Monday, January 31, 2011

The Case of the Perfect Literary Agent - Part 2

So lovely to join The Writers Alley again this week. And such fun to be had.

This is Rosemary S. Allspice reporting on Finding the Perfect Agent, part 2. To read part one, follow this link
I must say it’s been an exciting past two weeks, as I traveled about the United States in search of quality information regarding Literary Agents. You cannot imagine the gaiety involved.

I’ve brewed up another spot of tea, this time Irish blend, in celebration of author Jamie Carie’s work-in-progress. Here’s a hint: It’s about a Duke, and Irishwoman, and 1818.

Jamie was nice enough to allow me to stop in at her home in Indianapolis and winkle agent information out of her in between her Irish research. Here’s what she had to say:

“My experience was that I didn’t have any luck finding one until after I had a deal on the table. Then I queried several and, after emailing back and forth and getting to know each other, ended up with Wes Yoder of Ambassador Literary Agency. He’s been a great fit for me and that’s really the best advice I have. Find a good fit.”

Tis a recurring theme, don’t you think. “Find a good fit”. But, as my research has uncovered, a good fit may not happen the very first time around. Knowing what one wants and learning more about the particular agents in whom one is interested, is the first way to uncover a good fit.

Calm and kind Siri Mitchell took the time to answer my questions, even though she was celebrating the release of her newest novel, A Heart Most Worthy. Ever the lady, she offered me a spot of Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, which I couldn’t deny. It was heavenly.

Here are her nuggets of wisdom about literary agents:
I feel like agenting is about building and maintaining relationships. Therefore, you need to sign with an agent who already sells to the house you want to work with. To do this, you really need to do your homework.

Look at an agent's client list to not only see if they have clients whose work is similar to yours but also to which houses they frequently sell. It pays to ask around about an agent's reputation (yes, even in the CBA!). I've asked my editors who they feel are good agents in terms of forwarding proposals that fit their interests and in advocating on their clients' behalf.

You should also find an agent who is willing to talk about and actively participate in career development. Don't waste those one-on-one conference appointments with agents and editors! Even if they're not interested in your manuscript, ask them who they consider to be the best agents in the business

Does anyone else catch the faintest hint of a theme in these comments? ‘relationships’ ‘conferences’, ‘fit’.

I traveled to Kansas to interview the delightful author, Deb Raney. With the warmth of a mum, she welcomed me into conversation and immediately put me at ease. Here is the cover for her June release, Forever After. Her advice continues with the same advice as before.

Her words of wisdom?

1. Keep in mind that a good agent for your best writer buddy may not be the best one for you. Personalities come into play, and different writers want different things from an agent.

2. Decide what you need from an agent and choose accordingly. Some agents excel at career planning, some are great first readers/editors, others are ace encouragers and hand-holders, still others are best at organizational skills or negotiating. Decide where your strengths and weaknesses are and find an agent who fills in where you are lacking.

3. Don't rush into the first offer that comes along. Once you have an offer for representation, talk to some of that agent's clients to learn about their style of agenting.

Oh dear, I’m prattling on again – especially when there is so much work to be done. Let me end with author, Patti Lacy, who is thrilled with the release of her newest novel, Rhythm of Secrets. Her advice is succinct and thoughtful, from her wealth of experience.

1. One who loves your writing.

2. One whom YOU love.

3. One who can get phone calls returned pronto. In other words, A Presence.

Well ducks, I’m quite finished for now. Perhaps, the lovely Alley Cats will invite me back again when I have some more juicy tidbits of information to share. Should you all be curious about another topic, feel free pass the question along.

For now, sit back, read the wisdom from some lovely authors, and enjoy the tea and Victorian Sponge Cake.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

Now, does that not completely explain how the writing life can feel? Don't become stymied in the rules as Christin implied from her fabulous post on Wednesday, but let the joy of creativity overflow onto the page. It's only words! Enjoy writing them. :-)

But one thing we here on the Alley can ALWAYS promise is that... YOU CAN visit us everyday, here. We'll never send you away. :-)

Miss Rosemary Allspice is back! This time she has expert advice on finding your perfect agents from such wonderful authors as Deborah Raney, Jamie Carie, Siri Mitchell and more! Don't miss her jolly humour she brings to the Alley.

It's Tuesday! Which means it isn't Monday! Sherrinda is your hostess today, where RESEARCH is the name of the game.

Join Mary here on Wednesday to read the importance of using trivia. Stop your readers in mid sentence, cause them to rewind and reread. Listen to them say, "Really, I didn't know that?" before they return to reading your novel to them self. Cause them to repeat the trivia to the next person they see.

Have you heard the roar through cyberspace? Releasing her DEBUT novel in 2012, Keli Gwyn is visiting the blog (baring no unforseen jury duties :-) to share the experience of her FIRST SALE!

It's short, sweet and to the point...or it should be. It's your ending. It's got to be perfect and Krista has tips.

News Stand

Leave a comment for a chance to win That Certain Spark by Cathy Marie Hake!

Susan May Warren's Frasier writing contest is open! Check out the website for more details.

Sarah is hosting Arlene Pellicane with a snippet from her book, 31 Days to a Younger You on her website/blog.

Author Laurie Alice Eakes will be visiting Operation Encourage an Author this coming week.

Janice Hanna Thompson has a new freelance writing course out: Navigating the Business of Freelance Writing. You can learn more about it here.

Please be praying for Revell author, Leisha Kelly's family. Leisha and her son joined the Lord this past week in a car accident. You can read Revell's press release here.

Celebrate with Katie Ganshert who have sold her first two books to Waterbrook/Multnomah publishers!

We'll see you all on Monday, have a great weekend. :-)

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Do's and Don'ts of Opening Pages

It was a dark and stormy night...
A familiar opening, right? And maybe a little cliche. No matter what stage we're at in our writing, most of us know that beginning lines, paragraphs, and pages are some of the most important parts of a novel. Not only do you want to draw in readers when they finally get their hands on your books, but you want to draw in that all important agent or editor.

Many agents will give you a chance to wow them with your writing, either with an initial request of the first scene or the first five to ten pages of your manuscript along with your query, or with a request for a partial. This may be the only chance you have to show them what you've got.

Just like the cliche line above, there are other ways of opening a novel that will have a hard time enticing an agent or reader to move on.


* Include a prologue that is extremely long or wordy, or ultimately has nothing to do with the novel.

* Get carried away with description of any sort but fail to either make it have purposeful meaning to the story or do it in a unique way.

* Begin with another type of cliche, such as a character going through a scene and then they end up waking up and it was only a dream/nightmare.

* Go on and on about a character doing menial tasks that fail to draw the reader in.

* Have a lot of description, dialogue, or even internal thoughts but fail to give the reader any framework for the story (i.e. no hint of setting, time, etc.)

Those are just a few things to avoid in the beginning of your story. While there's not a perfect formula to writing the beginning lines or paragraphs of a story, there are a few ways to start off a story that will help draw a reader in.


* Showcase your voice. Give the reader a taste of what your writing style is like. Let them know you can be unique.

* Make the reader want more. Make them want to turn the page to find out what's going to happen.

* Introduce an interesting character or a character who has something at stake. Or create an immediate obstacle.

* Incite questions from a reader, either by adding conflict, tension, or something unusual or funny.

* Create action. Move your characters and their story by jumping in the middle of a scene/conversation with action, and characters being proactive.

Ultimately there's no perfect way to start a story. But you can beef up those first pages by being unique and giving the reader a reason to turn the page.

What kinds of openings have or haven't worked for you? What do you enjoy seeing in first pages?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Day Your Character Was Born

a broken relationship
an article
a memory
a “what if” fear
a notice in the doctor’s office
a line I read in a book

What does each of the above represent? The beginning of my novels—the instigator behind the first moment my characters morphed into being inside my mind. As all writers know, ideas can geyser from anywhere. A road sign, a reminder from your dentist, a ladybug lifting to flight, the old couple slapping each other’s cheeks as they walk down the street (avoiding the cliché of holding hands here). Anywhere.

You’re here because you write. Have you ever given much thought to where the seed of your idea generated? Did the way the mailman lingered two seconds too long inspire your climactic crime scene? Was the story your friend recounted about the way she first met her husband so beautiful it leapt from a conversation to one of your romantic plots?

Much like the elated and terrified feeling you experience when you bring your swaddled newborn over your Welcome mat, characters also have their own homecoming.

I’ve been a little sentimental about births lately. All three of my girls have turned a year older this week. Can you say birthdays on the mind? People asked me what my goals were for this month (a natural question to ask on the heels of New Year resolutions). I answered with a quick birthdays and finish novel. I’m only 1K from the finish line of my novel and I have one birthday yet to whoop and holler for.

Have a little fun with this one and share how one of your characters was born…

photos from Flickr

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Blank Page: Making a Mess

Guest post by Christin Taylor

Let's begin with what's terrifying about the blank page: it holds all of our ideas and none of our ideas at the same time. When we look at that beautiful white expanse, we see possibilities. We imagine a work of art.

Yet when we sit down to write, our hands turn to cement and the words come out ugly and lethargic and lazy and we are mortified. So we put down our pens, or we stop typing, and we push ourselves away from the desk thinking, "Next time. It has to be better next time."

But all the while we're haunted by this fear that perhaps it won't. Perhaps next time will be just as bad as this time and we will be what we have feared all along - "failures" and "wannabes".

Here is the cruel irony of the blank page: While it lures us with its pristine landscape, we must first cover it with mud. There is simply no other way to write. It is a brutal act of faith. In writing, we must unleash a mess onto the page and then reach inward and grab hold of every last thread of trust, believing without sight that: "It will be beautiful. You'll see. Just don't walk away."

And here is where we have to unravel the voices in our heads, telling us not to mark on the white walls with crayons, not to scribble over the white couches with markers. Everything white must stay white or be complemented by something as beautiful and perfect as its elegant planes.

But with the blank page we must give ourselves permission to make it messy. Not just visually messy with black scrawls wiggling across the page. But also mentally messy, audibly messy. We must allow ourselves to write terrible, humiliating prose.

Because here's the other irony: Beauty follows ashes. That which is lovely does not rise out of the pristine hollows of the universe, but out of the roiling, disjointed substance of our lives. That is the act of creation: redemption. God can create something out of nothing, but we create something out of the grit of our lives.

So the blank page cannot stay blank for long. You will not magically create beauty without ever messing up, or falling out of the lines, or scratching across the margins. It just won't happen.

But there is a final image that presses itself against my mind: a rusty spigot, with a lever handle. You crank and crank the handle and the spigot sucks water out of the earth. The first sprays are nasty and muddy and rusty, but you do not stop pumping because you know what is coming. If you stopped, the water would stop, and you'd never get to where you're heading. The more you pump, the faster the water flows, and soon the particles and dirt are dispersing, the water is getting clearer and colder and soon you are clasping diamond water in your hands, slurping up big satisfying gulps.

Writing is the same way. Sometimes when we look at the blank page, we carry the conviction that we can only spill the cleanest, most satisfying water on it, but this is not true. You are a rusty spigot, and the water will not come unless you pump the handle. And you pump the handle by picking up your pen and writing, or moving your fingers heavily across the keys. And though the thoughts and words that come out may be murky and rusty and dirty, don't quit. Clear water is coming soon.


Christin Taylor lives in Bellingham, Washington, with her husband Dwayne, their 3-year-old daughter Noelle, and their new Taylor Tot expected in July of 2011. In addition to being Noelle's personal chef, chauffeur, laundress, and playmate, Christin runs the Blank Page Writing Workshops online. Her work has appeared in Brain World Magazine, Ungrind, as well as other online and print publications. She is currently finishing her first book-length manuscript about the metaphorical shipwreck many young adults face after graduating from college. If you'd like to learn more about The Blank Page online writing workshops as well as Christin's writing, go to


What scares you most about the blank page? Any comments or questions for Christin?

*Notebook photo by nuttakit /
**Paint photo by Idea go /
***Water photo by africa /

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Characters, My Teachers

What do your characters have to teach you about yourself?  About God?  About life?

I've spent a lot of time lately creating lesson plans for a Creative Writing class I'll be teaching for preteen homeschoolers this spring.  

As a homeschooler, it comes naturally for me to see events, people in my life, books, and even my own stories as my teachers.  

So when I reflected on a recent question Casey asked about our motivations for writing, learning is what primarily came to mind.

What have I learned from my main character?

I'm a people pleaser.  Although I already realized my sinful tendency to place other's opinions too highly, watching my character Rachel only reinforces this conviction in my heart.  As my main character makes the choice to enter into an ill-advised relationship I realize the times in my life I have faced the temptation to place man's opinion before God's.

Resilience.  My main character, Rachel, escapes a cult.  As she enters the outside world she must face many pressures.  As she bravely weathers each of these I am inspired by her perseverance which reminds me I too can stick through tough times.

Courage.  Rachel continually shows bravery whether its escaping the cult or finding a job for the first time with little education.  Her life reminds me that with Christ's help I can find the necessary courage to fight fear and complete all the tasks he has for me.

Be thankful for those who help you along the way.  Without the help of rebellious Aunt Alice and a godly widow named Lily, would Rachel have found the courage and resilience to not only leave the cult but to seek a life of faith?  Rachel reminds me to be thankful for the "helpers" in my writing life, in my family, and in my church.

What have you learned about life or God from your main character?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beyond the Shadow of the Cross

So I was planning on writing a light little piece, giving you some giggles about my writing obsession during the daily grind. But conviction came fast, and I couldn't resist going a little deeper and stirring up some conversation about the industry that is CBA.

It is refreshing to pick up a good wholesome book, identify with a Christian character who is just trying to make Godly decisions in a messed up world. You know as you turn each page, you won't be slammed with a sex scene that makes you blush while your toddlers play on the floor next to you, and you won't find words that give you a sudden appetite for a big ol' bar of soap.

But what if you opened a Christian fiction book, and characters you grow to love don't follow Christ, and never do in the story?

My first question to you is: can we write Christian fiction with ungodly main characters—Christians who just don't get God's grace and are bound to a legalistic, pharisaical worldview, remaining that way through the story; Or the atheist who, because of this type of Christian, has sworn off God, but still has a heart of gold, and impacts a Christian main character in a positive way?

Well, of course we can, but what if we don't end the book with everyone stepping over that faith line...what if we have these types of characters and with great frustration on the readers part, they have no spiritual growth whatsoever? Maybe they are present in the story to highlight a specific theme. Or they push the protagonist along a journey towards God involuntarily.

Another question—Can we write a main character who embraces Grace for the above ungodly folks, and expect our readers to do the same?

I write this because I have written a novel where a main character is an atheist, and I have no intention to convert her. She serves a purpose and highlights my overall theme. I also know of another writer who wonders about using these types of characters in her own writing.

Is this a risk in the CBA market?

Do fiction readers want to be convicted when they sit down with a good book?

What do you think?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

Our favorite books sweep us away on their words, plot, settings, characters.

We want to return day after day, moment to moment to find out more and when we have closed the book on the last page, we feel as if we have lost our best friend.

So, with great eagerness we unearth the story once again, immersing ourselves in the joy the author has created.

As budding writers, we aspire to create such a masterpiece. Join us this coming week on the journey of fiction...

Mother by day...renegade writer by night...sounds mysterious and dark, wouldn't you say? I doubt it. Because it's only sweet Angie here to share how she juggles three boys, a baby on the way and the love of FICTION!

You have to do something to get good at it. Julia's post will tackle just such an issue, Writing What You Learn

Just. Do. It! Stop Staring and Just Write with guest author Christin Taylor of The Blank Page Writing Workshops

Join Wendy as she reflects on how our characters grow from a seed in our minds to fill the blank pages of our stories.

That first hook, that first line that draws us in, but writers lose hair and sleep over. Worry no more as Cindy has just such a post to help you out! Beef Up Your Fiction.

News Stand

The winner of 2 Heartsong book is....Linda Kish!!

Keli Gwyn has interviewed our own Sarah! Be sure and check out Romance Writers on the Journey, Monday the 24th.

Casey is hosting the first monthly "Cold Call" special over on her blog. This month's is Laura Frantz! Scoot on over to submit your very own question for this talented author!

Seekerville gives away a 5 page critique every week, check them out today for this week's chance. :-)

Prayers would be appreciated for Sarah's sister who is now on the highest priority for a heart transplant list and is being admitted to the hospital on Monday, the 24th. Please keep this young family in your prayers!

Want your voice to be heard? Click here to submit the names of your favorite authors and books in 2010.

Find ACFW on Facebook and Twitter!

See you next week!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Twenty steps to writing and publishing a novel

Sometimes we complicate things, so I thought we'd get back to basics today. Here is my 20 step program for writing and publishing a novel.

How To Write and Publish a Novel

  1. Think of a fun, hooky story idea, and complete your research.
  2. Create some quirky, realistic characters
  3. Outline (or if you are a SOTP writer like me, start writing...)
  4. For those who outlined... start writing. For those pantsters... keep writing.
  5. Finish your perfect first draft!! (Pansters will get to this point sooner...)
  6. Call your mother (or whoever your cheerleader is) and let them tell you how wonderful your book is and how it will probably be the next bestseller and promise to buy them a car out of your seven-figure advance.
  7. Read your first draft and realize what a pile of crap it is. (Panster's drafts will be much more crappy though...)
  8. Cry.
  9. Get over yourself and sit down to edit.
  10. Finish editing and pat yourself on the back.
  11. Repeat steps 6 - 10 until you really hate your novel because you've read it so much.
  12. Let a paid-editor/crit partner/crit group read your book and splatter it with red ink.
  13. Repeat steps 8 - 10.
  14. Go eat some chocolate.
  15. Submit some agent queries.
  16. Get rejected a billion times, edit some more, repeat steps 1 - 15 on more books
  17. Finally snatch an agent.
  18. Lose all your fingernails because you bite them while waiting for answers from publishers.
  19. Resort to biting your toenails when an editor takes your manuscript to pub committee.
  20. Throw a big party because, WOOHOO, you've got a contract, baby! 
(Please note, the time frame for this process varies depending on the author/agent/publisher/book)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Discovering the Reason and "Fun" in Fiction

There is a zeal to it. A certain euphoria to putting words on the screen. Simple things really. Just combinations of letters that all began their journey with the infamous 26. How many words are out there? Hundreds? Millions?

And we get to work with them every day.

We find our joy, our solace, maybe for some, our purpose, in the words we put down to craft and hone into a delicate balance of characters, plot and moments that all add into one glorious five letter word:


That’s why we write, isn’t it? To create a story?

There are several answers to that question:

1. Because certain characters will simply not let us be

2. We are in intoxicated by the power of words and the chance we have to wield them like freshly honed tools.

3. To make money and/or a career.

Is there anything wrong with any of those options? Of course not! Each one is a valid and worthy goal to strive for.

To be given a golden character that speaks to our hearts and fails to let go is a precious gift and only the writers who have been given such a blessing know and understand what I am referring to. Any character can be pulled out of time and space, but the characters that bloom of their own violation are the ones that truly shine under the skill of a gifted craftsman.

Words are intoxicating are they not? There is something crisp and new like biting into a perfectly sweet, ripe apple that draws a writer in with the words they are forming on the screen beneath their fingertips. Even as I write this I am swept away on the current my words on forming. They don’t have to form this way, I could choose a different one to follow, but to know my words put together in this order of forming a story is awe-inspiring! It leaves me humbled in what God lets me do every single day.

There are the writers who love fiction so much they want to make a career out of it. Here is where the trail splits between the feet of the serious and those that like to write fiction to say that have “written a book”. This business is not for the faint of heart. One must stand strong under the current of pressure that waves against him/her and be willing to spend countless time pursuing a goal in the hopes that their fiction stands and shouts louder than the others vying for equal attention.

What does this have to do with finding the fun in fiction you ask?

A great deal.

You must decide which of those categories you fall into and you must decide if that is where you want to stay. I imagine a great deal of you reading this are saying you fall into category number 3, am I correct? Thus, my next question, have you forgotten step 1 and 2?

Have you forgotten the thrill of putting words on the screen? Have you forgotten why you started writing in the first place? I imagine not very many of you sat down at the computer that first time with your end goal being to be published. Oh I am sure it might have been niggling in the back of your head, but you didn’t care. You just wanted to WRITE. You wanted to take those words burning to be formed into a story and with that passion blazing, you just wrote. And may I ask, what was your primary emotion while you did so?

Joy. Ecstasy. Perhaps even relief to finally express the burning emotions you had been squelching.

And now? Where are you in this journey now? Have you written several manuscripts? Found that WOW, you really like this thing called writing? You really like crafting characters? So you have started consuming books on the craft. Read posts and websites from those that have gone before. You chase the family from the area and bar a “no trespassing” sign to your writing area.

Are any of those things bad? No. Of course not. Studying the craft is excellent and being aware of your writing time is being a good steward.

But have you forgotten the real reason you started writing in the first place? Have you forgotten the euphoria of just creating with wild abandon?

Have you moved –dare I say it- from fun to obsession?

Are you obsessed with publication? Obsessed with editing that current WIP for the umpteenth time until it doesn’t even sound like you? Have you moved so far beyond remembering why you love to write to the extreme of gaining publication at any and all costs?

There is nothing wrong about being serious. It means you want this that much harder. But at what point are you willing to lay it all aside and simply get back to why you started writing in the first place.

Because you were having fun.

Are you willing to still write without ever seeing anything for it? Are you willing to get back to the enjoyment of writing, knowing there was probably nothing in it for you at the end, except the knowledge that you wrote another story? Or is all you think about when you sit down to write is how maybe this manuscript will land you a contract?

There is a bit of both in each of us. Myself included. But I fear if we stick with the latter, exhaustion and the forgetfulness for why we wanted this so badly in the first place will replace the fervor we once had. It is a trap I have fallen far too easily into myself. Only by the grace of God when He slapped me upside the head, did I see the damage I was doing to my enjoyment of writing. Of course I want to see publication. But when I fail to view it only as a dream and chase it like an obsession, all I come up with is a fist full of air where I thought the dream once hung. Are you the same? Have you forgotten the real reason? Only you can answer that question. Only you.

If you wish to see my prepost to this topic, check out my blog post from yesterday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dear Author

Recently, a mailperson delivered a stack of mail here at Writers alley headquarters. 

We opened the envelopes and found some addressed to you. Each had hidden words of encouragement. Each asks for your help. 

Which letter is yours?

Dear Author,
I'm not feeling well today. I got a miserable code and I can't breaf. I'd like to eat some chicken soup and read a book that will make me laugh.  Will you write one for me?
Codin Head

Dear Author,
It's the fifth day we've been snowed in. Can't get any reception on the TV. I need an action story to pass the time, preferably in Cancun. Weatherperson says we'll be snowed in for several more days. Could you have it delivered by air?
Wanna B Warm

Dear Author,
My flight was cancelled. The airlines announced there'd be room on the next plane--tomorrow. All hotels in the area are booked; I'll have to sleep in the airport. I forgot to pack emergency overnight clothes in my carry-on. I'd like to ready a mystery since I won't be able to sleep--a long one.
Tra Pat Airport

Dear Author,
The kids have been fighting all day. Just got them in bed. My wife won't be home from the ladies church retreat for two days. I'd like to read a thriller to pass the long nights.
Wishin Shewashome

Dear Author,
I visited my mom in the nursing home the other night. I love spending time with her, but sometimes we run out of things to say. Sure would be nice to read her a book. Mom likes family stories that make her cry and laugh--not at the same time, of course. Perhaps something historical--I mean from when she was young?
Autta Words

Dear Author,
I'm advancing in my career, quicker than my friends. Being a single adult has its advantages and disadvantages. If I had the cash, I'd go out with my friends every night. Until I find a money tree, I'd like to read a political intrigue series.  I'm not easy to be pleased. Surprise me with your best.
Paul Itical

Dear Author,
I have a large chair near my fireplace, the perfect setting for reading a book. After the kids settle down in bed, I cuddle up in my chair with a cup of hot chocolate and a Christian romance novel. Unfortunately, I just finished the last book in my stack. I'd like something new with humor and suspense.  
Roe Mance

Dear Author,
My heart is broken and my Kleenex box empty. I can barely write without drying another tear from this stationery. If only my life were different. I can't bare to go out of the house for fear of seeing--well, I won't burden you with the the details. I'd like to sit in my room and just read a good book. I like a story that shows people can be nice to each other.
Neta Cheeringup

These are a few of the letters chosen to be share with you today. Many more sit on our desk waiting to be open.

The point?

Press on to publication
Don't answer the door when Write R Block knocks
Ignore your cell when D. Feat calls

Readers are waiting.

So, which letter belongs to you, or what did your unopened letter say?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Critiquing With Grace & A Little Panache

So you have finished writing a novel and you have edited the ink right off of it. So now what? You find some willing eyes to look over your work and tell you what you missed. And you do the same for them. That's right! You find a critique partner/group that you can share your story with that will be honest and open about the problems with your story.

And yes, there will be issues with the brilliant story you've woven. There are no perfect writers, and even the best of the best need some tweaking here and there.

Now is the time you need to find these critique-ers, or critters, as I like to call them. You can ask a writer friend, like I did with fellow Alley Cat, Pepper. (And she is brilliant, btw, adding description and depth where I am lacking.) Or you can join a large critique pool like the one offered by ACFW. I recently joined and am starting to get some pretty good feedback. You critique two submissions (no larger than 2500 words) for every one that you submit. A good thing about a pool is that sometimes smaller groups form naturally, which can be very beneficial.

Once you have received a chapter to critique, what do you do? There are two ways to format your critiques.

  1. If you are using Word, use the Review Track Changes. This allows you to add (periods, commas, words, etc.) and delete (unnecessary phrases, punctuation, etc.) easily, while allowing the author to Accept or Reject those changes with a click of the mouse.
  2. You can type directly into the document, using a different color font, making your comments and suggesting within.
Tips for Critiquing:
  • Let the author know what you liked about their work. There is always good in every story and the author needs to hear what works.
  • Look at the story as a reader. What worked? What didn't? Did you like the characters? Is the plot believable? Did you want to keep reading?
  • Let the author know things that need to be fixed. Punctuation, grammar mistakes, passive verbs, cliches, too many pronouns, repetitive words, unnecessary words or phrases, telling instead of showing, etc. 
  • When you are alerting the author to what is wrong, give examples of how it could be fixed. Show an active sentence instead of a passive one. Let the author see how to 'show' instead of 'tell'. Give examples, so that the author understands what really needs to happen.
  • Never put down the author. It takes a lot of courage to write and then let others read their work, so be gentle. You may not like the story or the genre, but you can critique the story without degrading the author. 
  • Critique like you want to be critiqued. The Golden Rule of Critique-land. 'Nuff said.
Critiquing is all about the give and take of fellow writers, working to make their story better, and helping others to do the same. It's about generosity. It's about growing into maturity as a writer. It's about grace.

Let's be gracious writers. Let's build up one another in love, for we know what goes around, comes around. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Case of the Perfect Agent Part 1 with Detective Rosemary Allspice

Rosemary Allspice here, and I’m delighted beyond words to guest on this tasty little blog today. I’m here to spice things up with bits of news about the daunting task of finding a literary agent. The Alley Cats sent me on assignment two weeks ago and the trail has been peppered with clues.

Heavens, but where are my manners?

I’ve brewed up some delicious British tea (really what other kind is there) in my Red Victorian teapot, baked up my grandmother’s best scones, and brought delectable information on fiction agents. Sip the tea carefully, ducks, for I prefer a dark, robust blend.

I'll report some helpful hints today and more at a later date. Too much information is disagreeable to a full stomach. Now, shall we get on with it?

Literary agents are not plentiful, and agents who represent Christian fiction are fewer still. Before I delve into remarks from some award-winning informants, let me introduce you to a comprehensive list of agents from the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Michael Hyatt.

For writers, his blog should be a daily, or weekly read, because it is brimming with nuggets of wisdom for the new or experienced author. Here is Mr. Hyatt’s list entitled Literary Agents who Represent Christian Authors.

But a list tells us very little of how to go about discovering the right agent, which is why I’ve winkled the information out of some award winning authors. Here’s what they have to say:

Author Kaye Dacus, whose website is brilliant really – full up with writing tips – gave these top three hints for finding an agent:

1. Attend writing conferences and go the sessions taught by your target agent(s).

2. Sit at the agent's table at meals (at conferences).

3. Develop a relationship with the agent by talking TO the agent (and listening) rather than always talking AT the agent. Remember, the agent is a person, too, and gets tired of people constantly pitching to them, wanting something from them.

Brilliant notions, aren’t they? And might I add, Ms. Dacus portrays her Brits quite authentically. If you’ve not had the opportunity to read her novels, you might begin with her contemporary Stand In Groom, or her first regency novel, Ransome’s Honor.

Glynna Kaye, a marvelous lady with the propensity toward encouragement, gave these top tips for the agent hunt:

1) Don't be in too much of a hurry to find one. Many writers feel that the ONLY thing that is holding them back from publication is not having an agent when it's really that they still have a ways to go to learn how to write truly publishable fiction.

2) Know what YOU want from an agent that would, in your estimation, earn them 15% of your hard-earned advance & royalties. Remember, YOU are hiring THEM. Read up on what professional agents are expected to do, then remember that in addition to those basic qualifications/expectations some writers want a critiquer, a line editor, a brainstorming partner or a cheerleader; other writers want to do all their own publishing house networking/pitching, then let the agent step in to close the deal; others want the agent to submit their manuscripts wherever the agent feels is best but don't want to know where or when (or anything else about it) unless something sells; others want . . . [ fill in the blank ]. So educate yourself, decide what YOU want, then start researching specific agents.

3) Keep your eyes and ears open. Talk to other writers/editors about who they like to work with; attend agent panels at conferences long before you're ready to "pitch" to one. Do you think you'd get along with them? Personality and knowledge-wise would you want them to represent you? What is their reputation? Qualifications? Who else do they represent? Do they represent what you write? What kind of contract do you sign with them? How do you get out of it? (And remember, any manuscript they've "pitched" to a publisher that accepts it means they get a piece of the pie and you must be in relationship with them until the book is no longer in print--or possibly longer with the e-book issue now--even if you decide to break your contract and get a new agent.) How often do they communicate with their clients? How quickly are they known to respond to client-initiated contacts? Do they understand the legalese of contracts? Do they have legal advisors? Are they committed professionals or is agenting just a hobby? Do they have a reputation for following-thru on commitments--or dropping the ball? The publishing industry is a small, small world, so it pays to do your homework before signing on the dotted line.

Poignant words, wouldn’t you agree? And it appears that any good author should also have a bit of sleuthing skills about their person. Oh Ms. Kaye, are you good at winkling information from people?

This agent business is quite serious and keeping a sober eye out seems not only beneficial, but wise. One author even referred to it as being ‘married’ to the agent, in the sense of agreeableness and understanding of each others’ expectations and responsibilities.

I recently completed one of Julie Lessman’s novels, and I must say those stories would cause my mum to blush from her toenails to her hairline. I'm quite certain such kisses can't be proper. But oh what marvelous stories -  tales of love and Christ’s redemption. And Luke McGee… Let me take a sip of tea for a moment before continuing. My collar is a bit tight.

I caught up with Julie while she was on a Caribbean cruise. There are days when I simply love my job. Amidst the warm breeze and relaxed atmosphere, Ms. Lessman's personality simmered with bottled up energy. It must be from where all the passion comes in her books. You’ll be hard put to find a more passionate Christian author, I daresay.

Now, Ms. Lessman's notes were to the point. Her top three keys to finding an agent were:

1.) Query like crazy.

2.) Referrals from friends who have agents.

3.) Pray your guts out.

For a woman who gushes 3-inch novels, this is succinct, but her third point was particularly spot on. Where would any of us be without divine intervention?

Oh dear, I only have time for one more interview.

Do not despair, however – I have more to report on January 31st.
Now let me end with an author who is a character in her own right.

Mary Connealy’s books left me wondering about the West’s view of propriety, and I was a bit overwhelmed by their astonishing use of firearms. With women jumping into rivers, near-death falls from cliffs, or an astounding number of gunfights, it is difficult to imagine surviving Ms. Connealy’s world long enough to drink a spot of tea, let alone live through an entire day. However, after the shock dissipated, a surge of euphoria, (which I can only explain as reading-induced insanity,) ensued and I was compelled to finish the books. All of them. In less than a week. They were simply marvelous – and I don’t think I should recover.

I keep them well-hidden from my mother, who might never understand.
Our meetup was lovely, and despite what some of her friends said, she did not offer cold pizza for an appetizer – or pizza at all. Where do such rumors get started?

Be prepared for what Ms. Connealy added on securing a literary agent:

1) Take anyone who says yes who's not listed on preditors and editors.

2) If you make a sale, email the agent of your choice and offer then the agent's cut of the advance if they'll sign you. Easy money for them.

3) Enter contests with agents as finalist judges.

4) Send a mass mailing to every agent listed in Writer's Digest. That's actually how I got my first AND second agent.

That sounds really wrong now.

Oh Mary, you are quite genuine, aren’t you? It is a charming quality, really.

My investigations concluded personal contacts and contests to be at the top of the list for securing agents. Would you agree?

For more about the Case of the Perfect Agent, enjoy this informative post from Seekerville. The ladies of Seekerville are a lovely lot, who provide insight, encouragement, and a vast deal of entertainment.
I'm aware that The Writers Alley's very own Pepper Basham concurred with Glynna Kaye's remarks regarding knowing one's own mind in expectation for an agent. "It makes for a happier fit if the author knows what she's looking for and the agent meets those expectations. I like what Glynna said, the agent is earning 15% of your sales - what do you want them to get paid to do? I think lots of newbies jump at the first opportunity that arises. This isn't necessarily a bad choice, but it may be an uninformed one - so that the author and agent don't have the best fit. I want to find someone who not only believes in me, but wants to encourage me to be better than what I am."

Well, I’ve waffled on long enough, much too long for any proper Brit, so I shall end now – and continue my search for the next post. I’m to glean future information from authors such as Patti Lacy, Jody Hedlund, Deeanne Gist, Deb Raney, and Ruth Axtell Morren, so my next post should shed more light on the mysterious world of literary agents. Needless to say, regardless of which agent you set your cap on, it is worth the wait and the investigation.

I look forward to sharing more on 31, Jan.

Send questions and I'll try to suss out the answer for you.


Rosemary S. Allspice, Amateur Detective

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

This coming week on the Alley, we are on the hunt.

Whether journeying with Miss Rosemary Allspice on her search for the perfect agent or finding what happened to the "fun" in fiction, this week is sure to dig up and reveal clues to the mystery we all long to solve...

Writing. Good. Fiction.

 You never know what you will find on the Alley. Like the stew as a metaphor for letting our WIPs simmer or an adventure to Paris to people watch and to get creative ideas for that "stew"- you are sure to be surprised, encouraged on the journey and maybe...entertained?

I think Miss Allspice had something like that in mind...

But no matter what, you are sure to find some nugget of a clue to inspire your latest WIP.

So shall we get to it? I have been given miniscule clues into the posts of next week...they expect me to write something clever now...sheesh.

Miss Rosemary Allspice is visiting the blog today with (or so I have heard) expert tips on searching for the "right" agent to fit you.

THIS JUST IN: Do you critique, want to critique or just want to learn how to be gracious critiquee?? Sherrinda holds the clues to this mysterious puzzle.

Dear Author is the topic of Mary's post and there are "readers" coming to share their letters of love.

Grab your magnifying glasses! Because the "fun" in fiction has disappeared! Casey is determined to find it! Be sure and visit her blog Wednesday for a pre-post.

Krista does some super-sleuthing to shed some light on the mystery of how to write and publish a novel.

News Stand~ ~ ~

And the winner of the 2 Heartsong books is...Ariel!!

Leave a comment for a chance to win 2 more Heartsong books!

Every good P.I. needs a handbook for success...check out this one by Susan May Warren.

Sarah is moving! (as in her web presense) You can now find her blogging via her website. Every Monday she shares her thoughts, be sure and check out her new "digs!"

ACFW has a new look to their website. Cruise around it if you haven't already.

Looking for more inspiration and handy chats every week on different topics for your WIP? Look no farther than Susan May Warren's My Book Therapy. Free to join!

Anita Higman (Love Finds You and Heartsong author) is the featured guest on OEA next week!

See you all on Monday! We are looking forward to it. :-)

What was your word count this week? Do feel free to share! Any amount is a victory!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tall, Dark...and All Wrong

When I first started writing, I was dreamy over the perfect heroes I could create. Devastatingly handsome, charming, and smart, of course. I created a perfect list for a perfect hero. In fact, I created perfect heroines, too. No problems, no worries, no fretting about their weight or their hair or their past. And then I'd let life happen to them. Car crashes, kidnapping, whatever I could think of to create disaster for them.

But what did that give me? Conflict for sure--which is essential for a novel. But making perfect characters didn't give them any room for growth. Any reason for readers to want to know more because by the time I had the first scene established, my perfect characters were simply waiting around for something bad to happen to them and they'd handle it accordingly.

So I studied ways to give characters more dimension and the depth they needed to capture a reader, and came up with a handful of ideas to help create interesting--though not quite perfect--main characters.

Make history.
This not to say dump back story in the first chapter but a great way to add depth to a character is to give them a challenge from their past. Something to overcome. A way for them to grow.

Quirks and Imperfections.
Main characters don't have to be physically perfect. Nor do they have to act perfect all the time. A quirk or physical imperfection can endear a reader and give them something to relate to.

Play opposites.
Another great way to add dimension, depth, and definitely some juicy conflict is to create main characters that conflict with other characters. Different beliefs or ways to handle situations, or different personalities.

Create the beginning from the end.
Appealing characters are characters that can grown, learn, and change to become better people. So if you know where you want your characters to be (spiritually, emotionally, etc.) by the end of the story, try to place your main character far from that at the beginning of the story.

All right, so maybe you don't have to go as far to give your characters obsessions. But tossing in an interesting hobby or unusual way of doing things (even a quirk like mentioned above) gives readers one more thing to draw them to your character.

Using one or a few of these has made my characters imperfect but also more relatable, which is a great goal. And on the other end, it doesn't hurt to give characters those few redeeming characteristics. A relatable character makes for a sympathetic reader which is exactly what you want.

What are tricks you use to give characters depth and make them appeal, in less than perfect ways, to your reader?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let It Stew

If you’re anything like me, a fresh idea for a story has the power to sweep you away. I’m all for spontaneous bursts of creativity and I lean toward being more of a pantser than a plotter, but it’s worth it to give a new novel idea time. In the same way a stew grows more flavorful as hours pass, a novel that’s been given time to marinate leaves a lasting taste with readers.

Five Reasons Why it’s Important to Let Your New Idea Stew:

Test your charactersJust as some foods don’t improve the quality of their taste over time, you may find after a month or two of plotting, certain characters aren’t strong enough or exceptional enough to survive in one of your novels. Or you might even decide if they’re grating on you after only one month, if it’s worth it to keep with them through the long publication process.

Measure the plotWhen you cook you pay attention to what you add to a recipe. A plot needs time to develop. This is not to say you need to wait to begin writing until the entire plot is organized. Wonderful new twists have come to me as I’m working on a novel. But, it’s essential to evaluate before you type the first word if you have enough conflict and a compelling idea.

Sift out clichésI took copious notes on two novels I grew increasingly ecstatic about. That is until I reexamined the story lines and saw them for what they were—cliché. I scratched both ideas. The publishing industry is slow moving. Concepts must be unique to make it.

Spice and flavor develops over timeThere are particular nuances when allotted the time to simmer create a beautiful and unexpected blend. In stews and in novels.

One ingredient can’t compare to the deliciousness of an assembled stewTake rice for example, rice by itself is well, it’s okay. But rice in a meaty stew adds to the texture and the flavor. All the ingredients matter in a stew. Time creates that mouth-watering goodness. You might think of a power character, but have you provided him or her with a knock-out story to engage readers?

The next time a novel bubbles and you’re chomping at your gums (I play) to get to it, I say let it stew.

Can you think of other benefits of letting novel ideas stew?

*photos from Flickr

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

People Watching in Paris

About a month ago, I went on a last-minute trip to Paris for the weekend. My husband was traveling to Europe for work and discovered he had enough frequent flier miles for me to hop over there for free. Couldn't turn that offer down! (Here we are at the Louvre.)

One of the things I loved while visiting Paris was watching the people. It was made all the more interesting since I didn't speak the language. It allowed me to stretch my creativity and figure out what their stories were.

So I thought we could have some fun today. I'll introduce you to four people I watched while I was there and I want you to pick one or more of them and tell me what YOU think their story is.
1) A bird of a woman cut in front of us in the long line to Saint Chapelle, when only ten people stood behind us. She carried an oversized bag and inspected the sidewalk before setting her bag down in a very precise manner. Then she danced out of line and looked down the street in both directions until the line moved forward, at which point she danced back into line, grabbed her satchel, and inspected the next bit of sidewalk before carefully setting the bag down again. She repeated this routine over and over.

2) A 60ish-year-old man rode on my plane back to the U.S. He had a scruffy beard and glasses and traveled with a European tour group. Every twenty minutes or so, he stood from his seat and wandered the aisles, then stopped at a different row to speak to the person there (almost always female). I was traveling alone and about halfway through the flight, he stopped at my seat, gave me a smile that bordered on flirtatious, and said, "Parlez vous Francais?" I shook my head and said, "No, no je parle Francais. Je parle Anglais." He responded by giving me another icky smile and speaking in something that was definitely not French or English. I figured it out to be German and again, shook my head. Twenty minutes later, he stopped two rows in front of me and found a beautiful blond woman who happened to speak French. Need I bother mention that he spent a few extra minutes there?

3) While we ate supper at a cafe one night, a young couple rode up on their motor-scooter and sat at a table outside to grab a smoke. They didn't engage in the usual PDA found in Paris. About 15 minutes after they arrived, another guy came up to them and greeted the girl with a kiss on the lips then sat across the table. After that exchange, the girl put her hand on the original guy's shoulder and sat much more cozily with him (not touching Guy #2 at all after the kiss) until they all parted ways.

4) An older man got me belly laughing at a Christmas Market near the Eiffel Tower. Take a look at this video and focus on the man on stage. He practiced this routine over and over again. Dancing forward then backward, then taking a minute to coach himself before he did it again. I couldn't resist capturing him on camera. :) (I had to cut it short, though, 'cuz my camera battery was low.)

So tell me...What are their stories?

UPDATE: For those of you begging for more pictures (Casey and Sherrinda :)), here they are...

The view from our hotel room. Hey, don't accuse me of rubbing it in. You asked for them. :)

Inside Saint Chapelle (where Bird Woman cut in front of us in line...I promise I'm not bitter.)

Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe (It was beautiful at night with all the Christmas lights, but alas, my camera didn't take good night pictures.)

View from the Christmas market (Can't blame the guy in the video for dancing with this as his backdrop.)

Me in front of my future residence, The Palace at Versailles. Well, okay, the closest I'll get to living in a place like this is in heaven.