Tuesday, April 15, 2014

There Are Not "Certain Things" in the Business of Publishing

First of all, let me brag a bit. The blog has just been awarded one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer's Digest. I have to say, much of this award also goes to you as the readers.Your inspiration and certainly your questions really do keep this blog going. WTG everyone!!

Now, on with the Blog...

I was thinking about this over the weekend when I took a great day trip with the family to Seattle. Walking through Barnes and Noble (ahhh, it felt so good to be in a bookstore and not one of those virtual digital things) I looked around at all the books on the shelves and the tables. Just think. These authors spent a lot of time and energy on their books, researching editing and writing their babies just to get to this point. Some were on the NEW ARRIVALS shelf. Some were on the BEST SELLER list. Some were on the BARGAIN SHELVES. And some were on the the shelves with a ton of other books.

And this was just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many authors out there busting their butts on their books and in the end, the success or failure of their book is probably 100% up to fate. I have said, time and time again here on the blog that your story has to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right person. And yet, even then there is no promise your book will make it.

As agents, and I know editors do the same thing, we read a story and believe in it. We fall for a project or we fall for the voice of an author, but in the end, we cannot ever promise to be able to sell that book to an editor, or that the editor and the entire support team of the publisher can sell that book. It all depends. This is nothing more than a huge gamble on a writer.

This does not mean you give up though. Those authors we hear about that are overnight successes are few and far between. They are the anomalies. They are the exception to the rule. This does not mean you cannot be one of those exceptions so you have to keep trying.

I just want you to remember, if you do hear of someone telling you "this is a sure thing" or if they proclaim "their agent is a certainty for selling your book" or that this approach to marketing your book will lead to a certain success, think twice. Play with the idea and consider it, but do not just think it will ALWAYS happen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Brenda Novak Auction and Other Things On the Horizon For Greyhaus

There are a lot of exciting things on the horizon for the rest of the year for Greyhaus Literary Agency! Pay attention for:

Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference!!!!! July 17-20th - I'll be taking pitches and would be more than happy to meet with people out and about  to discuss the romance and women's fiction genre.

Romance Writers of America National Conference!!!! July 23-26th. I will be arriving on Thursday but can't wait to talk to all of the writers. I am open to visit with your writing chapter on Thursday night! Also, be sure to find me in the hallway. Again, I DARE YOU to give me that elevator pitch you memorized. 


  • I have two webinars coming up with Writer's Digest. One deals with NEW ADULT WRITING and the other deals with BOOK CLUB WOMEN'S FICTION.
  • In October I am once again planning the Kate Duffy Annual Alien Vampire Bunny Contest.
  • Working on a concept to run webinar workshops for 4-5 authors at a time to extensively work on synopsis writing, plotting, character development and other exciting topics.
  • I have a lot of writing chapters I will be judging contests for. 
If you and your chapter have a conference coming up and want me to visit, make sure to contact me directly. 

Also, if funding a visitor to your chapter meeting can be too costly, don't forget we can do SKYPE sessions. This is very easy so let me know.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Layers of Characterization

There are a lot of times when I read a submission that just feels like it is missing something. It is that same feeling you get when you have a meal and think, "It's OK, but if I had put in X-spice or this ingredient..." Most of time, I find that missing element deals with the characters and what we know about them. I think that many authors fail to really get to the heart of who these characters really are. Most of the time, we only have the basics of the character and that leaves the story really lacking in a lot of depth.

If we really take the time to look at your characters, there are a lot of places we need to go to in order to really get a true three-dimensional image of the characters. Let's work our way through this chart.
On the outer surface, we have that biographical information. This is the basic information that we start with. Obviously we have the physical descriptions of the characters but this would also include information on their career, their back story and so forth. For the most part, most authors have nailed this one.

On the next ring in, we get the information about the character from the other characters in the book. This will come from what they see in the person. In romance novels this is where we get the descriptions coming from the hero about the heroine and visa-versa. This level is interesting because we start to get an idea of what other see in the character. This is also a chance to see a difference in what the character is trying to get across and what the character is really like. It is really this layer and the next two that give us a great insight into the characters. We learn a lot in this layer of what the other characters decide to focus on and what they ignore. Keep this consistent with your individual characters GMC!

When we hit the third level in, we are seeing the character through the filters of the external characters. This is not just the descriptions of what the other characters make, but also their thoughts and interpretations of those descriptions. Your external characters will place a value on the other characters. This may be correct or it may be completely off the mark! Still we want to see those thoughts.

When we hit the fourth level, we are back to the actual character. It is this level that we really see a lot of introspection. This is the information that the character is keeping private and only releases this information when they are ready to. This is also where we learn how the character is feeling about the situations going on around them. It is key that you really work with this information and play it off of the the prior layers. We want to see when your characters is either holding back key pieces of information, or may be even lying about those feelings and emotions to protect something or someone.

The final layer is really the most difficult to pinpoint. This information is material that you know as the author but the character has yet discovered it. You have to think this information through before starting. It cannot come as a surprise to you. As the author, it is your job to move the character into situations that forces this material to the surface. What is interesting about this layer is that the information might just move up one layer into something that is consciously known about the character but unwilling to reveal, or, it might be information that comes out and it is the other character that spots it first and then makes it known to the character.

The key to all of this is to make sure we develop those main characters into three dimensional beings. The more real they become, the better the chance the reader will be able to relate to the character and their situations. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Role Of Secondary Characters

We have talked here before about your secondary characters in your novels. In the past, we discussed how we really don't want them to steal the show since it is your protagonist who the spotlight should be on. Today, however, I want to take this in a slightly different angle and really discuss what role that character should have in your book.

When we talk about your secondary characters, I like to think of these as your visible support staff. In other words, we see them, they are always visible in some form or another and will likely be back every now and then in the book. They are your reoccurring characters. The question now is, "What the heck do they do?"

As support staff, they are there to help the protagonist(s) in the book. That help is in the form of adding depth and dimension to the main character. They are there to round out the protagonist and to provide a new insight into the character's GMC (Goals, Motivations and Conflicts). The story is not about them. We don't need to really know much about their back story, but we need to know they are there. Any information about that character and his or her individual plot line would only come out on a "need to know basis". When it does it is there to provide some sort of balance to something that is going on in the protagonist's own plot line.

Let's look at Harry Potter. Now while some may argue that later on in the story, Ron and Hermione start to take on a much larger role, if we look at them in the early stages of the book, they would be considered the secondary characters. The story is simply about Harry and how he is dealing with this bizarre lifestyle he is now thrown in. We know a fair deal about Harry, but when it comes to understanding some inner workings of him as a character, that is where we need to have Ron and Hermione's help.

Harry is supposed to be a leader in the book. Now all the time he has been living in the Muggle world, we really don't get a chance to see this. But, when we bring in someone like Ron who needs guidance and confidence, Harry can now shine in that area of leadership. Despite everything thing Harry might think about himself as not being a leader, the experiences he has when Ron is in the picture give not only the reader a chance to see that leadership, but also Harry.

When we want to bring him down a notch and show that he is a bit too reactionary and doesn't think things out, we bring in Hermione. She is the rational thinker. She is the critical thinker. She isn't the person who we just react to things. When Harry is by himself, we think he is just being, for lack of another word, brave. We don't contemplate how many of his decisions are without thought. Add Hermione and we see that flaw in his character.

What do we see many writers using the secondary characters for? They are dialogue devices. They are chances to hype up the second and the third book in the series. This is not what the secondary characters are used for.

The biggest is someone to talk to. The problem with adding these characters in just for a sounding board is that we do have to spend so much time adding that depth to the secondary characters bios. If all you need is someone to talk to, you can bring in the characters that Scott Myers describes as Tertiary. These are simply the characters that are nothing more that set pieces. In his screenplays, he would describe them as "Cop #3". This could be the secretary, the girl  at the coffee shop. It doesn't matter. These characters are not so much giving us a new insight into the character. They are simply a plot device to get the character to talk about it. In other words, we aren't really learning anything new about the character from an outside example. We just gave the character a chance to talk.

Secondary characters are fantastic to use in books, but you need to know why they are there and what their role really is in the story. Don't abuse these people. Don't let them take over. Use them for what they are there for - the supporting cast for your headline star!