What’s Your Novel About?

By Marilyn Henderson

You have finished your novel and are attending a writers’ conference hoping to get an agent or editor to read your manuscript. You work your way through the crowd with your gaze focused at name-tag level. Suddenly you spot a gold-bordered tag reserved for editors. Heart pounding, you approach and introduce yourself and say you have just finished your novel.

The editor smiles and replies, “What’s your novel about?”

Suddenly the moment of truth is at hand. This woman knows why you’re here. The conference brochure described the reception as the place where writers could meet editors and agents. This is when you make your pitch.

Now’s your chance to convince this editor to ask you to send her your manuscript. So how do you answer her question?

Just as she had her question ready, you need to have your answer prepared. If you’re a savvy writer, you began working on your plot statement as soon as you signed up for the conference.

What’s a plot statement?

A plot statement is the hook you need to make your storyline sound like a winner so the editor asks to read the manuscript. In screen play writing this is called a pitch.

Just as she got right to the point in talking with you, she expects you to get right to the point by telling her what your novel is about. She doesn’t want a long rambling dissertation about the characters, background or details of who does what in the plot. She wants you to capture her interest by making the book sound too exciting to pass up.

Any book she recommends the publisher buy must be one she can convince others in the publishing house will sell. Publishers are in business to make money, and she hopes to find a winner among the writers at this conference.

Like a query letter, your plot statement or pitch is a selling tool. It’s time to forget all those great enthusiastic descriptions of your story you envision on the cover of your published novel.

Cover copy is written to entice the reader to buy the book. It tells exciting details of the story to entice the reader to want to read more. A plot statement is written to excite the editor enough to think the story will sell. Pitching is how you sell your novel.

The editor at that conference wants to know if the book will sell and make money for the publishing company.

How do you tell what the story is about without telling the story?

Don’t think about the story, think about the original idea that developed into your plot. What about that idea made you decide it could become a novel? What excited you enough to spend months working on it?

The initial spark usually stirs your curiosity or an emotional reaction. You may want to know who, what, when, where or how such a thing might happen. You may wonder what would happen if one of the people involved took a different turn or made a different decision. The idea may have infuriated you, driven you to tears or scared you enough to check the locks on your doors and windows. In other words, it stirred an emotional reaction. Now your pitch must do that to the editor.

The How-to’s of Plot Statements and Pitching

A pitch is a statement that conveys the main storyline in a way that impacts the editor emotionally so she wants to read the manuscript. You write it after your novel is finished because you don’t know everything that happens until then. You need to look at the story as a whole in order to recognize the most important and emotionally charged highlights of the storyline.

Six Do’s and Don’ts for Writing a Plot Statement and Pitching

  • Write it in only one sentence
  • Write in the present tense
  • Write in the active voice
  • Don’t give details of the plot
  • Don’t use characters’ names
  • Choose words that evoke an emotional response

The rules are easy, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can toss off the plot statement for your novel in a few minutes. I have challenged numerous writers to do a plot statement, and none have succeeded quickly. The plot statement is a key part of pitching. Most writers need a considerable amount of time and help. One writer sent an excellent one, along with the admission it had taken him three weeks and fifteen tries.

Once you do one well, it’s easier to repeat your success

One picture is worth a thousand words. The old adage holds true for plot statements. Paint a word picture that makes your listener form his own mental images that cause him to feel angry or sad or nervous.

Examples of this appear every day in our daily newspapers. Can you read an account of a nursing home fire in which four patients died without feeling sad or angry at the people or circumstances that led to the fire? Can you read a story about a child being abducted without heart-felt gratitude that your little boy is safe and sound asleep in his bed?

Our emotional responses to other people’s troubles develop out of our fears and concerns for our own and our family’s safety and well being.

This is true for editors just as it is for you and me. Editors react to the emotional appeal of a pitch; the plot statement is a key part.

How Emotion in a Plot Statement Works

Let’s look at a plot statement that worked and why it did. The example is a plot statement for a woman-in-jeopardy suspense novel:

“A recently widowed young mother brings her sick three-year-old home from nursery school during a devastating Southern California storm and discovers they are not alone in the house.’

I had chosen woman-in-jeopardy as the subgenre for the novel because it is one of the biggest sellers in the mystery and suspense field. Most readers and editors of these books are women. For those reasons, I aimed my plot statement at emotions women can relate to and understand.

A recently widowed young mother is a sympathetic, vulnerable heroine. Even if the editor hasn’t experienced those problems personally, she can’t help but feel sadness at this woman’s plight.

Then I add a sick child, something every parent and non-parent can relate to and worry about.

With the main character hitting these two emotional buttons, I add a setting that hits another one: “a devastating Southern California storm.” Newspapers and television have brought the horror of flooded homes and collapsing hillsides in California into living rooms across the nation. We shudder at the thought of the unpredictable destruction and losses or give earnest thanks that we don’t live in an area where they occur.

And finally I hint at the menace to come: she discovers they are not alone in the house. An unknown person invading her home plays on the fears of every woman.

Every story element included in the plot statement is an emotional trigger. Together, they create a dark mood of danger and suspense. And more important, they make the editor curious about how the story will evolve and work out.

I admit I didn’t come up with the plot statement on the first try. I didn’t count how many bad starts I had or how many refinements I made once I had a passable draft, but it took me several days to reach this one. The early ones suffered from my trying to tell too much, especially about the intruder. Eventually I realized that the less I told about him, the more sinister he became, and the more “fear” he roused.

The descriptive words in the statement also were chosen for the effect they helped produce. A “recently widowed young mother” has a “sick” child. The storm is “devastating.” These add to the dark mood that enhances a suspense novel.

This statement tells the basic storyline without any details of the action or characters. At the same time, it pushes three emotional buttons for the editor:

  • Compassion (widowed mother and sick child)
  • Worry (the storm)
  • Terror (the intruder in house)

The editor knows these emotional triggers sell books, so she may be willing to read the manuscript to see if the story delivers on its promise. The plot statement did what it was supposed to do.

If you have finished your novel, start working on your plot statement now so you’ll be ready when that editor or agent you meet says, “What’s your novel about?”

The Seven Deadly Sins of Freelance Writing

Guest Post by Francesca StaAna

Image of a woman sitting a a table with a pencil and a book, and several crumpled pieces of paper, about to toss a crumpled up paper over her shoulderWondering why your articles aren’t getting a lot of views or clicks? Stressing about the fact that you’re not getting enough repeat clients?  You might be committing these deadly freelance writing mistakes:

Silence (Not following up)

Contrary to what some might think, just because a prospect doesn’t immediately respond to your first call or email, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested. Yes, most of them probably don’t need your services, but there ARE some potential clients who are simply too busy to respond. This is especially true when it comes to sending emails. People are bombarded with emails on a daily basis, so you can’t really blame them if they overlook yours.

Always follow up. Don’t let fear, pride, or laziness stop you from doing it. Whether you’re cold-emailing a potential customer or reaching out to blogs to see if they’re willing to publish your guest post, make it a point to reach out in about a  week or so after you’ve first made contact to see if they’re interested.

Ignorance (Not reading enough)

Reading should be a necessity for writers. Reading on a regular basis allows you to appreciate the beauty of the written word, gives you inspiration, and more importantly, makes you a better writer. It opens you up to different styles of writing and helps you develop your own.

On a more pragmatic level, reading can give you new material to write about. Can’t think of anything new to jot down on your blog? Pick up a recent issue of an industry magazine and see what’s happening in the world. Check out the latest posts on your favorite websites and get different points of view on issues. I guarantee you’ll find something to write about.

Carelessness (Failing to catch typographical and grammatical errors)

Committing typos is unavoidable. Publishing them on the other hand, is a different story.

Typographical and grammatical errors are embarrassing at best, and misleading at worst. One misplaced letter or punctuation mark can shift the meaning of a statement, so make sure that you thoroughly proofread your writing especially when it’s supposed to go out to the public.

Have a second set of eyes read through your work before sending it in. If you’re on your own, step out of the room for a few minutes or do something else for a while then go back and re-read what you’ve written. Personally, I’ve found that changing the font and color of the text, as well as reading aloud makes proofreading so much easier.

Self-Absorption (Focusing on yourself rather than the audience)

Whether you’re pitching to clients or writing a blog post, always remember one thing: It’s about THEM, not you. Think about it. When you’re out on a date, wouldn’t you be turned off by someone who only talks about himself or herself without bothering to ask you about your life?

Similarly, one of the quickest ways to get readers to lose interest is by failing to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (Trust me, they’re all asking that question.)

In most cases, writing isn’t about sounding intelligent. It’s about getting your message across in the most effective way possible.

Unoriginality (Failing to use your own unique voice)

One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a writer (and as a person in general) is trying to be someone you’re not. While it’s perfectly acceptable to admire and be inspired by other people’s writing styles, it’s another thing to try and copy them. Instead, study the writing styles of others to develop your own unique flavor. You’ll be a much better writer and have more fun while you’re at it.

Also avoid using words or phrases that are not “you” in an effort to sound smart and important. In most cases, writing isn’t about sounding intelligent. It’s about getting your message across in the most effective way possible.

Close Mindedness (Refusing to try other things)

So you’re set in your ways. I get it. I can be the same way too. However, not going out there to try new things can seriously hinder your growth.

For instance, I know some writers who were reluctant to market using Pinterest because it was too “image based” and they assumed that it wouldn’t be an effective medium to promote their work. I paid no attention to those claims and tried it anyway. I used tools such as  PicMonkey and  Share As Image to make my words “pinnable,” and guess what? The Pinterest community took notice. My site got more clicks and I even got a few client calls because of it.

The takeaway? Don’t automatically turn your back on ideas or tools just because you’re not familiar with them. Keep an open mind at all times and try new things—even if you’re not used to them. After all, you never know how effective (or ineffective) something is until you try it out for yourself.

Social Aversion (Refusing to network or collaborate with others)

Don’t treat all your fellow writers as the competition. Instead, see them as teachers, peers, or even friends. Similar to being closed minded, not opening up your professional circle can stop you from growing and learning new things.

You can pick up a lot of new ideas and connections by attending conferences and networking mixers, so try to be present at these events whenever you can. If you’re more of an introvert, start by networking online. Comment on blogs and connect with people via social media

Your Turn

Are you guilty of any of these sins? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

______________________________________

Francesca is the founder of Credible Copywriting and specializes in writing blog posts, web content and press releases for startups, Internet companies, and mobile app developers. She’s currently developing Copywriting 2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring copywriters the ins and outs of the biz. Sign up here and get notified when the course launches.

Submitomancy!

ETA: Submitomancy fell short of the funding goal, unfortunately, so isn’t going to happen. (Thank you, Zac, for your suggestion that we add a note about the project’s status.)

Guest Post by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

I first experienced the magical power of recent responses on Absolute Write. I had just started sending out my first novel (now wrapped in lavender-scented tissue paper and trunked) and I discovered the treasure trove of agent information here on the forums. It was like I’d gained entry into a secret club. Suddenly I knew that this agent was a quick responder and that one often gave personal responses and how long the previous person had been waiting for a response. I got great insight on what specific agents were looking for and the type of novels that were getting full requests. And most importantly, I didn’t feel so alone.

When I shifted to short stories, I looked for similar resources. I discovered tracking short stories was a bit more complicated than novel submissions. I ended up with a combination solution: I had a spreadsheet, a website and a piece of software called Sonar3 in order to try to track all of the information that was important to me. When the admins of that website changed their system, I suddenly realised, you know what? I can do better than this.

I started a list of everything I wanted: manuscript data, submission history, market listings, recent responses, contract and payment information for every sale, exclusivity clauses, reprint options… it was a long list. And before I knew it, I was writing a detailed design specification for my perfect system: Submitomancy.

The project needed two things: development funds and a critical mass of users. And yet, I wanted to keep it free. It was an easy decision to start with the crowd-funding model, which would defray development costs and also gain a commitment from a starter group who wanted the service.

If the campaign succeeds, then the core development is out of the way before we start. The free services will encourage users to enter their data in return for a basic tracking service. This will include a basic search of the market listings, submission tracking and average response times per market.

But if you subscribe, you get access to the fun stuff! Lots of reports and data, of course: expanded manuscript tracking, power search, recent responses, market alerts and personalised notifications. But you also get access to social options like profile pages, status updates and badges! Badges might not seem an obvious feature for a submission tracker, I know.  But having been a part of such a powerful community, I wanted to make it easy to share the our successes and struggles with each other.

If there’s enough interest in Submitomancy then I’ll be refining the details with the Early Access subscribers. But the reports and the support can only be as good as the people who take part. That’s why I’m exploring this with you as a no-risk project right now. If you think you’d enjoy being a part of Submitomancy, then please support the campaign and tell your friends.

http://www.indiegogo.com/submitomancy/

Thrillerfest 2013!

Dive Into The World of Thrillers at THRILLERFEST

Guest Post, by Alma Katsu 

If you write commercial fiction and are looking for a great writing conference, I recommend you check out the International Thriller Writers (ITW) annual event, ThrillerFest. It’s a four-day extravaganza held every year in early July in New York City, close to the publishing industry to ensure participation by editors and agents as well as lots of published authors. If you’re looking for a way to become part of the mystery and thriller genre, you might find that this is the conference you’ve been waiting for.

There are two things that most writers want when they’re at the pre-publication stage: advice on how to make their stories better, and opportunities to meet the editors and literary agents who will make their dreams come true. Craftfest and Agentfest, part of Thrillerfest, are designed to fill those needs.

At Craftfest, you’ll attend sessions on the craft of writing commercial fiction, taught by bestselling authors and some of the top editors in the field. There aren’t many conferences where you’ll learn about dramatic structure or characterization from Lee Child, John Sandford, Steve Berry, or acclaimed agent Donald Maass. While the line-up of presenters changes from year to year  at Craftfest, you’ll find that every instructor at is of the same high caliber.

There are typically over 50 agents at Agentfest to take your pitches. You can see some of the agents who’ve attended in the past here: if you’re looking to pitch to the top agents representing mystery, thriller and suspense, this is where you’ll find them all in one place. And if you’ve never pitched before, don’t worry, there’s a workshop beforehand to teach you the ropes.

At Thrillerfest, you’ll get two days of multiple tracks of panels and spotlight interviews with the biggest names in the field, all designed to teach you about the business of writing commercial fiction. You’ll find panels with some of the most respected editors from the Big Six Publishers: Neil Nyren, senior vice-president and publisher of Putnam, and Mark Tavani, senior editor at Ballantine Books, have been speakers in past years. There are also workshops on related subjects—everything from martial arts to the espionage business—taught by experts.

One of the best things about Thrillerfest is that you get the opportunity to network with authors of all levels of experience—from long-time bestsellers to novices. At my first Thrillerfest, imagine my surprise when I was joined at breakfast by Erica Spindler and Heather Graham! That’s one of the most amazing things about Thrillerfest: everyone is approachable and open.

And while the opportunity to meet big name authors in your genre is a pretty compelling reason to attend, an even better one is that at Thrillerfest you have the chance to meet writers just like you who will likely go on to be your ally in the industry throughout your career—and I can attest to that myself. I met legal thriller writer Allison Leotta when we sat next to each other on stage for the 2011 Debut Author class and today we’re best buds, calling each other for advice and appearing at events together.

As a matter of fact, that’s why I volunteered to write this guest post for ITW: I’ve gotten a lot from Thrillerfest over the years and I wanted to give something back by spreading the word. If you’ve been looking for a writer’s conference that will open doors for you, you might want to read about a few of Thrillerfest’s success stories:

  • Boyd Morrison, author of THE ROSWELL CONSPIRACY, THE CATALYST, ROGUE WAVE and THE VAULT (Pocket Books)

Are you ready to find out more? Click on the links above to go to the Thrillerfest website; you’ll find everything you need. And if you come to Thrillerfest in July, make sure to look for me and say hello!

Alma Katsu is the author of THE TAKER and THE RECKONING, paranormal thrillers published by Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. THE TAKER was an ALA Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 and has rights that have been sold in 15 languages. 

Looking for a 2013 Writing Workshop?

I just got this press release, so I thought I’d pass it along to all of you.

ODYSSEY WRITING WORKSHOP ANNOUNCES ITS 18th SUMMER SESSION

About Odyssey
Since its founding in 1996, Odyssey has become one of the most respected workshops in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror writing community. Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. The six-week workshop combines advanced lectures, exercises, extensive writing, and in-depth feedback on student manuscripts. Top authors, editors, and agents have served as guest lecturers, including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Robert J. Sawyer, Ben Bova, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff VanderMeer, Donald Maass, Sheila Williams, Shawna McCarthy, Carrie Vaughn, and Dan Simmons. Fifty-eight percent of Odyssey graduates go on to professional publication.

The program is held every summer on Saint Anselm College‘s beautiful campus in Manchester, NH. Saint Anselm is one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country, dedicated to excellence in education, and its campus provides a peaceful setting and state-of-the-art facilities for Odyssey students. College credit is available upon request.

Jeanne Cavelos, Odyssey’s director and primary instructor, is a best-selling author and a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, where she won the World Fantasy Award for her work. As an editor, Cavelos gained a reputation for discovering and nurturing new writers. She provides students with detailed, concrete, constructive critiques of their work. Cavelos said, “I’ve worked with many different writers, and I know that each writer thinks and works differently. We limit attendance at Odyssey to sixteen, so I can become deeply familiar with the work of each student and provide assessments of strengths and weaknesses. I work individually with each student, helping each to find the best writing process for him, suggesting specific tools to target weaknesses, and charting progress over the six weeks.” Her critiques average over 1,200 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive.

Odyssey class time is split between workshopping sessions and lectures. An advanced, comprehensive curriculum covers the elements of fiction writing in depth. While feedback reveals the weaknesses in students’ manuscripts, lectures teach the tools and techniques necessary to strengthen them.

The workshop runs from June 10 to July 19, 2013. Class meets for four hours in the morning, five days a week. Students spend about eight hours more per day writing and critiquing each other’s work. Prospective students, aged eighteen and up, apply from all over the world. The early action application deadline is JANUARY 31, and the regular admission deadline is APRIL 8. Tuition is $1,920, and housing is $790 for a double room in a campus apartment and $1,580 for a single room.

This year, Odyssey graduate Sara King is sponsoring the Parasite Publications Character Awards to provide financial assistance to three character-based writers wishing to attend. The Parasite Publications Character Awards, three scholarships in the amounts of $1,920 (full tuition), $500, and $300, will be awarded to the three members of the incoming class who are deemed extraordinarily strong character writers, creating powerful, emotional characters that grab the reader and don’t let go.

Meet Our 2013 Writer-in-Residence
Odyssey’s 2013 writer-in-residence, Nancy Holder, is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of adult, young adult, middle grade, and early reader work, both fiction and nonfiction. She has sold approximately 80 novels and 200 short stories, comic books, and essays in various genres. She has taught creative writing classes at the University of California at San Diego, the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference, and other conferences and colleges, and has been on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing for seven years.

Other Guest Lecturers
Lecturers for the 2013 workshop include some of the best teachers in the field: award-winning authors Holly Black, Patricia Bray, Adam-Troy Castro, and Jack Ketchum; and the two-time Hugo Award-winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, Sheila Williams.

Odyssey Graduates
Graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop have been published in the top fiction magazines and by the top book publishers in the field. Their stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Clarkesworld. Some of the recent novels published by Odyssey graduates are Kitty Steals the Show by Carrie Vaughn, published by Tor Books; Lies & Omens: A Shadows Inquiries Novel by Lyn Benedict, published by Ace Books; Spellcrossed by Barbara Ashford, published by DAW; Silver by Rhiannon Held, published by Tor Books; and Clean: A Mindspace Investigations Novel by Alex Hughes, published by Roc Books.

Comments from the Class of 2012
“I learned more in six weeks at Odyssey than I did in three years in an MFA program.” – Jessie Robie

“Jeanne is the most thorough and hard-working instructor I’ve ever met. Odyssey has changed me as a writer. I can’t imagine a finer education or experience.” – James Khan

“I was afraid Odyssey would change my writing and take away what made it mine and unique, but I was so wrong. At Odyssey, I developed a sense of control over those gut feelings I used to have—when I sensed something was off but just could not figure out what it was. . . . Odyssey is like a writer paradise. You might not want to change when you get here, but you will. Later, you won’t want to leave, but when you do, you leave with a purpose.” – Jessica May Lin

Other Odyssey Resources and Services
The Odyssey Web site, www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including online classes, a critique service, free podcasts, writing and publishing tips, and a monthly blog. Those interested in applying to the workshop should visit the Web site, phone (603) 673-6234, or e-mail jcavelos@sff.net.

Writing a Great Short Story

By Lee Masterson

Short stories can be an excellent way to break into the competitive field of fiction publishing. Novel publishers are more willing to look at work written by an author whose work has already appeared in print. Magazines and periodicals love the short form, so selling the work can often be simpler than pushing an entire novel manuscript. Readers are more willing to pay money for work from an author they are already familiar with. Most importantly, though, short stories provide a fertile ground for bigger ideas to spring from.

The difficulty lies in mastering this challenging form of writing.

Some shorter stories manage to leave a lingering impression on readers long after the final word was written. Others leave readers with the feeling that they have missed the point entirely.

So how do you strike a balance between writing an effective, memorable short story and creating a short, aimless length of prose?

To make your short stories more effective, try to keep in mind these following points:

Theme

Establish a clear theme before you begin writing. What is the story about? That doesn’t mean what is the plot line, the sequence of events or the character’s actions, it means what is the underlying message or statement behind the words. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.

Snapshot

An effective short story covers a very short time span. Picture it as a snapshot of a particular moment in the life of the story. Of course, the character has a history and will often have consequences to face after the story’s conclusion, too. But for the sake of this short story, only the explanation of the event is relevant. This explanation should be the illustration of the underlying theme to your story.

Bang!

Begin your story with a conflict scene. Throw your protagonist in the deep end. Open with the action. Hook your reader into the story by beginning in the middle of something big. Forget the scenery, or the bad guy who got your hero into this mess in the first place, or the reason your protagonist is dangling by his feet from a sheer cliff. There will be time to sprinkle those details throughout the story later. For now, concentrate on forcing your readers to wonder how he got into that situation. A reader who wonders this is a reader who will continue reading to find out!

Characters

Don’t overload your story with too many characters. Each new character you introduce will bring a new dimension to the story, but it can also add unnecessary length. Too many diverse dimensions (or directions) will dilute the theme. Have only enough characters to effectively illustrate the theme.

Description

Space is extremely limited with short stories. Many publications adhere to strict word-counts and will not accept longer pieces. You need to make every word count. Edit your draft carefully and remove any obsolete words or phrases. Find a more compact way to say want you mean. Dig through a thesaurus to find words that more accurately convey what you want to say. Finding one perfect, strong noun can be more compelling than a whole descriptive paragraph.

Focus

The best stories are the ones that focus upon a narrow subject line. History, external details, surroundings, other characters — all extraneous details should fade into oblivion while you focus on your story’s central theme. It can be tempting to digress, and often more tempting to expand the fledgling idea into a full novel-length work. The tighter you squeeze the focus of the story, the more the reader will be pulled into the event you have drawn.

Twist

Surprise your readers. Add a little twist at the end of your story that leaves them wondering about your protagonist long after the story ends. Avoid the overtly predictable ending and make publishers remember your style.

Denouement

Don’t leave your readers hanging in the dark at the end of your story. Be sure that your conclusion is satisfying, but not too predictable. Readers need to be left with a feeling of resonance, a feeling that they long to know what happened to the characters after you wrote that last word.

If you can successfully incorporate these tips into a compact, focused story, you just might find that you have created a memorable short story that lingers in the minds of readers and editors alike, long after they’ve finished reading!

© Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.

Lee Masterson is a freelance writer from South Australia. She is also the editor of Fiction Factor an online magazine for writers, offering tips and advice on getting published, articles to improve your writing skills, heaps of writer’s resources and much more.

Jealousy Among Writers: Slaying the Green-Eyed Monster

Guest Post by Anne Emerick

It’s a secret many writers try to hide, the negative emotions they feel upon hearing of another writer’s success. When you believe you should be applauding other writers’ accomplishments, it can be horrifying to realize that instead you feel jealous, envious of their success, resentful that they achieved a goal that is still out of your reach. The good news is that if you feel jealous, you can learn to channel that emotion into positive powerful actions.

Writing Jealousy cover

If you realize you feel bad, rather than good about another writer’s success, examine what exactly is it that bothers you. Common jealous-writer feelings include:

A feeling of being left behind

One writer commented that one-by-one critique group members were getting work published and it made him feel as though they weren’t all peers any more. You need to recognize that success or failings need not change any important relationships in your life.

People value consistency and like to know that you don’t view them any differently whether they have just had a grand success or a grand failure. Michael J. Fox loves to tell the story about how his first Emmy sits in the trophy case alongside other family members’ bowling and soccer team trophies. It’s important to recognize that a publishing contract or sales record isn’t going to cost you a friendship, because otherwise, how could you ever strive for those achievements?

A feeling that other writers doesn’t deserve their success

Do you feel a suddenly successful writer was lucky? Had connections? The problem with questioning whether another writer deserves the success he or she received is that part of your brain will then wonder whether you deserve to be successful. If something in you makes you feel that a writer didn’t deserve to be successful, ask yourself, why not? Why shouldn’t this writer be successful?

Just as there is no set of steps to follow that are guaranteed to lead to a successful writing career, so too there are no mandatory requirements. While it’s unlikely that you can sit down, write your first story, get it published and make the bestseller list, that is different than you not deserving to have people love that first story.

If you are surprised by how well a writer has done, have a good hard look at factors contributing to their success. You may see something useful that will help you achieve your own goals. Be careful that you don’t attribute their success to luck or celebrity alone as you may miss something that they did which you would be wise to emulate.

Just plain envious. They have what you want.

Writers may feel unable to celebrate another writer’s success because it’s a reminder of something they don’t have. How strongly you covet an achievement is an indication of how important that goal is to you. Be sure to honor that importance in prioritizing how you spend your time. But you also must realize that whatever another writer has received: a publishing contract, a number of sales, a starred review – there is more than one of them to go around. If this other writer did it, so can you. Consider their success a model for yours, proof that what you want is achievable.

Jealousy should not be ignored. If you feel it lurking nearby, bring it out into the light and examine that feeling. Jealousy is a monster and best dealt with firmly. There is nothing wrong with a writer who feels jealous. It’s what you do with that feeling that matters. You want to conquer jealousy for your own good.

People want to be liked and if you dislike or resent another writer because they are successful, then your subconcious will not want you to succeed as a writer for fear that others will dislike and resent you. Examine your own feelings, find a more useful way of thinking about other writers’ successes and then pursue your own success with passion and conviction. Let your own unique gifts shine without worry of comparison.

Anne Emerick is the author of The Day I Met Dr. Seuss and creator of No-Work Spanish audiobooks, an unusual way to learn Spanish. Anne blogs at Self-Publishing, Children’s Books and Me.

Top Ten Writing Mistakes Made By New Children’s Writers

By Suzanne Lieurance

Okay. So I’m not David Letterman. But I doubt if he’d know much about the top 10 mistakes made by new children’s writers anyway. I, on the other hand, read from 10 to 20 manuscripts for children every week (I’m not bragging — I’m just an instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature). While many of the stories I read are destined for publication, I find that 10 common mistakes crop up again and again in the other manuscripts I edit each week.

I’ll start with number 10 (just like Letterman) and work my way up to the number one writing mistake made by new children’s writers (and, just so you know — I’ve been guilty of making some of these mistakes myself, so don’t beat yourself up if you realize you’re guilty of some of these, too):

  1. No Clear POV Character — Children tend to relate to the POV character in a story. This is the person they will root for. Make it clear right from the start whose story is being told. Even if you have two main characters (twins, for example), you need to pick just one of these kids to be your POV character. And, it should go without saying, when writing for children, make sure your POV character IS a kid — even if Grandma has a big part in your story.

  2. Multiple Points of View — Unlike stories for adults, stories for children are generally told from only one POV. It isn’t difficult to maintain a single point of view once you get the hang of it. Just remember — if you are “showing” everything from your main character’s point of view, then he or she has to be present for everything that happens. I see stories all the time where the POV character suddenly leaves the room. Yikes! If your POV character wasn’t there to see or hear what went on, then we can’t see or hear it either.

  3. Telling instead of Showing — Read a good story and chances are there is a lot of action and dialogue (showing) with minimal stretches of straight narrative (telling). Too much narrative and the story sounds like a summary. Readers don’t want a summary. They want scenes with action and dialogue that make them feel they are actually experiencing what is going on. So “show” as much as possible of your story through action and dialogue.

  4. Overuse of Adjectives, Adverbs, and Other Unnecessary Words — Do you really need to say someone “whispered quietly” Or “shouted loudly” ? Or, my favorite — she “nodded her head”? What else could she nod? Or, she “shrugged her shoulders” — she certainly wouldn’t shrug her foot!

  5. Dialogue That is Not Punctuated Properly — Get a grammar book to learn how to punctuate dialogue properly. But, most importantly, remember to change paragraphs each time the speaker changes. I read manuscripts all the time where three or four characters are speaking, yet the paragraph never changes. Just imagine how confusing that is to the reader!

  6. Long Timeframes — I know Harry Potter takes place over several years. But, the story also takes place through several books. Most children’s writers start out writing stories for children’s magazines or they want to write picture books for very young children. Either way, the timeframe in these stories should be rather short — a couple of hours or a day or two. If your story takes place over a couple of weeks or (gulp!) a couple of years, then you need to shorten the timeframe.

  7. No Narrative “Hook” for the Reader — I know what you’re asking — “What is a narrative hook?” Well, that’s simple. It’s just an opening sentence or two that “hooks” the reader and makes him or her want to continue reading to find out what happens.

  8. Dialogue That Doesn’t Sound Real — Listen to any child or teenager and you’ll find out that much of what kids and teens say (at least to each other) tends to sound like a series of grunts. So don’t have the child or teen in your story use words like “shall,” or never use contractions. If you do, the dialogue will sound too formal and your work will not have a child’s or teen’s voice.

  9. Adults Who Step In to Save the Day for the Child — I know what you’re thinking. Parents and other well-meaning adults DO step in all the time to save the day for kids. So why can’t they do it in stories for children? The answer to that is ± because children don’t want to read stories like that. Stories for children have strong children (or children who eventually become strong throughout the course of the story) as characters. This empowers the children who read these stories. They figure, if the POV character can solve his own problems then maybe they can too.

Now. Drum roll here.

The number one mistake new writers make in their stories for children is

  1. No Real Conflict — There’s no story problem. Your POV character needs to face some big problem right at the start of the story. Then, he or she needs to struggle and struggle with this problem as he/she tries to solve it. That is, things need to keep getting worse and worse until finally the POV character is able to solve the problem (or at least resolve it) and change or grow somehow in the process. Without a story problem you have what editors like to call “an incident,” and editors don’t publish incidents. They publish stories.

So that’s my list of top 10 mistakes new children’s writers make. Use this article as a checklist when you’re writing for children. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to publication.

See you in print!

Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer and she teaches children’s writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature. For information about children’s writing, visit Lieurance’s writing website.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Suzanne_Lieurance

Building a Better Biography

By Ami Hendrickson

Whether you are a beginning writer or an established byline, it behooves you to construct a biography as a means of introducing yourself to those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your work.

Bios are more important than you might think. They give the reader a quick overview of your qualifications to write whatever it is you have to say. They offer a bit of your writing history. And they provide an opportunity to connect with your readers on a personal level.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a string of best-sellers to list on your bio. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you have few (if any) credits to your name. The biography is a fluid piece. As you start accumulating credits, you can easily add them and allow some of the less impressive things to fall by the wayside.

Bio Building Guidelines

Writing your bio doesn’t have to be a chore. Some simple suggestions:

Write in the third person. Use your full name in the first sentence. Afterward, refer to yourself either by your first name only, your last name only, or the pronoun “she” or “he.”

Say you are a writer in the very first sentence. If you specialize in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or screenwriting, say so. If you have a niche area that you are especially known for, say so. (“Jane Smith is a freelance writer specializing in worsted yarn and the humor of Albert Einstein.”)

Brag. Tell people what you’ve done. This is no time to be shy. If your writing has ever won any sort of recognition or contest, use the term “award-winning.” If you have written a best-seller, say so. If you have published ten, 20 or 100 articles, mention it. If your mother thinks you’re brilliant—keep it to yourself.

It’s okay to be eclectic. If your credits are all over the map—if you’ve done a little of everything, that’s fine. Something like “Smith has written greeting cards, warning labels, and street signs. She has also provided copy for breakfast cereal boxes,” would be appropriate to highlight your range.

No experience is necessary. If you don’t have many (any?) writing credits to include in your bio, don’t panic. Identify areas in which you specialize, or that you know more about than the average person. Write those down and don’t worry about perceived shortcomings in the byline department. (“Smith has climbed Mt. Everest twice, walked on the moon, and appeared as a Playboy Playmate. She is a double black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys knitting potholders in her spare time.”)

Location, location, location. If you wish, include a short sentence about where you live. Don’t be so specific that the loonies out there can find you and stalk you. But a reference to your family members, your pets, and your hometown can help make you more accessible to your reader.

If writing about yourself in the third person, or “bragging” about your abilities is difficult, write some sample bios for famous people, or for people you know well. Once you get a feel for the exercise, then apply it to yourself.

If you don’t have a bio, I urge you to spend some time creating one. Make it as lengthy and as packed with information as you wish. Then leave it for a few days, come back to it and edit it.

When you’re done, ask yourself if you would read something written by the person the text describes. Work at your bio until the answer to that question is “Yes!”

Bringing Your Bio on Board

Once you have drafted your bio, you will discover that opportunities to use it are plentiful. For instance:

Websites, weblogs, book jackets, and brochures are useful places to include such information.

A short space at the end of magazine articles is often devoted to the author’s biographical information.

If you ever teach or speak publicly, a short bio allows someone to easily introduce you to your audience.

You can also include your bio in a short paragraph in letters introducing yourself or your work to a potential publisher, editor, agent, or manager.

When you use your bio, tailor it for the situation. Use the whole thing on a resume of writing credentials. Shorten it to a single paragraph for inclusion in introductory letters. For speaking introductions, you may wish to shorten it still further. And for “about the author” blurbs, condense it to one or two sentences.

The point, however, is that you cannot utilize something you do not have. So spend some time thinking of how best to introduce you and your writing to the world. Then have fun looking for creative ways to make your bio work for you.

Ami Hendrickson is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, educator, editor, and consultant. She has written for some of the leading horsemen in the world including Clinton Anderson, of Downunder Horsemanship, and hunter trainer and judge Geoff Teall. Find out about her latest projects Website, or visit her blog at Museinks.

Writing a Synopsis: Overcome your Fear

By Vicki M. Taylor

If you noticed, I didn’t title this article “Overcoming YOUR Fear of Writing a Synopsis.” I don’t think you own the fear anymore than I do or any other writer. We all share a common emotion, one that can be summed up in one word: Formidable.

What is it about this particular piece of writing that brings out more moans and groans from writers than a room full of sixth graders getting a surprise math test?

What is a Synopsis?

Look at the word. Synopsis. Say it with me. “Sin-op-sissss.” Even the sound of the word emanates dread. What is a synopsis? Webster’s defines it as “a shortened statement or outline, as of a narrative. Abstract.” Nothing sounds particularly evil in that definition. Let’s look at it a little closer — “shortened statement or outline.” Hey, look at that, “outline.” Now, there is a little word we’re all familiar with. Does “outline” make you cringe as much as “synopsis”? What about “shortened statement”? Not me. Probably not you, either.

Start with a Simple Sentence

Let’s start with the shortened statement. I’ll use the popular children’s story Lady and the Tramp to demonstrate my points.

What is our story about?

Lady and the Tramp is a story about dogs.

True, but the portrayal is dry and uninteresting. Would you want to just read a story about dogs? What makes this dog story different? Let’s see if we can add some more information to better describe the story.

Lady and the Tramp is about two dogs from different sides of the track.

Good. Now we know that there are two main characters. And, we know that these two characters are different in some way. Let’s see if we can do a little bit better.

Lady and the Tramp tells the adventures of an upper-class, well bred cocker spaniel and a roguish mutt from the wrong side of the tracks.

Okay. Now we have some description and a hint at a story. We know that these two distinctly different characters are going to have at least one adventure.

Describe Your Story in 25 Words or Less

So, now we need to think about our audience. The synopsis generally goes to an editor, agent, or publisher. So, we must capture their attention. Give them something to grab onto and not let go. This is where you can really get creative and meet the “describe your story in 25 words or less” synopsis challenge.

Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks.

Whew! There it is — 25 words — exactly. We’ve just written a strong hook for the opening of our synopsis.

Every synopsis should start out with a statement that describes your story in approximately 25 words. However, don’t be a stickler about trying to hit the “magic” number. There isn’t really a magic number. But, keeping your description to approximately 25 words helps to focus your writing on the key elements of your story.

Key Elements — Not That Difficult to Identify

Speaking of key elements, those are what we now need to identify so that we can create our synopsis.

Wait, wait. Stop groaning. I promise we’ll go slowly. Okay?

I think I’ve read every article and book written on creating a synopsis and even though every writer has their own formula for creating the “perfect synopsis,” I admit that authors agree on one thing — You need to practice. So, my suggestion is that you do what I’ve done here. You find some simple stories and practice creating the synopsis for them. Once you’re able to pick out the key elements easily, you’re ready to create a synopsis for your own story.

So, back to our story, Lady and the Tramp.

First Element — Structure

The basic structure of the synopsis should be a complete summary of your story from beginning to end, written in present tense. Simple, right? So far. Let’s see how that helps us with our story.

Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks. Lady’s owners love her but ignore her when their baby arrives. The owners leave her with a cat-loving aunt who locks Lady out of the house. Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. Lady is caught by the dog catcher and spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets. Hurt and jealous, Lady is returned home and exiled to the doghouse once again. Lady discovers a rat making its way into the house and is helpless to defend her home. Tramp helps her by getting into the house and killing the rat. However, he’s accused of attacking the baby and is placed in the dog catcher’s wagon to be taken to the pound. Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat.

More Key Elements — Setting, Main Characters, Conflict

Not bad for a first draft. We’re missing a few items that would make the story more dramatic and compelling for the editor, but those can be added easily. First, we should make sure that we’ve established the setting for the story and identified our main characters.

We’ll have to identify real conflict between these characters and their motivations. Then, we’ll have to show the resolution of the conflict. It isn’t as important to name every character in the synopsis, but you must name your main characters.

Final Key Elements — Tell Your Ending

Finally, we must make sure that we’ve wrapped up our story and told our ending. Yes, that’s what I said, we tell our ending in the synopsis. You must never, ever tease editors and leave them guessing about the ending of story.

As a side note for romance writers: If your story is a romance, make sure you always establish the love relationship between the two main characters by showing how they met and why they’re fighting against their attraction.

With that advice, let’s see how our synopsis shapes up after adding these key elements.

Lady and the Tramp is an early twentieth century story filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks in New England. Lady’s owners lavish attention on her until a new baby arrives that takes all their attention. Ignoring Lady’s needs, they go away on a trip leaving her and the baby with a callous aunt and her two Siamese cats that wreak havoc. Lady, wrongly accused of the mischievous cats’ pranks, ends up in the backyard doghouse and eventually fitted for a muzzle.

Fearful, Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. He treats her to a night on the town, complete with a romantic Italian dinner from his favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, even though he protects Lady from a vicious dog attack, Tramp can’t protect her from the dog catcher. Lady spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets from his other wayward, albeit intimate, acquaintances.

Hurt and jealous, Lady returns home and is once again exiled to the doghouse. Lady’s other neighborhood dog-friends advice her to forget this scoundrel and chivalrously offer to take care of her. Tramp returns, hoping to change Lady’s mind about him. She rejects his advances and sends him on his way. Moments later, she’s alarmed that an ugly rat enters the house, but can’t do anything about it because she’s chained. Tramp comes to the rescue by finding a way into the house and killing the rat before it can harm the baby. However, the heartless aunt accuses Tramp of attacking the baby and calls the dog catcher who places him in the wagon to be taken to the pound.

Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat. Lady’s friends run to stop the dog catcher’s wagon and everyone is reunited after a thrilling chase scene. When the commotion settles, Tramp chooses the family life and abandons his drifting ways to stay with Lady and her owners.

And, there you have it. Your synopsis. Was that so painful?

This synopsis is rather short when compared to the longer books you desire to write. Don’t let that intimidate you. The concept is still the same.

Final Advice

Editors have specific requirements when it comes to the length of your synopsis. Unfortunately, just like snowflakes, no two editors are the same. One editor requires a ten-page synopsis while another may only want two pages. My advice to you is that you follow the requirements of the editor and make sure you include enough information in your synopsis to tell your story but not so much to slow it down. Focus on the story’s development from beginning to end and make sure you emphasize the resolution of the conflict and/or romance.

If you’re having trouble writing your synopsis, don’t beat yourself up about it. Go back to your story. Have you developed the plot completely? Do you understand your characters and their motivation? Is your conflict believable and resolvable? If you can’t answer those questions, the problem isn’t with your synopsis. If you don’t understand your story how do you expect an editor to?

Good luck and remember to practice, practice, practice.

Vicki M. Taylor has been writing technically for nearly fifteen years and has recently published fiction. She enjoys writing stories with strong women as the main characters. When she’s not writing, you can find her lurking about the many writing boards chatting with others and dispensing little pearls of wisdom from her computer in Tampa, Florida. Vicki M. Taylor has a website, where you can read more of her writing.

Lady and the Tramp is owned by Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

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