Monday, November 28, 2011


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My "Why" posts have been going over pretty well according to the responses. So I have a question for all of you. But since I want ANSWERS, I am tempting you with a prize. 

I would like to help answer questions that you have on HOW. How do I...?  SO, the best (judged by moi) how or why question in the comments section by this time next week will win a first chapter critique by yours truly. Keep in mind my forte is YA, but I will also look at MG. This way the contest is open worldwide. Oh heck, Aliens are invited too, but it has to be in English if you want comments because that's all I speak!

If it's a great question but I don't know the answer? I will FIND SOMEONE WHO DOES and still get the answer. If I get more than one? I'll give away up to three critiques, but potentially use more questions. And don't forget I'll link back to those who asked them. 

Good luck! Can't wait to see what you come up with. ;D

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why I'm Thankful

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I'm grateful for many things. But at the top of my list are my writing friends. Maybe I'm a sap, but I REALLY do think of so many of you as friends. And no matter what place you're at in your career, be it beginner or published author from the NYT bestseller list, I love you all. Without the support of each other, I can't imagine doing this. It must have been especially difficult pre-Internet. Of course SCBWI has been around for an amazing 40 years plus. But no matter where you find them, writing peeps are a must. 

Thank you all for being part of my life. 

Thank you for letting me be a part of yours. 

Happy Thanksgiving. And don't tick off the turkey.

Monday, November 21, 2011

WHY Do You Need a Platform?

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Ah the writer's platform. We've all seen this, right? The need to market ourselves in an appetizing way (without coating anything in chocolate) and build an audience that will eventually buy our book. It feels icky in a way, doesn't it? Like we're snake oil salesmen or something. But it's also understandable, especially in the current atmosphere, where authors are expected to do more and more of their own marketing.

There have been many posts already about HOW to do this. I can boil it down to A. Don't keep shoving your book under everyone's nose and "follow back" on Twitter just to up your follower count. And B. Make genuine connections with others by offering information of value, whether humor, support, or information.

But WHY? Why do this before we even get an agent? Isn't it a bit of a time waste?

Answer: Because by making GENUINE connections, you are gaining invaluable, reciprocal support from others like you. My writer peeps get me, and without them I might have given up at some point. Plus you demonstrate your ability to play well with others. Or not. (In which case, that's not as good for you as the agent or editor who may see that and avoid going down that road to begin with). But I digress and I suspect I'm preaching to the choir. 

Caution! Don't get so wrapped up online that you get no writing time. It's easy to do. Set personal limits.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Critique?

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We know critiquing is important. One of the first pieces of advice we get is to find a critique group. But WHY? Why do we need it?

Because another set of eyes is invaluable. When you write, you know the story and your characters intimately. Your mind fills in the missing pieces without even realizing it. You are too close to things to see them clearly. 

We do our best to articulate what's inside our heads, but we don't always see the varied ways it can be perceived. 

If you have others critique your work, you can see what makes sense to the reader and what doesn't. Patterns might be obvious to someone else. You will learn your weaknesses and by doing the same for others, you learn as well. It's a win win situation.

But there's more! You also learn to take critique. It isn't always easy to hear anything other than, "This is fabulous." But you need to be able to consider the critique objectively if you want to get anywhere as a writer. What do you think your agent and editor will ultimately do? It's good practice. 

And by the way, even positive feedback is essential. You need to recognize your weaknesses and work them, but you also need to understand and explore your strengths. Take pride in them too, and don't gloss over the positive comments.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Must Queries be as Hard as Hunting Vampires

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You guessed it! Another WHY post.  Sure there are some Buffys and Van Helsings out there with uncanny query writing abilities who make it look easy, but for some it's tougher than writing the book. So why is it that writing queries has to be so darn hard?

There are good reasons for this, my friends.


  • There has to be a way for agents to sort through the multitude of manuscripts they receive on a daily basis. By doing the hard work, and writing a great query, you can set yourself above the rest and get a request for a full or partial.
  • If you have trouble summarizing your book, it may be a sign that you need to look at the plot again before it's ready to send out.
  • First impressions mean everything. It's cruel in a way, but true. When you go on a job interview, you strive to make a good impression. Well, your novel is making that impression, and if it wasn't hard to do, everyone would do it. Of course, it seems that everyone does do it, but the truth is that many people never even finish one draft of a book, let alone revise until their eyes bleed and research and agonize over the query letter.
So there you have it. Anything to add? Pat yourselves on the back if you've struggled with the query letter, and remember it's tough, but tough is good. And now you know why.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Adverbs Are a No No

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Welcome to another installment of BUT WHY CAN'T I DO THAT?? This time we will be discussing adverbs. One of the first rules I heard of when I started seriously writing was the "No adverbs if you can help it, especially in dialogue tags" rule. But WHY? 

Answer: Because many times adverbs signify laziness on the part of the writer. We've all done it. We want to emphasize something, we want to make sure the reader gets what we mean. But we need to find creative and original ways to do that. 

Example: Harry looked around lazily.  Without Adverb: Harry lifted one eyelid and let his gaze drift around the room.

And why especially dialogue tags?

Answer: Because the reader should know from your writing (other dialogue, body language, internal thoughts, etc.) how the sentence was said. And don't be lazy with your descriptions either. I'm guilty of it too. She rolled her eyes. He grinned. Etc. Push yourself to do better. You won't regret it. 

I do want to point out that sometimes adverbs are not evil. But you can do an "ly" search in your document to find out if you've overused. Weigh each one. Take it out and re-read to see if you need it. Chances are it will sound cleaner without. 

Any other reasons to avoid adverbs.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How Many Drafts Does It Take To Get To The Query Stage?

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I was asked: How many revisions does a writer go through before she is ready to query? So for the answer I went to some trusted writer friends. Below are answers from those at all stages of the process, from querying to published, in no particular order. 

Can you tell I'm in the middle of revising something I thought was revised about 50 drafts ago??
In my experience, there are two main types of writers -- 1) the overly-optimistic, too excited, must rush-to-get-it-out-there, and 2) the esteem-challenged, what-if-someone-says-something-negative-about-my- baby, I can tweak two more words at least.  Knowing whether your draft is ready involves knowing which sick, demented writerly camp you fall into.  If you're the overly-optimistic (read naive), then you probably should hold onto your draft for several more rounds.  However, if even your least favorite critique partner is telling you enough is enough, then hold the epidural and shoot that baby out.

It depends on the book … and the level of experience of the writer. For my first book, which didn’t query agents and went straight to a small publisher, I did four drafts. For the MG SF story that I queried (and got lots of requests): six drafts. For the YA SF story I just self-published (but queried agents before that)? Five drafts. I expect to do at least 4 drafts for the sequel.

Here are my drafts:
1 - vomit draft - let it fly baby
2- Story arc pass - main story subplots - overall structure
3- MC & supporting character arcs - including character development & embellishment
4- grammar/punctuation pass & bad habit pass (adverbs/tense/sentence variety/word choice)
7 - Hard copy read - make corrections
8 - Kindle read - make corrections
9 - Including Beta notes pass
10 - Holistic read - wearing my audience hat
11 - Corrections from Holistic read

*Through all the passes I keep and ongoing notebook on the MS for "ah ha" moments. I will insert these in whatever draft I'm currently working on.

Well I'm on my 13th draft right now, but that's because I reworked my story goal and motivation. When I think back to my previous books, they've all been 13 + drafts. My approach to each book is different. I'm hoping one day to streamline the process, once I figure what works best for me. :D

Also, I send my ms out to beta readers in waves, and complete a few of drafts between each wave.

And just for additional info, I do outline first. The outline I wrote for my current WIP was written over a year ago. I've learned tons of things since then, which I wish I had known  a year ago. That would have resulted in fewer drafts. ;) 

I'll probably do at least two more drafts before I query since I'm still sending my ms out to a few more beta readers. Yes, I'll do anything to delay the joy of rejections.

Heather McCorkle:
I have a pretty extensive editing process that involves 5-8 revisions depending on the needs of the manuscript. Due to the increasingly competitive market my manuscripts have to really shine before I send them out.

My gut reaction is that four drafts is about right. The first draft is for yourself, to get everything down; the second draft is a quick-ish revision on your own again to make it ready for your critique group (ironically, I recommend Holly Lisle's one-pass revision for this); the third is a longer revision after receiving constructive feedback from your critique group; and the fourth is just a polish to make the prose shine.

And then, when you can't stand it any longer and you're absolutely certain your novel is ready to go out into the world, wait. Give it another week before you hit "send." Take a break. Go on a walk. Wait just a teensy bit longer, and give it fresh eyes for typos. It's tough to do, but the person reading it will thank you.

Julie Musil:
As many as it takes. I'm no expert on this stuff, but it seems to me that if we say ahead of time 2, 3, 10 drafts, then we're hurting ourselves. I think it's fair to do at least a couple of drafts before your critique partners or beta readers see it. Then revise again, and again, and again, until you read it through with barely any changes. I'd say that's the time to query.
Did you find an answer that you like? I think the idea here is that it's different for everyone. But the one thing we all have in common? Multiple drafts. Lots of revision. Because that's what it takes no matter how daunting it seems.

You can do it!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

When You're Too Close to the Book

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We know some things are good for us. We eat our veggies, double space our manuscripts and try not to blow up like a crazy person on the Internet. I hope. *Ahem* Anyhow, I recently had a blogger ask me WHY? Why is it good to put a manuscript in a drawer for a month? Good question! I mean we hear advice like that all the time. But WHY? That's kind of the important part, don't you think?

So I am going to do a new series of posts trying to clarify the WHY on some of these common bits of advice, starting today with: Why put it away?

Answer: Because you are too close to it. For the last month to year you have lived and breathed this manuscript. You are in love with your characters. You know the plot inside and out. And chances are every time you see the words they start blending together to the point they're doing the hula. So if you put it away you get distance. You gain perspective. You can re-attack it with fresh and rested eyes. 

Does it work? Hell yes. I whine and moan and complain as my critique partners tell me EVERY TIME to put it away and don't dare touch it for at least several weeks. But guess what? It's like reading a whole new book when I go back. I see stuff that needs work, but I also see what I did right. Sometimes I even say, "did I write that? Cool!" So don't be afraid of it. It's like seeing a long lost friend. 

Any other answers you can add?