Writing Your Goals for 2011: Part 5- Continue Your Education

The last part of our series on goal setting focuses on continuing your education as a writer. There are many ways to enhance your knowledge of the craft of writing, and many of them will cost you nothing. All you need is the determination to keep learning.

If you missed the previous posts in this series, here are the links:

Since each of us has different styles of learning, and varying levels of comfort, we'll start from large-group activities, and work down to the individual level. Feel free to pick and choose what appeals to you.

Writing Conferences. 
Benefits.  You want to feel like you're not alone in what you do. There are many others out there, many with the same fears and insecurities that you have. Inspirational keynote speakers give you the vision to keep going if you're feeling burnt out. You'll network with other writers, meet industry professionals, and learn from dozens of workshop presenters. Many conferences offer opportunities for personalized critiques and chances to pitch to editors and agents.
Drawbacks. The size of some (but not all) writing conferences can be daunting for the shy writer. While many workshop sessions are offered, they may not line up with what you specifically want to learn. And conferences cost a significant amount of money.
What you can do. If money (or your geographic location) is a factor, consider attending an online conference. Several are free, like the Muse Conference and WriteOnCon, and provide many of the benefits listed above without the drawbacks. Most conferences offer scholarships as well. The key to choosing a conference is to find one that lines up with your needs, budget and location. A good spot to search for writing conferences is Shaw Guides or the list by state at NewPages. You can also look for smaller regional conferences and writer retreats.

Graduate Study.
Benefits. Focused courses on how to write, taught by successful authors in their field. Individual critique of your work. The camaraderie of learning with other writers. Most Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs have "low residency" options, where you do most coursework online, and in-residence attendance a few times each year.
Drawbacks. Not everyone has the money to invest in graduate classes. And some writers feel their writing style changes too much with this level of intense study. Before you decide, talk to writers and authors who have gone both routes.
What you can do. Research the different programs available at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Workshops and courses.
Benefits. You can choose to attend the ones that target the topic you really want to learn. The smaller group lends itself to more personalized feedback. Online workshops and courses eliminate the complication of distance, and some of them are free.
Drawbacks. Depending on the course, prices might be prohibitive. If so, focus on the free courses you can take until you have the resources for the pricier ones.
What you can do. Sign up for newsletters from writer's organizations, and check their websites for courses. See if any of your local writer's groups offer free or low-cost workshops.

Books and blogs.
Benefits. It's surprising how much you can learn from books on craft. Read reviews to narrow down the possibilities, then borrow from the library before you decide whether to purchase a copy. Writing magazines offer a wide variety of information for a low cost. Check out magazines like Writer's Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers. They offer many articles online so you can get a feel for what they offer. And then there are blogs. Agent blogs are often as good as attending a workshop. And many authors offer free resources that can add to your store of knowledge.
Drawbacks. If internet time is at a premium for you, you'll want to lean more toward books and magazines. But if the cost of buying the books you'd like is prohibitive, then keeping up with a few blogs is worthwhile.
What you can do. There are so many books, magazines, and blogs to choose from, it can be paralyzing to sort them out. Check out book reviews and use Amazon's "look inside" feature to get a better idea of a book's value to you. Try out a few blogs each week before deciding which are the best fit for your current needs.

Benefits. Most people learn best one-on-one. This can be getting together with a writing friend, a critique group, or even reading a novel crafted by a competent author. Some writers decide to hire a professional editor, book doctor or coach.
Drawbacks. Be prepared for actual feedback on your writing. It means developing the skin of a rhino, but it will improve your writing. Hiring an editor can be quite expensive, so you may want to reserve it for after you've run your manuscript through several critiques.
What you can do. Start asking. Find writers around you who might be willing to get together. If that's impossible, join an online critique group. If you're considering an editor or coach, a few I recommend are A. Victoria Mixon, Mary DeMuth at The Writing Spa, and Meredith Efken's Fiction Fix-it Shop. If the cost is too high, keep an eye out on blogs for writing "auctions"--usually a fundraiser for a charity. Editors and agents offer critiques to the highest bidder, which can be far cheaper than hiring them directly.

Well, I threw a lot of information at you today. Don't get overwhelmed, just start with the information that's easiest for you to accomplish, and bookmark the page so you can come back each month to tackle a little more. By December, you'll be amazed at what you've learned.

Completing some online courses is first on my list. I think I'll start with some of Bob & Jack's offerings. How about you?

Agent Friday: Bree Ogden

 Bree Ogden is a newly minted literary agent with Martin Literary Management. Her background in journalism, philosophy, music, photojournalism, expository writing, and graphic design have all prepared her for her current role as an agent (though it all sounds exhausting!).

Ogden mainly looks for children's writers, but gravitates toward graphic novels and zombies in particular. She's energetic and passionate about the genres she loves. The meet Bree Ogden page on the agency site contains several of her interviews.

Here's a sampling of her blog posts to help you get to know her better.

The biggest question most writers have has to do with the dreaded query letter. Ogden doesn't leave you hanging. She regularly posts Naughty Query Tips to help writers know what not to do. And she shares query advice and even a query critique for those of us that are more visual.

 As a writer herself, Ogden sympathizes with our plight. We may be nervous now, but did you ever imagine that a writer's anxiety could actually increase afterThis Writing Thing . . . It's Hard Work. securing an agent. Ogden posts about it in

Who better than a zombie fan to help writers navigate the ever-growing world of paranormal literature? Ogden lays out the definitions in Supernatural vs. Paranormal, Vampire vs. Zombie. You might be interested to read why she concludes that Twilight is not paranormal.

Ogden believes that success comes from taking risks. She's put together a list of 10 Rules for Risky Writing, and each rule comes with an example of an author who has stepped out in that area.

Best of all, I really like Ogden's credo. It's a quote from author Jonathan Maberry, and I couldn't agree more:

"Here’s the bottom line: writers should always help other writers. Every chance they get. It’s part altruism (’cause writers are the good guys), part fun (it’s more of a kick when there are a lot more kids in the playground), and part industry savvy (if more writers are successful, then more good books will be published and more people will buy books)." --New York Times Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, author of several books including Patient Zero and Rot & Ruin

What's your credo?

Free Resources from Martha Alderson, AKA the Plot Whisperer

I'm so excited about today's free resource. I still adore Rubik's Cube Plotting, and Holly Lisle's Free Plot Outline Mini-Course, but Martha Alderson, who goes by the name of The Plot Whisperer, is offering her valuable whispers. For free.

Alderson, who consults with novelists, memoir writers, and screenplay writers, is posting her advice, bit by bit on YouTube. She has her own YouTube channel, which to date contains nineteen short videos giving writers the keys to perfect plotting. Over the weekend, as I nursed a cold, I watched all the videos, taking copious notes as I did. And while I've learned a lot about plotting in the past several years, the Plot Whisperer taught me even more.

One of the things I liked about Alderson's tips are how she shares when to employ your plot points, not just the fact that you need them. You've probably heard about planning your first turning point. But do you know exactly where to place it within the pages of your manuscript? Likewise the crisis and the climax (which, in case you didn't know, are two separate events that Alderson explains clearly).

Alderson highlights her points by sharing how the techniques have been used in books of all kinds--from classic literature, to modern novels, to picture books. Picture books have a turning point? The answer is yes. In the last few days I've tested her advice, flipping through novels to see at what pages they place specific plot points. And you know what? Alderson knows what she's talking about.

Alderson has recorded all this information in her book, Blockbuster Plots Pure and Simple, which I've ordered and can't wait to receive. But she also shares even more information on her website, Blockbuster Plots for Writers, and she blogs frequently with more plotting tips. You may also want to sign up for her free newsletter or follow her additional tips on Twitter. It's no wonder her site has earned a spot in Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers two years running.

After watching Alderson's plot videos, I've been able to tighten my plot in some areas it was lacking, and I feel more confident about the chapters I've written. Try listening to Alderson's whispers--they could make a big difference for you.

What helps you most in your plotting?

Book Review: Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months, by John Dufresne

It's not surprising that there are so many books on novel-writing that are structured around a time frame. Writers do want to finish, of course. And having a deadline can provide the motivation needed to get to "the end".

John Dufresne, a novelist and writing teacher, has added his own interpretation with Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months. What makes his entry different?

Dufresne brings his own style to the book, and it reads like a friend sitting down in a coffee shop, who is willing to lead you through the confusing maze of writing your first novel. His introduction is one of the best pep talks for writers I've ever heard--and I've sat through quite a few wonderful keynote speakers at the conferences I've attended.

One point I appreciate is Dufresne's advice to "cherish" the uncertainty writers feel at the beginning of the writing process. His encouragement goes a long way to endow writers with the confidence to tackle the job of writing a novel.

Dufresne shares how the writing process works "by fits and starts, with equal parts elation and frustration". He tells why it's a good thing to lose your way in the course of writing a novel. And he admits that "everything in your life is incompatible with writing and always will be". How's that for a dose of reality?

Dufresne breaks down the novel-writing process into tasks and assignments for each week. He plans on having you spend three hours a day, for twenty-six weeks. Along the way, readers will learn all the basics they need on plotting, characterization, and dialogue, with wonderful quotes from writers interspersed with the chapters.

The author goes further, by giving details on keeping a writer's notebook and what to record in it. Many famous writers have kept such a notebook, and Dufresne quotes from some of them. He also shares how to analyze the novels you read and learn from them.

By the end of six months, you'll have a first draft, which then can be revised and polished. Realistically, within a year, dedicated writers can expect to have a manuscript ready for prime-time.

Perhaps a time frame will motivate you to finish your novel. What do you think?

Five Ways to Make Your First Page Better

At one of my first writers conferences (the amazing Pikes Peak Writers Conference), one of the sessions I attended was called a Read and Critique. Each audience member brought two copies of their manuscript's first page, and read it aloud in front of a literary agent--and the writers in the room. After each writer read, the agent commented on what she liked or didn't like about the first page, and whether she would keep on reading. It was definitely not for the faint of heart!

Though I was really nervous as a new writer, I learned a lot that day. Here's a glimpse back:

Twenty-five writers sit tensed in their chairs, palms sweating, throats clearing. Clutched in each pair of hands: a single page. Each sheet contains just 16 lines, but those lines hold power over each writer’s future.

As the agent steps into the room, 25 sets of eyes follow her and shine with questions. “Will she like it? Maybe a little?” “Will all these people snicker at the words I’ve written?”

A few sly glances gauge the distance to the exit, should the worst happen.
The agent, Sandra Bond, clears her throat (did she rub her palms on her slacks?) and surprises us all. “I’m much more nervous than all of you,” she says. It dawns on us that she is in the hot seat, having only five minutes to listen to and pass judgment on another’s writing.

Whether or not that makes us feel better, it does remind us that agents are human. They don’t like rejection any more than the rest of us. Sandra’s vulnerability eases some of the tension in the room.

As the writers stand and read from their pages, Sandra gives excellent, specific constructive criticisms, which add up to the equivalent of a wonderful seminar on how to hook a reader. Here are some highlights:

The first sentence is paramount. Start with a graphic, visual scene—action, tension, dark humor. Don’t confuse your reader with the first line, hoping they’ll keep reading to figure it out. They’re more likely to put it down. If your first line or paragraph doesn’t grab the friends you test it out on, try ditching it and begin with your second paragraph. Sandra says this won’t always work, but it’s worth a try.

Show your character’s personality immediately. Whether it’s through humor and sarcasm, or fear and paranoia, let your reader see your character’s quirks and sensitivities. What are the “must haves” or “can’t stands” in their world?

Beware the prologue. While many successful authors use them, Sandra warns that writers must be aware that lots of readers skip them. If your prologue reveals something crucial to the story, weave the information into your novel, or turn the prologue into chapter one.

Use the senses to pull in the reader. Two submissions that seemed to be popular with Sandra and the group as a whole, employed this idea. One focused on several unusual smells that helped connect us to what the main character liked and didn’t like. Another used sound—a particular sound brings back snatches of memories from the lead character’s life—and makes us want to know what sound stirred up these recollections.

If you’re tackling a memoir... Sandra noted that memoirs are a difficult genre to get into. In order to distinguish yours, accentuate your voice to make it compelling and unique. She told us that a memoir should never begin with, “When I was nine...” Find the voice that will grab your reader.

Attending a Read & Critique session helped me realize that I could not only survive reading aloud in a group, but pick up some great writing tips as well. 

Have you overcome your fears and read in a group? 

Writing Your Goals for 2011: Part Four-Workspace Goals

Fourth in our series designed to get you set to write your best in 2011 is a focus on your workspace. You may wish you could write in a secluded mountain cabin, or adopt the office of a famous writer, but reality dictates that all you have to work with is what you've got. Here are some ideas to make the most of it.

You may be dealing with a corner of your bedroom, or a spacious extra room. Perhaps you write in a coffee shop, or on your lunch hour. Think through your five senses, and see how you might be able to make that space your own with a few tweaks.

Sight. Visually, your space has a huge impact on you. It's time to figure out what inspires you, and what handicaps you, in regards to your writing. Some writers need lots of natural light. Others only the light of their computer. One writer is inspired by a fantastic view while the next finds it distracting. You may feel the need to work alone, or in a place bustling with activity. Try a variety of visual stimuli to figure out what works for you.

Sound. Quiet or noise? Classical music or rock? You may find white noise (a fan blowing, or a wave machine) helpful to block out distractions. Some writers work better when there is noise all around and they're able to create a quiet space in the midst of it. If you have small children, you may find you work well during nap time, or in the middle of a noisy kids' program.

Smell. We don't think about smell much. My daughter gave me one of those reed diffuser air fresheners for Christmas, and now my writing space smells like a spring rain. For you, it might be a scented candle, or the decision to remove the litter box from your office.

Taste. What gives you the energy to keep going during a long writing session? For me, it's a hot cup of tea, and maybe a scone or something. Keep a stash of nuts or seeds, and something to drink nearby. Train your body to realize it's time to work when you eat certain foods.

Touch. You may like the smooth feel of the keyboard under your fingers. Or maybe that's just the only way you've written. Try grabbing a legal pad, or a leather-bound journal and moving away from the computer. Yes, I know you'll have to type your words eventually, but sometimes a pen in hand connects to the creative side of the brain in a way that typing does not.

What have you done to create a workspace that makes you want to write?

Agent Friday: Jill Corcoran

Today we have another agent who is also a writer. Jill Corcoran is an award-winning author and poet. I have no idea how she makes time for both her jobs--plus her roles as a wife and mother. And she blogs. 

I'm feeling rather inferior today.

But it's time to shake it off and figure out what I can learn from this human dynamo. And while she represents children's literature at The Herman Agency, what she's learned in the business applies to all of us.

Since Corcoran fills dual roles as writer and agent, she's experienced querying and rejection from both sides of the desk. You'd imagine she's got something to say on the subjects. And you'd be correct.

Querying. Corcoran dissects a query in Formula for a Query Letter.  She explains how to format your query to send in an email. And then in How to Write a Query Letter, she gathers links from all kinds of agents with their advice. One stop shopping.

Rejection. No one likes it. But at least you know Corcoran has experienced it as a writer. Find some encouragement (and some great links) in The Dissection of Rejection and Rejection Revisited. If you're worried an agent will hate your manuscript, don't worry. Corcoran walks you through what to do if you hear bad news.

Where to start your story. The first pages of your manuscript are critical. You've probably had them critiqued multiple times, and polished them till they shone. But is your story starting in the right place? Strong writing is essential, but so is finding the perfect place to begin. Corcoran shares her thoughts on how to find that sweet spot to Activate Your Story.

Researching agents. In Monday's post on your personalized query plan, I recommended starting a list of agents to query in the future. Corcoran makes it easier, by compiling a list of links to sites where you can check them out.

Do you think you'd be able to handle writing and agenting?

Free Resources from Bob & Jack's Writing Blog

 I think you're going to be thrilled with today's resource. When I researched Tuesday's post on strong verbs, I found a blog with so many amazing resources, I've spent a couple of days browsing. It's time to feature Bob and Jack's Writing Blog.

Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray are successful novelists independently. Together, they wrote The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, one of several sequels to The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. And together they host a blog bursting with information for fiction and memoir writers. If you've been looking for a site that not only gives detailed information on the craft of writing, but writing exercises, too, you've found the right place.

Bob and Jack's goal is to get you writing. To give you lines to get you started. Instead of just reading about how to write, they'll make you do it. I can't ask for anything better. It's like being a kid in a candy store.

On their site, Bob and Jack offer not one, but seven free writing courses. Courses like From Memory to Story and A Course in Memoir. Elements of Dramatic Writing or Make Bad Writing Better.

Are you a visual writer? They post diagrams to help writers of particular genres. The Birth to Now Diagram for memoir writers blew me away. But don't worry if you aren't writing memoir. There are diagrams for mystery, crime, and the hero's journey.

Of course there are plenty of articles on craft. Like How to Read Like a Writer, a three-part series that will make you a better reader. I'll definitely begin using the Scene Checklist--seventeen critical elements of a scene. If you're just getting started, check out the Beginner's Mind, an article explaining how to face a blank page, and use a timer to help you get going.

I've barely scratched the surface of Bob and Jack's blog, and that doesn't even include a separate site they maintain, based upon the Weekend Novelist books. The Weekend Novelist site has many more resources for the hungry writer.

I'm so glad I came across such giving authors. Many others would charge for the information they give away. Makes you want to go buy some of their books, huh?

Book Review: To Darkness Fled, by Jill Williamson

Last week I told you what makes me want to write. One thing is reading good books. I wrote that post after finishing Jill Williamson's book, To Darkness Fled. Williamson is a new author, who debuted with By Darkness Hid.

I write fantasy, so I love to read it. And Williamson does not disappoint. By Darkness Hid (Book 1) was full of action, intricate plotting, and believable characterization. To Darkness Fled gets even better.

Achan Cham, a "stray" even lower than a slave, has learned that he is actually the rightful king of Er'Rets. However, and imposter has taken the throne, and he is forced to flee into the perpetually dark half of the kingdom to hide and attempt to raise an army. 

Achan is accompanied by Vrell Sparrow, a boy who is a gifted healer. But unknown to Achan, Vrell is a young woman, fleeing an arranged marriage to the false king. Both Achan and Vrell possess the gift of bloodvoicing--the ability to speak to others through their mind. This ability saves both of them on many occasions, but having someone read her mind endangers Vrell's ability to keep her secret. 

Traveling through a dark land for most of a novel is no task for a light-weight writer. Williamson does a masterful job of engaging the senses--especially smells, sounds, and textures to create a mood. The setting is definitely a character here. But the characterization is even better. When a writer is unable to use facial expression in much of a story, the skillful use of tone and accent keeps the reader engaged without realizing what's missing.

Reading these books makes me want to write better. Add more action to my manuscript. Stay away from predictable plotting. Deepen my characters.

Have you read a novel that made you stop and pick up a pen?

Pump Up Your Writing: Using Strong Verbs

As a writer, you hear that you ought to avoid adverbs. That you shouldn't include strings of adjectives, or cliches. One way to do all three is to strengthen the verbs you use.

There are plain-vanilla verbs, and there are Rocky Road-with-chocolate-sauce-and-whipped-cream-verbs. The verbs you choose will make a difference  in your fiction.

Sentences that use walked, sat, and thought pale in comparison to stalked, sprawled, and stewed. However, don't label yourself as a failure if strong verbs don't automatically show up in your manuscript. Adding stronger verbs is something you do in your rewriting.

The purpose of your first draft is to get the story on the page, in all it's unedited glory. Once you've got it down, you can analyze it for overuse of adverbs, adjectives, cliches--and wimpy verbs.

Here are a few resources to help you tackle the job.

Dragon Writing Prompts has compiled a massive list of 1000 strong verbs to take the place of weak ones. The list is grouped by verb: for example, she has dozens of strong verbs to use in place of "walked" or "ran". I'm planning to print out the list and keep it handy. And Coherent Visual has a similar, downloadable list in both Word and .pdf formats.

Charlotte Rains Dixon posted a two-part post on strong verbs. The first is What is a strong verb?, and the second continues with How to ferret out strong verbs.

Creative Juices Books lists seven reasons why strong verbs are important (and when to use passive verbs).

Carolyn Jewel shares why strong verbs help you write with strength and specificity, and why "to be" should be your verb of last resort.

Bob and Jack's writing blog gives a number of great examples of both strong and weak verbs.

Give it a try right now. Take a random page of your manuscript and highlight every verb on the page. Count how many are "plain vanilla" and substitute some stronger verbs. When you read it again, how much better is it?

Writing Goals for 2011: Part 3- Your Personalized Query Plan

Each Monday in January, we're focusing on different goals for writing. If you've missed the previous installments, here are some links:

Today's focus is on queries. You may not feel ready to query yet, but to keep on top of all the details, it's a good idea to begin preparations a year ahead, if possible. A little work now will make the process far less stressful down the road.

I've broken the steps down into a timeline.Don't worry if you've got less time--querying can be done faster if you're ready.

One year out. At this point you're still writing your manuscript, but you feel confident you'll be done within about six months. 

1. Take some time each day to begin researching agents. Read their blogs (if they have them) and note which ones represent your genre or niche. Sites like AgentQuery and QueryTracker can help you narrow them down.

2. Seek out an online or in-person critique group, and get your manuscript critiqued.You'll learn so much that the rest of your novel will be stronger.

3. Keep working on your craft: always have a book on writing that you're working through (some great suggestions here), and try to attend any workshops or conferences you can, whether in person or online.

4. Don't stop writing until your manuscript is finished. You won't be able to query at all until it's done.

Six months out. Your manuscript is finished, but not necessarily polished. You have a list of potential agents. Where do you go from here? Is it time to query now? 

1. Using a spreadsheet or paper, make a chart of the agents you're interested in, listing their agency, email, preferred method of query (either email or snail mail), and what they request as part of a query. Double-check that your preferred agents are still with their agency--this is a constantly shifting business, and it's up to you to keep track of where people work.

2. Have your manuscript critiqued again, perhaps by a different critique group, or hire a professional editor, if finances allow.

3. Begin drafting your query letter, and bring it to your critique group for feedback.Here's a link to formatting an email query.

4. Format a synopsis, since some agents will ask for this.Have your critique group check this, also.

Three months out. You're feeling ready, probably itching to hit the send button. There are a few more things to do.

1. Consider setting up a website or blog if you don't already have a web presence. Many agents like to "check out" potential authors they're interested in. 

2. See if you can find some beta readers to give you overall feedback on your novel. It really helps if these are people you don't have a relationship with. Your friends and family will be impressed that you wrote a book, and won't be able to be as objective as strangers. Take their comments and make any necessary changes.

3. Take a little time to study query do's and don'ts. Here are a few links to get you started.
Five questions to ask yourself before querying. 
Tips from twenty agents to make your query shine.
A list of don'ts from SlushPileHell.

Time to release your query. If you're prepared, this should be the easy part--except for your nervousness!

1. Make a plan for sending your query. This article gives a plan for getting a 75% response rate to your query. Find out about the best and worst times to query.

2.  Check again that your target agents are still at the agency you have listed. Send your query in batches, a handful at a time, spaced a few weeks apart. Keep track (on your spreadsheet) of what you sent to each agent, the date, and their response. Note that agents who pass on your work may not respond at all. Don't take it personally, they're just too busy to reply to each query. When an agent does respond, send what they ask promptly.

3. If you're thinking of revising your query and resending to your target agents, read this first.

Where are you in the query process?

Agent Friday: Folio Literary Management

Folio Literary Management is a powerhouse. They not only boast a dozen agents,  they also have a separate division, Folio Jr., to handle children's books. The agency hosts a blog, and posts additional resources on their website. Let's dig in.

You probably want an agent. You definitely want to have a good relationship with that agent. But like a healthy marriage, it takes work. Get prepared by reading Top Ten Pieces of Advice for a Good Agent-Author Relationship.

If characterization is a struggle for you, it helps to read as much as you can on making your character believable. One of Folio's agents shares Characters That Get Me Every Time--and Why.

Planning on attending a writer's conference this year? Me, too. But don't just pick up and go. Do some preparation ahead of time. Trust me, you'll head into the conference with far more confidence. Agent Scott Hoffman lists five ways to Get the Most Out of Your Writer's Conference Experience. In addition, you'll find more information in Jeff Kleinman's Guide to Conference Etiquette.

Right now you may be editing your novel. After that, you'll likely show it to your critique group, eliciting all kinds of advice on revising your manuscript. Once you secure an agent, the first order of business will probably be--more revisions. How will you react? Agent Laney Katz Becker gives her perspective on why revisions are important in Divas Need Not Apply.

Though it may sound far away to you now, it's not a bad idea to begin establishing a relationship with local bookstores. Find some great advice straight from a bookseller sharing do's and don'ts for authors hoping to market their books.

From the agency's resource page:

A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Published
Frequently Asked Questions for Agents
Knowing Your Genre
Jeff Kleinman's Rules of Rejection
How to Formulate Your Query Submission Plan
The Top 5 Ways Not to Get an Agent

Wow. Lots of resources to look through today. What are the areas you feel pulled to first?

Free Resources from Author Jeffrey A. Carver

I've found another generous writer. A busy author with more than a dozen books to his credit, Jeffrey A. Carver maintains multiple websites and a blog, giving away fantastic writing information to you.

Carver writes science fiction  (including a Battlestar Galactica series), but most of his resources will be helpful to writers of all genres. He even gives away some of his fiction.

Carver's website contains links to all kinds of information that can help you as a writer. 

Advice. Carver lists a number of practical tips on his advice page. He also dedicates a page to getting published, answering questions on agents, queries, and self-publishing.

Blog. Carver keeps up a blog called Pushing a Snake Up a Hill. You may want to add his blog to your reader, or check out this handy page of relevant blog posts like Dealing With Writer's Block or Will They Steal Your Work?

Course. Even with all the other resources he provides, Carver has developed an online course in writing science fiction and fantasy that he offers for free. You can't beat that.He's also posted a podcast of a workshop on story structure.
Links. If you do write science fiction or fantasy, you won't want to miss Carver's page of links, some quirky, some strange.
Know any more writers like this?

Book Review: The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success

Most of us here are fiction writers, but novels and short stories take a long time to pay the bills. Enter freelance writing. Magazine articles take relatively little time to research and write, compared to a full-length novel. But articles are a different animal.

The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success helps writers navigate the "rules" of the freelance writing world, and even gives advice on when to break those rules. Ten chapters and twelve appendices give you the confidence you need to approach magazine editors with your ideas.

The authors, Formichelli and Burrell, also run a popular blog for freelancers. Posts like 5 Tips to Finding Story Ideas That Sell, and 11 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Writer's Market give writers an edge.

Also available on the site is a free packet of successful query letters to give writers an idea of what magazine editors expect. The authors also offer a free teleclass each month. The current class is titled, Using Fear As Fuel When Writing or Querying.

Conventional freelance advice says writers should start by penning articles for small, regional magazines and work themselves up to the "big" jobs at national magazines. Formichelli and Burrell offer "unconventional" tips to help writers climb the freelance ladder more quickly.

Some novelists can't imagine what topics they would write about, since their minds are immersed in their fiction. Consider the hobbies of your characters, the location where your story is set, or the time period that fascinates you. Chances are good that there are magazines serving readers with the same interests. And down the road, these same readers may be buying your novels.

Have you considered writing for magazines?

What Makes You Want to Write?

Yesterday I finished reading a novel. I love reading authors' debut novels and seeing the writing that made an agent and editor say, "Yes!" What I liked best about this one was the interaction between the male and female lead. Though it wasn't a romance, the subtle tug between their hearts was beautiful to read.

Have you ever read a book that stayed with you after you closed the cover? It's books like these that make me want to sit down and start typing. They give me the desire to give the same experience to my readers. The first time someone told me that my story made them cry was the moment I felt like a real writer. Never mind that I was not published and didn't have an agent. It touched someone. That was enough for me.

So I'm thinking today about what makes me grab a pen and start writing. 

Reading books.When I read a well-written book, even if it's not perfect, it energizes me to write. I want to be able to create a mood, or make a reader fall in love with a character. Occasionally, I get discouraged, thinking, "I'll never be able to write like that." But even the best authors started somewhere. And reading great writing is probably one of the things that helped them grow.

Watching movies.Good plotting is a hallmark of good movies. Watching masterful film making and screenplay writing helps me discover areas of my story that can be cut. I like to watch the deleted scenes, especially when the director explains why a perfectly good scene (sometimes his favorite scene) didn't make it into the final movie. Usually it's because it didn't move the story forward. I know I've got scenes like that in my manuscript.

Observing people. I took my daughter to the airport yesterday. While I waited for her flight to take off, I had a chance to watch the travelers going by. It amazes me how watching people makes me long to describe my characters better. It's not just the different hairstyles and facial characteristics. It's the questions that pop up in my mind. Why is the mousy older woman carrying such a flamboyant purse? What does the unusually shaped package contain? Why does the young man make eye contact with every person he passes? Questions like these had me looking for my notebook.

Listening to music.The long, icy drive to the airport was accompanied by a variety of music that I don't always listen to, courtesy of my daughters and niece in the car. But it's good for me to listen to songs outside of the genres I gravitate to. I end up really listening to the words, the mood, the textural combination of instruments, and I often start thinking through a scene in my story, coming up with alternate ways for it to go.

Beautiful scenery.Back to the airport trip. My travels took me along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, first in a snowstorm, and then in the blue-skied, bright aftermath. The sun burning off the fog that covered the mountains, the pine needles frozen in place with the numbing cold--each turn of the road brought a fresh vision that could be translated into a story.

So that's my list--so far. What's on yours?

Writing Goals for 2011: Part 2- Making Your Writing a Business

 Whether or not you make much money from your writing, 2011 might be the year to begin keeping track of expenses and income. And the beginning of the year is the perfect time to set up the record-keeping that can save you money on next year's taxes. 

Not sure what you need to keep up with? Here are some links to help you sort out the possibilities.

First of all, take the Writing as a Business quiz on Seekerville. It may help you narrow down some areas you can focus on. 

Writer's Digest has a comprehensive article that explains the taxes you'd pay as a self-employed writer, and how to balance that tax with deductions. You'll find out whether your writing is an occupation or a hobby, and possible deductions you can take.

The Guide to Literary Agents adds a few more details with tips on deductions like health insurance and cell phones.

Agent Rachelle Gardner has two great posts. The Tax Man Cometh details how to treat your writing as a business. Keeping Track of Things adds a list of files you'll want to set up for royalty statements and book sales.

If you'd like some free forms to help you stay organized, check out The Organized Writer for everything you need.

Are you keeping records yet? Do you have a system that works for you?

Agent Friday: Joshua Blimes

When I first looked into Joshua Blimes, I wondered if he was a legitimate literary agent. After all, his agency, called JABberwocky, uses the URL "AwfulAgents.com". But I did my research, and discovered that this three-partner agency is indeed well-respected. 

Joshua Blimes has been in the business for a quarter of a century, opening his own agency in 1994. He is known for representing science fiction and fantasy, but the agency is also interested in a variety of other projects. The agents page will give you all the details. There, you'll see some of the names Blimes has worked with over the years, including Carl Sagan and Elizabeth Moon.

Blimes writes regularly on his blog, Brillig. Here are a few posts of interest:

Some professionals say writers need to establish themselves in short stories before trying to get a novel published. Blimes disagrees, and gives his reasons in this post, then expands on them in another post.

Even though you may not have even finished your first book, it's a good time to begin learning the different aspects of the business. Blimes explains the details of book contracts--an important topic for writers to understand.

And while he's not as thrilled with ebooks as some, Blimes understands their place in publishing. He spends time thinking about how ebooks will change the industry.

If you'd like to hear more from Joshua Blimes, here's a great interview from the Guide to Literary Agents.

Organize Your Goals With a Free Tool: Workflowy

On Mondays, we've been talking about goals for the year. Tuesday's post was a practical way to get yourself to write, even on busy days. Today, I'll share a free online tool you can use to keep track of the goals you make. It's called Workflowy.

Workflowy is basically an online list, set up like an outline. The user has the ability to collapse or expand the list, so no matter how many notes are made, the list is still manageable. There is a general video on the first page of the website, but if you go ahead and sign up for the free service, you can view a more detailed video that explains how to use it.

Users don't need any special skills for Workflowy--except the ability to type. I'm using Workflowy to list my monthly writing goals. The service allows me to break down my goals into smaller, more manageable pieces, and as I accomplish them, I can "cross them off" the list.

I plan to make more Workflowy lists: one for each writing project, and lists for other responsibilities I have. Let's face it: the non-writing activities in our lives can dominate our time and overwhelm our creativity. Keeping track of important non-writing tasks actually gives us the freedom to write when we know we've managed our time well.

How do you manage the tasks in your life?

Book Review: By Cunning and Craft, by Peter Selgin

With the vast array of writing books available, writers need to know which ones are the comprehensive, go-to books to open when they need to brush up on the basics. By Cunning and Craft is such a book. While there are many books that focus on a particular topic, like your story's hook, or whether to start with plot or character, this book will be an often thumbed-through reference.

The book is beautifully organized, and sprinkled with a generous amount of writing quotes that pertain to each chapter. The topics have examples of successful authors applying the different aspects of fiction writing.

Ten chapters include advice on characterization, point of view, structure and plot, dialogue, and description. Selgin also covers the important topic of scene, summary, and flashback--an important technique for fiction writers to grasp. The author spends time explaining voice and style, theme, revision, and finishes up with a discussion on pursuing publication. There is an appendix at the end listing more books on craft the reader may want to read for further information.

By Cunning and Craft is a Writer's Digest book, and I was pleased to see it offered on the Writer's Digest site for only $5.49. Make sure that at least one of the books on your shelf is like this one.

What is your main fiction-writing reference?

Guest Post: Aim, Shoot, Bull's-Eye: Writing Targets for the New Year

 I don't often do guest posts, but the moment I read Kenda Turner's words on writing targets, I knew they had to be shared. If you're like me, her post will get you writing (guilt-free!) all year. Kenda blogs over at Words and Such. Take a minute to go visit.
Photo courtesy of Photobucket
Aim, Shoot, Bull's-Eye: Writing Targets for the New Year, by Kenda Turner.
I know it's just semantics, but I've decided to set writing "targets" rather than resolutions for the new year. The "dart board"--what I'm aiming for--is to write every day. No matter how much,  how little--my goal is to at least hit one of four targets every day. Each is represented by the graduated concentric circles of a dart board. (I wish I could diagram this, but such design skills aren't in my repertoire yet!)

The four targets include:
1. The Bull's Eye: Write 1000 words. I hope to hit this mark more often than not in the upcoming year. But that is the real prize, and often hard to attain. So if circumstances--like life's challenges away from the computer--preclude this then I'll aim for...

2. The Inside Ring: Write two pages. Linda Sue Park, author of the 2002 Newbery Medal Winner A Single Shard, in an interview over at Cuppa Jolie, said: "My most valuable tip came from Katherine Paterson, who wrote in an essay about how she tries to finish 2 pages a day. I read that when I was starting work on my first novel, and it was a huge light-bulb moment. I thought, I can do that! I don't know if I can ever write a whole novel, but I sure as heck can write 2 pages a day. I've written every single one of my novels that way, and I'm positive I never would have written even one if I hadn't read that tip." Still and all, though, if time is at a premium on a busy day, I will at least shoot for...

3. The Middle Ring: Write for 15 minutes. Dan Goodwin, at Coach Creative, says: "Create every day and you get used to starting creative sessions quickly and easily. They become a routine, a habit, and you begin before you've had a chance to procrastinate. The less often you create, the harder it becomes to get started, and the more excuses and 'urgent' tasks that have to be done before you create begin to stack up...(so) start today, set aside 15 minutes, make an appointment with your creativity, and write it down. Do the same tomorrow." Yet, being realistic, on days I can't even do that I will at least...

4. The Outer Ring: Write ten words. This from Mary E. Pearson, on a  guest post at Dear Editor: "When I feel like I can't move forward, I will do all kinds of things to help me keep going, like...Trick myself. I sit down to write and tell myself I only have to write ten words and then I can get up and do whatever I want guilt free. TEN. That's all. But I have to do it every day." She says it's amazing how allowing yourself ten simple words more often than not jump starts the writing process and you end up writing more than you thought you would.

So there you have it, my targets for 2011. Every day, hit at least one. Now my aim might be poor at the beginning. After all, I haven't been all that consistent in the past. But with practice, who knows what  will come. I'm looking forward to finding out!

What are your writing targets for the upcoming new year?

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. --Vita Sackville-West
Kenda Turner is an aspiring author who has written a MG historical fiction with two more MG ideas on deck ready to be plotted. She's been published in such children's magazines as Children's Digest, Children's Playmate, and Boy's Quest. She's also been published in two Cup of Comfort anthologies. Her best friends in 2011 promise to be a notebook and pen so she can write anywhere.


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