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Guest Columns

How to get published — read hundreds of helpful Writer’s Digest guest columns from published writers teaching the craft and business of writing.

Some Thoughts on Historical Research

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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

Writing the Male Point of View

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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

Agent Irene Goodman Explains: If You Want to Be a Writer, Be a Writer

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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

5 Fast Facts on Book Publicity

After serving as the editor of Guide to Literary Agents for years, I figured I knew everything about the publication process. But when I released a humor book late last year (How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack), I quickly found that while I was well versed in what happens before a book is published, I had a lot to learn about what happens after a release. Here are five facts about how the world works when it comes to publicity. Read more

Does Our Author Appearance Matter?

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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

Why I’m Keeping My Day Job

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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

9 Things I Learned from Other Writers

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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

How My Love For a Subject Led to a Book

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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

6 Things I Learned at the New Life Expo

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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

How to Promote Yourself and Your Book

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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

6 Things Writing a Second Novel Taught Me

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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

Agent Jon Sternfeld On: Engaging Your Audience

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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

3 Things Screenwriting Taught Me That I Applied to Fiction

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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

The Value of Reading Your Book Aloud

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At long last your book is finished. It’s been revised and revamped, you’ve sought the best feedback you can find, and the manuscript has been polished and edited within an inch of its life. May I suggest one more step before you go out looking for an agent or a market? Read the whole book … out loud. You’re probably thinking “That will take forever.” It will, and that’s the point.

Kim Wright’s debut novel Love in Mid Air (March 2010) received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Read more

8 Badass Books That Were Rejected by Publishers

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The first (and perhaps) best piece of advice you’ll ever get when you decide to become a published author is this: Get ready to be rejected. A lot. Like, a way lot. And then, just when you think things are about to turn around and some obscure nobody publisher is really super pumped up about your awesome, mind-destroyingly brilliant work of epic modern literature, they’ll turn around and reject you again.

Guest column by Ben Thompson, who runs the website badassoftheweek.com since 2004, and has written humorous history-related columns for outlets such as Cracked, Fangoria, and the American Mustache Institute. Read more

The Characters Must Come First (in Any Genre)

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Each of my novels features a protagonist undertaking a difficult personal journey. On the way, each of these characters—mostly female—discovers something about herself and at the same time makes an impact on other people’s lives. Each eventually finds her inner courage and proves she is able to learn from all her experiences, even the painful and frightening. Facing a similar journey, full of challenges and unknowns, I feel obliged to delve inside myself and find the same combination of wisdom and warrior spirit.

Guest column by Juliet Marillier. Her historical fantasy novels, including the best-selling Sevenwaters series, have been translated into many languages and have won a number of awards including the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Prix Imaginales. Read more

The Revision Process: How I Prepared My Book for Publication

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1. Create a revision plan. I created a revision plan based on my publisher’s and first reader’s notes. Once I buy-in from my publisher to this plan, I was ready to get to work.

2. Don’t edit as you write. Write, wait a while, then edit. Leave your work alone for as long a time as you can before sitting down to edit it. While I spent over two years querying agents and small presses, my manuscript laid dormant. So when I finally got my book contract, I read it front to back, chapter by chapter, with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen. Read more

3 Reasons Why Personally Visiting a Source (or Location) Will Better Your Writing

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1. You can ask your own questions. If you use only written resources, you can miss out on key information that could help bring your subject alive to your readers.

2. You can get the personal viewpoint of the people involved in your subject matter. I learned this many years ago, while writing a book about different breeds of horses. I had written to the official organizations representing various breeds for information, and each of them strove to convince me that their breed was the ultimate “all purpose horse.” I couldn’t figure out what to write about for each breed that made it unique and special. Read more

Is the Second Novel Really Easier?

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Of all of the myths I’ve heard about writing and getting published, this one has always intrigued me. After finally nailing my butt to the chair and grinding out the novel that had been floating around in my mind for decades, and after finally getting it published, how can doing it a second time be any more difficult than falling off a log? Or so I thought.

Guest column by Douglas W. Jacobson, author of The Katyn Order (March 2011, McBooks Press). Doug’s first book, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War II, won the 2008 “Outstanding Achievement Award” from the Wisconsin Library Association. Read more

Does Your Story Have a Hook or Merely a Gimmick?

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Agents are always looking for something different inside their massive slush piles. Something unique and original—a “hook.” I became especially aware of this last summer, while querying agents I was invited by one agent to revise and re-submit my novel. Her main suggestion? A stronger hook.

I’ll be honest—the word “hook” has always bothered me. Sure, I understand what it entails—giving your work that extra punch, that unique story idea in order to get the reader interested, and to stand out from the thousands of other trying-to-get-published writers. Read more

How to Find Your Niche in Urban Fantasy

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spent 17 years trying to get published in various genres before I discovered urban fantasy at the bookstore. The basic premise was a revelation to me: pick a critter from mythology or folklore, drop it into a contemporary setting amongst clueless humans, and hang on for the ride. When one considers the breadth of human belief and the staggering number of places those old gods and creatures can get into trouble in the modern world, the possibilities are endless—but if you look at the shelves, you’ll see that only a fraction of the territory has been explored so far. Most everything is happening in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and most of it concerns vampires, werewolves, demons, or faeries.

Guest column by Kevin Hearne, author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, an urban fantasy series being released this year back-to-back from Del Rey Books. Hounded, which got a starred review in Publishers Weekly, was released May 3, followed by Hexed on June 7 and Hammered on June 28. Read more

The Art of the Query, Humor Style

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But something felt off in those early letters. I realized that rather than showing an agent my sense of humor, I was standing there saying the equivalent of “I’m funny.”

That’s not funny.

My solution? Approach my query letter as a piece of creative writing itself, one that reflected my style while still giving the reader all the pertinent details about my project. This wasn’t an easy proposition, as I could end up coming across as a jackass who didn’t take his work seriously if I went too far the other way. Read more

The Value of Creating Your Own Book Tour

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If you’re a New Yorker, you grow up with Yogi Berra-isms. They’re delivered in utero like collective memories, and this one has been coming back to me lately as I hear over and over again that authors “aren’t touring” because “it never pays for itself” and the publishers are only touring “bestselling authors who don’t need it.” I say hogwash. People are touring, they’re just defining it differently.

Guest column by Rosemary Harris, Anthony and Agatha-Award nominated author of Pushing Up Daisies, The Big Dirt Nap, Dead Head andSlugfest. Read more

Contests: The Writer’s Fairy Godmother

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With the exception of shoe size and the fact that I don’t do floors, Cinderella and I are basically twins separated at birth. My stepsisters, Query and Rejection, had been hounding me for months and I was starting to lose hope, when one magical day I received a phone call from an editor—suddenly my editor—telling me that I’d won the St. Martin’s Minotaur/ Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition and that my manuscript was going to be published. It was the greatest day of my life—with the possible, though not absolute, exception of the births of my kids (and please don’t tell them I said that).

Guest column by Janice Hamrick, author of Death on Tour (2011, Minotaur), the winner of the 2010 St. Martin’s Minotaur/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition. Read more

How I Came to Write ”The Floor of Heaven”

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The more I read, and the more I thought about all that I was reading, I became fixated not so much on the taming of the American West as I was by what happened after the West was won. Like my childhood “West” that came to an abrupt end at the hands of the developers, I became intrigued by an Wild West that had suddenly grown civilized. In the 1890s the vanquished Indian tribes had settled with dour resignation on government reservations, the wheels of steam engines now clicked and clacked against the metal tracks stretching across the plains where short generations ago herds of buffalo had thundered, and homesteaders pounded sturdy fence posts and plowed the rich brown earth. Read more

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