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November/December 2014 Issue
Free Writing Downloads
Workshops Starting October 23rd
- World-building in Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Writing Personal Essays 101
- Fundamentals of Nonfiction
- Essentials of Mystery Writing
- Creative Writing 101
- Breaking into Copywriting
- Query in 14 Days
Workshops Starting November 1st
- World-building in Science Fiction & Fantasy
How to get published — read hundreds of helpful Writer’s Digest guest columns from published writers teaching the craft and business of writing.
Before you can collect any royalties, you have to earn out that advance. So easy! Obsessive sessions with a nubby pencil, a calculator and reams of greasy napkins have revealed that you only have to sell say … 8,500 copies of your hardcover, at a 10% royalty, to earn it out. Then you’ll be one of the 30% of published authors who actually manages to do so. You feel sorry for that other 70%, but their work is doubtless rather flawed and perhaps they’ll have better luck next time.
Guest column by Rhonda Hayter, whose kids book, The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams was released in April 2010 by Dial. She is a member of the Class of 2K10 Debut Authors. Read more
Making your reader want to turn the pages—through tension, pace, humor, what have you—is the foundation of effective writing. A writer who can’t make his reader want to keep reading is like a painter who can’t draw accurately, or a composer with no sense of melody. If you can’t make people desire to turn the pages of your book out of sheer pleasure, fear, tension, or joy, then you haven’t written a book that anyone really wants to read.
GIVEAWAY: Adam is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. Read more
In some books, you scarcely recall where the narrative took place. Others could have unfolded anywhere, at any time. Perhaps this was a purposeful decision by the author – universality, timelessness. But if the story is intended to be a product of its setting, how to render that setting in a living way? How do you take it from backdrop to character?
GIVEAWAY: David is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to 10 random commenters. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: The 10 winners are Clay, Jamie, ninorota, Dennisfp1, Chezza, pmettert, ktgresham, Eddi, Karen and ltodd.) Read more
Two summers ago, I landed a literary agent for my novel, The Great Lenore. A short time later, she submitted the manuscript to editors at HarperCollins and St. Martin’s Press – each of whom she had a close working relationship with. She was excited when she sent the manuscript their way. She was excited as we awaited their responses. Each editor came back to her within a week: “We love the premise of the story. We love the writing. But … we’re just not sure it has enough commercial appeal”…
GIVEAWAY: JM is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. Read more
1. Write What You Love: You should always write your first draft for yourself, telling the story you want to read and only you can write. I sat down for lunch at a conference with one of my authors, Jackie Morse Kessler, and she told me about a book she wanted to write someday, when she was a big enough name, about an anorexic girl who became the embodiment of Famine, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Miriam Kriss is an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing commercial fiction and she represents everything from hardcover historical mysteries to all subgenres of romance, from young adult fiction to kick ass urban fantasies, and everything in between. Read more
Maybe I’m just dumb. But through years of creative writing classes and workshops, it took me forever to understand what lay at the heart of a good plot: conflict, conflict, conflict. Sure, we bandied the word about as we critiqued one another’s writing. But no one ever defined it in terms of how a writer uses it as a foundation for plot. In all those classes, we talked about dialogue. We talked about description. We talked about characterization. We split hairs over just the right word.
GIVEAWAY: Thomas is excited to give away a free copy of his book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; you MUST leave your e-mail with the comment or else we will not be able to contact you; 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: Garretwriter won.) Read more
Quite honestly, on days where I have the time (and the energy and the optimism) to go through the slush, I just want something that stands out among the hundreds of email queries. (And I mean ‘stands out’ for the right reasons – fresh, professional, original – the annoying overly-casual queries get deleted pretty fast).
One downside of the digital revolution in publishing is that even more amateur writers are giving it a shot because it literally takes minutes to submit to an agent. As I have said ad nauseam to my colleagues, because everyone knows the alphabet, just about everyone thinks they can write. You don’t see so many people trying to be welders without the skill for it. Read more
How many of us have labored away earnestly in our younger and more profound days a a story, only to realize … there’s just no story there. If you want to save yourself years of heartache and get a jump start on your synopsis and query at the same time, I offer you my time-tested (okay, I’ve done it three times) personal trick: The Party Anecdote. Here’s how you play.
GIVEAWAY: Rebecca is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; you MUST leave your e-mail in the comment somewhere or else we will not be able to contact you; 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: JoeBear won. Read more
We only have to walk around the neighborhood, watch TV commercials, or open our e-mail inbox to see that animals continue to fascinate people. Writing about animals can be as fun as playing with them. Here are some things to keep in mind when telling animal stories.
1. Respect what animals mean to your audience. Often, we can love animals in a pure way, free of the complications human relationships pose. When we write about animals, we might want to take off our shoes because we’re on sacred ground.
GIVEAWAY: Patti is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; you MUST leave your e-mail in the comment somewhere or else we will not be able to contact you; 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: Jodi won.) Read more
When historical fiction is done right, it’s like taking a magical vacation to a different time, another land. Whether it’s Victorian London, the Australian Outback, or the American West, quality historical fiction has the ability to bring a story to life in ways nonfiction never will. But no doubt about it, if you want to write good historical fiction, you’re going to have to research.
GIVEAWAY: Michael is excited to give away a free copy of his book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; you MUST leave your e-mail in the comment somewhere or else we will not be able to contact you; 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: Airpig won. Read more
I’ve got a release coming out in September called Wasteland. It’s written in first person, male point of view. You might be thinking, But you’re a chick, how can you write male point of view? I guess we’ll find out if you think I can write the male point of view effectively after my book releases, won’t we?
GIVEAWAY: Lynn is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; you MUST leave your e-mail in the comment somewhere or else we will not be able to contact you; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail; Lynn has offered to send an ebook if the winner is international. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Dimea won.) Read more
The first thing you need to do is write. That sounds easy, but it’s not. Writing is hard. It’s isolating. Here are some time-honored tips that will always stand you in good stead:
1. Ass in Chair. I believe Nora Roberts said that, and it’s the best advice to writers that I have ever heard. If you want to be a writer, you have to sit down on a regular basis and face that blank screen. There is no other way. No excuses. Sit down and do it. Write something. Anything. Even if you throw it all out the next day, the point is that you exercised your craft. Writing is indeed a craft, one that gets better the more you do it. Read more
Ever noticed how certain children’s authors use the same photo on the back of their jacket for years? I always think, “Hey, who are you fooling? That hat is straight out of the 80s. Update it! Proudly display your aged face!” But then I think—“Huh. That could be me. Would I want to do that?” Now, I must admit that I’ve expressed a strong refusal to put any photo on the back of any of my books. The reason? I don’t take good pictures and I’m vain. If I can’t look like American’s Next Top Super Model then I don’t want to look like anything. There you have it. But perhaps I should before I get too old! Read more
Spend any time around writers, and you’ll hear us joking—well, half-joking—about wanting to make enough money on our next book to quit our day job. But the truth is, I wouldn’t give up my day job even if my next book brought in six figures.
I say this having tried both sides of the writing life. For a year and a half, I opted out of the mainstream workforce, focusing solely on writing my book (and living with my parents so I could afford it). Now I’m back at nine-to-five, working as a journalist and writing on evenings and weekends. Here are five reasons why I’m a fan of working a full-time job and writing on the side: Read more
Everything I know about writing I learned from other writers. Mostly from reading their stories and novels, but also from what they have had to say about writing. Below are seven choice tidbits.
1. Use your best idea first. Otherwise that good idea is going to act like a plug or a cork in your brain, keeping all the other good ideas from getting out. I’m not sure whose original thought this was, but I’m sure it wasn’t mine. Read more
love the sensuous feel of fresh water running over my arms after a long, hot day in the sun. A turn of the faucet and the crusted salty spray on my face vanishes in moments, leaving a wonderful feeling of well-being. Wading in glacial meltwater in New Zealand, a glass of cold water after hours in Egypt’s Valley of Kings, the incredible luxury of a mugful of hot water to shave with after hours in a dusty trench. Water has caressed my senses so many times that I feel its special bequest from the natural world.
Guest column by Brian Fagan, author of Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind (Bloomsbury June 2011). Read more
1. Speakers sell books. Gone are the days when solitary authors wrote while publishing houses marketed. Conventionally and self-published authors who were speakers sold more books than nonparticipating authors who only submitted books to the bookstore.
2. Bring your own equipment—come prepared—be organized, and flexible. Murphy’s Law always looks for opportunities to manifest. Even if the information sent by coordinators promises to “provide everything,” come prepared to have nothing. Many speakers found that they had no audio or visual equipment, including extension cords. Read more
1. Google bloggers who review books in your genre. Visit their blog and check that they are actively blogging, that they have followers (most will have widgets showing their Google followers, or you’ll see that they regularly have a number of comments on their posts), and that they are open to submissions. Follow their submission guidelines and ask for a review, including enough information to entice them into wanting to read your story. Most of them will be happy to help you, and may even refer you to someone else they know who reviews your genre.
Guest column by Jess Haines, author of Hunted by the Others (Kensington/Zebra) and its sequels. Read more
1. One novel written does not an expert make. It might be my second novel but, to quote a friend, it’s the first time I’ve written that particular book. There are new characters to develop. New plot problems to sort through. New settings to describe. In short, the experience you thought you got from writing that first novel can quickly fade away in the face of this new set of issues.
2. Being published will not solve all your problems and give your life meaning. It’s only as you labor to write that second novel that you realize that’s like telling a married person “Oh you’re married now. All your problems are over…” Nope. On the contrary. Publishing—like marriage—isn’t the ending of something. It’s just the beginning. Read more
Engage your audience:
While I’m not a writer, I feel like I’ve developed a firm grasp on why some novels work and some simply don’t. Often during critique sessions, I find myself going over a concept that I think applies well across the board of all genres: ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE.
Jon Sternfeld is an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing literary fiction and narrative nonfiction. Read more
1. Structure. Screenplays follow a rigorous three-act structure with a strong midpoint and an inciting incident somewhere in the first 10-15 pages. For fiction, I take this basic structure and emphasize the inciting incident and the midpoint. I think of them as smaller turning points—almost like adding “mini-acts” to the traditional beginning, middle, and end set-up of a screenplay. For me, this has been a great way to break up the plot into manageable chunks so I can orchestrate the pace of the story before I even start writing.
2. Beats. Once I have an outline for the plot that follows this modified three-act structure I break it down even further into beats, just like a screenwriter. Read more