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Guest Post Writing Life

Developing an Antiheroine: Guest Post with Author Laney Wylde

(The following is a guest post by author Laney Wylde about the development of the antiheroine Sawyer in her forthcoming book, Never Touched.)

The Evolution of Sawyer: Creating an Unpredictable Protagonist

“Can we take a break from watching sex crimes?”

I cut my eyes over to my husband as the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit theme song pounds through the signature BUM BUM. Apparently, he finds the show “depressing” and doesn’t “want to watch the same season for the third time” and “the way you talk about Barba doesn’t reassure me that you’re not going to leave me for a Latino.” (E, you have no reason to worry unless I actually meet a real-life, Cuban, Manhattan ADA who wears three-piece suits and evokes a defendant to choke him with his own belt in the middle of court to secure a conviction.)

What I haven’t yet been able to convince my husband of is the fact that SVU quenches my thirst for justice. That’s what those “especially heinous” crimes deserve and often get from New York’s finest…and Barba.

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In my favorite episode of SVU, Barba finds a loophole in the New York State law which gives the victim he’s fighting for tons more justice than most he represents.

And, boy, is that woman entitled to every ounce.

In the last scene of this SVU episode, said survivor is actually smiling and hopeful. And, as most episodes of SVU are, this was based on a true story. So, I Googled it and found a New York Times article about the two real-life victims Barba couldn’t get justice for.

If only their stories ended with smiles.

In the article, these women describe what each day is like as a survivor, the severe limitations their assailants shackled them with despite their talent, intelligence, and effort, and how no amount of justice the courts can give them will make any of it go away.

None of it will ever go away.

For a lot of us, trauma’s that etching an event carved under our skin. We’re all familiar with it to some degree. We watch the nightmares and we wake up. We take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, peel off the shirt clinging to our sweaty backs. We remind ourselves that it’s over. We fear it’ll happen again, but, for now, it’s over. We try to fall back to sleep.

These girls wake up, take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, see the rest of the world watching their nightmares. Years later. On repeat. With relish.

Now, I must confess that these resilient women were not initially on my mind when I sketched Sawyer. One of my friends still entreats me to title it after its initial three-word premise:

Stripper Math Genius.

Yes. I actually thought, “Hey, what if a stripper was good at math?” (to which my husband replied, “Is this your secret life?”).

But, after reading that NYT article and researching all I could, I took a terrifying step and scribbled a kind of trauma into Sawyer’s past that I had no experience with, no right to write about, praying that I’d tread carefully enough that those anonymous women in that article could read Sawyer and not want to punch me in the teeth.

I know, horribly presumptuous.

Let me be clear, I don’t know those women, but I know Sawyer. I know because I got everything about her wrong for weeks. But then she got her voice, and, holy balls, was it loud. So loud that I had to tear up the entire storyline I had spent hundreds of hours writing for her and start from page one. Once I did that, I learned just what she sounds like.

“My soul is crooked and dark, depraved and destined for hell.”

Ah, that’s my Sawyer.

Turns out, she is witty and socially inept, bookish and sexy, badass and scared shitless, and…

…didn’t love the guy I had destined for her.

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Yeah, that was a tough one for me to wrap my heart around. Never Touched was supposed to be about Sawyer and Guy A. Even when I was onto my fourth or fifth working title, Sawyer still ended up with Guy A. I kept working and reworking and re-imagining the final chapter and realized I had it all wrong.

I had her all wrong.

I was trying to construct her story when in reality, all I could do was write what happened. I couldn’t dictate the choices she made, just record the results of them. And she wouldn’t choose Guy A.

Enter Guy B.

Guy B was already there, sure, but he was supposed to be a transient figure. He walked in, left his mark on her, and exited stage right. But Sawyer wouldn’t have any of that. She fell stupid in love with him. And, much like love in real life, it screwed up everything.

But that’s also when I realized that Sawyer’s story isn’t a love story, though there’s one (or two) in it. Hers is a quest for security, a safety she knows doesn’t exist for people like her, and until I understood that, I wouldn’t get why she did all the logic-defying things she itched to do. Or resorted to doing.

So I stopped judging her. I stopped trying to fix her. Instead, I stood in awe of her. Then I gave space on the page for her thoughts, no matter how ugly.

And I’m going to ask you to do the same.

Because maybe you also have nightmares. Maybe you ache, too. Maybe your thoughts darken when you realize the justice you never got, never will get.

And, I’m betting you didn’t get Barba to plead your case either.

 

Laney Wylde’s Bio:

I’m Laney. unnamed (1)

Boy-mom, doctor’s wife, Christ-follower, mathematician, squishy powerlifter, lover of 30 Rock.

Most recently, writer.

I hope you’ll enjoy my debut, Never Touched, out November 12, and available for preorder!

 

You can visit Laney’s blog by clicking here.

Categories
Writing Life

Four Pieces of Advice from an Editor

Editors Are Your Friends

Finding people locally who are immersed in the writing community on both a local and national level fills me with joy. In my local networking efforts, I had the pleasure to meet with a professional editor who was willing to let me pick her brain for an hour. I left our conversation feeling happy and better equipped to finish the first draft of my novel with confidence. Naturally, it seemed only right and proper to spread the wealth and share some of the advice I received with all of you. The following are four good take-away points, and certainly not a complete list:

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Learn to love the dreaded red pen…

1) Your story is not perfect. It needs an outside editor.

This is good news, actually. It means that even the best, most popular writers out there submit drafts to their editors with continuity errors, grammatical errors, and even spelling errors. It is quite daunting to put together hundreds of pages of story and make every single detail match, sound perfect, and basically look like what will ultimately end up on a bookshelf for people to buy. This is why there are editors, after all…they exist to help shape your work into a wonderful final product. Editors are to writers as George Martin was to The Beatles, if you need an analogy. If you don’t know who George Martin is, that’s okay. You probably don’t know the editors of your favorite books, either. But you should get to know both, and now.

2) Although it won’t be perfect, you still need to submit your best work.

Yes, editors expect that there will be errors involved in your draft, but your story does need to be written well enough to be worth editing. Don’t fill your draft with low-hanging fruit that will distract your editor. You must continually improve upon your grammar and language mechanics, as these are part of your craft. And when you submit your draft to an editor, make it the best it can be. The less work you give your editor to do, the easier it is for them to help make your story the best it can be.

3) Be flexible and easy to work with.

Once again, your story isn’t perfect. You might have, in the hours, days, and weeks that you spent alone staring at a computer screen writing your story, neglected to realize that you aren’t very good at writing dialogue in a Creole accent. Perhaps this needs to be changed in order for your story to work, and your editor is the one who cares enough to point this out. Editors are on the front lines, defending your book from being torn apart after it’s published.

You will get feedback that hurts and might make you feel angry, but it’s best if you move forward as quickly as possible and take their advice. Your editor has seen a ton of books, and they know what makes books successful. If they send you back a copy with a lot of red ink and remarks on how certain items need to change and/or be rewritten, then bask in the joy that you get to keep writing your beloved book! Make it the best it can be!

4) Keep a calendar while you’re writing. Plan. Keep track of your characters.

Create a separate calendar for your story. You can avoid common mistakes and continuity errors by simply keeping track of your story as though it has its own life and schedule…because it does. If you write a story that has a scene taking place on Thanksgiving, write that on your calendar. This will help you avoid making the scene happening “the next day” occur on a Saturday. If you describe your main characters in how they look, keep track of that somewhere so you don’t describe them with completely different hair color seventy pages later. Continuity is important. Your story is already fiction, but losing track of your own characters gives the reader a poor impression.

The moral of the story: Work hard, write well, but don’t think you’re finished until your editor is finished with you. Editors are your friends. If you get the opportunity to work with one, appreciate the fact that someone is helping your story become the best it can be.

Dive in deeper with these links:

The four levels of editing explainedhttp://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/04/4-levels-of-editing-explained-which-service-does-your-book-need/

First Drafts: what they should and shouldn’t behttp://www.nownovel.com/blog/first-drafts-shouldnt/

Categories
Author Interview

Interview with Tony Valdez: Author of Space Opera Dax Harrison

Welcome Tony! Your debut novel Dax Harrison hit shelves last October. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about the book and what inspired the story?

Thank you! Well I’m a pretty typical nerd born in the mid-80s. So needless to say, I’ve consumed tons of space adventures from Star Wars to Firefly to Mass Effect and so on. I actually grew up wanting to make movies, not books. So a little while back, I wrote a short scene about a drunk space captain who passes out at the wheel, almost crashes, and wakes up to blame his robotic co-pilot. I thought it would be a fun little thing to shoot with friends and throw on YouTube. Almost immediately though, I started imagining ideas for a full-blown adventure, and ended up with a full length screenplay. But since I don’t have the budget, connections, know-how, etc to make a giant epic movie, I re-wrote it as a small (but epic) book!

Your book is categorized as a space opera, for those who do not know, what constitutes a space opera and how is it different than science fiction?

Don’t call me an expert, but in my opinion, “space opera” has a bit of a throwback vibe to it. Where some modern stories set in space try to steer closer towards a more realistic tone (trying to keep the “science” in science fiction), space opera brings a sort of retro charm connotation. A more free-wheeling, fanciful style of sci-fi where it’s okay to bend and maybe even break the rules a little bit more, so long as it makes sense in your imagined world and the characters make you believe in it with their earnestness.

Tell us about your protagonist, Dax Harrison. Is he inspired by someone you know in real life?

Not so much in real life, but Dax is an amalgamation of my favorite kind of fictional heroes. The rogues, the goofs, the guys looking to save their own necks but maybe find some courage and heart along the way. You could point to any number of obvious examples from Han Solo to Peter Quill and be right. My favorite comparison though is a cross between Ash Williams from Evil Dead and Zapp Brannigan from Futurama. Terribly brash and inept one minute, and pulling through in a pinch the next.

Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?

I really just wanted to write something fun, but I think it’s pretty natural for your personality and opinions to come out in the writing whether you mean to or not. (Mild spoilers) Dax goes from selfish charlatan to actual hero, a phony to the real deal. In a weird subtle way, it kinda reflects my own battle with imposter syndrome. I spent years blabbing to friends and family about pursuing careers in film, music, creative endeavors in general. But other than some scattered and half-hearted attempts, I never quite found the ambition, the discipline (or guts) to make things happen. To me, my little book is a milestone. I made a thing, a thing that I’m proud of! I started what I finished, and it’s not impossible. So if I can do it, YOU CAN TOO! Go make your thing! Write that book, paint that painting, build that IKEA desk despite the inexplicable directions! Learn to believe in yourself and be your own hero. Yeah, I know it’s cheesy. I’m a cheesy guy.

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you keep a hold of the reigns?

I think I kept the reigns fairly tight because it was my first book and I was laser-focused on simply trying to put the pieces together and have everything make sense. As I’m outlining the next book though, I’m discovering some fun ways for these now established characters to grow, and I definitely didn’t plan on some of the character arcs that are brewing now. I’m excited and I want to share, but spoilers!

The cover for Dax Harrison is very unique, in that it was an originally an oil painting. Can you tell us a little bit about why you went that direction and what the process was like?

Again, this was my first book, and I had no idea if I would ever do this a second time, so I figured “go big or go home”. I wanted something memorable that would capture the old-school adventure vibe, like an old Struzan or Frazetta painting. By sheer luck I met an amazing artist, Jessica Van Huelle (theladyjessica.com), at a local event where she was live painting for a charity auction. We exchanged emails soon after, I gave her my thoughts, some examples of other art pieces and elements I liked, etc. She pieced together a mock-up of the idea, I gave a thumbs up, and she went to work! She sent the occasional progress photo, but nothing compared to seeing the finished painting in person. I love it. It’s in my apartment still waiting for a frame because I’m lazy and scatterbrained. I will most certainly be going back to Jessica for the next one!

Ah! And I also cannot forget my awesome friend Seth Kinkaid (sethkinkaid.com) who perfectly solidified the retro sci-fi book design, with the big bold titles, sharp red back cover, and aging effects throughout. Is it bad form to gush obnoxiously about your book cover? BECAUSE I LOVE MY BOOK COVER! 🙂

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

For me? Just sitting down and writing. I’m not a “write every day” writer. I wish I could be. I’m not sure if I have a “process”, but I can tell you that Dax 2 has been mostly outlined for months. I chip away at it, then leave it, binge on books and movies and TV shows for a while, get a really cool “a-ha!” moment in the shower and then work on it some more, rinse, repeat. Speed wise, I’m the George R.R. Martin of silly sci-fi.

What books by other writers have had the biggest influence on you?

If you’ve got a fantastical story with plenty of laughs, then it’s right up my alley. A few of my first favorites: Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne, Monster by A. Lee Martinez, and Christopher Moore’s Vampire Trilogy (Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, Bite Me)

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

I collected graphic novels for years, but I had to stop and be a financially responsible adult, haha. Right now I’m reading a bunch of suspense/horror thanks to my wife’s book club. I’ve also been on a kick with memoirs. I love first hand accounts from people I admire, especially comedians. Bruce Campbell, Chris Hardwick, Kevin Smith, Whitney Cummings, etc. When funny people spill their guts, they have a knack for brutal honesty that can make you laugh, cry, cheer and maybe even make you learn a little something about yourself, all at once.

Which fictional character do you most resonate with on a personal level?

I honestly have no idea. A weird, artsy Mexican nerd with warped humor and disgusting levels of optimism? If you know one of those, let me know!

Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?

Not that I recall.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they finish a project – how true is that for you?

I try to, because it’s so easy for me to be distracted otherwise. I have to be that stereotypical guy with a laptop in a coffee shop working on “my next big thing”. Otherwise, I’ll find a zillion distractions/excuses trying to work at home.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?

Rich and famous sipping a margarita on a beach somewhere, of course! Pshhh! No, seriously, I hope to have at least two more books under my belt. Dax 2 for sure, and either Dax 3 or a fun fantasy story that I currently have brewing in my head. Maybe both.

Tell us about the trailer for Dax Harrison(show below). Did you make it yourself, and did you find that it has helped with marketing your book?

I did make it myself. I’ve edited video for fun since I was a kid, and I’ve always enjoyed making fake movie trailers. For the Dax trailer, I searched several stock footage sites for anything space, bar and booze related. I came up with a little speech for Dax introducing himself (played by me recording myself in my car as a sound booth). Add some royalty-free music for a small one-time fee, sync the video edits to the music beat, and boom! Trailer. People responded really well. I’m not sure if it boosted sales, but I had fun doing it, and I’d love to make more for future projects.

What other marketing strategies have you found helpful? Any resources you would recommend to other authors?

I searched high and low for marketing advice. I didn’t have much of a budget, so other than a couple social media ads, I didn’t pursue much. In the end, every author blog and advice column ended up circling around the same point: Just keep writing. “The best marketing for your first book is your second, and your third, etc.” So Dax 2 is where I’m focused for the time being. Once I have a publishing date for that, I’ll start panicking again about marketing strategy.

Thank you Tony! What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

Dax has a home at daxharrison.com. I’m @rockhollywood on Instagram, @rockhollywood8 on Twitter. You can DM. I don’t bite.

More about Dax Harrison

Well, this is a damned mess…

Dax was so close to leaving the hero business behind him. He’d done his duty, saved the galaxy a time or two, and made out like a bandit with the movie and merchandise rights.

Now, Alliance HQ is forcing him to be the poster boy for their “ten years of peace” hoopla. If that’s not enough, a disgraced alien general-turned-war-criminal with an unpronounceable name has escaped from an inescapable prison planet, and he’s got Dax in his crosshairs!

Scrambling to avoid the madman’s swath of destruction, Dax finds himself stuck with a crew comprised of an overly enthusiastic fanboy cadet, an aging physician, a suspicious and tough-as-nails lieutenant, and a possibly malfunctioning AI. And they are all looking at Dax to save the day… whether he likes it or not.

Categories
Writing Life

Five Failures to Embrace When Writing Your First Draft

Stop worrying and finish your first draft

This article is for all of you who are worried you might quit on your first draft. This is your pep talk. I want to relate some of the hard lessons I’ve learned about novel writing in my limited experience. If my simple advice helps even one other person cross the finish line and feel the satisfaction of completing a first draft, then I can feel as though I’ve positively contributed to the world.

Your first draft of your novel is important. It’s enormous. Once that is complete, you can say factually that you have written a novel. But the pressure of writing a novel during the first draft is what ultimately puts people off of the task entirely. Writing is awfully introspective, no matter what is being written. Being alone with your own thoughts and words can quite easily create doubt. It is this doubt that causes far too many people to critique and edit their first draft into submission before they finish it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of reading what you’ve already written, reread it, edit it, polish it, make it sound as pretty as possible, and then have no energy left over to write new material.

If you are doubting your first draft, especially if you’ve been kicking it around for years, please allow me to take some pressure off so you can go forth and complete your draft with your head held high.

This is a fact: if your first draft isn’t a terrible version of your book, then you are doing it wrong.

crushed paper flooding office

Embrace these five failures when writing your first draft:

1) There will be plot holes.

Even if you’ve outlined, planned, and scratched down as many preliminary details as possible, you will make mistakes in your plot. It is bound to happen. Accept this and move on, because if you scurry back and forth while writing your first draft trying to cover every hole in your story, you will only become frustrated and never finish. Plot holes are best found by other readers. So instead of wasting valuable writing time looking for problems with your plot, spend your off time finding people to commit to reading your first draft specifically to hunt down the holes in your story so you can correct them later on.

2) You will have grammatical errors.

I don’t care if your grammar is pristine on a daily basis. It takes concentration to never make a grammatical mistake while creating people, conflict, and dialogue from your own imagination. If you are spending too much time worrying about your mixed modifiers or where your prepositions lie in your sentences, then you are losing track of what you are actually saying. Writing a first draft should be with the intention of editing later, so don’t edit now.

3) Your characters will not be entirely believable.

You might mix up character tones, or fail to even give a character or two their own distinct voice. Your characters might be bland, or even impossible to relate to. But as long as you’re writing your first draft, then your characters are at least doing something and advancing your plot, and that’s not quitting. The first draft is the time to pencil in your characters. Save coloring them for the second and third passes of your story.

4) Your dialogue will be choppy.

I haven’t met an author who doesn’t want their characters to all sound a certain way with particular thoughts and feelings being conveyed both concisely and precisely. Dialogue is an art on its own, and you will not be flawless with it upon the completion of your first draft. Once the draft is finished, then you can go back and spend time with your dialogue, speaking it aloud, polishing, and making it all sound as profound and wonderful as possible. During your first draft, just make sure your characters are speaking to each other and getting the general points across. Move on, and complete.

5) Your first draft will be the worst your novel will ever be.

You’ll do yourself a great favor if you embrace this. There are endless little ways you can nitpick your work as you go up until you hit the point of giving up. Do not give up. You have a great idea for a book, and the only thing stopping you from releasing it upon the world is yourself. Embrace the fact that you are writing a bad book on your first pass. Your first draft will not and should not be publishable. A novel is truly written during the process of rewriting and editing.

Your first draft is a detailed blueprint, the demo tapes for your multi-platinum album, if you will. But the greatness of your book will not be achieved until it’s thoroughly edited, so dedicate yourself to finishing your first draft, embrace its awfulness, and then turn around and edit it until it finally becomes the wonderful creation you originally had in mind.

This wonderful video adds some much-needed perspective on what a first draft should be:

Categories
Writing Life

Whichcraft: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass

Are you looking to hone your skills? The Writing Bloc team recommend some of their favorite craft books in our Whichcraft? series.

When embarking on the editing process with my first novel, it became apparent that some of my holdover habits from working as a freelance writer for most of my adult life were hard to shake. I’ll be the first to admit, transitioning from non-fiction writing to fiction writing resulted in an ingrained habit of telling instead of showing.

I set about searching for a writing craft book that focused on tuning into character emotions. What I landed on was The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Mass.

Showing and telling are only part of the picture. But, they are not even the most important part. As we will discover, readers may believe that they’re living a story along with it’s characters. Actually, they’re not. Readers are having their own experience that is merely occasioned by what’s on the page.

The book touches on topics such as Me-Centered Narration, Stirring Higher Emotions, Connecting the Inner and Outer Journey, and Why Readers Really Fall in Love with Protagonists. It was a valuable buy, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly when I’ve felt stuck and needed a nudge to approach a scene from a new angle.

When readers feel strongly, their hearts are open. Your stories can not only reach them for a moment, but they can change them forever. I don’t care about what you write, how you write it, your choices in publishing, or what you want out of your career. What I want is to feel deeply as I read your work. I want to want to feel connected to you and your characters in the way I do to the most memorable classics and the most stunning new titles I’ll read this year.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction Book Cover
The book is a quick and engaging read, and the author pulls from other literary works to provide examples so that readers can see certain techniques in action.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a writing craft book that is not only inspiring as you read it for the first time from cover to cover, but one that is also handy to reference in the future. My favorite feature is the “Emotional Mastery” exercise, such as the one below, that Mass has included at the end of each section.

  • Pick a point in your manuscript in which the predominant feeling is large and primary. If you’re unsure, choose the moment in which your protagonist feels the greatest fear.
  • What are small signs that indicate something large is happening? What details, hints, indirect clues, or visible effects have you used?
  • What repercussions of what’s happening can the reader immediately see?
  • What does your protagonist or POV character feel that is not immediate? How will she change, do something differently from now on, or see another person, or anything at all, in a way that’s forever altered?

These exercises could be completed in order while combing through an entire manuscript, or could be pulled out when you feel stuck on a scene.

I was thrilled with this purchase, have flipped through the book more than a few times now, and recommended it to multiple friends. If you think you need to dive deeper into how you are conveying your character’s emotions to your readers, then I highly recommend.

Have you read this writing craft book?

Share your experience and tag @writing_bloc on twitter!

Categories
Writing Life

Twelve things to include in your book proposal

Are you querying agents or publishers and wondering what to put in your book proposal? We’ve got twelve things for you to consider that may make a huge difference. Check it out!

Like a lot of the publishing process, writing a book proposal can be daunting. What do you include? What do you leave out? Last year, I was incredibly lucky to attend a master class by Bradley Trevor Greive, the world’s best-selling humorist, having published 24 books and sold more than 30m copies in over 115 territories. He shared with the class what he puts into his book proposals and gave me permission to blog about it. Note: I’m not trying to recreate the master class content here, you’ll need to attend one of his classes for that (I highly recommend them). This is a condensed summary that I hope you’ll find useful.

What even is a book proposal?

It’s what you submit to a publisher or an agent when asking them to take you on, introducing yourself and your book. If they like your book proposal, then you may get to give them your completed manuscript. See my post on the traditional publishing process here.

As we drop into this, remember, your book proposal is a sales document, a fact that should sit foremost in your mind as you craft it.

What goes into a book proposal?

There are three parts of a book proposal:

  1. A cover letter.
  2. The actual book proposal.
  3. A writing sample.

Cover letter

The cover letter is exactly what it sounds like; a letter of introduction you write to the agent / editor you are pitching to. Outside of your book, this is the most important thing you write; a bad letter can kill your submission. “If you can’t write a letter, you can’t write a book.”

The purpose of the cover letter is to:

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Introduce your book.
  • Make them want more.

The key to your cover letter (and every other part of the submission), is to be brief and compelling. These people receive hundreds or even thousands of proposals each year, do not waste their time. “Get in, get out, delight.” Some basic rules:

  • No more than 300 words.
  • Don’t share your life story (that first time you read Harry Potter and knew you wanted to be come a writer? It isn’t going to make them buy your manuscript).
  • Do tell them why you want to work with them.

typewriter typing the word proposal

Book proposal

Getting a book published can be a lengthy and complicated process (see here). To maximize your chance of success, you need to do more than convince the agent / editor you have written a good book, you need to make it easy for them to sell it up the chain. The book proposal should include all the information and selling points that will:

  1. Sell the book to your agent, and
  2. Help your agent sell your book to your editor, and
  3. Help your editor sell your book to your publisher, and
  4. Help your publisher sell your book to the publishing board.

The following is a basic outline of what the book proposal should include:

  1. Book title and author’s name.
  2. Overview
    The elevator pitch / longline. A brief, compelling description explaining what your book is about (genre and subject). Keep it very short but try to inject your personality into it.
  3. Market comparison
    Compare your book to two best-selling titles that your work resembles in some meaningful way. If you haven’t seen a “comp” before, they tend to be in the format “Puff the Magic Dragon meets The Walking Dead”. Ensure that at least one title is a current or recent release.
  4. Target audience
    Who will purchase this book, what is your primary audience? Demographic information on who reads books in your genre may not be easy to obtain. Search the internet, read book reviews of similar books. If all else fails, put
    “women 18-45”. This is the largest demographic for books overall and is the “default.”
    Note: you can list more than one demographic.
  5. Production notes
    Does the book require anything specific to be produced? Colour images, special paper stock, finishes, or new technology?
  6. Additional resources needed to complete this book
    Is there anything you need the publisher to provide to help you finish the book? Photographs, illustrations, a paper engineer?
    For example, if you have a specific illustrator you want, name them. If there’s a specific style of illustration you want, provide examples.
  7. Completion date
    When will the manuscript (and / or your illustrations) be finished? The correct answer for a new / emerging author is typically “now.”
  8. Launch / Promotion
    Marketing advantages and suggestions to maximize the impact of your book. This is your chance to be creative and come up with ideas.
  9. Media / Social Media Presence
    Do you have a media profile of note? How big is your social media following? How strongly do they engage? Do you have a strategy for building that platform?
  10. Commercial extensions
    Could your book be the basis of TV / Film / Theatre Production, toys, greeting cards, video games, board games, apps, clothing, etc?
    Note: this can be useful, but keep it all “on brand.”
  11. Future projects
    What else do you have planned? If you’re planning one or more sequels, talk about it here (none of these projects need to be completed). If you have unrelated projects planned, you can talk to those too. Ideally, you want a long-term, positive relationship, so show them you have more than one story in you.
  12. Author Bio
    Keep it short and surprising. The least important part of the submission. Unless you’re famous, or there’s something in your story particularly important to the current story (e.g. a PHD in the topic of your non-fiction book), it isn’t that important.

Writing sample

This is your actual writing — the thing you want them to publish. However, when submitting your initial book proposal, you don’t give them the whole thing, only a sample. If they like what you’ve submitted, they’ll ask for more.

The length and format of your writing sample will vary publisher to publisher. Each will have a guide for submissions and you must follow it. If your proposal is for a novel or other long-form work, you will likely be asked for a synopsis as well. Again, each publisher will have their own expectations for a synopsis and you must follow their guidelines. Look up these guidelines online — if you can’t find them on the publisher’s website, check writer’s marketplace.

The sample itself is fairly explanatory — select a section of your work that best shows your writing style / skills. It doesn’t need to be from the beginning. Follow the guidelines for length and format and you’ll be right.

Synopses can be more confusing, and a search of the internet will reveal countless authors complaining about them. At their heart, a synopsis is a breakdown of the story, showing the structure and key events and proving you’ve planned everything out. Some publishers like a relatively long, detailed synopsis, others prefer a two to three page “cliff notes” version. Either way, the goal is to summarize the important plot-points of the novel. There is a huge amount of discussion and material on synopses out there, and I’m not going to reproduce all of it. The best piece of advice I’ll relay is this:

  • A synopsis may be heavily summarized, but it is still an exercise in story-telling. Try to inject your voice into it and give it personality.
  • Don’t focus on the physical events (though you will include the important ones), focus on the drama. What are the impacts of those events, what choices are the characters faced with?

In summary, for the writing sample:

  • Read / follow the submission guidelines!
  • Do not send your entire book.
  • Choose the best sample of your work, not the first chapter.
  • Keep your synopsis brief, showcase structure, highlight drama.
  • Add your personality to everything.
  • Less is more.

pen checking boxes on list

Final Submission Checklist:

  • Intro letter (300 words or less). Compelling intro / sales document, not your life story.
  • Book proposal summary (less than 2 pages).
  • Writing sample as per submission guidelines.
  • Additional flourishes to set you apart / make you memorable (no gifts).
  • A very small selection of credible press clippings and / glowing reviews. One, maybe two.
  • Don’t forget to include your contact details.

How to submit

Electronic submissions are fine. If you are submitting a physical submission, don’t use regular mail.

If you have a contact you are targeting (agent / editor), don’t send to the standard submission address — you’ll go straight into the slush pile. Send it to the person you are pitching to.

Join the conversation!

Have we missed something? Do you have an experience to share? Chat to us about it on twitter!

Categories
Writing Life

What I Learned From Writing A Bad Novel

Writing a novel is like running a marathon

When I tell people that I have written a novel, the response is usually positive. I like to compare the general reaction to that of telling someone you’ve ran a marathon. This is a fair comparison, because no one really cares about how well you ran a marathon, just the fact that you completed the task seems impressive. It is the length of a novel that seems to draw the positive attention, and like running a marathon, most people don’t seem to care how well my novel is written, they are simply impressed that I completed the task. I certainly get a far more reserved reaction when I say I wrote a poem, after all.

Then some people tell me they would like to write a novel. When I ask why they haven’t, the first thing they say (after saying they don’t have the time) is that they don’t have an idea that’s good enough to be a bestseller. This is a common fear and misconception about writing. Waiting to write your first novel until you have an idea that is sure to be a bestseller is akin to only playing the lottery when the jackpot is ten digits long. Like any form of writing, being a novelist requires practice, mistakes, learning, and endurance.

Group of silhouetted people running

I’ve written a bad book, and I’m proud of it.

It is the endurance portion that usually trips people up. I only became a novelist and considered myself a writer after I finished my first novel. And let me tell you, no one will read that story all the way through. It’s about 56,000 words of disorganized thought and underdeveloped everything. I wrote it, and then I moved on after I realized I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading it.

But I still have it. It’s a stack of pages sitting on the very top of my desk. It is a reminder that I can finish. If that novel is my first marathon, then it is the one I ran in seven hours. But I love that book. That book taught me that I can dedicate myself to write and finish a complete story.

Despite its poor quality, my first novel put me into a brand new category: a novelist. I’ve even told people that I wrote a terrible novel. They usually laugh and ask why I finished writing it, unable to grasp the concept of “wasting” that much time.

Let’s go back to the marathon metaphor. If I were running my first marathon (maybe I will some day) and it wasn’t going well (maybe I’m very tired, sore, overheated, undertrained), what would make me feel the best? Should I just exit the course and return home? Or should I finish the race, even if I have to drag myself to the finish line in last place? It is always best to finish what you’ve started, even if it ends up being a terrible version of what you envisioned.

You learn from your mistakes, but you also learn what you are capable of by seeing things through to the end, good or bad.

Don’t punish yourself for bad writing.

Inevitably, I wrote another novel after I finished my first terrible one. Because I already had one novel under my belt, my second novel was more organized, more exciting, and of much better quality overall. My confidence was soaring as I wrote. The pressure of “will I actually finish this book” disappeared, because I knew that I could definitely finish this book, no matter what. Now, I write every day, fearless of mistakes.

Good or bad, accomplishment and following through on a project makes the next project better. You learn from your mistakes and improve. And if you are interested in writing a novel, just know that all great writers write the occasional bad book. Stephen King wrote “The Tommyknockers,” after all (not being too harsh, he panned the book himself).

And if you haven’t read “Across the River and Into the Trees,” there’s a reason for that. It’s a book by Ernest Hemingway that was panned by everyone, including his own wife. But guess what he did after it was released? He wrote “The Old Man and the Sea.”

So get out there and write. And don’t forget to finish what you start. It could make or break your next novel.

Categories
Writing Life

Whichcraft: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Are you looking to hone your skills? The Writing Bloc team recommend some of their favorite craft books in our Whichcraft? series.

Book cover, Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott CardElements of Fiction Writing is a series of instructive books on the craft of writing, each written by a different author. Characters & Viewpoint is an installment by Orson Scott Card, and I found it to be a great educational read.

“A character is what he does, yes — but even more, a character is what he means to do.”

The book covers in great depth a range of topics, from inventing characters through to portraying them on the page. It looks at understanding what characters you need, how to develop their identity and history, the roles they should play in the story, and how to make it come alive. It also looks at the types of stories you may be telling, how that might affect which characters you choose to focus on, and the points of view you may want to use.

“Remember that of all these different ways of getting to know people — and therefore getting to know characters — the most powerful of them, the ones that make the strongest impression, are the first three: what the character does in the story, what his motives are, and what he has done in the past.”

If you’ve ready Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, then you will notice some overlap between the two books. However, the overlap is in the basic information on story construction, and this book dives much deeper into writing believable and engaging characters.

“The starting point, the most important factor of all, is whether they’re interesting and believable to you.”

I found this book to be clear and engaging, written in a style that made me feel I was sitting in a comfortable chair across from the man himself, listening as he talked about the topic. At the same time, it’s well structured, making the advice it provides easy to digest. This is important, as the pages are dense with techniques, hints, and tips.

“Self-chosen suffering for the sake of a greater good — sacrifice, in other words — is far more intense than pain alone.”

The bottom line? I knew I needed to work a little smarter (and harder) on creating deeper characters, which is why I turned to this book in particular. It delivered, giving me a new outlook on the process and (I hope) more believable and engaging characters in my stories.

Have you read this book?

If you’ve read this book we’d love to discuss it with you. What did you think about it? What were your favorite quotes? Join us on our twitter feed to discuss.

 

Categories
Writing Life

Four Reasons Everyone Should Write Every Day

Write every day. It’s in your blood.

You are a writer, whether you realize it or not. You are constantly prewriting your future, rewriting your past, and trying desperately to scribble down your present. Your brain runs at an alarmingly rapid rate, and your memory is only mostly reliable.

Luckily, you can write.

I’m not simply talking about journaling. I’m talking about writing poems, songs, lyrics, screenplays, novels, limericks, diary entries, short stories, flash fiction, stream-of-consciousness scribbling, nonfiction, fan fiction, and so on…it’s all amazing, and it’s all a strictly human experience. So, if you’re human…

Write it down! Write it down in pen! Carve it into rock!

Most importantly, just do it, and do it every day!

Here are four reasons why writing every day should be an important part of your routine:

1) You get to know yourself. 

Start writing every single day, and you will surprise yourself in just a month’s time, I guarantee it. I made a commitment last year to write a poem every day for thirty days. At the end of the month, I kept going. It soon became exciting to force myself to put something on paper every single day. I’ve never really been too great at journal keeping, but writing a daily poem made me look inward and study. You can take up any form of composition to use every day. But it doesn’t have to be good right out of the gate, and I’ll tell you why:

2) You need to practice expressing yourself. 

Practice, as they say, makes perfect. Well, we might not be perfect, but that’s no reason not to practice. When you write, you allow your brain to wander and be something it’s not when it’s talking, thinking, or doing anything else. Of course there are plenty of other ways to express yourself artistically, but there’s also a reason why every great artist either gets a book written about them or writes a book. Language is an everyman’s art, and it’s evolving. Bare your soul or just mess around for ten minutes a day writing, and you’ll be happier for your efforts.

3) You’ll leave your mark.

I consider the writings of both of my parents to be gifts. I have love letters they wrote to one another, scribblings from my mother’s journals, attempted pieces of a memoir composed by my father while under the grip of Parkinson’s disease…and these writings are all significant. I can read these words and get a glimpse into my parents’ minds. I don’t read them in my own voice, and I never could. That’s something reading other people’s writing does: it gives you a chance to listen to their voice and mind whenever you wish.

4) You’ll soon make your days worth writing about. 

Forcing yourself to pour your heart out onto an empty sheet of paper daily will quickly teach you how to make your days important. It’s okay if you skip a day, but if you do so intentionally, then you know that there was a poor reason for doing so, and perhaps you should work on that…

Seriously. It will add extra meaning to your life if you start writing daily. Start right now. And don’t forget to write as though no one will ever read it…there’s always a delete button, a trash can, or a small, controlled fire that can erase the writing, but its impact upon you and your own life will remain.

Categories
Writing Life

Blurring the Lines Between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

Traditional publishing vs. Self-publishing: What is the real difference?

I spoke recently on a panel on “The Art of Publishing” alongside a self-published author, an author with books both traditionally and self-published, the editor of a weekly newspaper, and the owner of a small press. More than anything, this conversation led me to consider the labels we use when discussing different means of publication. A vast amount of information is available on “ traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. ” You can consider the pros and cons of each, their histories, statistics, and anything else you could possibly want to know to help you decide which road to go down. I certainly imagined myself standing at a forked path with manuscript in hand while I was obsessively pouring over those sites.

What these blogs and Facebook posts don’t convey is that these are not the only two publishing routes that exist, and that increasingly, the other options are blurring the boundaries between what seemed like two distinct choices.

Traditional publishing used to just be “publishing.” There were a limited number of people in the world who had access to the physical resources needed to print and distribute a book. If you wanted to publish your writing, they acted as the gatekeepers. Of course, people have hand-written and distributed writing for a long time, but publishing houses, with Richard Hoe’s patent of the first rotary press in 1846, could circulate paperbacks, introduced to the United States only one year earlier, widely.

Technology– accessible word processors, printers, computers, the Internet—made it possible for a vast number of people to create, replicate, and distribute their work on a broad scale. The self-publishing/ traditional publishing dichotomy was born. Large publishers were no longer required in order to access these tools, and their role changed to that of a content filter and voucher. They came to be seen as quality control—a way to sort through the enormous sea of work that was now available around the world.

But there is more good work out there than the Big Five publishers can publish. Small publishers began challenging that monopoly and filling some of that gap. Even with the numerous small presses that now exist, there is still more great writing, and potentially great writing, than they can manage. Publication sometimes relies on politics—who you know, how much money and access you already have, etc., as a filter because publishers are humans and humans can only read, edit, design, market, and distribute so much. But anyone has access to these tools. People can publish their work themselves. And a lot of it is good! What challenges outdated ideas about the connection between publishing and quality even further is that increasingly folks are choosing to publish their work independently not as a compromise or act of settling, but intentionally. There are a number of reasons some prefer to publish books themselves, including viewing it as a middle finger to the politics and gatekeeping of traditional publishing.

So publishing is no longer necessarily about who can physically publish and distribute a book. And it’s no longer necessarily an indicator of quality. Where does that leave us?

With choices! Here we are again at that fork– You can pursue traditional publishing with a large house or small press or you can publish your book yourself. But there are choices now that blur the line between these two. My first novel, Rock of Ages, is in production with Inkshares, a crowdfunding platform for books. In this model, authors who secure 750 preorders within a set timeframe receive publishing services from the company including cover design, developmental and copyediting, marketing and distribution. Crowdfunding puts the key to that golden gate in the hands of authors. Instead of standing like a sentinel in front of the opening, platforms like Inkshares step aside and ask “Can you reach high enough to unlock the gate yourself?”

The new venture Writing Bloc is taking on, the cooperative publishing model taking that a step further. We’re working as a team to write, edit, design, market, and distribute our own work. Like self-publishing, we’re eschewing the need for someone to do it all for us. Instead, we’re utilizing the expertise and work ethic of our group as a unit to publish our own quality content. We are taking ownership of the gate and everything inside. But at what point does this kind of venture become more like traditional publishing than self-publishing? After all, we are developing contracts, establishing content guidelines, and hopefully will eventually be distributing royalties. As Robert Batten writes, “publishers are people.” Batten is emphasizing that in order to get in with the company, The Entity, you must first win over the people who make up that entity, but remembering that publishers are people also challenges their hegemonic power.  Publishing houses are not gods. They no longer have a monopoly on resources and they’ve never had a monopoly on quality. They are groups of people who remain the gatekeepers simply because they’ve appointed themselves such and we’ve continued to go along with it.  So does it matter when we cross that line when the line is increasingly arbitrary?

What it boils down to is that the labels are becoming irrelevant. I made a comment on the panel that had all of the participants nodding. One of the amazing advantages of having access to many means of publishing means that you don’t have to write to a target audience if you don’t want to. You can write the book that you want to write—the story that needs to be written—and then find your target audience. When you put your book out into the world you want editing, design, marketing, and the validation that comes from people enjoying your work. Increasingly, those are at our fingertips in a number of innovative configurations. You may not have an audience of tens of thousands. But amongst the billions of people in the world, you probably have an audience of at least hundreds. What is important is creating exceptional books and getting them into the hands of people who will find meaning and value in them, however, we do that.