Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Your Book Dictates The Approach

Should I write my story in 1st or 3rd person?
Do I need a prologue?
So I should use the Hero's Journey model, right?

I can go on and on with the list of questions we hear authors ask all of the time. There are chances you have asked these and many others for yourself as well. And, probably like many other authors out there, you get completely frustrated when you find there is not definitive answer. In fact, for many of you, what you end up finding is contradictory evidence. But here is a little hint. All of the approaches are probably correct. It all depends on the situation.

There are a lot of people out there who have a great potential as writers. I do believe this. Unfortunately, these writers are lacking one skill keeping them from that greatness. They aren't thinkers. These people just start writing, following formulas and models people have told them to use. They read books or blogs and believe what they saw was the golden truth and following it means success, or the lack of following those "rules" mean failure.

I am reminded of the line from Pirates of the Caribbean when Barbossa reminds us all that the code is simply a suggestion. The point is, when we provide suggestions on stories, queries, synopsis writing, pitching and so forth, these are just suggestions. These are tools that you have available to you. What dictates the use of that individual tool or technique is your story.

When you decide on a story to write, the goal you have in mind for the reader, that big "take-away" you want the reader to have when they close that book, will provide for you the guidance as to which approach you want to take. It isn't the reverse.

Consider this... Do you get ready to plan dinner and decide on the pots you are going to use first and then figure what goes into the pots? Probably not (although Crockpot people might argue with that one). You decide what you are going to cook AND THEN, the pot you cook it in comes next.

Deciding on the approach you take with your writing requires thinking on your part. Not just thinking of which approach you want to take, but knowing and understanding what the effect will be with each of the approaches at your fingertips. Although Technique #1 and Technique #2 might both work, each one will yield completely different outcomes for your story and the impact on the reader. It is up to you to decide.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Don't Give Us A Reason To Say No

I am the first to admit that I completely hate writing rejection letters. I would much prefer (and I know writers believe this) to "make the call" and tell the writers we love their work. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen that way. We simply end up writing far too many rejection letters than we want to. The thing that stands out, however, is simply the number of rejection letters we send out that didn't have to be that way. This does not mean we would have signed the writer, but there is an increased chance, had we seen more, and the writer moved a bit further through the submission process, he or she would have had something more to work with for later submissions.

So why does this happen? It is all because the writers are ill-prepared to enter the publishing world on a professional basis. The writing may be fine, but the approach the writer took, or what I call the "silly mistakes" he or she made were enough to get the rejection letter. As one of my colleagues said during an agent panel at one conference, "Don't give us a reason to reject you."
I do believe, had the writers taken a bit more time learning the publishing business, and understanding not just what you have to do to be successful, but WHY we do these things, we would see much more success. It all comes down to taking the time to learn before you dive into things.

I have talked here about some of those reasons for rejections. Submitting projects we don't acquire; not following the directions; cover letters that aren't professional; etc. etc, etc. These are all things that can easily be fixed and the information IS out there.

Of course when I say this, I always hear authors saying things such as "the information is not accurate" or "the information is different for every person" or "but by story/situation is different." This could not be any further from the truth.

The information IS out there. Not only are the agencies and publishers listing specifically what the want in projects and submissions on their websites, there are also organizations out there teaching this information. There are conferences and workshops, both face to face and online. There are books and handouts. The information is out there.

When we hear the information "is not accurate" I often find out the authors are working off of third party sources. Here is a good example:

I just went to Querytracker and found that they are claiming I am closed to submissions. Nope! This is wrong information. I would also add that there is a website address so, had a writer gone to that page, he or she would have known that. You might be saying, "But Scott, why didn't you go in and change that information?" For the simple fact that this is not my website. THEY are doing the searches. THEY are updating the information from who ever and where ever they get the information from.

As far as the "contradictory" information, it is not contradictory but different. Every one of the agencies and publishers ask for different things both in projects and submissions. It is up to you as an author to look up that information.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Make The Most Of Your Writing Time

We all live busy lives. We have work, kids, hobbies, the house, church activities and so forth. But then, you now decide you want to be a writer and you have just taken on another full time career. Somehow, somewhere, you have to eek out another block of time in your schedule. This is tough. But, even if you have that time carved out, you have to make the most of it. There is simply nothing worse than having that block of time slip by and then to realize you really got nothing done.

There are a few things, however, you can do to maximize your writing time. These are only a few, and I would certainly love to hear from some of you to know what you do.

BE PREPARED This one is simple. When you sit down to work, have everything you need right there. All of the research is stacked up, your coffee, tea or water ready, you snack. We're talking everything here. Remember, every time you get up, that is going to force you to lose that train of thought.

ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS When we talk about distractions, we are talking about all distractions. Turn the cell phone off, turn off social media, close your email. The only thing in front of you should be your manuscript. You can take this even further by making sure the family knows you are in your writing time and to not be disturbed.

HAVE A PLAN Before you write, create a to do list. Make some very clear decisions of what needs to happen during that period of time. Yes, I am sorry to say this, but it is plotting. You have to know where you are going. Just ambling through your writing will not only create some pretty weak writing, but will also create more work for you late during the revision phase.

BE COMFORTABLE Since you have eliminated all of your distractions, it doesn't matter what you look like. Wear your comfy sweats. Heck, if you want to, write naked if that makes you happy. This is not a time to worry about what other people think.

CREATE A TIME SCHEDULE Know going in where you need to be at various places in your writing. At the same time, know exactly when you are going to stop. Telling your brain you have a deadline will keep it focused. Along the same line, telling your brain you have that deadline will eliminate that uncertainty of "how much more do I have to do"/

RELAX Look, if you don't make your goal, who cares? You'll get there. We know you will have good days and bad days. Just don't panic and keep writing.

What else do you do? Let us know today!

Friday, January 23, 2015

If We Don't Acquire It, You Need Not Apply

Warning: This might be a Friday Rant!

So, I am thinking of applying for a job as a neurosurgeon. I figure that I am a nice guy. I took a biology class
once. I now what the brain is. I even know my way around the kitchen and have a few very sharp knives I have to work with. I think I am going to send my resume out to all of the major hospitals in the nation to apply for a position as a neurosurgeon. Heck, because I want a lot of money, I want the Chief of Staff in that department too!

But I guess I don't understand?? Why are all of these hospitals ignoring my letters? Why are they sending me a letter back saying I wasn't considered for the job? Was I not persistent enough? Oh, I know! It was simply because I didn't write my cover letter a certain way. Or, maybe it was because the hospital was not open enough to change and grow with the times.

Does any of this make sense?

I am hoping for many of you, as you read this, you are thinking this sounds like the most idiotic person you have ever heard out there. And yet... this is what we get as editors and agents on a daily basis. We spend more of our time reading query letters that do this only to have to spend the time writing rejection letters to these people. We sit at conferences listening to pitches from people like this.

I know what you are saying. "But Scott, this is just a few people out there. The majority of us are not like this." I can't say we can qualify the word majority here, but the point is that there are far too many writers out there just massively sending out those query letters to editors and agents doing just this.

For me, I just don't understand it. The information is out there. Editors and agents have blogs, submission guidelines, websites, publications and interviews. When we go to conferences, we are asked to submit bios with what we are looking for in a story. We tell you this. And yet, writers out there seem to feel that "they are the exception" or "the fault does not lie with them but the lack of flexibility of the publishing business."

There are a ton of people out there trying to do all they can to get you connected with the professionals. Conference coordinators are paying big money to fly these people in. They are spending countless hours typing up those profiles in the pre-conference paperwork as well as the actual conference agenda. They set aside those 1-2 hour long sessions with the editors and agents to get the news across.

We can add in the outside groups that put out publications such as the Writer's Guide To Literary Agents. This is not an easy task.

But wait, what about the editors and agents who are constantly updating their websites with what they are looking for, what they acquire and what they don't want.

All it takes is reading it.

Please note the word I just used. This is a BUSINESS. Publishers and agencies are companies just like all of the other businesses out there. In the "real world" you only apply for jobs that you are A) educated for; B) qualified for; and C) are actually looking to fill this position.

So please, if you are getting rejection letters and are upset by those letters, consider first, did you apply to be a neurosurgeon without the training?

It might be something to consider.