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Breaking In (Writer’s Digest)

From Solitary Writing to Low-Cost Book Release Party — The Story of My Book Launch

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You’ve written a book. You know what it is to work with the elements, to muster something slippery and intangible into something with form. Likely, you’ve sweated on it and dreamt it.

Finishing my first novel, The Untold, felt to me like crawling out of a dark room after a winter that lasted too many seasons. Draft after draft, revision after revision, I had remained in that dark room determined that what was on the page would eventually match the vision I held for it. These things take time, as it happens, so much time. And it must be a solo process. I don’t know any writers that work well with their legs or arms twisted around another. So, aside from the inherent challenges of actually writing a novel, you must also get very good at spending long periods of time with yourself. For better or worse. There are times when I felt that I had aged a year in a day and that the book might actually bury me. But it didn’t. I finished it. The winter ended… Read more

Successful Queries: Agent Jim McCarthy and MIDNIGHT THIEF

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This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 67th installment in this series is with agent Jim McCarthy (Dystel & Goderich Literary) for Livia Blackburne’s young adult fantasy, MIDNIGHT THIEF (July 2014, Disney-Hyperion). Read more

“Don’t Let Your Hurt Stop You” = The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Received

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Some people don’t place a lot of weight in zodiac signs; they think they’re arbitrary and pointless. But as a typical Leo, I measure my very worth by my sign: we’re generous, loyal and proud. Most of the time, the last trait serves me well; it bolsters my confidence and provides me with an innate sense of ability and optimism. But there’s a reason that pride is one of the deadly sins, often proving more hurtful than helpful.

My first job out of college was as a junior copywriter at an advertising agency. In this entry-level position, I was relegated to the status of a newborn, having to learn everything with a fresh set of eyes, even if I had been told I was a great writer… Read more

4 Reasons You’re Procrastinating Instead of Writing

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You have ideas for stories, but when you launch your word processor, you stare helplessly at a blank page. Every time you try to write, you end up spending the evening watching videos of cats on YouTube instead. Why is this happening? We’ve all been there. Here are a few things that might be getting in your way:

1: You don’t know which story to pick. You don’t just have one idea, you have several. Writing a book is a big commitment. You want to take time to carefully consider what you’ll be spending the next year slaving over. No sense rushing in to things, right? Read more

How I Got My Literary Agent: Maria Mutch

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Maria Mutch, author of the memoir KNOW THE NIGHT (March 2014). These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings.

Maria’s literary agent is Nathaniel Jacks at Inkwell Management. Read more

How I Got My Agent: Elizabeth Blackwell

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Elizabeth Blackwell, author of WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. Elizabeth’s agent is Danielle Egan-Miller of Browne & Miller Literary Associates. Read more

Stretching the Facts in Historical Fiction

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My novel GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN is based on Frances Stuart, who posed as Britannia on England’s coins three hundred years ago. As soon as I started writing, I felt a sense of responsibility to make her story as accurate as possible. Scouring sources for facts about her life revealed many unanswered questions. I ended up using as many facts as I could and just fictionalized the gaps. The first draft was done before I realized there are opposing opinions out there as to how the fact-fiction balance should be handled in this genre.

Many stress the importance of accuracy in historical fiction. Others think too many historical details sink the story. Still more believe it isn’t possible to achieve total historical accuracy in storytelling. Almost all agree that the author’s choices should be explained in an author’s note. The degree of emphasis an author places on fact versus fictionalization might be considered a matter of writing style. Read more

The Best Piece of Writing Advice I Ever Got — And The Worst

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One of the surprises, for me, of finishing a first novel was discovering just how many of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice actually turn out to be true. For example: Nearly every interview with every writer will include some reference to how important it is to just sit your butt in the chair—meaning, the best way to get writing done is simply to get it done. This is true.

And then there’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten. Spoiler alert: You’ve probably heard it before. Here goes: Write the book you want to read.

GIVEAWAY: Adam is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: burrowswrite won.) Read more

Got Rejection Dejection?

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Are you singing the rejection blues because your book (or poem or screenplay) has been rejected by a publisher (or magazine or production company)? Here are some things to consider when your writing project has been rejected.

1. Are you being realistic enough about the quality of your writing? Giving your essay or play or whatever you’ve written to your mother to read and having her hand it back to you with a gold star doesn’t cut it. You need an objective critique from someone reasonably knowledgeable about the genre in which you’re writing. Is there someone you trust to give you open and honest feedback? Is there a writing group you can join? If not, think about forming one yourself. One hundred percent open, honest comments may sting, but they’re invaluable in helping you become a better writer. Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by E.L. Tettensor

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2. Less is more. Everyone has their own style. Some prefer lean and muscular, others prefer something a little more florid. Both approaches have their merits, and their fans. That being said, I’ve never heard a reader say, “Gee, I wish there were more adverbs in this book,” and I’ve never read a review that says, “If only the author had found more synonyms for ‘said’.” There’s a reason for that, and I wish I’d figured it out sooner. These days, when I proofread a first draft, the number one thing I find myself doing is deleting adverbs and removing dialogue tagging, especially fancy dialogue tagging (of the “snapped, growled, interjected” variety.) My debut novel, DARKWALKER, was only just released, and already I see flab, extraneous words just begging to be nipped and tucked. My subsequent works are a lot trimmer.

GIVEAWAY:E.L. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Aristomas won.) Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned so Far, by Laura Krughoff

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3. Fix the end by fixing the middle. I routinely tell my students that if they’re struggling with the ending of a story, it is probably because they haven’t quite worked out the conflict. I spent a long time struggling with how to end my novel, and I rewrote the final chapter many times before it occurred to me to take my own advice. A difficult but essential scene was missing, and once I had that in place, I finally understood how to bring the novel to a satisfying conclusion. I could have rewritten that ending until the cows came home, but it was only by addressing a problem much earlier in the novel that I was able to get the ending right. Read more

6 Simple Keys To Revising Your Fiction

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1. Once you have finished a good first draft don’t look at it for a while. Go back to it after having some space and you will see it afresh. This is even more important for novels. When you have spent such a long time on a piece of prose you really need to get some distance from it to be able to see it clearly.

GIVEAWAY: Jenni is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Inkstrokes won.) Read more

Writing a Novel in Three Months: 5 Simple Steps to a First Draft

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1) Routine. Back when my dad was trying to get me to be a more productive member of society (when I was 10 years old), he stressed the importance of doing a new action for 21 successive days. I’m sure he got this idea from some well-meaning book about how to become successful and happy and live to be 125. But there’s truth to it. Repetition breeds habit, and habit breeds routine.

GIVEAWAY: Peter is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: WagnerLisa34 won.) Read more

Successful Queries: Agent Melissa Jeglinski and “Ink”

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This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 62nd installment in this series is with agent Melissa Jeglinski (The Knight Literary) for Amanda Sun’s debut young adult novel, the urban fantasy INK (Harlequin Teen, June 2013). Read more

Revise Like You Mean It

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There is a fairly common misconception about what >b>revision means. That is, if you are a talented writer, you will write an inspired first draft, which you can perfect by making sentences better, fleshing out characters, checking facts, catching continuity problems, and the like. But real revision – in fiction at least – is a rigorous imposition of the imagination on a piece of writing that is certain to be incomplete, or that is fatally unsure of itself, or has a surety that will be revealed as false if you look closely.

True, there are some brilliant works that have come to the writer as a whole. This is a mystery to writers (and scientists, when it happens to them), and we’re all lucky if it happens once in a lifetime. Best not to count on it. Best to come to an understanding of what revision really entails. Read more

How I Got My Agent: Amy Sue Nathan

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“How I Got My Agent” (this installment featuring author Amy Sue Nathan) is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to get a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. Author Amy Sue Nathan’s women fiction novel, THE GLASS WIVES, was released on May 7, 2013 from St. Martins. Read more

Successful Queries: Agent Sara Megibow and “The Daedalus Incident”

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This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 61st installment in this series is with agent Sara Megibow (Nelson Literary Agency) for author Mike Martinez’s Fantasy/Steampunk novel THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT (May 7, 2013; Nightshade Books). Read more

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by F.T. Bradley

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1. Know Your Process. Before I even got my agent or my books found a publisher, I had a writing schedule, and set deadlines for each stage of the process. At the time, it felt a little ridiculous, but I’m glad I did this now. I know exactly how fast I can write a first draft, or how long it takes me to do a deep edit. So when my editor asks me to complete a task by a certain time, I know what it’ll take to get me there.

GIVEAWAY: F.T. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Linda Hatton won.) Read more

Successful Queries: Agent Barbara Poelle and “Untold Damage” (Mystery)

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This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 60th installment in this series is with agent Barbara Poelle (Irene Goodman Literary) for Robert Lewis’s 2013 debut mystery, UNTOLD DAMAGE (Midnight Ink, April 2013). The author, Bay Area resident Robert K. Lewis, is a contributor to Macmillan’s crime fiction fansite, Criminal Element. Lewis is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers Association. Read more

Story Problems? Maybe You Need a Good Piece of Device

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Find your device early in your planning or drafting process. Laura Whitcomb included devices in a book about first drafts for a reason. In The Anatomy of Story, John Truby puts the device fourth in a twenty-two step process. He uses the term “designing principle,” and while we can debate whether he means a precise synonym for “device,” it’s clear from the word “designing” and from its early appearance in the process that this element should be groundwork for your story.

Remember Aaron Sorkin: Once he had his “recent past” device, he undoubtedly knew his next step was to choose the time period. That decided, he had a wealth of material where he previously had a gaping hole. A strong device guides you, first draft to last. Read more

How I Got My Agent: Julie Kibler

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Julie Kibler, author of the literary fiction debut novel, CALLING ME HOME (2013). These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings.

GIVEAWAY: Julie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: alshultz won.) Read more

Write Like a Lawyer: 5 Tips for Fiction Writers

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I often tell people that being a lawyer isn’t so different from being a fiction writer. The comment always elicits some laughs, maybe a suspicious squint or two, but I couldn’t be more serious. As a junior and mid-level corporate litigator, much of my day was spent writing briefs, witness statements and other court documents. Over the years, I developed writing skills and strategies that helped me finish my debut novel, THE HOUSE GIRL (Feb. 2012) while also holding down a day job. Here are the top five. Read more

How I Got My Agent: Dennis Mahoney

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Dennis Mahoney, author of the 2013 literary novel FELLOW MORTALS. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings with literary agents. Read more

What to Expect When You’re Promoting: Why a First-Time Author Changed Her Expectation

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I’m a proud, picture book mommy. This means that you’ll most likely see me (a) squeal at the sight of my book, (b) pass off a copy to family, friends, and anyone within arm’s reach, or (c) smell my new book’s smell, often. This picture book is my baby, and I’m in love. Aren’t you in love, too?

I know. You’re probably not…

GIVEAWAY: Gina is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: DebbieL won.) Read more

Author Tim O’Mara on How to Avoid Writer’s Block

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By the end of June, I had written the first 50,000 words, and I had July and August to finish the second half. Problem was, I didn’t know what word 50,001 was going to be. I knew I needed another scene with the victim’s mother and uncle, and also knew I needed a scene with the victim’s alcoholic father. What I didn’t know was what came next, so I allowed myself to do something I’d never attempted before … I wrote out of sequence. Read more

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