteOnCon?

The WriteOnCon site is currently down (likely due to high volume), but the organizers are posting the current workshops on their blogs. The best way to find out what's being posted right now is to check the WriteOnCon Twitter Page. You don't have to be a Twitter member to see it. There are various posts with links to the workshops. Have fun!

Latest news: the site is back up! Click here to join in.

The Power of Story (from unknown authors)

As writers, whether fiction or memoir, we sometimes lament that we don't have a "big name" to attract publishers. Almost any actor or celebrity can write a book, and publishers will trip over each other trying to offer a contract.

But think about this. The story you tell, along with how well you tell it, is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Never mind that you are unknown, unpublished, unagented. Your story will change that for you.

I got thinking about this when I read USA Today recently. A headline by Scott Bowles caught my eye: "Concepts, not big-name actors, are now the real stars of films". It's not a long article, and worth reading.

The basic point is, that while movie-makers used to put a well-known actor into a film to guarantee ticket sales, that tactic is no longer a given. Eight of the top ten movies this year depended on a great story, not great celebrity. Bowles quotes Access Hollywood critic Scott Mantz, "People don't need to recognize the face. They need to connect to the story."

That's great news for us unknown authors. Maybe you don't blog, or Twitter, and a website is out of the question right now. You have no connections, and no money to attend a writer's conference.

It doesn't matter.

Here's what you do have. The seed of an idea. A couple of chapters. A library full of great novels and books on the writing craft. Access to great blogs and groups online.

And time.

No, publication will not happen overnight (unless you're Angelina Jolie). It won't happen (probably) in a thousand overnights. But it can happen if you hang in there, learning and writing, and telling your story.

Because no one can resist a good one.

Free Writer's Conference Starts Tomorrow

Two quick notes: You can now have this blog sent to your email account. If you'd rather read via email, sign up in the box to the right. I've also added a search feature to the blog. This should make it easier to find a particular topic.

WriteOnCon starts tomorrow. If you'd like to attend an excellent conference, from the comfort of your home, for zero dollars, this is it. Nevermind that some of the workshops are geared towards children's writers, you don't have to write for kids to attend. There are plenty of offerings that will give you great information, no matter what your genre.

The schedule has just been posted in the last couple of days. Here it is:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010:
6:00 AM: Welcome Keynote by author Josh Berk
7:00 AM: Refining Your Craft with Each Book by author Janette Rallison
8:00 AM: Give Yourself Permission by editor Molly O’Neill
9:00 AM: Myths and Misconceptions by literary agent Holly Root, and editors Molly O’Neill and Martha Mihalick
10:00 AM: Illustrating Children’s Books by author/illustrator J.H. Everett and studio (series of 3, posted every 20 minutes)
11:00 AM: Bringing the Funny by author Rachel Hawkins
12:00 PM: Becoming a Career Author by literary agent Catherine Drayton
1:00 PM: Writing Middle Grade by author Jon Lewis
2:00 PM: Voice by literary agent Elana Roth
2:30 PM: Live chat with literary agent Suzie Townsend
3:00 PM: Writing a Query Letter by author Jodi Meadows
3:30: Joanna Volpe’s query critique
4:00 PM: Author Branding by author Shelli Johannes-Wells
5:00 PM: Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Revision by editor Kendra Levin
6:00 PM: Pie in the Face (how characters react to situations) by author Rosemary Clement-Moore
9:00 PM: Panel of Professionals chat LIVE (Elana Roth, Kathleen Ortiz, Martha Mihalick)
10:30 PM: Working with Agents and Editors, a live Workshop with literary agent Mark McVeigh

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
6:00 AM: Romance in YA by author Lisa Schroeder
7:00 AM: Plot and Pacing by author/literary agent Weronika Janczuk
8:00 AM: Using an Independent Publicist by author Lauren Becker
9:00 AM: The Revision Process by author Cynthea Liu (series of 3, posted every 20 minutes)
10:00 AM: Transition From Self-Published to Traditional Publishing by author Jennifer Fosberry
10:30 AM: Joanna Volpe’s query critique
11:00 AM: Live blogging event: Queries with literary agent Natalie Fischer
12:00 PM: Creating Memorable Characters by literary agent/author Mandy Hubbard
1:00 PM: Reaching Out to Schools and Libraries Before You’re Published by author Stasia Ward Kehoe
2:00 PM: Sex in YA: The ABC’s of Hooking Up by author Suzanne Young
Live chat with literary agent Natalie Fischer
3:00 PM: Keynote Address by author Lindsay Eland
3:30 PM: Writing Genre Fiction by author Julia Karr
4:00 PM:  Do’s and Don’t’s of Querying by literary agent Kate Testerman
5:00 PM: Authentic/Edgy YA by author Kody Keplinger
6:00 PM: How to Make a Character Collage by author Tera Lynn Childs
7:00 PM: Live chat with literary agent Jennifer Laughran
9:00 PM: Panel of Professionals chat LIVE (Anica Rissi, Joanna Volpe, Suzie Townsend, Mary Kole)
10:30 PM: Building an Online Presence, a live Workshop with author Daisy Whitney

Thursday, August 12, 2010
6:00 AM: Writing With a Real Life by author Lindsey Leavitt
7:00 AM: Writing Advice from PJ Hoover and the Texas Sweethearts
8:00 AM: Writing Realistic, Captivating Dialog by author Tom Leveen
9:00 AM: How to have a Successful Author Event at a Bookstore by Calondra McArthur
10:00 AM: Q&A by literary agent Steven Malk
10:30 AM: Writing a Complete Story Even Though it’s Part of a Trilogy by author Michelle Zink
11:00 AM: From Submission to Acquisition: An Editor’s Choose Your Own Adventure by editor Martha Mihalick
12:00 PM: Transitioning from Adult to YA by author Risa Green
1:00 PM: Rhyme in Picture Books by author Tiffany Strelitz
2:00 PM: The First Five Pages by Kathleen Ortiz
3:00 PM: Writing Thrillers for Young Adults by author Kimberly Derting
3:30 PM: Picture Books and Easy Readers by author Shelley Thomas
4:00 PM: Staying positive in the face of rejections by author Crystal Stranaghan
5:00 PM: Avoiding Character Stereotypes by literary agent Mary Kole
6:00 PM: Creating New Mythologies by author Aprilynne Pike
9:00 PM: Panel of Professionals chat LIVE (Michelle Andelman, Molly O’Neill, Kate Testerman)
10:30 PM: The Revision Process from Both Sides of the Desk, a live Workshop with literary agent/author Regina Brooks

1400 people have registered so far. Will you be one of them? It's easy to sign up. Instructions are here.
And remember, if you're busy during the daytime workshops, you'll be able to read the workshop threads at any time, and transcripts will be posted of the live chats. Hope to see you there!

Agent Friday: Ken Wright

This week's agent comes from the powerful Writers House (which happens to be the agency that reps Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame). One reason I like Writers House is that the building they occupy in New York City is a wonderful historic spot, decorated just as a writer would like. If you troll the different pages of their website, you'll get the idea.

Back to Ken Wright. After working for two decades as a children's editor and publisher, he became an agent, who deals mainly with adult manuscripts, most of them non-fiction. He does sell a limited amount of juvenile fiction and non-fiction.

Ken blogs on the WeBook blog with three writer/author/teacher/editors. He pens the "Ask the Agent" column, which appears about once a week. If you've got a question for him, go ahead and ask it on the blog. Some of his posts I like:

Wright explains why he might reject a perfectly good query letter.

The top ten list of what agents do for authors.

If you're wondering how you can find a good agent, Wright has some great answers.

You finally get the call. An agent offers representation. What questions should you ask before you seal the deal?

An interesting feature of the WeBook blog is the page where writers can submit a first page or short story for review (there is a small fee). If your submission makes it through the three rounds of analysis, it might be read by a literary agent. Check it out at Page to Fame.

For more info on Ken Wright, check out the spotlight on the wonderful Literary Rambles.

Can't get enough of Agent Friday. There are lots more here.

More Free Stuff From Writer's Digest

I love Writer's Digest Magazine. Reading it every month is like getting a shot in the arm and renews my excitement to write. If you, like me, don't have extra money for a subscription, this is the item to ask for on your birthday, or Christmas (thanks, sis!).

My favorite Writer's Digest issue is the 101 Best Websites for Writers. If you live overseas, in a remote area, or just have financial constraints, then the internet is your main source of writing information, instruction, and interaction. The Writer's Digest website issue lists the top websites and blogs that writers vote for.

Normally, you'd have to subscribe to the magazine, buy it at the newsstand, or find it in the library. But right now, if you sign up for the informative Writer's Digest free newsletter, you'll get a .pdf download of the entire list, exactly as it looks in the full-color magazine.

What's on it that's worthwhile? The websites are divided into categories: writing advice, general resources, jobs and markets, online writing communities, agents, publishing & marketing resources, genres & niches, and just for fun. Here are a few examples:

If you have any kind of writing question, check out the Ask Allison site.

Winning Writers is a great site for those who want to enter legitimate contests, with advice and alerts about scams.

And don't forget to visit Cool Stuff 4 Writers, a website with interviews, resources and writer's questions answered.

There's another freebie from Writer's Digest. Right now, they're offering a free webinar on getting published. This webinar (a "web seminar")  is on-demand, meaning you don't have to be available on a particular date at a certain time. You just listen in whenever it's convenient.

This webinar is conducted by an experienced writing coach, who answers writers frequently asked questions. Check out a list of the topics she touches on.

I'm always looking for more websites and blogs that give great information to writers. If you've found a favorite, leave a link in the comments. And if you'd like to nominate that blog for next year's 101 Best Websites for Writers, send an email to with "101 Best Websites" as the subject.

Book Review: Writing the Breakout Novel

Writing the Breakout Novel was the first writing book I purchased. The cover is hanging open, and won't stay shut. The page corners are bruised and stained.

All signs of a great book.

Written over ten years ago by uber-agent Donald Maass, the book is currently #15 on Amazon's extensive list of fiction books. I hope my books do as well after a decade.

What is a breakout novel? If an author has a few books published, and then a subsequent one sells far more than expected, or appears on the bestseller lists, they are said to have written a "breakout novel".

Can you have a breakout novel on your first try? Maass says yes. But there are key elements that need to be in place in order for your book to resonate to the level of stellar sales.

In the eleven-chapter book, Maass explains from his thirty-year perspective as an agent, what those key elements are. When you've seen great and not-so-great books come and go, you tend to get a feel for what works (The Donald Maass agency sells more than 150 books to publishers each year).

Here's a quote from Maass:

"Novels are written one word at a time, and the choices made along the way can as easily produce a mildly engaging midlist novel as a highly memorable breakout. I believe that the difference lies in the author's commitment to great storytelling. But that commitment cannot be realized without the necessary tools. Giving you the necessary tools is my purpose in writing this book. Over the last twenty years, I have learned a lot about what lifts a novel out of the ranks of the ordinary and into the realm of the breakout."

If you're curious about Donald Maass, you can find links to his website and a few interviews here. And if you ever get a chance to attend a Maass workshop in person, don't think twice. Do it.

Next week, I'll review the companion volume, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

The Power of Three

Not too long ago, on the tenth of the month, I gathered a collection of articles, each listing ten things writers needed to know. Wouldn't you know that the current issue of Writer's Digest did the same thing? (I have no illusions they got the idea from me, but they did a great job) Being the third of the month, let's pick some articles with three as their focus. Nice and succinct.

This grouping is by no means all that's out there. For these articles, I mined the vast array of blogs in my Google Reader. Do you use Google Reader? If you don't you're spending way too much time going from blog to blog.

First up.

How do you know you're ready to write full-time? Chip MacGregor lists three ways to know it's time.

Three stages of editing your work, from UK writer Nicola Morgan.

C. Patrick Schulze on what are the specific parts of a three-dimensional character. (thanks to Adventures in Children's publishing, who posts a list of best articles each week from around the web.)

The use of three asterisks in manuscript formatting, and more from Randy Ingermanson. Also from Randy, must you know your three-act structure?

Three critical tools every writer needs if they want to develop a speaking platform, from Seekerville.

Pimp My Novel gives the three things a book cover must do.

How a good scene is like a three-part joke, by Julie Bush.

From Highspot, the three-format future of books.

And finally, from agent Michael Larsen, three ways that writing your obituary will motivate your literary career.

Any other threes you'd like to share?

Time to Recheck Your Goals

How many corks did you pop this last New Year's Eve? Where are they now?

Don't have a clue?

What about the goals you set for yourself as a writer at the beginning of the year?


It's so easy to begin the year with lofty, or even concrete goals for the year. But if we don't keep those plans right in front of us, we can easily lose sight of them.

Think of leading a donkey with a carrot on a stick. If the donkey can't see the carrot, he'll wander aimlessly. I wonder how much I've been wandering?

I wrote out my goals on January first, and tacked the list to a board next to my computer. Here's a summary of my six goals and how I'm doing. How about you?

  1. Write every day. This one's been pretty easy. Since I began blogging five days a week, I've been forced to write even when I don't want to. I may not write on my novel every day, but I am writing daily.
  2. Attend a writing conference. I got to check this one off twice. In January I attended the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, and in April I had the opportunity to be at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs.
  3. Get another article published. Twice again (I think I could work harder and do better with this. One of my short stories was published in an online magazine, and another non-fiction story was published in an anthology.
  4. Finish manuscript by late spring. Alright, here I'm not doing so well. I'm about the halfway point. One thing I've realized is that it's not realistic (with four children) to expect to get much serious writing done in the summer time. Schedules are crazy, and though my children are home with me during the school year as well, we have much more of a planned routine. Next summer will be reserved for editing and querying.
  5. Edit manuscript. This one is coming along. I joined a critique group in January, and another one in June. I also meet one-on-one with another writer. Having lots of different input on my manuscript makes it stronger, and keeps me writing (and revising).
  6. Begin querying agents by summer. OK, so in January I thought I might be finished writing, revising and critiquing my manuscript. A little far-fetched. But if every goal you write down is easily obtainable, you won't challenge yourself to reach farther than you anticipated. 
If you didn't write down goals in January, there are still 5 months left in this year. Or you could plan some goals between now and next summer (you can find a great printable to write them on here). Whatever you do, don't let the rest of this year slip away without focus. Keep that carrot in sight.

How are you doing with your writing goals? Leave a comment below.


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